Friday, February 20, 2009

Paragon Belial - Nosferathu Sathanas (2008)

Nosferathu Sathanis is the second full-length album from Germany's Paragon Belial. For those unfortunate wretches not familiar with this band, it features two musicians that you should be acquainted with; Andreas Classen (original vocalist for Bethlehem) and Zahgurim (former Bethlehem drummer). The members of Paragon Belial kept themselves occupied with other musical projects since the release of their debut album, in 1996, Hordes of the Darklands. Many years passed since then, as the Black Metal scene changed and decayed. Yet, finally, this German horde rose from the shadows, after over a decade of silence, to unleash more raw and hateful Black Metal, the way it should be.

The album begins with the title track, which is dripping with the blood of the ancients. It opens with a mid-paced riff and grim vocals, before speeding up a bit. The vocals then become more demonic, sounding improved from the debut L.P. The old school influences are obvious here, and executed very well. Like any good opening song, this one serves well to set the tone for the whole record.

Next is "666 Calling of the Dead". This begins with intensity and pure hatred coming from Classen. The tempo alternates between violent speed and a more mid-paced assault, as the song continues. The vocals become more insane and possessed as things progress. There is a good mix of 80s and early 90s Black Metal, here, sounding as if it could, easily, have been released 15 years earlier. The most important thing is that the melodies are dark and memorable.

The next track is the longest one on the album. "Goatspawn" starts with a brief bass section, giving the feeling of dread, as the mid-paced riffs accompany hellish vocals. This one strongly retains the aura of doom from the previous album, while building upon it. There is a definite Hellhammer influence, yet it isn't as overt as some bands. Paragon Belial manages to take this inspiration and use it to create something of their own, rather than simply mimicking the old ones. After a few minutes, the pace picks up in a manner reminiscent of Hordes of the Darklands or Dark Metal. Things continue to build until it reaches a violent climax, where it all slows down. Only a somber acoustic guitar and sparse drums play as a sample from some unknown film adds to the evil and epic atmosphere. It all blends together, seamlessly, and slowly builds to an epic tremolo riff that will haunt you until your final days. This may be the masterpiece of the album, as the dark atmosphere is almost suffocating, as the funeral bells chime your final doom and it all comes to an end.

The tribute to Hellhammer is made clear with the next track. "Horus/Aggressor" is executed very precisely, as Andreas manages to emulate Tom Warrior's vocal style, while giving it a little more energy. This is superior to the original version, if for no other reason than that it doesn't feature the hypocritical and scum-filled presence of Mr. Fischer. Another thing worth mentioning is that with Paragon Belial's old school approach to Black Metal, this song fits in, perfectly, not seeming out of place at all.

"Abomoth" follows this, beginning with dark and dreary riffs, maintaining a slower pace than the last song. Andreas shows some variation in his vocals, as on the rest of the album, matching the feeling of the song and keeping things interesting. The drums are tight and keep a steady pace, even as the song speeds up. A lot of modern drummers feel the need to show off and do to much; Zahgurim knows just what is needed for the integrity of the song. Of course, Ralph is more than competent on the guitar, even throwing a brief solo into this song. Also, the bass is present yet not overbearing. Many bands place little or no emphasis on this instrument, missing out on the opportunity to accentuate the dark aura of the music.

"Solemnize Me" has a short build-up, accompanied with deeper vocals, before bursting forth with scorching speed. There is a brief section where it all slows down, as a funeral bell tolls once more, before returning to the same violent tempo. For the most part, this one retains the feeling from the Second Wave.

Traditional-sounding Metal riffs begin the next song, "Grimdozer". This one contains more memorable melodies, especially around the 2:00 mark. The song is fairly straight-forward, yet possesses small bits of variation, throughout. The pace really changes in the last minute or so, as the vocals become quite unrestrained and almost maniacal.

"Necromancer" is a re-recorded version of "Necromancer of the Dark Valleys", from Hordes of the Darklands. It begins with a melody that is somewhat reminiscent of something from Sacramentum's Far Away From the Sun. The cold riffs are enough to chill your skin even in the blistering heat of neverending summer. About mid-way through, the song seems to collapse into silence, with the drums slowly dying off. Nothing is left but the sound of falling rain, a miserable acoustic guitar and demonic vocals. The riff that follows is dark and takes you by the throat. The atmosphere is dark and you get the feeling of being pulled down into the fiery depths. This is certainly one of the best songs on here.

The album concludes with "Black Metal United & Strong". This one is rather short and has, somewhat, cleaner vocals as well as kind of a punk feeling to the chorus. It is more upbeat than the previous song, yet it's not out of place, either.

Nosferathu Sathanis is raw and misanthropic Black Metal. This is highly recommended for anyone that is tired of modern-sounding music. If you want more old school Black Metal, pick this up. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dissection - Maha Kali (2004)

Already, after the recording of Storm of the Light's Bane, Jon Nödtveidt faced problems with the line-up of Dissection. His subsequent conviction of being an accessory to murder, in 1998, left him imprisoned for several years. During this time, music that had already begun to take shape was worked on and transformed over time. By 2004, Jon was released and, immediately, put all of his energy toward the rebirth of Dissection.

Many fans had waited since 1995 for another Dissection L.P. Others had discovered the band after it had been put on hold, yet they too still had certain expectations. The statements that were issued from Jon, even back in 2003, indicated that he planned to take the music world by storm as soon as he was released, and that Dissection would burn the metal scene to ashes.

After waiting for several years, I had been patiently looking forward to more icy, cold hymns of nocturnal majesty. Finally, in November 2004, the wait was over. I was in Stockholm, set to preview the Maha Kali E.P. at the record store. My initial reaction was of disappointment and even confusion. This was not at all what I expected.

As soon as "Maha Kali" begins, it becomes apparent that the bitter cold melodies of the past were no more. The sound here is much more bottom-heavy and mid-paced. As for the sound, some of this may be due to the fact that the guitar and vocals were actually recorded in prison, in 2003. The song seems somewhat similar to, yet not quite as interesting as, "Where Dead Angels Lie". The version that appears on Reinkaos is superior, though this is not without some charm as well, once one gets past any and all expectations that they may have held for years.

"Unhallowed (Rebirth Version)" is next. Musically, the playing is tight and concise. However, it really lacks the cold atmosphere from the original. Still, much like a live recording, it is interesting to see a different take of the song, done so many years later and with several new band members. Probably, this was done to show that the band was quite capable of performing the classic Dissection material. Jon's vocals sound very good, without being rusty or degenerated as one might expect after so long.

Over time, my opinion has changed. Listening to it now, I find this E.P. to be an interesting and worthwhile release, as it gave everyone an opportunity to get used to the changes that were to come on the next album. Maha Kali serves as sort of a bridge from the old to the new, featuring new material that would indicate the direction the band was going in and a classic song, just to show that they have not forgotten the roots of the band.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dissection - The Past Is Alive (The Early Mischief) (1997)

The Past Is Alive (The Early Mischief) is a compilation that was released by Necropolis Records in July 1997. It serves as a time capsule, preserving some of the earliest Dissection recordings and giving fans a rare glimpse into the musical development of one of the greatest bands to hail from the cold lands of Sweden.

From the liner notes:

"This is a compilation that we have been talking about doing for ages, but not until recently we've judged that the time was right for a release like this. The reasons are many, but mainly the fact that these old recordings have been in demand from our fans for a long time, and as rumours about this release started to spread, we were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and interest from our fans. So, for all you who missed the early days of Dissection, and of course for all the rest of you who this may be of interest for: Here's the early mischief. Re-visited and re-released. The sound quality may not be the best at times but the feeling is there, and that's what counts. Take it for what it is, a pure underground release and nothing else. This is how it was back in the early days and we enjoyed it!"

-Dissection, October 1996

This compilation begins with "Shadows Over A Lost Kingdom", from the Into Infinite Obscurity E.P. This song was recorded in 1991, and it shows a very raw version of a song that would go on to have a place on The Somberlain. The sound is not as cold and crisp as what is found on the L.P. version, yet the musicianship is flawless. This possesses more of a Death Metal feeling, similar to Darkthrone's Soulside Journey, mostly due to the production. The bass is very prominent, here.

The next song is "Frozen", from the 1992 promo for The Somberlain. This doesn't sound so far from the L.P. version, though the vocals seem to be more of a hoarse whisper, creating somewhat of a ghostly feeling, reminiscent of Tiamat's Sumerian Cry.

From the same demo/promo, is a version of "Feathers Fell". This is different as it has not only drums but also some eerie vocals, whispered from the shadows.

"Son of the Mourning" follows this, taken from the Into Infinite Obscurity E.P. This is a much rawer and more primitive sounding version of the song than what is found on Where Dead Angels Lie. The sound is definitely more oriented toward Scandinavian Death Metal. The main difference would be Jon's deeper vocal approach, though the brilliant riffs are still fairly easy to discern, beneath all the fuzz.

At this point, The Past Is Alive shifts back to the demo, The Somberlain, for "Mistress of the Bleeding Sorrow". It may have been more appropriate to place the songs in chronological order, but that is a minor complaint. This is very close to the L.P. version but, again, the vocals are different. The patterns were all set, yet the style had yet to evolve to what is found on the full-length.

Continuing on with another song from this demo, "In the Cold Winds of Nowhere" is like the other songs, not being far removed from the L.P. recordings. The pace seems slightly faster, and the vocals are different. Even with these different vocals, the Black Metal feeling is dominant. About midway through the song, there are several screams that actually would have fit very well on the L.P. version. There is an extra sense of desperation that is not quite the same.

The final song from the Into Infinite Obscurity E.P. is the title track, which is a brief acoustic interlude. This is followed by "The Call of the Mist", taken from The Grief Prophecy demo. Sadly, this is the only song on this compilation that is taken from that demo. This really feels like Soulside Journey or Sumerian Cry, in certain ways. Yet, for all the Death Metal production, this remains in the realm of Black Metal. The heavy doom riffs dominate much of the song, but there are fast tremolo melodies to be found, along with a truly trance-inducing passage. However, that's not the reason for this belonging to Black Metal. This is found in the lyrics.

"Devour my soul in eternal blasphemy
I'm the mourner of the one
Who died for you
Swallowed by the dark embracement
Open wide the somber gates!

My god has horns..."

The next song is "Severed Into Shreds", which maintains the sound from the previous song, to a degree. The quality is pretty low, but it's still good enough to get a feel for the song. This is taken from a 1990 rehearsal, and really shows a variety of styles being utilized, from Death and Doom to Black and Thrash Metal.

As for the last two songs, the liner notes explain that well enough:

"Satanized was formed by Jon Nödtveidt and Johan Norman in 1991 to create insane and utterly Satanic Death/Black Metal. The band made no efforts at all in establishing a name in the metal scene, mainly because Jon had Dissection as a priority, and both Johan and Tobias gave priority to their main band, Nocrofobic (later Decameron). Satanized as a band lasted about a year, and during that period they recorded a few rehearsal tapes and managed one hell of a brutal gig in November 1991.

Presented here is a rehearsal containing two tracks caputirng the intense ferocity that once was Satanized. It is an extremely rare recording, sadly enough with extremely bad sound quality."

Despite the very low-fi sound, one can easily tell that this had all the potential in the world to be something very good. "Satanized" and "Born In Fire" have more of a Black Metal feeling, and could easily stand beside the Mayhem material, with Dead, or bands such as Grotesque. The fast tremolo riffs and the blasting drums, of course accompanied by the vocals of Per Alexandersson (who would be a member of Nifelheim for a short period in 1996) carry this feeling as well. The sound quality does not hinder the listener from appreciating the dark feeling. It would have been interesting to see this project unfold, if they had more time to devote to it.

As for the reason it was appropriate to add this to a compilation of rare Dissection material, it only makes sense as it not only features Jon Nödtveidt, but also future Dissection members Johan Norman and Tobias Kellgrin. All in all, it is a worthy addition to The Past Is Alive.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Immortal - Sons of Northern Darkness (2002)

Immortal's musical journey has taken many twists and turns, over the years. No two albums sound alike, yet the core spirit of the band manages to survive the countless changes. From the barbaric fury of Battles in the North, to the disappointing piece of garbage known as Blizzard Beasts, to the epic masterpiece that was At the Heart of Winter and then the utterly pathetic Damned In Black, Immortal manages to tie all of this together on their final album. There are even moments that hearken back to Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust, if not in sound, then in spirit.

Sons of Northern Darkness is the seventh full-length album from Norway's Immortal. It was recorded in Abyss Studios, in September 2001. While the production has a certain modern sound to it, the band intentionally went for more of an 80s approach to the songwriting, while still maintaining their trademark sound. The traditional heavy metal influences are stronger on this album than any they have done before, as well as keeping with the spirit of old Venom and Bathory. Demonaz, as usual, contributed all the lyrics for this album, and it is easy to see that he was much more involved this time as the lyrics are some of the best in Immortal's career. He also played a part in some of the song arrangements.

The album erupts from the silence with the song "One By One". The riffs are very thrashy and this kind of sounds like a more successful version of what they attempted on Blizzard Beasts. Everything sounds much more natural on this album, rather than seeming forced. Also, Abbath's vocals seem to have recovered from whatever affliction that they suffered on the previous album. The songwriting has a nice, old school feeling to it, while Horgh's drumming is simplistic when needed and inventive enough to keep things from sounding stagnant at any point.

The title track begins with an interesting drum intro that precedes some of the coldest thrash riffs ever written. Somehow, the band manages to keep such an atmosphere of frost, no matter how they choose to approach the music. The slower sections truly freeze the blood in your veins, as the thrash transitions to open-arpeggios and then to fleeting tremolo parts. It all flows so effortlessly. Abbath's vocals channel the grim essence of a battle-worn troll. The brief lead solo, near the end, is also a nice touch.

"Tyrants" is a dark, mid-paced epic. The melodies are very memorable. Near the middle of the song, there is more use of open-arpeggio riffs, followed by a calm acoustic section. The feeling is cold enough that you feel you have been encased in a block of ice. This serene atmosphere is interrupted by a scream that is accompanied by tremolo riffs and double bass that serve to carve you out of the ice, leaving you to lay on the frozen ground, gasping for air.

The next song is "Demonium", beginning with more furious riffs that have become synonymous with Immortal. The spirit of Battles in the North is quite strong, here. After a couple minutes of this blistering assault, the song takes on a different tone. The songwriting is very skilled, as they manage to take the listener on some sort of journey with each outing. Nothing is awkward or out of place.

"Within the Dark Mind" starts out kind of mid-paced, keeping an utterly cold feeling with the guitar riffs. The vocal delivery perfectly captures the grim and diabolic nature of the lyrics. This song conveys a deep desire to see the sun forever extinguished, as shadows creep over the frozen landscape, swallowing the world for eternity. The latter half of the song sees limited bursts of the more typical barbaric pace that Immortal is known for, which strongly contrasts the atmosphere created up until that point, allowing those moments to make more of an impact.

Bitter cold guitar riffs begin the song "In My Kingdom Cold". Open-arpeggios quickly transition to thrashier moments, before flowing into icy tremolo riffs. The winter ambiance is aided by the incredible lyrics.

"In my kingdom cold...
At the mountains of madness
Unending grimness
This kingdom is mine..."

"Antarctica" tells a tale of the frozen continent moving and spreading across the world, taking all under its icy dominion. It may not be very Nordic, yet this subject matter could not be more fitting. The song begins with a very eerie synth intro, accompanied by the sound of frigid winds. The riffs have sort of a somber tone, though heavy enough to represent the massive glaciers depicted in the lyrics. The keyboards from the intro seem to continue on, flowing beneath the surface, adding to the dark and epic feeling. Near the end, the song becomes very still and calm, as the bass rumbles beneath the acoustic section, with Abbath's dry croaking.

Sons of Northern Darkness is brought to its conclusion with the majestic epic, "Beyond the North Waves". This reaches back to the earliest days of Immortal, being somewhat reminiscent of "A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland" in all its glory, having a similar feeling to Viking-era Bathory. The song begins with the sound of waves gently crashing against the side of a ship. For anyone that has sailed across the North Sea, you know the cold purity of those waters. This feeling is evoked by these sounds. The accompanying acoustic guitar sounds almost as if it was recorded under water. The guitar riffs crush you with their frozen might. This is slow and mid-paced, engendering the sense that one is being taken on a great journey. The brief tremolo riffs that blow through, like winter winds, chill your flesh. Lyrically, this may be one of the most powerful pieces in this band's history. Rather than the mythical realm of Blashyrkh and tales of fantasy, this song remains rooted firmly in actual Norse history and pagan ideology.

"For he who battles for his land, his pride and for his men
Shall be remembered and stand eternally named
In the legends of our land"

The open-arpeggio riffs, in the latter half of the song, truly envelope you in the cold and dark waters of the North. The clean, spoken part only adds to this utterly epic atmosphere. The solo that follows captures this feeling, perfectly. The lyrics serve as a proper epitaph for what may very well be the climax of Immortal's musical career. It is quite fitting that the last song on their final album leaves you in such an awe-inspired state.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Infernal - Infernal (1999)

After leaving Dark Funeral, sometime in 1996, Blackmoon directed his efforts toward recording the second Necrophobic album, Darkside. Following this, he was involved with the War project. He also put together yet another band, recruiting former Dark Funeral vocalist, Themgoroth, and Impious (of In Aternum). In late 1998, these three were joined by Matte Modin as they entered Dugout Studio to record their self-titled E.P. The recording would then be completed at Abyss Studio, which was also the spawning ground of The Secrets of the Black Arts. The cover art was taken from "Inferno" (The Divine Comedy) by Gustave Dore and the band makes specific mention, in the liner notes, that no keyboards were used on this recording. That says a lot for the musical climate, at that time, as far too many bands were emerging from all sides, hiding awful musicianship beneath a wall of synth. None of that is found here. What the listener is exposed to, here, is what the Infernal call 'Satanic Holocaust Metal'. This is a very appropriate description.

"Requiem (The Coming of the Age of Satan)" erupts like a violent storm of dark and malevolent forces, seeking to utterly destroy the frail human spirit as Blackmoon's nocturnal melodies are accompanied by Themgoroth's absolutely demonic screams. The drumming is incredibly intense, yet very skilled. The guitar solo proves to be another welcome addition to the music. This song is merciless in its approach, completely crushing everything in its path. The sound is very similar to The Secrets of the Black Arts, yet even more violent and destructive. Despite its chaotic fury, the riffs are actually very memorable. It is very obvious that this song was composed by no amateur.

"Wrath of the Infernal One" begins with more of Blackmoon's trademark riffs, creating a cold and nocturnal aura. The lyrics are as blasphemous and evil as anything found on the early Dark Funeral material. About halfway through, there is yet another lead solo, just to add to the dark atmosphere. This song has a barbaric pace, much like the opener, yet the exceptional songwriting abilities possessed by Blackmoon are revealed here, as this is similar and yet quite different from that song.

The next song is "Storms of Armageddon", bursting forth from the deepest abyss to take your feeble human spirit into the darkness, only to be ripped to shreds and condemned to hellish torment. Mid-way through, there is another brief solo that sounds reminiscent of something from an early Necrophobic album. The tremolo riffs that slither through the chaos seem to take hold in the darkest recesses of your mind, haunting you long after the song has concluded.

"Under the Hellsign" is the final song, beginning with demonic screams from beyond. This continues the frantic pace that has been established by this point. This E.P. would make a good soundtrack for a battle. The cold tremolo riffs stand out amidst the hellish storm of blasting drums and Themgoroth's possessed vocals, sounding a bit like old Mayhem. There is not much variation, from song to song, as the same fast pace dominates this recording, yet it is impressive to see a band managing to accomplish the most within these limits, making sure that each song has an identity of its own.

If you were disappointed with the direction taken by Dark Funeral, following the departure of Blackmoon and Themgoroth, then you are encouraged to seek this out. What you will find here is violent and uncompromising Swedish Black Metal.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Immortal - At the Heart of Winter (1999)

At the Heart of Winter is the fifth L.P. from Norway's Immortal, released in February 1999. After hitting a creative brick wall with the previous effort, the band returned with renewed energy, though utilizing a different approach, somewhat. In November 1998, they went to Sweden to record at Peter Tägtgren's Abyss Studio. Say what you will about this studio becoming the Morrisound of Scandinavia, but it was a vast improvement over the terrible job they received on their previous album and it sounds pretty suitable, especially considering their change in musical direction.

Some time after releasing the awful Blizzard Beasts album, Demonaz encountered some health issues that resulted in him being unable to play the guitar. Because of this, Abbath handles the guitars on this album, as well as the bass, synth and vocals. Despite the fact that he could not play guitar, Demonaz still wrote all of the lyrics for the band.

The album begins with "Withstand the Fall of Time". The trademark freezing cold tremolo riffs are ever present, chilling your skin. The band’s death metal roots carried from Old Funeral have been all but completely abandoned here in favor of a clean cut riffing style based very closely on the German thrash scene. Tremolo picked melodies occur sparingly alongside varying melodic breaks and rhythmic breakdowns. The bass and drums provide a powerful back-up to these crushing riffs. Everything seems to have a purpose, working toward the same goal. Around the 3:00 mark there is a sorrowful and cold tremolo melody that will haunt you in your deepest sleep. It must be said that Abbath's vocals are in top form, as well. Truly, Immortal seem to be embracing their own past as this is sort of a return to the epic song structures found on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. While the sound is not the same, the atmosphere has not changed so much. Looking at most of the other Norwegian bands, they had all changed (drastically, in some cases) yet Immortal remains true to the same freezing cold spirit that they always have.

"Solarfall" begins with another epic and sorrowful melody. The production is the only thing modern-sounding about this. It is amazing how much better the songwriting is just from the previous album. After a couple minutes, there is a quiet acoustic section sounding as if it was recorded through a wall of ice. This builds up to some mid-paced thrash riffs followed by bitter cold arpeggios. The song then returns to the main theme (which sounds quite similar to Iron Maiden's "Where Eagles Dare") as the coldest winter winds wrap you in a cloak of frigidity.

The next song is "Tragedies Blows At the Horizon". This is mid-paced and still possessing the same feeling that has been established with the first two songs. This is a band that started off with something unique now coming around full circle and all but completely rediscovering the original magic that they had during the glory days of the Norwegian scene. Though perhaps not stylistically in line with their debut, At The Heart Of Winter carries the same spirit of epic sorrow and woeful coldness, combined with a form of aggression tempered by a sense of organization, opting to save the truly chaotic moments for when they are called for, rather than blasting straight through at full speed for two or three minutes at a time.

"Where Dark and Light Don't Differ" begins with old school thrash riffs, entwined with a cold sense of melody. It is almost reminiscent of some old King Diamond or Destruction. Abbath shows great skill in sliding from thrash riffs into more frost-covered tremolo melodies. The song construction, here, is far more formalized than any previous release. Riffs and melodic material recur with much greater frequency, ideas are extended much longer and given ample time to mature before moving on. This was somewhat of a problem, even on Battles in the North. The vocals here are much deeper and overdubbed to give even more of a sinister and demonic effect. About midway through the song, Abbath unleashes a beautiful lead solo, surprisingly. At some points, there are even slight similarities to the feeling created on Dissections' Storm of the Light's Bane.

Possibly the most epic composition of the album is the song "At the Heart of Winter". This begins with an ominous and somber intro. The acoustic melody is enough to cause your heart to wither as the cold winds are blowing in the background. The synth use is actually very suitable as an intro, helping to create a mystical aura. Indeed, this is a very ambitious song. The powerful and melodic guitar riffs are accompanied by the most grim vocals of the album, with Horgh keeping a moderately relaxed pace throughout. Certain riffs create a real sense of tension and anxiety, before the frostbitten tremolo melodies carry you deeper into the realm of Blashyrkh. There are plenty of tempo changes and even another brilliant solo to be found here. Out of an album filled with great songs, this is probably the highlight. Much like "One Rode To Asa Bay", this possesses an epic atmosphere that has to be heard to be truly understood.

"Years of Silent Sorrow" begins with a total old school feeling from both the drumming pattern and the guitar riffs. That is one great quality about this album: the guitars are the focal point, much as it should be. The thrash riffs lead into more cold arpeggio riffs, transitioning then to some brief tremolo bits, before returning. While the pace is more relaxed than on some earlier albums, the structures seem more complex. With this song, you can truly feel that you are nearing the end of an epic journey. The lyrics do well to support this:

"Farewell... nothing breathes within me
Harnessbells... sounding cold behind me
A demon... with frozen eyes opened
This journey black behind me..."

There is definitely a sense of finality that is conveyed through this song. A stream of wintry melancholy flows beneath, rising up and overtaking you at certain moments. This song brings At the Heart of Winter to a fitting conclusion.

Regarding this masterpiece, I may be a bit biased as I first discovered this during one of the few pleasant periods in my existence. It was the middle of winter, I was spending all of my time studying Norse mythology, reading Tolkien and walking through the forest where I would get lost for hours, on the coldest days. This also preceded me meeting someone very important, so the sentimentality may cloud my opinion. Either way, I recommend this to fans of Immortal, as well as those who appreciate Dissection, Bathory and even German Thrash such as Kreator.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Immortal - Blizzard Beasts (1997)

My introduction to Immortal came with hearing the song "The Sun No Longer Rises" on a college radio show, many years ago. This cold and grim atmosphere was enough to draw me in. As a result, I quickly sought and acquired Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Pure Holocaust. A short time later, I got my hands on Battles in the North. Though each of these albums had their own sound, they were all similar in spirit and they constitute the classic era of Immortal. Blizzard Beasts, however, represents something far different.

This album was recorded in the autumn months of 1996, in Sigma Recording Studios. This is their first effort to be recorded outside of Grieghallen. Certainly, that may play a small part in the change in sound. Blizzard Beasts also saw the recruitment of new drummer, Horgh, though he did not reall contribute to the songwriting.

The album starts with a brief intro that seeks to create a nightmarish feeling through the horrific sounds. It does not serve much of a purpose, really. The album truly begins with the song "Blizzard Beasts". This sounds pretty similar to the songwriting from Battles in the North. The major difference here is the atrocious sound. Again, the guitars are buried underneath the drums and that is especially terrible here, as the drum sound is awful. The song ends with some random thrash riff and fades back into the shadows.

"Nebular Ravens Winter" begins with an interesting solo and the typical Immortal sound. The songwriting seems far less inspired here than on previous albums. There are more thrash riffs that might have been more appropriate with more of an old school production job. The chorus features some effect on Abbath's vocals. At this point, the listener may wonder where this is all going. There are a couple of decent riffs, but that is all that can be said for the song. The production really kills any chance that this has to be decent.

"Suns That Sank Below" really carries more of a Death Metal feeling. It is pretty awful. "Battlefields" isn't much better, though it does foreshadow the style that the band would employ on later albums, such as Sons of Northern Darkness. There are some okay tremolo melodies that are quickly displaced by mediocre thrash riffs. Again, there are more effects being used, this time on the riffs instead of the vocals. At some points, this album sounds like it was recorded under water.

The next song is "Mountains of Might" and this seems like one of the few worthwhile songs on here. It begins with a synth intro, creating a melancholy atmosphere as the sorrowful tremolo melodies come in, mixed with thrashier riffs. This song actually possesses an epic feeling and is comparable to "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)". This song is probably the only redeeming quality to this abomination. It's still mediocre when compared to the earlier material, but it definitely stands out on this album filled with atrocities.

"Noctambulant" begins with more useless riffs that hint at the band's later style. This couldn't be farther from Black Metal, though the argument could be made that Immortal was never actually a Black Metal band. Either way, this is pointless. "Winter of the Ages" continues this terrible sound. The shift in style might have been easier to digest if they hadn't gotten such a wretched production job. I'm not typically a fan of the Abyss Studio sound, but they might have benefitted from going there a little sooner than they did. "Frostdemonstorm" doesn't even sound like it was recorded during the same session, as the guitars and vocals are vastly different than the rest of the album. This is more of the same trash that can be found on the rest of the album, as Immortal doesn't know if they want to play Black, Death or Thrash Metal.

Blizzard Beasts is entirely worthless and Immortal fans are encouraged to avoid this piece of shit by any means necessary. Don't even allow yourself to be in the same room with a copy of this travesty. If you see if on a store shelf, smash it with a hammer. All copies of this should be gathered and destroyed, utterly. At the Heart of Winter and Sons of Northern Darkness were not in the same vein as the early albums, either, but they were executed far more successfully. Blizzard Beasts and its companion, Damned In Black, are truly blemishes on the legacy of Immortal. Even the few decent riffs that exist on this album are, ultimately, pointless as you can hear the same concept done much better on the albums that came before and after this one.

Immortal - Battles in the North (1995)

Battles in the North is the third L.P. from Immortal. It was recorded in Grieghallen Studio, produced by Pytten, in September 1994. Just as with Pure Holocaust, everything here is played by only Abbath and Demonaz. As a side note, the promo and the first version of this album had a bad mix and gained terrible reviews in all magazines. Due to this, the very first edition was suddenly replaced by the one we all know.

The sound is very similar to the previous album, yet less organic. On this album, the guitars seem to merge together to create a impenetrable wall of ice that slowy crushes everything in its path, like a glacier. The lyrics of Demonaz are still dealing with the same themes, sending ice water through your veins.

"Battles in the North" begins the album in a very intense manner. The riffs swirl around you like blizzard winds and Abbath's vocals are more venomous than before. This completes his transformation into a winter demon from the farthest north. He no longer sounds like anything human. The drumming is incredibly violent, as one gets the image of a horde of frost giants storming through the land, destroying everyone in sight. This song never really lets up and is a great way to open the album. The one calm moment, near the end, only serves to leave you unsuspecting for the coming deathblow.

The next song possesses one of the best titles, ever: "Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms". Abbath's dry croak is accompanied by more battering riffs. The sound has really transformed from being frozen by icewinds (on Pure Holocaust) to being repeatedly crushed under sheets of glacial ice. This song is rather short and is over a little too quickly.

"Descent Into Eminent Silence" begins with less intense drumming, at first, before speeding up again. One gets the impression here, and on "Throned By Blackstorms", that they sped through the songs and lost something by not allowing them to breathe. The compositions are a little too compact, as there are brief moments where certain melodies seem poised to unfold and take you within their icy grip, yet it never happens.

"Moonrise Fields of Sorrow" begins with a memorable riff; however, this gets cut short before really having time to do much. This song seems to be an endless series of blasting drums and a thick wall of guitars that seems to suffocate the listener and the melodies that attempt to take hold. There are some really nice moments here, yet the song could have been even better.

An extremely brief acoustic section leads into total winter holocaust riffs on "Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons". This is another fast and intense song, with Abbath's vocals creating a lot of tension. It is a vast improvement over the few songs that precede it. The only thing that might this song better would be for the drumming to be lowered in the mix and for the guitars to be a little louder and sharper. Otherwise, this song is one of the best on here. It is also one of the longer pieces on the album, clocking in just under four minutes.

"At the Stormy Gates of Mist" continues to solidify Battles in the North as the most brutally intense and violent Immortal album. You really have to concentrate, closely, to pick up the cold tremolo melodies that are flowing beneath the monstrous pounding of the drums. For some reason, parts of this album seem reminiscent of the Mayhem song "Buried By Time and Dust".

"Through the Halls of Eternity" features some unsettling melodies. It starts out like most of the songs on here, yet the tempo does change at certain times and this eerie spectre is allowed to spread out like a poisonous shadow. A few of the earlier songs seem like filler, honestly, but this definitely belongs here.

"Circling Above in Time Before Time" begins with icy cold tremolo melodies, with a nice acoustic part underneath, and has kind of an epic atmosphere. These are really some of the best and most memorable riffs of the whole album. The distant atmosphere that Pure Holocaust exhibited as a whole has been replaced with an up- close, drier, and more deadly atmosphere where the blurry guitar riffs and twisted ravings go right for your jugular. If the first two albums were like having your throat sliced open and being left to bleed to death in the winter forest, this is like being bludgeoned with hammers of ice.

The album ends with "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)". This song is reminiscent of "As the Eternity Opens", being mid-paced and epic. Early on, there is an acoustic part that seems more in tune with their first two albums. The tremolo melodies weave through the song, circling the power chords like winds blowing from a glacier. The riffs really get a chance to breathe here, creating a very cold and dark atmosphere. The calm, acoustic section really adds to this feeling, while Abbath's grim screams suit this, perfectly. There is even a brief touch of keyboard use, only adding to the overall mood.

Battles in the North is a good album, but not quite as great as the first two. Despite the savage ferocity displayed throughout, there are moments where a sense of melancholy and darkness pervades before the the stroms of snow and ice begin again. A couple songs feel as if they could have been developed a little further and the production (especially the drums being too high) was distracting from the riffs, at times. However, these are minor complaints and the second half of the album is very strong. The songs actually seem to get better and better as it goes along. With this L.P. Immortal firmly established their trademark sound. This is not recommended for those of faint heart.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Carpathian Forest - Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods (1995)

Carpathian Forest first emerged with the demo tape Bloodlust and Perversion, in 1992. They received sudden enthusiastic responses from the underground. Their obsessive, morbid and grim sound has always been a firm trademark. In 1993 the band released a second demo Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern, showing also a new approach to atmospheric, but still glacial sounds. These tapes quickly became coveted items in underground tape trader networks. One year later, they signed to Avantgarde Music and recorded their first mini album.

Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods was released in 1995. The title of the E.P. was taken from a line of the Edgar Allan Poe poem, "Dreamland". My first experience with this band was around the time Morbid Fascination of Death came out. This album contained some decent songs, but it was nothing very special so I paid very little attention to this band. It was only some years later, when my girlfriend turned me on to the earlier material from this band, that I came to appreciate them in any way. From what I have heard, this is probably the pinnacle of this band's creative output.

The E.P. begins with the song "Carpathian Forest". From the opening moments, this possesses a strong Hellhammer influence. The difference here is that the vocals are far more sinister and suitable for the music. There is also a wicked lead solo that is reminiscent of old Bathory. There is some minimal keyboard use, as well, which is used to add to the dark and horrific atmosphere.

"The Pale Mist Hovers Towards the Nightly Shores" is next, and the old school feeling still dominates the sound, sounding much more like 1985 rather than 1995. This does not seem to have very much in common with the other Norwegian bands of this time period, other than the spirit of Darkthrone's Panzerfaust. The solo work is excellent and Nattefrost's vocals are about as morbid and grim as it gets.

This is followed by "The Eclipse / The Raven", which is a very atmospheric song that captures the sorrowful and dark feeling of Poe's most well-known poem. The vocals sounds as if coming from the distant shadows, possessing a ghostly quality. The band displays, even at this early stage, an ability to create eerie soundscapes.

"When Thousand Moons Have Circled" returns to the ugly, Hellhammer-influenced Black Metal. Carpathian Forest always seems to sound a little similar to old Mayhem, possibly giving an idea of how they would have sounded if they had continued with the style established on Deathcrush. Again, there is very minimal use of keyboards, accentuating the atmosphere.

This E.P. concludes with the epic "Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern". The pace is much slower than the rest and Nattefrost's vocals are utter shrieks of torture and abysmal suffering. The organ use adds greatly to the morbid and depressive atmosphere created here. This feels like a mournful funeral march. As the song progresses, the misery courses through your veins. A lifetime of sorrow returns to you, all at once, overwhelming your senses. With each tormented scream, with each somber melody, the poisonous despair leaves you weakened and ready for the end.

"Frozen is my pagan heart,
And once again the dawn is here
Hear the sound of silence,
In these trees....
Are my gallows...."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Darkthrone - Total Death (1996)

In late 1993, Darkthrone recorded Transilvanian Hunger, to be released in the early Winter months of 1994. This album saw the band reach their creative peak. This was the sound that they had been striving for. Once that classic album was finished, it became somewhat of a problem for Nocturno Culto and Fenriz. They had created a masterpiece of cold, minimalist Black Metal; it was untouchable, even by those that gave it birth. On the following album, they employed this style on only two songs, preferring to go the route of emulating Celtic Frost. Perhaps, the creative atmosphere that surrounded the Norwegian scene, in the early 90s, faded a bit after the death of Euronymous, the imprisonment of Varg Vikernes (thus eliminating Mayhem and Burzum from the scene) and the media attention that followed. Of course, Fenriz had also been working on several projects throughout this time, so it would appear that he was running low on energy and motivation.

Total Death is the sixth full-length album from Darkthrone. It was recorded in the Ancient Spectre Ruins, in August and October 1995, and is the second album released on Moonfog Productions. There is a lot that can be said about this album. Whereas Panzerfaust did not exactly belong to the 'Unholy Trinity', it was still joined to that era. The fact that, like Transilvanian Hunger, it was recorded in Necrohell Studio helped to link them. This album, however, seems to be when Darkthrone made their first misstep. They even allowed others to write lyrics for the album. Perhaps, this was an attempt to 'bring the scene together' but maybe it was just a lack of creativity by Fenriz, who was very burnt out at this point.

"Earth's Last Picture" starts things out rather strong. It is one of the most solid tracks on here. It begins with a very memorable riff that is reminiscent of Bathory, later incorporating a bit of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost worship, as well. Immediately, you notice the 'softer' production. The guitar sound is very smooth, with the bass being too audible. Nocturno Culto's vocals are actually the highlight, as the effect here is very similar to what he achieved on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. That is very fitting, as the latter half of the track sounds like something from that L.P. as well. There isn't enough treble to the recording, which makes the guitars less sharp and takes away from the cold feeling that Darkthrone is known for. This song is very mid-paced and, somewhat, relaxed throughout the first minutes. Everything then gets silent as a lone tremolo riff cuts through the darkness, accompanied by faster drums from Fenriz. The riff has a sorrowful quality and the vocals really add to this feeling. This is actually a good song, but the weak production is very detrimental to the atmosphere that they are trying to create.

"Blackwinged" is another song that shows an increased level of diversity in riffs and tempos. It possesses a good amount of faster melodies, but still retains an obvious Celtic Frost influence. Again, not a bad effort, but the production really kills this. Had this been recorded in Necrohell, there is no doubt that the whole album would sound fine, though probably less inspired than previous works. There is nothing, at all, raw about the sound found on this album.

The next song is "Gather For Attack on the Pearly Gates". This features the minimalist drumming and fast tremolo riffs that Darkthrone came to be known for. Nocturno Culto's vocals are incredibly flawless (probably the best thing about the whole album). The riffs are cold and grim, and this would easily fit on Transilvanian Hunger. Material like this was simply begging for more of a raw sound. Even the volume is too low, which is quite odd. This would sound much more appropriate with more treble and less bass. The faster Bathory-inspired riffs are interrupted by brief sections that are reminiscent of Hellhammer, adding another dimension to the overall sound. Thankfully, this element was not expanded in any way as to detract from the primary guitar harmonies.

"Black Victory of Death" is the band's first foray into the black n' roll style. This seems kind of out of place, belonging more to a release like Satanic Rites or Apocalyptic Raids, which is not most people were wanting from Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, at this point. The percussion is uninspired and this song is rather boring. They did much better tributes to Celtic Frost, in previous years, with songs like "In the Shadow of the Horns" and "The Hordes of Nebulah".

The next song is "Majestic Desolate Eye". The second half of the album was recorded during a different session and, amazingly, the production is even worse for these songs. The inconsistency is not limited to the sound, but also characterizes much of the music. After a minute or so, things speed up, though the atmosphere is still a bit off for Darkthrone. Some of the riffs sound similar to those found on Onslaught's Power from Hell. This song is mediocre, at best, and really does no favours for this album. Thankfully, this song is pretty short.

"Blasphemer" is another track that does not really belong here. Songs like this give Total Death more the feeling of being a collection of tunes, rather than a cohesive album. It is not all that bad, but this would fit better on an Aura Noir album. This is pure thrash, owing much more to Destruction than to the band's typical influences. This might not sound so horrible, yet the awful production drains this of energy. This could not sound less threatening than it does. Maybe, with the same production as Kreator's Endless Pain, this would be a decent Black/Thrash song.

"Ravnajuv" is the highlight of this album. Truly, if this had been recorded at Necrohell, it would have fit in quite well with the material on Transilvanian Hunger or maybe better on Panzerfaust. This is the only song on the album to feature Norwegian lyrics. The tremolo strumming creates freezing cold melodies that embrace you in the darkest night. There is a really gloomy feeling that is conveyed by the guitar harmonies in this song, something that is largely absent throughout the rest of the album. The drumming is perfectly done, with Fenriz remembering that less is more. Nocturno Culto's vocals sound absolutely perfect. Sadly, after a few minutes, even this song has to slow down and degenerate into something different. Apparently, they can't even get one song completely right.

The album ends, mercifully, with "The Serpents Harvest". This begins with slower riffs that possess the type of nasty sound heard on some old Mayhem tracks, just with more of a doom feel. After a minute or so, the tempo picks up and sounds like something from Bathory's The Return... Everything from the guitars to the drumming gives the feeling that you have traveled back to 1985. About halfway through the track, a sorrowful tremolo melody is introduced, with faster percussion underneath. This riff would have been better saved for another song, as it is completely out of place, here. The slower riffs returns, after a minute or two, but the song has lost its reason by this point. As it nears its conclusion, a haunting guitar solo rises from the rotten graves as the music fades into oblivion.

Total Death is an album that was ruined by horridly weak production and inconsistent songwriting. It is clear that these guys were burnt-out and needed some time to regroup. This really should have been an E.P., if anything, with "Earth's Last Picture", "Gather For Attack on the Pearly Gates" (only the faster parts), "Ravnajuv" (minus the mid-paced stuff at the end), and "The Serpents Harvest" (with more focus on the old school Bathory vibe). As it stands, this is one of the weakest Darkthrone records, ever. Avoid this, if possible.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gorgoroth - Under the Sign of Hell (1997)

Under the Sign of Hell is the third album from Gorgoroth and, at the time, seemed like a bit of a departure from the sound that had been established on such classics as Pentagram and Antichrist. The sound is far less clear on this album; trading clarity for a very abrasive rawness. The guitars and bass seem to be tuned down, and the drums are featured a bit more prominently in the mix. As for the vocals, what can be said. Pest unleashes his most hellish performance, here.

From the first song, "Revelation of Doom", they unleash a chaotic fury of blast beats, thrashy guitars and inhumanly hateful shrieks. At a time when many of their contemporaries were "evolving", Infernus and his cohorts seem content to become even more primitive. The song is rather short, but does well to set the stage for what is to come. Also, in only a few minutes, it showed a lot of variety in tempo changes. It is cold, misanthropic and utterly merciless.

"Krig" begins with a brilliant tremolo riff, showcasing the great talent possessed by Infernus. The atmosphere is far from the somber darkness, found on previous efforts. This is pure madness. Pest's vocals are filled with hatred and dementia. The title is very appropriate, as this sounds like total war upon the feeble sheep of the mythical Jew-saviour. You can almost smell the blood on your sword.

As soon as the previous song ends, "Funeral Procession" begins, leaving almost no time for listeners to take a breath. This features some slower sections, with ghastly moaning and a woman's death gasp. Just under the two minute mark, Infernus unleashes some absolutely brilliant melodies. Enough can never be said to praise the songwriting abilities of this man. How many can make such short songs feel so epic?

The next song begins with calm sounds of the North wind blowing cold, as a faint guitar is heard in the distance. As "Profetens Åpenbaring" really gets going, the atmosphere is quite different than what one would expect from a Gorgoroth album, though hints of this first emerged on Antichrist. The clean vocals, and the rhythm of the song, are reminiscent of Isengard. Pest still manages to wield enough of his demonic screeching, throughout the song.

"Postludium" is an eerie track of backward messages and strange noises. This brief nightmare is what Gorgoroth considers to be a break from the madness.

"Ødeleggelse og Undergang" begins with fast tremolo riffs, blasting drums and insanely hellish vocals. This is, possibly, the best song on the album. It contains the trademark Infernus riffs that have made Gorgoroth among the elite of Norwegian Black Metal. About a minute or so in, the atmosphere becomes much darker. The pace slows down, as Infernus utilizes haunting open-arpeggio notes. This is the time to light the black candles, to unsheathe the blade and to bleed in the cold night air. Carve your chest open and gouge your own heart out, throwing this symbol of humanity onto the snow-covered ground and embracing emptiness...

"Blood Stains the Circle" is a direct continuation of the previous song, as it flows seamlessly from one to the next. Pest's screams become absolutely insane and out of control. The pace is unrelenting. On this night, you will bleed until the last drop.

"The Rite of Infernal Invocation" is the longest song on the album. It is also the only one to feature a guitar solo. The song structure is very reminiscent of older bands, with a lot of thrashy riffs present. After a few minutes of hellish frenzy, there is nothing but some bizarre effect, similar to the sounds made by the demonic spirits from "The Evil Dead". This goes on for a few minutes, leading into the final song.

The album concludes with "The Devil Is Calling", which is consumed by an oldschool Black Metal feeling. As it fades in, it is pure evil dripping like blood from a slashed throat. This embodies the spirit of Hellhammer and Bathory, while being pure genius from the mind of Infernus. This mid-paced song is another highlight of Under the Sign of Hell.

This is probably the last of the essential Gorgoroth albums, as others would come along and contaminate those releases that followed this one. If any album is like a fist in the faces of feeble Christian scum, this is it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nifelheim - Devil's Force (1998)

Devil's Force is the second release from Sweden's masters of Black/Speed Metal, Nifelheim. This album picks up from where their debut left off, the only noticeable difference being that the sound is slightly more raw than before. Being recorded in late 1997, this may have the distinction of being one of Jon Nödtveidt's final musical recordings, before going to prison, as he plays guitar on this album. In an old interview, Tyrant claimed that this album was the band's answer to Sodom's Obsessed By Cruelty. This would be their last album for Necropolis, as well as their last to include Demon on drums.

Nifelheim possesses the old spirit of 80s Black Metal, and it is easy to hear the influence of such bands as Venom, Bathory, Sodom, Tormentor and even Brazilian bands like Sarcofago and Vulcano. What sets Nifelheim apart is that there is also a bit of inspiration from Iron Maiden (their favorite band). They realized, early on, that it was impossible for them to make the same kind of music as Maiden, yet they still manage to mix in bits of NWOBHM melody, here and there.

"Deathstrike From Hell" begins the album with sinister thrash riffs and some morbid vocal effects. After a brief build-up, Nifelheim unleashes total blasphemy upon the listener. Some of the lead parts create a truly hellish atmosphere. About mid-way through, the speed gives way to somewhat slower thrash riffs (by comparison) and a great lead harmony. This song really sets the pace for the whole album.

More NWOBHM feeling can be found on the mini-epic, "Final Slaughter". This song is absolutely killer in all aspects. Hellbutcher's strained vocals sound possessed, as usual, and the raw production goes well with the old school riffs to give off a very old feeling. After a couple minutes, the song slows down. At this point, haunting melodies fill your head like the screams of the waking dead, crawling out of their graves. The riff around the 3:00 mark is absolutely brilliant. For someone that actually grew up with 80s metal, very few things are as satisfying as listening to a song such as this one. Within only a few minutes, Nifelheim manages to create something very memorable and epic. The ending is very reminiscent of old Slayer, which can never be a bad thing.

"Desecration of the Dead" is next and, despite the epic journey taken through the flames of Hell, there is no chance to rest. This song blasts forth with a merciless fury. Again, under two minutes into the song, one is obsessed by hauntingly eerie melodies that slither through the mind like a serpent. The ancient demons are certainly invoked on a song such as this.

The next song is "Demonic Evil", and it lives up to its title, from the opening moments. The band absolutely kills the listener as it almost becomes mind-shattering to believe that so many brilliant melodies and riffs could come from one band. Just when you think that one song was so great that the next one would have to be a disappointment or seem like filler, by comparison, they dispel such thoughts by producing more moments of pure genius.

On an album filled with great songs, "Satanic Mass" is still worthy of special mention as one of the best of the best. The vocals are total blasphemy and sound like an unholy creature screaming from blackened skies, as the lands below burn in raging hellfire. At this point, I wish that I was an expert in music theory so that it would be easier to more adequately describe the sheer brilliance (using that word a lot on this review) of this song. The riffs are nothing short of godly and the solos are incredible.

"Soldier of Satan" begins a bit slower than the previous songs. At this point, they would have to slow down for at least a few seconds so that the listener's heart does not explode. Yet a few seconds is all you get, as this picks up speed and is much like having broken glass forced down your throat as you are chained to a wall. Some time ago, I read that the playing on this album was extremely sloppy and difficult to discern. There's no telling what the hell they were listening to, but it certainly wasn't this album.

"Devil's Force" opens with riffs very similar to something found on Seven Churches, by Possessed, but only in the opening seconds. There are even moments that recall memories of Morbid Angel's Abominations of Desolation album. These, too, are very brief. This song is pretty straight-forward. The end features the same riff that started the song, accompanied by a brief solo.

The album concludes with the song "Hellish Blasphemy". The title would be very fitting to describe the entire album. In some strange sense, one can tell that this is the final song just by the feeling conveyed within. This was something that was very prevalent in the 80s; the last song of an album often felt like the ending of something, even if it wasn't some long, slow, epic work of dark art.

Devil's Force is highly recommended to anyone that appreciates Black/Speed Metal. If you have a fondness for the old 80s bands, then this is definitely for you. Nifelheim does well to carry on the black and hellish legacy of those who came before...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nifelheim - Nifelheim (1995)

Nifelheim's debut L.P. was recorded in Studio Fredman, in the second week of December 1994. This album features John Zwetsloot, of Dissection, and the cover artwork was done by Necrolord. Not discovering this band until the release of Servants of Darkness, it took some time to acquire this album as it was difficult to find. To say that it was well worth the wait would be a major understatement.

Nifelheim begins with "The Devastation". From the first moments, one can feel the old demons being awakened. The production is slightly off, as it is a little thicker than on their other albums, almost with a Death Metal sound to the percussion. This, somewhat, thicker sound adds some bit of a doomy feeling to the riffs. The guitars are thin and possess the old school Black Metal feeling. The vocals are very unrestrained and are similar to Quorthon's work on the early Bathory albums. This brilliant Black/Speed Metal is continued on "Unholy Death".

"Possessed By Evil" shows that, truly, Nifelheim is consumed with the essence of 80s Black Metal, such as Venom, Bathory, Sodom, Hellhammer, et cetera. Yet one thing that really sets this band apart is the Iron Maiden influence that rears its head from time to time. These guys absolutely worship Maiden, and you will find many harmonies and so on, mixed throughout their albums, that display this fact.

This band does not simply rely on blast beats and tremolo riffs to carry their songs all the way through. As mentioned, they really have much more in common with the First Wave bands than their own peers. "Sodomizer" begins with a slower and more ominous tone, until speeding into a frenzy of blasphemy. Hellbutcher's vocals really do sound possessed and, sometimes, has a feeling of sinister desperation. The one scream, about halfway through, is bloodcurdling. This song is one of the more epic pieces of the album, featuring great solos and variations in tempo. A dark atmosphere is created in the latter half of the song. This is absolutely perfect in all ways. Some bands go for a 'retro' sound and try to imitate those that came before them. Nifelheim simply embodies this spirit and it comes out, effortlessly, on their albums.

"Satanic Sacrifice" begins with a feeling of doom and dread, accentuated by Helbutcher's tortured scream. In no time, the gates of Hell burst wide open as the song reaches full speed and flames consume all in their path. Strange that some have called this music 'mindless noise', when each song is easily identifiable and contains many memorable riffs. It would appear that some people just didn't bother to listen to the album or, maybe, previewed the first few seconds of each song, at best. People like that don't deserve to listen to such great music anyway.

The epic feeling continues on "Storm of Satan's Fire". This isn't the same sort of 'epic' that one would expect from Viking-era Bathory, for example, but the word is applicable, nonetheless. You really get the feeling of being dragged down to the very depths of Hell. The solos are, as usual, incredibly suitable for this music and the melodies are haunting. This is dripping with old school Black Metal feeling, like blood from a slashed throat.

The album concludes with "Witchfuck". This song features different tempos, from full-on speed to very old school sort of rhythms. At no point during this album does the band run out of steam of become redundant or boring. There is nothing uninspired about this classic debut release. In a sea of mediocre bands, Nifelheim stands tall as one of the elite.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dark Funeral - Dark Funeral (1994)

Dark Funeral was formed in 1993, by Blackmoon and Lord Ahriman. Blackmoon had already founded the Satanic Death Metal band, Necrophobic, releasing The Nocturnal Silence. Joined by Themgoroth and Draugen, the band entered Dan Swanö's Hellspawn/Unisound Studios to record the Dark Funeral E.P.

"Open the Gates" begins this debut release with hellish fury, before going into a very oldschool section. Blackmoon's riffs, as always, have a very nocturnal feeling to them. Themgoroth's vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Hat (of Gorgoroth). While being executed in a different style, this really does create the same kind of atmosphere as Necrophobic.

"Shadows Over Transilvania" features some brilliant tremolo riffs and a sinister atmosphere that is only accentuated by Themgoroth's vocal performance. There are a handful of tempo changes, with the song slowing down a bit, near the end. This Swedish cult is definitely rooted in the older bands.

"My Dark Desires" continues the Satanic assault. One notices that the production os a lot closer to that of Marduk's Those of the Unlight. Perhaps the EP would have sounded even better if they had managed to get the same sound that Dissection did on The Somberlain (which was recorded at the same studio). About half-way through the song, the pace slows down and the melodies really take you into the night sky, beyond the realm of the living. Themgoroth's infernal vocals can be considered nothing less than a demonic possession captured on tape.

This final song opens with some of the best riffs of the album, melodies that will remain with you long after the song has concluded. "In the Sign of the Horns" expresses the desire to go from the world of light and to be embraced by darkness, for ever. As can be said for the rest of the album, the cold nocturnal melodies wrap around your throat and the hellish vocals summon forth the dark lord.

"In the sign of the horns
Come and take my life
In the sign of the horns
I must die"

Believe it or not, Dark Funeral was once a good band, prior to making music only to please the masses and having a rockstar mentality. This E.P. is absolute proof of the band's worth, in the long-forgotten past. If you have only been exposed to those later recordings, you owe it to yourself to seek this E.P. out. For that matter, it is recommended that you also listen to The Secrets of the Black Arts, as well. Beyond these two releases, consider the band irrelevant.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Marduk - Those of the Unlight (1993)

Marduk has seen a few transitions. Dark Endless featured more of a typical Swedish Death Metal approach. Their later albums are, for the most part, pointless noise for the sake of being 'brutal' and 'extreme'. Their most recent output is a bit different, offering an atmosphere of doom. Yet it was on Those of the Unlight where the band truly put their efforts into creating quality Black Metal; music with a dark atmosphere, rather than the boring trash served up in the decade or so that followed this. As with many bands, their creativity waned after just a couple of albums.

After the release of Dark Endless, Marduk underwent some sort of transformation. What they released on that album was Black Metal, despite the Death Metal structures and so on. However, on Those of the Unlight, they shed this sound for something darker and more raw. They lost their vocalist, Andreas Axelsson, as he went to play for Edge of Sanity. His replacement was none other than Joakim "Af Gravf" Göthberg, who was the best vocalist they ever had. In April 1993, the band entered Dan Swanö's Hellspawn Studio to record what would come to be known as their crowning achievement.

The album begins with "Darkness Breeds Immortality". This sounds much like what one would expect from a Scandinavian Black Metal release from 1993. Fast tremolo guitar riffs, blasting guitars and raspy vocals. Yet this is not average in any way. In no time, the excellent songwriting becomes apparent. Göthberg's vocals sound like his throat is shredded. There is a lot of dark feeling in his performance. The atmosphere of doom, from the first album, is still present.

"Those of the Unlight" begins with a brilliant tremolo melody. The lyrical concept for this song appears to have something to do with the Nazgûl in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. The cover artwork seems to support this theory.

"Frozen on the very brinks of death
Enslaved by the dark lord
Forever dying but never dead
The nine - Those of the Unlight"

This song is filled with memorable riffs and tempo changes that prevent this from even coming close to the boredom induced by later Marduk albums. It really sounds like a completely different band. While the sound is raw, this is not very primitive at all. The song structures are well thought-out and executed with precision. There is a somber atmosphere found in many of the harmonies on this album.

"Wolves" carries the album forward with more dark, yet memorable, riffs. The production isn't horrible, but this would have benefited had it achieved the same type of sound that Dissection managed to get, using the same studio. These riffs are really far too good to not be fully realized to their maximum potential. The guitars should be a little louder and sharper, in all honesty. A couple minutes into this song, there is a very 'relaxed' section that has a lot of feeling to it. It seems a little out of place, yet the band manages to fit it in well enough. This is followed by more tremolo riffs, fast drums and tortured vocals, with even some haunting whispers thrown in.

"On Darkened Wings" begins with an eerie guitar effect and the sound of thunder, rumbling in the distance. The song then builds up to full speed, utilizing cold and dark melodies. After a minute and a half, the song slows down and a feeling of sorrow and dread consumes the listener. A minute or so later, there is another lead guitar solo that is somewhat unexpected. As the song reaches its conclusion, the vocals convey feelings of torment, suffering and death.

The next song is one of the best on the album, "Burn My Coffin". Morgan Håkansson's memorable riffs and Joakim Göthberg's dark and tortured vocals suit one another very well. This song features yet more guitar solos, these fitting the song perfectly. All becomes silent, after a few minutes, leaving a lone, mournful guitar melody. As the vocals, bass and drums return, the feeling is that of a funeral march. As it fades into nothingness, your heart muscles begin to tighten. Just when you are ready to stop breathing, the melancholy riff fades back in and claims your spirit.

"Black candles burn tonight
As my soul begins it's flight
As the veil of Darkness lowers it's shadow
I travel through the night"

The sorrowful atmosphere is alleviated, to some extent, with "A Sculpture of the Night". This is faster and a bit less abysmal as the previous song. About halfway through, there is a very oldschool-sounding riff.

"Echoes From the Past" is the longest song of the album, and an instrumental. This begins with quiet guitar passages and the sound of falling rain and minimal keyboard use, in the background. There is a dark and nostalgic feeling created here. Listening to this, your mind slips away from reality and into the darkness. You ruminate over what once was; that which is gone, never to return. You think of the mistakes that you've made in this terrible existence and how they can never be undone. Your heart is gripped by loss and mourning. The future is so bleak and obscured by shadows. Just then, the guitars and drums come in to add to the somber atmosphere. The feeling of doom and regret takes you even deeper.

"Stone Stands Its Silent Vigil" continues this feeling of grief and despair. Following the utter spiritual death from the previous song, this evokes imagery of a frozen graveland, and a lone tombstone marking your final resting place. It is fairly mid-paced, with miserably tortured vocals and lyrics that suit the feeling well. There is a brief section that speeds up, but this only serves to accentuate the funereal qualities of the final moments of the album...

"In the lands of frost
All life is dead and lost
Frozen into a lifeless statue
Well preserved but quite dead"

Those of the Unlight stands as a bleak monument of Marduk's glory days, when they created music that possessed a dark and tormented atmosphere; when they played Black Metal rather than pointless noise. This is highly recommended for any fan of early 90s Swedish Black Metal.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Katatonia - For Funerals To Come (1995)

For Funerals to Come is the third release from Swedish Doom Metal band, Katatonia. This album is the last to feature the harsh vocals of Jonas Renkse. It is said that after this EP, and then October Tide's Rain Without End album, his throat was too damaged to continue with this style.

The album begins, abruptly, with the song "Funeral Wedding". The melancholy guitars and tortured vocals immediately reach into your chest, like an icy hand, to tear and claw at your heart. The melodies are down-tempo and somber, yet there are many changes throughout the course of the song. There are, somewhat, hopeful-sounding riffs that emerge from the bleak clouds if only to lull you into a false sense of optimism, before sending you crashing back into the jagged ice. After a sorrowful lead, there is a section of mostly bass that precedes even more tormented vocals. It might be more pleasing if there were less riff changes and if the mood was more consistent (as on Rain Without End) but these odd moments of uplifting riffs may be similar to when some ephemeral peace comes into one's life. The dark forces that feed on our suffering need more than that which we can give. We all get used to the misery, at some point or another. It becomes a part of us or we simply become empty, thus dulling the effect. These dismal shadows become displeased with this. They must provide some impetus that will allow us to begin to feel again, for the sole purpose of sending us crashing back down so that the misery and pain is fresh, once more. As this depressive opus nears its conclusion, the screams are beyond agonizing, as those of one who is torn from his comfortable grave and thrust back into the abysmal torment of eternity. His throat sounds absolutely shredded, as one who has gone into a suicidal frenzy and taken a razor to their neck.

"Shades of Emerald Fields" is less epic than the previous song. As it begins, it is really nothing so special. A couple minutes in, there is a nice tremolo riff that gets far too little time to grow. About midway through, the atmosphere of despair returns to strangle you. It gets very silent, with but a soft guitar and the appearance of bleak and dismal clean vocals, sounding like one who has almost no energy left to continue living.

"For Funerals To Come" features a very mournful guitar melody. This is, quite possibly, the darkest piece of the whole EP. The atmosphere is gloomy and hopeless. You are laying on the cold ground, weak and dying. A bloody blade is there next to you. Your flesh is mutilated beyond repair, and your crimson life has flowed freely. You then hear the nightmarish chanting...

"Through the bleak window of my soul
In marble halls of falling snow
Winter touch the Earth undone
Embittered, we embrace the funerals to come"

"Epistel" is a brief outro of screeching noises, perhaps to represent the sounds of your spirit being torn out of your body and transcending to a realm beyond, where what we know as pain is but a mere shadow and true suffering awaits all, for ever.