Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Agatus – The Eternalist (2016) / 92%

"Take me far away!"

The Weaving Fates is a timeless masterpiece but is Agatus still relevant more than a decade after their last album? The answer is simple: It's a big thundering "ABSOLUTELY!". Like Norway's In the Woods..., the Greeks are certainly back for the best possible reasons and offers an unexpected masterpiece of Hellenic steel.

Once of the first noticeable aspects of this new opus is that the black metal is mostly gone from their sound. While The Weaving Fates was a nugget of powerful and entrancing black metal with strong traditional metal leanings and it was a riff machine. Their sound wasn’t too far removed from the melting pot formula of the later albums of King Fowley’s Deceased. Those albums are masterful examples of how to combine the metal eras. On this 2016 release, the situation is the opposite from what we used to know of Agatus, the black metal elements aren't the core of their sound anymore. This is irrelevant to the quality of their compositions though.

Dimitrios Dorian’s other band, Zemial, managed to expand to what was possible in black/heavy metal with the transcendantal Nykta three years ago. Fortunately, Agatus gladly follows the road created by their brother band. Zemial’s performance at Wings of Metal last year convinced me that they’re metal's most underrated band and Agatus also needs more recognition and praise.

The main difference between between the two bands is Agatus’ tight songwriting, they’re both as epic but the tempos and approaches are different in nature. The track-list is one of the only normal things here, the forty minutes album  On The Eternalist, the Dorian brothers embraced the progressive rock influence that they always liked but pushed the boundaries of their sound to its limits. If I had to classify the album (something I like to do!), I guess I would say that it’s blackened epic progressive heavy metal (a mouthful, I know...) and it's an explosive and cohesive mix. I imagine Chris Dorian also brings a lot to the songs, the multi-instrumentalist fraternal duo is just so damn creative. 

The record is full of those idiosyncratic guitar leads influenced by the epic metal scene and the clean vocals are predominant compared to their previous releases. There’s a grand variety of voices, in fact. From the soaring yet manly cleans incantations to a rougher and more abrasive approach, there’s a bit of everything on here. Songs like “The Invisible (Fifth Portal to Atlantis)” has this highly understandable type of harsh vocals that I always liked and it’s reminiscent of the olde age of black metal where genres were not totally set in stone. On the other hand, "The Oath (Of Magic and Fire)" has vocals worthy of the best NWOBHM albums and an extremely evocative chorus.

The Eternalist is a rich album with diverse textures with intricate keyboards, subtle chord arrangements (listen to the ending of “Gilgamesh”) and acoustic guitars but the metal riffing remains an essential component of their identity. The metal influences are also quite numerous from the distinctive black metal sound developed in the early 90s by a wide array of interesting bands including Agatus themselves to the ballsy epic heavy/power of Warlord and even Blind Guardian (“Perils of the Sea (Part II)” has leads reminding me of André Olbrich’s playing.). Greek metal bands always incorporates a massive amount of Mediterranean emotions and soundscapes into their music and Agatus are definitely masters of Attican art.

The amalgam of vivid melodies and musicianship is something Agatus truly possess. The fact that the songs are on the short side could be seen as a curse since they’re packed with so much stuff but it’s one of their strengths. They never overstay their welcome and keep things quick, tidy and fresh throughout the whole album. The drumming of Dimitrios (aka Vorskaath) is still impeccable and never tries to be over-the-top even if he could totally unleash furious beats if he wanted to. The guitars are clear, heavy and are really great at mixing the different styles played by the band and the leads are just full of feelings and are the true definition of epic metal. The bass is not so loud but its presence is felt in a very enjoyable fashion, it could had been a bit higher in the mix though. Regardless, the production is lush and doesn't obscure the metal riffs, everything is at its rightful place and I just want to listen to the album all-day long.

All in all, Agatus released a strong album and it has nothing to envy to their previous oeuvres whatsoever. It’s a condensed work with so many riffs, passion and managed to expand their classic metal side. At times, it almost sounds like Rotting Christ mixed with Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and yes, this is wonderful. Greece is having another great year with albums like Nox Formulae’s The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy or Kawir’s Father Sun Mother Moon but Agatus’ The Eternalist might be the best representative of this excellent scene.


Thanks to Hells Headbangers for the promo copy.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

StarGazer - A Merging to the Boundless (2016) / 96%

Academic War Metal

This is a seriously weird but addictive album and its wide mix of elements shouldn’t work as well as it does. The Australian trio cultivates a mysterious and magical aura throughout their elusive albums. This 2014 effort was released 4 years after the excellent A Great Work of Ages and I bet it’s gonna take a while to get a new one. This is fine though since despite the short length of this album, there’s so many things to discover on every spin. The fact that the members are involved in other high caliber bands such as Mournful Congregation or Cauldron Black Ram (if you’re not familiar with both of them, check them out too) could also explain the long periods between full lengths.

While I certainly like straight death metal with no frills or gimmicks, I do prefer adventurous bands unleashing weirdness upon weirdness. That’s why I think Horrendous released one of the best recent death metal albums with  Ecdysis and it’s probably why Opeth is my favorite band (I guess they still count as death metal, right?). StarGazer are definitely one of those exploratory bands and they have an unparalleled vision. Traveling through avant-garde seas like their fellow Australians Portal, I do feel this trio made their experimental blend of extreme metal more natural by removing the obsessive Lovecraftian horror element of The Curator’s band. The most impressive component of this trio is their level of musicianship, it’s simply through the roof. They’re basically Australia’s extremely cult response to Rush, Atheist, Death but also to Incantation and Demilich, if this makes sense. Like their other compatriot Ulcerate, the trio consisting of the usual metal instruments are able to push the generic envelope of such a formula but contrary to the Everything Is Fire Tasmanians, they don’t do it by creating a massive wall of sound. They do it with a superbly smart sound full of intelligent moments like no one else.

What’s also exceptional about them is their ability to integrate an experimental approach so easily in their songs. They almost hide the fact that they’re weird by just being riff machines, a good example of this would be “Black Gammon”, the aggressive opener. The song starts in a somewhat safe way but then bludgeon you with insane bass licks.

There’s also the variations in moods and tempos that are quite interesting, “An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel” has this smooth section incorporated with ease and it’s just unbelievable. There’s also some brief clean vocals to accentuate the transition. Speaking of vocals, I’ll admit I can really say who of either Damon Good (known as The Great Righteous Destroyer here) or Denny Blake (The Serpent Inquisitor) are singing since they share the duty but there’s a grand variety of extreme metal vocals styles. From deep, cavernous growls to the more traditional thrashy death style (opening of “Incense and Aeolian Chaos”), and I must say that every facets of this aspect of StarGazer’s personality is thoroughly enjoyable. If you add the fact that the lyrics are totally bonkers, you get an interesting album. The mix of magical, mystical and fantasy themes written with in poetical but also academical sort of way is without a doubt one of the highlights of the record for me. Let me go back to what I was saying about the “hidden” weirdness, the lyrics absolutely add this eccentric flavor.

Antiquial light shed with a wave of lichen hand
An ancient tress, a wooden pulse
Varnish reeks, shadows creak
A stale grace, old tea, old tea

The Australian trio are in fact a war metal band turned into an university professor. They went to war, killed a bunch of innocent people, came back and finished their English literature PhD and wrote about their experiences. The skilled marriage of death and black metal (war metal is often a mix of both and some added elements) is actually hard to distinguish, I do think they’re a bit more on the death metal side most of the time but there’s definite black metal elements on Merging. They play technical death without falling into the easy tropes of the genre, no overlong soloing or disastrous odd time signatures written to impress kids. It’s just unhinged drumming with mesmerizing bass lines and intricate guitars. The eleven minutes song “The Grand Equilizer” is obviously the centerpiece of this album, it has all their elements and it’s just a fantastic progressive metal track full of twists and turns. The album then ends its (relatively) brief essay with two harder and to the point tracks. I guess I’ll just replay it until I fully understand it.

The album is usually pretty cheap on Nuclear War Now! so grab it, it’s just incredible.


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Dagger Moon – Citadel (2016) / 80%

Moonlit easy riding

This quintet from Washington plays an interesting sort of crossover genre. Blending the heaviness of crust with the moody darkness of doom wasn't quite enough for them. They decided to add a massive amount of synth to their music and it really works.

Sharing two members with Ilsa (one of them do the artwork for both bands), Dagger Moon are much more subdued and laid back as they don't have the same pissed off sludgey Cianide influenced bludgeoning sound. It's a bit hard to describe their style since the mix is done effortlessly and with care. The really loud synths make them sound like dangerous punks driving through an industrial city in decay on their loud bikes, they drank too much cheap beer so they're a bit drunk so they're not driving too fast. Just fast enough to create some roadkill on their way to hell. As illustrated on their vinyl release, we could also envision this big ass punk on his bike just floating around on this apocalyptic moon. This album would probably fit Stranger Things if the TV series would be even darker to give you an idea of how lush it is.

The bass has this huge, hardworking sound and it's often louder than the guitars. The drums are simple yet effective and like the compositions, they're more smooth and contemplative than heavy and suffocating. It's metal mostly because of the way the riffs are composed and the epic song structures. It can be repetitive at times but I think it fits their idiosyncratic feel and almost gives a synth drone ambiance to the album. The guitars still have some shining moment such as the ethereal leads of "Black Water" but overall, they could be perceived as secondary here despite establishing Dagger Moon as a metal band. The metal is perhaps not the first thing you'll notice but it's there and its carnal embrace with the synthrock elements is fairly nice.

The six lengthy songs combine groovy mid-paced riffs, synth influences and clean Napalm Raid-esque crusting. Their approach could also be compared to Tau Cross in spirit, a melting pot of good things related to both the metal and the punk worlds but Dagger Moon's vocals are more cryptic, buried and harsh and there's of course the omnipresent synths. Comparisons aside, there's basically nothing truly similar to them and they're pretty refreshing.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Cardinals Folly / Church of Void / Acolytes of Moros - Coalition of the Anathematized split (2016) / 85%

The Forsberg/Selanne coalition

The members of the coalition and the tracklist are as followed:

Cardinals Folly
1) Hyperborean 4:53
2) A Slave of Karnstein 5:53

Church of Void
3) Night’s Watch 5:43
4) Moonstone 8:06

Acolytes of Moros
5) The World Belongs to Demons 14:22

Useful links:
Album released by American Lines Prods

The split album on Bandcamp

This coalition of Nordic bands truly hits the spot and shows how different traditional doom can be. I’m using “Nordic” and not “Scandinavian” since there’s some geographical and historical debates going on about whether Finland is truly part of this European region or not. As a social sciences teacher, I do think the home of Teemu Selanne is Scandinavian despite their unique language and their cultural ties to the now deceased Soviet union. Still, doom is an international affair and truly transcends the frontiers created by us mere mortals.

The two Finnish bands, Cardinals Folly (I wrote a review of their 2016 full length here: click me) from Helsinki and Church of Void from Jyväskylä (I love this language) are similar in their groove first and ask questions later approaches to trad doom. They’re both hard rocking bands but with different aesthetics. The two bands are both exploring fantasy themes but they have divergent approaches. The Cardinals have this bigger than life pulp/classic horror literature persona while the Church are A Song of Ice and Fire fans (see their track “Nights Watch” or “Winter Is Coming” from their debut album). While I wanted the Church song “Moonstone” to be about Clefairy but it’s probably about something much darker!

Cardinals Folly
The tracks of Cardinals Folly have a fairly disappointing guitar tone, the rhythms are off and it’s too overly fuzzy for my taste but the compositions are as good as on their latest album. The power trio offers two strong and catchy tracks, one in the purest hyperborean tradition but mixed with a contemporary viewpoint on how technology ruins everything (if I understood the lyrics correctly) and one about the book Carmilla (I guess I’ll have to ask Howie Bentley if their analysis is solid as I’ve never read it myself). The band cites Saint Vitus in their first track and yep, we’re not too far from the Americans but it’s cruder and probably less serious. They have this huge bass tone, loud and great vocals and an appreciation for Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. Nevertheless, they’re not a groundbreaking nor essential doom band but they're enjoyable and their style has to be admired.


Church of Void

Church of Void are super groovy but they’re more laid back and they often take their time to crush. Compared to Cardinals Folly, they’re perhaps more in line with the witchcraft-esque scene of today. They also have some slight stoner/doom tendencies but avoid the trite stereotypes of the genre there's some Cathedral influences here and there.

No gear worship here even if their sound is particularly solid and their two guitars gives them some leeway and perhaps more options. This split also made me revisit their debut and I liked it more than before, they’re a band playing an immediate sort of doom but it took me some time to appreciate their pretty distinctive approach. Magus Corvus’ vocals are a bit too buried but he’s a solid clean and gritty singer who brings an 80s goth rock flair to the songs (the introduction of “Night’s Watch”) and has the necessary charisma to be the frontman of this solid band.

The quintet has the right balance between slow, mid-paced and faster material. Fortunately they're excellent at whatever speed they choose to drive. 


Acolytes of Moros

The Swedish band Acolytes of Moros delivered only one track but it’s a long one. Longer than the two songs from their latest fantastic and criminally overlooked and ignored demo released last year (review here: click again), “The World Belongs to Demons” (annoying demons?) is a fourteen minutes infernal dirge of tremendous quality. Christoffer’s vocals are haunting, tenebrous and often walks into poorly lit black metal avenues at times (he had a black solo project some years ago). The lyrics written by a common friend are, from what I gathered, are about the woes of depression. The lengthy numbers drags and drags in the best way possible, it’s repetitive and simple but that’s how I like it. The production is also better than on Herald of the Imminent, everything is clearer and heavier.

Thick bass lines, heavy slow riffs and “shit man you gotta go see the shrink” lyrics are what you’re getting here and I want you to love it. I'm happy that I managed not to compare them to Reverend Bizarre so far but I guess I have to. They're perhaps their best acolyte (yeah yeah!) alongside The Wandering Mid get and they hold the flame of sad operatic lengthened doom high.


All in all, this is a quality split and it keeps getting better and better as it kept the best band to conclude the album. Long live Scandinavian (or Nordic or whatever!) doom metal.

The three bands are gonna play some dates together including this one in Finland. I'm posting it because the poster rules and I'd like to be there!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Koprotopsy – Eternal Extinction (2016) / 70%

Mesopotamian brutal death made in a French bedroom? 

Koprotopsy is a one man band from France and I’m not totally sure why I like this album as much as I do. I mean, I know I shouldn’t and deep down I’m pretty sure that my inner person thinks it sucks but I managed to ignore what my brain is saying and enjoy this album. Michaël Sikli also known as Sainte Vermine, is in many projects, now something common with the development of technologies and internet but this is the first one I’ve discovered and it’s impressive in its own way.

Even if it can be seen as amateurish or even a bedroom metal band, there’s an obvious richness to this project. The combination of genres is pretty unique and it creates an avant-garde formula. You take the bass heavy dynamics of the totally insane Estonian duo Neoandertals but remove some of the crude craziness from it and you add guitars but not loud ones as you don’t want to bury the clicky bass! This is the core of their genre but it’s not over yet, Koprotopsy is adding ethnic influences to make their music completely bonkers. At times it sounds like Melechesh and Cult of Fire just discovered brutal death metal in a Russian basement full of slam wiggers. While it’s all programmed instrumentation for the estranged parts, it sounds good and it’s well done. The production for the metal elements is definitely sub-par but I didn’t really mind this. Sure, a solid production with real drums, louder guitars and real ethnic instruments would had been better but I think a large part of my enjoyment come from the fact that it’s a cheap home production.

The fourteen minutes track “Engraved Into Ashes” has pretty much everything. Piano parts intertwined with huge bass licks, dark ambient bits and toy machine gun blastbeats played underneath a symphonic doom/death moment. It’s fun, for sure. The vocals are probably way too high in the mix and the deep growls are nothing really special, it’s not what’s interesting about this album and should probably be considerably lowered on the future releases.

It’s the equivalent of cooking something that you think will turn out totally inedible because you mixed weird ingredients together but when you take a bite, you tell yourself “ehhhh not bad”. This is bad but good and it’s hard to explain why I ate the whole thing. He also released the Primitive Deathcult EP in 2016 and it’s worth checking out as well, it’s one long track showcasing the ethnic side even more.

Thanks to my buddy Caspian for the discovery.