Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Pa Vesh En – Church of Bones

Label: Iron Bonehead Records
Band: Pa Vesh En
Origin: Belarus

Pa Vesh En has been remarkably busy in 2018, releasing a demo, an EP and a split record. Now the mysterious entity adds the full-length ‘Church of Bones’ to the mix, which is a dark and lugubrious record full of unholy black metal in the darkest form.

Hailing from Belarus is a fact that simply adds to the charm and aura of darkness surrounding this grim sounding act. The title is an obvious reference to the Ossuary, the underground places filled with bones and remnants of the deceased. Something that today fills us with horror and dread, but what once was simply a practical solution to an issue of space.

The lo-fi recording style makes the sound a gurgling, swampy mess of dark and disgusting consistency. Its miserable expression is very much the forming aspect of the art that is ‘The Wilderness of Cursed Souls’. Mad ramblings, pitiful utterings and gibbering wails fill the air as the song unfolds into a wall of sound. Eerie, high notes soar through the clouds of distortion, linking up the sound of Pa Vesh En with the DSBM experience. At times this falls into pure ramblings, like during the messy ‘A Funeral Procession’, but that is part of the expression.
You are almost forced to up the volume, as the hazy sound veritably obscures the nuances and horror of the music on ‘La Vaise Macabra’. This shapes a sound that becomes more and more ambient black metal orientated, molding into a shapeless mass at times. Yet, this record is sticky in its own persistent way and nothing really escapes the wrath of Pa Vesh En on this dark release. Make sure to check it out.

Underground Sounds: Woest – Le Grouffe

Label: Independent
Band: Woest
Origin: France

You’d think the mood would be sunnier on the Côte d’Azur in France, but Woest is a band which sounds particularly dark. Hailing from Marseille, the trio, takes their honey from the likes of Mysticum, Blacklodge and Aborym. Yet they sound like their very own type of beast on latest release ‘Le Grouffe’. That translates as ‘The Abyss’ by the way.

Woest has been around since 2016 and has been quite prolific with two released this far. Both sound dense and oppressive, but definitely strong. Their main pitfall might be that they sing in French, yet by supplying English lyrics they kind of tackle that issue and judging by this release, that should be no issue. It’s an absolute killer record, unique sounding and particularly distinctive in this day and age.

The intro ‘Éveil’ is a peculiar reminder of the Mayhem classic as this martial ambient track. It shows a little of what direction Woest has turned to on their new album. And that is a direction that is more industrial, more direct and punishing as is instantly clear on title track ‘Le Gouffre’. The drumming is crushing, pneumatic and reminds me a bit of the Mysticum live shows. Absolutely terrific, as are the joint chants.

Yet, songs like ‘Ô vide éternel’ also have that hatchet, militant sound of the later Satyricon. Threatening, but not in a figurative sense. It’s close, in your face in all intensity. At the same time, there’s so much happening. It’s an exciting narrative on ‘À la gloire de l’immonde’ with interactive vocals, intensifying rhythms and an overall sense of grandeur. The computerized drums have to be something you can get behind though, it has to be said. If you’re a sucker for the traditional bashing, you’ll likely enjoy ‘Spasme de haine’ slightly less. We move onwards to the ‘Tous restera carbone’ and ‘Vagues de Styx’, which carry a steady pace and even mellow sound due to the synths. The vocals are ghoulish, but very in opposition to the haggard emulation of a string section. his is hardly extreme, yet it’s a singular point of rest in an otherwise intense album.

Woest does something remarkable in a stale scene with ‘Le Grouffe’. You should probably listen to it.

Underground Sounds: Crimson Throne – Of Void and Solitude

Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft
Band: Crimson Throne
Origin: United Kingdom
Crimson Throne revolves around Dan Thornton, also known from Abhorrent Decimation, The HAARP Machine, and Novena. At least, that’s the info I can find, but currently, there is a full live band touring and playing a load of shows. This is the first full length by the band, and it’s one well worth your time.

Previously, Crimson Throne released an EP focused on Hegelian philosophy and history, but on ‘Of Void and Solitude’, we focus on human suffering and, as the title may suggest, the futility of it all. This is done by setting of a freight train of intensity down a hillside, rolling towards inevitable doom with harsh, fierce black metal.

When Crimson Throne comes on, they come on big with a bombastic introduction before we just barrel into ‘Dalit Lineage’ with mid-pace riffing with what sounds like pressed guitar sounds. There’s a certain narrowness to the sound of Crimson Throne, which helps the vocals to really come through. The ghoulish, grated howls are of a particular kind, which many a vocalist will envy. It also leaves room for the atmospheric keyboards, as heard on ‘Indignant Slumber’. After this, we enter a brief interlude before the oncoming storm of side B.
‘Scattered’ builds up gradually, but then pours out the misery like a dam cracking open with vitriolic, dissonant melodies and instrumentation. The blast beats rumble onwards as the inhuman retching and squealing resound. This is, strangely, one of the more attractive sides of Crimson Throne. One of the major appeals of bands like Mayhem or even Bethlehem, is the uncanny, utterly terrifying vocal skills of their frontmen/frontwomen. And that’s exactly what you get on ‘Sightless Remnants’. Abyssal torment.
On ‘Ekur Calls’, you get more of a feeling that you’re listening to an expanded instrumental track, but the vocals are there. Yet should they be? This song feels great without the snarls and barks int he distance, but neither is it diminished much by them. But by the time ‘Ironsides’ comes around, I realize I’ve been battered relentlessly, with an album that could also have been 2 tracks less.

Underground Sounds: Our Survival Depends On Us – Melting the Ice in the Hearts of Men

Label: Ván Records
Band: Our Survival Depends On Us
Origin: Austria

Honestly, one of the most bewildering live acts I’ve seen in recent years must have been Our Survival Depends On Us. It’s a concept, an art, and the simplistic name barely makes you suspect what awaits you on stage in a pandemonium of taxidermy blood and pagan mystery. Though that last is maybe perspective from my end, or simply allegorical as it is on their latest record ‘Melting the Ice in the Hearts of Men’.

The group from Salzburg has released 4 full lengths, all with titles that undermine the hit potential due to their length and complexity. There is a light connection to Austrian black metal heroes Belphegor and many members played in Soulsearch before, which had a penchant for the medieval stories. The sound of Our Survival Depends On Us is unlike any other and well worth listening to.
‘Galahad’ sets the tone with a sonorous lament, that slowly opens up with somber tones and acoustic guitars. The band leans heavily on the folkloristic vibe of classic doom metal here, also in the vocals style, yet the music is much more atmospheric with keys and strings meandering in and out. It makes for a wonderful opener that needs a long time to get to some distorted riffing. You don’t miss that. But when it comes in, it is strong and forceful.
There’s always an apocalyptic edge to the music of Our Survival Depends On Us, something threatening. Yet even though the complexities in the lyrics, the band remains accessible, also on ‘Gold and Silver’ with its catchy guitar solos of ripping guitars. The low levels of distortion in the music really make every little bit count and that’s brilliantly employed.
We move forward with ‘Song of the Lower Classes’, which starts with samples, field sounds, and ambient tunes. The song has a hypnotic vibe with the clangy guitar sounds, that simply bewitch you. Mournfully, the words come to you as if they are a drag, carrying the world’s weariness along. “Down, down we go, we are so very very low…”. It is so powerful, it almost hurts. ‘Sky Burial’ meditates upon the topic of its title in a sonic journey that feels completely psychedelic and harrowing. It feels like a shoegaze-like track until it unleashes itself in a transcendental journey to the skies as the body dissolves. The summit of a sublime album.

Forbidden realms and forgotten places: the sound of out there

There are many places in this wide world. Some are hidden, some forbidden and some are lost in time. Music can take you there and this collection is a little tribute to that magical journey, but also a showcase for some great tunes about forbidden realms and forgotten places.

John Levy – Tibetan & Bhutanese Instrumentals and Folk Music

Origin: Tibet/Bhutan
Label: Sub Rosa Records

John Levy is a London ethnomusicologist who explores the musical materials found in the far and remote areas of Tibet and Bhutan (and many more. He explores the almost Delta Blues-like sound of Go-Te Do-Pe (immediately on the first track, by Tashi Laso). From lute and fiddle to the rattling percussions of Tibetan monks, the music takes you to a place beyond, with a meditative feeling through repetition and soft, rounded sounds. I particularly enjoy the singing by Trinlem of Tongsa, who with a slightly nasal sound, brings you to a soaring height with her singular voice. This is a collection of sounds, that take you on a journey to a sense of calm and tranquility. I don’t know exactly how (or why), but it has something to do with the repetition, the ease, and intonation and timbre of the music. For that, this collection is absolutely marvelous. I can’t get enough of the chanting, drumming and droning. Exquisite.

Rhian Sheehan – A Quiet Divide

Origin: New Zealand
Label: Loop Records

To see a composer score big with an album is an unlikely event, but Rhian Sheehan managed it. The New Zealand musician created ‘A Quiet Divide’, which is a wonderful piece of music. The cinematic qualities of this record are quite outstanding, making it substantially captivating for the listener. It takes you over the land, in that bird view perspective familiar from the epic movies as the gentle sounds evolve, grow and rescind into milder territories. At one point the music swells to major, warm proportions, while a moment later the pace goes slow again. From trickling piano to soaring synths and strings, Rhian Sheehan takes you there as the songs gently swoop over and under the clouds in a high-over way, with green fields below. It’s perfection.

Old Tower – Stellary Wisdom

Origin: Netherlands
Label: Tour de Garde

There are some undoubted masters in the genre of dungeon synth at work and if there are any rockstars (apart from Mortiis), Old Tower must be one of those. The vaporous sound of his synths, combined with crips and clear melodies, is a rarity in balance and composure, with minimal shifts and deftly statuesque delivery. The sound of Old Tower is one of melancholy and abandonement. Well, as if everyone has left the place a long time ago and all that is left is this empty, vast space with dust settling and gentle synths rolling over the place. While the gentle steps of the instruments barely disturb the dust, you traverse these halls in deep silence and deep thought. It’s music to get lost in, to take you to different realms to traverse in toughts with some absolute tranquility.

Gaetir The Mountainkeeper – Norðr

Origin: Serbia
Label: Prometheus Studio

The north has beckoned for many artists and Gaetir the Mountainkeeper is no different. The journeys his music tells of (knowingly I speak of a he, but I have no idea) are those from the ancient mysteries from the Edda. The travels of Odin, across the far and wide realms of fire and ice. This means a feeling of lengthy travel, which is captured in the dense, droning ambient and nordic mysticism of ‘Norðr’, which is delivered as 6 parts in one hour long track. At times it is really the wind blowing, the swelling drones and icy hails, but then the drums come in and take me to the Paleowolf-like sound of tribal doom. It’s a record, taking you on that heroic quest where you face the most desolate and threatening aspects of nature. This, makes it a grand experience to indulge in as you mentally traverse the great north.

Andrew DR Abbott – Live On Daisy Hill

Origin: United Kingdom
Label: Bloxham Tapes

The north of England may now have you think of chavs on street cornersrun-down down industrialism and a place where ‘Britain First’ is a popular slogan. But that’s not the only side of it, as Andrew DR Abbott explores with his baritone playing on this record ‘Live on Daisy Hill’. The former mill towns and cities have a character of their own and a simple beauty. Quaint, would be the word that springs to mind with the mild, folky tunes by Andrew DR Abbott, that feel like an origin story for the Appalachian folk medleys from across the ocean. A little Nick Drake here and there perhaps, as the tones gently caress the inner ear, like ‘Whatsandwell’. Americana, but then Britticana, with more Fairport Convention and less Johnny Cash. It’s weaving patterns remind you even more so where it comes from and what shaped its sound, making this a remarkable journey to a forgotten harmony.

Tallawit Timbouctou – Takamba Whatsapp EP 2018

Origin: Mali
Label: none

Agali Ag Amoumine’s WhatsApp cassette 2018 captures the cassette culture of the desert music in this new age of digital accessibility. Played traditionally on a teheredent and calabash, it captures the traditionally popular music and was send by Whatsapp from Timbuktu to Portland. The recording may be lo-fi, but captures the haunting repetition of the sahel sounds, as the lyrics are chanted over the clapping sounds in one rough cut. It is odd, as this tradition means the recording has an introduction and shout-outs throughout the recording, delivering a very special experience of a time past for the listener in an age of fast traveling media. Listening to it is immersive, as you have to focus. Best listened to on a cell phone, it says in the description, and this is very true as that is the means which allowed this recording to be made, send and uploaded on the same day for your listening pleasure. So indulge yourself, and venture into the desert with the twangy, scrappy, scrapy sounds of this distinct, bluesy music for a while. You’ll not regret it.

Underground Sounds: Wrang – Domstad Swart Metael

Band: Wrang
Label: Tour de Garde
Origin: Netherlands

With this album, Wrang is dedicating the music to their home city of Utrecht. It’s also known as the Domstad and as you can see, that’s what the title refers to. This is their first full-length, titled ‘ Domstad Swart Metael’. Truth be told, it’s quite the remarkable display of Dutch black metal!

Members from the group have also been active in Weltschmerz, Grafjammer, Nevel and Iron Harvest, but of course many, many more. Their debut full length is only five tracks, but what a pummeling force of violence it contains.

Well, let’s destroy everything today with a wry smile on our faces, right? Wrang launches into the anthemic title track with gusto. ‘Domstad Swart Metael’ is an 8-minute show of force with an overwhelming opening and visceral patterns, all interwoven in violence. The music is particularly tight, with here and there some surprising chanting passages by the Utrecht black metallers. Singer Galgenvot is particularly present throughout the record, but on ‘Propaganda der Afvalligen’ we also hear some kick-ass guitar riffs with a bit of a classic heavy metal vibe coming on.

Regardless, the band sticks to doom and gloom, with heavy sizzling passages, like that fire and brimstone intro of ‘Stormend naar de Nietigheid’. It’s a song full of capturing melodies and darkness, delivered very meticulously once more. The driven pace is whipping the song up in a frantic bit of violence, but how good is that? The song builds to its rabid crescendo and then it simply falls apart. It’s only a prelude to the violent upheaval that is the final tune of the album. This record firmly establishes Wrang as one of the slickest and bad-ass black metal bands from the Netherlands, and that’s saying something!

Underground Sounds: Iron Void – Excalibur

Label: Shadow King Records
Band: Iron Void
Origin: United Kingdom

I’ve actually seen Iron Void play and I think they are absolutely awesome with that slow, classic doom sound they produce. The group sort of revolves around John ‘Sealey’ Seale and Steve Wilson, who continued playing together in Iron Void after So Mortal Be fell apart. The group has been around and is woven into the classic doom network of bands that is still very active and playing live frequently.

I’m a bit astonished to find the group has been in existence since 1998, but only since 2998 is there a steady flow of output with this record ‘Excalibur’ being the third full length available to the listeners. I saw then knock it out of the park (or of the island) during the Malta Doom Days in 2015, which was brilliant. And so is this record, I can tell you that with some confidence.

Indeed, that’s the famous Anaal Natrakh introduction from the ‘Excalibur’ film, this time spoken by Simon Strange from Arkham Witch, before we launch into some absolute classic doom metal on ‘Dragon’s Breath’. Epic vocals with a bit of that folky drama to it, following a repetitive riff that feels sort of easy-going. Not the most fierce track, this opening, which has a bit of the classic fantasy metal vibe to it. Same goes for ‘The Coming of a King’, where I have to restrain myself and not pump my fist in the air as the epic riffage bursts loose and that voice swells in pride and splendor. There’s even a certain tranquility to ‘Lancelot of the Lake’, which fits the narrative well. Similarly, ‘Forbidden Love’ has a gloomy foreboding tone, which is delivered with music that goes very quiet and very loud, taking the listener on an emotional journey.

But this is mostly a storytellers album, yet with a lot of riffs. I really catch up again with songs like ‘The Grail Quest’ and ‘Enemy Within’. Both offer thick slabby riffs, with a crushing weight. The soaring vocals really do their work, even though they’re not that marvelous in reach, they work well within the parameters of the band. But here we come to the climax of the album, with ‘A Dream to Some, a Nightmare to Others’ as the peak. It brings us to ‘The Death of Arthur’, which is a slow-paced track with a sense of finality to it, as it describes the end of the story. The weary, yearning vocals, the big cascading riffs, it’s beautiful. Think of all your doom classics, that’s it.

‘Avalon’ is an outro, our final farewell and it has a tinge of folk to it, like most tunes. A sadness and a traditional side that is well appreciated after this magnificent piece of music. All hail Iron Void!

Underground Sounds: Realm of Wolves – Oblivion

Label: Independent
Band: Realm of Wolves
Origin: Hungary

‘Oblivion’ is the first full-length of this Hungarian trio, Realm of Wolves. Formed in 2018, the band has moved fast in their trajectory to create a debut after a demo and EP. The album comes in at the right point in between black metal and post-rock, so probably not suitable for hardliners.

It takes little effort to connect the band Realm of Wolves to what I should call, by now, my favorite Hungarian metal artist Ferenc Kapiller. You may be familiar with his work in VVilderness and Release The Long Ships. His participation definitely is partly responsible for the meandering, warm vibe of the sound and hallucinatory effect it has on the listener om this excellent post-black metal record. Members Stvannyr and Ghöul also play in Black Hill, Silent Island, and Ephilexia.

As the melodic tunes open up on ‘Cascadia’, the title already tells us something of what to expect. Acoustic tremolo picking accompanies the swooning sound, which sounds warm and comforting. As we launch into ‘Ignifer’, we launch into something larger than life. The lyrics deal with the natural realm and clearly the Cascadian aspect runs deeper than aesthetics as the sonorous tune runs on. ‘Old Roots’ adds a bit more power to that whole sound, with some stomping rhythm and forceful delivery, but overall the listener can easily flow through this record as it just moves along.

‘Translucent Stones’ offers a beautiful little intermezzo of folkish music, with that melancholic yearning that permeates the music of Realm of Wolves. It’s all melody and storytelling, with here and there some gritty, gnarly vocals, as we hear on ‘Twelve Miles To Live’. All in all, this album is a pretty fantastic one, though there is the risk of just flowing away on the tunes. This is that ambient/post-rocky vibe in their music, which I love very much. An impressive debut for certain.

Underground Sounds: Guðveiki – Vængför

Band: Guðveiki
Label: Fallen Empire Records
Origin: USA/Iceland

A lot of stuff that comes out from Iceland is cool, but this band is partly American and that probably puts a little twist to the sound of Guðveiki. I’ve been trying to puzzle together how this group got together for their debut album ‘Vængför’, but I have to guess at that.

One of the few communal factors among the mountain of bands these gents have been involved in is Martröð, as this connects guitar player A.P. and Wormlust’s H.V. on vocals it seems. Chaos Moon then connects drummer J.B. and guitar player S.B., who both played in Accursed Moon. Other names on the resumés include Krieg, Skàphe, Vital Remains and much more. Oh, now I forgot Þ.I.from Endalok on guitar and atmosphere.

But really, nothing can quite prepare you for ‘Fóstureyðing stjarna’. The onslaught of death metal battery, unholy howling and barking are unlike anything. Solid death metal with a tinge of black and that creepy intro, it absolutely crushes! Vocally, you already know to expect utter madness with H.V. as he does with his own project. During ‘Blóðhunang’ it is almost as if his voice curls around the guitar riffs and binds them into a soggy swamp of sonic despair.

‘Hin endalausa’ continues the surge and I can’t really add anything to what I said before. The drum assault takes on a more cavernous and at times even industrial vibe as we progress into the title track. The singing almost feels like Attila Csihar’s ritualistic murmurings in some of his stranger projects. That is even more so the case on ‘Gullveigar sverðsins’, which has these claustrophobic melodies and ever encroaching riffs that make you feel trapped. We finally come to full release on the more traditionally laid out ‘Undan stormi eiturtára’, though that mad shrieking, the coiling sound is still there and, honestly, I’m almost happy to escape this utter madness. What a piece of sonic violence!

In Medieval Dreams and Pagan Hearts: Fief, Zāle, Bellkeeper, Jozef Van Wissem

Once more I delve into the fantasy music I’ve come across and that helps me divert my thoughts and dream away. This time I listened to the dreamy medieval ambient of Fief, the …

So grab an ale, stoke the fire, as darkness is clouding the world around us. Be at ease and grab a book with these tunes and simply zone out.

Fief – IV

United States, independent release

Where Fief on the first three releases, which I much loved, was still very much a dungeon synth act, I’m not so sure about ‘IV’. The cover itself is the setting, we’re in the head of a watchman, dreaming away on ‘A Daydreaming Sentry’. Every title evokes a vista that this sentry may behold, or imagine as he stands there on dreary watch duty. But what I mostly like to say is that Fief has moved on to medieval ambient. The music holds little of the droning, synthy vibes, but feels absolutely tranquil and appeasing in its simple beauty. Sure, it’s probably synth-craftsmanship, but it feels like my old video games, where I could get lost for hours in a fantasy. I envision ‘Medieval Skies’ or gaze upon the ‘Evening Market’, all is well. Fief is one of a kind and this album only underlines the singular path the mysterious artist is trodding. I will follow.

Zāle – Vina

Latvia, Nabakmusic/Melo Records

This Latvian group started as a duo but developed in a full band with a wide range of sound, yet all of it connects to something ethnic and pure. From the opening track ‘Smilšu Laiva’ on, we start with ritualistic singing in mild, droning voices. It’s something that instantly grips you with an innate magic and wonder, and I keep thinking of a Latvian Clanned perhaps. The vocals are soothing and timeless, while the instruments only emphasize the gentle nature of the music throughout the album. But part of that charm comes from the interaction between the male and female vocals, both focussing on that particular timbre and repetitive vibe, so much a part of the ritualistic side of traditional folk music. Zāle however, keeps heaping layer upon layer in a complex and beautiful piece of music, that works as a pleasant blanket after a long day.

Bellkeeper – The First Flame of Lordran

United States, Dungeon Deep Records

Rolant the Recluse is the man behind Bellkeeper (I hope I’m not presumptuous, but I assume Rolant is a man). A dungeon synth project with the classical dusky and dusty nature that evokes images of ancient tombs and dungeons. Though there’s an instant intensity to the track ‘Rekindled’, with a vitality unlike your run of the mill DS sounds. It’s slightly more what you’d expect from a high-end game soundtrack of now… or maybe a few years back. I’m not super up-to-date. Though as we progress to songs like ‘A Sanctum of Ash and Ember’ I’m getting those eerie dungeon vibes, thanks to the languid tones and slow, meandering sound. But what Bellkeeper adds is some ambiance with dripping sounds and pebbles rolling over the floor. It boosts the mystique and immersive quality of the song. On ‘Uchigatana’ we even have a little eastern vibe going, which also sounds mildy unorthodox, but captivating. Though after its energetic start, Bellkeeper sticks to traditional DS, it is an album that carries a promise of something new and exciting. Looking forward to more!

Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil

Netherlands/USA, Sacred Bones Records

It’s a peculiar combo of musicians. One is a weaver of mysteries in tone, the other in film. Yet together, they create magic with droning guitar tones and a slowly emerging theme through the heavy and sparse drums accompanying the sound. On this record, the duo explores the theology of William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg, this time including Blavatsky in the mix. The music sort of merges slowly into this wall of sound, slowly blocking out everything as it gradually unfolds. It’s almost a sound of mystique unfolding, with the gentle lute and movie-soundtrack like ambiance. Half way between folky melodies, religious music and sturdy experimental doom music, it’s a record that drags you under its spell.