review

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

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