Monday, July 30, 2012

Gontyna Kry- Oblicza Prawd Zdradzonych Dla Krzyża (1996)

Oblicza Prawd Zdradzonych Dla Krzyża is the weak link in the otherwise very strong early Gontyna Kry discography. In contrast to the highly developed and stylized demos like Welowie and Pusty Wieczór, Oblicza Prawd… is a lot less focused and refined. The demo occasionally displays the band’s excellent taste for melody and harmony, but the sound quality is far inferior to their other releases from this era. 

The overall mix is pretty poor. The vocals are upfront, while the instruments are all muddled in the background. That’s unfortunate, because the vocals are not great here. While most Gontyna Kry’s early recordings have high-pitched vocals in the vein of early Burzum, here the vocalist melds a blackened scream  with a straight-forward shout. This is not the ideal vocal style for this atmospheric and melancholic brand of black metal. The guitars are sufficiently audible, but are weak and cheap sounding. The high end of the drums is easy to hear, but the low end is really difficult to make out. 

The songwriting on Oblicza Prawd… is not very interesting either. There are three pieces of black metal in the style of Master’s Hammer circa Ritual; while this is a nice style, none of the songs are very consistent. There are some nice passages scattered throughout the recording (i.e. harmonic chorus on “Pradawne Przymierze”) but none the songs sustain interest from start to finish. The intro and outro—which are often standouts on Gontyna Kry recordings—are also not their best. The intro is a decent electric solo backed by acoustic guitar, but nothing especially captivating, while the outro is an innocuous solo piece for electric guitar. 

Oblicza Prawd… is definitely the weakest of Gontyna Kry’s demos. In comparison to the feast of melancholic melodies that comprise the next few releases, Oblicza Prawd… is simply lacking. While diehard fans might find it somewhat interesting to hear what the band sounded like at this early stage, newcomers would be better off looking to the next three releases, which have much more to offer. 

Overall: 4/10

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Countess- The Book of the Heretic (1996)

If you go to the Countess website you can read Orlok’s personal memories from the recording sessions of all of the albums through 2007’s Blazing Flames of War. On a number of occasions (i.e. The Gospel of the Horned One and The Shining Swords of Hate) Orlok boasts about making albums with the most “horrible” sound quality possible. He seems to see the ultra-lo-fi production as an ideological finger at overproduced and commercial black metal and simultaneously, a horned salute to first wave legends such as Venom and Bathory. The one album whose sound Orlok actually laments is The Book of the Heretic, which he thinks “utterly sucks” (which is apparently the polar opposite of being “horrible”). I can’t help but find this highly ironic, because The Book of the Heretic is the perfect example of an album with production that is in principle terrible, but on this one special occasion fits the songs like a glove. 

The production on The Book of the Heretic is like that of no other black metal album. Black metal is notorious for producing albums on which the bass is very low in the mix, if not completely inaudible. Here, the bass is not only audible, but it by far the loudest instrument in the mix! Each rubbery note of the bass stands front and center. The guitars are much lower in the mix, with the exception of the solos, which are sharp and clear. Now on paper, that sounds awful. First of all, the bass is a rhythm instrument and unless we’re talking about Geddy Lee, Les Claypool etc., the bass should stick to that roll. Considering that Countess is a raw, minimal, old-school black metal band, it’s hard to see how a bass-centered album can work… but damn does it work! The reason it works so well is the narrative nature of songs that make up The Book of the Heretic

The Book of the Heretic is a loose concept album based around stories of warriors who have sold their soul to Satan so as to rid the world of Christianity. The lyrics have it all: battles, torture, goats, demons and strange sex rituals. These are like bedtime stories from Hell. Orlok describes the various torture chambers, battlefields and dimensions of Hell in descriptive story tale fashion, mostly from the first person perspective. He employs a wide range of vocals to add drama to the stories. Of course there is his signature blackened squall, but there are also boisterous spoken word passages and bellowing chants. 

By and large, The Book of the Heretic is composed of slow paced songs that take their time to unfold, and that’s just fine, because the melodies are excellent. The songs mostly start out soft and subtle before eventually reaching intensely violent peaks. Orlok takes his time letting every line sink in, allowing the wicked stories to vividly come to life in the listener’s imagination. The trotting bass lines set the pace for the stories to unfold, while the devious guitar leads and spooky synths provide colorful highlights throughout.

The Book of the Heretic is one of those albums where every song (save “Creation”) is excellent in its own right. It’s tempting to describe every song because each one has its own creepy story to tell and Orlok is never at a loss for a few catchy hooks and dramatic compositional twists. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only mention the simultaneously hilarious and kickass “Give me Your Soul.” Countess has always had a theatrical element to its sound, and here Orlok decides to let his inner thespian come out. Our “hero” has a woman trapped in a torture chamber where teases her while preparing to steal her soul. “It’s not just your flesh I want,” hums Orlok as if he were talking to a scared puppy, before bursting out into blood-curdling screams of “giving me your soul!” It’s so excessive and extreme that you can’t help but laugh and bang your head at once. 

The only weakness of the album is the three faster, thrashy songs; here the production does lead to awkward results. The pounding bass and minimal guitar just cannot fulfill the vicious aims of these tracks. Nevertheless, Orlok’s malicious vocals and blistering solos still make “In Hate of Christ” and “On the Wings of Azeral” worthwhile. “Creation,” on the other hand, is basically two and a half minutes of filler. Otherwise, the longer, slow tracks all sound excellent.

The Book of the Heretic is a great album in the same way that a cheap, low budget horror movie can be great. Yes, it’s silly, over the top and isn’t executed with much grace, charm or attention to detail, but it sure is a lot of fun. For those who like epic and spooky melodies, demented fairytales and lo-fi production, The Book of the Heretic is essential listening and any Countess fan who overlooked this release should remedy that immediately. 

Overall: 9.5/10

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Graveland- Dawn of Iron Blades (2004)

Graveland’s viking metal period started out with a blast. The first three albums each consist of epic riffs, textured keyboards and glorious melodies that vividly depict stories of battle and/or folklore. While the core elements are the same, each album employs them in an original manner, developing its own identity. Immortal Pride is big and bombastic with massive orchestral synths dominating the soundscape. Creed of Iron is similarly epic, but opts for a more riff oriented, aggressive sound. Memory and Destiny deemphasizes the militant themes and creates a beautiful, lush soundscape that revolves around oceanic folklore. With 2004’s The Fire of Awakening Rob finally ran out of ways to reemploy the style. The riffs are cookie cutter and the songs are overlong and bloated. 

Rob must have recognized that the style had become stale, because Dawn of Iron Blades contains some fairly significant changes. Dawn of Iron Blades is the most aggressive album of Graveland’s viking metal period. While there is still a fair share of melodic passages, there is way more attacking passages than usual. There are far fewer keys than on most of Graveland’s earlier albums and in general the soundscape involves far fewer elements and layers. The keys are truly a background instrument and Rob is willing to let them disappear for long stretches of time. There are even some piercing banshee wails that supplement Rob’s signature dry rasp. (These wails are definitely the best contribution Dawn of Iron Blades has to offer, though they will be better employed on the next album, Fire Chariot of Destruction.)

Unfortunately, all these changes do not manage to resuscitate the struggling Graveland project. The problem begins with the production, which is just awful. The sound is extremely flat. Graveland have suffered from weak production in the past but never to this degree. The shaky, weak tone of the guitars is especially bad. Considering that the goal of this album is to create a more violent atmosphere, the weakness of the guitars is a major issue. Here we are with these pounding drums and spiteful vocals, but the guitars are as thin as rice paper! The epic passages sound equally poor. The guitars lack the force to sweep the listener away. 

Beyond the production issues, Dawn of Iron Blades suffers from a general dearth of standout songs. While there are a number of decent riffs scattered throughout the album, none of the songs are truly engaging from start to finish. Most of the time, the songs feel aimless. They flounder for two or three minutes before stumbling upon a nice riff or synth line only to fade back into the nebulous fog of mediocrity. 

While Rob Darken can be complimented for not making the same mistake twice, making two different mistakes once isn’t a whole lot better. Dawn of Iron Blades avoids the predictable sound and generic songwriting of The Fire of Awakening, but instead suffers from poor mixing and sloppy songwriting. Ultimately these flaws are even more damaging than those of the previous album and as a result Dawn of Iron Blades earns the title of worst Graveland full length to date. 

Overall: 5/10

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ildjarn- Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths (1992)

Ildjarn is best known for fast, energetic and addictive bite-sized pieces of black metal. However, his debut demo, Unknown Truths is anything but fast, energetic and addictive; it is plodding, monotonous and boring. His second demo, Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths fails to improve on its predecessor, suffering from the exact same flaws. 

From the sound of it, the two demos were recorded in very close proximity to one another. The style of songwriting—longer (by Ildjarn’s standards), repetitive songs consisting of a few bumbling power chords—is exactly the same. Even a few tracks are repeated between the two demos. Insofar as the production is concerned, Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths has a slightly more powerful guitar tone than Unknown Truths. The other elements are the same. The drums are very straight forward, while the vocals are rough and hateful (the later once again being the highlight of the demo).  

Like its predecessor, the downfall of Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is the mediocrity of the riffs. There are very few elements to Ildjarn compositions and without quality riffs, the music doesn’t go anywhere. Here the riffs are just big, weighted and flavorless. The result is an album that zaps the listener’s energy and spirit. Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths doesn’t even have the weird, extraterrestrial-inspired ambient passages of its predecessor. Sadly, those ambient passages were the strength of Unknown Truths, which means Seven Harmonies… is even less interesting. 

Fortunately, Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is the end of the dry and dull opening stage of Ildjarn’s career. With the self-titled 1993 demo Ildjarn’s signature style emerges, setting the stage for some truly excellent recordings. Nonetheless, while good news is close at hand, the fact remains that Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is a total bore. 

Overall: 4/10

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Enslaved- Yggdrasill (1992)

Yggdrasill is where the Enslaved’s sound is truly born. Enslaved emerged from the ashes of the doom-death metal act Phobia, of which both Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson were members. Enslaved’s first demo, Nema is a messy misfire that still clings too heavily to doom-death conventions while trying to introduce black metal elements. Yggdrasill suffers from no such issues; this is pure epic black metal performed with inspiration. 

Yggdrasill is an excellent example of raw production done right. While there is absolutely no makeup on this recording, all the elements are clearly audible, except the bass (naturally), which takes some effort to make out. The guitars have a sharp and thin tone that results in an edgy, attacking sound. The drums are slightly more upfront, but don’t wash out the other instruments. The keys take center stage whenever they’re played, but do so without bombarding the listener. As a result, one actually gets a sense of the kinesis between the musicians. One can feel the energy and excitement that was in the room as this demo was being recorded. The rawness only manages to enhance the intensity of those feelings. 

The demo consists of four tracks of black metal and two keyboard pieces. The metal tracks are all longer, around 7-8 minutes each. In spite of their lengths, there aren’t a ton of elements at play. This is mostly fast and attacking black metal in which riffs are generously repeated. The riffs themselves are all solid, possessing a dark and mystical ambience. The repetition, along with sprinting pace of the drums and periodic interweaving of the bombastic keys results in a brilliant atmosphere. One can envision folkloric scenes of Vikings battling the elements to reach unknown lands.There are also a number of moments on the demo where the tempo is dropped a notch and Enslaved’s psychedelic tenancies start to sneak up. For example, the chorus of “Allfaðr Oðinn” centers on choir and organ samples that recall early Pink Floyd. 

The first two tracks on Yggdrasill would go on to be rerecorded: “Allfaðr Oðinn” on the Hordane’s Land EP and “Heimdallr” on the Víkínglígr Veldí LP. While the two rerecordings are ultimately superior—the execution is stronger, especially in the rhythm section—the sheer vivacity of these early versions makes them a worthwhile listen. The other two tracks are definitely the weaker of the bunch. The compositions are simpler and involve fewer wrinkles; nonetheless, both songs contain some strong riffs and keys. 

Yggdrasill provides one final treat for Enslaved fans in the stunning neoclassical piece, “The Winter Kingdom Opus I: Resound of Gjallarhorn”. The title could not be more apt. The song centers on a chilling and beautiful piano melody that immediately conjures images of a still, snow-covered forest far away from the hand of modern man. Choir and flute samples intensify the sense of awe and wonder. Unlike many of his black metal counterparts, Bjørnson has rarely indulged in neoclassical doodling; this piece will make you wish he did. 

With many of the big name Norwegian black metal bands the demos are interesting historical points of reference but fail to be enjoyable listens in their own right. That is not the case with Yggdrasill. This is an energetic recording full of memorable passages and solid compositions. While this is still a few steps short of the sheer genius of Víkínglígr Veldí, this was obviously a gigantic leap forward for Ensalved. 

Overall: 8.5/10

Monday, July 16, 2012

Burzum- Filosofem (1996)

"In every night there's a different black."

This line encapsulates the essence of Burzum’s fourth full length album, Filosofem (meaning, “Philosopheme”). Filosofem is an expression of Varg’s overarching philosophy. Musically, that philosophy is grounded in the concept of difference and repetition. Progressions slowly, almost without being noticed, differentiate over extended durations of time. The listener is lost in a paradoxical middle ground where sound seems to be simultaneously stagnant and morphing. While Varg plays with difference within repetition on all Burzum recordings, it is here that the technique is employed in its purest form. Each song contains only a small number of progressions that that are repeated for extended periods of time with subtle changes slowly but surely emerging.

The same concept is expressed through the lyrics and accompanying stories (the booklet contains a number of stories in Norwegian; the English versions are only available on the Burzum website). Filosofem is a concept album loosely based on the interplay of light and darkness: two oppositional forces that contrast each other but are also dependent on one another for meaning. Varg explores this interplay at both the literal and metaphorical level. For example, the story “Creeping and Crawling, Rustling and Fluttering” and the lyrics to “Burzum” explore the way in which night and day reveal the world through two oppositional filters; the story “Mouse Town” and the lyrics of “Gebrechlichkeit” describe a decrepit world in which the darkness has been removed and only light remains, an allusion to the Christian God of light.

Filosofem also marks a sharp change in production and execution for Burzum. The production is much cleaner and sharper than on prior recordings. It is the first Burzum album that does not in any way qualify as raw black metal. All the instruments are crystal clear and the performance is tight. While prior albums had a sense of uninhibited fervor, Filosofem is a work of precision. Every note is on point and every tap of the drum is on time. Even Varg's signature howls are replaced with a more reserved, raspy growl. All these changes could hint a gross misstep in Burzum's development, but as a matter of fact, the cleaner style is the perfect medium for the songs of Filosofem.

The album can be divided into two uneven parts. There are the opening three tracks which are lively and vivid; then there are the closing three tracks which are slow and contemplative. Certainly, there are multiple ways to interpret the relation of the two parts of the album, but considering the emphasis on light and darkness, it feels as if the first three songs represent the day and the last three songs represent the night.

The opening half contains a trio of energetic cuts of black metal. “Burzum” (which is actually the first song Varg wrote for Burzum) centers on a hypnotic riff that slowly slithers back and forth while hollow keys release notes like drops of water. Background layers of guitar sneak in and out of the composition. Then, in an absolutely exquisite moment, the notes are rearranged and Varg shifts from growl to spoken word. It’s a subtle but highly effective change that typifies the compositional techniques used throughout the album. "Jesus Tod" is absolutely enthralling. After a wicked guitar intro, the song breaks out into a ravenous pairing of sprinting drums and scathing guitars. Though there is very little change in the progression, the song still manages to build toward cathartic overflows. On “Erblicket die Töchter des Firmaments” a hard rocking riff and a steady drum beat are accompanied by ghostly keys. The sharp and steady percussion provide all three songs with a dynamic, fluid movement that hints at primal drives such as hunger and lust.

The second half of the album is quite a shift. The percussion disappears and the songs become even more repetitive. The centerpiece is the massive, twenty-five minute ambient piece “Rundgang um die Transzendentale Säule der Singularität,” which begins in a curious and playful tone but slowly shifts into a deep and solemn mood. It’s like watching a spiritual epiphany unravel; the melody initially seems simple and banal, but by the end has transformed into a brilliant choir of shimmering keys. Yet, even at its most profound, the music remains gentle and solemn. “Rundgang…” is bookended by “Gebrechlichkeit” parts I and II, which are basically the same song, only the first one has vocals while the second is instrumental. “Gebrechlichkeit” (meaning something along the lines of “frailness”) is a highly depressive song that centers on somber progressions on guitar and keys. The lyrics describe a world in which darkness is gone and only light remains—the world of the Christian God. In lieu of the dynamism of light and dark, all power is drained and one left in a state of absolute frailty. The song effectively depicts the Christian heaven as the most horrific realm fathomable. By blanketing the multifaceted, paganistic “Rundgang…” with the hopeless monotony of “Gebrechlichkeit,” Varg resoundingly depicts the spiritual superiority of paganism over monotheism.

Black metal has always been a genre tightly bound to ideology, but few black metal acts have created an album that is as ideologically complete asFilosofem. Filosofem provides a doorway into a paganistic worldview, in which darkness and light are at constant play with one another. Appropriately, Filosofem is a significant moment not only in the musical development of black metal—the employment trance-inducing repetition has caught on like wildfire—but also in the philosophical development of the genre. Filosofem maintains the critique of Christianity that is so central to black metal, but moves beyond the contrarian obsession with Satanism and into the realm of paganism. While Filosofem is by no means the first black metal album to take up paganistic themes (to one degree or another they’ve always been around, at least in the Norwegian scene), Varg’s use of repetition is the perfect tool through which to express an ideology that is grounded in the cycles and patterns of nature. For achieving a total unity of ideology and sound, it is fair to describe Filosofem as a perfect black metal album.

Overall: 10/10

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ildjarn- Unknown Truths (1991)

Ildjarn’s debut demo, Unknown Truths, is somewhat of a surprise for those familiar with his more famous releases. Rather than the quick, punchy black metal blitzes Ildjarn is known for, here he performs muddy and weighted pieces that lack the vision and originality most of his other works. 

Like all Ildjarn recordings, Unknown Truths is pretty stripped down. However, whereas most Ildjarn releases have more of a sharp and grating rawness to them, the sound quality here is dense and gritty. The drums are in the forefront, but the guitars and vocals are still easily audible. The guitars don’t have the best tone and would benefit from a bit more power, but overall the sound quality is decent. 

Unknown Truths consists of six slow to mid-tempo riff oriented pieces of black metal. The songs are grounded in big, lumbering riffs that unfortunately, fail to impress. The bulky hooks just aren’t that inspiring. This is ultimately the downfall of Unknown Truths. For a band as minimal as Ildjarn, the quality of the riffs is of the utmost importance. Usually Ildjarn delivers big time, but here there just isn’t much that is captivating. The other elements fail to pick up the slack. The drums are pretty simple, but not quite as monochromatic as most Ildjarn recordings. The vocals are the strength; they’re vicious and unrelenting.  That said, they aren’t so captivating that they can carry the recording. 

Each song is introduced with a brief ambient passage, which are kind of cool. They sound like excerpts from some obscure 70’s sci-fi film. There really isn’t any compositional connection between the ambient passages and the metal though; the ambient sections are just slapped on the front of black metal tracks with no attention paid to integrating these two disparate elements. 

Obviously Ildjarn had not developed his own musical identity when he recorded this demo. One can see him playing with lo-fi production and minimalistic compositions, but he hasn’t found the correct formula for them yet. There’s also the ambient he would later excel at, but here it’s only a whimsical frill. Slightly interesting for those interested in tracking the early genesis of Ildjarn’s sound, but otherwise a pretty insignificant release.

Overall: 4.5/10

Monday, July 9, 2012

Graveland- The Fire of Awakening (2003)

Between 1993’s In the Glare of Burning Churches demo to 2002’s Memory and Destiny all of Graveland’s major releases ranged from very good to great. Ten years of stellar material is a really impressive accomplishment that few bands can match; but alas, all streaks come to an end. 2003’s The Fire of Awakening is Graveland’s first truly mediocre release. While it’s stylistically not too far off from the prior three albums, exhibiting the same epic pagan metal style, it lacks the originality, inspiration and quality of its predecessors. 

The basic elements that we have all come to expect from Graveland are present here: epic riffs, bellowing synths, militant drumming and Rob’s dry growls. However, nothing is really hitting the spot this time out. The riffs are fairly innocuous and the synths are predictable in their bombast. Rob often goes for overly simplistic and clunky riffs (i.e. the opening riff of “Battle of Wotan's Wolves”) that are well below Graveland’s standard. Other times the music just sounds like an uninspired replication of Creed of Iron.

There is actually a significant addition to The Fire of Awakening. This album marks the introduction of the Atlantean Monumental Choir and Ancient Valkyrian Choir. The introduction of real choirs opens up an entirely new range of possibilities for Graveland. No matter how great Rob’s synth samples are, nothing can replace the power of a group of well-trained human voices. However, here Rob employs the choirs very ineffectively. On albums such as Fire Chariot of Destruction and Will Stronger than Death the choirs make a massive impact; an astute listener will quickly notice that the vocals are far too dynamic to be produced by a synth. In contrast, it would be easy to assume that the vocals on The Fire of Awakening were the product of a keyboard. The vocal lines are monotone and fail to take advantage of the range that is available with a choir. 

Most of the songs on The Fire of Awakening fail to distinguish themselves. The songs are somewhat plodding and feel dragged out. “We Shall Prevail,” is the only track that is really captivating. The way in which the opening stretch of choir builds toward the dramatic lead riff is quite chilling. The other tracks lack such standout moments and all sort of meld into one another. 

While The Fire of Awakening is not a bad album, it is most definitely a pedestrian album. It’s safe, generic and uninspired—certainly well below Graveland’s high standard.  While any musician who keeps at it for long enough will eventually release a few duds, it’s still disappointing when it happens. For that reason, The Fire of Awakening can be described as a big disappointment. 

Overall: 6/10

Graveland- Blood of Heroes (2002)

After releasing the gorgeous Memory and Destiny, Rob Darken quickly followed it up with the Blood of Heroes EP. The contents of the EP are in all likelihood tracks that didn’t make the cut for Memory and Destiny. The two songs are in a similar style, employing the same musical elements and creating a similar oceanic aura. However, there are a few factors that distinguish Blood of Heroes from Memory and Destiny. The arrangements on Blood of Heroes are thinned out. While there are big synths, they are nowhere near as layered as those found on Memory and Destiny. The result is a more open sound. While the synths starred on Memory and Destiny, here the guitars and synth are on about equal footing. The drumming is also more prominent, sounding far more sharp and crisp than on most Graveland recordings. 

“I am What They Fear” is definitely the stronger of the two songs. Rob employs his fusion of bold riffs and heavenly synths within a faster, more upbeat framework. The choir wails a glorious tune while the drums provide a galloping pace. The faster pace marries the violence and nobility of the warrior into one attacking yet elegant sound. The title track isn’t as interesting. It’s a fairly standard piece for this era, but it lacks a truly memorable riff. 

All in all one would have to conclude that Rob did a good job in choosing which songs to keep off of Memory and Destiny. While “I am What They Fear” is an excellent song, its fast pace and aggressive attitude would have been out of place amongst the mid-tempo, reflective pieces on Memory and Destiny. On the other hand, “Blood of Heroes” just doesn’t stand out. It’s a solid but not spectacular piece that lacks a truly stellar riff. In sum, Blood of Heroes is a nice a quick fix for those who can’t get enough of Graveland’s pagan metal era.

Overall: 8/10

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Burzum- Demo (1991)

One might think that a band like Burzum would have some amazing demos. Heck, his early albums are raw enough as it is and the production is so minimal that some would argue that they aren’t far from demo quality to begin with. The primitive style of early Burzum works so well with a raw atmosphere that it seems as if it could sound really powerful in an even rawer form. Well, that all works better in theory then it does it practice. Burzum’s first demo is a complete and utter disaster; a god-awful performance and comically bad recording that renders several classic tracks intolerable. 

The recording quality is just awful and not in a “raw” or “necro” way, but rather in a “this guy had no idea what he was doing when he recorded this,” way. The sound quality is horrendous. The music constantly fades in and out, increasing and decreasing in volume, sometimes to such a degree that music almost goes silent. There is also a ton of hiss and other interference. Furthermore, the guitars just sound awful. They lack punch and are overly jittery as if the battery on the amp was about to run out of electricity. Furthermore, the demo is totally instrumental, which means there are no vocals to distract us from the abdominal performance. While these are excellent compositions, without Varg's ravaging screams they lack a center point. 
The ambient track “Channeling…” fares no better than its metal brethren. There is a highly irritating and constant clicking noise in the background; it’s as if a metronome was accidentally left on while Varg recorded the track. There is also a random burst of distortion that washes out the sound. The keyboard itself doesn’t sound awful, but it is fairly one-dimensional and lacks the girth Burzum's later keyboard recordings have.
There is really no benefit to this demo. The execution is awful and the production is horrendous. This does not create a dark or evil atmosphere or anything of the sort. Time would be better spent listening to the studio versions for a hundredth time than listening to this demo even once. 

Overall: 2/10

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gontyna Kry- Przebudzic ze Snu (1994)

Often in black metal, demos are much more than demos; they’re basically lo-fi albums or EPs. However, Przebudzic ze Snu, the very first recording by Polish black metalers Gontyna Kry is most definitely a true demo.  This is an extremely brief and shoddy recording that still manages to hint at the band’s untapped potential. 

The production actually isn’t too bad for this kind of recording. It is very raw and there is a decent amount of hiss, but all the instruments are audible. The vocals, guitars and drums are well balanced and the bass… well I don’t think there is any bass. On a few occasions there appear to be gaps in the recording, but otherwise this is a good example of how to record black metal on a budget. 

The album consists of three tracks. The first track is an instrumental piece for multiple guitars (I count three). The guitars weave deliciously melodic harmonies, creating a web of melodic bliss. Sadly the track is only one minute. The second track is an epic piece of black metal in the vein of Master’s Hammer circa Ritual. There is a beautiful but anxious lead that eventually progresses to a violent middle passage (in which the drummer aimlessly beats the shit out of his drum kit) before returning to a more melodious tone at the end. The vocals are prominent and are a similar in style to Varg on the early Burzum albums. The final track is a folk piece that layers more harmonic electric guitar atop jangly acoustic guitar. It’s a mere forty-five seconds, but what a beautiful forty-five seconds it is!

For such a short recording, Gontyna Kry does well. The intro and outro definitely make the listener want to hear more and though the central track has its flaws, it is strong enough to peak the listener’s curiosity. That is ultimately what a demo should accomplish. So all in all Przebudzic ze Snu is a job well done. 

Overall: 6/10

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Immortal- Blizzard Beasts (1997)

Blizzard Beasts is the third and final installment in Immortal’s “holocaust metal” trilogy. The album lacks the sheer compositional brilliance of Pure Holocaust but is slightly more creative than Battles in the North. While Battles in the North opts to create the “trapped in a snowstorm” atmosphere through sheer force, Blizzard Beasts employs a little more style. Here Immortal integrates choppier death metal riffs and rhythms into the icy landscape of blackened tremolo and blast beats, resulting in a fuller, more aggressive sound. 

Blizzard Beasts consists of a series of quick hitting and concise tracks. The album’s total running time is under a half hour. If you exclude the epic “Mountains of Might” the other eight tracks are on average less than three minutes apiece. However, Immortal accomplishes a lot in short stretches of time. While the songs tend to center around crunchy lead riffs, Immortal does a nice job of seamlessly integrating lush bridges, stretches of icy tremolo and epic solos into these brief compositions. The result is an album that is quite dynamic; tracks like “Noctambulant” and the title track are absolutely smothering, while tracks like “Winter of the Ages” are shrill and frigid. Consequently, the album feels longer than it actually is—in a good way. There’s a lot to chew on for such bite size songs and a good amount of diversity throughout the recording. 

The aforementioned “Mountains of Might” is definitely the outlier. The track is a mid-tempo epic, which builds off of “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” from the prior album. However, whereas the composition of “Blashyrkh” was a little muddled, “Mountains of Might” is brilliantly pieced together. A mournful synth intro leads to a series of glorious riffs and an awesome chant-along chorus. This song would fit in perfectly on Immortal’s next album, At the Heart of Winter and is as good, if not better than any track on that album. 

If there is a flaw with Blizzard Beasts it is that, save “Mountains of Might,” it lacks moments of brilliance. These songs will get your head banging and provide you with a few memorable hooks, but it rarely elevates to the profound heights of the first two albums. Still, Blizzard Beasts is a worthwhile closing chapter to Immortal’s holocaust metal era. 

Overall: 8.5/10