Saturday, July 31, 2021

Greek black metal of the 10's: 2010

The more sharp-eyed followers of this blog should have noticed that, even if I punctually post top lists with only Greek releases every year, I am not the biggest fan of Greek black metal. As I went more into bands from the North, I tend to enjoy heavy experimentation and more tremolo than warmer, heavy metal-inspired patterns found in our scene, its history and importance is absolutely undeniable and has me observing new bands and albums constantly. There has been an evident rise in material the last few years, but the Greek bands have been around from the very beginning (and possibly even marked the beginning, even though mainstream attention was geographically elsewhere when the explosion happened) and the country’s endless, rich heritage serves as fuel for many inspired musicians around. 

I will be going through the last decade’s black metal full lengths only (excluding demos, extended plays, splits and the rest), at least as many as I have found or listened throughout the years, possibly discovering things I have missed, in the process. According to the archives, I’ve seen about 25 – 50 albums per year and I have already heard a lot of them when they were released. I’m consciously going to skip albums from bands that are too inclined to pseudo-intellectual bullshit, but apart from that there’s a lot of exciting gems and frustrating failures to talk about out there and I’ll go through as many as possible. Needless to say for one more time, all this is just one guy’s opinion, you know?

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Drawn and Listened: July 21

 Odious Devotion - Ilmestys

A pleasant surprise coming from this Finnish act, Odious Devotion doesn't follow the clearly defined sound of its country's black metal but instead employs potent elements of cold, atmospheric black metal, with significant amounts of intensity and heaviness all throughout their music. Ilmestys uses a slightly noisy guitar sound and distant vocals in its favor, as a steady background layer where hard hitting and memorable riffs arise every now and then, while the parts of more mellow melodic patterns are found more rarely in the record. In fact, the introduction track “Tämän Maailman Tuhkasta” and specifically the first 3 – 4 minutes, open the album in the perfect way, very confidently and powerfully, which makes this a definite highlight.

While Ilmestys isn't that long in duration (just thirty minutes), it has three compositions full of exciting material with awesome guitar lines, melodies, solos and flow. One short track that I would skip in the future is the instrumental interlude third track “Uudelleensyntymä”, which is only two minutes long, but the first two songs make up for that as some of the most competent pieces I have heard this year in this kind of music. This makes Ilmestys a rather distinguishable release that is characteristic of Odious Devotion, and it will not put the listener to sleep because of totally avoiding filler moments and keeping things on point. I have not listened to the previous works of Odious Devotion, and apparently there's two more albums out there released the past few years. Ilmestys is a quite wonderful work, with the ability to immediately draw the attention of the listener, it might be a bit too short for some out there but I found it as lengthy as necessary and with several high quality moments.

Damage: 3.5/5 [Great]

Sxuperion - Auscultating Astral Monuments

Last year, Sxuperion’s Omniscient Pulse left me with a rather positive impression. The project boosts a drowning, monotonous sound, simplistic riffing and deep growls, having clear concepts of space and the extraterrestrial, properly coining the term “cosmic death metal” as the genre’s equivalent of Darkspace, only not as massive. This year’s Auscultating Astral Monuments, continues exactly on the same path as the previous work with all the same atmosphere and structure, adding up with more content of ultra heavy guitar lines, space sound synths, samples and music that is down tuned all across the board. Sxuperion now has a very distinct sound, and requires highly well crafted tracks to stay relevant, especially when the whole concept of the project is that self-limiting. Auscultating Astral Monuments does achieve greatness though a few powerful guitar riffs (for example in “Eyes of Ghankar” or “Philotic Astrogation”), while the shorter, even noisier tunes, like “Licentious Arbitrator”, also include the album’s shiny moments.

What Sxuperion has done slightly better than before here is the use of extra elements other than the wall of noise from the guitars, there are a lot of extra keys / harsh / space ambient / female vocals (!) around to spice things up. On the downside, often the main bodies of the songs get too repetitive when it comes to the guitars and drumming, which is clearly done out of intent in the case of Sxuperion, but this time it felt more tiresome to listen to than in the previous record. It still doesn’t ruin the listening process and Auscultating Astral Monuments is a quite neat addition to the universe that is slowly being created from this, undoubtedly, unique project. Such death metal can be a new challenge for the fans and not as easy to go through as bands that follow the traditional way, yet it would be crazy to call it alternative or progressive, as it sticks to the most essential and basic tools for its work. Sxuperion deserve your listen and own verdict in the end. 

Damage: 3/5 [Good]

Vulture Lord – Desecration Rite

The last few years have been full of surprises when it comes to band returns. In the case of Vulture Lord, it’s not so much that one would fall out of the sky with the fact that they released a new album eighteen years later, it’s more that everyone had simply forgotten about them. However, 2003’s Profane Prayer is a fine example of Norwegian black metal that hadn’t completely vanished into the new millennium and the waves of experimentation that were developing and followed that time. Not to mention that Desecration Rite, has been promoted as a record that contains compositions from none other than Trond Nefas, and the project features members from quite popular fans in the Norwegian family, which makes it as clear as day what you’re going to listen to.

The record is like revisiting a candy store you haven’t been in a long time, and tasting a cookie you used to eat as a kid. As a big fan of 00’s Urgehal, listening to Desecration Rite felt like unused, remastered tracks from the Goatcraft Torment era, focusing on the same chainsaw guitar riffs and dynamic yet straightforward playing style of that record (listen to “Stillborn Messiah”, or even more so, “Prepare the Coffin”). Clear anti-religious lyricism in the vein of the aforementioned names is also present, obvious from all titles - ”Diabolical Intervention” is a nice catch – and it obviously couldn’t be any different than that. Profane Prayer had the same identity back then, yet it was quite harsher in terms of production, this time Vulture Lord used all their experience and professionalism in the studio to create a sound that matches its time.

I am contemplating the point of Desecration Rite’s release, even if I overly enjoyed it. At the back of my head, I hope the works and memory of a great musician will not be excessively used and re-used for releases in the future so that everyone of us can rest in peace. At the same time, new Vulture Lord material was great news, and the music is safely rewarding the fans. In other words, if you like the bands involved, you already know what you’re going to hear and you’ll like it. 

Damage: 3/5 [Good]

Xasthur - Victims of the Times

A lot has changed since the last Xasthur album I listened, which was 2010's Portals of Sorrow. Malefic (or nowadays, Scott) decided to abandon black metal and started focusing on acoustic guitar based music, in a newly invented genre he calls “acid folk”. Initially under a new band name Nocturnal Poisoning, it's now back to the Xasthur moniker and the first full length album since Portals of Sorrow (if you don't count the 2017 release that actually features old material). Victims of the Times is a double CD full of Xasthur's current mindset, draining acoustic folk music which embodies and includes the same urban depression as the project's early works.

With Victims of the Times, Xasthur explores first hand the most uncomfortable side of the reality of living in the United States, looking at it directly in the eye with almost no artistic edge: homelessness, drug addiction and no light at the end of the tunnel, including an art book with plenty of photographs of people forgotten by everyone. Since Victims of the Times has not been recorded in a single location, it is an album that lives and breathes in this environment, so one can conclude that it is precisely what Xasthur has in mind with the term “acid folk”. Unfortunately, while I consider this an interesting topic to tackle, the music itself could not keep me hooked, as it's not only too long with too many tracks, but also draining and worn out as its concept. 

It's difficult to maintain your attention on every track. At the same time, the three musicians included (Xasthur would never do a live show once upon a time, but now it's a full band) are fairly confident with their instruments, and the combination of the acoustics gives the music a full body, but it feels too much to go through the whole record, a record that offers plenty of fine guitar melodies but actually lacks in lyrics and vocals. It's more talking than singing, and the lyrics, aim to be as realistic as possible, but that's all. I bet it's what goes on the mind of these people, but I particularly didn't like the hopelessness described as a loss of will to fight or try, instead of struggling to find a way out this bottomless and desperate situation. If anything, Victims of the Times may resonate this serious problem and might push people more into oblivion, instead of battling it.

If you aim to shock a working class person with a roof over their head and a steady, meaningless job, to keep going, the album is great. If you want to conceptually and actively face a major humanitarian issue of modern society, it's more like a cry for attention by someone who will never help themselves. From my perspective, this is the biggest flaw of the record and not the instrumentation, which itself had some nice structured songs sharing elements of grunge acts like Alice in Chains, or Days of the New. Apart from that, I wouldn't suggest Victims of the Times to anyone. Educate yourselves on this topic from elsewhere, and try to help if you can.

Damage: 1.5/5 [Bad]