Haxen – Haxen (Eternal Death records)

haxen haxen

Haxen have apparently been around since 2000, releasing a steady (if a bit sparse) stream of demo releases, yet it took some 16 years in order for their eponymous debut full-length to be finalised. Though hailing from the west coast of the Atlantic, the band seems to be wholeheartedly devoted to European scenes of yore, especially the Norwegian and the French (Les Legions Noires era) one, creating an album which revels in its rawness under the night skies.

Things are quite straightforward, as far as composition is concerned, yet not in a simpleton way. While many bands try to up the complexity of their musical structures, striving to establish their extremity that way, Haxen embrace rawness both sound- and composition-wise. Songs are rather short (most of them under the five minute marker), each permeated by a small number of tight-wrapped riffs, not much caring for progression, but rather holocaust-winding their way through the soundscapes of the release. Crispy guitars, a bass that is not as inaudible as one would expect, and a host of scratchy, harsh vocals make up the material building blocks of this release, while there is a hint (to say the least) of live recording in several tracks, distinct in the sound directness which mortars the whole. Yet melody is never far – listen to the mid-tempo decadent majesty of “Abismo” for instance.

If one is to name bands that seem to have influenced this creation, three groups stand out: Mutiilation (which can be held responsible for the romantic, archaic darkness evident in several tracks – for instance “Sleepwalking”), Carpathian Forest (to which is owed much on the aggressiveness and riff departments, as well as on the origins of thin layer of grooveness that appears sometimes) and Høstmørke-era Isengard (responsible for the slight thrashy edge, as well as the mosquito-buzz-like riffs – remember “Total Death”). One could deduce a triptych: dark and archaic grim melody, furious (sometimes bordering on death metal) riffing that strays on the chaotic, and a pinch of creative insectoid black thrash. In essence, this is distilled European blackness coming from the far side of the Atlantic. Nothing spectacularly original, but an album that is very well-written, and thrives like a parasite on the listener’s cravings for well-executed (mostly) 90s black metal.

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Sun Worship – Pale Dawn (Golden Antenna Records)

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The lone and wandering riff is perhaps the quintessential black metal music-component figure. Dismal yet passionate, adventurous, trying to break the shackles of time and history, a candlelight gliding through perennial corridors. It is ideally without beginning and end, just fading in and out of our perception, yet eternally there. And if the riff is the microcosm of the genre itself, then one can perceive black metal as a being against time, striving to be out-of-time itself, to haunt and wander eternally, like a pure force of nature, free of human concepts. Germany’s Sun Worship, with their sophomore album, “Pale Dawn,” embody this aspect of black metal, creating a monolithic album that resembles a massive monument to eternity. One could say that it captures the image of a frigid, pale dawn, and then it fossilizes it upon a wall that is outside the cosmos.

Elder Giants,” the band’s debut, was an excellent take upon the Scandinavian sound, and how one could distill its iciness and barren glory. It was quite doubtful whether the band could surpass this masterpiece, and their participation in the 4-way split “Into The Vortex” with an ambient track, made me anxious of a musical direction change. Thankfully, from the first notes of “Pale Dawn” it becomes apparent that Sun Worship have retained their trademark sound.

The core materials are well known: Norwegian riffing, of the “Transilvanian Hunger” and “De Mysteriis..” school, filtered through a less dark, more icy prism. Each song is built around a riff (lone and wandering as aforementioned), long-winded, ecstatic as the figure of Zephyrous on the “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” cover. They keep unwinding, like from a never-ending ball of yarn, with laconic fluctuation, imprinting upon the listener the granite of timelessness; due to this backbone each track resembles an icebreaker. Beyond each of the basic riffs however one can discover a few melodic guitar mannerisms, some almost-thrashy moments, mid-tempo deep breaths. Vocals are desperate, coming from beyond, flickering like fog for a while, then returning to uncreation, or just beyond creation. But there is also beauty in here, harsh or otherwise (like in the amazing hymnal vocals of the last track (“Perihelion”) which evoke the ritual majesty and sombreness of the namesake track of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”). What ultimately dominates here is a single-minded passion, a mania one could say; but due to the inhuman quality of this artifact it is not so easy for one to get away with such terms, mostly associated with human feelings and states of mind. Better use descriptive imagescapes:

Giant plateaus of pure majestic inhumanity, now and forever reclaimed by the elements; stone figures standing unmoving; the moment of arctic dawn after months of darkness, forever frozen in time. That’s the spirit of “Pale Dawn.” I cannot yet say whether it surpasses its predecessor, but it is definitely close to achieving it. Still, this is not really something that matters. What matters is that this band from Germany has managed to capture the essence of northern black metal, much better than most of recent band hailing from the far North in question. A study in pale frost – and how it immobilizes time.

 

Isolert – No Hope, No Light…Only Death (Ogmios Underground)

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Besides the genre’s name, there are albums of the black metal variety, that are not prone to being transmitters of utter-darkness soundscapes. Even some of the 90s masters’ albums are testimonies of this; for in albums such as “Battles In The North” or “Frost” darkness is a distant second entity being evoked, majestic frigidness being by far more dominant. The cold, unforgiving yet filled with unparalleled majesty side of Nature is an essential part of the black metal multifaceted entity. That is where lie the banners of Greece’s Isolert, a band that firstly appeared roughly a year before, with the “Isolated Soul” demo. Reviewing that short release  I had concluded that “it is a somewhat rushed release, that nevertheless creates promises about the future.” Luckily, it seems that these promises are more or less fulfilled with the band’s debut album, “No Hope, No Light…Only Death,” released earlier in 2016.

What becomes apparent from almost the beginning is that Isolert have a thing for melody, mainly of the icy quality, not unlike that of the mid-/late-90s Swedish scene. But, as it was also the case in “Isolated Soul” the Scandinavian influence is filtered through a Greek prism; what comes to mind is Naer Mataron’s first period – a fine tutor, to say the least. Guitars make long-winded appearances, zealously emphasizing the atmospheric parts of most riffs – passion is a thing to be reckoned in here. A passion, traces of which can also be found in the definitely improved (in comparison to the demo) vocals, which traverse the spectrum demarcated by the growling core hues and the clean, almost epic clamours and narration. Yet, despite all the melody talk, the band also knows how to incorporate some thrashy and hyperblasting inferno in their music. Structure-wise things are not overly complex, yet this simplicity is quite effective from an atmospheric point of view. Speed varies, from mid-tempo clarity to blastbeat exaltation. The production is typical for this kind of sound, grim and clear – nothing spectacular.

Isolert kicks off its formal discography with a very good album, steeped in the genre’s tradition. It may have a few shortcomings – namely lack of innovation (if such things are of concern in black metal) and some variance in the composition quality department – yet it is a much too enjoyable (and even nostalgic) an album to be shadowed by them. The band sports a much more polished and well-structured facade in comparison to their last year demo, bringing into fruition the past promises.

Præternatura – Symmetry Of The Void

Præternatura

There is, inside the black metal edifice, a certain niche, down there, at the basement or dungeon level, which borders on the space of two particular sub-genres: namely the catacombs of depressive black metal and the etheric thunderbolts of the kind of black/death that was showcased by Bölzer. It is this marginal space that hosts such acts as UK’s Swarþ and the band in question, Præternatura (solo project of Matron Thorn – see Ævangelist, Death Fetishist, etc). Moving beyond such base human feelings as discomfort and despair which are usually associated with depressive/suicidal black metal, yet remaining in the realm of shadows, not reaching up to the Olympian majesty of the Bölzer school, this particular sub-genre retains the ritual side of the dungeon space, as well as the sheer mass of black/death. At the intersection of these two schools lies a ghost wandering through endless corridors, which has long shed its last drops of human nature. A dark, cavernous specimen, with a suffocating density.

Consisting of four long-winded tracks, “Symmetry Of The Void” revels in its own complexity, sporting a multi-layered structure. The guitar work shines, both in technicality and in elegance, spewing forth torturous walls of dissonance (on which the claustrophobic, eerie atmosphere is based) along with threads of eerie, finespun guitar riffs that emerge from the rather more voluptuous aforementioned walls. In other words, the tortuous and thick body of orthodox-like black metal, layered with death metal frosting, is grafted with a slithering and technical riff mobility, precise and evocative as the chime of midnight bells, with subtle hints of melody too. In many points throughout the record, one feels like being circled by swarms of spirits and shrapnel (there are a few hints of almost mechanized – industrialized if you prefer – repetition). Lastly, I could not ignore the allure of a Necromantia- or Cultes Des Ghoules-esque, bass-dominant moment on the last, namesake track.

Tempo-wise, the album twists around both mid-tempo, almost doom-ish speed, and blastbeat moments that reach towards the depths of subterranean lakes. Vocals are guttural, death metal-like growls from the deep, quite thick in the articulation of (the sadly unavailable) lyrics. Graced with a precise yet not clinical production, the compositions shine – if one devotes time in order to penetrate the apparent complexity of them. Be warned, the four tracks are quite diverse throughout their length, and things shift with mercurial frequency. The album, like a grand ritual, demands attention, yet its rewards are ample. “Symmetry Of The Void” could be considered as an aesthetic aspect of the poetics of otherworldliness, massive and eerie at the same time. Præternatura seem to make an excellent discographic debut with this release.