Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heresiarch - Waelwulf (EP) [2014]

Despite having a career spanning no longer than a truncated twig, New Zealand's Heresiarch garnered more attention than other outfits with countless full-lengths up their belt with the single, meteoric arrival of their 2011 EP ''Hammer of Intransigence'', which was greeted with a rather mixed bevy of reviews. In all honesty, despite my appreciation for the the darker arts that death metal bands can manage to conjure, the EP was hardly a novelty, and I couldn't really help feel that it was being somewhat trod down by the real, indomitable masters of the genre. And to think, these guys weren't the best or the first to hail from New Zealand. The country continues to host a terrific circle of bestial black metal bands ranging from Witchrist and Diocletian, which have done quite a lot to promulgate the genre at large. When Heresiarch's dubious second EP arrived at my mail, I was half unwilling and half expecting the same dismay that diminished their premier EP, and I'm not about to vaunt this thing after I've listened to it, either.

''Waelwulf''' is almost entirely an unfaltering procession of the band's previous effort, with only three tracks jammed in for 13 minutes. If you're not familiar with them, I'll just say that it doesn't really need too much concentration to get to the center of the music. You'll hear the usual culprits Blasphemy, Archgoat, Beherit, and the aforementioned Diocletian, and these tracks are so similar to some of Diocletian's output that you could easily attach them to the end of any one of their albums. Fortunately, the banality of the beastly, warlike chaos that proceeds Heresiarch is mitigated by a somewhat unusual proclivity to sludge things up occasionally. That's not to say that these guys are direct progenitors of early 90's death/doom gods, but a current of slower, titular expansionism is prevalent in their music in certain focal points, denoting of an appreciation of Winter, disEMBOWELMENT, Autopsy or Cianide. Unfortunately, even with bantering, unorthodox drums fills and the doomy sequences forging abrupt tempo changes, there isn't much in the sense of intrigue in ''Waelwulf'''.

The guitar tone is nice, meaty and chubby, more real than that of ''Hammer...'', but for all the good it does to the rest of the album. The best thing this EP is likely to give you is a terrific, turbulent headache. I'm a sucker for the chaotic, miasma-ridden storms they can spew forth, but that's just fucking it. ''Waelwulf'' is well-nigh an empty crater in the middle of some archaic cave, with cracks and crevices along its each and every corner. It's layers are unfocused, dull and usually just meandering currents of distorted commotion that supposedly sew a web of ''chaos''. Heresiarch is chaotic alright, I'll give them that, but so many have gone the road of chaos and disorder that it's no longer interesting; and they're not bringing anything new on the table besides horrific and vilifying guitar sequences with a damp, worthless atmosphere. Even the minute aural images that they try to summon through the wailing guitars like the ending of ''Abrecan'' are pointless and stuffy. If you're trying to love Heresiarch, but you can't, than stop trying. The bestial/war metal market is so crowded with enshrouded jewels that you'll find more than a dozen gems by the time this EP is over. Try something else. Try Vassafor, try Diocletian, try Bölzer, try Teitanblood. I'm sure a handful of die-hards will be spinning this as they proceed to execute their weekly rituals in the local altar, but beyond that, there's nothing it can offer; so I'll be just sitting here, pondering how these guys hope to manage the enormity of a full-length if they can't even pull off a 13-minute EP.


Rating: 57,5%

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ulcerate - Vermis [2013]

Ever since the advent of their colossal third full-length ''Destroyers of All'', New Zealand's Ulcerate has been hailed as one of the leading augurs of the new technical death metal/post-hardcore or whatever you wanna call it movement, and I'm not sure if it was the overpraising, the excess commotion or just simply an adamant unwillingness, but I haven't listened to the lauded album to this day. ''Destroyers of All'' popped up in nearly every review blog or end-of-the-year list in 2011, channeling its imperious notoriety to the following year, and even though it was similar to the brilliant Flourish debut, or Deathspell Omega's engaging, estranged ''Paracletus'', I still didn't feel like giving it a listen. God knows why. Now, the group, hot on the heels of their cult classic, has come with yet another obelisk of ungodly, seismic tech-death, which is, to be sure, going to leave the ravenous masses drooling and ulcerated (you'll have to excuse the pun).

Maybe not so. Even though I'm fairly certain ''Vermis'' succeeded in encapsulating a certain circle of die-hard followers with wonder, I don't think it achieved half the fame of its beloved predecessor. Who knows, maybe two years changed our ever-mercurial metal society so much that the prodding, desirous sense to obtain and praise the cataclysmic, prehensile formations of that the group so seamlessly conveys didn't attract them any longer. That aside, I'll confide that I do have some serious catching up to do when it comes to post-hardcore or even the more metallic facet of this album by which so many other bands are delightfully toying with, but for all the sheer size, the megalithic density and the dark, inescapable atmosphere ''Vermis'' creates, I didn't find it quite riveting. There is a basic philosophy to this record that one could grasp from the very beginning, when ''Odium'' unfurls with tedious abandon and discomforting, disjointed riffs that I believe these technical/avantgarde metal purveyors are so well known for, stuff that I was inevitably drawn to in ''Paracletus'', but the riffs here come out in such banal, unimpressive orgies that I found myself drifting away from the album's core more and more as it tread forward, even though I was supposed to be elicited...

The busy, chaotic, brickwalled structure is something I can certainly appreciate, but apply it too often and too egregiously and it just becomes a chore to listen to. The guitars are wailing, wreathing serpents that coil like shapely buildings collapsing in a bombastic manner, the drums fairly clear and punchy, but to be honest in all the metallic tenacity of the album I only found a few moments that I enjoyed. As the notes continue to swell with the same frustrated patterns of repetition and sinewy monstrosity it feels as though the New Zealanders were deliberately poking my wounds, turning them sorer and bloodier every passing minute. I'll give it to them that the compositions are both stiff and strangely challenging, intricate as it must have taken them a great deal of time to pen them, yet, unfortunately, the intricacy of a composition, as myriad other examples have shown, does not necessarily bode well for its quality.  The fact that there were some really majestic, sweltering moments sporadically allocated across the album made me intermittently get my hopes high for the record, and the ultimate product wasn't really bad, but it wasn't all that good either. Hell, riffs like the pre-chorus passage on ''Await Rescission'' or the verse patterns on the title track were seriously titillating, even stellar builds, uproarious explosions of deluded chaos which the band unquestionably excels at. If only they had some more of those...

To add, the vocals were alright; I wasn't particularly impressed but I wasn't irritated either, in contrast to the wild fluctuations of the guitars. Like I said, ''Vermis'' is definitely not a bad album, but it feels like it's a bit stale in a world already crammed to the tits with similar material being ejaculated from countless different sources. It is, in the broadest sense, a death metal version of ''Paracletus'', - a monumental design of this particular sub-genre -  but it doesn't retain the masterwork's ability to encompass emotion and dread in so many different layers as acutely. It is, however, a highly florid if rigid output that, as said, fans will eagerly gulp up - at least if ''Vermis'' doesn't devour them first.

The Imperious Weak
Await Rescission 

Rating: 65%

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sulphur Aeon - Swallowed By the Ocean's Tide [2013]

Haunted by illusions of cadaverous, bloodied hymns, it's easy to go astray these days and find yourself playing in an old school death metal band. No, too easy. An unforeseen blanket squashing the vastest expanses of the metal universe, the retro-death metal plague proves to be deadlier than its thrash counterpart, as if somehow the indescribable Masque of the Red Death had slyly sneaked its way to our modern epoch to spread its precariously inflicted infection... But not all are affected. Some appear to be immune, even. Don't think I'm merely going to demean the resurgence of the genre as a whole here; we've definitely had our fair share of fresh death metal booty that doesn't strictly belong in the same realm as something like Decapitation or Anal Nakrath: stuff that prefers to dwell under the caves and monolithic recesses of the ages, unaffected by the novelties that the 21st century brings, and carelessly swaggering lo-fi rhythms at packs of avaricious listeners with ears agape.

Alright, I'll just be honest that Germany's Sulphur Aeon is not of the same school as Antediluvian, Impetuous Ritual, or even Tribulation for that matter, but rather in a conflicting territory torn between two rather neglected sides of death metal. These guys are a new, fresh-faced trio whose names go as T., M. and D., and they bring an almost unprecedented churn to death metal. Covering the ambitious steps of Dissection and Sacramentum from the mid 90's along with a more spacious pastiche to explore, their alignments are both of melodic and visceral descent; a hoovering whirl of underwater melodies intertwining with rich, luxuriantly massed guitar tones, prompted by a boiling spur of black metal. The real selling point for me was the ability of the trio to capture both a doubly brutal tone in the guitar as well as epic, harmonious tremolo barrages with great care to enlarge their potential as they tread along. Essentially ''old school'', ''Swallowed By The Ocean's Tide'' is huge, wreathing bulge of terrific guitar work and Lovecraftian horror at its finest.

As mentioned the guitar tone is too good not mention, but I have to say that I the frenetic drumming patterns almost equally. The drums sustain a crisp but still slightly subtle tone, as to not bash the subterranean toil of the record into rubble. The vocals are brilliant accompaniment to the muscular, effervescent floods of the dual guitars, with a great, wretched inflection that retains some balance between a rigorous black metal bark and a much deeper growl that perfectly perceives an image of the fantastic cerulean underwater corpse-city as depicted in the cover. There are moments, though only confined to the first 3 or 4 tracks, that I found to be immaculate and overwhelming in utter terror and tenor. Though such engulfing renditions are the band's obvious point of mastery, I still found myself to be able to digest the more mediocre offings that started to appear more and more frequently as the album progressed.

Just taking the unabashed, glorious hymnal charge of ''Incantation'', or the harmonic layering of ''Inexorable Spirit'' for a few spins would certainly leave any listener in utter cerebral torpor. Unfortunately, tracks like ''Beneath.Beyond.Below:Above'' are somewhat subpar in comparison to the ineluctable finesse of the previous tracks; and that's to say that the album falls a deal short from perfection. Still, while I was rumbling under the cavernous roar of the blast beats, the meticulous double-bass drums, and megalithic guitar proportions, I was struggling as though being dragged into the depths of the album's deep blue core by some scaly, amphibious entity, slowly drowning as the floods overwhelmed me more and more. It's definitely not everyday that you come across an album like this, which, even considering its flaws, manages to uproot many of its fellow cavern-dwellers. Actually, it would be underwhelming and discrediting to call these Germans cavern-dwellers; they can think much more openly than their contemporaries, and with a deeper impact, too. There have been only a few dozen times I really heard Cthulhu's great roar through metal, and this is one of them. Horror-geeks and death metal revivalists alike -  rejoice. 

Inexorable Spirits
The Devil's Gorge

Rating: 85%

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Behemoth - The Satanist [2014]

Behemoth is a name that every metalhead out there ought to be familiar with, even though (like me) the negligence of their overpraised backlog may to some seem like the right thing to do; and rightfully so: these Poles are celebrated for pretty much initiating the Polish black metal scene, and being allegedly the best - a statement whose latter part is quite difficult for me to accept. Their extremity then sort of redefined itself in the 21st century with the intrusive entrance of death metal into their influences, forming an amalgamation of their previous, run-off-the-mill Scandinavian sound and brutal death metal mostly in the tradition of their countrymen Decapitation. The band's last output, ''Evangelion'' was not the strongest piece in their discography. Now, after almost five years, hampered by Nergal's unfortunate cancer (and other problems I imagine they faced) the Poles are back, and with almost the entirety of the metal universe eyeing them in eager, almost rapacious expectation; and I don't know if it's the long years our plunge into a fresh decade, but the Poles have completely transformed, carrying the promise of a metamorphosis so immense that it managed to the elicit the attention of even this great scoffer...

To be honest, the change is not entirely an unanticipated one. It's only the consternation a reviewer suffers from so many overrated releases which turn out to be absolute crap that makes him so weary to give ''The Satanist'', the trio's masterful 10th full-length, a proper chance. Before actually mustering the endurance to bear the ill-surmised fragility of the album, I think I was subconsciously aware that the album was in some way superior to its predecessors. This, no doubt, owed to the artistic approach I saw in the cover art. On the other hand, the title seems almost ridiculous; the culmination of everything the black metal genre has ever striven for in one majestic, desultorily release? Oh yes indeed, because ''The Satanist'' is just un-fucking-believable. Perhaps ''Evangelion'' was a nice, steady step forward in the band's career, but this just abolishes everything the band has ever put out; an almost ultramundane current of dizzying carnality and atmospheric impressionism impregnating the untold listener like a slew of celestial demons rupturing forth from the universe's ungodly core - to compare the distance the band made with this to that of its predecessor would be like comparing the idle jump of your neighbor's cat from a tree to the astral leap of a starlit meteor through the expanses of our meager solar system into the eternal vistas of a new galaxy, a new time...

The change goes far beyond certain musical alterations: the conceptual and visual divinity that the trio is trying to portray is just phenomenal. Sure, no outward image of a band can be taken with absolute seriousness as far as black metal goes (even if they're burning churches) but they've taken the idea of satanism to a whole new level with ''The Satanist'', which is just one good reason among a myriad others why it shouldn't be overlooked. Though Behemoth is an established group by now, with a certain distinct sound flowing steadily in their veins, the material required to attain such a metaphysical level of musical progress is no small amount, and one can easily nod at some obvious influences. In general, the Poles seem to have played in the liking of Antediluvian, Mitochondrion, Teitanblood and Morbid Angel even, but there's so much infatuation with orchestral, epic reverberations that I am unabashedly going to add Septic Flesh's recent output into the list as well. Perhaps ''The Satanist'' is slow to permeate its influences, having the attitude of mercurial tempo-changing throughout its course; constantly shifting between savage, unbridled currents of black/death tremolos, more pacy verse riffs and a slower, trudging blanketing of funereal, subterranean might. The dense focus of the guitars immediately create an aura of chaos and uncertainty, but their layered rows of percussive filtering are delivered with surprising clarity. The drums form a punchy, balanced and at times terrific dialect between the walls of sound, the bass is fluent, and the trio is certainly not refraining from throwing in a few synthesizers or even saxes in there (''The Absence ov Light''). Nergal's roar is of course undaunted and huge, unwavering in its divine guttural attacks.

The use of dispersing chords is a well-used aspect of the album that permeates through the beginning or endings, or simply the more droning moments of the album. Tremolos are more than abundant; they spread through the album's veins like lethal poison. What makes ''The Satanist'' special is perhaps the appreciation of epic, almost mournful guitar passages that intertwine with choruses for maximum impact, which, surely enough, works splendidly, especially if we take something like the stellar ''Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer'' into account. And perhaps beyond having memorable guitar riffs, ''The Satanist'' gets its quality from having so many memorable moments in general. Instrumentation might constitute for an important part of memorability, but one has to consider all aspects at hand, and illuminate them with utmost musical acumen in order to achieve true quality. Though this concept is not embraced in full-ease with ''The Satanist'', for a record that relies on the heaviness of its riffs and the ritualistic convolution they create, it has an excellent armada of such moments, ranging from the chorus of ''Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer'', the haunting progressions of the title track and the indisputable awesomeness of ''O Father O Sun O Satan!'', easily the best song I've heard in 2014 thus far.There's even an inclusion of oriental melodies on ''Ben Sahar'', but the overall use of such sounds otherwise is scarce. Behemoth's strain ultimately births a manifest of majestic darkness, with glimpses of wonderful sunlight here and there. And to think, can they get any better? Well. the poetic tone of their lyrics is such that would have made Dante proud:

Voice ov an aeon
Angelus Satani
Ora pro nobis Lucifer
You alone have suffered
The fall and torment ov shame
I'll smite heaven's golden pride
And never pity thee
Immaculate divine
Satan ov Elohim
None dare stand in your way
Thou bow to none
Ov Eden's feculence
Conjure the serpent messenger
Saviour (order in) world's decay
Concord in temptation
And in the fall ov Eve

For Thine is the kingdom
And the power...
And the glory...

Behemoth has probably achieved their greatest feat. I doubt that they'll top ''The Satanist'', but as this seems like a new epoch for their career, there is always the possibility that an even better culmination point will be created. The reason I complain about it is because there is, even though the overall presentation was superb, a very slight exasperation, one what makes the album shy of attaining perfection. I don't really have a definition for the immaculate atmospheric death metal album (Septic Flesh came really close with their last two offerings) but I do know that despite everything Behemoth is a tad behind it. I would have preferred a little more vitality in  some of the slower moments. This is always going to be the case with excellent albums: all but a few songs will be perfect demonstrations, and those songs will drown the others out. Fortunately, the caveat can be easily ignored, considering the alteration the trio went with ''The Satanist'' - all I can say is that any fan of death metal ought to give this a try. And if they don't like it, then you could just stop giving a fuck about other people and just cuddle like a newborn baby and listen to this until your ears plead for Satan to redeem them. Because I do not possess the dexterity to get my hands off this fucking monster.

Ben Sahar
The Satanist
Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
O Father O Satan O Sun!

Rating: 90%

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hail Spirit Noir - Oi Magoi [2014]

Nocturnal glazes. Witches chanting out by barren vistas of frozen mountains. Hordes of demons. Spitting on the crucifix. Clandestine altars and masochistic rituals in underground compartments. These are, broadly speaking, the majority of the images conjured by the majority of the today's black metal bands. To some, the ceaseless blasphemy, the witch-haunts and the Satan-worshiping is not a problem. In fact, many avid listeners still enjoy them. Looking at this with a different perspective, though, one might easily notice that the cliches are getting more and more redundant, an ever-meandering series of garden variety bands popping up as if in columns, sneering with the corpse-paint firmly attached to their face. I mean, come on. How long has it been since Possessed released their debut? Forget Possessed; it's been twenty years since the first genre-defining masterpieces were released by means of the Scandinavian grandfathers. There are still a handful of bands that can embrace the atmospheric platitude with a certain degree of quality at their hands, throwing in a fairly original bunch of pastiches, but beyond sundry goods, the number of bands who are really, I mean really stepping up the game for black metal are limited. That said, Greece supported some pretty cool bands in the past. Outside of having cathartic groups like Septic Flesh that coagulated in the 90's and continue to expand on their sound today, Greece housed Necromantia, Rotting Christ, and a few others that really helped define the traditional Greek black metal sound.

So, what makes Hail Spirit Noir unique is that they're not only defiant against the promulgation of their countrymen but also against pretty much any other band that existed and continues to exist in the scene. Perhaps what makes me like these guys the most is their handling of black metal as if it were an entirely different genre, with little regard whatsoever about the advancements of their contemporaries and their ancestors. Hail Spirit Noir sparked up attentions with the unwarranted advent of their debut ''Pneuma'', which caused something of a minor explosion in the underground, but they were pretty much idle for the remainder of 2012 and 2013, as if waiting to pounce of a host of unsuspecting listeners with the meticulous conducts of their obviously higher-caliber sophomore ''Oi Magoi'', which is easily one of the best records of 2014, even if the year has only spanned little over a month by now. The debut featured much potential, but I still thought it was impeded by a certain adherence to traditional sounds which ultimately begat an album that was good, but it still had its dull moments. ''Oi Magoi'' waists no time getting to the fucking point which ''Pneuma'' was somewhat shy to jump onto. It's almost as though after two years' salvage of influences, and an even more laborious plotting of compositions and waiting, the Greeks just capitulated to the vastness of their inventiveness, letting loose and giving not a single fuck about it.

What makes ''Oi Magoi'' so original? Nearly all its aspects, I daresay. To be honest I was somewhat filled with trepidation before entering the record, and much of that curious resentfulness pervaded my first spin. Though I unquestionably enjoyed and accepted the sheer imagination and musical proficiency of the Greeks, I found the songs a tad too lengthy for my taste. Then, came the second, third and fourth listens, and all my wild wonder and astonishment that preceded them. In truth, the base formula that they're using is not too complicated for any modern connoisseur of black metal; a great, even somehow lively ship, mooring the expanses and palettes of 70's psychedelia, prog rock and, of course, black metal; but the funny fact is that the most apparent aspect of black metal on this record is Theoharis' manic, septic vocal deliveries, which are more sneering and crisp than a regular, Ihsahn-esque timbre, and not the grainy, lightweight guitar tone. That aside, ''Oi Magoi'' merely plays according to all these genres and sub-genres. The spectrum of instruments and implementations is at such a startlingly wide range that the Greeks are enviably bordering a new sub-genre; the closest thing to ''Oi Magoi'' out of the entirety of metal's catalog are the Fins Oranssi Pazuzu and their beautifully indulgent mix of psychedelia and oozing black metal. ''Oi Magoi'' is still different because there's less of a sense of languor and a more folksy, acute sound that succeeds mostly because of the brazen incorporation of copious sounds that should be alien to most listeners.

We're talking organs straight out of the 70's and 60's, wheezing medleys of psychedelic rock, flutes, and who knows what other oddities, stretched against a tableau of vile but energetic, tempered black/thrash chord progressions. Sure, there are a few moments in the rich 49 minutes of run-time that hold appeal as straightforward, relatively atmospheric chord formations, like the excellent chorus of ''Hunters'', but these moments are scarce; this is a band who's much less in the favor of plus-10 minutes of droning, cascading chords encapsulations, like much of today's atmospheric black metal market (think Agalloch, Austere, Midnight Odyssey, etc.), and more keen to push the listener right into a cliff of their incredible, imaginative vistas. ''The Mermaid'' is the perfect example to this, laden with everything from piano-infused guitar chugs to synthesizers and traditional sounds unknown to me. It is perhaps a tad too long, but so full of riches and poignant moments that one is instantly swayed to an almost unfaltering heaven of hazy, riff-loaded psychedelia, strident bass lines flowing like butter through the unreal orchestral escapades. ''Demon For A Day'' is even better, being the one of the ''hit-songs'' of the record along with ''Blood Guru'' and ''Hunters'', but even more phenomenal is ''Satan Is Time'', which comes with a somewhat unorthodox song structure, but luring all my attention with its magical gamut of funereal tension and a slew of excellent guitar work, not to mention some of the most enduring lyrics I've heard in a good while:

We float in space and follow the pace
of a clock designed by His Will
Satan shall reap what God has sown
Blackness comes, colors go

You run, you hide but Satan can find the cowards
that live by His side
The needle rotates, a lie it creates,
but then it stands still and kills
If heaven is here, it will stay here
Hell is a place full of clocks

Satan is time
Ο διάβολος είναι ο χρόνος
Ο χρόνος είναι ο διάβολος

Hail Spirit Noir strikes win, win and win on ''Oi Magoi''. I could go on and laud this record for paragraphs upon paragraphs, but I'll try to keep it short. This is a record which is consistent as well as unexpected, unprecedented - a rare mixture to have in our modern day. A profound admiration and understanding of their own folk-induced sound, and a prevailing sense of originality makes this album a real gem, and one that simply can't be disparaged within a decade, let alone a few years from now. True, like nearly all albums, it has its flaws, some minute weaknesses such as the slightly overextended duration and the the lack of memorability in some of the more basic progressions - where there were so many great and catchy sequences - but that doesn't mean ''Oi Magoi'' isn't terrific, far from it. But there are so few bands in the current scene capable of living up to such a level of imagination and masterful musical blending as these guys that I may as well say it shines just about all the way through. It's just a few slivers away from perfection, something that the band will wrap up effortlessly in their following masterwork, I hope, whatever that may be.

Oi Magoi
Satan Is Time
Demon For A Day

Rating: 93%

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sombres Forets - Royaume de Glace [2008]

In this seemingly overwhelming rush for bedroom black metal sounds, one would require a certain degree of patience and perseverance both to locate and thoroughly enjoy an act such as Quebec's Sombres Forets - better known as the one man army Annatar. An almost inexplicable upsurge in the promulgation of such drugged, depressive, yet at the same time oddly serene sounds, it grieves me somewhat to identify the Quebecois as a rather genre-standard act, but one that still achieved considerable success through a unison with the local Sepulchral Records, combined with an unrelenting spiritual fervor. Granted, Sombres Forets represents a new wave of black metal that is less inclined to burn churches down and jab wooden crosses up people's arses; something more monumental and desolate, the influence of rural, rustic, and sometimes (as is the case on this album) hibernal landscapes being felt profoundly, and simultaneously drowsier. With all the thematic and atmospheric compartments at the ready, all Annatar needs to do is to fill in the blank spots, those glacial pavements in the midst of despondent pines and firs...

And Annatar can provide these - of that there is little doubt. The Quebecois is more than proficient in impregnating the listener with cascading waves of emotion and melancholy, and can keep a fluent pace and relative consistency at a startlingly successful degree. ''Royaume de Glace'' is raw, but serene at the same time, which means there's little space presented outside of the almost vituperative tides of catharsis. This can create a problem for the more eclectic black metal listener. Sombres Forets is somewhat closely associated with traditional Scandinavian sounds, and the sound is much more distant than those of the savager, feral acts that occupy roughly half of the current black metal market. Like its successor, the album is fond of brusque acoustic entries cutting into the riffs like bridges, but I felt that the acoustic love was not fully developed on ''Royaume...'', so I found the follow-up, ''La Mort Du Soleil'' to occupy a much more sizable portion of its bulk with long soliloquy-like acoustic interludes, which, admittedly felt a little too self-indulgent and meandering after some point. One of this album's strengths is that the its store for strident currents of raw guitar riffing is more capacious; and Annatar wastes no time in adorning the walls of post rock chords and distortion with hoovering synthesizers, among other, less frequently implemented sounds.

The songs are swelling in their individual proportion, and the fact that the range of riffs Annatar composes its fairly limited proves to be a hindrance as the listener is dragged further into the album's sorrowful compendium. It's not that I don't like them - the riffs simply don't have much value when separated. No uncommon problem in the black metal medium, so I wasn't overly disappointed by the lack of spikes, even though there were certainly a handful of glossy moments of atmospheric excellence that I've surely suffused with the best of praises. So much of Annatar's tendency to persistently keep true to a certain, unwavering path makes this a ''suicidal'' black metal album. It's almost like a more accessible rendering of the first Leviathan or Xasthur records; much more permeable, less venturous to head towards the dark and grim corners, and more fervent to explore the ethereal, emotionally appealing corners of the genre. As said before, for those who can't bear such a staggering flood of woe and regret, ''Royaume...'' is simply boring, stagnant and pointless. It's poignancy is borne of its unyielding melancholy, which makes hard to get into, though accessible to some extent.

The drums are surprisingly crisp here, which should definitely be pinpointed as a major strength. Consider the drumming values of all those raw black metal bands, all the ''bedroom'' acts. Hell, forget the new; even Emperor and Immortal had egregious drum values, even if it was during the 90's. Annatar's drums kick ass. They're pungent, textured, with cymbals crashing into the plaintive stream of chords like ebbing waves licking the edges of a scalloped cliff. Annatar is, of course, very accomplished as a vocalist as well; and scarcely flounders in tonal consistency. Much like his countrymen and other French bands dominant in the current scene, Annatar leaves a mournful and well-nigh artistic impression in listeners. I love the fact that there are more than a handful of musicians in the much-beleaguered genre of black metal that take their work as an art, an exceedingly grim one, but nonetheless still an art. Annatar is unquestionably one of the leaders of the pack, along with Blut Aus Nord, Gris, Forteresse, Monarque and a few others, embracing the concept of mourn through atmospheric applications to the utmost extent. Maybe to some this may represent discomfort, but that just shows how successful the Quebecois is. ''Royaume de Glace'' might not technically shine out, but its multi-layered texture of emotion makes it one monolith of a release. I would definitely have preferred some more variation, which would damnably be present in the next album, and the kind of creativity that I found so delectably in ''La Nuit'' to pervade the entire album, and, again, some of that would be on the successor's palette, only to be marred by a different kind of problem...

La Nuit
Royaume de Glace
L'Oeil Nocturne

Rating: 82,5%