Monday, 8 September 2014

Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels (2014) / 87%


To the witchmobile!



Following their superb 2012 album Cauldron of the Wild, the Portland, Oregon fourtet comes back with this new album and while it's a bit of a letdown compared to their previous opus (one of my favorite albums of 2012), it's still a high quality album from one of the most pertinent doom band of the their generation.

In a way, Mobile of Angels doesn't seem to be as rooted in traditionalism than their previous one was. Not that the band didn't have its own originality beforehand, of course, since they had plenty but I feel the band really developed their sound to its peak on this album. The main idiosyncrasy is their singer, Uta Plotkin is once again delivering all the goods, she's even better than Santa Claus at her job. I already said that she's the best singer in metal in my previous review and I stand by my word, her powerful vocals are equally bluesy and profound and she shines literally everywhere. I'll admit I'm not a big fan of her harsh vocals (only on one song, “Can't Settle”) but that's because we can't hear her beautiful cleans while she's doing them! I guess there's beauty in darkness and anger. 


I was pretty much devastated (okay, maybe not but I like hyperboles) when they announced Uta's departure from the band after their current North American tour with Nik Turner's Hawkwind (at least I'll get to see them for the third time.) Even though she wasn't a founding member of Witch Mountain, for me she's been the spiritual core of it since their return with South of Salem in 2011, she's what made the band truly distinguishable and pushed their boundaries to their maximum capabilities. I have no idea how the band to cope with this lost, in my opinion if there's currently someone in doom metal who is irreplaceable, it was her. I guess she'll concentrate her efforts on the excellent experimental project Aranya so everything isn't lost!

The guitars of Rob Wrong are heavy and they possess the right amount of bluesy distortion force to dent Steve Rogers' shield in the purest American tradition. I also expect him to return to the microphone as his vocals weren't bad at all on their debut album already more than a decade ago. Even if subtlety isn't the band's strong suit, I mean his solos are basically blues improvisation (and that's obviously awesome), he still managed to impress with his restraint on the extremely touching “The Shape Truth Takes”. The rhythm section of Nathan Carson (who's also an important promoter and all around cool dude) and newcomer Charles Thomas (coming from the cool stoner/doom band Blackwitch Pudding) is effective while not flashy, don't get me wrong they're noticeable enough but I think the album is so rightfully mixed that it's easier to see it as whole and hard to dissect like a rare specimen.

The album is a bit too short for my taste especially if it's Uta's last moment with the Mountain, I wanted at least fifty minutes of goodness! It's composed of long songs (seven to ten minutes) except the title track which is some sort of experimental soft interlude. The album starts and ends with its two best songs but I think the three in the middle are a bit weaker. “Psycho Animundi” has a very impressive calm part, super heavy riffs and the wailing vocals of Uta, pretty much everything that made the band a good one. Unfortunately, the longest track “Your Corrupt Ways” is kind of boring and drags, it's not as good as “Aurelia” on the previous album. Mobile doesn't have huge catchy numbers like “Wing of the Lord” or “Shelter”, it's exploring other forms of sensibilities and it's darker and brooding.

All in all, it's a good end for the Plotkin era of Witch Mountain but I wish the album had more content to offer, it feels pretty slim in my opinion, two more songs would had been ideal for me. Perhaps to showcase all the abilities the band has been known to have. Even though my appetite is still there, this album still shows a level of quality songwriting that puts them in the higher echelons in the doom metal world.



Embarquons dans la Witchmobile!



Suite à leur superbe troisième album intitulé Cauldron of the Wild, le quartet de Portland, Oregon récidive avec leur nouvel album. Malgré que je considère que Mobile of Angels n'est pas aussi fort que son prédécesseur (qui était un de mes albums fétiches de 2012), cet album reste néanmoins un opus de qualité d'un des bands doom métal les plus pertinents de sa génération.

D'une façon, cet album ne semble pas autant enraciné dans le traditionalisme qu'auparavant. Pas que Witch Mountain n'ait jamais été un groupe recelant d’originalité, loin de là, ils en ont toujours eu leur lot, mais je sens qu'ils ont atteint le sommet de leur développement ici. La particularité principale des Américains reste leur chanteuse, la magnifique Uta Plotkin enchaîne nous offrent encore une fois des cadeaux vocaux, une vraie Mère Noël de tout ce qui est lent et ténébreux. J'ai déjà dit qu'elle était une des meilleures voix du métal dans ma critique précédente et mon opinion est inchangée, sa livraison orale est d'une puissance pure et inégalée et est nourrie de blues (penser à Janis Joplin ici) d'une profondeur immense et elle brille presque partout. Je vais admettre que je ne suis pas le gros fan de ses vocales « harsh » (seulemement sur une chanson, « Can't Settle », mais c'est probablement parce qu'on ne peut entendre sa merveilleuse voix claire pendant ce moment, car objectivement sa voix plus extrême passe le test. Il a toujours de la beauté dans l'obscurité et la colère.

Je fus dévasté (d'accord, peut-être pas, mais j'aime les hyperboles) lorsqu'il ont annoncé le départ de Plotkin après leur tournée nord-américaine en compagnie de Nik Turner's Hawkwind (à voir à Montréal en compagnie de nos héros doom locaux Cauchemar.) Bien qu'elle n'était pas une membre fondatrice du groupe, elle a été selon moi l'esprit enchanteur de montagne de la sorcière depuis leur retour en 2011 avec South of Salem. Selon moi, c'est elle qui rendait la musique du band reconnaissable et qui poussait leur frontières créatives vers leur paroxysme. Je ne sais pas comment cette perte sera comblée, si il existait quelqu'un d'irremplaçable dans le doom, c'était bien Uta. Elle va nécessairement se concentrer sur Aranya, son projet expérimental, donc tout n'est pas perdu!

Les guitares de Rob Wrong sont pesantes en pépère et possèdent la dose parfaite de distorsion bluesy pour entailler le bouclier de Steve Rogers d'une façon ultra Américaine. Je prévois qu'il va peut-être retourner au micro, car il chantait avant l'arrivée d'Uta et ses vocaux n'étaient pas mal du tout. Bien que la subtilité n'est pas un de leur point fort, les solos de Wrong sont bien souvent empreints d'une sonorité improvisé (et c'est pas mal plaisant), il est quand même capable d'impressionner avec sa retenue à plusieurs endroits comme la touchante pièce « The Shape Truth Takes » et ses moments calmes. La section rythmique de Nathan Carson (un important promoteur et agent d'artistes, un gars pas mal cool overall) et Charles Thomas (le bassiste du trio doom/stoner Blackwitch Pudding, à découvrir simplement pour leur nom cocasse) fonctionne bien malgré qu'elle n'attire pas l'attention. Je dirais que c'est la faute au mix de l'album qui est si bien faite qu'il est difficile de disserter des éléments précis de ce spécimen. Les musiciens se complimentent bien et créent un tout cohérent.

L'album est un peu trop court selon moi surtout que c'est le dernier moment avec Uta, je voulais au moins une cinquantaine de minutes de bon stuff! Mobile of Angels est composé de longues pièces (7 à 10 minutes) exception faite de la chanson titre qui est une sorte d'interlude expérimental et douce qui m'a rappelé le duo québécois Menace Ruine. L'album commence et termine avec ses deux meilleures chansons, mais je crois que les trois au milieu sont relativement plus faibles. « Psycho Animundi » possède une section calme vraiment géniale et démontre tout ce que le band est capable de faire du haut de ses 9 minutes. Malheureusement la plus longue chanson de l'album « Your Corrupt Ways (est quand même ennuyeuse et traîne en longueur, elle n'est pas aussi bonne que la chanson « Aurelia » sur la l'album précédent. Mobile souffre du fait qu'il n'a pas de gros morceaux catchy comme « Wing of the Lord » ou « Shelter », mais il explore d'autres sensibilités et il est plus sombre et introspectif.

Finalement, c'est une bonne fin pour l'ère Uta Plotkin de Witch Mountain même si je souhaitais que l'album aille plus de contenu, c'est quand même mince, deux chansons de plus m'auraient rassasié et aurait pu démontrer l’entièreté de leur personnalité. Malgré que mon appétit n'est pas entièrement comblée, le niveau de composition de l'album place le groupe dans les hautes sphères du doom. Je ne sais pas trop quoi l'avenir leur réserve, c'est à voir!

Witch Mountain

 Also published on Ondes Chocs.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Horrendous – Ecdysis (2014) / 97%



The death metal apex of 2014


The debut album of this American trio (East Coast) The Chills was pretty good but I thought Horrendous was lacking something necessary to distinguish themselves from the impressive wave of old school death metal bands. With their second full length, a brilliant tour de force, they'll gain an enviable position on the worldwide metal map or at least, gain an immeasurable dose of respect!

The thrashy side of Horrendous has mostly disappeared and to take its place, the band has integrated an healthy quantity of Swedish melodic death metal (think of Dark Tranquillity's The Gallery or early At the Gates) with their emotional but complex guitar leads and their growled, deep but appreciable vocals. Yes, their sound might be more accessible but it's not a marketing scheme to gain the fan base of Arch Enemy or the likes, it's simply a more illustrious sound akin to the psychedelic progression of the modern Swedish tenors of Tribulation and Morbus Chron.

So, yes a progressive death metal that is widely psychedelic could scare some purists but I think their new formula had a very mild transformation. We were already able to hear some tendencies on their debut album but here, they're revealed for everyone to see. Let's elaborate on the ingredients the musicians used to cook us Ecdysis (this term means the sloughing of skin of Arthropod and the likes.) Ok, man, not really appetizing, sorry for this metaphor!

Firstly, the meager addition of clean vocals (listen to “Nepenthe”) adds a wonderful side to the band and it's definitely an aspect I'd like them to explore thoroughly. It always seem that they're into this big occult rock trend of the last decade or so. Anyway, 99% of the time, their vocals are of primitive death metal delivery kind (think of Morbid Angel or Deceased) and they fucking rock.

Secondly, their compositions contain (mixed with the Gothenburg influence) some fusion touches à la Focus (the Cynic album, obviously) or even some Atheist. The two progressive death giants are really present here! Listen to “Pavor Nocturnus” and check out these old school Paul Masvidal inspired riffs!

Thirdly, we have two instrumental interludes and they made me lose my composure a little. They serve as little haven of peace between the hard hittin' moments of the album. The first one “The Vermillion” reminded me of Opeth (remember “Requiem” or “Patterns in the Ivy”) and the second “When the Walls Fell” is pretty much a heavy metal piece garnished with a juicy guitar solo.

Nevertheless, don't be scared, it's still an extreme metal offering. The tempos are fast but Horrendous aren't afraid of slowing things down and offer heavy riffs (see “Resonator”). It's still a band with a very solid death metal core and their evolution hasn't toned down their essence that much yet. In my opinion, they added the right amount of new stuff to make an almost perfect album.

It's high caliber material and it's really goddamn fresh, I'm pretty sure it will become a classic in the decade to come like most of what Dark Descent Records is releasing nowadays. They're choosing the best of black and death has to offer. The 43 minutes album (the optimal length of a death metal album) has its fair share of memorable tracks but let's use “The Stranger” as its best cut, the first song on the album could almost be considered death/doom if I stretch my genre classification a little. The production is wise (clean or rough at the appropriate moments), the bass and the drums are subtle but grasping and the guitars are alternating between fruity & clear and vicious and visceral.


An essential album and a big surprise for 2014 which is without a doubt a great year for death metal with the releases of excellent albums by Teitanblood, Domains and Incantation.




FRENCH VERSION:


Le sommet du death metal en 2014

Malgré que j'avais apprécié le début The Chills du trio Américain (côte est), il manquait un petit quelque chose pour les distinguer de la vague impressionnante de bands s'inspirant du death metal old school. Avec leur deuxième long jeu, un tour de force génial, ils vont se positionner sur la carte métal mondiale ou du moins, gagner une dose de respect incommensurable.

Le côté thrash d'Horrendous a essentiellement disparu pour laisser la place à une grosse dose de death métal mélodique Suédois (penser ici à The Gallery de Dark Tranquillity ou au vieil At the Gates) avec les solos de guitares émotionnelles, mais complexes et les vocaux grognés, profonds, mais agréables. Oui, leur son est relativement plus accessible, mais ce n'est pas une stratégie marketing frauduleuse pour gober les supporteurs d'Arch Enemy, c'est simplement un son plus distingué qui s'apparente, encore une fois, aux progressions psychédéliques des deux ténors modernes de Suède que sont Tribulation et Morbus Chron.

Donc, oui un album de death progressif autant psychédélique pourrait faire peur à certains puristes du genre, mais je considère que la nouvelle formule a subit un choc transitionnelle en douceur. On pouvait déjà entendre quelques tendances de démarcation sur leur premier opus, mais ils sont relevées au grand jour ici. Élaborons sur les ingrédients qu'ils nous ont dénicher pour nous cuisiner Ecdysis (terme signifiant la mue des insectes, crustacés ou arachnides.) Pas vraiment appétissant en fin de compte, désolé pour cette métaphore!

Premièrement, le maigre ajout de voix claires hypnotiques (écouter « Nepenthe ») ajoute un côté formidable et c'est définitivement un aspect que le groupe aurait intérêt à développer! Cela m'a même semblé inspiré de la mode rock occulte de la dernière décennie. 99% du temps, les vocaux sont des vocaux death primitif (voir Morbid Angel ou Deceased) qui fessent.

Deuxièmement, les compositions recèlent (en plus de l’influence de Göteborg) de touches (presque) fusion à la Focus de Cynic ou d'Atheist, les deux géants Américains qui ont fait les beaux jours du death progressif des années quatre-vingt-dix sont bien présents! Écouter « Pavor Nocturnus » pour entendre ces riffs à la Paul Masvidal d'antan!).

Troisièmement, nous avons deux interludes instrumentaux venant décontenancer l'auditeur et servent leur rôle de havres de paix entre les moments plus robustes de l'album. La première « The Vermillion » rappelle Opeth (se souvenir de « Requiem » et « Patterns in the Ivy ») et la deuxième « When the Walls fell » est sensiblement une pièce heavy métal traditionnel ornée d'un solo juteux.

Toutefois, n’ayez crainte, c'est encore du métal extrême que nous offre les Américains. Les tempos peuvent être très rapides, mais Horrendous n'a pas peur de ralentir et offre des gros riffs pesants (voir « Resonator ».) C'est encore un groupe qui a un noyau death métal très solide et l'évolution qu'il a subit n'a pas encore réussit à en édulcorer l'essence au maximum. Selon moi, ils ont ajouté suffisamment de nouvelles influences pour créer un album presque parfait.


C'est du matériel de haut calibre et d'une rare fraîcheur qui deviendra sans nul doute un classique du genre dans la décennie à venir, comme la plupart des albums sortis par l'excellent label Dark Descent Records qui ne fait que choisir le meilleur du death et du black métal ces temps-ci. L'album d'une durée de 43 minutes (durée optimale pour un album death métal) contient son lot de chansons mémorables, mais notons « The Stranger » qui ouvre le bal et qui pourrait presque être considéré comme death/doom. La production est judicieuse (propre ou rugueuse , la basse et la batterie sont subtils, mais poignants et les guitares alternent entre fruitées, claires et vicieuses et viscérales.

Un album essentiel et une énorme surprise pour 2014 qui est sans nul doute une année digne de Satan avec la sortie d'excellent album death métal par Teitanblood, Domains et Incantation. 

Horrendous on Facebook

Also posted on Ondes Chocs

Monday, 1 September 2014

Wings of Metal 2014 Review / August 29th and 30th @Katacombes, Montréal with The Skull, Holocaust, Blood Ceremony, Bölzer, Dream Death and more!







All live pictures by Wayne William Archibald unless credited otherwise.

Day 1

Prelude

The first day of the festival could be summed up by the word “occult” but the atmosphere was far from being that way. It was very cordial, without pretension and musicians and fans alike were meldling in the great and cosy Katacombes on Saint-Laurent boulevard. Out of the six bands

Phobocosm are local death metal heroes so I was already widely familiar with their stuff as I've seen them live three times. I decided to save my strength for the rest of the weekend! They'll release their debut album in late September (Toronto and Montréal) if you like your death metal to be inspired by Immolation and Incantation!

Part 1: New York Menace

Occultation was then the first band on my schedule. I enjoyed their set back in 2012 with the superb lineup of Cauchemar, Borrowed Time, Metalian and Demontage (many members of these bands were in the attendance of this edition of Wings of Metal!) but I thought their debut album Three & Seven was a bit lackluster. Their upcoming one is quite excellent so I was expecting a good set from these guys. Their blend of occult doom mixed with some black elements (courtesy of their guitarist Ed Miller, leader of Negative Plane.) I really like their riffs and the prominent bass of this black clad blond sorceress but the vocals were really mediocre this time around, the singer had sound issues and she didn't sound good at all. Miller sang one of the songs and his clean vocals were excellent so I don't really know what happened, maybe it was simply a bad day? I really dig these guys no matter what and I was happy that they replaced the decent but nothing special Irish band Zom. Follow these guys and don't forget to check out their new album Silence in the Ancestral House when it will be released in October.

7,5 or 8 leather jackets out of 10

Natur were next with their awesome NWOBHM inspired heavy metal garnished with some doom metal here and there. I've seen their previous Montréal gig (with the mediocre Voor) and it was very cool to see them again and this time, it was the full fledged band and not session members (the singer/guitarist and bassist weren't there the last time). Tooth Log (session drummer for Occultation) played two sets in a row but he's a young dude who lifts so no problem there! Natur has awesome leads, energetic riffs and a good albeit simple vocal presence. They have an upcoming album scheduled for this year, I believe

8 “old metal” out of 10


Part 2: Kvlt Swiss Offering

Bölzer were probably one of the most expected band of the festival and with good reasons. The Swiss duo (guitarist/vocalist and a drummer) played more than one hour (so yeah, all their discography and some new stuff that was never played life before.) It's pretty awesome to see a band generating so much hype without a full length album out, it means that they must be doing a lot of things the right way. Their black/death metal sound (albeit with clear influences from European legends like their local heroes of Celtic Frost or Bathory) is mixed with well thought dissonant modern influences and this combination creates an unparalleled atmospheric wall of sound. I thought that the screeching feedback between the songs was beyond annoying but I guess it was part of their game. Even without a bass player, the duo is still quite impressive and I believe the release of their debut album will cement their status as one of the most important band of their generation. Great merch (I got the sparkling lime round patch with lightnings on it!), interesting personas, great music, Bölzer has everything to become big and their two sets at the latest Maryland Death Fest proved that.

8,5 pagan sunwheels tattoos out of 10
Pic by Yannick Marchand


Part 3: Trad doom (old and new)

Blood Ceremony were supposed to play the first edition of Wings of Metal last year but their singer Alia O'Brien got sick and they had to cancel. The Toronto band plays Montréal often but it's always a joy when I see them (third time already). This was probably the best set I've seen, they played a varied set encompassing their three full lengths (see the setlist) and I was more than happy that “Lord Summerisle” (sang by their bassist Lucas Gadke) was featured as it's my favorite track from their latest album The Eldritch Dark . Their fifty minutes or so set was like butter on bread, it was nice and the whole band was in great shape. Alia was moving a lot with her fringe decorated vest and her flute and keyboard skills are up through the roof.

8,5 magicians out of 10



The Skull were the headliners of this evening and they rocked hard. Composed of three ex members of the seminal American doom band Trouble, they're in my opinion the real deal since the original singer Eric Wagner is with them. Their performance was divided between two sets, the first being the whole Psalm 9 (“Assassin” was so good!) album and the second being other songs including some new ones from the upcoming debut of the band. While I like their dual guitar approach and their fast paced formula, their gig was a bit redundant from time to time but that's probably just me being a grump who likes slow stuff! Their two guitarists were really damn good, no need to have Franklin and Wartell since they released a sub-par album with Trouble last year. Wagner killed it. He was boozing a lot on and off the stage and its declination of Christian (but dark) lyrics was quite powerful even though he's halfway through his fifties!

Two great sets by some legendary musicians, it was an honor to see one of the doom metal forefathers play in my city.

8,5 lord is our saviour out of 10




Day 2

My anticipation for the second day was greater since it was the first time I was gonna see any of the seven bands featured on the bill. The show started early at 18:00 and I was there to see the first band! The gig was a bit more varied this time and it had diverse atmospheres that were appropriately combined.

Part 1: North American Venomesque & thrashy heavy/speed metal

Gatekrashör from Calgary, Alberta opened the gig and they rocked hard. They were perhaps the only band I decided not to check out before the festival as it's always fun to have some surprises. The traditional heavy metal melded with speed metal. They studied their shit thoroughly since you can definitely hear the fun silliness of Metalucifer, I mean they have nicknames like Steel Avenger and song titles like “Heavy Metal Rangers”. They only have one guitarist but he fucking shreds. Their singer is fucking awesome and has a bone necklace and belches between the songs, that's a perfect frontman in the purest Piledriver tradition and while his range is nothing impressive, he's rough, more than adequate and he's an awesome front man.

8 hevy metal 'rills out of 10


Bat (believe it or not, they're apparently the first and only band called Bat in the metal universe) were pretty cool. A speed metal band formed by the leader of Municipal Waste and the guitarist of the up and coming heavy metal band Volture, the power trio was impressive and their fast compositions were nice to hear. Their drummer (Felix Griffin, formerly of DRI) couldn't cross the border so they used Al Biddle (Chainbreaker, ex-Cauldron) as he was in town, he learned the songs in a day to my drum noob ears, he was still very tight! They played a Venom cover of “Live like an Angel (Die like a Devil)” for the few who wondered who was their main influence. These guys are there to play what they want, it's fast and fun like it should be.

7,5 bat signals out of 10


Part 2: Ethereal Doom Moment

The Canadian epic doom band Funeral Circle played my most anticipated gig of the festival, their doom inspired by the likes of Solstice and Solitude Aeternus is simply awesome. Jean-Pierre Abboud (singer of the excellent American heavy band Borrowed Time) is now their vocalist and he's by far the best one they ever had. He came on stage wearing this hooded monk robe and sang the first song with it before reappearing dressed with his Saint Vitus leather jacket! The two guitarists were great at creating interesting landscapes full of slow and faster riffs and intricate leads. Their leader recently moved to Montréal so it will be fun to have another local doom band than Cauchemar!

Read my review for their self titled full length: Click me!
9,5 black colossus out of 10
Photo by Carolina Vanegas
Part 3: Pittsburgh Crushing Kvlt Doom Duo

3.1: Death doooooooooom!
Up next were the American cult death/doom band Derkéta widely known to be one of the first and only all female death metal group but nowadays their drummer is a man! They were decent but Sharon (guitar, vocals) had a sore throat and her vocals were almost inaudible, this plagued the set for me unfortunately. They played a good mix of old and new stuff (including a new song called “Darkness Fades Life” and their slow to mid paced crushing demeanor was pleasing to see.

8 metal goddesses out of 10
Sharon Bascovsky, badass death metal lady

3.2: Thrash dooooooooooom!
Well known for their seminal 1987 album “Journey Into Mystery”, Dream Death reformed recently and released an excellent sophomore album. Their set was a good mix of two tracks from this album and the classics from their debut including “Black Edifice”, “Sealed in Blood” and “Dream Death”. Their Celtic Frost inspired melting pot of extreme metal is awesome and they sound more like the Swiss band than Triptykon ever will. It was also very cool to see Mike Smail play, he was the drummer on one of my favorite albums of all time (Cathedral's “Forest of Equilibrium”.) I had a great time with this bunch of veterans who still has the passion to play metal like when they were in the early twenties.

9 feasts of the living out of 10



Part 4: Old School Heavy!

3.1: The French speedsters of ADX
For their first time in North America, the classic French band played almost all of its excellent debut album “Exécution” starting the set with “Déesse du crime” and ending it with “Caligula”. It was pretty much the perfect location for them to play in the new world since they're a French speaking band, they even got offered a Québec flag with their logo on it and they were clearly touched by the gift. Their guitars were mixed a bit too softly but their sound was mostly fine, it was catchy and fun, their choruses were by far the most memorable of the festival. CALIGULA! CALIGULA!

8,5 cousins from the old continent out of 10
Thanks to my buddy Antoine Desgagnés for the setlist


3.2: The classic NWOBHM of Holocaust
The last band of the two day festival (before the after gig of Sunday that I didn't attend) was Holocaust from Scotland. I knew they were gonna play the whole The Nightcomers album (due to Annick Giroux's request) album beforehand but I was hoping from some songs from their underrated progressive years (especially some from Covenant or The Courage to Be) and while I only got (“Dance into the Vortex” from their The Sounds of Souls EP ) it was a great set and I understand they wanted to please the traditional fans first and foremost. “Death and Glory” still has one of the best riffs ever and “Heavy Metal Mania” is just so fun. John Mortimer dedicated the aforementioned prog song to the memory of Denis D'Amour of Voivod while Michel Langevin and Denis Bélanger were in the crowd. The guitar tone was spectacular and the rhythm section was optimal, they had one of the best sound I heard at the Katacombes, the vocals were crystal clear and the solos were masterful. A great way to end the two days of madness!

9 “I got heavy metal music in my blood” out of 10


It was a very great festival and possibly the apex of my metal summer. I already can't wait to see what Annick (singer of Cauchemar if you didn't know) will get for the third edition in 2015. My fingers are crossed for Slough Feg personally but I'm sure it won't disappoint.  I have nothing more to say, really... Oh perhaps, look at this useless chart I made because I'm a nerd! 






Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Opeth - Pale Communion (2014) / 95%

Another masterpiece signed Travis Smith, a triptych of darkness and beauty.



Opeth Above, Everyone Else Below

I think it's a normal endeavor for any bands with long careers to change or to evolve to use a pretentious expression that can irk some people calling themselves purists. Sure, I can appreciate the persistence to craft your formula during decades of hard work like Motorhead as been doing. They won't stop till Lemmy is dead and buried (yes, this will happen one day, Dio save my soul). I guess you know where I'm going with this, it's a no brainer, really. Opeth, since their magical first album in 1995, has been progressing, has been building an impressive (and without any weak albums) discography. The band turning into a full fledged progressive rock unit was only the logical step they had to take. A step Opeth aficionados were expecting since Åkerfeldt is a big time prog fan.

Here's Pale Communion released three years after the divisive Heritage, an album which (to my complete disarray) managed to confuse a lot of metal fans even though it was clearly announced that it was putting aside the harsh vocals the death metal guitars beforehand. Watershed was a transition album but I'd also say that Heritage is also one of these releases, so I guess that growth took two albums! While I liked their 2011 album, I reckon it has its fair share of weaknesses. It really took me a while to get into it before I reach the conclusion that it was essentially enjoyable only with headphones, it had a lot of buried subtleties like flute solos and ethnic percussions. While it was basically a progressive rock album, it was certainly an Opeth album, this was as loud and clear as when they released Damnation already more than a decade ago. There's no constraints of any sorts that would undermine their identity, it can only reinforce it. This new album flows in the same direction as Heritage but improves the method and form that were explored previously.

Pale Communion is perhaps heavier since the guitars regained some of their distortion but it's not as instrumentally inclined and atmospheric as Heritage. This was the main wrongdoing of this album. It tried too hard to be intricate by incorporating jazz and folk influences (see both bonus tracks, especially "Face in the Snow") but everything is forgiven with this new album since they managed to include said elements in a better way. Even though there's an instrumental track ("Goblin"ン named after the Italian prog legends), it's not padding, it's an emotional song with great drumming and some Tangerine Dream-esque keyboards. Throughout the eight songs, we see Opeth being at ease with their progressive rock and the songwriting simply rocks. If you were expecting a metal album, you've been living underneath a shitload of rocks, fellow. The fellow Swedish band Beardfish (highly recommended) are probably heavier than Opeth nowadays, they should tour with them instead of fucking In Flames. Damn you Swedish nepotism!!!

One of the great strengths of this record is its excellent cohesion, everything fits together and it's apparent that Mikael Åkerfeldt (the team's captain) as a Scandinavian played with Lego when he was a child since the sound blocks are so well connected. There's no out of place tracks like "Slither" on their previous album, it's stylistically strong and it has no useless filler interludes like Heritage had. I think building a varied album that feels so cohesive is the true challenge but this time, it was a success. From the folk (almost Neil Young-esque) intro of "River" to the heavy organ instrumental half of "Eternal Rains Will Come"), there's a definitive diversity to be found here but it's all wrapped under a huge blanket of talented editing and coherence. I think the folky side of Opeth should be investigated, a totally acoustic album (like Kimi Karki of Lord Vicar did) would be a dream come true for the fan boy that I am.

The metal remnants are mostly in the typical Opeth guitar leads that have been the bread and butter of the band since Still Life. The ten minutes track "Moon Above, Sun Below" is a pretty good embodiment of the whole album, it features the occasional acoustic guitars and an immense keyboard presence (the debut of Joakim Svalberg replacing Per Wiberg.) The vocals are probably the strongest clean ones Opeth ever had, there's loads of back vocals supporting the delivery of Mike (including his potential English male lover Steven Wilson.) These vocal harmonies (listen to "Cusp of Eternity") are one of the clear highlights of this album, it's catchy, surprising and really enjoyable. There's even some more gritty hard rock vocals here and there. The Swedish musician always had a genius flair for vocal melodies and we clearly see him expanding his clean vocals abilities to the maximum of his capability on this record. He's confident and it's obvious.

The organ tone does wonders alongside the (always excellent) guitars. Martin Mendez's place in Opeth has been more subdued in the past, he's quite excellent in the closer "Faith in Others". I like his contribution, he's more engaged and has more place to grow than before. Axenrot's drumming is perhaps the best of his career, he had to endure some criticism since he replaced the beloved Martin Lopez (who was rumored to play on two songs on this album, but there's no credits confirming that) but I think he proved that he can really play softer and that he's not only good as a death metal drummer (see Bloodbath). Akin to the songwriting, his playing is intricate, subtle and interesting. 

While I'll admit I'd like them to go back to a death metal sound with growls, I like this a lot anyway. I don't want to release Ghost Reveries part 2 anyway! Mikael said he had composed ten minutes metal songs for Heritage (on the album's making of on the bonus DVD) but deleted them because he didn't feel like it. There's no point in lying to yourself and record metal because that's what your fan base wants. Even though it's not metal, it still has a fairly dark thematic that I can admit could create some sort of dichotomy with the harmonious & melodic musical elements. I mean, there seems to be no reasons to write for Mikael these sad, depressive lyrics, he's one of the most acclaimed and successful musicians of his generation! Be happier, Mike! (who the fuck am I to tell him what to do?) These two extracts are still as dark as their metal albums:

"There comes a time when the river runs dry
Winter comes and we sacrifice
Our lives"

"Out through the doors of starvation
And into the rains of damnation
Where the bitter winds are singing"

In a recent interview, Mikael said: "when you have children you start to worry about things. So I ended up being a worrier." and I can definitely see a difference in approach compared to his early lyrics when he was in his twenties. I can understand this sort of personal yet universal darkness that could plague anyone. Opeth will remain a dark band, no matter what and that's fine. Frank Zappa's silly but funny lyrics won't fit the instrumentation and the personality the band has been creating for more than two decades.

There's still certainly a lot of melancholy like the closer "Faith in Others" with its beautiful piano parts. There's a lot of seventies rock influences but it's earnestly well integrated within what is without an ounce of doubt a progression of the band's identity. There's almost no bands who achieved to sound as unique as these Swedes. Another thing I liked is the somewhat restrained compositions. Opeth is well known for their stretched out river songs but Pale Communion has short songs based on their former standards and there's absolutely no time wasted anywhere and the calm moments are much better than on Heritage or even Watershed ("Coil" included). 

Surely not the album you need to hear to get into Opeth and not an album for die hard metal fans (well, all their discography is hardly for them anyway, they're not bullet belts and sunglasses war metal), Pale Communion succeeds at the task of continuing a comfortable evolution. It revitalized the faith I had somewhat lost in them but deep down, I always knew they were gonna release an essential prog rock album and they just did. I'm just sad I'll have to wait another three or four years to get another album! I've missed their tours for the latest album but I won't miss the upcoming one as it will be a marvelous Christmas offering for my senses.

A great album by a band with nothing but everything to prove. They proved their worth as a prog rock band before but with Pale Communion, they cemented that fact in my eyes. 

tl:dr: Mikael Åkerfeldt is Jesus.

P.S. oh, the two bonus tracks on the Blu Ray disc are quite good, both live covers including a pretty nice rendition of Black Sabbath's classic ballad "Solitude".

A nice interview with Jesus.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Interview with Sami Hynninen (Opium Warlords, ex-Reverend Bizarre and many more)



Metantoine's Magickal Realm: I see you as a grand wizard part of the doom metal council at the top of some white towers, I know you've been kind of inactive in the purest tradition of the genre but what do you think is the state of doom in 2014? I personally think some of the innovations (see Pallbearer) are tacky.

Sami Hynninen: Yes, it is true that I am out of the scene in many ways, also as a follower of actions of other bands. I have heard some of the newer ones, but nothing really mind blowing, I am sad to say. 

Of the ones I have heard, I liked the ultra rough first demo of Doomsower a lot. Finnish band Carnutian also did an enjoyable demo, but then ceased to exist. I like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeat's “Mind Control”. I was bit puzzled with their massive following in Roadburn 2013, and did not quite get the thing, but that album turned out to be good! 

Pilgrim's debut album was delightful too. I think they are, or at least were on that debut – I have not heard the second album! – the only band that has succeeded to continue what we did with Reverend Bizarre, but even they lack, in their fantasy based themes and more coherent sounds, some lunacy and danger that was essential for our work. Good for them though, as the basis for that insanity and violence was in our bad life as a band. And I am not saying that they should sound exactly as we did, of course not –  but they almost did! Except that they can actually play their instruments.

In my ears Pallbearer is bit too soft to really attract or interest me.  I listen to many different kinds of music, but there has to be some element of roughness there. Some dirt. But I do not want to put anybody down as I am not “there” anymore. They have some echoes of Warning's magnificent second album, don't they? But then again for ME that has already been done. And even with Warning I liked the earliest material – “Revelation Looms” and  “Blessed by the Sabbath” – the best, when it comes to DOOM. That second album is something else; one of its own kind. Very emotional masterpiece! 

The state of doom in 2014 is good at least on that level that we are doing the fourth Spiritus Mortis album hah hah hah!

MMR: Taste my Sword of Understanding was pretty different for your solo project Opium Warlords (less experimental) from the first two albums mainly because it was composed while you were still in Reverend Bizarre. What will be the influences for the fourth upcoming album? Are you gonna return to a more droney/avant garde sound?

Sami: Most of the stuff that you have heard from Opium Warlords so far already existed when I was still in Reverend Bizarre, so that is not the explanation for “Sword” being as it is. It is as it is, because it has to be like that, in the larger continuation of Opium Warlords. In the bigger picture; I have not had a period of doom metal or period of black metal or noise, or what ever, when I would do only that one thing. It all comes all the time! Songs can wait, in the most extreme case, for almost twenty years before they come out to the audience. 

I started my career as an experimental musician, and for me Reverend Bizarre was all the time a “side project”. I myself saw that my main thing is this other kind of music, but I did not have time to do it, because of RB, so it was waiting there inside of my mind to finally explode out of me. Now is this time! I have music inside of me for the next ten years.

Of course I have been doing new stuff also, all of these years, so basically Opium Warlords albums consist of old material, and some new spices, but it is impossible for anyone outside of our circle to try to figure out any chronology in these albums. An album that will come out in 2017 may have older material in it than  the album that came out in 2012. 

However, you ask this question in perfect possible time as the next Opium Warlords album actually has all the material written after the times of Reverend Bizarre. And it IS a return to that droney/avantgarde style! I recorded the main bass tracks in 2007, and now in 2014 we will continue this process! 

One correction to a subject that seems to follow me where ever I go: Opium Warlords is NOT a solo project. The fact that one guy plays bit more instruments, does not, at least for me, make an album a solo album. I am the songwriter and the main producer, but I do not work alone! And even with RB and the Puritan I wrote and arranged most of the music and just showed others what I wanted them to do. When saying this I do not want to take away any thunder from the other guys though! Their souls are still there 100%!!!


MMR: What can you tell me about the next Spiritus Mortis' album? It was fun to hear your vocals in a traditional doom metal band again, it's perhaps the only remaining link to your days in RB.

Spiritus Mortis' The God Behind the God
Sami : Musically it will be everything you wish it to be!!! It really kicks some ass! Lyrically I am going to step out of the story telling style of “The God Behind the God”. I am not a big fan of this story telling in the first place – as a writer –  but with that album I wanted to go to the deepest traditions of Heavy Metal. I would not be able to do that kind of lyrics better than I did there, so it makes no sense to stick to that lyrical style either, so now I will write in the way I did with Azrael Rising; free form metal lyrics with some abstract and surreal elements. Thematically I am in the world of two obsessions: necrophilia and black magic. 

I know that many people are waiting to hear “normal” heavy metal vocals from me again, and to be honest, I am for the first time in my life bit anxious about these expectations. It is almost like how I would feel if RB would return! How can I top what I have already done? But I guess when it is about the time to record those vocals I just do as I always do; go inside the lyrical world and deliver what is needed.

By the way, talking about these links, I have one album for Opium Warlords which is like Reverend Bizarre turbo boosted with some serious progressive rock hah hah! It won't be done in the next few years, but when it comes I think some of the more traditional oriented fans, of what I have done, should be rather happy! But I do not see it as my purpose, to try to please these old timers hah hah! I just do what I want to do. And what I have to!

MMR: I thought Orne was particular since it has the whole RB trio (albeit you consider your involvement to be as a session vocalist), how was it to work with Kimi's dark proggy folky compositions?

Orne's debut album The Conjuration by the Fire
Sami : Well, that first album was done when we were still RB, so it was not so different from how things went with us. Except that, as you say, I was a session man, so basically I did what Kimi wanted me to do. I went through very dark times in my private life during that day the vocals were recorded, and I think that it can be heard there too. 

The second album was a different case. At first I was not even about to do the vocals, but then I talked with Kimi about the situation with the vocalists, and it became quite clear that with some other vocalist it would not be exactly what he wanted to have, so I thought about it for a while, and then agreed to do the vocals. In the first place it was a question of helping him out of the situation, but also about the album of course. The material he had for it, did not feel as close to me as the first one, which I liked a lot right from the beginning, but with few modifications we were able to make a good album of that second one too.

MMR: The dissolution of your old band and your will to work on more obscure genres lead me to believe that you could like this question. Do you think the life of a musician is in turmoil nowadays? The way you need to live on the road to truly succeed is as an example of being part of an industry. We see the creations of many solo projects (it's easier nowadays to work on music with all these digital tools.) I think there's many changes to come with the evolution of technology (a curse or a plus?), what do you think about that?

Sami: I feel lucky now that I was there early enough to start with analogical 4-trackers and cassettes, and when I went to the studio it was analogue too! The first RB albums and KLV stuff, were recorded and mixed with completely analogue system. Sometimes in the mixing – which was all in realtime – more than two or four hands were needed, so me and Void joined the engineer there on the board. It was a good school for us! Also for the playing. You did not get endless chances to fix something as the tape started to break down, and what was even more important: you could not edit the tape! You had to play the whole song, and if you fucked up in the end, you had to start again. It really was hard for the nerves.

Digital recording has many benefits but it has also caused me enormous stress. What ever can happen when you work with 0's and 1's.

For artist like me who do NOT do gigs these new times are harder, as it is true that only by being on the road and selling merchandise you can make any money. But I just have to try to go on.

MMR: You've worked as a graphic artist (Jex Thoth, Fall of the Idols...), I really like that work, you seem picky (nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary) with the bands you choose to work with. Is a shared vision important when you accept to design or draw something? Furthermore, what kind of vision or people you prefer?




Jex Thoth's Blood Moon Rise
Sami: With the bands I worked with it was my own vision that I followed. Of course I asked for the title and in the best case I got to hear the music, but only with Furze I strictly followed the vision of the band. In other cases I just maybe got some wishes or details that could be there in the sleeves, and of course I did my best to add them there. It is not like I put down the ideas the bands had, but usually they did not have anything special, and they knew how I worked. 

I am not one to work as a member of the group, but for example with Jex Thoth I have what might be called a spiritual connection. I somehow KNOW what she wants.

I prefer many kind of visions. There have been, and still are, many geniuses among the masses of so called ordinary people. I get mesmerized very often with some great piece of art, or film, or album. Right at the moment I am mesmerized by couple of bands, Iceage from Denmark, and Oxbow, Karp and Pyrrhon from America, as well as At the Gates' first album.

                                   Furze's Psych Minus Space Control

What kind of people I prefer? I try my best not to harass other people. I expect this from the other people too. I prefer those geniuses I just talked about. People with vision, either in mind or heart. Or both. Spiritual, but open minded people. People who do not hurt animals, or rape nature. And people who make it possible for me to continue my work; the audience!




Bonus Question!

MMR: I'm fascinated by the music and culture of Finland (I did a whole series about Jussi Lehtisalo's projects). What are your favorite things about the country as of recently? Food, hockey, movie, anything really!

Sami: Nature. Language. Some art, literature, cinema, music, and archtitecture. But for me this is not any kind of paradise really. The atmosphere is rather heavy. Still, as long as I can't live in somewhere in the aristocratic British country side or luxury regions of London, or under the sun of Florida, I rather live here, as I know the language pretty well. Not that I would use it much in conversations hah hah. So why am I here actually anymore? I like Jussi Lehtisalo! That is one reason. 

MMR: Thanks for accepting to do an interview with me, it's fun for a small blog like mine to have this opportunity. 

Sami: I often rather be in these smaller circles than in the big business, and  their big magazines. This interview verifies why it is so. Thank you! 


Useful links: 

Opium Warlords on Tumblr
Opium Warlords on Metal Archives

Review for Opium Warlords' latest album: Taste my Sword of Understanding
Review for Reverend Bizarre's So Long Suckers

Opium Warlords' debut album Live at Colonia Dignidad