Cruz Del Sur Roundup: Ravensire, Slough Feg, & Lunar Shadow
Checking in on some new trad gear courtesy of Cruz Del Sur.
(*Chainmail/armour not included)
Ravensire – A Stone Engraved In Red
Portugal has never become known as a prime exporter of heavy metal, despite Metal Archives listing well over a thousand bands hailing from it’s shores. Sometimes I feel as if Rick “Helregni” Thor had taken it upon his shoulders to single-handedly change this fact. Ever since the early 90’s he’s led the heavy metal flavoured black/thrashers Filii Nigrantium Infernalium with Belathauzer, in the mid 00’s fortified the ranks of true metal stalwarts Ironsword, and after said stint formed the thrash metal patrol Perpetratör. It’s his most recentborn band Ravensire that is the most interest for us, and for me, perhaps in general, today though.
Though, for the better part of a decade, Ravensire has been trying cleave their own image onto the face of heavy metal, further developing their sound towards something only theirs with each passing year, the burly, Trad ‘N True heavy metal is much indebted to the likes of Manilla Road (the album is dedicated to the memory of Mark Shelton and Hartmuth “Barbarian Wrath” Schindler), Manowar, Omen and Brocas Helm. This, of course, stands for burly Conan the Barbarian-esque approach to their trade, with charging riffs, plentiful galloping and impassioned leadwork with bassist/vocalist Rick’s manlier-Rock-‘n-Rolf approach to his singing every bit as rough and gritty as the band is heavy hitting.
In order to make a sound of their own, Ravensire was never afraid to
paint with a broader palette fight with a larger collection of axes than their counterparts. It’s not unusual for a band of their kind to take advantage of doomier riffs, or add good bit of melodic flair to their music, though the two rarely go hand in hand as they do on A Stone Engraved in Red, which in part lends an air of agility, or limberness to the riffs and the leadwork that is not there for many. On The Cycle Never Ends, Ravensire already hinted at a more ambitious scope with the closing “White Pillars” -trilogy, but on A Stone Engraved in Red the penchant for fairly complex arrangements for such a simplistic style is truly starting to come to it’s own.
I wouldn’t call this an album filled with complex arrangements per se, but but Ravensire keeps the songs moving and shifting, in context, at a rare pace, and not afraid to break their songwriting formula. When change of pace comes, it’s never offered as an individual song – there’s no obligatory, ham-fisted, retch-worthy ballads a’la later Manowar records, or the obligatory, late-album doom-drag. Instead, it’s all written into the songs, well placed and thought out with tempo changes, sudden eruptions into thought-out solos, a mellower, contemplating passage and other detours keep the songs more interesting than the standard is for barbaric heavy metal. Only the instrumental “Bloodsoaked Fields” makes an exception to this, and it comes off as an intro to the heartfelt Mark Shelton tribute “After The Battle”.
There’s not been a shortage of heavy metal this year, as there practically never is, but not all of it has been great – as not a lot of it ever is. Some have attained critical, and fan, acclaim, other shave not. Some were released with a higher profile than others. But none of them are A Stone Engraved in Red, and at best a happy few are even half as good.
The Lord Weird Slough Feg – New Organon
It’s been a long wait between New Organon and Digital Resistance, even if last year’s single with the title track and an excellent cover of “Synchronicity II” somewhat eased the pain. Between now and then guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Mike Scalzi decided to return his band to their original, extended moniker The Lord Weird Slough Feg to mark a heavier, rougher and rawer style, and supposedly a return to the days of Down Among The Dead Men and Twilight of The Idols.
It wouldn’t be a Slough Feg album with an overarching, nerdy, concept and this time it’s inspired by/based on Francis Bacon’s 1620 book, New Organon. According to Bacon and others, the science method had remained stagnant for this long period, through the middle ages and renaissance, and needed a refresher. ‘Organon’ refers to a scientific instrument or more literally, organ. The lyrics largely follow Scalzi’s – who is a college philosophy professor – lecture notes. Moving more or less in a chronological order through primitive tribal society, like shamanism, as the first philosophers and then proceeds though the pre-Socratics era and then Plato, Aristotle, medieval catholic theology, enlightenment and then existentialist philosophy.
“Headhunter” kicks the door down with pounding rhythms and best exemplifies the tribal-felling sound that has become synonymous with Slough Feg. As an opener, however, it hobbles too much with it’s main riff to really get going at any point. It isn’t really until the slow-burning “The Apology’s” emotional chorus and harmonized leads, which the following, rowdy “Being And Nothingness” doubles up on. Unfortunately, the band keeps hiccoughing their way through the album as the title track, driven by weighty, old school Slough Feg beats, is followed by a tepid “Sword of Machiavelli” with a particularly awkward, insecure sounding, drum performance.
New Organon was recorded in two separate sessions, only one of which featured the band’s current drummer Jeff Griffin, and the other session musician John Dust and one must hope that it’s the latter on the kit here. The following “Uncanny” retraces the steps of some of Slough Feg’s most aggressive tracks with a livid kick action, but Scalzi forfeits the mic for bassist Adrian Maestas, who has a much less gritty and discernible voice. It’s also one of the songs that, thanks to the separate sessions, sounds musty and stale, instead of being filled with primal power. Though the worst offender by far is the closer “The Cynic”, which sounds like a demo outtake.
There’s little and less on New Organon that actually recalls the days of Twilight of The Idols, and much that sounds akin to Digital Resistance and The Animal Spirits, besides it’s lyrical approach. The unflattering mix of one of the sessions and a few awkward performances aren’t much of an assistance, when New Organon has some of the least inspiring compositions of Slough Feg’s career. At it’s best it’s still a fine record, but a far cry from their best, and not at it’s best all too often.
Lunar Shadow – The Smokeless Fires
If there’s one album that I regret not placing on my, more or less arbitrarily chosen, end of the year lists, it’s Far From Light. It’s impossible to squeeze every worthwhile album into such a short list – though not the ones that make a lasting impression, and would be counter-purposeful to try and select the most listened to ones, as this would (should) heavily favor early year releases. Thus no real merit can be placed upon such lists, yet I feel, all this considered, Far From Light was accomplished in some such way that it deserved to make it, no matter what.
While by no means solely thanks to him, a good portion of Far From Light’s charm came from the tone, the carefully melodies and Alex Vornam’s vocals playing together in a way that gave the album a sense of fragility that I have not often encountered in so heavy hitting, hard-riffing heavy metal. The long and winding songs built from intricate melodies, impassioned delivery and powerful, extremely memorable riffs that borrowed almost as much from the classics of Scandinavian black metal as they did from 80’s heavy metal.
One of the debut’s stronger features was it’s labyrinthine songwriting. While it hasn’t been haggled on here either, The Smokeless Fires feels less defined by it. This makes for a more concise effort, as most of the songs are considerably shorter than on it’s predecessor. The Smokeless Fires also has a few brand new tricks up it’s sleeves, giving Lunar Shadow’s already unique melding of metal music’s history yet another layer of complexity. While “Catch Fire” already flirts with a darker, more supposedly mature approach with it’s opening piano lines and gentle mid-section betwixt Maiden-esque leads, and a slowly growing blackened influence alternating with thrashing riffs leading the song to channel as much older melodeath as it does anything black metal. Though the following “Conajohara No More” is a moodier effort it’s becoming clear The Smokeless Fires is a beefier effort than Far From Light, not by much, but enough that the feeling of fragility lies now mostly on Röttig’s shoulders – whenever the music needs to convey this feeling, it instead draws from the less metallic set of influences. And while Röttig quickly proves himself capable of doing just that, he isn’t always strong enough to stand out from the midst of lavish, buxom riffs when they discard those influences.
The much lauded post-punk influence largely finds itself limited to the intro of “Roses”, though the song continues to flirt with it occasionally, it’s never melded further into the band’s sound. Though the song itself is good, the back-to-back placing with “Pretend”, a less than stellar piano ballad creates a mid-album torpor that it spends all of the following song waking up from. The band’s winding, intricate songwriting comes best together on the final two tracks, incidentally, or not, also the albums two longest songs. “Hawk of the Hills” especially foes through so many changes that any band less capable would only find themselves exhausted and exhausting.
The Smokeless Fires is a worthwhile follow-up to Far From Light, with increased fluidity, though it’s replaced any previous problems it’s fixed with new ones. Still, despite the complaint’s it’s a near-excellent record that’s not to be missed.