September Roundup: The Great Ragbag Edition
A bit of this and a bit of that.
Kauan – Ice Fleet
Artoffact Records – April 9th
Long have Kauan, excuse the pun, tread the waters of atmospheric storytelling via music, using the elements of post-rock, doom metal and prog as their fleet, and now they’ve added to their repertoire ice. Once more inspired by true events, this time of a ghost fleet frozen solid along with its crew and cargo, unidentified and discovered in Russia in 1930.
Retrospectively, I didn’t give their previous full-length, Kaiho, nearly as many chances as their previous outing, doubting beforehand their ability to match Sorni Nai, and finding the outcome sorely lacking. Perhaps inspired by that album’s instrumental version, Ice Fleet features less vocals than ever before, not counting said instrumental release.
Ice Fleet emphasizes the use of simple melodies, with little to no embellishments, and slow, gradual development of themes. Yes, all of these have always been staples for Kauan, but Ice Fleet emphasizes them even more than before, forgoing most of their other tricks. There is something that Ice Fleet doesn’t forgo, that Kaiho did, and that is the use of their heavy influences; even if it isn’t allowed to define Kauan anymore, they’re a crucial addition to the dynamics of the record.
The soft and the heavy are allowed to grow from each other throughout the record, with a few deliberate exceptions favouring a blunt transition. Melodies are looped over and over again, but whenever one of the few changes comes, such as dropping the guitars altogether for the piano to take over, it’s used to highlight a different mood from the existing theme, milking it for all of it’s worth, but fortunately no longer than that. Ice Fleet is a beautiful and beautifully constructed record, and far more interesting than it’s predecessor. But I still struggle to get entirely on board with post-Sorni Nai Kauan. I just wish I could pinpoint the exact reason why.
3,5/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
Desaster – Churches without saints
Metal Blade – June 4th
Churches Without Saints must’ve been one of this year’s most eagerly awaited records for me. I’d confidently place their previous album, The Oath of an Iron Ritual, among their very best works, and the following anniversary 7″ did just as good. Yes, the Decayed split was kind of tame, and yes, it’s been difficult to get truly pumped about much at all this year, but even so.
And right out of the gate, at least after the throwaway intro – the kind I’ll never understand why it was tracked separate- it’s Desaster as you know and love meeting you. Blackened thrash metal with no brakes and an (un)healthy love of classic heavy metal that makes for an unmistakable sound. Over the years this sound has changed very little, especially once it had properly settled around the third album or so. Still, Desaster has managed to add a special bit of character into each album, better distinguishing them, good and bad.
Infernal’s riffing still has you by the balls all the time and the years in, hopefully still active, Moontowers hasn’t dulled the thrashy blade one bit. Satanic takes all of two milliseconds to convince and remind you of just why and how he earned his place at the forefront of the band; his vocals are every bit as over the top and awesome as before. While the opener proper “Learn to Love the Void” and follow-ups like “Failing Trinity” follow the early-teutonic-thrash-meets-heavy-metal formula, other highlights go into different directions. “Exile is Imminent’s” intro plays with the medieval melodic motif of their earlier albums, and its verse riff carries that AToMD atmo-second-wave-BM feel, which the following, slower and hypnotic title track runs amok with.
I’m not a big fan of the production on Churches Without Saints; it’s suitably raw and rough, but in a clean way, if that makes any sense. Kind of like there’s no actual rust on the guitars, and somebody just turned on the “rust-switch” on their combo. “Aus Asche (Outro)” is an odd way to end the record. It’s a mash of something slightly post-punkish, goth rock and other Unto Others/Tribulation -like influences, with whispered German for vocals. It could have made for fine, experimental piece in the band’s catalog, but now the outcome sounds like either Desaster couldn’t make it work integrated into their more usual style, or plain never bothered to develop the initial idea.
But the big problem with Churches Without Saints for me is the relation of the parts to the entity. All of these songs are badass on their own, all of them riff hard, work great and there’s enough variety to engage for extended period. However put together the parts make for less than their sum. It works better in pieces, so much that I’d be willing to add an entire flaming toilet to it’s end score whenever I listen to it so, but alas.
3/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
Brodequin – Perpetuation of Suffering
Unmatched Brutality Records – August 31st
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5/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
Hedonihil – II – Symptomatic
Inverse Records – May 14th
The idea of Hedonihil came to be in 2015, in the mind of Swallow the Sun drummer Juuso Raatikainen. Two year ago he was joined by StS alumni Juho Räihä and Mikko Kotamäki on guitars and vocals respectively, to realize the straightforward death/black aggression of I.
II – Symptomatic opts to open very differently, with acoustic guitars over building percussion and synths. For an intro track, which it would appear to be, it’s a lengthy four-minutes, but it’s not as much about setting the mood as it is about declaring II’s independence from it’s predecessor and any possible expectations. Much more deliberating guitar lines, hints of dissonance, pulsing synths and electronics and a fairly restless, less straightforward drum performance command this landscape. “Shattered Minds” switches the debut’s aggression and urgency into agony and disturbance. There are much more angles to be found in these compositions, and broken harmonies that bring to mind Craft’s slower moments.
The more vivid first part of the record is broken with “Standing Closer to Death”, which attempts to bridge the gap between the records, imbuing it’s sound with some straightforward riffs, and “Headshot (Misanthropy pt. III)”, a piece outright taken from the I sessions. A belief that I hold, which is mine, believed by me and that I have, fortified by Räihä’s lone appearance on the album falling on it, so it might as well be a literal leftover from said sessions.
That’s right, Räihä appear nowhere else and Raatikainen has taken care of all the instrumental duties by himself. Kotamäki likewise makes no appearance at all, the vocals being handled by a new member, simply named Decay. While I do prefer Kotamäki’s awesome growl generator and vocal versatility overall, I must admit Decay’s, whom looks to be Teijo Hakkola best known from Sotajumala’s classic debut, and the three albums he did with Alghazanth, performance is exactly the right kind of disturbed and pained for Symptomatic, and I hope the duo’s collaboration continues beyond it.
The form of the new lineup is similar to that of Endless Forms Most Gruesome, a sludge-ish project of Raatikainen’s that released an album in between these two Hedonihil efforts, and it is not the only thing he seems to have transferred over. The fluidity of the percussive performance, and much of the general atmosphere are much more alike to EFMG than I. Whereas I was simple and straightforward, thoroughly safe and pre-chewed and seemingly therapeutic outburst of aggression, II is a darker, more introspective and genuinely disturbed work. But ultimately it too feels lacking in courage, a little too safe for it’s own good, exploring many of it’s ideas only shallowly.
Perhaps “Standing Closer to Death’s” exploration of a middle-ground could being some sorely needed memorability into the chaos that III might be, if it is to continue on II’s path, as I hope. Or the intro-song “Blood Murals'” almost sound-collage like construction might open wide the gates of these new ideas, alongside “The Grey Walls” wherein a similar idea is develops into a more traditionally formed metal song. I will remain to see.
3/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
Malignament – Hypocrisis Absolution
Primitive Reaction – September 24th
Malignament appeared from a flurry two years back. They came, dropped a demo and disappeared, leaving no names, no trace, no information. Back again they are, and this time with a full-length in hand, presumably eager to disappear once more.
Hypocrisis Absolution does not come packed with surprises, save perhaps for it’s potency. Not for anyone familiar with the course of Finnish black metal by and large. Swagger and bravado come aplenty, as expected, but a precision holds dominion that is almost unusual and in many other hands these mid-tempo riffs would have carried a greater degree of punk-influence, as loose playing is often seen as.
At it’s fastest Hypocrisis Absolution also tends to be at it’s most melodic. The usual fury isn’t accompanied as much by sorrow as one might expect, but by a quasi-heroic regale. A minor difference at first almost unnoticeable, but growing in size with spins, and one that makes all the difference. And one without which I would hardly have returned to Hypocrisis Absolution as often as I have. And that’s actually quite a lot, even though I could have lived without a re-recording of the demo-song that’s a straight-up Sargeist rip-off.
4/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL