Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Walden – Mantra

Label: self released
Band: Walden
Origin: Germany

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Danijel Zambo must have had clear reasons for naming this project after the famed book by the American author Thoreau. A hankering for solitude in nature is definitely something you can feel throughout the music of this record. The third release actually, by this musician.

The goal of this project is to create music that evokes ideas and emotions through referencing nature. As inspirations are also cited bands like Ulver and Empyrium, which is tangible in the dark folk sound that Walden produces. So time to immerse ourselves in the solitude of this Augsburg artist.

Walden is minimal guitar play, more expressive and impulsive than really creating songs, over mild ambient tones and the reverberation of the lower tones. It’s the sound of a lonely musician, enjoying the instrument without the need for song structures and complexities. Merely plucking the strings in  an absent state and pondering life, enjoying the feeling of creating casual sounds.

Ofcourse not all of the record is like that, but most of it does hold to that feeling. On ‘Rad Der Zeit’ we can even enjoy an oriental bit of play, with precious precision. But most of the album is like the album cover, a smooth sunset that takes its own time in emerging. Letting go of time and other urgencies, just being and becoming regardless of human influences. It’s finding harmony within itself, that makes this EP so powerful and touching to listen to. A search for tranquility through music, by letting it flow freely.

Normally I just share the recent album, but I’d like you to check the covers that Walden did too here, so here goes. Particularly ‘The Rains of Castamere’.

Underground Sounds: A Band Of Orcs – March of the Gore-Stained Axe Tribe

Label: IME
Band: A Band Of Orcs
Origin: United States (or Hirntodia)

So the group of human children that played D&D and accidentally brought the A Band Of Orcs into our world are now dead… except for their DM’s older brother , who tought them how to riff like Slayer. This eased the bloodlust of the tribe, who now embrace metal as a means to conquer and dominate.

Blending nerdism and metal is the best, really. Originally this band was a five piece, but the war machine has been thinned down to only three mighty Orcish warriors from their own realm. The whole concept has been worked out pretty brilliantly. Merch consists of a card game, dice and miniatures and the group performs in costume. Though this release is not that new, it was so awesome that I had to cover it.

The sound of A Band of Orcs has developed from a blend of Slayer and Norther with the epic balls of 3 Inches of Blood to a more gritty and dirty assault on this record. More directed to death metal, less controlled and with vocals that have  crusty feel to it. Maybe something like Kvelertak meets Svartsot in the Amebix basemetn style equipment? It has all the groove and brutality to go there, but also the epic riffing.

Sticking to their gimmick, the opening track is a weird war chant with frantic drumming, which launches into the title track. Hoars, shouted vocals rally the troops and indicate agressive action. Hooky, sharp riffs and tumultuous rhythms guide the song to its ultimate conclusion. ‘Heaving Death’ follows after a mad scream and a distorted, hazy assault of drums and guitars. It’s a thundering track and the pinnacle of this ferocious EP. Double vocals, chaotic and definitely wild, this track really harnesses the agression of the Orcish horde in a punked up aural attack. Oog, Cretos, and Gronk! are a deadly machine, so check them out!

Underground Sounds: Night Gaunt – Jupiter’s Fall

Label: Temple of Mystery Records
Band: Night Gaunt
Origin: Italy

Who doesn’t like old fashioned doom metal? You know, doom the way it supposed to be. Well, if your answer is no, you should look no further. You wouldn’t understand how cool Night Gaunt is.

Night Gaunts are creatures from Lovecrafts unearthly tales, most particularly the Dream Cycle. There is little reference to the Lovecraftian tale though, but that’s alright. This release has two songs that are big and bold enough to stand on their own. It’s been released as an EP and is the first act of the band since their full length in 2014. Though this is not that much material, their whole aesthetic spoke to me enough to check it out.

The first track is the tragic, gloomy title track ‘Jupiter’s Fall’. It clocks just under six minutes and immediately hits you with the slowly progressing, big riffs. The minor tones are instant guarantee’s for a feeling of sadness and remorse, but the interesting gong sounds do wake you up from the nodding to the beat. The vocals by ‘Gc’ are smooth, even seductive to be fair. Sparsely using the vibrato in his voice, there’s an uncommon subtlety to the singers delivery, which is the right sort of magic for a haunting doom album. The sound has a bit of echo to it, making it sound more cavernous even.

‘Penance’ is the other side of the 7″ this is released as, with an urgent guitar line that hits you instantly. The song is more creeping, subtle like a snake that is wrapping itself around the listener. This song then does get a bit more muscular with the sturdy riffing, that never fails to have a sturdy, gothic demeanor to it. The pulsating rhythm does its part as well,  even giving a hint of an oriental twist in the delivery.

Night Gaunt delivers on their promise. Doom with a pitchblack flavor.

Underground Sounds: Downfall Of Gaia – Atrophy

Label: Metal Blade
Band: Downfall Of Gaia
Origin: Germany

The German Downfall Of Gaia is definitely a unique sound in the sludge/hardcore world. I like placing them in that genre-corner, because they remind me a lot of Converge, Altar Of Plagues and their ilk with the intense, bleak sound they produce. The band has concocted a very own mixture of styles nd it’s a highly effective one at that.

Thought he comparison of previous bands seems obvious, there’s definitely more to the band than that. Isis can be heard in the sludge elements, which are thick and spiced up with those wavery guitar parts. Then there’s a more rough around the edges crust element akin to Amebix and Discharge. All that leaves you as a band completely free to go in whatever direction you feel like. That is what the band does on ‘Atrophy’.

The howling vocals are really bringing that Converge comparison to life on opener ‘Brood’. Thunderous rhythms are combined with melodic guitar, completely disconnected from the ferocity going on with the vocals and rhythm section. The way the band manages to create music that is pleasant to listen to, while maintaining that raw edge is definitely part of why Downfall Of Gaia should be much bigger. The appeal of their sound is just very broad. The bestial bark of Dominik Goncalves dos Reis just works fine with the sweet riffs on ‘Woe’. There’s almost a bit of postrock there, with the warmth-evoking guitar work.

Building up tension is another postrock element the band has fully embraced. On ‘Ephemerol’ the tranquility of the guitar play and its sudden vibrant harmony with the rhythm section is part of that, of creating that tension so necessary for this music to really work. Always there’s a slight raw edge, in this case a distorted buzz around the edges of the guitar tones. Another majestic track unfolds, after which we get a short intermission that is as dreamy as music by the xx.

A highlight of the album is the soaring guitar work on the titlesong. The vocals appear from a cavernous underground, distant and muffled. As the album deals with themes of dead and life, you can feel the continuous contrast in the sound with opposing elements. Stretched guitar tones create some sort of blaring black metal static as melodious guitar play trickles into your ears. One feels close and warm, the other far away and cold.

Atrophy as a whole is a vitalist, contrasting and energetic record, where humble acoustics go hand in hand with black metal majesty. It’s agressive but never abrasive, furious but never losing control. If this was football, this would be total-metal by Downfall Of Gaia.

 

Underground Sounds Roundup: Ash Borer, Bölzer, Krallice

Sometimes you simply can’t cover it all, but you still want to. Because of that I’m going to do a round up of some releases, that have gotten plenty of coverage elsewhere. Why do I then still cover them? Well, because I feel it is my duty in a peculiar way to say something about Krallice, Ash Borer and Bölzer.

Krallice – Prelapsarian

source: bandcamp

Label: Gilead Media
Origin: United States

Though Krallice can be a bit too chaotic for me at times, they are one of the most interesting bands out there. They’ve been very productive, releasing an album in 2015 and an EP in 2016 and then suddenly here’s another full lenght with four rabid, mesmerizing tracks. The sheer intensity with which Krallice delivers their songs is uncanny. Shouted vocals, more akin to a Converge  (‘Hate Power’) combined with riffs that at times (‘Transformation Chronicles’) feel more Dragonforce-like at times. The eclectic combinations the band makes is in a way what makes them so interesting, though on this record they are more returning to the frantic black metal sound Krallice originates from. The music constantly shifts pace and surprises you at every turn. The mix is great and the record is great, what more do you want me to say about this?

Ash Borer – The Irrepassable Gate

source: Bandcamp

Label: Profound Lore Records
Origin: United States

Ash Borer is in a league of their own when it comes to creating densely atmospheric black metal with a majestic streak to it. Filled with ambient elements, to create an all overpowering sound, the band is heavier than thou and irredeemably good on this offering. The doomy overtones  with the subterranean drumming are a constant battery for your nerves. The cacophony of noise the band unleashes here and there helps to create the right vibe of a sound that is much more natural and real than that of your average Satan worshipping black metallers. The grandeur and consistency in which Ash Borer weaves their aural patterns is not unlike bands such as Wolves In The Throne Room, Balancing between the ferocity of USBM and the complete sound of Cascadian black metal, Ash Borer shows themselves to be a class apart on the general BM firmament.

Bölzer – HERO

source: bandcamp.com

Label: Iron Bonehead
Origin: Switzerland

I have felt conflicted about the Swiss duo, mainly due to their ridiculous reclamatin of various nazi-symbols. It seemed so boneheaded to me, that I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. Having seen the band perform live twice, I think there’s a good reason to do write about this odd duo. Why then? Because they are incredible! Sure, live their sound gets a bit muddled and loses any sort of semblance of subtlety. Still, the ‘world-eating’ sound (as read in band bio) is a thunderous, unstoppable force. Chosing minimal means, does not mean an artist limits himself. Also adding clean vocals, Bölzer sound like heathen, barbarian kings on ‘HERO’. A display of thunderous rhythms and remarkably noticable  guitar melodies. On a track like ‘Hero’, that makes the men sound like titans. Big muscular riffs and booming vocals. I still don’t understand their strange love for the sun wheel and wolfsangel, but on the other hand I get the stubborn position behind it. The whole record is a bull headed effort to wring out epic sounds of minimal means. They sure do pull that off!

 

[Underground Sounds] Wolcensmen – Songs from the Fyrgen

Label: Deivlforst
Band: Wolcensmen
Origin: England

We are what we are, because we are shaped by the land we hail from. For a long time the British isles offered much of their heritage in the form of folk, story and song. You can still see that in the more remote parts like Ireland, Wales and Scotland, but England itself seems to have lost part of it. Wolcensmen is in that sense a breath of fresh air with their heathen folk, reclaiming something that might seem forgotten.

Wolcensmen is more than just a folk project by Dan Capp (known from Winterfylleth), its a platform featureing various artists who collaborated with the Englishmen to bring his dream to life. One of the participants is Canadian cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Musk Ox), who is brilliant. Another is Grimrik (Arath), who is a master of dungeon synth, and creating those Burzumesque atmospheres.

Jumping ahead for a moment to the main contribution of Grimrik, that Burzumesque feel is immediately present ”Neath a Wreath of Firs’, which was written and performed by the German artis. It truly captivates that eerie forest spirit. A great tune, but my avorite is at the start of the album. When the intro starts, I imagine beautiful landscapes like those on the Winterfylleth album covers.

That feeling remains, but even more ina an eagle-eye perspective in a soaring, praying calm on  ‘The Fyre-Bough’. The second song with this majestic, droning song is a connection to The Hobbit soundtrack, particularly the song  by Richard Armitage ‘Misty Mountains’. Though the similarity is not as strong as my words may suggest, there is a similar evocation of a more pure, clean world that is both rough and free as well as pastoral and calm as one can find in the work of Tolkien. I wonder if that is an inspiration for Dan Capp.

There’s something more gentle to the English folk music, compared to its Celtic counterparts. It’s gentle and freely flowing akin to a calm river through a green meadow with gnarled, old trees hanging over you. It lacks the rugged yearning of the Irish and Scottish folk, which I find is particularly true for Wolcensmen too. There are other elements woven into the music, which is mainly guitar, bodhran and synths. The droning strokes on the cello by Weinroth-Browne give the music a lot of its atmosphere with a deep, sonorous sound that gives the tunes their earthy feeling. A song like ‘Hoofes upon the Shymmeringe Path’ have something of an early approach of spring. A liveliness and hunger for green land and being alive again, with a foreboding drumming and double vocals.

A song like ‘Yerninge’ feels more like a crackling fire on a snowy winter day, when the sun has gone down and the fire offers that uncommon warmth and joy in the dark hours. There’s always a calm and tranquil feeling to the music though. It takes the listener to a time where fantastic creatures still roamed the land, like on ‘The Mon ‘O Micht. The base for the song is  an old poem in dialect. The words even hold some particular wisdom. Dan Capp delivered something beautiful here.

Wolcensmen don’t sound like anything else really, but in a way they do sound very familiar. Like a voice from the past, that makes you think of a more peaceful time. A lingering memory of something that once was.

Underground Sounds: Murg – Gudatall

Label: Nordvis
Band: Murg
Origin: Sweden

I’ve written about the previous Murg record on this page before, though not so dense when I look at it now. You can check that out here. The band from Bergslagen brings back a lot of classic black metal elements on their albums. The black and white, but also a blistering, northern sound. Don’t worry, they are not trapped in time in some sort of way.

Within a year from their debut ‘Varg & Björn’, the band is back with ‘Gudatall’. This album continues the quest of these unknown Swedes to bring back some tradition to the disparate black metal world. In an interview with 3rd Eye Mag, they explain their influences with classical names such as Dissection and Gorgoroth (but with addition of Tulus and Mgla). That should tell you plenty about what to expect from this record.

What is noticable instantly is that the band has found a bit more of an atmosphere in their sound. This creates a richer and fuller sound on this album, compared to the rather straight forward predecessor. A sound that has that full flavor of the bands they mention as their inspiration, not the thin ferocity of the original bands in the 2nd wave of black metal. A wall of dissonant, bleak guitar work with that sense of the great epic Dissection to it. It’s much less raw though, more controlled cascades of riff work rolling through the noisy fog of distortion. The vocals are harsh barks, with a commanding, rustic feel to them, which you hear in the more rural black metal bands like Windir.

In general, the sound of Murg has also put up some of that wavery, atmospheric sound here and there. A thin element of Winterfylleth -like nature worship perhaps, since that seems to be the stronger theme in their music. Still, there’s that Nidrosian black metal element, orthodox, harsh and mysterious, that makes Murg such a compelling act. They’re not too likely to join the more progressive stream of the genre. The frosty crips of the vocals, the grey haze of the rhythm section and that tremolo guitarplay are way to stuck in the frozen north. The blistering hail on ‘Mästarens resa i mörkret’, with the fierce vocals or the jagged, frantic ‘Midnattsmässan’ are a testament to that.

Murg is a fresh breeze in the black metal scene in the sense that they feel comfortable, as that old pair of shoes. But also great, because you can finally wear them again. This is obviously a great album.

Underground Sounds: Stilla – Skuggflock

Label: Nordvis
Band: Stilla
Origin: Sweden

What if you let go of the clichés that make up black metal and you explore a direction that is more organic, more close to heart and understandable. Ok, Stilla is still a black metal band of the atmospheric sort, but there’s something honest and straightforward to the band that makes them stand apart in a sea of rather unremarkable acts.

Previous offerings by Still are already highly appreciated thanks to their authentic flavor. This third release somehow brings it all together. The Swedish band creates something that is both engaging and densely atmospheric.

What I find particularly typical to the sound of Stilla is the assault. There is no passive beholder/listener, because the elements that make the songs constantly assault you and create tension. That puts them a bit on their own trajectory compared to the run of the mill atmospheric bands. This is immediately on the opener ‘Irrfärd’. It translates as ‘roving expedition’, but immediately spells danger. Threat of predators, threat of the elements and of the companions on this journey. The true assault starts on the next song with natural sounding blast beats. There’s no polished production but a very natural, full sound to the music. The vocals are intrusive, confrontational even at points. As if another is shouting in your face. All part of the journey.

In the meantime the guitars create archs that give a more atmospheric feeling. They sound rather decadent in combination with the gruff rhythms. Sometime Still even has a bit of a bold swagger to their sound. For example the song ‘I Tystnad Vilar Själen’, which reminds me a bit of the Satyricon groove of later records. Clean vocals are a peculiar thing on the album, but on this song they’re there. Somehow it gives the track a more earthy, punky aura. I think that’s pretty cool.

You also hear some clear Enslaved influences, with more progressive, stretched out soundscapes being presented. The wild, wind swept nature is evoked by the sound, the image of a rugged land with strong bones jutting from the earth in the shape or mountains and hills. In that sense there’s a hang towards the Cascadian black metal genre (or post black metal as some call it). The chanting, the synths, they all point towards a more subtle and natural sound. Still, every time the band pushes that a bit, they soon jump back to the more conventional sound.

Maybe on that front the song ‘Till den som skall komma’ is most typical for where Stilla is at now. The free darting guitars, the subtle tempo shift, but also the ragged, traditional black metal buzzsaw drone still there. The eerie organ, but also the barked, commanding vocals and cymbal-clashing blast beats. This is also where the charm of Stilla is, it lies in their duality and tension between the two faces of the band. That’s what makes this record so interesting, by showing both the harshness and the beauty in one form.

Underground Sounds: Temaukel – Spirit of Wintek

Label: Self released
Band: Temaukel
Origin: Chile

There’s part of history you’ll never hear of, things you’ll never read about. It’s because they’ve become footnotes in a history so dense with violence and misery that we’ve simply forgotten it. Temaukel was there before time. Temaukel is the supreme deity of the Selk’nam people, creator of earth and the eastern sky, also named Wintek.

The Selk’nam, though heavily reduced, still reside in their native
Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of Chile. The few that are left, as a result of the civilised people that arrived there. Violent and hungry entrepeneurs launched an extermination campaign against the indigenous people, almost driving them to extinction. The band is the project of Krenn and this is the first release from the Chilean musician.

The album opens with a thunderous drum rhythm, which helsp in evoking a fiery, tribal spirit. It sounds like some heavy blackened death with bombastic elements. The continuous blast beats create a sort of calm on which the interwoven synths come out to play and enchant the listener. The fierce growled vocals complement the forward pushing music, always edging on the listener. It’s important to point out that the music is a vehicle for something deeper. I believe that the emotion in the music makes this album especially relevant, the frustration of repressed history and denial of past errors.  This is tangible in the presentation, while the studio work really helps in preserving the quality of the sound.

There’s a clear melodic structure that the sound forms, which makes it easy to listen to and follow. The lyrics are in English and are as important as the rest of the sound, even with the guttural, transformed delivery that is offered on ‘Howenh’.  The lyrics are saturated with spirituality and its almost tangible in the delivery. It’s a fierce, swooping sound that Temaukel delivers, which reminds me at time of Behemoth and maybe of the death and roll  of Satyricon. 

The band also doesn’t shy a way from some folk music on ‘Fires of Karukinka’, which is a long, wavery folky ballad. The final song ‘Tierra Del Viento’ follows in that same path, evoking a melancholic wish for the coast and the sea. The contrast and connectin between these songs and the previous part is bewildering, but a great listen. For a time gone and a past buried under time. A great record that should get the attention it deserves.

 

Underground Sounds: Khonsu – The Xun Protectorate

Label: Jhator Recordings
Band: Khonsu
Origin: Norway

First of all, boasting of guest appearances of Obsidian C. (Keep of Kalessin) and Torstein Parelius (Manes),  this instantly grabs attention. You’d almost think they’re just throwing names around, but there is absolutely no need for it. Khonsu has used prime musicians in the past, as a result of which their concept was made into a reality with the musical extravaganza that it requires.

Khonsu combines black metal, industrial and progressive elements and is a project of two musicians. S. Grønbech is the brother of Obsidian C. and worked on the well known Reclaim EP. T’sol has been active in various bands.  Khonsu” means “traveller” or “pathfinder” and is a reference to an Egyptian deity. The sound of the group really feels like a futuristic take on black metal with a strong narrative element to it. It’s quite awesome.

The band achieves an eerie vibe through long passages of keys and samples. You can taste the influence of krautrock with soaring passages and those weightless keyboard moments that seem to linger. The riffing comes in short, controlled bursts, overall sounding extremely tight and interwoven with various effects to increase the progressive feeling and story of the record. Vocals vary from monotonous chanting to deep grunts and soaring moments of operatic ecstasy.  You may deduce from this, that the album has plenty going for it, while holding definitely enough variation to keep the listener intrigued.

I dig the aggressive nature and awesome art work of this album . You can let your imagination run with it. The depiction in sound the band offers is futuristic, while sounding dystopian in a way. Perhaps that’s what the galaxy under the boot of the Empire feels like in Star Wars. It’s grim and dark, much like a Warhammer 40K universe, but more clinical I suppose. You can feel the empty void that is space in their sound. It’s VNV Nation without hope, Dodheimsgard without the blasting fury and maybe even a connection to Fear Factory’s desolate stories of a post-industrial, post-World War III landscape.

I’m just throwing tome things out there, while The Xun Protectorate is a great album full of shifts in pace, theme and timbre. Short narrative intermezzo’s form the intro’s of songs or quick breaks in between. It’s music for metal fans and sci-fi lovers alike, making it a great record, with all the right elements.