Monday, January 20, 2020

Cursed Altar - Midnight Reprisal (Review)

Origin: Canada
Label: Extinctionist Records
Release: January 11th, 2020
Type: Full Length


Extinctionist Records is a small underground label featuring a handful of raw black metal bands in the whereabouts of the US and Canada, as well as the unknown Swedish act Abzyrglak, that I know because I happened to listen to their promising 2019 demo, A Graveyard for Humanity..., last year and enjoyed myself. Looking into Cursed Altar's one and only member, Extinctionist, it seems like many of his personal projects are in his label too, which makes him rather busy and also responsible for a small corner in the underground scene with several solid mini-releases.

Having released two demos prior to that, he moved fast into the debut full length album, titled Midnight Reprisal, which clocks at almost half an hour and is only released in tape format (at least for now), a typical and well embraced tactic in the more obscure areas of black metal. I hadn't heard any of Cursed Altar's previous material, or almost any of Extinctionist's other projects, so Midnight Reprisal was basically the introduction to this person musical mindset and after listening to it for several times, the one name glowing all over my face is this: Ildjarn.

Despite the record's relatively short length (even though I was always fond of thirty minute albums), it features twelve tracks, which should make you think that most of them do not last very long, and that's the truth. There's several 1-2 minute tracks in Midnight Reprisal, while the longest are up to around 3, something that the aforementioned apparently big influence to this project, has also done in the past. From some track titles, Cursed Altar also hold an anti-human thematic concept, even though I found the boar in the artwork and some similar references in the album, very appealing for such a raw black metal release.

If you have ever listened to the black metal side of Ildjarn, you will immediately recognize the patterns in Midnight Reprisal too. Monotonous, scourging guitar riffs, in a simplistic and straightforward manner, based on only a couple of different ideas per song, which justifies their length as well as paves a very edgy road during the listen. Most of them are mostly middle paced, and the production is indeed fairly noisy, but not the extent the Norwegian mastermind used to record in the 90's.

The opening track "Ancient Cruelty" is one of the highlight moments for its interchange between the torturing guitar playing, and a few other that I liked more are "Lone Boar", "As the Final Breaths" and "Bewildered In Midnight Blackness". Midnight Reprisal is empowered a lot by its raspy, scourging vocals, a powerful tool painfully used in all of the tracks of the album. Assuming that his voice didn't have this power, the album would probably be unlistenable for me. At a couple of moments, Cursed Altar throw some extra elements in the songs, like the snail paced ending of "Last Night of Human" even though this doesn't really change the fact that this is very close to Ildjarn's music.

For its kind, Midnight Reprisal is a special record that needs an aware listener before being discarded as repetitive and dull. The musical ideas of Cursed Altar in this release do not make it unique but hold some personality and I was hooked to the album more than several, well-produced and recently released records. Raw black metal made hateful and aggressive, it doesn't rely on just a dusty production but offers minimalistic tracks, most likely inspired by an artistic outsider in the scene, without being a copycat of it (thumbs down Ødelegger). Extinctionist's other bands might not be like this but one day I should check some more.

Track listing:

1. Ancient Cruelty
2. Last Night for Human
3. My Revenge
4. As the Final Breaths
5. Tormented Rays
6. Bewildered in Midnight Blackness
7. Song of Rain
8. Darkness Consumes...
9. Shrouded Hate II: Reprisal
10. Screaming Wind
11. Lone Boar
12. Morning

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Dragged Into Sunlight - Terminal Aggressor II

Origin: United Kingdom
Label: Prosthetic Records
Release: January 10th, 2020
Type: Single


Right when I was wondering about the Dragged Into Sunlight camp, since I re-listened their remarkable collaboration album with family friendly project Gnaw their Tongues, named NV from 2015, this mini release came out and had me thinking that probably it's part of a bigger record for later this year. Yet, it seems the band has reached an impasse with their label Prosthetic Records, who released this track behind their backs and the members themselves will not have any profit at all from it.

By ignoring this, the fans should still do the right thing and not buy the track from Bandcamp, instead find it elsewhere and just support them through their Gofundme page (link below). Apart from all that, we are now into half an hour of new Dragged Into Sunlight material, and judging by the length of their previous two releases, NV and WidowMaker, one might as well trick themselves into thinking that this is a full album. 

Terminal Aggressor II is related to the band's first ever release from 10 years ago, which was also named Terminal Aggressor I and was in the same format of a single, long track. Their affiliations with noise have always been present in their discography, and that element doesn't shy away at all with Terminal Aggressor II, which could be based mostly on abrasive dark ambient / noise, than pure black metal. You will be treated with unsettling sounds, haunting samples, vocal screams and slow paced, painful parts that characterize Dragged Into Sunlight, well placed in a thirty minute tune that can be vaguely split in two fifteen minute sections.

Right around the fourteenth minute, and after a long multi-layered session of noise practicing, a drum tempo starts building up that gives way to the black metal part of the song. The vocals are tormenting and the guitar lines simple but effective, it doesn't increase speed at any point and generally presents a more meditative, noisy structure that gives out a listen quite far from comfortable. However, from what I believe the potential of Dragged Into Sunlight is, and as much as a nightmare this track is, I still think there was some space for them to push their boundaries. 

What happened with Prosthetic is rather strange since they have been there for quite some time now, but they deserve the support no matter what. My opinion is that this specific project can top many spooky-listening black metal / noise bands out there, they don't have the popularity they could have, and that's why I expect to be moved more than what happened with Terminal Aggressor II. A surely interesting listen, but well into Dragged Into Sunlight's comfort zone.

Track listing:

1. Terminal Aggressor II

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Yoth Iria - Under His Sway

Origin: Greece
Label: Repulsive Echo Records
Release: January 13th, 2020
Type: EP


On a roll with posts of new Greek releases and here's one of the most anticipated EPs that would come out this year, with everyone holding their breaths until it came out. Whoever has been following the Greek underground would have definitely noticed the return of Jim Mutilator (co-founder of Rotting Christ and original Varathron bassist) into action, teaming up with no other than Magus of Necromantia fame to form a new project named Yoth Iria

If you haven't been moved from your seat a little bit just by reading this, then you really don't have a clue on how much these two musicians influenced and helped the promotion and evolution of the black metal scene in Greece, from its first steps, during a time when even in Scandinavia the wave hadn't reached the shore yet. For Under His Sway, the contributing members are George Emannuel from Lucifer's Child on the guitars, and the best underground drummer from Greece, Maelstrom, who has played in all the best projects of our country.

Under His Sway features three tracks, from which one is a Rotting Christ cover and two brand new compositions from the duo. Even the choice of the track they covered, Christ's "Visions of the Dead Lover", made me cheer for this EP without having heard anything. As the most famous band from Greece, Rotting Christ usually have a handful of hit tracks covered by other bands again and again, while plenty of spectacular but lesser known tunes of theirs are left unheard. "Visions of the Dead Lover" honors the Thy Mighty Contract era of the band, and it's executed p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y by Yoth Iria. With a fresh air and production, working as if two points in the timeline of the band have absurdly met.

As for the first two tracks, it's like the EP is split into the side closer to Necromantia with the self-titled track, and the side closer to Rotting Christ with "Sid-Ed-Djinn", while that is not a completely definite statement. The melodies in the first are pure and beautiful, with the main guitar riff being quite memorable and the background keyboards (done by Jim's brother, John) are equally great. The second track has patterns very close to the middle paced ideas, as well as the faster parts that Rotting Christ have been using since their inception, with the stellar guitar work completely delivering the expected heavy epicness.

With just three songs, this EP serves as a masterclass of Greek black metal done by its inventors and old legends. While I'm not as much of a fanatic of the scene as others, I can see how people will get completely frantic about Under His Sway, and the only thing missing for me is more music by the project. A Yoth Iria full length album will be a serious issue to assimilate, as they might be the best crossover project the country has seen, and there has been many. In the meantime, as much as you want to replay Under His Sway, it doesn't get boring. Excellent.

Track listing:

1. Under His Sway
2. Sid-Ed-Djinn
3. Visions of the Dead Lover (Rotting Christ cover)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Empire of the Moon - Έκλειψις

Origin: Greece
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Release: January 10th, 2020
Type: Full Length


This band's first demo was released in 1997 and contained two purely pagan folk tracks, as it was uncommon but not completely unheard of from Greek black metal bands at the time. No one heard about Empire of the Moon since then, and even though its members are involved in the country's underground (for example, with Chaosbaphomet or Wampyrinacht), this project stayed in the shadows. The comeback happened unexpectedly with a debut full length in 2014 named Πανσέληνος (the Greek word for fullmoon), a rather solid album as a whole.

A very familiar musical pattern is actively followed on Έκλειψις (=eclipse), which nails the fixation of the group with the moon and exercises the ways of old school Greek black metal as much as possible. The tracks are epic with slight heavy metal hints, there are frequent keyboard background layers and shrieked vocals, as well as some clean voice chants here and there. It's hard to stress on something that makes Empire of the Moon unique, but I think fans who frantically listen to this type of black metal will enjoy it.

Some of the record's aspects could use some more expertise, like the sub-optimal drumming or the guitar work, which has its ups and downs throughout the listen. Parts of some songs contain the needed intensity, yet often Έκλειψις gets too repetitive for its own good and also doesn't hit as hard as one would expect, as Empire of the Moon may be aiming for a more dark and epic atmosphere than something intense. While they succeed to an extent, the often bland compositions betray them and do not really give the band an identity, especially in a sound so specific as Greek black metal. 

The production also plays its role, giving a feeling that the tracks were given a far from pointy mixing but instead were made warmer than their own good. Empire of the Moon try to strike some punches at times within the record, like in parts of the closing "Per Aspera Ad Lunae – IV. Son of Fire" or "Per Aspera Ad Lunae – I. The Resonance Within", but neither the sound nor the repetitiveness lets them get the message across. I was never a big fan of this kind of ritualistic clean vocal narration either, even when legit bands like Acherontas do it I just skip.

"Per Aspera Ad Lunae – II. Two Queens Appear" is one of the fine moments for 'Εκλειψις, as it is a bit more lively, has a couple of good musical ideas, the synths are combined nicely with the guitars and the structure and length well thought. One level above everything else in the album is also the sixth track "Devi Maha Devi", which features much more entertaining guitars and keeps its tempo, so these two pieces would be what I would suggest as a listen to someone getting into it now.

Apart from that, my issues with the soft sound and uninspiring tracks, which are hard for someone to figure out what band it is within Greek black metal, place Έκλειψις in an unfortunate position of being a substandard album. The recent year, new bands have brought the scene to the rise (Synteleia, or Funeral Storm, or many more) with solid offerings and notable music, should ring a bell to Empire of the Moon, who I really hope will find the drive they had in their previous album. It's a pity for such a nice looking logo to be on a simplistic cover art like this one too, just the cherry on top of mediocrity.

Track listing:

1. Arrival
2. Imperium Tridentis
3. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – I. The Resonance Within
4. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – II. Two Queens Appear
5. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – III. Descending
6. Devi Maha Devi
7. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – IV. Son of Fire 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Kawir - Adrasteia

Origin: Greece
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Release: January 10th, 2020
Type: Full Length


There is a distinct difference between Kawir's albums of the 00's compared with the 10's, when the band made a significant success with Ισόθεος in 2012, which might be their most well-crafted record to date and featured a production slightly more accessible to the underground metal scene. Since then, they have been laying on a bed of roses with a series of fine albums as well as world tours on their backs. Of course, the recognition is not uncalled for, as they are one of the first Greek black metal bands and one with a better integrity in terms of music, so they deserve whatever comes their way.

Among many Greek black metal bands, they have always heavily leaned on Ancient Greek mythology with album concepts and the feeling of the music, by far more than any other popular band (there are some obscure projects with strong connections to these aesthetics, you should look for them yourselves), and it has stayed like that for more than twenty five years now. And since this area is a bottomless pool of hints for inspiration, Kawir will never run out of conceptual ideas for their records. 

Adrasteia orbits around the female figure, and the title itself (αδράστεια in Greek) refers to the Goddess of revenge, which also connects to many of the themes of the tracks, which have to do with various macabre stories of Ancient Greek mythology involving women. The cover artwork is another piece added to this puzzle, revealing the thematology of the record. Kawir often use native language lyrics in their tunes and this is heavily used in Adrasteia as well, not to mention the flutes that directly relate to that time.

Musically, we find the band releasing a follow-up to a couple of very prosperous albums and it certainly doesn't seem to stress them at all, as they still sound confident and convincing in the beginning of the new decade. Each track has its story and it's a pity to skip any of them. Their structure is very characteristic of Kawir and quite distinct from the start with "Tydeus", a typical solid Kawir piece. I felt strong Rotting Christ influences in "Atalanti", while the blend of middle paced parts, epic melodies and harsher moments, flute sounds and backing choral vocals, is what puts Kawir on top of their field.

Clean vocals are introduced in the record (e.g. in "Medeia")and handled by Alexandros of Macabre Omen, while the one of a kind, impressive vocalist Lindy Fay Hella from Wardruna is doing the clean vocals in "Colchis". This track is very much in the spirit of Wardruna, with no distorted guitars but folk passages and a repetitive tone, standing as the equivalent Greek spirit of Wardruna, that had me thinking how it would be for Kawir to release a full album like that. That would be really amazing.

"Limniades" and "Danaides" are also amazing tunes, with the latter being quite intense and borrowing black metal elements from Northern parts of Europe, as well as featuring guitar solos of Ashmedi from Melechesh. While "Colchis" was a definite highlight for me, the more standard Kawir compositions were also significantly above average and well balanced tracks to listen and re-listen for a long time. Adrasteia is augmented by a set of amazing featured artists, and keeps the spirit of the band high, who haven't disappointed and will be worshiped by fans of the Greek black metal scene.

Track listing:

1. Tydeus
2. Atalanti
3. Danaides
4. Limniades
5. Colchis
6. Medea

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Cornigr - Relics of Inner War

Origin: Finland
Label: Final Agony Records
Release: 2011
Type: Full Length


It would be hard to guess that this now defunct act was active since 2002, with just one full length and a couple of mini releases on their backs. Cornigr were and one man band by Vainaja, who kept it as a personal side project while working with other more popular Finnish bands. He has been involved with Saturnian Mist, Horna, he's active with Vitsaus and also has played bass in Sargeist, while Cornigr were for sure the place where he would exert his musical ideas freely. Relics of Inner War has a distance of eight years with its previous release, a short demo in 2003 all in Finnish, which depicted a big evolutionary leap that justified this time period gap.

As many countries, the more typical bands from Finland have grown to have their own touch to the sound of black metal, as it has evolved from the second wave and onwards. We shouldn't hesitate to say that Relics of Inner War falls into the same category, as it wouldn't remind the listener directly of other Finnish bands, but more of a vicious album that features plenty of well-written tracks and leans slightly to the orthodox black direction, when at the same time stays far away from it. The production is not perfect but audible, it wouldn't need to be any cleaner than it is and can be a fine example of how an album completely worked by one person might come out.

There are several points on the positive side for Cornigr, not just the compositional confidence and enthralling content of Relics of Inner War. The guitar lines are ripping and offering potent riffs all throughout, the record's unfiltered sound enhances the band's purpose and character and produces a rather chaotic result, where one has to be more careful than usual to discover the different musical parts. In a sense, Relics of Inner War is a rather introverted record that provokes the feeling of isolation when listening to it, but not in a shallow manner that many black metal bands think they provoke. 

The distant and painful sound of the vocals, as well as the textual work on Relics of Inner War, reach the level the instrumentation demands. While the record contains parts of weary black metal melodies, moments of a more chaotic playing can really show what this band was capable of. It's not the most original piece of all time or the most processed, but its sincerity and strength of the tunes is absolutely compelling after a couple of spins. Cornigr created a sturdy album that kind of stayed in the shadows, or just eluded me for a long time.

I like how at first, you notice a couple of short duration tracks that last around two minutes and think that it will be worthy-to-be-skipped interludes. However, Relics of Inner War does not stray from the guitars - bass - drums - vocals setup at any time, and it's far more exciting to hear a faster black metal track of one minute, than blurry dark ambient sounds. What Cornigr does is keep playing in both "Rotten Embrace" and "Brand Carrier's Canticle", the latter being a two minute monster and one of my favorites as well. Why aren't there more bands out there that do that?

Apart from a small part of "Banished and Cast Into Fire" where the drumming is a bit incoherent (an otherwise great track with an underlying Mayhem feeling) I don't think Relics of Inner War has a bad moment. It has the appropriate length of half an hour too and you will not grow out of it very quickly, even the ending track "Discord" features a more quiet and ominous outro to finish the record, that doesn't last too long. Everyone else just uses two or three minute outros, or worse. Relics of Inner War is just the right amount of everything. I don't know where Cornigr would be today if it was still an active project but it is fortunate that this album has seen the light of day.

Track listing:

1. Shroud of Satan
2. Baptism Below
3. Rotten Embrace
4. Death Trimorph
5. Brand Carrier's Canticle
6. Jaws of Time
7. Banished and Cast into Fire
8. Discord

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Of Feather and Bone - Embrace the Wretched Flesh

Origin: USA
Label: Good Fight Music
Release: 2015
Type: Full Length


In 2015, I was totally clueless about this band, which managed to release a record in 2018 named Bestial Hymns of Perversion, that made it to my top albums of the decade list. I learned about Of Feather and Bone with that release, promoted by Profound Lore Records that I follow closely, and I was impressed by their death metal stench once I finally got down to listen to them properly. I never cared to look into their back catalog at the time either, and for a long time I have only been listening to bits of Bestial Hymns...

As peculiar as the name is for a death metal band of this kind, the cover artwork of their debut Embrace the Wretched Flesh just adds to this oddity even more. Noticing the short length of the tracks, I realized that Of Feather and Bone originally started as a hardcore punk band and that's what this record is about. A year later, they made a swift change to the sound I was familiar with by releasing a two-track demo, before stomping down the earth with a full release in 2018. In all the events regarding this group, I had been late to the party, but now I finally have a clearer picture.

While I will pick their death metal side to their hardcore side any day of the week, Embrace the Wretched Flesh is an undeniably entertaining and hard hitting record. With a duration of twenty three minutes, it showcases the band's aggression through breakdown filled hardcore punk and some filthy grindcore passages that I loved, as I don't know if I have enough ape in me to listen to a purely hardcore punk album. The screamy vocals are very good, the guitar lines entertaining as hell (slightly, slightly less breakdowns might have been even better, but they don't work as song part fillers) but most of all, I enjoyed the pummeling drum work.

The album flows nicely, most of the tunes do not contain anything unnecessary and its unfriendly characters stems from both music and lyrics, being as hateful and attacking as you would imagine. "You Alone Will Suffer", "Bound to Guilt", "Proclaim of Hate" and "Ordained In Fire" are some of the highlights for me, yet as a whole Embrace the Wretched Flesh works its way to your guts fairly easily. Fans of more traditional extreme metal should move on to their later stuff, but for the hardcore audience I think it's a listen that is worth your time.

Track listing:

1. Ordained in Fire
2. Calloused Embrace
3. Confined Violence
4. You Alone will Suffer
5. Proclaim of Hate
6. The Deafening Call
7. Bound to Guilt
8. Ignore Their Remorse
9. The Profane
10. Existence Through Hatred

Friday, January 03, 2020

Acid Witch - Witchtanic Hellucinations

Origin: USA
Genre: Doom / Death Metal
Label: Razorback Records
Release: 2008


I listened to Acid Witch's most recent single To Magic, Sex and Gore, which was released last November, and it feels as if nothing has changed since their first days. The band still uses the same kind of song and album titles, with the same music coming from dudes who obviously live in a state of constant Halloween. They have stayed with Hells Headbangers for some time now, which is a perfectly fitting label for them and they have built their name within the underground the last ten years.

By writing about one Acid Witch album, one has covered significant parts of their other albums as well. Witchtanic Hellucinations is the one I have heard the most, and then comes 2010's Stoned, because after that I distanced myself from following the band, yet with all its weaknesses, their music is enjoyable to an extent. The mix of slow doomish lines, with the heavy use of 80's horror keyboard samples and death metal growls, sounds pleasing in theory and is successful to a point with Acid Witch as well.

Another strong point of the project is the fair use of solos, which might not be executed that much with other similar bands, yet adds a lot of color even to otherwise dull tracks in the album. The production is suffering a little bit, especially in the vocals section, which seem as if they were boosted in volume too much in the studio, however the filthiness of the sound in overall comes of aid during the listen. The label doom / death may be misleading, since there are also slight stoner elements and a strong trace of psychedelia,  or practiced witchcraft by the hippies of the 70's.

Once you get yourself comfortable around listening to bands like Hooded Menace or Coffins, Acid Witch become a bit irrelevant. For a more laid back listen, they fit very well when you want to listen to some cool doom riffing, gnarly growling, and if you're interested in the last days of October of classic horror movies of the past decades, you might find even more appeal in this band. Musically, they shouldn't shock anyone with their mastery, but it's not a band to discard right away either.