Loss – Horizonless

cover-smThe second album of LossHorizonless is more melancholic and melodic than most funeral doom / death-doom bands from the US. Horizonless has gotten plenty of fine response and is destined to become Loss’s breakthrough from the funeral doom underground.

The soothing melody lines of All Grows on Tears switch fluently between sorrowful and life affirming, reminding of very melodic death-doom bands like Swallow The Sun. At times Loss broods on dark riffs and the melodies are more nihilistic serving in a supporting role. Loss doesn’t go as far as all encompassing heaviness of Evoken although the first halves of Banishment and the title track Horizonless seem to seep from same sources.

There are plenty of small sections that are not from a playbook of a layman doom band. For example the acoustic guitars in the beginning of When Death Is All, or the little jazzy bass lines that at times heighten into leads riding over the dark wave of The Joy of All Who Sorrow. I have come to know – THE JOY OF ALL WHO SORROW! Then… How about the last 20 seconds that goes black metal? It’d actually be a really fucking good ending track. Too bad Loss didn’t ask me before they released the album ;).

I first thought the album to be a stellar but not superb that has an incredibly strong starter in The Joy of All Who Sorrow. After such a great track the rest of the album feels a tad stale. Also let’s face it, When Death is All is not the epic closer a masterclass album should have. It does have a pretty outro and good elements but as an entity it sounds a bit pieced together. The rest of the 5 main tracks that clock around 10 minutes are more fluent.

The album was on hiatus from my playlist for a few months after which I decided to move The Joy of All Who Sorrow as a last track and LO! Imminent new charm skyrocketed Horizonless among the best releases of 2017. I.O. serves as a fine intro but Moved Beyond Murder‘s 2.44 of ambient humming I removed altogether. Besides these 2 there are also two other semi-intermission tracks that serve well in their place. Almost 15 minutes of intermissions is still too much. (See the bottom of the post to listen the Like Music To Your Ears version of the album).

Naught deserves a couple of special mentions. The beginning clean guitars twinkle like the stars in the cover of the album and its last 3 minutes have the most chilling and indulging vocal lines. The vocalist Mike Meacham sounds to be committing an auditory seppuku with output of pure suffering and contempt. His usual vocal style is almost comically low growling, but the moments when he ranges to high screams and clean vocals are all highlights.

I dare to say this is my favourite doom release from the US since Morgion’s criminally underknown Cloaked by Ages, Crowned in Earth (2004).

9/10

Bandcamp: https://loss.bandcamp.com/album/horizonless
A good interview about the themes of the album: http://newnoisemagazine.com/loss-self-reliance-exceeding-horizons/

Fixed track order to maximize The Joy of All Who Sorrow:

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Grave Pleasures – Motherblood

gravepleasuresmotherbloodcdYes! Everything that Beastmilk, who later renamed themselves to Grave Pleasures did right in the first album Climax (2013) also comes in place on Motherblood. In the get-go Climax dangled on the edge of annoyingness and hipsterness but regained its balance with a 2.5 twisting somersault. The second album Dreamcrash (2015) had the same setting but dived belly first in the short end of the pool.

It only took about 5 seconds of the first track Infatuation Overkill to get the first goosebumps. First minute confirmed the track better than anything on the previous release. It is not a void promise, the album keeps a strong base level throughout. The blasphemous lyrics, deathrock and catchy pop hooks dance together elegantly again.

Joy Through Death would work great as an eulogy, or is it just a piece of dark humorous obscenity? The way Grave Pleasures tackles them both at the same time is par none. Doomsday Rainbows is one of the many brilliant titles in their repertoire. Middle-paced track blasts off with the c-part. “and when i’m high on the mushroom cloud”…

The three tracks after Joy Through Death are a tad more average than the rest but the ending trinity is all style. Atomic Christ‘s repetitive and hypnotic rhythm reminds a bit of space rock and post-punk greats (“Whaaat is that David Tibet!?!” *Quick google*, “It is him!!” (Current 93 / neofolk legend)). Deadenders is a pure rock track with radio potential. It also works really well as an acoustic version! Haunted Afterlife is a gloomy lyric, with lovely resounding post punk sounds. It is only three minutes long and for once Grave Pleasures does not seem to take any pleasure from death. But the greatly sung melodic sorrowful chorus is such a pleasure to listen to.

Among the best albums of 2017.

8½/10

Sol Invictus 1990-1994 Best of Collection – Bootleg playlist

Sol Invictus is an English neofolk group, fronted by Tony Wakeford. As they have released a huge amount of quality albums since their formation in 1987, I decided to compile a bootleg best of collection as a Spotify playlist. Soon however, I realized that it would have to include about a quintillion tracks. A natural way to tackle this turned out to be dividing the collection into 4 parts by the release years. As always I wanted to make the collection like a “real” album entity.

The first of the four, 1990-1994 includes a few of my favourite releases: Trees In Winter (1990), King & Queen (1992) and Death of the West (1994). Almost every other full-length and live album between these years is also included!

A sharp-eyed lad may notice the absence of Lex Talionis (1993). That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, actually the opposite. I struggled hard in adding 3-4 tracks of industrial neofolk noise into an acoustic guitar driven collection and decided to make the more experimental Sol Invictus tracks into a separate collection. Also the lo-fi Against the Modern World (1988) will suffer the same fate! Nevertheless, I decided to include Angels Fall from Black Europe (1994) live album to make a cameo appearance.

Musings on some tracks

The starting track, The Man Next Door is Very Strange is my favourite rendition of Trees in Winter’s Sawney Bean. Many consider it a classic Sol Invictus song and I like to think this 1991 Killing Tide version is more definitive than 1990 Trees in Winter version. I do prefer the title Sawney Bean though. The track is chilling and has an extremely chilling backstory too: “Alexander “Sawney” Bean was said to be the head of a 48-member clan in Scotland anywhere between the 13th and 16th centuries, reportedly executed for the mass murder and cannibalisation of over 1,000 people.” There are old folk versions of this track but I cannot say whether the composition or lyrics have been influenced by any of them.

Talking about folk ballads the 6th track Sheath and Knife is one the Child ballads (folk songs collected by Francis Child during the second half of 19th century). A lot of musicians have made new renditions of these ballads, many extremely dark in nature. Sheath and Knife portrays a particularly tragic and a bit violent love story. And the ending… Sheesh.

Quite a few Sol Invictus listeners that found the band in 2000s came through the metal band Agalloch. They released a cover of Kneel to the Cross in their EP Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor (2001). This lead me to the unpolished version on Kneel to the Cross on Lex Talionis (1993) which I could not fathom at all. However I also found Death of the West (1994). It hit the mark almost instantly and is featured as the 9th track in this collection.

Tracklist

The Watching Moon sketch by Tor Lundvall (https://tonywakeford.wordpress.com)

1. The Man Next Door is Very Strange (The Killing Tide, 1991)
2. The Watching Moon (King & Queen, 1992) – one of the many occurences of nihilist pitch-black humouristic lyrics. Just some lovely piano-dibbling on the composition too!
3. Death of the West (Death of the West, 1994)
4. Media (Trees in Winter, 1990) – probably the most loved Sol Invictus track, straight to the point, melancholic and melodic.
5. Sheath and Knife (Death of the West, 1994)
6. Angels Fall (Black Europe, live, 1994; originally Against The Modern World, 1988)
7. Like a Sword (Let Us Prey, live, 1992; originally The Killing Tide, 1991)
8. Amongst the Ruins (Death of the West, 1994)
9. Kneel to the Cross (Death of the West, 1994)
10. The Return (King & Queen 1992)
11. Tears and Rain (King & Queen, 1992) – Seek out Tor Lundvall’s cover; it’s even more chilling.
12. English Murder (Trees in Winter, 1990)
13. Sun and Moon (King & Queen, 1992) – bonus track

 

The next collection will cover the years 1995-2000, it will be linked here when it’s ready!

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons Cover mp3Wintersun’s The Forest Seasons might be the album that has split most opinions in 2017. Their Indiegogo campaign raised 464 330 euros (!) to be spent on their new headquarters that’d allow them to reach their “true vision” in future releases. As the frontman/main composer Jari Mäenpää stated, expensive limited studio time is not ideal for the massive compositions he wants to make.

The Forest Seasons represents a rawer sound that they can reach without the top notch equipment that is planned for the eternally overdue Time II. In fact, The Forest Seasons is almost completely a bedroom recording. All instruments are recorded by Jari Mäenpää.

The only reward level of the campaign was 50 euros and the reward: The Forest Package. It includes a new album, master files + bonus track, isolated tracks of the new album, live album from Tuska 2013, First album remaster 2.0, Time I remaster 1.5, Time I master files + isolated tracks, booklets, wallpapers, photos & instrumentals.

Some have praised the album, some accused Jari Mäenpää of being a conman before even getting the rewards. The truth is still out there, but following the whole campaign from the start till the end; I appreciated the honesty that they portrayed in a making of documentary. It was a good long watch in itself (1h 25min), and obviously free in Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MscAKtZt80I.

The Forest Seasons currently stands at 56 % in Metal-archives (19 reviews). I would say this is not based on just the music.

Wintersun’s first record (2004) has a special place in my heart though it has not lasted time (no pun intended) as well as some of the melodeath albums of its … Wait for it … Time… I did not think the second album Time I (2012) was much more than alright, 7-8/10. A lot of people are accusing The Forest Seasons of having bad sounds which is so puzzling considering Time I symphonics are at worst near frigging Casio quality. At times they are great, but the base level is not what I was expecting. I can totally understand Jari wanting to have more a bombastic sound in the future.

What bothers me about The Forest Seasons

I already thanked Wintersun about their honesty BUT one has to acknowledge that they did manage to kind of conceal the fact that drums are actually programmed. They are not played by the drummer of the band Kai Hahto. Obviously they never stated anything other. The drums are luckily very well programmed. The drum sound does not bother me at all, just the fact that they weren’t openly expressing that Kai Hahto is not going to play the drums. He is a drummer a lot of people rave about after all and made a lot of appearances in the documentary. Including appearing in the booklet as a band member.

I personally feel some cheese in the lyrics could have been avoided. At times the folk/viking metal aesthetics sound out of place on an album that is strongly based on the elements and seasons. Wintersun’s phrase book of cliche fantasy literature elements could have been set a bit farther away. Clear cut example of this is the last 7 minutes of power metal and viking choirs in Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring). I enjoy the end nevertheless, it just could have been less of a cheesefest. As an undermining factor, I rarely enjoy power metal. On the other hand I find the sing-along choirs of The Forest That Weeps (Summer) totally irresistible.

On with the good stuff

In short, The Forest Seasons is a damn good album, which is all that should matter. First three tracks are packed with memorable melodies, good song-writing and fine sounding symphonics. I really like bombastic elements, so for me the symphonics are a bit too much on the background. The guitar sound could have also been more powerful at times, but it’s a minor concern except in the last track. There’s a fine amount of details and stuff happening but also a great sense of progression present. For example how the Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring) meanders to small climax on 4.30. Slows down and finally gets to the chorus at about 7 minute mark.

The Forest That Weeps (Summer) has a similar meandering progression, the chorus comes early but it’s still not as climactic as later in the track. Some details like “I saw the lakes that shimmer” with echoing/airy keyboard melodies create images powerfully. It’s actually stunning how the track turns melancholic in the end. It brilliantly portrays a familiar August melancholy when the summer is almost at an end. This might be the best track of 2017 & Wintersun discography.

The 3rd track Eternal Darkness (Autumn) surprises with straight to your face fierce black metallish tempo. I didn’t expect Jari, a composer known for his power metal antics, to pull off black metal so well. Also, a fitting last.fm comment about the god tier solo at about 8.20:
wintersunsolo

Not all of it is of my liking

Wintersun succeeded in black metal atmosphere but the last track Loneliness (Winter) does not succeed as a doom track as well. The atmosphere is mostly there but the track fails to resound my nerves. First explanation could be the main riff that is quite buried, and not that special. Heavy guitars are quite instrumental in creating, umm, heavy atmosphere. Now the guitars are just a backing track there. I listen to a lot of melancholic doom metal and I just don’t get the feels from Loneliness (Winter).

The 8 minute acoustic version that’s a bonus track in The Forest Package is a bit more compact and a better version too. The c-part before the final chorus with its emotional guitar leads and vocal harmonies nearly gives me chills. That’s a lot more than what the distorted version does. The acoustic guitar sound is a bit steely, I’ve heard better and more natural sounds, it is not a huge concern nevertheless.

Short sum up

Even with skipping the last track, which seems to have its fans, the album still has 41 minutes of material that I’d classify great. Can’t complain too much.

8+/10

10 Wintersun Forest Spirits Wallpaper

Vallenfyre – Fear Those Who Fear Him

vallenfyreforthosecdOldschool Death metal from Gregor Mackintosh (founding member of Paradise Lost), Hamish Hamilton Glencross (ex-My Dying Bride 2000-2014, Ex-Solstice) and Waltteri Väyrynen (Paradise Lost, Abhorrence & bunch of others).

Not surprisingly the slower doomier parts are the most memorable bits. And boy are they macabre enough! Vallenfyre has two sides really, the slow tracks and oldschool death metal, both are performed with a very crusty guitar sound.

The video track An Apathetic Grave hits the right notes instantly, with the catchy guitar leads on the chorus, joined by powerful raspy vocals far removed from the seeming apathy of the track title. The Merciless Tide took more time to fruition as the best track of the album with its slow, ominous guitar leads that weave throughout the whole track. How much more doom than this can you be:
In a second
The life I knew
Existed no more
The cold hands
I could no longer warm

Third doom track (11th on the record), Cursed From The Womb feels like the lyrical centerpiece. It took even more time to grow than The Merciless Tide with an undertone a notch more ominous too. The tempo is the slowest with plenty of air between the hits. Lovely use of repetition and heavy beat invites for serious…slow…headbanging.

The only killer death metal track of the album is Soldier of Christ. Juicy guitar leads keep popping up and finally lead to the outro which is probably the most striking individual moment of the album. Powerful articulation and slow riff create a macabre image:
Abused by the protectors
Baptised in the filth of mankind
Behind the glorious curtain
Maggots feast
On the blood divine

I admit it, I am too much of a sucker for Vallenfyre’s slow and methodical sound. Their 2014 album Splinters is very similar in really fine slow tracks (Bereft, Scabs, Splinters). On Splinters the band really found the lovely crunchy, crusty guitar sound that they utilise so well on Fear Those Who Fear Him. The sound of the album is quite perfect for this kind of music altogether. Really powerful, far from crystal clear, yet not muddy at all. Piercing, rumbling and ferocious.

Oldschool death metal usually bores me, but when you sprinkle killer doom tracks in the midst it is very tolerable indeed. Unfortunately I cannot say many of the tracks besides the mentioned rouse notable interest. Classical gig-starter Messiah and really fast and aggressive circle-pit / track Nihilist perhaps most so (simple enough for a good sing-along too “Nihilist, Nihilist, Nihilist – Nihilist, Nihilist, Nihilist”!).

It is such joy to behold how well the drummer W. Väyrynen adapts between slow and fast tracks. It is quite natural when you think of his previous history though. Vallenfyre has a fair bit of old Paradise Lost in the slow tracks and the faster ones do remind of Abhorrence (oldschool death) and Rytmihäiriö (thrash / death / hardcore punk).

Fear Those Who Fear Him is going to be found in many “best albums of 2017” lists. For people with more liking to oldschool death metal than me, you can easily add half a grade more.

8+/10

Monumental Folkish & Folk metal playlist

1. Fleurety – Fragmenter av en Fortid disappeared from Spotify just a while ago, it will be added back when it comes back around. Full-length Min tid skal komme from 1995 is the real jewel of their discography. One of many “lost” metal releases that many consider a classic but most people have never heard about. It’s definitely a must checkup for fans of folkish metal.

1. Fleurety’s place was taken by Pillorian, the newly formed line-up of ex-Agalloch John Haughm. After Agalloch split into two pieces in 2016, the remaining three members went to form Khôrada that is due to release their first album. Pillorian‘s 2017 release Obsidian Arc starts with it’s brightest spots, By the Light of a Black Sun (+ Archaen Divinity) should sate most Agalloch fans.

2. Fen is not a band that I’ve tracked, even though it’s similarities to Agalloch have been known to me since their first full-length Malediction Fields in 2009. It is only lately that I gave a true chance to their unpolished first album and it unveiled a real jewel in Lashed by Storm. The weak clean vocals in the very end are it’s only grey spot. Fen’s 2017 release Winter materialized on my listening cycle; it does have some very atmospheric sections but its also really-frigging-long (75 minutes!). I would deem it very possible that a track from it appears to my playlists later on.

3.-4. As a humble praise, Wilderun‘s Sleep at the Edge of Earth might be my favourite metal release of past 5 years. It has a glorious quaternity Ash Memory (trinity has 3, quaternity 4, yeah i just looked it up from google…), from which 2 well fitting tracks were chosen. Hope and Shadow (II), and the The Faintest Echo (IV). The traces in the beginning of Hope and Shadow that clip in this collection are from the 1st track of the quaternity. Wilderun really took care to make it a logical entity which I then disturbed!

The Faintest Echo’s 3.20 monumental symphonic centerpiece and outro of the quaternity is a prime example why Wilderun’s output doesn’t pale in comparison with any symphonic and folk metal bands of today.

5. Tore Hund is by Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik’s Skuggsjá. It is a project by Enslaved and Wardruna veterans, which may run below radar cause of it’s eccentric name that sounds like artsy folk music. Well um, it is kind of that actually, in a lot of ways Skuggsja sounds more like folk with metal elements than the other way around. Though even the folkier tracks often have a heavy backbone that owes to metal and makes these two elements come together naturally.

6. In Zuriaake‘s Afterimage of Autumn‘s most stunning moment, the chorus of 歸兮 / Return Journey Zuriaake seamlessly adds a traditional sounding Chinese tremolo melody to a slow doomy basis. Unfortunately I could not pick the name of this guitar like string instrument as the booklet is all in Chinese (except track titles). Zuriaake’s black metal focuses on entwining natural atmospherics, ambience with very overdriven guitars and depressive black metal vibe. I also reviewed them in the past (https://likemusictoyourears.com/2016/01/26/zuriaake-afterimage-of-autumn).

7. October Falls is an interesting beast for their first promo was metal but three of the first four official releases were acoustic guitar driven material with a lot of natural ambience. Since then they’ve mostly strolled on the metallic grounds, always with quality but rarely with something that really catches my ears. A Collapse of Faith Part III, from 2010 A Collapse of Faith must be their best track to date. I must admit however that I have spent way too little time in adjusting to 2013, The Plague of a Coming Age. That ought to be my next listen.

8. The noise / drone wall of Sol InvictusEnglish Murder‘s intro make it a significantly difficult piece. But I am not making these collections for layman listeners quick fix. The controversy and paradox of a folk track being actually heavier and darker than the following metal track make it a juicy addon.

9. Logically following Sol Invictus is Agalloch, who have listed Sol Invictus as one of their big influences. Agalloch is one of the very first metal bands that I got into and surely the first folkish metal band. Yet in their sound progressive elements, post-rock and melancholia are also ever present. Limbs 10 minute brilliance is started by deliciously annoyingly long 10 second note after which it goes all post-rock. Climbing to mountains, descending into valleys and drifting among the transparent mist.

I do appreciate a well timed and set up grunt, John Haughm’s 6.35 effort is one of the prime examples! “These boughs were said to be lost! Torn, unearthed and broken –  IYRRRRRRRRRRRR”. What the fuck is he even singing about? There must be something to it as it inspires genuine sing-along grunting from yours truly. When it comes to grunting, Haughm is right up there with Thomas Gabriel Fischer.

10. Skyclad‘s past two albums haven’t been nearly as notable as most of their 12 full-lengths before them (many of them are masterpieces after all). I would only rate A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol and No Daylights Not Heeltaps on level with the new albums. However, on In The… All Together from 2009 Skyclad formed possibly the best track of their career, The Well-Travelled Man. The vocalist Kevin Ridley is on fire, shouting half of the track. Lyrics and composition communicate perfectly into a folky, dramatic, upbeat, yet melancholic tune with a heart-wrenching ending. Wow.