Sunday, October 31, 2021

Necromantia - To the Depths We Descend... (2021)

Genre: Black Metal
Location: Greece
Label: The Circle Music
Listen: Bandcamp
Website: Instagram

I am not old enough to have lived the second wave of black metal as it happened. I didn't even get into the genre through a ladder of traditional bands during my first interactions with it, and at first I can say I really didn't get it. I listened to a lot of classic albums way too late and for a long time, interest was limited to frostbitten, maniac caterwauling from the North. It is one of the reasons I have never had a huge attachment with Greece's scene, apart from its importance of course.

What did happen at a quite sensitive age back then though was my encounter of Necromantia's Ancient Pride EP (one of their most popular releases), through a physical magazine that distributed it, and it was a kickstart not only to check the band but to look around what was happening in my neighborhood too. Ancient Pride is still one of my favorites exactly because of this reason, yet I don't stand a chance in a discussion with fans that have been following the project from the beginning and have researched into their material. Necromantia righteously claim rights for one of the most unique groups in black metal as a whole, they have the respect of the underground and more mainstream alike, and they have been highly influential for the scene, worldwide. 

After Baron Blood's passing, news started brewing about a farewell EP and the closure of Necromantia. A while later, the EP became a full album, and it took a while longer to release. As it has been stated by Magus himself, but is fairly obvious from the title and lyrics, To the Depths We Descend... is a record strongly personal to the band and serves plainly as a swan song, rather than a new release. Featuring new material, and re-recordings of old classic songs, a farewell to Baron Blood and the final chapter of one of the most important extreme metal bands of the country, is here. All this is understandable, but what I would have never expected is a significant change in the instrument arrangement, one that gave them their most characteristic quality: there is no more 8 string bass. And on top of that, you get to hear guitars. Balance has been disturbed so much, that the next step might be a Barathrum folk metal album.

Furthermore, what is this artwork? It didn't hit me well, especially coming from a cult band like that, to have such a digitally bright, video game artwork. In Game of Thrones terms, this artwork is the equivalent of the CGI-flooded Mountain - Hound fight in the last episode, while their earlier material go closer to the realistic, sincerely brutal and uncomfortable Brienne - Hound fight from the fourth season. I'm deliberately making a millennial analogy to this issue to establish my background, and while it's not an ugly artwork per se, it's not engaging at all to the album's concept despite the clarity of its depiction. Things like these make not buy a record, because it is too far from the aesthetics I am looking for in this music. 

The line up for To the Depths We Descend... features, apart from Magus of course, drum war machine Maelstrom, who is probably playing on every Greek black metal band right now, and George Emmanouel on the guitars (oh, the guitars...). Influence by the two must have been huge in the musical outcome, and they are both quite efficient. Most of the guitar lines in the album are quite potent, the drumming is on point as always, and the synths / electronics add a lot of epicness in the compositions. There's plenty of melodic riffing, a few harsher moments, and the listener will have the chance to enjoy ancient tracks like "The Warlock" and "Lord of the Abyss", re-played under this new light that found Necromantia in 2021. 

While the whole record is a tribute to Baron Blood, one of the more emotional moments appears towards the end of "And the Shadows Wept" where a narration directly to him is spoken. Album opener "Daemonocentric" is a banger, there is a beloved spookiness in the keys and melodies of "Inferno" and "Eldritch" and bass is given some justice with its own piece "Give the Devil his Due". A warm instrumental with more experimental nuances, "To the Depths We Descend" hits before the old tracks kick in. To the Depths We Descend... is a seemingly rewarding record, which makes it an odd case to formulate an opinion on.

While the Greek black metal sphere worships the album like there's no tomorrow, I sincerely hope in a parallel universe, the final Necromantia record would have been something different. A rawer, complex record that glorifies their uniqueness and originality. One album that pays homage to their past not simply by re-recording old tracks with the cleanest production possible. One that doesn't diverge from its past so much that it smashes one of the vital instruments for its sound, the bass, completely out of existence. And instead, throws in two and a half minutes of a bass interlude to trick the audience and relieve its conscience. I can guarantee you will like this album when you listen to it, but for me it's lacking, yet in really discrete ways. 

Rest in chaos, mighty Necromantia!

1. Daemonocentric
2. And the Shadows Wept...
3. Give the Devil His Due
4. Inferno
5. Eldritch
6. To the Depths We Descend...
7. Lord of the Abyss MMXXI
8. The Warlock MMXXI

Damage: 2.5/5 [Average]

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Labor Intvs - Sunken Crucible (2021)

Genre: Black / Doom Metal
Location: Finland
Label: Self-released
Listen: Bandcamp
Website: Instagram

This is an eminently unusual release. Not a lot of information about the project have seen the light of day either, as there is no input who the members are, or their past experience. Finnish project Labor Intvs release their debut full length Sunken Crucible quietly in terms of promotion, but fairly vehemently in terms of musical payload. Self-labeled as introspective blackened death / doom metal, it is an accurate enough description even if this record can still catch you off guard quite easily, as it’s overpacked with ideas and often in ways you might have not heard before.

While that’s a big statement in the day and age when everything has been played in the past, and at the same time Labor Intvs don’t introduce new basic elements, Sunken Crucible showcases a rather remarkable combination of different sub styles of black metal, with a few ounces of doom, slight drone, and a fair chunk of forward thinking composition structure. It isn’t perfect by any means, but its fair amount of brilliant moments. It’s not a short record either, with its 51 minutes of duration seeming to be a knife that cuts from both sides, yet Labor Intvs – while at times skating on thin ice – manage to maintain interest throughout the whole listening experience. For a debut album, the production is remarkably balanced, which suggests a professionally made album. On the other hand, the few tapes that are released are DIY created, and they are not of high quality or “may contain glitches here and there”. In my book, that’s a win on both fronts, but it might not add up.

If you’re looking for some dissonant black metal, you will find some immensely forceful parts of that in Sunken Crucible. Sections in “Vitriol”, “In Dread Tartarus”, or “Divine Silence”, feature top-notch, attacking orthodox black metal of the best kind. At the same time, these tracks as well as others, include segments that are highly experimental, creating a distorted atmosphere, such that’s not really common to come across. The potency of the melodies in the record is huge, with absolutely thrilling moments in the slow-paced riffing of “Tantalust” or the haunting samples in the introduction of the longest track “Labvrinth”. This track also hosts heavy experimentation, especially towards the end, similar to the eerie aesthetics that are exerted from the last moments of the record in “Divine Silence”. It might be too long for some, as is the almost one-dimensional, drone-ish introduction track “Abject Spirit”. While I love the recording of it’s first seconds, its layer of thick noise following would have been a skippable track in a different release. Here, I’m sitting waiting, what’s coming next? Captivating.

I would say Sunken Crucible has much more black than doom metal, but not in the traditional way of any of the two. What happens frequently with records that aim to be more avant-garde, or full force dissonant, is that the technicality and compositional absurdity overrides their repeatability, and they are completely off more casual listening. The argument is always that these records are that complex by nature, but now appears a release, equally intriguing, equally complex, that’s also addictive enough for repetitive listens for a longer period of time. I would say Labor Intvs is something like the bastard spawn of The Ruins of Beverast and Deathspell Omega, with some extra instrumental piecework of unknown origins, but yes, it’s also definitely introspective. 

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, maybe the best artwork I’ve seen this year.

1. Abject Spirit
2. Vitriol
3. Tantalust
4. In Dread Tartarus
5. Labvrinth
6. The Final Threshold
7. Divine Silence

Damage: 4.5/5 [Brilliant]

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Cenotaph - Precognition to Eradicate (2021)

Genre: Brutal Death Metal
Location: Turkey
Label: Coyote Records / New Standard Elite / Tentacles Industries
Listen: Bandcamp
Website: Facebook

As one of the oldest and steadiest bands in the brutal death metal scene, Turkey’s Cenotaph have a long back-catalog of several classic releases, some more graphic than others. Despite the line-up turmoil that the group has undergone, it has been the case that there is a new release every 3 – 4 years, except the 7 year gap between 2010’s Putrescent Infectious Rabidity and 2017’s Perverse Dehumanized Dysfunctions.

Now, Precognition to Eradicate is mercilessly violent. Its production wouldn’t be characterized as totally polished, compared to other like-minded, modern bands, yet the record’s bulldozing sound exerts absolute domination. Living up to the band’s history, remarkable levels of brutality are achieved, while maintaining distinct technicality and deep, below-the-earth, growling throughout the whole album. Tempos constantly change, the maniacal guitar shredding focuses on the wall of heaviness instead of displaying prowess, there are moments of some more clear bass tapping while the drumming execution is plain savagery. The outcome of Precognition to Eradicate is fully served by its semi-dusty production, and Cenotaph show what it means to be a truly heavy band with top-notch musicianship.  

Listening to tracks like “Isolation Turned Into Cannibalism”, the self-titled track or “Anomalous Necrotic Breed”, the masterful combination of hard-hitting fast parts and short-termed, not overused grooves, as well as excellent usage of all the instruments involves, establishes how focused Cenotaph are with this release. A slower, almost doomy section comes towards the ending of the fifth track, “Recombinant Extraterrestrial New Form”, which is also met in the record’s final track “Into the Septic Molecular New Form”, two moments when Cenotaph dare to step into more abstract territories, compared to their known pummeling brutal death metal core.

With its delicate artwork (done by Delik Saike), Precognition to Eradicate proved to be more convincing than the last two efforts of the band and is a highlight for this year’s death metal release wagon.

1. Anti-Pathogenic Morbid Incubation  
2. Progeny of Embryonic Congenital Malformations
3. Anomalous Necrotic Breed
4. Virus Induced Dehumanization 
5. Recombinant Extraterrestrial New Form 
6. Isolation Turned into Cannibalism 
7. Precognition to Eradicate
8. Pandemic Bacterial Reverse Mutation 
9. Into the Septic Molecular New Form
Damage: 3.5/5 [Excellent]

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Bullet Ratings - October 21 [II]

Apparition (US) - Feel (Profound Lore Records):
The band's first EP was a 12 minute delight, and their debut full length is just an extended version of the same joy. Well produced, hefty doom / death metal with great riffs in all the right places, this album deserves to circulate among fans of the genre. [3.5/5]

Cradle of Filth (UK) - Existence is Futile (Nuclear Blast):
I would prefer not to. [2/5]

Dark Fog Eruption (Japan) — 忘却と絢爛の幻想 (Self-released):
Completely unaware of this project, their second release since 2019's debut is a wholly enjoyable piece of work. Dark Fog Eruption mostly rely on patterns of the traditional black metal framework, often reminded me of the melodic techniques of German / Finnish bands, with a more unique semi-growling voice instead of shrieking. Listen to this if you like Sargeist! [3/5]

Feral Season (US) - Rotting Body in the Range of Light (Profound Lore Records):
Took a serious note on this band. A highly immersive release with intriguing content, the sound is amazing and so are all the different ideas that come and go in it. [4/5]

In Crucem Agere (Austria) - Calling the Void (Aural Music):
There's too much information scattered all over the place in this release. While the band's intentions are fine, I couldn't really get through the album's different directions. While it is experimental, it is also avant-garde in a somehow predictable way. [2.5/5]

Massacre (US) - Resurgence (Nuclear Blast):
As they note in the last song of the album, the return of the corpse grinder. I can't say that I didn't enjoy Resurgence, from its art to its music, as I understand the time it's released and from who. That's what they would do anyway, and why not? [3/5]

Organic (Italy) - Where Graves Abound (Testimony Records):
I was not impressed by Organic's first released Carved In Flesh, it was too standard Swedish old school death metal. They have not changed their path with Where Graves Abound, but at least this time all the tunes are as heavy as needed, fast and not more lengthy than needed. The characteristic chainsaw sound still prevails. [3/5]

The Wolf Garden (UK) - Woven of Serpent's Spines (Naturmacht Productions):
A bit indifferent atmospheric black metal for me, it has its moments but can't make it to my favorite artists list from the genre. [2/5]

Vomit Spell (Germany) - Vomit Spell (F.D.A. Records):
From what I initially saw, I expected (and really hoped) that this record would be much heavier than what it was eventually. Maybe Vomit Spell go into middle-paced tempos more than needed, maybe not all their riffs are as strong, but it's still not skippable. [3/5]

Waking the Cadaver (US) - Authority Through Intimidation (Unique Leader Records):
Back in my deathcore discovery years in 2010-2011, there was big talk and quite an amount of distrust against this band. Never expected them to return but Authority Through Intimidation is a pretty solid record. It also feels like that's all I want from Waking the Cadaver, exactly that sound. Not a fan of their previous discography, but Authority Through Intimidation clicked. [3.5/5]

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Cult of Eibon - Black Flame Dominion

Release date: 29.10.2021
Genre: Black Metal
Location: Greece
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Listen: Youtube
Website: Facebook

While having started about six years ago, Cult of Eibon's line up consists of seasoned members who have had experience for a long time and with numerous projects in the Greek black metal scene. The band left a good mark with a couple of EPs back in 2016 and 2017, and the split release with Caedes Cruenta (who are closely related) in 2018 was also short but enjoyable, yet we were missing a more complete work until now. Black Flame Dominion features sharply colored artwork (as they did in their previous two releases) and eight tracks of clear textbook examples of this country's genre style.

As an album, and as many times as this has been said, Black Flame Dominion musically loiters in the 90's second wave as it was being realized in Greece, so much that apart from a relatively cleaner production, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see it materialize back then. The roots of earlier underground heavy metal are its basic characteristic, there's no frenetic blast beating, the compositions are more distinct and warmer than purely aggressive black metal, but it has its more furious moments nonetheless. Cult of Eibon's how to checklist has all the ticks filled, on how the guitars and drums are played, on the slight use of eerie keyboards here and there, on its introduction, the Lovecraftian references and the shrieked vocals, you know it if you have been following Greece's classic releases from three decades ago.

The record, in its forty minutes of length, does not get dull or more difficult to listen to at any moment. While Cult of Eibon don't throw any crazy tricks in, in fact they don't diverge from the common recipe at all, Black Flame Dominion is still quite enjoyable and with nice little transitions between its different parts. Guest musicians from the scene also take part in the album, especially in the more notable track "Phaesphoros", while I especially liked the synths in "Crossing the Stargate of Xitalu" and the fast-paced, self-titled song. For the fans of Greek black metal, Cult of Eibon is already a band within the radar and now their full length offer will seriously circulate around its target, it's a decent release with specific focus and no cockiness. 

1. The Fiery Pillars of Ninazu 
2. Into the Realm of Na-Girt-A-Lu
3. The Dreamer and the Morning Star 
4. Phaesphoros
5. Black Flame Dominion
6. Recollections from the Chthonian Empire
7. Crossing the Stargate of Xitalu
8. The Mournful Chime of Charon's Bell

Damage: 3/5 [Good]

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Bullet Ratings - October 21 [I]

Arcanist (US) - Caustic Apparitions:
Quite filthy raw black metal with some punk touches. The tracks are not the hardest or most compelling ever, but it is a pleasing listen. [3/5]

Azazel (Fin) - Aegrum Satanas Tecum:
I've heard every riff in this album before. You've also heard every riff in this album before. Painfully typical black metal, but hey, Chris Moyen art is always nice to look at. [2/5]

Caveman Cult (US) - Blood and Extinction:
Savage War is Destiny was gruesomely elegant and dazzling. Caveman Cult keep it up with an accurate creation of war metal that properly comes at you as a knuckle duster in the face. [3.5/5]

Full of Hell (US) - Garden of Burning Apparitions:
A swift carnage of grindcore, noise and clean production. Against religious ideals, Full of Hell own their alley and comfortably dwell in it, yet I would have liked the record to sound more wholly violent. For me, the last two previous albums were much heavier. [3/5]

Gloosh (Rus) - Sylvan Coven:
I'm so glad this guy proved me right. Since last year, I've been murmuring about this quiet force and the couple of fine EPs it had put out, now everything resonates to an impressive, captivating debut full length album. It totally dominates the atmospheric black metal territory, while not even being constrained there. Sylvan Coven is indeed a wonderful work of art. [4/5]

Revel in Flesh (US) - The Work:
It's disheartening to see the metal scene fall for this. It's a pile of pretentious experimental audacity, and the technicality won't save you if your ideas are for the trash bin. And sadly, a handful of neat saxophone parts didn't save it this time. [1/5]

Revenant Marquis (UK) - Below the Landsker Line:
Tasty riffs bounce off distorted production with a horrible echo effect. One might as well chop their songs into pieces the next time, but still this album's beauty can be recognized, like a beautiful human behind broken glass. One of the leading albums Revenant Marquis has put through. [3.5/5]

Wraith (US) - Undo the Chains:
Didn't know this band, but Undo the Chains proved to be rather entertaining. Nice black / thrash with no overstatements. [3/5]