Svart Records Roundup: Hallatar, Coven (Jap), Kuudes Silmä & Urarv
Once more Svart Records is at it with metal of many kinds. There’s heavy metal of the (al)most traditional kind, there’s doom, there’s a fucked-up-psyched-down slab o’ black and there’s industrial depression via post-punk. And the best, you don’t even need to have an opinion! ‘Cause we do.
Hallatar – No Stars Upon The Bridge
How to rate an album like this? No Stars Upon The Bridge is as much an epitaph – a work of mourning written in a week’s time as an attempt to deal with Aleah Starbridge’s untimely passing. Adorned with her poetry, it’s the first new material from Raivio’s pen to surface after her passing (Trees of Eternity had been sitting read for some time before Svart took hold of it). Raivio enlisted Tomi Joutsen and Gas Lipstick, best known from Amorphis and HIM respectively, to help the project come into fruition. The music itself lies somewhere between Swallow the Sun’s heaviest moments, though without the characteristic, groovier riffs, and the more somber, aforementioned ToE – recognizeably Raivio, but unpolished and rough.
Many a time, Hallatar comes so close to Raivio’s main band that indeed it seems No Stars Upon The Bridge is the album many desired Songs From The North to be, combining the three sides into one, coherent album. Songs like “Mirrors” and “Melt” are slow and heavy, almost funerally dirging at times. Simple keyboards melodies, heartfelt & scarce hooks and some of Joutsen’s most desperate vocal work, intersped with his powerful growl, not heard in Amorphis often enough. Elsewhere, the spoken word pieces and “My Mistake” find a more ethereal sound, with contributions from Heike Langhans (Draconian) – “Severed Eyes” even revisits the acoustic territory before the album plunges back into deep despair. The final track “Dreams Burn Down” Brings all the different elements together, and frosts it with one of Aleah’s last performances.
Would NSUPtB have benefitted from further honed songs? Maybe, but it’s a snapshot capturing a raw set of memories. It’s delicate weaving may as well have been ruined, had the material been altered. Many a StS fan ought to be happy with this record, containing all the crucial elements and the sound, in a slightly different box that that hasn’t quite been compressed to the same breathless pang, as SFtN was.
Urarv – Aurum
Aldrahn should be a familiar name to anyone into black metal beyond the trvest of kvlts. Though The Deathtrip may have been pushing more traditional black metal, he’s better known for the genre-bending industrial madness of Thorns, and whatever-the-hell-they-felt-like of DHG. Urarv, his latest project, lies somewhere between the two. Inspired by the man’s stay in a mental institution, as a folk-oriented project, over long years it grew into a full band and came into fruition as a very different beast.
The riffs, as good as some of them are, often seem to be there only to construct a song. “The Retortion” for one, centers around a redundant guitar piece, around which the bass dances offering relief from the repetition, as Aldrahn howls and shrieks, occasionally like Vulture Industries’ Bjornar Nilsson, and on the next turn like King Diamond. Forvitringstid” takes a turn from a gentle clean intro to a casual, modern norsecore riff before endearing the listener into a demented waltz only before returning. Not an unusual song by and large, but Aldrahn’s overtly theatrical vocal performance takes even such a casual song into stranger waters. This is not an album you can listen to for the riffs. This is black metal on acid, likely to land it’s listener in the same institution it was inspired by. It has it’s fair share of hooking riffs, hints at the possibility of melody and playfully circling bass that never lets go or lets itself be buried – but Aldrahn’s vision of madness makes it a dense record to absorb at once, yet the construct seems to demand this.
Aurum is no side-step from Aldrahn’s “usual fare of things”, but whether that’s a good thing or not, I can’t quite tell.
Coven – The Advent
Coven’s an up-and-coming, Tokyo-based heavy metal band taking cues from the so-called new wave of British heavy metal. While working on their debut full-length, Svart Records has taken the liberty of releasing their EP, The Advent, for the hungry masses. The masses must be starving though, if this what they so desire because, jeesh. Yes, the duo’s riffs are good – and I guess that’s really the most important thing to many. But just like not every metal band from the 80’s that never got much attention needs to come back and have their back catalog re-pressed, Coven goes to show that not every band that grew up listening to Mercyful Fate and Iron Maiden can be decent. Their riffs are good, but nothing remarkable – “Karma” makes a more lasting impression as a whole and “Wings of Glory’s” Iron Maiden antics stick, largely because they’re so recognizably Maiden. Whereas closer “Scream for Tomorrow” basically is “Remember Tomorrow” from the British giant’s eponymous debut. There’s a pretty decent argument to be made for metal being a genre building a lot on plagiarism, hero worship and copying old styles and riffs to different extents, but if exactly half of your album is Iron Maiden but with bad vocals, what would be the point of playing your album instead of theirs?
Talking about those bad vocals. The only thing Coven has going for them is Japanese language, which to some could make the vocals sound goofy. Personally, any shred of character is more than welcome, but whichever of these two dudes – TAKA or Akihiro Ito is doing the vocals, needs to take lessons. Powerless and lost in the mix, sounding off more often than not, the vocalist butchers the Coven’s one original asset (even one original asset is more than most have, which makes it even more unfortunate). Here’s to hoping their full-length won’t be as complete waste of time as The Advent was.
Kuudes Silmä – Pelko
Kuudes Silmä was endlessly compared to Musta Paraati, when they released their debut in 2013. A fair comparison, though the self-titled seemed to sit comfortably between the aforementioned’s Peilitalossa and Pyhät Nuket’s Kuoleman Sotatanssi, two of the best known post-punk records released in Finland. Filled with good songs, but an uneven whole, it left a good bit to be desired – variety and imporvement over Jere’s impassioned performance primarily.
Pelko is likewise filled with the existential dread of the 80’s. A bleak and dreary journey driven by mechanic beat of the drums and a pulsating, slithering bass. Covered in fateful synths and oft abrasive guitar tones. Still reluctant to escape the shadow of it’s predecessors, though gazing further towards the British Isles this time around. It is also a somewhat more mature and varied performance, though none of the songs rises above the rest resulting in a +-0.
The vocal problem has been taken care off, with slight reverb and throwing in additional vocalists on a few songs. Though it seems they’ve somewhat dialed down the dance-ability of the debut in favour of some “gothic” maturity, Pelko is overall one of the better post-punk/new wave/goth rock/whatever records you’ll find today. And with it, Kuudes Silmä stands at the verge of answering the question what could have been, if all the Finnish progenitors hadn’t died so young.
(At the time of writing, no songs were available from Pelko, however, “Muistot Palaa”, from the split 7″ with Maailmanloppu, was re-recorded for it)