Monday, January 30, 2012

Sabbat - Envenom (1991)

Sabbat's first full-length album, Envenom, was released on Evil Records in March 1991. This record was a long time coming, especially when considering the fact that the band formed in the summer of 1983. It is amazing to think about the fact that one of the best records from the First Wave of Black Metal was only unleashed a short time before the Second Wave was to begin, in full. To put things into perspective, bands such as Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer had yet to release anything of note around the time Sabbat formed. However, in the time that it took for them to give birth to their first L.P., those bands had all moved on to other musical styles. This came during the dismal period where Mayhem was the sole bearer of the black flame in Norway, just a few weeks before Dead's suicide. The album title, Envenom, is quite appropriate, as this seems to be the logical evolution of Venom's sound, had they not abandoned their path.

The material present on this record covers a lot of ground. There is an occult feeling mixed into several of the songs, book-ended by the intro and outro and including tracks like "Devil Worship" and "King of Hell". In fact, these two may be the most evil and possessed songs on the whole album, with the latter a mid-paced beast that seems to have influenced Watain early on. The majority of the L.P. is not as dark as these tracks, being more dominated by old school guitar riffs that show a lot of inspiration from the classic works of Venom and Mercyful Fate. It is odd that these bands were kind of ignored, as bands like Darkthrone preferred to pick up from where Bathory and Hellhammer / Celtic Frost left off. The songwriting does a great job of mixing the band's old school influences, which have always been integral to their sound, with their own style and interpretation. Elizaveat takes his cues from guitarists such as Mantas and the Shermann / Denner combination, mixing thrash-heavy riffs with incredibly well thought-out solos. While there are a few mid-paced riffs that possess a strong doom feeling, most of the album is comprised of faster playing, though not always at blistering speeds. Gezol's vocals are much more harsh than on most of Sabbat's previous releases, which helps the atmosphere maintain a consistent level of darkness and seriousness, with the exception of the hideous track known as "Carcassvoice", which is just painful to get through. One of the best things about Envenom is that, no matter how black things become, it still remains very Metal. The memorable riffs and haunting guitar solos found here surpass any of the keyboard nonsense that would emerge a few years later.

The overall sound is very much in line with that of the period during which the band formed and began to flourish. The production is good... for a release from 1985. Produced by the members of Sabbat, themselves, Envenom remains true to its '80s roots. Everything is clear enough to be heard, yet all of the instruments blend together to create a very cohesive whole, rather than each one standing out from the rest. The guitar has enough fuzz and distortion to suit the songwriting, though the ominous rumble of the bass helps much more than one might think. This is a throwback to the days when Cronos would bludgeon listeners with his massive bass sound. That said, the guitars are very much the focus of this L.P. The drumming is kind of there, loud enough to be counted, but rather flat and unassuming. This is great, as it prevents the percussion from taking any attention away from that which is important. The vocals, often multi-tracked, rise up from the murky depths just enough to properly torment the listener, but never so much as to overshadow the music, itself.

For a record of such high quality, Envenom is quite obscure when compared to others from the same period. While many seem to think that Black Metal died out in the mid-'80s and was resurrected with bands such as Darkthrone and Immortal, the truth is that there were a decent number of groups that kept the flame burning throughout the dark times of the late '80s / early '90s, with Sabbat being one of the oldest. This album is absolutely essential and highly recommended for any Black Metal fan, period.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sabbat - The Seven Deadly Sins (1990)

Released through Evil Records in June 1990, The Seven Deadly Sins was the final Sabbat E.P. before their debut full-length, Envenom. After developing their sound for over five years, the band had reached a level of intensity and darkness that was beyond what most were doing, around this time. In fact, most of the evil bands of the '80s had gone soft, commercial or just jumped on whatever worthless trend that they could. At this point, too few were creating music that was vicious, dark and still possessed by an overwhelming Metal feeling. Most of the bands that were part of the First Wave were but a shadow of their former selves, and the Second Wave of Black Metal was still a couple years away from being ignited. It was during this forgotten period that bands such as Samael, Treblinka and Sabbat were keeping the black flame burning in obscurity.

Musically, The Seven Deadly Sins can be split in two parts. "Possessed The Room (Kanashibari)" represents the more old school sound, with the Venom / Mercyful Fate influences being rather easy to pick out. The galloping riffs and more laid back pace allows for more of an atmosphere to be developed. This is the most memorable song on here and probably more significant regarding the band's development. "Sacrifice of Angel" and "Crying in Last" are both comprised of mostly thrash riffs that move along at a faster speed; however, they sacrifice some atmosphere for intensity. Oddly, the vocals are harsh during the latter two tracks, yet reminiscent of Nuclear Assault, for the opener, which is rather unexpected. The production is still gritty and underground, though pretty clear when compared to recordings like Born By Evil Blood or Desecrate.

The Seven Deadly Sins may not possess the brilliance of The Devil's Sperm Is Cold, but it represented yet another solid step toward the sound that would define Sabbat's first couple of full-length efforts. Consequently, this is not as essential, but still very much worth hearing. Pick this up, if given the chance.

Sabbat - The Devil's Sperm Is Cold (1989)

Sabbat's fourth E.P. release, The Devil's Sperm Is Cold, raised the bar to a whole new level. The songwriting and musicianship, coupled with the overall level of intensity, destroyed anything the band had previously offered up. This 7" was released via Evil Records and limited to 500 copies, which was unfortunate given that there was little possibility of this becoming as well-known as it should have been. How a band like this languished in relative obscurity, without recording a full-length album until 1991, is difficult to comprehend. All of the elements were present, from great musicianship and excellent songwriting to the filthy production values and the old school mentality.

With each release, Sabbat got better and better, in just about every respect. Gezol's vocals became a bit harsher and more evil, suiting the music better, while still possessing the same attitude that was present from the beginning. Elizaveat's guitar playing, here, exceeds anything found on the previous efforts. The songwriting displays a shift from Speed to more all-out Thrash, at times, which increases the fury and violence conveyed by the music. Some of the riffs are reminiscent of that of Slayer's Haunting the Chapel. In addition to this, the lead solos are absolutely incredible. They are haunting and really draw the listener in. Rather than brief, throwaway bits that do little to help the atmosphere, the solo work on The Devil's Sperm Is Cold is well thought-out and meaningful. This is especially true of "Immortality of the Soul", though the shredding of "Hellfire" (the more straightforward of the two songs) sounds very inspired by Kirk Hammett's playing on Kill 'Em All. That is rather fitting, since the music sounds like something that would have been released about five or six years earlier. The galloping riffs and killer guitar solos of the second song are very much inspired by Mercyful Fate. In all actuality, this song is one of the best ever recorded by Sabbat.

For anyone interested in Black / Thrash from the '80s, this E.P. is essential. The Devil's Sperm Is Cold may have an odd title, as well as the weird artwork that accompanies it, but the musical content is beyond criticism. It goes without saying that all Sabbat fans should possess this release, which played a significant role as the band continued to lay the groundwork for their debut L.P.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sabbat - Desecration (1988)

Desecration is the third E.P. from Sabbat. This Japanese band has only been quite prolific, a characteristic that has been with them since the beginning. Recorded at One One Studio in Yotsukaichi, a few months after the release of Born By Evil Blood, this 7" was made available in February 1988 and limited to 500 copies. Offering up four tracks of unholy Black / Thrash Metal, Sabbat exhibits great skill in crafting raw, yet memorable, songs that go beyond simply trying to sound extreme and maintain a real sense of substance. As with their previous release, this one shows a bit of improvement over its predecessor.

The songwriting displays the diversity possessed by the First Wave of Black Metal, with a good mixture of Speed, Thrash, Black and Doom riffs all coming together to form a cohesive whole. Rather than using the same template and adding various foreign elements in an attempt to differentiate one band from the next, with most still sounding just alike, the '80s bands all had their own identity and could be part of the same musical movement without sounding exactly the same. There are a certain amount of obvious influences, like Venom and Mercyful Fate; however, Sabbat manages to fuse these things with their own brand of psychotic arrangement to create something that could not have possible come from any other band. The atmosphere is not as dark as on the band's first couple of full-length albums. The riffs are all oldschool and seem as if they could have come from a few years earlier. Though the vocals are kind of harsh, Gezol's patterns are still natural and he sounds as if he is trying to sing normally, only with a damaged throat. The whole thing is rather primitive, matched by the low-quality production job.

Desecration is certainly recommended to those with a taste for old school Black / Thrash, or anyone that simply appreciates something that oozes with an aura of pure Metal. Odd as it may seem, coming from Japan, that is exactly what Sabbat accomplished here. Seek this out with confidence.

Treblinka - Severe Abomination (1989)

Coming just a few months after The Sign of the Pentagram, Severe Abomination is the band's final release as Treblinka. One might expect this material to sound quite close to the songs presented on Sumerian Cry, but this is actually much harsher. Released in July 1989, this 7" E.P. offers another wicked dose of old school Black Metal. With two demos under their belts, it is interesting to see which songs were chosen to represent this once-unholy cult.

Musically, the title track takes things to a whole new level of viciousness. The guitars seem to possess a sharper sound, cutting through you like a fresh razor. Even Hellslaughter's vocals come across as more venomous and threatening. Both songs exhibit a good deal of variety in tempo, though there are a lot of fast-paced riffs. The lead solos are characterized by a haunting, almost serpentine quality, while the overall onslaught leaves the listener in a weakened state. This is very hideous and pretty far removed from the more melodic Black Metal compositions that would arise a few years later. The production is completely horrid and underground. The primitive sound matches the barbaric musical approach, and everything comes together to create something truly ugly and violent. The sound is much more treble-oriented, rather than the more bass-heavy sound of the demos. It may seem odd that "Earwigs In Your Veins" was the second song chosen to round out this E.P. The title track from Crawling in Vomits would have seemed like a more obvious choice, for example.

It is a shame that this band did not continue on playing Black Metal, as it suited them much more. Unfortunately, many in the Swedish underground were turning toward Death Metal during the late '80s. At any rate, any fan of Treblinka or early Tiamat should seek out Severe Abomination, in whatever manner possible.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sabbat - s/t (1985)

Sabbat's self-titled debut E.P. was released on Evil Records in June 1985. This 7" was limited to 300 copies and features only two songs. Despite clocking at ten minutes in length, this recording is quite memorable. The material shows a influences from the likes of Venom and Mercyful Fate, utilizing an oldschool style that definitely betrays the time period during which the music was created. For some listeners, it is more important that a release possesses a timeless quality yet the primary charm in these songs is the fact that one can really sense the mid-'80s feeling that characterizes the songwriting.

"Mion's Hill" is a brilliant song that starts with an eerie clean guitar before launching into a murky riff that could have easily come from some old Mercyful Fate recording. The sombre lead solos are brilliant and show the level of skill that this Japanese band is capable of, while the dismal riffs create a dark atmosphere. The vocals are somewhat harsh, but not nearly to the level of early Bathory, for example. There is a real epic feel to this mid-paced track, and the main guitar riffs are absolutely haunting.

After beginning with a rather ominous riff, "Black Fire" speeds things up quite a bit. This track is almost reminiscent of some Punk, such as GBH, especially regarding the vocal delivery. Here, a cleaner voice is utilized and it works to the detriment of the atmosphere, as there is a much less-serious feel. The riffs, while thrashier and more intense, are a little forgettable when compared to the previous song. Surprisingly, this one made it onto the band's first full-length album, Envenom.

All in all, this is a very solid debut effort and established Sabbat as a band to pay attention to. It is a shame that they were not from Europe, as their work probably would have gotten a lot more attention, as it rightfully deserved. While not the very best of the band's 7" releases, and hardly essential since both songs were re-recorded, this is still an interesting recording and should appeal to fans of the First Wave of Black Metal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Damnation - Divine Darkness (1994)

For a band that was, supposedly, formed as a Bathory tribute project, one can hardly tell when listening to Damnation's Divine Darkness demo. Released in October 1994, this collection of songs owes most of its sound to the Second Wave, having very little to do with the old school sound of the '80s. Of course, a lot probably happened between the formation of the band around 1989 and this recording, which fits in well with the other melodic Black Metal efforts that other Swedish bands were creating around this time.

For the most part, the material here is centered around cold tremolo melodies, driven forward by a pulsing beat that never relents. Songs like "Eternal Black" and the title track would not have been out of place on an album from Sacramentum or Unanimated. This makes sense, as two of the members were also in Unanimated around this time. The prime difference is that this is more Black Metal-oriented, rather than featuring only some of these elements within a mostly Death Metal framework, as one would find on In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead. The music is pretty good, though not the most original and the production allows the percussion to distract from the guitar riffs, somewhat.

The cover of Bathory's "The Return of the Darkness and Evil" is done fairly well, but does not hold a candle to the original. That is not so much of an insult to Damnation as just pointing out the supreme quality of Quorthon's work. The song seems to be a take on the version found on the Scandinavian Metal Attack compilation, and it remains faithful with the exception of the lackluster lead solo, near the end. This one tune is the main thing connecting the band's initial formation with the material that would come later on.

Divine Darkness is a pretty good demo, but many other bands were doing the same style much better, in 1994. Had Damnation never reappeared, they would be remembered only for being yet another melodic Black Metal band from Sweden that did nothing original. Fortunately, they returned in 2004 with an E.P. and a full-length album that were much more in line with the old school spirit embodied by the early works of Bathory. It is rare to say, but this is one time when you are better off picking up the later efforts of a band.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Damnation - Destructo Evangelia (2004)

Destructo Evangelia is the first and, so far, only full-length album from Damnation. Released by Threeman Recordings, in August 2004, this L.P. contains forty minutes of occult Swedish Black Metal. Originally started by Peter Stjärnvind as a Bathory tribute band, Damnation released a single demo in 1994, before vanishing into thin air. The quality of the material was superior to that of many full albums being released around the same time. Thankfully, ten years after emerging from the nothingness with Divine Darkness, Damnation returned to produce another offering of real Black Metal.

The record begins with "Invocation of Storms", an intro that starts out with the sounds of thunder roaring across the skies, as a mid-paced riff slowly rises from the depths. After some time, the guitars fade away and leave only the warlike pounding of the drums. In many ways, this can be seen as a warning. All those seeking something with slick production or gothic elements should run away, at once.

"Insulter of Jesus Christ!" is the first proper song, and it introduces the listener to the primitive and hideous sound of Damnation. Clocking in at a little over two and a half minutes, this song is fast-paced and sounds quite similar to something that one would find on Bathory's debut album. The vocals are hateful and the music is raw, with riffs that show equal inspiration from Motörhead and GBH. Though, in all likelihood, this is purely a result of being so influenced by Quorthon, who looked to such bands when forming Bathory.

The next song is "Night Eternal", which starts out with mid-paced riffs that are accompanied by double-bass underneath, though nicely buried in the mix. Soon enough, the speed picks up and the track is dominated by tremolo riffs and blast beats. Richard "Daemon'" Cabeza's vocals are harsh, yet one can still hear traces of a human voice within the unholy invocations. A few minutes into the song, the band takes liberties with an actual Bathory riff. However, rather than mimicking their heroes as closely as Darkthrone did on their earlier albums, Damnation takes this and builds upon it in a logical way. Speaking of the oldschool Norwegians, the fast-paced riffs that follow sound quite a bit like something from Under A Funeral Moon.

The title track begins with a mixture of riffs that actually call to mind mid-period Darkthrone, going from a mid-paced Bathory riff to a cold tremolo melody. As the song progresses, it takes on a more typical Swedish feel, with guitar riffs that would not out of place on a Dissection or Watain album. The vocals are a bit more harsh and filled with anger. Later on, this vibe increases as sombre melody carries you deeper into the unknown depths of the abyss. The final moments of the song move at a rapid speed, with the drums pummeling you into oblivion while the ice-cold riffs freeze you all the way through.

"Life obliterated
The coming of the horde
Destructo evangelia
Death to life"

This is followed by "Bloody Vengeance", a cover of the well-known Vulcano track from 1986. This fits perfectly among the rest of the songs, possessing a very primitive feeling and being consumed with utter hatred. The malice and contempt in Daemon's voice does justice to the original, as does the musical performance of Peter Stjärnvind. A very good choice for a cover tune, and excellent execution.

"When Creation Dies" starts out at a blistering pace, with the raw and cold guitar riffs carving through you like blades of ice. Once again, there seems to be more of a Darkthrone influence on this particular song, from the organic production to the style of playing. This really shows few, if any, signs of being recorded and released at such a late date. So many of the riffs could have come straight from 1984, or maybe 1994 at the latest. The middle of the song slows down, with a frigid open-arpeggio riff that features a spoken word section. The tremolo melody that follows is about as cold as it gets and the track possesses a somewhat similar feel to Watain's Casus Luciferi, at this point. The dismal atmosphere lasts for the rest of the song, as it very slowly fades away.

Next up is "Eternal Black", which is a re-recorded version of a song that appeared on the Divine Darkness demo tape. For the most part, this sticks very close to the original. The sound quality is much better, which is odd to say since the production here is so raw and underground. The guitars are much more easily heard, as the drumming does not dominate the mix this time around. Of all the material on this album, this really embodies the mid-90's Swedish sound, pretty well. These riffs would have suited a Dissection album just as easily as Vinterland, Sacramentum or Unanimated. This one maintains a fairly high speed, all the way through, with a brief rest period, with arctic tremolo melodies that freeze your blood in the veins.

The album ends with a cover of Bathory's "Armageddon". The guitar tone is not as nasty or threatening, and the vocals lack the inhuman feeling that Quorthon possessed, but this is a decent rendition of a classic Black Metal song. It is rather difficult to compete with one of the masters, but Damnation does well to pay tribute to the mighty goat and it blends in, seamlessly, with the rest of the tracks.

With Destructo Evangelia, Damnation has done nothing unique or groundbreaking. However, they offer up a primitive slab of oldschool Black Metal. Everything here is done the right way, with really no room for complaints. Fans of Bathory and Darkthrone will, undoubtedly, appreciate the raw sound and genuine approach taken by this Swedish band. If you have not heard this yet, do yourself a favour and pick it up as soon as possible.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Varathron - One Step Beyond Dreams (1991)

Certainly not the most consistent of the Hellenic Black Metal bands, Varathron's first official release is unlike anything that succeeded it. One Step Beyond Dreams, released in 1991 via Black Vomit Records, is a far cry from the material that would find its way onto His Majesty at the Swamp. This 7" E.P. features two songs that possess more energy than anyone might expect from Varathron.

The material is not one-dimensional, by any means, but the dominant style is fast-paced and intense. There is an old school Black / Thrash vibe, to an extent, and the harsh production accentuates the rawness of the music. "Descent of Prophetic Vision" may be more in line with what would come later, with a couple mid-paced riffs and more epic lead solos. However, "Genesis of Apocryphal Desire" is consumed with an unrelenting intensity that threatens to rip your face off. There seems to be a mixture of Thrash and Death Metal riffs, with a solo that was taken straight from Slayer's playbook. The vocals are sort of a hoarse barking, which suits the aggressive and primitive material just fine. While the first track is kind of there, the second one is one of the best ever recorded by this band.

One Step Beyond Dreams is a very solid effort, well worth picking up. If you are hoping for the type of epic, mid-paced stuff that is found on their debut album, avoid this E.P. These songs are , at times, violent and energetic. Varathron really made their mark with this release, and it is too bad that the band did not retain some of this fury for later on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thou Art Lord - Diabolou Archaes Legeones (1993)

Thou Art Lord can be seen as the offspring of Rotting Christ and Necromantia, featuring members of both bands. It should come to the surprise of no one that among them is Morbid (aka Magus Wampyr Daoloth), who seemed to have his hand in many of the Hellenic Black Metal bands of the early-to-mid '90s. Released in June 1993, the tracks that comprise the Diabolou Archaes Legeones E.P. were taken from their previous demo, The Cult of the Horned One. Some may look down on this, thinking that the band was trying to get extra mileage out of the same material, yet that was not the case. Their demo tape was self-released, meaning that much fewer had the opportunity to hear it, whereas this 7" was released by Molon Lave Records and gave Thou Art Lord more exposure, eventually enabling them to record a full-length album.

The two songs on here, "The Era of Satan Rising" and "Praising the Impure", share some similarities. As a matter of fact, the second song begins with the same drum beat that ended the previous track, which gives it a feeling of redundancy. This is especially harmful, since the opener is such a great song. Thankfully, the material soon shifts and displays a different side of the band. The first tune is more straightforward, featuring a mixture of fast-paced staccato and tremolo riffs, with a slower section later on that allows for an interesting lead melody to unfold. The second song unleashed the mid-paced riffs much earlier, while also making more use of the synth and attempting to create a totally different atmosphere. There are brief moments where a clean guitar emerges from the darkness, adding yet another layer of darkness. While the music can, easily, be compared to Rotting Christ's ouput from the same period, it is noticeably darker and a bit morose. It is unfortunate that the label opted to save the other song for a split release, as it is an even better example of the gloomier songwriting. The production is not too far off from what would be heard on Eosforos. Naturally, the sound possesses a lower quality and things seem somewhat muffled, when directly compared to their first L.P. That being said, it is still superior to a good number of full-length albums that were being released around this time.

Diabolou Archaes Legeones is a safe bet for anyone with a fondness for Hellenic Black Metal, or Thou Art Lord in particular. It is difficult to call it essential, simply based on the fact that it only contains two songs, one of which is available in very similar form on their debut album. While the other track is very solid, it is not brilliant enough to warrant going to great lengths to seek this out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rotting Christ - ΑΠΟΚΑΘΗΛΩΣΙΣ (1993)

Released by Osmose Productions in 1993, the ΑΠΟΚΑΘΗΛΩΣΙΣ E.P. was one of the recordings that bridged the gap between Passage to Arcturo and Thy Mighty Contract. The style is quite similar to what would be found on Rotting Christ's debut album, though the overall sound possesses more rough edges.

"Visions of the Dead Lovers" starts this 7" out, showing a more developed sense of songwriting and a level of skill on par with that of Thy Mighty Contract. This one song demonstrates that the band had, undoubtedly, found their identity by this point. This track features a lot of faster riffs, implementing the staccato riffing that would become the band's trademark. This is aided by pummeling drumming and an epic guitar solo. A song like this was more than enough to show the world that the Hellenic Black Metal scene was worth taking notice of.

The re-recorded version of "The Mystical Meeting" flows much more naturally than the one on Passage to Arcturo, as much a result of the production as of the actual playing, itself. The mix was off, on the original, with the drums being far too high and distracting from everything else that was going on. Here, the song is able to be appreciated in its intended form and one can detect the increased confidence with which the band executed this track.

Only containing two tracks, ΑΠΟΚΑΘΗΛΩΣΙΣ would hardly be considered essential, by most yet the quality of the material demands your attention and proves to be quite worthy of the time and effort to track down. Thankfully, for those that do not desire to obtain the original, these songs are available on the reissue of the band's first L.P.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Varathron - His Majesty at the Swamp (1993)

Varathron's first full-length album, His Majesty at the Swamp, was released in August 1993 by Cyber Music. This record is one of the cornerstones of the Hellenic Black Metal scene, though not at the very top of the heap. It is often claimed that this band followed in the footsteps of Rotting Christ, though both bands were utilizing a similar style on recordings from 1991-92, already. Also worth noting is that this release came a few months before Thy Mighty Contract, albeit on a much smaller label. Either way, this L.P. is certainly one of the best to come from this region and still holds up after all these years.

The material consists of a lot of mid-paced riffs. In fact, that may be one of the only complaints regarding this record, as the lack of high-speed sections does not allow for the slower parts to make as much of an impact. Of course, there are some faster riffs, but never in the same way as a song like "Genesis of Apocryphal Desire", from One Step Beyond Dreams. Obviously, Varathron was opting for a much more epic sound, which is what they achieved. That is the one word to best describe His Majesty at the Swamp, as a whole. The riffs are quite varied, throughout the album, and each one does well to build on a foundation of traditional Metal. The melodies are very memorable and each song possesses an identity of its own. From the somewhat gloomy feel of "Son of the Moon (Act II)" to the intensity of "Flowers of My Youth" (bloody awful title for such a great song), the band manages to cover a lot of ground. At times, the tracks can drag on a bit long, such as "Unholy Funeral". Limited amounts of synth are employed in order to accentuate the atmosphere, from time to time, though the keyboard never becomes the central focus. The vocals of Necroabyssious are somewhat deep, but possess a sort of hollow feel in a similar manner to the first Amorphis album. They sound almost like a morbid whisper, but still loud enough to be heard.

The musical traits shared with Rotting Christ may have something to do with the fact that the bands shared a few members. Mutilator played bass for bothb, while Necromayhem (of Rotting Christ / Thou Art Lord) played guitar on "Lustful Father", which is filled with the intense staccato riffing that his other bands were known for. Themis Tolis even makes an appearance on this release, playing drums on "The Tressrising of Nyarlathotep". Finally, tying this together with the entire Hellenic scene, there is Morbid/Magus Wampyr Daoloth of Rotting Christ / Thou Art Lord / Necromantia fame. That this record would bear similarities to any other bands from their country was nearly impossible to avoid.

The production is not as dark and evil as it could have been, really sounding much more polished than on the band's previous releases. Everything is quite clear and this actually detracts from the atmosphere to an extent. That is not to say that the material was written to really capture this kind of feeling anyway, but the slick production prevented that possibility from ever becoming a reality. The guitar sound is on the thicker side, as the overall sound is more in line with Death Metal than what most would equate with Black Metal. The drumming is a little too high in the mix, especially for the clarity that is possesses, and it sounds fake at times. The keyboards are buried in the mix, which is a good thing. As for the vocals, they are at a good level, being slightly high to make up for the less extreme style of the vocalist. Otherwise, his voice may not have been audible enough to make much of an impact. The production of the final song is th ebest of the whole album, but that is due to the fact that the songs were recorded during different sessions and this one was captured back in February 1992.

His Majesty at the Swamp is a great record and one of the best to ever come from Hellas. Fans of any of the aforementioned bands should certainly give this a listen. With the only drawbacks being that the production is not raw enough for my taste and that a few of the riffs go on a slight bit longer than they should, there is no risk of disappointment. This L.P. is loaded with memorable riffs and an epic atmosphere that few can match. Waste no time in adding this to your collection.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eternity - ...and the Gruesome Returns with Every Night (2004)

It is strange to think that, no matter how obscure or serious newer bands wish to appear, most of them come off as kids that are simply trying too hard to emulate those that came before them. Unfortunately, this is lost on many listeners and thus the image manages to survive despite how preposterous it may be. A lot of the bands try to pass off their hero-worship for something truly unique, even when the inspiration can be clearly discerned. In the case of Eternity's debut album, ...and the Gruesome Returns with Every Night, one can instantly hear influences from the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Released by World Terror Committee, in August 2004, this record came quite late for a band that formed in 1994. This band was hardly any different from the likes of Moonblood or Paragon Belial, as it regards looking to the north for musical direction. Also in line with those bands, Eternity found it difficult to make proper albums and ended up existing solely through a handful of demos and split albums. For some reason, German Black Metal was never in high demand, partially due to the fact that the scene really possessed nothing unique.

The material on this full-length is fairly standard for the time period. It consists of mostly fast-paced songs that are built around tremolo melodies and blasting drums. There are some slower sections that create somewhat of a morbid feeling, though it is nothing that has not been heard before. The primary influences appear to be Darkthrone and Mayhem, with the former dictating the overall structure and the latter being the source for some of the more haunting riffs. This is not too far off from what Watain was doing around this time, though more stripped-down and not quite as dark. It can be said that Eternity presented something that was far more conventional and normal, rather than the chaotic and unorthodox approach of Katharsis, for example. However, at least that band was attempting to make its own mark, while ...and the Gruesome Returns with Every Night shows a group of musicians that were really playing it safe.

The production sounds like something that could have been offered up in the mid-90s, with a relatively raw approach that possesses an organic feeling as opposed to the multitude of fake, plastic bands that were littering the underground by this point. The percussion is rather minimalist in the sense that one cannot hear every single thing with perfect clarity and the drumming never gets so much that it overpowers the more important elements. While being kind of average and paint-by-numbers, this album at least places the focus on the guitar riffs and vocals. The guitar tone is not as cold and sharp as it could have been, but it is reaching in the right direction. Also of note is that the bass is more prevalent and this adds a sombre feeling to the music. The mix is just right and the overall sound is not as lo-fi as Transilvanian Hunger but less polished than Pentagram.

The lyrics demonstrate the German fascination with topics of a more personal and depressing nature. This is neither good nor bad, though the poor writing takes away from the effect. The themes here have little to do with actual evil but rather more in terms of the Hell within and the internal darkness. Once could say that both styles have been done to death, so there is no need to punish the band for this, though they could have at least been more creative with the lyrics.

In the end, ...and the Gruesome Returns with Every Night is a solid release, though pretty typical. Eternity has very little in common with the other German Black Metal bands, other than a fondness for Scandinavian music. These guys are rather conservative when compared to the increased ambition of a band like Moonblood. Nevertheless, fans of Darkthrone, Mayhem and Gorgoroth are likely to enjoy this for what it is, which is a continuation of the musical movement that began over a decade earlier. Certainly worth a listen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Agatus - Dawn of Martyrdom (1994)

After releasing the A Night of Dark Ages and Black Moon demos, Agatus released their first full-length album, Dawn of Martyrdom. Released on Hypervorea Records in the autumn of 1994, this L.P. is a good offering of Hellenic Black Metal, with a decent amount of northern influences. Somehow forgotten among the more popular bands, like Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia, the debut record from Agatus is just as worthy of exploration.

Musically, this includes a lot of the same techniques utilized by their Hellenic peers, yet the band also shows a healthy does of inspiration from the northern regions of Europe. It is built upon a solid foundation of epic Metal riffs, pounding double-bass and cold tremolo melodies, many of which would not be out of place on one of the classic Norwegian albums. In fact, there appears to be a strong Burzum influence, even during the more mid-paced sections. Despite such clear inspiration for many of the guitar riffs, the percussion and synth are both very Greek in execution, with the former being quite prevalent. Some of the keyboard parts are so strangely upbeat that they severely distract from the vibe being created by the guitar riffs. This mixture may be a bit off-putting to some, who either want one style or another, but Agatus actually pulls this off very well. The vocals are another positive addition to the overall sound, possessing hints of a shredded throat that gives a rather tormented and impassioned feeling. This is most evident on "Spirits from the Depths of the Earth", which is one of the highlights of the album. Also present are the two tracks from the Black Moon promo, "Black Moon's Blood" and "Force of Desecration", in the exact same form and are the most straightforward songs on here. To contrast this, the two instrumental tracks are drenched in an odd Mediterranean atmosphere that seems at odds with the spirit of Black Metal. The songwriting is pretty strong, throughout the album, though it is not without its inconsistencies. However, taking into account the running time of 50 minutes, this is to be expected.

The production is not too bad, though it could have used some improvements. The percussion is too high in the mix, and sounds somewhat fake. Also, the guitars would have benefited from a more raw and sharp tone, which would have done well to emphasize the cold tremolo melodies. Then again, the type of production featured on Dawn of Martyrdom is one of the main things responsible for the Hellenic feeling. Either way, whether using another approach or just lowering the drums in order to allow more of a focus on the guitars, this small improvement could have made a lot of difference. The vocals are just right and, from the style to the placement in the overall mix, nothing should be changed about this element.

In the end, Dawn of Martyrdom is another solid release from the Hellenic Black Metal scene and placed Agatus among the second-tier bands like Legion of Doom and Thou Art Lord. Despite whatever flaws it may possess, this record is of a higher calibre than the likes of Crossing the Fiery Path or His Majesty at the Swamp. The music is rather dynamic, never boring, and one can tell that the band put every bit of energy that they had into this. It may take a couple listens to shake off the average impression and to really get what the band is doing here, but it is well worth the time.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nåstrond - Toteslaut (1995)

Nåstrond is one of the many lesser-known Black Metal bands from Sweden. Forming in 1993, they released two demo tapes while more established groups like Dissection and Marduk were making a name for themselves. It was not until 1995 that the band's debut album, Toteslaut, would be unleashed upon the underground. Unfortunately, this is a record that is still rather obscure when compared to the likes of Storm of the Light's Bane or Far Away From the Sun. There is no clear-cut reason why Nåstrond did not make more of an impact with this record, as it contained enough elements that were typical of the Scandinavian Black Metal style to appeal to most fans, while also possessing something that was very unique.

My first exposure to this band came from a mix tape sent to me from a penpal in Finland, back in the late 90s. While the song, "Lord of the Woods", certainly met with a positive response, I failed to seek this album out. I was re-introduced to Nåstrond when living in Sweden, some years ago, and could hardly believe that this album passed under my radar for so long. While far from being the most amazing thing to hail from the frozen north, it did not deserve to go unnoticed or forgotten.

Musically, Toteslaut would seem to follow the general patterns of most Swedish and Norwegian bands of the period. One can hear bits of Bathory and Celtic Frost in the songwriting, and the material consists of a good number of pummeling drum beats and fast tremolo melodies. However, to write this off as being generic would be a disservice. Though the style is fairly standard, the actual riffs possess an eerie and sorrowful atmosphere that is unlike anything else that was released around this time. The additional synth passages do well to accentuate this feeling, while not overpowering the guitar riffs. In most cases, the keyboards are more subtle than in a lot of other bands. The vocals are rather typical, not straying from the sound utilized by bands like Marduk and Gorgoroth. Draugr's voice is very hateful, at times, and suits the music well.

The production is the one main weak point. The drums are far too high in the mix, which gives a feeling of being too polished and fake. Actually, the percussion is reminiscent of that found on the first Algaion album, and one has to wonder if a drum machine was used. The vocals are at an appropriate level, though the clean voices should have been buried a little more. The guitar tone is cold and icy, at times, but they lack any sense of rawness and seem a little too clean. It is not as if this sounds like some mainstream release, by any means, but the material would have benefited from a slightly more primitive sound.

The lyrics deal with topics relating to death, moreso than Satanic / anti-Christian themes. However, it is not done in the manner that one would find on a Death Metal release. The sort of approach that Nåstrond takes as it relates to death is more occult and ritualistic. "May the Rotten Bones Absorb Life Again" is a good example of this, with the creepy riffs complimented by the topic of necromancy.

Despite its flaws, Toteslaut is certainly worth listening to. It is pitiable that Nåstrond's debut effort fell through the cracks and was passed over in favour of so many inferior releases. While using a similar approach as that of many of their contemporaries, this band really captured a completely different type of darkness with the sombre riffs that make up this album. Seek it out and give it a chance.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Necromantia - Scarlet Evil Witching Black (1995)

After making a somewhat negative impression with their debut album, Crossing the Fiery Path, Necromantia made sure that the follow-up effort would blow everyone away. Released by Osmose Records, in November 1995, Scarlet Evil Witching Black saw the band realize the potential that was hinted at on the first album, and then some. This is the sort of brilliant album that a band could hang their hat on for years to come, and is definitely Necromantia's crowning achievement. In fact, this is one of the best albums to be spawned from the Hellenic Black Metal scene, period.

While the material on the band's first L.P. was very disjointed and seemed incomplete, at times, Scarlet Evil Witching Black succeeds in mixing the various elements together and creating something unique and incredible. There is a raw intensity that is present here, something that was lacking on Crossing the Fiery Path. The album features many more high-speed sections, though never neglecting to maintain a sense of variation in the tempo of each song and incorporating more traditional Metal within the overall sound. Some of the faster sections show an influence from the north, which gives this record a stronger association with the Second Wave sound. As well, one can detect some old Bathory influence, which is always a good thing. This time around, the clean vocals and keyboards are worked into the mix a lot better, appearing to fit naturally rather than coming from nowhere and marking a severe shift in the direction of the record. Of course, nothing is perfect, and there is still one rather useless track ("The Arcane Light of Hecate") that does little to add to the album, as a whole. But with such powerful songs as "Devilskin" and "Scarlet Witching Dreams", it is easy to overlook minor flaws. Even the synth manages to fit in well and accentuate the atmosphere, instead of taking away from it. Much of the material possesses an epic feeling, such as "Pretender to the Throne (Opus II: Battle at the Netherworld)". This song also includes a bit of acoustic guitar, which only strengthens the majestic vibe that it conveys. In a sense, this track does well to represent the entire record, showcasing many of the types of things that can be found, here.

The production seems a little clearer than on the first album, though it is a little difficult to tell when it comes to Necromantia. Obviously, with no guitar, there is a unique and strange sound. The 8-string bass has a crunchy sound, which gives the music a raw and dirty feel. The drums are about at the right place in the mix, though the synth could have been buried a slight bit more. The vocals are loud enough to be heard but never drown out the music, as is the case with some bands. Whenever the acoustic guitar is utilized, it is done in a natural manner that blends well with the rest. Oftentimes, when a band attempts to mix this in with the rest, it is much too loud and ends up standing apart from the rest, quite a lot.

In the end, Scarlet Evil Witching Black is an excellent offering from Necromantia and is a worthy contribution to the legacy of Hellenic Black Metal. It contains just the right amount of raw energy and epic atmosphere to create something very memorable. The band corrected all of the major shortcomings of their first record and really lived up to their potential. This album comes highly recommended, but should be heard after Crossing the Fiery Path, to get the full impact.

Sacramentum - The Coming of Chaos (1997)

The Coming of Chaos is quite a disappointment. Sacramentum's sophomore effort was released on Century Media, in September 1997. Absent is the frozen atmosphere and majestic guitar melodies that hearkened back to Dissection's Storm of the Light's Bane. In fact, the cold Black Metal feeling is almost completely gone. This record features more of a Death Metal vibe mixed in, as well as some typical Gothenburg riffs that do nothing but make the album seem more generic.

Perhaps, the band wanted to distance themselves from the constant comparisons to Dissection (though one can still hear some elements of that band's style, here) that came as a result of the overall approach and sound of Far Away From the Sun. The icy feeling is gone and the music just lacks the same type of cohesion that it once had. For some reason, this record gives the impression of being more mundane and directionless and befitting a tag such as 'extreme Metal', since there are a variety of styles being mixed, with none being particularly strong enough to really give this a definite character. Nearly everything about this is boring. The thrash riffs lack any real energy. The Death Metal parts do very little to create a dark or ominous feeling and there is hardly any Black Metal left. The drumming takes a much more active role, driving the songs as much or more than the guitars, in some cases. Somehow, after making such a brilliant debut, Sacramentum decided to throw it all away.

The production is yet another problem that has a very detrimental effect on The Coming of Chaos. The sound is way too slick and modern. The drumming, in particular, is very clear and high in the mix. Things are just much too crisp. The vocals possess less reverb and are a bit too clear, for some reason. The guitars are kind of buried under the rest and have a flat tone. Far Away From the Sun featured an icy cold sound but here it comes off as lifeless and uninspired.

The Coming of Chaos is such a departure from Sacramentum's first album that it almost sounds like a different band. Switching from Black Metal to the standard Gothenburg sound was a huge mistake, though it could be that they simply had no vision of their own and could only follow what others were doing. While there is still enough of a Dissection influence to possibly interest some, this record is hardly worth listening to. Avoid this and stick with its predecessor.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Legion of Doom - For Those of the Blood (1997)

For Those of the Blood is the second full-length album from Legion of Doom. Released in 1997, this album may be responsible for the fact that the band never rose to the same level of notoriety as fellow Greek bands such as Rotting Christ or Necromantia. Rather than develop more of their own style, or even to adopt the type of approach that was being utilized by many in the Hellenic Black Metal scene, Legion of Doom continued to take their cues from the northern lands and made some of the same mistakes.

One cannot find many flaws in the songwriting department. As it compares to Kingdom of Endless Darkness, the basic material is in the same vein. However, there is much less of a Burzum influence on this record. Instead, most of the tremolo riffs and rapid drumming seem inspired by early Darkthrone, primarily, as well as Emperor and a few others from Norway. While it is not, necessarily, a bad thing that they still followed the lead of their Scandinavian heroes. This album introduces a very strong symphonic element that waters down the atmosphere and gives it a rather cheesy feeling. The synth is overused and done in an improper manner to begin with, taking away any possibility that the song had to maintain a dark feeling. Furthermore, the actual riffs are much more generic and less memorable. "Messenger..." manages to stand out among the rest of the average and mediocre tracks, mostly due to being more straightforward and placing the emphasis back on the guitars, where it belongs. "Κυρες" would be included in that, as well, but the percussion overpowers the riffs, at times. Legion of Doom still employed a drum machine, at this point, and they did not seem concerned with making sure it was buried in the mix.

As for the rest of the production, the overall sound is a little cleaner than on the previous album. The guitar tone, especially, lacks the raw edge that it possessed on Kingdom of Endless Darkness and loses a bit of character as a result. It comes off as a bit more smooth and polished, though it is still far from drowning in the typical modern, plastic sound. It actually sounds rather necro, if one compares it to an album like Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, for example. The drum machine is too high, taking a bit of the attention away from the guitar riffs. The grim vocals are still right where they should be, in relation to the guitars.

Skipping the instrumentals, there is less than half an hour of music on this album. Of that material, a good deal of it is tainted by symphonic nonsense that does nothing to add to the dark feeling that should have been the main goal of For Those of the Blood. In the end, this record represents a drop in quality from its predecessor. Less selective listeners may be able to look past its flaws, but I would say that this L.P. is somewhat disappointing and less worth the time to track down.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Necromantia - Crossing the Fiery Path (1993)

Necromantia is one of the most revered bands in the Hellenic Black Metal scene. However, their first album is certainly not the reason for this. Released by Osmose in September 1993, Crossing the Fiery Path showed a good amount of promise, very little of which was actually realized here. While being rather unique, for a number of reasons, Necromantia could not maintain a high level of quality throughout the entirety of their debut effort.

At its best, the music here manages to capture the dark and occult feeling of the Second Wave of Black Metal while also infusing a good bit of traditional Metal influences as well. At times, the results are quite brilliant and make for some very memorable moments. "The Warlock" and "Unchaining the Wolf (At War...)" are good examples of this. As a matter of fact, the latter is probably the most consistent song on the whole L.P. However, at its worst, the material presented on Crossing the Fiery Path is inconsistent, cheesy and nonsensical. Utilizing an 80-string bass in place of a rhythm guitar, Necromantia took quite an interesting approach to creating their sound. This is expected, since this band features Magus Wampyr Daoloth, a man well-known in the Greek underground. Nonetheless, whatever the ultimate goal of this record was, it ends up giving the listener the distinct feeling that it was poorly planned and somewhat underdeveloped. Too often, gothic elements dominate the music and take away from the main purpose. Synth and clean vocals do a lot to ruin this album. Not only with the intro, outro and interlude but also "Les Litanies des Satan," in particular. It is so over-saturated with this idiocy that the great riffs and solos near the end are easily overlooked. Similarly, the lengthy ambient section of "The Warlock" seems only to undermine the momentum that was created during the first half of the track. Whatever effect this was supposed to create was destroyed once it became such a tedious and prolonged experiment. By the time the riffs return, most will have lost their patience. Following this up with an instrumental track, that has absolutely nothing to do with creating an atmosphere of darkness, was also an unwise decision.

The production is fairly standard for an underground release from this time period. The overall sound is rather gritty and dry, largely due to the utilization of a second bass, instead of a guitar. The mix gives more of an organic feeling, though the synth is a bit high, at times. The drum sound is not especially powerful and possesses very little echo or reverb. At least, unlike many of their peers, the managed to recruit a real drummer. The double-bass should have been buried a little, to hide the inadequacies that are present on this recording. Otherwise, everything is rather acceptable, with even the vocals being at about the right level in order to convey a grim sense of morbid evil.

Crossing the Fiery Path is worth listening to, as some may be more open-minded than others and even the most narrow-minded listeners will surely find something of worth. "Unchaining the Wolf (At War...)" is definitely essential for any Necromantia fan. However, in the end, this record is more of a curiosity and gives the impression of being very disorganized or even unfinished. It would not be until 1995's Scarlet Evil Witching Black where the band was finally able to combine the various elements present here in order to create a coherent album.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Legion of Doom - Kingdom of Endless Darkness (1995)

Like some of the other bands in the Hellenic scene, Legion of Doom started out playing a rather boring form of Death Metal. However, by the time they released their debut album, 1995's Kingdom of Endless Darkness, Mortuary and Demogorgon had shifted the band's style more in line with the Second Wave Black Metal sound that was spawned in the north. This record has little or nothing to do with the typical style played by the likes of Rotting Christ or Varathron.

Musically, Kingdom of Endless Darkness seems to owe a great deal to the Norwegian bands that preceded them. In particular, many of the riffs are reminiscent of early Burzum and Darkthrone. Upon first listen, this comes off as being rather generic and one may be quick to write the band off as merely another copycat outfit that listened to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss or Transilvanian Hunger too many times. (This is especially obvious during "The Desecration", which makes use of a familiar-sounding synth line and a guitar melody that seems lifted from "Det Som En Gang Var".) While the overall approach is similar, being rather minimalist with the fast tremolo melodies, grim vocals and high-speed drum programming, there is a level of quality to the songwriting that is absent in the case of many that hoped to mimic the hordes of the north. The manner in which the riffs are constructed displays the skill of the musicians, as they are able to create such a dark and menacing atmosphere with so little. Most of the songs are relatively brief, though the title track is over fifteen minutes in length. This one offers subtle changes in the main theme that slowly unfold, as the song progresses. Much like Burzum's older works, this allows the listener to be pulled in and put in an almost trance-like state as the guitar melodies wash over them and the atmosphere starts to bleed forth. Also of interest is the track's placement within the album, coming second rather than at the beginning or end of the record, which is more traditional for such epics. The rest of the songs are below average in length, by any standard, yet they manage to accomplish nearly as much as the title track. Each one maintains a similar style, being rather straightforward and rarely straying from the consistent pace that is established early on. The one song that stands out the most is "The Black Queen", mainly due to the sheer bleakness and overwhelmingly dismal atmosphere created by the main riff. It also has a little more room to develop, as it stretches a little beyond five minutes.

The production is pretty grim for its time, moreso when considering how many bands were already offering up more polished and fake-sounding albums by this point. There is a decent level of fuzz that remains throughout the whole record. The drum machine is fairly easy to detect, but not because of its level in the mix. It may have been hidden a slight bit more, but there was no real need for that. It was common enough, among some of the Hellenic Black Metal bands, to utilize such things in the absence of actual drummers. The vocals are kind of in the middle and rather difficult to decipher, though this is more a result of the style than the production. Again, this would seem run-of-the-mill and average to someone that did not pay close attention. However, the mix favours the guitars enough to allow the riffs to accomplish their intended goals.

For those that pick up a copy of Kingdom of Endless Darkness in order to hear more typical Hellenic Black Metal, you will be sorely disappointed. It is simple to tell that Legion of Doom were far more influenced by Burzum than Rotting Christ. That said, there is still enough going on with this record to make it of interest to fans of either scene. Of all the bands to spring up around this time period, Legion of Doom were certainly among the more skilled. By 1995, many of the northern hordes were losing their way and churning out uninspired filth that only served to tarnish their legacies. However, the evil that once possessed them was still wreaking havoc from the dark corners of Europe. Toss the experimental / symphonic garbage aside and seek this out.