Apr 23

Blast from the Past: Wintersun – Wintersun

Wintersun - Wintersun

Wintersun [Finland]
Nuclear Blast
Melodic Death Metal

I remember the first time I heard Wintersun‘s debut, self-titled album, and being instantly awe-strucked. I remember being a 15-year old kid, just getting into melodic death metal and folk metal, an avid user of last.fm, and finding this band high on the list of similar bands as Ensiferum. Little would I expect that 13 years later, Wintersun still has a special place in my heart.

The opening riffs on album opener Beyond the Dark Sun will always be stuck in my mind, being one of the fastest moments that I had encountered back then. The speed and ferociousness is matched by an equal level of melody, making for an enjoyable head-banging track for any self-respecting fan of melodic death metal.

Yet this is hardly the representation of the style that Wintersun plays, as the folk elements are clear as day throughout the album as well. Maybe it is his relation to Ensiferum back then (Iron remains one of my favourite folk metal albums), there are lots of folk metal-inspired moments that are littered throughout the album, through the usage of “heroic” vocals, to the melody of the lead guitars on songs like WInter Madness.

The songwriting prowess of Wintersun is evident, with a wide range of different styles here. Hardly surprising, considering the fact that the album contained songs written in different periods of time between 1995 and 2003, making this album album almost 10 years in the making. From the speedy Beyond the Dark Sun to the dark and broody Death and the HealingWintersun proves themselves to be master musicians and songwriters, there is hardly a boring or wasted moment on the album.

When a band releases an album that remains so highly acclaimed such a long time later, you know that they must have done something right. Jari Mäenpää may have encountered a string of bad luck over the years while attempting to record and release the follow up albums to Wintersun, but this has not stopped Wintersun‘s debut to remain a melodic death metal classic, and their follow up thus far, Time I, to be of equal quality.

You can support Wintersun and their third release through their Indiegogo page here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wintersun-crowdfunding–3#/

Favourite tracks: Beyond the Dark SunDeath and the HealingBeautiful Death

Wintersun on the internet:
Nuclear Blast

Apr 21

Ulvegr – Titahion: Kaos Manifest

Ulvegr - Titahion Kaos Manifest

Ulvegr [Ukraine]
Titahion: Kaos Manifest
Full Length
Ashen Dominion
Black Metal

Featuring past and present members of such prominent Ukrainian acts as KZOHH and Nokturnal MortumUlvegr presents their fourth full length album, Titahion: Kaos Manifest. While there seems to be an Egyptian influence on the album artwork, Ulvegr instead presents a heavily folk/pagan sound on Titahion: Kaos Manifest.

With that in mind, one almost knows what to expect on Titahion: huge soundscapes with breathtaking atmospheric passages. After an instrumental opener that puts the listener into a state of unease, Ulvegr then proceeds to bury the listener under a huge wall of riff with Throne Among the Void, before quickly breaking into an interlude with Countless Aeons in Transcendent Abyss. This is where things start to sound interesting, with the track being backed by a constant note by throat-singing, and fanatic ramblings layered above – as though one had chanced upon and disturbed a restless ghoul. Throughout the album, Ulvegr keeps up the intention to create a listening experience as disturbing as possible, leaving one constantly in a state of unease, aided largely with a stellar production job.

Heavier tracks are your typical pagan-styled black metal, with that melodic edge and that huge soundscape. The darkness and negativity that Ulvegr seems to present on songs like When Stars will Turn to Ashes even bring to mind the works of bands like Drowning the Light or the Finnish style of Satanic Warmaster or HornaShe, Who Grants Sufferings, in particular, stands out with the extravagant usage of a whole range of influences, what with the horns and the throat singing, like Tengger Cavalry turned pagan/black metal. Along with its mid-pace and the crushing riffs on the track, She, Who Grants Sufferings, is easily one of the most interesting and heavy tracks on the album.

To be honest, while overall Titahion is a pretty good pagan/black metal album, the heavier portions on the album don’t really stand out from the plethora of black metal releases these days. However, it is the interludes and the clever incorporation of the atmospheric elements that really make Ulvegr‘s fourth outing an interesting album to listen to.

Standout tracks: She, Who Grants Sufferings

Ulvegr on the internet:
Ashen Dominion

Apr 19

Batushka – Litourgiya

Batushka - Litourgiya

Batushka [Poland]
Witching Hour Productions
Black Metal

The sudden fascination in Polish black metal band Batushka compelled me to check them and their debut album, Litourgiya out. Before even listening to any of the tracks on the album, the artwork itself captivating me, which I found out later is a blurred image of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Yet, there was something deeply unsettling about this album artwork, compounded by the provoking imagery that the band conjures through their live performances.

Taken from Batushka Facebook page

Taken from Batushka Facebook page

While they do remind of the discerning listener of Ghost, the material on Litourgiya couldn’t be more different. Opener Yekteniya 1 brings one to the setting of an abandoned chapel, as one hears the echoes of a lone guitar note being played. No sooner ones begins to come to peace with that odd sense of haunting calmness, Batushka buries you under a massive wall of sound. The ferocity and intensity that the band emanates, along with the aggression, is rather reminiscent of bands such as Sulphur Aeon.

Atmosphere is key to the craft of Batushka and the band keeps the entire ambient of Litourgiya up through different methods, from the gratuitous usage of chants, to the sudden silence as one transits from Yekteniya 2 to Yekteniya 3 before letting all hell loose. Melodic moments are also aplenty, often intertwining with dissonance like those riffs on Yekteniya 3, bringing out a certain sense of hopelessness, reinforcing Litourgiya as a mixing pot of negativity.

A combination of brilliant songwriting, excellent production, and top-notch musicianship makes Litourgiya a record that even the casual fan of extreme metal finds himself going back to time and again, and proves to any naysayers that Batushka is more than just a passing fad with a costume.

Batushka on the internet:
Official website
Witching Hour Productions

Dec 04

Opeth – Sorceress


Opeth [Sweden]
Full Length
Moderbolaget Records
Progressive Rock

After their last semi-death metal release, Watershed, in 2008, I’ve all but lost any remaining interest in OpethHeritage felt like a weird experimental release for Opeth to find ground in their new musical style, while I did not really bother listening to Pale Communion at all, half expecting that release to be equally weird and explorational. Yet with my recent preferences for all things mellow (and that hookalicious track Will O the Wisp, I decided to give Sorceress a slight listen, and little did I know I would be hooked onto what would become one of my favourite releases of the year.

That weirdness and quirkiness that Opeth has come to embody over the years is not only present on Sorceress, but shown in its full glory here. Opening Persephone is a soothing, acoustic intro, which I wished would have lasted longer (and half-hoped would be a style that spanned the entire album), but quickly shifted to the album proper with the title track. Mikael Åkerfeldt has always been one vocalist who has impressed with both his menacing growls and his beautiful clean vocals, and on Sorceress (like on Heritage and Pale Communion) the entire album is in clean vocals. I especially like during moments where he pushes his vocals, like on the title track.

Music-wise, the band is stellar both on execution of the music and in the songwriting, easily shifting between time signatures and alternating between the more mellow and the more aggressive moments. The twin guitars of Åkerfeldt and Åkesson are often impressive, in the way their leads intertwine and complement each other.The thing about Opeth is that, whatever genre they may venture into, their style is unmistakable. Some moments like towards the end of The Wilde Flowers harken back to the heavier era of Opeth‘s discography, while songs like Will O the Wisp and The Seventh Sojourn brings some folkish moments to the table, showcasing the versatility of the band’s songwriting.

If Bloodbath‘s 2011 Bloodbath over Bloodstock was any indication of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s ability to do growls anymore, it is further exemplified on the deluxe edition of Sorceress, with a live recording of The Drapery Falls as a bonus track. Hearing tracks like these, it is certainly a strategic move for Opeth to move away from their death metal roots, and further explore their penchant for progressive rock.

My foray and upgrade of listening equipment could not be more timely, as it brings out the production quality of Sorceress, with every detail being clearly presented, especially so on softer moments on tracks like The Wilde Flowers, while the intimacy on songs like Sorceress 2 is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. Then again, one couldn’t expect any less from Opeth, with some of my favourite-sounding recordings being released by these Swedes.

I am not a big fan of progressive rock, and apart from hearing names such as King Crimson or Camel being thrown around, it is hard for me to draw any comparisons for Sorceress. The only thing I know is that Sorceress has opened my eyes and broadened my mind to the acceptance of a wider range of musical styles, and Opeth indeed sounds much more focused on the style that they want to achieve over here. It’s time for me to revisit Pale Communion and Heritage.

Opeth on the internet:
Official website
Moderbolaget Records

Aug 21

Blood Incantation – Starspawn

Blood Incantation - Starspawn

Blood Incantation [USA]
Full Length
Dark Descent Records
Death Metal

There hasn’t been many releases of late that have really caught my attention, particularly in the extreme metal realm. The last extreme album that I fully enjoyed was Moonsorrow‘s latest record, which was more of an atmospheric trip rather than what we tend to qualify as “extreme” of late, what with the fast and heaviness of death metal, hardcore and its offshoots. But here we are with American death metal band Blood Incantation‘s debut full length album, Starspawn.

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