ALBUM REVIEW: HellLight ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’


HELL-LIGHT
‘Journey Through Endless Storms’
Solitude Productions, September 2015
9/10

Brazil’s masters of misery have created a stunning album of slow, delicate funeral doom that reeks of quality and personality. The latest release from the Sao Paulo band, who started out back in 1996, drips with heartfelt emotion and majestic musicality.

This is 80 minutes of melody and sorrow, and the eight tracks on offer are consistently excellent. The songs are carefully constructed so ensure that they flow gracefully and build momentum. From the choral backing to the sharp-edged riffs that cut through the gloom, ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’ is effortlessly epic. Gentle keyboards are a constant and comforting companion amid the shadows.

With tracks such as ‘Distant Light That Fades’, HellLight can be reminiscent of Hamferd in their ability to combine light and dark, decorating their bleak, pummelling heaviness with sparkling flourishes of imagination.

There are a few brief occasions when it seems a song might plateau or drift away, but, at those moments, guitarist, singer and founding member Fabio de Paula always pulls it back from the precipice and, before you know it, you are transported by yet another glorious solo or soul-crushing riff. De Paula also intersperses his rumbling growl with soaring clean vocals, which are used sparingly and to maximum effect as they get your pulse racing.

Every song offers something new and intriguing, all tightly bound within the band’s signature sound. HellLight are able to pack a lot of ideas into their music while treading a careful path to ensure that the songs do not become jumbled or unfocused. This is a band that has been perfecting its art for 20 years, and all of that experience shows.

If the band’s 2013 album ‘No God Above, No Devil Below’ was impressive, then this is even better. Mature and sophisticated – and often quietly adventurous – ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’ is an album of rare depth and an understated masterwork of melodic doom.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Carma ‘Carma’


CARMA
‘Carma’
Labyrinth / Altare Productions, October 2015
7/10

Carma – hailing from Coimbra in Portugal – create a combination of prickly funeral doom and dark ambient atmospherics. Listening to this self-titled album is like crawling through cold mud and barbed wire towards a hidden destiny – suffering is all around and there’s unlikely to be a happy ending. Then again, if Carma believe in karma, then it’s probably all their own fault anyway.

Lyrically, the band focus on death, loss and other burdensome miseries, and while they are sung in native Portuguese, you do not need a dictionary to translate the crippling cries of pain.

Carma’s music is a mass of sweeping guitars, jangling echoes and slow agony, and the songs are sometimes graceful and fluent but elsewhere a little indecisive. One of the highlights is ‘Feto’, a song that treads patiently with regal poise and features some rewarding vocal creativity and a magnificent finale.

Perhaps best of all, however, is ‘Lamento’, which is based upon movements from Edvard Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, principally the mournful ‘Ase’s Death’. While Carma’s doom metal version does not come close to mirroring the vast emotional drama of the original composition, it is quite an accomplishment to turn the classical dirge into something potent and fascinating. The band have not breathed new life into Grieg’s masterpiece – maybe they have breathed new death into it. The major down side to the song is the oddly playful plucking interlude, reflecting ‘Solveig’s Song’, which interrupts the flow.

If you remove the atmospheric, synth-driven opening and closing tracks, as well as the intriguing Grieg ‘cover’, you are left with just three tracks. And while this trio of songs are great hymns of calamity, this paucity has the consequence of somehow making the band’s debut album feel more like an EP. The balance between dark ambience and raw doom metal is not quite right, but there is more than enough to admire and enjoy on this new release from Portugal’s Carma.

Album review: AHAB ‘The Boats Of The Glen Carrig’

AHAB cover

AHAB
‘The Boats Of The Glen Carrig’
Napalm Records, August 2015
8/10

Before Ahab, people thought of the sea as just an enormous puddle that got in the way of global commerce. But now, thanks to Germany’s masters of nautical funeral doom, it has become a big, soggy source of fascination and inspiration.

Less calculated than the band’s previous album (the slightly brilliant ‘The Giant’) and less suffocatingly heavy than past opuses such as ‘The Call Of The Wretched Sea’, the latest adventure from this endlessly seafaring band is a gently compelling collection of Siren’s songs.

‘TBOTGC’ is inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s novel of the same name, and revolves around fear, survival and strange monsters. It is a rich and rewarding album, a showcase for Ahab’s abilities to create funeral doom with a twist… and then another twist. In fact, it’s twistier than a giant squid in a dancing competition, veering between serenity and terror like a drunken sailor on the open water.

The songs grow and come alive – there is an energy and tenderness behind these slow, salty anthems, and a depth to the sounds, the feelings and the stories. Ebbing and flowing between monstrous riffs and frothy acoustic bits, and with growled vocals unleashed intermittently to great effect, Ahab create a believably scary atmosphere. From the almost-frantic power of ‘Red Foam’ (and its delightfully baffling video) to the crawling sorrow of ‘The Weedmen’, there is mystery and magic all around.

Like some kind of underwater Opeth, the German band have been making this kind of music for more than a decade, so in truth there aren’t many genuine surprises to be found on their latest album. But in spite of their longevity, Ahab remain unique in terms of their scope, ambition and quality.

ALBUM REVIEW: Endlesshade ‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’

Endlesshade

ENDLESSHADE
‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’
Rain Without End Productions
(Released: February 2015)
6/10

The debut album from this Kiev-based six-piece blends aspects of conventional funeral doom and death-doom and sets off on a journey into desolation without ever really settling upon its own identity.

Endlesshade successfully create an atmosphere of blissful damnation, and amidst the torturous misery there are various moments of glacial groove, synthetic revelry, blackened fury and musical progressiveness. The individual parts are always interesting and work well in isolation, but do not always bind together as a cohesive whole.

The title track is a good example of this, featuring numerous different sections that are stitched together to produce a Frankenstein’s monster of a track. Dark and scary, yes, but also slightly heavy-handed in certain places. Moments later, though, the song ‘Noctambulism’ counters this trend by gradually building towards a stunning emotional crescendo that leaves a listener gasping for respite.

One notable element of Endlesshade’s sound is the battering-ram vocal performance of Nataliia Androsova who is (though you might not have guessed until you hear the opening moments of ‘Edge’, halfway through the album’s near-hour-long duration) a woman. The agonised roar unleashed from Androsova’s throat sounds like an explosion in a Gillette factory, and yet it remains controlled and almost elegant throughout, a bit like Tom Warrior.

The guitars massage your ears like a rusty chainsaw and the drums add a gentle undercurrent of thunder. And while the keyboards occasionally feel a little undercooked, they generally add to the overall sense of exploration and emotional purging. At the end of the final song, ‘Truth Untold’, for example, the swirling synthesisers are expertly balanced against shuddering guitars.

Slow, grandiose and ferocious, Endlesshade’s ‘Wolf Will Swallow The Sun’ is an album overflowing with epic ideas and gut-churning pain. Some songs are more refined than others, some sound more bold and focused than others. But these Ukrainian soldiers of doom certainly know how to get your attention.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Endlesshade/626345427409103?sk=timeline&ref=page_internal

ALBUM REVIEW: Crimson Swan ‘Unlit’

CrimsonSwan-Unlit_Cover

CRIMSON SWAN
‘Unlit’
Quality Steel Records
Released: March 2015
6/10

German band Crimson Swan perform an atmospheric, floating style of death-doom that encompasses the likes of Swallow The Sun, Paradise Lost, Mournful Congregation and Shape Of Despair. From start to finish, ‘Unlit’ offers solid, blissful heaviness, epic and elongated riffs, and rich, soaring melody.

The seething tones of the guitars work well in a delicate balance against the split clean/growled vocals. And solemn synths are an excellent, mournful ever-presence, underpinning and strengthening the band’s overall sound, especially on the glorious ‘Accusations’ and the stunning funeral-doom album closer ‘Voidhaven’.

The first track, ‘Fade To Nothingness’, has great energy and momentum, but is a little safe and familiar. The same can be said of much of the album’s first half, and it is only later on that the quality steel is unleashed.

Crimson Swan sometimes fall prey to the trap of being overly emotive; squeezing in so many heart-wrenching elements that they begin to have the opposite of their desired effect – turning listeners off rather than drawing them in. There is too much flowery poetry, too much ersatz whispering, too much fairytale. Such emotional overload undermines the gravity of the band’s slow, serpentine riffs and their elegiac musicality.

“Staring at a crimson horizon.” (Oh God, he’s whispering again…) “I am draped in a cloak of shadows.” (OK, I’ll put the kettle on…) Sadly, when he’s not employing unnecessarily hushed tones, the singer’s thinly growled vocals are also less than convincing. In fact, he is at his best when simply singing; something that happens too infrequently on this album.

The final two songs are truly gigantic doom opuses, but that’s not quite sufficient to make up for repeated infringements earlier on. Crimson Swan’s ‘Unlit’ is an ambitious debut that has masterful moments, but is blighted by mawkish sentimentalism.

https://www.facebook.com/crimsonswan

ALBUM REVIEW: Mesmur ‘Mesmur’

mesmur

MESMUR
‘Mesmur’
Code666
Released: December 2014
8/10

Mesmur do not want to entertain you, they want to punish you. Perversely, this American band’s dedication to suffering is extremely satisfying – they are experts in pain. The opening track begins with what sounds like a dentist’s drill whirring behind slow, evil guitars and foreboding drums. From that point onwards, you are in a world of hurt.

Fans of Evoken or Mar de Grises will find plenty to admire in Mesmur’s excellent self-titled debut, but this North Carolina outfit add their own distinctive personality to the funeral doom genre with some impressive flourishes. Unlike some funeral bands, this album does not take the best part of a month to get through – the five songs are over in around 50 minutes. And yet Mesmur never rush; they allow their music to breathe and grow like death in a petri dish.

This is misery on a grand scale. Searing, feral lead guitars duel and writhe against a backdrop of four-stringed torture, while Chris G (Orphans Of Dusk) unleashes his pleasingly hot-blooded growl over fascinating drum patterns. And, throughout, the synth work of guitarist/songwriter Yixya (also of progressive black metal loons Dalla Nebbia), are blissfully sinister enough to freeze the red stuff in your veins.

The songs do not abandon you to darkness entirely – they twist and chug, explode and explore, constantly finding new ways to release the band’s fire-eyed demons. From the agonised, creeping death metal of ‘Lapse’ – a song that overextends a little (these funeral dudes have a tendency to over-indulge, y’know) – to the bleakness of the 12-minute ‘Abnegate’, a crawling, standard epic that does not quite showcase the full scope of the band’s talents, this is an album of intensity and curiosity. The devil is in the details.

‘Mesmur’ is a high-quality doom metal release that welcomes you to a secret world of torment and makes you feel right at home. Packed with seething darkness and beautiful keyboards – and featuring the kind of awesome artwork that you can savour while the music unfolds – it comes highly recommended.

https://www.facebook.com/mesmurdoom

ALBUM REVIEW: Gallileous ‘Voodoom Protonauts’

Gallileous

GALLILEOUS
‘Voodoom Protonauts’
Epidemie Records (2014)
6/10

This Polish space-doom album is a sometimes chaotic meeting of muscle, melody and madness. With its hard-rockin’, organ-driven progressive undertones, it’s a very different proposition to the music Gallileous once created.

Way back in 1992, the band unveiled a demo of raw, shuddering funeral doom called ‘Doomsday’. Since then, they have endured more than their fair share of personal tragedy, but, having reformed in 2006 with a new, blossoming stoner-ish vibe, the modern version of Gallileous focuses on chunky riffs rather than the bleak, anguished aggression of their past.

Having faced loss and grief, maybe they are now at one with the universe, finding solace in the endless mysteries of space. ‘Voodoom Protonauts’ certainly harks back to the likes of Hawkwind or Deep Purple, as well as the energy and atmosphere of a Kadaver recording.

The album’s solid production helps to naturally bring together the various complementary elements: the sturdy guitars, gleefully reverberating bass and clattering drumwork.

Some of the song arrangements feel slightly jumbled – there are numerous moments of brilliance, but they are not always explored to their full potential. Similarly, the vocals can be indistinct and meandering, lacking real power or precision. These two issues results in an album that is frustrating in places, but excellent in others.

The song ‘The Green Fairy’ is one of the standout moments; an uncomplicated and wholly entertaining composition with a catchy riff, sense of humour and resounding personality. The momentum builds, the music develops with tension and excitement and the song finishes on a high. Elsewhere, ‘Brand New Cosmos’ is a mesmerising intergalactic mantra, but the adventure loses some of its appeal as the song progresses.

‘Voodoom Protonauts’ has plenty of great moments, and is packed with impressive, creative space-doom. But it’s difficult to figure where some of the songs are supposed to be taking you. Maybe that’s the problem with launching into the unknown abyss of space – you never quite know where you’ll end up.

https://www.facebook.com/gallileous

REVIEW: The Howling Void ‘Runa’ (EP)

cover

THE HOWLING VOID
‘Runa’
Avantgarde Music
(Released October 2014)
7/10

In the case of The Howling Void’s ‘Runa’, EP stands less for Extended Play and more for EP-ic! This three-track mini-album is like a soundtrack to some fantastical Warhammer movie in which shadow and plague cross the land and all the good guys die. The End. There is a great deal of philosophical and mystical inspiration poured into the compositions, but it all boils down to a staggering end-of-days vibe.

This one-man band from San Antonio, Texas, has released four full-length albums to date, including 2013’s ‘Nightfall’, and the triumphant triumvirate of songs on offer here (two of which were also recorded earlier in 2013) mark a shift away from previous funeral dirges towards a more accessible and melodic “Celtic” style of atmospheric doom. New track ‘The Wolf And The Eclipse’ joins older favourites ‘Irminsul’ and ‘Nine Nights’ and the songs complement each other well.

‘Runa’ builds on the symphonic elements that can be found on ‘Nightfall’ to create an vast, misty landscape peopled by the dead and dying. The Howling Void draws in aspects of Moonsorrow, Hamferd and Falkenbach, including a blackened undertone, while weaving together tribal elements and tranquil keyboards that add warmth and depth to the multi-layered sound.

The vocals are occasional, clean, peaceful and passive as if unwilling to interrupt the grandeur of the music. The songs swell and build, surging ever-forward like an eternal war machine. Complexity and originality are not the focus here – ‘Runa’ is more a case of perfecting a certain sound; painting the background to a vision of the world. A precursor to greatness, perhaps, a taste of immense sorrows to come.

https://www.facebook.com/TheHowlingVoid

ALBUM REVIEW: Abysmal Growls Of Despair ‘Abyss’

Abysmal Growls Of Despair

ABYSMAL GROWLS OF DESPAIR
‘Abyss’
Released August 2014
6/10

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. ‘Abyss’ is a truly terrifying, mesmerising slab of funeral drone and atmospheric noise. This relentlessly sinister album is enough to give Satan nightmares! Even the artwork will give you the creeps.

The name of this band may be slightly off-putting for its simplistic literalism, but the music itself is pretty devastating. From the desperate, wolf-like howling of the enigmatic opening track, to the album’s sorrowful finale, AGOD deploy expertly-judged and well-paced sound effects that fall across your mind like a black curtain blocking out the light.

Using extensive extracts from classical masterworks ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘Moonlight Sonata’, it is difficult to make a judgement about the musicianship on display. Undoubtedly, the finest music contained within this ‘Abyss’ is the creation of other composers, which is sometimes embellished and sometimes undermined by synthetic sounds of pain, sorrow and horror.

The sweet notes of the classical music are mere glimpses of light and beauty, but always shadow and dread overwhelm them. At times, the combination is breathtaking and beautiful, at others, genuinely frightening.

However, it is a fairly one-dimensional approach that works better in some places than others. For example, the mountainous rumble that overwhelms Pie Jesu on the track ‘Hang This Fucking Black Frockman’ is grimly enthralling, but the desolate moaning that disrupts Beethoven’s tender sonata is rather less convincing.

The closing song, ‘Calm Despair Hollow Life’ shows AGOD’s ability to create its own delicate composition, a gently mournful ditty that completes the album on a comparatively melancholic, peaceful note. ‘Abyss’ is a dark, destructive and disturbing experience that takes familiar sounds and sends them to Hell.

http://abysmalgrowlsofdespair.bandcamp.com/album/abyss

ALBUM REVIEW: Dysphorian Breed ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’

dysphorian breed

DYSPHORIAN BREED
‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’
Self-released, August 2014
7/10

The debut release from Sweden’s Dysphorian Breed – a one-man project from David Fredriksson – is a triumvirate of slow, regal and at times spectacular doom metal. Blending aspects of death, funeral, sludge and epic, ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’ consists of three 11-minute songs that have many virtues and a few debutant flaws.

Fredriksson’s music is a platform from which glorious, gothic choirs send out their heavenly hymns, and his deep, sinister growls are an ugly counterpoint to these synthesized moments of beauty. There is an interweaving disharmony between the rich guitar tones and the extravagant keyboards that creates beauty and tension, although the pattern becomes slightly predictable at times.

Strangely, opening song ‘The Tides’ keeps stopping between sections as if taking a breath. If used just once or twice, these pauses might be considered an effective tool, but repeating them so often becomes a distraction. Thankfully, the inelegant arrangement that afflicts the first track does not tarnish the second and third.

On ‘The Longing’, Dysphorian Breed’s languid death-doom is embraced by warm, dense synthesizers that sound like they came straight from a 1980s movie set. The song’s spine is a straightforward ascending riff, which is interspersed with sludgy nastiness, including clattering bass drum and snarling groove, to create a cacophony that is straight out of the pits of Hades. It’s all meshed together into a cohesive and pleasing composition.

Opening with a great, memorable riff, the third and final track, ‘The Metamorphosis’, has a genuine, invigorating sense of emotional release and musical catharsis. As ever surrounded and embellished by the grandiose keys, the guitars weep and sway to begin with. Then, temporarily at least, the gothic drama subsides and anger and attitude come to the fore, making this the most varied, intriguing and unpredictable of the three.

Fans of keyboard-driven funereal doom will not find too many surprises here, but will be satisfied with the quality and patience of Dysphorian Breed’s debut. The songs do not quite reach the high pinnacles that they sometimes threaten to scale, but with a little more complexity and experience added to the mix, ‘The Longing For The Tides Of Metamorphosis’ could yet be the start of something great.

http://dysphorian.bandcamp.com/releases

ALBUM REVIEW: The Cold View

the cold view

THE COLD VIEW
‘Wires Of Woe, Ways Of Waste’
OUT July 2014
7/10

Madonna’s 1980’s pop anthem ‘Material Girl’ addressed modern materialism in a fun, upbeat style. Thirty years later, The Cold View’s ‘Wires Of Woe, Ways Of Waste’ is the absolute opposite of that in every possible sense. This one-man project of Berlin-based A.A.S. approaches the soullessness of today’s technology-enshrined culture in a totally literal and terrifying manner, creating an album of such desperate bleakness that afterwards you might feel like listening to some Madonna just to cheer yourself up. Only joking – that desperate hag is more depressing than anything on offer here.

You’d be better off sticking with this daylight-swallowing, droning ambient funeral doom. It’s not easy listening. The Cold View’s music is slow, sullen and sparse. In its understated efforts to replicate the sheer futility of existence, the album’s quartet of songs – each 15-minutes-plus – can feel a little underpopulated. Minimalism, after all, must be very carefully managed.

Moments of beauty are rare, although they do appear, particularly in the piano accompaniment on the second track ‘Woe’ and the intro to ‘Waste’. The first moments of standout track ‘Ways’ offer some glimmer of synthy warmth, and although they are soon drowned by funereal sorrow, they return later on with an unexpected majesty. The four songs are called ‘Wires’, ‘Woe’, ‘Ways’, ‘Waste’, perhaps in an effort to go one step further than Robert J Sawyer’s ‘WWW’ sci-fi trilogy (‘Wake’, ‘Watch’, ‘Wonder’) which touches upon broadly similar subject matter.

The Cold View’s dissonant, buzzing guitars sound like a rusty telephone cable. Hushed, sinister vocals murmur and slice through the grey clouds of misery, and their message is evidently not a cheery one. A.A.S. seems intent on pointing the way towards humankind’s inevitable demise, engulfed by its own cleverness. It would be particularly ironic, therefore, to find yourself enjoying this album on Bandcamp, using a laptop. It might be advisable to use a wireless connection though – at least, you might feel safer that way, safer from the technological finale that The Cold View seems to foretell.

Perhaps this is one for hardcore funeral doom fanatics, as the incessant emptiness can feel slightly frustrating and soul-destroying at times. That said, The Cold View certainly lives up to its band name with its second album, giving a harsh and at times mesmerising exploration of the frustrations of living our lives wrapped in wires.

http://thecoldview.bandcamp.com/