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%

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Solstice - Death's Crown Is Victory [2013]

Needless to say I'm not the biggest doom fan out there. As a genre with the potential to exfoliate any sort of eloquence or panache with the simplest of banalities, I often found doom too ''slow'' to be such a wildly invigorating trip as any other genre, and that's, I think, one of the more commonplace scoldings it gets from listeners. Again, while that doesn't mean I neglect everything doom, I find myself at a loss of interest in most cases. That is the continual Grand Magus albums, the slower bits and pieces of Agalloch, almost any kind of sludge/stoner doom throwback, and even some of the classics. Of course the genre has witnessed quite a few climaxes lately, (or so it's been said) following an unimaginable upsurge in its popularity, most of which I haven't been able to visit. When we come to Solstice, I realize that my previous criticisms should equal an acidic assault on the band's redundancy, but strangely enough, that is not the case. These UK veterans are tough, seasoned, well-established, and even though I have no history with them, I was rather taken by their newest EP, ''Death's Crown Is Victory''.

What does Solstice hold for a seeker of eccentricities such as I? For one, it's consistent. In basic terms, the EP is just two booming 9 minute songs, with two lesser instrumentals clustered around them. What's essentially a concoction of Sabbath, Witchfinder General, Pentagram and newer Swedish trends is played with great, tight musicianship, and doesn't falter for one second. Solstice is defined as epic doom metal, which, though more fitting for other practitioners of the style, seems like a worthy tag. The half-dolorous, half-vainglorious vocals stretch and burden the album with clarity and the overall atmosphere is generally warm except for rare saunters into darker territory. And that's not just it. Who could not drool over the simplistic chug-complex of the huge, sun-wreathed guitar chords and progressions that etch across the album? Sometimes the Brits puncture a few technicalities into the mix, with melodies and even occasional arpeggio sequences, like on the title track, but the guitars generally retain a set of riffs more fitting for the baritone of the vocals; and the drums are always there, cymbal and snare, battering against the currents of mourn and triumph. While Solstice doesn't dabble with any of the 60's/70's psychedelic rock phenomena that new bands keep interpreting into their sound these days, they keep the more eclectic strata of listeners awake with melodious twists and turns here and there, so you know the album isn't all doom n' gloom.

And doesn't ''Death's Crown Is Victory'' feel redundant at times? You bet. There are more than just a few sequences where the riffs were rather dulling, where the vocals weren't saturated with enough epic tenor to shake me and cause goosebumps to pop up on my arm, and the overall sound is nothing if not original - but so what? It could have used a few tweaks in the production as well, because the guitars were to brassy at times that they were choking the vocals, but, again, there's no huge loss here. It just feels like a cogent, ass-kicking album. The big story was that they weren't travelling at a snail's face, like their funeral doom peers, and they certainly weren't fucking around with pointless poignant interludes here and there; I simply thought the pacing was damn close to optimum in terms of doom. And while the block-like patterns didn't stir anything close to maternal grief or irreparable woe, it is a moving experience. A nice potent formula to brew every now and then when you're taking a long walk across the English pastoral.

I Am The Hunter
Death's Crown is Victory

Rating: 78%

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cultfinder - Hell's Teeth [2014] (EP)

Oh boy.

I think, the most inescapable truth about retrogression is that no matter how much we move forward, through the epochs and the endless cycles of both musical phenomena and bashful, ignorant tinkering, there will always be a certain circle that will not give even the slightest of fucks to break free of the dull chamber and begin the process of contemporary acclimatization. This is not just in music, folks; art in general will always have its antiquarian minorities, these little groups of revolting, sulky old-schoolers who will absolutely refuse to start pacing in the modern way. It's no big surprise. And to think, there are many bands who excel in the school of the olde, despite current standards. Unfortunately, there's an even bigger stockpile of bands who fail to do so. Cultfinder being one of many. While dubbing them as ''old school'' might not be the smartest of criticisms, and certainly no way to exercise chastisement, one can't help but feel that their sound is worn down by age. For a band riffing the practices of Venom, Destroyer 666 and early 80's punk mania, it must surely be hard to create any sort of particularly appealing texture, but that great strain to prolong bygone efforts does not enhance the quality of their music...

For those of you who still haven't gotten anything beyond the puerile art comparison, I'll make this plain: Cultfinder is a black/thrash trio, hailing from the UK, and their newest EP ''Hell's Teeth'', a teetering, vitriolic assault of demented aggression, is no shocker of an experience. Even their previous EP ''Black Thrashing Terror'' was a fresher ballast compared to its meager successor, and I find it almost sad that the trio couldn't produce anything worthy of note in 2 years' time. While mortally menacing, Cultfinder can scantly portray any form of ''terror'' here. The sense of fulfillment is utterly constrained to the percussive but terribly recorded drums, a handful of punk-induced thrash riffs, and the atypically hoarse rasps of the vocalists. The patterns are simple, as you might imagine, but I was grateful that they were executed with celerity and effectiveness. Perhaps, only perhaps, the only tad of surprise I had was how the band at times tried to manage black metal as a purer form rather than constantly mixing it up with the junkier aesthetics of thrash and punk. That however, proves to be waste of time and recording space when the band's attitude is so incompatible with the spiritual requirements of ''pure'' black metal. That's not to say black metal doesn't run on raw fuel, but it simply can't operate with such a parochial approach, even in its most primal form.

After all, there might have been less than a handful of riffs that held my attention ephemerally, and in the end I'm not going to hate this because it sticks to what it is and has no delusions about it, (well, for the most part) but even if it possessed twice - no, thrice - the fervor it has, let's be honest - how many black/thrash bands out there have hit it big? Forget commercial success, I'm talking about actual quality, durability and beauty. There are so few records that are really impeccable in this realm (''Unchain the Wolves'' instantly comes to mind) that Cultfinder had little chance from the start. I know it's rather demeaning, but that's the cold hard truth. This EP is just a raw stack of tremolos, chords, primal energy and wretchedness, no more, no less. As always, purists will be immensely fond of it, at least enough to give it 2 or 3 spins, and the mainstream metal community will immediately neglect it, I imagine. If you're acquainted with black/thrash or the aforementioned bands in any way, than you already know to expect. Don't forget crucify someone whilst listening.

All Conquering Death
Morbid Breed

Rating: 58%