Great Albums You’ve Never Heard Of… Probably

Great Albums You’ve Never Heard Of… Probably is bringing up some fine releases, which are either from new artists or albums that never caught on the way they should have.

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

Owls – The Night Stays

mi0003157707Owls’ 2011 album, The Night Stays starts with a bang. The first two tracks Hide and Seek and The Night Stays unite bass-rich downtempo with intense atmosphere and acoustic guitar & keys lusciously but most of the rest album easily sinks into just rather pleasing somber soundwave. If the Night Stays seems redundant or hard to grasp after the surprise of such captivating dark beats wears out, you need to give it some time.

It took about a year’s pause for the album to grow from tasty bits to a rather fantastic entity. Yet it is undeniable that the tastiest bits are served in the start. Title track’s luscious distortion and bright xylophone, bass backdrop and gloomy yet blackly humorous Tony Wakeford lyrics explore such depths of brain activity you’d be surprised.

Tony Wakeford’s vocals which always divide opinions fit the pace so well you come to hope Sol Invictus had more electronics. The lyrics are strangely more exposed than in Sol Invictus and as strong as one can expect from a Wakeford record. Occasional very neofolkish guitarwork commemorates the dark toned compositions. I have been told the genres in question can be classified as trip hop or downtempo.

Owls is indeed not just Tony Wakeford, but a threesome, the electronicswork of Eraldo Bernocchi and Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari cannot be underestimated. Both also have a gazillion other projects including Somma, Obake, O.R.k (Pat Mastelotto :O). and collaborations for example with Mick Harris (of Napalm Death), Ephel Duath and Eivind Aarset (a man with another gazillion projects).

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Owls live @ Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, 2011.

Perhaps the reason for the slow reception of The Night Stays is the difficult track order. It kicks right in but it takes until the 8th track We Took This Land to find a really tight footing again. A fragile guitar driven track that portrays great nihilistic lyrics about American oppression and breaks loose to a distorted and powerful chorus:
o, we took this land with bribes and murder,
and we will keep it too
don’t pretend to be so shocked,
it’s what the right (or white?) men do [i may have misheard some of this part]

In the middle part perhaps the brightest glimmer is the the glorious end to the repetitive Come Back, even though I have no idea what they are singing about. Strange Kind of Beauty is as titled, a touching slow burner which creates magical twinkling atmosphere in minimalistic ambientish/neofolkish background.

With Tony Wakeford’s solo album Not All Of Me Will Die, The Night Stays fits to A-category only shallowly under the best bits of Sol Invictus.

8½/10

Blaakyum – Line of Fear – Lebanon

595424Too many bands from the more exotic metal countries try to sound like their western counterparts. While it is interesting to find a random band from Asia that sounds like it could be a mediocre German thrash metal band, it doesn’t add much to the experience besides novelty value. Luckily Blaakyum is not a mediocre thrash metal band.

The fragile and flammable situation in the Middle East throws a lot of fuel into the fire of Blaakyum. When the first track Crossing is a killer and merges musically and thematically seamlessly into the next, Line of Fear, one can’t help but wanting to brofist whoever decided upon this. Blaakyum’s political thrash metal really gets more kick from local detail.

Bassem Deaibess is a very proficient vocalist who both adds deeper growls and falsettos to his raspy shouting. In the title track Line of Fear he even channels Warrel Dane for a while and in Destined to Rise shortly sounds like Martin Valkyier (talking about novelty details)!

Musically, Middle East is present but not that distinctly, mostly the album is a great sounding straight out thrash record. Nearly every track has minor unusual twists though. Usually its the traditional clickety tabla percussions (also known as derbukke) or atmospheric melodic guitar lines in slower sections with one occurrence of Arabic. Bass-lines are above average, occasionally standing out in the mix. Refreshing feats that add necessary originality that most thrash bands lack.

Blaakyum has soulfulness and a bunch of killer songs like the powerful attitude-rich Crossing and the hard-hitting Baal-Adon that suddenly starts to embrace the whole Middle Eastern aspect with magical guitar solo that closes out the track. The emotional and catchy chorus and rhythmics of Freedom Denied sheds more value to the 2nd side of the album.

Line of Fear is rightfully short at 39 minutes, because everything under 40 minutes is a short album, right? With thrash metal under 40 minutes is usually ideal, unfortunately though Blaakyum does idle a bit. Namely, the longest track Destined to Rise, Religion of Peace and the ending track I am Who I am do not rise over mediocreness. It does not disturb the entity but leaves Line of Fear hanging short of masterclass with exactly 23 minutes of really high-quality thrash.

It is quite unbelievable to note that Line of Fear is an individually released record. It should be only a matter of time before some big metal label picks them up. Blaakyum is surely one of the most potential Asian bands out there to appeal to big metal masses.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great bands in Middle East, but I think it’s only a matter of time before one of them rises to public knowledge, and most of the great bands are too weird, original or raw (excluding Myrath). Blaakyum has originality but also immediate catchiness. Line of Fear might well be their “The Link” (if you excuse my Gojira analogy) and the next album, the “From Mars to Sirius”Oh, my, I’m ranting and future predicting again, feel free to ignore my excitement :).

Remember that till the end,
no matter what life we choose, we end the same

8-/10
http://blaakyum.blogspot.com 

AlNamrood – Diaji Al Joor – Saudi Arabia

525517Too many bands from the more exotic metal countries try to sound like their western counterparts. While it is interesting to find a band from Saudi Arabia that sounds like it could be a mediocre German thrash metal band, it doesn’t add much to the experience besides novelty value. Luckily AlNamrood is not one of those bands.

AlNamrood is usually titled a black metal band, but they are far from the traditional sort. In fact, often it feels like the tracks are based purely on Arabic elements with distortion guitar and metal elements added on top. It is really refreshing not being able to know who to compare them to or even what genre they are. They could even be described as constantly overpeaked heavy metal band with basis on Arabic instrumentation.

The beginning of the record got my hopes up immediately as I’m a sucker for all things unexpected in my metal. The raw Egyptian-like intro Dhaleen, turns into stylishly minimalistic tremolo instrumentation with wind instruments and “aaaaaa”-chanting.

All the more the surprise when the vocalist Humbaba stats barking away with his monotone and quite unique vocal style in the second track Zamjara Alat. At 2.05 Al-Namrood tunes in a better melody I’d ever expect this obscure band to be able to deliver. It’s a c-part after the first verse straight from the boiling desert, accompanied by beautiful backgrounds. Already during the second track it is clear that this is not a normal metal experience but a lot more thrilling one.

The drumming first felt like a bit flat drum machine but because it is nicely overpeaked it invokes more raw power than in most cases. The sound really grew on me and on further listens the unpolished sounds stopped bothering.

On first listens it was also easy to disregard some unharmonic passages as amateuristic. Like Hawas Wa Thuar which is an particularly odd piece, with melodies that seem out of tune. Only later it started to feel like this atonalism (?) must come from Arabic music heritage. AlNamrood uses melodies that are straight out of European scales. Especially the said Hawas Wa Thuar succeeds in invoking a real diabolical feel with tastily unharmonic melodic patterns. Where as Hayat Al Khezea is a ritualistic piece where the monotonic vocals heighten the atmosphere and the majestic and eerie end speech sounds to discurse some serious, sacred or esoteric issues with conviction.

Actually I cannot think much that I dislike. If I have to start picking, the melodic folk metal influences, the backbone of most of Ejhaph, is not much of my liking. Ya Le Taasatekum is a bit mediocre but on the other hand conceives of a more rapid pace than its counterparts. It also really excels in varied and intense vocals and an outro with rumbling drums, very much a counterpart to the cover image. It’s not really mediocre after all, I gotta take that back. And even Ejhaph has mightily interesting percussions and eerie guitars in its last two minutes.

All in all, all tracks have something unique to offer, every track differentiates from the crowd. Like massive Adghan with double bass landslides and bright acoustic instrumentation or Ana Al Tughian’s mystic woodwinds and rhythmics.

Diaji Al Joor is a grower, after putting it aside for a while the true excess of unique elements and exceptional atmosphere kept growing. It took about 3 months to process into 9 /10 level.

Bandcamp: https://shaytanproductions.bandcamp.com/album/diaji-al-joor