July Roundup: Protest the Hero, Aodon, Wretched Empire, Goats of Doom, Iku-Turso & Korgonthurus
Insomnia, a bear and a lapful of records. Sometimes I question my life choices. Not today though, not today.
Protest the Hero – Palimpsest
Canada’s Protest the Hero has nailed down a sound so idiosyncratic, they may make all manner of changes to their formula and it would not appear as if they had changed all that much. They’ve come a long way since Kezia, but it doesn’t feel like much else than refinement, line-up changes and time’s toll have had any hand in their sound. This seemed to turn against the band as 2014’s Volition and its follow-up, Pacific Myth offered less engaging takes on a familiar sound, lost in increasing snoring. A band stuck in a rut, struggling to reinvent themselves. Palimpsest doesn’t take Protest the Hero into brave new directions, but it does offer several smaller changes that work together to free the band from their bind.
Roddy Walker still takes everything out of his versatile voice, and the endless, Fripp-esque stream of arpeggios is almost ever-present, but the interplay between these two elements, or indeed even either element alone, isn’t as central to the songwriting as before. The melodic buildup towards memorable choruses has been honed and is banked on even further, while the songs are generally a little shorter than on Pacific Myth, keeping them from breaking down. Songs more memorable and distinctive than its predecessor’s weren’t enough for the group this time though; the last few releases have each seen airier compositions than the earlier material, but Palimpsest uses that to full effect, adding orchestrations. This isn’t some symphonic pomp designed to clog the last of the band’s flow, but instead underline and add space to the proceedings. Protest the Hero still isn’t out of their rut though, they just no longer struggle in it. Time will have to tell whether Palimpsest began a new, upwards trajectory, or became the last, defiant triumph.
Aodon – 1 1 0 6 9
Stylistically, a middle of the road kind of a record, 1 1 0 6 9 remains rooted firmly in the Norwegian second wave sound, even though it occasionally tries to flirt with the esoteric and even Icelandic takes on the genre. These are deviations on a sound level, rarely affecting the structural enough to separate the band from the hordes of similar-minded groups, but not enough to establish their own sound or character. Polished to a mirror sheen, something that would serve a more intricate album better, Aodon‘s sophomore lacks in memorability and significance, but its consistency and the band’s talent at greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts songwriting make for an enjoyable listen. While this could suggest at a talent yet to manifest, “L’infime”, and “Le Parfum Des Pluies”, the only times Aodon hits close to something memorable, are 1 1 0 6 9‘s most mundane moments, implying this may unfortunately be where their strengths lie.
Wretched Empires – Bloom
Joining the forces of Allfather‘s Tom B. and Redbait‘s Will J. and Cody A., Wretched Empires doesn’t altogether avoid the related bands’ hardcore influence, but channels it to a more distinctly black metal sound & fury. While continuing to wear their politics proudly on their sleeves, Bloom turns inwards, for a less obvious, more introspective, anti-fascist message. While hardcore beats and punk riffs rear their heads on three of the 4 songs presented, Wretched Empires feels a step removed from the approach many RABM bands are taking, often more detached from the blackened influence that should define them than the punk that birthed them. The tremolo riffs take on a brighter appearance here than is standard fare for the genre, but Wretched Empires don’t dabble in the happy, post-black melodies, and the ample acoustic sections place them closer to the trees ‘n’ shit edges of black metal. Bloom isn’t a unique take on a familiar sound by any means, but the band is far removed enough from all their contemporaries that they may yet come to define a new sound for a younger generation of (red) black metal fans. At least it’s already more memorable than roughly anything Dawn Ray’d‘s ever put out.
Iku-Turso – Pakana
You never quite know what you’re getting with Iku-Turso. Though they seemed to take life as a more melodic Sargeist-styled second wave band, the Storm over Isengard EP saw them pay stylistic tribute to Storm, Isengard and early Satyricon. Pakana has adopted a degree of this sound to amplify their older leanings, but doesn’t quite sit in the middle either. Melodic, and atmospheric, the folk influences can be heard in the melodic language, and many of the slower parts still seem to pay tribute in the spirit of the preceding EP. But much of their older melodic language has become adapted into the fold as well; “Ashes’ ” latter half is straight up Burzum, and sometimes, like on “Bellum”, the keyboards start doing things that make you question what the hell they’re supposed to be doing, but it’s neither a bad nor good thing. Much like Iku-Turso’s career, Pakana is a mixed bag, but there are traces of a sound, amidst all the experimentation, that I can only hope they will come to cultivate as their own.
Goats of Doom – Tie on hänen omilleen
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Goats of Doom, strong contenders for the worst band name ever, released their follow-up to Rukous barely a year later. Not much has changed, as abundantly melodic black metal with the usual twist of melancholy is the path Goats of Doom still walk under the careful guidance of Scaregod’s dry vocals. Much also has changed, in that either the entire line-up around Scaregod has been revamped, or else everyone has changed their pseudonyms to ever-fashionable initials. In any case, the line-up has swelled to a quintet, including a new vocalist A.H. who may or may not be responsible for the dry, harsh vocals I just credited to Scaregod. It’s honestly a little hard to tell given their similarity, both still being credited as lead vocalists, and the differences in Rukous‘ and Tie…’s mixes, which could easily be to blame for the differences.
To further confuse, the band’s possibly new bassist is also credited for backing vocals, and a guest vocalist for choirs, and as the clean vocals are nowhere near as abundant as previously, and their nature is indeed that of the usual metal choir vocals, it would feel natural to attribute these as backing vocals, leaving the band with two credited lead vocalists, only one of whom actually sings lead. I don’t know, and I don’t want to care, I’ve already spent way too much time thinking about this. The lack of clean vocals has stripped Goats of Doom of some of their identity though; they were a huge part of making Alla kirkkaimman tähden as memorable as it was, and even though their quality had undergone minor deterioration, and their appearance was less frequent on Rukous, they still served as one of its defining features.
Tie on hänen omilleen (You. Only. Write. The. First. Word. In. Capital. In. Finnish. Goddammit.) doesn’t stand out from the crowd as easily, but it is still a good album. Traditional tremolo-picked riffs, black’n’roll bursts, even leisurely beats and bright, sometimes folk-tinged melodies shake hands, often inside the same song. The fairly clean production serves Goats of Doom just right, and Tie on hänen omilleen doubles down on consistent quality, making for the most even and pleasant experience Goats of Doom has been able to offer so far.
Korgonthurus – Marras
After years of hard hitting, scorching black metal on demos and EPs, Korgonthurus had begun to shift towards depressive waters. This trajectory would reach its apex on the debut full-length, Marras. Composed of only two songs, between 16 and 23 minutes, Marras was an intensely dark and often tranquil record. Not for the lovers of aggression, it hovered somewhere between Burzum‘s atmospheric, slower works and straight up Make a Change… Kill Yourself styled DSBM. The melodic work is composed almost exclusively of exhaustively long tremolos, and its peace is broken only by vocalist Corvus’ inhuman, bird of prey shrieks. To this day, his prowess remains unchallenged.
The songwriting on Marras is what sets it apart from the DSBM hordes. Mere repetition isn’t enough for Korgonthurus, and the more complex, challenging structures are at times prone to trip over their own size and wander. Mostly though, Marras is an excellent and unique piece of Finnish black metal history that even Korgonthurus refused to emulate later on. The slow pace and oppressive atmosphere often lead it into doomier waters, with only the vocals staying as a clear watershed. Now that it’s been re-released, with a much better master & mix and newly written and recorded keyboard parts, you’ve no excuse to skip the definitive version of Korgonthurus’ debut.