Greetings, my metal brothers and sisters; I hope that you’re all well, and that your yule/Christmas/what have you was fun, and that you had a much better New Year’s Day than I did. Word of advice: always check the expiry date.
Nonetheless, it wouldn’t do to simply forego a “goodbye 2013” post on Me(n)tal-Meltdown (even in February), before carrying on with the rest of the new year. While it is certainly tempting to write about musical highs (Carcass, definitely) and lows (the last Crystal Viper, this time), it’s far more rewarding to focus on but a few – yes, a few – unexpected gems of the year that caught me by surprise.
Let’s do this alphabetically, shall we?
The White Goddess (A Grammar of Poetic Myth) (Cruz Del Sur Music)
On first listen of the album, one admittedly feels underwhelmed by what’s initially on offer. While musically lovely, much of the record also comes across as placidly dull, up until finishing tracks ‘Enthroned in Clouds and Fire (The Great Cleansing)‘ and ‘The White Goddess Unveiled‘.
Though one would wonder why Atlantean Kodex chose to save the best for last, owing to the more active pacing and meatier body of these two songs, this decision helps click into place that the album is far more than what first impressions may perceive. ‘Enthroned…‘ and ‘The White Goddess…‘ not only provide more substance to the rest of the record, they are its sincere build up.
Another example is that it flows literally and smoothly from track to track, and consequently start to finish. Rather than the typical string of songs, Atlantean Kodex have written and played one large piece altogether, divided into segments as opposed to songs. Since this is not an easy task for most musicians, it gives more credit to the band for their songwriting.
Tenebrario (Nuclear War Now!)
After six years and counting, French Canadians Cauchemar have by now released their debut album, “Tenebrario“. An overtly superficial impression may try to draw similarities with the likes of Blood Ceremony and other bands within the heavy/doom metal subgenre, on full listen “Tenebrario” shows the promise of a young band to have its own voice.
While noteworthy for being sung entirely in the Canadian branch of the French language as opposed to English, an interesting (if not necessarily unique) trait in and of itself; the main attraction is the music’s instrumentation. Which isn’t to be dismissive of the band’s decision, as this linguistic spin does add a romantic element to the traditional British occult horror fare of doom metal. One illustrative example comes through sixth track ‘Le fantôme‘ [The Ghost]: “Il avance comme un poinard/Tranchant la brume de nos phares” [he argues like a dagger/sharp mist of our flagship].
Nonetheless, it is the actual songwriting that sears the general audience’s attention. Rather than recycle past down-tuned riffs from early Black Sabbath and Trouble, as tends to happen with musicians looking to bring back the 70’s rock sound; Cauchemar opts for a greater use of upwards guitar rhythms and higher tempo to their rock ‘n’ roll notes. The effect is a much livelier sound with crushing song lines, which shows greater room to musically grow and develop one’s own voice than outright copying.
Damned While Dead (Candlelight Records)
While a well-played band in their own right, “Damned When Dead” saw Mael Mordha step up their own intensity, to pursue a more aggressive path (musically and lyrically).
While keeping much of their established sound, namely down-tuned melodies and Roibéard’s drifting, Gaelic folk tenor; the album sees the band musically pick up speed while compressing their riffs into much heavier notes. There are also added touches from the extreme metal camps, as can be expected from the Irish folk metal scene with its minute scale. Yet neither blast beats nor death growls detract from the harmonics of Mael Mordha‘s signature sound, which remains intact amidst the heaviness.
It must also be said that while previous record “Mannanán” suffered from sound production problems, “Damned While Dead” avoids this with much tighter production values. Rather than allow Roibéard’s voice to be shoved into the distant background of the music, “Damned…” gives it enough strength to stand out against the instrumentation. More precise, this means that the vocals actually carry the album on top of the instrumentation. A fitting decision, as this has always been one of the key traits of Mael Mordha’s individuality in the metal genre.
Legions of the North (Napalm Records)
Almost twenty years into their career as a band, Månegarm continue to deliver their own meaty spin on the extreme end of the European folk metal infusion. Some will take this album as a gateway to a commercialized (and perhaps compromised) sound, yet it stands that the band achieve this without cutting away the viciousness that had always been essential to their music.
The result is that “Legions of the North” is a good introduction for those unfamiliar with Månegarm and their back catalogue. Though its catchy hooks were written to make the record more accessible to new audiences; it retains those blasts of staccato guitars and intense drum syncopation which recreate the frigid atmosphere connected with Northern European black metal.
I hope you had a good read, ladies and germs.
Here’s to carrying on with 2014, with a few nods here and there to the past years, for Me(n)tal-Meltdown.
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