Saturday, January 29, 2022

Owls Woods Graves - Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician (2022)

Band: Owls Woods Graves
Country: Poland
Album: Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician
Label: Malignant Voices
Website: Facebook

Punk and black metal are often fused together, often from underground bands with battered production and short duration releases in their ballpark. From my perception, the two genres part ways on a first level the cleaner the sound gets, but black metal has always had punk elements even if its most basic forms, while the same doesn't hold vice versa. Owls Woods Graves' debut Citizenship of the Abyss, released in 2019, was a tango between these two genres with rather distinct changes from one another throughout the album, co-existing but not mixing into one solution, and it was a banger. They were not afraid to to employ some tremolo picking, nice clean vocals, typical punk lines, and all in all, biting and energetic tracks with nice transitions.

Another notable point to mention is the choice of aesthetics, which uses fantastically drawn black and white designs (courtesy of Robert A. von Ritter), with typical Old English inspired fonts on white worn out frames for the album title and band name. Now, again I sense this is like a combination of the old school, DIY black metal / punk approach for text on a cover, combined with a well-made and catered design instead, e.g. of an out of sorts photo collage. It was like that for their debut, and it's the same with Owls Woods Graves' second installment, Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician. These two covers alone can make me buy the albums in physical format just for their grimy beauty and it was certainly a good sign when I saw the news of a new Owls Woods Graves release, a band that is unlikely to show signs of divergence because they don't really have to compromise their sound for anyone.

Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician has a distinct difference compared to its predecessor, even though it's not such a surprising turnaround. M., frontman of compatriots Mgła, is now handling the bass and some vocals in Owls Woods Graves, along with already existing members E.V.T. and The Fall, and once again the record has been recorded / mixed / mastered with the help of Mgła, as they are all related to and around of a common suspect label like Malignant Voices. Once listening to it, one can definitely identify M.'s touches to the vocal work of Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician, which has now taken a slight turn towards black metal more than the punkish debut. Nevertheless, both elements are present and vibrant in this album.

Immediate nodding begins after a few distressed second introduction of the first track "The Entity", which hits hard and already shows the band playing slightly heavier than in Citizenship of the Abyss. Atmosphere and riffs are filthy, the sound is pleasant and it's an excellent opener to set the engine working for the band, which had me childishly celebrating about what I'm about to listen just from the first seconds of Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician. The album proves to have a marvelous flow between its tracks, which contain several nice twists and turns around the main genre structures that we would expect, and that's what makes it more interesting for me than the average black punk album I come across today. Much like in the movies, it's often anticlimactic to be able to predict a whole record by not even listening to it.

Distinct punk patterns emerge in pieces like "Bats in the Belfry", "Return of Satan", and "Antichristian Hooligan", which also feature chanting chorus singing that has been prominent in the genre since its beginnings. From these tracks, I thought "Antichristian Hooligan" to be the least compelling for me, but "Return of Satan" is pretty heavy and not limited solely to punk in its content. Owls Woods Graves now have song numbers in the mother tongue as well, with "Idzie Diabeł" (=here comes the devil) seeing the band playing more in middle-slow paced tempos and the final "Zobaczysz" (=you will see) giving a a dismal closure to the record.

Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician is not limited there. One of the most exciting moments in the album is the short but fierce "Rabies", a track straight from a war metal course book, which is also accurately placed third and makes an excellent case after the first two songs. And then, the black metal flavors are a bit scattered throughout the whole work, yet at "Obscure Monastery" and "At the Crossroads", melodic guitar lines would strongly remind of other current black metal bands of the Polish scene. Vocals and bass sound amazing in Secret Spies of the Horned Patrician, yet I would have preferred slightly more engaging drumming in the less cogent moments of the record, but that's not that much of a big issue in the end.

Owls Woods Graves pick up a genre combination that can be tormented with stagnation from its very definition, and manages to make an album that is a hell of a listen, and maybe even better than their previous work. I think I prefer some aspects of the debut more, like the textual work, but I'm glad they continue with the same cover art philosophy, and compose tracks that are not purely punk, not purely black metal, but something in between with a distinct touch of the musicians involved and the surprise egg that was "Rabies" for me. I could listen to a whole Owls Woods Graves release with tracks like that. All in all, listen to Secret Spies of the Patrician today.

Release date: January 25th, 2022

1. The Entity
2. Return of Satan
3. Rabies
4. Obscure Monastery
5. Idzie Diabeł
6. Bats in the Belfry
7. Antichristian Hooligan
8. At the Crossroads
9. Zobaczysz


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Μνήμα - Disciples of Excremental Liturgies (2022)

 Band: Μνήμα
Country: Greece
Album: Disciples of Excremental Liturgies
Label: Phantom Lure
Website: Instagram

It's high time we had a conversation about this prolific project from Athens, Greece, which I have not really talked about since their inception in 2017, despite all the mini-releases they have put out so far. Μνήμα (Greek for "tomb") fall into the category of black metal with considerable leanings towards noise and sound distortion, in the broad family of bands like Candelabrum, Black Cilice or Obskuritatem, aiming for recordings as uncomfortable and harsh as possible, and they have been doing so since their first, self-titled demo. One could think that Μνήμα didn't have the intention to release a full length, judging from the persistence on putting out demos and splits, yet it's almost after 20 mini-releases that we arrive to Disciples of Excremental Liturgies.

This record blooms on reverb, acerbity and disgust. For the untrained ear, an album like that will not survive much when it kicks in after a short instrumental introduction (this and the outro, performed by Spider God) with the enormous piece "Cosmic Lunacy", which climbs up to 12 minutes of duration. Μνήμα were never an easy listening project and the same tradition is continues with Disciples of Excremental Liturgies, yet one can identify distinct changes in the musical approach if one manages to filter out part of the noise and focuses on the compositional groundwork. From that perspective, Μνήμα's chaotic element is maintained but we are now presented with moments significantly more melodic than what they have been used to do so far, and don't let that word fool you into thinking the project has gone any softer.

Listening to Disciples of Excremental Liturgies, apart from the distinct raw black metal routines, there's a serious Finnish / Greek black metal influence on the guitar riffs of the tracks. "Cosmic Lunacy" basically fully consists of such riffs, which are usually heard with much clearer production from other bands, but the essence is reminiscent, and that's even more obvious with the opening melodies of the self-titled track. I particularly liked the dismal lines at the ending part of "Cosmic Lunacy", where Μνήμα almost hinges towards more experimental playing for a second. There are already plenty of painful fast & middle paced moments in these two tracks, establishing the band's scourging sound.

Another highlight and noticeable aspect of this work is the unmistakable vocals. While going with screeched out, tense shrieked vocals all the time, at times an echo is employed and the voice goes at even higher volumes in the mix, making it truly deafening and ugly. It gives the feel of the vocalist trying to forcefully vomit somewhere (even though if you're a fan of the band, you know where), and there's also times of semi-gargling sounds that are aimed to convey the message of hatefulness Μνήμα is full of. Of course everything is unfathomable and I have no idea of the lyrics, I think I could tell the opening of "Νεκροσάβανο" (fabric used to cover a deceased person's body in the grave), where he goes "Γιατί δε...." and then mayhem.

Regardless of the blistering cruelty in Disciples of Excremental Liturgies, I would say it's the least noisy release Μνήμα has put out so far. Melodies are distinct, some tracks are not as hard hitting as in the past (listen to Spectres of Oblivion and you'll see) but I wouldn't say it's an easy listening album by any means. Hints of melodic aptitude were present before as well, if you listen to their wonderful demo Possessed Templars, released 2 years ago, yet with the debut full length I feel like Μνήμα aim to establish an anchor to their discography as one full work to suggest to someone. Obsessed with death and the human ceremonies around them, in a vile and blasphemous manner, but really raw, Μνήμα is definitely one of the upcoming raw black metal bands to look out for. A second full length is in the works apparently, so let's see how things evolve from here.

Release date: January 15th, 2022

1. The Key of 1000 Spirits 
2. Cosmic Lunacy
3. Disciples of Excremental Liturgies
4. Νεκροσάβανο 
5. Suicidal Necromancy  
6. Abyssal Curses


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Wiegedood - There's Always Blood At the End of the Road (2022)

Band: Wiegedood
Country: Belgium
Album: There's Always Blood At the End of the Road
Label: Century Media Records
Website: Instagram 

Wiegedood made a mark from day one with their debut De doden hebben het goed in 2015, and it's justified when thinking of how intriguing it would be to listen to Amenra / Oathbreaker members create a project of more straightforward black metal than what they're doing with their main bands. That album, which was not prone to weaknesses, still sounds quite unique and powerful, with guitar work that has been kept in high regard but a significant part of the scene. It is also such an example of releases bordering with nearby genres, providing a bridge for transition of fans from one side to the other and back.

During the first few years, three albums were released rather close to each other and conclude the initial conceptual trilogy the band had in mind. Eerie natural landscapes with a sigil as artworks, similar structure and production, the De doden hebben het goed (=the dead are well) trilogy finished in 2018 and that's when Wiegedood took a slightly longer pause to prepare their next work, which ultimately arrived 4 years later and it seems quite different right of the bat. There's Always Blood At the End of the Road, is the first album that features more than 4 tracks, it has a completely different approach on the front cover, it now has an English title and songs, and it's also longer in duration, making a rather clear case of how the band is now up for something different than before.

At first glance, I was worried about the state of this album. I'm a big fan of visuals like in the De doden hebben het goed trilogy and now the cover is significantly darker and more minimal. Looking at the tracklist, I didn't know what to make of some of the titles and wasn't sure of the band's intentions, especially for the first three songs. Thankfully, all these worries were completely overpowered by the sheer heaviness the record contains, which presents an even more extreme and complete form of Wiegedood up to this date. Now, I still have distinct points in their music that I don't fully enjoy, but all their particular characteristics and prowess have now been amplified into grislier, more severe levels.

If you have heard of them before, you have already noticed how this band exerts pressure through scourging riffs. Above all, this is the one element that glorifies There's Always Blood At the End of the Road once again and in a more convincing manner than their previous works. It's a rewarding experience to go through this album and simply savor on the delicacy and brutality these guitars openly offer, as Wiegedood have this ability to immediately hook you with a riff. There's often no building, no wondering of the listener where this will lead, and they also properly use the melodies as repetitively as they want to establish the crippling atmosphere of this record. After a few tracks, the cover art makes sense: the sigil has moved from the landscapes to the ground, probably at the black concrete of an urban street, and it's now bloody.

Needless to say, pieces like "FN SCAR 16", "Theft and Begging" and "Carousel", are ugly masterpieces of the aforementioned tactic. The sound has also become filthier and more aggressive, compared to the production of the previous records that had a cleaner, kind of "crunchy" feel to it. I believe Wiegedood aimed for something more grotesque this time, and they have achieved that not only by not losing their core, but by expanding on it. Still, the opening of "Until It Is Not" reminds a bit of the track "De doden hebben het goed III" from their previous record, which ties nicely with the next track of the album "Now Will Always Be", in what I reckon is a full phrase: until it is not, now will always be. These two tracks also feature some drone / noise experimentation, as well as clean guitar passages, used as connecting points for a smoother flow, and the word smooth is not meant literally here, as it's the last word that would describe this listening experience.

The baritone singing and monotony, as well as background sounds of "Now Will Always Be", were one of the most memorable moments of the record for me. On the other hand, there's points in There's Always Blood At the End of the Road, that Wiegedood decides to stall and turn more abstract, more like scenes from a movie that don't make sense right away. The switch from the opening track to "And In Old Salamano's Room, the Dog Whimpered Softly" is amazing, yet the latter has a distinct slower paced part from its middle to its end that might be just a bit too empty, and I feel exactly the same about the track "Nuages". Amazing opening, then turning into something seriously less effective, but with enough seemingly directionless playing that could be a jamming session in the song simply adding to the artistry. Remarks also go to the vivid noise experimentation of the ending part of "Noblesse Oblige Richesse Oblige". 

I have a feel that these passages of the record will still be really enjoyed by the fans of the band, and they are a main part of what makes There's Always Blood At the End of the Road, and its members, what they are. For example, I don't get why an interlude "Wade" should even be there, as it sounds like a Shining b-side never released and has a completely out of context few second part in the end, that really doesn't fit the rest of the atmosphere. Hopefully though, these moments are too few and would be excluded, as all the rest of the compositions in the album are simply too dynamic and dominant. It's also interesting that I can't think of any other term rather than plain black metal for Wiegedood, even though they're clearly not the average band out there.

All in all, There's Always Blood At the End of the Road is a monster. Worthy of being played on repeat, it goes like a seamless stream and while being intense and uncomfortable, it's totally addictive and has hints of optimism that I recognized (at least compared to the members' other bands, whoever knows, knows). Apart from a couple of tracks, I absolutely loved every part of this record and I don't know yet if it will be a contender, but I can surely say that the year has started with a blast. Wiegedood are more assertive than ever with their fourth release, which will erase any doubts you might have by first looking at it, like me. 

Release date: 14th of January, 2022

1. FN SCAR 16
2. And in Old Salamano’s Room, the Dog Whimpered Softly
3. Noblesse Oblige Richesse Oblige 
4. Until It Is Not
5. Now Will Always Be
6. Wade
7. Nuages
8. Theft and Begging 
9. Carousel


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Notes on: Thy Serpent

As stars have come old

Finland has always had a certain affection towards raw, blasphemous black metal, from its early days until today. Bands like Archgoat, Barathrum, Beherit and Impaled Nazarene were central protagonists during the second wave in the 90's, and a generation of new bands of the same origins has surfaced the last couple of decades, making their branch of the genre an equivalent of the drunkard uncle that crushes and ruins the Christmas family dinner. Of course, artists from there are also capable of delicate, beautiful music (all the symphonic black metal, melodic death metal, symphonic metal and rock, with bands of global caliber) and is one of the areas with the richest heavy metal culture on the planet.