“Mini”-Reviews: Lone Bear Winter
It’s like 8 months of Bonehunter, only with more erectile dysfunction.
Wombbath – Choirs of the Fallen
Briefly active in the Nineties and back since 2015, Wombbath is aching to become a reckoning force. Choirs of the Fallen is Sunlight Swedeath incarnate with buzzsaw guitars aplenty and monotone growls that command much too much presence, clogging ears rather than serving songs. That’s not to say Jonny Petterson, a post-comeback recruit known as the other Rogga Johansson, doesn’t sound good. His growl is both convincing and deep, but also constant and a little all over the place, and he could afford to shut up more often without the music suffering.
Rounding out the revamped line-up with Petterson and sole remaining original member (guitarist Håkan Stuvemark) are drummer Jon Rudin, who’s shared stages with both in Pale King (and with Petterson in many others), bassist Matt Davidson who’s done the same in the capable Henry Kane, and Thomas von Wackenfeldt on second guitar; there should be no doubt the band is a tight, well-functioning unit, and Rudin especially does his best to elevate the material with his powerful arrangements. But the material itself is another matter. The riffs are barely memorable at best, and not a single noteworthy moment permeates the 50 minutes of Choirs.
A few nimbler solos, hints of melody and the late-album appearance of keys attempt to revive interest now periodically, but ultimately the attempt is in vain. The band successfully thwarts any such attempts themselves, with practically every song overstaying its welcome, even if it’s by a small margin, which on an album composed chiefly of five-minute songs, speaks volumes of the lackluster ingredients.
Despite its attempts to revitalize and diversify itself here and there, Choirs of the Fallen is 50 minutes worth of uninspiring swedeath boredom with a few decent riffs scattered around. I don’t know if I’m being generous with the score, but it feels and sounds like Wombbath at least succeeded in writing and recording the album they were trying to, there’s a genuine attempt and the band both plays together well and sounds like they’re enjoying it. None of it is just even close to redeeming Choirs of the Fallen. So if it’s specifically Wombbath that you desire, you’d be better of spinning their last couple instead.
1.5 / 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Yaldabaoth – That Which Whets the Saccharine palate
Have you, dearest of acquaintances, been hankering for some black metal that would lie comfortably on the dissonant side of the scale, without tipping said scale over? Interested in something of a more technical and death metal-influenced take on the style, from an Alaskan group that does not shy away from paths previously roved by the likes of Thantifaxath and Abigor or even Serpent Column? It should then lie within the realm of possibilities that your interests may align with the delivery of Yaldabaoth, which, one would hope, was named after the demiurge likened to Jahve in Setian gnosticism, and not the recurring demon in the Shin Megami Tensei -series it inspired.
The frenetic vocal performance, sharp enough to cut through the chaotic instrumentals, does well to match the hatred and ire one would expect from “a study of disgust, contempt, and mockery for all of religion’s existential justifications”, but the lyrical side doesn’t do as satisfying a job in conveying this, an issue echoing through several bands with similar aspirations. Though the sting would be as painful from a band with a lesser lyrical prowess.
Yaldabaoth isn’t as angular as some of the other bands mentioned, but prefer a softer play on dynamics, every now and then stripping most of the instruments from the mix and doing away with the dissonance, only to bring it back, more abrasive than before. The only song that really breaks from the mold is “To Neither Rot Nor Decay”, a slow-burning and sparse piece providing a longer relief from the tension, and in shucking away the claustrophobia, highlights its presence elsewhere, the amount of which could easily have otherwise gone unnoticed. I’m not settled on whether that’s a good or a bad sign though.
Unfortunately the following title track fails to capitalize on the effect, contrasting the receding relief with far less intense dread, and while they recapture the essence of that which makes That Which Whets… so good at its best, it leaves a lengthy gap through which the band is forced to stumble. Nevertheless, a powerful debut and a band to take note of.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion
The past few years have been easy for neither My Dying Bride, nor frontman Aaron Stainthorpe, whose (then 5 year-old) daughter was forced to fight cancer in the years between 2015’s Feel the Misery and the recording of The Ghost of Orion. I loved Feel the Misery, but it had one peculiar quality in that from the moment since it was released, I began to anticipate its follow-up. Growing more and more excited for it by the day, the anticipation quickly overtook whatever emotion I had had for Feel the Misery as its own work of art. You see, Feel the Misery marked the return of Calvin Robertshaw, the band’s guitarist from the 90’s; he rejoined the group too late to carve his own mark in the songwriting of that record, and I could hardly wait to hear where his presence would lead them on the follow-up.
Which would never arrive—since, for unknown reasons, Robertshaw departed before the writing of a new album began. With drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels, who was quick to join ex-MDB guitarist Hamish Glencross’ Godthrymm, out of the band due to “unresolvable drumming issues”, Lena Abe on maternity leave and Aaron Stainthorpe dedicating all his time to be with his daughter, Andrew Craighan was left to write the album largely on his own.
Perhaps thanks to this, as My Dying Bride themselves have pointed out several times, The Ghost of Orion is some of their most accessible material. Motifs flow into one another smoother than usually, and detours are avoided as best they can. The guitar melodies are placed at the forefront, and often harmonized, despite all of it being Craighan’s work, and Stainthorpe’s vocals are more layered than ever before. Everyone and their uncle’s already taken the chance to celebrate the return of his growls, but apart from the opening “Your Broken Shore” they only make an appearance on the penultimate “The Old Earth”, a song tailor-made to reminisce about their own past over. On a few occasions, Shaun McGowna’s violin is joined, or overtaken by the visiting cellist Jo Quail, while Lindy Fay Hella of Wardruna joins the band on “The Solace”, a 6-minute track composed only of her voice and harmonized guitars, cleaving the album in two halves, providing a perfect resting point.
Or it would, if the back half wasn’t considerably more awkward in its pacing. Splitting the album between the three 8-minuters and two 10-minuters with “The Solace” seems like a grand idea, and should result in an ideal flow, but My Dying Bride decided to clog the end of their record with interludes. Though by no mean should “The Solace” be counted among them, the sparser instrumentation, change of vocalist and shorter length do make it something of a between-song breather, so to immediately follow “The Long Black Land” with the throwaway title track, breaks the record’s flow and pacing, souring the mood. Considering the built-in dynamics and interplay between soft and heavy, there’s no need for interludes of this kind to begin with, but when it’s essentially just an arpeggio repeated for a few minutes, followed by the opening of “The Old Earth”, a more effective arpeggio repeated under Stainthorpe’s ethereal vocals for a couple more minutes, it’s purely detrimental. And if it wasn’t for “The Ghost of Orion”, the closing “Your Woven Shore”, featuring choral vocals and a cello, would likely not feel as unnecessary either, instead bringing the album to a more satisfactory end. Pacing issues aside, The Ghost of Orion is an excellent sadboi doom record that could have bested much, if not all, of their previous two decades’ work.
4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Lychgate – Also Sprach Futura
Lychgate’s An Antidote for the Glass Pill was largely the defining record of 2015 for me. I listened to it practically daily from its August release, to sometime in the early winter, and must’ve gifted it to a dozen or so friends. Then why was it absent from the EOTY list? The truth was I had burned myself out on it, refusing to stop keeping it on repeat, and by the end of the year, could hardly bear to look at it. The recovery took a long time, so long that when The Contagion in Nine Steps dropped roughly 3 years later, I wasn’t sure whether I was up for another round with Lychgate or not. As the fickle Miss Fortuna would have it, The Contagion… proved a thankfully different, but no less formidable beast and through its dulcet tones, I found myself drawn to the group once more.
Formed by the mastermind guitarist/organist Vortigern, with guitarist S. D Lindsley and Esoteric vocalist Greg Chandler, Lychgate’s avant-garde black-meets-death-meets-doom metal (infused with a strong organ presence) swims in anxiety and horrific soundscapes, permeated by an unforgiving, tense complexity, and though many things now have come and gone, leaving Lychgate to re-emerge again with reconstructed features, these remain constants on the group’s latest offering, Also Sprach Futura.
While “Incarnate” opens as a crushing death/doom piece, Vortigern’s busy organ work gives it a chaotic, disorderly feeling, unattainable via more classic methods. Discomforting guitar melodies, rising, busier drumwork and bass leads courtesy of the possibly departed T.J.F Vallelly of Macabre Omen fame, and the definitely departed A.K Webb, flesh out the band’s progressive tendencies before blast beats return the group to Terra Firma. It is a mission statement, Lychgate’s very own calling card, the essence of Also Sprach Futura condensed into 3 minutes.
But with the following trio, the band gives themselves room to elaborate on these ideas. Changes, when they come, are neither as sudden nor as forcible, each motif contributing more than a thought, before giving way to the next. This allows for the discovery of more subjects in each and the development of previously introduced motifs over longer arcs, with less need of reprisal, besides the introduction of new ones. With this careful pace they accomplish much more than a hurried one, though that does not mark a lack of either tempo changes or velocity. On Also Sprach Futura, Lychgate seems to have found a more direct approach to their songcraft. Every bit as avant and prog as one could hope for, but with a more natural flow, silly as it may seem to say so, as it is not something Lychgate ever particularly lacked in, but even the most sudden turns are less surprising and more contemplated here than they’ve been before. Though that is not to say that Lychgate would have become straightforward in any commonly comprehended meaning of the word, or any less awe-inspiring.
This is my 200th article on this here poop fetishist zine, and I felt like reveling on the occasion, but then I remembered I’m too lazy to make the effort, so here, have this, Ken-style, censored, picture of me on the loo instead. Yours to use freely, so you may device your own means of celebration.
Greve – Nordarikets Strid
A two-man operation from the names behind Musmahhu, Beketh Nexehmu, Gnipahålan and about a hundred others, Greve‘s style of choice is cold black metal heavily enforced with keyboards. Symphonic black metal as it was known in the 90’s, and has since become known as again, that is. Despite the brisk and simplistic approach to the percussive elements, Nordarikets Strid is more contemplative than aggressive, wrapped in a velvet fog rather than enveloped in mysteries. The very foundation of Greve is their voluble guitar melodies, effective and pleasant, but unfortunately a little lacking, if not outright in abundance, then in quality. For few of them, if indeed any, are worthy of writing home about, in hope of a freshly baked batch of cookies.
The keyboard arrangements are, first and foremost, simple, but mixed on top of the rest for a thicker still atmosphere. A well made decision, and indeed the mix on Nordarikets Strid is one of its finer qualities. While the guitars are naturally the central focus in the mix as well, the bass deviates often from the riffs being played, and each of these deviations is audible, its soft thud filling the low end even when it does content itself along the same lines, adding much to the atmosphere and foggy feeling of the record. Apart from, perhaps, the kick, the drum sound remains fairly commendable for an album of its kind, and though the keys drape everything else, they don’t drown out a single note.
Alas, the lack of outright killer material is not the only woe befallen Nordarikets Strid, for the chiefly employed vocal stylings are something to behold. A squeaky and creeky, high-pitched squawk that is more reminiscent of some old witch woman from an ancient (animated) movie than your usual black metal fare. It is contrasted with what I can only assume are heavily effect-laden low burps and growls, and on a few songs, hoarse shouts with speech-like phrasing make an appearance. The vocals will surely prove a repellent for many, and I myself was initially displeased by the chosen approach, but now I find myself drawn to their eccentricity.
Nordarikets Strid is surely a pastiche of the past, but its chosen style is prime Karhucore and I am not often seen saying no to such well-made symphonic black metal. If only its songwriting was more elaborate, its riffs and melodies that much more memorable, and in my hands I may have held a new personal favourite. If only some of the more livelier riffing from the twosome’s other groups had attached itself to this project, though Greve does cover themselves with Gnipahålan’s “I nordiskt vrede”, and it is practically impossible to tell it from the rest. If only some of the rawness, or improvised inspiration from Beketh Nexehmu had made its way into Nordarikets Strid, something to give them a less plain edge, though perhaps it would have lost some of its atmosphere in the process. So many maybe’s, what-if’s, might-have-been’s. Oh well, perhaps next time.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Bonehunter – Devil Metal Force
A tour EP for past February’s Japan trek, Devil Metal Force is a much dirtier affair than 2018’s Children of the Atom, and already got featured on a past episode of This Toilet Tuesday, but I reckoned it ought to get another feature, now that it’s been officially released, and I’ve had the chance to hear it all. Both of the new songs, “Devil Metal Soldier” and “Nightmare Angel 2099” lie on the thrashier side of the band’s output, though the former with sharper and the latter with blunt, primal riffs, whereas the re-recordings of “Turn Up The Evil” from the similarly titled EP, and especially “O.M.E.K.O” from the Sabbat split, represent the punkier half of Bonehunter’s Bathory meets G.B.H stylings.
Satanarchist’s snarly rasp draws blood with each breath and the bass cuts through the high-speed hammering and dry-ass guitar distortion surprisingly well, making for a balanced mix on an EP that’s simultaneously filthy, raw and a pleasure for the ears. The cover of Japanese Sacrifice‘s “Friday Nightmare” serves as a nod to their slightly less apparent influences and highlights the otherwise somewhat underrepresented punk of their sound. Raucous fun, a return to filth from sleaze and a passable appetizer while waiting for the next full-length to drop.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Waltari – Global Rock
Waltari has been experimenting with an amalgamation of different styles since the mid-80’s, but have always stayed relatively little known. Their fearless and anarchistic experimentation has not always led to desirable results, but more than a fault, this has been an important characteristic of the band. Success has always receded in the face of these attempts. Though for the most part of the 21st century, their template has remained pop-metal/rock with funk, electronic, rap and world music influences thrown in for good measure, and during the last decade their grind has come to a near halt. Following spiritual leader/vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Kärtsy Hatakka’s solo album in 2010, Waltari has only put out the unnecessary, bad and also not good 25th anniversary covers album, and 2015’s dreadful You Are Waltari.
Despite their continued mixing of genres, the most daring and interesting pieces Waltari has put out still remain 1996’s Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C, recorded with Avanti! Symphony Orchestra, opera singer Eeva -Kaarina Vilke and Tomi Koivusaari, mixing, you guessed it, death metal and classical music, and 2000’s Channel Nordica, a collaborative album with the ethnic folk band Angelit, with whom the band had previously worked on select songs from their So Fine! and Big Bang albums, even scoring a small hit with the title track of the former, though Channel Nordica arrived too late to capitalize on the interest. Not to mention that it was of abysmal quality.
Often their line-up has been the object of more interest than their actual music, with members of Ensiferum, Stone, Beast in Black, Barathrum, Ajattara and Children of Bodom counted among their former alumni, and their guest musicians far too various to mention, but since original drummer Sale ended up pulling a brief stint in Kingston Wall, let it be said that several members of said band would go on to appear on Waltari’s albums as well. Besides Hatakka and founding guitarist Jariot Lehtinen, their current line-up comprises of drummer Vehviläinen, keyboardist Hölli and an additional trio of guitarists, Sami Yli-Sirniö (Kreator), Niko Silvennoinen and Kimmo Korhonen (Amberian Dawn/Jumalhämärä).
Though indeed they’ve always remained a figure of the underground, they’re not completely unknown, with several European tours and festival appearances in the likes of Roskilde and Wacken in the 90’s, a few scattered hits, if you can call them that, with “In The Cradle” receiving fairly heavy rotation on the surprisingly numerous channels that would still air music videos in 2009, and 1997’s Space Avenue climbing its way to the official top ten charts’ top 5.
With that less than obligatory history lesson out of the way, how do the veterans of over 30 years fare in 2020? Despite crossover pop-metal being an actual thing now, Waltari still sounds more daring than most of their newfound compatriots, and one of the major reasons for this is the intended lack of inter-song coherence. Global Rock bounces between the clumsy blastbeats ‘n tendinitis-inducing tremolo riffs of “No Sacrifice” and the über-happy “Boots” with a eurodance cover sung by the jazz singer Johanna Försti. These songs fall between the rancid and crass country of “Orleans’ ” lap-steel-slide-guitar-‘n-chug-riffs, and “Going Up The Country’s” awkward as all hell Irish folk electro, where the band exhibits an uncharacteristically grooveless stiffness. But being so used to Waltari reaching for a little bit of everything, and the heavy, heavy doses of pop-metal that lie beneath, Global Rock doesn’t sound incoherent, it’s just Waltari’s sound to be inconsistent.
Its high points come early on, with the opening duo of “Postrock” and “Metal Soul”. Global Rock is never not straightforward, but the aforementioned two, in addition to “Boots” (and “Had It All”, I reckon) are the few genuinely catchy tracks. Or rather, since catchy choruses are heavily focused on the record, it should be said that they are the few genuinely memorable tracks, in a positive light, on the album, both salvaged by their guitar solos. And therein lies the great fault of the record. Global Rock isn’t a particularly memorable record, one chorus after another goes in one ear and out the other the next instant. After so many years toying with genre conventions, it’s hardly an effective tool on its own anymore, becoming static instead of engaging. And I suspect that a newcomer to Waltari’s music would walk away with even less from the record, unable to digest the diversity as easily.
Though it’s not an actual treat for the ears, Global Rock does sound fairly good with a balanced mix, able to set the weight to whatever element is called upon at any given time, so its worst qualities come down to the very thing its highlights lean on as well, the songwriting. “No Sacrifices” is the one song difficult to draw lines to elsewhere on the album, despite the reappearance of its thrash riffing here and there. Especially its “black metal section” feels like a throwaway candidate for the obligatory extreme song on a modern Testament album, sticking out like a sore thumb from this particular diversity. This track’s pacing is made so much more awkward, and all the more Waltari, by placing the acoustic ballad “Sick ‘n Tired” right after it. “Skyline” features a catchy but revolting chorus and some of the most awkward rapping I’ve ever heard in a metal song, courtesy of Bomfunk MC‘s Raymond “BOW” Ebanks—just listen to that second verse in particular. The stiffness of the aforementioned “Going Up The Country” makes it a painful slog to get through and it is only one of dozen examples on Global Rock where the word banal leaps into mind.
As I’ve been writing this review, I’ve felt my opinion on Global Rock grow milder, in trying to dissect it, it has grown inoffensive. And I have become reluctant to write a bashing review on it. Though many artists either eat their words or otherwise fail to live up to their claims that they cherish the one star review, the complete and utter lack of understanding towards the platter at hand, as much as the 5-star ones, and are most offended by the lukewarm, middling ones, I don’t want to take the risk Waltari actually count among the few that actually would cherish it. Because I want every single person involved in the making of this trash heap to feel ashamed of their existence, as penance for making this. I’d maybe, MAYBE, have been able to convince myself to award Global Rock half-a-smouldering poop chute more, if “Boots” and “Had It All” weren’t already etched so deep into my mind I doubt I’ll ever be able to get them out.
0/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell