Monday, November 25, 2013

Neglektum - Blasphemer

It seems that as a band ages, the more likely it is for them to take other genres and influences and incorporate them into their music. In the case of Blasphemer, the opposite is true. For their debut album, Sweden’s Neglektum has abandoned the progressive leanings of its demo and come to embrace a purer, fairly melodic form of black metal.

Blasphemer isn’t groundbreaking in anyway. It’s resplendent with melodic tremolo riffs, blast beats, and rasps we’ve all heard before, but they’re done so well it’s impossible to ignore. From the crunchy opening riffs and mournful, ending solo of “Blasphemer” to the triumphant, charging tremolo leads of “Infernal Declaration of Hate”, Azargoth’s guitar work takes the front seat as is only right. His tight riffage and highly competent solos are executed with the skill of a veteran and carry the songs. His chosen vocal style is typically a hoarser rasp tinged with a hysterical edge, which is all fine and dandy, but where he really stands out are his screams, which are unfortunately only featured on “Babalon”, an otherwise run of the mill track. Isedor shows he can handle a drum kit as well as anyone and changes from blast beats to slower, rhythmic and almost tribal sections with ease. His bass work is largely inaudible save for short passages when the guitars take a break. It’s not particularly adventurous, but then again the entire album isn’t either. It’s all about playing black metal and playing it right, which these two Swedes pull off with aplomb.

The production is surprisingly good for a self-released debut and the mixing is done very well, save for slightly too loud snare hits. Blasphemer shows a good understanding of pace and songwriting, and the general mid to fast pace of the album is broken up by slower parts of songs and the aptly named acoustic track, “Salvation” as well as the short piano piece “Dies Irae Pt.1”. The flow from the previously mentioned track to “Pt.2” isn’t very smooth, but the melodic riffs catch your attention and quickly cause you to forget about your momentary discomfort.

Neglektum’s Blasphemer is one of those special albums that does nothing new, but because it’s done so well you can’t help but to like it. The only real issue is consistency. While most of the tracks are great, “Begotten Son (Forgotten)” and “Babalon” are fairly average and hold the album back from reaching its full potential. Thankfully, “Infernal Declaration of Hate”, “Death’s Curse”, and “Dies Irae Pt.2” more than make up for the weaker tracks and make for a great album overall. All in all, Blasphemer is a release Neglektum can be proud of and is made all the more impressive for being a debut, and is sure to please fans of more melodic black metal.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Warwulf - Wulfschrei

One of the biggest plagues to have descended upon the world recently is surely the one man black metal band. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but sadly bands like Burzum, Arckanum, Leviathan, etc. are few and far between. Most of these bedroom warriors simply lack the ability to create works that are anything more than mediocre. Now, with an intro like that you’re probably wondering why Wulfschrei has received such a high score. The answer is quite simple really. Warwulf fucking rules.

On paper, Wulfschrei doesn’t look like anything special. Its sole member’s only other involvement with metal before the demo was a short-lived stint with Battle Dagorath. 30 copies of the demo were self-released on tape, and it’s just about 13 minutes long. Yes, there’s no denying it; if you substitute Battle Dagorath with any other band nearly no one’s ever heard of, the previous sentences could apply to innumerable other black metal bands. Unlike innumerable other black metal bands though, Warwulf’s first release is damn near flawless.

The album begins with “Through the Desolate Stars”, a slow, sorrowful keyboard intro that builds suspense like the calm before the storm, and the two tracks that follow it are quite a storm indeed. Musically, Wulfschrei’s black metal tracks are somewhat like Satanic Warmaster with their buzzing yet melodic riffs and minimalist structure. Both “From Bone to Ashes” and “Perverted Sorrow” are based around the repetition of just a few majestic, buzzing tremolo riffs that rise and fall. The riffs are of the somewhat slower variety, but combined with the faster drums, the tracks seem faster than they actually are. Vocally this may well be one of my favorite performances ever. Wulfskrieger’s muted and slightly echoing shrieks along with his fantastic sustains fit perfectly with the music and hold your attention completely throughout the short release. Sadly though, as soon as it began it’s over, and the outro, “Wulfschrei”, escorts you gently back to the real world.

Truth be told, I can’t point to a single second during Wulfschrei that I would change. In fact, the only criticism I have of the demo is that it’s too short. Yes, I hate that cliché as much as you do, but in this case it’s true. Excluding the intro and outro, the total length comes to just eight minutes; far too short for a release of this caliber, which makes the intro/outro to black metal ratio a little higher than I would prefer.

With just a single demo, Warwulf has achieved far more artistically than many bands do over the course of their entire career. The material on this release serves as a shining example of what black metal should be; raw but melodic riffs, chilling vocals, and uncompromising. Unfortunately, with just 80 copies in existence it’s nearly impossible to get ahold of this album in a physical form. If ever there was anything in need of a re-press it’s Wulfschrei. Seriously, I can’t recommend this enough; check it out.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Frostwork - Lore of Winter - Ealdspell

Ever since Immortal’s first few albums, winter has been somewhat of a staple theme for black metal bands. Some choose to capture the sadness and melancholy winter evokes, some concentrate more on its ferocity and strength, and yet others attempt both. Frostwork’s Lore of Winter – Ealdspell falls most solidly into the second group with its mixture of ominous ambience and harsh sections of black metal.

On its face, Lore of Winter – Ealdspell is somewhat unimpressive from a purely instrumental/vocal standpoint. The guitar work isn’t particularly skillful or adventurous, and each of the album’s repetitive tremolo riffs are forgotten as soon as they end. The drums plod away at a slow pace and are generally relegated to the background, only occasionally speeding up to something more than a crawl. The bass, while more noticeable than in most black metal albums, never really does anything exciting. In fact, the only part of the music that is above average is the vocals, which are usually the typical black metal shrieks but performed convincingly enough to satisfy. Throw in a boatload of ambience, some clean vocals, two spoken passages, and an occasional acoustic part and you basically have Ealdspell.

However, we all know that music is more than the sum of its individual parts. The previously mentioned guitars are abrasive and cutting, reminiscent of an icy wind, and they combine with slow pace of the drums to bring to mind the image of a slow and unavoidable death brought on by the elements. These slabs of black metal are broken and separated by the sounds of frozen winds blowing, and these along with the sounds of someone trudging through the snow and some acoustic parts remind one of the capriciousness of winter. The vocals are lower in the mix and they echo like the voice of a man lost in the wilderness during a blizzard, crying futilely for help. The tracks blend together and give the album an undeniable cohesiveness.

But with so many different parts in an album, there are bound to be some misfires. Lyrically this album is somewhat disjointed, beginning with lyrics about a likely mythological white raven and ending with lyrics about perhaps a female werewolf. I’m not usually too fussy about lyrics since, let’s be honest, it’s nearly impossible to decipher what most vocals are about. However, due to two spoken tracks the jump from raven to she-wolf is jarring. Separating these two parts into two EPs instead of a single album would have been the better choice artistically. Another flaw is one I mentioned earlier; the somewhat average instrumental work. It is possible to create great atmosphere and immersion while still having interesting and memorable riffs, but sadly, Ealdspell falls short here. And while the tracks blending together creates the sense of a single piece of music instead of just a collection of songs, there’s nothing interesting enough here to listen to on its own. Either commit to listening to the whole 40 minutes or don’t even bother.

Still, for all its flaws, Lore of Winter is a fair release. The instrumentals combine with the ambient passages to create a compelling piece of black metal that manages to work far better than the sum of its parts. If you are looking for a cold piece of ambient black metal, you could do far worse than Frostwork’s Lore of Winter – Ealdspell.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dagaz - From Ancient Wisdom

If you play melodic death metal and your lyrics are about Vikings, comparisons to Amon Amarth are inevitable. Many bands are influenced by Amon Amarth to be sure, and for good reasons. However, in the case of Dagaz’s first full length, From Ancient Wisdom, being influenced by occasionally gives way to borderline plagiarism.

Musically, the most accurate description of this Quebec group’s debut is that it sounds like a combination of parts of all of Amon Amarth’s albums, with perhaps a bit more melody. Thodrekr Krighammer’s vocals sound remarkably like Johan Hegg’s distinctive roar, and he also makes use of an occasional blackened rasp. Like Amon Amarth, Dagaz makes use of two guitarists to create powerful, memorable riffs which also contain a fair amount of melody and are quite exceptional on tracks like “From Ancient Wisdom” and “The Great Dawn”. Solos are common and are thoughtfully placed as to make them most effective. The drummer hammers throughout the album and gives a convincing performance with a number of fills to keep things interesting without going overboard and becoming distracting.

Much of the album is mid-paced, but slower songs like “Last Stand of the Hard-Ruler” as well as breaks between songs and some faster songs like “The Bane of Giants” keep things from getting monotonous. The production is great and all instruments can be heard without getting into ‘too polished’ territory. The song structures aren’t particularly innovative and indeed nothing but one part of the album, a part of the song “From Ancient Wisdom”, surprised me. That’s not exactly a bad thing though; better to remain grounded in tradition than to attempt to forage a new path and fail miserably. The part that did surprise me though was my favorite part of the album. Towards the end of “From Ancient Wisdom”, a breakdown begins with a great and audible bass line, as well as a solo soaring over the crushing guitars down below. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of breakdowns at all but this one just crushes.

I’ve talked a decent amount of what I liked about From Ancient Wisdom, but as you can see from the score I’ve given it, the album has a few flaws. I mentioned earlier that the album contains what I’d consider borderline plagiarism. There were a few times during the album where I found myself thinking, “Where have I heard this before?” Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t take points off for lack of originality, but the song “Riding ‘Til the End” sounds so similar to Amon Amarth’s song “Varyags of Miklagaard” that I felt I had to dock a few. Additionally, there are a few songs that are weaker than the others on the album that failed to hold my attention completely.

So, what can you expect from Dagaz’s From Ancient Wisdom? Well, quite a bit as it turns out. Each member of the band performs with enthusiasm and a degree of skill that is uncommon in a band’s first album, and if some fantastic, Amon Amarth sounding melodic death metal sounds like something you’d enjoy you’ll surely like From Ancient Wisdom. I’m quite impressed with this release and although it’s not the most original album ever, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen and headbang to, and I’m looking forward to what these Canadians put out next.

Drukne / The Sons of Dead Druids - Elder Runes

So, in an attempt to keep the title of my blog truthful, I have my first review.

The Drukne half of this split is made up largely of rawer black metal and opens with “Buried Ashes.” This track deserves to be singled out simply because of how poorly it was recorded and mixed. Now, of course, raw black metal isn’t known for having good recording quality, but when the drums sound as if they were recorded by a mic that had been stuffed in a garbage bag full of cotton and locked away in the neighbor’s basement before you began to record, you begin to have somewhat of an issue. And the guitars are so much more prominent than the rest of the instruments that the first time I listened to the song I was unsure if there were any drums being played or if that was just static from the background noise.

Fortunately, the recording quality picks up for the rest of the albums and the mix is tolerable. Not so fortunately, the music is less than exciting. The drums vary enough between blast beats and some slower, more rhythmic patterns in an attempt to keep things interesting but fail to hold this release together. Each song has what is basically a single, fast riff which is altered slightly to attempt to hold the listener’s interest, but with so little variation even songs that are just six or seven minutes drag on far too long. The first two songs feature very artificial and edited vocals and the next two have somewhat typical, higher pitched vocals.

There are sparse moments of quality dispersed throughout Drukne’s half of the split for sure, but many things simply drag it down. The guitar work is fair and with (a lot) more variation and some tempo changes, their next album could be interesting. The vocals on “Buried Ashes” and “The Dispiser” are far too edited and would have been better served by the higher pitched vocals. Some of the more interesting parts of the album, the guitars in “The Dispiser,” are overshadowed by occasional bouts of overenthusiastic cymbal bashing. But what’s most confusing is the acoustic instrumental at the end. “Heralding” serves no real purpose and although it’s not a bad piece by any means, it’s very out of place at the end of a raw black metal album that I can’t help but to dislike it.


The The Sons of Dead Druids (or TSDD) half of this split is also raw black metal. In fact, TSDD was the previous version of Drukne. The two bands are so similar that it’s pointless to give TSDD a longer review. The same issues I had with Drukne exist in TSDD; iffy recording, songs that are longer than they should be, little variation in the guitar work or drumming, and extremely edited vocals. This half of the album doesn’t have a poorly chosen acoustic outro thankfully, but the whole effort just comes across as a slightly more mediocre version of an amateur band.


Ultimately, Elder Runes fails to achieve anything. If I had to choose a single word to describe the album, I would either select ‘annoying’ or ‘amateurish.’ The album clocks in at almost an hour but at the end, instead of feeling like you’ve gone somewhere, be it the depths of hell or through en epic, snow covered forest, you really only feel sad that you’ve wasted your time and money.

So it begins...

Hello, and welcome to my blog. If the completely black backgrounds and the really metal blog title font didn't do it already, allow me to break something to you; I am not a professional blogger. Yes, I know. Someone under 25 years old and completely terrible at the internet. Something of a marvel isn't it?

Given that the blogger info section is a little small, I figured that I would do a proper introduction for my first post. Like the short blurb says, I'm somewhat of a metal noob if you will. My first metal album was Metallica's Master of Puppets. I bought it almost immediately after hearing "Master of Puppets" on a local radio station when I was in either fourth or fifth grade. I listened to the shit out of that CD over the summer. It didn't even dawn on me to look at their other albums until sixth grade. By then I had an iPod and had no need for CDs, or so I foolishly thought, and so I proceeded to purchase Metallica's discography through Metallica on iTunes. I ended up hearing about Rammstein at some point during middle school and for almost a year I listened exclusively to Metallica and Rammstein. Pretty badass, I know.

Then, during the summer between eighth and ninth grades, some relatives from Norway came over to visit for a couple weeks. One of them was a teenager who I found out also listened to metal. He asked me if I had heard of Amon Amarth. I hadn't and in my attempts to be cool in the eyes of my older cousin who I'd never met before, I proceeded to download The Avenger. Holy fuck. That album blew me away. The intensity and sheer awesomeness was something I had never experienced before and I loved it. I downloaded every single one of their albums that summer and when school came around I had discovered that Amon Amarth wasn't the only awesome band out there. I listened to Bolt Thrower, Wintersun, Ensiferum, and while searching for more music to listen to, I came across Immortal. At the time they had just released All Shall Fall and there was a lot of talk about it. I downloaded it expecting to hear something similar to what I was already listening to. Man was I wrong.

For the second time in my life I had a "Holy fuck" moment where the music just took my breath away. It was so different from what I was used to and it almost scared me as much as it excited me. I remember how my heart started pounding when the guitar kicked in during the title track. It sounded so evil... I loved it. That album essentially sealed the deal for me. I plowed through Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Ulver, Darkthrone, etc. within a year of hearing All Shall Fall.

Fast forward three years from hearing Immortal and that brings us to today. I still listen to mostly black metal, but I'll occasionally listen to some melodic death metal or folk for some variety, and within the past month or so I'm starting to check out power metal. Of course, since I've only really been listening to black metal for a couple years, I still have a ton to listen to. I have changed my listening habits though. Due to a computer crash I lost about a hundred albums that I had only in digital format. I do not intend to go through that again, so now I only buy  physical releases. Not only for back-ups, but also because there's something infinitely more enjoyable about inserting a disc or a tape into a player than simply hitting 'play' on an MP3 player.

Well, that's me. Hope it wasn't too long a read.