I hadn't listened to Mystical Thieves in approximately 25 years, since I discovered the cassette haunting a discount bin at a record store at the local mall, and thought the cover artwork was cool enough to take it home for a few bucks. Pure Metal Records had a bit of a reputation as a Christian metal label, sure, but at the time I was around 15-16 and religiously independent (having walked out on confirmation at my parents' church), I was never one to really hold this as a sole reason to avoid a band. In fact, I had a number of pretty decent Christian thrash and heavy metal tapes in my stash, with names like Vengeance Rising, Deliverance, and so forth, and for all external purposes the Light Force sophomore seemed like it might join them...
...which, of course, was wishful thinking, because Mystical Thieves sucks. The few among you who might even be aware of this band probably recognize it as Australian Steve Rowe's previous band before he launched Mortification, a heavier thrash/death metal outfit which has gone on to produce a rather long and prolific career which even had some material licensed to labels like Nuclear Blast. I am not a big fan of that band, never have been... a few of the earlier CDs like Scrolls of the Megilloth had some potential there, but although the lyrics were fairly Christian all along, the band seemed to dumb itself down on subsequent releases through the 90s. Love them or hate them, though, this man soldiers on; irregardless of what the extreme metal audience thinks, there is no question he is pretty serious and unshakeable in his commitment to both his faith and his bog standard death metal. All the power to him, or Power to him...you get the point. But speaking of 'power', Light Force is considered one of those earlier examples of power metal which was difficult to distinguish from the later phase NWOBHM of the time...certainly it has little of the fire and fury of the USPM in the 80s, or little fire and fury AT ALL.
Rowe was the bassist here, and he's perhaps the album's most overt culprit of Steve Harris' playing in Iron Maiden, with loads of pluggy, driving triplets that combine with the melodic guitar harmonies to produce an atmosphere highly redolent of things like Number of the Beast, Powerslave, Piece of Mind and Somewhere in Time; whether trudging along or erupting in an anthem speed much like they do in the album's titular opener. The problem here is that the riffs are just so bloody uninspired, that even as a teen I found them mind numbingly boring and predictable in an era that was producing works like Thundersteel, Master Control, No Exit or even Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, which is more or less everything some of these songs attempt, but exponentially superior. The beginnings, middles and ends of these cuts are quite uninspiring while a little TOO inspired, and there are lots of choices that don't really make much sense, seemingly amateur like when Rowe starts frenzying on the bass at the end of the opening cut, only to have it all just...whisked away.
Even worse, the singer here is just so painfully average that it feels as if he's extremely hung-over and just trying to make anything stick. Not the worst intonation I've heard, but he hangs out too much in that upper mid-range, sounding sloshed and entirely incapable of tackling a proper chorus. Hell, if you're going to be doing a Maiden-ish thing, wouldn't you want a singer who can dominate the material with some range and power? There are particular tracks where he gets more potent to the degree that it doesn't come off offensively lazy, but generally these are also tunes where the rhythm guitars also come together in a more powerful, if not any more memorable combination like in "Crossfire" or the more forceful, speed-metal approach of "City Streets", which is a style I wish they would have adopted on far more of the album, since it shows a meaner edge and kind of abandons the aimless airiness of the title track. But then, there is very little consistency on the record for which they could capitalize on such momentum..."Metal Missionaries" feels like so much tired mid paced Judas Priest worship, while "Searching" had a few insipid callbacks to Sabbath stuff.
If the music is weak, the production is weaker, with Rowe's bass level set just about the same as the rhythm guitar, stealing some of its bite without supplementing enough low end thunder. It all feels thin and wimpy, and the drums sound like they're being played half the time by banging on tin cans and bicycle chains. Very little force or muscle. Perhaps the only part of the music that felt slightly invigorating were when the leads broke out over some of the rhythms in the bridges, they definitely have that feel of wild abandon so precious to traditional 80s speed, heavy and power metal, but it's such a chore to get around to them that who even cares? In the end, Mystical Thieves is just dull and third rate Australian metal with nothing going for it when you could just put on the Hobbs' Angel of Death and hear how it really needed to be done. Rowe would move on to bigger and better things, because Mortification was certainly a step up from this, but the Light Force sophomore seems in retrospect just a waste of decent artwork with an evocative 70s/80s Michael Whelan feel.
Verdict: Fail [3.5/10] (No, no, no mind control, it's a Satanic craze!)
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Monday, May 18, 2015
Crypt of the Devil is not exactly the second coming of The Bleeding, and I've already hinted that it does not surpass the catchy Undead, but it's interesting how it partially mirrors recent Cannibal Corpse fare like Torture in its construction. The riffing progressions here are corpulent, adventurous in a semi-clinical death metal fashion, often akin to records like Bloodthirst which rank among Barnes' alma mater at their prime. Though some of the punch to the patterns does exude a Cannabis feel, the guitars are more muscular in the Six Feet Under fashion, the bass lines oozing like a leaky whiskey still into the swamp water, and a few bridges accelerate into some tense patterns where a few more melodic, trilling hooks offer aural callbacks to Barnes' most famous appearances. Some of the harmonic guitars splayed out over meatier rhythm tracks in lead hooks feel similar to what Carcass did on their reunion record, and even though there's a general sameness between a number of the cuts, you can often expect the unexpected, with a great lead sequence or riff break coming out of nowhere which is suddenly more adept and memorable than the rest of the disc. The drumming and bass often ceded to the density of the riffs, and Barnes growls a little too monotonous for what is happening around them, but that was occasionally the case on Undead and it did not dull my reaction to the songwriting whatsoever.
Coupled with the classic death metal cover artwork, Crypt of the Devil is really just what these guys have been capable of delivering to us all along, when they weren't too busy being lazy with lopsided, meat head groove death. It feels like both a self-tribute to those final years of Barnes' run with his old band, and a more involved and musical direction for the band to progress towards in the future, even if these particular player were only along for the studio album itself. It's not going to be a popular opinion to take the guy seriously after so many years of keyboard crusader mockery through the metal underground, but it very clearly sounds like that more legitimate Six Feet Under, akin to what we heard three years ago that turned at least my reality upside down. This is unquestionably the death metal that these men was always meant for, almost entirely eschewing the dumbed down formulae that filled out so many of those first 15 Metal Blade years, and while Crypt of the Devil is hardly the stuff of legend or even the stuff you'll be humming along to in your head six months from now, I am enjoying an age in which I'll see this band's logo somewhere and not take the easy reaction to write it off. Just Death Metal 101, straight from one of the campus alumni and assisted by a number of ace grad students who want to make him sound as good as possible.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Monday, May 11, 2015
Legions of razor-edged tremolo pickings fluctuate against higher-pitched, dissonant atmospherics to produce an unsettling but persistently forceful experience, while the drumming is more or less an engine of madness firing up every nauseating narcotic fit of the rhythm guitar. Bass lines are crud coated, sparse grime like what you'd find on the hull of some filthy cargo liner left in a polluted port too long, and then the resulting mass of writhing, blasting. It's not punishing to the point of monotony or irritation, because the duo knows precisely when to let an atmospheric passage take over the proceedings, where simpler guitars will simmer off a more minimal beat and the caustic growls are spent with a little more tortured sustain. A lot of rhythm guitars in tunes like "Narcoanalysis" are used as an additional layer of percussion, creating this whirlwind of syringes and despair that escalates into thicker, monster double kick batteries that leave you so bruised that any release from their racket becomes a relief...and this will come in the form of creepy, cleaner guitars, samples and other embellishments which serve the discomfiture of the theme they're exploring. Sometimes this takes on an almost surreal abstract, dissonant fusion quality which feels like you're being rushed through an Emergency Room through various flows of time...faster...slower...
Sanity waxing and waning, life mistakes flashing before your eyes in a heartbeat. And to boot, the disc is fairly short, not overstaying its welcome. Neither does it tax the listener to the point where he or she becomes too exhausted to ever want to ride the coaster again. Throes stays in character for the full five cuts and 34 minutes, but there is just enough unpredictability to each individual piece that you won't ever quite work out exactly where it's going until the storm is already knocking on your door and by then it's usually too late to find shelter. There are certainly some riff progressions which are stronger than others, the latter usually being those that are used as chugs and 'emphasis' for a more strenuous, muscular production, but even if this is one area that lacks a little nuance, the guitars are not all mindless and meandering, but rather focused and functional, flossing your brain with callous barbwire at their most active, lulling you into a cruel insecurity when not. As extreme as it gets, the album is not about showing off, but about contrasting the experiences of flailing anxiety, vertigo, nightmare and self-annihilation with sedation. Only a coma can cure it, just hope you'll wake up from this one.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, May 8, 2015
In fact, it's pretty much that entire album, only performed in the live setting and not a particularly good recording, so I'm willing to bet the album ends up as a collectors' trophy, perhaps hanging on a bedroom or basement wall for cred, and not listened through very much. That's not because the band does a poor job of it, in fact the music hits here just like the wall of force it provided in its studio incarnation, only being a relatively primitive gig recording I feel like the bass and rhythm guitar levels kind of blend into this monotonous murk slightly upstaged by the clap of the snares and cymbals and the roiling bark of David Vincent. You can make out the gist of the notes on parade, and sure they sound just as fresh and evil structurally as they should have in '89, especially during the percussion breaks in tunes like "Immortal Rites" where the tremolo picked guitars break out on their own. As a whole, the recording is rather clean, the pacing of the set non-stop and furious, but it all just feels rather dry due to the restraints of the equipment used to capture it, and there is just no situation in which I'd ever want to listen to this over Altars of Madness itself, where you get all that depth and vivid, extradimensional carnage. I mean, Earache and the band know this, thus the limited number of copies...more confidence would mean more in circulation, in more formats.
So it's visceral, and the band were ablaze at the dawn (and arguably summit) of their career, but the reels here just don't do the songs as much justice as you'd hope. Which is, let's be honest, not going to bother a lot of underground death metal fans who seek out demos and rarities and thrive off the very primacy that the older recordings espouse. It's still a thrill to hear "Chapel of Ghouls" and "Lord of All Fevers and Plagues", and if you're a huge Trey fan, he starts sporadically showboating for a few moments after "Chapel...", which is frankly irritating and unnecessary in any context, at any time. I guess my one takeaway here is that it just reminds me again of how great Altars was, and I hope the band sit there with this on a stereo, laugh at the shoddy recording quality (not the worst I've heard, but not very good), and then suddenly get swept up in reminiscence of when they were on top of the freaking world. After which, I sincerely hope they channel the nostalgia into their next studio recording, because I feel like they've been firing blanks since good old Y2K and I'm all about redemption. This is certainly a band capable of reining in the chaos of their roller coaster existence, and I want to believe they shall once again. But no matter what happens, we'll always have Altars of Madness, and at the very least this live recording reminds us (or reveals to us) how incendiary they were in front of a crowd. The band on this vinyl was a great one, regardless of any auditory deficiency.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Though several of their earlier albums were cut more directly from a black metal cloth, the band had taken a turn for the slightly more accessible with their prior record Kurbads, which was among their best material to date, and sixth album Senprūsija ('Old Prussia') is a loyal followup to that with grimmer artwork and a lot more aural callbacks to older discs like Kauja pie saules (1998) and the Latvian Riflemen (2000), meshing together lattices of inspired, memorable Scandinavian-style black metal riffing with some overt heavy metal and blackened thrash influences. It's not that they constantly innovate the chord progressions, but they take great care to ensure that almost every guitar pattern on the record sticks to the ears, and there is this constant variation in the rhythms which is a mix of lethal intensity and more celebratory pomp we generally equate with the folk metal medium. The guitar tone is rich but cutting, anchored by just the perfect level of buzz on the bass and constantly punctuated with tasteful leads that honor a hard rock tradition without ever becoming exceedingly flashy or frivolous. Curious harmonies and an excellent balance of the drum kit round out the production to what is possibly their best ever, and I found there is nearly no means by which I could predict what exactly was about around most corners in the songwriting, though they never break their character.
Character. That's so important here, and rather than some bunch of misplaced teen angst troubadours diddling their fiddles in the Renaissance Faire restrooms, Skyforger wins on personality over just the novelty of mixing heavy guitars in with traditionally inspired ballads and chords. Peter's vocals continue to serve as a Latvian analog to the great Martin Walkyier (Sabbat, Skyclad), gruff and growled and appropriately ugly alongside the deeper, clean backups; this approach happens to function fluently with the language, and the lack of anything remotely silly going on in the background enforces its efficacy. At the same time, I don't want to make this seem like its overly misanthropic or spiteful sounding music. Aggressive and well balanced, but there's a hearth-like quality, a warmth and pride that resonates through the structure of the songs, and the rawness of the bass and bleeding of some of the tremolo picked guitar lines never completely jump ship on that underground black metal aesthetic which permeated the first few records. This is a good band. The near hour of material they've assembled is extremely consistent, with many of my favorite tracks ("Melnas buras", "Nekas nav aizmirsts") coming even in the latter half when most albums' fire has already died down, just ceaseless successful recipes of traditional heavy/speed, black and thrash licks dowsed in the cauldron of history. Take the ladle and drink.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Their contribution to this split is unfortunately not exclusive. "Language of the Dead" is available on the bonus disc to At War With Reality, and it serves as a fairly loyal representation of their classic melodic Swedeath sound, hints of Dark Tranquility's morose melodic sensibility embodied in some pure Slaughter of the Soul pickings, the harmonies strong enough in listening but not very resonant once the smoke clears. Lindberg's vocals still have some bite to them, but they seem a little more phoned in, too 'level', lacking the uncouth emotional punch he once possessed in the band's heyday and thus occasionally smothered in the guitars. Though this is a solid tune, I can see why it was not part of the final selection for the full-length. The drums sound fine, the acoustic segue seems almost inevitable and doesn't really add much to the song except to reinforce the contrast such parts always created on their older recordings. The main issue for me is that it is ENTIRELY OUTCLASSED by its companion here...
I can assume "We Are Connected" will not remain a staple of this 7" either, likely to be released as a part of Voivod's forthcoming new full-length, but it is a fucking fantastic, upbeat track, with intricate Piggy-esque licks proving once again that Daniel Mongrain was the 'right guy for this job', adjoined to pumping bass-lines. Seriously, I was shocked to shit when I realized this wasn't actually Blacky playing the bass, but the Canadians' latest acquisition, countryman Dominique 'Rocky' Laroche, who is as much a mirror for his predecessor as Mongrain. This guy was hiding in a blues band? Welcome, my friend, come and drink the nano-water and stay a part of this well-oiled machinery forever, or at least until Blacky's next nostalgia trip. Say what you will about the album's title being a callback to the robotic voice in "Killing Technology", but this tune truly captures the essence of classics like Dimension Hatross and Nothingface in the contemporary flesh of Target Earth, and if it's a true indicator for the coming material then I am beyond stoked...fell in love with it the first time I heard it, and the courtship is still thriving.
Now, as for the 'value' of this Century Media split on the whole...I can't really say. Once "We Are Connected" appears on a proper full-length, then this is almost entirely worthless spare the cool black & white artwork, which was done for both bands in the Voivod style. In fact, I almost wish At the Gates had written a new tune for this with a slightly more dissonant, outlandish Voivod influence, now that would have been something to make this special, especially if the Canadians had an exclusive original too. "Language of the Dead" just seems like a lazy choice, probably a label choice, and it just has nothing in common with apart from, you know, it being metal on the same label. So ultimately, I'm feeling really neutral on this, apart from the artwork, and can't really recommend that anyone do anything more than sample the songs online and acquire the respective full-length albums at your convenience if you enjoyed what you hear. But Side B > Side A, all night, and all day.
Verdict: Indifference [5/10]
Monday, April 20, 2015
I don't have much of a personal issue with such hero worship, provided that it is manufactured with the transparency that Harvey and his partners in gore have created this. Savage Land is, of course, quite incapable of scoring accolades based on its nuance or originality. The furthest away it roams is to embellish itself with a few licks more directly redolent of late 80s Pestilence and Obituary than Death itself, but for the majority of the 35-36 minute playtime, it's more or less an emulation of the fabled Floridian's sophomore album, with a few liberties taken in the vocals and drums, as well as the obvious difference in production values that the gulf of a quarter century will provide. Now, if you were to ask me, I would tell you that my adoration of Leprosy itself is such that I would not rightly mind a few aesthetic doppelgangers, provided that they could infuse the inspiration with a few hints of their own personality, or at least write riffing progressions that captured my imagination in much the same way Chuck was, back when he was crafting those evil, menacing rhythm guitars and sinister vocals, not yet concerned with the 'brainier', less interesting polish of his later 90s output which I found to be hit or miss, often processed and pandered to near impotence. It's a pretty huge leap, after all, from 'this is the sound of corpses-rising-from-the-crypt awesome' to 'my nerdy Dream Theater friends in Music Theory 101 really appreciate this in between whiffs of their own bodily emissions'.
Naturally, then, I appreciate that Matt Harvey, Gus Rios, Robin Mazen and Daniel Gonzalez are on the same page with me. A formidable lineup, all of whom have flirted with American death metal in its numerous strains and forms, attempting the Herculean task of slobbing the knob of one of the very greatest death metal albums in human history. But sometimes, when faced with a sword swinging assassin, you find yourself unequipped with a pistol, and that the target is well out of range or your bullwhip, and Savage Land ends up a pseudo-sequel of divisive proportions; an admittedly fleshy production which doesn't seem to exhibit anything deeper than the skin of its precursor. No, this is not as shitty as Curse of the Crystal Skull, not by a long shot. On the surface, the tremolo picked riffs represent the clever crudeness of the original, and they're nothing quite lazy about them, but the way the notes are splayed out into patterns here is simply not evocative of anything more than the mere structural characteristics they are supposed to represent. It's not incompetent, nor is it really 'weak', but apart from a few of the lead patterns in cuts like "Trapped in Hell", I too rarely experienced any measure of genuine excitement here...it seems like a series of motions, a checklist of traits, like an Elvis impersonator who has the dress down, and the voice, but not the moves, or the ability to make his crowd get up and shake, rattle or roll.
I could see an argument for the more organic, responsive, flexible drums here to be labeled an improvement over Bill Andrews' performance on Leprosy, but I'd also point out that they are both products of their times. Which is fine, they work well by contemporary context and standards. But then, not all proponents for extremity in 1988 were Hoglan or Lombardo. I, for one, appreciated the straightforward approach to the beats back then, since I was just so absorbed with the true star of the show: Chuck's rhythm guitars and pestilent, boiling growls. The latter are handled well enough, but somewhat inconsequentially for the year 2015. Harvey does a deeper, more guttural rendition of his forebear, but the most it ever does is 'justice' to the original, with no further aspiration. We won't be chomping over the bit about Matt's growls in conversations, simply missing how we felt the first time we heard Scream Bloody Gore. The bass lines are fairly low-key and nondescript, which is pretty much a reflection of the old 80s Death, but I feel as if some good grooves and unique lines here would have actually helped embolden the experience, made it more compelling on the whole.
I've already mentioned that the guitars here were pretty close in build to the originals, just not as catchy. There are a few more clinical patterns in tunes like "Demonized" that do successfully resurrect the nostalgia they're after, but these are few and far between, and the majority of the meatier riffs are just straight into one ear and out the other, like human flesh entering and exiting the intestinal tracts of the brutes on the album cover. Sadly, no Wendigo mythology here, nothing is really absorbed into me, I do not gain the record's abilities. Its powers. I can't recount a single riff after 10-15 minutes of listening to the disc, whereas the album's inspiration still reigns in my conscience as it did when I was 14 years old, drooling over the Leprosy cassette my little sister picked up for me at the mall. 'Ew! Gross!' She said, not risking exposure to the thing without its shrink wrap. That's a long time ago, folks, and a lot to live up to, and perhaps it was absurd of me to think it ever could, but I at least maintained a little hope that there would be handful of tunes that lasted me a few months. Apart from some of the bridge/lead sequences, though, the album seems like somewhat of a letdown, if not a total dud. Where Exhumed really captures that hellish, slaughterhouse exhibition of its grinding influences, and earns a life of its own, the Gruesome debut just seems like a secondhand museum lecture. Not a bad one, mind you, but not one I'm likely to pay to experience again.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Three tunes, each over 16 minutes in length, and each devoted to one of the Three Fates of Greek mythology (or moirai, or Moerae). You could say that it was in the blood, because what the bands have produced is not just some simple gimmicky idea which falters in its execution, but a lethal dose of progressive gonzo annihilation which takes great liberties from the standard black metal troops to incorporate anything from thrash riffing to pure ambiance (especially in "Atropos") to just about anything they fucking want to include. You're still getting plenty of air-time for the more technical black metal attack, which is the primary impetus of several of the bands, but the fact is they have not padded out such swollen tracks with loads of redundant nonsense. Each "Clotho", "Lachesis" and "Atropos" serve as smorgasbords of the unexpected, without devolving into sheer, matchless chaos. Production is competent all around, and while the mixes of the three tracks do vary incrementally, the common length of the playgrounds they inhabit and stylistic variation are so consistent that it does feel like the bands were at least communicating telepathically throughout the process.
I've reviewed all of the full-length records by End to date, but "Atropos" is by far the most interesting thing they've ever created and I do hope it marks a glimpse into what they might create in the future. Vacantfield has a notably more progressive/thrash component to its composition, but they never fail to entice me with all the jarring effects, decrepit vocals and subtle touches like the keys. As for Awe, well this is a band involving members of at least one other superb Hellas black metal band, which I am not presently at liberty to say, but tonally their contribution "Clotho" is the best at forcing the black metal motif with a lot of dissonance and some really evil breakdown riffs which are among the most fucking tremendous across the entire experience. Instruments on the whole are mixed to an infectious level of clarity which does not entirely eschew the rawness of the parent genre, but allows the listener to more easily ingest the psychotic musical spasms. Not all the riffs are gold, and there are some moments through each of the cuts which end up less engaging than their surroundings, but
all told, it's a really cool recording. Probably the most intriguing split since Dis Pater's Converge, Rivers of Hell from 2013, in which the Australian musician explore a similar mythic concept through three of his own projects. Track this down, whether you're a fan of the more eccentric Greek black metal wizards or just compelling extreme music in general. Fucking great.
Verdict: Win [8.5] (how fool a god can be)
Monday, April 13, 2015
This is essentially a rehearsal-level demo recording comprised of six tracks, half of which are intros and interludes and the other full-on bursts of full-on spite which shift between melodic/melancholic chord patterns ("Winter Wrath" itself) redolent of the Scandinavian second wave, and a nastier set of Hellhammer/Bathory barrages ("Strife") which date back to an even more primordial origin in the 80s. The music is unfailingly simple and merciless, and that's rather the point. Stylistic parameters here are indeed pretty narrow, but that's not to say that Noctarth, the sole musician responsible lacks the wherewithal to incorporate a little variation, to make the song structures more entertaining than they might otherwise prove if he beat on the instruments for redundant 7-9 minute epics. On some fundamental level, while we've heard these chord progressions many times in the past, and the rasped nihilism of the vocals is nothing new, and the style lacks any semblance of nuance, there's still a soft spot there for the lightless, raw fury these recordings espouse, and Winter Wrath, for any of its faults, does function solely on that level. It looks like it sounds, there are no gimmicks and its author, who is not visiting his first rodeo here, has absolutely no delusion about what it represents.
That said, there are a few components to this which felt a little lacking. For one, of the three shorter instrumental pieces on the demo, I felt like only the first was a proper set-up and companion to the majority of the music. The doomed, drifting harmonies of "Forgotten Fields" and wall of saddened feedback and noises which make up the "Outro" are not unpleasant listens, but I didn't feel like they really contributed to the feel of the CD-R overall. The other issue here is the drumming, which is as raucous and cluttered as you'd expect on a lot of these styles of tapes and demos. There were points where I felt like the timing was a little messy, but really it's just that disparate production of the snares, crashing cymbals and bass drums during the more intense batteries which gave me the impression I was rolling down a rocky hill while trapped in a crate. Fortunately the beats don't really drown out the simple, clobbering bombast of the riffs or vocals, but they were certainly distractions on a few of the tunes when I had the volume cranked. Last, while I have no aversion to really basic riffs like the black-punk used to fuel the namesake "Salvation" track, these were just a little too mundane to really carry that track.
But bear in mind: this is a very limited release, not intended for mass consumption or to be writ large across the black metal universe, and while I can fault it for its ground-level approach to songwriting and production, what it doesn't lack is sincerity. It's not as solitude-stricken or atmospheric as some of its once-prolific Australian kin like Striborg or Drowning in the Light. But no concessions are made, no filtering of purpose; this is the product of the dingy, murky basement from which it was spawned, and for a lot of embedded underworld souls, that is really quite enough. Winter Wrath is not going to win Noctarth a medal, and it's preemptively drowned out by so very many of its peers, but there's something satisfying to me that no matter how far the genre's elder statesmen have evolved their musical goals, there are guys out there putting together stuff like this.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Their aim is to more or less blend together an elixir of their Northern forebears from both the crispy, blackened thrash and pure second wave black metal cauldrons, so it's no surprise here that when hearing this, one would reflect upon anything from Bathory and Marduk to Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Gorgoroth; loads of blasting endowed with minor, dissonant chords or glints of malignant, atmospheric higher pitched guitars that provide the nightscape. This is a band which hearkens back to that guitar-driven almost exclusively, without embedding synthesizers into the metal compositions directly. There are ambient, ritualistic ports of the album which are largely instrumental sections, and also some acoustics in the intro to "Cathedral of Set" which help set up its Egyptian thematics, or the close of "Verba Inermis", but by and large these guys go with a sinister, distorted saturation delivered through a solid array of chord patterns and tempo shifts which offer me just enough variation that I perk up and pay attention...individual note processions might be fairly traditional, but how they pack each of the tunes together is where it gets a little less easy to predict, and the ambient pieces seem to be strategically set in the proper places to give the listener a little space to breathe in his/her cave.
Another album where the low end seems more of a subtext than an important plot point, and it does cause the album to lack a little in dimension. The vocals are wild though, from the expected rasps to arcane gang shouts, wavering mid-range wails, Nocturno Culto-like growls and other weirdness to showcase that Devathorn are at least interested in imbuing a little bit of personality into the performance than bog standard black metal bands will. On some level the guitar patterns can get a little technical, almost to a spastic level like Thy Darkened Shade, but the production and atmosphere are far more lo-fi and raw. The drums did not sound great, too tinny and crashy and not enough low-end power to feel them pounding in my ribcage, and the recording in its entirety feels really dry, where I think a little more voluminous depth and shadow would have transformed the same set of songs into something more memorable. Overall, though, I thought it captured the essence of the old Scandinavian underground quite faithfully, it's not likely to become a classic for this or any other era, but it was a more venomous, sulfuric, commanding experience than the first disc, and the lyrics were a fine precursor to some human sacrifice.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]