Nov 22

Almyrkvi – Umbra

We’ve already had a taste of what the burgeoning Icelandic black metal scene can bring us, with bands like Sólstafir, and more recently, the excellent Auðn release. While the aforementioned bands bring a sound that is more akin to ambient/atmospheric black metal, Almyrkvi promises a more dissonant, disturbing aural experience with their debut full length, Umbra.

The cues that the band takes from such influential French acts as Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega are clear, as the opening riff hits the listener hard, and immediately as well. The band then soon indulges the listener in a deluge of dissonance, with riff after riff that leaves one hanging on the edge, dreadfully awaiting the next onslaught. The guitar work of Jónsson is stellar. While a wall of sound creates a massive, crushing atmosphere, he cleverly intertwines this with furiously trem-picked riffs, alternated with haunting leads for that dark, cosmic ambient.

Like their other Icelandic peers, the focus on the atmosphere is a key element to Almyrkvi‘s music. There are lots of quieter, ambient moments that reinforce the cosmic theme that features so highly in their craft like on Fading Hearts of Umbral Nebulas. The intertwining of these moments and heavier ones are rather reminiscent of my first time listening to Fas – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum, where the journey was disturbing and creepy as hell, yet completely entranced me to stay throughout its entirety. Apart from the instrumentation, there is even the usage of chants on songs like Stellar Wind of the Dying Star. Such is the strength of Almyrkvi‘s songwriting, at once sending shivers down one’s spine, and ensnaring one into Umbra.

Production is crisp, and the Umbra has a nice soundstage to it, making for an immersive listen. With in ear monitors, Almyrkvi‘s music has a more intense edge, as every beat hits the listener with maximum impact, synergised by the crushing riffs, though at the expense of some of that massive atmosphere that the band has created. This especially so on the more ambient moments like on Fading Hearts of Umbral Nebulas, where full-sized headphones are definitely recommended.

Umbra may be Almyrkvi‘s debut full length, but the band has left an indelible mark as a representative of the Icelandic black metal scene, proving themselves as more than capable in bringing their disturbing brand of black metal to the international table.

Nov 20

Acrimonious – Eleven Dragons

Greek black metal band Acrimonious left me thoroughly impressed with their 2012 full length, Sunyata. The perfect fusion of the grimness of black metal and the melody of heavy metal resulted in a sound that was reminiscent of the works of bands like Watain or even the legendary Dissection. 5 years later, the band finally follows up with their third full length, Eleven Dragons, this time under the infamous World Terror Committee.

With Eleven Dragons, Acrimonious sets a tone that seems to be much darker and colder than its predecessor. Incineration Initiator might not kick off the album at breakneck speed, but the riffs and the intentionally slow-mid pace that the band chooses to move at from the start creates an ominous atmosphere, foreshadowing the desolation that’s to come.

Instead of setting a single tone or pace, the band experiments with different styles on Eleven Dragons, giving some sense of variation and throwing listeners off guard at times. Songs like Elder of the Nashiym and its clean intro gives some semblance of solace before the band makes sure to crush all hope thereafter. And it is tracks like these that leave the deepest impressions on me, that (false) sense of quiet and calm that the band brings with them.

Furthermore, the abundance of spoken passages, and the tortured delivery of Cain as he growls, screams, or spits out the lyrics reflect the hopelessness and desperation in the art of Acrimonious. Faster and more aggressive tracks like Damnation’s Bells even bring about some comparisons to Marduk‘s Mortuus with the aggression.

Another thing that I liked about Eleven Dragons is the rather prominent placement of the bass. Unlike many black metal records with the bass being buried in the mix, one is able to hear the basslines clearly throughout, giving Semjaza 218’s fluency on the instrument sufficient limelight, often reinforcing the dark and heavy atmosphere, like on The Northern Portal.

The only drawback though is the duration of the album; clocking at more than 1 hour, there are moments where I almost felt that Eleven Dragons got a little bit draggy. Of course, with genres as such, repetitive riffs are part and parcel of what sets the mood, but there are moments where I felt things got a little bit too repetitive, especially with most tracks going beyond the 6-minute mark.

That said though, Eleven Dragons isn’t a bad album – far from it, as repeated listens often yield new discoveries. For fans of bands like Watain, Nightbringer, or Acherontas, Acrimonious‘ latest release would be a worthy addition to your collection.

Favourite tracks: Elder of the Nashiym, Kaivalya, Thaumitan Crown

Nov 17

Auðn – Farvegir Fyrndar

For some reason, whenever bands from Iceland are mentioned, particularly black metal bands, I immediately associate them with a cold, atmospheric soundscape. Of course, this has probably got to do with the climate of the region, but also due to bands like Sólstafir, or more popularly, Sigur Rós. Unlike the apparently recent increasing popularity of dissonant black metal bands of the region, the art that Auðn peddles would lean more closely to the atmospheric end of the spectrum.

Farvegir Fryndar is the sophomore album of Auðn, and after the excellent self-titled debut in 2014, there is little doubt about the level of musicianship of the band. Right from album opener Verold Hulin, one is put into a melancholic, though on some levels, rather beautiful soundscape. It’s a cold, but not overly freezing à la Immortal/Abbath cold, atmosphere that one is left in. Fans of the works of WinterfyllethWodensthrone, or the recent Wolves in the Throne Room would immediately feel comfortably at home.

The riffs dished out by guitarists Magnússon and Birgisson have a rather bleak quality to them, often topped by the desperate shrieks of Sveinsson, further emphasising the sense of hopelessness for the listener. Yet through all the negativity, and the desolation, Auðn ensures that there is still that beautiful aesthetic that is maintained throughout. The superb songwriting on Farvegir Fyrndar makes it such that it isn’t difficult to become completely immersed. The clever interweaving of acoustic moments into their songwriting like on Ljosaslaedur and Eilifar Naetur are reminiscent of Fen, and these definitely got the fanboy in me excited (though excited should hardly be a suitable descriptor for such an album).

The soundstage presented on the album is huge, and it is hard not to become captivated by the breathtaking atmosphere on the album. While it is easy to get hypnotised and lose oneself on warmer cans or earphones, on more clinical, analytical earphones, I found Auðn to be a much less enjoyable listen, losing the warmth of the production, and emphasising the rawness and rougher edges that are inevitable for such extreme genres.

The last album that got me coming back for more was Fen‘s recent masterpiece, Winter, yet I have found myself constantly returning for more of Farvegir Fyrndar in recent weeks. Auðn‘s sophomore is a hugely addictive album, and while it may take another 3 year wait for them to drop any new material, Farvegir Fyrndar would be more than sufficient to keep us busy till then.

Favourite tracks: LjosaslaedurEilifar Naetur

Nov 13

Necrotted – Worldwide Warfare

Let me come clean and admit to you, I am not the biggest fan of deathcore. Having said that, I have listened to the few good ones that have been around since the mid-2000s. So I had hopes, and went into listening to Necrotted, a German band’s latest release with an open mind and open heart. Having never heard of them before, I was pleasantly surprised.

But before I analyse the album, let me just talk you through what I know and think about deathcore as a genre and the bands involved with it.

Deathcore, when done well, really takes the energy from hardcore and makes you want to have a 1-man mosh in your room. Good deathcore makes you want to smash stuff. But in recent times, I’ve found good deathcore hard to come by, with most of the bands taking a CHUGGY-CHUGGY-CHUG-CHUG approach to creating their music. Then came Thy Art Is Murder in 2015 and 2017 and Fit For An Autopsy‘s The Great Collapse this year. So 2017 could possibly be the year deathcore re-evolves. And the evolution is one of less crab-walks, less chuggy-chug djent-influences and closer alignment with death metal but with a distinct energy from hardcore.

So where does Necrotted stand with their release?

They are getting there, and I do hear similarities to the stellar Thy Art Is Murder. There is definitely no chuggy-chugs, but real intensity. The album starts a bit slow, and a tad simplistic (don’t crucify me guys, I’d not be able to put out even a riff for snails), but really picks up from the 3rd track Hunt Down The Crown which caught me by surprise. The pace, intensity and creativeness really excels in this.

Particular mention should go to their drummer, Markus Braun. He’s an absolute beast behind the kit, and his pedal work is quite understated, but supported with good mastering of the tracks. The guitars also lay down some head-hurting riffs, and the lead guitar work really stand out. Another great track is the 6th, My Foray, Your Decay. Similar in vein to the one above, but again with more experimentation and inventiveness.

One trend that I realised with this album was that when the band just tried to do something different, gave creative freedom to their lead guitarist and their drummer, they create really great songs or parts. These bits are all over the album, but perhaps need to become more concentrated.

And if the band ever reads this, may I offer just one more opinion, many top bands (in deathcore or otherwise) tend to get into one large concept (e.g. racism, environmentalism, or even philosophy) that is really close to their heart, and really drive across the message with their music. I feel that this drives the creative aspects further, and something I’ve seen emerging in the standout deathcore, hardcore, and death metal bands.

Worldwide Warfare sees a 9-year old band on the verge of puberty, on the verge of being a force to reckon with in the years to come. But for what it’s worth, this is a really strong effort. And I did mosh, maybe more mentally, and headbang, in my chair.

Standout tracks: Hunt Down The Crown, My Foray, Your Decay, and Vile Vermin.

Check them out at: https://www.facebook.com/NECROTTED/
Get the album at: https://risingnemesisrecords.bandcamp.com/album/worldwide-warfare

Nov 10

Cloak – To Venomous Depths

Whenever black metal and rock ‘n’ roll are mentioned in the same line, one immediately thinks of the style that either Satyricon has crafted, or the punkish, Motörhead-fuelled style of Darkthrone. But Cloak presents a rather different take on the fusion of these two genres on their debut full length, To Venomous Depths.

With the band citing cult black metal acts such as Dissection as their main influences, it isn’t surprising to find their style familiar right from the start. Opener To Venomous Depths/Where No Light Shines, with the dissonant chords and that infusion of rock vibes, quickly brings to mind the recent works of bands like Watain, especially of Lawless Darkness. That being my favourite release of Watain, this certainly marked a great start in getting acquainted with Cloak.

But Cloak is more than just another Dissection/Watain clone. As the album progresses, the comparisons to Watain‘s works slowly moves towards that of the style that bands like Tribulation or Morbus Chron has created instead on their more recent works. This especially so as the mood becomes increasingly darker, and the emotions that the band emanates gets more melancholic.

Songs like Beyond the Veil for instance, would have easily fit into The Children of the Night with ease, with the uncanny resemblance not only in the song structure, but also the riffs, down to even the vocals of Scott Taysom who bears rather strong similarities to Johannes (of Tribulation). The rock ‘n’ roll vibe on this track is especially helped by the basslines of Matt Scott, with hooks made all the more addictive with the clean guitars during the soft interlude on the track.

Perhaps the only gripe that I have with To Venomous Depths is the production quality of the album, where at times there seems to be clipping that slightly affected the enjoyment of the album. Other than that, the record is sufficiently raw to bring across the emotions that have gone into the writing of the album, while retaining that rather modern sound to keep listeners engaged.

Cloak‘s debut is an excellent album that is fun to listen to, and showcases their influences proudly on their sleeves. Every track contains slick licks that draws the listener in, and the perfect balance between the different genres that have gone into the mixing cauldron results in an album that has something for everyone. And with To Venomous Depths, there is finally a black ‘n’ roll album that I could really go back to time and again.

Favourite tracks: To Venomous Depths/Where No Light ShinesBeyond the VeilDeep Red

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