Sunday, July 3, 2016

Brief Hiatus!

I'm going on a brief hiatus until the middle of August. During this time nothing will be reviewed here, but I am still listening to all submissions and cataloging them accordingly. Feel free to send or withhold releases, depending on your preference. The latest albums will be reviewed among the very earliest. Thank you for understanding during these difficult times, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

- The Grim Lord

Friday, June 24, 2016

Skeleton Wolf - Skeleton Wolf (2016)

This mostly Indiana-based three piece made up of mostly former members of the black metal act Maax (currently on hiatus) have decided to add some modernization into their decidedly blackened sound with this self-titled debut. Bits of groove, thrash and even melodic death metal have gone into this concoction, making it suitable for fans of everyone from Lamb Of God to latter-era Immortal and even Amon Amarth. Jeff Mason (bass) pumps in the grooves, while Brett Schlagel (guitars) seems to tackle all of the hard-hitting riffs and melodic tremolos. On the vocal end is a rather gruff sounding fellow by the name of Tim Green, who offers the kind of roughnecked approach to the mic as you’d expect, had you seen him in person. The drums are programmed, but I can’t even notice one hint of error there and it works for me. Technology is truly wondrous.

These guys obviously aren’t trying to go for any sort of black metal kvlt status, especially when you have cuts like “MPFF” which is more or less a Pantera-fueled thrash and groove effort with bits of hardcore. Then again, we have pieces like “At the Sixth Foot”, “Whatever Demons” and “Eternal Lies” which alternatively sound much closer to black metal than you’d expect. “Eternal Lies” in particular gave me a rather chilly feel, but like “At the Sixth Foot” I could still hear pieces of that early Amon Amarth (Once Sent From the Golden Hall) sound embedded within it and that’s what made this debut stick out. Skeleton Wolf is a record where you can pretty much ascertain that these guys have got their chops down, they know what kind of sound they’re going for and they for the most part, achieve it. I’d certainly say that while “MPFF” might make a great pit anthem, the closer “Forever Awake” is worth it’s weight in gold, purely due to it’s awesome melodies.

The listener might be surprised to see that they’re actually getting quite a bit of what I could consider memorable melodies, whether those be of the more Norwegian or Swedish variety, as Green’s performance fits this formula perfectly. And yes, there are even some solo cuts that I couldn’t help but mention. Not only does Schlagel show that he can craft some terrific leads, but that he can light up the sky just as well as any other guitarist worth their salt. Schlagel’s actually a rather skilled axeman and the very heart of this project. You can tell that he put a lot of work into these compositions, and while the Maax stuff might not have been wonderously praised on Metal Archives; (both releases sit roughly in the seventies) this more modern and I’m assuming less restrained (I haven’t heard the Maax records) approach might be the best thing he’s got going for him at present. Skeleton Wolf a record that I wouldn’t mind playing again and again, where every song seems to hit it’s mark and doesn’t leave me quickly bored. I’ve always been a fan of black metal, but I love when it’s mixed along with other things. Some bands fail miserably at this approach, while others greatly succeed. Skeleton Wolf is a pure example of the latter, which is why I highly recommend checking this one out. Love or hate it, it sounds good to me. 

(7 Tracks)


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tamas Katai - Slower Structures (2016)

Known for his work in Thy Catafalque, Tamas Katai's Slower Structures is a little bit different. Here we're exposed to several mostly piano-based compositions which will also include violins, contrabass and electronics. Of these moods, several seem to elicit different qualities. My love for the soundtracks used in Japanese based visual novels certainly reflects pieces like “Music For Breakfast” which somewhat feels like something we might hear in one of those. It's a bit bright, but it also has some rather dark sentiments, so it would have been used in a much more serious visual novel. “Raining This Morning” seems like it could illustrate a more saddening or suspenseful scene. It is certainly morose, I could certainly see it illustrate the scene of what one might call a bad end. Trust me, when you read these things and hear such sad and depressing music as this (Tamas, this is nothing) while you're reading (then it just ends – returns to the title) you kind of stop, pause for a second and kind of reflect on what just happened. This is the kind of piece that tears at your heartstrings, which is why you don't want to hear it during any sort of “game over” in a sense. It makes you feel bad, and can even ruin the rest of your day. “Slowing Waters” actually changes things a bit (and still fits in the context of a visual novel) and feels like it could illustrate a deep, or rather contemplative scene. I wouldn't mind hearing this piece on a loop and it's a certainty that fans of these soundtracks will find something here. As Katai is offering this record for free, I will definitely link it for fans of that kind of work in various channels, allowing for an unexpected amount of exposure for the release. “Colour Positive” flows in much the same way, with it's ethereal vibe. This flows right into “Color Positive” and “Tea In The Museum” which includes the sounds of various people talking and things moving the background. In works like I mention, this sort of atmosphere is good for the reader. It would give them a sense of being there during the read. “A Midday Storm In Marchmont” seems to furthermore embrace the atmosphere I've already come to enjoy a bit, seeming like a more active piece, yet still very moody. That's one reason I find that work like this would be better fitted to a visual novel than something like full on soundscape, as pieces like that aren't used so often, this being the norm. “Waltz For Niau” matches the whole baroque and classical feel that we might hear when reading about gaudy mansions and their many inhabitants, not all of those leaving us with a happy note. Yet after that, things start to change quite a bit and in ways that we do not expect.

It is “Polimer C90” that throws us into more electronic, steely and perhaps even frightening atmospheres. Yes, even these kinds of pieces appear in visual novels, especially when you don't expect them to. You might be hearing something like “Music For Breakfast” and then all of a sudden you hear a sound and this track starts playing, as you come upon the face of a mangled corpse. The combination of such grotesquerie combined with such a horrifying sound (the first few nodes after the girl's voice will make your hair stand up on end) is just enough to make your blood run cold and fill you with an essence of fear. The piece takes a different turn as it continues however, leading into a slightly more contemplative nature, even though we're most certainly being exposed to what I'd consider horrific howls from the dead. “Hydrangea Blue” seems a bit out of place on the record, as it more or less seems like it fits in with the piano-based pieces at the top of the disc. “Thermal” brings in an icy chill that doesn't fit the visual novel soundscape. It can of course, with the right scene, but it feels like the kind of music you might hear while walking through a place of sanctuary. Perhaps a desecrated holy place in which one saves their progress in the midst of a ruinous maze. There are demons and monsters outside, but here you are safe. “Visage” has a world-music vibe to it, which is a little more sparse for visual novels and I couldn't consider it there. This is more towards the kind of actual meditation pieces that one might hear in an effort to reach some sort of oneness, or suchlike. It feels like a sort of “aum” and seems to carry through in just that kind of zen-like fashion. The final piece we have here continues the icy feel of “Thermal” and subtly seems to carry us through a bit of a cold and icy cavern, which is not where we begin. Think of it as traveling through a dark Japanese influenced town, where we'll soon enter a castle, discover a bit of a murder, find a holy place within some ruins, achieve a sense of zen and then walk through an icy cavern. It's safe to say that you'll want this in your collection, and though it isn't metal music, it is definitely worth listening to for fans of Thy Catafalque's more atmospheric moods.

Because he'll no doubt be reading this, I feel that I should also address a concern that Katai might have about this review. Comparing your work here to that of the soundscapes in visual novels should not be seen as any sort of detriment. People over the world have loved these pieces for their soundtracks and have even paid hundreds of dollars to personally import and play these pieces in their own home. What you've done here, is to capture the same spirit of some of the more mature soundtracks in that regard, and in it, there's a masterpiece. What some would pay hundreds for, you've offered here for free. That says a lot about how much you believe the world needs to hear and appreciate these pieces. I am sure that other reviewers will have their own comparisons and that I probably won't be the only one to compare them to game soundtracks. But today's game soundtracks are incredible at times, awfully moving and worthy of appreciation in their own right. When I started reading visual novels a few years back, I was first exposed to pieces like these as I've never really heard them anywhere else prior. Very few mediums combine piano pieces with electronics in the way that the medium I've described does. As with any novel in the medium, it depends on what you read, but I was fortunate enough to have experienced some of the best soundtracks from what the medium has to offer, and I daresay that the music is my favorite part of those particular experiences. I hope that you will continue this solo work alongside the Thy Catafalque material, as both are equally brilliant and no matter what I compare them to, they're always inspiring pieces.

You can find the album on Tamas Katai's Bandcamp page, where you'll also find the work from Thy Catafalque. Please give this a listen if you think that it'll be up your alley. Once again, fans of passionate video game and visual novel (there's still a debate as to whether or visual novels are the same as video or computer games) soundtracks will certainly find something here in Slower Structures. I'd certainly recommend it to lovers of music in general.

(13 Tracks, 38:00)


God Enslavement - Consuming The Divine (2016)

Hailing from Germany, the debut album from these death metallers is actually quite solid. Now the death metal that these guys produce isn't the kind that you'd expect from many of the cemetery slabs I've reviewed here on a day to day basis, but rather feels a bit more modern and technical, which might make some of you stop reading this review already and that's fine. But what I think really matters here is Adam Jarvis (Pig Destroyer, Misery Index) on the kit, and the extremely technical riff-matter crafted by either Deha (Black Sin, Clouds, Sources Of I, We All Die Laughing – remember that one?) Bjorn Koppler (Maladie) or Kevin Olasz (Aardvarks, Deadborn, Maladie... the Aardvarks are still relevant? That Conglomerate compilation was great, I thought.) In any case, one of these three men is responsible for such awesomeness and it certainly beefs up what can be rather chunky at times. Vince Matthews (ex-Dying Fetus, ex-Criminal Element, ex-Biovore, all great death acts) sounds like he's on a high fiber diet, as a large amount of grunt and groan mixtures vomit out, while familiar death metal (and this is the only real thing about the band that remains classic) riffing and drum pummeling erupts from the kit. The disc is very fast paced, but it feels almost as if a little more work is needed as Matthews' approach sometimes seems a bit heavy handed. That being noted, the amount of solos utilized on the record stands as a strong point, and keeps the material from becoming entirely bland, which it can do every now and again.

When I listen to an act like this, I feel like they're not completely at their prime with this approach and perhaps it will sound a bit more composed next time. At any case, I couldn't turn it down because the disc is real fucking pummeler and definitely will get you pumped for some heavy lifting. As we can see, there are a lot of great musicians here with a very stable that contains a great deal of potential. I just need to hear a little bit more before I can really call it grandeur. Much as I like this, it's no Dying Fetus, Criminal Element, Pig Destroyer or Aardvarks (yes, I really do like those Aardvarks) and therefore doesn't really stand out as a superior project to any of the acts that these guys have already been in, or are still playing in. That's not to say it's bad, because these guys are more or less just going out there and having a great time playing some really gurgly death metal stuff (but not gurgly enough, if you ask me) that I'm sure fans of their other acts will enjoy. I've just heard a bit better, and feel that much of the problem might even be in Matthews' vocal approach, which seems to weaken the whole performance for me. Give it a listen and see what you think, as it's not all that long and offers just enough for the time allotted.

(11 Tracks, 36:00)


Ionophore - Sinter Pools (2016)

A collaboration between the London and San Francisco Bay Area, Ionophore is a trio of neoclassical and electronic artists that I couldn't place completely within the realms of static-laden power electronics or dark industrial. Rather, the sound is quite contemplative and will put you in the right frame of mind, or any frame of mind that you feel is necessary for the task ahead. As a writer, I'd definitely consider this good writing music, especially for the scenes of a book that might be a little bit deep and atmospheric in themselves. Of the eight pieces, there are several moods in which we are to grasp. Some of them being quite ethereal, while others a bit ominous and even romantic. The title track itself actually feels very frightening, with sharp violins, saxophones, eerie vocalizations and an all-around oppressive atmosphere. It feels as if I'm walking into a dungeon area of sorts, where all manner of evil awaits me. The last few notes in the piece are equally ominous and make me feel a bit funny, albeit not in what one might consider a pleasant fashion. “Infantman” seems to continue the slightly twisted atmosphere, but it doesn't feel quite as overbearing and injects some calm female vocal lines to bring about a sort of fragile performance. It even starts to become a bit romantic, even though I somehow feel as if the voice here isn't quite human, or that this is a cold love song from the future where an android programmed with no emotions attempts to emulate feelings of love. I feel that it is the electronic nature of this piece that gives it a bit of a cyberpunk vibe, even though there's definitely a lot of classical here as well. It would make an awesome soundtrack for a film that I can see playing in my head. 

“Underground Man” is where the mood changes to a meditative one as I referenced earlier. “Unchecked” was a bit harsh (but still a fine atmosphere) and this piece feels like it slows things down just a little. I almost feel a little bit of Steve Roach creeping up here,which I certainly won't turn away. The last half of the album has an airy feel, which seems to just build right from “Underground Man” and continue all the way to the nearly angelic, but still quite morose “Checked.” There's nothing here that sounds completely serene and doesn't feel tainted by the industrious future world landscape, and I'm quite pleased with that. Even when it touches on ethereal and romantic territory, it is still very inhuman and feels like the sort of atmosphere you might find while making love to a machine. That being said, I love it. It very much feels like the soundtrack to what might be our possible future, making Ionophore something of musical prophets. I'm almost curious as to whether this would work in the background of some games, or during muted films. Could it build the same atmosphere in certain scenes that it would here inside my head? Whatever the case, if you're a fan of soundscapes and are looking for something not so harsh and abrasive, (like a lot of these are) you'll find something here in Ionophore. It's like making cold love to an inorganic being, which might just be the future.

(8 Tracks, 38:00)


Tvlpa - Mountain Of The Opposer (2016)

A tulpa or what is also known as an egregore, is a type of thoughtform. Most gods are tulpas, yet our images of superheroes or other fictional characters could also be considered tulpas. For instance, among the pagan community (this was years ago) there was an instance where Tom Hiddleston's Loki derived a lot of interest in the Nordic archetype of that being. Particularly among women. The whole thing brought about it's own tulpa/egregore which only became further fueled by the amount of emotional passion and energy put into it. Almost like religionists who pray to various deities, or rather, their imagined view of such deities. The archetype is given energy through their tulpas, even though one can use an archetype to create a tulpa as long as they make sure to give it a purpose. Here we have what I'd consider a Swedish mix of Dragon Rouge and Chaos Magick formed by a group of anonymous musicians. Though calling this “music” doesn't really fit. I've studied the occult long enough to know when I'm listening to a full-on ritual and this hour's length of such nodes is most certainly that. So, if you're religious and afraid that you'll burn in the fiery pits of the fetid inferno from listening to this, you had better stop reading this now or risk being infected by the “devils” laden within such music. Sometimes we get really grim here, and that goes beyond guitar solos and pounding drums. There's a much different nature of grim here, which some of you just might not be able to accept. These musicians consider themselves to be members of the left-hand path, which is seen by some as a much darker and volatile form of magick. If you find the right magician, you'll argue for hours as to the validity of that (which is why I've given up in that regard) but for all sakes and purposes, it is true here.

Now for the record itself. We've got several drones here, among some rather ominous whispers and what some might even consider dark, or at least demonic vocalizations. I know not what archetypes are being referenced here, but I do have a few ideas. I know that Karlsson wrote a lot of material about Lilith, who is indeed a very dark mistress beyond what some of you might have seen beyond television and comic books. Although, I have a feeling that this relates more to Kali Yuga. Makes perfect sense, as she has come up several times within the Therion heavy metal soundscape. Considering these pieces, this is definitely work that I would liken to her level of existence. Some pieces are even quite electronic, like “Mounatin Sermon” and everything sort of takes a very simplistic, yet atmospheric approach. Tvlpa aren't barreling over themselves to create this atmosphere. They're using small effects in order to make something that feels awfully mantric, and could effect the subconscious in ways that I'm not even so sure they full comprehend. “Ko-Phu” yields a similar effect, although much shorter than the previous, as it is the disc's shortest overall cut. I'm definitely getting the Steve Roach vibe here, especially in the electronic areas. That being said, Tvlpa are not an electronic act – not completely. There are sections of electronic synthesizers, but most of the work here is ominous and creates a misty soundscape. I'd almost say that eighty percent of the album is just that, which amounts to a rather disturbing or dark meditation. It's not zen, rather it's the anti-zen. Pieces like “Dragon Mound”, “The Becoming I” or “Daka Yantra” might actually end up frightening you more than soothing you, and chances are that you wouldn't want to play this record as “fall asleep music” or something by which to relax to during the twilight hours. There's nothing here that even feels so much as remotely pleasant and once you've jumped in, you've got to deal with the effects of this abyss. I could say that the disc's closer “Descent and Rebirth” feels the least oppressive to the senses, but it also feels as if a dark god-being is being hailed or worshiped by the piece. If you enjoy hearing very deep, mantric compositions that are not for the faint of heart and might scare tree-hugging hippie New Agers to death, then you might opt for a purchase of this record. Once again, Tvlpa do not create calm, zen-like meditation. If you choose to put this on and attempt a trance, I have no idea what you'll see and experience within the context of it. Having been more familiar with the heavy metal approaches to Karlsson's darker approach to Swedish magick, it's definitely interesting to see an atmosphere that also embraces it. I can certainly say that the piece is just as dark here as anything that we'd expect from The Dragon Rouge and it's worth picking up. Just don't expect peace and happiness. Mountain Of The Opposer is just not that kind of record.

(9 Tracks, 59:00)


Konflict/Reek Of The Unzen Gas Fumes - Split (2016)

I've been waiting a long time to review this split, which actually came out sometime last year. The first act is a black/death/grind/noise/industrial act called Konflict from Sri Lanka. We know there are three members in the act, but have no idea as to who does what, or what bands they've been in prior to the act – nothing. Yet when you hear a band like this that mixes industrialism with fiery black metal riffs, thick drum abrasions and a sort of gurgling that sounds like they've captured a beast from the Necronomicon and gave it the fucking microphone (seriously, this thing sounds inhuman as hell, what are they up to in Sri Lanka?) you start to get a bit curious. The sound is obviously raw, but it seems to fit the absolutely heinous nature of the material, which is by far unlike anything I've ever heard. I'm telling you folks, if you put the fucking Cloverfield monster on the vocals, this is what it would sound like. This is beyond the normal gurgle... this is something, I just can't even fucking describe. Summon a literal demon from the abyss, give him a microphone and this is what you get. This is the kind of sound that would preachers shit their pants (Not sure if that includes Jesse Custer though) and convince religious congregations that the devil is real. The interesting thing about these demonic pieces is that they all have relatively intelligent titles. For instance, we've got “To Erase The Eelam Parasite” , “Decoding The Aryan Survival Cipher”, “Epignetic Hate Transmission” and others. Sometimes throughout the twenty-four minute EP we'll even get utterances that sound like they're on two different dimensional planes. What in the hell is going on over there? Sometimes we're even barreled over with torrents of noise. Huge mounds of atmospheric noise such as the album's opener “Aryan Cytoarchitecture and The Handle Of A Weapon Or Tool” or the aforementioned “Decoding The Aryan Survival Cipher.” I'm not sure if these guys play live, but they're definitely not the kind of act you hear everyday. I'm rather quite impressed and I hope that we'll get to hear more from this awesome trio in the future. Maybe somewhere deep within this thick monstrosity lies the future of grind itself. That remains to be seen.

The next act we have on the split is Reek Of The Unzen Gas Fumes, which is a blackened grindcore act of complete insanity whose lyrics seem to be based on anti-Buddhism, sadism and radical Japanese nationalism according to Metal Archives. That third one's a real whammy, especially if you're a US citizen because of rather obvious reasons. From what I've researched, some of these right-wing (yes, they have right and left winged political movements in Japan as well) movements are tied directly to the yakuza, which doesn't surprise me. In any case, the approach the listener is getting here is one of force, fire and absolute insanity. It's not always as crazy as “Dehumanizing Cesspool For Future of Humanity” as “Doku” displays with it's weirdness and much slower tempo, but for the most part these guys feature an extremely raspy vocalist that melds with static in a way that he sounds like an angered television set. We do know that INHKR is behind the guitar, bass and drum programming and that 9300FGB is the vocalist, but no one knows what Warcrime Rapist does. At any rate, this an entirely interesting grindcore act with enough depth and originality to stand out among their peers. I realize that while I've mentioned it already, I need to reiterate that these guys are completely fucking insane as far as the performance is concerned and the complete polar opposite of what we're seeing portrayed as Japanese heavy music as far as the media is concerned.

This is the extremely heavy underground shit that you were looking for and you'll be extremely happy to have one of only 66 copies in print of this cassette only release. You'd also be extremely lucky. I'm going to give this the highest possible score I can give as I've heard nothing quite like it in the grindcore scene, but it was released quite a while ago and I can't spotlight it as I normally would have. Just take it as a sign that you need to find a way to get a hold of this split somehow. Some of the material from both of these bands is surprisingly available on Bandcamp, but this split cassette is limited and not even I have a copy of it, just a digital promo with a low bit-rate quality. Even so, that's enough for me to prove to you that these bands are fucking phenomenal in the grind scene and you've really got to hear them both for yourself. I tend to like Konflict more, but wouldn't turn down either act. The Grim Tower highly recommends this split EP, so definitely give it a listen. You'll find a way.

(18 Tracks, 46:00)