With California Deathfest in the rearview, the team behind Maryland Deathfest turns its attention to already completed Netherlands Deathfest event next March, less than six months away. Details below: Continue reading
By now we all know what to expect from Finnish sinistras Horna, right? Frozen wastelands due in no small part to a raw, hissing production? Frenetic blastbeats?? Scything tremolo riffs that slice you to pieces??? You’d be bang on, of course.
There’s something a little different, however, within ninth full-length Hengen tulet (World Terror Committee): the Crust groove during the mid-section of opener ‘Amadriada’, for starters, having a ‘B-movie’ Shock ‘n’ Roll feel about it. Spellgoth’s vocal, usually rich with emphysemic qualities that tear my own breath away, here seems much spikier: just as hostile as we’ve come to know, but given a tinnier edge which evokes images of burst larynxes. The ensuing ‘Ajan Päättyessä’ is at times furious, a Punk edge evident in verses with drums high in the mix, the staggering pace of the chorus only met by the sheer conflagration of every element exploding in nefarious union.
Whilst everything here paints those familiarly spectral sketches of icy Scandinavian fjords in the black of night, variation exists in spades: the brooding, almost Doom-like pace of ‘Nekromantia’ is a sinister delight; Spellgoth’s steadily growing, ramshackle roar terrifying the senses. The Trad sections of ‘Tämä Maalima Odottaa’, meanwhile, break up periods of utter bludgeon where careering rhythm threatens to crash into a wall but never does. That ‘on the brink’ accuracy links with lightning drama during the at times mournful, bleak ‘Ikuisuuden Kynnyksellä’: early segments of wonderfully controlled yet flashing speed infuse with shimmering leads toward a second movement of fearful melancholy, and it’s in moments like these where Horna displays true songcraft.
There are dull moments, such as the plodding ‘Sodan Roihu’ and the tempo-changing but largely uninspired ‘Saatanalle’. There’s also a danger that true darkhearts may find the overall product a little jaded but the album’s high points such as the despondent, doleful crush of ‘Hurmos’ with its amazingly powerful, rasped vocal, and the bloodthirsty, ravaging yet intriguing closer ‘Profeettasi’, more than overshadow this threat.
As All Seasons Die (Svart)…happy eh? This Finnish five piece, housing ex- and current members of Horna and Corpsessed, don’t come across as cheerful, and indeed theirs is the most funeral of doom.
Orchestral keys at a snail’s pace accompany the sparse yet crushing riff and drums of ‘A Reverie (Midsummer’s Dying Throes)’, the flattening qualities of the bridges when everything collides together, both awe-striking and ominous, Anssi Mäkinen‘s voice a crawling, seeping growl to terrify the hardiest soul. It is tolling and metronomic with an affecting organ solo a striking, mournful interlude which lingers and carries a titanic beat and riff, that builds the drama, the emotion and the oppression, yet never changing pace. It’s impossible to convey just how staggeringly effective this is, which is remarkable when you consider that there are periods when it seems as if nothing happens.
The reverberating chant of ‘Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn’, delivered as if from God on high, is so gentle yet resonant as to caress the mind whilst cracking you in the face. Mäkinen’s doleful tones induce paradoxical feelings of misery and euphoria whilst initially understated lead work soon becomes the centrepiece escalating to stunningly emotive levels, imitating gulls on a barren shore à la Marillion’s Steve Rothery. It is an exercise in precision and control, yet feels as organic as the Yorkshire moors – harsh, desolate, yet staggeringly beautiful.
As the life cycle ends with the tolling, effortless yet pounding closer ‘The Dire Womb of Winter’, creeping with the speed and stealth of a hunting cat, it really does echo the seasonal despair’; portentous, weighty, and shudderingly affecting despite the occasionally soporific pace. A spearing riff shoots forth at intervals to prevent sleep, and replace the weight in slow motion. Yet when the keys begin to build to the crescendo there’s the slightest quickening, a lifting of mood. A rebirth…?
The disaffected listener who craves more action, the quick hit, is already dead inside. The clue is in the description: life affirming whilst lamenting the sadness of it, this is another winner from Svart.
There is an expected blackened crust-punk feel to Elddop (Southern Lord), the fifth full-length from Swedish quartet Martyrdöd, thanks largely to some lightning paced riffs, a frosted atmosphere and the haunted roar of a ghoul in the shape of Mikael Kjellman. The upbeat feel of ‘En Jobbigt Jävel’ and the jolly riff in the middle of ‘Synd’ lend an element of Alestorm-style shout-a-long to the all-too-obvious Kvelertak comparisons, made especially easy by some ripping solos. There are slower moments, such as opener ‘Nödkanal’ and the opening of ‘Synd’ which add an element of intrigue and gravity, counteracting largely rollicking moments such as ‘Tentakler’. ‘Skum pä väridens hav’ blends the two paces; the almost poignant intro giving way to a careering brute of a track, peppered with lead accompaniments. As with punk, squalling lead flurries run in tandem with some growling riffs and these often help the music stand out from the crashing chaos, which is usual for breakneck black metal.
There are fifteen tracks here and, although it’s a powerful and urgent style with plenty of fire and anger, nothing really sticks out: though with only two of those tracks breaking the four-minute mark boredom isn’t much of an issue. Those speedy leads, often with bluesy undertones, really lift tracks like ‘Varmigens Klockor’ and their constant influence on the brief but fizzing ‘Steg’ give the song character without leaning towards parody. They are a moving influence on the album’s showpiece; the emotive, almost balladic and largely instrumental ‘Martyren’, with Kjellman’s fetid roar a wonderfully effective cameo.
Without those frantic melodies this could in truth be a little wearing, appealing only to those who like the unflinching harshness and emphysemic frost of Horna. The true tale is told as an ‘Ace of Spades’-style solo lights up the coda of an uninspiring ‘Hjärnspoken’. Closing track ‘Under Skinnet’ sees a delicate, often falsetto female vocal add a new and not unappealing slant, some gorgeous harmonies decorating the shimmering black riffs finally shattering the D-beat shackles and displaying the full extent of the invention these guys possess.
Steady and listenable without being outstanding.