Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Few Unblack Metal EP's

This week I've decided to feature a couple of unblack metal bands and their respective demos/ep's. For starters I want to take a look at Vaakevandring who a few members joined Antestor in and around the "The Return Of The Black Death" era through "The Forsaken". As I mentioned last week, Antestor may be no more, however Vaakevandring who reunited for the Endtimes festival in May 2007 (performing along with Antestor) may still have a future. Who knows.

What I do know is that Vaakevandring play some beautiful symphonic black metal. The band has only one demo in their catalogue (2 if you count the original 3 song demo) as well as a song featured on the Endtimes records sampler "In The Shadow Of Death".

Their self titled demo (my copy is the re-issue with a bonus track) is a sweet blend of melodic black metal with folk melodies and heavy keyboards. With the weak production aside the music is well structured and memorable. "Fader Vaar" kicks the album off with a gothic folk like rendition of the Lord's Prayer in Norwegian. It's mid-paced and melodic and instantly catchy.

"Some Day" is mostly straight up black metal, raw and fast with melody driving keyboards. "Og Sorgen Stilnet I Smertens Vann" suffers from muffled sound, but is a faster raw tune with some nice drumwork and melodic acoustic bridge"

The bonus track "To Find Eternal Peace" too suffers muffled production, but is a majestic fast black metal song with loads of keyboards and a heavy intro riff. My favourite track is "Fader Vaar" as it sticks with me, but "To Find Eternal Peace" is a solid wall of fury.

Moving on to Frosthardr who have 2 ep's under their belt on top of their demo. Today I'll be looking at just the ep's. Frosthardr play a raw black/death metal style with doomy touches. On their first EP "Makteslos" the music is solid and heavy and cold without ever compromising melody.

The title track and album closer "Vandret" are ambient industrial sounding pieces with a slight Metallica style influence in the guitars. We then drift into "Koma"which is dark and hooky with a church-like doomy mid section. Raw and solid.

"Death My Relief" which seems to be the album favourite for most, mine included, is a sprawling 8+ minute epic of bleak and dark black metal eeriness and features a brutally heavy death metal mid section with vocals like the creaking of a crypt door. A killer tune.

The longest track "Ravnestrik" is more straight forward black metal with a bit more rhythm and groove. It's ridiculously catchy, melodic, fast and heavy.

Frosthardr's follow-up EP "Varg" is more straight up black metal and not as symphonic, but no less melodic. The album opener "Varg" is fast and pummelling, the guitars are thick and the vocals are razor sharp. "Tortured" is an epic 11+ minute track of fast and crunchy black metal. The song gets into a chaotic progressive feel without ever losing focus but retaining the listeners attention.

The last track is a cover of Christian thrash band One Bad Pig's "Thrash Against Sin". It's groove oriented and thrashy but still remains black metally. It sounds faithful while giving it their own unique style. It also contains the death metal vocals incorporated on their first ep.

I prefer Frosthardr's first album, because of the raw crunchy sound, but "Varg"s production is solid and the music is brutal and memorable. Another solid effort and I can't wait till they release a full length.

Coming up next week I'll be taking a look at Slechtvalk's catalogue of superb and under-rated melodic black metal.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Glory Of Our Lord, With The Fury Of A Hellhammer

After Antestor released "The Return Of The Black Death" the band was silent for about 6 years. In that time they (or their label) re-issued the 2 first demos "The Defeat Of Satan (Featuring the "Despair" demo)". About a year after that the band appeared with a very much anticipated EP called "Det Tapte Liv" This ep featured all new material with one song that would appear on the up coming full length album. Featuring a new line-up with just Lars Stokstad as the sole founder and remaining member (as far as I can tell) who, along with a couple members of Christian unblack metal band Vaakevandring brought Antestor its current and apparently final sound (The bands disbandment was announced at the 2007 Endtime Festival).

"Det Tapte Liv" is the perfect EP. It features 2 blistering black metal tunes and 3 orchestral/piano pieces. If this were a full length, it may have gone the same route as Manowar's latest "Gods Of War" and killed momentum with to much orchestration. However, as an EP and a precurser to a new album whose sound no one could be sure would be, this gives the listener a decent sampling.

"Rites Of Death" opens the album in a pummelling blast of symphonic black metal. It's catchy and furious, with gothic undertones. "Med Hevede Sverd" is the other black metal tune and is melodic featuring orchestral/acoustic bits and a fine solo. There is a slight classic metal feel here and its nice to here some wailing solo's that are too often forgotten in black metal.

"Grief" is the first of the orchestral pieces and is a piano narrative that is sombre and eerie. I'm reminded of Danny Elfman in style. "Last Season" is a hymn like instrumental and the title track "Det Tapte Liv" ends the album with a majestic piano performance and bleak narrative.

This works well as an EP because of the heavy use of orchestral parts that are great pieces, but could weaken the overall brutality of a full length album. With "The Forsaken" the bands latest and possibly last effort, we are treated to a (un)black metal masterpiece.

The full length album starts off as well with "Rites Of Death" although slightly reworked most notably with the operatic intro/classical intro, but it's only 30 sec. before we get blasted into the bulk of this killer tune. "Old Times Cruelty" continues the assault with blistering speed and sorrowful melodic eeriness. The speed is unbelievable at times and this is in part due to the session drummer (ironically) Hellhammer of Mayhem fame who stepped in and recorded the drums for both "Det Tapte Liv" and "The Forsaken". His prowness around the drum kit shows not only in speed, but the subtle flourishes throughout that makes the drums standout. He is truly one of the best in his field.

"The Return" is probably the fastest track here, but also has a progressive feel with the keyboards and guitar solo. "As I Die" ends the black metal assault in the straight-forward sense, while adding the operatic vocals over the pummelling outro. The later half of the album has a real progressive sound especially on these tracks. The vocals for the better part of the album breach both black and death style which I love and the female vocals add sweet eeriness and the narrative bits (which is a Vaakevandring influence) creates vivid imagery throughout. Some clean male vocals add a gothic feel on "As I Die"

The orchestral/ classical elements heavily used on the previous EP are kept mostly to add atmosphere and melody to the otherwise brutal songs, but not solely as enhancement. "Raade" is a folk influenced instrumental with female vocals by Ann-Mari Edvardsen from the 3rd and the Mortal. The album closer is orchestral instrumental with a progressive feel and cool guitar solos.

"Vale Of Tears" is an interesting tune whose folk influence creates a western gunslinger sound while retaining a slower atmosperic black metal structure. "Via Dolorosa" is a bleakly poetic folk influenced black metal song with a sing a long chorus, which is rare in black metal. This is one of my favourite songs on this album. The title of favourite track goes to "The Crown I Carry" which blasts into us after the subtle instrumental "Raade". It starts with a killer thrash-like riff and vocals reminiscent of Twin Obscenity before pummeling us with a wall of symphonic black metal, interspersed with melodic solos and a lot of atmosphere. This is the song I like to skip back to after the album is done.

These albums are a great move forward for Antestor and a solid effort of which a whole new career could be forged. However, if wikipedia is correct and their disbandment official, then we have lost a great band who have helped pioneer an extreme metal scene for a God loving crowd.

That said, there is a slew of up and comers who are carving their way into the scene and I'll be looking at a few of these bands next, like Vaakevandring's demo and only release, and Crimson Moonlight, Drottnar, Frosthardr and the highly under-rated Slechtvalk.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cacophonous Unblack ... ness

Antestor's 3rd album or debut release, however you look at it is a bleak sorrow-filled chunk of black metal. And a pioneer of the great black/unblack debate.

Without delving to deep into the semantics, I'll just say that Christian black metal is a matter of perspective. What is black metal? Is it black metal due to the dark nature of the lyrics? or is black metal a musical genre made up of scratchy vocals, speedy distorted riffs and melody lines, raw production and blistering drum work.

It is my opinion that Christian black metal should be labelled as Unblack (or white metal as some call it) so as to distinguish lyrical philosophy. As far as the music is concerned, a Secular black metal band and a Christian black metal band are virtually indistinguishable. Just ask Jayson Sherlock of Horde fame releasing what can be consider the first unblack album in a satirical look at the satanic black metal scene.

The folk at Cacophonous records who released and pulled Antestor's major label debut "The Return Of The Black Death" (originally titled "Kongsblod") couldn't see the difference as well. I think people put to much stock on the label Christian black metal. I see it as a way to describe the bands music to those unfamiliar with the term Unblack.

It doesn't matter much anyway, seeing as Antestor refer to themselves as Sorrow metal, so let's move on.

"tRotBD" starts off with airy atmospheric "Vinterferden" which sets an eerie/somber mood before kicking in with "A Sovereign Fortress" whose melodic black metal style hints at the sorrowness spread out over the album. Gone are the doom influences and death metal vocals due in part because of the almost complete overhaul of personnel which brought differing influences.

"Svartedauens Gjenkomst" adds a more uplifting feel with the keyboard melody and reminds me a little of Summoning. "The Bridge Of Death" carries on the uplifting bleakness and hints at the old Antestor sound. The original title track "Kongsblod" upliftingness is due in part to its hymn like sound and military drumwork.

The sorrowness is prominent mostly in the more traditional black metal tunes like "Gamlelandet", "Battlefield" and "Kilden-Lik En Endelos Elv". These are more straight forward speedy raw bleak black metal, with vocals that are dripping with sorrow. Melodic, atmospheric interludes mix up the pacing without stalling the albums momentum.

My favourite tracks here are the two slower rhythmic songs "Sorg" and the epic "Ancient Prophecy". Clocking in at around 8 minutes "Ancient Prophecy" is an atmospheric black metal piece with hypnotic rhythm and airy black metal vocals. It's a bleak sounding song with a doomy narrative midsection and creates a nice epic track. "Sorg" is my favourite. It's slower and doomish with a majestic feel and an uplifting outro.

"The Return Of The Black Death" is a major step towards the full on black metal style they'd become, but still contains little touches of the old Antestor and that helps with the transition.

Up next is the experimental EP "Det Tapte Liv" and their black metal opus "The Forsaken".

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Call To Witness Unblack Metal

As I said in a previous post, Antestor is one of Norway's earliest Christian extreme metal bands. Over the years they have bounced around different labels and have undergone, from what I gather, a complete over haul of members. It has not been an easy road for these guys being a Christian metal band in the midst of a satanic black metal scene.

Norway is notorious for their black metal evilness with church burning and band members murdering one another. It would seem intimidating to step into this scene as a Christian band, but that's what Antestor did and by that have received serious death threats and Euronymous of Mayhem is even quoted as saying ~ The Militants of Norwegian black metal will force this band to split up. ~

Antestor is still playing (albiet with a fresh line-up featuring several members of Vaakevandring another Norwegian Christian black metal band) and are producing some brutal and bleak extreme metal.

Antestor are now signed to Endtime records who released their first full length album "Martyrium" 2 years after Cacophonous released and pulled their sophomore album "The Return Of The Black Death". And so without further ado, let me tell you about "Martyrium".

"Martyrium" is the transition album of Antestor styles. It continues with the doom heavy feel and sickly death metal vocals of "The Defeat Of Satan/Despair" ep's, but adds a black metal styling to the mix. This is raw brutal extreme metal with a bleak and sorrowful feel and touches of hope. A passionate album.

The album kicks off with black metally riffed "Spiritual Disease" which is mid-paced and doomy with spurts of speed and vomitous death metal vocals. "Materialistic Lie" is a bit faster and more black metally both with added black metal screaches and guitar style. The title track "Martyrium" is most like where Antestor would go on their next release. It is an instrumental atmospheric melodic black metal tune.

"Searching" and "Thoughts" continue in the doom death style of their demos with a touch more melody. "Thoughts" features some soprano vocal melodies of the opening keyboard melody which adds a nice atmosphere to the album feel. "Under The Sun" is one of my favourite tracks in the doom death style, though slightly more black metally. The crunchy breakdown is awesome and the solo is nice.

"Mercy Lord" is hymn-like with its organ style keyboards and doomy undertones. The song is reminiscent of their cover of the Norwegian hymn "Jesus, Jesus Ver Du Hja Meg" but with uber deathy vocals. A brutally uplifting song.

My favourite tracks are "Depressed" with its sweetly melodic piano opening and baritone vocals which create a sombre feel to its doomy chorus and deathy vocals. A beautifully tragic mix and a sorrowful song. My Favourite I have to say is "Inmost Fear". This song is creepy with a mix of clean guitars and death metal vocals, a disturbing mix. Add to that the crushing doom-laden chorus and you have one heck of a brutal tune.

"Martyrium" is a raw heavy album with enough black metal influences to ease the transition for the listener into their follow up black metal opus "The Return Of The Black Death". Although I prefer this doom/death metal style more, the full on black metal sound is still done very well, and I'll be reviewing that on "The Return Of The Black Death" next week.