As far as metal goes, much like 2011, and unlike the years of 2009 and 2010, which afforded us such instant classics as Engram, The Voice of Steel, The Light Devouring Darkness, Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm, Belus, and that Inquisition album with the really long title, 2012 has been rather quiet in terms of really great albums. There have been a lot of quality records, to be sure, most notably in the realms of death and doom metal, but virtually nothing that really stands out as something that will endure the test of time (not one proper metal album, for example, cracks our top five). Fortunately, as the reader will eventually discover over the course of this report, there have been strong strides in other styles of music which are perhaps related to (or derived from) heavy metal, but cannot be exclusively identified with it.
The inclusion and the respective ranking of the following albums are the result of an effort that has been parts personal preference, and, so far as we were able, parts critical objectivity; we admit in advance that it is to the former method that we were inclined, due to our limited means in regard to actual qualified assessment of the music. So, if the reader would still continue, it will hopefully be because he has a penchant for the dramatic, an ear for our hyperbolic, metaphoric prose which is at times rather pompous and grandiose, but is at the best of times, if we may, also something poetic.
Finally, the reader will have to forgive the many, many instances where we reference some kind of martial theme… we are rather obsessed with music that calls to mind images of warfare, so it is a very small step for us to delve into endless metaphors involving some kind of military application.
We will be trying to release one review (mini-review, really; most of them are merely three paragraphs long) every day or two over the next few weeks, so stay tuned… to start with, however, we’ll list our greatest disappointments and the best splits of the 2012 annum.
Angel Witch – As Above, So Below
A good album in its own right, but we were exposed to criminal amounts of hype before actually hearing it, so if we were not quite expecting the full splendor of the self-titled record, we were at least hoping for something that would hold up to intense scrutiny. Sadly, As Above does not, featuring average riffs with little power behind them, and a sterile sense of songwriting that mimics the original Angel Witch album, but does not quite capture its virile invention.
Ahab – The Giant
If I would have known ahead of time that there would be two funeral doom albums on this list, I would have waged a great deal on the bet that the new Ahab album would be one of them. Unfortunately, unlike their previous two records, which emit epic, thunderous soundscapes that seems as though they were being translated directly from the watery tomb of Captain Ahab, The Giant lacks the visionary movement of its predecessors, the toiling depth of their production and their keen, riveting song structure.
Asphyx - Deathhammer
After the success of Death… The Brutal Way, the next Asphyx release was supposed to deliver more crushing, mid-paced death metal in the same vein, with the same semblance of power and deeply rhythmic motivations as its predecessor. On the contrary, Asphyx became rather a victim of their own success, to the point where some have said that their new album sounds like it has been influenced too much by metalcore. While we would not go quite that far, the truth is that Asphyx tried to emphasize the dangerous riff, the heavy ‘mosh section’ without providing the compositional support, which of course makes the whole song. The result is a series of ‘breakdowns’ with no concrete coherence, nothing to unify one riff with another, to the point where it actually does sound like an Unearth album or something.
Incantation - Vanquish in Vengeance
Arguably more ambitious than ever, the new Incantation album nevertheless falls apart due to the overbearing complexity (or at least the appearance of complexity) without the substance to back it up. Despite repeated listens, the album sinks into a morass of impotent drudgery; each song melds into the other, but without being distinctly memorable itself. The ingredients are here, however, they just need to be synthesized into something more fluent, more rhythmically decisive; for the reason of this potential, we maintain our hope that Incantation can continue to make good albums.
Candlemass – Psalms for the Dead
Possibly the hardest disappointment to take, considering both how well they have performed over the past few albums and that this is evidently the final Candlemass album, the trouble with is its weariness; whereas previous albums have managed to inject something relatively novel and interesting, Psalms for the Deadsounds as though the band were ‘going through the motions’, as it were, to the point where we are left thinking to ourselves, ‘we have heard all of this before’. Now, as bands like Bolt Thrower have shown, any artist can potentially release the same thing over and over and remain somewhat relevant, but we expect more from Candlemass, a band that has continued to defy expectations and ever raise the bar in a genre where everything really has been done already. While it is still a decent album, it is not quite good enough to merit a position in our ranking, which means that it can only go down as our final ‘disappointment’ of 2012.
Funebrarum / Undergang – The Dead of Winter
Funebrarum manage to pay homage to earlier, darker, and rawer forms of death metal in their contribution to this split, parting with both the excellent production qualities and the more modern, refined songwriting of their two LPs. The solitary song here almost sounds as though it is a cover track of some band deriving from the U.S. or possibly Finland in the early nineties, that is how impressively old-school it is.
The Undergang half is little different, offering a bold, incisive slice of pummeling death metal. As simplistic as it is caustic, this track is built of several monumental riffs, tearing apart the structure surrounding them, the structure that cannot contain them. This split is short, intense, and thoroughly primitive in its return to the roots of American death metal.
Adversarial / Antediluvian - Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries
Toronto is overrun by a horde of terrible metal bands, but, thankfully, the underground is as alive there as anywhere else, and it is from thence that Adversarial have learned their trade. Still in the adolescence of their career, Adversarial presently perform a chaotic, highly-fast-tempo black / death metal fusion with rapidly changing transitions that give the impression of an impending tornado, or perhaps of a bleak Canadian blizzard. The drumming is particularly impressive on this split, maintaining the sense of continual variation and shifting points of attack, following the route bravely blazed by the guitar work as the massive Panzer V follows the path of the forward infantry. Their part in this split comes to a conclusion very much like the name of the final song, with the guitars spiraling, circling around the central foundation as the void or the eye of the storm draws nearer and nearer.
Antediluvian are similar to Adversarial, only making their point of focus a more bestial one, with more centrally-driven riffing, lower-toned percussion that is more monotonous, unyielding from its continuous movement, and even the vocals are rougher, lower, and are louder in the mix, which is altogether reminiscent of some prehistoric beast restored to its nasty, brutish, and short life. The Antediluvian contribution is not quite as enthralling as Adversarial’s, but it is nevertheless a highly involved, grotesquely enormous slab of chunky death metal that succeeds in tearing its meal to shreds with its teeth where others might dine with a knife and fork.
Goatpenis / Nyogthaeblisz - Terroristic Onslaught of Humanicidal Chaos
As you might expect from a band by the unruly name of ‘Goatpenis’, the music is filthy, corrosive, and perverted. There are, however, a few hooks here and there, and the riffs are good, making for a couple decent songs that are dependent on strong rhythms and uninterruptedly toxic vocals.
The Nyogthaeblisz segment is similarly gross and vomitous, but with a greater focus on blasting percussion coupled with riotous, snarling vocals; the guitars are muted, creating a dissonant background upon which the drum / vocal combination impress their autocratic authority. This split is the sonorous equivalent of toxic waste, and is as hazardous for the unprepared listener.
2012 IN REVIEW
#1 Anathema - Weather Systems
'Death is not the opposite of life…. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal.’ ~ Eckhart Tolle
If we understand We’re Here Because We’re Here to be an experiment in exploring life for the first time without being suffocated, existentially blinded by grief, loss, and a deeply personal ennui, Weather Systems is its sequel, its natural successor; Weather Systems represents the evolution of We’re Here… into the next stage. Having made way for a novel perspective full of joy and boundless energy, ready to discover the world anew, the old angst and expressions of emotional helplessness are either transmuted into a different kind of struggle, as we will explain below, or they are absolutely absent. Unlike many of the earlier albums, which dwelt on the pathetic strife of a man weary of the world and of existence itself, the purpose of Weather Systems is to portray the healing of that bitter soul, to portray his re-awakening into a universe which has at last captured his imagination, his youthful wonder, and simply his will to live.
The central dynamic in Weather Systems, which is elaborated further on this than on any one of their prior albums, must be the lyrical exchanges between the male and female vocals, each presumably representing a distinct ‘character’, as it were, since this record does play out very much like a kind of (mostly) non-linear drama. The male character, who is obviously the centre-piece of the narrative, is, in spite of his rejuvenated spirit and renewed thirst for life, still a man lost within himself; he has the peculiar problem of possessing an internal vision, a powerful vision that he desperately wants to see realized in tangible reality. While there are numerous references to dreams and extravagant poetic metaphors, the clearest, most basic example of this vision is the protagonist’s persistent belief in his overwhelming love, his unfailing capacity for this extreme devotion, something which cannot be returned in his life, or at least not his mortal life.
'I had to let you go / To the setting sun / I had to let you go / To find a way back home'
The counterpoint of this narrative is performed by the female character; whether she represents the protagonist’s beloved, some kind of angel or muse, or something else entirely is more or less irrelevant, and this is because her function can be played by any one of these (we are personally inclined toward the view that she is the beloved sublimated into a kind of spiritual presence, like an angel or muse, although this cannot really be substantiated). Now, the nature of her function is as a guide, a spiritual voice that seems to be part of the protagonist’s own psyche, someone who is comprehensively internalized; the task of her function is evidently to assist the protagonist as he struggles to remove the surviving shackles of his prior imprisonment, to help him let go of his enduring love which only causes himself pain, and finally to show him how beautiful life is when you view it in its essence, not unlike Beatrice in the Paradiso. We hear our friend reaching, calling out that he is lost, and his guide reaches down, and benevolently responds, ‘Our world is so wonderful, so beautiful; if only you could open up your mind and see’. We can determine that, at this point, the male and female voices are really one being conversing with one another, and that perhaps the final resolution will see them joined together in body and spirit as in Plato’s Symposium, or Blake’s Jerusalem.
‘This world is wonderful, so beautiful,If only you can open up your mind and see Your world is everything you ever dreamed ofIf only you can open up your mind and seeThe beauty that is here.'
With a poetic narrative of this quality, of this high-calibre, it is almost as though the music itself is merely a secondary instrument, even if this is nowhere near the truth. While obviously the music on an album like this is constructed to support the lyrics, it is nevertheless of the highest importance, and we can illustrate this allegorically. If we imagine the content of a poem apart from its form, it will appear as a series of dialectical points (at best), a cascading array of ideas presented via purely argumentative means with no ornamentation or metaphorical power whatsoever to provide the necessary aesthetic rhetoric; it will, in other words, be as unreadable as Kant’s Critique of Judgment is to the unwitting layman; it would, in other words, be a poem without poetry, an oxymoron if ever there was one.
More specifically, the music of Weather Systems fulfils its role supplementing the story exactly as imagery and meter supplement Paradise Lost. It does this principally through an enormous evocation of melody, with soft, dancing guitar lines infiltrating every verse, pushing it up to further improve its dramatic feeling. The rhythm is motivated by an atmosphere that is at times pulsing and heavy, bearing the weight of a storm, at other times light and airy, allowing the imagination to wander in the vast spaces of the ether. So the music not only captivates and epitomizes the very title of this album in its work, flowing sensuously along with all the eccentricity of the weather, but it more importantly organizes the lyrical exposition into a series of natural symbols that characterize the narrative as something continuous and wholly seamless as a union of poetry and the music that brings it to artistic life. The listener is impressed by the sonorous imagery, the bold, unwavering symbolism that catches every dramatic moment in its heavy embrace; in a word, it synthesizes the pathos of the lyrics with the expressive soundscape imposed by the atmosphere: when our protagonist is lost in his wandering, melancholic reveries, the aural ‘weather system’ opens into a broad, elegiac expanse, like a clear night sky illuminated by a bright, brave moon; in the final song when our protagonist finally emerges from his confusion, when the album reaches its climactic resolution, the music metaphorically becomes the full startling power of dawn, the golden rod of Apollo, and the soothing, cathartic breath of the Sun.
‘There’s a fire in the sky, and I know it’s you…’
To create a brutally over-simplified summary of not only this album, but of Anathema’s story as a whole, we can say that the general plot revolves around a man’s overwhelming love for something, or more emphatically someone, that is existentially and ontologically on the same level as himself; he is filled with a seething desire, and, when this desire is not met or requited, when it falls into the void, we receive this extensive, somewhat bitter narrative that is at once rich in a tumultuous despair and in a dark, desperate search for meaning and for peace. Now, this is where We’re Here… and Weather Systems are introduced, and it is not insignificant that the level of female vocals is enhanced, both in terms of effectiveness and in sheer volume, and the significance derives from the function of the female character in these two albums. While we certainly heard hints of her before, in this or that stage of her own development, it is really only in Weather Systems that her identity becomes relatively clear; whereas the protagonist was formerly involved in a total devotion to someone on the same level as himself, someone who never returned his love, which left him hanging on the edge of oblivion in purely sentimental helplessness, there is presently a voice that calls to him, seemingly from inside and above. She is beckoning him to release that old, dead, infertile love, or rather to direct it upward, to focus all of that frustrated spiritual, contemplative attention towards her, and to hopefully thereby be liberated from the ouroboric cycles of pain he is subjected to for as long as he keeps pouring his affection into the void. Weather Systems, in its revelation of an alternative, higher path where one’s incessant love really belongs, represents therefore an optimistic meditation, a thesis of eternal love and eternal life, but it also represents a symbolic homecoming; again, metaphorically, the human soul has departed heaven, concentrated his powerful amorous vitality upon the world which he finds beautiful, and, when his love is unrequited, and he finds that he is just a stranger in a strange land after all, he succumbs to the darker recesses of the world. This is when an angel, his silver Sophia appears, reminding the wayward soul that this wild earth and its chaotic weather systems are finite and completely ephemeral compared to his true home, the ivory palaces of an everlasting Heaven, where we can deposit our most fervent love, our most vivid dreams, and always expect a positive return. We cannot definitively know what comes next in the Anathema storyline, but it would be a fairly safe wager to anticipate an episode which continues on this path to personal gnosis, salvation, and our spiritual resting place!
'It's just so beautiful. It was eternity, it's like I was always there, and I will always be there, that my existence on earth was just a very brief instant... I could say that I was peace, I was love, I was the brightness, it was part of me.'
#2 Dead Can Dance - Anastasis
Our kingdom will come....
Loreena McKennitt tries to make music that derives directly from her experiences in the world, from her involvement in whatever cultural atmosphere she immerses herself in and imitates thereafter. With honest intentions, the artist goes to so many different environments in order to augment the sincerity of her music; unfortunately, with the odd exception here and there, she fails to recreate the inner movement of the traditional styles of music that she mimics – she succeeds merely in effecting a type of music that reveals the surface, the outer layers of Celtic folk, for example, but does not touch its centre, the bleeding core and what the music is in essence.
Dead Can Dance, on the other hand, take a different approach. In their case, the artist peers straight into the midst of what makes all of those varying world traditions really genuine; they experience without mediation what every other poet and bard experience when they articulate their artistry, namely, that ‘divine madness’ that visits every artist when he is inspired and truly involved in the making of his work. What this means is that, where Loreena McKennitt strives after the accidental, and consequently becomes an imitator of what is already imitated, Dead Can Dance tackle the essential directly, allowing them to create their own ‘accidentals’, and thereby avoid being derivative. Yes, Dead Can Dance employ various styles from around the world in their music, but, unlike Loreena McKennitt, who, for all her good work,is nevertheless enslaved by these accidentals, the Aussie-Irish combination utilize these elements for their own ends, their own compositions, and thus remain artistically autonomous. McKennitt dwells on the accidental and produces only accidental music; DCD penetrate the fundamental and create music that is ultimately at home in any form of music, because the fundamental is identical everywhere as being the generator of strong, living works of art.
Now, the much-anticipated album Anastasis fulfils every expectation, especially considering how far it surpasses in quality its predecessor, Spiritchaser, which was relatively flat, largely forgettable, and notably uninspired. In Anastasis, Dead Can Dance return to what really defines them: their myth-making, or, more specifically, their myth-reminding. This artist is not particularly inventive or original, but neither do they have to be; Dead Can Dance perceive the mythical void that pervades ‘postmodern’ life and feel dutifully obliged to fill it in with deep remembrances of prior ages and their legends.
In one sense, therefore, Anastasis is a nostalgic record; the contemporary listener does not feel a veritable 'connection' with the music, and the general mythical sentiment that it conveys – the ethereal soundscapes, the foreign, faintly archaic melodies and the means by which they are presented, even though it is all composed through a markedly Western perspective, feel alien, anachronistic, and simply mysterious to the contemporary listener, especially when listening to Anastasis the first few times. There is certainly a connection, of course, but it is not the same connection that a devout Roman layman, for example, would feel to the Gregorian chants and the high Mass of his local parish in the 12th Century - Dead Can Dance aspire to evoke memories of mythical substance, not to create or duplicate the substance itself, which is why the connection we feel to their music is different.
In another sense, however, rather than being trapped in time by a rootless nostalgia, Anastasis fully belongs to the prevailing era. We say this because even the anachronism is destined for whatever age it is born into; the patently clear male vocals might cause us to envision an equanimous oracle, professing prophecies from the mountainside; the sweet, Orient-esque female vocals might make us think of some starry seraphim conferring a blessing upon a sailing crusader; and the evanescent rhythms, the magical streams of melody, the quiet percussion might all remind us of ancient stargazers upon the sea, early morning Matins at a provincial monastery, or the liveliness of an Arabic market - but all of this is eminently part of our world inasmuch as it persists as a living memory, an enduring imprint on the consciousness of our civilization, in a word, inasmuch as we can keep using these images as meaningful metaphoric material!
The act of remembrance does not disqualify one from the age of his birth; it only means that his vocation consists in the keeping of history and myths, and of what makes our history and myths worth remembering. This is the precise function of Anastasis, and more broadly of Dead Can Dance: to continually inform the members of our society of the fundamentally mythical constitution of our world; to combat the slumberous artistic nihilism that threatens every new generation with amnesia and the indulgence in a further disembodied breed of art that serves merely as a slightly larger dose of methamphetamine serves a junkie; and finally to remind us of realms even beyond this one, to inspire the imaginative impulses, to search for God, and to rest at last in an elevated sanctum of peace and everlasting beauty. The word 'Anastasis', which literally means 'Resurrection', represents the 'harrowing of hell', the descent of Christ into the inferno to conquer the mortal powers of death and to restore the living; perhaps this album means something similar: the triumphant return, the resurrection of vital energies and mythical moments via the medium of a gripping, virile memory.
#3 Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Ame
Everything that livesLives not alone, nor for itself. Fear not, and I will callThe weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice.Come forth, worm of the silent valley, to thy pensive queen. ~ William Blake, 'The Book of Thel'
Black metal is intent on recreating the void; the aim of a typical band in this mould aspires to effect a kind of nihilistic energy which caustically strips away all illusory material, everything ‘which cannot stand on its own’. Black metal attempts to artistically recreate the night, when the darkness eclipses everything which is perceived plainly by day, and when only the stars and the moon above can really be seen. This is precisely why Alcest receive flak from certain circles: Alcest have dared to wait until dawn, to step into the light and forego the nocturnal darkness altogether. In this they are allied with such recent efforts as Nokturnal Mortum’s The Voice of Steel and Burzum’s Belus, two albums which have surpassed the stage where the band has emphasized chaos, hate, and darkness, and have developed instead a more refined approach that presents order and light.
Now, where The Voice of Steel has organized chaos into a stronger, more hopeful sense of order and myth, and where Belus has turned the old black metal mythos on its head and resurrected Baldur, the white god, a Nordic parallel of Apollo himself, Les Voyages, the album with the least remaining musical vestiges of metal of the three, has coerced the enduring, characteristic hate and impassioned wrath of black metal into a much softer, more wistful semblance of love. We are no longer seeing black stormtroopers of death rising from Hades, burning churches, raping nuns, and practising black magic in orgiastic satanic rites; instead, we envision in Les Voyages a pair of lovers sitting in a parish courtyard, with the sun beaming brightly above them in the fullness of day, holding gentle conversation about the wonder and the beauty surrounding them. A strange revolution in themes, to be sure, but it is nevertheless the natural progression of a mature, more truly poetic ‘black metal’; it is indeed as natural as night progressing into day.
Musically speaking, the focus of Les Voyages is obviously on its melodic impact; no longer hidden behind relentless blast beats, the terrifying walls of sound, the Alcest melody is quite free, elevated in its expression, shining as clearly as the sun must at mid-day. The instrumentation is altogether mild, relaxed, interested rather in effecting a simple, melodious atmosphere that inspires reflection and aesthetic consideration; from the unambitious, agrarian attitude of the percussion to the easy, almost cheerful graces of both the rhythm and leads, Les Voyages epitomizes in every respect the temper of a lazy Summer afternoon.
This album, and the band's discography as a whole, suffer an intense amount of negative criticism from certain circles for its wide estrangement from the dominant themes of black metal, but most of this derives from genuine confusion about the Alcest project. First of all, the black metal listener often likes the genre for its ‘evil essence’, if you will, for its powerful statement of destruction and its ‘nihilistic energy’, and therefore cannot enjoy something which is at heart diametrically opposed to this original nature. Secondly, the listener approaches Alcest like he would any other black metal band and, finding very little of what makes the more typical black metal album good, writes it off as ‘feminine’, ‘sentimental’, ‘misguided’, etc. The problem with this is that we cannot approach Alcest as a BM band because it does not have the same ethos, or even the same musical substance, of black metal; it has outgrown it, meaning that it is a product of the genre, but is not itself black metal as we understand it. Les Voyages is a love album not in the sense of a love affair between a man and a woman, but in the sense of loving life as a whole, of loving all that lives ipso facto - it is not for nothing that Alcest utilize the most romantic of modern languages. Misanthropy and apocalyptic nihilism and screaming images of annihilation have no place here, for Alcest present the world as an inviolable sanctum, and amorously celebrate the wondrously vast orders of life that give it substance.
#4 Triarii - Exile
I am the King, I am the leader of Heaven and HellI am the saviour, I am the bringer of deathI am divine, I am the Fire, I am your God!
While historically we have tried to limit these rankings to full-length releases, exceptions must be made when there is sufficient quality even in the more limited space of an extended play - Exile is certainly one of these exceptions. While in our (mini-) review of Corona Imperialis we stressed how Von Thronstahl have matured and have effected a more sensible, melancholic approach, Triarii, having been relatively ‘mature’ in both attitude and composition from the first, are not quite moving in the same direction. What we hear in Exile is not something revolutionary, something radically progressive in style; we essentially hear more of the same – more of the crusading anthems, more evidence of a supremely confident, well-drilled martial percussion, and, of course, more of that radio feedback that is creatively used where a drummer would use a fill to complete a section and connect it to the next. For self-evident reasons, the fact that the artist elects to use this instead of the more popular drum or other sort of fill further distinguishes Triarii as a unit that pursues a military aesthetic and artistic objective.
Exile is not, however, simply the one song; there is an excellent balance on this release, every track contributing its own unique element to the whole. We are privileged to hear moments of delicate profundity where sombre, sonorous melodies are masked and yet not thoroughly disguised by the ongoing percussive forces; we also find deeply respectful moments wherein Triarii reveal their Classical influences, paying homage to the architects of the European soul. Like Von Thronstahl and Winglord, Triarii clearly maintain visions of grandeur, of a resurrected Europe, particularly in the political dimension; while these are all good, valuable artists, Triarii are superior because they exude a presence that is more direct, more artistically organized, more honest, and more real in their presentation, in their imposing aura. When we imagine the heroes rising from the ashes of this dead world, of them filing into ranks and preparing for war, we imagine them marching to the pounding drums of Triarii, with the solar face of Augustus towering over the vanguard, and the actual sun beaming high overhead in its glorious zenith.
#5 Nachtmahr - Veni Vidi Vici
VORWÄRTS, KLANGSOLDATEN BIS ZUM SIEG DAS IST UNSERE SCHLACHT DAS IST UNSER KRIEG
The sole electronic album on this list, Veni Vidi Vici is stylistically identical to its predecessors, continuing the trend of pulsing, motivated dark EBM with an industrial influence. The difference between this kind of music and heavy metal is not so great as it might appear; both genres, for instance, place an enormous emphasis on creating a driving central rhythm that carries the song beyond the rhythm section alone; in metal, of course, this is created by the lead guitar, and in the typical electronic act it is a powerful synth line – all other instrumental elements are ultimately subordinated to these parts. We can therefore see that both genres are fundamentally geared towards building titanic momentum, towards really impressive modes of attack that consist of more than merely drum & bass, but of elaborate, melodic, and especially powerful leading chords that best characterize whatever artist in question.
While Nachtmahr have hardly been great pioneers in their respective field, they have definitely mastered it, surpassing most others in their clear adhesion to a certain style and making it their own. The music is, as you would expect, highly rhythmic, driven onwards by the monotonous heartbeat and the standard bass-snare; the artist enhances the martial aspect of these beats with the accompanying synth rhythm and the utility of distorted vocals belted forth in raw German. As we have already alluded to, however, the main strength resides in the aural primacy of the aggressively melodic synth lines, which either ameliorate the dominant rhythm in the verse sections or elevate the chorus to astral heights; the chorus, indeed, is typically the highlight of any which song, the focal point around which all else is organized. The express purpose of this is to accentuate the drama of the climax, the absolute ecstasy that the moment of victory brings. The unprecedented use of female vocals in parts of this album is also interesting in that it adds a layer of subtlety, a gentle contrast to the tyrannical Thomas Rainer; the desired effect of this is to provide another angle, to give Veni Vidi Vici more depth and a more well-rounded approach – we cannot, after all, be expected to hear nothing but Austro-German howitzer-dance propaganda throughout every album.
With such a convincingly militaristic sound and aesthetic, Nachtmahr are able to direct their virile efforts to a single goal, which is to present a kind of music that accords with the profound experience of victory. Veni Vidi Vici is so active in its forward movement, so expressive in its explosive melodies because it is a monument to triumph, particularly martial triumph. This is furthermore the tribute to the eternal ideas of discipline and masculine vigour, of camaraderie and heroism; Veni Vidi Vici is the joyous consummation of all these things reconciled in final, bloody success, expressed through glorious revelry and dancing through the A.M. Beyond the frolicking and sheer delight, we envision in Nachtmahr the endless rows of endless foot-soldiers, marching on and on in front of their beloved leader like the Romans of old in the ‘triumph parades’ of their great emperors; we envision the golden eagle of victory held forth upon their banners and tallest standards - the Eagle, that brilliant beacon of light and life, the symbol of man’s inherent nobility, and the unifying imperial flag around which all men of Europe, all men of the future, can hereby rally.
#6 Evoken - Atra Mors
Blessed by the tears I shed, worn by the weather I am taken from my place of shelter.Within the calm of the wind, taken by the day, this is my final breathIt has always been the illusion of life, for this is my sole moment, it is the moment of my death...
With an album title that translates from Latin into ‘black death’, it is hardly difficult to perceive the concept of Atra Mors, especially not after seeing the horrifying, grey, plague-ridden setting of the album cover. The purpose of Evoken’s latest record, patiently constructed after the five years since A Caress of the Void, is clearly to demonstrate the firm grasp that death has on this world via its terrible, apocalyptic pestilential agency.
This aesthetic, conceptual aspect of Atra Mors may help to introduce the mood, but it is the music itself that gives us the fullest impression, the sharpest insight into the bleak, helpless desperation that any man experiences when he comes face to face with the twisted mask of disease, the shameless mockery of humanity. The atmosphere, therefore, is obviously one that is defined by its misery, its expression of utter emptiness, and this is achieved firstly through the standard plodding, time-consuming riffs that swallow up any light in their inexorable movement; the mass of each of the lengthier tracks are constituted by these enormous, creeping riffs and the similarly monumental force of the bass and percussion which are enveloped and made ever more dismal by the outstanding depth of the production, a necessity in this funeral doom style. The guttural vocals, another requirement, plainly go along with this theme, enforcing the sentiments of impending damnation with monotonous growls and the odd shriek of emotional exhaustion. The rather more rare clean vocals, however, together with the occasional use of mournfully melodic lines imbued with a profound pathos, provide a subtle layer of strong feeling and a strange beauty, perhaps not unlike the kind that occurs at the very moment of death, when all pain and turmoil finally give way to unending sleep.
Atra Mors draws many parallels, both musically and conceptually, with The Stars Would Not Awake You, but it is more interesting to observe where they are different. The latter album, for instance, preaches a sorrow-laden sermon directed at the finality of death and yet paradoxically hints at, however subtly, the eternity of life; Atra Mors, on the other hand, shows us very little that would incline us to believe that there is anything other than death and darkness when pestilence arrives to reap what has been sown. This is a beautiful album, and it is so because it has attempted to represent an idea that is perfectly apropos of the musical style in which it is conveyed; Evoken have elected to present the reality of a realm that is besieged by the legions of Apollyon and the pervasive presence of helplessness against the inevitable decay, and they have done so to the point where we can engage artistically with the meaning of the album and thereby understand in some aesthetic way the emotional plight and human fragility that the nearness of death brings with it. So, unlike the Tempestuous Fall record, we are in no way comforted by the promise of eternity, whether in heroic legend or immortality proper; we are left simply with the comfort of death, with, we repeat, the comfort of being relieved of all worldly grimaces and the tortures of being alive in the state of sickly near-extinction.
#7 Mgla - With Hearts Toward None
I shall erect myself over transienceI shall ascend over fleshSteadfastly tearing through aetherI shall rise to the beyondI shall reveal heightsnot yet imaginedI shall rewrite Summa de homineI shall speak with tongues of angelsAnd I shall burn with pure light
Mgla started making waves in the underground more than four years ago when they released their debut Groza, an album that we found to be rather uninspired, too ambitious for its means, and wholly overrated at the time. Those waves became bigger last year, however, when they unveiled With Hearts Toward None, an album that far surpasses and in many ways completes its predecessor, making the hype very much deserved this time around.
It is difficult to engender a new creative angle on a genre of music older than the modern state of Germany while remaining within the defining parameters, so Mgla have decided to perfect it instead. Now, many would (justly) argue that black metal has already been perfected by the likes of Burzum, Mayhem, Emperor, and the rest of the elite from the early nineties, but there has been precious little by way of their illustrious quality since they reach their height arguably in ninety-three, and yet there has been the occasional new artist who has tried his hand at things and managed varying degrees of success (Antaeus in 2000, for example, or S.V.E.S.T. in 2003). Mgla is the most recent instance of a more or less traditional black metal band producing an album that defies the sterility of its tired subject material, and, while it will hardly usher in new movements of quality black metal in the old style, makes it clear that there are still twitches of life in a bruised and battered corpse.
A remarkably cohesive, well-integrated album with each song not too different from the previous track, and not too similar either, With Hearts Toward None is one of those records that walks the fine line between enabling its emphatically melodic constitution to carry the album to artistic illumination and submitting to a plebeian accessibility that threatens to limit the work to a short-term engagement for the serious listener. Fortunately, Mgla have managed to employ its high concentrations of melody to better ends, namely, to effect a kind of pathos that, ironically, portrays the cessation of pathos, or more precisely the cessation of all emotive impulses, which is, of course, what the album’s title directly implies. With Hearts is, metaphorically speaking, another dramatic luciferian representation of acquitting oneself of all human-all-too-human responsibilities, of turning fully to the void in a powerful ritual of self-effacement and overcoming; the subject, in his yearning to create without the burden of personhood, to live in a freer, more independent state, departs from the world of his nature and yields to some other, darker place wherein he might make a ‘heaven out of hell’.
The use of such intensive melody, then, is to signify the passage of the human element from the subject; it is the archetypal tragedy that Milton demonstrated in Paradise Lost, the tragedy of a mighty being remaining dissatisfied with the status quo, with his relatively limited place in the greater scheme of things (according to him), and who forsakes his natural vocation in an impetuous pursuit of total, uninhibited strength. The dissident, martial, and yet often harmonious percussive dynamics, the riveting caress of the streaming rhythms, and the callous, disenchanted breath of the vocal presence open up the bleak mysteries of the void for the subject to step through; the virtually omnipresent melodic strands always follow behind, like the evanescent wisps of light that are shrugged off as the subject is drawn closer and closer to the abyss, leaving faint traces of light like the faint trail of a shooting star immediately before it disappears completely.
#8 Kreuzweg Ost - Gott Mit Uns
You are a soldier of ChristYou must make yourself worthy
Kreuzweg Ost’s debut record, Iron Avantgarde, was, for all of its clever combinations and innovative instrumentation, very much a theoretical hypothesis still in its experimental stages; it indeed showed terrific potential, but was aimless in its execution, each song meandering inside and out of what the album’s framework allowed. Twelve years later and Gott mit uns is unveiled, revealing the fulfillment of so much of that latent potential; this album is, for all of the strength of the two prior albums, truly their successor, their dramatic completion. The vision of Kreuzweg Ost burns brightest here.
What makes this artist so interesting, and their project so difficult, is that their objective is firstly to have their own idea of what each album is going to become, and then they have to borrow themes and samples from other artistic entities that already have firmly identifiable ideas of their own. When we hear the Jews cry for the blood of Christ, and then the cries of the Messiah Himself, we immediately perceive the Passion, particularly Mel Gibson’s rendition; later the mood clearly shifts to one of holy war and of religious introspection and so forth, with samples drawn from various other films. Confusion might thereby result in lesser albums, but Kreuzweg Ost have presently mastered their concept to the point where every musical element accords with it, leaving us with a patently transparent view of what is happening in the album’s ‘story’.
The aural atmosphere is frequently built off of contrapuntal synth melodies that are designed to contrast with one another to create the desired effect; in ‘Black Moon’, for instance, they exude a strongly martial presence where the two synth lines conflict with one another, creating the sense of an intense existential duality. The environment of the entire album, for that matter, is thoroughly warlike, with percussion that is either bleakly pounding at seemingly random intervals or, military drum style, rattling away while powerful, Summoning-esque keyboards sound out lordly melodies. The samples themselves (for the most part) profess a singularly martial capacity, whether they are manfully asking for courage, excommunicating some enemy of the Church, or calling for the crucifix – even Christ Himself emits a rather morbid yelp in His pain; that a good number of the samples are excerpts in German is not insignificant insofar as the German language is invested with both combative and deeply sacral tones and history. Finally, the song structure is noticeably more developed in Gott mit uns; unlike the aforementioned Iron Avantgarde, which relied on so many different stops and turns as well as an altogether amorphous organization, the present album is cohesive, with inter-relating songs that repeat and finalize existing themes instead of introducing new and unwanted ones.
The truth of any excellent work of art is that the execution reveals the idea, the means proclaim the end; by manifesting this piece of music which manages to musically convey these avowedly religious motifs through the lens of highly disciplined, imperiously martial soundscapes, Kreuzweg Ost succeed in making their own vision trample over all foreign influences, over any external ideas that the listener brings with him. This vision, that of Christ and His Church Militant seated astride the world in triumph, interlaced with moments of personal aspirations to meet favourably with His judgment, is both inspired and inspirational. This bold, uncompromising, majestically aesthetic idea boils the blood, excites the mind, and reminds us of golden images of crusading soldiers bearing the Cross, waging holy war both on the members of opposing creeds and on ourselves, waging both an outer and inner ‘Jihad’ to the glory of our race, our civilization, and our Faith. It is indeed a wonder that the imagery of an armed and marching religion is not used more often in contemporary art, for there is nothing more powerful in this world than a good idea with good men to uphold it.
#9 Von Thronstahl - Corona Imperialis
I was dead, I'm on my ownI was born, I'm coming home...
The single, categorical aim of Von Thronstahl is to create strong, masculine music that can be used as a soundtrack for the rebirth of traditional European values and achievements, or at least for their considerations. The overall aesthetic of the artist, which can be more or less described as defiantly, militantly Catholic in an age where all has turned flaccid and sentimental, matches the music itself: vigorous, organized, and pointedly martial in its hard, low, marching ground atmosphere, the even-ness, the uncompromising discipline of its steely percussion, as well as the manly depth and tonal rigour of the vocals. We can sense the vision, the stern desire for positive change in our Western world firstly in their music, which altogether denotes a sort of present-tense understanding of the past; the plan makes use of contemporary instrumentation and ideas, but they are skilfully filtered through the ideals of tradition. The second facet of this ‘stern desire’ can be detected, of course, through the lyrical medium, wherein the Von Thronstahl statement is expressed via the podium of autocracy, the poetry of fascism, and via the mechanics of Empire, all of which being essential images of the artist’s aesthetic constitution.
#10 Tempestuous Fall - The Stars Would Not Awake You
Oh Hades hereYour season's end draws near
Knowing the artist behind this project (Dis Pater, the musical polymath of Midnight Odyssey and The Crevices Below), we anticipated a complete, well-crafted, and compositionally cohesive album, and The Stars Would Not Awake You is certainly all of that. Every instrumental element is intricately placed in its correct position; the slow, plodding riffs and the equally cral-paced percussion create the density of atmosphere, the meticulously building rhythms; the acoustic guitar, synthesizer, piano, and especially the violin are each inserted to a provide a generally more haunting, melancholic aspect; the low, monstrous vocals are not particularly impressive, but they nevertheless add to the cold grandiosity of the sound while the clean vocals are highly appropriate, inspiring moments of sorrow and bitter recollection.
Conceptually, The Stars Would Not Awake You is intriguing, as albums in this ‘funeral doom’ style often are. The object that initially intrigues us is the album cover, which features the Classically-inspired painting ‘The Lament for Icarus' by Herbert James Draper, which obviously depicts the fall of the Greek tragic hero. This gives us our first insight into the artistic vision of this record, the scene of lamentation for the poor son of Daedalus, who impetuously defied the reason of his elders and aspired for the heights all the same.
The music certainly reflects this vision. With a startling quality of production, drenching everything with an amazing clarity and slumberous depth, the atmosphere is highly reminiscent of a funeral for an important, beloved person; we are dragged ever down into the midst of longing for the life of this fallen one by the almost incessantly droning rhythmic patterns, by the growling vocals that bespeak a quiet reconciliation to fate, to what must be.
The Stars is very nearly a dirge, but it is not quite a dirge. This is because there is invariably a flicker of light shown by somewhere by the end of each song; the melody from a guitar or a violin suddenly changes pitch, direction, and / or tone to reveal a new perspective that allows us a moment of hope after all. The hero has fallen, we are pathetically entranced by the profound tragedy of the event, but, just when we think that we are perhaps resigned to this sad reality after all, a different image appears, showing us the mythic beauty of what has happened. We deeply mourn for the wretched victim, but only because he was so full of life to test the very limits of life, to walk the fine line between this world and that of Hades; we love Icarus because he dared to look death in the face and yield to him heroically, so let us not waste too many tears for the very reason why we love him! The Stars Would Not Awake You presents a desperately sorrowful front, only to later breathe slight, silver hints of life; it is the persistent reminder that death is here and it is very real, but it is also an assurance that there is also at the exit gates of our world the opportunity for immortality, eternal heroism, and all those other things that death can never truly touch.
#11 Charon - Sulphur Seraph
Crowned by the serpents kissBecoming father and son in oneTo me is given the unholy blissSo children of earth... bow down!
A lot of extreme metal involves something which might be called an ‘inversion of idols’, particularly in regard to Christian ‘idols’. Both black and death metal, especially when fused together, adopt a Christian symbology when layering their music with the aesthetic patina (that it is almost invariably a Catholic symbology goes without saying – it is rather difficult to incorporate something which hardly exists, as in the Protestant ‘invisible Church’). As we can already tell by the album title, this is manifestly true in Charon’s case; this album seeks to invert the idol and thereby reveal a most hellish incarnation of Christ’s warrior angels.
First of all, this album triumphs indeed in its objective: the music is directly indicative of a ‘sulphur seraphim’; we can almost smell the sick, noxious stench rising from the ground as we listen. We are supposed to bear witness to an inverted order of angels that constitute the legionaries of Hell, the pernicious hierarchy that both tortures the denizens of the inferno and are themselves tortured by their own superiors, as well as by the simple state of their infra-real existence. The sulphur seraph is a scourge that is at once the result of a bloated, industrialized humanity, and it is the Satan-sent plague that has visited our world as a form of apocalyptic judgment.
This is what the music and the aesthetic of Sulphur Seraph conveys symbolically. It achieves this principally through the impressive synthesis of vocal power and the stringent dynamism of the guitar work; the former takes multiple forms, from the sickly rasp to the beastly grunts to the deep, semi-spoken vocals that sound as if they emanate from some dark wizard, some demon monk at prayer. All of these project a satisfactory display of infection, of a great cancerous malaise that conspires with the guitar work, which consist of short, potent chords that transition rapidly between themselves, which in turn results in the immediate semblance of a virus overwhelming a host body, or even of a mythical zombie sprinting at the uninfected. This contaminated alliance of vocals and infectious rhythm, propelled forwards by an expectantly merciless percussion, fulfills an album that threatens to invoke some sulphurous seraph from the depths, and succeeds in doing so.
#12 Demoncy - Enthroned is the Night
As night devours the light, stars will fall from the skyThe moon will strike the earth, as chaos consumes the cosmos
We have explained in an above review of a more highly rated album that the fundamental aim of extreme metal, in this case a dense fusion of black and death metal, is to artistically ‘recreate the night’, to represent musically the deep, natural power of the darkness that masks the world between dusk and dawn, as well as the degenerative forces of time and death. Well, Demoncy’s Enthroned is the Night quite clearly epitomizes this effort (we only need to recall the song titles here: ‘Midnight Veil’, Opening the Lunar Bloodgate’, ‘Nocturne’, etc.), and there is nothing ambiguous about it: this is as a direct, straightforward appeal to the lords of night that we might find in any kind of music. The strength of this album, however, suffers nothing for it; its principle qualities infact reside in the sheer immediacy, the distinctly singular brutality of this nocturnal barrage.
Enthroned is the Night, qualitatively speaking, is very much the successor of Joined in Darkness; they are formulaically similar, they both have the same vision of where the music should proceed, and, most importantly, they are thematically identical, or at least very near to it. It is for these reasons that Enthroned cannot be considered the superior album, or even equal to Joined in Darkness, namely because it neither perfects nor builds on it; Enthroned merely imitates Joined, extending the Demoncy discographic program into a longer, more northern night.
#13 Desaster - The Arts of Destruction
All purest blood against their lawA noble heart to curse them allMajestic nature destined brideIn league with death to please the wise
Desaster have been at the forefront of the German thrash movement, bearing the Kaiser’s flag up almost by themselves since their inception in the mid-nineties. With the notable exception of ‘Possessed and Defiled’, a track which would sound as though it could be lifted from A Touch of Medieval Darkness if it were not for its clearer, superior production values, The Arts of Destruction certainly carries on where the last few Desaster albums have left off. The emphasis is still on short, breaking riffs, wild, often incomprehensible vocals, and a tight, pulsing percussion that is essential for the rapid movement and the progressive integrity of each song; this is still the Desaster that, having learned their trade, are committed to tweaking and revising and perfecting it.
There is one strength that is manifestly superior to all others on any Desaster record, and that is of course the sheer quality of its riffs. Blitzing ahead with galloping pseudo-triplets, each song is injected with immense driving power that derives chiefly from the creative energy of its guitar work; each song is harmonically structured to maximize the raw force of the centralized riffs, the effect of which being a tendency towards an explosive climax where the riff emerges like all the firepower propelled upwards by a Flak 88.
The nature of The Arts of Destruction is such that, like many other thrash albums, the songwriting is geared towards creating a series of self-consistent, autonomous songs rather than toward building a cohesive album that is formed by so many smaller parts that link together evenly. While the best albums tend to follow the latter pattern, thrash metal bands frequently get away with employing the first plan, and this is because of their orientation around the excellence of the lead guitar; the riff is so crucial to the success of any song that, rather than the overall unity of the album, the riff itself becomes the guiding principle of the music. There is still the semblance of musical and thematic integrity in the album, of course, but the emphasis is shifted to the focussed quality of the individual unit. This is exactly the case of The Arts of Destruction: rather than make a concentrated attack comprising of a well-balanced army that is disciplined in its timing and its layered organization, the Desaster generals send their divisions of skeletal warriors over the walls helter skelter, with no discipline but that of bloodlust, with no orders at all but to kill, kill, kill.
#14 Revenge - Scum.Collapse.Eradication
To review one Revenge album is basically to review every Revenge album. In between screeching pick slides, incessantly chaotic percussion, and crazed ranting about something called ‘superion’, there is not a tonne of room for variation. Because of this narrow continuity, any new Revenge album is really just an elaboration or an extension of the previous one; fortunately, Scum.Collapse.Eradication is also the perfection of every previous Revenge record.
The fundamentals remain intact: James Read’s blitzkrieg assault on his poor drum-kit, his feral shrieking contrasting with the more guttural intonations (of whatever source), the more or less random, piercingly frenetic guitar solos, and the low, rhythmic riffing which, typically, takes on the appearance of playing a minor part in the greater scheme, when really it is just as essential to the plot as any lead guitar is to any metal artist. The role of the guitar is oddly similar to that of a bassist in a more normal group of musicians, and that is to follow the percussive patterns, laying down a haphazard minefield in its deep, earthy aura. The continuously anti-melodic phrasing, then, is an intense, inexorable onslaught of mighty percussion interlocked with insidious, monumental riffing while the vocal styles of insane animals (or psych patients) sound out above the din. It sounds, in a word, not only like a capricious, drunken attempt to engineer a minefield, but also like those mines going off as a flock of misguided sheep stumble and bleed and die across the plain.
Revenge have indeed perfected their craft with this album; Scum is more articulately turbulent, more systematically disorganized than any of their prior material, which is what they want - something that is portrayed as helter-skelter, and yet the portrayal is executed with precision and a kind of inner refinement (recall the name of past member Helmkamp's other principle band, Order From Chaos). The song structure is tighter, with more focus on developing longer, progressive phrases which now form a more concrete foundation; the percussion, while seemingly as violently anarchic as ever, has a kind of stability, an organized framework of the like which we have not seen to this extent since the War Cult Supremacy masterpiece.
More than most other bands, Revenge epitomize the nihilistic tendency towards chaos. Their music represents a conscious (if intoxicated) effort to create compelling images of martial destruction, of abnormally rapid decay, of sheer annihilation; this is the sound of impending apocalypse. In Scum.Collapse.Eradication, we experience the terror of some infernal horned creature manifesting out of the spatial void in a cloud of black fire; all laws of the physical universe are ripped to shreds by the talons of chaos – Satanic miracles become commonplace: trees sink into their roots, mountains swallow valleys and rise to blot out the sky, dead fish destroy the sunny shores with their terrific stench. This is the sound of Apollyon rising from the depths, a great skeleton panzer operated by some invisible malice, crushing everything that cannot stand alone.
#15 Om - Advaitic Songs
And the phoenix has ascendedGlides upon the divine windLiberates from the world sojourn
With blatant Christian imagery (an icon of St. John the Baptist adorns the cover), a profession to contain ‘Advaitic songs’, and with religio-philosophic ideas and references of both Christian and Vedantic origin sprinkled liberally throughout the lyrics, this album is a fascinating composite of two seemingly divergent sources. The promise of synthesizing arguably the two strongest spiritual and cultural traditions known to contemporary man is immense, but also somewhat likely to be undermined by poor executive judgment, rather like all ecumenical attempts to unite the two disparate worlds. Fortunately for the listener, Om are much more successful.
As anyone would expect from a band that emerged from the ashes of a ‘stoner doom metal’ band, the functional foundation of Om is its healthy rhythm section; the heavy, highly rhythmic bass patterns are fitted to create deep-lying grooves which are accentuated and elongated by an equally rhythmic, enterprising percussion – the mellifluous relationship here is the main strength of Advaitic Songs since it is the album’s backbone, the humming impetus behind the forward movement. An interesting thing to note about the bass is that it acts as a surrogate for the standard guitar; all playing, including the distorted main riff of the second and heaviest track, is done on the bass guitar, which highlights how Om are drifting further and further away from their metal roots, a fact that is made clearer by the extensive use of other instruments such as the cello and the Indian tambura. Finally, the vocals themselves emphasize this direction shift; yes, the main part of these are still performed by Al Cisneros’ placid, groove-oriented singing, but even this has taken on an even more relaxed articulation, a kind of swaying rhythm that would sound rather like something Arabic if Cisneros were not so laidback, so utterly nonchalant in the pace and force of his vocals. The first song, too, is exclusively vocally composed of a woman chanting verses in Sanskrit from the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, or the Great Death-Conquering Mantra, which forecasts a powerful stylistic theme for the rest of the album.
Advaitic Songs seems to be a transitional album, perhaps constituting the second half of the transition begun on God is Good, but that hardly means that it is not a complete album in and of itself; there will likely be more songs in the vein of ‘Sinai’ and ‘Gethsemane’ on future records, and fewer songs like ‘State of Non-return’, as Om continue to evolve and develop their unique sound, but these have their place together on this album as their own part in this ongoing formulation. Advaitic Songs is an essential landmark not only for what it signifies in the band’s stylistic progression, but for what it achieves artistically in its own right. We understand this album to be the metaphoric representation of a solitary wanderer, touring the land in varying rites of ascetic purification and contemplating all the kinds of odd things that hermits think about in their desert holes and mountain caves; we imagine him to be lost, unsure of where he is ultimately going at the moment, and yet, purged of all existential doubt and acutely versed in spiritual praxis, fully capable of finding the way eventually. Advaitic Songs is all this because it aims to be the point where the two worlds of Sri Arjuna and St. John the Baptist meet and exchange kisses in mutual admiration; it is the spiritual Red Sea, the philosophical agora, the universally available avenue wherein serious meditation and dialogue and self-overcoming might happily transpire.
#16 Winglord - The Chosen One
And when all hope was lostDeep down in the midst of our beingA flame appeared, in the darknessA beacon of light, shining - in white
Winglord is an artist that makes terrific propaganda music. With lyrics consisting of a deeply sentimental calling for the ‘old order’, the world of kings and queens, of knights and bishops, of chivalry and noble war, Winglord are a band that remains unrepentant in their longing for tradition and unyielding in their nostalgia for a united Europe. It is for these reasons that we love Winglord; even if we did not like their music, we could not help but celebrate Winglord for their aesthetic tastes, for their honest convictions, and for their high ideals.
Fortunately, we do like the music of Winglord, simply because the music matches to some extent the hopes expressed above. While coming across as something similar to a soundtrack for a film or possibly for a role-playing video game, and even if it is all filtered through a computer like everything else in this digital age, there is certainly a greater sense of depth that imbues the experience with more meaning and more artistic feeling than simply walking through the world of Skyrim or what have you. The instrumentation, for example, belies a more concrete understanding of orchestral arrangements in its delicate chord progressions and in the easy relationship between the percussion and the sometimes sombre, sometimes merry mood of the strings. The musical temper, moreover, experiences subtle changes that make the songs flow seamlessly; it might change from one of quiet, thoughtful reflection, for example, with soft, elongated string motifs to one of a more muscular rhythmic movement, motivated by faster percussion, deeper male vocals, and a more serious string tone and composition; and then there is the lighter, more playful theme found on songs like ‘Dance of the Victorious’ or ‘Hunting Party’ which express a livelier sentiment fit for revelries not unlike the infamous birthday party of one Bilbo Baggins.
On the whole, The Chosen One is a maturation of the band’s debut, Heroica; the songs are more varied, with a greater finesse in movement, and they co-operate with all the sings of a more learned sense of composition. The band’s overall vision has found more fertile ground in the present album, where the ethos of our civilization and holy religion are given suitable expression; the melodic emphasis is quite intact, and is increased by some creative development in the subordinate roles, which results in a more balanced, more refined approach.
The meaning of The Chosen One is perfectly apparent: to create music that is reminiscent of not only a land that once was, but a land that always was - the land of myth and legends. Winglord are not merely lamenting the tragedy of one civilization as one of many; they are lamenting the collapse of our civilization and, even more pathetically, the collapse of our collective spiritual imagination that once saw the world as clearly as it could ever be seen. This is hardly the best kind of music around; there are far many others who are more classically proficient, more technically and aurally brilliant in their songwriting. But, in making this kind of simple, artful music that appeals to that part of our mind that needs a strong dose of the ‘fantastic’, of the mythical world which often seems more real than that of what we see or feel, Winglord hope to inspire in their listeners a visceral pining for the higher laws and symbols that organize reality into a more aesthetically and spiritually satisfying experience. In making this sort of ‘propaganda’, by singing about chosen heroes, building fleets, and creating great fanfares for a Europe that is worth having fanfares, in a word, by making life epic once more, Winglord hope to be the anachronistic artist, the hermetic poet who seems crazed to most if only to bear a meaningful message to those who actually listen.
#17 Wrathprayer - The Sun of Moloch
Tanin'iver Taninsam - Born of abysmal sea.Chaos Creator - Rip our breath before this dark night ends....let there be Death.
While most ‘war metal’ bands end up becoming ridiculous self-parodies, mindless Blasphemy clones a la Black Witchery, some of them, exemplified by the most recent Archgoat album, The Light-Devouring Darkness, actually have something more to offer. Wrathprayer have proven to be the latest addition to this class, building their own (youthful) body of work that is as distinct from the generic standard in this genre as one band can be whilst remaining inside the genre’s parameters.
What is perhaps most striking about The Sun of Moloch (forget about us typing out the full, Demilich-esque title) is that, similar to the aforementioned Archgoat album, the general mood is comparably slow, plodding along in spite of the speed of its percussion in particular. Besides the fact that the production is rather quiet, making its presentation in a kind of amorphous haze and thereby making the instruments indistinctly run along together somewhat, the guitars themselves are purposefully monotonous, filling out low, muted riffs that counteract the laborious pace of the percussion. The vocals are also drawn out, incoherently rasping with the grain of the verse, forming an almost homophonous series of coughing grunts that coalesce with the embattled phrasing of the rhythm section and the soporific riffing.
With The Sun of Moloch, we do not perceive the short, grisly blasts that are characteristic of the Canadian style, for example, but the longer, more considerate style development that is instead germane to the likes of early Beherit and Archgoat, Germany's Truppensturm, and perhaps to Teitanblood in Spain as well. The Wrathprayer vision in this scorching, volcanic record consists of a nefarious vigil, a dark, patient summoning of an ancient god of old America, long obscured by the forces that have since prevailed. We witness a silent hunger for flesh and blood as this primeval entity slowly emerges from its long hibernation; the bitter reserves of hate and hostility begin to take shape in the growing incarnation that Wrathprayer have finally unveiled. This is the mythic substance of The Sun of Moloch, the great cosmic awakening of nightmare’s dawn and the dusk of dreams.
#18 Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
No more time, no more breathNo more hope, no more dawnOnly void
2012 has been an impressive year for doom metal. Despite the two very promising releases from Ahab and Candlemass ultimately disappointing us, two more albums that were good yet not quite good enough to make the list in Anhedonist and Windhand, and two more really excellent albums to appear later on already make the year a success for the genre - the discovery of Pallbearer’s debut is simply a bonus.
The principle strength of Sorrow and Extinction is its vocal performance. Similar to the modern masterpiece Watching from a Distance from the English band Warning, Pallbearer also utilize a stylistically ‘clean’ vocalist, which contrasts sharply with the very low, entrenched guitar tones and the spacious, crawling rhythm section. The difference between the Warning album and this one is the shift in emphasis from one of sorrowful, heart-splitting personal turmoil to a more impersonal apprehensiveness concerning the universal imminence of death; the atmosphere is resultantly more aurally engrossing – the tearful pathos of Watching is transformed into something closer to an involved mixture between man’s contemplative curiosity and fear of extinction and his resignation to the necessity of it, to the laws of fate.
In depending upon the familiar formula of combining slow, suffocating rhythmic lines with occasional traces of bitter, pining melody, appearing from the black as the moon sometimes does when a cloud makes way for it, and in using a vocal style that is clearly comprehensible in its conveyance of the album’s main themes, Pallbearer are hardly ‘breaking ground’, so to speak; but what they have done is something that continues and strengthens the Sabbath-esque tradition that marries dark, resonant lyrical and aesthetic concepts with appropriately dense, murky, yet artistically refined soundscapes. Pallbearer have at the very least shown what can still be done with a specific kind of vocalist, which is, namely, to offer a more visceral aspect to the plot; the singer offers a more human dimension, an element that contributes in no small part to the reality of doom metal as a form of tragedy; the singer can convey a more persuasive, a more realistic sense of despair and confusion and dignified, stoic resignation because the singer is more human.
#19 Mongrel's Cross - The Sins of Aquarius
Upon dragons ride the warriors of SetTheir ferocity and rage terrible, unmet!
So long as Australia continues to pump out legions of bands that inject vile doses of black and death metal into their native thrash styles, it would be a grave sin indeed to not include even one of them… Thus the reason for the inclusion of this entry, an album that surpasses all others of its kind from the lands of Oz.
The Sins of Aquarius, unlike many of its kin, however, is not quite as rabid as Mongrel’s Cross might wish it to be, which, in this case, is a good thing. This is because, while the more feral, bestial impulses certainly have their value elsewhere, Aquarius is an album that benefits from a more controlled, tighter means of songwriting; this is not the vicious onslaught of Bestial Warlust or the spewing vitriol that is Gospel of the Horns, but actually is somewhat closer to the German breed of thrash metal that closed out the eighties. What this means is that, while The Sins of Aquarius certainly retains a distinctly Australian flavour, notably in its exciting hybrid of death metal song structure and blacker tones with classic thrash material, the album benefits from a more European sense of composition, where every element is closely connected with one another, making for a more fluent passage; each riff seems to be the natural evolution of the prior one, and, with their different set of priorities, that does not always happen with the typically Australian band.
So, although The Sins of Aquarius apparently enjoy the appearance of being ‘rabid’, the actual music leads the listener to alternate conclusions. The vocals are a fairly standard, generic grunting rasp, the guitars are low, crunching out a good number of grisly riffs, and the rhythm section is suitably quick, coarse, and obscene; and yet, for all of this, Aquarius only succeeds in overcoming the sum of its parts, and leaving the rabid dog behind. In reflection, then, perhaps we have not included a thrash band in the classic Australian style after all; perhaps, instead, we have only managed to include another German band, under some other name, under some other nationality.