Mini-Reviews from Around the Bowl: 01/25/2019
Starting off 2019 with a bit of a “2018 stuff you might have missed since September”. Rock out with your glock out, it’s time for Graf Orlock, Frozen Land, Imperfectionist, Felis Catus, Korpsesoturi, Profanatica, Mother Feather, Paganland, Wintermoon and Entropia.
A cinema-themed grind/hardcore crossover hybrid that reminds me a lot of Semtex Vest and a little of Rehashed. Much as with those two, the appeal lies in mixing highly competent playing and songwriting with a zero-fucks attitude. Graf Orlock manage to add to that a certain mean streak, a palpable bitterness that lends enough of an odd, individual note to the music to make it worth your while. With the mini-manifesto on the Bandcamp page explaining the idea(s) behind the record, it seems like a lot of thought went into this thing, and I think it shows. – Hans
It took all year, but we’re finally getting our hands on some good power metal this December. For their part, Frozen Land play much the same field as genre stalwarts Stratovarius, and they do it very well. These guys riff in ways I thought lost to Euro power bands, and they bring plenty of slick (and tasteful) solos to the field as well. The vocals are fairly typical cheese, but they have some actual power to them and don’t try to force any tough-guy bullshit or false operatic bravado. This is power metal doing exactly what it should. – Spear
The email billed this as a wildly experimental record, but only mentioned black and doom metal. That’s not a very experimental mix, so I was apprehensive that they were overselling it. Turns out they were undersellting it; black and doom is only about a fifth of what’s going on here. While the first song after the intro is indeed a drab black metal track and the next one brings some classical doom to the table, all bets are off after this, as the record starts to bring in eerie, synth-heavy soundscapes, a dash of classical music, noise… the list goes on and on. The big problem is that none of it meshes together well. Every track either completely does its own thing or is plagued by abrupt transitions from one style to another, and I was reeling with confusion for a lot of the run time. Very little of it makes any sense. Nonetheless, for people with an interest in very off-kilter bm like Wolok, earlier Rotting Sky, Ophiuchi, and maybe Horla might want to give it a spin, if only for curiosity’s sake. – Hans
Malus Corpus wastes no time easing you in to it’s death metal, after an eerie sample “Vapauden Terä” hits you in the face with rabid riffs and primus motor Juha Ahlfors’ commendable, chthonian roar that has been perfected in the most excellent death doom congregation Vainaja. Searchin’ for cues from Morbid Angel and some more modern danish purveyors of old school filth, Korpsesoturi’s debut full-length is some of the best sounding death metal for a long time. Alternating mostly between ferocious tremolo and brutally grooving chugs, Malus Corpus’ riffing is straightforward and direct, and as such benefits greatly from the relatively clean sound. Despite it’s apparent polish, there’s grit and weight in the guitars, and the separating mix gives room to breathe for the bass, as well as accents all the little changes in dynamics that an album this straightforward couldn’t do without. Luckily Korpsesoturi delivers, whether it’s adopting a higher register growl for a line, playing a melodic lead (courtesy of Vainaja alumni Isto Jänönen) or two or offering repose with a moment of ambiance, Malus Corpus pulls the right string a the right time to remain interesting. The only complaint is the occasional mechanic blasting on the kit, most apparent on faster songs like “Veriviini” or “Kävelevä Ruumis”, which coupled with the Korpsesoturi’s status as a one-man band was enough to fool a few readers (to my shame I must admit, myself as well) to believe they were programmed, when in fact they were performed by Oskari Viljanen of Amoth – something that becomes much more apparent on a full-length timescale. Now that Sotajumala has been lain to rest, there’s a hole in the Finnish-sung death metal landscape that longs to be filled, and Korpsesoturi seem well endowed to do just that. – Karhu
If was a betting man, I’d wager roughly every reader of this blog has at least an auxiliary idea of what Brofanatica sounds like (tell me that logo doesn’t read like a “B”, and just look at their social media posts). It’s a very primitive, almost ritualistic approach to black metal that owes more to death metal than what the genre is known today to be. Pounding tom drums keep mostly to a slower mid-tempo, here and there breaking for a faster beat, or crawling at a doom pace. Add Paul Ledney’s lax growling and complete lack of even trying to appear like he’s pronouncing anything besides “aaaah” – are there even lyrics to these songs? Nothing of this is unusual, not the all-encompassing bass distortion, not the cute onesies, nor the swirling tremolo riffs ‘neath it, but Profanatica still only sounds like themselves. Never have I been drawn to their earlier material, and while I do enjoy their last decade very much their extremely simple delivery has struggled to carry through a full-length’s measure. At twenty-minutes Altar of the Virgin Whore does not only feature their most effective material (I feel vigorous would be a wrong word for a band so determinant to avoid such things), it’s also of the perfect length. There’s not a better record to check out Profanatica if you haven’t, and likely not a better Profanatica record anyhow. – Karhu
365 did a video breakdown for this band several years ago, but I accidentally ended up liking them a lot! (That video was from their first album, this one is number two.) There’s no giant shift in sound, but I can sense a bit of sophomore slump. There’s a pinch less swagger and a little more polish. The driving energy of older songs like “Mother Feather” and “Living, Breathing” isn’t so much present and in its place some more straight forward rock songs mixed with a few ballads. Having said that, check out “Red Hot Metal” and “Supernatural” for some of the year’s best hooks; or “Desert Island” and the title track for some beautiful light rock moments. – McNulty
While working for a follow-up to their 2015 full-length, the Ukrainian folk/black band Paganland attempt to raise their profile, and celebrate twenty years since their formation with a live album XX Years of Paganland and a re-release of said From Carpathian Lands coupled with their debut demo, and only official release of the band’s original incarnation, while it was still active, Gods of the Golden Circle. Paganland has barely, if ever, scored a bulls-eye, but FCL did see them raising the overall consistency and quality of their songwriting. Fairly straightforward and usual Ukrainian black metal not entirely dissimilar to Nokturnal Mortum’s earlier escapades or Kroda. Melodic tremolo riffs interspersed with a few mildly thrashier ones and a heavy dose of keyboards acting either, as a symphonic supplement or a folkier frill, it is not free of saccharine by any means but not so grand or festive either as to forget it’s blackened roots. Gods of the Golden Circle features a line-up entirely different, sans keyboardist Ruen, but sounds largely the same – only bass-heavier and rawer, and features clunkier songwriting. A delightful throwback for any fan of the band, whom I suspect are few and far-between, for the rest a mere nicety. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone but a fan of this particular sound to check FCL out, it’s the first time in the band’s already lengthy history that presents a promise of a golden future. – Karhu
Briefly active in the mid-90’s, across the street from me, Wintermoon released a short string of demos filled with raw and obscure black metal that wasn’t without it’s charm, or atmosphere, but began to garner more attention as it’s members became more known for their later affiliations in Barathrum, Impaled Nazarene and Shape of Despair. The original duo now joined by Ullgren (who joined originally in ’96), vocalist Theynian and a new bassist Wenho have finally completed the bands debut full-length (although it’s erroneously billed as a compilation at MA). Only one of the 8 tracks is completely unreleased before, but as the majority of the songs have only appeared on the demos, the difference in sound and quality is as if they were new. Their style of black metal is more akin to the Norwegian style than anything anyone of the members’ have been up to later, but with raw, heartfelt melodicism and hints of what around the Toilet has become known as Trees ‘n shit black metal – that is to say, nature-inspired, atmospheric, cascadian styled black metal. Wintermoon’s melancholic, synth-reinforced output bolstered with a particularly tense vocal performance may be a breath from the past, but it feels fresh nonetheless. A minor nuisance is the Herää Henkiin Vanhat Juuret ep from last year, tacked on at the end. Not that it’s there – it’s every bit as good the rest, but that it hasn’t been re-recorded or remastered and though the differences in sound-quality are small, they’re audible all the same. – Karhu
I enjoyed Entropia‘s previous release Ufonaut very, very much. They put a unique spin on black metal, accentuating the progressive and especially psychedelic aspects in a way that I’ve not heard before. Vacuum takes the band’s recipe to a new level, basically doubling the serving of every ingredient into egregious territories; but it’s so tasteful. The songs are longer and more complex, with several meeting or exceeding the 10-minute mark (yet not a wasted moment). The band employs repetition in an effective manner, essentially tricking the listener into thinking that a specific portion of a song is being repeated into oblivion when really there’s always some small element being introduced or tweaked until several minutes later it doesn’t even sound the same. There’s plenty of double bass, disco beats, distorted guitars, and wacky samples to keep things interesting. This album is at least as good as Ufonaut, and occasionally exceeds it. – McNulty
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