Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brief Blast: Sanctification "Black Reign"

Here's a brief look at "Black Reign" from Sanctification. "Black Reign" is from a batch of promos from Pulverised Records, an increasingly impressive label loaded with quality old school death metal bands. My esteemed colleague Chris Davison over at Live 4 Metal has already covered "Black Reign", so here's my brief take on the album...



I barely remember Sanctification's debut full-length, "Misanthropic Salvation" from 2003, as the album failed to make an impression and I never investigated Sanctification afterwards. To my surprise, Sanctification is now virtually a side project of a couple of members of Dark Funeral, including vocalist Masse Broberg, along with alumni from plenty of other top quality Swedish bands (the connections to Dark Funeral in 2003 weren't yet in place, though).

The obvious intent with "Black Reign" is to pay homage to American style death metal with a sound emulating Deicide and, in particular, latter day albums from Cannibal Corpse. In fact, Masse Broberg's vocals eschew any high pitched screams as he employs in Dark Funeral and, instead, Broberg bellows forth with a roar taking a page from Corpsegrinder Fisher's extensive playbook. As would be expected of this style, the guitars shred, there are plenty of blasts along with a mid-paced tempo, and there are plenty of "meat and potatoes" riffs that all make appearances.

Overall, the album is well done, if not entirely original, and is a solid slab of American style death metal.

Sanctification Official MySpace

Incoming...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Valdur...



Valdur Interview

I must say that I’m greatly impressed by Valdur, a relative newcomer onto the USBM scene. Valdur hail from the incomparable beauty of the Eastern Sierras in northeastern California, a relatively isolated area (the road trip along U.S. 395 is one the best geology drives in the western United States). I recently had a chance to converse via email with Thor, Valdur’s guitarist/ vocalist. My reviews of two splits with Valdur follow…

1) I can’t imagine that the Mammoth Lakes area has much of a black metal scene. Please give us a brief history of the band?

Mammoth had no real metal scene until William, Matthew (L.S.), Zach (Blasphemy) and I joined forces to create Valdur in the winter of 2004. We practiced the shit out of our “cold as fuck” rehearsal bunker and after releasing a couple of demos , finally got our “in” when asked to play with Lightning Swords Of Death and Nachtmystium in downtown L.A. Zach has since t left the band due to other commitments, and we remain a three-piece to this day.


2) What bands and genres would you specifically cite as influences of Valdur?

There are so many killer bands out there that I don’t even know where to start … everything from Mercyful Fate to Immortal and everywhere in between. I like to say we are influenced a lot from the melodic side of black metal along with the intensity of a death metal band, but I may be way the fuck off.


3) How does the environment of the Eastern Sierras influence your music and lyrical themes?

Without the winter storms and mountains that we are surrounded by, Valdur would not sound anything like we do. These surroundings give the music and lyrics truth and without that it would be pointless to make the triumphant music we have chosen to make. All hippie shit aside, there is an obvious force that comes from the mountains which we reside in, and we make sure to use it to our fullest advantage.


4) Does living in the relative isolation of the Eastern Sierras help or hinder the band’s development?

It definitely makes playing shows difficult due to far distances and often brutal weather, but we make the best of it. Sometimes we need to get the fuck out of the mountains, so we try to enjoy the car rides to and from, and also the city life. In many ways, living far from any city has kept us focused on Valdur without much influence from the inner city masses and madness.


5) Please give us a brief synopsis of the band’s recording history?

We gave out a couple of demo CDs in 2003 -2004 and after an unexpected demand, decided to write our first full length based on those songs. The full length was released in 2005 on Bloody Mountain records. One of the demos made it onto a three way split with The Frost, and Massemord. That was released on Blackmetal.com records in 2007. Shortly after that, Lightning Swords of Death asked us to do a split with them and, of course, that was of great interest to us. The split was released on our U.S. tour in 2008 and that about sums it up.


6) How often does Valdur perform, and where?

We try to perform no less than once or twice per month when we are all together. This is far from enough, and we will be putting more effort into traveling and performing this upcoming year. This summer has been quiet from our side, but late fall and early winter should be pretty intense as far as shows go. We have based most of our efforts on the West coast from Seattle to San Diego, but the majority of our shows have been in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Last summer, we were on tour with L.S.O.D and Gigan, and we hit up most major cities in the U.S. We had no chance of making it all the way east to New York, New Jersey, and so on, but we are hoping to get our chance there this coming spring.


7) Has Valdur been getting notice from labels?

We have received a lot of interest from both magazines and record labels after the release of our split with Lightning Swords of Death, and our most recently released promo song, “Berserker”. Also, we will be featured in a new PSP PlayStation game called “Undead Knights”, along with Endless Blizzard and Lightning Swords of Death.


8) What can we expect in way of a new full-length from Valdur?

We are in the process of writing our second full length album and if all goes well, we will be recording this winter. Faster drums, heavier guitars, and an all around better sound quality are to be expected.


9) What are the band’s immediate plans?

Our main focus right now is writing music for the new full length. It is a busy time for us. Thanks to the response from the underground metal scene, and we hope to keep impressing those who support Valdur!

Thor

Thank you for your time.





Valdur Official MySpace

Blackmetal.com

Reviews...



Lightning Swords Of Death/ Valdur- Split

(Cult War/ Bloody Mountain Records)

Here’s a split from a couple of relative unknowns in the USBM scene. Released jointly on Cult War and Bloody Mountain Records (I’m sure that Blackmetal.com has a hand in here somewhere), this is an eight-song split featuring Lightning Swords of Death and Valdur.

First up are four songs from LSOD, a raw black metal band based in Los Angeles with some members serving time in Endless Blizzard and The Cauterized (a local L.A. act). LSOD already have a full-length under their belt, which I haven’t heard, but the four songs released here on this split are reasonably well done raw black metal with a certain degree of sloppiness. Combine a low-fi production with sloppy musicianship, a generally mid-paced approach, and moments of well done atmosphere, and LSOD are pretty good, basic black metal, if not wholly original.

Frankly, Valdur really make this split well worth tracking down. I’m already somewhat familiar with Valdur, a trio from the incomparable beauty, and relative isolation, of the eastern slopes of the Sierras. My prior exposure to this band comes from a four-way split from Blackmetal.com awhile back, and Valdur were the best of the bands profiled on that split, by far (I haven’t been able to locate the band’s self-titled debut from 2007, though). Playing fast, highly atmospheric black metal in the vein of mid-period Burzum, Valdur also greatly remind me of Walknut, another band in the same vein. Although produced with a bit of a low-fi vibe and fuzz, Valdur quite obviously drip with power with a very loud bass overlaying fast drumming and rapidly strummed guitar on their four song contribution to the split. Insanely catchy and well played black metal, Valdur showcase themselves as a definite band to watch in the USBM scene, and I eagerly await a new full-length. Also, I would suggest that some of the bigger labels take note of this band. In short, this split comes highly recommended.

Lightning Swords of Death Official MySpace



Valdur/ The Frost/ Massemord- Split

(Blackmetal.com Records)

The first of six (count ‘em) promos from San Francisco based Blackmetal.com Records comes in the form of a three-way split featuring Valdur, The Frost, and the Norwegian version of Massemord. First up is Valdur, from the Eastern Sierras of all places, with a contribution of three songs entitled “Battlescars”. Valdur present an exceptionally powerful version of black metal with a definite old school vibe with plenty of sloppily played riffs, a huge, thick bass, and a bottom heavy production that absolutely drips with power. The three songs here consist of rather simple riffs and bursts of speed, but are insanely catchy, particularly the title track “Battle Scars”. Excellent stuff and I’m immediately heading out to track down the band’s self titled debut full-length from 2007 on Bloody Mountain Records.

Next up is The Frost, a grim, raw black metal act from Croatia that is mostly a one-man project, although a session musician or two are present. Consisting of a rather traditional approach to raw black metal with a thin production and droning riffs, The Frost’s five song contribution to the split, entitled “Sounds Of The Frozen Hate”, unfortunately also contains some poorly played drumming with a noticeable tendency to annoying drift out of pace with the rest of the instrumentation. Ultimately, I‘m not nearly as impressed with The Frost as I am with Valdur.

Norway’s Massemord is a rather established one-man wrecking machine with two full-lengths already under wraps. Coming across as a mix of Darkthrone and the catchiness of early Svartsyn, Massemord’s six song contribution to the split, entitled “This Is My War”, is professionally played raw black metal that should tide you over as you wait for the next full-length.

But, wait! There’s more! There’s no indication in the liner notes or the promo material, but the album continues with the first demo from the now defunct Everwinter from Virginia, a five song affair entitled “Final Victory”. Surprisingly well-produced for raw black metal, let alone a debut demo, “Final Victory” has some atmospherics and even a moment or two of melody to accompany the assault.

For the amount of sheer bang for your buck, Blackmetal.com has a released a comp/ split that is more than worth your money and is a good way to sample some obscure bands.

Incoming...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kult Ov Azazel... Interview With Xaphan



"Destroying The Sacred", the latest full-length from Florida's Kult Ov Azazel, is an excellent blast of commentary and rage. Recently, I had the chance to conduct an interview with guitarist/ vocalist Xaphan via email. My review of the album follows...



Congratulations on the release of a truly excellent black metal album in “Destroying The Sacred”.

1) How have fans reacted to the new album? What about the media?

Input from the fans has been positive. As for the media, not a lot of promos were sent out. I have only seen a few reviews we have received from the label but overall it has been positive as well.

2) Tell us about the differences in sound between “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil” and “Destroying The Sacred”. For example, “Destroying the Sacred” has a much cleaner sound. Was this a deliberate decision on the part of the band going into the recording of the album, or did this just evolve during the recording process?

There was no deliberate decision on the production going in. It just evolved during the process. The only outcome we were looking for was something equal to or better than the production we got on The World, The Flesh & The Devil. That’s why we went back to Mana. In the end I think what we got on the new album is much better production wise.

3) Why the long hiatus between the two albums?

There were a lot of things happening in everyone’s personal lives. The short version, I got married and Hammer became a father. Also the way we write is the old school way, that being us three getting together in a room and hashing out ideas until we have completed a song. The problem with this is we all live far away from each other. Xul lives an hour north of Ft. Lauderdale and has for some time now and Hammer lives in New York. So with all the things that were happening back in 2005/2006 it made it impossible for us to get together. It wasn’t until 2007 and the beginnings of 2008 that we were able to all hook up for the writing process. These reasons had a lot to do with the hiatus. However, I must point out we really weren’t on a hiatus as Kult ov Azazel was still playing shows in 2006 and 2007.

4) “Destroying the Sacred” not only criticizes Christianity, but also Judaism and Islam. What motivates your lyrical themes and how are they different from other black metal bands/ projects? Does an American perspective, especially after 9/11, matter in this regard?

Many elements motivated the lyrics on this album. 9/11 had a little to do with it but more so what has followed in the years since. I am a news junkie. I am almost always watching world news on TV or reading it online so the lyrics on this album spawned from my thoughts, opinions and perspective of the world I see around me. I also wanted not to move away from but rather write something other than songs based around the same subjects we have covered in the past. When I was writing lyrics I made sure it had nothing to do with invocations, summoning, demonology, Satanism and so on. The lyrics this time around reflect my personal feelings rather than serving as an homage to the ancient ones.

5) Media coverage of the USBM scene seems to be enamored with one-man projects. Do you feel that traditional, hardworking bands in the USBM scene with a full lineup are shortchanged by the media?

I could not tell you as I do not read metal media publications. I personally could care less what most bands have to say in interviews, what the reviewers’ opinions on releases are and so forth. What I am beginning to see is that bands such as ourselves are being short changed more so by the bigger labels. Now we are no longer contracted with Arctic I am learning that labels only care about one thing when signing bands and that is soundscan numbers. It doesn’t matter if you have been prolific in releasing albums, built a fan base from the ground up, and are hard working, highly regarded, etc. as it is all about soundscan numbers or who you know.

6) Describe the band’s touring plans to support the album.

There are no touring plans. We are booking though. We just co-headlined the Hostile City Death Fest that was held in Philadelphia, we are headlining the Milwaukee Blackened Festival in October as well as playing Los Angeles on Halloween. In November we headline the East Coast Black Metal Festival in Allentown, PA. There’s also some other offers on the table for the end of the year but nothing I can disclose as of now. Then next year we are confirmed and will be headlining day 2 of the Michigan Deathfest. I’m also in talks right now with a Mexican promoter about a 15 day tour of Mexico and a European booking agency for a European tour in 2010.


7) How did you hook up with Hate War Productions for your upcoming appearance in Los Angeles?

I have known Chris since the band formed. I consider him a close friend. The thing is we were originally not on the bill. I was asked by Armanen of Tenebrous if I would play session guitar for them in LA on Halloween which is actually the release show for the band Sein und Zeit. I agreed and a few days later Hammer reminded me that we had some offers for October 31st which I had forgotten about. I called to pull out of the Tenebrous show and Armanen suggested that I get Kult ov Azazel on the show so I contacted Chris who got together with the owner of the Black Castle and made it happen. So we are making our way back to Los Angeles again, something I am looking forward to.

8) Are you ending your professional relationship with Arctic Music? Are you currently seeking a deal with another label? If so, have any labels expressed interest?

No, we aren’t ending the relationship between Arctic, we are more or less looking to expand our horizons. Arctic has been good to us in many ways but has hindered us in other ways as well. We have the option to continue with them on an album to album basis but we need a label that can supply tour support and has worldwide distribution. So yes, we are seeking another label. It’s time to take Kult ov Azazel to the next level.

9) What led to the inclusion of a cover of “Hang The Pope” by Nuclear Assault on “Destroying The Sacred”?

The song seemed to fit into the concept of the album, both lyrically and musically. We are huge fans of Nuclear Assault. It was homage to a great band!!!

Thanks for your time.

Review follows...

Kult Ov Azazel- Destroying The Sacred

(Arctic Music Group)

Floridian black metal beasts Kult Ov Azazel return after a four-year hiatus with “Destroying The Sacred”, released on the Arctic Music Group label, and their fifth full-length overall. Right off the bat, “Destroying The Sacred” is a bulldozer of an album that is exceptionally well played, well written, and, somewhat unusually, well produced. Consisting mostly of balls out, fast black metal with a few moments of atmosphere and the odd melodic touch or two, particularly late in the album, “Destroying The Sacred” features plenty of fast riffing, blastbeats galore, rasps, and a noticeably loud bass. Combine the stellar musicianship with very catchy, well written songs spread out over nine tracks (ten, if you count a fast cover of “Hang The Pope” to close the album) that blow by in just over thirty minutes, and Kult Ov Azazel should vault themselves well to the forefront of the USBM scene with “Destroying The Sacred”.

What strikes me the most about “Destroying The Sacred” is the ability of the band to retain a feeling of all out, black metal brutality while attaining a very clean, professional sound. Compare “Destroying The Sacred” to “Triumph Of Fire”, and the band’s progression in this regard is obvious. All the while, “Destroying The Sacred” is backed up with a huge, crisp production, and the album immediately becomes highly infectious. This one should give well established giants such as Marduk and Dark Funeral cause to look over their shoulders.

Although not the most original album that I’ve ever heard, “Destroying The Sacred” is so well done for the genre that I can’t help but begin to consider its inclusion in this year’s top ten list. Yep, buy or die!

Kult Ov Azazel Official MySpace

Arctic Music Group





Incoming...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Impressions of Sunn O)))...


Bands: Sunn O))), The Accused, Eagle Twin

Venue: Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, Los Angeles, California

Date: August 11th, 2009

“Monoliths and Dimensions” is a strong contender for album of the year, naysayers be damned. In addition, Skull saw Sunn O))) a month earlier in Chicago and stated that they drew heavily from the album for their live performance. Naturally, I had to find out for myself, so I skipped the competing Heaven And Hell concert and made my way to the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock (a L.A. neighborhood) along with about 250 or so other people. Opening up would be semi-legendary crossover band The Accused (originally from the Eagle Rock area), and Gentry Densley’s latest project, Eagle Twin.

The Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, originally a Carnegie Institution Library, is an early 20th century structure in the Spanish Mission style of architecture. The building is used today for all manner of art exhibitions, classes, and whatnot. The centerpiece of the structure is the former library hall that becomes an intimate setting as a concert venue, albeit with a tiny, barely raised a foot off the ground, stage. The Center is the perfect place to serve as a cavernous space for Sunn O))), albeit in tight quarters with the rest of the crowd...

Pics swiped from the Center's website...





Arriving early, there was plenty of Southern Lord merchandise for sale, as well as cheap beer with the proceeds assisting the Center’s activities. First up were Eagle Twin, a duo from Utah featuring Gentry Densley on baritone guitar. I gave their debut full-length, “The Unkindness of Crows”, a positive review a few weeks back, and I enjoyed their set. Taking a couple of tracks from the full-length, Densley and drummer Tyler Smith smashed through a short set that was appreciated by the rapidly filling crowd.

Running into numerous friends, I sort of hung in the back for The Accused, an old crossover band that I hadn’t heard in at least 20 years. The acoustics of the Center didn’t particularly fit their style very well, but The Accused delivered an energetic, enjoyable set that was able to muster a small pit (the crowd was a strange mix of metalheads, beardos, and lots of girls in frumpy dresses and, for some reason, horn-rimmed glasses) towards the end of the set.

Taking in too much of the cheap beer, I spent the change over in line for the bathroom, and was only able to cram myself to within about 25 feet of the small stage for Sunn O))). Although I recognized bits of “Aghartha” and “Hunting And Gathering (Cydonia)” during the 65 minute long continuous set, I decided to forget about worrying about a possible identification of tracks and just let the harmonics wash over me. The fog was belching, one red light was lit along with streetlight filtering in the windows, and that was it for visual effects. It was enough as Sunn O))) played as a quartet with a great deal of trombone and vocal improvisation from Attila Csihar. Making an appearance towards the end of the set was a new costume for Csihar consisting of a crown of twigs along with an arm done up in the same manner, a full mask with horribly sunken eyes, and a burlap sack. The effect was one of a creature from some dense, primeval forest. This costume accompanied the slow fade out of the set for the final 15 minutes.

The crowd erupted, the hoods were pulled back, the wine bottles were raised, and Attila took off the costume for a brief acknowledgement with his arms raised…

Special thanks to Dave Brenner!

Always good to see Etan, Tom, Preston, Grace, and Javan...

Some pics...

Eagle Twin...



Structure...







Sunn O)))...





Sunday, August 02, 2009

Three From Candlelight...

Here's a brief look at three recent Candlelight releases. All three have been covered by other writers at Live 4 Metal, but the albums landed in my inbox, as well.



First up is "Attitude", the fifth full-length from Susperia, a Norwegian thrash metal act with members that have drifted in and out of many big name symphonic black metal acts over the years. I've liked the early albums from Susperia, as they skillfully combine thrash metal with symphonic BM without becoming overbearing. However, their last couple of albums, including "Attitude", have become wholly pedestrian and shamelessly rip off Testament in that band's more melodic moments. In addition, unlike Testament, Susperia's songwriting is less than adequate as "Attitude" is boring and instantly forgettable. That's not surprising since this album has been out for a couple of months now, and seems to have been forgotten by just about everyone. Judge for yourself. In addition, the album cover art annoys the Hell out of me (can you imagine this design on a shirt?). You can read Matt Willcocks' review here (he liked "Attitude" a lot more than I did).

Susperia Official MySpace



Next up is the self-titled, second full-length from Washington, D.C.'s Magrudergrind. Obviously playing grindcore, Magrudergrind feature a well-produced, bottom heavy sound, a quirky kaleidoscope of song structures, and a tendency to drift much closer to out and out hardcore/ crust than pure death metal. Magrudergrind mix up the sounds quite well on seventeen short songs spread out in less than a half hour, but the high-pitched, screeched vocals smack of "kid"-core too much for my tastes (although the music itself makes no such forays into such drivel). This has been a banner year for grindcore, and competing albums from heavy hitters that have been recently released will probably relegate this album to those of you with a penchant for hardcore, rather than death metal. Still, not bad. You can read Steve Green's review here.

Magrudergrind Official MySpace



Finally, for now, is "Grand Feast For Vultures", the second full-length from retro-thrash metal Norwegian act Blood Tsunami (featuring the infamous Faust on drums). I was not impressed by the debut full-length, the elegantly titled "Thrash Metal" from 2007, but "Grand Feast For Vultures" is well done thrash in the vein of early Slayer with more than a nod to Swedish death/ thrash. Good songwriting, stellar musicianship, and a production that sounds like, "What if Hell Awaits was well produced?" abound on "Grand Feast For Vultures". In addition, there are a couple of long tracks at the end of the album reminiscent of Iron Maiden to some degree, one of which is entitled "Horsehead Nebula" (this obviously gets a thumbs up from me, as that particular deep sky object continues to make appearances in metal). Steve Green liked this one, as well.

Blood Tsunami Official MySpace

Candlelight Records USA

Candlelight Records UK