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.