Album Reviews

his part of Métal Obscur offers English versions of reviews already published in French on mainpage. Please note that translations are Google-made. I’m trying to correct the most obvious mistakes and make the whole more readable for English readers. It’s far from perfect, but it’s better than having to learn French, heh ?

Just browse down for older reviews, or use "ctrl-f" for research.

Black Cilice – Summoning the Night

Black Cilice – Summoning the NightThere is nothing sadder than an album with some potential being deliberately sabotaged by a shabby production. Why a musician knowingly chooses to bury his compositions under a thick layer of recording mediocrity? Even after all these years of listening and analyzing Black Metal records, it is still a mystery that I’ve never managed to understand.

A new manifestation of this sad phenomenon is provided by Black Cilicia, a solo project from Portugal, which released last summer a second album called Summoning the Night. This atrocity’s cover is particularly enlightening as to its content: minimalist and remarkably ugly (the same visual concept was also already used for the previous album).

Yet beneath the thick layer of stifling distortion, there are a few sparks that would have deserved a better fate. Thus, there are some good riffs, scattered here and there on all six songs, which suggest that their author has some basic musical skills. For example, second song Chaos and Evil consists of an interesting juxtaposition of heavy and repetitive chords arranged with a handful of tremolos. Unfortunately for the listener, musical mash begins at the fiftieth second. Chords played repeatedly are buried under fuzz, as a result of a botched recording. The singer’s voice (sic) is another major problem (to say the least). It is actually unarticulated screams fused with every other instrument, sometimes giving the impression of hearing any animal undergoing vivisection. Believe me the thirty-five minutes of this album seem much longer…

Maybe one day, a song writer practicing this form of Black Metal will explain to me what he wants to do or prove. However, I find it difficult to hear something other than a limited talent who tries to hide its blunders. Wading clichés and the most hackneyed stereotypes, Black Cilice is another one of those bands who continue to believe that a poor sound quality is a guarantee of authenticity. Yet Summoning the Night proves exactly the opposite.

S03

Sorcier des Glaces – Ritual of the End

Sorcier des Glaces – Ritual of the EndThe release of a new Sorcier des Glaces album is an event that crosses the boundaries of our national scene. Band’s stylistic niche gathers a large audience attracted by songs inspired by Norwegian Black Metal’s second wave. Studio project for the past seventeen years, this Québec bands belongs this style pioneers in our province and its first three albums are now considered classics.

Band was not idle in 2012. It released a very good split with Monarque, a cassette EP regrouping older stuff, and a rerecording of Snowland, their first album, originally released in 1998. The amateur, however, had to sharpen his patience to finally discover the sorcerer’s fourth (second part of a trilogy started with The Puressence of Primitive Forests), its release date being repeatedly rescheduled. Planned for 2013, Ritual of the End will be finally unleashed at the end of January 2014.

Stylistically, the band stays true to itself, with its numerous borrowings from early Ulver and Arcturus albums. Cues are set right from the start with From Under the Moonlight, with long tremolo sequences and keyboard ethereal layers (editor’s note: I got fooled, there is no keyboard me on this album). This combination provides epic proportions to the songs, even more clearly on this album than its predecessors. A really dry snare sound is however the only really annoying detail about an otherwise spotless production.

Overall, Ritual of the End has a slower tempo than the first albums. This choice allows the sorcerer to explore new possibilities, which are beautifully shown on The Frozen Sword of Shadow, probably one of the best songs he ever recorded. A powerful atmosphere emerges from this hymn, mainly interpreted in mid-tempo with great arpeggios and tremolos layout. The auditor is therefore caught in a kind cold reverie, also experiencing a late and unexpected rhythmic burst. The band also covers Macabre Operetta, a song took from Samael’s second album, an excellent choice that fits perfectly among the original compositions.

Contrary to a persistent belief, Sorcier des Glaces’ music can evolve and its stylistic horizon is not limited to the early 90s. Like his main influences, the sorcerer is diversifying its approach and becomes more atmospheric and progressive. Ritual of the End is a mature album, pleasant to listen to with great songs and a superb production. I can not wait to discover this icy trilogy conclusion.

S08

K.F.R – ANTI

KFR - AntiMost Black Metal fans know Maxime Taccardi’s pictorial work, used on many album covers. However, they may be unaware that this multi-talented artist has his own band. Founded a certain time ago, K.F.R (from Arabic "kafir" meaning "unbeliever") plays in the particularly demanding Dark Ambient register, translating in music the extremely sordid world of its creator. The latter, known for painting with his own blood, is releasing a first-length called ANTI, a really challenge for listeners.

Indeed, you must be strong to survive this record, which amalgams influences commonly known for their aggressive dimensions. Besides the gloomy Dark Ambient, Depressive Black Metal constitutes song writing main influence, with distorted guitars, torn voice and a dragging pace. Atmosphere is creepy, haunting, even stifling, driven by titles such as Am I So Ugly or Let Me Be The Vomit Guiding To Your Mouth. These songs are also the most interesting of the album. They instil an unpleasant feeling of oppression, conceived by a really twisted mind. However, things go wrong when a little more traditional Black Metal instruments are used.

Maybe is it a deliberate aesthetic choice, but guitar sounds awkward and out of sync with the drum. This prevents the songs with a more standard format, such as Suck My Death and the title track, to reach their full potential. It is an irritant and regrettable problem, because the album is otherwise punctuated by really intense moments (Adolf Hitler’s speech sampling is truly chilling). The author should perhaps consider surrounding himself with musicians a bit more experienced, since a trilogy is announced, ANTI being its first part. Production also deserves to be improved, although this concern is usually not a priority for this style’s practitioners.

Adding music to his palette, Taccardi seeks to achieve what Richard Wagner called "Gesamtkunstwerk ", total art, merging visuals and sounds. This is a huge challenge, but this brilliant artist undoubtedly has the capacity to do so. However, he will first have to improve his playing skills (or work with savvy musicians), an absolute prerequisite to his credibility as a musician.

S06

Arvas – Into the Realm of the Occult

Arvas – Into the Realm of the OccultAh! Norway. Enchanting fjords, breathtaking landscapes and insane music. How can you resist? Each week, new releases emerge from this country, where the bucolic coexists with the sinister in a strange harmony. Thus, Arvas, originating from the beautiful provincial town of Bergen, offers a kind of music evoking more the circles of hell, rather than a corner of paradise.

Band’s history – like so many other Black Metal representatives – is fairly chaotic. First known as Örth in the 1990s, it split a first time after their drummer’s suicide (who also played for Gorgoroth and Borknagar). Reformed in the middle of the next decade under its current name, he took yet another hiatus without releasing an album. Third time is finally the good one. It released its first album in 2009 and struck again last November with Into the Realm of the Occult.

Refinement and subtlety are definitely not on the band’s list of qualities. Its style comes straight out Black Metal beginnings, with short, abrasive and Thrash-sounding songs. Strongly inspired by Darkthrone and Gorgoroth first records, song writing is mainly focus on speed, with a drum handled by a madman (listen to the title track, you will understand). After a martial introduction, during which a machine gun shots at unknown individuals, the band gives a first punch with At Gallow ‘s End, establishing their stylistic markers: guitars are covered by a layer of static electricity, drums are whipping hard and vocals sound like dying animal screams. With a deliberately raspy production, final result is undeniably "old school" and will delight (sic) music fans who like permanent ear drums damage. Fortunately, the band is also able to introduce some great riffs and wild solos, giving some personality to an album that – otherwise – would have been yet another Transylvanian Hunger clone. Also note the presence of three live tracks took from first album, recorded in an even dirtier sound environment.

Again, proud Hordaland representatives show us what they can do. Into the Realm of the Occult is a rough album, even fierce. Its resemblance to some Second Wave classics (an otherwise extremely common phenomenon) has no real impact and do not undermine the overall listening experience. Let’s just hope that this time, Arvas will keep it going.

S07

Black Empire – 2000 ADBlack Metal fans living outside our beautiful province will probably be surprised to learn that the Quebec scene is not limited to major urban areas. Indeed, there are many bands coming from areas like Côte-Nord, Bas -Saint- Laurent, Saguenay and – most importantly – Abitibi-Témiscamingue.  This former colonization territory is considered since the 90s as a Heavy Metal Mecca, where bands and enthusiasts abound. Black Metal is also represented, particularly through melodic band, such as Cryptik Howling. But Black Empire plays in entirely different register, which offers a much more abrasive sound, closer to the genre’s classics.

After many years (it was founded in 2001), the band recently released a first full-length, culmination of several years of hard work, and we understand why. 2000 AD is methodical album, designed and built with a passion for details. Stylistically close to some Swedish bands (Ondskapt and Funeral Mist, among others), it has a fairly traditional song writing, alternating palm muted power chords and good tremolo sequences , especially during highly successful River of Ice.

Well played, the album however lacks depth. Song writing remains cautious, even conservative, and barely stands out. Even after several listens, songs fail to make a solid impression in the auditor’s mind, except perhaps the unbridled Sounds of Death solo and For Those Who Stay Alive furious introduction. A rather bland production is also reinforcing this perception. This is an unfortunately common phenomenon for bands that take several years before releasing its first album: they seek recognition and are reluctant to take risks.

The future is still bright for Black Empire members, whose talent is undeniable. The overall good quality of 2000 AD should be emphasized, but the band must refine its song writing to achieve recognition public flooded by sound-alike releases.

S06

Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the MultiverseIs it really still necessary to present Inquisition? If you like Black Metal and have inhabited the Earth during the last twenty years, it would be surprising that you learn the existence of this American band (but Colombia native) in this blog. Active for over twenty -five years, Dagon (guitar, vocals ) and Incubus (drums ) release excellent albums with regularity since 1998. They strike back this year with a sixth full-length, simply called Obscure Verses for the Multiverse.

Assault starts with conviction with Force of the Floating Tomb, driven by the band’s very distinctive drumming sound. Blast beat is dry, with the snare being slammed at a frenzied speed. The pace becomes (temporarily) more nuanced with the second title, which multiplies inspired and melodic guitar riffs. The tone Is given. The songs are all built on a sharp balance between melodic passages, with long chords and furious blasts. Note also the inclusion of a full mid-tempo song (Inversion of Ethereal White Stars) with many tremolo passages giving the impression of being in the hurricane’s eye.

The lyrical themes developed by the band are again completely incomprehensible for the non-initiated (like your host), with this special combination of mysticism and astronomy! Even after several lyric readings, I have still not understood their meaning. But whatever, this particular universe is one of the band’s most interesting characteristics. I finally want to mention the beautiful and detailed album cover.

However, a certain discomfort quickly arises. Resemblance with the famous Norwegian band Immortal’s style (since early 2000) is even more striking on this new album. Thus, guitar and voice seem to be taken straight from Sons of Northern Darkness. This stylistic choice was already pretty clear on Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm (released three years ago) but it is now even more blatant. Thus, despite excellent song writing made by Inquisition members, discomfort persists.

However, if this similarity does not bother you, know that Obscure Verses for the Multiverse is stil better than All Shall Fall, the most recent Bergen lads’ full-length. With its rock-solid production and undeniable interpretation qualities, this new Inquisition album is a safe investment that will delight the amateur.

S07

Sewer – Satanic Requiem

Sewer – Satanic RequiemHype for some bands is sometimes very difficult to understand. Thus, for some time, enthusiastic reactions appeared on the Web and specialized media about a new and mysterious American band called Sewer. Coming from Pennsylvania, it is presented as the new extreme metal sensation of Satanic Requiem (its first album, released earlier this year) as one of the best albums of its kind released in 2013.

Hm.

The huge black and white hay bale displayed on the cover immediately made me skeptical. Is it a deliberate choice taunting Black Metal visual stereotypes? Probably not. Second degree is definitely not this band’s specialty. It prevails in a register which is not very subtle. Just like their compatriots from Von, Sewer members are playing linear and quickly boring "compositions". A handful of chords per song, at most, embedded in a cloud of distortion. However, it is the drum (or what sounds like it) that won the prize for mediocrity. Poorly recorded, it produces the sound of a plastic rod knocking on a metal box, always keeping the same pace. A perforated muffler creates less annoying sounds. I do not think it’s necessary to mention vocals, since it’s limited to inaudible groans. Indigestible debris amalgam of Grindcore, Death and Black Metal, Satanic Requiem is not the album of the year. In fact, it has nothing of an album, period.

Maybe this project first seeks to demonstrate the absurdity of some ridiculous fringe of the extreme metal world, marked by artistic pretentiousness. But I doubt it. Like its label (The Satan Records, claiming to be "world’s leading heavy metal record label, featuring the Most Extreme bands " … with three groups and two releases), Sewer is a joke that takes itself seriously. I’m not fooled by this kind of things. I hope you will not either…

S02

Kirkebrann – Når Alt Dør

Kirkebrann – Når Alt DørNorwegian Black Metal dark ages are still a powerful reference for today’s bands. The precursors’ gesture – musically and criminally – fascinates each new generation of musicians seeking for attention. Some, such as newcomers of Kirkebrann, are going really far into the pastiche. This southern Norway band, whose name means "church fire" (duh) walks the same stylistic paths once cleared by their compatriots from Darkthrone , Mayhem and Gorgoroth. The jaded and full of prejudice amateur might think that this is just another clone without interest, but no! Når Alt Dor – a self-produced debut full-length is a success!

However, first minutes foreshadowed the worst, with a pompous and ridiculous anti-Christian monologue. Thankfully, first song Incoming starts the systematic bombing of our ear canals. This will be mean, you have been warned.

Like many other aforementioned Norwegian bands, Kirkebrann’s music relies on extremely rapid successions of acute tremolos. They develop a strong emergency feeling, perceptible from the beginning to the end. Second guitar adds a static layer on all tracks, with a screaming distortion that will cause teeth gnashing among the most sensitive listeners. Even with a slightly average mix, drums still play a crucial role, with frantic blast beats. As the vocalist, I hope he receives an adequate medical treatment: I do not think it is humanly possible to scream like this without suffering vocal cords permanent damage. You can almost hear the sound of small pieces of lung crashing into the recording studio’s microphone.

Of course, any pain in the neck could say Når Alt Dor lacks song writing originality, or insists about its resemblance with the 1990s classic. But this album’s main qualities are based on constantly demonstrated intensity and conviction, a feat that allows band members to bury their Black Metal in our ears with genuine aggression, a result that their illustrious predecessors are no longer able to do.

S08

Au-delà des Ruines – Psychose des barbelés

Au-delà des Ruines - Psychose des barbelésIt was during the latest Messe des Morts Festival edition that I discovered Au-Delà des Ruines, a band native of my sordid hometown sordid. Founded a few years ago by Chasse-Galerie members, after the Culte d’Ébola adventure, this band offered a very first show since the release of Psychose des Barbelés, produced by Hymnes D’Antan. Result on stage was convincing and I bought the album with enthusiasm. However, it didn’t last long.

Bands practices what stylistic conventions call Blackened Death Metal, which fits well with their overall concept. Song writing thus heavily insists on rhythm changes and complex structures, technique often being privileged over atmosphere. This choice highlights the musicians’ undeniable talent, demonstrating a breathtaking mastery of their instruments (especially drums) in an extremely violent sound environment.

However, despite repeated listens, the album never manages to create any real passion. Probably too far from Black Metal roots, Au-Delà des Ruines’ music sounds cold and detached. The impeccable production and a beautiful cover fail to hide this discomfort. Perhaps it is simply a matter of sensitivity; Death Metal technical dimension always annoyed me: riffs multiplication and abrupt rhythmic changes evoking more hyperactivity disorder than musicality.

This very personal observation does not affect the quality of Psychose des Barbelés, a globally successful debut album for Au-Delà des Ruines. Brutal and fast, this young Québec band’s music is tight and will probably gain a fan base eager for war of aggression.

S06

Mortis Mutilati – Nameless Here for Evermore

Mortis Mutilati - Nameless Here for EvermoreCountless psychiatric disorders that affect our degenerate species have always belonged to Black Metal lyrical register. In fact (not surprisingly, though), many musicians involved in this noisy artistic movement, struggle with bats in the belfry. However, usual musical exploitation of this psychic suffering is often laborious. Bands which practice "Depressive and Suicidal Black Metal" (or DSBM) are routinely making unbearable distortion-saturated albums, with vocals recalling cries of a goat being slaughtered.

Fortunately for our own sanity, there are also brilliant exceptions. And one of them is called Mortis Mutilati.

This band (a solo project of Moonreich’s bassist, actually) established in Paris since 2011 already has an expanded discography (five releases in two years) , but this is their second full-length  that allows me to discover it. Damn! Here is an album that challenges my fierce prejudices against Depressive Black Metal! Far removed from the waste mill noises privileged by Xasthur, Leviathan and their countless imitators, Nameless Here for Evermore rather offers a strong musical content, written and performed with care.

Conflating anger and despair, song writing offers a nice variety of riffs and harmonies, alternating fast passages and other more contemplative. Thus, the song Neige de Sang has a mid-tempo introduction, lively sequences of arpeggios and a wonderful organ conclusion. This diversity is also found throughout the album, which is easy (and pleasant) to listen at once, without ever becoming monotonous or repetitive. The diptych Way to End Your Useless Life provides further evidence, with nearly fourteen minutes of pure melancholy, expertly translated into music. Note also the use of quality literary materials for song names and lyrics, especially Edgar Allan Poe’s famous Raven poem.

Again, a French band manages to amaze me. Nameless Here for Evermore’s superb song writing brilliantly illustrates Mutilati Mortis leader’s talent, a musician that manages to extricate Depressive Black Metal from its ridiculous stylistic straitjacket.

S08

Valkyrja – The Antagonist’s Fire

Valkyrja - The Antagonist's FireYou are a savvy Swedish Black Metal fan, but stylistic changes made by its main representatives (Watain and Marduk, particularly) are bothering you? I have a suggestion for you. Since its inception ten years ago, Valkyrja offers a brand of music that combines aggressiveness, superb riff writing and high quality production. After two excellent albums released respectively in 2007 and 2010, the band returns this year with an almost perfect third record.

My immoderate love Dissection first albums probably affect my judgment, but whatever: The Antagonist ‘s Fire is directly inspired by late Jon Nödtveidt greatest work, with a significantly better result than all Dissection plagiarists tried so far. Released last October by World Terror Committee, this record immediately made it to my personal 2013 best releases list.

Balance between power, speed and melody on this album reach a rarely heard level. Supported by a typical Necromorbus Studio high quality production, all seven songs are homogeneous and dense, where no downtime is tolerated. Each riff, each sequence, fits naturally and effectively. It is also difficult to identify what songs stand out from the others, as they all share the same qualities. From Betrayal Incarnate to the beautiful Treading the Path of the Predator, the band spits its Black Metal with talent and conviction.

Note also the excellent drum / bass (which is perfectly audible) combination which constitutes the backbone of the entire album. Rhythms changes are well controlled while mixing magnifies these two instruments importance and power. There’s no doubt you will tap your feet and shake your head.

Of course, some savvy amateurs might underline this album close resemblance to (among others) Sworn to the Dark by Watain; or maybe complain about its clean production or lack song writing spontaneity. These are not, however, "defects" that weigh very heavily with the outcome. Band never tries to introduce artificial passages that would break the tempo, such as crypto- mystical prayers or atmospheric interlude: the systematic onslaught continues unabated throughout all 3033 seconds of this record.

Even if I knew Valkyrja and its potential for quite some time, the maturity that emerges from The Antagonist ‘s Fire impressed me. This is the work of a band at the height of its creative force, careful about details and uncompromising about its style. While the overall quality of the Swedish Black Metal production declines (or waters down), this album straightens things up the best possible way.

S09

Temple of Baal – Verses of Fire

Temple of Baal - Verses of FireA Black Metal connoisseur pays particular attention to the French scene these days. Indeed, it is in this tireless moaners-filled country we find the most dynamic bands and projects. For several years now, Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Antaeus releases are the delight of amateurs, with their delirious mixture of Black and Death Metal.

A little less known than its illustrious compatriot bands, Temple of Baal still remains a proud representative of French métal noir. Created and led since 1998 by Amduscias (guitar, vocals), this Parisian quartet strikes in a old school Death Metal-inspired register, with a weighty and dirty music. Released last October, Verses of Fire confirms even more this aesthetic choice.

Band does not waste a second to start the shelling. It will be heavy. From the first notes of 418 αστέρι (a title inspired by Aleister Crowley’s work), bass is pushed forward, an aspect found on every titles. An organic production decidedly gives the instrument and vocals a strong edge, especially the latter, with a tone perfectly suited to the album’s style. Good riffs merging Death and Thrash Metal are judiciously distributed, especially on the excellent Bloodangel which joyfully shoves the ears of the listener. Unfortunately, it spoils a little later.

Heart of the album is made up of mid-tempo songs that break the initial momentum. This choice is very difficult to understand from a band notoriously focused on speed and brutality. We must therefore wait until the record’s seventh song to regain some vitality, with the really good and ballsy Golden Wings of Azazel, a punch in the face that reminds German Thrash Metal heyday The last part of Verses of Fire allows to finish listening with an overall positive feeling, thanks to the very successful Serpens Luminis.

Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the highlights Temple of Baal’s fourth record are located at both ends, rather than distributed over its entire length. This can leave the listener with a mixed impression. But beyond this general observation, this album has several very successful songs that show their authors’ talent of their. Verses of Fire, while not revolutionizing anything, is still a quality album amateurs will appreciate.

S07

Glorior Belli – Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls

Glorior Belli - Gators Rumble, Chaos UnfurlsYou don’t change a winning recipe. You can improve it, refine it, but you never touch the foundation of its success. This ancient piece of wisdom is perfectly understood by the Glorior Belli’s members (especially one, actually), whose peculiar sound identity is perpetuated on a fifth album released last October. Indeed, while most of their compatriots stand out with a specially Baroque Black / Death style, these Parisians led by J. (guitars and vocals) play in a specific stylistic niche, amalgamating Stoner Rock and Black Metal. This unusual mixture was already highlighted on The Great Southern Darkness released in 2011, but the band goes further this year with Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls .

This new full-length is even more inspired by classic Southern heavy and oozing rock. Influence of a band such as Kyuss is particularly obvious, as shown by a strong and bluesy rhythmic guitar mixed with clear vocals choirs. But this album’s essence is based on something extremely difficult to express with words, a kind of nonchalant groove that evokes a hot summer day, during which the only option is to take refuge in the shade and sweat profusely. Album production also supports this aspect, with emphasize on guitar distortion and singer’s harsh voice.

However, as I already he noticed two years ago, the band seems to run short of ideas before reaching the finish line. Riffs on songs like The South Will Always Know My Name and The Blackout Blues sound much less inspired. Fortunately this slump remains limited, but still indicates that the group reached its full potential especially and should not try to force the pace.

The unique style practiced by Glorior Belli’s members, indifferent to fashion and trends, is admirably passing the test of time. By focusing more on their particularities with Gators Rumble Unfurls Chaos, the band refines even more their identity and the autonomy of its approach. Result, which fuses Blues and Metal, evokes Louisiana bayous, crushed by heat and humidity, just before the hurricane season.

S07

Gehenna – Unravel

Gehenna - UnravelFew bands are able go through time with sustained success, especially in extreme registers such as Black Metal. Origin’s passion and originality gradually give place to stylistic reflexes, a phenomenon that usually produces predictable and tasteless albums. Bands must then rely more on their reputation than their creativity to sell records. This pessimistic observation unfortunately came to my mind when I first listened Norwegian band Gehenna’s new album.

Founded twenty years ago, it experienced some success in the 1990s with the release of four typical «Norwegian-styled» albums. The situation changed at the turn of the millennium with Murder, written in a much more Death Metal approach. It received then mixed reviews and the band took another five years to realize WW, no more convincing than its predecessor. After eight long years of relative silence (the band still performs live) and a renewed line-up (Sanrabb is the only remaining founding member), Gehenna launches its seventh full-length called Unravel.

Despite an obvious desire to return to Black Metal basics, this album never manages to generate any real enthusiasm. With a uniformly monotonous production, it sometimes gives the impression of having been recorded in a tiny room. Song writing does not improve the situation. Most songs are organized around weak and often boring rhythmic. Even after many listening, never an air or a sequence really caught my ear, playing the album in its entirety and not even noticing it had ended. In all honesty, the only truly successful thing in this publication is its remarkable cover art that represents the universal «Death and the Maiden» theme.

Despite a long hiatus, Gehenna seems breathless. Without originality or willingness, Unravel is failure that shows a serious lack of creativity or determination. Why is it the band got out of semi-retirement to record an album like this? I honestly don’t know. However, this further confirms my bias towards bands attempting a comeback after a long absence: an extinguished flame is hard to light up again.

S04

Styggelse – No Return

Styggelse - No ReturnFor the vast majority of people living our miserable Western Hemisphere, the 1980s represent the apotheosis of pop culture and the triumph of appearances. But while the hairspray flowed, the devil was polishing his claws. A new generation of musicians gave birth to a much more aggressive style of Heavy Metal than the one popularized by some British bands (Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, in particular) at the beginning of the decade. These pioneers then spawned Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and a handful of others, which immediately stand out with fast playing, screaming vocals, minimalist production and uncompromising Satanism.

There are now countless musicians who draw their inspiration from this period, adapting it to circumstances and tastes. However, some diehards are still faithful to their precursors’ style, such as members of the Swedish band Styggelse. Revealed in 2010 with an excellent first album, these Quorthon worshipers write and interpret a music that mocks all ephemeral trends that passed through Black Metal over the last thirty years.

After a three songs single launched in 2012, this Gothenburg quartet strikes again this year with a second full-length called No Return. Weighty, organic and greasy like a köttbullar, its production emphasizes the band’s formidable rhythm section. Each drum hit vibrates the walls, a feeling further enhanced by an exceptional bass playing and an aggressive mix. However, interest for this kind of album is primarily based on quality riffs, abundantly found on No Return. Strongly inspired by the already mentioned band (impossible not to recognize Venom’s influence on a song such as Hangover in a Grave), guitar playing relies on efficiency , with several palm muted power chords sequences and some scattered wild solos on most songs. Larsson’s harsh voice, probably obtained through cigarettes and alcohol abuse, adds an extra bestiality layer to a tightly packed thirty minutes record, performed at high speed and with great conviction.

No Return should be listened while driving a muscle car at full speed on the highway with a beer between the legs. No real layout originality, but devilishly effective on the content, this album is aimed at both primeval Black Metal nostalgic and music lovers who appreciate the subtleties of a music spit by bullies .

S08

Sarkom – Doomsday Elite

Sarkom - Doomsday EliteToo often, unscrupulous observers consider Norwegian Black Metal production in the light of the country’s most famous bands. This is wrong. Best albums are released by bands that stay away from the trumpets of fame, and never soften their work to appeal to a wider audience. New evidence is provided by Sarkom, which unleashes these days a remarkable third album called Doomsday Elite .

Founded a decade ago by Sgt . V (bass) and Unsgaard (vocals), the band released two heavily Thrash-tinted albums between 2006 and 2008, giving them wide recognition in the world of European Black Metal. However busy with other projects (Svarttjern and So Much For Nothing, in particular), the pair take their time to write Bestial Supremacy’s successor. Fortunately, it was worth it!

Right from the eponymous song that opens the album, we can feel an overall change in tone. Swift and brutal, its structure is very different from the Black Thrash’n Roll we’ve heard on previous records. And it’s not a hiccup. Sarkom members punch another nail with I utakt med Gud, which smashes the listener with a fast and superbly mixed drumming play. This goes on for the entire album. Songwriting skilfully combines Black Metal‘s harshest elements with beautiful melodies (including even some keyboard passages) giving the album an unexpected – yet appreciated – ambitious dimension. This is particularly evidenced with Inside a Haunted Chapel, filled with excellent riffs and an epic and violent atmosphere.

There is not a lot of downtime on Doomsday Elite. It manages to maintain the same intensity level throughout its forty minutes. Of course you can make some criticism, about its "little-too-clean" production, its triggered drum or some keyboard lines (like those on Solemn Disorder Till Human Extinction) that sound like Dimmu Borgir (no, this is not a compliment). But took as a whole, this album is remarkably strong, made by musicians at the height of their career.

While many of their colleagues choose to soften their musical palette when getting older, Sarkom members have radicalized theirs. Result is truly remarkable. It’s obvious that every detail mattered, from the beautiful (and disturbing) cover art up to studio work. Doomsday Elite very "professional" aspect will perhaps displease raw and noisy Black Metal diehard fans, but will delight anyone who appreciates well-done work.

S08

Enbilulugugal – Noizemongers for GoatSerpent

Enbilulugugal - Noizemongers for GoatSerpentFor millennia, humanity has pushed every possible boundary and expanded its horizons in all areas of intellectual and technical activities. Art is part of this endless quest, its practitioners constantly challenging the present to create new masterpieces for posterity.

However, this optimistic reflection shatters after listening to the latest compilation released by an American band ridiculously named Enbilulugugal. No less than seventy-nine songs (!) populate Noizemongers GoatSerpent, a lengthy and unbearable album that stretches for more than two hours over two CDs.

This Californian phenomenon plays lo-fi "Noise Black Metal " which boasts itself for its inaccessibility , focusing on electrostatic saturation and other defective appliances noises. Their most recent mischief takes the name and some of the content of their first record. However, they add enough new material to qualify this issue as a crime against humanity.

It is extremely difficult to adequately describe the sound mash that gets out of the speakers when the album starts. Audible instruments are fully saturated with distortion and the few cleaner passages are vaguely reminiscent of Grindcore and underground Punk, with a wild interpretation and totally chaotic structures. Songs (sic) rarely last more than two minutes, but any distinction between them is impossible. In addition to the already released stuff, we find remixed versions, old demos and many other materials that leave a distracted listener to believe he forgot to turn off the kitchen disposer. It is impossible for a relatively healthy mind to assimilate such music (sic) without burning a few synapses. Sound universe of Enbilulugugal members is a challenge to reason, a probably perfectly assumed – but completely useless – provocation, wrapped in a visual package that uses the most ridiculous Black Metal stereotypes.

Such band’s intentions always appear incomprehensible to me. Noizemongers for GoatSerpent do not show any noteworthy musical or artistic ability, just a collection of poorly executed and recorded noises. Destined to an ultra limited audience, this release will probably delight those who derive a certain pride in collecting such horrors, classified as "kvlt" by musical illiterate.

S01

Perditor – Divine Riddles

Perditor - Divine RiddlesA Black Metal album that begins with Christ whipping – if not original – is sure to arouse the curiosity of a jaded public. This was without a doubt the intention of Dutch band Perditor’s members. After more than fifteen years of existence and some confidential demos, this Amsterdam trio finally released its first album on a serious label. Why settle for half-measures? Divine Riddles is a dirty and primitive Black Metal manifest, which will bring real enjoyment for anyone who considers Mayhem’s Deathcrush as the genre epitome.

This album is really violent, even for a listener accustomed to noisy assaults. As the small introduction sequence ends, band unleashes Summonings of Hell, whose first chords sound more like a nuclear explosion than music. I do not know who supplies the band members with amphetamines and other performance-enhancing drugs, but their influence is undeniable. Ultra-fast, dense as plutonium, songs are designed to brutalize and punish relentlessly anyone who dares to listen. Only short blanks between songs provide a relief from the onslaught.

Perditor’s influence spectrum for this record is limited to the most aggressive Black Metal releases of the last twenty -five years, especially Mayhem and Marduk first albums. Subtlety and finesse are also quickly killed and thus leave all room for furious riffs sequences played by someone having a seizure. However, the band seems to run out of steam before concluding. Stretching over an hour, the album becomes repetitive towards the end and fails to keep the listener’s attention. In addition, bass playing is truly annoying. It sounds like a door spring handled by a cat.

Raw and direct Black Metal fans need to rush on this album, which scratches eardrums pleasantly. Divine Riddles is made ​​with a rare enthusiasm and a genuine hatred. Small audio clips took from horror movies, scattered throughout the songs, add even more spice to what is proving to be a great success, which will appeal to intransigent fans and other would-be maniacs.

S07

Isvind – Daumyra

Isvind - DaumyraWhile many well-known Norwegian-born Black Metal bands alter their song writing to make it more accessible, some obstinates continue to refuse any compromise. Music of these purists is cold, hard and raspy, perfectly faithful to the classic forms of fjords’ country Black Metal and the Oslo-based band Isvind belongs to this small cohort .

Founded in 1993, the band released its first album in 1996 before experiencing a long period of silence, only interrupted by a split- CD and a demo released during the 2000s. However, serious things resumed in 2011 with the release of Intet Lever, an album that pays tribute to the band’s first period and shows remarkable continuity between the two eras. This unexpected resurrection seems definitive , since Goblin ( drums, guitar and vocals) and Arak Draconiiz (guitar, bass and vocals) unleash this year a third full-length called Daumyra .

However, this new opus contains little surprises for anyone who knows – even superficially – Norwegian Black Metal . Its perfect fidelity to a style so frequently copied for the last twenty years makes it highly predictable.

This album still has many qualities worthy to mention. Raw and rough, its production gives some edge to the songs and gives them a sound that is very reminiscent of Taake’s early albums. interpretation is itself dense, snarling, with an unwavering conviction that helps overcome the main weakness of Daumyra : a linear and undiversified song writing. Minus some great passages, all eight songs sound very similar and would struggle to keep the attention of a slightly distracted listener.

Isvind is not a leading band, but its members loyalty to Norwegian Black Metal roots – manifested  again with their third album – deserves respect. Daumyra is a strongly produced and performed album, but without any real stylistic originality or distinctive feature. Diehard TNBM fans will be delighted. Others might simply ignore it.

S06

Patronymicon – All Daggers Towards The Sky

Patronymicon - All Daggers Towards The SkyHomeland of famous bands like Bathory, Dissection and Marduk, Sweden is – for thirty years and counting – a veritable Black Metal bands nursery. Strongly influenced by Death Metal, their music sounds like a real artillery barrage. This remarkable stylistic tradition is brilliantly taken by Patronymicon, founded in Sandviken about five years ago. It is however quite recently, with the release of their second album, that I discovered this armored division, which launched an all-out attack with All Daggers Towards The Sky.

Damn! Such violence! Entire album is designed to bludgeon the listener from beginning to end. Early intro Balamuthia Mandrillaris should not fool you: serious stuff starts at two minutes. World Closure immediately recalls some 1990s Swedish classics, such as Panzer Division Marduk or Vobiscum Satanas. Production is solid and puts forward a fast and highly accurate drumming. Riffs are also one of the album’s highlights. The ‘monotonous linearity’ trap – very common in extreme styles – is neatly sidestepped through some great rhythmic and a vast repertoire of chords and arpeggios, all played at fast speed.

References to Dissection’s aesthetic universe of dissection are clear (especially Mourning Cold, record’s best song), but Patronymicon members are able to adapt it without plagiarizing, unlike many other bands. Note finally the excellent vocal performance made by Mikael Carlsson (aka. Sadist, who also handles guitars), whose bold and filthy screams add another extra bestiality layer on this album.

The bombing ends after thirty minutes, having caused serious havoc. All Daggers Towards The Sky will delight anyone who is allergic to mystical/philosophical avant-garde and prefers hard, intransigent and – most importantly – effective Black Metal. This album shows that Swedish Black Metal has not exhausted all its ammos and can still annihilate any daredevil who cross its path.

S08

Sarke – Aruagint

Sarke - AruagintA keen observer of the Norwegian Black Metal scene has perhaps noticed a profound change in recent years. After a decade marked by a relative return to the original aesthetics (the "True Norwegian Black Metal" in the early 2000s), many bands have expanded their range of influences to include rock, thrash and even progressive references. Passion and aggression thus regress in favor of a greater musical diversity, with mixed results.

The group Sarke is representative of this transformation. Founded in 2008 by Thomas Berglie (also drummer for Tulus and Khold), he managed an exploit by recruiting Ted Skjellum (better known by the nickname Nocturno Culto, co- founder of Darkthrone ) to care of the vocals. This allowed Vorunah, its first album, to be immediately noticed when it was launched in 2009. Musically, the duo (a sextet since 2011) proposed then a mix of Heavy Rock and Thrash.

This recipe is again used on Aruagint, band’s third record, which now has ICS Vortex , Susperia and Satyricon members in its ranks. Like its predecessors, this new album is made of greasy Rock, fried in Thrash and sprinkled with Doom. Songs are built on a rhythm dominated by bass, an instrument particularly highlighted. The beautiful and gravelly Nocturno Culto voice strengthens even more the ardently sought “old school” atmosphere, along with multiple winks to Stoner Rock classics, with songs like Skeleton Sand and Iron Usurper. Sarke’s members Black Metal roots are also noticeable, but only on background. Some tremolo riffs and faster passages (including the Rabid Hunger finale) recall that these six musicians belong to Black Metal history.

Like Darkthrone, Koldbrann and several other recent works, Sarke’s music illustrates many Norwegian bands desire to go beyond a strict and probably binding form of Black Metal. With Aruagint, Sarke members return to their inspiration sources and offer a fairly successful synthesis. Without being exceptional, this third release, played by talented musicians, makes us go back to a time when Black Metal was still in gestation.

S07

Gexerott – Into Descensus Impious Ad Gloriam

Gexerott - Into Descensus Impious Ad GloriamThere is still a strong prejudice against South American Black Metal. Stereotyped to the extreme, it is full of bands that reproduce indefinitely Norwegian second wave classics, with a lot of cadaveric makeup and other accessories. Fortunately for amateur s weary to rehear De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in Portuguese or Spanish, there are some exceptions.

Indeed, members of the Colombian band Gexerott manage to stand out from their continental counterparts by developing a particular approach for their second record, Into Descensus Impious Ad Gloriam. With such a title, one might expect yet another clone Mayhem’s famous album, but the band surprises with a song writing influenced by Gnosticism and mysticism, stylistically quite similar to formations such as Ofermod , Acherontas or Behexen .

The album is full of short instrumental and atmospheric songs that create a gloomy and a ceremonial atmosphere. This is certainly not a great innovation, but the result is quite successful and gives more impact to other song, thanks to a strong stylistic contrast. By cleverly combining Black, Thrash and Death Metal, the five longest songs brutalize any careless listener who believed he was listening a Gospel record.

Through the decibels deluge, the band still manages to deliver certain originality. Thus, we find ritual percussion on Divine Eclipse, very good 1980s reminiscent solos on Into Dimensions of Wrath and Doom influence on Ethereal Spirit. As for the title track that closes the ceremony, it surprises with long (and beautiful) Heavy passages , perfectly amalgamated to a more classical Black Metal structure.

Into Descensus Impious Ad Gloriam is a pleasant surprise. It is dark and sophisticated, wild and meticulous showing an unexpected maturity on the part of a group that, earlier in its career, was itself a pure Scandinavian Black Metal derivative. Are Gexerott members trying to cling to the “gnostic” and / or “mystique” movement that is gaining popularity among fans of Black Metal? Are they sincere in their beliefs? I honestly don’t know, but the result on record is still very convincing.

S08

Satyricon – Satyricon

Satyricon - SatyriconThe Satyricon is one of the most famous novels of all Antiquity, telling young men’s carefree wandering in Italy slums in the first century of our era. Caustic satire of the Roman world, its moral and aesthetic excesses, this fragmentary novel confuses readers since its publication. An inexhaustible source of inspiration, it was studied by scholars, additional stories were written, Fellini directed a beautiful movie about it, countless illustrations and paintings were done and it even lent its name to a Norwegian Black Metal band destined to a certain notoriety.

Since its inception in 1991, Satyricon’s path evokes Petronius novel’s main characteristics, interspersing the sordid and the sublime, the great and the vulgar. Few bands have generated such violent mixed reactions for reasons such as its members’ behavior or their stylistic choices. Indeed, the band leaded by Sigurd Wongraven (vocals, guitars and keyboards) and Kjetil – Vidar Haraldstad (drums) embarked on a major shift in the late 1990s, gradually abandoning Black Metal for a more accessible music, raising their first fans’ wrath. Constant line-up changes and countless media disputes have marked its history and also tainted the image of a band that – nonetheless – leaves no amateur completely indifferent.

Five years after the release of their seventh album, a coldly received attempt to a timid return to basics with more a direct song writing, members of Satyricon commit an eponymous album, probably designed as a rebirth, but that could well be seen as an artistic suicide .

Anyone hoping for a Black Metal record will be appalled. It is now clear that it has never the band’s intention. After a brief introduction, the song Tro Og Kraft establishes song writing basis, bordering Hard Rock and progressive, with a few scattered bits recalling sometimes their old style. Based on an overall mid- tempo, album’s rhythmic is sorely lacking tone, a finding that some quick bass-drum kicks – especially heard on Our World, It Rumbles Tonight – fail to hide. Songs such as Nocturnal Flare , Ageless Northern Spirit and The Infinity of Time and Space are even worse , with a game sluggish and writing an incredible banality .

However, it is Phoenix that stands out, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Like Watain recently, Satyricon uses clear voice. With an ear-catching riffing and an easy to remember chorus, it could probably carve itself a respectable place on FM radio … and cause a fatal syncope among all those who once loved Dark Medieval Times. Although the band is trying to raise the bar with a faster Walker Upon the Wind or the Hard Rock Nekrohaven, damage is done.

Beyond the stylistic change, started for quite some time, this famous Norwegian new album especially demonstrates a serious lack of creativity and commitment. Song writing is highly predictable, dynamic interpretation is constantly hampered by slow passages and even drums – yet held by one of the best in the industry – seem to be played by a robot. Despite five years of preparation, a beautiful cover and its authors’ reputation, this eponymous album is a poor and boring failure, further evidence that Satyricon members are now seeking to appeal to a public that does not constantly remind them of their mistakes and their compromises.

S04

Buzruh – Alone in the Dark

Buzruh - Alone in the DarkThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (better known under acronym DSM) is a tool used by mental health professionals to establish their diagnoses and propose treatments. It can also be used to analyze a Black Metal album.

Thus, one may suspect a disorder narcissistic personality discovering the Turkish solo project Buzruh, whose name (not to mention its logo) awkwardly pastiches that of a famous Norwegian band I do not think it necessary to mention here. However, this is depression that characterizes best the music (sic) practiced by this Istanbul one-man orchestra. Indeed, the endless sixty-three minutes of Alone in the Dark belong resolutely belong to the Suicidal Black Metal register (DSBM), a sub-genre esteemed by straitjacket regulars.

Stylistically, bands in this movement – such as Leviathan or Xasthur – advocate extreme saturation, arrhythmic playing and distorted voices, creating a soundscape absolutely unbearable for ordinary fans. Buzruh member perfectly assimilates these elements and even adds his own. Anyone can quickly perceives a significant Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder through song writing (sic), which wander in all directions, without unity or structure. Drum is totally asynchronous with other instruments and its parts seem broadly improvised. Guitar parts are not much better, articulating around a handful of repeated looping riffs, totally drowned by distortion. As for the voice, exclaimed, strident and aggressive, only an experienced practitioner could identify its origin.

True clinical case, Buzruh first album will undoubtedly fascinate medical researchers but will also severely indispose any listener, even the toughest ones. Alone in the Dark reinforces my opinion about “Suicidal” Black Metal, which constantly commits distressingly poor new records. Then, unless wanting to lose an hour of your life (and 2% of hearing capacity), you can ignore this lamentable release.

S02

Dodsferd – A Cursed Heritage

Dodsferd - A Cursed HeritageYou’re not hallucinating. It is indeed a review of the productive Greek band Dodsferd’s new album, five days after I published my opinion about A Breed of Parasites, which was unleashed just three months (March 2013) before A Cursed Heritage (June 2013). This marketing strategy perplexes me, but whatever… let’s focus on music.

Since its inception twelve years ago, this Athens band led by Wrath (guitars and vocals) strikes with hard and uncompromising Black Metal, highly inspired by most of the subgenre classics. Each new album can therefore be regarded as an uncompromising manifest, stripped of all artifice and fantasy, an impression reinforced by the new album listening.

After a brief narrative, instrumental introduction Exile opens hostilities in fine style, immediately followed by In the Ground of Your Beseeching, with a typical Norwegian sound. Rhythm is catchy and drumming is really effective, a constant found throughout the album. Note also a small novelty voice, declaimed rather than screamed. "Scandinavian" dimension of Dodsferd’s music spring further on As the Light Revealed His Wound, which pastiche several riffs made ​​famous by Mayhem in the 1990s (especially the few easily recognizable Freezing Moon chords). However, The Empty Desolation is this record’s best song. Played with a sense of urgency, it highlights the excellent rhythm section (bass and drums) that surrounds a nervously played guitar.

Then the inspiration of the group falls flat. Two of the last three tracks are instrumental and atmospheric interludes (the other being more brutal but also very short) that allow the album to reach the half-hour, like A Breed of Parasites. Why not have these two records smashed together in a full-length worthy of the name? This is a question that deserves reflection.

A Cursed Heritage remains an interesting record, which adds thin layers of small innovations on mostly unchanged raw materials. Such perseverance deserves respect and Dodfserd remains a safe value for Greek Black Metal.

S07

Dodsferd – A Breed of Parasites

Dodsferd - A Breed of ParasitesObsessed by the dreaded visibility of German-Scandinavian Black Metal bands, fans sometimes tend to neglect groups coming from other European geographical areas. This is not a good idea, since high quality regional scenes abound, particularly in Greece. Western civilization’s cradle of, this country also hosts – for over twenty – excellent Black Metal bands, among the most respected of this little musical universe.

Following in the footsteps of pioneers such as Necromantia, Varathron and Rotting Christ, all founded in the late 1980s, a new generation of band – such as Dodsferd – took up the torch and continued this remarkable Hellenic tradition.

Led by Wrath (vocals and guitar), this training runs a music that belongs to the most uncompromising Black Metal record, drawing inspiration from Norwegian classics, but also American legends (comparisons with Judas Iscariot are indeed inevitable). Music is raw and aggressive, lyrics are marked by obsessive misanthropy, and it is certainly not A Breed of Parasites – already their seventh full-length – that will change anything

Although, qualify this record as “full-length” is rather presumptuous. Stretching just over thirty minutes, it has three short instrumental songs, one (excellent) cover and only two new titles. It is definitely an EP, which ultimately changes nothing from the pleasure we get from it.

It’s the atmospheric songs that give flavor to this release. Murky, distressing, they lead the listener into a suffocating environment, particularly The Burden of Feeling Alive, a claustrophobic nightmare. Not surprisingly, it’s  Judas Iscariot song which is covered. Eternal Bliss … Eternal Death is mid-tempo, surrounded with a keyboard layer that adds a ghostly atmosphere. Picked from Heaven in Flames classic, it is very well executed by Dodsferd’s henchmen. However, amateurs’ main interest is still based – of course – on newer original songs. These have the main stylistic features heard on the band’s previous records, but also venture into new horizons. Thus, Burning the Symbols of Your God is very reminiscent of the firsts Shining albums, with beautiful alternating heavy / acoustic parts and extreme violence passages, marked by Wrath’s harsh vocals. As for Days of Mental Deterioration, its structure and Black Thrash rhythmic make it an excellent and very pleasant song to listen to.

Although this “album” is rather an appetizer, its content remains worthwhile. Band exhibits very good new songs, as well as surprising atmospheric experiments, which undoubtedly will appeal to devotees of Hellenic Black Metal.

S07

Watain – The Wild Hunt

Watain - The Wild HuntJanuary 704 ab Urbe condita (49 BC). From the heights overlooking the Rubicon, Gaius Julius Caesar evaluates its choice. Declared public enemy by the Senate, ordered back to Rome to be trialed about his actions the Gaulish Wars, he knows the doom that awaits him if he surrenders himself to his rival Pompey’s cronies. But crossing the border between Italy and Gaul at the head of his legions is a crime that would trigger a new civil war with unpredictable consequences. After hesitating, the conqueror chooses to cross the thin river, while pronouncing a sentence for posterity: Alea iacta est!

This short historical prologue was inspired by careful and repeated listening of Watain’s new record. This fifth album succeeds to Lawless Darkness, released in 2010. Composing the successor of such a masterpiece was without a doubt a formidable challenge, but like the Julio-Claudian dynasty founder, members of Watain are taking a huge risk with The Wild Hunt .

Yet, first excerpts released in the last few months left the impression of a stylistic continuity, even if All That May Bleed and Black Flames March seemed less well-crafted as the main Lawless Darkness hymns. Then, rumors circulated: apparently, the band operated a shift to a more accessible music, which can attract a wider audience, usually refractory Black Metal.

And this is unfortunately true…

After an honest introduction, marked by the excellent De Profundis, the already mentioned songs and the average The Child Must Die, the band commits a ballad called They Rode On.

A ballad. Clean vocals. On a Watain record.

It is difficult for me to express what I felt when I first listened this Nothing Else Matters ersatz. Like Metallica almost twenty-five years ago, Watain stabs his most faithful fans with a song radically opposed to their usual style, casting a shadow over the entire album. Positioned at the heart of it, They Rode On is its keystone. Following titles are inevitably affected and reflect this incomprehensible aesthetic switch. Album’s second part – minus some sparks – Is bland and faded, unworthy of the band’s creativity. Apart Outlaw and its powerful Thrashy rhythmic, title song, instrumental Ignem Veni Mittere and conclusive Holocaust Dawn all sin by excess of banality, despite an überstrong production provided (again) by the Swedish studio Necromorbus.

It is hazardous to speculate on Watain’s objectives with The Wild Hunt. It is unquestionably their weakest album, the only one lacking a true identity, which will suffer eternal comparison with its predecessors. Paradoxically, this fifth record will also be the most efficiently distributed, thanks to the Century Media partnership. The extensive media campaign that accompanied its release, proficient product marketing (t-shirts, collectors’ items) and the forthcoming road shows provide an international unprecedented visibility for the band. It would be awfully naive to imagine that the stylistic shift heard on this record has nothing to do with this unique business opportunity.

Less than five years after passing the Rubicon, at the height of his fame, Julius Caesar died, murdered by some of his closest companions. His power and fame had become unbearable for those who wished to restore the normal functioning of the Roman republic. In a purely allegorical way, many artists and bands have suffered the same fate. Attracted by fame, yielding for popularity, they betray the style that has allowed them to attract a loyal fan base, in order to interest usually indifferent masses. Many lose their soul in the process. Some lose their career. Are Watain members willing to go this way? Was their authentic and straightforward approach previously advocated was just a lie? Cynics believe it. Amateurs don’t. Between these two extremes, I cannot decide.

Et Tu, Brute?

S05

Sargeist – The Rebirth of a Cursed Existence

Sargeist - The Rebirth of a Cursed ExistenceCompilations released by Black Metal bands do not have a very good reputation. They are usually filled with old re-recorded songs, demo versions or bootlegged live performances. In short: a feast for freaky collectors, but mostly an unattractive product for the average amateur.

It is therefore with enthusiasm that we should welcome Sargeist and World Terror Committee’s initiative: famous Finnish group and German label unleashed this year a very special compilation. In fact, this release only includes original songs, previously appeared on a variety of analog publications (7", cassettes, etc.). All fourteen titles on The Rebirth of a Cursed Existence illustrate again (if it was necessary) Shatraug’s (leader and song writer) phenomenal musical hyperactivity.

Immediately note the remarkable mastering work done for this album, which gives it a nice homogeneity, despite the diversity of materials, which cover almost all the band’s career, from the 2002 split with Merrimack until the 7" Lair of Necromancy published in 2011. Song writing continuity is also striking. Same style can be heard on both the title track and Reaping with Curses and Plague, yet written ten years apart. However, a few songs distinguish themselves from the band usual stylistic trademarks. Vorax Obscurum has a typical Thrash frenzied rhythm, while the overwhelming Crimson Wine evokes fat and oozing Doom.

Sargeist’s music is however more known for its epic and romantic outbursts, riffing quality and a unique touch that combines grandeur and aggression. These characteristics can be particularly found on 7" Lair of Necromancy’s two excerpts (Nightmares and Necromancy and The Moon Growing Colder), beautifully written and will likely end up on the band’s fourth full-length.

Unfortunately, some average songs are somewhat darkening the picture. For example, Black Unholy Happiness and The Covenant Rite (though positioned in the heart of the compilation) are repetitive and lack imagination. Same riffs are looping through a softy tempo, and after a few listens, these songs are almost systematically skipped.

The Rebirth of a Cursed Existence is a compilation that can be listened as a new album, since most of the songs are taken from confidentially distributed releases. With more than seventy minutes of little known but overall excellent quality material, this record is a real Sargeist gift to their fans, which should allow them to wait until the next full-length.

S08

Sombres Forêts – La Mort du Soleil

Sombres Forêts - La Mort du SoleilA burning ship sinks in the middle of a raging sea. The meeting of conflicting elements (fire and water) causes this dramatic situation, beautifully depicted on the newest Sombres Forêts album cover. Symbolism and tragedy are indeed the frame of La Mort du Soleil, an album which marks the renaissance of the Quebec, five years after the Royaume de Glace release.

However, band stylistic transformation jumps to the ears almost immediately. Much richer and complex, music written by Annatar (founder and sole member of the group) for this album draws its inspiration from several registers and transcends the usually sealed borders of Black Metal. Piano and acoustic guitar are thus introduced alongside the usual noisy guitar distortion and drumming, while a clean production highlights the vast amount of time spent on each song’s creation.

However, general atmosphere is without a doubt this record main strength. It evokes a violin string, which must be stretched to the limit in order to generate a note. This intensity can be perceived at every turn taken by the author, even in the quieter moments. It takes the listener into a dense and demanding universe, where every detail counts. Screamed and torn voice also accentuates the “end of time” impression, a real metaphysical anguish transposed into music.

Comparisons with À l’âme enflammée, l’âme constellée, Gris’ latest record (released the same day and also distributed by Sepulchral Productions) however are inevitable. The two bands share many aesthetic features and seem to be progressing in parallel, with differentiation based only on a few specific elements (voice, etc.). Although the results are excellent, each band should probably try to explore different paths in the future.

La Mort du Soleil shows again the remarkable quality of Quebec’s Ambient/Atmospheric Black Metal scene, probably one of the best in the world. Rich, complex and often beautiful, songs on this album lead the listener into a tragic odyssey, marked by a successful amalgam of beautiful acoustic parts and furious metal passages. Coupled with an upcoming European tour, this release should allow Sombres Forêts to broaden its audience and strengthen its headlining role among Quebec Black Metal bands.

S08

Seth – The Howling Spirit

Seth - The Howling SpiritSeparations, more or less permanent breaks and line-up changes are commonplace for Black Metal bands, most of their members failing to earn a decent living from their music. After a period of silence, groups sometimes try a comeback, or relying on their past reputation to revive public enthusiasm. These resurrections are however not always artistically successful. They are even sometimes downright grotesque (as in the case of the American band Von). Fortunately, the French band Seth has not fallen into the trap of lazy replication or self-plagiarism.

Reformed in 2011 after a seven years long hiatus, this French Black Metal pioneering band recently released fifth album called The Howling Spirit. Its resolutely contemporary artistic approach instinctively evokes French avant-garde movement, represented by a few pillars such as Deathspell Omega, Aosoth or Vorkreist.

However, music wrote by Seth members is more conservative and much less chaotic/experimental than what we can hear from other same register bands. All ten songs (including interludes) written for this fifth record are generally very homogeneous, characterized by a heavy and compact playing that suffers no digression. Curiously, it is also a weakness. This desire for control prevents the occurrence of a spark that would ignite the powder. Overall, the album is solid, but leaves little trace in the listener’s memory. It lacks some unexpected riffs and a hint of madness that would enhance the experience. An exception still with Mort-Luisant, sung in French and played with a very successful Thrash dynamic. Both Howling Prayers with classical guitar are also great additions that provide beautiful reverie moments.

With The Howling Spirit, Aquitaine quintet Seth offers an album that reflects the maturity gained by its authors. With impeccable production and outstanding plating quality – despite a conservative stylistic approach – this record allows the band to retake its place among the frontrunners and illustrates again the French Black Metal exceptional dynamism.

S07

MasseMord – A Life-giving Power of Devastation

MasseMord - A Life-giving Power of DevastationSome Black Metal bands’ artistic journey is sometimes difficult to understand for the outside observer. Polish band Massemord (which most members also belong to Furia) released a remarkable debut album in 2007. Extremely violent, Let the World Burn sounded like a tank thrown into battle. Just thirteen months later, the group tried a different register, with a second album called The Whore of Hate. Slower, tortured and much less convincing in its writing, it blurred the band’s image and casted doubt among fans. After an EP that slightly revived the first album spirit, these Katowice goblins unleashed in 2010 a very strange third record, with only one thirty-two minutes song. Listening to it in its entirety was a particularly laborious experience. After all these adventures (despite a remarkably stable line-up since its inception), Massemord releases this year A Life-giving Power of Devastation, a much stronger fourth album.

Probably inspired by their cover artwork, which evokes a postmodern Santa on crystal meth, song writing is very fragmented, multiplying riffs, changes in tone, speed and atmosphere. Title track opens the album with a complex structure and many rhythmic breaks that affect its deployment. However, the band reaches its full potential with direct and brutal songs such as The Deity of Ferocity and Trophy of Wasted Breath, where we find all the aggressiveness of the first album, although (again) incomprehensible deceleration occurs at the end of each of them. However, last three songs are a lot weaker and prevent me to give it a higher score. A Horror to Come is endless and boring, while Water of Life is clearly lacking imagination. A better conclusion would have given me a much more favorable last impression, despite an overall excellent production quality.

A Life-giving Power of Devastation fails to fully convince me that Massemord members resumed the excellent way they had left after Let The World Burn, but it is still a step in the right direction. This band’s stood out in 2007 with uncompromising aggressiveness and ferocity, two qualities exhibited on the new album, despite some stylistic glitches that affect its full effectiveness.

S06

Gevurah – Necheshirion EP

Gevurah - Necheshirion EPSo far, very few Quebec Black Metal bands were openly inspired by contemporary Satanism, whose parameters are particularly confusing to the uninitiated. This mysticism, which unites ancient beliefs and philosophical modernity, appeared in the United States during the 1960s in various factions. Its conceptual arsenal belongs since in the lyrical register of many bands, such as Gevurah.

This Montreal native duo launched this year a five songs EP called Necheshirion. From the outset, we note several stylistic changes that distinguish this release from the first 2011 demo. Influences spectrum is indeed greatly expanded. Their uncompromising Satanism (clearly manifested on the cover and lyrics) is now expressed through a dark, complex and brutal Black / Death Metal, which is highly reminiscent of some Northern France bands such as Antaeus, Aosoth or Deathspell Omega.

This style is based on ultrafast sequences mixed with heavy mid-tempo passages, leaded by bass and kick drum, an aspect well controlled by Gevurah’s members. The extremely weighty and enveloping production squashes further the listener and gives a strong musical identity to the EP. Band  is also much more convincing when he crushes the accelerator. Flesh Bounds Desecrated and Entering Timeless Halls (a Malign cover) are furious and direct songs, but also catchy and very well written, while slower tracks such as The Throne of Lucifer and Divine Ignition, do not provide the same kind of perverse pleasure, perhaps because they sound too much like Swedish bands Ondskapt or Ofermod’s music.

If the 2011 demo grabbed my attention, Necheshirion EP really convinces me. Gevurah potential is huge and its progress is undeniable. The group continues to evolve in a very interesting direction, getting closer to the best contemporary Satanic Black Metal bands. Its debut album will be crucial and will determine whether the promises offered with this EP will be held.

S07

Hate Meditation – Scars

Hate Meditation - ScarsDamn! Did the famous Norwegian band Emperor release old demo recordings under another name? No. Ihsahn and his partners have nothing to do with the release of Hate Meditation debut album. The project, created in 2003 by Blake Judd (Nachtmystium, Twilight) and recently reactivated, launches this year an album whose inspiration (ahem) is without a doubt coming from their imperial predecessors’ music. Though, ‘plagiarism’ is probably a better term to describe Scars.

How not recognize Into the Infinity of Thoughts when the first song of this album starts? The Deceiver and the Believer uses the same structure and the same harmonies as the Emperor’s classic! Are members of Hate Meditation taking us for ignorant (or idiots)? Unfortunately, the rest of the album confirms this assumption, drawing shamelessly riffs and moods from releases such as Wrath of the Tyrant and In the Nightside Eclipse. The band still tries to vary somewhat its sources, copying awkwardly other more famous bands’ style. The Genocide March are indeed reminiscent of old Dimmu Borgir compositions!

Production of the album is also strange. Voluntarily messy, it is not equal on all song, suggesting separate recording and mixing periods. So Impure Rage has a clear and accurate sound, while the End of Times – yet inserted immediately after – has a drum sound muffled and a much thicker coating of distortion. This hurts a lot the album homogeneity, giving the impression of a songs collage, written and produced at different times, gathered effortlessly in a single record.

I am surprised that Indie Recordings representatives, though a respectable Norwegian label, have agreed to release such a feeble album, which further battering their own national musical heritage. Was it the author’s reputation (ahem) that convinced them? Scars is a record which all facets have been botched, except perhaps the promotional work that has surrounded its release. Make yourself a favor and ignore this record. Listen again the jewels scattered in the real emperors’ catalog.

S03

Gris – l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…

Gris - À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée...It is now almost impossible to imagine European explorers’ experience during the late 15th century: the difficult preparations; anguish and doubt in the vastness of the ocean; excitement at the discovery of a dreamed and fantasied land; harsh return to reality, with all its constraints and its disappointments. This anthology of sensations shapes anyone who experiences it and makes him change its way to perceive the universe.

It is this kind of trip that Quebec band Gris members is offering, leading its audience to a new musical continent called À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée… which succeeds to Il Était une Forêt, released five years ago. After this long wait, the listener discovers an opus with a size and a richness that allegorically evoke America’s intrusion in Western civilization imaginary, with its wonders and tragedies.

Hardly a record had been so demanding to analyze. Its well-packed eighty minutes imbued with neo-classical influence is an immense and prolific work, requiring many focused listening. It’s impossible to fully appreciate if not given him an exclusive interest. It is therefore necessary to adopt the same approach as Cortes, who burned his boat arriving in Mexico, in order to focus solely on his goal.

Music created by Icare (voice, piano, violin and drums) and Neptune (guitar, bass and cello) for this album belongs resolutely to Contemporary classical music registry. Atmospheric Black Metal influence has become marginal, limited to some rougher passages and the choice of a yelled voice. Although there are many more references to classical music, folk and neo-pagan, through extensive use of string instruments, used for long acoustic sequences and several interludes. Performers also demonstrate a remarkable expertise, focusing on gradual implementation of structured soundscapes and atmospheres, instead of being limited to a strict virtuosity demonstration. This aesthetic choice gives a lot of depth to longer songs, such as Les forges, or Une épitaphe de suie, who manage to lead the listener into a complete musical experience. The shorter songs – especially Dil and Moksha – are also used to perform experiments with exotic and varied sounds. Whole album is also marked by a strong spirituality omnipresent in lyrics, but also in music, dreamy and ethereal, conducive to existential interrogations. The choice of certain titles (Nadir, Shem or Samsara) is indeed based on religious and mythological concepts from many civilizations, crossed here in a quite unique way.

The sheer size and song writing complexity of À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée… will probably disappoint many fans looking mainly for aggressiveness and excitement. This album is indeed destined to an open-minded public, agreeing to go through a journey of discovery, beyond their self-imposed limitations. With this second album, Gris members again show their great talent and ability to pulverize stylistic boundaries.

S09

Djevel – Besatt av Maane og Natt

Djevel - Besatt av Maane og NattIt is very difficult for a Black Metal amateur not to listen an album coming from Norway. This style roots sink so deep into this rough country’s land that any new release arouses immediate curiosity. With such predispositions, separate the wheat from the chaff can be complicated. Indeed, so many average bands appeared over the years, sparking interest solely because of their origin and reducing Norwegian scene’s overall quality. Fortunately, some bands are still able satisfy demanding amateur with excellent products, such as Djevel’s second album.

Established four years ago, this Oslo-based group have a veteran line-up: bassist Lloyd Hektoen (aka. Mannevond; Koldbrann), guitarist Trond Ciekals (ex-Ljå), drummer Per Husebø (aka. Dirge Rep; Orcustus, ex-Enslaved) and singer Erlend Hjelvik (Kverlertak). Despite separate careers, these musicians are able to give their common entity a strong and specific identity.

Noticed with a first album released in 2011, band comes back this year with Besatt Maane av og Natt ("Obsessed by the moon and the night"), which is aptly named. Every song deploys a gloomy and often desperate atmosphere, with excellent guitar harmonic loops. These repeated notes are creating patterns that structure the songs, giving them a greater cohesion. This technique, which is used by many other bands, is very well controlled Djevel members. Guitars – which play a prominent role – are beautifully surrounded by the other instruments, with a great mix that balances out each one’s contribution. Also note the admirable bass lines, spread across all titles, adding a great rhythmic depth.

Writing is very homogeneous and the album sounds as a whole, with a beautiful acoustic break called Blant Fjell og Falne ("Among the mountains and the victims") that provides a short but perfectly integrated melancholy moment. Singing – only in Norwegian – also adds to the overall pleasure

Side project created by experienced musicians, Djevel proves to be a resounding success, a proof that Norwegian Black Metal has not exhausted all its resources. With its dark atmosphere, Besatt Maane av og Natt sometimes recalls some earliest Darkthrone records, with haunting melodies that grow over time. That’s an album that deserves its place in my Norsk Svartmetall collection!

S08

Negator – Gates to the Pantheon

Negator - Gates to the PantheonFor its tenth anniversary, German band Negator is launching its fourth album called Gates to the Pantheon, thus accelerating the stylistic shift initiated with the previous record. Founded in 2003, this band had indeed a first life through two albums firmly rooted in German Black Metal tradition. After a five years hiatus, it released a bombshell in 2010 with the high-speed and extremely intense Panzer Metal, marking a first move towards Death Metal.

Back from his adventures with Dark Funeral (for which he was vocalist for about a year), Nachtgarm and its Negator associates therefore recur with an album whose general straightforward pattern evokes Polish bands, such as Behemoth and Decapitated. Built around a precise drumming play and interpreted at full speed, songs are all designed to punch in the face. However, surprise effect is no longer there: Gates to the Pantheon will always be systematically compared to its illustrious predecessor.

Fortunately, song writing is varied enough to avoid self-plagiarism accusations. Good guitar riffs are delivered with talent on each song, giving them an identity that does not depend solely on drumming. Thus, Nergal, the Raging King with its mid-tempo rhythm and great atmosphere, fits well among other much faster songs, such as The Urge for Battle or Carnal Malefactor. Album production is powerful and crisp, common characteristics to almost every similar release, despite a sometimes annoying synthetic drum sound, which would have benefited from a more natural approach.

However, comparisons with other teams practicing "Blackened" Death Metal are inevitable. This sub-genre growing popularity, which combines technical virtuosity and dark and occult atmospheres, has a strong attraction for band practicing a similar style. Though, my enthusiasm for this type of metal has also dulled over the years, due to supply proliferation and the overall quality decline. Fortunately, Gates to the Pantheon manages to rekindle my interest with a solid song writing effort and a flawless play. Recording Panzer Metal’s successor was a difficult task for Negator members, but they were up to the challenge.

S07

Acherontas – Amenti (Ψαλμοί Αίματος και Αστρικά Οράματα)

Acherontas - AmentiIt exists within Black Metal a few recurring trends whose presence and popularity fluctuate over the years. Thus, after a brief heyday at the turn of the millennium, "Symphonic" Black Metal quickly became overcrowded and its main representatives took other avenues, even if the style itself never completely disappeared. For some years now, another form of obscure metal is progressively gaining interest and followers. However, this movement contours are blurred and even its name is subject to debate. However, it does not really matter if it is called "mystical", "spiritual" or "occult"; all bands claiming this affiliation share a strong interest in disappeared religions. Their albums are filled with prayers, ceremonies or simple ambient passages. However, few of them have taken this approach as far as Acherontas.

Founded in 2007 on the ashes of Stutthof and led since with an iron fist by VP9 (guitar, bass, vocals, composition and lyrics), this Athenian band expresses with great conviction (and persistence) its interest for ancient beliefs. Mesopotamian and Vedic mythologies have been addressed over the previous records, with lots of mantras and chants. But the group goes even further with its fourth album, called Amenti (with a Greek subtitle meaning "Blood Psalms and Stellar Vision"), this time inspired by the Egyptian pantheon.

While most of the bands belonging to the same register simply add some prayers or ambient passages, Acherontas now introduces these elements in each of its songs. Almost half of the new album is composed of rituals chants, magical incantations or mythological declamation, with percussion and string instruments layers. In addition to the introduction and conclusion, two other songs are completely acoustic and ambient (Nebt Het – Divulgence of Ηer Sacral Temples and Wines of Blood & Pestilence).

This aesthetic/religious choice also takes up so much space that it masks almost completely Black Metal titles, which are nevertheless very good! Active for almost twenty years, band leader is a highly experienced song writer capable of producing powerful and catchy riffs, as shown on the title track and The Stele ov the Last Conspiracy. Arrangements of these passages are rich, beautifully interpreted, and impeccably produced, but the album never fully takes off, otherwise to soar with the gods.

Perhaps my incredulity taints my judgment of this record. My impermeability to religious phenomenon, whether Christian or not, makes me totally insensitive to such references, musical quality being my only interest. Acherontas members follow a particular path that distinguishes them from their peers. They propel their convictions in the foreground, often at the expense of Black Metal. If amputated from its rituals passages, Amenti might have lost some of its meaning, but would certainly have gained interest among fans – such as myself – primarily concerned with music and not the religious/philosophical context.

S07

Sacrilegious Impalement – III-Lux Infera

Sacrilegious Impalement - III-Lux InferaSome albums impress fans through the use of unexpected sounds or exogenous influences. Other succeeds rather by sublimating their original musical style traditional characteristics. This is exactly what Sacrilegious Impalement members achieved with their third full-length, capturing on disc a sharp and raging music.

It is nonetheless a surprise. While Cultus Nex (first album, released in 2009) heralded beautiful outlook, II – Exalted Spectres (second album, released in 2011) was a setback. Song writing was hesitant, dotted with ambient passages and plagued with effete rhythms, evoking some Swedish bands such as Ondskapt or Ofermod. Fortunately, these angry Finns are setting the record straight with III – Lux infera, an album that cleverly crosses original Black Metal sounds with its contemporary manifestations.

What a nice album to listen! Three-quarters of an hour hype, with no mystical bullshit or other cheap filling interlude to scrap it. Writing is truly effective, mainly drawing its inspiration from traditional Heavy Metal and German Thrash Metal, fused to ballsy Black Metal, recalling Marduk and Funeral Mist best moments. The result is a skillful dose of melody and violence, delighting our demanding eardrums.

Unlike many other releases of the same kind, III – Lux infera isn’t based only on one or two quality songs. Each title has its own identity, which implies a great song writing effort. While the album’s first part is built around furious and brutal rhythmic (Scars for the Scarred Ones in particular), the tone changes from For Sins of the Pigs. Melodies become more varied and Heavy / Thrash influences are more apparent, especially with Through Punishing Gates and its catchy main riff. But it is Behead the Infants of God that stands out more with its 1980s-inspired Heavy Metal structure.

Excellence of an album is first measured by its songs overall quality and hard work of its authors and producers. Let us be glad that Sacrilegious Impalement’s members took this evidence seriously, often overlooked in favor of fads or used recipes. III – Lux infera is a powerful, hard, and intense record which proudly represents what Black Metal can offer best. I invite you to discover it quickly. You will not be disappointed.

S09

Slidhr – Deluge

Slidhr - DelugeIt is always interesting to observe the emergence of a new musical approach, within an already well established genre. Spawned by young bands, this renewal is usually an avant-garde movement that shakes commonly accepted aesthetic boundaries. Black Metal has been going through such a phenomenon in recent years, with the appearance of a new generation of bands developing a much more complex and tortured music, almost psychotic, infinitely superior to anything that "depressed and suicidal" Black Metal proposed in years.

Inspired a few pioneers’ legacy such as Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, bands of all geographical horizons now offer an extremely complex, but also but incredibly creative,  music. Within this small elite, which includes Canadian Thantifaxath, Icelandic Svartiðaudi and Dutch Dodecahedron, we must now add the Irish Slidhr, which just launched Deluge, their first album released by Debemur Morti.

Resolutely contemporary and inspired by catastrophic events affecting our history, songs written by Joseph Deegan (guitars, bass and vocals) fully belong to the stylistic renewal mentioned above. Deployed harmonic structures are very multifaceted, multiplying rhythm breaks, making it truly difficult to apprehend for the unaware listener. Fortunately, most of the titles also contain more catchy riffs, thus avoiding the trap of strict and sterile technicality. The album’s overall feeling is also very successful, with a varied vocal range (howling, grunts, clean and sinister vocals) and a guitar layer using an echo effect that adds a lot of depth.

A powerful and clear production encapsulates well a product that still takes several listenings to be fully appreciated, even if the last twenty minutes are lacking some tone and imagination, thus concluding flabbily an otherwise pretty good record.

Without being at the same level of some other bands’ recently released opuses, Deluge remains a nice discovery that could easily interest demanding amateurs. Slidhr’s dense, chaotic and sometimes oppressive universe requires auditor’s vigilance at all times, but he’s rewarded with a well interpreted and produced result. 7/10

Arckanum – Fenris Kindir

Arckanum - Fenris KindirLegend of Fenrir is one of the most famous among Scandinavian mythological repertoire. Son of Loki, this monstrous wolf devours Odin during Ragnarok, before being killed himself. His death, told in the Edda, creates a cataclysm ultimately causing a permanent sun eclipse. This traditional representation of Northern people’s fear of man-eating wolves was sung by skalds, carved in runes and illustrated in manuscripts. Norse paganism gradual disappearance during the Middle Ages would cast a shadow over these stories, rediscovered only in the Romantic era by artists in search of a wonderful universe different from Christianity.

Most recent album of the prolific Swedish band Arckanum is part of this "neo-pagan" movement, a very common set of beliefs among Black Metal followers. This new album title – and its beautiful cover – leaves no doubt about its author’s intentions. Fenris Kindir is entirely dedicated to Ván River’s monster, telling its main achievements through an archaic language.

This overall spirit also impacts the music, which is much raspier than on previous albums. Song writing work seems heavily inspired by British Punk and American Thrash scenes. Tone is set right from the first notes of Tungls Tjúgari with a heavy bass sound and distortion-saturated guitar, played within a repetitive rhythm.

But heart of Fenris Kindir is based on its excellent, direct and incisive riffs, scattered throughout the album. Songs such as Dólgrinn, Hatarnir and Angrboda all start furiously and maintain a pace that recalls Thrash’s heyday. A deliberately rough but clear production also allows this style to fully unfold, without drowning it in a flood of distortion noises.

However, one aspect of this album keeps me to give it a better rating. From the eponymous introduction, the author introduces growling sounds that evoke a wolf. They are repeated over and over again throughout the album, breaking too often the excellent rhythm introduced in songs’ sequence. Given the general theme of the album, this aesthetic choice is defensible, but becomes annoying over time. Played in conclusion, Sólbøls Sigr is more successful, thanks to a frantically-playing string section. It is also noteworthy that bonus song is Lycanthropia, a true relic written by the Greek band Necromantia in the early 1990s, even though it has a very small artistic value (only a handful of notes spread over one minute forty seconds).

Shamaatae’s (unique Arckanum member) eighth full-length is certainly not it’s most successful, but it has several interesting changes that are worth noting. More instinctive and aggressive, all eleven songs illustrate well the legend of a wild beast involved in the end of the world! 8/10

Woe – Withdrawal

Woe - WithdrawalIn the early 1980s, a fringe of American Punk movement became more radical, giving birth to Hardcore. This more direct and aggressive style had a huge impact on our friendly Southern neighbors own brand of Heavy Metal. It is indeed Black Flag and Dead Kennedys’ fans that created Thrash Metal and its variants. However, Hardcore influence on Black Metal is much more difficult to perceive and very few bands claim that legacy. With the notable exception of Woe.

Spawned in the East Coast, this band has several features that – normally – should have discard them for a traditional Black Metal enthusiast. Their Punk Rock look and unorthodox music style is actually not very reassuring any Scandinavian classics’ devotee. Yet, unlike their fellow citizens from Liturgy and Wolves in the Throne Room (often derisively called "hipsters"), members of Woe offer a straightforward music, free of pretentiousness or mystical delirium. This impression is confirmed with their third album called Withdrawal, without a doubt the most successful of their young career.

Right from the start, the listener feels the powerful energy released by the band’s music. Launched at a brisk pace with acute tremolos, the album contains several elements that spontaneously remind Hardcore. Pace is frantic, Chris Grigg voice is violently projected and bass sound dominates almost all other instruments, despite a rather linear interpretation. But, despite all these characteristics borrowed from another style, result remains firmly Black Metal. Execution speed, saturation provided by a second guitar, production roughness and lyrics nihilism ostensibly brings this record to the best level of contemporary Black Metal releases.

I had huge prejudice against a band that seemed to sail in the wake of the unpleasant and stiff American new wave of Black Metal. I was wrong. With Withdrawal, Woe members rather assert their own aesthetic choices, regardless of any trend or overwhelming tradition. Both powerful and enjoyable, this album further proofs that Black Metal can meld with other styles, without losing its soul. 8/10

Mortuas – Mémoire Véreux

Mortuas - Mémoire VéreuxFor most St. Lawrence River lowlands inhabitants, Côte-Nord (‘North Shore’) is the end of the world. A string of villages scattered along an endless road, swept by sea breezes and petrified by cold for seven months each year. Although stereotypical, this setting is ideal for composing Black Metal, as evidenced by Mortuas with Mémoire Véreux, their first album released by Hymnes d’Antan.

Coming from Sept-Iles and leaded by J. Larché (also Neige Éternelle guitarist), this trio practices a bold/bare music revolving around repeated harmonic loops, indeed a homogeneous atmosphere throughout the album. Maybe a little too much homogenous, though. Fairly predictable, song writing is perfectly faithful Black Metal traditions, but does not really offer distinctive features that allow the band to have its own sound identity. Thus, songs such as Terre du Nord, La Croix Maudite and Instincs Primitifs have good riffs, but do not wear any special signature. This impression is reinforced by the album production, which sometimes seems to asphyxiate musicians, as if they were playing in a tiny room.

These few remarks are not undermining the album overall quality, which is still very acceptable. Stylistically close enough to pioneers such as Dissection or Necrophobic, Mortuas members provide a solid and very professional interpretation, even if the original does not seem at the heart of their approach.

Ambient Black Metal universe is literally saturated and it is extremely difficult to get a foothold. To achieve this, composers should seek to stand out, work tirelessly to establish some characteristics that make their songs immediately recognizable to fans. Mémoire Véreux is a first step for Mortuas members, who must continue their efforts to overcome stereotypes that plague their music style. 6/10

Plaga – Magia Gwiezdnej Entropii

Plaga - Magia Gwiezdnej EntropiiPolish Black Metal scene is certainly amazing. Virtually invisible in the 1990s, it climbed to an elite status during the last decade, with many bands whose talent equal – or exceeds – most of their Scandinavian counterparts. However, Polish bands’ proliferation is not a guarantee of quality or originality. The success of a few "headliners" is always raising rivals who adopt a style that became popular. This is the case for Plaga, an Olsztyn (Mazury) native duo whose music sounds pretty familiar.

Magia Gwiezdnej Entropii is indeed an album that could easily belong to Mgła’s discography, with many stylistic similarities between the two bands. Built around long acute tremolo loops, Plaga’s songs develop contemplative atmosphere, punctuated by flashes of brutality. However, result never reaches the same intensity as Groza or With Hearts Toward None.

Despite its brevity (thirty-six minutes), this first album still has many qualities. Most sequences are successful and several good riffs are scattered on each song. Singing in Polish is also deliciously rocky and aggressive. It adds a barbaric touch that English language does not procure. Production is itself rather dry, but (I repeat myself) I seriously want to find and punish the sound engineer that – one day – believed that a snare must sound like "TAC-TAC-TAC." This is particularly annoying when the drum put on a long series of notes, almost masking the guitar playing.

With Magia Gwiezdnej Entropii (a title I give up trying to translante), Plaga offers an interesting first record that promises a bright future. However, the band should consider developing their own style, which will enable it to distinguish itself and avoid plagiarism accusations. 6/10

Chaos Invocation – Black Mirror Hours

Chaos Invocation - Black Mirror HoursA civil war of epic proportions is raging in heaven. This violent clash opposes God’s loyal forces to a seditious faction. Defeated Lucifer and his brothers in arms are expelled from Paradise. Mourning their defeat, they become aware of a new species created by God and housed in Eden. Under the watchful eye of their creator, man lives without knowledge of suffering and death. Taking the form of a serpent, Lucifer enters this wonderful garden and manages to bribe man, making him eat the forbidden fruit, causing his permanent expulsion from Eden.

This was a brief resume mankind’s origin, as wonderfully written by John Milton in Paradise Lost. In this story, Lucifer is evil, causing the original sin. He then became Satan for the Christians, reigning over Hell after the closure of Eden. However, its exact role in this epic story is ambiguous. Some authors compare Lucifer (whose name means "light bearer" in Latin) to Prometheus, both guilty of helping men, bringing them knowledge to the detriment of an omnipotent divine power. Going against the current of a triumphant Christianity, followers of this vision formed small “Satanists” or “Luciferian” groups, reversing the traditional perspective and enhancing the role of the fallen angel.

Many Black Metal bands are inspired by those beliefs, with more or less talent and conviction. But a successful combination of these two aspects usually produces excellent results. And this is the case for the Rhineland band Chaos Invocation, which released last March a remarkable second album called Black Mirror Hours.

However, it is difficult to avoid comparison with Watain. Both bands rely on song writing characteristics that combine catchy melodies and great violence sequences, coated with mystical chants and prayers scattered throughout the album. Some songs are also particularly effective, such as Beyond Coming with its crescendo opening and powerful chorus.

Exceptionally lengthy for a Black Metal record (over an hour), Black Mirror Hours is yet never boring and has no real weaker parts, except maybe Towards the Boundless Horizon, which does not have the same intensity level. With a strong production that exhales power, it can be easily listened to in one shot and still be exciting, even after many listenings.

The legacy of the Lightbringer remains – even today – a source of inspiration for a myriad of artists, such as members of Chaos Invocation. With their new album, they offer us new evidence that it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. 8/10

Murmurs – Fædd Úr Eldi

Murmurs - Fædd Úr EldiYou should never trust appearances. This piece of millenary wisdom applies perfectly to the Swedish band Murmurs. Such a name suggests ambient and ethereal-inspired Black Metal ambient. Maybe even some pagan influences on Fædd Úr Eldi ("born of fire"), due to a runic-emblazoned covert art and a shamanic-sounding introduction? Well no. It is rather a pure aggression awaits the listener jaded and constrained by his prejudices.

Progency of the Maelstorm’s first riffs are so saturated with distortion that they cause a brief moment of stupor. A resolutely lo-fi production merges voice and guitar to create a world of great violence. Writing seems mostly based on Arckanum’s 1990s first three records, with a much more direct and primitive edge.

Dense, sometimes confusing, songs on this album are difficult to apprehend and require hardened steel eardrums to be supported in full. Thick distortion fog that surrounds everything also masks very good guitar riffs and beautiful drum patterns, which are lost in a dry and inaudible environment. Composed of experienced musicians, the band should maybe reduce (slightly) its intensity and varied its work, at the risk of being trapped in a one-dimensional style.

Fædd Úr Eldi will undoubtedly please anyone who abhors subtlety. Murmurs – decidedly a badly chosen name – delivers a chaotic and nervous first album, carrying a real hatred transposed into music. Sometimes effective, often messy, the result is interesting but in dire need of finishing. However, basics appear promising to me and I sincerely hope that the group can achieve diversification and enrich their product. 6/10

Csejthe – Réminiscence

Csejthe - Réminiscence

Summer is slowly fading away in the mountainous village of Čachtice. Not so far away stands a fortress, built on Carpathians foothills. An infamous reputation surrounds this place, where countless crimes were committed. The nearby cliffs still echo terrible howls of pain screamed by the castle owner’s former captives. But in August 1614, Báthory Erzsébet is just a dying old woman. Walled for almost four years without ever having been tried, she walks like a ghost, haunted by her torments.

Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory inspires artists and designers for over four centuries. Her legend horrifies and fascinates a large chill-seeking audience. Her last name is even bear by the most important band in black metal history, which wrote a song about her in 1987 called Woman of Dark Desires. This was only a beginning. Several other bands would seize this inexhaustible vein, sometimes devoting entire albums to it, such as Cradle of Filth in their 1998 Cruelty and the Beast album.

Quebec band Csejthe (Hungarian transcription for the Slovak « Čachtice ») is pursuing this tradition, with a lyrical universe entirely dedicated to the famous killer. After a first full-length released in 2009, the trio returns this year with Réminiscence, probably one of the best black metal album devoted to the bloody countess.

Deeply melancholic and desperate, songs on this record are entirely based on a grandiose and tragic atmosphere. A Christian prayer played with organ opens the ceremony, but it is the title track that reveals the band’s musical universe. Its structure and melody instinctively evoke German romanticism, an artistic movement that valued uninhibited expression of passions and suffering. This song – and every other – is built on long sharp guitar tremolos, allowing the atmosphere to expand. This is supported by foggy vocals, clearly sung choirs and very solid drumming.

A dragging tempo seems to stretch time, as if the listener was confined in the same room as the Countess, brooding despair and solitude in the darkness of a small prison room. Last song, Le Chant des Martyrs, is also particularly captivating, with its perfectly controlled unfolding and very smooth conclusion.

Csejthe members are giving us an extremely strong work with Réminiscence, whose refined aesthetic and overwhelming ambiance is closer to nineteenth century romantic music than black metal. This is an album that should be listened alone in a room lighted by a single candle, to – perhaps – witness Elizabeth Báthory’s spectre. 8/10

Aosoth – IV: An Arrow in Heart

Aosoth - IV An Arrow in the HeartFor several years, many French bands redefined Black Metal boundaries, constantly pushing its limits. Combining esoteric lyrical themes and complex music, these groups developed an extremely rich – sometimes confusing – aesthetic universe.

Aosoth is fully part of this avant-garde movement. Founded in 2002 by Hervé Queyroix (aka. MkM), in conjunction with its brother band Antaeus, it gradually built its own reputation with three high quality albums. It strikes again this year with a fourth full-length, probably the most ambitious – and the most successful – of its career.

It’s hard not to mention the exceptional cover, a genuine work of art representing Aosoth, an evil goddess from the satanic pantheon. Associated with Death, the arrow piercing her heart is a powerful mystical symbol that specifies the creative contours of IV: An Arrow in Heart, which introduces a significant stylistic shift for the band, now crossing Black and Death Metal in a very dark manner.

From the title track you feel the composer’s intentions, with its heavy and creepy guitar playing. Song writing is based on harmonic loops interrupted by brief passages where everything is accelerating suddenly, like a flash of rage through an oppressive environment. Rhythm also plays an important role on this album. Drums – superbly mixed – add to the complexity with a precise and syncopated playing, complemented by excerpts interpreted with other percussion instruments.

But the (pierced) heart of this fourth album is based primarily on its quasi-religious atmosphere. This occurs in particular through the diptych Broken Dialogue, in which a minimal music accompanies religious discourses and intense hallucinations told alternatively by a man and a woman. The long Ritual Marks of Penitence closes the ceremony recapping all stylistic components of the first songs, ending at full speed before falling suddenly silent.

IV: An Arrow in Heart may surprise many fans, who probably expected an encore of the excellent third album. Slower, murkier, this new album is also more symbolically rich. It is aimed at those who share the aesthetic and philosophical views of its authors and offers a journey into a world where madness and religion are but one irrational phenomenon. 8/10

Celestial Bloodshed – Ω

Celestial Bloodshed - ΩSome dead really knows how to stay alive. Dissolved four years ago, following the violent and tragic death of their vocalist Steingrim Torson Norwegian band Celestial Bloodshed returns to haunt us this year with a new album called Ω ("Omega", the Greek alphabet last letter). Curiously, most vocals on this record are still credited to Torson. Since it is unusual for a dead man to come back from Hell and sing, we must conclude that the surviving members of the original Trondheim’s band have used old and never released recordings made before their leader’s death. This certainly explains – in part – the vaguely foul smell that emanates from them.

This album is very much like a collage of songs that didn’t make their way to Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed, the excellent debut album, released five years ago. Every bit of this record sounds laborious and lacks homogeneity. However, first two songs are interesting, but that impression does not last beyond the short and very dynamic Deathsquad Alliance (featuring Hoath Torog of Behexen at vocals). Second half of the album consists notably in a song directly inspired by Mayhem (Spiraculum Mortis) and the never ending Manifested Darkness, Bloodred Sunrise. Band concludes its musical legacy with a demo format title in recorded three years ago, which allows the record to painfully exceeds thirty minutes.

What were Celestial Bloodshed members’ intentions with this second full-length? Pay tribute to their late singer? A compilation including unreleased songs would have been a much more appropriate solution than a tasteless album with very minimal artistic interest. 5/10

Monarque – Lys Noir

Monarque - Lys NoirMost artists are realizing preparatory sketches before tackling their main work. These drafts, drawings or demos sometimes become valuable by themselves, but their primary role is to allow the author to express ideas and concepts that are then used to accomplish a masterpiece.

Québec band Monarque followed this path, with the release this month of a third full-length in ten years. However, this new album’s genesis is found in an excellent demo called La Mort, launched two years ago. Distributed in very limited number in pro-tape format, it outlined several aesthetics changes adopted by the band, who then took a decidedly epic and melodic turn, recalling Emperor and Abigor first records.

Entitled Lys Noir, this new album has a front cover that expresses well the band’s intentions. Logo (which looks like a shrub) does not appear and the beautiful illustration is a contemporary work created by Maxime Taccardi ("Novissimis Temporibus" painted in part with the blood of its author) that symbolizes the end of cosmos. An excellent introduction to a remarkable album.

After a short narrative, L’Appel de la Nuit opens hostilities with a great mix of aggression and melody. Organ layer and a brief acoustic interlude illustrate a brilliant song writing which is not limited to predefined aesthetic frameworks. It reigns over this song a wonderful atmosphere, but it is with La Quintessence du Mal that we reach the peak. Album’s author creates a long crescendo with breathtaking intensity, with a short tapping sequence and a really effective keyboard final.

Acoustic interlude Solitude allows the introduction Mes Condoléances, long song marked by melancholy and despair, where music replaces words to express strong feelings. Again, structures layout and mixing demonstrate a thorough work with results that go well beyond the usual Black Metal standards. Drumming, both playing and mixing, is also one of the greatest successes of this record.

Monarque’s members finally have a pleasant surprise in store for us that have a symbolic value. The band performs Au Seuil des Ténèbres from the reference-album Dans les Bras des Immortels recorded in the late 90s by Frozen Shadows, pioneer of Québec black metal. Eras collide with this brutal and fast song that adds strength to Lys Noir. However, its conclusion is rather disappointing. Comme les Vers is a good song, but its linearity and lack of depth clashes with the previous titles and leaves an aftertaste of incompleteness.

Never minding this last observation, Lys Noir is a beautiful album that leaves – from the first listen – a strong impression in the listeners’ mind. Accessible and grandiose, it is undoubtedly the most accomplished and mature work in the history of our national black metal scene, the result of a long creation process, in which each sketch have counted. 9/10

Lidande – I-II-III

Lidande - I-II-IIILike any reasonable individual, I hate being taken for a fool. However, during my endless wanderings throughout the Black Metal continent, I sometimes come across an album or a band of such deep nullity that it violently angers me. American solo project Lidande has successfully completed this feat with its I-II-III album. But you have to assume first that the content of this abomination can actually be compared to music; if so, it’s an insult thrown in the face of all serious composers of our species’ history.

Found on a promotion website, this "thing" claims to contain minimalist depressive Black Metal, a style I usually avoid. Probably driven by a particularly vicious demon, I still decided to check it out. After several minutes of relative silence, I opted for fast forward. I heard quite a few sounds, a rhythm lost in the background and a wavy electronic ambience, but nothing more. Torture lasted thirty-seven interminable minutes. Second title of this "thing" is fortunately shorter but the result is alike. This is the Third Third Third Terror (a ridiculous but appropriate name) has some guitar, consisting in a single looped and reverberated chord, played at different speed and intensity. It reminded me – emotionally – my own music learning attempts when I was four years old, playing with a plastic guitar borrowed from a friend. Twenty-two minutes of my life were, however, permanently lost again.

Undeniably minimalist, this "thing" secreted by Lidande’s member is a terrible waste of time. Observing a white wall for an hour probably produces the same result, without getting the unpleasant feeling of being the victim of a desperately seeking attention idiot. 1/10

Neige Éternelle – Neige Éternelle

Neige Éternelle - Neige ÉternelleBefore becoming a defined and recognized musical style, Black Metal was a state of mind, an attitude linking extreme nihilism and Satanism in a fight against all forms of social control (Christianity, state, entertainment industry, etc.). Its founders were self-taught limited talent amateurs with a really bad temper, especially in concert, where they repeatedly shocked uninformed audiences with displayed animal carcasses, blood and self-mutilation. As for demos, often in cassette format and with a hideous production, they fought their way to listeners through the maze of makeshift distribution networks.

This era is now over. Angry young men of the past have become experienced musicians. Shows are now like any other metal performances. Record distribution was taken over by professional labels, or directly by the band through Internet. In short, Black Metal has become respectable.

However, some resisted stubbornly to this phenomenon. Founded five years ago, Neige Éternelle belongs to this marginal fringe of bands which refuse to compromise and prefer to work the old way. It’s on various Québec stages that these Côte-Nord bullies have established their reputation, with chaotic performances, drinking and insulting the audience while playing.

After Forêt nord-côtière, a demo tape launched several years ago, band (finally) releases a debut album that perfectly matches its identity. Picking up demo material with some additional songs, Neige Éternelle members follow pioneers’ footsteps, such as Hellhammer, Beherit and Sarcofagó, with music that comes from the gut. With a voluntarily filthy production, this record inflicts a subtlety-free Black Metal, which never turns into an incomprehensible sound puddle. Thus, several elements stand out, including a very dynamic drumming and good bass lines, especially on Comme une charogne. Vocalist tortured screams also add a hateful and particularly aggressive dimension to every song.

However, it is the album’s general atmosphere that constitutes Neige Éternelle’s main feat. Listener senses an authentic fury throughout the record, but also a kind of tragic despair. This is a rather unexpected from such a band. Album’s lasts songs, Triste pensée and Pluie de couteaux, are both rough and melancholic, providing a magnificent conclusion.

Neige Éternelle first album returns to Black Metal primitive sources, as once practiced by a handful of bands seeking to communicate their rage through music. Tough and instinctive, this self-titled album is aimed to anyone who rejects aesthetic / commercial concerns and considers Black Metal primarily as a way to express their darkest emotions. 8/10

Patria – Nihil Est Monastica

Patria - Nihil Est MonasticaI still cannot believe anyone can compose cold and hateful Black Metal just under the Tropic of Capricorn. And I’m probably not the only one, since most northern hemisphere Black Metal fans are unaware of the teeming Brazilian scene (except perhaps veteran band Sarcofagó). Very few bands from this region have a fame that crosses their country’s borders, but there are still some exceptions.

Founded in 2008 in the southernmost Brazilian region, Patria has built a solid reputation based on stylistic intransigence, quite typical of their national scene. Members even managed to secure a contract with a European label (Drakkar Productions, which released first Tsjuder and Watain albums), giving them some European market recognition. Quite prolific, band has also just unleashed a fourth album called Nihil Est Monastica a pure Norwegian-inspired Black Metal manifest.

All TNBM (True Norwegian Black Metal) stereotypes are scrupulously observed and interpreted by Patria members, with surprising conviction. A deliberately lo-fi and rough production inevitably reminds diehard 1990s classics; don’t be surprised if you feel like listening to an old Darkthrone record. Fortunately, band manages to avoid the infamy of plagiarism with good song working, with many melodic passages and an obvious Thrash influence, close enough to Tsjuder or Urgehal firsts’ record style.

Band is also trying to develop a creepy general atmosphere with bombastic short instrumental interludes (eponymous introduction, Altar and The Silence of the Throne played on piano). The result is not always convincing, but it adds an “occult” coating to the album, giving it an identity, even if this trick has been used hundreds of times before. Finally, note the very good (and very old school) cover of Sarcofagó’s song Black Vomit, a nice nod to illustrious predecessors.

Obviously, Patria’s new record is not reinventing anything in a style that has become a benchmark for hundreds of amateur bands. Those searching for musical innovation will undoubtedly ignore Nihil Est Monastica. However, this album will please anyone who appreciates raw, direct and genetically Scandinavian Black Metal, despite its Brazilian origin. 7/10

Von – Dark Gods: Seven Billion Slaves

Von - Dark Gods Seven Billion SlavesBest jokes are also the shortest. If unfortunately they stretch, they become boring, even sinister. This harsh reality has probably not been understood by Jason Ventura (aka. Venien). American co-founder of Von, created in the late 1980s in the San Francisco area, it specializes in ultra-minimalist Black Metal. After recording a few poor quality demos, band split in 1992. It is a rather trivial story, but for unknown reasons, band became a myth peddled by powerful proselytes (especially Erik Danielsson, who named his own band Watain from the title of a Von song). Original demos, now impossible to find, were joined in an album released in 2003 by Nuclear War Now! and band came back to life. Joke ceased to be funny.

After a couple of new demos, a miserable headlining English festival performance, an album of old songs re-recordings, Von members (Venien and two new acolytes) worked on their first real full-length album. Dark Gods: Seven Billion Slaves was finally released last March, more than twenty years after the band first split, which probably should had been definitive.

Result is indeed extremely banal and only Von’s "reputation" could get a curious amateur to discover this album. All songs sound like long intros, without development or substance, giving an unpleasant impression to listen an unfinished or sloppy work. Songwriting systematically revolves around a few basic riffs, with minimal drumming and arrangements. This style, however, is not completely devoid of qualities and many today’s bands are proud representatives of it. But despite a few creativity flashes scattered on the album, Von music never manages to generate sustained interest. Worse, songs such as DevilWhore or iAmInHuman frankly sound like bad Satanic Blood demo pastiches, despite a significantly higher production quality than the original songs.

Like many other older band with a glimpse of notoriety, Von attempts to capitalize on the renewed interest towards its music. But result is far from convincing. Dark Gods: Seven Billion Slaves is a tasteless album that clumsily tries to sound like the old days, without ever succeeding. 4/10

Nordvrede – Monument Viktoria

Nordvrede - Monument ViktoriaArctic Circle is a meridian indicating the farthest position from the North Pole where it’s still possible to observe midnight sun, a typical phenomenon of this icy and hostile region hostile. Very few people live beyond this boundary, because of the harsh living conditions it imposes. It is therefore an ideal environment for a Black Metal band like Nordvrede (whose name means justly "northern wrath")!

Monument Viktoria thus succeeds to Legion Nordvrede, published about a year ago and which had then gave me a good impression. This band, based in the northern extremities of Norway, scrupulously respects Norge Black Metal characteristics, but with nuances that are worth being noted.

This third album’s compositions are much more diverse, further accentuating Crust Punk / Thrash dimension perceptible on its two predecessors. And the result is very convincing. We perceive with sharpness all the aggressiveness – even hatred – that members of the band seem to have for their fellow man (or at least some of them). Songs are fast, catchy and – most importantly – violent, especially through singing, or rather howling, with a vocalist who destroy its throat to our great satisfaction.

Production remains faithful to Norwegian standards, with its intentionally raspy sound that scratches the ears. But it is drumming that stands out on this album, with a high quality playing. Rhythm changes, rolls, variety of sounds, breaks; whoever holds the sticks has great talent and demonstrates it with conviction, especially on titles such as Megaton Scythe and Slaves of the Conqueror. Devilish rhythmic clearly gives a strong identity to this record.

Still largely unknown by Black Metal fans, Nordvrede’s music deserves to be discovered and appreciated. Monument Viktoria is a raw, direct and efficient landmark album, made by a band in full control of its art. And it ends with a priest’s execution, while he’s reciting an unpleasant gospel. What more could we ask? 8/10

Ordoxe – Nihil

Ordoxe - NihilDuring Easter season, it is natural to discuss resurrection, a phenomenon that applies perfectly to the Quebec group Ordoxe. After a long gestation and two albums released in 2006 and 2007, the group became silent due to the success of its “brother band” Slaotvean. After the dissolution of the latter in 2011, a miracle occurs and Ordoxe came back to life, launching a third album called Nihil.

Ordoxe’s members ensure to provide a lasting first impression to their listeners with a narrative introduction pronounced in an incomprehensible language, really aggressive for an ear accustomed to Latin idioms sweetness. Fortunately, music that follows is much less daunting. Presumably inspired by Black Metal classics, band provides compositions built around an excellent and varied guitar playing. Melodic arpeggios are constantly intersect with harsher passages, reminiscent of the Norwegian scene, particularly that of Bergen, and – closer to home – a band like Sorcier des Glaces. Certain moods created by the guitar provide some beautiful moments of greatness and despair, without excess. It is worth to note that Ordoxe uses French language for some of its lyrics, a move that should allow them to get even closer to their natural audience.

However, one aspect of the album forbids me to give him a better grade. While controlled, drumming is linear and repetitive, reducing songs’ dynamics (a constant for every Norwegian Black Metal-inspired band). In addition, drum mixing gives it a little too much space and puts forward an extremely dry and irritating snare sound that produces long "tac-tac-tac" sequences. I’m probably too harsh, but these kinds of details bother me a lot.

Notwithstanding my personal opinion about drumming, Nihil remains a very good album. Group members effectively spread their know-how and real style mastery. Result is pleasant to listen to anyone who claims to enjoy classic Black Metal forms and should allow Ordoxe to collect new fans, both in Quebec and abroad. 7/10

Israthoum – Black Poison and Shared Wounds

Israthoum - Black Poison and Shared WoundsIt is completely by chance that I discovered today’s group, after going through their label’s catalog. Indeed, I recently favorably criticized the work of two other members of the same herd (Svartidauði and Serpent Noir) and it is with optimism that I threw an ear on Black Poison and Shared Wounds, released by Dutch band Israthoum.

This is yet another beautiful illustration of Black Metal bands’ chaotic existence. Founded in the 1990s, it multiplied the line-up changes and even changed name twice. Situation was finally stabilized when group members left Portugal for the Netherlands, releasing a first full-length in 2008.

I do not know how all these upheavals have had an impact on these adoptive Batavians’ music, but the result is very interesting. Stylistically, group plays a solid Absu-kind of Black / Thrash metal, proving their skills on their second record. But it is really the bass / drum duo that gives a specific edge to all Black Poison Shared Wounds. Clearly audible, bass almost plays a rhythm guitar role with a precise and great playing, while drum has an organic coating which gives a lot of depth to the songs. Even if – as a whole – the writing is not overflowing with creativity, the bands still offers many quality riffs, including the very catchy Devil Bacchus and Necromancer’s Fugue, undoubtedly the album’s best song.

Strong and effective, Israthoum second full-length proves such a pleasant surprise. Ever growing over listening, Black Poison and Shared Wounds demonstrates that apart for their abominable logo design, this band has a lot of know-how and is able to transfer it to a record. 7/10

The Crescent – Risti

The Crescent - RistiWhen a caterpillar spins its cocoon to prepare its metamorphosis, it begins a complex process that will make it a butterfly. However, any abnormality can have serious consequences. If the environmental and genetic conditions are not optimal, chrysalis may die or give birth to a fragile and unsuitable specimen. This biological introduction could also be applied to bands that seek a mid-career transformation. It is sometimes difficult to predict what will come out of the cocoon and the result is sometimes disappointing. A concrete example will help you follow my thinking.

Finnish band Enochian Crescent, active mostly in the early 2000s, launched three very good melodic and occult Black Metal albums before slowing its activities. Only an EP and a split-CD were released up of 2012, which includes two songs: one interpreted by the original formation, the other by a new entity that engulfed the first and is now called The Crescent. This metamorphosis is now completed with Risti, band’s first full-length, which employs a new singer and takes a different stylistic direction. With mixed results, to say the least.

The group practice now a soulless Black / Melodic Death Metal, where virtuosity outweighs atmosphere. There are several good ideas and promising sketches on this album, but they remain mostly unexploited. They are even sometimes sabotaged by sequences lacking finishing or creativity. The tone is set from the introductory Vesper, which has a promising beginning, before turning to vinegar with syncopated passages that break the rhythm. This observation is repeated throughout the album, especially on Lilitu, where a good starting riff is quickly interrupted by technical guitar sequences. Note also the beautiful title track with its more acoustic approach.

The stylistic shift operated by The Crescent, like the process mentioned earlier, is a missed metamorphosis. The group lost more than just its singer; it also lost its landmarks and qualities that constituted its strength. Production and interpretation of Risti are exemplary, but it means nothing if music is banal. 5/10

Magister Dixit – Maze of Thousand Ways

Magister Dixit - Maze of Thousand WaysDawn of the current millennium coincided with the golden age of melodic and symphonic Black Metal. This particularly fruitful style was imposing itself at this time and some of its main actors managed to attract followers hitherto little fond of dark metal. This "success" of course inspired a plethora of musicians and promoted group proliferation who stepped into the breach in search of a notoriety that ultimately proved very ephemeral. Some formations disappeared or sank into mediocrity, multiplying tasteless albums. However, melodic Black Metal genre remains a very rich and varied style, as demonstrated by – among others – Emperor’s marvelous records.

That’s the way Montreal Magister Dixit chosen to follow right from the beginning of their career in the late 1990s. Pioneer of Quebec’s melodic Black Metal, the band released three albums between 2000 and 2007 and then temporarily ceased its activities (notably to create Scum Sentinel) before returning this year with a fourth full-length called Maze of a Thousand Ways.

The first steps of Sinister World of Dementia leaved me puzzled however. Harpsichord sounds and neo-gothic atmosphere evoked the desperately kitsch Cradle of Filth’s world and made me doubt. Fortunately, the title song restored my confidence, tumbling at full speed and multiplying complex guitar sequences, a constant of the album. Only a dry snare sound is slightly annoying, but this defect is corrected afterward.

Comparisons with Emperor are inevitable. Songs composed by Magister Dixit fully reflect the Baroque and grandiose music made by Ihsahn and his cronies, which they brought to perfection during their careers. Alternating furious and melodic passages moments (particularly Ancient Tongue We Speak); the group does not hesitate to draw on electronic register, even pagan, to introduce some songs. Such eclecticism could surprise, but again, it evokes the stylistic innovations of their imperial predecessors.

Dense, complex and sometimes confusing, Maze of a Thousand Ways is an album that bears its name perfectly. Lovers of melodic Black Metal will be delighted by this record, which constitutes a successful return for this Quebec band that shows remarkable composition and interpretation qualities. 7/10

Serpent Noir – Seeing Through the Shadow Consciousness (Open up the Shells)

Serpent Noir - Seeing Through the Shadow Consciousness (Open up the Shells)Satanism is a source of inspiration for black metal bands since its early days. It has been instrumental in shaping the sound and image of this particular style. But this religion / philosophy is multifaceted, like all other human beliefs. Thus, some individuals may worship a perfectly concrete lord of evil, opposed to God in a conflict that will end in Apocalypse; other Satanists rather develop a radical form of hedonistic individualism where primacy is given to satisfaction of the their most extreme pleasures; finally there is a gnostic and mystic "chapel" who perceives the material world (the "cosmos") as an impure prison from where insiders must extract themselves using – among others means – magic.

Several black metal formations assert their affiliation with this form of Satanism, best known being unquestionably Dissection and Behexen. But many other bands scattered around the globe share this faith and preach it in their music. And one of them is called Serpent Noir.

Founded in Athens in 2006, this quartet released a first album in October 2012 called Seeing Through the Shadow Consciousness (Open up the Shells), that fully respect all esoteric black metal features. This form of dark metal is based on two intertwined elements: basic compositions that pay homage to classic bands, such as Bathory or Hellhammer, and incantatory passages that evoke a dark ritual.

This dualism is ubiquitous throughout this Greeks’ devil-worshipping album. They do not hesitate to split their songs, quickly alternating purely metal moments with others bathing in a gloomy ambiance. Result is rather perplexing initially, because of the many rhythmic cuts, but once past that first impression, songs definitely grow on the listener. Slower songs, especially Black Sphere, are really giving a creepy and mystique atmosphere to this record. It is also worth mentioning that the drummer – which occupies a key role here, using several percussion instruments – also hit drums for Swenden’s Ofermod, a band playing in the exact same register. This dual role undoubtedly explains some similarities between the two groups.

Well done and beautifully played Seeing Through the Shadow Consciousness (Open up the Shells) is a nice surprise and proves again Greek black metal scene’s vitality. It must be considered as a possible soundtrack for your next ritual. 7/10

Vreid – Welcome Farewell

Vreid - Welcome FarewellSome legacies must be very hard to carry sometimes. Thus, despite six albums released under their own name, Vreid members are still considered the successors of the legendary band Windir, which disappeared almost ten years ago, after the death of its leader. However, artistic filiation between the two formations became much thinner over time. From the 2004 album Kraft that inaugurated their career, the quartet from Sogndal moved away from the style favored by Terje "Valfar" Bakken, amalgamating rock and thrash sounds in their compositions. This new musical identity has gradually asserted and – apart from a few scattered allusions – the group follows now its own track.

However, I was never totally convinced by the style practiced by Vreid members. Their music, based on efficiency and interpretation skills, often lacks originality and fails to create a really specific identity. Formidable on stage, the group seems unable to translate the same emotions on a record … a phenomenon again observed with Welcome Farewell.

Nevertheless, this sixth album in ten years looked promising. Abandoning its martial dimension, band announced a renewed lyrical approach and manifested its intention to change with a cover decidedly different from those of its previous album. However, these cosmetic modifications have almost no effect whatsoever. Hváll (bass) and his friends again swing music full of big riffs, tailor-made for gigs. Performers are in full control and display their expertise with precision, accentuated by a high-quality production. But the album’s weakness lies in song writing.

Band’s writing moves away a little more from Black Metal to Melodeath with a characteristic blend of melodies and virtuosity. Result is quite catchy, if not original. The most compelling moments are also those who recall the last two Windir albums. Otherwise, songs leave few traces and a listener can go through the record without really realizing it.

Approach taken by Vreid members is distinguished by its professionalism and a desire to attract a wider audience. It lacks, however, this special ‘something’ that transforms a good band in a reference, or even a legend. Welcome Farewell is quality entertainment, performed by a group on the rise, but whose aesthetic leave me completely indifferent. This is another record that will dust on a dresser while 1184 is playing in my stereo. 6/10

Horna – Askel Lähempänä Saatana

Horna - Askel Lähempänä SaatanaVery few bands are able to capture the essence of Black Metal – this highly volatile and explosive mix of hatred and aggression – and transpose it on a record. Inevitably, result heard by the amateur is diluted by song writing and productions steps and it is only on stage that it reveals all its power.

However, there are exceptions to this phenomenon. And one of them is called Horna.

For almost twenty years, this famous Finnish group released instinctive, brutal and dirty albums. Led since its inception by the hyperactive guitarist Shatraug, the quartet has quickly become one of the most respected representatives of the yet very elitist uncompromising Black Metal universe. It is a feat that transcends fashions and eras.

Horna members therefore seek this year to get us a little closer to Satan with Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa, their eighth full-length (but first with the current line-up). Subtlety and finesse are the first crucified victims by this new furious onslaught against Christianity, a will already clearly manifested with the cover.

Most listeners familiar with the band’s music will quickly notice some changes, which may be difficult to understand for the layman. Thus, for most of its previous records, band practiced a raw, cold and rather repetitive black metal. Now, right from the title track that opens the album, riffing and drumming are much more varied than before. Crust punk spirit, already noticeable on some earlier records’ songs, is clearly highlighted. This choice gives an extra unexpected dimension to song writing.

Spellgoth’s voice is another element that stands out immediately. The man, who also sings for the industrial band Turmion Kätilöt, is screaming here like an authentic possessed fury. His cries appear worn away by an echo effect used throughout the album, producing an especially unhealthy result, that’s fit in perfectly. The exclusive use of the Finnish language (a Horna characteristic since its inception) adds another layer to the atmosphere through the evil guttural sounds, which sounds particularly barbaric to ears accustomed to Latin languages’ sweetness.

I dare not pronounce myself definitively about the production of this album, having had only access to an average quality internet stream. Nevertheless, very strong playing performances and songs’ dynamics suggest an impressive result on disk. The album, which forms a dense and homogeneous whole probably reveals a short time writing and producing period.

Nearly five years after releasing the remarkable Sanojesi Äärelle, members of Horna return to preach the word of Satan with a record that marks a well executed and convincing stylistic shift, highlighting the strengths of the band. These damned Finns once again managed to capture the essence of Black Metal and transposed it an album that I cannot wait to hear in optimal conditions. Ideally, at full power before the smoldering ruins of a Nazarene’s dedicated temple. 8/10

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

Darkthrone - The Underground ResistanceToo often, older groups become caricatures of themselves, self-plagiarizing shamelessly, reproducing recipe that brought them notoriety. Fortunately, there are exceptions and the famous Norwegian band Darkthrone belongs to this elite able to renew itself without denying their essence. Always going against ephemeral trends, this Kolbotn duo’s career, founded, more than twenty-five years, has been marked by bold albums, all part of a process that sometimes seems to move backwards.

In fact, after having been a leader in Norwegian second wave of black metal, band responded to genre professionalization with Transylvanian Hunger, a minimalist provocation that still divides fans today. All following albums blurred even more their image, confusing many of their first epoch fans. After a surreal excursion into the world of Crust Punk between 2007 and 2010, the inseparable companions Fenriz and Nocturno Culto recur this year with The Underground Resistance, an album that bears its name well.

Every forty minutes of this album are indeed a real tribute to heavy metal pioneers and plunge the listener to the heart of late 1970s and early 1980s era. How not to recognize musical structures invented by Mercyful Fate and – most importantly – Hellhammer / Celtic Frost? These sweat literally from each note of the sixteenth Darkthrone album, which can be interpreted as an obvious middle finger aimed at "modern" metal trends.

With a remarkably clear and powerful production, The Underground Resistance’s all six pieces are easily remembered and catchy. Most of the songs are built on very good riffs, solid drumming and a vocal that goes from aggressive to bombastic. Only Valkyrie surprises the listener with its epic vibe evoking Bathory’s "Viking" period. Leave No Cross Unturned, which closes the album, could appear without discomfort on any King Diamond album but Come alone Warfare, The Entire Doom is disappointing. Its rhythm is monotonous; the main riff is not very original and it unnecessarily stretches beyond eight minutes. This is the only Achilles heel of an otherwise excellent album.

Darkthrone has changed over the years, but its members still seem animated by an ardent desire to get ever closer to their music’s roots. The Underground Resistance, while not a revolutionary masterpiece, illustrates this approach with a brilliant high quality results. Defying once again the laws of physics, members of the most famous black metal duo prove that it is possible to move forward while retracing his steps, without stumbling. 8/10

Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane

Cultes des Ghoules - HenbaneAt nineteenth century twilight, when Impressionist painters exhibited their paintings, fierce critics did not fail to ridicule their results, considering them messy and unfinished. Posterity proved more lenient towards these precursor artists, but I do not know if the same fate awaits the unclassifiable Polish band Cultes des Ghoules. This quartet, whose French name comes from the myth of Cthulhu, indeed offers a very specific music, partly inspired by old horror movies. Their first album Häxan also bears the name of a famous Scandinavian witchcraft silent movie, while their one song EP Spectres Over Transylvania sounds like a feature Hammer Film Productions soundtrack.

The band strikes again this year with a second full-length called Henbane, which takes its name from a hallucinogenic plant commonly used since antiquity by religious zealots, witches and other crackpots. I am not sure if band members consumed some henbane while song writing, but this possibility would explain results heard on the album. Like impressionist works previously mentioned, Henbane five tracks are puzzling, to say the least!

Musically, band plays raw and squeaky black metal. Pace is generally slow – with a few faster moments – and guitar is saturated with distortion. Cultes des Ghoules’ originality lies rather on sampling and ambient passages. The overall atmosphere of the album is creepy. It offers unhealthy impressions created by sound collages evoking black masses. Also, some passages combine hypnotic guitar playing and arrhythmic drumming. However, I remain cautious. Is it a brilliant and innovative style or a succession of draft songs? Despite many listenings, I still cannot definitively decide between these two options. In addition, the album loses momentum on its fourth song, the fifth stretching also unnecessarily over fourteen minutes.

Again, this particular band is perplexing me. Capable of extraordinary flashes, its members can also give the impression of not trying to push their skills to their limits. Henbane still remains rich album full of wild experiments, which leads the listener out of his comfort zone. Perhaps it is Cultes des Ghoules leprechauns’ main objective, thus perpetuating a certain legacy of artists who first seek to disturb its public. 7/10

Triskèle – IV

Triskèle-IVThe influence of the most famous Norwegian murderer and former prisoner Varg Vikernes is probably what fascinates me the most within Black Metal universe. His early albums, particularly Det Som Var Engang and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, are still considered references, endlessly plagiarized for twenty years by a plethora of bands who revere the legacy of this unconventional musician, now relocated in France (under a new name) with his wife and kids.

This influence is particularly clear in Québec band Triskèle’s work. Originating from Saguenay, it launched last year a fourth album simply called IV. Indeed, from the very first notes of Origines (it is also the title of their second album), we recognize the main musical features developed by Vikernes in the early 1990s: raspy sound and treble saturation; a torn voice, switching occasionally to wolf screams; song writing built around harmonic loops and repeated riffs throughout each piece; cold and minimalist production, although clear.

Despite a fairly strict enforcement of these parameters, members of Triskèle avoid the brunt of plagiarism with their strong song writing work. Most of the songs are based on good riffs and long harmonic sequences that recall those sometimes those found on Darkthrone first albums. Rhythm section of the record is also notable and catchy, with a well arranged bass / drums couple, notwithstanding a fairly dry mix of the bass drum. Finally, let’s add a word about Skogen’s excellent vocal performance, who manages to modulate his voice while maintaining the right tone.

Though not very original, IV is a good album that pays tribute to classic Norwegian black metal, with a French touch that gives it a special flavor. However, in order to avoid becoming yet another Burzum clone, Triskèle members should seek to further highlight their own qualities, going beyond a self-imposed stylistic straightjacket. 6/10

Tiamat – Sadness of Yggdrasil

Tiamat - Sadness of YggdrasilYou need a massive pair of balls to dare giving your band the same name as a legendary group whose influence has never wavered. It is however the risk taken by Tiamat, a Canadian solo project. Founded in the Halifax area, it plays ultra depressed and suicidal black metal.

If the goal of this group is to actually push its listeners to kill themselves, it is undeniable that it that reaches its target with Sadness of Yggdrasil. On several occasions during the few listens I’ve been able to do, I planned to end the suffering imposed but what I heard.

Rarely a vocal performance has annoyed me so much. There is only one possibility: some mental institution patient was able to capture on tape screaming caused by a wolf vivisection. He then added saturation effects and echo, thus obtaining a result exceptionally unbearable, even for ears like mine, yet experienced in all forms of aggression.

Other aspects of the album do not deserve more than a handful of words. Songs are generally slow and revolve around a few repeated riffs, so raspy it makes ears bleed. Obviously, song writer behind Tiamat is a devout fan Xasthur and Leviathan first records, which he ridiculously plagiarizes. However, recording quality is generally acceptable, but I still do not know if this is an advantage or a defect for this album.

Sadness of Yggdrasil is a new chapter in my difficult relationship with depressive black metal, which I criticized for harboring a plethora of bad bands and musicians unable to compose anything other than whining and wailing sounds. And it is certainly not this album that will change my opinion. 2/10

Fen – Dustwalker

Fen - DustwalkerHide your inverted crosses and your studded bracelets; we are radically changing register today with the English band Fen’s third album. Based in London, the group plays music that has its roots in progressive rock and black metal avant-garde humus, a high quality fertilizer also recently used by Enslaved and Opeth to plant their latest albums.

These telluric references are not fortuitous. Dustwalker is a record that takes us on a journey into the heart of Albion’s misty moors. Through long songs, often interspersed with ethereal atmospheres (especially on Hands of Dust and Spectrum), the band reveals its sound environment and recalls the come from the same corner of the universe as King Crimson and Genesis. Instrument playing is extremely varied, from dynamic sequences with yelled vocals, up to pure reverie moments, giving the impression of floating between heaven and earth. Auditor is also overwhelmed by a deep melancholy that literally permeates this record; especially through guitar arrangements of voice Grungyn’s voice (vocals and bass).

However, album’s second half is weaker. After a short interlude called Reflections, titles can no longer find the same intensity level as the first three songs. Overall playing is still really well done, but inspiration seems to be fading, especially on The Black Sound, unnecessarily long and lacking elevation. Fortunately, Walking The Crowpath successfully concludes the album and leaves a good last impression.

Many gossips could be said about Fen members seeking to expand their audience by choosing a more accessible sound palette. It would be backbiting. The group’s artistic approach is the same since its inception and is based on avant-garde black and progressive rock fusion, this last component gaining weight over albums. It is a creative choice, not a commercial one, and Dustwalker is a beautiful illustration of the band’s capacities, despite a few glitches. This album will perfectly accompany your solitary walks or your daydreams. 7/10

Koldbrann – Vertigo

Koldbrann - VertigoArrival of the new millennium was a turning point for Norwegian black metal. Many bands appeared, founded by talented young musicians ready to pursue their glorious predecessors’ legacy. Overall quality and production were improved, diffusion was facilitated by file sharing democratization and professionalization progressed through record labels and festivals interest for these cadaver-looking troubadours.

Several excellent albums started defining what would become the "True Norwegian Black Metal" sound, a label proudly claimed since. However, like many other artistic extreme movements, it ran out of steam after a few years and many bands spited or took a long – often permanent – break. I thought it that was the case for Koldbrann, a group whose sound and aesthetic choices were perfectly consistent with the rough and aggressive style of that era. After a six years hiatus, it finally released a single in 2012 and comes back again this year with a new album, a new image and a new label.

However, this return is not really convincing. I do not unduly formalize myself for their partial abandonment of the “True Norwegian Black Metal” sound, but the artistic direction chosen for Vertigo seems confused. On more than one occasion, over listenings, I had the unpleasant impression to hear collages of ideas gathered over the years, rather than songs built around specific themes. Thus, members of Koldbrann maintain several stylistic aspects of their first epoch, but adds rock, thrash and ambient elements (including three short instrumental interludes) sprinkled randomly across the record. These experiences have a direct effect on song dynamics, which are cruelly lacking bite and momentum, except maybe Smert Stolichnaya, probably the best track on the album.

I am disappointed by this album, which marked the return of a band I once greatly appreciated. The Draummen’s quintet decided to diversify its style and incorporate influences the moved it away from its musical roots. It is a bold decision that might have been interesting, but the result recorded on Vertigo is not up to this ambition. 6/10

Apathie – Trugbilder Einer Erinnerung

Apathie - Trugbilder Einer ErinnerungWorld of Black Metal is crippled with entrenched stereotypes. Thus, the amateur can often identify a band’s played sub-genre only knowing its name or looking at its logo shape. But – sometimes – these seemingly immutable codes are violated. Thus, receiving the album of an East German band called Apathie, a French medical term describing a state of extreme fatigue and indifference to emotions, I was expecting slow and depressive black metal. Well surprise! Trugbilder einer Erinnerung is a record that rather draws its inspiration from Scandinavian black metal, with strong Swedish influences.

Ethereal introduction creates an ambient project illusion for a few seconds, but as soon as the first notes of Unter dem Banner der Leere are released, auditor is duly informed of the band’s intentions: it will be mean. It’s a shelling that’s aimed at our ears, featuring a powerful and clear production. This band, founded only three years ago, shows a remarkable mastery with an accurate playing and a sustained dynamic.

However, the group is not just another Dark Funeral clone. This Saxony trio is able to vary its song writing and introduce elements that avoid the unpleasant monotony of an endless blast beat. Thus, we perceive pagan influences on Schattenwurf alter Götzen, even thrash metal with Schwedter Gedanken. This allows Apathie to forge its own identity, although many influences are evident throughout the album, particularly from Norwegian band Taake; long repetitive sequences with high notes and special distortion that we can hear on every song is pretty much a musical trademark of Bergen’s famous band.

I admit I was impressed by this album, released by a group I didn’t even know existed. For several years now, the still active best-known 1990s black metal representatives are stagnating or self-plagiarizing. It is therefore reassuring to see a new generation of talented groups preparing to take their place in dark, brutal and uncompromising register of black metal. 8/10

Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult – Necrovision

Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult - NecrovisionCertain band’s career commands respect, even from the most demanding connoisseurs. In just four albums, German quartet Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult has risen among international black metal elite through its stylistic intransigence and seriousness of its convictions. More than three years after the release of Saldorian Spell (and a remarked first show in Montréal), the band returns with Necrovision, still distributed by War Anthem Records.

Some cover details intrigued me, even before a first listen. The fir-shaped logo is not displayed; band name being clearly written instead. In addition, image gracing the cover is definitely symbolic, whereas previous albums used highly detailed reproductions. Such changes may have seem insignificant to any other group, but not for Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. This announces certainly something! However, mystery does not last long: the answer is thrust forward immediately after the atmospheric introductory song Aura.

This is the first black metal album to give such a strong impression since Tsjuder’s Desert Northern Hell, with which it also shares many characteristics. So much power, anger and resentment are emerging from this record that it leaved speechless: Necrovision is a pure black metal manifest.

Few flaws that I could blame form the previous albums have been eliminated. So instead of opting for a dry production, band develops a rich, organic and extremely heavy sound, thus emphasizing rhythm instruments, especially drums, which is omnipresent, with a diverse and high quality playing, with frequent drumrolls.

But the most remarkable improvement achieved by the group comes from its song writing work. While their previous albums were part unequivocally part of chilly and linear true black metal register, Necrovision’s songs are far catchier, with very good and thrashy riffs, particularly on Primordial Sapphirine Driplets and The Eviscerator. The band even does some fantasies, such as integrating old songs samples and clean guitar passages on Necrocosmic Vision. I finally admit loving the raspy and extremely aggressive Onielar’s voice, a rare front woman in the hyper masculine black metal universe.

It is obviously too early in the year to crown an album, but Necrovision just made a big entry in my personal ranking. Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult members have made an exceptional overall quality record, and I highly recommend it to anyone who claims to enjoy black metal. 9/10

Aura Saturnal – To His Kingdom

Aura Saturnal - To His KingdomFrom my distant beginnings as an amateur and columnist, I am regularly confronted with some incomprehensible artistic aberrations. Thus, I remain cautious when a musician chooses to stifle his work under a poor production. With home recording democratization, access costs to a professional studio no longer have the same impact as before. Nowadays, if an album has an awful sound, it is a deliberate choice and – in my opinion – a hardly excusable one.

This preliminary observation is based on my unfortunately repeated listening of Aura Saturnal first album, called To His Kingdom. This Finnish solo project is rampant in the raw black metal delicate register, from which it adopts all ridicule aesthetic codes. I humbly admit I have never been able to listen to the entire album at once. Irritation invariably won me after a few minutes so I proceeded by short sequences instead.

Damn! Where to start? Perhaps by this record’s uniformly bad sound. Like other albums of the same register, songs are covered with an extremely unpleasant distortion layer that hides playing and arrangements. However, musical content is generally acceptable and some riffs are pretty well-turned. Then why the hell destroy these commendable efforts with a shitty production? Total mystery.

Vocals are the album’s second really disagreeable element. Most of the time, we seem to hear an animal whining and complaining. It gets on my nerves after few seconds! Imagine then a whole album! Unbearable. This is an aspect that would be relatively easy to improve, but it probably would violate the band’s aesthetic imperatives.

Let’s try to remain positive and emphasize on some interesting musical bases proposed by Aura Saturnal’s member. They could probably reach their full potential in an adequate sound environment. However, I do not think it’s the group’s objective because – like many others – it seems to believe that black metal must sound awful to feel authentic. 3/10

Somrak – The Blackwinged Serpent Crowned

Somrak - The Blackwinged Serpent CrownedI am amazed that the "second wave" of Norwegian black metal still has such a strong impact. Active for only a few years, with a handful of significant releases, this musical style continues to generate adepts (and copycats) all over the world. Such resilience is rare in music universe, and commands respect. However, contemporary bands which draw their inspiration from this black vein do not always distinguish themselves sufficiently, thus giving an impression of plagiarism. It is a trap that a Slovene group called Somrak avoided for their second album.

Their first record, released in 2009, actually borrowed many elements to Darkthrone and Mayhem early work and did not really spark my enthusiasm then. The Blackwinged Serpent Crowned, yet launched several months ago, has consequently waited a good time in “listening pile”. I therefore humbly admit being surprised by a disc that shows a great song writing effort and an overall improvement.

Hostilities start with The Altars of Beneath, a long song that installs a creepy and aggressive atmosphere. Two things stand out especially in this track and become constant throughout the album: impeccable and very professional production (perhaps too much, some might say), a beautiful and perfectly audible bass playing, instrument too often neglected in black metal in favor of an omnipresent drum. This gives the record a unique identity, even when the group accelerates or suddenly changes tempo. Indeed, the frequent rhythmic changes are at the heart of the band’s song writing, which does not hesitate to alternate mid-tempo passages with ultrafast blasts beats sequences.

Of course, members of Somrak are not reinventing anything with The Blackwinged Serpent Crowned, a record you can easily compare to most Norwegian classics, but they still manage to offer a high quality album, much more successful than their previous effort. So all of you (and you are lots), nostalgic of a time when hard-boiled teens burned churches and recorded devil music, here is a record that you can safely add to your collection. 7/10

Svartidauði – Flesh Cathedral

Svartidauði - Flesh CathedralI admit being claustrophobic, since an accident that occurred many years ago. I was then stuck under snow for several minutes, unable to breathe. I still have nightmares in which I seem to have been attached and then buried alive. It is a very unpleasant sensation that provokes strong reactions in me.

However, a black metal band has managed to capture this terror and record it. Rarely has an album provided me such a feeling of confinement, waking my innermost fear. Its authors belong to Icelandic band Svartidauði and their crime is called Flesh Cathedral.

This album gives an authentic impression of madness, somewhere between psychosis and dementia. Amalgamating black and doom metal, music found there is overwhelming and deployed on four long songs of more than ten minutes each. This division is, however, useless as the album is a whole, real barbarian maelstrom that plunges listener into chaos.

Band achieves this through several stylistic elements that should be mentioned, such as probably drop-D guitars, a very scary guttural voice and – above all – a phenomenal bass playing. This is the album’s cornerstone and its presence enhances the heavier parts, further increasing the oppression feeling endured by the listener. As for the songs, slow and tortured, they sometimes suddenly accelerate through complex harmonic structures, but also surprisingly melodic. Lyrics – incomprehensible but available on the web – also reflect this lawless thirst for destruction, evoking a world ravaged by his own fault.

I do not know to what extent their island harsh geography have influenced this Reykjavik quartet, but the result is particularly successful. Difficult and demanding, Flesh Cathedral gains power over listenings, its weight crushing increasingly the unwary who dare to listen. This album will probably awake many phobias, like those of your host. 8/10

Timor and Tremor - Upon Bleak Grey Fields

Timor et Tremor - Upon Bleak Grey FieldsPagan black metal bands all obey to certain general aesthetic codes, in which they seek to distinguish themselves anyway. Thus, use of dead languages, pend tribute to a disappeared people and celebrate nature are all elements that are mostly employed by bands celebrating beliefs of the past. However, conceptual accuracy is not always a priority.

This is the case for German quartet Timor and Tremor, whose name vaguely Latinized means "fear and trembling" (no, it is not the name of a children’s program). Another interesting detail, band declares interpreting "Chattic Black Metal", inspired by a Germanic tribe, fiercely opposed to Romans, which lived in Hessen at the beginning of Christian era. Finally, all the band’s lyrics are in English. Fortunately, this hodgepodge of undigested concepts does not affect the music.

Upon Bleak Grey Fields, their second album is indeed very strong. After a short narrative Solstice launches hostilities with a testosterone-packed pagan black metal. This song illustrates main stylistic features of the Kassel’s band, where epic is never far away. This is evidenced by high notes’ rapid succession, along with a drum going at full speed. However, it is Eternal Woe wins the award for the album’s best song. Rough and brutal at first, it slows down gradually, adopts clear vocals and a melancholy feeling. Sublime. Rest of the album, without reaching the same intensity, is able to keep pace and surprises by its song writing and playing maturity. Of course, similarities with other German groups practicing the same style – including Varg or Helrunar – are numerous, but Timor and Tremor is able to distinguish itself through its songs quality.

Despite my initial remarks, which can be applied to many pagan-inspired bands pouring into caricature, I admit being positively impressed by this album. Upon Bleak Grey Fields certainly does not revolutionize the genre, but offers more than forty minutes of high quality black metal, a feat that became increasingly rare these days. 7/10

Blodsrit – Diktat Deliberi

Blodsrit - Diktat DeliberiBlack metal bands’ proliferation leads to a phenomenon which is – strangely – very reminiscent to sports leagues’ evolution. There are old teams which always attract a large audience. There are also hopeful new squads, dreaming to dethrone their idols. Then there are all these midfield teams, often in second division, which enjoy an honest journey but never attract less fervent fans’ attention.

This thought came to me while discovering Sweden Blodsrit’s seventh album, a band founded in the late 1990s and very active since. Based in Kalmar county, it will not likely ever to mind to a typically "svenska" black metal fan, who thinks first of legends such as Watain, Marduk or Dark Funeral.

Yet, Diktat Deliberi, released last December by Unexploded Records, is a record which has several qualities, including a beautiful cover, made by a Spanish artist after a contest. But key to understand the group’s low awareness lies directly in its music.

It is extremely difficult to discern what distinguishes the music composed by Blodsrit’s members from everything written by their countrymen. The band’s style, built on fast passages crossed with catchy riffs (similar to melodic Death Metal), has almost became a national characteristic. Even the excellent production, made at the famous Necromorbus Studios, gives the album a now widespread sound identity.

Despite these general mixed observations, Diktat Deliberi remains pleasant to listen for anyone who appreciates work done with care. Even predictable, songs are well written, performed by talented and experienced musicians. This will probably not get Blodsrit to leave the Swedish second division for the first, but will delight fans who appreciate the genre. 6/10

Mysteriis – Hellsurrection

Mysteriis - HellsurrectionSome resurrections are really surprising. This is the case for Mysteriis, a Brazilian band that knew certain notoriety when their first album was released. Launched in 1999, About the Christian Despair practically introduced symphonic black metal in their South America. Strongly inspired Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth music, which were triumphing at this time, this record generated strong reactions among local fans, used to uncompromising and extremely brutal metal. However, this adventure was short-lived and the group ceased operations at the turn of the new millennium.

Its reformation announcement (with three members of the original lineup) and the release of the aptly named Hellsurrection therefore naturally arouse curiosity, accompanied by skepticism. After all, much blood has flowed under the bridge since 2000 and black metal has changed profoundly since symphonic kitsch triumph. Did the band take notice? Partially.

General impression that emerges from the album is mixed. Production is solid and musicianship is impeccable. Discomfort is rather coming from compositions that sound devilishly ersatz. Obviously, the band did not want to take any risks that could jeopardize their return, thus obtaining a rather banal result. Despite their twelve years silence, Mysteriis members seem to have experienced the same stylistic mutation as their idols of yesteryear. Less gothic and closer melodeath / metalcore movement, the band’s musical evolution is highly reminiscent of Cradle of Filth’s own metamorphosis during the last decade. Songs are well built to appeal fans of easy riffs, catchy melodies, a hint of keyboard and a smokescreen "Satanism". Nazarene Shall Fall only is the only able to really distinguish itself with a frenzied rhythm and a real black metal atmosphere. Rest of the album unfortunately fails to match this first flash.

Brazilian black metal has never really been recognized for its originality and it is certainly not Hellsurrection that may change this prejudice. It is unfortunate that the band did not take this long break to relax or get away somewhat from their original references and explore new horizons. They certainly have the capacity, but desire has perhaps not followed. Pity. 5/10

Acédia – L’exil

Acédia - L'exilIt is pretty uncommon that I start an album critic discussing a cover art, but I’m feeling frivolous today. By choosing the famous painting "The Fall of the Rebel Angels" by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) to decorate its record, the Quebec group Acédia clearly shows its intentions. Indeed, Rubens’ baroque masterpiece is a real maelstrom, which multiplies details and requires a careful observation to be fully appreciated. The same can be said of L’exil, a complex album that really unfolds itself after many listenings.

Clearly inspired by European avant-garde music, Acédia harmonic constructions are based on multiple rhythmic breaks created by a frenzied guitar playing, especially on tracks like Malade et gavé and La mort me guette. These aesthetic choices certainly evoke some Deathspell Omega songs, but without the same degree of chaotic madness as the famous French band.

The Quebec trio can also slows the tempo and put more emphasis on atmospheres. Thus, longer pieces are also slower and develop a gloomy and oozing ambiance. Éternelle léthargie and Tout est ma faute are perfect examples of this, with their dragging and anxious pace, accompanied by the singer’s possessed howl. It is, in my opinion, the album’s best moments, during which the group most effectively displays its know-how.

L’exil is an ambitious record with complex song writing. Connoisseurs will enjoy this dense and sometimes difficult to access brand of black metal. Despite this, members of Acédia show a great mastery for composition and playing, offering a high quality debut album. Do not be fooled by its recent creation: this Quebec City’s trio is promised to a very interesting future. 7/10

Heimdalls Wacht – Ekte Westfäölske Svatte Metal

Heimdalls Wacht - Ekte Westfäölske Svatte MetalMost heavy metal fans born in the 70s (such as your host) discovered their favorite music as teens through thrash metal, which experienced then a true golden age. Amazing records were launched by legendary bands such as Slayer, Metallica and others. This surly and aggressive brand of music marked the spirit of a young musicians’ generation who took this heritage to forge new styles, including black metal. For twenty years, countless bands built their identity on this inexhaustible legacy. I admit, however, being tired of this proliferation, which is certainly not a guarantee of quality and/or originality. But – sometimes – I let myself be seduced by bands who manage to revive the spirit of a music that deeply affected me.

That is how I discovered Heimdalls Wacht, a German group which I’d never heard about, and their fifth album called Ekte Westfäölske Svatte Metal (a title I gave up trying to translate). Quick finding: everything on this disc exudes my teen years’ thrash metal. Despite the pagan metal tag that sticks to their music because of their choice lyrical compositions of the group clearly draw their inspiration from the classics of the 1980s.

Stuffed with big riffs and a production raspy, songs multiply winks and homages. Thus one can easily recognize South of Heaven first notes on Unsiälige Kiar, or Fade to Black on Tiwaz – Entflammt (and I do not even mention the hidden song, you’d think took right out of an Anthrax album). Fortunately, the group manages to override simple plagiarism and infuses its own identity in its writing, thanks to frequent acoustic guitar passages appearances warrior sounding choruses. Note also the extremely heavy and martial drumming, with many tom-tom strokes, scattered over almost all songs.

I cannot avoid feeling certain nostalgia when listening to Ekte Westfäölske Svatte Metal. This records reminds me of a time not so long ago, spent listening to metal while drinking beer with friends, while don’t giving a fuck about the future. Well, future finally caught up with me, so I am grateful to bands like Heimdalls Wacht, which keep alive the spirit of music that doesn’t show any wrinkle. So thirtysomething readers dealing with reality: turn it up and tighten the fist, to remember the good old days! 8/10

Orenda – Only Death Lives Here

Orenda - Only Death Lives Here (2012)During a night walk, I saw a vast silhouette shaped in the dark. Nature has reasserted itself around an abandoned building covered with brambles and branches. A torn sign, rotting on the ground, told me that it was an old asylum, closed long ago. Stung by a morbid curiosity, I crossed the doors of this accursed den. In addition to a persistent odor of mold, an oppressive atmosphere emerged from the place, as if its former patients were still there, chained in their madness, screaming their psychosis. This summarizes in a few lines the probable stylistic intentions of Bulgarian band Orenda, translated to music with their third album called Only Death Lives Here (2012).

This Vratza’s trio is deploying an ambient black metal built on harmonic loops, developing a truly unhealthy universe, both beautiful and disturbing. Hence, some riffs are endlessly repeated in every song, giving them a hypnotic dimension, a feeling also enhanced through a careful use of keyboards and – above all – choirs. This adds a strong anxiety vibe, especially on the beautiful title track. It is also difficult not to draw comparisons with a band such as Mgla, who excels in the same register. Both groups managed to create a truly haunting music.

However, this style and its interpretation have pitfalls that I have detected in this record. To articulate all songs around a handful of riffs is an exercise that can quickly become redundant. Album’s second half is significantly less interesting, because looping sequences are more conventional. In addition, song writers seem to have trouble ending their songs: they almost all use a not so convincing fade out.

But why deprive yourself from this experience? Only Death Lives Here is an album that bears its title remarkably well. Atmosphere emerging from it sometimes gives goosebumps as it transpires madness and psychosis. It’s a great discovery deserving to be heard. 7/10

Wallachia – Shunya

Wallachia - Shunya (2012)Few extreme metal composers are able to merge several musical styles harmoniously, in balance with each other, while remaining accessible and melodic. This feat has been achieved, however, by Lars Stavdal with his solo project Wallachia’s third album. Skeptical at first, I was quickly seduced by the remarkable qualities of Shunya, which fits brilliantly in Norwegian melodic brand of Black Metal.

It is indeed difficult to resist an aesthetic universe which is such highly reminiscent of Windir’s, with this refined mixture of aggressive metal, synthesizers and more traditional string instruments. However, the band’s only permanent member manages to avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism, on which so many other musicians broke themselves. His music has indeed its own identity, at the porous borders of black metal, melodeath and pagan metal. Epic and catchy songs are emerging from this maelstrom, and they never sink into melodic debauchery or "Viking" bands’ nullity.

In fact, the group is able to go from great ferocity to pure keyboard harmonic passages on the same song, notably on the brilliant opening piece Dual Nothingness, thereby establishing the stylistic path through which the composer walk. Each track on the album is well designed with its own characteristics, but through a firmly held general pattern. However, I wish to emphasize the beautiful conclusive song called Emotional Ground Zero, with a string section that adds tremendous depth and deploys a great dreamy and melancholic atmosphere.

Hardliner Black Metal fans will probably despise this album, far too melodic for them. However, those whose tastes are more varied and know how to appreciate great song writing will have a lot of fun discovering Shunya, a record much more interesting than anything the Power / Melodeath not-so-pagan scene has released in years. 8/10

Nidingr – Greatest of Deceivers

Nidingr - Greatest of Deceivers (2012)Fair assessment of an album is a delicate task that requires time and patience, especially when expectations are high. It is in this spirit that I approach Norwegian Nidingr’s newest effort, a band I discovered in 2005 when it released its first album. With strong and experienced musicians, it was able to develop its own musical identity, especially highlighted on Wolf-Father. However, Greatest of Deceivers is less convincing.

However, album’s underlying concept seemed promising. Built around an occult theme (title’s first letters are spelling "GOD"), lyrics are denouncing Christian god as an impostor and dedicate his work to public obloquy. However, despite a carefully designed general concept, the music fails to properly support it.

Album starts smoothly with the title track, crossing black, death and thrash metal. Cpt. Estrella Grasa’s voice also clearly belongs to the latter musical registry, words remaining audible although screamed. Several good riffs punctuate this song, which also has a good rhythm and bass lines that stand out and add some weight. Then it spoils.

Despite a large number of plays, I’m still not hooked to this record. By second song, the band seems to run out of ideas and song writing suffers from it. Rhythm becomes hesitant, riffs lack originality and bite. There are some creativity flashes on some tracks, but we always get this persistent “already heard” feeling that quickly causes boredom.

Greatest of Deceivers is an album that suffers from stylistic hesitations of its authors. Musically closer to thrash than black metal, it hardly keeps pace and multiplies tasteless filling sequences. I admit being disappointed with this result, however designed by Teloch, a performer for whom I have tremendous respect. I hope that Nidingr will make adjustments on its next album, because the most recent will take dust on my shelf. 6/10

Rage Nucléaire – Unrelenting Fucking Hatred

Rage Nucléaire - Unrelenting Fucking Hatred (2012)The fear of a nuclear holocaust has considerably decreased since the end of the Cold War. It is now terrorist attacks and natural disasters that fuel our collective fears. However, humanity still holds enough atomic weapons to destroy itself a thousand times and plunge earth into an endless winter. This possibility is at the heart of Rage Nucléaire’s concept, a band resulting of an association between Lord Worm (ex-Cryptopsy) and Alvater (ex-Frozen Shadows). First result of this unexpected collaboration between two pioneers of Quebec extreme metal is called Unrelenting Fucking Hatred, an album that bears its name well.

Subtlety is band’s first victim, sacrificed right at the beginning with Violence is Golden. This introductory song perfectly illustrates main aesthetic choices made by the group, based entirely on an aggression / speed couple. All other considerations are rolled by an incessant rhythmic deluge dealt by Fredrik Widigs (Diabolical, Witchery), recruited drummer for the occasion who astounds with its precision performance.

Other instruments, in particular Lord Worm voice, contribute more to the overall doom impression. Rage Nucléaire’s "gutturalist" (a neologism of my own perfectly applicable here) emits tortured sounds, real groans more reminiscent of a wild animal than a human being. This feature, while appropriate to the band style, becomes annoying over listenings. Some vocal changes would have given some relief to the listener and another dimension to the songs.

Guitar also adds a radioactivity dose to this record, with good riffs, but especially with a pervasive effect of static electricity ("fuzz") that again seems to confine us in a post-atomic nightmare. Finally, note keyboards and samples contribution, which create an atmosphere both martial (explosions, machine gun fire and even a speech by Hitler!) And surprisingly melodic, especially Endziel and its intro recalling Jesus of Nazareth (1977, directed by Franco Zeffirelli) soundtrack!

Rage Nucléaire music is inorganic, like a world destroyed by its own weapons. Understanding this underlying concept is essential to penetrate a world otherwise unnerving. My own tastes are usually more organic-oriented, but Unrelenting Fucking Hatred remains a good record and a great way to prepare for the Apocalypse. 7/10

LvxCælis – Mysteria Mystica Maxima XXIII

LvxCælis - Mysteria Mystica Maxima XXIII (2012)Evil forces depiction is a prevalent theme in art history. Since antiquity, sculptors, painters and poets are developing works that embody occult powers, often to denounce, but sometimes to celebrate them instead. Through highly complex symbolism, many artists highlight their passion for the dark powers, under the inquisitorial look of ecclesiastical authorities.

However, very few artistic expressions honoring Evil hold the same strength, the same aggressiveness that black metal. This music preaches hatred, death and established religions destruction. However, like all nihilistic movements, dark metal has been diluted over the years, chastened, and ceased to frighten both priests and good people. But sometimes a band manages to find this almost mystical bond with forces of Evil, making an album that sweats blood and suffering. And Chileans from LvxCælis just did it.

Supported by Swedish label Lamech Records, this virtually unknown band launched this year its first album called Mysteria Mystica Maxima XXIII and I must admit I was shocked at first listen. These artists spread unashamedly a genuine mastery of their musical register, promoting through it the Way of the Left Hand and Luciferian Gnosis.

Band draws its inspiration from black metal’s most valuable classics, especially Sarcófago and Bathory. Riffs are heavy, trashy, fast and stunningly surrounded by tight drumming. Song introductions are mostly catchy and immediately drive the listener to tap his feet. Nothing fancy here, just efficient and well-done heavy black thrash metal with mammoth balls.

But main aesthetic characteristic of this album is based on classical music samples inserted at key moments, thus contributing to the creation of a persistent anxiety feeling. Theatrical, probably taken from horror movies, these short sequences develop grandiose and terrifying atmospheres. I must also underline the celebration of an authentic black mass right in the middle of the album! Mass for the Master leads us into a bleak universe from which springs a sinister voice reciting a prayer, supplemented by a short presentation of Gnostic doctrine on Cross of Initiation. That is an album that recalls the heyday of Satanic black metal, in perfect communion with Evil and its minions!

Mysteria Mystica Maxima XXIII cannot just be listened: it must be enjoyed in the dark, with only a candle dim light. I suggest you try it, if you want to understand the deeper meaning of black metal. Maybe you will hear the devil whispers in your ear and feel evil invades your soul. 9/10

Endezzma – Erotik Nekrosis

Endezzma - Erotik Nekrosis (2012)Like some deliveries, an album production can be particularly difficult, even painful. Thousand of incidents may occur and complicate independently working artists’ tasks, a finding that applies perfectly to Norwegian band Endezzma. Founded in the 1990s under another name (Dim Nagel), it released a single demo before falling into silence. It resurfaced in 2007 under its new name and launched this time an EP called Alone, which was critically well received. But troubles continued (especially due to an unstable line-up) and first full-length production took forever. Height of tragedy, one member (Trondr Nefas) died, while song writing work finally ended. It makes you wonder if Erotik Nekrosis is not a cursed album.

This combination of efforts and difficulties still manages to offer an interesting result. Unlike most of their compatriots who prefer cold environments and repetitive rhythms, Endezzma members offer rather a black metal strongly tinged with rock, even glam sometimes, through unusual keyboard sounds. Indeed, song writing revolves around effective and catchy riffs (furiously giving envy to tap feet and raise fist) over which are added layers of piano and other ambient sounds. This gives excellent songs such as Junkyard Oblivion and Enigma of the Sullen, which should unleash hell in mosh pits during concerts. However, the band is a little less convincing when it slows down its pace.

Following songs, without being bad, break the rhythm developed since the start, with a dragging tempo (Hollow) or uncertain harmonies (Swansong of a Giant). Band probably wants to illustrate its influences’ variety and avoid the linearity trap, but result is not convincing. Fortunately, group manages to conclude in force with two catchiest songs.

Despite a difficult process and long years of waiting, members of Endezzma finally released a first album that has its own identity, through songs relying primarily on efficiency. Strength of this record is based on very good riffs scattered over most songs, tailor-made for live performances. Apart from a few average and quickly forgotten titles, Erotik Nekrosis is a very good melodic murky and dirty black metal album, which provides good entertainment for anyone who appreciates the genre. 7/10

Endless Horizon - Annihilation of Human Beliefs

Endless Horizon - Annihilation of Human Beliefs (2012)Some bands seem to have a predestined name. This is the case Quebec group Endless Horizon, whose emergence always seemed to be pushed beyond the horizon. Founded in 2004 by Nafarius and LordGore, it has experienced a series of problems that delayed its progression. With a finally stabilized line-up, it launched an EP in 2010 and worked since to achieve a first full length. Annihilation of Human Beliefs is finally released after eight long years of existence, probably marked by doubts and discouragement.

I was initially surprised by the album’s brevity. Around thirty minutes, spread over six songs including an introduction? That seemed very short. However, proposed content quickly dispels this misconception. Music is extremely dense, filled with great riffs and without downtime. This suggests an enormous amount of song writing work, where all superfluous elements were gradually removed from the final product.

Production, entrusted to the expert hands of Antoine Baril (recording) and François Fortin (mastering), is really well done and gives songs a nice edge. It also reminds me Dimmu Borgir’s (few) best years, thanks a particular mix of melodies and aggression. We even get a few surprises, like Carthusian Monastery lovely guitar introduction. Like in most melodic groups, keyboards are generating atmospheres, but unlike rather "symphonic" bands, they never take precedence over other instruments. The group avoids the “overwhelming” trap and instead focuses on a straightforward and oddly effective Black Metal.

Without seeking to revolutionize black metal, Endless Horizon offers a noteworthy debut record. Produced carefully, professionally interpreted, Annihilation of Human Beliefs demonstrates band’s seriousness its desire to make up for lost time. 7/10

Porta Nigra – Fin de Siècle

Green fairy’s degustation is today a mostly forgotten ritual. Absinthe is indeed more than just alcohol: it is a lifestyle. Precious liquid is first poured into a specially designed glass on which is deposited a finely punctured utensil. Fresh water is then slowly added, filtered through a sugar cube that allows the release of subtle aromas. True symbol of the Belle Époque, celebrated by poets who drew their inspiration from it, absinthe fell into disfavor because of its effects on health, in a civilization now become obsessed with continence.

Going resolutely against the current, Pfalz band Porta Nigra choose to celebrate this deliciously decadent epoch with a first album called Fin de Siècle. Bathed in absinthe vapors, music performed by this German duo constantly alternates between contemplative musings of the drunk and the wrath of the drunkard. Atmosphere generated by the album is imbued with mystery and madness, created with retro sounding keyboards and haunting guitar riffs.

Spleen reaches a climax, however, with the beautiful Megalomaniac, unquestionably the best song on the album. It perfectly characterizes the style practiced by the band, with its catchy chorus, while other passages are rather anxious and tortured. Impossible not to get caught up in this modern and vaguely outdated sound; this true artistic paradox will be repeated throughout the album, but did not reach the same intensity thereafter. Other songs, in fact, suffer somewhat from the second piece excellence and do not offer the same balance between all different styles merged by the group (rock, progressive and black metal).

Who cares! Original thematic approach proposed by Porta Nigra’s two members is based on a solid song writing work and gives a result really pleasant to listen to. It’s definitely a nice discovery for anyone who has a musical sensibility that goes beyond black metal stereotypes. 8/10

Baptism – As The Darkness Enters

In the beginning, three tribes inhabited the vast frozen northern landscapes. The first lived along endless fjords, constantly swept by wind and rain; the second lived by the sea and made sacrifices in the name of terrible bloody infernal gods; and the third one prefered lakes and forests, separated from the other two by an incomprehensible language. Each of these tribes has developed its own rituals, with particular themes. Nature, cold and death for one; demons, blood and suffering for the other; black magic, shamanism and occultism for the last. Passage of time gradually faded the original differences, but their essence remained.

This allegory came to my mind when I discovered Finnish band Baptism’s new album. Even after all these years of listening to black metal, stylistic nuances specific to each national Scandinavian scenes always still appear obvious to me. While Norwegians are more likely to celebrate their harsh climate, Swedes are incorrigible Satanists and Finns are rather mystical, and As The Darkness Enters constitutes new evidence of these observations. This fourth album launched by Lord Sargofagian (instruments, vocals) indeed draws its inspiration from his own tribe occult hymns.

Right from the brief introduction, band draws us into its dark but surprisingly melodic universe. Compositions are indeed marked by a desire to create environments both harsh and melancholic, thanks to discreet keyboards and long high notes’ guitar sequences. Interpretation is also excellent for all instruments, especially drums, where rhythm changes are well done, both frantically on The Prayer and trashy on Chalice of Death. But my heart goes out to Sieluni Temppeli ("the temple of my mind"), sung in Finnish, a wonderfully agglutinative language. The main riff of this title is simply beautiful and its final incantation with its heavy rock air is brilliant. Rest of the album is to match and it is difficult for me to identify any major defects.

Baptism lacks the notoriety of some other members of its tribe, such as Beherit, Behexen, Horna or Sargeist, but it certainly has the same qualities. As The Darkness Enters is an excellent Finnish black metal record, which demonstrates a genuine concern for song writing and interpretation. Get it to enhance your next occult celebration atmosphere. Demonic appearance guaranteed! 8/10

Szron – Death Camp Earth

Sometimes you have to dig deep in the foulest graves in order to unearth findings of interest. Thus through freshly exhumed skulls I discovered the Polish duo Szron, when it launched its first album, lovely titled The Purificating Flame of Annihilation. Dirty and primitive, the band’s music consisted then of short and raw pieces in a register immediately recalling Beherit, vintage 1991. A change took place, however, with Zeal (2010). Length of the songs got longer, sound was better and song writing was more careful. After a split with Cultes des Ghoules released in 2011, the group returned this year with a new full-length which confirmed its metamorphosis.

With only four pieces of about ten minutes each, Death Camp Earth is definitely not based solely on gross efficiency. Like their fellow citizens from Mgła, Szron members now favor harmonic loops; deploying long sequences relied on a handful of riffs endlessly repeated. This creates beautiful atmospheres, sometimes desperate, often slow and oppressive, without ever falling into facility. Even repetitive, song writing remains strong: the riffs are well supported by drums and rhythm changes are carefully introduced. It is also very difficult to isolate a single song as the album seems to form a homogeneous whole. It is rather a four movements’ gloomy symphony than a track-by-track conventional album.

Main charm of this record is however based on its entirely assumed "old school" dimension. Ignoring any commercial consideration, Szron gives us an album whose roots penetrate to the heart of black metal common grave, exactly the kind of album that deserves to be listened to on obsolete formats such as cassette and vinyl. So if the 1990s black metal evokes more for you Taake than Dimmu Borgir, you have to buy this album.

Drukne – Drukne

Is it possible to do worse? I spontaneously asked this question to my conscience when I listened a record made by an American solo project called Drukne. First, a word on its name, that outrageously plagiarizes great Ukrainian band Drudkh, and pushes the audacity to use the same calligraphy for its logo! Such a finding is not likely to reassure me, no more than the cover showing a black and white mountain lost in the mist, an über cliché concept. But let’s focus on the music (sic). Or what at least sounds like it.

It will be blunt: this album’s content is absolutely pathetic, from its first squeal to its last shriek. Musician (sic) behind this infamy clumsily tries to interpret a more or less improvised ambient black metal, probably done in one take with a 1972 Soviet tape recorder.

Recording quality and song writing (sic) instinctively recall the first Burzum demos, but what was inevitable in 1992 is now a crime in 2012. Instruments seem melted in a noisy magma and when some sharper sounds emerge, they are not even synchronized! Yelled voice is also so saturated with distortion that it is impossible to distinguish it from the rest. Apparently, lyrics are inspired Nietzsche’s writings. Poor guy. He must be spinning in his grave!

Full listening of this album is a real torture. Even Billy Ray Cyrus’s Christmas Album must appear pleasant in comparison. Nowadays, any amateur musician can get a decent recording quality with a computer and hacked software. So why release such an abomination? To hide his lack of talent? To satisfy hardliners who would find it "cult"? It’s a complete mystery. Avoid downloading Drukne self-titled album, even under threat. Your faith in Black Metal is in the line. 1/10

Hell Militia – Jacob’s Ladder

For several years, French extreme metal scene is one of the most prolific in Europe. Many hexagonal bands are now considered leaders in their respective registers, paving the way for new groups, such as Parisian Hell Militia. Members of this infernal guerrilla are practicing a strong blackened death metal, in a style already dug by their fellows from Svart Crown and Vorkreist. Stylistic similarities between these groups (the eerie clear guitar passages, fat distortion, syncopated rhythms, etc.) are so obvious that we could possibly confuse them.

Now belonging to Season of Mist’s herd, Hell Militia therefore propose us a third album called Jacob’s Ladder, which has the same flaws I already noticed on Vorkreist’s Sigil Whore Christ, published earlier this year. Packaging is impeccable, even stylish, but it cannot hide the album’s weaknesses. Indeed, apart from some beautiful and furious riffs (particularly on the title track), song writing remains hesitant. Songs are constantly interspersed with slower and heavy passages, breaking the interpretation momentum. I would have much more preferred an aggressive and instinctive attitude. In addition, some sound clips scattered on the album are difficult to understand, their introduction contexts being often opaque to the audience.

Bible stories have always been a sulfur mine for black metal bands, which draw tirelessly themes and concepts from it. French quartet Hell Militia joined the horde by exploiting a famous Genesis passage extracted from a Jacob’s dream. This Abraham grand-son saw in a reverie a stairway (or ladder) borrowed by the angels for their travels between earth and heaven. God even speaks to him, confirming his intentions towards his chosen people. It is a beautiful and mysterious mythological theme, but Jacob’s Ladder never allows the listener to reach seventh heaven. 6/10

Nox Illunis – Metempsychosis

Metempsychosis is an ancient religious belief, common to many peoples and civilizations. Also called "transmigration of souls", it means the movement of a deceased person’s spirit to another life form, according to an infinite variety of worship. And, by the way, it’s also Italian band Nox Illunis’s chosen concept to develop their newest album! So expect everything!

And that’s pretty much what we receive. The band from Treviso offers indeed a mystifying and heterogeneous atmospheric black metal, with many stylistic elements from diverse backgrounds. Divided into six "spheres" and an epilogue, Metempsychosis handpicks influences from psychedelic rock, industrial and classical music through typical melodic black metal songs. Fortunately, this amalgam otherwise indigestible is here done with talent.

But this quartet is proposing us a real maelstrom, which does not hesitate to multiply experiments, unexpected sound samples (Gregorian chant on Del Risveglio Dal Sonno; a long monologue in Italian Del Distruttore; opera Della Caduta) and softer distortion-free passages. Everything seems designed to destabilize the listener, forbidding him to enter into a comfort zone, without ever becoming cacophonous.

It’s impossible not to have a thought for Norway’s legendary band Emperor while listening to this album. Like their illustrious predecessors, Nox Illunis members seem allergic to linearity or ease. No songs are built on a single riff or based on a predictable structure. This exercise gives beautiful artistic results, but could also exhaust some impatient listeners.

Metempsychosis, without being a masterpiece like Ihsahn & friends’ classics, is a great discovery for anyone seeking a musical challenge that requires many careful listening. Like great wine, this record must be tasted in small doses and will fully reveal itself only after several sips. Does it have an effect on karma? Well, only the reincarnated will know! 7/10

Shining – Redefining Darkness

Yesterday, upon the stair / I met a man who was not there / He was not there again today / I wish, I wish he’d go away…

This short verse, declaimed at the beginning of V-Halmstad album, starts my passionate relationship with Swedish band Shining. So rarely an album moved me like this one, for both aesthetic and circumstantial reasons. Of course, I already knew about them. At that time, they were one of Europe’s depressive black metal most influential crew. However, their fifth album offered an important stylistic shift, confirmed since. Pushing back sclerotic sub-genre boundaries, band led by Niklas Kvarforth (vocals and keyboards) created its own artistic universe, marked by originality and pure talent.

A little over a year after excellent VII: Född Förlorare release, group comes right back with Redefining Darkness, carelessly leaving Roman numbering started with the third full-length. Dedicated to the late Trond Bråthen’s (Urgehal, Beastcraft) memory, this new record has many distinguished guests, including Andy LaRocque (King Diamond), Hoest (Taake) and Peter Bjärgö (Arcana), each adding their personal touch to this beautiful album.

Again, Shining musicians display their skills without complex and – most importantly – without any concern about black metal traditional forms. Blasting during Du, Mitt Konstverk’s first few seconds, Halmstad’s quartet almost immediately slows the pace and starts playing this peculiar amalgam of indie rock, jazz and classical music, overwhelmed by sadness and despair. Some songs are chilling because of their intensity, especially For The God Below, clearly inspired by some Led Zeppelin masterpieces.

With audacity, the band also adds very rarely heard instruments on a “black metal” record, such as The Ghastly Silence’s poignant saxophone and Det Stora Grå’s piano parts, always with excellent results. Vocal work is also wholly very successful; even if the album’s only weak point is its high pitch clean vocals, which sometime sounded out of key or limited.

I know. My Shining bias is blatant and I do not care to apologize. This band never disappointed me and Redefining Darkness is a new manifest of its members’ immense talent. Anyone with some musical culture and mind openness will be immediately seduced by this record, which transcends genres and is based on a great song writing work. Just close your eyes and let Shining redefines darkness. 8/10

Posthum – Lights Out

For several years now, I’m observing a recurrent phenomenon among newer Norwegian black metal bands. They seem to try to overcome a stylistic heritage shaped by their illustrious predecessors, adopting a more "modern" approach.  This movement, sometimes called "post" or "avant-garde", draws its influences from the most varied musical environments. We can discuss tripped eccentricity Vulture Industries, depressive rock with So Much For Nothing or fully assumed free jazz played by Shining. And it is in this fruitful vein that Posthum seeks regognition. Founded in 2004 in Nannestad, near Oslo, this trio offers us a new album called Lights Out (2012) which continues the work started with their first self-titled album.

Mesmerizing progressive black metal interpreted by the group is based on structures and complex environments where speed is never prioritized, unless some targeted moments (Down On Blood, especially). Through sequences and syncopated rhythms, sometimes resembling collages, songs articulate dark and melancholic atmospheres. It is a stifling and difficult world to assess for the layman, or just a more direct music lover.

In addition, similarities between music practiced by Enslaved and Posthum are so blatant that they are almost impossible to ignore. On several occasions, listener has the impression of hearing songs written by Ivar Bjørnson and Kjellson Grutle’s band, but without this particular epic touch given by Herbrand Larsen’s keyboards and clean vocals.

Lights Out is not a bad album, nor a simple pastiche. It deploys a lot of creativity and a willingness to go beyond traditional black metal, but it lacks finish, a specific key, unique, which could distinguish the band and give a flavor to its music, which is sorely lacking. The future will reveal whether Posthum succeed to do so.

Wyrm – Rune Rider

Czech Republic is usually not recognized to be a fertile black metal land, except perhaps for some old timers like Silva Nigra and Maniac Butcher, who persisted for a while now. So it is with some curiosity that I began listening to Rune Rider, third album from a northern Bohemia band called Wyrm. Established close to the German border, members of this quartet seem to have been fully influenced by their neighbors’ music. Their own songs are indeed literally fused with Teutonic black / thrash metal.

And obtained result is rather interesting! The band manages to multiply catchy riffs through nice songs crossing various influences. For example, Necrotoxic is a hyper classical thrash metal song, while title-track has a clearly blackened melodeath vibe. It is also difficult to ignore the subtly named Fucked In The Grave, short punk / crossover tune which adds tone with its furious little minute and thirty seconds.

Analyzed as a whole, Rune Rider has a profile meant to please a broad metal audience. But perhaps it is also its main weakness. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish a trajectory, continuity between songs that sometimes evoke collages or – probably – song writing made during rehearsals. Stylistic unity suffers, but again, I’m probably too harsh. Production is strong, as for the interpretation. I also give a special mention to Mermo, leader and bassist, for his musical skills with which he puts forward his instrument, a rarity in the world of black metal.

I admit I had a great time listening to this album, even if it never reaches efficacy or aggressiveness of what groups such as Grafenstein and Unlight manage to infuse their respective opuses. Wyrm still gives us a quality album which undoubtedly will please fans wanting to discover Bohemian black metal! 7/10

God Seed – I Begin

It is sometimes extremely difficult for a critic to be fully objective when he listens to certain bands belonging to his favorite musical genre. Yet, he must ignore gossips and rumors and focus solely on the offered product. This premise describe how I discovered God Seed first record, a band created in 2009 by Gaahl and King Ov Hell after their bittersweet legal dispute concerning Gorgoroth’s name property.

I Begin is an album I wasn’t expecting anymore. And for good reasons! After Gaahl’s withdrawal and King Ov Hell / Shagrath mediocre release called The Underworld Regime (made under the name Ov Hell), I sincerely believed that this ordeal was over. However, first reformation echoes surfaced in spring 2012 and were confirmed shortly afterwards. Preliminary webcasts suggested a stylistic continuity with Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam ornamented with some unexpected touches. I remained cautious, however, and chose to wait for a full release before giving any opinion.

When turning off my stereo after a first listen, something quickly became clear in my mind. With this album, which he entirely composed, King Ov Hell probably wanted to overcome his weighty “Gorgoroth legacy”. Rather than delivering a hyper conventional brand of Norwegian black metal (as with Ov Hell) God Seed offers a decidedly original and interesting crossing between several musical genres.

Of course, compositions’ basic structures have typical black metal foundations, but it is orchestrations that really distinguish this album. There are indeed keyboard sounds and guitar sequences, scattered over every song, which are truly reminiscent of 1970s’ progressive and acid rock (also referring to experiments made by Nachtmystium in recent years). This aesthetic aspect appears right from the introductory song Awake and grows throughout the album. Even This From The Past, which first minute unequivocally reminds Carving A Giant, has electronically generated epic passages. Also note Gaahl’s really strong vocal performance, combining nuances and harsh expressions, recalling why he is still considered one of the best black metal frontman. Band finally closes the ceremony with Bloodline, an instrumental song with a totally unexpected but successful gloomy darkwave atmosphere.

God Seed members’ margin of error for this first album was almost zero because of extremely high expectations and the frank animosity manifested by many influential musicians for King Ov Hell. But I think he will be able to shut down his critics with this record. It is certainly not perfect. It has some average songs (Aldrande Tre, especially) and I would have wish that the band exploited more deeply its progressive experiments. However, God Seed succeeded to forge a truly unique musical identity that distinguishes it from its illustrious and more conventional colleagues. And that is a worthy feat.7/10

Kawir – ΙΣΟΘΕΟΣ

Greek mythology is – with the Bible – one of the main Western culture pillars. Countless works are inspired by Hesiod’s beautiful cosmology narratives or Homer’s incredible epics. However, black metal has always kept itself away from this source, yet so rich. Nordic legends and evilness celebration are indeed cloaking Heracles exploits in most black metal lyrical booklets.

But then, there is Kawir. Of Greek origin, created at the turn of the 1990s and led since by Therthonax, this band has chosen to showcase its immense national heritage. With excellent results, even if notoriety never really followed. Band strikes again this year with ΙΣΟΘΕΟΣ ("Isoteos" in Latin characters, meaning "equal to God") with its new Pan-European line-up, with two more experienced musicians, namely Serbian Phaesphoros (guitar and vocals) and Swiss Ormenos (Drums, who is also Switzerland-based Borgne band leader).

Kawir is celebrating Greek Gods through a strong pagan-inspired black metal, their fifth record acting as new evidence. Melodic structure favors epic sequences (mostly mid-tempo pace, choral singing) and grandiose passages (projections sound use of wind instruments), but without any excess, compared to hundreds of other band plaguing the same sub-genre. Stylistic effects and changes of pace are here well distributed throughout tracks. Song writing also relies on very good and catchy riffs that give each song a specific identity, even without a more elaborate orchestration support.

Like many other pagan black metal acts, Kawir members exploit traditional sounds, especially flute and qanun, a Levant typical instrument I had never heard of. Result is impressive and adds a kind of authenticity impossible to find with keyboards-only bands. Therefore, song Hymn to Apollo gives us the impression of being caught up in a temple! Arts God, himself a wonderful harp player, is celebrated with dignity! I think it’s ultimately important to note that all texts are written and performed in ancient Greek, a probably unique situation in black metal realm.

I admit I was pleasantly surprised by this album’s quality, beautifully produced and performed by a band that I never knew existed. Even though I’m usually not fond of the paganism-inspired register, a sub-genre completely saturated and emptied of its originality; ΙΣΟΘΕΟΣ hits the mark and forces my admiration. 8/10

Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas

Entering Anaal Nathrakh madmen’s world is a risk for anyone trying. Their music is a pure psychotic violence manifest and it’s difficult to recover from it. My personal experience with this band begins with Eschaton and I’m still wearing scars. Their unique blend of death / black / grindcore / industrial may in fact cause permanent brain damage, particularly in the aggression controlling lobe.

However, over time, Irrumator (instruments) and V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (Voice) added melodic elements to their compositions, which were virtually absent until then. Already in 2007, Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here included several songs with catchy riffs and soaring epic passages, quite unusual for such an extreme band. I admit, however, having been less enthusiastic about their following two albums, especially Passion that left me almost indifferent. So it’s without expectation I bought Vanitas, already the seventh full-length of this Birmingham’s prolific duo.

It is difficult to express in words the punch in the face I received when I first heard this record. From first listen, I’m blown away by the uninhibited mastery spread by its authors. Entire song writing is based on an almost surreal balance between disjointed aggression and immediately memorable melodies. Group members also seem to have finally given up the endless syncopated sequences that made their previous albums so difficult. They – somehow – put order into chaos, in a register very close to what a band like Strapping Young Lad used to play.

While I criticized previous albums for their extreme confusion, Vanitas is instead remarkably homogeneous. Each song is perfectly connected, without breaking rhythm or slowdown, except – perhaps – the slowest Feeding the Beast, which provides an illusory rest between detonations. I also note a better use of vocal registers. Long and grandiloquent clear voice passages are better distributed and, most importantly, better controlled, especially on A Metaphor for the Dead, where the clean voiced sections add a strong epic dimension to the song.

I address this message to wet blankets who might claim that Anaal Nathrakh sold its soul to attract a wider audience: Vanitas is an almost flawless album and the band is unleashing hell towards the listener. It can be now compared to some British legends such as Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death and Carcass. This record will undoubtedly cause a new wave of murderous psychosis among their most devoted fans. 9/10

When Woods Make Graves – This Patch Of Dirt Where Nothing Grows

Sometimes I let myself be seduced by an out of the ordinary packaging, thanks to a unique or beautiful cover art, which provides a good first impression. This is how I choose to listen to English When Woods Make Graves’ solo project first album called soberly This Patch Of Dirt Where Nothing Grows (2012). Indeed, band employs a disturbing illustration of Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski on its cover, representing a dark and morbid scene. It is however regrettable that music that accompanies it is definitely not of the same caliber.

In this era of technological ease, it is extremely surprising that some musicians choose (because it is not an accident) to adopt a mediocre sound, which masks their music to the point of inaudibility. Yet it is the case of the individual behind this project, which draws its inspiration from the vast atmospheric black metal current, while giving his work a raw sound coating worthy of firsts Xasthur demos. All five parts of the album (which the author calls his "third demo"), in addition to their length (ten minutes on average), share almost every same characteristics: a slow ambient introduction, pursued by melodic loop sequences. A really bad synthetic drum recording/mixing can be considered a crucial defect. Cymbals are loud and pervasive while snares are withdrawn and sound like a pencil tapping on a table. For this reason, in the faster sections, almost every other instrument is inaudible. Guitars are layered deployed and promote saturation, as well as voice, reduced to a shrill scream drowned in echo.

I struggled to identify qualities on this album, which pastiche Burzum discography without real talent and/or imagination. This does not seem to bother When Woods Make Graves’s leader who, since only a few months, released two other very long demos. He probably should slow down its production rate, in order to improve its product, which really needs to be refined. 4/10

Enslaved – RIITIIR

It is never easy to comment a legendary black metal band’s new release. Reviewer judgment is inevitably blurred by a set of historical and stylistic shenanigans that have often nothing to do with the product we are finally listening. Enslaved, a founding member of the Norwegian second wave constitutes an excellent example of this. Each of their new albums offer more progressive compositions, polishing the edges of music once rougher. However, obtained quality confuses the skeptics and shut down nostalgic old timers regretting first demos and Frost era.

Two years after releasing the magnificent Axioma Odini Ethica, while also changing label, Ivar Bjørnson, Grutle Kjellson and friends come back with RIITIIR an album that confirms their stylistic orientations and takes them away again a little further from their black metal roots. But this finding does not preclude me to deliver my opinion about Enslaved twelfth release.

I’ll be honest: numerous listenings were needed before enjoying this record I first found banal. Nuclear Blast vast promo campaign prior to its release perplexed me, even made me suspicious. Available extracts evoked the band’s usual style, but lacked this unique and innovative touch that makes it so special. Once purchased, I listened this album more than twenty times in all conceivable circumstances, to understand my discomfort’s origin.

It probably comes from a sense of déjà vu (or "déjà heard" in this case). Similarities with previous albums are so frequent that I cannot help but perceive a form of self-plagiarism. Band seems to have developed a certain recipe, alternating abrupt metal sequences, accompanied by Grutle Kjellson’s very guttural singing, and epic moments, made with keyboards and Herbrand Larsen’s beautiful clean voice. All songs are built with this contrast, a style dialogue one can observe since Isa album. I’m probably too harsh, but from a major band like Enslaved, I always expect more than a mere replication, however good it may be.

This does not mean that RIITIIR is bad. Even average, according to the band self-established standards, this album is still superior to most equivalent releases I’ve heard recently. Several songs, such as Veilburner and Materal, have brilliant progressive passages that recall their authors’ exceptional talent. But I remain puzzled about the band’s future. Will it evolve again, or will it stick to a formula that gives it success and recognition? The grade I give may seem harsh, but it is rather a mark of vigilance. I would find it extremely unfortunate that Enslaved, for which I have immense respect, becomes a band paying tribute to… Enslaved. 7/10

Grá – Grá

At the corner of his tireless research, music columnist sometimes discovers albums made by totally unknown bands. That’s what happened to me when a label unexpectedly sent me a promo made by a formation belonging to its herd. After a routine verification, I learned that the quartet called Grá (meaning "gray" in Icelandic and therefore contains no cholesterol ie. French joke) was born in the Swedish capital and consists of members belonging to other equally obscure groups. Founded in 2010, it quickly launched an EP, then a first album that I listened, not having the slightest idea of ​​its contents.

The result is quite convincing. Grá is interpreting a fairly orthodox black metal with Scandinavian finish, that is to say, cold and gloomy. However, song writing does not prioritize speed over atmosphere. Through mostly fast song tempo (without excess), the group added meditative passages played with acoustic guitar and tambourine, especially on the instrumental Det Sista Han Sade and Offerrök’s intro. This gives the album a special dimension, an esoteric atmosphere enhanced by the use of gnarly Swedish language.

The band also knows how to execute some good rock riffs, like the excellent Kraft, which spontaneously recalled Behexen, Beherit and some other masters of the land of a thousand lakes’ music. But of course, not everything is perfect. Listener must support multiple lengths, especially in the second half of this album, when songs stretch and slow. And I’m still looking for the meaning of the strange and conclusive Ett Sista Kapitel, which – to the sounds of an old German music and clock – a man wakes painfully then hangs himself (at least I think).

Obtained completely by accident, Grá self-titled album was a pleasant surprise, with a strongly played black metal belonging to the occult / orthodox registry. I urge you to discover this promising band, interesting embodiment of modern Swedish black metal. 7/10

Décombres – Décombres

It’s a columnist colleague who allows me to discover a young Quebec formation called Décombres, which was created at the end of 2011. This is actually a solo project led by versatile Philippe Boucher, also active in Incandescence (black metal), First Fragment (technical death metal) and Chthe’ilist (old school death metal). This finding is timely! There is already a long time since I have had the pleasure of tasting a local product.

Though, if this first album rather came from an isolated Northern Scandinavia village, no one would be surprised. Author’s aesthetic choices are transparent. He plays a black metal directly inspired from indefatigable Norwegian second wave, where Darkthrone and Burzum compete for first place in the influence race. But with a very good result!

Of course, content of this record does not reinvent a style copied a thousand times in twenty years. It was probably not the author’s intention anyway. Boucher, within genre guidelines, deploys classically shaped, but damned catchy, compositions. Good riffs are appropriately scattered on every song, giving them separate identity and memorable airs. The guitar playing is based on a strongly fuzzed high notes succession, creating icy and gloomy atmospheres. As for the rhythm section, it is quite effective, but rather discrete and linear. Its role is usually limited to support guitar layers and voice. Lyrics are in French (at least I think) but the shrill screams that accompany the music make them impossible to understand, even partially. However, there is no need to be clairvoyant to guess their nature: general atmosphere which radiates from this album speaks for itself.

This first eponymous Décombres’ opus is a pleasant surprise. It shows again that orthodox black metal allows talented musicians to express themselves without lapsing into parody or plagiarism. I encourage you to explore this interesting project, hoping for a sequel. 7/10

Forgotten Tomb – …And Don ’t Deliver Us From Evil

When an established black metal band is looking to expand its range of influences, and thus diversify his style, he takes a path strewn with obstacles. Black metal fans’ narrow conservatism do not forgive easily any perceived sprains to orthodoxy. However, ignoring these assumptions, Forgotten Tomb began its transformation in recent years. Once among subgenus suicidal / depressive leaders, members of theis Italian quartet are now practicing a more accessible music, which less encourages (hmm) to hang or swallow razor blades.

This change is fully assumed since Under Saturn Retrograde, with doom metal and rock sounds integration. The album was released last year but I was not really convinced then. I perceived some fumbling and hesitation, with songs that lacked bite. An error that has fortunately not been repeated on … And Don ‘t Deliver Us From Evil.l

I do not know if Herr Morbid (founder and leader of the group) is trying to prove something, but he chooses to hit hard right from the start with Deprived. Its rhythm instinctively recalls some classic German thrash metal, with a fat mix and a slammed bass. However, several sound elements scattered over this great song are reminiscent of the band’s stylistic origins, fulfilling what could have been a mere pastiche. But it is the title track which is, in my humble opinion, album‘s highlight. Perfectly balancing the musical past and present of the band, it offers a fast and heavy synthesis, with a great and scary atmosphere.

Rest of the album was somewhat less successful. Cold Summer is too long and breaks momentum created by the first two pieces, and any of the following songs fails to rise to the level of intensity obtained at the start. Well, not entirely: very good parts are found in Let’s Torture Each Other with its very catchy rock riffs and Adrift with its clean vocals and epic soaring.

Finally … And Don ‘t Deliver Us From Evil is somehow a victim of its flying start. Songs that follow the title track are not bad, but do not reach the same quality level and somehow give a feeling of breathlessness. However, this new album is still much stronger than its predecessor and suggests that members of Forgotten Tomb found their bearings and completed their metamorphosis. 7/10

Ragnarok – Malediction

Time flies, fashions change. Most bands behind Norwegian black metal second wave have disappeared or have profoundly changed their stylistic approach. Now, only a few veterans continue their voyage in uncompromising dark metal lands. And among them are members of Ragnarok. This band has an unlikely career, as it is punctuated by all kind of events, from many line-up changes to a record label bankruptcy (Regain Records). However, after eighteen chaotic years, this quartet from Oslo is inflicting us a seventh album called Malediction.

Ragnarok music has its roots in the heart of the hardest (and less subtle) Norwegian black metal and it is certainly not the new album that will change this perception. This is a violent maelstrom, a veritable anger manifesto. Compositions rely primarily on efficiency and do not bother use any vanguard effects or other refinements. Most of the songs revolve around a bass / drums couple which produces a very fast tempo leaving no respite for the listener. As soon as the tiny Blood of Saints’ intro ends, shelling operated by Jontho, the last member of the original formation, begins and will not stop until forty-five minutes later.

Guitar playing is also very strong and can even – sometimes – take some small unexpected directions, such as the typically heavy introduction of Dystocratic, which seems to come from a 1980s album. Otherwise, chords are linked at a frantic pace, supported by successions of higher notes that create a typical Norwegian ambience. Finally, a word on the excellent guttural performance done by HansFyrste, who proves again that he belongs to Scandinavian black metal howler’s elite. His aggressive and harsh voice fits perfectly with band’s style, adding an extra rawer and nastier dimension.

Production is impeccable and has a very clear and cutting sound, apart a little annoying detail on Divide et Impera. A series of high notes played on the guitar are producing a "pew-pew" reminiscent of a bird’s cry! I do not know if it is a mixing problem, or a digital conversion default, but the result is rather unusual on an album of this nature. But maybe I’m just too sensitive.

I sincerely hope that this new album will get Ragnarok to reach the fame level that should be theirs after all these years. True to their roots, perpetuating the Norwegian legend, members of this band are releasing again a powerful record at the height of their reputation. Their imminent coming in North America is probably a Götterdämmerung harbinger. Well, the sooner the better! 8/10

Winterfylleth – The Threnody of Triumph

For several years now, pagan black metal scene is experiencing tremendous growth, in Europe and elsewhere. Bands that praise nature and exotic deities swarm up in the most unlikely places. I admit, however, be rather tired before this proliferation. Too many times, released albums lack both creativity and quality. So I became more wary of new releases that end up in my Mp3 player. But these legitimate concerns are swept by repeated listenings of England band Winterfylleth’s most recent opus.

Dense, rich and enjoyable to listen, The Threnody of Triumph is an album that quickly seduced me. Of course, I already knew the group. Its music is reminiscent of some masterpieces made by their colleagues of Drudkh and fellows from Fen and Wodensthrone, but Chris Naughton and his band have just completed an amazing work.

Inspired by Albion’s folklore, band’s songs (whose name means "October" in Old English) are all developed with environments produced by a guitar deployed in layers, with a strong, but withdrawn, drumming. Moreover, unlike other formations of the same ilk, Winterfylleth’s music never resorts to stylistic tricks, such as keyboards grandiloquence or inappropriate use of traditional instruments. Few interludes that punctuate titles, as well as instrumental Home is Behind, are interpreted with a clean guitar. Also note the judicious use of choirs, which add an epic dimension, but without ostentation.

This record makes you feel enveloped, evoking icy mist covering the ground during English autumn months. Yet, music of these October troubadours never becomes sad or melancholic. It feels like to walk in the forest, with landscapes that pass before our eyes. This is also how I suggest you to discover and enjoy this album. Come enjoy the colors of nature with your audio player and let yourself be transported in the moors of Britannia. 8/10

Tsar Bomb - Neowarfare

While Cold War is in full swing, Soviet Union leaders seek to strike another blow, a few months after placing the first man in orbit. This time, the strength demonstration will be military. At the end of October 1961, over the inhospitable terrain of Novaya Zemlya (an Arctic Ocean archipelago), a Tupolev Tu-95 drops a thermonuclear device with a power never experienced before. Exploding over 4000 meters, the hydrogen bomb releases a force greater than fifty megatons, carbonizing forests and homes over hundreds of kilometers. Promptly informed of this achievement, visible to almost 1000 kilometers from the impact point, Americans call him "Tsar Bomb" ("Imperial Bomb"). This is, incidentally, the name chosen by a young Hispanic band, whose music recalls the heyday of atmospheric nuclear tests.

This Andalusia trio offers indeed black metal strongly tinged with ultra-fast death metal, an approach that is spontaneously reminiscent of bands like Behemoth, Hate or – closer to home – Necronomicon. It hits hard and fast. After a short introduction, the title track starts heavy atoms’ fission and chain reaction follows immediately. However, perhaps due to a leak in the system, the explosion never reaches the expected power.

Interpretation is crystal clear, song writing follows every conventions of the genre and packaging is impeccable. But Neowarfare album gives a cold and synthetic impression to the listener, caused in part by a triggered battery that provides discomfort among those seeking a more warm and organic. However, there are still good moments on this record, that reminded me more than once Zyklon’s first albums, without ever managing to match their originality and extreme brutality.

I remain optimistic. This first opus portends good things for Tsar Bomb. Hopefully these atom lovers will give their music a stronger personality that allows them to distinguish themselves from their many illustrious colleagues. 6/10

Behexen – Nightside Emanations

I walk slowly in the stench of a dirty corridor, to a door ajar creaking when I open it. The room is filthy and dark, dimly lit by a few candles. I removed my clothes and kneel at the center of a space that seems to shrink. Music sprang suddenly from the obscurity. Organ. I recognized Behexen’s latest album intro, but I do not know where it may well come from.

I take an old rusty knife from my pants pocket. From the first notes of Wrathfull Dragon Hau-Hra, a shiver runs down my spine. This filthy and fast paced guitar air awakens in me darkest feelings, mixed with a kind of gloomy happiness.

I carefully place the blade of my knife on the top of my left hand. In a jerk, I slice the veins therein. Blood immediately begins to flow, at Death’s Black Light sound. My eyes blur. The pale candlelight is dancing around me. I put my bloody fist on the floor and slowly begin to trace ritual symbols.

A cold damp then grabbed me. My skin shrinks. The blood stops flowing. I take my knife and take it deep into my right palm. I look at the hot liquid dripping into the dust that covers the floor. I smile. The pain is pleasant. Circle Me and We Burn With Serpent Fire, sticky and slow songs, accompany my work. I cover the floor and walls of mystical symbols entries. Reality seems to escape me. Time stops. Exhausted, I collapse.

Luciferian Will remembers me that only the ultimate sacrifice of my life will complete the device. Taking the smeared knife, I pronounce all necessary incantations. Almost blind, I stab my chest with the blunt. My breath, already irregular, stops. A violent burning in my mind brings me to my knees.

While death awaits me, I see a bright light in the heart of darkness. I distinguish movement over the horizon, a barely describable chaos. Hideous forms mate and repel. Above this maelstrom of flesh and suffering, a huge snake watches me. Tiamat awakes. I salute the primordial goddess, source of all life. I am then sucked into this decadent world, perpetually dying and being reborn.

I crash at the foot of Babylon’s ziggurat. I am grabbed and dragged to the top of a staircase covered with men, women and children carcasses. I sacrificed my body; the dark powers now want my soul. I am firmly committed to an altar where burning blood still runs. High priest advances towards me, wearing a horrible sadistic smile. He raises his arms to the sky. In place of the sun, I see a reptile eye. Goddess mother monitors the details of a death offered to her. The priest dagger tore my chest and then broke my sternum. His expert hand enters my body through this opening, searching the precious organ. I feel extreme pain, true senses ecstasy that electrifies my being. It is ultimately at the sound of Kiss of Our Dark Mother that I see my own heart still wriggling, raised as an offering, and then thrown into a huge bonfire.

The ritual is closed. I now belong to the world of shadows and its terrible deities, which I have willingly sacrificed my life and my mind. Nightside Emanations becames the soundtrack of my eternal torments. 9/10

Panopticon – Kentucky

Like Odysseus, my journey into the heart of obscure and dark black metal has allowed me to hear all kinds of oddities. From strange stylistic crosses to bestial monstrosities, I thought I heard everything. I was wrong. Right from America’s heartland, a musician tried the weirdest mix I’ve had the misfortune to discover: an album merging folk, country and black metal, with socially engaged lyrics. Result of this cosmic anomaly is called Kentucky, recently launched by a band named Panopticon.

This baroque opus traces the misadventures of coal miners in the state of Kentucky, a region where coal is extracted for almost two hundred years. Entirely composed by Austin Lunn, a colossus with endless Rasta, the album destabilizes whoever raises the ear. It is indeed a banjo air that starts Bernheim Forest in Spring, before being accompanied by a typically Bluegrass orchestration, a kind of music originating from the southern Appalachians. It is, however, Bodies Under the Falls that reveals the author’s intentions. The pace is accelerating sharply, even abruptly. Guitars and drums burst, starting an air reminiscent of those oddly found on Swiss’ Eluveitie first album, especially flute playing that is developing in parallel. Hybridization is ongoing and nothing will stop it. All songs oscillate between several stylistic orientations that have absolutely nothing in common and whose fusion seems often artificial.

In addition, author adopts a social cause. It explains the many interviews excerpts or folkish songs heard throughout the album. Taking the miners’ side, lyrics depict poverty, labor struggles and other indignities suffered by American miners during a long history marked by conflicts between proletarians and owners. Nothing could be farther from Satan and his followers!

I usually enjoy stylistic innovations that challenge a sometimes stifling traditional black metal orthodoxy, but come on! Panopticon belongs to this typically American movement that seeks to redefine black metal, both musically and lyrically, crossing it with anything, denaturing it, and Kentucky is the result of such an experiment. However, most interesting passages of the album are those directly inspired by Bluegrass, while more typically metal sections are rather boring. It’s the mix that sound false and has nothing to do with black metal, despite the band’s claims. Euronymous must be turning in his cave.

If you are hungry for all sorts of oddities, you will be served. If you prefer to simply discover Bluegrass, I suggest you listen to the excellent and underrated Cohen Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? which baths in this southern and catchy music. 5/10

Blut Aus Nord – 777 – Cosmosophy

When an artist positions himself at a movement’s forefront, he’s condemned to excel. His work is primarily based on an extremely fertile creativity that allows him to renew itself constantly, without ever becoming insipid or repetitive. This is a path that very few individuals are able to follow, as it is demanding. Yet it is the perilous route taken by Vindsval, leader of French band Blut Aus Nord. Their exceptional discography abounds in experiments, crosses and collages of all kinds, with a music located on the edge of madness, gathering countless influences in a twisted polyphonic and disturbing black metal. After several successful releases, detaining a solid fan base, the group started in 2011 an ambitious triptych called 777, a number with powerful esoteric connotations. After Sect (s) and The Desanctification, both published last year, the cycle ends with Cosmosophy.

First two albums adopted a new and unexpected stylistic trend, leading to almost complete denudated songs. These revolved around a handful of riffs and sounds, repeated in loops, slightly coated by keyboards and ambience effects. This approach is even more blatant 777 third and last part. Epitome XIV, which opens the album, comes down to a few guitar chords and echoed drumming. Atmosphere is quiet, restrained, and never releases any aggression. This is a frame that will be repeated throughout every following title.

However, I will be honest and transparent. I disliked this album. Its packaging is sumptuous and a few creativity flashes cross it, but it remains mostly linear and boring. It is a bitter fact for me, who appreciate the audacity of Blut Aus Nord first albums. This band was able to develop an extremely dense and unhealthy atmosphere, of which there is almost no trace on Cosmosophy. Rather, a title like Epitome XVII has much more similarities with new wave / age than black metal! And I admit that the long and grandiloquent Epitome XV’s recitative annoyed me to the point of skipping it every time I listened the album.

To create a full trilogy made of eighteen songs with a ridiculously short schedule was maybe too difficult to handle. Cosmosophy is struggling to keep listener’s interest throughout its forty minutes. In addition, band moves away from its black metal roots to move closer towards dark / ambient / electro, a path that I do not want to follow. Pity. 5/10

SS-18 – Tetraktis

Russian black metal has long trailed a detestable reputation because of its releases’ execrable quality. But things seem to be improving in the steppe country. I have been fortunate over the last two years, listening to some remarkable Russian albums, well written and performed. However, any amelioration is not homogenous. This observation came to me while listening Tetraktis), SS-18 new album (named in honor of a Russian ballistic missile also called “Satana”, and not any Schutzstaffel unit). Industrial-flavoured black metal proposed by this North Caucasus band has several weaknesses must should be identified.

First, a word on an audio detail that gives me the creeps every time I hear it: drum snare sounds like a tin can. The resulting "tactactac" annoys me to the highest point and affect my other instruments’ appreciation. I will always dedicate to public obloquy “the” musician or sound technician who, first, considered this horrible sound to be a good idea.

In short, let us go beyond this and analyze rest of the album. It offers eight titles overall quick and linear, driven by rough but correct production. Song writing relies heavily on rhythmic loops succession, played repeatedly throughout each song, giving a standardized but very repetitive result. Only a few slower and groovy passages, especially Secundus Gladius: Bacteriologicus Meridies’ introduction, offer listeners a slight respite between floods of blasts. Furthermore, despite band claims, industrial elements are rare and carelessly sprinkled everywhere on the album, giving the unfortunate impression that this aspect of SS-18 music does not really matter to its members. And it is certainly not Fabra Ars – Ars Mori, which conclude the album that will change my perception: it’s clearly filling.

Tetraktis never managed to captivate me and Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes was the only track I really liked. A meager result, you would probably agree. Many defects identified previously are obscuring too few qualities of this record, which would have benefited from more work, enriched by more industrial inputs more and a greater riff variety. And get rid of that awful drum sound, dammit! 5/10

Manetheren – Time

Some albums take time to be fully appreciated, and for a critic, it is always risky to rely only on his first impressions and prejudices. So I greeted unenthusiastically Minnesota-based Manetheren’s fourth full-length, which unequivocally asserts its affiliation with black metal new wave developed in their country and leaded by bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Liturgy. Severely criticized by purists, this form of dark metal (called "Hipster" derisively) focuses on refined and sophisticated atmosphere deployment, interwoven with avant-garde lyrical themes. In short, it’s traditional European black metal exact opposite.

Time (2012) is a very long album, both for its total duration (more than an hour and a quarter) and each of its six parts (twelve minutes on average). Its development also requires some patience on listener’s part. Azlum, band’s architect, favors complex structures, alternating atmospheric passages and others more clearly black metal. However, all effects are still hushed, never flashy or ostentatious. It is rather a kind of epic music, like that proposed by 1970’s progressive or psychedelic bands. We quickly perceive the enormous amount of work piled up for each piece. Nothing is left to chance; everything is measured, weighed, and thoughtful. Maybe a little too much. This album lacks spontaneity, passion, despite good qualities and some novelties. However, it is over repetitive listenings (about a dozen in my case) that such an album proves itself. This form of Black Metal does not call for unwinding or anger, but rather reflection and contemplation, a calmer state of mind, rather than raw emotion and aggressiveness.

Skeptical at first listen, I let myself be seduced by this record, even if it does not belong to a register I usually enjoy. Song writing qualities, ethereal atmospheres and flawless play finally convinced me that Time was a perfectly recommendable album for anyone who appreciates a well done job. 7/10

Besatt – Tempus Apocalypsis

There are many injustices in the cruel world of black metal, but the most obvious can unquestionably be found in Polish band Besatt’s lack of notoriety. Active for more than twenty years, this Silesian group remained true to its musical roots throughout its career, punctuated by eight full-lengths and many other releases. Despite this, these intransigent Satanists never managed to develop a significant audience beyond their borders, unlike many other groups from their country.

I myself have discovered Besatt with their Black Mass album, a pure, brutal and hateful black metal manifest. It was followed by Triumph of the Antichrist and Demonicon, perpetuating the band’s evil work, distinguished by its ferocious song writing. However, I always thought that bands whose origins date back to the earliest ages of the black metal tend to wane over time, while releasing mediocre albums. Well these demonic goblins seek to contradict me with Tempus Apocalypsis, probably the best album of their career.

Damn it’s fierce! It tumbles without firing a shot right from Seals Of Hate first chords and never looks back. The sound is clear and heavy, like on Demonicon, and definitely goes away from first albums’ mixing roughness. But major strength of this record relies primarily on drums, held by a virtuoso able to go from blast beats to more groovy rhythmic, without provoking any break. This ability shown by Marcel "Devastate" Szumowski – which is but a guest on this album – is probably coming from his experience with thrash and heavy metal, which he plays with his other band Killjoy.

But honor Beldaroh, band’s black soul, only original member still in office. His song writing work is solid again, alternating hysterical passages and others rather thrashy. It gives strenght to an album that is much more than just a forty minutes blast beat, as evidenced by War Gathering, which offers an epic moment in the heart of the battle, or Queen Babylon with its female recitative.

Direct, aggressive and uncompromising black metal fans, Tempus Apocalypsis is for you. Besatt again proves that it belongs to European metal elite, a well-deserved recognition I want to share with as many as possible devil’s worshipers. 8/10

Blacklodge – MachinatioN

Genres mixing have caused some of the most important stylistic innovations. Throughout the ages, visionary artists have had the foresight to cross sounds that might initially appear incompatible. Of course, black metal also had its share of crossbreading, most notably with hard rock, folk, and even classical music. However, some amalgams are rather confusing. This is exactly what French band Blacklodge is offering us with its fourth album called MachinatioN. Founded in 1998 and led since then by Saint Vincent, who also screams for Vorkreist, the group brutalizes its audience with an ultra-fast cold and mechanical industrial black metal. Surprising results are obtained when Satan meets the machine.

Indeed, black metal is usually an organic music, bathed in dark feelings, far from artificial or electronic sounds. However, Blacklodge reverse this perspective with a style closer to those practiced by bands like KMFDM or Atari Teenage Riot. Battery / drum programming is based on an infernal rhythmic that starts right from TridenT and slows only on rare occasions. Result is dense, with very catchy techno loops. On several occasions, I even had the impression to listen some songs written by Rhys Fulber (Front Line Assembly) and Michael Balch (Ministry). Even if it is rhythm that is in control, guitar also adds his two cents with great riffs, effectively scattered throughout the album, especially on Neo.Black.Magic, that makes you want to furiously break your neck. However, and this is a complaint that I address the entire industrial style; album’s second half is much weaker. The inspiration seems to be missing and a title like All Seeing Eye seems like filler, while The Other Side seems to pump from some Skinny Puppy experiments.

However, hybridized music lovers, do not spoil your fun. Black metal and industrial share many common features which add and complement each plot. Quick and nihilistic, this record offers no respite. And for the skeptics and other scum, just admit that such a crossing is probably preferable to a terrifying Black n ‘Hop! 7/10

Khors – Wisdom of Centuries

I fully recognize having a taste for Ukrainian black metal. Strongly inspired by local traditional music and Slavic paganism, it is gaining popularity due to excellent releases of pioneer bands such as Astrofaes, Nokturnal Mortum or Drudkh. Once confined to Eastern Europe, these groups are now able to obtain contracts with renowned labels and improve their audience. This is what happened for Khors, a Kharkov native quartet that has just sign a deal with Candlelight Records. For the occasion, the band launched a fifth full-length called Wisdom of Centuries (2012). This album is dedicated to Ukrainian first republic, which was founded 95 years ago and soon after crushed in blood by the Bolsheviks.

I do not know how this commemoration spirit influenced song writing, but Khors members borrowed a much more atmospheric and contemplative path on this new album. This is an important change of artistic direction compared to Return to Abandoned (2010), their previous album, marked by several bouts of brute force. This time, no less than four tracks are strictly instrumentals (including an introduction and a conclusion) and rely on a misty keyboard-generated music and distortion-free guitar. As for the other songs, I noticed that their construction and rhythms are really close to Finnish Melodeath practiced by groups like Catamenia or Kalmah, with catchy melodies and sequences. Developing a constant exchange between keyboards shaping the atmosphere and guitars that add roughness, songs Black Forest’s Flaming Eyes and The Only Time Will Take It Away adopt an epic and grandiose posture, but in the album second half, tempo slows down more, especially on title track.

It seems pretty obvious that the band seeks to give luster, majesty, to a record so important for their career. By choosing to emphasize a particularly tragic historical theme for their country, members of Khors probably manifest their desire to act as ambassadors for their nation. However, Wisdom of Centuries is not up to this ambition. The few good songs to be found are insufficient to dispel a general impression that the band had not pushed too much its talent or originality. Despite some nice effects and quick magical moments, the result is very thin and does not permit to fully appreciate band’s potential. 6/10

Asaru – From the Chasms of Oblivion

The very existence of many black metal bands is definitely not a long and quiet river. Through numerous line-up changes, multiple parallel projects and other adventures, maintain a coherent artistic vision (and motivation to continue) implies a titanic effort. The fate of German band Asaru is quite exemplary. Founded in Hesse during the 1990s, it experienced a promising career debut despite intense line-up modifications, which slowed its progression. In addition, Frank Nordmann, band founder, was also Agathodaimon’s guitarist and vocalist, whose reputation also flourished during this period. This first turbulent era ends in 2007 with the relocation of Nordmann in Oslo, despite Asaru’s recording of its first full-lenght, that was not released then.

It’s finally ARTicaz that launched Dead Eyes Still See two years later, when Nordmann decided to reform Asaru with new musicians. Now nestled in the lap of Schwarzdorn production, the trio rages again this year with From the Chasms of Oblivion. Beware: heavy stuff ahead.

Swedish black metal influence on Asaru’s music is totally obvious and encrusts every song. Compositions inevitably evoke this characteristic blend of black and melodic death that made Dissection such a legendary band. Thus, through rough songs comparable to Dark Funeral and Hypocrisy early work, there are numerous harmonic passages, which develop a more accessible dimension, brief moments of respite in the hurricane’s eye. However, heart of the album is based on a speed / brutality combo, particularly on The Eyes of the Dead, Fortapt I Dødens Favn and Bonds Beyond Time and its classy thrashy riffs. Production is also well-rounded and weighty, which highlights the band’s practiced style.

Nevertheless, I regret an approach maybe a little too cautious adopted by Asaru for its song writing. Even remarkably well constructed and interpreted, their songs lack a little something that a man like Jon Nödtveidt managed to give to its compositions, which gave them a unique feeling. But I’m maybe too demanding.

Anyone who appreciates music tacking between black and death metal borders will be admirably pleased by this album. Effective, direct, while remaining accessible, From the Chasms of Oblivion proves that a chaotic journey does not necessarily alter a group’s creative potential. 7/10

Satanic Bloodspraying – At the Mercy of Satan

What a contrast! After having repeatedly listened a really demanding album, reviewed earlier this week, I throw an ear on Bolivian band Satanic Bloodspraying first release. Subtlety and finesse are crucified on At the Mercy of Satan, a ridiculously short "long play" – just twenty-four minutes – but with a fierce aggressiveness. Faithful to the enduring reputation of South American bands, the two members of this mysterious group (consisting of The Animal Pervertor and The Connoisieur of Death) unleash a direct and brutal satanic black metal.

For some reason beyond me, I got the vinyl version (with digital transfer). This allows me to get an analog coated feeling, punctuated many fine scratches that remind me of my younger years. Except that this album is very different that those Disney narratives I listened when I was six years old! This is Draining Blood which opens hostilities with a title that pastiche of a Slayer classic, a group that shares many similarities with Satanic Bloodspraying. Martial rhythm heard on this one is very close to 1980s trash and especially, late 1970s American hardcore punk, whose influence is reflected in song writing and song lengths. Short and direct, these are uniquevocal hymns to the devil, without any possible ambiguity. Titles like Satanik Skullfuck, Necro Dominatrix or Wrath of Baal are blatent evidences! I am also surprised by the recording quality, usually a weak point of South American releases. Mixing is also impeccable and gives edge to all their songs.

It would probably have been better if this album appeared in an EP format rather than a full-length, even if it does not change the heard outcome. Couple of more songs would have given me a better idea of ​​the band’s capabilities and potential. I hope now that it we will not wait too long before another blasphemy! 6/10

Spectral Lore – Sentinel

Black metal music is usually fairly straightforward and linear, close to rock and punk spirit. However, some artists choose to push the boundaries of this style by incorporating psychedelic and contemporary music elements in it. Obtained result is often confusing, even cacophonous. Some groups however, manage to stand out and gain fan respect thanks to their work quality, even though countless listenings are needed to properly enter into such hermetic musical universe. So it is with caution that I discovered Spectral Lore, a Greek band whose sole member was kind enough to send me his latest album called Sentinel.

From the outset, avant-garde character of this recording jumps to the ears. Harmonic structures deployed by its author are very complex, relying on an aggressiveness that sometimes reminds Deathspell Omega material, especially on All Devouring Earth, which opens the album. Rest of it, however, depends much more on disheveled atmospheres development, made of sketches linked with disjointed rhythmic patterns, sometimes without any apparent continuity.

Despite this, and although I’m not particularly enamored of such a style, I can recognize quality work. A real concern is given to song writing, which goes beyond simple collage. The author manages to incorporate more accessible elements to his music, including song called The Coming of Age, which offers a respite with good riffs and a more homogeneous environment. But I still feel compelled to admit that I never managed to finish the last piece of the album, instrumental and endless Atlus (A World Within A World), whose atmospheric thirty minutes almost made fell asleep.

It’s difficult to assign an overall rating to such a work. Sentinel reminds me author theory, addressing a specific audience, eager for novelty and seeking new forms of intellectual stimulation. Most black metal aficionados who prefer a more direct music will surly skip their turn with this record. Therefore, you may enter the world of Spectral Lore with all necessary precautions. You have been warned. (6/10)

Exterminas – Seventh Demoniacal Hierarchy

For many young musicians, gates of hell open with black metal hymns uttered once by early Norwegian scene tenors. Trying to act like Euronymous or Fenriz, these little rascals write their first songs reproducing revered patterns found on 1990s cult albums. It’s almost a rite of passage, but only a few of these infernal troubadours manage to give a truly personal touch to a music copied a thousand times. It is therefore with great conviction that the young Italian band Exterminas begins its artistic career with an album drawing its source deep into the second wave of Norwegian black metal.

Admit at the outset that Seventh Demoniacal Hierarchy does nothing to disrupt orthodox black metal particularly rigid frameworks. It has however several qualities on which we can argue. First, I noted a very good song writing effort. Listeners are offered solid songs, populated with catchy riffs, especially on War Hymn, best title on the album. It’s also interesting to underline the care taken to change register for each songs. Thus, When All Becomes Nothing is more depressing, Demigod and the title track are fast and rhythmic, and A New Beginning starts slowly and grows with a strong doom influence.

As for the general atmosphere, it certainly resembles Darkthrone early efforts, but without this lo-fi sound that could discourage the less passionate. The group opts instead for a quality dry mix, evoking especially 1980s thrash metal.

Launching a first album is a band’s major life event. Members of the latter certainly do not want to miss their shot, sometimes resulting in additional song writing caution, thus trivializing music. Exterminas avoids this pitfall and gives us a very good first impression with a traditional black metal record, of course, but made with an undeniable passion. 7/10

Chapel – Satan’s Rock n Roll

The sun burns my skin, already carved by wind and mileage. My hands firmly grab a 1500cc monster’s handlebars. The noise is deafening and terrifies all good people who look at me with horror. My leather jacket is frayed, stained with the blood of my enemies. I have no destination, I drive straight ahead.

This magnificent vision is imposed on while listening to Chapel first album, beautifully titled Satan’s Rock n Roll. Mötorhead fans, this record is for you. This Vancouver trio offers us thirty minutes of dirty and surly hard rock, crossed with black and thrash metal elements. Pure biker music.

After a short organ introduction, Rock ‘N Roll From Hell tumbles at full speed with a rhythmic drawn from a heavy rock manual. This goes on with titles like Satan’s Rock n Roll, Motorcult or Alcoholocaust. Lyrical themes are all fully assumed clichés. Drink, drive and fuck, and not always in that order. The whole is very well done and must be appreciated as a guilty pleasure. Even my own microscopic car seemed to get bigger when the album was playing.

However, this music originality is nonexistent. Legends like Sodom, Venom or AC / DC covered everything in that register for over thirty years. Even today, new bands – such as Chrome Division – are trying to carve out a place in this decibel, sweat and vomit universe. Is it relevant to add another one?

I do not believe that Chapel members care about that kind of considerations, which are more related to a jaded reporter’s work. Satan’s Rock n Roll (2012) is still fun to listen, even though nothing can replace my old records. Well, why not play Aces of Spades? Let’s roll, baby! 6/10

Angmar – Cénotaphe (Lost Tracks)

Normandy is a region rich in legends of all kinds. Always been inhabited by farmers and sailors, it combines land and water within the same imagination, fed by a long and rich history open to wonders. This universe is the source of countless works by artists who fully identify themselves to this Norman heritage. This is the case for Angmar, a Caen’s band, which is launching a third album called Cénotaphe (Lost Tracks).

This trio’s music is inspired by black/Viking metal earliest representatives, like Enslaved and – especially – Bathory. Covering Shores in Flames, first released on Hammerheart (1990), to conclude is not an accident and its presence on the album even seems self-evident. Original compositions of Angmar however, are ruder and faster – more Black Metal – than those written by Quorthon during his Viking period. Rythmic is well-varied and maintained throughout the album, thanks to excellent bass lines, a rarity in this dark metal noisy universe. However, guitars are leading the game. They are layered on Ulfr, or acoustically introducing Madder Mortem. Every epic atmosphere is established through a succession of high notes, interpreted in loop by a lead, coupled with a rhythm guitar.

Lyrics are written exclusively in French and they reminded me some Quebec bands, such as Monarque, with words harshly howled but still perfectly understandable. However, I maliciously noted that Angmar’s vocalist does not have the same ease with English pronunciation, as one can easily hear on the Bathory cover.

I am pleasantly surprised by Cénotaphe (Lost Tracks), released by a band I never knew it even existed. Without revolutionizing the art of composition, songs are well written and manage to capture listener’s interest, while respecting most pagan black metal codes. A furore Normannorum, libera nos dominates! 7/10

Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine

Some established bands sometimes choose to borrow a stylistic path on which we would least expect them. This is a gamble, especially in the small conservative world of black metal. But this kind of considerations is certainly not annoying Blake Judd and his gang. Nachtmystium, Illinois-band founded twelve years ago, practiced earlier in its career a hyper orthodox Darkthrone-type black metal. However, since the Instinct: Decay album, one can see first changes. We discovered new industrial and psychedelic, which were then fully developed in the “pinkfloydish” diptych "Black Meddle”: Assassins in 2008 and Addicts in 2010. This merger between several musical universes is disconcerting and leads some fans (including your host) to believe that the band had no interest left for black metal. Well, this presumption is challenged by Silencing Machine.

The band does not return to its roots with this sixth album, but still offers a more accessible content than the schizoid delusions found on both Black Meddle. The foundations established right from Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem are revealing: electronic and industrial sounds are coating other instruments without denaturing them. There is echo on title track, sampling on I Wait in Hell and many keyboard passages but heart of the album relies more on atmospheres and moods that are not artificially produced. Music is more organic, rich, floating on anger and anguish feelings. Also note a strong Rock influence, particularly evident on Decimation, Annihilation or the excellent Give Me the Grave and its catchy chorus, which seem straight out of an old Mötorhead record.

Did Nachtmystium members step back, after having launched two perplexing albums? It would be odd for this band. For several years, it traced its own path, regardless of momentary trends. Silencing Machine, without being a major work, remains a very good and accessible album. It sensitively amalgamates every ingredient the band tried so far in its career. 7/10

Deiphago – Satan Alpha Omega

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a serious and widespread behavioral problem. Appearing in childhood, its symptoms are concentration difficulties, extreme agitation, even aggressivity. Not adequately treated, ADHD can have important consequences for teenagers and adults, such as socio affective disorders, emotional instability and chronic bouts of spontaneous violence. This brief clinical description beautifully illustrates Deiphago’s music. Originating for the Philippines, now relocated to Costa Rica, this band exists since the late 1980s, leaded by Sidapa ans Voltaire 666 (!). Inspired particularly by Hellhammer, Sarcófago and Beherit, it vomits a music belonging to war bestial black / death crap metal register, a subgenre I hate with a passion, as it gets on my nerves everytime I dare listen to it.

Despite a long career marked by numerous publications, Satan Alpha Omega (2012) is only the band’s third full-length. True to their favorite style, members of this diabolical orchestra swing music you would swear written by someone with an extreme form of hyperactivity (or struck by a seizure while taking amphetamines). After a short introduction, Human Race Absolute End tumbles at full speed in all directions at once. Impossible to distinguish any structure at all, as the band increases rhythmic patterns and breakdowns for more than thirty minutes. Guitar sound is fat, drums are wielded by a madman and vocalist seems perpetually out of breath. Only a children’s party held in a McDonalds could partly reproduce the aggression feeling that the listener experiences by enduring this album. After a dozen listens, I am therefore ready for intravenous Ritalin.

War black metal enthusiasts will be delighted by this album, which meets all codes of the genre. However, its rough and primitive aspects confirm my aversion for this style. I am fully aware that black metal is an extreme and brutal music, but I’m still expecting more from its artisans than an improvised musical nonsense. But then, it’s probably an horizon that members of Deiphago will ever fail to overcome. 3/10

The Howling Wind – Of Babalon

The relatively small American black metal realm has been shaken for some time by internal stylistic feuds. Growing popularity of iconoclastic bands (some would say "hipsters"), such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Liturgy or Bosse-de-Nage, is utterly displeasing defenders of the more traditional and aggressive United States black metal, also called USBM. However, these little Byzantine quarrels are not preventing certain groups to launch very good album, while staying true to their origins. This is evidenced by The Howling Wind with a flawless third album called Of Babalon. Resulting of a joint work of two experienced musicians (Tim Call on drums and Ryan Lipynsky on guitar and vocals) this reocrd manages to offer a pleasant synthesis American black metal, peppered with numerous references to most late 1980’s classics.

The main quality of this record is definitely its execution density, which jumps to the ears right from the start. In fact, no instrument really takes control over others, giving the listener an envelopment sensation. Beginning with The Seal Upon the Tomb, we are literally immersed in the purposely created album’s universe. The band develops strong and looping harmonic structures, sometimes grafted with solos or blasts. Note also the excellent song writing work of these Americans, who manage to differentiate each of their songs, while maintaining the same overall feeling. Listen, for example, a song like Grail, heavy and hard like a ton of bricks, or Scaling the Walls, with its melancholic atmosphere built on treble notes. Rest of the album is alike: we never get bored! This is a feat for orthodox black metal, a register known for its numerous ‘one-endlessy-repeated-riff’ albums.

Inspired by Hellhammer / Celtic Frost early albums for moods and rhythms (particularly evident on Choronzon), The Howling Wind released an excellent album, reminding me the work of such bands like Mgła. It’s also impressive to find out that a style so worn like orthodox black metal, once placed in talented musicians hands, can still be so good and creative. Of Babalon is undoubtedly one of the best U.S 2012 releases and I urge you to lend an ear on it. Now. 8/10

Cataplexy – Devangelight

We are at the heart of a northern forest. It’s a full moon night. Snow covers the ground, wind sweeps trees. In the air, we can hear torned screams, together with a furious music… a Scandinavian black metal band is howling its hatred and … what? What you say? Cataplexy is a Japanese band? Well … uh … good. It is therefore with some surprise that I learn this group’s origin. After all, it’s a band that shares most of the stylistic features of a 1990′s Norwegian group! It has not always been so. Founded twenty years ago, this Osaka quartet first played death metal and launched some demos, before taking a ten years long break. It was then reactivated in the mid-2000s, adopted a raw black metal sound and Devangelight is its second full-lenght.

Forget keyboards and other innovations: Cataplexy interprets a quality orthodox black metal. Anyone listening to Taake, Darkthrone and other perky groups is in familiar ground. Initially skeptical before this umpteenth tribute to dark metal founders, I admit I was pleasantly surprised by song writing skills displayed in almost every song. However, interest in these do not depend on their originality (non-existent) but in their general atmosphere, which reproduces quite closely what we can find on most Scandinavian classics. Band manages to surf with talent on the unstoppable second wave of Norwegian black metal, aligning strong songs that never sink into monotony or plagiarism. Rhythms are generally fast, backed by a nervous playing guitar, very focused on treble. Like their colleagues from the other end of the world, this group develops dark and desperate atmospheres, marked by great violence. The assault ends with the excellent and epic Lifelessdawn, which leaves us with a good general impression.

Still, I deplore the complete acculturation of Cataplexy’s members, which could have add a touch of sake to an already sooooo exploited style. All fifty minutee of Devangelight demonstrate that those four samurais have perfectly mastered fjords country’s obscure hymns. Perhaps too well… time will tell us if these Japanese troubadours will be more than just another Darkthrone’s cover band. 6/10

Blackhorned / Hak-Ed Damm – Execrated

It is notorious that I am not particularly fond of split-CDs. These promotional items usually contain too little original content to attract my attention. However, when a local group appears on such publication, I typically agree to throw an ear on it. Thus I obtain Execrated, a split between Hak-Ed Damm and Blackhorned. While the first group is from my hometown and plays a convenient ultra brutal black metal, the second is Danish and officiates more in a creepy black thrash metal register. This joint publication, launched when the Quebec band experienced a temporary hiatus, offers eight pieces (four each) but very little new material…

Hak-Ed Damm starts hostilities with a song that bears their name and already appeared on their only album, Nekrowristfucked. It includes most sound characteristic of the band, marked by a drumming worthy of a hyperactive epileptic and very good bass lines. My interest, however, rests on Drain the Pigs, only new song on this split. It is solid and well made, peharps missing some teeth but bodes the best for a possible second album. Quebec portion of the split ends with a rehearsal recording of T-34 and a Marduk cover live extract, a non-surprising choice, given the many stylistic similarities existing between the two groups. The live recording, raw and aggressive, gives a good idea of ​​the band’s scenic potential and their "PANZER, VORWÄRTS!" attitude.

I was curious to hear Blackhorned’s portion of the split, a group that I enjoy for many years. However, I am extremely disappointed to learn that all four songs available on Execrated are the same that can be on the same In a Swarm of Flaming Shadows, an EP launched just last year! Promotional aspect of this decision freezes my enthusiasm, to say the least. Still emphasize that all four titles are a band’s register perfect fit, that is to say a black thrash crossing Scandinavian 1990s bands and German 1980s thrash. It’s raw, dirty and sweaty, but I would have liked to hear new material.

Purpose of a split-CD is to provide some visibility to bands, between the releases of two full-lengths. Execrated meets this mandate by disseminating music for two very good underground bands. However, my bias against this format of music distribution emerges reinforced. One exclusive song on eight tracks? It is very little … Fully reusing contents of an EP launched just months before? it’s pointless … outside of that context related to split production and label shenanigans, content is still worth it and will satisfy those who want to learn more Blackhorned and Hak-Ed Damm without necessarily acquire all their previous releases. 5/10

Aldaaron – Suprême Silence

French Alps Capital, Grenoble is a city whose history runs for millennia, all the way back to Gauls. Located at the foot of huge plateaus, between Vercors and Chartreuse, its landscapes are breathtaking and always inspired artists. It’s with these premises in mind that we need to address French band Aldaaron, originating from Isère. Strongly inspired by Immortal and Taake (also referring to the Ice Witch, well known in our cold regions), the quartet offers us a good cold black metal with their second album called Suprême Silence. Listening to it allows us to almost feel the gusts of wind that sweep the frozen snow-capped peaks. In this summer marked by endless heat wave, that’s more than welcome.

Working in the fairly saturated pagan black metal registry, Aldaaron beautifully stands out with this excellent album. Effective from beginning to end, band takes us on an epic trek starting gently with Renegade, with an acoustic guitar intro accompanied by a slight breeze, before throwing blasts and decibels. Moods are built with high notes guitar arpeggios, supported by a second guitar and a solid drumming. Keyboards are used to add atmospheric elements, but never take precedence over other instruments. Title track is the best example, with its vaporous introduction, followed by a long harmonic – often brutal – development. However, beyond these more technical aspects, it is the interpretation that gives this album its truly special touch. One experiences an emergency, anger too often absent in many groups of dark metal. This gives the songs a dirty side, almost wild, which is perfect for this musical style. I think it’s also important to note that all texts are written in French only, a fairly rare phenomenon among our illustrious cousins, which generally choose English. This gives the songs a more authentic aspect to anyone who shares our wonderful language.

Discover a talented group is unquestionably one of the things I like most about my endless quest at the edges of the black metal continent. I admit I was pleasantly surprised by an album unearthed almost by chance. Suprême Silence, which ends with howling blizzards reminiscent of the Alps, takes the listener into a careless and cold world without any mercy. You have been warned. 8/10

Morbid Execution – Vulgar Darkness

Glorious past mythologizing is a particularly common phenomenon among black metal fans and musicians. This usually results in a narrow artistic conservatism, under cover of homage. This thought comes to mind when listening to Polish band Morbid Execution’s album. Its members belong to the European underground for several years, multiplying split-CDs and other demos, (also in Throneum) but Vulgar Darkness is their first full-length. Their desire to remain faithful to dark metal tradition is obvious, but the result is frankly disappointing. Absolutely everything on this record exudes laziness, from the horrible cover – probably scrawled on a restaurant place mat – right to the soft compositions and their soulless interpretation.

I do not know why some musicians still believe that being "Old School" means producing mediocre music.  1980s bands went beyond boundaries of their epoch’s metal. Although they had limited resources, had horrific recording quality and not-so-refined song writing, but in the context of their times, they innovated. Twenty-five years later, this music continues to inspire many groups who add their own twist, modernizing and a common heritage. Some succeed, other fail, as Morbid Execution. Despite repeated listenings, I cannot identify any interesting elements or catchy riffs in Vulgar Darkness. However, I did find a collection of rhythms heard a thousand times, asthenic tempos and threadbare themes.

Nothing I hate more than listening to an album with the lingering impression that its performers do not provide the necessary effort to obtain a quality final product. Founded ten years ago, Morbid Execution is an experienced band whose musical and aesthetic choices are matured since a long time. However, they rely on the form rather than substance, with a minimalist reading of black metal roots, resulting in a bad debut album, marked by an apparent lack of effort or creativity. 3/10

Silent Soul – Reliques EP

Summer is a miserable season. The sun – the eternal enemy – recklessly burns skin exposed to its deadly rays. Stifling heat makes traveling intolerable. But, most extreme displeasure, average people seems to appreciate this situation. To find comfort, a black metal aficionado has little option. He can either migrate to Qasigiannguit (Greenland) or take refuge in a cool and dark basement to listen to its favorite music. It is during one of those days that I choose to listen latest French band Silent Soul’s EP. This choice is not accidental: this one-man band established in Limousin is practicing an extremely cold and murky depressive black metal. Its ultra-confidential distribution (fifty copies in an exotic format), Reliques (2012) should help cool the atmosphere and – if possible – the temperature.

My enthusiasm is usually not very high for little obscure publications with a questionable production, but I admit I enjoyed listening to this four songs EP. Summer context probably helps. With a cavernous sound, it provides us with tidbits of depressive black metal, without ever becoming monotonous, a scourge in this sub-genre populated by psychiatric patients. We find interesting harmonic structures on each songs, which are accompanied by traditional voice that evokes torn evisceration of a wolf during full moon. Special mention to the song Futur Profond, whose riffs made me stomp (!) right from first listen. All remains cold, unhealthy and deeply depressing, a perfect fit for an EP belonging to such a register.

Of course, not everything is perfect on this EP. The drums / guitar couple is not always in sync and similarities with countless other DSBM bands are extremely numerous. By charity, I will not comment the cover, probably made by a young singer-songwriter’s cousin. However, if you are fans of this register and are looking for rare releases, Reliques should fully satisfy you. 6/10

Todestriebe – Scream, Pray, Beg

Thirty-something black metal interpreters typically feel a certain nostalgia for thrash metal, one of the first styles they listened during their teenage years. Raw energy released by this music, its juvenile nihilism and its legendary anthems have permeated an indelible seal on an entire generation of musicians. So it’s no surprise that many black metal bands are clearly inspired by this kind of music for their own compositions. Exploiting this fertile ground, Moscow-based Todestriebe launches its first album called Scream, Pray, Beg (2012), which undoubtedly recalls some 1980s great classics, merged with ferocious and uncompromising black metal.

More than two years were needed to produce this first record, which however only lasts about thirty minutes (including an atmospheric introduction and conclusion). While it would have probably been cleaver to launch this release as an EP, its content deserves some attention. Powerful right from the start, songs take strength over the album’s course. True to thrash spirit, titles are short, full of big riffs and filled with testosterone, without neglecting the epicness and grandeur of traditional black metal. Song writing effort is pretty good ans results in great melodies, but and many passages are fully designed to destroy any given neck. Fuck With Darkness and Christian Slut – best songs on the album – are shining examples of this: it is pretty easy to conceive a monstrous mosh pit during their live interpretation.

Todestriebe is carving itself a small place in European underground, as evidenced by their participation to the prestigious Carpathian Alliance Metal Festival 2012, and other similar events in Russia and Ukraine. Unfortunately a bit too short, Scream, Pray, Beg could still allow them to consolidate this position and to catch some serious labels’ attention. I suggest you explore this album by wearing your old patch jacket with a big beer in hand. It will surely bring back lots of memories if you are an old fuck like me. 7/10

Heimat – Heem

My interest in black metal has some unexpected collateral benefits. For example, it allows me to expand my linguistic horizons, incorporating a large number of foreign words. This is how I learn meaning of the German word "Heimat", which roughly means "home" and more generally, a community, a culture and a nation membership. This history-bond word is also name of Flanders band which is launching a second album called Heem. This title may well cause again some misunderstandings, since heme is a molecular component of hemoglobin, responsible for oxygen blood circulation. Hmm. Soil and blood combination has a rather haevy historical responsibility. Lets investigate.

Musically, Heimat offers a traditional black metal , holding good riffs, recalling some genre’s great classics. Heem is their second album, released four years after Sibbevader. Most lyrical themes covered on these two records are promoting intransigent nationalism. Is it right-wing black metal? I’ll let you be judge of that.

Oerlug ("war" in Dutch) opens this new album and very quickly, band installs its sound landmarks. Guitar takes a metallic based more on a treble register. There are, however along the way (a constant throughout the album) good thrash inspired passages, that drive the song and give it strength. This is even more evident on Bezieling, a song clearly inspired by German thrash metal bands. Album changes tone with Kamp, much closer to the Scandinavian black metal, especially Darkthrone, undoubtedly a band’s major inspiration. But what I like most about this album are undoubtedly every sequences between introductions and developments of each song. Band takes its time to create a mood before unleashing quick riffs. Best evidence of this claim is on Hier Ons Bloed with its mid-tempo intro, its thrashy main air and its more ambient passages. As a result, it gives an excellent song.

I am not particularly fond of bands that use black metal for political purposes, but I can put that aside in order to concentrate myself on music. Heem is a very good album, even if not revolutionizing anything in terms of style. It allows the amateur to spend some good time listening well written songs, solidly played. This is, in my opinion, all that matters. 7/10

Deathspell Omega – Drought EP

Growing reputation of French band Deathspell Omega attracts masses of curious, but their artistic universe is particularly difficult to penetrate because of an uncompromising avant-gardism that can repels off the uninitiated. From album to album, this band based in Poitiers pushes black metal boundaries by emphasizing on complex harmonic constructions and hermetic lyrical themes. Chaotic and fascinating, Paracletus album crowned the trio as major act of contemporary dark metal. Accustomed to numerous publications, DSO returns this year with a six songs EP called Drought.

Starting with the instrumental Salowe Vision, band creates a cozy atmosphere with a light guitar chords and a gentle air composition . The title however gathers pace on its way and introduces Fiery Serpents, a characteristic DSO repertoire song: lavish, baroque and launched in all directions, but always supported by an aggressiveness that is never feigned. These dimensions are constants in the band’s work, always surprising amateurs with quality song writing and contemporary music influences it reveals. Scorpions & Drought continues the delirium without any real break, with even more emphasis on rapid and highly complex sequences. Impossible to remain indifferent to such a skill and dementia display. Very short with its minute thirty-six, Sand serves as a bridge and pave the way for Abrasive Swirling Murk, which plunges the listener into a cleverly concocted maelstrom, determined to erase the unwary who venture into this world. Mesmerizing at times, this very good song gives way to an instrumental conclusion called The Crackled Book of Life. We sometimes seem to hear musicians jam, improvising in the studio, without referring to written scores.

To properly assess a Deathspell Omega release, you must agree to be destabilized or even shaken by a disturbing music and Drought is no exception to this rule. Unfortunately too short, this EP does not allow to be totally immersed in the group’s madness wormhole, but it opens a door for anyone looking to broaden his musical horizons. 8/10

Dantalion – Return to Deep Lethargy

Human mind suffering occupies a prominent place in black metal repertoire, as to have allowed the emergence of a psychiatric problems’ dedicated subgenre. Depressive suicidal black metal (also known by its acronym DSBM) is populated by a plethora of groups that try to musically reproduce certain of the most common mental illnesses’ characteristics. Most of these bands rely on an extremely dense song writing technique, deploying multiple layers of guitars, saturating everything with distortion, with vocals recalling pig castration. Artistically limited, DSBM still has led to the emergence of a few bands able to go beyond usual clichés of this subgenre, drawing inspiration from other metal styles. The amateur will spontaneously think of Shining and Forgotten Tomb, but he will now have to add Dantalion to his list.

Return to Deep Lethargy is the fourth album from this Galicia band that, despite its eight years of existence, has never been fully recognized or appreciated. Effort put on this album may be able to remedy this situation. This quartet’s music is a softer form of black metal, mixed with doom, suggesting melancholic and despaired atmospheres. This aspect is highlighted on Lethargy and Pain, a song that opens the album. Its general structure is set on a few riffs interpreted in loops and played at medium speed, but heart of this tune is based on shorter and slower passages, where guitar treble is echoing Sanguinist scorched voice. Stylistic similarities with Katatonia are here perfectly transparent, Dantalion even covering Murder (which can be found on the Swedish horde’s second album). Both bands also share same lyrical elements. However, the Spanish quartet differs from its illustrious colleagues with a rougher sound and a much more aggressive voice.

Rest of the album, however, demonstrates why Dantalion is slow to emerge. Songs like Until My Time Comes or The Arrival of Silence are well written and performed, but suffer from a certain lack of originality. It is hard to identify the brand of the group, something that would really distinguish it from its fellows. Part of the answer may be on Ode to Nothingness, with its remarkable introduction? There is certainly something there that can be dig.

It is too early to comment Dantalion’s future and what kind of impact – if any – this fourth album will on its career, but I just hope that this very good album will help its members escape from shade, thereby encouraging them to assert themselves and to develop further. 7/10

Der Weg Einer Freheit – Unstille

Only a handful of black metal bands have managed, over the years, to captivate me right from the beginning of their careers and Germany’s Der Weg Einer Freheit fall into this category. Their 2009 self-titled album gave me a strong impression because of an extremely effective bold combination of delicate introductions and martial rhythmic. However, excessive song homogeneity and use of drum programming were particularly annoying on this first record. Fortunately, they adjusted that for Agony EP, with the hiring of a percussionist and a better song writing effort. The group is back again this year with the release of a second album called Unstille, who must demonstrate that these Bavarians are not a vulgar wildfire.

The beautiful and atmospheric intro, Zeichen immediately indicates most aesthetic choices made by the group. After a few seconds of hazy reverie, a powerful and frenzied drum sound fills the space, well supported by an ambiance-developing guitar which plays sequences of high notes interpreted in fast picking. This is both harsh and beautiful, like in previous releases. Another characteristic element can be found on longer pieces, which are interspersed with clean guitar passages, accompanied by a simple bass line. These moments provide a break between two outbursts, while instilling a nostalgic (almost melancholic) dimension, yet in songs marked by great violence. It is however Lichtmensch that wins the prize for the most aggressive song on the album, with a popping sound and a drum kit that leaves no respite for the listener. This is pure Teutonic black metal. An instrumental song called Nachtsam then calms our heated enthusiasm with its mid-tempo rythm, but Zu Grunde and Vergängnis bring us back in Hell with their alliance of anger and despair, musically brilliantly transposed. The album closes with Zerfall, a long piece that recalls the opening track with its collage of purely atmospheric passages and other extremely aggressive sequences. Beautiful riffs populate this song, definitely a highlight of this excellent disc.

Again, Der Weg Einer Freheit trio unleashes an almost flawless album that manages to marry the most wonderful emotions with a raw and uncompromising black metal. Even if you do not know this band, get Unstille. It will make you appreciate even more quality dark metal, a rare commodity in this era of abundance and mediocrity. 8/10

Kvlt of Hiob – Thy Kingly Mask

As curtain rises, a priest orders a young woman to recite one "Our Father". From the first words uttered by the latter, he began to whip her mercilessly, until she passed out. Thus begins Thy Kingly Mask (2012), first album of a brand new German formation called Kvlt of Hiob. Inspired by the cruelty – even madness – of Christianity, the band (whose name itself recalls suffering inflicted by God, "Hiob" meaning "Job" in German) offers an album that shakes and disturbs because of its musical and and aesthetic choices. Very close in shape to orthodox black metal sub genre, Deathkvlt Prayer (instruments) and Human Antithesis (voice) do not hesitate to incorporate several avant-garde elements in their compositions, recalling – especially – Deathspell Omega, both for music and words.

Obtained result is very interesting. The Lords Prayer, with its violent introduction, sets the tone. The group piles up the riffs, backed by excellent drumming. The voice comes in several tracks, echoing each other, alternating between evil possessed screams and cries of pain. The black mass continues with Witches Wine, whose kinship with some older Blut Aus Nord titles is quite evident, especially in every transitions between slow and aggressive passages. With Sacrament, the band reveals another facet of its personality, by focusing this time on a scary atmosphere, where rapid and linear orchestration sometimes yields its place to lamentations and obscure incantations. This trend continues with The Monk, a short interlude which causes some surprise because of its partial French interpretation. Again, Procession of the Burning Eyes first minutes are rather experimental and rely on a confused atmosphere, before being let loose with a furious pace. New interlude, Ultima Tempestas illustrates torture administered to a screaming church victim, then Abominations of the Earth follows with a not really convincing mid-tempo air. Last full title, Theos repeats the formula already used on the first songs, crossing furious passages and declamatory moments. It all ends with a short epilogue and a bonus track called The Beholder, which would have deserved to end up earlier in the album.

This first disc of Kvlt Hiob is a pleasant surprise. Despite some imperfections (some laps, too many interludes), the entire work is interesting and suggests the best for this duo founded in 2010. An album to discover, with a whip in his right hand and a Bible in the left. 7/10

Kråke – Conquering Death

We all, one day, bought something because of an attractive packaging or a catchy advertising, finally realizing that the product thus obtained was quite banal. It’s what I felt while listening Conquering Death (2012), first album of the Norwegian band Kråke (which means “crow” in Nynorsk). A strong promotional effort surrounds this record, the label being set loose on dithyrambs in its press releases. The coating itself is also very attractive, with a nice booklet and a remarkable attention to details in everything that surrounds the group’s image. But I’m only interested in content. And therein lies the rub.

The Kopervik quintet (on the island of Karmøy in the Rogaland) performs symphonic black metal approaching much of the foremost bands rampant in this declining subgenre. Dimmu Borgir’s influence on Kråke’s music is extremely transparent to anyone that even vaguely heard albums like Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (1997) or Spiritual Black Dimensions (1999). Moods, grandiose and epic, are keyboard generated while the other instruments add the necessary “metal” dimension with – sometimes – more aggressive passages. Production is solid; musicians are in perfect control, but songwriting is utterly bland. And A Colder Breed, second song after a short introduction, was declined in every way imaginable by countless Shagrath followers. It was innovative fifteen years ago, but now we are in 2012. Even after numerous listenings, I still can not identify something that could distinguish this album from hundreds of others that constitute the neverending stream of symphonic black metal. I’m probably jaded or too harsh, but listening to this record gives me the same satisfaction as to observe a number painting. It can be pretty, it is none the less a copy.

I am surprised that Indie Recordings, a great Norwegian label, promotes such a band, which differs in nothing from its many colleagues. Kråke members must imperatively work harder to improve their writing in order to create anything but obsolete and outdated recipes, unless they want to end up like Dimmu Borgir, a tasteless group who sacrificed originality for an ephemeral popularity. 5/10

Wrathprayer – The Sun of Moloch: The Sublimation of Sulphur’s Essence Which Spawned Death and Life

South American black metal is not known for its subtlety and the Chilean band Wrathprayer seems to put a point of honor to confirm this prejudice. After six years of existence and two demos, these brutes from Rancagua finally launch a first full-lenght, simply titled The Sun of Moloch: The Sublimation of Sulphur’s Essence Which Spawned Death and Life (2012). Hmm. I’ll be perfectly honest: even before a first listen, I was about to demolish this release, which presents all the characteristics that I love hate. This band plays war / bestial black metal, like other nullities known as Proclamation or Anal Blasphemy. This usually means a really crappy sound and laughable songwriting. Furthermore, distribution of the album is provided by the American label Nuclear War Now! Productions, which specializes in everything I despise in the black metal realm. Yet despite these premises, the result is not so bad.

From the outset, Wrathprayer reveals its intentions with In Visceribus Bestiae: it will be heavy and nasty. Forget symphonic or stylistic niceties. It is forty minutes of fat and filthy black / death hell that are swung unceremoniously to listeners. We can almost feel a guilty pleasure listening to such songs. They hold no refinement, none of the new avant-garde who abound in the world of black metal, particularly in Scandinavia and France. This is direct and prehistoric! Songs like The Darkest Fyre or Sun of Moloch are perfect examples, while avoiding the trap of being too much linear, real plague of this black metal sub-genre. However, production is too muffled and it would have been greater if clearer, even more blatant. It sometimes feels like being in a cave, which is perhaps an effect sought by the three australopithecines, which form the band.

Repeated listening of this album leaves me in a strange paradoxical situation, to say the least. First, all my prejudices against Latin American black metal are confirmed, but on the other hand, this finding does not alter the relative pleasure I had discovering Wrathprayer debut album. I guess thant, deep inside any dark metal fan, even among those who boast some sophistication, there is a bully who likes war cries. 6/10

Merrimack – The Acausal Mass

In all honesty, I felt uncomfortable listening to Merrimack’s new album, the most Swedish of all French bands. Several reasons motivated this discomfort. I passionately hated Grey Rigorism (2009), their previous album. Slow and sticky, it was inspired by a particularly annoying form of black metal developed – especially – by Ondskapt. It was a turn for the least expected, given the musical history of this Parisian quintet which were rather officiating in a fast, brutal and uncompromising register. Their first demos and their first two albums were pure hatred manifests, hence my disappointment three years ago. In addition, the group was almost entirely renewed in 2010, Perversifier (guitars) now playing with four new associates. It is therefore with several questions in mind that I begin the many listenings necessary for a fair evaluation of The Acausal Mass (2012).

The first fifty seconds of the album, materialized by Vestals of Descending Light, are an answering attempt offered by the band. It tumbles at full speed, with a frantic rhythm, as if the members of Merrimack sought to convey a message to anyone (including your host) who doubted their artistic choices. However, this first flash is not followed by proper results. From the second title, Arousing Wombs In Nine Angels Pleroma, the group switches again to a slower tempo that rarely takes off, causing a sharp stylistic break with the introduction. The rest of the album follows that pattern. The songs are built around average riffs, both for speed and inspiration. Some blasts are sprinkled here and there, but the heart of this album consists of heavy and murky atmospheres, particularly clear on Hypophanie. Finally, we note the lackluster vocal performance of Vestal (replacing Terrorizt) whose screams lack of bite and aggression.

This album is not devoid of qualities. The recording, made in famous Stockholm’s Necromorbus Studio, is excellent, despite a rather bland mix. The compositions are also – still – most dynamic and diverse than on the previous album (which is not a great feat). But I always expect better results from dark metal veterans, who spread their malicious hymns for as long as Merrimack. The Acausal Mass is undoubtedly a transition album for the band, which now has a brand new line-up. So let’s wish them a certain stability, which I hope will result in better inspiration and originality. 6/10

Brume d’Automne – Brume d’Automne

Hard not to be seduced by an album that starts with a resounding "BATÈCHE"! This ancient curse, once popularized by the poet Gaston Miron, is also part of my own repertoire for years, but its presence as an opening of a black metal disc may seem incongruous… but not on a Brume d’Automne album (which already uttered a brutal "tabarnak" on Le sacrifice des paysans guerriers). Founded in 2003, this group is the “metal noir Québécois” pioneer, a movement that combines extreme music and patriotism. After a rather successful first album (Fiers et Victorieux, 2005), many fans believed the Québec duo plunged into a deep sleep, only two splits being launched five years apart (2005 with Teutates and 2010 with Monarque). It is therefore with some surprise that I learn the release of a new self-titled album produced by Sepulchral Productions.

Much water has flowed under the bridge for seven years, but Athros (Fortress, Ur Falc’h) and Nordet (Ur Falc’h) do not care and continue where Fiers et Victorieux stopped. Their back their Finnish-inspired black metal dipped in Québécois vitriol. Le temps des béliers sets the tone from the outset with its speed and agressivity. The guitar is marked by a playing style that relies heavily on treble, while the voice is a real possessed howl tearing eardrums with all the force of his anger. However, something prevents a full appreciation of this music. I do not know if this is the capture or the mix that is to blame, but drumming is a recurrent weakness on the album. Playing is excellent, but toms give the impression of being hollowed or muffled, limiting power and scope of the instrument. Maybe is it an aesthetic choice made by the band, but the result is unconvincing.

Apart from that, members of Brume d’Automne demonstrate their know-how with well constructed songs, never tiresome, alternating traditional hymns-inspired passages and more furious ones. L’esprit du courant is probably the best example, with its changing rhythms, its pace and its epic, martial-style conclusion. The album closes with Quand Les Corbeaux Crient Leur Haine, an acoustic interlude song punctuated by a short jig air. If traditional music fans wanted to dust off their repertoire, this song would be appropriate!

This self-titled album, despite seven long years that separates it from its predecessor, shows that Brume d’Automne has lost none of his fighting spirit and is a must Quebec black metal ambassador. In conclusion, the group also inserts a famous phrase uttered by René Lévesque on the evening of the referendum defeat of 1980 ("If I have understood you correctly …"), a note of hope, so maybe we can expect not having to wait so long before enjoying a new album. 7/10

Dråpsnatt – Skelepht

Decidedly, Frostcald Records crew was quite busy last spring! This Russian small label specialized in very cold metal recently launched in quick succession three excellent albums. I recently reviewed lasts records of both Nordvrede and Domgård, but I focus today on the Swedish Dråpsnatt’s third album entitled Skelepht (2012). It is nevertheless a fairly abrupt change of musical register, as this duo from the very northern town of Skellefteå offers us a much more melodic music than their label colleagues.

The universe deployed by Narstrand and Vinterfader borrows many elements that were gradually established since 1990 by Sverd and Hellhammer from Arcturus. Right from the start, Meningslösheten illustrates this characteristic amalgam between the vaporous atmosphere generated by keyboards and aggressive but melodic black metal, with a deliciously shrilled voice. This is particularly evident on the title track, which could appear on Aspera Hiems Symfonia (1996)! Dråpsnatt’s range of influences widens however with Tonerna Till Vårt Slut, reminiscent of some early Enslaved records and its soaring epic melodies, while the lovely acoustic Echec refers to the early albums of Dimmu Borgir. But beyond these aesthetic similarities, a fact remains. The group knows how to make the best of all references that underlie their own work, and manages to forge an identity that sweat on its compositions. The songs offered on this album are fun, diverse and go beyond the usual clichés and excesses of melodic black metal. They combine perfectly smooth and aggressive aspects, especially on tracks like Förruttnelsens Hypostaser and Valan, who maintain at all times the listener’s interest along very catchy pathways. Concluding the album, Intigheten however reminds us what Dråpsnatt favorite band is, resemblances with Arcturus being here completely assumed.

Skelepht is a beautiful album that provides great auditory sensations. I was even surprised to listen to it just before going to bed, like I used to do with The Infernal Masquerade (1997) and The Sham Mirrors (2002), probably not a coincidence. This is an excellent choice for anyone who loves high-quality melodic black metal, performed by musicians in full control of their art. 8/10

Entartung – Krypteia

Since the advent of WEB, fans and columnists have access to phenomenal communication facilities, completely changing the research for music. Formerly, to find poorly distributed albums, you had to buy costly imports or else settle for poor cassette copies. Now, we must make a rather tedious sorting among all available publications, obtained legally or not. This is a frustrating exercise, which brings the amateur to get stuck in the swamp of mediocre productions. This sad fact is however tempered by the occasional and fortuitous discovery of great bands or quality albums. It’s kind of what happens when I put my ears on Krypteia (2012), debut album of the German horde Entartung.

I discover, from the first notes of Flucht in die Finsternis, a band in full possession of its faculties, who plays heavily inspired Eastern Europe (Ukraine, in particular) kind of black metal. The songs are built around a few riffs that develop an atmosphere that is both epic and melancholic. Faster, Der Sieg der Vergänglichkeit remember some Drudkh songs, with its fast picking and its hushed. We can also perceive large Scandinavian influences on almost every titles. Thus, Über die Grenzen des Todes has elements (drums, vocals) clearly borrowed from a group such as Sargeist. The album takes a more contemplative and ambient turn with Drie Milliarden Herzschläge, sober and mid-tempo, but goes again with Boreas, Gott der Nordwinde and its epic pagan coating which evokes a frenzied stampede. It’s Wenn die Jagd beginnt (Christenverfolgung) which concludes the album. With nine minutes, it is also his longest title. Punctuated by great saturated guitar passages, alternating with bass solo and male choral singing, this song presents a good synthesis of this Germanic horde’s creative potential.

We know little about Entartung, a group that has no official website and whose members are unknown. But one thing is certain, they are not beginners. Their first album demonstrates easily their extensive knowledge of black metal and qualities as interpreters. Krypteia is clearly not revolutionizing anything, but it offers very good music, a rarity in this age of convenience where anyone can flood the web with its poor and uninteresting creations. 7/10

Árstíðir Lífsins – Vápna lækjar eldr

Iceland is a harsh land, washed by the sea, covered by fog and burned by its many volcanoes. Inhabited since the ninth century by Scandinavian settlers, his story becomes a myth. First told by wandering scald, the island origin’s story is gradually transcribed in what would become the sagas, also known as Edda, shaped in the thirteenth century. These documents, real literacy monuments of medieval Europe, are a unique source to establish Icelandic chronology, but also to address the rich Scandinavian mythology, ubiquitous in these texts. However, romantic rereading performed by German authors in the nineteenth century transformed the popular perception of the sagas; they are now analyzed through the distorting prisms of Viking epic journey and Norse gods’ pantheon. Hoping to get closer to these difficult writings, many researchers are continuing, for fifty years, scientific studies that aim to extract the Edda from its wrong popular perception. This is for the same reason that the Icelandic-Germanic band Árstíðir Lífsins was born in 2008.

Artistic method of this band is quite special: the music surrounds some very specific sagas’ narrated extracts, sung in Old Icelandic. The first album, Jötunheima dolgferð (2010) outlined most aesthetic choices made by the group, who plays a pagan black metal full of ambient and folk elements. Lyrics are screamed, but are also clearly told in a language that Latin-friendly ears have no chance to understand. After two years of work, Árstíðir Lífsins ten members, scattered across Europe, launched Vápna lækjar eldr (2012).

From the outset, we note the group’s determination to continue its journey on the historic trails The Land of Fire and Ice. But beyond a strict and meticulous scientific linguistic work, this album is in all respects a true work of art. Firstly, note the beautiful cover, decorated with a complex runic engraving, and then highlight the album format, a richly illustrated book, where disk is embedded in his lapel. However, these premises would be meaningless if the musical content was poor or boring. This is not the case.

The rich composition’s sound jumps to the ears right from the start, with Friggjar faðmbyggvir er mér falinn ("My husband is gone"), which shows the amazing amount of work done upstream of the recording. Band relies on harmonic structures that coat the texts, but without neglecting the orchestration. It cleverly crosses rock and classical instruments, generating sometimes brutal moods, but often ethereal and contemplative ones. Pagan black metal fans are on familiar ground here, but Árstíðir Lífsins is truly using all possible resources of this style, alternating yelled passages with clear vocals, backing vocals and natural sounds. What emerges from this album are several feelings that evolve into the story: a deep melancholy, a sadness, particularly on Frá þögn Rauma grund hefr þessi ætt komið ("From the silence of the woodlands this family came ") and Mjök erum tregt tungu (" My tongue is lethargic "); anger from the clash of arms, particularly with Samkoma um sumar var sett á Þingeyri (" A meeting was to Þingeyri "); Hope on the closing song Fjörbann var mér alltaf við hlið er ófriðr kom upp ("Death was always by my side when problems arose in those days"). The band manages to bring the listener into its world through a complete artistic experience.

Rarely an album as long (more than seventy minutes) gave me such a strong impression, which increased over listenings. Yet the challenge was significant: sagas are belonging to European literacy heritage, but Vápna lækjar eldr manages to give life and music to these centuries’ old stories. I urge you to lend them an ear now and get carried away on the roads of Iceland’s origins. 9/10

Pseudogod – Deathwomb Catechesis

Black metal bands raging in the heart of Holy Russia steppes are usually known for their distinct lack of subtlety and Pseudogod is doing everything to confirm this impression. Active since 2004, this quartet from Perm, a town at the foot of the Ural Mountains, is launching a debut album worthy of the name, after several split-CD and other demos. Deathwomb Catechesis (2012) is a pure brutality manifest, bordering black and death Metal, strongly inspired by early 1990s Finnish scene. It’s bold, heavy and nasty.

Hostilities start with Vehement Decimation, which crushes the listener with an avalanche of decibels. Fast and aggressive, this piece sets the tone for the entire album. The group does not bother with the details and the onslaught continues unabated – and with virtually the same structure – on Malignant Spears. Similarities with Beherit are here totally assumed. I had several times the impression of being immersed in the murky world of Drawing Down the Moon (1993), undoubtedly a major inspiration for Pseudogod. The war continues with Saturnalia (Night of the Return …) and Azazel, but the tempo slows down (briefly) on The Antichrist Victory. This is a false hope for the weak: Necromancy of the Iron Darkness plunges into hell those who survived until then. Little surprise then with a song with a Spanish title. Encarnación del Mal is probably a nod to the Andalusia scene, where flourish many bestial black metal bands. The forty minutes of this scathing attack end with The Triangular Phosphorescence, which starts with a clumsy pace, before concluding at full speed, like the previous seven pieces.

Deathwomb Catechesis will inevitably delight all ballsy and dirty black metal fans. I hate groups usually plaguing the bestial dark metal register, but loyalty to the work of Beherit (they share the same label since 2010) that make me like Pseudogod immediately. This is a successful tribute that hits hard a nail that needs to be violently crushed. 7/10

Carach Angren – Where the Corpses Sink Forever

Symphonic black metal knows its heyday at the turn of the millennium. Some bands are at the height of their popularity; they fill concert rooms, headline festivals and sell more records than any other black metal band before them. However, this infatuation runs out of steam a few years later. The fad passed, despite the emergence of hundreds of new groups that were hoping to take a bite into the black pie. Today, only a handful of formations proudly claim the epithet of "symphonic", meaning now an amalgamation of classical music and black metal… and Dutch group Carach Angren is clearly one of them. With a new contract with French label Season of Mist, Namtar, Seregor and Ardek propose a third album entitled Where the Corpses Sink Forever (2012), undoubtedly the most ambitious of their young career.

After repeated listenings, something becomes clear. This album pushes the “symphonic style” beyond its widely accepted boundaries, getting it much closer to Wagnerian opera. This type of opera is based on a non-rhymed verse sung narratives of fantastic stories, with music in support and use of leitmotif musical patterns to define characters. ThisLimburgis indeed proposing unsettling music for anyone expecting to hear a Dimmu Borgir ersatz. From the outset, Lingering In an Imprint Haunting is determining the main features of the album. This song is a collage of several sequences that blend with the text, the latter being the true pillar in the heart of each song. The lyrical frame rests on an extremely gloomy and fantastic narrative, whose action takes place during several war episodes. This is a descent into the depths of hell and madness. It includes scenes of massacres, suicide and evil intervention. Also, lyrics are not organized under a verse/chorus mode, but rather as a declaimed text that recounts various episodes in different songs. The booklet is therefore essential for anyone who wants to fully understand this album and its lyrical concepts.

As for the musical sequences, they are often rich and complex, giving headache to listeners who want to immerse themselves in this stifling universe. Most songs are indeed regularly interspersed with passages that come to disrupt the course (piano extract on The Funerary Dirge of a Violinist is the best example). Mixes between rough sounding black metal and classical parts are very successful, giving lustre to an album that goes beyond standard black metal and recalls the symphonic style glory days of.

A full appreciation of this album requires many attentive listenings, booklet in hand … like at the opera. With Where the Corpses Sink Forever, Carach Angren provides us a magnificent album, both for lyrics and music, based on an enormous composition and writing effort. I once thought that symphonic black metal had exhausted all its resources and finally sank into mediocrity. I was wrong. 8/10

Sorcier des Glaces / Monarque – Split

It’s pretty rare that I listen to split-CDs, these products that bring together several band for an essentially promotional purpose. Too often, the artists found on these releases are extremely different and offer low-quality songs that could not make their way to the full-lengths. Nonetheless I let myself be persuaded to throw an ear to the most recent split launched by Quebec bands Sorcier des Glaces and Monarque, I’ve known for several years, which come from the same region and share many stylistic affinities.

It is the wizard that opens hostilities with Macabre Sunset Over the Northland, a typical song of its register. Developing a cold but melodic ambiance, this song is inspired by Norwegian best second wave compositions, a true golden age that celebrates our magician since 1998. Just to be sure that everyone understands that reverence, second song is a Darkthrone cover of A Blaze In The Northern Sky, from the eponym album. Pretty safe choice, the version offered on the split is true in substance, but it lacks that rough and lo-fi aspect which gives its charm to the original. It’s still nice to hear this song well recorded and performed with talent. But it’s Unholy Path to Immortality that holds my attention, with its introduction reminiscent of Windir. Well structured throughout its nine minutes, with beautiful melodies, this song is in my opinion an interesting development for the sorcerer, who expands his sonic palette and style. It’s The (Night) Throne which concludes the Sorcier des Glaces portion of the split. This is actually Snowland (1998) last tune revised and corrected. Without being exceptional, it remains interesting because of the atmosphere developed, which recalls the early albums of Emperor. However, the recent reissue of fully re-recorded Snowland (2012) – which of course includes The (Night) Throne – makes the presence of this song on the split far less relevant.

Monarque takes over with Le feu et le sang, a song played live (only available on the Under the Black Sun 2011 concert bootleg tape) which offers a lesser-known facet of the group. Dense, fast, sustained by a rough production, it opens the door to an epic environment that evokes certain moods developed by Enslaved at the very beginning of their career. Note the excellent drumming offered by Bardunor, who masters the different rhythmic changes and gives the boot to this song. Éloge de la malveillance, already available on a precedent EP, is much closer to that what Monarque already done with Ad Nauseam (2009). Cold, hard and strongly distorted, it has several outbursts that dive into the Norwegian heritage, close to certain works of Mayhem, Burzum, even Ulver for some acoustic and ambient passages. The last song of this split disappoints me. Not because of its interpretation, but rather the lack of originality in its choice. You must admit that selecting Bathory’s song Sacrifice is not particularly innovative. Monarque plays it by the numbers, but damn! This song has already been covered by dozens of Black Metal bands in the last twenty-five years! Why not take a risk and select a more obscure title, more loyal to the black butterfly usual register? Mystery.

This split CD is still a pleasant surprise. Apart from the covers, songs found there show a certain evolution in the style practiced by twoQuebeclocal scene pillars, an opening to other influences. This is very encouraging and reassuring for the amateur who is looking forward to new full-lengths. 7/10

Eternity – Pestiferous Hymns Rev. I-I-XXXIII

It is remarkable that after all these years of listening to black metal, I am still discovering groups whose career dates back to the 1990s. This is the case of Eternity, aThuringiaband that spreads evil music for almost twenty years and counting! For my defence, I note that their epic discography really begins in 2004 with the release of a first long-play, after ten years of demos and other split-CDs. But I remain honest, I knew nothing about the band before getting my hands on Pestiferous Hymns – Rev. II-XXXIII (2012), whose title explicitly refers to an Apocalypse passage, book two, verse twenty-three ("And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. ")

Album starts pretty well. Down to the Southern Abyss remembers Watain’s firsts songs, with riffs and atmosphere, but the sauce spoils fromTempleofFlesh. The slow and boring air of this song immediately breaks the momentum developed with the first title. These six minutes seem twice as long and I get the habit of skipping the tune … Like 1000 Suns is a better song, though pretty classical in form. However, …of Satan’s Blood … is the album’s centerpiece. Catchy and well written, it is also – oddly – the shortest song. Too bad this vein is not further exploited. There was something interesting. Reborn Through the Flame (Against the Creation) is a rather ordinary song, but it’s Waiting in the Abyss that catches my ear from the first listen: I am absolutely sure I have heard its intro somewhere. After a persistent search, I found! This is a true copy of The Wanderer first riffs, an instrumental song that closes Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1997). This founding shocks me. Tribute? Plagiarism? Black Clouds on a Psychic Horizon ends the album with a slow, desperate atmosphere and a judicious use of keyboards and classical instruments.

Border between homage and plagiarism is strictly thin and porous. Eternity members can hardly argue that they did not know the song they copied, the latter belonging to one of the greatest dark metal classic. Even apart from this, pestiferous Hymns – Rev. II-XXXIII remains an average album. It contains some good ideas, but poorly exploited, which is surprising from a band with so many years of experience. It is perhaps normal that I have never heard of them before today. 5/10

Tortorum – Extinctionist

Is it possible that a place holds any dark power that can influence behaviour of some of its inhabitants? This question comes spontaneously to mind when listening to Tortorum debut album, a band founded in 2010 in Bergen (Norway), a city which gave birth to countless black metal bands. These have indeed developed a very particular musical aesthetic, which rubbed off heavily on Extinctionist (2012). What is even more funny is that the only permanent members of the band are not even Norwegians (Skyggen is Polish, while Barghest is English). Our two fellows are still displaying a fair amount of experience, as they are also members of other groups, such as Spearhead, Dead To This World and Aeternus, but their first album is firmly rooted in Bergen’s common heritage.

This evidence jumps to the ears from Aeonscourge, opening track, which borrows its ambience from Taake’s musical universe. But Immortal remains unquestionably Tortorum’s main influence. Many songs, sequences of or even riffs are evoking Abbath and Demonaz career’s second half, particularly on Kindling the World Conflagration, that you would swear having it heard first on Sons of Northern Darkness (2002). Despite all references observed – audible only for a black metal maniac – the proposed outcome remains interesting. Titles like Fucking Worthless and Mother Infirmity, inspired by Gorgoroth’s first records, are dry, raw, and hit directly on target. Quality of the whole is undeniable, recording and mixing are both excellent, but anyone looking for some originality in substance may pass.

The rich Bergen black metal tradition inspired yet another band that released an album like so many others. I remain puzzled, however: do obscure metal artists who live and compose in this region can overcome its past history? Can they write music that was not inspired by their illustrious predecessors? Tortorum members should perhaps think on these issues, to eventually provide a more original product. 7/10

Wargoatcult – Pentaprotokhaos

Before evaluating a new record, I like to learn about his author. Some biographical and geographical elements are indeed revealing about the nature of what my headphones will soon throw to my ears. This step of my work can be seen as a protection against avoidable mediocrity aggression. But I sometimes lack of vigilance. In a rare act of faith (or a moment of distraction, I do not know) I choose to listen to the latest release of the Spanish band Wargoatcult, without previously get some info about it. Rookie mistake. This one-man band has indeed all the features that I normally seek to avoid. Founded just five years ago, it already has five demos, seven splits, a compilation and two albums! This kind of diarrheic production occurs often at the expense of quality. This phenomenon is confirmed again with Pentaprotokhaos (2012).

Title track offered at the outset sets the tone. This is an extremely linear music with a flat recording, bordering bestial black metal, a sub-genre I especially abhor. But it is the drumming sound that annoys immediately anyone who dares to listen. Damn! Does Necrotomb (single member) drum on skin or on empty pots? I did not know that this incessant TAC-TAC-TAC could be produced by a real drum. Even computer programming works best. It goes on like this for an incredibly long thirty minutes. All nine songs on the album sound alike, without raising anything other than boredom or irritation. I can’t stand more than three listening, even though I usually listen at least ten times each record I wish to review. My sanity worth more to me than this album.

Once again, a black metal album causes my misunderstanding. Not because of its complexity, but rather to his poverty. Pentaprotokhaos contains virtually no interesting riff; drums sound like an iron cow bell and the voice is muffled and turned into an inaudible grunt. Thirty-three minutes lost, again. Next time, I’d be more careful in selecting my reviewed albums, I promise. 3/10

Domgård – Myrkviðr

In the early 2000s, most members of the Swedish band Domgård experienced the joys of prison after committing some church arson in their native region. Once freed, they came back to music and adopted a style very similar to Emperor; which at least two members were also gasoline jerry can adepts in the 1990s, before spending as well some time in a two-by-three meters cell. Coincidence? Who knows… So after a first album released in 2010, the band led by Grim Vindkall returns with a second effort called Myrkviðr (2012).

From the outset, we perceive several similarities between Domgård and most well-known symphonic/melodic black metal bands from the late 1990s. This album has a cold vibe, often lugubrious (a characteristic Ihsahn’s band firsts records) while remaining very rhythmic and harmonic. The opening track sets the tone, with its languid keyboard, over which guitars alternate between fast parts and more epic ones, during which Vindkall’s voice becomes declamatory. Nattsvart Urkraft is more direct and aggressive, with finely coated thrash passages that make you want to tap your foot, while Förhäxad Av Likmarors Kall rather recalls the works of Taake, with its fast picking introduction and its old school atmosphere. It goes on like this. The compositions are solid and well executed, like De Underjordiska and its Windir style, or the instrumental Skymningsfärd Gravmyr and its magnificent guitar opening. Domgård is also strongly inspired by nature. Indeed, extracts of howling wolves or northerly winds can be heard throughout the album, which sometimes gives the listener the impression of walking through a dark forest at midnight. Just a word about the production: solid but drum sounds a little bit muffled. It could have been mixed better.

Despite a strong "honor-the-best-Scandinavian-bands" impression, Myrkviðr remains an interesting album. Writing is really well-done, with no filler or dead moments. Unless you are jaded or very difficult, Domgård allows the amateur to have a pleasant time, with the feeling of revisiting som black metal classics. 7/10

Marduk – Serpent Sermon

Few extreme bands can manage to renew themselves artistically over the course of their careers, and those who try are often judged harshly by fans. Yet this is the risky bet that Marduk, the well respected Swedish band, did by firing their charismatic vocalist Legion and replacing him with Mortuus, also leader of Funeral Mist. The effect of this change was not yet apparent with Plague Angel (2004), an album entirely written before the arrival of new vocalist, but was striking with Rom 5:12 (2007), which transformed the sound of these brutes from Norrköping. Integrating the murky and unhealthy world of its new singer, Morgan (guitar and composition) wrote a destabilizing record for anyone following the band since its inception. It was indeed best known for his direct and brutal approach, very close to death metal. Now relying more on moods and atmospheres, while maintaining a very aggressive tempo, the band launched Wormwood (2009), an album that confirmed their new musical direction. So, three years later, after having brought death and desolation in countless tours, Marduk released Snake Sermon (2012).

The album begins with the title track and its catchy chorus. This is a nice introduction, well composed and accessible, which will surely be fully appreciate live. Short and direct, Messianic Pestilence follows immediately and recalls the heyday of the most brutal albums of the group. It knocks to hurt! Souls for Belial, first song released as a single, is itself a pure product of the Mortuus era. After a groaning introduction, a deluge of decibels smashes the eardrums. Generally blasted, this song also has slower passages, during which the singer recites his words with his inimitable gravelly voice. This is undoubtedly the best track on the disc. The journey continues with Into Second Death, which relies on a fast rhythm, but groovy, like hard rock played at full speed, giving a very interesting result, rather rare in the band’s discography. The atmosphere becomes heavy and the tempo slows with Temple of Decay, dark and desperate song that marks – in my opinion – a turning point in the album. Indeed, Damnation’s Gold is a tune a bit too long and without rhythm, which lowers the interest of the listener. Faster, Hail Mary (Piss-soaked genuflection) can raise a little ear, but it does not stand MAMMON, poorly written and syncopated song that deviates too much from the usual efficiency of Marduk. Gospel of the Worm still straightens the bar with the effectiveness of its boisterous rhythm section. The concluding parts, World of Blades and Coram Satanae (bonus track), both built on a mid-tempo air, are unable to calm down my questions about this album.

Started fast, Serpent Sermon runs out of steam at mid-term, resting progressively on average songs, considering the high standards set by the band itself. Only a few tunes manage to really rise my enthusiasm, all others simply scratch my mind when listened absently. This thirteenth album from Marduk is not a disappointment, but it is not a great vintage. 7/10

Mgła – With Hearts Toward None

Poland is a welcoming place for black metal bands, found – surprisingly – in abundance in this haven of conservative catholicism. Emerged from the early 1990s, the local dark metal scene is indeed in an enviable position on the European scene, with many influential leaders and their followers. Nevertheless, acting in the shadows are several groups of high quality that should be discovered and Mgła (unpronounceable name in English that means “fog”) belongs to this circle. Founded in early 2000 by Mikolaj Żentara, it was not until 2005 that the group began recording. Indeed, Żentara is also the leader of Kriegsmaschine, a trio dedicated to a more raw and aggressive black metal. This is not the path taken by Mgła and With Hearts Toward None (2012) constitutes new evidence.

This second album is structured around fast rhythm and – especially – harmonic loops endlessly repeated during the same song. We’re getting closer here much of what bands like Darkthrone favored at the dawn of the 1990s. The seven tracks of this album are so organized around a few carefully chosen and repeated guitar riffs, giving a dense, homogeneous impression. The rhythmic section is in turn the key to my interest in this group. It’s really the couple bass / drums that give real power to the songs, while the guitar establishes patterns. It is rare that I focus on the lyrics, but those of Mgła intrigue me. It contains numerous references to decadence, nihilism and chaos, spewed out by a voice with a sepulchral effect on it, which adds a sinister dimension that appeals to me.

With Hearts Toward None is a very good album, which emphasizes on traditional black metal atmospheres, well broken down by an excellent job of composition. It might be possible to detect a certain redundancy from a song to another, but it is not harmful to a full-length that has obvious qualities. 7/10

Enthral – Obtenebrate

There is, in the world of black metal, as in any other extreme musical movement, bands who experience long eclipses. Reality is catching up because these musicians can’t devote themselves fully to their art and must earn their life. This is probably a situation experienced by members of the Norwegian band Enthral, who are launching their first album in nine years (the fourth since 1995, plus a demo in 2006 and an EP in 2010). Is Obtenebrate (2012) marks the final resurrection of the group and its ascent to the zenith?

Well, I would not go that far. Admittedly, this album has some qualities. The atmosphere it creates is dark and murky, the interpretation is good and the style practiced is modern and not locked in a backward-looking vision of the Norwegian black metal. However, the biggest problem observed on this record is based on the confusing artistic choices made by the group. Song writing seems hesitant and it creates a malaise for the amateur. Rhythms are constantly switching between sticky mid-tempo and faster parts, but with no clear patterns or directions. Clearly, we do not know which path is trying to take Enthral with this album. Songs like The Gospel of Woe, the Sepulchre or Tomb Within recalls the style practiced by the Swedes of Ondskapt, built on a scary atmosphere revealed by a slow and arrhythmic guitar playing, while the Never On to The 7th Wave and more direct and aggressive. But overall, what bugs me the most about this record is the irrepressible feeling that I have heard it a thousand times before.

Some bands may gain great benefit from long hiatuses; each band members are developing other projects which, in return, enrich the collective work. However, I do not think this is the case for Enthral, which offers us a tasteless album. Obtenebrate is not bad, it is simply banal, which – I think – is perhaps even worse. 5/10

Watain – Opus Diaboli DVD/CD/LP

Few bands can better meet the collectors’ need than the Swedes of Watain. Already in 2010, they launched a limited edition of their album Lawless Darkness, offered in a beautiful wooden book – with an engraved leather cover – and many extras (flags, candles, medallions, tarot card). Well, these Scandinavians recur, this time for the release of their first DVD called Opus Diaboli (2012). Stressing the thirteen year history of the group, it offers a performance given by Watain in Stockholm to celebrate the event. But there is more…

Available in a thousand copies, the special edition DVD has an impressive number of bonuses of all kinds. The box (whose dimensions recall the best of vinyl years) itself is magnificent, featuring on its cover the wolf and the trident – symbols of the band – surrounded by flames on a black background. Opening this object is almost a ceremony in itself. It includes vinyl (2) and CD (2) versions of the Stockholm concert, with an astounding recording quality. I do not have the necessary equipment to enjoy the vinyl, but I promise myself to fix this. In addition to the DVD itself (unfortunately only available in PAL with the box), we find postcards announcing the release of the album, a numerated authentication form signed by the group (damn! I have number 667) and a large book of photographs and drawings that traces the band’s history from its beginnings to its most recent tours.

The DVD is a surprise. Rather than just presenting the show, Watain invites us to an Odyssey to the edges of their world. The songs are interspersed with many passages of occult spoken words, and selected pieces of an interview with Erik Danielsson, singer and black soul of the band. He tells many interesting things about the group, its symbols, its objectives and its philosophy. The concert extracts are amazing for themselves. Literally surrounded by flames, devoured by the ubiquity of the red color, the group delivers their unique black metal to an enthusiastic, although passive, crowd. Song selection gives, of course, a larger part to Lawless Darkness, but the other albums are all represented as well. No DVD bonuses to report, but the Box Set is full of them already.

Audio recording is also very successful. The sound reaches an impressive level of power, so hard that it sometimes masks the solos! More traditional in their unfolding, the CDs offer us the show without interruption, with a few surprises, including the interpretation of A Fine Day To Die, the great Bathory classic (although I would have expected a cover of Dissection). This hour and some spent with Watain reminds us how this band excels on stage.

More than just an audio/video captured show, these LP / CD / DVD allow us to closely approach a major contemporary black metal band at the pinnacle of its career, which manages to offer collectibles of high quality, without selling its soul with it. 9/10

Blodhemn – Holmengraa

Norwegian city of Bergen has a rich cultural and historical tradition. Located in the heart of a beautiful fjord, it amazes the curious looking for beautiful landscapes. Yet, only very clever people could guess that this city is also home to the largest concentration of black metal bands from all over Scandinavia. The seven misty mountains that surround the capital of Hordaland indeed seem to have a real evil power that influences the youth of a city where it rains almost three hundred days a year. It is in this ancient Viking city that legendary bands are emerging in the 1990s, such as Immortal, Burzum and Gorgoroth. And this tradition continues with a newcomer, the group Blodhemn, proud heir of all of these illustrious predecessors, which launches this month his first album called Holmengraa (2012) on Indie Recordings.

The obvious struck me from the first listen: Invisus, leader and sole permanent member of Blodhemn, is without a doubt the legitimate spiritual son of another major figure in the Bergen black metal scene, Ørjan Stedjeberg (aka. Hoest), charismatic founder of Taake. The artistic approach of these two men is virtually the same for both song writing and lyrics (in Norwegian only). Sometimes I even wonder if I’m not listening rather Bjoergvin … (2002) or Hordalands Doedskvad (2005). Holmengraa is however more than a trivial substitute. The tribute to the work of Hoest and his cronies is evident, but done with talent.

After an ambient introduction called Galgebakken, the song Rettersted demonstrates the seriousness of the group. It relies on solid black metal, Norwegian to the end of decibels. The compositions are built around repetitive passages, cut by very good riffs and rhythm that give this special touch, cold, hard and eerie, an almost trademark feature found on albums made by Taake. This is followed by a series of titles that demonstrate an exceptional maturity for a composer who makes his debut album. I Djevelen Menneskeform is trashy with a very catchy air, while Thingvellir is blacker, darker. Maanelyst in turn could be found on any album from Taake without anyone noticing. The album closes with Telehiv, crescendo shaped, culminating in a good rhythm and great guitar sound. To conclude the record, the group takes pleasure in playing Black Horizons, taken from the debut album of Dissection.

It is interesting to note that history and tradition, so dear to the inhabitants of Bergen, is also transposed into music that it carries. With his debut album, Blodhemn draws on sources of black metal from his native region, with an obvious respect for this precious heritage. Going far beyond simple plagiarism, Holmengraa proposes instead a synthesis of the best of what metal produced in the dark land of the fjords can offer. A great discovery, a band to watch. 8/10

Reverence – The Asthenic Ascension

French black metal is alive and well. Several of its bands manage to carve out an interesting place in a community primarily controlled by the Scandinavians. We can thus name Otargos, Glorior Belli or Peste Noire among the most famous group, but in recent years, it is the French avant-garde who made more headlines. Led by Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega, this style combines aggression and atmosphere, throughout albums sometimes very difficult to appreciate for non-initiates. Complex, dark, and focusing on particularly obscure lyrical themes, these groups deliberately destabilize the average amateur. However, he can fall back to another French avant-garde band easier to approach, called Reverence. Founded in 1998, this trio from the country of the Loire has just released a fourth album called The Asthenic Ascension (2012).

The style of the group clearly belongs to the avant-garde, combining accesses of sheer brutality, ambient moments, industrial sounds and a general mysterious and occult atmosphere. However, the new album’s songs are much more accessible than the last opuses of the groups mentioned above (ex. Paracletus of Deathspell Omega). More homogeneous and linear, they penetrate more easily into the listener’s mind. A mid-tempo rhythm is used as a common thread on most tracks, which does not exclude some furious passages, as on Psalm IV and Darwin’s Black Hall, the fastest song of this album. But it is mostly songs such as The Descent, Ghost of Dust or the title track that best illustrate the artistic choices of the group for this record. Slower, they rely on an oppressive atmosphere and unexpected sequences, sometimes spiced with references to industrial music. Note also the lovely instrumental and Genesis of Everything; we could believe it came straight out of Lord of the Rings.

With this album, Reverence is looking for an audience hungry for cutting-edge sounds, while remaining accessible to those repelled by too overtly cacophonous music. Despite the inevitable comparisons with records launched by fellow and most notorious countrymen, The Ascension Asthenic can fully satisfy a demanding audience. 7/10

Saccage – Death Crust Satanique

Saccage - Death Crust Satanique (2012)You’re a hateful anarchist or a full patch tattooed biker? Looking for an album to accompany your festive shenanigans? Let me suggest something that suits this need: Death Crust Satanique, a record that admirably bears its name. Unleashed by Quebec City’s band Saccage, it offers thirty minutes of an explosive black / death / crust punk mixture, served raw and without any precaution. This is the musical equivalent of receiving a 2×4 blow to the head.

It tumbles at full speed right from Mötorcrust, whose name pastiche Mötorhead, an undeniable band’s top influence. Album’s production is thoroughly solid and performers deploy a contagious energy. Impossible not to imagine driving a muscle car at full speed, with a beer between legs and a gun in the glove box, while radio blasts at full power! True to punk spirit, songs are short (averaging two or three minutes) and totally unsubtle. When songs are called Jump le train pour l’Enfer (“Jump in Hell’s Train”), Criss toé dans l’pit pour Satan (“Join the Mosh Pit for Satan”) or Hostie de chiennes de l’Enfer (sur l’cuir) (“Fucking Bitches from Hell – on Leather”), ambiguity is impossible.

Result sounds pretty close to Darkthrone ‘punk’ period records. There’s even some political consciousness poetically expressed with Milice Anti-Police Calice (“Anti-Police Militia”), one might find on any Agnostic Front or SOD album, and I defy anyone not to karaoke this song, an asocial hymn that could inspire anarchist activists.

However, a detail surprised me. Production was entrusted to François "Blastbeat ‘Fortin expert hands. It’s is powerful and clear. Perhaps even too much. Indeed, I would have expected a dirtier and raspier realization, more faithful to the punk spirit that transcends the record. It felt like listening to a really heavy and bold death metal album. This is probably an artistic choice made by the band, death metal still being one of their main sources of inspiration.

Anyway, Death Crust Satanique remains a very good album, perfect to brighten up a demolition derby or a blitzkrieg. If you appreciate black metal punched with punk / crossover, you will not be disappointed. 7/10

Catuvolcus – Gergovia

When historical themes invite themselves into the world of black metal, it is usually with Viking exploits and other depredations against triumphant Christianity of the Middle Ages. Much rarer are the bands influenced by events taking place during antiquity. Yet this is the choice made by Catuvolcus, founded in 2007 in the Quebec region called Bois-Francs. The inspiration for this band finds its source in the history of Gaul, depicted from the first demo in 2008 and confirmed by the full-length Vae Victis (2009). After Terre de Sang, an EP released in 2010, PA Plessix (aka. Segomaros) and his cronies come to invade us with a concept album called Gergovia (2012), evoking one of the most famous battles in the Gallic Wars.

This conflict, extremely deadly even by modern standards, has been raging for six years when the Roman legions, led by the illustrious Julius Caesar, laid siege to the Gergovie oppidum, in the heart of the Arverne area. Weakened by the betrayal of an ally, forced to fight in difficult terrain, Caesar must resign himself to break siege, giving the Gauls their biggest win of the entire war. This historical context – briefly summarized – is used as context on the album, which features nine titles (including an acoustic prologue and epilogue) narrating the main events of the battle. The lyrical approach, comprehensive and well delivered by beautiful texts, is accompanied by an impressive work of composition. Indeed, in a concept album – a bit like opera – the music is second to the theme, a challenge that many writers stumble on, but not Plessix. This provides us with songs sometime brutal, often melodic, accompanied by martial rhythm and ambient sounds (rain, wind, rattling of knives, etc.). The listener is immersed in the heart of the battle, which he follows the violent incidents as a spectator. The titles are long, well constructed and based on both epic atmospheres (including some passages with clean singing) and a more strict aggressiveness (like the beautiful Litaviccos). The result is a powerful and consistent album. The interpretation itself is solid, both on guitar and bass (held here by Matrak Tveskaeg of Chasse Galerie). I also grant a special mention to the man in charge of programming the battery, which delivers a highly effective and successful outcome (although I would have preferred to hear a human being rather than a machine).

Gergovia is an excellent album, accessible and well written, which is perhaps a passport to go beyond our narrow geographical boundaries. Renewing the lyrical themes of pagan black metal while exploiting its sounds, Catuvolcus stands and establishes itself as a rising star, who must quickly find a way to express themselves on stage to reach the next level. 8/10

Tulus – Olm og Bitter

The temporary hiatus of the Norwegian band Khold had several consequences, including the creation of Sarke, and the final resurrection of Tulus, already briefly brought back to life a few years ago with Biography Obscene (2007). This Norwegian group made its mark in the 1990s with three albums featuring a melodic black metal heavily tinged with gothicism, but was put on hold a first time in early 2000s, when Blodstrup (aka. Gard) launched Khold. So, what to expect from Olm og Bitter (2012), the first release of Tulus in five years?

First, a word on the ugly cover, reminiscent of the horrors displayed on the 1990s albums, rather than the beautiful illustration used for Biography Obscene. I can not believe that group members were able to endorse this result, which gives a very bad first impression. But let’s focus instead on the music. The songs are short (three minutes on average) written in a style that evokes quite clearly the other projects from this Oslo trio. We are in familiar territory. It starts smoothly from the opening track, Fornemmelse, which installs many tags of the album: it will be fast enough, dotted with thrash and hard rock riffs, accompanied by the inimitable gravelly voice of Blodstrup. The first songs unfold with the same structure alternating blasts with slower parts, except Draugtatt, more mid-tempo. Note the short ambient interlude Nidhevn, which breaks the rhythm of the album and should have normally been put in the intro. The latest songs return to the original formula, without one of them clearly standing out. While not bad, they are perhaps a little too bland. Curiously, which cling most about this album is its acoustic finale, which occupies the last minute of Labyrinth, and offers a moment of poetry before the close. This is an idea to dig for the future.

Olm og Bitter may well be the sixth Khold or the third Sarke album, and no one would notice. This album is missing an identity. It’s more of a compromise between musicians busy with other projects. This is, ultimately, the kind of record that takes the dust once listened a few times. 6/10

Sorcier des Glaces – Monuments Anciens EP

There is no doubt that 2012 is a particularly good year for the most Norwegian Quebec black metal band. Indeed, no fewer than four titles are launched within a few months by the duo of Sorcier des Glaces: a split-CD with Monarque, a re-recording of their debut album Snowland (1998), a new album, Ritual of the End (2012) and an EP, called Monuments Ancients (2012). It is this latest record I’m reviewing today.

Like many fans, I discovered the Sorcerer with his third album, The Puressence of Primitive Forests (2011), which illustrates the style practiced by the group, a Scandinavian-inspired Black Metal, very close in form to the Norwegian second wave. Monuments Ancients is no exception to this trend, quite the contrary. Impossible not to draw parallels with the early Darkthrone albums as the similarities are obvious. First example, the song, Hunger of the Freezing Fog, whose title is a pastiche of three classic Black Metal tunes: Transylvanian Hunger (Darkthrone), Funeral Fog and Freezing Moon (Mayhem). From the musical point of view also, the similarities are striking. The compositions are organized around rhythmic loops favouring cold environments and gloomy atmospheres, which abound in the first four Fenriz and Nocturno Culto albums.

This new EP has seven tracks, two from a 2001 demo. Also note an ambient song (Le royaume des morts) and a conclusion (Slumbering Through the Dark). Interest in this release tape format is thus based on three original songs, that fit into the continuity of the work of the Sorcerer.Production is just enough raspy and highlights the voice of Sébastien Robitaille, the true black soul of the band. The guitar, fast and full, deploys the atmosphere, but the battery is slightly muffled and sounds in the background. One detail, however, bothers me more: the transition from English to French in the same song (a constant on this EP) that interferes with the homogeneous character of the titles and causes a kind of discomfort for the listener who masters the two languages.

In a musical world saturated by more or less successful tributes to the founders of Black Metal, Sorcier des Glaces is distinguished by the quality of its interpretation and stylistic intransigence, but Monuments Ancients is particularly aimed at fans of the group who collect limited editions, with songs that have not been able to make their way into full-lengths. Other fans may wait for the release of next album. 6/10

Naglfar – Téras

Some Scandinavian bands seem to be perpetually in the shadow of their most popular colleagues. This is undeniably the case for Naglfar, a Swedish horde founded in 1992, which proved unable to rank among the great black metal representatives of their country, like Dissection, Marduk or Dark Funeral. Part of this sad fate is probably explained by the intrinsic characteristics of the band’s music. Practicing an average melodic black metal, these rascals from Umeå never succeeded in finding their own unique musical identity that distinguishes them, condemning them to a certain indifference on the part of fans. Five years have passed since the release of Harvest (2007), a long pause that concludes with a new album called Teras (2012). Was the wait was worth it?

Well, yes. Without revolutionizing anything, this new album is in my humble opinion the best by the group up to date. I especially notice a sincere effort at composition, to avoid repetition and ease, which became too evident on previous albums. After an eponymous introduction Pale Horse tumbles at full speed and brutalizes the listener without notice. Fast and built on some very good riffs, this song is really catchy. It continues with Death Dimension Phantasma, again played at full speed, but embellished by melodic passages that make us remain attentive. The Monolith nevertheless is a break in the rhythm, with a mid-tempo that I would have preferred later in the album. Serious matters will resume when An Extension of His Arm and Will and its thrash approach, also used on Bring Out Your Dead. The group does not slow down and the last three songs are also very well written, never give in filling, a fault that I noticed on Harvest and Pariah (2005). The Dying Flame of Existence perfectly concludes this excellent album, with its dark and evil atmosphere.

The five-year break taken by Naglfar pays off. The writing benefits tremendously from it, giving us the right to three-quarters of an hour of great Swedish black metal. A nice surprise from a band from which I was not expecting much. 8/10

Impiety – Ravage & Conquer

I observed for quite a long time that a band’s exotic origin does not guarantee the originality of its music. Strength of Scandinavian black metal seems to force other groups from different geographical horizons to comply with the prevailing style. This is clearly the case for Impiety, even if they were formed more than twenty years ago in the city state of Singapore. Despite a long track record and some international appearances, Shyaithan’s posse is not really known for its musical innovations. Ravage & Conquer (2012), latest release of the band, provides further evidence of this fact.

This Asian trio could indeed come from almost anywhere in the world and we would not perceive any difference. Their black / death / thrash metal with German sauce, full of big riffs and blasts beats, can be heard from Ulaanbaatar to Chibougamau. However, this does not mean that the music of Impiety is devoid of qualities. From the opening track, Revelation Decimation, one is struck by the production’s extreme power. It hits hard and it never slows down. Note also the precision of the interpreters, who are sharp as knives, even in the fastest parts of the album. However, this manifest will to punish listeners’ ears has a less rosy side. The sound mix gives a highly synthetic result, especially on drums, with a far too obvious triggering. Unquestionably, the band did a monstrous studio work, but neglected the spontaneous side of their music, mostly revealed live. It is their choice, but it gives a generic album whose interest is limited.

Ravage & Conquer is a record that remains interesting. The ballsy cover of classic Bathory "Sacrifice" is great, but the whole is still a victim of a hardly excusable overproduction, given all the experience within the group. With this album, Impiety resolutely takes the road of a technical and rather cold brutal death metal, a path that I respect but disagree. 5/10

KILL – Burning Blood

Trajectory of some black metal bands sometimes evokes a winding road, reflecting the different changes of style or trend that occurred over the years. Some evolve into progressive music, others incorporate classical instruments. But not Kill. This Swedish band, founded in 1998, belongs to the most uncompromising branch of the black tree. Old school Scandinavian from head to toe, the band’s music comes from the first ages of black metal. And it is certainly not Burning Blood (2012) that will change this perception!

The opening song, Veni Satana, confirms in seconds that Kill has no intention of deviating from the route chosen fourteen years ago. Clearly inspired by Bathory, Beherit, Venom and the handful of other cult bands of the 1980s, our four Swedish demons are unleashing decibels with passion. It’s fat, dirty and sweating … and very good! Historically, I am extremely critical of bands that choose to plagiarize indiscriminately classical black metal songs, but I am also able to distinguish those who add their own twist to a style otherwise well saturated. Burning Blood is – of course – a predictable disk, this type of music being played for over twenty years now. But the main quality of this album lies rather in the conviction displayed by its authors. The songs are interpreted with a contagious passion and a sincere brutality that is never feigned. Production, heavy and dirty, is ideal for this kind of music and songs like Cursed Of Steel Nails, Kill or Desecration Temple could give anyone a serious envy to give chase to some Christians!

Faithful to the path they have chosen to take, the bullies of Kill do not disappoint. They hold high the banner of the bloody old school black metal and confirm that this style, when properly interpreted, can still fully satisfy a demanding amateur. 7/10

Nordvrede – Legion Nordvrede

Norwegian black metal, despite a relative quality decline and a plethora of average bands, remains a benchmark for many fans of hellish metal. The most well-known classics were composed there, the first concerts were given there, the first churches were burned there. This can lead to some indulgence of criticism (notably from your host) to the music emanating from the land of fjords, against which must be guarded to maintain some objectivity. It is therefore with caution that I began listening to the second album of a band I do not know, called Nordvrede. It comes from Tromsø, located three hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, one of the northernmost cities in the world. This may explain why their music is so cold and hard.

Darkthrone first albums are – without doubt – a powerful source of inspiration for members of Nordvrede, but the group avoids the trap of simple plagiarism with Nordvrede Legion (2012), who succeeded Hammerprofeti (2008). From the opening track, I Hensvunnet Blodraud Skodde, we almost instinctively recognizes the branding of Norge black metal: raspy production, metallic sound, flows of guitars and a harsh voice, all launched without caution to the ears of the listener. These are all characteristics that terrorize the unwary for twenty years now. Built on some very good riffs, the songs are well varied; from furious, like Erigert Norrøn Ild, to more smoothly mid-tempo tune like Fanfare, whose kinship with certain Tsjuder songs is clear. The rhythm is the heart of the compositions on this disc. Close to punk and thrash in spirit, it gives some nice edge to many songs like Fountains Of Inferior Blood or Forbannet Vaere Lovsang Din, who make you stomp and shake your head, even when listened absently.

It would be futile to attempt here to list all the band’s influences, but Nordvrede manages to get the best out of it. This band shows that the Norwegian black metal has not yet exhausted all its resources and can – sometimes – modernize its legacy. Not really original on the form but devilishly effective, Legion Nordvrede perfectly fulfills its purpose without becoming another banal copy of the remains of Darkthrone. 7/10

Vorkreist – Sigil Whore Christ

For several years now, France witnessed the emergence of many bands that sail through the murky waters of black and death metal. This is the case of the Parisian band Vorkreist, who have been raging since the late 1990s. My first contact with them, however, dates back only to 2009 with the release of Sickness Sovereign, a record that then made a pretty good impression. The group is pursuing its quest to destroy Christianity, boosted by a new contract with Agonia Records, with Sigil Whore Christ (2012).

Despite many listens, I confess that I remain puzzled by this album. The performers are talented, the compositions are correct, and the production is impeccable, but something is wrong. One senses a hesitation, a doubt, as if the group is juggling different options: choose the technical and brutal death, the iconoclastic and sulfuric black, or a more accessible melodeath? This uncertainty of musical direction of the album greatly affects its cohesion. Tempted amalgams are not always happy and more homogenous titles are without a doubt the most interesting, such as De Imitatione Christi or Memento Mori. Finally, this seems to cause a hindrance in the interpretation of the songs. The primary rage and aggression, while characteristic of this style, only scratch the songs. Constant tempo changing always breaks the initial momentum.

In summary, this fourth album of French Vorkreist suffers from a confused art direction that makes it difficult to fully appreciate. ‘Grasp all, lose all’ says the proverb. Well, the band should draw on that little piece of wisdom to clearly identify the path they want to borrow in the future. 6/10

Aura Noir – Out to Die

In this age of musical mediocrity, few black metal formations are managing to maintain over time a high standard of quality and artistic intransigence, preferring ease and convenience. Fortunately for us, serious amateurs, there is the Norwegian band Aura Noir. Formed in the mid-1990s, this trio composed of Apollyon, Aggressor and Blasphemer launched Black Thrash Attack in 1996, a real bomb that pushes the listener into a corner with music inspired by Bathory and most thrash masters of the 1980s. Speed, brutality and virtuosity combine to give a result that strikes hard, making the album a must for any serious black metal fan.

The band came back two years later with Deep Tracts of Hell (1998), this time without Blasphemer, gone making party with Mayhem. With a raspy production, this album takes us even deeper in the rabbit hole. Then, silence. It takes six more years to finally witness the release of (despite the accident suffered by Aggressor) The Merciless (2006), a twenty-seven minutes punch-in-the-face album, launched on Nocturno Culto’s label (guitarist of Darkthrone). Then came Hades Rise (2008), Thrashier but with less bite than its predecessors. Are the northern warriors sobering out? Out to Die (2012) gives us the answer: no.

This new album, released by Indie Recordings, evokes from its first notes the glorious beginnings of Aura Noir as a trio, Blasphemer having returned from his excursion. Trenches furiously throws hostilities. Unequivocally, the band returns to its good habits. It hits hard, with fast drumming and frenzy guitar parts, which display all of Aggressor’s virtuosity. No respite with Fed To The Flames, excellent title on which I intend to unscrew my neck if I ever get the chance to hear in concert. Abbadon again allows the two guitarists of the band to spread their know-how with fast sequences, often quite complex. However, the tempo slows with The Grin From The Gallows, a weighing and oozing tune, but Withheld knocks back immediately with its typical thrash rhythmic that, without shame, we could find on an old Venom or Sodom album. The madness continues with Hellish Fiend Priest’s and his rowdy introduction, then its arrhythmic progress, immediately followed by Deathwish, built around a punk rhythm. The title track concludes brilliantly the album, creating a beautiful symbiosis between black and thrash elements of the band’s music, before getting lost in a maelstrom of sound.

Rarely a record has been so misnamed: it should have been called "Out to Kill!" Since obviously, it is the main intention of the band! Fast, nasty, with a production made of reinforced concrete, this album demonstrates brilliantly the know-how of three musicians in full possession of their resources. A well deserved nine out of ten! 9/10

Proclamation – Nether Tombs of Abaddon

Take cover! The Spaniards of Proclamation are back to stultify us with a fourth album. The extraordinary mediocrity of Nether Tombs of Abaddon (2012) jumps so to the ears from the first listen that I – again – repeatedly asked myself if it was a bad joke. Unfortunately, no. Let me give you some background. It exists within current black metal a relatively marginal scene nicknamed "beastly" claiming to be the only absolutely authentic black metal subgenre. Inspired by the first demos of Beherit, bands that are rampant in this register spit out crappy lo-fi music, with basic recording techniques and interpretation skills that a five years old can top after a single week of practice. As for lyrical themes, they take advantage of all the worst stereotypes imaginable, with a predilection for goat sodomy.

Proclamation combines all these aberrations with an enthusiasm that perplexes me. So Irreverent Captor of Abysmal Flames and Ultimate Desolation (bass), Abomination of 4 Winds and Bestial Mayhemic Offensor (drums) and Usurper of Eternal Condemnation and Inverted Crucifixion (guitar, vocals) offer us a new chapter in their quest for absolute nullity, for about thirty minutes, spreading across ten tracks, including invocations. Note that the cover is almost identical to the previous three albums! It can be said the same of music. That black metal fans can give interest to such an album leaves me speechless. All the songs are organized around a few basic riffs, often out of sync with the drums. It also collects rumblings belching which vaguely resemble words. The quality of the whole is poor, particularly in sound, which was probably murdered during recording. I prefer to stop here.

I am definitely unable to endure a band that is vomiting such bad albums, based on aesthetic / philosophical ridiculous premises. Try listening Nether Tombs of Abaddon the next time you’re constipated. Guaranteed relief. 2/10

Lunar Aurora – Hoagascht

Some resurrections are truly miraculous, and I’m not referring that of Jesus Christ. I’m rather evoking Bavarian band Lunar Aurora, who after six years of silence, returns with a new album called Hoagascht (2012). Founded in 1994 by Benjamin "Aran" König and Andreas "Whyrhd" Bauer, this band launched eight full lengths, all being atmospheric black metal classics, before separating in 2006, for private reasons. The story of the group is indeed punctuated with events that have nothing to do with their immense talent: frequent changes of musicians, many problems with labels (including two that failed simultaneously), etc. Anyone would have been tired of that. Yet it is with great disappointment that I learned the end of their adventure: Elixir of Sorrow (2004), Zyklus (2004), Mond (2005) and Andacht (2007) are still among – in my opinion – the best albums of the genre. Fast, even aggressive, bathing in gloomy atmospheres, these albums sketch the outlines of a dark world where death lurks.

Working now as a duo, Aran and Whyrhd resume the adventure of Lunar Aurora. Right from the introduction called Im Gartn, we recognize the band’s trademark, with its misty sonorities. But as the song progresses, we notice a difference with the style once practiced by our Bavarians: rather than relying on a brutal voice / guitars couple to carry the titles, they now rely more on atmospheres that give body and wrap the "metal" passages. The image of the owl flying over the forest depicted on the cover is not accidental. It announced the general theme of the album, which suggests an evening walk in the wooded mountains, at the mercy of the elements. Several songs also include sound clips evoking nature, like the cries of animals (owl, precisely, on Nachteule) or weather (a thunderstorm on Wedaleichtn). Writing is also much more nuanced and subtle than before, evidenced by the wide diversity of sequences and moods, especially on tunes like Geisterwoid and Reng. On learning that the battery was programmed on this album, I still had concerns, but they were quickly swept from the first listen. The sound is very close to a real instrument, to the point where I wonder how they did it! The band is also using a Bavarian dialect for all lyrics, giving a local flavour that is reminiscent of Windir and his job with Sognamål, an odd Norwegian dialect.

Hoagascht is perhaps a turning point in the career of Lunar Aurora. Long been a studio project only, the band may be seeking to develop a music more personal, more mature and less "black metal" than before. Given the result, I will never complain of such a change. This album takes us into the mountains of Bavaria, shrouded in mist, while listening to beautiful music. 8/10

Hellsaw – Trist

Some albums are confusing me during a first listen. Invariably, every music lover will create categories into which he classifies groups and the songs he listens, but it’s not always that simple. This happened when I put my ear on Trist (2012), latest album of the Austrian horde Hellsaw. No doubt, this is black metal, but with many nuances. Rather than focusing on a single sub-genre, these Styrians navigate between several. This gives a very interesting result. Let’s analyze this beast.

The Devil Is Calling My Name starts the album and is divided in two steps. Slow at first, this song picks up speed after a minute, setting sound characteristics of the entire album, especially for the rhythmic section. The drum has a very hollow sound and bass is well-mixed, elements also strongly present throughout the disc. Fastest of the record, with a few blasts, Sorrow Is Horror is still interspersed with passages that introduce much heavier moods. It is however with Doom Pervades My Nightmares and its long acoustic passage that reveals the multifaceted nature of Hellsaw. We leave the strict traditional repertoire of black metal to add melodic elements. This is even more evident on The Forerunner of the Apocalypse and its mid-tempo epic moments and Death Bells and its incantatory hymns! As for the title track, it wears its name well. Trist could indeed easily be found on a depressive black metal album with its languid despair. However, the group goes again with A Winter Cold and Beldam. 1450, which is a fast and aggressive tune, cools down with slow transitions that make you want to tap your foot. Just like the opening track, Silence concludes the album by starting in first gear before moving to the fifth without warning, while beautiful and powerful yelled passages accompany this excellent title.

Hellsaw shows a great maturity with this album. The compositions are balanced and the album is captivating from the first to the last note. My only complaint would be the sound of the drums, I would have liked it more organic and less metallic, but apart from this detail, Trist is a very good album, who knows how to make the best of several sub-genres of contemporary black metal. 8/10

Drudkh – Eternal Turn of the Wheel

It is always with sincere pleasure that I listen to Drudkh’s albums, a band I discovered in 2006 with Blood in our Wells. Dark and desperate, their music is rooted in nature and Ukrainian folklore, bringing the listener in a cold but sublime universe. It is with surprise that I learned the signature of the band with Season of Mist, but the release of Microcosmos (2009) reassured me: the group did not sell his soul and remained true to its style. It is rather Handful of Stars (2010) which caused my concern, as change seemed profound. The songs lost this magical aspect concocted by Thurios and his band, to the point of being banal, bland and predictable. Because of that, I was wary when Eternal Turn of the Wheel (2012) landed in my iPod.

My doubts fly away from the first listen. Drudkh returned to his good habits and will again offer an album that crosses elegant black metal, ambient and pagan. Alternating fast and contemplative passages, the compositions wear the undeniable mark the Ukrainian masters. To ensure that everyone understands, Eternal Circle takes us from the beginning in a frosty atmosphere, windswept winter, before giving way to Cold Breath of Black Soil, a furious surge with a very characteristic looping rhythmic guitar, keyboards and voice support, launching its screams torn in Ukrainian.

A bit like the title suggests, the album is built on the principle of the pagan wheel, which marks the seasons in a different manner from Christianity. Thus, the four songs reflect the four stages of a year, referring also to those of life (birth, life, decline, death). After spring, When Gods Leave Their Emerald Halls is identified in the summer, with thunderstorms and rain. Musically, the band remains on course by marrying the aggressive black metal with ethereal moods generated by the keyboard. Farewell to Autumn’s Sorrowful Birds embodies fall, with his shambling gait, while Woven Night of Snow, Winds and Grey-haired Stars illustrates the winter with a faster approach that recalls the harsh snowstorms that hit Ukraine. It all ends in the sound of a cold wind, thus completing another round of the eternal wheel.

Eternal Turn of the Wheel is not the best album of Drudkh, but it straightens seriously the bar after the partial failure of Handful of Stars. Fans will be reassured and the band will continue to lull us with its inspired hymns of a time long past. 7/10

Inferius Torment – Ceremony of Godslaying

There are ways to get to know a group that can be quite strange. Thus, it is by reading a press report, published late last year that I discovered the Russian band Inferius Torment, whose leader has been arrested and accused of an unknown crime! The statement said however that the band’s new album will still be released. It is therefore with great interest that I throw an ear on Ceremony of Godslaying (2012) when it finally landed in my inbox. For reasons I never fully understood, music performed by felons always whets my curiosity.

And I was not disappointed. Almost forty minutes of satanic black metal are carelessly inflicted on unaware listeners. The production quality is impressive, especially for a Russian group (recording of the album at the famous Stage One Studio is probably no stranger to that). Indeed, the land of the Tsars has not a very good reputation in this matter; we have long been used to poor recordings coming from that country. As for the composition, it relies strongly on heavy and aggressive rhythmic, but some intros and passages are way more subtle and sometimes use traditional instruments. Thus, if Agnus Dei sends a direct blow to the head, songs like Diabolical Key or Sola Sciptura are rather inflicting painful body jabs. The similarities with brutal black metal practiced in Poland and Sweden are still quite evident, and a song like Funeral of a Christian God could without embarrassment end up on a Marduk or Infernal War album. Rare phenomenon in black metal, the last song is the best. Unbaptized Flames is an excellent tune that alternates between high-speed passages and others heavy like a ton of bricks.

Inferius Torment is a great surprise and this second album shows their seriousness. But I hope that legal problems of their lead singer will be brief. A band to discover quickly, for anyone who loves to ear bleed! 8/10

Enthroned – Obsidium

Some black metal bands are experiencing tortuous career. Frequent changes of staff and artistic shifts may eventually dull the most hardened wills. However, some groups resist storms and continue to shine with a beautiful vitality. This is the case of the Belgians from Enthroned, which release albums with regularity since the mid-1990s. However, so many pitfalls! Not a single original member still belongs to the band since 2006. One of them has even taken its own life! Yet these blasphemers continue to rage, against all odds.

Formerly officiating in the not-at-all subtle register of true black metal, these fellows from the flat country undertook a musical evolution – closer to death metal – from the album Tetra Karcist (2007). Change of course confirmed two years ago with Pentagrammaton (2010), a record that did not convince me. Monotonous and lacking in bite, this album was a rare false note in an otherwise high quality discography. Enthroned is therefore launching Obsidium this year (2012), a first record for Agonia Records, who took over for moribund label Regain Records.

Let’s confirm immediately the determination of the band to continue its way down the road of blackened death metal. Any possible ambiguity is vanished when the first notes rang and the voice springs from the darkness: it will be brutal! A compact production gives the album a massive sound and a nice toughness, but sometimes lacks finish, especially for guitars. The composition clearly favours speed, which rolled from Sepulchred Within Opaque Slumber to the unwary listener. Through the flood of aggression, the band shows its tremendous capacity of aligning very good riffs, especially on Deathmoor with its catchy rhythm section. Oblivious Shades is a mid-tempo interlude, but the hype will resume with The Final Architect. I give a special mention to Petraolevm Salvia, best song on the disc, which has a beautiful atmosphere and a sense of desperation. However, the last two tracks are less interesting and badly conclude an album that deserved better.

Nevertheless, I am reassured. Obsidium is neither a revolution nor a strict return to the sources, but is a very good chapter in the career of Enthroned. It shows more urgency, more instinct, through compositions more raw than the previous record. This album is perhaps not enough to console the fans still in love the 1990s, but it can satisfy anyone who loves a tough and uncompromising music, performed by very experienced musicians. 8/10

Netherbird – Abysmal Allure EP

The early 2000s … I’m in my twenties, I have a strong resistance against hangovers, and lots of hair! Good times… This time also witness the triumph of melodic Black Metal (or Symphonic) and the epic rivalry between Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth for the domination of the dark universe. Many are nostalgic for the heyday and this is clearly the case for Swedish band Netherbird, which has just launched a second EP in a few months, entitled Abysmal Allure (2011).

Having been unimpressed by the first two full lengths (and not even having listened to the previous EP), I have little expectation towards this issue. Four titles, including an intro, which is very little to put in your mouth and from the first notes, we already know what to expect. The quartet of Jönköping offers a new sign of its musical trademark, that is to say one directly inspired melodic Black Metal album like Midian (2000) or even Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (2001). The title track of the EP might well have ended up on the B side of one of these two classics and no one takes offence. However, I have serious reservations about this method of plagiarizing draw too direct a style that was successful. I prefer originality and the search for new sounds. While this is certainly not the little bells and the intro of the piece Swedish Gothic Sadness (Sorrow’s My Vessel) that will impress me: it was cool ten years ago, but since then a lot of blood has flowed under the bridges.

I have great difficulty being nostalgic. Sometimes I listen to old albums, but I am merciless to the current groups who are dipping shamelessly sounds and moods. If Netherbird wants the next level, it will be more than a vintage Cradle of Filth tribute band. 4/10

Immolith – Storm Dragon

In the world of Forgotten Realms, when demonic spirits are thrown into the abyss, they may coalesce to create a supreme being, a creature made of fire and doomed to wreak havoc. Its name? Immolith. It is also an American band from New Jersey who prevails in the register of brutal black metal. The similarities between these two entities are quite obvious. After a demo and an EP in 2009, the band released its debut album this year called Storm Dragon (2012). So what this beast out of the depths is made of?

After a short introduction, the deluge starts at full speed with Torch of Baphomet, which specifies the group’s intentions. It’s good old united states black metal (USBM), whose main features are based on speed and aggressiveness. One senses throughout listening to this long-play the strong influence of the pillars of the Swedish scene of the 1990s. Marduk, of course, but also Setherial, for its mystical side, that we perceive in the title track or on A Pact of Blood. But the trademark of Immolith is undoubtedly based on brutality (and not at all on subtlety)! It hits hard, through a production a bit rough, which is well suited to this style of music. Beautiful synthesis and best track on the album, the song Rites of the Blood Moon is also a shining example of the aggressiveness potential of the group. My only negative point concerns the voice, which is dubbed by an echo effect that becomes annoying after a while.

At a time when the american black metal seems to renew itself and seeks new creative horizons, Storm Dragon reminds everyone what is the base of brutal metal as practised among our southern neighbours: a direct and uncompromising music, which crushes all listeners under an avalanche of decibels. 7/10

Nokturnal Hellstorm – Nokturnal Hellstorm

It is quite by accident that I discovered the American band Nokturnal Hellstorm, whose creation is recent. After some checking, I find that this group is a side project of the stakhanovist Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker. He has indeed a well filled curriculum with several famous names, such as Anthrax and SoD, among (many) others. Our guy is nothing but a novice when it comes to black metal, as he was part of Hemlock for several years and played bass as a session musician for other groups. In short, the man knows its extreme music.

This year, Nokturnal Hellstorm is launching its first album, a clever pastiche of major European bands of the early 1990s, particularly those of the second wave. Trying to establish a complete list of all influences of the band would be tedious. I advise you to consult instead the directory of the 1992 Norwegian black metal groups. Indeed, the whole album sounds like a tribute and countless comparisons could be made. Even the production is intentionally minimalist, thus recreating the recording conditions of most classical Mayhem records, among others. This should still not diminish the guilty pleasure felt listening to this disc, though of course we try to go back twenty years back musically.

Some parts are very good, such as Vile Entropy or Eternal Wasteland, which could appear on a Burzum album. However, I wonder about the relevance of such a project. We can not already count the number of copycatting the dawn of black metal masters, so why not look instead to innovate? Bah! Whatever. If you proudly flaunt a patch of Darkthrone and if for you, all that was done after 1995 is worthless, then you can safely add to your collection the first album of Nokturnal Hellstorm. 6/10

Abazagorath – Lapse EP

It is common in the ruthless world of black metal, that some bands experience separation or a pause, more or less prolonged. I honestly thought that American band Abazagorath belonged to the prior category. Their latest album – Sacraments of the Final Atrocity – dates all the way back to 2004! Since then, a six-songs split was released in 2008 (with the Pennsylvanian group Blood Storm). Then, total silence. So it is with astonishment that I get my hands on a five songs eponym EP (2012), including an intro. It is with a new singer that Nyarlathotep (bass) and his band return to haunt our ears!

This quartet from New Jersey is not known for its subtlety. Previous albums, in fact confined Abazagorath to a fairly conventional United States black metal), that is to say, strongly tinged with death metal. Well this new EP offers some possible developments in the band’s music. Speed, although very present, is no longer the heart of the compositions. There is a real melodic work and a significant willingness to create harmonies rather than just hammering down blast beats. Even if the result is still akin to death metal, it is closer to Dissection than Deicide. This is particularly clear with a song like Storms of Destruction, where the intro and main rhythm (and some excerpts played without distortion) evoke 1990s Swedish death metal.

This EP is a good omen for the future of Abazagorath. The band evolves and refines its style, trying to going beyond a fairly conventional black/death metal. These five songs will make us wait until the release of a probable new album that will confirm (or not) the new path chosen by the band. 6/10

Azaghal – Nemesis

Finland belongs to the select club of countries that have witnessed the birth of black metal. Indeed, several excellent bands born in the early 1990s, some legendary, are coming from the Lapps country. One often thinks Beherit, even Behexen or Impaled Nazarene, but do not forget Azaghal, although the latter group is less known to fans. Active since the mid 1990s and led since by the hyperactive Nargath (he’s also a member of three other groups) this obscure metal band based in Hyvinkää has a strong curriculum that ties them to the current most uncompromising black metal scene. Positively impressed by Omega (2008), I was disappointed by Teraphim (2009). This time, the band took more time and comes up with a new album called Nemesis (2012).

Azaghal is at its best when playing typical Finnish black metal, based on pure aggression, a guitar playing "dirty" and an über-fast drumming. This aspect was somewhat overlooked on the previous album, but early in the listening, we feel that the shot is corrected. It is however Pohjoisen Valkoinen Kuolema that best exemplifies the style of the group. Fast and aggressive, built on a martial rhythmic, it is accompanied by a wonderful singing in Finnish, an agglutinative and rough language, giving a notably malicious edge to this song. De Masticatione Mortuorum is in the same vein, but Vihasta ja Veritöistä changes the pace, slowing down to become more epic and demonstrative. This trend, already evident on the two previous albums, then continues on this new record. As for the following songs, while not bad, they become more bland and repetitive. Hail the Whore is linear, while Ex Nihilo is more atmospheric. The title track still saves the second half of the album with a dynamic rhythm and beautiful harmonies.

Make no mistake: Azaghal remains a safe bet for the amateur. But for this band, the effectiveness seems to take precedence over originality. Nemesis is still a good record of Finnish black metal, perfectly in tune with the band’s discography, and can easily accompany a hunt for Christians! 7/10

Goatwhore – Blood for the Master

New Orleans is known for being a party town, rocked by the rhythms of jazz and blues. So, Black Metal is not coming to mind when talking about the Big Easy. It is wrong, because this town is also home to the formation Goatwhore! They are celebrating their fifteenth anniversary this year and mark the moment with the launching of their fifth album, Blood for the Master (2012). So what kind of beast is out of the bayou?

The group did not see fit to let languish listeners about his musical choices. From the first notes of Collapse in Eternal Worth, we know what to expect: a melodic Thrash Black, full of ballsy riffs. The songs are rather short (three and half minutes on average) for an album that stops before the fortieth minute. Short but effective. This efficiency is demonstrated with When Steel and Bone Meet, which evokes unambiguously the heyday of American Thrash. With an unstoppable rhythm, this title is the highlight of the album, tied with Parasitic Scriptures of the Sacred Word, which allows good headbanging. I am less excited about the rest of the full lenght. From Tradition In Deathless, we feel that the group is running out of inspiration. The titles are missing teeth and Thrash sounding riffs, so effective at first, become redundant in the second part of the album. There is all the same great nice passages, including the introduction of Embodiment of This Bitter Chaos, which reminds me of Pantera’s "This Love". It wraps up with My Name Is Frightful Among the Believers, that sounds far more Black than previous songs, backed with a rhythmic guitar playing and looping.

I am convinced that Blood for the Master was wrote for its stage performance. We feel the whole band’s live experience behind this album consisting of direct and rhythmic shortsongs, tailored for the viewers to get high in the mosh pit. Pleasant to listen, greatly interpreted, this album will appeal to all fans of Thrash Black American who can appreciate a job well done … before going to maim his neighbor into a hot pit ! 7/10

Anal Blasphemy – Sermons of a Sodomite EP

I hate passionately a handful of groups. I can not help it. Yet when they launch a new manifestation of their lack of talent, I hasten to listen. Masochism? Faith in humanity? No idea. A new opportunity has arisen recently with the EP release of a Finland’s band called Anal Blasphemy. This umpteenth mischief is entitled Sermons of a Sodomite (2011), confirming even further the anal fixation of this one-man band.

This slurry «music» belongs to the current (hopefully) marginal bestial raw black metal. The sound is terrible, the compositions are unsuccessfully plagiarizing those of other groups most inspired and voice is an unbearable growl. In short, so far, I am not an Anal Blasphemy fan. And it is certainly not the new EP that will change my perception. Composed of three songs, it starts with a speech in a language I am not able to identify. It is quickly followed by the title track, which sounds like 1991 sub-Beherit. Again, the sound is literally smothered, as if the studio microphones were caulked. We can distinguish a few riffs; the word "sodomite" is repeated at least fifty times and rhythmic changes every thirty seconds, giving the appearance of an amateur collage. It does not change with the other two pieces, Metamorphosis (instrumental) and Perverse Butterfly, which always recycle the same aesthetic and musical clichés.

After a painful listening of this EP and analyzing the band’s career, a question keeps coming back to haunt me. Why a musician – with several years of experience – deliberately chose to publish such abominations, album after album? Should he not seek to improve, refine its interpretation or even just do a decent record? Mystery. If at least we could detect a second degree, or a reflection at work. Unfortunately, we must be content with the lyrical and musical madness of a sphincter obsessed individual. To conclude, the only good thing about this EP is its short duration. Fifteen minutes are indeed not sufficient to cause irreparable damage to the brain. 2/10

So Much For Nothing – Livsgnist

Suffering of the soul accompanies man from the beginning. Manifesting itself as a deep unhappiness, it inspires poets since antiquity. All epochs know artistic movements that draw their inspiration from this affliction and black metal is part of the story. Drawing its strength from the darkest areas of the human psyche, this music expresses a violent pain felt by the mind, an elusive phenomenon common to all peoples.

Dark metal musicians generally illustrate depression by a barrage of distortion, coupled with a voice of a skinned alive. This approach is intended primarily to reproduce the indescribable chaos whirling in the minds of those afflicted. Artistically limited, this approach tends to change, thanks to innovative bands that renew their sources of inspiration. The Swedes of Shining are acting as pioneers, with their unique blend of metal and rock, but they were practically the only band to play this way. Not anymore.

It’s from Norway that we receive the next thing of this emerging style. So Much For Nothing, founded by Erik Unsgaard, is an unclassifiable group, located at the borders of several apparently incompatible musical genres. Its leader has a lot of experience, working for many years in the corridors of black metal from the land of fjords. But Livsgnist (2012) ("spark of life"), its first album, has little to do with the classics of the 1990s, since so often plagiarized.

The first notes of Suicide Syndrome set the tone: an adagio, completed with a howling saxophone, which gives this part a sinister aspect. The voice, torn or heavy (a bit like Attila Csihar) is completing the mechanism and creates a stifling atmosphere, with only a guitar solo for drilling. The atmosphere becomes more aggressive with One Last Night, where we perceive a desperate and barely contained urgency. But these are the two following songs that lead us to the pinnacle. Perfect forces us to feel a caustic irony, emitted by a decaying mind. Musically similar to some tunes of Rammstein, this song is the catchiest of the album. We change registry with Suffer in Silence and its classical introduction. A string duet begins a descent into the abyss. With the participation of Niklas Kvarforth (Shining), this song expresses extreme pain, manifested by complex orchestration, crossing the acoustic guitar and sounds of wailing women. A moment of pure negative emotion. My Precious unfolds with a tortured opening and a heavy rhythm, while the title track revolves around a rock theme and a choking voice. Concluding the album, New Life – New Beginning immediately surprises by the assertive use of the trumpet, which gives an unexpected edge to a metal song. Completing the loop, the author lets us go with a guitar solo that fades into silence.

We get with Livsgnist further evidence of creative potential caused by the suffering of the soul. This album allows us to admire the work of an artist who manages to transcend several musical genres in order to remove unique sounds. All this effort underscores the compositional talent of a group that is promised, I hope, to a bright future. 8/10

Morgue – Dethroned

Morgue is a Quebec band working in an unorthodox musical style. Indeed, some would say their compositions are Black Metal because of their use of "corpsepaint" and their tendency to exploit oriented lyrical themes of Christianity annihilation. Still, just listening, you can conclude that a strong Death Metal influence is also present. This component makes the hybrid quintet unique. After a first full length album that has more to impress myself included, he returns with a second effort that will be discussed in the next lines. When I received the disc by hand, I seriously wondered ifQuebecwere to successfully carry out all the energy and intensity of the first album.

From the first seconds of listening, the listener is again placed in the center of a sound reproduction of the cover of the offering, which has the effect of plunging it deep into the dark world of Morgue before taking off on an adventure of the most incredible. Despite starting in the first lighter pieces, an explosion of violence is felt and continues for the rest of the listening despite some other calmer moments. Quebecers are known for their music, and snapping bleeding and believe me, it’s still the case. The energy is so intense that some will want a break before the experiment ended. By cons, if you are a hardened, you will find your adrenaline with" Dethroned".

Musically Morgue has risen since his first effort while keeping what made him so attractive. Indeed, guitars, Iron and Maimed complement each other perfectly, creating melodies sometimes heavy, sometimes sharp. After several listening, I have observed that the emphasis is almost always put on their performance and this can only be a positive thing so destructive they create a whirlwind that guides all manner of beautiful music. One of them stands sometimes a short time to solo, which adds a preferred technique. At the low, Haze gets lost a little in the tidal wave orchestrated by his countrymen. Indeed, at least make an effort auditory important, its contribution is difficult to discern. Still, it offers support and weighing just prove once again that although it is often underestimated, the instrument is essential to Metal. At the battery, without wishing to pun, Panzer bears his name perfectly. His playing is vigorous, destroys everything in its path and expressed a sincere sensitivity. Specifically, all the fervour he displays not only serves to impress, but to add a touch of extreme experience. It is definitely one of the main reasons why music is so surly and Morgue devastating. Finally, the voice is in top form Goliatt. He has always maintained its sound serious, less Black Metal, but gives richness and a wild look to the work of his colleagues. Moreover, when the spreading violent lyrics in a higher register, he brings another dimension to the work of musicians from the Old Capital.

In another vein, I can not overlook the wonderful work behind the aesthetic of the album. Flames and Blood" literally" gave chills just to watch it and I must say that even if less evocative, the concept behind" Dethroned" is equally sublime. I raise my hat high up in Iron and Nicolas Francoeur who did the illustrations and design respectively. My only confusion is to see that the cake was produced on a CD-R, which may cause some frustration in some readers.

In summary, with his second album, Morgue just gives a huge sledgehammer blow in the face of Black Metal fans Quebecers. After a first opus exterminator, he returned with compositions that are sure to delight many. " Dethroned" definitely gives off a maturity and attention to detail of the most interesting. The quintet has lost none of his enthusiasm and evolves wonderfully captivating in one direction, which makes me proud to support them. 8/10

" Were created religions, temples and statues

The Garden of Eden where we would be welcome

Go to the front my son, you will see the light

Again and again their blood waters our rivers"

Styggelse – Sadomasochrist EP

It has become a commonplace to mock the 1980s, its flashy aesthetics, its music and its tasteless cult of vulgar individualism. However, a closer analysis of this hated period is necessary to better understand the genesis of obscure metal. It is during these few years, while Michael Jackson was dancing the moonwalk, that pioneers have started a fire that still burns today. Venom released its classic Black Metal in 1982; Bathory also launched its self-titled debut album in 1984 and that same year, Celtic Frost horrified Glam Rock fans with Morbid Tales.

It is from this precious heritage, common to many other groups that Styggelse develops its own evil music. These Swedes had made me a very good impression with their debut album, Heir Today – God Tomorrow (2010), and they’re back this year with an EP of three titles soberly called Sadomasochrist (2012). The blasphemous cover sets the tone: this is wicked!

From the first notes of the title track, one can see easily the group’s intentions. We find ourselves immersed in an atmosphere of the 1980s with bold riffs that recall without difficulty the groups already mentioned. The dominant rhythm of Sadomasochrist (and the other two songs) is also much closer to Hard Rock than Black Metal, with a tempo and a bass playing reminiscent of Motörhead! This is even more evident with Born to Bleed, Old School with an atmosphere that could be without problem on At War With Satan! And how not to think about Hells Bells ringing when Vomit the Cross concludes the EP?

I do not like groups that merely plagiarize classics of the past, but by offering a fresh perspective, Styggelse is really worth listening. We perceive in this EP all due respect its members have for the giants of the past, while bringing a personal touch. Fifteen minutes are very short for making us wait for a future full-length album, but I defy you not to tap your feet and do the sign of the Devil while listening to these three songs! 7/10

Dodecahedron – Dodecahedron

The dodecahedron is a geometric figure that has fascinated mathematicians since ancient times. Its twelve faces and its complex structure earned him a thousand uses and there are many who claim to detect a mystical aspect to this polyhedron so special. These strange features are perfectly suited to the style practiced by the Dutch Dodecahedron, which just launched a self-titled debut via Season of Mist.

Rarely an album has astonished me like this one. Influences that transcend the music of this group are stunning. From the opening track, the listener is struck by a barrage of decibels assembled into a structure that defies the rules of harmony. Behind what looks like a chaos of sound, you feel a thought, an evil plan at work. The impression is confirmed I Chronocrator, which evokes the jazz fusion crossed with the most brutal Black Metal, in the manner of Anaal Nathrakh. With Vanitas, the tempo slows; the atmosphere becomes heavier and scary. The group is apparently seeking to enter our mind to instil it madness, but it is the song Descending Jacob’s Ladder that intrigues me from the first notes. It evokes micropolyphony, a musical approach based on an amalgam of "clouds of notes" creating an impression of space travel-time. Never before have had I found the use of this contemporary music in the world of Black Metal, or even Rock at all! The album then goes on with a trilogy entitled View from Hverfell (for your general knowledge, know that Hverfell is a Icelandic crater evoking the moon and at the foot of which there are lava mounds called… Dimmu Borgir). Again, amalgamation of styles and weird song writing show how special this band is, with collages, changes of rhythm and harmonic structures baffling. While Head above-the Heavens is rather homogeneous in terms of tempo, Omnipotent Chaos Inside is fragmented and multiplies distinct sequences. Latest title, A Traveller of the Seed of the Earth starts out strong but ends with a long passage ambient, hatched with jolts of violence.

An open mind is needed to fully appreciate this album. The band offers indeed an odyssey of sound that combines seemingly incompatible styles and assemble them in a brilliant way. In both a disturbing and beautiful perspective, this disc immediately position Dodecahedron among the leaders of the European avant-garde and – as such – must be followed with great interest. 8/10

Actum Inferni – The Embodiment of Death

The Poles have long been recognized as fierce fighters. Struggling for the independence of their homeland, they give hard time to all their enemies. Teutonic, Russians, Germans, all bowed out to this people who never hesitated to take up arms and fight to the death. I do not know whether this berserk attitude has an impact on some aspects of Polish society, but it certainly has an influence on their music! This country sided by the Baltic Sea counts many of the most brutal black metal European bands and Actum Inferni belongs to them.

Originally from Pila, west of Warsaw, the trio released last February, its first full-length called The Embodiment of Death (2011). Short (a little over thirty-five minutes) and direct, this album belongs to the cozy registry of raw black metal, that is to say, expeditious, and creaking above all, very aggressive. It starts strong with The End of the Human Era, administered as a punch. The deluge continues over the following songs, which are all biting with hate. I give a special mention to Hate Propaganda and its grind approach, almost not at all unpleasant. The conclusion, Superhominum People Satanistica, is for its part more atmospheric and is reminiscent of a title such as Dissection’s Where Dead Angels Lie.

Swedish bands influences are clear enough for anyone who survives a first listen. Style of Marduk and Dissection riffs are omnipresent, but tailored to the style of the album. The sound quality is acceptable, even slightly above the average of its kind, which has generally advocated recordings beyond mediocre. A great discovery for fans of uncompromising black metal.

The career of Actum Inferni is just beginning and its members will seek to differentiate themselves in a scene that has many excellent groups. To monitor with interest. 6/10

Nokturnal Mortum – Kolovorot

Only a minority of black metal bands survive beyond a few years. Even fewer do so by remaining at the top of their game, with all the power of integrity. Among these bands, we find Nokturnal Mortum, oldest Ukrainian black metal band still active, which in 2011 celebrated its twentieth anniversary. With a reputation capable of frightening a barbarian horde and irreducible fans, they offer us a reward similar to a treasure: a double album recorded live at the famous pagan music festival Kolovorot. Over two hours of music, covering the band’s history. It invites us to an incredible journey into the world of pagan pre-Christian Ukraine.

A blaring horn intro opens the ceremony, followed by traditional music that announces The Voice of Steel, taken from the latest album of the same name. Damn it is heavy! The rhythm section holds plenty of space and gives the listener a pleasant feeling of proximity. This is followed by Valkyria and Ukraine, always from the same disk. The execution is strong and the musicians spread out all their control, with pieces often complex and accompanied by traditional music. The crowd, often an unpleasant factor in live albums, here is well mixed. It appears in the opening of songs, but disappears for the titles. It continues with White Tower, atmospheric mid-tempo song, which concludes The Voice of Steel (2009). Time travel begins with In the Fire of the Wooden Churches, from the album NeChrist (1999). More direct, this song can provide a bridge between the different stages that mark the group’s existence. Always from the same album (but first recorded for the ultra cult demo Lunar Poetry), the show continues with Perun’s Celestial Silver, fast and catchy, with its flute accompaniment.

The second disc focuses more on Weltanschauung, released in 2005. Thus, the title track, The New Era of Swords and Hailed Be the Heroes are beautifully interpreted. Revisiting again their older albums, the band plays Kolyada, taken from Goat Horns (1997), which takes us back to the booming years of black metal, while the fury of Eastern Europe began to invade the rest the continent and started its world conquest. The curtain falls with Sky of Saddened Nights, which closes beautifully a show I would have damned myself for a chance to attend.

I am not embarrassed to admit I’m a long time fan of Nokturnal Mortum, a group that has allowed the emergence of a Ukrainian black metal scene. It is remarkable that after so many years of setbacks, this band still reaches such a level of excellence. This double live album is a pure delight and it will allows to wait for the release of a Blu-Ray/DVD Dolby 5.1 (which uses the same show), planned for the near future. (9/10)

Malmort – Vox In Excelso

October, year of grace 1307. King of France militia stormed every building owned by the Order of the Temple and seized everyone they found. Accused of witchcraft and other abominations, interrogated and tortured, the members of this chivalry order confessed unlikely crimes. Their own leader was burned as relapsed at the heart of the Ile de la Cité in Paris, an execution attended by the inflexible King Philip. The Temple was finally removed – but not convicted – by a papal bull issued in 1312, called Vox In Excelso. It is also the French group Malmort chosen debut album title, using the tragic story of the Templars as a lyrical frame.

Eight titles in total are tracing the fall of this pillar of medieval Christianity. XIII October MCCCVII starts the album with a psalm, followed by an introduction that progressively gains power and strength. When the music starts, we can better seize this Provence band personality (or lack of). It performs a traditional old-fashioned black metal, characterized by a metallic sounding guitar and an average drumming speed. Execution is acceptable, not yet stands out from the plethora of emerging young formations. In terms of composition, several good thrashy riffs can be enjoyed on this album, especially on Cruciatus and Templi Secretum, giving the album aneasy listening flavour. But from De Laude Novae Militiae, we feel the application of a formula which, while not unpleasant, gives the impression that the band does not have lot of inspiration and choose a path that minimizes the risk.

In the end, Vox In Excelso (2011) remains an accessible album that can appeal to anyone who likes average black thrash metal. However, major similarities with some greater bands (especially Aura Noir) are quite obvious and Malmort would gain a lot of credibility by finding their own path. 6/10

Dragobrath – WhisperHerbs

Ukrainian steppes are known for their rich land; a black soil that gives crop in abundance. Bathed in the southeast by the Black Sea and to the west by the wild Carpathian Mountains, this country has a population fiercely attached to its identity and, not surprisingly, it led to the plethoric emergence of famous black metal bands. Most fans know – and worship – bands like Nokturnal Mortum and Drudkh, but let’s not forget Dragobrath, that just released its fourth album, entitled WhisperHerbs (2011).

The group is headed by a former member of Kroda and there are striking similarities between styles practiced by both groups. Nature is at the heart of their inspiration, both musically and lyrically. Dragobrath practices its black metal around a central rhythmic, repeated throughout each piece, bringing homogeneity and some linearity. WhisperHerbs titles are no exception to this approach: Crawling at Night is Gulp and Herbal Milk, enables us to enter a world of contemplation, with guitar loops with embedded violin and percussion passages. The songs are lengthy, with an ambiance/atmosphere focus, but without excess or stylistic effect. Cover the Earth with a Rainkisses and the title track are both excellent pieces that recall the best Drudkh albums, but the sauce begins to stretch from Heather Stronghold. We feel shortness of breath in the composition; the band’s best ideas are visibly exhausted up to this song.

We will never know more, Dragobrath having announced its separation with the release of this album. It nevertheless remains a great purchase for anyone – and they are many – who like the pagan black metal and great melodies. But I’m not worried: Ukraine, a country of infinite lands and immense rivers will continue to offer us an exceptional music. 7/10

Abigail Williams – Becoming

Salem; a small town in New England in the early seventeenth century. A child develops a strange behaviour. She shouts, screams insanities, climbs the wall, breaks objects. Panicked, her parents call a doctor, who detects a diabolical possession. The girl accuses of witchcraft citizens of the city, gives names and lurid details about black masses and other satanic rituals. In this environment stifled by faith, the judicial machine grows mad. Pyres are lit, women are sacrificed for having allegedly addicted to black magic. Then the young accuser mysteriously disappears without a trace or return. Her name? Abigail Williams.

This is also the name of an American black metal band led from the beginning by singer and guitarist Ken Sorceron. Its musical evolution is atypical. First, strongly tinged with core, Abigail Williams adopts amore melodic black sound over the releases, but win no more than limited success. I myself did not like In the Absence of Light (2010), finding it uninspired and monotonous. Now based in Los Angeles, the quintet is launching a third full length called Becoming (2012), taking at the same time an unexpected artistic shift.

Indeed, throughout the listening of this album, I wondered if it was really the group that I thought I knew. The change of style is amazing. This time, Abigail Williams takes the path of ambient/pagan black metal, in the vein of Wolves in the Throne Room or Falls of Rauros. The songs are long, strong and richly constructed with several changes of pace that break any linearity. From the opening track, Ascension Sickness, we perceive the difference: slow crescendo of sounds associated with a harp, followed by a few blasts and a voice shouted out beautifully. While Radiance is shorter and based on a desperate mood, Elestial surprises with its enthusiasm and its complex construction. However, the masterpiece of the album is without a doubt Beyond the Veil, which concludes the ceremony. More than seventeen minutes of beautiful music, steeped in classical instruments and a great atmosphere, interspersed with passages that magnify it. A pure delight.

My astonishment was immense when I first listened this album, produced by a group I do not expect much and whose reputation is fragile. Their merit is all the greater. The American black metal scene made surprising progress in recent years, thanks to groups that know how to innovate and renew the genre. I sincerely hope that this momentum continues. 8/10

Warthane – Black Divide

There are groups of black metal playing near the Cape of Good Hope? Well, I’ll be damned. It is with a certain surprise that I discovered South African band Warthane, which teases the demon in a distant suburb of Johannesburg. These Afrikaner devils still amaze me. But I digress. Black Divide (2011) is the successor of The Gallows Are Calling (2008), two self-produced albums whose distribution is more than confidential. So, how sounds dark metal produced in Zulu country?

I regularly observe that exoticism is not necessarily a guarantee of originality. I own a new proof with this album. This is a record of good quality, with a professional sound and performed with talent. Composition is, however, its main weakness. The album starts well, with two very good songs, Autumn’s Woe, all in ambiances, and Enthroned Black Angel, punctuated with some very good riffs, but the sauce goes bad shortly after. The songs never succeed to catch the listener’s attention, at times recalling sounds and sequences heard elsewhere. The group, obviously, is seeking an identity, constantly oscillating between melodic mid-tempo and an angrier side of black metal, a dilemma experienced by many other formations scattered on both sides of the equator.

There is a potential in this band that jumps to the ears. The first two songs of Black Divine demonstrate this at will. However, Warthane composers will have to show more imagination in the future, so as not to appear to fulfill their next album with generic and bland music. 6/10

Haemoth – In Nomine Odium

"No, I’m not resentful. I just hate …" When an album begins with these words, uttered by a gloomy voice, we know we’re going to spend a dirty quarter of an hour. In fact, its forty-four minutes of pure brutality that offers us the French band Haemoth, releasing their first full-length in seven years, called In Nomine Odium (2011). After a split, an EP and two compilations, this album marks a revival in the band’s career in the obscure realm of orthodox black metal.

If anger, hatred and suffering could be materialized, I think we would discover a huge load of them in this record. From beginning to end, with a guitar and a voice scratched and saturated, the group hits with a music of rare violence. What strikes the listener immediately is the sound quality that manages to combine power and distortion, without these two elements affecting each other. This creates a stifling and aggressive atmosphere, normal or desired for this kind of music.

Odium opens the butchery, in a crescendo leading to the first blasts of Slaying The Blind. Ouch! Powerful and aggressive, this title sets the stage for the future. If Demonik Omniscience is fast, the band takes a break (well, kind of) with the instrumental Spiritual Pestilence, played mid-tempo. They go back looking for blood with Disgrace, but the pinnacle is achieved by Son of the Black Light, best song of the album, reminiscent of the early efforts of groups now well established, such as Watain! … And Then Came the Decease concludes the album, a slow, noisy and unhealthy death.

I often criticized groups who practice orthodox black metal because they put form over substance, thereby eliminating the special breath that makes this style extremely aggressive. Haemoth do not fall into this trap and gives us an excellent album, as well as permanent damage to the eardrums. 8/10

Forgotten Tomb / Whiskey Ritual – A Tribute To GG Allin

The sanctification of dead rock stars is a well known phenomenon. There are many examples, such as Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Kurt Cobain. This situation makes them shine even more after death than before, often at the risk of a shameless commercial recuperation. Even the underground music has its illustrious mythical deceased ; foremost among them is the famous GG Allin. Ultimate manifestation of "shock rock", the Murder Junkies leader and prolific author has become almost twenty after his death by overdose, an obligatory reference for groups who claim to be extreme. Its now the turn of two Italian bands, Whiskey Ritual and Forgotten Tomb, to pay homage to the notorious coprophilous.

A Tribute to GG Allin (2011) is a split of six titles published just before Christmas at Southern Apocalypse Records, a small label based in the peninsula. The approach is laudable: whereas the influence of American rock star is palpable in many black metal bands, few were genuine recorded tributes (with the notable exception of Nachtmystium). The album allows us to discover a rereading of several classics by black metal groups, through a faithful interpretation. Forgotten Tomb is opening the ball with three titles, the most famous is certainly "I Kill Everything I Fuck" (also known as the "I’ve Got AIDS"). From the outset, the good sound quality is immediately perceptible. It’s heavy and powerful, light years of mediocre recordings made by GG Allin and his associates in the late 1980s. Except a voice closer to black metal instead, one feels all the respect the group for songs it performs. Whiskey Ritual, young band whose first album was in 2010, takes over with "Bite It You Scum". It is interesting to note that certain extracts of GG Allin vocal accompanying titles, adding an authenticity element. Again, the sound quality allows surprisingly to fully appreciate the compositions (and the fiercely nihilistic and very politically incorrect words). The brilliance of Jesus Christ Allin (his real name) proves itself especially on his short songs and I appreciate that some of them, such as "Die When You Die" and "Drink, Fight And Fuck "full of raw energy, are found on the disk.

In the end, this split is a fine tribute to a highly controversial artist, who lived his life like a meteor, violating all the rules of a society imaginable stifled by the moral conventions. Those familiar with the work of GG Allin, however, will find nothing new in this effort, but those who wish to learn more about this character and his music are well advised to take an ear to this issue. 7/10

Tsjuder – Legion Helvete

To pretend that I was waiting impatiently for the new Tsjuder album is a gross understatement. This trio, formed of Nag (bass, screaming), Draugluin (guitar, screaming) and Anti-Christian (drums) rightfully belongs to my personal top five black metal bands since the reelease of Desert Northern Hell (2004), a brilliant piece of Norwegian shit. Band split in 2006 had a bomb effect among fans, but I suspected that our agitators would not stop there. After various adventures (including the creation of Krypt by Nag and Tyrann by Anti-Christian and Draugluin), these little devils started to play together again in 2010. After a few concerts, they announced the release of their fourth album, Legion Helvete (2011). Let’s open the doors of hell and behold the beast.

Tsjuder plays a direct and aggressive kind of black metal. Exit subtlety, enter brutality. But already with Desert Nortern Hell, a certain change was perceivable. The band incorporated thrash and punk musical patterns, giving a lot of rhythm to the compositions. This aspect is reinforced on Legion Helvete. Similarities with its predecessor are numerous, but this time Tsjuder supports (happily) more its trashy side. It starts furiously with The Daemon Throne, rough song, reminiscent of the early albums, but with Fra Ratten Kiste, accents from their 2004 album appear, including a powerful rhythm that makes you want to tear down your neck! Songs such as Dauðir, or Voldsherskeren Vart Helvete however, are more brutal and linear, while Slakt is practically a punk hymn! In short, these Oslo demons picked up where they left.

Legion Helvete goes back to true Norwegian black metal in its original form. On several occasions during my many listens, I felt transported to the heyday when this kind of metal was really dark, destructive and antisocial. Neither extraordinary nor perfect, this album should nevertheless be listened to by anyone who claims to love black metal 8/10

Chasse-Galerie – Manifeste

Chasse-Gallerie is one of Quebec’s best known and most popular legends among popular storytellers and fantasy lovers. Its all about loggers signing a pact with the Devil in order to spend Christmas at home, riding a flying canoe across an icy night sky … This is a fabulous story that has inspired many artists, who represented it in many ways. Even a black metal band has taken that name as a tribute to their national roots: Chasse-Galerie, is a Quebec group established in 2007. It belongs to the "metal noir québécois" movement, inspired by traditions and defending a strong patriotism.

After a first album launched in 2010 (Ars Moriendi), the quartet strikes again with a four songs EP entitled Manifeste (2011). The famous image used on the album cover leaves no doubt about its lyrical orientation: it will be patriotic! First song sets the tone: Amor Patriae Nostra Lex starts fast and aggressive, but slows down at mid-term, introducing Folk elements… until crushing unwary listeners’ ears again before concluding. Effective and well built, this song could become an anthem in concert. Honte et Fierté is much more political, with an intro speech by Nicolas Sarkozy and his opposition to Québec sovereignty. Decibels deluge that follows is an unequivocal answer: our friends in Chasse-Galerie do not agree with the French midget (now former) President. A punchy song written to avenge an insult. With Ode Hivernale, we are completely changing registry. It’s a truly mature and sober song, enhanced by a voice from beyond the grave – recalling depressive black metal. Mix of these two aspects, soft music and harsh vocals, is quite strange but still interesting. Concluding song, La Horde, is an excerpt played in concert. Well recorded, this song provides an excellent overview of the interpretive live abilities of the band.

A twenty minutes EP is very short, but the first three songs of Manifeste are giving a nice perspective of Chasse-Galerie’s musical progression. 7/10

Grimoire – À la lumière des cendres

It is with curiosity that I start listening Quebec band Grimoire’s first album, a one-man project founded in 2010 by Fiel, who also plays drum for Csejthe and Forteresse. The man, as we can see, is not a novice. Given his previous artistic experiences, I expect straight black metal, swung at unwary listeners. Well, surprise! À la lumière des cendres (2011) is closely related to atmospheric/ambient black metal sub-genre. The astonishment past, the fun begins.

This record is, in my humble columnist opinion, the best Quebec black metal album of 2011. I even dare to compare it to the finest Drudkh or Belenos releases. Let’s briefly discuss this jewel.

The album starts with a diptych entitled Berisiel, who introduced beautifully the style deployed by Grimoire, that is to say, a heavy and saturated sound with mid-tempo rhythm, covered by several guitar layers. Epic atmospheres are created with keyboards, while the guitar/drum couple plays faster loops. Morne’s (also howler Csejthe) sepulchral voice adds depth to this title, giving it an evil sounding coat. À l’ombre du vieux chêne is a beautiful gentle piano interlude. But it’s a trap. While daydreaming, Les flammes de l’ignorance rolls the listener into a wall of sound. The instrumental Ostara combines atmospheric elements over typical black metal sonorities, but it’s actually Les cieux de l’insignifiance that brings us to the pinnacle. What a song! An instant classic that still plays a lot in my Mp3 player, an epic title, creepy but beautiful, recalling Drudkh’s Furrows of God.

No, this album will not please everyone, for sure. But anyone who is able to appreciate original, creative and superbly performed black metal must get a copy of À la lumière des cendres. 8/10

Haeres – Héritiers du Sang Noir

Quebec counts several excellent emerging black metal bands and some will soon be called upon to stand out. This is the case of Haeres, founded in 2009. Even though it is only three years old, most of its members are well experienced. Some of them were involved in Maraude and another is a full member of Chasse-Galerie. This quintet offers us is a first album entitled Héritiers du Sang Noir (2011), which belongs to a modern branch of orthodox black metal, but with a French-speaking Quebec flavour.

“Professionalism” is among the first impressions we get while listening to this record. Writing and composing are well balanced, recording and mixing are impeccable and playing is almost flawless. Nevertheless, all these qualities can not totally mask the main flaw of this album, an apparent paradoxical consequence of the band members’ perfectionism: their music sometimes lacks texture, even teeth. Few titles manage to stand out from the whole. La Cité dolente or La marque de l’apostasie are good songs, but if we take a step back and analyze this record as a whole and not as a collection of songs, it must be admitted that it lacked the excess dose, aggressiveness or bloodthirsty madness that can turn an average album into an instant classic.

Despite this statement, Héritiers du Sang Noir is a very good black metal album, which would not be ashamed of to be compared with similar outputs, European or American. As the first album of a young band, it is very well done. I just wish that the members of Haeres, whose talent and professionalism are evident, take more artistic risks and give their music more of this rage so characteristic of black metal. 7/10

Putamen Insula – Putamen Insula

Among the innumerable black metal ramifications, some branches are more twisted than others. This is the case for crust black metal, a noisy hybrid of punk and black metal, which focuses on a nihilistic uncompromising approach. It results in short, direct songs, sounding close to a cacophony and a lyrical environment that increases the workload of SOS Suicide. This style is not well represented in our colder regions, so I was surprised to receive the first album of a Montreal young band called Putamen Insula.

Writing and playing are wild in this record. Thus the opening track Extreme violence, or Tu pleures, je dèche, are knocking hard enough sometimes. However, I remained on my hunger. Crust’s albums are generally distinguished by an almost unprecedented violence that emerges from filthy and vulgar songs. However, members of Putamen Insula seem reluctant on the way forward. For example, some titles start with a big bang, but then slow down inexplicably, even though it was speed that gave them initial impact. A more focused and structured composition work will undoubtedly bring the group to refine its product.

From an artistic standpoint, musical display of the band appears to be limited, but I can not determine if it is playing experience or style practiced that is to blame. On several occasions, we have a strong impression of hearing the band jams and I’m curious to know how many takes were made necessary to record each song. Of course, this approach gives a "live" vibe not at all unpleasant, but one may call that amateurism.

Grade I give this album may seem harsh, but it reflects a nuanced opinion. This first album of Putamen Insula would have benefited from more work (even if it’s crust!), both in writing and recording, but there are still several qualities that bodes well for the future of this band. It’s up to members to tip the balance on the right side and continue to grow. 5/10

Scum Sentinel – Sentinel of Scum

1990s Scandinavian black metal is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a plethora of bands from around the world. It indeed offers a seductive death & thrash blend, fused with uncompromising punk nihilism and morbid Gothicism aesthetics. This mixture gives life to Montreal band Scum Sentinel, which just released its first record, entitled simply Sentinel of Scum (2011). Band members – called Elfire from 1999 to 2008 – are real dark metal veterans from Quebec, working in this evil registry for over ten years now. So what is that beast made of?

What strikes immediately the listener is the group will to play it old school. It evokes instinctively all first Darkthrone albums, with a sharp distortion saturated sound, giving a strong feeling of (poor) live recording. The "nostalgia" is particularly evident on Primitive Dark Rituals, which opens hostilities (which is also Elfire’s only demo recording title). This song recalls Mayhem, especially the voice, which pastiches Attila Csihar. These kinds of similarities recur elsewhere throughout the album.

Musically, beyond all possible comparisons, the result remains strong. Performers have a certain talent, wearing a broad experience, which gives a record full of big riffs, oscillating between thrash, rock and black metal. Satan is invoked with great enthusiasm and cohorts of nuns are raped. By cons, it is regrettable that the song writing seems to hesitate between a knuckle-fist and a slower/heavier style. Thus, songs like Fucking a Nun With a Fistful of Anger or Nailed on the Altar have very good thrashy passages, but are interspersed with sections that break rhythm with useless mid-tempos.

Listening to Sentinel of Scum gives the impression of savouring an old Mayhem album, which is no small compliment. However, in order to evolve, Scum Sentinel has to forge its own identity, which will distinguish it from its illustrious predecessors and allow it to be more than an exercise in style. 6/10

Hat – Vortex of Death

Major misfortune of most modern Scandinavian black metal bands is to arrive too late, when the second wave has already died on the shores. Inevitably, all these bands must undergo harsh comparisons with their predecessors, many of which still on business. It’s the case of Hat, a Norwegian band founded first in the 1990s under a different name, then reappeared under its current name in 2006. After a demo and a rather confidential album (The Demise of Mankind, 2009), it strikes again with Vortex of Death (2011), launched by a small American label.

As it is often the case with the Norwegian bands, the product is pretty slick. Beautiful cover, impeccable packaging. Unfortunately, it’s in the music that spoils it a bit. Hat plays – with conviction, I know – a very traditional black metal, as interpreted in their home country for the past twenty years and counting. From the first notes of Inhuman Revelatio, listeners are dragged into common ground, with riffs, arrangements and sequences already heard a thousand times before. We easily perceive all the possible influences exploited by Hat, such as Satyricon, Behexen and some other pillars of the 1990s, which have all had (and still have) their moment of glory while playing fast and hateful black metal. But then, the 1990s are long gone…

Vortex of Death is still a decent album which may satisfy all of those (and there are many) who prefer vintage sounding black metal, without any kind of modern innovation. For me, it is immediately heard, immediately pulled over my stack of CDs. 6/10

Thulcandra – Under a Frozen Sun

What if Jon Nödtveidt, famous leader of the infamous Swedish horde Dissection, had not been imprisoned for murder complicity in 1997? He could have worked on legendary album Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995) successor, keeping the same sound and rhythmic approach that allowed the band to become a major pillar of the early 1990s Scandinavian metal scene. This uchrony is the starting point of Thulcandra’s career, a Bavarian band that chose to live in a parallel dimension in which they embody a version of Dissection as it could have been without its unfortunate eight years hiatus. Fallen Angel’s Dominion (2010), band’s first album, was a long tribute to Nödtveidt 1990s music, an exercise in style designed to delight fans and rekindle the flame of blackened death metal. But now, these Gerrys are launching a second album, called Under a Frozen Sun (2011). Have they changed the formula?

Well no. This new album is again heavily inspired by Dissection first two records. Similarities are even sometimes disturbing. Anyone who has been listening to Dissection since the 90s (like me) can only note the obvious: Thulcandra is a pastiche – if not a plagiarizer – of its glorious predecessors. From the opener called In Blood and Fire until the record ends, every riff, every sound, every harmony, seem to draw their source from The Somberlain (1993) and Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995). By compassion for you, dear readers, I will not enumerate all possible comparisons that can be made, but how is it possible not to inevitably recall Where Dead Angels Lie when listening the title track of this album? We can also perceive some other small influences here and there, especially In Flames (when they were still playing metal) on Aeons of Darkness.

I wonder why talented musicians are confining themselves in a musical straitjacket, sounding like a legendary band. Admiration? Fans attraction? Since everyone has access to the originals, why settle for a substitute? But let’s be a good chap, Under a Frozen Sun (2011), despite its total lack of originality (even the cover is almost identical to the first album), still remains fun to listen and allows to experience an alternate history that so many Dissection fans, disappointed by Reinkaos (2006), would have liked to live. But every good things must end sometimes. I hope Thulcandra knows that. 6/10

Blut Aus Nord – 777 – The Desanctification

Some musical genres are very difficult to break as they are demanding of listeners. One created by Vindsval, leader and sole songwriter of Blut Aus Nord, belongs to this category. For over fifteen years, this group offers a French Black Metal Ambient particularly tight and confusing. Universally celebrated its release, The Work Which Transforms God (2003) remains the album’s reference group, logical culmination of over eight years of research and artistic sound. However, his successor – DEATH (2006) – has led to confusion among fans because his approach unstructured and noisy. And it is certainly not Odinist (2007), linear and obscure, who reassured anyone.The announcement of a new trilogy set in 2011-2012 has met with great skepticism. Blut Aus Nord and so had lost the key so special that makes his music both difficult to access, but rich in sounds and textures?

Published earlier this year, 777-Sect (s) (2011) seemed to revive the golden years of the group, but I then lent half an ear. I begin again, then with his successor, 777 – The Desanctification (2011), I explore in depth this time. First observation, the compositions are stripped, reduced to a few sounds that seem to run in a loop around a central rate. The influence of the music industry is clear: it is felt from the opening track, Epitome VII, in which passages come from the keyboard to create ethereal atmospheres that coat the electronic drums and some guitar notes.Epitome VIII is closer to the spirit of the previous albums of the group, with this peculiar mixture of melancholy voice and staccato rhythms and complex harmonies. Little interlude while "reverb" Epitome IX surprises me and created a floating sensation, while Epitome X is a song more accessible and well built. The last three songs, instrumental, are those where the influence of the music industry is most evident, particularly evident in the final, which sounds typical of this style of music just close the album.

Without going into the dithyramb, Blut Aus Nord album delivers a solid, perfectly in tune with the style practiced by the group. It continues to push the boundaries of his musical exploration, this time by reducing its sonic palette, while incorporating elements that are foreign. To listen to the same state of mind during a visit to a contemporary art gallery. 7/10

Glorior Belli – The Great Southern Darkness

I am always looking for innovation, which is found even within a genre conventions also steeped as Black Metal. Usually, it is the crossing of styles that provide the most significant artistic developments and the dark metal is no exception. It is through experimentation that are born of styles now in place, such as the Black n’Roll, the atmospheric Black Metal Black Thrash. Well the next new feature is probably the work of French Glorior Belli!The music of this unique group based on the unlikely fusion of Black Metal and Stoner Rock. And this is the album The Great Southern Darkness (2011) that formalizes the birth of the Black Stone!

The Stoner Rock is characterized by shuffling rhythms, heavy, as if the musicians were crushed by moisture and heat. The sound is round, the coating is released, the influence of the Blues is evident. It is music that seems composed and performed under the influence of a depressant of some kind. The fusion of such a style with uncompromising Black Metal was not obvious, but it is a challenge brilliantly met by the quartet led by J., leader of the group since its founding in 2002. From Dark Gnosis, which introduces the album, guitar chords leave no doubt as to the aesthetic choices made by Glorior Belli. It is heavy and oozing, giving the listener the impression of moving in a swamp on the outskirts of the Mississippi. Second Rebellion Ride to accelerate the tempo, but the underlying structure remains the same. The gravelly voice that accompanies the music even adds an extra dimension to the suffocating atmosphere developed by the group since the beginning of the disk. These are the songs They Call me the Black Devil and the title track that recall the more sources of Stoner band’s music. At times I thought I heard Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss or so, especially the album Blues for the Red Sun, I was listening to loop through adolescence. Negative titles Incarnate and Bring Down the Cosmic Scheme approach for their guns much more accepted Black Metal, while remaining in their original structure and development.However, the album loses its breath from The Venturer foolhardy, as means, and Per Nox Regna, slow and do not hold the same cachet as other songs marked Stoner. Manifested Chaos is for its very successful and exciting. Its central riff, sharp and fast, is supported by the rhythm and the album is good. Horns in my Pathway, which closes the disc is in two parts, the first clear Stoner, the second Black very fast and aggressive. She epitomizes the talent of the French alchemist like no other.

Not all crossings of styles that are successful. To achieve this, we need a mixture of daring and skill, qualities held by Glorior Belli. The Great Southern Darkness, whose title echoes The Great Southern Trendkill Pantera, may mark the birth of a new style that will probably emulated. 7/10

Horde of Hel – Likdagg

It happens that some albums leave me perplexed. I listen to them multiple times (sometimes a painful exercise), but I still can not understand what were the band’s intentions. It happened with Likdagg, most recent album of Horde of Hel. This band, composed of members from several other established groups, works within a confusing musical register. Playing a slow and sticky black metal, crossbred with some industrial sounds, band members claim (judging from their MySpace) to establish a “dark and unhealthy, hateful and elitist” music. Quite a program… they also published a statement supporting all the dictators of the world in their fight to eradicate the human race. If Horde of Hel music was at the height of their bombast, we could all be afraid. But don’t worry. This is not the case.

Rarely a black metal album bored me so much. Not annoyed, bored! A banal album runs out of steam normally after three or four songs of average quality, but to become dull after two minutes, I think that’s a world record. Opening song, Herren Tid is knocking strong at the outset, with some saturated and scary sounds. But tempo begins to slow down after two minutes … and will not get faster often throughout the next forty minutes. Smartans Vapen gives a better illustration of what this album is all about: mid-tempo, drawling voice, atmosphere steeped in distortion. In short, a style already heard a thousand times heard before and mastered by the Ondskapt crew. Several small ambient interludes intersect the album. They seek to create a sense of oppression and discomfort, but the result is unconvincing. These passages are particularly unpleasant and add nothing to the whole. Only really interesting song, Forintelsens Floda has a quicker rhythm and better harmonic structure, but this is the exception. And quite honestly, I found nothing interesting to say about seven last songs. And believe me, I tried!

This kind of disk tends to reinforce my impression about overall quality of Swedish black metal, gradually declining over the years. There are always some pillars that hold the torch, but most average bands seem to regress to mediocrity and ease. Likdagg is an album that exudes lack of creativity and inspiration. Its authors may well claim their elitism and their hatred of mankind; it is certainly not with their music that they will bully anyone. 3/10

Absu – Abzu

I avoid as much as possible to use the “legendary” epithet. Overused term, attributed to countless bands, it was gutted by dint of being led astray. But how would we call Absu then? American black metal pioneer (also known as “United States black metal” or USBM), founded in the early 1990s, this group is a modern dark metal pillar, whose influence on myriad of other formations is undeniable. Particularly active during the second half of the 1990s, this trio led by Proscriptor McGovern experienced a hiatus between 2001 and 2009, a period being used to develop other projects. The excellent self-titled album released in 2009, their fifth only, marks the forefront return of the band. Ambitious, both musically and lyrically, this first album in eight years showed that these Texans’ black thrash had not aged. Now, however, is arriving Abzu, their highly anticipated new album (second of a trilogy which will conclude with Apzu, whose release date is unknown).

The scream launched at the start of Earth Ripper immediately reveals the direction taken by this album: it will be old school! As such, we could swear it belongs to a 1990s thrash metal compilation. It shows all knowledge and effectiveness of a band that has over twenty years of malfeasance on the clock. It goes fast and it hits hard! It continues with Circles of the Oath and a syncopated rhythm, which sometimes leaves room for short and surprising clear guitar passages. Thrash metal class continues with Abraxas Connexus, which gets slower half-way but leads gradually to a very successful new rhythmic sequence. Skrying in the Spirit Vision, however, is the weakest song on the album. Its first two minutes are too predictable and pace is a bit circular and repetitive. It Became Time & Space is a proper song, but its purpose is clearly to introduce the final chapter of the album, A Song for Ea, which is composed of no fewer than six sections, as many small parts that all come together to form a single song. Note the magnificent passage called The Sound Waters – The Denizen, which intersect classical guitar, tubular and keyboard. It gives a beautiful moment of poetry, unexpected in such a monument of heavy metal.

Group’s mysticism and its continued interest in magic and mythology, are here beautifully supported by a damn effective song writing. Absu members (well, the only member left from the 90’s, as a matter of fact) were able to dig into their repertoire in order to extract what makes its strength and hit the bull’s eye with this new album. Although short (just over 36 minutes) Abzu is a great achievement, a milestone in the history of a… legendary band! 8/10

Taake – Noregs Vaapen

Only a handful of black metal groups worldwide are able to generate some real enthusiasm for each new album. Taake rightfully belongs to that elite faction. This Norwegian band, formed during the early 1990s and leaded since by Ørjan Stedjeberg (better known by his stage name “Hoest”) has only five albums, but each has marked the history of dark metal. The “trilogy” (Ser Porten Vid Nattestid, Over Bjoergvin Graat Himmerik Doedskvad and Hordaland, albums released between 1999 and 2005) is still considered to be among the best Norwegian black metal records of all time. After a rather average self-titled album released in 2008 and some disappointments (including the infamous Essen concert episode), Taake is back with a new offering called Noregs Vaapen. So, what Bergen’s enfant terrible will unleash this time?

As soon as the first notes of Fra vadested til vaandesmed rang, it readily acknowledges most aesthetic characteristics of Taake’s music, which draws its inspiration deeply into greatest Norwegian black metal somber years. Both furious and desperate, first song sets the tone. Hoest’s voice, one of the best of its kind, along with excellent riffs, is supported by precise drumming. Keyboard which concludes the song adds an unexpected dimension for this band, used to more conventional forms. This is evidenced by Orkan, a more traditional song, which would have sounded good on any of the band’s first albums, with its repetitive rhythmic riffs and “vintage” atmosphere. But the album really takes off with Nordbundet, a dynamic rock song, sounding alikre to fellow Carpathian Forest. Du Ville Ville Vestland remains pure Taake, but Myr, however, might make the strongest impression because of the highly successful use of a freakin’ banjo as a solo instrument! I honestly could not believe my ears. What audacity! I doubt that this initiative spreads, but it is worth noticing it. Group does it again on Helvetesmakt, but this time with a mandolin, which adds a tragic dimension to this excellent and very intense piece. Conclusive Dei vil alltid Klage og kyta is a true synthesis of the album, which ends in a noisy fog evoking northern fjords. Also take note of many renowned artists collaboration, such as Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone), Attila Csihar (Mayhem) and Demonaz (Immortal).

This album meets expectations, however huge, that critics and fans may have for Taake and its leader. Constituting a vital bridge between Norwegian black metal glorious past and its future, Noregs Vaapen will become one of those classic that no one will ever get tired of listening. 9/10

Arckanum – Helvítismyrkr

I love it when some artists are able to return to the view I had of them, if any difficult task. This is the feat just accomplished Shamaatae (Lahger Johan for his family), leader and sole member of the venerable group Arckanum. Existing since the dawn of the 1990s, the Swedish training is first active, releasing three albums between 1995 and 1998. Ten years of silence followed, during which Shamaatae devoted instead to writing books of occultism. Because the guy is a pure mystic who takes his beliefs (the "chaotic Gnosticism" and "anti-cosmic Satanism") very seriously. Reappeared in 2008 with musical Antikosmos (2008), it is truly with ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ (2009) revives qu’Arckanum success, both critical and popular. But Sviga EIA (2010) does not convince me that half. Release as much in so little time does not give me confidence and I begin to think that the group loses the spark of inspiration that makes his music so unique. Well Helvítismyrkr (2011), first album published by Season of Mist, just prove me wrong to doubt!

Arckanum’s music is built around riffs played in fast-picking, coated with a fast rhythm, but not intrusive. The key to this style, is to find catchy riffs that can be used to frame an entire room. And the new album is full! From Helvitt, opening track, brilliant harmonies fill the whole acoustic space. The main riff is epic (a constant on the album), the segments flow naturally and the voice of flayed Shamaatae fits beautifully throughout. The following songs confirm a great first impression, especially because of the homogeneity of the securities, which appear to form a whole. We also hear here and there a good squeaky guitar sounds reminiscent of the 1990s, particularly gold Djúpum (best song on the album), while Svartr ok Þursligr concludes with an air violin. Svarta is in a contemplative pause in the middle of the ceremony, with his air guitar and dragging his desperate mood, but tumbles again from the beginning of Nifldreki. The conclusion leaves us Outrosta ritualistic incantation and finished brilliantly remarkable disc.
Helvítismyrkr listen in one go and must be assessed as well. Arckanum offers us a great album, which I did not expect and reassures me about the creative potential of its leader. 8/10

Bosse-de-Nage – II

Some Black Metal bands show a formidable imagination to obtain an original name and distinguish themselves from hordes of looters of Tolkien work. So, who might suspect that Bosse-de-Nage (ridiculous name for a metal band, you will surely agree) is a simian character created by Alfred Jarry, French master of the absurd and the father of Ubu? No matter. This mysterious band native of the Bay Area has launched its second album, simply called II (2011). Their eponymous debut album was recorded in one day, I was hoping that this time they have taken more time! Error …

Cruising at the gloomy border of Depressive Black Metal and Shoegaze, the spirited Bosse-de-Nage offer a music characterized by repetitive rhythms, a generally poor recording quality and – above all – a whining, drawling voice that screams despair, probably because of its inability to sing properly. From the perspective of the composition, the riffs of this album starved imagination and since there is short, it makes it all quite daunting. There are some interesting passages, especially the entry of certain titles (including The Lampless Hour), but overall, it is rather poor, no one manages to accurately determine if its the orchestration or talent of the musicians that is limited. The conclusion of the disc is ultimately a supremely uncomfortable moment, as the music gradually hides behind a feedback effect. If I want to hear a creak amplifier, I certainly do not need a group with a name of a monkey!

This album will be forgotten immediately reviewed. Go therefore rather sit on the porch in the rain listening to the (now) Lifelover’s latest album! 3/10

Svarttjern – Towards the Ultimate

It was with some excitement that I started listening to the new album Svarttjern. These practitioners of True Norwegian Black Metal pleasantly surprised me with Misanthropic Path of Madness, a first direct and effective record, published in 2009. It echoed anger and hatred down to the last riff. So I’m excited, but worried. Will the group keep this wildness that characterized so well the first album? A careful and repeated listening Towards the Ultimate (2011) reassures me … in part.

The album starts of with a flying Breathing Soil, dense, fast and rhythmic, so special with this mixture of anger and despair, so typical of the Norwegian Black Metal. That starts well! Jord Hellig operates for its many borrowings from Thrash, with a very catchy main riff. Superior Growth and Self-Extinction Aroused their part, are very good songs that hit where it hurts, the latter recalling also the excellent title track from the first album. It is from I Am the Path II that things go wrong slightly. This and Desolate Predictions are songs predictable rhythm slowed, choice of music that does not fit very well with the style of the group. The last three tracks on the album just straighten the course and Without Lust For What Blooms, which closes the ceremony, sounds like an homage to Heavy Metal, due to a particularly effective melody.

I am ambivalent. First, Towards the Ultimate is a very good Black Metal record, well composed and well performed. On the other hand, my expectations were huge, because of my enthusiasm for their first record. In all fairness, despite a slight loss of power at mid-term, I still highly recommend listening to this album, a worthy representative of the best Norwegian Black Metal. You will not be disappointed. 7/10

Grief of Emerald – The Devil’s Deep

It is unfortunate that no one thought to tell me that Dimmu Borgir had launched a new album under an assumed name. I am outraged! Picking up their money drawers, teasing our Norwegians launched this year’s The Devil Deep (2011), by posing as a Swedish band called Grief of Emerald. What? You say that this group is not composed of members of the band and there are even Shagrath since the 1990s? Well! I fell off my chair. Enough of sarcasm and just analyze this album.

This is the fourth long-play started by Grief of Emerald, band from Uddevalla, but the first since 2002. The similarities with the music of Dimmu Borgir’s ears pop from the first notes of the song title. Same rhythmic form, similar harmonies, vocals and keyboard suitable identical. The impression of plagiarism is increasing on Divine Dragon, which recalls at least three or four titles of the latest albums of their colleagues in Norway. It becomes painful when Revival, as it seems that the songs Grief of Emerald are devoid of originality. However, the technique has been mastered. We feel that these musicians have a lot of experience and know-how, but obviously, not very creative.

If you are a fan of Dimmu finished Business, The Devil’s Deep can be an interesting choice to fill your MP3 library. For my part, being tired of this type of sound for ten years, I’ll pass. 3/10

Falls of Rauros – The Light That Dwells in Rotten Woods

The Black Metal is a style that stands out usually because of his aggressiveness and his uncompromising nihilism. This is a dark music, hard and fairly linear. But there are exceptions, groups that exist on the margins of dark metal and have nothing in common with the corpses covered with nails and dripping blood that feed the usual clichés. Among these courses, there are the Falls of Rauros Americans, who have launched their third album, The Light That Dwells in Rotten Woods (2011).

Working in the register of Black Metal vaporous air, this quartet from Maine to develop long titles inspired by nature, forests and mountains. The harmonies are refined, the ambiance is delicately weave. It is released from the album it feels like a real melancholy particularly Banished or short instrumental piece on the Nonesuch River Song. My favorite song is, however, undoubtedly Awaiting the Fire or Flood It That Awakes, whose introduction is reminiscent of film music written by Ennio Morricone. The main weakness of the album, however, is the inevitable comparison is between the style practiced by the group and that of their fellow Wolves in the Throne Room. The similarities, both musical and lyrical, are obvious and legitimately doubt the originality of intrinsic Rauros Falls. Their joint participation in many concerts only accentuates this malaise. Although the group claims to play the "North Appalachian Heathen Black Folk Metal", it is not fooling anyone.

Taken out of context, The Light That Dwells in Rotten Woods remains a good album that is assessed as classical music. I suggest you import it on your MP3 player and listen during your next walk in the woods. 6/10

Acherontas – Vamachara

The religious phenomenon is ubiquitous among groups of black metal, usually to terminate it. However, some are inspired to the point of devoting albums and even careers. This is the case of Greek Acherontas group, founded in 2007 and is launching his third-game in four years. After a detour to Babylon, the group returns to tap into the vast register of Hindu mysticism with Vamachara (2011), which means "the way of the left hand," a radical way of practicing the Vedic religion.

How can we combine this theme with Black Metal? Well the Greeks succeed with obvious expertise. After a grandiose introduction, music, tumbling and much darker metal sounds old school on Blood Current Enlightenment. Production, a bit raspy, gives an extra vintage touch and remember some good times (there are) of the career of Darkthrone. Abraxas is slower and is based on an oppressive atmosphere. It also ends with a beautiful pass acoustic, dark and disturbing. The title track brings everyone to order and banging everything in its path. It is direct and brutal, clearly my favorite of the album, despite some vocal flights not always controlled. When lower disc, Ohm Krim Kali is a piece of atmosphere that seeks to evoke India, but I did not really believe. It also slows the tempo and would have been better placed later in the album. It then goes again with Beyond The Ophidian Mazeways To Gnosis, which uses the harmonic forms of the first song and restores tone to the ceremony. It Drakonian Womb which closes the album, as long (nearly eleven minutes) well built that does not feel the filling, unlike many other long songs concluding that abound in the Black Metal.

This disc is a pleasant surprise me that not following themes too fond flyes or exotic. Acherontas manages to merge several influences, while maintaining an approach and a decidedly black metal. A good album to discover. 7/10

NunFuckRitual – In Bondage to the Serpent

It is by chance that I get my hands on the first album of the Norwegians NunFuckRitual, In Bondage to the Serpent (2011). Intrigued by the cover, I expect a very aggressive Black Metal typical of cold regions. After all, the group is led by Teloch, prolific musician with multiple projects (Nidingr, Umoral, Mayhem), used to the rhythm of the fastest and dementia. Hence my surprise! The group came to the border of Black Doom and the slow and very dirty!

From the first title, Theotokos, the tone is set. The pace is slow, the sequences are hypnotic, the distortion is omnipresent. Some measures accelerate the tempo, but soon we return to an atmosphere that evokes a mental hospital a full moon. This feeling of oppression is even more keen on the following titles, Komodo Dragon, Queen Mother and Christotokos, giving the listener the impression of being trapped, stuck in the heart of a deranged mind. Parthenogenic gives a slight respite with a faster clocked, but again, ambient passages accentuate the feeling of being trapped in a straitjacket. As for the title track, which concludes the album, it is a beautiful illustration of the approach chosen by the group: almost one perceives the movement of a snake moving languidly on a wet and sticky.

A few guitar chords, a battery train, a creepy atmosphere … In Bondage to the Serpent is definitely not a party album, but could no doubt accompany the course of a session when an occult or sacrificial ceremony! 7/10

Dødkvlt – II

Like any music columnist, I am stuffed with prejudices against certain phenomena related to my favorite style. So I usually am wary of Black Metal bands formed of a single person, especially if it fill their albums with more than seventy minutes of music! And although my bias is shaken by listening to the second album from the Finnish Dødkvlt.

Led by a man named Lord Teynian, "the group" gives with II (2011) no fewer than seventy-three minutes of music spread over nine songs. Experimental Black Metal described by its author, the style of Dødkvlt is actually very accessible to the layman. From the first title, Children of a Failed God, there is very fast side melodic songs that borrow a lot to Melodeath Scandinavian. This is surely not accidental, Lord Teynian was formerly an affiliate of melodic Thrash Dream Smashers Inc.. Catchy rhythm, catchy riffs, frequent use of piano and style variations from one room to another are essential elements of the album, which makes it very pleasant to listen. Some titles such as Soul Devourer, are true odes Black Thrash Metal, while others, such as Deep and Dark Waters Of Taival Vaille and Valo, slower, slow down the tempo a bit and bring an extra dimension to the album.

Of course, as long a drive is not necessarily homogeneous. The long piece bonus offered in conclusion – albeit beautiful – was clearly dispensable, and some other titles have benefited from being more concise. However, it is remarkable that a single artist could have produced an album of this quality, despite the multitude of instruments used and all control. A wonderful discovery and a group to watch. 7/10

Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

In the world often steeped in stereotypes of Black Metal, there are few groups that really stand out. There is more to the escalation of hemoglobin or gore effects between the supposed worship of the goat horns, which rival the imagination to capture the imagination of jaded teens. All this makes it all the more surprising success of the American team Wolves in the Throne Room. Composed of brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver, it offers an extremely ambitious black metal, atmospheric and distinctly avant-garde. After three critically acclaimed albums, adored by a horde of fans irreducible, these wolves from the state of Washington with the highly anticipated re-offend Celestial Lineage (2011).

Again, the brothers go where no one expects. This new album marks a new stage in the exploratory approach of the group, which now includes elements typical of the pagan scene, such as ambient passages, natural sounds and female vocals on some tracks distributed. Started gently with Thuja Magus Imperium, the album takes a few minutes to stand clear. But we feel that the focus is on reflection and contemplative reverie. Nothing is unwelcome, everything is set up gradually. The second title is instrumental and it is with the third song, Subterranean Initiation, found aggressiveness tempered by the intervention of the keyboard and surround effects. After another short instrumental track, Woodland Cathedral takes the form taken by the first song, with its slow and saturated structure, accompanied by a beautiful female voice. Astral Blood recalled have a number of songs that have marked the history of Black Metal, with its rhythm and amplitude. Its main riff is in the ears long after listening. The album closes with a long title that unfolds slowly, evoking the kind who sleeps with a final saturated and haunting.

It is unlikely that this new album makes unanimity among fans of the band, or else to those looking for pure aggression of Black Metal. However, those who are willing to get caught up in a musical journey led masterfully by two men at the top of their game will be filled. Celestial Lineage is eaten more than he listens and shows that style can still be accompanied by a strong creativity. 9/10

Waldgeist – Waldgeist

I usually start my reviews by giving some background on the band/album I’m about to criticize. Well I’ll have to make an exception for Waldgeist! Apart from its Russian origin, I could not find any other data that would allow me to learn anything about it! Well, too bad. Music matters fist!

This self-titled album, first release of the band, offers a paganism-tainted black metal, a dimension often found in Slavic formations. Songs are quite long (averaging seven minutes throughout the record) and are composed of traditional acoustic parts intersected with typical black metal. Song writing is based on fairly simple repetitive rhythmic and harmonic loops. Sound and recording quality are good, as for the interpretation, which is not that common for a Russian band. Clearly, Waldgeist wishes to focus more on ambiances than riffs but, however, all compositions are reminiscent of many others in the same register and do not truly distinguish the band from more well-known pagan acts, like Drudkh, Temnozor and so on.

This first effort still gives satisfaction to the listener, with its good sound quality and accurate playing. Anyone who loves pagan black metal, Drudkh-flavored, should be pleased with this record. 6/10

Craft – Void

The merger between black and thrash metal is a major component of modern dark metal. This phenomenon is partly explained by the search for rawer sound and attitude, but also because many black metal musicians grew up listening to bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Testament. When the merger is well executed, we can hear a wild combination of dynamic/rhythmic riff-based thrash and dark decadent atmosphere of black metal. When it is missed, it gives the new album of the Swedish band Craft.

Void is Craft’s fourth album, a band known for its nihilistic approach and its lo-fi black thrash, but six years are separating this sequel from Fuck the Universe, released in 2005. I do not know what band members did during this quiet period, but it had certainly not much impact on song writing quality. Several good riffs can sometimes be heard, notably on Serpent Soul, The Ground Surrenders or I Want to Commit Murder, but too often, songs are slowing down, looping or becoming hopelessly repetitive. For once, I was really annoyed by an album, as it felts lazy and not done carefully. It is even more shocking when we think about Craft musicians’ experience and knowledge (including the main songwriter, who has played in Shining).

Craft surely wishes to regain its footing in the world of black metal after a long hiatus, but it is certainly not with this album that it will be achieved. 3/10

Erebus Enthoned – Night’s Black Angel

Australia is a historically fascinating country. Former England colony, it housed British Empire most violent scum. This surely partly explains the appearance of a local black metal scene, which Enthoned Erebus is a proud member! Band formed in 2006, it produced a demo in 2007 and an EP two years later. But it launched only recently its first album, Night’s Black Angel. Forget about bucolic images from vintage Skippy TV show, it is brutality and Satanism we are talking about here!

This band from Sydney offers a strong traditional black metal, based on various riffs and several changes of pace, thus avoiding the trap of linearity. However, comparisons with some Swedish bands are inevitable. Pillar of Fallen Flesh clearly evokes Dissection and its many followers, through the merger of death and thrash metal. The group still managed to have a sound of its own, that we can distinguish particularly on the martial Horns of Severity or the excellent Virus. Temple of Dispersion, an ambient and instrumental song, is the weak point of the album. It adds nothing to the disc and even breaks its rhythm, trying to give it a superfluous creepy side. It might have been better to place it at the end and leave the very good title track to the penultimate place. The latter song, fast and well balanced, still represents perfectly the band’s characteristics, illustrating – once again – its illustrious Scandinavian influences.

Even at the other end of the world, we can find talented bands launching very good black metal albums. Erebus Enthroned, whose fame grows in the land of koalas, probably seeks a career out of their island. That CD might well be their passport. 7/10

Cultes des Ghoules – Spectres Over Transylvania

Reviewing an album containing a single song – often long, complex and varied – is a difficult exercise. We must be able to go deep within it, in order to identify its main characteristics and intentions of its creator. It is therefore with some trepidation that I started listening to Pole band Cultes des Ghoules’ newest EP. This group is known for its very orthodox black metal and its propensity to mysticism; digesting a 25 minutes song from them seemed hazardous to me.

However, this exercise was not vain or uninteresting. Spectre Over Transylvania is certainly quite a long song, but its concept is clear. We are immersed from the beginning in what looks like the soundtrack of an old Hammer Studios horror movie. After a short introduction creating the atmosphere, old school black metal from these undead Pomeranians takes over, with strong bold riffs and a deliberately lo-fi sound. The tempo slows down mid-term, developing a sequence reminiscent of a black mass, with invocations and sacrifices in the background; but the last part of the song is picking up speed and rhythm, always accompanied by a sepulchral voice that came straight from the Carpathians. The epilogue, which gives us a chilling, left us with an impression of attending  a witch burning, with screams as a bonus, before giving way to a short instrumental passage referring to generic musical montages of old horror films.

This EP is not astounding, but still has an original dimension that deserves to be raised. The underlying concept is interesting, even if musically, the result is rather limited. I suggest you to listen it to reminisce good old Dracula movies! 6/10

Kroda – Schwarzpfad

It is inevitable that images come to mind when we think of some countries: Switzerland and its icy mountains; Greece and its islands… As for Ukraine, it evokes vast snowy plains, windswept and crossed by mighty rivers. And these are the exact images that came to mind while listening to the latest Kroda album, called Schwarzpfad. Coming from Lvov, in western Ukraine, this one-man band (Eisenslav, since the departure of founder Viterzgir in 2010, although five other sessions musicians are still there) offers a truly inspired an efficient pagan black metal.

Composed of four long songs and an instrumental epilogue, album starts as a light crescendo with First Snow, who then knocks at full speed. However, true band’s originality appears rapidly, with some keyboard passages, which adds to the ambiance and – especially – flute interludes, which give a touch folk. Universal Provenances again begins smoothly, before switching to a desperate and beautiful rhythm, quick but still bathed by some flute air. Forefather of Hangmen offers an extensive a mystical guitar introduction, before switching also to a very nice and varied black / folk coating. Fourth title, Heil Ragnarok uses arpeggios fast picking technique to create a furious atmosphere, almost precipitous, made more fluid by constant use of the keyboard and flute, decidedly one of the band favorite instruments. Cold Aurora, which closes the record, is a cold and minimalist instrumental song played on the keyboard, giving the impression of flying over the steppe, closing the album on a contemplative mode.

Concerns about the departure of a Kroda’s founding member are swept by this magnificent album, which enables the group to achieve the same status as other Ukrainian formations, such as Drudkh or Nokturnal Mortum. Song writing richness and interpretation quality gives special luster to this remarkable disc. 8/10

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