Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dissection - The Gods of Darkness (1997)

Originally released as a split VHS with the most unworthy Dimmu Borgir, The Gods of Darkness features one of the final gasps of the true Dissection. Recorded live in Köln, Germany on 31 March 1997, this performance is just as solid and possibly even more complete than the one on Live Legacy. The original release included bits of an interview between each song, as well as a video for "Where Dead Angels Lie", none of which are present here. However, the nearly 50-minute live gig is accompanied by three demo tracks from 1994. 

For early 1997, the setlist is pretty much what one would expect. It leans heavily on the Storm of the Light's Bane and Where Dead Angels Lie material. Considering the time constraints that were likely in place, they did quite a good job and still managed to include a couple lengthy tracks from The Somberlain. "Black Horizons" has always been a personal favourite, though seemingly often ignored for some reason, so it is a very welcome addition to this performance. Unlike Live Legacy, there were no technical issues preventing the mighty "Night's Blood" from appearing and giving the disc a more complete feeling. It's too bad, though, that they weren't able to squeeze in a couple more songs, like "A Land Forlorn" or "Soulreaper". 

As for the quality, this is a professionally-done soundboard recording, so you can hear everything very clearly and there is hardly any noticeable crowd noise (even during the quiet parts). That said, of course live renditions of these songs could never completely match the cold sound of the studio albums. That is actually a good thing, here, as it would be rather pointless if they were to mechanically reproduce everything with no variation. A massive part of the charm regarding The Gods of Darkness is the more raw feeling that it possesses. Slight differences in guitar tone, Jon's vocals and even Kellgren's drumming all come together to give a slightly different perspective on these classic songs. It's all a bit more organic, and you can really sense the energy and passion that the band puts into the songs. It must be said that the drumming does not seem quite as crisp and accurate at times, but it is surely difficult for most to match Öhman's talents. 

The bonus material consists of three unreleased demo tracks from 1994. Though the differences between these and the proper album versions are rather subtle, they are enough to create a somewhat unique atmosphere. The backing choir found near the end of "Retribution - Storm of the Light's Bane" accentuates the gloomy feeling of the song. The primary difference would be the more primal and vicious vocals, sounding less restrained and with a somewhat shrill tone at times. Some of the extended screams of "Night's Blood" just somehow adds so much. 

Much like Mayhem, Dissection existed in its classic form all-too-briefly and its output was rather limited. As such, fans must cling on to any and all recordings of these songs, hanging on every detail and nuance. The sound quality is excellent and beats the hell out of other bootlegs, such as Night's Blood. The Gods of Darkness is a perfect companion piece to Live Legacy and offers a more raw and intimate look at this legendary Black Metal band and is absolutely essential listening. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Thule - Der Vinterstormene Raste (1993)

Taake was never a band that particularly impressed me. In fact, Nattestid... was actually rather irritating, despite the praise heaped upon it by others. The bits and pieces that I heard of the two albums that followed did nothing to change this impression. At some point, I decided to pick up the Helnorsk svartmetall compilation, though it also seemed rather lackluster. That is, with the exception of the last two tracks, which were taken from the first Thule demo. Released in 1993, Der vinterstormene raste is easily the best thing that Hoest has ever had a hand in. 

The opening moments of "Et Skaldekvad I Hellig Blod" seem somewhat upbeat, before the catchy rhythm is replaced by a cold and mournful tremolo melody. This is quite typical Norwegian Black Metal, for this period. The riffs are pretty similar to what one would hear from the early demos of Gorgoroth, Enslaved or Urgehal. The lo-fi recording really helps to lend a grim and gloomy atmosphere to the music. Despite the demo-quality sound, the bass is audible and provides a contrast to the cold guitar tone. The combination of the frigid tremolo riffs and sombre bass lines really serves to create a dismal feeling. Near the end of the first track, as the pace slows, the misery washes over you in overwhelming waves. Hoest's vocals are utterly inhuman shrieks, very high-pitched and adding a primal feeling to the music. Svartulv's backing vocals add a hellish vibe as well. The second track, "Rasekrig", continues to build on this harsh and melancholic feeling, with blistering cold sections that give way to dark and dreary melodies that carve through your flesh and leave you to bleed out in the frozen night. 

Der Vinterstormene Raste is such a great demo, really epitomizing the sound of classic Norwegian Black Metal. The music here is cold, bleak, evil and otherworldy; things that have so often been lost on those that try to emulate this style. It is difficult to fathom why Hoest decided to abandon this approach for the more pretentious sound of Taake, for there is just a sense that this was but a harbinger of things to come. As previously stated, these tracks are available on the Helnorsk svartmetall compilation, so they shouldn't be too difficult to find. This is well worth a close listen.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Urgehal - Ferd (1994)

Urgehal was one of the younger bands, emerging onto the scene after the Norwegian Black Metal sound had been firmly established by such well-known antecedents as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum. As with many others that began around this period, their roots went no deeper than their immediate predecessors, lacking the rich tapestry of influences that helped give birth to the aforementioned acts, as well as the likes of Emperor, Dissection or Immortal. Their first demo, Ferd, may seem rather one-dimensional but it is the best thing the band ever recorded. 

Released in December 1994, this offering is highly derivative of another piece of music that first saw the light of day in this cursed year. Of course, the album in question is Darkthrone's masterpiece, Transilvanian Hunger, which was clearly a very important record for the guys in Urgehal. That this album had a significant influence upon this band is absolutely transparent. One could say that Ferd is little more than four tracks, a total of seventeen minutes, of pure Darkthrone worship. In fact, they managed to jump on this 'bandwagon' very early, even beating to the punch such bands as Judas Iscariot and Russia's Branikald. 

Ferd features very minimalist compositions, owing a great deal to Transilvanian Hunger. Each of the four songs consist of a few really haunting tremolo melodies, similar and yet distinct from one another. The style is very repetitive, with little to no variation in the drumming, as well as the uniform picking technique that is utilized. The entire recording maintains a singular pace. All of these elements combine to create a rather hypnotic effect. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, leaving the mournful guitar riffs as the main point of focus. The atmosphere is one of impenetrable gloom and hopelessness, with some moments of "Den som jakter i natten" hearkening to Burzum's "Det som en gang var". The latter melody of "Din ofrelse" is reminiscent of Darkthrone's "Slottet i det fjerne", attempting a very similar sort of build. Like those two bands, Urgehal also chose to go with Norwegian lyrics and song titles, though it hardly matters as the vocals do not figure into things in a significant way. 

Despite maintaining what most would call a fast pace throughout this demo, Urgehal display a total lack of intensity. Of course, a somewhat weak sound could result from the production as, after all, it is just a demo tape; however, Ferd has about the same sound quality as Gorgoroth's A Sorcery Written in Blood, and one would never make the mistake of claiming that as a recording that lacked intensity and conviction. The lifeless feeling may very well result from the actual songwriting, as the guitar melodies seem rather similar to those on Branikald's Varg fjerne a tornet and The Cold Earth Slept Below..., by Judas Iscariot. That said, this is not a criticism of Urgehal, but just an observation. The songwriting, playing style and production all serve to beget an overwhelmingly dreary and morose feeling. The monotony of this demo never becomes tedious or boring, something that cannot be said of the more varied songwriting of the unimpressive full-lengths that followed. While Ferd does lack the bitter cold feeling of those albums that inspired it, Urgehal's debut offering is well worth listening to. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Satyricon - All Evil (1992)

Recorded and released in the summer of 1992, All Evil is the first demo from Satyricon. This offering is quite interesting, having very little to do with the sound that the band would become known for. It's the only recording to feature the original line-up of Lemarchand, Wargod, Exhurtum and the soon-to-be usurper, Satyr. 

All Evil is quite brief, consisting really of just two actual songs, the title track and "Dreams of Satyr". The style is really stripped-down and primitive, bearing almost no resemblance to Dark Medieval Times. Lacking any synth to use as a crutch, the barbaric and gritty vibe is derived solely from traditional instruments. The sound is definitely a mixture of Black and Death Metal, perhaps leaning a bit more toward the former. The raspy vocals, toned-down drumming and some of the more droning riffs near the end of the two primary tracks aid in creating this feeling. Strangely, the opening riff of "All Evil" sounds as if it influenced the song "Lifeless", from Darkthrone's Ravishing Grimness. The songwriting is a little disjointed, as the faster riffs and lead solos seem to come from nowhere. "Dreams of Satyr" is more straightforward, for the most part, and flows better in general. 

The production is about as lousy as a demo tape from 1992 would lead one to expect, though nothing near as raw or necro as Wrath of the Tyrant or Yggdrasil. It could almost be compared to the early Thorns material, though with a weaker guitar that seems buried in the background by comparison. As well, the bass is too audible at certain points, giving a rather warm feeling to the music. 

Obviously, All Evil is a recording that pre-dates Satyr's takeover of the band and subsequent fascination with the likes of Burzum and Darkthrone, so it is rather unique within Satyricon's discography. The Death Metal aspects aren't anywhere near as violent and intense as the likes of Amputation or Thou Shalt Suffer, and the Black Metal side doesn't come close to being as dark as the other releases that were emerging from Norway around this time. That said, it isn't a bad little dose of early 90's Black/Death Metal and is worth a listen or two. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Horna - Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu (2006)

Originally available as a limited edition cassette, released in 2006, Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu somehow slipped under my radar for the past several years. Given the prolific output of this Finnish horde, it is certainly no surprise. Immediately upon hearing this compilation of demo material, recorded in 2000, it became clear that this was yet another essential Horna release. Thankfully, it has since been reissued on CD (and also on vinyl, I believe). 

Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu features demo versions of songs that later appeared on Ordo Regnum Sathanas and the ill-fated Sudentaival L.P. While the former is not a bad release, and fits in rather well with the likes of Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua and Perimä Vihassa Ja Verikostossa, Sudentaival was an absolute abomination and the blackest mark on the face of Horna until the recent acquisition of their new Mansonite vocalist. The material on this release represents the pure, raw Black Metal spirit that Horna had kept alive for so long. 

Whereas the album versions of several of these songs were utterly ruined by the completely plastic and modern production, the demo recordings present these songs in their true form. The quality is pretty lo-fi, to say the least, though not quite as rough as the Moonblood rehearsals. This is more along the lines of Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant, in sound and atmosphere. Actually, it is most similar to Tyranny Returns, by Sargeist, probably even using the same equipment and location. The guitars are thin and possess a fair amount of fuzz, though still the dominant aspect of the tape as the drums are kept to the background. This is a massive improvement, of course, as the Sudentaival album was rendered worthless largely due to the over-produced drums that were so high in the mix as to drown out most of the other instruments. 

The single most important element of Horna's sound, over the years, has been the brilliant songwriting of Shatraug. The grim and necro approach of Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu allows the guitar melodies to create a morose atmosphere of impenetrable gloom. Nazgul's vocals do well to match this, as he utilizes more tortured screams in songs like "Sudentaival". As opposed to his more forceful and aggressive delivery on the full-lengths, he took the opportunity to explore other parts of his vocal range on some of the other recordings, such as this one. These morbid cries accentuate the haunting melodies of songs like "Hautajaisyö" and "Vihasta Ja Arvista", almost as if the mournful riffs are draining the life from him. Without the overbearing dominance of the drums, as found on the 'proper' studio versions, the guitars take on a ghostly effect that envelopes the listener within each sombre passage. 

Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu is highly recommended for fans of Horna or, indeed, those who are drawn to the more necro and lo-fi Black Metal of the early '90s. These demos allow for Shatraug's riff-craft to be truly appreciated, bereft of those foreign elements that ruined the more well-known versions. There is nothing polished, modern or easy-to-digest here. This is pure Black Metal, as it should be. Perhaps, with the exception of the folkish Isengard influence of "Skaldiriimu", which still fits in with the rest of the material, despite the bit of clean vocals. Seek this out or perish!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pest - In Total Contempt (2005)

Not long after the fairly brilliant Dauðafærð, Sweden's Pest returned in disappointing fashion with the March 2005 release of their second full-length album, In Total Contempt. This is a clear case of one step forward, two steps back. Though still clearly derivative of other bands, the previous E.P. was superior to anything that the band had ever released. For a time, Pest had redeemed themselves. To then follow this with such a weak effort is a bit puzzling. 

In Total Contempt sounds like it was recorded by an entirely different band than the one that created the monumental Dauðafærð E.P. Here, Pest returns to their tenth-rate Darkthrone worship, unleashing nearly forty minutes of rehashed ideas with absolutely nothing added to the formula. To make matters worse, they seem to have been listening to a lot of Panzerfaust when making this album, utilizing a watered-down take of Fenriz's interpretation of Celtic Frost, at various times. I would say that these bits are out of place and ruin the flow of the songs, but the truth is that these compositions are dreadful and seem to have just been thrown together with no real vision. As opposed to the band's previous release, there isn't a shred of darkness or atmosphere to be found on this album. 

Even if the songwriting had been leagues better, the production would have remained a significant problem. Overall, it has a grating sense to it, something associated with a lot of modern recordings that are trying to sound lo-fi without actually sticking to analog equipment. The vocals have some static effect to them, just another horrible modern element that could have been done without.  

Pest's second full-length is a tedious listen, indeed. To call In Total Contempt a mediocre effort would imply that these guys even tried in the first place. This album is pure garbage, through and through. The fact that they dedicated this disgusting piece of excrement to the recently-deceased Quorthon is an insult to the man. There isn't a single positive thing that I can say about this atrocity. Despite its influences, this album completely sounds like a product of its time and is nothing less than an utter failure. Avoid this, by all means. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Acheron - Rites of the Black Mass (1992)

Released in April 1992, through Turbo Music, Rites of the Black Mass is the first full-length album from the American Death/Black Metal band, Acheron. Recorded in the wretched hellhole known as Morrisound, this album is still fairly decent and manages to stand out from many of its contemporaries. While the band was unable to maintain such consistency with its later output, their debut is well worth listening to. 

I recall first hearing this album one night after watching some old horror movies with a friend. With visions of Vincent Price and the Tall Man still fresh in my head, Rites of the Black Mass suited the atmosphere, perfectly. Of the two albums that we checked out that night, the other being the disappointing Testimony of the Ancients from Pestilence, Acheron definitely stood out.

The album features twenty tracks, ten proper songs with intros in-between. Before each song is a guy reciting, what I assume to be, verses from the Satanic Bible that are accompanied by keyboards that give the whole thing the vibe of an old horror movie. For some, this might be a little distracting, but it does serve to create a darker atmosphere than the typical Death Metal album of the period. To that point, the fact that Acheron focused on Satanic themes rather than the usual gore lyrics that dominate this style of music is rather refreshing. 

Musically, this has always reminded me of the first albums from Deicide and Incantation, to an extent. The former moreso because of Crowley's vocal performance, utilizing some higher-pitched overdubs in a similar manner to Glen Benton. The songwriting is pretty simplistic and even the faster tracks, like "To Thee We Confess" or "The Enochian" key are rather 'relaxed' when compared to the blastbeats of an album like Onward to Golgotha. One can definitely tell that these songs were written in '89/'90, as they still possess more of an old school approach. There are a lot of memorable mid-paced riffs throughout the album, such as in "Ave Satanas" and "Unholy Praises", often accentuated with great leads as well. At times, one is likely to be reminded of early Morbid Angel, regarding Slate's solos and some of the drumming as well. While being fairly basic, the compositions are all distinct and engaging and the album certainly delivers on all fronts. The production is a bit muddled and would probably have benefited from a sharper guitar tone, but such is par for the course when it comes to Morrisound. 

When people speak of the classic Death Metal albums from this period, Acheron is rarely mentioned. That is quite unfortunate, as Rites of the Black Mass is one of the most solid efforts to emerge from the old days. Had it been recorded and released a year or two earlier, and distributed by a better label, it may have received more praise and attention. This album is highly recommended for those into old school, blackened Death Metal. Seek this out!