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.
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.