Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 15 of 2014

Another year, another list. 2014 has yet again proved that the world of harsh, emotional, and most importantly dark music continues to soldier forward with old favorites releasing brilliant new works and new faces offering imaginative and awe-inspiring debuts. 2014 will stand out for me personally in my ongoing pursuit of music, marking my entrance into the more experimental side of dark music, finally understanding what noise in all of it's various incarnations has to offer. As with any year there are things that I haven't fully digested like recent offerings from Trepaneringsritualen, Dead Congregation, Goatpenis, and Raspberry Bulbs, all of which I honestly didn't spend enough time with. Nevertheless, the albums found below are the 15 releases (in any format) that struck me hardest, the works that I continue to come back to over and over again, and those that surprise me with each and every listen.

Without any more painstaking reluctancy or anxious hesitation I present to you Horn of Woe's Top 15 Releases of 2014.

Weightlessness - Of Lachrymose Grief
(Graceless Recordings)

While it may have been originally released in limited CD format in 2013, Of Lachrymose Grief wasn't widely available until this year. The moment Graceless announced the impending release of Weightlessness' debut I checked their page everyday in order not to miss it. The band's combination of death and doom metal is emotionally immense. When I first heard "By the Lore of a Morose Stench" before the tape was even released it was evident that this was going to be a monster of a death/doom album. Melancholy melodic leads, equal emphasis on death and doom metal, gritty yet clear production, and most importantly a firm grip on aggression all help Weightlessness' debut EP carve it's way past the innumerable death/doom acts perfectly content to rehash the same atmosphere as their forbearers. Also, that cover of Sabbath's "Solitude" is absolutely immense.

Barren Harvest - Subtle Cruelties
(Handmade Birds)

Ethereal and somber summarizes Barren Harvest's approach to dark folk pretty aptly. A project consisting of Lenny Smith (Atriarch, Trees) and Jessica Way (Worm Ouroboros) the two create a haunting journey through dream-like atmospheres and the gorgeous vocal interplay of Smith and Way. Out of all the things I loved this year, this is definitely the most meditative and serene, but underneath the outer layer of calm exists a strikingly dense piece of music completely burdened by despondency. The entire album drips with melancholy, from the minimal piano and guitar to the swirling, suffocating synth work. The highlight of this is undoubtably the way both musicians use their voices. Smith utilizes a shuddering moan and Way has a contemplative and beautiful voice that melds perfectly with the grim hum of the synth. The entire experience is indicative of how minimalism can be used to great result if orchestrated expertly. Subtle Cruelties stands as this years best folk outing, bar none.

Malkuth - Tamahprabha
(Prison Tatt Records)

Tamahprabha is a swirling mass of black metal. Gritty and majestic, raw and exuberant. The twisted riffing of Malkuth's duel guitar mavens makes for an entirely immersive black metal experience. Impassioned and driven by a dedication to eastern mysticism the album is mystical and extremely dense. Numerous sittings are required to fully penetrate Tamahprabha's walls of distorted melody. Grotesque riffs slither through its raw muck while drums pound in a furious rhythm. While this is at it's core a raw black metal album Malkuth never shy from originality and are relentless in their quest for pure hypnotic immersion. The entire album washes over one as a sea of rawness and unhinged riffing. As I pointed out in my long-form review of the album the final track "Naraka" serves as the album's purest expression of Malkuth's ability to convey absolutely sinister atmosphere. A sprawling journey through shamanic rhythms and scathing riffs.

Arizmenda - Stillbirth in the Temple of Venus 
(Crepúsculo Negro)

Arizmenda (along with Kallathon) has long stood, to this humble listener, as the absolute peak of Crepúsculo Negro's prolific output. Stillbirth in the Temple of Venus further solidifies Murdunbad as the collectives most unique and impassioned individual and serves as yet another window into his psychotic and horrifically demented world. The album continues down the road Arizmenda has paved for itself, that of otherworldly, angular black metal. Screeching guitar leads, throbbing bass guitar, and manic howls are all at play here but what this album is really indicative of is a step forward for Arizmenda as a project. The song structures are more progressive, relying on dissonant melodies to push songs further towards the breaking point than ever before. While Crepúsculo Negro's ethics are certainly questionable (I myself lost money ordering from them) the ingenuity of the collective is certainly not, Stillbirth is a testament to that.

Skáphe - Skáphe
(Fallen Empire Records)

A. Poole has been busy this year. Guitarist for the most recent incarnation of Krieg who released the blistering Transient, complete operator of Chaos Moon who made a pretty convincing case for shoegazing textures in black metal with Ressurection Extract this year and this, his first harrowing release under the moniker Skáphe. Fallen Empire describes it as asphyxiating and I'm completely inclined to agree. Walls of plodding dissonance, eerie ambience, and most importantly suffocatingly bleak production. However, what makes this tape so completely captivating is what can be heard through the condensed murk. Waves of shimmering radiance accompany the mire, creating a feeling equally unsettling and disorienting. The album ends with a fittingly bleak piece of dark ambience, a perfect closing statement for such a brilliant debut.

Gath Smâné - Transmuted Marrow 
(Blutige Magie)

Another debut release that finds itself leagues ahead of much released this year is Transmuted Marrow the first release by new death metal trio Gath Šmâné. The New Yorkers carry with them an interesting and diverse lineup with members currently and previously specializing in everything from black metal to brutal death metal. Diversity is the cornerstone for the entirety of this (unfortunately) two song demo. Running the death metal gambit from guttural devastation to cavernous decay Gath Šmâné offers something completely new to the landscape of the genre, originality comprised of many familiar elements. So much of what exists currently in the world of death metal is complete rehashing, a trope Gath Šmâné stray from completely. A refreshing combination of sheer brutality and ingenious songwriting with a heavy dose of noxious atmosphere makes a mere two tracks some of the most exciting music released this year.

Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise
(Dark Descent Records)

Purely dissonant and otherworldly is cloaked horde Thantifaxath's take on the ever-evolving genre of black metal. A release seemingly focused on dragging the listener into some sort of void, pushing them further and further into endless, chaotic nothingness. The guitar work on the album is cyclical, continuously rehashing patterns in order to disorient the listener, however, each of them travels at the same trajectory, downwards. Sacred White Noise is akin to spiraling deeper and deeper into some terrible unknown, with each passing moment tension builds. Built primarily on the backs of the serpentine guitar structures and unrelenting drumming the madness is persistent throughout the entirety of the album. Regality also exists in flourishes as the album travels along it's dizzying coarse. The beginning of the latter half of "Where I End and the Hemlock Begins" presents the listener with a momentary release from madness as slinking guitar ushers in a gorgeous passage of melody and grandeur. Haunted melodies that seethe and convulse throughout the entirety of Sacred White Noise are the cornerstone of the albums ability to completely entrance and mystify.

Yellow Eyes - The Desert Mourns 
(Sibir Records)

The first of two stunning Yellow Eyes EPs released this year is The Desert Mourns. Opened with droning bells, the title track and the first of the two tracks launches forward abruptly and signifies everything that makes Yellow Eyes stand out as one of the highlights of not only United States black metal but black metal as a whole. Delicate melodies find their way through the whirling riffs and frantic drumming while a thick bass rhythm cuts through the cacophony and vocalist Will Skarstad spits poetic malice. Grief and strength are represented equally through the band's combination of traditional black metal (reminiscent of many Slavic progenitors) and their own unique way of writing. Songs weave between somber melodies and hellish assaults, always retaining a heavy focus on atmosphere and immersion. It's easy to get lost in the thick forest of sound Yellow Eyes presents the listener with; the cascading guitar, throbbing rhythms, and the utterly mesmerizing aura the EP exudes make it a triumph of black metal.

Teitanblood - Death 
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli & Ajna Offensive)

Hellish only begins to describe what Teitanblood bring to us with their long awaited return. Simply titled Death the album is for the most part as blunt as it's title. A churning wall of black and death metal combined into some sort of malignant force. There is no introduction, no prelude to the storming onslaught, from the very beginning there is nothing but bestial rage and unfettered insanity. A disregard for anything that lives and breaths is palpable through the albums absolute devotion to presenting the most barbaric bastardization of metal possible. Yet, through all this horrific madness there lies a startling amount of craft. Solos that would make Trey Azagthoth blush, complex rhythms that snake beneath the battery, and lyrics that are deeply religious and read like the complete inversion of the Bible itself. The whole album does not hinge on sheer brutality either, subtlety and ambience both play major roles in the more doom laden passages, noisy interludes, and the nearly ten minute ending of chanted incantations, droning instrumentals, and sinister bells. A harrowing execution of black and death metal where the line between them is erased and all that exists is punishment.

Old Wainds - Nordraum
(Negative Existence)

In all honesty Old Wainds is a project that is still relatively new to me. Earlier this year I became re-infatuated with Slavic black metal and all the region has to offer regarding the grim tradition. Of course staples like Drudkh, Walknut, and Hate Forest were well known to me but in my ceaseless hunger I stumbled upon Old Wainds and immediately was lost in their torrents of icy riffing. Immediately I was drawn to every facet of the band, especially their location in Russia (seriously look up a picture of Murmansk, bleak and industrialized in the shadow of mountains), I first sought out demos and older works but slowly made my way to Nordraum, which now stands for me as the pinnacle of the bands long and frigid journey. Swirling riffs, completely unrelenting drumming, and Izbor's impassioned and unhinged vocal performance combine to create a hypnotic tribute to all that is cold and grey. If you're not convinced, that the last track "Stoneweaver," takes the prize for best song title of the year and lives up to it's perfect name through it's dissonant descent into frosty madness.

Leather Chalice - Luna
(Broken Limbs Recordings)

Yes, this release is a single track, but in that one fifteen minute long track lies the true genius of Jan Slezak and his (mostly) solo project Leather Chalice. A mere two years into it's existence Slezak has refined his blend of black metal and punk with a heavy dose of post-punk moodiness and noise segues. Relying heavily on reverb drenched guitar work that rises over the clatter of discordant punk and fragmented black metal to make an EP that reinvents the ever-so-common black/punk union. What's so striking about Luna is how unique the entire experience is, obviously there is stomping punk ferocity but at almost all times it is accompanied by some sort of impassioned guitar expression or strange synth or noise ambience. The track carries both a feeling of reverential passion and misery, at times hunkering into sulking dirges but also soaring to great heights of unabashed release of energy directed upwards to the supposed source of inspiration for this release, the moon. A triumph in it's own filthy and cryptic right.

Nuclearhammer - Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer
(Nuclear War Now! Productions)

The second full-length from Canadian war-mongers Nuclearhammer is maliciously hypnotic. Taking cues from the immersive element of black metal and combining that emphasis on atmosphere with death metal barbarism Nuclearhammer have taken Canadian war metal (a lame term but one that is indicative of the style) to new places. The often imitated style has been championed in unique ways before by the likes of Rites of Thy Degringolade and Lust but never before has a war metal been taken to a place of pure mesmerism as it is here. Nuclearhammer take the style and bend it, making it unbelievably more vicious than their predecessors, thanks to two distinct factors. The aforementioned emphasis on hypnotic repetition in order to disorient and crush and the inclusion of harsh noise and dark ambient interludes. The entire release is a monumental work of unrelenting forcefulness, a perfect example of a band constructing a path of their own from the fragments of a worn-out style. 

Herukrat - I Bear Witness
(Total Black)

Visceral and impassioned, Herukrat's I Bear Witness is absolutely my favorite noise release of the year. An album dedicated to it's creators recent conversion to Islam, I Bear Witness is one man's pledge of devotion and declaration of faith, and those facts are almost painfully evident throughout its entirety. Comprised mainly of harsh walls of static noise, sound samples of traditional songs and prayers, and savage bursts of shouted vocals the album makes use of minimal tools to implement maximum emotional and psychological toll. The conviction of his faith is fully embodied by his relentless shouts of reverence. At times the voice is hateful and full of scorn for those who taint the word of his God, at times it is passionate and reverent. The apex of the album is the finale "Taking Shahada," which contains an actual recording of him making his conversion to Islam as the introduction, his voice is then singled out, shouting with whats seems to be boundless fervor, proclaiming his devotion to his God. An absolutely brilliant piece of power electronics that helped me to realize what noise as a medium had to offer. This is the most passionate piece of music I heard all year, not for the faint of heart but the purest emotion can be found within.

Vorde - Vorde
(Fallen Empire Records & Psychic Violence Records)

Black metal that tows the line between traditionalism and ingenuity is always my favorite variety of the diverse genre. I am admittedly a huge fan of traditional Transylvanian Hunger-esque black metal but when bands take black metal's core elements and elevate them to some new plateau I am often enraptured, and that's what Vorde has done. On their first full-length, Vorde utilize tremolo picked guitars, blast beats, and jagged production to conjure spiraling black energy. That, however, is only the beginning of Vorde's ability to create stunning black metal. Aziel's gurgled and moaned vocals were the first indication of Vorde's pursuit of their own distinct vision of a genre often stooped in tradition. Reminiscent of Inquisition's Dagon but less frog-like, each horrid word comes out slow, deliberate in execution. He sounds as though he's chanting in order to create some sort of communion with something other, calling to them throughout the course of the record. The rest of the band works to amplify this almost religious feeling of the album through conjuring sprawling black madness that spins deeper into the unknown with each passing moment. Vorde is a mystifying and captivating journey through a swirling black cosmos.

Impetuous Ritual - Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence
(Profound Lore Records)

After copious amounts of time spend with this record upon it's release I enthusiastically declared it the greatest death metal album of all time and eight months later I completely stand behind that statement. Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence contains every single aspect I look for in a death metal album and offers new horizons for the entire genre. From the raw, cavernous production that carves itself into your brain to the frantic riffing and absolutely malicious soloing that accompanies it and lastly the vocals, sparingly used and completely demented. The whole album exudes palpable feelings of dread, torment, and most importantly complete and utter devastation. Hopeless and bleak, powerful and furious the album has no regard for anything and stands as an impenetrable monolith. Most importantly the album is raw, not paper-thin or tinny, instead it's rawness is unintelligible, difficult, and cryptic. The intensity never relinquishes, it only get's pushed further and further until the album resembles HNW as much as it does death metal. This is the new pinnacle of brutality, the new purest expression of malice I have ever heard. It is sheer grotesque brilliance hurtling towards the void with disregard for everything, ushering in the end of all things. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Label Spotlight: Prison Tatt Records

Prison Tatt Records is an eclectic and fiercely independent American record label releasing black metal, punk, and noise records through limited analog runs. What is so striking about Prison Tatt is how completely D.I.Y. the entire operation is. Wm. Berger, mastermind and workhorse, has fully dedicated himself to the vitriolic aesthetic of nearly all those he works with through his label. The label serves as a place for it's single proprietor to join forces with others who carry a similar passion for the darker side of music and noise. Each release outlined below is completely different from the rest, highlighting Prison Tatt's dedication to all forms of strange extremity. In the past I have encountered, loved, and exposed others to a couple of Prison Tatt releases like the recent joint effort with Sibir Records to release Yellow Eyes' beautiful and scathing Stillicide, Intolerant's prideful and scorn-filled Snow Stained with the Blood of Traitors, and Sesso Violento's absolutely brilliant/perverse punked out black metal hell Molestador. The passion of Wm. Berger is exceedingly clear through everything from the packaging of the releases to the handpicked roster of the label.

Smoke - Haat Laatste Oordeel

Smoke is a now unfortunately defunct improvisational black metal duo from the Netherlands. Haat Laatste Oordeel serves as the bands swan-song, and is a fitting end the band's distinct black madness. Eerie and deranged the one sided record careens down its dark path with strange howled vocals and wicked rasps taking charge over the cacophonous rattle that is the music. Improvisation can often times lead to two negatives, timid stagnancy or completely unlistenable chaos, neither of which gains hold over Smoke. Both musicians, K and M, maintain complete control throughout the entire recording. Falling somewhere between the stomping madness of degenerate punk and the cold seer of raw black metal, Smoke channels cavernous black energy. The clattering of drums flies full force against the churning wall of mangled and completely distorted guitar noise. The whole record is a writhing and screeching testament to the power of improvisation. The liberation from structure allows for the two musicians to craft a compellingly dark journey through the franticly pummeled drums and cobweb covered guitar expressions. Haat Laatste Oordeel serves as Smoke's final hour, an end to this duo's improvisational destruction. Both K and M are still very active in other projects, some belonging to the alluring Black Hermetic Order, a collective of projects releasing dark and suffocating raw black metal and noise mainly through K's own The Throat imprint. While Smoke is gone the will of it's creators continues.

Malkuth - Tamahprabha

Experimental black metal stalwarts Malkuth have recently joined the Prison Tatt roster. The trio specializes in a style of black metal rooted partially in traditional black metal aesthetics, swirling guitars, epic chords, and blistering blasts. However, Malkuth strives to reach a new plateau of black expression. Dark, spiraling madness presents itself immediately through majestic and hypnotic dual guitar work. The vehicle is obviously black metal but it's execution is raw, passionate, and shamanic. Melody plays a large role throughout the album, most of the music is soaked in sinister melodies and ancient sounding chord progressions making for a very mystical experience. Tamahprabha can be seen as a path to tread to the deepest reaches of dark eastern mysticism, one can follow the sweeping melodies, the malicious barking, and the palpable evil far into grim hypnotic bliss. Songs are given names that follow mainly the Jain faith, giving the album a feeling of religious significance, as if it acts as an expression of its creator's devotion. The final work of the album, "Naraka" is named for the place of torment in some schools of Hinduism and Jainism among others, and is completely representative of it's horror. The track serves as the opus of the work through its twisting rhythms and it's completely immersive guitar bewitchment. Rawness is the key, behind the cataclysmic racket of of guitar and drum sits a layer of solemn buzzing. The entire album is audible without being polished, raw without sacrificing spirit or musicianship, a perfect balance is struck and a pitch black mesmerism stands firm. Tamahprabha is Malkuth's fourth effort and serves as a companion to Hathir Sakta, released by the band last year.

Tomhet - Caliginous

A grinding and cosmic noise intro begins this, Tomhet's latest full-length, Caliginous. Released in 2012 Caliginous sees Xaphan, Tomhet's sole member, pushing the project deeper and more violently into the depths of depressive black metal. While the album is at it's heart a depressive black metal album it does well to not fall into many of the tropes and cliches associated with the often scorned form of black metal. By not relying to heavily on keyboard flourishes or slow to mid paced sulking Xaphan works to elevate the genre. Almost immediately one can pick out actual riffs amongst the gloom, for instance at the end of the first track, "Contrachristian" a massive and ugly riff rears its head. Also present is influence from harsh noise and dark ambient. The track, "Whispering Leaves" is an oppressive and dismal piece of noise which sits between two works of tortured black metal. "Sounds Like Memories" is a synth-soaked industrial work that brings with it waves of emotional weight. What sticks out about Xaphan's execution of the depressive black metal genre is the stunning amount of diversity brought to the table. Yes, the cornerstones of thick atmosphere, slow tempos, and pained vocals are all there but they thrive amongst waves of outside influences and frankly unique additions to the often stagnant genre. An absolutely scalding vocal performance also sits at the heart of Caliginous, everything from high pitched torturous screams to guttural and disgustful barks find themselves at home on the record. Caliginous is a brilliant and innovative depressive black metal album, a testament to the genres ability to exist outside the confines of the commonly one-dimensional genre.

Nuit Noire - A Beautiful Belief

The often mocked and misunderstood, weirdo and absolutely French genius of Nuit Noire has also found a home on Prison Tatt Records. Now the one man black/punk project of Tenebras, Nuit Noire has been churning out some of the most eccentric, stomping, and whimsical black metal ever recorded. Lyrics (printed in flowery cursive on the back of the sleeve) concern fairies, night, moonlight, trees, and all other sorts of non-traditional subject matter are sure to make any "trve" black metal warrior scowl. The beauty of Nuit Noire lies in Tenebras' ability to craft catchy, melodic, and rousing punked out black metal devoid of any sort of gimmick or showmanship. It's clear that he lives in his own world of fairies and wonder and a feeling of giddy discovery is palpable on A Beautiful Belief. Tenebras' black metal exists outside the spectrum of traditionalism and influence, serving as his way to bring others into his fantastical world. Black metal and punk have equal bearing on Nuit Noire's sound, however the product is barely reminiscent of other works that utilize both genres. There is no scraping hate of Bone Awl or stomping pride akin to Akitsa found here, instead the product is full of frivolity and subscribes to only Tenebras' unique vision. His vocals are, like the rest of the music found here, lighthearted and full of melody and emotion. Emotion is a key componant to Nuit Noire's music and the only emotion found here is one of pure elation. Nuit Noire's goal, one they absolutely succeed in on A Beautiful Belief, is to pull the listener by the hand with them as they frolic through moonlit fields alongside fairies into a world of eternal night and mystery.

All four of the above records serve as examples of the sheer unconventionality of all the projects associated with Prison Tatt. Smoke's improvisational severity, Malkuth's hypnotic, swirling passage towards insanity, Tomhet's dismal yet innovative depression, and Nuit Noire's brilliantly obscure punked out ramblings. Each carries with it a mark of innovation and progress in the world of dark music. Prison Tatt continuously proves to be a unique force in the worlds of black metal, punk, and noise and deserves infinite support. All Prison Tatt releases can be purchased here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: Vorde - Vorde (Fallen Empire Records & Psychic Violence Records)

New York's Vorde is a relatively young band, having existed since 2012 and in that time releasing two demos of raw, disorienting black metal. Yet, while the project itself is young Vorde is partially the brainchild of Mike Rekevics of Fell Voices and Vilkacis amongst a host of other projects. Rekevics has made a name for himself in the world of metal mainly through the aforementioned Fell Voices, an expansive project whose wall-of-sound approach to black metal is stunning in it's scope and unrelenting devotion to creating an immersive atmosphere. On this, Vorde's first full length, the band utilizes a similar immersive approach, however the intent within is far more sinister. The album is a scathing rampage of eerie chords, oppressive drums, and a truly manic vocal performance. A journey through a dark cosmic landscape, rooted firmly in traditional black metal yet not tethered to rote regurgitation.

Take the album's second track, "Transformations of the Vessel" with it's introduction of nefarious guitars dancing above throbbing percussion. The track continues forward, descending deeper and deeper into lunacy; icy tremolo picked guitars glide like wraiths over the constant pulse of the drums, carrying the song at a quick pace. While more aggressive moments like the entirety of the aforementioned track are commonplace on the album, more morose and ominous sections are also a crucial element to Vorde's sound. The introduction to "Blood Moon" utilizes nearly Xasthur-esque washes of echoing guitar to usher in a dreadful atmosphere. No matter the pace the entirety of the album is drenched in a macabre feeling of religiousness, a perverse expression of cosmic longing. Its as if the members of Vorde are attempting to communicate directly with the void, throwing themselves haphazardly blasting towards dreadful oblivion.

This near religious feeling is reinforced by the outstanding vocal performance. Vocalist, Aziel never resorts to a typical black metal screech or growl, instead performs a ghoulish croaking call or an anguished howl. Similar to a less frogged-out Dagon of Inquisition or Attila Csihar but less spastic and more based in chant. The performance is direct and the chanting works to solidify the mystical sonic environment created by the band. Aziel's vocals and the rest of the bands instrumental accompaniment work in tandem to create an aura of black psychosis.

"Funeral Vortex" stands as the bands opus, an unhinged descent into the void. Angular riffing crashes against the steady assault of progressively structured drums. As the title suggests the track carries with it vortical motion, a swirling madness complete with Aziel's insane utterances seeming to draw the quartet deeper into ritual. The track takes a final turn with a similar distant guitar sound found on "Blood Moon" making a reappearance. As the album drifts to it's conclusion and the communion comes to a close one is left with a feeling of otherworldliness. 

Traditionalism collides with fearlessness and the result creates a more than impressive first full length. The deep roots of black metal's many forms are evident within Vorde's sound; however while the band grasps at black metal and it's variety of stylistic divisions they remain unafraid to create their own vision. The debut, out now on Fallen Empire Records and Psychic Violence Records is a testament to black metal's continued growth and expansion.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Yellow Eyes - Stillicide (Sibir Records & Prison Tatt Records)

A twanging ushers in the madness. Unassuming and pleasant, the sounds of a simpler time. Soon feedback enters and shortly one is trapped in a whirlwind, a chaotic frenzy of expansive riffs and blasting drums. This is only the beginning of Yellow Eyes' new EP Stillicide, a fourteen minute expression of grief, spite, abstraction, and mystery. Like the rest of Yellow Eyes' staggering catalogue Stillicide resides firmly in the realm of black metal, yet the effort is not marred by traditionalism, quite the contrary actually. On this new EP Yellow Eyes continue to push black metal to new soaring heights while remaining mindful of the genre's roots.

In a brief amount of time Yellow Eyes are able to cover an astonishing amount of emotional ground. The style of black metal that the band plays is full of twists and turns, abrupt switches in tempo and feel. Take the second track, "Heat From Other Days," which transitions sharply from aggressive, churning darkness to lush, chiming intricacies, each of which carries a different emotional weight. Vocalist Will Skarstad's characteristic high-pitched rasp is utilized, in it one hears sorrow, triumph, and malice. The lyrics, in typical Yellow Eyes fashion are abstract expressions. Take these lyrics from the final passage of "Heat From Other Days":

"When I was old enough
I pushed aside a tile
And snaked through the cold muck
Into the vast and brittle day
I took the lower path
Full of pellets, unresolved
And I let the heat from other days become my fire"

Yellow Eyes transcend the generic carbon copy black metal lyrics in favor of a more poetic, deeply expressionistic, and symbolic approach. The lyrics found on every Yellow Eyes release further solidify the band's place as an innovative force in black metal.

The music found on Stillicide is very dense, resembling the sound the band utilized on their last release, The Desert Mourns. Both releases see Yellow Eyes moving towards a more lush and bleakly thick sound. The opening of the EP displays this opaque aggression as a torrent of riffs speeds forward backed by relentless percussion, towing the line between shimmering vibrance and raw murk. On Stillicide a new layer of clarity exists, each distinct feature from the duel guitar harmonies to the pulsating throb of the bass to the pounding of the drums can be heard and felt. The high-pitched harmonies that were such a prevalent force in the band's earlier material make a refreshing return on Stillicide but are more fully integrated, adding to the colossal vortex of sound Yellow Eyes creates.

Stillicide sees Yellow Eyes striving forward along the path they have treaded since their inception, that of ingenuity with an eye on tradition. Nothing that exists here will surprise fans of the band's expressive approach to the genre but it will solidify them once again as a unique force in the landscape of millennial black metal and black metal as a whole. Stillicide will be released soon as a joint effort between Sibir Records (a label run by members of the band) and Prison Tatt Records.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Label Spotlight: Vanguard Productions

Describing itself as a Vinland Label & Distro Vanguard Productions is a recently formed entity specializing in cassettes. Vanguard has released twelve tapes in it's short existence ranging from raw black metal to power electronics to neofolk and everywhere in between. In my spotlight of the label I will be taking a closer look at the two tapes from Vanguard that made the largest impact on me.

I have to preface this examination with a warning, while Vanguard Productions is an apolitical label it does not apologize for the political stance taken by it's supporters. Neither of the two projects highlighted in this spotlight have any sort of political stance however it is important that you understand the context of the work. Personally, I believe examining art of all forms and ideology regardless of ones personal belief system is important. That being said, this blog holds no political affiliation whatsoever and without diverging into a political discussion my own beliefs hinge on acceptance. This is neither here nor there, what is important is the music contained in the two tapes highlighted below. Intolerant is a scathingly raw black metal band and Solarthrone is a martial neofolk project.

Intolerant - Snow Stained With the Blood of Traitors

Blisteringly raw black metal is Intolerant's method of annihilation. Grating production and martial, anthemic riffs give the tape an immediately powerful impression. After a short introduction "Resistance to Modern Way" fiercely charges forward, displaying stomping odes to hatred and sorrow. The music contained brings to mind Slavic pioneers of the more atmospheric and introspective forms of black metal like Hate Forest and Drudkh or some of the bands in the infamous Russian BBH. The same majesty is contained in utilization of relentless torrential riffing. Stomping punk aggression is also a key element on Snow, less reliant on punk than say Akitsa but still charged with that same hateful grit. The use of keyboards is a key element to Intolerant's music, utilized to add a layer of sorrowful mysticism to the buzzing whirlwind of the tape. The tasteful usage of something so easily overdone like keys shows the true strength of musicians Warspirit and Discipline. While raw production can easily become a weakness for many bands, relying to heavily on the reverb drenched distortion to cover up inadequacies; Intolerant uses rawness differently. Riffs are still clear in all their triumph and sorrow, the drums, while not necessarily inventive, are aggressive and provide a solid backbone, and the vocals are completely audible and brutish in their execution. 

Intolerant, while not reinventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, succeed in creating some of the most interesting raw black metal I've heard in ages. Combining harsh production, expansive atmospheric riffs, and punk aggression makes the tape a cacophonous tumult. Sold out from the label the tape is available from distros like Dungeon Tapes and Primal Vomit Records. It was also recently made available on CD through the always brilliant Prison Tatt Records or directly from the label. This tape combines all my favorite aspects of black metal and comes with the highest possible recommendation.

Solarthrone - The Light We Follow

The Light We Follow shows Vanguard at it's most introspective and reflective through the entity Solarthrone. A one man neofolk project that makes use of expansive keyboard (also used to make a flute like sound), softly strummed acoustic guitar, chimes, simplistic drumming, and either chanted or stoically recited vocals. While simplistic the atmosphere created is dreamlike, flowing forward through hazy repetition. Obvious stylistic allusions to neofolk luminaries like Death in June or Sol Invictus exist but Solarthrone never relies on a strict framework. The tracks are divided between more straightforward folk influenced tracks and more subtle ambient work. "The Knoll" is one of the more ambient tracks and consists of delicate keys and the sound of thunder crashing. This simplicity is used to maximum effect again on "Moral," whispered vocals, the soft patting of drums, and airy keys envelop the listener in a misty warmth. Solarthrone writes songs to get lost in. The final opus of the tape is "To Lift the Cosmic Veil" and as the title suggests it is a journey into the far reaches of the cosmos. A beautiful strummed guitar finds itself traveling with hushed vocals, seeming to move forwards toward the joys and sorrows of unknown realms. The entire tape has a warm and somber feel, mystic and yet still grounded in stark reality.

Solarthrone perfectly exemplifies the other side of Vanguard's output. A work deeply rooted in both the esoteric and the physical. The hazy mountain range that adorns the tape is the perfect representation of the music inside, reaching towards some unknown but deeply rooted in the majesty of earth itself. The tape is available from directly from Vanguard Productions

This is merely a simple look at Vanguard Productions, an access point if you will. These two tapes stood out for me as the two finest works of the overall brilliant label. Along with Intolerant and Solarthrone Vanguard's rosters boasts exciting projects like Equinox, Thestral, and Bacchanal among others. I encourage you to dive into the world of Vanguard Productions, harshness and splendor awaits those who do.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Grst - Plague Seed (Glossolalia Records)

What struck me immediately about Grst's first full length is the amount of confidence that is contained in the four tracks that make up Plague Seed. While the band materialized in 2009, they did not release something until earlier this year. Besides a one track on a split, the band's first release, the band put out an EP of Weakling cover songs. While the covers were brilliantly executed and did the American masters justice, it seemed odd. One would think a band with this much talent would put their efforts into composing their own material, working with original ideas and expanding. Let alone releasing a tape of covers can be risky, some may see it as a sign of unsureness and honestly I did.

Enter Plague Seed an album which was composed in 2009, according to an interview with the ever excellent Western Lamb. What Grst has brought us defies all worries I had about the bands potential for growth. An album that is characterized by its mastery and ambition. All three members of Grst have been in a litany of excellent projects linked to the Glossolalia family; the harsh noise wall act Willowbrook, the violent math-addled blackened crust of Banewreaker, and the hallucinogenic teach-death outfit Arkhum among a slew of others. The three musicians combine their obvious skill and knowledge of dark and heavy sounds to create something that will leave black metal devotees stunned and completely convinced.

Grst continues the American tradition of pushing the boundaries of black metal forward. Their style calls to mind Northwestern American luminaries and of course Weakling. Grst's vision, however, is far less limited in scope than many of their so called "Cascadian" counterparts. They play black metal that is completely immersed in the expansive nature of the transcendent style yet still retains a firm grasp on aggression and cathartic release. Take "Plague Seed" the album's opening track. While the riffs are cloaked in the mystical buzz of the mountainous Northwest there is lingering traces of pure devastation. The track itself is a furious blast-beat driven cathartic experience. Vocalist Kenneth Parker barks and screeches powerfully over the ripping aggression of both guitar and bass of Nathanael Kelley and Joshua Vincent.

Noise influence takes hold on the interlude track "Abandon" consisting of an airy, ominous drone accompanied by somber guitar. The track is calming and indicative of the moments of clarity exist throughout the album. This contemplative nature shows itself again during the opening minutes of "Pondering the Wastes." Twin guitars entwine their melodies and bring with them a sense of longing. This signals the torrential, mesmerizing riffing to come that is unleashed when the song begins to rip forward. The guitars continue to weave melodies as the track descends into a more aggressive state. The contrast Grst creates between moments of mournful reflection and driving rage is exactly what separates them from a slew of bands playing atmospheric black metal. The wide variety of emotional weight contained in the debut is overwhelming. Rage, mourning, tension, and release all exist within the onslaught. The musicianship exhibited by each of the bands three members is astounding, again showing self-assurance. Vocalist Parker is able to navigate between coarse rasps and hollow sounding growls with precision. Both Kelley and Vincent handle guitars and their work is equally impressive. Cascading riffs collide with one another creating the furious and meditative sound that emanates from the album.

Plague Seed took me by surprise. I in no way expected an album of this scope and magnitude. Ripping black fury is contrasted with sweeping and entrancing melodies, taking cues from a multitude of styles while still maintaining a sound that is completely Grst. Plague Seed is available from Glossolalia records in digital and vinyl formats here. If you are a fan of black metal either in its purest of forms or in its more expansive wanderings don't sleep on Grst.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Venowl / Highgate (Tartarus Records) & Cara Neir / Venowl (Broken Limbs Recordings)

Venowl is an enigmatic group. The three members choose to represent themselves with symbols; ::, //, and ][. The band creates some of the most caustic and disjointed music to ever grace these ears. Doom, black metal, noise, and general disregard for convention are combined to create something wholly earth shattering and devastatingly depraved. Lurching and ominous the band utilizes improvisation to create their horrid, torturous sonic landscapes. The band has seen two new releases in the months of September and October, both splits and both are nothing less than expressions of sonic torment. On each split Venowl is joined by an equally groundbreaking and impressive band. Both Highgate and Cara Neir easily match Venowl's jagged intensity with more structured pieces, Highgate brings lumbering blackened doom while Cara Neir drags the listener through swarming, diverse black metal.

Venowl / Highgate

September saw the release of a split between Venowl and Highgate. Venowl begins with "Vacant Cellar" a song without defined structure or reason. The track continues the Venowl tradition of being completely disjointed and improvised, however it is more structural and rhythmic than much of Venowl's music. Taking on more of a doom-like structure the band experiments within those confines. However, the band does no use this as a limitation, instead utilizing the loose structure to further enhance their descent into madness. Slowing moving towards oblivion, painful shrieks usher in layer upon layer of madness. Feedback slices through the grime accompanying the manic screams and shouts. Where Venowl truly succeed is in creating sickening atmosphere. Conjuring images of an old vacant house, filled with an aura of horrible deeds and broken bones. A place of destruction and most importantly a place of torture. Living up to the description of "torture doom" and completely embodying all that is horrific and depraved.

Highgate also implements elements of black metal and noise into their murky doom. Considerably more riff based and structured than Venowl, Highgate provide the listener with a more traditional and in some ways comprehensible take a similar formula. This is not to say that "Carved into Winter" is easy listening by any means. The Kentucky quartet offers up spirit-breaking doom, massive riffs collide with crashing drums and vicious rasps and grunts. Utilizing repetition as a tool for complete annihilation Highgate drags the listener deeper and deeper into their horrid cave. Ghastly melodies accompany the sludge addled riffs, suddenly the track dissolves abstraction. Pulsating rays of noise fade in and out creating a disorienting interlude to the rest of Highgate's track. Taking a more mournful form the track progresses slowly before disintegrating into feedback, ending the excellent work. 

The split can be heard and purchased here through Tartarus Records. A triumph of blackened doom, and a perfect pairing of two bands with different takes on the same devastating combination.

Cara Neir / Venowl

The second split is forthcoming. A reunion between Venowl and Cara Neir set to be released by Broken Limbs Recordings in mid-October. Cara Neir opens the split with three tracks of screamo influenced, post-hardcore injected, crusty black metal. Vocalist Chris Francis uses his powerful voice to push the songs to further levels of intensity while multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents displays his immense talent on each instrument. Playing everything from ripping hardcore chords to reflective even jazz-like melodies. Opening with "Aeonian Temple" with technicality at the forefront, Brents plays riffs like a madman while Francis offers frantic barks. The second and third tracks take on more reflective tones. "Nights..." sounds akin to the lighter moments 90s screamo artists like Saetia, utilizing harmonies and calm echoed vocals. The track provides the perfect amount of reflection before "Pitiful Human Bindings" rears its head. Combining the best parts of the first two tracks, ripping aggression and cryptic reflection. Madness and contemplation are joined as one, creating a track unconcerned with any sort of tradition, merely following the creative will of two immensely talented musicians. With their contributions on this split Cara Neir prove yet again that they are one of the most interesting and inventive bands currently active.

Venowl's track "Scour (Parts I and II)" is again another journey into the deepest abyss of the darkest aspects human consciousness. A completely soulless evil which takes the form of disjointed, dragged out chords, pained shrieks, and spastic drumming. Trudging through the mire, sickeningly dense and calamitous. The improvisational beast could only be described as ugly, completely without any trace of human attachment. The whole track is a confusing and harrowing journey deep into the minds of the three nameless specters. Formless and yet containing remnants of structure shaped by completely ruinous riffs. When a structural riff rears its head it becomes all the more powerful, cutting its way through the murky mess of incoherent chords and triumphantly presenting itself as supremely devastating. Venowl's contribution to this split is corrosive and scathing, providing the listener with layer upon layer of discord and bleak expressionism.

A union of two very different bands create something wholly unlike any other split release I have ever come across. A true testament to the fragmented nature of man. The tape will be available from Broken Limbs Recordings soon.