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%