Dark Forest – Beyond The Veil
Location: Dudley, West Midlands, England
Label: Cruz del Sur Records
There’s just something about a melodic, twin-guitar attack in heavy metal that hooks me every time. Bands have been doing it for as long as heavy metal has been a genre, with some of the most notable examples being Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. The sound is pretty popular in power metal, a genre that takes much of its sonic cues from the latter two bands I mentioned, and yet, as often as it gets used, I still can’t get enough. Upon hearing the first few notes of “On The Edge Of Twilight,” opening track on Beyond the Veil by the UK’s Dark Forest, I gave an immediate fist pump of approval.
Filled with tales of mythology and history, Beyond The Veil is a pretty straightforward power metal release, with an emphasis on the classic NWOBHM melodic tone. The lyrics, coupled with the occasional foray into acoustic territory on the instrumental tracks “Lunantishee” and “Ellylldan,” give Dark Forest a distinctly medieval vibe. The band’s fusion of power and classic heavy metal is absolutely flawless, giving them a sound that falls somewhere between Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden, and boasts some pretty impressive musicianship that stands on its own. The vocals, again remind me of Iron Maiden, sounding pretty similar to Bruce Dickinson’s mid-range, though there’s some pretty high-pitched falsetto thrown in as well, as can be heard on “On The Edge Of Twilight.”
The production on Beyond The Veil really does the material justice; while giving the lead guitars and vocals a big boost, the bass, drums, and rhythm guitar work manage to all shine as well. While the melodic lead guitar parts often get such big emphasis in the mix of power metal albums that they end up softening the “heavy” edge of what is essentially still supposed to be heavy metal, this is not the case here. Beyond The Veil, which has some pretty crushing riffs and thunderous drums that are just as enjoyable as the melodies and lyrics. If you’re in the mood for some epic-sounding metal, but have overplayed your HammerFall or Blind Guardian records, give Dark Forest a spin!
Nag – Nag
Location: Stavanger, Norway
Label: Fysisk Format
The crossover between black metal and punk has been happening for years, with Darkthrone favoring a more crust punk-oriented tone in recent years, as well as numerous hardcore/black metal hybrid bands popping up around the globe. Stavanger, Norway’s Nag, however, may just have created the purest mix of punk, hardcore, and black metal ever, with their debut full-length, Nag.
The first thing that stands out on this record is the production; raw and unpolished, the music sounds like the Norwegian black metal of the early 90’s. The songs hit you in short, angry bursts, and even though none of the tracks go on for more than 3-minutes, the album packs a wallop that leaves a lasting impression. “Master,” in particular, showcases Nag’s ability to mix crushing hardcore, punk, and black metal all at the same time, with the use of buzzsaw guitars, d-beats, and yelled vocals creating a raw, nihilistic mood. The pace rarely lets up on Nag, though there are a couple of slower moments here, like the eerie, evil sounding opening riff on “Destination Hell.”
Vocally, Nag stick to a punk/hardcore style shout, with some deeper background yells mixed in, and even the occasional black metal-style shriek. The vocals, though not as extreme as some of the others I’ve heard in similar-sounding records, still manage to match the attitude of the music, and go along perfectly with the raw production. If you like big, clean-sounding modern black metal, this might come off as a bit too raw for you, but the old-school fans will appreciate the tone on this record, which has that old “necro” (don’t ask me, ask Emperor or Mayhem what that means) tone, while avoiding sounding too muddy. Nag is an intense record from an up an coming band from Norway, the home of black metal, and is definitely a worthy addition to any serious fan’s collection.
My Regime – Dogmas
Label: Scarlet Records
OK, to begin with, that’s some great artwork; I love the blending technique used, and the balance of colors helps keep it from feeling too cluttered, even with all the stuff packed into the imagery. That said, on to the music. Running fourteen tracks, with an average duration of slightly less than three minutes, My Regime‘s new album plows inspiration out of the early thrash template as a way for front-man Spice (of Spiritual Beggars and Kayser) to vent some anger in a fresh environment.
After a short piece of mellow dissonance (“A Black Stone”), the band leaps into proper thrash, beating away on the drums and throwing quick-shred riffs left and right. It’s well-primed to draw listeners into head-banging, and while there’s an obvious debt to the early thrash waves, the band does a nice job of stirring in some of their own character while following the flail-and-shred blueprints, even if this is done done mostly through the handling of the vocals. Another point of modernity is found in the mixing, which eschews the muddying of channels that has dogged so many of the genre’s entries in the ’80s; instead, the separation is fairly crisp, though there’s still some acoustic interaction between the elements.
While it will hopefully draw the ears of thrash fans who’ve been hungering for an album fitting their tastes with some genuine vitality to its performance, I’m having a tough time imagining that this will draw too many new fans to the style. What might do the trick, though, is My Regime playing their material at multi-genre festivals, as the performances on Dogmas point to some serious fire waiting to be unleashed in off-the-cuff improvisations and extended riffage. Whether thrash is an old or new hat for your ears, I’d say this album is worth giving a shot to energize you on some afternoon when you’re feeling open-minded and willing to move around.
Crowhurst – II
Label: Broken Limbs (vinyl, cassette), Dullest Records (CD)
I first heard Crowhurst with their self-titled album from last year, which (going by the press info for this new album) is now being referred to as I to establish retroactive continuity of some sort (which should give them some cache with the comic book crowd). That prior album drew from a striking range of styles for its material, fusing them together in inventive ways, so I had reasonably high expectations for this follow-up, and from the rolling synth blats which opened first track “Cold Sweat”, I felt reassured that the group would be in good form.
After that quick but noisy intro track, Crowhurst settle into more grounded operations, the blended styles all gleaming through, but welded into a whole that, while not quite uniform, has enough consistency in its mannering to provide a recognizable thread through the songs. Sharpened guitar tones and obscured vocalizations serve as the more immediate elements in the mix, drawn across a morass of undulating bass, submerged percussion, and semi-subtle electronic integrations. The techniques and attitudes are given fine execution, with the aggression immediately obvious even while a persistent sense of something more lurks beneath it.
Nods to the industrial metal forefathers of the ’90s also make their way into the mix, though these are more allusionary than explicit (“No Saviors”, for instance, put me in mind of some exceptionally grimy Land of Rape and Honey Ministry, for instance), but Crowhurst certainly have their own character firmly etched into each of the tracks, and never seem wanting for ideas or energy. Final track “Dried Blood and Old Earth” may be the one which shows this best, as it cleverly works to expand the harsh audio environment of the first track to thirteen-plus minutes, folding in distortion, feedback, drones, layered harmonics, and more while piling on the tension. It’s a well-crafted finish with the bonus of giving further depth to the album through the encapsulation effect, making this one that fans of ambitious industrialized metal and/or atmospheric noise should make it a point to acquire.