Napalm Records, 26.05.17
It's nearing ten years since these Scottish pirates debuted with their lively and unpretentious drinking-songs on Captain Morgan's Revenge. The album was festive enough in moderate amounts, and quickly spread the pirates' names on the seven seas.
The sequel, however, didn't have the same appeal, and the “pirate fever” soon passed, blowing out like the candles of a wildfire-cake soaked in a barrel of rum.
Two more albums sailed passed my indifference before something indicated the band was on to something this time, so I decided to embark, set sail, drink, kill and rob.
Listening to Alestorm is something one should do on one premise: One must acknowledge that this is unserious music that has no other agenda than creating a jolly (roger) mood suitable for some proper tankard-wielding. As you death-defyingly attack the rum bottle as if it was your bitter arch enemy, Alestorm will provide the moral support you need to fight your way to the bottom of the bottle. And to hold the liquor down without bazooka-puking all over friends, foes and other acquaintances attending the tavern binge.
The songs that's been featured on-line before No Grave But The Sea hit the shelves, testified to good melodies with energetic drive. But a couple of singles doesn't make an album. To my positive surprise, the album is relatively stuffed with catchy joyful sing-along material. Because that's what this is about; uncomplicated, captivating and memorable light metal, cheerfully joy-spreading with a semi-tough image behind a rather alluring polished golden exterior. Harmless unrestrained fun.
Most of the ten songs clock in at around 3-4 minutes, and are simple verse-refrain based songs, while three of the tracks tick in at 6-8 minutes and offer a little more substance in the structure. Non-traditional instruments, however, help prevent the party from ever growing stale. The sound of accordion is indeed generated (pirate-copied?) by synthesizer, but the album has real trumpet, trombone and violin. In addition to the rattlesnake-instrument vibraslap. Speaking of audio effects, the merry 8-bit intro to Mexico should also be mentioned. Where some people wants to builds walls, Alestorm rather builds bridges. Not bridges across different cultures, but bridges built on a common drinking culture.
(The band seemingly also made an 8-bit intro to the song 1741 (The Battle of Cartagena) on their previous album.)
Apropos deep songs with intellectual society-exposing lyrics: Alestorm also highlights a sensitive topic that can be hard to talk about, namely bandana and eyepatch clad sea rovers with Tourette syndrome. This touching initiative is more than I can bare write about myself. Hear for yourself in the video to Fucked with an Anchor under the videos to Mexico and Alestorm in stead. A sure winner when the nachspiel starts becoming too sentimental.
No Grave But The Sea, or at least fragments of the album, might certainly be fun to throw on at the party, but it is of course not a sophisticated masterpiece. I won't listen a whole lot to this album on my own. There's bound to be several metalheads out there who'll have trouble taking this seriously, but it was never meant to be. The band themselves describe it as “Stupid songs about getting drunk and stealing treasures”. Thus, the music is kind of neglectable by nature, which in turn makes the music sort quite naturally in under a 3 point score. It should be said, though, that the execution is relatively impeccable. The quality in general is so even and high that I consider it more enjoyable than the debut. Now, hoist yer scull and crossbones ye scallywag landlobber. Best make a seadog, lest ye wish to befriend my cutlass and plank as shark bait before joining Davy Jones' Locker! Rating: 4-
MDD Records, 08.07.16 & 26.05.17
After having picking up Swarchmetall (2001) in what feels like an eternity ago, I have largely followed Nocte Obducta through thick and thin.
Most thin for the last ten years, though.
Last summer, the band released their tenth full-length (unless you define 2003's Stille as an album), and now they're already out with another album. Last year's release first passed me by unnoticed, and as soon as I had discovered it, the next album was announced.
Thus it's time to kill two birds with a single rock again.
The band has undergone development both a lot and often during its 24 years. They were initial named Desîhra, but only for a few years. Having been through different black metal expressions, they slipped into more progressive landscapes. But the mutation did not stop there. The band, however, did. During work on the album Sequenzen einer Wanderung in 2016, the band met so many internal and external obstacles they decided to put the band on ice.
Two years later, it was released as a final goodbye.
From 2006, the band was called Dinner on Uranus, where they played avant-garde rock, before Nocte Obducta was revived in 2011. In the last decade, the band has musically been as odd and peculiar as ever. The form of experimental proggy avant-garde post-black the lads provide an outlet for in the present age, balances a razor-thin line between success and failure. By post-black, in this case I don't mean traditional monotonous shoe-gazing, but rather post-apocalyptic aftershocks of black metal as they could appear in a dystopic future in a parallel universe.
Verderbnis... (2011) was a disappointing comeback, while Umbriel (2013) was a weird but comfortable and soaring disk in its own abstract way. I'm not as fascinated by the recent style of the band as their older work, but I'll gladly give the Germans not just one more chance, but two, and I thread mentally prepared into their schizophrenic universe. Well-prepared for anything, and for the worst, just to be on the safe side.
The name Mogontiacum (Nachdem die Nacht herabgesunken) alludes on the city of Mainz, one of Germany's oldest cities, originally founded as a Roman garrison under the Latin name Mogontiacum. Nachdem die Nacht herabgesunken means something like “Whence night has fallen”. The album's concept was intended as a sequel to the Nektar albums (2004/2005), but I leave the German lyrics to those steadier in the language.
The band defies all genre conventions and considers the music as “liberating”. Simply put, the music is avant-garde with a progressive touch. The sextet alternates between space rock with jazzy percussion, acoustic sequences, noise and proggy metal with black vibes. When its most down to earth, one can trace Enslaved's progressive work. At its most far out, I have trouble finding reference points for navigating and placing the music. That's really not an argument either for or against, but rather an indication aimed at the reader's subjective taste. Some can't get enough of experimental and peculiar musical expressions. Others seem to get allergic reactions.
The totality is too schizophrenic to be described as one, but the details and sequences of the hour long album are too many to be reeled off. Certain aspects of Mogontiacum... have similarities to Nektar, but Mogontiacum drag along several styles, and runs it all to a strange goo in the food processor. The fact that hardcore punk or “power violence”, hard rock, black metal or progressive jazz figure on the same album is in itself strange, but what gives yours truly the greatest headache, verging on disgust, is the crazy mixing ratio. A fairground attraction that spins you around your own axis while simultaneously spinning around its own axis can make you dizzy but amused when the trip last for a few minutes. When the shit goes wrong and you're still spinning like a rag doll after 60 minutes, you're almost guaranteed to thoroughly empty your intestines in both directions.
I really like the metallic parts reminiscent of Nektar, whether it's lingering moods of nature or hints of rawness, but nonsense tracks like Löschkommando Walpurgisnacht and Am Waldrand destroys the flow. Nocte Obducta makes great moodful progressive metal. Why destroy it with bizarre segments that just don't belong? If I were in charge, I would have removed ⅓ of the material, something that would altogether have left a significantly better impression. Rating: 3+
Totholz in the title Totholz (Ein Raunen aus dem Klammwald), refers to dead woods of some size, which in different degrees of decomposition cover parts of the forest floor and provide an ideal habitat for a plethora of species of fauna and flora. In English also known as coarse woody debris. Ein Raunen aus dem Klammwald can in turn be translated into a whisper from the deep forests.
Totholz... is, with its slightly over 40 minutes, about 20 minutes shorter than its predecessor, and at the same time much more musically even. The record is dominated by dreamy dark mystery with a reverberation of black metal in its atmospheric appearance. The album also has an light psychedelic feel of prog rock, but is by no means as surreal as the predecessor. With blackened elements and ingredients from the 70's, a dark metallic whole is formed with a somewhat bewitching mood.
Strange effects and sequences that didn't fit in entirely was a recurring event on the predecessor. We find some of the same on Totholz, but in a liberatingly small proportion relatively speaking. The music moves more towards Nocte Obducta's very beginning, and the circle is thus closed. This time, it's listeners like me who consider the music to be “liberating”. But only to some extent, unfortunately.
Totholz (Ein Raunen aus dem Klammwald) is not Nocte Obducta at its finest, but it is an album characterized by artistic integrity that doesn't resort to the excessively abstract to convey its message. Nevertheless, it's not all that extraordinarily artistic in the long run. At best, Mogontiacum was actually a whole lot better with its ethereal dreaming moods. Totholz does not have the same hypnotic Nektar moods, thus becoming both more monotonous and tamer in the long run. Even though it is liberatingly free of crust punk. Totholz plays it more safe, adds a few meaningless sequences for avant-garde sake, and ends up less interesting. Rating: 2+
Conclusion: There are albums that most of us can agree is brilliant, or on the contrary, nutrient-poor regurgitation, but there are also albums that will split the population. Nocte Obducta is a typical supplier of the latter. I like parts of the material on their last albums, but everything doesn't appeal. That doesn't mean that you will agree. You have to figure out for yourself where you stand in this case.
Inter Arma Productions, 16.05.17 Nargaroth, whose name combines narga meaning nature, with the “suffix” roth inspired by Gorgoroth, has existed since 1996, and released six previous albums, among many other releases. The band should be well-known to those who prefer their extreme metal genuinely black.
The German black metal band is, and has largely been operated as a one-man band. Ash, formerly known as Kanwulf, has spent eight long years arriving at this era of threnody, and he's had to challenge and search for his identity on his path thither.
In 2014, after unfortunate but unspecified circumstances in life, Ash sold most of his earthly belongings and embarked on a nomadic and aimless journey as homeless. He lived for periods in rural surroundings in volcanic environments in Mexico and in Canadian Indians reservations where the lyrics of Era of Threnody came to life. A more detailed description can be found in the booklet's liner notes.
My relationship to Nargaroth is limited. The album Black Metal ist Krieg basically sounded as expected from a primitive, necrotic German one-man band in 2001. I never really got the hang of the record and I was hardly able to take a song title like The Day Burzum Killed Mayhem quite seriously. The song title Erik, May You Rape the Angels, on the other hand, had a more heartfelt touch of tribute. Nevertheless, I gave the band a second chance with the EP Rasluka Part II (2002), something I've never regretted. The music was still primitive and raw, but the material was nevertheless far more mature, and the sound, while still bitterly cold, was far from as cheap and under-produced.
From there one, time again flew away and several albums passed by beneath my radar. Not until it was time for the man's previous album, Jahreszeiten, was I alert enough to pay attention. I've heard parts of the album, and plans of a purchase were present. I never got that far, however, but the disc, a kind of “Nargaroth's four seasons”, seems musically vital and exciting. With such a thin basis for comparison, I should of course not make any claims that Era of Threnody is Nargaroth's most sophisticated release to date, but I still suspect that's the case.
Era of Threnody mixes elements of traditional black metal with elements more common in nature-loving atmospheric black metal, whilst also incorporating symphonic undertones of violin and choir. The album is characterized by moody melancholy, and dynamic progress with all wind speeds represented, including calm and acoustic sequences. The acoustic parts blend in naturally, despite not necessarily belonging naturally to the northern European fauna. Ash has long wanted to incorporate traditional flamenco, a music style whose original temperamental archetype expression is associated with more or less rootless nomadic peoples. That kind of music is among the few music styles that appeal to Ash, who himself comes from a family with a history characterized by deportation, relocation and emigration. However, the man wasn't comfortable laying these guitar tracks himself. The technique is demanding. Ash has previously ventilated the idea to Bernth (Bled Dry), who played live for Nargaroth in 2013, without the circumstances having previously allowed for a collaboration. The flamenco guitar is not exaggerated and suits the material rather unexpectedly as it almost imperceptibly glides in. As so many time before, the task of percussion has also been called for tender. Septicflesh's new drummer Kerim "Krimh" Lechner handles the sticks. In addition, Renata V contributes with choir and such.
The album is surprisingly sore and woeful, and it reflects the phase of life the Ash has undergone for the past years. The introductory biographic statements of the booklet seems rather personal, and I wouldn't be surprised if the lyrics reflect equally honest self-scrutiny and soul-cleansing. The music sounds like a final product, as a sonic final report after a longer therapeutic period.
The coarse black groaning vocals is the aspect that requires most time to adapt to, for it is more gritty than the music. The music has a saddened touch of dsbm, but it's much more melodic and mighty than it is necro, and may appeal to a larger audience than what the man's early works has. How many outside black territorial waters that's able to appreciate the crass rasping bellows, still depends. For the initiated ones, this ain't no real problem, even though this very aspect of the music can become a bit monotone in the long run. The vocal form fits the most intense and seething sequences well, but dark and deep clean vocals might have been more fitting for other parts. Hear the last three minutes of the title track, the whispering lines in the first half of closing My Eternal Grief, Anguish Neverending, or the clean vocal in the last half of the same song, for instance. The last lines in particular borders on beautiful.
In view of Nargaroth's primitive starting point, or past in general, Era of Threnody is over-all a surprisingly pleasing serene, placid and well-composed piece of music. The album lasts for over an hour, but after over a dozen of listening-sessions I don't seem to get tired or bored. On the contrary, I would say that most of the songs still tighten their grip around my throat while new details are being revealed. Asides from a few short songs of less than four minutes that don't add anything, and that could just as well have been trimmed away, the album consists of eight well-structured compositions. The cover, portraying Laocoön, is apparently also a vital part of the concept, without me taking a shot at speculation about the interpretation of its symbolism.
Is this Nargaroth's artistic magnum opus? Despite vital holes in my insight into the band's discography, and thus against better knowledge, I'm cheeky enough to imagine it is. At least until being presented with contrary proof. Rating: 6-
Listen to the album under the video for Whither Goest Thou, and explore the band's back catalogue on the Bandcamp profile of Nargaroth's personal label Inter Arma Productions.