With Norway being so synonymous with Black Metal from its roots to the present day, by now France can hold an equally high association with its latter-day avant-garde offshoots. As much as black metal was always about experimentation and evolution, France is particularly prominent for bands pushing black metal into even further trajectories, from the philosophical and conceptual reaches of Blut Aus Nord to the likes of Alcest and Deathspell Omega encompassing polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Purveyors of mystique Abduction; whilst not necessarily envelope pushers in comparison to the aforementioned are, however, similarly unconventional in their approach as second album Á L’heure Du Crépuscle (Finisterian Dead End) attests. Continue reading
The Meads of Asphodel are no strangers to split LPs, nor is Tjolgtjar for that matter, but this is the first time the pair team up for a co-creation. The result is Taste of Divine Wrath (Eternal Death).
The Meads of Asphodel has one of the best song titles I have seen in a while: ‘An Ebullient Prelude to a Loathsomely Grim End’. This short intro has a high level of bombast and the promised ebullience with its orchestra and choir, and gives way to the sufficiently grim ‘Chidiock Tichborne’. This song is very high paced and strange. The lyrics “High treason, hung, drawn, and quartered,” really impart the loathsomely grim end that was referred to in the previous title. The grunts are slow when compared to the music, and this contrast, together with the variation in styles of grunt, makes the song interesting.
Then follows an utterly bewildering cover of ‘You Got the Love’, called ‘You’ve Got the Hate’. It is mystifying and confusing, but actually quite good.
The penultimate song on the A-side is about Balthasar Gérard, the infamous murderer of William I of Orange who was gruesomely executed for his deed. This song details the execution and questions the value of the assassination. The music is rather atmospheric and beautiful, with acoustic guitars and synths, and contrasts rather poignantly with the subject of the lyrics. The atmospheric style continues into the final song ‘Infidel’, but this also contains some of the musical brutality of ‘Chidiock Tickborne’.
The B side of the split is Tjolgtjar, a one-man project in a genre known as “Black’n’Roll.” The first song, entitled ‘The 5th Mass & Her Works’ is a bit of a cut and paste of a mind-boggling mixture of Psychedelic oriented Rock’n’Roll with sections of Black noise. The next song, ‘Near You Always’, is far more balanced, having mostly a base of Psychedelica with a topping of Black rather than the rapidly altering sections of the previous song. I was rather pleased with the sounds of an actual goat in ‘A Goat in the Woods’, which is an instrumental song firmly entrenched in Psychedelic territory. The main guitar riff for ‘Winter Research’ is brilliant and catchy. The voice-overs at the start, middle, and end of this side make this a strange collection, however, the alien manifesto and satanic cults do make for very interesting listening.
With songs well put together; if you are interested in the strange and experimental sides of black metal, this split album might just broaden your horizons.
I think that how excited you’re prepared to be about a new Arcturus album depends on what stage you were at in 1997 when they released La Masquerade Infernale (Music For Nations) in a burst of masks, frilly shirts and knowingly ludicrous poses. Though neither their first album nor universally the most popular, it was LMI that made them seem, no matter how briefly, so ferociously IMPORTANT. At a time when the Norwegian Black Metal scene was rapidly torn between fragmenting and shrinking into insular irrelevance, Arcturus were at the very forefront of the bands shining a torch into entirely new vistas.
Bold, dramatic, frequently funny and entirely possessed of itself, the combination of Hellhammer’s thundering drums, Garm’s gleefully pompous vocals and Sverd’s densely intricate instrumentation created something that Black Metal fans had genuinely never heard before. It cast a long shadow over the “avant garde” side of Black Metal (to the extent that they could truly be called that anymore) for years afterwards – even suffering that most 90’s of indulgences, the Remix Album – to the extent that though many fans preferred 2002’s more “progressive” The Sham Mirrors (Ad Astra Enterprises), it seemed to others like a futile attempt to recapture their brief majesty.
An odd choice to spend so long talking about an old album in a review of the new one, perhaps, but in this case the context is essential – because Arcturion (Prophecy) sees the also-ran, half-hearted entity that Arcturus have been over the last two albums shut the door behind them and let LMI Arcturus back into the room. Everything that made that late 90’s classic so… well… CLASSIC is back in full force here, but they’ve also brought some new tricks learned over the last twenty years.
Once again every track has its own theme and spirit – the “carnivalesque” sound that has been part of their image since LMI is still present on tracks like ‘Bane’, but they’re no longer pounding it with repetitive monotony as they did on Sideshow Symphonies (Season Of Mist). Elsewhere ‘Ad Astra’s meditative cosmic vibe returns on ‘Warp’, ‘The Arcturion Sign’ conjures up found memories of ‘Master Of Disguise’ and ‘Angst’ even sees them recapturing some of their Black Metal fury far more successfully than they did on Sham Mirrors.
Which is all rather lovely, but makes it sound as though they’ve simply gone back to a twenty year old album and tried to recapture the formula. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all. Firstly, they’ve broadened their palette noticeably – the driving, contemplative Rock of ‘Game Over’ and ‘Demon’s sleazy electronic Pop aren’t quite like anything they’ve recorded before, yet manage to retain the feel and character of both the band and the album. Secondly, and even more importantly, though is the undeniable feel that this band has grown up. Maturity, such a difficult concept to pin down but easy one to recognise, shines in every second of Arcturion. They’re every bit as arrogant and forceful as they were on LMI, but precocious youth has now been replaced by the confidence of age. In Garm’s absence ICS Vortex (who sang LMI’s standout ‘The Chaos Path’) brings a range and depth that exceeds his predecessor’s bold but often limited operatics.
Arcturion is not likely to blow any modern listeners away in quite the shocking fashion that La Masquerade Infernale managed in 1997 – both the Metal scene and the way we engage with music have changed dramatically since those days – but in terms of musical excellence and thematic power it matches or even exceeds that classic album.
Whether or not you’ve ever engaged with Arcturus before, do so now.
At this point, what do you really have to say about Sigh? After being approached in 1990 by Euronymous to be the only Japanese band on his Deathlike Silences Productions label, they proceeded to spend twenty five years releasing experimental, varied, frequently genuinely eccentric albums that have now spelled out their name almost three times. With the exception of 2005’s Gallows Gallery (Candlelight) – which they’ve since admitted wasn’t really recorded with banned WWII sonic weaponry – “Black Metal” in some form has always been part of their sound, but the exact style has often changed wildly between albums.
This time around, the guiding theme seems to be a combination of rawness, progressiveness and symphonic majesty that calls to mind Venom playing Yes songs with Bal-Sagoth’s keyboardist, and works an awful lot better than you might be expecting from that description. The core of the album is a raw, savage but rocking “Black” Metal built on simple catchy riffs and Mirai’s always recognisable acid rasp, but one of the things that makes Sigh so successful is that they don’t simply litter their Metal core with extraneous garnish as so many of their “experimental” peers are content to do. Electronics, progressive and symphonic arrangements and even Pop song-writing is woven meaningfully into the tracks, creating an album which is both sinisterly understated and gloriously savage. In the context of their previous albums, the best comparison would be the band from Scorn Defeat (DSP) playing the songs from Gallows Gallery, but once again they have created something new.
I suspect that this review is largely unnecessary – by this point most listeners have already decided whether Sigh are any of their business or not, and if they are you’ll be listening to this album whatever I say. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid them until now, however, Graveward (Candlelight) is a strong, distinctive album with its own character and some genuinely excellent songwriting and works well as both an introduction to one of the most genuinely interesting metal bands of the last twenty years and an album in its own right.