22 Apr 2014

Countess - Ancient Lies And Battle Cries [Full length] (2014, Barbarian Wrath]

Ancient Lies And Battle Cries presents a new chapter in the history of Countess, the 2013 EP "Sermons of the Infidel" serving as an adequate bridge between the "old" Countess and this newer incarnation. The Dutch band has for the most part been a one-man effort at the hands and throat of Orlok, with a select few exceptions mainly in the 90's, and last year's EP and the new album marks the time when Countess has once again expanded upon the lineup with the addition of Zagan on guitars. Zagan also played guitars on the 1997 EP "Hell's Rock and Roll". Ancient Lies And Battle Cries is an album that has been underway for many years with several versions being worked and expanded upon since 2004.

The Dutch band has been around since the 90's, and the many albums the band has produced over the years has revealed a decisively traditional heavy metal approach to black metal, a tendency which has only been made more apparent with each new release. This means keyboard synths aplenty, as well as a slower and more melodic pace than most contemporary black metal groups. The songwriting and composition in itself also speaks volumes of Orlok's love for tradition, only seldom expanding into full fledged black metal grandeur. Each track on Ancient Lies And Battle Cries is very lengthy, almost excessively so. Tracks like Battle Sky and By Hammer And Blood go through many changes, both stylistically and in disposition, before their end, meaning that each song can be different to discern in the grander scheme of things because there are relatively few hooks to remember them by. Beneath The Eye Of Wisdom is an exception to this and is arguably the album's strongest track in itself with its hate-fueled heaviness, catchier guitar section and more easily digestible song structure taking it a step further.

The addition of a guitarist has added substantial depth and heaviness to Countess' music, something that I had lamented in my review of their last album "On Wings of Defiance". I'm still not entirely sure why Countess so openly shuns layered guitars. An old school approach to recording an album with each instrument being recorded simultaneously might explain it, but this technique is more or less ancient and it is doubtful more than a handful of jam-based bands use this anymore. The addition of more layers of guitar would drastically change the drearily ongoing nature of Countess music, and while some may consider this to be how the band is supposed to sound, I personally think it would greatly add to the music's enjoyability.

Ancient Lies And Battle Cries, although greatly improving upon the formula used in the writing of On Wings Of Defiance from 2011, ultimately suffers from many of the same problems. Many tracks bar a few good ones merely meander around in an impressive abundance of tedious melodies without ever truly blossoming into the raw epicness they so obviously strive for. Burn The Throne, Cursed Seed Of Aten and Beneath The Eye Of Wisdom are definitely the three best tracks on Countess' newest album, with each of these cuts actively marking the fact that Orlok is a seasoned musician, and that he has it in him to produce some cool songs. But it seems to be too much of a hit-and-miss type of thing. 5/10 guitars.

1. Battle Sky
2. Call of the Ancient Pantheon
3. By Hammer and Blood
4. Vengeance of the Slain
5. Beneath the Eye of Wisdom
6. Confessions of a Polytheist
7. Pray for the Cult
8. Cursed Seed of Aten
9. Burn the Throne
10. The Last Temple

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13 Apr 2014

Ancst - The Humane Condition [EP] (2013, Dark Omen Records)

Ancst are nothing if not productive. In the short time their carreer has spanned hitherto the German duo has produced no less than 7 releases, 5 of which were released in 2013. The prime question that springs to mind is whether or not this productivity comes at the cost of creativity and originality.

Though seeming to take a turn for bleak atmospherics, as is so trendy nowadays, Ancst narrowly avoid the usual clichés of the modern scene. The tempestuous vocals provided by Torsten tend to sound exceedingly hardcoresque in their crude, shouted manner, and at times - even if they're in the back of the mix - they detract attention from the formidable threads of guitar laid down presumably by the second part of the duo, Tom. The EP consists of the songs Ascetic and Entropie, two tracks that at first glance are so immaculate in their execution that they come off as aimless attempts at a modern trend. Only through further delving into their sound do the tracks open up for the immense detail work that lies hidden in the exceptionally well-crafted riffing.

Writing, recording and releasing only a few songs at a time looks to be the way Ancst get around being making a slew of uninteresting, mass-produced tracks. For the most part on The Humane Condition EP, it works. As mentioned the riffs are strong and creative, but this is where the fun ends. The lack of an actual drummer leaves Ancst at a disadvantage with programmed drums that never quite fills the roll appropriately. In much the same manner the vocals feel like a fish out of water. While this type of shouted vocals isn't entirely out of the ordinary in this genre, Torsten's screams never quite penetrate the misty atmosphere the same way the guitars do.

All in all every instrument feels well-balanced within the mix, but this doesn't mean every part that makes up this machine are equal in quality. It's all put together in a way that diverts attention from any shortcomings, and the vocals and drums aren't as such a complete blunder. But they never come through and prove their point. Entropie, the EP's last track, is arguably the best of the two songs due to variation crafted in a sleek and stylish manner and a great use of momentum and sense of pace. The Humane Condition is by no means a terrible EP, and it's entirely worth the roughly 12 minutes it takes. 7/10 guitars.

1. Ascetic
2. Entropie

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31 Mar 2014

AK-11 - Legendary, Demonic & Invincible [Demo] (2011, Self-released)

Self-proclaimed "triumphant black war metal" band AK-11 started out in 2011 with Valak being the only member. Valak had fashioned this demo, "Legendary, Demonic & Invincible", already by November the same year as a tribute to classic black metal acts like Celtic Frost, Burzum, Emperor and others. In 2013 two new members were added to the lineup, but AK-11 has yet to release anything as a trio.

Though black metal is traditionally stripped down to the bare necessities this goes especially for AK-11. On this demo there is not a breath wasted, not an effort spilled on fancy solos, symphonic orchestrations or overly complex compositions. What the sole member, Valak, puts forth on this first demo is convincingly simple black metal tunes condensed to a fine spirit. Though AK-11 hails from Australia, at least half the demo is sung in Russian as a tribute to the famous Avtomat Kalashnikov assault rifle. While this doesn't have any direct influence on the music found on "Legendary..." it accentuates the vodka-fueled slavic sounds that tracks like Shest' Shest' Shest' i Katyusha take on through inventive guitar riffs.

Most of the tracks are almost literally bursting with energy. Tracks like the satanic "Sniper's Glory" and Slava Rossii stand out as tracks of an especially engaging kind with their enticingly traditional riffs and mechanical blast beats, and the "Legendary..." demo is characterized by an unusually high lowest point in terms of songwriting quality. The riffs in particular catch the eye as one of the demo's strongest competences, Valak's raw vocals and his overall ability to write captivating material not falling far behind.

Production is often devalued in black metal, the genre often being seen as inherently lo-fi. This deep-rooted disregard for quality of sound seems to have also been part of the recording process with AK-11. Seeing as Legendary, Demonic & Invincible is a demo this can more or less be excused, and the - what I assume is a - drum machine has the samples fairly balanced with the abrasive sound of the guitar and the grey veil of Valak's vocals. The demo warrants excitement for future releases by AK-11 and is itself well worth a listen. Australian black metal often takes on a strong thrash metal influence as seen with bands like Deströyer 666, Nocturnal Graves, Gospel of the Horns, Atomizer, Malichor, Razor of Occam and so on and so forth. AK-11 sticks out like a sore thumb in this crowd as a band trying out new things, even if these elements aren't necessarily major parts of the band's sound. 7/10 guitars.

1. The Cleansing Stream
2. Vechnyi Ogon'
3. Slava Rossii
4. Legendary, Demonic & Invincible
5. Sniper's Glory (Satan Guides My Aim)
6. Shest' Shest' Shest' i Katyusha

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24 Mar 2014

In Silent - Potêpienie [Full length] (2013, Self-released)

Having been formed in 1996, In Silent will soon be able to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The Polish band has 4 demos to show for it, the latest being from 2009. Most of the early members of In Silent are long gone from the lineup, with the two guitarists being the only original members, and the core of the band's sound.
The very nucleus of the death metal genre is searing guitar work, scorching vocals and ferocious drumming. In Silent's modern incarnation is ripe with the familiar sound of that classic death metal technique, giving off the feeling that they're old timers within the genre. Potêpienie exudes an atmosphere of devotely following the stipulations of death with thick production values and grooving riffs.

The heavier guitars that make up the majority of the album are at the very forefront of In Silent's behavior. The Polish band twist and wrangle the stringed instruments into submission, accompanied by a powerful veil of merciless drumming, the raw and articulate vocals efficiently tying the whole thing together into the 22 minute opus that it is.

The straightforward musical craftsmanship that the album mainly portrays is obviously where the group have their comfortzone. This, however, leads to very little fluctuation in sound and constitution, the essence of the band being efficiency. What I mean by this is that there is absolutely no effort wasted, and everything is mechanically precise to the point where there's no soul to the music. The pseudo-technical adventures into the higher frets on the guitars come off as choppy and over-simplified, and while the groovy parts work well in their protected environment, almost every track sounds like it needs a few surprises. Most tracks sound like they're roughly the same speed as the previous, and the parts that would normally mix things up a bit aspire to be little other than soft-spoken, anonymous left-over particles.

I find that the albums that grow on me the most are the ones that have incredible depth and intricate songwriting, not necessarily from being overly technical or lengthy, but rather from paying attention to every minor detail in the sound image. In Silent's debut album, Potêpienie, stands out as a piece that is mostly too simple, but without the much needed memorability and hooks that make simpler music enjoyable. The tracks Necro Fucker and Czerwony Parszywy Cheam have the gist of what it takes, but the slowly lumbering pace with oddly placed blastbeats doesn't quite do it in the end. Morbid features one of the album's most ambitious main riffs, but quickly switches to a boring chug rhythm. The album is almost insultingly simple at times, to the point where it actually becomes sort of annoying, and it holds little merrit in the long run, the only real value being that In Silent are sufficiently immersed in their Polish lyrics and groovy rhythms for it to be a fun listen once in a while. Unfortunately, the recipe fails to impress.

1. Tydzieñ Patriotów
2. Potêpienie
3. Czerwony Parszywy Cheam
4. Necro Fucker
5. Morbid
6. Amputacja
7. Pedofiluzzkleru

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20 Mar 2014

Sguaguarahchristis - Der Nacht [Full length] (2014, This Winter Will Last Forever Records)

Having been formed in 2011, Sguaguarahchristis - or SG666 for short - are hardly old timers within the scene. Self-proclaimed anti-human black metal, the group currently consists of three members, with Pesten seemingly being the driving force behind the band. Since their debut album in 2012, they've released a few minor offerings of black metal with the newest being the second act of their dark performance, Der Nacht. The album saw the light of day (or dark of night, one might say, as the album is meant as an homage to the same) in 2013 and was released in February 2014 through bandcamp, with a physical release through This Winter Will Last Forever Records in March.

It becomes apparent rather quickly that the band are, to say the least, enthusiastic about the general atmosphere and songwriting of second-wave certain black metal legends. They themselves mention early Emperor and Arcturus as influences, and the similarities - while faint - are definitely there. The music of SG666 emphatically fluctuates between cascades of assailing blast beats and seamless, astral melodies, both on guitar and synth. The raw attitude of some tracks greatly contrast the vast harmony of others. It is when the band wholeheartedly open the gates to their core of melodies that the music of Sguaguarahchristis soars above being anything but bland text-book black metal. Most of the tracks on Der Nacht have interesting melodic compositions that play around with the idea of turning the music toward a less esoteric audience, but without fully doing so. These oftentimes rhapsodic themes come across as the very element the rest of the music is built around, though neatly intertwined with the intrusive tone of the band's inherent black metal style, which itself often lies on the raw side of the spectrum.

The songwriter(s) of the band has great feel for the flow and length of an album. Barely exceeding 40 minutes, Der Nacht would seem long had it not been for the way the band captivates the listener through its glorious, ethereal melodies. It is not something exceedingly out of the ordinary, but the music resonates with me in a way that makes it a worthwhile listen. Der Nacht is a wholesome album that essentially feels pure - The synths don't seem out of place among the cold guitar tracks, the bass isn't "there" just because, and the drumming feels relevant and applied. 7/10 guitars.

1. Under the Moon We Are the Hunters
2. Transparent Tears from Saturnus
3. Black Waves of Thy Winter
4. My Sideral Journey
5. The Howling Wind Whispers My Destiny
6. Mother Night, Eternal Labyrinth
7. Der Nacht (Your World is Covered by Lies)

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