War Is Hell – A Review of Sammath’s ‘Across The Rhine Is Only Death’

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There Is No Place For Your God Here

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About bloody time. After making us wait five years from their superb last album Godless Arrogance, Dutch destroyers Sammath have returned to the frontlines with their sixth full-length assault: Across The Rhine Is Only Death.

Active since 1994, they’ve now been at it for nine thousand, one hundred and twenty-five trips around the sun – so have they finally softened up a little? Like fuck. Uncompromising as ever, the album immediately drops you right in the shit with the appropriately named Savagery and from then on, it’s all over. Look around, blink for a second as you take your bearings – then fucking run. The theme of the record is WW2 (specifically the final months, when Germany was holding on to the Rhine at the western border – the special edition wooden box set of the album even contains a shell dug up from the site of the battle at Moyland Wood) and that’s exactly where you find yourself, under deafening artillery fire in a haze of blood and smoke. To stand still is death.

Frenzied, bloodthirsty riffs rain down as violent percussive blasts disorient with their ferocity – it’s a thoroughly impressive display, but what I find really remarkable about Across The Rhine Is Only Death is how despite beginning at full throttle, at certain points throughout the album they somehow find another gear to up the intensity even more. Sure, ‘All Lay Dead In The Slit Trenches Of Calcar’ is a massacre (the downpicked riffs in the “no retreat, no surrender” parts sound like the tread of a Panzer IV as it rolls over skulls) while ‘Battletorn’ is alternately frantic and dread-inducing depending on which tempo their guns are set to at the time, but by the time you get to ‘Ferocious Mortar Fire’… christ on a bike. Founding member Jan Kruitwagen‘s vocals are sheer insanity and the track itself is one of the most full-on things you’ll hear this year. More wretched than black metal, reeking of death more than any death metal could, grinding harder than grind and doing war metal more realistically than most war metal does itself. This IS the true horror of battle.

Everything following this is just as harrowing, too. ‘Blood Ridden Fields’ is rabid and crazed like a berserker battle rage, the impressive lead in single ‘Bitter Fighting Amongst The Dead’ sounds no less psychotic when placed amidst everything else, whilst the title track and album closer ‘Across The Rhine Is Only Death’ is utterly mental until it fades out in shocking aftermath. Mr. Kruitwagen handles all songwriting as usual, and he’s absolutely outdone himself – he has achieved total annihilation.

I reckon the closest thing you’ll get to a genuine breather in the entire onslaught is for certain parts of ‘Totenhügel‘. It doesn’t give you much of a break, but it does slow down a little – only to become more devastating in its decreased velocity and really drive home the carnage and sheer terror that surrounds you. These riffs are fucking lethal, dripping in menace and inspiring visions of the type of wartime horrors that’ll haunt you for years and cost you thousands in therapy for PTSD.

None of this is just hyperbole, either. The whole thing is a genuinely uncomfortable but exhilarating listen. The production is more of an all-out blitzkrieg than ever and I’d be remiss to not mention that new man on the battery Wim van der Valk (also of Inquisitor) makes his presence felt with an omnipotent performance, producing the kind of relentless, skin-flaying blasts that beat you into submission, yet providing nuance within the attack. His work beautifully combines with the riffs and longtime bassist Ruud Nillesen‘s punishing pulse to induce fear and panic – the aural equivalent of the fight-or-flight response, kicking in your survival instincts like the men of 1945.

Can you tell I like this shit? Well yeah, I do. A lot. A quarter of a century on and these gents might just have produced the defining album of their career. They aren’t doing anything drastically different, but they don’t have to – they just charge and push forward harder than ever. There’s no atmospheric intros or outros, no soft interludes, no respite or weakness at all; just running for your life, dodging bodies in a hail of bullets and viscera as you hack and slash any enemy that crosses your path, screaming with a voice that you don’t recognize as your own… until without warning, your luck runs out and it’s all over.

Sammath are the boot on your neck, the gun barrel pointed at your face as you cry and piss yourself in the mud. Across The Rhine Is Only Death is the bullet going through your brain as you choke your last breath.

The ultimate war album. Fucking die.

Rating: 5 / 5

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Across The Rhine Is Only Death releases October 7th via Hammerheart Records. Pre-orders available now.

Pre-order Accross The Rhine Is Only Death on digital, cassette, vinyl or CD from Bandcamp here or from the Hammerheart Records store here.

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Wondrous Day – A Review(?) of Wolok’s ‘Fading Mirth & Dry Heaves’

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She dropped her eyeballs into the lake, one by one.

Her empty sockets stared, the cool afternoon breeze absently whistling through them. A faint smile appeared on her lips. This has been a fabulous day, she thought.

She pulled a knife from the pocket of her summer dress and began carving small gobbets of flesh from her forearm. Slowly and autonomously, almost as an afterthought – like twirling your fingers through your hair as you’re lost in pleasant daydream. The music still played in her head, as always. Indescribable music that seemed to speak to her; music nobody else could possibly understand except her, music she had heard her entire life. She called the music Wolok.

Wolok had always been her friend, and it was Wolok that had led her to have such a wondrous day.

 

You will never understand Wolok

 

The music started like any other time. A rise of sound, creeping slowly, spider-like up her spinal column on needle thin legs shimmering of gold. Be pure. Be ‘Stolid’. Be pure. Be stolid. Discordant bliss, wrong but right. Slow, laconic waves in tune with a heart pumping poison. A voice in another language; not human, not other. She could never articulate to others how Wolok spoke to her. If others could understand, they would do the same. But this was only for her… and the music was telling her it was time.

She set off towards the fairground. A skip, a distant hum. What a day it was. She would arrive soon.

 

Wolok is everything that is wrong and everything that is right

 

The music rippled with whimsy. Those afflicted by the ‘Bitter Swill’ were all around, skittering in the staccato neon lights as broken bottles ravaged flesh, rending and tearing. In a flash, a pause; everyone vomits. Pouring from every orifice in multicoloured strobes. Wretched beasts writhe slick with bile, as though it seeped from the very pores. She danced, laughing and twirling amidst the repugnant heaving masses, until << the scene flashes black and white. She is hunched on the ground, screaming so loud flecks of blood spatter her lips >> she finally collapsed, breathless and content, then laid on the ground smiling up at the sky. Twitching, retching bodies. A dog idly chewed on a man’s genitals.

 

Wolok will save us all

 

She stood in the ice cream parlor. The spoon lifted to her mouth; she licked it ponderously. To anyone else she would appear thoughtful, perhaps considering something she had heard earlier or wondering where on earth she could pick up that lovely pair of shoes she saw earlier in that magazine at the hairdressers. At least, that’s how she imagined herself. She could hear Wolok. Insistent. Raging, warning of ‘Deceptive Serpents’. There was a radio message, playing faintly over the store speakers in the background, about a woman having her head crushed. Her fingers ran over the body splayed at her midriff; the spoon scooped down again, stirring the innards. Raising back to her mouth. Wolok spoke soothing words like retching, assuring her it would all be okay. Slowing down. A whimsical melody that would drive others insane… but not her. Not her beautiful thoughts, dancing to the Wolok‘s rhythm.

 

Wolok loves you

 

Never insane. Beautiful. ‘Neural Misfire’, slow and punishing, raking claws across the brains of skulls opened like spring flowers. A lurching death, tiptoeing through tulips and crushing them. She lost where she was. Everything oscillated, whining and whirring. Wolok was preparing. Preparing her. The Serpents would get what was theirs. A low growl. It was coming.

 

Wolok will care for you

 

She walked into the ‘Squalor’. Looking around at them. They were everywhere. Flapping skin. Slipping and wobbling. The Wolok reached frantic pace. It was time. Force ripped from her fingertips, whipping through bodies disintegrating under strobe. Frantic dismemberment, twisted musculature and tearing sinew. A galloping power, cackle of death, grinding and churning repugnant filth destruction mass blood carnage, screams exploding multicoloured dissolution, the end of all times. Delirium. It was here, she was part of it, Wolok had done it. It was her, always her, always Wolok. Sound fever pitch, annihilation of all, annihilation of all, annihilation of all, annihilation of a

 

Wolok will never leave

 

Yes, it was a fine day. One of the very best. Her toes dipped into the cool waters of the lake, tracing patterns on the surface. She breathed deeply the faint scent of lavender and her lungs silently convulsed, expelling more of the black; and as those little chunks of flesh dropped delicately into the lake like small pebbles, she knew… she knew that tomorrow would be just as good.

 

Wolok wants you dead

 

Rating: 4 / 5

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Fading Mirth & Dry Heaves is available on CD and digital now via Death Knell Productions.

Purchase Fading Mirth & Dry Heaves digitally or on CD from the band here, or from Death Knell Productions here.

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The Tale of Two Tushkas – A Dual Review of Batushka’s ‘Hospodi’

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After all the fuss has momentarily died down, here’s a once-shelved review of Bartushka‘s Hospodi – attacked simultaneously by George Van Doorn of Vahrzaw, and Dex. Read on below… apologies in advance.

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By George Van Doorn

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If you’ve been living under an Eastern Orthodox habit for the last 9 months or so, Batushka are a band in need of some “Some Kind of Monster” style therapy. Both Bart and Krzysztof kicked each other out of the band which resulted in, wait for it, two Batushkas: Bart‘s Batushka and Krzysztof‘s Batushka. As a child of divorced parents I was hoping that this separation would mean that I’d get two sets of presents again. This is a review of one of those presents; i.e., Bart‘s new album Hospodi (English: “Lord”, “God Amighty”, or “My God”).

I’m going to start at an odd point in the album because Bart’s Batushka first released a video for Track 5, ‘Polunosznica’, and everyone lost their minds. So, it seems appropriate to start here. Some people are going to get their Mormon magic undies in a twist, but I liked this song. The bass and drums are thick. The primary riff is melancholic, and the vocals are great. The song swells majestically like a priest amongst altar boys at about the 4 minute mark. It’s a good song.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album isn’t as veiny and throbbing. The album opener is a pretty dull affair. For the most part it’s one guy yelling at a microphone with enough reverb rubbed on the mix to disorient my cat. And, this brings me to one of the issues I have with this album, it seems disjointed; like ideas were hastily cobbled together without enough thought as to how they’d fit. The album’s closer, for example, seems to go nowhere, as lost as the aforementioned priest walking over a bridge in the middle of nowhere.

A few songs start well (e.g., ‘Wieczernia’ and ‘Utrenia’) but rapidly descend into riffs as bland as communion wafers. This brings me to my second main issue with this album. It’s a little more commercially-accessible than it should be. That said, I didn’t mind the intro riff to ‘Powieczerje’, but it’s not strong enough to carry the whole song. And, Bart‘s Batushka milk this riff like the church milks its parishioners.

May Hospodi forgive me, but the other Batushka album is better.

George’s Rating: 3 / 5

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By Dex

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I forced myself to sit through this album several times with a clear mind in an attempt to form a balanced, fair and unbiased opinion of it. Guess what? It didn’t work. I can’t remember a single thing about Hospodi besides these thoughts: the riffs are almost surprisingly shit, the songs themselves are uninspired trash and feel so painfully forced/phoned-in they sound like some strange amalgamation of a cringe, a wince and a yawn, and if you’re going to [allegedly – please do not sue me, I am broke] steal a band from someone then why the fuck wouldn’t you at least try to make your resulting musical effort better than the original (or even the demo quality follow up from the [allegedly] original creator) so it doesn’t just smell like one of the single biggest, most obvious cash-grabs in the history of metal?

To answer that question – because none of this seems to be about musical integrity, or the fans. Only their wallets. And sadly even this negative review is ultimately pointless, because although Hospodi is the ‘black metal’ equivalent of being robbed by your fat uncle while listening to elevator music, some people out there will still happily throw money at it with a smile on their faces. Nobody would give a flying fuck about this album without Brandtushka attached to it, and in a perfect world that’s how it should be treated – on merit, of which it has zero. Mediocre.

Dex’s Rating: 1 / 5 (one point for at least spelling the band name correctly)

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Hospodi is available now via Metal Blade Records.

Purchase Hospodi digitally from Bandcamp here or on digital, vinyl and CD from Metal Blade Records here.

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Mental Dissonances – A Review of ‘Anorexia Obscura’, by Tenebrae In Perpetuum

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Black, Obscure Concept of Absolute

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Hails. Hopefully this won’t sound too weird, but for me, black metal is always about feeling. There are those special sensations that only black metal can generate – a pull at the darkness within, a call to nature. Whatever it may be, every black metal album worth its salt makes you feel something and at its core what you’re experiencing through each one is more or less the same thing. If you think about it, we all recognise it when we hear it. It’s unmistakable.

But there are also albums that push that darkness to the extreme and are almost total feeling. When it becomes for the most part about enveloping you in an overwhelming grip and not letting go; saturating your mind and doing all sorts of fucked up things to you. These are the albums that leave a scar, and with Anorexia Obscura, their first album since way back in 2009, Italian duo Tenebrae In Perpetuum fall more firmly into this latter cateory than ever before.

We all know ten years is a long time in black metal (hell, even Mayhem have put out two actual albums amidst their billion re-issues), so it’d be reasonable to assume a few sonic developments may have sprung up since their last recorded works – and you would indeed be correct in that assumption. The raw, immersive atmosphere that permeated their earlier works has been largely dissipated and instead everything has been sharpened, all bladed edges honed and new elements added to create the project’s most challenging and lethal work yet. And I don’t mean challenging because it sucks; I mean the entire record seems designed to push you out of your comfort zone. Main man, multi-instrumentalist and founder Atratus‘ playing and structures have always been of the more abstruse variety but here they’re taken to a whole new level, and without the viscous coating of atmospheric murk they seem sharper and colder than ever; conjuring disharmonic evil, staying true to the misanthropic spirit of the “anti” and seemingly tearing black metal apart, splaying it open to display its pulsating heart amidst a jangle of shattered bone.

The album as a whole is a harrowing journey and one that’s in almost constant motion. Frequently devolving into lurching, almost abstract horrors it stretches itself out, reaching clawed hands into the void before snapping back into tremolo hyperblast; heaving, churning and gnashing its teeth in terrible conflict as its varying elements create a storm of psychic tension. Drums this time are taken care of by Chimsicrin of Lorn, Gorrch and Strix – which is an excellent development as his work in Lorn especially has been top notch (check out Arrayed Claws and thank me later) and he dazzles with equal ability here, providing the perfect spine for the music’s discombobulating interplay with itself and knowing exactly what needs to be done.

Yeah, sounds good so far. But what about the VOCALS? Well. The previous album’s throatsman Ildanach, although undeniably great, is not missed as (akin to their 2010 split with Krohm) Atratus once again steps behind the mic with a terrifying performance. Seriously – it’s impressive, bloodcurdling shit if you really listen to him. It’s like he’s opening up and all of his wretched internal hells are just pouring out of him, barely tempered and taking whatever form they will as he tears his hair out. The man is spewing pure depravity and despair and his vocals really add to the album, like all the greatest performances do. Would Silencer or Bethlehem‘s great album/s be the same without the vocals? Fuck no. They’re such an intrinsic part of the experience it’s almost sacrilege to imagine them with a different frontman, and it’s a similar effect here.

The one final thing I must mention is the most surprising addition – Atratus is now utilising electronic elements in his twisted assault. Like the rest of the album’s components they seem purely designed to unsettle, such as the shrill synth bends that arise in ‘Oscillazione Ipnotica Profunda’ or the uncomfortable “truck reversing” sounds of opener ‘Dissonanze Mentali’. You don’t expect them and you’re not sure they should even be there (they might even annoy you at first), but there they are, forcing your mind to go places you aren’t ready for.

All up, it’s a remarkable return. I was a fan of their previous works and I’m glad to see the project rear its head once more, especially in such primal, psychologically damaging fashion – this is the type of black metal I wish more bands played with these days. Tense and choking yet somehow diabolically expansive, Anorexia Obscura is not an easy listen and I can’t even say that it’s a rewarding one – that’s not what it’s designed for. What it is however is an experience you should try at least once. If you’ve been on the fence about checking this out… dive in. Just be prepared to be totally consumed for the duration.

Rating: 4 / 5

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Anorexia Obscura is available now via Debemur Morti Productions.

Purchase Anorexia Obscura on CD or vinyl from Debemur Morti Productions here or on digital, vinyl and CD from the Tenebrae In Perpetuum Bandcamp here.

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Shining Through – A Review of Mystagogue’s ‘And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness’

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Without light, there is no darkness

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What’s in a name? Not much, depending on who you talk to. But the title of fresh Dutch duo Mystagogue‘s debut album And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness might just be more metaphorical than either of its esteemed creators even intended. How so? As the old adage goes – let’s find out.

This intriguing musical excretion is the result of an unholy union between Wessel Damiaen of Laster and Maurice De Jong of Gnaw Their Tongues. Yes, you read that correctly: Maurice is back with a flesh and blood drummer providing backbone for his compositions. For the first time in quite a while, I believe. We’re used to hearing all kinds of depraved mysteries from the mind of Maurice but pairing his work with human percussion seems to elevate it to a whole new level – especially with Wessel utilising a tastefully raw sound that would make everyone’s favourite punisher Chevy-Dune de Beer bust a load in his undies.

But anyway, onwards to the light/darkness thing and the compositions themselves. Leonard Cohen once sang “there’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in” and this is a fair representation the general feeling of Mystagogue. Taking a more ‘traditional’ black metal route than the usual Maurice fare, these songs aren’t just grotesque expulsions of gloom and negativity from the deepest pits of existence – although that is of course still the seething core they’re built upon, don’t get me wrong – they’re also imbued with a melodiousness that plumbs a much wider scope of the emotional spectrum. They feel yearning, hopeful or even triumphant at times. The title And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness, aside from the biblical connotations, describes the sound well – Maurice has thrown out some of the darkness and let a sliver of light in through the crack.

This results in a fucking fantastic record. I’m not going to test your attention span with a blow-by-blow (the whole thing drops on LP/CD in a couple of days through Vendetta Records anyway), but here’s a couple of key moments: fourth track ‘Here in the White Silence of the Dawn’ starts off the clearest example of what I was talking about above. All of the tracks are short and punchy, classic song structures are utilized often with some bright-ish melodies taking centre stage on occasion – but this is “letting the light in” typified. Sadness and hope collide as the riffs soar, slicing the gloom like a shining blade from the heavens… and THEN, just when you think it can’t get any brighter, ‘The Gift of Grief Upon The Black Earth’ kicks in. It’s flat-out catchy as all hell. Clocking in at just under two and a half minutes in length, it’s assembled from the type of earworm melodies that lodge themselves in your brain as Wessel‘s drumming compels your head to nod along uncontrollably, switching between full blast intensity and the type of almost-pop-punk-ish beats that would make elitists turn their corpse-painted noses up in disgust. Glorious.

If I’ve sold that as being too Alcest-ish or Deafheaven-y or something, then please – that is not my intention. Mystagogue is not cut from the same cloth. Rather than any post-black or the newer breed of black metal upstarts, in its fury And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness has more in common with old Finnish bands or something (one of the first riffs in opener ‘And Shrieking Winds Lash The Oceans Into Madness’ is just one step removed from this, for example). It’s still visceral and vicious, relatively murky and obscure to a point – Maurice is just wielding all of these powers and molding them be several shades lighter than what he would usually produce, creating something slightly more accessible and immediate… opening things up just a touch, letting a little darkness out and a little light in.

Honestly, aside from maybe the fact that the album doesn’t go pushing too many boundaries (if you can even count that sort of thing as detrimental when what they do, they do this well) the only thing I can nitpick as a vague negative is what I think to be the recording of the snare. It sometimes has a weird inconsistency that could have been tightened up a little (so to speak), as it can cause a mild distraction if you hone in on it too much. Or maybe it’s just my ears, who knows. Regardless of that, these two gentlemen have created a record that is very, very hard to fault. This is up there with Golden Ashes as my favourite things I’ve heard from camp Maurice of late, an album that, whilst not doing anything radically unheard of, still perfectly balances all of its elements into an experience that will subtly dawn on you with increasing power. Like an ecclesiastical revelation sent from on high… and echoed down below.

Check it out, don’t miss it. I’ll even go as far as to say you may even need some of this in your life. For what is darkness without light?

Rating: 4 / 5

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And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness releases August 30th. Digital through Bandcamp, CD and vinyl via Vendetta Records.

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Purchase Mystagogue‘s And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness on CD and LP from Vendetta Records here on August 30th.

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Dismal Luminaries – A Review of Eclipser’s ‘Pathos’

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Canadian five piece Eclipser are creeping in to wreck your brain with their debut assault of warped, vaguely-progressive blackened death, dropping September 6th through Noise Salvationthe DIY label run by Canadian grinders Fuck The Facts. Our resident straight shooter George Van Doorn of Vahrzaw submits his ears to the assault and drops a few choice words.

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I recently reviewed another Canadian Blackened DM band whose music was quite good, but they don’t appear to have appreciated my sense of humour; I hung shit on Panzerfaust for displaying their buff physiques in their promo photos. So, did Eclipser have the good sense to keep their clothes on in their photo shoot? They sure did!

The album starts with ‘On Mournful Waves of Eternal Dusk’; terrible title, but a cracking song. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the two guitarists really know how to write separate guitar lines that complement each other. I was thinking “Fuck! That shouldn’t work”… but it does! Differing rhythms and notes that I thought wouldn’t work together but, oddly, do. It’s really quite cool. There’s dissonance here, but it’s in the riffs themselves (not in any ill-conceived harmony parts).

Eclipser create a nice sense of unease in several songs. But… I’m having a hard time describing what they do exactly. It’s chaotic, but it’s controlled. It’s layered. It’s semi-avant-garde Blackened DM. Whenever a band’s music is slightly odd, Deathspell Omega are mentioned. But comparing Deathspell Omega with Eclipser would be like comparing Panzerfaust‘s promo photos (naked apples) with Eclipser‘s promo photos (fully dressed oranges). So, I’m slightly stumped.

The vocals, drums, and bass are good, and the production is good too. Everything is audible. Perhaps the vocals are a touch too high in the mix, while the drums are a touch too low. My other very minor criticism is that I thought that, on a few occasions, a riff was over-played slightly.

All that said, this is a stellar debut.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

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Pathos releases September 6th on CD or digital via Noise Salvation. Pre-orders available now.

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Pre-order Eclipser‘s Pathos digitally or on CD from Bandcamp here.

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Towards The Endless – A Review of Nyctophilia’s ‘Bezdeń’

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Submit to death

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As you can probably tell from the fact that the name has appeared many times before on these reeking, bloodstained pages, I’ve always got time for a new Nyctophilia album. Polish solo practitioner Grief has been busy honing his craft for five years now and every release he puts out, whilst not making drastic changes to his formula, is always at least a slight step up from the previous. Or perhaps I should say a step downwards, sinking into even deeper, subtler yet more affecting incarnations of darkness than ever before. Semantics aside, he’s now back with its fifth full-length paean to the majesty of night – the simply named Bezdeń.

Continuing the slow creep away from the agonized depression of his early works, Grief has again infused this new conjuration with a subtly different energy. Now as any reviewer worth a shit knows, researching information on an album you have under consideration is mandatory for a proper, completely informed and fair analysis. During my initial reading I was struggling to decipher the translation of the title (Google translate fucking sucks) so I reached out to the man himself, who helpfully informed me that Bezdeń is from an older Polish dialect and can be translated as “infinity” or something that is eternal/never ending, and also in context of its usage here can refer to the grandeur of nature – all of which is exactly the direction Bezdeń pushes further in than ever before. It’s more expansive than he’s ever been; more transcendentally despondent while still being gloriously primal and archetypal in its crepuscular power.

The first hint the listener receives of this is immediately upon commencement of the first and titular ‘Bezdeń’. Windswept ambience opens the track and an immediate sense of desolation and solitude falls over you; you feel alone, yet in the presence of something humbling and immense – the natural world, as depicted on the (great, as usual) cover art for the album. It’s an effect utilized all-too-briefly here as the song starts fairly quickly, but in an inspired turn of events this is not an album of wall to wall guitar-driven tracks. Bezdeń contains only three. The other three (positioned on every even number from the second track) are incredibly immersive ambient pieces that continue the theme of that intro, but in slightly differing forms – for example, the fourth track ‘Pustka’ feels alternately like standing in pure, cold darkness of night with the air completely still as moonlight paints the earth in an otherworldly pale hue; or in a damp, pitch black underground cavern deep below the earth… or even the sensation of drifting in the vastness of space, silent and unmoving as you float through the endless nothing betwixt the stars. They are all different, yet all connected.

I have seen many people bitch about ambient intros or interlude tracks on an album, saying they’re a distraction. Whilst when done poorly they undoubtedly can take away from an album, this is not the case here. This is fucking exceptional and creates a similar immersive world-building effect that say Severoth, Paysage dHiver or perhaps Filosofem does – the ambience becomes an equally important driving force of the record and allows you to fall further and further into the atmosphere, totally invested in the experience and lost to the world the album creates.

But hey, thats not all, the three traditional tracks are fucking great too. The previous Nyctophilia album Ad Mortem Et Tenebrae was excellent (we also spoke to Grief himself about it, check that out here) and contained possibly my favourite composition of his to date in the immense ‘When Stars Shine No More’. Well, every one of ‘Bezdeń’, ‘Vexation And Sorrow’ and ‘Światło Wieczności’ has multiple moments that match the epic scope of that song – as more of my time is spent with them they may even knock it off top spot. Cutting the amount of songs down to three for the album feels like Grief has exercised much tighter quality control; every track on here is the absolute best he can make it, and as a result Bezdeń contains some of his finest ever songwriting.

The hatred, cold and darkness inherent in the classic Nyctophilia sound is still very much there and seething away underneath but the structures feel more expansive and dynamic than ever before, filled with a sense of ancient grandeur. The vocals feel more commanding; the drumming is great and creates a solid backbone for the evolving compositions, twisting with every turn. Each song has recurring variations on a theme, too. An eerily similar riff of austere tremolo appears over ringing chords in each of the tracks, aiding in the overall mesmeric coherence of the album and when coupled with the ambient pieces gives the sensation you’re listening to one giant composition; flowing and changing, roaring and subsiding. I’m not sure it was intended as such during the writing process, but that’s how it appears to the listener and it’s an incredible journey to take.

In short, through still worshipping the night but pushing himself to find all new shades of black, Bezdeń is the best entire album Grief has ever written. His clear masterwork thus far. It’s like parts of all your favourite atmospheric and ambient second wave artists rolled into one, and you really should listen to it – I have been for a solid week and can see myself returning to it many, many times in future. Can’t wait to see where he goes from here. Hail Nyctophilia.

Rating: 4 / 5

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Bezdeń releases September 1st on CD and digital. CD via Wolfspell Records. Pre-orders available now for digital on Bandcamp. Pre-orders available now for 12″ vinyl LP via Death Kvlt Productions, limited to 100 copies and shipping September 20th. But be quick – they’re almost sold out.

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Pre-order Nyctophilia‘s Bezdeń digitally from Bandcamp here, on LP/digital from Death Kvlt Productions here, or purchase on CD from Wolfspell Productions here on September 1st.

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Terror Unleashed – A Review of Munt’s ‘Towards Extinction’

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Melbourne’s lords of the blistering blast and grotesque groove Munt are back with their second EP, aptly entitled ‘Towards Extinction’. George Van Doorn of Vahrzaw gave it a listen – read on below.

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Strewth cobber! When I woke up this morning I didn’t think I’d be reviewing a blackened grindcore EP from a Melbourne-based band called Munt. But, bloody Aaron at BMD knew I’d see the band name and wouldn’t be able to help myself. Bastard!

So, as I said, Munt are a blackened grind group that manage to combine these styles in a way that’ll get purists’ panties in a twist. Why? Because they do it well and they do it seamlessly. Suck it purists! Their groove game is really strong, much like another Melbourne-based grindcore band who shall remain nameless. Munt‘s BM game is a little weaker, but not goat-stealing, misguided activist weak.

The vocals are excellent, but there’s a lot of them here. I would’ve liked a few more breaks so that the music could breath a little. The mix is good too, but the cymbals are hard to hear at times. I’m not sure if they were too low in the mix or just didn’t cut through.

Finally, I like my grind compact and, for the most part, Munt do this really, really well. But at nearly 8 mins long, ‘Alas, The Weeping Ceases’ is a little too long. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good song and the riffs in it are frickin’ sweet. But, the song could’ve been tightened up a smidge.

All that said, this is excellent blackened grindcore. Get Munted!

Rating: 4.5 / 5

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Towards Extinction is available now on self-released CD.

Purchase Towards Extinction digitally from Bandcamp here or on CD from the Munt Bigcartel here.

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In These Woods – A Review of Old Forest’s ‘Black Forests of Eternal Doom’

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Longtime purveyors of classics such as Into The Old Forest and None More Black, UK devils Old Forest are back after a four year gap with Black Forests Of Eternal Doom. Our man George Van Doorn of Vahrzaw took a listen – read his thoughts below.

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Old Forest have been walking a darkened path since 1998, but this is only their fourth (or fifth) full-length album (depending on whether you count Tales of the Sussex Weald as two EPs or one album). That said, they took an extended break between 2001 and 2007 because they couldn’t stand the sight of each other. Note: I’m joking! I have no idea why they took a break.

Anyway, the album opens with ‘Subterranean Souls’ which for the most part is a blackened doom affair, but the mid-section is a very cool, symphonic, chugging rock thingy. Sorry, I’ll try to keep the technical mumbo-jumbo to a minimum. This rock thingy reminded me of Dimmu Borgir‘s rockier moments on Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (think 2:30 into ‘Blessings Upon the Throne of Tyranny’). What struck me as odd about Old Forest though is that the band’s facebook page says “OLD FOREST are a black metal band playing music in the anti-commercial style of the early 90s”. I say this is odd because ‘Subterranean Souls’ has a heavy verse-chorus feel about it. Several of the songs here do and, for the most part, this works really well. But, some songs here push my limits with regard to how ‘nice’ they sound. ‘Shroud of my Dreams’, for example, is too treacle even for my ears. I also couldn’t come around to the black metal vocals as they have a deathcore/screamo-quality that is like nails down a chalkboard to me.

Before people start thinking that I’m just going to tear into Old Forest, these are the only qualms I have with this album. This is a respectable and memorable album. What makes this memorable is Old Forest‘s immaculate ear for melody. They demonstrate this ability in layered guitar passages, and in their use of clean vocals. The latter are awesome, being similar to the old-school clean vocals on In The Woods… and, to a lesser extent, Ulver‘s early albums. This is mildly amusing given the vocalist is currently a member of In The Woods…

Rating: 4/5

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Black Forests of Eternal Doom was released 21st June via Dusktone. Digital and CD available now.

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Purchase Black Forests of Eternal Doom on CD or digital from Bandcamp here, or on CD from the Dusktone webstore here.

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To Live – A Review of Nevel’s ‘Leven’

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Leven : ( life, to live )

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Hails. You know those times you’re just going about your day doing whatever it is you do, then you randomly decide to throw on some fresh tunes to pass some time/combat the existential dread and an album comes out of nowhere and hits you square in the face like a tonne of bricks? Leven, the sophomore album from Netherlands two-piece Nevel, is one of those albums. Although to be honest it was less like an airborne slab of masonry and more like someone was sneakily building a wall around me, stone by ornate stone, and before I knew it I looked around and realised I was totally and utterly ensnared.

Leven is all I’ve listened to for days on end now and I can almost guarantee the amount of radars it’s currently flying under is fucking criminal. The product of the unholy union between W. Damiaen (of Laster fame, who released a superb album earlier in the year that you should also definitely check out) and Galgenvot, Encyclopedia Metallum lists them as “Atmospheric/Depressive Black Metal” but that’s like calling the hardcore BDSM torture / scat play in furry suits your parents get up to now that you’ve finally moved out (or into the basement, whatever) just “sex”. There’s far more going on here than mere vanilla lovin’, son.

It’s been five years since their debut Teloorgang and while on that they went for three lengthy tracks, for Leven they throw caution to the wind and go all out – one monolithic, unfolding piece, 44 minutes long. Lately I’ve been a sucker for the expanded creative boundaries that longform black metal can provide and particularly noteworthy in this case is the output of Starless Domain and Stellar Descent, as Leven does indeed hold some vague similarities to those two esteemed acts. The shrill, piercing vocals that both utilise on occasion are remarkably reminiscent of each other; the electronic elements, the sense of trancelike mesmerization that takes hold when the projects are on full hypnotic blast… but that’s where the similarities end, for Nevel do not aim to entrance and captivate through expansive expression of cosmic themes. They aim instead to evolve, to experiment, and to soar.

Apparently the tale of “a person struggling through life without a real perspective”, the journey of Leven commences in undeniably good, but fairly unassuming fashion. Beginning with electronic elements that may throw you off before quickly moving into a menacing surge of more familiar atmospheric black, you may think you know what you’re in for. Guess what: you do not. As the piece moves through the first section it’s an impressive display; the drumming is suitably relentless but nuanced, the tremolo is largely ever-present with some great riffs rearing their heads, and some wonderful bass work is showcased. This all works well when juxtaposed against the post-esque sections that pepper the first half; some clean vocals also pop up and overall the piece has great dynamics with some neat stuff going on.

So far, so good – but it’s when the mood changes and those elements of entrancing cosmic electronica and synthwork rear their heads again that things start to really get interesting. From this point on it’s like the floodgates are open and the experimentation can begin; when even the raging atmoblack surges to the fore once again a variety of synth sounds dance over it, sometimes following the riff and others wandering off on their own little jaunts before being ripped back by the next wave of black fury.

And then, at the halfway mark, it all crashes to a halt. A beautifully eerie ambient/noise passage begins, sonorous, with vague menace and a pensive air. Piano rises from the grey, delicately melodious; the static noise surges… until the black metal returns, more intense then ever before. The riffs have evolved to be immense washes of emotionally uplifting glory, choral vocal harmonies and all. At a stretch the only thing I would change about this album is that they pushed this part of the composition to be even more intense for an even greater contrast; but it does its job more than aptly and even ends in a soaring guitar solo that doesn’t sound out of place at all, even though you’re probably thinking it should from everything I’ve said thus far.

From here on I’m going to leave it to you to discover, save for saying one thing: the album has seven guest musicians involved. These musicians play the Tuba, Trumpet, Trombone, Cymbals, Tamtam, Timpani and Cello; and this final section of the piece is where all of these elements come into play, culminating in THE most triumphant ending you’ll hear to a black metal composition in 2019. It’s unreal, and a surprising yet completely fitting conclusion to a piece that has masterfully unfolded over the duration.

All in all: if you’re interested in seeing the many avenues modern black metal can be taken down then this album really should be on your radar. Nevel have crafted a quietly dazzling work that makes superb use of the longform writing style to both experiment and spellbind; an album that’s not only psychedelic, menacing, emotional and transcendent all at once but rather than wearing thin, only gets better and better the further you move through it. From darkened beginnings to a stunning conclusion Leven is ambitious as hell but executed to near perfection. The special edition even comes packaged with a bonus beer. So what are you waiting for? Immerse thyself, and taketh the journey.

Rating: 4/5

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Leven was released 26th July via Babylon Doom Cult Records. Digital and CD digipack available now.

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Purchase Leven on CD or digital from the band here, or on CD from Babylon Doom Cult Records here.

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