12 Jun 2021

World Yet Known to Man - Blood Incantation

The first encounter with Blood Incantation was through their first EP Interdimensional Extinction, in 2015. This mini-release summarized the work of the band up to that point, re-working on compositions from their earlier demo tapes, (even though the infamous untitled rehearsal that would later become "The Giza Power Plant" is not present here), so it was the most complete effort at this given time. Popularity hadn't exploded yet and still as Blood Incantation was lurking in the underground, the main discussion was if it is a project honoring veteran entities like Demilich or Timeghoul, or it follows a direction of its own. Musical comparisons between these names are hardly insubstantial, but you can tell of the members' influences  even by looking the 2014 demo Astral Spells artwork, side by side with the tape art of Regurgitation of Blood, from 1991. I always found some distant Slugathor references to their music apart from the more obvious aforementioned bands, yet by now they have expanded their palette significantly.  

Having said this, I didn't actually know what to expect before listening to Interdimensional Extinction as I didn't know any of this information yet. The unreadable logo drew my attention, as well as the black / white space related artwork, which showed Blood Incantation's lyrical themes and made it even more interesting. At the same time, this EP played alongside Skelethal's Interstallar Knowledge of the Purple Entity EP, released just a year before, so these two conceptual releases helped each other to my positive stance towards such topics in general. Needless to point out that all the shenanigans regarding lyrics, artworks or aesthetics, can not really save an album if it has mediocre material, which is why Interdimensional Extinction sky rocketed to the top for me on that year as one of the best EPs of 2015. Blood Incantation's technical mastery becomes apparent immediately, as the complex guitars unfold. The riffs are heavy. The drums are perfectly played. The solos hold meaning. Each track is so well made, it leaves the listener scratching their head by trying to equate it with other death metal bands of its time. Interdimensional Extinction is not simply the first Blood Incantation release of bigger magnitude, it isn't just some old tracks re-recorded, it was the band's statement to try and step out of their influences' shadows and grow on their own. The EP features flawless material, the first three out of four tracks contain exceptional death metal that doesn't limit itself to the term, with potency and excellent flow. Slightly more abstract jamming takes place in the final tune "Subterranean Aeon", which has only a handful of lyrics. Such playing would later become a vital part in Blood Incantation's body of work. 

With this momentum, the next step of a band can prove crucial in deciding its fate and especially in this case when Blood Incantation are battling the waves of old school death metal fans grumbling about originality. A split with Spectral Voice, a brother band sharing almost all members, featuring one of their older tracks didn't spare clear signs on their intentions and what would be the following move. It look less than a year to the release of the debut full length album Starspawn, through Dark Descent Records, who had supported them with Interdimensional Extinction as well. Once again with prolific artwork (this time by Don Dixon), with some color addition and completely new compositions, Starspawn was the turning point that could decide whether the community would care about Blood Incantation at all after this release. Before going into a record, you spend some time looking at the tracks, their duration, the titles and everything around the listening itself. I thought a risk had already been taken when I saw a thirteen minute long track as the first in the album, and the shorter ones actually towards the end. From what countless metal bands have been doing so far, this is already pretty counter intuitive. 

And this is one of the legs the not impressed death metal fans stand on, among other things. Even if I am not one of them, such tracklists being called weak is a frequent argument against Blood Incantation, as well as the fact that each album "doesn't feature enough music". This would be true if one assumes that interludes and instrumental moments are only filler parts of a death metal record, but modern bands have finally arrived to burst that bubble with compensating brutality with atmosphere, something that has been not simply missing, but was an unknown concept in the vast majority of albums out there. The comfort in which Blood Incantation dances between more fluid, progressive parts with no vocals, to full-on heaviness, is remarkable and one of its kind at the time period it's being made. As much of a brilliant band Timeghoul were in the early - mid 90's, the same brilliance flows in the veins of Blood Incantation in the 21st century. And yes, Starspawn is breathtaking. All the artistic edges of the band are glorified in every second of this record, the stellar music is overwhelming in what should be one of the most recognized death metal moments of its decade, if it wasn't for the band's second full length that came out three years later.

Clearly Starspawn deserves a lot of replays, and even after that, it does not get boring. In 2016, the scene now started taking Blood Incantation more seriously, as they got mad promotion from all around, the people who didn't totally get the fuss were wondering more and more. It's in 2019 when the real storm hits. The band, after having spent three years of strenuous song writing, with some rehearsals for songs taking up months, releases their second full length album Hidden History of the Human Race. The topics of alien life, space and technology, through well-written lyrics, are crystal clear and a landmark for Blood Incantation by now. Another piece of art by Bruce Pennington is used, this time the cover of the book Space, Time and Nathaniel by Brian Aldiss. While a more obscure Canadian brutal death metal band named Agony, had used the same art for their debut Apocalyptic Dawning (another worthy record for you to listen to by the way), Blood Incantation took proper rights for usage of the art. "The Giza Power Plant" is the only old composition (from ~2013), and the other three tracks, including a mammoth eighteen minute piece "Awakening from the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)", are brand new.

Hidden History of the Human Race features another instrumental track, where the former jamming tendencies have grown out of death metal into a mixture of psychedelic / post / death metal that depicts the band's clear forward thinking character. Demilich's own Antti Boman does feature vocals here, just to confirm that there are no artistic gaps between these bands. The opener "Slave Species of the Gods" is insanely catchy, overly aggressive and hammers top-notch riffing from the band, it's a memorable future classic track to characterize Blood Incantation and an immediate attention catcher, in other words the ideal opener. Of course, the last track, in all its duration, makes up for the wildest experience you can get from them. The record splashed all over the metal media and not only, got extreme levels of coverage, and history has already been made. Such a natural and coherent group, whose live shows sound even better than the captivating studio sound, whose members also have several side-projects with remarkable material, can't hold back the truth about how much talent and potential these individuals have. Hidden History of the Human Race is Blood Incantation's establishing mark and a point of discussion for many years to come.

I don't know if they took their album name from the Cremo / Thompson book with the same title, released in 1999, but combined with the cover art, and then the colossal music with all its directional branches, constitutes to this masterpiece, that not everyone has to understand necessarily. All of their material are on regular repeat, nothing has grown old and there have been insanely good moments since day one. It has now been a bit quiet again in the Blood Incantation camp, I'm wondering if the next work of the band is being prepared as we speak. It is a band that has sky rocketed to the top, caused polarization on the way, but with undeniably high level and competent musicianship, the slightest activity from now on will cause the death metal scene to stir again. 


5 Jun 2021

Portal - Avow

A confusing headache

The Australian band Portal have a long history since their inception in the mid 90’s and definitely one of the most unique projects in extreme metal, posing as a challenge to the ears even of experienced listeners. There are not a lot – if any – other artists that manipulate sound like them, as the term death metal is only set by convenience and not because it is reminiscent of the genre’s typical examples. In fact, it couldn’t be more far away. It’s not driven by extreme technicality either, but instead wrapped around tense and ugly cacophony that shreds the average idea of riff / song structure completely. 

Big shoes had to be filled after their, in my opinion, most dominant album to date, Ion from 2018. That record has their craft mastered and in frenzy, with a cutting edge production, fully aggressive and non-linear turnarounds that I still haven’t recovered from since it was released three years ago. I learned the band with Swarth, another beloved but not their best album, while the further back one goes, more and more murkiness thrives in their material. I think Portal had a great decade in the 10’s, but every time I am through with one of their releases I don’t feel like expecting another one. This makes the waiting time between records easy, but to experience new work is always a new challenge, especially when it’s not one but two full albums. As the release of Avow had been announced for the year, the band dropped a second surprise album the same day, named Hagbulbia, and the way I decided to listen to these was one after the other and with no prior reading / listening to singles or sneak peaks of what they might contain. Such is this band that it is very difficult to have your attention elsewhere when they’re playing. At first glance, it can be noticed how they return to dark grey / black cover art after the slight more different artwork of Vexovoid and Ion, which also hints the earlier records.

I don’t have any kind of expectations before going into a Portal record, mainly because of the kind of uniqueness they have. And honestly, Avow takes off with its longest track “Catafalque” that half way through was for me rather dull and ineffective in what this band achieves usually. The cutthroat sound of Ion is missing but the composition itself feels like it’s halting, it gets too repetitive with unimaginative riffing and delivers not even close to the impact that the listener is used to from this extraordinary project. The same frustrating pace is kept with the second track “Eye”, both of which do not appear to me as Portal’s bright moments when it comes to longer running tracks (“Olde Guarde” from Ion was brilliant). Such mannerism of slower, more minimal parts in their songs apart from the frenetic faster moments, seems to be overly exercised in Avow as Portal adapt more and more clearer noise elements (again, the noise track from Ion was brilliant) but it doesn’t manage to maintain the crushing atmosphere it aims for, while at the same time being quite unstable between its different songs. For its first half, the record does not have by any means the successful flow of previous releases.

Going harder and radically more extreme, as Portal used to do, is a rare occurrence in Avow. A few instances in “Manor of Speaking” bring back some of this glory, as well as the last track “Drain”, but there is not much more other than unfathomable monotony with unclear purpose, at least to me. I don’t think I have heard a piece as repetitive and predictable as “Bode” from the group for example, which shows how for the most part either they didn’t really know how to fill the empty parts of their compositions, or the experiment simply failed in this release. At least it is not easygoing or any softer at all than what we are used from them, and the uncommon song constructions are presented through the band’s own mindset, so you will definitely recognize this as a Portal record from the first seconds. In a more general sense, it could still be enjoyed a lot from the band’s fans, while for me the idea will be simple from now on, sticking to specific older material where real scare and substantial darkness are present. Comparing Ion and this back to back, is a quite clear indication of this band’s highs and lows.

Portal went for a form of musical disintegration with Avow, which still has the main elements of the band that makes them loved among their fans. For me, the idea was not acutely conveyed, as I found several times throughout the listen that the material was aching and the tracks didn’t deliver, resulting in an overall underwhelming effort with just a few fine, scattered moments. As for Hagbulbia, a pure noise record with some hints authentic intensity, it was this, that saved the day and the year in regards to the band for me. In an otherwise disappointing effort, Portal decide to make some material that steps even further from metal and more into abusive electronics, joined by The Curator’s imposing vocals makes up a fine outcome. 

Damage “Avow” : 2/5 [Below Average]
Damage “Hagbulbia”: 3/5 [Good]


30 May 2021

Dödsrit - Mortal Coil

Forlorn but marching forward

It is not very often that you see crust bands have overly long compositions. On the contrary, hardcore crust albums often have a purposefully noisy sound and many, short and hard hitting tracks. Of course, it’s not always the case, especially when it comes to Dödsrit, an already established band who made its name through their valiant ideological stances and high level musicianship. With their first two records in 2017 and 2018, they put forth a menacing blend of crust and black metal, which is combination  often exercised by underground acts but rarely with such efficiency. After a break of three years, the world is introduced Dödsrit’s next tour de force, Mortal Coil, a worthy successor of their previous work Spirit Crusher.

This band’s releases have common traits in terms of structure, and this new record goes along the same pattern not only in the number of tracks but also in the length as it was done in the previous one. Four pieces full of vibrant, melodic black metal, something that is now more defined with a personal touch as a driving factor. The crust elements are always present, with parts of classic d-beat and punkish guitar lines coming and going, yet Dödsrit now devote significant chunks of their compositions to employing melodic sequences that could be found in melodic or even atmospheric / post-black metal. The production in Mortal Coil is knowingly clear, and what stands out in the music is the abundance of wonderful ideas and how they are puzzled together into coherent tunes. The vocals vary from high pitched screaming to shouting and the overall atmosphere of the album is emotionally burdened and ecstatic, it would not be labeled as dark but instead, lively, angry and straightforward. Once again, I was amazed by the beautiful written lyrics in Mortal Coil, which -as the title would suggest- describe a nature of gloom and frailty in human life from a personal perspective.

Different aspects of the album work very well together and create a result that was for me, more memorable than the band’s previous works. There’s several moments that Dödsrit truly hit gold, be it the frivolous solos at various parts (for example in the self-titled track, which also has a pretty powerful opening), the aching vocals or the build-up sessions. Each song is musically rich and a complete journey on its own, full of epicness and intensity. Starting from “The Third Door”, a wicked eleven minute piece that contains fast paced lines, a lot of melody, distinct crust passages, the listener is filled with satisfaction and enjoyment after it’s concluded, and that’s only the beginning. Dödsrit are great at building climactic moments in their material and Mortal Coil is a fine example of that as well, where the content is balanced and well written through and through. And while it isn’t constantly crust, it’s not that close to the traditional way of black metal, which puts the band in its own spot within this large Venn diagram, by having having an overall character that doesn’t totally reminisce bands of the same genre even. Take a track like “Shallow Graves”, which makes it hard to miss just how marvelous all the guitar lines are, a truly shining melodic black / crust course.

Previous records were enjoyable for me but I never stuck around too long with Dödsrit. I found myself digging Mortal Coil a lot more than I expected, as it is unmistakable how well it provokes and delivers the atmosphere and the feelings, from the sincere musicians to the listener / receiver. It is a great record  which could appeal to more ears out there than just the extreme metal scene, and it comes from a band that has its head straight not only musically but also outside that. In case they were working on this for the last three years, the efforts were totally fruitful and they have been elevated to my eyes through this notable work of art.

Damage: 4/5 [Excellent]


22 May 2021

Ungfell - Es grauet

They are their own masters

For me, Ungfell's first album Tôtbringære struck out of the blue and as rapidly as thunder in 2017, a record that should be included in the top debuts of that year and brought a lot of attention to the project. Having just a couple of demos prior to that, they presented a semi-folk / semi-medieval style of fast paced black metal with dynamic, enterprising riffs and wonderful acoustic passages. The only aspect that could have been handled better in Tôtbringære was the harsh production, which was completely turned around with the clear production of their second work Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz, a year later.

What characterizes both these records is how energetic and memorable the guitar parts are. Ungfell construct tracks with unique excess, they have a recognizable sound and while often being hard hitting, they also give comedic hints in their music that makes the result an even more challenging and epic black metal framework. It's now been three years since Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz and the band returns with an effort that not only goes hand in hand with their previous full length, but also clears out the signs of growth in the compositions as well as overall musicianship. Es grauet can be considered the most accessible of their material, because of its even clearer and fuller production, and even at the cover art one can see the evolution from a medieval sketch in 2017 to today's complex, colorful scenes. Ungfell don't spare the listener of any of their frequent tricks in this album either, and again for me the most lethal weapon in their arsenal is the use of the guitars, distorted and not only. Even after a couple of listens you are hooked to these riffs, and the tracks can be easily recognized from one another, while the band has added several different elements adequately to not spoil the repetition.

Once listening to Es grauet, make sure to pay attention to all the different components of the tracks and focus on the melodies, as the band doesn't feel like repeating too much even their most potent moments. It is a treat to fit a lot of top-notch ideas in each track, and Ungfell take it a step further by avoiding even the slightest monotony. Of course, the record maintains its standard character, which is enriched by great samples (for example the sound of sheep bells, rain, other farm animals or church bells, used in some tracks) and finally some well recorded clean vocals. This is more prominent in the two last tracks (a vocal outro and the remarkable penultimate piece "D Unheilspfaffä vom Heinzäbärg"), but also in "Mord im Tobel". The hidden Easter egg of a short sample sound of a "frog honk" (I will name it like this), as it has been placed in parts of the previous records, is also present here as an extra inside joke from the band to the audience, to not only take this music more seriously than they should, but also life in general. Of course, I'm not going to give out which track has it. A couple of interludes with acoustic guitars scattered in the album, are the only songs with short duration, but I didn't find a particularly dull moment in its entirety. There is a lot of interesting content from start to finish in Es grauet, and if Ungfell had been perfecting this for the last three years, they totally succeeded.

I'm still completely in the dark regarding the lyrics or track titles of this band. This won't stop you from appreciating a band that now, with their third release, dares to step into more spotlight not by watering down its material, but by getting stronger and stronger. As -for me- the head of the Helvetic Underground Committee, Ungfell deserve all they talk they get as a rising band from our time period to be remembered in the future. Es grauet narrates another awesome tale, and it doesn't get rusty at all no matter how much you have it consecutively on repeat. After three highly emphatic albums, you can now be sure that this is not an one-night success band. 

Damage: 4/5 [Excellent]

16 May 2021

Grave Miasma - Abyss of Wrathful Deities

Not as good as it should have been

A long time ago, back in 2013, right before Grave Miasma’s debut Odori Sepulcrorum was about to be released, I was spending a lot of time with the early Cruciamentum material, their demos and especially 2011’s EP Engulfed in Desolation. Of course, it was already a few years after Dead Congregation’s massive Graves of the Archangels (a death metal classic from one of the best bands the genre has ever seen), yet a new band of the same elements was about to come out with their own first work. And at the time, that band was the talk of the town, highly anticipated and hugely praised by the scene as the spiritual successors (along the other two bands) of the Incantation school of thought.

Odori Sepulcrorum had the expected impact. I don’t know if the term “cavernous” was used for modern bands up to that point, but it was surely established these years and expanded further later on, in what seems now like an old school “revival” with a lot of new names. Ever since, there wasn’t any significant activity from Grave Miasma except an EP in 2016, which would just raise the stakes of any follow-up work higher and higher, until we arrive to 2021, and why Abyss of Wrathful Deities, their second album after Odori Sepulcrorum, eight years later, might be the most anticipated death metal record of the year so far. Being a driving factor in this particular sub-style of the genre, I wanted Grave Miasma to live up to their name and deliver a ground shaking work, but in reality it doesn’t reach the starry heights it aims for. We’re talking about an album faithfully following the formula, offering an abundance of brutality with hammering drums and guitars, painful growls and conceptual twists towards Middle Eastern meditation thematics that also influence the music itself. At the same time, Abyss of Wrathful Deities, while seemingly explosive at the first listen, loses a bit of its shine after it’s repeated a lot. And such an effect have albums that are a little bit more one-dimensional than what they seem.

Already from the art itself, the record by no means has a cover reminiscent of the visual mastery other death metal albums of that kind have. To me, the title also feels equally puerile, questioning the choices of the band when it comes to the album’s textual part and aesthetics. Frankly, it baffles me to think that such a cover art / album title would be conceived and accepted among the members of Grave Miasma, given that the tracks themselves are full of well-written lyrics. As a band that thrives on its crippling atmosphere, the fog has cleared out a lot in Abyss of Wrathful Deities and its clear production brings to the surface parts that are musically fragile, for example, the transitions between “Erudite Decomposition” and “Under the Megalith” are fine pointers of these filler moments, where the record doesn’t even fill that heavy anymore. The predictability is also quite high after just a couple of tracks, where the listener has already listened to how fast Grave Miasma will play, as well as their Slayer-ish frantic solo additions here and there. The intensity is even more watered down in following songs like “Demons of the Sand” and an unnecessary interlude, pointing out that Abyss of Wrathful Deities has, as a whole, mediocre content. “Rogyapa” can be considered a highlight (strongly reminding of their brother band Cruciamentum here) as well as the last track of the record “Kingdoms Beyond Kallash”, which also is slightly more interesting to listen to.

I can imagine how Abyss of Wrathful Deities might be enjoyed all around by death metal listeners, however in my point of view, it doesn’t compare in terms of quality, neither to their previous material neither to the other-like minded artists. The world needs more of Charnel Passages, and less of this. Maybe listen to some Obliteration even, and you will get a better slap in the face than this. This album is a bit of a let down and a victim of its own ambition, Grave Miasma could have done miracles within the genre but didn’t keep up with some consistency. While it isn’t a totally poorly made effort, and it will probably get the same blind praise as they have previously had, yet once you scratch the surface slightly more violently, you will also see the inner cracks.

Damage: 2.5/5 [Average]


20 Dec 2020

Albums of the Year 2020

Last year, I closed this post by giving a shoutout "that's all folks, see you next year and stay alive". Ironically enough, I should never have opened my mouth and give any kind of wishes on a year that proved to be one hell of an amusement park ride, constantly feeling like a nightmare simulation you can`t wake up from. Misery and existential dread didn`t just knock on our doorsteps, it came in crushing down the house, left everything in splinters and locked down the pandemonium of the century.

17 Dec 2020

Top 10 EPs of 2020

Welcome back. I'm kicking off this year's lists posts with one that I would post a bit later on usually but this time, it was actually the one that was finished first. At the same time, 2020 was the year I listened to the most EPs compared to past years, reaching 84 in number, when I normally go for half that. Many bands give equal attention to their Extended Plays as they do to full lengths, depicting important steps in their careers, and there were several ones this year that I considered to be great to listen to. The genre variation will not surprise you because there almost isn't any, so let's look into some 2020's fabulous extreme metal mini-albums.

15 Dec 2020

Top 10 Greek Metal Albums of 2020

Since the very first years, to be on the lookout for new coming and underground bands from your whereabouts has been of vital importance, to encourage locally relevant quality. Two events to point out were the return of the ancient band Piranha, and the release of Revenge's Massacre In Heaven along with its story, an album that didn't get any coverage as far as I am aware of. To subjects closer to me, sadly I listened to Eriphion's second album (with its intriguing cover that refers more into some DIY post-punk than black metal) too late, and it would be a possible runner up for this list. 

Top 10 Greek Metal of 2020:

10. Nox Formulae - Drakon Darshan Satan
9. This Is Past - Labyrinth
8. Obsecration - Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead
7. Katavasia - Magnus Venator
6. Death Courier - Necrotic Verses
5. Revenge - Massacre in Heaven
4. Dephosphorus - Sublimation
3. Utkena - Nex Fornix
2. Kawir - Adrasteia
1. Mystras - Castles Conquered and Reclaimed