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.

Encyclopedia Metallum

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%

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%

Lamort—A cold godless machine (2011)

Lamort—A cold godless machine (2011)

Lamort—A cold godless machine (2011)

Details

Recorded between December 2010 and March 2011. Engineered by David Mays. Head on a stick recordings. Produced by David Mays and Lamort. Mastered by Martin Pullin of Eden Sound, Melbourne.

Encyclopaedia Metallum

Band

  • Alex Williams—Vocals
  • David Mays—Guitar
  • Chris McManus—Bass and backing vocals
  • Reuben Stone—Keyboards and synth
  • Matt Cleary—Drums

Tracks

  1. Cold. Godless.
  2. Mother of sin
  3. Secular conviction
  4. Lord of flies

Review

[Trying to play review catch-up again, so I’ll try to keep this short but sweet.]

I first listened to this four track EP from Lamort in the car. It didn’t really do it justice but I did the gist of things.

My first impression was this: it sounded like how I would imagine it would be if someone was trying to listen to a symphonic orchestra in the concert hall on the other side of a building site. While being attacked by zombies.

Lamort (from the French for ‘death’) is a symphonic black metal band from Australia. Home those other influential hard rock and metal bands such as AC/DC… and erm… that lot.

Transferring operations to my PC and things begin to sound much better than my car stereo had suggested. It’s melodic. It’s symphonic. it’s dramatic. It’s not too bad, to be honest.

Track three had me laughing in my car the other day. At about 4′ 56″ into the song Williams sings, what I first heard as, “I reach out for my shopping knife!”

“What?!” I exclaimed. “What is a shopping knife?” I imagined that the markets round his way are either far more violent than I am am used to, or far more pick your own.

“Yeah, mate! The beef’s all there, just cut off the size of slab you need. You’ll find a kni… oh! I see you’ve brought your own.”

Turns out he was singing “sharpened knife”. That makes more sense.

Despite the almost pantomine (albeit a dark, east end of London, Victorian-era Jack the Ripper-style pantomime) lyrics I rather enjoyed the drama of the final track “Lord of Flies”. It’s nothing like the novel; not as I remember it.

Conclusion

It’s symphonic black metal. It does exactly what it says on the black altar of sacrifice. And it does it was dramatic aplomb.

Despite the poor introduction, I’ve warmed to this cold godless machine. Good effort!

Review score: 75%

Gwynbleidd—Nostalgia (2009)

Gwynbleidd—Nostalgia (2009)

Gwynbleidd—Nostalgia (2009)

Details

Recorded by Michal Kacunel and Tomasz Gajewski at Sia Accoustics, New York City. Mixed by Pawel Marciniak at Manximum Studio, Lodz, Poland. Mastered by Alan Silverman at Arf! Digital, New York City. Released on Black Current Music, 2009.

Band

  • Maciej Kupiszewski—Vocals and rhythm guitars
  • Michal Kacunel—Clean vocals and lead guitar
  • Jakub Kupiszewski—Bass
  • Adam Romanowski—Drums

Tracks

  1. Nostalgia
  2. Egress
  3. New setting
  4. Stormcalling
  5. Adrift
  6. Thawing innocence
  7. Stare into the sun
  8. Canvas for departure

Review

My second (and final) Gwynbleidd recording to review in as many weeks.

First off: the artwork and packaging is brilliant. Travis Smith at Seem Pieces has done an amazing job. It’s earthy and dark, reminding me of some of the early Opeth artwork. The booklet continues in the same vein, with grainy photographs with lyrics printed over the top of them in white, typeset in a scratchy handwriting font.

This album follows the path of the first two tracks on Amaranthine (2006), which took a more death/black metal path (compared with the folk-metal offerings that made up the rest of that EP).

And it’s good: the songs twist and turn in a suitably progressive way, without becoming predictable or clichéd. The album opens with a re-recording of “Nostalgia” from the Amaranthine EP. The following track on that EP, “New settings”, also appears in a re-recorded form at track three. The rest of the album contains, as far as I can tell, new material.

The production on this album is great, which makes such a difference to an album. The guitars are powerful and meaty, with a fine crunch. The bass cuts through the mix, between guitars and drums.

In my opinion this is a much, much better recording than Amaranthine, but then by 2009 the band had about three years more experience, and the songs have had time to breathe and develop.

Track five, “Adrift” is the shortest on the album, at 2′ 45″. It’s mostly acoustic guitar, with a twiddly guitar solo over the top of it.

But it’s back to distortion and growling vocals for “Thawing innocence” and beyond. Though each song (in a true prog death metal way) transitions between dark and light, distorted and clean.

The final track “Canvas for departure” gradually grinds to an irregular, and mildly chaotic standstill to close the album.

Conclusion

I really like this album. It’s well written, well played, and the songs seem to discover themselves, naturally cutting a path that uncovers beautiful clean arpeggios alongside full-out death metal riffs.

I guess if you’re really upset that Opeth have taken a left turn into 70s-inspired prog rock, and you’re in need of a fix of good old fashioned progressive death/black metal then turn your sights on Gwynbleidd. Though, to be honest, you currently only have this album and the Amaranthine EP to chose from, and this album far outclasses the latter.

Review score: 95%

Gravehill—Metal of Death / Advocation of Murder and Suicide EP (2008)

Gravehill—Metal of Death / Advocation of Murder and Suicide EP (2008)

Gravehill—Metal of Death / Advocation of Murder and Suicide EP (2008)

Details

Recorded, mixed and engineered by A. Vorgaloth at Helheim Studios from March–April 2008. Released on Enucleation Records.

Band

  • Mike Abominator—Vocals and Bass
  • Bodybag Bob—Guitars
  • Vorgaloth—Guitars
  • Thorgrimm—Drums

Tracks

Tracks 1–3: Metal of Death EP
Tracks 4–5: The Avocation of Murder and Suicide EP

  1. A promise made in heresy
  2. Purifier of flesh
  3. Ravager
  4. Murder
  5. Suicide

Review

I’m running behind this week, on the run up to Easter. It seems somewhat wrong to be reviewing a black metal album in Holy Week, but here we are.

I seem to be on a run of black metal albums these days, in my alphabetical stomp through the yet-unplayed 195 metal CD collection. I’ll be journeying through ‘G’ for the next month or so.

But this ‘G’: Gravehill, is a death/black/thrash metal band from Anaheim, California, USA. This is a compilation album that was put out a couple of years after the band reformed.

It’s a decent enough album, but nothing particularly groundbreaking, which is ironic given that’s literally what you need to do to dig a grave.

In many ways it’s extreme-metal-by-numbers. The first few songs have the production-feel of a slightly modernized Show No Mercy (Slayer, 1983) or Hell Awaits (Slayer, 1985) with some elements of Obituary thrown in there too for good measure.

The last two songs “Murder” and “Suicide” have a slightly different feel. “Murder” reminds me a bit of Gorefest for the most part, until it hits a groove around 2′ 30″—definite headbanging fodder.

“Suicide” sounds like Gravehill have swallowed the Celtic Frost back catalogue. That said the ‘chorus’ sounds like it was lifted from Testament’s “COTLOD” (Curse of the legions of death).

Conclusion

This compilation seems to get better the further down the track listing you find yourself. I’d like to hear some of their newer material, because this early stuff shows definite promise.

Review score: 65%

Diabolos—The Three Mothers EP (2006)

Diabolos—The Three Mothers EP

Diabolos—The Three Mothers EP

Details

Recorded autumn 2005. All songs written and arranged by Diabolos. Features a bonus live video of “Day of the Beast” taken from the To Appease the Beast festival, December of 2005.

Band

  • Undead Torment—Vocals and guitars
  • N. Eihon Fiend—Bass guitar
  • Murder Machine—Drums

Tracks

  1. Fall of the house of sighs
  2. Inferno tenebrarum
  3. Lacrimosa
  4. Day of the beast (live video)—taken from the To Appease the Beast festival, December 2005.

Review

One of the main barriers to more people appreciating metal, and particularly sub-genres like black metal is that, besides the music sounding aggressive, to many it just sounds like a bunch of shouty men, playing loud guitars, and hitting things while rattling a bag of cutlery.

Dismissing the genre out of hand so readily, the opportunity is missed for the listener to appreciate the subtleties of the music: the arrangement, the often simple melodies that weave around the pounding rhythms, how the gruff vocals add an additional layer of texture to the already abrasive music. There is no opportunity to appreciate that artist’s heritage: to listen for influences and build an appreciation for where in the great metal family tree that particular band sits.

Of course, that all said… it’s just such a shame that this particular album sounds very much like a bunch of shouty men, playing loud guitars, and hitting things while rattling a bag of cutlery.

It is an EP, though, so it’s over and done quite quickly. If you’re not forced to watch the “Day of the beast” video on the CD-ROM that is. Which is… well, much the same but with pictures.

To be fair, it’s not all shouty-loud-hitty-rattling. The first two songs begin with an extended sample each from an odd-sounding couple of films: behind the door of the first track is hell, seemingly; the second track brings you to the end of your journey where you meet the three mothers themselves. And then the song kicks in. The noisy mothers!

Conclusion

I couldn’t find terribly much to enjoy about this album, to be honest. It was just raw, thrash with black metal lyrics and a terrible production.

I hate giving bands bad reviews because I know what it takes to be in a band and there is skill there, and talent, and dedication. And I know all that and I do appreciate it. But at the end of the day, I also didn’t really enjoy the album. It’s just a shame I can’t keep the cutlery.

Review score: 20%