Friday, October 24, 2014

Musk Ox - Woodfall Review

Woodfall cover art
For a lot of metal heads, especially ones like me who love atmospheric black metal, melody is ever so important as it really brings the music to a whole new level in terms of atmosphere and depth.  Within a song, a melody can tell a story, express emotions, and lead the listener on a journey though the music.  When you have vocals in your music, they typically take the forefront and the instrumental melody takes a backseat, letting the actual words do the story telling.  When a band can ditch vocals altogether and still express what they want to be felt solely though instrumentation, that is when you know you are doing something right.  Musk Ox is a Canadian Neofolk group was formed back in 2005 by founding member Nathanael Larochette.  After experimenting for a while, the debut, self titled album was released with a warm reception in 2009.  This grew their fan base rapidly, even drawing attention from bigger names in the music industry in, giving them the exposure they deserved.  Now, after a 5 year wait, the 2nd full length, Woodfall, is finally released and while in the same vein as the first album, the exquisite piece of pure beauty is leaps and bounds ahead of anything they have ever done in the past.

While the first album featured instruments like the piano and a flute, all centering around a classical guitar, Woodfall changes gears a bit to a more 'wooden' tone.  Utilizing only three instruments, Cello, Violin, and guitar, Woodfall features stunning, introspective music that blends nature's surroundings with folk-influenced music, performed entirely by acoustic instruments.  The music has a many different 'moods' that occur throughout.  At points, you are overwhelmed by happiness and joy while at others, you feel very calm and tranquil.  Never do you experience feelings of fear or sadness, as Musk Ox creates relaxing music.  When listening to this album, you never get the full effect with just one playthrough.  Every time I listened to it, I noticed a little melody, a new harmony, or a different pattern that I missed the last time.  I love the feeling of knowing that when I play this album, I will be able to find something completely new somewhere in it!
The guitar playing is impeccable.  After 5 years of work, every melody, chord, and harmony was expertly crafted and carefully written.  The overall tone of the guitar is warm and inviting, never do you have a time where the guitar sounds aggressive.  While the main focus of the songs are based around the guitar, what makes the music come to life and sound amazing is the addition to the string parts.  The cello brings a full, low sound to the music, supporting everything happening around it.  The violin takes the lead quite a bit and leads the songs on with beautiful melodies, often times harmonizing with the guitar.  All instruments sound extremely organic and natural, and as far as I can tell, not one digital effect is used to tamper with the music in any way.

Musk Ox creates music that is beyond words.  Expressing such emotion without words is a feat in itself, but doing it in such a way that you can paint a picture in the listeners mind through the music is another.  The release of Woodfall only leaves me wanting more from Musk Ox but after seeing what they can do in a 5 year break between albums, I will be glad to wait and see what they have up their sleeves for next time!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Vihaan - Invicta Review

Invicta cover art
Prog metal is a sub-genre that has been brewing in the background of the metal scene but has never been given the light of day to really shine.  Bands like Dream Theater and Opeth have brought prog-infused music to the mainstream, but past that, most bands struggle to draw a big audience due to the complexity of their music.  You need to find the perfect blend between progressive elements and metal, which is exactly what Vihaan did in their debut album, Invicta.  Since their inception in 2012, nothing major happened until the announcement of their album and the band quickly grew their fanbase.  Now, after taking almost 2 years to develop their album, their sound has already developed into something completely unique, fusing elements of jazz, progressive music, and metal together to create one wicked and powerful album.

Invicta starts out on a high note that features brutal metal vocals and distorted, heavy guitars played in a strange time signature.  There are also sections throughout the album where the heavy is completely turned off and in its place are beautiful acoustic sections extremely reminiscent of Opeth.  This creates an epic masterpiece that equally combines both sides of the genre perfectly and appeals to all sorts of metal fans.  The drumming is unbelievably good.  Their patterns are complex but not so much to where it takes over the music and draws you away from the main focus.  It keeps the beat and adds a bit of spice here and there, but never overpowers.  The sound is clean and well-recorded, every hit, cymbal crash and stick click is heard clearly.  The guitars are the most diverse and beautiful instrument on the whole album.  The heavy, crunchy guitars sound absolutely amazing and drive the music with intensity.  On the other hand, the soft acoustic guitars bring the talent of the members to life and show off the extraordinary skills the guitar player has.  The bass playing is well heard and stands out on its own in every single track.  There are very few points where it is hidden in the background.  The fills are well-written and complex.   The vocals are intense and downright brutal at times, really bringing a strange intensity to music that is comparable to The Ocean's latest album.

Vihaan sounds a lot like what prog music is supposed to sound like and while I don't necessarily like prog-influenced anything, this album really has made me question that.  Appreciators of the great prog bands will be drawn in immediately and while it might take some time warming up to, I think a few death metal fans might start to find this interesting after a bit, as it does have some heavier sections.  All in all, I think Vihaan is off to an extremely good start with their music and will definitely establish themselves as one of the best underground prog bands around.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dalla Nebbia - The Cusp of the Void Review

Dalla Nebbia - The Cusp of the Void
Every so often while writing for Temple of Darkness, I run across a band that takes my breath away.  While this sounds quite cliche', it is nonetheless true.  This is exactly what happened when I first heard Dalla Nebbia.  Hailing from all over the Western Hemisphere, most of the members have never met each other in person, yet have created some of the most awe-inspiring, jaw dropping atmospheric black metal I have ever heard.  I have heard countless online-based bands and never have I heard such a solid debut full-length from one like The Cusp of the Void.  Most bands that get together in person regularly, practice like mad, gig every weekend, and do everything they possibly can to get their songwriting as good as it can be usually do not produce such a stellar debut as Dalla Nebbia has and they have never had a physical practice!!  This is mind-blowing to me, because it truly sounds like these guys have been going at it for years.
The Cusp of the Void is an album with twisting, beautiful melodies intertwined with folk-influenced acoustic parts and vocals that will blow you away.  The music is truly encapsulating, leaving you in a lulled-state of mind and taking you on a journey through the soundscape they produced.  Each song features new and interesting ideas while remaining around core sound of the band, one that is reminiscent of Wolves in the Throne Room or Vallendusk.   The verse-chorus-verse setup is not found anywhere within the tracks due to a non-linear, progressive attack to songwriting being utilized.  It gives the music new life around every corner and you are never hearing repeated sections over and over again.  When you do hear the same melody repeated, which happens a few times, it is always well received and never annoying.
Now, to delve into the actual music.  The drums are a huge part of this album and while they are hidden under the beautiful guitar melodies and the roar of the vocals, they are easily heard and when you actually concentrate on them, you hear how complex some of the patterns really are.  Through reviewing Dalla Nebbia and his other band, Funeral Age (those reviews can be read here and here), I have become friends with the drummer and have really started to enjoy and praise his style.  His other work is quite different than this and the amount of adaptation he is able to harness truly shows his skills as a drummer.  His technical ability is utilized a lot more in Dalla Nebbia, showing that he can not only play really fast, he can be precise and technical as well.  The bass is not an instrument you often hear in black metal, mainly because it follows the guitar riffs and hides in the background.  This time around, the bass is easily picked out and has its own rhythms a lot of the time, adding another layer to the bands sound.  While there is never a ton of bass work that is showcased over everything else, the skill is still shown nicely.  The guitarist is a talent powerhouse within Dalla Nebbia.  His riffs are mesmerizing.  He is able to write beautiful melodies that float above the rest of the music but also pull off some brutal, palm muted riffs that pack a punch.  The fact that he can do this, along with bringing an acoustic guitar into the mix that sounds like something out of an Agalloch release is astounding.  He also does the clean vocals, which should be featured more because when they are being heard, they sound absolutely amazing!  The harsh screams are powerful but don't cover up any other part of the music.  They keep their distance but shine when they need to, giving the music a nice balance.
I would love to mention that my favorite track off of the album has to be Shade of Memory.  The song starts out quiet and laid back, letting the clean, dream-like guitar line pluck away while a chorus of clean vocals sings over.  The song grows and grows, eventually leading into a super groovy riff that sounds like nothing else on the album.  All of the sudden, out of nowhere, the first melody you hear on the album makes a re-occurrence and leads the rest of the song home.  This really brings the whole album full circle and connects the beginning and end of the original material and that is something that blew me away.  Coming from a band who has never had a physical practice, doing something so complex when it comes to songwriting and coordination of the group is a feat that should be praised.
Needless to say, Dalla Nebbia absolutely stunned me.  Their music truly captures beauty, darkness, death, and life all in one.  The interwoven melodies and at times, downright groovy-ness is unlike anything I have ever heard.  These guys have some extreme talent and the praise they are getting over this album is definitely well deserved.  Their new album is currently being recorded and I cannot wait to hear what is in store for that.  If it is anything like The Cusp of the Void, I don't think anybody will be disappointed.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bloodwraith - Album Two Demos Review

A couple weeks ago, I reviewed Bloodwraiths first album, As Above So Below.  The album sounded like it was recorded amongst the debuts of Emperor, Mayhem, and Burzum due to its raw and energetic feel of the birth of black metal.  Unfortunately, it suffered from a bit of identity crisis and struggled to settle in to one distinct sound.  Bloodwraith has been writing their second album for a while now and I have the privilege of hearing four demo tracks off of that album.  From what I can hear, they are starting to find their own sound and have even started experimenting a little bit with rock-infused riffs instead of the typical tremolo picked riffs of black metal.

I have only gotten four tracks to listen to and they are all extremely diverse from one another.  There are a couple mid tempo songs, while a few others are quite intense and fast paced.  The riffs that the songs are built around are also quite different from one another.  Out of the four tracks I heard, three songs had pretty straight forward black metal riffs in the veins of old Burzum and at points, Immortal.  On that last song, it starts out like a rock song.  It is so strange when you first hear it, but it eventually grows on you.  It eventually fuses into a gut-ripping black metal song that shreds like the rest of them, but the experimentation with the rock riff is something I applaud them for.
Drumming is a bit more rough this time around.  A click track is obviously not utilized and while it isn't always necessary in black metal, they would have benefited from it in some spots.  I will attribute the mix quality to these being demo tracks, but I would really like to see it cleaned up a bit for the album.  On a few songs, the drums are so overpowering and loud, you can barely hear the guitars.  The kick drum sounds extremely dead on another, kind of like a hit against a tin can but the next track, it roars with life and integrity, leaving me to wonder if they changed recording equipment in the middle of demoing these tracks?  The guitars are quite consistent in their tone, very raw and gritty.  It is a distorted, fuzzy wall of noise that decimates everything in its path.  Unfortunately, some songs lose the guitars in the mix and they are quite hard to hear.  There are also a few more solos here than on As Above So Below, something that makes these demos sound interesting.  Black metal isn't known for tremendous soloing and there are actually very few black metal bands I enjoy who solo in their music, but Bloodwraith makes it work.  The solos fit perfectly within the music and they are not a nuisance within the song.  The vocals are a part that have improved greatly.  On As Above So Below, they were the part of the album that I thought suffered the most.  I'm glad to say that on these four demo tracks, they have improved, but not fully.  The screams are still top notch and really make you want to bang your head but the weird King-Diamondish scream that is a one-off thing is so out of place.  It does not sound like it fits in the music at all and I would rather hear a brutal, menacing scream in its place.  The clean vocals were a bit less present and when they were there, they were a bit more tolerable this time around.  I believe that they just fit into the music a bit easier and made more sense with what was happening around them.

Bloodwraith is definitely on the right path with their sound but still have a bit of oddities within their music.  Oddities are definitely a good thing, though, as they really do show the experimentation and the freedom Bloodwraith is taking with their music.  Hopefully this album really dominates because after listening to these demos, I have very high expectations for it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Temple of Katharsis - In The Beginning Review

In The Beginning cover art
Temple of Katharsis is a black metal band formed in 2011 in Greece.  While not much information is known on the band, their first and only demo as of now speaks for itself and really proves the band as a force to be reckoned with.  The demo, spanning only 9 minutes, is a mix of first wave black metal influences with the punishing sounds of well known second wave bands like Burzum and 1349.

There are only three tracks included with this first release and all are quite short.  Don't be discouraged by this, though, as every track is a flesh-ripping piece of sound that will leave you screaming for more.  The evil atmosphere that hangs over every track is one that cannot be ignored.  The music feels very dark and has a murky overtone to it, giving it that evil overtone.  The drums are well played and diverse.  I was never annoyed by anything the drum patterns did, which is quite rare from smaller releases.  Bands that just begin don't have their own defined sound, so they tend to copy their influences and the drumming, especially, starts to become repetitive.  With Temple of Katharsis, the drumming is exciting and really adds life to the music.  It is a shame that the drums are almost completely lost in the mix and can barely be heard at some points.  On the other hand, the vocals are so forward that they get in the way of everything.  This is not a bad thing at all, as they are quite good.  I immediately thought that they sounded a bit like Ravn's vocals from 1349.  The menacing shrieks and gut-wrenching growls shine through the music with ease.  Hidden in the middle of the mix is the guitar.  The riffs sound something close to 1349 and at points, mixed with the likes of early Venom.  It is a unique blend of two different forms of black metal and it works nicely.  All three songs sound quite varied and unique to one another.  In 'Dark Tormented Souls',  ToK shreds with a devastating tremolo picked riff until a slower, three chord progression chimes in and becomes a focal point for the rest of the song.  From the sounds of it, 'Dark Tormented Souls' is the high point of the album mainly due to the fresh and unique songwriting style.

Temple of Katharsis is off to an amazing start in terms of songwriting.  Unfortunately, all their songs end up being quite short and with only 3 songs released so far, who knows if they will be able to keep their diverse sound going for long.  As for 'In The Beginning', it is a work of pure black metal that Satan, himself would be proud to listen to and I cannot wait to hear what else these guys have in store for us!