Tag Archives: black metal

Underground Sounds: Wędrujący Wiatr – O turniach, jeziorach i nocnych szlakach

Label: Werewolf Promotions
Band: Wędrujący Wiatr
Origin: Poland

With a name that means as much as ‘Wandering wind’, you can have a good idea what direction Wędrujący Wiatr is going to be taking the sound in. The album ‘O turniach, jeziorach i nocnych szlakach’. The group hails from Rabka-Zdrój/Olsztyn and has delivered a spectacular album.

Describing themselves as atmospheric black metal, the inspiration for their songs is drawn from Polish folklore, legends and myth. Though that in itself is something that completely fascinates me, I’m not going to be able to figure it all out as easily, so let’s focus on how much the music already tells us.

The intro is a series of ambient sounds, the weary cracking of trees, a dog barking and owls hooting. A gentle folky melody emerges, while the wind gently blows. It helps to know that in the band comes from Warmia, a region in the north-east of Poland, what was former Prussian ground (and I’m not referrin to the Germanic state, but the Baltic-Prussians). When the black metal kicks in, there’s a weary synth line and a short break of melancholic chanting, which I’ve heard from Baltic bands too. It is after all a region that shares history and culture in many ways, but regardless. I’m speculating.

There’s something of the sea and windy forests to the way the sound works for this band. It’s like there’s a continuous windy gale through the music. It almost overtakes the music itself, which is intense, sometimes blistering. The demanding vocals are shouting, roaring even against the sonic storm around it. The band knows exactly when to put a break in, which then ends with a primitve sounding drum. Passages with wavery, static riffing help the listener dream away with the band. The record also has a folky intermission, which again sets a great mood. Musicallly the band is drowning the listener in the emotions and moods it tries to convey. This they do very succesfully on an album that sets them apart from the rest.

This whole record is an eerie, special experience. You listen to something that eases you into a dreamy past of a land that has its very own identity and colour. Wędrujący Wiatr manage to connect synths, atmosphere and an organic brutality to create an intrinsic, mysterious experience. An album to fall in love with.

Underground Sounds: Battle Dagorath – I – Dark Dragons of the Cosmos

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band: Battle Dagorath
Origin: USA/Germany

With a band name, referring to Dagor Dagorath, the mythical end-battle in Tolkien lore (used for the final battle of the early ages, read The Silmarillion, you hobbit). With a title, that brings to mind the great Bal-Sagoth, this is a classic endeavour by Battle Dagorath in the field of epic black metal, titled ‘I – Dark Dragons of the Cosmos’.

I think you can safely say that this comparison isn’t completely ridiculous. The band is a studio project of Vinterriket (Christoph Ziegler, Germany) and Black Sorcerer Battle (USA). The duo worked together on Hellschwadron as well. There used to be a third partner, but now only two members are listed for this release. It’s part one of a story the band wishes to

The sound of the band is steeped in the blistering cold of bands like Emperor, with the sense of majesty of Wolves in the Throne Room. It’s not easy to create long epic songs that remain interesting to the listener and Battle Dagorath does pull that off. A bit of story telling also isn’t missing, in between the cannonades of cold riffs that pour down on you. For example, ‘Phantom Horizons Beyond’ has an outro of cold, metallic clanging and the sound of steps. This may seem trivial, but ambiance is everything with sounds like this.

The continuous, beating sound is enriched by calm, melodic guitar lines that weave through the haze. The combination of that melodic element and the rawness of the overal sound is what gives the album its interesting contrast. The vocals are furious barks, filled with venom. It’s intriguing to hear them being followd up with clean, warm guitar parts, like on ‘Return to Gates of Dawn’. The comforting tones shift back to the vitriolic howls over tremolo riffs and blast beats. There’s something very classic to the sound of Battle Dagorath, but it feels fresh and welcome to hear a band like this. Hectic, wild and like a raging battle, they do justice to their name.

Underground Sounds: Downfall Of Gaia – Atrophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Underground Sounds Roundup: Ash Borer, Bölzer, Krallice

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

Krallice – Prelapsarian

source: bandcamp

Label: Gilead Media
Origin: United States

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

Ash Borer – The Irrepassable Gate

source: Bandcamp

Label: Profound Lore Records
Origin: United States

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

Bölzer – HERO

source: bandcamp.com

Label: Iron Bonehead
Origin: Switzerland

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

 

Underground Sounds: Murg – Gudatall

Label: Nordvis
Band: Murg
Origin: Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

Underground Sounds: Stilla – Skuggflock

Label: Nordvis
Band: Stilla
Origin: Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underground Sounds: Khonsu – The Xun Protectorate

Label: Jhator Recordings
Band: Khonsu
Origin: Norway

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

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

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

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

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

Underground Sounds: Dissimulation -Juodo Mėnulio Archyvai

Label: Ledo Takas Records
Band: Dissimulation
Origin: Lithuania

Lithuanian black thrashers Dissimulation are one of the longest running bands in the genre for the Baltic country. Internationally the scene is little known, with rare exception for bands like Obtest and Luctus. Having been around since 1993, the band has plenty to show for it, which is released on this record ‘Juodo Mėnulio Archyvai’.

The record is a collection of their work, but therefor also a good introduction into the work of this band. The three piece from Kaunas plays a mixture of black metal and raw thrash. In the early days that was much more pure black. An interesting other fact is that as far as I know there was little time for other projects.

Listening to the album, you notice that the band clearly has that messy thrash element to them. That is interestingly combined with synths, creating folkish peculiar songs like ‘Būk Prakeiktas’. The energetic tune is captivating and fun for the listener and a little remniscent of Finntroll in their early days. The blistering, gritty sound features bleak lo-fi sound, blast beats, unearthly barks and an overall break-neck speed. The thrashy elements are easily detectable in the overall messy sound of the Lithuanians. That is, I think, what gives Dissimulation its unique dark flavor and raw fury. Peculiar vocals now and then are even adding to that sense of begin unnerved.

‘Mūšis Rūke’ is a typical track, with the heavy synths giving of the sort of epic dungeon vibe that is actually prevalent in all the work by Dissimulation. A typical looped synth jingle gives that special fantasy-feel of later ’90s black metal. It’s not sticking to that though, a few songs futher we get the blistering blackened thrash again, mayb exemplified by the cover of ‘Countess Bathory’, originally by Venom.

The quality on this record varies between some tight materian and rather distorted, gritty demo tracks (like ‘Pilnaties Kerai’, which sounds completely demented with its frantic, nervous roaring vocals). The all over impression of this record is a career spanning overview of extreme metal. Dissimulation definitely has their own flavor of raw, straight up black metal.

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

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

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

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

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Oskoreien version of the cover

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

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

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

Underground Sounds: Sol Sistere – Unfading Incorporeal Vacuum

Label: Hammerheart Records/ Graven Earth Records
Band: Sol Sistere
Origin: Chile

Chile always has surprising artists to offer in many genres. The long stretched land on the far coast of South-America (from where I’m sitting) is as diverse in its musical output as must be its climate. Sol Sistere is an exceptionally good atmospheric black metal band from the city of Santiago.

Sol Sistere is releasing their debut with ‘Unfading Incorporeal Vacuum’ and that’s always a good thing. Why? Because new bands have new ideas and interesting sounds. Sol Sistere has their own take on black metal that I’m keen to explore on their new album ‘Unfading Incorporeal Vacuum”.

That new sound is definitely something that the Chilean band offers in their captivating balance between intensity and control. Though at its churning core, the band can be brutal and relentless, like on ‘Relentless Ascension’ with its guttural barks and blast beats, the nuance is its specialty. On the outside tapestries of sound are spun out and landscapes are painted with a sonic brush.

A bit of groove isn’t strange to the band either, who use a nice bass line on ‘Sight of the Oracle’, which soon merges into a flow of unmistakable melancholic beauty. A bit akin to some of the work by Winterfylleth, the vocal work is much more black and abyssal. The combination is majestic and haunting at times, but undeniably black metal. An album full of great atmospheric music

There are some more bands in that direction, creating something beautiful while retaining the essentials of black metal, but Sol Sistere is standing head and shoulders above most. Though there is still a little catchiness missing perhaps, but this is the debut. Who knows what more may come.