Saturday, July 11, 2015

Vorage - Vorage [2015] (Demo)

I still find it surprising how claustrophobia isn't a commonplace occurrence among heavy metal throngs with the growing evocation of these monstrous, murky cavern-core acts in the underground. What started with Portal, Mitchondrion and Ulcerate is now a hit trend among youngsters who practice this irretrievably clamorous brand of death metal that fans seem to so fond of, even though the initial gloss of the sound has arguably worn off within last 3-4 years. In fact, propagators of these cavernous antics have become so formidably numerous that I'm starting to think if I spend just a little more time in their nullified vacuums, I'm going to end up starting to acknowledge the low-tuned vocal mantras of these bands as a veritable means of communicating with the Old Ones, who, without a shadow of a doubt, are just eagerly awaiting for one of their metallic emissaries to conduct the action necessary for us to enter into their threshold where there's no coming back....

And this is where Vorage comes in. One of the newest entrants into this field of disheartening evil and murky abrasion, the UK duo lets loose on the same brand of malefic music practiced by some of their larger forebears, bashing neanderthal death metal that resonates with the reticent insanity of some Lovecraftian elder thing sipping up the Earth's oceans and then regurgitating them back along with all the culinary excess of its interior. Bombastic, thick fucking guitars rule the mix almost entirely, and the riffs revolve around a more syncopated, semi-technical refurbishing Incantation, Rottrevore and late Gorguts, and these drilling tremolos that spiral like cranial whirlwinds. Granted, if you've been exposed to this style, you won't be immeasurably shocked by the discord of it all, and I should note that Vorage keep things fairly 'death metal', without going far into these more atmospheric, chord-driven exercises in dissonant chaos redolent of Portal or the New Zealanders Vassafor, sticking to the groove rather than outright chaotic madness, but in any case the material offered here is freakish enough to impress upon the mind of any cavern-core or black/death aficionado. Ballistic grooves are abundant, especially with the title track, adorned here and there with nervous snippets of technicality, and the overall impact leaves just as much life in the listener after one spin as after a 4-hour roller coaster ride.

I could compare this to the Malthusian EP, which I also heard this year, although Vorage certainly retain a more dynamic approach to their inherent claustrophobic overtures, dredging bountiful tremolos and eerie fringes of complexity rather than sticking to the death/doom motif. That said, the title track, also the longest in this 3-track demo, flirts with the sludge of bands like Malthusian around half way through. Just bear in mind that none of the material presented here can really hold a candle to the acknowledged masters of the genre, and that ''Vorage'', despite its initially dark appeal, is merely an addendum to the earlier, less intricate work of these bands. Whilst bombastic, the Brits aren't really doing anything to challenge the book here: the brief ambient outro is frightening enough, and there one or two decent moments I'd cite from this demo, but nowhere is this as fibrous or unhinged as, say, their peers Abyssal, nor does it completely wallow the listener in as Portal or Antediluvian with the soup-bowl trope of ungodly hymnals. The vocals are there, these ultra low grunts and growls that are excellent set-pieces for the lexicon of the Necronomicon, but once more, there are dozens of vocal practitioners out there who can produce the same, tremulous inflection. Vorage somehow ends up in this oblique spot where it has the choice to either expand upon riffs or atmosphere; or, if they're aplomb enough, both. The demo itself showcases that they have the rudiments in both, but not only is the sound too primal, but there are already hundreds of similar cave-dwellers working on it. Even so, this is archaic paranoia of the murkiest, fuzziest kind, just another solid gateway into cosmic fright and abyss.


Rating: 70%

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Vardan - Between the Fog and Shadows [2015]

It would have been a high supposition at any rate to expect Italian one man suicidal black metal hermit Vardan to cast aside the cumbersome simplicity and rawness of his album ''Winter Woods'' and the dozen records which precede it and break mold with his 6th album for the year, ''Between the Fog and Shadows'', since the man has not only failed to mature in his taste for cover art but also to artistically develop and improve upon the quality of the music on way of another, let alone cast a wider net of influences to garner sounds from. Vardan's creative repertoire is quite frankly depleted at this point, but somehow he can still come up with songs of 10+ length by downsizing what the works of Burzum or fellow countrymen Forgotten Tomb into a recalcitrant amalgamation begetting nothing but doom and desolation. My only theory at this point is that he's bulk buying from some low-income producer of depressive bedroom black metal - who, by the way, might currently be strumming the strings of his next bleak piece - and then presenting them in seemingly remote packages for the maximum amount of profit. If not that, the man is working his ass off every hour of the day, crafting these dreary, sleepwalking bevies of desolation and wintry silence, and it's a real shame that the amount of work he's culminated hardly accrues into quality writing, on a par with other prolific modern black metal musicians like Jute Gyte. Quality over quantity, right?

The pastiche is the same; the musical equivalent of being strapped on a crucifix and slowly gliding through an icy fjord by midnight, with owls creaking in their groves and the forest leaves rustling silently behind. This is the kind of immersive experience already channeled by the likes of Midnight Odyssey, but Vardan are far too down-to-earth and never take the aesthetic to its cosmic and astronomical, mesmerizing flights as some other bands do, with raw and perturbed production standards capturing most of that early 90's Burzum/Darkthrone tone. Simplistic riffs in the river of convergence here. There is not even a hugely chord-based, Scandinavian trope to be found, since I found ''Between the Fog and Shadows'' to be even more dolorous than its predecessor, and instead there are loads of stringy open chords and flimsy, distorted arpeggios all over the place: the result is not a mess of whirlwind of intensity, but a pale wave of desolation and distress like ripples in the water. There are moments where Vardan will splash some damp gloss on the sway of the guitars with these odd, slightly inaudible synthesizers that remind me of the ambient mastery of Forest Silence, a Hungarian black metal outlet extraordinaire, but as much as I enjoyed the momentary aural realizations of the synthesizers, they're much too buried in the mix and the frankly poor levels of production to have any sheen. To wit, the songs feel outrageously long at times, and rightfully so, since by cutting down to 3 tracks Vardan is presenting us with songs of 11, 15 and 18 minutes in length, respectively, each another frigid exercise in blatant chord strumming and almost apologetic depression ad nauseam, with few breathing holes existing within their immersive bodies for the listener to take a moment from the monotony.

This seems like some pretty hateful flak here, but in fact there are some fairly 'enjoyable' sequences to be found within the album. ''Solitary Death of a Forest Spirit'' is easily the best among the triplet, with dissonant and angry chord sequences ousting the slower, black/doom moments and a rather excellent, rainy array of ambient synths working their way through the middle of the song, and during one of those rare instances Vardan truly captures the monotonous, dreary bulwark of emotion it needs to synthesize to its entirety. The riffs, limited in their natural disposition of favoring recurring waves rather than slews of unhinged creativity, are nonetheless not too bad, but I don't feel too good for them either. Vardan's vocals, once more, while the possible game changer, become stunted and lethargic as the record passes on, and with all the records pacing in linear currents and motives, vocal duties hardly retain a symbiotic relationship with the other instruments, merely propagating these harsh, unruly, echoing ululations and howls that are quite cold and haunting in their own respect, but fall short of excellent in the long-run. Unfortunately, while all the instruments never dip below the level of 'average', the drums are quite fucking painful. I'm not know to be a complainer of drums as much as I chastise guitars and riff-craft, but even the silent reviewer has to despair the awful stampede of the open hi-hat and the unnecessary loudness of the drums in general. This is a bedroom black metal record, and the drums should traditionally be embedded deep in the mix, way behind the guitars and vocals, but here they're constantly to the fore, without even producing anything besides simple beats. As Fenriz says the drums are only supposed ''to... be there'' - and thus on this one point I will be unabashedly cancel my charitableness. Fuck you, drums.

Beside that little mishap, ''Between the Fog and Shadows'' is not a bad record, and that mournful sameness it breeds would help you with sleep if one day you're in the mood for slashing your wrists open and there aren't any knives to be found in your house. Anti-depressants that come with corpse paint. But heck, we've already been through this, and if you've somehow traced this review from whatever obscure source you found it in, you're probably pretty well-versed in black metal yourself, and know that groups like Burzum, Bethlehem, Forgotten Tomb, Sombres Forets or Austere have long emerged as apostles of this somber, wintry sub-genre, so your chances are probably stronger with them.

Solitary Death of a Forest Spirit

Rating: 55%

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Night Demon - Curse of the Damned [2015]

Since everything from rainbow filtering to tasteless 'malcore' music is being practiced these days with utmost diligence, it would be impossible for me to argue against the resurgence of NWOBHM throwbacks, which has, along with the emergent superstars of rehashing from other genres of metal have created a small scene of their own. I can hardly find anything wrong with this; since I'm equally gratified to see legends from the olden days like Satan and raven uproot the foundations of modern heavy/speed metal with stunning comeback records as I am seeing newer groups like Iron Dogs, Hessian and Trial rise to the pulpit and proclaim these awesome, refreshing records which manage to retain identity and diversity without staving off the fundamental core of the 80's. California's Night Demon are not exactly on the same list as some of their more potent peers, especially when it comes to originality, and in fact their self-titled EP was not much more than a fun blast of modernized Angel Witch and Judas Priest, calcified in its obsession, but their debut is such a great, if frivolous, pastry of early 80's speed/heavy aesthetics that I'm willing to forgive whatever faults were made in the past.

Granted, those faults weren't many with their self-titled EP, since that was jumpy, Americanized misadventure in NWOBHM which could hardly be accused of anything except perhaps perusing its source material too deeply, and to be sure, their debut doesn't seem like a far cry from that familiar path, with cheesy 80's-inspired horror flick and youthful attitude, This is basically a parade for fans of anything from Exciter and Anvil to Maiden and Raven, from Razor and Running Wild to Abattoir and Angel Witch, or even newish acts like White Wizard and Enforcer. The 'heavy metal' palette offered here is pretty sparse, so the sound has a wide spectrum of appeal, simplistic barrages of speed metal and bluesy chords smitten with an occasionally heavier pantry of thrash-y discord and mid-paced chug fares a la Exodus and Agent Steel, and bear in mind that Night Demon are never melodic or intricate enough to earn themselves a seal of approval from the department of technical guitar work: so the riffs don't mirror the gyrating, harmonious minimalism of Iron Dogs, since the production is a fairly granular from any point, with tracks like the title track plodding on with some more mid-paced, rhythmic sways instead of a directly dynamic, effusive Iron Mainde-esque parade of whizzing melodies and lightweight chords. In fact, in the sense that ''Curse of the Damned'' feels more thrash-based than your regular NWOBHM outfit (think early Priest, Jaguar, early Satan, etc.) I might add that Night Demon aren't performing the strictly 'purest' brand of heavy metal. But who the hell cares, right? All the convoluted scholarly blather aside, the Californians kick ass on many levels here. ''Killer'', ''Screams in the Night'' and ''Heavy Metal Heat'' are all blazing metaltastic anthems (the last one being my favorite) loaded with unabashed, peppy riff-work that's never as coarse as, say, Piledriver, but never quite 'clean' either.

Sure, you may say that the tracks on this record feel too modern compared to their roots, especially with ample production values and Brent Woodward's vibrant vocals, but the again everyone's cashing in on the production game nowadays, since audibility is far too alluring to refuse, and while a tortured, punkish scream could as well have been supplanted on some of the songs, I can't say I'm in protest of the guy's voice. However, it's not that the back-to-basics riffing coupled with the loud production doesn't create a caveat. There are 1-2 humdingers across the record, but overall I did expect a stronger array of riffs from Californians that would have complemented the airiness of the record well; in fact as a restless dreamer and formulator of imaginary case-scenarios I envisioned that ''Curse of the Damned'' could have ousted a further dozen records in similarity had it displayed some more guitar acrobatics or impressive leads like on that spectacular album Satan bequeathed us with back in 2013, and sometimes the band will lag into this Sabbathian doom groove that doesn't always comply with its naturally gritty aesthetics. This is still old school, folks. To be frank, bands like Hessian or Order of the Solar Temple are practicing heavy metal with a closer adherence to the genre's early 80's and late 70's template than Night Demon, and while everything doesn't fall perfectly here, I did enjoy this album, especially some of its dirtier tracks just as much as Rob Halford enjoys a fast ride on his motorbike, so if you're ever in the craving for nostalgia, but with a modern face, look no further.

Heavy Metal Heat
Screams in the Night
Livin' Danger

Rating: 75%