Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Botanist/Oskoreien – Green Metal / Deterministic Chaos

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band: Botanist / Oskoreien
Origin: United States (both)

The band Botanist is a one man metal project, that steers black metal into the realm of plant life. The apt name for that side of the split is not without reason ‘Green Metal’. The sound of Botanist has captivated me, even more after seeing them perform life on Roadburn. It’s vibrant, unrelentingly different and in its own sphere of existence. It’s use of instruments is also peculiar, mainly the use of a hammered dulcimer. I love entering that verdant realm of Roberto Martinelli aka Otrebor.

Oskoreien is less familiar to me, but the band has their roots in viking metal. This is also a one man band. Jay Valena has more moved towards black metal with a slightly philosophical theme to it. The two tracks of Oskoreien are under the title ‘Deterministic Chaos’. I’m a bit puzzled why these two artists have come together, but it makes sense soundwise and lets be honest, both are fairly strange acts in a league of their own.

a0354701907_16
Oskoreien version of the cover

The tracks of Botanist are marked by a peculiarly frantic percussion and lack of the blazing guitars. The harsh barked vocals are in sharp contrast with the often harmonious and very beautiful tones. It’s a bit like drifting through Wonderland, where a mad plant-man starts barking at you in the midst of the green overgrowth. It’s rare to use the word vibrant for black metal, but the blissful tones of ‘Varkoor’ evoke no other feelings.  The epic lyrics describe plants and their reproduction in grand terms, like ‘Clathrus Columnatus’: “Lord of the flies, In pilgrimage they come, To its altar of slime, Gathering its children, Spores to arise anew”. 

The final track by Botanist is an almost shoegaze affair, where only the vocals stand as the extreme metal element.’Saprophyte’ fades into another track, where that weird, hammering percussion is again on the forefront. This playful, lively sound is in sharp contrast with the noisy, distortion laden sound that Oskoreien delivers, including some big riffs by the way, to keep the rock element high. Droning, gritty sounds with melancholic guitars woven through is what you hear on the title track ‘Deterministic Chaos’. Though it feels black metal, it has a sludge/drone sound going for it that is so utterly bleak that the harsh vocals are all that gives life to the tune.

The most surprising track is the Placebo cover by Oskoreien. It’s like a long stretched, doom-gloom version of the track with tormented howls instead of the nasal Brian Molko. An improvement many would say, but what an unearthly emptiness does Oskoreien invoke with their cold soundscapes. Harrowing and haunting, combined with those tracks by Botanist, this makes for an excellent record exploring the far of realms of black metal.

Underground Sounds: Nubiferous – Primeval Forest Hymns

Label: Black Mara
Band: Nubiferous
Origin: Russia

Nubiferous is no novice act in the ambient/folk soundscape realm and produces a sound that is akin to other acts in the Black Mara stable. It blends the elements together to create an almost soundtracky/filmic experience for the listener.  The origin of the act is the Russian town of Pyatigorsk and the man behind it seems to be called Andrey.

‘Primeval Forest Hymns’ looks like a book and I guess apart from my film comparison, that is pretty much a great way to depict and present something that has so many different stories to tell. So time to get into this I suppose.

This album opens in the most annoying way possible, by the approaching sound of a moskito as if it’s right in your ear. Luckily that immediately shifts to horns and a tribal rhythm. Obviously there’s a lot of that traditional folk with blaring horns and the rhytmic drumming, but the most fascinating part is how natural sounds are blended in together with the music. For example ‘Ridge of Fiery Owls’, where traditional instruments and birds form the sound together.

The connecting of the two worlds of nature and culture feels like a step back into the forest, a movement from one towards the other. The trickling of water, the chiming of bells, the sound of the forest and gentle toms, it’s all in harmony, melting together in the clean, pleasant mix. Sometimes a folk melody emerges, but more often, like on ‘Old Forest Cult \ Rise of Shadethicket Beast’, the nature elements are the most present. Sometimes the sound is eastern, sometimes very Slavic, but it always feels so natural and unrestrained.

It’s a record full of beauty, poetry and harmony and you should just let yourself be engulfed by it, like nature encroaches upon the musician.

Underground Sounds: Khemmis – Hunted

Label: 20 Buck Spin/Graven Earth Records
Band: Kemmis
Origin: United States

In an earlier write-up, back when I put four reviews in one piece, I embraced Khemmis. Their silk-smooth adaptation of classic doom, inlcuding the ‘Heavy metal’-esque artwork, was completely captivating to me. The female warrior is gone, but the foreboding wizard is still there on the cover, spurring undead hordes on for battle it seems.

Khemmis, as a reminder, hails from Denver, and this is their second full length. I’m completely baffled that they haven’t been getting as big yet as I believe they should be, but the four gents definitely got some boost after their debut ‘Absolution’. The sound of the band hasn’t changed that much in the mean time, though the heavy, dreary sound that reminded me of St. Vitus has switched gears a little.

There is still a mournful tone to the sound of Khemmis (and some deep guttural barking, if we listen to ‘Candlelight’), but the biting twang of the previous record seems to have taken the back seat. ‘Above The Water’ is instantly a more meandering, melodic track. Sure, the band leans heavy on the slow progressions, insepparable from their doomy sound, but they are really telling stories now.

We get even more down and dirty on ‘Three Gates’, where the hoarse roar of the vocalist (I know they have two, just don’t know who the grunter is) opens up the song. Exchanging the grunts with clean, soaring vocals is an emocore trick, but works great on doom as well. Shifting gears and intensity, the band makes great, captivating tracks by not caring for any standards. That makes Khemmis so liberating to listen to. You forget what genre they play or become more aware of the futility of its rules. These guys make an epic bit of music, by not giving a flying fig.

The brutal parts, the catchy passages on ‘Hunted’, it is all part of what Khemmis does. Grand doom with all the tasty sauce to make you absolutely love it and crave more.

Underground Sounds: Zaum – Eidolon

Label: I Hate
Band: Zaum
Origin: Canada

I saw Zaum play once in an obscure basement in Tilburg. The air was choking thanks to an uncanny cigarette smell and the location was ill fitted for the band that was playing. Still, Zaum was convincing and crushing thanks to their transcendental doom sound, that just takes you to another place.

Where previous album ‘Oracles’ spoke of places like the Red Sea and Parthia, also showing a desert landscape and a foreboding city on a cliff near the sea, this one takes us further into the middle-east (though the cover made me think of Maya/Inca society). The cover is a tell tale sign with Zaum where they may take you on their hypnotic journey. The title ‘Eidolon’ refers to an apparition of a spirit like being, something you’ll find in the Djinn haunted Assyria plenty

Still, their oriental favors are clear from the title ‘Influence of the Magi’. Magi traditionally refers to Zoroastrianism, but the lyrics make clear we are now in Assyria. After an almost religious chanting, the voices shift to more unearthly sounds. Everything becomes more foreboding, even before that first, threatening riff is layed down. It takes a while for the chanting to be substituted by crushing, slowly cascading riffs and hypnotic vocals. 21 minutes both tracks last, but they are epic journeys, that make you hallucinate slightly, tripping through the mysterious past.

There’s those oriental themes in the music, also thanks to the use of a sitar. That helps with the atmosphere, which is layed down thickly on ‘The Enlightenment’. The song is, as I sort of wanted to say earlier, a transcendental experience of mysterious atmosphere and tones and a playful expression with rare bursts of guitar work. Zaum brings the listener into a trance on this majestic track. When the band really hits it off, it is monumental. Crushing drums and that typical heavy, solid experience. Though I loved their previous record, this really takes the cake. I can listen to this forever.

 

Underground Sounds: Mrako-Su – Путь В Белое

Label: Black Mara
Band: Mrako-Su
Origin: Russia

Black Mara is a Russian label from Novosibirsk that has been releasing great records for a while now. The genre they fit into is dark ambient and Mrako-Su is their latest production. An ambient record that takes us far from the daily life that we embrace in our modern society.

Behind Mrako-Su is an entity known as Twilight or The Twilight (translation may not be perfect). A sjamanic explorer who retreats far into the forest on ‘Путь В Белое’. Inspiration is drawn from Chinese flute music to funeral doom metal , the music is a blend of strange, dreamy sounds.

The tones that you hear on the opening track are bells in the wind, blaring drones and unearthly vocals. This is the sounds you hear in the night, when you magnify your senses and fully embrace your surroundings. It’s the mind working on full energy in the darkest part of the forest, creating a forceful experience for the listener.

But the sound can also be harrowing and rather unpleasant, like the sharp sounds on ‘Чёрная Зима’, which is like standing next to a horrible machine. There’s a lot of dissonant, eerie sounds on the record, that seems to traverse from song to song to darker realms than before. The endless repetition puts the listener in a trance that doesn’t easily subside.

All in all this record has a more grimmer approach to the sjamanistic experience. Screeching sounds, buzzing drones and an almost unearthly experience await you. This makes sense, looking at the description with the record. It’s an escapist record, mournful about the loss of human nature and thus trying to cling on to it by recording it. It’s a record that will move the listener and maybe help you look at the green world differently and with more respect.

Underground Sounds: Sangre de Muerdago – Os Segredos da Raposa Vermella

Label:Neuropa Records/Música Máxica
Band: Sangre De Muerdago
Origin: Spain

When I read of the origin of this band, I had to look it up. Though I’ve heard of Gallicia, I never really knew where it was. Now, it is that strange corner of Spain north of Portugal, where legends roam. It’s a land that is green and filled with rivers, haunted by myths and legends and very ancient. No wonder that this band speaks about that.

Sangre De Muerdago is a forest folk group, as they describe it. Which means that their inspiration is nature and the little stories derived from it. The words are in Gallician, which is closer to Portuguese and the music is traditional and in its own way ancient and primitive. Primitive I would normally use for rough, unsophisticated music, but in this case I mean something different, I mean its voice, its timbre and all over harmonious, natural vibe.

Oh, and they like Motörhead. This album tells a story of a fox, which you can find out about all by yourselves. The music is a swirling collaboration of acoustic instruments, that weave together this story. It tells of old tales, the forests and hills, of men gathered around the fire or under the moon to make music (and women, obviously). The thrumming of the bodhran and the continuous flow of the hurdy-gurdy are excellend instruments to create the atmosphere of a forlorn age. Continuously pumping out sounds, while a bouzouki is played and other traditional elements come to play.

The record is a mixture of traditionals from Galicia and Bretagne. Also the work of folk band Milladoiro is used, for example the swooning ‘Agullas de Agarimo’, with its harder tones and dancable energy. Different is the fragile ‘An Dro’, which meanders through an eerie forest in the early morning, when the lush green is still moist and awakening. It’s music that takes you away from the concrete jungle, to a place more simple and easy. It may just be a small taste of the Gallician group Sangre De Muerdago, but offers a wide array of folkish enjoyment.

Underground Sounds: Martröð – Transmutation of Wounds

Label: Fallen Empire Records, Terratur Possessions
Band: Martröð
Origin: Iceland, United States, France, Italy

So, as a fan of the genre, I have to get in on Martröð. I think it’s a great record. Not phenomenal, but definitely great, if only for the way this has come together and how the result combines the strenghths of the partaking artists. But it is always tricky finding that right blend. For example, I really like baklava and fish & chips, but chucking it together might not work out as great as you think. There might be a secret combination, but finding it is hard, even more so with five artists.

So we take Wrest (Leviathan) and A.P. (Chaos Moon, Krieg) and add Thorns from Italy (Blut Aus Nord) and H.V Lyngdal (Wormlust), D.G.(Misþyrming) from Iceland. Finally MkM from France (Antaeus) takes on the vocals. The full resumé of these gentlemen I’ll leave out, it’ll take too much. The trick is how to put all of that together, over distances nonetheles, without starting to sound ‘a bit like everything’. Well, in that respect I have no answers, just that they did it wonderfully.

So what you get feels a lot like a cooking experiment, where everything is put in a big cauldron, where it starts to swirl around into a chaotic stream of dissonant noise and unholy sounds. ‘Draumleiðsla’ opens with blaring horns and a lot of strange bells, alerting the listener that something wicked this way comes. The track unfolds as a nightmarish, spiralling descent with bellowing vocals guiding you in your downward swirl. All obliterating chaos.

‘Draumleysa’ feels more static, more straight forward, instead of circular. The heavy drums suggest a marching beat, while the guitars create eery arches above on higher tones. With an enthrancing rhythm, this is one hellish track to go down with, mainly thanks to the irregular drums, that pound as hard as you could imagine. Mostly it’s just layer upon layer of intense heavy blackness and that is just awesome.

Martröð brings everything you expect on ‘Transmutation of Wounds’ and that is slightly disappointing. Such a collection of talented artists together, should not just do what is expected, but create something overwhelming. If this project continuous to record, I’m absolutely certain that this will be what it’ll do, the parts fit nicely together we now know, so let’s see how far it can go.

Underground Sounds: Furia – Guido

Label: Pagan Records
Band: Furia
Origin: Poland

Yes, it’s named after me! No, just kidding. Furia recorded this EP around 320 meters in debt, underground, in its entirety in a mine named ‘Guido’, hence the name of the record. Furia is a mysterious band with little information available, who literelly went underground to make music on this record.

Furia is part of a small Polish collective of artists, named ‘Let The World Burn’. Other bands like Massemord, FDS and Cssabia seem to be attached to it, but it’s never really clear what happens behind closed doors so to say with these collectives. This project is known to be the inventors of ‘nekrofolk’, which is a vague term until you listen to the music they make, It’ll all make sense then.

In a way the record is divided in two parts, one contains the songs ‘1’ and ‘2’, and is called ‘Stara Polska księżycowa’, which I think translates to ‘Old Polish Moon’. Stomping folk music with a cold, morbid sound is indeed a fitting description for the sound of Furia, but the atmosphere and spoken elements betray much more on the second track. Slow but full of purpose the tracks progress with rhythms you wouldn’t expect and sing-a-long elements even. It would almost be jolly.

‘Ubrdy część pierwsza’ is the title of part two, but I haven’t been able to translate it properly. But the strange opening of ‘320 w 2’ is already telling for the atmosphere, because it’s like going down the elevator shaft into the debts. Probably that is actually what we are hearing. It’s a short intermezzo, before ‘Hahary’ takes it’s time to build up, slowly and in a way that makes you wonder where this is all going. A groaning voice murmurs over the minimal music, which is almost a bit jazzy. It then starts building up, with a reverb to create a sonic tunnel effect. I guess you could call it kraut rock almost, there’s little growth, just repetition.

‘Łączka’is even stranger, and reminds me most of Tunng’s folktronica. A lumpy rhythm with those softly spoken words in a deep voice for a good couple of minutes, before the song swells with screaming guitars, but the rhythm never fades. It’s a foreboding trodding track, with little black metal traces remaining. You could indeed call them progressive in their interesting play with the sound. Closing track is ‘Lew Albinos’, which has some ripping guitar tones to take it away. I reminds me a bit of that slow paced Urfaust sound, but without the maddening shrieks. It feels like the slow procession of the miners through the tunnels, grim, bleak and dark with nothing but darkness awaiting.

Furia delivers excellence on this record, which was recorded live. Check it out, you won’t regret it.

Underground Sounds: Ugniavijas – Ten, kur krisim

Label: Dangus
Band: Ugniavijas
Origin: Lithuania

In the wide fields of Lithuania an ancient people once lived, who were known by many tribe names. The Yotvingians, Aukstaitians, Skalvians, Curonians and the warrior tribe of the Samogitians dwelt in these ancient lands. Being the last part of Europe to be Christened in 1413 finally, by their Grand Duke Vytautas, the nation has a devout dedication to Christianity, but somehow it’s never fully Christian.

For centuries Lithuanians have gone to the forests, building their crosses and little altars in semblance of the Christian figures. Still the altars and holy places remained and recently the old ways have reemerged in a way that is surprisingly big and up to date. Perhaps the pillars of the ancient tradition are just so clear that it isn’t hard to bring them to this day and age. Music is a huge part of that and Ugniavijas brings that to life in a way that feels authentic and sort of hauntingly fitting.

Though they claim to sing war songs, as shown by their previous record ‘Karo Dainos’ (War Songs), they don’t sound brutal or so, but like beautiful harmonies of male vocal singing. ‘Ten, kur krisim’ (Where we will fall) is a captivating journey through the ages. The uncanny tone and unusual timbre keeps you listening to songs like ‘Kai aš jojau ant vainos’, where the language itself determines the sound. The chanting is flat, tribal and focussed on the rhythm.

Boisterous singing is th emain part, but traditional instruements fill up the sound to a complete experience. Bagpipes and the well known kanklės are very present, but also more of those hypnotic instruments like the lumzdelis. It oozes into a mystical experience of bold men braving the field of battle against those that try to take what is dearest to them. Home, hearth and gods.

Though the words are difficult to understand, this is the sort of music that is typical for the old Balts. Emotional, full of vigor and with a sense of fatality. None lives forever, but the harmonie of life, the bravery, it makes sacrifices a noble thing and that is what you can find in the music.

Underground Sounds: Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire

Label: No Remorse Records
Band: Eternal Champion
Origin: United States

This American high fantasy inspired band brings back the loincloth wearing, sword wielding hero of old fantasy books, with a woman with big assets clutching his leg. Yes, there’s definitely a reminder on the cover of this new album by Eternal Champion, that reminds you of times when fantasy was mcuh simpler.

The direct inspiration for the bandname is the fantasy of Michael Moorcock, with an entity named the Eternal Champion living through time and ages in the multiverse. It’s the archetype for epic fantasy and its therefor not surprising to hear music akin to Manowar and Sabaton on this debut by the band from Austin ‘The Armor of Ire’.

The sound is akin to a mixture of the pulsing doom riffs you’ll hear in some of the classic heavy metal bands and the soaring, clear articulated vocals of power metal. It’s a specific niche in which Eternal Warrior finds itself, but opener ‘I Am The Hammer’ is made of that legendary stuff you want from a band like this. Catchy, muscular and strong the song immediately takes you into the realm of Eternal Warrior.

Everything sounds like it is from another time and era in heavy metal. The sharp bitten vocals of Jason Tarpey are to me the most typical, offering a mixture between Fish and Joey Dimachio and Eric Adams. The band seems to take the background to the epic vocals, with little story telling through the guitars. They mostly offer the driven sound, that gives it that feel of grandeur.

I’m not putting the name Fish in there without reason, the versatility of the vocals really creates that unique atmosphere that makes me instantly love this band. The track ‘Invoker’ is the best example of that I think, totally expressing what I love about the voice of Tarpey. There’s an upsite to the static natur of the music. Many people who play Dungeons & Dragons or other games featuring high fantasy, may be looking for exactly this record as their soundtrack to glory. It’s repetitive nature in the music makes it great material. On the other hand, it allows the part of the story teller, the bard for their vocalist.

You just got to love this album. If you don’t you’ve never truly understood the charm of sword wielding, muscular macho men, dragons and having women clutching at your legs. To Battle!