Friday, August 1, 2014

Funeral Mist

Funeral Mist - Hekatomb
Norma Evangelium Diaboli, 2018
Genre: Black Metal

1. In Nomine Domini
2. Naught but Death
3. Shedding Skin
4. Cockatrice
5. Metamorphosis
6. Within the Without
7. Hosanna
8. Pallor Mortis

Let me preface this review with the fact that Funeral Mist has been a long standing favorite band of mine. I've been following Arioch since the days of Triumphator and anytime he puts his creative wrath into a new album I'm always excited to hear it. This album kind of came out of nowhere, it just suddenly got announced and in a few weeks it was in my hands. After the amazing effort that was "Maranatha" I was looking forward to see what kind of new journey Arioch would have ready for us.

I remember when "Maranatha" came out it was super cool to hate on that release for whatever reason. It was very different from "Salvation", but it was also quite different than most other albums out there and creatively speaking I thought it was a masterpiece. It was one of the ugliest and filthiest albums around, up there with the first Hell Militia in that sort of atmosphere. So, since each Funeral Mist release has had a different feel and yet built on the prior ideas, I was looking forward to see where "Hekatomb" brought us. Unfortunately, "Hekatomb" wound up sounding more like a filler album to me. This can happen in discographies from great bands as the band releases more and more material on their journey to the next big idea. I was sort of hoping Arioch might work some of that out with Marduk, since this took nearly a decade to reach us from the times of "Maranatha".

Now, "Hekatomb" isn't terrible, it's just not as exciting and feels somewhat derivative of prior Funeral Mist material. For example "Shedding Skin's" main riff sounds like something we already heard on "Salvation". I swear the main riff on "Pallor Mortis" showed up somewhere on "Maranatha", "Metamorphosis" sounds like a throwback to the old Triumphator days. All that has been done is it feels like the chords have just been played in a slightly different order, so it's not exactly the same, but it's pretty damn close. I feel like Arioch was trying to bridge something between the prior to albums, trying to harness that feeling of unhinged chaos from "Salvation" and the plodding more methodical and haunting "Maranatha" all in one album. At times the blending works, at others it doesn't seem to and instead feels like the album can jump around a lot more. Sometimes I feel like Arioch was torn between wanting to make something complex and something ultra simplified. This creates a chaotic effect, but I'm not sure he's sorted out how to seamlessly build those transitions. He's also dialed back the sample work this time around as well, which I thought was quite an interesting feature of the prior material. There are still quite good songs on here, like "Cockatrice", which feels reminiscent of Lunar Aurora with the light keyboard moment. Even though "Pallor Mortis" is like something we've already heard... I still really like that song.

The vocal work, as usual, is on point. The only real criticism I could level at this aspect of the album is that it doesn't feel as unhinged as the prior albums. Don't get me wrong, this is very elaborate compared to your usual Black Metal release with fairly monotonous vocal performances and in that regard Arioch's albums tend to shine. Even a "simple" vocal arrangement by Arioch will outperform the majority of bands out there. He does experiment a bit more on songs like "In Nomine Domini" where he adopts a low and more guttural vocal approach. The only issue here is that it somewhat gets buried in the mix, perhaps to accommodate the later vocal styles that are more in Arioch's usual range. Lyrically this album is on par with the quality we've come to expect from him. I usual find Arioch has quite high quality lyrics and they really enhance the overall atmosphere and immersion of his compositions.

Unlike "Maranatha" this album lists who performed drums on the album and it was Marduk's old drummer Lars B. So, the drumming is top notch and it even has some strange and rather interesting ideas. Some of the arrangements are a bit unorthodox, but managed to work out pretty well. Listen to the ultra minimal intro to "Metamorphosis", which is rather a-typical in a Black Metal song. In "Within the Without" rather than doing a rather elaborate drum fill he does single hits on the toms, which is not a usual thing for us to hear when it comes to drum fills. Especially in a song with such a vicious blasting sequence. Arioch has worked with fine drummers like Necromorbus, but Lars B. might be one of the most skilled so far. He's one of the reasons this album was fairly exciting to listen to in many regards.

In the end I don't think "Hekatomb" really stacks up to the other Funeral Mist albums. The production quality is better, but I haven't really decided if that's a feature yet or not. "Maranatha" felt raw and produced well enough, so it had that perfect blend to me. "Hekatomb" is more in line with a Marduk level of studio production, so it's a little more clean sounding. I haven't heard all of the new Marduk yet, but based on what I have heard, I think "Hekatomb" is going to stand above that album in all facets. I've always thought Arioch was a better composer, but I'm just not sure if Funeral Mist is going to rise to the top for my best of this year. Another thing I'm not sure of is that I might be delving into this too soon. Maybe over time I'll realize there's some genius to this release, but right now I'm just not hearing it at the moment.

If you're a long time Funeral Mist fan you'll enjoy it, just as I have, but you might have some of the same misgivings I had when listening to it. I think my perspective on this is that I think Arioch can do so much better and he can push the creative element further. I hope it won't take nearly as long for us to arrive at another Funeral Mist and I'm glad he's still moving forward with the project, I was, honestly, afraid he would give it up in favor of Marduk and I'm glad to see that is not the case.

Funeral Mist - Maranatha
Norma Evangelium Diaboli, 2009
Genre: Black Metal

1. Sword of Faith
2. White Stone
3. Jesus Saves!
4. A New Light
5. Blessed Curse
6. Living Temples
7. Anathema Maranatha
8. Anti-Flesh Nimbus

Six years! I can't believe it has taken so long to release a new album. Okay, granted Arioch has since joined Marduk and is singing for them now. So that vocal experiment with "what would Marduk sound like with Arioch on vocals" turned out to be rather fortuitous for him. Since Marduk sets such a demanding schedule for its musicians, I am not entirely surprised "Maranatha" has taken so long to complete. Over the years Marduk's sound has also been outright blended with the Funeral Mist approach making it more difficult to tell the difference between the two projects. Not that I'm complaining... I actually like Funeral Mist a lot and more Funeral Mist is not a bad thing to me. However, for whatever reason the winds of Black Metal have changed quite a bit. There are loads of fans out there that have labeled Funeral Mist as rather in vogue to hate. A lot of Norma Evangelium Diaboli bands are suffering from this attitude as we transition into the teens of the new millennium. I'm not sure what has happened, maybe Deathspell Omega's rise to prominence was too swift... but whatever the reasons it is now really cool to hate these bands. Any band that spends time researching lyrics and coming up with well thought out ideas is swiftly lambasted by a particular group of fans in the scene. For whatever reason they explain this as being disingenuous to Black Metal, but I, personally, think this is the direction Black Metal really needed to go in. It needed to get more thought out, it needed some realm of growth in an area. Lyrics and conceptual art seem to be one of those areas. I have no idea why this would get bands like Funeral Mist labelled as fakes, even by the old standards... and it's not like Funeral Mist is new to the party here. They essentially haven't changed much since 1996 when "Havoc" came out on the musical front. Its like people don't care about the history of a band and if they were that fake, the scene should have been complaining about that since "Devilry" was released. Instead I see people praising "Devilry" left and right for how amazing it is... well "Maranatha" isn't hugely different from "Devilry", sure its a more mature record and the compositions are more thought out, but that frantic and violent sound we all fell in love with in 1998 is still here. I am going to continue to listen to Funeral Mist and I'm going to enjoy the music Arioch crafts, maybe its because I am an academic and work in academia. Maybe that makes me a fake too, but I don't particular care about that because I appreciate the thought that went into this album.

I was instantly interested in "Maranatha" when it was released. I was expecting a fairly solid release, but I wasn't expecting their finest creation ever. I think over the years Arioch has been able to experiment a bit more within the ranks of Marduk and by the time "Maranatha" rolled around his ability to forge especially good material was at a very high point. A lot of the things I complained about during the "Salvation" review have been entirely fixed here. The first, and most noticeable, is that the vocals sit very nicely in the mix and nothing is overpowered. This must have been a mixing nightmare given how dynamic Arioch's performances tend to be. He also takes a step back and doesn't come off as if he needs to fill the musical space with screams and lyrics every second. There are points where we can just bask in the atmosphere of the music being generated, which is something that has been kept away from us in Funeral Mist. That being the case, the songs are much more well crafted than ever before. That usual fast and frantic style is ever present on the release, but he's done a better job creating more of the atmospheric droning styles this time around. Its far improved from "Circle of Eyes" and I really appreciate that a lot.

"Maranatha" seems to seek to do at least one thing throughout the album. Create some of the most disgusting and vile atmospheres you can be subjected to. This is painfully apparent from the moment you see the album cover. The art direction throughout the booklet keeps up this disturbing attitude and is easily conveyed in song after song on this album. The focus on creating that atmosphere is really what makes the album stand out so much, it allows us, at times to just bask in the power and intensity of the violent delivery. Its interesting because the "ugliness" generated isn't that tense and disturbing style found in typically in France, but instead is generated from the vocal layering, frantic guitar composition and samples. The lyrical approach goes after a perversion that points out the general hypocrisy in religion. They are clearly well researched lyrics and it is far superior to the run of the mill "Satan is awesome, and Jesus dumb" variant we've all been putting up with for years. I really like the fact that they push this envelope in the lyrics and it gives the album a sort of contemplative intensity that is lacking in a lot of other areas. The only song I didn't like on here was "White Stone" and its a shame it sits as the second track, because it really throws off the atmosphere between the songs. I'm actually not sure if I would want it thrown off here or later in the album... either way when I listen to "Maranatha" I skip this track constantly.

I really think this album is worth the time invested in it. Arioch hardly strikes me as a fake in the realms of Black Metal. Given his past performances and current standing in the scene, I see no reason to believe that. If you don't like the album, you don't like the album, and that's fine. I just don't see the point in railing the musician who has been involved for many years in a band that hasn't changed a ton over that time frame. "Maranatha" is easily Funeral Mist's best release and it is one of the best albums I've heard in all of 2009, which is saying a lot, because often a single bad track is enough to doom my interest in putting it in the top list, but the rest of the material simply can't be denied. This also features one of Arioch's most impressive vocal performances ever laid down and I can't imagine how people wouldn't appreciate this. It's so vicious and violent and nothing like it really exists out there...

Funeral Mist - Salvation
Norma Evangelium Diaboli, 2003
Genre: Black Metal

1. Agnus Dei
2. Breathing Wounds
3. Holy Poison
4. Sun of Hope
5. Perdition's Light
6. Across the Qliphoth
7. Realm of Plagues
8. Circle of Eyes
9. Bread to Stone
10. In Manus Tuas

We've waited quite a while for a proper full-length from Funeral Mist. "Devilry" was just a teaser for what was to come in the future. I think it was a smart move for Funeral Mist to focus on putting together a full-length rather than just releasing EP's over the years, because the full awe of "Salvation" makes it well worth our wait. This is actually the first release where I heard of Funeral Mist, but I had already known Arioch from the project Triumphator in the 90's. I was surprised to see Funeral Mist dated back even further and I started looking for the earlier material as best I could.

Its interesting to note that Katharsis as also released a new full length on the same label and both albums vocally begin with seriously heart wrenching screams. I would say one has influenced the other, but they were released in the same year around the same time. There may be some influential play between the bands, since both bands perform a fairly chaotic form of Black Metal. Funeral Mist relies on a similar guitar tone that is razor thin, which gives the album this incredibly vicious edge to the performance. Similarly the production is just as raw and harsh as you would expect from either band. The raw production value really gives Funeral Mist a more intense edge than Triumphator, even though the whole point of Triumphator was to be fast and intense. Funeral Mist really outdoes that completely with "Salvation". The one serious criticism I can truly level at this release is that the vocals are too high in the mix. Granted I enjoy Arioch's vocal performance immensely, but in tracks like "Agnus Dei" it is simply overwhelming. Arioch seems to go after cramming as many vocal lines as possible on songs like "Breathing Wounds", so that neither he nor the listener get much of a break to listen to the music. This technique is successful, only, in making the frantic pacing ever more apparent. While, I'm sure, this is the atmosphere Arioch wished to achieve, I still think a break here and there would be warranted. When he does back off a little the songs really shine. Look at the way "Perdition's Light" closes, simply magnificent or the song "Realm of Plagues". His guitar riffs are not bad, they are simply tried and true, but they are not bad. This is nothing we wouldn't expect to hear from the days of "Devilry" at any rate. A somewhat fun fact is that I'm pretty sure the sample which opens "Sun of Hope" is from the same thing Abigor used to open "Kingdom of Darkness" off the "Verwustung" album.

An aspect that Arioch experiments with on this album is with writing epic tracks. Now, I wouldn't have expected the usual intense and frantic riffing to hold up over time and neither does Arioch, apparently. On "Circle of Eyes" he falls on a droning guitar line. And I really do mean it drones on forever, neither the riff nor the drum line changes until about eight minutes in. Between Arioch's vocals and the Gregorian chant samples, the song actually manages to be relatively interesting. The fact that the lyrics for this track are some of the best on the album helps a lot too. I also noticed that his vocals are set more in balance with the rest of the instruments, making the song stand out in that regard too. I remember at the time really loving this song, but since its release I've definitely heard other bands do it better. "In Manu Tuas" is the other song that clocks in at over twelve minutes in length, granted the metal stops around seven minutes in. It also closes out the "Salvation" experience and it really does end on a high note. "In Manu Tuas" is an incredible song and one of the best on the album for sure. After the seven minute mark we are treated to some really twisted sort of classical music. Given the fact that Allegri is referenced on the lyric sheet, its probably by him.

In the end "Salvation" is quite the experience. This is also towards the beginning of when the releases from Norma Evangelium Diaboli would dominate the new millennium. They really struck a chord with people at the right time and many of the bands have just taken off as people really wanted to hear more and more. Funeral Mist was certainly long overdue for a full-length and they certainly have given us an excellent release, one of the finer throughout Black Metal, for me, with a vocal performance that few, if any, could ever truly rival.

Funeral Mist - Devilry
Shadow Records, 1998
Genre: Black Metal

1. The Devil's Emissary
2. Bringer of Terror
3. Nightside Phantom
4. Funeral Mist
5. The God Supreme
6. Hellspell 2

This is Funeral Mist's big break into the scene and they have really composed a collection of some of the more vicious elements you can find in Black Metal. This was original pressed on 12" vinyl and limited to 300 copies. Unfortunately, I am reliant on the Norma Evangelium Diaboli release pressed on CD in 2005.

"Devilry" hit the scene harder than "Havoc" really did. Funeral Mist go after a sort of intense and frantic songwriting style, which is unusual for me, because I don't think I've ever really enjoyed a chaotic writing style much. I tend to enjoy more focused and well thought out songs, but Funeral Mist, for whatever reason, come off sounding frantic and chaotic. Which is part of the reason "Devilry" sounds so intense. The vocals certainly help that tension, since Arioch's voice is all over the place. He layers, he uses effects on his voice, etc. Sometimes the effects sound a little cheesy as in "Bringer of Terror" when he uses that high-pitch shifted aspect. However, the opening riffing style of the song will, for me, be a fairly signature Funeral Mist style of guitar approach. A lot of bands try to sound dark and sinister... but Funeral Mist just sound outright evil with "Devilry". It just comes off as intense and violent, rather than dark and mysterious, which I believe is Funeral Mist major aim. It's interesting to hear on here that they've re-recorded the song "Funeral Mist", which originally appeared on "Darkness" and you can hear how different it sounds with Arioch on vocals. When he roars out "Funeral Mist" its just spectacular and the original just didn't have that same level of delivery.

In the end, this is quite a successful release. It really continues the ideas that were founded on "Havoc" and develops them even further. I simply like the palette that Funeral Mist is trying to experiment with. They're not trying to do anything overly ground breaking, but they are trying to develop something marginally different and interesting to give the Black Metal listeners.

Funeral Mist - Havoc
Pounding Metal, 1996
Genre: Black Metal

1. Realm of Shades
2. Hellspell
3. Nightside Phantom
4. The Old Ones Grin

With the seeming demise of the project all efforts have fallen on Arioch to take over. Based on "Darkness" who would have thought such a musician was sitting behind the bass guitar. The band returns with a fire unlike anything else around. I'm almost in shock that this didn't work its way over to me back in the 90's, since this is exactly the type of Black Metal I was interested in at the time. Arioch finds himself on the forefront of the upcoming Swedish scene and he probably didn't even know it at the time. "Havoc" only sees the need for a replacement drummer, which is the only instrument Arioch doesn't seem to play, so who does he team up with? None other than the now legendary Necromorbus. Together they would begin to found a new level of sinister darkness in the Swedish scene. This was recorded in the early stages of the Necromorbus recording studio and it would soon become one of the eminent Black Metal recording studios in Sweden, in some cases overshadowing the legendary Abyss studios.

I actually managed to get my own copy of this demo and its a real gem in my collection, given how much I like Funeral Mist. It has a multi-panel booklet, but it is only single sided for the printing, and is on a dubbed tape. I'm sure it's limited to some quantity, but it doesn't say on the tape. In the liner notes Arioch has a statement concerning the release of the demo under this name: "This release shall not be compared with the first demo, or with any of the earlier material by Funeral Mist. The past material was all written by the previous guitarists Typhon and Vintras who no longer are a part of the mist.. But I decided to continue under the same name even if the music is totally different today as I now am the only songwriter." Even though, I've clearly compared the releases, he's not entirely wrong, this is basically a different band with completely different goals. Far better goals if you ask me...

Now you have to keep in mind that this is before bands like Ondskapt were performing, this is before Watain was even around, this is before all those bands performing that more infused darkness in their music. The early Swedish scene fell in the footsteps of either Marduk, Dissection, or Dark Funeral. Funeral Mist seems to throw off all those chains and casts a huge infusion of the Norwegian atmospheres a la "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas", blending in the intensity of Marduk, and casting everything in a whole new cloak of darkness unlike ever before. Arioch seems to draw influence for the sinister vocal performance from Attila and then just ups the ante ten fold. A truly crushing and jaw dropping performance. Ultimately, I'm quite glad the band dissolved in the way it did... I'm sure we would have gotten "Havoc" one way or another, but perhaps the band falling apart prompted Arioch to focus on writing more original material.

Funeral Mist - Darkness
Self-Released, 1995
Genre: Black Metal

1. Dreams of a Time Before Time
2. Funeral Mist
3. In Black Silence
4. In the Shadows I Wait
5. Blasphemy
6. Infernal Atavism

Now, I have no idea who originally started Funeral Mist, but the incarnation that exists in modern times is a pretty far cry from how the project started out. It seems the project started in 1993 and put out a promo before "Darkness", but "Darkness" is the earliest material I can find from the band. I, unfortunately, don't own a copy of this release and am instead reviewing some mp3's I downloaded. At this time the band had a full line-up and features members that would play with prominent bands like Dark Funeral and Thyrfing. It makes me wonder if Arioch was just starting out in the music scene and here he joined a band on bass, since it doesn't look like he got involved with the project until it existed for a year.

Back in 1995 Funeral Mist sounded like a fairly typical Black Metal. They have serious moments of Dissection worship in the bands self-titled song "Funeral Mist", but far more rooted in Black Metal than that of a Death Metal blend like Dissection. They have that melodic edge that was pretty common to the early Swedish scene and they pull it together with a relatively dark atmosphere. It's certainly not a bad demo at all and, honestly, if the band had continued in this fashion I think they could have produced some interesting Black Metal. They were starting out at a time when that pure Swedish sound was garnering a lot of interest by fans around the world, but Funeral Mist was just too underground to be noticed at this time.

After this it sort of appears the band entirely fell apart. At least the aspect of it having a full line-up seems to have disappeared overnight. Typhos, who performed guitar and vocals went on to play guitar in Dark Funeral for a time. Vintras joined Thyrfing for a while, but never recorded anything with them. I have no idea where the drummer went off to, and this left only the bassist. He seemed the only one interested in performing music and all the other musicians seem to have left the Black Metal scene altogether.

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