Label: Independent Band: Rebel Wizard Origin: Australia
Imagine extreme metal that is free of trends, free of hip motivations and pure in its expression of angst, fear and frustration. That is a bit of a tricky thing, since most bands are connected to some other, bigger movement, some sort of trend. Then stumbling across the most raucous, rancid record in a long time, which is filled with an almost jubilant fury and enthousiasm. That’s what you get from Rebel Wizard.
What if you’d mix Angel Witch with Bathory and add some epic IronMaiden riffs? Well, that would be the most close I can get to describing the feeling Rebel Wizard’s music offers. Sole member NKSV, also known as Bob Neskrasov, has been active in Neskrasov and Whitehorse next to this project, which allows him a singular way of expression outside of that (Neskrasov is also a solo project).
The album opens with the quote: “There’s no reason to be alive…”. It sets the tone for a grim sound, but when the riff comes in, it’s not the static haze of typical black metal, but a thundering, fists in the air heavy metal riff offering you a build up like no other. The song serves as an intro with its mid pace marching vibe. Prepare, for metal is back as you love it. The riffs on the following thrack ‘Where We Surrender Completely To The Miserable Shaman’ the guitars fall down on you, but again with those recognizable heavy metal vibes. Combine that with hoarse screamed vocals and you have a potent mixture of fury.
Rebel Wizard combines the two unlikely sounds to a vibrant, energetic sound that you can not sit still to, it demands you to stomp your feet, rock your fists and scream along in the overwhelming frustration that is vented by the Wizard himself. The switch in sound is so intriguing, so different, yet so incredibly catchy. Though the recording quality is not studio-crisp, it’s that gritty element giving it even more of an edge. Just listen to the track ‘Eat The Warlock’, which has the screaming guitars that work so well, regardless of any other aspect. The high pitch of the vocals feels almost harmonious with that sound.
I find that in words I lack the means to truly describe how full of vitality this record is, how strongly it just resets the starting point for a black metal album. This is brilliant and feels like such a raw, direct expression that punches you in the gut and then knees you in your face. Bam!
Not often to you see a band just carving out their very own niche in a rather established genre. Maybe it’s not even a niche, but more of a return to the more pure expression that Rebel Wizard persues.
Rebel Wizard is Bob Nekrasov, in the notes of the album ‘The Triumph of Gloom’ put down as NKSV. He has been making black metal music the way he deems it to be right for a ling time now, either with Nekrasov or with Mors Sonat and in the past with Whitehorse, but Rebel Wizard is special.
When I was listening to the album, the most noteworthy element was its almost jubilant expression with old school heavy metal riffing and overwhelming approach. Just everything pouring out at you at once. All this from Melbourne in Australia. I was so excited about the record that I contacted the Rebel Wizard for a little Q&A. This is the result and it’s far more informative than I’d have expected. So thanks to Bob for taking the time to answer these.
As for you… enjoy reading!
How did you get started with your project Rebel Wizard?
I’m not sure. I’ve always written and made music like this. However ‘back in the day’ it was just guitar onto a 4 track recorder. I grew up obsessed with music, listening and creating. These days the process is all unconscious and done as a way to fill what I feel is missing.
But I guess it properly started as “Rebel Wizard” doing that first EP three years ago now. I just did and sent it to a couple of friends not really thinking anything of it apart from I enjoyed doing it and I liked the theme that was coming out of it.
What are your favourite bands? I’m assuming there actually is a combination of thrash, nwobhm and black metal there?
Cripes, that’s a huge answer. Many. All the usual however it does change. My favourite bands though are more a ‘presence’, attitude and uniqueness. Developing their own thing against trends etc. Big influences are Bolt Thrower, MercyfulFate, Crass, My Dying Bride, Econochrist, Man is the Bastard, Bathory etc etc
There’s something really classic heavy metal in the sound of Rebel Wizard. How did you develop that, to me, rather unique sound?
That’s really nice to read as there is normally complaints about the ‘shitty production’! For me it captures an energy that got me into metal which was then the pathway into punk, anarchy, philosophy, occult and breaking the shackles of a warped and fucked up conditioning.
I just have my sounds that I like that I have been using for a long time. I just do what resonates with me that I feel doesn’t show up anywhere else. No way am I saying my sound is important or ‘fucken raw as fuck broodal BM’ or ‘pure old school’ – there’s no point to it other than this is what makes me react in certain ways. I like ‘honesty’ in production – not ‘slickness’ or sterility which is so common. I just do what I enjoy. I tried to make each release sound unique whereby the production meets the riffs. Production, for me, is ‘spirit’/ atmosphere of music. Compare Iron Maidens original production of Somewhere in Time to Book of Souls and try not to cry.
How does Rebel Wizard relate to your other bands Nekrasov and Whitehorse, what made you start a different project from Nekrasov for this new outlet?
No way related to Whitehorse, nothing I do relates to that band. Nekrasov and Rebel Wizard are both things that are completely personal. They are not attempts to fit into anything other than being various expressions coming purely from my sub conscious nonsense. I’ve always done both from a young age. Whether it was playing guitar or making horror soundtracks as a kid.
I guess I feel older now and am able to channel a life time of influence whether musically, philosophically etc into either projects. They both allow me to be free to do as I feel I need to do. To be honest I wish I was a plumber.
You’ve been quite prolific in releasing music in 2015 with five EP’s seeing the light of day. How do you get so much out? And what made you decide to go for the album format now? What’s the advantage of the EP format?
Habit mainly. I’ve just always done this kind of thing. I’ve tried to quit over and over but I just ‘need’ to do it. I don’t really think about it.
I grew up with a metal and punk background, late 80s early 90s. Mostly I bought 7”s. There were tons of bands that would come out of no-where with these fucking amazing and powerful eps that you’d play over and over. Normally the full lengths would never meet that standard. I miss that feeling so I started doing it for Rebel Wizard. I like that ‘powerful’ ep life. There’s such a big deal on albums and their mostly boring these days. I mostly don’t give a shit what modern folk are on about and can’t spend an hour on their torture. But that’s just me. I probably shouldn’t really speak of such things as I am still stuck in the past.
Can you say a bit about your album ‘Triumph of Gloom’. What is the story that you are telling on the album and how much work went into it?
I’d prefer not to say too much. I like that it’s kept completely open for the listener as I hope it spanks various sized buttocks. Lots and lots and lots and lots of work, and then lots more. Then I spend way more harder work.
You’re releasing the music on a very limited run of physical formats, what is the reason for that?
Again habits from the past. Everything was done handmade. It makes it personal/ special. I still like doing that. I find that insane glossy inverted cross digipak nonsense is what Disney would do. I have a small audience so it’s easy to do and I enjoyed making something unique for those sad cunts who are hurting themselves with my stupidity.
What is the concept of negative (Wizard) metal? What is the idea you’re conveying with your music? Does it feel right that it’s received as such a positive, vibrant and energetic bit of music that it actually is?
‘Negative’ metal is lots of things: golden shower on bro metal, resurrection of anarchic mysticism on contemporary energy drink sub cultures, emphasis on negative concepts however not the ‘depression’ format and the use of the ‘negative’ to move away from what’s being told is ‘something’ to returning to ‘not this’ etc..
What’s your writing and recording process like, how do you actually get those great records into being? What are the things that inspire you or that you need to make music?
I literally do not know how to answer but it just comes out. There’s no trying. I just do what I need to do. I’m not trying to be anything. It covers all that I resonate with in all life matters. It’s habit.
My life has been long, rough and epic in so many ways. Like everyone who feels that ‘thing’ with the kind of music we do, it is a life line. I try not to let too many outside influences in. Of course they are imbedded. I would say that it comes from doing things I feel are missing for me. In so many scenes there’s a strong sense of replication, this exists is ALL scenes these days. There’s just shit I need to do that I feel is missing, for me. I don’t bother with marketing or labels as I feel it’s not what ‘the people’ want. I am a particular type of ass. I would not release anything if I felt like it was jumping on a band wagon but I also don’t think my way is the way, it’s just what works for me and what helps me process the multi levelled, super layered elements without jumping naked off a plane into a glass roof restaurant.
Since you do all by yourself, I was surprised to read on your Facebook page you’re putting together a live set. How is that working out?
It’s going very slowly and painfully. I am almost thinking it’s a stupid idea.haha.
Where did you get the samples on Triumph of Gloom from? Is it important to you to have these samples to invoke a spirit or convey a message?
That’s for me to know and you to do whatever you do with it all. Haha.
What would you like that people take from your music?
That’s completely up to them.
As I understand it, you have little love for contemporary metal music. If you had to name some bands that do get the spirit of what it is you’re doing, which ones would that be and why.
I have little love for all things ‘contemporary’! haha. I’m not aware of anyone doing a Rebel Wizard type thing. Now, this sounds like an asshole thing to say! Haha. But what I mean is that I make the Rebel Wizard stuff as I feel no one else is doing it and I enjoy it. It simply entertains me and offers me some therapy for this completely absurd and increasingly idiotic/ conservative world. That’s what bands of my early years did for me. If there was someone else capturing the ‘spirit’ of RW I wouldn’t do it so it’s best I stay ignorant. There’s tons of projects I have huge respect for. There’s just too many to name.
What future plans do you have?
None at all however I would really like that Triumph of Gloom on LP. That would be nice. But there’s no plans on anything.
Finally, if you had to describe Rebel Wizard as a dish (food), what would it be?
Urine soaked unicorn steak.
There was a little riot in extreme metal land the other day, which probably seems futile and minor to anyone who isn’t into it, but is also, like every confrontation saying a bit more than you’d think.
Even the whole #kimexposedtaylorparty concerning Taylor Swift and Kanye West (and Kim Kardashian, but whatever), is a debate that tries to create something bigger or maybe is. People choose sides on things, its the way it works. I have passionate Taylor Swift fans among my friends, hence me knowing about this… and I have a twitter account so yeah…
So what gives?
Since pretty much everyone I’ve seen debating this issue has retracted their statements and removed facebook posts, I’ll just get to some vague picture of what happened.
A band behaved badly and that was picked up by a metal zine. It then levelled some accusations at the band this pissed of the band, lets call them… SatanGoat. Something with goats, you see… Now, the journalist in question, might have made up some shit about the band or had drawn some conclusions that the band disagreed with. In response, they posted their rant.
But that wasn’t enough for the evil men in SatanGoat, who ofcourse all have pseudonyms and are very secretive. The band needed to doxx the writer (for what doxxing is, check wiki). Meaning, they posted a picture and all personal data of this person.
uncool bra, uncool…. But if you mention that, you’re told to go back to your hipster metal cave.
I’ve never written under a pseudonym, I’ve had bands say they were sad to read I didn’t dig their stuff and had bands say thanks for the nice words. Now, on this blog I cover stuff I like mostly. I don’t see the point in writing about a album I didn’t dig, sorry. Life is short and I have many things to do. But what if I would be doxxed? What if I’d written that SatanGoat was unoriginal (I think I did) and not really doing anything innovative, but was in the end a fun listen… What if I suggested that some lyrics are a bit edgy. I’m talking about a mostly anonymous band… should I be doxxed?
I hope not. I read two responses, one from another blogger who took offense and one from a black metal musician who considered it taking a stand. I have to say, I agreed with both. Branding someone as anything and writing cheap headlines to get clicks is just the sort of stuff that put #brexit in motion and might put Trump in the White House. Two things we will, I don’t doubt it, regret. Journalism needs to be honest, checking their stuff and getting that info others cant get.
Does that make it ok to ostracize these people and put them at the mercy of the audience? Not really, no. Specially from the comfort of anonymity. But this stuff goes both ways. Respect your topic, they are people too and respect people taking the time to write about stuff. I don’t know how it works for the big sites, but I, like many others, do this in my spare time for the love of the music.
I could and should write toaster manuals instead, it would make me some money.
Respect is the absolute key, but it’s only something you can give, not something you can demand.
This edition of Sounds of the Underground features musical gems from Winterlore, In Mourning, Release The Long Ships and Muscle And Marrow.
Some good music for lesser weather.
Winterlore – Winterlore Slaughterhouse Records
The cover of this second Winterlore record immediately speaks to the afficionado of dark fantasy/history with its gloomy depiction of a moonlit landscape. It says a lot about the sound of these Utah residents and their mystical black metal. The debut of the band came out in 2013, so it was high time for something more. With members of Ered Wethrin, Malignant Inception and many more, its clear that the band draws inspiration from various styles within the genre to create a perfectly balanced sound of their own on this record. Inspired by early Drudkh, Angantyr and Satanic Warmaster, you know what you’re in for! Back to the old underground.
Blending the right elements of oldschool black metal, this band sounds grim like you used to love them. Black, eerie guitar riffs create a static pattern that batters on forever, while the vocalist barks his dark incantations. Taking clear inspiration from their Northern predecessors, the band focusses on similar themes and cultural components. The sound is hardly full of variation, but leaves room for atmospheric guitar parts. Repetitive, droning patterns with a melancholic feel get the listener in a trance. Fascinating is the chanting on the end of the title track and in fact also the closer for the album. It’s almost Viking chanting, in a Wardruna style, which evokes powerful imagery surrounding that cover photo. Though stylisticly a bit retro, Winterlore has released an album that brings all the good from the old favorites in a fresh coat of paint.
Muscle and Marrow – Love The Flenser
It’s a peculiar thing how certain records end up in the black metal category on bandcamp, but for this album I do get it. Muscle and Marrow is an experimental duo, creating music that tugs at the heart strings. On This record the songs are trying to express the complexity of love, but not in the cheesy way we all know and hate. It’s much deeper than that. In this interview with Noisey, singer and guitarist Kira Clark talks about her influences for this record. The sound she produces with drummer Keith McGraw has been dubbed doom-folk, but if you like to call it doompop, experimental music or electronics, it’s all good.
If I have to clarify what this sounds like, I have to mention Chelsea Wolfe and (though many might disagree with me) Björk due to the free form of the music. In a way you can also not pass up on the chance to mention Courtney Love, who is a big inspiration for this album apparently and in some ways her influence can be felt in the music. The tunes feel very ambient, but the vocals are weary and expressive. It creates a feeling of darkness, almost gothy. The shimmering music and haunting vocals express an exhaustion almost, which is very convincing and giving the record a strenght that is hard to really put to words. It convinces you of truly complex feelings that drain you when even trying to comprehend them. Whispered or screamed, Clark is a vocalist with a powerful range and at the core of this record for sure. The rest is just framework. I’m struggling to write down what I hear, it reminds me of the description in ‘Lord of the Rings’ of the ringwraiths, who are stretched thin, almost ghost-like by their greed and the lifeforce eaten away by that one ring… that’s how the music of Muscle and Marrow sounds.
In Mourning – Afterglow Agonia Records
These Swedes know a thing or two about creating haunting tunes that find their way somewhwere in between goth and doom with a tinge of symphonic added. It’s no My Dying Bride, but in a sense that is not such a far shot from what these gentelmen produce on their fourth full lenght in their 16 year existence ‘Afterglow’. Maybe if you add a little Moonspell to that mix you do get the sound of In Mourning. The band from Falun has started moving in a more melodic death direction for a while now, which can be heard on their new album as well. With two original members in their, the core sound of contemplative and intelligent music with a classic hint is obviously maintained on this new outing. I enjoyed listening to this.
The band is hugely melodic, full of majestic arches that depict an autumn landscape of ever dying life. The tracks are notably long and not always leaving the impact you’d be hoping for, but on a track like ‘Ashen Crown’ the band is unleashed. A torrent of minor tunes is launched at the listener, conveying grief and torment in an intricate and beautiful manner. The riffing is pulling at you with grand, sweeping movements and a wide array of tones and layers. I can’t say that the vocals are all that convincing and distinct on every track, but the right approach is taken everywhere with grunts or clean contemplative vocals. It’s the guitars that take the reigns on the tunes with a fierce bit of bass and drums (in the capable hands of
Daniel Liljekvist, former drummer of Katatonia). The song sink down and then rise up again, higher and higher. Sometimes it’s just swooning and subtle, like the intro of the wonderful ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’. Though In Mourning is not giving the gothic doom the kick in the arse it so sorely needs, it’s bringing out all those elements that make it such a beloved genre.
Release The Long Ships – Holocene Self released
What draw my attention to this record in the first place was partly the bandname, Release The Long Ships, which reminded me of that stupid Unleashed song. The band is in fact Ferenc Kapiller, a one man musical wonder of multi-instrumental prowess and a knack for the mysterious. Perhaps known for his artwork for post-BM band Nullingroots from the United States, the Hungarian has released a wonderful record with ‘Holocene’. The musician set to work with nothing more than a guitar and a computer back in 2011 and has wrought some brilliant stuff this far. At home in Szombathel he creates simple but imaginative songs and I truly adore them.
Another point of interest for me was a song titled ‘Tesla and Tunguska’. I had heard a song earlier with Tunguska in the title by the T.S. Eliot Appreciation Society. The melancholy and the wide stretched feel of the sound feel similar. The mysterious Tunguska-event, an explosion thought to have been a meteor, has been linked to Tesla by obscure theories. It’s a reworking of an Erudite Stoner song. Kapiller translates this to minimalistic music, with a lot of background distortion and noise on moments when it needs to swell to bigger proportions. The trickling guitar sound is a prevailing element on this album, evoking imagery of fantasy landscapes and deep forests. The kind you don’t see anywhere anymore, but maybe in Hungary a part lingers. The music is layered and laced with emotion, this is not something to listen to anywhere else than at home or on a walk in nature. It has a taste of ambient, the flow of postrock and the organic vibe of folk. It really is worth your time.
Let me entertain you with some underground tunes by Ashbringer, Wederganger, Laster, Wilderun and Eternal Khan. Hopefully you find something you dig in there.
Ashbringer – Yūgen Avantgarde Music
The name Ashbringer resonates to me due to the obviousl link to Warcraft. The name of the legendary blade is almost as enchanting as the music of this band, which is unique, atmospheric and grand, but always staying on the edgy. Their debut was ‘Vacant’, released in 2015, by the Minnesota group. That already intrigued me, but ‘Yūgen’ is a whole different beast. The group formed around Nick Stanger (Astral Blood, No Heroes, ex-The Broken Are Crowned), who decided to pursue his solo dreams. To my dismay I found that I never got around to penning some words about Ashbringers debut, but do check that out if you have a chance.
Deep melancholy oozes from the sound of Ashbringer. Its’s full on, blazing black metal, swelling up like a roaring fire and rolling over you, but in there is a layer of synths. Those create that feeling of magic. The band is also not afraid to add folky elements to the music, not necessary hidden behind bushes of distortion, but offering an intermezzo in a track (even the opener) or soaring high throughout a song like ‘Oceans Apart’. It adds a postrock vibe to the atmosphere that Ashbringer delivers, but the twangy steel sound of the guitar on that song takes it somewhere else. It places the band completely on its own path. I think you can compare them to a Deafheaven, Woods of Desolation and ilk, but to me on ‘Yūgen’ the band has found their own sound, which is distinct. As the Asian word they chose as title indicates, it’s mysterious and profoundly expressing a sort of suffering. This is a glorious record.
Laster/Wederganger – Split Ván Records
Laster is a Dutch band, earlier I discussed their previous release. That was an experience in itself, there’s a poetic side to the bands sound and words. On this new ordeal, the band unleashes a song that lasts close to 20 minutes. ‘Vederlicht Verraad’ is their contribution to this split, so I’ll split this review up as well. There’s something unorthodox about this track, mainly on the rhythm section, which sounds almost like wooden drums. Full on salvo’s are unleashed, but there’s a continuous measure of control to the sound, as if the band tempers the energy they unleash. From there the band slowly works towards a repetition that slowly dulls the listener, bringing on a trance that is ended by the harsh buzzing noise that remains at the end of the track.
Wederganger is a whole different beast. Steeped in the clay of their region, closely connected to more historical orientated bands and up for a bit of dirty, grimy black metal, this will not be a pleasant experience. Their song ‘Klaroenen van den dood’ translates as ‘trumpets of death’ (roughly). It opens with a languid, sizzling riff that electrifies your spine. There’s a feel of something looming in this track, it never really gives you a moment of peace and calm. The ghoulish vocals are accompanied by a galloping rhythm, that keeps a slow melodic pace. Rattling drums crawl under a soaring, buzzing guitar riff that sounds really like it’s charged heavily. Clean vocals in Dutch chant about death, it’s a typical morbid day in Wederganger land.
Eternal Khan – Lost in the Night of Ages Independent
I think that Eternal Khan is the musical equivalent of taking a bat to the face, that’s how intense the Providence black/doom metal band comes across on their second full lenght ‘Lost in the Night of Ages’. The band takes on themes like absurdity of man’s existence, which does intrigue me. The artwork and other promises also suggest that there’s an element of mythology to the band. On previous covers a Mongolian warlord is depicted, hulking and brandishing weaponry. That feels different on this album, with a more fantasy like creature adorning its front.
The feel of the magnificent riffing might be dirgelike, there’s an urgency and commanding element to the steady horse-back galloping riffing on the record. Maybe I’m just interpreting the ‘khan’ title in the album, but the threatening tone is more than just creating a languid atmospheres. In that militant element, there’s definitely a wink at Satyricon you could suggest. Vocals are much more barked and guttural and there’s definitely more of a stomping feel to the doomed up beats. Still, this is no step back in black metal history, this is a record in its full right, exploring a new avenue from that direction. It’s brutal, atmospheric and one big pit of swirling chaos. I only miss the real mythological elements that everything seems to hint at.
Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth Independent
I’ve kinda left Wilderun for what it is for quite a while, untill I saw it pop up on some EoY lists here and there. The lustrous green hills on the cover did attract my eye, so I finally decided to give it a spin. Expecting something akin to Wildernessking I was surprised by the sound of this Boston group. The Americans produce their own specific sound of folk metal with symphonic elements. Now, this is a slippery slope that might lead up to a massive cheese fest of tacky, over the top metal music, but these guys manage to pull it of. Time to dig in and listen to the majesty that is Wilderun.
Combine the penchant for the dramatic storytelling of Turisas with the grandeur of musical brilliance of Opeth and you have a pretty adequate description of what the sound of this group is. Vocally and lyrically the work of Evan Anderson Berry is very strong and theatrical, but a bit too slick for my tastes. The same goes for the bombastic arrangements. When finally a shreddin guitar enters the fray on ‘The Means to Preserve’ I think I sigh audibly every time. Equally for the more gruff vocals by the way, but I can’t escape the notion that this is a majestic record, filled with grandeur and beauty of it’s very own kind by a band who are masters at their craft. It’s grandeur and picturesque nature remains unsurpassed and this is indeed a great album that I would recommend to those who like their music epic and sountracky.
My offerings of underground musics for you are this time Thränenkind, Kannabinõid, Musk Ox and Vektor.
Some out there stuff, specially the last blew me away and Musk Ox is one of the most haunting things in a while. It’s all good, check it out.
Thränenkind – King Apathy Lifeforce Records
If you make your post black-metal band with a twist of crust, post-hardcore and post-rock (yes, that’s a lot of little genre labels) sound like a bad ass rocking outfit, you’ve got something good going. Wildly accesible, the music of Thraenenkind (not everyone deals with the proper writing that well) from Germany is something special to behold. They debuted in 2013 with their album ‘The Elk’, which also displayed the punk/hc roots of the band with anti-capitalist, environmentalist and more isms as inspiration and lyrical matter. That’s all wrapped up in a package of natural beauty.
There’s two faces to Thränenkind (screw this, I’m using the proper writing). One is a bit like Agalloch, embracing the more post-rock influences black metal sound. You can add some more names like Alcest to that list, but it makes the band sound a bit cliché. The other side is a gritty hardcore/crust vibe, more akin to Amebix and Isis mixed together. There are some bands the sound is very akin to, but you can read Angry Metal Guy for the comparisons everyone already stole (props for writing such a good review). The emotive guitar lines would appear to clash with the energetic drumming, but the dreary feel of the melodies is enlivened by that ferocity. It steels the apathy from King Apathy, making it a potent and stirring record. The sound is filled with sorrow, but also vibrant and struggling with itself. A great record for your stormy spring days.
Kannabinõid – Troon Golem Records
How do you call a stoner from Estonia? An Estoner I suppose, but that’s another band from the northest of the Baltic States. Here we’re talking about Kannabinõid, not their brother band with whom they are on tour. The band has released an EP a few years ago, but now the real work starts with their record ‘Troon’, which means ‘throne’. The style they play, the band describes as stonedoom, So I decided to give these guys from Tallinn a spin and check out the three song record they unleashed.
Drones, that’s what you get, long eerie passages of drones in your face. The tones are full of remorse, more akin to a funeral doom band, specially when the organ comes in. There’s no rush here, but the vocals are more confusing. Hushed voices give a ritualistic feel to the music, which adds to the build-up. Then it swells to roaring with the ever slowly cascading riffs crawling onwards. There’s something psychedelic in the sound of these Tallinn inhabitants though, something about the way the drones reverberate. It’s along, heavy trip, but well worth taking with these gents.
Musk Ox – Woodfall Self Released
Canada has some beautiful nature, and in my head much of it is unspoiled by civilized destruction. It speaks to the heart to know there’s still something akin to wilderness in the world. I feel that this is often what is embodied in neofolk music, letting music paint the land. In this case the one where the Musk Ox roams. The group has released many albums and even though ‘Woodfall’ is from 2014, I really wanted to feature it here.
The music is clean, sculpted and so captivatingly melancholic. Taking the lead is the guitar of Nathanaël Larochette, who plays the tantalizingly sweet little pickings that underline the music ensemble. It’s the cello of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the violin of Evan Runge that soaringly play and tell the stories. It never becomes repetitive or boring, it keeps finding new shapes and movements that keep you enthralled. Its the sort of record that makes you want to stay at home or take a long walk in the forest on your own, its a solitary experience to revel in the tones of this threepiece. They borrow elements from many music styles, which helps create such layered, complex masterpiece. This album is definitely a great piece of music.
Vektor – Terminal Redux Earache Records
I normally don’t cover records on bigger labels, but come on, this record is insane! Vektor are a progressive thrash band from Pensylvania, that has been around for a a good decade. Originally named Locrian, the band puts the word progressive in one of the most stale music genres around. Ok, I’m not trying to diss thrash, bu the genre is a bit retro. Luckily guys like this are pushing the envelope with their maddening sci-fi themed music, that packs quite a punch if I may say so. Wait, sci-fi themed thrash metal with progressive elements? Yes sir, so they did and its one hell of a ride to listen to this reocrd full of weird and amazing.
Look at the artwork! Just look at it, it’s awesome. Don’t doubt for a moment that this record shreds like a motherfucker. I mean, this is some serious thrash. It’s just that you don’t expect the epic synths, choirs and effect on everything. If you need nine minute sfor that, or 1,5 minute, it’s all good. As long as it completely blows you of your socks. The squeel of David Disanto is unmistakable and ever bordering on the insane. The guitars are slugging solo’s at you, like it ain’t no thang and the pace is relentless. Most astonishing is the lenght of the record, with songs clocking over five minutes only, usually closer to ten, filled to the brim with all sorts of unexpected elements. It’s one hell of a ferocious bit of metal, which is hard to fully comprehend and transfer in words. Frantic riffing, hectic twists and turns but mainly a record that is ready to become a classic.
Some heavy stuff from the underground this time with Vails, Merlin, Wilt and Plebeian Grandstand. There’s so much stuff coming out of the woodwork that simply sounds amazing, how to keep up?
Well, I particularly liked these four.
Vails – Fuckpuncher When Planets Collide
If you name your album ‘Fuckpuncher’, you probably don’t play music full of gentle and soft elements. You probably do something that feels fucking hard and punching. That pretty much would sum up the sound of Vails. The band hails from London and is a two piece, that produces a punked up, bristling version of sludge without much further decoration. Owen Street batters his bass and provides the singing and Matthew Ham is slaughtering his drum kit to provide a rumbling backdrop for the whole experience. The necessary effects do the rest.
The sound is one full of grit, distorted and with barely contained violence. It’s not the creeping kind of sludge, but the battering, angry sort that propels itself forward on its rhythm based barrage. ‘Fuckpuncher’ is a raw record that reminds me a bit of Crowbar meats Eyehategod with the intensity of Whores. It definitely has some swagger in its bass riffing, for example on opener ‘Klabautermann’. The sound is sleazy and full of biting, heavy distortion, which only adds to the ferocious charm of this duo. This is one to play in your car for sure. On the title track there’s even a feeling of grandeur in the build-up. Great stuff by these Britons.
Merlin – Electric Children PRC Music
No wizardry on this crackling bit of doom, but clear voiced heavy wah wah doom that speaks of death, doom and gloom. The band from Wrinngarth takes doom from the 70’s and merges it with current day heavy psych. Their intent? To melt minds and enslave people… oh well, that last might not be part of it, but they really want to bring back the epic riffing. Their influences therefor range from Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats to Hawkind and Sabbath. Oh and there’s a lot of fuzz going on there as well. Enjoy the ride into the darkness.
Listening ot ‘Electric Children’, you are overwhelmed by the towering vocals that are more akin to the early doom greats than you’d imagine possible. Even the timbre of the recording feels dusty and canned, but also that fuzzy guitar play feels like its Blue Cheer at work underneath it all. The Americans keep the sound light, accesible, but oh so much fun to listen to. The languid vocals, the eerie buzzing guitars, the primitive sound. It all seems a bit much calculated, but the band from Kansas pulls it off with flair. Lots of solo’s, lots of messy sounding bluesy grooves, it’s all good with these electric children.
To say that the Canadian group Wilt makes music that is monolithic in its slow, brimming reverie is an understatement to the art of the band. Their sound is considered to be atmospheric black metal, but traces of the most mind-melting doom (bordering on the funeral kind) is definitely present on their record. It’s the first full lenght for the Manitoba five piece. The record came out in november 2015, but I feel that I have to share its brilliance here.
Slow, drudging music soars around, filling the wide void that the band embraces. The slow is combinated with a blistering drummer, that creates an underlying tension in the shimmering sound of the Canadians. The lurching vocals are cracking, heaving with frustration and grief in a profound and convincing manner. Though that is mainly what describes the title track and opener ‘Illusion of Hope’, on ‘The Elder’ the drums take over and a much faster, pummeling vibe overtakes the whole song. Sure, this record does get a bit monotonous at some point for sure, but let it embrace you and it’s a great experience.
Plebeian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows Throatruiner Records
There are still those that push the black metal genre forwards and Frenchies Plebeian Grandstand do just that. You might link them to the Deathspell Omega’s of this world, but the band is not related. Thematically the band is taking a totally different approach to the genre, creating something much more tangible and realistic. It’s also interesting to know that the band has been around for 11 years and therefor I’m amazed to not have noticed them before. Alas, it’s the way the world works and now I have and have been blown away by their record.
Ever been hit in the head at a show, when everything suddenly seems to go faster, while you go slower? It’s sort of like that when Plebeian Grandstand launches into their savage, lo-fi bursts of fury. Short assaults are followed by brief, uncouth moments that feel like there’s something wrong or perverse about the music. That unsettling effect is tangible from the first track onwards, but stays with you the whole album. The hooky, mesmerizing sound of these guys remins you that not every band labelling themselves as avantgarde (or being labeled as, potato and all) has seen a modernist novel once, some actually are unfathomably complex and strange. So, don’t take my word for it, but listen to the blistering assault of their record yourself. It’s free, treat yourself.
Let’s bring out some new sounds from the underground, with Rive, Book of Sand, Woman is the Earth and Illyria. Check these amazing records out please.
Rive – Sorg Self released
Imagine being in one of the most desolate places on this earth, in a windswept, frozen mining colony on the island of Svalbard. What music would come out of that? Well, now we know with this release by Rive from Norway. I was not convinced that this depresssed black metal band was actually from Svalbard, but Danthor Wildcrow told me that this was the case. The songs were made there, in the far north where only ice and polar bears can be found.
‘Sorg’ is not a complex record, but it speaks of weariness and being alone. It’s an eerie, subtle recording, leaving room for streaks of beauty and sunlight in its otherwise hazy, white sound. The drums sound a bit electronic and they hold a lulling effect, which very well adds to the vast stretched out effect the music seems to evoke. Imagine the early polar travellers, stranded and hoping for the ice to melt. The hopelessness and vast emptiness they must have felt is embrased by the music. The vocals are howls, getting lost in the gale of distorted sound with minimal riff work. This is the soundtrack of the mining colony of Sveagruva, which is only part of the year inhabited. That makes the song melancholic, as must be the temporary residents of the town. It’s a record full of yearning. Perhaps sonically not laced with complexity, but definitely captivating in its raw beauty and picturesque beauty.
Book of Sand – Occult Anarchist Propaganda Mouthbreather Records
Let me start with the basics, Black metal usually is pretty right wing, but Book of Sand really is on the veganism, feminism, anarchism and other lefty-isms with their words. The band from Minneapolis has been around since 2009 and may be one of those bands you find hard to really say much about. They’ve been out there, splitting opinions in the black metal world for a long time now. The band has had a lot of unorthodox releases, which to the purists is an offence and an outrage. Sole band member dcrf must have an interesting sense of humor. Then there’s this release.
I sometimes find myself puzzled by what black metal can sound like, but this record is like the absolute essence of that sound. Stripped of any nuances, grooves or other luxurious elements, this is rip-roaring raw black metal. It’s that place where guitars are dissonant cuts and sweeps, blending together with the bass into a droning, static unity. The tortured screams are in the thicket of noise, where constant blast beats reign. It’s a bit like the olden days of black metal, so pure and direct. Here and there the instrumental side of Book of Sand can be heared though, how could it not be. This takes you back to the early days of Emperor and their ilk. Which is cool, no?
Woman Is The Earth – Torch of our Final Night Init Records
Well, sometimes you just stumble on the most awesome things. One of those is the band Woman is the Earth form Black Hills in South Dakota, a remote location which apparently fosters a unique atmosphere in sound and words. The band draws their inspiration from “inspired by the earth being a powerful creator and provider and man being the one who takes from it and returns to it” according to an interview. There is something very ‘gaia’ in their sound for sure, on this fourth full length of the Americans. I had a listen and couldn’t stop doing so for a while.
The tranquility you feel when the record starts is that evoked by gentle guitar play. It’s warming you untill the sound explodes out, like the sun finally climbing over a hill in the early morning and shooting its beams out. Though the fierce vocals are clearly linking this band to the black metal genre, the music is often warm and nearly jubilant during the lovely passages on a track like ‘Brother in Black Smoke’. There’s a lot of borrowed riffs from postrock in the music, which makes it easy comparing these guys to Wildernessking or Wolves in the Throne Room (for obvious, Cascadian reasons). Take also the melancholic guitar play on ‘Broken Hands’. There’s something truly unique about this sound, every song has its unique embrace. I can not stop listening to this.
Illyria – Illyria Self Released
Every now and then a band is for some reason unsigned. Thus it is with Illyria, the band released a debut that can’t be denied though. The Australians aim to blend postrock and black metal, which obviously puts them somewhere out there with Alcest, Deafheaven and other post BM bands. The band name of the Perth group might be derived from ancient times, the name Illyria would refer to a region roughly encompassing a part of former Yugoslavia on its coast. Never fully a nation, the concept has intrigued artists through the ages from Shakespeare on to these guys.
The sound of this band therefor lacks a lot of the typical black metal attributes, embracing more that flowing postrock sound in a more upbeat and pleasant form. Listening to this record makes me realize that blackgaze is a thing now, its an undeniably new genre. Devoid of the traditional characteristics, only atmosphere, vocals and the rare passages offer an inkling of its roots. There’s no feeling of hype or trend to the sound of the group, it’s a mesmerizing completeness that their sound attains. The only dischord in the sometimes even classical sounding music may be the vocals, which never seem out of place at all though.
So Underground sounds, I’ve been silent but I need to tell you about Rorcal, Zhrine, Sun Worship and Unru.
Rorcal – Creon Lost Pilgrims Recordings
This four track album by Swiss doom masters is by now their number four of the full lenghts. De group from Geneva has a sound that hits you like a brick in all its glorious majesty. The albumd deals with the tragic death of four greek heroes. The names are the songtitles, written in Greek, which offer a record lasting over 50 minutes. The names are Polynices, Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice. The record was recorded in three days and mixed in Sweden, it’s out on vinyl now (just ordered mine!). Check this out.
The description invites you to immerse yourself in the savage fury and beauty of this album and I think that this is exactly what the record offers. Four turbulent tracks full of blackened sludge/hardcore that feels quite on the bleak side most of the times. Continuous, surging riffs give that typical sludge feel, but the tempestuous blast beats link it to black metal joined by the vocals. The riffs lash down upon the listener, sometimes giving way to those high rising atmospheric moments, while the drums batter on. This would seem to be one hell of a consistently strong record, offering no rest for the listener in the ever dangerous mythical age of Greece. The vocals scream and sear you even further, landing like blows to the face. This record is a black pit of tar, once you fall into it, you’re doomed.
Sun Worship – Pale Dawn Golden Antenna Records
One of my favorite metla bands for suer, these guys from Berlin. A while ago I did conduct an interview with the trio and their hipster black metal approach. I think that whole label is nonsense by the way, rarely will you find a band that so profoundly makes music from the heart that sounds so dark and oppressive. It’s the second full lenght of the band, who played Roadburn last year and are generally pretty awesome. You can read my interview here if you like. Artwork for this album was once more done by the people of View from the Coffer. It looks pretty cool as we’re used to with these Germans.
I don’t know if the band in some way intended their cover to give a slight reference to the cosmic music of the 70’s krautrock movement. One can detect something like that in their music though, with a lot of repetition an an almost ‘motorik’ beat in the opening track. Maybe its just being highlighted in the music of these guys, who also use a lot of distortion to create this cosmic, cloudy feel of air filled with electricity. This brings me to ‘Lichtenberg Figures’, which is a the name for electric emissions that can be captures. The use of cymbals evokes that feel, but it all lingers in the wide, melodic play of the band. This is not black metal for a black night, it’s for that starry heavens above us, filling us with wonder. The tremolo guitar play and hoars, far away focals are an expression of facing that. The words echo despair. It’s one hell of a record, do take your time to listen to it.
Unru – Als Tier ist der Mensch Nichts Monotonstudio Records
When you look at this weird collage cover, you may think that this whole record is just some joke gone wrong. I doubt that though, because ‘As Animals mankind is nothing’ is a blistering assault on the eardrums by Bielefeld black metal/crusties Unru. The band has released some surprising demo’s and then came out with this piece of unholy matter. Many fans the band has attracted with their vitriolic sound, but this album kind of tops it all I think. Judging by their facebook pictures, we’ve got another band like Sun Worship here, that has little scene pretense, but probably an artistic statement to offer.
Chaos, that’s where you dwell on ‘Zerfall & Manifest’, with a continuous onslaught of blast beats, wavering guitars and agitated, bestial barks. What might be the typical cascadian riffs, just melts into this distorted blanked of sound. Radid screams add to this grotesque experience. ‘Hēdonḗe’ offers an opening of crushing riffs, that make it sound like some shattered speakers are being tested. Add to that guttural howls through broken microphones’ and you get the illuminating experience this track offers. It’s an abbrasive, punitative ride down on this abbrasive record. With a torturous thred the song marches on. I don’t know what it is, every time the band seems to produce somehthing that sounds mildly intelligent, a blast of noise has to be woven around it, like ‘Totemiker’. Still a great record though.
Zhrine – Unortheta Seasons of Mist
Iceland offers many natural wonders. It also has a shitload of good black metal bands and Zhrine is just the next kid in town, that’s gonna blow you away with their grand blackened death. On first hearing they might remind you of a mixture of Behemoth and Skepticism, but there’s much more violence to this sound. The band is not a bunch of young dogs, but have already earned their name and are earning it in various others like Naðra, Svartidauði and Ophidian I. The good label is there already. This appears to be bound for glory already after having changed the bandname from Gone Postal to Shrine and now Zhrine.
There’s a majestic side to the dragging sound of Zhrine, but there’s also the bite when they speed up and chase you with overwhelming force into a corner. Brutal with so many subtleties, that’s the cool bit about these guys. You can definitely sense some of the experimental elements on the more straight forward tracks, but it’s the other songs that mesmerize you. Both dissonant and harmonious, imposing and gentle, the record goes in all directions without ever losing its intriuge. Unconventional and progressive, this is one hell of a record to give a spin.
I keep finding great underground records, so here are some with OranssiPazuzu, Deströyer666, Ulvesang and Plateau Sigma.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä 20 Buck Spin Records
The name of the Finnish weirdo’s translates as Orange Pazuzu, a demon from Babylonian mythology. Vocalist Jun His’ used to be active in surrealist rockband Kuolleet Intiaanit. Apparently the band started after seeing Emperor play live. There’s little doubt about the fact that Oranssi Pazuzu is a black metal continuation of that concept. The band thus incorporates psychedelic and progressive elements into their own brand of black metal, which leads to interesting results. The band prefers to not repeat itself, leading to even more fantastic fun, every album is different.
The strange, repetitive riffs feel strangely captivating and lull you into a state of mind that is perplexingly relaxed, while maintaining a sense of wonder. The weird sound effects around the songs are enhancing this weird, submerging experience befitting such a band. Weirdly hypnotic riffs, combined with guttural barks are a strange thing to behold. The almost circular atmosphere the band generates is slightly unnerving, but fascinating at the same time in all its weirdness. Its some truly remarkable music, I have to say. I think I detected a locomotive beat somewhere between the twangy riffing.
Plateau Sigma – Rituals Avantgarde Music
Nothing wrong with a good bit of funeral doom, specially if the band takes the easy going direction that Plateau Sigma embraces. Taking inspiration from the traditional doom/death direction, but also from the Greek and Roman societies of the ancient past, this band is on an interesting trajectory. The cover tells as much, with a warrior lady in full weaponry depicted as on an ancient fresco (the goddess Athena?). The songs are dedicated to the Roman deities and the album itself to Bacchus, because Plateau Sigma believes that their style is the best to represent Dionysian themes. I would disagree, bu tthey make an interesting case that is well worth listening to before judging.
One thing I notice rather quick into listening to this record is the limited vocal range of one of their vocalists (not sure, since most of them take on vocal duties). It just doesn’t add up to the epic scale of the riffs here and there. The general feel of the music makes up for most of that though, in its laid back, pleasant atmosphere. This is normally not the feeling you get from a bit of funeral doom, bu tthe lingering sense of nostalgia somehow captivates you as a listener into a lulling, dreamy state. For a Dyonisian experience I miss the vitality on this record though. It all seems so tame and controlled. It’s a nice listen though, specially when you’re reading D&D novels.
Deströyer 666 – Wildfire Seasons Of Mist
Deströyer 666 is an interesting band with an even more interesting history. Originally the band hails from Melbourne in Australia, but later they moved to the south of the Netherlands, where they resided for a while. When members left and visas expired, the band seems to have scattered towards London. I guess it’s that Eindhoven connection that made me look into this Motörhead of the black metal scene, who’ve come back to the forefront after a long, long time with their new album ‘Wildfire’. K. K. Warslut gathered some new minions around him and its on!
From the fierce opening riff of ‘Traitor’ onwards. There is no fillers on this album, just relentless blackened rock’n’roll with a lot of oldschool swagger and rawness to it. Deströyer 666 is in no way a band that is opening new doors or is innovating the black metal genre, but they are doing everything in a way that suggests they simply don’t give a fuck whether you like it or not, This is rock’n’roll purity in its natural surroundings. What is very noticable is how the band manages to incorporate various traditional metal elements into their sound, without starting to sound cheesy. It actually makes it even more catchy and fun to listen to these guys. I really love this record, I hope you do to.
Ulvesang – Ulvesang Unsigned
They might be unsigned, but someone should catch this haunting trio of neofolk musicians quickly, because wherever this music is coming from I want more of it. The Canadians have many influences, but want to state that they are looking for their very own sound within the genre they describe as dark/neofolk. Spiritualism, paganism and nature combined with an element of melancholy are their main sources of inspiration. It’s clear that bands like Ulver and Agalloch have, wether the band knows them or not, a profound impact on the neofolk scene and I think it can be traced to records like this one.
The music is subtle, evoking images of nature and the northern forests. There is a tranquility to the calm and measured presentation of Ulvesang. It all takes its own pace, the way nature works and how time passes in that realm. Trickling gently, the acoustic instruments are not simple clean sounds but echo and reverberate in the air. The production really facilitates that organic feeling in that sense. There is a darkness to the sound though, which I think prompted the band to note their black metal influences in the tag cloud. Its that dark edge that makes them so captivating to me.