Varg – The End of All Lies

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German band Varg (meaning wolf in Norwegian and Swedish, no relation to Burzum) return with their fifth opus The End of All Lies (Napalm Records), and are leading the resistance with their politically charged anti-fascist themed metal. Often referred to as wolf metal (I have no idea what that is either) it is difficult to neatly slot them into a singular genre, black/death/Viking/pagan/folk metal influences all emerge. Recorded in both English and German, The End of All Lies is an attack on political leaders exposing them as ‘false prophets and seducers’, a commendable angle that makes for a passionate delivery.

Charlie Chaplin’s infamous The Great Dictator speech initiates their uprising before title track ‘The End of All Lies’ ferociously emerges with the opening lyric “This day will be your apocalypse, we slit the throats of the liars.” Animosity is instilled throughout, presented with passion and undeniable conviction. The array of genres are evident, ‘Streyfzug’ and ‘Einherjer’ outline a folk/pagan influence with clean vocals and rousing choruses delivered with pride and belief. The death metal elements are certainly the most prominent; particularly in ‘Winterstorm’ which reflects their more extreme side with fast paced riffs and pummeling double-kick drum.

The extreme vocals are akin to At The Gates front man Tomas Lindberg, while the clean and choral vocal segments imbue a catchy element whilst adding diversity to the aggressive onslaught. Female vocals in ‘The Dance of Death’ shouldn’t work alongside such extremity, yet do in perfect cohesion with Freki’s snarl, resulting in the strongest track of the album.

This is an adrenaline-fueled, chest beating, passion-filled album, bursting with vigour and catchy choruses that has potential for killer live performances. Perhaps it will border on cheesy for some, clearly appealing to leather clad, face painted metal heads equipped with a plastic sword and drinking horn. Regardless, a victorious battle for the German wolf pack.

7.0/10

HEATHER BLEWETT

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Pinkish Black – Bottom of the Morning

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Texan duo Pinkish Black originally formed in 2005 as a three piece doom/jazz project called The Great Tyrant; however the tragic suicide of bassist Tommy Atkins in 2010 put a halt to the production of the band’s first album. Remaining two members Daron Beck and Jon Teague continued under the moniker Pinkish Black, producing music that refuses to be pigeonholed into anything genre specific. Fusing synth, industrial, doom and Krautrock, Pinkish Black are certainly not afraid to break the mould and latest opus Bottom of the Morning (Relapse) depicts their visionary approach to music.

This is not an album that resonates instantly; the complexities require time and thought but once deciphered come with great reward. Predominantly synth based, hypnotic swirls of sound consume the record, alongside monotone chant style vocals, creating mystery and intrigue. ‘Brown Rainbow’ radiates a horror movie soundtrack vibe with unsettling keyboards, while ‘Special Dark’ explores their more industrial side with a thumping bass line and clattering of harsh cymbals. ‘I’m All Gone’ is ethereal and hypnotic, drawing upon a more gothic influence. Instrumental conclusion ‘The Master is Away’ demonstrates a mesmerising juxtaposition of fuzzy distorted bass, psychedelic synth and elevating melodies.  The variety of influences imbued and unorthodox approach to music is what makes Bottom of the Morning a fascinating record, however the vocals do start to wear thin after a few tracks, eventually, unfortunately, bordering on the monotonous.    

Pinkish Black clearly approach their music with intelligence and progressive creativity, and Bottom of the Morning evidently embodies that, nevertheless a great deal of patience is required to really appreciate the multifaceted elements that form their soundscape.

 

6.0/10

 

HEATHER BLEWETT

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Fozzy – Nonpoint: Soundcontrol, Manchester (UK)

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Despite a typical rainy evening in Manchester, the rock and roll spirit of tonight’s crowd cannot be dampened as a night of rousing heavy metal is to follow. Tonight’s headliners Fozzy have continually brought their high energy show to England, acquiring a credible reputation for their unforgettable performances.  Still reveling in the success of their 2014 opus Do You Wanna Start A War (Century Media) they are back and ready to ignite the ardent crowd that awaits them.

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Sumo Cyco. by Rich Price

Sumo Cyco, Canadian rocking punkers, kicked things off to a reasonable response, before Nonpoint take to the stage and despite my unfamiliarity with their material, they leave a lasting impression. Their upbeat, passionate delivery makes them an ideal support, front man Elias Soriano in particular shines with strong vocals and enthralling stage presence. A cover of Phil Collins ‘In The Air Tonight’ is unexpected but oddly works and provokes a big reaction from the crowd. Track ‘Bullet With A Name’ emerges as a fan favorite, bursting with nu-metal nostalgia, it’s undeniably catchy.

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Nonpoint, photo by Rich Price

Much to the crowds delight, Fozzy burst on stage with vigor, kicking straight into ‘Do You Wanna Start A War’. Frontman Chris Jericho lights up the room (literally) with his signature glowing jacket. Energy is instilled from the get go, as Jericho electrifies the crowd with his dazzling stage presence, executed with ease and confidence. What is so commendable about Fozzy, is the passion in their performance, despite playing a small-ish venue in Manchester they bring their all as if they’re performing at Wembley Arena.  The crowd is grateful, demonstrated by the chants of “Fozzy Fozzy Fozzy” between every song. Popular hits such as ‘God Pounds His Nails’ and ‘Enemy’ go down inevitably well, but it’s the sleazy anthem ‘She’s My Addiction’ that I personally favor. Clearly the night of bizarre cover versions as Fozzy put their own spin on ABBA’s ‘S.O.S’.

Concluding proceedings with M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold collaboration ‘Sandpaper’ and Krokus cover ‘Eat The Rich’, the crowd look disappointed that tonight’s festivities have come to a close. Aside from Chris Jericho’s individual prominence as a wrestler, Fozzy as a band once again prove why their live performances are immensely popular.

 

WORDS BY HEATHER BLEWETT

PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE

 

Denigrata – Missa Defunctoram

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Formed in 2014, Denigrata (who hail from the Midlands, UK) are an avant-garde black metal collective, focused on pushing the extreme metal genre with what they call ‘noire concrête’. Self-released début album Missa Defunctoram is based on Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor and is sung in Latin, consequently it’s no surprise all members came together through higher education music degrees. Mozart’s requiem was composed as he was dying, instilling a suitable motif of morbidity to their unique twist on black metal.

There is such an amalgamation of components that form their overall sound; as such it’s quite a difficult album to take in.  There are transcendental and industrial sections, along with sweeping guitar melodies, pneumatic drill kick drums and a combination of screamed and operatic vocals. Switching up between fast, ferocious onslaughts and icy, macabre atmospheres, it’s unpredictable and at times a total head fuck. Call me old-fashioned but much of it represents unintelligible, chaotic noise.

The more stripped back sections however show greater promise; ‘Kyrie Eleison’ features a down tempo guitar melody, with a haunting piano in the background and sorrowful screamed vocals layered with the operatic style, which is beautiful. Where the album digresses for me is the forcing together of so many different elements, ‘Confutatis Maledictis’ and ‘Requiem Aeternam’ in particular are directionless and confusing. The operatic vocals work in parts and not in others, but seem to get in thrown in anywhere regardless. The more transcendental atmospheric sections on the other hand are cohesive and resonate far better. ‘Rex Tremendae’ begins with a stunning haunting and almost ritualistic ambience, and a prime example of how the operatic vocals can be so effective when placed correctly.

Their commitment to creating something distinctive is commendable, however it comes across too convoluted and the more simplistic aspects that work a lot better are engulfed by the surrounding chaos. Whilst the meeting of musically academic minds may seem like such an advantage, it often over complicates ideas, which is unfortunately reflected in Missa Defunctoram.

 

5.0/10

 

HEATHER BLEWETT

Mgła – Exercises In Futility

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“The great truth is there isn’t one” is not only the opening line to the first track from Mgła’s latest opus Exercises In Futility, but a nihilistic notion that is imbued within their soulless take on black metal. Emerging from the black metal underground with the sublime masterpiece With Hearts Toward None (both Northern Heritage) released in 2013, Mgła have fast become one of the most exciting bands in today’s extreme metal scene. Consequently, the follow up Exercises In Futility was one of the most highly anticipated releases in black metal this year, so no pressure then.

No superfluous song titles here, simply ‘Exercises in Futility I’ to ‘VI’ are the track titles, and that is all that is required as each song cohesively blends to the next, an album best appreciated in its entirety, rather than picking out individual tracks. Mgła execute an effective balance; despair and hopelessness outlines the bleak tone, yet the sweeping guitar rhythms are majestic and uplifting. The production upholds a frosty atmosphere, whilst remaining crisp and bold. Guitarist Mikołaj ‘M’ Żentara utilizes harsh dissonant riffs, alongside flowing melodies, a feature of their music that makes for such a compelling listen. The tempo changes add a sense of unpredictability, ‘Exercises in Futility VI’ begins with a haunting clean guitar section, followed by a barrage of fast paced black metal riff mastery while ‘Exercises in Futility III’ has a more sinister feel with jarring discords over an austere melody.

Despite the overwhelming misanthropy that is conveyed, Exercises in Futility isn’t as depressing as the lyrical content would suggest, the seamless flow and rousing melodies are emotive and enriching. It’s an album crafted with passion and dedication, which is overtly evident in their music. Mgła have honed a pioneering sound that is now getting the recognition it so very much deserves.

Whilst compiling that albums of the year list, leave space near the top for this one.

 

8.5/10

 

HEATHER BLEWETT

Varathron – The Confessional of the Black Penitents

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A pivotal part of the Hellenic black metal scene along with Rotting Christ, Varathron have remained consistent since their inception way back in 1988. Following the success of last year’s Untrodden Corridors of Hades, the Greek lords of darkness return with their EP The Confessional of the Black Penitents (both Agonia). I use the term ‘EP’ loosely, with a run time of 40 minutes it’s more of a mini album, consisting of 3 new tracks and 4 tracks recorded live in Larisa, Greece earlier this year.

Varathron are as strong as ever, their innovative stamp on black metal continues to flourish as The Confessional… proves.  The title track is atmospheric and alluring, with a ritualistic tribal feel and immediately recognisable growl from vocalist and remaining original member Stefan Necrobyssious. ‘Sinister Recollections’ and ‘Utter Blackness’ further demonstrate Varathron’s aptitude to creating imaginative black metal, the guitar riffs and solos are prominent and catchy, while mysterious chanted vocals in the background encapsulate a Bathory style grandeur that injects a majestic atmosphere.

The aforementioned live tracks are extremely well recorded; as in until the cheering crowd interrupts I was none the wiser it was live, but therefore showcasing how well their music translates to the live environment. ‘Unholy Funeral’ (taken from 1993 Cyber Music debut His Majesty at the Swamp) is a full on rifftastic onslaught, whereas ‘Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon’ takes a mid-paced approach, embracing a more dark brooding atmosphere.

The Confessional of the Black Penitents not only shows great promise for the forthcoming LP but stands alone as a strong black metal record.

 

7.5/10

 

HEATHER BLEWETT

Temple of Baal – Mysterium

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The amalgamation of black and death metal (often referred to as blackened death) has been successfully utilized by many bands; Dissection and Behemoth perhaps the most distinguished. It’s an unholy union that blends the macabre frostiness of black metal with the tempo and technicality of death metal. Temple of Baal hail from Paris and evoke just that with their latest release, Mysterium (Agonia). Despite being active since 1998 they have only released five full length albums and a handful of splits, one of which being alongside the phenomenal black metal band Sargeist. Momentum really got going in 2003 with the release of Servants of the Beast (Oaken Shield) and from then on the band has become more and more prolific, releasing albums every couple of years.

Their chosen theme of spirituality and religiosity is immediately apparent through the track titles alone, with songs like ‘Lord of Knowledge and Death’, ‘Hosanna’ & ‘Holy Art Thou’ being somewhat of a clue. But fear not, this is no Christian metal atrocity as the band clearly state, “Mysterium can be seen as a collection of meditations and prayers over the mysteries of Faith, directed towards the gods of the left hand path”. This prominent theme is further enforced by ritualistic sections interspersed throughout the record, epitomized in ‘Dictum Ignis’ which is an ideal accompaniment to any satanic ritual.

Aggressive and forceful, ‘Lord of Knowledge and Death’ makes no apologies for its brutal onslaught, a devastating riff interrupts the atmospheric introduction and it’s full on chaos from here on out. The riffs are piercing and well layered for a full, thick sound. Temple of Baal are all about variation, not wanting to stagnate they inject their music with different styles and sounds. ‘Magna Gloria Tua’ begins with a disorientating swirl of noise before unleashing some pummelling death metal, whilst ‘All In Your Name’ employs riffs more akin to the black metal sound. ‘Holy Art Thou’ is bursting with malice; the lyrics “Holy Art Thou!” are growled with utter venom. Exceptional fretwork shines through on the album, and is without a doubt the most memorable component, crushing yet technical and melodic, each riff serves a purpose whilst adding vigour and captivating variation.

Mysterium is a spiritual journey down the left hand path of darkness and iniquity, a remarkable journey that is without doubt unforgettable. Bow down and worship at the Temple of Baal.

 

7.5/10

 

HEATHER BLEWETT

Vreid – Sólverv

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The inception of Vreid (meaning ‘wrath’) unfortunately was a result of the tragic loss of Windir’s founder and front man Valfar, who died of hypothermia in 2004. The remaining members chose to continue under the Vreid moniker and have gone on to be a prolific Norwegian black metal band, releasing an album every two years. Sólverv (Indie) marks their seventh opus, an album inspired by their Norwegian heritage and ancestry, a passion embedded within the black hearts of each band member. Perhaps not attaining the same notability status as other Norwegian BM bands that still uphold huge popularity today, such as Satyricon, Gorgoroth, Taake etc, a loyal fan base has remained devoted since the Windir days.

Remaining true to the BM paradigm, Sólverv exudes 90’s second wave black metal nostalgia, with blast beats and fast paced tremolo picking in abundance. A morose atmosphere permeates through, as lead singer Sture’s devilish snarl leads us further into the deep dark depths of hell. At times the rigid black metal elements wear a little thin; however the interjections of synth and none blast beat led track ‘Ætti sitt Fjedl’ offers some release from the relentless monotony. Tracks such as ‘Haust’ and ‘Sólverv’ have almost a Darkthrone-esque quality, whereas ‘Geitaskadl’ is a full on thrash metal assault, full of vigor and bombast. Final track ‘Fridom Med Daudens Klang’ is laden with atmospheric embellishments, a tolling church bell, war sirens, tense drum beat and haunting synth all obscured by an incongruous bass line that kills the premise of the bleak introduction.

The production is a little thin but representative of the minimalistic icy black metal sound that the Norwegians seem to craft so well. Groundbreaking and innovative this album is not; nevertheless it does what it needs to and to a credible standard. Not really pushing any boundaries but solid reliable black metal, which to be honest I never really tire of.

 

6.5/10

 

HEATHER BLEWETT