Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moonblood / Asakku split (1998)

Released by Sombre Records in March 1998, the Moonblood / Asakku split offers up a couple decent quality songs of raw German Black Metal. This 7" E.P. was limited to 500 copies, so it is not the easiest to come by. The material on hand is well worth hearing, upholding the traditions of the sub-genre quite well, though it cannot be said that these recordings are earth-shattering, by any means.

The Moonblood track, "Hordes of Hate", was recorded in September 1995. This would have, easily, fit onto the band's first full-length album, Blut und Krieg. In some way, the arrangement is even reminiscent of "I Am All". It starts with an epic intro, before unleashing a blistering assault of frozen tremolo riffs that freeze your flesh and leave you unable to move. The pummeling drums then come along to lay waste to that which is left, as the demonic howls summon the forces of evil to consume your miserable spirit. The guitar melodies are straightforward, yet memorable. The bass lines, more or less, follow along with the main riffs, rarely straying. The production is about the same as what can be heard on most of Moonblood's studio recordings. It is odd that this song was left off of their debut L.P.

Asakku does their best to match the quality of their peers with "Endless Woods", recorded in May 1996. The song starts out with an acoustic guitar, before transitioning to a galloping riff in the vein of Bathory. They utilize a variety of tempos, still managing to maintain a consistent atmosphere throughout. The faster parts employ tremolo riffs that are not all that dissimilar from Moonblood. The production is a bit annoying, as the bass and drums are a little too loud in the mix, with the former possessing sort of a clicking sound that is a little distracting. All in all, Asakku showed promise and would have been a worthy part of the German underground, had they survived.

Quite often, the idea behind split releases is to pair a newer band with one that is more established, to help expose them to a larger fanbase. Such was the case with this 7", yet it seems to have been somewhat of a failure. Asakku was already dead by the time this release came about and this did nothing to revive the band. As for Moonblood, this was nothing more than another opportunity to share one of the countless songs that they were sitting on. It may sound average compared to some of their tracks, but that is only a result of the consistent quality that they were known for. Pick this up, if possible.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vlad Tepes - Dans Notre Chute (1996)

Dans Notre Chute was released in July 1996, as always, in limited numbers. A lot of times, a band will do this because they just are not that good, but such was not the case, here. This is one of the last demos from Vlad Tepes, one of the most revered bands of the French Black Legions. Recordings such as this prove what a shame it was that these guys never released a full-length album, as it would likely be considered a classic by now.

The material on this demo is not entirely original. Four of the six songs were previously released, more than once. The first several tracks were already available on the Broullions I and II demos, as well as the split L.P. with Torgeist. The song "In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness", in particular, had been recorded five or six times, by this point. For whatever reason, Vlad Tepes liked re-recording their own songs, which is sometimes common with demo releases anyway. For the most part, these songs are very similar to the earlier versions, so there was little necessity in playing them again. The two new tracks fit in well, showing a lot of consistency with the band's songwriting. As usual, they manage to utilize a good mixture of old school influences with more of an overall Second Wave feeling to dominate the material. Like Moonblood, some of their inspirations can be heard, yet they possess a sound that is purely their own. The music consists of eerie tremolo melodies, a handful of memorable thrash riffs, and a hellish feeling rivaled only by Mütiilation (especially on "Our Soul's Worries"). There is also an epic quality that shines through, from time to time. This is most noticeable in "Raven's Hike" and "Tepes - The Unweeping". The quality of arrangement and composition on display here is vastly superior to most Black Metal bands that were releasing full-length albums around this time.

The production is fairly good, compared to a lot of the other Vlad Tepes releases, though maybe not on par with March to the Black Holocaust. While things do tend to get a bit unclear, from time to time (not helped by a persistent buzzing sound that lasts throughout the entire recording), it hardly gets to the point where one can no longer follow the guitar melodies. This possesses a similar sound to the old Mayhem rehearsals and live albums, such as Live in Leipzig. It definitely qualifies as lo-fi, but not to the extent where it is impossible to enjoy.

In the end, Dans Notre Chute is among the most essential Vlad Tepes releases. This should appeal to anyone that appreciate raw, under-produced Black Metal in the vein of Moonblood, Mütiilation and Black Funeral. If you have not yet been well-educated regarding the LLN, this would not be a bad place to start.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vlad Tepes - Brouillons I (1995)

Among the better-known offerings from the LLN movement is the Vlad Tepes / Torgeist split L.P. The contributions from Wlad and Vorlok were originally released in a limited number as the Brouillons I demo, in 1995. This tape captures the raw essence of Vlad Tepes, one of the elite bands of the Black Legions, near their peak. This material may only be second to the songs on March to the Black Holocaust in quality and overall sound and should appeal to anyone into the sort of raw Black Metal that was coming from the French underground in those years.

Vlad Tepes starts the demo with a familiar melody. "Raven's Hike" seems to take "Wladimir's March" and expand upon it, quite a bit. The atmosphere is very epic and memorable, showcasing the band's old school roots. Once "Abyssic & Funeral Symphony - An Ode to Our Ruin" gets going, though, things really pick up. Vlad Tepes delivers the type of sound that bands like Torgeist only hinted at. Here, we get the fast tremolo melodies and the pummeling drums, though not just for the sake of creating a noisy or chaotic feeling. This is neither of those things. The riffs are, obviously, well-developed and mixed with a traditional approach that brings the songs to life much more than the underground posturing that most bands cling to, these days. It would appear that "In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness" was among the band's preferred tracks, as it was recorded a handful of times. This version is a little slower than the one found on March to the Black Holocaust, enabling the Bathory influence to come through a little more. All in all, the Vlad Tepes material is much more intelligible than that of many other LLN bands, which is no surprise as they were simply better songwriters. Each song possesses its own identity and really catches your attention. In particular, the somewhat epic and old school vibe of "Tepes - The Unweeping" is among the best songs that this band ever recorded. There is a dreary feeling that is rather subtle, but still manages to permeate you subconscious. This gloomy atmosphere deepens as the track continues, dragging you into the dark past. Unlike a lot of bands, Vlad Tepes was actually able to mix in older influences in a natural way, as opposed to a song clearly taking a left turn to include an "old school" section that did not truly fit. As for "Those Black Desires That Torment My Soul", this song was not on the split and I am not sure if it was fully meant to be a Vlad Tepes song or not. It first appeared on the 1994 demo of their other project, Black Murder. Either way, the feeling is dark and morbid in a way that eclipses everything else on here. From the eerie riffs to the tortured howls, this really possesses more of a melancholic atmosphere.

The production is surprisingly good for a Vlad Tepes demo, being clear enough for everything to come through well, yet still possessing a raw and underground approach. Unlike the Into Frosty Madness demo, for example, all of the elements are able to be deciphered, from the hateful vocals to the creative guitar riffs and the percussion. Unlike later versions of these songs, they are not dominated by the more trebly and thin sound. One has to wonder which was preferred, since this recording was chosen for the Black Legions Metal split, yet the band continued to record these tracks a couple more times, as if they were not satisfied with how they turned out. In my opinion, they did the best job the first time around, as this demo really captures the atmosphere of the songs very well and allows for all of the hard work and brilliant songwriting to be appreciated.

Vlad Tepes is another band, similar to Moonblood, that was too good for the limitations that they had to work under. Whether it was due to lack of interest on the part of the band members or of labels, the truth is that these guys should have been recording proper albums for several years at least and it is a crime that they did not. Thus, Brouillons I is even more essential for fans of Vlad Tepes. Of this there is no doubt. This is one of the better recordings to come from any of the LLN bands and certainly killed Torgeist's contributions to the split album that this ended up on. It certainly ranks near the top of their discography in terms of sound quality. This may fall a little short when compared to March to the Black Holocaust, but not by much. Seek this out if possible.

Torgeist - Time of Sabbath (1995)

Torgeist was not really among the elite of the LLN movement, gaining most of their notoriety through the split that was released with Vlad Tepes in 1996. This material was taken from their second demo, Time of Sabbath, originally released in 1995. This tape is really the only music from Torgeist that is worth hearing, and the demo actually sounds better than the versions on the split (despite being the same recording, the vinyl has a very low volume that lacks the clarity of the cassette).

Torgeist's sound is not that dissimilar to Belketre, which makes sense as they share two members. Musically, this is very raw and lo-fi, nearly to the extent that it might make your ears bleed. There are a decent number of tempo changes and odd timing signatures. Though the guitars are hellish and possess a fuzzy tone, the bass almost commands more of the listener's attention, rumbling much closer to the surface than one might expect. The songwriting is somewhat unique, as it becomes difficult to really compare this to anything else, directly. These songs lack the standard characteristics that defined most Black Metal of this period; i.e. tremolo melodies and blast beats dominating the sound. In fact, most of this material is kind of mid-paced and relaxed.

Though Time of Sabbath is not the greatest release from the French Black Legions, it still shows a great deal of improvement over Torgeist's first demo, and is actually worth listening to. Unlike Devoted to Satan, this demo possesses a sense of dark atmosphere and a misanthropic spirit that is conveyed through the hateful vocals and the more inspired songwriting. If you ever decide to explore the music of Torgeist, make sure you start here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Black Murder - Feasts (1995)

Black Murder was a French Black Metal band that belonged to Les Lègions Noire, along with the likes of Mütiilation and Vlad Tepes. In fact, the group consisted of members of the latter, along with a member of Torgeist and Belketre. This project existed for only a short amount of time, yet the music that was left behind shall torment the minds of the weak for eternity. It really is too bad that most of these bands faded away so quickly, as it seemed that they had quite a bit of creativity among them. Black Murder was no exception.

I was first introduced to this band through the Promo '94 release, which featured only two songs of raw Black Metal, containing music that was fairly typical for an LLN band. Though I would toss it in whenever I was in the mood for this sound, the band hardly made an impression upon me. However, with the discovery of Feasts, Black Murder came to mean something much more than an average member of the French Black Legions.

Originally released on cassette, in 1995, this is actually considered to be a demo. This is rather amazing, considering the improved sound quality. The production is still raw and necro as hell, maintaining a very obscure atmosphere, but it is among the clearer recordings left behind by this musical movement. The riffs are fairly easy to understand, though things get a little muddy at times. The drumming stands out from the rest, just enough to be followed well, but not so much that they come off as disjointed or separate from everything else. As one might expect, the vocals are kind of high in the mix, but it works well within the overall sound.

The bulk of the music is built around extremely dreary guitar riffs and tormented screams. This possesses an atmosphere similar to early Mütiilation or Burzum, with the focus on conveying pitch-black negativity to the heart and mind of the listener. Things are often carried out at a brooding pace. Even when the drumming speeds up, the guitar melodies carry on in a hypnotic manner, never really approaching anything that could be called intense. Feasts is the sort of album that would serve well as a soundtrack to a nightmare. There is something downright unsettling about some of the riffs, giving you the feeling that you have been pulled into Hell. The songwriting also includes elements that are similar to the works of Vlad Tepes and Belketre, such as some of the old school rhythms and more traditional passages. Good examples of this can be heard in "Deadsex" and "The Last Supper". This adds to the unique feel of the material, while also helping it to be that much more memorable.

Feasts is one of the better releases from the LLN, in every way possible, and is definitely essential for fans of Vlad Tepes, Mütiilation, Belketre, Torgeist, etc. Even those into I Shalt Become will, most likely, appreciate the bleak and miserable content of this album. This recording cemented Black Murder as one of the most important bands to ever emerge from the French underground and I, for one, feel as if I have been robbed for not hearing it sooner. Avoid the same horrible fate and seek this out now.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vlad Tepes - The Return of the Unweeping Moon (1994)

Released in early 1994, The Return of the Unweeping Moon is the third demo tape from Vlad Tepes. One of the most notable members of the French Black Legions, alongside bands like Mütiilation and Torgeist, Vlad Tepes plays a rather unique style of raw Black Metal that shows a strong sense of songwriting and a firm connection to the band's old school roots. While the best example of their sound can be heard on the March to the Black Holocaust split with Belketre, the other various recordings are worth hearing, for hardcore fans of this band / style.

Three of the songs on this demo are present, in a much more presentable form, on the aforementioned split L.P. This enables the listener to really get a sense of how the material developed, as well as how the musicianship of the different members improved. While a lot of underground releases, around this time, were busy ripping off the bands from Norway, Vlad Tepes really had their own thing going on. This is raw, unpolished Black Metal that is severely under-produced, not because the band was attempting to create a necro feeling, but because of the equipment available to them. One can detect hints of thrash, here and there, along with some guitar melodies that add depth and verge on epic. "In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness", in particular, features riffs and a lead solo that owe something to early Bathory and would not have sounded out of place in the early-to-mid '80s. Only one track fits the typical Second Wave sound, consisting of tremolo melodies and straightforward drumming, which is "Massacre Song from the Devastated Lands"; however, even this song shows a great deal of development and skill in songwriting. This is the sort of song that takes the listener on a journey through ruined castles and darkened forests, in the dead of night. Though the sound quality is very poor, it has nothing to do with sloppy execution. Wlad, Vorlok and Niflheim were all in time and functioning as a cohesive unit, during the recording of this demo.

Not necessarily essential, The Return of the Unweeping Moon is still of interest to fans of Vlad Tepes. Though the material is present on other recordings, it is sometimes nice to hear different interpretations, and one can really appreciate the quality of the later versions. It is a shame that the band was not able to properly record all of their songs and release a few full-lengths, as they were capable of brilliance, at times.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Graveland - In the Glare of Burning Churches (1993)

Graveland's fifth demo, In the Glare of Burning Churches, is one of the more grim and raw efforts from this Polish band. Released on cassette, in May 1993, it has been reissued on tape and CD, several times. Over the years, some extra songs have been added, though this is hardly a major selling point, as superior versions can be found on The Celtic Winter. Had it not been made available on CD, there would really be no reason to ever track this down and listen to it. It is not particularly impressive, though it is not bad for what it is.

I was much more into this 'album' when I first obtained it, as I was quite disappointed with everything else that I had heard by the band, other than The Celtic Winter and Carpathian Wolves. It was nice to be able to go back and hear more raw Black Metal with Graveland's trademark approach, actually being able to enjoy the band again by going back in time. I recall listening to it over and over, while studying in the bleak winter months. However, after that initial period, it has done little more than collect dust.

The material on this demo should sound familiar with anyone that has heard the aforementioned releases. A few of the same songs are present, though the atmosphere is a little different. This is due to the performance and production. This may be the band's most raw effort, next to The Celtic Winter. The main difference is that the sound is quite flat, particularly the drums. The lack of reverb makes for an entirely new listening experience. The rhythms are a little boring as well, though this is not a huge deal. Overall, the songs are lacking in conviction and passion, doing very little to create atmosphere outside of the various samples of flames and winds. The keyboards also attempt to make up for the weak riffs, but to little or no avail. Most of the songs are mid-paced and one-dimensional, failing to keep the listener's attention for very long. The musicianship is very sloppy and the songwriting is uninspired, for the most part. Though one might be tempted to write this off as a third-rate tribute to Norwegian Black Metal, Graveland's music actually possesses a character of its own. While many of the elements may sound familiar to fans of Darkthrone, Emperor and Burzum, the actual execution is done in such a manner as to not really sound like any of those bands.

In the Glare of Burning Churches is not essential, but offers a decent slab of raw Black Metal that should appeal to anyone that found themselves disappointed with everything after Carpathian Wolves. It may end up being little more than a novelty, but fans of early Graveland should give it a shot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bethlehem - Sardonischer Untergang im Zeichen irreligiöser Darbietung (1998)

With their first two offerings, Germany's Bethlehem established a style of music that really defied all traditional labels, so much so that their music was known as Dark Metal. The band's approach blended elements of Black, Death and Doom Metal to create something so dark and miserable that it likely pushed a good number of unfortunate souls to an untimely end. In March 1998, Bartsch and Matton (aided by a new line-up) returned with the third morbid chapter of Bethlehem's career, titled Sardonischer Untergang im Zeichen irreligiöser Darbietung (S.U.i.Z.i.D., for short). It was at this point that they lost me. Unlike Dark Metal and Dictius Te Necare, this record fails to create a dark and miserable feeling and is far too experimental for its own good. There are a few good ideas, here and there, but they are buried inside this hideous and foul exercise in mainstream flirtation.

The prevailing atmosphere of this L.P. is one of failure and missed opportunities. There is an overwhelming sense of misery and despair that is conveyed by some of the material, yet the majority is laughable and hard to stomach. There are some stylistic changes that make quite a difference in the overall presentation. In a sense, this record is the beginning of Bethlehem's experimental phase. While the music still consists of a mixture of mid-paced doom riffs and fast tremolo melodies, interrupted by woeful clean guitar passages, there are some riffs that sound more rock-based and several aspects that give the album a gothic vibe. A handful are even reminiscent of the type used on Katatonia's Brave Murder Day. Also, the drumming is somewhat mechanical and overactive, at times, which gives the album hints of an industrial feeling. The vocals are another source of disappointment. Marco Kehren's performance is not that bad, but he fails to really do anything to stand out from the band's previous vocalists. In fact, he seems to be trying his best to mimic Landfermann's tormented howls, from Dictius Te Necare. His attempt is a little over-the-top, but not horrible. On the other hand, the clean vocals are utterly ridiculous. His voice has a comically deep tone, the sort that cartoon vampires use, which does nothing but add an unnecessary layer of cheesiness to the proceedings. Even worse, the band recruited a woman to pollute much of S.U.i.Z.i.D. with her worthless goth mumblings. This, along with the overuse of the softer parts, helps to soil what could have been a decent album.

The songwriting is absolutely atrocious. There is one good song on here, being "Durch befleckte Berührung memer Nemesis". Starting out with this track, one would expect a continuation of Dictius Te Necare. Sadly, only disappointment would follow. "Du sollst dich töten" is passable, but the drumming and the clean vocals really hold it back from being as good as it could have been. Similarly, "Luftstehs'Ibläh" is also somewhat alright, though some of the riffs kill its momentum. The rest of the songs are pure trash, ruined by clean vocals, female rambling and incredibly inconsistent compositions.

On top of all of the other problems that hold this record back from being worthwhile, the production is far too clean and overdone. The drumming is too high in the mix, only making more obvious the many poor choices regarding percussion. Dictius Te Necare was a little too overproduced for its own good, but the quality of the material made up for it. In this case, going further in that direction was just another in a long line of bad decisions. Everything is too polished and sterile, which does not work in favour of a record whose success hinges on its ability to create a bleak, dismal atmosphere or imbue the listener with dark feelings.

In the end, S.U.i.Z.i.D. is a terrible album that should have been much more. The addition of the goth / industrial elements makes this one difficult to take seriously, at times, which is a death sentence for this style of music. As well, the fake and plastic production would have ruined it, regardless of how the songwriting turned out. In many ways, Bethlehem tried too hard, losing the genuine darkness that made their first two efforts so successful. Those new to this band should bear in mind that Dark Metal and Dictius Te Necare are the only essential releases, with the rest being rather worthless by comparison.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Impaled Nazarene - Ugra-Karma (1993)

Ugra-Karma, the sophomore effort from Impaled Nazarene, was released in December 1993 through Osmose Productions. Unlike other bands from the Finnish Black Metal scene, such as Beherit and Archgoat, Impaled Nazarene shared many similarities with the bands from Norway, at least on the surface. This L.P. represented yet another step in that direction, while also improving upon many of the flaws of the debut. Though far from perfect, Ugra-Karma represents the pinnacle of the band's career.

One of the most noticeable aspects of this record has to be the production. The pummeling of the drums, often, take the focus off of the guitar riffs. Throughout the entire album, the percussion is far too high in the mix and is rather distracting, at times. There are occasions where the bass is too loud, as well, but this is much more rare. The vocals, of course, are never buried in the mix and are always featured well enough to be heard clearly. The guitar tone is rather odd, sounding like a rusty saw blade, for the most part. While not really that negative, the riffs may have been better suited by a colder sound.

Aside from the nitpicking, the actual musical content of Ugra-Karma is quite enjoyable. Gone are the inconsistent songwriting and occasional Death Metal leanings of Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz..., replaced by more developed arrangements and an overall cohesiveness that was previously lacking. Rather than filling space with countless tracks that go nowhere and clock in at or under the one minute mark, Impaled Nazarene put more time and thought into their second offering and put forth a solid collection of tunes. The one exception to this would have to be "Gott ist Tot", which is an utterly worthless techno track that seems very much out-of-place. The majority of the songs center around blast beats and tremolo melodies, though the guitars hardly ever have an opportunity to create a dark atmosphere. However, that is as much a result of the poor production as it is the punk / Motörhead influence that is detected in the execution of the material, most evident in songs like "Soul Rape" and "Kali-Yuga". Though this record possesses many of the same ingredients as albums like Pure Holocaust and Under A Funeral Moon, the prevailing mentality behind it is much more in line with the first Blasphemy album. The end result is an album that fails to imbue the listener with a dreadful sense of darkness, opting instead for a straightforward barbaric onslaught.

This is highly recommended for fans of the Second Wave of Black Metal. and is the one essential Impaled Nazarene release, providing stronger songwriting than its predecessor and yet more integrity than its successor. Though it shares very little in common with albums such as Drawing Down the Moon or Tales of Desecration, Ugra-Karma is one of the cornerstones of the early Finnish scene.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Carpathian Forest - Black Shining Leather (1998)

Three years after Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods, Carpathian Forest returned with their debut-full-length, Black Shining Leather. Released through Avantgarde Records in July 1998, this L.P. picks up from where they left off, but fails to really do anything incredibly worthwhile. This is sort of like a sampler platter of Norwegian Black Metal, borrowing various elements from most of the better-known bands in the scene and bringing them together to create something that is rather generic and bland.

Black Shining Leather features a great variety in tempos and styles. From blast beats and fast tremolo melodies to mid-paced Hellhammer worship to the slower and more methodical arpeggio riffs, reminiscent of Burzum, Carpathian Forest manages to take the listener on a bit of a roller coaster ride. Of course, there are keyboard passages thrown in, here and there, for good measure. They do not always fit into the songs, but they are present, nonetheless. The atmosphere shifts from attempts at dark and serious to more of a laid-back rock feeling, quite randomly. Pay attention to the transition from the opening title track, which is kind of dark, to the Celtic Frost-inspired "The Swordsman" and then back to the more dramatic feeling of "Death Triumphant". This continues throughout the duration of the album. The songwriting is rather mediocre, for the most part, with very little really standing out. The songs are not bad; however, this is far more useful as background music, which is not a good thing. For all of the upper-tier bands that are referenced, Carpathian Forest is unable to do anything on the same level. The best songs on here are probably "Black Shining Leather" and "Lunar Nights". The latter represents Nattefrost's most impressive vocal performance, allowing his voice to really come through well. His vocals are, certainly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this band's sound. This is too bad, since he would be better suited for a more grim musical approach.

The production is better than most underground Black Metal releases, without being polished at all. The main thing one might notice is the peculiar sound that this record possesses. The bass is very prominent in the mix, and the guitars are not as raw and threatening as they should be. This, alone, gives the music a less-serious vibe that the actual compositions are rarely able to overcome. Nattefrost's vocals are always high enough in the mix to be appreciated. The synth is rarely loud enough to overpower the rest of the instruments, though it would not be much of a crime if it did.

Black Shining Leather is an average album that could have been pretty good, with a different musical direction. Given all of the time since the previous E.P., one would think that Carpathian Forest would have been able to construct something much more solid. The songwriting is consistent enough, but the problem is that it is consistently mediocre. There are a couple of memorable tunes on here, but nothing near the level of "Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern", for example. If you like generic and simplistic Black Metal, this may be for you. Otherwise, save your time and look a bit deeper.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Countess - The Gospel of the Horned One (1993)

Formed in 1992, Countess is a Black Metal band from the Netherlands that seems to have gained some level of respect in the underground, over the years. How this ever managed to happen is a mystery, for this band is responsible for some of the most atrocious sounds ever captured on tape and passed off as music. One would expect good things from the band's debut album, The Gospel of the Horned One, upon hearing that it is highly influenced by old Bathory and the fact that it was released the same year as such classics as Under A Funeral Moon, Det Som Engang Var, The Somberlain, etc. However, the magic that possessed those records is completely absent, here.

Musically, this is incredibly pathetic and amateurish. Most of the songs are based around mid-paced riffs that seem only to be variations of the main riffs from Bathory's "Enter the Eternal Fire". The songwriting is beyond boring, with sloppy guitar playing that meanders, pointlessly, failing to create any sort of atmosphere. Perhaps, the band thought that the useless keyboards would tie things together, but that is not the case. Everything really falls flat, as it is clear that these guys had no clue what they were doing. This represents the epitome of horrible musicianship. The guitar playing is so terrible that one might easily mistake it for the rehearsal tape of a child that has only had a handful of lessons. The drums and bass are equally as simplistic, giving the impression that none of these guys had ever touched musical instruments prior to recording The Gospel of the Horned One. This would be considered poor, even for a demo. Unfortunately, Countess decided to release it as an L.P.

The production is a joke, as well. Everything sounds disjointed. It really comes off like a riff tape with the other elements added, later on. The guitar is the dominant aspect, though that is not really such a positive thing, in this case. There is hardly any distortion, and the fact that it is so prominent in the mix only showcases the sloppy playing and boring arrangement. The drums are buried beneath the rest, which is good as the drummer could not keep time if his life depended on it. The vocals are much too low, sounding as if they are coming from another room. There is really nothing about this that could be considered necro or lo-fi; rather, it is all just haphazard and clumsy.

The Gospel of the Horned One is an awful piece of garbage that should be avoided. The only redeeming quality about the debut album from Countess is that they were going for the more primitive approach of the First Wave, rather than imitating the Norwegian bands. Regardless of this, they failed to create anything worthwhile or even minimally enjoyable. This is boring and laughable. Do not waste your time or money on this.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gorgoroth - Destroyer (1998)

Destroyer is the fourth full-length album from Gorgoroth, and it is appropriately titled. Rather than being a normal studio effort, this is a collection of songs that were recorded between 1994 and 1998, with each track featuring a different line-up. Infernus must have been incredibly burnt-out following Under the Sign of Hell, as this was a horrible idea and only served to demonstrate that the band's creativity was running on low. This makes even less sense, considering that this was their first effort for a larger label, Nuclear Blast. As brilliant as the early Gorgoroth output is, this 1998 release did nothing to add to their legacy.

Musically, this record shows a lot of inconsistency. There are only a few songs that are even worth hearing, and those pale in comparison to those that came before. The freezing cold tremolo melodies of "Open the Gates" are memorable enough, and this track is probably the best one on here. This sounds the closest to the material on the previous album, which is natural since it includes three of the four members that were present on Under the Sign of Hell. A similar feel is found on "Om kristen og jødisk tru" and "The Virginborn", which are both performed by the same line-up. The former is somewhat reminiscent of "Funeral Procession, while the latter is much slower and possesses more of an epic atmosphere. These three songs are the only ones that would really appeal to fans of older Gorgoroth. The rest is better left unheard.

The negative aspects of this album are many. Much of it is experimental trash that has no business being passed off under the Gorgoroth name. "The Devil, the Sinner and His Journey" is a brief track that would be boring enough on its own, but the pitiful synth makes it seem like more of a joke. The keyboards have a spacey effect, as if Infernus wanted to mix Black Metal with his love of Star Wars. The title track is beyond lame and sounds like a throwaway track from Darkthrone's Total Death. Gaahl's vocals are exceptionally terrible, which would be a running theme during his entire tenure with the band. This is rather odd, as his work on the first Trelldom album was not bad, at all. "Blodoffer" is another laughable song that demonstrates exactly why Infernus never bothered to take over vocal duties for the band. His voice is drowning in effects, which only makes him sound ten times worse than he would have, already. There are also a lot of sound effects that distract from the riffs, generic though they might be. Compared to all of these, "På Slagmark Langt Mot Nord" does not sound all that bad, though it falls short is matching the level of the other tracks that feature Pest on vocals. Still, it might be worth hearing, just to decide.

One of the most disappointing songs on this album has to be the cover of Darkthrone's "Slottet I Det Fjerne". Based on Gorgoroth's previous style, as well as the fact that this is a brilliant song to begin with, one would expect it to be impossible for this to come out poorly. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Not only was the pace of the song sped up, but the emphasis was taken off of the great guitar melodies and the focus was shifted to the effects-laden vocals of Infernus and the terrible drum programming. Why the hell this ever came into being is anyone's guess, as Gorgoroth really butchered this song in the worst possible way.

This was the album that signified the death of Gorgoroth, for the time being. It would not have been so bad, if the few decent songs on here had been released as an E.P. Even then, the material could have used a little more work and a less irritating production. Destroyer is certainly not worth purchasing, so it is recommended that you seek out the handful of passable songs by some other means, but do not waste money on this.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Graven - Perished and Forgotten (2002)

Perished and Forgotten is the first full-length album from Graven. Released on Undercover Records in January 2002, this album is one of the better ones to come from the German underground in recent years. Unfortunately, like most other Black Metal bands from their country, Graven continues the tradition of imitating the Scandinavian sound, while doing very little to add to it. They are quite efficient at doing so, similar to bands like Paragon Belial and Katharsis, but they do absolutely nothing to differentiate themselves from the legions of others that have picked up on the same influences.

While listening to this album, it is impossible not to notice the glaring similarities to the early-'90s Norwegian bands. Most of the songs are fast-paced, centered around cold tremolo riffs and pummeling drums. Rather than just utilizing the same style to create something of their own, Vargsang and Vronth rarely stray from familiar territory. Songs like "Ravens Call of Death" and the title track call to mind the early work of Darkthrone. In particular, Under A Funeral Moon seems to have made a strong impact on these two. Many of the guitar melodies, drumming and, especially, vocal patterns are clearly derived from Darkthrone's third L.P. That works out well, since some of the lyrical phrases were lifted straight from the writings of Fenriz. However, Graven's hero-worship is not one-dimensional. "When Funeral Winds Arrive" shows more of a Mayhem influence, regarding the riffs themselves. The possess more of an evil and nocturnal feeling, though the vocals still sound like a tribute to Nocturno Culto. Shades of Emperor and Strid can be detected in songs such as "Ravens Call of Death" and "Storms of Impure Blood", respectively. The most memorable track of the entire album, "Of Misanthropic Spirit", possesses more of a mixture of influences, hearkening back to classic albums like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Pentagram and the aforementioned Darkthrone effort. The freezing cold tremolo melodies cut right through you and put you in a trance-like state. As the song progresses, a haunting lead solo possesses your mind, adding depth to the sound. As it draws to a close, keyboards are used, tastefully, to help accentuate the dark and epic atmosphere.

The overall sound is somewhat raw, but quite powerful as well. The guitars and vocals are the primary elements showcased, here. Despite the obvious influences, the band opted not to go for the thin, fuzzy guitar sound so often used by their predecessors. The tone is still cold and dark, nonetheless. As for the drums, they are kept to the background, for the most part. There are times when certain things come through a little more than they should, like a cymbal crash. This is mildly distracting, yet occurring rarely. The vocals are loud enough to be heard fairly clearly, yet restrained enough to avoid ever drowning out the music, as is the case with some bands. In general, the production is typical of the underground Black Metal sound and suits the music, very well.

While it cannot be said that Perished and Forgotten is a unique or essential record, it is a very solid interpretation of the classic northern Black Metal sound. Even though a lot of the content is clearly derivative of other bands, Graven does well to construct the songs in an interesting manner and to shape them in such a way that the album never becomes dull. Though not on the level of the originators, this album should appeal to fans of other modern bands such as Sargeist and Clandestine Blaze.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nåstrond - Digerdöden (1995)

Not long after the release of From a Black Funeral Coffin, Nåstrond returned with the Digerdöden E.P. Recorded in the winter of 1994/1995, this 7" picked up from where the previous demo left off, yet actually represented a sort of regression for the band, as the approach seemed to be even more raw and primitive than before. Released in early 1995, this collection of songs sounds as if it came a few years too late, though not entirely.

The production is absolutely horrid. This is not a good example of a necro sound. This is more a case of a band falsely trying to get a rotten sound, simply because they felt it was necessary for them to be taken seriously, perhaps. Digerdöden is much more raw and under-produced than the demo that preceded it, as well as the album that followed. In a sense, this almost comes off like Nåstrond's answer to Wrath of the Tyrant, by Emperor. The overall sound quality is very similar, though this does not possess the same genuine feeling as that recording. Even some of the riffs seem reminiscent of early Emperor. One of the main problems with this release has to be the drumming. It sounds like the drummer is pounding on cardboard boxes, at times, while the double-bass in the background gives an inauthentic vibe to the music. Either way, it is too high in the mix, though the sound quality is so poor that the guitar riffs are difficult to discern and the melodies end up being kind of washed-out.

Musically, this E.P. features a few tracks of average Black Metal. There is nothing going on here that had not already been done much better, a dozen times. The material is not bad, but the songwriting is too unoriginal and derivative of the bands that influenced them. One can get a hint of Nåstrond's rather interesting and unique style of guitar melodies, but this is buried by the shoddy production and a plethora of generic riffs that frame these ephemeral passages. It consists mostly of fast tremolo riffs, blast beats and grim vocals that hardly stand out. The overall presentation is lackluster, though this should appeal to anyone that is simply wanting to hear more raw mid-'90s Scandinavian Black Metal. It is too bad that Toteslaut did not feature a sound similar to this release, as the superior songwriting and musicianship would have benefited from a more raw and primitive sound, so long as it still allowed the riffs to be clearly heard.

Digerdöden is not especially significant or essential, but it is a decent effort that keeps up the traditions of the northern Black Metal sound. If you are the type to collect albums, simply to have more of a certain style (no matter how mediocre they may be), then this is for you. Not the band's finest work, but not terrible either. Give it a listen, if it is convenient to do so.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sabbat - Evoke (1992)

Evoke, the second full-length album from Sabbat, was released through Evil Records in March 1992. This came, roughly, around the same time as Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Burzum's self-titled debut. Had the band hailed from somewhere in northern Europe, rather than Japan, perhaps they would have made a bigger mark in the underground. However, geography was not the only thing that separated Sabbat from the growing Norwegian scene. Evoke is an album born, purely, from the First Wave attitude and influences. It would not be incorrect to view it as an extension of that which began with the early work of Venom. As such, no matter how dark the atmosphere might get, it still lacks the all-consuming evil of an L.P. like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, for example.

The material on Sabbat's sophomore effort is not much different from Envenom. The songwriting displays a strong inspiration from bands such as Venom and Mercyful Fate. The latter is evident in nearly every song on the album. Many of the riffs and drumming patterns would not be out of place on classics like Melissa or Don't Break the Oath. The intensity level of some tracks seems to have increased from the previous album, with "Torment in the Pentagram" being a good example. This may be why some less-informed listeners have, mistakenly, called this Death Metal. Only one or two riffs could be thought to deserve such a label, and only by those that choose to ignore the overwhelming amount of Black / Thrash that characterizes not only this L.P. but this band, in general. There are hints of NWOBHM, such as "The Curse of Phraoh", which makes a lot of sense when one looks back on the band's previous output. The one strange addition is "Metalucifer and Evilucifer", which features several riffs that sound like something from a Testament album. For the most part, this release opts for a more straightforward approach, which even includes the guitar solos. Gezol utilizes a variety of vocal styles, from a deeper (yet still kind of raspy) sound to odd whispers to some horrible shrieks that may be an attempt to emulate King Diamond.

Overall, the music is very much in line with what one would expect from Sabbat, though it seems to be missing something. The thing is that, as good as the album is, it kind of falls short of attaining the same level as its predecessor. This is more evident by the inclusion of "Mion's Hill" as a bonus track, taken from the 1990 Sabbatical Demon demo. This single song overshadows everything else on Evoke, and draws attention to the fact that the rest of the tracks lack the same kind of epic atmosphere that is found here. That is not to say that this represents a drastic departure from Envenom, only that this possesses a little less of some of the things that made that album so impressive.

The production is much the same as before, though a little clearer. That being said, this record still sounds as if it could have been released in the mid-to-late '80s. The guitar is the dominant element, though the vocals are prominent as well, while never detracting from the riffs. The drums are loud enough to serve their purpose, but possess a dry and flat sound that enables the percussion to remain more of a background aspect. The bass is audible, to an extent, though more in the sense of an ever-present and ominous rumble. This adds another layer of filth to the sound, which suits the primitive music.

Evoke is a very good album and is recommended to any fan of Sabbat, or Black / Thrash in general. While Sabbat was unable to top their previous work, this L.P. still reaches a level of quality that most bands fail to even come close to. Pick this up if you have not already done so, but only after obtaining Envenom, which is the more essential of the two.