Friday, June 28, 2013

Desolator - Unearthly Monument [2013]

Sweden's Desolator is nothing but a fresh addition to the tirelessly growing old school Swedish death metal compendium, and yet, despite being highly aware of this fact, for some reason I found myself pursuing their debut full-length which much greater avidity than I would have imagined. The cover art might have been a factor in inducing my boner-of-metal here; a generic yet entertaining caricature depicting a gigantic, ghoulish skull trapped between the two contours of an archaic crypt entrance of some sort, the huge, heaving mass slowly sinking into a morass of blood. Although I'm certain recurring listens of the promo song ''Gravefeast'' that the band uploaded prior to the album's release also had an impact on my increasing anticipation. Needless to say, Desolator's origins are overly blatant - they use up the most popular aesthetics of the classic Swedeath sound - though I was surprised to hear that their simple trajectory was adorned with sprinklings of spurious thrashy fun, making for a listen only marginally disparate than its peers such as Miasmal, Tormented, or Entrails, but still relatively entertaining and rarely memorable.

Listeners will probably sense the great irony in the album's title right away. ''Unearthly Monument'' is actually a pillar built with copious candor and unabashed dexterity, displaying an absolutely earthen sound to say the least. This is not to say that they've gone completely soft with their tone and influential representations, but the guitar raunchy, crunchy miasma has been replaced by a simpler, and still quite primordial aesthetic. The album is a barrage of fluent tremolos interwoven with simple chord ruptures that flow in a fairly simple manner, often resembling some of the less abusive death metal acts of the early 90's like Bolt Thrower, or sometimes even the more narrow-minded and straightforward death/thrash acts of the 1988-1992 time period, a pulsating stream of gore and muscular incursions similar to that of  Epidemic, Solstice or  the Slovakian rarity Gladiator. There was also a number of creeping riffs that resembled Autopsy's ''Severed Survival'', but for the most part, the album makes it clear that it does not have any underlying messages, but a brutal set of seasoned, crazed death metal riffing fit for purists.  The band's broad pattern of riffing and rudimentary interpretations will undoubtedly earn them an audience of old, but folks who are looking for innovation won't find anything particularly entrancing here, I'm afraid.

Thankfully, most of tracks are kept nice and short, and with a certain amount of devotion concerning the individual riffs, not to mention the way the guitar has been smoothly fleshed out of the other instruments, you're not bound for another mundane cavern hike where the swooshing guitars swirls with the rest of the murky instruments, making an incomplete and irrelevant mess. I love the honesty of the production, especially that of the guitars and drums, the former being, as I mentioned, plain and bare, like the tones of Cancer and Obituary during their less refined days, and the latter having a sharp, crispy and spiky tone that renders it discernible from the rest of the mix. My favorite track here was ''Bludgeoned, Beaten And Berated'', which name-wise resembles Cancer's ''Hung, Drawn and Quartered'', and Cannibal Corpse's ''Striped, Raped and Strangled'', plus a few more gory pieces of the death metal universe, and it perfectly lives up to its name, smothering the listener with a bombard of chugging death/thrash excursions, followed by a tempest of tremolos. The vocals are hardly a novelty, your basic low guttural growls that echo with ferocity, as are the leads, which are a collection of sly little solos randomly dispersed across the album. Indeed, ''Unearthly Monument'' is nothing much more than a loyal homage to the death metal gods themselves, but despite its simplicity, it has the potential to bludgeon the fuck out of any listener, voluntary or involuntary, and is a pretty good improvement from their earlier composite of demos and splits. Old school purists need only apply to feel the booming, rancid bliss.

Bludgeoned, Beaten and Berated
Mass Human Pyre

Rating: 77%

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ancient Crypts - Devoured by Serpents [2013] (Demo)

Given the obvious visual preferences of the band, Ancient Crypts is bound to erect a superfluity of speculations concerned with the band's lack of motivation, and these speculations will arise even before someone actually listens to the 22 minute tape, and hell, most of them will be accurate judgments, because this Chilean death metal horde is in no way giving birth to a new genre complete with all its technical and aural fulfillment, but that doesn't mean the group can't pack a punch with this ancient, decrepit sophomore demo. I would have hoped that, being in the same league with their ambitious label-mates Bolzer, ZOM, and Beyond, the Chileans could have embarked on something even only marginally different from a classic rehash, but the contrast between this, and creativity, is the virtual equal of the contrast between night and day. However, all is not in vain. Despite the sheer simplicity of their efforts and compositions, Ancient Crypts have somehow conjured a subterranean vortex of murk, complete with raw recording qualities, smashing, abusive riffing, and a one-time ticket to an abysmal land that's fairly frightening and vivid in its depiction of darkness and all things ominous.

This is actually some great stuff; the Chileans might not have tried too hard to tweak the aspects of the originality department, but they sure have some horrid, wrangling riff work ready at their disposal which they diversify in accordance with the varying tempo of the tunes, carnal, decomposed conformity that will make death/doom fans rejoice to enjoy altogether. It's easy to point at Ancient Crypts' influences, because whether you're an experienced OSDM connoisseur or some kid just newly starting to explore the beleaguered genre's fundamentals, ''Devoured By Serpents'' has some scary, tempestuous material hidden in its deathly vault that will easily make your bowels rumble with anticipation and enthusiasm. It's almost as if the Chileans just randomly snatched a handful of tags from a box of influential names, and proceeded to play by the rules of those acts. There's Finnish death metal aplenty, a ghastly exposition of Convulse, Demigod and even Abhorrence when you're listening to the more eerie variations of the blasting tremolo sequences, Incantation, which should be obvious by now, some Death circa 1987-1988, and an occasional admiration for death/doom acts in the vein of Winter (slightly less evil), Asphyx, Cianide, and less known Finnish obscures Rippikoulu. Some of my favorite moments include the mingling, tingling death/doom harmonies on the title track which sound like interpretations of early Autopsy, and the blasting, ruinous chord progressions of ''Between The Mortuary Remains''.

With such brevity and a mere lack of diversity there's not really much to say about Ancient Crypts. The demo is indubitably a bred of the previously mentioned acts in every possible way; the riffs, the drum patterns, the colossal, heaving density of the atmosphere, and the guttural snares of the vocalist, which, at faster picking moments resemble a somewhat bulbous version of your atypical death/grind barking. Yes, I did occasionally get a sense of repetition seething through wretched pits of the demo, and to be honest there are many other groups that are producing A+ material that tops this in so many ways, but the band's youth and eagerness negates utterly stark criticism. Besides, all those excellent OSDM acts that we venerate and adore today were, in fact, quite like these gentleman at some early point of their career. Thus, I can do no more but recommend this to fervent tape collectors - it hardly deviates from the norm but kicks copious asses while sticking to the safe route - so give them a chance and what do you know, one day, they might blossom into one of your doppelganger favorites.

Deep Into the Ancient Crypts
Devoured by Serpents

Rating: 75%

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Neige Eternelle - Neige Eternelle [2013]

For many, parting from a decidedly modern sounding aesthetic of black metal, especially if you’re an aficionado of fresh purveyors of grimness, is an unmistakably difficult notion, though some will obviously be more induced by old school characteristics rather than the voluptuous, youthful material that they seem to be fed up with. My point is that every now and then we need to delve into our wretched, raw past, not necessarily by traditional means but usually through the musical skills of newer acts, so that we may have a larger scope of the scene around us. However, bear in mind that this little rule has been applied to the black metal tag for demonstrative purposes and not anything else (Like death metal; we already have more bands than we can handle in that area). The subjects here are the recent Quebecois frantic Neige Eternelle, yet another desolate, somnolent cascade of mourn doused in French titles coming from the Montreal black metal imprint Sepulchral Productions; a group of murderously cunning entrepreneurs who caught my attention with a flurry of excellent releases as effortlessly and slicing molten butter.

The Canadians aren’t brand-new, but they’re still pretty young, having formed in 2008 and having solely one demo and a live album at their belt. However, their self-titled debut album is perhaps the most unmitigated, spectrally abusive records I’ve heard in a long time, tracing its original aspects to the early efforts of the second wave of Norwegian black metal, imbued with a carnal, frosting ferocity that could be related to the savage, sluggish antics of early proto-black metal acts or seminal black/thrash works from the late 80s. If I had to give rough description of their swollen, frigid complex of riffs and atmospheric tenets, I’d say it’s a cross between some early Burzum recordings, Darkthrone circa 1992-1994, Ragnarok’s ‘’Arising Realm’’ and Ulver’s ‘’Nattens Madrigal…’’, with a frenzied splash of early Sodom thrown in for a good measure. Of course, with its influences so blatantly rooted to the early and much-lauded examples of black metal, you’d hardly expects ‘’Neige Eternelle’’ to be the eccentric, majestic beast of modernity, but with a terrific sense of agonized, demented riffing and dilapidated production values supporting the stark contrast between real life and the gelid, cavernous imagery created by the aural textures of this album, you could do no wrong entering to this haunted cavern, the antithesis of a warm and inviting amenity.

The riffs are utterly unremitting and compellingly fierce, roiling amongst a wall of charnel noise. Pick any track from the presented 8, and I guarantee you’ll be experiencing the final glimpses of light of a man trapped in some primordial den that’s about to collapse from the pressure of multiple ice stalagmites, some unmentioned burrow from the Mountains of Madness. Despite the minuteness of the influence spectrum, the riffs are abrasive and they don’t give a fuck about what you think; bouncing off a hidden mountain burial ground and striking you with voracious, static tenacity. Give the patterns that are constantly followed and simplistic chord progressions, there isn’t even much innovation in the riffing, yet, as stated, the pouring lament and mourn make you forget the sheer lack of sophistication nearly the entire time. The howling, raucous vocals are great in the least, and sometimes morph into these horrific wolf howls which echo alongside the misfortunate guidance of the somber wind.

Perhaps individually there’s not much to scrutinize, but introspecting the entire 43 minute span of this record is a truly rewarding experience. There were some minor hindrances that escaped even the densest gatherings of anguish, and admittedly this is not the best black metal I’ve heard this year, but Neige Eternelle (which, by the way, translates into eternal snow, a very fitting moniker) is driven with a pure and ferocious candor that has been solidly executed. The prolonged stinging of the vocals kept me constantly stimulated and irritated (in a good way), and the riffs themselves are hypnotically cold enough to bury me in a six feet deep grave of snow. Through its successes and minor miscalculations, ‘’Neige Eternelle’’ is a goodly pick for Sepulchral Productions and a record worthy of any old school black metal enthusiast’s attention and unflinching fervor. I'm sure nobody was expecting this to be some soothing jazz medley, judging by the album art and album title, but still, when you enter, there’s no way of attaining salvation. Hiding in the frost-peppered forest will only postpone your demise. Doleful, winter-beaten revulsion. 

Cri de Guerre
L'appel de la Mort
Pluie de Coteaux

Rating: 86%

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sombre Forets - La Mort Du Soleil [2013]

As if my first impressions on the two new promos delivered by Montreal imprint Sepulchral Productions wasn't positive enough, the label has beset me a further addendum of bleak, desiccating black metal from the unexplored, and undeniably frosty dins of Quebec. The former releases I heard from the record label were both very strong releases; ''Lys Noir'', a tempestuous maelstrom of doleful pain, and the eponymous debut by Neige Eternelle, and even rawer contemplation of some of the grimmest of landscapes, however, the fresh material by Sombre Forets has distilled more than any of them. Sombre Forets, which translates into dark forests in French, explores the bleakest corners of mid 90's Norwegian black metal and the distressing frameworks of Leviathan and Xasthur, though I was shocked to hear that the man behind the entire, astonishing orchestration, Annatar, was able to insert a desolate, unforgiving and ultimately fresh sense of originality into the mixture, forming a disturbingly remote weaving of guitar riffs and other aural additions which render the album so frighteningly real. ''La Mort Du Soleil'' is a brilliant soundtrack for a solitary gaze into a frosty nightscape...

In truth, inconsistency is the key to ''La Mort Du Soleil''. Not having listened to the band's previous outings, I don't know whether this is a distinct style Annatar has constantly displayed throughout his backlog of works, but as far as this record is concerned, the structural preferences render it the one most queerly eccentric records in black metal. Surely, ambient passages and their random distribution is nothing of a novelty; in fact, it's been done for as long as black metal can remember (excluding early proto-black metal), but the actual guitar work is jointed flawlessly, and often incoherently with the soundscapes, piano passages, and ambient sounds, eventually weaving a world of sorrow and emotional catharsis which I am, even after countless spins, uncertain of. The listener is swallowed up into the somber entity, which is depicted in the mesmerizing cover art that I can only relate to Necrovation's self titled sophomore in its ways of showcasing the gushing, ebbing motions of the wallowing tides, rocking dolefully amid a momentous storm, but ''the destruction of the sun'' is so utterly convincing in its thematic display that even the vague glow of the sun among the swirling ocean tides is simply too bright.

Yet, in spite of all the haunting beauty, there lies a problem. There is always a problem. The harsh truth is that ''La Mort...'' is too inconsistent to be fully effective. The riffs are great when they are unleashed upon the listener; mirages of harrowing, discomforting chord sequences and intense, moody tremolo barrages, and constructed with complete avidity and savvy, and I'm not even excluding the less transparent open chord progressions that seem to sway along with the many grievous facets of the ambient passages, but such moments of intensity and action are, unfortunately less frequently exhibited than the ambient sequences themselves. This leaves a huge, tiring gap in the very middle of the album. The terrific winter-assaults of ''Brumes'' and ''La Disparition'' kept me wanting for more, substantial material that I could actually grasp, but so many of the other tracks disappointed me with their lack of mobility and adherence that I felt as though I was drowning in a forgotten void of snow, a multitude of ice shards craving holes in my torso simultaneously.

In all, listening to this record was a bitch for me. For the most part, it was like a game of Scrabble. I rarely had the letters I could utilize to form a proper word offensive to throw my opponent off guard, but when I was lacking in useful letters, the entire articulate quality of my game felt like it was destroyed, and I continually kept reaching for the letter-pouch, hoping to acquire a letter that would somehow be useful. The guitars were simply perfect, as I described them above, and the eerie, echoing vocals of Annatar is a bleak howling of wind that pervades the entire storm-ridden ocean portrayed in the cover art. The overall instrumentation is incredibly thick and suffocating, with not a moment where the dying sun showed me a last glimmering spark. Not a single moment. I always kept my fingers crossed for something big, something that would make the entire album the near-flawless masterpiece I expected it would turn out to be, but to no avail. However, all is not in vain, folks. Connoisseurs of atmospheric black metal who are into deep, emotionally engaging moments of aural misery will adore this, and as for me, I certainly liked it, but I would have loved it to death if it weren't for those long, jaded periods of boredom.

Etrangleurs de Soleils
La Disparition

Rating: 77,5%

Monarque - Lys Noir [2013]

Arguably the best part pf receiving random promos is unearthing a new find that can be held a higher level then the rest of its mediocre counterparts. I had, having little idea of the band's formative aspects or background, initially perceived Monarque's ''Lys Noir'' to be just another ambitious daisy in the garden, sprouting out of the dirt eagerly, and awaiting attention. Only later could I comprehend the fact that I had made a terrible mistake, tossing away the Canadian duo's sorrowful third full-length. Monarque's roots are deeply buried in Quebec, which explains their fervor for French titles. For those both accustomed and unaccustomed to the Canadian's sound, ''Lys Noir'' is cascading waterfall of undoubtedly bleak, razor-sharp riffs, and atmosphere that engulfs the entire riffing station like a heavy, smoldering cloth, and it's simply one of those releases which hardly reinvents the wheel, but proceeds to render it more flashy through a strong and keen sense of musicianship and judicious experimenting in familiar territory.

As I explained, ''Lys Noir'' merely stretches the innumerably skewed aesthetics of black metal, but delves into combinations that are perceptible mostly as antique, but are somehow still doused with a somewhat pungent touch of originality. I'd say Monarque's musical roots are a cross between numerous inclinations of the Scandinavian black metal scene which exploded in the mid-early 90's. Monarque is crude to an extent, and the ambiance of the entire record is an entrancing spectacle of mourn, which means most of their atmospheric tenets were snatched from the likes of Darkthrone (the first three records), Carpathian Forest, or perhaps the Greek black metal masterminds Spectral Lore, but at the same time, the duo is modest, and the riffs are filtered with incorrigible tenacity, relating strongly to more flexible acts such as Arckanum, Forteresse, Emperor or Ragnarok, bearing the posture of a voracious wolf crawling amid the snow, diligently pursuing its prey.

I absolutely love the mournful indulgence the record sometimes dives into, showering the wary listener with a further incursions of deep sorrow and hypnosis. ''Comme Des Vers'' and ''Mes Condoleances'' perfectly exhibit this, quaking the rest of the record with such magnetic, titular strength that I was left utterly destroyed. The rest of the band's arsenal disposal is rather a savage bigotry rather than an empowering eclipse of mourn. ''Vigor Mortis'', ''L'appel de la Nuit'' and ''Comme Des Vers'' are all laden with such wild riff arrangements, piercing and utterly frigid, something like the latest Thy Darkened Shade disc, but devoid of any nihilistic qualities that would have otherwise turned them into crazed war metal act charging at full force. As I said above, ''Lys Noir'' does not really have a brilliant intake of intricacies, but there are subtle joints that pop up here and there, though the most resplendent atmospheric attraction for me was the rather infrequent usage of the synthesizers, doleful tempests of sound that beautifully bind with the raucous riff-work above, forming the ultimate companion for a desolate mountain hike in the Andes.

The texture of the drums have been adjusted quite well, sounding resonate enough to have an effect but as to not disturb the overall coherence of the record. Monarque (the guy handling the guitars, bass and vocals) has a nice, vivid rasp which echos as efficiently as any other vocalist in this field of black metal, with little diversity but much harrowing quality. Individually, the only track that was the most distinguished was ''Solitude'', a near 3 minute ambient passage with soothing acoustic guitar medleys and classical grandeur, and it my humble opinion that Monarque's biggest loss here was the lack of proper distinction. Certainly not a major gripe considering the entirety of the album, but I thought I could have further satisfied is a feeling of quandry was evoked with only putting a tad more thought into the compositions. Nonetheless, the Quebecois have performed very solidly here, making them one of the more admirable black metal bands to emerge in the last decade.

Mes Condeleances
Vigor Mortis
L'Appel de la Nuit

Rating: 84%

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Zombiefication - At the Caves of Eternal [2013]

Zombiefication are yet another addition to Mexico's burgeoning old school death metal scene, and yet another band that straddles the conceptual, thematic and muscular tides of Dismember, Entombed, Grave, etc., forging an iron and cascading barrage of Swedeath riffs that are undeniably all too familiar. I was originally exposed to the group their EP ''Reaper's Consecration'', a worthwhile effort that pounded skulls and rocked skeletal beings just as hard as any other Swedeath act out there, and being released on the notorious Pulverized Records, a semi-underground label that made a name for itself by hiring less known Swedeath doppelgangers from random places across the globe (Graveyard, for instance, from Spain), I believe that the Mexicans attained publicity and success that they previously could not acquire with their debut full-length. That said, Zombiefication's style does not fill the bill for the classic Mexican sound. Not as atrociously scintillating as the wretched Shub-Niggurath with their demos from the early 90's, or as cunning as the more recent offerings of The Chasm, but still, amid a nebulous tenor of bands, Zombiefication finds its way to memorability and distinguishment.

What really baffled me is the distance made by the Mexican duo over less than a year. Despite the avid, seemingly ambitious release it was, calling  ''Reaper's Consecration'' a highly enlightened and innovative offering would be quite far-fetched. When I listen to ''At the Caves of Eternal'' right after I listen to the EP, I'm nearly taken to an entirely different atmospheric world, with generic, vehicular urges of ''Reaper's...'' replaced with a more seasoned, judicious sense of composition and the craggy ambiance exchanged for a much darker, and even beautifully oriented one. I'd say that the Mexicans switched their style from rehashing some hectic, ragged grave robber to a mature serial killer who has countless instruments of torture and murder veiled underneath a long, polished jacket laden with pockets. The duo's style now feels like an edgier and even slightly black-metal oriented version of Necrovation, who, with their self-titled album, completely blew me away last year. ''At The Caves of Eternal'' isn't as good as ''Necrovation'', but I love the fact that it unfolds with primal, brute simplicity, but the explores a range of musical preferences and dexterous approaches that a mad caveman would strive to comprehend even in the slightest sense.

There's a rich, booming texture that binds with the abysmal atmosphere to create a frightening horror background. Not merely as terrifying as some of the recent finds I have exhumed, like the new Vassafor or Cultes Des Ghoules album, but still a spectral wave that befits the band's brand of heavy, churning brutality. Of course, the course of the riffs have taken a rather abrupt turn as well. You still have your standardized vulgar chainsaw barrages that are bombarded through metallic soil and rotten flesh, but at the same time, wisps of melody plod along the balustrades of heaving old school Swedish death metal, and those so called wisps some times take on a larger role, dominating the entire riff pattern with narrating, trudging lead sequences, converting the classic mass zombie invasion scene into a graphic picture of a grotesquely severed zombie ripping a man's guts out with a blunted scalpel. The vocals are akin to Matti Karki at lower growl, and they too have undergone change - the timbre of a crazed cemetery ghoul barking in the night now booms with a wonderfully cavernous inflection.

In very few ways did I find this record agitating: in spite of the immense amount of variation put into it, there was still a feeling of repetition on rare occasions, and the songs could have used some trimming, as it was sometimes a bore to listen to six minutes of subterranean massacre. Nonetheless, I was far more impressed than I anticipated. The punitive and gorgeously murky atmosphere and texture was perfect, giving me taste of a wretched, dismal Dissection on sections where the guitar was being picked with immaculate speed and intensity, the variations in the tempo department was also a great change, and comparing the debut, ''Midnight Stench'' to the cadaverous sophomore is something like comparing a hyena to a fully grown, brawny hell hound. There will some folks who will prefer the raw, unbridled ferocity of the band's previous outing to the their more atmospheric inclinations, thinking some of the energy has left the sophomore, but as far I, and the other fields of music are concerned, ''At the Caves of Eternal'' is an outright winner.

Disembodied Souls
In The Gallery Of Laments
Soul Collector

Rating: 86%

Friday, June 14, 2013

ZOM - Multiversal Holocaust [2013]

I was first acquainted with ZOM around 2012 when I heard their 2011 demo. It was a considerably discomfiting, noisy piece of hectic black/death in the vein of Diocletian and Blasphemy, and I need not say that I enjoyed myself greatly throughout the demo's 20 minute lifespan or sordid darkness. Upon hearing the Irishmen's coupling with the notorious underground imprint Iron Bonehead Productions, I was more than excited to hear fresh material from them, and I was particularly hungry as I somehow could not obtain their 2012 demo. What riveted and eventually dragged me into ZOM's unique entity ''Multiversal Holocaust'', a brief 2 song EP, is ZOM's sense of enlightenment, which was clearly visible on their previous releases, but this time offered with a more refined edge, and their sense of being able to control chaos. For some some reason, I see the latter as an aspect that seems to be hugely lacking in modern black/death/war metal groups - bands simply cram grindcore-paced songs with subterranean wrangles that reek of such giants as the ones aforementioned, and proceed to play with nearly no sense of musical realization, offering blank, banal, and canned chaos. ZOM, on the other hand, have somehow managed to overcome the majority of the hindrances that were keeping their turbulent bland of black/death fresh yet still distilled with terrifying complexity and anomaly.

What makes ZOM even more refined is that they're no longer bound to the strictly obtuse stylings of Blasphemy, Axis Of Advance, or Revenge. I'm talking about genuine riffs here, not just a convoluted enmeshment of cavernous clamor, but more diligently constructed terror that pervades with superior intensity and extremity, eventually coinciding with the listener's worst nightmares. The production, for one, despite still keeping true to its cavernous and clangorous roots, is much more accessible and somewhat spacious, granting ease for the malleability of the swerving black/thrash-oriented riffs. What's more is that the death metal aspect of ZOM has enlarged greatly. It's almost as though these broiling ruptures that seem to be a cross between Pestilence, Asphyx, Autopsy, early Death, Messiah and Ripping Corpse, wreathed in a gorgeously sodden aura of gore, channel some sort of tape echo-ridden production value (which by the way is the sole ''modern'' aspect of the EP) and seep into the listener's conscious, thus intruding with nightmarish accuracy, efficiency and intricacy. The black metal facet of ZOM is chiefly and collection of early Burzum, Mayhem's legendary ''Deathcrush'' EP, Bestial Warlust, Blasphemy, Revenge and Conqueror among a handful of others, providing riffing qualities that are both raw and razor-sharp. With all its elements infused together, ZOM sounds very much like Weregoat, another recent entrant to the black/death universe, but with a heavier, grooving sensation that limits parole just as well as it renders escapism somewhat possible for keen headbangers.

Like many of its kin, the two tracks are linked individually and separately with blood-curdling ambient passages and sequences of whose classification I still find hard to put into words. Perhaps the individual values of the riffs have gained acuteness and significance with the Irishman's reformed perspective, but the overall sound is still the cut above the rest. ZOM composes richly darkened texture with an absolutely dreadful panoply of preposterous and charred chaos, laden with technical skill and the ability to prevent salvation with all the means possible. And trust me, they have the means. It's horrific, scrupulously rotten and it's a great reminder that nightmares that be evoked during daytime with alarming determination. I'm not going to go as far as to say that this is a severed head over any other release over the last 2-3 years in the same field, but I'll have to admit that it's one of the most successful ones in that field. This is an EP that pumped so much drug in me, that I literally can't keep my ears away from monstrosities and profanities alike. You need this.

Highlights:All songs

Rating: 85%

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane [2013]

We've certainly been exposed to more horror-themed metal bands than we can count, not just in past few years but over the course of metal's lengthy 40 year history, ranging from Alice Cooper (not really metal, I know) to Necrophagia to newer exports like Negative Plane, but very few bands from this massed tenor actually succeeding in their conquest of horror. The problem lies not in their lack of musical skills or egregiously erratic preferences in structure or techniques, but their bland and one-dimensional perspective on the whole situation - their lack of detail, proper fervor and innovation - which ultimately create impediments for the construction of a virtually horrific and striking midnight experience. There are tenacious masters who still successfully thrive in this particular field - Antediluvian coming to mind at first - but even these acts have started to corrupt the utterly discomfiting omnipresence of horror in their sound, exploring less deep or less engrossing subjects for the sake of deviating from a topic, a theme that very few has struck the bull's eye at. The rest of the so called ''horror-themed'' metal bands have lost their touch long ago, inflicting cheesy 80's horror vibes at their laughing audience, not knowing, possible, that they are actually giving them more of a thrill than a fright.

Has horror metal not had success in a long time? Certainly, recent acts like Aevangelist, Negative Plane or Head Of The Demon have purveyed fear in a much denser and ingenious form than I would have expected, however, perhaps the absolute horror master of the last decade, or, I daresay, the last 20 years, has to be the latest offering of Polish sadists Cultes Des Ghoules, ''Henbane''. In an outstanding succession, the Poles have jumped not one but several giant steps from their debut, ''Haxan'', which, despite not being appalling, was still just another face in the crowd amid an army of eager old-school black-metal rehash maniacs. ''Henbane'' truly leaped out of nowhere and clawed me into the darkness. It merely guided me towards an unprecedented darkness, it smothered me with such ostentatious debilitation that the shreds and burnt pieces of flesh that came from my body simply entered a disheartening abyss that literally sucked the light out of me. Essentially a composite of proto-black metal and voracious bestial black/death that Blasphemy or Archgoat fans should love to endure, ''Henbane'' is so richly filtered with ideas, innovations and coherent thematic representations that it's nearly impossible not to be wallowed in by it, let alone breathe sanely while suffering it.

The guitars are sodden with a wonderful crunch that's somewhat reminiscent of the traditional Swedish death metal guitar punch taken to a lighter and more flexible edge when they are enraged, and the riffs themselves are actually quite technical and cleverly penned. As tracks like ''The Devil Intimate'' flow with smoldering pretense, it becomes noticeable that Cultes Des Ghoules actually enjoy to plod along with doom-like mannerisms, keeping the speed constant and mid-paced for the most part, and giving that old school doom metal feel. Of course, it's obvious that ''Henbane'' is so much more than the actual riffs. It's demented, deranged atmosphere comes from the presence of an unknown aura that somehow seeps from the raw material of the guitars and forms this horrifically delectable texture that's always there, but you only seem to realize its existence only when the album has finally concluded and when the shadow has been lifted. Vocalist Mark of the Devil's vocal complex is unlike anything I've ever heard; he effortlessly shifts from daunting, frigid black metal rasps to more guttural snarls to even throatier barks that undeniably sound like Freddy Krueger screaming his ass of in an abandoned corner of Elm Street - his inflections are vaguer than you you'd imagine, but for the one who suffers the nightmare that is ''Henbane'', they are as vivid as the puzzling gloom of the cover art.

In many ways, the entwining of the messed up vocals and the beautifully distorted guitar riffs sound like Charon's ''Sulphur Seraph'' with a more grotesque vision of reality. To add to the atmosphere, ''Henbane'' has in store a wide range of instruments of torture, my favorite being the creeping, crawling acoustic guitar sections that are randomly distributed along the album; nightmarish guitar sequences which resonate through the echoing cervix of the album. Amongst others, you'll also find ambient passages aplenty, organ medleys, and bleak periods of absolute emptiness where you're left to realize the pull competence of the album's horror infliction. ''A Passion Of A Sorceress'' was for me the wildest tune in the entire record, a feral discharge of cadaverous, spiking black metal tremolos and chords eventually coupling with a ritualistic image of a witch burning at the stake. ''Vintage Black Magic'' explores the sheer depths of Portal-esque black/death insanity with terrifying ululations of absurd creatures howling as the album sways with a steady, trudging groove. Cultes Des Ghoules neared perfection with ''Henbane''. It does not reflect the imageries of something as cosmic and godly as Lovecraft as many people would imagine, but something far more down-to-earth, with just five tracks at 60 minutes, imagine replacing the unnerving classical feasts on Nosferatu with a wholesome helping of this... Or perhaps just form in your mind the soundtrack of a combustive, utterly sentient ceremony of Aztec jaguar-priests ripping the heart out of a living victim. Imagine the torture. Imagine the horror. That is ''Henbane'', a true compendium of the black arts. And all you have to do to feel it is to acquire it.

Vintage Black Magic
Idylls Of The Chosen Damned
The Devil Intimate

Rating: 94%

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Krownn - Hyborian Age [2013] (Demo)

Considering my lack of history with both Italian metal and doom metal itself, I honestly wasn't tempted to approach Krownn's ''Hyborian Age'' demo (which, at first, I accidentally took for a proper full-length) with a sense of zeal when I first found it in my mail, partly because of a simple apprehension that suggested the band's offering would turn out to be an appalling experience. My knowledge and more importantly love for doom doesn't go very deep, and my knowledge of Italian doom bands make harsh stop at Paul Chain. However, my recent and pleasant experiences with other new traditional doom bands like The Gates Of Slumber somehow urged me to dive into the demo, and after only a couple of tracks, I must say that I became very content with what I heard. Krownn is marginally rougher around the edges as far the most traditional values of doom goes, with a small and fairly versatile range of influences sticking to band members' preferences of traditional doom masters, but all around, ''Hyborian Age'' still follows the ways of its precursors at trudging gaits.

As stated, ''Hyborian Age'' is, above all, a homage to such old school mavens as Candlemass, Pentagram or even Sabbath picked up at a much heavier tone. The riffs are mostly muscular and granular and tightly composed, with a variety of harmonies and twists used to grab the attention of a wider spectrum of listeners. The bulldozing simplicity and sheer primal power of the riffs have a wonderfully coherent, mystically ancient feel to them, as if they were spawning right out of the beguiling, spectral silhouette of cover art, and these churning, heavy stomps are so wondrous that they have a heavy tinge of stoner rock and doom, which just another representation of how wide a net these guys can cast. The vocalist ragged vocal style is both a thing of enigma and enjoyment for stoner fans. Especially in tracks like ''The Woodwose'', he plunge into a deep, unpredictable vocal inflection, which, infused with the titular riffing that rock in the open, sounds like the perfect stoner/doom tune to blast through the stereo on a drunken afternoon. The balance of the tone is incredible; it's stuck somewhere between a grimy, filth-doused old school inclination and another, more more overt and modern texture, ultimately brought forth in western-sounding theatre.

The rhythm is great, the punches accentuated through the heavy manifest of husky riffage, and the bass just plods on, bearing its bombastic tone with pride. ''At The Cromlech'' was probably my favorite piece here; a feast of both desolate and memorable traditional riffs intertwining with that of a more traditional facet, rumbling as the vocalist takes on a more cleaner, NWOBHM-esque toning. However, ''Stormborn'' has to be the most entrancing of all with over seven minutes of chugging and doom-y goodness, and fairly brief stop near the middle where the Italians literally transport you into this western ambiance of stoner/doom psychedelia with moody, resonating medleys of guitar work swaying gently between everything. We're also exposed to plenty of experimental touches on ''Stormborn'', revealing the band's penchant to rarely erupt into a more creative complex of music. Krownn got me where I wasn't expecting it at all. An unprecedented ambush of stupendous, creative traditional old school stoner/doom that rocks so much harder than all the rehashing drones that you'd be astounded. Surprisingly, despite having nearly 40 minutes of brilliant content, Krownn dubbed their debut release as a demo. Well, that just means we'll get something even better and more extensive when the full-length comes. I'll just leave you with your beer and stereo now.

At The Cromlech
For The Throne Of Fire

Rating: 86%

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bone Sickness - Alone In The Grave [2013]

The fact that the album art, song names and album title (not to mention the band's name itself) reek of cloudy, repetitive old school death metal may put off even the most zealous of listeners, but for those of you who are still tedious about giving this a listen: don't worry because Bone Sickness make for a surprisingly entertaining death/grind feast. Certainly, the OSDM revivalists today can be broadly aggregated into two groups; the bulging, murky ones whose heads are deep in an unmitigated avidity of Incantation, and the more bombastic groups who mainly emerge from Sweden, portraying the chainsaws and gnawed bone necklaces exactly the way their Swedish forefathers had envisioned in the late 80's. Of course, there is lesser margin in between these two coarse classifications - bands who drool over the sloppy connotations of Autopsy, Obituary and  similar horror-worshiping gods of death. Bone Sickness' formula adheres with the latter, with some additional influences that should gather Repulsion and Napalm Death fans under a gory, corpse-strewn banner.

The fact that we're not getting direct vibrations of Entombed, Grave and Dismember is pleasing notion, but it's not like the band is reinventing the wheel here. On the contrary, Bone Sickness' aesthetic facets lean directly towards the less frequently rehashed riffing patterns of the bands listed above, which makes for only a slightly more fresh listen. But despite the odds, I was impressed by the fairly diverse range of dynamics here; the band can braise simple chugging patterns with utterly dilapidated production values to churn out something messy, and, with the added clamor of the spiking drums, something sicker and catchier than you'd expect. I think the real treat here was not the range of riffing - we've all heard a good many of those sloppy, carnal ruptures - but the band's ability to shift so easily in between tempos, and providing the ultimate gate feast that's robust enough to draw the attention of even the most unwilling of listener. Take ''Alone in Grave'', for instance; the tune begins with rumbling death/doom trudge heavy enough to shake your bowels, and then promptly dives into mid-paced territory, followed by a razor-sharp flurry of flailing bones and limps and frivolous leads, and finally settling back to the turtle pace it had started with.

The lyrics and themes are nothing out of the ordinary, vivid images of gore, violence and ghastly tales from the grave that rock with such a staunch and monstrous attack of riffs that I'm almost reminded of Entombed/Nihilist. In addition to the doom-trodden preferences, Bone Sickness also deliver a chock load of punches with infectious, yet crunchy thrash momentum (''Tied To The Stake''), or completely straightforward grindcore impulses redolent of ''Horrified'', ''Horror Of The Zombies'' and ''Impulse To Destroy'' (''Strange Obsession''), but with tracks no longer than 3 and a half minutes, you'll get the idea anyway. Unfortunately, I felt a little uncomfortable about the length of the material with just seven tracks ranging at 18 minutes. Last but not least, the vocal inflections that constantly shifted from bulbous Chris Barnes gutturals with the occasional nasty barks to throatier Van Drunnen-esque screams were no way near terrific, but I would consider them to be an unwanted aspect, either. ''Alone In The Grave'' can be therefore more closely associated with a newer string of bands like Black Jesus, Abysme or Gruesome Stuff Relish rather than directly being associated with the aforementioned gods of death and grind. It's certainly not without its flaws, but it's still something relatively fresher than the stuff we're smothered by these days.

Paranoid Delusions
Alone In The Grave
Death and Dismemberment

Rating: 76%