Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Winters In Osaka - Red Tooth, Red Claw (V)

Red Tooth, Red Claw is a well-executed piece of noisework that drags up some bigger names in the noise circuit. The first track, Satyr's Birth, is intense and varied, and contains guest work from respected Japanese cyberpunk author/electronic musician Kenji Siratori as well as widely-respected Norwegian black noise artist Zweizz. This track is trully a blasting and varied work of pure harsh noise, completely delightful to the tongue and ears.

The second track, In the Form of a Siren and Foetus, is a collaboration with fellow Illinois noisician Mykel Boyd, and sticks to the low, consuming, ambient side of noise. Though less exciting, this 13-minute track is an excellently surrounding piece of ambience - like noise reaching out and holding you in its . . . tentacles?

Though sadly only a 23-minute EP, this Winters In Osaka release is very well-executed and I'm certainly considering using it in the future as part of an introduction to noise for a curious music fan. Check out Winters In Osaka and their collaborators when you get a chance - if you like noise, you won't regret it.

Vargr - The Twice High Holy Secret of Constant Generation (A)

With what sounds like a bugle the demo begins only to explode in a fury of buzzing guitars, sounding as if they were run through some sort of broken glass filter, sounding sharp enough to tear right through any unwary listeners eardrums. Everything is awash with noise, even the pounding, stumbling drums seem to have been recorded white hot. And the vocals, when they appear, threaten to overpower everything in a blanket of fuzz. Sometimes the discerning ear can even pick out tremolo picked melodies, but only at a very close listen. Yes, this is truly some harsh and noisy raw black metal. A tad odd too, like the bugle that starts this noisy affair, the rest of the songs are filled with old time miltary snippets. The fourth track rife with them, amidst menacing low end rumble. During this track the mind takes you to a bomb gutted city, a parade of ghostly marching bands leading you through the deserted streets. It makes more sense when you find out the man responsible for this disturbing racket is none other than drone master Henrik Nordvargr Bjorkk (Nordvargr, Toroidh, MZ .412, Folkstorm, etc). This being his third album with Vargr, and marking his third foray into the world of black metal. Here's to hoping for many more releases of "True Black Nekronoise Metal"!


Urfaust - Geist ist Teufel (A)

What to make of an album that features the following in the cd booklet, a black and white picture of a shirtless man holding a torch with the captions "Black Metal Occultists Fire Walt With Us". Not to mention the cryptic black and white pictures within, one being some painting of monk like men praying in fire with a naked devil like figure with a very cartoonish looking face (complete with bulging eyes and exaggerated mouth expression). And they're called Urfaust, named after Goethe's earliest forms of work for his famous play Faust. Well as it turns out the music is even stranger then you could probably imagine, even with all the previous hints. It starts out with a kind of lo-fi orchestral throb with super dramatic, crooning, evil sounding vocals over it. Next is an almost traditional, raw midpaced black metal track, except for the vocals, which transform it into something so much more. Almost over the top, equal parts croon, howl and drunken operatics (!) instantly recognizable once you've heard it. The third track starts with one of THOSE guitar riffs that get stuck in your head, constantly humming along to it, wondering why you aren't listening to it at that exact moment. The vocals follow suit and basically goes along with the riff which is repeated over and over throughout the song, offering only a few changes throughout. Normally that kind of repetition might be a bad thing but here it works wonderfully, plus it's one of those things you don't mind hearing over and over and over. The song could be described as some kind of drunken, loping vikinglike jig played to raw black metal, probably the most "festive" track on the album and perhaps my favorite. Next we have another dirgelike track of raw black metal and of course those over the top vocals making it that much more amazing. Then the albums closing tracks veer more into ambient territory, which as it turns out the band originally formed to create ambient music. The second to last track is a more orchestral based ambience with those unmistakable vocals over it. And the closing track is all ambient swooosh and swiiiish, totally trance inducing, totally blissed out, sounding like it could be a long lost Tangerine Dream song that's collected a bit of dust over the years. Some kind of lo-fi orchestral ambient wierdo raw black metal masterpiece.

Released through GoatowaRex.

Shape of Despair - Shades Of... (J)

Safe to say, this is my favorite release out of the entire funeral doom genre. Such power and emotion conveyed throughout the duration of the disc is unmatched in the metal world.

Slow, plodding riffs with REAL instruments (along with keyboard arrangements) dominate this album. Songs such as opener "...In the Mist" have waltzy feels with 6/8 rhythms, though I don't believe anyone will be waltzing to this.

The male vocals on the album are very powerful, a more voiced version of fellow countrymen Skepticism with a slight nasal quality, shared with very gentle, soaring female vocals. The lyrics written for "Shades Of..." are profoundly sad, telling of a traveler who is banished from his town and is doomed to walk the Earth for eternity, unable to die. Speak of "[his] frozen feet" add on much to the rich, despondent atmosphere displayed through the cold folky-orchestral arrangements and wall-of-noise guitars and slow, plodding drums in the backgrounds.

Rhythm does not vary from song to song, which might turn many away, but I view this 5-song masterpiece as one piece of music divided into 5 movements, like, say, a Dream Theater CD (though I would never even think of comparing the two).

This is a very good introductory album for someone who wishes to get into funeral doom metal. The many melodies that occur simultaneously, though slow, are very catchy and clutch you in their icy grip, not letting go until the cd is over, and you still want to hear more.

Favorites (though each song is amazing):
...In the Mist

Scott Tuma - Not for Nobody (A)

Gorgeously deconstructed folk/country, all guitar twang, creaks and chimes, haunting off in the distant piano, tape pop and hiss, beautiful drones, childlike female vocals and various sound samples. Kind of like returning to some deserted homestead on the western plains to find everything all dilapidated and run down, everything nostalgic, evoking long gone memories, the sun shining through the cracks in the ceiling, lighting the dust kicked up by your feet. Yeah, kind of like that. Only just imagine that put to music and you just about have Scott Tumas "Not for Nobody". There are some suprises for those who have heard Tumas other two albums. The first track "Nobody (river of tin)" for example (and the last track) features vocals which sound like they had been sped up, resulting in that "chipmunk" voice, not to imply that they were actually sped up only that it has that same sound. Suprisingly it works quite well and is actually rather moving. Those of course being draped over that finger picked lilting, creaking, chiming loveliness with some sounds of a car being started up and driving off in the background. And as for other suprises, you might just recognize the melody to the fourth track "Tiktaalik", which is essentially a cover of that song you've probably heard sung around a campfire, that instantly memorable "ol doo da day". My memory fails me as to what the exact name of the song is. The rest of the record follows suit with the same kind of loveliness put forth by the first few tracks. Already one of my favorites of 2008 and i'm sure it'll be the only one to evoke sun dappled evenings of abandoned prairie house wandering!

Also of note, Tuma used to play in the brilliant Souled American, check them out too !

Available through Digitalis Industries.

Njiqahdda - Njimajikal Arts (J)

Njiqahdda really came out of nowhere this year, and I still can't find out who this guy is. Rumor has it that he's the guy from Light Shall Prevail, the unblack metal band from Illinois, but there is no concrete evidence. All we know is that this elusive character has just been producing music in spades this year, and great music at that.

On this release, Njiqahdda takes the standard atmospheric black metal formula, lets it ferment for a few years, and serves it chilled as the fine wine it is. Not only is this atmospheric black metal, it's also funeral doom, psychedelic noise, dark ambient, and even shoegaze in the last song of the first cd. Njiahdda has obvious influence from bands such as Nachtmystium, Vinterriket, Agalloch, and Shape of Despair, along with ambient projects Maeror Tri, Troum, and even middle-era Ulver.

The first disc is comprised of three lengthy metal songs, ranging from 9 minutes to almost the 30 minute mark. These pieces ebb and flow like the tide and enshroud the listener in lush soundscapes.

The second disc is two very long, minimalist ambient pieces around 22 minutes in length apiece. Normally built of of a small melody (around three notes), that melody remains constant and is then accompanied by drones or field recordings (one sounds like windchimes). Very relaxing and has almost qualuude-like effects.

Amazing release, one of the best of 2007. Keep an eye out for these guys, the releases are very limited and cost a lot of money ($25 USD), but he just keeps cranking them out, so if you miss one, get another!

October Falls - Sarastus (J)

After months of searching, today I finally got my hands on Sarastus, the lesser-known of the 2 EPs released last year by October Falls's mastermind Mikko Lehto.

Unlike the other release, "The Streams of the End," "Sarastus" is a pure acoustic guitar, flute, and piano release, much like previous releases "Marras" and "Tuoni."

These songs convey similar atmospheres to aforementioned releases, though these songs tend to lean more towards the complex side with many guitar tracks and harmonies galore, unfortunately sacrificing length for complexity, much like Opeth's "My Arms, Your Hearse."

On this release, the guitar tone takes more of a later-Empyrium-like sound, rounded and soft, as opposed to the slightly-sharper acoustic sound of other releases.

A real surprise is track 7, an acoustic rendition of "White Northern Soils," the second track off of the "Streams of the End" EP, one of the more powerful songs off of the 4 song EP.

Overall, this EP is nothing short of wonderful, though I will take off 2 points due to the shortness of this release.

iLiKETRAiNS - Elegies to Lessons Learnt (J)

iLiKETRAiNS...the name looks pretentious and artsy, right? Well, it is, but these guys sure make some great music. Blending post-rock with classic shoegaze and "slowcore," a genre that includes the likes of Low, Spokane, and Dirty Three. The atmospheres on this cd are unmatched, solid, and mournful. The vocals compliment the atmosphere very nicely, the singer having very Jim Morrison-esque qualities (baritone). One can notice instruments such as violin, cello, and brass instruments adding depth to songs during the steriotypical, albeit powerful, post-rock buildups.

These songs have a very personal feel to them, with layer upon layer of folksy melodies and harmonies with simple percussion
keeping a steady beat. As mentioned earlier, iLiKETRAiNS is associated with the "slowcore" movement, so don't expect any fast or upbeat songs on this release.

I expect good things to come from this band in the future, and they already have a few EPs and LPs under their belts to solidify that claim, though I think that this cd could use a little variance to keep it from being lost in a sea of similar sounding post-rock.
Songs to check out:

We All Fall Down
Death of an Idealist
Spencer Perceval

Havohej - Tungkat Blood Wand EP (A)

The first offering from Havohej in seven years, clocking in at a mere 16 minutes, proves quality prevails over quantity. Taking elements of drone / noise and combining it with Paul Ledney's (of Profanatica and ex-Incantation fame) already fucked take on black metal proves to work in all the worst ways. Any guitars you hear, if any, are rendered beyond recognition, whether it be speaker crumbling, blackened droning feedback or wierd little looped "melodies". Over these disturbed ambiences are placed tribally simplistic and pounding drums, reminding one of such industrial (I use this term lightly) type bands as Swans or Godflesh albeit more primitive. Even an occasional militaristic snare roll pops up now and then or even that "doo dat dat" carnie beat. And the vocals, demonic roars that could only of come from the deepest bowels of Hell. All these elements come together in such a way as to paint some abstract (trance-induced) vision of the underworld, all (hellishly) droned out in its demonic glory. So if you're looking for something different than the black metal norm, something more on the noisy and droning side, or for you who just love their (black) metal fucked up then this EP is wholeheartedly recommended.

Available through Hell's Headbangers Records on 10" vinyl.

Herbst - I: Prolog (J)

I came across this band a few weeks ago on M-A and I pretty much searched day in and day out until I finally got my hands on a copy of I: Prolog today. Needless to say, this cd is absolutely wonderful and original.

The cd is pretty much comprised of neo-folk and black metal, leaning more towards neo-folk, hence the genrefication on the main page: "Neo-folk Black Metal." For once, along with the band Dormant, I fully agree with said statement. The first two tracks, Aufbruch & Reise, both rather short, are gentle acoustic guitar driven neo-folk songs with vocals ranging from the almost operatic to even black metal rasps for variation. The third track, Endzeit, then precedes to kick you in the face with blasting, nostalgic, sad black metal. His vocals are almost a howl; very powerful and fucking LOUD, a real plus. The drum programming can be a little tedious at times, it's the same thing throughout the song, but the songwriting and the vocals make up for the lacking in the percussion department.

Der Weg brings us back to neofolk with a new twist, he plays piano! The piano adds on a lot of atmosphere and is almost reminiscent of Tenhi with the jazz-like drumming in the background. Nice and calm; a break from the last track. Almost making the cd a dream with recurring nightmares that are then overcome by the dream yet again.

Am Bachlein is yet again another neofolk song, but more drawn out. There are some dissonant parts in here that build up into an almost, I want to say, epic neofolk song, which is awesome. The other folk songs on this disc should be as drawn out and built up as this one.

The last song, which does not have a title, is a midpaced depressive black metal piece. When I say depressive black metal, I don't mean that monotonous shit like Xasthur and Leviathan, I mean it is just profoundly sad. The longest track on the cd, Untitled has a chance to build into it's full form, which is absolutely wonderful. I won't go too much into detail, because I want people to experience this firsthand and not expect what is going to happen.

Overall, this is a very good cd, though I think it lacks an identity. Yes, it is neofolk, and yes, it is black metal, but there isn't really much of a mix of the two.

Recommended for fans of: Dormant, Dornenreich, Agalloch, Velnias, Bergtagen, Noltem, Ulver, Neun Welten...

Four Burials - Otesanek/Loss/Orthodox/Mournful Congregation (A)

DOOM ALBUM OF THE YEAR. Ok, so that may be a bit premature but fuck if this won't be a contender. I mean, a pairing of four doom behemoths, all with different takes and tweaks on the genre, how can it not be amazing ? ! Up first, the plodding sludge/drone/funeral doom of Pennsylvania's Otesanek. Admittedly I had not heard these guys before, but was made a fan upon first listen. Think Khanate, Bunker and that sort of ilk, slooooow, sick doom. Riffs ring out and crumble back into themselves only to be ressurected later in the song, agonized gutturals and screams cry out, drums plod to a funeral tempo. The only respite being near the end when the distorted guitars fade out and clean strumming takes their place, only lasting a minute if that before everything lurches back into full on crush mode to finish the song out.

Next is the depressive doom of Loss, coming from the most unlikely of places, Nashville. It starts with an almost industrial march, soon follows a sound clip of a man speaking "When I become death, death is the seed in which I grow". Bass chimes in with a bell toll like slowness, guitar strings creak as they're stretched. A guitar melody seeps in, almost pretty and oh so sorrowful, kind of old Katatonia-esque. The prettiness transforms into more chugging doom riffage, still plenty sorrowful of course. The song (death)marches on, as heavy as it is pretty, loooow vocals gurgling beneath. Don't be suprised if a tear wells up in your eye as you continue your stuck-in-molasses headbanging. It ends with that same sound clip previously stated, perfectly complimenting the music. I must say this track is worth getting the album alone, amazing, I do hope they come out with another full length soon ...

Onto Orthodox's track which is, anything but orthodox (I had to). I'm not really sure I would label this as doom actually, more like stretched out improvisational, ethnically tinged experimental rock. Something along those lines, whatever it is, it rules. Drums and bass move to "the doom pace", guitars strumming clean jazzy melodies. Vocals wail overhead, having an effect on them which makes 'em have that sound like when you put your hand over your mouth and move it extremely fast away and back again whilst talking. Yeah. They also get the most loud and emotionally intense out of all the instruments. The piece is accompanied by what I believe is a cello for it's last minute (out of 18!).

Lastly comes in the legendary Mournful Congregation to present a perfect slab of majestic funeral doom ! Like walking through some huge, old European cathedral, mouth agape in awe at the beauty that surrounds you, sun rays occasionally making thir way through the windows, causing everything to glow with a golden radiance. Meanwhile, the majestic doom of Mournful Congregation echoes cavernously off the walls, filling your ears to the brim with its power. Near the middle of the song choir like vocals come in, giving the music an ethereal, almost angelic like quality. And thusly the album marches on, all the way to glorious death!

So if you can't tell already, this is ESSENTIAL for all those eternally doomed ! Let's see if the forthcoming Esoteric 2-disc holds up to this ...

Available through Battle Kommand Records.

Caina - Mourner (V)

Mourner is a really excellent journey through varied sounds and places. Waves Engulf a Pier starts the album off like an intellectual decompression chamber - extended dissonance and blasts of noise slowly build and relax after some analog glitches into soft piano that would fit beautifully into one of Eno's ambient records. Hideous Gnosis pulls the listener down into Caina's aching, immersive post-black metal strains, mixing soft vocals, layered keys, acoustic guitar and drums that, hit heavier, would fit into a heavy doom riff. And soon they do - Andy hasn't entirely abandoned metal sounds with this release, despite the fact that the whole album is much more strongly rooted in other approaches, distortion and growls build into an undeniable climax. A noisy fade leads straight into the oddly lighter chords of The Sleep of Reason, which remains one of the more metal-textured tracks thus far on the album, but least metal in spirit. The Sleep of Reason is an excellent lullaby - in a good way.

Constantine the Blind evokes a new start of folk music, with acoustic guitars and jaw harp blending under lyrics full of references to ancient history and religion, and interesting plays on words. A very meditative tone. As the guitars slowly drop out, Andy transitions into I Reeled In Heaven, which shows a texture completely new to this album and fairly rare in contemporary music. The track begins with multivoice wordless harmony that slowly moves into dark, noisy ambience of layered guitars - something that calls back to the more introspective side of black metal. The rest of the track displays Andy's talents and versatility in the instrumental department, covering soft, clean bits and doom alike.

Morgawr is one of my favorite tracks on the album, with a folky feel executed with more complex chords and passionate vocals. The whole atmosphere transports the listener somehow to the darkness of ancient English shores and a struggle for life amidst dark magic and opposing forces. I'm inclined to believe that the title is a reference to the Cornish seabeast rather than Shannara, but it retains an excellent fantastic spirit in an incredibly personal way. Requiem for Shattered Timber is almost an epic ending to Morgawr that ventures incredibly far away musically, but reaches straight to the heart all the same. Permaneo Carmen is an excellent, more calmly thoughtful piece that again emphasizes Caina's range of textures and strong compositional talent. Wormwood Over Albion is definitely rising out of the darkness of Mourner with a more peaceful and simply beautiful track. And you'll have to listen to the hidden track for yourself . . .

Most albums have a standout track, or perhaps a couple, that I could recommend as a sample to get the feel of the artist's work. Caina's Mourner consists almost entirely of standout tracks, and they're truly outstanding. I highly recommend actually buying a copy of this record. It's unquestionably worth it.

Berlin Philharmonic - Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht and Pelleas und Melisande (V)

This release is a combination of two of Schoenberg's works that, despite a commonality in the relatively large-scale orchestration and late-romantic aesthetic, show several marked differences in approach and overall sound.

The "symphonic poem" Verklärte Nacht is often hailed as one of Schoenberg's greater works. The piece, though, lovely as the motifs and development may be, forcefully reminds me of Rimsky-Korsakov's warnings against overuse of a single timbre. In this case, Schoenberg seems to have realised the entire epic late-romantic composition in strings alone. Nevertheless, the word "epic" remains relevant. Verklärte Nacht is an excellent piece, and is quite satisfying listening if your fingers don't itch to reorchestrate it.

Pelleas und Melisande is a touch less directly thematic, but employs a much wider pallette of timbres. Given time, it, too, swells into epic themes with a wide variety of orchestration and spirit. Verklärte Nacht is overall darker, but Pelleas und Melisande still delivers, especially with the addition of brass, woodwinds, and percussion. Schoenberg slides seamlessly to victorious joy to epic evil and back to lighter thoughts in his development here.

This CD release is really a good sampler of Schoenberg's symphonic works. Although I'd not recommend it as a "my first Schoenberg CD," I would recommend it as an addition to any late-romantic collection. One of my preferred records.

Animus - Poems for the Aching, Swords for the Infuriated (V)

Animus is one of those rare black metal projects that makes effective artistic use of the genre's overused raw, low fidelity production. The project appears to be one of the ubiquitous "black metal solo projects" featuring a lone black metal fan recreating, or occasionally actually adding to, the self-focused works of forebears through black metal's couple-decade history. Animus here has a distinctive sound, at least in my experience, putting compositions that sometimes might otherwise fit into a bright, cheery song ("Three" in particular sounds almost like a soft ballad recreated as raw and black expression) into a sound that creates a sort of harsh self-criticism in raw tone and clacking, frequently absent programmed drums. The harsh vocal performance is produced in a way that almost blends into the wash of guitars in the overall sound while remaining distinct and hateful.

Animus is definitely an experience that makes time seem to slide past while the music stands still. I don't recommend this release for driving unless you WANT to miss important turnoffs in a distracted haze. Though the numbered tracks never seem to reach deep inside the listener or even bathe the listener in a surrounding atmosphere, despite the ambient tone and approach, the experience of listening is akin to staring halfway into your own soul and seeing an expanse of nothingness and alienation. The gently developed one-riff pieces never seem to end or begin as much as they seem to be glimpses into something that exists statically somewhere far off.

There is certainly something unsatisfying and unsettling in Poems for the Aching, Swords for the Infuriated. Not necessarily recommended as an introduction to black metal. Also not recommended for regular listening - the alienated, distant feel is distracting and almost paralysing at times. I suggest this album more as a demonstration of a completely different and strangely original approach to raw black metal than as a constant friend or an epic example of artistry.

Abandon - In Reality We Suffer (V)

The slow, draining atmosphere of Abandon's album is
With this release, Swedish sludge group Abandon lays down a morose and strangely sparse epic of, as the title suggests, suffering. Downtuned, abrasive bass, drums in their death throes, a violent discord of guitar, and harsh hateful vocals combine to forge really tastefully uncomfortable poundings in a sort of primal release of loathing.

Abandon's sound is definitely distinct, with a strong root in unusually balanced production, and distinctive guitar and bass tone that screams something about physical injury. In Reality We Suffer has no qualms about showing exactly the emotional parasites that are chewing on the Swede's minds. It's powerful, crushing, and hateful. Unlike some bands, that let out tension and anger in a blast of rage, Abandon's slow pounding actually engulfs the listener in a sense of loathing for self and for the rest of the world. It's really hard to write a review while listening, as it creates an atmosphere of failure and pointlessness.

If this sounds like good stuff to you, it probably is. Well done.