Saturday, April 30, 2022

Watain - The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain (2022)

Four years and some turbulence since Trident Wolf Eclipse, the most commercially successful black metal band of our time returns with a new installment to their discography, transparently called The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain just as a characterization of their lifestyle and music career up to this day. Once again recorded at Necromorbus Studio at their hometown, Watain's body of work has always been catered from start to finish by its own people and similar-minded disciples, and at the end of the day, even if you can have any studio you want on the planet, why change a winning team...

For starters, I prefer this artwork to the previous album. While The Wild Hunt had to me the best visuals Watain have ever done, there are times that I have not understood their choices in that district. A rework of their mid 00's logo, infused with an Impetigo / Merciless kind of chaotic font filling, in vivid red color above a chock-full design makes a good case of presenting the record along with the way the title is written on it. At the same time, I'm not sure how I feel about the title itself, and this extends to some track titles in the record. For a band that is quite capable of writing great lyrics, I imagine they spent too much time touring with Profanatica before coming up with "Black Cunt", and also, what is a funeral winter? Strictly speaking, that means nothing.

Sound wise, The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain has a crystal clear production and a bombastic sound that won't let down fans of the band. The record is full of the quintessential, melodic structures Watain are known for, and shows a more distinct experimentation with different tempos within compositions, while at times being totally chaotic in high speed moments. I found Trident Wolf Eclipse to be a more direct album, as The Agony... shows a stronger propensity towards clearer melodies without missing thunderous turns of pumped energy that as a fan, you should be really eager to see live. For example, "Leper's Grace" is one of the most straightforward and heaviest tracks I have heard from Watain the last few years, it doesn't hold back for a second, and the same goes for the blasting opener "Ecstasies In Night Infinite" which serves as a great introduction to the album.

One of the singles put out prior to the full release, is a track that I feel can be the next big hit of the band and played around as frequently as a piece like "Malfeitor" or "Reaping Death". Built as the clearest example of what this band is, "The Howling" is what you should suggest to someone new to Watain if you want to show them the most typical sample of what they are about, and it's a pretty enjoyable banger as a whole, even though I don't like the very first two seconds, where that tiny opening riff should have been skipped completely. In some of its longer pieces, The Agony... showcases Watain's competency with creating impassioned guitar lines when they're not too busy playing fast and destructive, and "Before the Cataclysm" depicts exactly that.

Two guest appearances are featured in the record's 8th track "We Remain" (another title at the same level like "They Rode On"), specifically In Solitude's bassist Gottfrid Åhman and the frontman of The Devil's Blood, Farida Lemouchi. Watain have been in very good relations with both these bands and have paid their respect to The Devil's Blood in the past, which makes this collaboration totally reasonable, and it's the time when the band leaves the space open for these amazing female vocals to define this epic slow paced track, which has much stronger and better substance than the previous time when they tried clean vocals in The Wild Hunt. It is not a track I will be listening to that much, but I can tell its evocative nature and finally doesn't feel forced, and it fits well with the rest of the album.

With that being said, there is no point for the short piano piece "Nor sun nor man nor god" to be here, as it's overly simplistic and even includes some guitar playing. Why not make this the introduction of the next track for example? These choices of metal bands always baffle me. Weak moments also lie in the tracks "Serimosa" and the aforementioned "Black Cunt", with the latter being the most boring piece in the album, especially for this compositional pattern of abrupt starting and stopping of the guitars that is frequently used in it, which made it skippable for me. Luckily, it is just one track, and while "Serimosa" seemingly has nice melodies, I would have liked less repetition there too, and its timidness made it a bit unimpressive to me.

The Agony... concludes its piece well, with two really well written black metal pieces, "Funeral Winter" (... ok) and "Serpentrion". The glorious days of the past, when a whole Watain album was a hellish masterpiece, are gone. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear that the flame is still burning for this band and they have not strayed that much from their path, they are extremely skilled and capable of creating their own sound in black metal despite being so honorary towards their influences, and they have not been afraid to experiment. This album represents a fine next step to what they have been doing, and it has several really acute and potent moments, as well as some clear missteps for me. However, even the more fragile moments of the band are still very high in my preferences list, so...

"A cross has been carved in the place where we go to die
There they await, to draw every secret from you
And the blood of thy heart"

Label: Nuclear Blast
Country: Sweden
Release date: April 29th, 2022
Website: Instagram

DAMAGE: 4/5 [Excellent]

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Corpsessed - Succumb to Rot (2022)

This Finnish band's acute sting is no wonder when taking into account its members, who are also active in projects like Lie In Ruins, Profetus, Tyranny and Concrete Winds, some of the most high quality extreme metal out of that country, considering everything (you heard me). Nevertheless, I never gave Corpsessed a proper listen except for 2018's Impetus of Death, which I had found more than entertaining, and now their fourth full length and first release in three years, Succumb to Rot, which is as bludgeoning as the title suggests.

While disregarding excess in technicality, the record thrives on potent, heavy riffing with numerous middle and slower paced moments, cavernous vocals and harsh but clear production that has admittedly taken a step or two forward compared to their previous material. There is a leveled amount of old school death metal groove in Succumb to Rot, as well as excellent drumming with an even more excellent sound, definitely one of the highlights for me that made the tracks even more pleasing throughout the listen. Corpsessed have a good sense of riff sequencing and are not afraid to switch tempos when needed, achieving a result that stands out for its amounts of the purest element of the genre, brutality.

It's not that Succumb to Rot is completely void of filler moments. Especially in the longer tracks of the record (such as "Profane Phlegm", "Sublime Indignation" or "Spiritual Malevolence"), I heard some moments that served as little too long bridges between actually solid parts in the composition, especially when the band decides to go almost towards doom / death territories. This little point can remain under the radar though and won't really annoy the ear of a listener who gives themselves up to the album, an otherwise wholesome experience. These tracks are also enjoyable, but I do think Corpsessed are flawless in their shortest pieces, especially "Relentless Entropy". I could also live without this two minute introduction, but it does somehow set a mood. Imagine though, the record starting with the massive second track!

Corpsessed explode just before the record ends with the longest piece in the record, "Pneuma Akathartos", meaning unclean spirit in Greek and slightly grammatically incorrect (the correct phrase would be pneuma akatharto). Here, one can hear actually efficient doom-ish passages in between completely crushing death metal that brought Desolate Shrine in mind, while Corpsessed are more of an Incantation / Disma kind of hellspawn. Succumb to Rot does not come lightly, it doesn't contain any tricks to sound as punishing as it does and it resembles the image of a giant boulder running over the house. All in all, it hits what death metal can and should hit.
Label: Dark Descent Records
Country: Finland
Release date: April 22nd, 2022
Website: Instagram

DAMAGE: 3.5/5 [Great]

Friday, April 15, 2022

Suppression - The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh (2022)

Band: Suppression
Country: Chile
Album: The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh
Label: Unspeakable Axe Records
Website: Facebook

What needs to be stressed when looking at this new Chilean band, with only a couple of demos and an EP under their belts so far, is that it consists of members who also play in the - also relatively new - death / thrash band Ripper. And over there, they have shown to have an excellent grip on creating fast and pumped, old school rooted, menacing metal with no elements of modernity, as with 2016's Experiment of Existence being to me, one of the best album of its kind for that decade. The same gifted individuals now take a turn towards purer death metal and the underground should be happy.

For people listening to this music more than just to find out what they like and pass their time, it's an ordeal to end up finding a band with substance, mainly because of the rate records are released and how different approaches sometimes miss core points. Once one tries to play it old school, one sounds worse than what we have already heard. Once one tries to go on cleaner and more modern playing, one puts oneself in danger of lacking meaning in the music for the sake of ultra complex technique. In the end, I am frustrated to listen to 90% of death metal bands with fancy album covers out there. Oh, what is this, another Swedish chainsaw sound record about death? Just what we needed.

Considering these side notes, Suppression is a breath of fresh air in a post-apocalyptic, barren and uninhabitable wasteland. This band understands the essence of the riff. The flow and structure of their tracks is perfect, every instrument is audible and has a purpose in the composition, and they dare to experiment more than once in this album. Production-wise, the same muddy sound of the Ripper albums is ongoing, but it shouldn't be anything other than that. There's a ton of bulldozing guitar melodies all over the place, wonderfully placed together in seamless changes of tempos and it's above all, naturally heavy. 

Of the two instrumentals, there is one short acoustic piece and a more elaborated piece "Unwinded Harmonies", in the same spirit like the rest of the record, only more abstract and experimental that reminds a bit of early technical death metal's unconventional side, but only in parts of it. I liked all the solos I heard in The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh, which also features vocals very close to the style of Obituary, and it's the only minor drawback I could find. While there's nothing wrong with how the vocalist sounds, sometimes it gets to close to this way of singing (for example in the second track "Overfeeding Gaps"), which is already a bit particular.

Apart from that, the record is full of amazing death metal tracks. The opening "Lifelessness", as well as "Lost Eyes" and "Monochromatic Chambers" are highlights, for their glorious guitar and bass moments, with the latter having a vibrant presence in the album, as it should always be. The take home message here is the same as in the other band of these Chileans, that you can still play old school without boring the listener to death, and it can be worthy listening to even further away from the ears of the fanatics of traditional metal that don't go for anything else. As much as I like Ripper, I like Suppression now.

Release date: April 25th, 2022

1. Lifelessness
2. Overfeeding Gaps 
3. Monochromatic Chambers
4. Unperpetual Misery
5. Unwinding Harmonies
6. Lost Eyes
7. Misunderstanding Reality
8. Self-Eaten Alive
9. Arrowheads
10. Extortion Behaviors

Saturday, April 02, 2022

E-L-R - Vexier (2022)

Band: E-L-R
Country: Switzerland
Album: Vexier
Label: Prophecy Productions
Website: Facebook

The second full length by Swiss doom / psychedelic rock / blackgaze / atmospheric-post metal band E-L-R sees the light of day three years after their promising debut Mænad, and proves that it is sometimes rather senseless to force a genre label to something, after this description surpasses two words. It is still a case of an artist that has, to me, quite clear musical leanings, yet I can't stick just one genre tag on them, and I was reminded of this through their latest installment, a brand new full length named Vexier

E-L-R is a concoction of a few but assertive elements: powerful middle-paced post-metal riffing (similar to which, you have heard from the giants of the genre), a few slow ritualistic passages, even fewer intense, black metal-ish moments and dominant atmosphere in reverb. They sure take their time with Vexier, as tracks repeat and repeat themselves and you catch yourself nodding without realizing it. This is a double edged sword though: the music works perfectly almost as a secondary presence, but might lose a more impatient listener, who doesn't focus on anything else at the time of listening, along the way. At the same time, Vexier has the complete skillset to absolutely captivate and let everything drawn in to its world, once the conditions are right.

For me, the record has enough variety to stay interesting even when they're pushing the boundaries of repetitiveness at times. Consider how quickly rhythms change in "Three Winds", which dances between a black metal introduction, post-rock clean guitars and atmospheric doom metal with impressive vocals (a point that I will come back to later). At the same time, the droning, funereal tracks "Fleurs of Decay" and "Seeds", barely change tone throughout their duration, bringing in mind the compositional approach of Indian to me, even though the music is of course not the same. "Fleurs of Decay" is great, as is the massive closer piece "Forêt". Its introduction, as if taken from a Wolves in The Throne Room record, builds up for almost six minutes before unraveling long one note melodies and a melancholic ending which goes hand in hand with how Vexier opens during the first seconds of "Opiate the Sun".

That track is also very characteristic of what E-L-R are doing, and the horsepower and weight of these riffs, really make them worthy of the name. In its 12 minutes of length, "Opiate the Sun" is a delight to listen to, exactly because of how heavy the melodies are, the organic production and even more, the ethereal female vocals. By far my favorite aspect of Vexier, which hardly has any lyrics (thank you), is the usage of chanting distant female vocals as layers of specific parts of the compositions, instead of having a leading role, and it works marvelously. I felt the message of the band being successfully conveyed through the tracks, and all the little additions like rain or flowing water samples just put even more force for the ink on the stamp to stay. 

I am all up for the nature oriented adaptation of the band and agree with most of their choices, musical and aesthetical. E-L-R left a good mark with their debut but didn't hook me back then, I think with Vexier I am seriously revisiting the band will be paying more close attention to their creations. As a person who can be easily alienated by uninspired post-metal, I think E-L-R let their ideas grow and construct their own realm in this genre, as a multi-faceted band with more to give than what you would perceive with just one quick listen. And to think I almost missed this!

Release date: March 11th, 2022

1. Opiate the Sun
2. Three Winds
3. Seeds
4. Fleurs of Decay
5. Forêt