“Don’t Enter!” — October 2016 Reviews

polenov

Black Ivory Tower proudly presents the return of “Don’t Enter!” In the past, we would post short reviews every week to counterbalance our stretched-out ‘normal’ reviews. “Don’t Enter!” is now a monthly segment, but it will contain a lot more reviews than the customary 3 or 4 we had in weeklies. For those who aren’t familiar with these articles, we write reviews of new and old records with only one rule: the author is not allowed to press the enter key. No-nonsense, single-paragraph, one-and-done reviewing. We hope you enjoy this month’s batch. If you have any suggestions for future instalments, send an e-mail to blackivorytower [AT] yandex [DOT] com. New instalments will be posted every last Sunday of the month. Santé!


Darkthrone — Arctic thunder | Norway, 2016

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When Darkthrone’s music was driven by an uncompromising worldview, they were one of the most powerful voices ever to emerge from metal. The band made their intent clear through confrontational slogans adorning their paraphernalia: “As wolves among sheeps we have wandered” and “Darkthrone is for the evil in man” were some of the unforgettable encapsulations of Darkthrone’s ethos, beacons of the ideal that black metal was to strive for. Years have passed and Darkthrone now operate under more banal mottos like “drums sounded better in the ’70s!” and though they are still very capable musicians, the decreased potency of their convictions has had a devastating effect on their work, which has gone from being magically enticing to run-of-the-mill, even conscientiously mediocre. On Arctic thunder, Darkthrone seem to actually give a shit about something again, though only on a few of the tracks. “Boreal fiends” and “Inbred Vermin” both seem to have regained at least some of the group’s old energy, and are unsurprisingly full of Celtic Frost-isms, Celtic Frost having always been the band’s most fertile source of inspiration in the past. These tracks are also the most concentrated, with less material being developed more effectively, in a way that is slightly reminiscent of Panzerfaust, with natural curves that are designed for the riffs themselves and flow in an engaging manner. After four tracks that are better than almost anything the band has done since 1996, it’s easy to get excited, but the rest is dull, if never actually poor; a series of ‘okay’ riffs that reference past sub-styles placed in more or less logical succession, without the capacity to generate much of an emotional response. The album gets more boring as it goes on, as if Darkthrone themselves were getting tired of having to make it. Getting one’s hopes up at this point may be a bit much, but one can dream. Had this album been cut by half it would have been a solid EP. Maybe Darkthrone can find themselves again. |Antonio

Frozen Ocean — Prowess of dormition | Russia, 2016

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I picture the one-man black metal act as the twenty-first century version of the Romantic-era poet, scratching away at verse while locked away in a low-lit room, attempting to commit his creativity to posterity. Had Frozen Ocean’s Vaarwell been such a writer, then his garret would be overflowing with pages of work ranging from sonnets to slam poetry. That’s enough torturing of that metaphor; what I’m attempting to say is that Frozen Ocean has experimented with black metal from almost all possible angles during its decade-long existence, from crusty D-beat to sweeping atmospherics, and onto spacey synth-driven prog that bears the most tangential relationship to any form of metal. The project’s sheer audacity in experimenting so widely is to be lauded and Vaarwell is an artist with a variety of aesthetic influences, but alongside experimentation (and extremely prolific output) comes the potential for failure; not all Frozen Ocean offerings are winners. In those moments when the experimentation pays dividends, the project’s music coalesces into something wonderfully evocative like the 2016 EP Prowess of dormition, a recording that clocks in at twenty-four quite satisfying minutes. Though the EP has epic black metal at its core, with the vastness and propelling rhythms that this implies, there’s a darkwave sensibility that permeates each song with synth-forward arrangements and clean (perhaps overly-synthesized to some ears) percussion. It’s a sparkling, wintry journey that evokes heroic tragedy and ice-bound empires, with an atmosphere of poignancy that borders–at times–on sweetness. It should be said that this listener appreciates Frozen Ocean’s preference for collecting songs of similar types into like-sounding releases, for much as she appreciates that a Moomins-influenced work of black-metal inflected synth exists, she doesn’t necessarily feel it meshes entirely well with the grandeur of Prowess of dormition. |Tenebrous Kate

Link:
Bandcamp

AgatusThe eternalist | Greece, 2016

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When discussing the discography of Agatus, we are obliged to confront their sporadic output. With their only full-lengths having come out in 1996, 2002 and 2016 respectively, it is obvious that Agatus prefer a precision bombing over a scattershot. Their numerically modest output displays an admirable amount of restraint that, while potentially frustrating to fans, has helped keep the band’s sound fresh almost a quarter of a century into their existence. Consequently, brand-new album The eternalist shows just how much the band has evolved since 2002’s The weaving fates. The NWOBHM-influenced part of their being has grown significantly at the expense of the band’s Hellenic black metal roots. This can take a while to get used to (as it did in the case of yours truly), but the good news is that, rather than venturing into full-blown vintage worship like Darkthrone, Agatus use these influences to create a sound that is still unmistakably their own. However, we find the most remarkable aspect of The eternalist in the execution of its ideas: when The Dark and Vorskaath are involved, you’d be hard-pressed to find better instrumentation and production. Both these brothers (who also frequently co-operate on Vorskaath’s project Zemial) are virtuosic musicians and audiophiles who have been simultaneously cursed and blessed with a strong sense of perfectionism. We’ve had to wait for 14 years, and it may take a while before the album clicks, but at the end of the day we can only admire how a band can stay so relevant so late in its career. See you in a decade or so! |Degtyarov (full review coming soon)

Link:
Bandcamp

Sale FreuxAdieu, vat! & Viens on s’en va loin… | France, 2016

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Sale Freux’s newest full-length comes with a separately packaged single–“Viens on s’en va loin…”–which is certainly bang for your buck. The rook has been mixing with seagulls, as this album charts part of a coastal sojourn by our favourite bard of the bottle, and nautical touches abound, from samples from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin(!), monologues by other coastal vagabonds, the shuddering surf and creaking hitch knots or rigging. There is, as with all of Sale Freux’s releases, a distinctly personal aspect to this recording, one which I shan’t spoil with mere words in this review (although the themes of love, loss, rage and individualism come pretty close), but it gives added authenticity to a group whose credentials in that regard are already beyond dispute. I spent part of my not-very-reckless youth on a French coast and by god this takes me back there; there’s just something so damned coastal about this record, you might as well have a salty nor’wester blowing through the speaker, especially in the delightful “Idylle” which one can imagine being sung on the pebbles, raging against the sea and the fates. The accompanying single “Viens on s’en va loin…” could almost be described as a romantic invitation, if it were funnelled through a corvus residing at the bottom of a barrel of very strong beer; a peerless invitation to sack it all off and live from bench to bench and examine life from a distinctly different itinerant angle. Another superb chapter in the twisted, brutally honest, poetic and thoroughly well-oiled rural travelogue that is Sale Freux. In the words of the great man himself: Et puis, c’est tout! |MDL

Link:
France d’Oïl Productions

Batushka — Litourgiya | Poland, 2015

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Soaring to sudden fame last year, these mysterious Poles still thrive on the presumable commercial success of their only album so far, Litourgiya. It is easy to see why their debut was on the receiving end of so much praise: the originality of their sound makes for an album that is front-loaded with surprise and mystery. Indeed, the first listen to this mix of black metal and Eastern Orthodox liturgical music can be quite overwhelming, but after a few spins, the seams inevitably begin to reveal themselves. A band that relies heavily on its timbre and corresponding image, Batushka’s compositions themselves do not hold up all that well. The layer of Orthodox chants, choirs and bells carries the music, but once that particular novelty wears off, we are left with a fairly basic structure of doom-inspired black metal that would struggle to stand on its own two feet. Litourgiya is recommended for listeners who are used to giving each new record 2-3 spins before moving on to the next thing. It is up to Batushka’s subsequent records to show whether the band is able to dig deeper or will settle for exploiting the gimmick until its power definitively wears off. |Degtyarov

Link:
Bandcamp

Zeal and Ardor — Devil is fine | USA, 2016

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Zeal and Ardor is a fairly new project by Manuel Gagneux centered around the unlikely blend of black/death metal and negro spirituals, the vocal music of black slaves in America that would later evolve into gospel music and blues. The reception to their EP Devil is fine has been so enthusiastic that it has landed the band several prolific gigs, such as a spot in the line-up of next year’s Roadburn festival in Degtyarovia Holland. This sudden success notwithstanding, the band started out as a joke, when Gagneux was essentially dared into crystallizing this strange combination of music styles on the image board 4Chan. While the approach to this concept turned more serious by the time Devil is fine was being made, the release still has a whiff of ‘escalated bedroom project’ to it. The combination of negro spirituals, black metal and Göteborg melodeath is all but seamless; many of the songs separate themselves from regular spirituals only in that they are supported by a few cookie cutter metal riffs and equally recycled BM screeches. As a whole, the EP is very much listenable, which is an achievement in and of its own what with it uniting such inherently different styles. However, even at its modest 24-minute running time, Devil is fine serves as a compendium of ideas rather than a coherent musical statement. In that sense, Zeal and Ardor suffers from the Batushka syndrome, with the project still residing in a proof-of-concept phase. The question is whether Gagneux will seriously pursue this concept in subsequent releases, or decide that this joke got out of hand quite enough already. Hopefully we shall find out at Roadburn! |Degtyarov

Link:
Bandcamp [EP has been removed from Bandcamp because the band signed to Relapse or something.]

Tsarina — Tsaritsa | Russia, 2016

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Many would not hesitate to classify Tsarina’s black metal as folk-inspired (and indeed the band itself uses the folk tag on its own Bandcamp), but it is more accurate to say their sound is influenced by what Westerners would typically imagine Russian folk to sound like. On their new and almost-but-not-quite-self-titled EP Tsaritsa, Tsarina present five songs that have been lifted from various 20th century sources. The opening track “Ochi chyorniye” (EN: Dark eyes) is a metallised version of the famous work of the Italian-British composer Adalgiso Ferraris (1890 — 1968), while “Cheburashka” (EN: Topple) was inspired by the theme song of a series of Soviet stop-motion films for children. For the first half of the EP, Tsarina make this remarkable formula work by drenching the originals in a concoction of tremolo riffing, muddy drums and menacing screeches enough to provide these by themselves innocent songs with a malevolent lining. As the EP goes on, however, we stumble across the aforementioned children’s song, as well as a balalaika interlude that is as foreboding as a round of free ouzo at a Greek taverna. By the time we get to the last song, a black metal version of the national anthem of Russia, we have diverged into the territory of (presumably) unwitting parody, and we have to ask ourselves whether Tsarina has an origin story similar to that of Zeal and Ardor. As with that project, the future appeal of Tsarina depends on whether the band is able to figure out a more serious approach to its formula. It would already be a huge step forward if they manage to craft original compositions that carry the same spirit. For the time being, though, those who are in need of Slavic black/folk metal with a bit more oompah oompah to its step are better off checking out mid-era Dub Buk or Ungern‘s Shambala album. |Degtyarov

Link:
Bandcamp

Sale Freux — Demain, dès l’aube… | France, 2016

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Pack your bags and load up the caravan, for Dunkel is about to take you on another travelogue through his spirit-soaked France. This time we are journeying up the Haute Pyrénées, as illustrated by the cover photo of sheep wending their way along a misty mountain road, their jangling bells peppering the two songs of this MLP. Both tracks (“Demain, dès l’aube…” and “L’isolement”) make use of (and are titled after) two poems by Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine, whose themes of rural wandering, isolation and self-discovery in the French countryside presumably reflect Dunkel’s own experiences during, and purpose behind, his recent expedition in his beloved ‘Fuite’. A weave of frantic, melancholic, scathing and acoustic melodies conjure the trademark Sale Freux sound, painting pictures of Dunkel’s ethanol-fuelled voyage through the pastures, peaks, pines and ‘parc nationals’ of the Haute Pyrénées, the land of Oc. Sale Freux’s music is consistently rustic and stripped down, and this suits the landscapes of the Haute Pyrénées in an uncanny way. Having spent time in both areas, the Alps are lush, verdant and at times, wild, but there is a cosiness to them. The Pyrenees however, despite being green beyond belief at times, maintain a more isolated, rugged splendour, and frequently this is a far poorer area than its French Alpine counterpart. The raw style and production of Demain, dès l’aube… reflect this rather effectively, and certainly one could wander for days without meeting anything more comforting than a flock of goats or sheep and their accompanying herder if one wanted. As usual with Dunkel’s work, there is an authenticity to this recording that is hard to miss, but also hard to pin down. Possibly it’s just the knowledge that the man lives what he preaches, freely exploring France’s wild corners and forgotten valleys, unearthing it’s soul in literature, fields and ruins. It is worth noting that in the booklet there is a mention of ‘financement’ by the ‘Conseil Régional de Bretagne’ – how fitting to see that Sale Freux is finally getting the official AOC recognition by one of its most unique regions. Santé! |MDL

Cóndor — Sangreal | Colombia, 2016

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Ahh, Cóndor! A bit of cronyism in our section of small reviews can’t hurt, so we will take the liberty to offer our thoughts on their third full-length even though their frontman Antonio Espinosa is one of the culprits behind Black Ivory Tower. Sangreal‘s first noticeable departure from their previous two albums — Nadia and Duin — is in its upgrade from the extreme lo-fi sound of past work. After all, Sangreal is the first album to have been recorded in a professional studio rather than a band member’s living room. Fret not, for the production is still raw as fuck, but each instrument is considerably more audible now, which especially benefits the guitars; not an abundant luxury, seeing as this album is absolutely packed with guitar solos (the last song alone contains three). As always, Cóndor excels in composition, carefully balancing out each track to make sure tension is mounted and relieved at a sufficient rate to keep each melody and movement from expiring into staleness. Especially songs such as “Outremer” and “Roncesvalles” succeed in offering many ideas to the listener in a structured manner, all the while sporting a more ambitious scope than anything the band has done before. With Sangreal, Cóndor transcends subgenre qualifications, not by engaging in futile fusion experiments for novelty’s sake, but by offering a wholesome metal record that represents their coherent musical vision (and moreover does not contain bluesy solos). Cronyism or not, Sangreal is a fantastic album that confirms once more that condorismo is on the rise and you have no way of escaping its Carolingian radiance. |Degtyarov

Link:
Bandcamp

Ultar — Kadath | Russia, 2016

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Forgive me if I sound bitter, but when a Siberian metal band finally gets attention, and it turns out to be Ultar, I really do despair. Nothing against them personally or even professionally — they are apt musicians, after all. But when the designated flag-bearers of the Siberian black metal scene are exactly the band that does not in any way display a connection to the region’s rich musical history, I must openly ask whether my fellow whorenalists are even trying. Ultar are from Krasnoyarsk, but their music boils down to “Deafheaven with Lovecraftian lyrics”. Krasnoyarsk might be way in the south of Siberia, but the city — along with Novosibirsk — was one of the first in the region to gain access to quality instruments, which might help explain Ultar’s slick, professional sound. However, ‘slick’ and ‘professional’ are not necessarily the first qualities anyone looks for in black metal from the outskirts of Russia, and with Ultar not offering anything that makes their sound unique or even recognisable, it is hard to recommend this album to anyone who doesn’t just want more of the same Noisey-approved modern BM. So, if you enjoy a competent but also completely anonymous take on the post-black metal formula, then you might find some value in Kadath. Just don’t expect to be enwrapped by the cold beauty of Siberia through this uprooted piece of music. |Degtyarov

Link:
Bandcamp

Heimdalls WachtEkte westfäölske svatte metal | Germany, 2012

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Translated into English as “genuine Westphalian black metal”, the titular track off of Heimdalls Wacht’s oh-so-full-length album, is a fist-pumping, hair-whipping rager of a song. Mercilessly brutal in its drumming, ghastly-shrill in its vocals, and tremolissimo in its guitar work, this is a certifiable black metal anthem. Ekte westfäölske svatte metal is filled with terrific moments: the dual-guitar work on “Das Martyrium” and “Unsiälige Kiär” that evokes golden age Metallica and a lovely, melancholic chord progression at the center of “Alles ist grau” are particularly noteworthy. The percussion has a grand, martial propulsion at times, infused with a heaviness that comes through over the just-gritty-enough production. However, one can’t help but get the feeling that there’s simply too much offered here; what could be a fat-free seven- or eight-track album is stretched out over fourteen tracks that include three atmospheric instrumentals and a cover song. Going into any pagan black metal record is agreeing to a certain amount of shifts in mood and tone that don’t always work, but the best moments here (of which there are many, just not sixty-three minutes of them) sound like they should be echoing off the walls of a mythical warrior-king’s castle. It’s well worth picking up this album and enjoying the hell out of the good stuff, though it might be wise to spread this out over more than one sitting and take an editorial approach to the “skip track” function. |Tenebrous Kate

Link:
Bandcamp

Drakonhail/Brouillard — Opaque | France, 2016

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At last, the split that this reviewer has long been waiting for. As opposed to the collaborative effort found with J’ai si froid, these two bands present their individual compositions which, as one might expect, work wonderfully together, reflecting two different facets of the nocturnal wintry smallholding – the still of a night spent in isolation, preceding a midnight storm. We begin with three tracks by Drakonhail, all simply entitled “Nuit”. Few can equal Dunkel in really conjuring the feeling of night, especially alone. Eerie, meandering arpeggios are underpinned by softly shimmering strumming. The drums echo from far away, as if they were recorded in the neighbouring forest. Everything is given its own time to emerge, much like the nocturnal wildlife hiding amongst the forest floor, and when, on the second offering of “Nuit”, the muted distortion appears, it serves not to roughen the experience – that is done through Dunkels liberally libated vocal chords – but rather to expand the sense of space encompassed in the recording, simultaneously highlighting the hidden nooks and crannies of the night-time landscape, but also its silent spaciousness as revealed when the humans go home. The tempo increases slightly towards the final piece by Drakonhail, an indication of the building clouds and ensuing storm that will rage around this little rural refuge with the arrival of Brouillard. Sure enough, as the winds begin to howl and the sound of a man’s fear emerges through the speakers, Brouillard tears into a whirling thick maelstrom. Knowing just when to present pauses and respite within black metal is a skill few grasp effectively; thankfully this is not the case here, as Brouillard shifts the music from the storm to the eye with great skill. By the end of the first of the band’s offerings one would have thought the house destroyed, and indeed the sinister drums at the end almost seem as if it were the very roof being torn from its rafters, followed by open chords under a raging sky. Brouillard’s final track of the album places the listener back into the fore, the guitars raging like the wind itself, battering ones ears and freezing the bones. All this builds to an unusually epic climax which then, like the night, fades away, leaves one a little breathless. Top-shelf stuff; you’d be a damn fool not to invest. |MDL

Nokturnal MortumGolos stali (The voice of steel), 2CD re-edition | Ukraine, 2009/2015

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Golos stali is a perennial favourite here at Black Ivory Tower, so it is only logical that we briefly discuss the merits of its 2015 re-edition by Oriana Music. While the Apollonian merits of this by now legendary release should be familiar (and if they’re not, you can read about them here), it is worth noting that this remastered edition is even better than the original. It has a clearer sound, which benefits the complexity of the music, with the balance of the instruments having been slightly re-adjusted to give the album even more power than it had before. In addition to the eight retouched originals, the release also includes a bonus CD with four tracks recorded during the same sessions. Next to the stellar Bathory cover “Valhalla”, we can hear alternative versions of “Sky of saddened nights” and “Valkyrie”, especially the latter of which is an amazingly daring interpretation of the final version: the instrumental segment in the middle of the song is extended, even briefly delving into folk before returning to the composition’s main theme. Perhaps the most surprising addition, however, is their cover of Moody Blues‘s “Nights in white satin”, a track that sounds way better than it logically should. If you have for some odd reason not purchased Golos stali yet, this is the version you will want to go for. And even if you do have the original, it is well worth investing in this superior version of the album. |Degtyarov

Link:
Bandcamp

About degtyarov (121 Articles)
Molotov cocktail in the face of music whorenalism.

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