Nefarious Spirit – Nefarious Spirit demo (Underground Soundscapes, 2016)

cover

Can a band’s country (or a wider geographic area) of origin be surmised by its sound? During the early days of the second wave black metal I do think that this was a case – though not a simple one, and definitely not without exceptions. There was a characteristic Greek black metal sound (which if expanded a bit could be characterized as Mediterranean), and a Scandinavian one (mostly Norwegian and Swedish to be honest), as well as some smaller and not so easily defined other scenes’ sonic flavours. By the end of ’90s, however, the diffusion between the scenes was on a level that enabled bands from one country to sound like originating in another; the only thing left was useful (if a bit hazy) encyclopedic categories, like “the ’90s Norwegian sound.” Still, just before listening to a new band, I try by looking to their place of origin, to take a guess as to its style, or vice versa.

Onwards to the Nefarious Spirit demo, clocking just under 15 minutes, which was released by the Greek label Underground Soundscapes. This label is focused on distributing releases coming from the other side of the Atlantic, with a very strong emphasis on US (which stands for USA here, not Underground Soundscapes, just to be clear) bands. The same is true for the bands that it has released, almost all of which come from the US. Another thing that lured me towards America was the band’s name, since aesthetically Nefarious Spirit is something that could belong to the host of black metal groups that seethe deeply in the US underground soil – and a great name it is. Finally, the demo’s sound, though not easily geographically located, could come either from the vast US expanse, or some Scandinavian village that was isolated by the world since Aeternus “..And So The Night Became” was released.

Well, my surprise was not small when I saw that Nefarious Spirit were Greek. This is definitely not your typical Greek sound of old, but it’s also far from the occult black metal that seems to have gained much ground here during the past decade. Nefarious Spirit play instead a serpentine, cavernous (abyssal may be a better word) black metal, with growling, commanding vocals, and a deep and thick production, which easily combines underground spirit with listenability. The demo’s soundscape is like a seething subterranean sea, boiling with archaic riffs – which when floating above the surface, like in the middle of the opening track (“Thrones”) they graze this watery surface with impressive eloquence. Things are not complex here: well-played furious black metal, with a stubborn cantor during the blast-beat moments, which easily motivates you towards mania. When it decides to drop the speed a few notches, a nostalgic majesty comes into the front, and that is when the (old) Aeternus name clicks into place – the weight of eons and elder battles is evoked.

Coming out of nowhere, Nefarious Spirit were almost an apocalypse – their place of origin playing its part. This is high-caliber black metal, a demo that speaks tones of the band’s devotion to the black metal past. Their next release will be crucial, but I have pretty high hopes for this act.

Advertisements

2016 – Top demos & EP’s

indstries


12. Whoredom Rife – The Worship of Idols Instead of God; Idolatry [EP]

Norway has been less than stellar during the past years, as far as black metal is concerned, and 2016 was no exception. Thankfully there are a few dark twinkles in this sea of mediocrity, as is this EP from Trondheim, which mixes furious majesty with triumphant darkness. Here be hints of early Enslaved mixed with a more down-to-earth approach reminiscent of the turn of the millennium (Tsjuder for instance). 


11. True Love – To Pray For Perpetual Violence [demo]

The raw black metal demo of the year could well ride into this list on grace of its amazingly malicious cover alone. The fact that it is also well-versed in the black arts of insectoid-like articulated guitars riffs as well as in that of double-echo vocals and thrashy pauses is only adding points to it, as do both the group name and the release’s title. LunaticsaguinemSatanworship.


10. Draug – In Glorification Of Dark Legions [demo]

Ancient Record circles’ Sir N’s new project will not surprise those familiar with his other bands (which are not few). Maybe slightly more angular and warm, with an essence of interior spaces. As always, Sir N. knows how to build up traditional ’90s black metal atmosphere. One more worthy addition to Sweden’s amazing contemporary underground scene.


9. Kaffaljidhma – Ι & ΙΙ [demos]

The Dutch Kaffaljidhma’s first two demos (laconically named “I” & “I”) is an prime example of naturalistic image-crafting music. With hardly any riffs in the traditional sense of the word, they are ambiance floating upon the wanderer’s path, a path ravaged by snow and trees. They are a-temporal exercises in meditation, pure atmosphere distilled in two expressively named songs, one in each demo. Full review here.


8. Duch Czerni – Reality of Black Spirits [demo]

Subterranean, slithering ritualistic black metal from Poland, which crawls elegantly discharging spasms of incense on its chaotic path. Here lie parts of the spirit of Mortuary Drape and Necromantia (more like detached spectres gliding above the music, rather than being incorporated in the songwriting). An excellent specimen of how the Occult can be sculptured in a black metal release.


7. Light of the Morning Star – Cemetery Glow [EP]

One cannot go wrong with a De Mysteriis-esque black/purple cover depicting a cemetery. This one-man band from UK is dominated by ominous gothic riffing (with slightly black metal hues) which is highly effective in the creation of a gloomy menacing atmosphere. Throw in the mix a vocal performance which draws upon the -wave monotony, and you have an unexpected dark gem – with a guitar blink at The Cure’s “Pornography” just before ending.


6. Surtr – Nocturnal Mysticism [demo]

This US band appeared out of nowhere in late September, unleashing 3 demos in less than two weeks’ time, all three releases capturing excellently the forest-walking spirit of early Satyricon, and generally of the mid-’90s “traditional” Norwegian scene. All 3 demos are almost interchangeable as far as a place in this list is concerned, “Nocturnal Mysticism” just won me a bit more due to the unconventional beginning of its first track.


5. Unbegotten – Proem of the Unborn [demo]

The veil of Archaic majesty – manifested through a sound that worships Les Legions Noires – covers this tape masterpiece coming from the Iberian Peninsula. Steeped in occult atmosphere, with surprisingly interesting vocals and grainy guitars that wander through catacombs, with amazing cover art, and a name that revels in its extravagance, this entity seems to have a highly promising future.


4. Necromantic Worship – The Calling… [EP]

Despite its quality, the Dutch masters’ second demo proved unfortunately to be their last one. Continuing on the Necromantia worship path that they set upon with 2015’s monumental “Spirit Of The Entrance Unto Death,” Necromantic Worship created with “The Calling…” another stellar rendering of the dungeon-ish ritualistic Evil sound of early Necromantia. Of cracking tombs and floating spheres.


3. Cult of Fire – Life, Sex and Death [EP]

The Czech trio returned with another killer EP, following on the tradition of the amazing “Čtvrtá symfonie ohně.“ With a deep sense of folk melody integrated throughout the riff structure of the four tracks, this release showcases the ascending progress of the band since its 2013 breakthrough (not forgetting last year’s Death Karma as well). Melodic, without compromise in its furious moments, and with a level of songwriting that is to be envied, “Life, Sex and Death” is a species of uttermost interest.


2. Mystik – Af Herrens Mystik… (Kapitel I) & Dunkla klangor… (Kapitel II) [demos]

If Bekëth Nexëhmü is a name with which most are well-acquainted, Mystik is an entity that sprouted this year seemingly out of nowhere with two amazing compilations of unreleased demo recordings spanning six years (2009-2014). Their style is as ’90s as the label’s aura invokes, reminiscent of a more tense and densely articulated Bekëth Nexëhmü. Drawing upon the Scandinavian atmospheric legacy of such names as Ulver, Isvind, Kampfar and Setherial, among many others, the two Kapitels are artifacts of an underground scene that seems to be without equal.


1. Bekëth Nexëhmü – De Dunklas Återkomst [demo]

The obscure Swede masters of ’90s-esque atmospheric black metal unleashed two full-length-duration demos this year, remaining one of the best things (if not the single best) to come out of the Ancient Records’ womb. Steeped in the lo-fi nighttime elegance of a spectre wandering in a haunted forest, “De Dunklas Återkomst‘s40 minutes are an oasis of nocturnal snowy atmosphere, graced with a sound that is as thin as a ghost’s density.

Funestus – In Perpetual Silence (Self-Released)

cover

Gazing upon the lovely, primitively impressionist-like cover of Chile’s Funestus first demo, Descent with capital D comes into mind. A wintry barren wood, the crescent moon just above the center, like an eye distorted looking down, where an overflow of light seems to imply an abyss ready to receive the invisible wanderer treading upon the landscape’s path; even the clouds themselves seem to ripple downwards. A descent which, sound-wise, is materialised via an amalgamation of Judas Iscariot-esque majestic ferocity and Xasthur’s dungeon wanderings, all wrapped in a raw, somehow thin production that is however far from being bothersome or unlistenable.

The idea is quite simple, true to the teachings of Darkthrone: repetition of long-winded yet simple (structurally) riffs, crispy guitar sound which sometimes verges on the mechanical due to a weird distortion, drums that are especially fond of their metal components. Harsh screams are sporadically flickering, sometimes approaching Akhenaten’s lordly hue and articulation (like in “Nightside Of The Storm”), yet never quite grasping it – there is obviously the issue of Hiem Egregor’s (the band’s one and only member) not being a native English speaker. Of tempo variances there are fluctuations between slow and hyperblasting moments, contrasting otherworldly wanderings with wintry charges. Biting frost and relentless battle are the main ingredients of this release’s atmosphere; a sense of subterranean melancholy is embedded in most of the riffs, more prominent during the slower parts, as well as in the acoustic interludes. There are some executional mistakes, especially on drums and tempo changes, but as far as first demo releases go, this one is surprisingly elaborate.

All in all, the thing that Funestus succeed in almost flawlessly with their first demo is that the release grasps and retains this ravishing grimness that is the core essence of golden-era Darkthrone, as well as the raw splendour that was the trademark of Akhenaten’s discography. A demo that creates high expectations about this project, highly recommended for fans of traditional, grim yet atmospheric 90s black metal.

Kaffaljidhma – I & II (The Throat)

kaffaljidhma

The sound of musical instruments is sometimes mentally linked to the essence of natural phenomena – for instance, some keyboard hues may invoke in one the essence of starry skies, blastbeats can be mentally linked with hard falling snow or rain, guitars with the wind or even with the view of the mountains. It is not so much that the sound resembles the physical manifestation of these phenomena (though it can well happen), but rather it invokes the pure essence of them (depending to what one believes, either their objective true nature or the subjective true image of them, the one that exists inside the listener’s being). Whatever the case, the particular sounds act as symbols which merge the listener with an imaginative being experiencing firsthand the phenomena in question.

Black metal is a music genre that excels in effectively using musical instrument sound in such a way, especially its particular niche sub-genre which is most usually associated with Paysage D’Hiver: Hazy, grainy sound, walls of noise, a storm of almost indistinguishable guitars and keyboards, all striving towards the swelling of atmosphere, leaving structured narration aside. Impression is the key factor here, and the encapsulation of the listener inside a cocoon-like micro-environment a possible effect.

The Dutch Kaffaljidhma’s first two demos (laconically named “I” & “I”) is an prime example of such image-crafting music. Keyboards, the single most expressive instrument in their music, soar above the hail-ridden ground, hovering ethereally, like Aurora Borealis drifting beyond the earth surface weather’s grasp, emitting pure tranquility and otherworldly beauty. The hail-ridden ground itself consists of barriers of mechanically repetitive (there is even a synthpop, Blue Monday-esque rhythm on the drum-machine pattern of the amazingly titled “As Exalted Djinn Embellished the Heavens With Crests of Fire”), mostly furious drumming evoking ferocious winds along with heavy snowfall. Somewhere in between stand the subtle (quite elusive, semi-substantial) guitar layers acting as mortar between sky and the ground.

There are hardly any riffs in the traditional sense of the word in here. This is ambience floating upon the wanderer’s path, a path ravaged by snow and trees. The vocals are also floating howling entities fading in and out of existence with hardly a message to convey – just a notion of the fleeting, a symbol of their own elusiveness. The two compositions are not of traditional structure – it seems that they are not permeated by a linear sense of time. They do have duration, but their content is like a continuous seamless surface, untroubled by time. It’s like gazing upon a landscape, again and again, absorbing it from all angles, wandering in it, but with no purpose and no destination in sight. Meditative is one of the bandcamp’s tags, and I wholeheartedly agree with it. Meditation upon the ancient skies of Babylon I would add, for “Near-Eastern Stellar Folktales” is one of the band’s lyrical themes – unfortunately no lyrics are available, leaving just the flamboyantly excellent titles and the masterfully elegant cover art to act as the band’s lore.

Slutet – Slutet (Teratology Sound & Vision/Psychedelic Lotus Order Records)

slutet

Experimental black metal. That is how the band’s music is described in Encyclopaedia Metallum. Experimental black metal is an almost hilarious umbrella term, under whose cover can be found things as diverse as Jute Gyte’s microtonal exercises, Nachtmystium’s melodic/psychedelic popular tunes and The Axis Of Perdition’s hellish industrial landscapes. It is a box to stuff all things that do not fit to one’s imaginative model of traditional black metal structure, or just a shelf in which to put things that are a bit hard to compartmentalize under other subgenres. Anyway, it means almost nothing, apart from it being a tool for hazy communication. The band itself just claims that “we sound like molotov cocktails. Your cliff’s edge is nearing, and we stand on the other side of the gorge, playing our music” on its Soundcloud, and I find its words resounding far closer to the point. (You can also check this blog, run by the band’s members ).

This compilation includes parts of the band’s ultra-limited previous three demos (which apparently were available only to persons that sent personal libations to the band – blood, hair, etc), while being itself quite limited (33 copies on Teratology Sound & Vision and 100 on Psychedelic Lotus Order Records), and is graced with a cover art that would not seem amiss in an early Aksumite demo.
What lies in the album’s 53 minutes is varied in content, but definitely characterized by a rehearsal-like quality, compositionally-wise (the sound is pretty good). After the introductory news clip (from the 9/11 attacks) two things keep resurfacing throughout the album: a semi-punk attitude that was recognizable in Lifelover, and also hints of post punk, especially in vocals, which, apart from the last track, keep reminding of a more edgy Rozz Williams, while being also quite out of tune, yet quite congenial to the music. Simple riffs are repeated throughout by a single guitar crafting a crude yet obsessive atmosphere, like a shamanistic trance. The guitar sound, along with some of the most desperate howls, are somewhat related to Denmark’s Slaegt, and by extension Burzum’s debut. Moreover, there are species of melody dwelling in here, them also being crude and beautiful on the same time. Structure-wise things are in flux; themes change abruptly inside the long-winded songs, like each one is a mega structure consisting of two or more separate entities.

The album’s peak is most probably the 22-minute long, improvisational last track “O Ziemia! A Vision In Two Parts,” which, though sporting several disjunct parts, builds up as a dream-like monument to the cover’s winged entity. Vocals in here are reminiscent of a magic ritual, both as commands and pleas to entities, as well as a distressing narrative. Distorted guitar parts, almost inaudible, partner up with a sax-like haze and a prominent bass. The improvisation runs down even to the song’s lyrics, which, allegedly were improvised upon recording.

A seemingly non-cohesive splatter of ideas all wrapped up in a skin of paranoid crudeness, this compilation reveals a band that very simplistically creates music aphorisms of the irrational. Aphorisms that maybe are lacking in grandeur but more than make up for it in the way that it manages to absorb the listener, ritually-like. And more than that, this album escalates in degrees of addiction pretty fast, perhaps due to the fact that this simplicity keeps revealing small new aspects in every listen.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

Two Tapes From This Year’s Vault – part 1

Cult Of Erinyes – Transcendence (Caverna Abismal Records)

cultoferinyestransc

After a 3 year silence, Belgium’s Cult Of Erinyes, responsible for the rather spectacular “Blessed Extinction,” return with the “Transcendence” EP, a 3 piece release, containing two original tracks, and one cover of Mayhem’s “Pagan Fears,” clocking something less than 20 minutes. Graced with an amazing cover art, and cassette being its only physical format (just 100 copies), “Transcendence” conveys something of the underground black metal’s obscurity, even package-wise. On to the audio department, the band’s new tracks showcase a return to more traditional, archaic black metal forms, the first (“Degrees Of Solitude”) being a serpentine corpus of nefarious mid-tempo and occult hyper-speed riffing, somehow reminiscent of the early ’00s Swedish scene (Ondscapt, Watain, etc). The second one, “Transcendence,” is more on the mid-tempo side, somehow “trekking” in its rhythm, a gaze through bars as you are lowered towards the oblivion of the Abyss (“remember my name” echoes time and again). Top-notch vocals and atmosphere, while guitar riffs may not be hugely innovative, but work well enough as far as the creation of an occult transcendental haze is concerned. “Pagan Fears’” rendition is close to the original, with no surprises, but quite welcome, with just a hint of extra vehemence. All in all an enjoyable but unfortunately short release, which intensifies the wait for the next full-length.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

 

Circle Of Dawn – I (Darker than Black Records)

circleofdawni

East Scandinavia’s underground is seething. After last year’s amazing Panphage album from Sweden, I stumbled (almost completely by chance) upon this Finnish trio and their first demo, “I” (they also participated last year in the “Apocalyptic Rites” split release, along with 3 other bands which I know nothing about – Kuilu, John The Baptist, Unclean). Two of the three band members have also played to Hell Spirit, according to Encyclopedia Metallum. What we have in this less-than-20-minutes-long cassette is quite good black metal, roughly along the lines of Panphage (especially on the first track, “At The Circle Of Dawn”), meaning melodic guitar passages, folkish in their core, agile, simple yet fluid riffs. The situation draws from the ’90s Scandinavian well, with a mind to quality. Where this band completely nails it is in the release’s atmosphere: a chaotic nature-worship/heathen/otherworldly mist hovers over all tracks. This is due to both guitars and the overwhelming vocals: from ghostly shrieks and howls from beyond, to passionate almost epic growls in the third track, “As We Walk At The Forgotten Corners Of This World.” This song is the tape’s culmination, showcasing the band’s potential and hinting towards greatness. Finally, the production is raw but not by any chance annoying. A gem of a demo, which creates high expectations for their next attempt.

2015 – Demo, EP, and Split releases Top-10

indstries

Manii – Skuggeheimen

This one is “outside” the list, since it does not contain any new material, but rather just a re-recording of two tracks from the second and third Manes demos (for those not familiar with Manii, they are -since 2011- the old-school aspect of Manes), which are however still throbbing with perfection. Less eerie, the guitar perhaps a tad more highlighted than in the original versions, yet carrying this unearthly wind that is associated with Manes’ demo years.

10. Nécropole – Ostara (Demo)

A French trio delivering old-school black metal via the Finnish vein (namely the Sargeist, Satanic Warmaster style – melodic guitars sprinkled with a bit of fuzziness in the production, into a channel of passionate impetuosity), in this, their second demo. Not much diversity mood-wise, this is a monolithic cascade streaming rapidly through frozen landscapes.

9. Ithaqua – Initiation To Obscure Mysteries (Demo)

A demo release writhing with nostalgia for the early Greek black metal scene. Perhaps a bit lacking in the originality department, though I suspect that this was something done on purpose. Old Rotting Christ (“Passage To Arcturo” era) worship more or less. Highly enjoyable. Full review here.

8. Loputon Suo – S-T (Demo)

An essentially melodic black metal discographic debut for those Finns, though the somewhat raw production may well obfuscate the fact upon first listen. The guitar ideas in this short (exactly 12 minutes) demo are quite memorable, reminiscent of the flawing, mountainous mentality of both Bolzer and The Ruins of Beverast; dark majesty sums it up quite nicely as far as terms are considered.

7. Cosmic Church – Vigilia (EP)

The Finnish masters of atmospheric, landscape-y black metal returned this year with both a 3-way split (“Beyond The Mirror Of Worlds” with Blood Red Fog and Shroud of Satan) and the “Vigilia” ep. In the 33 minutes of this release, Luxixul Sumering Auter, the single member behind the band, offers us another dose of well-played and compositionally-fluent long-winded black metal, able to create a masterful degree of atmosphere, with a pinch of folk melodies embedded in some of the riffs.

6. Gatekeeper/Eternal Champion – Retaliator/Vigilance (Split)

Shifting of focus with this one, from black to epic metal. Both Gatekeeper and Eternal Champion are among the best new underground bands of the genre, and this collaboration between them is an exemplar gem. The release brings together more or less all of the bands’ past material, and showcases the grandeur of both. Mandatory for all epic/doom metal fans.

5. Grimoire – L’Aorasie des Spectres Reveurs (EP)

One-man black metal band from Quebec. It is not overtly difficult to take a correct guess as to Grimoire’s style; atmospheric (in a nostalgic, crave-for-past-glories way) black metal, with a furious edge, graced with excellent guitar riffing (simple yet highly effective in conjuring pure epicness), sparse use of beautiful keyboards, and above all a highly evocative mythical atmosphere. The vocals are more or less of the typical black metal variety, quite passionate, but where they truly shine is when they go for a clean, desperate and hugely epic hue, as in the ending of “Tragedie des Ombres”. Just under 25 minutes, this EP is pure gold, highly recommended for fans of Forteresse and Ephemer, but also for anyone into quality atmospheric black metal.

4. Spectral Lore – Gnosis (EP)

The single best Greek black metal band of our times returned this year with 2 lengthy ep’s (at least – supposedly there would also be a third one before the year’s end, though it seems unlikely now). And while in “Voyager” Ayloss took a deep dive in the space ambient/electronics genre, in “Gnosis” he returns on more traditional (a.k.a. Metal) forms, through which he tries to create an image of oriental music as it lies in his mind’s eye. The result is a 50-minutes long EP, that bears the distinctive Spectral Lore multi-layered guitar mentality, infuses the whole with certain oriental/Greek melodic parts, conjuring up an archaic atmosphere of historical hue (instead of the almost atemporal majesty of his past albums). By far the most complex and grand in scope release of the list.

3. Black Sword Thunder Attack – Promo

While chasing the phantom of the full-length album (which was to be released in this year, but was sadly delayed for an unspecified amount of time), this promo’s six minutes can showcase the pure epic genius of this Greek band, which draws deeply from the well of Lordian Guard (no only as far as the amazingly epic female vocals are concerned), infusing it with a bit of solid galloping. Their album-to-come is one of my most anticipated things for 2016 (hopefully). (It seems that there is no youtube or bandcamp version, so the link concerns their 2013 demo, whose first track appears also in the promo)

2. Belketre – Ryan Èvn-a (EP)

The return of one of Les Legions Noires members in 2015 was an unexpected event. The fact that the accompanying release, the “Ryan Èvn-a” EP, was an intriguing masterpiece of raw, agile, guitar-based black metal of grotesque production (the sound layers are bizarrely engineered, in a completely unorthodox way) was a most positive surprise. Not much to be said here, this is one of the most original releases of this year. The production may well dissuade a portion of the audience, but for me this, along with the guitar parts, is “Ryan evn-a’s” true advantage.

1. Necromancy – Ancient Wrath (EP)

Necromancy, essentially Necromantia’s earliest facet, are back after more than 25 years, with an ep containing 3 tracks steeped in the early Greek scene’s darkest majesty, reminding us why early Necromantia were among the darkest sounding bands of all time. For more check this amazing review (in Greek).