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

Ψ.Χ. – Το Φως Το Αληθινό

full-cover

Download link: http://www69.zippyshare.com/v/1BPctKqf/file.html

Καλημέρα Απειλή, καλώς (επαν)ήλθες στο black metal με νυχτερινή φτερούγα για να σβήσεις τα κεριά, για να σαβανώσεις τα μωρά, για να βουτήξεις μέσα στην Παράδοση κάνοντας τα τζάκια να βήχουν σαν φυματικά.

Σε ένα φθινόπωρο που έχει βαλθεί να ρεφάρει για την ποιοτική ανυδρία του προηγούμενου διαστήματος της χρονιάς, το μεγαλύτερο ίσως σοκ ήταν η από το πουθενά εμφάνιση της πρώτης κυκλοφορίας των Ψ.Χ. (συγκεκριμένα το πήρα χαμπάρι μέσα από αυτό το εξαιρετικό κείμενο). Μια κυκλοφορία που παραδόθηκε σε κόπια μια (1) στα γραφεία του Metal Hammer, με προτροπή/προσταγή προς τον αρμόδιο συντάκτη, να τη διανείμει με όποιον τρόπο μπορεί (βλ. link στην αρχή του κειμένου). Αρχές λοιπόν του Νοέμβρη, υπήρξε μια μίνι Αποκάλυψη για όσους είχαμε σκελετιάσει παλιότερα με τους σποραδικά εμφανισμένους στο διαδίκτυο μονάχα ύμνους της μπάντας, γιατί:

-αφενός για πρώτη φορά μαζεύτηκαν τα γνωστά κομμάτια σε ένα δίσκο, με (χρονολογικό απ’ ότι φαίνεται) tracklisting, ένα (έστω υποτυπώδες) εξώφυλλο και τυπωμένους στίχους αλλά και μανιφέστο των οντοτήτων, έτσι ώστε να περάσει το στάτους του συγκροτήματος από αυτό της σκιώδους παρουσίας στα αραχνιασμένα σοκάκια του διαδικτύου σε αυτό της σκιώδους παρουσίας με τη σφραγίδα του οριακά χειροπιαστού.

αφετέρου, πέρα από τον εμπλουτισμό/αναδιάρθρωση των γνωστών κομματιών, υπάρχουν και τρία καινούρια τραγούδια, η ποιότητα των οποίων μας κάνει να προσευχόμαστε σε χθόνιους θεούς για την ύπαρξη επόμενου βήματος των Ψ.Χ.

Το Φως Το Αληθινό είναι η πιο black metal κυκλοφορία που έχει βγει από τη χώρα μας (πιθανώς και γενικότερα) εδώ και αρκετά χρόνια. Κλειστοφοβικό, τσιτωμένο, υπερβατικό, ένα καζάνι με αναβράζοντα riffs, που άλλοτε εξακοντίζονται κυκλικώς με ρυθμούς καρφώματος φέρετρου, άλλοτε με τη συχνότητα αναπνοής πτώματος, πάντοτε όμως με την αλλόκοσμη ψυχή του black metal κατά νου. Εδώ κατοικοεδρεύει πάνω από όλα η απειλή· ακούς το υλικό και σκιάζεσαι, φοβάσαι να κοιτάξεις πίσω σου, νιώθεις την ακατονόμαστη φιγούρα από το Selbstverstümmelung να σέρνεται στα όρια της όρασής σου. Αυτό είναι κάτι που λείπει από τη συντριπτική πλειοψηφία του Μαύρου Μετάλλου των τελευταίως δύο δεκαετιών, το να νιώθεις να αγχώνεσαι για κάτι που δεν είναι αυτού του κόσμου.

Riffs τα οποία απλώνονται σαν βαριές πένθιμες κουρτίνες πάνω από παράθυρα που αφήνουν σκιές ενός παγανιστικού παρελθόντος να φανούν. Οστέινη ψύχρα, αναρριχώμενες και καταρριχώμενες Παγωμένες, βίαιες κιθάρες, χωρίς εύκολα καταφύγια σε μελωδικές λύσεις, μονάχα αεικίνητο σκότος,. Εδώ ξαναθυμόμαστε γιατί κάποτε αναφερόμασταν στις κιθάρες του είδους ως Ξύστρες και σε κάποια riffs ως Κόκαλα. Σιδηροδρομικές γραμμές κατασκευασμένες από υψίσυχνη παράθεση κοφτών ξυραφωτών χτυπημάτων (σα να παίρνεις συστάδες riffs με το δικράνι και να τα πετάς στη φωτιά), ή απλά πλήρη κατανόηση του συνθετικού και εκτελεστικού πνεύματος της ελίτ της νορβηγικής σκηνής των ‘90s. Θα έβαζα άνετα το “Παιδομάζωμα” σε κάποιο άτομο που θα με ρώταγε τι θεωρώ ως ιδανικό black metal riffing, ή το μπάσιμο του κυρίως ειπείν τμήματος των Κουκουβαγιώνως δείγμα ιδανικής αβυσσαλέας έναρξης. Παρά τον ετεροχρονισμό της συγγραφής των κομματιών, το άλμπουμ λειτουργεί ως εγχειρίδιο έγχορδης (ακόμη και το μπάσο, όπου ακούγεται, είναι ουσιαστικό) Μαυρίλας.

Τα φωνητικά των Ψ.Χ. ήταν ανέκαθεν σημείο τριβής, λόγω της ακρότητάς τους, η οποία από πολλούς εκλαμβάνεται ως ιλαρότητα. Πρόκειται για φωνητικά που δεν έχουν καμία επαφή με τη λογική και την πραγματικότητα, ιαχές, κραυγές, σκουξίματα από τον τάφο, από τα σωθικά θυσιαστηρίου θύματος, από τα φτερουγίσματα των νεκρικών κουκουβαγιών, φωνές γριών που περιφέρουν το δόντι και το μάτι τους. Οι Ψ.Χ. δεν είναι για όσους ξεκαρδίζονται με τη φωνή αυτή, για όσους (όντας τόσο διαβρωμένοι από τον κυνισμό και από τη δήθεν αποστασιοποίησή τους από το παράλογο) την αντιλαμβάνονται ως αστεία. Η μουσική των Ψ.Χ. σχεδόν απαιτεί να μπορείς να νιώσεις θρησκευτικό φόβο, να είσαι από αυτά τα άτομα που αφήνουν καλού κακού ένα φως στο δωμάτιο το βράδυ και κλειδώνουν τις ντουλάπες για να μη συρθεί κάτι από μέσα τους. Πέρα από αυτά όμως, εδώ έχουμε και για πρώτη φορά τόσο καθαρά φωνητικά (όπως στο δωδεκάλεπτο αναπάντεχο έπος “Νεκρικά Φεγγάρια”), όσο και απόπειρες ψαλμωδίας στο καινούριο και καλύτερο κομμάτι του δίσκου, το Η Νύχτα Της Κρυστάλλινης Σιωπής(που ενδύεται το De Mysteriis-ικό μοτίβο του υποβλητικού παρανοϊκού/χυδαίου κηρύγματος πάνω από λυσσαλέο ερπετικό black metal).

Θα μπορούσα να πω πολλά ακόμη για το Φως Το Αληθινό: για τους beherit κουκουβαγισμούς, την παράξενη γείωση στην καθημερινότητα που δημιουργούν οι περισσότεροι εκ των στίχων, για τη χρήση του “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (εμβληματικό κομμάτι του 2001, A Space Odyssey) στην εισαγωγή του δίσκου, για την πιθανή σύνδεση των μελωδικών ’70s με το Σκοτάδι το Αληθινό δια της νοσταλγικής εκ της οικογένειας αντιμετώπισης τους. Δε νομίζω όμως ότι έχει ιδιαίτερο νόημα κάτι τέτοιο. Αυτό που κρατάω πάνω από όλα είναι πως το πρώτο πρωί που έβαλα να ακούσω τον δίσκο, περπατώντας με ακουστικά, κατά τη μισή τουλάχιστον διαδρομή έκανα αόρατα πορτοκάλια δεξιά κι αριστερά, και ήθελα να συρθώ στους τοίχους: αυτό είναι, για μένα τουλάχιστον, απόδειξη του πόσο καιρό είχε να εμφανιστεί δίσκος με πραγματικά Μαύρη Ψυχή, ικανός να μου δημιουργήσει τέτοιες ορμές. Αριστούργημα.

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.

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.

Sun Worship – Pale Dawn (Golden Antenna Records)

sunworshippaledawn

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)

isolert

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.

Ustalost – The Spoor Of Vipers (Sibir Records)

ustalost

Stumbling upon this album by chance, I was entranced by the medieval-esque cover art, as well as the band logo which strongly reminded me of something that I could not pinpoint. Upon first play of the intro guitar riff my interest was more than piqued. Still, as the songs kept succeeding each other I was aware of a semblance, which was finally made concrete: Ustalost’s music is of a quite similar vein with Yellow Eyes. It was soon revealed that the only band member is Will Skarstad, the New Yorkers’ guitarist and frontman, while the Ustalost logo proved to be quite similar to an inverted version of one of the cathedral windows that grace “Sick With Bloom’s” cover. All the puzzle pieces satisfactorily placed, I was able to return to the album, which had me quite intrigued after the first spin.

The mind behind Ustalost and Yellow Eyes being the same, there are certain similarities between these two bands’ music that are easily grasped: vocals are obviously of a similar hue, passionate and howling; guitar riff logic is dominated by a turbulent pattern, ripe with angst and fury (though here the former eclipses the latter, much more than in Yellow Eyes –  a thing probably done willfully, since the band’s name means «fatigue» in Russian), yet not with much expansive variety; the guitars remain within certain frames (though I think that they are a bit more complex than the Yellow Eyes ones), as riffs leak from one track to another, creating a cohesive whole, at the expense of individual song character. While the dark majesty of the De Mysteriis-like first riff is not met again in the album, atmosphere is plentiful in here. Guitar turbulence is entwined with tremulous, fragile and starry ambient keyboard melodies, while the bass, being much more evident than in Yellow Eyes, adds a tone of warm volume that builds up the mystique. While the overall album is of a mid-tempo essence, leaning towards the creation of a feeling of futile wandering through seas of despair, there are some blastbeat moments which create small beacons of exodus: whether they lead towards salvation or oblivion is up to the listener.

The spoor of vipers that is referenced in the title could well be linked to the album guitar work: they are the tracks of the quite addictive guitar riffs that, like vipers in their nest, criss-cross the record. And as a nest, the album is best viewed as a whole, and not as independent songs; even the track titles (I to VI) are supportive of the single-entity idea. It may sound repetitive in certain moments, especially to one who has listened to Yellow Eyes, yet it stands well next to the main band albums, as a less edgy, and somewhat more complex version of them. A solid release, especially debut-wise, which will hopefully turn a tad darker on the next step (yes, I am still haunted by the album’s intro guitar riff).