Thursday, December 11, 2014

Earth and Pillars


Earth and Pillars - Earth I
Avantgarde Music, 2014
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Earth
2. Rivers
3. Lakes
4. Tides












I feel like every year I spend scouring the Black Metal record labels for that one gem that will, hopefully, define the year for me. Last year Csejthe was that band, in fact the majority of the Québécois scene simply entranced me, but this year has left me with a rather lackluster search. I've purchased only a small amount of material from 2014, nothing really grasping my imagination in the same way. There have been some very good releases and I have thankfully found new projects like Infamous that really struck a chord with me, but this... this Earth and Pillars, this is something different. This is special.

Just opening this package up provides arresting beauty for the listener. The packaging is simply stunning and I'm glad to see Avantgarde is dedicated to continue this art form. Music is more than just a recording, it's the whole package and Earth and Pillars clearly understands this. This album, "Earth I", which leads to the hope that there will be future installments, creates a wonderfully bleak, yet majestic vision of our planet. Looking through the artwork and lyrics really nails that sense to the listener making this listen even more imperative with a physical copy in my hands. The album opens with five minutes of an Ambient styled track. While this would be a full song for most bands, Earth and Pillars follows in the footsteps of Paysage d'Hiver and Darkspace with extremely long songs following this. "Earth" gives the sense of travelling a fog laden forest, where a copse of trees opens into a bending river. From here the album follows a theme of water, which makes me wonder if the band intends to follow a concept series amidst the elements found on the planet. I would think it would perhaps follow a theme of the old Greek Atomic Theory of the four elements, but with "Earth" being the first track, perhaps that will not be the case. We wend our way through the beauty of the Earth's surface, which is mostly covered in water and the album keeps a sort of "flow" feel to every song. At times we are calmed by the gentle rocking of the rhythms, but tempestuous waves can grow and become quite a concern for travelers where fear begins to develop in the likes of "Tides". The Paysage d'Hiver influence grows bigger in this song with the droning Ambience in the middle, but I think Earth and Pillars is a bit more sensible with its inclusion of Ambience. There isn't a point where it just becomes overwhelming and droning on for nigh ten minutes in length, here it is kept as a sensible portion of the song.

Earth and Pillars has brought me on, probably, the greatest journey I'll hear all year. As someone who purchases nearly a hundred albums a year, this one is standing tall above the rest so far. Shockingly, I may even fall to this more often than the latest from the might Darkspace. Perhaps it is simply because it is new, but the atmosphere being created here is exactly what I wanted to hear this year. "Earth I" paints a beautiful picture of our planet, but there is an underlying taint, a dark bleakness to it. I feel like this has a slightly different bend on the environmentally themed work. It doesn't feel as much a worship of nature, as there is an underlying failing in the world around us. The Earth, itself, isn't dying, the environment is changing so that it will no longer sustain life in this form. So, while we can marvel at the glory of nature, we must remind ourselves that in the near future the Earth may not sustain life in the way we recognize it, namely our own. Do we mourn a world whose environment is changing in a way that will ultimately kill off humanity, or is this to be celebrated? I feel like these bleak indecision is where the Earth and Pillars album takes me.

In the end, if you are a fan of Atmospheric Black Metal, I absolutely consider this a must buy. It will likely hit my top five releases for this year very easily, if not number one. Very well done.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tardigrada


Tardigrada - Widrstand
Fallen Empire Records, 2012
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Ufakt
2. Hoffnungslos
3. Widrstand
4. Einsamkeit












I picked this up purely because of this projects name. The fact that they are from Switzerland falling under the realms of Atmospheric Black Metal amidst many other great bands from that region, helped as well. The name is from a taxonomic class of animals and means "slow-stepper", which is kind of cool as a Black Metal name, even though there are certainly blast beats on this recording and fast guitar playing. The really interesting thing about Tardigrades is they can survive the vacuum of space! I also think the band would appreciate the fact that I am writing this review while sitting in the back rooms of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. I'm sure there are some interesting holotypes in collection somewhere.

I missed out on all the original versions of this recording and I own the 2014 repress. Tardigrada's style of Black Metal seems to fall into a sort of blending of Paysage d'Hiver style with some LLN style. Some of the chord structuring reminds me of that dissonant and tortured French style from those ancient days. They even have a lot of clean guitar sections with, what sort of sounds like footsteps in the background, reminiscent of... I think, Aäkon Këëtrëh. Unlike that project, we do have Black Metal being performed. The approach reminds me of Paysage d'Hiver, but it's exactly in the same way, so it's certainly not a clone. For the most part it creates a decent and cold atmosphere, but there are some riffs, or pieces of riffs, I should say, that sort of sound strange in the mix. There's at least one part of "Widrstand" that pulls me out of the atmosphere due to the way the guitar work is used. Then again, the appearance of Cello on "Hoffnungslos" is simply stunning! For the most part they keep me in a real solid space and they do this to overwhelming effect with the song "Einsamkeit" clocking in at fourteen minutes. It makes me wish the whole recording was of this caliber, because that song is above and beyond the other two, so the demo closes on quite a high note.

While Tardigrada may not be offering much in the way of new material to the genre, I don't feel it adds to the over-saturation and I do want to hear what this band could produce in the future. I would, especially, love to hear what they can do further in the guise of "Einsamkeit", which really overshadowed the rest of the demo for me. Definitely, a great start to this project and I hope there is more to come in the future.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cabaret for Bereaved


Cabaret for Bereaved - Demo 95
Self-Released, 1995
Genre: Black Metal

1. Intro (Immortal Loyalness)
2. On Cold Wings
3. Ice Floe is Sinking
4. Seeds for Nothing
5. Candle Burns in Storm
6. Pahuuden Kuolema
7. King has Won
8. The Calling
9. Freezing Day
10. The Undead






I picked this up solely based on the fact that Gaamalzagoth performed vocals on this. I really didn't know what to expect from this, but I can't say this is really my style of Black Metal. Cabaret for Bereaved bring us ten songs heavily laden with synth, making this more of an Ambient Black Metal type of release. I wonder if there was any influence from the early Blut aus Nord realm, because some of these keyboard approaches seem similar.

The demo is definitely in the lo-fi spectrum of the genre, but the music isn't fast. In fact, the music is quite slow to mid-paced for the most part. It's actually quite poorly performed as well. There are missed hits and off-time parts with the drums. The guitar work sort of fumbles around and feels off at times. Sometimes the keyboards work and at other times they don't. There's a time in "Ice Floe is Sinking" where it's just keyboard and drums, which sounds very bad. I think the intent was a dark and brooding atmosphere, which is only high-lighted by the Doom styled pacing. But the poor instrumentation makes this nearly unlistenable. The attempt at a solo in "Pahuuden Kuolema", is just off-putting. "The Calling" is atrocious. It's an all Ambient styled track with mostly feedback and samples being played over and over again. It doesn't even make sense in the context of the rest of the music. Even Gaamalzagoth's vocal performance is a bit different. Granted, it does happen to fit the music. He sticks to a rather low-key performance with a more talking/rasp approach to the vocals. This is quite different from his intense wails during the Moonblood recordings.

I don't think I can recommend this demo to anyone. Unless you're extremely into that lo-fi Black Metal style and find sloppy instrumentation endearing? There are times when the style works, but it's not enough to really draw me in. Makes sense that this is a long forgotten demo from the early days. The main musician p. Mölsä doesn't seem to have gone on to do anything else after this, so that's another reason for this being lost to history.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Eye


The Eye - Supremacy
Velvet Music International, 1997
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. The Eternal Oath of Lie
2. The Land
3. The Call of a Thousand Souls
4. My Supremacy
5. Aidyl
6. The Purest Domination in Wisdom (The Eternal Eye)
7. Your Wickedness... (Bastard Son of Fear)
8. The Eye






This is one of the biggest blunders in my collecting years. I missed out on this release originally. This is a real shame because it truly would have shaped me musically, I believe. I didn't hear this project until around the early 2000's when I had discovered Blut aus Nord, but by then all the copies were gone and I was stuck with some mp3's I downloaded. It has certainly influenced me over the years and
I still considered this one of the finest recordings Vindsval has ever made. Luckily "Supremacy" has risen again with Debemur-Morti doing the release wonderful justice in 2013 (Pictured right). Far too long for a release of this caliber to stand silent in the shadows. They've given us a beautiful new cover with a wonderful layout. Far superior than what Candlelight gave Blut aus Nord with the re-releases of the first two albums, in my opinion anyway. Debemur-Morti's dedication to art is fairly well known throughout the scene, so it really is no surprise. The one and only complaint I could furnish is that the re-release did not include the "Normanniska" demo tape as a bonus.

"Supremacy" really does continue down the more atmospheric path founded by "Ultima Thulée", but "Supremacy" is just such a far more developed and mature piece of art. The blending of Ambient and Black Metal throughout is simply stunning. Every song has an incredible degree of majesty, which I usually wouldn't have associated with things having programmed drums. Even though Vindsval uses a very obvious drum program, and I have no doubt real drums would have made this album even more impressive, it doesn't take away from the beauty inherent in the music. In this regard "Supremacy" can hardly be described as an intense album, instead the pace of the music is far slower and sort of relies on lulling the listener into its atmosphere. This is a little different from what we first experienced with the "Normanniska" demo, which had some harsher, fast songs on there. This is probably why all of the tracks didn't make it on the full-length with a re-recording. I think this album really highlights how far Vindsval has come with respect to his ability to compose. It really makes me look forward to anything else he would do with this project.

Sadly between this albums release and re-release, the project has been entirely silent. I don't know if the re-release signals some sort of resurrection, but I really hope that Blut aus Nord's intense experimentation over the years doesn't play into anything that would change this projects concepts. I feel like heavy focus on this kind of plodding atmosphere is really at the heart of The Eye and I hope it remains that way, whatever the future may bring. Either way, this album, I consider to be a must have.


The Eye - Normanniska
Self-Released, 1996
Genre: Black Metal

1. Intro
2. Your Glory Beyond Our Dead
3. The Purest Domination in Wisdom (The Eternal Eye)
4. An Ancestral Journey in Your Blood












With "Memoria Vetusta" being released this year Vindsval has already turned his gaze onto a new project called The Eye. This is another demo tape, similar to Children of Mäani in the prior year, but musically very very different. "Normanniska" kind of follows a blended path of "Ultima Thulée" and "Memoria Vetusta". Unfortunately, I missed out on the original version of this, despite being able to find copies of the other demo tapes out there. This is probably one of the most sought after Vindsval side projects and is usually ranked up there as high as Blut aus Nord.

The music is absolutely wonderful. It has this wonderful blend between an Ambient quality with harsh Black Metal. I'm not sure it quite enters the realm of Atmospheric Black Metal at this time, but tracks like "The Purest Domination in Wisdom (The Eternal Eye)" really do transcend that border. However, "You Glory Beyond Our Dead" bear closer resemblance to a much more traditional Black Metal style, with a wonderfully harsh bent to it. I really like the direction of this music a lot more than Children of Mäani and I'm hoping The Eye develops into a little more for the future. Some tracks feel like a continuation of the "Ultima Thulée" style, since the "Memoria Vetusta" style was so different. So, if you liked the debut album of Blut aus Nord, I feel like that style is being further developed with this project.

The only bad part about this demo is that it is only a mere sixteen minutes in length. I really hope that there is more to come from this. If you're a Vindsval fan this is a must hear project. And even if you just like high quality Black Metal.


Children of Mäani


Children of Mäani - Demo
Velvet Music International, 1998
Genre: Black Metal

1. Tradition: The Birth
2. In the Middle of the Macrocosme - "Those Who are Called VAO"
3. Tiphareth... and Beams of Malchuth - "After the Five Ones"
4. Tradition: My Birth "Where is the Sky of the First?"








With Blut aus Nord standing silent since 1996, but having that incredible The Eye album to listen to in the prior year, I guess some interest in Vindsval's other material has surfaced. If you missed out on this demo from 1995, then it is finally released again, but on CD this time around. This has one of the silliest covers I've ever seen and the "new logo" looks way worse than the original logo on the tape. This really does hold rank for some of the worst album art I've ever seen. The interior is jut strange and the altered cover under the CD looks ridiculous. Luckily nothing has changed about the music, but an improved listening format!

The enhanced music quality really makes this far more enjoyable. Everything feels a lot more full compared to the original tape version. That outro of "In the Middle of the Macrocosme" really hits so much better this time around! While Children of Mäani may not be able to top The Eye, or even Blut aus Nord, I'm glad to see it isn't lost to realms of history in the original demo format. It is certainly a different feel of Black Metal, especially for 1995, but nonetheless quite enjoyable in the grand scheme of things. If you are a fan of Vindsval and interested in his early works, this is certainly not to be missed as well.

Children of Mäani - Demo
Self-Released, 1995
Genre: Black Metal

1. Tradition: The Birth
2. In the Middle of the Macrocosme - "Those Who are Called VAO"
3. Tiphareth... and Beams of Malchuth - "After the Five Ones"
4. Tradition: My Birth "Where is the Sky of the First?"











The same year Blut aus Nord's debut album was released, Vindsval had a demo for another project ready to go. Where "Ultima Thulée" had a very relaxed atmosphere, Children of Mäani seems to be a more intense and heavier project. This comes as a cassette demo tape, similar to Vlad's "Yggdrasil" in format with the same do-it-yourself kind of booklet art. There is a liner note that says "The Child of Mäani plays whatever he wants exclusively!" Which is probably a jab at the bands that state the genre they play, exclusively.

There are certainly similarities between the two projects, sometimes an atmospheric riff easily shows up in songs like "In the Middle of the Macrocosme" towards the end. However, this demo is far more technical than the material found on Blut aus Nord, which makes sense, because this is not supposed to really entrance the listeners, but instead music you pay rather close attention to. There are sections that are far heavier and even bear more Death Metal styled vocals, but the sections come off more related to a Death Doom Style, because they are not really on the level of brutality you'd find with Death Metal. The heavier riffing is more akin to the punishing depths of Doom Metal. The Black Metal aspects range from atmospheric to interesting technicality and bears some serious resemblance to what bands like Emperor have accomplished, but with a blending of the Blut aus Nord style.

I think it's a rather interesting demo, but I do find the Blut aus Nord style a bit more compelling for my tastes. Perhaps the production and tape quality make this a little less accessible in some ways, but the quality actually isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things. It is recorded just as well as the "Yggdrasil" demo. If you're a fan of what Vindsval has been producing lately then this is certainly worth hearing.