The 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)
The last time ARCTURUS released new music, they were not at the top of their game. Sideshow Symphonies was simply not on par with the band’s previous releases. Ten years later, we have Arcturian and a band that sounds creatively refreshed. Arcturian is unequivocally better than its predecessor and brings ARCTURUS back on track with some of their best material to date.
The album is sharp, direct, and wastes no time with meandering. The symphonic elements, the space/prog rock elements, subtle dark electronic influences, and the black metal roots meld together wonderfully. There are song sections and entire songs that exemplify the band’s previous albums as well as new elements brought to the table.
“Crashland” sounds like the stepchild of La Masquerade Infernale with its string arrangements and atmosphere. “Angst” has the glacier-sized keyboards of the band’s early releases with a ferocity not heard since “Radical Cut” featuring Ihsahn. “Warp” is archetypal ARCTURUS with spacey synth, solemn pianos, and non-stop pulsing energy. “Demon” sounds like DEPECHE MODE – in a good way. “The Journey” is new territory with its new age feel. It starts out with electronic beat and violins before segueing with acoustic guitars and ghostly vocals sweeping in and out. “Bane” closes out Arcturian with a strange space carnival caravan, which fits their onstage presentation. It’s also one of the weakest songs on Arcturian.
As far as performances go, the band are at the top of their game. Co-founding member Hellhammer is as godly as he always is. Other co-founding member Sverd dazzles and shows why he is the most legendary synth player in the Norwegian metal scene. Knut Magne Valle‘s first take-improvised guitar solos are perfect. ICS Vortex may be the only one to take a hit for some of his vocal lines. They can come off as off key here and there. But to his credit, he does sing his ass off and sounds good for the most part.
Arcturian is not perfect but overall, it’s a strong return to form. There is a lot to love about it. Welcome back, ARCTURUS. (Prophecy Productions)
MANIMALISM‘s self titled debut is an anachronism of sorts. While the band wrote the album’s material during the span of 1993 to 1999, things did not come together until now. MANIMALISM is never cited as being part of the Norwegian black metal wave that took the world by storm due to their low-key status. The band’s most well known member is guitarist Kim Solve of Trine + Kim Design Studio, who has designed artwork for ULVER, SOLEFALD, and THE WRETCHED END.
Using VED BUENS ENDE, FLEURETY, and recent MAYHEM as reference points, MANIMALISM walk on the strange, eclectic side of Norwegian avant garde metal. The ominous ringing of clean guitars and discordant time signatures meld with heavy, palm muted riffing juxtaposed with crooning vocal stylings. There is a feeling of being dragged away to the twilight zone.
Not only are the individual performances excellent, the live recording-like production make the album a great listening experience. The drumming crashes and bashes with seemingly unexpected yet perfectly timed flurries. The guitar crunch and clean guitar tones are immaculate. For example of great bass playing, check out the awesome basslines on “The Dandified and the Devilfish.”
Ironically, opener “Demons in Tuxedos” may be the weakest song on Manimalism. The vocal lines on the chorus are a tad sour. However, Manimalism gets meatier, weirder and more compelling as the tone gets stranger and more unsettling. Fourth track, “Romance,” may be the best song with the band use the dynamic of pockets of silence to great effect. Everything comes together with its ghostly eeriness.
MANIMALISM is wholly unique and thus, fits perfectly into Norwegian avant garde metal universe. (Adversum)
A pure underground gem was released in late 2014 that is mandatory for all Norwegian black metal devotees. Yup, an all-star cast brings THE DEATHTRIP to light: Host (AKA Paul Groundswell, THINE guitarist and GM of Peaceville Records), the return of Aldrahn (DODHEIMSGARD, THORNS) from a long hiatus, and THORNS mastermind Snorre Ruch as producer.
On their debut full-length, Deep Drone Master, THE DEATHTRIP carry the spirit, sound, and sense of mysterious aura of early 90’s Norwegian black metal. The influences are apparent yet this is not some retro-rehash job. Deep Drone Master is not only musically relevant for the present time, it’s better than most of the other extreme metal releases that have come out in recent years. The album also serves the great purpose of being the next best thing until the next THORNS album is eventually released.
Deep Drone Master is well-rounded while also being direct and catchy. Whether they blast through blazing melodies or hypnotize with mid-tempos, the dark, cold atmosphere is omnipresent. Riffs are brilliantly repeated for long periods of time to create this feeling of swirling chaos (i.e. “Cosmic Verdict“).
Longtime fans will find much enjoyment in not only hearing Aldrahn‘s voice again but hearing him at the top of his game. His distinct vocal style and delivery on Deep Drone Master are simply powerful.
It took years and years for the band to release this, their first full length, so if there’s any justice in life, THE DEATHTRIP will have their second album out soon. Mandatory. (Svart Records)
Armed to the teeth with a vast array of weaponry, ABYSMAL DAWN go all out on Obsolescence. With the modus operandi of always pushing forward, the band successfully push its boundaries of musicality and intensity.
Obsolescence has the sophistication and dynamic range of latter era-DEATH balanced with sheer heaviness and brutality. With their chops, it’s too easy to take for granted the plethora of excellent riffing. The agility and precision involved is inspiring to musicians. ABYSMAL DAWN also incorporate a good blend of straight forward, simple riffing/song structures harkening back to old school/classic death metal.
Speaking of songs, they always come first here. The sheer intensity and sense of urgency evoked is something to behold. The track listing also plays a pivotal role in keeping the listening experience varied and compelling. Peaks and valleys in all facets of songwriting are so important.
Vocalist/guitarist Charles Elliot‘s vocals take prominence in each song, commanding a lead presence. It’s clear that his phenomenal performance on BEREFT‘s debut album has carried over to Obsolescence. His long, high screams hit at the most intense parts of songs. Certain vocal lines are accented by dual vocals (ala DEICDE) to nice effect.
The band’s cover of the DISSECTION classic, “Night’s Blood,” will bring a tear to any DISSECTION fan’s eye. It’s not only a flawless tribute but fitting that the first song on Storm of the Light’s Bane serves as the album closer.
As a music listener, a good rule of thumbs is to leave labels behind (i.e. “technical death metal”). Enjoy ABYSMAL DAWN‘s Obsolescence for what it is – fine music. (Relapse Records)
ENSLAVED get straight to the point with their most straight forward and catchy album in years. Incorporating a strong influence of their early era, In Times is the band’s most direct and blackest work since Isa and Ruun, or even Blodhemn. Don’t worry, their trademark prog stylings, instrumental interludes, and ice cool guitars remain intact.
What also stands out about In Times is the lack of meandering song sections or weak material. It’s all lean and optimized. Six flawless and dynamic songs, each clocking in at a minimum of 8+ minutes, are all that is necessary to make their statement. The great part is that ENSLAVED glide through each song with ease.
If you wanted to introduce someone to ENSLAVED, “Building With Fire” might be the first song you play for them. It showcases their dynamic range and songwriting strengths. The transitions and hooks are excellent. The group chants in “One Thousand Years of Rain” conjures up nostalgia for the early sword-wielding ENSLAVED. The title track has a great building and release of tension in epic fashion. Album closer, “Daylight,” has sweet nods to PINK FLOYD.
It should be noted that vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson‘s bass lines are wonderfully audible and find a great place in the mix. Also, drummer Cato Bekkevold‘s performance here (as well as previous ENSLAVED records) should never be taken for granted. His great sense of feel, tasty fills, and Mikkey Dee-like power help make In Times special.
Most bands are a shell of themselves by a 13th album…not ENSLAVED. (Nuclear Blast Records)
The great TRIPTYKON redefine darkness once again with their second full-length album. Melana Chasmata is a multi-dimensional exploration of darkness colored in different atmospheres.
TRIPTYKON masterfully utilize a full repertoire – three different vocalists, a wide range of riffing styles, violent and solemn atmospheres, and more. It’s a great lesson in musicality and serves as a foil to simple, formulaic songwriting.
Each song on Melana Chasmata is its own unique journey. Some are desolate, ominous, and naked like “Boleskine House” and “Aurorae.” Others have an unnerving feeling of instability and doom like “Altar of Deceit.” “Breathing” is just devastating in its heaviness when it picks up the speed. Starting from the sixth track, “Demon Pact,” Melana Chasmata enters a lucid nightmare, which is as vivid as any conscious experience.
Few bands create such powerful and compelling atmospheres, and no band does it like them. TRIPTYKON triumphantly prove why they are pioneers. Mandatory. (Century Media Records)
Leave it to the Icelandic post-apocalyptic cowboys, SÓLSTAFIR, to reward their fans with a godly follow up to their godly album, Svartir Sandir. This time around, the band only release a single disc’s worth of music but it’s more than adequate. Their unique style of dark/atmospheric metal rises to new levels here.
The one characteristic that stands out the most on Ótta is how powerfully the band utilizes quiet and gentle atmospheres. Additionally, there are song sections where they could easily crash in with a wall of heaviness but the band choose to pull back. This actually results in keeping the tension and mood while also keeping listeners on their toes. Most importantly, SÓLSTAFIR‘s soulfulness and honesty is right up there with ANATHEMA, IN THE WOODS…, and PRIMORDIAL.
The journey that is Ótta can best be summarized by how it begins and ends. “Lágnætti” starts things off with quiet pianos, Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason‘s heartfelt vocals, and the beautiful string orchestra. Once the post-punk basslines and pounding drum beat comes in with the massive whale siren calls of the guitars, the intensity truly gets epic. Closer “Náttmál” is equally soulful and beautiful. The push and pull of the song is extremely compelling and it builds up to an epic descrescendo. It is the crashing of glacier-sized emotions. Awesome.
In a genre where being soulless and forgettable is the norm, SÓLSTAFIR are truly saviors. There’s a reason why there are one of the best bands on the planet. (Season of Mist)
Short review: Exit Wounds is THE HAUNTED‘s best album since One Kill Wonder.
[Read on for the longer version.]
After the excellent teaser, Eye of the Storm 7″, THE HAUNTED make their full declaration with Exit Wounds. All the great things that make the them the best thrash band in the world are here in full force. Led by returning vocalist Marco Aro and his career-best vocal performance, THE HAUNTED bring back the violent and dark themes, and prime riffing.
After the near career killing Unseen, the band had two choices: call it a day or remember what made them great. In all facets, they chose the latter. In addition to being their work in years, many songs on Exit Wounds rank as the best in their catalogue. Songs like “Psychonaut,” “Trendkiller,” and “Time (Will Not Heal),” lay everything to waste. The album is not perfect as there are two clunkers – one being “All I Have.”
New member, lead guitarist Ola Englund, could not be a more perfect fit. His solos are impeccable as every single note perfectly placed and is line with THE HAUNTED-sound.
The bottom line is that we should celebrate the fact that one of metal’s best bands are back to form. The thrash throne has been reclaimed. (Century Media Records)
Twelve years after STAROFASH‘s excellent debut, Iter.Viator, the brainchild of Heidi S. Tveitan proves to only reach new heights over the course of time. Ghouleh, featuring a song for every month of the year plus one bonus track, is an imaginative, ethereal album.
Unlike Lakhesis, Ghouleh‘s foundation is not entirely dependent on a traditional band configuration (drums, guitar, bass). Instead, a portion is based on electronic/programming in addition to the trademark STAROFASH classical instruments of pianos and synth. New dimensions of the band’s sound are sometimes obvious yet often subtle.
The variety of the material is wide yet cohesive. A song like “Shimmer” is on the grandiose side of things compared to the minimalist electronics of “Draum.” The results are always beautiful, delicate, organic soundscapes.
What really matters most with Ghouleh is that the music is compelling and straight from the heart. STAROFASH directly communicates with the listener on a deep level. With music this good, it’s so easy to just drift off to another place. One of the best albums of the year. (Mnemosyne Productions)