Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Tomb Becomes a Womb

Band: Hetroertzen
Release: 'Ain Soph Aur' (2014)

One of Lamech Records' esteemed roster, Hetroertzen enjoy a certain hermetical aura that many of their contemporaries often fail to invoke. The Chilean ensemble (now located in Sweden) sound akin to a rediscovered 90's Norse black metal mix tape, dust-caked and well worn, but exuding just enough energy to blow most modern, over-embellished black metal out of the water.

Weaving about in the wake left by 2010's 'Exaltation of Wisdom', their 2014 effort - making quite a few Album of the Year lists - retains the mesmerising style of its forbear. Utilising a grandiose atmosphere created by crisper production values that lend real clarity to the instrumentation, while retaining just enough harshness, 'Ain Soph Aur' is a sanguine declaration of Hetroertzen's patent devotion.

Attention is initially drawn to proceedings with the use of clean, operatic style vocals that underpin the band's ritualistic nuances. Complete with their melody-rich, trademark serpentine and arresting riffing, complemented by wholly competent percussion that is reminiscent of the legendary Hellhammer in parts, Hetroertzen boast a special ability to transport the listener back to the aforementioned glory days of their chosen musical genre, and to some of its most hair-raising aural endeavours.

Containing over an hour of material to absorb, twelve tracks interlaced with apt samples and ambient passages, this is one of the few modern records that captures the now overused notion of ritual. Hetroertzen's live exploits are a combination of theatre and musicianship, featuring costume changes and Black Mass activities in between song performances. Amidst a stage adorned with occult practise paraphernalia, this is a band in tune with black metal's indebtedness to spectacle and symbolism.

'Ain Soph Aur' is an ambitious release, adding variations in tempo and vocal style to Hetroertzen's now characteristic sound that was undoubtedly perfected on 'Exaltation of Wisdom'. There is even some genre crossover to be discovered, as the mid-tempo offering, "The Luminous One", is surprisingly evocative of death metal Egyptologists Nile. As expected for this release, the layout, design and artwork supplementing the band's brand of ritual noise is suitably esoteric, appearing and reading like an ancient occult tome.

Despite all efforts, 'Ain Soph Aur' fails to achieve the level of intoxication that made 'Exaltation of Wisdom' so thoroughly pronounced. Even with its improved production, almost cinematic scope and willingness to experiment, it is a subordinate record, but still far superior than most of what is marketed as black metal of late.

Rating: 85%

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Whisper of the Dead

Band: Dysangelium
Release: 'Thánatos Áskēsis' (2014)

The greatest demos ooze potential and swagger. They are self-assured, forceful declarations of intent - and when attached to relatively new acts, they can be truly unnerving. 

Released in mid-2014, the three-track 'Leviaxxis' pushed through the swathes of also-ran black metal troupes similarly vying for attention. With an approach akin to early Watain, the demo had no issue attracting recognition and building anticipation for Dysangelium's debut full-length, which was due to slither forth on a certain date ripe with implication.

To those attuned, 'Thánatos Áskēsis' may appear as nothing new or terribly fresh, but it is the approach taken by Dysangelium, complemented by a certain amount of grandstand, that levitates this release above the ever-growing Swedish black metal styled masses. Natural, discernible, echoed vocals drip with fervour and devotion. While the lyrical content may not be as developed as that presented by the likes of Deathspell Omega or Dysangelium's compatriots Ascension, it is their delivery, rounded off with arresting artwork and layout by Brianvdp, that lends a veritable sense of credibility to every track.

Mastered at Studio Emissary, a name now synonymous with class acts such as Sinmara and Svartidauði, 'Thánatos Áskēsis' is bolstered by a production that is both organic and cohesive, leaving it thoroughly accessible and never over-polished. A rumbling, dirty bass tone buttresses proceedings, integrating itself excellently within the sharp and frenzied yet melodious riff structures. The aforementioned wanton vocals, mostly a mid-level yet endlessly compelling growl, cement every minute of this release. Though percussion is competent, apt and never lost in the mix, it is quite typical of the genre and lacks any real revelation.

With its content resembling that of Chaos Omen at times, 'Thánatos Áskēsis' is a record wholly generous with its standout offerings. The varied tempos of "Words like Flames" command immersion, as do "Aries" and the spectacularly catchy "Murmura". "Chaomega", a tantalising morsel which also graced the 'Leviaxxis' demo, is an assuredly haunting track, rife with those palpable, growled vocals.

Closing track, "I Am the Witness, I Am the Servant" bursts with ardour. It is a fanatical, consuming barrage that is almost hymn-like in its definitive affirmation of faith and aspiration. Comparable to early Glorior Belli in parts, a little room is conceded to allow for effective slow to mid pace, atmosphere-laden sections before returning to the band's habitual offensive. Overall, as an inaugural full-length 'Thánatos Áskēsis' is an alluring nod to what Dysangelium have in store once their particular strain of diabolism is allowed room to breathe.

Rating: 75%