Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Hazy Shade Of Summer ...

Woods Of Ypres are a melodic black metal band out of Windsor, Ontario (just across the border from Detroit) who after being together just a few short months (around 5) threw together a 5 song EP of beautifully dreary and brutal black metal.

Not being familiar with my own countries underground metal scene (coming late into the metal arena) I was unaware of the huge impact that Woods Of Ypres was having on the Canadian black metal scene. I didn't know there was a Canadian black metal scene. I actually saw their full length album first with the caption "Black Metal from Windsor" and just had to check it out and was blown away by the quality of not just the production, but the songwriting/music altogether. This is some incredible music.

Starting with the bands debut EP "Against The Seasons: Cold Winter Songs From The Dead Winter Heat" we have a solid melodic black metal album rooted in melancholic bleakness. This album is more traditionally black metal and more aggressive then their follow up, but there are hints at uniqueness and originality that would grow on the later release. The album opener "Intro (The Shades Of Optimism)" is a galloping black metal tune that is brutal and fast. It hints at Twin Obscenity stylings as does "The Sea Of Immeasurable Loss". The riffwork here is more melodic and some clean vocals bring warmth to this sweltering uncomfortable sadness.

"Crossing The 45th Parallel" is brutally fast with a chunky melodic middle bridge. This track reflect the kind of style that would become more prominent on their sophomore release. The album closer "Awaiting The Inevitable" is a pummelling mid-paced black metal tune steeped in sorrow.

"A Meeting Place And Time" is most like where the band would grow and is darkly sweet and melodically sorrowful. A real beautiful piece, however, I pick "The Sea Of Immeasurable Loss" as my favourite for its blend of hopeful melancholy.

On their second release "Pursuit Of The Sun & Allure Of The Earth" the music takes on a grander theme and more styles to create a unique and gloomy sound. The emphasis here is not in being brutal and dark, but to tap into emotions that are brutal and dark. We have more clean vocals in part to a changing line-up where the sole remaining member David Gold who took over vocals (clean/black) as well as guitars and studio drums. The music is more depressing and gloomy with some nice acoustic passages and a larger doom sound. I wouldn't call this folk metal or progressive metal and I wouldn't call black metal either, but the mix creates such a bleak environment and inherent sadness that even doomer's and gother's would be envious..

The opening song "Intro: The Looming Of Dust In The Dark (And Illumination)" sets the mood with an upliftingly depressing melodic ballad like tune with dark undertones, but after the opening acoustic intro of the second track"The Will To Give" David Gold belts out ~The disappointment of what never came to be~ and blasts into a blistering and melodic bleak black metal tune. It's dark and passionate and emotionally crushing. "Dragged Across A Forest Floor" is just as brutal, but paints such a miserable feeling of pained uncomfortableness. This song also features a heartwrenching bridge coated in sorrow filled melody (And also my favourite song).

The third song "The Sun Was In My Eyes pt.1" is dark heavy and brutally fast and reaches death metal intensity , whereas "The Sun Was In My Eyes part Doom" is (as the title states) doom laden with an oppressing feeling of gloom before taking us out with some blistering black metal. "Allure Of The Earth" and "Shedding The Deadwood" are also heavily influenced doom tracks with acoustic passages of overwhelming sadness. The album closer "Outro: The End Of August" is Cathedral style doom mixed with airy vocal lines both male and female creating a pretty cool sound. Haunting.

There is also an almost poppy song here called "Summer's Envy" which I think is the cause of most reviewers negativity. It does have a hooky riff and sing along chorus, but the song is still weighted heavily in a depressing gloom that just won't shake off. It is like a glimmer of hope that one might catch in amongst a world gone mad, but wisps away before your outlook is changed and potentially leaving you worse for ever seeing it. I find the albums integrity does not suffer from this track.

"Pursuit Of The Sun & Allure Of The Earth" is a solid album of what can only be called melancholic metal. It is depressingly gloomy and painfully brutal. It is an album to stew over on a beautiful summer day.

Up next, I'll be starting a series of posts (3) on one of the most original metal bands out there now. Virgin Black are carving a niche for orchestral gothic/doom metal with sickeningly heart wrenching vocals and grandiose compositions. Truly a unique and very talented band.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Transilvanian Splendour ...

Here is my last post on Negura Bunget ending with the bands last outing "Om". I only own these 3 albums and other than new releases will probably never get a chance to explore their roots and earlier work. However, with just one brilliant EP, Negura Bunget have shown a real growth and exploration in music that most bands take years to hone.

The music on "OM" is raw, passionate, brutal and uplifting. It provides an escape from traditional black metal by adding elements of symphony and traditional, almost tribal sounds while keeping a base rooted in black metal. The music is eerie and almost hypnotic.

"Om" starts off with the ambient and spine chilling "Ceasuri Rele" whose narrative vocals are steeped in fear and pain. With every short breath and shallow swallow enhances the overall eeriness as it transitions into "Tesarul De Lumini" a rhythmic Falkenbach style. "Tesarul De Lumini" is an epic, haunting song with some moving melodic guitar work before getting brutal and bleak. It is picturesque in sound much like Moonsorrow.

"Primal Om" is a narrative brooding piece reminiscent of the Dracula (Bram Stoker's) soundtrack which sets the stage for my favourite track "Cunoasterea Tacuta". This song is melodic with death metal intensity. The mix of bleak screaches and clean male vocals is disturbingly uplifting and adds a gothic feel. "Inarborat" has a symphonic melodic opening not unlike Summoning before diving into t traditional sounding black metal with eerie keyboards and raw brooding sound.

"Dedesuptal" is a raw black metally tune with Twin Obscenity style keys and Summoning style tribal percussion. It's a brutally heavy and raw tune before ending with a Voivod-esque jazzy guitar and brooding keys. "Norilor" is a traditional symphonic percussion heavy instrumental leading into the raw and dark black metal beast "De Piatra". This song is heavy and deathy reminding us that this is a metal album but does not stand out from the overall mood. All the same a very brutal song.

"Cel Din Urma Vis" carries on with the epic and dark sound with symphonic passages and ambient interludes and mid-paced to fast black metal riffing. This is followed by the brutally intro'd folk influenced "Hora Soarelui". It is melodic and playful and melancholic and bookended by brutal black metal. The album ends with the ever brooding ambient song "Al Doilea Om" that leaves a sense of fear and horror.

"Om" is a black metal masterpiece chocked full of various styles and elements that create a conceptual sense of being and very non-traditional black metal listening. This is not for everybody, but I wish it would be. Coming up next Sunday is the talented and dark band Woods Of Ypres. After that, well I've been itching to tell everyone about the new Virgin Black, so I'll be looking at Virgin Black's discography.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This Ain't Vivaldi's Four Seasons ...

Negura Bunget are pushing the boundaries of contemporary black metal as we learned with my first posting of their EP "Inarborat Kosmos". That EP was released between "N Crugu Bradului" (2004) and their latest "Om" (2006) and it shows a significant growth/transition in the bands work. That said, "N Crugu Bradului" is nothing short of primeval epic darkness.

"N Crugu Bradului" (translated as "Through The Depths Of The Fir Tree Heights") is the very definition of raw black metal. The guitars are thick and sharply heavy and the vocals are scratchy and sickeningly intense. The album doesn't stop there though. With symphonic keys and traditional style interludes these 4 epic tracks (each around 12 + minutes each) along with dark, eerie passages creates an environment of music. I can almost see the thick dense fog as it drifts through ancient forests of Romania (FYI Negura Bunget translates as a black fog coming from a dark dense forest).

To describe each track individually seems silly, but I'll do it anyway. Each track represents one of the 4 seasons as well as the principle of 4, "the natural form of the Universe to manifest itself". Sounds complex, but so is the music "N Crugu Bradului" strives to be. "I" is mid-paced to fast black metal inter-mixed with the afore mentioned folk/symphonic elements. "II" is chunkier with scratch your eyes out intensity and a touch of gothiness in part to some clean vocals and symphonic atmosphere. A really vivid song.

"III" is melodic, and darkly uplifting. The folk elements create an almost tribal sound. And lastly "IIII" is bleak, raw black metal steeped with creepy, ambient and eerie music.

The main theme here is raw darkness. The music feels old and primitive, but the keyboards and folk parts bring an air of awakening consciousness to the `mystery' that is "N Crugu Bradului". The music varies progressively without losing focus or intensity and it feels rooted in Romanian culture and spirituality.

Up next is the bands crowning achievement "Om" as well as the last of the albums I own by Negura Bunget.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

From Transilvanian Forests ...

Happy Easter Everyone. And what better way to celebrate Easter then with a little review on Romanian black metal band Negura Bunget. I thought I'd start this series of reviews off with their 2005 EP "Inarborat Kosmos". Negura Bunget is a black metal band, but that just seems understated. They play symphonic black metal with touches of folk and even goth. Their lyrics are steeped in Romanian Spirituality and mythology and together they create some bleak brutal and haunting metal.

Like Moonsorrow, Negura Bunget do not write songs, but create musical imagery. However, Negura Bunget are more assessable with mostly shorter songs. "Inarborat Kosmos" is a 20 minute ep sampling of the vivid black metal Negura Bunget are creating with 2 epic tracks and 2 pseudo instrumentals.

Starting the album is "Wordless Knowledge" which sets the mood with hauntingly sinister black metal that borders on Gothic. One can't help but imagine bleak castles and moonlit nights and perhaps a popular bloodsucker. This is followed by "Cint De Sursur", an eerie orchestral piece that's dark and brooding and reminiscent of "Spleen And Ideal" era Dead Can Dance.

"Uprising Follow" is the 2nd epic track clocking in at 7 + min and is more traditionally black metal with heavy symphonic elements that add a majesticness similar to Moonsorrow, but I would say darker and more sinister. One could almost compare this to Twin Obscenity with Negura's sickly deathy vocals and riffwork. The album closer is "Vaiet", an atmospheric brooding piece that haunts with sinister monster-like growls and airy keys. A disturbing sound that ends with a chime followed by a terrifying gasp. Spooooky ....

I think this EP is a real treat with 4 original songs and a tiny journey into the dark world of Negura Bugent. Up next we'll explore Romania's 4 seasons with "N' Crugu Bradului" (From The Deepness Of The Fir Tree Heights) stay tuned ...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why The Long Face ...

Well here I am with the last posting for Moonsorrow and what better way than with bookend albums. Their first and latest. A better way I suppose would have been in the album order from start to finish, but if you all remember I did not receive my copy of "Suden Uni" until midway through my reviews, but alas let's move on.

Moonsorrow right from their debut album new what they were aiming for and did so ,damn near spot on their first try. "Suden Uni" is a sprawling viking/folk metal album. The difference here is the strong influences present in the music. These influences are knitted together by what I can only describe as Moonsorrow's signature grandiose majesty of viking metal.

The album opens with "Ukkosenjumalan Poika" which is a Thyrfing influenced viking metal song. It is majestic and displays the strong song-craftsmanship of these Finn's and ends with a blistering black metal tinged outing reminiscent (I gather) of their demo days. "Kuin Ikuinen" and "Tuulen Koti, Aaltojen Koti" both have strong epic viking metal sounds with black metal and folk elements that would become more prominent in later releases. The keys are bold in their orchestral hugeness, but subtly enhance the guitars grandness.

"Koylionjarvin Jaalla (Pakanavedet II)" and "Pakanajuhla" are Einherjer style viking metal songs with strong Finntroll style folk elements using mouth harps and accordion melodies, a very cool mix. Don't fear though the majestic viking sound is ever present on these tracks and are used to foundation the songs.

It's hard for me to pick a favourite, but I'd have to say the opener is up there. That said, however, the epic "1065: Aika" is essentially a teaser of the grounds these guys will be carving for majestic viking metal. My copy of "Suden Uni" is the re-release with a bonus track "Tulkaapa Aijat" (Drinking music!) and this is a traditional sounding folk song with acoustic guitars and a drunken mass of choir vocals and gruff black metally screeching. A fine, fun tune.

"Suden Uni" to me was Moonsorrow's ~hey? I think we got something here~ albums. It's not their best work, but I'll be damned if I'll call it bad. It is a fine strong start to what would lead (4 albums later) to the epic metal opus that is "V: Havitetty".

"V: Havitetty" (translates as Chapter V: Ravaged) is Moonsorrow's fifth outing and they have released the finest epic metal album I've heard. I stumbled across this album, not even aware they had a new release out and bought it without thought. Curiously , however, the back only listed the album duration "56:29". This peeked my curiosity and when I played this gem, I was blown away at the grand scale of it. 2 songs my friends. I am not unfamiliar with epic metal. Manowar's "Achilles Agony & Ecstasy in 8 parts" was my record holder at 28+ minutes, but it sounds like eight parts put together. It kept the title because it was 1 track. Dream Theater released their 45 min opus "Six Degrees Of Separation" but it was divided into separate songs and therefore disqualified. Now I can place Moonsorrow into this position of most epic song. Feel free to let me know of any other epic metal song comparible, I'm curious.

To describe these songs as I normally would (chunky, crunchy, melodic) is unthinkable. To diminish the songs to such minimalist banter is insulting. I'll shall do my best to convey what the album does. "Jaasta Syntynyt/Varjogen Virta" is a 30 + min epic that loors the listener in with hypnotic acoustic gutar and ambient nature sounds. The song builds into a bleak atmospheric black metal influenced song. The sorrowness is powerful and moving and the vocals are sickeningly passionate. The keyboards are more subtle and the folk elements are blended in nicely.

This is no longer just viking/folk metal. No, they've mixed all those elements along with heavy black metal stylings into some of the most passionate music I've heard. Not since "Kivenkantaja" has the use of upliftingly bleak elements been used so wonderfully. A very moving song that come 30 minutes later your sad it's over. But don't fret cause there is still one more song.

"Tuleen Ajettu Maa" the radio single clocking in at just 26+ minutes is a far heavier and darker song, but no less majestic and passionate. Beginning with simple drum and traditional chant-like vocals the song blasts into some of the heaviest riffs Moonsorrow have ever laid down and stronger folk elements. The song is more aggressive and the mix of keys and choral vocals comes close to gothic. The shrieking vocals towards the end of the song are heart wrenching. This is more than just a song, it's their soul on display.

The percussion on this album is not drumwork, this is the bringing of war! It is thunderous and pummelling and frankly, just damned huge! Absolutely brilliant performance.

"V: Havitetty" is not an album you can just throw on while cleaning, this is an album that must be savoured, like an aged wine. There are subtleties and nuances that you discover with each listen, and each listen conjures unique images and emotions. There is so much emotion here that, like the devil who went to Georgia to bet a soul against his fiddle of gold, would make any emo band lay down their instruments in defeat.

Up next, I'll take you through the dark, mythical forests of Transylvania with the band NeguraBunget. And then we'll delve into the bleak mystical woods of Windsor ...Ontario ... if you are familiar with Windsor, Ontario, you'll understand just how silly that sounds... with the band Woods Of Ypres.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What's Coming Up ? Well, My Next Post ...

Normally right now I'd be writing a fabulous new review, but alas I've been rather busy and have not given the last couple Moonsorrow albums their proper listening, so I thought I'd take a few minutes and let you all know that those reviews will be posted shortly (Tuesday?) an then coming up next ...?

I'll be exploring 2 other fascinating bands, Negura Bunget (Transylvanian folk metal) and Woods Of Ypres (Black metal from Windsor, Ontario, Canada .... the last place I'd expect it to come from, but one of the most surprising and talented bands I've heard in a long time)

After that, who knows .... but stay tuned ...