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Review: Katatonia – 'The Fall Of Hearts'


Review: Rhombus – 'Purity and Perversion'

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Review: Angelspit – 'Cult Of Fake'


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Review: Wardruna – 'Runaljod - Ragnarok'

'Runaljod - Ragnarok'

The third and final chapter in Warduna's 'Runaljod' saga arrives on the shore from out of the mist with the inevitable 'Ragnarok'. This may be the end of their hypnotic Norse Folk trilogy, but it is just the beginning for the band. Since the release of the trilogy's first instalment in 2011 with 'Runaljod - Gap Var Ginnunga' the project under the leadership of Einar 'Kvitrafn' Selvik has slowly built from a more minimalist sound to something a lot more epic in scope. And that is what '...Ragnarok' immediately hits us with. The traditional instruments, improvised sounds, ancient metres and tongue still remain at the heart of the band's sound, but there is a more considered move towards cinematic ambience.

The pace of the album returns to the meditative approach of the first release rather than the more varied '...Yggdrasil', but the dark ambient atmospheres and deeper compositions make this perhaps their most enthralling so far. 'Tyr', 'UruR', and, 'Isa' stoke ancient fires with haunting intensity as central drones and steady rhythm frame arcane chants. The two 'MannaR' tracks 'Drivande' and 'Liv' begin to increase the pace and energy of the album, utilising brighter instrumentation that leads the listener out of the darkness of night and into the light of day.

'Raido' sees the first of many stunning vocal performances with the music surrounding it with a tense dramatic veil that doesn't resort to darker tones to increase its power. 'Pertho' sees the lead vocal take the brunt of the composition with a chorus joining in periodically to bolster the light musical backing, which makes for one of the stand out performances on the trilogy. 'Odal' follows on with a tense combination of rhythm and drone that sees far more subtle and subdued vocals utilised to return to the more ambient feel of the earlier tracks. The penultimate track 'Wunjo' sees the use of children's vocals and the tense but serene atmosphere of the previous track continue into a more rounded composition. 'Runaljod' then rather aptly finishes the album, and the trilogy, in a manner that seems to tie elements from all of the albums together in a rather neat way.

The production is heavy on scope and atmosphere. There is a definite sense of the cinematic running in a more pronounced way throughout this album. The traditional acoustic instruments and styles meld well with more modern sensibilities. It maintains the accessible nature of '...Yggdrasil', yet remains faithful to the hypnotic solemnity of the band's first outing.

This is a stunning album. Warduna are a band with a lot to offer and many more ways in which they can present their concepts. The fact that this is in essence a folk album doesn't make this twee or easily dismissed by metal purists. This is in places, dark, always atmospheric, and with sense of composition that would give the progressively orientated likes of Ihsahn a run for his money. This is a fitting end to a nice trilogy of albums, but better yet, like the Ragnarok of Norse mythology, the seeds of a new beginning are planted as well.  

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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Review: Contaminated Intelligence – 'Status Control'

Dirty and distorted with a very old school feel, Utah's Contaminated Intelligence take industrial back to its rough and punk roots with their new single 'Status Control' on Two Gods Records. With a few releases already under their belts, the duo of Contaminated Intelligence have been experimenting with dark electronic, drum 'n' bass, and down tempo styles within their industrial template. This new single however sees their style sharpened with venomous and vitriolic intent.

'Destitution' opens the release in anarchic fashion with hissing distorted synths, drum 'n' bass percussion and spiky low-fi guitars battering their way through the speaker. The title track is a more solid dance affair that progresses at a steady pace with a pronounced groove that builds into an undeniably catchy song. This is followed up by a great remix from Leaether Strip that ups the tempo and gives the original an old school ebm flavour. The next remix is the band's own and shows off a darker more harsh ebm orientated side that gives the original a serious run for its money. The final cut is 'Intelligence' which blends the anarchic abandon of the opening track with the steady and dark grooves of the title track.

Production-wise this has a very rough and rusted edge to it that keeps an old school charm at its heart. But it is still, despite its distorted low-fi elements, cleanly mixed and well arranged showing that the band aren't hiding behind low-fi elements to cover up any shortcomings in the fundamentals of their process.

'Status Control' will definitely appeal to fans of the classic grimy and low-fi experimentation of industrial rock's infancy. It is aggressive, insistent, and makes you take notice of it. There is still a lot of work and refinement to be done across future releases, but Contaminated Intelligence show a lot of promise.  

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Review: Sex Death Religion – 'Murder Motel'

Blending horror and edm / ebm, Canadian outfit Sex Death Religion walk the spiritual path of acts such as Lords Of Acid, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, and EMF. Delightfully demented and infectious, SDR mark their first release on Martin Bowes' Two Gods label with 'Murder Motel', an unashamed dance orientated instrumental track with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

The title track is a great blend of wub-wubbing bass, steady dance beats and the kind of samples you'd expect in old school Thrill Kill Kult tracks. The 'Deepnasty' version of the song follows on, further delving into that manic TKK meets Skrillex territory, while the remixes from Ympektid and The Associate explore a harder and then a more minimalist imagining of the original respectively.

In terms of production this is a nice straight-forward presentation that has a little bit of that early 90s acid house feel to it, but with a more modern, digital execution. It maintains a live performance presence throughout and as such keeps the energy high throughout.

This will not be everyone's cup of tea. It's edm and dubstep influences might be outright anathema to hardened industrial ears. However it is fun and annoyingly catchy, and would easily mix into a set of acid influenced electronics with ease. There's a long way to go before we can say SDR are the next Thrill Kill Kult, but this is a good step in the right direction.  

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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Review: Covenant – 'The Blinding Dark'

'The Blinding Dark'

Just when you think the Swedish synthpop veterans couldn't have any more tricks up their sleeves, they return with perhaps their coldest, darkest, and most stripped-back release to date. Covenant have always been synonymous with that reverential swell that is an undeniable emotive pull. It has been three years since the band released 'Leaving Babylon', and for their ninth full-length studio release they have turned the atmospheres in on themselves for a more foreboding and sinister sound.

Songs such as 'Dies Irae', the two 'Interlude' instrumentals, 'A Rider On A White Horse', 'Fulwell', and 'Summon Your Spirit' show a slower, more considered and ominous and experimental slant on the band's sound that flips the usual listening experience on its head.

However, the band still make room for plenty of club orientated dancefloor-killers such as 'Sound Mirrors', 'I Close My Eyes', 'Morning Star', and 'Cold Reading' to reinvigorate the energy of the record, but not necessarily change the overall atmosphere.

The songwriting yields some unexpected and experimental treasures that will surely stand-out amongst the band's already expansive back catalogue. And while their core sound remains intact for several tracks the band the dark influences of acts such as
Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave spiritually hang over a lot of what is going on here. The end result is truly interesting.

In terms of production the tracks are up to the usual standard we'd expect from Covenant. And while there is a little more noise, more acoustic sounds, and a much darker tone, the songs still fit the band's particular idiom.

This album will probably split fans as to whether it is too experimental or an unexpected but welcome curve-ball. Time will tell on how it is received, but in the here and now this is a fresh and challenging album from one of the scene's longest serving acts that shows they still have plenty of ideas left.

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Review: Ventenner – 'Invidia'

London's Ventenner have been keeping up the UK end of the industrial rock revival for a few years now, in which time they have proven themselves to be a formidable force in their own right. The band's latest offering comes in the form 'Invidia' and marks a new level to their game.

The new album sees the band with sharpened focus as they unleash a new collection of tracks heavy on Tool-esque bass groove, grungy vocals, grungy vocals and rounded out with some nice electronics for good measure. Songs such as 'The Start Is The End', 'Salagia', 'Enemy', 'Be Still', 'Bruxism', and 'Anamnesis' lead the charge with ruthless aggression and ravenous hunger. But it is the final track, 'Omega' that proves to be the album's highlight as the band explore softer melodies that errupt into a cacophonous conclusion. Its a strong showing that sees Ventenner grasping that brass ring.

The production has moved on nicely as well. Where the previous album (and in fact a lot of industrial rock bands today) favour a heavy dose of nostalgia that harks back to the Nothing and Wax Trax! Heyday of the genre, the new album instead looks forward. Guided by doom metal legend Greg Chandler (Esoteric / Lychgate) the band keep that classic, bass-heavy groove, but sound much more modern sound that sounds harder and more abrasive as a result.

'Invidia' is a strong cohesive whole that creates a loose musical narrative as it develops and really has that complete album feel that a lot of releases lack today. The songs however can still be enjoyed on an individual level and they will easily fit into the band's live repertoire. As a unit Ventenner sound more developed and self-assured here than ever before and the production direction really enhances their darker sound nicely. Altogether this is a good indication the band are stepping up to reclaim industrial rock for the UK.  

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review: Assemblage 23 – 'Endure'


Futurepop / ebm veteran Assemblage 23, AKA Tom Shear, returns with his eighth full-length studio effort in the form of 'Endure'. Despite the futurepop genre laying claim to the act, over the course of the past fifteen or so years with every release Shear's albums become more and more identifiable purely as Assemblage 23. He sticks to his guns as fads and fashions come and go, but every so often drops something new into the mix to keep things fresh. And 'Endure' is no exception.

With an strong emphasis on melody and emotion set to steady dance beats the songs don't stray too far his tried and tested formula, but it still after a decade-and-a-half hits home in the right way. Some bands are in a constant state of musical evolution, but Shear knows what he likes, and he is damn good at it too.

Sing-a-long and dance-a-long go hand-in-hand as always with 'Endure' yielding another strong selection of well written and well produced cuts such as 'Afterglow', 'Salt The Earth', 'Call The Dawn', 'Butterfly Effect', and 'Grid' in particular all aimed at the dance floor. But the album's crowning achievement is definitely the parting shot 'December' which is an instant classic by anyone's standards.

The album is on the whole very well produced as we would come to expect from Shear. Yet there is one niggling factor in a few places that seem to make Shear's voice sound thinner than usual. An uncharacteristic oversight perhaps, but on the whole the production adequately reflects the brilliant craftsmanship and songwiting that has gone into the album.

'Endure' isn't a divine revelation that turns the genre on its head. Nor is it a turning point in Shear's career. What it is is a brilliant Assemblage 23 album. For a band whose influence can be so widely heard in a range of modern acts it is rather satisfying that Shear hasn't been tempted to take a page out of anyone else's playbook and has instead to look beyond genre trappings and stay true to his vision and sharpen it. The end result of which is a very enjoyable experience.  

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Review: Sahg – 'Memento Mori'

'Memento Mori'

Are Sahg still a super group? It's the question on everyone's lips with the release of their fifth slab of stoner/doom metal. Having over the years lost their most prominent members in the form of bassist King (ex-Gorgoroth) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna) Sahg has become somewhat of a revolving door project which has always lead to some trepidation for every new release. The band's last outing in 2013, 'Delusions Of Grandeur' was undoubtedly their greatest achievement to date. But will the same be said of their latest offering, 'Memento Mori'?

Another lineup change now sees the inclusion of Ole Walaunet (Gaahl's Wyrd) and Mads Lilletvedt (Hellish Outcast), but will it be enough to continue the run of great performances we've seen over the past few releases?

The album is pretty solid in terms of songwriting, with doom and gloom being the primary tools. Tracks such as 'Black Unicorn', 'Take It To The Grave', and 'Sanctimony' lead the charge with slow morose numbers that do justice to the band's doom credentials, while the likes of '(Praise The) Electric Sun', and 'Travellers Of Space And Light' satisfy the band's prog and psychedelic aspirations. The final track 'Blood Of Oceans' is a bit of an unexpected but welcome twist as the group delve into viking territory for an undeniably heavy closer.

The band don't quite gel on a couple of tracks though. 'Devilspeed' and 'Silence The Machines' are lacklustre cuts that attempt to pick up the pace but come off as a poor effort at taking a page out of Amorphis' most recent chapters. But they just don't quite get off the ground.

Those are fairly forgivable though when compared to the album's production which seems to have lost all of the organic warmth of 'Delusions...'. Instead we're treated to a fairly cookie cutter presentation that leaves quite a few of the tracks sounding flat and quite, well... un-Sahg-like.

Given the magnitude of the achievement that was 'Delusions Of Grandeur', album number five was always going to have a lot to live up to. But unfortunately 'Memento Mori' is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some utterly brilliant examples of the band's songwriting with the likes of 'Black Unicorn', 'Sanctimony', '(Praise The) Electric Sun', and 'Blood Of Oceans'. However, as a whole offering it unfortunately falls short.  

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Samhain: Tea With the Dead

2016 has been a very particular year for Death.

I mean.
A hundred thousand people die every year, with and without media coverage.
But, well, it's like 2016 has had Death written all over it.
Think closer to you, or whoever you felt close to you.

Last Spring, I was in a room with Death as It took my Grandmother.
A few months later, I experienced the suicide of a pure-hearted friend. He's recently been coming to visit, by the way.
And then there's my grandfather turning 100 years old this Friday.
I wonder how many conversations he has with Death everyday. He must be very convincing, I'm sure.

Halloween is just around the corner -and so is Devil's Night, and Samhain, and the Day of the Dead.

Actually, before Halloween there was Samhain, the celebration of the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of winter. Halfway between the Fall and the coldest season, it's a festival, a gathering, or a sabbath -depending on which end of the spectrum of the alternative culture you find yourself in. A festival of Darkness, Samhain is seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Other World can be crossed more easily.

With All Hallows' Eve falling on a Monday night this year, a friend of mine has decided to hold a Samhain gathering/celebration/ritual, and has nicely invited us to bring along a memory and/or token of the people we still hold dear on the Other Side of the veil. Hardly able to conceal my joy, I decided to dive into some in-depth research about Samhain gatherings, and ways to enjoy a cup of tea with the Dead.

The core of Samhain celebrations lies in beliefs that the souls of the Dead would revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts are held, during the course of which the souls of the Dead are welcomed. Take the few days, or weeks before Samhain, to remember your ancestors. On the night of your Samhain gathering, set a place for them. Get the souls of the Dead excited about coming over by presenting them with the most elaborate, personalized offerings you can think of. Remember though -the Dead may come for a blessing, or may come for a curse.

If you wanna get spooked out, try this late 18th-century Ochertyre ritual. Lay a stone for each of the people present at your Samhain gathering around a bonfire (easy to get one going if you have a small yard and the night skies are clear), and run around it with a torch, or candle. Leave the stones where they are for the night, take a picture of their exact location and position with your smartphone, and in the morning, have a look at them carefully. If any of them is misplaced, or turned over, it's likely to mean that the person for whom the stone was set will not live out the year.

Samhain also happens to make for a perfect time for divination rituals for those gathered at your party. If you want to follow the old traditions, focus the readings on death and/or marriage. Get inspiration for your Samhain gathering with this beautiful 1833 painting entitled Snap-Apple Night, by Daniel Maclise.

So what's up with Samhain making us take our Shadow-side by the hand so easily?

Could it be that our way of revelling in the glory of the Darkness brought upon by mid-fall manifests itself with a yearning to dive inside, and  a desire to rekindle with our Darkness within? Perhaps the majestic way Nature has of dying out in autumn brings us to ponder upon the meaning of Death, and more precisely of our own relationship with Death. Samhain is indeed one of the best times of the year for some in-depth communion, and conversation, with the souls of your beloved beyond the veil, and your deities -whoever they are.

Rest assured, here: you don't a fully-adorned altar to get the Dead to come visit. As it is, the truth is that there's not much that is needed for a good, thorough conversation with the Dead. Indeed, when you let go of your mind trying to control your every thought, you will find yourself more and more open to exterior stimuli coming through, as well as your subconscious. This is why the Dead will often come for a visit in dreams. The human mind's reflex and need to control is more passive than active during our sleep, and so the voices of the Dead can squeeze into our psyche more easily.

And then there's That One Time I Was Opening My Curtains. I remember not thinking about much except perhaps the well-being of my plants, and then I heard and saw through my mind's eye my friend who died over the summer. The second I tried understanding what was going on, the vision faded. So I let go of understanding, and he was back, and finished his sentence.

All I'm saying is you don't need much to speak to the Dead. You need only to be open, and willing to let your mind go of control.  As they are, ritual objects, incense, crystals, candles and such things are mostly used as tools to focus on, and with, while you're letting go of control and opening yourself to whichever it is you're concentrating your energy on. To look at a candle and its dancing flame brings instant focus, and a quick meditative state. The ever-so-slight intoxicating smell of incense and burning herbs will entice your sense of smell; the crystals, as you grab them, intricately revive your sense of touch; the idols as small statues or pantings and prints make for marvelous works of art for the eye to rediscover every time.

By bringing our senses to focus on these tools, and/or performing any form of ritualistic action, we usually end up being more easily able to concentrate on our intent. And yet as concentration arises from lack of distractions, in the end, the intent always settles itself upon a quieter mind. And with the kind of lives we're leading these days, it does seem like a pretty good idea to generally try and treat ourselves to a quieter mind.

Whatever you believe in, whether you be a full-blown pagan, or just cultivating a slight interest for anything/all things magic, welcoming the Light of the Souls from the Other Side seems to be the way to go this Halloween. Take that Monday night to get together with your favorite friends, and indulge in the mystique that is Samhain. Go all out with an altar of candles, incences, herbs and crystals, or keep it simple with just an extra chair at the table.
Remember your ancestors, and have a toast in their honour with a glass of their favorite wine.
You never know who might be coming to say Hi.

You can even make due with just a cup of tea.

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Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Review: Bestial Mouths – 'Heartless'

Los Angeles' Bestial Mouths are an uncompromising act. Blending avant garde electronica with sinister industrial dance machinations, the band have set about making a name for themselves. And with the release of their third album it is easy to see why. 'Heartless' is an intelligent mix of cold wave, darkwave and industrial with a strong experimental edge that frames vocals that are somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux, Diamanda Galas, and Kate Bush courtesy of vocalist Lynette Cerezo. It is a formula that has already see the band take on an EU tour and a show-stealing performance at Wave Gottik Treffen.

Heartless is a dark and haunting album that challenges the listener to engage their brain as they navigate the complex but still dance-friendly contents. Songs such as 'Greyed', 'Heartless', 'Faceless', 'Down To The Bones', and 'Earth' show just why the band are building a serious buzz about them.

The songs have an air of frenetic sonic invocations about them as tribal rhythms give way to hard dance beats while Cerezo wildly whips her vocals into a frenzy amidst a veil of addictive synth melodies. It's like the soundtrack for the witching hour on the electronic sabbat.

Though the stand out tracks on the album have to be the sumptuous haunting industrial of 'Worn Skin', and the brilliantly re-imagined cover of 'Being Boiled', which between them perfectly sum up the band's raison d'être.

The album has an undeniable retro slant to its sound. With cavernous vocals, and an almost John Carpenter style sense of atmosphere holding sway throughout. But at the same time it is a perfect example of modern underground electronic music done right, and under the watchful eye of Die Krupps' Jurgen Engler, the band have produced something accessible and fresh while maintaining the experimental edge.

'Heartless' is a very strong album that shakes you out of your complacency and forces you to listen to it. The band have masterfully found the balance between their experimental and accessible sides, and while this is easily their most accessible effort to date. It is also their most enjoyable and well-rounded.  

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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Review: Fährenheit 451 – 'House Of Morals'

'House Of Morals'

Formed in 1984 in shadow of New York City, proto-gothic rock band Fährenheit 451 would have a brief existence that would yield this sole EP release. This would have previously consigned them to a nostalgic local footnote in the international development of the wider gothic scene. But now after thirty years the band's sole release has been unearthed and presented as the inaugural release on Gothique records – a label set up by former Fährenheit 451 vocalist Athan Maroulis – who you may be more familiar with from acts such as Maroulis went on to front Executive Slacks, Spahn Ranch, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, and currently NOIR.

Fährenheit 451 are a quintessential example of the post-punk sound morphing into gothic rock. Elements of Bauhaus, Specimen, Gene Loves Jezebel, and The Bolshoi shine through funky bass lines, sumptuous keyboard swells and Maroulis' dramatic vocals. 'Strangers On A Train', 'Cathedral In Ice', 'Passions', and 'Flowers Melt Away' each hold their own against any classic cut of the era, and it's a shame it has taken them this long and the advent of bandcamp to see a re-release.

The songs have been lovingly remastered with a skillful attention to detail to present them at their best, and the end result is excellent. The demo version of 'Strangers On A Train' gives an indication as to how the songs could have been left to their original quality. But instead they sound fresh and modern and a pleasure to listen to.

'House Of Morals' is a great proto-goth EP. Not just from a “what could have been sense” or a nostalgic sense, but it was a release that, while a snapshot in time, showed a hell of a lot of talent and promise form those who made it. And while history proved that moving beyond the band was the right thing to do, it is nevertheless an intriguing and pleasurable artefact in its own right that fans of gothic rock will surely enjoy.  

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