Laster – De Verste Verte Is Hier
Location: The Netherlands
Label: Dunkelheit Productions
“Four tracks filled with uplifting melancholy and raw, thunderous energy”. This is the bizarre oxymoron that Dunkelheit Productions decided to use to describe the music of the Dutch black metal band Laster.
De Verste Verte Is Hier is, indeed, a raw, melancholic and thunderous album, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone calling it “uplifting”. It has the kind of sound that makes me feel uncomfortable when I listen to the music; this is not because the music is bad, on the contrary, but rather because everything seems to have been composed, tweaked and produced to give you an overwhelming sense of unease. Although Laster probably wanted you to enjoy this album, they went out of their way to make sure that your enjoyment is filled with pain and suffering.
I’m not trying to be funny here; I don’t mean that Laster released a bad album. On the contrary, in the realm of black metal De Verste Verte Is Hier very much represents the kind of power that was coming out of Norway in the early 90s, mixed with some of the raw power and cacophony of the likes of Anaal Nathrakh. But even within this quality, there was a clear desire on the part of the band to create an ambient of melancholy and despair throughout the listening experience, and which makes the whole business as excruciating as it is pleasurable (at least for black metal fans).
Sadly, whereas bands like Anaal Nathrakh try to make you feel like shit with a more polished production, Laster opted for an underproduced style that really takes away from the experience. In 2014 there are really no excuses to produce an album in this manner, with the instruments and the vocals sounding like they were recorded by holding a microphone next to the speakers. Although I know that some bands love this type of sound, as they see it as a throwback to the “trve kvlt” days of black metal, I personally see it as an unnecessary addition that really destroys my immersion in the music.
In what is perhaps a sign of masochism in my part, I am looking forward to see what they’ll offer in the future. I just hope next time the production will do justice to the music.
Deconstructing Sequence – Access Code
Progressive metal has always been about evolving the sound of music and, as such, it is hard to pinpoint what it sounds like exactly, as attempting to recreate the sound of another band ignores the purpose. Deconstructing Sequence manage to bypass this issue by taking inspiration from two very different ends of the sonic spectrum.
Access Code kicks off wearing a guise of death metal, coming in with crushing guitars, lightning fast drum work, and growled vocals that have an almost smoky quality. The sound is much like Nile except for a few oddities, such as radar blips and the faint chants of a choir woven into the music, along with a stutter and burst in the tempo that feels vaguely reminiscent of Zero Hour. All of the elements work together to create a grand feeling of expectation, as if something is approaching, and it is at this point that the band’s other inspiration jumps into the mix. The speed and ferocity that had been the standard suddenly breaks and launches the listener into a slow ambient guitar passage, with double bass still firing off in the background, emulating the post-rock of God Is An Astronaut.
Deconstructing Sequence wield both styles expertly, showing restraint in using the ambient parts to serve their purpose of creating transitions in the sound, and not going overboard and boring the listener. Also, the more complex and technical pieces show a clear direction in the development of the sound, to the point that both styles are used in unison, creating a strong sci-fi feeling. This progression stays strong throughout the 16 minute EP, always letting the music twist, change, and adding new layers to it, making for unique listening experiences from moment to moment.
While not every crossover genre works out, Access Code shows the promise of combining the technical power of death metal with the broad, arching wave of ambiance. With Access Code, Deconstructing Sequence have shown some serious creative chops in how they build off of their sound, guiding their music towards an end goal.
Spectral Haze – I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains
Location: Oslo, Norway
Label: Soulseller Records
The classic rock sound has seen a pretty big resurgence over the last several years, and has worked its way back into heavy metal in a big way. Swirls of fuzzed out distortion, long improv-like jams, and old school sounding production, are all very hot right now, and I’m loving it. Sure, there are plenty of bands with total Black Sabbath knock-off riffs, but there are also a lot of artists that are looking past the Godfathers of metal and delving into the realms of space and psychedelic rock. There seems to be a pretty heavy concentration of this “new” sound coming out of the Scandinavian countries, with Sweden and Norway producing bands like Lonely Kamel and Blues Pills.
Spectral Haze, from Oslo, Norway are right there in the mix, with a sound that mixes stoner doom with 70’s hard rock, 60’s psychedelic rock, and even some progressive rock tendencies. I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains is the band’s first full length record, and I have to say I’m pretty impressed with the diversity in sounds. Each track showcases a different take on doom metal, but Spectral Haze have that rare gift of being able to weave some pretty diverse sounds together into one tight-knit sound that is all their own. There are some pretty standard stoner riffs in there for the Sleep fans in the crowd, as can be heard on the opening track “I.E.V. I – Circumambulating Mount Meru,” as well as “I.E.V. II – Observing the Centre of Infinity.” The psychedelic aspects of Spectral Haze’s music really show up on “Mercurian Mantra,” which has some cool synthesizers that sound like a spaceship; the song is pretty upbeat, and has a bit of a progressive feel to it. Basically, imagine the sound Kadavar would make if they soaked up some Hawkwind along with their Sabbath and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what Spectral Haze are all about. There’s even a bit of a 70’s punk rock moment, with “Descent Through the Intravoidal” sounding like a mix between The Dead Kennedys and the faster material by Saint Vitus (who, for what is worth, also have show some punk rock tendencies).
My favorite track happens to be the longest one of the bunch, “Triads and Trishulas”; clocking in at nearly thirteen and a half minutes, the song starts out with a droney doom feel that sounds like something off of an early 90’s Melvins record. Layered on top of the monolithic “Godzilla-stomping-a-mudhole-in-Tokyo” sized riffs, though, is some jazzy, improv style lead guitar work that gradually builds in volume, before pushing the band into space rock/prog territory. What’s impressive is that the transition is so seamless you don’t notice the change in tone until you’re hurtling towards the end of the song, and 13 minutes are now gone.
Spectral Haze show a lot of promise, and manage to make 45 minutes go by pretty quickly. I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains is a big grab bag of sounds, but manages to not spread itself too thin, which is no easy task, and is a testament to the band’s chemistry. Spectral Haze are definitely a band worth keeping an eye on, I imagine they will be making a pretty good dent in the current psych-doom scene very soon.
Tellus Terror – EZ Life DV8
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It’s not often that I find a band that I can’t fit neatly into a little sub-genre of heavy metal; when I do, the band usually gets my full, undivided attention. In the case of Brazil’s Tellus Terror, my attention is caught in much the same way that you can’t help but watch a train wreck as it’s unraveling before your eyes.
Founded in November of 2012, Tellus Terror play a sound that just throws everything in the heavy metal playbook into the blender, chugs it down, and then packages the resulting bowel movement into their debut album EZ Life DV8. I can definitely understand not wanting to pigeon-hole yourself into one particular sound, but Tellus Terror just sound completely juvenile and unfocused in their attempt to not exclude any style of heavy metal in their music. Every last song is a mix of styles, ranging from deathcore to symphonic black metal, gothic rock, and even a little bit of nu/rap metal; nothing is left out, and none of the varying styles stick around long enough to make an impression. Even the keyboard/synthesizer player can’t quite make his mind up if he wants to sound like Dimmu Borgir, The Devil Wears Prada, or My Dying Bride; just listen to the track “3rd Rock From The Sun” to see what I’m talking about. The vocals are all over the place, from death growls, black metal shrieks, hardcore yells, operatic singing, to female spoken word bits, all of them often happening in the same song. You get the feeling writing sessions for Tellus Terror go a little something like this: “hey, I have this melo-death riff, what should I do with it?” “Oh, I like that riff, here’s a riff I stole from Limp Bizkit, these riffs would sound great together!” “Hell yeah bro,” *fist bump.* It truly sounds like it was that haphazardly thrown together.
The recording is adequate, which is about the nicest thing I can say about it; you can hear all the instruments okay, though the vocals are just too overpowering in the mix for my tastes. The different styles are all approached with the same mixing style, which really sterilizes any atmosphere the musicians were hoping to create. I can definitely get behind Tellus Terror’s message of religious, gender, race, and musical equality across the board, but some things just don’t work well together. I love all styles of metal, but that doesn’t mean I want them all in the same goddamn song.
After listening to this album, I consider myself a martyr of sorts; I listened to EZ Life DV8 so that you don’t have to. I normally applaud bands for bringing some diversity into their music, but Tellus Terror really need to learn some focus, and try to stick to just ONE sound and get good at it before releasing another clusterfuck like this.
Zaklon – Nikoli…
Location: Minsk, Belarus
Ever since Varg Vikernes released Burzum’s first recordings in the early 90’s, there has been no shortage of one-man black metal projects. Sounds can range from a raw, primal approach like Judas Iscariot, to more ambient and atmospheric projects like ColdWorld. One advantage, I suppose, to the single member approach is the creator has full control over the final product, and that makes for some pretty compelling acts, like Xasthur, Leviathan, and Moloch, just to name a few.
Minsk’s Zaklon is the long-running black metal project of Temnarod, who also plays in Defunctus Astrum and Pogost. Zaklon plays a melancholic, ambient form of black metal that also has elements of pagan folk music, not unlike Burzum. Nikoli…, which translates to “never” in English, is the fourth full length album by Zaklon, and I’m left wondering why I haven’t heard about him before. There are moments of true melancholic beauty here, like the acoustic and keyboard-driven album closer, “Dym,” and the ambient washes of sound that start the album off, on the song “Atruta.” From the very beginning, you know you’re going to be getting some moody but melodic black metal; even when the electric guitars, drums, and shrieks kick in on “Atruta,” you’re washed over with some truly sorrowful music, pretty similar to Agalloch. Another band I’m reminded of is Ash Borer, who play a similarly guitar-oriented melancholy black metal sound; “Dolu” has some beautifully layered guitars that stick to the tremolo-picked style so prevalent in this genre, but manage to convey a lot of emotion in the process.
The production is a bit better than the average one-man black metal band standard; the clarity in sound on Nikoli… is remarkable, choosing to let the music provide the atmosphere, rather than a lo-fi production style like you normally get on a black metal release. My usual complaint of there being little to no discernible bass still stands, but that seems to be an uphill battle I’m trying to fight, and the excellent songwriting on this record makes up for any sonic shortcomings. I may not have heard Zaklon before Nikoli… but, trust me, this project is certainly on my radar now, and I strongly suggest you check it out as well. If you like your black metal melancholic, melodic, with a little pagan metal flair every now and then, along the lines of Agalloch (though, without the post-rock tendencies) Zaklon could be your new favorite discovery.
Sedna – Sedna
Location: Cesena, Italy
Label: Drown Within Records
Hey! Do you like self-loathing while listening to your favourite black metal band? Uh-huh? Do you like self-loathing while listening to some depressive sludge? You do? Well, now you can hate yourself twice as much with Sedna’s debut full-length record! If you hadn’t guessed already, they play a style of atmospheric black metal fused with grim, brooding sludge, crafting their own distinct aural landmarks into the stagnating plains of black metal.
First of all, let’s be real here. This really shouldn’t work. You have two of the most polarising, extreme styles of metal that exist on completely opposite sides of the genre spectrum; naturally, combining the two is not a good idea. It’s like Gary Numan putting out a thrash album, or Lou Reed collaborating with Metalli– oh wait. But yes, in layman’s terms: Black metal = fast; Sludge metal = slow. But both share some common thematic links, so many have naturally tried to combine the two, with varying levels of success. While bands like Thou approach this fusion with a stance towards the sludge side, Sedna incorporate slow, antagonistic sludge elements to complement the fast, dense, emotionally-investing traditional black metal sections, giving the album a unique pace and a narrative-like sense of progression, avoiding the sluggishness which commonly plagues black metal.
While the guitar lines are a little bit uninspired and would benefit a lot from some further development, they capture the atmosphere of the record pretty well. The vocals here are astonishing too, with one adopting a typical black metal shriek, and the other barking out a throaty, pained cry. The vocal performances are super-passionate and involving, but would benefit from being mixed a little bit better, sounding too high up, leaving awkward gaps in between the lyrics. The real praise here goes to the drummer however, the absolute undisputed highlight of this record. Dude plays with so much force and intensity and fucking precision, and contributes to most of, if not all of the jaw-dropping set pieces of this record. Such as in opener ‘Sons of the Ocean’, where the guy follows a clean section by straight-up flattening his kit in a veritable torrent of blast beats, and it’s so awesome that I spent ten minutes trying to think of a witty or expressive metaphor to describe it and I just couldn’t. It’s too awesome. This band is awesome. Go listen to them.
See you all next week!