Thursday, March 23, 2017 06:16

Archive for March, 2011

NECROS CHRISTOS – DOOM OF THE OCCULT (Sepulchral Voice Records)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Consistency is a world gone mad: there were 23 tracks on Necros Christos’ excellent debut full-length ‘Triune Impurity Rites’ and there are 23 songs on the stellar, mammoth, sprawling follow-up ‘Doom Of The Occult’. Abacus aside, there’s a world of difference between the 2007 NC album and the current one. The Berliners have become even bolder, braver, more brash … and the results are utterly stunning.

If this isn’t destined to be the best Death Metal album of 2011, then there must be something of orgasmic proportions on the way. Because, believe me, ‘Doom Of The Occult’ is a seismic slab of esoteric Death Metal. Esoteric … strange word that … it’s bandied around a lot in reference to BM acts … but – Gorguts and Nile aside – how often do we hear DM bands referred to as esoteric? Not very often. But it’s a term that describes Necros Christos to a tee. Their music is essentially DM, not a million miles away from Morbid Angel is general feel, but they have tossed so much experimentation and so many twists and nuances into the mix that it’s closer to BM in spirit. DM performed using an adventurous BM template, you could say.

Along the course of the 73 minutes that constitute ‘DOTO’, we are treated to a myriad of captivating interludes, a sumptuous succession of oriental acoustic instrumentation, a dose of majestic mysticism – all of which serves as an ideal counterpoint to the barrage of ferocity that comprises the main body of the work. The real clincher is the manner in which the two faces of NC blend together seamlessly. They can switch from all-out classic Death Metal menace to delicate, hypnotic strumming / tinkering without batting an eyelid and the whole entirety sticks tightly like a hand wrapped around the throat of a tyrant.

This is one of those albums that all fans of Black Metal and / or Death Metal need to own. It’s breathtakingly good and sets a new standard in terms of what DM can be. ‘Doom Of The Occult’ goes to the next level but avoids the pitfalls filled with cheese and manages to stay relevant, sincere and crushingly heavy. Refreshing, honest, and packed with more curveballs than a Coen Brothers movie, this is an instant classic.

Evilometer: 666/666

GRIMLAIR – SELF-INFLICTED STATE (Rigorism Productions)

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Self-Inflicted State’ is everything an underground Black Metal CD should be. It’s creepy, eerie, adventurous and still raw, seething and sincerely dark. A bleak soundtrack for these dark and depressing days. All wrapped in a perfectly-executed thin, tinny production that barely allows the music to creep through, revealing the goings-on parsimoniously, thereby maintaining that under-produced, we-record-in-a-garage-and-don’t-give-a-fuck feeling.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to some of Cadavre’s previous releases over the years – namely ‘L’appel De La Nuit Funeste’ on cassette and 2009 album ‘Au Commencement De L’ombre’. Both solid, commendable efforts, but neither of them made quite the same impression on me as his fifth full-length under the darkened Grimlair banner. This CD is a throwback to the days when I first started to ‘get’ Black Metal. It’s by the underground; for the underground; and of the underground. And it’s very, very special.

Sometimes an album just contains that certain something, that rare, indefinable ingredient that elevates it above the rest. (I’m reluctant to use the term X Factor for obvious reasons.) ‘Self-Inflicted State’ is just such a release. For 50 minutes, we are brought on a harrowing journey through dark terrain; it’s difficult not to empathise with the artist’s feelings of utter dejection, indifference, contempt, acceptance. You can feel his pain. There are uplifting passages amongst the strife, too, but these are not glorious. It’s more like he has discovered what we all should know: that the true answers lie in death rather than self-delusions of a happy life. And this is a release from the shackling ties of humanity.

The triptych ‘Lethargy I’, ‘Lethargy II’ and ‘Lethargy III’ form the centrepiece and main bulk of the work, clocking in at over half-an-hour between them. These songs carry a huge unbearable burden of despondency that is reminiscent in feel of bands like Gris, Hypothermia and Trist, but musically somewhat unique (‘Lethargy II’ is an especially excellent slice of ambient, melodic surrender, presented in a harsh manner).

Grimlair puts his own stamp on things, churning out a refreshing strain of repetitive, hypnotic, persistent, depressing BM that’s both familiar and new at the same time. The key to the resounding success of ‘Self-Inflicted State’ is that it all sounds authentically underground, so this release cuts through the sickening light like a bloodied dagger of intent, reeking of integrity.

Evilometer: 555/666

NEGATIVE PLANE – STAINED GLASS REVELATIONS (The Ajna Offensive)

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

It’s amazing – five years after the event – how many commentators are claiming to have been blown away by Negative Plane’s 2006 debut, ‘Et In Saecula Saeculorum’. I don’t remember there being much of a fanfare around it at the time and I’d love to see the sales figures. It was an undoubtedly spectacular release – one of the finest Black Metal debuts of all time – but was it really that popular? I doubt it. Seems to me there are a lot of people jumping on the NP bandwagon.

The Americans are being championed as the saviours of BM and rarely have I witnessed such a torrential outburst of gushing praise as that which has greeted the arrival of their second full-length, ‘Stained Glass Revelations’. If the superlatives and hyperbole are to be believed, this is a more-than-mandatory release; one that reshapes and redefines what Black Metal is and what Black Metal can be. Considering that I loved ‘EISS’ and unable to avoid the hysteria that accompanied this latest release, it was difficult not to be predisposed towards giving a glowing appraisal.

Put it this way: I really, really wanted ‘Stained Glass Revelations’ to deliver everything being promised. On the first few spins, I thought it was a pretty good / great CD but then, the more I listened, doubts started to emerge. Is it really that good? We are served a generous helping (over an hour’s worth) of modern, technical Black Metal. If you can imagine a BM version of Pestilence or Atheist, you won’t be too far away from what we have here. Blackened technical DM, maybe. It’s good but, let’s be honest, it’s not great.

For me, this is a classic case of the world wanting a saviour too much. You know when the villagers see a sign in the barley that the Messiah is on his way and they gather on the footbridge to welcome him and then an ordinary bloke comes walking around the corner? And he’s heralded as a hero? But he was just in the right place at the right time…

The production on this is absolutely perfect and, for the most part, the music is good. But it’s not as brilliant as I expected and I can’t get too excited by an album that at times sounds like a cross between Sadus, Muse and The Beach Boys. Is it even Black Metal? I’m not so sure. In fact, I don’t think it is. Sorry, but ‘SGR’ doesn’t live up to the hype.

While I laud the leftfield leanings and applaud the fact that Negative Plane are bold enough to bring something fresh to a stale table, ‘Stained Glass Revelations’ isn’t as invigorating as it is ground-breaking. In fact, it’s a regression from its predecessor, straying so far from the template at times that it becomes very, very questionable. Certainly not an album for people who only like Black Metal. Pity.

Evilometer: 333/666

CIRCLE OF OUROBORUS / DROWNING THE LIGHT – MOONFLARES LP (Obscure Abhorrence Productions)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Don’t know what’s got into the water in New South Wales but Drowning The Light seem to have gone into some kind of crazy creative overdrive. This split album is their third release already in 2011 and their EIGHTEENTH since 2008. They released four full-lengths during the course of 2009 alone but, in fairness, have only unleashed one album since then, focusing more on splits and EPs. Still, I’d wager we’re due a new LP fairly shortly!

While it’s always a positive thing when such a worthy ‘band’ (Azgorh is the only permanent member) is so productive, the inevitable downside is that fans can become frustrated as they struggle to keep pace. Especially collectors like myself. I am royally pissed that I missed ‘The Serpents Reign’ and ‘The Masters Empire’ on vinyl and I’m still waiting patiently for the magnificent ‘An Alignment Of Dead Stars’ to emerge on black wax format. Collecting those frequent 10” EPs is a costly exercise, too … but, fuck it, I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s all about the music at the end of the day and DTL have no weakness in that regard.

To my ear, the four tracks on here are comparable to the material on ‘A Pact With Madness’. It’s typical Drowning The Light really – emotional, depressing, uplifting, spiritual, sombre, sorrowful Black Metal. Joined on these tunes by Blackheart and Wraith, Azgorh pays homage to the majesty of the moon, the woodlands, his mortality. He embraces death. He spills his heart out onto the record. There’s a deep romance evident in his work but it’s by no means cringe-worthy.

The highlight of four excellent songs on Side Two is the heartbreaking ‘Silver So Cold On My Eyelids’ – a BM epitaph that showcases DTL at their most powerful. If you’re not familiar with Drowning The Light and you fancy some mid-paced, sorrowful Black Metal that sounds like it was recorded in the darkest forest with rivers rushing by, reflecting the pale glare of a naked moon, then you should check them out. They’re a consistently impressive act.

Three offerings from Circle Of Ouroborus comprise Side One of this record and – honestly – I have no idea what to make of them. Suffice to say, it’s as far removed from standard Black Metal as you’re ever going to get on an Obscure Abhorrence release. For me, the jury’s out on these experimental Finns. The music ticks a lot of boxes; it’s unusual, daring, thought-provoking and oh-so-different. I would dismiss them instantly but for the fact that one of the two members (the guy who performs all the music) is also in Prevalent Resistance and Vordr. This has me thinking the restraint, panache and general strangeness on show here is very, very deliberate. Perhaps I’m just not getting it…

Ultimately, I don’t particularly like the Circle Of Ouroborus contributions but I am reluctant to write them off. ‘Walk Through Me’ is more goth than BM and ‘The Frozen Flare’ reminds me more of The Damned than Darkthrone, while ‘Trial Of Collision’ – the pick of the three – had me thinking of Into The Woods and Solefald and even Joy Division. Despite my muted reservations, it serves as an interesting counterpoint / companion piece to Drowning The Light on the flipside and – all it all – ‘Moonflares’ is a record that’s worth having in your collection. An inlay with band photos and an insert containing all the lyrics complete a nice package.

Evilometer: 444/666

SAPTHURAN – TO THE EDGE OF LAND (God Is Myth Records)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Five years have passed since I originally wrote this review. Enjoy the resurrection:

Boasting five manifestations of raw USBM nestling amid six haunting instrumental arrangements, ‘To The Edge Of Land’ is a unique and worthy addition to the proliferation of quality Black Metal emerging from the germane scene west of the Atlantic. Everything about Sapthuran and this CD is rooted in splendid simplicity. Adopting a mostly straightforward approach, ‘To The Edge Of Land’ is a classic, shining example of just what can be accomplished by focusing on the basics.

Sapthuran is the one-man vision of a diabolical one who operates under the unpretentious handle of Patrick Hall. The visionary wears his love of bands like Burzum and compatriots Judas Iscariot on his blackened sleeve but serves up his own interpretation of what raw, primitive BM should sound like. If debut release ‘In Hatred’ announced the arrival of an irresistible force of nature, the follow-up has brought Sapthuran to the next level.

What we have here is essentially lo-fi, stripped down malevolence counterbalanced by persistent acoustic interludes and passages, all cloaked in an unsettling atmosphere that would savage even the smoothest beast. While Sapthuran Album #2 is every bit as bleak and minimalistic as its precursor, rippling with raw and isolated hate, the choking melancholy is upped by the presence of classical guitars. At times, this sounds almost like acoustic Black Metal (or Black Metal with folk genes) such is Hall’s predilection for the aforementioned instrument. However, do not be fooled – ‘To the Edge of Land’ = bleak, depressing and spiteful malice as best delivered by the Americans these days.

Described on the back cover as ‘eleven examples of pure Black Metal art’, the songs carry no titles but are simply listed as I-XI (in keeping with uncompromising BM evasiveness). The first two shots are charming instrumentals, which lure the listener into a false sense of security. The creepy atmosphere is menacing, but strangely comforting rather than overtly hostile. Wind and rain, creaks, acoustic guitar – it’s eerie but we still sense that, as in a fairytale, everything will work out in the end…

…Wrong as fuck. The swirling, droning third track is as unambiguous as a blade in the lower spine, its mid-paced crawl of undiluted pure evil announcing in no uncertain terms that the world is shitty and, no, everything isn’t going to be alright.

IV’ begins with a 60-second acoustic strumathon but quickly transmogrifies into another turbulent, hypnotic ode to land and sea – an invocation to the brutality of nature it all its ugliness – before finishing up with more acoustic picking. The songs are predominantly mid-paced and repetitive but the result is a joy to behold. Rather than softening the blow, the relentless acoustic interventions somehow manage to heighten the sheer menace.

Of course, the production is thinner than a butterfly’s eyelids, which leaves the end product totally soul-crushing and ghoulish. The harsh parts on ‘To the Edge of Land’ are of the Nordic-influenced variety, while the add-on of acoustic guitars captures a rustic it-dwells-in-the-deepest-woods ambience that many heralded Scandinavian exports have failed to tap into.

V’ is yet another instrumental, replete with wind and water background noises. But the din on ‘VI’ is the total opposite – raw Black Metal with pained shrieks that pierce the psyche and evoke a feeling of emptiness. There is a noticeable symmetry at play in the running order as ‘VII’ is another instrumental paving the way for the album’s emotional zenith, which appears aggressively on tracks ‘VIII’ and ‘IX’ before proceedings close, as they had opened, with two verdant, fertile portions of idyllic instrumentalism, leaving one completely mesmerised, bewildered and beguiled.

Evilometer: 666/666

KHORS – RETURN TO ABANDONED (Paragon Records)

Monday, March 21st, 2011

What we have here is melodic pagan Black Metal with some astral leanings. Prog metal, maybe. I’m sure it’s not without its merits but Khors lost me somewhere along the way. In the end, I was left feeling utterly underwhelmed by the whole experience. Ultimately, I like Black Metal; not something vaguely resembling Black Metal or containing some of the component parts of Black Metal mixed with a (shit) second genre (space rock or folk). I don’t care for that sort of nonsense and I don’t see why you should either if you’re reading this post.

After a brief, benign intro, I was feeling optimistic enough when ‘Lost Threads’ started to blast through my speakers. My initial impression was of harsh, searing pagan BM, more black than pagan. My hopes were raised by the prospect of a grim ride. Alas, strong melodies supplemented by sparing use of ‘70s keyboards and wind instruments (or the sound of them), buffeted by soaring leads soon became the order of the day.

Granted, the album is blessed with an earthy feel and, granted, ‘The Seas Burn Of Omnipotence’ is a grandiose workout that displays no end of musical competence, technical prowess and / or song-writing skills – but that’s simply not what I’m looking for in my Black Metal. Khors do their own thing and their accomplished musicianship is difficult to fault but it seems to me that Black Metal is becoming more and more sanitised, more diluted, to the point where it’s not really Black Metal anymore. BLACK METAL – remember that? Fuck.

These Ukrainians are full of passion and they have crafted an album that will probably gain them a lot of followers. I can see this appealing to fans of traditional metal, power metal, psychedelic music or Pink Floyd – but it shouldn’t appeal to anyone who wants some real menace in their music. You can headbang along to ‘Return To Abandoned’, grinning innanely to your heart’s content … and that’s a good enough reason for me to dismiss it entirely. It’s all too clean, too smarmy, too sugary, lacking in any dissonance, angst or genuine aggression.

A harmless release from a poor man’s Drudkh; not in the same league as Darkestrah.

Evilometer: 111/666

THRALL – AWAY FROM THE HAUNTS OF MEN (Total Holocaust Records)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Away From The Haunts Of Men’ is a very good Black Metal album from a band with a crap name. I don’t know an awful lot about this Australian act but the fact that the debut album surfaced on Total Holocaust was recommendation enough for me. I parted with my hard-earned cash and I’m glad I did. I don’t normally like spending money so make of that what you will…

Even though ‘AFTHOM’ isn’t a genre-defining release by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a very enjoyable full-length nonetheless. I must admit it took me a while to get into this one-hour offering. The first four songs – decent and all as they are – don’t do much for me at all. It’s only really when the more varied ‘Torrent Of Death’ breaks the monotony up that I raised my eyebrows. From there on, I was hooked. Prior to that, it’s impressive but standard fare. Solid but nothing to write home about.

However, from the midway point onwards, this album takes off in a big way. I’d go so far as to say that there is a complete switch in focus; the first half of the album and the second half are at total odds with one another. Tracks like the delicate instrumental ‘To Velvet Blackness’, the nine-minute flesh-stripping deviant ‘Ranks Webs’ and the at-times fierce & ferocious eleven-minute epic ‘Robe Of Flesh’ – the highlight of the album by some distance as it ebbs and flows with tremendous majesty, meandering between a multitude of moods and intentions – showcase a more experimental bent to Thrall’s hitherto hammer-and-tongs modus operandi and the result is a more balanced, dynamic and ultimately more enjoyable journey.

I’m not particularly impressed by bands that just chug along at the one speed for an entire album; I prefer gear changes and variation – so Thrall’s ability to shift seamlessly between mid-paced passages and more chaotic blasts works quite well to my ears.

As I said at the top of the show, this is ‘a very good album’. It’s nothing extraordinary but it does have an indefinable charm that most CDs lack. When Thrall get adventurous – as they do frequently in the latter half of ‘AFTHOM’ – they are superb. Just a pity the first four songs are so uninteresting. Still: hard to go wrong with this one.

Evilometer: 444/666

COBALT – EATER OF BIRDS (Profound Lore Records)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

All I knew about Cobalt before clapping ears on ‘Eater Of Birds’ way back in 2007 was that the Colorado duo’s debut album was entitled ‘War Metal’. So I braced myself for a Marduk-type barrage of blistering blackness. This duly arrived on opener ‘When Serpents Return’, but I quickly discovered that there’s much more to the experimental and deeply inspired Cobalt beast than meets the eye…

For a start, the chaos is a lot more adventurous than I would have imagined. If war Black Metal is akin to being bludgeoned to death by panzers on a battlefield, ‘Eater Of Birds’ is kinda like being gradually fucked up in some laboratory experiment. By a surgeon/doctor so skilled he could rid the world of cancer and AIDS but prefers to mess with minds and mush people up.

There’s still a more-than-adequate amount of overt aggression on here. Imagine Enslaved if they had gradually become more frenzied rather than wandering down the dubious prog path. Some of the music reminds me of a cross between proper (i.e. early) Enslaved and Darkthrone or Carpathian Forest rather than the artier names being bandied about in some circles (Swans, Neurosis etc.), but it is when Cobalt decide to do their own, beautiful thing that they really make you sit up and take notice.

I won’t spoil the fun by pointing out which exact sections you should watch out for (try all of it!) but, believe me, there are many unexpected movements and detours along this 70-minute bipolar ride that will cause the hairs to stand on the nape of your nodding-in-approval neck. It’s unpredictable yet spontaneous; innovative yet familiar. Throw in a guest appearance from none other than Jarboe and the sumptuous digipack artwork and you just know you’re onto a winner all the way.

Astonishingly, Cobalt followed this album up two years later with the equally-excellent ‘Gin’. You don’t need to be a major in mathematics to deduce that we’re due a fourth full-length from these loons in 2011.

Evilometer: 555/666

DRAUGURZ / WOODSMARCH – SPLIT CD (Einsatzkommando Productions)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

I discovered Draugurz while listening to his superb ‘A Yell From The Past collection. The magick on that release was sufficiently mesmerising to make me seek out this Einsatzkommando Productions split with fellow one-man Brazilian ambient / black metal entity Woodsmarch – and what a combination these two make! The two musicians help each other out on their respective recordings and this gives the split CD a symmetry and balance that most releases of this nature lack.

First we get approximately 20 minutes of raw, minimal plaintiff BM from Gaurhoth, who is surely the underground’s best-kept secret. I’ve heard a lot of good lone-operator Black Metal over the years but, in terms of authentic feel and sheer spirit, Draugurz is right up there with the best of them. Lo-fi, harrowing and dreary it may be – and it certainly isn’t the most technical output you’ll ever encounter – but the fuzzy charm is a joy to behold. Raw and honest and pure (naive) blackness without cynicism or commercial care, this belongs in another era. ‘Pestilencia II’ is the ambient epilogue, a sombre soundtrack with a hint of fantasy that brilliantly rounds off Gaurhoth’s contribution.

The second sole protagonist takes the baton seamlessly from his compatriot, submitting four equally captivating offerings, which are slightly shorter in total (due to the comparative brevity of the majestic, tribal instrumental  ‘Voice from the Soil’ and the ridiculously raw and catchy ‘Ancient Flame Awake’) but live as long in the memory. ‘The Ceasing of a Blaze’ commences M.Vag’s journey in a very straightforward and purposeful manner and there’s barely time for an intake of breath before ‘Quintessence’ follows in an almost identical vein. Long after the final note has dispersed, you should still be awestruck by the art that has just gone before you.

Evilometer: 555/666

ESSENZ – KVIITIIVZ – Beschwörung des Unaussprechlichen (Amor Fati Productions)

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

KVIITIIVZ – Beschwörung des Unaussprechlichen’ is the debut full-length from Essenz, a truly obscure German Black Metal triumvirate who peddle a unique concoction of blackened doom / death that lingers somewhere between The Ruins of Beverast and Black Sabbath. The Black Sabbath influence is particularly evident. But there’s enough experimentation and general all-round weirdness in the mix to ensure that this should appeal to most BM fans.

The first thing I’m going to mention is the packaging and artwork: atypical and beautiful. Secondly, I note that two members of Essenz are in an old school DM band called Drowned alongside two Necros Christos members; I find this reference interesting as Essenz certainly shares Necros Christos’ penchant for the weird and esoteric, even if the two bands sound altogether different. It’s worth commenting on the value for money on offer, also, with nine tracks (including the (silent) bonus John Cage tribute and Mayhem cover (‘Moon’)) generating an overall playing time of 69 odd minutes. Literally, odd minutes…

There are three stunning instrumentals on this album, including bass-heavy third track ‘Sophía’, one of those rumbling efforts that makes the cones vibrate and the pictures on the wall rattle. For a few minutes, we could be listening to Khanate. But then ‘Weyzzez Ravshen: Beschwörung’ begins its laborious crawl through the speakers, coming across like Cathedral with Attila Csihar on vocal duties. Proceedings become more chaotic as the song unravels and the overall effect is quite strange, I have to say. Unlike anything I’ve heard before. As interludes go, the epic nine-minute ‘Quae Trans’ – replete with samples and outtakes – is a veritable close encounter of the third kind.

Essentially, Essenz is a very hard band to rate. Because they refuse to play it safe, taking real risks by combining styles and parts that theoretically shouldn’t go together, not everything works. At times, the music seems confused and disjointed … but I’m confident this is the result they are going for. If they set out to create an album that fucks with your head, an album that is neither one thing nor another, an album that cannot be pigeonholed or categorised easily – then they have achieved precisely that. ‘KVIITIIVZ – Beschwörung des Unaussprechlichen’ is what it is: an unusual, unorthodox and intriguing puzzle. I enjoyed it immensely. And there’s a 2LP version on the way.

Evilometer: 444/666

BROCKEN MOON – HOFFNUNGSLOS (Northern Silence Productions)

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Even before this release, I was a fan of Brocken Moon; I believe history has judged them rather harshly. They should be better known and more highly regarded in the Black Metal scene but isn’t that always the way with bands who dare to do things that little bit differently?

Brocken Moon have slipped into a nice groove of releasing a full-length every three years and ‘Hoffnungslos’ is their third such effort, following on from debut ‘Mondfinsternis’ and their 2008 offering ‘Das Märchen Vom Schnee’. Northern Silence also issued a very notable 2CD compilation entitled ‘10 Jahre Brocken Moon’ a couple of years back, so Humanhater has been making his presence felt…

Hoffnungslos’ is his strongest offering to date. Maybe it’s because the main man has deployed the services of a full band of session musicians this time around; perhaps it’s because he has tapped into a richer tapestry of inspiration. Either way, the Broken Moon evident here is head and shoulders above anything he’s produced hitherto. And this is coming from someone who thoroughly enjoyed all three of the aforementioned previous instalments!

Be warned: this is no Marduk! But nor is it a fucking Alcest (don’t get me started on how crap Alcest are…). I would describe ‘Hoffnungslos’ as ambient / depressive Black Metal, driven by fantastic musicianship and uncanny compositional skills. Don’t be misled by my use of the term ‘depressive’ – this is no Shining clone and it goes nowhere near the suicidal bracket. It’s dark, forlorn and downbeat, a reflective journey through some of the most sorrowful emotions hidden inside the soul. The use of piano / synth parts adds to the overwhelming atmosphere and for the most part the music is more acoustic than electric.

The vocals fluctuate somewhere between Silencer and Hypothermia, piercing the serene backdrop provided by some beautiful, thoughtful music. ‘T12 Ritual’ is an amazing exercise in obscure brilliance, while album closer ‘Die Leere’ is just sheer depressing yet uplifting in its decayed, heartbreaking majesty. Anyone who appreciates ambient, atmospheric or depressive BM is sure to find something here. If you happen to enjoy all three, then you’re in for a real treat.

Evilometer: 444/666

ARCKANUM – SVIGA LAE (Regain Records)

Friday, March 18th, 2011

After a decade of almost total silence, Arckanum returned to the studio in 2008 and unleashed the excellent ‘Antikosmos’, followed twelve months later by the equally-impressive ‘ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ’. These releases heralded the beginning of a new golden era for Shamaatae, who found himself in the middle of an unexpected career Indian summer. Those who missed the Swede’s magnificent triumvirate from the mid ‘90s were provided with the inspiration, motivation and opportunity to check into a stunning back catalogue of chaotic Black Metal from the ancient woodlands.

Arckanum could do no wrong. Then came ‘Sviga Læ’ in 2010 – his third full-length in as many years and one of my most-anticipated releases in a long, long time. I should have known better than to get my hopes up in this unpredictable, fucked-up world…

Alas, ‘Sviga Læ’ is a major disappointment, which doesn’t even come close to its predecessors. I suppose the writing was on the wall when I saw the dreadful artwork on the front of the CD but I decided to let that one go. Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that.

The music itself continues in a similar enough vein to ‘Antikosmos’ and ‘ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ’, but (‘Goðin Eru Blekkt’ aside) doesn’t have the same high level of quality control. The whole thing sounds disjointed and rushed. There are more fillers than truly enjoyable tracks and the album clocks in at a rather embarrassing 37 minutes. Now, I realise ‘Antikosmos’ was as short but the music on there more than compensated for the brevity of proceedings.

On ‘Sviga Læ’, it just feels like shortcuts have been taken left, right and centre. The entire album looks, feels and sounds like a rush job. There’s no inspiration on this one. To the uninitiated, it may sound like a decent slab of BM but anyone already familiar with Arckanum’s exemplary track record to date would have to feel let-down by his sixth – and frankly worst – album.

Evilometer: 222/666

URFAUST – DER FREIWILLIGE BETTLER LP (Ván Records)

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Urfaust emits some of the most unusual Black Metal out there and nowhere has this ever been more apparent than on their third full-length, ‘Der Freiwillige Bettler’, brought to you courtesy of German label Ván Records. I purchased the Intoxication Edition of the record, which comes with a sumptuous old school gatefold sleeve with a flap, including a 12-page booklet replete with lyrics and etched onto blue vinyl. It’s a beautiful package; one you could look at all day if you’re a nerd like me with no life.

Five years after their last LP (during which time we were served intermittent EPs and splits), the Dutch duo have returned with an album that meshes Black Metal, doom and dark ambience with all manner of weirdness. This music is simply disturbing, unsettling and pure damn mesmerising. The vocals are otherworldly, arguably the most atypical BM voice you’re ever likely to hear: chanted, Gregorian sermons that could well come from an altar in some decayed church on the outskirts of civilisation.

Part Circle of Ouroborous; part Pete Steele; part Candlemass; part fucking lunatic; part priest. (I realise the last two parts are practically the same thing.) No croaks, no rasps, no shrill shrieks – just that patented, disturbing chant that’s closer to classic doom than black, in all honesty, but fits Urfaust’s music like a glove. Whereas some BM vocalists sound like frogs or fraggles, IX comes across as being completely insane. Which is good, of course.

The production is spot-on, with every note allowed to creep through the gloom, and the clever use of synth breathes further life into proceedings, adding depth and scope to an already multifaceted work. The songs march along – often at funereal pace, somtimes brisker – with sombre menace, an unnerving amalgam of black and doom that is wholly unique and worthy of further investigation. If you ever decide to perform a candlelit ritual in a cave that happens to have a sound system installed, this is the record you should bring with you. ‘DFB’ represents a career-defining moment for Urfaust and is undoubtedly a record I’ll be listening to over and over again.

Evilometer: 555/666

SARGEIST – LET THE DEVIL IN LP (World Terror Committee)

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

With members of Horna and Behexen on board, Sargeist is clearly something very special indeed. The follow-up to 2005’s magnificent ‘Disciple Of The Heinous Path’ was a long time coming but ‘Let The Devil In’ finally arrived late last year via Moribund Records, with World Terror Committee handling the rather attractive vinyl version. Superior sound quality over the digital format aside, this is one of those albums whose artwork demands a vinyl incarnation.

It looks and feels the part, that’s for sure – but does ‘LTDI’ cut the mustard musically? To be honest, I’m not sure. We get ten tracks of overtly Satanic Black Metal, singing the praises of the Hell-dweller himself but somehow managing to sound disappointingly monotonous and uninspired. On Side One, ‘From The Black Coffin Lair’ was the only song that really grabbed me by the balls and inspired me to sit up and take real notice, while the LP’s penultimate cut ‘Twilight Breath Of Satan’ is arguably the only truly exceptional tune on Side Two. The otherwise unforgiving pace and intensity drops a notch on these songs, which is possibly why they stand out … a bit of variety. That’s not to say the rest of the album isn’t good; it just isn’t great. And I expected more from such a talented crew, especially considering how much I enjoyed the predecessor.

Perhaps I need to give it a few more listens to allow ‘Let The Devil In’ to work its full magic on me, but for the time being it isn’t moving me as much as I’d like. All the prerequisite ingredients are here that should make for an outstanding BM album: ferocious guitars, harsh vocals, boundless energy in the rhythm department. It’s an unforgiving, relentless onslaught, the sort of devil-worshipping album that is designed to pummel the listener into submission. Flawless in execution and evil to its rotten core, this is sinister stuff. A ripping Black Metal album; no more, no less.

Evilometer: 333/666

VARGNATT – NUR EIN TRAUM LP (Lycaner Records)

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Nur Ein Traum’ is one of two demos leaked into the underground by unknown German horde Vargnatt in 2007 (the other being ‘Wintergrab’). These two demonstrations are the sum total of the band’s entire discography and – thankfully – ‘Nur Ein Traum’ was given a vinyl release by Lycaner Records in 2010. The result is what’s spinning on my deck right now and the first observation I have to make is that this does not sound like a mere demo.

Good enough to stand toe to toe with any album proper (the basic production might present problems in other subgenres but is arguably a plus factor in the realm of Black Metal), and reasonably lengthy too at almost 38 minutes, this is a record worth its place in your collection. It’s not amazing, but it’s damn good. A solid slab of ambient, classic Burzum (with early Ulver another obvious touchstone) inspired atmospheric blackness that reeks of class, even if it’s been done a thousand times before.

For the purpose of the vinyl release, the music has been remastered and presented in a gatefold jacket with tasty artwork that conjures forth thoughts of frozen forests under a moonlit sky. With a dead wolf. Oh, and it’s blue vinyl. There’s a sense of desolation in the imagery and this complements the oftimes beautiful music perfectly. All in all, ‘NET’ is a decent release and one that should appeal to all vinyl collectors with a penchant for mysterious BM.

Evilometer: 444/666