Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Horrendous - Ecdysis [2014]

Ever get the feeling that death metal bands are running out of titles? Me neither. As ''Ecdysis'' plainly suggests, it's purpose is to implement the evolutionary step that Horrendous, who with 2012's ''The Chills'' literally perked up goosebumps on my spine, like all of its counterparts, wants to take. The age is brave one, and novelty almost always, even if unwittingly, finds its way to some kind of success. That said, Horrendous didn't necessarily used innovation as a method to boost its way to the top records of 2012 when ''The Chills'' kicked more unkempt bottoms than most records that year. Its leprous voracity and atmospheric beauty was a surefire way to revitalize the gradually diminishing foray of old school death metal, but in reality, once you dig into it, putting aside the splendidly ominous atmosphere and olfactory goodness that it somehow projected behind a miraculous slew of riffage, ''The Chills'' is sheer bones and rotten flesh. So then is ''Ecdysis'' some sort of mega-transition? The ''Heartwork'' of Horrendous? Not necessarily. What seems to be the case here is the same kind of semi-evolutionary phase that bands like Morbus Chron and Tribulation aspired to with their most recent offerings.

For starters, Horrendous is a lot cleaner with their performance here; more manic, controlled and accessibly modern in contrast to the cavernous kaleidoscope of antiquity that was the main motif on the previous record. Yes, modernization does equate for a wider audience and perhaps a sharper overall sound, yet even during some of the stronger tracks I felt that clarity did not compensate for the lack of atmosphere, instead heralding an odd, even experimental approach with multitudinous progressive metal predilections. If it makes you feel any better, even the bass has risen from the primordial ooze into something that's incredibly audible in contrast. It's interesting enough to see a band of such primitive origin evolve from its putrid miasma into something far more accessible, yet, as said, this brings a few problems on the table. The absurdly implemented piecemeal conventions that engulf the record reduce the album's level grit to one far below its predecessor, and the focal point of old school death metal - the undying axiom - which is basically the maxim of ''if it's broke don't fix it'', seems to have dissipated to ''if it's broke, then shed some skin''. Hence ecdysis.

Don't me wrong, folks, Horrendous is still throwing huge, gnarly hooks, but there is an intense infatuation with melody and progressive elements that churns and diverts the music away from its previous state of gory putrescence. There are some unbelievably melodic and beautiful solos here, often leads that crawl discreetly into the hibernating core of the record, strings of somber, yet graceful melodies twisting and swerving up and down the guitar board, redolent of some mid 90's English death/doom powerhouse. If all of my prior implications didn't get through, get this: if you think ''The Chills'' was brooding, wait until you hear ''Ecdysis''. There is an odd disparity here because it seems almost uncertain what direction they are taking with the mournful overtone that they're harboring. On one hand, you have majestic, even epic, melodic death/doom paradigms like the ending, ''Titan'' which resonate with the lovely, hauntingly elegiac tone of the vocalist's torturous growls and a set of backup choruses, and on the other you have absolutely devastating, flesh-ripping beaters like ''Weeping Relic'' that smash through your skull with the sublime grit of the chainsaw guitar tone. Though the overall sound is indubitably dolorous, Horrendous challenges the boundaries of pain and agony by expanding their style to the widest net possible. This is a brazen, even obsequiously openminded gesture in the face of thousands of Swedeath and Autopsy drones who stalk the market shallowly, and it is a pleasing result considering it is what Morbus Chron and Tribulation did, being two revivalist death metal giants themselves.

There are some truly great tracks here. The opener, ''The Stranger'' may seem like a run-down attempt at combining death/doom, Swedish death metal and melodic death metal, but towards the end it grows to bountifully full of riffs and reckless abandon that it even compensates for its lengthy run time. Every track, no matter how dedicated to the art of tearing limb from limb, serves as a paean to mood and versatility in style, eventually burgeoning into something despondent. Even the flashy 2-minute rock n' roll throwback ''WHen The Walls Fell'' is cool. There are still tremolos, or semi-technical guitar twists here and there, even an occasional thrashy exuberance, like on ''Heaven's Deceit'', but it's apparent that the band has shaken off most of its leaves of the olden arts. If anything, Horrendous is still a huge fucking Pestilence fan. That much is evident from the maniacal, Martin Van Drunnen vocals that pervade the record, or even the kinetic melodies gyrating throughout, but it's almost as if there is a transition in influence from ''Consuming Impulse'' and ''Malleus Maleficarum'' era Pestilence to Pestilence a la ''Testimony of the Ancients'' or ''Spheres''. In the end, ''Ecdysis'' becomes quite a mercurial album. It's difficult for me to imply stuff directly, but in essence, I have done my best to some it up. My gripe was that I simply didn't feel the sort of brilliant, carnal tenacity that was displayed on ''The Chills''. Maybe that was the perfect caterpillar, and ''Ecdysis'' the crossover record, the butterfly slowly, but not yet surely, breaking free of its cocoon, waiting to emerge into the perfect butterfly. If that is the case, folks, then we may have something even better than ''The Chills'' in store. Let the little hatch.

The Stranger
Weeping Relic

Rating: 80%

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails [2014]

It's a shame that absurd math-metal and deathcore hyper-guitar playing ceased to be the prerogative of a chosen few and has now turned into this overripe leitmotif that everyone seems to carelessly abuse. Translation: the technical death metal universe, like all the other sub-genres, is threatened by a lack of originality and excessive boorishness. It's become so hard to find a band with genuine, enduring appeal that one's hopes can disintegrate withing mere hours of internet and archive browsing. The statement can be true within various degrees in accordance to your personal level of pessimism, but that seems to be the big story in today's metal market nonetheless. We are fortunate enough to bands like Fallujah whose intrusion with ''The Flesh Prevails'' was more than just delightful, but simultaneously upraising to the genre at large. ''The Flesh Prevails'' is my first experience with the Californians, and while it has garnered a surprising amount of attention by topping its apparently less impressive predecessor ''The Harvest Wombs'', for me the record has proven to be an un-fucking-believable celebration of how much good music can fill our wazoos with streaming pleasure.

There is no pretension. Fallujah may have the undivided attentions of Cynic, Necrophagist, Decapitated and the like, but in essence it is certainly much more than the sum of its parts. While Fallujah takes obvious joy is dishing out some more simplistic, clinical chug-fests, the overriding motif certainly seems to be the jazzy melodiousness guitars that sparkle and swerve to and fro across every corner of the record with stupendous, opiate ease. Fallujah is ''technical'' enough to compete any of the fierce contenders in the field, namely Decrepit Birth, Spawn of Possession or even Cynic who takes the jazz-fusion element and molds it with the metal components to form something slightly more than a simple accompaniment, but the way the technicality is served is beautiful, even delectable. This translates into plenty of whizzing and zipping guitar notes bouncing along airily, but what serves only as a meager way to decorate bulkier riffing works as the main drive on this record. The guitars almost never feel left out at some point in the record like a bagatelle, like the way they're usually treated.

The superb sophistication of the guitars and their melodic superiority can perhaps only be matched by the timeless feat of the percussion department, with the drums beating and pummeling fresh, invigorating rhythms in a manner that balances the use of double-bass drums and more dexterous fills. But while that complement falls short of serving the drums real justice, what hits me over and over again with this record is how damnably progressive it's nature is. It would perhaps have fared better with the general build of the record if certain atmospheric chord breaks could be excluded, and the rhythm section does in general support a heavy, bludgeoning bevy of riffs that could really fit Suffocation or Cryptopsy just as well, and the guttural vocals (also excellent) are no-brainers, but fuck, there is unquestionably a good deal of progressive aspects to be found on this album. Hell, even some of the atmospheric break-downs (I do hate to call them that) or chorus sequences reek of progressive metal, infused with indescribably beautiful, though perhaps a tad zippy, hyper-math-metal sections which sound like trippy 8-bit mixes. Sure even with the inscrutable care by which the technicality is exerted, the riffs may rarely sound somewhat dull, but in exchange from being robbed senseless of your wits by a hallucinatory jazz/metal congregate that hardly seems to be a con.

The creative expanse of ''The Flesh Prevails'', and moreover, that of Fallujah, is so huge and copiously stocked with hidden booty that it feels like nearly anything could fit the album in general. It's one of those records which omits most creative deterrents and leaves itself to fall freely into the promised land. Think organs, keyboards, synthesizers or even minor orchestras moving through the currents. Yet, what makes this album even more daunting for the dismal purist is the clean voxes of both female and male vocalists that exude their influence during the aural moments where the band decides to take a concise break; elegant and beautiful, I found them to be oddly fitting to the album. And what one song would I use to define the album? ''Chemical Cave'', the one single track which conjures a myriad of images that could just be the birth place of the record had it been given to us humans by some strange alien race, in addition to being my favorite tune in the whole album. That said, ''Levitation'' and ''Sapphire'' are both stunners, crystal coves of ass-kicking, jazzy hashish, and even the experimental instrumental ''Alone With You'', a track that would arouse even the most open-minded metal aficionado, was a spectral triumph as far as I'm concerned. So with as much of the record as I could amass into one humble review, there's no reason for me to reevaluate my verdict. Folks, buy this record, and listen to it till your ears start spurting fucking rainbows.

Chemical Cave
Starlit Path

Rating: 92%

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ghoulgotha - Prophetic Oration of Self [2014] (EP)

Though it is often the unreasonable and obnoxious longevity of songs that puts off a listener, I can assure you that exuding length and substituting it with truncated versions of the same gestalt will not always assure a rise in quality. Exhibit no. 8762: Ghoulgotha. The Californian quartet, after assembling a demo, have once again tilted their heads downward into the caverns and skull-filled fissures of pre-1994 death metal in an EP, complete with all its gory, downtrodden aesthetics. In today's metal world where even the most memorable records are merely ephemeral epitaphs that last longer than a couple of months in the minds of a ravenous audience, I certainly cannot understand the urgency to manufacture more and more of the same kind, and the penchant to release demos and EPs as rapidly as a factory popping out a thousand drones a minute. People don't seem to be well-acquainted with the term ''generic'', which is funny because it's precisely what they're doing. But enough small talk, you'll just have to make the decision yourself after hearing the EP...

''Prophetic Oration of Self'' (yet another airy and philosophic title for a musical effort that seems to exemplify the daily actions of an average neanderthal) is just two tracks across, with the title track and opener clocking at a surprising (or should I not be surprised?) 9 minutes and the conclusion piece at a meager 4 minutes. Granted, it takes no genius to weed through the skulls and bones and point out the major culprits behind this morbid bulwark. Ghoulgotha overlay elements of doom and death, so you'll be hearing a ton of Incantation, Autopsy, Winter and Cianide, and although this seems like a reconciliation for the absence of dull, mechanic Swedeath grinders in the style of a more ubiquitously embraced Entombed, Unleashed or Grave, the music itself is nothing if not monotonous, even monomaniacal in its singular pursuit of morbid, ominous and bantering drudgery.  I try hard not to call it dull, but more often than not that seems to be the outcome of the huge, meaty guitars and their trudging pace. The pacing does vary of course. Sometimes the band will just melt into a more straightforward onslaught of bulging tremolos with double-bass drums and snare-cymbal abuse galore. Yes, the EP is not all drudgery; even if the entire 13 minutes of run time seem to be completely devoid of any expansive characteristics - despite trying oh so very hard to create a genuinely moody atmosphere - there are a few moments, like the first forty seconds or so of the opener, which are relatively satisfying feasts of rotten flesh and blood among the decaying whole, if not like emeralds in a sea of zircons.

What is perhaps peculiar but necessarily entertaining about Ghoulgotha's take on death/doom in the ghastly melody staccatos which they spray randomly across the two songs. The eerie, dissonant thrill that two worn guitars harmonizing with each other is coupled with a set of gnarly, low vocals that would have fit any other band of this sort just fine. Now let's get to the point. Ghoulgotha is no way near being a maverick in the genre, with so many outfits already practicing and perfecting the Incantation-brand old school death metal, let alone being iconoclasts. As far as morals go, the big lesson I learned was that cavemen don't make good orators, although their kind seems to populate the profession in particular, but that's for another day. What comes out as appreciation for this record is my admiration for how wholeheartedly and endearing the band elopes its music, aping or not. As slipshod a performance this may have been, there is no disparity between the band members, nor any idiotic elitism, so really, what more could old schoolers ask for? This is just one piece of a flotilla of thousands, bound to be marooned at sea, so just blast out the damn thing and be over with it.

Prophetic Oration of Self

Rating: 60%

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beneath - The Barren Throne [2014]

I can unabashedly admit that Iceland's nowhere near my geographical expertise, so I guess it comes off naturally that my acquaintance with Icelandic metal doesn't go beyond a few sporadic shards of existence, and any further knowledge I have about the country is confined to a Verne novel and an obscure medieval poet. Thus, much like the bedeviled pyro-fiend gazing in bewilderment depicted on the album cover, Beneath and other closely associated outfits such as Sororicide, Diabolus and Atrum caught me unawares. That was a short-lived shock, however, considering that very nearly the entire globe has now been sufficiently encompassed and suppressed by the reign of death metal, in any damn form you can imagine. For that matter, Beneath seems more modern than the rotten hordes dwelling inside the putrid hovels that their ancestors had constructed long before they were begotten. No, they're far more polished, a somewhat fresh jump into the extreme territory that border the style of early 90's Floridian brutality and some more recent technical death metal.

There can be little doubt that Beneath metes out and equates the frolicking borders of brutality and technicality with great competence, and even less doubt that ''The Barren Throne'', the much-waited successor to ''Enslaved By Fear'', which was apparently quite the popularity bludgeon back in its day. That can make ''The Barren Throne'' a bitter pill to swallow if you were one to bathe yourself languorously in the previous record and somehow come to the verdict that Beneath didn't live up to their full potential, but also a deliciously deplorable riff-fest if you enjoyed as much as the first. Now, I haven't found the time to listen to ''Enslaved By Fear'', so if you want to compare the two, that discussion is for another day. What I'm interested in is unearthing ''The Barren Throne'', and it alone. With its punishing dexterity, polished bombast and fiery temper ''The Barren Throne'' assumes what we assume from a casual technical/brutal death metal opus, but as usual my gripe was that in most of the cases it was sauntering through the same territory with little ado about the miraculous feats that a little bit of originality can achieve, because as consistent and penalizing in its musical adroitness it may be, ''The Barren Through'' is still far from a four-leafed clover...

''Depleted Kingdom'' is a great, frenetic opener that discourses intensively with the range of styles that the album runs on. At 7 minutes, it may be a daunting journey, but it's more galvanizing and enjoyable than the majority of the album's compendium. Beneath creates a distinctive collision of sounds that mingle Morbid Angel, good ol' Corpse, Brutality with the melodic sensibility of Dark Tranquility or Kalmah, with a good deal of melody lines twisting and swerving in between the machine-gun rattle of tremolos and chugs without skewering the pooch; granted, there's nothing overly zany about that, but it still makes for great, bloody headbanging material. Oh, and did I mention it was fast? Beneath brings some 80's tradition on the table by sticking more to the continuity of tremolos (as cavorting and serpentine they may be), and that kind of speed/death/thrash mentality is especially apparent on the next track, ''Chalice'', which pummels and excoriates with the same formulaic violence of an early 90's death/thrash piece like Demolition Hammer, Epidemic, Solstice or Belgian obscures Chemical Breath, but transforms rapidly into a polished death/black piece with its explosive openings during the second half of the track. In that sense, there's actually plenty variation, far more than your run-off-the-mill brutal death metal act, to be heard, and while that's true for 3-4 songs, the rest merely banter and duplicate their peers.

Of course, there's still some revitalization that ruptures forth halfway through the album. As the throne falls to the hands of ''Sovereign Carnal Passion'', the previous exhumations are torn completely asunder. The band plunges into an even more technical area, with the seams of Severed Savior, Hour of Penance or even Spawn of Possession spilling forth like ash from an Icelandic volcano caking the world, but things get even more interesting with the next track, ''Sky Burial'', which might as well have been a Mastodon tune out of ''Blood Mountain'' or ''Crack The Skye'', when the band starts to lumber as 90's death/doom band might, with lethargic but tremulous, dolorous riffs lurching along cleaner transmission of melody, plucking the veins out slowly, one by one, instead of ripping the blasting off the entire arm with loaded shotgun. Solemn leads of the Swedish goth rock modal creep into the brooding acoustic passages, but the occasional raspy vocals that contrast from their more ubiquitous, growling counterparts break the mold splash the 7-minute monolith with some change every now and then. Add to that the pedaling, restless drums and you've practically got a superb fucking record, right?

Well, not really, because, all told, ''Sky Burial'' would be the last memorable track on the album. Ironically, the equation that renders the tracks themselves so proficiently balanced between melody and neanderthal force does not emanate into the actual distribution of quality among the songs, within the album. Yes, even the more average tunes were ''cool'', but they're just more seas in the ocean at best., and I wouldn't have probed them for more than a few listens. That aside, I'll still leave it to you to judge the album. It's surprisingly wide spectrum of influences can help it garner the attention of an unusually wide net of listeners, and with the audience Beneath gathered with ''Enslaved by Fear'', ''The Barren Throne'' is unquestionably another solid record hanging on the band's belt. The throne awaits.

Depleted Kingdom
Sovereign Carnal Passion
Sky Burial

Rating: 73%

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Septicflesh - Titan [2014]

It would be a mistake (and a grave one) to underestimate the sheer infallibility of Septicflesh's course after ''Sumerian Daemons'', moving hungrily from record to record, each with an even more attractive incorporation of classical music and a more focused dive into memorability. What came to being after the band reunited was ''Communion'' which was a further improvement upon ''Sumerian Daemons'', but what followed, ''The Great Mass'' surpassed all prior constructions and upped the ante to such an irredeemable level that it not only crowned itself my favorite record of 2011, but also a milestone for death and symphonic metal in general. With that hanging about their belt the Greeks no doubt suffered from some pressure (not unlike the latest efforts by Vader). How the hell do you surpass something like ''The Great Mass''? A timeless bondage of symphony and proto-brutal death metal, a stereophonic triumph. Maybe the simple answer is that you don't. And that's when ''Titan'' enter the show...

As callous as that statement may seem, it's not, so hang on to your seats for a few minutes and hear me out. As much as the other aspects of ''Titan'' failed to resonate with me as its predecessor, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the album's incorporation of classical music elements has reached a far more expansive degree, channeled forth by the compositions of the masterful composer Christos Antoniou, whose expertise in composition sometimes exceeds his vocal transmissions, reaching towards anything from Carl Orff in stylistic excellence to Wagner and anything in between. There's also a very oriental taste to what he does, an element that seethes through his guitar work as much as his classical scriptures. The components of these classical feats are of course complements of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, which the band has worked with ever since ''Communion''.

That said, the other components do not shine through particularly much. As much as I enjoyed stunners on this album like ''Prototype'' or ''Order of Dracul'', I couldn't help but feel that Septicflesh played it safer than they ought to here, sticking to the principle material adherent on the last three records; a brusque stop in the originality department seemed especially daunting considering the Greeks the brazen jump forward with the last disc. First of all, the guitars sound watered down and truncated to the complexity of an early 90's garden-variety brutal death album, smoldered under the undermining current and overdose of classical music.  Surgical as they are, they're not the powerhouses of chug and pummel that you'd want them to be. See, many of the broiling, tempestuous tremolos that led the front on line on the previous albums with such tracks as ''Pyramid God'' or ''Lovecraft's Death'' are not present here, and their strength and bass-soaked masculinity exchanged with accentuated upsurges of violins, trumpets ad cellos; again, not necessarily a major deviation from ''The Great Mass'', but still a step backwards considering the 3 years in between records. To some point I may be biased: I'm a bigger classical music fan than I confide to be, so no matter how egregious the guitar work I will enjoy the orchestral accompaniment of a violins and soaring, boisterous trumpets. But this does not compensate for the entire quality of the record. Septicflesh is still far from its zenith.

Other additions that were prevalent on the previous record that made it here are the high, majestic, operatic vocals which divide into both male and female, a beautiful contrast, and the sublime preference of melodic death metal guitars which is perhaps the only consolation for the failed vigor of the guitars. What I'm talking about is the band's subtle connection to bands like Dark Tranquility or At the Gates, which helps bring some variation in between riffs. The exuberant choirs are at their prime as you're likely to hear a child choir as much as mature one here. Needless to say they're quite elegiac and wonderfully complement the somber undertone of the music. The vocals, still quite a uniquely gruesome inflection in today's crowded death metal market, will occasionally accompany the cleaner, operatic vocal deliveries during climaxes, in addition to the usual bantering growls. Not really a fan of vocal duality at that point, particularly because it's technique reminiscent of modern metal mavericks, but in all departments it would suffice to say that Septicflesh excludes the prevalence of anything bordering on the excessively florid or grandiloquent. Overall, some of the queer, whizzy guitar techniques and clean guitar interludes seem to have bred and multiplied to a greater extent than those of the last two albums combined, indicating that perhaps the Greeks needed something to keep the listener at bay during the more emotive and moving sequences of the records. On the other hand, there are one or two completely fresh additions to the music such as the bizarrely enchanting medieval lute bridge fitted near the middle of ''Order of Dracul'', so it's not all bare bones and meat.

Overall, intellectual dipshits and steamy critics would probably hail the record as uninteresting, incompetent, or, at best, one that failed to live up to the expectations. True that it didn't rock as hard as the new Vader record, or that it boasted a triumph for the Septicflesh discography in general, mainly because (like so many albums) it kept its hand and feet inside the safe zone and cut down on the real juiciness of death metal, but hey, I still liked it. With such anomalies lurking in the late 90's section of their catalog, it's certainly not bound to be the anathema of the band, a hate stock for the masses to throw bottles of piss at. It's actually good. It's consistent, and more varied than you'd expect. Who knows, maybe the Greeks were trying to raise the volume of the classical instruments to the extent that it would blot out any hearing and comprehension of the other instruments. Or maybe that were just experimenting a plain shift into classical music? But back to reality, ''Titan'' is damnably decent, yet still not something I would prefer to recur in the future. Now that would be egregious indeed.

Order of Dracul

Rating: 77%

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Funereal Presence - The Archer Takes Aim [2014]

Though the underground force of black metal has stayed truer to its humble origins than some of its more mainstream forebears such as Enslaved, Borknagar or Blut Aus Nord, (not to demean those bands, mind you) the genre at large has still witnessed and fell under the spell of some dark, delicate and subcutaneous transformation, wherein bands like the excellent, opaque Negative Plane have emerged as forerunners. Despite the myriad bands popping out of the woodwork, it can be very difficult to come across an album like ''Stained Glass Revelations'', a record whose finesse in antiquity and shamanistic black metal witchery was so vivid and entrancing that it possibly set a new course for the genre to run on. That aside, though great black metal has had no shortage, it is perhaps natural for us to expect similar craftsmanship to emerge from side projects involving Negative Plane's members, rather than a new formation entirely. Hence, enter Funereal Presence.

The big picture in ''The Archer Takes Aim'' is a deliciously darkly, lugubrious mix of traditional black metal and spidery psychedelia redolent of Negative Plane. The small picture: you're basically fucked. Really, there is little to dislike about this record. We're talking merely 4 tunes here, so naturally some comparison to funeral doom bands is inevitable, but Funereal Presence crams so much sophistication and opalescent, opulent beauty into the tracks that it's difficult to turn down any one of them. All told, the band borrows its main traits from Negative Plane, but the avid black metal listener will here bits of Venom, Rotting Christ, Celtic Frost, early primal Teutonic black/thrash a la Sodom and Kreator, and even tidbits of the Swedish obscures Head of the Demon who probably put out the greatest single doom record of 2012. That aside, there's no formulaic simplicity in describing what these guys really sound like. The opener, and my personal favorite, ''The Tower Falls'' is this terrific, apocalyptic track which not only heightens the album to its apotheosis of dynamics but also manages to insert more varied material into the first 6 minutes alone than entire albums can manage in 40-plus minutes. The texture is pallid and dark, yet you'd be surprised to hear that there's more breathing space than any average black metal record, giving the guitars a diaphanous yet accessible tone, and the guitars divide within themselves into grittier chord progressions not unheard of by any listener of extreme metal, and cavernous, echoing melodies that reek of 60's psychedelia - material enough to make you sit upright and hark with attention.

Of course, the vocals, complement of Bestial, do not fail to acclimatize to the instruments. His rasps are controlled, but haunting nonetheless as shrill accompaniments to the witchery of the guitars, but what I really loved about the vocal propensity of the record was the inclusion of almost heavenly clean vocals that jump on arbitrarily, my favorite being, once more, the chorus of the excellent ''The Tower Falls''. ''The Archer Takes Aim'' is not multitudinous in its sophistication, nor is it a classic, a milestone in 21st century grimness, but it's such a great, original piece that I found myself spinning more than expected, and it certainly creates a mesmerizing contrast to the banality of the majority of outfits in the same field. You could take it as a third offering by the cult Negative Plane, but, again, the material here sticks out on its own making it an enduring piece that would comfort you during many a moody winter night. The one big gripe I could hold against the record is that during 12-16 minute monoliths, the amount of riffing, no matter how entangling the atmosphere, lacked some continuity: some truncation would have been preferred. Nonetheless, ''The Archer Takes Aim'' still proves to be a highly apt contestant. Many a shaft shall be loosed.

The Tower Falls
Gestalt Des Endes

Rating: 85%

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vader - Tibi Et Igni [2014]

And the flame returns.

A mere 3 years after their stunning, colossal, infinitely propulsive masterwork and offering to the Morbid Reich, Vader, the heralds and bannermen of the Polish death metal expand their retinue further, thereby installing themselves as the irrefutable kings of the scene. ''Welcome To The Morbid Reich'', I believe opened new fissures and gates for the genre at large. Showing that grueling on technical riffs or bashing out riffs like ignorant neanderthals wasn't the way to serve death metal justice; by finding the perfect, clinical yet buttery texture, the enduring cohesion and the years of experience Vader proof-read the deficiencies of all its peers splendidly. Yet as much as a victory that record was and a brilliant home run for 2011, your elation naturally disperses pretty quickly knowing it would be something of a mission impossible for Vader to strike a score as flawless as that one. Sure enough, ''Tibi Et Igni'', the band's first record with a Polish moniker, gushes out of the band's womb with not just the shadow of an elder brother, but with the pressure of insatiable curiosity and expectancy which the metal community has been harboring eagerly ever since 2011. So for the critical question: does Vader live up to the hype? Does Peter's outlaws of brutality ace the test?

The answer is, to be sure, a little complicated. As a parvenu of a band, with its humble origins as deeply rooted to as far as the 80's, Vader compels attention not just with its startling set of records, but also with its consistency, being one of the very few bands - in all of metal - to have actually released to many albums without falling shy of quality even in the least desirable efforts; so no matter what they do, after this point you know they're going to do it good. It's the classic forger's mentality, see. The more you work on the anvil, the better your craft becomes, and after a certain level you become proficient enough possess the inability to go down again. Hence, ''Tibi Et Igni''. To cut a long story short, Vader is awesome as always on this record, with its atypical stools of aggression and unchained hostility channeling an excellent level of durability and control, which is what they''re renowned for, after all. On the surface the riffing, the efficacious, infallible riffing that death/thrash maniacs salivate for, seems peerless. Yet as the listener delves deeper into the volcanic, explosive edifice of the record, some of the axioms about bands ''not being able to live up to their potential'' kick in and the gears start turning. Yet this is merely to say that ''Tibi Et Igni'' is not on par with its predecessor, and the latter was an indomitable record. So why the sullen face?

Contrary to a myriad of other bands, the drop of quality does not amount to something big with Vader. In fact, I almost snapped as many neck limbs on this album as the previous. And have no doubt about it; this record is a non-stop session of modern death metal meeting with uncircumcised, skinless thrash at its virtual best. Huge stompers. Megalithic riffing. Vader's style hasn't varied much, so there's still a metric ton of Slayer, early Death, Brutality, early Corpse and Morbid Angel in there, but Vader also elicits listener's with pummeling tunes that might just have been penned by some of their countrymen, like Decapitated, Hate or Lost Soul. In a boundless amalgamation of modern and antique excellence, Vader once more presents the unique Polish death metal sound with everything that is to brag about it. Whirling, majestic tremolos that crash through like serpents smoldering in fire, or some frenetic Ouroboros slithering unscathed, and there's a fair amount of technicality in the riffs that helps create some variation from time to time. And the leads. Those sweet, wondrous leads that seep through the record like molten gold. Perhaps what makes every Vader record so satisfying is that they're superb musicians, and that's not just say that the guitarists know their way around the ropes. The drums are terrific, clean, punchy and muscular, with plenty of machine-gun fills and double-bass plodding, and I don't even need to mention Peter's unmatched vocals, which, as the product of their unique vocal voltage and strangely appealing foreign accent serve the music splendidly. Peter will occasionally pull off a Deicide, infusing his guttural inflection with a wretched, snaring duplicate.

But those accustomed to ''Welcome To The Morbid Reich'' will find few novelties to behold. All of this; the pummeling discourse of guitars and paunchy drums,  the turbulent manifests of tremolos, the atmosphere of pure evil and sinister genius, and Peter's inflection are no surprises to the Vader listener. What does perhaps garner attention as a refreshment is Vader's explicit use of orchestral soundscapes and dreary ambient effects, which, despite being occasionally wrapped around a few of the tracks on the previous albums, have grown larger and bolder in scope and experimentation. We're talking huge synthesizers and howling winds, adding up to a downright imperial philharmonic upsurge of sound. Indeed, though not particularly renowned for their atmospheric tendencies, Vader can at times conjure the sensation of looking down from Sauron's tower to a gaping vortex of shadow and fire. This even works when the orchestration heaves along some of the heavier chugging complexes, but unfortunately much of the heavy onslaughts undermine the atmospheric quality of the album. Translation: if you're one for the aura, go grab a black metal album and try to keep away. Still, with tracks like ''The Eye of the Abyss'' or ''Hexenkessel'', one way or another any fan of death/thrash will succumb to majesty of the album; and I'm not even including the melodious, doleful death/doom masterpiece ''The End'' which pulls the curtains on the album and leaves you with an ear half demolished and half longing for more.

I admit that my first impression was not a very positive one. But that comes from the fact that, all told, ''Welcome...'' was beyond a superb record. It rocked and shook the earth and splintered its center to raise hell. Then all hell let loose. Yet quality-wise the main reason why ''Tibi Et Igni'' doesn't rock as hard as the previous record is that the Poles are playing it relatively safe. Very few innovations, except maybe an added speed/thrash current, make the record adherent to the safe zone. In their universal appeal both records are, to me, well-night equal in their masterful balance of brutality and brilliance, both smashing homages to the Floridian death metal scene and the primeval, rudimentary flourishes of the Polish death metal scene.Yet because we've all heard ''Welcome...'', ''Tibi Et Igni'' feels somewhat... drowned out. But it's still a sweltering wet dream for any death metal collector of die-hard Vader fan. So yeah, do believe the hype (if there's any) and purchase this record immediately. Reign, annihilate, Vader. Rinse and repeat.

The Eye of the Abyss
Go To Hell
The End
Abandon All Hope

Rating: 88,5%

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Iron Dogs - Free and Wild [2013]

It's always comic to see a band wielding such a cheesy, over-the-top cover art somehow cultivate a far more unique and engrossing sound than a good many of its peers who invest such money and effort into their album covers. Good covers do no necessitate good music; I think we all know that by now. Here's the second moral of the day: never judge a book by its cover. Indeed, a sword-wielding angry wench surrounded by a bunch of heads piled up on wooden stakes does precipitate the most worldly and intriguing of musical machinations, but however much this may be frowned upon, there's no denying that neglecting Iron Dogs' sophomore ''Free and Wild'' is a big mistake. With a wise selection of precursory influences that extend further than simply Maiden and Priest, but with a celerity and liveliness that would make the two gods proud, a pop/rock-variety brevity in the songs, and more melodies stuffed in a mere 28 minutes that so-called ''melodic'' metal bands would dare imbue into their song patterns, ''Free and Wild'' screams out with nostalgic, unabashed bliss.

''Free and Wild'' is such a load of tremendous fun and 80's awesomeness that I can't really state its selling point. Everything shines through. In case you still couldn't get a picture of what the Canadians have in store for you, I'll be as lucid as possible. The album draws strength from a number of concurrent influences freely flaunting with each other; the occasional Maiden, Priest, but there's still more Jag Panzer (think ''Ample Destruction'') than, I daresay, any other retro heavy metal to ever strap on a guitar and mount a drum stool, and I haven't even begun to mention the minuter spectrum of sounds converging in the mix, notably Angel Witch, Exciter, Agent Steel, ''Kill 'em All'' era 'tallica - even tits and bits of Razor flirting with the more rapacious outbursts of tempered energy. Yet in all the colorful palette of influences, creating a true melting pot of traditional heavy metal, (if not an apotheosis of the genre's manifestation) the Canadians somehow dazzle the listener with style of their own. The same way the English Deceptor challenged me to my wits' end with the sheer insurmountable quality of their EP ''Chains of Delusion'', Iron Dogs manage sound as cool as bands did in the past, without being tied down by the past.

Swirling, spiraling flirts of harmonious melodies are reminiscent of Satan's outstanding ''Life Sentence'', but different still. Irreprissible and meretricious, ''Free and Wild'' in the kind of album that refuses to be bound to the ground with chains, and attracts attention with its sheer punch and crudity. The manic, melodious guitar riffs aside, though, vocalist Jo Capitalicide can just as well be the BEST thing this record has to offer. As much as I am a great big guitar nerd myself, a staunch boaster of technicality and blazing guitar solos, Jo's vocals enamored me so much that I could listen to the first 3 seconds of the ending track ''Island of the Dead'' over an over again just to immerse myself in his outstanding voice. No need to elaborate - the man in the resurrection of Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer. Doused in reverb and heedless of ''professional'' vocal values, his inflection kicks nigh-over as many asses as the plodding guitars. Who said heavy/power metal had to be done with a banshee, screaming at the top of his lungs? Jo fits the bill for ''Free and Wild'' more perfectly than I might have conceived, and literally catapults Iron Dogs to the next level of musical excellence.

Any gripes? Only that the record was too fucking short! Given that the whole record clocks at 28 minutes, it's a bit difficult to excavate a huge deal of pleasure with just one spin. ''Free and Wild'' requires more frequent spinning than a dozen or so efforts by the generic retrogressors of the field. For fucks sake, if you can't derive any fun from the maniacal chords and melodies fluttering around the record, nor Jo's vocal delivery, you need to see a doctor, asap. But Iron Dogs are still willing to forgive that. Just open the lyrics to the title track and sing them out; the anthem is so utterly uplifting that it motions involuntary nods even as I'm writing this. Indoor! No more! And for the love of God, if you're still not properly enthralled, you need a serious fix. Sure,''Free and Wild'' may not be the masterpiece of the decade, but its sheer distinction serves as a viable consolidation for the fact, for which I couldn't care less. Enter, but beware of the nude guardian lying in wait. Posers need not apply.

Free and Wild
Island of the Dead

Rating: 92%

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise [2014]

Although it's become a serious difficulty to find an apple that's not ridden with worms nowadays, it is more importantly increasingly difficult for artists to discern themselves in the metal universe. That one third, however, seems to be the front-runners of the genre, the ones carrying the torch in the darkness, and the mavericks of black metal, who, usually, despite their outstanding achievements, fail to make into major markets, constantly bested by the more fashionable and over-hyped kings of the scene. Unfortunately, the question of why we humans neglect and demean the small is a discussion for another day. The real story here is Thantifaxath. A bunch of hooded figures hailing all the way from Canada, nothing out of the regular, you'd imagine. And coincidentally, just as I was perceiving a subtle divergence in Dark Descent Records from its usual old school death metal catalog, to my delight, I found they were also bolstering these guys with their debut album - probably the most enigmatically apocalyptic concept album (if you can call it that) I've heard all year. It's noise. It's sacred. And it's white. What more can a man want? Three of some of the most favorable things in the world in one wholesome package.

That aside though, ''Sacred White Noise'' pushes itself all the way from the boundaries of mediocrity to a self-sustained crevice of its own, buried under its own unique bliss. Being from Canada, you'd expect the trio to put out a performance fit for their Quebecois counterparts, and while it's not a whole different plot from what Gris and Monarque is doing, undeniably there is a great deal of difference. Where to start? From the fantastic opener ''the Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel'' with its pallid aftermath allusion, to the impossible denouement ''Lost in Static Between Worlds'', the album is such a convincing and attractive force over the fatigue of traditional black metal bands that I found it to be one the most addictive black metal opiates I've hard since 2012. What seems to be a reasonable continuation of what Deathspell Omega and Negative Plane are doing is actually so much more; a brilliant and discordant witchery of crystalline chords and restless, relentless voracity. That's probably enough to summarize any black metal outfit in the field, but Thantifaxath takes its further. The progressive elements on this record are nothing short of stifling and formidable. I could have just said that the Canadians were giving test runs on a few of the Enslaved songs from their last three records, or just fleshing out the psychedelia of Hail Spirit Noir - but no. Imagine precise technical riffing plotted out perfectly along the bantering chords, a nightmarish descent into hemlock and the long-waited afterlife...

Yet the record initial tracks are so dense with ideas that you'd be less confused and frightened at gazing into pit of spidery demons. That's not to say the latter tracks lose their lust, but after the ideas have been presented the Canadians simply outline them once again for the obfuscated listener which helps convert utter bewilderment into comprehension and appreciation. ''Sacred White Noise'' is as moody and depressive as the downtrodden child on album cover, but I would fail to do them justice by leaving it there. Here, depression turns into anger, anger into momentum, and momentum into actual quality. On top of it all, there's this almost unprecedented sense of modernity that lurks deep in the ambient cinematic effects that encircle the record at random intervals. We're not talking 80's horror flicks here, folks, but some of the most creeping, crepuscular cinematic soundtracks I've heard since Cultes Des Ghoules released its magnum opus last year, and though this album doesn't score the same level of fright as the former, with fiendish musical acumen it's the prized set of songs that would resonate through an old abandoned church. And with the intro of ''Gasping in Darkness'' it manages to do just that. In a manner, there's certainly an approval of Negative Plane's aesthetics, with seamless, oriental harmonies strewn arbitrarily, but, as said, Thantifaxath hardly fails to be an album of its own.

 Despite the clarity of the guitars and the harsh, punkish guttural lows of the vocals, ''Sacred White Noise'' is still a hard pill to swallow. It's rich, with a myriad mortal wounds engraved on it like permanent tattoos, like ash and dust on a broken piano. To be fair, I'm a bit of a hypocrite at not giving this album a go in the first place. Only after a few positive reviews on the internet did I feel actually elevated about it finding its way to my pool of promos. And even so, it didn't quite kick the first time. The second spin gave me somewhat more pleasure and understanding, compared to the mild appreciation of the first, but after the third listen the album's cavernous soundscape and dissonance had me captivated like a bug in a jar. It's absolutely terrific musical experience, your free ticket to a live orchestral cacophony, delivered by the three hooded impresarios. Though not quite the record that would be bequeathed to later generations, if you know a band can conjure anything as haunting as ''Eternally Falling'', you know you ought to get it, regardless of your futile taste.

The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel 
Gasping In Darkness
Eternally Falling
Lost in Static Between Worlds

Rating: 90%

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Avatarium - Avatarium [2013]

It comes as a surprise that seasoned musicians who showed their real flair with astonishing 80's masterpieces (in this case being Candlemass) can show similar if not equal proficiency with their resurrection as artists in the 21st century. Hence Avatarium. A five-piece from Sweden for which the legendary Lief Edling of Candlemass serves as the bassy powerhouse. All things considered, Avatarium's existence as band risen from the ashes of an old master, its hasty linkage with mainstream label Nuclear Blast, and the general outlook of its style make it terrible prone to suffer from becoming just another face in the crowd, another meager contemplation of modern doom metal which one could not help but adhere to sheer tripe. Yet the band almost masterfully steers away from such a detainment of skill. It refuses to be clouded with a lack of motivation, to be trod down by the rueful overtones that typical doom bands implement oh so recurrently, and their self-titled debut doesn't quite reinvent the wheel, it does manage to buy itself a parole from mediocrity.

Despite its relatively modern texture, I found this album to be one of the most fluent and enjoyable doom metal records I've heard in some time. The Candlemass influence is evident, even with some appreciation of early doom a la Witchfynder General and Black Sabbath, but the main story here is the percussive, and, most importantly, gothic sound put into the record that pervades into every square inch of the steady, concussive riffs that work their way to the listener's cranium like firm, gradual hammers slamming into a slab of half-molten steel, eventually creating a successful forgery. And what I mean by this is basically a more contemporaneous, forgiving approach to what Tiamat and its followers scraped up in the 90's as more personal, emotive alternative to the booming melodic death metal tradition of the time - not that this has to do a deal with the Swedes, but it's impossible not to make note of the soaring orchestral voluminousness of ''Moonhorse'', or the occasional acoustic interludes obtruding the crushing finesse of the grand, polished guitars. Indeed, in a firm elucidation of its desires and confrontations, ''Avatarium'' seems to encompass both traditional doom metal values with the inherent Candlemass sound, and a more accessible tone that belongs to its age.

Yet the band owes much of its awesome, crushing balance and clarity to the powerful, soaring female vocals of  Jennie-Ann Smith; but she in now way proves a hindrance for the record. In fact, the wonderful eloquence of her pitch is a terrific thing to behold not just because it helps excavate the band from strict simplicity to epic panache, but it also refuses to be a pretentiously maudlin in its delivery. yet the band simultaneously achieves the sort of poignant fragility that so many others flounder at. This album is not just a pointless bridge of riff upon megalithic riff, either; you can feel each pounding veracity of each chord, a sublime metallic resonance, but keep in mind that a progressive touch that's heavily redolent of early Dream Theater spikes the atmosphere with sufficient technicality and mournful psychedelia to push the pastoral dream even deeper into the listener's emotional sanitarium. The magnitude of the riffs, the patterns and the melody, intertwined with blatant but effective chorus tropes is amazing. And the lush, yet strangely moving aesthetic is only coupled with the fantastic imagery of the poetic lyrics, like the unforgettable title track, making each track really, really fucking count despite the sheer length.

And what about the flawless modern-goth doom/rock tune ''Boneflower''? Its simplistic mid-paced verse riff, married with the impeccable adroitness of the vocalist make it one of the most memorable tracks of the year, and I'm not even biased. It's, as it melodiously proclaims, ''a one way trip to the promised land''. True, not all the songs hold up with the same rambunctious delicacy, and being essentially a melding of slow, lurching power chords, the album does get a tad redundant at times, but who the hell can blame you? For fans of Tiamat, (both early and late) Lake of Tears or Katatonia, this a reckoning that ought not be missed, a minute wonder of elegiac strength that has the strange ability to elevate the youthful spirit of a ''Clouds'' fan as magically as a sorceress resurrecting the souls of the doleful. It's jam-packed with 80's Candlemass and 70's nostalgia (thanks to the stupendous keyboard work) and while still no maverick in a market loaded to the tits with anything that's utterly uncanny and audacious, its still holds up splendidly. Give yourself in, spin it, savor the elegance and spin it again.

Bird of Prey

Rating: 85%

Monday, May 19, 2014

Electrocution - Metaphysincarnation [2014]

With the little need to elaborate on the upsurge of old school death metal that has literally been the largest explosion in metal in the last 5 years, I think it would be reasonable enough to pinpoint a few others bands that have somehow found themselves intermingling with this putrid resurgence of death metal. Of course, I'm talking about the old breed. A handful of 90's legends who, by making use of their cult status and this underground bombast, have soundly found themselves at the center of this movement. The ones that come to mind immediately are Autopsy, Incantation, or the more obscure Rottrevore; in short those who haven't attempted at and succeeded in some of the most tragic failures of the decade, like Morbid Angel, a band which requires no discussion. That said, I would imagine Autopsy and Incantation didn't face much of a problem when they were looking for labels that would harbor an interest for the particularly gruesome and cavernous brand of death metal that they cultivate, whereas, a few, like Italy's Electrocution, I'm sure weren't exactly greeted with commercial deals after deciding to reform.

Now, I firmly believe that Electrocution is a band that we will need to elaborate on, folks. In a death metal scene where obscene, cataleptic gestures alone wouldn't find enough attention to last one for a week, with the entire retrogression movement rigidly planted upon either buzzing chainsaw necromancy or primordial, squamous cavern-core aping, derived largely from what Incantation put out in the early 90's, it is indeed difficult to distinguish yourself. The resuscitation of Electrocution, easily the premier death metal act of Italy, made a great impression on me with their ''Inside the Unreal'', which, despite being essentially a practice of Floridian death metal propensities with nice, technical flavor, was an album deeply cherished as one of the first ''real'' death metal albums I listened to years ago, along with ''Leprosy'', ''Human'', ''Altars of Madness'', ''Consuming Impulse'', and so forth. Though naturally devoid of the classic appeal of the uncanny debut, Electrocution's sophomore resonates with similar fervor but with an audacity that would be more on par with modern technical death metal bands than the cylopean dirges of its current peers.

Indeed, this is still ''death fucking metal'', but neither is it as modern-sounding, as, say, Nile or Deeds of Flesh, nor as disgusting as Autopsy. ''Metaphysincarnation'' is literally halfway through the two boundaries. It's hard not to comply at first with its melodious twist, booming, proto-brutal death metal riffage that burst the seams and wires that connect the album like hyper-charged juggernauts, and the riffs are well-balanced with almost equally voracious drums - a tight circuitry running eagerly and proficiently. It's jumpy and nearly as punishing as Suffocation on the basis of its mechanized tremolos and chord protrusions, and I can even say I appreciated the vocals to a certain extent: the loud, bassy gutturals that were sown into into the thrashing mayhem with seasoned competence. Even the leads are clever and memorable. Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. In spite of the frenetic feast here, it quickly becomes obvious there isn't much of an essence in this record that would do to penetrate the armor of a dragon, so to say. The tremolos are sufficiently effective, and I quite liked the fact that they meddled with some of the technicality of the debut, refined it, coated it in shiny titanium plates and made a temporary craving material for all the guitar nerds out there, but the effort is rather futile in the end.

So basically, the record started to get tedious after the first 2 or 3 spins, and that's when  you know the battery is in need of a nice charge. A charge which unfortunately does not exist in this case. ''Metaphysincarnation'' (a name which I will not try to type again) ultimately makes it point, that not all of the old breed have the life left in them to produce something more than just worthwhile in the grim 21st century, even if the Italians have sure as hell proved that they can sustain their survival, if that was ever the problem. It's unfeigned and polished death metal that gives Vader and Brutality a shy little nod, but if you're low on money, there are definitely more fish in the sea.

A Son To His Father

Rating: 70%

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Gris - À l'âme Enflammée, l'äme Constellée... [2013]

Though the notion of lengthy musical journeys has often had a magical kind of appeal to me, so few bands actually possess the ability and flair to mete out the level of color, intrigue and hooks required to keep the listener at the edge of his/her seat throughout the in time the prospect has dissolved into a weary, fruitless idea. The problem is that despite so many bands plunging into the same otherwordly sounds and emotional undercurrents, very, very few can produce a layer of musicality that not just worthwhile but also memorable enough to firmly seat itself in the listener's subconscious. Granted that, there's extensive scope of sounds one can choose from; whether it be a soundscape of daemonic sufferance, swelling bucolic beauty dawning upon a rustic, natural expanse, or, as the Canadian label Sepulchral Productions has grown so fond of, ebbing and flooding tides of anger, repentance and gnawing sorrow conveyed in various ways... The Quebecois have now a wide belt of offerings in which they can present this particular form of music, with some of my favorites over the years being Neige Eternelle and Sombres Forets, but their countrymen Gris, with the follow-up to the highly acclaimed ''Il Etait Un Foret...'' has won me over almost effortlessly compared to its counterparts.

To be sure, Sombres Forets' last two albums were erudite and brilliant showings of what Quebecois black metal can take the form of when confined to an icy, uninhabited landscape, with orchestral and acoustic motives almost as overwhelmingly terrific as the guitars, but Gris beats them all... It's rather ironic how among all the label's releases I spun the Gris record last - and I'm aware of the grave mistake. The album is a megalith in its own right, split into two individual 40-minute CDs with 5 tracks each, but there's so much to feed from and harness into one's own emotions that I find it difficult to put it in the same context as the other bands with their purportedly ''megalithic'' albums. With the axiom of atmospheric black metal and acoustic sentimentality firmly established and accepted, Gris wastes no time in applying its non-metal influences into a peripheral metal record. The dust-caked paean in its ceremonial stance may serve as some indicator on what the record has in store, but even the beauty of the statue is merely a fragment of the bliss that awaits in the arms of the record's woe-torn arms...

The music, bound to evoke a feeling of reveries and haunting illusions in the listener, naturally retains a suitable length, but acoustic and ambient interludes protrude from every square corner of the album; and we're not just talking simple acoustic interludes and cheesy outros/intros. The guitars start creeping up with elegiac beauty, subtly accompanied by orchestral sounds and even female vocal samples occasionally popping up; but the really plangent sound is derived from a series of screaming, folksy violins snapping loose at arbitrary points. Imagine the crepuscular charm and coaxing effect of those marvelous violins! Embittered little children wailing over their lost mother. A group mournful angels with their teardrops slowly falling on mankind. And Gris, unlike so many other bands which try to incorporate similar styles, does not tussle and overdo the musicality of the violins and acoustic guitars. Everything is nearly immaculately balanced, coordinated, yet plangent and natural. With the opener ''L'aube'' already delving into cavern of stars and sorrow in a brief of 4 minutes without the real bulk of the album even giving a hint of its existence, ''À l'âme Enflammée...'' already makes the statement that it's here to linger.

And once the phenomenal ''Les Forges'' ends, the listener is sufficiently enthralled and addicted to eagerly make the remainder of the album. It's true that the tracks that make up the bulk of the record, being lengthy, invest more or less the same patterns of chord progressions and swells, but this hardly seems to matter with the orchestral work looming over the guitar riffs. And, in addition, the riffs are still diverse enough to bloom into any one of traditional post-rock riffing, progressive black metal, or just crude, dauntless raw black metal, taking any form of the genre as long as it hovers in the realms of sheer, unrelenting pain and emotion. What I love about the guitars it that they seem to avoid both the primordial posture that retrogression has so unabashedly promulgated, and the metallic sound that many modern black metal acts give in to. You can hear the distortion well enough, but it doesn't meander or buzz around as if melting away as the carnal, guttural barks of the vocalist sear through. Speaking of which, the vocalist is just as terrific as any other component of the album. His raw howls are not just wretched, but charged with the same emotional exactitude as the guitars and the unnervingly surreal violins... and they even rarely seep into the acoustic interludes. The idyllic, yet grief-stricken approach of the album is not a hard pill to swallow if you're used to acts like Forteresse, Monarque or Austere, but I'm nonetheless enamored by the poetic grace of the lyrics which befit the music, even if my French is a bit shaky:

Nous venons d'avant
Les mondes effondrées
À jamais vivants
Des rythmes d'avenir.
Le fruit de toutes les ténèbres,
Dans nos yeux, a inventé
Un jardin de diamants.

" Ô Petite Humanité,
Qui crève dans l'aube des jours,
Tombées, comme une flamme silencieuse,
As-tu dévoré tes rêves ? "

So, to return to my chastisement of bands who use music as a journey with their bombastic, hour-long single-track albums I stated in the opening paragraph, Gris is indeed one of the few who can achieve structural cohesion and captivation at the same time. The first part isn't hard to do. I'm sure anyone out there can stack four 15-minute monoliths into a CD with ambient effects of acoustic compositions jutting out in between, but, again, few can make the journey worth taking. The endless praise over Agalloch, the inexplicable adoration for funeral doom with its bantering pointlessness - it all seems so dull that Gris' achievement with this album would be some consolation for what the aforementioned failed to achieve... It's not perfect, sure, but I'd rather let my body be swept away by the doomed beauty of this record than any funeral doom band any day. Not just that, but the record's conceptual approach is a viable alternative to the rural appreciation of its countrymen. A Quebecois masterpiece for the decade to approve and bath in. Go ahead, cleanse your sins.

Les Forges
Seizieme Priere
Une Epitaphe de Suie

Rating: 90%

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Emptiness - Nothing But The Whole [2014]

It's always interesting to witness the evolution of a band from its primordial aesthetics slowly, gradually into the manifestation of something almost inexcusably darker and emotive. Such has been the case with Emptiness on their fourth full-length ''Nothing But The Whole''. As group whose talent and experience in the fields of extreme metal reach sizable proportions through their affiliations with other Belgian projects such as the notorious Enthroned, and as one which had successfully harnessed the currents of the sound which they'd been striving to execute with their latest offering in 2012, I was quite confounded by the amount of experimental touches that adorned and bedecked each and every lugubrious corner of this record. Has traditional black/death come to and end? Has the tradition of wild, promiscuous goats and satanic ghouls raping whores suddenly been outed by depression and emotional catharsis? Far from it I imagine, as certain flag bearers such as Diocletian and Teitanblood still produce material akin to that ravenous, diabolic sub-genre has promoted, but some, like Emptiness choose to follow a somewhat different path...

This is not the French Revolution here, mind you, but we're still talking about certain stylistic changes. It's almost as if the primitiveness that the band had since their very first recording been eventually exfoliated and wreathed out of the body with every release, with the evolution finally making an abrupt stop at ''Nothing But the Whole'', whose almost indolently suicidal and depressive title bears fruit pertaining to the changes in the band's course. Indeed, Emptiness never quite was inundated in the same grime and blasphemy of the aforementioned acts, being somehow more modern and refined; but this never prevented it from bedeviling the listener with sinister, crushing riffs or atmospheric feats. So then, if we're not in for those, what can we expect of ''Nothing But the Whole''? Well, if I may be so bold, we're expecting a forecast of cantankerous termagency, floods of subtle emotions, pacing through an unaccustomed fervor for experimental details, and the same suicidal, depressive motive that the title bears overridden with a paranoid discrepancy that in some way penalizes the band's consistency in return.

I know, that's a quite a bit to take in, and all will be explained, eventually. What Emptiness is essentially doing here is marginalizing its own set of influences and unique sounds to a single piece that quite doesn't fit into any other kind of door. We're talking drone metal. Absurd guitar distortions and dissonances. Weary waves of serpentine black/death. Groove-like drum patterns. Industrial soundscapes. Indeed, there's no denying that the Belgians have strained their imagination in many perceivable ways to the point where it would be rather difficult to dub them as simplistic or platitudinous anymore. But, - and here's the big question - does originality always sum up to quality? I think even the ignorant schoolboy would be aware that the answer is no. Hell, comparing this to 2012's ''Error'' or their 2007 opus ''Oblivion'' I felt the band had been sapped of its succulence and vitality so much that they were in some respects just recycling material from their previous releases with the speed dropped to a lower gait and with a few oddities attached here and there. Yes, it's pretty obvious that they were going for a less sincere, and, I daresay, more ''spiritual'' sound, and while they do manage to do just that, they flounder in the consistency department, as well as lacking the incentives to produce something just plainly memorable.

I may have demeaned these guys a little more than I ought to, what can I say? How does one go from ''Oblivion'', with its massive roiling guitars and melodic sesibility, to something that's more on par with the average sludge/drone doom band? It's certainly not terrible, however: you've got tracks like the opener ''Go and Hope'' where the replacement of muscular, grinding attributions don't seem to have taken any kind of toll, with ghostly, harrowing melodies accompanying the lurching guitars, and for some the album as a whole may have a particular appeal due to the sheer continuity of the discomfiture, but I doubt anyone whose interest don't fall under Ulcerate, Flourishing or Triptykon will be particularly taken by this. In a way, I faced a dilemma where I couldn't decide whether I wanted to love or hate the album - the doomed poignancy of tracks like the finale ''Lowland'' was beautiful, but something like the megalithic ''All is Known'' almost bored the fuck out of me - so in the end I decided that I was stuck in between. This album, beyond the snarling, harassing vocals, seems like a serious departure from black as well, which could mark the band's sojourn into pure-death metal territory, but that discussion is for another day. For now, folks, try to enjoy ''Nothing But the Whole''. It has its good moments, but lacks the polish of the previous records too much to be something overwhelmingly good. Maybe some Belgian ale would be good?

Go and Hope
Tale of a Burning Man

Rating: 67%

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Persuader - The Fiction Maze [2014]

With so much jostling going up front with the black and death metal genres, one quickly forgets that the reviewing business is more than just a bunch of cadaverous ghouls and satanic grimoires. Given their tumultuous nature, it can sometimes be something of a problem to keep your auditory nerves constantly inclined to this kind of music, so every now and then the ear yearns for something both more pleasant for the ear and the nose (believe me, dealing with ghouls and zombies all the time is some pretty putrescent work). When I come across Sweden's Persuader, I'm left in something of a dilemma: I don't know quite what to expect, not being acquainted with the band, but on the other hand the rather generic cover art song titles testify to a modern simplicity which for some reason obliged me draw comparisons with Sonata Arctica, Edguy and Gamma Ray prior to the actual listen - not exactly an inaccurate comparison. But if I had to cut a long story short I'd say that Persuader offers a dynamic, proggy and damnably solid power/thrash album that, despite being quite enjoyable, doesn't do much to break into the realms of originality.

To be fair I initially thought I would hate Persuader's lack of guts, but there's more juice and flavor to this damn thing than an average power/thrash recording. Besides the aforementioned similarities drawn up from more notorious acts, ''The Fiction Maze'', the group's fourth full-length, is actually on par with the latest Hellstar record, both in terms of technical prowess and thrash-oriented edginess. The production on this thing is pretty professional and well-done, giving plenty of space for the guitars, but that's not to say the drums are drowned out; they ring on their percussive dominion as a superb accompaniment to the ballistic riffs. Yes, Persuader is principally a power metal band, and a very modern one, at that. The melodies could easily attest to that dogma, with their lightspeed accuracy and viscous flow on the brickwalled guitars, but Jens Carlsson's vocals are soaring and opaque with a traditional banshee's high, though heroic voice. So, as you may imagine, the Swedes are in no shortage of epic, peripheralizing chorus sequences; memorable moments in the ''The Fiction Maze'' are in abundance. And the Swedes aren't just good ol' power. They try add as many intricacies as possible, but I still thought the progressive components of this record weren't being strained to their human limits.

That said, Persuader sounds a lot like Angra as well. In fact, ''Aqua'' was a pretty vivid representation of the roller-coaster of riffs going on here. And the list of these fuckers still don't end because in addition to all the mumbo-jumbo about epic, atmospheric choruses these guys can make some fucking awesome songs, and I'm not biased when I say that. Sure, they're generic, as though Havok and Warbringer got together in a gang fight and pounded the crap out of Dragonforce for being a bunch of tech-wanking weiners, especially with tunes like the title track or ''InSect'', but their persuasive (excuse the pun) savvy is unquestionable in forging some rocking songs. Their enticement, fortunately doesn't stop there. As I said, the Swedes try every now and then to confound the listener, and they figure, if riffs can't bludgeon 'em, is banshees can't shatter 'em, we'll use something else. And it's well that they do: ''The Fiction Maze'' flirts with modern, gimmicky power metal keyboards and synthesizers more frequently than you'd expect. Granted, these auxiliary employments do provide a bit of freshness to the schtick, like on ''InSect'' where the guitars and keyboards intertwine, but they don't have a spellbinding magical resonance to them, which probably wasn't the band's aim anyway. The album is coated with 21st century production values and modern power metal aesthetics, but the pervading emotion is straight out of the 80's, a Manowar or Crimson Glory seeking revenge in a new epoch.

No matter what you say, ''The Fiction Maze'' is catchy (though not absurdly so) and in its singular pursuit is successful in raising spirits. Not exactly a triumph of technicality and intricacy, but who would care? Certainly not me. In fact, with every listen I felt elicited deeper and deeper into the humbleness of the band against a predominant army of guitar-lickers and cheesy show-offs, so, the way ''Son of Sodom'' likes to unabashedly proclaim from the rooftops, ''all I see is what I believe''. A solid fucking effort.

Son of Sodom
Worlds Collide

Rating: 82%

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Deus Ignotus - Procession of an Old Religion [2014] (EP)

In all its competition and tumultuous tussle I think the black metal market is having as much problem as that of death metal. It appears that the exact thing these bands want you to do is to lock yourself up in some dilapidated attic, click play, and let your headphones resonate until blood starts to come out of your fucking ears... not and entirely appealing idea. You'd think that, being from Greece, Deus Ignotus would actually have the slight dignity to keep true to the Helenic mysticism of its forefathers Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Varathron, but no - this is a group that would rather exploit a more worldly, better-recognized sound instead of interpreting traditional motives; offering a sound that's not necessarily boring and tread down countless time but failing in consistency and originality what its forebears previously achieved with their ambitious trademarks.

In all truth, it's hard to put Deus Ignotus strictly into one category of black metal. Most of the time I think the tropes of bestial, chaotic war metal a la Blasphemy, Proclamation and Archgoat, even with a little of bit of Inquisition and modern Rotting Christ here and there, but, as if to show how untrammeled their sound is, there's also a consequent worship of more simple black metal which should bring 90's Scandinavian sensibilities to mind. Sound like interesting? Well, I can't entirely agree if you do. Yes, Deus Ignotus does cram in enough dissonance and visceral ugliness to make black metal seem nearly as primordial as something out of its formative years, and yes, the sound is fairly well-produced if not wholly professional, but that's were the line comes to an end. It's just repetitive procedure of chords which work their through the filth of the guitars that sometimes seeps into doom-like paces and sometimes proceeds with the same unbridled vein. And the vocals, to my dismay, don't offer any sort of inexhaustible brilliance - just imagine your typical death metal growls sauntering through an icy Norwegian forest...

And yeah, I actually did have fairly high expectations for this EP, for no reason. I think it's one of those inexplicable fits of sudden expectancy that every avid music fan or reviewer has every now and then, that insurmountable - if momentary - hope that a random discovery will actually turn out to be good - no, great. And the fact that I found the excellent, terrifying intro more intriguing than anything else the EP had to offer makes my sudden apprehensiveness seem like a bitter tragedy. Hell, even the hackneyed, allegedly ''orthodox'' song titles like ''Seven Tongue Enrapturement'' or ''Blood of the Apostles'' managed to compel my attention by means of seducing a metalhead's 12-year-old self with the uncanny and perverse hyperbole jutting right out of the titles; and to think, a 12-year-old yet unexposed to ''Fallen Angel of Death'', ''Welcome To Hell'' or ''Reign In Blood'' might have been considerable enamored by this little snippet of blasphemous noise... Cutting it short on the poor assumptions, I definitely don't think ''Procession of an Old Religion'' is ''bad'', but, as its title might suggest with startling accuracy, it's pretty much nothing more than a dissection and reassessment of traditional black metal with a lot of black/death sentimentality. For a few spins, it's cool, but you'll start to feel as literal part of a procession once you start spinning it more than the recommended dosage.

Putrid Empire

Rating: 65%

Friday, April 25, 2014

Howls of Ebb - Vigils of the 3rd Eye [2014]

While its easy enough to acquire fresh daemonic goodness from today's extreme metal market without much trouble, a good many bands are often in lacking in any essence and won't endure your headphones for long. And while death metal has taken its form from a monstrous, brutal manifestation of thrash metal into a much more flatulent and subterranean form of music with the recent of convulsions of acts such as Antediluvian, Father Befouled, Dead Congregation and so forth, I rarely felt that any retro death metal act had the discomforting aesthetic put to good use. Maybe the genre's so suffused and crammed and that there's literally no more space for inserting new ideas? That may be so, but there are still groups out there who think otherwise. Some may have methodically adapted death metal merely as a current to express more expansive musical ideals, while some, adamant, have clung to the genre as a child grips his mother. I'm honestly not sure which category Howls of Ebb fit in; the band is both keen to reap the tumult and morbid appeal of death metal circa 1989-1993 and simultaneously capable of injecting fresh if not utterly novel sounds into the mix.

The first thing you want to know about ''Vigils of the 3rd Eye'': it's packed and unnerving. But that's not to say it's inaccessible. In fact despite the meticulously plotted semi-technical death metal riffing, pestilent, deep growls and the almost avantgarde oddity certain moments have, the album is strangely enjoyable, clear, and memorable. And what ''Vigils...'' essentially is a salutation to death metal in some of its bleakest modes, a creeping, granular assault of spasmodic black/death with so many queer anecdotes attached at random ends that at times it really does feel like an avantgarde death metal album, which is its beauty. This is some thrilling music, with features that wouldn't quite fit any of the band's antecedents... I doubt that Demilich's ''Nespithe'' didn't have a significant influence of the band members, but even so, the sporadic quality of the riffs, structures and veins make the album such an odd ball that it would be difficult to pinpoint direct influences. Perhaps Autopsy could have played some part, and early Death, and even some peculiar underground gems like Timeghoul which, in my humble opinion, aren't excavated enough when the topic is death metal, but there ends the line.

And even when we apprehend a certain portion of the riffs, a certain percentage still remains rather inhumated, as if refused to be dug up by human hands. Howls of Ebb basically use a lot of speedy, uncanny tremolo sequences, which, in turns, can be wild fun with their ambiguous trajectories, but there are also broader moments where chords stalk the listener like lean, stern demon statues gaping at tides of anguished human souls which would ultimately serve as nourishment. Yes, the album is that evil. And the fact the guitars balance the terror and profanity with almost comical, jiving riffs makes the fear penetrate doubly fast; and as if that wasn't fucking enough, you've got a myriad sequences where the band's ''limbonic'' tendencies seem to afloat a opiate sequence of emptiness with twinging chords being strummed lightly in the background, resonating. I mean fuck. This is the kind of stuff that's so nightmarish and cunning that would follow you into your dreams the way evil clowns follow little kids. There's a fairly important if not completely relevant worshiping of doom metal here, noticeable in some of the longer tracks like ''Illucid Illuminati of the Dark'' or ''Of Heel, Cyst and Lung'', - whose titles are devilishly ludicrous enough to give a few preliminary goosebumps - but you'd be glad to know that the band retain speed for the majority of the record.

In the end, if we take guitarist and frontman zEleFthANd's background and previous infatuation with groups bands such as Trillion Red or King Carnage, or the fact that the guy's been in the business of creating creepy, multi-dimensional death metal since the early 90's, it's not so shocking that he eventually converted enough material into a credible album. And, yeah, ''Vigils of the 3rd Eye'' is not perfect; like most records it has its flaws. For instance, I did find redundancy and repetition to be kicking during certain tracks, and sometimes the whole plot of stalling the listener before the big explosion got a bit trite, but the eventual achievement is ghastly and superb. Even the drums and the bass, which suffer some setbacks due to the sheer satanic panache and swerving shrewdness of the guitars, were nigh over excellent; and I'm not even mentioning the additional synthesizer effects that only enhance the gloom. Howls of Ebb mightn't have produced an all rounder here, but in terms of evilness, this is the best thing I've listened to since Cultes Des Ghoules' horrifying ''Henbane'', in 2013. Start making your reservations, folks, because hell's bound to be packed within the next month.

Martian Terrors, Limbonic Limbs
The Arc. The Vine. The Blight.
Vigils of the 3rd Eye

Rating: 87,5%

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Soreption - Engineering the Void [2014]

Remember the last time overdone tech-death wankery was actually fun? I think it was about 1995-1996 when a joint of Suffocation/Cryptopsy releases ended that phase. Remember the last time death metal wasn't about how many strings you could pluck in 5 seconds or how many vocal chords you could abuse, but about the actual quality and flow of your riffs? Well, that must have been a long time ago. Granted, I understand that as an angry, frenetic teen it's hard to deprecate the brutality and the seamless conjunction of myriad guitar riffs that brutal/technical death metal has so unabashedly spoon-fed us, but so many of these bands have been hamstrung by their deliberate attempts at sounding as ornate and elliptical as possible that it's difficult to enjoy even a fraction of such material after a fair amount of spins. Double-bass drums. Pernicious, endless streams of guitar technicality. Growls deeper than powder barrels. And this is just the more ''considerate'' side of thing, folks. I haven't even mentioned the bombastic djent lovers and the whole rotten deathcore movement that allegedly (and rather unfortunately) gained its momentum from the stream of 90's tech-death masterworks...

So, based on what I just said, one might think that I'm demeaning Sweden's Soreption on their sophomore, ''Engineering the Void''. Quite on the contrary.  What attracted me to it - even if I wasn't spellbound throughout - was decisive, cohesive construction (''engineering'', if you will) of riffs that sounded a manifold times better than any random tech-death cripple unburdening its riff barrages that had been stocked ever since the guitarists could play a decent riff and the drummer an audible beat. Yes, Soreption is not redefining the optometry of technical death metal as we know it, but there's some much brilliance and adroitness to be found in the quality of the album that's nearly impossible not to bob your head in eager accord. Soreption is, not surprisingly, fueled by Decapitation, Necrophagist, Cryptopsy (though not so much by Suffocation) among a handful of other culprits, but unlike so many other attempts at aping and ripping off ubiquitous sounds their awesomeness is not confined to an initial excitement at the clobbering drums and the textured guitar explosions. The riffs here are played not just with ridiculous accuracy but with with a simultaneous grasp of the ''song'' concept; meaning they're not strewing bits and pieces of virtuoso tricks here and there - they're making a coherent, fully functioning mecha-feast of gears perpetually rolling and keeping the album's flux in motion, and with startling sordidness and raw power at that.

Unquestionably, the guitars are the leaders of this album. The moment ''Reveal The Unseen'' unfolds, sans any ambient effects whatsoever, Soreption makes its statement pretty fucking blatant. Tremolos upon tremolos leading up to semi-harmonious melody patterns leading up to further tremolos leading up to mazes of cavorting, acrobatic chug rhythms akin to Decapitation's masterful ''Winds of Creation'' form a miraculous set of riffs that, in the end, leave the listener dazzled, if not utterly awed. Soreption's guitar tone is not so unfamiliar, but it's something of an alternative to more polished textures; sounding like a rusted, vituperative collision of metallic surfaces. And yet the drums are also fully capacious to fuel the percussion of so dense a riff-maze, and there's no denying their significance. But don't the Swedes give any space for anything else? Of course they do. Tracks like ''Monumental Burden'' have injections of guitar solos as well as random atmospheric interludes. Indeed, the leads rock like hell (something Muhammed Suiçmez of Necrophagist would be proud of), but I shouldn't go without saying that Soreption's main focus is rhythm.

With tracks like ''I Am You'' or the excellent ''Breaking the Great Narcissist'', I found myself revisiting this record more than just a few times. The sheer intensity and determination of ''Engineering the Void'' makes it one hell of a juggernaut of tech-death in the year 2014 - surely one of the front runners of the genre this year. Sure, in that momentous struggle to retain balance Soreption may have undergone a few inconsistencies, and a occasional plunge into redundancy is inevitable these days, especially when you're practicing such a dexterous sub-genre of metal, but otherwise I really had no major complaints. Even the vocals of Fredrik Söderberg shine with durability and psychosis. In short, while those in favor of old school death metal will probably toss this away as a mere piece of junk, this is more than solid choice for modern death metal aficionados. So stop what you're doing right now and enter that fucking void.

Reveal the Unseen
Breaking the Great Narcissist
I Am You

Rating: 87%

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bloodway - Sunstone Voyager and the Clandestine Horizon (EP) [2014]

Over the last few years, I, Voidhanger Records has been the cultivator of a splendid array of underground releases; for a label so unknown to the majority of the metal communion, the gamut of their signings is incredibly extensive, ranging from proggy psychedelia, to doom, to atmospheric black metal and old school death metal - they've literally built up a pantheon of underground extremities which have both the sparsity and quality that would unquestionably attract more than just a few etherized listeners. And the great thing is that the wave does not stop in 2014 - far from it. What the ravenous underground metal enthusiast comes across in 2014 is yet another eclectic, dark oddity. Romania's Bloodway is, as it is to nearly every other listener, a fresh face as well as an unexpected propulsion of sorrow, grief, anger and spiritual dilemmas stretched out to an abstract and progressively enhanced degree. For the 26 minutes of lifespan it may have, ''Sunstone Voyager and the Clandestine Horizon'' is no easy pill to swallow, and packed with more material than other bands do in entire plus-1-hour offerings.

The rather graphic, surreal imagery on the cover should already provide some information on the density and richness of the dimensions explored on the EP. Putting Bloodway in one category is difficult; the group's sound pervades doom, sludge, black, death and progressive metal in eccentric proportions, but even that would not be able to do their unique sound proper justice. To put simply Bloodway possesses a characteristic rawness that sometimes morphs into tempered black metal chords, and sometimes to melody fests like on ''Free Ends'', and the EP never ceases to be suffused in the heart-wrenching agony that the vocalist, a kind of disillusioned madman strapped on a microphone, seems to suffer and lament. But unlike many raw or ''suicidal'' black metal acts that shower the listener with similar tides of catharsis, Bloodway's guitar work is collectively geared up and functions with fastidious efficiency: they've got a riff for nearly every moment, and each is no less technical than your average progressive black metal record. Point is, riff brewing is their job, and they can sure as hell do it. The guitars hold a subtle balance between dented and crisp, which is perhaps their secret delivery formula. I loved how they were seamlessly driving through the somber thickets of atmosphere in post-rock formations without actually barring the vocals or the drums, which, by any measure, were satisfying.

Fuck, even the vocals, reared on the edge of some imminent doom, delivered. Much like a black metal version of John Tardy or Van Drunnen, the vocalist barks and screams with utter pain and loss, a beautiful accompaniment to the cruising guitar assemblies. I did feel the atmospheric achievement of the album was somewhat dwarfed by the technical feats of the instruments, and there was no orchestral undertone to the album which I would definitely have preferred, (except, maybe, for the opiate intro track, which was something of an electronic track) but I suppose my gripes about the EP are confined only to that extent. The raw and visceral treatment of the EP is one that's more shocking than disappointing: I imagine certain listeners were waiting for a less refined, less abrupt piece, something more aural, but the moment the stupendous ''The Skeleton Key'' kicks in with its bustling rhythms and dark chord ballasts, the listener has no more false images about the EP's direction. The fact is, I am still in conflict with myself on how what I think about this album. I certainly enjoyed it, enough for it to compel a good many listens, but I'm still a bit lost in the hazy conglomeration of its riffs... Never mind me. If you want to enjoy some grieving, technically-oriented paranoia - stuff that has its place alongside many well-relished underground monarchs - you want to give this a go. If all else goes wrong, you have a man mummified with stars with a crescent moon for a crotch and a sun for a brain to contemplate.

The Skeleton Key
Free Ends
Sunstone Voyager and the Clandestine Horizon

Rating: 85%