AOTW: Dark Circles – MMXIX (2014)

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Dark Circles is a Blackened Crust band from Montreal, Canada. On their 2014 album, the band plays, as one would expect, a mix of Crust Punk and Black Metal. The sound is dark and raw, which allows the band to fill the record with a feeling of despair and anguish. The album consists of 9 tracks, but is quite brief, clocking in at just 25:46.

Taking a closer look at the musical composition of the album, the band maintains a high tempo throughout all of the songs except the Dark Ambient Interlude and the ending of the last track, The Coldest Year. The album is full of excellent guitar work and the musicians do well to alternate Punk and Black Metal riffs in different parts of the songs. Honestly, this album seems like a perfect balance between the two. The drums typically utilize d-beat to set the rhythm; there is just something about combining this drumming technique with the Black Metal riffs that makes the music sound energetic, yet mournful. The vocals are generally growled, as you would expect on a Crust record.

Overall this is a really good album, but not perfect. There are 5 songs that are around 2 minutes long or even shorter. These shorter songs simply race past the listener without making any lasting impression. This is a shame because every single song has interesting ideas, but they are all left in a half-developed state. The result is that few of the songs on this album work on their own and the listener must commit to the whole record to get the most out of it. With a bit more work, this album could have become an essential release on the Blackened Crust scene, but it will just have to remain a strong effort from a talented band.

In the end, this album is well worth the little time it takes to get through it. When I first heard it in October of 2015, it made a really good impression and will likely remain one of my favourite albums for the next while. The band has since released a split CD with Abstracter and it’s quite good. I am really hoping for a new full-length record that would sport more mature song writing while maintaining the same energy and dark atmosphere.

 

AOTW: Hierophant – Great Mother: Holy Monster (2013)

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Hierophant is an Italian band that crawled out of the underground in 2013 with their sophomore allbum Great Mother: Holy Monster. The album sounds like a cross breed of Ekkaia and Eyehategod with some early Mayhem influence. The pure expressiveness and energy of this album killed everything released in the Dark Hardcore scene around that time. This, in my opinion, is the best of the band’s works and one of the best albums released in Dark Hardcore to date.

On this album the band combines sludge guitars with some rather interesting metallic Hardcore riffs, similar to those you would hear on Ekkaia or Fall of Efrafa albums. The vocals are generally growled, turning into frantic shouts as necessary. D-beat drums help the songs proceed at a good pace. The sound the band developed on this record is quite raw, reminiscent of the first wave of Black Metal albums and does well to achieve a general atmosphere of darkness and hopelessness. The lyrics are generally quite abstract, carrying a very bleak message as well.

The songs have an interesting naming convention, all of them beginning with ‘Son of the’. The first track, Son of the New Faith, jumps straight into action, giving the listener a taste of things to come. The next song, Son of the Tongue’s Prison, follows a similar structure, but notably features an interesting Death Metal riff at its core. Things grind to a screeching halt when we hit Son of the Four-Hands Way, which is a slow Sludge track ending with an excellent Doom riff at the end.

The pace picks back up on Son of the Carcinoma, which along with Son of the Public Castration, are probably the best tracks on the album. The high intensity and the pitch black atmosphere created by the riffs on these tracks make the opening songs sound rather tame. Son of the Black Mirror is the last track on the album and is another high point, featuring as slow Doom intro, followed by faster mournful riffs, showcasing the band’s fascination with Black Metal.

In the end there is little to complain about on this album. Upon the first listen, a lot of the tracks might appear to sound the same since the band utilized the same song structure on this album. This, however, is compensated by the record’s brevity, clocking in at just above 27 minutes. Being quite short, the album never has a chance of becoming boring. If heard from start to finish, this album will, almost invariably, leave the listener feeling drained.

It is a shame the band did not carry on with a similar approach on the next album. Peste, released just a year later in 2014, has seen the band completely overhaul their sound, switching to something from the Death/Grind cookbook. While much heavier and faster, the music has none of the atmosphere present on the previous albums. Needless to say, avoid Peste at all cost and stick with the first two albums.

AOTW: Totem Skin – Weltschmerz (2015)

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If there is hope, it lies in the proles (c) George Orwell, 1984. If there is hope for Hardcore music, it lies in Crust. Totem Skin is a band from Sweden that combines Crust, Punk and Post Metal to create some pretty epic musical pieces. One could use the terms Dark Hardcore or Neocrust to describe their music, but that would be a bit of a cop out and it’s more informative to list individual constituents anyway.

I discovered Totem Skin’s Weltschmerz almost a year ago, in October 2015. One of my friends posted a link to the album on bandcamp and, attracted by the cover art and the genre tags, I gave the album a quick listen. At that point in time I haven’t heard anything interesting in quite a while, so anything new was very welcome. The album sounded very fresh: it was a concoction of a few different genres and the sound was quite good as well. Some might say the album is a bit over produced, but with Crust releases having notoriously bad production, it was nice to listen to something clearly audible.

The first track, Always Ire, begins with a slow guitar piece, then a quick Black Metal inspired bridge is followed by blast beat drums, frantic guitars and shouted vocals. The first thing that comes to mind is Blackened Crust, though, there actually isn’t much of a Black Metal influence on this album. The track proceeds at a fast pace until it gradually slows down to an epic Post Metal ending with tremolo picked riffs. What a great way to open an album!

The next song, Longing Leans and Beckon, starts with an upbeat riff and continues in that vein until about halfway through the track, where the mood suddenly changes to something much more sombre. This is a technique the band uses quite often on this record. The rest of the tracks are quite good and memorable too, there is absolutely no filler on this album.

The best song comes at the very end and clocks in 15 seconds shy of 9 minutes. I De Blindas Rike Är Den Enögde Kung starts with a 6.5-minute long Post Metal part that is some of the best I’ve heard in the genre. Around the 6:25 mark, when the listener thinks the albums is about to end, the track transitions into rocket speed D-beat. This song is nothing short of brilliant. The Fall of Efrafa influence is very apparent on this album, but that last track even puts the masters to shame.

Something must be said about the lyrics on this album – they are exceptionally good. Here is an excerpt from Always Ire:

A whisper heard from far and wide
Tells faintly of a broken pride
In solitude her doors are shut
His will be done no matter what
And he tries to make her desist
Wrecks her body to fit with his

He takes her within his hands,
liquids pouring from her glands.
Steadily his blows descend,
She may never breath again

One might think that this song is simply about feminism, but to get a better idea what this piece is all about one should look up the meaning of ‘weltschmerz’. The word literally translates to world-pain or world-weariness and represents the dissatisfaction with the realities of life. To put it another way, weltschmerz is despair one feels when the physical world fails to live up to the mental image or expectation we hold within ourselves. The Guardian posted a good article about this.

There are usually many ways to interpret lyrics, but in the context of weltschmerz, Always Ire appears to be a song about the Earth or Nature where ‘she’ is abused by the mankind, i.e. ‘him’. This ties in well with the cover art for the album as well.

It is very fitting, both from musical and lyrical perspectives, that I De Blindas Rike Är Den Enögde Kung picks up where Always Ire left off.

He takes her within his hands,
liquids pouring from her glands.
Steadily his blows descend,
She may never breath again

Whimpers heard from her remains
echo all throughout his reign
As he blithely claims her throne
he grasps what he’s always known

No more her touch will grace his brawn,
their vital poise forever gone
Her throne turns into his abyss
and her whimpers become his

Down the Memory Lane

Sometimes it’s fun to look back and realize how goofy your musical tastes were in years past. This blog is primarily dedicated to Hardcore and Metal music, but there were quite a few other genres I’ve fancied along my journey.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, my parents were well cultured musically and that played an important part in my development. I remember listening to Deep Purple’s The House of Blue Light as long back as I remember myself. I had no idea what I was listening to then, but I really liked it. Not sure what my parents were jamming to when I was in the womb, but my love for the guitar music seems to be very deeply ingrained.

When I was in middle school, my best friend started getting into Metal and would play different tracks from Slayer, Cannibal Corpse and Sepultura for me. At that time I didn’t have an appreciation for that sort of music as I was listening to the likes of Scorpions, Cinderella and some Metallica. However, based on my friend’s recommendations I purchased Smash by The Offspring and Roots by Sepultura. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both records, not knowing that Sepultura were well past their prime on Roots.

After that there was a bit of a lull in terms of artist discovery since records were hard to come by in my town and my parents were shifting their attention to some softer music and Russian rock artists. I wanted no part of that. Soon I got The Offspring’s discography as a gift and that had me satisfied for a bit. I also had to rely on musical TV channels as the majour information source, and to be fair, they weren’t the worst back then. They would play songs by The Offspring, Metallica and Rammstein from time to time.

As time passed, there wasn’t really much new to be found for me and slowly, but surely I’ve lost most of my interest in music. I did get my hands on Rammstein’s Mutter album in grade 11 (Fall of 2002) and listened to it from start to finish many times. After I got completely bored of it, the desperate times have returned. I’ve even started listening to the Russian rock band called Tantsy Minus. To their (and my) credit, they were probably the most consistent band of all in the Ukrainian/Russian scene at the time: they had a couple of big hits and several other good songs. I had their ‘Best of’ mixtape and that kept me going for a couple of months.

It was at this low point that my friends from a grade below introduced me to a couple of new artists during our trip to another city in Spring of 2003. The bands I’ve heard then were Korn, System of a Down and a Russian band called Korol i Shut (King and Fool). Of them all, Korn were by far the most memorable. I still couldn’t get a hold of any tapes or CDs by those bands, but I knew I was onto something. Shortly after, my school friend allowed me to borrow CDs of Papa Roach and P.O.D. The era of Nu Metal has arrived!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Papa Roach tracks, but P.O.D. wasn’t an immediate hit. I also managed to get a tape with Korol i Shut’s self-titled album, which, incidentally, was their best effort by far. The next in line was Korn and through some very good luck I was able to get my hands on their discography (minus Untouchables, which was probably for the better anyway). I’ve become a huge fan immediately. Also, all of a sudden I had a bunch of bands to choose from. Linkin Park released Meteora the same Spring and I was listening to that album for a bit as well.

I was a huge Korn fan for about a year and a half, until Fall of 2004. During that time I’ve foraged through the not-so-vast soundscapes of Nu Metal, trying to find something worthwhile to listen to. I’ve spent some time listening to Slipknot, Ukrainian band Skinhate, Ill Nino and (hed) PE. The pickings were slim. There was something else though: on a warm, sunny day in May 2003 my good friend let me have a listen to one of the songs from Diabolis Interium tape by Dark Funeral. When I put the headphones on, I was exposed to something very fast and melodic, but also very dark and cold. That grabbed my attention and when I got a chance to pick up that album in Kyiv a few months later, I did so without hesitation and my Black Metal journey slowly began.

In May 2004 I moved to Canada. That meant a lot of things, but when it comes to music in particular, I had unlimited access to the Internet to get information. I spent days reading through forums and exchanging opinions with people that were into the same sort of music. I kept hearing of this Hardcore genre, but didn’t know much about it. Then I got my hands on a mixtape where there were songs by Hatebreed, Terror, Kafka, Sentence and a bunch of other bands (I then remembered that I’ve heard a song by Hatebreed on TV a while back and it sounded super heavy). I got my hands on the first 3 albums by Hatebreed and gave them a spin. The songs were brutally heavy and simplistic, but one thing I noted right away were the lyrics. In contrast to Korn’s depressive, sometimes suicidal, songs, this music was filled with vigour and provided the listener with a lot of encouragement.

Cause I’ve trusted for nothing
I’ve been led astray
I’ve been tried and tested
But I won’t accept defeat
Now I’ve done things I regret
And its time to reverse the rules
I just want to make good on
All the promises that I have made

I needed this, I was new to the country and had not time to sulk or be nostalgic. I had to make the most of the opportunities that were open to me. This was a point in time when I took a deep plunge in the music scene and was listening to dozens of new bands every month for a few years straight.

Soon after getting acquainted with Hatebreed, I listened a bit to the early Napalm Death records, but they didn’t have much of a lasting impression as I wasn’t sure what I was listening to. I also got a chance to listen to early works from Dark Funeral, which left me quite impressed. I also heard Emperor, Venom and Darkthrone. I enjoyed the former, but was completely blind sighted by the other two. I couldn’t wrap my head around how both were considered Black Metal, but didn’t sound anything like each other or Dark Funeral for that matter. So I put those bands aside for the time being.

I was also listening to Serenity in Fire album by a Canadian Death Metal band Kataklysm, which was probably the heaviest music on my playlist then. Somehow they’ve quietly disappeared from my field of vision and I haven’t gone back to the band since. As time went by I was getting more and more into the Hardcore scene, exploring bands such as Terror, Kafka, 100 Demons, Agnostic Front and Sick of It All. There was another band, well actually just one track – Fuck Up by Face of Reality. Having heard it for the first time in early November 2004, I was listening to the song for a few months straight every day on the way to school. There was also Minor Threat, which had a huge impact on my perception of Hardcore music and social issues in North America. Their music also made me realize that there was a clear distinction between 80-s ‘old-school’ Hardcore and the modern Hardcore music of 90-s and 00-s, where a lot of times it’s difficult to tell the difference between Hardcore and Metalcore.

Later in 2004 I discovered Emo, though primarily just the mainstream bands, so I didn’t find it enjoyable. In 2005 I was exposed to more Hardcore and Metalcore through bands like Abduktio, Kill Your Idols, Walls of Jericho, Champion, Hundred Inch Shadow, Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Down, It Dies Today, Bleeding Through and the mighty xMaroonx. I undertook another attempt to figure out what Darkthrone were all about and this time their 2003 album jived with me – I took particular liking to the track Striving for a Piece of Lucifer. I also heard a few tracks from Chimera by Mayhem, but nothing caught my attention there. My exploration of Black Metal didn’t go very far this time either.

Towards the end of Summer 2005 I discovered Between the Buried and Me. Their chaotic brand of music provided a nice break from all the Melodic Death inspired bands. Earlier that summer I also heard the 4 tracks from Argument 5.45’s split with My Authorities Fall. Their music also had this unstructured, all-over-the-place feel. After hearing BTBAM, I was interested in exploring more the same music and that led me straight to Calculating Infinity by The Dillinger Escape Plan. That would be my favourite album for years to come and even in 2016, it still sounds fresh. I actually don’t think it will ever sound out-of-date. Regardless, this set me off on a 3-year long wild goose chase to find more albums like Calculating Infinity and Alaska. Little did I know that there wasn’t much to be found, at least of good quality. I also got introduced to Screamo through Orchid’s Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! album, which also possessed a lot of that chaos component. (Over the next few years, I would discover more Screamo bands, but their records are ever so difficult to track down, not to mention how relatively few of them are).

In 2006 I got exposed to Deathcore through All Shall Perish, Animosity, Beneath the Massacre and Despised Icon. The genre was starting to pick up in popularity, but I got to enjoy it before it turned into Merchcore, where bands spent more time designing logos and T-shirts than actually rehearsing. I spent the summer working in a small town with limited access to the Internet, so things slowed down a bit then, but I got a taste (or well.. a glimpse) of some of the more extreme (or just pure disgusting) Grindcore bands, of the Goregrind variety most notably. I’ve heard Last Days of Humanity, Inhume, I Shit on Your Face, Ahumado Granujo, Rompeprop and Regurgitate. There were others, I’m sure, but this kind of music never struck a chord with me, so I left it where it truly belongs – in a toilet.

I reached an important milestone in the Fall of 2006 when I discovered D-beat and Crust. There were a ton of bands with horrible production, so it was hard to pick something that I actually liked. The two bands that stood out at the time were 20 Minute de Chaos and Acursed. There were more to come, but this was an OK start.

2007 was probably my most productive year in artist discovery. I continued working through the list of Crust and D-beat bands, and discovered a whole new world of music in genres such as Stoner, Sludge, Doom, Ambient, Post-rock and Dark Hardcore. Some special mentions must go to Bongzilla, Electric Wizard, Explosions in the Sky, Abandon, Fall of Efrafa and of course the brilliant Ekkaia with their Demasiado tarde para pedir perdón. There were many many more, too many actually, since I can’t remember them all. Should’ve made some notes at the time… oh well. Another important discovery was Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger. I have finally found a Darkthrone album that I understood and this provided a reference point for working through the rest of their discography.

In early 2008 I ran into a few mentions of Horrorcore, which was basically horror-inspired Hip Hop. It was a fad at the time and there was a lot of crap floating around. I did like a few records by DJ Bless, Army of the Pharaohs and particularly Post Mortem from Kazakhstan. The genre seemed to fizz out pretty quickly, but the few good records that were put out left a lasting impression. In the Summer of 2008 I decided to get a better taste of the Black Metal scene. I did scratch the surface in the previous few years by listening to Naglfar, early Behemoth and Blackened Crust acts like Iskra and Gallhammer. To my surprise, there was a huge number of horrible bands, in particular when it came to the Depressive Suicidal Black Metal (DSBM). I did discover one band, Angra Mainyu, their 2007 album Versunkenheit is basically a masterpiece. There were a couple of other decent records, but nothing to write home about.

It turned out that Summer of 2008 would be my last chance to find something radically new. Towards the end of 2008 school work took up most of my time and I rarely had time to catch up on the musical forums and blogs where I was getting info. And so between 2009 and 2015, I haven’t discovered any new genres that I liked and have found only a handful of new artists. I’ve been listening to the same old stuff for a few years straight. This helped me refine parts of my playlist as, for example, I realized how inconsistent the song writing on the first few Bleeding Though albums was.

In 2011 I ran across Have Heart with their The Things We Carry album, but that was about it. In 2012 my friend suggested Deafheaven to me. I listened to their stuff for a bit on Bandcamp and it seemed like I’ve finally found something new that I would enjoy for a long time, but that wasn’t the case. I’ve forgotten about them in a matter of a week. There were 3 other bands that quickly became my favourites that Summer. They were French Celeste with their re-issued Pessimiste(s) EP, Russian Sostoyanie Ptits and Italian The Secret. Towards the end of 2012 I also got into Sepultura’s Schizophrenia. I really liked the album and that should’ve been my cue to go and explore their earlier works along with records that came out around the same time, but I was too busy digesting the new album by the The Secret at the time.

In 2013, when working on my Master’s thesis, I got into the neo-classical genre. While the genre in general didn’t seem like anything special, there were a few artists whose work I really enjoyed. They were Worrytrain (Fog Dance, My Moth Kingdom album), Fabrizio Paterlini, Ludovico Einaudi and, most importantly, Dmitry Evgrafov. Later in 2013, when updating my playlist, I re-discovered a few artists that I’ve heard before, but didn’t pay much attention to: August Burns Red, Driller Killer, Wolfbrigade, General Lee, Rosetta and Mihai Edrisch among others. That playlist didn’t change much until later the second half of 2015, but that’s another story!

Album of the Week

It so happened that over the past several months I’ve discovered over a dozen albums that have already become my favourites. This actually says a lot because over the past 5 years, I’ve only heard a handful of albums that impressed me and remained on my playlist. I’ve been seeking out new artists very actively between 2004 and 2009, but that stopped due to lack of time and general disappointment with the albums that were coming out at the time. It seemed I had to sift through dozens if not hundreds of mediocre rip-each-other-off albums before stumbling onto something worthwhile. To make matters worse, the good albums were usually discovered serendipitously: either by recommendations from a friend or going back and re-listening to albums I already heard, but didn’t pick up on the first time. So the motivation to actually seek out new albums was gone as it seemed there was no point in doing so.

That wasn’t too far removed from the truth actually as there is still a severe lack of quality music being put out at the moment. However, in October 2015 I have, once again completely randomly, come across Totem Skin’s Weltschmerz. The music, which is a combination of Punk, Crust and some Post Metal elements, wasn’t completely original, but boy did it sound fresh compared to everything else that was on my playlist at the moment. I’ve done a quick search through similar artists on last.fm and discovered another handful of interesting bands. This was a good sign indeed! I felt refreshed and ready to plunge back into the music scene.

Over the next few months, in addition to Totem Skin, I’ve enjoyed listening to Hierophant, Dark Circles, Lentic Waters, Mihai Edrisch and a few other bands. In the winter of 2016 I’ve watched the second season of Fargo, which had a killer soundtrack with the likes of Spirit, Junction, Jethro Tull and the mighty Black Sabbath. This made me seek out some of those older records and give them a spin. At this point a thought crossed my mind that perhaps to discover new music I shouldn’t focus on contemporary works, but rather look back in time. It’s actually a bit embarrassing how long it took me to realize this.

Right about the same time I discovered Ghost. Again, this was completely random, without any warning. Their Grammy award video came up as suggested on Youtube and, being bored at the time, I clicked on it without thinking. They definitely sounded like an interesting band based on the song I’ve heard – Cirice. The music was nothing special, although the execution was very skillful, to say the least. What sparked my interest was the interview with one of Nameless Ghouls, where he described their main lyrical theme as ‘feel good Satanism’. Now that was something I haven’t heard of before. It seemed completely new and definitely made an impression. I’ll have to admit that on the first listen Ghost didn’t seem like much of a band. It seemed the project’s main goal was to simply make money by playing accessible music.

So I put Ghost aside for some time as the music simply didn’t match my mood; I was longing for something heavier and darker as I was going through a difficult period at work with long hours and a lot of stress. So here came Darkthrone’s Hate Them. This was the first album by Darkthrone that I listened to and had the exact harsh sound I was looking for. After spinning the album for a bit, I noticed that Hate Them was certainly not a pure Black Metal album: the punk influence was way too obvious. I’ve heard the band’s early works and, other than Transilvanian Hunger, I wasn’t really sure what I was listening to. I’ve also heard the more recent albums and, despite the music being drastically different, the result was quite the same. The music just seemed to go way over my head.

I started reading up on the band to figure out how exactly their music evolved and what I should be looking out for in their music. The band’s history probably deserves a book of its own – it’s very interesting for anyone remotely familiar with Black Metal. The one part that I’ve found particularly unusual and fascinating was the change in lyrics from the early works to albums released after Hate Them. Darkthrone abandoned the typical Black Metal Satanic lyrics and were now singing about the past and present Metal scenes! Quite the twist! I am the Grave of the 80’s is the perfect example.

There’s way too much black
And there’s too little metal
Dealing with this had me breaking my shackles!
I am the graves of the 80s
I am the risen dead
Destroy their modern metal
And bang your fucking head
Destroy!

This was one of the main driving factors to explore the Metal scene of the early 80-s to mid 90-s. Guided by some knowledgeable reviews and articles, I’ve discover many gems there. That in fact was the primary motivation of starting this blog: simply to document works that have made and impression on me and supply some amateur-level analysis on the side. I’ve had the idea of starting a blog at the time I discovered Ghost, but due to lack of time and general laziness it didn’t happen, so now I have a bit of catching up to do. I will try to identify an album that impressed me the most on a given week, though certainly not every week will have an album.