Saturday, November 17, 2012

Krallice - Years Past Matter

Midterms have not been kind to FAN's NBBMN experience. After lots of incremental chipping away at what writing could get done, here is the much belated next installment in the series - a review of Krallice's brand new headscratcher, Years Past Matter.

“Hipster”. Never has there ever been a more conveniently dismissive term for black metal genre purists to throw at any band who dares to take their precious little niche genre too far from the sonic and philosophical themes of years past. Granted, bands like Liturgy (featuring the noxiously pretentious dweeb Hunter-Hunt Hendrix) unfortunately substantiate that stereotype, but fellow New Yorkers Krallice make beatnik black metal music that’s experimental, without sacrificing vital passion and intensity (and without crumbling under it’s own obnoxious, self-indulgent weight).

I’ll be honest, this is my first attempt at giving the American experimental black metal band Krallice another chance, after being resoundingly disappointed by their previous release, last year’s Diotima. That release struck me upon first listen as suffering from excessive long-windedness, and having a surplus of technical acumen in place of a compelling atmosphere or engaging songwriting. Fortunately, Years Past Matter is a record lacking none of the above, even though it took roughly 7 listens before its truly glorious nature was revealed to me.

Like the unnamed song titles (irritatingly titled as a series of lines), the songs on the album tend to blend together as if the entire disc was one epic, sprawling piece. The opaque, heady songwriting requires many, many listens before any amount of understanding can be gleamed from the music – for the first 3 or 4 listens, a good 95% of the album goes in one ear and out the other. It teases the listener with fleeting promises of some sort of revelation of understanding that ultimately disappear as soon as they appear. Indeed, this is not something to listen to passively. This is not meant to be a knock to the band – it’s as challenging and intriguing as it is somewhat baffling.

Some of the more legitimate criticisms of the band take aim at the somewhat monotonous and aimless songwriting; metalheads who prefer their black metal cold, grim and hateful with an emphasis on riffs will find little to enjoy here – the production is warm and lush, the mood spacey, contemplative and minimally aggressive. Songs like the second track take you on a ride through the infinity of the cosmos, but this is no Darkspace or Thorns. Blastbeats and tremolo picking take the listener on a cosmic journey through gaseous celestial bodies and nebulae, swelling and shimmering and bursting with color. All of the stylistic tropes are intact (repetitive high pitched tremolo picking, mid-paced blast beats, shrieking vocals, illegible band logo, etc.) but seemingly done to an opposite emotional effect. Years Past Matter could even be seen as an atmospheric antithesis to that of traditional black metal of yore – black metal that’s positive and empowering (without sounding hammy and forced).

Love or hate these polarizing New Yorkers, it would be misguided to dismiss such passionate, ambitious and unique black metal as quickly as many metal fans have (including me at first listen). Given the right attention, Years Past Matter reveals itself to be a rewarding, evocative experience.

 - Swede Potato

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nothing But Black Metal November, Continued

Nothing but Black Metal November is a time when we can gather together as humans and embrace the darkness, sadness, and misery that we all inevitably experience in our lives, coming to terms and fully embracing these emotions by surrounding ourselves in a genre of music built upon these pessimistic or depressive themes. As the seasons change, the sky grows darker and the temperatures drop, the black metal riffage, harshness, and bleak desolation surrounds us from all sides, highlighting the more miserable parts of our lives that nonetheless make us who we are.

Ygg - Ygg

It’s not often that you hear a jaw harp (more commonly known as a Jews’ Harp) incorporated into a metal album (although there are exceptions, such as in Black Sabbath’s “Sleeping Village” and Bathory’s “One Road to Asa Bay”). It is even more exceptionally rare to find this instrument within a black metal album, and put to use remarkably well within and throughout the album. Combining the use of this simple instrument, well-done symphonic elements, and some absolutely relentless bass pedal drumming, Ukrainian band Ygg manages to release an exceptionally solid (and undeniably fun and energy-filled) debut album, Ygg. Downplaying the symphonic elements of their music (in comparison to bands such as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir), the album has choral-sounding effects that remain subtle yet nonetheless powerful in creating a much more robust atmosphere surrounding the entire album. After the introductory track of ambient noises and jaw harp plucking, the album kicks into gear with the first official track, “Ygg”, blasting its way forward with the continued subtle use of this mouth instrument, an engagingly catchy riff, hypnotically pounding double-bass pedals, and bleak, high-pitched wails of the lead vocalist. The drums within the album balance on the line between sounding overbearing and mixed distractingly loudly, while simultaneously managing to pump an unyielding sense of aggression and fury into an already passionate album. As the blast beats kick in just past the halfway point of the third track, “Урд, Верданди, Скульд”, one cannot help but be absolutely entranced and swept away as the drummer abuses and pushes his kit to the limit, adding a sense of aggression that combats and intertwines with the ethereally choral symphonic elements of the track. Attempting to look past the bands National Socialist affiliations and prejudicial ideology, YGG manages to produce a remarkably solid and thorough debut album, as catchy as it is unrelenting and masterful.

Pyramids - Pyramids

The eponymous debut album by band Pyramids is quite the auditory journey through the experiences of musical techniques and stylings. Part ethereal shoegaze, part ambient, part post-rock/post-metal, and part atmospheric black metal, Pyramids is quite masterful in its cohesive blending of genres to form complex layers of sound and a powerful wall of effects. Often throughout the album, the listener is bombarded with such a wild array of pure noise that one can get simply lost in the multifaceted layering of the album. While black metal is not always prominent on the album, it nonetheless constitutes the backbone of much of the overall sound, and serves to enhance particular tracks such as “Igloo”, providing a supplemental sense of aggression and pure bombastic chaoticism to the otherwise hauntingly distanced vocals and dreamy guitar effects intertwined throughout the track. However, the complexity on this album does not necessarily constitute an associated depth in the musical sound. At times the album suffers from sounding a bit shallow, as though it doesn’t accomplish much of grandiose proportions: the climaxing crescendos found in post-rock and post-metal are scarce on this album, and the raw, pained emotions that black metal evokes are lost under some of the albums heavy layering. Despite these minor drawbacks, the album manages to skillfully blend and mix each incorporated genre of music into the other, providing a powerful cloud of sound that at times overwhelms and consumes the listener. Cacophonous at times (“Hillary”), beautiful and otherworldly at others (“The Echo of Something Lovely”), and even quite pretentious feeling throughout, Pyramids manages to provide a truly unique and special listening experience, love it or hate it.

Incipit - Ida

An extremely enjoyable EP from Argentinian one-man band Incipit, Ida is short, earnest, to the point, and overall just a very honest effort at making some solid black metal. While nothing necessarily new or original is presented in the album, it is nonetheless a very captivating listen, as songs such as “Falso” storm quickly in and out, leaving the listener fully energized and hungry for more. Despite overall themes of pessimism and the negativity of life, the EP is undeniably fun to listen to, as traditional blast beats and blistering guitar work sweep the listener away into the netherworld of vigorous black metal sound. It’s also notable to mention that Incipit is extremely antifascist and strongly against National Socialism, decreeing this extreme aversion to the ideology in an album split with band Lure of Flames, on the song entitled “Fuck NSBM”. If Incipit were to release a full-length album as consistently respectable as the tracks on Ida, the combination of traditional black metal with a modernized sound to the overall genre would produce an exceedingly satisfactory and entertaining album, combining one part fun with one part grim despair for an overall simple yet cohesive listening experience.

Echtra - Paragate

Associates of the Cascadian Black Metal Scene, Echtra combines atmospheric black metal typical of the scene with simple, acoustic folk guitar pickings layered over a sort of ambient drone (not representative of typical drone metal, but nonetheless in place to add to the overall essence of the album). If one loves absolutely becoming lost in the atmosphere of an album, consumed by the album and the massive cloud of sound it is able to produce, then Echtra’s second full length album, Paragate, is ideal for such situations. The album consists of two tracks of equal length which blend together to essentially become one long track, consisting almost entirely of layered instrumentals with the occasional appearance of droning, resonant vocals or growling utterances typical of a more traditional black metal sound. While the former of the aforementioned vocal styles serves to make one feel as though they are witnessing the monastic chantings of some dark cult, this impressive effect is not enough to carry the rest of the album into musical superiority; the majority of the album is relatively lackluster and uninspiring. The acoustic guitar twiddling on the album is generically stale neofolk that serves to sound pretty but be thoroughly unimpressive, and tritely repetitive throughout. Switching between elements of drone and more classic black metal instrumentation, the album feels as though it goes nowhere, achieving an atmosphere that can be quite impressive or hauntingly eerie at parts, but overall failing to be anything magnificently special or grandiose. Many parts of the album seem to drag on without any particular direction, which can be fine for atmospheric black metal if the atmosphere itself is unique and overwhelming to the senses. Unfortunately, Paragate, while by no means terrible, fails to amount to anything particularly special or notable, serving as nothing more than a decent attempt at the Cascadian sound.

Wigrid - Hoffungstod

Depressive Suicidal Black Metal is wrought with emotions that evoke some of the most bleak and hopeless feelings that an individual can harbor, these emotions possibly rising from the sufferings of past experiences, present tortures and miseries, or perhaps just the pitiful human condition in itself; or perhaps, in the case of Wigrid, from agricultural conditions. Wigrid is a one-man project consisting of Ulfhednir, a farmer from Germany who specializes in producing some powerfully draining DSBM. Although Hoffungstod was released only 10 years ago (in 2002), it already has the feeling of a timeless classic of the genre, standing the test of time with its solid instrumentation, disparaging attitude, and bleak, misery-evoking vocals. Ulfhednir wails his vocals at the top of his lungs as the listener is swept away in a cloud of despair, as the slightly-fuzzed guitars seemingly soar all around one’s auditory landscape, preventing escape from the depressive world that Wigrid has created, as is mastered in “Schreie der Verzweiflung” (or “Cries of Despair”). Even without the vocals, the sole instrumental track on the album, “Das Sterben eines Traumes” (translated to “The Death of a Dream”) manages to create an unsettlingly morose atmosphere. While the album does not necessarily bring anything new to the genre of DSBM, it nonetheless is seemingly flawless in its overall intended style and emotional evocations, making it a definite highlight of this black metal sub-genre.

Embrace the changing seasons, and embrace the black metal sound.

- Richard Cory

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nothing But Black Metal November

Does the black flame within you burn brightly enough to handle listening to nothing but the elite cacophonous dominance of black metal music for a month straight?

Thus commences the third (?) annual month-long ritual ushering in the colder, darker parts of the year. Really, I should be calling this "Quite A Bit More Black Metal Than Usual November" - listening to nothing but the frozen, sordid sounds of pure sonic hatred for an entire 30 days proved to be far more difficult (and a lot less fun) than I thought. Here are mini reviews for some of the more notable records I've delved into during this first week.

Dissection – The Somberlain

·                          Starting off with an old favorite of mine. The 1993 debut album from Swedish black metal legends Dissection is, in my opinion, one of the most significant black metal releases of all time. Even before Emperor’s seminal 1994 debut In the Nightside Eclipse, Dissection was playing a remarkably developed style of black metal that eschewed the atonality and minimalism of early black metal stalwarts like Burzum and Darkthrone, bringing in a refreshing ethic of impeccable musicianship and melodicism. They favored clear production and a focus on complex riffing that was informed by Maiden as much as Bathory and Celtic Frost. Nötveidt wrote somber black metal anthems – "Black Horizons" and "A Land Forlorn" are fist-pumping, triumphant heavy metal songs as much as they are frosty black metal. They would ultimately surpass the debut with their legendary sophomore release Storm of the Light’s Bane, but The Somberlain remains one of the most refreshing debut albums in black metal history, and perhaps metal music as a whole. My only criticism is it’s length; a couple songs towards the end could’ve been trimmed and this might’ve been on par with Storm…, but when it works it’s good enough to supersede little flaws like that.

Mgla – Presence

·                         First impression was a mediocre, somewhat irrelevant EP that shows a band with some interesting, articulate lyrics but incredibly uninventive music (especially considering the utter mastery of this year’s With Hearts Towards None). I suppose you have to start somewhere, right? Any experienced appreciator of black metal could probably imagine exactly what this kind of derivative classic-styled black metal sounds like without actually listening to it. Inessential, but worth looking at for the folks who were floored by With Hearts Towards None.

Leviathan – The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide

·                      I am only beginning to dig deeper into the cavernous discography of San Francisco’s notorious Leviathan (I had only been familiar with Tentacles of Whorror and Massive Conspiracy Against All Life before now), and as intimidating as his voluminous body of work is, this album is as good of a case as ever to continue. The debut full-length album from Wrest’s wretched black metal project following a staggering 14 demo albums is a seedy, antisocial slab of white hot hatred. His tendency towards ambient dissonance on later albums is toned back here – the riffs are (relatively) clearer and as hostile as they are suicidal. "Mine Molten Armor" and "Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice" are startling in their seething anger. His unique vision isn’t quite as developed as it is on TOW or MCAAL, but it shows a musician that’s hungry, passionate and unwilling to pull any punches.

Nokturnal Mortum – Voice of Steel

·                      This is my first taste of the Ukrainian folk/black metal legends after seeing some high praise for their latest offering, and I think it’s shaping to become a new favorite of mine. While I’m usually not a fan of this kind of symphonic folk metal, the thick, bottom heavy, battle-ready riffs and triumphant melodicism is tickling me in all the right places. The use of folk instruments (violins, acoustic guitars, clarion trumpets, flutes, etc) is classy and understated, but when they’re used they hit home hard. The melding of incendiary black metal aggression and swilling fiddle and flute on the title track and “Ukraine” are true exemplars of folk metal done right, and the rest of the album is no exception. It's worth mentioning the band members' questionable adherence to right-winged ideologies (as well as my own forceful denouncement of such moronic beliefs, for the record), but fortunately this doesn't seem to manifest in the lyrics as far as Google translate can tell me.

Arckanum – Kostogher

·                     Continuing my frozen journey exploring lesser-known classics and various other lynchpins of the subterranean world of underground black metal, I found the time to check out the second album of the esoteric Swedish project, Arckanum. A one-man band run by the learned Chaos-Gnostic Swede Shamaatae, Arckanum’s lyrics are all sung in ancient Swedish and are evidently informed by Shamaatae’s deep devotion to Ant-Cosmic Satanism (or Chaos-Gnosticism), the same bizarre ideology adhered to by Dissection’s Jon Nötveit. Given all of this nutty occult esoterica, one would think it might make for some mind-bending, reality-shattering music to truly exemplify such a bleak belief system -  unfortunately not for his sophomore album, Kostogher. What we have here is instead some fairly standard-issue Scandinavian black metal fare that is hardly as challenging and obtuse as its presentation implies, but nonetheless satisfying in a meat and potatoes fashion. It’s old school and tries in no way to really stray from the black metal rulebook in any meaningful manner, but it’s executed well and should feel right at home for those who dig the classic black metal sound. Plus, that has to be one of the coolest black metal album covers I’ve ever seen.

And that's all, folks. More reviews, whether full length or simply a package of little ones like this are forthcoming. Stay frosty my friends.

      - Potato Swede