Friday, July 18, 2014

Black Metal 3 for 1

A couple weeks ago I sat down and listened through three new black metal albums in direct succession. Only after nearly finishing the third did I happen to discover via Metal Archives that all three of them are in fact one-man projects. That fact, combined with the way I heard them and the way they covered such a broad spectrum in terms of both geography and style, pretty much ensured that I would write about them together in a single post. So here we go.

First up, Moloch released a new album in February, entitled Verw├╝stung. This Ukranian project seems to have something of a reputation for trying really hard to be more kvlt than it actually is. A quick look confirmed that most Moloch albums (which come out at a pretty rapid rate) have been limited to small quantities in the 100-1000 range, with at least one being made available exclusively on cassette. I love the band's name thanks to my fascination with silent films (it's an ancient mythological figure, but I first became familiar with the name from the Moloch machine used in Cabiria and later imitated in Metropolis). That may be a superficial detail, but it made me want to like this. And I do like it, to an extent. The rabid, animalistic vocals are the clear highlight of the music, and the drumming is nice and punchy without having that irritating (and all too common in black metal) clicking sound. The overall atmosphere is, if not outright cold and hostile, at least cool and unfriendly. That atmosphere, like the rest of the album, is mostly let down by the guitar. The riffs are somewhat generic, and the guitar tone is too warm and rock'n'roll-esque to properly maintain a truly cold feeling or to fit the excessively kvlt schtick that the band somewhat annoyingly tries to maintain. I get the impression, as I often do with bands who produce new material at such a rapid rate, that perhaps Moloch does not take the time to really get the material right before slamming it out and moving on to the next thing. Overall this was a reasonably solid listen, but there is better material out there on which to spend your time.

Next, we have Funereal Prescence, from New York, with the March release of The Archer Takes Aim. This is more of a sprawling, atmospheric endeavor. One reviewer caught my eye by calling it a "Guilt-Free Burzum" though honestly I don't think I hear what he's hearing. Its four tracks average twelve minutes apiece, which may be the basis for the aforementioned claim, but to me this type of thing always prompts the immediate question "are the song lengths warranted?" Nothing in all of music is so satisfying as a truly great long song, but here I found myself feeling that the tracks might have been better off each being split apart into two or three separate songs. That's not imperative, since if you listen straight through then the track lengths are not really a big deal and the album itself isn't overly long, but I think it would be a beneficial move. Still, the general ebb and flow of the music is mostly well-handled. A few sections start to drag a bit, though, and the scattered use of clean vocals is somewhat suspect. Taken together, I see indications that this project has a strong need for the kind of editorial input a one-man band is unlikely to ever receive. This project has released only one EP and this full-length, though, and there is a lot of promise in the material this record presents. If you have a sufficiently long attention span then you may enjoy this. More importantly, if these bumps can be smoothed out then I think Funereal Presence could be a project with a bright future.

Finally, the Scottish band Saor released its second album, Aura, in June. Clearly occupying the folk end of the black metal spectrum, if somebody told me this was pagan metal rather than black metal, I'd have a hard time mounting a convincing argument (other than that Viking/pagan/folk metal are all essentially rooted in black metal). Whatever. In that neck of the woods, there are usually three basic sounds a band can adopt: either they're charging bravely into the epic glory of battle, drunkenly celebrating their victory in a warm tavern back home, or wandering solemnly through the vast empty landscape as they reflect on the ancient deeds of those long-dead warriors. This is the third kind, which in general is probably my favorite. The music has everything this type of record needs, from melancholic beauty to grand scope, and it's extremely well-executed. A broad range of acoustic folk instrumentation is woven into the mix, and unlike the record I discussed a moment ago, here the robust track lengths feel justified. My only real gripe is that the vocals, perhaps in an attempt to make them into more of an atmospheric instrument, are dripping in an absurd amount of reverb. On the chanted choral sections this is fine, but it makes the sparsely-employed harsh vocals sound a bit like someone gurgling underwater at the far end of a very large cave. Still, for fans of this style I think it's one of the strongest pagan/folk metal releases of the year, and it was easily my favorite out of these three records.

No comments:

Post a Comment