Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Year of the Cobra – Burn Your Dead

Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Band: Year of the Cobra
Origin: United States

I like that Year of the Cobra is not a regular band. It’s a duo that also is in a relationship with each other. That sounds pretty weird, since relations are always an intense form of being together. To add a band to that, jeez… the fights they must have in the Barrysmith home in Seattle. I would prefer not to get caught up in that. It does result in ample releases though.

But without making light of it, for these two it works and it produces beautiful, harmonious music. The full length is already a little behind us, so ‘ Burn Your Dead’ is a welcome bit of new material after the success of ‘…In the Shadows Below’. The theme seems to linger in warrior/Viking imagery and occult feeling songs, with that typical crawly vibe to them. Now, maybe I’m mythicizing the place a bit, but it’s so typical that a unique sound like this comes from Seattle, isn’t it?

It felt a little quiet around this band, but Year of The Cobra easily regains their status with this new EP. From the first notes of ‘Cold’, the foreboding sound of their psychedelic doom grabs you. The seductive, slivering sound of the bass/drum combo heavily relies on the husky voice of Amy Barrysmith, who can also wail like a banshee if need be. A chill runs up your spine when she wails the words to the songs.

The music moves with the grace of a cobra. Slow and deliberate towards its goal with an almost slithering smoothness. Sometimes, the intensity increases. This happens on ‘Burn Your Dead’, the title-track, where the vocals are filtered through (I suppose) a megaphone, has a frantic pace and energy to it. What is particularly enjoyable about Year of the Cobra, is how there’s a certain kind of groove in their sound. It feels warm, immersive and pleasant to sink into. Check out, in particular, the bewitching ‘The Howl’, which will totally drag you under. Good stuff, so looking forward to the next full length.

Underground Sounds: Summoning – With Doom We Come

Label: Napalm Records
Band: Summoning
Origin: Austria 
Summoning is a must-listen band for anyone who feels strongly about black metal and Tolkien, but Silenius and Protector have long since left behind their musical roots. The band stands apart, thanks to their programmed, composed sound. On ‘With Doom We Come’, that is once more extremely clear and within the dungeon synth world the band is hailed as if they’re venerated, liberators. Unfortunately, the biggest impact this far from their new album came through an interview with Noisey. Well, as long as they talk about you.
Summoning was born out of musicians from Abigor and Pazuzu (and many others), started out as a fourpiece playing black metal, but switched to their current approach in 1995 (two years after starting). Since then the members Protector and Silenius are responsible for the sound of Summoning, which is much more sountrack-like and composed rather than created in a rehearsal space. On the side they duo occupies themselves with some side projects. Silenius plays black metal with Amistigon and industrial with Kreuzweg Ost. Protector occupies himself with Ice Ages, creating EDM.

‘Tar-Calion’ is the epic story of the last king of Númenor, told in solumn progressing tones. Spoken passages and grunts illuminate segments of the tale. The song is highly repetitive, which immerses the listener into the unhindred and fatalistic path of this Tolkien-saga figure. A journey towards ultimate doom. That is the overlying theme for this record, the doom-laden parts of the Silmarillion and other writings, with electronically enhanced music, featuring flutes and heralding trumpets. The music is sonorous, slow and never really building to any sort of climax. Vocals are hoarse whispers, grittedly spat at the listener on tracks like ‘Silvertine’ (a reference to the place where Gandalf battled the Balrog, that even movie watchers must know) or ‘Carcharoth’ (Silmarillion).

A swelling sound can be heard on ‘Herumor’, where a choir appears to sing over the meandering, ambient-like metal of the Austrian band. It’s a noteworthily more expressive part of the record, amidst the static sound of the group. They never seem to really waver much from their flowing music. Generally, the atmosphere oppresses and sounds dense and hazy. This is of course one of the main reasons why this band appeals to the dungeon synth genre-fans so much because it clearly bridges between the two worlds. Playful melodies now and then create interesting nuances in the songs, filling the gaps between the vocals on a tune like ‘Night Fell Behind’.
On ‘Mirklands’ we get a bit grimmer, mostly thanks to the vocals, but the song stays synth heavy. With over 10 minutes of music, both this tune and the title track are powerful compositions that evoke Tolkienesque visages and imagery. ‘With Doom We Came’ offers the doomy, grand finale of the album. The voice is raspy, but clear, a bit like Rob Miller from Amebix/Tau Cross. The highlight of the album for sure.

Underground Sounds: Kurse – Tales of the Wizard

Label: Independent
Band: Kurse
Origin: Canada

In the Marvel Universe, Kurse is a dark elf, named Algrim the Strong, who becomes the champion of the dark elves in the overpowering armor of Kurse. You can see him in the Thor film, he’s quite bad-ass. It’s where the band Kurse takes the name from for their debut EP ‘Tales of the Wizard’.

The Québecois group is a newcomer to the doom/stoner scene. They’ve definitely has taken a good look at the more melodic bands in the genre, that focus more on the emotional sound. The threesome from Montréal has not got any particular band history to point to. Judging by this record, that is quite a surprise. The debut sounds stunningly good.

The opening of ‘Antagonism’ has the magical beauty and simple joy of an Opeth acoustic. That takes almost five minutes to be dispelled by one of those surging riffs that you just have to surf along on. The harsh vocals of Felix Pageau are a bit lower in the mix, but the sharpness of his bark really makes it break through the tide. By the time ‘The Giant’ kicks in, the band has a full-on groove going, with cascading mega guitars and that typical hazy sound.

It’s that psychy haze that really makes Kurse stand out. With the cover and band name, you expect the sort of cool, epic sound, but the band really goes into a more dreamy direction. Vision becomes blurry, as the drums just keep hitting and hitting. ‘Mythos’ really turns into a bass-heavy, gritty onslaught. Think of Sleep, Electric Wizard, and Ufomammut and you’ll get the gist of things. I keep returning to those cool vocals, which sound a bit choked off, but always right on track on ‘Four Princes’.

Kurse sounds quite promising on this EP and a full length may be what they need to really craft something amazing.

Underground Sounds: Sutrah – Dunes

Label:  Independent
Band: Sutrah
Origin: Canada

Eastern promises come from far off places sometimes. Sutrah found inspiration in the oriental mysteries all the way in the northern land of Canada. In a period of 7 years the band crafted their debut album, which is out now, titled ‘Dunes’. An album inspired by esoteric thoughts, metaphysics and oriental folklore.

Drawing inspiration from bands like Lykathea AflameMartyr all the way to Cocteau Twins and Oliver Messiean. Members of the band have also been active in Chthe’ilist. Sonically the band seeks to bridge the wide gap between the turbulence and ferocity of death metal and inner calm that comes from the eastern philosophies and thoughts. They’ve tried to capture this idea and fight in their artwork.

After a moment of meditation, the album launches in full force with the title track. The tremolo riffing and high paced drums sweep in, but soon find a tranquillity in harmonious unity. Like a tapestry, all feels whole. That lasts usually up until the breaks, where a moment of chaos and doubt tear these turmoils apart into a chaotic shredding explosion. The constant search for balance results in an album that truly has two faces.

The album sounds absolutely pristine in production. Sometimes it lacks therefore a certain organic quality I’d say, but that’s a general death metal ailment in my ears. I love the intertjection of strange elements, like the bells on ‘Effervesce’. Though their balance with the music can be extremely weird, it does give that extra thing to the music. When they fade away tight waves of guitar riffs take over again. Sometimes those soar away in wild, brief solo’s. It breaks that steady flow of the sound, which you’ll find if you can transcend the frantic pace and precise cuts.

The vocals are deep growls, barked on cue with the melody of the all over sound. At times the band can sound quite complex, but that technicality and the calm in there is the charm of this Canadian band for sure. I don’t see anyone getting their meditation groove on to Sutrah for now though.

This offers great hopes for the future though.

Underground Sounds: Scriptor Hiberniae – The Manuscript

Label: Celtic Wraith
Band: Scriptor Hiberniae
Origin: Ireland

In a magical story, the record ‘The Manuscript’ sprang from a magical manuscript, found by Scriptor Hiberniae. It’s marvelous layout and caligraphy fascinates him, but when it is taken home it starts to glow, transforms into a humanoid creature and leaves to cause mischief. After an investigation, it turns out that a pagan chieftain had himself resurrected into an ecclesiastical script of gold. Maybe Satanic interference is at work? The scholar never manages to work further on his research, as he is apprehended and burned at the stake under suspicion of sorcery.

This is the wild story for this record of gloomy dungeon synth from the Irish island, but it can hardly be left out. The label Celtic Wraith, that released this happens to be from the same artist (whose name I have not been able to deduce). Regardless, this is some fine dungeon synth for you to admire.

There are light-hearted tones, giving the pixie-like light step to the sound (like the intro of ‘Magical Manuscript’), but it’s only for brief moments that it is the more illuminating factor for the Scriptor Hiberniae’s overgrowth and dark, dusty libraries of ‘Scriptorium’. Relying heavily on bass tones, the sound has a dark and foreboding atmosphere, which is befitting of the traditional dungeon synth sound. What really sets SH apart, is the attempt at storytelling through the minimal means of the genres instrumentarium.

At times the record embraces dark and gloomy sounds, almost pounding heavily when the somber and dark parts of the story come by. On ‘Kept Records of Activity in this Area’, the lighter tones take on a more frantic pace. Effects enrich the sounds to create an atmosphere of upheaval and nervousness. The record ends with the grim ‘Infernal Burning’. Finality to the story is given with the crackling sound of fire when the scriptor ends up on the pire.

Underground Sounds: Alda – Passage

Label: Bindrune Records
Band: Alda
Origin: United States

Can someone tell me what they put in the water in Seattle and surroundings? It seems like excellent music flows from the city like the rain pours down on it. Alda is my latest discovery, with their weary autumn sound. Their album ‘Passage’ feels like a sullen autumn day set in music by the fourpiece. It’s their third full length and it’s a remarkably beautiful album. The music just immediately hits me due to its calm, soothing warmth.

The catchphrase for this record on the bandcamp tells you, that if Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room and Ulver ever stirred something in you, that this is your album. I must add one more name to that. The first thing the vocals reminded me of is  a certain aspect of Opeth when listening to this album. The calm voice reminds me of tunes like ‘To Bid You Farewell’. Inspired by the rugged nature that fills the region, is this the contribution of Alda to current day American black metal.

I think this already pretty much covers opening track ‘The Clearcut’. The clean vocals are captivating in a very special way, but the melody lines woven into the more eruptive parts are equally mesmerizing. The music of Alda is densely atmospheric and very much made to just wallow in, particularly when those guitars create a sliding feel in their cascading salvos. Even though Alda clearly plays black metal, every sound feels full of something soothing.

Songs really weave together very easily, flowing like rivers in a particularly organic manner. In that sense I’m now and then reminded of some Ukranian bands actually. The song ‘Passage’ itself is an almost meditative journey of repetitive riffing. Closer ‘Animis’ offers the grand finale that the album requires, after a wonderful journey. The acoustic aspects with fresh black metal are a joy to the ear.

Underground Sounds: Häive – Iätön

Label: Eisenwald Tonschmiede
Band: Häive
Country: Finland

Janne Väätäinenis clearly not a man that allows himself to be rushed with things. His project Häive has been around for 15 years and this is the second album. A noteworthy fact is that the predecessor to ‘Iätön’ came out 10 years ago. Well, good things take time and that’s definitely the case with this release.

The theme Häive uses is mostly nature, which can be deduced from the great record cover. Väätäinen hasn’t been sitting still for the last 10 years either. The last thing this band did, was contribute to a compilation with bands like WinterfyllethPrimordial, and Drudkh. In the meantime, the musician juggles projects like Antabus, Auringon Hauta, My Blood and Tevana3. Well, enough banter, let’s get to the music.

Iätön opens with an intense bit of Iron Maiden-esque guitar work, which is immediately catching on. The title track opens (which translates as ‘Ageless’ by the way), with 2 minutes of fine screaming guitars, before we launch into ‘Turma’ (translates as Ruin). The sound of Häive is big and open, with a lot of that grand riffing. A folky vibe is in there, when the sound evokes vistas of valleys, mountains and rough, unscathed nature in all its splendor. The cover of the record, of course, stimulates that sort of imagery as well, but I think the spacious sound helps.

A grand sound is constantly present, even on the doom-laden ‘Kuku, kultainen käkeni (Sing my Golden Bird)’, with its slow procession and those laborious guitars. It’s a dense atmosphere that the band sets out and most praiseworthy is that it never feels like most one-man bands with that one-dimensional sound. The layered elements create something spectacular. A rare acoustic bit fits nicely in the mix, like on ‘Tuulen Sanat (The Spell of Wind)’. Truly, this record reminds me of some older Moonsorrow stuff.

There’s no typical folk metal vibe here, but the essence is present. Not the type where you bring your kilt and a drinking horn for a dress-up party, but something more deep and meaningful. I really enjoyed this record because of that and the particular attention to the composition.

Underground Sounds: Jassa – Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis

Label: Fallen Empire Records
Band: Jassa
Origin: Russia

The Russian band Jassa hails from the St. Petersburg region. They’ve released three albums thus far, dealing with pagan themes of chthonic deities. These deities are, frankly said, quite unknown to me, but that hardly diminishes the force and grandeur of this pagan black metal band. They’re entities that are hinted at in archeological finds and myths but elude our knowledge. Jassa is a deity worshipped by the ancient Novgorod Slavs. That makes for a great mythical theme obviously for ‘Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis’.

Jassa has some experts in their ranks, who honed their skills in some fantastic bands before. Guitar- and bass player Vladimir and drummer Aeargh are mostly known for their project Sivyi Yar, where they create magnificent atmospheric black metal. The drummer additionally hits the skins in Zoebeast, Toxic Bleat, and Death Rattle. Singer Erier has tons of projects, was active in Fimbulwinter, but now is active in Khashm, Bestial Deform and Septory and more.

The bluster and rage in the sound of Jassa are quite overwhelming. From the opening track of ‘Beyond Time, Shapes and Names’ it is a pure onslaught of obliterating drums, massive riff-work, and unearthly vocals. It matches the name of the band in its subterranean cavernous darkness. This is the pagan rage at its best, bestial and abhorrent in it’s thrashing and punching. The way the drums are applied is really quite the captivating part. From a wild battering to the fierce rhythms that give the sound its backbone, Jassa keeps you hanging on for your life.

Oh, there’s also a mouth harp in there somewhere, which to me has been a great piece of instrumentation in black metal ever since Moonsorrow did it. I particularly enjoy the vocals of Erier, who has embraced a vocal range for this record that truly compliments the whole compositions. These are dense and heavy as fuck. On ‘Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis’, we hear something different though. Eerie, thin guitar lines pierce the hazy sounds and offer a base for murmured, deep spoken word passages. It offers a rare calm to the listener, with a ritualistic atmosphere that envelops you as a listener.

Another particular song is ‘Shadows Glide Quietly Among the Trees’, which has a particular sound in certain passages. They seem to drop into a more mechanic sound, more condensed and pushed together. The intensity of the sound increases as it slithers and merges. It brings you to the climax of what can only be called a fantastic record of pagan black metal.

Underground Sounds: Rebel Wizard – The Warning of One

Label: Prosthetic Records
Band: Rebel Wizard
Origin: Australia

Yeah, yeah… I’m late to the party again, but I’ve been following the Rebel Wizard for a bit now and I actually published an interview with the Australian negative anti-shamanic black metal artist before. So ‘The Warning of One’ has been an EP I’ve listened to regularly for a while, but the words just never came.

First thing you notice is the oddly colored cover. This is highly personal, but for me it strongly stands out. All songs follow a similar pattern of title and are short bursts of frantic energy and ‘wizardly’ negativity. This Nekrasov side project (if I may call it that, because Rebel Wizard seems to have become more active) is definitely not for the fans of traditional black metal. Then again… in a way it really should be.

The opening track ‘ The One I seek’ immediately rips everything apart with furious barks and screams and some of those insta-violence riffs that you’ve come to know the wizard by. The Teutonic thrash vibe with lo-fi recordings creates this gritty, raw feeling that so befits the project. Soaring guitars just hit that nostalgic passion for what makes metal so cool in the first place.
Often that’s the big contrast in the sound; the accessible and catchy riffing combined with the dirty blast beats and raspy snarls of black metal. We stay on that for the duration of ‘One I Know’. After an almost ballad-like intro on ‘One I See’, we get the full brunt of that black metal end of the stick. A distorted, hazy pounding of about 5 minutes follows, with NKSV’s voice that feels like it’s been stretched out with painful methods for an extra grim effect. We end the EP with ‘The One I Call’, which is a demonic track full of turbulent heavy black metal that keeps firing at you. With a crushing climax, this peculiar EP ends and once more Rebel Wizard delivered one hell of a tasty, rifftastic record.

Underground Sounds: Mephistofeles – (((I’M HEROIN)))

Label: Creep Purple Promotion
Band: Mephistofeles
Origin: Argentinia

Allegedly, the doom scene in Argentina is booming and as far as I can judge from this release by Mephistofeles, this is absolutely true. The band from Parana in the southern country, have released one full length before and look like they’re into reviving the oldschool sound and look with their band. As far as I can tell, they’re doing a pretty good job at it in fact.

The trio has only been playing music since 2013, but have racked up a solid array of releases. Now, with the light shining on the regional music scene, things might pick up for them, particularly since this album ‘((( I’M HEROIN )))’ is pretty damn cool if you ask me. From its somber look to its classical vibe, it’s a joy to listen to.

The vibe of this record is totally that of an Electric Wizard record. Thick slabs or doom, catchy riffs and the vocals drowned in effects. Now and then an organ provides a bit of a horror vibe, but most of the time you can just surf the waves of the lingering riffs. The vocals display exactly that bite, that you know well from the Ozzy-style doom followers. In that sense, Mephistofeles sticks to what works in their sound.

Though there’s little originality in the sound you hear, the foreboding horror melodies, the slow, steady progression and heavily distorted sound-swamp are classics that captivate time and time again. A track like ‘Transylvanian Funeral’ is a joy to listen to. You can just hang back and bask in tracks like ‘Thrash Lord’ or in the drug haze of ‘Heroin’.

On ‘Addicted To Satan’, we even have mister Anton Lavey playing some calliope, which is a fitting addition ot the ound of Mphistofeles. A great record, lots of fun, but nothing new under the sun.