Archive for February, 2013

Band Spotlight: Shape of Despair [Funeral Doom] (Finland)

Posted in band spotlight, doom, featured artist, finland, genre troubles, underground with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

So I know I just did a doom metal one of these, but I’ve been intending to write up a special on Shape of Despair for a while now. I first learned of Shape of Despair last year, when Jamie picked up their album Angels of Distress at the Underground Rock Shop in Newton, IA (which I am told recently moved to Des Moines).

Quite simply, Shape of Despair writes the most heart-achingly depressing stuff I have ever heard. (And I listen to DSBM regularly).

[Complete with an image of a young woman crying on a rock]

Ahem. Anyway, Shape of Despair started off as Raven in 1995, founded by guitarist and keyboardist Jarno Salomaa and bassist/guitarist Tomi Ullgrén; they changed their name to their current moniker in 1998. Salomaa is the mastermind behind the band in terms of musical direction- a direction of which no one seems to be much sure. There is much debate as to what kind of music Shape of Despair is; it’s clearly metal, it’s clearly depressing, but it’s clearly not DSBM. It waffles, I think, around on the edges of gothic and funeral doom, although it does some strange things sometimes that don’t seem to fit in either category. For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to it as funeral doom; it has that stately feel I associate with the genre.

[Shape of Despair’s early work under the moniker Raven has been released on a CD called “The Eerie Sampler.” This is not that; it’s the first track from their first album, which is pretty much the earliest thing I could find on YouTube]

Shape of Despair seems to have two vocalists at any one time. Vocalist Natalie Koskinen joined the band in 1998, just as they were becoming Shape of Despair, and has been a steady member of the band since. The male vocalists, however, have been less steady, changing  up every album or so. Despite this fact and some rotation in the drummer’s seat, Shape of Despair has had a remarkably steady line up for an extreme metal band.

[You can hear both vocalists here. N. Koskinen’s vocals are incredibly haunting]

Encyclopedia Metallum describes Shape of Despair’s lyrical content as concerning “misery, pain, and loneliness,” which I would say is a pretty accurate description. As I mentioned earlier, this is some of the most depressing music I have ever heard. It’s lovely in its dreariness, but it isn’t something I would recommend if you’re struggling with depression perhaps. Lovely, though, for some late afternoon Void-gazing.

[My god that is wretched]

Unlike a lot of bands, Shape of Despair did not release any demos or EPs before their first album, Shades Of… This is probably because the band operated under the name Raven for the first couple of years, and there was a couple of Raven demos that later became the CD referenced above (as well as an unofficial demo). Instead, the band’s compilation came out in 2005. After that they laid low for quite a while, releasing the Written In My Scars EP in 2010 and a 2011 split with Before the Rain, a Portuguese doom band. They don’t seem to have done much recording since, although they are playing Huntfest in Tallinn soon (with Metsatoll and Finntroll, haha, what a contrast!) and have recently re-released their first two albums on vinyl.

[See what I mean? You think you’ve got these guys figured out, and then they do something different. That beat in the beginning is faster than normal]

[Here’s another one off Illusion’s Play. I love the beginning, and once again the tempo has picked up a bit. This is positively joyful for them]

Although the theme is often the same- slow to mid-tempo, stately, eerie, somber doom- you can hear the variation in the band’s approach in the samples I’ve posted here. It’s good to know that they are still together, and hopefully we will get some new music from them soon. As always, if you like what you’ve heard here, support the band. Shape of Despair is the perfect soundtrack for post-Valentine’s Day (ha) and bleak winters.

[Shape of Despair’s cover of Lycia’s “Estrella,” from their 2011 split with Before the Rain]

[I can’t even imagine what it would be like to actually see them live. This is crazy]

-Hagalaz

Review: Enslaved- RIITIIR

Posted in black metal, norway, Reviews, viking metal with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

So this is a little late in coming, considering that RIITIIR came out September 28th, but I suppose it’s better late than never, and I did only get it recently. On clearance at Hastings in my hometown, because apparently the good people of my hometown don’t know when awesome metal falls into their laps (it is more an epicenter for red dirt music anyway).

I have to admit that I have rather mixed feelings about a lot of Enslaved’s newer material. I like the prog approach well enough, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a prog fan. It’s not something I listen to often, although I appreciate the musical complexity of it. The further Enslaved goes along the more they tend to work back towards darker metal, though, and I think that is why I enjoy RIITIIR as much as I do. It’s very much in the vein of what Enslaved has been doing for the past several albums, but their black metal roots bleed through in places, making a really cool blend.

Opening the album is the first song released, Thoughts Like Hammers. I was skeptical when I heard this song for the first time; I mean, I liked it, but I wasn’t totally sold. Veilburner, the second song released, I immediately liked much better. After I gave RIITIIR a few more spins, I told Jamie that Thoughts Like Hammers was by far the worst song on the album. And it’s a good song. It’s just that the rest of the album is even stronger (and the more I listen to it, yes, the more this song grows on me).

The weird drum sound at the beginning of Roots of the Mountain made me think my car was falling apart for a few minutes when I first heard it, but it adds an urgency to the song that contrasts well with the chorus and causes a kind of claustrophobic press in the first couple of minutes of the song. The title track is a really cool song as well; transcendent sections of clean vocals and soaring guitars are backed up against a churning segment with a somewhat Mediterranean beat in the drums and a really heavy feel.

For me, Materal is one of the coolest songs on the record. Not only does it have a wicked black metal feeling tremolo riff at 1:14, but the structure of the song is really cool as well. I love the drum break after the first chorus and the layering of the harsh and clean vocals. Another song I really love is the final track Forsaken. The keyboards and guitar at the end are just so haunting. It’s lovely, and at the same time unsettling. Perhaps it’s the echo in the keyboards reminding me of industrial music in its calmer moments. Also the way the musical phrase just drops off- it’s like a music box, with an end to the melody but no real closure. A really interesting way to end the album.

I felt like the production for RIITIIR was well done; there is a lot going on in any given moment, but no one part felt like it was dominating. Of course, there are a lot of interesting fills from pretty much every member of the band on RIITIIR, and in those moments the respective parts rise a bit from the mix, as they should. You can even hear the bass in places! The beginning of Veilburner is, I think, a good example of the mixing on the record. It is very clean production, but for the complicated nature of the music on the album, I think it almost has to be. It would be easy to lose some of those parts if the production was less polished.

The album art is completely awesome in the same way that Enslaved’s album art normally is. I really like the concept of the hands reaching upwards, as Enslaved’s music always kind of reminds me of reaching beyond the material world, whether to the gods or your ancestors or whatever else. And the cover art is painted.IMAG0726

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[I also like the simplicity in the discs. Very straightforward, very classy]

Because I bought the special edition version of RIITIIR, I also got the Behind the Veil: The Making of RIITIIR bonus DVD. Leander and I watched it yesterday, and it is a really cool inclusion and well worth a watch. It’s interesting to see how the band goes about recording and their comments about how at this point in time, they record sort of like a live act as they are so used to playing together live (Enslaved are total road dogs). They also included segments showing the artist designing and painting the artwork for the album, which I found really cool since I love the artwork so much.

All and all, I’d give RIITIIR probably 4 or 4.5 out of 5 stars (pentagrams, what have you). It’s a very solid album, and I love how the band’s old black metal sound slips into the mix at unexpected moments. It not only takes the edge off of the progginess, but it makes for a truly original sound. The packaging is nice as well- album art is stunning, and the physical disks themselves have a very sleek look. Finally, RIITIIR has captivated me and I highly recommend at least a listen for those of you who, like me, generally prefer Enslaved’s older material. It did, after all, make it onto my list of the best albums of 2012. Subsequent spins of the album have convinced me even more that they deserve a solid place on there.

Hagalaz’ Favorite Tracks:

Death In The Eyes Of Dawn
Materal
Forsaken

More soon!

-Hagalaz

Concert: Enslaved/Pallbearer/Royal Thunder/Ancient VVisdom (2/4, Minneapolis, MN, Mill City Nights)

Posted in black metal, concerts, doom, norway, united states, viking metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

**I just realized this is my 100th post! Woo! Maybe someday when I have a real job I can do giveaways for stuff like this!**

About a year and a half ago, Enslaved went to St. Paul with Alcest (!) and I had to miss the show because of a late class. The band was nice enough to sign a poster for me as a consolation prize, which Jamie brought back for me and that was awesome, but I was still bummed that I didn’t get to see them. But now I have! (And now I feel like I might deserve a signed poster).

Once again, the show was at a venue that was new to me. Mill City Nights is, nicely enough, right off the Warehouse District light rail station, which makes it very easy to get to. It is also a much nicer venue than I am used to being in, and I have to be honest, I like Station 4 a lot better. I don’t feel quite so much like I’m being judged; my friend said she feels like they run it a bit like a nightclub sometimes, and that’s what it felt like to me. A lot of security, and a coat check you had to pay for. I mean, the venue was nice, and the sound was very good, but it was a weird experience and I’d much rather be at a place that will allow me to loiter with my friends afterwards.

It’s interesting to see how Enslaved or their label or whoever does it picks the bands that open for them. Last time it was Alcest and (was supposed to be) Ghost; this time it was all bands from the United States South. I appreciate the variety, however; death metal shows, for instance, are usually not too good about varying the bands on the lineup, although I suppose there is something to be said too about six hours-worth of death metal.

The opening band was Ancient VVisdom from Austin, Texas. They are an interesting band; their drummer stands the entire time, their vocalist used a chain for sound effects on one song, and they have an acoustic guitar player. Although the music was pretty standard hard rock (it reminded me of a lot of the stuff that was on the radio when I was a kid), there was a certain Southern tinge to it, perhaps as a result of the acoustic guitar. The lyrics were also centered around Satan, which I found very interesting- people where I come from tend to be scared of the Devil in a way that most people aren’t , and he is certainly not something you ever talk about. It was a little refreshing to see a Southern band do it, then. They played a strong set; Jamie saw them a while back when they opened for someone else, and he said that they were much better this time (the sound was messed up when he’d seen them previously). That being said, they really were not my thing (although I did appreciate the acoustic guitar).

[Live at Roadburn. I think they’d grow on me if I let them. Certainly original]

Next up was Royal Thunder, who I was really happy to see added to the bill a few weeks ago. Royal Thunder is that dirty, sludgy sound that the Georgia bands do so well, and they also have a female vocalist (hooray for girls in metal!). Her voice is awesome- it has a gravely growl to it and really complements the music well. They were also a three piece for our set- I’m not sure what happened to the other guitarist, but the sound was still very solid despite his absence. I had expected many more people up on stage than just three- their sound is tremendous. They played a very solid set, and I am really glad I got to see them perform live.

[Lovely]

Then was the mighty Pallbearer, who played easily one of the heaviest sets I have ever seen. Holy crap. The speakers were turned up so loud that the vocalist kept getting feedback when the sound guy tried to turn the vocals up. As a result, the vocals were a little hard to hear from where we were. Jamie went out to smoke at one point and said that you could hear a little better from further back, though. One of the drummer’s cymbals fell over during the first song, but Ancient VVisdom’s vocalist ran onstage and righted it, and it was quickly fixed before the second song. My gosh were they amazing. Heavy heavy heavy dooom. I am going to have to catch them headlining sometime, when I can maybe see them play more than three songs.

[Doooooooom.]

Finally, Enslaved took the stage (and the sound, thank goodness, was better)! They were incredible! They played a lot of stuff from the new album, including Materal, which is obviously the best song on RIITIIR. They also played quite a bit of their more recent material. I was a little worried for a while; they’d played about 45 minutes already, and although I do enjoy Enslaved’s newer material, I prefer the black metally old stuff. It was silly of me to worry, though. Ivar Bjørnson brought out the black guitar, the signal for “the old stuff is coming.” They then proceeded to play another 45-50 minutes of their older material. It was insane- if you go to see Enslaved on this tour, you will definitely get your money’s worth. They ended with their cover of the Immigrant Song, which was a lot of fun to see live, and came out and played Isa as an encore (yeeeessssssss). It was an excellent set, a great end to a night of really good music.

[Epic]

[Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-ssssaaaaaaaaaaa]

Over at the merch table, I picked up a couple of more buttons (Ancient VVisdom and Royal Thunder) and an Enslaved shirt. They had a lot of really cool shirts to choose from (including a white RIITIIR shirt, holy crap), but I couldn’t resist the Frost shirt.

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All and all it was a really awesome evening despite vocal difficulties and missing guitarists. Enslaved was everything I hoped they would be, and they had something for everyone in their set. My getting to see Enslaved was a long time in the making, and they did not disappoint. Pallbearer was also earth-shattering; I wish the vocal sound was better, but it couldn’t be helped, and they sounded fantastic even still. Royal Thunder was as much fun live as I expected they would be, and Ancient VVisdom was a really interesting and original band, if not quite my style. Overall, ‘twas a good night.

(I promise I am doing my best to update this whenever I can. School is insane this semester. Just did a big presentation that went off without a hitch, but that means I get to devote less time here. I’m working on it. I promise).

Coming up soon- a review of RIITIIR (where I can go into detail of why Materal is the best song on the album), some more updates to my jacket, a bit on the new metal record store in St. Paul (because St. Paul is cool too!), and a review of the local black metal show I’ll be going to on Saturday. Whew. A lot, basically (and there’s more where that’s coming from, as long as I can make time to post things).

-Hagalaz

The Heavens Cry Out For The Devil’s Blood

Posted in musings, retro occult rock, the netherlands with tags , , , on February 6, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

Two weeks ago, The Devil’s Blood, one of my favorite bands, decided to call it quits, and today they have doubly verified it. There’s very little info as of now as to the causes for the split, although Anso DF over at Metal Sucks thinks it might have something to do with the vocalist’s reputedly nasty temper, and my friend Jamie posited that perhaps it might arise from professional difficulties- SL tours with Watain sometimes, and we recently watched the blood-smeared Swedes sign with a bigger label. That doesn’t strike either of us as the sort of thing that either SL or his buddies in Watain would let the band break up over, so perhaps it was just time. Either way, it’s really none of my business why the band broke up, nor is it anyone else’s (pardon that snip, but people on Facebook are infuriating).

As Anso DF pointed out, though, the statement was signed by both SL and F (The Mouth of Satan), which suggests that the siblings are at least in on the decision together and could potentially move on to work on more projects together or someday maybe restructure the band. And SL posted on Facebook earlier today that a live DVD as well as some music will become available soon in a sort of housekeeping attempt to get the unreleased stuff out there, so we have that to look forward to. Either way, it’s a big loss for those of us who dig the retro occult rock thing since TDB were one of the absolute best bands to do it.

So for now I guess there’s nothing more to do than go back and listen to the awesome music that we’ve got from The Devil’s Blood, because everything they have done is great. That and, for my part at least, be grateful that I got to see them perform live.

RIC, The Devil’s Blood. Thanks for the truly inspiring music and live rituals, guys. You make my soul sing.

“There begins a journey long past the seventh and ever on
The yonder beckons, I can hear its roaring wail
From the starless spheres of nothing
Where the serpent lets loose its tail”

[For those of you who never got the chance to see this band perform live, enjoy this footage from Maryland Deathfest 2012]

-Hagalaz

An Observation

Posted in black metal, france, musings with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

No one seems to think Alcest is trve, and a lot of people seem to think they haven’t a smidgen of black metal any more. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer irrefutable proof that this is an incorrect assumption.

Neige was, at some point in his young life, obviously listening to Mütiilation. And, obviously, Mütiilation is like, the trvest of the trve. So there. (Also, the French black metal sound obviously draws its roots from interesting places).

Alcest is still black metal, sort of.

-Hagalaz

Concert: False/Cold Colours/SVOBODA (1/24, Minneapolis, MN, Cause)

Posted in black metal, concerts, local, underground, united states, USBM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

Thursday, Jan. 24, 2012, a wonderful thing happened. After a year and a half of trying unfruitfully, I FINALLY saw False play a live set! The show was at Cause, a venue in Uptown Minneapolis, a part of town known for its hipster population. Needless to say, a lot of us kind of looked like what the cat dragged in. The venue itself was nice, with bars in the restaurant and in the venue area. My favorite part though was the fun artwork they had all over the place and the vending machine of CDs.

One interesting observation that I had while at the show was that the Minneapolis crowd is very different from the St. Paul crowd. While the Station 4 crowd seems largely like the Des Moines crowd of death metal and grindcore enthusiasts (with some thrashers and folky folks thrown in), the crowd that showed up to the False show was comprised mostly of black metal folks. All the jackets were black, some had long sleeves, and I saw a guy in a Mütiilation shirt, as well as his friend who was wearing, I think, a Ravencult shirt. It’s like falling down the rabbit hole! I did see two members of the St. Paul crowd there, but other than me and Jamie, that was it. Very interesting indeed. I am intrigued to know who will be at the Enslaved show Monday.

The opening act was a band called SVOBODA. They describe themselves as “weighty sludge metal,” and Jamie describes them as “the ghost of Sleep. “ Both I think are pretty accurate. According to their Facebook they want to apply alchemy and shamanism to transform metal into something else. They were very good, and I’m glad that I got to see them play. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for their shows in the future. I’d love to see them again. They also had Sun 0))) cabinets, which I have learned to associate with awesomeness (Portland’s Taurus plays with them too).

[Feedback]

The second band was Cold Colours, and I wasn’t as on board with them (although the guy playing drums for them was nice). It was hard to tell what they were trying to do- at one point they seemed like they were playing thrash, then they sounded like they were playing black metal inspired stuff, at another point they sounded melo-deathish- they weren’t bad, and they seem like good musicians, but their set didn’t feel very cohesive to me. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll see them around again, so I’ll wait to formulate a real opinion.

[From a while back]

False was incredible. They played a relatively short set (only two songs, but False’s songs are rather epic in length), and it felt like it lasted only a couple of minutes. Unfortunately their lead guitarist had broken his wrist and couldn’t play, but he was there in the crowd (next to me for a while) to lend his support. False’s vocalist, for those of you who don’t know, is a petite blonde girl, and she has some powerful lungs on her. Her performance was absolutely captivating, and of course it makes me happy to see strong women in the metal scene. Another cool thing is that actually a lot of girls were there, I’m assuming inspired by her. At moments she seemed like she would cry, at others she’d jump down into the floor with the crowd- it was awesome. The entire set was tight and incredibly powerful, and I cannot wait to see them again.

[Imagine this for 30 minutes. Yup. Kvlt.]

At the merch table I picked up a copy of False’s EP (I bought the digital copy ages ago, but I hadn’t managed a physical copy yet). I plan on picking up a copy of the split with Barghest when I see them next. Another fun part of this experience is that I now have a record to play on my record player, which needs to be persuaded a bit to work and runs a little wonky, but plays the record. And I must say, False really does sound good on vinyl. The sound is a little more blended than on the digital; I imagine this must be what kvlt sounds like.

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As you can see, the vinyl itself is blacker than the blackest black times infinity.

I also picked up a t-shirt from the band. They didn’t have many sizes available (this one was only in small, and the other only in medium), but I imagine they will get more in. I intended to buy something from Cold Colours too, but by the time I’d gotten back over there they had packed up their merch. Oh well. Perhaps next time.

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All in all it was an amazing night. I found a venue that is very nice, learned that I love yet another local band, and FINALLY got to see False in the flesh. Even though their set was short, it was absolutely incredible. I cannot wait to see them again.

**

Definitely going to update this on Mondays, and I’ll shoot for Fridays too. Gotta switch things around this semester, as my schedule has shifted. Enslaved on Monday, and probably another post tomorrow or Monday, mourning the passing of another great band (RIP The Devil’s Blood).

-Hagalaz