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.