Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Leviathan: Massive Conspiracy Against All Life (2008)

Here we have the fifth Leviathan review in a row.  Almost done here.  Wrest took a rest for a few years, not releasing any full-lengths in 2006 or 2007.  He did release a few splits in 2006 but did not release any new Leviathan music in 2007 at all.  After a couple of lackluster releases, Leviathan returned with a vengeance in 2008.

This was apparently originally set to be a Lurker of Challice recording, another project of Wrest's, but instead it was turned into what was intended to be the final Leviathan album.  Wrest was in a very dark place at this point in time, having suffered the death of his girlfriend and his own suicide attempt at the same time.  These dark emotions bleed through into the music on this release.  While it is still an aggressive form of black metal, there is a painful sadness and somber tone that manages to leak through all the while.

I have discussed Wrest's musical abilities at length in the previous posts, so I am not going to rehash that here.  Suffice to say that this is a different-sounding album than some of the previous ones, but it is devastating in its own way and the musicianship remains top-notch.  The one issue that I have is that the vocals are significantly different.  They are buried lower in the mix and are more of a deep-throated roar than the raspy vocals on the previous albums.  It is a different take on black metal vocals that comes across significantly different than what Wrest has done before. 

If there is a downside to this album, it is that the second half is a little slow.  That seems to be a bit of a thing with Leviathan, as I had the same complaint with Tentacles of Whorror.  Much of the second half also tends to run together a bit, with a lot of tracks that generally sound the same.

After a couple of lackluster releases, Leviathan came back in a big way with this release.  It does not rise to the level of the first two Leviathan releases, but it is significantly better than A Silhouette in Splinters and Howl Mockery at the Cross.  I will also say Scar Sighted is better than this one as well, but it is a little closer.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Leviathan: Howl Mockery at the Cross (2005)

Continuing on with my trek through a bunch of Leviathan releases is this compilation released the same year as yesterday's subject.  Howl Mockery at the Cross was also the name of one of Leviathan's 2002 demos.  This, however, is a collection of a bunch of demo tracks and some previously unreleased material put together for a limited release, possibly to alleviate the concerns of those believing Leviathan was headed in an ambient direction. 

It starts off in kind of an interesting way, with the majestic sound of horns heralding the onset of the album, followed shortly thereafter by an imposing spoken word section from Wrest.  But far from being a light and melodic song as might be thought from the intro, the opening track is as raw as raw black metal can be.  The first few songs are pretty decent, being an accurate prelude to what Leviathan would sound like on their first album. 

Unfortunately, not every song on this is as impressive as the first few songs.  Leviathan is celebrated for their ability to craft memorable songs that are unique and well-crafted and that are unlike other traditional black metal bands.  But some of the songs here are highly reminiscent of bands that have come before.  "Liar of Nazareth" is a pretty good song, but it has a distinctly Scandinavian sound to it, sounding like something that would be released by Satyricon or Gorgoroth.  Other songs sound like out-takes that were rejected from inclusion on an album or ideas that were not fully formed.  "S.W.O.L. 2001" is slow and mostly boring, being something in between black metal and ambient.  And then there is the Death in June cover, a song that sounds completely out of place on a Leviathan release.  It's not that it is bad, it just does not fit.

This is far from an essential release by Leviathan.  There are not many must-hear tracks and there are a lot of rather mediocre ones.  I can only recommend this to fans of the band and it absolutely should not be a starting point for Leviathan.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Leviathan: A Silhouette in Splinters (2005)

One of the only albums I have bought that I truly regretted was a release by a group called Tribes of Neurot.  The album really was not at all musical, it cannot even be said to be an ambient album.  It was much more of a harsh noise release.  So why did I pick it up?  Well, it was on Relapse Records, a label that had never steered me wrong and the description referenced an association with Neurosis, at the time a group I had little experience with other than appearing on a compilation.  And hey, I liked that song.  So I picked it up, and hated it.  It was apparently meant to be played at the same time as one of the Neurosis albums, which I never picked up. 

What does this have to do with Leviathan?  Well, the third Leviathan album is unlike any of the other releases I will be covering.  This is a purely ambient album, with very little sign of the caustic black metal that has garnered Leviathan so much attention.  Now, I did not pick this album out myself, most of the Leviathan albums I have picked up were as part of a box set and this one came with it.  I probably would not have grabbed it myself, had I a choice in the matter.  That being said, this is decent for what it is.

This is a shorter release for Leviathan and contains just six songs.  It is primarily instrumental, with some very distorted screaming at times.  The music is mostly slow-paced with some melody.  There are a few harsher moments but it never really makes it close to the black metal present on the previous albums.  Despite this, it is still an incredibly dark release.  This is definitely not happy music here.  Leviathan has long been able to portray dark emotions in their music and still pulls it off here without the need for the harsh hatred of raw black metal.

I did find this release interesting.  It is likely not going to be one I revisit often when I want to listen to Leviathan and it is definitely far down on my list of my favorite Leviathan releases, but Wrest really does pull this off.  I will still listen to it far more often than Tribes of Neurot though.  At least it has that going for it.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Leviathan: Tentacles of Whorror (2004)

As I stated in yesterday's post, I am going to be going through a bunch of the Leviathan albums in the coming days.  Yesterday's post was the band's debut album, which is largely, and rightfully, considered a classic in United States black metal.  Just one year later, Wrest was at it again, releasing his follow-up, Tentacles of Whorror.

Given that only one year had elapsed since the release of Leviathan's debut, it should come as no surprise that the formula for the sophomore album was not really changed up all that much.  This album is still densely atmospheric with sections that are far more black metal-oriented and ambient interludes.  One thing that appears to have changed is that the harsh black metal parts seem almost harsher and angrier.  The previous album was far more inwardly painful while this album seems to project that anger outwards.  It is simply an angrier and more hateful release whereas the previous one was much more devastatingly emotional.

Wrest is a fantastic musician and his talents are on full display once more with this release.  His guitar riffs are fairly complex for raw black metal and he makes use of keyboards to provide a suitably eerie atmosphere in places.  One thing that is incredibly impressive is his ability to craft intriguing bass riffs underlying the guitar riffs and keyboard melodies.  His vocals are also impressive on this release, carrying on in the typical black metal rasp, but conveying a lot of emotion for the genre.

The downside to this album is that the second half tends to be a little more heavily focused on the ambient songs at the expense of the black metal ones.  Now Wrest does an excellent job with those tracks, but I am typically more interested in the heavier stuff than the ambient songs.  So, the second half tends to drag a little too much for my taste.

This album is a worthy successor to Leviathan's legendary debut.  It is very much a continuation of the ideas presented on that album, with some things improved, while others declined.  While I do not believe it quite lives up to the standard Leviathan set with their debut, it is a damn fine album in its own right.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Leviathan: The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide (2003)

Buckle up, the next several posts will be covering various releases from Leviathan.  Leviathan is one of the most important bands in United States black metal.  The band is the project of tattoo artist Wrest, who plays all of the instruments and provides the vocals.  Leviathan is one of the quintessential one-man black metal projects, an act that rose from obscurity to become a leading band in the scene.  And though Wrest has had his issues (legal and otherwise), the band has continued to have a last impact on the black metal scene in the U.S. as well as the so-called depressive black metal scene.

The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide was also the name of an early demo by Leviathan, but this is Leviathan's debut album.  It is also largely considered the band's masterpiece.  It is easy to see why this is.  The album is the sound of complete and utter hatred.  It is an ugly and horrifying album, building an absolutely suffocating atmosphere that never lets up for its entire 71-minute run-time.  That is insane.

From the very beginning of the album it is easy to see that this is going to be a dark and twisted time.  It begins with the eerie introductory track which leads into the fast-paced "Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice", which is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, but also features one of the catchiest riffs, with its groove-laden break.  The next track "Sardoniscorn" features the first real hint of Leviathan's ability to delve into ambiance without losing any of the threatening quality that characterizes most of the band's releases.  Wrest manages to keep things interesting throughout by balancing the harsh and hateful parts with just enough melody that not every song feels utterly hopeless and nihilistic.  "Mine Molten Armor" is another track that is simply incredible with one of the greatest riffs on the album.  The last track, "At the Door to the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide" is a microcosm for the entire album, being one of the bleakest black metal songs I have ever heard.  It is utterly devastating.

One thing that truly sticks out to me in this release is just how amazing Wrest's vocals can truly be.  I use the term "blood-curdling" a lot in describing various metal vocalists, but Wrest's vocals truly live up to that description.  They are so filled with hatred and pain that the listener can feel it creeping up the spine and chilling the blood. 

If there is any real complaint about this album, it is due partially to the run-time.  71 minutes is a very long release and there are moments that feel like filler.  "Submersed" is a three-minute ambient track that really never does much other than break up some of the flow and could easily have been cut for example.

The debut release from Leviathan is absolutely worthy of the lofty esteem in which it is held.  It is a masterful example of raw black metal and one of the darkest albums I have ever heard.  This is an absolutely essential release.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Bölzer: Soma (2014)

This is now the third release from the Swiss genre-defying band Bölzer.  I have previously covered their first full-length from 2016 and their first EP from 2013.  So, I have definitely taken a weird sequence to get to their second EP, which actually came before their first full-length.  It kind of makes exploring their evolution a little difficult.

This is a two-song EP, and each of the songs is somewhat long.  The sound most closely resembles the previous EP instead of the later full-length.  The songs are generally built around a few ridiculously heavy, grinding riffs with swirling leads and some of the harshest vocals I have heard from the band.  This is possibly the heaviest release I have heard from the band.  I can only imagine  how much of a shock it was for the band to go from this sound to the much lighter and catchier Hero.

So I guess it is time to ask the same question I asked when I reviewed Aura.  Which release is better?  I guess I could rank them.  I actually prefer Soma to Aura personally.  I was not sure which of the releases between Aura and Hero was better previously, stating that it depended entirely on whether I was in the mood for something heavy or catchy.  I have since come around to preferring Hero and I still think I like it the best out of the three.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Forgotten Tomb: Hurt Yourself and the Ones You Love (2015)

That is quite the emo-sounding title, but that is something that not really unusual for Forgotten Tomb.  The band is one of those who I checked out a long time ago when I was living alone but had kind of forgotten about.  I liked the band, and their take on blackened was certainly unique.  But as I became busy with other things, I was not able to keep up with each and every band anymore.  That changed recently when I picked this one up along with a number of other releases.  This was not the primary target, but I decided to check the band out once again.

Forgotten Tomb is an Italian band that now combines black metal, doom metal and gothic metal into an unholy concoction that is as likely to depress the listener as it is to be blasphemous.  Their sound does appear to have evolved over the last several years since their previous release that I have heard.  For one thing, they have tightened up the songs considerably.  That album, Negative Megalomania, had just five songs and all but one were considerably longer than ten minutes in length.  Not one of these songs makes it to that length.  The songs here are much more straightforward without as much instrumental meandering.

The music here is probably closer to gothic doom than black metal, the only remaining black metal elements being the harsh, raspy vocals and the occasional tremolo riff.  This is slow-paced, massively heavy metal with a claustrophobic atmosphere.  Even the lighter moments feel suffocating and evil.  The problem is that most of the songs end up going at about the same pace with little differentiation between songs.  The album as a whole tends to drag as a result without anything clearly compelling happening.  The title track is the exception as the keyboard melodies toward the end are terrific and helps build that song into the most memorable on the album.

Forgotten Tomb have evolved in their sound significantly, but I cannot help but feel that they seem to have lost some of what made that previous album so interesting.  At this point, they sound like any number of other bands.  They used to have a unique quality that seems to have either left their sound entirely or become too commonplace in other bands that Forgotten Tomb no longer stands out.  That is a shame.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Aggravated Nuisance: Deadly Forces (2019)

Despite the fact that I have long considered myself a thrash metal fanatic, I have been very slow to get into crossover.  Crossover is of course thrash metal with an extra dosage of hardcore punk.  Suicidal Tendencies was a band that I discovered early on, but then it took many years before I started really getting into the genre, focusing on groups like Nuclear Assault, Municipal Waste and the earlier works of Corrosion of Conformity.  Of course the band that really spurred this renewed interest in the genre was Power Trip.  And with Power Trip's success recently, it was just a given that some other new bands would start popping up.

Enter Aggravated Nuisance.  The band is from Oklahoma City, just a three hour drive from Power Trip's hometown of Dallas, Texas.  It is not so shocking then that just a short distance away, there are bands popping up obviously influenced by Power Trip.  This is Aggravated Nuisance's debut release, a seven song EP that clocks in at under fifteen minutes, an incredibly short and fast release.

As stated, this is a crossover release, relishing in angry bursts of riffs and shouted vocals.  The hardcore punk influences show in the usage of gang vocals and infectious choruses.  The songs are all short and in-your-face.  The drums and bass impress just as much as the guitars and there are some damn good solos.  Only one song here lasts longer than three minutes and the band is somehow able to pack in a lot of riffing during such short songs.  The release is actually over before you really know it, flying by in the blink of an eye. 

This is a massively impressive debut for a genre that seems to be attempting a comeback.  I am looking forward to a full-length.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Underrated Albums: Slayer: Show No Mercy

Show No Mercy is my personal favorite Slayer album.  Not Reign in Blood, Not South of Heaven, not Seasons in the AbyssShow No Mercy stands out as completely unlike any other Slayer album, mostly because the band had not truly found the sound that would eventually define them.  So while it is the least Slayer-like album, that quality is what actually makes it so damn good.

This album is Slayer's debut and their sound here is much closer to the evil, chaotic NWOBHM sound that was crafted by Venom.  The sound is much more melodic, yet retains the same dark and malevolent atmosphere that the band later became so well-known for.  What is missing from this album that later became the band's trademark is their kind of warlike, mechanical and precise riffing style.  This album feels much more human and raw.

The other difference with this album is the significantly more melodic vocal style used by Tom Araya.  He exhibits some terrific range and unleashes some truly blood-curdling shrieks here, something became increasingly rare as the band continued to release albums.  In fact, Araya's vocal style became decidedly one dimensional as time went on.

Slayer did play the title track to this album at the concert last week, but that was the only one from it.  It is likely that Araya simply cannot do justice to the vocals anymore and this is not close to the band's most popular album.  But it is still their best in my opinion.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Velm: Orkan (2015)

I just covered Velm yesterday, so this post might be somewhat short.  The fact is that the band did not change up the formula from their debut full-length all that much, so there is not really a ton to talk about here without repeating myself a lot.  That is something I would prefer not to do as much as possible.

To date, this is Velm's last release.  I do not know whether the duo has broken up, but the fact remains that they were somewhat active from 2012 to 2015, releasing at least one recording, but more often two, each year.  And they have not released anything since.  So it is quite likely that Velm is done. 

If that is true, they released their best album last.  All of the high points from their debut are here and expanded upon.  The band even fixes a couple of the detracting elements from the debut.  For instance, while the band continues to have keyboard-driven instrumental tracks, they are fewer and are mixed in with the traditional black metal tracks instead of comprising the second half of the album.  Some of the vocals are performed in a clean, melodic style, contrasting sharply with the black metal rasp.  The effect is something similar to what ICS Vortex brought to Dimmu Borgir.  Finally, the penultimate track "Song of Autumn" is simply incredible, effectively mixing the keyboard melodies with the more typical black metal style.  This is what the band was capable of all this time.  This is what I was hoping for.

If this is indeed the last of Velm, they went out on a high note.  They reached their potential on this album, even if it was just for one track.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Velm: Földek (2013)

Some time ago I reviewed a split album between Hungarian black metal bands De Profundis and Velm.  Based on the genre descriptions, I assumed I would probably prefer De Profundis, but ended up finding myself much more taken with the music of the pagan black metal band Velm.  I recently found a seller that was selling both of Velm's full-length albums and jumped on them.

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect with Velm based on the split, which was really just a way to package demos from both bands together, so it was much more like two real releases than just a song by each band.  The full-length reinforced what I believed a full-length from Velm would be like. 

The first three songs of the album is mostly melodic, synth-driven pagan black metal.  Featuring lengthy passages and wandering riffs, with vampiric vocals, the music can be harsh, but is often beautiful at the same time.  The last three songs are instrumentals, primarily played by the keyboards and are more ambient in nature.  The best moments on the album though are the parts of the first three songs that combine the two disparate sounds, bringing black metal riffing together with the keyboards. 

Overall, I was fairly impressed with this release.  Velm does not reinvent the wheel here, and they sound like many other bands in the genre, but the music is competent.  As I said, the best moments are those when they bring their different sounds together.  If they could make an entire album of that, that would really be something.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Conan: Existential Void Guardian (2018)

Presumably Conan is named after the barbarian played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and less popularly by Jason Momoa in movies based on a character created by Robert E. Howard, and not the red-headed late night television host.  I am not sure what a band named after Conan O'Brien should sound like (probably not a metal band I suspect), but I do know what a band named after Conan the Barbarian should sound like.  And quite frankly, Conan (the band) absolutely delivers.

Conan's sound is a combination of sludge metal and stoner doom metal, two styles not frequently associated with the U.K.  These are two much more typically American styles, so it is somewhat odd finding a band from the U.K. playing these styles of metal, much less combining them into such a seemless and powerful sound.

The riffs are massive and mostly slower-paced.  The songs lumber along like a behemoth, only occasionally speeding up to a mid-paced gallop.  But the monolithic power of the riffs is ever-present.  But what is odd is that despite how slowly most of the songs are played, they are not terribly long.  The entire album is under 40 minutes in length.  And the songs are also for the most part very catchy. 

If there is a downside to the album, it is the vocals.  The vocals seem a little bit strained and are mostly delivered in a harsh yell.  They fit the music fairly well, but can become a little grating at times.

Conan has been around for some time at this point.  This is their fourth full-length, though it is the first one I have heard.  There are definitely times when this type of metal really speaks to me, and so it is likely that this will enter regular rotation, alongside groups like The Gates of Slumber and Trouble.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Ritual Necromancy: Disinterred Horror (2018)

Would you believe this band is from Portland, Oregon?  I have discussed a number of times here how much of a metal hotbed the Pacific Northwest city has become.  This is yet another example of an extremely high quality band from the city.

This album is one of those that grabbed me on the strength of the album cover.  I had never heard of the band before, but that cover catches the eye with its bizarre occult artwork.  That would be a pretty good description of the music as well.  Ritual Necromancy plays music whose influences can be traced to the grimy, otherworldly, evil-sounding death metal of groups like Immolation, Incantation, Angelcorpse and Morbid Angel. 

The sound here is absolutely massive with monolithic, bestial riffs and dark and evil atmosphere seeping through every opening.  It is extremely dark and evil, with the only glimpses of brightness coming through the shredding solos and occasional leads.  Otherwise it is completely murky and chaotic, the sound of a lumbering Great Old One rising from its eons-long slumber.  The vocals exhibit this well with their cavernous sounding deep guttural roar.  The songs are lengthy, but so well-crafted that they do not fail to keep attention.  The album is spell-binding, grabbing attention and refusing to let go for the duration of the runtime.

This album fits in well with some of the other similar groups I have previously covered like Dysphotic and Howls of Ebb.  There is something to be said for well-written occult death metal groups like this that sound utterly alien.  Portland just continues to churn out great metal bands.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Morbus Grave: Abomination (2019)

This is the third of the trio of death metal demos I picked up as a package deal from Redefining Darkness Records.

Morbus Grave is an Italian death metal band that has been the longest active of the three bands from this package.  They formed in 2012 and have released three demos and a split with Lurking Terror. 

After a short, eerie intro, this song kicks off into a fast-paced and energetic punky death metal song.  The band's sound seems rooted in the early Stockholm sound of groups like Dismember, Nihilist and Grave.  The first two songs are very fast, which makes it that much more shocking when the slowly grinding "The Horrible" comes on.  There are moments where that one picks up the pace, but it's general sound is much more in the vein of death/doom bands like Cianide than the aforementioned speed merchants. 

Morbus Grave is not the most interesting of the three bands from this short series, but they are decent enough.  They do not do anything new or groundbreaking, but it is highly competent old-school sounding death metal.  Nothing wrong with that.