Monday, 27 July 2015

Northwinds/Marble Chariot Split 10 inches (2015) / 85%

The Baguette Doom Series pt. XIV: 10 inches of doom

For this edition of the Baguette series, I have an interesting split to tackle. The 10” features two of the previously reviewed bands of this series, on one side we have the newcomers of Marble Chariot and on the other, we have the veterans of Northwinds. The two French artists both evolve in the traditional doom metal genres but there's still some differences to be found in their respective approaches.

Side A – Northwinds – Witchcoven

Wizards in black, with dark wings on their back
Witchcoven, mortals are living in fear

The Parisian quartet's song is a strong slab of folky doom. The eight minutes number starts with a soft flute intro with a lovely acoustic guitar and the soft vocals of drummer Sylvain Auvé. I think his voice, while heavily accented in English, was always a good fit for the band as it can adapt to both the softer or the heavier side of their music. After the calm introduction, the wind starts blowing and this music is intertwined with crows singing their prayers, you can feel the metal approaching and the riffs are starting to appear. Northwinds are masters (of Magic? Read my review for their 2001 album hereat combining progressive rock, folk à la Jethro Tull and old school doom metal and this song is no exception. It rocks hard but still has many prog elements like this ethereal piano. The song ends with a blistering classic metal solo and some synths demonstrating that they once again offered a varied trip with the length of one song.

Side B: Marble Chariot – Darkness Descends

There's nothing else but shattered dreams
Imploring eyes questioning me

Sharing its name with the seminal classic of Dark Angel, this track from the trio of Bordeaux improves the sound found on their first extended play (and sole release before this split). They play a totally sad and crushing version of trad doom mostly inspired by the slow, bass heavy formula of Reverend Bizarre (one of the main influences in trad doom these days and that's fine with me). Sébastien Fanton's vocals are stronger and possess a clearer sense of operatic might than before, he simply got better in my opinion. There's also some harsh background vocals included here and it gives a somewhat darker tone to the track. Another thing the band improved is their pacing issues, “The Burden is So Heavy” had two ten plus minutes and they were dragging a little too much and had some uninteresting parts, “Darkness Descends” is a long song but the riffs, the solos and everything else are all better. Their doom is honest, well written and despite the simplistic nature of their identity, it's subtle and rewarding. I think this is proving that the band is ready to finally unleash a full length album. They have the adequate production, the huge bass tone and the miserable lyrics, come on guys, I'm waiting!

I'm a bit sad both songs are in English but doom tries to unleash its despair to every living souls on Earth and the tongue of Shakespeare is the way to go. Nevertheless, it would had been fun to hear more French doom in French, you know. Outside of this linguistic matter, it's a strong split with two very good tracks. They fit very well together even though Northwinds is usually much more serene and almost joyful at times while their companion here are totally about loving misery and despair. This split is showcasing a band at the peak of their art with Northwinds and one that's becoming pretty damn good at theirs with Marble Chariot.

Thanks to Marble Chariot for the vinyl.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Livid – Demo 2015 / 79%

...And then comes lividity

From Minneapolis, this is the debut release of this doom metal trio and like their (possibly) favorite hockey team, the Minnesota Wild, they're talented and have a lot of potential. This demo is one long called “Sint” divided into two parts, the first one is slower and fourteen minutes long while the second part is unleashing some more mid-paced doom riffs. During this release, the band managed to showcase the two sides of their identity very well but what are they playing exactly, you'd ask?

Well, it's a bit hard to exactly pinpoint their influences, they take many hints from different schools of doom metal. From the repressively long-winded, bass heavy approach many bands from Finland are (or were!) using to the darker tones coming from the distorted stoner or even the doom/death scenes. They're loud and noisy at times but stay within the confines of traditional doom metal, their bass is thick and never overshadowed too much by the guitars, they're brothers in arms and this equal hierarchy creates an enjoyable wall of sound. The guitar melodies and semi-leads are fun, it's melancholic and well written (see the parts midway through the first part).The no-frills production fits their rudimentary endeavor, it feels like a damp and sad basement full of thundering and shaking riffs with echoing monk vocals.

The vocals are adequate for the genre they play, the singer knows he's not the strength of the band and uses a clean but buried approach. This was the way to go instead of a harsh tone, it's not powerful nor impressive but it fits the lo-fi, simple persona of the band and gives a semi-religious vibe to the songs. Their style, while in essence primitive, is quite modern, they're not too far from what current American doom bands are doing (see the popular Pallbearer) and it's certainly interesting. Recommended for doom fans of almost all horizons.

Tomorrow – Divinatory Mourning (1996) / 85% / Review and interview

Tomorrow Never Dies

Review + interview with Nick Shallcross (guitars, bass)

I can't stop myself from thinking that more often than not, doom metal is a doomed genre. There's so little bands from the genre in the light of what we consider to be the mainstream of underground metal. We often get bands that are too much influenced by the apparent gods of the genre, think of Candlemass and Black Sabbath and it's fine but original and distinctive doom still exists.

For the amount of American quality doom products (think of Wino's numerous projects), we have a ton of unknown and underrated material, Tomorrow is indeed one of these projects. Their sole release recently appeared online due to Nick's label Black Swamp Collective and I've never been so happy that technology exists since it's a marvellous EP. I had the opportunity to obtain some information concerning this obscure yet interesting band and I decided to make this article a hybrid between a review and an interview.

Here's what Nick Shallcross has to say about the formative years of the band:

Tomorrow was formed in 1992 in Toledo, Ohio when Mark Reynolds (vocals, drums) and I were introduced by a mutual high school friend who played bass with the sole intention of starting a band. Mark was into a lot of heavy underground doom metal that I had never heard of before, and I was into a lot of early prog-rock and shredding stuff at the time. I remember thinking “this slow shit is awesome, it’s so much easier to play!” Our friend was’t really into doom so we ditched him thinking “how hard can it be to find a bass player?” Ha! We ended up being a two piece for the next 6 years. In spite of that, we were still writing music with the intention of it being played by a full (4 or 5 piece) band. At the time our biggest influences musically were Revelation, Saint Vitus, Solitude Aeturnus, Cathedral, Crowbar, Sacrilege (U.K.), and Confessor, although we spent as much time listening to faster stuff like Dark Angel, Death, Atheist, Carcass, and the NWOBHM stuff. We never played any shows but we practiced and wrote constantly. 

The Revelation influence is obvious since you have this blend of progressive rock mixed with a soft and soothing sort of traditional doom metal and it's not too far from what the Baltimore cult band were doing before their first dissolution in 1995. It's apparent that Mark Reynolds were a fan of the American doom scene but the fact remains that Tomorrow's music is a bit more subtle and less in your face than stuff like Vitus or The Obsessed. This lo-fi approach is as interesting to me as a full bodied album with pristine dynamics. Doom rarely needs to have a Andy Sneap production to get its point across anyway. The vocals also possess this lo-fi tone and I thought it was endearing.

This is what Nick had to say about the production of “Divinatory Mourning”:

In the winter of ’95 we went into a studio that was run by a friend of ours and recorded ‘Divinatory Mourning’, which was only a few of the songs that we had written at that time. Almost every part was done in one or two takes. Since there was only two of us and we didn’t have a PA, we’d rehearse without vocals, solos, bass, or guitar harmonies. So, when we were making that record, it was the first time we got to actually hear the songs the way we intended. I can still remember the look of shock on Mark's face when I recorded the dual solo on ‘Grips of Winter’, he didn’t even know I was planning on doing it! 

These solos are truly fun and I was as surprised as Mark was when they were unleashed in my headphones. The musicianship is interesting as it's making compromises between mournfully slow like the sad “Grasp of Winter” and slightly faster numbers like the next track “The Forsaken...” with its awesome soloing. Despite the slow approach, the songs doesn't drag much and aren't 10 minutes like with some similar bands. Speaking of similarities, I was reminded of early Warning (coincidentally the debuts of both artists were released in 1996). The vocals in particular have this soft vibe akin to an album such as “The Strength to Dream”, this was before Warning became much more whiny in this department. Mark's vocals are not powerful, his range is limited but it fits the music they play here, it's not epic or high octane doom so Messiah Marcolin's operatic style wouldn't be a good fit. I was also surprised to hear the integration of a harsh vocal bit in the third song, it was perhaps a clue to what would come with Apotheosis, a newer project formed by the two members when Nick moved back to Ohio after Tomorrow's dismantle in 2000. Here's some details about this:

We also decided to take all of our old Tomorrow material and restructure it for a 2 piece band, make it as heavy as possible, and change the soft vocals to improvised death vocals. That became our other band Apotheosis, which has two releases, 'Husk' and ‘Bane', available now on Black Swamp Collective.

The structure of the extended play is a bit peculiar, there's three complete songs surrounded by two instrumental tracks that are highly atmospheric and heart warming. I think it was a good idea, it gives a sense of completeness to the release. Nevertheless, it would had been nice to get more of “Ethereal”, the closing track, it has sensible melodies reaching almost post-rock levels of introspection but it ends after a meagre two and a half minutes.

In 2008, I came back to Toledo and Mark and I started working together again. We recorded his album, ‘Fragments’ which ended up sounding so much like Tomorrow that we will be releasing it as a Tomorrow album on Black Swamp Collective in the near future. Mark and I continue to work together in Simon Magus, with the follow up to our debut album ‘The First Year of Catastrophe’ in the works; as well as the third and final Apotheosis record.

Here's a short history of the band after this release, music is a cruel industry and quite rough on bands that aren't playing a popular style!

After that time period, we started getting better at our instruments, and as a result developed more complexity to the structure and songwriting. By that time we were starting to branch out and took a bit more of a mid tempo prog-doom approach, focusing more on odd-time signatures, layering, and displacement. We also found a bass player in ‘99 that was into a lot of the same stuff as us. We did play one show as a three piece (a metal-fest in the middle of Ohio) which we got a pretty decent video of. There were two other albums with the three piece lineup recorded from 96-00 that were never released, although there is still the possibility that we might put them out there. By fall 2000, after 8 years of spinning our wheels and going nowhere, we disbanded and I moved to Washington, D.C.

This mid tempo prog doom approach is one of my favourite styles (see Memory Driven). These unreleased compositions are the reasons I'm excited of getting more Tomorrow music and apparently my wish will come true soon enough.

Even though it was never officially released, friends, local radio metal shows, and some zines started trading cassettes of it; and from what I understand it spread around the globe a bit. 

It's fun for these sort of projects to crawl back from the shadows, there's always great music to discover, some made this year like Simon Magus (an excellent album as well, traditional doom but quite different from this release) and some made twenty years ago but in the end, doom is waiting for your soul. Perhaps tomorrow?

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Universe217 – Never (2013) / 86%

Hellenic Metal Help Fund part III: Fishing in Neverland

A series highlighting the interesting bands the Greek underground metal scene has to offer. In this time of need for the legendary country, let's show our support by listening to their rich musical endeavors.

Never, the third album of this quartet from Athens is one of the most interesting and original pieces of doom metal released recently. Blending a sort of depressive doom metal, almost reaching funeral doom levels of despair, with a soft and reflective aura. Their best component is perhaps their singer, Tanya Leontiou. Her powerful, distinctive delivery reminds me of Agnete of Norwegian progressive doomsters Madder Mortem (we're due for a new full length from these guys, it's been five years!). Her voice is as charismatic and mind-blowing as the (now finite) involvement of Uta Plotkin in Witch Mountain. She has this truly intense approach and a magnificent voice, she's the first thing you hear when you start the album with the song “Mouth”, this proves she's the spirit of Universe217's music, there's no mistake about this.

Their music is slow and atmospheric but the heaviness is still very present. It's brooding and has this overacting sense of modern, quasi-industrial feel. The sole guitar is huge and can switch to mechanical, cold bludgeoning riffs to reflective and calmer ones like the long and incredible “She” with its endearing crescendo and its soft and pop Muse-like moments, it's mixing both the lovely and the frightening. It's also a varied album even if all its parts are in harmony with each others, the song “Harm” for instance reminds me of the Oriental feeling of Loreena McKennitt or Orphaned Land.

They have elements of many genres but all in all, what they play feels pretty unique and fresh. The Metal Archives labels them as “experimental doom” and that's pretty adequate. From the use of a piano to the blues or soul influenced vocals, they're bringing a lot of nice ideas to their metal formula and should be discovered by a larger public.

Monday, 20 July 2015

L'Airged l'amh – One Eyed God (2002) / 75%

Hellenic Metal Help Fund part II – Varangian Silver

A series highlighting the best of what the Greek underground metal scene has to offer. In this time of need for the legendary country, let's show our support by listening to their rich musical endeavors.

The Athenians formed this project way back in the 80s but this is their debut album released more than a decade after their inception. The name of the project is, based on some online translators I've tried is Irish for “raw silver” or “the silver arm” and that's a pretty lovely moniker but weird for a Greek band to use this foreign tongue. Instead of being influenced by the rich and interesting Greek mythology, these guys are more into Celtic heritage and Nordic tales (made obvious by the drawing of Odin on the cover and its related title. It's not that surprising though since it's well known that Vikings (Varangians for the Greeks) traveled everywhere in Europe and reached Sicily, Russia, Constantinople and obviously the Hellenic world and has influenced these cultures. Many centuries (or millenniums) later, this band emerged and offered their metal to the gods of old.

Throughout the seven songs, L'Airged l'amh demonstrates their ability to cover many different genres. They remind me of Blind Guardian's period before Nightfall In Middle-Earth, a period where the German legend was mixing heavy, power and folk metal (think of “Somewhere Far Beyond”). Furthermore, the vocals of John Georgopoulos (he's sharing the vocals duty with Stavros Giannakopoulos, who's the singer on their two other full lengths) easily remind the ones of Hansi Kürsch. L'Airged l'amh are a bit all over the place, they try their hand at overblown symphonic epic metal like on the second track “The Vision Revealed” and folk metal such as the serene acoustic debut of Yildrazil / One Eyed God or the Skyclad-ish break during “Dissention Seeds”. 

They have this sort of 1990s progressive power metal vibe with technically sound riffs and interesting leads. This is combined to their classy yet sometimes artificial background of epic symphonic metal and their traditional mix of heavy and old power metal. When they decide to move things up and play outright heavy metal, the dual guitars are making themselves obvious and the bass is quite in your face. While musically interesting and quite proficient at their instruments, it's a bit mundane sometimes, the extraneous elements the band is using save this from being a mediocre effort. The tracks are not too long and well garnished except the ten minutes closer, it drags a little too much. It's worth checking out if you like the aforementioned Blind Guardian and you're tired of spinning their records.

Dexter Ward – Neon Lights (2011) / 88%

Hellenic Metal Help Fund part I: Crafted with Love

A series highlighting the interesting bands the Greek underground metal scene has to offer. In this time of need for the legendary country, let's show our support by listening to their rich musical endeavours.

Dexter Ward from the Greek capital city is one of the most impressive trad metal revivalists I've heard in a long time.Fronted by Italian native Marco Concoreggi, the former front man of Battleroar (DW also has one of their ex guitarists), their debut full length is an infectious heavy metal album and I can't get enough of it.

The main element that I really noticed on Neon Lights is the variety of both the songwriting and the lyrical themes. We have some super catchy tracks like “Metal Rites” and its whispering poppy but menacing chorus and also longer, epic tracks like the Viking inspired “Return of the Longships” or “Back to Saigon” about the Vietnam war. They could be interpreted as all over the place but it's not entirely the case, the album has a good sense of unity and there's not many changes in tempos. The diversity of their lyrics is akin to their main influence, the mighty power of Iron Maiden. Albums like “Piece of Mind” or “Powerslave” where quite varied in both musicality and themes and the Greeks are definitely one of their disciples. They also worship the hard rockin' approach of Accept from time to time such as on “Youngblood”.

Marco's vocals are often spiteful, he's a clean vocalist but there's almost a sort of Venom-esque vibe to his vocals while he's mainly a high pitched vocalist and he's great at falsettos. He has a lot of power and range and use his skills well, he never go overboard with unnecessary screams and the likes. He's particularly great in the Maidenesque soft section of the aforementioned Viking track. He's certainly a part of the epic metal elite, mixing a NWOBHM approach with some more modern leanings.

The heavy metal Dexter Ward plays is heavy as hell, quite fast and pretty melodic. The twin guitars are tight, the solos are terrific and numerous and the production coating is simply an awesome fit for their style. It's not too clean or sterile and fits with their 80s. They're a bit derivative though, I mean, they're not really exploring new seas with this debut album and that's totally fine. Nevertheless, the Greeks crafted a tremendous album worth the time of all trad metal fans.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Abyss – Heretical Anatomy (2015) / 84%

Dive the Deepest Abyss

I discovered Abyss last year at Montréal's extreme metal and punk festival RRROOOAAARRR (yes, named after the Voivod's album) and they were pretty impressive. Their latest release at the time was a blistering fourteen minutes live album (it has the same name as this first full length album, this is a tad confusing) and we were due for something else from the Ontario natives. Some tracks from this live album are making an appearance here as well. They're getting more and more noticed right now as they signed a contract with 20 Buck Spin (a label full of excellent bands) and they recently opened for Bolt Thrower's gig in their home city of London!

Speaking of the English legends, Abyss aren't too far from what they play or were playing. It's high octane death metal combined with crust and hardcore and it's nasty as hell. It's on the short side but like Nails' exceptional second album “Abandon All Life”, the twenty minutes or so is thoroughly enjoyable, crushing and fast as a shark. They intertwine between brief numbers like “Flesh Cult” and its fifty-five seconds or so and longer, more intricate numbers like the nearly death/doom number “Thrall of the Elder Gods”. It's quite varied for a short album, really.

Abyss, despite their generic, unoriginal monicker are quite fresh in the metal landscape, their blend of old school death with a very clear punk approach is akin to Black Breath's infectious groovy formula full of HM2 pedal and Entombed worship. They mix the precursory days of death metal, the era where the boundaries of every styles weren't set in stone (see Repulsion or Carcass) with the flair of modern hardcore, you know the recent style that was able to navigate through these solid boundaries and explore metal as well (see Martyrdöd, Wolfbrigade, the aforementioned Nails or vocalist David Kristiansen's other band Column of Heaven). I can also hear some Slayer in this, especially the “Reign In Blood” era. Some song have this ultra fast thrash sound and it's also reflected in the vocal department. It's harsh but somewhat well enunciated and has this crossover/powerviolence appeal.

Throughout the eight tracks and the twenty minutes voyage through hell and back (look at this gloomy cover art), you understand the primal urge found in these guys' music. It's intense, uncompromising art. The guitars are incisive and even though the tracks are short, they still take the time to deliver short (or long!) dark & sweet leads. The drums are a war machine and they sound like two or three tanks destroying their way through Belgium. The extremely tight production (mixed and mastered by Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust) definitely help the record in its apocalyptic quest. Abyss explores the primitive eras of metal and managed to vomit an excellent debut album full of spite and mega riffs. Plunge into their abyssal might.