Monday, April 28, 2014

Nebelung - Palingenesis

Genre : Mostly instrumental neofolk
Release : February 18th 2014 on Temple of Torturous.

As the time flies, I find it harder and harder to find good neofolk releases. Actually, I often enjoy neofolk tracks from folk black metal albums more than raw neofolk ones. However, when I realized Nebelung were about to release a new album six years after their last release, Vigil, I was immediately hooked, as they quite recently participated to Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer and Whom the moon a nightsong sings (2010) with two excellent tracks : 'Graue Nacht' and 'Ich würd es hören'.

On both the aforementioned tracks and previous releases, Nebelung used to incorporate german lyrics through deep male vocals, with more or less success from track to track ('Graue Nacht' being amazing in every possible way, though). However, a big change from their previous works is the instrumental direction of Palingenesis. Well, mostly instrumental to be precise, as there still are some whispered words on 'Mittwinter' and 'Polaris', but they're definitely not what you hear first. What you actually hear first is straight clean guitars and cello neofolk. Yeah, simple as that, even though it wouldn't be that great with so few things. Quietly moving behind the main instruments, there are some harmoniums, harps, chimes, bells, drums, whispered words and more. To put in a nut shell, Nebelung creates big arrangements while keeping the essence of neofolk's minimalism. A great work if you ask me, and this 50 minutes long new album doesn't sound boring a single second, which is often an issue within the genre. It actually flows slowly, quietly, with clever composition and warm, beautiful melodies. That new release also shines with autumnal melancholy, it even surpasses most of the neofolk releases for that case. And more than sounds, Palingenesis really is a painting : a picture of a autumnal wood, with its yellow to red leaves and its evening sunrays. Or a picture of a winter forest covered with fog. Or whatever else you think which fits its soothing, enchanting atmospheres. Nebelung really evokes what the genre is all about.

Giving Palingenesis a clap isn't enough to praise its greatness. Nebelung successfully crafted a perfect neofolk album with all the essence and mood it needs. An album not to listen in a rush, but to relax with. Melancholic cellos, peaceful guitars, quiet melodies and serene pictures are everything you need for a stunning neofolk release but this minimalistic recipe isn't an easy thing to arrange either, and that's why Nebelung can be acclaimed for completely mastering it with this third album. Kudos, masters!

Personal highlights : Mittwinter, Wandlung.
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The great old ones - Tekeli-li

Genre : Post-black metal
Release : April 16th 2014 on Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions.

Being both french and Lovecraft-lover, just like The great old ones, I couldn't miss their new boxset including new album Tekeli-li and novel Mountains of Madness, from which the new album takes its inspiration and essence. What could have been a better deal, as I never read this one before? I quickly started to dig it while listening to Tekeli-li only, for more immersion regarding that clever association. And I'm happy I did so. Now I can tell you more about the actual album, while you hit the play button of the embed stream above, as usual in the new reviews.

Needless to say there's far more to speak about that the mere music, be it artwork, concept, related items. The overall work, as such, is impressive way before you hit the play button. And when you do, it still is. Tekeli-li kicks in with ambient guitars and a french narrative part, dealing with the novel events. Later on and all along the tracks, there are others low-tempo breaks for some more narrations, always with the same deep male voice, perfectly fitting that role. Those parts surely builds a coherent atmosphere and helps keeping the album really close to the book, although they will probably make less sense for non-french speakers. Musically speaking, The great old ones uses most of the elements they used on their first album, Al Azif, with the same success : be it the anguished vocals, the shrieking guitars or the oppressing and clever mix, which makes everything sound clear despite the number of instruments and their aggressivity. Band's trademark surely is their huge and impressively strong walls of sound, but more than the actual music, the horror feeling perfectly fits the Lovecraftian influences, even though a wider use of dark ambient parts would surely have pleased me for that case. But it's a very personal opinion. Yet, tempo changes quite a lot throughout Tekeli-li, and not only for the narrative breaks : from the solid doom metal played at the beginning of 'Awakening' to the intense, fast-paced drumming on the instrumental track 'The ascend', least I can say is that this new album is as powerful as versatile.

Although obviously minimalistic in its essence, Tekeli-li is an impressive record, successfully creating a strong atmosphere while mostly sticking to the basic instrumentation. A couple piano and violin lines can be heard at some points, but they're not prominent, neither are any acoustic parts by the way, as this release is definitely more metal than anything else. However, those slow-tempo moments definitely add the needed layers to the record. Just as cold and despaired as Antarctica is, the six tracks surely fit Mountains of Madness with their special atmosphere, and they're also using songtitles easy to associate with the novel events. But even if you're not into books, this album will be amazing in itself. « Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li! ».

Personal highlights : Awakening, The ascend.
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp, Bigcartel.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Clad in darkness - Decathect

Genre : Post-black metal
Release : December 14th 2013.

First of all, I'd like to personally thank John, one of the guitarists, for giving me a physical copy of this release. That single fact was enough for me to give some of my spare time to review Decathect. However, his kindness is not the single reason which led me to this article, as the album in question is for sure among the ones you should check if you haven't already. Let's dig a bit more what is for sure a consistent and well-thought concept album.

Yeah, although not obvious, Decathect is a concept album, based upon novel Ethan Frome from american writer Edith Wharton. As usual in such cases, I try to dig the related works together. I'm not here to review the novel, but the album successfully reminds of Ethan Frome's melancholy, indeed. Playing black metal with strong post-rock influences, Clad in darkness adds a strong emotional charge to their music. Be it through their vocals, perfectly arranged throughout the seven tracks, even though they sometimes feel like they could have been more heart-breaking and passionate. Not to say they're bad, they're actually great, and not a major part of the record anyway, as most of it is instrumental in the end. To my ears, both the real strengths of Decathect are drums and non-metal parts. Drums? I'm not sure why, but they're really catchy and intense here. Probably thanks to a very clear production and to clever songwriting, they shine all along the album and bear no monotony, as heard when they kick-in on 'Unrest'. Non-metal parts? It'd be a bit wrong to call them "acoustic", as guitars draw many influences from other scenes, my personal favorite parts being the Dire Straits-like riffs from 1:30 on 'Revelries & silence' or the intense, aerial, poetic post-rockish guitars on 'Unrest', again. Those influences are surely not the only ones : obvious progressive, blues, jazzy parts help building a delicate and versatile record.

If Decathect needed a special tag outside of the usual ones, I'd definitely call this "poetic black metal', as the overall atmosphere, helped by the many slow-tempo interludes, is definitely what you can call poetic. And when black metal kicks in, the coherence created between melancholy and rage is stunning. Clad in darkness surely shines in their songwriting, and with clever chilling moments not using the usual folkish patterns still not using lots of black metal either, they created a rare and successful recipe with Decathect.

Personal highlights : Revelries & silence, Unrest.
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp, Bigcartel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jakob - Solace

Genre : Instrumental post-rock / Drone
Release : September 11th 2006.

Jakob holds a special place when it comes to so-called "ethereal soundscapes". They're for sure my favorite post-rock outlet at the moment. Solace is their last release, even though it's been out long ago, in 2006. There's a new album to come in 2014, which title hasn't been revealed yet. Needless to say I'm eager for it, but at the moment, I keep on playing this one, and that's definitely not a bad thing.

Words are hard to find to describe such an album, and post-rock is even more difficult to put into words than other genres. However, what still amazes me in Jakob's playing style are the sounds Jeff is able to create with his guitar and of course, his impressive pedalboard. Ambient sounds thus created are different from track to track but most of the time, they sound closer to synths than actual guitars, while keeping the warmness of strings. Definitely not something you can express with words, check out 'Saint' in the playlist above if you want a taste of this. Apart from those stunning sounds, Jakob uses more drone-esque guitars, as heard on 'Oran Mor', and those more aggressive parts are cleverly placed to break any excess of monotony. Bass lines are powerful and perfectly balanced in the mix. Again, you can check out 'Pneumonic' to hear its loudness/goodness. Drums are mostly moving along with the strings but with technicity and intensity. Solace is a great album as a whole too : the balance between chillout parts and punchier ones is well found and let those intense moments express all their potential.

Jakob's most recent output is surely something hard to describe with words. Instrumental albums are obviously something which doesn't need any words to express their contents, and all I can say as a conclusion is to listen carefully to this masterpiece. It's not something you will just play as a background, it's not music meant to be only "heard" even if its atmospheric mood makes it fine for that role. This album deserves a real listen. Did I say one real listen? I meant many.

Personal highlights : Everything all of the time, Saint.
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp, Webshop.

Other reviews from Jakob:
   - Cale:Drew
   - Subsets of sets

Vindensång - Alpha

Genre : Atmospheric black metal / Ambient
Release : February 4th 2014.

Here is something you may have missed on the beginning of 2014 : Vindensång's second release, Alpha. However, it's not too late to check this album out, and you should do so. If you already listened to the band, it's probably with their first full length, Terminus : Rebirth in eight parts​.​.​. which has been reviewed on this blog already (although it's an old review which may be reworked with the new model in a near future). That first full-length was for sure something difficult to tag and to apprehend... to say the least, it wasn't an easy listening. Alpha is much more accessible, closer to the standards, without loosing Vindensång's very essence. This is definitely a good point and a step forward.

Blending as much ambient as metal, this album is some of the softest black metal I've ever heard. It's up to you of course, but if you enjoy atmospheric black metal mostly for its atmospheric tag, Alpha could be your next album to buy. Drawing inspiration from the oceanic theme, the least I can say is that Vindensång has been successfully putting pictures into sounds. Yes, Alpha definitely sounds aquatic. It sounds like a calm sea on ambient interludes or the superb outro, 'Water-bearer'. It sounds like a raging ocean when it goes metal, on the end of 'Lights of the abyss' for example, however it's always done a smooth and delicate way. Probably thanks to a very thought-over production, there's not a second of real aggressivity throughout the album. Vocals are ranging from whispers to quite classic black metal ones, but are mostly both at the same time, as heard on 'Within the womb of creation'. Guitars are actually more post-rockish than metal, and drums are mostly soft. If you're into endless blastbeating, you will be disappointed here, but that's definitely not what Alpha is about. It's more about ambient sounds, which are incredibly well-arranged as they successfully give their sense and essence while being very minimalistic.

Successfully merging all the aforementioned elements, 'Within the womb of creation' could be your starting point with this album. At least, you shouldn't drop Alpha before listening to that 19 minutes masterpiece, moving from relaxing ambient parts to peaceful yet powerful black metal (yeah, it makes sense!), all with a clever songwriting. Unusual and inspiring, Vindensång's second release surely is something to add to your discography if you're into contemplative, meditative atmospheric black metal and coherent, well-thought concept albums.

Personal highlights : Within the womb of creation, Water-bearer.
Links : Facebook, Bandcamp, Bigcartel.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Falls of Rauros / Panopticon - Split

Genre : Folk black metal / Black metal
Release : April 19th 2014 on Bindrune Recordings.

Usually, I'm not much into splits. But when you see two of the finest american black metal bands making a collaborative album, you know you've got to check it. And so I did. More Falls of Rauros tracks were especially welcome as I completely love their last full-length. Same for Panopticon actually : Kentucky is one of those releases I keep coming back to. However, if Falls of Rauros kept the direction heard in The light that dwells in rotten wood, Panopticon returns to its basics with much rawer and somehow old school norwegian black metal, which is obviously a big influence for Austin Lunn, who spent some years in Norway. Let's dig this a little more.

There are two Falls of Rauros tracks, which open that split for roughly 19 minutes. Quickly enough, their trademark kicks in with those somehow vintage, almost rock sounding guitars. Oh sir, how good those are! Right from the beginning, the welcoming riff of 'Unavailing' grasps you and doesn't let go, as you can hear just above. Clever songwriting shines throughout both their tracks, with powerful riffs sharing the place along many acoustic parts, mostly using clean guitars. Vocals are raging, powerful, never intrusive either. And when they get clean, you really know it's american folk. Drums are balanced, moving from slow tempos to smooth, yet powerful blastbeating. Folk black metal the way it should be. If you ask me, there's not a second to throw away on their work for the split, and it probably makes me even more eager for their next full-length Believe in no coming shore, due for release in the next months.

As said before, Panopticon's side is definitely not in the same vein. Forget about the clean guitars, forget about the new trend of folk/post black metal and let's go back to the basics : Norway in the 90's. Much rawer, the last four tracks, clocking for around 24 minutes are nonetheless clever and well-executed. However, knowing Panopticon's work, and having two american folk black metal bands, I think it would have been a more coherent split if Austin tried to make something closer to his recent works and to Falls of Rauros' one. Not that the tracks are bad, even though they're not my typical kind of metal. Actually, they're even pretty good as I quickly enjoyed them while not a fan of the genre! Don't expect any kind of acoustic parts here, drums are much more blastbeating and clean vocals are not part of the deal. Yet, guitars shine with musicality all along the tracks, which actually quickly get catchy. Vocals are way more aggressive, less despaired than in the first two tracks, yet perfectly balanced in the mix. Rhythm breaks prevents from any monotony and successfully keep tracks incredibly intense.

This split is something not to miss if you enjoy both the bands, which is probably the case considering the quality of their works and the solid popularity they keep gaining. Every side is a success, but somehow sadly, it keeps the trend of many other splits with both bands making excellent works individually but probably too different ones. As it's meant to be listened to as a whole album, two different atmospheres makes you wonder about the right mood to listen to it. If it's just about listening to awesome black metal, then you're going in the right direction. However, if you're more into folkish stuff, second half may not be your cup of tea, as well as the first one if you're instead looking for something darker and punchier. Considering how fine Panopticon is when coming to american folk parts, it's with some regret that I welcome this nonetheless excellent split, yet not featuring any acoustic elements from Austin.

Personal highlight : Unavailing.
Falls of Rauros links : Facebook, BandcampBigcartel.
Panopticon links : Facebook, BandcampBigcartel.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Emyn Muil - Túrin turambar dagnir glaurunga

Genre : Atmospheric black metal
Release : February 14th 2014 on Northern Silence Productions.

I'm usually not much into bands' comparisons, you know. But speaking about Emyn Muil without evoking Summoning a little second would be pretty dumb. Yes, Emyn Muil really follows the path of the mostly acclaimed austrian duet, but follows it in the right direction. So make your choice : either you're looking for something similar to Summoning because they're obviously going to split-up quite soon and Túrin turambar dagnir glaurunga will be a good pick, either you call it a rip-off and you can move to something else.

I'll pick the first option, because if Emyn Muil re-uses midi-like melodies, synthesized drums, shrieking vocals and walls of sounds, it's really well-crafted and worth being acclaimed, as it's a success where many others failed. Indeed, the main issue of that epic black metal genre is the lack of epicness (hence its name) and on my side, I tend to think it is quite linked to the songwriting of synths. Either you find the right tunes and it becomes easy to add the necessary layers to make it good, either you can't make anything catchy and your attempt is lost. Good point for Emyn Muil, synths melodies and drum patterns are the first things which strike with goodness here. Once you feel good on that side, you usually hope for vocals to be fine also. Not only the black metal ones strike with coherence and good production, but the various kinds of cleans (be it choirs, whispers,...) fit this album very well. Single thing I could quickly blame is the length of the songs. Being often too short, you're taken out of the mood as soon as you get into it. Good example of this problem would be 'Arise in Gondolin', which sounds awesome and ends way too fast. Bad point as epicness is, for most listeners, related to longer songs. But the album as a whole, clocking for some 50 minutes, is just as long as you would want it to. As there are no real letdowns either, it remains intense and pleasant for its whole playing time, and easily leads you to hit the replay button.

It's actually quite stunning how Emyn Muil cleverly follows the path of his masters and once again, it's up to you to give a clap to Túrin turambar dagnir glaurunga for its quality or to blame it for its obvious influences. Call it lack of creativity if you want, it probably is in terms of musical genre, but definitely not in terms of songwriting. And seriously, if you enjoyed what was good and faded away with years, why not following what successfully rose from its ashes? Túrin turambar dagnir glaurunga is great in itself and as such, deserves the associated praise.

Personal highlights : Arise in Gondolin, Path of the doomed.
Link : Facebook.

Encircling sea - A forgotten land

Genre : Folk black metal / Sludge
Release : December 21th 2012 on Natural World Records.

Although not a new record, A forgotten land didn't get the recognition it deserves, neither did it express all its musicality and melancholy to enough ears. As such, it appears like I need to make a quick turn back in late December 2012 to speak about this phenomenal record. But first, let's drop a quick word about the whole band : this time it's not a one-man project but a four-piece one, often playing live around their hometown, Melbourne (Australia). Australian's black metal has been quickly growing with impressive acts lately, be it Austere, Woods of desolation, Germ, Midnight odyssey... and Encircling sea definitely belongs to that list. A forgotten land is the last release from the band, who started with sludgier sounds, slowly moving towards black metal with every release.

Being the third on the list, A forgotten land equally mixes black metal and sludge but doesn't stick to those two genres only. Roughly said, it would be better described as sludge's loudness and power added to black metal's intensity with some neofolk melancholy. Wait, loudness, power, intensity, melancholy? Those are the keys of one hell of a record if you ask me. And this one definitely is. Yet there's one big word to add to that already impressive list : maturity. Moving with rage, sincere pain and a huge lot of melancholy, A forgotten land appears like a very cohesive concept album, dealing with the meaning of home all over its four tracks, and how it feels to be taken apart from where you belong. Lyrics make a lot of sense, but wouldn't be enough if the rest didn't. Yet it definitely does. Vocals are powerful and emotional enough to blast any dedicated listener away for a full hour, rhythm elements (be it bass, guitars or drums) contribute together and are better heard as a whole, huge wall of sound. Last but not least, acoustic parts are solid and catchy while sticking to the basics (clean guitars, a couple violin lines), and incredibly well integrated. On the four tracks, the shorter one, 'Become' (still clocking more than 10 minutes) is almost straight neofolk, with only a couple plugged-in guitars kicking in around the end of the song. Also, this most welcomed break is a very nice duet of male and female clean vocals cleverly speaking with each other, giving even more sense to lyrics. Yes, there are clean vocals, and so it is on the three more aggressive tracks. But they're definitely well-integrated as they add to the overall melancholy, being ethereal and deep all the time. Female cleans on the second half of 'Transcend' really illustrate that success, so does male cleans in the middle of 'Return' : they constructively build something deeper and more intense. Be sure to use the player above to check the awesomeness out.

Nearing 70 minutes of playing time, A forgotten land was often seen a long and repetitive record. Probably it is, but what would be melancholy if not long and repetitive? Drawing its songwriting from its very essence, this record is definitely among the ones which make most sense to my ears, and has a special places in my all-time favorites. Even it's repetitive side has to be well-considered, as it's cleverly crafted : I can't help but thinking that every part, even if more than a couple minutes long, is strong enough to be listened to with pleasure. In the end, there's no album that could replace this one in my heart, and that's probably why I keep going back to it, loving it more and more with every listen. Of course, its theme may or may not speak to you, but musically speaking, it will still be a gem.

Personal highlights : Transcend, Return.
Links : Facebook, BandcampBigcartel.

Other reviews from Encircling sea:
   - Écru

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saor - Aura

Genre : Folk black metal
Release : June 6th 2014 on Northern Silence Productions.

Hi everybody out there, it's been a while! You may probably wonder why the blog was put to rest but also why things are moving again around here. And the reason is precisely this : Saor - Aura. It's with incredible honor that I've been allowed to review, two months before its release, the successor of my "album of the year 2013". Roots was an impressive debut album from Saor, called Àrsaidh by that time. Andy, the mastermind and sole member behind this project, took profit of being alone to deliver his personal vision of scottish influenced atmospheric black metal without any interference, making it both true and coherent. It was a blast, and quickly enough, he returns for the second step of what is becoming a reference in the genre.

Aura comes in with a couple changes, the main one being Austin Lunn from Panopticon placing himself behind the drums. If you weren't told about it, you would quickly guess if you know about him, as his trademark is definitely part of that new record. As such, you can expect some impressive drumming, and not only technically : drums really follow the mood of the songs in Aura, being crushing and dynamic with riffs, mostly blastbeating behind vocals, and lighter along atmospheric parts. Riffs? They hold a big part of the record, which could in the end be summed up by a rough half of scottish elements, and an other half of dynamic guitars. Of course, Aura cannot be well described such a quick way, what I mean is there's no letdown in any track : Andy keeps things melodic all the time, be it on the atmospheric side or on the metal one. A good example of this trend would be the title track, 'Aura', which has little vocals over its 13 minutes, and successfully stays catchy with riffs and flutes sharing the place all along. Atmospheric parts really got the scottish trademark here, with flutes being the main instrument used all along the record for that job, but not the only one : pianos, bagpipes or violins are fairly present and help building the incredible atmosphere of the record. On top of that, vocals deserve consideration : not only Andy's growls really make sense by being atmospheric, desperate and aggressive at once (yeah, all that!), but he added various kinds of pretty cleans along that, and they do make sense too! Such choirs were definitely unexpected even though there were a couple hints on Roots, especially on 'The awakening' where they're really church-like if taken on their own. I know this "church" word may bug some of you, but stay confident into Andy's songwriting skills, they fit the record absolutely well. Other choirs are used throughout the record, on 'Farewell' for example, which remind more of what was on Roots.

Aura shines with coherence, dynamism, and incredible songwriting. Musically, for what has been said before and many other reasons which are only meant to be listened to, but also conceptually, as there's an obvious feeling of nature, despair and scottish traditions all along the five tracks. Where Roots was an awesome record, Aura is nothing less. Although appreciations may vary on first listens, it's definitely the follower Roots was calling for, and Saor is quickly building a coherent and impressive discography. Let's just hope there's more to come from Andy, who definitely holds a place among the best atmospheric/folk black metal composers of today.

Personal highlights : Aura, Farewell.
Links : Facebook, BandcampBigcartel.