Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Schammasch - Triangle (2016)

Swiss avantgarde black metallers Schammasch have returned with their third full length, which actually comes packed with three discs this time around, making me think that the next release will have four and the one after five. I say this because the band's first album was just one disc, with the sophomore being two and this one being as I've stated. There are some of you that may have seen these guys get rather upset with me last time in the form of a comment on our domain site, but that was removed by some means of which I am not sure (and certainly did not ask for.) This is because I was quite an inflamed conspiracy nut back then and had tied much of this to the mysterious conspiratorial buzzword “Illuminati.” These days I hold a slightly different worldview and understand the occult nature of this act a bit differently. Some acts do the whole occult thing for an image, but these guys are very deep into it and I have no idea how far that goes into the private lives. In any case, Schammasch is something of a ritual and that's quite clearly seen here. Just in the first ten minutes of this listen I'm definitely getting that French occult black metal feel, albeit with obvious Behemoth-influenced death metal drumming and an approach that doesn't come off as a scowl, but a bit of an angered roar. Chris S.R. (ex-Totenwinter) handles the vocals and guitars, reminding me a lot of Nergal albeit with a very dark croon that sounds like it could find a place in Tiamat or Type O Negative. The minute I heard this vocal touch first used, I noticed an evolution in the band and I hope that maybe these guys will veer off into a little bit of Goth rock as he definitely has the voice for it. “In Dialogue With Death” is the main track to where this really comes right out to me and shows that the act have a lot more promise to be had than what was merely showcased on Contradiction.

Since there are three discs here, we will obviously talk a little about each of them and I've already delved a bit into the heaviest disc first, as that's the one that metal fans will want to hear. But is this completely metal, or is it something else? There's obviously a lot of weight here, as well as a great deal of brackish firepower, but the fact of the matter is that these gentlemen are crafting multi-layered songs and are more concerned with creating art than just music. Yes, you'll bang your head, but you'll find the listen fascinating as well. It almost begins to feel like one song, as M.A.'s solo piece on “Diluculum” sounds like it belongs tied with “In Dialogue With Death.” Don't expect much from the first disc, because it is only about EP length, but that's not a real issue as there's enough meat here to sell the Deathspell Omega worship and vere away from the slight core influences by which this band have almost completely shed. If you heard any core on that first disc, please let me know as I surely didn't and I think the band are much better for it. In other words, if you've put these guys aside for awhile because of their other works, it might now be time to pick them up. Prosthetic have dealt with a lot of core acts in the past, I am aware of their past just as much as the rest of you – but please believe me when I say that the label are transcending their core worship and have really cemented that with Schammasch. In just a little more than thirty minutes, these guys have offered a lot more depth than what I get from similar occult acts, which I feel makes them well worth checking out merely from the first part of the listen.

The second disc here takes us down a much different path and lends more into ritualism. Aside from some droning doom riffs, “The World Destroyed By Water” even features some unexpected industrial elements that I didn't notice the first time around. Boris A.W. (Cold Cell) does occasionally kick up the drums a little, but the listen almost brings us into something not unlike a more metallic Dead Can Dance. “Satori” is a ritual, which is apparent from the second I listen to it. It features a mantra which is repeated nearly in a fashion similar to Gregorian chants. That becomes even further relevant when the music is removed completely, leaving only Chris's vocals as the focal point. It almost becomes meditative at this point, even though we haven't even gotten to the real meditation. “Metanoia” is probably one of my favorite songs on the album, wherein a clean vocal fronts a blasting drum kit. Chris has the vocals to do this perfectly, and it feels pretty goddamned surreal. Chris and M.A. (Blutmond) truly deliver here, as these melodies really help to broaden and expand these powerfully ritualistic pieces even more. It's not just here, if you've noticed – they've been working very hard to turn the guitar into something of an ethereal instrument by which more than metal can be observed. If we continue to observe the former, we'll find that it has almost gone completely into synths, which feel deep and yes, meditative. Yet again, we haven't even reached the meditation yet. Next we have “Above The Stars Of God” which begins with a rock influenced guitar solo section that doesn't even sound a bit like black metal, and I can honestly say that I accept that wholeheartedly. I like the melody that M.A. plays with here while the vocal chants are being utilized, and it's quite catchy save for the fact that it ends and become a very difficult to hear series of spoken word sections. Maybe they went a bit too far here? In any case, the final vocal moment of the piece is uttered in a short acoustic piece called “Conclusion.” Spoken word decorates this, but no catchy clean vocal sections. Instead we're brought some very powerful leads and solos by which are a good note to end the experience.

Though we're not finished yet, as one more disc remains in this listen. This, is the meditation. Do not expect to hear any fiery guitars, blastic drums, vocals or metal on this one. It's a atmospheric meditation by which some metal fans will either love or loathe, depending on their tastes. You must leave your elitism at the door if you choose to traverse this record, as it's very much like the material I cover from Malignant Records (who just sent me two records in the mail today, as a matter of fact.) Most of the tracks here will either feature industrial synths or tribal chants with both male and female vocals. I am not sure if any of any of the band members are chanting here, but I can assure you that nothing here is metal, though it is highly deep meditative trance that fans of Dead Can Dance's more upbeat material will love. It's the kind of tribal atmopshere that you can dance to when things aren't quite so droning and cold, mixing two different soundscapes together in a very weird and difficult to understand manner. We do hear some electric guitar and Chris's vocals on album closer “Empyrean” which comes with a spoken vocal section and an ending chant that I feel I can discern much easier. It's quite deep, very spiritual and may put some people off – but that's fine, as not all art is meant for all ears. I quite enjoy it and I feel that you will too. The riff melodies are nothing special, they are meant as mantric as the trance and it's more about creating a soundscape in which to escape, rather than a catchy little song that you can raise your fist to. I don't feel that anything here will really come across in that fashion, as Schammasch have never been that kind of band. The lyrics here are very personal, transformational and without a doubt, ritualistic in a way that you only have to hear to believe. I feel that Triangle is a big step over Contradiction, and feel that whatever these gentlemen deliver in the future after this one will be by and large different. I feel that I'm ready for anything else that Schammasch will have to offer and would definitely consider it one of the best releases of the year. The listener gets three sides of the band, one of which no one ever saw coming. That's worth your hard-earned money, folks.

(16 Tracks, 103:00)

9/10

Erik Wollo - Visions (2016 Compilation)

For those of you who don't know much about him, Erik Wollo is a Norwegian composer who has been composing soundscapes all of his life. If you'll give his Wikipedia page a look, you'll be astounded by just how many recordings he has released in their “selected discography” which means that there is actually much more to be had. Here especially is a good introduction to his pieces, a collection released earlier this year by Projekt. As I love to do, let's take these song by song and try to convey the emotions displayed throughout each piece. As Wollo is most known for his electronic and ambient soundscapes, it seems perfect that the almost aquatic “Echotides No. 4” would start us off. It starts out rather light, like a flowing stream, but builds pressure as it increases to include a bit more activity and perhaps even a bit of a dancey vibe. It's very meditative however, but not so slow that I would recommend it for something of an astral projection attempt. “Revealed In Time” comes next, and it feels a bit eighties. That's fine with me, being a lover of that New Wave style. This feels like it could actually be used in a game title theme at first, perhaps during some silent story cutscenes. Like it's predecessor, it increases to add more activity an becomes quite dancey. It still seems like it could be the theme for a science fiction game or visual novel, and I've heard similar approaches there. It's pretty unreal, to be honest and I'm quite carried away by it. It certainly feels like it could introduce or illustrate something, which makes it an electronic soundscape with added weight. What the piece would introduce is up to people who are not I, but I do know that I'd love to hear as the soundtrack for an electronic medium in the future. It's beautiful. “Gateway” makes me think of being on the bridge of a ship, often reminding me of the soundtrack used in a space-themed RPG. It fits too, and you won't believe how well. It definitely feels trippy, but it also has a definite metallic vibe (as in steel, not heavy metal – I just didn't want to say industrial) and also features a guitar (also, not comparing it to heavy metal music.) This piece only reminds me of some of the best atmosphere music I've heard in games, and I'm sure there will be lovers of that kind of music more than eager to buy this record just for the first three I've mentioned. “Visions” brings back that aquatic feel (and there's still a guitar to be had here) which really makes it trip-worthy. This is the kind of track you'd want to listen to if you were looking for a good atmopshere while reading something very out there, perhaps as an instrumental backing to a muted film (not surprisingly, Wollo has provided many soundtracks to various films and documentaries around the world.) Like all of the others, it is a piece that I could listen to several times and not get tired of.

Now when we get to the second half of the disc, we'll experience “The Native Chant” which begins with an actual chant and then seems to go into the underground of some odd planet, or maybe I'm thinking of the quirkiness of the Earthbound soundtrack. As the piece changes, it adopts a bit more bumpiness, which makes it a bit dancey. Again, this is still a very slow and meditative track, which isn't the kind that one could properly cut a rug to. Perhaps this is more of a slow tribal dance, which I'm quite sure a few people have attempted whilst listening to the piece. “Misty Blue” features a bit of mystical whirring, some guitar and playful electronic beats that seem to make me think a little of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. You just sort of imagine the piece illustrating this massive floating island landmass, and you can sort of visualize that in your head. There are people on the island, and they live in these spectacular looking buildings, walking about their day as they work and toil in a realm that just seems incredible. The next piece we have is a remix of “Within These Walls” which has a bit of a saventies flair, with added guitar for good measure. I'm not real sure what the original sounded like, but I definitely like this remixed version and Wollo obviously thought it was better, which is why it is here instead of the original piece. I cannot stress how much lovers of atmospheric game music will enjoy these pieces. The final piece on this record is that of “Airborne 2” which starts out very misty. It later incorporates small crystalline melodies and eventually grows more upbeat as the listen continues.

It's pretty easy to see why Erik Wollo is such an accomplished composer, as with just an hour's worth of selected material, we're delighted by what we've heard and I'm quite sold on the man's ability. I've loved Steve Roach's work for years, but I really seem to enjoy Wollo's on a different level. As I said, these pieces sound like they could illustrate something and I can just picture the electronic mediums in which I'd hear them in. For the last time, if you love some of the electronic soundscapes used in video games today, you'll absolutely love this collection and undoubtedly much of his other work. I'm really quite surprised to see that in several decades of gaming, Wollo hasn't ever had a part in it. That could be due to personal choice, but I could definitely see a few games out there that would have greatly benefit from his work. Some developers can make great games with subpar soundtracks, and something like this could really, really help their causes. If you're new to his music, please pick up this compilation and experience these very catchy soundscapes for yourself. It's just a compilation, but I love it.

(8 Tracks, 49:00)

9/10

Dark Funeral - Where Shadows Forever Reign (2016)

Here we have the almighty Dark Funeral, a name well known in the realms of black metal. We can easily put them alongside acts like Darkthrone, Emperor and classic Burzum. Needless to say, this marks their sixth full-length release and first album in nearly two decades. Only Lord Ahriman remains as the only original member of the band, but guitarist Chaq Mol (Mordchrist) and drummer Dominator (Eldkraft, The Wretched End) both continue from Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus (2009). New to the band is Heljarmadr (Andreas Vingback) who you might also remember from Cursed 13, Domgard and a few others. He has a very common approach for the genre, sounding not unlike Dimmu Borgir's Shagrath and sometimes almost completely like him. This might be a turn-off for some fans as it might feel like Shagrath is in Dark Funeral now, but I can say that if this is what you think of the new Dark Funeral album; then it's definitely the most black metal disc that Dimmu Borgir have released in a while.

As far as these songs are concerned, it is very true to form and we're getting loads of frostbitten melodies, making for an atmosphere that comes off equally grim and positively chilling. Where Shadows Forever Reign reminds me of the days when black metal was still scary, and not a corpse-painted gimmick, which I feel is necessary for a genre that is dwindling in it's traditional format. Some might still say that this record is too produced, and doesn't feel as raw as the classics, but it is no longer '96 and in 2016, this seems a natural transformation. No one is forcing you to listen to it, but if you do decide to leave your corpse-painted elitism at that door, you'll find what I consider to be a very solid and well-meant black metal. Does it sound perfect? No. Will it reinvigorate the genre? Probably not. But what it will do, is to bring the sound of classic black metal screaming into the modern age. Dark Funeral have certainly not given into trends, making for a record that still feels very much like what we'd expect for them, or any classic black metal band. The blasts and tremolos that you were looking for are here, and for that you should be thankful. These guys could have went in so many different directions, but the fact that they at least tried their best to stick to their roots is something that I feel is going to appeal to fans most.

I'm not sure how Dark Funeral fans are going to take this one and I don't think that it will be a record that they'll play as much as some of the earlier and more treasured releases in the band's catalog, but it's definitely not a wash for me and I definitely don't mind listening to it. Perhaps there might be a few new things tried here and there, but this is a new age and thus, a new Dark Funeral. Take it or leave it, as they could have made a far worse recording than this and it's a good start for as long an absence as they've taken. I can't tell you what kind of direction they're going to go to with the next album, but if you're looking for something more traditional in terms of black metal, then you'll like what has been offered here.

(9 Tracks, 45:00)

8/10

Hatebreed - The Concrete Confessional (2016)

Whether you call them Hardcore or what the kids term “power violence” Hatebreed have always been a favorite act of mine. Compared to their previous albums, The Concrete Confessional sees the band going in hard and fast, like a loaded burrito from Taco Bell. Additionally, most of the songs on this record aren't even so much as three minutes long, with “Something's Off” being the longest at nearly four minutes in length. As a fan of these guys for several years, I can definitely say that this is a return to their burly hardcore roots and these songs are filled with enough angst and protein powder to put a foot right through your front door, and a fist-shaped bullet right to your face. Most of the lyrical content is quite empowering, much like the kind of music you'd want to listen to in order to prepare you for a fight. Jamey Jasta really tears through these pieces, whether they're fast-paced or stew in their anger and you really don't need me to tell you that. If you think that for some reason Hatebreed have slipped a little and wished that they'd go back to their ass-kicking hardcore anthems, then The Concrete Confessional is for you. I wouldn't consider this disc a very metal-influenced one like some of their past discs, but it seems like it was time to bring us back to Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire or Perseverance. To be honest, this record reminds me a lot of Perseverance, which is where I cut my teeth on these guys and “I Will Be Heard” in particular. I don't think there's anything that catchy on here save for maybe “Looking Down The Barrel Of Tomorrow” or “Something's Off” which actually uses some clean vocal influence. There's not much in the way of guitar solos here either, but most hardcore fans won't care one way or the other. The disc is positively fucking brutal and full of the harsh lyrical content and vocal delivery that Jamey Jasta has always been known for. The disc is only about thirty minutes long, but it packs a punch that hits so hard you'll feel it for days to come. Trust me, when you spin this one once, it won't be the last time. With tracks like “A.D.”, “The Apex Within” and “Serve Your Masters” it's definitely the kind of record that I feel is filled with positive messages of enlightening rebellion. The Concrete Confessional is very definition of hardcore and a great representation of the genre in 2016. Definitely give it a listen.

(13 Tracks, 33:00)

8/10

Entropia - Ufonaut (2016)

Of the several acts with the name Entropia out there, (I found about seven on Metal Archives) this Polish five-piece creates a style of music that is considered “black/sludge/post” even though I'd certainly throw in experimental and electronic. With the exception of guitarist Kuba Colta, these guys have been together since the very beginnings back in 2007. Most interestingly about the band is their use of both a keyboardist (Damian Dudek) as well as a sampler (Michal Dziedzic) that makes for a pretty interesting mix of progressive sludge riffs and slightly spacial electronic elements. Sometimes the bass (Marek Cenkar) and strong drumming (Patryk Budzowski) can completely drown out the electronic elements, but that's to be expected with a sound as thick as the one I'm witnessing here. Entropia utilize vocals (Cenkar and Dziedzic) but they're often not necessary as this is the kind of record that is so textually superior that it doesn't even need working verses or a chorus. Ufonaut is an experiment in the very sense of the word, it is an atmosphere and it draws you in fairly quickly from it's out of the box and rather bizarre approach to something that I can't even call black metal. Other than Budzowski's occasional use of blast beats, there's very little here that I can even consider to be black metal – at all. I mean, if you're hearing black metal in some areas, that's fine; but I feel that with this release the act have become something far more than just black metal. There are very few acts that I just want to sit down and enjoy on a musical level like these gentlemen have delivered, and even if some of the leads and electronic bits have a rough time peering out from the thick sludge of it all, I still want to open my ears up to what I can discern as a rather potent and memorable sound. Why no one else really gave a damn about this one, I'll never know. I guess there were other things going on in January, like best of lists and whatnot.

That being said, anyone who purchases this record is in for a trip. It might sound cruel that I could literally care less about the vocal or lyrical element of this album, but I just consider Cenkar's screams to be part of the music and they don't have any bearing on the rest of the performance. Even when these guys utilize djent riffs I don't feel that I mind, because they're actually using the riffs in a style that focuses on more than just those damn riffs. Again, I feel that these guys have a few mixing issues but it could very well be my laptop speakers and you might be able to discern other things on your first listen. Ufonaut is definitely the kind of listen that I'd want to experience more than once, and at forty-three minutes you're not really devoting an awful lot of your time to it. Just don't go expecting anything familiar in terms of classic black metal and you'll be alright. I did hear some tremolos here and there and felt some nihilism in the vocals, but I wouldn't compare this to anyone else out there in the black metal scene. With some exceptions, I still stand behind my earlier observations and feel that it is very hard to consider an act like Entropia to be black metal unless they're trying very hard for that style. It's a shame that this one had to wait for so long, but I mean to cover as many of the older releases that stood out as I can. It's quite obvious that Entropia did and I'm really not in a hurry for them to release another one. They don't really have anything else that they need to prove after this sophomore and I think you'll agree that the material here on Ufonaut is good enough. Entropia are a good band and this a good album. That's a pretty simplistic description, but the album itself is most certainly not. Please give it a listen and experience it for yourself. I really hope that this one isn't too hard to find, considering that there are so many bands with similar monikers. Perhaps these Polish mad scientists will one day become the definitive version of that moniker, as this record definitely feels promising enough for them to do so.

(7 Tracks, 43:00)

8/10

High Priest Of Saturn - Sons of Earth and Sky (2016)

A four-piece mix of doom and heavy, psychedelic rock from Norway; this release marks the quintet's second since their demo in 2011. “Aeolian Dunes” comes on pretty thick right from the start with it's obvious Sabbath influence, but then Martin Sivertsen (guitars) and Ole Kristian Malmedal (keyboards) take it right into proggy Pinky Floyd territory, where trippy whirls, light keys and soft guitar nodes make for a trip through the subconscious. Andreas Hagen (drums) follows in tune along with bassist and frontwoman Merethe Heggset, as the band bring us right into church organs and groove that send us straight into the fourth dimension. When I first heard the piece, it sounded kind of like any female fronted doom (Demon Lung, for example) but when the band opened the window and let the air in a little, I had no idea that the wind was going to blow so strong that it pulled me literally outwards into the fucking stratosphere. It's also a pretty safe bet that I liked that feeling and hope that the other thirty minutes of this record will deliver the same or at least a similar feeling to that ten-minute metaphysical monster. “Ages Move The Earth” has a lighter vibe from the start, with an odd trippy effect coming from Heggset's vocals that make her feel like she's trying to communicate from another dimension entirely. There are still some thick parts to be had, but nothing that takes away from the atmosphere, which is most important. “Son Of Earth and Sky” continues to totally chill me out, while “The Warming Moon” has a little more thump, which doom fans will appreciate. Despite the fact that there are doom fans here, you've really got to accept the fact that most of the material here is really trippy, proggy and psychedelic as hell. There are comics I'd like to read while listening to this kind of stuff, just to enhance the trippy and metaphysical nature of them. When we come to the end, we're faced with another very slow moment in “The Flood Of Waters” which I can certainly say will extend your journey. The disc itself comes in at about forty minutes, so it's not quite a full hour of psychedelic doom/rock fare, but you're definitely going to appreciate what has happened here and I'd definitely consider it one of the best psychedelic experiences I've heard from a doom act in a while. If you liked that Tusmorke I reviewed earlier, pick this one up for a little more meat coupled with yet another amazing trip.

(5 Tracks, 40:00)

8/10

Beelzefuzz - The Righteous Bloom (2016)

If you're looking for a sound that brings to mind acts like Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Deep Purple, you'll definitely find it here in the sophomore record from this Maryland based blast from the past. The first thing I want to stress is that the record actually has a pretty clean production value despite the obvious “fuzz” (see there, I made a pun) but it doesn't take away from the value of the work as a whole. Just from the album's opener “Nazriff” I'm already well-aware of what to expect and wouldn't wish for anything else. When the thicker “The Soulless” comes immediately after, I'm still getting a very jammy, groovy, proggy feel and it's not one I'd turn down with a good joint (if I had one) as the band's sound in style definitely falls under a bit of a stoner category for me. But that's okay, because they're doing a very commendable job here and even dish out some rather well-meant guitar solos in addition to the glassy clean vocals and mounds of bass fuzz. I'm currently listening to the album at a volume level of 78 and can't really hear the fuzz as much as I can the cleaner sections, but this could be due to my tuning or some other factor. I can't say for certain that the same could be said for your listening device or preference. In any case, the quartet have certainly focused quite a bit on the vocal elements as they are undoubtedly raised highest in the mix and are heard far before everything else. I don't know how many will sit with this, but it certainly can be said that their frontman has a rather passionate and classically trained approach that makes his lines come off in a pleasing manner. Not all of the songs here carry a pleasant tune however, with some pretty dark nodes coming in around tracks like the doomy title track and “Sanctum & Solace” which actually brings in some funerary elements in areas. I think this gives the band a bit of well-needed variation, though I'll admit that I'd rather hear a bit more darkness from an act by the name of Beelzefuzz. Even so, there's still enough for fans of doom, stoner and jam rock to really jump into and I'd certainly recommend giving it a listen. Just in my short time with it, I can tell that The Righteous Bloom is a product of hard work and that's what you're getting when you buy the record.

(11 Tracks, 46:00)

7/10