DSKNT- PhSPHR Entropy

Right from the offset, Black Metal has always been a genre that has championed the more esoteric aspects of art. Whether that being in the challenging music itself, or in its purveyor’s presentation, it is also a style of music has always thrived in mystique and continues to do so to this day. Shrouded in mystery with an almost hidden identity, Swiss solo musician Asknt has been (partly or wholly) responsible for a number of varied projects over the years, most recently with the full-length debut of DSKNT, PhSPHR Entropy (Sentient Ruin Laboratories). Continue reading

Dodecahedron – Kwintessens

Despite what many conservative fans may argue, as a general rule Black Metal has an ethos that heralds unbridled evolution and progression, harking back to its primary roots and the uniqueness of the original bands that put it on the map. In recent years we have seen just how varied, bold and downright madcap Black Metal bands can be when it comes to pushing, and even downright shattering, genre constraints through the likes of Deathspell Omega and Ihsahn. Continue reading

VIII – Decathexis

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The PR notes accompanying Decathexis (Third-I Rex), the second album from Cagliari firebrands VIII, advise comparisons with Extreme experimentalists Deathspell Omega and Manes. The reality, however, is a progressive aural violence full of invention.

Opener ‘Symptom’s early exchanges see a stripped down, Blackened underpin, quirky in its structure and graced by WLKN’s snarled growl, suddenly tempered by maudlin drops which lend themselves to a Shoegaze feel. That Manes comparison manifests itself with a Jazzy sax, which introduces a dream-like sequence: a piano-led ambience; a street walk followed by a nightmarish descent through rapid atonal chords, Freeform pace changes and hostile growls, with those ivories beginning the road to a sample-laden coda in hair-raising fashion.

The early stages of the ensuing ‘Diagnosis’ beautifully blend an emotional, atmospheric Doom with more of that wistful saxophone and the kind of Deathly, downward spirals perfected by the likes of Pyrrhon. A meander through eerie gentleness is followed by a rampant, horrific explosion, the throat morphing from growl to Blackened rasp in a terrifying escalation of anger. This is the depiction of a war zone yet, replete with a subtle piano centrepiece, the apocalyptic, heartbreaking aftermath of battle is gloriously displayed also.

There’s a Blues-Punk edge to the bludgeon of closer ‘Prognosis’ which lends a more traditional edge but the experimentation is still evident: the sparing, neurotic riffs given a tremolo effect; the atmospheric blast of classical acoustic; the brief, gradual drop once again full of melancholy and portent. It’s WLKN’s voice which again provides the savagery, especially in the tolling, Avant-garde atonality of the second movement: his screams and whispers demonical in accompanying the hydraulic Industria and Marco Porcu’s staggering stickwork.

This constant movement through disparate fundamentals can lead to ‘Prognosis’ occasionally feeling a touch difficult to engage with, its cosmic yet serene finale an ineffectual end to the urgency of the previous 45 minutes. The whole is nevertheless an absorbing tour de force, its manic nature running in perfect tandem with a moving ambience to incite all manner of emotion. By no means an easy listen, Decathexis is nevertheless a hugely rewarding journey.

8.0/10.0

PAUL QUINN

Stellar Master Elite – III: Eternalism – The Psychospherical Chapter

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Okay, what’s the deal with bands who name themselves after song titles? Being honest about your influences is one thing, of course, but naming yourself after an album- or song-title – especially when it’s from an acknowledged classic of your genre – seems like one step up from being a tribute band and only playing covers.

Stellar Master Elite, you won’t be surprised to learn, are rather fond of Thorns, and the music on III: Eternalism – The Psychospherical Chapter (Essential Purification) takes its main cues from their eponymous classic debut. Shimmering, riff-heavy Black(ish) Metal drenched in spacey synths and effect-laden vocals, it also borrows openly from 666 International (Moonfog) and Grand Declaration Of War (Season of Mist/Necropolis), firmly embracing that late-90’s vision of the future that’s starting to sound like an artefact of a specific place and time.  Not that this is pure nostalgia – they’ve also picked up a beefy modern sound that lends a weight and power that few of its predecessors had.

There’s a lot to like about Eternalism – some genuinely effective riffs, a good sense of atmosphere and a strong vocal performance in particular can validate time invested in it – but just as many things against it. It’s very late 90s approach to experimentalism sounds almost twee compared to (slightly) more recent BM deviants like Blut Aus Nord or DSO. The slow pace and reliance on spooky noises can sap some of the energy from the music and create moments of boredom. Most of all, though, they suffer in comparison to the band they’ve taken their name from – while their sound is superficially very similar to that of Thorns, they lack the feeling of sheer, unbridled creativity and otherness that made that album such a punch in the face at the time.

Competent, often engaging but, ultimately, too content to simply re-tread someone else’s former glories, Eternalism is an album that just doesn’t have enough of its own character to justify its existence in a world where “weird” and “experimental” are often more common than generic.

 

6.5/10

 

RICHIE HR

Shining – IX: Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends

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You can say what you like about Niklas Kvarforth, and many quite justifiably and quite rightly do, and his Shining project, now on their ninth release IX – Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends (Season Of Mist), but he has managed to keep his music from sounding like everyone else, and actually doing something with his darkened black metal act that few others do, creating a sound and atmosphere that doesn’t just ape his predecessor, and that varies from album to album while still being identifiable. The actual success rate in terms of quality of output is a bit more hit and miss (with the common reasoning being that it is the odd numbered albums that are worth bothering with, while the even numbered releases can fail to deliver).

With the intent of Shining to cause discomfort and pain to others, and with IX being described as an album to inspire feelings and reflections of revenge and retribution, the music to hand is surprisingly (disappointingly?) safe; there are certainly no challenging moments that the likes of Deathspell Omega or Blut Aus Nord inspire, or horrific atmospheres akin to a Pyrrhon or Portal in full flow (accepting they are megalodons swimming in a very different pool).

With most of the compositions uncurling to around 7 minutes in length, the blueprint here is one that steps outside traditional Black Metal trappings and away from the cold, depressive harshness of their previous works. Opener ‘Vilja & Dröm’ kicks off with a belligerent chugging groove, and the album flits from modern aggressive Black Metal, like Dimmu Borgir minus the symphonics and theatrics, to cleaner, more Gothic moments as, much like Watain did on The Wild Hunt (Century Media),  IX brings a Fields of the Nephilim swathe to the proceedings and a cowboy Western kiss to ‘Inga Broar Kvar Att Bränna’ in particular.

In terms of where IX sits in the Kvarforth canon, it’s fair to say it doesn’t rival V: Halmstad as the go to and defining release of his career, but is more of a worthwhile investment of your time than the limp Klagospalmer (both Osmose). Much like a lot of the music on display, though, it sits comfortably in the middle. If its intention is to unnerve and distress, the protagonist does much more of that away from the music, than he does with it.

 

6.5/10

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STEVE TOVEY

Ad Nauseam – Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est

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One of the best things about being an… ahem… “mature” Metal fan is finally being over all that anti-trend nonsense. If you’re still on the more idealistic side of twenty-five you might want to skip to the next paragraph, but the cold fact is that Extreme Metal is as vulnerable to fashion as any other kind of Pop music (it’s okay, they’ve already stopped reading), with the same references cropping up in rotation until the trend moves on.

Adorned with underground-cool pencil cover art, Ad Nauseam’s debut album can be explained entirely in terms of names with a lot of cool weight in Metal right now. Combining the dissonant, abstract thundering of Gorguts, Ulcerate’s near-ambient Death Metal soundscapes, the flailing freak-outs of Deathspell Omega and a touch of Portal’s nightmarish otherworldliness, on paper Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est (Lavadome Productions) reads like an essay on “How To Write A Cool Death Metal Album In 2015”.  It is also a perfect demonstration of why none of that stuff matters and Metal fans should finally stop caring about whether something is trendy or not, because it is not only a genuinely excellent album, but a truly distinctive one.

There is a genuine sense of both depth and individual voice on the album which raises it above the vast majority of its peers. Refusing to restrict themselves to a single territory, Ad Nauseam are equally comfortable with savage violence, abstract experimentation and doom-laden dissonance, yet never sound as though they’ve lost a sense of what they’re doing.  Yes, it’s possible to identify the bits that sound like Gorguts or DSO, but as a whole they mesh together into something entirely itself.

Ad Nauseam have come out of nowhere with some of the most over-used references in modern underground Metal, and used them to assemble what will almost certainly be one of the best Death Metal albums of the year. If you didn’t think there was any space left in your collection for another album that sounds like this, you were objectively wrong. Fill that space immediately.

 

9.0/10

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RICHIE HR

Outre – Ghost Chants

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The recording of a debut album is a pressurizing and difficult task under any circumstance; the first chance to make a mark on the world and put your presence on the radar. In the case of Polish Black metallers Outre the whole process became all the more complex with the sudden departure of vocalist Andrezej Nowak right at the beginning of recording, resulting in session vocalist Stawrogin being hastily brought in. Surely a testament of this band’s fortitude as they have come out of it with an exceptionally impressive debut in the form of Ghost Chants ( Third Eye Temple).

Despite expectations to follow in the footsteps of homegrown peers such as Behemoth, Outre have chosen to distance themselves from the more melodic and accessible takes on Black metal and have gone down the rabbit hole of the more progressive and challenging strains of the likes of Aevangelist and Deathspell Omega.

Split into seven “Chant” track parts, things proceed in an ominous and gradually building fashion on ‘Departure’, using an atmospheric slow build and eerie chanting vocals to build tension, before the following ‘Shadow’ explodes into view. Rather than sticking to all out pace, Ghost Chants veers between full throttle speed to an unsettling crawl, accompanied by an equally diverse and suited vocal range which shows Stawrogin, as a perfect and hopefully continued acquisition.

In the experimental and innovation stakes it may not have quite the same aurora of evolution and mystique as some of its peers, such as the aforementioned Deathspell Omega, but Ghost Chants is a debut which shows a commendable level of chemistry and fluidity, that of a much more experienced unit. It may not be a game changer in the genre but with their debut, Outre should firmly make a mark on the radar, one that only shows signs of growing more over time.

One of the most formidable debut’s you will hear all year.

 

8.0/10

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CHRIS TIPPELL

Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega

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I’m going to just come right out with it – I’ve never really seen the appeal of Dødheimsgard (I refuse to call them DHG – that’s non-negotiable).  Their third album 666 International created a considerable wave in the late 90’s Black Metal scene, heralding a cyber-future that had the fans wiping off their panda-paint and buying glowsticks and leather trench-coats, but neither it, nor its equally feted follow-up Supervillain Outcast (both Moonfog), really clicked for me.  The “progression” seemed too forced, the electronic elements awkwardly realised and the whole thing just a little too redolent of the Emperor’s new clothes.

I point this out simply because I’m about to lose my shit over A Umbra Omega (Peaceville), and I want to make it clear that I’m not just buying into the general consensus here – with this one, they’ve finally caught my attention.

Despite opening with the glitchy, fragmented electronics of ‘The Love Divine’, one of the first things that becomes apparent about A Umbra Omega is that the “cyber” elements of the last two albums have been dialled down noticeably, replaced with a much broader selection of influences. The songs move jaggedly but with surprising fluidity through Jazz breaks, modern classical music, more restrained electronics and some good, old-fashioned box-of-angry-wasps Scandinavian Black Metal.

It will doubtless anger some fans to say this, but there’s something almost backwards-looking or quaint about A Umbra Omega’s approach to progression.  The face of “avant-garde” Black Metal in 2015 is very different to what it was in 1996, and Dødheimsgard’s approach still owes more to the carnivalesque playfulness of Arcturus or goth-tinged drug babble of Ved Buens Ende than DeathSpell Omega or Blut Aus Nord’s chaotic black-hole worship (this review brought to you by hyperbole.com). This is by no means a criticism – indeed, Dødheimsgard remind us of the one thing that the newer style of “experimental” Black Metal bands often forget to include in their time-shifting trans-dimensional horror; character. Despite how wacky things get here, there’s a constant sense of personality, wit and style that pervades each track on A Umbra Omega, drawing together what could otherwise be disparate musical elements into a genuinely effective whole.

As I observed in my recent review of the new <code> album, being weird is ultimately a fool’s quest – each year it gets harder and yields diminishing rewards. Perhaps that’s where Dødheimsgard lost me on previous releases – being experimental and breaking new ground seemed to be the primary objective – but on A Umbra Omega they sound like a band who’ve come to terms with their own weirdness and focussed on the task of writing a really excellent set of songs around it, rather than showing off how wacky they are. A genuine master-class in why Black Metal can still be interesting without having to choose between retro-traditionalism or forced experimentation.

 

9.0/10

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RICHIE HR