Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Opeth - Pale Communion (2014) / 95%

Another masterpiece signed Travis Smith, a triptych of darkness and beauty.

Opeth Above, Everyone Else Below

I think it's a normal endeavor for any bands with long careers to change or to evolve to use a pretentious expression that can irk some people calling themselves purists. Sure, I can appreciate the persistence to craft your formula during decades of hard work like Motorhead as been doing. They won't stop till Lemmy is dead and buried (yes, this will happen one day, Dio save my soul). I guess you know where I'm going with this, it's a no brainer, really. Opeth, since their magical first album in 1995, has been progressing, has been building an impressive (and without any weak albums) discography. The band turning into a full fledged progressive rock unit was only the logical step they had to take. A step Opeth aficionados were expecting since Åkerfeldt is a big time prog fan.

Here's Pale Communion released three years after the divisive Heritage, an album which (to my complete disarray) managed to confuse a lot of metal fans even though it was clearly announced that it was putting aside the harsh vocals the death metal guitars beforehand. Watershed was a transition album but I'd also say that Heritage is also one of these releases, so I guess that growth took two albums! While I liked their 2011 album, I reckon it has its fair share of weaknesses. It really took me a while to get into it before I reach the conclusion that it was essentially enjoyable only with headphones, it had a lot of buried subtleties like flute solos and ethnic percussions. While it was basically a progressive rock album, it was certainly an Opeth album, this was as loud and clear as when they released Damnation already more than a decade ago. There's no constraints of any sorts that would undermine their identity, it can only reinforce it. This new album flows in the same direction as Heritage but improves the method and form that were explored previously.

Pale Communion is perhaps heavier since the guitars regained some of their distortion but it's not as instrumentally inclined and atmospheric as Heritage. This was the main wrongdoing of this album. It tried too hard to be intricate by incorporating jazz and folk influences (see both bonus tracks, especially "Face in the Snow") but everything is forgiven with this new album since they managed to include said elements in a better way. Even though there's an instrumental track ("Goblin"ン named after the Italian prog legends), it's not padding, it's an emotional song with great drumming and some Tangerine Dream-esque keyboards. Throughout the eight songs, we see Opeth being at ease with their progressive rock and the songwriting simply rocks. If you were expecting a metal album, you've been living underneath a shitload of rocks, fellow. The fellow Swedish band Beardfish (highly recommended) are probably heavier than Opeth nowadays, they should tour with them instead of fucking In Flames. Damn you Swedish nepotism!!!

One of the great strengths of this record is its excellent cohesion, everything fits together and it's apparent that Mikael Åkerfeldt (the team's captain) as a Scandinavian played with Lego when he was a child since the sound blocks are so well connected. There's no out of place tracks like "Slither" on their previous album, it's stylistically strong and it has no useless filler interludes like Heritage had. I think building a varied album that feels so cohesive is the true challenge but this time, it was a success. From the folk (almost Neil Young-esque) intro of "River" to the heavy organ instrumental half of "Eternal Rains Will Come"), there's a definitive diversity to be found here but it's all wrapped under a huge blanket of talented editing and coherence. I think the folky side of Opeth should be investigated, a totally acoustic album (like Kimi Karki of Lord Vicar did) would be a dream come true for the fan boy that I am.

The metal remnants are mostly in the typical Opeth guitar leads that have been the bread and butter of the band since Still Life. The ten minutes track "Moon Above, Sun Below" is a pretty good embodiment of the whole album, it features the occasional acoustic guitars and an immense keyboard presence (the debut of Joakim Svalberg replacing Per Wiberg.) The vocals are probably the strongest clean ones Opeth ever had, there's loads of back vocals supporting the delivery of Mike (including his potential English male lover Steven Wilson.) These vocal harmonies (listen to "Cusp of Eternity") are one of the clear highlights of this album, it's catchy, surprising and really enjoyable. There's even some more gritty hard rock vocals here and there. The Swedish musician always had a genius flair for vocal melodies and we clearly see him expanding his clean vocals abilities to the maximum of his capability on this record. He's confident and it's obvious.

The organ tone does wonders alongside the (always excellent) guitars. Martin Mendez's place in Opeth has been more subdued in the past, he's quite excellent in the closer "Faith in Others". I like his contribution, he's more engaged and has more place to grow than before. Axenrot's drumming is perhaps the best of his career, he had to endure some criticism since he replaced the beloved Martin Lopez (who was rumored to play on two songs on this album, but there's no credits confirming that) but I think he proved that he can really play softer and that he's not only good as a death metal drummer (see Bloodbath). Akin to the songwriting, his playing is intricate, subtle and interesting. 

While I'll admit I'd like them to go back to a death metal sound with growls, I like this a lot anyway. I don't want to release Ghost Reveries part 2 anyway! Mikael said he had composed ten minutes metal songs for Heritage (on the album's making of on the bonus DVD) but deleted them because he didn't feel like it. There's no point in lying to yourself and record metal because that's what your fan base wants. Even though it's not metal, it still has a fairly dark thematic that I can admit could create some sort of dichotomy with the harmonious & melodic musical elements. I mean, there seems to be no reasons to write for Mikael these sad, depressive lyrics, he's one of the most acclaimed and successful musicians of his generation! Be happier, Mike! (who the fuck am I to tell him what to do?) These two extracts are still as dark as their metal albums:

"There comes a time when the river runs dry
Winter comes and we sacrifice
Our lives"

"Out through the doors of starvation
And into the rains of damnation
Where the bitter winds are singing"

In a recent interview, Mikael said: "when you have children you start to worry about things. So I ended up being a worrier." and I can definitely see a difference in approach compared to his early lyrics when he was in his twenties. I can understand this sort of personal yet universal darkness that could plague anyone. Opeth will remain a dark band, no matter what and that's fine. Frank Zappa's silly but funny lyrics won't fit the instrumentation and the personality the band has been creating for more than two decades.

There's still certainly a lot of melancholy like the closer "Faith in Others" with its beautiful piano parts. There's a lot of seventies rock influences but it's earnestly well integrated within what is without an ounce of doubt a progression of the band's identity. There's almost no bands who achieved to sound as unique as these Swedes. Another thing I liked is the somewhat restrained compositions. Opeth is well known for their stretched out river songs but Pale Communion has short songs based on their former standards and there's absolutely no time wasted anywhere and the calm moments are much better than on Heritage or even Watershed ("Coil" included). 

Surely not the album you need to hear to get into Opeth and not an album for die hard metal fans (well, all their discography is hardly for them anyway, they're not bullet belts and sunglasses war metal), Pale Communion succeeds at the task of continuing a comfortable evolution. It revitalized the faith I had somewhat lost in them but deep down, I always knew they were gonna release an essential prog rock album and they just did. I'm just sad I'll have to wait another three or four years to get another album! I've missed their tours for the latest album but I won't miss the upcoming one as it will be a marvelous Christmas offering for my senses.

A great album by a band with nothing but everything to prove. They proved their worth as a prog rock band before but with Pale Communion, they cemented that fact in my eyes. 

tl:dr: Mikael Åkerfeldt is Jesus.

P.S. oh, the two bonus tracks on the Blu Ray disc are quite good, both live covers including a pretty nice rendition of Black Sabbath's classic ballad "Solitude".

A nice interview with Jesus.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Interview with Sami Hynninen (Opium Warlords, ex-Reverend Bizarre and many more)

Metantoine's Magickal Realm: I see you as a grand wizard part of the doom metal council at the top of some white towers, I know you've been kind of inactive in the purest tradition of the genre but what do you think is the state of doom in 2014? I personally think some of the innovations (see Pallbearer) are tacky.

Sami Hynninen: Yes, it is true that I am out of the scene in many ways, also as a follower of actions of other bands. I have heard some of the newer ones, but nothing really mind blowing, I am sad to say. 

Of the ones I have heard, I liked the ultra rough first demo of Doomsower a lot. Finnish band Carnutian also did an enjoyable demo, but then ceased to exist. I like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeat's “Mind Control”. I was bit puzzled with their massive following in Roadburn 2013, and did not quite get the thing, but that album turned out to be good! 

Pilgrim's debut album was delightful too. I think they are, or at least were on that debut – I have not heard the second album! – the only band that has succeeded to continue what we did with Reverend Bizarre, but even they lack, in their fantasy based themes and more coherent sounds, some lunacy and danger that was essential for our work. Good for them though, as the basis for that insanity and violence was in our bad life as a band. And I am not saying that they should sound exactly as we did, of course not –  but they almost did! Except that they can actually play their instruments.

In my ears Pallbearer is bit too soft to really attract or interest me.  I listen to many different kinds of music, but there has to be some element of roughness there. Some dirt. But I do not want to put anybody down as I am not “there” anymore. They have some echoes of Warning's magnificent second album, don't they? But then again for ME that has already been done. And even with Warning I liked the earliest material – “Revelation Looms” and  “Blessed by the Sabbath” – the best, when it comes to DOOM. That second album is something else; one of its own kind. Very emotional masterpiece! 

The state of doom in 2014 is good at least on that level that we are doing the fourth Spiritus Mortis album hah hah hah!

MMR: Taste my Sword of Understanding was pretty different for your solo project Opium Warlords (less experimental) from the first two albums mainly because it was composed while you were still in Reverend Bizarre. What will be the influences for the fourth upcoming album? Are you gonna return to a more droney/avant garde sound?

Sami: Most of the stuff that you have heard from Opium Warlords so far already existed when I was still in Reverend Bizarre, so that is not the explanation for “Sword” being as it is. It is as it is, because it has to be like that, in the larger continuation of Opium Warlords. In the bigger picture; I have not had a period of doom metal or period of black metal or noise, or what ever, when I would do only that one thing. It all comes all the time! Songs can wait, in the most extreme case, for almost twenty years before they come out to the audience. 

I started my career as an experimental musician, and for me Reverend Bizarre was all the time a “side project”. I myself saw that my main thing is this other kind of music, but I did not have time to do it, because of RB, so it was waiting there inside of my mind to finally explode out of me. Now is this time! I have music inside of me for the next ten years.

Of course I have been doing new stuff also, all of these years, so basically Opium Warlords albums consist of old material, and some new spices, but it is impossible for anyone outside of our circle to try to figure out any chronology in these albums. An album that will come out in 2017 may have older material in it than  the album that came out in 2012. 

However, you ask this question in perfect possible time as the next Opium Warlords album actually has all the material written after the times of Reverend Bizarre. And it IS a return to that droney/avantgarde style! I recorded the main bass tracks in 2007, and now in 2014 we will continue this process! 

One correction to a subject that seems to follow me where ever I go: Opium Warlords is NOT a solo project. The fact that one guy plays bit more instruments, does not, at least for me, make an album a solo album. I am the songwriter and the main producer, but I do not work alone! And even with RB and the Puritan I wrote and arranged most of the music and just showed others what I wanted them to do. When saying this I do not want to take away any thunder from the other guys though! Their souls are still there 100%!!!

MMR: What can you tell me about the next Spiritus Mortis' album? It was fun to hear your vocals in a traditional doom metal band again, it's perhaps the only remaining link to your days in RB.

Spiritus Mortis' The God Behind the God
Sami : Musically it will be everything you wish it to be!!! It really kicks some ass! Lyrically I am going to step out of the story telling style of “The God Behind the God”. I am not a big fan of this story telling in the first place – as a writer –  but with that album I wanted to go to the deepest traditions of Heavy Metal. I would not be able to do that kind of lyrics better than I did there, so it makes no sense to stick to that lyrical style either, so now I will write in the way I did with Azrael Rising; free form metal lyrics with some abstract and surreal elements. Thematically I am in the world of two obsessions: necrophilia and black magic. 

I know that many people are waiting to hear “normal” heavy metal vocals from me again, and to be honest, I am for the first time in my life bit anxious about these expectations. It is almost like how I would feel if RB would return! How can I top what I have already done? But I guess when it is about the time to record those vocals I just do as I always do; go inside the lyrical world and deliver what is needed.

By the way, talking about these links, I have one album for Opium Warlords which is like Reverend Bizarre turbo boosted with some serious progressive rock hah hah! It won't be done in the next few years, but when it comes I think some of the more traditional oriented fans, of what I have done, should be rather happy! But I do not see it as my purpose, to try to please these old timers hah hah! I just do what I want to do. And what I have to!

MMR: I thought Orne was particular since it has the whole RB trio (albeit you consider your involvement to be as a session vocalist), how was it to work with Kimi's dark proggy folky compositions?

Orne's debut album The Conjuration by the Fire
Sami : Well, that first album was done when we were still RB, so it was not so different from how things went with us. Except that, as you say, I was a session man, so basically I did what Kimi wanted me to do. I went through very dark times in my private life during that day the vocals were recorded, and I think that it can be heard there too. 

The second album was a different case. At first I was not even about to do the vocals, but then I talked with Kimi about the situation with the vocalists, and it became quite clear that with some other vocalist it would not be exactly what he wanted to have, so I thought about it for a while, and then agreed to do the vocals. In the first place it was a question of helping him out of the situation, but also about the album of course. The material he had for it, did not feel as close to me as the first one, which I liked a lot right from the beginning, but with few modifications we were able to make a good album of that second one too.

MMR: The dissolution of your old band and your will to work on more obscure genres lead me to believe that you could like this question. Do you think the life of a musician is in turmoil nowadays? The way you need to live on the road to truly succeed is as an example of being part of an industry. We see the creations of many solo projects (it's easier nowadays to work on music with all these digital tools.) I think there's many changes to come with the evolution of technology (a curse or a plus?), what do you think about that?

Sami: I feel lucky now that I was there early enough to start with analogical 4-trackers and cassettes, and when I went to the studio it was analogue too! The first RB albums and KLV stuff, were recorded and mixed with completely analogue system. Sometimes in the mixing – which was all in realtime – more than two or four hands were needed, so me and Void joined the engineer there on the board. It was a good school for us! Also for the playing. You did not get endless chances to fix something as the tape started to break down, and what was even more important: you could not edit the tape! You had to play the whole song, and if you fucked up in the end, you had to start again. It really was hard for the nerves.

Digital recording has many benefits but it has also caused me enormous stress. What ever can happen when you work with 0's and 1's.

For artist like me who do NOT do gigs these new times are harder, as it is true that only by being on the road and selling merchandise you can make any money. But I just have to try to go on.

MMR: You've worked as a graphic artist (Jex Thoth, Fall of the Idols...), I really like that work, you seem picky (nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary) with the bands you choose to work with. Is a shared vision important when you accept to design or draw something? Furthermore, what kind of vision or people you prefer?

Jex Thoth's Blood Moon Rise
Sami: With the bands I worked with it was my own vision that I followed. Of course I asked for the title and in the best case I got to hear the music, but only with Furze I strictly followed the vision of the band. In other cases I just maybe got some wishes or details that could be there in the sleeves, and of course I did my best to add them there. It is not like I put down the ideas the bands had, but usually they did not have anything special, and they knew how I worked. 

I am not one to work as a member of the group, but for example with Jex Thoth I have what might be called a spiritual connection. I somehow KNOW what she wants.

I prefer many kind of visions. There have been, and still are, many geniuses among the masses of so called ordinary people. I get mesmerized very often with some great piece of art, or film, or album. Right at the moment I am mesmerized by couple of bands, Iceage from Denmark, and Oxbow, Karp and Pyrrhon from America, as well as At the Gates' first album.

                                   Furze's Psych Minus Space Control

What kind of people I prefer? I try my best not to harass other people. I expect this from the other people too. I prefer those geniuses I just talked about. People with vision, either in mind or heart. Or both. Spiritual, but open minded people. People who do not hurt animals, or rape nature. And people who make it possible for me to continue my work; the audience!

Bonus Question!

MMR: I'm fascinated by the music and culture of Finland (I did a whole series about Jussi Lehtisalo's projects). What are your favorite things about the country as of recently? Food, hockey, movie, anything really!

Sami: Nature. Language. Some art, literature, cinema, music, and archtitecture. But for me this is not any kind of paradise really. The atmosphere is rather heavy. Still, as long as I can't live in somewhere in the aristocratic British country side or luxury regions of London, or under the sun of Florida, I rather live here, as I know the language pretty well. Not that I would use it much in conversations hah hah. So why am I here actually anymore? I like Jussi Lehtisalo! That is one reason. 

MMR: Thanks for accepting to do an interview with me, it's fun for a small blog like mine to have this opportunity. 

Sami: I often rather be in these smaller circles than in the big business, and  their big magazines. This interview verifies why it is so. Thank you! 

Useful links: 

Opium Warlords on Tumblr
Opium Warlords on Metal Archives

Review for Opium Warlords' latest album: Taste my Sword of Understanding
Review for Reverend Bizarre's So Long Suckers

Opium Warlords' debut album Live at Colonia Dignidad

Monday, 25 August 2014

Interview with Jussi Lehtisalo (Circle, Arkhamin Kirjasto, Steel Mammoth, Krypt Axeripper and more)

Jussi Lehtisalo is the leader and the only constant of the seminal experimental rock band Circle from Finland. Outside of this long running project (almost forty albums under the moniker), he's in plenty of interesting and oddly named bands like Krypt Axeripper, Steel Mammoth, Motorspandex or Arkhamin Kirjasto and is also the man behind the eclectic Ektro Records label. He's one of my favourite musicians and interviewing him was an opportunity I couldn't ignore. I reviewed some of his projects and I have so much ask to ask him! Tag along!

METANTOINE'S MAGICKAL REALM: I hope it's nice in Pori right now? I have a friend who's visiting Helsinki at the moment and he enjoys the Finnish sauna experience. I hope I'm not disturbing you with these questions!

JUSSI LEHTISALO: Pori is a quiet small town in Finland’s west coast. It’s active just for ten days a year during the world-renowned jazz festivals. I’ve witnessed for example Urban Sax and McCoy Tyner, so there’s definitely great things going on in there. You’re not disturbing me at all. I’m touched when someone is interested about things up here in the north.

MMR: The recent Circle situation is pretty confusing, the project changed its name to Falcon (ex-Circle) and released an excellent AOR/hard rock album but also kept the Circle name and released an album called Incantation which was basically a doom/death metal record featuring the entire lineup of Pori based death metal band Stench of Decay. But now, the true Circle resurfaced with your usual experimental blend with Leviathan. Care to explain all these lineup changes?

JUSSI: In short, it’s a brand research. Which is more important, a work of art or people behind it? Are artists free or slaves to their brand?

MMR: Circle is well known for its constant experimentation and its huge discography. What are for you the most important albums this project has created? Is there some experimentation that you thought worked better than others? I can think of the acoustic elements in the latest album Leviathan, the drone of Mountain or the heavy metal/glam or the psychedelic rock/proto metal of Sunrise.
If you were to meet someone who never heard Circle, what would be the first album you'll show to him/her?

JUSSI: Circle’s records are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and the whole picture unfolds only as the pieces don’t get together smoothly. I’m intrigued by the sober plunge of Miljard and the shapelessness of Infektio, as well as the versatility of Manner and the agility of Leviatan. I recommend people attend Circle concerts in a happy frame of mind.

MMR: You worked with Bruce Duff from Jesters of Destiny in Circle (Hollywood) and Pharaoh Overlord (the excellent album Out of Darkness) and your label recently re-released their cult classic album. Considering this, with what other veteran musicians would you like to work with?

JUSSI: Here’s a few of my favourite musicians: Mark Shelton (Manilla Road), Jimmy Page, Christian Vander (Magma), Mark Lanegan, Kaija Saariaho, Läjä Äijälä, Jaki Liebezeit, Robert Hampson... Circle is a dream group for me, so things are looking very good.

MMR:-You released a single with Chris Black (Dawnbringer, High Spirits, Pharaoh...) under the name Aktor (I really liked it!) How did you manage to form a band with him? It's mainly a long distance project, right? And also, can you tell me about the upcoming album for this project. It will still have the awesome Blue Öyster Cult influences, I hope? I met Black at a High Spirits event and he said he's writing the lyrics so I guess you compose the music?

JUSSI: It’s been really great and easy to work with Chris. Aktor’s forthcoming album is in the home stretch now, and it’s going to be brilliant. On the other hand, I’ve always thought the records I’ve made have been suberb, but that’s gone unnoticed by the wider audiences. The riffs on the Aktor album are at times a bit weird, but I hope it meanders somewhere between Jesters of Destiny, Molly Hatchet and Angel Rat era Voivod.

MMR: I'm a big fan of all your heavy metal projects such as Krypt Axeripper, Motorspandex or Steel Mammoth. There are many similarities between them, and I like the fact that they all have their own names, but why is that so important to you? I mean Tractor Pulling is pretty damn similar to Krypt!

JUSSI: I wanted to build a whole NWOFHM scene, but I was pretty much the only one who got excited by the idea, so I decided to start 10–20 different bands. The bands sound alike to some extent because I’ve done all the riffs at least for Krypt Axeripper, Mercedes Hell, Tractor Pulling, and Motorspandex. I have in my drawer new EPs of almost all of the abovementioned bands, but I’ve been wise enough not to release them.

MMR:Arkhamin Kirjasto explored a more extreme side of metal with its groovy death metal sound. What influenced this project?

JUSSI: Metallica’s Kill em´ All, Xysma, Morbid Angel, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Slauter Xstroyes, Otis Reaper...

MMR: I always liked the NWOFHM (New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal) tag, I believe it was your idea, am I right? I like the tongue in cheek feel it has and like the NWOBHM tag, it includes a wide variety of your ideas and sounds. Can you talk a bit about that?

JUSSI: With Tractor Pulling, I did my best to make music like Antiseen and Accept. Krypt Axeripper was meant to sound like Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and Cloven Hoof. Motorspandex was influenced by Brocas Helm and Rudimentary Peni. With Mercedes Hell, I dreamt of crossbreeding Satan and newer Darkthrone, but as I’m such a helpless heavy guitarist and singer the influences may not always be audible. But nowadays I’ve developed into an outstanding riff machine, so it was worthwhile to do these experiments.

Favorite Finnish meal that everyone should know about: reindeer meat, mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.
Favorite beer: BrewDog Dead Pony Club.
A beer to try!
Favorite movie(s): Satantango (Bela Tar), Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky), Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard).
Favorite rock album of all time: Jesters of Destiny’s Fun at the Funeral.
Favorite metal album of all time: Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.

Favorite Finnish hockey player (Teemu Selänne!!!???): Tapio Levo, Veli-Pekka Ketola, Mika Niemi.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Young and in the Way – When Life Comes to Death (2014) / 90%

Ass kicking foray into crusty black
Wheeeeeeeeen life comes to deaaaaaath!

I've been discovering the metallic hardcore/powerviolence/crust scene recently with bands such as AcxDC, Oathbreaker, Nails or Fall of Efrafa and lodging YAITW with this scene is not so much of a stretch. Nonetheless, the boys from North Carolina are, without a shred of doubt, a metal band. Many projects try to mix things up like including black metal to a rock & roll core like Kvelertak but these guys did way more than that. They integrated the crust elements to their black metal roots so deep down that the two are indivisible. You won't find a better hybrid band evolving in these two genres in 2014.

These guys are so freaking talented and I wish their folky alternative country side could be expanded. Like on V. Eternal Depression, there's once again a track reminding me of 16 Horsepower but even darker (if you heard David Eugene Edwards's project, you know it's not a light affirmation.) This track named “Shadow of Murder” is right before the long closer and it couldn't be better placed. The acoustic guitar shines like a drop of blood in a chalice of holy water and the deep, clean vocals intertwined with the harsh screams in the shadows made this song one of my favourites of the year. The misanthropic lyrics are delivered with such spite like in “Fuck My Life”, they're singing about the twists and turns of reality and that's much more profoundly scary than anything related to Lucifer and his downfall.

YAITW really rocks at these long intricate tracks but sadly they rarely do them, only like once per album. Maybe they wouldn't be special if they were more numerous, things can get tired quick sometimes. It's perhaps my doom sensibilities that is asking for these slower, crushing songs like “Embrace Extinction” but eh, I'm still more than satisfied with this album. It's still by far their longest release (and first one over half an hour) but it never gets boring since the pacing and direction is top notch. The production is tight and airy and compliments the guitars very well, it's menacing and threatening. The drums throwing blastbeats at you are conveniently buried under the deluge of the bass heavy black/crust tactful wave.

The core of the band is composed of fast numbers full of vitriol and hatred like “Be My Blood”. Inspired by the dirty side of black metal (a band like Marduk can definitely be heard here) but also sludge, death & roll or stoner. The guitar tone is vicious and fuzzy as hell, it's a dangerous record like the cover art implies and the band doesn't deviate from their act one bit. It's groovy, fast as fuck, overflow with riffs mixing the best of both worlds. There's also some parts giving you some necessary respite like in “Take My Hand”

Black metal cultists won't probably like this statement but these dudes are what the music genre needs to stay relevant. The third wave of black metal indeed shines with its variety and its ability to transcends (like Hunter Hunt-Hendrix would say) conventions. They're a band that Watain wish they would be, emotional, grasping metal with a darker than black aura without any unnecessary flourish and aping at Jon Nödtveidt's try hard Satanic altar.

On the same label as the (in)famous Deafheaven, a band who similarly do a good job at mixing post rock and black metal, Young and in the Way crushes all opposition and reigns as king to the black/punk/whatever kingdom. Prepared to be submerged by pig blood, that's a cleansing, essential record.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Subrosa/Rhino/Near Grey - August 6th 2014 @Petit Campus, Montréal

I was pretty excited when Boris, SubRosa and The Atlas Moth (a band I really enjoyed in April when they played with The Ocean) were gonna tour together. My enjoyment was destroyed when no Montréal dates were announced but my smile came back when SubRosa decided to go up north to play a gig while on a day off. I'm freaking glad they came.

Two local bands were added to the bill, I really think a three bands gig is the best. The gig won't finish at 2 am and it's easier to truly enjoy the music delivered by every entities.

Near Grey opened the gig with their instrumental post metal compositions. I've never really liked instrumental bands except perhaps Godspeed You! Black Emperor and even though this young band was enjoyable, it didn't quite grasped me. The three songs (for around thirty minutes) they played were redundant, plodding and all similarly built but their heavy parts were pretty fun. When there's no vocals, I feel there's often something missing from the equation. Like a cheeseburger without ketchup. Their guitar tone was very cool though and I can see the fans of the genre digging them, just not my thing, you know?

6 they wish they were Pelican out of 10
Near Grey on Bandcamp

Rhino were next and I knew what to expect since they opened The Ocean's gig and they're also not my thing. I can dig their atmospheric post hardcore approach since I'm a big Cult of Luna fan but they're simply not at their level. They have two guitarists but one of them is utterly unnecessary and tries to do landscapes and endlessly play with his pedals. The other one does all the job and provides good but redundant heavy riffs border-lining on metal.  But...but I just cannot stand their singer and his screamo tendencies, I don't think he's a good fit for their sound.

-10 cult points for drinking Le Trou du Diable beer without glasses like peasants.
6 hipster haircuts out of 10
Rhino on Facebook

SubRosa arrived on stage at around 10 o'clock and they totally met my expectations. It's pretty cool to see a metal band where women are the majority and even though the drummer's beard was manlier than Sean Connery's hairy chest in Dr. No, they're still only two men in the band! The two violinists (Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack) weren't usually loud enough though but I think this was due to the venue's sound system. Nonetheless,  these electric violins really managed to create vivid soundscapes complimenting the guitar skills of frontwoman Rebecca Vernon who was clad in a black dress.

They played four songs from their excellent latest album More Constant Than the Gods but not “Cosey Mo”, a song I wanted them to play but oh well, it was a solid set anyway. The twelve minutes “The Usher” being a clear highlight. They also played two songs from No Hope for the Mighty Ones.The set was about a hour long and I wish it would have been at least ninety minutes, there's something magical and ethereal to their blend of doom metal, stoner, noise, drone & folk and it's totally entrancing. The soft, intriguing vocals of Vernon were like lullabies mixed with heavy riffs and the rare harsher vocals of Pendleton and the new bassist (who was tastefully loud as fuck). Great, great band.

10 metal needs more women out of 10

SubRosa's setlist:

SubRosa on Facebook

Thanks to Yannick Marchand for the live pictures.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Slugdge – Gastronomicon (2014) / 92%

All hail our intergalactic slugs overlords

And beneath the shattered sky the earth will grieve / except for man, who shall be granted no reprieve

This British duo released a surprisingly great album last year with Born of Slime and they're already back for more slug metal with Gastronomicon. Don't misunderstand the humorous aura the band has for lack of depth and content since the band is as rich and deep as one could be. Matt Moss' lyrics of lovecraftian slug proportions are excellent. Evil, poetic and over the top, they pay homage to omniscient mollusks and I mean, what could be more original than that? It's not another yet cryptic satanic cosmic cavernous album and we should all be grateful for that. Remove your black sunglasses and your bullet belt and laugh a little.

Like many projects nowadays, Slugdge (I can't think of a better word to describe them) is mixing innumerable styles to create a potent and quite interesting concoction. The guitars can be crushing, melodic and spastic and always play something vivid and intelligible. The death/sludge/black metal mix could seem chaotic at first but the whole thing is coherently and cunningly put together. There's  a good balance between longer numbers (the seven minutes title track is immense) and shorter, no less awesome numbers like “Slimewave Zero” and the album doesn't overstay its welcome and leave you asking for more.

Mixing the early sludge attack with complex drumming of Mastodon, the progressive extreme metal explorations of bands like Edge of Sanity or Arcturus with hints of old school death, brutal death and probably some more influences. The duo obviously doesn't want to do simplistic things and they achieve to do everything they wanted to do with this second opus.

The main element that made me fall in love with Slugdge is definitely the vocals, Moss' combination of blackened death growls with clean vocals can immediately recall the great Dave Hunt of fellow English black/grind overlords Anaal Nathrakh. The way the clean verses are brought in the songs are truly inspired by them  and I'm totally fine with that since this is by far my favourite element of albums like Hell Is Empty, and All the Devils Are Here. These powerful clean vocals are, to my joyful reaction, essential moments in every songs but the aggressive, vitriolic extreme metal is never overshadowed. Quite the opposite, the amalgamation of both gives an occult demeanour to Gastronomicon.

Production-wise, it's stronger than the debut, the guitars are tighter, the vocals more at the forefront and a bit less buried. Self produced, the album is solid, well composed and professional and I cannot fathom why they're still unsigned.

Most of the time, metal should not be taken that seriously and that's also a doctrine shared by these guys, like on their debut (with “Eyehatesalt”), there's once again a title that parodies one of their influences called “Salters of Madness” and I find that utterly funny. English humour is clearly the best! Ornamented by another sublime romantic inspired slug art, you just can't go wrong with that, it's showcasing the classic metal side of the band but with a new, modern and imaginative side. One of the best albums of 2014, I welcome my new slug lords with open arms.

"Pay what you can" for the album on Bandcamp
Slugdge's slugbook page

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Suruni - Ikuus (2014) / 77%

Dark and lo-fi exploration

The musical child of Sakari Piisti, Suruni from central Finland is a weird project to describe but I'll attempt the task anyway since I never run away from musical adversity. “Not for everyone” can easily describe this album, it's an unorthodox mix of experimental raw black metal with noise, ambient and drone all under a voluntary lo-fi approach.

One of the things that surprised me is the bass, it's freaking loud and I really like how it's played. I often wish this instrument would be more prominent in black metal and it's the case here. It's well incorporated in the sonic chaotic mass enriched by the use of acoustic guitars and some other nontraditional instruments (is that cello???). It's pretty slow stuff and it reminds me of the avant garde nature of Sami Hynninen's Opium Warlords and Armanenschaft projects. The overbearing bass licks are definitely a big hint to that.

Suruni felt like it doesn't have a metal core since there's so many additional elements to be considered but underneath everything, there is an undying dark atmosphere possessed by raw black metal riffing and a bunch of melodic clean guitar parts. It's simplistic but there's some really beautiful moments like the ethereal guitar at the end of “Ei Se Ollut Vahinko”. The drums (unsure if they're programmed or not) are fun albeit located in a weird place in the mix, they're kind at the forefront of the sound. This really adds to the uneasy feeling this album gave me.

Piisti's vocals (when there's some) are a mix of black metal shrieks and buried clean vocals, it fits well with the music but they could have be a bit more powerful. The project is more about instrumental landscapes and it's showcasing its wide range of influences (the instrumental black metal country of “Akana” is a clear highlight.) There's also this sort of martial influence sometimes approaching Akitsa.

Ikuus is a a decent and original album but there's still a lot to improve to play in the “big leagues”. The production, raw but melodic, is actually pretty interesting but I'd like to get more meat in the songs. That's a good debut, follow this band with me if you're into adventurous music without compromises.

Thanks to Sun & Moon Records for the CD copy.
Sun & Moon Records on Facebook

RRROOOAAARRR DAY 3 - August 3rd - Incantation/Revenge/Abyss/Sabbatory/Occult Burial/Phobocosm @Sala Rossa, Montréal


Finally, the last day of the festival with perhaps my most anticipated band yet, Incantation. The crowd was a bit bigger for Blasphemy's gig until the 2 last bands on the bill, then it got a bit more crowded.

After a visit to the well furnished merchandise stand of Incantation (grabbed a shirt and a patch), we joined the limited number of people for the first band, the gig started earlier on Sunday so I guess that's one of the reasons why not a lot of persons were attending.

Phobocosm (7:00-7:20)

This newish death/doom metal band plays a lot locally so that's probably another reason a lot of people didn't show up that early. Their cavernous and atmospheric sound was quite enjoyable and even though it was my third time seeing them, they were still pretty nice. I can't wait for the release of their debut album (release gig with Adversarial, Thantifaxath and IRN)

8 dark as fuck occult death metal out of 10

Occult Burial (7:40-8:00)

This trio from Ottawa replaced Prosanctus Inferi (who cancelled like less than 2 weeks before the show). They play some sort of blackened thrashy heavy metal and they're intense as fuck. They mix the proto black metal of Bathory and classic Canadian speed metal with the melodic might and soloing of NWOBHM.

7 mullets and biker boots out of 10


Sabbatory (8:20ish-???)

From Winnipeg, these guys signed to Unspeakable Axe Records, the younger brother label of Dark Descent records played a high intensity short set mixing old school death metal and thrash in a fast, solo heavy formula. Reminding me of early Pestilence. Decent stuff albeit a bit generic.

6,5 Winnipeg Jets out of 10

Abyss (???-9:50ish)
This obscure band from Toronto were a fucking cool surprise even though I checked their live album before the fest. They play a super fast sort of death metal with some crust, hardcore or grindcore influences. The bass was super loud and the singer was a formidable frontman. Super good, a band to watch, I simply wish they had a better, more original name.

8,5 creepshows out of 10
Incantation (10:20 to 11:30ish)

One of the death metal masters played a long set composed of both old classic stuff from albums like Onward to Golgotha or Mortal Throne of Nazarene or their newest albums like Vanquish in Vengeance. I have no idea why they weren't the headliners since de facto, they definitely were. Pretty much a perfect band on every level, they just ripped. They played mostly fast, to the point tracks and it worked quite well. They still have it and I was glad to finally see them since it's been a while since they played in Montréal.

10 live blasphemies out of 10

John McEntee!

Revenge (12:00-no idea)

I was so tired and I don't like Revenge so I ditched after 2 songs.

3 days of pure insanity out of 10

It was an excellent festival, the crowds were good, it was well organized and it had a varied, interesting and cool line-up. I didn't go to any of the punk gigs and that's something I'd like to try next year depending on who's booked. 18 bands in 3 days was a lot of metal to enjoy, it was an incredible time. Let's hope for some international bands for the next edition (looking at you Bolt Thrower!)

Follow the festival here: RRROOOAAARRR