Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bal-Sagoth - A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria

Genre: Symphonic Black Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1995
Label: Cacophonous Records

A band that requires no introduction, Bal-Sagoth has been churning out their own unique brand of epic symphonic black metal since 1989, their first demo surfacing in 1993. It wouldn't be until 1995, however, that the world would hear their their first full-length album. This is my favourite release from these fantasy-obsessed Brits, and they would never record an album quite like it again. The atmosphere is much darker here than on their later work, and the production evinces a more obscure, arcane atmosphere. Honestly, I think this is the band's most epic work. Many people will likely disagree with me on this, seeing as their future releases are drenched in keyboard symphonics, and while it's cool for what it is, A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria had the most vivid and encompassing atmosphere which I feel really enthrones it at the top of their discography. Granted, I'm not intimately familiar with Battle Magic or Atlantis Rising, but the handful of listens I've given them seem to further cement my opinion on the matter. I find myself reaching for A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria far more often than The Power Cosmic, Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule, and yes, even the revered Chthonic Chronicles. As I mentioned previously, this is a decidedly darker album than anything that succeeded it, and I really like the way the symphonic elements aren't quite as over-the-top as they are on the band's other discs. Vocally, Lord Byron switched between the expected black rasps and his trademark spoken word passages, but he also used death growls that would never be heard again on a Bal-Sagoth album. I enjoy his vocal performance on this release immensely, and I actually feel that it was his best overall. Chris Maudling's riffwork is also a highlight, delivering a crushing fusillade of black and death metal magefire that stomps its way across the band's soundscape like an ancient warmachine. The combination of the leaden riffs and tasteful symphonics truly brings to mind the images of the cyclopean cities, eldritch spires, bloody battles, and unfathomable ancient gods that have always pervaded Bal-Sagoth's awesome lyrics. In short, this album is heavy, atmospheric, evil, arcane, and epic all at once - just the way I like it. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

For fans of Emperor, Sear Bliss, Limbonic Art, and Summoning.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sacramentum - Far Away from the Sun

Genre: Melodic Black Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1996
Label: Adipocere Records

Sorry about the delay on new posts, guys - I've been very busy over the past two weeks. But here I am now, so onward to more metal! Today I'm going with Sacramentum's Far Away From the Sun, an awesome and, according to many fans, criminally overlooked and severely underrated Swedish melodic black metal classic. The first discussion point when talking about this album is  usually whether or not Sacramentum were just a Dissection clone. The answer here, I will venture to say, is no. Sure, the unmistakably Swedish melodic tendencies are there, as is the magnificent Kristian Wåhlin cover artwork, but Sacramentum were indeed their own band. While Dissection incorporated touches of death metal elements and went for a decidedly more aggressive approach on their landmark albums, Sacramentum had both feet firmly planted on the black metal side of the fence for this one, opting for a more atmosphere-centric sound, Far Away From the Sun being an ice-cold, mist-shrouded journey through majestic nightscapes that truly embodies its own unique identity. This is a beautiful, epic album with an awesome production that allows all the instruments to be heard while retaining a distant, reverb-saturated atmosphere. I really love albums that truly sound like the cover artwork, and this is definitely one of those cases, the freezing, majestic riffs taking the listener on a journey through dark, arcane fortresses, ancient sunless forests, and towering snow-clad mountains, an atmosphere that truly pervades the music from the beginning of the opening track to the terminal fade of the final song. At the very least, give this an attentive listen before writing it off as a Dissection clone. The similarities are certainly there, as mentioned before, but this is definitely a beast of its own.

For fans of Dissection, Thulcandra, and Abyssos.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just For Fun

A friend sent me a screenshot of this and I just couldn't resist posting it:

Hahaha, thanks for reading, everybody! Here's to 666 more!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Angantyr - Hævn

Genre: Black Metal
Country: Denmark
Year: 2007
Label: Det Germanske Folket

This is one of those albums that I love so much that I have been putting off writing about it. As always with albums I feel so strongly about, I feel there's very little I can say that would do it justice, but I will give it my best shot nonetheless! Hævn is an album whose revelry in the epic is very honest and mightily profound, relying only on beautiful, haunting guitar riffs to create its gigantic, sweeping atmosphere. The melodies that pervade its generous hour and eleven minutes are gargantuan soaring hymns of fury, sorrow, triumph, and defeat. This is as good as it gets: no gimmicks, no cheeseball synthesizers, no pop melodies, nothing but one man's pure, honest vision of what great Nordic black metal should sound like. And what a vision it is! Many bands barely manage 'epic' with a full array of symphonic keyboard patches at their disposal; Angantyr pretty much defines the word with nothing but electric guitars. There are a few (read: FEW) parts where keyboards are utilized, but it's always tasteful, underpinning whatever musical idea is driving the song at the time, never taking centre stage but rather helping to flesh out the atmosphere of that particular moment. As I previously stressed, it is not often that the keys make an appearance, so this is  in no way 'symphonic'. I believe Ynleborgaz himself refers to Angantyr's music as "raw melodic black metal", and that's certainly a fitting description. Yet despite the raw feeling of the production, it's surprisingly well done: the expertly handled drums sit perfectly in the mix (yes, this is a solo project with real drums!), allowing the majestic guitar melodies to really shine through. The bass is audible but,  as should be with this type of music, is much more felt than heard. The vocals are a rasp very well suited to the style, and ride in the middle of the mix, sounding both distant and forceful. The extended cello outro at the end of album closer (and this blogger's favourite track) "Blod for Blod, Liv for Liv" is unexpected and truly moving, its beautiful, sorrowful melodies echoing in the listener's mind long after it drifts into silence. This is truly one of the best black metal albums I've ever heard, and is absolutely essential to the collection of any fan of the genre. Incredible.

For fans of Aldaaron, Windir, Odal, and Mourning Forest.

Griftegård - Solemn, Sacred, Severe

Genre: Doom Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 2009
Label: Ván Records

Here we have a great old-school style epic doom metal band from Sweden. Solemn, Sacred, Severe has a cavernous atmosphere with big, slow, heavy riffs to back it up. The vocals are on the theatrical side of the spectrum, singer Thomas Eriksson wailing in a very emotive, expressive tone that truly suits the music. His voice is one of the high points of the album, adding a lot to the feelings of gloom and solitude invoked by the slow, sombre guitar work. This is definitely an album that requires a certain mood in which to listen to it, but when you're in said mood, it really, really hits the spot. If you don't enjoy Solemn, Sacred, Severe during your first listen, set it aside and come back to it later. You might be surprised at how much of a difference the proper setting can make for this doom gem.

For fans of Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and Isole.

Solemn, Sacred, Severe

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bewitched - Diabolical Desecration

Genre: Black/Thrash Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1996
Label: Osmose Productions

This is some good ol' head bangin' fun from Sweden. Diabolical Desecration is all about simple, stripped-down black thrash (more on the thrash side) that gets to the point: no-frills here, just good riffs and down to business songs. These guys certainly have no intention of reinventing the wheel, which is fine, because this album is crackling with energy and riffy goodness. My one complaint is that I would have liked the production to be a bit more raw and visceral as I think it would have served the attitude of the music a bit better. Not to say the production doesn't work - I just would've preferred a more chaotic feeling. Small gripe aside, this album has some great riffs (which evince a very strong Motörhead vibe more than a few times) and is definitely a worthy addition to any black thrash fan's collection.

For fans of Nocturnal, Desaster, Midnight, and Sabbat.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Holy Martyr - Hellenic Warrior Spirit

Genre: Epic Heavy Metal
Country: Italy
Year: 2008
Label: Dragonheart Records

Holy Martyr's debut full-length Still at War was one of the first posts I made on this blog, and now it's time for their second offering to make an appearance here on the Tabernacle. Hellenic Warrior Spirit is more of what made Still at War an instant classic: epic, epic, epic memorable songs jam-packed with killer riffs, rip-roaring leads, deft drumming, and awesome vocals, all wrapped in a full-bodied production that really brings out every instrument and allows the band's music to really shine through. Did I mention that this album is epic? No keyboards, no gimmicks, the soaring, sweeping feeling exudes from the riffs, vocal lines and arrangements themselves. Alex Mereu's charismatic voice is definitely a highlight here, delivering infectious melodies and anthemic choruses with incredible aptitude and character, and you really can't help but sing along to just about every last word on this album (warning: there is a chance your spouse/significant other/sibling/roommate/parents may walk in on you with a red blanket tied around your neck while raising a broomstick above your head as if it's a Spartan spear at any point during the song "Spartan Phalanx"). The lyrics again deal with Hellenic history and mythology,  the themes of which lend themselves very well to the feeling of the music. I don't like this album quite as much as their debut, as I felt that Still at War was a bit heavier and more energetic, but Hellenic Warrior Spirit showcases a better production and still completely fucking rules. Three hundred men, the elite guard - you can't stop the Spartan phalanx!

For fans of Battleroar, Wishdoom, Omen, and Manilla Road.

Carnage - Dark Recollections

Genre: Death Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1990
Label: Narcosis Records

Carnage was an early death metal outfit that included musicians who would go on to play in some of the biggest names in the genre (Entombed, Dismember, Carcass, and a handful of others). Basically, this, their only full-length release, completely fucking kills. It's heavy, dark, and menacing, with a production job that is very much a foreshadowing of what would come to be the staple Swedish sound. It was all here - that thick, leaden guitar tone that crushes your skull as it stomps away above drums that hit your chest like a warhammer and never give you a chance to catch your breath. This is the real deal, and one of the earliest bands in the scene. As with many classics, there's not much I can say that hasn't been said before, so I'll leave it at that. Mandatory.

For fans of Dismember, Grave, early Entombed, and early Hypocrisy.