Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Top 10 of 2012

2012 was truly a halcyon year for Black Metal. The quality of music released was some of the highest quality I've ever heard. It truly outdid a lot of 2011 when I look back at what was released that year. While 2011 had some great releases, 2012 was simply an incredible year. As usual, I still made some tough choices. Sometimes I don't feel my choices hold up over time, but that is something I always struggle with when it comes to the later sections of the top ten lists. My first few choices seem to hold up over the years though and 2012 had a very clear choice that stood out immediately upon hearing it in greater detail. So here's the best material I purchased over the year.

10. Secrets of the Moon - Seven Bells



I'll admit, when I first heard Secrets of the Moon announced a new album, I wasn't that excited for it. I wasn't as into "Privilegium" as a follow-up to the mighty "Antithesis", so with line-up changes having happened, I didn't hold out much hope. I figured it would be, at least, a decent recording, maybe not the best. I was surprised to see it hit so high on my list this year, because "Seven Bells", for me, is the proper follow-up to "Antithesis". While not everything on hear was outstanding, the overlong Ambient piece during "Nyx" comes to mind, the majority of the album was very well done and I consider it worth getting.

9. Frostseele - PrækΩsmium



Review: here

Here we have a very outstanding newcomer to the Atmospheric Black Metal world. Hailing out Germany and I'm proud to say I was listening pretty early on to the actual release date of this album. Frostseele have really managed to capture that level of immersion that really captures the imagination. This is truly a wonderful beginning to a new project and hopefully they can keep releasing music of this quality in the years to come.

8. Wodensthrone - Curse



This was a new one for me, despite already having prior releases out there. Their latest album, though, far outweighs their prior releases for me. "Curse" is an ambitious album and covers a lot of amazing ground. If you like truly majestic sounding Black Metal, then Wodensthrone is a band you truly want to hear.

7. Grisâtre - Esthaetique

Sadly, blogger could not find videos on youtube for this album.

These last four choices were rather difficult to place, but I think I ultimately landed Grisâtre here. I really like this album in the Atmospheric branch of Black Metal, and it has reminiscent periods of Paysage d'Hiver due  to the wonderfully harsh production. This really can lend the album a rather colder atmosphere.

6. Eïs - Wetterkreuz



Review: here

I wasn't too surprised when I heard "Wetterkreuz." When I first heard it announced, I was vaguely sure this would hit the top ten unless something happened out of nowhere. After their album "Galeere" they had really launched themselves into a realm of writing that transcended a lot of other projects. They really advanced the sound of "Galeere" and deepened the textures even more, which makes this quite an astounding release.

5. Drudkh - Вічний оберт колеса



Drudkh really needs no introduction. As one of my favorite bands for many years, I figure they will usually hit my top 10 in the year something is released. Provided they stay away from the weird material they went after with "Handful of Stars", which was not a good album at all. Perhaps this puts me at some level of bias, but it is difficult when a band consistently writes music of this high quality.

4. Elderwind - Волшебство живой природы



Another newcomer to the genre. This time Elderwind hail out of Russia and if you, like me, have fallen in love with an earlier project called Walknut, then Elderwind is a must hear. They're different projects, sure, but Elderwind manages to, also, capture that vast and beautiful atmosphere that we heard on Walknut. While we all eagerly await a follow-up to that album, Elderwind, have decided to answer the call in just as magnificent as a fashion. Truly a must have album.

3. Der Weg einer Freiheit - Unstille



Review: here

It is not often you will see me ranking a Melodic Black Metal band so highly, since I usually don't go after that style as much as others, but here we are. I feel in love with the Der Weg einer Freiheit sound the first time I ever heard it and when I saw announcements of "Unstille" floating around the web, I was very excited to hear it. A follow-up to the "Agonie" EP was likely to be incredible, and the band certainly didn't disappoint. Everything down to the art direction is simply amazing on this album.

2. Marduk - Serpent Sermon



Review: here

Here's something I never thought was going to happen. Despite Marduk's increase in quality of the years I actually never thought I would rate an album of theirs even close to this highly. I feel like this album sounds far more like a Funeral Mist album than what Marduk have come to be known for over the years. "Serpent Sermon" has this dark and ugly atmosphere, whereas the prior albums focus more on intensity and pummeling a listener. This makes "Serpent Sermon" feel a lot more like the follow-up to "Maranatha" than "Wormwood". Either way the band has truly outdone themselves this time around and I am looking forward more than ever to what Marduk will be producing in the years to come. I was already sold with "Rom 5:12"... but "Serpent Sermon" pushes an envelope I never thought Marduk would breach.

1. Mgła - With Hearts Towards None



Review: here

This is the type of album that comes along very rarely. When I first heard this I knew there was nothing else out that could come close to topping this. This is the type of release that truly stands the test of time and changes the way we, as listeners, look at Black Metal. Throughout their career you could hear that Mgła was trending towards this moment and after "Groza" I think we all expected a good album from the project, but nothing of this caliber. After having seen Mgla live, my image of this release is only further enhanced. This is a release that I consider a must have and likely one of the best albums of all time.

What Death Metal did you buy in 2012?

The most notable material I got was Azarath's "Blasphemers' Maledictions", which was quite a stunning release. It has a rather new direction for the band and is seriously launching them to a whole new level. Gortal's "Daemonolith" was a great follow-up to their debut album. Just very good punishing Polish Death Metal. Masachist's album "Scorned" turns out to be what we've all wanted to hear as the follow-up to Decapitated's "The Negation". While I didn't find Masachist's debut as endearing, "Scorned" really stands out to me and I found it extremely well done. Sphere's "Homo Hereticus" is one of the more intense and heavy albums I picked up this year. I also purchased the obligatory releases from Grave and Unleashed. While I enjoyed the latest Unleashed, I don't seem to have ventured into the world of Grave much over the year.

Who else was up for consideration?

This year saw good releases from Anaal Nathrakh, Besatt, Borgne, Dark Fury, Grimness, Hellveto, Infinity, Lunar Aurora, LvxCælis, Medico Peste, Nattfog, Raventale, Reverence, Sektemtum, Spectral Lore, Szron, and Winterfylleth. A decent list if you just want to hear new material from bands you hadn't heard before.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Grondhaat


Grondhaat - Humanity: The Flesh for Satan's Pigs
Ketzer Records, 2011
Genre: Black Metal

1. Fucking Slaves
2. Humanity: The Flesh for Satan's Pigs
3. The Last Dawn of Human Race
4. The Gate of Nanna (Beherit Cover)
5. Incantations of Dark Gates
6. The Blackest Blasphemy
7. All Bullets of War








I think this was a somewhat random purchase for me. A couple of my motivators was the fact that I really like Czech Black Metal and I think I noticed that Asura was a member of Trollech, and having a Lord Morbivod connection is never bad in my books. So, I picked this up not really knowing what to expect. What we got was a little mixed, but some decent tracks of traditional Black Metal.

The first three tracks are filled with wonderful guitar work done in the usual Czech fashion, drawing influence from the likes of Maniac Butcher and, naturally, Stiny Plamenu and Trollech. There are times that the work has a fairly Finnish feel to it at times. I guess the Beherit cover should come as no surprise then! The only complaint I have during this material is the vocal performance, which isn't particularly great, but it's not terrible either. The part that makes it a bit off putting is the fact that the vocals are very loud in the mix. They really overtake the music and Asura feels like doing the Arioch thing where he fills as much space as possible with vocals. It's quite unfortunate, because the music underneath is extremely good. Then for some reason "The Last Dawn of Human Race" has a very distinct Darkthrone influence, which feels very out of place with the previous guitar work. I think it even bears a resemblance to the more modern Darkthrone, which I, personally, don't like at all. It's fine if these musicians like that, but the placement feels very off putting after the prior three tracks.
This section sort of marks a turning point for the album and we delve deeper down that slow plodding Darkthrone hole, granted in a far more traditional Black Metal fashion like their middle career. There is attempt at infusing groove/catchiness into sections, but much of these slow sections seem to fall into Beherit fashioned writing, but not as much of a mess as the original. If you enjoy that Beherit and Darkthrone blend, you may find far more enjoyment out of this release than I did towards the end.

I just feel like I've sort of been lead astray from the beginning. What started off as some Black Metal I truly love ended up transforming into a totally different style of Black Metal towards the end. I can understand being influenced by multiple things, but with such stark differences and a clear line where it shifts this winds up feeling like two musical projects shoved together. Still, I'm sure there is a fanbase for the latter half of the album, it's just not me, because Grondhaat have certainly performed that style quite well. The only overarching complaint through all the tracks is the vocals need to be turned down.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Burzum


Burzum - Fallen
Byelobog Productions, 2011
Genre: Black Metal

1. Fra Verdenstreet
2. Jeg faller
3. Valen
4. Vanvidd
5. Enhver til sitt
6. Budstikken
7. Til Hel og tilbake igjen







After the release of "Belus" I was fairly impressed with Burzum's post-prison direction and I looked forward to the follow-up. This time there really wasn't any hesitation and I purchased this as soon as it hit the CD shelves at the store. As with "Belus" Varg returned to Grieghallen to record his next installment. As with the prior albums this comes in a beautiful digipak edition and has a very nice booklet as well. It actually has additional art to look through as well as printed lyrics.

As with Burzum's early recording schedule it seems Varg has fallen into the same frantic schedule where he records a vast amount of material. Since this came so soon after "Belus" this is basically a continuation of that style. So, if you quite enjoyed what 'Belus" had to show us then "Fallen" is surely a must buy. I do like "Fallen" a bit more over "Belus", which just goes to show that Varg is improving in my eyes. This time around there really aren't any out of place tracks throughout the album. Sure the intro and outro are not that great, which seems to be normal for Varg these days, but the interior journey of the Black Metal is, especially, very good. There are no disjointed tracks, there's no "Sverddans" to pull us out of the majestic reverie that Varg has lulled us into as the album plays. I was rather surprised at how many clean vocals he used throughout the album. I actually felt that harsh vocals were at a minimum, luckily the cleans fall more in the spectrum of the more "chant" like style that fit the Black Metal much better. Other than that there are many spoken word sections as well. I remember when I first got this, I thought the cleans were a bit off putting, but I think I eventually got used to them as I've listened to this album over the years.

In the end this has some marked improvements over "Belus", but it keeps that same general atmosphere of dark majesty. Even though there are songs on here that are faster than on the prior album, they feel far more epic than before. Varg seems to have had a far more focused vision on this release, which is one of the reasons this is such a stand out release. It's almost entirely perfect, except that the outro "Til Hel og tillbake igjen" is just not very good at all. It's noisy and somewhat annoying and adds almost nothing to the glorious epic music we just sat through. Even so, I still consider "Fallen" to be an even better musical direction than "Belus" and I'm very glad I wound up purchasing it.


Burzum - Belus
Byelobog Productions, 2010
Genre: Black Metal

1. Leukes Renkespill (Introduksjon)
2. Belus' Død
3. Glemselens Elv
4. Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning
5. Sverddans
6. Keliohesten
7. Morgenrøde
8. Belus' Tilbakekomst (Konklusjon)





It's been quite a long time since we've heard from Varg. The only original material being produced over the years has been two Ambient albums, which I am debating on whether to get to round out my Burzum collection or not. While in prison he gave us some delightful antics and interviews over the years. Now that Varg has, finally, been released from prison, he has immediately returned to music and writing a new Black Metal album. I was, honestly, quite skeptical if I should bother purchasing this. Burzum albums have always been on the rather pricey side and I wasn't convinced it was really worth the risk, but being assured it was Black Metal, I took the plunge and handed over my money. As with the Misanthropy releases it comes as a very beautiful digipak. There is a booklet containing lyrics and he sort of returns to the black and white approach, but this time it is a dark picture of a forest being used for the background... so its a little better than straight black.

So, without further ado, Varg returned to Grieghallen to record his latest material. Grieghallen has, naturally, gone through some upgrades since the early 90's. Pytten is certainly a better engineer and with modern equipment they captured the most crisp sounding Burzum album. While it may not have the dirty rawness of the early days, "Belus" is a surprisingly great album. Varg actually tries to stick to a more usual style of vocal rather than going after his old high pitched wail of the old days. His vocals fit very well in the music and they have a sort of dry rasp to them, similar in style to Satyr, I would say. If you look at "Filosofem" and look through the dates of when the songs were written "Jesus' Tod" was one of the last songs written before Varg went to jail. Much of the "Belus" album really picks up on the direction from where this song left off. It has that sort of dark chord structuring found on Thorns' "Trondertun Tape". So, naturally I really fell in love with this sound a lot. He sort of goes the Gorgoroth route with "Belus' Død" and only plays one riff for the duration as Gorgoroth has done from time to time. The riff, luckily is quite atmospheric and actually works pretty well letting the listener just bask in the atmosphere. It transitions into the epic "Glemselens Elv" perfectly and this is where the album really picks up its strength.  I don't know how much Varg has paid attention to modern Black Metal during his prison years, but parts of "Keliohesten" have a very reminiscent Mgla feel to them, which is very awesome. Unfortunately, like his debut album there is a very out of place sounding song with "Sverddans". It's this album's version of "War" really. It has a gritty punkier feel to it and it really annihilates the atmospheric experience we were so enraptured with from the other songs. Based on the worthless intro piece I was a little worried about the concluding song being nearly nine minutes long. One of the stark differences on "Belus" is that there is no keyboard section. All of the atmosphere is driven by the guitar work, so I was worried with the final song and wondered if this was where the Ambient would finally show up. It doesn't! It's an instrumental track, sure, but it's actually a well done droning piece to close the album on.

In the end this is essentially the album I've been wanting Varg to release since I've heard Burzum. Aside from the track "Sverddans" this album is nearly perfect to me. Sure, I do miss the Ambient blended with Black Metal as before, but I think "Belus" presents a fine show with an album that feels a lot more well thought out than before. I think that's more what I'm getting at, this is the album I wanted to hear because it was all actual Black Metal and I don't have any extensive Ambient tracks that throw off the nature of the Black Metal. "Belus" is a strong return for Burzum, hopefully this will keep up in the future for Varg.


Note: I haven't decided if I'm going to continue on and pick-up the two all Ambient releases after this. I heard them many many years ago and I no longer remember what they sound like. But for the sake of filling in the discography gaps, I may pick them up and review them eventually.

Burzum - Filosofem
Misanthropy Records, 1996
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Dunkelheit
2. Jesus' Tod
3. Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments
4. Gebrechlichkeit I
5. Rundgang um die transzendentale Sáule der Singularitát
6. Gebrechlickeit II






Just when it seemed Burzum couldn't possibly have any more material, here we have "Filosofem" being released in 1996. It's heralded as his best work by far and that's, essentially, correct. The material was actually recorded in March, 1993 and its taken three years for it to see the light of day. I can't even imagine what the landscape of Black Metal would have been like with this being released in 1993. This is the first digipak that comes with a very nice full booklet as well adding a lot more art to be viewed. The layout isn't all that great, but its a step up from the simple all black and white approach from the prior releases.

Despite this being recorded closely to "Hvis lyset tar oss" the recording quality is strikingly different. One could attribute this to the fact it claims to have been recorded in a different studio called Breidablik Tonstudio, but according to the 2010 re-edition this is not the case. Like all the other Burzum albums it was recorded in Greighallen. Production wise, this is probably the best with respect to recording quality. Writing wise its on par with "Hvis lyset tar oss". The vocal performance this time around was also very different. Rather than going after his usual high pitched wails, Varg has defaulted to using distortion on his voice and he just lightly growls through this. Luckily, Varg's music is overwhelmingly atmospheric so the use of vocals is quite sparse throughout the experience. The albums first parts are the real meat of the release and the real reason to be listening to this. The Black Metal sections are not too different from what we found on the prior album, and part of me wishes he had just released all of this kind of material together, rather than recording every four months or so. I feel like this approach yielded the effect that you have albums with throw away material, rather than working towards a very strong full-length. The material on here, for whatever, reminds me of something that paved the way for the future style of Lunar Aurora and Paysage d'Hiver. The song "Jesus' Tod" has some serious reminiscence to a more Thorns styled structure which is wonderful to hear. Unfortunately, once the Black Metal is over we are subjected to two instrumental tracks. The first is twenty-five minutes of Ambient... and not very good Ambient. This was the aspect that marred "Hvis lyset tar oss", but at least that was under fifteen minutes, this is just unreasonable to listen to for so long. Sitting through this has made "Hvis lyset tar oss" a better album alone... but wait, if you thought it was over "Gebrechlichkeit II" begins to play and more Ambient ensues. This time it is rife with strange noises under a somber piano line. Luckily this is only about eight minutes in length. We get a little hopeful as a guitar appears in the background and steadily gets a little louder, but then we realize this never really goes anywhere. The addition of the guitar into this Ambient tracks certainly saves it from being the overwhelming bore of the prior track, but at the end of the day its still just more Ambient. Furthermore, Ambient hasn't really been Varg's strong suit, so while I thought "Hvis lyset tar oss" had a poor ending, this is just so much worse. It's almost to the point where I've forgotten the Black Metal now...

In the end this may not be the best album because of the last two songs, but what we do have in the ways of Black Metal are very good. I think I do actually like "Hvis lyset tar oss" a bit more on an objective level, but "Filsofem" is easily my second favorite from these early years. These last two albums are certainly the most influential material from Burzum and it certainly transcends the mans fame outside the music in my opinion in the end. At this juncture I figured we would never hear from Burzum again... but history has shown a different outcome.


Burzum - Hvis lyset tar oss
Misanthropy Records, 1994
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Det som en gang var
2. Hvis lyset tar oss
3. Inn i slottet fra droemmen
4. Tomhet










Despite being in prison somehow Varg is still releasing Black Metal album. The reason behind this is because he recorded this material back in September, 1992 in Grieghallen Studio. 1992 seems to have been an overly productive year for Varg and with output that frequent, I can't help but wonder what Varg's musical landscape would have become if he had never murdered Euronymous. If this album had been released in early 1993 it would have been so much more influential compared to his actual debut. I imagine there were delays in releasing this considering the arrest and despite the back saying 1993, this was eventually released in 1994.

If you thought "Det some engang var" was some engaging and atmospheric material, you are in for quite the shock. The opening song is nearly fifteen minutes long and it really sets a gold standard for how the rest of Atmospheric Black Metal should proceed. Much of the atmospheric bands follow this format of slow churning music with soaring keyboards to help round out the majestic sound. Furthermore the music is played over a time span where the listener can easily get lost in the sounds. Future bands like Paysage d'Hiver would combine this with outright Ambient and push the speed envelope in a way that gave the same affect as the more mid-paced feel we find on "Hvist lyset tar oss". The title track has sections that have this massive droning affect that would later be used by the likes of Hate Forest. The third song "Inn is slottet fra droemmen" is probably the weakest on the recording, because the first half is only okay compared to the other two prior tracks. In the context of other music, its actually quite good, but compared to the other two tracks its not as strong until the halfway point. I, somewhat, got the feeling that the first part was performed in a somewhat sloppy fashion, which isn't too surprising given that Varg was never the greatest instrumentalist out there, but his writing is often off the charts incredible. In the first part of the song he tries to play with a bit more dissonance, which is an interesting thing to play with, but it doesn't quite fit with the melodic and epic nature of the other material. Halfway through this transitions into some of the most beautiful and epic material he's ever written and I sort of wish the song was just that over and over. The final track is a fourteen minute Ambient piece. I keep trying to tell myself this was recorded in 1992, so not to expect very much, but its a rather daunting thing to listen to. The keyboard settings chosen have a sort of whispy spacey feel, rather than a majestic epic feel, which would actually fit with the music. He really should have stuck with a more dungeon synth approach as with the song "Han som reiste", which I think would've fit this album a lot more. I think if he had played some Black Metal over these he may have inadvertently beaten Darkspace to the punch for this feel, but, alas, it is only the synth recording.

Even though the album ends on a low note, we can't deny how incredible the rest of the music is, or how influential it was. I would have figured this was the end of the Burzum discography for many years and what a high note to end on really. At the very least we really made to the birth of proper Atmospheric Black Metal and the world is, honestly, better off for it. "Hvis lyset tar oss" is truly a must have of the Burzum discography in my opinion.


Burzum - Det Som Engang Var
Cymophane, 1993
Genre: Black Metal

1. Den onde kysten
2. Key to the Gate
3. En Ring til aa Herske
4. Lost Wisdom
5. Han som reiste
6. Naar Himelen Klarner
7. Snu mikrokosmos tegn
8. Svarte troner






Despite being released in 1993, this was originally recorded in April of 1992, just a few months after the debut in the famed Grieghallen Studio, which is where many Black Metal bands in Norway went to record. This is probably where Varg started getting fed-up with Euronymous' lack of releasing his material. Rather than put this album out on Deathlike Silence, Varg created his own label and put this out on his own. Originally, "Aske" was supposed to come out after this, but that clearly never happened. This was further emphasized by the fact that ten days prior to this he murdered Euronymous. I'm sure the release of this album hitting that soon after killing one of the founding fathers of Black Metal left quite the sour note with many bands and fans alike. From these early days there has always been this undercurrent of a Burzum vs. Mayhem kind of ideal throughout the scene. I think throughout this I've always fallen pretty solidly on the Mayhem camp's side. Varg's actions were clearly overly selfish, not to mention bringing Snorre Ruch into the whole thing just made things worse for the genre and the lack of Ruch's involvement over a ten year span of time is sad as well, nevermind removing what Mayhem perhaps could have grown into if Euronymous still lived.

However, we cannot deny the historical merits of his musical works. Insane man aside, this music has greatly influenced a large portion of the Black Metal genre. And on that note I finally did buckle and purchase these early Burzum works. The editions I have are the Misanthropy Records pressings in beautiful digipak and this one came out in 1994. So whether or not the character of Varg matters to you, we must look at his music anyway if we are to see some of the foundation works of the early Black Metal scene.

The music is quite a bit different from the debut and really brings Burzum into their own sound. I feel like these recordings are also a lot more focused than the self-titled. Here Varg focuses more on creating epic and rather droning atmospheres. This is really where the influence for Atmospheric Black Metal completely took off. The way "Key to the Gate" begins doesn't really lead us to think this and it is truly the only part of this album that is far out of place. Eventually the song fades into a
lengthy and beautiful atmosphere, where if it wasn't for that first riff we would all have quite a wonderful immersion into this world. The album seems heavily influenced by Lord the Rings, even more so than the first. This fantasy leaning can easily be seen on the cover which looks just like the cover for Dungeon & Dragons module "The Temple of Elemental Evil" pictured on the right. There is even an instrumental keyboard track on here "Han som reiste", which is no doubt one of the earliest Ambient styles of this nature. It clearly influenced the likes of Mortiis on his excellent dungeon synth albums and there's even a lighter flair at the end that is very reminiscent of Mortiis' "Crypts" release. I'm sure this one song influenced Mortiis and he really just fleshed out the idea to a full album length.

Aspects of this album certainly stand the test of time, but I think what this release influenced in the future has been of even greater benefit in some regards. I just wish Black Metal had gotten over the Varg style vocals while playing this style of Black Metal. Sometimes they work, but he is not the greatest vocalist and the focus on the high pitched wails rather detracts from the experience. The addition of the sort of chanting approach really worked especially well with songs on here and that was a nice addition from the first release. The only track I can certainly do without is "Svart trone", which is basically ambient noise with Varg making weird noises throughout. Luckily, I don't think this really influenced much of anything in the grand scheme of things.

Truly a legendary release in the annals of Black Metal. We can see the trend of Atmospheric Black Metal really start to gain some ground and I can only imagine how incredible this would have been if it had been released around the recording session of 1992.


Burzum - Aske
Deathlike Silence, 1993
Genre: Black Metal

1. Stemmen fra Taarnet
2. Dominus Sathanas
3. A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit













Now for one of the ballsiest album covers in the whole of Black Metal. It is right up there with Mayhem's "Dawn of the Black Hearts". On the cover is featured the burned husk of the Fantoft Stave church in Norway, which Varg allegedly burned down. This really drove the point home that Black Metal is a war against Christianity and further solidified that such beliefs are unwelcome in the genre. This is one of the aspects where I make it part of the definition of the genre. This also seems to be where problems with Euronymous began to appear for Varg. "Aske" was intended to be released after the second full-length "Det some Engang Var", but this release was delayed and Varg blamed Euronymous for this delay. So, we have "Aske" hit first in the discography.

The question comes up if the music on this EP can live up to the cover. Things start off very promising because "Stemmen fra Taarnet" is a great song. Despite having drumming sometimes derived from Punk, Varg made it work decently in the mix. The recording quality is far superior to the debut and the song has a sort of catchy folky feel to it. This would, no doubt, influence the likes of Satyricon's "Dark Medieval Times" in later years. "Dominus Sathanas" is a slow brooding song, which is, once again, entirely different from the opening song. It's an instrumental song, which is rather curious given the length of the release. But if you consider it as a sort of "outro" piece for the first song it might make more sense. The closing track is a re-recording of "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit". This is one of the more frustrating parts of the re-release by Misanthropy, it never included the original recording and it only features this one, so I'm not sure I've ever heard the original song before. The production quality on this re-edition is very good and I have no complaints about that. Varg's vocals feel a lot more accessible on these recordings than on the debut. He still uses the higher range, but I feel like it fits a bit better within this recording quality. Still, they are not the best vocals out there, but they're low enough in the mix as not to be overwhelming.

In the end I'm not quite sure this lives up to the album cover. But this does show some marked improvement to the Burzum sound and way of doing things. I think it's heading in a better direction than the debut and I would have been looking forward to the next full-length upon hearing this release.


Burzum - Burzum
Deathlike Silence, 1992
Genre: Black Metal

1. Feeble Screams from Forests Unknown
2. Ea, Lord of the Depths
3. Spell of Destruction
4. Channelling the Power of Souls into a New God
5. War
6. The Crying Orc
7. A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit
8. My Journey to the Stars
9. Dungeons of Darkness




Delving back into the legendary early days. I'm going to try and conjure up what I thought of this when I first heard it in the 90's. As you can see from the picture I never got the original Burzum releases as they came out, I didn't get into them until about 1996 and by then Misanthropy Records had been repressing the albums in very nice digipaks. Regardless of how crazy I think Vikernes is, I, for whatever reason, was never a die-hard fan of Burzum's music. I completely acknowledge the merit of the art in the greater context of Black Metal. I'm really not going to bother delving back into Burzum's demo days, because I feel their debut really encompasses the vast majority of that material.

Revisiting this in 2014, brings back nostalgic memories of my early forays into Black Metal, but I still have the same general feeling of this album back then. I, personally, find this a rather mediocre release in the grand scheme of things. Even by 1992 Emperor's demo was better, Darkthrone's debut was stronger etc. This was during a time frame when all kinds of murder and general mayhem were being committed by some of the bands in the scene, which gave them more fame than their music probably would have. One of the major changes Burzum brought was reference to Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", which became a favored topic in Black Metal over the years by a surprisingly large amount of projects. Burzum take their name from a line of dark speech found in the first book. The name itself

Musically, this is actually a very varied release. Much of the music feels inspired by the likes of Bathory and Thorns. "Ea, Lord of the Depths" has chord structuring pulled right out the Thorns style and structuring. Then there are tracks that feel closer to Bathory's "Blood Fire Death" in style. The general approach is not too dissimilar from Darkthrone with the more mid-paced blast beats to slower paced drumming. There are a couple instrumental tracks that feel very out of place, like "The Crying Orc", which really goes nowhere and is too short to care about much. The song "War" really comes out of left field. The song has this gritty punky feel and features a guitar solo performed by Euronymous. Its so out of place on the album that you just wonder why it is there. I think this is one of the major reasons I had a hard time getting into Burzum. There was no general atmosphere to the music that I could really get behind, because before you knew it he was onto something else influenced by some other band. The album eventually closes with "Dungeons of Darkness" and that is just a giant waste of space. I think its meant to be ominous, but after so much variation you're just tired of it. There are some good songs on here, but the variation mars that overall experience for me, plus having a vocal performance that was not very endearing.

Burzum wound up influencing a fringe break off of Black Metal more than the general scene, because a lot of his material seems to have spawned into the DSBM scene in later years. His penchant for high pitched vocals, which sound awful to me, has really made it a staple of that scene altogether. Bands that did this better were acts such as Bethlehem and Silencer, but they probably bore some influence from Dani Filth in those stages. Dani Filth was likely influenced by Burzum's approach vocally and just taking that to a far more extreme level. Further why I usually dislike that vocal approach much. The only album I've ever heard the extreme high pitched vocals sound decent was in Hecate Enthroned's "Slaughter of Innocence". So that's one of the regions in which this album influenced the future, but by this point in time this style of vocals wasn't appealing to me in general.

While there are many people out there who are quite taken with Burzum, I prefer the albums that came after this more than anything. The debut was just okay, but the lack of direction is very understandable. You have to remember that Black Metal was still being defined at this time, so bands were trying to really figure out where to take the genre. I don't feel like things got really underway until about 1993 or so, and up until then a lot of bands were trying to work their way out of the Death Metal and Thrash Metal trappings of the early days. I will never besmirch Burzum's influence on the greater scene musically, but their debut just didn't capture my imagination, even in the mid-90's when I was getting into the genre. Still, as far as an historical archive is concerned, this album really needs to be experienced at some point if you really want to get a sense of the genres history.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Infamous


Infamous - Rovine e Disperazione
Eremita Produzioni, 2014
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Disperazione I
2. Rovine I
3. Rovine II
4. Rovine III
5. Disperazione II











It is with "Rovine e Disperazione" that swiftly caught my attention when I started hearing samples during its time of release. Infamous have truly crafted something wonderful with this album. As soon as I heard the samples for this I swiftly tracked down this album and I was lucky enough to get a copy. Like their first album, this is also limited to 200 copies.

Prior to this, I had really only heard one song off this album and decided to back track their discography first. "Rovine e Disperazione" is definitely the high point of their discography. This album returns to just S.A. handling everything and this makes things all the better, because I do prefer his vocals over the vocalist he had participate on "Abisso". I think S.A. has a darker quality to his voice that melds with Infamous' sound a lot more cleanly... also, the no clean singing works better for this band. "Rovine e Disperazione" really brings this bands sound to the highest points. I hear tinges of ColdWorld being melded with their usual Sargeist core riffing and this creates a wonderfully cold and desolate blend to the music. All the while having this sort of majestic and soaring quality. It's actually a blend I've been experimenting with in my own music and it really creates a wonderful texture to the music. Infamous' dense production really makes that blend work quite well, which is where that hopeless desolate feeling comes into play for their sound. Their additional inclusion of more clean guitar sections really pulls this album together in an even stronger fashion, if that's possible at this point. We saw that showing up with "Abisso", but here they've included it in more sections and the blend with music is simply beautiful. It really gives the music a more dynamic quality where it lulls the listener before returning to the Black Metal, which is perfect for a more atmospheric approach to the music.

"Rovine e Disperazione" is an album that really impressed me. The palette with which S.A. is playing is very interesting and isn't just a rehashing of things we've heard before, despite the fact that the blend is from well known projects. He's managed to bring us something that sounds relatively fresh from the nature of the production quality and so on. There's a decent chance this will wind up in my top 10 for 2014 list, it really is that strong. I highly recommend this for fans of Sargeist, ColdWorld, and more atmospheric Black Metal in general.


Infamous - Abisso
Novecento Produzioni, 2013
Genre: Black Metal

1. Acid Disease
2. Antarctica
3. III
4. Abisso
5. Life's Erosion
6. Isolation










Infamous return after a couple years with only an EP... I'm actually not entirely sure how this qualifies as an EP being six songs and over thirty minutes in length... but that's what they're calling it. There has been some slight shifting in the line-up. The core musician writing and performing the music is still here, but in addition a vocalist has been added with Wlku and they have also written the lyrics. Given how much I liked S.A.' vocals on the prior split, I'm sort of sad to see this, but Wlku did a decent job with the music.

Infamous continue where their debut left off with their strange interplay between upbeat sections and utterly depressing passages, fueled through riffing inspired by Sargeist. I think they are still playing with how to best execute these elements, but "Abisso" offers some decent material. If you enjoyed the debut "Abisso" really picks up where that left off and I can't imagine anyone being too disappointed in this release. They've moved away from keyboards to create that melancholic texture during sections, and instead have fallen into using clean guitar styled passages. This sounds a lot better with their sound and chord structurings. Just listen to how well "Life's Erosion" closes. I would really love to see them do more in this vein. The only complaint I have with this recording is that with the new vocalist they seem to experiment with some clean vocal sections. Luckily this is not something that shows up very often, but in the opening song there are a couple parts with clean vocals. Here they work okay, because they're quite low in the mix and give a sort of dark feel to the music. However, when they show up again in "III", they're more in the foreground of the mix and it just sounds awful. Again, this is only one section of the song, but it really marred the whole thing for me.

Overeally, this is a decent EP/Full-Length, depending on what you'd want to call it. I don't think it's quite as good as "Of Solitude and Silence", but they are experimenting with elements that could make their songs stronger. Other elements make it weaker, so you wind up with ups and downs quite often on this release. Hopefully, some of the experimentation will be sorted out by the next release. I do like the vast majority of the material.


Désespoir / Suicidal Years / Infamous / Lux Funestus - Anthems of Misery
Maa Productions, 2013
Genre: Black Metal

Désespoir:
1. Intro - Anthems of Misery
2. In My World of Silence
3. Morgen: Grauen
4. Im Auge des Sturms
Suicidal Years:
5. No More Life
6. In My Dreams
7. The Last Sail
Infamous:
8. Ground's Entrails
9. Shadow I
10. Solitude
Lux Funestus:
11. July Sound
12. Ausencia de Sentimientos
13. When the Summer Breeze... Brings Your Memory

Side Désespoir: ...coming eventually...
Side Suicidal Years: ...coming eventually...
Side Lux Funestus: ...coming eventually...
Side Infamous:

I've missed out on the prior years compilation, so my collection picks up with this four way split. A couple of the tracks from the compilation are re-recorded here. I tend to hate these kinds of splits, because bands can be drastically different, but sometimes good material can show up here. As with other releases involving Infamous, this is limited to 500 copies. Also, as with Infamous releases, there isn't much in the way of a booklet. Just a folded sheet with band names and liner notes about the recordings and members only. Since it covers all four bands things are a little cramped in the interior of the book.

Infamous submit three songs to this compilation. It opens with a new song called "Ground's Entrails" and it is quite short. It doesn't have the usual atmosphere from Infamous though and feels very different. It's a very upbeat song in the vein of Sargeist, but also has some atmospheric moments as before, but it's hard to get immersed in the song since it is only a little over three minutes in length. Plus the abrupt mood changes makes the song feel fairly flawed at times. I hope this is not a new direction for the band, but I will say I like the vocal performance a lot more. They're more of a mid-ranged style of Black Metal as opposed to the higher pitched screams on the debut full-length. At times the tone feels similar to M. from Mgla. The other two songs are much better in my opinion. "Shadow I" appeared on the compilation from 2012, but I have no idea what year this was originally made. This song is quite well done and more in line with what heard on the debut album. It has its upbeat moments, but it really closes on this dense and dark tone that is just awesome. I really love where this song wound up going. The closing track "Solitude" is actually taken from the demo from 2011. This is a really great song and it conjures up memories of what Cendres has done on their tape. It has this tense dissonance to the song, which creates this sort of chilling and haunting feel. I thought this was pretty well done. The only issue, is that since this is an older song, they tried to use the more high-pitched vocals the whole time, which sort of takes away from the musical experience a little bit. But overall it is a fine song.

In the end we have three extremely different songs from Infamous. I tend to like the older lengthier material. Perhaps the new song was just an experiment, to see how it would be received in the community and hence it only appears on the split. Regardless, based on the full-length, I look forward to what is coming next from this project.


Infamous - Of Solitude and Silence
Novecento Produzioni, 2011
Genre: Black Metal

1. Of Solitude and Silence
2. Rex Verminorum
3. Grey Euphoria
4. Human Scum
5. Spiritual Desolation
6. Lugore











I got interested in this project when I heard their recent 2014 release. From there I decided to start back tracking the project and despite having a name that isn't very good, the music is actually really well done. So, naturally by this time I had long missed out on demos, of which there is one before this. I've also missed out on the original pressing of this album, since it was limited to 200 copies. So, I've since picked up the repress by Obscure Abhorrence from 2013 pictured on the right.
I think I prefer the original layout a bit more, the new art direction seems extremely hard to read.

The first thing you'll notice about this band is how dense the production feels. It's almost as if you are under water in many ways, and while many people will likely make-fun of that quality, it really works with the style Infamous going after. The majority of the riffs on this album seem to be inspired from Sargeist primarily, but giving it this production quality gives the music an extremely different feel. Not all of the riffs keep this feel though and there are aspects of songs I don't like that much, such as "Spiritual Desolation" when the slow riff plays with the keyboard. It just doesn't feel in place with the atmosphere of the album. Some parts just sound uplifting amidst all the depressive elements surrounding those sections. Infamous does seem to pull a lot from the Depressive Suicidal scene of Black Metal, but their approach to the creation of the music feels very different. While they do seem to have the higher pitched vocal element, the vocals are mixed so far in the background as to not be annoying or overwhelming. This is probably one of the major reasons I could get into this release.

This is actually a pretty good debut album. It certainly doesn't bring that much new to the world of Black Metal, but it does have a certain level of quality that I can appreciate quite a bit. For the listeners, now it is just a waiting game to see if Infamous can write something that goes beyond their mere influences, something that is entirely their own really. Starting with a strong debut like this gives me a lot of hope that better things will come. Failing originality, at the bare minimum we are guaranteed some well done Black Metal.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Stigma Diabolicum

Changed named to Thorns

Stigma Diabolicum - Luna de Nocturnus
Self-Released, 1989
Genre: Black Metal

1. Mare Frigoris
2. Into the Promised Land
3. Lacus de Luna







Here we have to spend some time with history. I feel like this is where a lot of the problems start in Black Metal. This project is almost entirely long forgotten, except for those that followed Thorns in the mid-90's and I came to the Black Metal scene a little late and naturally missed out on all these late 80's and early 90's demo tapes that were traded around Norway. But if you really want to see where the modern incarnation of Black Metal started, its truly here. Due to how unknown this project was at the time people see the genre start with Mayhem... but I've tended to argue against this for many years. Furthermore, some Music Historian wrote a book in the early 2000's talking about "waves" and now everyone talks about these Thrash Metal bands that played Black Metal. This confuses me, because when you listen to bands like Bathory's first album, it sounds so much more related to Thrash than anything Black Metal attempts to achieve musically. You can chalk all this up to opinion, naturally, but after listening to this genre for twenty some-odd years I feel quite strongly about this assessment. I feel a little more vindicated on this now, since Fenriz seems to corroborate the fact that It was Ruche plus Euronymous that invented the style. In the early days of Mayhem's work with releases like "Pure Fucking Armageddon" and "Deathcrush" I think they were more closely related to what Venom initially envisioned Black Metal to be. It was more closely related to the Speed/Thrash style of the times with a Punk edge and listening to that today you really hear how different those songs sound, regardless of how legendary they are. They certainly don't have the atmospheric edge of "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas" and Mayhem's shift feels extremely sudden in many respects. Now, I don't know who wrote what when and I'm focusing just on when material was released, but after 1987 Mayhem was pretty silent in the releasing music department.

In between the release of Deathcrush and when Mayhem appears to have started writing again Snorre Ruch put together the Stigma Diabolicum project, on which he performed guitar and bass. This is, undoubtedly an entirely different approach to anything we've heard prior in the metal scene. This, to me, is truly what changed history and where a new genre came into being. There is no denying the fact that it was Euronymous that really made the movement happen, but as far as the sound of the genre, it happens here. Even if Mayhem's rehearsal from 1990 with "Freezing Moon" was written prior to Stigma Diabolicum, I can find no evidence of this. However, I do know that Stigma Diabolicum originally started in about 1988 or so, so it's likely the Stigma Diabolicum material was around first, seeing as how Mayhem was restructuring itself at the time.

Now this brings us to the shift in thinking. "Lunas de Nocturnus" starts with some eerie organ styled keyboard, which is nothing all that new. The demo's first song is "Into the Promised Land", which only lasts a little over two minutes, but the guitar riffs are very good. The opening riff has a Thrash feel to it, which is sort of expected coming from that genre originally. But from here the song delves into a tremolo picked scale riff and then a slow and eerie riff, before returning to the faster Thrash riff. In all of this, it is undeniable that a very specific atmosphere is being created. It just sounds so much darker and sinister than anything else before this. This point is driven home even further with the next song "Lacus de Luna". Just listen to how disturbing that song sounds. It's heavily rhythmic, but it plays with dissonance in such a way that it really makes the atmosphere all the more tangible. This is the grand shift in the concept of Black Metal, atmosphere. It's a very different way to engage the listener and it feels very different from listening to Death Metal or Thrash Metal. From here, to me, Euronymous took that approach and then amped them up with a faster approach, as we initially saw on the "Pure Fucking Armageddon" demo and we see that Mayhem releases a rehearsal tape in 1990 with "Freezing Moon", which has a very similar atmosphere to the Stigma Diabolicum material. It's really the blending of these two approaches that gives birth to the genre as a whole.

This new approach to writing is really where a truly different genre is born. This is why I get so worked up about people talking about the genre with respect to "waves", because back then there were no waves. There was just Black Metal being made. What Venom initially intended with the style got morphed and after this there was too much momentum to take back that definition. Since this genre has been going strong for over twenty years, I think people need to accept the fact that Black Metal really started with this shift in writing approach with Stigma Diabolicum and Euronymous (post 1989). It creates so much confusion in the scene to see bands like Hellhammer labeled as "Black Metal" and even Slayer's first four albums... which I've actually seen people label as Black Metal. I actually don't care what the original genre intent was at the time... that's not what it ended up becoming. I think this is why we have two very different ideas of what that genre began as today.