Friday, July 6, 2018

Blood Stronghold


Blood Stronghold - Blood Spilt in the Earth's Viscera
Witches Sabbath Productions, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

1. Blood Spilt in the Earth's Viscera
2. Dying Flame of a Pale Sun












A few months after their first demo tape Blood Stronghold returned with two more songs on this 7" vinyl. This EP is limited to 300 hand-numbered copies and I own #292.

Cranking out an EP this soon after your demo is kind of strange and made me wonder why they just didn't wait and include this material, but when you listen to this material you realize it wouldn't really fit. It's strange to say, but the music on here sounds thematically quite different, so I can understand why a separate release was warranted. If you enjoyed "The Immortal Past" this EP advances that style quite a bit. The first song is very beautiful and has more of a melancholic atmosphere compared to the demo. The second song is really different. "Dying Flame of a Pale Sun" starts off with what we'd expect from this project, but then they really up the tempo at some point. This is by far the fastest from this project so far. The vocals also trend more to the usual screaming kind that is normal in Black Metal and I enjoyed this shift quite a bit. The song still maintains a heavy and dense atmosphere like all the others. The only major issue is that with the production this raw with so much reverb, the fast sections feel more chaotic than anything else. There's almost too much going on too fast to really make out all the elements. However, the entire song isn't fast, so for most of the song we have that majestic atmosphere we're looking for.

In the end we have two new excellent tracks and I just hope this projects productivity doesn't run away with them. Naturally, I want more songs and I would love to see a full-length from the project at this point soon, so hopefully they can keep up the quality this high.

Blood Stronghold - The Immortal Past
Hammerbolt Productions, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

1. Frozen Memory of the Dark Past
2. In the Mists of the Immortal Past
3. Legacy (Of Wolves, War & Thunder)










Blood Stronghold is a bit of a super group considering it's two members have played in quite a lot of projects. The main composer behind the material is from Australia and has done great projects like Eternum and the drummer Krew, has been in so many bands I can't keep track. One of the more well known is Gontyna Kry. In any event when Blood Stronghold released a debut album later in 2014 it went around the web really fast and I wound up back tracking and getting everything else they had put out and I've been a loyal fan ever since. This release was original put out on cassette by Witches Sabbath Records a few months before the CD edition. Since I usually prefer CD's I picked up this version and it comes in a beautiful digipak. The only complaint I have about the design is the font color is so dark you can't really read any of it.

"The Immortal Past" reminds me a lot of Graveland for some reason. It has a very similar feel and pacing to the music, even the vocals are reminiscent of the Rob Darken style. I've heard some great bands inspired by Gravelend, but a lot of times they mostly clone what Rob does and they don't advance it as much. Blood Stronghold is an entirely different approach to the Graveland foundation, in my opinion. Instead of driving down the path of Paganism and keyboard driven atmosphere, Blood Stronghold just sounds so much darker. They draw more on the creations of Atmospheric Black Metal to build their particular musical space. The result is something that just feels entirely different and really advances that core foundation. Quite a few of the old Black Metal bands had this sort of core approach with their mid-paced compositions, and Blood Stronghold bring back a lot of those ideas, but they also push them forward for the modern era. Which might not be their intention... but that's ultimately what they did. One of the things you'll find most interesting is how this project handles the lead guitars, because the lead material feels really different from what we're used to with these rhythm backdrops. It creates a really dense and beautiful atmosphere. The production is extremely raw, so the production snobs of the modern era need not apply. For example, the lead guitars are blended into the rhythms so seamlessly it's hard to tell they're there, but when a rhythm sections stops you can hear it. They don't cut through, they're more subtle in the mix and creating this really interesting texture.

As far as debuts go, this is an excellent first effort, but I would expect that from such experienced musicians that have already been well established. The one and only complaint I can level at this is I'm not big on this vocal approach. The low raspy, mostly talked, Black Metal vocal is fairly uninteresting to me. Whenever someone takes this approach I always wonder what it would be like with a better vocalist. These types of vocals are good for certain parts, but a whole release of them can get boring for me vocally. Luckily the music is so strong the vocals just kind of fade to the background for me. So, if you're a fan of mid-paced atmospheric Black Metal or interested in seeing a new take on that old Polish Pagan style of Black Metal, this is a must hear.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Obscurité


Obscurité - Contemplation II
Ossuaire Records, 2015
Genre: Black Metal

1. Intro
2. Invocation
3. Lointains chants dans l'horizon
4. Le Cosmos: Dans la fuite des saisons
5. Dans l'astrailité de l'esprit
6. Le Sanctuaire
7. L'impasse lunaire
8. In Regeneratione Solis
9. Erêbe
10. Outro





Obscurité wasted no time in getting back into the studio to release their second full-length and what a massive improvement in just a years time. Obscurité still manage to keep their core epic atmosphere as the main focus in the arrangements, but this time things have been pushed a little more. This CD comes with a full multi-page booklet this time and the lyrics aren't all crammed onto two pages. The cover and back of the jewel case are a little too dark though, it's one of those things where maybe what was on the computer screen didn't translate as well into a printed product. In this case things are a bit too dark. The booklet is beautiful too look at with its images of landscapes and has lyrics for one song per page this time, which works out much better.

After we get beyond the intro the first thing you'll notice is how much faster the opening song is. This came as quite the shock because we had just gone through quite a lengthy album of slow and quite lengthy material. For "Contemplation II" everything is pushed to the more extreme ends of things and now the album is conjuring up images of early Darkenhöld, which is a truly wonderful image to have. "Contemplation II" feels ancient and medieval and it's only enhanced all the more by the rare keyboard and choir work. Even the guitar tone is much improved on this album and I think a higher gain setting was chosen for this. I think the tempo increase gave Fog a bit more room to be creative since metal drumming is clearly his forté. Don't worry if you're afraid everything is all fast, songs like "Dans l'astrailité de l'esprit" hearken back to the first albums tempo. However, this time they serve to switch up the tempo of the songs and I find this a much more enjoyable experience than before.

If you enjoyed the first album, I can't imagine why this one would disappoint you, since this really just further advances on the first release. The material feels much better written this time around too and the guitar riffs are truly melodic and epic in nature, much more so than before. This project has turned into something really wonderful and I look forward to what's in store for us next, especially with this much improvement between releases already.

Obscurité - Contemplation
Ossuaire Records, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

1. Absolu
2. Païen
3. Contemplatio
4. Résistance éternelle
5. Réminiscence
6. Des ailes
7. Elégie
8. L'ivresse nocturne du ciel etoilé (Cycles)
9. L'aurore et la solarité






Obscurité is a fairly new project out of France and since I've always followed Ossuaire Records, naturally I would wind up with this on my desk. I was also pleased to see that Fog offered drum effort, so I knew the drumming would be quite good. He also offered layout and design treatment and the cover is quite arresting. The booklet which is only two  pages has all the lyrics for the entire album, but because it's on two pages it really does feel a bit crammed onto the pages. On Metal-Archives this is listed as Epic Black Metal for the genre, and so I wasn't expecting the usual fast paced barrage of our usual wall of sound.

Obscurité do have quite an "epic" feel to their take on Black Metal. It just feels ancient and slow moving with the way the material is presented. Blast beats are few and far between and instead the tempo is quite slow. It's, basically, down-tempo Black Metal, if you will. Blast beats are few and far between, but Fog does sneak them in there once in a while. Ash's guitar work is quite good and there are some really exceptional riffs on this release. It sort of reminds me of an album built around the more epic styled Bathory songs or a band like Macabre Omen.  I think the one complaint I would level at the guitars is I wish there was more gain on the guitars or something. When they perform the palm muting riffs it feels a little fuzzy kind of like the distortion settings Mütiilation would use, but that's my most major complaint. Vocally Ash is just okay, nothing exceptional in my book. It's sort of like when Demonaz put out his own album and it reminds me of that. They're not bad vocals, but they don't really stand out either.

In the end this is a pretty good first effort. For me, I'm not sure how much it will wind up in my future listening, because I tend to prefer the faster variant of Black Metal. This being the case "Elégie" is probably my favorite song on this album. I usually like the slower tempo Black Metal as a song or two on an album to break up the monotony of blasting/speed which a lot of Black Metal ends up sounding like. However, if you've ever listened to those songs and said "wow, I wish I had a whole album of this" then look no further, Obscurité is an absolutely fine choice. Ash does a great job of executing that style and making the riffs interesting and, as you can guess, quite epic.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hysteria


Hysteria - Flesh, Humiliation and Irreligious Deviance
Great Dane Records, 2016
Genre: Death Metal

1. In Belief, Into Nothingness...
2. Sadistic Deviance
3. Visceral Torments
4. Heiress of Disease
5. Ô Father...
6. Succubus Offering
7. The Unhealthy Signature: Haunted by Words of Gods Part II
8. Hérésie
9. Demons from the Past
10. Flesh Messiah
11. Blasphemous Writings (Final Part)


I sort of lost track of Hysteria over the years and I had no idea the project was still active, sadly I was a couple years late picking up this album. I don't know what made me check up on them, but I was pleasantly surprised a new album was out. I think they got lost in the shuffle over the years, because the last album did come out quite a long time ago. Sadly this album has probably been overlooked by the scene as well.

"Flesh, Humilation and Irreligious Deviance" really picks up right where "When Believers Preach their Hangamn's Dogma" leaves off. It's almost hard to believe such a large spans of time has gone by between these two albums. Naturally, "Flesh, Humilation and Irreligious Deviance" does advance their sound quite a lot. It's just interesting to think about what catches the public eye, for example Hate has gotten quite popular, but Hysteria is every bit as good as that band. This is really the difference between a large scale touring act, but I still wish it was easier for bands like Hysteria to get their name out there because their music is truly awesome. I can tell already from the first listen that this album will be added to my "go to" list of Death Metal albums to listen to. It's interesting to see how much Hysteria has changed over the years and I feel like they've become even more influenced by the sounds of Polish Death Metal, but their addition of more Swedish styled melodies into the mix really can make their sound feel quite different from the usual Polish masters. One interesting thing I've noticed this time around is their inclusion of varying up the vocals a lot more. Prior to this they stayed mostly in the low guttural style with the occasional higher range scream. But this time they are starting to include some more flat out yelling styles that are really making for a great effect in the atmosphere of the songs. They really stand out quite a bit, because they are markedly different from the way a vocalist like Nergal approaches them.

In the end the new Hysteria is simply an awesome album. If you liked the last album, I can't imagine you would be disappointed with this release. I feel like Hysteria are finally settling down into their own sound and have found their own unique take on the genre after spending a couple albums trying to find their sound. Since this album and the last are a result of that exploration, I would say two mediocre releases were well worth the wait for something this exquisite. They've really managed to give a truly refined feel to their music that exemplifies their rather diverse approach to the writing of this music. An absolutely must listen as far as I'm concerned.

Hysteria - When Believers Preach their Hangman's Dogma
Trendkill Recordings, 2009
Genre: Death Metal

1. Sufferings Make Me Almighty
2. Your Kingdom Will Be Mine
3. Still Haunted by Flesh (Work or Torments Part II)
4. Art of Evil
5. The Unholy Creation
6. Lies for Religion Supremacy
7. Stroke Down by Disease
8. Blinded by Religious Doctrines
9. Les écrites blasphématoires





Hysteria isn't the type of band to crank out albums, but it seems they're content to wait until the time is right and they have material worth showing off, which is something I can totally respect. Once again I picked this album up when it was originally released. We finally have some fairly unique cover art and a really awesome booklet layout to match making this album totally worth buying. The biggest reason this is worth getting is the sheer and immense improvement over the past two efforts.

It's hard to believe this band ever sounded like "Abyssal Plains of Chaos", because "When Believers Preach their Hangman's Dogma" is such a stellar presentation of refined and well thought out modern Death Metal. It's almost a shame how overlooked this band is given how exceptional good the riffing is on this album. Not one bad song, mind you. I'm doing this review in 2018 and I've had this album in a fair amount of rotation when I'm in the mood for some excellently well written Death Metal. The truly best part of this release is that it's more than just a mere exercise in Death Metal performance, the riffs have some wonderful atmosphere behind them, while maintaining that crushing Brutal Death Metal vibe. Look at how "Stroke Down by Disease" starts? Awesome atmosphere right there before it takes off into really intense Death Metal. Hysteria haven't lost their melodic touch either because the main riff on "Still Haunted by Flesh" feels extremely influenced by the Black Metal band Dawn. However, melody has taken a back seat in favor of more brutal riffing for the majority of the album. It sounds like they are becoming more influenced by the heavy hitters out in Poland like Trauma, but they still blend in this interesting mix of Hypocrisy and Morbid Angel for good measure.

"When Believers Preach their Hangman's Dogma" is an absolutely superb album and sadly overlooked by the metal community. I think this is a rare gem in a world of mundane efforts. Maybe I'm getting more out of this material than others? But I really enjoyed everything they put together on here a lot. If you enjoy exceptional riffing that is more than just chugging and crushing tone, but a really excellent blend then this is a must listen. They may not be doing anything drastically new, but their particular blend of influences is unique enough to keep me coming back to this album.

Hysteria - Haunted by the Words of Gods
Adipocere Records, 2006
Genre: Death Metal

1. Haunted by Words of Gods
2. Controlled Existence
3. Martyrs of God
4. My Last Thoughts
5. The Valley of Hinnom
6. From Beyond Reality
7. Unfathomable Mystery
8. Work of Torments







I remember being surprised when this album hit, because I thought this project was done with just the one EP. I remember liking the EP back then enough to see what the new album would sound like. It was hard to sample music back in 2006 as if it wasn't really on myspace there weren't really many options, but I really liked the album title a lot. The cover was kind of weird though and a lot of other bands were doing very similar graphic design like Sinister, Hate, and Behemoth even. The layout and design of the booklet is pretty cool, but I just remember thinking it was already overdone by the time I got my hands on this release. It's like the genre of Death Metal suddenly hired the same graphic designer.

Musically "Haunted by Words of Gods" is way better than their EP. It feels like the band has managed to find more of a direction and got much better at blending together their brutal riffing with the more melodic passages. They do a very good job of hitting that brutal Death Metal sequence and the album pretty much hits you with this after the Exorcist sample laden intro. So, right from the start this album hits you pretty hard. The riffing is solid and reminiscent of a Suffocation meets Morbid Angel sort of blend. There's probably a decent amount of Deicide in here too, but not total worship like we hear with a band like Hate. Hysteria switches between the Brutal Death Metal style and a Melodic Death Metal style. Sure there are moments that are melodic and reminiscent of works like At the Gates, but a lot of the parts have more of Hypocrisy atmosphere to them, which is really wonderful as a lot of bands don't do the newer Hyprocrisy style well.

Production wise this blows the prior album out of the water. Everything is so much more powerful and I feel like I'm listening to real drum set! Albeit it's triggered, but better than a terrible e-kit snare sound. It seems like they put a lot more care into this album and the skill behind the riff writing is far more apparent.

In the end this is an enjoyable album. I liked it quite a bit when I first got it in 2006, but it has fallen out of rotation. Listening again after all these years, I'm not sure it holds up to the test of time for me. It's not a bad album to have on and some of the riffs are really killer riffs, but as a whole I have other releases that I find to be a lot better. Hysteria is taken steps in the right direction though, so with this release I looked forward to their next album a lot more.

Hysteria - Abyssal Plains of Chaos
Infernal Waves Productions, 2002
Genre: Death Metal

1. Taking Sides with the Devil... the Ritual
2. Endless Suffering
3. Spiritual Weakness
4. Vision of Chaos - Disruption of the Elements











I picked up Hysteria's debut release when it first came out and I've been following the project ever since. It's been easily a decade since I've listened to this EP and let's see if this holds up in 2018. Hysteria is a project that no one really talked about and I think I remember buying this as a random purchase on a label because I thought the cover looked cool. Even though this is likely long out of print, it's still pretty readily available on the internet at various locations.

The early 2000's were a weird production time for extreme metal, suddenly we had access to more affordable digital gear. We no longer had to rely on tape in the home studio and we didn't have to pay for fancy more analog driven studios. You could put an album together and it wouldn't sound like the early 90's harsh demos of the days of yore. However, there were some growing pains with the new technology... especially in the drum trigger market. Triggers sounded atrocious around this time, they've definitely gotten better over the years (nothing beats a real drumset in my opinion though). This Hysteria album sounds like it was recorded with an electronic kit on the drums and as a result it has some of the worst snare tone out there. The performance is great and a lot of early band recordings wound up on the cheap this way. Saves mixing time too, ah well... the guitars sound pretty good... the production was just something that stood out as I turned this one.

Anyway, musically this album is kind of all over the place. Maybe that's the real source of the band name in some respects. This four song EP ranges from the realms of more Brutal Death Metal to really nice Melodic Death Metal. It kind of circles around these ideas with split second switches at times, but other times the riffing will transform itself more seamlessly. Perhaps they're drawing some influence from the likes of Akercocke and blending it in with the Melodic Death Metal style we hear out of Sweden. There are even moments when they play Thrashier riffs that wind up having a bit more a Black Metal vibe, but this isn't very often.

In the end this is an okay start for a band. I would like to see them organize their musical ideas better on future releases. I can see why this release has wound up as dead stock in some distros, it's not terrible, but it's only okay. It will clearly get buried by the deluge of more solidified projects releasing higher quality material. Unless you're a really big Hysteria fan this is probably worth skipping.

Skinweaver


Skinweaver - Gratification Eternal
Great Dane Records, 2017
Genre: Death Metal

1. Apotemnophilia
2. Skinweaver
3. Malus Triumfat
4. Salvation
5. Kneedeep in the Flesh
6. Bastion of Butchers
7. Suffer Endless
8. Zombie Holocaust
9. Plague Bearer






Skinweaver was a bit of a random purchase on my behalf. I was picking up the new Hysteria album and while looking through the record labels releases I came across this release. The name and album cover screamed of "old school Death Metal", which I happen to love. Skinweaver reminds me of the Dismember song "Skinfather", so I was hoping the album was somewhere in that wheelhouse. "Gratification Eternal" is their debut album, with no demos prior and it's rare to find this quality out of the gate.

I feel like I'm seeing a bit of a resurgence of the old Death Metal style thanks to labels like Iron Bonehead, who seems to do everything the old way and maybe now Great Dane with more of a focus on Death Metal? After hearing this I'm going to start exploring their catalog more, because this debut from Skinweaver is absolutely incredible. It's everything I want from Death Metal, and this is coming from a person who primarily listens to Black Metal. I grew up with a lot of the old greats like Entombed, Dismember, Suffocation, Unleashed, etc. and Skinweaver definitely delivers on that idea. The really excellent aspect of this release is that it doesn't feel like a clone at all. You hear a myriad of influences in this album. You've got Dismember, Carcass, Sinister and old Hypocrisy all rolled together here and I feel like that's the core blend of their main approach. They stay heavily focused on creating catchy grooves and casting them amidst some crushing Death Metal. The production value of the album is excellent as well, everything feels very organic as opposed to the more modern sound where we don't really listen to real drums anymore. Some bands do okay with hyper production like Lost Soul, but most of the time it just sounds bad to me. Skinweaver has a really excellent compromise because it's certainly better production quality than early 90's Death Metal, but it sounds like we have real instruments being played. Based on their pictures of recording we're listening to the guitars driven by Diezel tube amplifiers, which gives a really nice crunchy tone to the guitars. The vocals sit nicely in the mix and have a ton of reverb on them which really works for this release, in my opinion. They never take over the mix either, which is great, because I hear that happen a lot, this way we can enjoy the riffs and this awesome powerful guttural shout their vocalist does.

In the end I was very happy with my random purchase and I'm going to have to look through and check out other bands on this record label. The booklet is a bit over simplified, but that kind of makes sense for a debut of a fairly unknown project. I'm just happy they went with pressing a CD instead of digital release only. If you miss the old days of Death Metal, well they are alive and well on this album. They pull it off without sounding like a clone and that is, by far, one of the most endearing parts of this album. A really killer debut and I look forward to whatever else they put out in the future now that this project is on my radar.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Apolokia


Apolokia & Inferno Split
Sombre Records, 2003
Genre: Black Metal

Apolokia:
1. Acherontis Avari
Inferno:
2. Hrdi a silni
3. Sjednoceni viron











Side Inferno: here
Side Apolokia:

It's been a couple years since we've heard from Apolokia and their latest movement comes two years after their last split with Dark Storm. As before this is a Sombre Records release, this time on 7" and limited to 500 copies. I don't see any hand-numbering on my copy, so I guess they didn't hand number all their releases.

This material came out about the same time as Katharsis' "Kruzifixxion" album, so the material isn't too far off from there. As I mentioned in the last review this project is closely related, however it isn't nearly as chaotic. "Kruzifixxion" is one of Katharsis' most chaotic efforts, so this Apolokia song stands pretty far removed from that. Which works out well because even though it has that Katharsis tone, it doesn't have that Katharsis atmosphere, so it's nice to hear a whole new spin on this.

Unfortunately, this is the last we heard from the project. Perhaps the two members couldn't find the time to work together, or M.K. just decided to focus more on Katharsis. Either way, this project has been put to rest and it's kind of a shame we never got a proper full-length out of it, because the music was pretty good.

Apolokia & Dark Storm Split
Sombre Records, 2001
Genre: Black Metal

Apolokia: In Ceremonial Circles
1. Infinite Warscream
2. Cemetary Shrines
3. Thy Eye and Claw of Evil
4. In Ceremonial Circles
Dark Storm: Kult Satan
5. Kult Satan
6. Infernal Desecration
7. Eternal Flame of Hell
8. Thy Unholy Light
9. In the Sign of Blasphemy




Side Dark Storm: here
Side Apolokia:

Being a fairly big Katharsis fan I somehow missed out on Apolokia and instead I got into them through the bands they did splits with. Their first 4-way split that came out before this one is something I'm missing, but someday I might track it down. Their original demo tape, I'm not so optimistic about, so my reviews really begin here. While I was reviewing Dark Storm these tracks happened to come on and I was really into them, so here we are. This is a 12" LP and is limited to 350 copies.

Basically, if you like Katharsis you will certainly enjoy Apolokia as the projects are quite similar. Apolokia is M.K. on guitar and drums with vocalist/bassist Azazel. I didn't realize M.K. also played guitar, but in Katharsis I think all he plays is drums. Either way, the Katharsis style is certainly strong in his writing style and you can hear that from the very start of "Infinite Warscream". The major difference is that his music doesn't seem as intensely chaotic as Katharsis usually is. So, it's not exactly a Katharsis clone, it just sounds quite similar. I'm sure they're recorded in the same Katharsis studio, which gives the production quality the exact same treatment, which works very well for this material. The only major off-putting aspect is that sometimes the material feels pretty messy in it's writing and performance. As if the songs weren't practiced very often, but just enough to do a recording. Despite that the material is still good with slightly less chaotic styled Katharsis riffing and generates that awesomely hateful atmosphere the project is known for. So, if you're a Katharsis fan you should also become a fan of Apolokia!