Saturday, 28 February 2015

Crypt Sermon - Out of the Garden (2015) / 85%

Out of the darkness, brighter than a thousand sermons

Perhaps one of my most expected albums of 2015, the debut of the Philadelphia based doomsters met my demands. Formed by young but dedicated musicians from varied metal backgrounds (let's namedrop Hivelords, Trenchrot, Unrest and Infiltrator), the band's debut full length is a mature traditional doom metal blending the tropes of old with a refreshing and tight sound.

Using the classic religious vibe found in bands like Trouble, Crypt Sermon went all in with this superb cover art showcasing a crusader knight riding towards a fortress and exiting a cavern, perhaps this so called garden inhabited by darkness and vices. Painted by their talented singer, Brooks Wilson, the cover definitely helped the band get a lot of attention and rightfully so. Using Christianity as a lyrical background, the band is perhaps not the most original setting but it goes hand in hand with the style developed on “Out of the Garden”. Rest assured, it's only an artistic choice and these guys are still pretty evil (check out their bullet belts)! I'll also give them some credit for the poetic quality of their lyrics, they're very well written and that's always a plus.

Dark Descent has been known for its death and black metal but the label is slowly starting to branch out a little with this band and also Anguish from Sweden, that's good news for the fans of the genre like myself since it gives a decent platform to the genre. Crypt Sermon, opposed to bands like Pallbearer or Pilgrim, are pretty good at their craft. Their debut album, like their impressive demo, is a very tight slab of epic proportions. Nonetheless, there's no time wasted here and they won't bore the listeners with plodding repetitive numbers. The songs are all between 5 and 7 minutes, they're mid paced, slow burners with a lot of passion and dedication. It's melodic and has a lot of class and distinction, qualities that are necessary to achieve greatness in epic doom (see Atlantean Kodex)

Now evolving as a five piece, the instrumentation is rich, precise and the double lead guitars are akin to fellow American Magic Circle. While I don't think their level of quality is higher than the magical musicians of Boston, there's a wide array of tremendous riffs such as the catchy ones in “The Will of the Ancient Call” or the folky medieval vibe of the epic “Into the Holy of Holies” which is channeling their inner Candlemass. Even though, I think the best aspect of the band is Wilson's clean and powerful vocals, the subtle but grandiose songwriting deserves its fair share of praise as well. Blending the power of classic American doom (see Trouble or Solitude Aeternus) with the European school, while it's something quite common in the scene nowadays, it's still an interesting and worthwhile strategy.

The album is thoroughly well produced and that's yet another proof of the professionalism demonstrated by the quintet. For a debut album, we can hear a mix of traditional doom styles that is both contemporary and timeless. There's still some things to improve before they play in the big leagues but the potential is there. Essential listening for 2015 as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Entheos - Ototeman (2015) / 84%

Rouyn-Noranda's cold escapism

Québécois black metal is slowly starting to become one of the best scenes in the world. All bias aside, all the bands used to be similar, they were all about the cold winters, traditionalism or patriotism and these subjects while interesting were becoming mundane and unoriginal. Entheos is one of those bands that are succeeding in breaking the boundaries and expanding their genre towards more philosophical and intellectual tendencies.

From one of the metal kingdoms of Québec, the northern industrial city of Rouyn-Noranda (to give you an idea, Entheos opened for Ulcerate when they played there, it's a small city with a big metal fanbase), Entheos are unsurprisingly playing a very cold sort of black metal but they have more in common with the ethereal sound of Sombres Forêts than the likes of Forteresse or Neige Éternelle. That's probably helped by Annatos' involvement, the main man behind the seminal project has produced, recorded the album and he, added some guitar, bass and vocals too. Still, Entheos are not as adventurous as SF, texturally they're not flashy and don't use unorthodox instruments.

Combining many types of black metal like post black (think early Altar of Plagues) and atmospheric black metal. The compositions are intricate but always subtle, there's no grandiloquent nature leanings like in Wolves in the Throne Room and the likes. It's also thoroughly well produced with a clean production showcasing the skills of the musicians (their drummer Jessy Normand is also in the excellent death metal band Pallor Mortis) but they never overdo it. They include some charming acoustic guitar sensibilities like the beginning of my favorite track, the almost 10 minutes “Rêve de grandeur”. While maintaining an atmospheric aura, the band is always conscious about being rifftastic, they're very dynamic and even in the more quiet moments, they come up with interesting guitar licks and moments. It's also important to note that there's many more dissonant moments inspired by Deathspell Omega and the likes, a good example would be the heaviest parts of the final track “Parasite asservi”.

Their lyrics are all in French, it's efficient misanthropic & philosophical poetry, it fits their compositions and it was an enjoyable read. The subjects, themes and art approach combined with their sound are giving Entheos the ability to stand out and we're becoming to see more and more variety with bands like Eos (signed on the great Fallen Empire label) and that's a sign proving the health of the Québec black metal scene.

Here's some parts translated by yours truly: 

“The horizon is wide here
Like the centuries of winter
The men only walk to keep walking
and this earth is filled with our wanderings”

“The windows regurgitate the last soldiers of an infinite army
These dividing walls offering no other issue than these deformed holes in constant ascent”

I'm still ashamed I've missed their Montréal album release gig with the excellent like-minded newcomers Basalte, but I'll be there next time! Entheos are an interesting atmospheric, vibrant and mildly experimental black metal band with an already solid identity.

Free album on Bandcamp

Friday, 16 January 2015

Põhjast - Matused (2014) / 84%

Epic Nordic coalition of lone-wolves

An international project combining members of three Nordic countries, Pohjast's Matused (Estonian for funeral) is the band's second full length and once again features a wolf on the cover art (don't worry, they're better than Catamenia!) Before attacking the music, I feel it's important to decorticate the composition of this band.

Eric Syre (well known for his excellent black/thrash solo project Thesyre and more recently for being the singer of up and coming old schoolers Beast Within) is the lead singer and he's absolutely stellar. The majority of the vocals on this album are clean in the purest Quorthon tradition, but compared to the late Bathory leader, Syre is actually a very competent singer with a good range (please, don't throw me any rocks, I like Bathory as much as the next guy!)

The rest of the band is composed of experienced musicians from the Estonian and Finnish scenes (bands like Metsatöll, Ajattara, Sorts…) and the musicianship is extremely solid. The approach reminds me of the latest two Darkthrone albums but with a powerful and punchy production. It's not really black metal anymore, it's more of an amalgamation of ultra heavy epic Viking metal, pagan metal and even traditional heavy metal. The production, alongside the vocals, is perhaps the best thing about Matused, it's simply perfect for their genre. Everything has the room to breathe, it's crystal clear while never being sacharrine nor sterile.

The album is short and only has six numbers ranging from 4 to 6 minutes, while I think they could slow things up and come up with longer and more intricate songs, this formula works quite well for them and you don't have the time to get bored. The songs all possess this anthem quality (listen to “In the Shadow of the Glass Cross”) due mostly to the simplistic but catchy guitar riffs and the strong, manly vocals. The bass is loud and it compliments the guitar very well in creating a solid wall of sound bordering on doom and Celtic Frost territories. Well played slow leads are also part of their songwriting credo. 

While not reinventing anything, this international project plays an efficient sort of music that is still essential for the well being of the scene. 

Solid stuff.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Best of 2014 (Albums & Gigs)

TOP 50 of 2014

*highlighted in red: reviewed albums, click the title*

Opeth is my favorite band and their quality transcends lists but to be fair, my favorite record of 2014 is the next one on the list! Pale Communion managed to be a great prog rock album, something that their previous one Heritage failed at.

1. Interpol - El Pintor
Probably my favorite alternative rock band, their 2 previous albums were flat compared to the usual quality they were used to with their classic debut and their excellent sophomore Antics. With El Pintor (anagram for Interpol), they're back with their best album since a while. I was pretty sad when their Montréal gig got reported due to the band being stucked in Buffalo due to the big snowstorm there.

2. Triptykon - Melana Chasmata
Tom G. Warrior is back with the second Triptykon and he's as mighty as ever. I probably like his new project more than his classic days of Celtic Frost if that's even possible. Crushing doom extreme metal with a real somber atmosphere.

3. Horrendous - Ecdysis 
2014's best death metal album, a great mix of old school death, melodic death, prog and technical death in a very potent formula.

4. Primordial - Where Great Men Have Fallen
Another great album from the Irish boys, they just can't write bad songs. 

5. Wovenhand - Refractory Obdurate
David Eugene Edwards' (formerly of 16 Horsepower) newest album, his alternative dark country/neo folk country is as good as ever and even includes some slight metallic influences.
6. Mastodon - Once 'Round the Sun
7. Domains – Sinister Ceremonies
8. Young and in the Way - When Life Comes to Death
9. Prajna - The Summer Eclipse
10. Swallowed – Lunarterial

12. Giant Squid - Minoans
13. Opium Warlords - Taste my Sword of Understanding
14. Mausoleum Gate – Mausoleum Gate
15. Ningen Isu - Burai Houjou
16. Gridlink - Longhena
17. Ogre - The Last Neanderthal
18. Lucifer's Fall - Lucifer's Fall
19. Emptiness – Nothing but the Whole
20. Teitanblood - Death
21. Mansion - 
The Mansion Congregation Hymns Vol​.​1
23. Zaum - Oracles
24. Martyrdöd - Elddop
25. Sons of Crom – Riddle of Steel
26. Aureole - Alunar
27. Phillipe Katerine - Magnum
28. StarGazer - A Merging to the Boundless
29. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
30. Cretin - Stranger
31. Hail Spirit Noir – Oi Magoi
32. Barrabas - Messe pour un chien
33. ZOM  - Flesh Assimilation
34. Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain
35. Mantar – Death by Burning
36. Portrait – Crossroads
38. Incantation – Dirges of Elysium
39. Murmur - Murmur
40. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Check 'em before you wreck 'em
41. Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral
42. The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-Li
43. L'Ira del Baccano - Terra 42
45. Basalte- Vestige
46. Yob - Clearing The Path To Ascend
47. Phobocosm - Deprived
48. Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise
49. Slough Feg – Digital Resistance

Albums I haven't heard enough yet:
Spectral Lore - III
Furia - Nocel
Orange Goblin - Back from the Abyss
Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith
Dawnbringer – Night of the Hammer
Godflesh - World Lit Only by Fire
Morbus Chron - Sweven
Mansion - Uncreation

Disappointing albums of 2014 :Dead Congregation -Promulgation of the Fall
-A samey mess of tired old school death metal, a bitter disappointment after the genius approach of Graves of the Archangels.

Slough Feg – Digital Resistance
One of my favorite bands of all time released their weakest album to date. It's a confused unfocused album trying to mix their folky hard hittin' heavy metal with their sci fi progressive rock and their Thin Lizzy approach on the same album. While still good, it doesn't quite work.

Most anticipated albums of 2015 :

Enslaved – In Times
New Leeches of Lore
Aktor - Paranoia
Melechesh – Enki
Lord Fist - Green Eyleen

Chthe'ilist's debut full length

TOP 10 GIGS OF 2014

Blasphemy @RRROAAARRR 

1) Hooded Menace Read the review
2) Loop
3) RRROOOAAARRRR festival with Incantation, Blasphemy... Read the review
4) Wings of Metal with Holocaust, Blood Ceremony, Bolzer Read my review
5) Uncle Acid with Danava Read the review
6) Subrosa Read the review
7) The Ocean with The Atlas Moth 
8) Ulcerate with Phobocosm and Chthe'ilist Read the review
9) Amnesia Rockfest with Alice in Chains, Weezer, Meshuggah...
10) Zaum with Dopethrone Read the review
11) Mac Demarco with The Besnard Lakes and Solids

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Volahn - Aq'Ab'Al (2014/205) / 93%

Pre-Columbian Darkness

Eduardo Ramírez is back with the newest Volahn album and the first full length since 2008. Proclaimed as the leader of the cult Black Twilight Circle, a being that can be considered to be the Californian equivalent to the Les Légions Noires. This man evolves in many like minded band and creates some of the most interesting American black metal currently being released. Inspired by the pre-hispanic cultures (look at this marvelous cover), this closed and mystic scene is an unique beast able to differentiate itself from the pack.

Alongside spiritual brothers like Odz Manouk or Blue Hummingbird on the Left, there's a very esoteric sound found in Volahn's music. The cultural identity of the band is tightly linked to its atmospheric purposes, you can definitely feel the historical weight of the Maya or Aztec civilizations in his music throughout classical guitars, subtle but enjoyable ambient and nature touches. Rich and with a very organic production, Aq'Ab'Al is a bulldozer of riffs and tremolos leads that are the bread and butter of this album. They make the ten plus minutes songs stand out and become brief, tremendous voyages into the heart of pre colonial America. Furthermore, Ramírez' sense of melody is pretty outstanding, he knows how to write guitar leads that are worth investing your hard earned money into this album instead of visiting the Latin America ruins (well, do both if you can, of course.)

Musically, it's a mix of many black metal scenes, some Norwegian hints here and there to go with the German (think Nagelfar), Polish or Greek scenes. It's intricate and fancy as hell but never forgets to unleash the evilness and occultism necessary in black metal (Christian black metal can go live with Scott Stapp and thrive with the words of god). Volahn is yet another proof that you don't need to constantly evoke the name of the fallen angel to create a worthwhile dark aura.

The thematic and musical approach really reminds of the gigantic Mesopotamian beast Melechesh who also walks their own ideological paths (I can't wait for their new album scheduled for February and making me wish it was 2015 already), Volahn akin to Ashmedi's seminal project, are able to compose intense, groundbreaking black metal with deep, relevant folkloric and cultural integrations. The use of the always colorful Spanish language obviously serves as a catalyst and pushes the execution of their will to a higher level.

I'm just discovering this circle but I'll surely investigate it since its vision is awesome. It's my sort of black metal, it's varied while being cohesive and has the sound quality that is the middle ground between raw and clean.

Highly recommended for black metal fans that want something midly adventurous while not treading on cheesy or saccharine territories.

Already out on tape on Crepúsculo Negro, to be released on CD and LP on Iron Bonehead in January 2015

Giant Squid - Minoans (2014) / 90%

“We will be forgotten, we will be lost”... 

Well, hopefully they won't be...

Giant Squid were always an odd beast (excuse the expression) in the metal ocean, it took them five years to release a follow up to the excellent The Ichthyologist but now Minoans has hits the waves and so far the response has been widely positive. Their blend of cello induced post/doom/atmospheric/whatever metal is definitely not for everyone but it's definitely for me.

This concept album is about (I hope you got it) the Minoan civilization. I was already hooked on the album before listening to it since history is one of my passions (I'm writing this review instead of finishing some papers, it's currently my last year of studies before becoming a history teacher, woo) and the superb cover art helped the whole thing. The Minoan civilization is an interesting subject for a concept album since it's one of the earliest ones to emerge in Europe and there's still many theories explaining its downfall. The most popular being the eruption of a nearby volcano which could had led to economic repercussions for the naval power located on the island of Crete and a sudden weakness against the continental menace of the Mycenaean civilization.

I feel the historical context is a little bit important to the understanding of the album since the contextual approach is more than lyrical, it's transposed with the rich musicality of this record. You can definitely hear the Greek influences created by both the instrumentation but also the choice of riffs, it's way more Greek than anything Septic Flesh did in the last fifteen years, let me you tell that. The band always had a sort of classical feel due to Jackie Perez Gratz's cello (well known for her contributions for Agalloch, Neurosis and many others) but I feel it's pushed to its apex here, it feels natural and it's simply another instrument being as important as the huge bass presence, the ethereal keys and the subtle but profoundly heavy guitars. Their songs are slow catchy dirges but they never really drag, only the opening title track is over six minutes. It's brooding and has the sense of urgency that can be related to the dramatic end of an era or a culture (listen to the ending of “Six Foot Waves”.) The cello really shines most of the time but the other musicians are all more than solid and they help Giant Squid's identity development. Indeed, the band doesn't sound like any others, they mix genres effortlessly into a very progressive formula that transcends labels.

I always liked ballads, I feel a band can prove its worth by dropping the tough act to compose something truly beautiful (see my favorite band Opeth with “To Bid You Farewell” or “Credence”), that's something they did with “The Pearl and the Parthenon”, sang by both Perez Gratz and Aaron John Gregory (vocals, guitars, artwork), it's harmonious and doesn't feel detached from the rest of the release like it's often the case with this kind of experimentation. The clean vocals they use are neither powerful nor excellent but they possess this sort of entrancing ability and they're very charismatic. Gregory is the lead singer but he's, most of the time, attended by the cellist who do all kind of back vocals. This adds a lot of depth to an already immensely rich and well produced album.

With its 43 minutes length, the album feels short (especially that it ends quite abruptly), its predecessor was 20 minutes longer and I feel the band could really shine by expanding their slow, desperate side. Their music remains weirdly catchy, smooth and heavy and it never reaches cheesy territory even though it would be easy to with a geeky concept like this one (see David Defeis' Virgin Steele.)

Impossible to classify, Minoans is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2014, ride the waves till you reach the shores of Crete or San Francisco, maybe the link between the band and its concept is the Mediterranean climate?

Serve with Feta cheese, olives and lots of wine.

Giant Squid on Facebook

Monday, 29 September 2014

Aureole - Alunar (2014) / 88%

The meanders of cosmic spiritual fortifications

The first release of this new project created by Markov Soroka (Eternium, Slow) is finally out after two or three years of arduous work and nobody could say that it's not well elaborated. The first demo songs that I was lucky to hear (unreleased) of the project sounded like Sargeist, a very melodic but still raw sort of black metal but the identity of the project changed during its gestation. As a young man, Soroka is kind of guilty of wearing his influences on his sleeves, for Eternium it was Dissection and Emperor, for Slow it was Esoteric, what is it this time around? Well, it's Darkspace and Alrakis! Nonetheless, he's a talented fellow and this excellent album proves it and it still brings his fair share of originality compared to his aforementioned projects.

One of the first things I've noticed is the fact that even though it's clearly an ambient black metal release, Aureole's music delivers the riffs and has an interestingly fast paced tempo. It doesn't mess around with its relatively brief duration for an album of its genre. It has sharp guitars often playing arpeggio riffs (see the exuberantly named Crusade of NGC 5128”) surrounded by a huge platter of keys and unlike the ubershitty “symphonic” golem of Wintersun, it never sounds cheap, rushed or cheesy, fuck off Jari, go play with your toys. There's a lot of non metal influences, some coldwave, some synthpop, I mean, I can definitely hear the mythic Tangerine Dream in there too. The five somber compositions are thoroughly helped by the more than competent production done solely by Soroka himself. DIY or perish! It's crafted with care and it sounds majestic and natural. The songs are lengthy as you would expect from an ambient black metal project but they never really drag your corpse into oblivion, it's a smooth ride into the meanders of space and beyond.

The instrumentation remains minimal but the keys (no midi, guys!) are impressive and they're well mixed to the simple but catchy drums and the repetitive guitars. It feels old, like if late 70s electronica suddenly decided to become heavier. The combination of the different elements has been efficient

Like on Eternium's debut, there's still a concept story underneath it all, it involves space, castles, powerful beings and similar subjects but it's told by the immersing music instead of a lyrical identity where everything needs to be said. To illustrate that point, the 10 minutes instrumental outro “Alunar, Decrepit...” feels like you're in an empty castle dangerously inclined on a cliff surrounded by goodhearted spirits or somewhere in space where you don't quite belong. Furthermore, it's sort of mixing a medieval feel with sci fiction and fantasy realms but weirdly, it belongs together.

Markov's vocals (usually not his strong suit) are buried deep down the mix when they're actually present at all. This works with both the theme and the songwriting found on the album. You're not supposed to be heard in space, it would waste the dark fun of the whole thing. Not exactly raw, Aureole will please most people looking primarily for atmosphere in their black metal, it's rich & subtle music that will lead you astray for a moment while you reflect about your past deeds.

And goddamn, this cover art is superb, press that on vinyl already!

If you're hungry while travelling through space, here's the edible version Oreole!