Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bane of Isildur - Black Wings

It's been four years since Sydney metallers Bane of Isildur put forth any new material (well, two if you count the Stormlords demo, but those songs are on the album anyway!). And the time they've taken shows: what we're presented with is basically a more refined, polished and diverse variation of the eponymous EP. This is a good thing; Bane of Isildur was a promising beginning for the band, and Black Wings has come to deliver on that promise.

The main guitar combination utilized here is much the same as on the debut - a combination of heavy, distorted guitars providing the backbone of the songs and a cleaner, higher-pitched guitar floating on top, adding a layer of melody to the music. The use of this particular guitar set does wonders for the atmosphere of each song - while the heavier riffs give the musical proceedings a heaping of head-banging thrashiness, the melodic clean guitar lines cut in to aid the band in conveying their desired imagery. Take the opener, Chosen Path: the song opens with a simple, quasi-martial line, which sets the tone for the rest of the song, giving the listener a glimpse into the Nordic wartime vibe that BoI does bloody well. One notable aspect of the whole album is that the music - particularly the drums and guitars, the foundation of metal - is played a lot more tightly, more cohesively, than on the debut. The guitars follow the drums perfectly and vice versa. For instance, on the song Last Alliance, the opening riff is solidly underpinned by the bass drums, which is then built on strongly by cleaner melodic guitar noodling (good noodling!) and propulsive double-bass rolls.

The vocals employed here are well-suited to BoI's melodic style of death metal - the growls are harsh and throaty, ranging from occasional guttural grunts to higher, almost singing growls. But the best parts is that the vocals can actually be understood; as long as you focus on the music, you can make out what the lyrics are. The great bonus track, Hell's Bells is a fitting example: As you head-bang along to the catchy chorus, you can clearly hear the fun line, "You've got me ringin' Hell's Bells!". It's this touch that makes the atmosphere cultivated by BoI more accessible. When listening to The War of Gods and Men, there was a frantic, battle-like energy to the song; likewise, the lamentful clean guitars floating through Of Crimson and Cold Steel, combined with the expressive (by death metal standards) vocals helped to paint a picture of the pains and triumphs of the battlefield.

On the whole, Bane of Isildur have stuck to their guns over the four years between offerings, and they've put in the time and effort required, leaving us with a more refined, solid slab of Nordic death metal glory. Definitely a band to keep an eye on in the Aussie metal world.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Marsh - Life's Contradiction...

Marsh is a relatively new black metal project from the Minneapolis, Minnesota. Don't groan just yet though, as Marsh isn't just some plain old bedroom BM band that sticks to one repetitive formula; there's a huge range of variation as far as the individual songs are concerned: music ranges from mellow instrumentals to harsher, rawer BM straight through to industrial ambient music.

Guitars, of course, play the main part of the music. They have a fuzzy, blurred sort of quality, while still managing to convey riffs and intended atmosphere effectively. The riffs have a sort of ambient quality, which works well for the mellow songs and doesn't hinder the faster songs. The production suits the music reasonably well; everything has a muffled, raw sound quality (especially the drums), similar to Blasphemy on 'Fallen Angel of Doom'. While this production works great for the harsh songs, it can detract slightly from the mellower songs. Vocals sound absolutely tormented. There is one main vocal style, a throat tearing shriek that usually turns up for the more aggressive tracks. The drums know their place in the music; there is no attempt at any technical wankery, mainly just rhythmic snare and bass patterns, as well as the odd blast-beat, to give the music a backbone.

Apart from the more conventional black metal styles played here, there are also a few trippy ambient/industrial style tracks that utilize cavernous reverb to great effect. These tracks serve well to break up the black metal songs and to further increase the diversity of the album. The great thing about Life's Contradiction... is that while the music played cover pretty much the whole black metal spectrum (in a generic sense), making this album easily accessible for any BM fan.

If you've become a bit disillusioned with newer BM bands popping up and playing generic garbage, then checking out Marsh might be a good idea. Marsh is definitely worth keeping an eye on, simply for the sheer amount of possibilities that the diversity of Life's Contradiction... presents.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Matt Parsons Band - Alas, Tyranny

One thing that stands out about The Matt Parsons Band, a newly formed death/black metal outfit, is the professionalism displayed in his material; Alas, Tyranny sounds like an EP put out by a long running band, not a newly formed solo project.

The music present on this demo is played with great technical proficiency - the guitar work is extremely tight, production is clear and sharp, and the quality of the drum programming is superb; the flow of the drumming didn't so much as hint that the drums were artificial, and the machine-like precision only added to the intensity of the music. The guitars are clean enough that the riffs can shine through in all their pummeling glory, but distorted enough to give the album a layer of heaviness that combine with the drums to create thoroughly heavy, engaging pieces of music. The semi clean, semi distortedness of the guitars also serves to add plenty of Amon Amarth style melody. As for the vocals, they fit in seamlessly with the music; the range employed here includes a deep throaty, death metal growl and a dessicated black metal shriek. Tracks like "The Dragons" are superb, with it's alternating growl-shriek duo, and "Defiance" for its melodic thrashiness, but the standout would definitely have to be "Prometheus", with its epic, sweeping barrage of riffs and propulsive drumming combined with subtle synths floating in the background.

If Alas, Tyranny is anything to go by, the Matt Parsons Band has a bright future ahead of it. Don't be surprised if you're browsing through the catalogue of Nuclear Blast when you come across this name!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Venomin James - Left Hand Man

Left Hand Man is a great example of Black Sabbath-era metal pulled off roughly 30 years after said era. If the sound quality was taken down a few notches, this album would be mistaken for old-school heavy metal/hard rock from the late 70's.

For starters, the sonic quality of the music is terrific; it has a rich, warm, full sound to it, from the subtle yet enveloping presence of the bass to distorted crunch and squeal of the guitars by virtue of analogue recording. The music is so thickly heavy that it's almost tangible. There are two different guitars tones used here: a thick, distorted guitar playing the groovier foundational riffs and a cleaner guitar complimenting the heavier guitar and bass duo with more complex backround noodling. The drums compliment and augment the thick heaviness of the riffs very well, providing a solid backbone for guitars and bass. The drumming here isn't extremely unique or innovative, but it's pulled of superbly in the old-school metal context of the music; plenty of cymbal tinkling and three-hit tom fills pepper the songs, adding a catchy groove element to the music. Also, the guitarists do a great job of taking one riff and varying it just enough to keep it interesting. 'Downer' and 'Bullet Juice' are great examples of this.

The Southern-sounding vocals both stand out from the music and fit in well with it. There are two main styles of voice employed; a low, deep, almost spoken style of voice that showcases the Southern style of singing, and a higher, faster voice that tends to sing more than the first mentioned vocal style. The vocals, like the drums, add elements of groove and catchiness to the music, strengthening the traditional, southern metal vibe.

With Left Hand Man being just shy of 30 minutes, Venomin James waste no time with any filler. From start to finish, the band does a great job of making a well-presented, catchy piece of Southern/heavy metal that goes to show that old-school metal is still kicking. A great album whether you grew up on metal from the 70-80's or just got into the genre.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Stone Wings - Bird of Stone Wings

Stone Wings play a style of death/doom metal that, at a glance, may look like My Dying Bride-esque romantic death doom, with their romantic, eloquent lyrics and heavy use of keyboard instruments, though this isn't the case. The music present on Bird of Stone Wings has that Winter-style misanthropic edge to it and just enough romanticism to balance it out.

A lot of the aggression in the music is delivered through the vocals; no matter what the pace or mood of the music is throughout the album, the growled vocals have a harsh, bark-like aggressive quality to them that conveys the lyrics in a misanthropic death/doom style. The riffs are made up of a lot of heavy, crunching straight chords, semi-tremolo picked strumming and chugs forming the rhythm with little flurries of double bass and and simple four step snare-and-bass patterns that form the raw yet melodic style of death/doom Stone Wings excel at creating. The melody of the music on Bird of Stone Wings is aided, if not created, by melodic clean guitars lilting over and sometimes augmenting the crunchier, more complex guitar work, as well as pleasingly subtle backing synths, keyboard choirs and murky keyboard tinkling that reminds me of the beautiful bushland of the band's home, the Blue Mountains. The band also manages to incorporate faster, drum driven breaks and neo-traditional metal solos into some of their songs, giving the music a slighlty traditional vibe which sounds great in the death/doom context.

The mood and atmosphere of the music couldn't be described as depressing or sad, apart from the epic, funeral doom title track. There are a fair few mellower, melancholic parts consisting of clean guitars and melodic keyboard instruments throughout the album, but mostly the musical atmosphere is one of hateful aggression, demostrated by the relentless opening of 'Ulcer Man' or dreamy romaticism and fantasy centered around tales of dream and longing, such as the ethereal mellowness of 'By Hell or Highwater' and sometimes even a well-done combination of both, like the agressive synth-choir driven passages of 'The Last Hand'.

Bird of Stone Wings is a quality piece of death/doom metal played by a great Aussie metal band well worth listening to. Whether you like melodic doom metal, aggresive, misanthropic death/doom an atmospheric, romanticized aural journey, or modern doom metal with traditional elements, doom fans will find something to enjoy here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Seraphim Slaughter - Scum Terror

On Scum Terror, Seraphim Slaughter play a well pulled off combination of raw black and thrash metal with a punk attitude that genuinely sounds as if it's from the late 80's/early 90's era of black/thrash metal; lyrics about sex, alcohol, violence and Satan, fuzzy guitars, tape hiss and raw, trashy-sounding, cymbal-smashing drumming. Just looking at the song titles and album artwork give an accurate picture of the music within: raw, dirty, old-school anarchist punk influenced music.

The sonic delivery of the music is a lot like early Darkthrone: lo-fi drums buried under trebly buzz-saw guitars. The music itself sounds like a tighter collection of the early Brazilian black/thrash acts, as well as a thrashier, more violent modern Darkthrone. The music itself is pretty simple; apart from the slower, atmospheric intro to the title track, guitar work is primarily made up of buzzing tremolo riffs and straight thrash metal power chords played at fast and occasionally mid paced speeds, backed by almost incessant cymbal bashing and blast beats. Vocals are screamed as viciously as possible, sounding like Transilvanian Hunger-era Nocturno Culto, but with more punky aggression. For the most part, the music is extremely dirty blackened thrash metal, though there are occasionally slower, more atmospheric and melodic moments, like guitar noodling scattered throughout 'I'm the Unholy Motherfucking Master' and the intro to the title track.

I can't emphasize enough how much the lyrics mirror the music; throat desecrating screams of 'Die you fucking scum' and 'Cervix ripping sex' and lyrics dealing with AIDS reflect the lo-fi, filthy repetitiveness of the music on Scum Terror. Serpahim Slaughter are great at what they do, which is play raw, thrashy black metal that would fit perfectly into the late 80's; if they were to go back in time and form in 1985 in some proto-black/thrash metal scene or other, they wouldn't seem out of place in the least.

Don't buy Scum Terror with the expectation of really technical or unique inventiveness. If you're wondering what happened to the raw, violent blackened thrash metal from the 1980's, stop wondering and check out Scum Terror.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vrag - Vrag 2007

Vrag, on this release at least, have labelled their music as droning black/doom metal. Doesn't sound very appealing, does it? Musicians seem to use the word 'droning' in their genre description to poorly disguise a lack of talent. Although I doubt that any of the musician/s behind Vrag are virtuosos, they aren't trying to hide a lack of talent. The droning element is pulled of well enough, especially throughout the first half of Vrag's untitled '07 release.

Lyrics don't often have any relevance when describing music, but I feel that the lyrics here are worth a mention to aid the musical description. The lyrics aren't very poetic, just the usual dark, blasphemous black metal themes, but they're written very compellingly; if you read the lyric booklet you almost forget about the music and the raw, home-recorded mic-cracking (lack of) production just to hear the next part of each song's story howled and shrieked out in reverb drenched Wormphlegm-style screams and rasps akin to Under a Funeral Moon-era Darkthrone. As I stated before, the lyrics aren't unique, but the wording and sentence structure makes them more understandable and somewhat accessible. Lines like "The dusty aeons have erased my home" demonstrate the creative wording of the band's message while still being easily understandable.

The music reminds me slightly of Katatonia's Brave Murder Day; heavily distorted guitars backed by simple drum patterns throughout repetitive songs. Guitar work is very simple: there aren't any really convincingly played riffs. Most of the time the guitars just play long, stretched out notes supported by reverbed, programmed drums or, like on songs such as 'Black Amber', aren't playing anything at all, just there to provide background noise and layering, similar to what Havohej does. The only riffs that are present are semi-tremolo strumming chords and a few changing notes present in the indiscernible sludge of the guitars. The bass, which is very prominent, does the most technical work here; strummed bass chords, varied notes and muddy bass clunking push through the guitars, propelling guitars and everything else along. Drums, programmed as mentioned before, consist of simple bass/snare patterns that alternate at various speeds, backed by cymbal ticking and ominous, reverb-laden tom toms placed in between spaces of the main body of the drumming, as well as a few blast beats that appear without warning. The songs occasionally change tempo seamlessly, moving from simple plodding underneath lifeless guitars to livlier snare work or blast beats and strumming riffs, demonstrated most notably in the song 'St. Germain'.

Vrag demonstrates droning in music quite well, along with well written lyrics and music that effectively creates atmosphere through repetition and subtlety. There is an element of uniqueness to be found on Vrag's self-titled/untitled demo, but the uniqueness is subtle, making Vrag appear to be another bedroom project when, in fact, the well pulled off combination of black metal, drone and doom metal isn't something found frequently. Interesting ideology, even if the music isn’t that appealing.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Living Fields - The Living Fields

The Living Fields call their music 'epic progressive doom metal'. While this may be a good overall description, it doesn't do justice to the wide variety of musical styles presented on the band's self-titled album. Aside from the predominant doom metal parts of the music, there are elements from black, death, thrash and even a bit of traditional heavy metal, as well as violins, acoustic guitars, the tympani and (somewhat predictably) pianos to name a few non-traditional instruments. The music tends to segue from one style to another, with the only amalgamated styles being death and doom metal. This isn't anything to do with lazy or bad songwriting, simply because there are too many musical elements here to effectively blend more than two styles together.

The Living Fields, similar to Arcturus circa The Sham Mirrors, has a very wide, epic sound to the music, created both by the use and effective placement of pianos, violins and various other classical instruments and the lyrics which deal with worldly issues rather than the personally depressive issues employed by other doom metal bands. The music is labelled by the band as progressive, but that term can be interpreted in plenty of different ways, and this album is a good example of such an interpretation; the music has plenty of progressive tendencies: tempo and time signature changes, thickly layered vocals, a diverse array of instruments and a mountainous pile of musical elements, but I think that the band calls their music progressive on the basis of the last two points rather than because they write extremely complex, technical pieces.

Vocal stand out quite a bit; it seems like there are more vocal styles than musical elements at times. There are Alexi Laiho style screams, black metal shrieks, falsettos closely resembling King Diamond's vocals, throaty rasped growls similar to Dave Vincent's growls, Garm-esque operatic clean vocals and melancholic crooning ala Aaron Stainthorpe. Occasionally there are a few non-layered vocal lines, though most of the time vocals are double, triple and possibly even quadruple tracked vocals combining growls, screams, chants and falsettos. Riffs aren't so easily discernible because of the slew of instruments employed by the band: piercing, mournful pianos and violins in the vein of My Dying Bride, Master's Hammer style tympani accompaniment, acoustic guitars as well as very technical violin fiddling. The riffs I can make out are thick death metal chugs with a doom metal touch, Black Sabbath-esque crunchy straight chords like the ones displayed on 'What is Left Behind' and thrash breaks that sound like something from Metallica's Ride the Lightning. Even though the riffs tend to get overshadowed they still provide an element of heaviness and layering to the music. Drumming is pretty lively and propulsive, not what you'd expect from a standard doom metal band; aside from the standard driving snare and bass 4/4 beats there are odd time signatures, snare rolls, intermittent cymbals crashing along with the bass drums and violins, death metal blast beats and thrashy bass rolls. There are plenty of varying time signatures on the faster songs like 'The Overview Effect' and 'The Soil Giveth', supporting verse lines and breaks with plenty of rolls and fills propelling the music along. The only problem with the music is that there isn't a lot of tone variety; everything is in the mid-range, making the music sound slightly flat and less brilliant than they actually are. Despite this minor flaw, the production is very clean and pretty amazing considering that all three band members live in different parts of the world and have never met one another.

On their self-titled full-length The Living Fields display a sense of direction and vision that many bands take multiple releases to cultivate and to have done all this through long distance collaboration is a spectacular effort. They're one of the most talented new bands to have popped up in recent years, and with the vast array of musical styles displayed, there's something for everyone to enjoy here.

Daemon Foetal Harvest - Abducted and Compacted

Daemon Foetal Harvest sound like they try to play old school death metal, and they succeed to a degree; there are plenty of underlying old school influences, though the music still comes off as primarily modern death metal. That's not to say that this is a bad thing; the performance on Abducted and Compacted is very tight and the songs are pretty consistent, if not too similar, throughout the EP's 16 minute running time.

The music here is highly influenced by Cannibal Corpse, including the imagery and lyrical themes; song titles such as 'Dumped Beneath the Mangroves' and 'Anniversary Rape', as well as the cover art, are strikingly similar to what you'd find when looking the case of a Cannibal Corpse CD. In fact, the whole EP sounds like a Cannibal Corpse album, except that the music present here is a great deal more coherent than Cannibal Corpse. There are elements not found on a CC album, like the cleaner, more hollow sounding guitars playing electric sounding noodly tremolo riffs and the harmony lines and the noticeable tempo breaks, while the vocals, excessive blast beats and double bass runs sound almost like a carbon copy of Cannibal Corpse, especially the main body of the songs with their cohesive combination of unrelenting blast beats, tremolo riffs and growling. Musically, Abducted and Compacted is very linear due to the driving blasting and drum work. Basically, each song is built on a foundation of drumming (especially bass drums) and standard death metal chugging thrummed riffs, with cymbals, toms and other fills added secondarily on top of the main elements.

The music isn't completely Cannibal Corpse influenced; there are some Morbid Angel style old school solos scattered throughout and the pounding drum intro, descending-note riffs and screams on the opening title track that loosely resemble Sarcofago. The flurries of tom and cymbals are also similar to Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness, most apparent on the song 'Anniversary Rape'. As I said before, the music isn't a complete CC clone; there are a lot of tempo changes where the drummer employs a lot of creative 4/4 bass and snare rhythms and tom runs that wouldn't be found on a typical CC song. The riffs aren't particularly memorable, though this isn't so much a failure on the bands part; the music is too unrelenting to fit in any really spectacular riffs. Most, if not all of the time, they're just the driving body of the songs, with the occasional solos and higher-tuned guitars noodling away with little tremolo picked lines complementing the rest of the guitar work. The drumming makes up for the lack of interesting riffs, with the previously mentioned flurry of fills and slower, creative rhythms and the lively cymbal, bass and snare trade off on 'Eaten'.

Overall, Daemon Foetal Harvest have produced a solid slab of death metal supported by clear production and pulled off with an impressive amount of talent considering they formed in 2006. Abducted and Compacted isn't anything that hasn't been done before, but it's been done more than well enough to make Daemon Foetal Harvest a band worth at least a listen.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Iciclan - Frozen Dimensions

Iciclan is a pretty unique band, not because of the music they play, which is basically highly Immortal-influenced brutal black metal with a few death metal elements and mid-paced rockish sections scattered throughout, but because of the band's ideology. Frozen Dimensions is a concept album about a creature that eats ice every ninety years to survive. The short description I provided may not sound appealing, but it's way more intriguing than the themes a lot of other black metal bands confine themselves to.

The music on this album is extremely concise and to the point. At twenty-four minutes, there isn't any room for filler tracks or even fills throughout the songs, for that matter. Songs are mostly made up of blast beats and riffs that are almost exclusively tremolo picked. As I mentioned before, this album is completely filler-free. The only fills present are flurries of tom rolls played at every little opportunity and speedy double bass kicks played at breaks in song verses, most noticeably on 'Ice Eater'. Riffing is played with a great deal of tightness and precision. None of the riffs ever fade out before the next riff simply because riffage is constant. The guitar tone and riffs are pretty melodic, but the savage speeds reached throughout songs like 'The 16th Cycle', with it's relentless blast beats and chainsawing tremolo riffs, strip the guitars of any easily discernible melody. Drumming is very consistent and tightly performed. Whenever the drummer isn't furiously blasting away, he's pulling off heaps of seemingly random tom fills and rolling double bass kicks rhythmically interspersed with snare, cymbals and occasionally tom hits every three or so kicks.

There are a few death metal elements present on this album, like the death metal lyrics on 'Twisting Ear Then Embrace', the guitar solo on 'An Ancient Place' that wouldn't sound unusual in a death metal song and the growls that are often double tracked with the vicious black metal shrieks to created a cool layered effect. Twenty-four minutes doesn't seem like very much for a full-length, but the detailed concept of the album alone provides enough material to qualify this as a fully thought out album, not to mention the complete absence of fillers.

Frozen Dimensions doesn't waste time with pointless ideas, musical experimentation, intros and outros or ambient interludes. Just look at bands like Xasthur, who have hour-plus running times but only thirty minutes worth of ideas present in any given album. Iciclan doesn't try too hard be unique or different, they just do what is necessary while sticking firmly to their black metal formula and leave it at that.