Behind The Veil – Wolves In The Throne Room on Nature

WITTR Band shot - Copy

Since their inception, Wolves In The Throne Room has made black metal music concerned with the natural world. The band has in the past referred to this as a primal, spiritual aspect to your music. In Part II of Richie H-R’s interview with Aaron Weaver, we learn what this means to him and his brother Nathan:

 

Our music deals with the unseen world – the world behind the veil. I think all music does to a degree, but we do so very explicitly. It’s on the top of our minds when we make music, and of course that realm doesn’t have the same concepts and ideas and tropes and limitations that the regular world, the everyday world, does.”

To what extent is this “unseen world” an allegory, and what to extent is it objective truth?

Well, it’s both. We’re modern people. Of course we can’t deny the reality of the scientific method, and we can’t deny the reality of the laws of physics; this is how the world works, this is the lens we have to look through. But for us as individuals, we also see another reality. We also see a world of energies, entities and spirits that’s just beyond. Shift your consciousness a little bit and this whole other vista opens up, this whole expanse. Think about an experience like… a lot of people today are experimenting with Ayahuaska, the South-American psychedelic brew. When people have these experiences they encounter entities, spirits and forces that feel very much outside themselves and it creates a really powerful ontological question – are there entities, are there spirits out there that have their own existence, their own agenda, or are these things just projections of our own psyches, things that are inside of ourselves, and we’re just looking inside at aspects of our consciousness projected? The answer is both. Or, perhaps more accurately, it doesn’t matter. Trying to pin it down, trying to say it is this or it is that, that’s not a useful stance for me. The important thing to me is experience, whether it’s a musical experience or going out and having an experience in the forest, living life, just being with it and taking it for what it is, letting it take you where it will.”

 

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RICHIE H-R1212

Wolves Unlike Us – Aaron Weaver of Wolves In The Throne Room

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American Black Metallers Wolves In The Throne Room have always been a band with a far greater commitment to atmospherics and ambiance than their peers, but with fifth album Celestite (Southern Lord) they’ve left Metal behind to fully embrace Electronic ambiance. Aaron Weaver, one half of the core duo, spoke to Ghost Cult about spirituality, striving for perfection and how they’re not ready to turn their back on Metal.

 

Celestite represents a significant change from your previous work, in that the Metal elements have been left behind. Do you consider this an abrupt change or a gradual one, and would you say that your musical direction has altered?

Musically, the finished result feels very congruent with what we’ve done before and clearly exists in the same universe. It has the same energy to it, the same spirit to it. When I listen to it, I experience the music as a landscape, a soundscape, to move through, and it feels just like a Wolves In The Throne Room record, like everything we’ve done before. Making it was very different, though. The aim of the record was to put us in a different musical position, to take the aspects of song-writing and record-making that we were comfortable with, the instruments, guitars, drums, vocals, song structure, methods of writing songs, to take all those things off the table and force ourselves into a recording process that was very alien to us.”

 

How much of a challenge was it to express yourself musically without those familiar structures, to write music closer to the paradigm of Dark Ambient than Metal?

Yeah, we didn’t have verse, chorus, bridge, all that kind of stuff. Our Heavy Metal song structures are pretty abstract, pretty sprawling, but we still think about it in terms of a song. With this album we didn’t have that so much. But there is a structure, there is movement from beginning to end, which is different to a lot of Dark Ambient music. A lot of Dark Ambient music, or Ambient music in general, just delivers the listener into an open space that might mutate, might transform, might pulsate, but it doesn’t move – literally – from one place to the next, there’s not a beginning and an end necessarily. On Celestite we do have that, there is a sort of narrative flow throughout the songs and throughout the whole album rather than just having an expanse of sound like you would on a true ambient record.”

 

You’ve previously referenced Tangerine Dream as an influence – would you associate the music on Celestite more with Kraut Rock, then, than with Dark Ambient?

Kraut Rock was a big influence on this album just in terms of the equipment we used, equipment from the 70s and 80s rather than the more digital stuff that you’d hear on Dark Ambient records. There are elements of Kraut Rock, or Dark Ambient music, but also more straight-forward Electronic music. I mean, the harsh, blighted soundscapes in Jeff Mills’ music, Detroit techno music, that’s a big influence on this album, and it always has been. We’ve always been influenced by electronic music, that method of creating soundscapes has always been a thread that’s run in the background of our music, but on this album it’s more to the front.”

 

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You are not the first Black Metal band to walk the path into more Ambient and Electronic territories. Do you feel any kinship with groups like Ulver that have gone before you?

Yes and no. I mean, there are a few good examples from Norwegian Black Metal. Burzum, of course, was infamous for that, though perhaps under duress as he didn’t have his normal instruments available to him in prison and had to crank out a Neo-Folk ambient record. Fenriz too, he had his Dark Ambient band in the 90’s, but honestly it wasn’t something that was a big influence to us. It’s something that we were aware of and it’s going to be a comparison on this album because we’re an ostensibly BM band who’ve done an ostensibly ambient or electronic album, but that’s not where our heads are at. We’re very much in our own trippy little universe.”

 

In previous interviews you’ve expressed a changing relationship with the term Black Metal – initially embracing it, then slowly distancing yourself from it. How relevant do you think that term is to you now?

I feel less and less connection to it, honestly, and I feel that’s purely a function of developing as a musician, developing as a person and as WITTR develops. It’s just very natural that when you’re just starting out, and this is very true for all bands, you’re a sum of your influences and you’re consciously trying to emulate the music and the art that has been inspirational to you. It’s just a natural thing that as time goes on labels and definitions cease to have as much meaning and you do your own thing. I think a band like Neurosis is a good example. They aren’t Punk, they aren’t Crust, they aren’t Doom, they’re just Neurosis and there’s nothing else like them. And though I’m loathe to put myself in that category of a band who are as important and magnificent as Neurosis, I think that’s true for us. There are not a lot of bands that sound like WITTR, or have a similar approach that we do. We’ve carved out a very unique niche for ourselves.”

 

Interesting that you should mention Neurosis as, having taking their sounds to an extreme position with ‘The Eye Of Every Storm’, they then seemed to go back on themselves, returning to the heavy riffs and dramatic song-writing of previous albums. Can you imagine yourselves going back to Metal?

Definitely. That’s been the intention the whole time. If we do another album in the future, we’ll definitely reincorporate guitars, drums and Nathan’s harsh vocals, because that’s really what the band is. Celestite was a necessary experiment. A way of tapping into some new energies to challenge ourselves, to challenge what WITTR can be. But if we do music in the future, we feel very compelled to reincorporate guitars and drums. Of course it won’t be like our first album – it can’t be, we’ve grown and we’re at a new point in our lives – but it’s an idea that’s exciting to me, to bring guitars, drums and the Metal elements back into our music. We’re about creating a space, a sonic space to journey in, to get lost in, and Metal is just a means to an end really. That’s so important to us, to use our music to create the opportunity for the listener to go into a different world, enter a different consciousness – that’s really what this is all about to us.”

 

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RICHIE H-R

A Sound Of Thunder – The Lesser Key Of Solomon

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There is a particularly bitter feeling of disappointment that only comes from realising that an album – though good – is not QUITE as awesome as you thought it was going to be.

When ‘Udoroth’ came thundering out of The Lesser Key Of Solomon’s (Mad Neptune) intro like the vengeance of True Metal – all churning riffs, portentuous keys and Nina Osegueda’s throat-shredding Metal shrieks – I had my 9/10 review half-written already, and there are other moments across the album that are as good.  ‘Elijah’ wouldn’t be out of place on a classic King Diamond album, and the epic swagger of ‘Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb’ is exactly the kind of high that the brilliant artwork promises.  A couple of listens in, however, the initial kick starts to wear off and it becomes clear that these are peaks rather than the general standard.

With the exception of the tracks named above, the album largely sits in a quiet intro/big verse/anthemic chorus format that fits them comfortably but feels repetitive over several tracks.  Aside from ‘Udoroth’ they never hit quite as hard as they clearly can, largely defaulting to a middle-of-the-road Stadium Metal level which works well but feels like they’re selling themselves short. Some of the longer tracks also suffer a little from their own length – closer ‘House Of Bones’ in particular – and succumb to unnecessarily meandering.

I absolutely must stress that The Lesser Key Of Solomon is a catchy, effective and extremely classy collection of stadium-friendly big Heavy Metal songs from a band who are great at what they do. Even as I’m writing this I’m wondering if I’ll regret these words in a month’s time when the album clicks and I realise what a depth of song-writing A Sound Of Thunder achieve here, but at the time of writing it feels like a band who’ve not quite pushed themselves as hard as they could.

Recommended for anyone who likes their Metal pure and unburdened by extremity – and anyone who’s enjoyed the last three Iron Maiden albums – but I hope their masterpiece is still ahead of them.

7.5/10

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RICHIE HR

Trepaneringsritualen / Sutekh Hexen – One Hundred Year Storm

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I love repeating myself as much as the next narcissist, but even I’m starting to get tired of talking about the inherent contradictions in “metallic” Dark Ambient. The Universe doesn’t want me to stop, however, and have sent Trepaneringsritualen & Sutekh Hexen (T&SH – I’m not typing that again) to record a live album. The live album – sloppy, raw and drenched in shouts and cheers – seems the very essence of Metal’s Rock n’ Roll heritage, and the exact antithesis of such a delicate, deliberate style of music as Dark Ambient, but One Hundred Year Storm (Pesanta Urfolk) is a two-track, hour long live recording of Pagan/Ritual Ambient that’s easier to imagine coming from a studio.

The good news is that it works surprisingly well, T&SH building up an effect atmosphere through the use of static, guitar drones and distorted vocals. One reason for the success is that this is much more dynamic than a lot Dark Ambient – though atmosphere is still paramount, each track has a sense of moving forward towards a particular goal.  Things “happen”, to put it crudely, and the music avoids the aimlessness that their peers sometimes fall into. The sound is generally effective, though sometimes a little distant or fuzzy, and the different layers of sound are clearly audible.

As I’ve already mentioned, however, One Hundred Year Storm is a live album – and that means crowd noise. There is something genuinely disorientating about the cheers and clapping that sometimes breaks out during quieter moments. This is music that builds atmosphere and tension – having a bunch of “Wooh! Yeah!”’s intrude upon that is like watching someone doodle a smiley face on a piece of modern art, and can drag you rather awkwardly from the effect T&SH create.

One Hundred Year Storm is a genuinely effective, captivating piece of dynamic Ambient Noise, and possibly a good starting place for Metallers who want to explore this style but fear that it may bore them.

 

8.0/10

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RICHIE H-R

Witch Mountain – Mobile Of Angels

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Six years after the Jex Thoth debut, it seems that the whole “Occult Rock” thing is now calming down to the extent that we can talk about a new Doom-flavoured band with female vocals on its own merits without losing all sense of perspective. An ideal time, then, for Witch Mountain to continue taking Black Sabbath into new realms of emotional depth and maturity.

On first listen, Witch Mountain’s music is at the friendlier end of the Doom spectrum – groovy riffs, clean vocals, mid-paced tempos that never hit the punishing slows or crushing low-end that the genre is capable of at its nastiest. Things change slightly during the middle-section of ‘Can’t Settle’, when the pace slows and the  vocals take on a harsher aspect, but it still has more in common with Witchcraft than Primitive Man. Unlike most of their groovy peers, however, they tend towards longer songs, Mobile Of Angels (Profound Lore) five tracks averaging around ten minutes each.

What really sets Witch Mountain apart from other groove-based Doom or “Stoner” bands, and what makes them worthy of a label like Profound Lore, is the sense of emotional sincerity and power.  These are not just fun collections of catchy riffs, there’s a genuine weight to them, a weight which comes not from distortion or effects-pedals but from really meaning it. A big part of that comes from Uta Plotkin’s vocals. Though initially seeming to lack the blood-and-thunder heaviness that you might expect from a Doom band, they reveal a depth and richness that goes far beyond that.  Vulnerability is a rare commodity in Metal, but all the more valuable for it.  Although different musically, I was frequently put in mind of Karyn Crisis’ clean vocals in terms of emotional expression.

Mobile Of Angels is not the most extreme or challenging album you’ll hear all year, but nor is it another fluffy “stoner” album with catchy grooves and nothing else.  Rather, it is a personal, reflective set of songs that manage to be both accessible and moving, and comes recommended for those who want a bit more emotional depth to their Metal.

 

8.5/10

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RICHIE H-R

Death (Metal) Eternal – Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse

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Cannibal Corpse’s  debut Eaten Back To Life hit the nascent Death Metal scene like a bomb going off, raising the bar for musical and lyrical extremity. Now, with twenty-six years and thirteen albums behind them, they are without argument one of the most influential and consistent bands in Death Metal. Bassist and founding-member Alex Webster spoke to Ghost Cult about the band’s past and future, the current state of their genre and used the words “Death Metal” seven-thousand times…

 

A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade) sees you breaking a run of three albums with producer Erik Rutan that saw a rejuvenation of your sound and are regarded by many as some of your best work. What inspired this change, and to what extent has it influenced the sound of the new album?

We’re very happy with the three albums Erik Rutan did with us – as far as the change to Mark Lewis, we just wanted to do something a little different, to mix things up. The last guy we’d worked with other than Erik was back in 2003, so we just wanted to try something a little different – we just wanted a change of scenery. Erik and Mark are both great producers, they just have slightly different approaches regarding the studio in regard to getting guitar and drum sounds – their technical approaches were different, but their general attitude was the same, they wanted to make the heaviest record possible. In terms of how it influenced us… we go into the studio with all of the material written apart from maybe some extra guitar harmonies or bass parts, so although the producer helps up to find the sound he has no influence on the artistic direction.

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The release of A Skeletal Domain marks an impressive run of thirteen albums, during which you’ve developed your technical skills but not strayed far from the template you laid down on your first three.  That consistency has always been one of the band’s strongest selling points, but can it be a disadvantage?  At this point, how hard is to keep from recycling your own material?

That can definitely happen. What we try to do is avoid that – it’s a conscious effort. If I write something and it reminds me too much of something from the past I’ll make a conscious effort to change it. One thing that is very helpful in this band is that we have more than one or two songwriters. We have four guys in the band who contribute to the song-writing process – you end up having a lot of different ideas, and good variety from song to song. I think that’s one of our biggest strengths – it’s not a band with one song-writer, and I think this album really puts that on display, our division of song-writing duties.
One thing that has always been clear with Cannibal Corpse is that you are technically accomplished musicians who are committed to developing your own playing. Have you ever found the limitations of Death Metal restricting, and have you ever been tempted to follow your technicality beyond those genre restrictions?

We definitely want to stay a full on Death Metal band – that was part of the initial objective of this band, to be the best Death Metal band we could be, and we don’t want to really go beyond the boundaries of DM, but we are looking for things that we haven’t done before. There are certain things that we wouldn’t have done in the past but we will do now. For example, in the earlier part of our band’s career – or more about the middle, I should say, around Gallery Of Suicide – we avoided anything that sounded Thrashy. The gallop-type picking, things like that, and we’ve really stopped avoiding that recently. We’re a Death Metal band, but Thrash is part of our background, you can hear it certainly in our earlier albums – Eaten Back To Life is a very Thrashy album, and there are certain elements of Thrash throughout our earlier stuff, and we just haven’t made any effort to avoid that for the last couple of albums. We thought, why bother – if it’s something that sounds really heavy, why not use it? We felt like there was no reason why a Death Metal band couldn’t have those intricate picking rhythms – it’s a particular sound of Thrash, but if you’ve got guitar players who are good enough to do it, why not do it? We’ve added more of that over the last few albums, and I think it’s added really seamlessly into the overall Death Metal sound that we have. We’re willing to try to add certain outside influences as long as they work well with our sound, and don’t make us sound less Death Metal.

 

One of the things that often comes out in interviews with Cannibal Corpse is your blue-collar background, and the very down-to-earth attitude that seems to have given you to the job of being in a band. Despite the obvious musical differences, in terms of attitude you seem to be a coming from a similar direction to Iron Maiden.  Which bands have been an influence on your attitude and longevity?

That comparison is something that we have thought about specifically… they’re a band that’s done everything pretty much the right way.  I’ve always been impressed with Iron Maiden, they’re one of my favourite bands, and the level of consistency that they have and the level of musical professionalism.  All of their players are great, they’ve been consistent in their music and imagery throughout their career.  I think any Metal band, Death Metal, Thrash or otherwise can look to and be impressed with them.  Obviously our music isn’t like Iron Maiden’s, but we definitely look at their career and are inspired by them, I think any Metal band would be, so to be compared to them is a high compliment and we appreciate that.  Also, if you look at the other successful Metal bands, they have similar things going down – like Slayer for example, who are another band whose career we find very inspiring.  I look to Iron Maiden and Slayer a lot as examples of being consistent, and continuing to work non-stop throughout your career, I find it very impressive.

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In the Centuries Of Torment documentary you talk about revisiting old decisions, and speak quite candidly about some of the choices made by the band in your early days. Did looking back at these decisions cause you to regret any of your past choices?

Any time you look back on decisions you made you’re going to second-guess things.  You can’t do that too much, of course, because it’s too late to change things you’ve done – you need to always keep moving forward.  Doing history DVDs – and we’ve recently worked on a book too – you look at the past a lot, but it’s in my personal nature to keep looking forward.  There’s nothing you can really do to change the past and make it turn put differently, and to be honest all the decision we’ve made in the past regarding personnel… I don’t think we made any mistakes that way.  The choices we made about asking people to leave the band, I think those were necessary choices that made the band better in the long run, but… you know… what changes is the way you handle it.  You’re going to handle decisions differently when you’re forty-four than when you’re twenty-two, but we did the best we could and we’ve never tried to be uncool about things with other band members when we went our separate ways.  We always tried to be professional about it, but we’d probably do a better job now that we’re older and more experienced.

 

The fall-out between yourselves and Chris Barnes was well-documented at the time, but recent interviews with both show a much more relaxed attitude about it.

Yeah, I think that’s a natural thing – everyone’s very upset when it happens, but time heals the whole thing or whatever.  We’re in a very good place with Chris right now, and I think he’s in a good place with us.  Whenever I bump into him in gigs or in Tampa we always have a good time, and we always hang out and talk, so I’d say everything’s in a good place now.

You are often described as being one of the most influential bassists in Death Metal – a title that you’ve sometimes disputed in interviews.  Who would you put on that list?

I would say that, for me, Steve di Giorgio was the guy who inspired me, so I’ve always put him at the top of the list. I learned how to play the way I play by imitating him. Also Roger Patterson from the first Atheist album… there are others who are really great too, Tony Choy, Martin Rygiel who used to be in Decapitated is one of the best bass players out there, Jeff Hughell from Six Feet Under, Erlend Caspersen from Blood Red Throne, Mike Poggione who used to play with Monstrosity, Mike Flores from Origin.  I’m not saying that I’m not good at what I do, but I like to mention that there are a lot of other great ones too, and some of them were very big influences on me.  I’m proud of what I’ve done, of course, but there are a lot of other great players who deserve recognition.

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Another relatively recent development in Death Metal has been the emergence of “Deathcore”, but this has been something of a negative development by many older fans.  Is this just empty elitism, in your opinion, or do they have a point?

You know, I actually have no problems with Deathcore at all, I think it’s just another form of Extreme Metal, it’s obviously very close to Death Metal.  Some of those features are considered a little too…. I don’t really know!  Maybe a little close to something else… for Death Metal purists, but for me they’re similar enough that it’s fine for the two genres to play shows together. I think [the wide variety of sub-genres] just helps validate what a great form of music Death Metal is, that it’s able to have been so strong for decades.
Despite its reputation as something of a monolith, Death Metal has undergone a surprising renaissance in the last few years, with bands like Portal, Ulcerate and  Pyrrhon leading it in some genuinely fresh new directions.  Have you been following any of these bands, and what do you think about the current state of Death Metal as a genre?

There are so many killer bands out there that it’s not always easy to keep up – I kind of need tips on it! I’ve actually not listened to Portal, but I’ve heard a lot about them so should probably just go and buy an album, but there are tonnes of great bands who’ve come out in the past ten years or so, some of them are newer than others. Obviously Psycroptic have been around for a while but there an amazing, super-technical band. Spawn Of Possession I’ve always been really into. Ulcerate from New Zealand. There’s all sorts of great stuff out there right now, and it makes me happy to see all that sort of stuff, really killer technical stuff that moves Death Metal forward. It also makes me happy to see that there are other bands who are keeping it in its original formula and trying to expand by writing better songs. A band like Aeon from Sweden, they’re a technical band but how they develop their Death Metal is through their song-writing. I love hearing the cutting-edge stuff like Ulcerate, but I also love hearing stuff that’s a bit more rooted in the Old School, like Corpus Mortale from Denmark, Hour Of Penance from Italy.

I’m just happy to see that the scene is healthy on all fronts. You’ve got older bands like us and Autopsy who are still going, you’ve got bands coming back like Gorguts and doing a great job, then all these newer bands that are playing lots of different types of Death Metal, and everyone’s doing very well.

 

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Words by RICHIE H-R

Pig Heart Transplant – For Mass Consumption

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Why do we listen to music? The standard answer would be “because we enjoy it”, but the language used to praise “Extreme Music” often suggest the very opposite of enjoyment. We often describe the albums we love as “harrowing”, “inhuman”, “torturous” – to people who don’t know the language of Metal, it’s not clear why these are good things.

With For Mass Consumption (Iron Lung Records), PHT’s Jon Kortland has created music which reminds us why those adjectives are usually reserved for bad things. That much-abused label “Industrial” is the most relevant here, in the form presented by Leechwoman and early Godflesh – cold slabs of alienating, joyless noise generated by guitars and electronics, topped by abrasive shouted vocals and stark aesthetics. This is bleak, amelodic music focussed on repetition and suffocating rhythms.

If you’re thinking that it sounds pretty good, that’s because you’re missing a key factor. In one of the strangest musical decisions since letting Phil Collins sing, every track on For Mass Consumption is around forty seconds long. Plenty of Grind bands have made compelling albums with shorter tracks, but they do this by maintaining a furious pace and layering tracks together so that song-change is essentially key-change. With Pig Heart Transplant, practically every track starts with a slow build-up, gathers momentum until it seems about to go somewhere, then stops and lets the cycle begin again. It’s like an album of intros, to the extent that I actually checked that I hadn’t been sent an advanced release with only samples of each track – but no, this is how it’s meant to sound. It’s frustrating, because there are several moments on the album when they start to overcome the limitations of their sound and build up an effective atmosphere, but it’s over in seconds and the slow build starts again.

No doubt I’m missing the point. Kortland has clearly set out to create an album which alienates, confuses and prevents anything as crass and obvious as enjoyment, and he’s doubtlessly succeeded – I just can’t honestly recommend that anyone listens to it.

3/10

 

RICHIE H-R

Avulsed – Carnivoracity (20th Anniversary Reissue)

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The fact that Spanish Death Metal was never really a “thing” is despite the hard work and commitment of Mr. Dave Rotten. As a promoter, label boss and vocalist, he was the tireless mentor and visible face of Spain’s nascent 90’s Death Metal scene, and still regarded as a hero to many of the musicians and fans who grew up in that scene. With this enhanced reissue of his own band’s first serious release, Rotten’s own Xtreem Music label aims to celebrate not only his music but the scene he passionately tried to build.

Despite Rotten’s obvious passion and commitment, however, the music on this new edition of Carnivoracity (Xtreem Music) suggests a reason why his beloved scene never really grew beyond its inspirations. Consisting of the initial three track EP (two originals and a Pentagram cover) and a further nine live tracks, there is nothing particularly wrong with Carnivoracity. This is solid, competent Death Metal very much in the 90’s American style, and the live tracks sound surprisingly sharp and heavy. The band’s enthusiasm and passion for what they’re doing shines through constantly – Rotten’s between-song banter in particular reveals a man whose clearly doing exactly what he dreams of, even if you can’t speak Spanish.

The problem, such that it is, is simply that there’s nothing special here. There were a lot better bands doing the same thing in ’94, and there have been a great many since. You can hear Avulsed’s inspirations clearly, but on this record they have no identity of their own.

This is one of those releases that it’s hard to recommend, not because it’s bad but because it’s not clear who’d benefit from buying it – fans of Cannibal Corpse, Monstrosity or early Malevolent Creation will enjoy it, but will already own a shelf full of albums that are better, and those who prefer something quirkier or more abstract in their Death Metal won’t find very much here. Hardcore Avulsed fans or Spanish Death Metal completists may want it for the live tracks, but even within Death Metal, they must be fairly niche groups.

5/10

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RICHIE H-R

Empire Auriga – Ascending The Solarthrone

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I’ve written about the somewhat abusive relationship between Black Metal and Dark Ambient before – on the one hand a perfect marriage of aesthetics, on the other an awkward combination of dynamics. Metal is about stuff “happening”, runs the argument against – beats blast, riffs grind, stuff is undeniably occurring in an active and confrontational way; Ambient music, conversely, is deliberately passive and restrained. Nothing happens, to put it crudely, generally on purpose.

Michigan three-piece Empire Auriga’s contribution to this debate is to muddy the waters further, playing an equal-parts hybrid of Black Metal and Dark Ambient in which nothing happens, yet manages to do with a sense of drama. Majestically slow guitars and synths trace out barren, sparsely instrumented abstract shapes, around which echoing vocals and flickering static call out like transmissions from a long-dead star.

One of the first things to notice about Ascending The Solarthrone (Moribund Records) is how beautiful it sounds – the guitars in particular are unbearably fragile and ethereal, calling to mind crystalline structures drifting endlessly in the gulfs between stars. Their sound is pitched perfectly for the atmosphere they’re conjuring, and there are moments of genuine hypnotic beauty. Maintaining a sense of drama and engagement with such deliberately passive music is no easy task, however, and unfortunately they don’t entirely pull it off – over the course of these eight tracks your attention will wander, and for everyone moment that draws you in to its fragile sparsity, there are another two that will just float into the background.

Overall, Ascending The Solarthrone is one of those frustrating albums that’s so close to brilliance, but not entirely there yet. The tone and aesthetics are perfect, it’s bold and distinctive and they’re very much forging their own direction, but ultimately it comes down to a question of style against substance – at present they have bags of the former but not quite enough of the latter. Their masterpiece lies in their future, I think, but until they get there this is an engaging if not entirely satisfying taste of their potential.

7/10

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RICHIE H-R

Midnight – No Mercy For Mayhem

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No matter how good they are, “Retro” bands always raise the questions of validity and necessity – when your aim as a band is to reproduce as accurately as possible albums or styles that already exist, it can be difficult to judge you on your own merits. As the album title suggest, Midnight’s biggest musical reference point is Venom, cut with a hefty dose of German Thrash to sharpen the edge.

As you’d expect from a band taking this route, No Mercy For Mayhem (Hell’s Headbangers) doesn’t fuck around – apart from the contractually-obligated acoustic intro, of course. It’s all razor-sharp riffing, hammering beats and caustic shrieks. The playing is much tighter than you’d expect, and the production lends them both weight and power.

Of course, whatever we say here it goes right back to that question – what do Midnight offer that Sodom, Kreator and, most importantly, Venom don’t – and unfortunately there’s no nice answer to that question. What’s allowed Venom to remain both so influential and beloved (as odd a word as that is in this context) despite their sloppy playing, raw sound and their extremity having been long-since eclipsed is the sheer quality of their song-writing. Midnight can write a sharp riff and turn a song-title into a catchy enough chorus, but there’s nothing on here that even comes close to their own Bloodlust, Countess Bathory or Witching Hour, and it’s hard to imagine many of these songs remaining in listener’s minds for longer than a few spins.

There are going to be plenty of people who love No Mercy For Mayhem, and if you’re happy with some tight riffing and sharp hooks you may well be one of them, but if a band like this is to aim for more than easy nostalgia they need a depth of song-writing that Midnight aren’t yet capable of.

 

6/10

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RICHIE HR