Essence – Last Night of Solace

Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new album from Essence titled Last Night of Solace, released via Noiseart records.

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Tracklist:
01. Intro 01:15
02. Final Eclipse 06:00
03. Arachnida 04:16
04. For the Fallen 06:19
05. Children of Rwanda 04:54
06. Gemstones 06:22
07. Dark Matter 06:24
08. Last Night of Solace 07:28
09. Opium 04:49
10. Fractured Dimension (Bonus Track) 05:10

As a person whose tastes lean on the old-school side of things, I can safely say that one is often compelled to immediately take a liking to a band that blatantly takes to a sonic throw-back route, even if that path is an already well treaded one that has virtually attained a point of saturation. In light of the same, I should certainly go on to say that Essence is one of those bands that caught my ear by surprise. Delving into a genre whose only new blood seems to be hordes of shameless 80’s thrash worshippers who seem to think wearing patch jackets, high-top shoes and tight jeans earns one all the credibility they need to garner tenability in the eyes of a somewhat confused and overwhelmed modern heavy music enthusiast, Essence certainly stands out as a band that is at the very least attempting to sound different while maintaining the integrity of the pioneers that came to define the sub-genre they play. Yes, despite their logo being extremely reminiscent of Berkley legends Testament’s logo.

The album starts out with an intro that initially invokes a majestic atmosphere but soon descends into some good ol’ thrashing, which then bleeds into the album opener, Final Eclipse, which is a solid track but is pretty routine in terms of song structure. There are moments where the riff-work shines but these are rather short lived, and the lead playing is rather conventional. The vocals are once again typical for thrash metal, and comprise of shouted, raspy chants in the vein of Miland Petrozza of Kreator and Tom Angelripper of Sodom, but lack the venom and ferocity invoked by the two, and are somewhat stagnant in comparison. Arachnida features some notably catchy leads complemented by foreseeable rhythm guitars backing it, but soon plunges into generic thrashing otherwise. For The Fallen is the first track of the album that, in my opinion, truly captures the attention of the listener and features some very dynamic segments, with some enjoyable percussive interplay between the explosive notes and the drums, and some excellent consonance in the guitar playing in the vein of Testament and (later) At The Gates, in effect making it one of the standouts of the album. Children of Rwanda is an enjoyable track with some incredible dual guitar work with the rest of the track unapologetically indulging in speed-driven thrash frenzy and aggressive tremolo picking. Gemstones in contrast to the preceding two tracks is conventional thrash fare and there’s nothing much to be said about it. Darkmaster initially invokes a black-metal velocity but slows down about a minute into the track and takes quite some time to get interesting, but makes for a good listen nevertheless. Last Night is an excellent track in every aspect, albeit a bit lack-lustre initially, it gets highly dynamic during the latter half, and is another standout in the album. Opium is a rather boring follow-up to it in contrast. The bonus track Fractured balances crunchy rhythms and leads in a fairly good manner.

The problem with some of the filler tracks of the album is that they far exceed their freshness due to their stretched song lengths and in a sense overstay their welcome. In addition to that, some songs have common-place segments that could’ve well been omitted, which could’ve added to the freshness and crispness of the album as a whole, making the album  a wholly enjoyable experience as a monolithic unit as opposed to being tedious in a good number of segments. However, this is certainly a step up from Lost In Violence (2011) and is a breath of fresh air among a slew of half-assed Exodus and/or crossover thrash throw-back acts in the so-called ‘NWOTB’. Denmark should be proud to house a band like this in their local scene, and I hope to hear more of them in the future – while I’m not particularly bewitched by this act, they’ve certainly more than caught my attention. An enjoyable listen all in all, but I fear the redundancy of some portions of the album might spoil what might be otherwise considered a more-than-admirable effort.

 

Joel Grind – The Yellowgoat Sessions

Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new album from Joel Grind titled The Yellowgoat Sessions, released via Hells Headbangers.

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Tracklist:

01. Ascension
02. Hell’s Master of Hell
03. Vengeance Spell
04. Foul Spirit Within
05. Cross Damnation
06. Grave Encounters
07. Black Order
08. The Eternal One
09. Hail to Cruelty
10. Descension

In this age of preppy and generally trendy derivatives of metal with squeaky clean production and played down imagery, that lack the ardor, rebelliousness, anti-conventionalism and rawness that characterized the genre since its inception, this album is certainly an unapologetic beckoning to the roots of black metal, dating back to the early 1980’s. This is not to imply that metal is entirely about being over-the-top, extreme or exaggerated in its approach. But personally, the sort of metal found on this album is something like a comic book. If it doesn’t have that bit of edge and theatrics to it, it just doesn’t do it for me. Fortunately, Joel Grind, known for his work in the retro-thrash metal band Toxic Holocaust has presented us old schoolers a slab of grimy exaltations and invocations to the overlords and archons of the dark realms of metal. Oh so primordial, ancient, chthonic and down-right filthy. One wouldn’t expect this to be heard in 2013 of all years. But apparently the underground resistance (sorry for the reference, Darkthrone!) is alive and well, and stronger than ever. Did Quorthon have some sort of bastard son in his various peregrinations, or did Thomas Warrior let Grind use the very same bunker he used to record the infamous but ever so eternally influential Triumph of Death?

On the same note, the album starts with an eerie intro, Ascension, and bears an incredibly strong resemblance to the intros used on the early Bathory albums (think Storm of Damnation or Nocturnal Obeisance) and jumps straight into Hell’s Master of Hell which is absolutely blatant Bathory worship but a kickass album opener. I’ve seen many people saying that this could’ve well been an omitted track from Bathory (1984) and I couldn’t agree more. It has a great degree of sonic semblance to War from the very same album, in fact. Vengeance Spell is in the very same vein with a speed-driven, blackened quality to it. The riffs are very catchy and the guitar solo, albeit simplistic perfectly fits in. The fourth track Foul Spirit Within is more plodding and has a slower pace, but features rather similar riffs.

Stream the entire album below:

Cross Damnation has an easily recognizable blackened speed metal quality to it, and is a bit of a filler but very enjoyable nevertheless. The next tracks, Grave Encounters and Black Order continue this trend but the former is far more relentless, aggressive and amusingly over-the-top that would make some question whether Joel Grind was being serious at all while penning down these accursed tunes. The 8th track, The Eternal One, and my personal favourite is malevolent, rancorous Hellhammer worship from start to end in the vein of songs like Buried and Forgotten. The album closer, Hail to Cruelty has a more speed-driven edge to it in the vein of Venom and Motorhead with a smattering of Canadian speed/thrash metal (a la Razor, Exciter, etc). The album ends with an outro, Descension, once again a direct nod to the outros found all over the Bathory catalogue.

This album would get any enthusiast of the First Wave of Black Metal absolutely ecstatic. It’s short and crisp with a comical but honest aggression to go along with it. I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again – the efforts of artists like Joel Grind serve to preserve a specific sound, that might well get lost in the sands of time lest we lay an excessive emphasis on constant musical innovation and change. By that virtue, this album is one among many underground gems. In short, Joel Grind keeps it real. He should definitely continue releasing stuff in a similar vein as opposed to the comparatively generic retro-thrash, taking us back to a time when there were no limiting, stylistic borders such as thrash or black metal..

 

Kalmah – Seventh Swamphony

Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new release from Kalmah titled ‘Seventh Swamphony‘, released via Spinefarm Records.

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Cover art was done by the brilliant Juha Vuorma. He’s also done artwork for Autopsy, Edge of Sanity and other bands as well.

Tracklist

‘Seventh Swamphony’
‘Deadfall’
‘Pikemaster’
‘Hollo’
‘Windlake Tale’
‘Wolves on the Throne’
‘Black Marten’s Trace’
‘The Trapper’

Kalmah is one of those bands that I feel haven’t got the their due and deserved attention, even within the realm of melodic death-metal, overshadowed by a range of bands both within their specific sub-genre and furthermore by their world famous fellow ethnic compatriots, Children of Bodom, who in my opinion are even less consistent than the contingent of the second tier melodic death-metal bands from Finland, such as the immensely talented Wintersun (who also combine other eclectic folk/power metal elements in addition to their melodic death-metal style); the now defunct Norther, Swallow the Sun (who also have strong doom/death metal leanings) and Insomnium. Yet this is precisely what I would attribute Kalmah’s strong consistency and stylistic integrity over the years to – their relatively moderate popularity in turn leading to a cult following has only further fuelled the fire in their belly to continue to break boundaries and out do themselves, or at the very least annually churn out some reasonably unique and easily enjoyable tunes. Kalmah’s latest offering, Seventh Swamphony, once again a play on the word symphony in line with their thematic obsession with the environment, particularly revolving around the swamps of Finland, as well as a reference to the fact that the album happens to be their seventh studio album.

The album opener, which is the title track of the album, is a ball-busting start to the record, with blast beats, technical and blistering guitar solos, melodic, sing-along riffs and the right amount of dramatic keyboard work accompanying the riffage. The 2nd track, Deadfall too is in a similar vein. The 3rd track, Pikemaster is one of the standouts of the album and sees Kalmah’s ever so impeccable execution of grandeur in balancing melody and brutality, with a strong leaning to the former, of course. The next track, Hollo, charters into slower-paced territory and is a semi-ballad of sorts with an anthemic edge to it as the track progresses. The track features some emotionally evocative guitar work with harmonies at select and appropriate parts. Pekka Kokko alternates between roared, growled vocals, and subtle but somewhat tenuous clean passages.

 

 

The 5th track Windlake Tale exemplifies epic in every sense of the word – blistering leads; hauntingly emotive and dramatic keyboard work and a barrage of roared vocals. The next track, Wolves on the Throne features some excellent fret-work in the form of uniquely sharp, relentless and hard-hitting riffs complimented by the bombardment of controlled blast-beats courtesy of Janne Kusmin. On the other hand, Veli-Matti Kananen seems to know just how to complement and enhance those heavy riffs with breathtakingly electrifying keyboard work. The 7th track, Black Marten’s Race is a fairly conventional, anthemic Scandinavian melo-death song with some interesting keyboard work. The album closer, The Trapper, has a more marching pace relative to the velocity-driven songs on the rest of the album. This actually makes for a perfect album closer, and kudos to Kalmah for placing this appropriately in the track listing. All the elements, be it the vocals or the instrumentation are in an equilibrium of sorts, working together as opposed to trying to outshine the other, and is perhaps the most balanced track of the album. But to some, this closer might seem too slow or even plodding as compared to the other tracks and might not suffice as the theatrical and dynamic album closer that Kalmah intended it to be.

In conclusion, this album is an undoubtedly solid, but not particular groundbreaking release. The Kokko brothers have retained the crispness and sophistication that they derive from classic/power metal which has in turn lead to a unique brand of refined melodic death-metal, which gives a feel-good, invigorating vibe to the end product. Kananen’s keyboard work handles dramatism in a classy manner without descending into incessant melodrama, while Kusmin’s drum work also alternates between relentlessness and calculated restraint. Unfortunately, Timo Lehtinen’s bass is hardly audible in the mix throughout the album, except during a select segment of Wolves on the Throne.

Overall this album seems to only further reinforce the fact that Kalmah is a somewhat underrated yet formidable force in the melodic death-metal world and adds to their solid catalogue. Kalmah are well and back in shape after the sub-par For The Revolution and the return-to-form release 12 Gauge. They have lost that touch of blackened ferocity they once had and instead have replaced that with something vaguely thrashy, making them less unique but very enjoyable nevertheless.

 

 

Gravewurm – Infernal Minions

This marks the 50th post after our ever so unfortunate demise at the hands of a few dull hackers. Its good to be back and it has helped us in more ways than one. And there’s no better way to mark this occasion than with some heavy lager and metal.

Today we have a new reviewer joining our ranks. Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new album from Gravewurm titled Infernal Minions, released via Hells Headbangers.

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Tracklisting:

01. Nocturnal Inquisition
02. The Evil Within
03. Master of the Dark
04. Dominion of Lost Souls
05. The Beast of the Abyss
06. I Die for Hell
07. Crown of the Fallen
08. Mistress of Blood and Fire

Gravewürm is an American extreme metal band that has been active since 1990, with their first demo The Morbid Decomposure of Mankind having been self-released in 1992. The band was originally formed in Pennsylvania but soon moved its base to Oakton, Virginia. The world of metal in a modern context has, and continues to be constantly swamped by a plethora of new bands and as a consequence, the conception of new sub-genres, some positive and conducive to the stylistic growth of heavy music as a whole, and some, on the other hand, sorely lacking in the spirit, ardour and feel that has characterised this extreme genre since time immemorial.

 

 

Infernal Minions is Gravewürm’s latest offering and the band’s 9th studio album. This album once again sees them paying tribute to and raising infernal exaltations to the deities that occupy the blackened altar, as in the likes of Hellhammer, Bathory, Beherit, Venom and Burzum. Gravewürm, as a band, do not seem to be trying to be connoisseurs of vicissitude, but instead once again embark on their journey of peregrinating an already traversed, but cherished, perhaps even safe path – an honest, genuine, almost child-like testimonial to the seers of the obscure, insidious and arcane side of heavy metal.

The very appeal of the earliest extreme Metal bands, to me on a personal level is very interesting. These bands formed a proto-type to the second wave of bands in the genres they respectively pioneered (black, death and in some cases, even doom metal), and in turn, those bands would go onto use their music as a base, in various facets such as imagery, musical style, lyrical themes and ideologies. However, the music of these first wave bands itself was simply a slight extension of their influences, from both their own generation and the generations that preceded them. For instance, Venom was simply a more abrasive Motörhead with extreme, blasphemous, but admittedly tongue-in-cheek imagery.

It is this overall simplicity in the music à la the catchy power-chord driven guitar riffs, raspy vocals and mayhemic drum-work; coupled with the over-the-top and extreme imagery that makes the generation of bands that spawned the likes of Hellhammer, Bulldozer, Sarcófago, Bathory, early Celtic Frost, early Sepultura, Holocausto, Blasphemy, Death SS, the early Teutonic thrash scene, etc. very enjoyable. Almost to the point that you yourself want to sport some corpse-paint, wear some bullet-belts and spikes and strike poses with clenched fists in dark forests, abandoned churches or  graveyards in proximity with the country side. Argh!

 

 

Lest I digress with my more than apparent love for the genre, Gravewurm’s existence over two-decades has treaded this very path, along with some influence from the likes of bands that play in the vein established by the second wave of Black Metal bands – Burzum, Goatlord and Grand Belial’s Key. These influences in my opinion add to the more mature side to the song-writing abilities of the band, while the aforementioned first-wave influences add to the genuinity of their music. No arpeggios, sweep picking, string skipping and all that jazz – just some filthy tunes containing infernal invocations, giving of a chthonian impression coupled with blasphemous, esoteric themes.

The album kicks off with Nocturnal Inquisition, a straightforward album opener with predictably enjoyable riffing, raspy vocals in the vein of Nuclear Holocausto or Quorthon and simplistic drumming. The second track The Evil Within is also structured in a rather similar vein as the opening track. The third track, Master of the Dark is almost immediately enjoyable, opening with some fairly fast-paced doomy riffs (well, by doom standards anyway). While the drum work initially maintains the simplistic quality of the first two tracks, the track sees variation in terms of the tempo and patterns. This track also sees the first display of their adduced claim of dark ambient influences, with grim synthesizer notes being featured in the middle of the track. The fourth track, Dominion of Souls features some bludgeoning guitar work complemented by somber synthesizer notes. With this song, Gravewurm gives a direct nod to the likes of Burzum and H418ov21.C-era Beherit. A creeping pace coupled with prolonged, tasty riffs makes this one of the more enjoyable songs of the album.

The fifth track, The Beast of the Abyss, is a rather semi-thrashy, run-of-the-mill number but has some moments of brilliance courtesy of the blackened character of the lead guitar work. Unfortunately this is seemingly relatively low in the mix, probably intentionally so, given the now, more than well known ethos of the production quality of black metal acts. The sixth track, I Die for Hell is just as cheesy as the name would lead you to believe – caricatured menacing riffs with exaggerated vocals, the metal equivalent of a goofy villain straight out of a children’s movie. All in good spirit, though, and makes for a fun listen. Crown of the Fallen is also in a similar vein – the masters as far back as Venom have been doing the same, so why not their musical descendants?

Lastly, Mistress of Blood is an excellent closer, and arguably the best track of the album. The song invokes an absolutely infernal atmosphere, without the need to resort to any blatantly ambient musical tactics, and surprisingly melodic for a band that plays an eclectic mix of black, thrash, doom and death metal. The album ends on a very good note with this number.

In summation, the guitar tone is like that of Bathory’s early era slowed down to a predominantly Burzum-like pace throughout the album. The vocals are raspy, harsh and coarse, almost goblin-like in sonic quality. The drumming is very simplistic in nature throughout the album, and thus there is nothing to be said about it further.

I found that the album has its moments of brilliance, inducing the misty, grim and gloomy atmospheres that black metal is famous for, but as a whole invokes the spirit that the forefathers of the black metal genre from the 80’s first wave established – in a raw, in-your-face and honest manner.

I do, however, have to point out the apparent sloppiness of the drum work on the album. Most of the time signatures are either a regular 4/4 at a high BPM and a 12/8. While one does not expect overt technicality in such a genre, some basic conceptualization of appropriate time signatures to go along with the musical progression is unfortunately, sorely missing on this album.
I, for one, don’t see much stylistic growth in the music of Gravewürm relative to the rest of their discography, but in my opinion such bands must exist to maintain what I like to call a balance in the scene. These are the sort of bands that, while not particularly breaking new ground, serve to preserve a specific sound, that might well get lost in the sands of time lest we lay an excessive emphasis on constant musical innovation and change.