September Roundup: Väki, Shrapnel Storm, Korgonthurus, The Committee, Warmoon Lord & Vultyrium
Black/death metal! Lay down your souls to the gods’ rock ‘n’ roll.
Väki – Kuolleen Maan Omaksi
Though a half-century behind them (and with additional experience from the Lacertilian-approved Deathkin), Väki only has a two-song EP to their name prior to Kuolleen Maan Omaksi, their debut full-length. Though neither of the bands represent the most casual Finnish black metal, Väki takes an additional step away from it and towards the loosely defined pagan metal. Sure, at its heart it’s still recognizably Finnish black metal, at least strong enough to not stand out as an oddbird, and its melodic language avoids the obvious folk-isms, not to mention that it’s entirely guitar-led, but the compositions’ scope and overall atmosphere embrace that side of black metal.
In some ways Kuolleen Maan Omaksi is a truculent, overwhelming record, and though it levels its rabid blasting with fairly plentiful slower, even doomier riffs and calmer arpeggio sections, it’s the faster material where Väki shines brighter and manages their more memorable moments, causing many of the slower parts to feel like interludes meant to stall boredom. On the other hand, it’s a working solution for the most part and even though the songs tend to err on the longer side, and would’ve benefited from edits, there’s little that’d actually call for it. Strong riffs, strong atmosphere and obviously a few years in the cooking pot haven’t made Kuolleen Maan Omaksi impervious to some very basic flaws, but it has resulted in a mighty gambit for Väki.
Shrapnel Storm – Shrapnel Storm
Between their 2006 founding and the release of their debut full-length, Mother War, Shrapnel Storm remained fairly active, but little has been heard since. While the self-titled sophomore is unlikely to result in a resurgence of shows, given the current situation, it will hopefully raise the band’s status in the meanwhile. Whereas up to their debut, the band played a mid-tempo death metal strongly reminiscent of Bolt Thrower et al. according to the band themselves, Shrapnel Storm takes a little different route, and “The Burning” would lead you to believe it’s paved with riffs of the thrashing kind.
In truth, thrash riffs appear here and there all over the album, but there are not many songs besides the opener that put them in the spotlight. And when the band’s direct, no-nonsense death metal of the most straightforward kind can still be summed up with groovy riffs and melodic hooks in mid-tempo, the changes can appear insignificant to outsiders. The most obvious steamroller tributes to the giants and heroes of war-themed death metal have been left out, but there’s still little question as to the influences to Shrapnel Storm’s stylistic choices. “Battlewraith” is the song the band themselves have pointed out as the link between their older and newer styles, and rightly so, but the way it fits into the record without the blink of an eye also speaks volumes to the range of the band’s discovery of new sounds.
The biggest actual change might be the way the melodies are treated. I don’t know how to best elaborate on it, but it’s the difference between a melodic riff versus a melodic lead—Dismember‘s “Override of the Overture’s” riffs against the leads from Bolt Thrower’s “At First Light”. While the band still uses both ways to convey their motifs, playing them as leads instead of riffs has gained some considerable prevalence on the sophomore record.
A few filler riffs have found their way onto the record, but Shrapnel Storm knows what they want to play and they play it well, so the biggest, and only really annoying flaws come in the form of the production. Beefier than the debut, the strings much benefit from this, but much as “Battlewraith” exemplified the stylistic change, it’s also the most egregious crack on the album’s visage. I talk, of course, about the drums. Placed on the front of the mix are the empty, cold thud of the snare and the obnoxious flip flop of the wet slippers masquerading as the kick drum. They haunt me in my dreams, they haunt me in my waking hour, they haunt me at my holiest. And though I would recommend the album heartily for any friend of straightforward, grooving, headbanging death metal not of the caveman kind, I can only pray that never may you be as haunted by the drums as I have been.
Korgonthurus – Kuolleestasyntynyt
With each album Korgonthurus has shown a different side of themselves, which might happen to your band if you take your time long enough to only release three full-lengths in 20 years. For Kuolleestasyntynyt, the band has acrimoniously shed not only much of their former line-up, but also the melodic side of Vuohen Siunaus. Reaching now to their demo years for a violent and more blunt sound that Corvus’ one-of-a-kind bird of prey vocals (that have just as well been adjusted for a more pissed off sound) fit perfectly.
Shying away from neither slow nor fast, much of Kuollestasyntynyt is spent in mid-tempo, and the variety between the band’s arrangements as well as the application of melody against the bluntness, are what make the record, in addition to Corvus. Given the comparatively less melodic sound of Kuolleestasyntynyt and the new beginning that it represents for the band, when they do apply more melody into their sound, the outcome comes off as an acknowledgement of their past in a way. The slow-burning “Yön Lapsi” conjures the cold depression of Marras, while the closing “Nox” flirts with Vuohen Siunaus one last time, and earlier on the album, “Tuhontuoja” stands for a new strain of melodicism present in their music, and yet, all of these fit under their new sound with no cohesion problems.
Hans wrote a mini-review of Kuolleestasyntynyt back in April, but just in case you’ve forgotten, and I wager many of you have, and none of you should’ve, I’m featuring it again. Adorned with both befitting and beautiful art from Roni Ärling, it’s not just one of the best sounding black metal albums in 2020, it’s straight up one of the best black metal albums in 2020.
The Committee – Utopian Deception
I enjoyed The Committee‘s sophomore full-length, Memorandum Occultus very much back in 2017, I still enjoy it quite a bit, and I’ve also allowed myself to like their two previous releases. But there’s always been one thing in their music that kinda gets me in a bad way, and it the resemblance to the currently most over-compared-to black metal band, Mgla. Sometimes there’s been more of it, and sometimes less, but it’s always been there and always very noticeable. Actually so noticeable, that it tends to be blown out of proportion every time The Committee gets discussed. The arrangements, the songwriting, many of the individual riffs and the construction of these individual motifs, not to mention the lack of concept albums about how mean people are to them, are different from Mgla so decisively that it would be impossible to believe they were written by the same person (and, of course, they aren’t), but the practically identical melodic language is so overpowering that often I tend to forget it myself.
Then, in a very distant past I caught them live and I was blown away, and by blown away I mean “What the WTF, where did all that bass come from?” Marc Abre —the Mediator’s lines had never seemed to play a very central role on the albums, but live they practically became the driving force of each, with his independent lines coiling around the band’s static riffs, his leads and solos bursting out and twisting the compositions at sheer will, and yet never seemed even slightly out of place.
Utopian Deception melds these two very different experiences of The Committee somewhere near the mid-point, though still a bit closer to the former than the latter. While the influences are still easily, and constantly heard, slightly more often does the band break this mold, and the entity bears a visage more theirs and theirs only than before (take note of the brief Iron Maiden circa Brave New World intro on “Ashes – Norm”). The songwriting is built on more traditional build-ups and a straightforward rhythm basis rather than the repetition and rhythmic deviance. The bass is higher on the mix than before, but still feels like a far cry from the live setting.
Though one has to take into account when talking about the live setting we are talking about something distorted by the positioning, the mix and sound of the place and the personal state, and any recording of said performance would likely differ from the recollection of the experience. But it has also been given an inarguably bigger role in a few songs, especially the solo in “Harrowing the Sane – Popularization”. Utopian Deception is another step forward and onto better things for The Committee, and more metal bands should take note of their use of bass. They won’t, but they should.
Warmoon Lord / Vultyrium – Pure Cold Impurity
Though traditional in its approach to black metal, Warmoon Lord‘s 2019 debut is easily one of the best black metal albums of the last few years, and though I allowed myself to be persuaded to believe the infatuation would not last based on its form, it’s continued to stand taller than many that I officially selected as the very best for the purposes of this Toilet-fetishist blog.
The raw and melodic black metal fortified with keyboards is still the same as it ever was, and yet not quite. Warmoon Lord’s half of Pure Cold Impurity is still raw, but not verging on overbearingly so, which Burning Banners of the Funereal War at times was, and it’s even more melodic than its predecessor. Somewhere between the Swedish and Finnish strains, the reins are never let go for the 20-odd minutes that Warmoon Lord holds them, the speed is almost unanimously fast, but the vivid synth-arrangements breathe much life and variety into the 4 songs, and they’re both different and memorable enough for their half of the split to never blur together. While some of the charm has been lost between releases, as far as Warmoon Lord is concerned, Pure Cold Impurity does not come far behind the debut.
Vultyrium, of course, could not come much behind his debut seeing as this is the solo-project’s first public outing. Stylistically there’s little difference between the two projects, which is good for the cohesion of the split, but highlights the younger band’s weaknesses. The production is rawer and more distant than on Warmoon Lord’s half, though it’s more the kind of semi-unintentional rawness found on demos than an entirely conscious choice of approach. The drum (machine?) arrangements are much more monotone and the dry, croaked vocals feel isolated from the instrumentals, only strengthening the feeling of a Warmoon Lite, but if Vultyrium did not have the misfortune of debuting on this split, I’d undoubtedly view the material in a mostly positive light.
It’s an even split that, despite both bands doing a good job, highlights the issues of putting too similar bands on separate sides, and the difficulty of finding your perfect split partner.