Archive for February, 2014

I do weird shit when deciding what to listen to on my iTunes. It’s a massive, unwieldy monster of over 60000 songs and most of the time, I’m stuck for what to start with. So this fine winter day, I decided to listen to bands starting with the letter V. Why V you may ask? Well, instead of providing any complicated answer using algorithms etc, I simply fancied some FUCKING Vader was in order. Then it came to me.

So I have had the supreme blessing of battering my ears with the cavernous, ugly death metal of Vasaeleth (‘Crypt Born and Tethered to Ruin), the vicious blackened thrash of Voidhanger (‘Wrathprayer’), wonderfully convoluted space thrash legends Voivod (‘Killing Technology’), Polish brutality (Vader – ‘Necropolis’), sadistic death metal (Vomitory – ‘Raped in Their Own Blood’) and avantgarde weirdness (Ved Buens Ende – ‘Written in Waters’).

So what have I learned about the letter V? Well, it is full of legends, of some fantastically warped music and some tremendous riffs. Oh, also I have a Vanessa Carlton song on here. I can’t remember why, but I THINK its a guilty pleasure. The shame. I’m going to listen to Nepalese grindcore now to try and suck up some kvltness once more…

This is a revelation of an ongoing project I have been working on for a while now. History is important to metal, in many shapes and forms. History is also very important to me. It is what I got my degree in at university, it was the subject I was best at at school, and it is a hobby of mine. I like to seek out the lesser told parts of history, the parts you don’t learn about at school, the parts that have no bearing on my homeland or my life. These are the things that interest me. It seems to be a theme in my life, as my music is another place where I search for the obscure, the less popular, the different. Thankfully, all those things are ably found with help of the big bad web.

Metalheads revere the HISTORY of their genre; the older bands that laid the way for the new bands that appear every day. Bands like Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom, Death and of course, Black Sabbath. The latter being the most important of them all. But what unites many bands is their appreciation of human history, of events long past. In many cases it is war, be it the World War II themed death metal of Hail of Bullets or the juggernaut of Bolt Thrower. War is a central theme through hundreds of metal bands.

Inspiration from people of great evil from human history is another common theme, be it the malicious Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the ‘Hangman of Prague’ Reinhard Heydrich or the galloping butcher Attila the Hun. Tales of their roles in history are tied to metal songs, and there are many more I haven’t mentioned. But it seems that HISTORY as a subject is important in many ways.

Our most famous examples of such bands include Iron Maiden, Sabaton, Hail of Bullets, Bolt Thrower, Eastern Front and so on. But numerous other songs with some rooting in a historical place, time or figure exist. I want to examine how important it is as a form of expression. How these times in the past are considered worthy of immortalising in a song. What bands find in the themes or symbolism of the past that is revelant to their particular message. As I have started this research, it amazes me how frequently historical references appear in metal songs. They are everywhere, from the blasting Marduk to the psychedelica of The Meads of Asphodel; from the fist pumping heavy metal of Saxon to the howling death of Nile.

Footnote: I am, wherever possible, trying to stay away from mythological referencing, as that would make this project massively unwieldy and potentially inaccurate. I have a great respect for mythology, and I do believe a lot of it will have roots in real events or people. But as a historian myself, I will seek the evidence rather than the conjecture. I’ll examine how the stories of the past work as metal songs or inspirations. This is going to be a passion project that will see the light of day in the future. One hopes

 

Winterfylleth came to my attention the first time when ‘Forging the Iron of England’ was featured on a Terrorizer compilation. That’s a way I find out about a lot of bands. Thanks Tez. Anyway, that was a fine slab of heathen black metal, but I did not foresee them becoming probably my favourite black metal band of the past few years. That revelation came to me only a few short hours ago when I put on their second record, ‘The Mercian Sphere’.

This is a record that redeveloped my love of black metal. They are England’s answer to Drudkh; a band for which I also have much love. Winterfylleth are, for want of a better term, ‘heritage black metal’. They are not pagan black metal, because they speak to us on a deeper level than just tales of heathen days past, before Christianity took over etc etc. They are bands of the earth, of the woods and the land. This is primal bleakness, a celebration of the primitive and the ethereal.

Their newest record, ‘The Thredony of Triumph’ is another windswept masterpiece. Winterfylleth are a band that you MUST hear if you are to have any understanding of what black metal can become. This is the evolution of the genre, where plastic Satanism and church burnings are left behind, where artists can take inspiritation from the surroundings they are raised in. In Winterfylleth, Drudkh and others, we have a hope that black metal will continue to challenge, awe and repulse. We have Watain to drag the genre’s roots into the light of day and ensure reverence. We have Winterfylleth to show where it can go

I’m currently listening to ‘Turisas2013’, probably the WORST name for an album of all last year, but definitely not the worst album. Turisas are my band of the day today, because they have written some of the best fist pumping folk metal anthems this side of Korpiklaani, but with less booze. With their debut album they named their entire genre. It truly is ‘Battle Metal’, yet another subset of folk metal with focus on fighting the heathen enemy etc etc. ‘The Varangian Way’ was a masterclass in exactly this, with the stomping ‘To Holmgard and Beyond’ being their eternal anthem and of course, the titan ‘Miklagard Overture’, probably  my favourite track.

Then came ‘Stand Up and Fight!’, a raucous orchestra metal record to equal the best. It was so ridiculously over the top, that it seemed that Turisas had found their signature sound from then on. But their newest record is much more stripped back, more straightforward, and perhaps the better for it. The songs are insidiously catchy, whether the band crank up the aggression or not. It opens with the storming ‘For Your Own Good’ and careers on, past ‘Ten More Miles’ and the ludicrously strange ‘Run Bhang Eater, Run’ to the heavier ‘Greek Fire’ and more serious ‘The Days Passed’. It is a good record from 2013, if not one of the best. Sadly, it isn’t even the best folk metal record from last year; for me I think that’s probably Falkenbach’s glorious ‘Asa’ (review coming soon!). But it’s a great record if you need a simple 41 minutes of head banging and catchy tunes. And there’s fuck all wrong with that! ‘RA RA RASPUTIN!!’

Amended: I deliberately didn’t add anything about their Boney M cover, simply because it stands perfect for what it is: probably the best metal cover of a non metal song there is.

This was originally published here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/s/space-god-ritual-eldritch-tales-dd-2013/

What was extra awesome about this album was it inspired me to collect my giant HP Lovecraft collected tales to read ‘The Doom That Came to Sarnath’ again, which is probably one of my favourite Lovecraft stories. So bravo Space God Ritual.

Oregon doom duo Space God Ritual clearly has a huge boner for HP Lovecraft. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with that. Lovecraft is a towering influence over a lot of metal; his twisted, terrifying tales are so metal it hurts. Having songs called ‘The Doom Of Sarnath’ and ‘Mad Alhazred’ is a bit of a giveaway too.

Musically, there’s something delightfully Vitus about the band, particularly the sermon-esque intro track ‘The Elder Door’. Vocalist Alexander Olaff has a wonderful touch of Wino about his voice, which adds a layer of eccentric menace to the tales of madness and monsters. The howling laughter that accompanies ‘Madness!’ is a nice touch, and there’s something almost carnival like about the chorus vocals. This is followed by the more measured, almost bluesy ‘The Weeping’, which conjures up Sabbath’s mournful psychedelica. A magnificent, sprawling piece of psychedelic doom, it raises spectres of doom’s evolution from psychedelic rock and spirals into crushing riffs.

Necromantic Woman’ is what could be regarded as a potential hit single. It has a catchy, driving main riff and reigns in some of the more expansive moments into a grinding head nodder. It is a three and a half minute showcase of what makes Space God Ritual an interesting proposition; the unique vocals, the catchy riffs and the general oddness.

Mad Alhazred’ is more straightforward Vitus doom, rippling with atonal guitar lines. This is probably the best song on the record, an exercise in how strangeness can benefit doom metal when used effectively. ‘The Web Of The Witch World’ is less stellar, with a chorus that tries it’s hardest to catch your attention but yet just fails. Maybe it doesn’t benefit from being placed on the record after the tour de force of ‘Mad Alhazred’ but it fails to hit the spot.

What makes Space God Ritual more worthy of your attention than other stoner doom acts? They have that 70’s fuzzy guitar tone, occult overtones and riffs aplenty. But what they have that sets them apart is the sense of foreboding and drama that you would, ironically, find in a Lovecraftian novel. They strike me as a band that should be four or five strong, not two. They have an accomplished sound, polished and clear but losing no atmosphere. ‘The Doom Of Sarnath’ is a great example of the dramatic feeling, a story of doom and hopelessness.

Eldritch Tales’ is a unique piece of doom, standing at the crossroads of Vitus/Sabbath and a true psychedelic rock path. Mix in copious amounts of perfect lyric material and you have a fine album. This is the Sound of the Doom That Came to Sarnath…

I have been too busy to write a post, nor any of my reviews for Sleeping Shaman recently (SORRY LEE, I’M DOING IT NOW!!) and it only hit me tonight. So kicking off my productivity time, is my favourite records from the last week:

I really dig ‘The Mountain’ by Haken. They’re a British (London) prog metal band that have done something rather tasty with this record: a noodly, eccentric prog record that actually rocks hard in some places. It’s deliciously unpredictable, flashing from acappella singing to jarring time signatures with neither care nor abandon. It’s a great record, and you should find it.

I’ve also indulged my more brutal side and delved into two of my favourite death metal records of recent times, Cannibal Corpse’s ‘Kill’ and Hour of Penance’s ‘Sedition’. The former is STILL my favourite Cannibal record as it hones everything good about them into one vicious record. ‘Kill’ was one of the first death metal records I found to be perfectly palatable to what I was looking for in death metal. It came out the year after I first started appreciating death metal properly, and it was and still is a benchmark album for me.

Hour of Penance are a BRILLIANT band that people need to pay more attention to. They’ve not had a bad record, they are killer live, and ‘Sedition’ was one of the highlights of 2012. They should have been Italy’s great death metal band, but Fleshgod Apocalypse seemed to break out before them. Shame, because Hour of Penance are at LEAST as good, if a bit less inventive. Fleshgod are seriously good, and with Hour of Penance snapping on their heels, hopefully we could see some more good bands come out of Italy’s deepest, darkest areas.

This review was originally posted here:http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/t/the-asound-st-cd-dd-2013/

The best thing about writing for The Sleeping Shaman is I get to hear music by bands I’d never heard of before. So far, I’ve enjoyed these new discoveries immensely, and I look forward to more. To The Asound, whose self-titled record is another addition to my ‘who the fuck are they?’ collection.

The opening track, cunningly titled ‘Intro’, is a pretty solid instrumental, underpinned by a virtuoso drumming performance that reminded me of Brann Dailor from Mastodon. This leads into the first song proper, ‘In The Sins’, a jerking atonal beast of a track. It’s like The Dillinger Escape Plan playing Kyuss songs while stoned off their ass. It’s a lot more chilled out than that sounds, and it’s also unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s a fuzzed out jazz/desert rock jam with added doom and spiralling solos that flit between space and time. I like where this is going…

The Baron’ has appeared on a previous split, and it has a killer doom riff to open. This is a relentless slow march into oblivion, some monolithic creature dragging you to your end, with a strangely hypnotic vocal performance. Other than the appearance of yet another psychedelic solo, the riff barely changes throughout.

Sparrow’ is faster paced, with a rolling Mastodon feel, but much more juddering and loose. There is very much a feeling of spontaneity about The Asound; you feel like their songs could be going anywhere. The drumming performance is once again stunning, and really stands out as the lynchpin for the whole outfit. ‘Joan’ is a powerhouse rocker, a song that could comfortably sit on a High on Fire record without being out of place, and is the catchiest, almost poppiest song here. Yet, it could never be described as commercial. The riffs are still too heavy and disjointed in places. Really, it captures the idea of rock being dangerous, different and yet the same.

The record continues with the grinding NOLA sludge doom of ‘Liver Puffin’, the psychedelic instrumental hellfire of ‘Tater Hole Blues’ and the 70s doom rock croon of ‘Slight Of Hand’ until we reach the galloping doom crescendo that is ‘Slave To The Saints’. It’s the offspring of Mastodon and Kyuss, meshing the power of the former with the laidback groove of the latter. Chad Wyrick summons the power of John Garcia and Brent Hinds for his vocals on this track.

The Asound are as close to a unique entity in stoner doom as you can find these days. This is much more important than anyone realises, much more. A fresh voice can revolutionise, can break down barriers, can confound expectations. The Asound have certainly done that, and you would ALL be wise to find this record while you can.

Split CDs are not something I’ve ever really got into too. Mostly because I prefer full length records from bands to really gauge their sound and whether I like them or not. I also find that they can sometimes be pretty hard to find commercially, but maybe thats the point. But what split records are really good at is showcasing bands in a short burst, and it is definitely a medium I’m becoming more familiar and more fond of. This three way split from members of the UK black metal underground is, for all intensive purposes, my first proper split review, and I’d like to thank the guy from Hex Morbidity who asked me to review it! (Thanks dude!)

The split starts with three tracks from Baalberith, Satanic black metallers who have been around in some form or another since 1999 (they split up as Black Death then were reformed in 2006 with a new name). ‘Abortion of Religious Futility’ is a solid opener, with waves of mournful riffs and reverb soaked vocals giving a very hellish atmosphere. ‘Quest for Satan’ is decidedly more violent and to the point, although the gurgling howl of ‘SAATAAANN!!’ is maybe a bit much The vocals are  too overproduced for me in this track; too much going on to keep the lyrics clear and it all becomes a bit messy. It has a nice variety of slower sections and all out assault however which keeps it interesting musically. ‘Apparition of Skulls’ is a much slower, more suffocating and dense track. I think its the best of the three Baalberith tracks, because it has a great atmosphere of filth and evil. I’m a sucker for atmosphere in black metal songs, and this is full of it. You can feel the hate on your skin.

Hex Morbidity have a much clearer production set up than Baalberith, and a much more straightforward approach. They play black metal that is more modern and dare I say lacking in atmosphere. Maybe its the production, I don’t know. The vocals are terrific though, Jarod Lawley has a great black metal rasp. The track ‘Unbaptised’ has a catchy central riff, and is definitely the best of their three; short, sharp and brutally effective. ‘Holy Shrines’ is a bit forgettable to be honest, nothing wrong with it but nothing that grabs me. ‘Stench of Lord and Lamb’ is a lumbering exercise in almost blackened doom at the start, which is pretty cool too. It also has a suitably melodic solo, a rarity in black metal sometimes.

Onto Forneus, our final band. And I must say, personally they blow the others out of the water with their vicious blackened death metal assault. ‘Litanies of Hatred’ comes scorching out of the speakers, with a Marduk-esque regard for breathing space. There’s something refreshingly relentless about it, showering blastbeats like meteor hail. ‘Embrace the Covenant’ has an almost dissonant intro before turning into the most headbanging song on the record. The riffing is infectious, and there’s a very Swedish feel to their blackened assault; its much more Marduk and Dissection than Mayhem or Darkthrone. This is a very good thing. Too many bands plunder Norwegian black metal and ignore just over the border. They close the split with the titanic ‘Blood Eagle (The Exile)’, which is a seriously epic slice of black metal. Imagine Primordial without the pagan/Celtic influence, and you’re about there. It is a seriously impressive song, and is worth sitting through the rest of the split to find. A slow paced, melancholic masterpiece that fades out into the whispering sounds of madness.

Overall, the black metal underground in the UK is healthy by the looks of these bands. Forneus is my definite favourite find of the three, but the suffocating atmosphere of Baalberith and the no frills quality of Hex Morbidity add something good too. Seek it out if you can.

http://depressiveillusions.com/items/cd-r/black-metal-pagan-metal-blackgaze/baalberith-hex-morbidity-forneus-satans-honour

http://www.facebook.com/Baalberithuk

http://www.facebook.com/HexMorbidity

http://www.facebook.com/realmofforneus

This was originally posted here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/l/lurch-st-ep-cs-dd-2013/

This is a very interesting proposition. Take two nasty Irish sludge/hardcore bands who shared a split back in 2011 (Drainland and Trenches), throw some of their members together in a new band and remove a couple of layers of nihilistic sludge and see what appears…

Lurch is the result of this collaboration, and it’s a very intriguing result indeed. Featuring little of what could be referred to as an ‘expected’ style, the opening track is reminiscent to ‘Bleach’-era Nirvana. They have much more in common with noise rock or early grunge than their previous bands. ‘Butcher’s Rainbow’ is a menacing, writhing beast of noise rock riffs, clean vocals and distorted roars. It is suitably terrifying and great at the same time.

The Removed’ kicks off almost more conventionally, a lurching (sorry) riff then drops into delicate picking without losing a sense of the dark, the disturbed. It is a twisting track, difficult to pin down. Elements of indie rock crash into dirge riffs and pained howls, punishing guitars and drumming thunder takes us home.

You’re Drunk’ is more urgent, off kilter and dissonant. Vocalist Jamie Grimes reminds me of someone who I can’t quite place; but it is a rich mix of early Kurt Cobain and Stephen Richards from Taproot. That’s a good thing by the way, he always had a pretty unique voice for being part of a very average nu metal band. ‘You’re Drunk’ is the most straight forward track on the EP; its hard and fast and catchy as hell. The monolithic closer ‘The Company You Keep’ rounds off this EP in style, building slowly with whispering and gentle notes into a crescendo of crashing cymbals and dissonant riffs. It then builds from the same, quiet section, jerking the listener from lulling respite into strict attention.

Lurch are a band who will appeal to those of us who hoped ‘Bleach’ would have been the blueprint for Nirvana from then on, or that noise rock heroes Harvey Milk would hurry up and make a new record. They aren’t for the easily pleased; this EP is a tangled, twisted entity that with perseverance unlocks its greatest moments for those who look for them.

This review was originally posted here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/m/mist-demo-2013-cd-dd/

Mist are an all-female doom band from the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovenia. That caught my eye immediately, not only because I don’t know many Slovenian metal bands but I’ve been to their fair city a number of times, and I love it. The country is great, and their MetalDays festival is the shit. Well, it was when it was MetalCamp, I haven’t been since they changed it… Anyhoo, when you think of ‘occult doom’ and ‘female’, you’re instinctively drawn to conclusions like Blood Ceremony or The Devil’s Blood. With Mist, you couldn’t be further from the truth. These girls are refreshingly different.

Their two track demo opens with the grinding ‘Phobia’. There’s something deliciously Sabbathian about them, especially the mournful melancholy of the vocals, and the guitar leads. This is not a band who deal in flutes or any of those esoteric additions. Mist deal in heavy metal, riffing as if it were melded to their DNA. For a band who only began in 2012, to have written one song that is this accomplished is a treat. ‘Phobia’ blows most occult-doom-with-female-vocals out of the water.

The Living Dead’ is quirkier, more upbeat. It shows promise in its variety, a range that will be interesting to explore. Vocalist Nina Spruk is mesmerising; she has a powerful, soulful voice that captures the atmosphere perfectly, but doesn’t retract from the other pieces of the puzzle. It reminds me a lot of Jex Thoth, which is a major compliment since I’ve found her to be THE benchmark for female vocalists in this style.

Mist could be a staggering proposition in the coming years. They are poised to break through the 1970’s worship of recent occult doom and take us further. They have more in common with Vitus and Sabbath than Coven or Blood Ceremony. Their demo is only the beginning. With the right songs, and the right opening, Mist could be the next big thing.