Tag Archives: Progressive Black Metal

Pure

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The Local Woods, This Morning
The Local Woods, This Morning

When I took the dog out for a nice long walk in the woods this morning it was rather foggy, and I took a few pictures as the scenery put me very much in mind of the kind of imagery that can be found on numerous black metal albums, such as “The Dark Hereafter” by Winterfylleth, Darkthrone’s “Panzerfaust”, “In These Woods, From These Mountains” from The Wretched End and “Death Of The Sun” by Wyrd.

In The Woods
In The Woods…

Naturally this, coupled with the atmosphere such conditions evoke, led me to spin some black metal albums when I returned home. One of these albums found itself on repeat, and it seems more than appropriate that the record in question was “Pure”, the latest release from Norwegian band In The Woods…

Christian "X" Botteri
Christian “X” Botteri

The band formed way back around 1992 by three members of metal band Green Carnation – being guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bass player Christopher “C:M.” Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro.

Adding singer Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar “A:M” Moi, the band released three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 before the band split in 2000 after the release of compilation album “Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage”.

Christopher "C:M." Botteri
Christopher “C:M.” Botteri

In 2014 it was announced that the initial threesome of Botteri, Botteri and Kobro had reunited as In The Woods… and then last year came news that singer James Fogarty was to complete the new incarnation of the group. These four are responsible for “Pure”, with additional lead guitar provided on the final three tracks by Bjørn “Berserk” Harstad.

Anders Kobro
Anders Kobro

Looking at the few pictures of the band that can be found online you’d be forgiven for thinking that In The Woods… are not perhaps the happiest of bands. Lyrically, however, “Pure” would seem to counter that to some degree with lines such as  “…a shining future waiting, a promise of the pure…” or “…we left the darkness, walking into the light…” to balance against mentions of darkness, black holes and grief.

Jan Kenneth Transeth
Jan Kenneth Transeth

Musically, the band are not straight forward black metal by any means. With progressive and avant-garde stylings present throughout their relatively brief back catalogue one could perhaps make comparisons to the likes of fellow Norwegian act Ulver. I felt there are echoes of modern-day Enslaved and Swallow The Sun to be heard within these grooves.

Oddvar "A:M" Moi
Oddvar “A:M” Moi

What’s beyond dispute (at least to my ears) is that this is the kind of album that lends itself perfectly to this time of year and the colder, gloomier weather that comes with it – just as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun’s epic three-disc “Songs From The North” from last year still does. Granted “Pure” cannot compare with “Songs…” in terms of scale and variety but more than holds its own as a great piece of work.

James Fogarty
James Fogarty

Opening with the title track the vibe is at once doomy yet spacey, and displays the album’s rich and warm production. Fogarty’s voice is powerful enough to stand out over the heaviness of the guitars, bass and drums and the compositions are both complex and accessible – which is no mean feat.

There isn’t a truly weak track on this record, but for me the picks of the bunch would have to be “Towards The Black Surreal”, “Cult Of Shining Stars” and the ten-minute-plus instrumental piece “Transmission KRS”. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” isn’t far behind either.

In The Woods...
In The Woods…

Guitar work throughout the album is imaginative and impressive. Sometimes hypnotic and sometimes crushing, but never dull. The same can be said of the vocal lines too. I suppose atmosphere is the word that might best be used when thinking about the sound of this record.

Many reviewers have commented that the album sounds dated and disappoints in comparison to the group’s earlier work. Well, “Pure” is my entry point to the band so I am, I guess, in the fortunate position of not being able to hold it up against the likes of “Omnio” (1997) or the debut “Heart Of The Ages”. I wouldn’t agree that the material sounds dated, however. To me “Pure” is fresh, has vitality and is an organic sounding album that ought to see wider recognition that will likely be the case for a relatively low-key band in a niche genre. Good stuff!…btm

“Pure” tracklist:

1. Pure / 2. Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War) / 3. Devil’s At The Door / 4. Recalcitrant Protagonist / 5. The Cave Of Dreams / 6. Cult Of Shining Stars / 7. Towards The Black Surreal / 8. Transmission KRS / 9. This Dark Dream / 10. Mystery Of The Constellations

A Piece For Mind & Mirror

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Enslaved
Enslaved

The latest new album that I have found myself immersed in comes from the meeting of minds of Ivar Bjørnson, founding member of Norwegian progressive black / Viking metal band Enslaved, and Einar Selvik, founding member of fellow Norwegians, folk metal band Wardruna.

Wardruna
Wardruna

Apparently commissioned as a piece to be performed at 2014 Eidsivablot festival to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, the two men decided that they wanted the piece to be heard more widely and thus entered the studio to record “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” under the banner of Skuggsjá.

Ivar Bjørnson
Ivar Bjørnson

You would perhaps expect Skuggsjá’s music to sound like a cross between Enslaved and Wardruna, given who the creative forces behind the project are. Bjørnson contributes vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards whilst Selvik provides vocals, taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, goat-horn, birch-bark lure, bone-flute, percussion and electronics.

Einar Selvik
Einar Selvik

In addition, Enslaved men Grutle Kjellson (vocals) and Cato Bekkevold (drums) and Wardruna vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella also feature on the record. The final additional musicians involved are Eilif Gundersen (birch bark lure) and Olav L. Mjelva (harding fiddle).

Grutle Kjellson
Grutle Kjellson

The project’s website states that “Skuggsjá translates into ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection’ in the Norse language, and the piece not only contextualizes harder music’s role in the democracy in Norway in 2014, but also joins threads from the country’s ancient musical history and solidifies harder music’s position as Norway`s most important cultural export.

Cato Bekkevold
Cato Bekkevold

By highlighting ideas, traditions and instruments of their Norse past, Skuggsjá tells the history of Norway and reflect relevant aspects from the past into the present day. In light of this we reflect on ourselves as a people and nation. In a magnificent tapestry of metal instrumentation, a wide variety of Norway´s and Scandinavia’s oldest instruments, and poetry in Norse and Norwegian, Skuggsjá is a fusion between past and present, both lyrically and musically.”

Lindy-Fay Hella
Lindy-Fay Hella

Not speaking Norwegian, or having a lyric translation, means that I’m not qualified to comment on whether or not the lyrics manage to comment on music today and on the country’s history. Kjellson was quoted as saying that the piece is “…very hostile to many aspects of the constitution… very much against the way Norway was Christianised…” Musically, however, this is a very evocative album and a fabulous soundscape.

Eilif Gundersen
Eilif Gundersen

Kicking off with the brief introductory track “Ull Kjem” (translation “Wool Giant”) the gentle guitar notes underpinned by an insistent drum and with pipes and narration all serve to transport the listener’s mind to ancient times, a feeling that persists with the six-minute-plus title track “Skuggsjá” (“Mirror”).

Olav L. Mjelva
Olav L. Mjelva

Next up is “Makta Og Vanæra (I All Tid)” (“Power And Disgrace (For All Time)”), a ten-minute epic which brings to mind Enslaved’s excellent “In Times” opus from last year and manages to be both catchy with melodic vocal lines and stark and brutal with some old-school black metal rasping.

Skuggsjá
Skuggsjá

Instrumental track “Skuggeslåtten” (“Shadow Haymaking”?) is a nice hybrid of trance-inducing folky motifs, harmony guitar playing and some staccato riffing all building to a double-time conclusion.

Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik
Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik

Other highlights include “Vitkispá”, seemingly adapted from an ancient Norse poem, and the other ten-minute-plus sonic treat that is “Bøn Om Ending – Bøn Om Byrjing” (“Prayer For Ending – Prayer For Beginning”).

This is a unique sounding album, taking the best of the two composers’ day jobs and coming up with something distinctively different, even from one track to the next. The running order is beautifully balanced and the whole thing is evocative and uplifting, a superb album from start to finish and a potential for my top ten of 2016 already…

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“A Piece For Mind & Mirror” tracklist:

1. Ull Kjem / 2. Skuggsjá / 3. Makta Og Vanæra (I All Tid) / 4. Tore Hund / 5. Rop Fra Røynda – Mælt Fra Minne / 6. Skuggeslåtten / 7. Kvervandi / 8. Vitkispá 9. Bøn Om Ending – Bøn Om Byrjing / 10. Ull Gjekk

In SaxoNorse Times Tour

ticketWednesday 23 September – my first all-metal gig of this year. Billed as a co-headlining tour between Norwegian progressive black / Viking metal band Enslaved and Swedish heavy metal band Grand Magus, I caught the tour’s first show at the Marble Factory in Bristol.

12036636_10153061013447201_6026187745346209760_nAlthough the ticket (I say ticket, but it was one of those horrible e-tickets, not like a traditional proper ticket where you get the stub ripped off on the door!…) said doors at 6:30pm and show start at 7:00pm, when I arrived I heard the people in front of me being told that the doors wouldn’t be opening until 7:00pm. As it was spitting with rain I made myself comfortable back in my car and watched the queue start to form along the pavement past the next door tyre fitters.

Bristol Marble Factory
Bristol Marble Factory

Shortly before 7:00pm security staff appeared at the gates, and around ten minutes later started to let people through. Now a problem with e-tickets is that they are supposed to be scanned but many folks, like myself, were told that the qr code was too big to be scanned, meaning that we had to be manually ticked off a list! The upshot of all these delays was that opening band Heaven Asunder (who weren’t even listed on the bill) had started their set – probably in front of a mere handful of people!

Heaven Asunder
Heaven Asunder

A Bristol-based metalcore band, Heaven Asunder certainly had a few fans in attendance, making plenty of noise in support of the band. I must confess that their particular brand of metal, metalcore, isn’t really my thing but they were clearly musically tight and enjoying what they do. Guitarist Lewis Blake did look slightly like he’d dropped in from another band but I was impressed with his fretwork, even if not moved by the band’s material as a whole.

Grand Magus
Grand Magus

After a short break for an equipment change it was time for Grand Magus to hit the stage. I had seen this bunch previously, third on the bill when I went to see Behemoth last December.

At that time I commented that the lack of a second guitar player left a hole in their sound when vocalist / guitarist Janne “JB” Christoffersson played a guitar solo, and that is still the case.

Janne
Janne “JB” Christoffersson

The group, completed by bassist Fox Skinner and drummer Ludwig “Ludde” Witt, are a great band to have on a mixed genre metal bill as their material features an accessible traditional metal sound – not unlike Manowar – with lots of anthemic sing-along qualities. They perform their Viking tales with conviction and with good humour too, and interact well with the audience.

Fox Skinner
Fox Skinner

In truth, though, I found that their set tended to drag a little towards the latter stages as a result of what I felt was a lack of variety in terms of tempo and style. Still, that never hurt bands such as Motörhead, and the band went down very well with the crowd (which had filled out to a few hundred I would guess), so it was probably just me!

Setlist: (probable – I didn’t have anything to make notes on!)

1. I, The Jury / 2. Sword Of The Ocean / 3. Kingslayer / 4. On Hooves Of Gold / 5. Steel Versus Steel / 6. Iron Will / 7. Valhalla Rising / 8. Like The Oar Strikes The Water / 9. Drum Solo / 10. Wolf’s Return / 11. Hammer Of The North

1 and 11 originally from “Hammer Of The North” (2010) / 2 and 7 originally from “The Hunt” (2012) / 3 and 10 originally from “Wolf’s Return” (2005) / 4 and 5 originally from “Triumph And Power” (2014) / 6 and 8 originally from “Iron Will” (2008)

Enslaved
Enslaved

Another gear change was followed by a roar from the assembled crowd as Enslaved entered the stage, blasting headlong into the opening track from this year’s excellent “In Times” album, “Thurisaz Dreaming”.

Grutle Kjellson
Grutle Kjellson

Bizarrely, the band – led by frontman Grutle Kjellson – were only lit from behind for the whole eight minute number (and quite often throughout the set) leaving the audience looking at silhouettes of the band and lots of red lighting. Whilst this may be, perhaps, atmospheric it is somewhat frustrating to go to “see” a band play live only to spend much of the time only being able to see them in silhouette – that said, maybe the effect was better further forward in the room?…

Cato Bekkevold
Cato Bekkevold

Musically the band were excellent. Cato Bekkevold, the drummer, had some equipment problems with his kick drums which disrupted the flow for the band a little, but I imagine there are always likely to be teething problems on the first show of a tour.

Herbrand Larsen
Herbrand Larsen

Bassist / lead vocalist Kjellson was an engaging frontman and capable of some ferocious extreme metal vocals, which were offset superbly by keyboardist Herbrand Larsen’s clean vocals. Incidentally, on the small Marble Factory stage Larsen’s keyboard riser was so high that he towered over the rest of the band (including Bekkvold and his mammoth drum kit) and looked to have his head rather near the ceiling!

Ivar Bjørnson
Ivar Bjørnson

Guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal were intense and concentrated on producing a wall of sound from their instruments, and it’s here that I think the biggest problem with the band’s show lay (lighting issues aside). On record, particularly with the band’s more recent output, it is quite easy to distinguish between guitar parts and focus on individual elements of the band’s sound should you want to. In the live arena, however, although the bass, drums and keyboards are all crystal clear, the two guitarists disappeared into a kind of audio fog with even guitar solos getting lost in it.

Arve
Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal

That’s a shame, as on record Enslaved are brilliant. Following the aforementioned Behemoth concert, this was my second “extreme” metal gig and whilst I most certainly enjoyed it I would have to say that in terms of both visuals and musical performance the Polish black metal band produced the better show. That said, I’m glad I went to this show as, even with my reservations, it was definitely worth the price of admission…

Setlist : (again probable – for the same reason as above)

1. Thurisaz Dreaming / 2. Fusion Of Sense And Earth / 3. Death In The Eyes Of Dawn / 4. Building With Fire / 5. Ruun / 6. Ethica Odini / 7. Convoys To Nothingness / 8. Allfǫðr Oðinn / 9. Isa

1 and 4 from “In Times” (2015) / 2 and 5 originally from “Ruun” (2006) / 3 originally from “RIITIIR” (2012) / 6 originally from “Axioma Ethica Odini” (2010) / 7 originally from “Monumension” (2001) / 8 originally from “Hordanes Land” (1993) / 9 originally from “Isa” (2004)

enslaved-magus-uk2015

Beware The Sword You Cannot See

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Hailing from Leeds, Yorkshire, progressive black metal band A Forest Of Stars are something of a unique proposition.

A Forest Of Stars
A Forest Of Stars

The band describe themselves as members of the Gentleman’s Club of A Forest Of Stars, an exclusive brotherhood of English Victorians… exponents of their glorious and pompous, at times decadent era characterized by extreme opposites”.

They go on to state that their distinctive sound is created when they “channel the experiences gained from their numerous meetings hazed by opium and absinthe, occult rites and séances in the form of a previously unheard-of ghostly and hypnotic music, filled with the spirit of the glorious Victorian Age”.

Mister Curse
Mister Curse

Formed in 1887 (that’s 2007 to most of us!) the band have released three previous studio albums. Now it’s 1895 (or 2015) and the group’s fourth album “Beware The Sword You Cannot See” has been unleashed and it is, indeed, rather different to most black metal music, both in terms of structure and instrumentation.

The Gentleman & Katheryne, Queen Of Ghosts
The Gentleman & Katheryne, Queen Of Ghosts

The record kicks off with “Drawing Down The Rain” and amongst the guitar riffs and blastbeats comes the sound of an almost mournful violin before vocalist Mister Curse’s raw throated roar cuts through the cacophony. Add a spoken word passage and the clear vocals of Katheryne, Queen Of The Ghosts (who also provides flute as well as the violin) and it’s already clear that A Forest Of Stars are a black metal band unlike any other.

John
John “The Resurrectionist” Bishop

Remarkably, despite being progressive, and almost avant-garde in sound, the band’s material is also pretty accessible. There are some great melodious parts and harmonic backing vocals popping up here and there to sweeten what is, after all, built on the furious swirling foundations of black metal.

Mr. Titus Lungbutter
Mr. Titus Lungbutter

The production on this album is very good, allowing you to hear contributions from all members of the band – which is completed by keyboardist The Gentleman, drummer John “The Resurrectionist” Bishop, bass player Mr. Titus Lungbutter, and guitarists Mr. T.S. Kettleburner and Mr. William Wight-Barrow.

Mr. T.S. Kettleburner
Mr. T.S. Kettleburner

The album is, like vinyl albums used to be, essentially split into two parts – sides one and two if you like. Side one is comprised of five complex and eccentric tracks, each of which contains any number of different tempos and textures, and each of which is utterly compelling.

Side two comprises a six-part suite under the umbrella title “Pawn On The Universal Chessboard”. Katheryne’s ethereal vocals float through the introduction of the first part “Mindslide” above an expansive keyboard soundscape reminiscent perhaps of Hawkwind, before part two “Have You Got A Light, Boy” picks up the pace somewhat.

A Forest Of Stars
A Forest Of Stars

This is a record that has to be heard to be appreciated. A Forest Of Stars are a band with such a unique sound and vision that it’s pretty much impossible to convey in words really. Unless your idea of grandiose and visionary music from a group of talented musicians stops at something like, say, Radiohead or perhaps later-era Genesis, or your idea of progressive black metal would be the likes of Venom (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those groups), then I would hearily recommend checking of “Beware The Sword You Cannot See” – it really is one of the most accomplished albums I have encountered so far this year…

WOLF-058_galerie-864x534“Beware The Sword You Cannot See” tracklist:

1. Drawing Down The Rain / 2. Hive Mindless / 3. A Blaze Of Hammers / 4. Virtus Sola Invicta / 5. Proboscis Master Versus The Powdered Seraphs / 6. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part I : Mindslide / 7. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part II : Have You Got A Light, Boy? / 8. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part III : Perdurabo / 9. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part IV : An Automaton Adrift / 10. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part V : Lowly Worm / 11. Pawn On The Universal Chessboard – Part VI : Let There Be No Light

In Times

Enslaved-In-Times“In Times” is the new album from Norwegian progressive black / viking metal band Enslaved.

Enslaved
Enslaved

This band are no strangers to stretching themselves musically, particularly during their more lengthy compositions – more so than many of their contemporaries.

The tracks on this album are no exception. There are a mere six tracks – but none shorter than eight minutes in length, and one at almost eleven minutes. What this means is that there is plenty of room for a variety of moods and tempos and for the band to really show what they are capable of.

Grutle Kjellson
Grutle Kjellson

Starting with the track most representative of their black metal origins, “Thurisaz Dreaming”, the band – comprising founder members Grutle Kjellson (vocals / bass guitar) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitars), together with Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitars), Herbrand Larsen (keyboards / vocals) and Cato Bekkevold (drums) instantly demonstrate that they mean business.

Ivar Bjørnson
Ivar Bjørnson

“Building With Fire” begins with a simpler style, before adding more chaotic passages to the mix, and is followed by the more viking metal sounding “One Thousand Years Of Rain” which is the first real epic on the record, the superb title track being the other. I can imagine the material on this album would, as with a lot of Enslaved’s previous work, function very well as a soundtrack to the likes of “Vikings”.

It would be hard to pick specific highlights from this record, since all six tracks are of a very high quality and have plenty to offer the listener – with lots of variety of style and pace without straying too far from the black / viking metal foundations – but if pushed I would probably go for “Daylight”, “In Times” and “One Thousand Years Of Rain”. In terms of the sound of the record, the individual performances and the material presented, this album is excellent. It is a progressive metal album in the truest sense and one well worth immersing oneself in.

enslaved-grand-magus-tour

“In Times” tracklist:

1. Thurisaz Dreaming / 2. Building With Fire / 3. One Thousand Years Of Rain / 4. Nauthir Bleeding / 5. In Times / 6. Daylight