I thought, at first, that this album was a reference to the Forgotten Realms. I was wrong, but Mystras does like referring to forgotten times and history in its music. The name is derived from a fortified town in Laconia, Greece, which inspired the project. The first offering from this project is ‘Castles Conquered and Reclaimed’.
The project was founded by Ayloss, who has also been active in Divine Element, Spectral Lore, Ontrothon, Sage of the AncientGlass and more. In this project, he brings together epic black metal and folk/ars nova music. Multiple guest musicians have joined in this project, to create something worthwhile for you to listen to (members of Lüüp, Art of Simplicity, and SpiderofPnyx join Ayloss on this record). The concept is in fact a bit more tricky to explain. Mystras focuses on the downtrodden, the rejected, in a sense. That helps turn the album into a rebellious battle cry, a medieval black metal statement if you will.
Ancient rebellions arise anew
The sound of Mystras is very particular. Imagine lo-fi black metal, but even more thin and caustic sounding, then in turn laced with folk elements. At least, that’s what follows after the opening title track. Particularly English folklore appears to interest Ayloss, who refers to Wat Tyler and The Cutty Wren in the first three songs. Both are very nice tunes though. The instrumental ‘The Cutty Wren’ has all the charm of an English folk song. Gentle and swooning, but full of nostalgia. On ‘The Murder of Wat Tyler’ a little of the violent sound returns in a primitive sounding metal tune of 13 minutes. The lyrics are pretty dense and long, so you need that time to get your story across in harsh vocals. It’s fearsome, but also rich in texture, which is why this is such a great track again.
From ‘Contre Dolour’, which feels more ancient than the previous instrumental. we go into ‘Storm the Walls of Mystras’. Another epic black metal track, with massive waves of riffs hitting you in the face. But just listen to how that guitar roars and spins around and through it. There’s a sound of hope, action, and strife. The theme is in fact rebellion against emperors, fighting against the Byzantines who are doomed to fall. It’s a complex matter in a history book and I feel that Ayloss is crafting an own version here in some ways, which works.
Zealots of Thessaloniki
Another thing I love is basically how the melodies just soar over the rumbling black metal madness son both ‘The Zealots of Thessaloniki’ and ‘Wrath and Glory’. There are the uncouth fury and savagery, but also majestic riffing to create beauty in the darkness. And you would indeed think this would not work together, as it apparently clashes big time, but Mystras makes it work. The first song is about self-rule implemented by the Zealots, who ruled the city. It’s told through a song that is at times gruff with its woven patterns, much like a reed chair I would say, the way all the hard parts chafe and clash. It’s a strange comparison, but it helps illuminate how much space the song offers. It’s not a thick production, but purposefully thin. That’s pretty cool for the result it brings.
Majestic, strong and surprising, a record to write home about. Mystras unleashes an album, right for this time. An album filled with the antidote against the racist and nationalist currents of our time, by looking back at how people make the difference. True medieval black metal with a ray of hope.
Tobias Möckl is also known as Wintherr, and has a love for winter landscapes. That’s, in fact, the main theme for his project Paysage d’Hiver, which has released a ton of demos and splits over the years. In fact, the project is 23 years old and it required a global pandemic for Möckl to finally drop a full-length album with Paysage d’Hiver. In 2020, the album ‘Im Wald’ became a reality.
It’s not the only project of the Swiss musician, he is also active in the fabled Darkspace and runs the label Kunsthall Productionen. Stylistically, Paysage d’Hiver is an ambient black metal project, as the atmosphere of the music is the most important aspect according to the artist. It’s songs all connect to the same story, which tells of a realm of winter, with the same name obviously,
A winter walk in the forest
‘Im Wald’ is the magnum opus, with a running time of 2 hours. Musically, this is the sonic equivalent of a long walk in the forest, under an obvious layer of white, pristine snow… as the darkness of the autumn sets in on ‘Im Winterwald’. The music is blisteringly intense, but the melodies soar above the jagged treetops and create a mesmerizing specter. One can even detect a hint of that Darkspace weirdness, due to the futuristic keyboard lines that interlace the song. It adds wealth to the tapestry of sound.
Icy storms of black metal
All tracks are fairly long actually. ‘Flug’ takes its time, for example, building up through hazy ambient sounds/field recordings that demonstrate the forest is never truly quiet. But that’s how the song unfolds. Now and then, the guitars come to the forefront, but the babbling of a brook is louder than the acoustic twanging of the strings for most of the song. The music serves as a frame for nature, not vice versa, providing a mournful dirge to the wintery forlorn realms. At other times, the sound scours everything else away from your aural perception, particularly on ‘Kälteschauer’ you are subjected to a hailstorm of distorted guitars with the vocals piercing through the noise like a howling wind. At other times, the tracks can be punishing, caustic. ‘Weiter, Immer Weiter’ is that type of song, plowing through the snow, against the wind that blows with an icy gale. It’s intense and punishing, but the journey is rewarding.
Interesting is that the language choice is switching between German and French on this album only once for the song ‘Le Rêve Lucide’. This track actually feels more traditional black metal, with a pleasant rhythm and clear sound. Crisp riffing, thundering drums the way you like it. To me, it’s one of my favorite tracks. Dark, necro vocals, a constant pushing melody, and rhythm. it’s perfect. But it’s not surprising that an album of black metal of over 120 minutes can be so good. It’s music that needs to bewitch, to entrance you, and transport you to other realms. It’s fantastic to have so much in one go.
Perhaps you’ve already watched the documentary film ‘Blackhearts’, which tells us about the global phenomenon that is black metal and the love of musicians around the world for the nation of Norway, where it all began. One of the bands featured in the film is From The Vastland and I got to ask Sina a bunch of questions about his latest album and the film.
From The Vastland is from Iran, a country known for its strict regime and limitations in expression. That is, of course, an oversimplification about a nation with a rich, long history and a situation much more complex than I could ever do justice to in a few introductory lines over here. The movie was filmed a few years ago, and by now Sina lives in Norway and is at liberty to explain a bit about that mysterious place he is from and why it still colors his music so deeply.
Here is FromThe Vastland
From Iran to Norway: Sina from From The Vastland
How is From The Vastland doing?
Doing good! Earlier this year we released the new album “the haft khan” and the feedback from the community has been great! Well, due to the pandemic situation we had to change/cancel some of our plans but still, everything is going good. And as always I’m also working on some new material for the next release plus slowly working on some other plans for the band. So, all very good.
I’ve always wanted to ask you about the name of your project. Could you tell me more about its origin?
Sure! Well, it took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days when I wanted to start the band. there were several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important ones was because I wanted the name of the band also represents the concept of the music. So, let’s put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian empire era (one of the biggest empires in history), Persian mythology, and history. So, like the music comes from the vast land of Persia…Well, there were also some other reasons which together made me think this is a perfect name for the band.
You’ve just released your new album ‘The Haft Khan’. I understand it’s a Persian myth, but it also is the name of a high mountain in your country of birth. Can you share the significance of this story and why you chose it for your album theme?
Right. Well, The Haft Khan is a Persian myth but not the name of a mountain. This is a very specific name that has a specific place in Persian mythology. It’s based on one of the stories from the great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings – One of the world’s longest epic poems) which was written by the poet, the world-known “Ferdowsi” between c. 977 and 1010 CE.
“The Haft Khan” story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon.
In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons, and at the end, the white demon. finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again.
The story of “the haft khan” is full of metaphors and symbols and represents some of the most important characters, legends, and myths in ancient Persian mythology and history. So, I found this epic story a perfect theme for a concept album that I was thinking about for a long time.
What can you tell me about the creative process behind the creation of the album? Did you work together with other artists?
This time again I worked on the album for almost 2 years and I did my best to make the atmosphere of the album exactly as I had it in my mind, which was based on the picture you get from reading the real story in the book. Starting a song was more based on the visuals I had in mind but of course, I was taking care of everything with precision when it comes to the song structure, the arrangement, lyrics, etc. to make it a perfect fit for the style.
You know, as always I wrote all the songs and recorded the demo album first and I sent it to my bandmates to practice and record their lines. That’s how we always record the albums but at the same time, I also ask them to use their own creativity on their lines and let me know if they have any suggestions. So, usually, the final result is not far from the demo I have recorded as we are all on the same page and it’s more like they just have a little bit of their own touch in the album too.
I was listening to the songs over and over again to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. When it comes to the sound of the album, I would say over the years, it got more mature but at the same time more aggressive and darker, still emotional and with the same style. And I believe it’s also a matter of experience, the way I write the riffs and how to make them sound richer, you know.
What makes it important for you to include these themes from your roots in your music, particularly within the framework of black metal?
You know, from many years ago I’ve been always very interested in mythology and history. I read about myths and ancient stories, not just Persian but also Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mayas, Greek…but then when I was growing the idea of my project, I found this combination perfect to make BM music with this epic, mythical theme. It is actually what some other bands in other countries are doing with their own but not about Persian myths.
You know, ancient Persian history and mythology are full of epic stories of the legends, the gods and demons, and the eternal battle between darkness and light.
So, not only I found this a perfect fit for black metal but also I wanted it to represent something from my homeland, a part of world history that goes back 7000 years or more. Something that even a lot of Iranians have forgotten about it. That’s also why I chose the “Rising from the ashes of the legendary past” slogan for the band.
The album, of course, landed in the middle of the pandemic. How has this impacted its release and you as an artist? Did you have many plans to cancel?
Yeah, definitely it was not the best time to release an album but you know, everything was already planned and I just thought it’s better to keep it instead of changing everything as we were already in the middle of the process. But yeah, of course, we had to change and cancel some of the plans like the concerts we had around the release time (which suppose to be the release concert for the album) here in Oslo and in another festival called Garasjefestival.
I was also preparing some more merch and just about to start making the cassette tape format of the album to release at the same time with the CDs but then everything was canceled or better to say postponed as they are still in the plan but let’s see how it will go…
Obviously, I have to ask you about the Blackhearts documentary. How impactful has this been for your career?
Of course, Blackhearts had a big impact on my career in a positive way, you know. Just imagine all the attention my band and music got because of the film, especially during the releasing period of the film. And then afterward when the film was released and they were screening it on the festivals all over the world, in cinemas and different types of events. You know, in the first place it was my music that made the producer discover me and my band but then afterward it was the film helping me to spread the words about my band and music. Especially here in Norway, it was so helpful for me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Being known in the scene and making friends is always great and can make things easier, you know. So, really glad and thankful for that!
I didn’t know until recently about the Blackhearts EP you did, following the film. What can you tell me about this project? Did you try to get guys from Naer Mataton involved too?
You know, back in the days I got this idea since I was one of the main characters in the film; so, thought to record some music specifically for the film with the cooperation of other musicians who are also involved in the film. So, I wrote the music and for the recording, “Vyl” (Drums – Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and “Nul Blackthorn” (Bass – Luciferian), 2 of the other characters in the film, joined me. And since it was recorded specially for the film so, I called it “Blackhearts” and then it was also used for the ending title of the film.
And I was thinking to ask them too but we were in a really short time, I mean everything happened real quick from the time when I decided to do it until we were already in the studio. So, we couldn’t…
What must have been most impactful was your move to Norway. How do you feel about this now? And have you been back to Iran? How did this impact your family?
True! Moving to Norway changed my life completely and I’m really glad it happened! I mean from many years ago I had the dream of moving to Norway and then finally it did happen. So, still today after all these years it seems unreal to me, the whole story and everything that happened in a really short time and changed my life, in a good way. I mean there was no doubt and still, today if I go back, I would do the same!
I haven’t been back to Iran since when I moved to Norway and probably it’s not a smart thing to do after all the threats I had (both back when I was in Iran and even later the first 2-3 years here in Norway). So, haven’t seen my family for the last 7 years which is not easy as you can imagine. So, I just talk to them on phone and sometimes we do video calls but it’s not the same, you know.
The documentary speaks about freedom/censorship you didn’t experience back in Iran. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting stories about that concerning metal music. There are quite some metal bands in Tehran and Iran according to Metal Encyclopedia and the band Avarayr (who are Armenians, living in Iran) stated they felt quite free to do what they pleased when I interviewed them. Could you respond to that and perhaps explain how we should view this? (because I must be wrong somewhere here).
Right, I understand that is kind of confusing for people outside Iran, and to be honest, it’s even hard to explain but OK, I try to explain it as short as possible…of course that’s true there are some other active metal bands in Iran but most of them are like real underground and since we don’t have any official metal scene, no record label to release the metal albums, no record store, festival or something; so, probably you never hear from them. Even though today it’s a bit easier to discover the bands because of social media but still…and regarding the Metal Encyclopedia, I can tell it’s really not updated and a good source to get the right info (…for Iranian bands). I know some of those bands in person! And the info there is not correct. Even the info regarding “From The Vastland” and my previous band “Sorg Innkallelse” is not right. Some of those bands are just a name, a one-man-band project with no release and at the same time there are bands which you can not find there but you know, that’s because there is no official scene going on.
Metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it! There are groups related to the revolutionary guard, religious groups, and different governmental organizations that easily can arrest you. They don’t need any permit or something to do that, they have guns and power! And that’s enough.
The thing is the regime pressure the artists whenever they feel like they should, every now and then. So, you never know when or how! it’s about their priorities. I myself at least know 3 metal musicians who had to run out of the country because of their music. probably you have heard about the Iranian band “Confess” and their story. That’s a good example of how things can go for metal musicians in Iran…
In your music, you tell about the legendary past. Extreme metal and tradition have a connection that is at times difficult. Many artists have at one point or another faced accusations of racism, spreading hate, etc. Often wrongfully (though there is the NSBM thing). I wanted to ask you how you feel about this from your perspective and what role does metal have when it comes to our past and identity?
You know, I think we should not forget that there is (or used to be) a strong family kind of feeling in the metal community, no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, skin color, personal preferences…That kind of freedom without feeling being judged or anything. I know in reality it’s not exactly like that or at least not today but we all share the same passion for the music we love and that’s what makes us connected. And when it comes to extreme metal or even metal in general, I think it’s is all about being true to yourself. it’s more than just music, it’s our identity. It’s the music that makes you think, to not forget and keep your roots, to break all the chains and fake rules that limit you. that’s the role it should play and that’s how it gets connected to your past, to your true self, I believe.
We see you walking a lot in the forests and nature in the documentary. How important are these to you and do you have special places you go for inspiration or that connect you to the past?
Nature is also where I get the inspiration for creating the music (one of the inspiration sources for me, you know). Especially mountain which brings back all my memories from childhood when I was going to the mountain around Tehran every weekend with my dad and that actually remained with me until today. And of course, the beautiful nature here in Norway which usually includes mountain and forest together is where makes me calm and inspires me a lot.
For the first four years of my life here in Norway I was living in a very small village outside Trondheim (up north Norway) and the nature in that area is spectacular. I had some favorite places where I could spend hours and hours just to relax, fresh my mind or listen to music. From the time when I moved to Oslo, nature is not that far but still, you need to get out of the town a bit, So, I usually just go for a walk by sea which makes me really calm and relaxed.
As I understand it, your inspiration was Marduk, Belenos, and Gorgoroth. What are you listening to now and would you recommend to others?
True! Well, there are tons of good bands from all over the world and still today I enjoy discovering new, unknown or less known bands. So, it’s a long list but if I would mention just one that I listen to these days then it would be Selbst!
Are there any Iranian metal bands people should really know about?
Well, there are very good bands, especially death metal bands! but you know, as I said, the problem is that the metal scene in Iran is really underground and there is nothing like anything official going on. So, it’s really hard to keep up with the activities. I still have an eye on the scene and check with my metal musicians friends and their bands in Iran but probably I’m not so updated.
What future plans do you currently have for the band? Implied that the world turns back to normal.
Well, I’m working on some new material for the next album, however, I’m not sure if I’m going to release it next year. It all depends on how the writing process will go. I never plan a release an album before I’m 100% satisfied with the material. And when it comes to live shows, I would wait a bit and see how the situation is but I’m thinking about at least a show here in Oslo later this year but if not then maybe we can plan to stream live…Hard to say now when everything is uncertain. The music scene was hit strongly by the pandemic situation and changed all the plans for almost everyone but hopefully, things will get back to normal, slowly and we will see more and more activities.
If you had to compare From The Vastland to a dish, what would it be and why?
Hehe That’s a weird one! Never thought about it before. Well, let’s say “ghormeh sabzi” because it has a lot of ingredients, mostly herbs and even though not all of them are used only in this Iranian dish (well, some of the herbs are) but the taste of the food is so Iranian (I mean, this is a traditional Iranian dish. So, obviously)…Yeah, maybe I can compare my music to that! I don’t know…hehe
Get your dungeon synth digest with Toadlickers, Hole Dweller, Vervamon, and Borg. Some good stuff to get into your system. Ok, maybe not all as dungeon synth as it should be, but it fits. And it’s cool so… enjoy.
Header image: Temple of Mokva in Abkhazia, an ancient working temple. According to legend, the king of Leon refused to pay the builder, claiming the surroundings were not visible from the tower. After the builder climbed up to look at the surroundings, and prove the king wrong, the king removed the ladder to let him starve. The temple was looted by the Turks and rebuilt in the 19th century.
Toadlickers – Hangover Songs
Label: Knekelput Recordings
I’m not sure if you could call Toadlickers dungeon synth, but it’s definitely using the format to amplify its comical storytelling. Ok, so let’s imagine a goblin tavern, deep under the surface of the Forgotten Realms or any other fantasy realms. Drunk goblins roll around, frolicking and fighting, gobbling food and tittle-tattling in guttural tones. Then the band called Toadlickers starts playing. The rhythm is a bit martial, repetitive, but also jolly and a bit incoherent. Fighting ceases, and the noisy masses rise to their feed to do the goblin dance. Yes, you can think about the Labyrinth movie with David Bowie as the Goblin King. Opening track ‘Now I want to lick some toads’ is an instant classic, as is my favorite ‘Too Many Mushroom Candies.’ It sort of sounds like the famous ‘Silvester Anfang’ is being played by… well, drunk Goblins. Smash your tankards, hop without a care around and sing along with Toadlickers.
Funny thing is, there’s a long-standing dichotomy in fantasy with there being good and evil. But what if these are just perspectives, and evil creatures are just as many beings that want fun, fulfillment, and a lot of liquor?
Hole Dweller – Flies the Coop II
Label: Dungeons Deep Records
This ‘demo’ release by Hole Dweller can be called the last of an era. The act released a new EP recently, and the sound has changed remarkably. Good on Hole Dweller, less good for the fans of these iconic releases. This demo fills the hole between the first and second release (‘Flies the Coop’ and ‘Return To Roost’). Adventuring? No thank you, would Bilbo have said. However, the protagonist of Hole Dwellers’ pastoral dungeon synth saga responded with a resounding yes and has gotten himself into an adventure. The music is filled with joy and passages that speak of the tranquility you will find in the realms of Middle Earth. Some jokes are for insiders, like the title ‘The Hospitality of Elves is Nearly That of Halflings.’ It’s what makes this record such a lovely endeavor to retreat into.
I particularly relish the song ‘With a taste of Miruvor’, which has a slow beat, and repeats it’s energizing sounds. It soothes, but also breathers live back into you as you listen. Hole Dweller likes to create ambient sounds, like a woodpecker hammering away on a tree trunk, the sound of the wind, and a hazy sound to the synths that playfully unfold the songs. As an act, Hole Dweller, much like Toadlickers, offers new pathways for dungeon synth to explore without ever really deviating from its original journey.
Vervamon – The Path Through The Evergreen Forest
Label: Knekelput Recordings
Vervamon is too old, too cold. Dungeon synth, produced between 1999 and 2010, but finally released into this scene ready to devour ay original material. Vervamon debuted this record during the North-East Dungeon Siege live stream, with this fantastic video (below). So all in all, this is a release that captures some original atmosphere and sounds.
So, that makes Vervamon the sound of the ancients and it is highly distinct from most music you’ll find labeled dungeon synth from that era. It takes great stylistic liberties, even approaching religious music in the tonal arrangements on opener ‘Snagdaa’. I read ‘Snaga’ for a while, thinking this was a Gemmell reference. ‘The Path Through The Evergreen Forest’ is, however, more of a narrative than a record. Tracks like ‘Dwalende Gedachten’ contain a lot of samples and less music. When it comes up, it guides the listener to the next installment. I particularly like ‘Sneeuw en spar (eerbetoon aan de duistere troon)’. Maybe because it is a tribute to Darkthrone. I like Darkthrone a lot. My favorite track, however, remains ‘Woundmannen’. That’s the one from the video, but it’s also the most consistent and powerful.
‘Ancient Shores’ ends the old work on this record, the last two tracks are newly released. They didn’t do much for me, it was too much the sort of dark ambient you can play in the background. It sounds but doesn’t have the same storytelling strength. It makes me think of some of the tracks created by From The Bogs Of Aughishka. That’s good. It’s a fascinating journey, but not for purists… or the weak of will.
Borg – The Sacred Mound (by J. Morlak)
Borg is a relatively new kid on the blog in the dungeon synth landscape, but ‘The Sacred Mound (by J. Morlak)’ is far from an early release in his works. Sure, the artwork stands out like a sore thumb, referencing early 90s paint/WordArt craftsmanship, but the music is surprisingly handsome. We discussed earlier the jolly tavern sounds of Toadlickers, and Borg in a way is similar. It’s synth-driven folk music, with a highly immerse vibe. Certainly, it sounds Nordic, with bold and clean sounds, but enriched with various percussion sounds, it’s a joy to listen to. Some songs really feel magical, but also from remote worlds we know little about. ‘Palace of the Amfibian Lords’, for example, feels oriental (using the term very broadly to indicate some sonic influences here), where other songs play with nature sound imitations (such as ‘Gently Sway The Forest in the Wind’).
I’ve been curious to find out more about the title, as there’s a name mentioned there, but I haven’t been able to link that to ‘The Sacred Mound’, which does happen to be a 1993 Icelandic family film (I would hope to watch it, but can’t verify it as yet). Letting go of that, it’s a fantasy record that tells tales of the magic that is in nature and transforms the way we think about dungeon synth as a musical form. It can be playful, like the title track, or epic like your Northrend entrance soundtrack in World of Warcraft, in ‘Bows For Strings And Arrows’.
Stygian Bough is something exceptional, as it is a collaborative record between Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin. Yes, that Bell Witch, who released the overwhelming wall of sound that is ‘Mirror Reaper,’ over 83 minutes of sonic mass. Aerial Ruin is a dark folk project from Eric Moggridge, in a sense, a long time collaborator. Stygian Bough is the result, and this is about ‘Volume 1’.
Stygian Bough is loosely based on the book ‘The Golden Bough’, by James George Frazer from 1890. Particularly a story about slaves becoming kings by slaying the king stuck out to Dylan Desmond. In a sense, the slaves exchange one tyranny for another, a deception. Stygian turns it all upside down, introducing the stream that separates life from death in ancient mythology. And there we have it, the theme for a dirge that unfolds storylike: “I ran with this idea and started to think of the ghost of a king who, if he reached land, could be reborn and rule again. The king is also a larger metaphor for humanity who rules over the planet and other species. On this new album, our ghost upon the waves flees not towards the land but death.” (From the Stereogum Interview)
‘The Bastard Wind’ feels far removed from the soul-crushing heaviness that is Bell Witch. It is more of a dark folk song, akin to the :Of The Wand Of & The Moon: and the works of Aerial Ruin. Well, it’s a long way to go as this winding track leads us down a 20-minute journey full of soaring guitars, wandering fingerpicking, and dark, gloomy atmospheres. ‘Heaven Torn Low I (the passage)’ is equally subdued and mellow. It definitely has the feeling of a dark, autumny folk song, but it is well complemented by its second part, on which we hear the monolithic riffing of Bell Witch, slowly harmonizing with those vocals. It is a beautiful thing, a natural phenomenon almost, where the music becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s as if the waves start crashing in harmony with a lonely song.
To me, the sound of Stygian Bough ties into the nautical movement in doom. Long-stretched notes with an eerie, minor sound. No crunching basslines, but a clear, soaring note that pierces the damp air and fog. Crashing waves and clear vocals piercing at the right moments. It is a wonderful way to voice your message. There’s a reverberation to every note as ripples on the water, even the gentle ‘Prelude’, which is the fourth track on the album. As the song trickles in, with mild notes, you are bracing yourself for what is to come. It most certainly will not be mild. It gradually builds to where we need to be.
And so it is, the track ‘The Unbodied Air’ closes this effort with primitive riffing on an epic scale. It is a mournful dirge, slowly lumbering towards the gates. The vocals rise up over the abyssal sludge to create a final declaration. There are some times of peace, simply drifting on the aural elements as a listener, as we ever come closer to the edge and fall over in the end as the record comes to a close.
Stygian Bough is exceptionally strong. It should be listened to a lot. Not being able to bring this to a live audience in the format it deserved is a terrible loss, but one we can hopefully remedy in the future.
Olhava plays post-black metal and has become remarkably active this year, dropping two full-lengths in the span of a few months. While that may be cool, it remains to be seen if the quality is up to par (dun dun duuuuun). The band hails from Saint Petersburg in Russia and ‘Ladoga’ is their third record.
Andrey Novozhilov and Timur Yusupov are bandmates in Olhava, but also play together in the majestic Trna. That’s a good band, so if you like this, check them out too. Lagoda is a lake, north of Saint Petersburg. It’s considered the largest lake in Europe. It is pretty large indeed, but this record represents a primordial return to the essence – a review of a physically the same man, but with a different mind in today’s cultural paradigm. “It’s a journey from nowhere to nowhere. It’s about the fate of a person in the eternity of existence.”
‘Ageless River’ comes on with a churning sound of the water rushing. Notes fade in, building up to what only can be described as a carpet of sound completely drowning everything out. There are deep waves of melancholy woven into the fabric of the music. It’s as if the sun is shining on a rainy autumn day as ‘Smoldering Woodland’ demonstrates in the hazy sunlight as the insects buzzing increases. Intricate melodies are woven into a distorted wave that I find easiest to equate to The Angelic Process or Jesu’s likes. The returning theme of the ‘Ageless River’ is noteworthy, too, as the flow of things puts all in flux.
There are some monster tracks on this record too, with the almost 18-minute ‘Trembling Night’ taking up the crown. These are long, winding journeys into the sonic forests Olhava sings about. One could say metaphysical forests, but there is only the sound when you listen to this record. It is continuous, but there are these atmospheric parts where no guitars and drums are hammering down on you. Those are the rare intermissions of the river, but the band also paces itself during these longer tracks. ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ is one example of an easy flow to start with. In the end, it evolves into a similar baptizing into the introspective sounds that Olhava is delivering.
The lyrics, all in Russian, are written by Alexander Yordaki. Now, I am not certain if he participates on this record, but the previously sang on the single of ‘Ladoga’, which ended up becoming this record. He might be the vocalist, but I can’t confirm. On the album, I can only say that it feels like one solid whole, it is an immersive effort and for me a flow you want to experience as a whole. If you love the deafening impact of shoegaze-like acts, this is for you.
The last words on the cross by Jesus Christ were, according to Saint John, ‘It is done’. Obviously, he would not have said that in modern English, but in the language they spoke in where he was from at that time. And that is probably just something a monk made up, let’s be honest. He might as well have said: “I wish I could at least have scratched my nose…”. Anyway, in ancient Greek, it would have been ‘Tetelestai’, which happens to be the name of the band we’re about to discuss: Tetelestai, and their self-titled record.
Tetelestai hails from Utrecht, the cradle of the New Wave of Dutch Black Metal (I said it, not taking it back). Their members are active in scene pillars like Verval, Nevel, Wrang and Wesenwille. There’s a lot there to already give some promise that you’re in for something good, but I’ll refrain from saying that directly. Anyways, they’ve released an exciting demo that sounds, to me, fantastic as it is.
There’s a notable rock’n’roll groove to opener ‘Vergiffenis’. I mean, it really feels like I’m listening to a melodic punk rock track with heavy distortion, as the riffing is tight, quick-footed and has those stop-go moments. It makes the music more dynamic, energetic and therefore intriguing. ‘Sluier van Begeerte’ follows, with a more traditional, haemorrhaging rhythm, though the start of the song features some wonderful acoustics. The bellowed vocals make it easy to link the band to a more current sound of traditional black metal. And yes, that includes the Tom G. Warrior ‘Ugh!’. The guitars are excellent though, but I think I’ve mentioned it.
Time’ follows with what can be best described as a blistering hail storm of guitar riffs. The sound is lo-fi, subdued even, but still crackles with venom. At an average length of about 6+ minutes, each song is a solid slab of black metal violence. The coolest thing is that this is officially a demo according to the description and it already sounds so good! This song packs a punch with the incessant riffs, the violent howls and messy, raw sound.
We close this release with ‘De Contradictie’. A raucous display of power, which is an unbefitting reference to Pantera. These guys sound nothing like them, which you may have gathered from the statements made before. It’s a furious song, full of deep grooves and heavy, crushing drums. Ok, maybe that reference wasn’t that weird, but it’s a good song to close up. Good stuff, really! Band: Tetelestai Origin: Netherlands Label: self-released
Seregost is first and foremost a work of love. Love for the genre of dungeon synth, love for the fantasy and music that has inspired it. Words of thanks are levelled at names such as BasilPoledouris, GaryGygax and Robert E. Howard, but also at Mortiis. The grandmaster of the dungeon synth genre will likely nod in approval of this spawn of darkness, building on his creativity.
‘Halls of the Nameless King’ follows the narrative of a man wandering into the halls of a forgotten castle. We call him The Wanderer, who discovers mysteries untold and enemies fierce in his journey into the depths of hell itself in this forgotten castle.
We start with ‘Through the Darkwood’, which allows us to traverse through an ominous landscape. Subtle baselines hint at a threat from beyond and calm, repetitive melodies dance between the trees. The wind rises, blowing up a fierce gale when sturdy bassoon-like synths herald the emergence of the crumbling towers. Voices sing in awe of its solid might. Behold, the castle is here. ‘Silent stands the stronghold’, keeping its secrets, and repelling you with its stone might. We have become the wanderer.
As we enter the castle gates to ‘An Ominous Enclave’, the synths become less ethereal, more solid and sonorous. The listeners are taken through the old keep and the music builds up the tension gradually, giving that vibe that something may be very much amiss, or perhaps not so much. In the ‘Chapel to a Forgotten God’ we have some more light in the music, though perhaps it is only the illusion of might from ancient ritualistic symbols in this room. The organ sounds do bring a sense of humility to you as you step through these ancient halls. But suddenly, ‘Hidden Passages Reveal’, which the subtle bass flow and the gentle keys manage to convey very successfully.
Yet as we enter the ‘Hall of the Nameless King’, the sound swells to a more regal tone and atmosphere. But here, something stirs and the adventure comes to a climax. The drums sound, the synths herald ‘Behold, the Warlord’ and more is yet to come. The music becomes more adventurous here, more building towards a crescendo. But this is a false ending, as a ‘Stranger Things’ like end leaves you hanging on for more yet.
What comes up when you hear Mesoamerican/Pre-hispanic death/doom metal? I hope it sounds as primitive and bestial as Tompantli, because that’s a spot-on act. The one-man project from Brian Ortiz, or big o))), is his latest outlet for pure, punishing rage. You may know his work already if you’ve listened to Xibalba or his other solo-project Mortuary Punishment.
It’s a relatively short release, an EP with only four tracks that sound like the darkness of apocalyptic folk tales is finally upon us. If you didn’t know yet (I didn’t), a tzompantli is a rack on which the skulls of human sacrifices were displayed. They found one in the Templo Mayor in Mexico City with 650 skulls, so the Mesoamerican civilizations had been busy. It’s a fitting name for this act.
We enter the world of Tzompantli with sounds of the jungle on ‘Ohtlatoc Copa Llcahualuztli’, as a wall of gnarling, distorted guitars overwhelm us. Slow, pounding rhythms roll out at a steady pace, with a sludgy sound and an intimidating vibe. The growled vocals blast over in tortured, visceral wails, threatening you with unspeakable things. We pick up the pace on ‘Tiamanalli’, which betrays a bit of those groovy hardcore roots Ortiz has. The vocals mere bellows, so distorted it might be as well the thunderous wind. The track starts as death metal stomper but merges into a pummeling death-doom dirge. Noice!
The two following songs are parts one and two of ‘Tlheco Tonatiuh’. They form a hermetic unity in the shape of two slabs of massive, pummeling death doom. The harrowing vibe in the clean guitar parts creates a strange contrast that only heightens the discomfort the song generates. Crushing, wholly destructive and filled with despair. And on that note, I recommend you give it a spin!
Band: Tzompantli Origin: USA Label: Transylvanian Tapes
Ragana is one of the bands I keep coming back to. Their mixture of black metal aesthetics, screamo sentimentality and doomy vibes is a treat, but their message is equally powerful and one I gladly receive. This release is titled: ‘We Know That The Heavens Are Empty’ and it’s special.
The title comes from a poem, titled ‘The Toast of Despair’, by anarchist hero Valtairine De Cleyre. A poem from 1892, in fact, from this author. She played a significant role in shaping modern American feminism but was an activist in her lifetime against intermarriage violence and other issues that are still unresolved to this very day.
The opening is slow, atmospheric and rich in emotional charge. The build-up on the track ‘Waiting’ takes time to reach the point of silence, only to restart again. Ragana was less subtle on their previous work, so as a listener you’ll be intrigued and the wait for that release is a good one. A pained voice cuts through the quiet and pushes the build-up onwards to a dark, thick tapestry of guitars and pained screams that embodies Ragana. The song never fully gets to the point of letting go, of unabated fury, unleashed. We keep waiting.
‘The Tower’ feels much more powerful, full of threat and looming danger. Yet this doomy track also slowly creeps forward. It’s a slow and tormented track, where the vocals and flow of the song are often opposed, creating a sense of discomfort. It builds to a wail and scream: “Holding, Falling, Holding…” You feel the despair, as the tremolo guitar reaches a high note and stays there, teetering on the edge, almost falling down.