Saltas is a new misterious outfit emerging from the depths of the bleakest Swedish underground. However, the entities behind this project are far from being newcomers in the extreme Metal scene. In their line-up we can find Nicklas Rudolfsson, the restless mind behing bands such as Runemagick, The Funeral Orchestra and Heavydeath (among many others), bands I've followed for a long time and whose personality I really appreciate, as well as a member or Irkallian Oracle, which identity obviously remains a secret.
Their presentation as a band is done in the old-school way, through a demo tape "Recorded during simple conditions in December 2017" entitled 'Currents', which release is however managed by Nuclear War Now! Productions, allowing them both a very professional presentation of the product in a pro-cassette tape with a two page booklet including the lyrics and a very fitting drawing taken from Juan Valverde de Amusco's "Historia de la composición del cuerpo humano" on the cover, as well as some of the best promotion they could get to make a good start.
The tape includes four tracks, starting by the eleven-minute mammoth "Salt At The Temple Roots", and followed by "Fractals From The Lower Flesh", "XII Nerves Decay" and "Currents From The Astral Darkness", clocking in a total length of twenty-seven minutes. And if there's something I could say from the very first time I listened to these four songs (and there's been many after that) is that the recording definitely falls into the limits of what I would expect from a band including Mr. Rudolfsson.
This does definitely not mean I'm saying this recording is predictive or just a second rate version of his other bands. Saltas is extremely heavy and sinister Doom Death Metal with some bleak Black Metal leanings, yes. And they don't sound that far from some of The Funeral Orchestra's ideas actually, with those extremely thick guitar layers and haunting vocal lines. But they also have a different approach to the genre in other aspects. In some way, the "catchier" and more dynamic parts make me think of a slowed down version of Winter, like playing 'Into Darkness' at half speed (and this is something I don't say easily, as I usually disagree on most comparisons to this masterpiece). Even the vocals sound like they had been lowered down, with that extremely deep and dense tone. However, they add a certain ceremonious aspect to their sound, that makes the song move like a procession towards the absolute void.
On the other side, the atmospheric parts (which also have a very important place in this demo) are a lot more sinister, monotonous and chilling, with an ambiental approach that fuses Funeral Doom and some sludgy/dragging Black Metal in a majestic mass of reverberating riffs and tenebrous melodies over a very (very) simple, quiet and spaced (but tremendously fitting) drumming that envelopes you like a cloak of shadows until it suffocates you.
The combination of both aspects, together with another important factor as the production, which is pretty raw and swamped, make these songs a very surprising debut, full of great ideas to explore and fully explode. which may be simple and quite straight as an approach, but make you think/imagine a lot how they could develop on a longer space such as a full-length would allow. And, if I had to put them close to someone else, I would say their tomb should be placed next to Grave Upheaval's.
In the meantime, right after listening to 'Currents', you can already enjoy their second demo, which is already out in digital format on their bandcamp profile, and which will also be released soon by Nuclear War Now! Productions.
Doomentor are one of those small surprises one finds from time to time and by almost accident in the deepest Metal underground. They formed in 2011 in Baden Württemberg (the area of Destruction and Poison!), released a demo tape in 2014, and later re-released on vinyl, both by Messe Noire Productions. One year later Iron Bonehead Productions released 'The Second Ceremony' 7"EP.
In my case, I was a bit late to the call, I missed both of those recordings and I only very recently acquired and listened to their first album, that was put out in the end of 2016 by Unholy Fire Records (LP), Goat Kult Symphonies (both CD and LP) and Messe Noire Productions (cassette), just in time to have some expectations for their upcoming record, 'Opus Diabolae', released by the end of this month by the same labels.
When I listened for the first time to 'Dominus Omnes' I ended up having some kind of a mess in my mind, as I found myself thinking about a lot of different references. I checked Doomentor after reading about their similarities to early second wave Black Metal like Samael and Treblinka/Tiamat, which I obviously worship, But after listening to these eleven tracks I think these Germans have a much wider spectrum of (Metal) influences, that could be summarized as an absolute devotion for the eighties/early nineties devil worshipping underground, analog sound and horror atmosphere. And that is obviously great.
It doesn't mind if we're speaking about Doom Rock in the vein of Paul Chain, Coven and Pagan Altar, that could even make me think about the first Hour of 13 stuff or Abysmal Grief, to a certain extent, second wave Black Metal very directly (sounding) inspired by the first wave, including the already mentioned above but also (obviously) Venom, Necromantia or Goatlord, and even some of the early mid-paced Satanic Death Metal of Acheron. Yes, it's a big mix of stuff, but it makes a lot of sense when you listen to it all-together, specially because it takes the most mid-paced aspects of every one of those influences. It oozes feeling, a great sense of groove and a profoundly dark spirit, in a simplicity that distills, above all, a lot of honesty and passion.
Another great thing about their music is that it includes some hints and slight doses of Folk/Psych Rock, Ambient or even eighties Electronic/synth parts, mostly in the form of short interludes and details amidst the rest, which give it both a special (good, not fake) retro ambience and increases the effect of their dark tunes by taking a creepier texture.
And, just to make it even more authentic, the production of this recording (managed in Old Spirit Recordings studio, where I read the German Speed Metal band Blizzard also recorded, maybe a connection?) is as raw and simplystic as one would expect for such references. It's extremely organic, it's heavy without the need of ultra-low productions, it's very atmospheric (even more when those Folkish/ambient passages appear) and it has a good dose of reverb to make it even more profound. Not to forget it was mastered by none other than Patrick W. Engel (and I'm starting to forget how many records I've hailed lately went through his hands).
This is definitely one of my favorite descoveries of the last times, I have been spinning this record like crazy several times per day, and I can't wait to listen to their new full-length. My expectations are very high, but I trust them to surpass them quite easily.
Despite not being one of the most fertile grounds for (exportable) Metal, with a few exceptions, if we compare it to a few other countries of the southern American lands, Perú always had a strong underground scene. And the few and very honorable exceptions are obviously, first and foremost, Mortem, and then Nahual, Anal Vomit, Reino Ermitaño, Goat Semen ... I could also add Black Angel and Morbid Slaughter, but not many more, that would be known by most of people listening to the extreme sounds within the genre.
Well, and now these guys we will speak about, raising from the city of Lima with a not so original name (if we take into consideration I can count seven other Antichrists on Metal Archives), who formed in 2004 but have only started releasing recordings from 2014. After not less than 4 demos and a single, Iron Bonehead Productions added them to their roster and they finally unleash their first full-length, on both CD and 12" vinyl.
I doubt the cover of 'Pax Moriendi' could confuse anyone's expectations. You could maybe doubt a bit on which branch of the sub-genre they chose. But anyone going to play this record would obviously think these guys are playing Doom Metal. And, effectively, this is Doom Death Metal with all the expected elements. From slow and crushing Death Metal riffs to reverb-loaded cavernous vocals, with a pretty dynamic flow despite of the preference for mid and slow tempos. They also include some slightly orchestral synth/keyboard parts to increase a bit the already gloomy atmosphere.
Song-writing is pretty simple and straight to the point, there's not much diversion from the usual traits of the genre in both the instrumental and vocal sides. Guitars go from the usual pounding and monotonous power-chords to more up-tempoed cavalcades. On the drums side, there's a big focus on the double bass in terms of rythm, which varies the speed depending on the guitar flow and kind of sets the actual mood. And the vocals are very low-tuned and gutural, and they more or less follow the flow of the song without too much alteration. They also include some more brutal stuff, including blastbeats and faster guitars, like the fourth track "Screams and Lamentations Drowned", that puts them closer to pure and more evil Death Metal.
So, on a general level, you can hear references especially from the first Skepticism era, definitely early My Dying Bride (demos and first EP) and Anathema (also demos and first EP) and maybe a bit of Thergothon and first Unholy (definitely not Winter, to whom I've seen them being compared). For those less common and more intense Death Metal parts, I could think of early Deicide and even Beherit (on a minor level, but for some reason they came to my mind).
Can't say it's bad at all. I'm sure it will catch some of the fans of the style quite easily. But I must also admit it doesn't offer many new, original or simply personal details after all the bands that made this sub-style explode. And it's not only that. It's also the fact of having the impression of being listening to mostly the same ideas and resources (riffs, vocal lines, flow ...) along these five tracks.
So, unfortunately, this is not sufficient to catch my attention more than a few times after having listened to all the classics of the genre. I would expect a small extra something at this stage. Maybe the recording was a bit rushed.
Rites of Thy Degringolade being, next to Sacramentary Abolishment and Conqueror, one the true pillars of what we could call the second wave of Canadian War Metal (obviously after the true and only initiators of that current, namely Blasphemy), it's hard to believe how underrated, or maybe I should simply say unnamed, they are in all the discussions regarding the genre nowadays. And let me put this in a very clear way: I don't think the genre would exist as it is right now if it wasn't for them. Sure Blasphemy, Conqueror and Revenge have had the major impact on this scene (not that I don't like them, quite the contratry actually, but common ...), because of their sound but also because of their imagery and simbology. But when we're speaking of the different elements defining the basis of the sound of what's usually called War Metal, Rites of Thy Degringolade have had a major role in that, and you can hear it in a lot of those bands that have made the once very minority sub-genre a much wider scene.
If the announcement of their comeback two years ago wasn't enough to push some chills up my spine (it's been thirteen years since 'An Ode To Sin' ... ), the release of the advance track 'The Universe in Three Parts' on tape by NWN! Productions got me hooked more than easily. A hell of a track, announcing some sound changes, but also a very short apetiser for my high expectations. So the wait was quite long until the fourth album of these war-mongers was finally out. But, fortunately, it was more than worth.
I must admit the cover and overall layout didn't strike me that much; even if it keeps the usual symbological side of their artworks, I find the picture on the cover a bit dull and empty, just as the rest of space of the vinyl gatefold cover (kind of gives me the impression the elements were placed with photoshop on the black background). I would have definitely prefered a drawing based on the same ideas, keeping some of that rawness their previous artworks had.
But maybe that artwork style change actually advances the obvious changes one will find also on 'The Blade Philosophical' music, which in this case are not dull at all. What differentiates Rites of Thy Degringolade from the rest of Canadian or simply other bands in the same genre (no matter if we call it War Metal or Bestial Black/Death), is how their music really transmits, through its sound and ambience, a warlike and martial spirit, and not only the aggression and ferociousness other bands of the same scene are known for (Axis of Advance probably being the only ones with a very close approach). And this is more emphasized than ever on 'The Blade Philosophical', because of several reasons. The compositions being for sure the main one, but the production being very close to that by shaping the whole work with a very special feeling.
On the first, their new songs retain the essence the band is known for, yet providing some slightly more intrincate progressions (I don't want to use the term "technical"), containing a great variation of blasting and furious fast parts (maybe they slightly slowed down since 'An Ode to Sin', and quite a bit if we compare this to 'Totality', which was a lot more grinding) with some very entrancing mid-paced heavy riffing; but on an overall level, with a more natural and mature flow that allows songs to develop in a much better way and makes them stick to your brain for a while. I actually find them a Thrashing vibe in some spots.
Another thing I was positively happy about is the fact that Paulus has not lost his personal touch at all. On the vocal side, he might very well be one of the most original singers in this sub-genre, as his register was always a lot easier to understand than others, but also because his lines are majestically places and developed between the different parts and tempos of the record, perfectly adapting to them. And that helps getting into their lyrics and memorising them very easily (can't count how many times I've found myself reciting the title track or their first single's). He sounds a bit less raspy this time, true, but I think this fits very well the overall sound. And on percussion, well, just as J. Read is the most savage drummer I can think of, Paulus is a lot more creative and always finds the perfect rythm and detail for each situation.
Not to give less importance to Mr. J.Wroth and N.K.L.H, in charge of the strings, who take a lot more advantage this time of heavy riffs and disharmonies to entrance the listener into their warlike ambiences. The combination of both, heavy low chords and twisted high-pitched insanity, is as devastating as piercing and brain-damaging. And do not shiver if I say I even spot some melodic intentions that, believe me, suit very well the rest (best example could be in "The Universe in Three Parts").
On the production, as I was advancing some paragraphs above, there's also some important improvements. No matter how punishing and intrincate the songs are on 'The Blade Philosohical', and they are indeed, there's always a very cold, conquering and almost machine-like atmosphere surrounding them. The drums sound definitely helps on that, which is strange because they sound more natural and defined than ever, specially as their sound wasn't that good on 'An Ode to Sin' to be honest. Despite the massive retaliation they unleash and the constant chaos the guitars spawn, they provide a martial and pounding effect that gives an extra heaviness and strength to their music.
Rites of Thy Degringolade came back, and they can deservedly reclaim their place on the extreme Metal pantheon, as they go much further than the regular War Metal band. Their way is the one of the conqueror, always surpassing themselves, always finding new ways to vanquish, always marching on to victory.
It's 2018, so I've been following Kalevi and Ilmar's Metal endeavours for fifteen years now, since 'Vana Vigala Loits' came out. And I must admit that, no matter how much I always liked their song writing, I would have never expected the path of progression they took since Bloody Sign was put to rest and Chaos Echoes arose from its ashes. Actually, the 'Chaos Echoes' LP was already quite a surprise, but it was only the very beginning of a journey in the plains of creativity and experimentation that doesn't seem to find an end. And on this year the French chaos mongers have come back with their second full-length (still recorded as quartet although Fabien seems to have left them after that), again on Nuclear War Now! Productions, and right after a 12"EP entitled 'The Unfathomable' released by the same label.
Just like it happened with 'Transient', the first thing that caught my attention from 'Mouvement', already when seeing some pictures of it online, before buying the record, and obviously in much better detail when I received the physical version, was the visual part. Chaos Echoes have always spent very special attention to the whole packaging; and this case is not an exception. The chosen color this time is red, on a golden background, and Stéfan has done a hell of a job capturing the very essence of the title in one single image for the cover. You can think of blood, lava or flames, but whichever is the option, you can truly feel it emerging from the cardboard and flowing towards you. The backcover is also very eye-catching, keeping golden tones as main reference for a circular design that makes me think of gear wheels or some kind of cosmic representation. In addition, and as it's becoming usual in Chaos Echoes releases, an obi includes all the release details. So only by taking the vinyl in your hands you get a hell of a start, and it's obviously not the end of it.
Switching to the musical side now, if I should very quickly point out a difference (or THE difference) between 'Mouvement' and 'Transient', that would definitely be the fact that Chaos Echoes new record is a lot more straight to the point than its predecessor, while maintaining quite closely the same approach to their new sound. I more or less expected this when I found out this new recording was a lot shorter (clocking in almost thirty-three minutes, so half the length of their previous output, filling one LP instead of two). But it still caught me with some surprise, as they start with a big punch in the face called "Embodied By Perfidious Curls In The Innervated Flux", with really fast and aggressive riffs and blasting drums in a Black Metal manner, and then morph it into an hypnotic set of repetitive loops where the bass takes all the prominence of a session of pure trance. This balance between aggressive and progressive parts makes the equilibrium between the flows that dominate the recording, and both extremes take advantage of either twistedness or simplicity when it's necessary; of dissonance and devouring low-ends, depending of the required; but they never let the tide decrease, in opposition to the more slow paced dynamics of their previous record, which sometimes required of a complete stoppage of progression and intensity in order to redirect them. And by that, just like the cover, they give the album title a real form with their music.
Chaos Echoes keep their very own essence, which still has a very good dose of Death and Black Metal both in shape and soul, and which does not use adjectives like "progressive" or "avantgarde" only as a selling point nor as to show-off. You can find elements that remind of Post-something, you can definitely hear that they enjoy Free-Jazz and complex forms of songwriting that require of a virtuoso technique to develop sounds, but their best attribute is without a doubt the capability they have to transform all of that into music that catches you with groove and embraces you with its inmense ambience. I would also point that 'Mouvement', despite showing how comfortable the band is in the (almost) instrumental territory they chose for Chaos Echoes since 'Transient', which only uses vocals as a exceptional instrument to be used in small doses, giving them a whole different perspective on the genre and a point of diferentiation, I can very easily find good spots for a more common type of vocal lines. Be it in the more riff oriented parts or on some intrincate tremolo progressions. And this is also a good proof of their music not becoming too much devoid of soul or "musician oriented", because you can find the way to sing on it.
It's also interesting to find some close similitudes to other bands in 'Mouvement', like could be Aluk Todolo in the beginning of "As An Embraceable Magma Leading The Subliminal", the slowest Gorguts and Deathspell Omega on "Shine On, Obsidian! Ego! Ego! Echo Back To The Yearning Of The Self", Aosoth in the fastest parts of the first track of the record or the absolutely mesmerizing "Through Kaleidoscopic Haze Of Unexpected Extents", or Inverloch, Year of No Light and the latest Yob in some of the slowest and doomiest parts of the record, like "Surrounded And Amazed By These Unplumbed Abysses Of The Inverted Sea" and "Alas! Here Is The Feebles' Assent, Exalted By Your Mouth Full Of Flies", last track of the record and with some Eastern sounding references. I obviously do not attribute this to a lack of ideas or to these French maniacs copying ideas from those bands, but more to the fact that all of these bands show their apreciation for non-strictly Metallic influences which sometimes emerge in strangely similar ways despite the bigger differences that separate them. The fact that Cyrile Gachet (Bagarre Générale, and in charge of many of Year of No Light's recordings) took again care of the recording and mixing of 'Mouvement', and that Alan Douches mastered it this time, definitely has some impact in their sound being a bit more open and wrapping in comparison to the heaviness of 'Transient'.
Definitely one of the most interesting views on experimentation within the fields of extreme Metal, and probably one of the most unique bands not only in NWN! roster (obviously, next to Stargazer) but also in current underground scene. Lots of respect.
And the Leviathan, the one named Vassafor, emerged again from the seas of New Zealand this past 2017, after a period of semi-latency since the obliterating split album with Temple Nightside (let's not forget the fabulous Ancient Meat Revived), to unleash their extremely expected second full-length, which was released in a collaboration between Debemur Morti, the label who took charge in 2015 of compiling their post-2010 releases on a 3xCD, and Iron Bonehead Productions, whith whom they already worked on the mentioned split album from 2015 and another from 2014 with VK's other abomination, Sinistrous Diabolus.
Taking into account that Obsidian Codex is one of my favorite records in that sub-genre floating amidst the waters of (diabolical) Death Metal, (bestial) Black Metal and (suffocating) Doom that has broken the dominant trends and rules in the resurgency of the extreme Metal underground, taking it back to its primary sludge, I had mixed feelings of impatience and fear to disappointment when confronting 'Malediction'. Partially, it was due to the fact that their last two split releases, despite being easily above the average we can find in the genre, didn't catch me as strongly as their debut album. Although I tried to receive this new offering with blank ears and as less expectations as possible; something hard, to say the least, after reading VK's comments on Bardo Methodology on the production, and seeing the absolutely fabulous artwork that was going to cover the vinyl version(which I found more fitting and eye-catching than David Herrerías version, used for both the CD and the inside of the vinyl gatefold).
'Malediction' is a somewhat different beast if we compare it to Vassafor's debut full-length, although not so far from the band's general aesthetics. 'Obsidian Codex' pushed the heavy side of Vassafor to the limit, it was an incredibly suffocating record (with a clearer penchant for Funeral Doom and doomier Death Metal), yet still keeping the (old and sometimes Greek-ala-Varathron) Black Metal spirit of the band. While their new output takes us a bit closer to the more varied and dynamic side of their sound, and it brings back, and puts higher than ever I would say, their most diabolical and chaotic face, with that mix of all the most extreme and darkest sides of the Metal spectrum. The rythmic side is probably the most unilateral and savage element, with a good mix of bestial blastbeats and slower simple, catchy and old-school parts. All in all, with a good Blasphemy/Beherit flavour: raw, straight and fucking punishing. While lead guitars take a lot of different and meandering paths, fusing chainsaw power-chords with devilish and possessing melodies, but also with a lot of noise and absolutely demential details going on all around (something Vassafor are very keen to), which make me guess how many tracks have been used on every song. And I'll not forget VK's voice, which is like the deepest leviathan grunt coming from the deepest pits, but with some very unsettling termination that makes it quite different than the usual gutural tone of the genre.
The strength of Vassafor and this record is actually how they take the old ways of Black, Death and Doom Metal, Extreme Metal in its full meaning, the rotten and pestilential, the one with no boundaries nor compromise, with a composition that is devoid of too many unnecessary arrangements or ornaments but spares no resources in finding all the required tools to bring the intensity, the intrincate atmosphere and the impact of their songs to a whole new level of thickness, painfulness, viciousness and obscurity. It may actually seem quite simple on a first listen, with some monotonous drum patterns and reverb loaded vocals, but with each listen and each new look at every part, I've find new details, no matter if it's a crazy lead ending or a scream crossing over a completely noisy riff.
It's actually on the sonical level, on how the production manages all this mix of elements being spit all together, where this record becomes pretty challenging. On the interview I was mentioning at the beginning of this review, VK explained how he wanted all the instruments to sound as one element, and it is undeniable he managed it (very well I would say). I wouldn't expect less after listening to how he managed the mixing/mastering duties of 'Doom Cult' and 'War of All Against All', 'Three Devils Dance', 'Grave Ekstasis' or 'Master Satan's Witchery'. But it's still very important to note that his work on 'Malediction' proofs how different it is to do a savage, raw and incredibly somber recording from using those adjectives to cover a bad job or a lack of musical abilities. As you can clearly distinguish every element going on in these fifty-four minutes of apocalyptic resonances, no matter how many they are, but that doesn't mean it is an easy nor pleasant journey. More likely to travelling through one of your worst nightmares and having quite a big trouble finding a way out.
I doubt you can find a tighter or simply better example of how the pure devilish sounds of the underground sound on this new century. 'Malediction' is Extreme Metal from the old age for the new age. Crushing.
This strangely named mysterious Norwegian Black Metal duo came out of nothing on past year 2016 as a new addition to continuously growing Terratur Possessions roster. I say mysterious because I have no info at all about the two guys involved in the band, V. Einride (taking care of all instruments) and K.R. (managing the vocals), as apparently they’ve had no previous musical activities, but knowing they are from Trondheim, I will guess they’re just close friends from other acts related to their label such as Celestial Bloodshed, Mare and Kaosritual/Dark Sonority.
I still have my doubts though about their lack of past experience, as the skills shown on ‘Whoredom Rife’ since the very first riff starts are definitely not those of some youngsters doing their first spins. They sound not only clearly oriented and defined composition-wise, but also very confidently played.
Although maybe I should start by speaking a bit more about these Norse cultists music, which is definitely influenced by their place of origin, and I’m not speaking about Folk music here. I’m speaking about the already legendary second and third waves of Black Metal, as Whoredom Rife songs are very much inspired by (especially) the likes of Satyricon ‘Nemesis Divina’, Immortal’s ‘Battles in the North’ and some of the first Emperor and Dimmu Borgir grandiose atmospheres.
As you can guess by those comparisons, they combine an aggressive, raw and cold pure Norse Black Metal sound, which is the core of Whoredom Rife’s songs, with lots of very intense blastbeats and lacerating riffs, creating that ice storm type of wall of sound, as well as some more atmospheric and even slightly melodic/progressive arrangements to make everything more interesting. From that already very Norwegian inspired basis we can even include some additional, less obvious, references (or hints), as these guys also show their taste for first Enslaved aggressive and epic mid-paced cavalcades, some of the first Arcturus experimental side and even some of that dehumanized coldness of Thorns (on the last self-titled track).
The thing is, despite all these external references, the duo has produced some very convincing thing here, with four solid songs (alone and as a whole) gathering everything that attracted me from that golden era of the genre, with lots of great captivating and catchy riffs (not just the topical over-burnt shit we’ve all listened to a thousand times), still possessing a certain macabre and violent feeling (but which are quite grandiose at the same time), with melodies and disharmonies enveloping everything in an ice-cold feeling and expanding as a cloak of shadows, and some clever arrangements to keep everything more interesting and varied. Far from being only one of those copycats infesting the Black Metal scene with nothing to say, Whoredom Rife build up a very strong sound as a basis of their sound, which might still need to evolve but at least does it from the right place, and do not excuse of hide their lack of musicality or ideas in the usual "kvlt" or "raw" rant.
Actually, on the production side, for a debut recording, I must say they did an almost perfect job. They attended Rune Stavnesli’s Godt Selskap Studios (where several of last Manes and Keep of Kalessin works have been produced, as well as Necrophagia’s ‘The Divine Art of Torture’ if I’m not wrong). The record sounds pretty clean, very axed on the high tones, in a very Norwegian way of doing things too, but very powerful and intense too, with a very good mix that allows listening to every detail. However, despite the forward positioning of the drums in the mix that infuses a lot of energy to the record, I do not enjoy very much the sound of the double bass drum, which, unless I'm wrong, is triggered.
All this is presented on a gatefold vinyl (black or limited edition in red) with a strongly attractive (even if slightly topical nowadays) cover by Hathrul (José Gabriel Alegría Sabogal, who previously took care of Morbid Slaughter’s ‘A Filthy Orgy Of Horror And Death’) and a very professional layout by Polish Kontamination Design (who have worked with Blaze of Perdition, Slidhr, Voidhanger or Demonical, amongst others).
'Whoredom Rife' is an almost perfect debut, which ends up being a bit too short and with its flaws on the personality, but perfectly taking care of all the rest. So I have big expectations for the continuation, which they already announced recently through an advance track as a full-length to be released in 2017.
I must say it, Blood Incantation's first effort, 'Interdimensional Extinction', wasn't that special. I know it got very good reviews and comments but, taking into consideration the high level Death Metal is taking back in the last years, I didn't find anything remarkable on that recording. I didn't dislike it either, as their dark brand of Death Metal could hardly unplease me, but that's it. So it took me some time to finally decide myself to check 'Starspawn', despite the extremely good comments (again) I read.
And the first reaction I got was way better than expected, why would I deny it. It was actually truly surprised. As ‘Starspawn’ is a real step forward for these four guys from Denver. And I mean it at all levels. I needed a few listens to start digesting the album and going beyond that first impression of a twisted a too varied sound and end up enjoying all the rest (the dark atmosphere, the otherworldly feeling and the amazingly capturing progressions and flow of their songs), which is what should really matter in a record of this kind. Once I had a more or less a global view on ‘Starspawn’, I dissected the album into its different parts and I was able to analyse its sound, form and extension in more depth, everything started making more sense and became way more interesting. A lot I should say.
One of the things that I usually get surprised by when reading reviews and opinions on bands on the net is who they get compared to, as often those comparisons are (to say it in the kindest way) quite far from reality, and in the case of Blood Incantation it became even more evident. In their case, I've read (among others) about Death, Morbid Angel, Gorguts, Incantation, Nocturnus, Demilich, Timeghoul, Immolation, At the Gates, Slayer, Suffocation, The Chasm, Atheist, Mithras, Dead Congregation, Sarpanitum, Deathspell Omega, Vektor ... I mean, if we added Entombed, Grave, bolt Thrower and Autopsy we could have all the possible amalgams of Death Metal together. And even Pink floyd was mentioned!
Well, I can't say I agree with most of those comparisons, and there’s actually a few that sound miles away from them to my ears (although I would be open to listen to any clarifications on the matter). On one side because, despite Blood Incantation are a technical band to some extent, I don't think they achieve (at any level) the twisted complexity of some of those bands, as their technicality is quite delimited to certain type of parts and arrangements and a lot more focused on the songs structures than on showing off how good musicians they are (even if there’s still some of that on a lower level, like a few guitar leads, some tapping or similar, etc … which does not hurt anyone). On the other, because I think their sound, despite some more experimental (or simply outsider) details, as well as winks to this and that band, is quite well focused on a very enclosed style and sound, which is Death Metal in the old American way of doing it. And I guess some of the comparisons come more due to the fact they have a big sci-fi influence on the lyrical side, but that’s all.
Maybe the first Gorguts could be a good reference though if we speak of a major influence on their writing, as they were one of those bands introducing some level of complexity in a still dark and pretty obscure sound, as well as Death (if we look at the more melodic/technical guitar parts (but not so much the riffs I would say). If we mix them both, we could actually very well add Disincarnate to the formula. Morbid Angel should also be mentioned as an unavoidable influence on their sound, although it would be mainly due to the dragging mid-paced parts which were masterfully perfected by Mr. Azagthoth and are so effective when tempo slows down, at to a lower extent for some faster and more diabolical riffs that still owe ‘Altars of Madness’ a lot. For the rest, I might have have seen this and that influence in a very occasional detail, but that’s it.
I would also add that, despite the blastbeats and the fastest guitar parts, there is also some space for (very well placed and breath inducing) slower, heavier and more atmospheric passages in 'Starspawn' (just have a look at the first track, "Vitrification of Blood Pt.1") that remind me of some of classic doomier Death Metal bands from Europe such as Demigod or even the first Paradise Lost (here you have my contribution to the list above!) and also others, confirming that these guys have a very eclectic and varied musical taste (the best example is the multi-faceted instrumental “Meticulous Soul Devourment”), even if those parts are, again, only details and not the most present ones on the album.
In addition to everything mentioned previously, and not to make this review sound like these guys have zero personality, we can very well speak of a Blood Incantation sound, but it would be more in the way they mix the different parts and give them their own touch. The maelstrom of monumental and suffocating riffs next to faster and more melodically backed-up parts they throw into the listener’s face, generating a truly intense avalanche of the darkest sounds, is definitely closer to how the newest school of old-school Death Metal (if that makes any sense) has been treating the style, with a pretty raw and steamrollering brutality which is increased even more by how Paul Riedl throws his vocals out. Actually, the vocal part might be one of the most original part of their sound as they are not perfectly defined (guttural or high-pitched) verses but more reverb drowned invocations, again in a similar way to other recent Death Metal bands which might have an eye on some slightly more bestial sounds.
On the production side, I have some conflicting emotions, because I don’t think the mix is perfect, as there’s a lot of (not extremely but still remarkably) chaotic parts (yes, chaotic might be good be it can also be bad at some point). However, I think their sound on ‘Starspawn’ is (again) very alike that of the old U.S. Death Metal bands, with a dark yet powerful rhythm section and a pretty raw approach on the final result. Taking into consideration the World Famous studio, where they did the recording, mixing and mastering of the record, is mostly known for R&B artists (if we do not take into consideration Biohazard and Living Colour, which are still far from their sound), the result is a real achievement. I would still like to see how these songs could sound if they had been managed by someone with more experience on a style like Death Metal both on the recording/mixing and the mastering duties.
All being said, Blood Incantation have now consolidated their name and become one of the bands not to miss on anybody’s list of current Death Metal acts that are worth. They’ve actually appeared on a lot of 2016 top albums lists, and will be touring Europe very soon next to Cruciamentum, which looks like something not to be missed.
It’s amazing how Cult of Fire have gone, in just a few years (they were formed in 2010), from a small underground Black Metal band who’s main attractive seemed to be the fact that the line-up was made of ex-Maniac Butcher members, a band I never was interested in (although if we speak of Mr. Tomáš Corn other band, Lykathea Aflame, then things get a lot more interesting), to an entity with real (musical and lyrical) personality, as well as one of those bands who have invested a lot of effort into taking things to a new level in terms of theatrics on stage next to other now very well known names in the genre.
After a self-released 10»EP in 2010, they released, in the two following years, two full-length albums which I would describe as simply majestic. Despite the differences between both of them, we could say they take us back to the times when atmosphere, melody and orchestral influences in Black Metal didn’t directly end up in cheesiness or bad taste. But, honestly, I didn't really like their following 7"EP from 2014 dedicated to Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, which sounded quite more Post-Rock oriented to my ears (although I promised myself to revisit it at some point and get a second opinion). So I was wondering if that would be the path they would be following on their next releases (and kind of expected it wouldn't, to be honest).
Back to this dying year, in the past month of September they announced a new mini album which would be available at their show during Prague Death Mass III, a festival organised by the members of Cult of Fire, whose physical release (managed by the band’s own label too) was presented on an amazing picture LP shaped with the form of a lotus and packaged in a lotus shaped sleeve too, again designed by Teitan Arts in a very similar way to their previous record artwork, only that this time the figure represented on the cover is not Kali but Chinnamasta. And both the cover and the inner sleeve look amazing, with a lot of details and symbols all over which you can be looking at for a while and which look quite unique in comparison to a lot of other bands artworks. I can’t praise enough the work Teitan Arts has done here (and both on past Cult of Fire and Death Karma releases, specially on ‘The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part I’, which is beyond amazing).
When I first played 'Life, Sex and Death' I was quite happy to discover they had gone back to something closer to the sound of ‘Ascetic Meditation of Death’, with that highly melodic and enveloping atmospheric Black Metal combining fast Northern influenced tremolo parts with more open and meditating ambiances as well as some more experimental influences, all in all still imbued with an Eastern European (necromantic) feeling. They actually create a bombastic effect since the very first moment with the great opening track “Life”, which might be amongst their best compositions to date, and which also takes back memories from when I discovered their debut, ‘Triumvirát’. This song starts with a grandiose quite simple mid-paced part which ends on an acoustic guitar passage only to become even greater thanks to martial percussion and a beautiful melody and then exploding into a more aggressive and fast cavalcade. Pure Cult of Fire, only better and even more accurate.
This is followed by “Chinnamasta Mantra”, a female recited mantra on a way less extreme and very ambient/new age and also oriental inspired track that is the exact contraposition to “Life”, calm, beautiful and quite luminous, very trance inducing (I would actually love seeing them explore this kind of composition a bit more on a next recording), and thus creating the perfect bridge (before turning the vinyl upside down) for the continuation with “Death”.
This one is a very straightforward track which directly starts with a fast and melodic part over which Mr. Devilish’s vocals sound absolutely possessed. If their guitar lines and keyboards are not good enough, when more mid-paced parts appear you can here a sitar creating one more layer of on their already very rich sound and giving it that special oriental touch that makes it so special and tying it so well with their lyrics. The song ends with an ever faster and more aggressive part, with Tomáš his powerful drumming.
They close the record with “Tantric Sex”, another calmer and more experimental track with sitar and clean guitar opening it over which clean vocals recite some other mantra and suddenly changing into a more Post-Rock oriented track which could very well remind of Godspeed You Black Emperor! or even Sigur Rós, but adding to it blastbeats to drive it towards the end of this release. It’s definitely not the most original thing they’ve done, it’s actually a bit clichéd, but it still serves its purpose in the context of ‘Life, Sex & Death’, closing it in a beautiful and intense manner and still keeping the essence and overall ambiance of this release.
So yes, this is not an EP they’ve just released to get some money while they prepare their next album nor something only for their most die-hard fans and collectors. Don’t be mislead by the impressive presentation. There’s great and mandatory Cult of Fire songs in here, which are very well connected to serve the global concept, and they are again presented under a great sound production as already happened (specially) on their previous album. I like the way they keep a slight chaotic and raw feeling no matter how clean and well recorded and mix they songs are. It possesses the magic but doesn’t end up in a mess, quite the opposite actually.
If you missed the vinyl version, there's a tape version which was just released by Triangulum Ignis, again with a fabulous presentation. Whatever the format, get it if you were already captured by these Czech's sound, you won't regret it.
The apparition of Head of the Demon in 2012, with their self-titled debut album, was a real joy after witnessing the demise of Kaamos, the band which (next to Repugnant) lighted the resurgence of Death Metal in the first decade of the XXI century. I perfectly remember seeing them at Party San 2006 (what was supposed to be their last show ever, although later they did a few more if I’m not wrong) and thinking how could a band with their potential and position at that time call it quits, which they actually confirmed with their posthumous EP ‘Scales of Leviathan’.
But let’s focus again on the band I mean to speak about, jump in time six years later and mention, just in case someone still does not know the relation between both bands, that Head of the Demon was formed by two ex-Kaamos (and A Mind Confused) members, Konstantin Papavassiliou (guitars, who I remember playing live with Dead Congregation too at some point if my memory serves well) and Thomas Åberg; and start by saying their first album didn’t leave my car stereo for a while back when it came out, in 2012. Their blend of old-schooled Black Metal and Doom completely captivated me, on one side because it sounded like nothing else I could think of in the current Black Metal scene, and on the other because it reeked of old cults from the nineties without the need of being one more band in the always growing army of clones.
So, when Invictus announced the release of ‘Sathanas Trimesgistos’ I knew I had to grab this LP as soon as it would be out, with no need to listen to any advance track. However, such was my impatience that I finally ended up listening to their label’s bandcamp digital version a lot of times before getting the piece of wax. And I was both surprised and amazed by what I found in this second album of the Swedes. Surprised because there’s a big step from their first album, even if this is a perfect continuation to ‘Head of the Demon’. And amazed because, since the very first listen it was clear to me that this was going to be a great album, even if it required a few proper listens before it properly clicked.
One of the things I like a lot about ‘Sathanas Trismegistos’ since the very first listen though, and probably what has most clearly got stuck in my head from this record, what definitely captured my attention in mind and soul towards it with every new listening, is the fact that it sounds so archaic and it flows in such a magical and ethereal way. And this is partially due to the fact that one of the big changes of this record comes from the way they managed to sound; the guitars and the bass are far from the traditionally highly distorted, usually more on the high end of frequencies, kind of sound one expects on a Black Metal record.
It’s quite the opposite here, as distortion is very (very) subtle, and mostly present when they let some power chords free, while on the more dynamically mid-paced driven progressions they sound warm and very clean, especially the bass, who takes a very leading role along all the records. That, and I should also mention a quite remarkable amount of reverb, which helps making notes float for a while. So it was not a surprise when I started digging into the album recording information and discovered it had been recorded live in studio (Top Sound Studio, where they mixed and mastered it too), except for the vocals, which were done at Gehinnom Studio. And I say it’s no surprise because you can feel how the whole band gathers as a unit due to how naturally everything evolves.
Although the production is not the only reason for such an ethereal sound. Their new songs are way more laid back and atmospheric, in a Doomy/Prog or “Occult Rock” kind of way without leaving the proper Black Metal spectrum, with an amazing rhythm section, especially if we look at Thomas work on the drums combining slow and simple patterns with other much more complex and dynamic progressions, which I simply love. Vocals are treated in a very personal way too, because of the use of a lot of reverb, creating the effect that there’s different voices at once, and second because in most of the songs they repeat lyrics a lot, forcing the listener to end up singing them in a trace-like manner (which I found myself doing, especially on “Nox Est Lux” and “L.L.L.”).
We could definitely draw some lines between Head of the Demon and both old bands, such as Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost or Mercyful Fate, and newer ones such as Negative Plane/Occultation or Saturnalia Temple (with whom Konstantin played on ‘Ur’), because of the gloomy and kind of theatrical ambiances they induce. I could think about old Samael or Mortuary Drape too for some reason. It might be the occult feeling and maybe even the vocals, even if Saibot uses a quite cleaner tone than Vorphalack. But these Swedes sound way slower and less aggressive, and in some way they retain a pretty personal essence. It might be closeness to a more proto-metallic sound, the way they build quite repetitive and monotonous songs which surprisingly end up being deeply progressive and atmospheric, or simply that their songs do not retain the impression that they only listened to Black Metal.
If all this wasn’t enough yet, I will finally add that the record is very well presented, with a cover reproducing Cornelis Galle “Lucifer” (with the addition of the album title in a way it simply looks like it always had been there) plus some extra artwork from Mr. Timo Ketola (the devil wings on the backcover), Thomas Karlsson (the Lucifer drawing on the insert sheet) and Michael Idehall on some additional art.
Hail Sathanas Trismegistos. Hail Head of the Demon. Hail this impressive album.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.