Despotz Records, 12.05.17
From Finland we move to Sweden. The quintet Apocalypse Orchestra from Gävle has spent four years refining the details and perfecting their melodic metal. A form of metal whose distinctive character nevertheless can't be categorized in the blink of an eye. The band welds initially separate genres together into a signature-strong hybrid alloy.
Fans of folk, viking, doom, death/doom, funeral, symphonic, medieval and atmospheric metal will all find something to enjoy on The End is Nigh!
The more of said styles you enjoy, the more you will probably appreciate this work.
The hour-long album opens heavily, with The Garden of Earthly Delights, with bagpipe trumpeting a powerful hymn for the Scottish Highlands. When percussion, guitar and bass proclaim their existence after a minute, it's leaden deadly doom with an atmospheric, medieval folk-like touch that reveals itself. Saor meets Draconian/Doom:VS, and the result produces certain similarities to Falkenbach.
In Pyre, the medieval instrument hurdy-gurdy, an instrument with a violin meets bagpipe timbre, is introduced. Of other kinds of antique instruments, lute and the related cister and mandola, mandolin's big brother, are being used. The eight tracks are well-equipped with identity of their own, and it's only natural that your degree of appreciation will vary a bit from song to song. Pyre has a melancholic folk-like character that draws the minds toward resigned gloom in dark Finnish forests.
I have no intention of writing a song-by-song review, but every single song has something to show for. The album offers a lot of nice and memorable melody. The start of Flagellant's Song, a fair and calm ballad with clean vocals and choir, initially made me laugh a little. The song begins with a motet, i.e. a composition for choir, often in the form of a cappella. This motet is derived from the hymn Dies Irae, but how the hell was I supposed to know that? I only know the words “Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem” from Monty Python.
Several of the following songs are dreamy, serene and atmospheric, with clean vocals. The music is relatively harmless, a bit like Hamferð, but not quite as gentle as Orphaned Land. With pretty thumping force, the music don't appear toothless or anaemic. Whether or not The End is Nigh could also appeal to “regular people”, I leave for you to investigate for yourself.
After three minutes short To Embark, an acoustic folk/Viking-flavoured tune, almost 11 minutes long, Here Be Monsters finishes a very good album in a mighty way. The band's quest for combining past with presence has culminated in an atmospheric universe where time itself seems to be an illusion. No one in the band appear to have a lot of band experience, and the vast majority seems to be fresh in the game. Something that just makes a thoroughly crafted and very good debut all the more impressive. Despite the album's pessimistic title, the band promises that this is just the beginning. And what a beginning it is! Rating: 5+
In addition to the music video for The Garden Of Earthly Delights and the same song plus Flagellant's Song through Bandcamp below, you can also see the band perform together with Gävle Symphonic Orchestra on YouTube.
Svart Records, 12.05.17
We remain in Suomi Perkele's dark forests. Ajattara is another veteran of Finland's black metal scene, but has a slightly different expression that differs somewhat from the most orthodox. The band started early in the latter half of the nineties, and debuted a great deal later than Barathrum. The lovely dark and atmospheric debut Itse (2001) was also my first encounter with them.
The sequel Kuolema (2003) was about as good, while the third album ironically became rather boring simply because it gnawed on the same bone without any sign of development. After that I fell off the Ajattara-train.
The band split up in 2012, after seven albums. Last year, the band came back together with the same line-up as before the break. Six years have passed since the last time the sextet delivered any new material, and I was very unsure of what to expect. With an open mind, I chose not to have any expectation, which is just as good. This may have caused me to be more receptive to the slightly strange form of melodic black metal found on Lupaus.
It's not difficult to recognize the band, especially in view of Ruoja's distinct Finnish vocal. The man is the only one who has been there ever since the beginning, and had a parallel career as a vocalist in Amorphis from Elegy (1996) to Far from the Sun (2003). I have always had a taste for the man's black but also very clear voice. Though I fathom fuck all of the lyrics anyway. Despite recognisability, Lupaus fortunately doesn't sound like a clone of those previous works I have a knowledge of. The band is partially faster and more light-footed, even if slower songs also occur, while incorporating various alien elements.
The black tones of the band, as mentioned above, appear to be atypical, without sounding directly “experimental” or “alternative”. The guys have a kind of overtone of Finnish death/doom à la Kuolemanlaakso surrounding them. Lupaus also flirts with other styles, such as symphonic black metal. During the course of the record we find symphonic and operatic elements as well as interstellar and industrial effects. The last part of the opening song Saatanan sinetti has some strange sounds, while the “midtro” of Amen has a feel of Dimmu Borgir.
The boys have visited the studio Casa de la Musica in Àlora in southern Spain, and returned with juicy punch in the luggage. Former Shade Empire vocalist Tohtori Kuolio handles bass in Ajattara, and he's got a good position in the soundscape, which thunders well without getting overly rumbling. the rest of the members appear to be experienced folks, but with six members it's a bit exaggerated to go into detail on each individual participant.
Ajattara offers a good drive in songs with nice flow and somewhat memorable melody lines, as well as some unexpected antics. Unfortunately, not every song has the same strong identities. Suru has got “catchy” melodies, while S.I.N.Ä. is leaden, evil and negatively charged. At the end, Machete finishes superbly by alternating between mighty dreaming sequences and malevolent attitude. As said, the band is recognizable, but they do not repeat themselves as before. Lupaus is a joyous revisit and all in all a very audible, and thus recommended album. Rating: 4
Watch the videos for Suru and Ave Satana, and hear all of Lupaus underneath.
Saturnal Records, 28.04.17
After 12 years of hibernation, Finnish Barathrum is back with their bass-heavy black/doom'n'roll. Or something. The band was among Finnish black metal's pioneers, and became notable for their use of two bass guitars in the early nineties. Almost unheard of in a time where occasional Norwegians became renown for absolute absence of bass.
I don't know Barathrum profoundly. I picked up the album Okkult (2000) in a second hand store a few years after the release, but it was never played to death. Otherwise, I'm just left with a few impressions.
I don't have the greatest expectations before I get cracking on Fanatiko, and it doesn't leave the most striking impressions, even if it's got its moments. As I've briefly mentioned, and will again comes back to, Barathrum, and thus Fanatiko, distinguishes itself slightly from the masses. A positive aspect that nevertheless does not mean a whole lot when the material don't appeal outstandingly. The songs are not notably eventful, vigorous and exciting. I don't consider riffs and rhythms as poor, but there's not too much of substantial interest happening.
Instead of writing a long doctoral dissertation, we quickly mention that the band's vocalist Demonos Sova is the only remaining original member, and that six guest vocalists have contributed to the record. Among others, Horna-vocalist Spellgoth has lent away his voice. You can find the details on Encyclopaedia Metallum via the link in the header. The vocal(s) cover a wide range, but there is a lot of yelling and bellowing in this kennel that does not appeal appreciably. On the contrary, the vocalism can become a bit tiresome. The sound itself is also unnecessarily compressed and lacking in dynamics, and can feel like a jackhammer toward the cerebellum.
The first two songs have okay drift. Especially the first song, Hellspawn. This also applies to the song with the festive name, warlike Church Amok, which has some Inquisition-similarities to some of the voices. The band is still best when they blend in some dark moods, as in Spirit of the Damned, or On the Dark River Bank that blends intensity with occult and exotic atmosphere, similar to the sacrificial blood that blends with and colours the Nile red.
If you appreciate a slightly different black musical experience, a round with Fanatiko can be recommended. The veterans' approach is more doomed and rocked, as if Black Sabbath had allowed themselves to be influenced by black metal, and has a touch of proto-black metal à la Venom and Celtic Frost. In addition, the sound is distinctive with rumbling bass from all directions. Bigger Barathrum fans are likely to have more of a taste for Fanatiko than yours truly. Listen and make up your own mind. Rating: 3+
Check out Fanatiko in its entirety beneath the Hellspawn video.
SOM - Underground Activists, 17.03.17 Dodecahedron returned with their sophomore album a couple of months ago, but the shitty inherent abhorrence of reality has a tendency of putting a spoke in the wheel, while the gears of time hastily crunches forward, pulverizing the present into memorabilia and vague memories. Ulsect made me realize that time was overripe to brush the cobweb of this ticket to obscure portals.
The press letter refers to Dodecahedron's expression as extreme dark metal. Just as well, for the band moves in a spiritual level that transcends conventional black metal.
With inspirations from the godfathers of dissonance, Deathspell Omega, and later days Mayhem, the Dutch delivers disharmonious extremity in the intersection between cacophony and atmosphere. The intensity that hits the listener can be both violent and claustrophobic, but at the same time the various episodes of violent rage are linked by a transcendental timbre that create dreamlike hypnosis.
Comparing this to the debut is an ambivalent affair. On one hand, the terrifying carousel moves in so many parallel dimensions that it seems impossible to find some kind of guiding principle or axis of reference to grab a hold of. Both albums consist of volatile chaos in all its complex smoke-like shades and contours. Comparing therefore becomes demanding. But still easy, if you settle with concluding that they are cut from the same moldy cloth or cast from the same rusty mold. The album may also be a touch better than Ulsect below, but the margins are small. Therefore, the same rating. The sound is not very different from the debut, but I feel that kwintessens might be a tint more forcefully oppressive and atmospherically resounding in all its discordant misery.
kwintessens, which is intentionally written with a small “K”, can prove to be a highly addictive drug, as the music despite repeated pain-inflicting sequences has a proven addictive effect. More research is required to uncover the sonic-psychological connection. A meditative journey in dark and shifting irregularities can quickly lead to asocial behaviour, mental trauma and physiological disorder. The International Department of Health and Safety therefore encourages potential listeners to exercise extreme caution. Rating: 5
SOM - Underground Activists, 12.05.17 Ulsect is a new ensemble from Tilburg in the Netherlands, the same city as Dodecahedron. Parts of the quintet also come from that non-euclidean entity, with both their drummer and guitarist on the team. Something that has largely rubbed off onto Ulsect.
The contagious effect makes the band's post-death become anything but monotonous. It is rather in constant dynamic and kaleidoscopic motion, with dissonant textures as basic expression.
The fabric the band's music is woven off is not earthly.
It seems to have come to them in their dreams.
Dreams most likely inseminated telepathically from R'lyeh.
A sign, perhaps, that the slumbering sunken nightmare city is about to wake up from deep sleep.
Quiet and intense sequences doesn't gradually take turns on dominance, but are plunging along helter-skelter in seemingly chaotic patterns. Often even simultaneously. But there is a pattern, a complex strange structure, probably determined by cosmic fourth degree integral equations. Ulsect's sonic violence and rhythmic diversity speak to something instinctively in the mind. A pre-programmed centre deep in the subconscious, like a computer virus planted aeons before dawn of time. That's my theory.
Fans of technically impeccable atonal labyrinths of ominous dystopia, such as Gorguts and Dodecahedron, are according to the press release invited to explore Ulsect's dark dimension. The question is whether you can feel completely confident in this apparent hospitality. I have sunk to the depths and returned, and I tell you; the surroundings did feel suspiciously inhospitable. Rating: 5
Three songs are streaming on Bandcamp thus far, but Ulsect offers on full play-through.
Transcending Obscurity Asia, 10.05.17
I rarely take the time to listen intensely to an album just after receiving the promo, but The Fallen Reich from rather obscure Assault was such an instant positive surprise that I immediately heard it three times in a row.
It seems that The Fallen Reich is released as a full-length, but with sparsely 22 minutes of music, the six songs could just as well have been presented as an EP.
The album ain't spotless, but it's still as damn fireworks of thrashing death with malicious attitude and heinous intentions.
The quintet from Singapore plays extreme metal with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Faster forms of octane-containing metal do exist, but pure speed is not the target at hand. It may be more enjoyable to push a rusty old wreck up to a relatively high speed than to watch polished formula-1 vehicles rush past three times as fast. Assault is like an antiquarian military vehicle that leaks oil, dandruffs rust and misses a screw or ten.
The rickety conveyance vibrate like a neurotic after fourteen cups of espresso, and the provisionally mounted machine-gun, a temporary solution that quickly became permanent, fires off in all direction while the exhaust pipe blasts salutes, leaving a stench of black smoke.
It takes some time getting used to the sound. As expected, the vehicle is unpolished. What comes as a bigger surprise is that generations of dust and dirt have germinated. The original colour is impossible to estimate under the soiled surface. Admittedly, The Fallen Reich don't sound that rotten, but the rough sound requires some familiarization, just like the pedals on a new second-hand car.
The Singaporeans keep high speed on a trail of dusty gravel and deliver a striking effort topped with black-scorched vocals. In addition, Taiwan and The Maldives are represented, with guest vocal from ChthoniC singer Freddy Lim on Enslavement to Torture and guest solo by Nothnegal's vocalist/guitarist Fufu on Ghettos.
The highest rating would be a bit excessive since Assault don't deliver intricate complexity, and as such don't exactly match the requirements for nomination as a classic. However, even without the intellectual depth of a soul-scrutinizing literary work that philosophize over behaviour and psyche, The Fallen Reich, similar to a rough and though action movie with a thin plot, but lavish on blood, violence, explosions and flames, has a crude primitive charm that provides plenty of adrenaline-filled entertainment. Rating: 4+
Napalm Records, 05.05.17
When Polish Hate has now released their tenth disc, I can brag of having heard half of them. Where Anaclasis: A Haunting Gospel of Malice & Hatred (2005) and Erebos (2010) consisted of regular death metal in line with Krisiun and Belphegor, the band struck at the heart of my immune system with more juicy Behemoth-inspired dark, mighty and gloomy death metal on Solarflesh: A Gospel of Radiant Divinity (2013). Crusade:Zero (2015), on the other hand, became a slight disappointment, although isolated, it was good enough to hoard four points.
With Tremendum, the freight train is back on track. Here, death, putridity and black disgust meet in perfect vulgarity. The band still adopt the instruments of death, but utilize several elements from the devil's toolbox. The result is cascades of euphonic dynamic black/death. The track structure is airy, but fierce and pummelling as pulsating sequences of tsunami waves.
Pavulon attended his first Hate album with Crusade:Zero. He has otherwise been a busy man with a lot of irons in the fire for the past fifteen years. He has, among other things, participated in Vader and Christ Agony. The superb rhythms move constantly from one form of extravagant extreme pace to the other, unless the speed is lowered and more progressive diabolical playfulness unfolds on tightened skin. The man's technical quality raises the atmosphere with ritually repetitive and hypnotic dry bashing.
Lucifer's guttural voice works through the throat of Adam the First Sinner as through automatic writing or psychography; telepathic channelled messages received in meditation, trance or a similar non-conscious state. The vocals are loud and clear, relatively spoken, but still resounds dry and diabolic as roars from the depths. The same man puts all extreme weather conditions in motion with aggressive and devil-conjuring riffs. Some of the lead guitar work must be credited to guests Dean Arnold (Primalfrost, Vital Remains) and Domin (Hate-live, Vedonist). Additionally, the band's live bass player Apeiron has stepped in on four strings.
In addition to explosive extreme metal, Hate offers on powerful moods, suitable of giving the listener mental images from the abyss. Whether you vividly imagine the kingdom of death in flaming splendour, where volcanic sparks rise between towering stalagmites of the abyss and monolithic stalactites hang looming underneath the vault, seemingly distorted as a mirage in the heat haze, or you visualize swarms of demons obscuring the sun with leathery wings while screams of panic from the masses fills the darkened sky, this is black/death of the sacrilegious majestic type.
With their tenth full work, Hate brings about all its potential to the table. All bottled up aggression spews out like corrosive bile. An epic storms of evil grows in strength. Spreading like gangrene in the bloodstream. Mighty Solarflesh..., which I gave 6 points back in the day, should not be underestimated, but Tremendum is fighting for the heavy weight title as the Poles' best release after almost 27 years of activity. I'm still inclining marginally toward the former, but hell, this is some solid shit! Rating: 5+