If we look back to past occasions when well-known musicians from different bands decided to gather under a common project, what’s usually described as an “all-star band”, we could think about good and bad results. Probably more of the later, due to the fact that they tend to create some sort of confluence of the different sounds of their respective bands and end up with something that lacks of own personality or cohesion. So, when I found out about this new entity called Martröd, and discovered its absolutely remarkable Black Metal all-star line-up, I obviously had my doubts on what I could find on ‘Transmutation of Wounds’, their first EP.
And I say this taking into account that I consider the personalities involved in this project from very good musicians to absolute masters of the darkest sounds. Obviously MkM (Aosoth, Antaeus) and Wrest (Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice) easily stand out, but if you add to them D.G. (Misþyrming, Naðra, Skáphe), Gionata Potenti (Deathrow, Handful of Hate, Macabre Omen, Acherontas …), H.V Lyngdal (Wormlust) and Alex Poole (Chaos Moon, Krieg and Skáphe) …. well, you simply have an amazing bunch of dark creative minds combining their crazy ideas.
‘Transmutation of Wounds’, which is presented under a very fitting cover by Misanthropic-Art (Alchemyst, Baptism, Eternity ...) , only includes two songs “Draumleiðsla” and “Draumleysa”, across sixteen minutes, which I must admit was a bit disappointing when I found out (especially taking into account the current price of vinyl records), but in some way we could say this is justified or understandable for a first effort given the depth and complexity of both tracks, which definitely require a few spins before totally correctly digesting them and getting caught by their thick atmosphere and twisted compositions. So at least they had a good idea by repeating the two songs on both sides of the 12” vinyl, as I’ve been turning the vinyl quite a few times since I received it (I know, I don’t need to do it as I can simply put the needle back on the same side, but understand it, it’s part of the ritual).
And, in some way, I should admit this first recording of the band can be described as I did for most of all-star bands a few paragraphs above, if we put an exception on the last part of that comment. Because in Martröd these five guys have found a meeting point for their deepest and most twisted ideas, managing to melt them in a very cohesive and impacting way, and spawning a beast that could be compared to some of their own bands due to its modern and complex approximation to the genre, but which also has its own personality and form.
Starting by the fact that both tracks are quite different, with “Draumleiðsla” showing their most extreme and sick face, on a somewhat Deathspell Omega vs Antaeus vs Leviathan kind of warped and mind torturing attack of blastbeats, dirharmonies and pure audial noise terror, with an amazingly twisted job on the guitar side mixing melodies, sharpened riffs and layers of distortion (one would sometimes think there’s keyboards given how surrounding the guitar layers are in some points) flowing on a rhythm section which, no matter the fast or slow tempo, keeps a very intense and suffocating pace (D.G.’s bass lines and Thorn’s drums melt just perfectly into a drowning bass effect), and crowning it with MkM’s always crushing performance.
“Draumleysa”, on the other side, flows towards more atmospheric and psychologically altering states of conscience, sounding like the perfect match between Lurker of Chalice, Wormlust and Aosoth, with a more mid tempo based skeleton above which all the instruments draw a somewhat nightmarish and at the same time beautiful kind of progressive evolutions, with some very atmospheric and even slightly calm moments (calling it Post-Black Metal would definitely be blasphemous for some I guess). Again, I could think some of the guitars are keyboards due to how ethereal they become, double bass drums take over the blastbeats (which are still present though at the beginning of the track) and MkM takes a more ripping tone which fits the more introspective form of the track.
Last, but not less important, I should mention the fact that this EP has an astonishing sound quality. Obviously, the fact that there’s only 16 minutes of music per side of the vinyl helps but, most importantly, the top tier production they’ve managed, which perfectly extracts every element in the mix, no matter how chaotic and complex the part is. The bass drum could be the only weak point (too triggered for my taste, especially when using the double bass), but the rest sounds neat and razor-sharp, and manages to create a real sense of depth and texture.
I really hope this is only the beginning of something bigger, and they will sit together and write some new songs very soon, as ‘ Transmutation of Wounds’ is a very promising release.
Walk Back Pilgrim is a band with an unusual name, although, if we take into account where they come from, that might not sound as weird as it looks like. This band is the creation of three minds emerging from the city of A Coruña, in the province of the same name, where Santiago de Compostela is located too. Yes, you know, that place where a lot of pilgrims end up after walking for miles, although (at least in most of the cases) they do it onwards.
No matter what way do those pilgrims walk, if I’m not wrong, the band was created around 2014/2015 and, according to their label, they released a 2 track digital demo (which I missed at that time but you can find on their Bandcamp profile), and after that they started working on their first full-length, which was released in past January by a very interesting but still quite unknown label from the city of Barcelona called Bestiarie Records.
That first album, entitled ‘Erra’, does definitely not need a lot of listens to give you a very clear and precise picture of what Walk Back Pilgrim want to achieve and where do their influences come from. Their label actually states it very clear with three words: Birmigham Industrial Sound. So, if you remember when some underground Hardcore kids (now well known and respected musicians/noisemongers) such as Justin Broadrick and Mick Harris started playing some heavier and more industrialised tunes with Head of David (and later Godflesh) or Scorn, you definitely know what we’re speaking about.
The core of Walk Back Pilgrim’s sound is actually pretty accurately defined by naming those bands, with a combination of mechanical and monotonous rythms basically defined by the pounding bass and programmed drums, gloomy ambiences and noisy soundscapes generated through open guitar chords, feedback, digital layers and noise landscapes; all in all, reproducing the kind of atmosphere one could think off to sketch our increasingly technologically and industrialized oriented societies and the souless entities wandering them.
One of the main differences I see between these guys and their main influences though would in the effect the kind of atmospheres and feelings they manage has on the listener, especially if we compare them with Godflesh, as Walk Back Pilgrim mostly keep a non-aggressive tone all along the record, focusing on a more minimalistic and depressing kind of ambience. Especially if we focus on the the vocal parts, as they use clean lines with a very open, cold and atmospheric tone. On «Neuromancer», the track opening side B of the vinyl, which is their heaviest and most extreme composition on ‘Erra’, they use some more dehumanized kind of spoken vocals, giving the track a very robotic aspect which suites it’s mechanical flow, although they still keep a non-violent approach. The highest level of intensity actually comes in «Find Meat At Bones» through a loop of beats on top of which disonant arpeggios blow out your brain while Nando screams for sin.
Although I must admit that in the end what really caught my attention from these guys was not their originality or personality writing songs, which are nonetheless quite good and entrancing but still very much in debt of their sonic masters; the biggest accomplishment of ‘Erra’ is without any doubt how well they’ve managed to capture those sounds, essence and feelings, starting by their performance, which is flawless (especially when it comes to the guitars and bass), full of that humanity their music seems to be devoid of and absolutely hypnotic, and ending by the amazing production the record counts with. They did everything (recording, mixing and mastering) at Santa Cruz Recording studio, where their label mates Piwi Bizarre Tech recorded their last album too, and honestly, the result is so amazing that every time I spin the vinyl I can do nothing else but rejoice in how perfectly surrounding and solid their songs sound, how awesomely balanced do melodies and crushing riffs end up finding each other, how alive and warm those programmed drums and effects become when they float out of the speaker.
All in all, a very good and strong acomplishment for these guys, who promise to bring even better things in their future endeavors. And probably one of the very few recordings that still distills the true Industrial spirit, so it’s quite surprising not to see them mentioned a lot more now that Godflesh is in every hyped mouth.
London's underground Metal scene has definitely improved in the last years. Especially taking into account that most of the biggest extreme Metal names coming out of the UK by the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties were not from the capital. But in the last ten years or so, out from the deepest pits of the city’s underground, a small but very active circle of obscure and violent bands, sharing members between them and including a few musicians coming from different countries of the southern part of Europe, Poland and Finland, has invoked some of the most interesting releases in the Death/Black Metal field.
Although when it comes to this mysterious four headed beast called Qrixkuor we will be focusing on, I can’t really tell you if they share members with any of those bands as, at least so far, the identities of the four musicians behind this name have not been revealed. Despite forming in 2011, it wasn't before 2014 that they released their first official recording, a demo entitled 'Consecration of the Temple' featuring two long tracks, which was succeeded by a rehearsal tape in 2015 (including a Demoncy cover, which should at least give you some hints about their music). Not too long after that, Invictus Productions announced the signing of the band and a new recording in the form of a mini album or EP (the discussion is open, as it's thirty eight minutes long, which means ten more than 'Reign in Blood'), that was released in April 2016 on CD but made us (vinyl lovers) wait until September.
The first impression on 'Three Devils Dance' is obviously caught by the artwork Mr. Daniel "Desecrator" Corcuera (Slaughtbbath and Ponzoña zine!) created for the cover, who once again surprises us with is amazing skills representing the most wicked and devilish scenes after that incredible triptych he created for Temple Below, with a majestic piece of blasphemic art that looks like the inverted version of some sacred painting, which perfectly fits Qrixkuor. Not only that cover is amazing, as when you pull out the vinyl, instead of the usual paper sleeve you find a cardboard one with an amazing spiral-like lyrics design and layout on one of the sides which was done by SahSahhu (Sinister Emanation Art) and IV (Ill Omen, Temple Nightside …) and that reminds me quite a lot to Timo Ketola’s work.
Being this three tracks my first exposure to Qrixkuor's sound, but knowing in advance more or less what I would find, I must confess I was still impressed, especially on the very first listen, given the suffocating and sinister effect their compositions hit you with. ‘Three Devils Dance’ brings back that diabolical and ritualistic side of Death Metal that has taken by force the style in the last decade since bands such as Necros Christos, Grave Miasma and Dead Congregation conquered the new throne, drowning us into a majestic and fiercely intense cavalcade of three long tracks (between nine and fourteen minutes, so forget it if you like three minute Death Metal songs) mixing the somber and atmospheric side of the genre with a big dose of intensity and technique (yes, that forbidden word for old-school maniacs, oh my … !).
I would say these Londoners are the closest thing I could imagine, in terms of style, atmosphere and composition complexity, to Dead Congregation's view on Death Metal, departing from the lessons masters of the genre such as Morbid Angel, Incantation and Immolation taught to this new generation (Mr. Vigna is actually very present in the guitar arrangements), and giving it a new twist in terms of malevolence (thanks to the Black Metal hints one can find in the arrangements) and an atmospheric and highly suffocating sound. Although Qrixkuor manage to show their own face and soul thanks to an even more drowning atmosphere, which gives you the impression of swallowing all light around you into their malestrom of sonic devil worship. This last part is actually what defines the most Qrixkuor’s sound, as all and everything is focused to be a small part of the voraginous whirlwind of shadows ‘Three Devils Dance’ represents.
If I had to mention one detail that specially stands out, this would definitely be the guitar lines, as they are absolutely diabolical and intrincate, perfectly combining feeling, aggression and technique at the same level. Imagine an inexorable machinery of the heaviest riffs (the type you can remember and not just listen to and forget) destroying everything on its passage while a chaotic amalgam of dissonant melodies and screaming leads fill the air with and absolutely devilish and poisonous stench of death. Obviously, those guitars wouldn't feel the same without the help of the amazing job of M. does beating the skins like a savage, with a very precise and technical pattern that blows a lot of energy into their music. And, ending with the vocals, which remain on a very deep and reverb -laden tone, they obviously remind me of some of the bands mentioned above, but they also make me thing about Nile's use of the vocals, in the way they do not stand-out too much from the music.
All I previously mentioned is encompassed by a really suffocating production, which was obtained by recording the tracks at Robannas Studios (where Napalm Death, Benediction or even GBH recorded some of their latest stuff) and then, and here comes the important part, sent to Mr. VK (Vassafor, Temple Nightside) to do his amazing job on the mixing and mastering of the album. And I say amazing job because a very important part of how (again) suffocating and surrounding this record sounds is due to, first and obviously, the amazingly twisted wall of riffs and unstoppable blastbeats Qrixkuor deliver, and second, to the way VK turned it into the thick and dense mass of shadows devouring everything on their expansion.
This year's Death Metal poll will be incredibly tough, but no one could say Qrixkour do not deserve their place on it. If you were already possessed by the likes of Irkallian Oracle, Ritual Chamber, Grave Miasma and Temple Nightside, well, here you have a new addition to your list of the heaviest and darkest records of 2016.
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.