Worhs – Le Temps des Blasphèmes
Location: Paris, France
Over the years, France has pumped out some of the most groundbreaking and exciting black metal bands. With bands as varied as the shoegaze-leaning Alcest, the often industrial-tinged Blut Aus Nord, to the chaotic maelstrom of Deathspell Omega, the French scene has helped to shape the sound in a very profound way.
Worhs, a one-man black metal project from Paris, single-handedly runs the gamut of sounds that represent the French black metal scene on Le Temps des Blasphèmes, the project’s debut full-length. Like many of his contemporaries, WLWD (the pseudonym for the sole member of Worhs) experiments with different approaches to songwriting and structure; even the instrumentation is a bit out of the ordinary, as all the bass parts are performed on cello. If you’ve heard the band Apocalyptica you already know that cello can definitely create some interesting tones for metal, and even seems to have a natural distortion to its sound. The cello on Le Temps des Blasphèmes serves as both a heavy bottom end, and an extra source of noise, enhanced in part by the recording style, which is very much in the lo-fi, “recorded in a tin can” vein. The melodic bits on the record are sorrowful, and at times heart-achingly beautiful, like the Alcest-like mid-section of the song “Fantisme.” On the flipside, the music can also be very ugly sounding, like the nightmarish “Anitkabir ou le Triste Constat,” which has a droney, almost industrial quality to it, thanks to the slow moving cello bits.
Worhs is pretty good at being able to go from beautiful, orchestral moments with lush violins and various other strings and sad acoustic guitar, to terrifying and heavy from track to track. While the lo-fi recording certainly gives Le Temps des Blasphèmes some pretty eerie atmosphere, I feel that the softer moments would certainly have benefited from a cleaner, clearer production. The distortion caused by this bare bones approach to recording causes some of the guitars and strings to sound a bit out of tune, like on “La Mémoire Profanée.” At times the vocals are a bit too high in the mix, particularly on this latter song, especially when WLWD goes for a droning, clean singing approach. Overall, though, I commend Worhs on creating a pretty diverse record, and the experiment mostly works throughout. A strong first release from a brand new black metal project, and a fine addition to the French scene.
Withania – Blütenstaub und Weidenharz
Melodic black metal is a particular weakness of mine; don’t get me wrong, I love the raw, lo-fi stuff, its where I got my start, but having been raised on classic metal like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Dio, I have a soft spot for some good melody. As with every sub-genre of metal, though, there are always the pissing matches that come with the territory when discussing melodic black metal. One side is all about melody and the bombast that the melodic bands tend to bring to the table; on the other end, the guys that like all the raw, hateful sounding stuff think the melodic bands are a bunch of poseurs, and only pussies listen to it. I personally think there’s room for everybody, as I like Tsjuder just as much as I like Naglfar.
Withania are a two-piece melodic black metal band from Germany, who have just released their debut full-length, Blütenstaub und Weidenharz. The music mixes a little bit of folk metal with some pretty straight-forward melodic black metal; think early Dimmu Borgir, minus the keyboards. Vocals move between clean singing and the high pitched growls that one would expect from a typical black metal release, and the music makes a lot of changes in direction, from solitary acoustic bits to full on distorted, heavy black metal. The use of cleaner guitar effects is a breath of fresh air, as black metal can sometimes get a bit monotonous if it’s all blast beats and speed picked guitars; the music can come off as a bit spooky sounding, like on the excellent track “Wenn die Würfel fallen,” which has some lead guitars layered in that sound like horror movie theme music. The switches made between styles is handled impeccably, and shows that Setril, who handles the bulk of the instrumentation, is a master craftsman in terms of musicianship and songwriting. The melodies and rhythms almost sound like traditional folk tunes, particularly on tracks like “Der Tod und der Wind,” which has a German “oompah” vibe to it in some sections. I enjoyed the incorporation of other sounds not always heard in black metal, but not all of it works on Blütenstaub und Weidenharz; one example is the appearance of slide guitar on “Entfremdung.” It sounds a bit mismatched, especially since it’s trying to play an “evil” sounding melody; on “Der Wein der Verzweifelten,” however, the slide guitar works perfectly since that song is a bit more melodic and folk-oriented.
The production is insanely good when you consider this is an independent release; the mixing and transitions between soft sections to heavy sections sound extremely professional. The guitars can be a bit thin sometimes, and there’s little to no bass in the mix, but the riffs are pretty heavy, and I love the alternating clean and harsh vocals. Withania are off to a pretty impressive start, and I love their willingness to experiment this early on in the career. I definitely look forward to seeing what else these guys come up with.
Betoken – Beyond Redemption
Cross over genres seem to have become more and more common these days, as bands take influences from many different sources in many different subgenres. Riding a line between thrash and power metal, Betoken deliver a hybrid performance of operatic drama and speedy, hard-hitting instrumental.
At its core, Beyond Redemption could be a straightforward thrash album with its healthy doses of blistering guitar work and double bass, particularly in a few tracks that would fit in perfectly with Annihilator’s King of the Kill. The vocals however, provide a much different tone with both male and female portions mostly sung in a low, drawn-out fashion reminiscent of Zero Hour’s Erik Rosvold. The instrumental and vocals, despite being very different stylistically, work well together. The guitar and drums never slow down to suit the long, cathedral style of the vocalists who wrap the music in their stretching range, creating a sound similar to Dragonland.
There is also a strong diversity present in the sound which is created through the use of tempo changes across the board that keep the listener on their toes, most notably in the guitars shifting between dark, heavy tones and fast, brain warping passages. The inconsistent structure of the songs works in Betoken’s favour, making the music fresh and unpredictable. Although the musicianship of the band is solid, there are a few creative choices that are questionable, such as several intros rife with violins and church bells and a few spoken passages that seem to be added in simply for theatrics’ sake.
While there is some fat that could be trimmed from the album, Beyond Redemption overall provides a solid and interesting listening experience that demonstrates a good level of craftiness and ingenuity. If you’re in the market for music with an over the top style and some serious instrumental talent, Beyond Redemption could be right up your alley.