Shiran – Warm Winter Day
Nightwish were a game-changer in metal; despite the efforts of Lita Ford and Doro, it wasn’t until Tarja Turunen burst into the scene that female singers, whatever their style, became commonplace in metal. As it often happens, of course, for every person that could pull off what people like Tarja and Floor Jansen did, there was an endless amount of mediocre bands trying to cash in on the nerd obsession with “female fronted metal”.
Due to the impossibility of defining something as vague and stupid as “female fronted metal”, it was often the case that any band that had one or more girls wearing corsets was labeled as such, regardless of whether any of the elements of “metal” were present. This is an utterly annoying trend, feeding off the “goth” demographic that worships anything that features a girl on vocals. Shiran, the Israeli band responsible for this EP, are representative of this problem.
Let me be clear; Shiran Avayou, the band’s singer (awkwardly labeled as its “siren songstress” by their PR department) is a good vocalist; she has a good range and is definitely above average in terms of skills. The problem is that calling this album metal is, for the most part, a stretch. If anything, it falls squarely into the “pop rock” category, both in terms of lyrical content, song structures and the songwriting itself (the title track is particularly guilty of this, being so radio friendly that it’s embarrassing). While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does mean the songs are unremarkable, forgettable and very easy to dismiss. Although they do what they do in a competent manner, there are plenty of pop-rock clones out there who are just as skilled, and who already flood the market.
Even though, undeniably, Shiran‘s strongest point is their vocalist, who showcases a superb lyrical ability, the songwriting does not live up to her talent, or to the above-average production, and results in mediocrity. Despite the band’s own claims of delivering “a mixture of hard edged riffs and clean melodic vocals in a Djent metal style that also culls from Jazz and Blues” the truth is that none of these otherwise interesting elements are featured in this EP. There are no interesting progressions, no daring stylistic changes or anything worth writing home about. Perhaps 15 years ago the use of down-tuned electric guitars mixed with clean female vocals was considered interesting and daring, but nowadays you really need to do more than that to impress your audience. Shiran, sadly, fail to impress.
OFDRYKKJA – A Life Worth Losing
Label: Avantgarde Music
Mental disorders are a common subject in metal. From Nine Inch Nail‘s “Hurt” to Sentenced‘s “Aika Multaa Muistot (Everything is Nothing)”, topics like suicide, depression and alienation have been covered by many artists, some of whom have been able to truly represent the suffering of those afflicted by these diseases. True, sometimes the coverage comes off as a gimmick, like HIM‘s angsty teenage-focused songs on love and suicide, but a good number of artists still put out decent material.
OFDRYKKJA are a Swedish band that don’t waste any time in establishing what they’re all about. Labeling themselves as “suicidal black metal”, and with an album aptly titled A Life Worth Losing, they deliver a cacophonous barrage of auditory pain and suffering.With the express aim of reflecting on the “ugliness” of the world, A Life Worth Losing is all about death and destruction.
It’s hard to review something like “A Life Worth Losing”, because I have to keep in mind what they themselves were trying to accomplish. After all, they wanted a raw sound that sounded ugly, and they sure as hell accomplished that. Horribly produced tracks full of wailing, crying, screams and even coughing, aim at making you feel awful, and succeed at that. The production is terrible, reminiscent of the stuff Burzum put out in the early days of black metal, so much so that it’s hard to really understand how they could have accomplished such a horrible sound, short of recording the instruments via a walkie-talkie.
Production-aside (and keeping in mind that it’s terrible by choice and design) the material isn’t very interesting, with a big chunk of the album being lost to just spoken-word sections, backed by some monotonous tracks. While I can deal with shrieks of the likes Burzum and Anaal Nathrakh put forward, listening to some Swedish dude read his angsty poems is excruciating, and not for the reasons they hoped for. I get it, you’re sad, but I didn’t put on my headphones to listen to your one-man show, nor do I find it appealing to hear a grown man cry and wail like that.
It doesn’t help that, on a personal level, I find this band repulsive; while in an interview (with their PR firm’s magazine) they speak against bands that glorify mental illnesses, they somehow saw it fit to include as part of their presskit a picture of one of their members covered in fresh and still bleeding self-mutilation scars. A similar photo is on their Facebook page, together with copies of their doctor’s report. While I cannot speak against those who, due to mental problems, engage in self mutilation, I sure as hell can criticize those who use it as a gimmick, considering it appropriate to show it to the world as some sort of badge of honor.
Sempiternal Dusk – Sempiternal Dusk
Location: Portland, Oregon
Label: Dark Descent Records
For over a decade now, Portland, Oregon, has been a hotspot for doom, having produced such titans of the genre as Witch Mountain and Yob. Maybe it’s the climate up there that causes it, but it seems like bands from the Pacific Northwest all tend to have a murky down-trodden vibe, as well as a crushingly heavy sound. Even the grunge bands weren’t super-fast, just look at the Melvins’ classic albums Bullhead and Lysol.
Sempiternal Dusk are a death/doom band that formed in Portland in 2009, and play some of the slowest death metal this side of Incantation. Sempiternal Dusk, the band’s self-titled full-length debut, moves at a snail’s pace, even when the band switches to death metal mode. “Moon Beneath Hook Cross” starts things off with keyboards that are made to sound like a droning Gregorian chant, with a slow, dark doom riff. When the vocals kick in, the music shifts to more of a death metal style, similar to that of Incantation and Immolation; in other words, the approach to death metal is pretty old school and primal sounding. Doom isn’t overly concerned with complicated chord progressions and time signatures in the first place, but all of Sempiternal Dusk’s riffs are fairly simplistic, though still super heavy. “Upon The Gallows At Perihelion” is a good mid-point through the album, as it picks up a little more speed and has some excellent groove-oriented guitar licks that show up about halfway through the song. The vocals are of the deep, guttural cookie monster variety, but they serve the tone of the music well, which is also really deep and monolithic.
I’ve been known to bitch incessantly about guitar and bass tone being distinguishable from each other, especially when it comes to doom; everybody seems to like the same pedals, and when all instruments are fuzzy sounding it’s hard to pick out the separate notes. In Sempiternal Dusk’s case, however, the heavily distorted sound works pretty well, since the music isn’t overly complicated. The production is fairly swampy, which sounds like it would be a bad thing but, again, totally works to the band’s advantage, and perfectly captures the feeling they’re trying to convey.
The issue here is that while there are some okay riffs here and there, it’s all just a little too simple, and a little too indebted to the classic death/doom sound of the early 90s. I don’t expect every band to be groundbreaking and ultra-original, in fact, I like seeing some bands take things back to basics; in Sempiternal Dusk’s case, however, it’s hard to distinguish them from any other run-of-the-mill death/doom outfit. The songwriting is just a bit too generic for my taste, and there really aren’t any standout moments in the album, other than the groovy sections I mentioned earlier. Still, if you like slow doom with some guttural death growls, or mid-paced old-school sounding death metal, Sempiternal Dusk will be right up your alley.
Thaw – Earth Ground
Location: Sosnowiec, Poland
Label: Witching Hour Productions
In a genre as heavily populated as black metal (some would say over-saturated), it’s easy for bands to get lost in the numbers, especially if the new bands don’t bring anything particularly new to the table in terms of sound. In order to avoid stagnation in the scene, it’s important for bands to look outside the status quo in the black metal sound, and in some cases even outside the genre itself.
Polish black metal outfit Thaw are a new band that have been pushing boundaries in the genre since their inception. Earth Ground, the band’s latest effort, melds raw, heavy black metal with noise and industrial music, which proves to be a pretty potent mix. The final song, “Last Day,” is a particular stand-out, coming across as a black metal-meets-Godflesh sounding track, with a lot of electronics and synthesizers mixed in with the brutal riffs. There are a lot of industrial elements throughout the album, but at its heart, Earth Ground is very much a black metal record. “No Light” is a pretty straight-forward metal tune, with pretty minimal synthesizers, showing that Thaw are just as comfortable creating an unsettling atmosphere with dissonant chords and heavy bass. The sometimes chaotic chord progressions, such as the opening riff on “Afterkingdom,” remind me of Deathspell Omega, though maybe a bit less “mathy.”
The production on Earth Ground is excellent, with a good amount of low-end in the mix, something that is often missing in black metal recordings. Thaw have a bass player in their band, and they are damn proud of that fact; bands often underestimate the ability of a good bass player to bring a heavier edge to the music, but that is definitely not the case here. On the track “Sun,” just listen to the tone when the band goes into a slower time-signature; the bass turns an already decent riff into a real crusher. Thaw aren’t the first black metal band to incorporate industrial and noise into their sound, but they do it to much greater effect than many of the other bands that have tried before them. With just a little more exposure, Thaw certainly have all the ingredients needed to make a name for themselves in the black metal scene. If you like your black metal really heavy, and don’t mind a little experimentation in the way of electronics, pick up a copy of Earth Ground.
Jupiterian – Archaic
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
I’ve always been a sucker for funeral doom; I love the glacial paces, the colossal heaviness of the riffs, and the gut-wrenching melodies that, simultaneously, give off a sense of beauty and sorrow. Bands like Ahab and Mournful Congregation have really set the standard high for the genre, with Ahab in particular taking the genre in newer sonic territories that have incorporated elements of post-metal.
Jupiterian are a new band from Brazil that play a rather sludgy, murky version of death/doom, with a heavy funeral doom vibe. Archaic is the band’s first official release, and it certainly shows a lot of promise. If you mixed the droned out, super overdriven attack of early Conan with the melodic side of Ahab, you’d get something pretty similar to what Jupiterian are playing. Heavily overdriven guitars and bass that seem to always be on the verge of feeding back are backed by pounding drums and deep death growls. Occasionally there is some keyboard work which adds a bit more melody, as you can hear on album opener “Archaic,” but it’s mostly drowned out by the thick layers of distortion, and isn’t really meant to be a center-piece to the sound.
The biggest issue here is the heavily distorted tone that the guitars and bass use; while it has worked to great effect on albums like Dopethrone by Electric Wizard, or Horseback Battle Hammer by Conan, it’s a little too muddy here. The problem is you lose a lot of clarity, the constant crackling sound really takes away from the melodies, which are just as vital as the crushing heavy riffs they’re accompanying. If you can get past the production, though, there is really a lot to like here, and I look forward to hearing more from Jupiterian.
Well, that’s it for now! Tune in next Wednesday to see what new demos we’ll have for you! In the meantime, drop us a line if you think there are any releases we should review!