Archive for the band spotlight Category

Band Spotlight: Arckanum (Sweden)

Posted in band spotlight, black metal, sweden, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by blackmetallurgy

A few years ago, I was in the record store and noticed that we had a copy of Arckanum’s Fenris kindir on limited red vinyl. Actually, we had three. And my first thought was, “Why are these here? Why have they not sold?” My nigh-simultaneous next thought was, “Arckanum? Is that that troll-looking guy? Why don’t I know anything about them?” So I went home and listened to me some Arckanum, and then I went back and bought that record because holy crap it’s fantastic. And then I scolded my Facebook friends and said, “You guys, there’s only 150 of these red vinyl copies in the whole world and this is a great album! Go buy it and quit embarrassing me!”

fuckoffarckanum

It also comes with a friendly message.

 

And then I became completely and utterly puzzled, because as I started perusing Arckanum’s back-catalog, I realized that literally all of it is fantastic. So why is this band overlooked in all the black metal books, etc.?! As I normally do when I get frustrated about good bands being overlooked, I’m going to write a post about it so that you know who Arckanum is beyond “that troll-looking guy” and you can tell all your friends that they’re goofballs if they don’t like it.

osmose prod

“Come along, kids, and we’ll learn about Chaos-Gnosticism and wolves together!” (Image from Osmose Productions.)

If you know Arckanum well, well, this article isn’t for you. If you don’t know Arckanum well, this is probably what you know Arckanum from:

This little cinematic gem is Shamaatae doing really serious shit in the woods; unfortunately, it’s damn near incomprehensible if you don’t get what he’s all about and it’s sort of goofy-looking, because black metal wasn’t something you filmed with fancy cameras back in 1995. There’s a lot more to Arckanum than what you see here. Although, yeah, he’s still got that getup. Still.

spirit of metal

Shamaatae in HD. (Image from Spirit of Metal.)

Arckanum grew out of Sweden in a little town of 10,000 people called Mora. Mora is an ancient place; according to Wikipedia, there are signs that humans have inhabited the area since 4000 BC. It was also the site of a famous witch trial in the 18th century, and is the home of a church that is all the rage on Google maps in terms of things to tag. Mora municipality is just south of the Swedish mountain range and the town is bordered by lake Siljan and lake Orsasjön, and it also is situated on the west side of Europe’s largest meteor impact crater. Which basically means that Mora is in the center of a metric crapton of geographical awesomeness. It’s also probably the reason why Arckanum just sort of sounds like the woods. (Info on Mora is from Wikipedia.)

Arckanum sleeve

And then you get lovely images like this one, from the Fenris kindir LP sleeve.

The band was formed in 1992 by Johan “Shamaatae” Lahger, AKA the guy in the mask, and Shamaatae has remained the one constant band member throughout the years (Wikipedia’s page on Arckanum cites Sataros and Loke Svarteld as former members). Shamaatae writes and plays all the music himself, and dedicates his albums to his wife and kids (can this guy be any more wonderful? Oh wait, he can? Keep reading.) Arckanum is also one of those bands that is fortunate to have a consistently strong catalog. Of course, as the years go along, the production gets better and Arckanum has definitely found a formula that works, but the band’s catalog is full of cool chants, trancelike passages, and interludes that are, quite frankly, just flat-out beautiful.

Arckanum’s imagery is more felt than is something you can understand through the lyrics, mostly because, in my research, I learned that the lyrics seem to be in an old Swedish dialect that most Swedes today don’t even understand, and that even Shamaatae isn’t entirely sure 100% of the time though he tries to keep it as true to form as possible (I wouldn’t have known. My Swedish is atrocious. Jag talar inte Svenska). (I did some digging and found info on this both on the Arckanum Wikipedia page and on NWN’s message boards.)

[This is apparently a modern Swedish translation. I trust that about as far as I can throw it, but then, what do I know. I don’t speak Swedish.]

In terms of the band’s sound, I once tried to describe it to a friend as “sort of like Burzum-sounding, but Swedish,” but I still feel that’s only partially right. Many of the songs have a repetitive, atmospheric quality that I associate with Burzum’s early stuff, so that’s probably why I described it that way. However, I wasn’t kidding about the Swedish part. Swedish black metal tends to be much more melodic than Norwegian black metal, no doubt because of Swedish death metal, and Arckanum is no exception. The repetition in Arckanum’s music speaks to the band’s spiritual focus- personally, I find that it feels almost like a meditation. Likewise, Arckanum uses lots of forest sounds in the music, particularly wolves howling (Shamaatae must really like wolves. Wolves and Fenrir all over the place. Which is not surprising). These samples give the music a suitably wild feel.

Which is flat out cool, by the way, and one reason I love Arckanum so much. In another true to form example of Swedish black metal versus Norwegian black metal, Arckanum is all about Satanism in a way that, we’ll use Burzum as a corollary because it seems to work, isn’t. Specifically, Arckanum’s music focuses on anti-cosmic Satanism, and did so way before Dissection and Watain made it cool. However, Shamaatae seems to put a lot of focus on Scandinavian mythology as well; “Svarti,” the first track on Antikosmos, invokes Loki, Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr, for instance. You guys know me- I get super excited about mythologies I know things about, and when you get special blends of stuff like you do with Arckanum, I get even more excited. Not to mention that Shamaatae has also done some workings with Pan, which is pretty much instantaneous I-love-you-forever points in my book.

Oh. That’s right. Maybe I didn’t mention that Shamaatae, who also goes by the names Vexior and Ekortu, is a serious practicing mage and writes books on the occult, namely anti-cosmic Satanic material, Chaos-Gnosis, and Thursatru, which links Chaos-Gnosis with Scandinavian mythos. I’m not going to spend a ton of time talking about this here because this is an article on Arckanum and not Vexior/Ekortu’s occult writings, but even more importantly, I’d like to read them myself before I blather on too much about stuff I haven’t read. Suffice it to say, however, that the man behind Arckanum is a seriously cool and interesting individual, which places him pretty much at the top of my list of people I’d love to sit and have coffee with. Or strange tea. Whichever.

In short, if you’re not familiar with Arckanum, you should be. Arckanum is much more than just that band that made a completely inexplicable video that crops up on everyone’s “silly black metal videos” list. It’s consistently good black metal, alternatively raw and atmospheric, a reminder that the Great God Pan is not dead and of the importance of the woods and the wild places that still remain.

wormgearzine

Image from Worm Gear Zine.

-Hagalaz

SLAAAAYYYYER!

Posted in band spotlight, thrash, united states with tags , , , on June 6, 2014 by blackmetallurgy

Happy Slayer Day, folks.

Because there’s never not a good excuse to listen to Slayer.

 

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

Band Spotlight: Ubi Sunt [Funeral Doom] (United States)

Posted in band spotlight, doom, featured artist, underground, united states with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by blackmetallurgy

**A note: Skip down to the bottom of the post to listen to Ubi Sunt. I’m not sure how to embed individual bandcamp songs**

This band spotlight is probably going to be a fairly short one, since there doesn’t seem to be much information out there on Ubi Sunt. But in terms of awesome new things that came out in 2012 that I missed, Ubi Sunt’s album I is one of them. Typically I like my funeral doom more European, but Ubi Sunt’s brand has a special twist.

Ubi Sunt plays traditionally sludgy, dirge-like funeral doom, only they blend it with Renaissance-era music. Their songs are based upon the compositions of Thomas Campion, a composer, poet, and physician who lived in Elizabethan/Stuart England. Also an influence is Solage, a late medieval French composer. The music from these periods is often quite simple and has stately feel, which is kind of cool considering how technically tangled a lot of extreme metal is. As a result, Ubi Sunt escapes any sort of over-complication in a way consistent with traditional doom, but presents a new way of imagining the funeral doom genre.

[After all, what’s more funeral doom than the Middle Ages?]

One aspect of doom metal that makes it so interesting to me is the way the genre incorporates both harsh and clean vocals. Ubi Sunt’s use of harsh vocals is really cool as it brings in something for the very traditional sounding music to grind against and merges these two temporally separate genres of music. I also like how the guitars and horns kind of blend together; it reminds me a little of the above Solage song, in which the vocals at times imitate stringed instruments. The same feel is being recreated in Ubi Sunt’s music, only in a different way.

[We’ve had banjos, accordions, and mouth harps- someone needs to find a way to incorporate the lute into black metal]

The name Ubi Sunt comes from a Latin phrase that means “where are those who were before us,” or “where are they?” It was a common way to start poems in the medieval period, which, of course, is referenced by the band’s music. Rather than something nostalgic, however, the phrase is intended as a comment on mortality and the brevity of life. This reference is then a very apt one for a funeral doom band, and for anything that references a period of time when plague was rampant (plague was a common problem throughout the early modern period as well as the medieval. I could go on about this all day).

Ubi Sunt has a bandcamp page where you can purchase I for a price of your choosing, and I highly encourage it. Though the album only contains four songs, those four tracks comprise over an hour worth of music. Plus, they are an up and coming band you can help out! Like with most bandcamp bands, you can listen to Ubi Sunt’s music on their page as well. Well worth a listen!

-Hagalaz

Band Spotlight: Hypothermia (Sweden)

Posted in band spotlight, black metal, DSBM, featured artist, sweden with tags , , , , , on December 2, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

Well, it’s that time of year again, in which it gets dark (at least here) at 4:30 PM, the sun is about to go away for the next three months, and everyone’s suffering from seasonal affective disorder. The perfect time of year, in other words, to listen to some DSBM.

Hypothermia from Jönköping/Gothenburg, Sweden, is pretty much perfect for winter. Started in 2001, Hypothermia’s long, drawn out, droning masterpieces perfectly suit the lethargy of the season. Hypothermia is one of the multiple projects of Kim Carlsson (along with Richard Abrams and Carl Ulvinen), probably best known for his work as () with Lifelover. Don’t be fooled though; featuring lots of clean guitars layered on distortion and comprised mostly of epic 15-20 minute long pieces, Hypothermia is a completely different flavor than the more post-rock inspired Lifelover (although I do think they complement each other well).

[From their first demo Saphien Irretable (2003). This is a shorter piece, and more up-tempo than some of the later material, but the repetitive feeling is definitely there]

One of my favorite aspects of Hypothermia’s music is the vocals, which I know I have raved about on here before. Although perhaps not the best or most listenable of vocalists, I find Kim Carlsson’s agonized shrieks and screams to be perfect for Hypothermia. They are stark and ugly and alarming, as he really does sound like he’s in a lot of pain, and alongside Hypothermia’s actually quite pretty passages, they create a really appealing dissonance. “The coldness of winter is always inside my mind,” Kim told Kaleidoscope Magazine in an interview, and for me, nothing says winter quite like tortured screams over repetitive stillness. It’s like the wind howling, but after the snow has fallen.

[Probably my favorite Hypothermia song. There’s a good range of vocal techniques in this track]

Another signature technique of Hypothermia’s music is the repetitiveness of it. In the same interview with Kaleidoscope Magazine, Kim claimed that the repetitiveness was due to the meditative state that he slips into while composing, and the music does have a kind of calmness to it. It also carries forward a long tradition in black metal of this drawn out, atmosphere-creating sound. However, as Burzum proved back in the early 90s, there is a particular way to do atmospheric successfully, and Hypothermia certainly has figured it out. Although droning and repetitive, the music contains just enough subtle shifts that it never gets boring. It is stylistically simple, but there are layers to the music as well.

[An unreleased track that was supposed to come out on a split with Woods of Infinity. One riff; fifteen minutes. I love the “accidental” tempo shifts]

Hypothermia has hours upon hours of recorded material under their belts, and most of it in the form of demos and splits (which means that I will not even be able to barely make a dent in recording it here). Though the music is plentiful and each of the releases brings something special to the table, their extensive catalogue seems to be characterized by mostly mid-tempo, repetitive tracks incorporating Kim’s signature tortured screams. That’s not to say that it is not all interesting stuff; Hypothermia just tends to stick with a certain theme.

[In my opinion, it’s great, and I’m personally happy that there is probably a couple of days’ worth of this stuff that I can listen to]

Hypothermia is also the reason why I wrote that post a while back complaining that the metal scene in the U.S. doesn’t have a good support system. They wrote on their Facebook page several months ago that they’d never tour here because of expenses, and that sucks. So, if you do like what you’ve heard here today, get thee hence to their website. I believe you may have to write them at their email address to get physical copies of things, but their prices seem more than reasonable and they take PayPal (seriously. I know I bemoan the loss of the tape trading and letter writing days a lot, but the internet makes some things really really easy. Like sending money and having PayPal convert to the correct currency for you. Oh yes). There are also a couple of downloads available on that website, including the new one, Skogens Hjärta, a 1.6 hour long epic instrumental that is absolutely lovely.

[Coffee and Blood. Sounds like grad school! (I wish I was joking. But seriously. This is awesome. Admit it)]

Also on their website are links to images of Kim’s artwork, some of which can be purchased in prints (and there are even some originals available). The man really is a genius. So get excited, because there is A LOT more where this has come from, and if you like the music, please please please support the band. They are pretty far underground, and they make a lot of their shirts, cassette labels, etc., so clearly they put a lot of time and care into everything they do.

[One more! This one is a demo version]

Happy Winter, everyone. Black metal season is upon us again.

-Hagalaz