Grim Gauntlet February 2019: Day Two

Sul Ad Astral – Oasis (2018) – This freaky occurrence features a two-man band performing (for the most part) a style of metal that is very similar to the kind that Bill and I play in Torii, just with a much better production quality. To say that I enjoyed most of the album is an understatement, but unfortunately, there are some bizarre sidesteps that I wish had never left the cutting room floor. I completely understand the band’s choice to meander into more modern core progressions, but it doesn’t make much sense to me in the long run. One thing that separates the music of Sul Ad Astral from what we currently do in Torii however, would be the use of shoegaze and clean vocal elements, in addition to the removal of death and black metal elements to be replaced with deathcore chugs in some instances. I’m not going to shame the band for this, as obviously they’re fans of acts like Textures or current-era BTBAM for example; which would certainly explain “Float.” In short, it is a much different and more applicable atmosphere for the current age of metal music. While I don’t completely “get it” I definitely respect it. Sul Ad Astral sounds like a more modern and clean version of what we do, but they definitely carry the same kind of punch and force. There’s still a slight era of dread and darkness to be found here, but also some light. Some remorse within the black metal pummeling and fearsome dirges. Now, some would definitely throw the term hipster up here, Central Scrutinizer would in an instant – but these harsh vocals definitely communicate the right kind of venom. I can’t deny that level of malice. Is it a little happier than I’d like? Perhaps. But it’s not entirely pleasant and maybe I can overlook a few of the modernisms. However, Oasis is not a record that will replace early Callenish Circle releases for me. Things just aren’t quite grim enough.

(8 Tracks, 58:00)

7.5/10

Instorm – Taming The Chaos (2018) – A melodic death record that feels closer to the style I’m accustomed to, there are very few complaints that I find with this one. Perhaps it seems to draw a little bit more from pagan metal acts like Ensiferum than I’d like (Day’Night), but it also throws in some neoclassical elements (Another Reflection) so we’re not completely buried in extreme folk metal. Not that there’s anything ultimately wrong with that, especially considering how well they’ve crafted it; but variety is the spice of life, after all. “Reach For The Sky” features a rather notable classical backing, making me think a bit of Russian folk, which is not something you’d expect from a band that has been playing around with mostly European folk influences. I suppose that if Ensiferum decided to reach further out with their folk and entered the realms of world music, you might get something like Instorm. “Serenity” even sounds a bit zen, like it may have Chinese influence. That I find rather intriguing. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else that really sticks out to me about the album and I find it kind of decent in hindsight. However, I definitely respect the level of composition that has gone into the release and feel that fans of melodic death metal and folk metal looking for a bit more kick as far as worldly influences are concerned, will find something to like in this one.

(11 Tracks, 43:00)

7/10

Czarna Magia – Inwokacja Pierwotnej Mocy (2019) – Sent to me from Poland, I have yet another extreme metal act that some of you may not be that well aware of – and for those looking for raw and unhinged black metal that is untouched by the perils of political correctness, you’ll find it here. There’s definitely an old school feel here, like that of early Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Bathory – you name it. But there’s a much deeper tone on the vocals that draw a closer resemblance to early Darkthrone for me. In addition to that, there are some ritual moments and even some thick doom dirges. Again, the performance here is raw, but I don’t feel that this kind of performance, like early Mayhem; would benefit from a cleaner sound. Black metal is supposed to be dirty, filthy, grimy and offensive – that’s the whole fucking point of it from the very beginning. The whole reason that Venom took the Satan image is because it would offend the hell out of monotheists and most of the general population at that time who was under the spell of the far-right Satanic Panic. This is definitely what I would consider to be grim and kvlt, but not in the sense of the Norwegian kvltists. In other words, I think Poland picked up the mantle of traditional black metal after most of the heavy hitters in the Norwegian scene went on to pursue other things. Deep occult, fearsome rites and memorable riffing accompanies each of the songs on this album and I’m rather quite happy to promote it for you. I’ve listened to three black metal discs today from different artists around the world, but no one seems to capture the genre in the way that the Polish are doing right now. Czarna Magia seem to have a certain atmosphere about them that other artists don’t. And that could very well be in their production quality, which sounds very analog, much like the black metal discs of old. Kvltists upset with the traditional scene need to head to Poland for their black metal, where it seems to grow unencumbered by the pressures of the social justice and hipsterisms of the west. The disc is only a little more than thirty minutes, but there’s more than enough memorable content for people who really understand what black metal is. Sadly, that number is decreasing every year. It’s a shame, really.

(5 Tracks, 31:00)

8.5/10

Mourning Sign – Contra Mundum(2018) – A battering mix of death and black metal with dashes and groove and melody, Mourning Sign offer a convincing package. I additionally like the way that some of these songs snake around, building an added layer of texture to the mix in ways that I haven’t heard so much in extreme metal – you know, without it becoming ridiculously technical. It can be difficult to discern some of these melodies over the punishing drum performance, but there’s definitely enough of a melodic backbone here to give them a pass in the composition department. Thick bass grooves are also the name of the game here, making for a sound that reminds me of acts like early Callenish Circle with a mix of Suffocation and maybe even some Machine Head or Fear Factory in the chunk. Additionally, we could place a smidgen of Amon Amarth, modern era Naglfar and even some Dissection in areas. Clean vocals are also apparent in areas, in addition to ghostly synths and tribalism. I’m also hearing what sounds a bit like older Sepultura here, albeit with a slightly more sadistic tone as you may remember from mid-era God Dethroned. There are a lot of influences to be found here, but the end result is something definitely promising. I dare say, a bit more promising than what I’ve heard promoted in metal media from death metal lately. Do they even promote death metal anymore, I wonder? I surely haven’t seen much of it. Well, whatever the case; Mourning Sign have certainly caught my eye with this one and I feel that Contra Mundum is full of more than enough memorable melodies and earth-shattering drum bouts to catch the ear of even the most picky metal listeners. It’s melodic, sure – but not so melodic that you’re hearing a heavy pop record. This is definitely pummeling death metal, just with more going for it than mere force. A vocalist who truly seems to be at his best also helps, giving us far more than a bunch of cookie-cutter cookie monster growls. There’s so much more to this genre than that, and it’s why I’m thankful for acts like this, who prove that it takes so much more than loud guitars, fast drums and cookie monster vocals to make a death metal disc. While there’s plenty of the first two here, Contra Mundum showcases a band with so much more than that. I hope that this beastly mix of tribal bravado and dazzling guitar solo efforts doesn’t get lost in the flood of records that we’ve been seeing lately. There’s some diamonds in the muck, you just have to dig for them! Mourning Sign definitely shine in that aspect.

(12 Tracks, 46:00)

8.5/10

In OrgAnic – Dark Places (2018) – Sounding much like his older work in Lockjaw, Medavon De’Rage is back with a new project here in the industrial rock act, In Organic. It’s been a while since he’s sounded like this, which should definitely please fans of Lockjaw. “The Art Of Letting Go” has that Manson-esque tone, even though arguably both artists were around at the same time. I still don’t think that Medavon would have played ball with the industry as Manson had been groomed in along with Trent Reznor, of course. While they have their fame, the core of the entertainment industry is a rather foul thing, and we’re learning that more and more with every passing year. “Dark Places” brings us into a more sullen place, albeit with needed kick on the guitar which really nails the creep factor of the piece. “Conflict” has a slight darkwave sense about it, again mixing in with rock. It sounds a bit like twisted grunge and certainly captures the classic feel of Lockjaw vocally – albeit with a touch of The Cure and a classic rock solo. This is just a short release, but it’s definitely a promising post-Lockjaw project. “Bleeding Out” is a bit more restrained, but not necessarily a happy song per se; as nothing here sounds remotely cheery. It’s a bit longer and feels more like an introspective, but it clearly works. “Pale” features touches of early Goth and also reminds me why I’m taking Vitamin D supplements. (Yes, I’m that pale.) I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit and not because it seems to match my complexion perfectly. The fuzzy leads have a weird way about them, which melds with the Goth tones and would make for a good radio single. The last cut here is “Exhaustion” which is a decent cut, but it didn’t really leave as much of a mark on me as the others. Ultimately, Dark Places mixes Goth and Industrial rock together surprisingly well and shows that there’s still plenty of inspiration brewing in Medavon’s mind, even after all these years. Don’t call it a comeback, but fans of Lockjaw and industrial rock will definitely find a lot of things to like about this one.

(6 Tracks, 28:00)

7/10

Arcane Ritual – Witch-Heart (2019) – Lovingly sent to me from a two-piece out of California, we have an odd mix of thrash metal, groovy hard rock and slight touches of prog. Fans of Huntress would dig this rather well, especially considering the recent loss of their frontwoman. I won’t say that it will replace Huntress but it will certainly fill a void. Teresa Camp’s vocals can sometimes be a bit of an acquired taste (at least to my ears), but she clearly has vocal chops and utilizes her acrobatic skills where they count most, keeping the performance professional. You can tell that she’s been classically trained and this press info seems to cement that. Obviously she’s been working very hard to get the band out there as she’s responsible for the vocals, lyrics, video production and PR. She was also in Halcyon Days as well as the belly dancing group Arcane Dimension. An occultist like myself, she practices a lot of ritual magic and is probably much better at crafting sigils than I am. Last time I created a sigil, the little bastards turned against me. I don’t practice as much as I want to, because I’ve already done more than a few things that changed reality in subtle ways that were enough to freak me out. Adding to that, my life will be forever changed after the seven part hypersigil (that I didn’t even realize I was a hypersigil at the time, I was just writing a thousand pages of material while in trance) I’d written a few years into this site’s history. It’s one reason why I don’t pick up the pen and write creatively these days. I keep in mind what happened to Grant Morrison, as well as what Alan Moore said regarding “fiction” writers. You often manifest your work into the world.

Aside from all that, we also have Jarek Tatrek on guitars, bass programming and guitar/viol. Hold on, these drums are programmed? That ritual magick must be working for them, because it is very difficult for me to tell that these are programmed drums. Of course, we may get to the point where a machine can write an album from scratch and the listener won’t even be able to tell. In any case, this guy’s a beast. Whether the band is dipping more into progressive Gothic territory or playing with thrash, there’s definitely enough musical texture here to catch the attention of even strict elitists who would never be bothered with a band that considers itself in the “Goth” or “Gothic” category. Neither of which sacked Rome. Regardless of that, I have to say that the disc is musically diverse enough in terms of song composition to keep from boring me, but I do feel that regardless of how great the clean vocals are here, I’d love to hear some more of the harsher tones used in “The Last Saviour.” For instance, if during the main verse portions of “Too Little, Too Late” there was a much harsher vocal to accompany the outright pummeling I’m getting here, I would have had the urge to band my head profusely. The chorus fits, but I just think that maybe some harsh vocals would add an extra edge to the threatening parts of the band. For an act that derives influence from Type O Negative, Moonspell, Within Temptation (which is mostly what they sound like, but much better than current offering, Revolt) and even Testament and Exodus in some instances, there’s a lot to sift through here. I think they’ve definitely got what it takes and could bring some of that new magick edge to the metal scene. “Elemental Flames” certainly signifies that in its trippy, transitive nature.

Unfortunately, being a stuffy old magician who thinks that magick isn’t a play toy and shouldn’t just be thrown about to disenfranchised youths that might get a copy of this album, I often wonder what in the hell we’re going to do with all of the launched servitors and egregores out there. People are indeed fucking around with Chaos Magick now, which is a little more boundless than traditional Wicca and can be extremely dangerous. The Grim Lord knows several mages in the community and they’ve all got stories. Whether you believe in it or not, (if you’re a skeptic – that’s probably a good thing) I still think that full brain development should occur before practicing this work. That’s the age of twenty-five for those curious. That way you’ll at least know what to do with your “Mr. MeSeeks” running around. Yes, that’s what a servitor is, the guy’s not fooling anyone. That being said, Arcane Ritual certainly prove that they’re an act worth keeping your eye on – and I don’t know if you caught it; but I did say that the record was better than the new Within Temptation disc, Revolt. Even though parts of this may have a pop edge, at least Witch-Heart contains metal. There are notable riffs, crunching bass grooves and solos to be found. This is a Gothic metal album, “not a pop-masquerading as metal” album and for that, I’m thankful.

(9 Tracks, 52:00)

8/10

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