Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sinister - Syncretism (Massacre, 2017)

We all have those bands that have been a consistent part of our listening habits over the years, holding a special place in our metallic hearts even as our tastes evolve. For me, Sinister are such a band, I would easily rate their debut "Cross The Styx" as one of my all time favourite death metal albums, so it is somehow very appropriate that their latest effort "Syncretism" has impressed me so much a quarter of a century later.

Based on that opening one could suspect an element of bias, and that may be true, but listening to "Syncretism" will quickly demonstrate that, even after all these years, Sinister are still a force to be reckoned with. There is clearly no compromise in what they do and it is this stubbornness that has kept them going for such a long time, through numerous line-up changes, without losing their identity or their aggression, both of which are prevalent here.

Sinister have always had a distinct sound and that is still the case here but there are subtle embellishments such as keyboards which are used to add texture to what is a suitably intense, riff heavy album with a production that adds a degree of power to songs that were never lacking in that facet in the first place. In fact, this is the best that they have sounded for quite some time and there is an energy here that comes through, even making them bold enough to attempt an ambitious thirteen minute song, "Unhallowed Blood", on the two disc version.

It has been a pretty good year for death metal so far and "Syncretism" can be added to the list of releases that ably demonstrate that the "old guard" can still show the new generation how death metal is meant to be. If, like me, you are a fan of their early works then Sinister have provided a truly powerful reminder of what they are, and have always been, about without merely resorting to nostalgia, in the process proving they certainly still have plenty to offer even after so many years of existence.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Aeternam - Ruins Of Empires (Independent, 2017)

Like many, I initially discovered Aeternam through their debut album "Disciples Of The Unseen" which was released by Metal Blade in 2010. Even though it was a solid first effort the union between band and label, for whatever reason, didn't last beyond this album and, after releasing "Moongod" on Galy Records five years ago, they have gone the independent route for their latest endeavour, "Ruins Of Empires".

Over the years their sound hasn't changed but Aeternam have certainly honed their skills and manage to balance the intensity of the metallic side of the music with sweeping flourishes of orchestration and the use of choirs to create an epic atmosphere. Interestingly, each of these sides are given equal standing and there are songs such as "The Keeper Of Shangri-La" that forego heaviness for an almost cinematic feel and, rather than interrupting the flow, it somehow fits perfectly.

For an independent release everything about "Ruins Of Empires" is of the highest quality, the production is clear and balanced to such a degree that it all comes together perfectly which is necessary given the way the songs are constructed. Furthermore, Aeternam manage to do it all without any song sounding forced or amateurish, if anything the soundscapes they have composed help in setting the  scene for the interesting tales that they tell and their death metal remains forceful.

I'm not sure the reasoning behind the split with Metal Blade but it has not in any way hindered Aeternam, quite the opposite as they are operating with complete freedom and controlling their own destiny. Of course, an album as good as "Ruins Of Empires" is certainly worthy of label support to assist in gaining wider exposure but that doesn't alter the fact that Aeternam have created something very special here, in the process demonstrating their ability to thrive and forge ever onward. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ancient Ascendant - Raise The Torch (Candlelight Records, 2017)

Ancient Ascendant are another one of those great bands that have gradually built up their profile the old fashioned way, through releasing consistent, strong music and plain hard work. Of course, as far as I am concerned, they probably still don't get the recognition that they so clearly deserve so hopefully their latest effort, "Raise The Torch", will help in that regard and it should given the degree of quality shown here.

One thing is for certain, describing what Ancient Ascendant do is never any easy task, at their heart they could readily be considered a death metal band but such a tag really doesn't fully capture their sound. Sure, it provides the base upon which all else is built and there is no lack of aggression to be found here but "Raise The Torch" also has a great deal of melody throughout and plenty of groove for good measure.

Even though the music is never really overly complex it more than makes up for this through the constant barrage of strong riffs and varied tempos that are assembled seamlessly, each flowing into the next while remaining on task. Truth be told, this was always a major strength of Ancient Ascendant but it seems that on "Raise The Torch" they have somehow found a way to take it to the next level.

In some ways, "Raise The Torch" is a very apt title as Ancient Ascendant proudly extol what is great about heavy metal and there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm that comes through in the music, even at its darkest moments. If you are at all familiar with what they have done before then there is no reason to hesitate, this is sure to satisfy as the consistent thread that has always been present remains intact, making this yet another excellent album worthy of attention.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Frowning - Extinct (Black Lions Productions, 2017)

With a name like Frowning there is a fair indication of what to expect musically from "Extinct" which is the work of one man, Val Atra Niteris, who performs everything on the album. The follow up to the debut "Funeral Impressions", which was released on Solitude Productions three years ago, is the bands first release for the ever reliable Black Lion Productions and it proves to be a funeral doom album that is worthy of attention.

The challenge that always presents itself with funeral doom is achieving that balance between the slow, despondent undercurrent inherent in the style without losing the listener to boredom in the process. Of the four original songs, that run between nine and twenty minutes, all are so well constructed that their duration is forgotten and the inclusion of Frederic Chopin's "Marche Funebre" fits the album perfectly.

If you are at all familiar with funeral doom then it is easy to find your bearings as each of the songs are deliberate and move at a slow pace, the harmonies are dour yet melodic while the lyrics are delivered in a cavernous, yet somewhat decipherable, growl. That said, Frowning assemble all of these elements in such a way that "Extinct" flows and manage to create a palpable sense of atmosphere throughout that adds to the overall impact.

I would be the first to admit that funeral doom is probably a form of metal that is unlikely to appeal to everybody and is definitely a niche market for the initiated, Frowning definitely have plenty to offer such individuals. I believe the first press has all but sold out so hopefully there is a second as "Extinct" is such a strong release that stays within the parameters of the style, as would be expected, yet does it so well that it stands out in any case.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fjoergyn - Lucifer Es (Lifeforce, 2017)

Let's face it, as hard as one might try, and as much money one spends, it's obviously not possible to keep up with all of the bands that are releasing albums these days and inevitably some get missed as a result of the glut. For me the latest example is Fjoergyn, a German band that has already released four albums prior to "Lucifer Es" yet I have only managed to discover them now, though I am hardly complaining as it has proven to be a revelation

Fjoergyn originally started life as a purely orchestral project but they have evolved into a fascinating band that takes this as a base and incorporates it into a black metal framework where each element adds to the impressive whole. Admittedly this is not a unique combination by any means but the way that it is done on "Lucifer Es" differentiates it from other such releases and shows Fjoergyn to be a cut above the masses with their sophisticated outlook.

Despite its complex compositions and broad scope "Lucifer Es" still manages to exude a gloomy darkness throughout and the use of their native tongue definitely adds to that overall feeling. At times it feels like Fjoergyn are channelling classic gothic rock as well, particularly on "Dinner Met Baal", giving the music additional dimensions and a different perspective on things which only adds to the charm of the album.

I know that it is early but we are near the midpoint of the year already and I am certain that "Lucifer Es" will continue to be a highlight and is sure to make the end of year list such is its degree of quality. Fjoergyn have managed to achieve something quite difficult, a unique identity within a style that has obviously been done to death, and have somehow created an excellent album that retains the core elements of black metal but offers far more.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ultar - Kadath (Temple Of Torturous, 2016)

I discovered Ultar while listening to another fine band released on Temple Of Torturous, Eternal Deformity, and, as one Youtube link led to another, I found myself watching the video for "Azathoth" from their debut album "Kadath". Having seen them described with the "post-black metal" tag, a description that means very little, this single song still provided enough incentive to invest in a copy of the album and explore a growing form of metal that, in all honesty, had passed me by before now.

"Kadath" may be their debut but Ultar are certainly not novices, having released two albums under the name Deafknife, and that experience comes through here as they have clearly put a great deal of attention into how it flows, which is important given the manner in which they do things. Ultar don't go for an immediate impact, instead they let the songs build at a deliberate pace that, even in its harshest moments, retains a strange sense of warmth.

The vibrant, atypical cover artwork that adorns "Kadath" successfully makes a strong first impression and gives a visual indication of what is to come. Given there are only six songs, two of which are short instrumentals, Ultar still manage to successfully incorporate eerie atmospherics and quieter respites amongst the more aggressive metallic moments, culminating in the fifteen minute title track that serves as a perfect synopsis of the album.

One thing is for certain, "Kadath" is not an album that lends itself to instant assimilation and it works best when listened to in its entirety, allowing each song to flow into the next, which I strongly suspect is the way it was intended to be. Russia has quite a prolific metal scene, particularly on the darker side of the spectrum, and Ultar are a fine example of the level of quality that is on offer, regardless of whatever description may be placed on their music.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ade - Carthago Delenda Est (Xtreem, 2016)

I initially discovered Ade through their second album "Spartacus" and it didn't take long for their intense death metal to leave its mark though it probably didn't hurt that they base their concept around the Roman Empire which appeals to the history geek in me. Still, concepts are one thing but it would all be for naught if the music was lacking and this clearly not the case with Ade as their unrelenting assault more than matches the underlying themes they have chosen to explore.

Now signed to Xtreem Music, a label that knows a thing or two about death metal, their third album, "Carthago Delenda Est" ("Carthage must be destroyed"), continues the sound of its predecessor, refines it and then takes it even further. There is still plenty of complexity in the way Ade construct their songs but they also have the ability to build things up or let the elements that give the music depth an opportunity to shine through, "Annibalem" and "Scipio Indomintus Victor" being prime examples of how well this works.

One of the major strengths is the production of the album which carries the heaviness that would be expected from a death metal album while retaining enough clarity to ensure the complexities and orchestration are easily heard. That isn't to say that Ade are lacking in the basic elements as, truth be told, the songs without these embellishments are just as potent, proving that everything else is merely a bonus that provides additional value to the music rather than creating it in the first place.

There are of course comparisons that can be made, Ex Deo for the subject matter, Nile for the incorporation of these influences musically, Fleshgod Apocalypse for the potent orchestration, yet Ade can certainly hold their own among such company even if they are not as well known. "Cartago Delenda Est" is an outstanding death metal album on every level and it will be interesting to see if Ade can continue their development on the next effort though, based upon what they have created here, there really isn't that much more that needs to be done.