Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Black Metal Buffet

This is going to be a sampler-plate of quick reactions to a pile of new black metal from countries scattered across the globe. I would like to stress that I only played scattered bits of these albums. I did not listen to all or even most of the music off of any of them, so if you're looking for fully-formed, comprehensive reviews then I'd advise you to look elsewhere. Basically I just sat down, picked through a buffet table of new black metal releases, and now I'm telling you how the macaroni tasted.


Sviatibor - La Foi Des Ancêtres

This French one-man pagan black metal band only formed last year, yet it has already released three albums and a smattering of other content. I've talked before about how overly-prolific projects often feel like they cut corners just to get material out the door, and this definitely gives that impression. It's a tad depressing, really, because the guy clearly has talent. If he spent longer fully developing his ideas instead of settling for pretty good before moving on, I have the impression that he could produce some really compelling material. As it is, this is a solid but unremarkable release that I'd only recommend as something new and interesting if you've somehow managed to avoid developing any familiarity at all with even a single one of the numerous pagan metal genre cliches.


The Happiness Cage - Lurking Beyond Consciousness

Stupid name and oddly-shaped album cover aside, this Russian one-man outfit actually sounds pretty good. This is a slightly odd duck, as many Russian things are wont to be when compared with their other European counterparts. It's a kind of doomy, melodic black metal with some groove to it and a touch of jangling post-metal tone, so it's a good example of thinking outside the box a little without wandering into too crazy of territory. Mixing black and doom metal together is pretty much bound to produce some repetitive riffing, and it certainly does here, but it's not really annoying or distracting so I'm not too worried about it. From what I heard of it, this seems to be an interesting enough release to warrant further investigation.


Vargafrost - Warriors of the Dawn

These New Zealanders fall victim to that oh-so-common failing of bands from areas outside the metal mainstream, i.e. they try really hard to emulate the "correct" way of playing a specific style and end up creating a paint-by-numbers affair. There are atmospheric intros that give way to full-on black metal, the transitions coming about as smoothly as a cheese grater covered with sandpaper-wielding hedgehogs. The hazy low-fi production smacks of "we did it because that's what Darkthrone did," and the riffs are all about as "yup, that's a black metal riff alright" as they could be. I really wish bands like these would try to find their own voices instead of just copying Norwegian bands without any of the proper background or context. Sadly, that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon. At least the cover art is cool.


Vanhelga - Längtan

I'm only bringing up these Swedes because their album art attracted my attention during the same scattered listening session that included these other bands. Unless I just want to vent or there's a specific point to be made, I usually don't like to rag too heavily on unknown bands if I have nothing positive or constructive to say. After all, a band nobody has heard of doesn't need me ineffectually warding away their non-existent customers. In that spirit, all I'll say is this: I have nothing positive or constructive to say about what little I could make out in this murky mess.


 Fallen Voices - Fallen Voices

Back to France, for a debut album. This self-titled chunk of atmospheric black metal is one of the items on this list that has me thinking of going back for seconds. It's got some interesting tonal shifts that seem to come from out of nowhere, and I'm not sure if I like that or not but at the very least it has me intrigued. There's a definite feeling of quality here, in contrast to some of the more slapped-together material one often encounters in the black metal underground. There may be a full review of this release coming in the future, but I make no promises.


Wildernessking - The Devil Within

This South African demo wins the prize for least creative title in the history of ever. That said, the music itself is highly competent if somewhat straightforward. For those who just like solid, no-frills underground black metal, this will make for an enjoyable listen. There are only three tracks, so there's not much to it, but it's good. I wish I had more to say about it, but I really don't since again, it's pretty straight-forward and it's very short.


Sakrality - Imajinasi Hitam

Here's an Indonesian group who win a diversity bonus for having two female members. That's the end of the good part, though. You know how when you talk about black metal on the "epic" end of the scale, the ultimate compliment is "it's not cheesy"? When you say that, you've usually got an idea in mind of what such a band should not do, right? Well this is that band you were thinking of: the one doing all the cheesy, melodramatic, keyboard-drenched things black metal bands shouldn't do. These guys and gals have actually been around for a few years, and if a brief survey of their cover art is any indication (which it surprisingly often is) then this may be a somewhat new direction for them. If it's true, that's too bad. If it's not true, then that just means their other albums probably aren't very good either.


Gulag - Black Flag

One of two new Brazilian bands by the same name, this Gulag has the distinction of choosing one of the strangest-fitting titles I have ever heard for an avant-garde black metal album. It really creates a clash of mental images, but I'll move past that. Musically, this is appears to be the best record of the lot. There is some use of clean vocals that fall into that Root category of fitting shockingly well into the black metal sound, there seems to be a good mixture of ideas, the riffs got my attention, the production hits a sweet spot in terms of clarity with teeth, the use of guitar effects add a lot of character to the music, and the soft/hard dynamic is employed effectively. I'm almost certainly going to check out the rest of this album at some point in the near future.


 Nicrotek -Malleus Malificarum

To close out, let's give Indonesia another go, shall we? This vaguely-industrial black metal project is another one-man band. Sole member Bobby Deathstars doesn't seem to know if he wants to be Abbath or Darth Vader, and the result is a schizophrenic mastermind who may be either a misguided fanboy or an evil genius. I'm still holding out judgement until I hear the rest of this and have time to stew on it for a while. The electronic-beats trade off with more standard drumming, animal sound samples are everywhere, and the "was that a synthesized trumpet solo I just heard?" atmospheric weirdness is the type of captivating that has me thinking "this probably shouldn't exist, but I'm too fascinated to argue against it." Incidentally, this is the project's third release this year, proving that every rule (like my one about bands slapping music together too fast to be creative with it) has its exceptions.

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