Napalm Records Roundup: Æther Realm, Skyblood & Villagers of Ioannina City
A short selection of wide variety from Napalm Record’s more-or-less new releases.
Æther Realm – Redneck Vikings from Hell
North Carolina’s hero-metal heroes (you know, melodeath via Ensiferum with Vikings & Nordic mythology), Æther Realm impressively broke out of many of their constraints on 2017’s sophomore Tarot, an ambitious concept record, hinting at its premise with its name, and Decapitron’s review of it garnered enough praise from The Terlet to almost eclipse the praise for the album itself, which, in The Terlet, was also not inconsiderate. On Redneck Vikings from Hell they’ve shaken hands with Napalm and are ready to take over the entire rest of the blogosphere as we… Oh no. It’s called Redneck Vikings from Hell? This is going to be absolute hell, isn’t it?
Turns out it wasn’t. Isn’t, whatever. No person who had heard the band prior to this, especially the ones familiar with their trajectory, would have expected, or wanted this, although some are sure to be pleased. I reckon so, anyways. Could be wrong and maybe this was the obvious follow-up to Tarot. Now that I think of it, Christopher Bowes did make an appearance on it, so this was bound to happen. Yup, Æther Realm has jumped onto the Ælestorm train.
Musically, much of what was remains, although the band is pulling from a wider range of influences. You still have the folk-ish melodeath shreds à la “TMHC” (at least, according to some, “tiny hands metal crew”, a joke so old Papa Joe forbade us to ever speak of it again, years ago) and the 11-minute closing instrumental “Craft and the Creator” pulling all the stops from extended acoustic intro through bass solo to dramatic organs. Although it comes off as a showcase of the band’s unused ideas and an attempt to tie RVfH into their previous record, at times it works. But you also have the “yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum” synths and the banjo chorus of the opening title track, the third, spoken-word verse of which sums up the album better than I ever could:
Well friend, you may be wondering
Whether you’ve got what it takes to be a real redneck viking
I guess we’ll have to find out, won’t we?
See, some folks would say that you had to be born down south
And still others would say the frozen north, but I reckon that ain’t it
See, when it comes down to it, it ain’t about
Where you were born or how you were raised
Being a redneck viking is about one thing
Whether you know how to fucking party
So let’s show em how we do it down in North Carolina boys
There’re consistent attempts at something new with the symphonic The Black Dahlia Murder-isms on their blackened edge of “Lean Into the Wind” and “Slave to the Riff”, which I am fairly certain is based around a breakdown from Verminous (is it an unspoken law of physics that any song with the word “riff” in the title must be devoid of any?) And then there are random prods at any which way they can, and they didn’t even bother casting Sondra Locke. The stadium rock of “Goodbye”, early ’00s Finnish power metal cheese-spa balladry of “Guardian”, the pop-rock verses coiling into uplifting breakdowns chorus in “Cycle” and the aforementioned closer each sound like they were written by a different band, and none of those bands were Æther Realm, not the one I knew anyways.
Anything negative I’d say, or have said, about this record would/will be countered with “You just hate fun”, but for me this is the single most tiresome trend in music right now. There’s a companion piece to Andy Synn’s recently penned Mediocrity =/= Maturity somewhere here in regards to fun not farts and masturbation, and Andy, you’re welcome to pen it for me any day. But beneath the exterior, fun like Amy Schumer—in no conceivable way—there lie much deeper problems. RVfH is directionless and many of the songs are just plain overstuffed—a problem pronounced by the mix, and despite the abundance of theoretically cool stuff going on, it’s impossible to be endeared to anything on the record, sans a few earworm choruses. It’s an ambitious record from a skilled group, but almost none of that ambition went into the songwriting. At least the cover art is cool.
1.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Mats Leven’s Skyblood – Skyblood
Mats Leven has had a long and storied career, much more so than many realize. He’s been active from the late-’80s, mostly in smaller bands before joining up with Candlemass‘ Leif Edling and Mike Wead of King Diamond, Mercyful Fate and Hexenhaus fame to form the technicalis-experimentic power/doom group Abstrakt Algebra in the mid-’90s. Even though the lone album (accompanied by a demo, and the fruits of a second studio session released a decade later) has become something of a cult album since, at the time it did little to break Leven through to bigger audiences. But it did start the long relationship between Edling and Leven, which has often left me wondering, why does Leven let himself be treated so poorly time and time again?
Leven’s road took him to Yngwie Malmsteen, but less than surprisingly, the collaboration didn’t last beyond Facing the Animal. The two albums in the German power metal band At Vance, who had already seen some success with their previous albums, and a new, more vibrant doom group with Edling and keyboardist Carl Westerholm, called Krux, eventually led to a stint in Therion, culminating on the Gothic Kabbalah.
In the meantime, he was asked to join Candlemass when Messiah Marcolin’s comeback had proven disastrous, but was promptly fired from the band after recording scant demos, when Edling realized he could have another doom legend, Robert Lowe, in his band. Lowe, who still, and rather loudly, insists he was the best vocalist Candlemass has ever had (which you wouldn’t believe listening to his work on the records he actually appeared on) was then fired for his lackluster live performances, and Leven was given the chance to rejoin as a live vocalist, while Edling found The Doomsday Kingdom and Avatarium, swearing an oath never to record another Candlemass album, to preserve their legacy.
When Edling decided to work around his promise and release a couple of EPs as Candlemass, Leven’s position was finally made permanent. Well, we all know how that went, Edling quit Avatarium, never followed The Doomsday Kingdom up and kicked Leven out of Candlemass, again, claiming it had to be done for him to find the inspiration to continue with the band he swore not to continue with.
Between ending his relationship with Candlemass and joining Denner’s Inferno, Leven started Skyblood, or Mats Leven’s Skyblood, depending on the promo package. Essentially his solo album, according to the man himself, his entire career has been building up to this moment, this record, with every vocal part sounding only like himself, completely freed of external pressure. And a whole paragraph of that jargon your label makes you say when you’r a 55 year old vocalist about to debut solo.
Stylistically, Skyblood is neither among the doomy depths of Leven’s Candlemass stint, nor among the fastest he’s lent his voice for. Enveloped by a thin veil of progressive rock and an everlasting sense of grandeur, Skyblood follows a concise trail, naturally led by Leven, but even though the guitarist(s) and keyboardist(s) are responsible for much of the album’s atmosphere, the drummer(s) is/are the one instrumentalist for whom actual space is allowed around Leven’s voice.
Contrary to the announcements, Leven doesn’t contend with sounding like himself, instead pushing his voice towards more extreme limits, as demonstrated by the opening duo of “The Voice” and “The Not Forgotten”. A pleasant, modern, melodic metal record with Leven in a more central role than perhaps ever before, isn’t as memorable all in all, as you’d hope for, but it is a good showcase of Leven’s talent, as intended, and good for half a dozen sing-along choruses.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Villagers of Ioannina City – Age of Aquarius
Though the first 10 or so minutes of the charmingly named Greeks of Villagers of Ioannina City‘s Napalm debut/re-release of last year’s Age of Aquarius would have you believe they’re just another psyched-up and drawn out desert rock outfit, that is not the case. Except, of course, that mostly that’s exactly the case.
Vocalist Alex actually has a pretty good voice for this type of material and he’s charismatic enough to pull their lengthy compositions (almost uniformly reaching for 9 minutes apiece) forward and serve as a focal point. Drummer Aris doesn’t turn his performance into a show of hands, but is also clearly more than skilled enough to drive the band before him, while cooperating bassist Akis for a deceptively simple rhythmic background that is often more engaging than what’s going on in the fore. But while many of the musicians would be good enough on their respective instruments to proclaim dominance over the compositions, it’s never done. Though practically all of the songs are longer than the minimum standards of drawing out your desert rock jam sessions would demand, VoIC borrows from the post-rock playbook and doesn’t turn their compositions into excuses for jam sessions, instead spending the time building up, and sometimes, even releasing.
But though they do their thing well, it’d still be nothing more than cliched desert rock, down to the “Time is an illusion” lyrics, if not for one attribute. Well, the lack of extended jam sessions, and another attribute. Their use of local-ish folk instruments. Clarinet, kaval and bagpipes are an integral part of their arsenal, the latter most especially on Age of Aquarius. Though I would venture to guess the regional rhythms and polyphony have been tuned down from their debut, which I have not heard, since there’s not a whole lot going on in those departments, though they exist, the instruments alone are enough to give VoIC a flavour like no other, and have you asking why hasn’t this combo been used more.
A little trimming, and another tempo—the 65 minutes of Age of Aquarius don’t much vary in that regard—would do wonders for the band. A lot of trimming, and several additional tempos even more, and would help them stand out on their own. As it stands, Age of Aquarius blurs together a lot, especially outside the folk sections, and while this may, in some regards, be a sought out outcome for this type of music, it also readily drives them to the “mellow Monster Magnet but with flutes” corner a little too easily, demeaning their personality. But it’s an endearing combo well worth being on the lookout for, in hopes of a few improvements.
3.25/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell