Despite following the Crepusculo Negro bands since more or less their beginnings, I missed 'War Cry Lament' when it came out, so I didn't listen to Shataan until their appearance on the fantastic 'Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons' collaboration album with "Caminando del destino / Desert Smoke / Wells Run Dry", a long eleven minute track where they showed a tremenduously varied and personal vision of Black Metal, which ended up in making me doubt which track I preferred from that record, Volahn's or theirs, although "Chamalcan" was a great competitor.
Fortunately for me, just one year later Iron Bonehead Productions released the first full-length of this California based three piece, which by the way includes Mr. Volahn on the bass duties (and in charge of the layout too) and Mr. Murdunbad, from Arizmenda, Dolorvotre and Kuxan Suum, on the drums. And I say fortunately because I couldn't stop playing to their previously released track and impatiently needed more from this band, and because 'Weigh of the Wolf' is like an improved and even more interesting version of what Shataan offered there.
In the eight tracks included on this LP, divided between "Awaken" and "Burial" sides, Shaatan give us their very personal vision of what Black Metal should be, with a departure from the place where Nordic Black Metal (where most of the Crepúsculo Negro bands found their main inspirations) would cross its path with as different styles as could be Prog'Rock, Folk (obviously, I'm not speaking about pseudo-Celtic or Viking stuff here) or even slight hints of Post-Punk/Psichobilly (not many, but the first track has definitely some of that). Including, as obvious as it may sound, but just in case you still don't know the musicians behind this, astonishing performances by the three men behind the instruments, and most especially from Volahn, who shows here what a great axeman he can be outside of playing violent stuff.
Nevertheless, the production of the record is probably what first surprised me when I put it on the turntable, with a very subtle distorsion which might shock a bit when one expects some darker and maybe rougher sound, but definitely helps distinguishing every detail (of the many) the guitar and bass lines depict, something that would definitely become more complex given how twisted they can get sometimes; as an example, the last part of "Release", where both instruments together with the drums fall into an amazing sonic spiral. 'Weigh of the Wolf' was recorded at the Black Twilight Studio and then sent to Arthur Rizk (who has been working with such different artists as Power Trip, Prurient or Inquisition on their new record) to mix and master it at Solomon's Gate studio. And the result can only be described as perfect for the very atmospheric yet raw and sharp sound Shataan draw with their music, making the songs reach some kind of ethereal/floating texture without ever loosing their rabid core.
The second part of the surprise came from the unusual way to manage the vocals, at least for most of the Black Metal bands one can see nowadays, because they are clean and, most of the time, slightly high-pitched, mostly reminding of Bathory (especially on 'Blood On Ice', and the best example would be "Chamber"), maybe being one of the reasons the limitation of the man behind the voice reaching the higher notes, which I do not mind at all as he still performs them with a notorious feeling. In some very few cases I could think of the cleanest voices used in Borkanagar in their older albums too. And that main voice is most of the time supported by another whispered vocal track with a good dose of reverb, which makes the ambiance a bit more ghostly. On "Night Comes Along", the last track of the album, thoguh he shows us what an amazing tone he has when going into lower regions, reminding me a lot of Mr. Cowgill of King Dude, maybe due to the use of acoustic guitars too, and being this the most different song of the record, with quite a different vibe but still having its place.
Above that, there are two more things that differentiate Shataan from any other Black Metal band, and it's the use of a flute, in a very Western/desert kind of way (makes me think of the Kung Fu series for some reason), which as weird as it may sound, has an amazing and very original effect, and secondly and maybe even more important, the use of whistles, which is even more rare, probably for the first time in the story of Black Metal, and very (very) chilling (their appearance, in "Stand Apart", makes the song even more surrialistic than the already strange feeling of listening to a Rush cover). I should complain to Mr. Shataan for not using them more often though, as there's plenty of place for them.
But this two differentiating details, as well as the ones commented sooner on this review, would obviously not be enough to make this album as astounding as it is if it wasn't for how majestically these guys bring you back to those golden years when bands such as the already named Borknagar, Ulver or Ved Buens Ende painted their own vision of the genre with a different palette and yet manage to sound as Shataan and no one else thanks to the still personal brush-strokes they've thrown on the record, for how superbly the progressions are developed from the most meditating mid-paced parts, where the drums still keep a very dynamic pace, to the faster and yet quite technicaly inextricable ones, with a lot of ingenious twists and tempo turnovers from all three musicians (and here I must say again, and very honestly, congratulations Mr. Volahn), and last but not least, for the mystical soul-tripping music they released in order to offer us a unique voyage to the other side.
This is the kind of record proving Black Metal has stilll a lot to offer in terms of progression, so if you're searching for something far from the most usual topics of the genre nowadays, but keeping the feeling and mysticism of the essence attached to it, get a copy of 'Weigh of the Wolf'.
I first listened to these Finnish maniacs in a pretty unusual way, as their first album ('Valkoinen jättiläinen') was sold-out when I sent an order to Norwegian label Gravplass Propaganda, so I picked a live tape they had from them. That tape, despite being only a raw and chaotic recording of their show at North Karelian Black Winds II, helped me get an idea of how Oksennvs didn't care very much about styles and labels.
Oksennvs is one of those weird bands you find from time to time who break the usual barriers or limits established by music genres and purisms, and just give you a totally different approach to something you are used to. In this case, call it Death Metal, call it Black Metal, call it even Doom Metal. As the way these guys understand their music is definitely not easy to define according to the parameters one would usually use when reviewing a record.
Sure they play extreme and dark Metal, with both fast and slow parts. Are they old-school? Are they technical? Are they primitive? Or maybe more modern? Well, in some way they are all os these adjectives, and even some more. The point of departure is definitely some sort of obscure, twisted and even kind of demented/obscene form of Death Metal. And it's definitely influenced by some of the initiators of this sub-genre. But if you just check the first track of this tape, "Madon Sanat" and its five minutes and a half where you can find as much Death Metal rythms as Norsecore melodies mixed with a very Proggy development of the bass, then compare it to the short second blast of "Waltijan Sanat", with its slowish Tech'Death approach, just to be drowned into the dark and entrancing monotonous guitar lines of "Kaikki kalmat kadotcon", third four minute and a half delirium of 'Musta Kirja', you might end up thinking what the fuck crosses the minds of this trio when they hit their rehearsal place. And there's where they probably recorded this EP by the way, as it sounds just straight from their amplifiers into the tape, with no polished details nor overdubs.
In some way they could have similarities to such different bands as Diskord (and, therefore, obviously Auptopsy), Karnarium, Demilich, Teitanblood, Swallowed or even with those other crazy Finnish guys from Cause for Effect, because of the weirdness of their compositions, but at the same time they sound as Oksennus and no one else, especially because of how well and uniquely they transform very basic and raw ideas and resources into a twisted mass of evil invocations.
On side B of the tape we find a very nice surprise as, in addition to their three own songs, these maniacs have recorded "Warmetal", which is obviously a cover of the cult (but not as frequently remembered as Beherit, Archgoat and Impaled Nazarene) Finnish band Barathrum. And it's simply a superb reprise of that already cool song, raw and filthy as fuck, heavy and catchy as only Barathrum know, and with an amazingly powerful vocal interpretation by K.K.
If you like your Death Metal dark, ugly and crazy, make sure not to miss these Finns. They have a big potential, which I'm sure they can still explore a lot. They've actually just released a new album, so it's a great idea to jump onto it right after this EP finishes.
Ancient Meat Revived: A Tribute to Cold Meat Industry (Iron Bonehead Productions / Nuclear War Now! Productions)
This is one of those awesome ideas you find from time to time searching for interesting records, among dozens of uninteresting and repetitive shit that floats around in the Metal underground. And it comes from none other than two of the labels who with time have shown how much they deserve their position in nowadays extreme Metal world.
When Iron Bonehead Productions and Nuclear War Now! Productions announced the release of a compilation of covers paying tribute to Cold Meat Industry, I couldn’t be excited enough, as the Swedish label had a very important role in my first explorations of the darkest sounds of the underground, showing me very well that not always Metal had the most sinister and extreme answer to that. Having some of the best bands in nowadays Death Metal scene, five of them from Australia and New Zealand and the other from Canada (which is not a simple coincidence), was even better to discover.
But the best of it all was listening to it for the first time and finding something above my expectations, as the most interesting part of it all is how well each of the bands has adapted each cover to their ow sound and (sonic) aesthetics, resulting in the fact that this record could be listened to as a compilation of new songs from each of the artist participating in it. Actually, I didn’t know all of the songs that have been covered on this LP, not even had listened to all of the Cold Meat Industry artists, but this didn’t make me enjoy it less.
The record starts with Sinistrous Diabolus covering Aghast with “Sacrifice”. Being the Norwegians one of those bands I’ve frequently read about but never achieved to drown into, it was great doing it through the new New Zealanders prism, as their sinister and highly atmospheric brand of funereal Doom Death drowns into the Dark Ambient fields with a naturalness that is simply amazing. It actually sounds not that far from what one could find on their amazing ‘Total Doom//Desecration’, but that’s a discussion I actually already had with mr. NKS, as the first album of Sinistrous Diabolus had a very big Ambient influence. It’s only that here that vibe is pushed to the limit even more, getting them a bit more away from the Death Metal that still infects their usual compositions. A great track all in all, and without any doubt the most atmospheric of this record.
Following ones on the list are Australians from Spire, covering “Death, Just Only Death...” from the first album of In Slaughter Natives, who were without any doubt my favorite Industrial/Martial band back in the day when I discovered their label (together with The Protagonist first album). Oddly enough, in this case the band I barely knew was Spire, as I’ve only listened to a few tracks on some of their label compilations, but their majestic, highly atmospheric and kind of orchestral sound definitely suits the opulent composition of the Swedes. It’s actually one of the covers that most perfectly carries the feeling and ambiance of the original, with martial drums resonating above the open cords and reverb layered vocals in a very rhythmic way, keeping the monotonous and extremely cold feeling of In Slaughter Native’s sound.
Closing the first side of the vinyl we have Temple Nightside with “Winds of the Lost Soul”, a song taken from ‘… The Last Embrace”, the third album of Arcana (the Folk/Ambient band of ex-Crypt of Kerberos and Macrodex guys). This was to my judgement probably, at least a priori, the strangest and most complicated of the covers included on this record, as Arcana’s folkish sound is far from the heaviness of Death Metal and maybe not as dark as the rest of bands covered. But the Aussies prove me wrong with a superb adaptation of the Swedes to their doomiest side, including great melodies with a very melancholic vibe, great vocal choruses and a very well achieved overall ambiance, even including some faster blastbeat/growl decorated parts which do not break it at all. The last part of the track, with an amazing rise of energy and tempo, is specially epic and soul catching.
The second side starts with what we could label as a perfect marriage. Grave Upheaval are one of the most terrifying and inhuman Death Metal entities to have been summoned from the Australian territory, with a demo and a first album that are among the heaviest and darkest recordings Death Metal has ever bred. And their decision to cover Brighter Death Now’s “Necrose Evangelicum” can only be defined as perfect. The result is, just as in Sinistrous Diabolus case, surprisingly fitting in the fact that one could have expected this track on a new Grave Upheaval album, with their usual chilling melodies and ultra-slow pace, and with the difference of using some speech samples and very atmospheric background clean vocal parts before introducing the usual infra-guttural tone. Maybe the result is slightly less sickening and perverse than Brighter Death Now’s brand of Death Industrial (which is simply unmatchable), but it’s definitely the darkest and most suffocating song of the six presented on “Ancient Meat Revived”, as well as mandatory for any fan of the band, as I am.
Antediluvian are the only band on this compilation that is not coming from Oceania, but the Canadians sound is not far from their peers, and just as most of them, they are one of the bands that have revived the flame of Death Metal for who is writing this. They take care of covering Raison d’Être, the other band I’ve never come to listen to from Cold Meat Industry’s roster, with “Sephiroth”, the first song on their ‘Within The Depths Of Silence And Phormations’. And I have to say this is the strangest and most experimental song of the whole, and maybe the most directly influenced by Cold Meat Industry in terms of execution together with Sinistrous Diabolus. It’s strange though to see how they generate a very Industrial Ambient kind of feeling with some very primitive and aggressive Death Metal resources, as the fastest first part of the song is very influenced by the first dark Death Metal bands, turning later on into a doomier and more atmospheric part, just to end up again into an explosion of violence and primitive evilness, without breaking at all the aesthetics of the song.
The final part of the record is starred by the immensely choking Vassafor, who decided to cover the band that approached most closely the extreme (Black) Metal world from Cold Meat Industry’s roster, which is none other than MZ.412. Their track is somewhat a mix of “Infernal Affairs II” and “Legion Ultra” if I understood it well (re-baptized here as “Infernal Affairs II Doom Legion Ultra”) , and given it their own twist must definitely have been nothing, easy given the already extreme and maniac sound of Henrik "Nordvargr" Björkk’s beast. The cover is surprising in the fact of how good and closely (again) Mr. VK reproduces the feeling and atmosphere of the Maschinenzimmer, with a beginning driven by a huge Industrial rhythm above which samples of marching men and radio speeches develop, after which an almost silenced stop lets us breath before jumping into a Black/Death procession of diabolical Nordik battle riffs. On the other side, despite the track is great, I must say this is maybe the less personal and surprising of all the covers included here, first because it more or less follows the patterns/flow of its creator and because it doesn’t match the overshadowing brutality of Vassafor’s last creations. No matter what, a great conclusion for this awesome idea.
So, only to repeat myself, get this no matter if you were a Cold Meat Industry fan who likes Metal or just enjoy these extreme Metal maestros. It won’t disappoint you.
Irkallian Oracle's second album was one of those records that some of us, followers of the most obscure sounds within the Metal realm, expected the most out of 2016's release vault. And it is because of the impression the first album of the Swedes left on us just three years ago. Although beating 'Grave Ekstasis' seemed like a pretty hard task for this young combo, given the perfection acomplished on their personal view of the darkest and heaviest paths of (ritualistic) Death Metal.
And, if I had to stick to the first time I listened to 'Apollyon', I would define it as a complete failure in comparison to their debut record. Thus this was more due to the fact that I chose the wrong format to do it, as this record is definitely not done to be listened to on digital format. Why? Because of it's heavily bass driven production, which is one of the big changes and maybe the major surprise when one goes through it for the first time. Once you adapt your ears to their sub-sonic tones and the incredibly suffocating atmosphere this generates (after getting the goddamn vinyl), then you start discovering and enjoying the record bit by bit. But rest assured, production is not the only different/interesting point you will find over these fifty seven minutes in comparison to their previous recording. It is simply the one that stands out the most because it has been pushed to the limit, I would dare to say on the fringe of going over it, and the one that has the biggest fault to make it as hard to listen to as it may be.
Although that claustrophobic and highly entrancing result on the technical part of the recording is simply the means to an end, this being represented by six new songs which bring Irkallian Oracle to a whole new level too in terms of ambiance/feeling or, as they would definitely prefer to say it, ritual. They actually come closer to other recent Death Metal bands who have been exploring the magic possibilities of mixing the old paths and forms of the genre in terms of obscurity and brutality (which they already brilliantly captured on their debut) with a more modern approach on both the writing and production of their tracks, and an absolutely incredible evilness that festers from its beginning to its end. That's why I can understand they have been compared a lot more this time to bands such as Portal, Grave Upheaval or Vassafor, especially on the production side, although Irkallian Oracle remain a unique entity due to their exploration of much deeper and atmospheric forms. In fact, despite the form still ties them strongly to Death Metal, I would say they are quite far from the usual violent and hateful forms the style offers, if it wasn't for those inexorable walls of drumming which from time to time make you come back from the other plane and smash you to bits with their ferocity.
'Apollyon' is actually a very slow progressing record, not in a Doom vibe, but more in an Ambient/ceremonial fashion (not to mention again the ritualistic adjective), with very monotonous and trance inducing guitar patterns and all the necessary spaces on the percussion they need not to get into too much groove or aggressiveness; the drums in fact stop playing very frequently, and this creates an amazing effect in terms of atmosphere, apart of distinguishing them from other bands of the same type. But when they do play, they actually use a lot of double bass to increase the sense of repetition on a mid-pace, and it works very efectively. This doesn't mean either that all the record evolves around slow or mid tempos, as one can find such brutal and assaulting parts as the beginning of 'Elemental Crucifixion (Or, "The Instantiation Of Death")', with hyper-fast blastbeats, very twisted guitars and a massive vocal delivery, which help a lot to better draw the flow of such a drowning and devouring sea of shadows.
But, if one looks at the bigger picture from the distance, going back to that slow progression I mentioned above, no matter those bursts of diabolical energy, despite any detail or arrangement I could mention here and there, what really makes this record stand out is how in the end everything is so brilliantlly tied out in order to draw a monumental piece of art that perfectly represents the bottomless pit it receives its name from. Which is finalised by the monumental and nineteen plus minuted 'Unto the Graveyard of Gods', gathering all the trance-like void the record may have and representing the summum of what 'Apollyon' strives for, with a very absorbing pace where looping guitar undertones play a crucial role by hypnotizing the listener, while drums drive the rite with a martial tempo and the growling vocals mantra gets repeated by a far from negligible part of reverb. This picture develops in an almost imperceptible manner until it suddenly ends up in pure ambient layers for several minutes. So when the needle drops from the vinyl, you are abruptedly forced to come back to your mortal shell.
If records like 'Obsidian Codex', 'Transient', 'Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence' or 'Through the Cervix of Hawaah' are the kind of Death Metal you look for to travel out of this plane of existence onto the darkest pits, you definitely need to experience (and not just listen to) 'Apollyon' and be blessed by Irkallian Oracle. Open the gates and walk into the sonic shadows.
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.