Sunday, 18 April 2021

Covenant "From The Storm Of Shadows" (1994)

 

With SETI, Animatronic & Nexus Polaris behind us, we venture now into the less impressive origin of a remarkable band. In the past I barely bothered with demo tapes, my recent foray with My Angel gave me a nudge to give this one a try. I'm glad I did, although far from impressed with a now cliched sound I know inside out, it was a pleasure to digest these three darkly, menacing tracks of scene cast Black Metal.

 Sadly the symphonic element starts off mostly absent, possibly too enveloped by the smothering bass to stand apart with distinction. Its not until two thirds through the opening track that we hear some lone horns roaring in triumph from behind the grisly guitars. Its presence grows and by the third title track we get some medieval, partly jovial synth lines chiming in to the shadowy aggression with bold melody.

As far as the crass audio quality goes, this is a studio demo, harsh in the upper mid range but doing a great job of making its instruments heard. The key elements of the music get through, those brooding, mid tempo riffs with darkly accents, atypical of the times. It plunders away through blast beats and howling, unattractive scowls that rasp over top from Nagash who handles everything but the guitars here.

Its rather hard for these three songs to make much of a lasting impression given my already extensive exploration of Symphonic Black Metal. I'm fairly sure these songs would of carved some adoration if I'd turned to them in my youth. As it goes I skipped over them but its clear that Nagash of early Dimmu Borgir notoriety was a competent musician adding his own take on the emerging sound with vision and spirit!

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 16 April 2021

Bring Me The Horizon "This Is What The Edge Of Your Seat Was Made For" (2004)

The rattling rustle of loose snare rolls, discordant guitars screeching, a brooding power chord rising and then an eruption of sloppy chugging riffs. It sends this classic record straight into uncomfortable territory as moments later the grip loosens with the hit-hat wafting over the silence between meaty slabs of chunky guitar funk. Enter the raspy scowl of Oli Sykes's divisive and ugly screams and you have the perfect recipe for music to split a crowd, in the context of both mosh pits and musical snobbery. Fortunately I landed on the side able to enjoy this controversial bands gritty sound.

It was at my first Download Festival in 06 that I mistook them for another act on the bill. I was blown away by the novelty of these black emo mop hair cut kids playing the "uber brootal" music. It was also my introduction to hardcore dancing where I quickly learned regular moshing would land you a punch to the face. From then I was hooked and till this day I never felt like anything else Bring Me The Horizon would do matched the unique charm this four track record caries. Its one of those bits of music you get right into every now and then and this latest binge leads me to write!

This Is What The Edge Of Your Seat Was Made For is a youthful riot of angsty rebellion and aimless attitude fit to cut a divide in the Metal scene. Some parts Metalcore, seeking the brutality of Death Metal, this bedroom band puts together a riff montage exploring their own ideas of heavy, hooked on the ugly, odd and obnoxious that you just can't replicate. Its a mindset, a moment in time manifesting into a bizarre riff fest of awkward guitar noise and breakdowns that I simply adore for all its flaws.

Its grey, scrappy aesthetic and trying performance may be sloppy and loose but just hangs in enough to land its ideas and rhythms right on the nose. The grooves land between the barrages of angular guitar noise and Oli's snarling throaty screams sound almost painful at times. It ends up like a charm all too akin to Metal yet constructed from a different ideology. The songwriting however is keenly convenient in this aesthetic as its progressive rollout of guitar riffs, with little repetition, keeps an interesting flow of rough around the edges ideas, landing with enthralling energy.

The last of its four songs ends up on a melodic tangent that derails somewhat from the core concept but within its first three strikes the breakdowns and "brutality" is so much fun. Each song gets its big moment for the crowd to split and go ham. Each song also finds catchy ear-worms to drive home with big shouts around its big breaks. "Nail The Casket One More Time", "I Hate All My Friends", "If You Think You've Alive, Your Better Of Dead". I've never looked deep into these angsty lyrics, written by then teenagers. They do however get riled up with the music in there spite ridden delivery.

Edge Of Your Seat not a record Id be keen to recommend but discovering at such an interesting time, right at the birth of Deathcore's bloom, gave it a personal nostalgic magic I've never been able to shake. It was fun and outrageous then and sixteen years later still has a punch that rarely fails to rustle. Such a peculiar record. No other band I'm aware of, or even BMTH themselves on their debut album managed to capture the spirit to be heard hear. Its an oddity but I absolutely love it!

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Kovenant "Animatronic" (1999)

 

Embarking forth with a new name and shift in identity, Animatronic is their first album as The Kovenant. Nestled between last years Nexus Polaris and the later SETI, it represents the stylistic move towards Industrial Metal and electronica with a little of the former magic lingering. Reflecting on this with a more perceptive mind, it is a bigger change than I once remembered. The transition is held over well in vocal department where snarly shouts and brutish half screams anchor it to their former glory, along with Eileen Kupper's enigmatic operatic singing to usher in powerful melodies on their two best known songs. Mirror's Paradise and New World Order hit things off with an unforgettable union of catchy melodies, rocking riffs and stomping drums, all illuminated by Eileen and the strings that cruise between its Drum N Bass percussive cuts. Its a shake up of sounds, a melting pot of ideas channeled through clever song writing that appeals to popular fundamentals.

With such a strong opening, its a tough trail to follow but the remaining material explores different approaches to tone, pace and experimentation in well defined songs that form the unique feeling the opening two have. Mannequin dives into the downtrodden brooding the following record would dive into on a couple of songs too. Jihad brings an eastern melodic flavor to its crunching Industrial guitars. The Human Abstract ups the tempo with a fast paced thrashing romp lavished in glossy synths, akin to their prior effort with its more aggressive guitar tone and symphonic overdrive. All the songs have this over-represented keyboard presence that sways between club electronica and classic strings. It works wonders, beaming with prominence above the density of woven Industrial noises below it.

Home to two timeless classics, sadly Animatronic looses its footing in the closing as a couple tracks, missing the level of excellence excelled elsewhere. Prophecies Of Fire hails back to the carnival and jovial likeness of Nexus Polaris, almost like a left over reworked for this album. In The Name Of The Future recycles to many previous ideas and The Birth Of Tragedy seems an odd closing note for such a dramatic shift in tone as it explores a dark, paranoid, cyber aesthetic wonderfully. Most notable is the clunky cover of Babylon Zoo's Spaceman. Ironically It sounds like a flip of the original, where the mess between the catchy chorus was rather unappealing. In this instance The Kovenant do everything right except the hook which doesn't spark in the deep burly voice its delivered through. Animatronic is home to a potent, exceptional and inspired sound but as an album tends to decline steadily to a good from greatness. That said, you can't deny the brilliance of its opening two songs, forever personal favorites.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 12 April 2021

Arcturus "My Angel" (1991)

Finding myself on a Symphonic Black Metal binge of late, I turned my attention to Arcturus, an old favorite. Something then caught my eye, the release date! As far as the Norwegian scene is concerned, anything dated before late 1993 tends to carry a little mystique for the front runners who were involved before the explosion of popularity and exposure. This two song release is also considered to be the first inception of Symphonic Black Metal at a time where the 2nd wave sound was still forming its identity. I don't know how I never gave any attention before. Ive been aware of it since discovering this amazing band.

My Angel is one of those curious records that evokes thought over time and place, a band caught in a moment trying to find their footing with emerging musical ideas. It has soft remnants of Mortem, the Death Metal act these musicians were previously known as and with a strong shift away from that style the name change was certainly apt. The lasting aesthetic identities here are the iconic synth string tones, which feature heavily on their debut. That and a handful of compositions in Mortax give you an idea of where they will go. The drudging guttural grows and gloomy atmosphere will be left behind.

The record stands as a curious transition between music scenes and ideas. With the ideals of extremity and low fidelity yet to become hallmarks of the Black Metal genre, Arcturus pull on the slow pace of Doom Metal and simple power chord arrangements as their tools to sway towards evil and darkness. It takes on a haunting persona with the lead guitar on My Angel wailing like a lost spirit calling across fog swept moors.

The production is crass but capable. Sloppy and dissonant it carries a charm, one for the era you could consider a decent attempt at introducing these thick atmospheric key tones alongside the extremities producers where still figuring how to piece together. The second song, Morax, hit me as a three part song stitched together. While writing this blog I've learned they had a demo tape from the year before, further adding to the mystique. On that cassette Morax was split into three and alongside a synth intro, showed these guys had this sound together a little earlier than I initially thought! All in all a very enjoyable discovery for someone who thought I knew this all inside out!

Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Earth "The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull" (2008)

With the pandemic slowing the pace of new music by the artists I follow, I've noticed the freed time has had me picking out forgotten treasures. It is much fun to revisit old favorites and after blowing the dust of Hibernaculum we get to revive the one about the bees and the lion! I never got deep into this one upon release and the reason is swiftly apparent - Its all to similar. Earth's slow, drudging pace and methodical unraveling of suspended, elongated chords and melodies brews a warm atmosphere. Once familiar with the niche, it dissipates too a mood, one to be conjured but hardly encapsulated by.

With its axis a little more woven into the softly distorted guitars, texture and aesthetic ooze from the speakers as its melodies clime to unleash brooding chords that ring out in slow motion. In its simplicity, amalgamating layers of ambiguous hazy noise gush forth from its crashing power. Heard best in its opening songs, the charm wears off as future songs pivot more so to the piano as the lead instrument and in this relegates itself to a less imbued form.

Rise To Glory introduces a remarkably hazy guitar solo that ebbs and flows in its shoe-gazing presence, sluggish and reflexive, its grasp on tension and human expression is suddenly cut short as a sudden pivot ushers in the pianos phase. Hung From The Moon goes there again with the piano but its not quite the same. This additional layer, free from the grinding pace yet flowing with a complimenting looseness is wonderful, a stand out element that doesn't get much time to flourish. With this they had something but without, its all to similar and the record tends to drift to the background, where it sets a fine and soothing mood of calmness and ease. A good record but its clear now why it didn't stick with me back then.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 9 April 2021

Covenant "Nexus Polaris" (1998)

From The Kovenant to Covenant, as we roll the years back you undoubtedly noticed the change in name. This is down to a dispute with an equally named Swedish EDM artist who won the usage rights. Upon their next effort, that transition was made alongside a rebranding in image and presentation. Nexus Polaris, the groups sophomore effort, would then be re-released under the new and handy renaming. Interestingly their debut would receive an peculiar re-recording that attempts to shed the original music of its genre cast tone and rewrite much of the synths to try and capture the genius that first erupted here. Perhaps the magic was in that original record but this is the moment where a unique brilliance emerged from the cast mold of the then young Symphonic Black Metal sound.

As hinted at, the magic lies in a more elaborate sense of what the symphony could be, similar to Arcturus on paper, yet arriving with a different alien personality. The records eight tracks blaze with the roar and bite of ferocious Black Metal, mostly propelled by the rumbling barrage of Hellhammer's legendary percussive style. He debuts with the band here, unleashing his busying three arm style to propel the aggressive side with a dense layering of drum and cymbal strikes. Alongside him the vocals too deliver howling and wretched screams atypical of the genre but most notable is Lex Icon's withdrawing to a snarling throaty growling of his cosmic unworldly lyrics. This toned down temperament aids the balance of extremity and musicality the songs exude.

Snugly fit between the battering drums and gleaming synth work sit these subtle distortion guitars tinged by a Thrash Metal pacing. Arriving with melodic inflections and the occasional blistering guitar solo, they act a keen bridge between forces, the unifying element to give rise to the symphonic theme and anchor the aesthetic in aggression. Rarely are they the main focus but every riff chugs away choppy rhythms and grooves to see the theatrics on there way.

Front and center is the symphonic aspect. Where the genres artists once mirrored the general direction of their darkly music with gloomy and majestic Casio keyboard tones, Covenant strode to bring a cinematic experience. The awe and wonder can be felt in an instant, as The Sulphar Feast warms up with its shimmering acoustic guitars and it plunges into blast beats, Sarah Jezebel Deva, once of Cradle Of Filth, lends her wicked voice with an operatic presence that signifies much of the compositional genius to come. Rather than complimenting tonal aesthetics, the keys take charge as the lead direction of these thematic songs, often tinged with a carnival flavoring.

 Along the journey many keyboard instrument sounds feature, from the expectant choral synth tones to bright pianos and even an accordion on one song. It orchestrates wonderfully with an astral sense of wonder and touch of madness to tie it keenly to its extreme delivery. Its keen writing that packages big themes into simple repetitious melodies rolled off one another to keep that galactic sense of scale. Also featuring a few "electronic" tones in brief stints it does signify where the band may go but in this instant sits with me as a wondrous piece of music its hard to find fault with.

Its been such a long time this record has been with me, blowing the dust off again the magic hasn't weathered a fraction. Appreciating it once again I am particularly fond of Chariots Of Thunder, the first from the album I heard. The song has a leveling of elements as all its instruments feel integral to one another where the rest of the record dove heavily into its wonderfully bizarre and cosmic orchestration. Its a fair temperament to close on and always gives me an emotional stiring that the end of a powerful movie might do. I love it, a true classic!

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Wardruna "Kvitravn" (2021)

 

These Norwegian musicians have been reviving their heritage for years now, utilizing historical instruments to ignite the flames of their viking ancestry. The last outing, Skald, was a performance piece of sorts, poetical recitals and minimalist accompaniment that failed to spark excitement with this listener. Kvitravn is a return to norms yielding a similar problem as its now established and familiar aesthetic passes without a gust of anything to break its gloomy droning march. Don't get me wrong, what these musicians achieve is beautiful and visionary but as there persona becomes expectant, groups like Heilung thrill with their claws lurching into the shadows and pulling out blinding horrors of ancient darkness.

Kvitravn plays with the same drudging pace. A weighty gloomy hangs overhead as the cold winds and constant rain batters its human inhabitants. Peering into a re-imagined past, Wardruna captures the spirit of burdensome life, one of hard work and death with a spiritual closeness to mother nature. Its songs tend to find different ways to this same macabre march of dragging heels and achy backs as its thick drone of flawed and aged instruments is led by the reluctant pattering percussion of bearskin drums, pulling the music along. Once established song meanders in its particular arrangement, circling the same rhythm and musical ideas over and over again.

 Its on inspection that its repetitious nature becomes obvious. Trying to gleam out moments or details that sparkle, perhaps only the haunting choral cries of Viseveiding stand out. Without such critical ears it is all to easy to fall into its spell, the dull drones of blunted instruments become the curtaining atmosphere to bring about a subdued meditative state. In its mild gloom many moments feel ephemeral as its range of cultural voices sing Nordic tales, hardships and occasionally dive into the hysteria of softly guttural chants. The human voice is the element that ties the music together but as already expressed it is the puritanical approach that gives it little leverage over their previous output. For now I will put this record down and whenever in need of that nostalgic viking majesty, I may resurrect it for the dusky tone it conjures.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Earth "Hibernaculum" (2007)

 

Here lies a blast from the past, one of my first steps into the worlds of Drone and Doom. Earth are known as pioneers in the field and Hibernaculum comes in the second leg of the duo's carrier after reformation a few years prior. To me this four track EP was a hypnotic exercise in simplicity and repetition that pushed its gradual shifts in tone and texture as the progressive archetype. Its entrancing mood was one I'd enjoy on many long walks home in the dark, I couldn't however convince my friends of its magic but with it passing my mind again recently, I have revived its wonder to my playlist to share with all of you through this music blog.

With the aged ears acquired since, I hear the likes of Noir Jazz as a distant cousin to this breezy, soft and natural record. Steeped in a neutral tone it feels rather adaptable to either the city night or natural beauty in the light of day. Its first three songs deliver gorgeous metallic acoustic guitar melodies. Drawn out at a snails pace its repetitious ideas are underpinned by chilling piano notes and the bellowing dense blanket of bass. Slow and methodical its incremental growth blossoms so slowly its like watching a face age day by day yet in the calming spell of its manor, an intensity manifests with its lurching distortion and subtle organs chiming in on the craft.

Its final song, clocking in at over sixteen minutes takes the temporal to its conclusion. The soft percussion performance of Adrienne Davies is drawn to a crawl as the textures of her cymbal strikes cry out in the void between lingering notes from a darkly guitar. A Plague Of Angels plunges into the chill of night where its counterparts exerted a sense of natural beauty, this one slides into the shadows, devoid of light yet still having this calming persuasion. Being able to hold the listener in its grasps, the gradual rise of blunt over-driven chords takes us into dramatic spaces as it grows bolder. It could be excellence in action, or possibly the countless hours of bonding that made it so vivid to me.

I've written on Earth's more recent Primitive And Deadly, back when I first started this blog. Its a different beast, more metallic and doomly with charming vocals and all. That was one of my personal favorites from 2014. This fun revival of an old gem has made me realize how little of their discography I have uncovered, perhaps one to dive into now! Hibernaculum is a fine record, solemnly neutral with a slight chill in its backbone, the temporal pace and sluggish unraveling is a power of its own! One to always return to from time to time.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 5 April 2021

Anna Von Hausswolff "The Miraculous" (2015)

 
Searching for gems to talk about on my youtube music channel, reciting my words on the spellbinding Dead Magic was a reminder to continue my exploration of Anna's music. I recall giving The Miraculous a passing listen but now with intent I hear the formation of what was to follow. Two of its longer cuts, the thematic Discovery and sludgy Come Wander With Me, delve into the darkness with sprawling esoteric journeys to be fully embellished on her next outing. Cutting between its lengthy passing, a variety of compositions has the record peering into lengthy crevasse of darkly ideas briefly explored in there powerful temperaments.

It makes for a wonderful experience that doesn't quite feel as a whole but in no way empty. Anna brings her torment and shadowy expression through illustrious instrumentation ever poised by subtly and texture, always brooding its tones and melodic inflections in steadily brewing atmospheres. She is often forthright and powerful with her singing, rising up to swell with the music where it is right but also sitting out the instrumental sections that deserve limelight too. In a couple cuts she lurches back to the shadows, compromised by the darkness of the albums most ambiguous musical passings. Her words always with a distress.

There is much to be adored here, however its final three songs highlight the lack of flow that is overcome by the engulfing nature of these dense songs. Evocation takes another plunge into the monstrous lunges of slow and sludgy Doom Metal bordering on temporal with its snailing pace. The following title track pivots to winding organ piece of dense and heavy airy textures, an experimentation in droning gloom that sticks out as the biggest difference. Anna's voice briefly arises in angelic form as if to pull the music into its apex yet it drifts back into its duller phase without climax.

It all ends with Stranger, a subtle sense of a wild west theme permeates its accent, illuminated by the spangled acoustic guitar chiming in at its peak. This pivoting is what stunts a greater sense of what the record is. Many wonderful concepts are realized while its songs switch from one to the next. I have very much enjoyed the experience but I feel as if there were three or four distinct sounds being jostled, making it feel like a collection of songs over an album. This sort of esoteric and ethereal music brings that preference for a unified vision out of me when listening. Still wonderful though.

Rating: 7/10