Metal has had its fair share of oddities and curiosities, and more than once, as it happens, like a two-headed beast fighting over a shared body, we come upon two bands of the very same name, an unusual instance that often spawns tensions and lawsuits. TMO has gathered the 10 most prominent of these cases, looked into how they came to be, and then at whether or not a solution was ultimately found.
Turns out this fortress isn’t that impenetrable after all…
In some ways Venereal Dawn represents a continuation of the slightly more off-kilter elements Dark Fortress started exploring on Ylem, yet in many ways this new album, their first in four years, is more a case of revolution than evolution. Beloved in equal measure by fans of traditional and more melodic variants of black metal alike, this German act’s current career trajectory represents a bit of a conundrum – they are several things and at the same time they are not. They are a melodic black metal band that, on this album at least, are neither melodic nor particularly ‘black’. Venereal Dawn could be labelled as a progressive metal album but seeing as though many of its more leftfield moments seem to have their genesis in Opeth’s late 90s/early 00s material, one could also argue that that, if anything, it’s a regressive metal album. Lest we get too pedantic about pigeonholing, let’s just go ahead and view Venereal Dawn as the typical transitional album. An album that sees them transition into what, I hear you ask…
Well, that’s the $666,000 question, isn’t it? If I were a betting man I’d say that all this hoopla about change, revolution and whatnot is just poppycock. Sure, the 11-minute duration and resolute lack of speed of the title track are sure to raise some eyebrows, but it’s not terribly different from some of Ylem’s more sombre moments. It’s just as well I’m not a betting man then, because they violently yank the rug out from underneath you as soon as those peculiar Opeth-ian melodies (think a mix of “The Drapery Falls” and “Dirge for November”) and momentum-killing stop/go riffs start swirling around on “Lloigor,” and it’s not until the seventh track (“Odem”) that a sense of footing is regained. Barring the blasting opening strains of “I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God” things are stuck in an unflinching mid-tempo, Florian “narrates” more than he growls and the riffs stutter along with no discernible sense of focus. There is a sense of menace lurking somewhere in the background but it’s largely secluded and the structural weirdness of the songs preclude it from ever coming to the fore. Venereal Dawn would’ve been a solid album were it not for the worrying lack of unity between its various components. The incongruence, not just between the individual instruments but also between the various sections within the songs, results in compositional paralysis that effectively wipes out the initial two thirds of the album.
There is some groove evident on “Betrayal and Vengeance,” a rough outline of a Triptykon song on “Chrysalis” and “The Deep” consists of little more than laboured acoustic strumming and warbled whispering. None of the riffs and melodies are particularly engaging and the haphazard way they jump between different instrumental passages is extremely problematic. The transitions clash instead of cooperate and because the instruments don’t speak to one another the album, as a whole, fails to speak to the listener. As if to throw us a bone just as the album starts winding down, they finally break out some speed and the faintest sense of tonal dissonance on “Odem,” which actually qualifies as a black metal song that hearkens back to both the visceral attack of Stabwounds and the more atmospheric approach of Ylem. It’s a welcome, albeit brief, return to form on an album that seems to be deliberately formless and, together with the thrashy riffs and subtle yet brooding keyboards of “Luciform,” represents the album’s sole moment of structural unity and purpose. I don’t mind them breaking loose from their black metal beginnings but Venereal Dawn is a half-baked and confused album by a band that seemingly wants to be Triptykon, Opeth and something like Ephel Duath all at once, with no regard paid to structure and flow.
Reborn. Reinvigorated. Retribution.
If I’m going to be frank in this review, I have to say that even before I listened to the album I was glad that The Haunted parted ways with Dolving. Sure, the guy fronted them in the beginning and his first return to the fold produced one of my favorite albums of all time in rEVOLVEr, but his influence continually pushed these Swedish thrashers further and further into the alternative metalsphere. It got to the point that Unseen left me apathetic towards one of my favorite bands with its angsty vocals and melancholic writing. That’s the past though. The Haunted’s eighth record, Exit Wounds, marks another new era for the band and the return of their second vocalist Marco Aro to the fold. I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Exit Wounds is not quite a throwback record to the previous Aro era of The Haunted that included the beastly Made Me Do It and the massively underrated and hardcore influenced One Kill Wonder. It’s more along the lines of another evolution to their sound that happens to utilize the same elements as those, returning the band towards that riff heavy punch that made those records mosh pit miracles. Ninety-five percent of alternative elements are completely trimmed from the sound and The Haunted returns to doing what they do best: riffing. And riff they do. Right away the band hits the listener with this sound pummeling out “Cutting Teeth” and adding in some melodic layers on “Psychonaut.” This is the core of what Exit Wounds is about: riffs, pounding drums, brief and slicing leads, and roaring vocals. It’s as if The Haunted have come out to make a statement and that statement is littered with the dead bodies of those slain by their infectious riffing and energetic outpour of thrash violence.
Exit Wounds is a relentless record too. In an effort to keep this style up, the album is filled with short bursts of this style so that with only 14 tracks only 2 of them actually clock in over four minutes. The above-mentioned style makes up a majority of the record, but The Haunted are not afraid to add in just enough diversity to keep it moving forward at a lightning pace. The band knocks out a hardcore swinging track with “Trend Killer” and they inject plenty of melodic death metal streaks in tracks like in “Kill the Light.” The combination of high intensity thrash and these tidbits of detail make this an album where you won’t skip a track.
The Haunted was on a downward slide before Exit Wounds and after the departure of three members my faith was a bit shaken in how this might turn out. But the additions of previously established members like drummer Erlandsson, the roaring vocals of Marco Aro, and lead guitarist Ola Englund have taken these Swedes right back to where they belong – at the top of the metal food chain. Not only is Exit Wounds one of the best that The Haunted have unleashed in their career, it’s one of the best of the year.
Dead but dreaming… and blasting…and growling.
Clocking in at 71 minutes (and well over 2 hours if one includes the instrumental second disc), Cthulhu may or may not be one of the lengthiest black metal albums out there. What can be said with near certainty, however, is that Cthulhu represents not only the crown jewel in Ceremonial Castings’ impressive body of work but also ranks as one of the best and most enthralling releases of 2014. OK, it’s a subjective point but if these lush compositions fail too elicit in you anything less than rapt awe then I fear you have no soul (and definitely no taste with regards to metal that’s as bold as it’s black). That Cthulhu rocketed straight into my (still tentative) top 10 of the year in one fell swoop was more than a little unexpected as I generally place a primacy on brevity and a certain rawness in my black metal – two aspects this album most certainly does not possess. So what makes these Washington natives’ eighth full-length so goddamned amazing?
The easy answer to that would be that they make every damn second count – all 4241 of them. Essentially as close as one is likely to get to a ‘black metal opera,’ Cthulhu is a sprawling concept album taking lyrical/thematic cues from HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos (duh!) and musical cues from the likes of Carach Angren and fellow American act Vesperian Sorrow, expanding on the atmospheric dynamic of the former and the bombastic aesthetic of the latter. A wealth of vocal and narrative styles abound, swirling keyboards lace just about every note and the mood of the album is in constant flux as the band transitions from chapter to chapter (the album is divided into three chapters – The Ritual [tracks 1-4], The Revival [tracks 5-8] and The Revelation [tracks 9-11]). Against all odds, they manage to maintain a discernible cohesion throughout, ensuring everything remains eminently listenable and devoid of parody. A band like Blood Stained Dusk would do well to analyze this album as a case study in how to keep a bombastic and brainy album from collapsing under the sheer weight of its own reach for the grandiose.
“The Great Old Ones” launches straight into a whirlwind of blasts and tremolo picked riffs equally indebted to both black and death metal, with sparse and somewhat cosmic sounding keyboard strains acting as the briefest of intros. This directness is carried through the four tracks that comprise The Ritual, with “Return to the Cosmic Infinity” and “The Depths of Dreams and Terror” both ratcheting up the speed quotient and keyboard histrionics, the former featuring excellent interplay between the forlorn keyboard melodies and a hefty dose of blasts and the latter injecting a certain sense of sadness into the mix (a theme that returns during the album’s concluding chapter). The slash-and-burn of the riffs and the flourishing keys create a baseline sound that is as unsettling as it is intense, supplemented perfectly by Jake Superchi’s (a.k.a. The Witcher) downright mind-boggling array of vocal styles that run the gamut from fierce growls, to searing rasps to an operatic baritone inflection. Not to take anything away from sibling Nick Superchi (a.k.a. OldNick; keyboards) and the recently departed Mathew Mattern (a.k.a. Blood Hammer; drums), but Jake Superchi’s smorgasbord of riffs and vocals is the absolute highlight of Cthulhu, imbuing it with a grandeur, ferocity and emotional reach that goes way beyond the average (black) metal band.
If Chapter 1 sought to establish an eerie sense of foreboding then Chapter 2 (The Revival) is all about unadulterated aggression, with “Submerged Stones of R’yleh” lunging at the listener with downtuned death metal riffs in the best Behemoth/Nile vein. In fact, “Submerged…” would be a complete DM song were it not for the increasingly raspy vocals and the downright scary spoken word interlude near the end that casts a terrifying pal over proceedings. The belligerence of this chapter is broken only by the heartfelt melodic cadence of “Crypt of the Kraken King” – its anguished yet hypnotic keyboards and vocal harmonies immediately recalling Cult of Fire’s equally brilliant “काली मां” (good luck Googling that!). It lends the middle part of the album an almost spiritual feeling which, together with the interlude (“Above a Reflection of Water”), segues seamlessly into the final chapter (The Revelation). Whereas chapters 1 and 2 highlighted keyboard-vocal interplay and searing guitar work respectively, this final chapter well and truly brings the keys to the fore. On “Storming the Pacific” they assume an almost uplifting tone at times (as well as driving along the space-y ambient outro part), while on the emotive “Swallowed by the Aeons of Time” there are parts that sound like underwater depth charges going off. The mood it creates is quite something, as the reverb and beeps evoke mental images of drowning the one moment and ascending into the cosmos the next. Not to be outdone, the riffs also have real bite on this song – speedy, cold tremolo picked riffs that juxtapose the keys in the best possible way. The ambient “Endless Oceans” rounds out the album and chapter, as all is submerged by water and life ceases.
In spite of its hefty running time Cthulhu remains engrossing from first to last, perfectly ebbing and flowing as the narrative of the Elder Ones unfolds. If I had to nit-pick I would probably point out that the drums sound somewhat mechanical during the blastbeats and that the second disc (titled Cthulhu Unbound) is more of a novelty than a necessity (it’s basically just an instrumental/ambient version of the album). These are but minor gripes though, as the album is a masterpiece of conceptual black metal that effortlessly balances atmosphere, intensity and a keen sense of melody. It’s also amazingly well paced (it feels about 20 minutes shorter than it actually is) and, as an added bonus, the Kris Verwimp cover art is beautifully ominous. I don’t often hand out perfect ratings but the sheer brilliance of these songs demand no less than the highest accolade. A sure contender for album of the year!
It can be bizarre. It can also be off-putting. But it’s an entirely new realm of the sub-genre that can afford some great new bands and masterpieces to listeners. The power metal scene has really blossomed since the arrival of X Japan in the ’80s, and since then it’s been taken to new heights and limits.
Hans gets up close and personal with Swedish melodic death metal band Meadows End and the whole band joins in to give some insight.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
The Million Dollar Grunge Album That Never Was
Tons Of Rock Day 3, June 21st 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 2, June 20th 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 1, June 19th 2014
The Suicide Silence guitarist opens up about the death of Mitch Lucker, getting the band back together, and their badass new record You Can’t Stop Me.
The Metal Observer recently had the chance to speak with the legendary founder and driving force behind Falconer, Stefan Weinerhall. Returning with the band’s eighth studio album, Black Moon Rising, which recently dropped on Metal Blade Records, Weinerhall speaks about the intensity of the new album, his approach to songwriting and influences, among other things.