Monday, 10 February 2014

Review; Within Temptation - Hydra

Track Listing:

1. Let Us Burn
2. Dangerous (Ft. Howard Jones)
3. And We Run (Ft. Xzibit)
4. Paradise (What About Us?) (Ft. Tarja Turunen)
5. Edge Of The World
6. Silver Moonlight
7. Roses
8. Dog Days
9. Tell Me Why
10. The Whole World Is Watching (Ft. Dave Pirner)

At their most bombastic and grandiose, Within Temptation were a real favoured band of mine. Their Symphonic Gothic Metal sound heard on albums like 'The Heart Of Everything' and 'Mother Earth' was cinematic and identifiable enough that they managed to stand right alongside the scene leaders Nightwish. Within Temptation's approach was built less around an operatic feel than their aforementioned contemporaries, but was equally as gripping. However; 2011's 'The Unforgiving' saw the band strip their sound down and ultimately sounded more like pop than any sort of Metal. The fact it was a rather wish-washy concept album didn't help with the overall dullness.

This album struck me as a possible return to their old style, due to the title 'Hydra'. It brings many obvious connotations; eight heads signifying different characteristics of their musical style, a reference to the various guest musicians, and even the idea of the album as a huge entity, perhaps giving the idea that this will turn Within Temptation into a larger band yet. Also, the idea of the mythical, the imaginative, the larger-than-life, which leans more towards the idea of their Gothic musical roots.

Whilst it turns out that this album does present different takes on the Within Temptation sound, the fact is that it is still very stripped down. Possibly more-so than the previous album! The opening song 'Let Us Burn' is about as close as the whole album gets, but the issue lies in the overly polished finish that the album has. Any edge is erased and replaced with pop music sensibilities. Predictability is also a factor, when it comes to the song structure.

In comes the first of the guest appearances; former Killswitch Engage and current The Devil You Know singer Howard Jones' voice does work well alongside Sharon Den Adel's classical tones on 'Dangerous', but it's just a shame that the song lacks everything other than a decent hook that the most ardent of Within Temptation fans will appreciate. It's a forgettable song, unfortunately. 'And We Run' sees the American rapper Xzibit make an appearance. Whilst the song does go well, in that the orchestra becomes more prevalent with a marching drum beat. It's when Xzibit starts rapping that things spiral down like a spitfire. Big note for the future: the word 'Motherfucker' just sounds weird and laughable in the context of Within Temptation's balladry, however you deliver it. Couldn't help but both laugh and cringe at that.

Hearing both Den Adel and former Nightwish front woman Tarja Turunen on one song is something that had the potential to make Symphonic Metal fans the world over froth at the mouth, but this song suffers from the under-utilisation of the guest in question, especially at the chorus where Tarja might as well have just sang amongst a backing choir. In my personal opinion, Tarja is the better singer anyway, and the song underlines that since Den Adel seems to be singing more like an accomplished pop singer than anyone with operatic capabilities.

'Edge Of The World' is really just a standard Within Temptation song in the vein of popular single 'Memories', but hey; the fans are going to like more of the same thing, so fair enough. To me, it's another demonstration that, with the exception of the occasional guitar solo (none of which are massively impressive) the band's sound has been redirected to focus upon the voice. Nothing else stands out, be it due to the mix or as a showcase of skill. Where are the riffs? Or the drum fills, or anything else for that matter? The charisma and vocal skill of Sharon Den Adel may be apparent, but it's not that impressive that the whole weight of the band's sound can be transferred to the vocal lines. Within Temptation, or the Sharon Den Adel band?

'Silver Moonlight' carries the only real surprise on the album; the return of guttural vocals. Apparently this was included due to popular demand, so at least the band show that they listen to their fanbase, and it's actually one of the more memorable songs on the album due to this addition to the sonic palette. Then 'Roses' comes in, sounding like another pop-rock anthem for a female audience. It can be shrugged off pretty easily, unlike 'Dog Days' which is the most annoying misfire that the band have ever put to record. The lyric "1, 2, 3, 4; What are you waiting for?" is so derivatively lazy as song writing goes that I genuinely never want to hear the damn song again.

There's a bit of a decent riff to be heard in  the verses of 'Tell Me Why'. Compared to the rest of the album, it's a decent enough riff that you can try to overlook the fact that it's smothered under the bloody vocals in the mix, but even then; just as you're getting into the swing of the song, the generic structure and background chords come back in at the chorus, once again designed only to showcase Sharon's singing. It's actually noticeable that the vocal range used through the album seems to be a very limited cross-section of her full range, give or take the odd moment. Doesn't help with the overall blandness.

'The Whole World Is Watching' gives a guest spot to Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, whose ever-so-slightly gritty vocal tones manage to lend themselves well to the Pop Rock sound of the album. (Let's not kid anymore, this isn't a Symphonic Metal album by a long shot!). The song reminds me slightly of the song 'What Have You Done?' from The Heart Of Everything. It's just not as good, unfortunately. This is the overall problem with the album; it doesn't match up to anything in Within Temptation's back catalogue in my opinion. Which is a shame. I doubt I'll be putting a lot of thought towards future albums. It's a good thing I've still got 'The Heart Of Everything' and 'The Silent Force' to listen to.

Rating: 3/10

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Review; Prostitute Disfigurement - From Crotch To Crown

Track Listing:

1. Only Taste For Decay
2. Battered To The Grave
3. Crowned In Entrails
4. Dismember The Transgender
5. Under The Patio
6. From Crotch To Crown
7. Glorify Through Cyanide
8. Set Forth To Annihilate
9. Compulsive Beheading Disorder
10. Reduced To Stumps

In case the track listing and gruesome album artwork above haven't already given it away; Prostitute Disfigurement is a Brutal Death Metal band. That means it's sphincter-ripping-ly heavy, remorseless in every way, and has lyrical content so sickening it'd even make Jason Voorhees heave uncontrollably, never mind upset Tipper Gore. When considering these reasons alone, it's understandable that Brutal Death Metal really is an acquired musical taste, and is unlikely to be able to rise too much from the underground scene. Even the band name Prostitute Disfigurement should bring forth the expression "Oh, for fuck sake!". This counts for the music as well; believe me, this album is not for the uninitiated! If you're a fourteen year-old that's just discovered Bullet For My Valentine, I'd give it a while before you listen to this.

Fortunately, for those of us who like our Metal with its guts on show and like an immoral autopsy, this album is a strong piece of work. The sounds is very much what you'd expect; grisly, grinding guitars with frantic, sometimes atonal leads thrown in for good measure. Michiel van der Plicht's drums are constant and skilled, but overall are fairly standard for the genre. The vocal delivery of Niels Adams is a strength of this band; the desired gutturals are present, but the lyrics are not completely unintelligible as you would assume them to be. There's oftentimes a snarled scream thrown in amongst the throaty growls.

While things start off with a satisfying barrage of wanton aural decimation, it's when 'Crowned In Entrails' comes in that things really start shining; it's a gloriously frantic and yet catchy show of strength that is then surpassed by 'Dismember The Transgender' which, while also chaotic, features a tighter structure and some memorable riffs. There's also a series of steadily-building leads that are backed up by a great, distinctive bass lick or two. 'Under The Patio' has a good start with a trading off between vocals and guitars before it goes right back in to the familiar brutal territory. The chorus section is one of the more memorable, with the band showing that it knows how to slow down, albeit only slightly.

Right through the whole album, the music is as precise as a Steve Vai guitar solo; clearly very well executed, but there's a bit of a lack of original flavour that keep the album from sounding exceptional. It is true that there's not a whole lot can be done in the Brutal Death Metal genre at this point in time, and it is a matter of being faster, sicker and heavier than the previous band. In this, Prostitute Disfigurement have staked a an impressive claim. Take the lyrics from the aforementioned 'Crowned In Entrails'; "Her bluish lifeless body for several hours penetrated, Carved up from anus to chin.". That's about as brutal as it will ever get, and for all those who want to hear tongue-in-cheek themes of murder, rape, and all the weird and wonderful ways of disassembling the human bodies, this album is as recommendable as any.

Five albums in, and these Dutch purveyors of sickening sounds are a solid unit, if this album is anything to go by. The only thing I could pick at is the fact that things pretty much sound the same on each song, to the point that it's hard to pick out individual properties for each track, but that's to be expected in this genre. On saying that though; those who want to throw subtlety out of the window, bang their heads to the point that whiplash is induced, and absolutely ruin their throats singing along to only the most pulverising music on the planet, 'From Crotch To Crown' should slake their thirsts for a while.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 3 February 2014

Review; Behemoth - The Satanist

Track Listing:

1. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
2. Furor Divinus
3. Messe Noir
4. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
5. Amen
6. The Satanist
7. Ben Sahar
8. In The Absence Of Light
9. O Father O Satan O Sun!

There's nothing better as a Metal fan than getting a new album, knowing you're about to listen to something huge. These momentous, all-consuming records are rare, wonderful things like precious stones. When you listen to it the first time you can't wait for the things that will make you lose your mind and jump off of the furniture, or imagine how good it would be live. Every time after that first listen, you take in every note and nuance, suddenly finding deeper scopes in the sounds and lyrics to the record. Relating to it, ultimately gorging yourself upon it in someway or another, whether it's hyperactive, headbanging glee, intellectual deconstruction and appreciation of the music itself, or in a way deeper and more spiritual.

With the way that the creative process and subsequent release of Polish Blackened Death Metal masters Behemoth's tenth album 'The Satanist' had been documented all over the Metal community, I had the distinct feeling this could be one of those albums. Created after a rise and near-fall for Behemoth; the rise being 2009's sublime 'Evangelion' album, the near-fall being frontman Adam 'Nergal' Darski's tumultuous years after Evangelion's release. Nergal went through a battle with Leukaemia for over a year, and had a separate, ongoing battle with the Catholic Church and the Polish legal system for ripping up a bible during a live performance and denouncing the Catholic faith (which he could yet receive a two-year jail sentence for). It's been a hard trek for Behemoth to get to where they are now since then, but it's not been without its triumphs, including a rapturously received headline slot at the UK's Bloodstock Festival, which I witnessed myself. Now, 'The Satanist' is here, and it's time to see if it matches 'Evangelion' and is another victory for Satan's finest.

'Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel' could not begin more ominously, with a chilling, swirling noise heralding a steady, trademark Behemoth riff. The soft yet sinister percussion, courtesy of drummer extraordinaire Inferno, behind it brings the almost Eastern flavour that Behemoth have utilised before. The bass tone used by Orion on this album is gorgeous, too. It's not long before Nergal's commanding tones are heard and are as frighteningly fuelled as ever, preaching the power of darkness that has become synonymous with Behemoth. The song builds in pace and acts as a perfect album opener. There's a brass section to be heard haunting the track at various points, and it accompanies Inferno's blast beats surprisingly well, bringing a very real beauty to the song.

'Furor Divinus' shows that Behemoth have very much brought their Black Metal roots to the forefront of their music. It's also the shortest song on the album, closing at just over three minutes. It's a quick sucker punch to the jaw; Black Metal at it's finest, not derivative thanks to the band's unique stylistic stamp. This is an engaging flurry of power that flows well after the subtleties and grandeur on show in the previous track.
'Messe Noire' comes after, with Nergal preaching Satanic messages with a haunting degree of conviction. This isn't Slayer or Venom, this isn't a gimmick; this is a man speaking from the heart, over the top of a welcoming, sinister embrace of dark atmospherics. Again there's more fury to be shown, this band knows how to go up in through the gears. There's a great meeting of old and modern Behemoth on show here, and a brilliant, soulful guitar solo in the last minute of the song that is a rare thing to find in modern Extreme Metal.

Then the album reaches a lofty climax. 'Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer' starts out with an atmospheric build before charging at untold pace and sulphurous fury with some unbelievably memorable riffs, an amazing bass line, apocalypse-inducing drums and vocal lines that could either chill the soul of the listener or set it ablaze in wild abandon. Nergal's use of the lines 'For thine is the kingdom and the power forever' in reference to Satan and therefor in mockery to the Christian faith and it's God is a sheer stroke of genius that we will all love screaming along fervently at the next Behemoth gig.

'Amen' comes in with the most ridiculously fast blast beat, proving that Inferno is a truly unsung great as far as drumming goes. Dark choral vocalisations and orchestral tinges sweep in and out of this song while the band do what they do best; plough on relentlessly. The energy never wavers and the flow of the album thus far is perfect. This is a song that all the old school Behemoth fans will froth at the mouth for as much as the newer fans familiar with their more Death Metal infused output.

The production on this album is a high point; it doesn't buff the rough edges away too much but it is far removed from the raw, shitty production values of the 'unholier-than-thou' metal underground which Behemoth has towered over and subsequently transcended. The album's title track features an unexpected flourish in the guise of a Hammond organ as well as all of Behemoth's trademark sounds. The horns again make an appearance towards the furious end. It's a beautiful, spacious track that offers a sort of intense, seductive calm before the inevitable storm returns before it's end.

'Ben Sahar' is another such track, imbued with subtler moments that are, in themselves, blatant. Behemoth are masters of creating a truly unsettling atmosphere around the chaos of their Blackened Death Metal music. This is more artistic than most bands manage to come across as in their whole careers. 'In The Absence Of Light' is another standout song with the brilliant heaviness, enveloping atmospherics and a spoken word passage in Polish that all carry on the flow and quality of this astounding record.

The orchestral elements of this album lend themselves to the context of the album as a whole in the most gorgeous and flattering fashion, while Nergal's guitar leads and riffs range from thunderous to beautifully sinister with ease. Inferno's drumming still supplies real virtuosity and relentless pace, while Orion's bass keeps the whole thing tied together with an expert execution of its own and a brilliantly built tone that Geezer Butler would kill for.

The final track is without doubt the finest, and in my opinion the greatest song that Behemoth have ever put to tape; 'O Father O Satan O Sun!' comes in with all the marvel and spectacle that this record deserves to end with, and every instrument on the song is placed and played to perfection. The bass line before the song comes in proper may be the best you hear for decades, and the vocals from Nergal are absolutely perfect, lyrics and all. To make it even better, his voice is backed up by the choir at points. There's something about the song that has a very subtle blues tinge to it, not least in the brilliantly executed guitar solo. This song will hopefully be finishing Behemoth gigs for the rest of time, bringing all of us together in the most perfect Satanic song recorded so far in this century. The spoken word preach from Nergal at the end of the song is the perfect ending to this album, and is both delightfully life-affirming as well as completely chilling  due to the frontman's utter belief and conviction.

So, as strings bring the record to an unbelievable, euphoric finish, I think to myself - what have I just heard. The answer is; a true work of art. A beautiful, masterfully crafted album that will last for years to come and will serve as a benchmark of what Extreme Metal can truly be. This, if justice will out, will stand at the highest echelon's of Metal's greats; Master Of Puppets, Number Of The Beast, Reign In Blood, The Blackening, Vulgar Display Of Power, In The Nightside Eclipse, and the other records from Heavy Metal's past now have a new member in the ranks. The Satanist is downright perfect, timeless. An instant classic, to coin an overused cliché. It's the best Metal album I have heard in a long time, and it feels like it will be a long time until I hear anything like it again, if I ever do. Bravo. Album of the year, it seems, is already sealed.

Rating: 11/10

Review; Of Mice & Men - Restoring Force

Track Listing:

1. Public Service Announcement
2. Feels Like Forever
3. Bones Exposed
4. Would You Still Be There
5. Glass Hearts
6. Another You
7. Break Free
8. You Make Me Sick
9. Identity Disorder
10. You're Not Alone
11. Space Enough To Grow

Of Mice & Men is one of many bands that I've skipped over, generally speaking. I understand that they have a growing fanbase amongst the younger generation of Metal fans, I know they get an evil-eyed casting off by the more traditional Metal fans, and I have come to understand that this, their third album has been highly anticipated by many. I hadn't listened to them prior to this album, but I had heard that their sound was a hybrid of Hard Alternative, Nu-Metal and Metalcore. This caught my interest slightly, as I am a child of the Nu-Metal era (The first records I owned were KoRn's self-titled debut, Limp Bizkit's 'Chocolate Starfish...', Linkin Park's 'Hybrid Theory', Slipknot's debut, and Papa Roach's 'Infest' album) but that era is long dead as far as many people, including myself, are concerned. I won't lie; I went into this album very apprehensively.

As the album opens, the first thing that strikes me is that there's a lot been put into the production, so; well done to David Bendeth for the shining production that fits a band like this very well. There's a degree of punch, the rough edges are a little too smoothed down for some people's liking. The music itself... well, it's what I expected; chugging, down tuned riffs, nothing complicated. Everything steady but paced enough to give it an energy that's befitting teenage angst. Lyrically it follows the same territory of youthful anger, but fails to bring any grit or venom to the fray. The lyric "All of these people, talking about my story, As if they've lived it before, All of these people they don't even know me, But I love how you think you know me better than I know myself" from 'Public Service Announcement' comes across as a very lazy, almost pathetic show of anger that sounds less like a statement of reaching the proverbial breaking point, instead sounding like something that 'misunderstood' teenagers will put up on Facebook or Twitter when they've been told off by Mum and Dad.

Both the riff and the vocal in the verse for 'Feels Like Forever' sound massively influenced by Hybrid Theory, while the rhythm of the vocal line reminds me a little of Fred Durst. It's when the chorus comes in with the sickly-sweet clean singing...melodies, lyrics and all are about as bubblegum as Metal gets. Even as someone who admittedly grew up on the more market friendly strains of Metal music, this is cringe-worthy. It's like a bad homage to the Nu-Metal days with a touch of Bullet For My Valentine and Emo thrown in for extra effect.

Moving on; 'Bones Exposed' picks up the pace a little bit, though the chug-along simplicity of the guitar lines is still failing to impress. Again, the lyrics are enough to make my skin crawl "A cut cannot heal, unless you leave it alone. I'll open mine daily, leaving bones exposed". There's hooks, there have been on each song up to now, but to me the nature of the songwriting and structures seem formulaic and sterile beyond repair, no matter how catchy some may find it. At least there's a guitar solo, and the screams are half decent.

'Would You Still Be There' has a very 'Infest'-era Papa Roach tinge to it...frighteningly so. It's almost to the point that I quite like it. Again, the chorus comes in and screws it up for me. It doesn't help that a lot of the clean singing sounds like it's either been over-produced or even auto-tuned. On saying all that though, it's a surprising point on the album so far that I can't completely slate. In fact, I may listen to it when I feel nostalgic for my childhood. My opinion; bassist Aaron Pauley is a better vocalist than frontman Austin Carlile.

'Glass Hearts' takes things in a more Metalcore direction, with a real sound of Bring Me The Horizon to it, but fails to make any real impact on my ear before the album's ballad 'Another You' comes in. Again, it's the lyrical content that puts me off. It's like the Metal equivalent of a sickening boy band single. Fans will find the hooks in this song enough to stand by it, but I personally will try to forget this song. Similar comments count for 'Break Free'.

'You Make Me Sick' starts of quite well, an effective riff that breaks the monotony that had built up to now. There's also a few moments where Carlile shows some balls in what has been up to now an adolescent vocal delivery. The long scream towards the end of the song is impressive, at least in the context of the rest of the record. Another unexpected highlight, but by no means a great song as far as my point of view is concerned.

After another irritating track in the shape of the disenfranchised cry-for-help anthem 'Identity Disorder', 'You're Not Alone' brings some much needed positivity to the proceedings. This is what a band like this should be doing; rallying it's fans to a call, bringing a feeling of togetherness between fans and the band itself. This song strikes me as one that the target audience in question will enjoy singing along to at each and every gig. The line 'Don't let the world bring you down' is the hook that will no doubt sink under the skin of many young Metalcore fans. This highlight does make the closing song 'Space Enough To Grow' very confusing and very frustrating; again things turn introverted, sad-eyed and infuriating to those who want young bands to strike out at the Metal scene with fire in their gut.

One big issue I guess is that Of Mice & Men have their target audience; the misunderstood youth, confused, perhaps scared teens who turn to somewhat edgier music as an outlet or even as a shoulder to lean on. I can understand that; I think we've all been there at some point whether we admit it or not. When it comes down to it, this is an album for a new generation to grasp onto. I have no doubt this album will do well, it has all the hallmarks of an album that younger people will snap up in seconds, but for those of you out there who need brains and brawn in their Metal, who need something a bit different rather than a mishmash of commercially successful styles and self-conscious teenage anthems, I can only recommend that you avoid this album. Despite the fact that the fans of this group and even Melodic Metalcore fans in general will love this album, this is my review, and I must be honest to my own opinion.

This album sounds too empty, too copy-cat and too shamelessly marketable to me. Too frequently I find it infuriatingly simple and derivative of a few tried and tested styles of Metal, and it never equals the sum of those parts. Considering the hype around this band at the moment, I'm doubly stumped, and at the end of the day this album makes me wonder how long Metalcore can carry on riding a wave of popularity before everyone realises that it's run out of ideas and has stagnated horribly. I won't be playing this album again, and will probably forget it's existence in a few months.

Rating: 1/10

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review; Beneath Dead Waves - Inertia

Track Listing:

1. Nemacyst
2. Delirium
3. Deliriant
4. Inertia
5. You Were Nothing
6. Imperfect
7. A Life Worth Taking
8. Suppresional

London based band Beneath Dead Waves have been going since 2007, but it's only now that their debut full-length album has been released. For a lot of people, the first thought would be that the band have had a lot of time to hone their sound, develop their sound, get their songs together, in short; sharpen their teeth. On listening to this album; Beneath Dead Waves have done exactly that.

Opening with 'Nemacyst', the band showcase an insane degree of technicality in their music. Technical Thrash Metal is what comes to mind, maybe the odd Metalcore moment, but neither tags do this band's sound justice. The two guitarists here have a mind-bending degree of talent, and they want you to know it. The vocals have something of a Hardcore fuck-you, in-your-face attitude on one side, and a decent melodicism at the other. The pace here is unrelenting, which makes sense given their claim to never compromise. There's belief here, right from the start, and it's hard not to get caught up in it.

'Delirium' continues the breakneck insanity, though the verses give the guitars a bit more room to breathe while vocalist Joey does his thing. It's the guitar leads from Doug and Matt as well as the drummer Leigh's precision that make this music so engaging so early on. The riff that comes at you three minutes into the song is unreal, and catchy. There's something of an M. Shadows ring to Joey's voice at points, but he manages not to sound like a copycat. 'Deliriant' brings a sort of off-beat bounce before shifting constantly from eerie-quiet to a Thrashy battering. Lyrically, it's sometimes a bit iffy, but it's a small niggle for another quality track. More guitar solos at the end that sound like they'd cause bleeding fingers.

Title track 'Inertia' has a slow, delicate intro with a really great bass line and some really colourful flourishes on the drums. The vocal harmonies that pop up in places have an unusual ring to them that do work quite well. There's a lot of draw in this song, not least the soaring vocal high-point before the guitar leads make the shit hit the fan! This is the song to listen to if you want a first taste of the band. It shows clearly how much this band have worked on their craft in preparation for this album; nothing is rushed, unnecessary or ill-thought-out. This is the sound of a well-oiled machine starting up, and they're firing on all cylanders.

'You Were Nothing' shows a bit of melodic subtlety and interesting composition. The sneering vocal tone is present alongside the somewhat questionable cleaner singing and the screams; the vocals show their flamboyancy in this way. Again, there's a lot of room to breathe as far as guitars are concerned, with notes feeling well placed. Half way through, the song gets slow and lyrically sinister, with everything pointing towards some sort of due musical explosion that does arrive; the drumming on show is pummelling, and the screams are somewhat disturbing in their lyrical content. There's a fair dose of conviction in tracks like this.

'Imperfect' features more grade-A drumming, including blastbeating, and there's yet more grooves by the truckload, that gives the music a certain accessibility despite the technicality. Musically, so far in the album I cannot fault the record, and that's a feat so far in on a debut album. Lyrically the themes so far haven't been entirely unique, but again it's a slight matter. Musically, this album is kicking ass, and the vocals themselves are effective, giving the lyrics a passionate delivery that stops them sounding entirely derivative. 'A Life Worth Taking' takes things back into manic technicality from the off, again showered with great grooves. The verse is exactly my cup of tea, sounding very Thrash Metal. Definitely something I could headbang to live. Guitar solos are again a high point, as well as a decent breakdown.

'Suppressional' starts and stops a few times, making for quite an uneasy opening before some more great Thrash riffs come through. Harsh vocals work well over the rhythmic qualities on show, but every now and then the clean vocals are a little out of place, which only briefly stalls this song, as well as a couple of the others on this album, before the musicality of the band as a whole keeps the listener's attention. Maybe belting out the clean vocals a little bit more would be welcome over some of the softer sung passages. Though, the deeper vocals in the middle of the song work relatively well.

Shifts in tempo, stopgaps and incredible musical technicality are the strengths of this band, and they're great strengths to have. The only weakness that does become a little apparent as the album draws on is the clean vocals. I'm all for a band showing different sides, but there's such a quality to the harder and heavier elements to the music on show that diluting it occasionally seems a bit of an injustice. All in all, however; it's a belter of a debut, in fact I do wonder what a debut album like this will act as a precursor to. If this is where this band is beginning, I'm going to keep an eye on them to see where they go from here. So should you.

Rating: 7.5/10

Review; Kampfar - Djevelmakt

Track Listing:

1. Myldur
2. Kujon
3. Blod, Eder og Galle
4. Swarm Norvegicus
5. Fortapelse
6. De Dødes Fane
7. Svarte Sjelers Salme
8. Our Hounds, Our Legion

Kampfar is not a band that I had listened to prior to this album, I must admit. However, 'Djevelmakt', the band's sixth full-length record since their birth in 1994, has intrigued me. Folk Metal (or Black Metal with Folk elements in it, for those that want to be picky) is a subgenre of Metal music that has often repelled me due to the fact that I've heard a lot of it that goes suddenly from an all-out Black Metal sound to a weird fiddle and flute whimsy that quite frankly sounds ridiculous no matter what context you put it into.

'Djevelmakt' manages to bring Black Metal and Folk music together in a hypnotising blend of chaos and subtle beauty. 'Myldur' opens with a dark, haunting piano introduction before bringing forth a chord-based riff that has a lot of stomp and impact, that avoids the typical Black Metal formula where blast-beats make up eighty percent of a song. Blasts come later, but don't outstay their welcome. Frontman Dolk's vocals manage to screech like the best of them, but also have a more melodic delivery heard in the chorus of this first song. It's not exactly clean vocals, more half-and-half. The folk tinges are in there too, with some chilling flute playing woven into the music. It's tasteful, subtle and helps give the song, and the band, a stamp of identity.

'Kujon' comes in more straightforward, with double-bass drums prominent throughout. The guitar lines do have an almost Folky sound to them, though there are some arpeggios in the middle that are almost lost in the distortion (a small point, but noticeable to my ears). 'Blod, Eder og Galle' starts ominously, almost classically, with strings playing a very dark tune that soon merges perfectly into the chaos of Kampfar's blackened attack. Again, the band show they can slow the tempo and not suffer for it, but it is largely the atmosphere created by the strings that carry the strength of this song.

'Swarm Norvegicus'  has another dark and slow build with a short, throaty spoken word section and a catchy bass line. There's quite a few times so far in the album that the music doesn't boast originality, but the passionate belief evident in the delivery of these concise, well constructed songs is enough to excuse those moments. It's perhaps in the style of the composition that the album does stand out from the crowded Black Metal scene. 'Fortapelse' continues the frantic charge meets Folk interludes, the piano haunting the chorus adds the extra dimension to this song, taking it from possibly bland to flavourful with simple ease.

'De Dødes Fane' is the kind of song that is bound to make all the grim, bleak, corpsepaint-ridden Black Metal diehards hold up their claw and crabwalk in suppressed glee, with Dolk's emotive cries bringing said bleakness to the fold. The flute again makes a welcome appearance alongside a simple yet effective riff that would have all but only the most staunch naysayer headbanging fervently. All those who talk about listening to Black Metal and 'being transported to the barren, frostbitten landscapes of Norway' will love 'Svarte Sjelers Salme', as it really does bring to mind those cliché images of both the land and its mythology. The whole album does, in places.

As 'Our Hounds, Our Legion' closes the album in English as opposed to the rest of the album where the lyrics are in the band's native tongue, the fury and belief of the band does not let up for a moment. It is this trait that gives Kampfar such respectability; twenty years into their career and this band still shows such passion for their art, and it is a very noteworthy body of art even without taking this into account.

This is an album that I can recommend highly to any fan of Extreme Metal, to any Metal fan wanting something more genuine, and that gives more than the simple, instantaneous-yet-cheap thrills that many bands rely on. Kampfar have delivered an album that should bring them a little further into the light of recognition within the scene, and it would be very well deserved, and overdue recognition. This may be the first album of theirs I have listened to, as it may be for others, but it has tempted me to check out their previous releases, and that can only be a sign of a great record.

Rating: 8/10