Category Archives: Uncategorized

Underground Sounds: Insect Ark – Marrow Hymns

Label: Profound Lore
Band: Insect Ark
Origin: USA

Insect Ark is Dana Schechter (bass, lap steel guitar, synthesizers) and Ashley Spungin (drums, synthesizers). These two ladies have a knack for perfectly executed doom/drone with heavy atmospheric overtones. Their latest effort is called ‘Marrow Hymns’.

The duo has been working their musical magic since 2012 when they dropped their debut ‘Collapsar/Piledriver’. Dana Schechter has played with Gnaw, Arabrot, Locrian, Bee and Flower and also does film scores. Ashley Spungin worked with Taurus, Negative Queen, and Normus. Together, that means a pile of experience in creating tunes that truly hit home… and hit hard.

The word cinematic has often been used in conjunction with this band, but there is a very good reason for it. The droning, meandering sound is never meant to just pummel you, but slithers around, enveloping you in the atmosphere that the duo desires to unleash. The whining guitar on ‘Arp 9’ instantly works as a brush on a canvas, painting the illuminated visions of Dana Schlechter on bass. The unity in the sound is so particular, it creates a harmony that unnoticed, submerges the listener.

Dreamy is indeed a captivating term for the music of the duo, but at times those drums hit you in the head with unrelenting force. On ‘Skin Walker’, walls of sound hit like a tidal wave with a massive force. It’s eerie, how they so easily switch from post-rocky soundscapes to pulverizing doom. You hardly notice the switch even. One of my favorites is the track ‘Sea Harps’, with embraces grandeur and that feeling of nautical doom metal. The scratchy strings and foreboding drumming evoke the surging tide of the waves, holding the tension up and then let it all flow out. Perfectly.

At times drones and distortion create peculiar sonic tapestries, warm sounds, and cold electronics. It all culminates in the harrowing outro ‘Daath’. A track that just eats you alive in all its industrial buzzing and droning. What an exceptional piece of music here, by these doomsters.

Underground Sounds: Svalbard – It’s Hard to Have Hope

Label: Holy Roar
Artist: Svalbard
Origin: United Kingdom

The fourpiece Svalbard has been around for a bit. Named after the frozen, Norwegian island far up north, the band plays what can be best described as post-metal or post-hardcore, yet their whole concept seems to resonate with the wavering spirit of the punk and hardcore community as they brazenly touch upon the topics of this time and age on ‘It’s Hard to Have Hope’.

This is the second full length by the English group, who originate from Bristol. Their sound is a rich tapestry of black metal, hardcore and some crust and post influences, which creates something that is full of vitality, but also complex and layered in its own right.

Have you ever worked as an ‘Unpaid Intern’? Because Svalbard has you anthem now. Furious screams and ascending melodies with a deep-rooted frustration behind them launch at you with ferocity. Pretty much sticking to that, the song ‘Revenge Porn’ is as visceral and essential as the opener, with lyrics that are as straightforward and direct as you can get. The beauty is that there is no accusation, no closed statement, but open questions and ideas conveyed in the song. In that lies its very power.

Let’s not forget that hardcore traditionally is hardline opinions and Svalbard in that sense makes you think. You don’t need to be idealistically aligned with the band to gain some wisdom from their songs. On ‘Feminazi’ the position is slightly more forceful, while the music takes on a more melodic an driven sound. Yet, there’s so much explanation and context given, this is a musical dialogue with any opponent. It puts the record in a very different light for me, which demands respect.  The feel of their sound is much like More Than Life and Touché Amoré to me. Full of feeling and excitingly melodic, a great piece of music to really get your heart beating a bit faster and gain some purpose.

The energy is infectious, while the passion is almost tangible on this record. It defines the relevance of hardcore, even today in a world that doesn’t seem to hold its breath for 2 seconds, whatever comes their way. Svalbard nails it.

 

Underground Sounds: NYIÞ/Old Burial Temple – Caput Mortem

Label: Signal Rex
Band: NYIÞ/Old Burial Temple
Origin: Iceland/Australia

Of all the Icelandic bands that work the dark arts, NYIÞ is probably the most elusive and mysterious. Sure, the members are traceable through the not so thick ranks of Icelandic artists, but their sound is a ritualistic, dark ambient music filled with gloom and foreboding. This split will be their fourth release in 7 years.

Australian formation Old Burial Temple is a one man project from the prolific musician, named ‘Old’. He’s also active in Drohtnung and Snorri, but various other projects are listed under his name too.

Eerie drones welcome the listener to NYIÞ. A sparkling sound falling through, creating a bright sound in the middle of the gloomy darkness of an eternal night. The music features strings and minimal effects from various instruments on the first track by the Icelanders, titled ‘Rót’. Harrowing screams emerge from far away in the deep void of behind minimal guitar play and the sound of the wind. ‘Iða’ follows, with somber and sonorous tones, with ragged flares of string instruments floating around, which generates the experience of an empty chapel or tomb. Ever crack or sound becomes a frightening disturbance, any shift a landslide. That is the power of minimalism and ritual music.

Old Burial Temple takes us below ground on ‘Movement XIII’, with frightening murmurings and samples, merging into a deep and disturbing drone. Clanging is audible in the distance, as an uncanny chanting picks up through the hazy fogs. The drums kick-off, but dwindle down instantly. The rhythm is slow, ominous, and feels less like a progression, but more like a prelude to doom. The intense banging and rattle work to unnerve with a continuous procession of harrowing sounds. Exceptionally effective, this side of the split.

Underground Sounds: Garhelenth – About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth Of Tragedy

Label: Satanath Records/The Eastern Front
Band: Garhelenth
Origin: originally Iran, now Armenia

Garhelenth must have a story to tell, since the band is on its third run, currently residing in Armenia after a spell in Georgia. The band now comes on with their latest record ‘About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth of Tragedy’, which is quite the charismatic release if I may say so.

This is only the second full length for the band, which has been active since 2010. The duo is dedicated to creating true black metal, devoid of any trends or cool sounding niches like DSBM or blackgaze, yet they’ve been lumped in the depressive corner fairly regularly with their dark lyrics concerned with themes of morals and mental states.

An ominous, dark ambient intro with mad, cackling laughter welcomes the listener to the strange realm of this band. After that reception, we launch into it with the song ‘Destruction of the Will’, which sounds quite mellow in a sense. The music forms a continuous flow of ripping riffs that fit together as a fish’s bones in rapid succession. The peculiar chanting is a noteworthy feature, but almost every song has some oddity happening. It’s exactly that, which makes the band stand out a lot.

The barked vocals work well with the particularly melodic and emotive songs and the harrowing riffs on tracks like ‘To Impersonal Mankind’ really do their job. The almost whiny noise, sustains the negative that permeates the sound completely. I particularly enjoyed the slow, threatening pace of ‘Perspective of Exorbitant’, which is strong, powerful, but also on a steady pace full of lumbering drums and grand movements. Even some operatic singing is added to the mix in granting the duo an even more strong sound. An exceptionally strong record, with strong emotional overtones in a classic jacket.

Underground Sounds: Sequestered Keep – Wandering Far

Label: Out of Season
Band: Sequestered Keep
Origin: United States

Magical sounds, lost keeps

Like most dungeon synth artists, the man or woman behind Sequestered Keep remains a mystery. What I managed to find out, is that he/she is a metal music as well. This Barbarian Skull interview is probably the most information available. Check it out, they do great stuff. Anyways, the moniker Wanderer is used for the genius behind the project.

The logo of ‘Wandering Far’, designed by Dan Capp from Wolcensmen, and all previous records since ‘Might of an Ancient Tale’ looks very fitting. Sequestered Keep hails from Salt Lake City in Utah, so that much is clear. Remarkable, since the music reminds me of lush forests in ancient England more so. The artwork as well, though that is in Germany… A rocky ruin, called Drachenfells, painted by Caspar Scheuren in 1852. A fitting cover.

The sound of Sequestered Keep is clean and regal. Calm tones, that are more used like a paintbrush, than the angry sketching of a pencil. Everything smoothly flows into one another, from ‘Once a Warrior of Forestcloaked Mountains’onwards. This one feels like an indoor song, near a fire in ancient stone chambers of old castles. The gentle picking of a harp resounds, as the wavery synths come in. By the time you get to the title track, the sounds resonate in sonorous harmony and connect smoothly to display the outdoors, the wide-open world.

In a similar manner, the booming effect on ‘Firelight Swordshadows’, feels as if the darkness obscures the sound, hies it from a clear perception in shadows. We get more light-footed on ‘Elvenwoods’, where light pierces through the leafy, natural roof. One imagines as if here the gentle flutes are playing, in a bright mood. The next dish serves melancholy on ‘Battles in Falling Mist’, a slow and gentle tune with a certain calm grandeur to it, while never really expressing fierce clashes. Now we come to the special part, with a dungeon synth Bathory cover. ‘Hammerheart’ achieved a special place in many metal-fan hearts, therefore this version brings it to the very essence.

Loose yourself in the woods with this record.

Batushka, Schammasch, Trepaneringsritualen @013

On a rainy wednesday night I headed to 013 in Tilburg. Originally I scheduled  an interview singer and composer Chris S.R. from Schammasch for a chat about their music. Thee insanity of modern day touring made an interview simply too much for the Swiss artist. Still, I went to check it out, because Batushka is always a charm and I’ve never seen Trepaneringsritualen before.

Trepaneringsritualen

Opener is that act from Göteborg, which uses beat driven industrial to bark defiance at the gods over. It’s a strange act in this line-up, but thanks to the dark, gloomy atmosphere it just works. The sole member on stage generates a sense of magic with a performance that is as much a ritualistic experience as a commander barking words at you. Yeah, that works together actually.

Schammasch

Then we await the mighty Swiss band, who have just released their latest record ‘The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite’. The EP format puzzles me since it seems to simply be a value judgment these days, more than a length indication. Regardless, a great listening experience after the opus magnus that is ‘Triangle’, with its 100 minutes of music over three records.

Schammasch starts of with drumming, setting the atmosphere of bombastic, grand music that combines black and doom elements with ambient and simple spoken word. Frontman Chris is adorned in a ritual garb and has his face painted black with gold. Call it an act if you will, it is more part of the message of spiritualism and art the band offers. Within the void of doom driven, rhythmic frames, the singer proclaims the words of Maldoror, with wide open eyes. The music stimulates your imagination, engages your body with the poetry of the Comte de Leautremont. The music simply immerses the listener, like a warm bath. As a frontman, the presence of Chris S.R. radiates conviction and strength, but also a remarkable absence of ego.

The set leaves you with an altered state of mind.

Batushka

Then we head for the traditional orthodox mass, but turned onto its head. Batushka seems to struggle with some parts of the set-up but almost on time the band gets on the stage. Unfortunately, a draft blows out candles on one side of the stage, which the nameless priest tries to light anew a couple of times with no success. A guitarist gets stuck in the banner but once the band is settled, all that evaporates like snow in the burning fires of hell.

The sound of Batushka seems to have become more harmonious through the constant touring and the chanting has merged more and more with the black metal. That is good news because it makes the show even more captivating and removes the feeling that some moments are mere gimmicks. As a listener you simply allow the flow of the mass to carry you, with the bulky frontman as your impressive and confident guide.

In a haze of torrentous, though melodic black metal, Gregorian chanting and the smell of incense, one can truly experience the music of this Polish group of mystery man. The experience is good and complete, even with half the candles out.

Underground Sounds: Blencathra – These Bones Became The Roots of the Forest…

Label: Unsigned
Band: Blencathra
Origin: United Kingdom

Blencathra is a hill in the north of England. A beautiful part of the country that immediately makes you think of the rich past the nation has. It’s also a band, that plays black metal with sole member Nicholas Fry in the lead. This is the first album, titled ‘These Bones Became The Roots of the Forest…’.

As an artist Fry, and therefore the sound of Blencathra is inspired by British bands like Fen, Winterfylleth, and Saor, which makes sense. The pictures he shares on Facebook show the landscapes that inspire a particular sound. Densely atmospheric black metal, with a slight sense of melancholy from the British Isles. You have to love that (and this awesome cover).

With a pleasant acoustic tune opening the album, we’re soon moving into a dense blanket of blackish metal. There’s a particular element of distortion in the sound that may not be to everyone’s appeal. It’s almost annoying how woolly the album sounds at times. That doesn’t take away the absolute beauty of a tune like ‘As the Shadows Rise’. Big blistering walls of guitar, but also the melancholic twangy intermissions that reverberate.

The meandering folk tunes now and then offer respite, like the haunting ‘Drifting Through Autumn Trees’. With only a distant cry of guitars, the song seems to give a little intermezzo, until a tide of distortion floods everything once more. For me, the biggest downside of this record is exactly that. The brisk nature sounds, samples, and acoustic parts are hauntingly beautiful but often drown in the reverb and distortion. It’s possibly a choice, but I’d like to hear a more crisp production Blencathra personally, so the riffs shine even brighter.

Underground Sounds: Beithíoch – Storms of War

Label: Independent
Band: Beithíoch
Origin: Ireland

Ah, some proper Irish black/death fromt he crew of Beithíoch. The band hails from the north-west of the green Island and has been consistently pushing out records over the last few years. The band name translates as ‘beast’  or ‘animal’, which sort of matches their intense sound.

It appears as if the group has been trying to find a particular sound for their Irish roots, moving through different styles over the albums. This EP appears to be the next experiment in this long line of explorations, titled ‘ Storms of War’. It’s a short but powerful endeavor worth listening to.
What remains is a cavernous, lumbering monstrosity, that shows little to know subtle movement in this dense, atmospheric record. Opening track ‘Morrígan’ has slow waves of distorted guitar crashing into the listener as a crow caws. It’s more a dungeon synthy intro, before ‘The Jaws of Death’ launches in big, wavy fashion. The sound feels very dark, with a shadowy melody line emphasizing the way the sound seems to work within confined space. The song just barrels onward, showing little subtlety or nuance.
Once more, the track ‘Funeral Pyre’ introduces the final song.

‘Dornán Talaimh’ comes on like atmospheric black metal, with lingering and languid riffs. The vocals are almost a whisper from the abyss. The deep guttural barks that roared through the first half of the record have made room for calm and measured murmuring.  It shows another side of the band in this way too short release.

Beithíoch spawns forth some creeping chaos on this EP, that will take you to some dark places.

Underground Sounds: murmur mori – Radici

Label: Casetta
Band: murmur mori
Origin: Italy

I’ve written before about the magic that is murmur mori. The Italian nature worshipping folkers have now released a new album, that goes in a slightly more familiar direction with move singing and folky passages, but the ambient nature sounds and organic feel are still a large part of their sound.

The members of the Stramonium Collective earlier released the album ‘O’ and it was inspiring enough to try and learn more. Here you can read the interview I did with the group a while ago. It remains a fascinating entity to me and I’m very happy to be able to tell you about ‘Radici’.

The group takes the approach of music for children, which is an interesting approach but it makes much sense. Children are open to many things, to stories and sounds, to wisdom and knowledge adults may find trivial. It explains the more lively and vibrant sound of the album. Though the chanting on songs like ‘La Calza Rossa’ is calm and quiet, the music is driven with piping flutes. The singing sounds like something you’d easily join in with and that seems to be the point, the magic of the songs. The emotional vocals of Kuro Silvia on ‘Il Sole e l’Eremita’ are full of yearning and really touch the heartstrings. This album touches something of simple play and discovery, the child in our hearts.

The music on this album sounds uncomplicated, direct and therefore amazing. Making music that simply captures the listener is hard because it requires to strip it of useless ornaments. Sometimes a simple rhythm suffices, the other time a lingering melody. The song needs to carry the listener along and that is something murmur mori does very well on songs like ‘La Tomba del Busento’. The beat is what you latch onto. Every song on this record is inspired by Italian folksong or legend. That makes this record a journey in itself.

A recommended record for those who enjoy the calm of nature, simple instruments and pleasantly soothing songs. Check out murmur mori.

 

 

Underground Sounds: Ljosazabojstwa – Sychodžańnie

Label: Hellthrasher Productions
Band: Ljosazabojstwa
Origin: Belarus

To the swamps of Belarus with Ljosazabojstwa

I didn’t come up with Ljosazabojstwa, but it’s by far one of the most exotic band names I’ve encountered. The band hails from Belarus and in a sense for many people this is as exotic as it gets since the mere mention of the country evokes a grey canvas of unknownness. This is the second release by the Minsk natives and it is titled ‘Sychodžańnie’.

The group is fairly fresh, having only started in 2013. The previous release was a demo titled ‘Staražytnaje licha’. The band likes to blend black metal atmosphere with some death metal swagger. This results in a sound that can probably be closest described by comparing it to Behemoth. Still, thanks to the Russian language there’s a special vibe to this group.

Ljosazabojstwa has a sound that is both clean and menacing but holds a death metal groove just as well. There’s also the odd classical experience, like on ‘Zhuba’, where the lone guitar player demonstrates his icy skill. Or that eerie organ intro ‘Pozirk u biezdan’, that sounds like it comes straight from a horror film in those glory days. There’s a deep, heavy groove to the menacing death metal riffs on the first track. It slowly waxes and wanes, like the heavy clashes of sea against the shores.

The deep, abyssal grunts of the vocalist really work well with that slow and steady sound. You’d almost put a doom sticker on this heavy, creeping sound when listening to ‘Piekla’. Spoken word parts fill up the blanks in the story, but soon we launch into the next assault of the song. Rapid, thrashing guitar play and that gravelly, intimidating sound speed up and slow down to beat at the listener. This is music to overwhelm, to strike fear into the listener with the continuous ominous vibe. The use of those synths is definitely striking on that front.

Though the sound of these Belarussians is pretty straight forward, they manage to display a lot of different facets. Various ways to absolutely crush any sort of opponents, to deluge their listeners in harsh, Belarussian swamps. An excellent piece of music with an exotic flavor to it.