Πέμπτη, 31 Μαρτίου 2016

Gaudí as a model for composition and the sequencers of Robert Rich

"Typically, Gaudí worked by supplying the basic architectural plans, and then almost intuitively deciding on the particular decorations as the building progressed. Gaudí’s approach to planning could be a model for a composer. While some might advocate working in an entirely intuitive fashion, others might prefer to plan, in advance, at least the main pillars of the work. The intuitive approach will inevitably result in some kind of structure. It is impossible to place sonic events in time without a structure emerging. However, the structure in this circumstance is governed by chance and has not been under the control of the composer. (If this were bricks and mortar, it might collapse!) This is the debate about the degree of intellectual control versus the free flow of ideas that is needed to create a successful musical composition. Perhaps the Gaudí model provides a good balance between complete control over every facet of the construction and the opportunity to allow creative inspiration to adorn the basic structure".

A quote from a book called Creative Music Composition, by Margaret Lucy Wilkins. I was instantly reminded of Robert Rich's "Gaudí" album after reading it, and started wondering if Rich may have specifically thought of Gaudí's architecture in a structural/compositional sense, rather than a purely aesthetic one. The partially random/improvisational, yet mostly structured nature of tracks featuring a generated (through a sequencer) and modulated series of melodies is quite similar to what is described above as ideal.

Robert Rich explaining how he does what he does (this video focuses on syncopated rhythms, but also mentions briefly in the beginning how random melodies are generated through a given set of 7 notes).

Or perhaps Robert was simply influenced and trying to imitate the impressive, fractal-esque and therefore quite ambient-esque interiors of La Sagrada Familia. I could look it up on some interview through google, but that would spoil most of the fun of pondering by oneself without being restricted by objective truth, you know?

Παρασκευή, 22 Μαΐου 2015

Ifing - Against this Weald (2014)

It is a rare and the most sought after moment when you listen to a metal album that speaks directly to your heart and you know you will heed its calling again and again in the future. It's also even more special when the band that produces that feeling isn't an obvious one at that, not being a famous, well recognized one, or even a band whose qualities are impressive and shiningly evident on the surface level. Such a band is Ifing. After listening to their debut album for the first couple of times I thought it was just (ok-ish) good in a charming way, like "oh, here's a promising new band that mixes influences from some of my most favorite bands". But "Against this Weald" kept calling me to return, each time becoming better and better, until after numerous listens I am still in awe of how vibrant and inspired some of its parts are and how much of an accomplishment consists its wholeness.

This debut of this duet of Fritz Petersen and Tim Wicklund from the US really came out the blue. Checking out the band on metal archives shows they've only took part in a melodic death metal demo release prior to Ifing (Through the Mist), which is not typical of musicians that eventually release a much-more-than-decent album. You will usually find there a big list of previous mediocre releases, old bands that failed, pointless side-projects and so on. These guys are not youngsters, so I'm led to believe that this is indicative of a character that I believe I feel through the music itself. It is a thing of maturity and strength to stand firm towards the passing of time and not rush things, projecting unfinished, mediocre stuff to the world just to use as a stepping stone. I wouldn't judge too negatively those that choose this path, but I am certainly impressed but those that don't. "Against the Weald" sounds like something that came after a bunch of other albums were scrapped. This aura of depth, confidence, cohesion simply cannot come in the beginning of it all.

For one, it wouldn't be too difficult to describe this album. Just to mention three bands would be enough for a general but concise idea; Moonsorrow, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch. So, here goes the basic reason on why Ifing isn't that impressive on well, first impressions. It's not the most original band in the planet, inasmuch as you can pretty much easily trace their influences in the above bands. Their atmospheric, droning interludes and some of the guitar leads owe much to Wittr, the epic, sprawling style of their compositions to Moonsorrow and a lot of their acoustic, melodic stuff to Agalloch. This could be considered as a lack of character and so it might put off some listeners (moreso as an idea rather as an effect, I believe), yet, in Ifing, it shows the glorious potential that honest influence has. To use an analogy, I could describe it like this. You can build a tower using the most extravagant, multi-colored, irregularly shaped building materials and designs that no one else has ever thought of using. Or you can take a bunch of familiar, simple materials and use them in the way that is the most efficient, that shows you have a deep knowledge about what they can do. Ifing show this knowledge by crafting an album that seems like every note, from the first to the last, matters.

The first thing that calls for attention is probably not in the riffs themselves, but in the excellent overall sound and I don't mean the sterilized, standardized version of the pro-tools "perfect" wall of sound by that, but how meticulously performed and mixed is every element, in order to create an open, atmospheric experience that evokes the impression of a real place, as in "ambient", the actual meaning of the word. The musical themes are mostly simple (the second reason on why your jaw won't drop right away, but after some time spent), passionate guitar melodies based on chords either strummed on the acoustic guitar, played on the keys, sung in multiple clean voices or even aided by a flute that sometimes appears. That's quite a variety, isn't it? Herein lies one of the secrets of this album, meaning in orchestration. But again, it's not about the building blocks themselves, but about where and how they're placed. Ifing mostly make their musical point by adding harmonies and consecutively growing their material in a pace that is just excellent for the course of the song.

If one pays a closer look, will notice that the mix is definitely not as simple as it seems, because of its not-in-your-face, not-very-shiny character. Levels change and instruments move in the stereo image, in subtle and unnoticed ways. There is a slight (again because it's really subtle) cinematic effect where everything is placed for maximum emotional effect. The result is creating a musical scenery that is brimming with life, drama, where one feels is inside the very heart of nature itself; amongst the forests of the north, emanating un unyielding life-force, the total affirmation to man of life never-ending. The sounds of sea and ships with men travelling through it, human ambition, exploration, civilization, violence, excellence in the brink of hybris and self-destruction. A special mention bust be given to the mixing engineer Roy Wallace for this excellent work.

The album begins with the instrumental "The Sires Beyond Await", that sounds like a soundtrack from a 70's cult film with its delightfully lo-fi, ambient horns and strings, mixed with the sounds of wind, sea and croaking wood. Droning, sad, epic, simply brilliant, a far cry from the typically mediocre conception of the "heavy metal intro". "The Stream", the first of the only two long (mostly) metal tracks of the album follows. While it is certainly good, it is actually in "Realms Forged", the second track, where the strength of the band is fully manifested and condensed. Simply, it's one the best songs in the genre of epic, folkloric black metal ever. Period. It's one of the songs that you'd like to go to its youtube video and write comments in the style of "the part from 0:00 from 18:33 is really excellent". In this majestic journey of 18 minutes, Ifing stand shoulder to shoulder with their influences (and I'll be damned if I heard a song that good in the last albums of either of them three that I mentioned, by the way).

But what does "Against the Weald" really wants to say? What are some of the ideas behind the sound? Weald is an archaic form of "forest" and the complete phrase, uttered in "The Stream" is "Against this Weald, we shall stand no more". The band is themed after Norse mythology and "Ifing" is the river that separates the land of the Gods and the Giants (I believe, mortals and gods is being implied here conceptually). "Open flows the mighty flood, nor shall ice arrest its course, while the wheel of ages rolls" say Ifing of this boundary, between mortality and eternity. This means that the only constancy is of the world is in its natural laws, these that ensure the eternal passing of time. As the band mentioned in their interview for the Metal Invader mag, "The Stream" is about the passing of a warrior through death and the "afterlife". All in all, it's the old pagan attitude, that assigns metaphysical value to the understanding and acceptance of life's inevitable fate, that eventually should end by death, so that other life will sprang out in its place. The wisdom that transcends the primordial egoistic nature (interesting contradiction that, eh?) of the death-denying man. Accepting truth, reality, nature. No more against this weald. Maybe there is something there that bears a direct resonance to eternity, even if I feel it might not be humanity's last word on the subject. But for sure, this chiseled-in-ages view has brought courage and strength in the face of hardship and tragedy for ages. And it is in this view that the timelessness of Ifing's music owes itself to.

"Against this Weald" may not be a perfect record, as there are some riffs and melodies, especially in "The Stream" that are too simplistic and familiar with their chord progressions for my taste. Yet, it actually feels like a perfect record. Like you couldn't take any part out of it, because it is an organic creation where everything matters in conjunction with one another. No "wow, look at how fast they can play" or "oh my god! that riff!" moments were needed here, because its the whole vision that's powerful. Instead of writing one super awesome riff, write a record where all the riffs are good and meaningful, one after another. Can't? Thought so. That being said, if Ifing do progress towards the more complex and expressive as it is natural in musicians as the years pass, while retaining the sense of unyielding artistic integrity, perfection and detail that the debut sports, one can reasonably expect for masterpieces to come. Of course, this is a painstakingly hard and time consuming thing to achieve, so I definitely don't expect them to rush the second album. Do not be afraid of time, aim deep, aim high; these are the things that "Against this Weald" has shown to me.


Πέμπτη, 13 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Obsequiae - Suspended in the Brume of Eos (2011)

The Middle Ages hold a special allure to me, perhaps the most of all the historic ages. That's not exactly original, the fantasy genre is almost entirely based in them, as is a large part of pen & paper and computer gaming, heavy metal, many more historic movies taking place in that time instead of say, Renaissance, and so on.  Personally I've wondered before why is that so, since we are clearly historically aware that it was such a backwards age. Surely, its romanticization by films and literature had its effect, but what was there to inspire it in the first place? For a start, it is sometimes forgotten that the Middle Ages had their undoubted contribution to high art, from Gothic architecture to early plainchant and early polyphony in music, the masterpieces by Perotin, Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut, that bear this unique "spirituality" that is seldom found in music even 10 centuries after. Oh, badass knights and their castles too (back on that later).

Obsequiae is a US band from Minnesota that is, as you surely must have guessed, heavily influenced by the medieval period both in music and general aesthetic. We are greeted with a wonderful cover taken from a 15th century fresco, that depicts a typically symbolic scene of a lady out in nature, accompanied by the usual pets every hip lady should have had at the time, a unicorn, a lion and a monkey. The title of the album itself is a perfect companion to the scene and was actually what lulled me into checking the album in the first place. But, let's hit play; two folkish guitar leads kick in right ahead in counterpoint, enthusiastic, robust and bright, as exactly you would have expected the glorious morning light to sound. They are accompanied by screaming vocals and powerful drums, both sounding somewhat reserved at the same time, like well-mannered medieval lads engaging in court etiquette (ok, let's say medieval duel etiquette and be more metal). The overall style of the band seems hard to pin down, carrying a black metal feeling but featuring little blasting, tremolo picking or dissonance, not brazen enough to be labelled pagan metal, too harsh and virile to be "melodic death metal". It's actually closer to the very beginnings of the latter genre, for example the first Opeth album or the Dark Tranquility demo, in which DT, ignoring the typical thrash riffing of the era, attempted something like a bold embodiment of nature in its beauty and ferocity alike, exactly as the "Vernal Awakening" title sums up.

To be more precise,  the medieval elements in the music of Obsique are closer to the folk music of troubadours than the churchy stuff I mentioned in the beginning; even the pseudonyms of the two members are actual names of musicians from the 12-13th century, even though the polyphony that characterizes the interplay between the guitar tracks of the album wasn't really heard until Renaissance, when composers starting making polyphonic compositions out of these folky, bouncy melodies we've came to associate with jousting, tavern partying and so on. Not that this is important, as Obsequiae are clearly a metal band, not some medieval fest re-enactment troupe. In a metal band, there is almost always an extra-musical will that drives the creation, something beyond historicism, epistemology, a personal will-to-power that concerns this very world, even if obscured by reference to fantastic ones. Especially in such a regal, high-brow band such as Obsequiae.

Feeling this, I was disappointed not to receive any lyrics in the BC download, site, or wherever else, so my only point of reference was an Invisible Oranges interview of the band.  In which, however, apart from the lyric absence being justified rather crudely (I get it about the cd insert, don't see why they couldn't be uploaded somewhere) we at least get a sum-up of the lyric themes (" dreamlike fantasies which attempt to illustrate simple tasks, observations, or notions and carry their symbolism into greater realizations "). Still, my questions mostly remain answered; what is in the medieval age that fascinates the band? Well, not "medieval history, fantasy novels, role-playing, video games, weapons", but just medieval music and instruments and... castles. Concerning which, the band also takes heed to note that "anyone who dislikes castles is probably a dick". I don't dislike castles, but I can think of a few reasons why someone would.

You see, sometimes we forget that castles were the exclusive residence of middle ages nobility, the class that emerged out of the feudal system to amass local power. Lords and knights have been always portrayed conveniently as the humble protectors of the weak, when in reality they were land-lords that employed large populations of peasants in their farms, to harness almost all of the wealth coming from their work, in exchange for protection (or, obviously, "protection", at times). There were as responsible for epic feats of bravery, for patronizing the arts, as they were for maintaining the all-known misery, poverty and rigid hierarchical system of the middle ages. This is actually where my concern about medieval-inspired metal lies; it's no lie that as the larger part of the power and resplendence of the ages comes from the aristocracy, there is often an implied, or perhaps subconscious endorsement (and a meeting point with some contemporary right-wing politics) of it by many bands within the "genre". However, I would not lump Obsequiae into this category, for not only there are no such references, but interestingly the lyrics to "The Wounded Fox" posted in the I.O. interview depict an inversion of the state of power between the hunter and the haunted, an antithesis to the ideal of perpetual, hierarchical, supposedly "natural" order that must be maintained in such a worldview.  Hopefully they don't think I'm a dick too.

Getting back to the music, the only drawback that I can attest to is that the mood does not differentiate that much throughout the album; certainly Obsequiae have a distinguishable, personal style, characterized by an interchange of mid tempo folkish guitar leads with faster, tremolo riffing parts that could be labeled as melodic black metal or death metal, depending on the case. After the first half of the album has passed, there aren't many surprises to be found though, not because there isn't variety in the wealth of musical influences, but because the mood that they are presented wavers between regal lyrical and regal angry.  But this is just a minor complaint, as the quality almost never diminishes. Indeed, what shines on is the spectacular musicality of the band. Besides the already lauded intricate guitar harmonies, courtesy of (also Celestiial main-man) Blondel Del Nestle, praise must be given to the airy delivery of Neidhart von Reuental on the drums, as also for some nice bass lines that pop out once in a while. Although the band plays often quite technical parts, there is a finesse in the delivery that makes the music really breathe and succeed in its goal, also aided by a dynamic and spacey, non pro-tools sounding mix that works great, especially when listened in headphones. Also noted must be the classical guitar instrumentals, in a purely medieval style that sounds like actual transcriptions, that serve as interludes between the metal songs. The highlights of the album lie for me (not surprisingly I guess) in the moments when the band emphasizes the melodic black metal influence, such as in the epic "In the White Fields", the menacing "The Starlit Shore", not to ignore the excellent instrumental outro of the album, "Cabin Lights" that actually ends sooner than I would like.

"Suspended In the Brume of Eos" is one of the finest metal albums I've heard lately, that places Obsequiae in the esteemed category of the bands that I hold the most expectations for the future. Perhaps the only thing missing is them defining themselves in a more assured manner; in some ways (from the absence of lyrics, to the band choosing a certain obscurity both in presentation and attitude) this feels like a well-done project rather than a "main" band.  Acknowledging that I am projecting my own interpretation and expectations in a supposedly objective manner, I'd like to see more clearly what they are "about" and what is their will-to-power. Neidhart mentions in the I.O. interview that "the best heavy metal has always been mired into escapism and mysticism". But, the best heavy metal has been that which was able to create and reflect, out of the escapist freedom, meaningful and powerful visions and realizations about the very real world.


Τρίτη, 11 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Inter Arma - The Cavern (2014)

It's been some time lately since I got hooked into a metal song right away after clicking το one of these bandcamp play buttons (thanks to the cool guys at metalbandcamp.com, as usual).  Inter Arma's "The Cavern" starts off with a wondrous and threatening wall of noise and feedback, like some indian ayahuaska-infused psychedelic ritual, to melt into a lyrical, emotive clean guitar passage, thereafter eloquently harmonized by violin and more guitars.  Pause. Outburst of electric guitar and heavy drumming, monolithic palm muted riff, whose second part rises in fierce, vigorous dual heavy metal leads. That's a little bit of everything that is good, in just three and a half minutes. A good way to start an album.

What also somewhat excited me after briefly googling the band, is that Inter Arma are obviously lumped into the post-metal category, Mastodon/Baroness references, Relapse contract and all, however seem to contain an essence that is not usually found in the said style, or at least is more vibrant to the context of my personal preferences. "The Cavern" is a release that is comprised of the 45 minute same-titled song, with a lyrical theme that concerns the survival of an exiled man in the hostile desert, a theme that very typically shares spiritual extensions (for example, as a rite of passage for the individual) in various cultures that it is found, from the Aborigines, to ancient Spartans, to the manner by which such survival stories are presented in modern documentaries. In short, we have a presentation that hints over something "deeper" than what your typical metal band goes for, but does such a thing indeed exist in the contents?

It doesn't take long for the enthusiasm to somewhat curb, after hearing the band repeating the (awesome) after-intro riff for about well.. more minutes than it should have. Ah, I am reminded that this comes from "sludge", the sole sub-genre in metal that I cannot get myself to listen to, as the extreme, hardcore-infused version of doom without the lyricism and melody.  Much repetition, less variation, less trance-like quality comparing to drone music (good drone music, not that one coming solely from guitar feedback, please). And god-damn boring vocals. Of all these, Inter Arma are indeed guilty concerning the vocal part (the signer's polite, pitched shout doing almost nothing for me) but only partly on the others. This is obviously a very talented and musically competent band, not at all shy to create complex, soloist-style, dual guitar riffing in-between all the groovy, slow parts.  The part between the introduction and the 20th minute wavers in-between these two styles, sometimes being quite awesome, sometimes leaving me struggling to keep my attention. The melancholic clean guitar and violin fortunately show up again around then, deepening the mood with an added epic twist in one of the best sections of the song, until an ambient break happens that creates a evident bridge between a first and a second part of the song.

Lyrically, from 20 to 26 minutes, this part represents the protagonist seeing a light that guides him/her to a descent (judging by the cover) to the cavern you might have expected from the title. There, although the hero finds water, his/her certainty of dying and consequent magical transportation to a mountain peak, greeted by an "ethereal woman" points that all these might be probably the illusory thoughts that the brain produces at the last stage before death. The music seems to point towards that direction too,  as after some needlessly excessive soloing around the end of the "Americana" section (a bloated part generally) it begins to take a turn for the darker. And it ends in quite an agonized way, using a consecutively slower played variation of the beginning riff, atop increasingly reverbed screaming and feedback. No happy ending I suppose here.

The long-form composition  is a bet generally taken at odds against. Although demands might be lowered given to them being conceived as experimental works, the payback isn't big either, as not a lot of people have the patience to sit through a 45 minute song, or remember where they left it off anytime they had to go. Taking this into consideration, I will applaud the band for the boldness, even though they did not avoid completely the usual pitfalls, such as hit and miss riffing and overlong parts. But undoubtedly, the composition flows just fine and features many strong moments throughout. Although I am still kind of distant to the style of the band, their adventurous approach certainly  will succeed in being able to connect them with a wider audience, such as that of prog or atmospheric metal. The label seems to have grasped that and rather deceptively also uses the label black metal in describing them. While there might be atmospheric echoes of the Cascadian style of bm present in Inter Arma  (mostly in the acoustic, droning parts) this is like saying one plays heavy metal for using a Malmsteen-like scale. The band doesn't need such cheap marketing. It's also worth noting that this is in fact a 2009 composition, recorded by the band as written in the BC page in-between tours. This creates some justified expectations for their contemporary and future work.


Παρασκευή, 31 Οκτωβρίου 2014

Qualeaceans - Capture Of Ziz (2014)

This is a very interesting case; Qualeaceans is a newcomer project comprised of unknown individuals, hailing from an unknown country, who present themselves (?) to us with a single song with a duration of just.. 78 minutes. And this is just the beginning. Their motto is "Metal in Opposition", a reference to RIO, the prog rock offshoot "genre" that despised limits and conventional structures (being despised itself in turn by the mainstream music industry), favoring instead poly-stylism and free form experimentation. Its adherents in the metal culture being so few, Qualeaceans have the advantage to at least begin from a position of interest.

Unconventionally so, the album "The Capture of Ziz" has one song, which does not bear the same title. It is actually called "In the Cavern of the Flightless" and its lyrics would generally place it into the sci-fi category, albeit of the very psychedelic variety, perhaps surrealist too. There is a story here and although it is veiled enough by metaphor and unconventional phrasing, it does create interesting imagery and those hooked by the musical part will probably get their returns when trying to unlock it.

Poly-stylism is a word that the band uses to define its work and indeed there is a lot of stuff here, ranging from heavy death metal, to space rock, to intimate acoustic parts, to freak folk free jamming, to.. you get it. In essence, there are different movements that could have been presented as separate songs, yet I do like the concept of the long composition anyway as it re-enforces the idea that it should be listened as a whole and there is also good enough flow between the parts to justify it. Generally, the logic of jamming progresses actively the song, as all movements reach a point where they "lock" into a repeating rhythm, with a lot of guitar soloing (and not only) happening. But there is also substantial riffing in-between these parts, not failing thus to keep the interest intact as many bands of the "space rock" genre do, for whom recording albums and jamming live is almost one and the same. There is also a variety in the instruments that are used,  from psychedelic keyboards to flutes and mandolins (?), some sounds even defying recognition. Guitars are usually heavily effected in ingenious ways and drums, although it parts sound programmed, groove in often complex rhythms. The metal parts are quite complex, even though in a very different way than your typical techno-death band; it is as if they feel a desire to dissolve themselves, to destroy expected structure and logic and find a greater freedom underneath the debris. The so-called dementia, perhaps, a word that is uttered often by the lips of conventionality.

Most of the times, at least, because the band unfortunately does give in some times to the temptation of rather pointless doodling. This usually happens in certain solos that keep on for too long, or at some parts where the desired weirdness translates into random dissonance that doesn't do anything for me. The greatest misstep is in the segment from the 50th to the 60th minute, where just after perhaps my favorite part of the song, an inward acoustic movement with clean vocals in the vein of Kayo Dot, every guitar track begins to play totally unrelated stuff, somewhat like childish play.  Maybe that was the point, but still it is pretty pointless to listen to this segment and I pass it every time. I guess that would be because the absolute breakdown in structure doesn't work in music except as a statement, and even the most experimental theme has to carry some slight repetition to bear musical meaning. Yet, it's completely natural in such experimental works sometimes for the experiment not to pay off, but fortunately for Qualeaceans, this concerns the smaller part of the album.

The Capture of Ziz is a very bold work that improves by every listen and holds much actual content beyond experimentation-for-the-sake-of-it. I would definitely recommend it, even though its rough parts and uncompromising form will definitely require much patience from the listener. It will be very interesting to see how will Qualeaceans evolve in the future and if this happens in the direction of substance rather than remaining fixated on aiming for "weirdness", as it happens in a lot in these kind of projects, certainly the metal scene will have a new standard of mind-sex to refer to.


Τετάρτη, 28 Μαΐου 2014

Appalachian Winter - Ghosts of the Mountains (2013)

In heavy metal, there are bands whose lyrical content, attitude and general aesthetic is so unappealing that one feels almost guilty liking them, obviously solely because of their awesome music. And then, there are bands which get it so right, which are showing such a purity and true-ness of vision, that it almost doesn't matter if the music isn't "professionally" produced, performed, or even top-notch at all times. Appalachian Winter is the second kind of band for me. This is a personal project created by Daniel Klyne (lately there have been some additions in the line-up), a US citizen whose descent or primary residence is traced in the area of Appalachia, a "cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia" (to copy from Wikipedia). The area is almost synonymous with the mountains that occupy a large portion of its range, is quite famous for its unique folk music (a mix of anglo/irish/scottish tradition with some blues) and for its people. It would be interesting to read a bit about Appalachians before delving into the project, a people at different historical times revered or disdained, as as a result of their cultural/physical isolation and the hardships they endured, such as poverty and physical labor under difficult circumstances (remember Panopticon's "Kentucky").

Appalachian Winter is a historical project, as opposed to the fantasy literature that dominates metal to a large extent. All lyrics have to do with either the land itself, or the people living in it. This kind of connection with reality, is a characteristic that is not found very often in black metal music, where, even in the case of bands with historical themes (read: usually nationalist) the idealization of a distant past that might have not even existed, persists. Appalachia itself has also historically been a "victim" of idealization, with all the positive and negative elements that this entails. But this doesn't sound like new age music made by and aimed at city people;  this sounds like there is something deep and pure, something truly connected with the land, in Daniel Klyne's heart.

The interesting thing is that the music of A.W. doesn't really sound Appalachian, except at few times where obvious references are made, also made apparent by instrumentation such as banjo and dulcimer. It is mostly a kind of epic, "symphonic", folkish black metal along the lines of Moonsorrow of Summoning, led by spacious orchestral synths, heavy metal-ish guitar leads and Klyne's amazing and utterly convincing vocals, usually in a deep black metal voice, but very often in clean, almost operatic mode as well. You know these sorry-ass musics featured in corporate advertisements that pass over as "motivational", right? Well, A.W. could be truly called motivational music; anthemic, heroic, powerful, but not in the typical, borderline hateful way that is characteristic of epic black metal, instead bearing a kind of sage-moderation, a positive and hopeful outlook with just the right hints of darkness or coldness, to maintain a cyclical pace that represents real struggle and overcoming.  It's also useful to note that the music has much more layers that one would imagine at first. Just listen at the excellent "The Great Battle". As with Wintersun, for example, there seems to be a monotony of consonance, which might cause the attention of some listeners used in the ADHD and abrupt changes of extreme metal to drift off; however, beneath it, it contains great harmony, a wealth of glorious parallel or "hidden" melodies, best noticed with headphones and active listening.

Heavy metallers are unfortunately very seldom interested in lyrics, but it is here where the project lifts off to land into far-away, snowy mountain peaks, where only few metal bands reside; in the domain of timelessness. It's really difficult to choose one or two excerpts among equally excellent ones, so I won't. Suffice to say that Daniel Klyne is a poet that writes with great passion and in a truly philosophical manner, one that is not characterized by fancy words and aestheticism, but expressed in the more direct, folkish way possible. In perhaps the best song of the album, "Ancestors of the Lake", past and future, reality and fantasy, all meld together into one moment of universal awareness, like the whole weight of the world is suddenly felt over our shoulders; but we are holding it, we comprehend the immensity of it all, if only for a few brief moments. It is just after Daniel finishes his last line, ah what the hell, here is the last verse.

"I like to think after I yield forth my last breath, 
That my spirit will join those ancient ones, 
In song to our beloved mountains. 
But likely that day, 
We shall all be dust, 
And nothing more."

It is like one of these moments experienced in a Terrence Malick movie, a feeling of of awe, sadness and meaningfulness mixed all together. And it is not just this one moment. All throughout the album, the Appalachian Winter speaks of the immensity that can be experienced even through a small fraction of isolated land ("The Town that Old Man Schell Built") paralleling William Blake's famous quote,  it speaks of spiritual independence amidst an authoritative regime ("Rebellion within the Young Nation"), it speaks of the power of tradition ("Patriarchs") and even of the tragedies of war and slavery, sometimes describing the perspective of the land itself, as it witnesses the horrors than men do. Yet, this is art with a positive outlook; everything matters, even if we are small, even if we seem insignificant comparing to the great whole. We can always find our place, our own meaning.

Appalachian Winter is one of the few beacons of light in today's metal scene, one that does limit itself by cynicism, pessimism or soulless professionalism, one that hunts tirelessly for its own personal, resonant vision, without even needing to break new ground in terms of stylistic innovation, without holding back for fear of being perceived as "kitschy". To get back to what I first mentioned in this review, perhaps I should already have mentioned the played-by-hand drum machine that sometimes misses a beat, the sometimes pitch-wavering vocals, the weak home-made production that lacks definition and mid-range, even a few missteps in parts that probably didn't come exactly as the creator wanted. But how much do all of these matter? Some reviewers prefer to rate by rating every characteristic of the record and taking an average of all. But this is not really consistent with our experience. Especially when its great moments aren't just great, but a kind of magic, or when by zooming out and looking from afar, one sees a creation tall enough to reach the peaks of the highest mountains.

This should become a classic metal record, a paradigm for other bands that want to create soulful and meaningful heavy metal to follow.


Κυριακή, 22 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Imperium Dekadenz - Meadows of Nostalgia (2013)

I don't normally do negative reviews. Perhaps because some of the worst review material I've read is of this kind, usually sadistic beat-downs that portray the worst of heavy metal psychology; try-hard attempts to define objective borders between the bad and the good, the "true" and the "false", a kind of ego-driven or fractionalist fanaticism that succeeds in blinding itself to "otherness", usually differing aesthetics in the case of music, thus being terribly limiting even to oneself. However, I'm not ideologically opposed to critique, just on the premise that it respects the existential validity of those that stand behind the work (both musicians and fans) and that it suggests for improvements, rather than considering its social cause to be the elimination of the, so-called "wrong", art.  So, from time to time, I do happen to come upon some band whose music leaves me frustrated and their success clueless. There is a tendency in the metal universe to judge bands that sign to mainstream labels with an austere and over-expectant attitude, which is not entirely incorrect, based in that a "successful" band uses canals of information that reach wider audiences and that there is a kind of justice by seeing the "good" bands take over these places. However, let us remember that this attitude is as often a result of subconscious (or not) envy (most high-critics of heavy metal got themselves bands that never "made it") and of the peculiar kind of fantasy-elitism that seems omnipresent in the underground; where anything over-ground is proclaimed as populist or decadent, so as to re-enforce the self-affirming notion that everything obscure must be worthy. I cannot claim to be completely impervious to either of these impulses, so it is important to be open and non-determined even while attempting something as experimental as listening to a full album of a band you're already not very fond of, to see if it, well, indeed suck.

My first contact with Imperium Dekadenz was with a song off their 2011 break-away album, Procella Vadens. In "An Autumn Serenade" I was immediately put off by recognizing several Wolves in the Throne Room tropes (notice the riff in 3:16, the drum change and then the lead and oh, 6:50, hallo Two Hunters) being ingeniously ripped off. It's not that direct influence is a bad thing, but when it's not somewhat filtered out in the end, it suggests a lack of identity and personal vision for a band. That incident made me disinterested in the rest of the record, which didn't try hard to impress me anyway with its lack of strong melodies and originality. However, seeing in 2013 the band sign to Season of Mist and their albums receiving generally unanimous praise, raised my eyebrows a bit. Could there have been something that I've missed, did the band improve so much, or is this a case of a big label throwing easy-food around?

After an acceptable acoustic intro, "Brigobannis" begins with strength and dark emotion, being reminiscent of older German bands (yep, obviously it's the language thing too) rather than I.D. as I knew them, a perhaps positive first impression. The sound is more powerful than before, without betraying reverbed atmospherics and black metal tremble, while high-pitched vocals cut through at ease. This is a band that sets the stage well; however, momentous, "vertical" impression does not mean much besides that they know how to play music and afford to get a good production (both not a given in black metal, to their merit). The evolution of a song is a part that usually separates mediocre, one-idea bands with the good ones. Unfortunately, from the third riff and on, we get the typical riffing that is the main weakness of the band. It is usually comprised of two chords and its semi-melodic movements are lifeless, like a vapid imitation of classic black metal.  

"Aue der Nostalgie", however, is probably the most ambitious song in the album, in that it does not relay in a short exposition (it hits the 10 minute rank) but it builds on narrative, deep moods that are centered upon a fiercer kind of black metal. In the first section of the song, the band sounds vital and engaging, incorporating stranger riffing, occasional double leads and a faster, more "masculine" rhythmical drive. It isn't anything too brilliant (and still ends in a predictable manner, in repetition of the ok-ish first riff) but it a song I would listen for a 2nd or 3d time, which gets the hopes up for the rest of the record. "Ave Danuvi", which hails the river Danube, is more epic, slow and sorrowful, sporting a brief, harmonic choir that sounds like a combination of sampled recordings and the voices of the band. This song succeeds too in its narrative cohesion, however, I feel it ends briefly; after an interesting acoustic part that sets expectation and drive for a longer exposition, it seems like the band is hurried to bring back the melodic riff to end it. It is a good song, that rises the band quite above the level of my preconceptions, although I somehow get the feeling that something better could have been done out of it.

"Memoria" is another acoustic guitar instrumental, this time with a fragile and romantic sentimentality, that discloses that the band probably feels confined within typical metal borders. Indeed, the next song, Aura Silvae, is rather upbeat, using major modes that remind me of Alcest, before making an abrupt turn to a darker second riff and then back. It would seem like a case of "wait, that's too happy, we must be METAL" and since the song continued in playing around with conflicting emotions, I checked the lyric sheet (there is a PDF English translation provided, I will applaud here the band for caring to do so) but cannot say I found much to justify this conceptually. In total, this song is as simplistic and uneventful as "Brigobannis" and thus, seems like a filler.

"Der Unweg" begins in a doomier, more contemplative mood, adorned by Burzum-ic bell-like synth. It continues in the same simplistic manner, adding even bouncy rhythms and occasional saccharine licks of presumably alt or-goth-rock origins before taking some dark turns along the way, that somewhat keep the interest at a midway between not-terribly-bored and not-really-interested. Here's what happens with simple music; it needs a certain ambience and context for it to work. Two-chord riffs can be great, as black metal or even pop music has proved countless of times, but this doesn't mean they'll be every time, even if it seemed like a good idea to the musician, at the time of inception. Maybe the guitar sound was perfect then but not after, maybe the arrangement or mixing destroyed part of the impact, maybe the musician didn't materialize what was playing in his/her mind, but for whatever reason, the simpler parts of Imperium Dekadenz don't do it for me.

While "Striga" and "Tränen des Bacchus" fortunately bring back the band in pissed-off black metal mode, it would be time for me to break to track-by-review as moments of boredom begun to prevail significantly, with mediocre and cliched riffing destroying whatever impetus was being born. In total, while this has been an interesting experiment in exposing good sides to a band that seemed to me totally limp in a previous record, I still can't say that I changed my mind too much, nor do I understand their overall acceptance. I still don't get a sense of strong identity, but the biggest problem is in their melodicism, which might be only good for the (low) standards of cascadian-style or "depressive" black metal. Ultimately, their strongest merits are the deliverance and the production, things that many classic records did without. Thus, this a record that I would be suggesting to someone only as a 10th or so choice, for whoever is especially fixated on the genre of melodic, atmospheric black metal. That is not to say that I would not be giving another chance to the band though, if they succeed in framing and elaborating the most ambitious parts of "Meadows" in the future.


Τετάρτη, 17 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Wintersun - Time I (2012)

Wintersun is a band that, in a way, didn't actually need to release another album past their first one. It belongs to this small number of bands/musicians that wrote a magnum opus, a 9th symphony, straight from the beginning. Jari could have rejoined Ensiferum or made other, easier (and faster!) projects that would have sustained him as a professional musician, leaving this album as a single offering of excellence and a producer of eternal fame. Instead, he's been struggling for over than 6 years to come with the sophomore album, striving to widen and perfect even further his vision; for that alone, he is a hero of some kind. There is no epitome of perfection in the world and even "Wintersun" has pretty obvious faults and weaknesses that might make one think "what if..?" However, it is a rational "what if" in the aftermath of a total spiritual success. With great and complex music such as Wintersun's, the threads of magic are not clearly discernible and one playing with them risks a lot. For every solution two other problems might occur, for every "fault" that is fixed an emotion might be subdued. Jari seems to have understood that. Time, coupled with patience is certainly the greatest advisor. 

"Time I" is an album that expands in many directions beginning from the debut, however the question is; does it stem from a similarly vibrant source of inspiration? Surprisingly, it also features even more obvious faults than the first one on the production side, that sometimes detract from the listening experience. Jari has took up the production and mixing himself in this record, a decision I applaud as it is the best option for composers of complex and elaborate music, as its nuances can hardly be understood by anyone except the composer himself. However, some of his decisions are peculiar (and they certainly are pure artistic decisions, he sure had all the Time in the world not to miss anything). While I'm theoretically very positive to albums that sport a wide dynamic range, "Time I" features severe loudness fluctuation that makes me either jump from my chair or reach for the volume control. I imagine that, in the course of increasing orchestral influence, Jari wanted to give the dynamics of a symphonic orchestra to his heavy metal band. The problem is that it's not always done correctly, or that it is overdone, it seems as the instruments are squashed of their natural dynamics typically for a modern metal production and then programmed to the desirable; it feels unnatural at times, like you can see Jari's hand moving the faders. Also, the drums are unexpectedly buried in the mix and the bass is often untamed (perhaps unlike the majority of Wintersun fanbase, I don't see so many Hollywood blockbusters as to enjoy hearing an earthquake in the middle of a song). Negatives aside, the production is still much more powerful, atmospheric and expansive than "Wintersun", largely because of the bigger prominence of various layers of synths and effects. It is actually a very bold and original vision that, if perfected in Time part II, will be something totally unique to the metal world, in which the orchestra had been always subdued in the mix and conservatively used as another synth layer. For "I" though, I wish Jari had a professional mixing assistant (or an opinionated mastering engineer) in his side that would trim off some of the excesses. 

Let's go at last to the music. There are no great stylistic changes comparing to the debut, to put it bluntly and non-poetically, it seems like an orchestral, pimped-out-in-every-aspect version of it. This might sound bad, but in reality it is what everybody probably expected and wanted, and actually is an amazing feat of courage and inspiration. The album's intro, "When Time Fades Away" is a foray into the epic midi territory that is on the same level with the music of some of the best game composers out there (and perhaps there's even an influence from the Japanese ones). The first real song, "Sons of Winter and Sons" is almost like Wintersun passed through the bombast of the "300" soundtrack or these "Two Steps In Hell" guys. These horns are sure damn loud, but the essence of Wintersun's music does not lie there. It is in their glacial, pure as childlike wonder sense of melody and harmony, in its frantic and inspired progressions, in these amazing climaxes of emotion. Is any one these here?

After 2-3 listens, the mind begins to recover from the shock caused by all the bombast and begins to notice all the small details, the second and third voices/melodic lines, being able to really go along with the song as an active listener. The answer is: YES. "Sons of Winter and Sun" is a triumph for the band and will always go along "Starchild", "Winter Madness" and I dare yet say, "Way of The Fire" as one of their greatest magic spells. The level of complexity and density has risen, as there is no single guitar line without its counterpoint, while in the background there lies always an orchestral arrangement playing, a traditional Japanese flute, harps, female voices, choirs. The themes of the album hardly are presented with repetition as in typical heavy metal fashion, but are adorned with constant variation, leading into each other almost in enthusiastic hastiness, before one has a chance to fully absorb them (thanks Zeus for the replay button) - as the melodic vocals of Jari are this time more prominent, together with the virtual orchestra they take many melodic lines away from the guitars, so it makes sense to talk about themes rather than riffs in this album. "Son...” alternates between destructive anger, angst, beauty, mystery, powerful determination, awe, enlightenment. It goes directly to being one of the greatest heavy metal songs of history for me.

I never was a huge fan of the slow Wintersun songs, which says a lot about how much I love the fast ones. It perhaps has to do with Jari's background as a shredder, or that he simply needs more space to fit in his long evolving melodies, but to me, they are in the same level with Ensiferum's best songs, which is to say "just good" (Moonsorrow are the masters of slow and epic Finnish folkish metal, just so that you know). So when "Land of Snow and Sorrow" begins, my expectations are not the highest. It does not shatter them completely, but it manages to hold the album in a quality level. Here, the orchestral instrumentation backs off a bit and stays in the background as in the first album. Like the other slow songs in "Wintersun", it is almost mono-thematic and with the exception of the expected, but adventurous middle section (which reminded me a bit of Devin Townsend in the end, was curious to see if this influence would finally materialize) it is just nice to listen to. Even though I like the basic melody, one cannot expect to keep high interest by elaborating on it for so long, except if this one is Beethoven, say. Moderation isn't Jari's strongest point as a composer; however he's fighting it, understanding the need for a break in the intensity and pace of the album. In an eight-song album, this one wouldn't be a problem, but in this shortened to half 40-minute edition of Time, I feel I would have welcomed something stronger.

"Darkness and Frost" is a short, two-minute introduction to the brilliant basic melody of "Time" and should have been left as one track altogether, meaning I have the feeling they were divided rather than intended as separate tracks from the beginning (hey guys, some of my favorite metal albums are comprised of four tracks!) So, "Time", here we go; the same-titled track of the original intended album, assumably the stronger or among the 2-3 strongest tracks of both Time I & II, it is hereupon that you are judged (at least until the second offering). I'll cut the drama short, there is enough in the album; it's the second fucking triumph of the album. This song features some irritating loudness fluctuation as well so I had to put headphones in quite loud volume at this point, which seems to be the correct way to listen to this album (I can't say about monitors as I can't put them as high in my apartment, but oh Jari, I sure hope you didn't mix this way).

Get ready to be faced with endless layers of melody here, I am truly at a loss to describe the depth of emotion and the immensity presented. I will say that this song is perhaps his culmination as a composer as of yet. The song's also comprised of a small number of basic themes, but like the great classical composers, his treatment of them via massive orchestration and delicate counterpointing so masterful that one is swept by the flow, forgetting all about themes of structures or where exactly are we in the song, how long until it finishes and so on, living only in the Magical Now. Is this Wintersun's treatment against Time, to extinguish it, at least for the duration of this song? "Time fades away - you'll never be the same" - it seems like an obvious statement, probably juvenile in the context of the lyric sheet of a music album, at least for the "mature" or "tasteful" listeners, but Jari with his dramatic treatment returns to it the importance it deserves. Metal music doesn't need to use long words or Wittgenstein references in order to be philosophical, it just needs to address these eternal, simple questions with the immensity, conviction and depth that is needed for the listener to confront them and make them his/her own. "Time", the song, doesn't even need to burst into blastbeats or maniacal chord progressions to enchant us, the purity of its melodies, its glorious somberness suffices to lift up our souls into the skies. 

Probably Jari's greatest victory against time is that his music will be eternal, surely to be heard in the ages to come. Gustav Mahler has said "Nothing will stand the passing of time, except this which has been perfected upon in every detail". I don't know if this already has been the motto of Jari, but he sure works like he's known it forever. On the other hand, "Time I" is not entirely satisfying to listener, as it leaves one dry, ending at the moment the enthusiasm reaches its greatest peak. It doesn't really feel like an album, with its three songs and one intro and personally I will be ripping both albums and putting them in the same folder when "II" is hopefully released. I'm certain it will take about a year until I can really follow along to reach to the end without having it melt my brain, but until then it will at least feel better conceptually. Therefore, any attempt to make a comparison between the two albums should wait until then. It's also interesting to note that, for me at least, the essence of "Wintersun" lies in basically just four songs that transcend to reach the plane of divinity; with "Time I" I believe we already have two. 

The greatest thing with "Time" is that is transcends expectation, it shows that there can be hope against the law of mediocrity, that there are people who can rise into excellence more than once in their lifetime, that can face the destructive winds of Time and stand strong. But, hey Jari, don't just chill and rest yet, you've got a second part to deliver (and please, be extra careful with these faders!). The rating is just for Wintersun standards - there's absolutely no one else in their league. Oh, and remember to listen to this with good headphones - and loud, please. 


Δευτέρα, 1 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Dimmu Borgir - Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (1997)

If only metal musicians were educated, tasteful people with a wide knowledge and experience of the world around them. Heavy metal music would then be much more than this adolescent underground oddity with rare flashes of excellence; it would be a recognized musical genre, respected if not embraced by the majority of musically experienced people. Trying to make this happen is a phase many of us metalheads-with-good-taste go through, trying to transform metal itself by creative endeavors (musicians) or by pointing out the good elements to the said category and leaving out/critisizing the bad (journalists, record-label owners, etc).

This is surely one of the more critisized and shunned-upon records in the metal genre. Dimmu Borgir's carnivalesque, commercial and gothic-leaning, keyboard-laden works have for long been the laughing stock of supposedly serious, intelligent listeners. Their commercial success was at a time even considered a threat to the integrity of the black metal movement, with some pretty volatile and borderline-criminal insults thrown at them through various metal publications. Their music was thrown all-together to the trashcan as a pop-metal variation of bm. Obviously these reactions were pretty much reasonable; to put it simply and bluntly, Dimmu Borgir are idiots, as proven by their eternal oblivion as to the ridiculousness of their aesthetics and attitude. But what of the music? Surely it is a product of the same minds, but the musical mind is in fact not the same as the logical mind, as shown, for example, in savant musical geniuses or the self-destructiveness and madness in the personal lives of many brilliant musicians. 

If I had the time for it, I'd make an experiment. I'd upload this album with invented band and song titles, stolen artwork from somewhere else or even new lyrics (let's pretend Shagrath's vocal lines weren't as clear as they are) all assembled according to the aesthetics of currently considered "quality" acts. The "epic" and aggressive songs could be similar to Winterfylleth or Primordial, evoking a kind of elitist, "folk noir", pagan pride of resistance against modern decay and cultural extinction, or the "Luciferian Excellence" of various trippy, 70's inspired occult acts. The atmospheric songs would have a post-rockish, wide-landscape-immersion vibe similar to what matured, genre-transcending depressive/ambient bm bands do. I have a feeling that before someone has a chance to point out the obvious, many victims coming from the younger generation of literate, open-minded black metal fans will have been found, exhalting or trying to find more information on this cult new band.

Although I haven't really discovered so until lately, the music in this album is good. It is often kitschy, but not in a grander way than the kind of naiveté’ we have come to forgive in our favorite 70's rock or 80's heavy metal bands. It is not silly, and although it often seems overtly mellow and emotionally-patronizing in the way of AOR bands, it is all in the context of black metal thinking. If you can like Queensryche, it doesn't really make sense to hate this record (I'm talking about the mp3-without-images-without-lyrics kind of listening session here). And Dimmu Borgir is much more than Queensryche or a gothic-ballad band in this record, in fact they offer some excellent black metal along the way.

The distance between what the band claims to play and what the band actually plays had always been the root of all the fuzz. Enthrone Darkness Triumphant essentially is pretty much about light as it is about darkness. It is about beauty as it is about ugliness. Perhaps Enthrone Darkness Triumphant could even be one of the crowning jewels of Christian black metal in an alternate universe. There’s nothing tormenting in “In Death’s Embrace” music, but a sweetness that would be more easily interpreted as an eagerness to connect with a benevolent divinity, rather than the spit and piss in his sacred flesh that the lyrics mention. Dimmu Borgir is schizophrenic and almost totally incoherent if any kind of parallel course between the music and the outside context is followed by the listener. “Succubus in Rupture” does indeed convey a dark eroticism with a hint of tragedy for its first half, and then unfurls into one of the most elegiac, fragile, pure, white-light-surrounding-all moments heard in all metal. Not exactly my idea of the devil’s whore, more like the first time these guys touched hands with a girl in the flowery yard of elementary school.

Most other songs in the album are basically epic melodic metal songs that are closer to the early childlike wonder of Finnish bands such as moonsorrow or ensiferum. They are like full of joy and discovery for an ancient magical world. This is mostly a power metal album with hints of darkness, that more so depict a dynamic kind of struggle rather than misanthropic hatred.

Of course, this is not High Art. Music needs connecting threads with life, desires, ideologies, stuff stronger than escapism or carnivalesque grotesqueness. However, a creative mind should also train itself to fill in the gaps when it's needed. Metal music doesn't always has to have thoughtful lyrics and awe-inspiring visions; as with experimental, abstract music, it can be enough to only have a spark and a drive. The listener can provide the rest.


Τρίτη, 11 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

Artefact - Ruins (2008)

In my previous review of Darkenhöld's - A Passage to the Towers I mentioned that Aldebaran, although creating a series of very good albums, had never reached the focal point of excellence; getting back to Artefact's magnus opus, Ruins, I am forced happily to make a kind of renounciation. For me, "Ruins" is the best album in the Emperor/Dissection school of melodic/progressive/epic black metal, since "Storm of the Light's Bane" and "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk". Don't take this as an absolute statement though, as I can't say I have heard that many albums in that particular style. In fact, it remains that this album got minimum attention until now, except perhaps some positive reviews and a spot that was given to the band at that time in Wacken. 

I believe Artefact did a "mistake" here that made sure of the band's relative obscurity into the black metal circles. They got too progressive and complex for the ears of a black metal listener. Complexity into a Deathspell Omega record for instance is mostly in the fields of atonalism where no real sense of harmony exists, but an alternation of monochromatic, dissonant chords, which could be random in relation to one another and still create a similar kind of effect. Artefact however, are purely harmonic; harmony is like a straight line, if you get lost in the way there is no getting back. They are also quite technical on the rhythmical department and of course, like any black metal band that respects itself, speedy and rushing. In addition, there is not really a slow or simple song in the album, with the exception of some moments of brief rest here and there. The end result is a record that sounds overwhelming and mind-numbing from 3-4 songs and on. Professional producers always make sure to put slower, more atmospheric songs in an album of dense music, so as to make it be heard from beginning to end, to constitute a bigger, sum-is-greater-that-the-parts, experience, as did the classics with their symphonies, by the way (and to think how dismayed they would be by seeing modern audiences still last no more than a couple of minutes).

With "Ruins" there is also another defining characteristic; the first song of the album is obviously the better. The band seems to suggests us this itself, as there is a 7 minute piano rendition of it as the closing track, and the intro even plays with its basic themes in order to lead into it. Indeed, "Gargoyles Unleashed" is definitely the catchier song this band has ever produced. It leaves one breathless with its merciless exposition of epic and rough melodicism, running wild like, indeed, a storm of 1-tone pissed off flying creatures. It is the "Night's Blood" of the band, a song that will hopefully remain classic as an example of excellent black metal in the ages to come. While in Dissection's opus, however, follows "Unhallowed", a much simplier and melodic black metal song (and then even, the catchy hit, Where Angels Lie) here we have an even more complex, multifarious song, Medieval Ancestry, and it just goes on an on like that. I admit than in previous listenings I usually stopped after some songs, kind of frustrated, to relisten to "Gargoyles Unleashing" and finish the session, a probably criminal mistake. But this shows that albums like these should not be listened as a whole, but as 2-3 songs at a time, until one feels familiarized enough with the content to follow it all in one shot.

And indeed, with Ruins, this approach absolutely pays off. Medieval Ancestry sounds like an exploration into the mysterious and complex threads of history, alternating between anxious struggle and glorious discovery, between technical, thrashy riffs and melodically advanced black metal. It is too an absolutely fantastic song and a paragon for progressive black metal. After the vocal, monastery-sounding interlude of "Catharian Ruins" the onslaught continues with the Emperor-ian "Reverence" where the guitar fury begins from galloping techno-thrash to reach an emotional crescendo with " " shouting dramatically over an almost orchestral sounding arrangement. What is really formidable about this record is that even when it falls back into a relative melodic calmness such as "In the Fountain of the Enchantress", it does not allow its melodies to recieve a non-adventurous evolution. "Fountain" ends in a satisfied manner, in a major mode that might even remind some of fellow dreamers Alcest. "My Inner Sanctum" almost carries from there, indulging into romantic, twin evolving melodies. Synths join with guitar leads to portray audially sacral places of beauty amidst constant dynamic movement, like a forest of stubborn, ancient trees throughtout the violent changing of the seasons. An excellent instrumental that makes me think that Artefact could make a successful living creating music for rpg's if they wished. "Curse of the Wizard" totally crosses the line of accepted song titles and is probably the weaker song of the album, so off we go to "Stellar Winds" which is another highlight with its almost hollywood-sounding melodies (I think of John Williams when I say that, don't frown please) and progressive playfullness. "Finale" (yes, titles isn't exactly their strongest point) unfortunately doesn't impress much as it seems like a filler made out of rejected riffs. With an album of such density, 60 minutes is probably unnecessary and Artifact would do better if they had the courage to leave out one or two of the weakest songs. Of course, nowadays we can just leave them out the playlist, but in truth, less songs always means more attention to the better ones. Despite what it says, the album actually closes with the piano cover of Gargoyles Unleashing, called Gargoyles Rest (let's not mention titles again). It's pretty interesting that it transforms the song into a solist piece, but I would not listen to it many times. The jazz closing is cool though (a bit wtf, of course).

To be honest, Ruins obviously has its imperfections, and still after my re-assessment of its value, it seems slightly inconsistent. Especially the second half of the album (which is weaker) looks like it could be trimmed a little without serious repercutions. It total though, it is a great achievement that could be a point of reference for many musicians trying their way into the difficult and thorny pathways of ambitious, progressive black metal. I should admit though that I feel kind of sorry for these guys that the rest of the world doesn't think so. Especially when I know how difficult for one is to transcend or repeat his magnum opus (as they obviously haven't stopped making music) and that this opus is not even considered such by the majority of outward reality. In any way, I seriously hope that Artefact is one day reunited and give it another shot, or that Aldebaran will be able to reach the same amount of excellence with Darkenhöld.