DARK FUNERAL – Where Shadows Forever Reign

Dark Funeral - Where Shadows Forever ReignThe Ineffable Kings of Darkness make a monumental return with one of the best albums of their career.  Absolutely no disrespect to the excellent, previous two albums, Attera Totus Sanctus and Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus, but Where Shadows Forever Reign is on another level and unequivocal proof that DARK FUNERAL is only getting better with time.

It was not easy to replace one of the greatest vocalists in extreme metal history in Emperor Magnus Caligula as evidenced by the short stint with vocalist Nachtgarm.  However, Heljarmadr perfectly steps into the position.  His most distinctive characteristic may be his clear enunciation of each word ala David Vincent, which brings greater communication to the great lyrics.

Where Shadows Forever Reign takes the classic DARK FUNERAL sound of pure darkness, unrelenting speed, and those fantastic melodies, and expands on it with a grander presentation, the most diverse songs of any previous album, and more soul.  The songwriting is masterful in that there is always a perfect transition between song sections or a build up of a riffing theme within each song.

As I Ascend” is a perfect example of the band’s growth as songwriters.  This slow, brooding song is easily the most soulful song of DARK FUNERAL‘s catalogue.  It perfectly embodies the journey and triumph of overcoming struggle and dark times in life.  “Temple of Ahriman” is another doomy song that works well to create the blackest atmosphere.

In a coincidental way, DARK FUNERAL also fills a void left by the mighty DISSECTION in that the melancholic and epic melodies on Where Shadows Forever Reign are reminiscent of the latter’s first two albums.  Let’s also give praise to the excellent cover artwork by Necrolord.  Another instant classic.

In a time where most of the Sweden’s black metal bands have disbanded or compromised their sound, the importance and relevance of Where Shadows Forever Reign cannot be understated.  Long may DARK FUNERAL carry the torch. (Century Media Records)

THE WRETCHED END – In These Woods, From These Mountains

The Wretched End - In these Woods From these MountainsAs the years go by, the original torch bearers of the legendary Norwegian black metal scene travel further down their own unique music journeys.  While the spirit, soul, and creativity will always remain intact, the darkness, extremity, and sheer sonic force has often been left in the past.  However, THE WRETCHED END continue to redefine and progress not just what extreme metal is but also what Norwegian black metal is in 2016.  The Scandinavian super group, featuring Samoth (EMPEROR, ZYKLON, SCUM), Cosmo (MINDGRINDER, SCUM), and Nils Fjellström (DARK FUNERAL, IN BATTLE) have released an ambitious and progressive work that considerably widens the scope of their music.

In These Woods, From These Mountains is arguably the band’s best album to date.  The brutal thrash dimension from debut, Ominous, is minimal, and the death metal dimension found through the first two albums are largely secondary.  It is decidedly their blackest and most atmospheric to date.  There is an emphasis on using just as much clean guitar tone-riffs to create eerie, desolate atmospheres as there are on distorted ones.  Many of the clean guitar-tone riffs could easily fit into a SLOWDIVE or MY BLOODY VALENTINE album.  Samoth and Cosmo have also focused on creating melancholic melodies that come in at the perfect junctions.  In contrast to Ominous and Inroads, the riffing and song structures have more breathing room.  It’s less of a barrage of eighth and sixteenth notes and more about longer notes.  As a result, Dominator‘s drumming becomes more crucial in providing the backbone, which he does to brilliant effect.  Few extreme metal drummers have totally mastered the art of the ride cymbal like he has.

Other interesting aspects of In These Woods, From These Mountains that should not be overlooked are the use of keyboards, samples, and Cosmo‘s clean vocals.  He has done fantastic work with WINDIR contributing clean vocals.  And while his clean vocals here aren’t as prominent, it’s a welcome new dimension.

Every song provides a different look and highlights can be found all over.  And within each song is a full range of dynamics and dimension in play.  The nuances in artistry can fully be appreciated after successive listens.  So much ground is covered.  Comparisons to EMPEROR‘s IX Equilibrium come to mind.

Opener, “Dead Icons,” begins with a cold drum march before bursting into a speeding fireball with unique, eerie guitar riffs.  The lyrics easily apply to current events affecting the world today.  “Primordial Freedom” starts out ominous and doomy before taking flight with blast beats.  “Old Norwegian Soul” may be the “purest” black metal song, complete with the haunting, low end groans of Attila Csihar (MAYHEM, TORMENTOR), keyboards, melodies, and juxtaposed tempos.  “Atheos” is an absolute high point in the band’s career with its galloping, invincible momentum. The riff that comes in at the 3:27 mark lays everything to waste.  Devastating.  THE WRETCHED END closes In These Woods, From These Mountains with a glacier-sized cover of BEL CANTO‘s “Dewy Fields.”  Helping out is Einar Solberg (LEPROUS) on lead vocals and the criminally underrated LRZ (RED HARVEST) providing the epic synth and programming.

With In These Woods, From These Mountains,  THE WRETCHED END only seek to create an immediate classic album.  There is so much greatness to behold.  Hail.  (Indie Recordings)

ABBATH – Abbath

abbath.abbathLess than a year after leaving the mighty IMMORTAL, Abbath emerges with the debut of his second solo album (counting I‘s Between Two Worlds).  Naturally, Abbath picks up where 2009’s All Shall Fall left off with the type of battle hymns that has been IMMORTAL‘s bread and butter.  Additionally, he injects some death, thrash and classic metal influences.  The result is an album that is not only epic and cold but also, arguably, more brutal in parts than IMMORTAL has been for a very long time.  The hills and valleys throughout Abbath embody the characteristics of any classic metal album.  For, virtually, every slower song, there is a scorcher that follows.  The anthems, memorable choruses, and the hooks always just hit at the right points.

Joining Abbath are bassist King ov Hell (ex-GORGORTH, AUDREY HORNE, SAHG) and drummer Creature (BENIGHTED, DISAVOWED).  Both members put on integral, stellar performances.  It should be noted that King ov Hell‘s bass is loud as fuck, the way bass should be.

Opening track, “To War!,” starts off like recent SEPULTURA and KRISIUN before blazing forward with an epic storm of blasts.  The chorus on “Count the Dead” sounds like it could fit onto an early OZZY album.  The spirit of BATHORY can be proudly found throughout.

Make sure to pick up a version of the album with the bonus tracks.  Their cover of PRIEST‘s “Riding on the Wind” is so balls out.

Going solo can often lead to less than stellar results.  Thankfully, that is not the case with Abbath.  One of the best albums of the year for sure.  (Season of Mist)

CRYPTOPSY – The Book of Suffering Tome 1

Cryptopsy - The Book of Suffering Tome 1Three years ago, CRYPTOPSY retook their rightful place atop the extreme metal pantheon with Cryptopsy. The band have since become a four-piece after the latest departure of founding guitarist Jon Levasseur. Despite that, it only takes a few seconds into The Book of Suffering Tome 1 to know that CRYPTOPSY are still reigning.

As the first in a series of crowdfunded EPs, the The Book of Suffering Tome 1 does exactly what it’s supposed to do: brutalize you in the most succinct manner possible and leave you wanting more. The Book of Suffering Tome 1 is essentially flawless with CRYPTOPSY at the top of their game. Their trademark sound is there (manic blasts, off the wall time changes, breakdowns, etc.) but also with shades of darkness and violence.

In keeping with the band’s pledge for quality over quantity with these releases, the production is absolutely flawless, which is perfect given the top-notch performances of each member. Big ups to guitarist Chris Donaldson, Jason Suecoff, and Alan Douches for their work.

The bottom line is that The Book of Suffering Tome 1 is a mandatory release for all extreme metal fans. Flawless victory. (self-released)

BLITZKRIEG BABY – Cannibal Commando

Blitzkrieg Baby - Cannibal CommandoReality is always harsher than fiction. Topics such as cannibalism, war crimes, and pre-pubescent murderers are all real world phenomena. Oslo, Norway’s BLITZKRIEG BABY are simply the messengers. The band features musician and artist Kim Sølve of Trine + Kim Design Studio, MANIMALISM, and record label, Adversum.

BLITZKRIEG BABY‘s Cannibal Commando EP is a disturbing listen. It’s like being drugged, kidnapped, and held in a room to witness some of atrocities of mankind first hand. The band’s self-described “Ultra Negative Industrial Pop” is based on unsettling beats, whispers that speak louder that screams, and pure eerie, noir atmospheres.

Each song offers something different. The title track opens things up with the feel of predator hunting its unsuspecting prey. “There Will Be Casualties” sounds like brainwashing propaganda soundtrack. “This is Where Empathy Comes to Die” is an instrumental, short track that serves more as a segue piece. “Spit” is straight forward with variations on one theme. It sets things up for the finale and best song, “Cut. Slash. Maim. Kill.” By far the most musical song on Cannibal Commando, the scope is monstrous yet eerie with its entrancing beats. The instrumental is an eruption of what was bubbling under the surface during the prior four tracks, which are significantly more subdued.

Cannibal Commando is a strong progression for BLITZKRIEG BABY and shows a band that can only get more sick and disturbing. (Beläten)

DIABOLICUM – Ia Pazuzu (The Abyss of the Shadows)

diabolicum.iapazuzuDIABOLICUM have never been a household name but they have certainly carved out their own niche in the underground metal scene. Fourteen years since the release of their last album, The Dark Blood Rising (The Hatecrowned Retaliation), the band are back and better than ever.

Recruiting none other than SHINING (Sweden) frontman Niklas Kvarforth to add his unmistakable charisma as well as the excellent talents of guitarist Likstrand to lay down solos, this is the most “complete” DIABOLICUM have ever sounded.

Like its title implies, Ia Pazuzu (The Abyss of the Shadows) is the soundtrack to a free fall into the abyss. While DIABOLICUM may have the “industrial black metal” tag attached to them, they are so much more than that. The band have created a multi-dimensional and complete journey.

After the blasting violence of “Void of Astaroth,” “Silent Spring” starts in a mid-tempo stomp before transcending into a dreamlike state with female lead vocals. Fourth track, “Genocide Bliss,” begins with the epic feel of early EMPEROR then transitions into a short section with industrial beats before ghostly keyboards kick in with movie samples. The song then just drifts off into the distance. “Salvation Through Vengeance” is awesome with Niklas Kvarforth‘s roar leading the crescendo in the mid-point of the song and Likstrand‘s fretboard melting guitar solo.

One Man’s War” is apex of Ia Pazuzu (The Abyss of the Shadows). Hearing Niklas Kvarforth proclaim, “This is my war. A one man’s war,” is absolutely powerful. Truly a godly performance for him.  The song’s ending is reminiscent of EMPEROR‘s “Inno A Satana” with it’s triumphant horns and marching beat. “Angel Maker” follows the track with a perfect example of how a simple, hypnotic riff can provide the backbone for a good song.

The use of forte and piano, extreme heaviness and speed with atmospheric ambience are tools which DIABOLICUM use to great effect.  The necro production gives the album a definite underground sound from the 90’s.  There are also lots of cool synth/programming along with the programmed drums, which gives the album a cold, industrial feel.  Try to spot the guest appearances by Malfeitor Fabban (ABORYM) and Vargher (NAGLFAR, BEWITCHED, ANCIENT WISDOM).

All in all, DIABOLICUM have done more than enough to rise out of obscurity and become renowned band in the underground scene.  Hail. (Code 666/Aural Music)

CRADLE OF FILTH – Hammer of the Witches

Cradle of Filth - Hammer of the WitchesLose your longest tenured guitarist?  Lose your other guitarist to serious spine issues?  No problem!  CRADLE OF FILTH soldier on with their best album in recent memory.  Hammer of the Witches catapults them back to sheer greatness.

With two new guitarists, Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Šmerda, in the fold, CRADLE tear through their most aggressive, fist-in-the-face album to date.  Melodramatics and grand symphonic keyboards take a step back to a guitar-driven attack.  The new guitar tandem have not only created an endless array of great riffs but have introduced the element of guitar solos.  To hear CRADLE with such godly lead work, this side of CARCASS, truly rejuvenates their sound.

There are magic moments all over Hammer of the Witches…too numerous to mention.  There are also subtle nods to the band’s extensive back catalogue as well.  CRADLE just have that special “it” factor that most other bands simply don’t have and it’s on full display here.

For fans of the band’s earlier work who haven’t listened to them in a while, it’s time to come back. Hammer of the Witches is the album that will renew your interest in CRADLE.

Hands down one of the best albums of 2015.  Keep reigning.  (Nuclear Blast Records)

KONTINUUM – Kyrr

Kontinuum - KyrrIceland’s KONTINUUM pick up where the excellent Earth Blood Magic left off. Filling the void that bands like GREEN CARNATION and SENTENCED left behind, KONTINUUM forge a sublime, melodic, and memorable album in Kyrr.

The powerful album artwork really sets the tone and expectations of what Kyrr will sound like – emotive, powerful, and atmospheric. The thrash explosions from Earth Blood Magic are not to be found here.

With the new album, KONTINUUM improve as songwriters with more memorable songs. Opening track, “Breathe,” is more or less a radio single. The hooks are huge, especially the massive guitar riff that hits between verses. So good. It should be noted that it is pretty distinct from the rest of the album.

Vocalist/guitar Birgir Thorgeirsson has also become a better singer. Ex-IN THE WOODS… vocalist Jan Transit comes to mind. Thorgeirsson sings in Icelandic for most of Kyrr but his message easily crosses language barriers.

The instrumental song sections are carried by just great riffing. Things never get stagnant as there is always a momentum moving forward. Check out the awesome crescendo that closes out “Hliðargötu-heimsveldi.”

Lone” is a sublime (instrumental) gem that, unfortunately, ends all too soon after 4:29 of pure gold.

The strongest songs occupy the center and end of the album. KONTINUUM are perfect on “Hliðargötu-heimsveldi,” “Kyrr,” and “Undir Þunnu Skinni.” Closer, “Red Stream,” is a true closer bringing in all of Kyrr‘s elements together like an Icelandic volcano.

The only complaint about Kyrr is the fact that it’s too short. It’s cruel in a way…a good way.

If you’re seeking another winner from KONTINUUM that is unique yet shares spaces with the likes of IN THE WOODS…, FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM, BLAZING ETERNITY, and AGALLOCH, look no further. (Candlelight Records)

DZSTRKRFT – Disaster Craft

DZSTRKRFT - Disaster CraftFollowing in the footsteps of extreme metallers who went on to explore the electronic-based side of the music universe (i.e. Justin Broadrick with TECHNO ANIMAL, ULVER, Tom G. Warrior with APOLLYON SUN, and Svein Egil Hatlevik (FLEURETY/ex-DODHEIMSGARD) with ZWEISS), roycifer (AKA Royce Hsu) of the defunct Los Angeles black metal band SANCTUS explores these realms with DZSTRKRFT.

Pulling from various electronic dimensions, such as breakbeats and dub, the Disaster Craft EP offers different looks in each song. The backbone is the (programmed) percussion, which fills both channels with the perfect array of ear candy. And of course, the black metal spirit tenet of atmosphere is omnipresent.

The title track sounds like something that would be blasted in a nightclub in the futuristic classic, Bladerunner. Second track, “Machines, Tapes, Electronics/Morrison Dub,” switches to a mellower but no less percussive gear. A sample of Jim Morrison describing the future of music graces the track as the main guitar riffs echoes in and out. “Craft Work (Contra Break)” gets heavy and darker with low end bass rumbling through its cyclical rhythms.

The absolute gem of the EP is closing track, “Audible.” Sleek in its darkness and absolutely emotive, the track glides through the night with a build and flow that is perfect. Have ULVER give it a listen and they’d wish they wrote it. Bloody great song.

With DZSTRKRFT‘s best release to date (three total within one year), the future only holds great things.

P.S. Disaster Craft is available for free download.

(self released)

JAGA JAZZIST – Starfire

Jaga Jazzist - StarfireThe Norwegian supernova known as JAGA JAZZIST have created yet another meisterwerk with the appropriately titled Starfire.  Pulsing with life, pulsing with creativity, the dazzling audial assault is the soundtrack to a vintage movie set in outer space.

Within Starfire‘s five songs is an impressive amount of content.  Intricate layers created by seemingly a gazillion different instruments travel through the galaxy.  JAGA JAZZIST‘s electronic and psychedelic synth influences take hold of much of the album atop their Norwegian jazz foundation.  There is a melancholic thread that runs through it all.

The title track starts things off with a sublime and quiet tone that morphs away from its jazz intro to spaced out psychedelic/prog realms.  “Starfire” creates this feeling of the vastness and futurist feelings of being in space albeit.  The cascading and panning in and out of electronics gives the sensation of comets streaking by.

Big City Music” is decidedly more electronic-based with its plethora of synth work.  The 14+ minute song is built around a massive melody that is the song’s apex at the 7:30 and 12:15 marks.  Keen ears will hear progressive house song influences tucked in there.

Despite being named after Japan’s bullet trains, “Shinkansen” is a mellow track that brings the sensation of floating in the cosmos as comets fly by.

The heart of “Oban” is the wonderfully sublime bass clarinet riff that comes in when during the song’s quiet sections.  The song sound is essentially the soundtrack to how stars are formed amongst molecular clouds.

Prungen” has jazzy bookends and crescendos in the middle with some excellent electronics going off.

A true appreciation of Starfire cannot be had without seeing the band live or watching videos of their live performances of these songs.  The number of moving parts and the intricateness of the compositions is so impressive along with the seemingly gazillion instruments the band play.  Take time to get to know Starfire and it will reward you again and again. (Ninja Tune)