Eschatos – The Grand Noir
Location: Riga, Latvia
Label: Starwolf Records
Black metal was the first sub-genre of extreme metal I really sank my teeth into. It all started with Satyricon’s Dark Medieval Times, a record that got me immediately hooked. I’ve enjoyed the additions to the sound over the years, as I see experimentation as a way to keep music from stagnating. With The Grand Noir, the latest release from Latvia’s Eschatos, you get a bit of a crash course in the various sounds you can hear in the black metal genre.
In just 6 tracks, Eschatos blaze through more ideas and sounds than many other bands do in their entire careers. Whatever your particular favorite flavor of black metal is, trust me, it’s represented here in some form or fashion. If you like your black metal depressive and moody, check out the Silencer cover, “Sterile Nails and Thunderbowels.” If you’re looking for something a little more brutal, with a touch of avant-garde, “In Whole Alone Is Good and Elsewhere Nowhere” has got you covered, with its jazzy time signatures, clashing notes, and creepy keyboard work that adds another layer of gritty tone. This record really has it all; there are d-beat/crust influenced sections, raw old school black metal sounding sections, symphonic blackened death, not a single stone goes unturned.
Eschatos execute each sound they explore seamlessly, never making a bumpy transition into a different sound or idea. The only drawback to this is that each song almost sounds like it should be on a different album, creating a somewhat clunky flow. One song might end on an atmospheric or symphonic tone, while the next starts out stripped down sounding like something from the early 90’s Norwegian scene. A little more uniformity would go a long way, but the production is at least pretty solid (really, it’s on par with just about anything else on a major label). With just a little more tightening of the screws, Eschaton could really become a well-oiled black metal machine. Ultimately, The Grand Noir is a really good record, with a lot of tones and ideas extremely well executed. If you’re a fan of any type of black metal, this is definitely an album worth checking out.
– Bradley[section label=”Krypts – Remnants of Expansion”]
Krypts – Remnants of Expansion
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Label: Dark Descent Records
Every sub-genre of metal seems to be having a “back to the basics” movement these days, with bands looking back to their roots for inspiration. In death metal, for instance, there are a number of bands, such as Teitanblood and Dead Congregation, that are taking things back to when death metal was a bit more evil-sounding, a bit more aggressive. Finland’s Krypts are another such band, who blend the death/doom of Incantation with the supper fuzzed out, evil approach of early Swedish bands like Grave and Entombed.
Remnants of Expansion, the second full-length from Krypts, has an air of malevolence in its tone that really has been missing from the death metal scene for years. The music moves at a plodding, glacial pace that sounds like the soundtrack for the rise of some primordial horror rising from the bowels of the earth. Absolutely crushing heaviness exudes from every note played; even when the pace is picked up, the fuzzed out, detuned guitars are brutal, and yet haunting. “Remnants of Expansion,” is an instrumental piece that marks the mid-point of the album, and is utterly claustrophobic in its crushing gloom, with ponderous sounding clean guitar bits floating just above the doom and gloom of the rest of the band. The vocals throughout the album are guttural and low death growls, with a little bit of reverb added in, giving them an otherworldly quality.
The production is handled with the utmost care. While the guitars are distorted and ugly sounding, the tone never gets so muddy you can’t pick out the notes. You can hear every instrument with surprising clarity, despite the amount of overdrive and reverb each stringed instrument is drenched in. “Entrailed to the Breaking Wheel” is a great example, with the blastbeats and speed-picking on the faster sections never sounding too grimy, while maintaining every bit of the ferocity each member is attacking their instruments with. The atmosphere is incredibly dark on this record, but it is a true joy to listen to, as it gives me hope that death metal may not have hit its peak yet, as far as artistic integrity and pure brutality goes. Krypts have set a new standard for death/doom, both embodying AND transcending the two genres that they incorporate in their sound. Fans of Incantation, Disma, and Grave, you’ll definitely want to pay special attention to this release!
– Bradley[section label=”Slammin Thru – Things to Come”]
Slammin Thru – Things to Come
Location: Galicia, Spain
Label: Suspiria Records
New releases from bands that label themselves “Progressive Metal” tend to be met with no small amount of eye rolling. For a genre that seemingly bases itself on musical excess and an inflated sense of self importance, this can be a reasonable concern. However, Things to Come, from the Spanish band Slammin’ Thru, temper the excesses of the genre and deliver a serviceable, though slightly pedestrian, release.
Caught somewhere between Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime and Fates Warning’s Parallels, this album is very much a product of the early 90s progressive metal style. You won’t find any weedly neoclassical interludes or abrupt shifts to 19/16 time, though the band finds a good balance between mid paced heavy metal riffage and progressive song structures. Song lengths vary between five and eight minute cuts (with the exception of a small interlude) and develop musical themes well, without being stretched too thin. I personally found the longer tracks (“Things to Come,” and “Seeing Eye”) to be the better songs, though the rest of the album also holds up well.
While the band members themselves are competent musicians, fans of guitar pyrotechnics in the vein of John Petrucci may be left wanting. Solos are more in the vein of Jim Matheos, being lyrical without relying too much on technical excess. The vocals are serviceable, and work well within the context of the music, but are probably the weakest element of the album. The singer reminded me a bit of Charlie Dominici from the first Dream Theater: competent enough but nothing outstanding.
Production-wise, the album sounds very much like a product of early 90s production aesthetics. The guitar work is balanced very well between clean and distorted passages and I appreciated the fact that the bass was given some priority in the mix. The drums fill out the rhythm section well, but I found the snare drum to have a bit too much “pop” for my tastes, Although nothing so egregious as to ruin the album. The vocal mixing is probably the weakest link here, as I felt that it was a little too far behind the rest of the mix. Having said that, the vocals aren’t the centerpiece of the album, so this may not be such a serious problem after all.
Adopting a definite 90s progressive metal identity, without taking many risks within the genre, Slammin’ Thru have made a decent record. A few flaws notwithstanding, it was a pleasant surprise. 3/5 stars.