Reviews by ROACH [[[HORUS]]] JAMES
ALCEST – Ecailles de Lune (Prophecy Productions)
The latest from the new wave of French black metal (including MUTIILATION, PESTE NOIRE, FORGOTTEN WOODS, and many more), ALCEST is the creation of one man who goes by the name of Neige (French for “snow”). Neige has had his hand in many great French bands like MORTIFERA, LANTLOS, and the genre-bending goth rock/black metal band AMESOEURS (all of which I strongly recommend), but those projects almost seem like practice runs for his solo project ALCEST.
ALCEST began as another necro black metal band, albeit with some real beauty and melancholy creeping into the riffing style. On the EP “Le Secret”, Neige began incorporating more of the atmospheric “shoegaze” sound of bands like MY BLOODY VALENTINE, which culminated with the first ALCEST full-length “Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde”, an album featuring very little black metal elements. With “Ecailles De Lune”, Neige takes a step back towards his black metal roots, achieving an absolutely perfect blend of dreamy, listless melodies and vicious, epic black metal. The production is a noticeable improvement over the last album, with a little more polish, and the vocals alternate between soft, gorgeous, clean harmonies and sick, high-pitched shrieking. Neige has taken on the massively difficult task of marrying polar-opposite musical styles, and in succeeding, ALCEST may be regarded as truly groundbreaking and a potential beacon for extreme metal’s future.
BURZUM – Belus (Byelobog Productions)
The most controversial man in metal, released from prison nary a year ago, has wasted no time in returning to the genre which he helped to define. In case you don’t know the story, in the early 90’s Varg Vikernes aka “Count Grishnakh” committed multiple crimes including church arsons in Norway and ultimately the 1993 murder of former MAYHEM member Euronymous, the latter of which landed him a prison sentence. After serving 16 years of the 21 year sentence, he was released back out into the world in May 2009.
Varg has long been considered one of the primary creative forces behind the Second Wave of Black Metal that emerged in the early 90’s. His band BURZUM remains one of the most influential black metal bands of all time, with albums like “Aske”, “Det Som Engang Var”, “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss”, and finally “Filosofem”, which was being completed at the time of Euronymous’s death. Varg used a simple, yet hypnotic, riffing style and a raw, buzzing guitar tone that reeked of evil and created a powerfully sinister atmosphere. BURZUM can not only be held accountable for much of what is considered the “black metal” sound and aesthetic that has been endlessly imitated over the years, but can also arguably be considered the founder of sub-genres like forest black metal (DRUDKH, MARBLEBOG) and depressive black metal (ABYSSIC HATE, I SHALT BECOME, XASTHUR).
So now what, with the historical context illuminated, may we expect from the new BURZUM album “Belus”? It would seem that Varg was intent to pick up right where he left off (ignoring his 2 prison synth albums, “Hlidskjalf” and “Daudi Balders”), as “Belus” opens right away (after a brief Intro) with Varg’s distinctly repetitive trademark riffing style, accomplished blast-beat and double-bass drumming, and genuinely creepy atmosphere. The vocals are the familiar high-pitched shriek he has used in the past, although the entirety of the lyrics are again in Norwegian. Ultimately, while “Belus” doesn’t necessarily break new ground, Varg has put together a worthy successor to his past works that will be sure to please die-hard fans.
DARKTHRONE – Circle the Wagons (Peaceville Records)
Well it’s that frostbitten time again when we get a new DARKTHRONE album, and if you enjoyed the last 3 albums (“The Cult is Alive”, “F.O.A.D.”, and “Dark Thrones and Black Flags”) you will probably dig this as well. They are obviously pioneers of the classic black metal sound, but they also have never had any problems with doing their own thing and deviating from the black metal “blueprint” so to speak, moving into realms of punk, speed metal, and hard rock. They recorded “Circle the Wagons” themselves, with a very intentional production aesthetic, which is deliberately raw and rough around the edges. Drummer Fenriz has gradually taken on more vocal duties, and on this new album the tracks are pretty much half Fenriz vocals and half Nocturno Culto, and I must admit, I find myself enjoying the Fenriz tracks a lot. He even does a lot of “clean” vocals and reveals a knack for catchy melodies and lyrics, even though he’s not always on key, but the enthusiasm is there. Lyrically, they again have moved away from darker themes and focus on defining what “true” metal is and the destruction of the modern nu-metal sound.
If you are just discovering or getting interested in this band, this may not be the album for you. You might want to start with an early one like “Under a Funeral Moon” (my personal favorite) or the much lauded “Transilvanian Hunger”, and then work your way forwards to “Circle the Wagons”, to appreciate where they came from versus where they are now. But if you want to dive in and take a chance, “Circle the Wagons” ultimately delivers the goods and will have you singing along and head-banging in no time. Death to false metal!!
IMMORTAL – All Shall Fall (Nuclear Blast)
All hail the mighty IMMORTAL! These stalwarts from Norway have thankfully returned after a long hiatus (their last album being 2002’s “Sons of Northern Darkness”) and have not disappointed. “All Shall Fall” bears quite a bit of resemblance to its predecessor in the excellent production quality and general songwriting, in fact it’s difficult for me to decide which one I prefer, as they are both fucking masterpieces. “All Shall Fall” has much of the same epic, icy, and occasionally discordant riffing style of Abbath, and his trademark high-pitched and grim vocals, and generally speaking is a little slower paced, especially compared to past Immortal albums like “Blizzard Beasts” or “Pure Holocaust”. But I feel that slowing down a bit serves them very well, as they show they can write a catchy, headbanging groove as easily as assault the listener with a barrage of blast beats. Drummer Horgh is both an animal and a robot, playing with bestial precision that complements Abbath’s riffs perfectly. Bassist Apollyon is also a member of AURA NOIR, another Norwegian band that I love. So it is that I give “All Shall Fall” a high recommendation for both new and old black metal fans alike. IMMORTAL has returned!!
INQUISITION – Invoking the Majestic Throne of Satan (War Hammer Records)
While this album came out in 2002 and is not a new release (they even have a couple albums out since this one), I still wanted to sing its praises. INQUISITION is a 2-piece black metal band from Columbia, South America. While many black metal bands today have “matured” or moved on from themes of Satanism and evil to write songs about misanthropy and bleak environments, INQUISITION deserves credit because every song on every album is about one subject and one subject only: WORSHIPPING SATAN. These guys mean it too. Musically, they play a primitive style of old school black metal, with a bit cleaner production and guitars that are tuned down somewhat, and hard hitting, poweful riffs. Drum patterns and tempo vary from song to song, and both musicians are quite competent at what they do. What really distinguishes INQUISITION from the masses of bands out there, however, are the vocals. Trust me, I’ve listened to this kind of music for a long, long time and there is no one out there that sounds like this. This singer said fuck all emotion, all range, all dynamics, and went for the most inhuman sound he could come up with…in fact the band themselves said they were going for something totally demonic, like a voice coming through the aether to speak to the listener. The result is the most unnerving, unsettling vocals you’ve ever heard. Again, they abandoned any and all emotive range and instead go for a very flat, monotonous, chant-like vocal style that must simply be heard to understand. It really threw me off when I first heard it, but once you get into them you will become a believer. INQUISITION are the real deal, one of the evilest bands of all time, and play true black metal dedicated to the Big Red One himself. HAIL SATAN!!
PERVERSOR – Cult of Destruction (Nuclear War Now!)
PERVERSOR hails from Santiago, Chile, and “Cult of Destruction” is their debut album (they since have released a new EP). In the realm of extreme metal, most people are aware that a revival has been taking place in the genre of old-school thrash for some time now, and that black metal has been steadily rising to prominence across not just the mainstream, but has also copulated with many sub-genres and styles of music. What I’ve begun to notice lately though is an underground resurgence in the classic, primitive style of evil, atmospheric death metal, like INCANTATION, MORTICIAN, and AUTOPSY. This seems to be almost a direct counter-reaction to what passes as “death metal” nowadays…namely the slick, overly-produced, overly-technical, sterile, mass-marketed, drum-triggered, soulless Hot Topic yo-metal hybrid product that has become so ubiquitous and trendy. What bands like PERVERSOR offer is a fresh, no-bullshit, difficult to market style of death metal the way it should be…with a raw and murky production, cavernous and indecipherable vocals, detuned guitars, hollow pounding drums, and a grisly, morbid atmosphere. I also recommend bands like VASAELETH, BLASPHEMOPHAGER, ABSCESS, and IMPETUOUS RITUAL for those that are interested.
SIXX – Sister Devil (Nuclear War Now!)
While technically not black metal, SIXX is included here as it was the side project/alter ego of the U.S. black metal band VON. For the uninitiated, VON was a minimalist black metal band from San Francisco that released only one demo, “Satanic Blood”, in 1992, which was subsequently traded around the underground until achieving a massive cult following (I got the demo through tape trading back in 1993). Back then, the band was very mysterious. We heard stories that no one knew the identities of the members, and you could not write them because they literally lived in the forest with goats and wild animals. Flash forward to 2001, when “Satanic Blood” was re-issued on CD, followed by a second release which also revealed a second never-before-heard demo, “Blood Angel”. With a raw, throbbing, hypnotic, and evil style VON are now considered early pioneers of black metal, and one of the first (if not THE first) U.S. black metal bands. While bassist Kill has since come forth to reveal himself as Joe Allen (current member of old-school death metal band ABSCESS), little has been known about the remaining members of VON. Until now…
Recently, front man Goat has emerged from obscurity to start recording/performing again as VON GOAT. What exactly VON GOAT will sound like, or what it even is, remains to be seen, but a live performance is scheduled in Germany this November at the Nuclear War Now! Festival. In the meantime, an old VON side-project (featuring the same 3 members) called SIXX has recently resurfaced and been re-issued.
SIXX bears only the most general resemblance to VON. Certainly not black metal by any stretch, SIXX could be called occult goth-rock, in the vein of BAUHAUS, JOY DIVISION, and SAMHAIN. Imagine the albums “Seventeen Seconds” or “Faith” by THE CURE with a young Glen Danzig on vocals, and you start to get the picture. With a cleaner production, and no distorted guitars, SIXX nonetheless evokes a similar evil mood and atmosphere as VON, through minimal yet powerful riffs and arrangements, hypnotic repetition, and a heavy satanic vibe. Recommended!
XASTHUR – 2005 Demo (Hydrahead)
XASTHUR is a band from Los Angeles formed by one guy that calls himself Malefic. Malefic has been extremely prolific, releasing about an album a year for over a decade now. This latest offering, simply titled “2005 Demo”, was apparently a couple tracks leftover from a 2005 recording session for the album, “Subliminal Genocide” and released as their own EP.
XASTHUR plays an extremely bleak, depressing, and melancholic style of black metal, drenched in so much reverb that the guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and sometimes keyboards, run together and start losing all distinction, coming close to becoming a dark ambient drone. It’s like Malefic discovered his own formula for making depressive, atmospheric metal and ran with it to the farthest and logical end of the concept, not only reveling in themes like schizophrenia, suicide and self-destruction but attempting to create such a black hole that all life on earth is sucked into its inky blackness, never to return. Admittedly, if you listen to several XASTHUR albums back to back, they start to sound like the same album, droning on and on with the same bleak, abysmal themes and intentions. For that reason, one album is as good a starting point as any, and you will either like the band or you won’t.
Unfortunately, Malefic recently posted on his blog that he retiring XASTHUR to focus on other projects. Thankfully we have lots of great recordings from this band. As I said, many of the albums sound similar, but if I had to pick a few favorites I would suggest this “2005 Demo”, along with “Telepathic with the Deceased” and “A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors”.