Thursday, March 20, 2014


Kriegsmaschine - Enemy of Man
No Solace, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

1. None Shall See Redemption
2. Lies of the Fathers
3. Farewell to Grace
4. Asceticism and Passion
5. To Ashen Havens
6. Enemy of Man

Nine years! We've waited nine years for Kriegsmaschine to unleash the next full length. I was hoping for something truly immense, something that built and lived up to the highest of expectations. But, when I first listened to it, I wasn't sure if I liked it. This was a very unexpected turn from the authors of "Altered States of Divinity"... I actually wasn't sure if I liked this. It wasn't until the second or third listen that I really sort of understood the real power of this album.

If you were expecting some raging intensity from Kriegsmaschine, like I was, then you may be strangely disappointed. I waited and waited for Darkside's blast beats to kick in, but it never actually happens. That's right, there are no blast beats on this album. Strange how this was one of the first things I noticed, but what they've used instead is actually really interesting. This is not something you can probably get away with in every Black Metal release, but Darkside's drum work truly stands out on this release. The drumming seems a lot more technical and involved than anything he has done in the past and it really complements the haunting music in a very strange, but very good way.

"Enemy of Man", rather than have the intense tremolo picked guitar lines of Black Metal, falls back on the passages that built the haunting nature of Kriegsmaschine's songs in the past. This time, instead of just having them as a piece of a song on an album, we are shown what an entire album of this nature would sound like. I think this unconventional approach is what sort of unsettled me at first, because they weren't doing the things I had a grown to love, but with "Enemy of Man's" approach being so well executed I have managed to become vastly interested in what they've tried to do here. While I certainly miss the vicious and intense blasting passages of prior albums, I can actually get into this album for vastly different reasons. In terms of atmosphere I think this actually conjures up visions of early Ondskapt blended with modern Deathspell Omega, or Mortuus. However, where Deathspell Omega has extremely chaotic and frantic songwriting, Kriegsmaschine is heavily structured and well measured. To be perfectly honest, "Enemy of Man" is basically the album I wish Deathspell Omega had bothered to put out in their modern form, but Kriegsmaschine has really refined and perfected that style here. Just listen to that vocal execution on "Asceticism and Passion", you will rarely hear bands performing this or executing it at this level of perfection.

Given the originality of how Kriegsmaschine has refined certain styles into this album I think it is highly likely that this will wind up towards the top of my Top 10 list at the end of the year. If you are interested in an album that focuses on the truly haunting soundscape that can be constructed with Black Metal then this is an absolute must buy. Few bands can perform at this caliber or write music this compelling, so on that note I urge exploration of this album. I realize this may not be for everyone and the lack of intensity may mar the interest for some, but this is more of a contemplative album that you sit and admire like a painting in a museum or a compelling mathematical proof that brings you some kind of higher understanding, such as Picard's Theorem. Truly beautiful things... all of it.

Kriegsmaschine - Prism: Archive 2002-2004
No Solace, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

Pre-Produciton 2004:
1. Prism
2. Ma'aseh Bereshit
Promo 2004:
3. A Thousand Voices
4. Unto Wormfeast Flesh
5. Apostle of Plague
6. Bloodfetish
7. Hands of the Plague Master
8. B.T.S.
9. Devotee (Son of the God Supreme)
10. In Hate of Christ
The Flame that Burns Inside:
11. The Flame that Burns Inside
12. Stigma
13. Flagrum
14. Deathcult Supreme
15. Nuclear
16. Goathammer Sorcery
17. Uberhate
18. Last Dusk of a Dying World

"Prism" is a compilation album finally releasing a lot of the rare and hard to find Kriegsmaschine material that was released in the early days. If you're a true Kriegsmaschine maniac then this is absolutely worth getting, because you get to hear all these pieces of the bands early history that many were not able to hear.

The big draws on here are the fact that it includes both Kriegsmaschine demos and the material found on their first split with Szron, which is now long out of print. The other major draw are the first two tracks which are a pre-production of two songs from "Altered States of Divinity". These tracks actually have a  major difference  from what we got on the album. This is before Leatherface ceased doing vocals, so these two tracks give us an idea of what "Altered States of Divinity" may have sounded like with him behind the microphone. He does a great job, honestly, probably one of the best he's done with the project. However, I think the end result of the album actually sounds even better with M and Destroyer handling vocal duties together. The only other piece of music I had never heard was the "Promo 2004" material, because this basically wound up being released as "A Thousand Voices", but the music quality is just a little bit different from the release. The original demo material sounds great and the quality is higher than the original material I had heard prior to this. So, even if you have the demos and the original Szron split, this makes it worth getting for the improved quality.

In the end, this is a collectors dream on one CD. If you were missing those pieces of Kriegsmaschine that were released in the early days, this is your chance to finally hear this music. It's a great history to see how Kriegsmaschine grew as a band over the years and I really did enjoy this retrospective release.

Infernal War & Kriegsmaschine - Transfigurations
Malignant Voices, 2010
Genre: Black Metal

Infernal War:
1. Primal Degradation
2. Into the Vortex of Naught
3. Incipit Chaos
4. Onward Destrudo
5. Fear and Loathing in Gethsemane

Side Infernal War: ...coming eventually...
Side Kriegsmaschine:

Now that some serious time has passed and Mgła is going very strong for M. Kriegsmaschine has reared it's ugly head to do an immense split with Infernal War. I think Kriegsmaschine is the kind of band that needs to sit and contemplate their material and only release things when only the best atmosphere has been developed. I'm not sure if the material with Szron were tracks left off of "Altered States of Divinity" or newly written after the album, but the tracks with Infernal War are surely newly written material and they are wonderful. The layout and booklet for this release is also extremely beautiful and I highly recommend getting it on these merits as well. The interior looks like an old book with images in the margins of the lyric sheet, making this look quite special.

"Onward Destrudo" wastes no time in establishing an intense and dark atmosphere for the listeners. If you thought Kriegsmaschine was losing any kind of steam, this is swiftly proven false. I almost wish this had turned into some kind of full-length after hearing only the two songs presented here, but perhaps M. and Darkside began writing more with Mgła. I'm sure Destroyer was busy with Hate. When the section with the artificial harmonics hits in the middle of "Onward Destrudo" we really get to hear that immense and dark atmosphere begins to overwhelm the listener. Parts of the song take on a sort of modern Deathspell Omega feel at times as well, but Kriegsmaschine is a much more well defined and cohesive effort. Finally we transition to the real shining part of this split "Fear and Loathing in Gethsemane".  The initial vocal tone actually reminds me a lot of Hate's vocal tone, but applied in this fashion is just as intense and powerful. The song clocks in at just over eight minutes and this length is perfectly suited for how amazing this song really is. It's so well written that it marks an excellent closer to the split and will have you coming back for more.

Well, we can see Kriegsmaschine still has very strong material brooding in their systems still. Even when Kriegsmaschine is a little weak, they are still manage to write good music, but when they are very strong they are just perfect. The tracks on this split are absolutely perfect for the sound they're going for. I look forward to hearing more from Kreigsmaschine in the future... hopefully, sooner than later, if the material being written is this strong!

Szron & Kriegsmaschine Split
Under the Sign of Garazel, 2006
Genre: Black Metal

1. Beneath the Conscious Perception
2. Where Life is Absent
3. The Great Antagonist
4. Mankind's Funeral
5. Hatedriven (Satan's Reich)
6. Annihilate Prime Factor
7. E.
8. The Fall, in All its Glory

Side Szron: here
Side Kriegsmaschine:

Kriegsmaschine seems to be on the productive side lately and in the year following "Altered States of Divinity" they submitted three new songs to this split with the might Szron. Sometimes this kind of quick material turn around can result in material that is pretty weak or contrived. After such an immense release like "Altered States of Divinity" it is hard to live up to such a high bar and resetting your listeners expectations.

The material on this split is surely quite well done, as I would expect after such an immense album, but is it better... not really. Some of that incredibly intoxicating riffing that we found on "Altered States of Divinity" isn't as present here. It's as if they merely tried to uphold the new format of song structure, but not really including those hard hitting riffs that make me come back for more and more every time. Now this, by no means, implies they have released bad material, it's just not as good as the prior album to me. At the end of the day weaker Kriegsmaschine material, at this point, still means very good Black Metal. There are some riffs that shine through here and there as can be found at moments in "Annihilation Prime Factor". Overall the music is much more straightforward Black Metal and the haunting nature has taken a bit of a step back in favor of more intense passages. One thing they did on this release that was pretty interesting was in the song "E", where they included a sort of Gregorian Chant approach in the middle of their song, but instead of letting the chanting just play as in Malign, Deathspell Omega, and Rex Mundi, they played through it. This created an entirely different and awesome atmosphere! They still keep up their high quality of sampling choices, though I don't recognize where they are from this time.

In the end this is by no means bad material, in fact it is quite good overall. If you are a fan of Kriegsmaschine then you are unlikely to be disappointed in the songs. In fact "E" is downright awesome. However, if you are newly finding this band, I do totally recommend checking out "Altered States of Divinity" first.

Kriegsmaschine - Altered States of Divinity
Todeskult Entertainment, 2005
Genre: Black Metal

1. Ma'aseh Bereshit
2. Altered States of Divinity
3. Through the Eyes of the Blind
4. Beyond the Veil
5. Prism
6. Nihilation
7. Kerigma

When I heard Kriegsmaschine had a new album ready to hit, I wouldn't say I was waiting for it with baited breath. In fact, I wasn't expecting very much beyond the kind of material they've already released. However, merely a couple minutes in to the first song I realized we truly had a special release on our hands. This release seems to draw a lot on what was being created out of the French and Swedish Occult Black Metal scenes, but I would argue that it has even advanced those to a fair degree. "Altered States of Divinity" is also one of the best releases from its year of release.

Unlike the prior Kriegsmaschine releases this album is a far more cohesive representation of the art. Where before we had tracks that felt out of place, we now have nothing but the highest quality writing presented. Every track belongs on here. Even though the overall culmination of their style was likely to reach this point, I just wasn't expecting it to shift gears this fast into stellar material. I think Kriegsmaschine really built on the sound presented on albums like Ondskapt's "Draco sit Mihi Dux" and Deathspell Omega's "Si Monvmentum Reqvires, Circvmspice." Each track has a lot of interesting layers to explore and they come across as sounding far more haunting than the prior material Kriegsmaschine was working on. Some of this sound change my have to do with the new vocalist and bassist, Destroyer, who has also played with Hate allowing their style to become all the more focused. His vocal work is much closer to M's and it really let's that style of the music shine through. The opening guitar line in "Beyond the Veil" is one of my favorites to this day and it builds to such an incredible point.

As if this truly wasn't enough for me, Kriegsmaschine has seen fit to include samples from some of my favorite movies on this recording! One sample is from the movie "Pi" and the mathematician in me is very joyous to see this get sampled. In "Prism" they sampled from the movie Stigmata, which is a sort of possession story and mostly an okay film. However, the sample they took, is one I would have chosen to use as well. The other I recognize is from the movie "Equilibrium" a sort of distopian themed movie about the human race deciding that it is better to feel nothing, than have feelings and risk going to war. It's clearly influenced by books such as 1984. The samples are really well placed and shine through very well on the recording. It's actually difficult to believe this was recorded in the same location as "A Thousand Voices", because the recording quality of "Altered States of Divinity" is so stellar and just so perfect. It has a wonderful raw edge that gives it this really organic feel, since they clearly didn't do much digitally... and that is a good thing mind you!

"Altered States of Divinity" is a rare album that only comes along every so many years. We have just been lucky that we've had quite a few releases clustered in the 2004 to 2006 period, which is unlikely to happen again for a long time. My only real concern is that it could get lost to history or somewhat overlooked due to how much material is being released. In the end this is truly one of the best albums in my vast collection and I highly recommend it become parts of others.

Kriegsmaschine - A Thousand Voices
Blutreinheite Productions, 2004
Genre: Black Metal

1. Unto Wormfeast Flesh
2. A Thousand Voices
3. Apostle of Plague
4. B.T.S.

Finally into another year we get a single Kriegsmaschine release. Another small release, probably to show off what they have been working on. This time they're getting a proper pressing on CD though, so perhaps that's why they did it. After "Devotee" they were certainly ready for it. One of the things I really appreciate about Kriegsmaschine is that they haven't tried to do a full-length yet, I don't think the music is quite there yet. This release has a really good booklet, which has a nice layout and prints the lyrics for most of the songs. Unfortunately, it is limited to only 666 copies.

"Devotee" is a decent indicator of where this band was heading with their music. They are still trying to figure out that blend of playing raging and intense Black Metal with the more brooding style. The album opens with "Unto Wormfeast" opens with one of their more intense raging songs, with riffs that do a pretty good job. The production value is far superior to anything they've release before and the guitar tone is much better this time. The tone change is very welcome and it really brings these riffs to life more than ever before. When we hit the mid-paced brooding section of "A Thousand Voices" it really shines through better than on prior releases. "Apostle of Plague" has some of the catchiest riffing on this release and still works within the realm of Kriegsmaschine's style that blends a lot of different things. The strange thing about this album is they've decided to re-record "B.T.S." from the "Devotee" album. I'm sorry, but not even the better production can make me more interested in this song. I think it's one of the reasons I don't find this release more memorable, it always ended on a low note for me, so I wind up rarely listening to it.

In the end this is a much needed upgrade to Kriegsmaschine's sound. They still haven't really reached stellar proportions in their songwriting and they are merely a good band right now. I really have no complaints about the newly written material, but right now I'm not excited to hear new material. This may change with future releases.

Kriegsmaschine - Devotee
Self-Released, 2003
Genre: Black Metal

1. Bloodfetish
2. Hands of the Plague Master
3. B.T.S.
4. Devotee/Son of the God Supreme

Usually, I would start off with saying "another year, another demo"... but seriously this is the 3rd release Kriegsmaschine has put out in 2003. The band still struggles with a sort of decision about their approach. Are they going to be one of those no frills pummeling Black Metal bands or are they going to present a very deep sound and thought provoking songwriting? I like both approaches, but Kriegsmaschine's more well thought compositions are far stronger. This demo comes in a CD-r format and it just comes in a plastic package with the booklet folded over the case. The booklet features some lyrics at least, but there isn't much just a single folded piece.

"Devotee" presents us with a mix of songs, some good some not so good. The opening song "Bloodfetish" is actually pretty strong. "Hands of the Plague Master" is extremely well written and is definitely more of the direction I want to see Kriegsmaschine going. However, they kill that vibe with "B.T.S." which is one of the more intense songs and they just barrel through it. The riffs aren't even that well formed, so the song comes off as very out of place. Then the album closes with the very strong "Devotee/Son of the God Supreme"... so at least it ends very well. Four tracks and one throw away aren't too bad for a demo and it seems like Kriegsmaschine are writing towards the direction I'm more interested in hearing.

Some major improvements have occurred in the recording quality department for this demo as well. This is actually some pretty well recorded material and you can hear everything very well. Furthermore, the fuzzy guitar tone that plagued the earlier releases is a lot less overwhelming! On here the guitars are a lot more crisp and normal sounding. Leatherface's vocals are performed in a more standard fashion for Black Metal and it really does work very well for this release.

In the end "Devotee" is actually very well written and I really think Kriegsmaschine is trending in a direction that is more in line with their strengths. It might be a little ridiculous to release three things in one year, but if the end result is this, then I'm not one to complain.

Szron & Kriegsmaschine Split
Garazel Productions, 2003
Genre: Black Metal

Szron: Possessed by Utter Hate
1. Supremacy or Death
2. Return to the Woods Pt. I
Kriegsmaschine: The Flame that Burns Inside
3. The Flame that Burns Inside
4. Stigma

Side Szron: here
Side Kriegsmaschine:

Very shortly after "Flagrum" was released Kriegsmaschine already have a split with Szron being released. Strangely this also features a new vocalist called Leatherface. Necronosferatus from Holy Death is apparently no longer involved with the project. This is being released on Garazel Productions, which would eventually become renamed to Under the Sign of Garazel and be one of the stronger record labels out of Poland. This is a nice vinyl 7" limited to 200 hand-numbered copies and I own #194. It's not the best housing for a 7", but it's just a fold over booklet. The booklet, at least, features lyrics for Kriegsmaschine's side and just album info for Szron.

Recording wise this is still pretty similar to "Flagrum" in the sense that the guitar tone is a little fuzzy and the songs are performed in that old style Black Metal version. "The Flame that Burns Inside" opens with even some Punkier styled riffing, cast in a Black Metal fashion of course. It actually comes across as appropriate for the way Leatherface's lyrics run. His voice is pretty similar to Necronosferatus, so it doesn't seem much has changed in the vocal department. He has a that sort of high pitched shout/harsh tone that makes the vocals feel interesting and different from other bands. The song "Stigma" is by far the strongest on this release. It has a much deeper Black Metal feel and feels like more well composed song overall since it focuses more on atmosphere than pummeling a listener. The fact that you hear Daren's cowbell cut through the mix is also pretty impressive. M is clearly the stronger lyricist in this project and I do like the lyrics, despite them being a fairly primitive approach. M's lyrics would grow to be awe inspiring in the future, but here has started out writing basic, but solid material.

I want to hear more songs in the vein of "Stigma" and "Last Dusk of a Dying World" and eventually I will get my wish. However, Kriegsmaschine haven't quite hit that stride where the writing is just perfect with every note they hit.

Kriegsmaschine - Flagrum
Self-Released, 2003
Genre: Black Metal

1. Flagrum
2. Deathcult Supreme
3. Nuclear
4. Goathammer Sorcery
5. Uberhate
6. Last Dusk of a Dying World

Kriegsmaschine is a lot more well known today, but very few people pay any attention to these early demos or much of their material prior to "Altered States of Divinity". In some respects I can certainly see why, for I listen to very little material prior to that period. It seems like M from Mgła teamed up with a couple members of Holy Death to form this project initially. According to the 2014 release "Prism" this was never really intended to be released, which might explain why I was never really able to find a copy of this. So I'm stuck reviewing some mp3's that I've downloaded a while ago. The interesting thing that I've found is that prior to this the project was called "Death Frost" until changing its name to Kriegsmaschine in 2002. I'm actually not sure which project came first now... Mgła or this one. Either way, my interest in Mgła lead me to this project as well.

As a debut demo "Flagrum" is certainly not bad. It's pretty raw material and I feel like the intent of the project was very different from what it would morph into on future releases. Most of the tracks are pretty short and very fast and hard hitting songs. The raw recording quality gives it that very primitive edge with "Nuclear" being the most stand out track in this group. The demo pretty much runs this way until we get to "Last Dusk of a Dying World" and at six and a half minutes it's really a different animal altogether. It has moments that are wonderfully haunting and has riffing that I would expect to hear on later releases or even on a Mgła release. If the whole demo was akin to this material, I would probably love it a lot more. Instead "Flagrum" is a Black Metal demo that is something I would expect of a modern band today. It's, certainly, a good start, but it doesn't capture my imagination. It comes really close with the closing track, but the focus is on intensity and violence for the most part. The riffs are solid and they certainly do a good job, but they haven't really come into their own. I think, as with Mgła at this time, they are still trying to come into their own.

Kriegsmaschine has some strong ability, but they need to work beyond all the influences running around in their heads. As you emulate the past eventually newer ideas will come, but right now "Flagrum" stands as an emulation of the past, which certainly has merits in this regard. Kriegsmaschine are a good enough band for me to say that most early demos aren't this good and it really heralds back to the early 90's in a way most bands can't. The most I can complain about is that I think the guitar tone is way too fuzzy. This is a shame, because if it was a little more controlled the demo would evoke a really icy cold atmosphere that would work very well with it. Definitely worth hearing for die-hard Kriegsmaschine fans at the very least.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Genre Definitions: Black Metal

There are a lot of heavily contested journal articles about what is and is not some genre or another. I thought I would layout the genres as I've come to define them over the years. This way there really is no misunderstanding when I label a band a particular genre. Genre classifications are very important to me, since I cater to a very small niche of the Heavy Metal sub-genres. People that try to say "we can't be classified" or some such nonsense are useless. If you class all bands as Metal, that doesn't help me distinguish between Blind Guardian or Sargeist and I really need to operate under a clear distinction for the two projects. Without classifying music correctly I would not be able to find the music I am interested in.

At the end of each definition I'm going to try and list one of the key originators of the genre, if I can think of it. I'm really going to try and stick with a single main project, rather than run through a giant list of bands that were performing the style around the same time.

So, here is a list of terms I will likely use over time on this website:

Black Metal: Probably my most controversial definition is for Black Metal. It is only controversial since some media journalist came up with some weird new definition of Black Metal by splitting it into waves. I do not do this, I do not acknowledge some 1st wave or 2nd wave or whatever someone might dream up with a third wave. This was never a problem in the early 90's. No one would have ever classed Slayer's "Show No Mercy" as Black Metal under any circumstance. I've seen it done post-2000 though and it irks me. Was that album influential to Black Metal bands? Yes? Was it Black Metal, no, it was Thrash Metal. Classifying Black Metal this liberally has lead to me seeing people class Mercyful Fate as Black Metal, which I find entirely preposterous. In 1995 no one called them Black Metal. I've seen Deicide classed as Black Metal as well since then too... this is something I outright do not understand. The argument runs something along the lines of, since they are Satanic and Death Metal isn't... etc. Well, I happen to disagree with that.

I got into Black Metal around 1994/1995 and I used to keep up with a lot more review 'zines back then. I don't keep up with the media as much anymore and because of this I may not have "gotten with the times". That being said here's what Black Metal was referred to in the 90's and it is on that perspective I am going to build my definition. As a genre Black Metal's style is heavily driven by the way the guitar is performed and to a lesser extent the vocals. The drumming style is heavily borrowed from Thrash Metal, Grind, and Death Metal. The guitar work is played in a fashion to evoke a particular atmosphere for the listener. It conjures terms like "dark", "evil", or "unholy". It really is the antithesis of Major Chord driven positive sounding music. Black Metal stays mostly within the realms of dissonance and minor structures. The added element is the way these chords are tremelo picked by the musicians. This is really where that difference in genre is built, in my opinion. Black Metal vocals are almost always harsh. Some bands, like Emperor, will use clean sections, but the predominant vocal performance is very harsh. I do not consider this a type of "growl" like many Death Metal bands are classed, because Black Metal has often used a higher range of vocals to complement the style of music. Black Metal guitar tone can often come off as sounding very thin, when compared to the thick crushing sound of Death Metal. So, Black Metal tends to use a mid-range to high-range harsh vocal style, rather than a deep guttural sound.

I consider this genre being invented in the late 80's by Thorns/Stigma Diabolicum, specifically with Snorre Ruch on guitar. This might be considered very controversial as well, but this is where I think the largest step in invention took place. I realize that this sort of takes early Mayhem off the invention track, but I really do think early Euronymous work was heavily influenced by Venom and thus the name Black Metal was taken. However, I think Ruch was more influenced by Bathory and most Black Metal draws on a Bathory influence rather than a Venom influence today. Both projects were influenced by Satanic ideas, so it doesn't really matter where Black Metal got their Satanism, I think it would have wound up there anyway.

The additional requirement for Black Metal is that it cannot be Christian. In fact, I don't consider much in the way of any religion can be Black Metal. This is a tough situation in some regards, because Black Metal is heavily rooted in Satanism, to the point where there are people that say a band cannot be Black Metal unless they are Satanic. I guess I'm a little more liberal in my definition than that, and while Theistic Satanism is more in line with Black Metal, other religions are not. The genre is nearly Atheistic in this sense of rejecting religion. A lot of the aligning towards Satanic ideas has to do with combating Christianity, which is typically the majority religion oppressing band members' countries. If Black Metal had been born in the Middle East it would have had a strong Anti-Islam following, and Black Metal from that region certainly does. This is where people argue over the genre the most, in my opinion. The whole concept that a genre can have an ideology attached to it is anathema to some Music Journalists, not to me though. I proudly wear the banner of anti-religion.

Originators: Stigma Diabolicum/Thorns, Mayhem

Atmospheric Black Metal: This is a term I've been more apt to use more and more lately. This genre has really taken off in the mid-2000's. For many years though, bands playing this style were very hard to classify. In fact I see terms like Ambient Black Metal used almost interchangeably with Atmospheric Black Metal. In order to keep things simple, I'm going to use "Atmospheric" to refer to both aspects. The reason for this is that the guitar work associated with both styles is fairly similar. Music associated with Atmospheric Black Metal is much less dynamic than traditional Black Metal. It doesn't matter if the music is mid-paced or fast, the style manages to mesmerize and is usually just something you immerse yourself in. It is not a genre that really makes someone shake their head to the beat. A lot of people may consider this a droning effect, which is also common in Ambient for listeners.

I'm also going to class DSBM (Depressive Suicidal Black Metal) under the Atmospheric moniker as much as possible. This seems to bring in a lot of confusion as well and for all intents and purposes there is little difference between DSBM, Atmospheric, and Ambient Black Metal. They all generate a similar feeling through nearly the same methods with some tweaking here and there. The only major distinction, I think, someone can argue with DSBM is the fact that I hear a lot of bands under this title incorporate some Doom Metal elements in their writing. The vocal performances are also sometimes much higher pitched wails influenced by early Burzum. I am, personally, not convinced this really warrants breaking up the genre level one more time.

Originator: Burzum

Symphonic Black Metal: Given my definition of Black Metal and its need to evoke a particular feeling it is no surprised that adding keyboards to the mix is an idea to make that feel more apparent. When it comes to this style of Black Metal I do not consider the use of keyboards as the major distinction, but how a song is composed. In Symphonic Black Metal the use of keyboards is a much more central factor for compositions. In fact bands will use this is a much more driving factor than guitars. If a band is keyboard driven, rather than guitar driven, then I would say the band is Symphonic Black Metal. For example, Emperor would not be considered Symphonic Black Metal and usually never was in 1995. Their music is almost entirely driven by composing with guitars. Dimmu Borgir, on the other hand, holds the keyboard as a much more central role in how it drives their songs.

Originator: Master's Hammer

Black/Thrash Metal: This term really feels redundant, because what Black Metal band doesn't have Thrash influence? However, bands like Aura Noir just have so much Thrash in their sound that it cannot be ignored. The real key factor is based around the blending of the down-picked Thrash guitar work with the tremelo picked chord structures of Black Metal. From this the music tends to be a lot "catchier" in terms of drawing listener in.

Originator: Desaster

Experimental Black Metal: This is a term that I will probably use very rarely, but I will invoke it if it is the only thing that really fits. This term is often used interchangeably with Avantgarde Black Metal, or so I've seen over the years. Experimental Black Metal seems to be a catch-all for the bands who don't quite fit any other category. However, I have no idea where else I would class Dodheimsgard's "666 International" album, other than Experimental. If you listen to that... the term "experimental" certainly comes to mind. I'm going to try and use this term only in cases where things get a little weird or off the beaten track of other genres.

Originator: (No idea)

NSBM: NSBM stands for National Socialist Black Metal, and yes, it refers to the political party of 1930's era Germany specifically. Personally, I find politics in Black Metal to be stupid. Black Metal, as an idea, is a critical response to religious ideals. However, I cannot deny that some of these would be politicians do perform some good music and from time to time I will review such music. I will also very rarely use this term, because it is used far too liberally today. People don't seem to understand that writing about your nations history or lands doesn't make you political. Bands that are proud of their nations heritage has nothing to do with a political stance... and they really just play Black Metal. Also, people seem confused when a band sings about the historical nature of World War II. Just because you play Black Metal and sing about the war does not mean you are a Nazi. Bands like Endstille and Nekrokrist SS are NOT Nazi projects. They are from Germany and that is part of their nations history, which they sing about and use imagery from. Also, a musicians political beliefs need not be associated with their writing as a Black Metal musician. Bands like Naer Mataron manage to do this and just because a member is involved with politics does not mean Naer Mataron represent any kind of political agenda.

So, unless a band sings about how the Jews are taking over the world, how awesome Hitler is, etc. then I'm probably not going to class them as NSBM. I hope it is clear that I define Nationalism as being extremely different from Nazism.

Originator: (Don't know, don't really care either...)

Pagan Black Metal: Here's another definition that might get me in trouble... but here it goes. The origins of this style are from Viking Metal, a genre that is still sometimes used today. Viking Metal is strictly from Norway, in my opinion. This style of Black Metal was reserved for a blending of Black Metal with more of a Folk style for a particular nations ancient heritage. The real main influence stems from Bathory, once again, because when Bathory started transitioning out of a Thrash Metal phase, Quorthon shifted into a Heavy Metal/Folk blend where he sang about ancient Scandinavian mythology. Bathory was always a massive influence in the realms of Black Metal, but they also influenced this variant as well. Frankly, Viking Metal is really what Bathory should have been called after "Blood Fire Death", but this genre ended up being built primarily by Black Metal bands, so I think that's why Viking Metal became more associated with Black Metal.

As this idea grew in popularity we ran into a serious problem... if you are from Slovakia, for example, and sing about your nations ancestors and conjure up that ancient atmosphere you certainly can't be called Viking Metal! There were no Vikings from Slovakia... so I've settled into using Pagan Black Metal as a catch all for this style. So, if you really evoke a sort of Folk/Ancient atmosphere with you music then I'll probably class it is Pagan Black Metal. I will probably still use the term Viking Metal for certain bands, because I have used it for so many years when discussing the projects, but they really mean the same thing.

Originators: Enslaved, Einherjer

Melodic Black Metal: Like Death Metal, there is a sort of Melodic variant in the Black Metal world, probably influenced by the idea that Death Metal could also have a Melodic theme. The whole idea behind this usually requires two guitars where one guitar plays a particular variant of the rhythm guitar, usually just adding 5ths or 4ths onto a tremelo picked guitar line. It's a lot more specific than just playing a lead guitar, because this evokes a very specific sound and feel to the music. As with Melodic Death Metal this came out of Sweden and I'm honestly hesitant to name Dissection as the originator, because they have always had a degree of Death Metal edge to it, but I will name them anyway.

Originator: Probably Sorhin and Dissection

Bestial Black Metal: Now, in the early 90's Black Metal really had a couple paths it could follow. The majority of Black Metal follows a very structured and well defined path for songwriting. The music is, honestly, not very chaotic in it's written form. Defining albums like Mayhem's "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas" are extremely well structured and well thought out in the way it feels. This is not so with Bestial Black Metal, which is a term I will use rarely, mainly due to the fact I do not like it much. In the early 90's the band Beherit reared it's ugly head and gave birth to this genre in my opinion. While the Norwegian counter parts were playing with structure, Beherit was playing with chaos. I really use this genre to classify bands that really have a chaotic feel to their writing. Bands like Blasphemy and Bestial Warlust, for example lack a refined structure to bring a listener into their atmosphere. Instead these bands are an all out assault on the senses, while blending it with a very dark atmosphere. This approach to the genre didn't capture the majority in the same way, but I like a few bands who manage to pull this off particularly well. For the most part it's not really my thing though.

Originators: Beherit, Blasphemy

Monday, March 10, 2014

Throne of Ahaz

Throne of Ahaz - On Twilight Enthroned
No Fashion Records, 1996
Genre: Black Metal

1. Fenris
2. The Forlorn
3. With Shadow Wings
4. On Twilight Enthroned
5. Where Veils of Grief are Dancing Slow
6. Let Blood Paint the Ground
7. Blackthorn Crown
8. Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath Cover)

Merely a year after the release of "Nifelheim" and Throne of Ahaz had already recorded their second album "On Twilight Enthroned." This isn't very surprising considering when the first was recorded. Unfortunately there was a line-up change after "Nifelheim" and Niklas Svensson has left the band. However, he was replaced with one of Sweden's more high profile musicians Vargher. Many probably know him as Marcus E. Norman from Ancient Wisdom and Bewitched. He would later go on to join Naglfar, probably the best known band he's in now.

I think Vargher is by far the better writer for Throne of Ahaz and with Beretorn's vocals really giving life to the atmosphere this turns out to be the best album for me. I'm not sure this album really got a fair shake in 1996... I'm trying to remember what the landscape was lie back then. I want to say I think they got a bit overshadowed by Dark Funeral and Dissection. Marduk was on their fifth album, so a large following was already existent there... so I think Throne of Ahaz got pushed under other bands' momentum. Well, like Sacramentum, I think Throne of Ahaz put together a great album in retrospect. The riffing actually isn't too far off from what Naglfar would eventually sound like with Vargher writing the music. We just have the treat of hearing him in more of the early days. Jens Ryden even shows up on this album to do the layout of the booklet!

"On Twilight Enthroned" is pretty much exactly what I think of if I needed to show someone the signature Swedish Black Metal sound. It has a degree of melody that a lot of other areas aren't really using as much. This is blended with haunting, yet seemingly beautiful passages, all the while they still manage to sound like a very intense Black Metal band. I definitely recommend checking this album out for that reason. The only problem I had with it is that they close with a cover song. Maybe this will mar some of my metal cred, but I hate this song. I hated it when Vader covered "Black Sabbath". The reason I really hate it on this album is because it completely takes me out of the atmosphere of the album when it shows up. It's really frustrating, because "On Twilight Enthroned" has a great presence and then that song shows up. Luckily Beretorn stuck with harsh vocals for the entire track, otherwise that would have turned out far worse.

Unfortunately this is Throne of Ahaz' last album. Other than Vargher it doesn't look like the other musicians involved in the project went on to do much of anything else. At least they put out two fine albums and hopefully people like me will continue to conjure some level of interest so they are not truly lost to the annals of history.

Throne of Ahaz - Nifelheim
No Fashion Records, 1995
Genre: Black Metal

1. Northern Thrones
2. An Arctic Star of Blackness
3. Where Ancient Lords Gather
4. The Dawn of War
5. Nifelheim
6. The Calling Blaze
7. A Winter Chant
8. The Kings that Were...

Throne of Ahaz's debut is the result of some seriously poor release problems. The result of this is that Throne of Ahaz would never really be able to make the impact they probably could have. I'm going to try and set the stage for this material in Sweden and on the No Fashion Record label. Despite the release date this material was recorded in 1993 in March! In 1993 No Fashion Record's released some of the most legendary material known to the extreme metal world. Catalog Numbers are really how I'm looking at this. The first in 1993 is NFR 004: Unanimated's "In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead, then NFR 005: Katatonia's "Dance of December Souls", NFR 006: Dissection's "The Somberlain", and NFR 007: Merciless' "The Unbound". That's what was happening in 1993 and things were going very strong... but then something happened and releases got held up for a long time. In 1995 No Fashion Records released NFR 008: Throne of Ahaz' "Nifelheim". This is why I'm pointing out this album could have been much larger than it was. By the time 1995 rolled around so much Black Metal had been produced and released in Sweden and surrounding nations that "Nifehlheim's" style came across as passe. Marduk was three albums in, for example, and Dissection was well established.

Possible big changes happened with Throne of Ahaz between the demo and this album. On guitar we have Whortael, who's real name is Niklas Svensson and he's played bass in a number of bands, but for this he's on guitar. This really is a night and day difference in approach musically, so unless Niklas' middle name is Peter... then we're probably dealing with an overhaul to Throne of Ahaz's sound. I wouldn't say it's a complete overhaul though, because the influence from bands like Marduk is certainly still there. Just listening to the opening of "The Dawn of War" reminds me of parts from "Dark Endless". While Throne of Ahaz still had slower sections that plodded along, like in the demo, there are a lot more faster sections with full on blast beats happening. Beretorn's vocals are particularly awesome on this release and are much improved from the demo days... which were only a year before. His voice comes off as stronger and far more powerful. The style Throne of Ahaz present on here, I think, is somewhere between Marduk and Dissection. They're not as insanely melodic as Dissection, but I think their atmosphere has a similar feel. This is, of course, after the standard influence from the Norwegian side of things. At times you can surely hear some early Darkthrone influence... but that's hard to avoid in Black Metal.

In the end, it's hard for me to say that Throne of Ahaz were truly breaking new ground in the world of Black Metal. However, they were performing as a very solid and band, and let's be serious, this was recorded before bands like Dark Funeral put anything out! I can't help but think that this would have had more clear recognition if it had been released on time. It is certainly a solid album and I really looked forward to hear their future albums... unfortunately there would be only one after this.

Throne of Ahaz - At the Mountains of Northern Storms
Self-Released, 1992
Genre: Black Metal

1. My Kingdom is Eternal
2. The Calling Blaze
3. At the Mountains of Northern Storms
4. Under the Fullmoon Light

I feel like Throne of Ahaz has sort of been lost to the annals of history, but they are one of the earliest Swedish Black Metal bands. While Swedish Death Metal had become well established and Melodic Death Metal had been born, the Swedish Black Metal scene was still a fledgling form around this time. Look at the date of this demo... 1992! This is before Arckanum, before Sorhin, befor Naglfar, before Dark Funeral,before a lot of the formative Black Metal bands people know today. Dissection and Marduk had already been formed, but they were still only producing demos. It's on these two projects where I think Throne of Ahaz had drawn some influence.

"At the Mountains of Northern Storms" is a demo from 1992 and on that merit you can't really judge it based on what we hear today. However, one of the interesting things we hear here is the culmination of some of the influence of the surrounding Swedish area. Throne of Ahaz plays a slower, more plodding style of Black Metal on this demo. This is very different compared to the style Marduk and Dissection were establishing, but like a lot of the early Swedish bands there is a degree of melody showing through. The pacing and heaviness reminds me of Death Metal at times, but there is certainly more of a focus on a Black Metal atmosphere being built. This leads me to conjure influences like Necrophobic, Grave, etc for some formative influences. I also figure early Abruptum was influencing some of the ideas on this release as well. Just listen to the keyboard outro on "The Calling Blaze" and an Abruptum influence seems clear.

With all these influences showing through, it leads me to an interesting problem. I can account for every musician on this demo except the guitarist. Metal-Archives claims it is Niklas Svensson, who was an active musician in the Swedish scene in the 90's, but the demo clearly states Peter is the guitarist. Maybe this is Niklas' middle name? I cannot find info on this, so if anyone knows who Peter refers to please let me know!

If the atmosphere of this album didn't lean so much in the Black Metal spectrum, I would probably class this early demo as a Black/Death release. The part that I really like about this demo is that Throne of Ahaz are playing a clearly different style of Black Metal from what others are trying to do. The slow and more brooding elements are sort of a new approach in some respects. Sure, bands have sections of that style, but there aren't many attempting this style at the time and the only one I can think of is Abruptum. Even though this demo may not stand the test of time, it is interesting to hear this relic from the old days for sure.