Grimm - Dark Medieval Folklore - 3.5/5
Rarely do I have this much fun listening to a Black Metal album. Admittedly, the instrumentation leaves much to be desired, but hell, I don`t think there`s any other Metal album that can make me want to get up and dance. And I did, too.
The band has gone through many personel changes through the years, but now only two members remain, Heer Marchosias and Heer Antikrist. That would explain why the album is so simple. The drums are used in such a way as to create a beat for the song and nothing more. The guitars seldomly go in any direction other than that of the beat created by the drums, adding only melody to rhythm. They remind me of the guitars on Dei Kaberoi, which I reviewed earlier, except more simple. The end result is something resembling a large symbal being pounded on over and over again. This sounds very negative, but after a while, you`ll be forced into contention by the hypnotic, almost monotonous beats. Surprisingly, what appears to take the lead sounds like a violin. No, not a violin, a fiddle, like you hear with Kopriklaani - very basic, in fact I`m not even sure if it`s a real fiddle or a synthesizer, but it provides the few shreads of "wandering melody" which can be found on this album.
The vocals, however, are a bit more interesting. They almost exclusively make use of the type of clean vocals that one expects from Borknagar, except less imposing, which, I believe, is down to poor production values. But, and this is the interesting part, there`s also a very limited use of "unclean" vocals. Simply telling you what they are won`t give the desired effect, so I`ll attempt to illustrate what happened when I first heard them: I was in the kitchen making hot chocolate when this album was playing for the first time. As the kettle boiled, I suddenly heard the most terrible screams coming from my bedroom. I actually thought someone was being murdered in there. These were no vocals. They were plain screams. Open your mouth and scream and you`ll know how they sound.
That`s about it. The entire album consists of these few things. There is also a small use of synthesizers, most notably in the first track, but nothing spectacular. Other than that the album exists entirely of almost addictive drum beats, rhythmic melody provided by the guitar, a bit of fiddling and some low-pitched clean vocals. It`s an almost a Satyricon-like simplicity which they have achieved here. They managed to express every idea they had perfectly. Does this mean that they`re exceptionally talented? No. They simply didn`t aim too high. But what they did aim for, they achieved.
One major complaint, though, is that the songs come to feel a bit long-winded after a while. But that notwithstanding, I think that with their brand of Motorhead-esque ballz, combined with a very folksy beat, they might just be the first in a bread of bastard children: the fun Black Metallers.
Highlights: Germaanse Stampdans, Klughtspel Der Duyvelsbanders
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Toehider – To Hide Her – 4.5/5
Toehider are undeniably an eccentric bunch, taking the prog rock format and emerging with this compilation of comical tracks. Their most recent work was a collection of covers from underrated cartoons. They wanted to avoid the 'second album slump' by starting their recording career with 12 EPs in 12 months; more than 240mins of material in their first year. They did a humourous track all about how they 'do it for metal.' In fact they use humour throughout much of their work; it could almost be considered some weird hybrid between Queen and Tenacious D, taking pop hooks, rocking riffs, eclectic acoustic guitar, and swirling them all together to create a compilation so diverse you could have sworn it wasn't the same band.
Their eccentricity perhaps not all that surprising when you consider Queen was such an influence on them, and oddly, in a sense it does show. Take their 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' You've probably heard it so many times you know all the words, but what genre would you call it? When they're doing their opening, right before he sings 'don't stop me now' it's rather poppish isn't it? The 'I'm just a poor boy' segment is essentially a choir of three, more theatrical than anything rock. Understand then that when I refer to Toehider as a prog rock band, I don't mean they always play progressive rock, merely that if you added all the metallic elements, indie lines and pop passages, then averaged them all out, prog rock is about where we'd end up. The absolutely last thing I want you to expect is for these guys to sit still and play one genre for an entire album.
In fact, in break from my usual contempt at breaking down the different tracks, allow me to take you on a brief walk through this release. Opening with a pop ballad, we swiftly move on to a prog rock tune, pop rock, then it's on through to folk rock, jazz rock, Ozzy-era Sabbath-influenced rock, pop punk, indie rock; there's acoustic guitars, thick groovy riffs, gentle melodies, xylophone solos – the songs don't blend the different styles, they're simply distinct enough to stand alone within the rest of the package. Mixed in with the gentle humour are sombre notes, questioning living up to expectations and the turmoil after the death of a loved one. He balances the serious with the silly and prevents things from dragging on for too long; neither becoming little more than a joke or too bogged down with weighty topics, which whilst an unconventional approach, in this instance oddly works.
Genre wise he just can't sit still. I almost want to call his appreciation for so many styles uncanny but it never feels as though he spent the time studying or learning each approach. Each line and melody comes to him so fluidly that you never doubt he just has an immense ear for what particular tone a track requires. After hearing how capable musicians they are, so much of their work feels as though they're playing beneath their abilities but there's simply no trace of the thought that they should show off, just as content performing a basic acoustic arpeggio as they are shredding out a face-melting solo. The drummer coming off the back of 'Soilwork' clearly knows his way around the drum kit and the bassist proves she's never a slouch, but the real star is the immensely versatile vocal work, from the Queen-like chorals, the powerful soprano lines, all the way down to the gentle folk lines and everywhere in between, always letting his natural accent emerge and give him a flavour that only furthers to gloriously distinguish their work.
There are, however a few flaws in his masterful debut. With such a wide variety of styles, it loses a sense of coherency; it feels less an album as much as a collection of work, and given his knack for choosing a style suitable at each point it seems a shame that he hasn't picked an overarching concept or tale, encompassing both the heavy topics and his humourous side. On similar lines, the fact that there is so much to choose from will cause listeners to gravitate to some songs over others; the slow and atmospheric finale the first to feel the wrath of the skip button, whilst I've lost count of the number of times 'Everybody Knows Amy' (so named after their bassist) has been spun. They'll make you laugh and make you cry, but for all their indecision over which genre to play, they're certainly never boring.
Highlights: Daddy Issues, There's a Ghost in the Lake, Everybody Knows Amy, Fireside
Mariko Goto - 299792458 - 4/5
If I was charged with describing this album in one word it'd be easy. It would simply be KAWAIIIII!!!! And I mean that with no sense of irony stemming from the fact I usually loathe obsessive Japanophiles who use Japanese words when perfectly good English ones exist. Well alright, maybe there's still a hint of irony in there, but simply calling it 'cutesy pop' as she described it doesn't convey the sheer sense of my wide and blurry eyed squeeing in delight at how god damn adorable this is. It's like a journey into the mind of the cutest child you've never laid eyes upon, seeing the world through her eyes in all its delights; through the temper tantrums, excitement and contentment at having found something sugary to nibble on, and I don't even like kids.
This may well be her first solo effort but it's most certainly not the first album where she's found herself the centre of attention, having brief cult success in Midori, splitting up shortly after making their first major label release in 2010. If you're familiar with their odd addictive brand of paedo-punk-jazz you'll be glad to know she hasn't given up the jazzy piano lines and the occasional screeched vocal, but certainly there is less of the contrasting chaos to her jaw-achingly cute side. Nonetheless, to simply dismiss this out of hand as 'just another J-pop album' would be doing it grave disservice as it's nothing of the sort. As the intro prepares you, consisting of nothing more than Goto herself playfully singing nonsensically, this is gonna be an album so sugary you'll swear you can feel your teeth rotting by the minute. It's almost glitch like in its imperfections – the musical equivalent of a small child failing to colour inside the lines of her favourite colouring book – and in a world of auto-tuned “perfect pitch” voices and overproduced backing music, it's these imperfections that give it its charm.
There is certainly an easy to listen to pop-like sensibility to much of the instrumentation; bouncy piano lines form the heart of the tracks rhythm, utilising the inherent versatility of the instrument to traverse between all out noise-laden chaos and the simpler, again child-like melodies, at times almost evocative of a nursery rhyme. The guitars and the rest of the backing instrumentation – particularly the drums who never seem to find themselves stuck for a new jazzy beat for the track at hand – are often little more than that, backing to lend a little more flavour to the proceedings, and despite the piano interludes and brief guitar solos, Goto herself always stands at the forefront. The album title seems bizarre but a quick google shows that it is, in fact, the speed of light in metres per second. Get it? No, can't exactly say I did either, but in an odd way it's a perfect example of her quirkiness; how you don't really have to understand its purpose to enjoy it, and it's all part of what makes her so unique.
To call her a talented vocalist seems like something of an oxymoron; by any standard you could use to determine a vocalist's ability, whether in vocal range, register, ability to sustain a note, add vibrato, alternate pitch in rapid succession or even being able to sing in key, she is by all these standards fairly awful. And yet, it is through all these faults that her childish persona is allowed to flourish; through all the imperfections that she is able to sing like no other – a fact made even more incredible when you consider her decade long music career; how she must be closer to 30 than the 13 year old school girl she still seems to represent. That there is more to the instrumentation than meets the eye is apparent but it is really here, in the vocals, that the album really provides it's draw, delivering upon a style that can be said to belong to no other, and whilst perhaps not up to the best of her work in Midori, it doesn't matter. I still want to snuggle her like the all too adorable kitten she is.
Highlights: Mamaku, Utopia, Atashi no Shoudou
Kaipa – Vittjar – 4.5/5
One of my guilty pleasures – or rather, 'songs I love that I expect most reading this will hate,' seeing as I'm not really ashamed in my love of this tune – has to be Polyphonic Spree's 'Light and Day.' I can't confess to liking much else of their material but something about that track always puts a smile on my face. Because when you spend so long listening to the aggressive and depressive depths of metal with an obsessive attitude it's very easy to get lost in a world that's bleak, pessimistically forgetting that there is still good and beauty in the world. I admit this is an odd way of beginning a review, but I assure you it's perfectly relevant: Kaipa have reminded me once again that there is still beauty in the world and have done it in a way few others have done before.
For an artist with a 40 year old career you would have thought their name would have come up more often. True, they are Swedish, but it's hardly as if nothing from that frostbitten land makes it across, and yes, they did go on a 20 year hiatus, but they also reformed a decade ago. It's also true that the line-up has changed considerably since their conception with only one original member left handling the keyboards duty, and the only other name I recognise is that of Per Nilsson of 'Scar Symmetry.' Not that his guitar work here bears any resemblance. Quite frankly I'm not sure why I brought it up. What we have here are old fashioned prog rockers who aren't so much 'retro' as they are valuable relics from the 70s, surviving all this time and arriving from another time; their blend of jazzy lines and folk melodies in their compositions never anything but natural, laid back and rather than forcing anything, just letting the music flow and meander from them as it chooses. It's this laid back feel to their work that is their defining trait; not necessarily uncaring but joyously carefree, never getting too bogged down with serious topics but contemplating and expressing their love for life’s simple pleasures. Length doesn't matter; 'epic' tracks never feel that way despite one clocking in at over 20 minutes. That it's long feels irrelevant, it's not trying to create something larger than life, nor does it ever gets boring due to being stretched out, it's simply content to take all the time it needs to let the song develop.
That it's so light and airy is surely to be off-putting for some, but don't go mistaking this for some pop outfit; it's hardly superficial in it's output and despite the tone manages to throw up plenty of interesting passages; jazzy bass lines and drum beats; upbeat guitar solo's amongst the slower; vocal lines left to convey the atmosphere alone; recorders; violins; and a whole range of keyboard work forming a rich fabric that is subtle in it's complexity. It's certainly no less technically inclined than the classics; your King Crimson's, Jethro Tull's and Rush's, but it's purpose is focussed in a different way, subtly weaving flourishes of masterful musicianship such that it feels merely a means to an end, furthering the track in it's intended direction.
With perhaps the notable exception of the lead male vocalist – as there is also a lead female vocalist – whose powerful and distinctive vocals sometimes manage to steal the show, going on to elaborate on the individual elements seems rather pointless. Each member demonstrates their phenomenal capabilities and feels perfectly suited, not for what they bring to the music themselves but for how they work with the rest of the band. There is no singular stand out element because there is no one trying to stand out; there is no one-upmanship with one musician trying to steal the show from another, though I don't doubt most could if they tried. Kaipa might just be the last surviving remnant of a bygone era, and without them the only thing left will be 'retro' artists pretending they could have belonged. Whether it's taken them this long to perfect their craft or if they've always been writing music of this standard I don't know, all I know is that with Vittjar, perfect it they have. Easily one of the most impressive albums this year.
Highlights: Silent Ballroom Band, Treasure-House
Spawn of Possession – Incurso – 3/5
Six years in the making and toted as one of this years big musical events, this looked like a Tech Death band experimenting with the use of gothic classical passages within their framework, an idea that resulted in one of the experimental black metal band Sigh's best releases (Hangman's Hymn) and a concept that didn't long to sucker me in. A concept that, as it turns out, was almost completely false; the track I spun to see what the fuss was about an anomaly in an album which is by and large straight forward for the genre. That's what you get for judging an album by one interesting track, as the rest of the album isn't even particularly good (though I must confess, I do love that artwork).
The bassist gets his moments, often heard with his tight bass twang working away in the background and the vocals maintain a constant tone but ultimately both are fairly bland. No arguments against the vocalist's tone itself, his deep growl is nothing but perfectly fitting but contains zero variation, unless you count the passages where he's actually not growling at all. Truth is they both could be doing just about anything most of the time and you're unlikely to care, it's obvious there's so much more emphasis on the twin guitars and drumming – even more so than usual – that the rest of the band are there more for completing the line-up; like how Slipknot seems to employ their friends to dance around on stage with a triangle or something; they may be present but what's actually required of them is pretty minimal.
The guitars largely rely on a few simple tricks to make the main body of their work sound complex; always use plenty of pinch harmonics when you want to sound dissonant; after chugging for a bit, skip to a high note and play a couple of notes, (it doesn't really matter which, any will do); and under no circumstances should you let a note ring out. Actual riffs do emerge from time to time but all too quickly are they snapped away for the lazier alternatives. There are times where due to the overly crisp production the guitars sound downright electric and inorganic, and left alone it could almost at times be an odd techno track someone's playing far too quickly to actually dance to, a problem especially prevalent during the solos and higher pitched passages. The drums fare little better in preventing this mechanical tone but at least they can be said to carry a distinctive rhythm, the kick drum providing a constant drilling attack whilst the rest of the tools at his disposal are employed in constantly shifting beats, adding flourishes and fills far beyond the usual and expected blasts, easily surpassing the rest of them in terms of his chaotic compositions, technicality and capabilities. Quite frankly he deserves a better band.
Everything's overproduced to remove any trace of viscerality. It's technical, yes, but almost parodical of the genre as a whole, as if to lightly mock the stereotype of the genre in it's soulless, wank-infested glory. It actually sounds better when played through my dreadful mobile phone, the inadequate capabilities of the small speaker adding a layer of distortion and noise that quite depressingly improves the overall tone, creating a greater sense of chaos. They seem to take it so seriously, yet then proceed to remove any bite the instruments might have had; bombard you with an array of seemingly random high pitched notes interspersed between the constant chugging before breaking out the short, mindless, brain-dead, seemingly obligatory shredded solo. It's difficult to determine whether they were serious or they were trying to crack a joke; put on a straight face and desperately try not to laugh as fans endlessly praise an album they slammed out in a lazy afternoon. Sadly, I suspect they really thought they'd done well with this one, despite every track sounding damn near identical. They're fantastic musicians, there can be no debating that. It's just shame that outside of that final track, they seem to be such lousy composers.
Highlights: The Evangelist, Apparition
Stam1na – Nocebo – 4.5/5
If metal can be considered to have a home, that region to the north of Central Europe otherwise known as Scandinavia would undeniably be it. The infamous Norwegian black metal scene; Swedish death metal and 'Gothenburg' riffs, and then there's Finland. Certainly they're none the less obsessed with the genre – one of the biggest children's shows there, Hevisaurus, is basically 'Barney' if he donned some denim and made a power metal band – yet whilst we can safely establish the nation tends to have a better taste in popular music, so much of what becomes big there never seems to migrate. Sure, some of it does; the likes of Nightwish and HIM still plague us to this day, but then there's artists such as Von Hertzen Bros. and Alamaailman Vasarat which whilst reaching the Finnish album charts, never seems to leave the country. Which brings me squarely onto Stam1na, releasing this #1 album that nobody else seems to have paid attention to, and it's not the first time this has happened either.
A concept album about a 'nocebo' or an 'anti-placebo;' medical science giving people drugs that actually do nothing yet we think will make us worse, and that negativity actually does end up making everyone feel worse. And then they set fire to Tavastia for some reason, a well known music venue in Helsinki (look, I don't speak Finnish and that's the language they sing in OK? I'm only telling you what I know). It's the apocalypse that mankind has brought down on itself through our own ignorance; it's a bit like Mastodon's 'Leviathan' all over again, except with more of a Devin Townsend's 'Ziltoid' brand of insanity about it. Describing how they sound isn't exactly the easiest of tasks, and perhaps 'alternative metal' in the vein of System of a Down is one of the better descriptors (I know, 'alternative to what?' right? As much as I hate the term, here it oddly fits), along with 'Progressive Thrash.' But not the kind you're thinking. No, the thrash isn't the Bay Area kind but rather the melodic and groove laden kind. Nor is the progressive element akin to what I suspect you're probably thinking either but a little closer to 'Rush' instead. So alternative progressive thrash that's sort of like Devin Townsend but not with catchy System of a Down elements and some Rush in the- look will you just click the damn youtube video at the bottom already? It'll make my job a great deal easier. Then hit repeat as the video is all kinds of B-Movie awesome as well, though I suspect the view of four hairy Finns windmilling in unison contains some form of brainwashing capability.
Moving on, one of the stand out features of this album is the diverse vocal work. There are clean lines and deathly growls, both done pretty darn well, but what he really tends to favour is a violent yell. It's unconventional but actually works; frantically shouting what I can only assume translates to a hundred variations of 'fuck you,' not that I'm entirely sure who he's shouting at nor why he would want to utter obscenities at them. It doesn't matter, his point gets made and he makes it so loudly and with such frenetic tenacity that there will be times where you'll move to wipe the flecks of spit from your face only to realise there's nothing actually there. There will be times, too, when the guitar work is fairly chug-heavy but contrasting the down-tuned fretwork is a higher pitched riff always around the corner. Often it's the guitars that offer it in the form of a melodic solo, psychedelic riff or something even less expected, but sometimes it's a keyboard synth passage. At one point it's even a banjo interlude, but whatever they choose it usually arrives out of the blue and yet somehow never feels at all out of place amidst the insanity, only straying so far as to keep things interesting.
There can be no doubt that you're listening to a Stam1na track the second it starts spinning – nobody is crazy quite like this – but no two tracks sound alike, and it's a testament to the production work that all this is possible. I know I've made all this sound atrocious; catchy as crap music with lots of shouting, groovy riffs and a mainstream appeal, but it's not. It's not even in that 'guilty pleasure' category where you find yourself humming the tune and nodding your head but then feeling dirty about it, as though you've done something inherently wrong. Yes, it may sometimes sound like nu-metal's feisty cousin, but holy fuckin' shit is that one damn sexy cousin.
Highlights: Valtiaan Uudet Vaateet, Tavastia Palamaan!, Rabies
Hot Cross – Cryonics – 4.5/5
This band plays Screamo. That's emotional post-hardcore with screamed vocals; the kind of depressed cries of anguish that perpetuate the sensation of despair at personal circumstances beyond your control. SCREAMO. Right, now that I've successfully dissuaded the close-minded amongst you – I have no particular desire to go on a rant about how you probably haven't heard what the genre has to offer, there's fourfa for that – I can get on with detailing precisely why this is an album that should excite. It's not quite old-school, being release in '03, but if you track the origins of its members you'll note that they, in fact, are. The vocalist and drummer arrive from Saetia, one of the kings of classic 90's emo. One guitarist arrives from “Off Minor,” known for his distinctive progressive take on the genre, and the other from “You and I,” the least well known of the three bands who are none the less talented. If all this means nothing to you, let me break it down further: this band is hot shit.
In fact, with this much talent on display you'd expect them to be headed down shitsville, each member vying for control and forgetting that there's another four members whose just as good as them, but that never happens. It never feels anything less than an artist that have been playing together all their lives, some bizarre cohesive unit that despite being separated into individual musicians seems to function from a shared consciousness. There are three vocalists but they are all there to serve a purpose, the main dealing with the majority of the duties but often found playing off against one of his backing vocalists; the clean toned contrast to his screams or engaging in shouting match with an alter ego. No doubt if you despise screams in your music then this will become an obstacle, but the lyrics aren't angst-filled or juvenile; one track begins by screaming out “Give me back one last chance to drink from the sky. I'm sick of chasing echoes and fighting a lost cause just to let words fly.” Emotional tragedies still are it's core but there's a sense of depth and poetry to it that defies the usual criticisms.
But if the intricate layers of vocals and lyrical lines was complex, it's not a thing on the composition of the guitars; the vocals can always strip themselves down to just the lead vocalist, but the guitars don't ever stop. The bass is given no less prominence in the final mix than the guitarists are, maintaining a rhythm and forming a bridge between the drums and guitar work, but ultimately playing lines that are his and his alone. The guitars are no different; clean though perhaps with a slight twang or use of effects pedals for more atmospheric lines, no singular element takes the lead and instead find themselves weaving in and out of one another, creating complexity through intricately layering them, harmonising each element into a single track. It's not just one specific passage where they worked this out either, their progressive format completely removes all chorus lines and allows the pieces to fluidly change one element at a time. It's simply unlike any other artist I can name.
But my praise for them hasn't quite finished here. Three vocalists and three guitarists all playing completely independent lines, layered on top of one another so that it'll always give you plenty to listen to. You'd expect it all to be a bit too much, a bit too chaotic with your focus divided between too many elements. The real beauty of their composition is in just how much this doesn't ever happen; how they are able to create a melodious chaos with guitar riffs flying in from nowhere, playing in unison, but then in an instant tone everything down for a ballad, and despite the inherent complexity of the composition, have the elements work together in perfect harmony. To call their work rich and vibrant is a massive understatement; each track is intricately woven around each of the musicians and the result is a melody that is both instantly memorable yet sustainable over a number of listens. Hot Cross's debut effort is a forgotten gem of the screamo era that many modern artists would do well to pay attention to: this is how you do it properly.
Highlights: Pretty Picture of a Broken Face, A Tale for the Ages, Requiescat
Age of Silence – Acceleration – 2.5/5
I wanted to like this album, I really did. I was so astounded by it's discovery; a super-group of talented Norwegians coming together to produce a progressive metal album that could only be epic by virtue of the talent on display; the drummer from Arcturus and Mayhem, the bassist, keyboardist and guitarist from Winds as well as Borknagar's (backing) vocalist, how could it go wrong? In a sense it seems like a side-project of Winds, but really it's a different entity altogether; no neo-classical power is to be found here, it lies squarely in that experimental side of progressive metal. In fact, if I had to make any comparison it reminds me of Leprous or Ihsahn's work, not because they sound similar but because the sound so radically different from what you'd ordinarily expect.
Sadly, it all too quickly begins to fall apart. The guitars feel rather generic and quite heavy on the use of chords, which whilst not bad in itself, often finds itself lacking in riffs which would really have gone into helping the piece into becoming more memorable. The keys vary between barely being noticeable in the background and displaying odd flourishes of being unignorably dominant in the forefront, supplying piano passages or energetic synth solo's almost always completely at odds with the rather robotic lack of emotion. The vocals send things from bad to worse with a drawl that rarely allows him to change pitch, and the lack of energy throughout the whole piece just makes the drums sound as though they really can't be bothered to try, even though at the start of the album it's clear he's doing his best to inject a small amount of personality into the proceedings. The tracks are barely distinguishable from one another (only the gentle “90° Angles” making any notable change to the pace) and nothing ever really seems to fit together coherently, but of course, this could all be the point of the music.
If usually we strive for an emotional response, to weave a story or explore a concept, their intention might well be to sound as robotic and emotionless as they possibly could. It would certainly fit with the theme they're striving for, the notion that we are becoming too heavily reliant on machines and technology and losing our humanity as a result. In that case they succeeded in doing that remarkably well and I would have no option but to concede and give them top marks for it, but a concept relying on being as boring as possible doesn't exactly make for interesting music. Quite the opposite in fact. If I didn't know any better I'd have thought they were a group of teens trying to form their first high school band, it's that bland and unenthusiastically performed. Only two of the musicians seem capable here and it would have been better if it were just the drummer and keyboards left alone, written as an instrumental piece. I apologise for bringing it all up in the first place, I'm sure this is one chapter all the musicians involved would rather pretend never actually happened.
Omnia – Alive! - 4/5
I'll be honest, I stumbled into this in the most haphazard of ways; seeing an image of a pretty face on youtube with unusual tattoos and clicking to see what it was all about. It was on mute for a good couple of minutes before I noticed the harp and some sort of didgeridoo and became intrigued as to just what kind of music they were playing. Not Folk Metal, not Folk Rock, not even Neo-Folk but just Pagan Folk. This merry band of Dutch travellers are steeped in the traditions of the style, so if you're looking for anything electronic being played then you won't find them here, nothing more than a microphone powering their acoustic masterpieces, but don't for a moment think you'll find them short of variety.
Between the five of them, four lend vocals, one plays the pipes, there's throat singing, harps, didgeridoo's, bodhran beats (a sort of drum), hurdy-gurdy melodies, and more I can't even name; the only instruments that you might actually recognise is the drum kit (or at least the parts of drum kit he actually uses) and when one musician breaks out an acoustic guitar, and even then he often doesn't use your standard tuning. You'd think it'd all end up a little chaotic – even though obviously no more than four can be played at any one point – but it's far from it, each element implemented in a manner so as to blend into the overall harmony being created with often only a singular element taking the lead, be that the lead vocals or his flute performances during instrumental tracks. There is never that sense that each musician needs to be prominently playing something, taking power in subtly layering atmospheric lines to enshroud you in their world.
But to talk only of the compositions would yield just half of what this album offers, as it is with traditional folk that it's a means of telling a tale, the same is true here; of Satyr's (often depicted with a man's torso, goats legs and pan pipes) making love in the forests, traditional melodies such as “Scarborough Fair,” and tales ranging from the Witches of “Hamlet,” to a recitation of Edgar Allan Poe's “The Raven.” Their inspiration is more than apparent yet it never feels like merely a collection of cover songs, each track injected with their own complementary melodies. To listen to Omnia is more than just to hear something that appeals to the audial senses, it's to embark on journey in time; to a medieval land of beauty, beasts and poetry; to hear their tales of the lands that once were, to sing, dance and be merry, floating away to their sweet, gentle melodies. Now where did I put that flagon of mead...
Highlights: Wytches Brew, Alive!, Satyr Sex
Since I can think of no greater starting than my own, enjoy their live performance.
Dodecahedron – Dodecahedron – 4/5
When perusing metal reviews as my usual bored self often does, this is a name that cropped up quite often with even those who seem to hate everything and anything remotely different to their usual pleasures going 'this actually isn't bad.' Very few seemed to actually agree on why they all liked it, but nonetheless they all did, and so naturally, I felt it only right that I give it a spin myself to see what all the fuss was about, because on the surface it doesn't seem as though they're doing anything particularly different. After all, it's still just black metal; it's still got the tremolo riffs and highly distorted guitars, the blast-beated aggression from the drums and those high-pitched growls we've all come to know and love. Unless you aren't a fan of black metal of course, but then I wonder why you're still reading this anyway. The thing is, they actually do manage to do something different; it's Norwegian Black Metal “Plus,” or “Extreme Progressive Black Metal,” if you prefer, because without the 'Extreme' in there it doesn't quite seem to get the point across strongly enough. They've simply managed to perform it so well that at first glance you can't figure out what they've done that's so different.
The 'progressive' part of their genre ought to give you the first clue. No, they won't start spouting about some elaborate concept (or at least, none that I can discern) or try to mix up the pace with experimental interludes from outside genres as part of what progressive often implies, except of course their outright defiance in refusing to adhere to one singular strain of the infectious black metal virus, straying between Ambient Black, Norwegian Second Wave, DSBM, Industrial Black, whatever the likes of “Deathspell Omega” play, and probably some others I'm missing in the process. In this case the term is a little more literal, the songs simply progress as it unfolds; what happens in one part of the song is unlikely to be what's happening two minutes later, and as a result you never quite know what's around the corner. Even after a few listens, seeing as there are no catchy chorus lines or distinctive points where it suddenly breaks out into a repeated melody that makes you suddenly remember where you are in the album (save for one point which I struggle to call some form of ambient interlude, separating the two halves and preparing you for the monolithic 3-part finalé). Put on repeat, the inferno almost seems endless, which is rather fitting for music intended to sound like it arrived from the bowels of hell.
But their inspiration doesn't quite end there, the actual notes used in their composition displaying an innate dissonance as though they learned the rules and then systematically tried to play the complete opposite at every opportunity. Arpeggio's for what seem like fictitious chords psychedelically collide with out of sync thicker bass lines and tremolo riffs, and polyrhythmic interludes often seem par for the course in making sure your mind can never quite get too comfortable with any particular passage. The drums follow much the same pattern, slowly playing jazz-inspired grooves during the slower passages, blast beating at their peak intensity, frequently showing much love for the art of playing on the downbeat and otherwise flailing frantically when you least expect it. Surprisingly, given the inherent anarchy going on within the music, it still manages to find itself being quite melodious at times and not altogether unpalletable to the awaiting ear, though I must confess I still haven't quite figured out how.
It is all these factors that ultimately go into making this release so remarkable; it's taken the genre that has begun to become formulaic as we've become accustomed to it and then thrown vital rules of composition out the window, making it so we have no idea quite what's going to happen next. Even in writing this review every time I mention something it doesn't do, I then remember that it actually does do it at one point and feel the urge to go back and point it out. It gives it a new sense of life and originality to the music, eliciting much the same sort of initial response as though you've been listening to Green Day all your life and someone just handed you a Gorgoroth CD. It's dissonant, chaotic, demonic, abrasive, purposefully disharmonious and unpredictable; basically, it's everything black metal should be.