Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ignivomous - Contragenesis (2012)

The artwork on my CD booklet for this is incredibly dim, so I was glad to score a brighter digital pic for the review. Really, though, just adjust your eyes, for when the pyroclasmic finale of humanity arrives, it won't be pretty. All roiling lava, sinking structures, smoke-filled sky and lungs slowly breathing their last. Then darkness. Contragenesis, being the counter to creation, is mildly more vivid and exciting in texture than that suffocating imagery might hint, but there is nothing comfortable about this record, just a damned consistent pummeling of the skull packed with tension and dynamics, a Mortal Throne of Nazarene sitting in the second row at a demolition derby and hurling popcorn at the destruction below. And if Death Transmutation hadn't been an ample enough effort to convince you of Ignivomous' magma-spewing audacity, this one surely secures their spot as one of the chief retro-brutal death metal exports of all the Australian continent.

Contragenesis' production is perhaps the best thing about it, with these caustic, crushing flows of riffing fuzz that cascade across a number of low end, tremolo picked harmonies that are so fat sounding I can barely comprehend how they manage to fit them over the dextrous drumming without the amps exploding. Loads of low end grooves round out the pacing, and just about every time they set up some bristling new progression they manage to mold the listener's imagination back to excitement with some sort of endtimes aural dopamine drug that constantly refreshes you, no matter how tired you might be of hearing the subterranean death metal craze of the new 'teens. Vocals capture all that cavernous resonance of a Craig Pillard or Ross Doland, and while that's probably not the sickest or most distinctive of styles so many years after the originals were first spawned forth, they do such a good job mixing these to the guitars and drums that it they sound fucking monolithic. The bass does tend to blend too much into the rhythm tracks, and the frilly little leads peppered sporadically among the compositions could be a little louder and in the face, but otherwise Contragenesis is one of the best sounding throwback death metal gems in my entire collection...

Now, this is not a 'riff' band. They have a hundred of the things, but they're not individually impressive or varied enough to really make it an album where you'd pick out particular songs to throw on a mix for your new girlfriend. No, Ignivomous once again demands that you sit there and take each molten spray in the face, endless gushing 'gasms of melted matter; but for what it's worth, there is certainly a level of complexity and nuance with what they do...these are busier patterns than your normal cave evil, and the constant threat of leads or end-phrase embellishments keep it interesting. Contragenesis might have lacked some of the surprise and malevolence of its predecessor, but it very nearly compensates in that it's a tighter effort with a meatier tone that sounds ridiculously morbid and voluptuous bursting out the speakers. I'm not sure how long their style will last without some tweaking and progression between releases (there is a little here from the first), but in the meantime this is just a corpulent libation to both Finnish ghoulishness and the darker, more impenetrable side of 90s NYDM which should not be ignored by anyone who revels in such claustrophobic, evil flatulence from below the Earth's crust.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (inimical to existence)

https://www.facebook.com/Ignivomous

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ignivomous - Blood and Mercury (2011)

I've seen discussions which place Ignivomous uncomfortably close to being waived away as an Incantation knockoff, but even though I think that's such an obvious influence in their sound, I have really enjoyed the total package of what this band brings to the table. Their influences have themselves moved on to a more accessible (but still excellent) sort of songwriting aesthetic, and Ignivomous simply takes a healthy heaping of that cavernous, turbulent early to mid-90s NYDM, slathers it in some Finnish viscera from the same time period, and then produces the audio equivalent of sentient, roiling magma that wishes very much to consume its listeners flesh. Otherworldly, hostile and consistent are all qualities that come to mind when experiencing their debut Death Transmutations, and so too do they apply to the earlier material featured on this comp.

Blood and Mercury is more or less a 'perfect' collection of the band's pre-full length recordings, perfect in that it spares a lazy arse like myself from having to track them down individually. The Path of Attrition demo (2007), Eroded Void of Salvation EP (2008) and a split track they did with Tzun Tzu are gathered up and presented in chronological order, then topped off with a previously unheard cut called "Corpse of the Redeemer". Nothing unexpected, but low end, grinding death metal with a fibrous, diseased tone to those rhythm guitars which possess an unerring level of anger redolent of war metal bands like Blasphemy, only affixed with the Craig Pillard-like guttural vocals and primal aesthetics more prevalent on the first few Incantation albums. There's a natural dissonance incurred through the tuning and tone alone, but it's not as if the Australians are playing a slew of unusual riffs here, this is all rather straightforward from the blasted side to the more sparing, death/doom passages. Bass lines are engraved into the riff progressions, but there is still a 'hovering' din of the low end over the ripping flesh guitars, while the drums are feisty and energetic but not so polished or soulless as you'd find on a modern tech death recording.

If I were to gauge the quality of songwriting here to that of the debut or its successor, then Blood and Mercury does represent the weakest in their career. There isn't a lot of natural malevolence here, nor are the patterns much more than acceptable for the genre, trying perhaps a little too hard to pass on production alone. Not that I expect a sense of melody when listening through death metal of this style, but sometimes the guitars are too muddied and sporadic sounding to really consider the axis of notation upon which they trudge, so there's a lot of sameness and running on here precluded only by minor production shifts between the releases that make up the comp. I actually found that they progressed in quality, with the tumultous closer offering the more compelling structure with that noisy feedback and distant whispered chanting that arrive in the bridge segue. Death Transmutation wasn't wildly varied, but it was stronger overall, with riffing components that translated into evil signals in my brave and just felt oppressive and so, so ugly. This is ultimately one for the collectors, not as an introduction, but at least they ensured that it was an 'all-in-one' deal and you wouldn't have to further track down a bunch of obscure cuts.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (your flock of wretchedness)

https://www.facebook.com/Ignivomous

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles (2013)

I've been comfortable for years claiming that Hail of Bullets provides my favorite Asphyx material, because it so ramps up the tension and potential of that seminal death metal entity while also offering the same enormous clusterfuck production which the members' primary act also has capitalized on with their recent releases. That said, this Dutch act plays with such a simplistic, strength-minded sensibility that there is constantly the threat of them burning themselves out, writing a set of riffs too complacent or plain in structure that they can fail to achieve, and I do think to an extent this has happened with the third full-length III: The Rommel Chronicles, only not so much that I didn't still pump the fuck out of this thing on a number of occasions.

No, riff for riff, this is not the equal of either of its predecessors, nor does it start off particularly promising with "Swoop of the Falcon", but there is enough meat on its bones that retro death metal pundits the world over should find some common ground being tread. Van Drunen's vocals have lost nothing with age, but I would not say that his performance here is among his more memorable...that award still belongs to his old Pestilence material, on which he pretty much created every pattern he'd later re-arrange. I am surprised that his voice has held up this long, he's got such a bloodiness in there which seems like it would have cracked a million times over in 30 years, yet the ugliness persists, the desperation and hostility which is almost like Lemmy Kilminster gargling gunpowder while chomping on an unlit cigar...always about to explode! Rhythm guitars maintain that corpulent fleshiness of the other albums, only a few tunes like "To the Last Breath of Man and Beast" contained groove riffs so unfuckably exhausted that part of The Rommel Chronicles feels more like an obligation than an advancement further along enemy lines...

Many of those grooves unfortunately also remind me of stuff you'd hear on an average Six Feet Under disc, not that it's such a bad thing with Van Drunen taking the helm in place of Barnes, but stuff like "DAK" could have used an added sheen of atmosphere or complexity to help raise the roof. Like a lot of acts these years, Hail of Bullets seem to be increasingly relying on the momentum of their production values alone to mask rehashed ideas, and if that's going to be the case they might have just ended with the excellent sophomore album. On the other hand, lyrically I found this fascinating, since Rommel is one of my favorite historical military figures and perhaps the most competent of the Axis strategists, and when listened to in one lump sum in my car, the disc fucking crushed me on a number of occasions that I still consider it a solid success, even though it really lacks the surprise value of the others, and the riffs are a few tiers lesser in quality. It'd be nice now for the Dutchmen to take leave for awhile, come up with some new ideas and perhaps even attempt to dial up the complexity of what they write rather than just do the same shit time in and time out, which is also symptomatic of Asphyx. Just because you can write the same, progressively redundant riffs and stay 'loyal' to a sound does not mean that you should pursue the course indefinitely...Rommel is strong, but like the figure himself, not invincible.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (on to the next duel)

http://www.hailofbullets.com/cms/

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Infernal Curse - The End Upon Us EP (2014)

As the pestilent pulpit of old school death metal continues to preach into the ears of more parishioners, the sounds continue to grow uglier and more unrefined, as is evidenced by the latest EP of the Argentinian graveyard union known as Infernal Curse. Similar to several bands from their neighboring Chile, you're being presented here with an alternative accumulation of late 80s/early 90s death metal tropes which have been twisted into something mildly unique due to what might or might not be a more exotic interpretation of the seminal works of acts like Autopsy, Rottrevore, Necrovore and Incantation, though this is restricted more to production choices than musical technique.

The End Upon Us is a great looking EP, with cover artwork that does well to visually ascribe to its musical aesthetics, which are unapologetic in their primacy. Stripped down. Base. Smeared in offal and viscera. Like the unearthing of some dirt tomb where plagued paupers were recently buried alive. You can never quite shake the stench of this from your ears after listening, with voluptuous and bruising bass lines and soiled, smearing chords and tremolo guitars which don't evoke a lot of variation or melody throughout their evocation. The drums seem peppier and able to offer a contrast to the dinginess of the strings, with enough reverb on the fills to lend some atmosphere to the muddy script. Chord progressions are exceedingly primitive and unfortunately don't arrive at any creative ideas; I'm getting to the point where I'm well beyond loving this stuff just because of its purism alone, and when they concede into even more simplistic doom death grooves, it feels agonizingly retread and dull.

A shame, because I'd be much more compelled if they used this same, impenetrable production and then wrote some resonant licks or leads into it which could cultivate the feel of alien, obscure death metal so missing from many of its nostalgia-addicted champions. Infernal Curse has been at this awhile, but apart from the fact they promulgate an even more deformed visage to the music than some of their better known peers, there's just not a lot here that I felt myself wanting to return to. Again, The End Upon Us has that initial, visual stimulation where the artwork and musical goals seem aligned, but then there is no surprise awaiting you behind each leaning structure, each withered limb, each whorl of blackened miasma sucking on the soul stuff of the intended victims. Even the Hadez cover doesn't sound much different apart from the possible chord placement, and while I've heard much worse, the EP ultimately dissolves amidst the blurred, swelled ranks of its fellow retrogressors.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

https://www.facebook.com/bandinfernalcurse

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Grief of Emerald - It All Turns to Ashes (2012)

Keeping a review to a concise length is no mean feat when the cover artwork speaks to just about everything you need to know about the musical content. Fire and blasphemy, hatred of the holy, Grief of Emerald seem about as sincere and serious about its sacrilege here as anywhere else in their career. The Swedes' sophomore, and fifth album overall, through Dutch Non Serviam records, It All Turns to Ashes is quite likely their most professional and musically evocative offering, but 20+ years into a band's existence I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a little more distinction and personality, which is sacrificed here in what could be best described as an attempt to compile all their tricks and techniques over the prior four albums into something simply 'better'.

In all fairness, it really is. Namely, the production has hit another plateau, with the crisp and forceful tremolo picked guitars hitting their stride in most of the band's most involved and ear-sticking melodies to date, while the synthesizers embedded into the atmosphere are mixed with more of an airy grace, using a lot of similar pad/organ sounds as on the earlier material, but seemingly more nocturnal and scintillating. Grief's flaw was never the band's actual musicianship, and they further exemplify their grasp of technique with a firm balance of faster paced, blistering note progressions that erupt into convulsive, percussive palm muted patterns and leads imbued with an exotic Eastern mystique. It All Turns to Ashes might not be stuffed to the fiery gills with solo work, but I like how these guitars are slathered and squealing over the meatier rhythms with a more defiant rock & roll attitude, and yet never steer the listener's attention away from the feisty, brutal momentum of pieces like the mighty "Warstorms" or the title track itself, amongst a suitably varied lineup.

Of course, when you break down the riffs further, the patterns seem like a standard admixture of the lines populating the busier tunes of Cradle of Filth, Marduk, Lord Belial or Dark Funeral around the dawn of the millennium, played firmly and with precision but never truly imaginative or compelling to develop an identity. This dearth of nuance extends to Johnny Letho's vocal rasp, which is likewise pretty commonplace among the Swedish legions, and lacking the more sinister decree of black metal frontmen who leave you with an unmistakable impression that they've been damned below the surface world. In fact, It All Turns to Ashes is really all surface stuff; speed and flash and little depth of malevolence. Just because consecrated ground is set ablaze here, doesn't mean I think these guys have much of a concern for the subject matter beyond the fact that it fits their musical objectives. This is without question their most accomplished effort, likely to sate those who retain an investment in fast, clean, proficient Scandinavian black metal, and the one to check out before any others if you're new to them, but that doesn't preclude the interested party from checking out of their catalog once these particular altars are cinders and the priest have been run off.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

http://www.griefofemerald.se/

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grief of Emerald - The Devils Deep (2011)

My heart was hardly broken when Grief of Emerald took a seven year dirt nap, but nor was I really surprised when they returned a half decade later to produce a demo recording that was essentially 50% of their forthcoming fourth opus The Devils Deep. It's a little disappointing that all this time was put to poor use, since the material here is vaguely distinguishable from even their 1998 debut Nightspawn, and yet I think the subtle advancements in production techniques paired up with their already sharpened musical ability to produce what was possibly their most 'accomplished' record to its day, or at least the best looking, since it has the first cover art I actually thought was pretty cool.

The Swedes always suffered from the fact that, despite their general level of competence and proficiency, they were essentially a retread of many other bands who released music like this when it was freshly infernal and resonant, albums that still spin in the regular rotations of a million extreme metal fans to this day. So if The Devils Deep would have already seemed generic by late 90s standards, what does that make it by the Anno 2011? Clearly there has been no popular retrogression back towards this style. A few other Swedish bands like Watain had championed the more Dissection/Dark Funeral-esque style to some degree of notoriety (more through their inconsistent and confrontational personalities than some of their music), but the genre as a whole had moved on to other territories...depressive black metal, 'blackgaze', or folksy, veiled Nationalism. A disc sounding like The Devils Deep was never in high demand, and yet, there are certain nuances to the material here which allow it to surpass all the older albums through Listenable.

The sound is tighter and sharper than any since arguably their debut, with a lot of those razor-snake riffs and melodies compounded into punishing fruition with another tireless battery of blasted and slower contrasts. I felt like the lead-work in particular here was the best they'd yet recorded, parting a veil to reveal another level of malignancy in composition, and the decision to toss on a few soaring, cleaner vocals is also managed rather well. The level of structural variation here also reached a new peak, though there was still a tendency to lapse into derivative and predictable riffs during blasted sequences which almost make everything else more compelling by association. However, there are at least a dozen sweet riffs in among the lattice of the forgotten, whereas the keyboards have more compunction and resilience. When Grief of Emerald fire on all cylinders here, they can at least stay in the race with much of their competition, and though three of the seven tunes are mere re-recordings from the first two albums, these versions are very much superior. Not a good album itself, perhaps, but The Devils Deep is adequately seasoned enough to taunt that the Swedes were capable of writing one.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (there the blood of the ancient boils)

http://www.griefofemerald.se/

Monday, April 14, 2014

Grief of Emerald - Christian Termination (2002)

Problems persisted with Grief of Emerald's ability to stand out among a very crowded crowd, but one has to give them a little credit for at least settling down on a few things here, not the least of which are the choice of logo (and a decent one) and more vicious production values of their third and final record in the Listenable deal: Christian Termination. I grant you, the label might have been glad to wash their hands of such a decidedly average black metal execution for the time, but the Swedes did end on their highest note yet and if nothing else, I cannot challenge the level of aggression and persistence here, or the fact that they so boldly wore their sacrilege on their sleeves in a ploy that might have worked to attract more brutal/occult death metal fans into their fold.

The death metal component here is of course understated; you could classify a few of the slower chugging riffs in that category, but this is still keyboard-induced orchestration with a lot of predictable Scandinavian black metal riff progressions which veer between mid-paced simplicity and sinuous, serpentine melodies which sadly are just never that great. I actually dug the ruddy sewage of that rhythm guitar tone, it stands out far more than on the prior albums and made the vocals by comparison seem a lot more grisly and fucked up. Drums were still a power storm of blasts and double-bass, void of subtlety or dynamic range outside of the tempo alone, but they definitely bludgeon away like a lot of the faster Floridian evil death metal via Deicide or Diabolic. If Christian Termination has one notable aesthetic departure from its predecessors, I would label that the more chaotic songwriting...tunes like "The Almighty is Rising" feel like they take more random turns in pacing, and while this is occasionally obnoxious, it does at least reveal a mild sense of misdirection. Grief of Emerald were trying to break out of their box here, just not really succeeding so well...

The cover art was still insidiously lame, with some strange orgy of giant snakes and skull-faced nuns, but you could at least laugh at this one where the others were just too awkward to stare at for more than a second. It's all dowsed in fire and evil with crucifixes and stained-glassed windows for background, and that sort of showiness permeates the music itself, and the constant nagging organ tones being run off in the background but heavily crushed by the volume of the riffing force and vocals. Once in a while they'll fire off an exotic level of escapism like that melodic intro to "Those Who Bear the Mark" which hinges on some actual quality music, but for the most part Christian Termination tends to thrive off its cliched blasphemies and genre alone. That said, of the band's first phase (prior to the ensuing hiatus), this is hands down the strongest of the three full-lengths and might possess some limited appeal to fans who number mid-list Swedish black metal albums amidst their collections of Deicide, Krisiun and Vital Remains.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (your easiest prey)

http://www.griefofemerald.se/

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Grief of Emerald - Malformed Seed (2000)

While the second attempt at creating a Grief of Emerald logo using some arbitrary low-level font failed miserably, and the cover artwork to their sophomore is more laughable than demonic as intended, I do think Malformed Seed takes a single stride forward in terms of effectiveness. The Swedes seemed to have better settled into the symphonic black metal histrionics here with a little more compulsion than merely to blast away as derivatively as possible and ride in the wake of far better bands who released prominent recordings 5-6 years earlier. I'm not implying a broad stylistic gulf between this and its predecessor Nightspawn, but a few times on this album I felt like I almost heard a genuinely decent riff churned out amidst so many vapid impostors.

There is a slightly deeper end to this, with perhaps a lot more double-bass groove patterns infested with the incendiary tremolo picked guitars and basic chord configurations that defined the debut. The synths seem to swell with a more voluptuous malevolence, all strings and fell angel choirs splayed out in rather common and predictable patterns that lend a fuller body to the thinner sound of the guitars. There are also a number of more chug-like bottom end riff patterns which fall somewhere between Samael's "Jupiterian Vibe" and any random sequence off Dimmu Borgir's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant or Spiritual Black Dimensions, performed with a warlike, steady bombast that gives the impression of a couple of gargoyle armies launching themselves to war in a massive subterranean cavern, its vaulted walls alight with the radiance of magma. Of course, whichever of these forces the ugly 'cover model' belongs to, I hope would be the loser, so that its ugly countenance can be smashed to pebbles...but I digress. Occasionally these lower, loping grooves take on a more death meta vibe circa Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick or Domination, albeit with less interesting notation.

While atmosphere was not exactly vacant from Nightspawn, Malformed Seed ramps it all up with that stronger contrast of bass-like tones and cavernous faux-organs. The vocals retain a stock rasp which presents them as indistinguishable from a hundred other bands in the medium, never arranged into anything that remotely resembles a fascinating threat, and in fact they often feel quite independent from the music, due most likely to the production. That aforementioned focus on the double-bass beatdowns also leaves me with the mild impression that the Swedes were going for a more mosh-friendly sound here, still accountable to all the Norsecore hordes, but aimed more centrally at an audience that at was the time more concerned with chug-laden melodic death metal and whatever was on Nuclear Blast that week. The result is at best like Samael's Passage without the soul and songwriting, and at worst just another of those countless late second wave duds that populated the later 90s to bursting. 14 years later, this retains a small modicum of cheesy entertainment, but it's absolutely faceless when paired up against any record that meant a damn.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10] (even you carry the thorn)

http://www.griefofemerald.se/

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grief of Emerald - Nightspawn (1998)

Grief of Emerald is a Scandinavian black metal band lost among so many other Scandinavian black metal bands almost as soon as they left the starting gate...and for good reason. Take a look at this album, and then, say, take a look at Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which remains so stark and effective, or Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse; evocative and threatening. Not that I like slagging a record for packaging decisions alone, but even if this were some work of musical brilliance, which it really isn't, the lame digital cover art and choice of non-logo give it absolutely no sense of identity beyond a million modern groove metal or melodic death albums of its day, much less vaulting into the black metal elite. I had no idea when I first acquired this what the hell it was, only that being released through Listenable it was going to be some combination of death and black metal. The band name was bizarre, I'll grant you, but that's unfortunately their most memorable aspect, at least when it comes to the 1998 debut Nightspawn.

Once we arrive at the actual musical content, we're greeted by a competently performed 43 minute burst of precision black metal which falls completely short of distinguishing itself from the Emperors, Dissections, Limbonic Arts, Dimmu Borgirs or other 'symphonic' black metal bands of its day which use keyboards to create a vaster cosmic/nocturnal impression and some tension with the razor-honed guitars. Don't get me wrong, these Swedes can play the shit out of their respective instruments. Riffs are somewhat dazzling and complex and flying all over the atmosphere, while the blasted drums are tireless and responsible for much of the belligerent ballast. Just about everything on this stage is set for a tremendous career of potential, but where Grief of Emerald could not compete with their myriad peers was in summoning up some semblance of personality or uniqueness. Every riff choice, every rasped vocal battery, every keyboard pad is more or less a composite lifted from a few dozen albums that had already hit market, and while they did well enough to try and straddle between the atmosphere of old Covenant and the sheer intensity of countrymen Naglfar, and really this feels like a group of session musicians from other acts just got together to impersonate them after being handed walking papers...

To be fair: it's far from terrible as a debut, and I've got rather a soft spot for this old 'night-sky', haunted castle sort of recording which carries off my imagination to old Dungeons & Dragons adventures or pagan alternate universes where demons reign over corpse-painted barbarians. But even then, there are just too few riffs which stand out, and considering how many they throw your way over the course of the nine tunes, I would have expected a few left hooks that justified the remainder. Instead, it's just a seamless showcase of banal tremolo picked chords or single note streams, occasionally dispersed with slower, dissonant shining chords that are no different than many of their peers. Lyrics are quite similar to other Swedish bands like Dark Funeral, Lord Belial or Marduk, that is to say decent if not outstanding. The vocals are nasty and impassioned enough that he doesn't seem to be fronting, but the album very badly wants to come across as evil or menacing and instead it seems like filling out a black metal connect-the-dots book hosted by some ghoulish mascot throwing you the horns. Almost like a proto-Dethklok without the failed humor, everything about Nightspawn screams 'me too guys, surely you have enough space in your hearts for another Norsecore band! We're totally legit!

Verdict: Indifference [5/10] (kindred cadaver dine)

http://www.griefofemerald.se/

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dornenreich - Freiheit (2014)

Dornenreich has always struck me as an act which puts such a tremendous amount of effort into its songwriting that I feel a few pangs of guilt that they've never left more of an impression with me. Despite immersing myself into a number of their past works, including 2011's Flammentriebe (one of their best), I simply don't find much of an allure to reach back once the initial listening period has passed. That said, I do not in general maintain an obsessive desire for such polished, folksy pastures upon which these Austrians graze. My preference was always for the dingier, more obscure sojourns of a Falkenbach or the Middle Earth majesties of the legendary Summoning, both of whom fill a comparable niche, while sounding very little like this band. At the end of the day, though, there is a massive audience for what Dornenreich commit to their albums, and Freiheit should continue to make new fans out of listeners within and without the folk metal genre, a nearly perfect 'period piece' band whose adherence to glinting traditional instrumentation should make the the toast of many faires and the emerging cultural awareness of younger European generations who were seemingly lost for decades.

This is more of a folk album than a metal album, to be sure, but not the sort of navel-gazing predictable stuff you'll find at a local coffeehouse open mic. They keep their writing engaging, narrative, weaving varied emotions through the rugged/smooth paradigm shifts of vocalist Eviga (Jochen Stock), who often seems just as much on the attack as he would during a more metallic shift in the band. Speaking of which, those only start to erupt around the mid point of the album's eight tracks, and usually just involve heavy chords to back up the violins and acoustic guitars, but Freiheit is so confident and invested in this neofolk side that you can honestly listen through without any expectations of metal content and not feel as if you're missing out. Bass lines are timid, drums as crystal and impacting as the more eloquent strings, and the production of this just sounds absolutely incredible at almost any volume. So accessible and involved are these guys that you have to wonder why they aren't booked for every Medieval/folk festival on the Eurasian continent, because they surpass most strictly folk/classical string-based ensembles I've experienced on record. But on the other hand, there is enough here for a rock fan to enjoy, what with the uptempo maneuvers and dreamy, ebullient melodies woven over the rambling rustic structures.

The only points at which the disc veers away from the accessible are the more tortured, gut-fed black metal vocals which arrive in a cut like "Das Licht vertraut der Nacht", which might turn off a few old timers but really just contribute to Eviga's overall charisma through these tales. Lighter than air, but eternally tormented, it clearly reminds you of Dornenreich's more aggressive roots without selling short the atmosphere and mainstream viability cultivated elsewhere through the instrumentation. The Austrian German lyrics might throw up a language barrier for those beyond the band's borders, but I think ultimately that anyone seeking out such a folksy purity on a recording wouldn't find this much of a hindrance. Their practice of packaging the music with a very common naturalistic image continues here, and yet strangely doesn't grow old since it jives with the authenticity and tradition implicit in the musical aims. I do feel that I got more out of the last album Flammentriebe than I did here, but this is certainly another of those records which has me pining for a past on the European mainland that I am far too removed to have ever experienced. With the appropriate lager and company, this is a pretty substantial trip into time, as Dornenreich persist in their evolution from some folk metal guys into a cultural artifact.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

http://www.flammentriebe.com/