Bloodbath – “The Wacken Carnage” review

Posted in Bloodbath, death metal, DVD review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Playing at the biggest venue in metal, Wacken Open Air, is a fantastic accomplishment that many bands can only fathom. To perform for nearly 70,000 roaring metalheads in your first live gig is truly a unique achievement which few bands can claim. Swedish death metal outfit Bloodbath is no ordinary band however. Touted as a conglomeration of death metal elite, Bloodbath lives up to the reputation. The live band consists of drummer Martin Axenrot (Opeth, ex-Witchery), bassist Jonas Renske (Katatonia), lead guitarist Anders Nyström (Diabolical Masquerade), vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth), and guitarist/vocalist/drummer/microphone technician/costume designer/all-around-badass Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity, Pan.Thy.Monium, Katatonia).

To commemorate their first, and reportedly last, concert, Bloodbath released a DVD entitled The Wacken Carnage. The DVD features a handful of tracks from each of their previous releases, including several from their debut EP, Breeding Death. Without hesitation, Bloodbath opens the concert immediately bringing forth vivid memories of old school death metal bands such as Entombed, Dismember, and Suffocation. Akerfeldt makes this ode to old school death metal apparent when describing the goals and aspirations of Bloodbath. ‘Brave New Hell’ starts off with a classic drop beat on drums, which the band affectionately calls the “Stockholm Beat,” and ‘Furnace Funeral’ contains a rendition of Entombed’s ‘Left Hand Path’ guitar solo.

Fans of Åkerfeldt in Opeth must be forewarned, for Åkerfeldt drops the guise of a tender-hearted proghead; instead, he sounds as if he came straight from hell on a demonic mission. While not overly adventurous, the instrumentation on the DVD is accurate, aggressive, and blends perfectly with Mikael’s demonic vocals. Tremolo picking and blast beats are plentiful, but not overused. Renske on bass is barely audible at times, but this does not necessarily hurt the overall quality of the performance.

The latter half of the album contains the most important tracks, those which truly display Bloodbath’s passion and knack for creating top-notch death metal. ‘Bastard Son of God,’ a blazingly fast track which forces me to headbang, showcases Bloodbath’s songwriting talent. The scream issued by Swanö and Åkerfeldt before the last chorus of the song ranks as one of my favorite moments in metal. ‘Breeding Death,’ although over a decade old, is still fantastically vicious, with both gut-wrenching passages of brutality and inviting melodic lines. The encore, ‘Eaten,’ is a very appropriate way for the bloodstained band to end their set. Inspired by the infamous case of internet cannibalism (Google: Armin Meiwes), ‘Eaten’ is clearly the fan favorite, and rightfully so. The track is simply a wrecking ball, nothing too technical, but devastating nonetheless.

Most songs on the DVD seem to present as a combination of Dismember’s Like an Everflowing Stream and Entombed’s Clandestine with less emphasis on lead guitar. While Bloodbath is clearly trying to reminisce and pay homage to the Swedish bands that produced classic death metal, they create a unique, memorable sound via precise and passionate musicianship.

-Matt

Naked City – “Torture Garden” Album Review

Posted in album review, avant-garde, Grindcore, Jazz, Naked City with tags , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Pleasure through pain is an experience oft connected with the BDSM fetish scene, with the term “algolagnia” specifically used to describe this sort of kink.  How fitting it is then, that Naked City’s Torture Garden, with its album art taken directly from a Japanese BDSM porno, tackles this specific perversion in both concept and sound.

Whoever thinks that jazz is limited to the “elevator music” played off dusty old 10”s has never heard Naked City’s destruction of not only jazz music, but the overall restrictions of a typical musical band: consistent song structures, verse or chorus patterns, and lyrics.  Perhaps a big “fuck you” to these musical standards or an ode to Naked City’s hardcore/grindcore influences, the songs on Torture Garden are incredibly spastic and sometimes contain three or more genres within one sub-minute grindcore track.  Notable pieces include “N.Y Flat Top Box,” a primarily country music song whose twang is interrupted by hiccups of blast beats, “Cairo Chop Shop,” an aptly-named romp that serves as a brief yet disturbing glimpse into the Egyptian underground, and “Kaoru,” with a musical box lullaby strangely evocative of the prologue from Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.  This genre hopping style can be dizzying and definitely a turn-off for the casual listener.  But then again, when has avant-garde jazz/grindcore hybrids ever been aimed at the masses?

Most commonly labeled as “too loud” or generalized by the layman as “screamo,” extreme metal and grindcore somehow find a target audience that hears something compelling hidden behind the cacophonous sound.  Seemingly, Torture Garden is an experiment in this idea.  If we can derive enjoyment from this music that breaks most, if not all, musical standards and should prove a “painful” listening experience, then aren’t we algolagniacs?  Perhaps hidden within any adventurous music fan is this innate desire to test our limits.  What may initially be painful can turn into a pleasurable experience.

-Max

Prog Promulgation 3 – Dark Prog

Posted in Devil Doll, prog promulgation, progressive rock with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Note: Prog is often called ‘pretentious.’ Thus, so are our personas. Although on the surface this may seem overtly insulting towards most musical genres, we only wish to immerse the reader in the pretentious lifestyle of prog. The music is still fantastic and necessary, and the pretention is (usually) meant with good humor.

On this issue’s journey into the depths of prog rock, the Red Barron presents to you a few darker, more macabre gems from the genre.  Be warned: as with all prog rock, these albums take patience to truly appreciate, but are well worth the effort.  Dark and moody soundscapes do not always please the ears of the general public.  However, you, fellow prog addicts, are not part of the plebian masses.  Dedicated listening will unveil the true beauty of these somber listening experiences.

Virgin Black is perhaps best known in the doom metal scene, but the progressiveness of the band’s music cannot be denied.  Currently finishing up the third part of their three album Requiem, the group has blatantly displayed its penchant for the Romantic era of classical music.  It is perhaps on their first album, Sombre Romantic, where the group’s progressivism and dark beauty can be most appreciated.  The album is survey of depression; while each track experiments with different genres, they all retain a sinister and dark mood, largely due to Rowan London’s fantastic operatic vocals.  While the experimentations with darkwave (‘Walk Without Limbs’), black metal (‘I Sleep with the Emperor’), and goth (‘Of Your Beauty’) are all spectacular, the eight minute epic ‘Museum of Iscariot’ is without doubt the highlight of the album.  London is so emotive that listeners can truly feel his gut-wrenching agony, and Samantha Escarbe’s guitar solo is one of the best in doom.   If you aren’t crying too much at the end of the album, be sure to check out the rest of their catalogue as well; while not as progressive, it is required listening for fans of symphonic metal or doom.

On a much more underappreciated note, we present Devil Doll.  Devil Doll is lead by the enigmatic Mr. Doctor, whose identity remains unknown.  The ‘Man of 1000 Voices’ presents an eerie and frightening atmosphere in The Sacrilege of Fatal Arms, one of his several magnum opuses.  If you, prog acolyte, have the intellect and will to listen through its 79 minute length, you will certainly be rewarded with one of the most intense and dark journeys in all of prog.   Truly, the masterpiece as whole is not comparable to anything else in music.  Orchestral marches, drowned out by frenzied shouting and political speeches, are interspersed between flat-out rock sections, complete with the howls and operatic singing of Mr. Doctor.  Still other portions of the track resemble German symphonies, where mournful violins, delicate keys and haunting whispers swirl around the listener like mist.  Each minute drags the listener down further into Mr. Doctor’s psychotic and warped mind, leaving one breathless and emotionally drained by the album’s end.  Although it is difficult to predict or comprehend at first, Devil Doll’s music is quite listenable, and holds up extremely well after repeated listening experiences.  Much like Virgin Black, the whole of the group’s discography is full of dark surprises and sublime tracks, so continue to listen on after you have become addicted.

Don’t be too scared, fellow listeners.  While Brother B and the Red Barron can stand it, we realize that this stuff can be difficult for the petite ears of others.  Persevere, and you too will become entranced with the darker side of prog.

Carach Angren – ‘Death Came Through A Phantom Ship’ Review

Posted in album review, black metal, Carach Angren with tags , , , , , on June 18, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

For me, Carach Angren was one of those bands that I just happened to stumble upon. Before I bought their albums, I had heard nothing about them except the reviews that were on the metal archives for their debut album, Lammendam. When I saw that they were labeled as “symphonic black metal”, I was quite excited, since this genre of music is one that I happen to enjoy and wanted to get more into. As excited as I was to hear this album, I never actually thought that Death Came Through a Phantom Ship would be this good.

The production on the album is clean, which helps the listener appreciate each of the instruments and the vocals on the album. The clean production really helps show the high quality of musicianship that is demonstrated throughout Death Came Through a Phantom Ship. There is some great tremolo picking throughout the album, and the riffs present in the album are quite well done too. What is great about the music on the album is how well it flows throughout the album. Besides the typical guitar, drums, and bass, there are violins, horns, keyboards, and a piano that are used throughout many of the songs on the album. With all of the different instruments that can be present at one time in the album, some would expect that there would be parts in the album where these instruments would clash in a manner that would be unpleasant for the listener. This may hold true for other bands, but not for Carach Angren. The instruments are all skillfully played and in turn, they complement each other well. With the different instruments present, the members of Carach Angren are able to create an eerie atmosphere, which complements the story that is being told throughout the course of the album. Atmosphere is something that can really help draw in a listener, if created correctly.

The vocals on the album are mostly typical growls. Along with these growls, there are vocals where Seregor, Carach Angren’s vocalist, is simply speaking or whispering. These types of vocals help provide variety throughout the album, but they also help give the listener a sense that a story is being told. This really helps the fact that this album is a concept album, since it makes the story easier to understand for the listener. Added to this, the growled vocals are quite easy to understand, so the meanings and the stories present in each song are not lost as a result of the listener’s inability to understand the vocals. There are some clean vocals present on the album, such as those present in the opening of the song “Van Der Decken’s Triumph” and in the song “Al Betekent Het Mijn Dood”. In the case of these songs, the clean vocals to me sound exactly like what I would expect to hear from a crew working on a ship. This only adds to the story.

Death Came Through a Phantom Ship is a concept album concerning a captain’s decline into insanity and how this legendary ghost ship came about. One of the most impressive aspects about this album is that the members of Carach Angren are able to clearly tell this story while still being able to produce an album that is nothing short of amazing. The story itself is very good too, only adding to the worth of this album. From my interpretation, the album starts off in a more modern setting, where one sailor is explaining his encounter with this phantom ship. The rest of the album then concerns how Captain Van Der Decken becomes insane and this phantom ship comes to be. Since this story is a ghost story, some of these songs are truly chilling. Just look at the story that is being told in the song And the Consequence Macabre. To give a brief summary, Captain Van Der Decken (I assume it is, this song is in the first person, so no name is mentioned) is having a nightmare in which someone is attacking him, and his daughter is missing. He wakes up only to find that both his wife and daughter are dead. Well, that’s the general idea, but it’s probably best that you listen to this song to truly understand it.

Death Came Through a Phantom Ship is an album that does not disappoint. The music is superb, the vocals are great, and the story is chilling. If you are a fan of symphonic black metal, I highly recommend this album. Also, if you enjoy ghost stories or legends, or you want to see a band that can masterfully tell a story through music, I strongly suggest that this is the first album you should look into. This album is an amazing output, and I am greatly interested to see what Carach Angren will do next.

Sean

(Also posted on the Metal Archives, http://www.metal-archives.com/review.php?id=258064)

To Kvlt To Be Tr00 #1

Posted in black metal, To Kvlt To Be Tr00 with tags , , on June 17, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

As a brief departure from Pantheon’s usual material and in honor of black metal as a musical genre, I will be at random periods in time posting a series of black-metal-picture inspired comic strips. The intentionally misspelled title of this series is “To Kvlt To Be Tr00.”  I would like to stress that these comics are not and will never be meant to belittle this fantastic genre of music. Click on the above image to see the pictures in a high definition readable format.

-Cameron

Celestia – “Archaenae Perfectii” Review

Posted in album review, Celestia with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

According to Mr. Varg Vikernes of Burzum, black metal was never meant to last beyond the Norwegian movement of the early 90s.  All of the bands strived to have a different sound, a different image, and a different purpose.  As with any burgeoning genre though, a string of copycats arose playing this Norwegian style to death.  Nearly twenty years later, we stand amongst a sea of black metal bands, knowing that the vast majority will be uninspired copies of some classic artist.

With their newest release, Archaenae Perfectii, Celestia toes the line separating “been there, done that” and something fresh and interesting.  Celestia borrows heavily from the typical black metal sound, featuring an abundance of tremolo-picked, dissonant guitars on every track.  At times, this sound can become grating on my ears for the very reason that I’ve heard it done many times before.  The bass is mostly inaudible (other than the final track), the drums merely do their job, and the vocals are standard-fare, high pitch screams.

With those gripes out of the way, Archaenae Perfectii actually has a lot going for it.  Each track contains moments of beauty, ranging from the addition of a subtle atmospheric keyboard in the background to the various acoustic guitar melodies.  Never sounding out of place or over-used despite their frequency throughout the album, the use of acoustic guitars prove to be welcome diversions from the otherwise entirely metallic sound. Though I find their dissonant black metal moments to be mediocre, Celestia crafts some damn fine melodies!  The acoustic melody played in the backdrop of “Dogmatii Duality / Au Crepuscule Sous Les Larmes” breathes life into a track that would have otherwise been entirely average.  The high point of the album is probably “Dominus Crux Spiritus” which contains a blissful acoustic interlude, coupled with ethereal keyboards that pave the way to a graceful conclusion.  However, the finale “Nuit Qui Brille Comme Soleil” provides some competition, being undoubtedly the heaviest track on the album.  It contains some surprisingly dynamic percussion that had me air-drumming and headbanging like some sort of freak.  In fact, it’s probably the only track on the album to which one can head bang.  Hey, that’s fine with me.  In general, I find black metal to be more of an experience that envelops the listener in the overall atmosphere rather than music to pump your fists to.  In small and tasteful doses though, as on this album, some high energy moments can prove to be exciting and unexpected!

I can foresee Archaenae Perfectii being an album that will sneak onto various top ten lists for 2010, and I wouldn’t have beef with that.  Celestia has crafted a fine album that transcends its various moments of mediocrity by wisely inserting a sublime melody here and there or switching to the acoustic guitar for a quick breather.  It does just enough to separate itself from the festering carrion that is the black metal genre.  Not quite the reinvention or evolution that needs to occur for black metal to stay alive, but eclectic enough to be applauded.

-Max

Sigh – ‘Scenes From Hell’ Review

Posted in album review, avant-garde, black metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

With each album, Sigh has consistently shown their listeners that they will never be pigeonholed into a specific genre.  While the origins of their music are rooted in black metal, orchestral, jazz, and avant-garde influences are also present.  Imaginary Sonicscape was a bizarre trip through a psychedelic atmosphere.  Gallows Gallery, the band’s foray into melodic metal, proved that they could retain a high level of musicianship and varied influences while creating songs that were instantly catchy and accessible.  With 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn, Sigh incorporated a large amount of orchestral influences, resulting in a highly symphonic and intriguing listen.  However, for the first time, Sigh overdid it.  The tracks themselves were fantastic, but long orchestral breaks made the album a chore to listen to.

Enter Scenes from Hell.  For the first time, Sigh does not completely reinvent themselves.  Rather, they have taken the winning formula from Hangman’s Hymn and stripped the filler from it, resulting in a cohesive and wildly enjoyable album.  The orchestral influences are back and more prevalent than ever, but the band has truly perfected their incorporation into the song structure.  Unlike other symphonic bands, who simply write metal songs and layer violins and trumpets over the riffs, Sigh make the orchestral atmosphere an integral part of the music.  Saxophone solos follow guitar solos, loud trumpets punctuate heavy passages, and violins and keys mingle with distorted riffs and blast beats.  Never have classical instruments sounded so normal in metal.

Don’t worry, Sigh have not lost their avant-garde side.  ‘Normal’ does not mean that you have heard this before.  ‘Prelude to the Oracle’ opens the album with a thrash riff, quickly bombarding the listener with a chorus of trumpets.  Songs run the gamut from intense blackened thrash to slow, doomy dirges, such as the exceptional ‘Funeral’ songs in the center of the album.  Of course, Mirai’s trademark howls and keys are backed up by Shinichi’s furious guitar shredding, but Scenes from Hell also boasts the addition of saxophonist and vocalist Dr. Mikannibal.  Her deep growls and solos, especially on ‘Musica in Tempora Belli’ add a new dimension to Sigh’s music.

Despite excellent song structures, insanely catchy melodies, and a new level of orchestration and experimentation, Scenes from Hell is not Sigh’s best album.  It remains a blast to listen to after repeated listens, unlike its predecessor, Hangman’s Hymn.  However, the production is strangely muddy – the bass is inaudible, more or less, and the guitars occasionally sound as if they were recorded underwater.  Considering Sigh’s popularity and the quality of the production on previous albums (Gallows Gallery notwithstanding), this is bizarre.  And, while it’s great to hear the band perfect the style that they dabbled in on the previous album, it is somewhat disappointing.  In today’s metal scene, with two-bit metalcore acts and ‘bedroom black metal’, it is always refreshing to find bands like Ulver and Sigh who constantly reinvent themselves and progress.

Even with poor production and a lack of progression, this is certainly one of the best albums of 2010 thus far.   Sigh’s brilliant combination of blackened metal with symphonic elements is one of the best that has been recorded, and is not to be missed.  While no one can predict what Mirai and crew will come up with next, it is fair to say that, considering their track record thus far, it will certainly be another monumental landmark in the evolution of black metal.

Adam