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

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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.

Dies Natalis – The Bright And The Pure

Released in 2004 the 30 minute LP The Bright And The Pure is the gem of Dies Natalis discography.

The Bright And The Pure is not essentially just a simple neofolk album, it has a lot of neoclassical and cinematic hues. The starting three headed beast Near Heaven / The Bright And The Pure / The Fortress is a joyous glimpse of a 70s psychedelic western film that never existed. This trinity is tight with atmosphere and lo-fi-massive and organic with mystic compositions. I can’t help thinking The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Three following tracks are sung neoclassical / neofolk that retain the cinematic mysticism. Really far from regular neofolk really. The atmosphere is unlike earlier or later in Dies Natalis discography. Occitanias Knights is the least impressive of these 3 tracks but the intro builds tension wonderfully with deep ambience and acoustic guitar. Later on the march drums keep the weirdly bumpy verse on the bright side.

Rich female vocals are an essential texture to the release. La Complainte Pour Esclarmonde De Foix a French art film track (!) highlights the vocals and woodwind instruments while gently overpeaking. Perhaps it is just my copy that does it, but I do love some gentle overpeaking!

My hate relationship with the 7th track The Upward Spiral turned to a friendship yet ultimately it is on a wrong release. Nihilistically symphatetic lyrics on a bright, major key composition are a nice paradox but thematically it does not really fit on The Bright and the Pure. It is like a disjointed Ben Stiller film scene in an art film.

The Upward Spiral is musically very close to other releases by Dies Natalis. Their earlier releases suffer from accented German vocals which aren’t that well sung either. A lot of great Neofolk is not that well sung though, so the dislike of German lyrics and accent may be my personal problem. Dies Natalis did correct that to their later album The Phoenix Contradiction (2008) but compositions are a lot more straightforward and acoustic guitar driven than on The Bright And The Pure. This may be a positive or a negative feat, depending on the listener and the mood!

The final track, another cinematic trinity, Near Heaven II / The Bright And The Beast / The Stake, shifts from ambient to finale after halfway mark and resembles the title track of the album. It grows in tension until suddenly ends. Actually it sounds like a duality, unlike the first track that has clearly three different sides. Be it a duality, trinity or a quadruplicity, the finale really weaves the release together.

The Bright And The Pure might be a bit difficult album to get into and even more difficult to find these days, yet it has continued to grow in our over 10 year old relationship. Very much recommended for seekers of strange neofolk and neoclassical who are not afraid of a dose of lo-fi.

9/10

The Clan Destined – In The Big Ending

57929The Clan Destined is a band and a collective that released its debut In the Big Ending… in 2004 as a demo and 2006 officially. The band is most known for its frontman Martin Walkyier (ex-Skyclad, ex-Sabbat). However, the line-up that recorded In the Big Ending… has a considerable amount of metal experience from Iscariah (ex-Immortal), Andy Sneap (Hell, Sabbat, well-renowned studio technician), James Murphy (Ex-Death, ex-Obituary, ex-Testament), Les Smith (ex-Anathema, ex-Cradle of Filth) + female vocals by Grim Rita.

The Clan “Destined”, split up before the official release of In The Big Ending in 2006. An irony not even a master lyricist like Martin Walkyier could plan. Apparently most of the music was written by Iscariah, and it is far from the folk metal of Skyclad. It traverses somewhere in heavy metal / thrash metal / groove metal terrains. The tracks are packed with memorable riffs, melodies and good background keyboard work, occasionally fiddling a lead melody.

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I cannot tell if Mr. Walkyier and Jacqui Taylor are roleplaying, commencing on a pagan ritual or just having a really weird drug-trip

Lyrically it is closest to Skyclad’s first album Wayward Sons of the Mother Earth (1991), which features very well written tree-hugging, earth-saving, western-life-critizing lyrics. The thunderous starter Swinging Like Judas is thematically straight out of the said album. With a lovely The Wicker Man (1973) sound clip in the beginning!

In the Big Ending has a strong pagan aspect, sometimes it even feels like forced conversion (I Am Because We Are!) which is exactly what Martin Walkyier is so often singing against (Swinging Like Judas + multiple Skyclad songs).

After the turmoil of the band, Walkyier’s lyrics on I Am Because We Are! praising the collective become unintentionally funny. It’s a lucky break that the track also includes the line “Soon we’ll be gone – The Earth keeps on turning.” 

The lyrics are still interesting and mostly of good quality. Walkyier’s trademark puns and clever wordplay are present but the general style is more straightforward than in his previous records. For a Skycladaholic like me, it’s still quite irresistible. Among with the good stuff, Walkyier does turn to a bit of a pagan preacher which is not much of my liking anymore (10 years ago I was sold!).

Nearly every track has a lot of infectious groove and catchiness, I Am Because We Are! probably the most so, if you are not annoyed by the preaching lyrics. Musically and lyrically the best track must be the epic More Than War. I would go so far to say it nears a masterpiece. The video track A Beautiful Start To The End Of The World is a very merited melodic track that would have deserved radio airplay which I’m sure it never got.

T.C. Lethbridge (Julian Cope cover) informs the world about this influental and controversial author, archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer. The track itself is a compact and catchy rock track with memorable melodies. Some proper “library beer rock” really!

Have you even heard of T.C. Lethbridge?
Have you seen his books in any mall?
You’d be enthralled at his methodology,
While ‘scholars’ sit indoors going; “Ha ha ha ha ha!”.

I went so far to try to get hold of one of his 16 books, but none of the half dozen bookstore keepers I asked had never heard of him! Figures.

Even though I’m not planning in joining a pagan community any time soon (never say never!) when I first heard this album at a foolish ~21 year age old I wanted to shout out: It’s time let’s rhyme – United Pagan Massive. Come together or forever remain impassive.” That’s the power of good rock n’ roll!

Rating:
9/10
(Skyclad fanboy)
8/10
(Regular dude)

P.S. In the Big Ending… has had multiple reissues, 2004 a demo, 2006 the first “official” release by Lime Records. 2008 re-release by Lime records, still the only releases Lime has ever put out. 2015 Hammerheart Records re-re-released it as an LP, cd and 12″ MiniAlbum.

In the Big Ending… does have truly memorable thoughts. Perhaps the most important being:
“No one too can convince another who does not wish to believe what he is told. Only the doubter loses by his incredulity.”
– T.C. Lethbridge

Sad Legend – Searching For The Hope in Utter Darkness – South Korea

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Cursive white basic font is one of the few stylistic follies in a mostly fine release

The self-titled debut of Korean Sad Legend (1998) had a lot of melodic black metal trails, but already on their second official release, EP Searching For The Hope in Utter Darkness (2002), Sad Legend stripped almost all the black metal off. Instead the EP brought in more melancholy

The title track that starts the EP is a particularly somber piece. The memorable and mournful lead melody with double bass thundering reminds of their black metal roots. The track also features some screeching vocals underneath until the band shifts to an atmospheric slow section. It is quite typical for them really and has some gothic metal / symphonic rock in it with grandiose clean vocals and growling doubling. Naamah’s voice is not as versatile as on their final full-length The Revenge of Soul (2009, that I also reviewed earlier last month) but he does the vocals with great esteem.

I am not quite sure who made the final decision to include female vocals on the title track because they are quite horribly out of tune. The folk/power metal flirting that they proceeded to do a lot more on their final LP is also present here, with an awful casio keyboard interlude. On The Revenge of Soul such misses would be completely gone, Sad Legend really learned from their mistakes. Luckily Searching For The Hope In Utter Darkness does end with some nice progressive bits leading to the brilliant lead melody.

It brings a pleasantly expectant tone as the second track starts. And boy is Sigh on the Billow something to behold. The cliche waves crashing on the shore and gentle guitar with magical clean vocals is a wonderful sigh(t) to listen to. I’ve never been a big fan of power ballads but Sigh on the Billow is a rare breed. The female vocals also work here. Or is it actually Naamah singing with a ridiculously high-pitched voice? Knowing the vocal capabilities that Naamah showed on the next album this would not surprise me.

The track ends into another overreaction with merry folk metal keyboard alteration of the main theme. Perhaps I am too unforgiving but after a few listens I grew to dig this variation, even though at first listen I sighed audibly enough to wake my neighbours.

Third track An Echo of Bizzare Screams might be the shortest and also the least memorable but the march style on which the drums are played with is particularly refreshing. It is a compact but a rather sweet track.

I might label the closest genre to Searching For The Hope In Utter Darkness Gothic metal but it does not have the melodramatic vocals gothic bands usually go for. Instead you have strong varied vocals and compositions which have a lot of symphonic metal elements and a distant trail of black and power metal with a good amount Korean mystique!

8½/10

Also check the review of their final 2009 release here: https://likemusictoyourears.com/2017/04/15/sad-legend-the-revenge-of-soul/

Sad Legend – The Revenge of Soul – South Korea

248819Sad Legend’s final album The Revenge of Soul from 2009 is quite a triumph. It features ridiculously atmospheric sections and vocals to die for! Naamah who composed all the tracks has a skill to slow down and bring cinematic pinnacles in sections where you would not expect them.

It is indeed a Sad Legend that the main man Naamah seems to have broken up the band and has not released anything since The Revenge of Soul (according to Discogs and Metal-archives).

The best part of the album is the thick atmosphere and the vocals. And oh the vocals! The variety of vocal styles is spectacular. Great clean vocals, regular, orchestral and also high-pitched falsetto. The black metallish rasp is something I really enjoy. At best it is also tastefully doubled. I loved the sound of Korean on their EP Searching For The Hope In Utter Darkness (2002, review upcoming!) but in in The Revenge Of Soul the articulation is even better.

But there’s more! The verse vocals on Executioner sound to be recorded with a crappy mic, the singing style is very raspy, a bit hardcore punkish really. On first listen the scratching of the mic got on my nerves. However the raspy sound soon transformed into really enjoyable and for an noisehead the scratches actually add to the elements. Below the raspy there’s also some angelic clean vocal doubling.

It’s unbelievable how Naamah, better known as a drummer is actually the sole recipient of all this! And every damn instrument as well! Seriously, who is this guy! I noted there’s some female vocals that are unmarked in discogs, so perhaps it is not the only unmarked thing? Who knows.

If Sad Legend were melodic black metal at one point The Revenge of Soul is gothic metal and power metal and also quite symphonic. Black metal is only present in the raspy growled vocal style.115942_artist

Axe, and Executioner are especially solid compositions. The variety between heavy, angelic, fast and punky parts of Executioner is surprising. Sad Legend has a lot of power metal trails and Maruta is mostly from those roots. It’s middle part is one of the key moments of the album with extremely graceful chanting.

Elegy of Slaughter Echoing In The East is at par with Maruta but lacks the big pinnacle. At least it combines four more frigging vocal styles (spoken word, grudge movie like, dramatic symphonic chanting, falsetto)!

The ending trinity is unfortunately not as strong as the first four. Imjin War (power ballad with some female vocals) and The Reaper’s Song (another different clean vocal sound) feature some catchy repeating vocal-phrases which aren’t my thing really. But it’s pretty entertaining to catch oneself trying to sing-along to Korean. The last track Night of the Hunt has the strongest, a bit folkish, cinematic sense to it. A nearly galloping rhythm is followed by a long acoustic interlude, some progressive section switching until the beginning rhythmics kick in again.

I can imagine the album separates people, some people are bound like the more catchy song-writing of the end-album, but I prefer the grandiose beginning.

The masterful vocal performances and thick atmosphere turn the album to an extremely positive release. There’s a sense of uniqueness in it that will make it a regular visitor on my playlists.

Searching For The Hope In Utter Darkness is musically probably a better release, but The Revenge of Soul is at par to it because of its more consistent dynamics, atmosphere that stays intact and better vocals.

8+/10

Also check my review of their great 2002 EP: https://likemusictoyourears.com/2017/05/01/sad-legend-searching-for-the-hope-in-utter-darkness/

Sad Legend does not seem to have any real presence in the internet, hence I cannot link their site!

For further reading, a rather good in-depth article about the 2nd track, Maruta: http://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/107097/20140904/sad-legend-maruta.htm