Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Clouds - Doliu

Genre : Funeral doom metal
Release : May 27th 2014 on Domestic Genocide Records.

Hey hey, something really new, not only because it's been out precisely today, but also because it's the first doom metal review on Ethereal Soundscapes. Doom metal has been a part of my musical horizon for far longer than black metal actually, and I kind of dropped it when I realized that digging funeral doom always meant landing on the same tunes, the same tempos, and allow me, the same boredom. I didn't have much faith into looking for new funeral doom bands anymore. And today, my bandcamp newsletter told me Clouds released their new album, Doliu. Clouds? I remembered giving this a listen a while ago, and although I couldn't recall how it did sound, I was pretty sure it sounded good. As I recently started to look for new good doom metal again, I decided to hit the play button on Bandcamp. Wow. I found it, my new good doom metal.

But why was Doliu incredibly enjoyable compared to many others which got me bored in seconds? I think that the clean vocals of the very first track were something I didn't expect, and which got me hooked quickly. Incredibly good vocals if you ask me : if there's something I lost faith into with years, it's indeed good, deep, sorrowful male clean vocals. Middle part of 'If these walls could speak' will probably show you what I mean. That precise part also demonstrates other elements : deep harsh vocals, typical of the doom genre, mixed into the clean ones. Blasting. What, a long and mature guitar solo? Yeah, nothing to do with a power metal solo, this one really makes sense and carries real emotions. But what's most present in Clouds' first album is the piano, building layers of melancholy through high reverb and slow tempo. The songwriting here is stunning, because pianos successfully stay minimalistic while really emotional. A good example of it would be the first five minutes of 'A glimpse of sorrow', even though the reverb here is not as high as in 'If these walls could speak'. Another uncommon thing would be the post-rockish tunes at the beginnings of both 'The deep, vast emptiness' and 'Even if I fall'. Well, you got it, all those elements are what makes Clouds a very promising funeral doom band. Because if their bare doom parts are quite common in their composition, they're nonetheless really well integrated and short enough to keep making sense. Also, even if their raw doom parts are quite common in essence, they're especially well mixed and the slow guitar cries behind them, as seen around the end of 'A glimpse of sorrow' again, make them just... captivating. What I mean is, yeah, slow tempos, heavy tuned down guitars and low-pitched harsh vocals are surely the basics of funeral doom, but by no means it should take the whole 15 minutes of a single song with the same repeated patterns, and this all over the 5 songs of an album. Doliu is nothing like that. Doliu is rich, intense and deep. Doliu is an album you really listen to, moving from part to part with associated emotions.

Clouds didn't change the bones of funeral doom, they just added flesh on top of them. And such delicate one..! While adding more elements like melancholic pianos, intense clean vocals or excellent guitar riffs & solos, they successfully broadened their musical horizon and avoid themselves falling into the usual funeral boredom. Also, they do not limit themselves in terms of genre and surely open their following discography to many other great tracks. Doliu sounds so mature it's hard to believe it's only their debut album... even though some members are known for playing in other bands, such as Jarno in Shape of despair. Let's just hope they'll keep sticking together and going in that direction to build themselves a name amongst the references in the genre. They surely deserve it.

Personal highlights : If these walls could speak, A glimpse of sorrow.
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Encircling sea - Écru

Genre : Post-black metal / Sludge
Release : June 26th 2010 on An Out Recordings.

You probably understood I'm especially loving Encircling sea from my review of A forgotten land, their last album, released late 2012. Well, let's go back in time once more to dig this 1-track album, Écru. Before anything else, quick reminder : you can play the track right here and even download it for free, like any other Encircling sea's album. Good guys you say? Awesome ones I say. Now back to my review. Usually, I'm quite reluctant to check out 1-track albums, you know. I'm often thinking they're slow to start, that they have mostly boring unending intros... Not that I dislike ambient music, or this blog wouldn't exist anyway, it's just that most of those long tracks are artificially built up with many wasted minutes just to make them long. Well, it depends on the state of mind you're on, I guess : full atmospheric tracks can also hit a certain spot if you're in the right mood.

However, Écru starts especially quickly for such a kind of track. The first 3 minutes are enough for you to get a full palette of the sounds it features : cold ambient guitars, post-rocking tremolos, sludgy atmospheres, raging black metal... Obviously, the track quickly grasps the listener, and it doesn't let go. Still, by that time, black metal was not a major part of Encircling sea's performance, and after a 3 minutes more blast, Écru returns with its main atmosphere : heavily delayed, sludgy, almost droning guitars, with slow, crushing drumming. Yeah, if you're here hoping for 37 minutes of straight black metal, you can already stop your listen and go back to something else or you'll quickly get disappointed. Less black metal than on A forgotten land for sure, and no acoustic folk parts either, but the ethereal female vocals by Ramanee, Rob's wife, are already striking with their beauty and perfectly fit the track. Not for long though, and the track gets more and more instrumental as time flies, the last third having no vocals at all. Few black metal, not a hint of folk and no vocals? Yes, but Écru is nonetheless a masterpiece when it comes to atmosphere. Instead of nature and wild, wide open spaces, there's a more claustrophobic tune in this track, something I'd call far darker and gloomier. Those vibrating guitars, echoing in the night, from around 12 minutes or 24 minutes,  are your atmospheric parts here. Such ones, although really minimalistic, are perfectly integrated and help making a 37 minutes long track a success if you ask me. Écru is wavering all the time, not only in its playing style with its strong guitars' delays, but also in its songwriting, with its perfect balance between aggressivity, darkness, melancholy and contemplation. Of course, you don't have to be in a hurry to get the whole thing and appreciate it, it's still one huge track with long parts close-minded people will call "boring".

I can easily see Écru split into three tracks at time marks 11:38 and 24:40. First one would be your most traditional part, with a good punch of black metal to knock you down. Second one would be your coma and the embracing darkness. As for the third, it'd be the slow return to consciousness. Maybe it would make Écru an easier listen, but seeing how Rob Allen tends to work, I'm not sure it was intended to be one, nor it will ever be. And that's probably even better this way, as Encircling sea's music is more about conceptual songwriting and thinkful atmospheres. As for Écru, it's still my favorite listen at sunset. Listening to it without switching any lights on and slowly going towards darkness is truly a moving experience. But anycase, listening to it as it is already is a moving experience.

Links : Facebook, BandcampBigcartel.

Other reviews from Encircling sea:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fauna - Avifauna

Genre : Folk black metal
Release : December 21st 2012.

If you're like me, always digging more underground folk black metal bands, you probably already know about Fauna. Hopefully you don't yet, that would help Ethereal Soundscapes making more sense! Fauna is one of those american folk black metal acts which you can call "cascadian" if you feel like it, although this tag is less and less constructive as many bands outside from the Cascade Range are playing the same kind of sound, nowadays.

But enough said about tags, what's interesting here is music. If the elements used in Avifauna are nothing unusual, they're at least perfectly blended together. Songs are especially long and every part inside them is, too. Black metal parts are typically atmospheric, with guitars, drums and bass lines melting into each other to create a huge, unbreakable wall of sound. Add well-placed vocals into this and that's a successful craft of bleak, deep, somehow depressive black metal. Yet, Fauna is not a depressive black act, as their also long acoustic interludes wouldn't fit that genre. Bearing a strong american folk essence, they're mostly composed of clean guitars, cellos, and various kinds of percussions. What's striking me the most in those parts are actually the well-maintained level of gloominess and melancholy. It's definitely folk for the rainy days, minimalistic yet beautiful sounds. Minimalistic doesn't mean poor, however : with few elements, Fauna creates a rich, catchy and deep sound in any of those parts, be they short or long. Well, short isn't often the case here, but again, Avifauna isn't something you listen to in a hurry. For example, 'Soaring into Earth' start with such dark folk for 8 minutes, which is more than most songs in the genre. Yet there's nothing in this intro which makes you want to skip to the next part. It's well done as it is. I mean, technically, there's nothing to worry about : be it black metal or folk, both the guys behind these tunes know what they do, and they do it well. Not only black metal or folk, by the way, as some parts such as the end of 'The harpy' can't be categorized such quickly. Add a precise, clean enough production, and everything shines at its best.

Somehow, as it gets longer and longer in every song, this album is not your intense, straitforward, easy-listening black metal. Avifauna is all about despair and melancholy with a strong folk influence and nature-bound presence. However, the more you dig it, the more you realize it's a beautifully crafted piece, with no monotony else than wanted by the artists themselves. Also, if you're already into Fauna's side acts, such as Echtra or Fearthainne, this album will surely make sense, as it gathers many elements of them both while sublimating them with a coherent and clever songwriting.

Personal highlights : Soaring into Earth, The harpy.
Links : Bandcamp, Webshop.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Waldgeflüster - Meine Fesseln

Genre : Folk black metal
Release : January 4th 2014.

I feel a bit shameful for not adding that album here before. It's been a while since I support Waldgeflüster now. And Winterherz, mastermind behind this folk black metal project, recently released his third full-length. If you're familiar with what was on the first two, Herbstklagen and Femundsmarka : Eine Reise in drei Kapiteln, Meine Fesseln (german for My chains) is obviously a good pick. The very essence of Waldgeflüster is still here and even stronger than before, be it in terms of music, lyrics, thematics...

Yeah, music follows the same patterns as his previous works : no huge walls of sound here, rather a incredibly melodic guitar backline. Melodic for sure, sometimes too much on first listen : guitar solo at the beginning of 'Der Nebel' on top of the riffing background guitars gives a strange feeling. But once you get used to this non-stop use of melodies, Meine Fesseln shines with its guitars. They're also the main piece of the acoustic parts, even though not the only one, as the guestlist counts Austin Lunn from Panopticon playing mandolin or Janne Väätäinen of Haïve for some kantele, among others... Probably because of the gear used and Winterherz's playing style, I deeply love his acoustic parts. I actually love his guitar use, be it the melodic backgrounds, the crying guitars heard on 'Wie eine Weide im Wind' chorus, the acoustic magnificence of any track introduction, as they mostly start softly, which I consider a good thing. I don't like to feel harmed by the beginning of a track, even as a black metal lover. Well, Meine Fesseln definitely is a guitar-oriented album. But alone, they wouldn't be enough to create the whole stuff of course, so what about the other elements? Drums are a little quiet in the mix, but carry the music well, moving along the mood with slower and faster tempos when needed. And that's what the album needs, as it often switches between slow melancholy and raging black metal. As for vocals, they're equally split between powerful black metal ones and somehow wild, honest cleans, which are often used as male duets. Well, clean and unclean vocals are actually used together most of the time singing the same part, and that's one hell of a success too, as it feels so intense and natural. Vocals are definitely a strength of Waldgeflüster too, as their rawness surely fits the album atmosphere. Honest, yeah. In my opinion, that's the best word to describe them.

Once again, all those elements will be quite familiar for who already knows Waldgeflüster's own style. Yeah, instead of playing your usual black metal, Winterherz created a project with a strong personal identity. Through its music, because non-happy/pagan folk black metal may have become more popular, yet Meine Fesseln gives it a different approach, definitely. Through its lyrics too, although my german would need one hell of a boost to get it completely (which I'd love, for that case). Even though not getting the whole thing precisely, the recurrent use of nature themes and its own melancholy is strong enough to be obvious, and the amazing cover art which perfectly fits the album title. Winterherz recently asked on his Facebook page what were our own chains to this world. At least, Waldgeflüster is one of mine, it seriously makes my time on Earth a little better.

Personal highlights : Wie eine Weide im Wind, Trauerweide (Teile I & II).
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp.