Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Velnezers – Pēdējā Saule

Label: Beverina Productions
Band: Velnezers
Origin: Latvia

Velnezers is the creation of Roberts Blūms, a Latvian musician who did everything on the first demo and album, but now the group is continuing as a four piece band. Bringing full weaponry to the table that means on their second full length ‘Pēdējā Saule’, which translates as ‘last sun’. An interesting endeavour of violent black metal.

The band has a very down to earth approach to it. So much that I’d call their sound earthy as well. The songs are rather straight forward, but with an ethnic element of rolling up your sleeves and getting in on it. The cover speaks of some sort of pastoral sound, perhaps inspired by the wintery countryside, but this is not what you get with Velnezers. The band name might be derived from a Wagars track, but I’m not certain about this.

There’s something typical about the sound of Velnezers, from the vocals (in Latvian) you can see that the language shapes the way it fits in with the music. Something I find typical about many Baltic bands. The riffing is often not too complex, but much more expressive and tasty. The track ‘Raganu Medības’is a nice bit of thrashy black metal, with rolling sound and threatening effect. Jumping from the thrashing passages, straight into the blast beat-tremolo roll, it shows how easily the band shits sound. It’s a sound that is feisty, furious and energising, but always with that darkened edge, which makes them so accesible.

Though the band stays pretty close to a rough sounding black metal band, there’s definitely a good rock’n’roll vibe going on. The clear production helps the musicians articulate their sound clearly and cohesively, without becoming the static broth you often hear. Still it sticks close to the ghoulish original Mayhem sound with the bombastic power of Behemoth at times. The clear sound helps in creating space for that vibe. The clear atmosphere never gets lost in a pile of guitar distortion. Both influences can be heard on ‘Meži Deg, Dūmi Kūp I’.  On the other hand, you can detect some death/sludge influences on ‘Svētīts Tiek Mirstīgais’.

Stranger even then, to suddenly hear a mellow, acoustic track. The vocals on ‘Meži Deg, Dūmi Kūp II’ sound distant, far removed from everything. The song flows forward like a calm river with repetitive waves and singing. It is a unusual song for a black metal album, but like most bands from the Baltics, there’s something eclectic to the sound of Velnezers. This song swells up to a gloomy expression of despair, ending with some mere piano tones. The title track closes of with some big riffs. This is a great record, if you can get past the Latvian language vocals. Enjoy!

Underground Sounds: Bethlehem – Bethlehem

Label: Prophecy Productins
Band: Bethlehem

Origin: Germany

Existence is not a state that is embraced as good and wholesome by everyone. Bethlehem definitely aren’t a life-affirmative and positive band. Nor are they a band praising suicide in the way DSBM bands do. Still, the style of the project of master mind Jürgen Bartsch is dark and different enough to be labelled ‘dark metal’ due to its singular and unique embrace of the dark elements.

Having released seven albums before, this eight record is the first ‘self-titled’ record. After having ventured into unknown domains with previous records, this line-up featuring Onielar on vocals (Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult), returns to the peculiar sound the band is known for. It is already promising to see an unsettling image on the cover of the record.

Opening with rattling battle cry, the record definitely doesn’t stick to static, ponderous passages but instantly rocks out. The demented barks of Onielar are delivered with enough conviction to make ‘Fickselbomber Panzerplauze’ a great opener. The swelling roar of the music is like an opening maw.  The fast pace of the songs is hectic and the listeners stumbles to follow. A sudden break to near silence and piano play on ‘Kalt’ Ritt in leicht faltiger Leere’ knocks the wind out of you. Tormented howls then fill doomy passages of clear, soothing blackness. The pace keeps shifting. The madness tears at you as a listener and tempts you.

The thrash elements in the music allow the music to stay loose and violent. That also works for the listener. You’re more or less prepaired for the rapid shifts and unexpected turns. There’s the double bass urging you on and the high pitch of razorsharp riffs, but it all feels like something you could still party to. The crushing bass on ‘Die Dunkelheit Darbt’ could even be described as disgustingly groovy. There are always unnerving effects to the Bethlehem sound. By just hinting, therefor creating a sense of foreboding dread combined with bursts of intricate, directed madness the group slowly wears down their audience. Without end the songs twist and turn. Doom, black metal and experimental sounds merge into eachother and never does Bethlehem veer to far to one style. Solid ground the listener will not find.

A great example and perhaps the most sincere and hurtfully conveyed track is ‘Verdammnis straft gezügeltes Aas’. The cavernous riffing, while you hear the creepy murmur and painful vocal delivery with thunderous groove is a price piece on this record. Bethlehem returns to form on this album. It’s a form of nightmares, but what nightmares I say.

Underground Sounds: Tetraskel – Preindoeuropean Metal

Label: Independent
Band: Tetraskel
Origin: Spain

Somewhere in time, we became the Indo-European Europe, that we are today. Somewhere in time there was a before and that is exactly which is used as inspiration by the band Tetraskel from Basque country in Spain. A band I have not been able to find out much about, but their sound is colossal.

Whether you believe that before all of this we had the Hyperborean times or such, we know that life was brutal, harsh and primitive in the days before what we now call civilization. I’m not writing here to defend or attack our current day, but trying to paint with broad strokes what Tetraskel is about. The name itself is a shortened form of tetraskelion, which refers to the pagan swastika symbol. The band has a specific kind of artwork they use, with sort of vague depictions of humans, combined with animals in a peculiar harmony that suggests a closeness we hardly understand in this time and age.

The music is slow, droning and progressing with megalithic strides. Slow and laborous, but with a blazing epic sound to it. The music sounds very grand, impressive in its relative simplicity. The fundament is a heavy beating drum, but the calmly soaring guitars are pretty much steadily giving of that same toiling sound. The sound is a bit too wavery to compare with some of the heavy as hell stoner bands, like Conan or such, who have that monolithic heaviness. Halfway through this album I had my doubts about this one-man project.

While not having vocals is often a way of shifting the focus to the music, Tetraskel seems to lack a certain variety in their songs, but do they need it? The majestic doom feels not unlike Atlantean Kodex or even a bit of the later work by Earth at times. The heavy sound of the band has that black edge to it, which feels so incredibly dark and foreboding. It’s perhaps the knowledge that this time of the Pre-Indo Europeans is soon to be over. That’s what Tetraskel is all about, the piercing guitar work, the otherworldliness and grandeur. A forgotten age illuminated with a sound that adresses the tragic passage of time and the

Dungeon Sounds: Old Tower, Thangorodrim, Elves & Dwarves

I’ve been astonished at the range of good, black metal inspired dungeon synth releases coming out in the last months. So here’s a summary of some really cool ones!

Old Tower – The Rise of the Specter

Label: Tour De Garde, The Shadow Kingdom
Band: Old Tower
Origin: Netherlands

Source: Old Tower bandcamp

Though Old Tower has released a steady stream of interesting releases over time, this is the first one considered a full length. The sound of this act harks back to the early days of the genre and fully embraces the epic, crawling nature of the dungeon. There’s also definitely something aethereal to the stretched out synth tones and the beckoning of the angelic chanting. Something  very alluring I would say, that makes it often feel more like dark ruins in the night, with some heavenly, seductive apparition. Something divine and calm you find in the music, which is very pleasant.

The slow progressing sound of Old Tower has exactly that right spot covered. It’s haunting, slow progression, the dark artwork somewhere between fantasy and occult grimoire. I just love it. Immerse yourself in there where the shadows are with this traditional release.

Thangorodrim – Taur​-​nu​-​Fuin

Label: Out of Season, Deivlforst Records
Band: Thangorodrim
Origin: USA

source: Thangorodrim bandcamp

Where Old Forest invokes the early days of the genre with it’s obvious Tolkien reference in both the name and album title. Thangorodrim even has a bit of a black metal cover going on for this release, with a single person in black and white, framed by a black with the name in Gothic font. The sound feels like it was made for abandoned castle halls, enclosed graveyards and dark crypts. The melancholic vibe tells of hubris in a once great keep. A fortress where only bones bare witness to past glories and the churning wheels of time.The chiming sound of bells can be heard on ‘Twilit Fogs on Tarn Aeluin’, which makes it feel a bit more small and intimate than the bass heavy synths on most of the tracks. Soon they’re coming in here too, but it offers a nice contrast from the foreboding, heavy sound that adorns the major part of the Thangorodrim sound.

Dark and dry, but always with a story in tow, this is definitely a record that should be obliged for anyone exploring this genre by themselves. Not just because it is mildly creepy, but because it’s a great piece of music.

Elves & Dwarves – Eidetic Dreams of Sentient Trees

Label: Self Released
Band: Elves & Dwarves
Origin: USA

source: bandcamp

The sound of dungeon synth has become more rich and diverse through the years. Adding ambient sounds like knocking, walking or such simple elements greatly increases the form of story telling the music embraces. As a listener you envision the footsteps in the ages old dust, the beating on the walls and other elements that make up the story.  Elves & Dwarves balance this with  folky passages and eerie soundscapes as the sound meanders on and on. It creates a record that is more rich and diverse in its sonic offerings. From a playful intermission like the ‘Silent Innkeeper’ to the descriptive, D&D campaign fitting ‘Ambush at Orcshead Rock’, the record really tekads the listener to places.

What is different is the general depth of the sound of Elves & Dwarves. The play with droning sounds and soaring effects on ‘Celestial Passage’ moves away from the cavernous, dry sound usually found in the dungeon synth genre. It creates a more  elaborate setting of forests and faery-illuminated lakes. The way the artist creates a story without ever being on the foreground of the whole scenery is pretty impressive and spectacular in itself. Evles & Dwarves play the soundtrack to your next campaign!

Underground Sounds: Tarnkappe – Winterwaker

Label: Hammerheart Records
Band: Tarnkappe
Origin: Netherlands

Black metal as a genre has been wildly progressive in the last few years and though some say it burned out, the embers are being fanned into new flames again. Nonetheless, there are those bands who bring you back to the essence of the genre. Tarnkappe is one of those and they do it very, very well on this second full length by the northerners.

With members in their ranks from bands like Gheestenland, Krocht, Asregen and Kjeld, you sure have some quality. The word Tarnkappe comes from a German word for a magic cloak. Pretty cool huh? Also pretty cool is the black and white album cover, the menacing Teutonic font and overall classic black metal feel. It’s a bit like back to the Darkthrone days of yore, when black metal was simple and evil.

That grim and frosty sound is definitely present in the ever continuing blast beats and static riffing. Tarnkappe rarely aims to show of their musical prowess, but works industrious on a continuous tapestry of thick woven riffs and beats into e freezing blanket of sound. On ‘ Aan De Aarde Gebonden’ we even get some of that black metal swing, with those evil sounding riffs and lingering passages giving room for the vocals. It’s really the feeling of the nineties that the band evokes on this amazing record. A continuous, grim sounding rain of sound with some very well placed atmospheric parts. I suppose a bit like the second wave of bands from the Norwegian scene like Gorgoroth. A sound much more measured and condensed.

The record seems to be misunderstood at times by reviewers, seeing the cohesive, tight record as a bit too controlled and organized. I think that’s exactly where it draws its strength from. With nature as an overlying theme, that natural order and harmony is translated into the music giving it a controlled and managed sound. It’s a different sort of order, but much more beautiful. This is what makes them stand out so much. There’s a majesty without glamour or shine to the sound. which is the way nature is considered beautiful. ‘Kale vlakten, desolatie’ is perhaps the most exemplifying song of that, with slow, thick riffs. A bit of an Enslaved-like grandeur in the heavy, sludgy sound even. This is black metal the way you love it and want it.

 

Attaining the absolute: Dillinger Escape Plan Live

I think that yesterday, watching Dillinger Escape Plan, something happened. This is one of the last shows ever of the experimental hardcore… progcore, I don’t know what to call it… ever will play in the Netherlands. This will be in 013 in Tilburg. It was amazing and somewhere in between I feel like Dillinger Escape Plan gives the concert goer a glimpse of the absolute. I’m telling you.

So maybe that’s the fever that was running through my body, which almost made me sell my tickets. I felt that it would not do to stay at home, while this band has sustained so many injuries. A little fever, they must shrug that off like a little bruise. Anyways. Musically this band is supreme, I’ve seen them play a bunch of times, but the first time was 11 or 12 years ago and I think that was a moment when my way of perceiving music changed forever.

It was a gig in the old Effenaar in Eindhoven, when it was still that cool old factory hall with the shitty toilets and crappy… well, it was just a rundown place, which gave it such a cool vibe. Dillinger completely blew me away that night and that is exactly what happened again yesterday.  If there is a band compatible to the level of attention and ferocity of Dillinger, it must be Meshuggah. Apart from that they have no peer.

Through the years the band moved to a more  artistic, more accesible and even wildly jazzy sound. On ‘Black Bubblegum’ and ‘One Of Us Is The Killer’ you hear that softer sound. The feeling of being hunted is even on more tempered songs a constant present, like on ‘Happiness is a smile’ (which they played for the first time this night). These are all worthy endeavours, good songs that show the musicianship of these gents has vastly expanded over the years. I mean, the track ‘Farewell, Monla Lisa’ is a completely crushing, incinerating track with dirge-like passages lamenting the meaninglessness of our existence in one of the most powerful ways ever. Just wow!

Dillinger shines truly, when they play those classics. The all-destroying, aural assaults from the early days, like ‘Panasonic Youth’. Songs like this are destructive in essense, it’s the musical equivalent of scorched earth tactics. What is left after being completely battered and bruised by these frantic notes? Not without reason the set closes with ‘Sunshine The Werewolf’ from Miss Machine and ‘43% Burnt’  from Calculating Infinity. This is exactly because these songs are some of the purest expressions of rabid fury ever. The most violent music I’ve ever heard, but also delivered in a way that leaves no room for anything. An expression that is absolute, unmistakable and overwhelming.

Again, might have been the fever, but for me hearing Dillinger Escape Plan play again was cathartic. Destroying everything, playing on  a stage completely bare of any decoration. This is one of the most pure live experiences you can get.  Shame they’re throwing in the towel, but I won’t forget this night.

Underground Sounds: Wędrujący Wiatr – O turniach, jeziorach i nocnych szlakach

Label: Werewolf Promotions
Band: Wędrujący Wiatr
Origin: Poland

With a name that means as much as ‘Wandering wind’, you can have a good idea what direction Wędrujący Wiatr is going to be taking the sound in. The album ‘O turniach, jeziorach i nocnych szlakach’. The group hails from Rabka-Zdrój/Olsztyn and has delivered a spectacular album.

Describing themselves as atmospheric black metal, the inspiration for their songs is drawn from Polish folklore, legends and myth. Though that in itself is something that completely fascinates me, I’m not going to be able to figure it all out as easily, so let’s focus on how much the music already tells us.

The intro is a series of ambient sounds, the weary cracking of trees, a dog barking and owls hooting. A gentle folky melody emerges, while the wind gently blows. It helps to know that in the band comes from Warmia, a region in the north-east of Poland, what was former Prussian ground (and I’m not referrin to the Germanic state, but the Baltic-Prussians). When the black metal kicks in, there’s a weary synth line and a short break of melancholic chanting, which I’ve heard from Baltic bands too. It is after all a region that shares history and culture in many ways, but regardless. I’m speculating.

There’s something of the sea and windy forests to the way the sound works for this band. It’s like there’s a continuous windy gale through the music. It almost overtakes the music itself, which is intense, sometimes blistering. The demanding vocals are shouting, roaring even against the sonic storm around it. The band knows exactly when to put a break in, which then ends with a primitve sounding drum. Passages with wavery, static riffing help the listener dream away with the band. The record also has a folky intermission, which again sets a great mood. Musicallly the band is drowning the listener in the emotions and moods it tries to convey. This they do very succesfully on an album that sets them apart from the rest.

This whole record is an eerie, special experience. You listen to something that eases you into a dreamy past of a land that has its very own identity and colour. Wędrujący Wiatr manage to connect synths, atmosphere and an organic brutality to create an intrinsic, mysterious experience. An album to fall in love with.

Underground Sounds: Pensive Ceremony – Moonlit Wanderings

Label: Little Somebody Records
Band: Pensive Ceremony
Origin: USA

Pensive Ceremony is the solo project of Pythagumus. This gentleman seems to be the centre of a local scene with his own recording den, named The Hidden Thicket. He’s been involved in various own projects and this is one of them. The locale I mention is Washington state, in the town of Tacoma.

Pensive Ceremony is an acoustic drone project, rooted in the dark of nature. Dark pictures of animal bones decorate the facebook page and the artwork is also simple, but symbolic. It’s not a foreboding darkness though, it’s one of piece and silence (apart from the droning that is) where one can find a special sense of calm.

The opening tones of the album remind me so much of the legendary BBC series Robin Hood, where Clanned made the soundtrack of. The drone always appeared with Herne The Hunter to illustrate the radiant force of nature. This is exactly the initial response I feel to the music of Pensive Ceremony. It’s also that sound, that fills my ears and attention when I listen to opener ‘Dawn’. The track has a few little breaks with chiming bells and calm guitar play, both very peaceful and calming. It’s the sound of closing your eyes, while sitting on a tree trunk in the forest.

‘Hollowed’ is another endless drone, passing you by like its ambient sounds of the wind and a constant humming in the fields. It’s not the actual sounds, but the way I feel when I perceive the sounds of the music. It is highly evocative of images. It’s an embrace of the nature that surrounds us, it brings us closer because it allow sus to open all perceptivity to that which is offered. It’s really minimalist and whatever is happening receives maximum focus of the listener.

Why not put this on your iPod or other mobile audio device. Go to a park, sit down and let nature embrace you.

Underground Sounds: Ēnu Kaleidoskops – Tie, kas šķietami zuduši

Label: Self Released
Band: Ēnu Kaleidoskops
Origin: Latvia

Sometimes you need to find the sound that is lcoser to nature, by venturing into nature and trying to get in touch with it. This is what Mārtiņš Links did, while studying in Lithuania. It is the origin story for the band Ēnu Kaleidoskops from Latvia. A group that creates neo-folk with a particular calm and natural feeling to it.

This is as far as I can gather the third full length album of the band. The engineering work was done by Kaspars Barbals, who is a familiar name due to his work in Skyforger in the past. The group is a loose collaboration of artists, joining forces where needed to create beautiful music. On ‘Tie, kas šķietami zuduši’, the third effort under this name, they succeed for sure.

The music is typical for the Baltic tradition. A bit heavy handed, a bit dark sounding, but also very cozy and natural. A lot of chanting and a wide array of instruments to create all the different little sounds in the clean recorded songs. The vocals are mostly in harmony with backing vocals and instruments, like very clearly audible on ‘Asā zāle’. Meandering, wavery instrumentals put no pressure on the listener.

The playful folky medleys, like ‘Elpa’ with a Jethro Tull-y flute  are very pleasant to the ear. Catchy, but also a little dark and unpredictable. On ‘Bula Laiks’ we even hear the intense rhythm section stepping back for just an idyllic bit of flute a few times, which sounds so heavenly peaceful and calm. The combination with the vibrant energy of the percussion is a thrill for the ear.  I think that ‘Rūķu armija’ with its jolly intro is even a little bit of a hit potential song.

The core of the music is typical for Baltic volk. The reciting tone of the vocals, the repetitive patterns of the music and all are very much reminiscent of an act like Romuwe Rikoito and I guess a dozen groups, since this style of folk is simply quite popular. Not that it’s a casual thing that the people enjoy, it seems that there’s quite some younger people inspired to re-invoke the heritage in this type of neofolk music. The repetitive element is a common feature, but the flute play and expansive instruments are not necessarily so. It does function in such a way to create a feeling of otherworldliness, even trance by the repetition. The listener sinks away into a much emptier, younger world.

The mystical sound of this group definitely works for me.

Underground Sounds: Afsprengi Satans – Seiðgall

Label: self released
Band: Afsprengi Satans
Origin: Iceland

Itś a bit muddy where this group just emerged from, with their peculiar cover and lack of info. There has been a band in Iceland with the name Afsprengi Satans, which is related to the groups Myrk and Momentum. Oh, and they’re from Reykjavik, but that is quite frankly all I can tell you about them.

The record is rather short, only five songs, of which four don’t reach the three minute mark, but number five lasts 14 minutes. The songs have the titles of the four compass points, where the final track is titled Experiment.

THe music you get is the sound of wind, blowing hauntingly, laced with soem further effects to create a blaring form of ambient music. In that torrent of sound on ‘Norður’, a rapid rhythm is discernible, but it is unclear what casues it. It may be something fluttering in the gale of wind, or tribal drumming. The tempo of that decreases a lot on the next track, which seems to have some horns  sounding through the unrelenting winds, howling and lamenting.

With only slight variations, the record just continuous its path. Whistling, blowing and biting, the wind goes on. Now and then it sounds as sif there’s cut up sounds, messed into the music. Hacked up, mutated and strange to even create more of a fearful environment. The final track is another long ambient piece, which randomly seems to change direction. A rather intriguing piece of music if I may say.

So yeah, this is a weird release, but also fun and interesting. Give it a spin, you might enjoy its haunting atmosphere.