Friday, 20 April 2018

Smoulder – The Sword Woman (2018) / 84%


Engrossing magical doom



With the recent releases of Palmistry, Loviatar and Sons of Geezora, Canadian doom continues to grow and impress. It’s now the time for Smoulder to join the war against bad riffs. I had the chance to hear some of their early demos when Sarah and Shawn crashed at Metantoine’s headquarters for the final edition of Wings of Metal last year and I was pretty dazzled by what they showed me. Almost a year after that, their first foray into doom is out and it doesn’t disappoint.

Smoulder exactly has the things I like in doom. It has solid, heavy riffs, soaring clean, semi-operatic vocals and a gritty fantasy approach. Influenced by the balls to the wall sound of The Gates of Slumber, the intelligent epic side of Solitude Aeternus and the uncompromising ideals of Reverend Bizarre. The Canadian core of Sarah and Shawn joined by three other members including some Americans (two members of Illinois’ Olórin) displays a deep understanding of what traditional or epic doom metal stands for and what it should be. Shawn Vincent already showed his above than average metalness with his solo heavy project Ezra Brooks (covered by yours truly) and currently handles the bass with the impressive Toronto unit Manacle. Sarah works as a metal journalist and she’s in the music industry but this was the first time her vocals were recorded and she does a great job, she sounds like a young Valkyrie who will only get better as time goes by. The mix of her vocals and the groovy, impatient riffs reminds me of Mourn's sole album released more than twenty years ago and that's not a small deed since I consider that self-titled album to be the best female fronted doom album of all time.

The twin guitars add a complexity often found in bands like Atlantean Kodex, Pagan Altar or Solstice and the loud bass fills any void that could have been there. Check out the interesting bass break in "Voyage of the Maiden Chaser"! Overall, the musicianship is tremendous but it's never overly flashy. Nevertheless, I would have liked a longer, slower track but that’s just me. I feel those long ass songs truly show what a doom band is capable of! Maybe they’ll unleash one on their debut full-length.

Even though it was released on 4/20, there’s nothing related to weed culture here. It’s seriously engrossing sword and sorcery doom of the highest caliber. Get this demo as soon as possible.



Smoulder on Bandcamp

Friday, 16 February 2018

Basalte - Vertige (2018) / 95%





The Righteous Mastery of Atmosphere and Might

Basalte’s debut album was a thoroughly impressive piece of Quebec black metal and it impressed the hell out of me when it was released in 2014. Four years after “Vestige”, they’re back with “Vertige”, an album with an intricate and exhaustive sonic approach. The work on the production was meticulous, almost to the point of being monastic and it paid off.

Between the two records, the trio became a quartet when they got a full time bassist and he now contributes to the songwriting while improving the live performances of the band. They also played a special, secretive gig in the forest back in 2016 in front of about fifty people (including yours truly) and it added an aura of mystery and DIY attitude to the project. After that, their drummer was flown to Indonesia for a year to study music and while it made the recording process more complicated, it will certainly add something extraneous to the band’s future compositions. After L.’s return in August 2017, they finished the album, played one of their first gigs in a while when they opened for Falls of Rauros and now, they just released their sophomore effort. An album I had to chance to digest a bit before the actual release. It’s not an easy piece of art to assimilate but it’s a rewarding one.

Let’s not waste any time here, “Vertige” is an excellent album and it will certainly end up to be one of the most memorable and essential black metal albums of 2018. The four extended tracks are vast and filled to the brim with riffs, interesting time signatures, emotional tremolos and intense but yet natural drumming. The bass acts as the icing on the cake while the subtle, electronic bits can be seen as an added layer to their solid foundations. The vocal approach (three different vocalists but all four members sing live nowadays) is full of raw strength and unwieldy passion. From high pitched screeches to deep and buried aggression, their palette has a wide variety of colours, mostly shades of black and grey though but you don’t need anything else.

The guitars are loud, heavy, distorted but clean at the same time. The interplay between the two guitarists is always joyous but what they play is downright dark and brooding. Furthermore, the production did wonders to highlight all the instruments in a clear but troubling raw way and I’m glad they took their time to truly craft their songs like they wanted to.

Interestingly enough, they’ve always had an urban approach. While I thought “Vestige” explored the figurative and literal decay found in urbanity, “Vertige” acts as the opposite. It seems to look for the suffering in newer, modern and seemingly intact structures (as seen on the artwork) and that’s a fresh way to grow as a sonic storyteller. This research, reflected through their music, puts them at odds with the rest of atmospheric black metal, often busy contemplating waterfalls and picturesque landscapes. What Basalte declares with their poetic but somber lyrics speaks of neurosis, claustrophobia or apathy. Concepts I personally consider to be related to the city life.

The best bands are often hard to categorize and it’s true here as well. Basalte doesn’t play safe and adds a wide array of other styles to their formula and not just as afterthoughts or sprinkles of “hey listen to our prog metal section!”, it’s integrated within their songs and effectively changed their identity. The main aspect is surely the hardcore presence (“Acouphène” is the best example) but there’s loads of post-whatever (or whatever the hell is “atmospheric sludge”), shoegaze and ambient elements. Regardless of what Basalte play as a genre (it’s ultimately unimportant), there’s nothing faulty, boring or unpleasant on “Vertige”. What’s also worth mentioning is that the Montréal quartet never forgets to unleash the heaviness and riffs, “La sclérose coule dans ses veines” even goes into funeral doom territory with great results.

“Vertige” is a modern masterpiece transcending the outlines of what black metal should be in 2018. I mean, Deafheaven should be opening for ‘em. They’re a revamped, hungry and evolving band that’s pushing the envelope into foreign but exciting directions. Full support.


Bandcamp
Tape release