Traces—Reflections of a Forlorn Sun EP (2009)

Traces—Reflections of a Forlorn Sun (2009)

Traces—Reflections of a Forlorn Sun (2009)

Details

Mixed and mastered by Josh Middleton at Shredroom Studios and James Scrivener at Theale Studios. Released on Siege of Amida Records.

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Band

  • Phil Wilson—Vocals
  • Dave James—Guitars (lead)
  • Dan—Bass
  • James Scrivener—Keyboards
  • Sam Greenland—Drums

Tracks

  1. To engulf all creed
  2. In the wake of what has perished
  3. Wreathed in flame
  4. The last cycle of light (instrumental)
  5. Reflections of a forlorn sun

Review

Despite enjoying a fair amount of classical music and, well actual symphonies, it came as a bit of a surprise to discover a few years back that I’m not overly keen on symphonic black metal. Black metal: yes, mostly. Symphonic just gets a bit pretentiously over-dramatic for my liking.

But this is really not bad, from homegrown UK metallers Traces, who later changed their name to Saturnian before splitting in 2014.

The EP is quite progressive in places and stops and starts with James Scrivener’s symphonic keyboards weaving silk-like aural tapestries between the blast-beats and surgically-precise guitars. Track 3, “Wreathed in flame”, is probably my favourite track but then it’s probably also the closest to a fairly pure black metal track on the disc.

“The last cycle of light” (track 4) is a very short and gentle piece that acts as a prelude to the title track “Reflections of a forlorn sun”. The vocals are gutteral and bounce from riff to riff until it morphs into a rather sweet melodic passage with something akin to recitative, lyrics spoken in time to the music.

Conclusion

As Traces’ only offering this is a pretty strong one, and that they were a British band is absolutely to be celebrated. I liked the vocals, I liked the guitars and drums, I really liked many of the black metal elements… but no matter how good they may have been, they still didn’t win me over to the symphonic wing of black metal. Sorry, guys!

Review score: 75%

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Toxic Holocaust—An Overdose of Death… (2008)

Toxic Holocaust—An Overdose of Death… (2008)

Toxic Holocaust—An Overdose of Death… (2008)

Details

Recorded 11 to 20 May 2008 by Jack Endino at the Soundhouse, Seattle, WA. Released on Relapse Records.

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Band

  • Joel Grind—Vocals, guitar and bass
  • Donny Paycheck—Drums

Tracks

  1. Wild dogs
  2. Nuke the cross
  3. Endless armageddon
  4. Future shock
  5. War game
  6. In the name of science
  7. March from hell
  8. Gravelord
  9. War is hell
  10. The lord of the wasteland
  11. Feedback, blood, and distortion
  12. Death from above
  13. City of a million graves

Review

And the award for metal band logo that looks most like some kind of geometric shape jigsaw goes to… Toxic Holocaust, multi-instrumentalist Joel Grind’s speed/thrash/black metal outfit.

This is one of those albums that when I heard the first song my heart sank a little. Opening track “Wild dogs” isn’t entirely representative of the whole album. It has a bit of a raw, punk feel which contorts about halfway through into a fairly palatable early thrash-style riff.

But the rest of the album improves greatly. It has quite an old school thrash vibe to it, in the same way that Evile does. The more the album progressed the more I really began to get into it… riff after riff, twist after twist, classic 80s-style thrash with modern production.

Conclusion

If anything, in opinion this album could have done with a little editing, fewer tracks perhaps, to deliver a more consistent and focused album. As it is, it’s a pretty decent thrash album.

Review score: 88%

Tangorodrim—Justus Ex Fide Vivit (2007)

Tangorodrim—Justus Ex Fide Vivit (2007)

Tangorodrim—Justus Ex Fide Vivit (2007)

Details

Band

  • Heller Larenuf—Vocals, guitars and bass (riffs end vocals)
  • Terno Graderz—Drums (volcano grind)

Tracks

  1. When heirs of the horned shamelessly attack
  2. No light
  3. Cold flame of death
  4. The wolves are also coming…
  5. Justus ex fide vivit (Latin for “The just shall live by faith”)
  6. Without eyes and anything above

Review

This is the fourth full-length album from Russian-Israeli black metal band Tangorodrim. If readers of Tolkien are curiously wondering why the name looks so familiar, the name Tangorodrim (or Thangorodrim) is indeed taken from the Middle Earth world of JRR Tolkien; it means “Mountains of Oppression”. According to The Lord of the Rings wiki:

As Morgoth finished rebuilding Angband, the slag and debris created by his vast tunnelings was plied into three huge volcanoes, collectively known as Thangorodrim. He hastened then to rebuild his forces, breeding innumerable orcs and other fell beasts.

The album, sadly, doesn’t live up to the Tolkien heritage. It is more-or-less black metal by numbers: a treble-heavy mix of transistor-quality distortion played over a bag of jangling cutlery, and sneered over by a Tom G Warrior-wannabe.

Which isn’t a bad comparison. The six track EP reminds me very much of Hellhammer. But while that Tom Gabriel Warrior/Martin Ain early collaboration forged new trenches into the battlefield of heavy metal and embodied a determination, enthusiasm and naivety I don’t sense the same thing here. That path has already been forged. This is not much more than pastiche.

That said, the EP does improve the deeper into it you delve.

Conclusion

If you like your metal served black and with a Hellhammer flavour then I can thoroughly recommend it. However, if Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost are your thing then I recommend you stick with the originals. This is the metal equivalent of buying a fake Rolex from a Singaporean market stall.

Review score: 49%

Transcending Bizarre?—The Serpent’s Manifolds (2008)

Transcending Bizarre?—The Serpent’s Manifolds (2008)

Transcending Bizarre?—The Serpent’s Manifolds (2008)

Details

Co-produced by Transcending Bizarre? Guitars and bass recorded at Alright Studio. Vocals, violins and flute recorded at Underground Sound Studio. Mixed and mastered at Underground Sound Studio, Thessaloniki, Greece.

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Band

  • Kotzak—Vocals
  • Haris—Guitars and drum programming
  • Dim—Guitars and bass
  • S.A. Akis (RIP 2010)—Drum programming and samples

Tracks

  1. Dat rosa mel apibus (intro)
  2. Irreversible
  3. Cosmic zero equation
  4. The serpent’s manifolds
  5. Dimension hell
  6. Cell
  7. Writhing coils of construction
  8. The music of the spheres
  9. The navelless one
  10. Infinite

Review

Transcending Bizarre? are, according to the metal archives, an avant-garde/post-black metal band from Greece. When I think of avant-garde metal, I think of the likes of Voivod, Celtic Frost, Diabolical Masquerade, Opera IX, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. This is less avant garde and more like how symphonic black metal ought to sound.

“Cell” (track 6), for instance, is perfect symphonic metal, reminiscent of when Metallica performed with the San Francisco Philharmonic for their S&M album. This doesn’t sound like disposable keyboard-padding to fill the gaps of a blast-beat frenzy, this is a metal band collaborating with an orchestra and choir together creating a soundscape that is magnificent in its ambition.

But it’s good! It’s powerfully good.

The highlight of the album for me, besides “Cell”, is “The music of the spheres” (track 8) which captures the same mad genius that has infected Devin Townsend in recent years. It is heavy, it is epic, and in places is utterly bonkers. I love it.

The album closes with “Infinite” (track 10), which contrary to the title lasts 9′ 14″ – the longest track on the album. It opens with something akin to one of those lullaby albums where metal songs are interpreted in the style of cot mobiles, before morphing into a full, symphonic black metal explosion of riffs and phrases. Then about three minutes in it quietens to an orchestral, pastoral soundscape and builds again, morphing and twisting with emotional guitar solos, until about two-thirds of the way through the track the ‘anger’ and metal return. And then part way through a riff pattern it ends.

Conclusion

From the cover alone, I wasn’t expecting much from this album. But boy! did it surprise me. This is how symphonic metal should sound. In places it follows the traditional symphonic metal patterns, but for the most part it goes off-piste and takes us on a dangerous and exciting exploration of what else is possible when you mix such different genres of music.

While this isn’t, for me, as clinically beautiful an album as say Diabolical Masquerade—Death’s Design: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2007), it’s still a highly impressive album,

Review score: 97%

Somnus—Through Creation’s End (2001)

Somnus—Through Creation's End (2001)

Somnus—Through Creation’s End (2001)

Details

Recorded in late 2001 at Magnetic North Studios in Cleveland, OH; except “Unfulfilled prophecy” (track 8) recorded live on 16 November 2000 on WRUW 91.1 GM (with bassists Lou Spencer). Engineered and mastered by Christopher S Keffer. Produced and mixed by Christopher S Keffer and Somnus.

Band

  • Scott Hilberg—Vocals, guitar
  • Dennis M Downey, Jr—lead guitar
  • Steve Rolf—Bass
  • Rhiannon—Keyboards and vocals
  • Chris Stolle—Percussion

Tracks

  1. The gate of wolves
  2. Warlock’s feast
  3. Dawn of spirits
  4. Tribunal of woe
  5. The deceiver
  6. Lament for winter’s passing
  7. Creation’s end
  8. Unfulfilled prophecy (live)

Review

Somnus were a gothic black metal band from Cleveland, Ohio, USA, formed in 1996 they played their last show in 2003, two years after the release of this their second album.

In true gothic metal style Somnus’s sound on this album is a blend of heavy guitars, over a pad of orchestral- or organ-sounding keyboards, melodic leads, and a fusion of growling male vocals with floating and fragile female vocals. Think: Cradle of Filth and you’re about 90% of the way there.

The album opens with “The gate of wolves” (track 1), a song that begins with a deep, growl that is joined by drums and guitars and a moment later keyboards. Every time I hear it I imagine the keyboards running up behind, a little late, “Wait for me! Wait for me!”

As the album progresses, I think it gets better. It gets a little more dramatic, a little more progressive, it pulls in elements of folk and pagan metal. But it’s by no means perfect.

“Tribunal of woe” (track 4) is, I think, one of the weakest tracks on the album: the keyboard voice sounds cheap, the drums are a bit of a mess. A couple of tracks on, though, “Lament for winter’s passing” (track 6) has a nice acoustic intro, and while the spoken vocal does sound a little cheesy, it’s quite a listenable, sorrowful song.

The closing, title track has a slow keyboard intro. Growling, spoken vocals begin the narration of the end of creation, “As I walk the path through eternity / Where the stars no longer reign / Fire glows on the horizon / With a trio of moons overhead”. For all its drama, and atmosphere I can’t help but think that this is Somnus’s “Stonehenge” (Spin̈al Tap). I still quite enjoyed it though.

Conclusion

Overall, not a bad album. One reviewer gave it 87% over on Encyclopedia Metallum. I can’t be that generous. Gothic black metal isn’t really my scene, although I do have a fond spot for early Paradise Lost.

 

Review score: 55%

Solgrav vs F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Details

Solgrav: All the music written by Solgrav. Material was recorded at Varjot Audio Studios from July to September 2005, except for vocals recorded in February 2006. “Kristallitaivas” was originally released in Solgrav’s first demo, Pohjoisen hämärän sarastus in 2002, and has now been re-arranged for this recording.

F: All music and lyrics written by Ilpo Heikkinen. Arrangements by Ilpo Heikkinen and Jonas Lindberg. Recorded and mixed during December 2005 by Ilpo Heikkinen.

Bands

Solgrav

  • Halla—Vocals
  • Suopeikko—Guitars, bass, Jew’s harp
  • Noitavasara—Drums, piano, accordion, additional vocals

F

  • Ilpo Heikkinen—Vocals, guitars, bass
  • Jonas Lindberg—Drums

Tracks

  1. Solgrav—Vuoksi
  2. Solgrav—Kaksi sutta
  3. Solgrav—Kristallitaivas
  4. F—Perkele
  5. F—Sokea
  6. F—Irti
  7. F—Kauhusta hautaansa kaivaa

Review

A split EP from two vastly different Finnish metal acts. Solgrav are a blackened folk / pagan metal band from Imatra; F are a brutal death metal band from Kempele.

I rather like F’s logo, although in true black metal style you can’t really read it. It’s simply a deer’s horn that looks like an inverted F. Okay, you can read it but only if you’re looking at it upside down.

Solgrav is Swedish for “sun grave”. The name seemingly comes from an old Finnish myth about a place called Auringon Hauta where the sun falls asleep. There is actually a place in Estonia called Auringon Hauta, which is a small lake that was formed by a meteor strike. And it appears that Solgrav have changed their name from Sol grave (meaning ‘sun grave’) to Auringon Hauta (meaning ‘sun grave’).

Solgrav serve up three tracks on this EP, nearly 20 minutes of music. Theirs is a fairly stereotypical Scandinavian black metal fare with a pagan lyrical twist. There is none of the traditional folk metal, Skyclad-style folk elements of fiddles and hurdy-gurdies, flutes or bagpipes in the mix; it’s straight-up black metal: a wall of distorted guitars that plods along, overlaid with growling, barking vocals.

F on the other hand is a darker and more sinister beast. “Pekele” begins with something that sounds like it is being forged in the depths. But about 90 seconds in it unleashes a relentless barage of snare before settling down to a grinding, snarling, gargling pot of boiling metal.

Theirs is a brutal form of death metal. It takes me back to some of the stuff that I listened to in the early 90s. It is relentless and industrial and primitive and downright brutal. It’s like something from a audio horror film—not a genre that I particularly enjoy, but this is rather good.

Conclusion

I discovered that this was not an EP that I could listen to quickly. I tried to race through this one in order to catch up with my review schedule but I couldn’t just listen to this as background music.

This EP demanded my attention and to be present while listening to it. I’m glad I listened to that, because my first couple of semi-absent listenings left me with the impression that this wasn’t a particularly good disc. I was wrong.

While it is not exactly groundbreaking, it is very listenable and rather enjoyable.

Review score: 75%

Second Shadow—Line Up (Execution Style) (2005)

Second Shadow—Line Up (Execution Style) (2005)

Second Shadow—Line Up (Execution Style) (2005)

Details

Recorded by Hans Eidsgard at Jailhouse Studios, Vennesla, Norway in June 2005. Mixed by Hans Eidsgard and Second Shadow. Produced by Second Shadow.

Band

  • Jon Vassbø—Vocals
  • Preben Mosfjell—Guitars
  • Ramses Argento—Bass guitar
  • Stig Reinhardtsen—Drums

Tracks

  1. Torture
  2. Line up (execution style)
  3. Murder v2.0
  4. Third floor malevolence
  5. Hands of murder
  6. Mind devoured

Review

This six track EP from Norway’s Second Shadow represents their only official release, other than a three track demo in 2004. Unlike many bands their EP doesn’t rework or try to improve any of the tracks on the demo.

Their sound reminds me very much of the Florida death metal scene from the mid- to late-90s. Think: Morbid Angel, Death, and especially Obituary. There is a meatiness to the guitar tone, the bass guitar lurks just beneath the guitars, drums and cymbals rattle alongside, and Vassbø growls away in the foreground.

Like many death metal albums I’ve listened to this is quite formulaic. There’s not much that is new. They don’t seem to bring anything particularly unique on the genre. It’s solid, listenable, but probably quite disposable death metal.

Conclusion

Despite sounding a bit like Obituary-wannabes I rather enjoyed this short slab of Norwegian death metal. If it came on, I certainly wouldn’t switch it off.

One thing about this album to note, however, is that it really does sound much better played loudly. The way metal is supposed to be listened to, right?

Review score: 70%