Friday, April 29, 2016

Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä

This is an absolute beast of an album. Värähtelijä is an entrancing psychedelic black metal experience that has more highlights in its hour-plus run time than seems possible. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of remarkably cool moments, but they are melded together so well that the album’s hypnotic feel never wavers even in the slightest. Incredibly, three of the tracks are over ten minutes long but you’ll end up feeling the album’s magnitude rather than its duration. In a way, Oranssi Pazuzu also flips the normal expectation of how black metal, and metal generally uses instruments. Värähtelijä is something special.

This album is heavily dominated by the rhythm section, to the point where the trance-like drumming is often the focal point. It’s not some kind of dull tribal drone either, the beats are far too unusual and addicting. Calling the syncopation on this album creative is as much as an understatement as saying Escher was creative with drawing stairs: the repetition always seems to be progressing onward. Bass lines are the other side of how the band flips the usual order of the instruments. They fill in the melody for long stretches, weaving into the drum’s rhythm and pulling the listener into the low-end of the mix. Vocals and guitars don’t sit idly by however, they pop into more traditional melodic roles, and also often accompany the music as trippy echoey ornaments.

If it wasn’t clear from reading about the album’s hypnotic qualities and rhythmic focus, this isn’t the kind of release that has many riffs to speak of. Still, there are a handful of incredibly strong moments in the guitar work. “Hypnotisoitu viharukous” for example has a really cool interchange between a fast riff and a slower chord progression. Both parts are somewhat stripped down versions of what the bass is doing, but an octave higher (see, I told you they flip things upside down). The guitar’s contribution makes a huge impact though because it add a harsher and chaotic element to the melody, which is then taken to the extreme in the song’s effects laden outro. It’s a role the effects play really well throughout the album in how they always fit just right into the composition rather than sticking out like a guitar player just screwing around with a fancy new effects pedal. See for example how all of the howls, beeps, and noises fit into the earlier part of “Vasemman käden hierarkia.”

Some exceptionally cool bits are worth pointing out individually. On “Lahja” rhythmic interaction between the strings, the xylophone, and tom drums is nothing short of stunning. It also shifts the song’s flow in a really intriguing way when the xylophone’s chimes go from a 4/4 to 6/8 feel, a simple touch that adds worlds of interest. The way that “Vasemman käden hierarkia” swings back into the earlier motif at about twelve minutes in by incrementally adding drums, bass, and vocals to the flanged tremolo-picked note is absolutely brilliant. It simultaneously brings back the song’s earlier mood in the bass melody while also creating a new feel to keep the track engaging. Then closing it off with cracked out yelling, screaming, and eventually plain old fire noises really drills home the song’s thematic progression.

Värähtelijä is a hell of a ride because it has such an earthy rhythmic side to its vast spacey sounds. Even the relatively weaker track Havuluu is really strong, it’s repetitive two-note theme mutates into a howling mess that’s so unhinged that you have to love it. The album’s mellower sections and the tame closer “Valveavaruus’s” drum free parts are stern reminders of how compelling overall pulse is. I remember the band’s debut release having two really powerful tracks, here it’s all seven. Oranssi Pazuzu abandoned a lot of the traditional rules of making metal, and still crafted a top notch release.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Otargos - Xeno Kaos

Otargos - Xeno Kaos

After being fairly impressed by Otargos’ No God No Satan album from 2010, I was initially excited to give a listen to this 2015 alum, Xeno Kaos. While it's not the biggest letdown around, I was fairly disappointed to find that this once interesting blackened death metal band had tried and failed to recreate Behemoth’s Demigod album. Hell, it even has the vaguely eastern sounding lead guitar work, similar vocals, and triplet chugging patterns; but it ultimately falls short of that influential album. To be clear, there is nothing really shoddy or awful about the performance or production, but the composition has the stale taste of rehashed material and uninspired ideas.

Xeno Kaos is the kind of album whose aggression is clearly unquestionable; it’s rhythmic, heavy, crisp, and keeps a consistently crushing atmosphere throughout. It just feels so soulless. If you take the bleak approach of looking at the songs in strictly a melodic sense, they are very predictable and flat. Simple cadences occasionally broken up by inconsequential chugging fills. Sometimes the high end is filled up with tremolo picked notes for entire bars of music, but in a way the removes the melody from black metal and the rhythm from death metal. The quick palm muted 8-note chug patterns sometimes help give the impression of creating more dynamic parts, but it’s ultimately still very predictable.

If it seems unfair to chalk up Xeno Kaos as a second (or third) rate imitation of Demigod, then just give “Dark Mechanicus” a quick listen. This has to be the epitome of dumb homogenized lowest common denominator blackened death metal. Triplet triplet rest trip-trip-chug bullshit rinse and repeat. It’s a half decent bridge or two painfully stretched out into the length of an entire song. Also, you can tell without even listening to the album that I’m not overplaying the Behemoth influence, one of the songs is titled “Chariots ov the Godz” after all.

As noted above, Dagoth sounds a lot like Nergal, barking out each extremely compressed line with a steady, rather monotone, delivery. A more dynamic approach would have really helped flesh out the album’s straightforward approach without detracting from the band’s blunt force trauma approach to music. Speaking of which, the blasting kick drum really bleeds into the space the bass ought to operate in. It makes it seem like the double bass bits have a constant and clicky open-e bass strumming pattern. Frankly, this isn’t all that far from how parts of the songs are actually written, so it’s likely a composition issue rather than a mixing problem.

In the end it averages out as a wash of an album. The unremarkable songwriting plus the hyper produced and competent musicianship makes for a perfectly neutral experience that’s well suited to situations where your attention is focused elsewhere. I don’t mean that as some kind of veiled insult either, it truly is a very moderate experience. Aside from how bad “Dark Mechanicus” is, I struggle to remember much of anything about this release. Sure, bits of some of the songs have their moments and it’s heavy overall, it’s just not the kind of music you’d expect to come back to after hearing it once.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Nyciene - S/T

Nyciene is a black metal project whose debut demo starts off with a striking intro melody. Its main riff has this ridiculously addicting 8th-note slide at the end of it that keeps drawing you into the song. With a raw but quite full sound, the band clearly flirts with Burzumesque minimalism by delving into trance-like repetitive riffing. It’s simple, but the melodies have an added layer of tension by hiding under the steady pulse of the lower notes. This makes the intro in particular much more intriguing than a simple droning riff would be, which makes a lot of sense because the rest of the music is relatively dynamic and high energy in comparison.

This demo is around 20 minutes long, but still pretty lush with ideas. The initial Burzum feel is fleeting after the first track. It’s an interesting facet to the band’s minimalism; they conjure up a great deal of atmosphere by tapping into both first and second wave black metal riffing styles. The production’s clarity and the doomy atmosphere however make the demo feel very much like a modern release. In fact, despite all of the fuzzy-crunchy tones in the wall of sound, a lot of care has been put into making this mix work quite well. You can hear it pretty obviously earlier on in “Mercy in Quietus” with it’s strong (but not attention seeking) bass and well placed synth noises.

Naturally, when the music dips into the more straightforward riffs, the drums and vocals are there to flesh out the musical space. It works well because the guitars are a smidge low in the mix, which helps to highlight the band’s dynamics. For example, check out the really cool cymbal work during the bass part on “Mercy in Quietus.” After what seems like too short of a time, this demo closes out with some droning notes and ethereal effects. Even as someone with little patience for ambient nonsense filler, the finale makes complete sense in the context of the demo’s minimalist approach and rich atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cult of Erinyes - Transcendence

Cult of Erinyes’ “Transcendence” EP is a very enticing sample of what this Belgian black metal band has to offer. To be frank, the music here sounds a lot like Mayhem (and that’s not even including the well done, but superfluous cover of “Pagan Fears.”) Specifically, the EP sounds like someone took a musical midpoint between DMDS and Chimera. The riffing is sometimes more Euronymous sounding, other bits are more like Blasphemer. It’s especially obvious in the vocals too, which have deep nasally lines reminiscent of Attila and also invoke the catchy rhythmic delivery of Maniac (but in a good way).

Still, it’s best to think of the influence as a ballpark for this EP’s sound. This isn’t a straight up clone band or even an uninspired imitation. “Transcendence” has some incredibly memorable vocal lines that tend to ride on top of the rhythm rather than mirroring it. The intelligible lyrics will leave you reciting bits of “Degrees of Solitude” or the apt line of “remember my name” that is repeatedly barked out on the EP’s eponymous track. “Transcendence” is the stronger of the two tracks due to the rolling 6/8 meter’s interplay with the slower fanfare sections. Also, it’s really cool how pulled back and subtle the double kick blasting is as the track closes out - this really preserves the song’s atmosphere.

Although the Mayhem influence is heavy here, the material is obviously far from one-note because of how creative and memorable the two original tracks are. The EP is definitely interesting enough to make me want to check out some more of the band’s music than only these two solid songs.