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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14 Mar 2014

Subscale - The Last Submission [Full length] (2013, Geenger Records)

Reviewing something like Subscale is a troublesome undertaking. For a lover of the old school and loather of mindless modernity, an album like The Last Submission from a band that has in such a degree soaked up all the clichés and trends of the last 15 years of mainstream metal and hardcore is an unwelcome nostalgia trip to the distant lands of Korn, Slipknot, Killswitch Engage and so on. In 2010 Subscale was formed in Croatia with the first release, the EP "Fictional Constructs", being released in 2012. It wasn't long before the debut album, The Last Submission, was released, with a lineup counting seven people.

The style Subscale represent is computerized nu-metal-core for and from a definite digital age. The project is plentifully staffed, aimed at joining the most heavy, groove-laden elements of nu metal, djent, metalcore and other contemporary genres in one release uninterested in innovation and deviation. Borrowing several factors from especially a North American style, their sound is dense and core-fueled throughout the long-winded album, with each song sprinkled with pleasingly melodic choruses. Despite the apparent abundance of band members the compositions don't sound cluttered, which either speaks of the skills of the sound engineer or the complete redundancy of having so many people in one band.

The Last Submission is heavy-handed and grooving, but at the same time immensely unattractive, inoffensive and thuggish. I mentioned the melodic choruses in an earlier paragraph, which is what carries the band's mainstream appeal, but this is where the pleasantries end. Though the ensemble obviously have great control over the arts of open-stringed chugging riffs (though "riffs" seems a poor term under these circumstances), this recipe gets old fast. With little variation like tight melodies, breaks or anything, it's hard to distinguish between songs were it not for the blandly clean vocal melodies which each and every chorus section has.

Subscale's debut, though neatly produced and well-executed, seems like an unnecessary collection of modern clichés. Despite attempts to keep a high level of energy throughout the album, the amount of investment both the band and the listener can muster half-way through seems to be radically decreasing. The completely interchangable riffs and vocal parts aren't enough to decisively make it worth the chore it is to endure the extended, mindlessly pumping chugs that make up the majority of the material on Subscale's album. Where the band's peers, who have a tight grip on the younger mainstream audience, all have their trademark values, Subscale doesn't amount to set itself apart from the hordes of similar bands that came out 5 or 10 years ago, even if The Last Submission is a wholesome experiment in hte blandness of deep-string chugging. I suspect some people will think this is one of the greatest albums of all time, but I am not one of those people. 5/10 for effort.

1. Interception
2. Fictional Constructs
3. Antecedent
4. Method and Manner
5. Pull the Threads (Extraction)
6. Realization
7. Outreach
8. The Verdict
9. The Last Submission
10. Endgame

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