Saturday, June 11, 2016

Norman Shores

Norman Shores - Norske Herra
Ossuaire Records, 2016
Genre: Black Metal

1. Noirceur Ultime
2. Les Flamboyants
3. Le ver idolâtre
4. La Source
5. Morfond
6. Reidi Ulv
7. Norske Herra

We are very lucky indeed! I was ready to wait for quite a long time for the follow-up to "Le Tombeau de Brume" and already a year later we have a new album in our hands! A new album turn around this fast would usually lead me to believe that this will just be more of the same, but I'm not sure that's the case.

Certainly "Norske Herra" builds on "Le Tombeau de Brume", but everything feels improved. This also feels like a far more fiercer album. It still has some of the majestic mainstays of the prior release, but a lot of that is pushed aside for a more furious style. At times the album seems to remind me more of that majestic ferocity that bands like Forteresse manage to put into their music. The overall arrangements feel stronger as well. There were times during "Le Tombeau de Brume" where pieces felt a bit choppy or transitions felt too abrupt, but "Norske Herra" corrects a lot of these imperfections and really gives us a stellar listen from beginning to end! The title track actually goes full Bathory on us and sits as an interesting closing to the album. I typically don't like the later Bathory efforts and my enjoyment stops at "Blood Fire Death" really. Fog even performs some clean vocal arrangements, but are used sparingly, which is good. I don't like a lot of cleans in my Black Metal, so having this switch over to pure "Blood Fire Death" worship was awesome. Some parts with the chanting cleans remind me of early Hades as well, which was a wonderful memory to bring up as well amidst the old Bathory!

Somehow the recording and production quality are also quite a bit better this time around. I don't know if Fog upgraded his studio during this time frame at all, but everything sounds a lot more full. Even the layout and design of the booklet is much better as well.

This is, absolutely, the best Norman Shores to date. There's a solid chance this will hit my top 10 this year, because it is so well composed. Highly recommended on my end and definitely a must buy.

Norman Shores - Le Tombeau de Brume
Ossuaire Records, 2015
Genre: Black Metal

1. Intro - La complainte des Trépassés
2. Songes
3. Arefast à l'oeil mauvais
4. Le gardien des âmes
5. Interlude - Le lac au milles voix
6. Éternelle allégeance
7. Le berger des ombres
8. Messe des Morts
9. Final - Le tombeau de brume

I remember being surprised a new Norman Shores finally arrived on the US coast, because I had thought the project was on hold or defunct because it had been so many years since the debut album. However, with no warning a new album from Norman Shores finally showed up on these shores and I purchased a copy immediately. I was very impressed with the debut album and I was reasonably sure the new album would certainly be on par with the original.

"Le Tombeau de Brume" really sets a new standard for Fog's work, as far as I'm concerned. This really builds upon and then improves upon what we first heard in the first release. The overall complexity behind the compositions is what we first notice as a massive improvement. This mainly serves to produce an even more epic style and is sometimes reminiscent of what Emperor has done in the past with the approach. One of the major things I notice about Norman Shores is it's blend of the Scandinavian style with the epic and melodic French style of Black Metal. The album waxes and wanes through an experience of majestic and somber beauty, while still maintaining the fire and fury of Black Metal.

Aside from the overall composition, the vocal performance stands out from time to time as well. Fog primarily uses a traditional Black Metal voice, but has incorporated some chanting styles at times. The areas where they are placed reminds me, at times, of early Borknagar work. Other times he can strike an Atilla style vocal tone, but this is rarely used on the album. To me, this is a good thing, I much prefer the traditional feel of the vocals. When used sparingly the Atilla style works quite well, but again, it has to be in the right moments, not the whole album.

Overall another fine and enjoyable experience from one of France's finest musicians. This really embodies the old style with everything being "do it yourself". Everything was done by Fog, the layout, the recording, performance, everything, even released on his own record label. I would love to see this project get more recognition out in the scene, because it is very well done.

Norman Shores - Return to the Norman Shores
Antiq Records, 2012
Genre: Black Metal

1. Lost as a Ghost
2. Throne of Nemesis
3. La fin d'un Règne
4. The Grim Idol
5. Return to the Norman Shores
6. Ode to Honor the Brave

I remember going through the list of new arrivals at Paragon Records and I came upon this band. When I looked them up I was surprised to see they were from France, but also elated, because French Black Metal is probably my favorite. Also, my family history goes all the way back to this region, so I decided to give this project a shot immediately. I was surprised to see that the man behind the project is Fog, a musician I'd been following since early 2000 or so when he was involved with the French Angmar and Quintessence at this time, but that's about it. I wasn't aware he played any other instrument until I found Norman Shores. However, this is one of his many projects and the first solo project I encountered by him.

"Return to Norman Shores" heralds in a blend of the more melodic French style of Black Metal blended with solid Scandinavian Viking Metal. The songs are extremely well done and really remind me of the Viking Metal scene in the early days of Norway. Think along the lines of early Enslaved, but a bit faster in its performance. Even though this album is dedicated to the memory of Quorthon, I felt the main aspects drew from the Norwegian aspect of Viking Metal. Except for "Ode to Honor the Brave", which is total Bathory worship. This is directly influenced by "Blood Fire Death" down to the horse samples in the beginning! This song is an excellent homage to that era of Bathory.

I love the production quality on this release as well. It's got a very organic feel to it, which is a breath of fresh air to me, given that around 2012 a lot of Black Metal was feeling a lot more 'digital' in its production values. At least that's how I'd been feeling back in 2012. Either way Fog has managed to engineer an album fairly closely to what I would expect from a mid-90's release. I felt this really complimented the overall compositions wonderfully.

Even though this started as a fairly random buy on my end, I was really happy with it. So, if you like any of the elements I'm referencing above, this would be a great release to check out. It has definitely stood the test of time for me and I still enjoy the album to this day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Official Blog: here

Skratte - Kapitel 2 - Einst im Einen
Self-Released, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

1. Ein Funke im Nichts
2. A Wolf in Chains
3. Frosty Stillhet
4. Hasses tiefe Trauer
5. Wächter des Bösen
6. Lucifer's Hymn
7. Im Schatten meines Eigenwahns - Part 2
8. Gebrechen

Now this is the Skratte sound that immediately drew me into this band. Like "Kapitel 1" this is self-released, but as you can see from the track listing this is more a full-length than a demo. With the bonus 8th track you get nearly an hour of music with this one. "Kapitel 2", like the first, is limited to 100 hand-numbered copies and I own #22. Only the first 33 have the first the bonus 8th track, so I consider myself very lucky to have managed to get a copy early enough to hear all the music Hevnbrann made for this release.

To sum up "Kapitel 2" it's awesome! What a jump in quality in such a short amount of time. Everything has been improved. The guitars aren't nearly as fuzzy as the first recording and the mix is overall far more balanced between all the instruments. However, the most important quality jump is in the writing. From the very beginning we get some wonderful riffs all around on par with even the later Panphage releases in some parts. I might like some of what Panphage does just a little more, but wow is Skratte off to a majorly good start. If you want high quality raw Black Metal, then you are missing out if you skip out on checking this release. I first heard Skratte when a friend of mine shared teh track "Hasses tiefe Trauer" and I immediately needed to hunt this release down and get a copy for myself. The vocal performance is, all around, far better. There's a little less experimentation with high screams, but this is to my benefit really. I didn't like those much anyway. However, the overall vocal performance feels much colder and chilling this time around, which really compliments the music in a wonderful way.

"Kapitel 2" manages to conjure up a quality cold atmosphere throughout the experience and I really hope Hevnbrann can manage to keep up this level of quality. At this stage any improvements would be minor and I hope he can continue to curate his music even better to have only strongest riffs appear on future releases. I really can't wait to see what comes next!

Skratte - Kapitel 1 - Hass im Geiste
Self-Released, 2013
Genre: Black Metal

1. Einführung
2. Doch knisternd erlischt das Feuer
3. Misanthropic Hate
4. Leblos
5. Im Schatten meines Eigenwahns - Part 1

I've only just discovered Skratte in 2016, but I was lucky enough to get a copy of the two releases currently available. I will be honest, I first heard material from "Kapitel 2" first, so going back to the first demo from 2013, I wasn't sure what to expect. It's usually rare for me to hear demo material in Black Metal today that really motivates me to get material right away. Usually, after a few releases I tend to find new bands, but not so with Skratte. This debut demo is limited to 100 hand-numbered copies of which I own #12. The first 33 copies are smeared with blood and as you can see from my scanned image, that is exactly what is all over my copy.

Skratte is a one man project out of Germany, despite having a Swedish band name. I feel like the quality of one man projects has been on the rise lately and Skratte is no real exception to that. "Kapitel 1" is also no exception to the rule when it comes to new projects and a musician trying to find their sound. Prior to this Hevnbrann did drums for another band Rabenholz and I must say the drum production on Skratte is far better. It feels a lot more organic and just sounds better overall.

"Kapitel 1" like a lot of first releases consists of quite a varied Black Metal experience. As usual Skratte is trying to fool around with all the influences that exist in today's Black Metal scene, so each track is fairly different with it's own realm of Black Metal. It is certainly well performed, but this material is nothing I haven't heard before. The demo opens with a very nice piano intro before launching into, probably, my favorite song on the demo "Doch knisternd erlischt das Feuer." Even though this song has some problems, it still manages to have some very strong riffs in it. My main issue had to do with the fact that some of the riffing didn't mesh well and the choked sections didn't bridge different passages together as well as they should have. "Misanthropic Hate" was a bit more cohesive in it's arrangement though, but it didn't have some of the really stellar riffs that stood out to me in the first track. The only major thing I didn't like in "Leblos" were the high-pitched screams. Sometimes these sound good for an extra texture, but too often gets in the way for me. It's similar in concept to the one Niege Éternelle song where they do something similar. The final track tries to fade the album out on a mostly clean guitar styled song. It was definitely an interesting choice against the rest of the album and it does seem to work pretty well. Usually these types of songs come off either very good or terrible, but Skratte managed to pull off a pretty good arrangement with this one.

Well, that's "Kapitel 1", and so far Skratte is off to a fairly good start. I'm, honestly, glad I heard the second release first, because if this was all I heard, I may not have been as interested in following the project. This is why I usually find a good release and then try to back track a discography.


Immortal - Immortal
Self-Released, 1991
Genre: Death Metal

1. Suffocate the Masses
2. Left on the Stake
3. Enslaved in Rot

Before Black Metal really took off in Norway, most of the bands were performing some form of Death Metal. Darkthrone's earliest material was Death Metal, pre-Emperor Thou Shalt Suffer also did some Death Metal, and Immortal was no exception to this. Now I don't have the original demo or anything, instead quite a few years ago I picked up this bootleg 7". I didn't see any other way for me to hear the Immortal demo, so I immediately picked it up, because this was before the mp3 craze had really taken off.

Unlike Sweden, the Death Metal Norway was producing never really took off. After hearing some of these old demos you can kind of understand why. Darkthrone was the only one really doing anything decent in that regard, but in retrospect of Black Metal you do kind of get the impression these bands aren't playing the right genre for them. It's more like people interested in heavier music trying to find their niche. Most of the Death Metal is poorly produced, but that aside, the riffing is typically very mid-paced with some very bizarre solo ideas from time to time.

It's tough to say if I had heard this back in '91 if I would have found merit in it. But in 2016 delving that far back, the early Death Metal being produced by Norway is more of a historical curiosity for me. Norway would go on to create some pretty good Death Metal bands, but the early inception of the style was never something that interested me as far as I can remember. Thankfully, Black Metal production would ramp up and as soon as these bands found Black Metal, they immediately switched to the genre and the rest is the history of a music genre I've enjoyed almost my entire life at this point.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Forgotten Spell

Ensom Skogen/Forgotten Spell/Moonblood Split
Misanthrophia Discos, 2015
Genre: Black Metal

Ensom Skogen:
1. Herrschaft des Feuerkults (Part II)
2. Der Triumph, ist mein (Part II)
3. Gestank der Menschheit (Part II)
4. Lodernde Beschwörung (Part II)
Forgotten Spell:
5. Metamorphosis in a Spiritual Spectral Sphere
6. Aesthetics of the Necromantic Manifestation
7. Proclaiming Satan
8. Slave of Eternity (Nachzehrer)
9. The Unholy

Side Ensom Skogen: here
Side Moonblood: here
Side Forgotten Spell: 

Forgotten Spell is the last band I'll be experiencing on this split, naturally I listened to Moonblood first. Unlike the other projects, Forgotten Spell seems to have put some brand new material on this release and in looking into their back catalog they have a lot of releases under their belt. Forgotten Spell is a one man project by Angra Malakh.

I was a little surprised when this material came on, it was a lot faster than I was expecting and far more bombastic. The material sounds like, frankly, a chaotic mess. While I know some people can find that concept appealing, as are the legions of Beherit fans warrant, but it's never been my thing. The band Forgotten Spell reminds me of in my own collection is De Magia Veterum, since that guy plays this kind of music as well and both projects started about the same time. The way things are recorded here makes the music feel rather choppy, probably from things being off time by mere milliseconds. I think the music in the second track "Aesthetics of the Necromantic Manifestation" was a little better. The drums felt a little more solid as well, but after a while things got messy and choppy again, which doesn't help me feel out the music. While some may find this a feature, it really mars my listening experience and at nearly 17 minutes its a bit long to stomach the whole thing. It's a real shame, to me, because there are some very good riffs in some of these songs and if he could just harness his sound and get some more control over it, I think it would wind up being some very good Black Metal in the grand scheme of things. His vocals are nothing special, at times he reminds me of Meyhna'ch, but not as interesting.

I'm certainly not going to be tracking down prior recordings from this project (of which there are many), but if you like your Black Metal chaotic and insane sounding, then this might be a project to check out. Given this isn't the only time I've heard this type of musical performance leads me to believe there is certainly a market out there for it, I'm just not in that target demographic. Perhaps I am a bit more of a traditional musician and that's exactly what these bands are working against, which would make sense to me.

Ensom Skogen

Ensom Skogen/Forgotten Spell/Moonblood Split
Misanthrophia Discos, 2015
Genre: Black Metal

Ensom Skogen:
1. Herrschaft des Feuerkults (Part II)
2. Der Triumph, ist mein (Part II)
3. Gestank der Menschheit (Part II)
4. Lodernde Beschwörung (Part II)
Forgotten Spell:
5. Metamorphosis in a Spiritual Spectral Sphere
6. Aesthetics of the Necromantic Manifestation
7. Proclaiming Satan
8. Slave of Eternity (Nachzehrer)
9. The Unholy

Side Forgotten Spell: here
Side Moonblood: here
Side Ensom Skogen:

When I saw the CD edition of the last two Moonblood songs featured a couple other bands I was certainly interested in hearing what they might sound like. Given Gaamalzagoth's tastes, I assumed they would be raw and simplistic Black Metal. Ensom Skogen is certainly lives up to that description. This isn't new material from the project, but is actually four songs from their "Feuerkult Rehearsal" from 2009.

My immediate response to these recordings was a Darkthrone reference, but I think some of the simpler structuring hearkens more to the style of early Gorgoroth in some ways. I would imagine an influence from early Bathory is obligatory as well. There is a bit of Moonblood feel in one of the riffs for "Lodernde Beschwörung", but other than that they kind of stuck with their own raw blend.

I guess that's the basics of their sounds. I, personally, wasn't really into the music that much. I'm not sure I'd seek out the rest of their recordings at this point, but who knows. Sometimes a later recording really can strike a chord with me and when I delve into the back catalog I enjoy the originals a lot more. However, if that blend above seems appealing, check out the project, I can't think of much more to say about their style.