Friday, 27 September 2013

Sadhak - Sadhak (2013) | 80%

Hacking into your emotional mainframe
In the Indian religions, a sadhak (or Sādhaka) is someone who follows a way of life to achieve its ultimate goal, “to accomplish” something. What this has to do with these Norwegians? Well, they definitely know what they want to do with their music. Apparently, it's some (or one guy, no idea, really) from High Priest of Saturn (reviewed HERE). While there's some similarities with its brother band from Trondheim, it's still another beast.

Despite the hypothetical links to HPoS and Resonaut, Sadhak is not as inspired by the likes of Electric Wizard or Om. They play a very atmospheric sort of doom metal with drowned out emotional vocals. Of course, they'll probably remind you of Warning/40 Watt Sun but they're not as overtly silly and whiny. They're clean and a bit mundane at times but they're not really the focus and it wasn't really an hassle or shouldn't be for anyone. It fits though, harsh or scream vocals wouldn't work here.

The demo, released on tape and digital download, is composed of two eight to nine minutes tracks. Both tracks are quite slow and misty, there's this dark but seducing aura around the veil of their sound. The production, adequate for their songwriting, is airy and just distorted enough to be heavy. The riffs are repetitive and spaced out but it's pretty damn enjoyable. Were you expecting some technical prowess here? Who the hell cares if you can play some Necrophagist solos, go impress your friends. In the end, you'll still end up playing a sloppy rendition of Wonderwall.

The first track “On the Arrival of Man” has this cool psychedelic solo giving the band an interesting edge and although the second song “The Perfection of Wisdom” doesn't deviate from the sound created by its brother, it has these subtle keyboards parts which are almost reminding me of Summoning. A doom version of the Austrian duo would possibly be the best thing on Earth after beer and bacon, just imagine it. I guess we could simply slow the epic Rush track “The Necromancer” and add some keys and be done with it!

“Sadhak” is a pretty nice 18 minutes release and another nice add to the growing doom scene of Trondheim, there is something else than black metal in Norway. Check it out if you're a doom fan, worthy of your time. 

Get their tape or download the demo here

Monday, 23 September 2013

In Solitude - Sister (2013) 93%

The Sister of Solitude: Elisif the Fair

The boys of In Solitude are back with their new full length. “Sister” is the confirmation that the third album usually establishes the real personality of a band and it's often their magnum opus. It's definitely the “Master of Reality” or the “Reign In Blood” of the Swedes as it includes the sound developed on their two previous albums and reach some new, unexplored realms that are delivering the goods.

While I always considered the band to be one if not the best of the NWOTHM (New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal) , they always were the kid who was killing harmless bugs in the courtyard. Indeed, compared to the unoriginal rehashing of the past bands like Enforcer or Steelwing are doing, they always had this dark aura surrounding them and it made them more interesting for me. Furthermore, In Solitude constantly evolved throughout their recordings. The first self titled album explored the dark traditional metal sound of Mercyful Fate with concise and catchy numbers and in 2011, their excellent sophomore “The World. The Flesh. The Devil.” expanded into more epic territories with lengthier songs. “Sister” took the good qualities of these albums, it's more succinct than their 2011 album and darker than their debut. I believe it's their best album not only because they managed to incorporate everything that was great in their sound but also because they're not repeating themselves while doing so. We have 3 pretty different albums but they're all linked by a constant personality and change is neither detrimental or to be feared with them.

Perhaps it was a bit easy to guess their direction with the title of my review. But yeah, In Solitude decided to jump into the gothic rock pool and trust me, the water is perfectly soothing. They always had this occult rock feel which was distancing the band from their scene and they really pushed the boundaries here. I mean, the band is often touring with extreme metal bands (Watain and Tribulation in North America this fall) and it shows in their approach. This band got it, they have the skills and the musicianship to evolve outside of a confined genre. It's neither experimentation nor being “avant-garde”, it's an artistic pursuit of relevance. In fact, it's not following anything, it's establishing a sound without trying too hard like Ghost who are as original as a peacock in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

I wouldn't be surprised if they were to ditch the metal influences altogether, they would be a great post punk/gothic band but for now the mix of influences is of the highest quality you can find. Spiritually blending the operatic and theatrical approach of The Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death and Type O Negative with the contemplative side of the occult rock scene and the high-octane attack of heavy metal that is still the meat and potatoes of their sound. Nonetheless, it's the little things that made this album great like Jarboe's guest vocals on “Horses in the Ground” or the soft acoustic and intricate introduction “He Comes” (who? Santa, Satan?).

Pelle's vocals are kind of an acquired taste, I personally like the mesmerizing weird approach he has, it has this distorted passion and it's full of emotions. His choruses are catchy and even when the vocals are buried, it's still appreciable. It's not very different from before but he's perhaps simply better, the dude is pretty young I think their trademark is the lead guitar though, it's so good. It doesn't need to have two minutes solos to shine either, the title track has these blistering short leads and it works so well. “Lavender” almost has this indie/post punk vibe akin to Franz Ferdinand. It's groovy and totally moving. I can see the grin of purists but I think it works very well, the different influences are well incorporated. While the band expanded on their subtle and occult side, they also made sure to remain catchy. The riffs are so good and it's very fresh.

The atmospheres are varied, from slow and spooky to contagiously catchy. Often helped by the presence of keys like on the best track “A Buried Sun” which is a seven minutes resume of the sound of “Sister”. You could accuse the band to ride on the occult rock wave but they they do it in ease and honesty. Despite the apparent new-found sound of the album, I think it was something that could had been predicted. Who the hell was surprised when Opeth released “Heritage”? I feel it's a similar concept here, In Solitude already had the basis, the genesis of this heavy/gothic sound, they only let it loose, let it evolved, it's their Venusaur. Heavy, majestic and with tangled vines grasping your neck with its scorching solos (the eight minutes final track “Inmost Nigredo” has these leads intertwined with uber heavy riffs).

Sister” is an essential album for the fans of traditional metal that aren't afraid of surprises and explorations. It's one of the highlights of 2013, it's a dense album with many nuances, it's crafted with care and it's to be handled with the utmost respect.

In Solitude on Bookface

*Originally written for the Metal Observer*

Only one blonde? Are they really Swedish?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Barabbas - Barabbas (2011) | 82%

Thanks to the band for the patch and the CD!

The Baguette Doom Series, pt. XI: Pontius Pilate

In my review for Northwinds' Masters of Magic (Check it out here!), I mentioned how it would be cool to have a complete doom album in French since almost no bands are doing this. The excellent Cauchemar is one of them and they're not even from France! Named after the infamous biblical character Barabbas, the band made the bold artistic decision to only have French lyrics! I decided to end my French doom series after 10 reviews, but Barabbas offered me the chance to explore their sound and I couldn't refuse that! 

The vocals of Saint-Rodolphe (they're all saints!) are nice and rough. They're not fruity nor cheesy. This is not a poetic and romantic band like you would expect when you learn they're French and this works for the whole scene too. They remind me of the Lemmy in their rawness and  of Daniel Puzio of Vulcain (which are basically the French Motorhead). Gritty and smelling like whisky and cigarettes, it's a good match for the greasy riffs of Saint-Stéphane. There's some weird and original leads like on “«Barabbas»”. It has a busy sound, It's a punch on your face and a cross on your back. There's some atmospheric keys here and there, underlining the sacrosanct feel of the album and giving it a subtle and researched sound. Furthermore, their conceptual lyrical approach is interesting. Rooted in biblical history, it's using the somber side of the religion to evoke dark atmospheres within their music. 

Musically, Barabbas plays a sort of heavy doom with clear stoner influences. It's as groovy as mid era Cathedral only this time it's from the other side of the Channel. The last track “Quatre chevaliers” (four knights) reminds me of the groovy, riff heavy side of an album like The Ethereal Mirror. The album only has six songs though for a length of a bit more than half an hour. There's two short tracks (0:50 and 2 minutes) so in the end, we only have four six to nine minutes tracks that are the bulk of the album. Considering this is their only release in more than six years of existence, it's a bit on the short side and I was still hungry (well, I'm still hungry but that's not the point!). I definitely want to hear more stuff from these guys but sadly the French scene is not really productive and not very supported. A damn shame!

From the catchy, groovy of opening track “Horizon Golgotha” to the slow, dirge of “Ressuscité”, it's all pretty good and there's nothing boring here. The bass is loud and the guitar is perfectly distorted enough to play cool riffs while not killing dogs with the fuzz. “Barabbas” is a good debut album from an underrated French band, well the whole scene is underrated, a thing you should be familiar with after my ten previous reviews! If I had to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, it's pretty clear that I would choose the latter. I would probably regret it since Jesus can change water into wine but yeah, I prefer beer anyway!

Barabbas on Facebook

Friday, 13 September 2013

Eternium - Repelling A Solar Giant (2013) | 85%

Fed to the flames.

Markov Soroka is one talented young man, at only seventeen years old, this release is his debut full length album with Eternium, a band he formed on his own in 2011. He also has 2 solo projects on the side, Slow (funeral doom) and Aureole (black metal) both also very promising. He's definitely a motherfucker to watch in the near future. Now with all the necessary tools (a full band including a keyboardist) he needed to fully transfer the musicality of the project in a live setting, his troop and him are ready to attack the ears of the inferno beast. Can you handle the fire?

Repelling A Solar Giant is a concept album but don't be afraid, there's no shitty and useless interludes telling you a story with two or three low budget Patrick Stewart impersonators. The whole tale is composed of these 6 “auras” and the songwriting, deep and rich, is truly impressive coming from someone that age. The songs ranging from five to ten minutes are all pretty dense albeit a bit too much for their own sake sometimes. I must admit that I know Markov pretty well and his influences are obvious to me but nevertheless, this is its own thing. It's assiduously mixing the melodic might of Swedish black/death metal à la Dissection and Sacramentum with the powerful edge of Amon Amarth and the symphonic approach of early Cradle of Filth and Emperor. Mixing these sounds is no simple task, you really need to be a talented songwriter to pull that off like Soroka did here and for a debut album, consider this band to be an active and important player of this genre's future.

The lyrical side is quite complex and based on an actual book Soroka wants to write. It's a sort of mythological essay about positive and negative gods and allegorical references to the sun (no, it's not a nationalist socialist band just because the leader is originally from Ukraine, don't generalize damnit.). But you can easily ignore the fact it's a story if you want, I rarely care about concept albums myself, it's almost akin to a plot in a porno most of the time, who cares! I'm here for the music and/or the titties.

Symphonic metal should actually be a mix of metal riffs and classical elements, not a destruction of your senses with a Casio keyboard and a Bach poster laying on your wall. The symphonic elements here, even though they obviously don't have the overblown budget Dimmu Borgir has (admit it Shagrath, you spend most of it on hookers and costumes anyway), are very good. The ending of “Aura Sentium” is tasty and has this awesome violins, it's a good conclusion to an emotionally charged song.

Riffs. Riffs are also important and compared to Fleshgod Apocalypse' latest shite of an album, Eternium has them. From mid paced to fast, the band has an impressive but subtle diversity, the songwriting has the ability to have such a clear direction that the album feels like a massive, united brick thrown in your face. The musicianship is quite good too, some more solos could had been written for the album though but nonetheless, it's pretty tight and has some cool clean guitars intertwined with the orchestrations. The drums are overproduced and in your face but the drummer has been replaced so I guess the band fixed that issue?

Soroka's vocals are mostly good but I feel it's the weakest link here. His delivery, not yet as optimal as it will be in the future (that's for sure since I know he's a workaholic and will try to improve everything) is still decent but there's still some weird vocal pattern choices. I'm fine with whispered,harsh & spooky vocals but when the hilarious,silly and theatrical Danifilthesque laughing entered my ears, I wasn't very pleased. Don't get me wrong, he has a good throat but he's first and foremost a guitarist and composer. The main negative point of the album is the omnipresence of the vocals, there's so many, you can't almost breathe since it's so loaded. It's almost like if George R.R. Martin decided to put the content of three A Song of Ice and Fire books into one, give us a break dude. Sometimes less is more. Markov, please, don't recite full novels on the next album. I'm sure you can contact someone if you want to read audiobooks.

The production, thoroughly improved compared to the demo where the leader handled everything by himself, is still a bit lacking in punch, especially in the guitars department. There's apparently 2 guitars but it's kind of muffled by the sound. It just doesn't sound as professional as the gorgeous but overtly modern cover art and its video game role playing game look. Eternium probably needs the kind of bombastic, sleek productions that make wannabee ex-Watain fans shivers, the kind of production a band like fellow Dissection worshippers Thulcandra has. I don't doubt they can get one too with a first album of this calibre.

If you don't mind the modern sounds of symphonic, melodic black/death, you'll unequivocally dig Eternium. Even if they could be the sons of the members of Dark Tranquillity, their sound is already more mature than the later releases of the Swedish veterans. Along with Starkill, they're the best new blood the American scene has produced since a while that isn't shitty metalcore apparently influenced by At the Gates or sludge metal with a cajun smell.

Get this, Markov needs some money to eat and get better equipment. Oh, it's also very good and it has a shitload of potential.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Bedowyn - Wolves & Trees (2013) | 79%

Bedowyn Soundclash

Bedowyn is a new quartet from North Carolina and they released their first EP in August this year. The band plays a good mix of many different styles wrapped up in a modern but enjoyable coating. With only five songs, they managed to incorporate many different approaches but their vision always remained tangible and that's an achievement for a debut release. Not as insanely heavy as state brothers Weedeater, they still include their share of stoner infused vibes.

They have this instrumental side that works very well, the opener “Bisha'a” and half of “Snarling of Beasts” are instrumental songs and they know how to write groovy, interesting riffs. It has this similar vibe that you can find on Baroness' Blue Record. Heavy, albeit melodic metal driven by leads but yeah, you won't find much sludge here even though there's some hints here and there. Similar to the Georgians, they have a very good sense of riffs progression proving that even though it's the first band for the four musicians, they're all pretty experienced and talented. The core of their sound is perhaps a sort of stoner intertwined with heavy and doom metal. The vocal approach is definitely rooted in stoner with this mildly harsh vocal offering recalling Orange Goblin mixed with some harder hitting vocals like on “Evil/Right”

Their ability to crossover between the different sounds is impressive for a new band. It's well integrated in their five minutes track and there's no wandering with longer songs full of clutter (read my review for The Albion Codex). They still include some atmospheric moments and even experiment a little like on “O'Bitter Sea” which is almost a stoner version of Primordial. It has this oceanic vibe and acoustic guitars and it's not cheesy at all. 

They have the skills to write concise, crafty and catchy songs and while it's nothing quite new since they're only mixing existing styles in their formula, it's an interesting EP and an obvious potential is there. Even though I don't think it will give them their own headlining tours throughout the US, I'm not sure you can find a better opener for bands like Mastodon, Kylesa or even High On Fire.  They'll have to fight a certain derivativeness to a certain degree but their sound is quite mature already and that's nothing a good producer and intelligent support can fix.

Managing to be both in the comfort zone while trying to find new ways to push their sound, Bedowyn is simply a good band with smart and intelligent elements rightfully placed. Clean guitars, throaty but not too aggressive vocals and warm, well produced riffs made this EP a success and established a band with a shitload of potential. Someone should sign these guys, I'm sure they can pierce their market, they're hard working, their duel guitar attack is cool and they have this melodic edge which could appeal to a mainstream metal market while not alienating the others. 

Bedowyn on Facebook
Get their CD or digital download on Bandcamp

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Mansion - We Shall Live (2013) | 94%

If we seek forgiveness, the burden will increase”

Get your vacuum and explore that mansion!

A snowy ground & icy fields, a flow of pristine crystal clear water flowing down the river bank or Saku Koivu being an awesome captain. All these things are reminding me of Finland but at the same time, it's things I know I'm familiar with in my own northern Eden. Populated with aurora borealis and unexpected skiers, both countries can be perceived as similar. But we, Canadians, aren't used to saunas and weird accents everywhere. While we compose boring tech death and frigid, conservative black metal, the Finns, the de facto metal kings of the world, are playing a vast array of genres and the style Mansion decided to explore is one of my favored right now. In fact, this is perhaps the best release the Scandinavian country (or is it Scandinavia, who cares except geographers and historians anyway?) has offered to the so-called recent occult rock/metal movement.

Compared to fellow countrymen Jess and the Ancient Ones, Mansion is definitely part of the metal universe. The doom metal influence is thoroughly present albeit combined with a sort of psychedelic, atmospheric or even Gothic rock sound. The four songs EP has this dark, shady aura inspired by this religious Finnish Christian sect from the early 20th century called Kartanoism. To explain it briefly, this sect included child preachers, complete sexual abstinence, nightly sermons, end of the world expectations and very strict rules. I'm obviously not an expert on the subject, but I'm pretty interested and I'll categorically investigate the matter. Religions are often dark enough to be a totally apt lyrical field for metal bands, as it gives an airy, sermonizing vibe and it's totally the case here. At twenty-two minutes, I wish the sermon was longer, my mind was ready to hit the floor for the return of Jesus, my brothers! Of course, I do believe the religious inspiration is mostly a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that works here. Even “mansion” means something like “kartanorakennus” in Finnish to expand on their theme. They don't need evil popes, no ma'am.

While the music is more simple than occult rockers like The Devil's Blood or Year of the Goat, it's as or even more emotional. The female vocals are pretty damn awesome; mesmerizing and charming but also dark and bewitching. The delivery of the yet unknown singer (named Alma, the same name the leader of this cult had) is top notch. The high, sexy vocals are creating a dichotomy with the “SEX IS THE DEVIL” ideology of Kartanoism. I rarely heard such sex appeal in a doom metal band, I would probably climb on the sacrificial altar myself if I was ordered to by her. The vintage rock vocals really made the band for me, a bit like Jess' vocals made JatAO one of my favourite albums of 2012.

There's no really intricate guitar solos or fourteen minutes songs here though, apart from the exceptional first track that is seven minutes, all tracks are around five minutes. It's a pretty catchy release that left me breathless. Intense emotions aside, the band knows how to measure out their approach, it's not overwhelming. It could had been way more progressive, heavier or even more experimental. But what's so good is the mix of small quantities of everything into their memorable formula. I mean, yes, it would had been awesome to hear a more complex songwriting but as a first release, it established a luscious formula. The tempos are mostly mid paced to slow with pretty simple, yet interesting riffs. I mean, compared to a band like Jex Thoth, it has riffs and not only a special atmosphere with a focus on the vocals. “We Shall Live” has a rich, subtle instrumentation that we can hear in the last track “Slumber Sermon”. It has some noisy feedback and an ingenious but mysterious use of keyboards that is also opening the EP. You can imagine the despair and brainwashing that this religious community lived with in its era and the piercing cold of the wind on your face.

Their dark, fun and entrancing doom is simply of the highest quality you can find. Maybe their sound is not the most adventurous and they're perhaps openly riding a trendy wave but they're doing it in the best way possible. Mansion already achieved a level of maturity that will make Selim Lemouchi blush and punch random people in the streets. Greatness is already a given, I wonder what's next. They're without a doubt the best new doom band of 2013.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Second Grave - Antithesis (2013) | 85%

Boston Doom Party

After a very impressive self titled first EP released last year, the Bostonian doom band Second Grave is already back with a second, albeit shorter offering. The two songs featured on this limited vinyl release are really proving that the band is definitely ready to unleash a full length and I have no idea why the well known doom inclined labels are apparently ignoring them. Their brand of doom metal is getting more popular these days with the success of bands like Castle or Jex Thoth and their female fronted approach and this band deserves some praise and attention.

The first track “Mourning Light” is a very groovy number with hints of the melodic and busy edge of Iron Maiden. It reminds me of Christian Mistress' Agony & Opium with its traditionalism but with an added doom metal sound. The sonority of the band is quite varied, from mid paced and hard hitting doom to Latin infused heavy jazzy leads or heavy mesmerizing atmospheres like on the twelve minutes second track “Drink the Water”. Nevertheless, Second Grave is, before anything else, a doom band. There's no compromises and no overtly modern influences here like folk “vintage” instrumentation or pseudo Satanic imagery. There's hints to the overtly conservative Maryland scene (the EP was mastered by John Brenner of Revelation/Against Nature) and there's also the epic doom feel found in bands like Solitude Aeternus.

Front woman Krista Van Guilder is the highlight of the band, her sublime and characteristic voice and her heavy riffs are the noted trademarks of the sound we can find here. Even if they only formed in 2012, she's far from a newcomer. Van Guilder formed Warhorse but left the band before their seminal 2001 release “As Heaven Turns to Ash”. She was also in a short lived death metal band called “Obsidian Halo” where she showcased her harsh vocals skills. Point is, Second Grave is her first established band and their potential is surreal. Her voice, while the riffs are very good, is the focus of this EP. Powerful, clean and with an epic doom operatic feel, there's even some harsh vocals at the end of the last track pushing the sound of the band towards a sludge/stoner/doom field in a very enjoyable fashion that could be more developed. A good comparison would be Agnete Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem but with a safer and not as crazy deliver. I think it's pretty cool to hear female fronted bands that doesn't CARE about being fronted by a woman. While it's an important characteristic  it's not treated as one. It has the same natural way Castle has. 

The essential is that It fits the heavy/doom persona of the band, it gives an airy feel while never compromising on the heaviness and this can be correlated to the cult British doom band Mourn. Akin to this forerunner of female fronted metal, Second Grave has balls and never opted to market their music using oiled boobs. More women should play metal and it's really with their songwriting skills that the situation will progress.

Another great appetizer from the American doomsters, my body is ready for a full length album. Definitely one of the most promising doom bands. Riffs, atmosphere, interesting vocals and lyrics, it has the whole package.

This EP will be released during Halloween, thanks to Pariah Child for the review opportunity.