Monday, January 27, 2014

Witch In Her Tomb - Maleficus Malecifarum [2013]

I'm sure that Witch In Her Tomb's eponymous demo back in 2012 blew off a good deal of ears off, even if it was neglected in mainstream metal communities; and continuing to retain the ''cult'', or ''bedroom black metal'' style that they readily enveloped in their demo, the Illinois act released their debut EP, ''Malecifus Maleficarum''. The demo was just bliss: walls of pure grinding, searing buzz, aching with incoherent barks and even punk-like inclinations, occasionally giving way to atmospheric ambient effects to focus on the sheer depravity of the music. It was a concoction of early Scandinavian black metal aesthetics, namely early Burzum, Ragnarok or Darkthrone, and rawer parchments that were somewhat inclined towards their national precursors, unremitting walls of sound that could configure an image of both decadent modernity and primordial motives; something quite frankly not unheard of in our wretched 21st century. What precedes is a sound and limited set of styles delivered through a very similar wall of underproduced buzz, punching through a briefer 7 minute EP.

Granted, anyone who gave early Darkthrone a fair amount of listens won't find anything excruciating about the music here; and in fact I thought the band lost some of the edgy, unremitting currents of sheer force on their demo. Much of the influences have, to be sure, been kept in store with the same amount of diligence and the same level of worship, but there's a certain lassitude to the three songs which, I think, emanates from a reduced reliance on punk. The guitar is thick and pungent, incapable of being counter-smothered by the drums, charging through the dilapidated production with sheer atrocity and visceral accuracy; but the drums are a bit out of focus, giving very little room physical malignity of the EP. And who wouldn't be, in that density! Like most raw black metal drums beats, they lack essence and touch, just a simple tool for keeping the incursion fueled. And although I liked the vocals, they too were somewhat stale; just meager practices in guttural wretchedness. There are a few moments where the riffs draw to more fascinating, and emotionally more inviting moments, such as in ''IX'', where the guitars spring forth a twang of scattering tremolos, and, for once, keeping their pace below the usual standard.

As you may well expect, there's nothing overly florid here, just a handful of slim-picked riffs that shower the listener in cascades of mourn, agony and relentless contempt. There are besides the one aforementioned, one or two moments which felt particularly memorable like the concluding serenades that accompanied the last seconds of the final track, as if drawing the curtains of some ceremonious festivity in some elaborately agonizing way. To be sure, Witch In Her Tomb, is in full command of the base black metal aesthetics, maybe even more so from many of its peers. There are acts which possess a fondness for the same vituperative, vilifying languor of black metal at its rawest, and while Witch In her Tomb can still outshine, in grimness, several of these acts, the use of black metal as an implication for desolation, depravity, depression and calamity, nightmares and unimaginable despairs is one practice which has been held in such frequency over the last decade that this Illinois obscure cannot hope to beat them in one simply-purveyed attack. Imagine, if you can bear it, the tactile mourn and sense of obfuscated despair that bands like Leviathan, Xasthur or Inquisition can implement, and in such acuity! This is not to say that I'm comparing a falconet to a modern aerial bombardment; but Witch certainly needs to step up its game if it wants to compete with any of these harbringers of depression. For a frivolity, ''Maleficus Meleficarum'' is a fine listen, one that ought to dust off your ears upon immediate impact, but as I was kind of hoping the band could expand its retinue with the following release, I was disappointed by the simplicity of the EP. Nonetheless, any raw or depressive black metal connoisseur should give this a listen. It is, after all, free.


Rating: 70%

Free download at bandcamp: Maleficus Maleficarum

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Old Witch - Come Mourning Come [2013]

In general, though staunch cultists possess an almost inexplicable reverence for them, I don't tend to take great pleasure in indulging myself in self-released, lo-fi recordings - at least no modern ones. The reason being, especially in the medium of black or death metal, that bands prefer to sacrifice both their production values and the separate quality of their riffing for the sake of longer, swelling compositions that are only relevant to enjoyment in the long-run. Such recordings often fail to evoke, despite clearly straining to, a sense of darkness, despair and atmospheric repercussions, and simply bore the listener to the point of giving up hope. I was definitely glad when the two-piece US obscures Old Witch bantered about in no such manner. Their sole album and sole release ''Come Mourning Come'' just jutted out of nowhere, in a nearly unbelievable turn of fortune, and acquainted itself with me entirely by chance. It's not that the duo can entirely elude the pitfalls of stagnation and meandering, nor are they employing an utterly novel kind of black metal here; but through a vituperative slew of melancholy and force-fed doom, arcane atmospherics and an eloquent infatuation with their USBM roots, they can easily sell any avid fan of nostalgic, moody black metal.

Old Witch's formula is nothing new: rigid guitars lumbering in a droning soniscape of rustic bliss, wonderfully dark and evocative synthesizers that should immediately remind one of Ihsahn's work on Emperor's masterful debut, or Samael's equally brilliant ''Passage''; but beyond these there is both a techo-induced propensity and a slightly more pungent raving for a Gothic, almost romantic atmosphere. Take ''The Leaves Fall In Autumn'' for instance; four and a half minutes of eloquent drudgery, conjuring images of rustic glazes at night and falling leaves, gradually fading into grey hues - continually tempered by an ever-present drudge of electronic fuzz. Old Witch are doubtless interested in suffering, mourn, nightsky revelations and brooding epochs, and it shows. It's clear that these thematic preferences have led to changes in their music. They seem more inclined to deliver such sorrowful waves of nostalgia and pain through sludgy black/doom passages rather than the much more uncircumcised assails of their US counterparts; and hell, I love the subtle balances between their rhythm and their omnipresent ambient effects. These effects vary in size and shape; from pouncing synthesizers in the fashion of Emperor to doleful choirs, to fading serenades orchestral work. They enrich the banality of the thrashing doom riffs and leave much more the imagination of the listener through the passages created. Even as a frequent scoffer of the modern black metal lyric, I found myself in some profound involvement with the almost poetic song-writing capacity of these newcomers:

forests fall black
and cower at the wolves howl
breaking cold
across the frost and snow
all the stars in the night sky
shiver in their vast dome
lofty beyond all human consciousness

curse the hunter's cry
curse merciless eyes
never virgin pure
spirit born in ice

follow the path of the stars
under forest eves
o'er mountains and dark streams
through sleeping villages
where folk lie in dreams

Of course, it's not just the drudge that makes ''Come Mourning Come'' a crowning triumph. The blistering aspersions of ''God Ov Wolves'', ''This Land Has Been Cursed'' and the opener ''Funeral Rain'' are apt practitioners of speed and raw black metal, so now you know the guitars still effective in sizable expanse of the record. Old Witch are never rapid - they consistently sustain themselves - but they sure as hell could play the speed game if they wanted to.

Perhaps not an immediate contender to the year's finest releases, ''Come Mourning Come'' is, considering the frailty of its origin, still a damn good record, blissful in its adherence to atmosphere and doom. The bizarrely entertaining contrast they create through the use of synthesizers against bashing guitar chugs makes for an interesting, if not entirely original listen. I still did feel that certain parts were too elongated to apply the full effect of brevity, and the guitar passages could certainly have used some spice (the atmospherics were perfect, though), but among so many groups rigidly seated in their cavern-core fantasies, Old Witch brings, and successfully too, an extent of realism and a clear understanding of the monotone; that it should be used correctly rather than excessively. It's not directly relevant to the interests of any single band, because its myriad influences are presented in a way that had undergone sufficient assimilation to scatter most of the obvious, but any lurker in the dark eager to take on a good mix of Emperor or other Norwegian or Swedish purveyors and well-drugged drone should get their hands on this. That is, if the physical copy is out yet.

God ov Wolves
Funeral Rain
The Frost and the Tyrant

Rating: 82,5%