Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Below - Across The Dark River (Metal Blade, 2013)

"Across The Dark River" is the debut album from Swedish band Below and they are yet another example of a label signing a group with a minimal track record, in this case the culprit is Metal Blade. Of course, once I found out they play epic doom metal, a style for which I have a great deal of devotion, it was almost inevitable that I would have to invest in a copy even if I did miss their split release with Anguish from last year.

It doesn't take too long into opener "Trapped Under Ground" to realise that one of their major influences is Candlemass, not that this would come as any surprise given the style of music they play, and Below do an admirable job of emulating their forebears. The riffs are suitably dense and monolithic with just enough melody to carry them forward, vocals soar over the top and there are choirs, strings and keyboards to add valuable texture.

As you would expect, everything about "Across The Dark River" has that professional sheen associated with a label such as Metal Blade from the cover art, which is simple yet effective, through to the clarity of sound courtesy of Andy LaRocque, who also contributes a guitar solo to "Ghost Of A Shepherd". There really is little to fault and it doesn't hurt that epic doom is a style of metal where there is an established formula and Below stay successfully within these confines.

In all honesty this is anything but original and adheres to tradition however, given my love for epic doom metal, I couldn't help but enjoy "Across The Dark River" as it contains all the necessary elements to be a qualified success. As the aforementioned Candlemass are slowly going into hibernation and Solitude Aeturnus continue to frustrate me with inaction "Across The Dark River" will amply fill the void as Below clearly have a devotion to respectfully reproducing a classic sound.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Besieged - Victims Beyond All Help (Unspeakable Axe, 2014)

Besieged are a young trio from Canada and "Victims Beyond All Help" is their debut album originally released in a limited run of copies by the band themselves in 2010. Enter Unspeakable Axe Records who have, thankfully, seen fit to reissue the album and a good thing it is as this is one of those releases that deserves to be heard in light of just how good it is regardless of its humble beginnings.

Existing in that murky realm where primal thrash and early death metal meet, Besieged have unleashed an electrifying effort that makes a nice change from the many bands that are plying the "old school" Swedish sound. There is nothing sophisticated about what they do but it is hard to resist the energy and intensity with which Besieged attack their metal and it is these very qualities that make their first album so engaging.

Personally I am not obsessed with stark originality, one could argue that most good metal derives from obvious sources, and Besieged certainly aren't going to defy comparisons, nor should they have to when they can come up with songs like these. "Victims Beyond All Help" lasts a mere half hour but that isn't a problem as it is quality over quantity and the velocity with which they play gives the album all the momentum it requires.

Given that the material here was written and recorded some time ago it now remains to hear what Besieged are capable of next, truth be told it could be a challenge to top what they have done on their debut. "Victims Beyond All Help" is, simply put, a great, unassuming album that delivers just what it should and it once again demonstrates that there are bands out there that have a great deal to offer if given the opportunity to be heard and smaller labels that are there to provide it, a perfect partnership.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Vampire - Vampire (Century Media, 2014)

Vampire are another result of the recent rediscovery of death metal by Century Media, a process which is reminiscent of the days when the label had one of the strongest rosters around when it came to the style. I hate to sound cynical but how long this will continue is hard to tell, hopefully it isn't just a trend or a cynical ploy to gain traction, but we can still enjoy it while it lasts, particularly when they release albums like this self-titled debut.

Whilst I have linked Vampire to death metal it isn't that simple as they certainly don't sound like many of the bands trying to replicate the early Swedish scene, even if they do actually originate from that country. What they do provide is a dark, primal mix of death, black and thrash metal with bit of a punkish outlook that revels in simplicity, often looking further back than the early nineties to when these styles were in their infancy.

From the band name to the cover art there is really nothing overly complicated about what Vampire do yet, despite this, they are not without the odd refinement and it is clear that this simplicity is by design. There is the occasional inclusion of acoustic guitars that act as glimpses of light in the darkness and the production of the album is actually quite warm and balanced, a stark contrast to the music itself.

It's often cause for concern when a band signs to a label after just one demo, as is the case with Vampire, but that doesn't apply here. There are clear references to their influences that appear throughout but that doesn't detract from what Vampire are about, if anything it just adds to their allure and it is hard to resist the energy of the music if taken for what it is, a strong debut from an interesting band.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ancient Ascendant - Echoes And Cinder (Candlelight, 2014)

It is always great to see persistence and dedication rewarded, admittedly it doesn't always happen to those that deserve it but occasionally the stars align and justice is done. Case in point, Ancient Ascendant who have been diligently fine tuning and developing their music over the years and now Candlelight Records has shown the wisdom to sign them and release their second album "Echoes And Cinder".

As someone who has been along for the ride since "The Heathen Throne" I have long admired Ancient Ascendant and the manner in which they go about their business. They are a band that always has a clear idea of their sound but also places a lot of importance on continuing to develop with each successive release, a process that clearly succeeded with the excellent "Into The Dark" hence their well deserved signing.

"Echoes And Cinder" continues the aforementioned trend of steady improvement and it is fairly safe to say that if you enjoyed "Into The Dark" then there is nothing to fear here. Each song is melded from amble abilities, tempered by a healthy dose of restraint, equal parts aggression, melody and complexity with sufficient variety to always retain interest. The use of acoustic guitars on a song such as "Patterns Of Bane" also adds a degree of texture to proceedings.

Ancient Ascendant have clearly achieved great things on "Echoes And Cinder" and it comes at a perfect time, with the support of Candlelight they can hopefully gain exposure to a wider audience. Then again, I like to believe that this would have happened regardless of a label and, due to the depth and talent at work here, the recognition that is so richly deserved would have come their way such is the power of the music on "Echoes And Cinder" and, ultimately, that is what it comes down to in the end.