58-ish Reviews For 2011.


3 Ene 2012, 10:10

These are my write-ups for releases I have enjoyed above and beyond. About the reviews; it's my first attempt to write in this way. I started the year with a jokey sort of tone but as the list got bigger I started being more responsible with my formality. Whether or not people agree with my list or comments, I'm sure we can all agree this has been an absolutely amazing year! (UPDATE 03.01.2012) I have added some albums to the list which I haven't reviewed yet just to try reign in a bit of closure on the year.

I did a video with sound bites of my favourite tracks, if there's a lot of stuff you haven't checked out on this list, it's probably the best way to see what you're into with minimal effort: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X6vzGgwN9k





Support for my own DIY project is much appreciated:
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List (reviews follow):

1. Asva - Presences of Abscences. 10/10 (100%)
2. Tenhi - Saivo. 10/10 (98%) (not yet reviewed)
3. Ulver - Wars of the Roses. 10/10 (98%)
4. Hexvessel – Dawnbearer. 10/10 (97%)
5. Omega Massif – Karpatia. 10/10 (97%)
6. Sleeping Peonies - Ghosts & Other Things. 10/10 (96%)
7. Alrakis – Alpha Eri. 10/10 (96%)
8. Cold Body Radiation – Deer Twilight 9/10 (95%)
9. 40 Watt Sun - The Inside Room. 9/10 (94%)
10. Altar of Plagues – Mammal. 9/10 (93%)
11. Oranssi Pazuzu - Kosmonument. 9/10 (93%) (not yet reviewed)
12. Blut aus Nord - 777 Sect(s). 9/10 (93%)
13. Krallice – Diotima. 9/10 (93%)
14. Mitochondrion - Parasignosis. 9/10 (93%)
15. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage. 9/10 (92%)
16. *shels - Plains of the Purple Buffalo. 9/10 (92%) (not yet reviewed)
17. Wiht – The Harrowing of the North. 9/10 (92%)
18. 1000 Funerals – Butterfly Decadence. 9/10 (92%)
19. Natural Snow Buildings - Waves of the Random Sea. 9/10 (92%)
20. Exxasens - Eleven Miles. 9/10 (92%) (not yet reviewed)
21. Khuda – Iecava. 9/10 (92%)
22. Falloch – Where Distant Spirits Remain. 9/10 (91%)
23. Tartar Lamb II - Polyimage of Known Exits. 9/10 (91%)
24. Nightbringer - Hierophany of the Open Grave. 9/10 (91%)
25. Esoteric - Paragon of Dissonance. 9/10 (90%) (not yet reviewed)
26. Aosoth – III. 9/10 (90%)
27. Acolyte - Leng. 9/10 (90%)
28. Revokation – The End Ablated. 9/10 (90%)
29. An Autumn for Crippled Children – Everything. 9/10 (89%)
30. Dornenreich - Flammentriebe. 9/10 (89%)
31. Anathema - Falling Deeper. 9/10 (88%)
32. Deafheaven - Roads to Judah. 9/10 (88%)
33. Disma – Towards the Megalith. 9/10 (87%)
34. Álfheimr - What Allows us to Endure. 9/10 (86%)
35. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen. 9/10 (86%)
36. Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand. 8/10 (85%)
37. Woods of Desolation - Torn Beyond Reason. 8/10 (85%)
38. Luup - Meadow Rituals. 8/10 (84%) (not yet reviewed)
39. Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All. 8/10 (84%)
40. Lantlos - Agape. 8/10 (84%) (not yet reviewed)
41. Deaf Center - Owl Splinters. 8/10 (83%)
42. Helheim – Heiðindómr ok Mótgangr. 8/10 (83%)
43. Virus - The Agent That Shapes the Dessert. 8/10 (81%)
44. Nucleus Torn - Golden Age. 8/10 (81%) (not yet reviewed)
45. Clair Cassis - Luxury Absolute. 8/10 (80%)
46. . Sun Devoured Earth – Good Memories Are Hardest To Keep. 8/10 (80%)
47. Potmos Hetoimos – Evelyn. 8/10 (80%)
48. Wizard's Beard - Pure Filth. 8/10 (79%)
49. Heretoir - Heretoir. 8/10 (78%)
50. Xerath - II. 8/10 (77%)
51. Dead to a Dying World - Dead to a Dying World. 8/10 (76%)
52. Grails – Deep Politics. 7/10 (75%)
53. Petrychor – Effigies and Epitaphs. 7/10 (74%)
54. Solstafir - Svartir Sandar. 7/10 (72%) (not yet reviewed)
55. Caïna – Hands that Pluck. 7/10 (70%)
56. Fen - Epoch. 7/10 (66%)
57. Loss – Despond. 6/10 (64%)
58. A Storm of Light – As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade. 6/10 (61%)

1000 Funerals – Butterfly Decadence 9/10 (92%)

1000 Funerals are a melodic doom project hailing from Iran! He exclaimed. The sound on offer here is dense, mature, harrowing and all in all a journey of fresh colours for a genre which can be both empowering but when not executed with the right finesse, perhaps a little exhausting. This is nothing but the prior. If I sound surprised, it’s because I am... and now also perhaps a little naiive as to assume that amazing music of such extreme nature would struggle to flourish under the political and social conditions in Iran - those being that the nation’s absolutely wonderful people are continually tested under a tyrannous regime of misogynistic religious fundamentalism.

Where even mood enhancing drugs like alcohol are outlawed and to have it, people need to either brew it themselves or smuggle it. And worse still, imported music also needs to be smuggled and traded in an almost black market style (no doubt the government is afraid of anything that could be seen as encouraging rebellious attitudes, and anything sympathetic or of benefit to western culture and its economy - who in some ways they’re right to demonize, but certainly not for our freedoms to artistic expression and democracy). Hopefully the internet has made this easier than the tales I used to hear of bootleg tapes being handled and dealt like it was uncut cocaine.

I am aware, it’s not as if every suburb in Iran has regular inspections from the authorities or armed guards at every street corner arresting and beating every third citizen – but still... From a place where it is literally dangerous to express oneself in the way 1000 Funerals have, I applaud this effort and implore everyone who’s ever gotten a rise out of Swallow the Sun, Esoteric, Slumber, Funeral (Norway) or even harking back to the glory days of My Dying Bride and early Anathema – Butterfly Decadence will not disappoint you.

Dark piano melodies often introduce pieces or sections, the drums come thundering in and drag your face along the ground at a sloth’s pace while reverb saturated guitars chug and churn away – vocals screaming and soaring while occasionally a flute-like timbre or violin takes up the lead and, in almost improvised fashion, produces flourishes over the poignant devastation. It’s hard to describe, and certainly if you’re not familiar with the lush and empowering romantic qualities of Scandinavian ‘melodoom’, you’ll struggle to get your head around the majesty of this without having to just bite the bullet and give it a listen. I truly think this is the only successor to ‘From These Wounds’ by Norway’s own melodic doom band Funeral.

I feel partly bad for focussing my first two paragraphs of this review on the plight of the Iranian people, especially not knowing as much as I think I know about the current conditions there? It is just something that’s always interested me (perhaps I’m slightly more of a bleeding heart liberal than I’d care to admit), I’ve supported notions of a free Iran, and maybe instead of seeing this as a flower somehow miraculously flourishing from the waste, I should see this as a light; a signal that the brave citizens of such an accursed place can finally add their voice to the choir of global musical movements that actually mean something. Not just that, but in this instance 1000 Funerals have expanded the boundaries of musical excellence achievable under the conventions of the melodic doom metal genre.

40 Watt Sun - The Inside Room. 9/10 (94%)

Well, having recently found out there was this truly immense doom band from the UK called Warning, who released a completely stellar album named 'Watching From A Distance' in 2006, I'm obviously excited to hear more or less the same band has reformed under a different name to release The Inside Room under the Moniker '40 Watt Sun' this year!

The album literally picks up where 'watching' left off... Miserable and huge guitar melodies yearning under pummelling heavy handed drumming and all providing the basis for the melodic tone of one of the most amazing vocals I can recall hearing on a record. It is actually a very 'un-metal' way of singing, but the passion... goddamn the passion? It is insane. This guy is really sad about something.

Lyrically, it seems there's been a love lost at some point or a connection broken and it has really cut this guy up. This guy is called Pat Walker, and is a new hero of mine. I wish him nothing but happiness. But also, not too much, or his music won't be sounding like this anymore ('Turn your face to the moon; Let me see you that way. And the way you appear to me now you’d think the moon would hide for shame'). Just... wow.

It invokes the same feelings of heartache and loss as Anathema's 'Pentecost III', or My Dying Bride's 'Turn Loose the Swans'... But I can't stress enough that these vocals are serious business and the guitars are really heavy and dense.

My only criticism is if you listen to this back to back with 'Watching from a Distance', the guitar tone is noticeably worse. There's a throaty EQ on it and the distortion is gravelly and not as full bodied. The mix is still extremely heavy though, so I'm in two minds as to whether or not it actually detracts from the experience? That said, maybe Pat Walker's sadness and longing comes from the fact that he had to sell his fucking disgracefully heavy amp setup and is now playing through a fender practice amp with a Boss MT2 (Honestly, I jest, It’s nothing as bad as that!). After returning to this album again and again, it has crawled up my list and made it into my final top ten.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen. 9/10 (86%)

A pinch more variety for a year of music that’s over-flowing with superlative releases from artists of every genre, hybrid and movement - a winged victory for the sullen are an instrumental duo providing compositions of monumentally beautiful, atmospheric and minimalistic(ish) neo-classical.

I’d describe this as Interior film-music. It aches with the same longing as Thomas Newman’s soundtrack for the film ‘American Beauty’, yet carries all the subjectivity to make this a malleable and deeply emotional journey for its audience, with absorbing strings and poignant piano shaping moods of melancholy and hope alike.

Using the word ‘Victory’; implying positivity, change and perseverance and the word ‘Sullen’; implying melancholy, depression and angst, the titled of this album and project couldn’t be more apt. A piano of this quality and played this well can tell such a tale – with sad minor melodies occasionally finding jazzy yet hopeful resolutions, and the strings often a warming undercurrent, also provide thick chords which, although not ‘triumphant’ sounding (I think ‘victory’ and ‘triumph’ and I think of fanfare) certainly help communicate moments of life affirming equilibrium in the sullen dirge.

For someone with my tastes and musical inclinations, those being more towards aggressive and raucous styles, this sort of music is extremely therapeutic and can accompany me while I work, travel, or just sit back and relax, wholly calm... it can also detoxify my ears of the brutality I so often subject them to. To some people, who would no doubt be a more suitable audience for this kind of music than myself, I’m certain this would be found to be quite heavy going and they may struggle to find nothing but pleasure, as I do, from the listening experience. This is no doubt subject to the sparse timbre and choice textures which may feel somewhat 'empty' and thus stark and sorrowful to some.

Speaking of timbre and textures, this feels like the metaphorical ‘yang’ if ‘Deaf Center’ (another compositional duo whose release ‘Owl Splinters’ I have also reviewed) was the musical ‘yin’, a band with a similar compositional approach, yet far more negativity is implied on a whole, with the latter being a far darker experience.

As far as I know this is ‘A Winged Victory’s...’ maiden voyage. I sincerely hope there’s more to come...

Acolyte - Leng. 9/10 (90%)

Here's a band I've had the absolute pleasure of seeing live on a couple of occasions. Actually, I was lucky enough to be on the bill with them at their first gig. I'd heard some demos and sketches of their songs before seeing them and I really liked the tone and riffing style. Hasten to say I've been a long for the ride on the build up to this EP and at every twist in events I've being nothing if not extremely impressed by what was on offer.

The EP contains three tracks, each a distinctive and epic character, symptomatic of a sound Acolyte have spent years crafting before unleashing their output on the hordes. This sound is a sophisticated and avant-garde approach to grooved out black'n'roll with unavoidable elements of shoe gaze and epic/progressive black metal. Somewhere between Enslaved, Virus and Opeth but with more emphasis on customer satisfaction. Let me state very clearly (for the record), Acolyte don't sound as if they're aspiring to sound like these bands (who are at the very top of their respective genres), nor do they sound derivative of these bands. Acolyte have merely taken on board certain musical conventions and blended them into their own extremely rewarding and individual sound that is without question, shoulder to shoulder with said peers.

The EP opens with a massive riff and demonic vocals. I can't help but think this introduction was planned as a massive smash in the face. Sort of shaking off any subtlety and getting straight to the point. This definitely displays a certain craftsmanship beyond simply being able to write great songs. Anyway, statement made, through the discourse of the EP the music rarely relents and if it does, it's only to build to an even mightier climax than before (for instance, in the latter half of Leng when there's a jazzy and almost clean play-off between the guitars that builds and eventually explodes into a massive solo which could've been played by Akerfeldt himself).

The divinity of the music on offer is further qualified by an absolutely top notch production. This beast is heavy and the guitar tone isn't just nicely achieved, it's literally something to be admired! A perfect blend of throaty mids, crunchy highs and churning lows. Pure Orange power I reckon.

I have it on reasonable authority that Acolyte hope to record their full length before either a hiatus or a reshuffling of the line-up might be needed at the end of the year. I know the main creative force in the band has more than enough material written and demo'd to last for a few albums to come, as he openly shares his ideas and sketches on his soundcloud page as they come into fruition. Oh, and it all sounds very special indeed. You'd be doing your gene pool a massive injustice if you didn't take 25 minutes out of your schedule to be enchanted by this extremely special offering.

Álfheimr - What Allows us to Endure. 9/10 (85%)

The album starts... Hang on... These happy chimes... That lung crushing synth bass... The falsetto voice... the distorted drum sound... This sounds... familiar?.. But when I check myself, I'm running through a city centre laughing with absolute joy trying to catch up with my bus. When I catch up to the bus, I sit down and read the track name "A song for laughter and forgetting", and it's bloody strange, I never run in public... I forget about my inhibitions for a second because of this music... and why the hell was I laughing? I had just had a big swig of energy drink... pure endorphin fix I suppose?

So Alfheimr is a force of mystical genius? Great coincidental little experience to introduce me to this post-rock solo project of complete Sigur Ros worship.

These compositions are absolutely beautiful. This guy needs his hand shaking by everyone in the world simultaneously for putting this little thing together. You can attach both happy or sad feelings to these songs. Some speak of longing, some of hope, some just of life and experiences...

The music builds and plods, and never really explodes, just shifts focus. But it's a constantly appeasing process where the energy and perpetual dynamic drags you along on the journey.

Although I'd wager only a certain clientele are going to stomach this and let it into their heart - Some people are just too seized up to let this kind of enlightening art in, others will just have major hang ups over the intense similarity it bares to the forefather of this genre. Then there's me, sat on the branch of a tree, a thousand feet above the city in which I work, feet swinging in the wind, watching people and cars and busses and trains dance this beautiful, brief and ultimately futile dance we call life... Nah, not really... just had to use some soppy Post-rock imagery to sign out this review.

Alrakis – Alpha Eri 10/10 (96%)

Gazing at the stars has never had such a profound accompaniment. Not just descriptive in its bleak atmospheric depictions of space, but also terrifying when the howling guitars supernova onto the scene. With the beauty of the Northern Lights and the terror of a black hole, Alrakis single handedly brings the audience closer to the stars than science could ever hope and shines a black-light on the further reaches of our galaxy.

Once the Hubble telescope was trained on a tiny dark spot in the night’s sky, between stars immediately visible by its superior lens. The telescope was left to absorb light for a month (to photography people, that’s like setting your shutter speed to 30 days). The results were startling: hundreds of galaxies, usually hidden from the naked eye, but now in profound focus. One of these galaxies disturbed researchers greatly and has been a mystery ever since. When measured, the sheer vastness of this galaxy defied any physical rules our greatest minds could comprehend, and to this date the mass of stars cannot be explained by any logic or reason that currently exists. These chilling and inconceivable mysteries are the galvanising spirit behind this massive infliction of sound.

When I say massive, I mean the frequential space is completely filled to bursting, but neatly done so the ear rejoices. The pace is doom-like, but the saw tooth guitars and stacks of synthesized timbre roar as ferociously as VY Canis Majoris’ fires (VY CMa is the largest known star - if you imagine our sun is a tennis ball, Canis Majoris would be roughly the equivalent size of the earth).

So far I’ve found it easier to talk about space in comparative terms to what Alrakis does for me, but I’m aware not everyone finds the infinity of the cosmos worthy of analogy (you fucking heathens) so in terms of other bands, Xasthur’s hypnotic doomed edge with Blut Aus Nord’s melodic augmentations, the isolating tormented atmosphere of Lustmord and the spaced out sci-fi feel of Hawkwind or Type O Negative. Then just execute that sort of ghastly marriage to absolute perfection.

The fourth track, Sternenstaub is one of the most monolithic pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It absolutely destroys me. As soon as I heard it I just wanted to put my headphones on the nearest person and watch their face for the moment the track kicks in.

Altar of Plagues – Mammal 9/10 (93%)

From the first blast of dissonant and pummelling sonic terrorism, it’s very clear Altar of Plagues have their serious business jackets on for this album. The opening song ‘Neptune Is Dead’ has been ringing in my ears ever since I first heard it. Altar of Plagues are without a doubt one of the leading post-rock/metal influenced black metal bands – somehow squeezing the cold, apocalyptic and alienating essences of Neurosis out through vicious riffs and blast beats.

The atmosphere is absolutely dripping here, with the occasional found sound and strange non-musical additions to the mix creating a haunting cloud that looms over the music – music which sounds like it is blasting from a valley, holding a thunderstorm at bay, or at least giving nature’s impending savage exultation a hard act to follow.

The vocals go between a sort of ‘more talented’ Silver Mount Zion-esque holler (totally amazing) to wails/shouts of horror and anger (also pretty fucking amazing). It wouldn’t surprise me to find the band are more influenced by power violence, grind and hardcore like converge, rather than Burzum and Bathory. There are also some guest vocals from a crooning old lady. This is hideous! Very scary sounding. Hasten to say it works extremely well and, in fact, is probably my favourite part of the album.

Sometimes the energy pulsating from this sonic artefact is extra terrestrial, and sometimes it’s quite modern and urban. This is a good mix as it opens up how the music can be portrayed and enjoyed. But then the way I enjoy this music is in a physically collapsed state, where I allow Altar of Plagues to get behind the wheel and just take me to distant, hopeless, unknown and sinister places. It is truly a humbling listen.

An Autumn for Crippled Children – Everything. 9/10 (89%)

Last year AAFCC (named after an Ebonylake song) made their debut in crippling style with LP ‘Lost’. Their sound instantly won me over, edged with industrial ugliness yet melodically gothic and at times poppy, all grated out through vicious black metal sensibilities. ‘Everything’ takes the unique elements, and runs with them, meaning more interesting ‘electronica’, more epic/glacial tremolo-picked guitar and even more puzzlingly prominent bass lines.

The production is just the right sort of grim, with lots of noisy frequencies exhuming the bands malicious intentions. The fuzz in the guitars is cleverly balanced with the various saw-tooth synth and piano sounds as to not clutter the air, yet still assault the ear. This scuzzy sound also aids in disguising any artificial elements to the drums.

Melodically, the band has a lot in common with ‘shoegaze’ and 80’s gothic pop/rock. This adds sinister undertones to the prominent conventions in the music and makes the journey into their world all the more twisted, alienating and surreal. There’s a juxtaposition that makes me uneasy here. The band’s name is harrowingly sad and somewhat poetic, but definitely more likely to turn the heads of lowbrow gore-metal followers than highbrow avant-garde black metal fans; and yet the music has moments of serenity, beauty and even a sort of cheesiness to some of the synth patterns. I would think that to hardened fans of the most suicidal and depressing BM, the inclusion of pop conventions is probably really hard and challenging to swallow. To those who can, it’s a wonder to witness: the dance of genres who by very nature oppose each other.

It is still a complete mystery who to accredit with this bands music, going by immensely vague roman numerals, or single Letter names for aliases. Of course, to those with an acute ear, I think we’ve pretty much worked out one crack in this well guarded secret and that is the member known as MXM is also probably responsible for ingenious solo project ‘Cold Body Radiation’ (under the slightly divertive name of... M.). The stand out track on ‘Everything’ for me is ‘Absence of Contrast’. Spectacular song writing with an epic pay off and mesmerising bass work!

Anathema – Falling Deeper. 9/10 (88%)

Crystalline temples disintegrate around me, shards refracting light, dazzling me, crashing to the ground and deafening me, but when the last piece lands it rings and then the silence reveals an opening out to a landscape of golden sand, ice capped mountains to the left and right, a black river through its centre which stretches an indeterminable distance to be devoured at the foot of multiple suns, dying on the horizon, some burning white hot, some small and red, each is an eye and casting spears from years and years before, which alter over time; no longer aimed at the head, now aimed directly at the heart.

Pretence aside the ‘spear’ is Falling Deeper, Anathema’s new album which is in fact, re-workings of material from ‘Pentecost III’, ‘Crestfallen’ and ‘Serenades’. This wouldn’t be the first time Anathema has re-treated their material (Hindsight being acoustic or stripped down versions of their ‘best of’ tracks), and some people I’ve spoken to weren’t even sure if this was just another compilation, like ‘Resonance’ (part I or Part II), but re-packaged. It’d be a tragic case of boy-who-cried-wolf-syndrome if people were to let these assumptions based on the previous ‘not exactly a new album’ offerings hinder their path toward experiencing the absolute revelations contained within this high-brow masterpiece.

Music is music, and whether a melody is screamed out through a distorted electric guitar, or faintly fluttered on a flute completely depends on what the artists elicit intentions are. For Anathema, this retrospective gaze into the very soul of the material still hailed today as some of the heaviest, most influential (and most depressing) doom metal ever written proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt, arrangement is an extremely inspired tool for a conjurer of sound to learn to wield. So delicate and so poignant, yet epic, flowing, expressive and withstanding from straight rock conventions of time frames, the almost suicidal motifs of our angst ridden childhood’s are explored, exploded and presented as a thing of pure hope and utter beauty.

Vinnie’s singing on this is also angelic. He sings almost pure sine waves now. The requirement to hit notes extremely well and in a near perfect tuning is no doubt a pressure of the music itself, where now there are no harmonic overtones, distortion or just general clatter to disguise any imperfections in a mix of finely tuned/intoned strings, brass and woodwind. His voice, combined with the epic feed-backing guitar and the string quartet is a sonic match made in the halls of the Æsir.

I’m incredibly excited to hear what Anathema plan to do next. Last year’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was a wonderful album, but if they could somehow amalgamate the orchestral structures they have so cleverly achieved on ‘Falling Deeper’ with the rugged heaviness of tracks like ‘A Simple Mistake’, they could achievably re-write the musical history books again, for like, the third or fourth time? Who’s counting anymore? Anathema are just wonderful and the world is twofold a better place with their music a constant.

Aosoth – III. 9/10 (90%)

Aosoth are a most worthy part of the French black metal scene, namely made up of bands like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Anorexia Nervosa. Their sound is extremely dark, complicated and evil and would no doubt appeal to those ‘bedroom dwelling’ black metal fanatics who like to separate bands by whether or not they are ‘Satanic’. I can’t speak for Aosoth ideologically, but sonically, I would say they are about as aligned with the beast as you can get!

A similar avant-garde, throaty and cerebral assault to their fellow countrymen’s output is on display in the guitars. Lots of minor first intervals wrapped up in diminished flourishes. You’re hard pressed to find a single diatonic moment on the entire record. The voicing they do use quickly becomes idiosyncratic and upon the second listen, the album feels familiar from the offset, meaning Aosoth are successful in carving a massive and unique sound, instantly recognisable as their own, but also instantly recognisable as extremely French.

The vocals are miserable, sorrowful and energetic. No complaints here whatsoever. The drums are technical but with an organic production, flowing between vicious blasts and mid tempo dirges. No complaints (except I’m not overly fond of the snare sound). The bass is audible. A huge plus on any black metal album (what an ignorant thing to say, I’m sorry).

The production is really hard on my ears when listening in my ear phones. It’s devastating and mixed really well, not raw or silly like some bm, but just very full on with certain guitar frequencies that don’t sit on my ear drums right at all. Perhaps there was an issue with compression at some point in the mixing which brought some of the mids out too much. Not so much that I can pin point them, just to the point where I cannot listen to this album loudly without fearing for my brain being scrambled.

This is another album that will reign top of a fair few people’s lists this year. They are just about obscure enough to give a person a couple of grim scene points for acknowledging they are a fan, and as they’re not as well known as Blut Aus Nord, they’re an obvious choice in the “Grvmmer thvn thov” culture which sullies the black metal underground. That said it’s not inconceivable for someone to genuinely like this album more than 777 Sect(s)... I just personally don’t. I truly recommend this though. It’s a work of terrible darkness and displays a genuinely artistic approach to channelling the embodiment of pure negativity into its listener/victim.

Asva – Presences of Abscences. 10/10 (100%)

Precursory note: as time has gone by this has become one of, if not my favourite album ever. This is just utter heaven in audio form, the inane ramblings of this review do not come close to doing it justice.

‘Presences of Abscences’ seems an apt titled for this immensely clever work of minimalistic ambient drone. I don’t know a huge amount about Asva, save for the fact that Toby Driver sings on this LP, which was the absolute selling point (his performance is just lush, emotional and vulnerable, but also in some ways stark and brave).

The tracks are, of course, long and hard to digest on the first sitting, even when given your full attention. I struggled to find anything to grasp on to and thought maybe this was going to be one of those rare occasions where I just failed to hear the good in a highly regarded work. Of course I found despite struggling, I was giving this repeated listens out of habit more than obligation and then one day the album completely exploded in my ears... suddenly there was an intimidating eeriness to the organ, and the melodies were moving me in all the right directions. When Dahlquist’s deep drones do strike and the drums begin to groove away in their lo-fi splendour the catharsis is heavy and the dirge becomes ecstatic.

The timbre makes me think of creaky, cold churches which have medieval blood for mortar. This not only taints the album with a slightly gothic perspective, it also cloaks it in a somewhat spiritual atmosphere. No doubt this is a really personal thing for me, but the few times I’ve been to church I have felt a sort of unexplainable spirituality despite being agnostic/pantheist. No doubt this feeling was socially engineered in me from childhood and maintained through the iconography and aesthetic splendour contained within these old stone haunts for the last of a dying faithful. Asva aren’t invoking the faux-spirituality I experience when I smell the wet stone, feel the sunshine on the back of my neck through the stained glass depiction of Jesus on the cross or hear those chorales echo uniquely in the church’s acoustics. What they are doing is sitting beside me and feeling it too. A sickly sweet and disparaged nostalgia to do with refuge, hope and faith. It’s just an empty box inside me. The box is present. The contents sadly absent.

I’m certain this has nothing to do with Asva’s intentions, which were probably far more abstract than what I attach the music to. The main reason I say that is that there’s some curve balls presented in the odd samples of a lullaby and a section of bluesy acapella. Once again, I’m sure Asva allow this to be open to interpretation. To me it draws in an awareness of the contrasts between different cultures’ music, origins and ultimately their usage. Perhaps it is a brave move to parallel or juxtapose their own musical identity with (firstly) a song used to lull infants and (secondly) what sounds like a hymn possibly sung on plantation farms to raise the spirit of the slaves working there. What business does ambient drone have in this musical demographic? Well, apparently plenty – and obviously it’s not a question of ‘genres’ (in fact the question has never felt more irrelevant) it’s more the aural colours and sonic identities which are used to traject a soul in the ears of the listener.

I had to revise the score on this one. I return to it so frequently and it has become utterly ingrained in me!

Blut aus Nord - 777 Sect(s). 9/10 (93%)

Probably the most anticipated black metal album of the year, not just because it's a new Blut Aus Nord release, but because it was revealed this was a continuation of the sound and themes on 'The Work Which Transforms God'... low and behold, it's a complete revelation. The project of grvim french maestro Vindsval has reached new levels of excellence in an arena of music for which BAN is already completely peerless.

The album is made up of 6 Epitomes... I mean tracks... 'Epitome II' is a particularly amazing piece of work which has a similar vibe to 'Our Blessed Frozen Cells' and 'Procession of Dead Clowns' from 'TWWTG'. Also the poppy industrial section at the end of 'Epitome I' leading into Epitome II is just jaw dropping. 'Epitome IV' is a massive departure from the usual sound, using sort of polyrhythms and low tunings to make a churning mid-paced tumbling vortex. It really has to be heard to be believed and understood - Certainly not something I would've expected to hear from Blut Aus Nord, but definitely something I welcome with open arms. 'Epitome VI' is just pure hypnotic brilliance.

The guitar is once again, microtonal and unique with clashing chromatic melodies that sound more like a tormented animal than a musical instrument. The level of thought that's gone into the composition, sound and riffing style is just cosmic and cerebral. The mind working to it's fullest in a massive meditative state.

The drums are still programmed, but the kick and snare is more organic, and in 'objective' terms, offer an overall improval to the mix. I loved the drum sound on the other albums too, but this sort of ellivates the sound beyond what the composition of the guitars offer and means the huge production is also a ferocious force of focus.

I'm not just gushing because I'm a big fan of Blut Aus Nord, This music is literally 'Art' in it's highest terms. To take something so unique, that on paper sounds like it would be a cacophonous mess... and craft into something with such a pleasing aesthetic, atmosphere and specific thematic purpose... I don't know about you, but I couldn't even dream the sounds Vindsval creates and commits to the cosmos.

Caïna – Hands that Pluck. 7/10 (70%)

Caïna is a band whose musical journey has been totally inspiring from start to finish (to those who’ve cared to drop the keyboard warrior pretense). Andy Curtis-Bignel is the mind and hands at work behind the enigmatic project and is one of the first composers guilty of mixing post-rock and black metal. The difference between Caïna and a lot of bands who mix these genres is that Caïna doesn’t necessarily blend the sounds together. Caïna jumps from lush harmonious build ups, to raw punkish blackened grinding, to electronic beeps and boops and all the way back to stripped down folk. All of the ground covered still somehow retains a unique flavour known only to Caïna.

Hands That Pluck is a raw and powerful album. It is not easy on the ear. It is clearly fuelled by anger which channelled by intelligent song writing, becomes more than the venting of angst and transcends into something far darker and philosophical. What exactly that is, I haven’t quite discovered yet.

The last track on the album is my personal favourite. It seems to me like Andy is waving goodbye to his fans with one hand and sticking his middle finger up at all the haters with his other. It’s a clever tune.

Which is part of the point here - A great band put to rest by its creator. The swan song being; a totally malevolent departure from the subtle and beautiful works of the past. It’s sad to me, but hopefully in dissembling Caïna, Andy can find his peace as an artist and begin contributing to a creative vision which doesn’t cause him so much conflict.

Clair Cassis - Luxury Absolute. 8/10 (80%)

I'd go as far as saying this is the best Clair Cassis yet. Clair Cassis is the band Josh decided to do after he announced the fall of Velvet Cacoon, one of the most influential of the American black metal bands. The attitude here seems to be - cut the shit, we're not making black metal in underwater caves with imaginary instruments anymore (although the fantasy of VC's claims were what made them so atmospheric to me, true or not, it was easy to visualise with their alien nautical sounds) We're going to write good riffs without over thinking it, organic flow of creativity, gratifying, and without second guessing or questioning. It's a very true and honest representation of where these composers are creatively.

So what strikes me most is really emotive thick sounding guitar riffs backed up with some chilling acoustic work which you can only truly appreciated if you listen to it in a quiet environment as they're mixed... well... quietly, even though they're captured beautifully.

The drum sound is bigger too. A brave move for a black metal band that's always had a weak frail rhythm, which to me was like a heartbeat struggling and skipping essential beats (that's morbid I know, but probably intentional).

I think this album lives up to some musical claims they made about VC's 'Genevieve' with somnambulant samples & under watery guitar tones that act as a positively delicious aural massage. It's like pickling your brain in aged wine, walking bare foot in wet sand (Can you smell the wet sand? because I can, it's scary), hail storms in vast fields... a coppery brass like taste in the mouth. Initiating every sense is cleverly contemplated by Josh (et al) in these compositions (No really, it's psycho acoustics, Schema and Schemata... aural/neural linguistic processing and yes, that's science... they have made claims to genuinely get involved in this but granted, claims that lead to the days they lived a life of pure drug induced fiction), which is why this "atmosphere" is so very very special.

It would easily be a 9.5/10 if there was a little more on offer here. It is just an EP after all, but they could have stretched the material out to album length and it would've been a far greater experience. Isn't it rare to hear that tracks should've gone on for longer in Black Metal?

Cold Body Radiation – Deer Twillight. 9/10 (95%)

Cold Body Radiation is a Black Metal project from the Netherlands which bleeds emotion through despairing dreamy melodies and orchestrates itself around deep compressed bass, 80’s sounding synths and searing distorted guitars. Unlike previous release The Great White Emptiness, Deer Twillight also visits clean vocal territory. Making use of build-ups a must, and employing slightly more loud to quiet structures, this music deserves and demands a degree of attention, unlike this mysterious musician’s other project An Autumn For Crippled Children, which bites you immediately and takes very little effort to absorb.

Not that this beast takes effort as such, I just think there is a lot of subtle stuff going on in the saturated swirling debris of cosmic reverbs meaning repeated listens are increasingly rewarding, which leads me to mention the production. It is completely lush and near as perfect as a blackgaze production could get for me. I sort of wish ‘The Great White Emptiness’ had been as well balanced, as I found the production on that album over compressed and it wrecked my ears, even on a slightly lower volume than I’d usually crank (despite that the songs on The Great White Emptiness were absolute epiphanies of blindingly epic physical drama!).

Every track here is as strong as if not stronger than anything this composer has created before, with the fourth track ‘Shimmer’ being the shining jewel in the CBR and AAFCC discographies. Like Sleeping Peonies with Added Mono and clean vocal patterns that just decimate me. Sat listening to it now actually, and every breath I take I can feel my lungs ache with an emotion bottling up with a final destination in my throat which now hurts when I swallow.

Perhaps the last Blackgaze release for 2011, and certainly an awesome way to punctuate a year where this genre has flowered above and beyond early comprehension - with an offering from Sleeping Peonies setting the bar impossibly high for the genre, followed by Sun Devoured Earth, Heretoir, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Alrakis, Lantlos and now this - the subgenre still feels a little bit like our dirty secret, and although the sound has been championed and explored to its higher extents, I can still envision further discovery, more atmospheres and more harrowing story telling for 2012 – I still think this movement is largely underground, and will at some point explode. I just hope it’s one of the aforementioned bands that does it.

Dead to a Dying World - Dead to a Dying World. 8/10 (76%)

On paper this band sounds really up my street, and after a few listens, I really have a lot of positivity on the subject. Basically, DtaDW are an ensemble from Texas who use the usual big instrument set to do post metal, but with added cello and double bass, giving a sort of C20th bizarreness in places and a chamber music dimension in others.

The album is made up of three long songs. In the first song the band present themselves as having a quiet/loud slow build set up, but it's not till I realise that the heavy sections are actually quite technical and in fact, sound more like Weakling-style Black Metal than just a big post-metal riff around the same motifs as the build ups. I suppose I was expecting something similar to 'Year of No Light' or 'Fall of Efrafa' in that sense.

The only problem is there's a massive distinction between this band when they're doing something subtle and when they're doing something heavy. It's almost as if half the band compose the quiet stuff and half the band the loud stuff, which is a bit of a shame as I'd like to hear the odd instruments implemented more into the heavily guitar driven loud sections.

When these guys are full throttle, it also bares comparison to my favourite German doomed out post-metallers 'Omega Massif'. I suppose this is starting to sound quite tasty ey? Well it is, even if it lacks a certain sophistication held by the four bands I've already mentioned in comparison.

This is a light bite of extremely heavy stuff... instantly appreciable, but probably best experienced in the live environment for its massiveness. If I hadn't spent the weekend listening to Ulver, Blut Aus Nord and Primordial, I'd probably have had a violent reaction to the awesomeness on display here, which will have involved me spamming facebook with "Listentothisherebandit'sanacebandyessss?" but unfortunately, the aforementioned bigger bands weakened the impact for me. Curse you Prut Aus Ulvnordial!

Deaf Center - Owl Splinters 8/10 (83%)

This Norwegian duo makes ambient, moody, minimalist contemporary classical drone... I think. A fascinating look in to a dark, but calm world. One clichéd way I'd describe this is if 'Agaetis Byrjun' era Sigur Ros and Yann Tiersen got caught in a trans-dimensional vortex which took them to a parallel world, except all the living things that make them happy are either dead or in the process of being made dead through torture, and everything that they draw inspiration from has become an angry fearful entity... Glaciers littered with the carcasses of dead soldiers and extinct species of mammal... Aurora Borealis that gives you skin cancer.

A dusty and roomy piano is the main point of interest for these compositions. Beautiful and poignant melodies and passages communicate a scenario, and in most instances this beauty sadly bleeds out into a despairing ambience made up of various harmonics and tones. Occasionally, the tension piles up and the piano bleeds back into the ambience.

This music is perfect if you need a downer but you want to keep an element of control as your mood is brought into a stable condition. It's probably some of the most relaxing music I've ever heard, which makes me wonder what technology is taking place behind the ambience. It's a really full and lush production which cocoons my head, and lulls me into a drooling trance.

There are no vocals to speak of and because the music is so minimalist, it definitely adapts itself around whatever the listener is doing at the time and becomes a sort of personal soundtrack. This is because it is at no point invasive or offering anything which isn't vastly open to interpretation.

Sunn0))) would be another fair comparison. They clearly share a similar objective of forcing the listener into introverted dark perspectives, ultimately creating a very alien experience through a journey into your own subconscious fears and sadness’s.

Of all the fantastic releases I've heard this year, this is one I sort of feel in my bones, that I'll be returning to a year, two years, ten years from now and it's going to grow to become something very special to me.

Deafheaven - Roads to Judah. 9/10 (88%)

Where did these guys come from? A better question might be; where are they going? The answer, they're going to be fucking huge and popular, and for now, they're popular with us kvlt bastards (more or less) but not for long as this is what's going to take the horrible phrase 'hipster black metal' straight to the door of all the kids who are quite happy to be spoon fed watered down crap by mainstream metal magazines and moozik video channelziz... But that does not detract from the fact that this is so fucking good it hurts.

Epic epic chord progressions played blurringly over savage muscular blasting. Beautiful, sad melodies more akin to post-metal than black metal saw over the essentially black metal body of the song. Vocals that are screamed and grim and exist aurally somewhere between WitTR and the fathers of this brand of black metal; Weakling.

Slightly watered down? Well no doubt a big divider of the kvlt hordes... but who really gives a shit about that now? I've already given that too much attention. It's a damn fine album that makes their demo look weak, but only in comparison as before hearing the album the demo was a sturdy little release!

Very strong contender for a top ten list. If there's more to come from bands of a similar ilk, this is going to be a very good year.

Disma – Towards the Megalith 9/10 (87%)

Towards the Megalith is the heaviest thing I’ve heard this year/in ages/possibly ever. Of course, how we perceive heaviness is somewhat subjective. I personally consider the two heaviest releases I’ve heard to be Pentecost III by Anathema and Shadow’s of the Sun by Ulver, for my very own personal reasons (the first, because it is heavy, the second because it’s suffocatingly sad/emotionally moving and therefore, heavy). To some, Job For a Cowboy, Annotations of an Autopsy, Trigger the Bloodshed, All Shall Perish, Waking the Cadaver, Cattle Decapitation, The Acacia Strain, Oceano, Born of Osiris and Emmure are the embodiment of ‘heavy’, and are totally where it’s at when it comes to pushing the envelope and making you want to dress and move in questionable and dubious ways (granted some of the bands in that list a pure tripe and some are fucking excellent, so bare with me).

The thing these heavy new bands have in common? Technology! (and lots of it). From triggered kicks, to triggered toms, to triple tracking already down-tuned guitars going through thousands of pounds/dollars worth of line6 gear before the guitar tone even touches ‘the air’ to click tracks which then quantise everything before going through 15 compressors etcetcetc. These bands clearly use these wonderfully new production techniques to make albums that sound huge and pristine.

The question really should be, if you can fucking play and you have a real sonic point to prove that you honed in the real world/the practice room, you should just need a couple of decent microphones and a analogue tape deck. Right? Back to actually reviewing Disma now: Disma prove that is completely right. They lay waste in the heaviness debate with a totally organic recording that chugs as hard as it blasts. The speed is based on pure feel, and the tone is compelling and amp driven. This sort of heaviness is more aligned with Thorr’s Hammer but the osdm touch is all over this entity.

The band play death-doom in the truest sense of the word, but their doom is vital sounding to the point where the riffs border on the ‘slam’ style of breakdown. It’s just – a bit- too – slow – to – be – of – that – genre. The death metal is really crusty and punky, which would usually be lost on me, but there’s something about the sheer size of this band’s sound that just makes me adore even the elements which aren’t totally aligned with my taste. There is absolutely nothing progressive about this, but instead they wield the retrospective stance as if it were a similar approach. For that very reason, I declare this album is fucking shit hot, and anyone who isn’t listening to it, is probably a bit of a pussy. SEE! I don’t talk like that at all now do I? Disma have influenced me. What more can I say? Enjoy this thing as much as I do and suddenly feel a slightly bitter taste in your mouth when you recognise what the majority of dm is becoming.

Dornenreich - Flammentriebe 9/10 (89%)

This is an absolute powerhouse of an album. Germanique long standers on the glorious Prophecy Productions label. The band offer up black metal that feels intricately woven with our ancestry, but not in a cheesy 'swords and sandals' way, more the presentation Primordial offer. What hit me first is the unique vocals, growled and chanted in German. Rolling 'R's and spitting 'P's... So much conviction. Wish I understood the lyrics, as from all accounts they're really good. It's not massively original, but for me it's great to hear something tried and tested done so well that it pricks my ears up.

The Violinist isn't exactly a Virtuoso, but the rough around the edges bits really help Dornenreich's over all cause, in so far as I can hear he has a bit of gypsy in his tone and style, which is a more favourable sound to black metal than a classically trained violinist's offering would be.

Every song is unique, with a great dynamic and progressive structure and as a result, the album doesn't drag on at all (unlike this review, yawn). The musical pallet from which they paint is clearly varied and colourful, with all guns blazing moments of epic violence to harmonious acoustic passages. It's all superlative. The great mix on the album means nothing is left to the imagination... every instrument has its place, but there's enough bleed into each others' frequencies and space for the occasional wall of sound effect. And I must say not only are the riffs highly memorable and mesmerising, they're played with a belter of a tone!

Falloch – Where Distant Spirits Remain 9/10 (91%)

Falloch are a two piece melodic metal band with slight leanings towards modern/post black metal as well as rock and folk elements. Their sound is a balance so harmonious it is humbling to behold and this album couldn’t have landed at a better time.

A demo appeared earlier in the year and in an instant big name labels in the avant-garde and black metal scene were offering Falloch a contract. They are one of those bands where you can listen to any single 30 second block on the album and you can just tell this music will travel and sell. It just displays a compositional quality of the very highest order.

The guitar work largely reminds me of Les Discrets in its epic, morose but very melodic feel. There’s some leads provided which have the same superlative emotional exuberance as Insomnium. The drums are most often swinging away in 6/4 but occasionally we’re cleansed by epic blasts over drawn and progressive chord progressions. These moments are provincially some of my favourite parts of music this year.

Where We Believe is easily my favourite song here and if I had to do a top 5 songs this year, it’d certainly be way up there. From the epic intro with a melodeath feel to a huge spacey chorus which feels similarly anthemic to Type O Negative’s big moments and then in the latter half of the song an awe inspiring match of uplifting riffs with furious blast beats in an absolute dervish of elemental violence leaves me completely weak at the knees.

The vocals have been a point of discussion for a lot of people. They’re very clean for the most part, quite dramatic and emotional. The voice is honest and brave but the singer can hit notes in quite complex vocal melodies no problem. The tone of his voice seems to have left something to be desired for a lot of people but once again I love it. It’s very similar to Agalloch and brings another dimension to music which might not have been hugely original, if only for being executed at a higher level of understanding and intensity.

Fen - Epoch 7/10 (66%)

Fen are one of the leading bands for modern UKBM (please excuse me using that abbreviation, I'm not sure it amounts to anything, the bands in this 'movement' aren't really related, nor are they aurally similar, there's just a few good ones out there now so someone needed a term to ring-fence them, and yes, they share this pokey island) and with good reason. Their influences sit proudly on their sleeve and what they do they do well. Epoch doesn't perhaps raise the bar for this nations black metal output, but it's definitely a solid contribution.

I don't like making comparisons unless a band sort of invites it and here I feel there is an invitation to mention Agalloch and Alcest in so far as the melodies often sound happy or sort of hopeful. I think the intent is to sound more malicious, but the compositions seem to find themselves naturally falling into some major scale progressions.

Their previous and first album, The Malediction Fields, is an album I've returned to time and time again, mainly because I never fully got my ear around it. It has an obscure atmosphere and a ferocity that swells from a very tonal leaning.

Epoch isn't that different really. Although on first listen I enjoyed it a lot more, and subsequent listens have been increasingly rewarding. There's still sections where the synths sound clashy with the guitars and everything is piling up a little chaotically. Also the happy sound to some of the riffs distracts my ear a little, especially when the vocal delivery is bile filled and fueled with anger.

However, strange and wavering clean sounds cast a veil over blackened riffage making a 'listening to emperor while watching Twin Peaks' vibe. There's more middle ground covered here than on the previous effort, something between the all out paganistic anger and folky/experimental passages.

The vocals go through lots of transformations. Mainly, a focus on a hoarse rasp, but occasionally we're treated to some clean singing and lower growls which sound superb.

There's a deeper well for inspiration here than just extreme metal and it's perhaps more rewarding to listen around the abrasive elements. But for now, I'm finding this slightly easier to digest than the first album and I'm happy to recommend it to anyone trying to build a catalogue of standout metal releases this year.

Grails – Deep Politics. 7/10 (75%)

Grails are a collective of musicians whose main agenda seems to be to create the most unrestrained yet relatable music possible. The songs are completely instrumental and feature all the usual instruments, but for what I hear each member of the band is multi-disciplined and so to be as varied as possible, seem to swap duties around, and utilise everyone in the band in the writing process to add lots of different flavours to the whole.

Deep politics is a largely morose journey and to me feels like an introspective exploration. The music draws on odd conventions to depict drama and aid the story telling aspects to the music. In the first track, there’s some nods to Ennio Morricone’s work with Sergio Leone, the music builds into a plosive moment which sparkles with western character.

Then the deeply maudlin movement of ‘Deep Politics’ draws more on pure melody driven piano and yields the same hair raising result as a truly successful post-rock track.

The amount of variation doesn’t detract from the album having a recognisable back bone holding the experimentation together. I can’t quite place where this comes from as it’s not a motif or specific voice (as said, the voices change as the musicians behind the instruments change), but from the start to the very end, nothing startles me as being out of place, in spite of the fact that the album covers so many social musical perspectives. All I can think is that each genre utilised is done so because its conventions are able to elicit a distinct mood, which to me is a sort of an optimistic view on a hopeless situation; a mundane drama, with an underlying sense of anxiety and intensity.

Helheim – Heiðindómr ok Mótgangr. 8/10 (83%)

Helheim is a black metal band from Norway (Bergen) which truly understands there is no limit to the word epic. At times I want to call this modern black metal, but the occasional Fintroll style folk section makes me second guess this labelling. ‘HoM’ is certainly 2011’s answer to Agrypnie’s ‘16(485)’, which was last year’s very most epic release. The vocal style is similar, as well as the superb production. But the riffs still drip with a foggy gloom and the drums roll and blast and drive the ceremonious dark music into despairing and confrontational depths.

Namely it’s the blazing guitar work which causes this music to sore higher than your average folk inspired black metal. Crying out solo’s which rip and tear through the air and actually complement the songs in the same way Jeff Loomis’ Nevermore solos do. The problem these days with guitar solos is that 9/10 of them are only in there because it’s conventional, and a lot of guitarists don’t seem adept enough to choose the right melodic vocabulary to convey a mood or musically embellish on a story or scene. The guitarists might be clinicians with awesome levels of skill, but their ‘widdle’ says nothing more than “I know how to handle an axe”. Helheim are a massive exception to this, and as a result, really standout, not just in the sense that a lot of black metal bands wouldn’t use solo’s, as the progressive nature of them can detract from the hypnotic devices with in the genre, but also because clearly the guitarist is a master storyteller.

Lots of interesting instruments make their way into the mix here too. Big brass sounds, lots of clunky folk stringed instruments and plenty of big percussion paints the archaic picture from which Helheim seem to operate within.

Four of the tracks are named Viten og Mot (which translates as ‘Knowledge and Courage’) and followed by a word in brackets (sindighet, stolhet, arvakenhet and bevissthet) which describe an extension of the other two virtues. Funnilly enough, these four tracks are the absolute standouts on the album for me. The opener (Slindighet) just pulsates energy and power through the latter half of the song. Mid album we’re treat to (Arvakenhet) which similarly explodes in its second half. The first half is pure ‘I am the Black Wizards’ homage.

I love this album and the way it makes me feel, but I feel I can’t justify giving it a really high score based on the fact that they execute ‘epic’ perfectly. I sort of feel this lacks something to take it from, just an absolutely great modern metal album to a genuine masterpiece (which all of my 85% > albums are to me). My problem really is that the album isn’t very challenging at all, and the immediate sensation this album gives is pure endearment and ecstasy, and anyone into metal with high-production values must must must hear this immediately. It will kick the shit out of you. I personally love to have to struggle to come to terms with the music, or to heighten my understanding of music to appreciate the output, which for this I plain and simple didn’t have to do.

Heretoir - Heretoir 8/10 (78%)

This self titled album is a tasty slab of emotional music, cleverly designed over its longevity to take you on a very expressive journey. And I'm always more than happy to hear bands that openly associate their sound with Lantlos and Amesoeurs. That sound being a less elemental black metal, and more urban. I find it so fantastic that the dark aural energies that make black metal what it is can be wielded to paint a city in decay. It's a chilling atmosphere when delivered as well as Heretoir deliver it. It makes you wonder what other areas are yet to be explored through this unlikely and alienating sonic identity.

Melodically, this is more aligned with shoe gaze-y black metal or as some people who like to use words as like a macro umbrella-ing term might say now and then to tag it in their scrobblers and YouTube, 'Black Gaze'. Gazing at the Black!!! How literally dark and all encompassing!

No, once again, the marriage of build-ups, epic & dream-like melodies and emotional tension with the harshness of black metal, is something I like a lot. It is right up my alley.

The album really starts to kick in at the fifth track for me. The drums do some awesome kick patterns which remind me of the things I like about Dimmu Borgir. Just remember to turn it up... it's mastered quite quietly... I wish I could find more words to say on this album because I've had it on repeat for over a week now and the melodies have gotten quite ingrained in me.

Hexvessel – Dawnbearer 10/10 (97%)

Sometimes you hear an album for the first time and just know instantly that the music contained within is going to stay with you for the rest of your life. Dawnbearer is one of those albums. Short punchy songs, laden with a sincere spirituality and all the sinister charms of the occult, dance in the air around me, psychedelic expression played on an ensemble of acoustic instruments and sang in one of the most honest and chilling voices I’ve ever heard. The production rejoices every detail of those finely plucked strings. As well as the rich and vibrant harmonics resonating perfectly, every creak, squeak and shuffle is also captured in the ambient detail of the recordings.

The mood this album creates is both evocative and meditative - you can forget about time and imagine you’ve been lost in the woods for days. You can even feel a sense of impairment to your reality as if on certain mood altering substances. Or perhaps that’s just the influence of how impaired these shaman’s collective reality must’ve been when they wrote this stuff? Although I have my doubts that experimentation with drugs played a huge part in this creation. Even though the creativity here seems transcendental, like a sober mind wouldn’t be capable of conjuring the images these songs create, some degree of control must’ve been implemented for the songs to be so perfectly structured and crafted. There’s a profound understanding of genuinely excellent song writing going on. Unless this is the rare case that someone completely retains all their talent while extremely high after crawling into a badger den with a ukulele and vowing not to leave until the album is written.

The psychedelia comes from the lyrcial subject matter and the ‘world music’ timbre, but sometimes the music leans from folk to more contemporary genres like indie and rock, all the while retaining a deep sense of connectivity to nature, folklore, heritage and the beyond. I had thought this music was going to be quite ambient, abstract and full of subtle build-ups, but it has more in common with fellow Fins ‘Tenhi’ than anything else in the almost filmic orchestrations and rich arresting progressions.

And another reason I feel deeply for this album is that the bands main composer, Mat McNerney (known to many as Kvohst) is an Englishmen. He used to do vocals in black metal intercontinental super group Code. Surely it’s every musicians dream to one day up-sticks and move to Finland, form an allegiance with various folk and experimental prog musicians along the way and in a perfect blend of sounds and themes, create a project that’s strong enough to form a living off.

See how this album appeals to you and listen to the monolithic duet with Czral ‘The Tunnel at the End of Light’ or the quirky ‘Diamonds’. I would happily recommend these songs to my grandma aswell as the swamp-dwelling, creature of the night grim types, it really is that diverse.

Khuda – Iecava. 9/10 (92%)

Khuda is a two headed riff and rhythm calculator that has four arms and four legs. Somehow it makes music that sounds like an army made up of the members of the bands Lite/Isis/Don Cabalero/Neurosis/Mono/Irepress/Russian Circles, in spite of having so few limbs.

Non-cryptically, the band is a two piece. A drummer called Steve (with thick’n’heavy sticks). A guitarist called Tom (with shoes and lots and lots of pedals). I’ve seen Khuda play live countless times, and what I have always felt is that they would struggle to capture the sheer immensity of what they do on stage in an album. When I say what they do on stage, I mean the guitarist literally has 12 cones of raw power in a rig that touches the ceiling in most venues. The rig is usually placed directly behind the drummer, who wears industrial ear muffs. The guitarist then uses a massive range of tones (both amp and pedal driven) to create diverse and interwoven musical landscapes and riffs (when I say riffs, I’m talking huge emotional and despairing post-rock and metal riffs (I already name dropped some sort of similar-ish)). Even when gently plucking his clean vintage tone, you can feel each note like a kick in the forehead. Oh, and did I mention the guitarist has mastered the loop/delay pedal to such a degree that he bases most of the compositions around it? This means his strangely endearing hypnotic melodies and motifs can build from minimalistic little phrases to walls of utterly devastating and dense rhythmic agro. Their live sets are such an involving experience that it borders on the spiritual!

What Iecava provides: a transmission where Khuda’s heaviness and subtlety alike are captured brilliantly to represent the compositions. The feel is still live, but sound wise, the different guitar voices have their own place in the mix, in the sense that the heavy sections don’t sound like they’re coming from the same sound source as the quiet sections, meaning Khuda have overcome what I perceived could be a flaw in capturing their material. The most plausible way to record Khuda has given us a multi-layered sound that doesn’t come across as one person messing with delays – It really is as if a musical collective is at work in the control room.

The drummer uses various approaches to accompany the technical and progressive music. No easy job you’d think as there’s lots of odd time signature and tempo changes, aswell as having to play to loop recordings, i.e. no slip ups or it’ll all go to hell. But somehow the skill set the drummer applies sounds very natural and almost tribal in the push and flow that is used. Because the snare sound is really open, instantly I hear a samba background, but listening more closely the aggression of a rock musician is there in abundance. It’s all tied together with a really jazzy articulation on the cymbals. It is clearly important to this drummer that he exhibits a unique approach while also respecting the material and paying close attention to what the music requires for completion. The end result is just fucking electric!

Khuda tour relentlessly and have had the opportunity to support some of the more highly regarded bands in the avant-garde rock and post-rock/metal genres. For this reason, you’ll probably get a chance to witness Iecava live and loud. Do not fail yourself if Khuda are in your town, state, county, province, country or land mass in general. Chances are, if they are playing on your land mass, you’ll be able to hear them playing anyway... That was another ‘they play really fucking loud’ joke.

Krallice – Diotima 9/10 (93%)

I’ve been following Krallice for a while and saw no room for improvement in their previous two full lengths which hold a dear place in my music collection. This sentiment changed when I heard Diotima, which is a perfect execution of the sprawling mathematical, tremolo-picked malevolence making up Krallice’s unique sound.

The music writhes as if it’s alive with fast and energetic directives, yet the twin guitar melodies duel and take sporadic twists and turns, occasionally shrugging off the conventional metrics, and the drums are left to tumble into fills which roll unpredictably until the riffs find solid ground again. The only people counting along to this music (and getting it right) are the members of the band who know the secrets behind this serpentine aural mass.

For me, this is absolute brain food. The scales used are avant-garde and follow no obvious musical rules (that I’m familiar with at least), but then there is a harmonic vocabulary Krallice dwell within that stops the music from becoming too chaotic. It’s incredibly self-referential in that sense, but all true avant-garde should be! It’s easy to be random or chromatic, but sometimes I hear a sort of resolving motif which reminds me of music for film and specifically the horror genre which I truly believe shows a level of craft has gone into the spectrum of sounds Krallice allow themselves to wield.

The vocals have gone from being quite hardcore sounding yelps and shouts, to massive low death-doom growls! Something I did not expect but I welcome whole heartedly. This couples a general step up in the production values and, somehow, an even more ferocious element to the song writing.

This album is extremely long, and whether it’s just my perceptions or this was intentional, it feels like the whole thing gets steadily more and more abrasive, with harsher production towards the end, faster drumming and more discordance in the later tracks. My experience was, beginning the album, I’m stood in the opening of a dark cave... as the album progresses, the cave walls get narrower, the ground wetter, what dim light was fades into darkness and the gradient of the ground sinks till eventually you’re struggling to keep your footing on a near vertical slope with seemingly no end. I believe many bands strive to gain this affect, often in a song or over a couple of songs on an album, but rare is it in my experience executed to the same degree Krallice have achieved, especially over the longevity of such an absolutely massive musical journey.

Loss – Despond 6/10 (64%)

By no means a nill effort... this is an ambitious multi-faced titan of the doom genre, covering the crying emotional melo-doom of bands like swallow the sun, more riffy doom like Centurions Ghost, doom with clean vocals like Warning, post-doom that has clinky clean bits like Neurosis, Omega Massif or Year of No Light and doom that shakes your boots, like... well, loads of those bass heavy doom bands (shall we go with Khanate?)... Like Khanate.

It has a character of its own which it gains through an amalgamation of these various forms of doom. The problem is, unlike a lot of the bands I’ve mentioned, they don’t own their sound at all. At any moment in the album, if you were asked who the band was, after 5 seconds you’d be able to make an approximate guess, but you’d be wrong.

The other thing, the vocals, for a large part of the album, are just whispered (when I say whispered I mean they are not projected loudly at all – the type of vocals people who don’t know how to do metal vocals do in the shower and think they’re Mikael Akerfeldt) into a microphone with the gain cranked and the compression maxed, and because I can tell that’s how they’ve gained the effect, I find myself cringing. I need doom vocalists to be loud as hell, almost able to scream as loud as their backline... not whispering hoarsely and then using the studio to turn it into some kind of faux-gutterals.

Nasty mean horrible stuff out of the way, this album is cloaked in misery. Musically we’re presented with riffs that sound literally suicidal. The drums sound huge. There’s an atmosphere caught here that is very unique and despairing. The songs are cleverly structured, and as an album there’s a great sense of continuity and flow. I would not be surprised in the slightest if some people saw this album as an absolutely genre defining triumph and I feel bad that the diversity on display here translates in my ears as a lack of focus/identity

Luup – Meadow Rituals. 8/10 (84%)

Luup is a neo-classical/folk project by Greek flautist Stelios Romaliadis. When I first heard about the project I honestly expected multi-layered flute playing and basically, experimental studio techniques exploring woodwind sounds. This does have experimental touches, but not to the degree I’d expected. This doesn’t hide behind pretension and minimalism, but instead traverses in to conventional depths of musical motion. It’s a lush full and emotional journey which makes use of a plethora of timbres.

Every track has it’s own flavour, sometimes we’re given sparse bowed build-ups, other times we’re roughed along by rock drums and female vocals giving a direct message to music that’s ripe to bursting with meaning.

Highly recommended if you’re into Sibelius or any nature inspired ensembles.

Mitochondrion - Parasignosis 9/10 (93%)

Right, as you might be able to tell from the Ulcerate Review... death metal isn't my area of expertise. It's something I listened to alot when I was 14, 15, 16... but I grew steadily detached from it (as my hormones returned to a more normal level and I didn't need what I'd now describe as a 'sonic testosterone sponge' anymore).

Oh but Mitochondrion are so much more. I could tell from the bands name that they were going to be hell-ish, gurgling, tormented, free-flowing, jazzed-up, doom, avant-garde death metal. Well, I sort of had a feeling...

This is sick sick stuff. I say sick twice, because I mean it! It's psyche-tormenting & bewildering... physical & visceral... morbid & trans-dimensional. There are so many layers and unique elements and ideas... and none of them... not one of them... sounds human by design.

So, JUST listen and tremble... turn it up and close your eyes and feel transformed. At their best, Mitochondrion offer thick walls of feedback which rain over churning guitar chords with drums playing marches and rolls that move around like an army of otherworldly warriors whose only focus is to dismember anything they find, without a shred of remorse or emotion. As a listener, you're hiding in the shrubbery and you can only hear them approaching...

Melodically, this has the same dissonant almost microtonallity as Blut Aus Nord. Structurally, there's no explanation or rhyme or reason but its safe to say expect the unexpected with the odd brutal pay off... individual parts of the tracks show a huge range of conventions... the doom elements are like Bloody Panda, But with added Lovecraft... And the death metal is like Portal... but with added Lovecraft.

I haven't heard too much of a buzz about Mitochondrion yet, but I am thinking this album will be one of those 'top of the decade' types for alot of people. I can't deny, even for someone who has long since tired of death metal, it is an extremely monumental and fucking spectacular piece of music.

Natural Snow Buildings - Waves of the Random Sea 9/10 (92%)

It's hard to believe that the lush orchestral textures making up the bed for the occasional burst of experimental, percussive, psychedlic folk is the product of just two musicians. One man. One Woman. Both French... lots and lots of happy and absorbing sound.

I'm not even going to start speculating 'how' they do this... but it feels almost 'live' and spontaneous in sections, so they must have some kind of many armed 'Kali' like arrangement going on (or delay pedals/loop stations). Anyway, forget about the fact that it's just two people for now, because it's leaving me so very flummoxed that I'm forgetting to talk about the actual creation here...

Natural Snow Buildings create lush, soft and tuneful ambient textures which stretch on indefinitely, droning out immensely communicative clouds of sound which almost fool me into falling forward in the faith that I'll land in this cloud and be carried out to some place far more glorious than this one. However I know, I know... this is music, and if I did that I'd be listening to these fluffy textured delights with a bloodied nose and gravel in my mouth.

The texture is made up, mainly, of pad like sounds emmulated through bowing cymbals, guitars and a sort of choral humming vocal... You know the instrument set I mean? Well no, you won't until you listen to this. Occasionally the lovely chords turn quite dissonant and it becomes a pretty dark and scary experience too. And then occasionally we're treat to found sounds, wind and water and trees and rocks falling... Whether or not these sounds are actually in the mix or once again I'm being tricked, is totally subjective and probably to do with associative sounds and aural schemas.

Ok, but the clever part is, within these textures, slowly, songs construct themselves until you realise you're actually now bouncing along merilly to a plucked string instrument with eastern vibes backed up with multi-layered gamelan like percussion... or lo-fi folk warblings from the female in the group, over fairly standard (but excellent) folk guitar work. I'm closer to saying this is paying larger homage to contemporary world music in general, rather than just 'folk'.

Each song here is a work of pensive genius and the listening experience is both intense and peaceful. I'm extremely inspired by this music, not just as a musician myself, but as a person with a reasonable level of emotional intelligence. I hope many people open their ears to what's going on here as talented doesn't even begin to describe the multi-instrumental abilities these individuals have.

Nightbringer – Hierophany of the Open Grave. 9/10 (91%)

Nightbringer are a modern black metal band from the US. They apply masterful technique and ferocity to malevolent grinding avant-garde melodies, which clash and dual in natures harmonic arena.

The sound is so evil, it has the potential to conjure fires deep within the soul – as galvanising an experience as Deathspell Omega at their very best. My mind races when I listen to tracks such as ‘The Gnosis of Inhumation’, the pace is lowered slightly but the tone is still thick and the riffs have a sort of long-in-tooth daemonic fear inducing craft to them.

This and Aosoth III bare alot of similarities to me. Both unrelenting and extreme in new measures of intelligence and superlative understanding of the voices they wield.

It’s not just discordance; it’s a sort of clever use of minor scales mixed in with quite threatening almost death metal like timbres. Hugely recommended!

Omega Massif – Karpatia. 10/10 (97%)

Massive, cold, bludgeoning instrumental post metal which if I had to sum up in one phrase would be: This is music to die of exposure to. Omega Massif have bettered their first album ‘Geisterstadt’ with ‘Karpatia’. No easy feat, nor does it sound quite right for me to say when, since it's release, ‘Geisterstadt’ has sat firmly in my top ten albums of all time.

Omega Massif steer the listener through rugged and cold terrain with mountain sized riffs and a guitar tone that could literally shake the earth! This sort of thing is said often to compliment a bands 'heaviness', but I implore you, before reading any further, just go sample something by them! The best way to enjoy this album is as loud as you can bare it, without distraction.

'Karpatia' opens with a rumbling tribal build-up which blatantly winks at a huge section in the latter half of 'Unter Null' (one of the more concise tracks on 'Geisterstadt'). I found this detail really endearing as a fan of the older material. Other than this one moment where an idea is intentionally recycled, 'Karpatia' takes the sound on 'Geisterstadt' and explodes it to fresh heights of heaviness beyond my most daring comprehension.

The first two tracks are quite high in pace for a band who pride themselves on being down-tempo ('we wouldn't play faster if we could' being an old motto). A lot of ideas are explored in quite a short time frame which I find extremely refreshing (especially when post-metal and doom can often use laborious build-ups, demanding a patient ear). If 'Geisterstadt' was climbing a lofty peak, the first two tracks on 'Karpatia' are a manic tumble back down to sea level.

My first impression is that the rest of the album returns to make another epic ascension, up and beyond, broken limbs and all, till eventually suspended at an unthinkable altitude by the albums title track 'Karpatia', which is a dark and ambient masterpiece!

No words or vocals could do the atmosphere and heaviness here justice… To be honest, there isn't room in the crushing mix either way, but the 'wordless' element to the music means this offering can wrap itself around whatever the listener deems to be epic, monolithic and/or impeding and thus opens a unique interaction with us, giving us creative control to picture our own unguided visions of a tragic or empowering narrative.

One of my favourite things about Omega Massif's sound is the use of E-bow and delay… When guitarst and composer Andreas Schmittfull uses this glistening and glacial effect, it sends glass shatteringly powerful vibrations through the skin, causing teeth to clench, eyes to water and certain dangling appendages to retract out of fear for their safety. He usually times this approach to playing over a massive riff, so when he drops back into normal strumming with his dry tone, the damage it causes is noticeable!

‘Im Karst’ is the highlight of the album for me. The first half; desolate doom which evolves into some vast spatial and minimal dirges just held together by the drums, some of the chords here have a more positive sound. We're then treat to a step-up in the pace with a big post-rock-esque swirling build which lends itself to unleash a faster upbeat riff. This then refrains briefly to return over a huge half time rhythm. A Dissolve takes place into pure apocalyptic unexplored crevasse worship, taking the form of a chugging riff which breaks some of the scuzz and feels more punctuated and perpetual. The outro is just a phenominal wall of noise and clatter, involving just about everything Omega Massif do well and more!

These are riffs to live for and ultimately, music to die to! All that’s inbetween is the time not spent listening to Omega Massif, and thus not being enriched, inspired and crushed in equal measure. I think this review goes some way towards justifying my utter adoration for this band. Now all that's left is for you too to tackle the brutal ascension and face your own 'Everests' with Karpatia as your sonic medium!

Petrychor – Effigies and Epitaphs. 74% (7/10)

I will state straight away that I wish I could have the same level of enthusiasm for this project as everyone else, as it is very clear from the buzz in the underground that Petrychor, a one man experimental/world music/black metal project from the US has blown away many fans of intelligent music and has been tipped by many to be album of the year. On this basis, everyone should check the album out regardless of what I have to say (which is by no means bad, it’s just not as enthused as everyone else).

Petrychor meld grim, frantic black metal with esoteric, epic post-rock and lots and lots of pretty astounding folk orientated acoustic guitar work. The first thing you will notice is this guy can seriously handle a guitar, using really complex classical and Latin techniques to play extremely long sections of almost bluegrass style fiddly circus music. These intervals are intended as a welcome and contrast to the muddy and misanthropic black metal.

The majority of the black metal here is quite punk sounding with major scales dominating and the drums being more an allegro 2/4 oom-pah than a blast beat. The guitar work is frantic and dizzying in these sections and the muddiness I mentioned means it’s more rewarding to just feel the energy and atmosphere of these moments than to listen around the abrasive production to try and decipher the interplay between the layers of instruments on offer.

For me Petrychor is at its best when the epic slower sections kick in. There’s some beautiful elemental riffs backed up with cleverly voiced synthesised orchestration. This has the same cascading cleansing sensations as music from the post-rock genre. It reminds me of Amesoeurs and Fen in that sense.

The commendable thing about this album is probably what is making me struggle to get into it and that’s the variety on offer. The album opens with a beautiful ambient track which features a haunting and epic operatic female vocal. This is easily my favourite moment on the album. However the conventions in this section are never returned to. The second track begins with a blistering bluesy acoustic solo, before suddenly bursting into a really avant-garde Nintendo black metal riff (I’m sorry if no one else hears the Nintendo in this riff) until eventually the post-black metal takes over and I feel on safer ground again. My head is spinning. It’s not that I can’t take a mixture of conventions; I think it’s just that each conflicting section blurs any overall message behind the music and the only thing that is communicated to me through the discourse of the entire album is that Petrychor is a multi-disciplined virtuoso.

Some individual sections communicate with me on an emotional level though, so if only for a lack of continuity in whatever compositional spirit is injected into those sections, I can’t meet this with the same excitement as the rest of the community for which I consider my self kin. But I am alone in this sentiment, and therefore, wrong. Go and listen to this and then come back and flame me for being so perversely incorrect!

Potmos Hetoimos – Evelyn. 8/10 (80%)

Potmos Hetoimos is a solo project hailing from the USA. The project seems to be purpose built for its composer (Matt) to sling everything that he likes about music into the pot and give it a damn good stir. Having great taste and a seasoned perspective no doubt aids the outcome of such an amalgamation and we’re presented with titan sized progressive/avant-garde melodic doom. Saying that, the project itself is totally DIY and although endearing to some (me), others may be put off by the programmed drums, ‘Line-in through a distortion pedal’ guitars and ‘Electet’ PC microphone vocals. If you’re brave enough to listen around this, you’ll hear a master craftsman at work, doing his level best to express himself with what little tools he has.

Saying that, some parts of the album have a great balance to the mix, with everything audible and well placed - The percussion sounds are helped by a clear understanding of how to choose the right beat for the riff at hand and a sweet bass tone livens up the overall EQ of the guitars. The metal, which is a sort of unpredictable doom, slightly more on the ‘My Dying Bride’ end of ‘Opeth’ with the progressive quirks of ‘Maudlin of the Well’ and the teeth grinding intensity of ‘Esoteric’ sometimes gives way entirely for some really interesting ambient passages using flutes, synths and various idiophone sounds (as well I might mention the awesome tribal percussion section in the opening track). This is more Kayo Dot’s lack of restraint meets Pensees Nocturnes eerie carnival atmosphere (to my ears). Based on the strength of these sections, I could imagine Potmos Hetoimos moving in a more ambient/experimental direction, where the metal passages are frequented less for greater effect (I suppose I’m thinking of a similarity with what ‘Nucleus Torn’ displays).

All of this shows that there is many a string to Potmos Hetoimos’s bow, and the gentleman behind this project is clearly growing and learning with each of his releases (this being his eighth!). Not only do I hope he continues to explore his influences to such great success, I also selfishly hope the project continues to ambitiously push the boundaries of what you can record at home, with cinematic scope in mind in spite of any DIY pitfalls that may inadvertently be mythering his path to connecting with a larger populace of music lovers.

Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand 8/10 (85%)

Primordial have always had a profound influence on me and I dare say anyone with a kinship to nature and/or an interest in human nature; the internal fires that burn to fuel the emotions that give human’s a sense of self and purpose - and the ability to question who we are and what does it take to fulfil our role in this spiralling beautiful and alienating cosmos - should find Primordial utterly enchanting, inspiring and essential.

This is a band of story tellers, whose work reached a new height of genius with their last album, ‘To the Nameless Dead’. I’m happy to say ‘RatPH’ carries the same weight of substance, with vocals that sound lustful and harrowing all in one. Crying for our land (or the land that once was) and the brave people who’ve been and gone but were ‘people’ and not just myths and bedtime stories. The voice of primordial is literally a vessel for the souls of every warrior who died with a firm belief in their heart, or every mere citizen who passed during a raid with an untold story to sing.

Baring that in mind it’s hard not to well up with emotion under the weight of the sheer majesty of this music; especially in tracks like ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’. ‘Mouth of Judas’ is another fantastic track which at one point has one of those perfectly timed classic melodic metal moments; the track pulses into a distorted folk riff that just screams 90’s era peaceville. I’m not sure why I’m naming songs here, because the whole album is just a tumbling revelation of epic and intelligent song craft!

I’ve heard a few criticisms saying the black metal in their sound has made way for more straight up rock conventions... but I don’t feel that at all. This album rarely goes fast... maybe that’s what these people mean? In spite of that fact, the elemental ferocity is still there, not to mention the essential melancholy which celebrates our rotten condition and stares ‘misthropically’ into the eyes of every philistine that blindly follows commerciality, thus feeding a corporate machine that further pulls and drags us away from our ancestry, the earth and the things in life that truly matter. To me Primordial is all about preservation of the traditions and philosophies which enable us to proudly enact fulfilled lives.

Revokation – The End Ablated. 9/10 (90%)

Revokation is a death metal band from LEEDS UK. Their unique variation on death metal includes influence from neighbouring genres such as black metal and Grindcore. Prior to this release they put together a tasty little EP called “The Unknown One” which was almost entirely DIY, with home recorded drums that actually sounded great, if not a little lo-fi and a mix that maybe lacked the shimmer of a professional production, but still this release communicated the songs really well and Revokation were able to build their profile up on the back of this handmade mini-CD.

Now, new tracks written and countless live shows later, Revokation is on the verge of releasing their newest offering. The band have clearly gone from strength to omnipotence, as this five track EP casts a monumental shadow over the former release, if not for the sheer genius of the song writing or pure quality of the production then for the ravenous energy that bleeds from every pour of this beast!

Lyrical themes range from ‘the human’; madness, isolation and emotional depravity, to ‘the religious’; in defiance of indoctrinating ideologies, and of course, ‘monsters’; from the tales of Lovecraft to the demons and demigod’s of Solomon’s Goetia. The vocal delivery sounds like pure self destructive catharsis! Shouts, screams and roars that are as scintillating as they are intimidating.

The drumming is a massive point of interest here. The performance is raw and invigorating. The drummer manages to seamlessly swing between grind-y/sludgy loose beats that have lots of feel and emotion to quite clinical and technical blasting. It’s like the band has two drummers who occasionally fuse into one to bring us the best of both worlds. The feel is almost completely ‘live’ which is where a lot of the punishing energy in this EP comes from, but then it questions, how inhuman is this guy that can blast and roll and groove so effortlessly with such feel, sometimes pushing the tempo to its upper limits and sometimes bringing it right back down for the massive almost doom laden riff work? The performance must’ve been done under lots of pressure to retain this feel and yet from start to finish the kit remains under an extreme but faultless and controlled assault.

The guitar work is throttling! The riffs themselves are played with ‘Gojira’/’Amon Amarth’ like precision and articulation but rhythmically and melodically, it’s like ‘Decapitated’ working with the preferred scales of ‘Wolves in the Throne Room’. The guitarist has clearly developed an almost telepathic link with the drummer, as he manages to wrap up his riffs perfectly in rhythm with the spontaneous fills provided in the percussion. The tone is pure ENGL power, and this EP could very well be a poster child for this slogan “How to make your band God-like? Buy a fucking ENGL.”

The bassist is clearly a tentacled demon whom the band summons to beef up their low end. With a jazzy finger picked style he warmly covers the frantic riffs in a coat of larva. Once again, almost telepathic and circus style talent is on display as the interplay between instruments is wordlessly driving towards a common goal... that being to influence the listener to fall into a hypnotic state of conflict where dark and destructive emotions rise to the surface and are forced into combat with subconscious fears, the psyche being the battleground with the ultimate outcome: galvanising the listener into a stronger, more conflict ready mentality. I.E. if you listen to this on a bus and some toe-rag starts giving you hassle, he’ll probably find himself laid in the road, trying to work out which bits of the surrounding debris are shards of broken glass and which bits are his absent teeth. Wish him luck with that as he’s also blind now... yeah, in all the excitement you also put his eyes in.

Sleeping Peonies - Ghosts & Other Things 9/10 (96%)

A fantastic little DIY effort here, released by US label Khrysanthoney (a fresh innovative label who seem to engage bands that create dreamy epic atmospheres, which turns out to be a lot of post-rock/shoegaze, punk and pop (yes pop) inspired black metal). However, this is from the mind of a young talent who dwells upon our fair shores (and the British Coast line is of massive importance to the Sleeping Peonies sound)!

What do we have here then? Well, it's a very successful continuation of the completely unique sound crafted for the first demo, 'Rose curl, sea swirl' (one of my favourite releases of 2010 (what a year it was) ). The music itself is immensely descriptive and colourful...

I'll try dissect it, and what it means to me based on what I know about this projects visionary creator -

First of all, Thick harmonic, rumbling, yearning saw-tooth guitar drones with a distant and nautical sound, almost like brass horns, fill and fog the majority of the frequential space and help begin to create the picture of a seaside town in its off season. This voice feels to me to be the body for the majority of these complex compositions. At times it offers a basso continuo-like drone, but others it offers a very wide melodic wall which paints something 'schematically vast' in the listeners mind, to me it's almost certainly the expanse of the sea...

Meanwhile tremolo picked, delay-saturated guitar melodies take the lead voice. This is completely epic! Prepare yourself for some hair raising-clenched teeth-eyes watering moments. The melodies themselves are not the rising predictable aeolian mode melodies of most generic post-rock. There's a prevalence of a real sense for notes that relate to each other in an almost abstract attempt to communicate something more. To me, this instrument is painting the skies, the clouds, the weather and the birds. All the little details I suppose.

The Bass here is slick, just like on the Demo. It's a very poppy 80's goth bass sound and it's immensely charming! This plays a big part in the nostalgic, 'waking from a dream sensation' people have all related to this band.

The drums are programmed, but treat with so many effects that they sit really comfortably in the mix without taking away from the organic sound. The beats and rhythms feel tidal, tumbling up from little fills on the cymbals into blastbeats and then tumbling back down into nothing. It's not just a unique programmed-drum sound, It's also apparent the beats themselves are quite atypical and a signature part of why Sleeping Peonies are an entity of its very own.

The vocals are shouted/screamed and are performed with passion, giving this EP the raw, emotional energy black metal needs to become successful. Some describe these vocals as screamo... something I'm not too familiar with and probably wouldn't listen to if isolated away from the black metal element, but the stylistic marriage works really well for me. The vocals place the composer behind Sleeping Peonies as a character in the setting which is painted by the rest of the instruments. Spoken word sections are delivered by a female voice, adding a certain mystique and narrative to the discourse of the journey.

Other various instruments come into play such as a piano sound with very short accents put on the notes, but treated with a lot of reverb and delay. This is the most melodic and 'pop' part of the band and perhaps the most attractive element to first time listeners, as it's avant-garde and dreamy melody lines which contain no dissonance create the huge contrast when the waves of drums and guitars come crashing back in. Sigur Ros would be a fair comparison. No really.

There's also a big slab of pad sounds filling out the chords, which works really well in the sense that the previously mentioned guitar has such a thick and brutal sound, it helps discern the voicing of the chords and increases the already vast detail to the ensemble of sounds.

The production is completely suitable for the job at hand, and mainly I should mention the use of DELAY! Yes, this record is full of it. Somewhere in all the swirling rhythmical milliseconds of decaying sounds, little accidental esoteric worlds are made which in the most atmospheric and powerful sections, seem to dissolve and metamorphosize into other strange and beautiful galaxies. This is a more emotive and abstract part of the atmosphere, although in one sense it's visual as it creates an accoustic, like the sounds are bouncing off a cliff face, or within a cave, or a hollow abandoned lighthouse - but mainly it's just creating a sort of spontaneous, aleatoric event which induces a subconscious wonderment.

I've been excited about this release for a while and it exceeded expectations. There's so much to get your head around when experiencing this music and it's rewarding to let your focus shift through the different voices in the composition, as well as just zoning out to let this creation wash over you! Looking forward to seeing this performed live, hopefully in the not too distant future.

A Storm of Light – As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade. 6/10 (61%)

Undeniable greatness is wielded in riffs which barrage the senses. These songs are gigantic and the tone of the instruments and production is as full and as satisfying as this sort of grooved out sludge/doom metal can get.

Collapse is a particularly outstanding bit of work and sets the tone early on, although the crushing levels of heaviness in this track are never exceeded and leaves me longing. Instead a desolate atmosphere is examined through the obvious neurosis connections, and the lyrics fill in the blanks for us. Come the outro of Death’s Head, although weary, my ears prick up again and I find this is the most connective moment on the record with huge epic crescendos on scuzzy riffs and the vocals really meld into the sonic landscape.

Other than this one instant when the voice and music are symbiotic, my hang up here is the vocal delivery and melody which is a constant through the album. They’re very grungey – close cousins to Acid Bath/Alice in Chains, and it’s admittedly not what I’m used to. I can easily listen around them for the majority of the album, but a certain melody keeps creeping back in to the voice and becomes sort of predictable and strangulating to me.

I’m sorry I didn’t take an opportunity to see this band live earlier in the year. I’m sure these songs would completely decimate in that environment. I think I probably need to experience that to gain a true appreciation of what A Storm of Light do.

Sun Devoured Earth – Good Memories Are Hardest To Keep. 8/10 (80%)

Sun Devoured Earth is a relatively young black metal/shoegaze solo project from Latvia. The force behind this band is an extremely prolific composer, but the quality of his output doesn’t seem to falter despite the quantity his audience gratefully receives.

This music is thick and dense, with a rainy masque of gloom championing the aural identity. This is achieved through a blunt edged production where guitars, bass, drums, synths and vocals all seem to be operating in a similar frequential space. This means the mix is muddy, but there’s an element of craft to this that means rather than hearing the separate timbres focusing and pulling in all directions, we’re met with one super-timbre which writhes and fades with glacial grace and avalanche like intensity.

To my ears, this is one of the generic conventions of ‘Blackgaze’, and Sun Devoured Earth are definitely one of the main reference points for the recently blossoming sub genre (I’m sure we’re agreed ‘blackgaze’ is in its infancy?). Lots of reverb and delay make the thick folk melodies feel surreal and enigmatic. Distorted walls of bassy guitar rhythm make up the grim abrasion.

I really enjoy this music and think Sun Devoured Earth has shown amazing potential. I’m excited to see how this composer intends to expand on his pallet of Twin Peaks-esque gothic pop structures and want him to keep churning out tracks of this consistent quality

Tartar Lamb II - Polyimage of Known Exits. 9/10 (91%)

Tartar Lamb has evolved into Tartar Lamb II. What has changed? Seemingly we're being treat to an entirely different ensemble; however, it's still a subsection of Kayo Dot. If you don't like Kayo Dot, leave now. If you do. Proceeeeed.

Toby Driver is an unevil genius of music. His compositions are utterly unique in every way. And so, the sounds and textures he presents in his various projects are almost completely foreign on the ear. Some might translate this as abrasive. To me, it's just the most glorious high-art. At times, its difficult aural flavours and melodies take a few listens to really understand, but the majority of the time the music is immeasurably communicative and emotional.

The piece is split into four movements which are depicted as tracks on the release.

I have to keep this section brief... The composition is "restricted" to a small collection of instruments. The same massive bass sound which is used on Coyote is Toby's weapon of choice. Then we have brass and woodwind... some electronics and samples... some synths... Some vocals... No Violin... No Guitar... Very little in Percussion...

I knew I was going to find this difficult to put into words. The texture this collection of instruments creates is extremely smooth and flowing and allows for progressions to move and evolve without ever needing to punctuate themselves in a conventional time frame leaving the music itself extremely loose and open to endless interpretation through its performance.

The melodies contained within are bordering on harrowing. Partly for the album's subject matter, which is the days after the passing of Toby Driver's friend Yuko Sueta, whose last days were also chronicled in Kayo Dot's latest full Length 'Coyote'. Toby Driver's sadness and melancholy is completely on display here in a way none of his compositions have shown before. The place we're taken as listeners feels more unnerving to me than his visits to the 'Lugubrious Library Loft'.

The occurrences of sound played on the bass are fairly pointillist, with a continuous bed of tumbling chords created by the brass, synth and woodwind. The bass’s sporadic licks sound quite literally obsessive around a certain motif. Very similar to the first Tartar Lamb, Sixty Metonymies in that sense. It creates a somnambulant mood over time, although with it, urgency... I suppose that’s why I've found this music chameleonic of my mood?

Anyway, here's to hoping Toby writes an essay on this piece because it's allot to get your head around and dissect, and any help to solve the massive puzzle would be hugely appreciated.

Toby Driver took a risk, using Kickstarter to fund this project! In doing so he had to raise $6000 in donations before a certain date, which he did. There's still hope for our world.

This review doesn't do Polyimage of Known Exits justice at all, but what words could? Go forth and experience it.

Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All. 8/10 (84%)

Here we have a big slab of emotive, evil, avant-garde Progressive blackened death metal. From the opening notes, I could tell this was right up my street.

I'm not a big follower of straight up death metal, and generally find it fairly exhausting to digest. I have a great appreciation for the technicality of it, and especially enjoy seeing good death metal bands live. But beyond that, I usually need something more out of my music to be able to sit and listen happily for 40+ minutes.

Ulcerate are quite new to me, and have a slightly different approach to the morbid brutality of the (somewhat tired) genre. As far as the guitars are concerned, speed and technicality is sacrificed for a far darker, slower and more compositional approach. Something more akin to bands like Portal, Impetuous Ritual, Ehnahre or Nihil (essentially death metal on a hot dose of Ved Buens Ende).

The guitars literally make me feel like I'm sliding down a steep wet embankment into a pitch black pit filled with Lovecraftian horrors. It is awesome. One guitar is playing clash-y melodies quite high up the neck, while another is plodding and bending around on the low notes. It doesn't just serve to omit a sense of dread and horror through the epic macabre dissonance; it's actually really quite clever stuff.

The vocals have Eric Rutan written all over them. Very devastating loud and low shouts and growls.

The drums trip me up a little bit. It's fast and technical, and at times doesn't even seem to follow the guitars, which works on one level, but on the other, it feels like the drummer was really intent on showing technical flare and speed, where it might've suited the overall feel better if he'd dropped the clinical blasts for looser jazzier style black metal drumming. This is really just a point of preference though.

Anyway, I think this album is going to be on repeat in my ears for some time to come. It's revived something that was fairly dead to me, and I have a feeling this release is going to be very popular with almost every scene in underground metal.

Ulver - Wars of the Roses 10/10 (98%)

Ulver are one of those rare bands who not only manage to continually re-invent themselves without losing the idiosyncrasies of their musical identity, but also create music which communicates on a far higher level than any other generic or conventional band, group, ensemble or collective. Deeply philosophical and observational subjects can lose emotional weight when not treat with right sophistication in the arena of a concept album, but Ulver have managed to craft one of their heaviest most touching musical journeys to date out of just that.

This is the first time a recording has involved the creative input of Manchester born wolf, Daniel O'sullivan. Known previously for his work in Mothlite, Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses, Sunn0))) and Aethenor (just to name a few), his profile has reached prolific new heights since his adaptation into Ulver's circle. It's clear when you see Ulver live (which I have on four separate occasions now) that he is, in some ways, the unsung star of the show - taking up duties on piano, guitar, bass and vocals. Without him, I personally can't see how the live show could ever have been the massive success it is. It is also very clear that he has a massive bond and chemistry with Kristoffer Rygg, the vocalist and father of this evolutionary collective, as Dan is clearly trusted and given free range to express Ulver's music with added improvised trills or occasionally he cleverly repositions chords and adds jazzy steps into the melodies.

The inclusion of this new full time member has given Ulver's sound a new strength. Melismatic piano lead melodies in tracks such as providence are clearly the brain child of this new partnership, as well as the almost pop/prog opener, February MMX.

The subject matter on this record is a strange one. It seems extremely personal to the band and explores its individual’s heritage, but no punches are pulled and the lyrics are very critical. February MMX literally seems to be describing the events of that month and year... the month that Ulver went on their first full live tour. The chorus lyrics reference the live setup directly (vertical lights of death in codes of red and blue. Birds in black and white and the drums of world war two), and the verse speaks of the sorrow and sacrifice in having to perform such harrowing material with a lot of personal events taking place behind the scenes.

Norwegian Gothic follows, and is about as far a polar opposite to the driving pop like conventions of the albums opener. The music itself reminds me of the last couple of minutes of 'Like Music', when the track dissolves into a fragmented, swirling whirl pool of bowed tones and agonised samples. Kristoffer Rygg’s Vocals heave deeply over the top of this soundscape painting a most dreary picture.

Providence is the albums epic, with a massive crescendo on a melody that sounds like the distant cousin of the 'Not Saved' piano motif. It also features a female vocalist. Something that's definitely going to divide Ulver's fanbase even further. The inclusion reminds me of Lee's input on tracks like A Natural Disaster by Anathema. It's a really well performed part and delivered in a seductive tone which totally juxtaposes just about everything on this album.

September IV is hard to comment on. It is clearly a very, very personal song and having been through similar events to those described and had to witness people go through these events I can only say it sums up those painful feelings well, with an almost classic rock vibe to the melodies which for the first half of the track make up a sombre ballad. The song ends with a wall of sound that drags you along at a galloping pace, with very visual sound design making for a colourful and subjective little trip - lots of sweeping frequencies giving the sensation of ducking and dodging oncoming traffic.

England is a more structured piece which I actually witnessed being exhibited for the first time at Ulver's grandiose performance in Oslo's visionary Opera house. The last section in this song is the highlight of the whole album for me. Massive waves of crushing bass over drums that pulse in and out and vocals that hit whole new levels of epic with a piano gently story telling in the middle. I had to turn this song up as far as my headphones could stand. It's so good and very, very empowering.

Island is interesting and unique. It opens with some rhythmic found sounds (a break-beat convention) which quickly dissolve into acoustic guitar playing glistening and sad chords over yet more progressive soundscapes. This track sounds quite psychedelic to me, and has really wet my appetite for the covers album Ulver spoke of releasing containing the sixties protest songs.

The final track is another epic, Stone Angels... this track is just indescribable. Narrated by Daniel, speaking words by writer Keith Waldrop (a close friend of Jorn, Ulver's very own researcher/writer/lyricist/philosopher). I need to single this song out a few times and listen to it away from the shorter tracks before it. There's so much going on, if this track had been a little longer it could've been a unique release of its own and it would've been one of Ulver's strongest.

To sort of Pinpoint Ulver with a reference for where their music is now, I'd say the melodies have the same surreal melancholy to the material heard on the two Silence EPs such as 'Darling Didn't We Kill You', but the experimental focus of those two EP's is swapped for the song writing heard in tracks like 'Let the Children Go', 'Little Blue Bird', 'For the Love of God' or 'Lost in Moments'. The music here is traumatic, lush and harrowing... It's an album I'd never have dreamt to hear from Ulver, and yet only Ulver could be capable of.

Virus - The Agent That Shapes the Dessert 8/10 (81%)

I have so so much love for this Norwegian band and I've been counting the days to this coming out. It's my first official Album of 2011 too, so getting off on the right foot! Carl-Michael Eide was one of the limbs in Ved Buens Ende with creative brethren Vicotnik, until they disbanded, seemingly because at the time nobody got what they were doing, lots of reviews and such claiming they didn't know how to tune (let alone play-) their instruments; when in fact, they were extremely ahead of their time (Only need to listen to Mastodon who did essentially the exact same thing with their guitars only with punk at their core rather than black metal). Then after Carl's fall VBE reformed, only for Carl to realise he wanted to do a project where he had 100% creative say and Vicotnik knew his own VBE input could be recycled in Dodheimsgard. Thus came Virus.

This album is the third in a series of completely cult releases and is still essentially avant-garde rock with leanings toward epic black metal sensibilities. It is not a big departure from previous album The Black Flux, which is a good and a, well it's just a good thing really (more later-ish).

Anyway, No hiding behind horrible frequencies to horrify the listener, just genuinely intricate guitar work. It really is a genuinely unique sound with lots of minor first intervals bleeding into one another creating beating effects that only a specific guitar tone and tuning can compliment (a fairly raw but clean sound with lots of clink and string noise). It's actually bordering on virtuoso stuff and is a whole new school in riff writing which I hope more bands can tap into and put there slant on it (Not just Mastodon (And whirling (And Acolyte) ) ).

The vocals here are, as always, a strong point and coupled with the riffs, it's majestic, maddening and ultimately charming. Maybe not quite as epic as previous releases though. They're a little dryer and louder in the mix making them slightly more uncomfortable and some of the atmosphere is lost. The vocal performance is, however, great. I imagine Czral (the kvlt version of 'Carl') didn't want to have to hide any of that under reverbs, even though it would have worked really well. This might be just me though.

Album closer 'Call of the Tuskers' has guest vocals from 'pappa wolf' Kristoffer Rygg... really eventful and extremely good track. These guys are good friends so it's touching to hear, not to mention we've got very used to hearing Garm's voice over lush strings and eerie electronics, so nice to have some solid riffs giving it more melodic grounding.

The themes as I interpret them are about erosion/evolution/nature/death/renewal and are all good in my book. Raw energetic and organic music about something other than human emotion... it's strange, but it works. The natural world is a place of wonder, it's a disturbing place we don't fully understand yet and Virus twist this enigma into something surreal and predatory.

Do I wish they'd further departed from their sound on The Black Flux? Well I was surprised they didn't, but at the same time, there's years ahead of us for Carl to explore new territory. I'm not the type of person who'd hold a successful continuation of a sound against a band.

Wiht – The Harrowing of the North. 9/10 (92%)

Wiht are an instrumental power trio, famed for tenderising audiences with a sonically visceral live show – mixing progressive metal with epic post-doom and spewing it from a backline that would give the council’s environmental health department a heart attack. But unlike many bands making similar claims about how bloody loud and horrible they can be, Wiht actually compose with a true understanding of the weapons they wield, before turning up the volume and knocking 15 years off the structural viability of whatever venue they’re exhibiting in.

I feel a pull towards mentioning the cleverness of the album’s title. The music is actually conceptually composed around the historical context of Britain in the year 1100AD, and so the title in truth refers to that, but in accordance with Wiht’s residency, in the North, and the utterly astounding nature of this album, it could be said that Wiht’s mission statement is to actually be The Harrowing in the North. It’s hard to argue, if they were to make such a claim, when you hear how vital the post-metal here is.

What I’m saying in a round and about way is that Wiht currently sit upon a cold
throne up int’ north. This album is the sigillum they needed to fly in securing the fact they are certainly primed to become one of the higher powers in doom. A bold statement (which time will tell on), but when you hear certain passages burst with the same climatic and widescreen/cinematic density, colour and ferocity of the great genre-ascendant: Neurosis – You then realise these riffs wouldn’t be out of place on ‘A Sun That Never Sets’ if Steven O’malley were the third guitarist. Based on that statement you’d think anything would be possible for this band so long as their music can travel and find the right sets of ears.

I probably sound like I’m gushing a little and waffling a lot, but this is one of those occasions when I’m truly taken a back. My hope is that Wiht can bottle whatever unrestrained, psychedelic, experimental muse lead to this beast’s conception and add liberal sprinkles to their future releases, which I’ll be disappointed-with-the-planet-earth if are not released through one of the major doom labels. Similar disappointment will be symptomatic if Wiht aren’t a main feature on Roadburn in at least two years time.

Wizard's Beard - Pure Filth. 8/10 (79%)

The moment this album starts we're immediately thrust into the foggy vile dungeon of this doom conjuring wizard. This band does not do subtlety. They don't do tension and build ups. It's just full throttle from the first second.

Riffs churn around and around like a feral warlock stirring his caldron of evil filth. The ingredients are the eyes of a god, the tail of a monkey (and some Iron), a sprinkle of napalm, the corroding tie of a conformist jobsworth... you see where I'm going with these loosely band related analogies? Basically, this brew tastes like absolute shit, but that's exactly the point... and you're not suppose to drink it you idiot, you listen to it. And it does the opposite of enchant. If you were enchanted before, you're thoroughly 'unhappy-ever-after' post-the aural consumption of this virile potion.

The riffs are fuelled by a seven string guitar and have a touch of southern groove to them... Occasionally the tonal pentatonic feel that makes me smile and nod my head in obeyment dissolve into massive dissonant versions of the same riffs. This reminds me more of bands like Zatokrev, or Through Silver in Blood era Neurosis.

The vocals are blood curdling rasps and complete the package of various visceral sonic approaches wonderfully. Occasionally we're treat to layered up gang like vocals that send shivers down the spine. The tone and balance between the voices is hit perfectly and sounds positively demonic.

Wizard's Beard know when to go slower, when to go heavier, when to go even slower, and when to go even heavier... and it seems this album just does this constantly until by the end you're exhausted and need to listen to some Enya until your testosterone supplies re-supplement themselves.

The band has a tremendous amount of energy which is well captured on this recording and definitely makes me want to catch them in the live environment. In some ways it makes me think they wrote a lot of the material in the rehearsal room because every musician is really bringing their own onslaught to the sound which ultimately is an amalgamation of mid-paced death metal, Grindcore, sludge and Doom. But not only that, the songs progress very naturally making the heaviness easier to digest.

As far as I know, Wizard's Beard's intentions are to write and record a second album and play a load of shows off the back of this release which, so far, has had an absolutely fantastic reception.

Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage 9/10 (92%)

Wolves in the Throne Room are a Black Metal band from the United States that should need no introduction. Since their first album WitTR have put out consistent efforts, each one with its own aural characteristics and a slant on an elemental sentiment the members wear proudly on their sleeves. The factor joining these albums is the environmental message purveyed and the fact that the riffing is just sublime. For me, Two Hunters and the Black Cascade weren’t even close to the colossal atmosphere of Diadem of 12 Stars, and so when approaching Celestial Lineage, I expected less than I was plated up with.

I truly think with this album WitTR have lived up to the hype of their multitude of colourful and adoring fans, met their critics’ stare dead on and even shed some of their own skin as part of the journey. The whole labelling a hipster crowd thing is irritating now (I almost can’t believe I’m bringing it up again) – this band has been dubbed slightly responsible for that, but the truth of the matter is, they connect with “Hipsters” (music lovers who don’t necessarily have a problem with society, thus don’t bedroom dwell and often aren’t constrained to one type of music) because they’ve managed to musically transcend to a place where they have a wider appeal. This should not be a burden to WitTR’s conscience or reflect badly on their fans. Some elitists just need to grow up and move on.

This is a work of complete and utter cosmic genius! From the atmospheres of the opening, as the black metal guitar slowly trickles in, I can feel the soil between my toes – Often the word ‘inspired’ is used, but very rarely can you feel that the person wielding their muse has yielded themselves almost entirely to their subject and is acting solely as a vessel. As a result I truly feel the members of WitTR have managed to tap into some of nature’s deeper secrets and more awe-inspiring mysteries. I can best describe the central theme as pantheism, which not only interests me as an individual, but is a belief that sums up the closest thing I feel to a sense of spirituality.

The music is lush and harmonious from one angle, and ferocious through-to-dissonant from another. The melodic ground covered is complemented by heaving guitar tones and punk like drum battery. I really am a sucker for the changes of pace the band offer during the heavy sections, but the highlight here is the utterly unique ambient sections, where female vocals and synths create a truly beautiful sonic world which is thick and immediately gratifying.

Word is that this is the last album these musicians will do under the Wolves in the Throne Room moniker. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is wide open, and depends heavily on what direction their new projects will take, I for one am assured from these ashes something very special shall be born and the legacy could not have been left more complete than by their strongest album to date, Celestial Lineage.

Woods of Desolation - Torn Beyond Reason 9/10 (85%)

My immediate reaction when I heard this was that Woods of Desolation have managed to find a perfectly balanced sound and in some ways, fulfilled a yearning for a band doing, well, exactly what they do, as well as they do it.

As the name suggests the band's main muse seems to be nature - and the folky vibe adds mystique to thick, swelling, harmonious guitar driven black metal.

The use of the word 'Desolation' in the bands name confuses me a tiny bit... desolate this is not... it's hopeful and epic in a similar way to Alcest and Agalloch, only perhaps no where near as mild? Beautiful is perhaps the word, with a bit of misery and despair twisted into the scenario. This has more of an edge and bite than the aforementioned bands.

The majority of the songs kick in with the main riff or melodic theme, which forms the backbone of the entire song. The instrumental focus may shift and the dynamics deviate and then the motifs might melodically ascend or modulate, but it's all very linear and the progressions between sections are never large... which unfortunately to me, is a slight negative as it gets repetetive without feeling overly hypnotic. However, if the particular riff in question hits the spot and I find myself in the perfect mood for what it delivers, then it's an absolutely galvanising experience.

The vocals are excellent. It's drowned in loads of effects making the actual lyrics unintelligible, but the screams remind me of Neige's work in Lantlos/Amesoeurs, the cleans are very Agallochian, with the occasional harsh clean vocal that's got a bit of Jari Maaenpaa to it.

Looking forward to the season's turning their mouth to the winter so I can enjoy this in the dreary cold, rather than the current glorious sunshine, which suffocates my desire to be emersed in music that barrages the senses.

Xerath – II. 8/10 (77%)

I discovered Xerath back in the glory days of myspace. They had some samples/demos on their page and I found that, at the time, it was almost identically aligned to the sort of music I was interested in composing (basically polyrhythms and breakdowns under neo-classical and melodic/ambient ideas). II really does represent the farthest reaches this kind of music has achieved, with sincerely aggressive and mind bogglingly technical riffs which always retain a melodic soul above the thunderous pounding of the mesmerising accents creating the ever evolving grooves.

Using a full orchestra with metal has always been a curious and welcome marriage of sounds, and instantly draws comparisons to some of the more flamboyant power metal bands (Nightwish) or theatrical black metal (Dimmu Borgir) (lets not forget Metallica’s insanely successful live show with orchestra that philistines and scholars alike have since admired). This orchestra sounds like it was programmed on some pretty up to date software and is brilliantly constructed, with brass and strings cleverly balanced harmonically to sweep and change dynamically in a very good attempt to represent the sounds of epic film music, but still my ears can just about pick up that it’s not quite the real thing.

What is the real thing is the vocals which are a massive improvement on the already stellar first album. This man seems to do just about every style of metal to perfection. Maybe too perfect for my liking, if you get my meaning? No? Well I suppose I prefer more vulnerability and honesty in a voice, and even though I admire the inhuman qualities this guy can achieve, that’s just what it is. Inhuman. Inapproachable. Difficult for someone with my current musical leanings to connect with. Nothing but compliments though on this sterling performance.

Because this music has mesmerising and hypnotic elements in the rhythm, I sometimes worry it’s going to become stagnant and arduous but it doesn’t. This is something of a massive achievement for music of this genre (take Hacride or Aabsinthe as examples who betray their excellence occasionally by staying too rigid to the rhythmic direction of the composition and not enough to the melodic leanings or even following the magnetism of the song itself).

Finally, I exhausted this ilk of music for myself by writing two albums worth of it when I was an angry teenager who was constantly seeking approval from my musical peers – so for Xerath to genuinely impress me with a release sharing common musical goals is a bit of a feat, and I am surprised at myself for enjoying this so much. I’m not in any way encouraged to return to writing this sort of music because these guys have the sound completely sealed up! I really hope this album travels and I look forward to seeing Xerath live at Damnation Fest 2011 in November.


  • sergreb

    well done! i didn't manage to read all the reviews though, but the 'Alrakis' one is very deep and remarkable (:

    10 Ene 2012, 16:21
  • DreadfulYgg

    Wow, nice work. How long did it take to write all of these?

    19 Ene 2012, 20:29
  • XfnSnow

    It was just steady away. Because the intention was there from the start of the year, it started small and got bigger and bigger. Although sometimes I couldn't find any words for things so I waited till I felt a bit inspired and knocked out maybe 3 or 4 drafts in one go before going back and refining them. It was something to do during downtime at work. Don't think I'm going to go into the same levels of detail this year though.

    20 Ene 2012, 8:07
  • profilemorbid83

    very nice work!! love the heretoir & omega massif reviews very much. there were more good reviews,but these albums are special to me,.. and you do them justice! you are a very good music reviewer.

    20 Ene 2012, 21:32
  • parys_pl

    Why won't you find yourself on rateyourmusic.com ? :) check my account http://rateyourmusic.com/~parys_pl

    24 May 2012, 16:55
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