Category Archives: Review

Stygian Bough – Volume 1

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)

Folking Doom

‘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. 

Nautical despair

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 – Lagoda

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. 

Band: Olhava
Origin: Russia
Label: Self Released

Tetelestai – Tetelestai

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 – Halls of a Nameless King

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 Basil Poledouris, Gary Gygax 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. 

Artist: Seregost
Origin: ?
Label: Knekelput 

Tzompantli – Tlamnalli

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 – We know That The Heavens Are Empty

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.

Band: Ragana
Origin: USA
Label: An Out Records

Dämmerfarben – Des Herbstes Trauerhymnen MMXX

Dämmerfarben is Germen for the colors of twilight. It’s also a black metal project with a colorful group of participants. Founder Nostarion started the band as a solo project to explore the mixture of folk, acoustics, black metal, and atmospheric music. He has paved his way in the scene, playing in bands like Seelenfrost, Folkodia, and is currently active as a member of Folkearth, Ulfsdalir, Dystertid and Panopticon (live). And a ton more…

Later he was joined by Dystertid, Idhafels, and Throndt bandmember Fergen Grimnir on bass. Having had a steady rotation of other members, they added Panopticon mastermind Austin Lunn as the drummer in 2015. The result is a band with a remarkable amount of talent among its ranks, and the result is audible on Des Herbstes Trauerhymnen MMXX. As Panopticon is my most important reference point here, it comes at no surprise that Dämmerfarben has elements of that sound too.

Songs for Autumn

The soft acoustic intro is reminiscent of ‘Roads to the North’ on opener Herbstsonne. Still, the transition to the full-on metal is more subtle and smooth. The folk metal influences come up straight here, with some classic heavy metal riffing in the mix. We would remain within the autumn theme on this album if that were still news with titles like ‘Des Herbstes Trauerlied.’ A lot of acoustic guitar work really creates the space and atmosphere for the album’s vibe to set in. It helps bind the songs together, stretch them out, and enables you as a listener to immerse yourself even deeper into their sounds.

It’s interesting to note that the first four songs are, in fact, older songs reworked for this record. You wouldn’t call anything on this album dated, though there is a certain timelessness to the tunes. It helps that some of the tracks are so smoothly meandering, like a babbling brook or the wind through the autumn leaves. I particularly enjoy the song ‘Herbstpfad’, with chanting that creates a bit of that Mittelalter rock vibe the Germans were known for a couple of years ago. The field recordings help put the right frame around that sonic picture.

As we drift off,  with the wonderful ‘Golden Atem Letzter Tagen’, one is likely to always dream of autumn, the golden leaves and light of the setting sun. Soon…

Band: Dämmerfarben
Label: self-released
Origin: Germany

Clara Engel – Hatching Under The Stars

Clara Engel is a singer/songwriter who has worked with esteemed artists, such as Aidan Baker, Armen Ra, Thor Harris, and Siavash Amini. Her music has been hard to put in a particular bracket, and descriptions as ‘minimalist holy blues’ and the stylistic portmanteau of ‘experimental folk’.

The songwriting of Clara Engel

Now, singer/songwriter is not a genre, but I’m going for that angle as I listen to this album by the Canadian artist, who resides in the wonderful city of Toronto. Many artists, who explore solitary musicianship fall into formulaic expressions of the floral dress girl with an acoustic guitar or the lumberjack shirt, bearded boy. But what makes an artist in this expressionist endeavor stand out to me is individualism. It’s not singing a song about emotions you’ve never felt all clear and precise as possible, it’s about the emotional charge of the notes and words.

Hatching Under The Stars

My first comparison when I listen to Clara Engel is, therefore, an unlikely one. The song ‘To Keep the Ghosts at Bay’, makes me think of Will Oldham, or Bonnie Prince Billy (or whatever moniker you are familiar with). Though I’d like to mention the lazy, sun-drenched guitars, it’s the voice that does it. It’s not perfect. But it’s the sound of weariness, at the end of the long night, ‘trying to keep the ghosts at bay’. It makes the song tangible, the theme real and convincing.

But there is also the element of poetry to the art of songwriters, particularly when one invokes larger themes and stories. ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is a reference to Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ and the song ‘Preserved in Ice for Mark Chagall’ to me seems a reference to his pastoral works (an interpretation of some visual aspects I would presume). But I can hardly start unpacking that with any clear idea as there are themes that evoke new worlds for me. It’s how a song opens a thousand doors for those willing to traverse it.

There is a darkness in the work of Engel too, which no song shows as well as ‘Baby Alligators’. It appears cute and endearing, but soon paints a skyline not dissimilar to the apocalyptic visions in the music of Godspeed! You Black Emperor (Canadian is purely coincidental here). If you need a bridge that explains why Engel worked with Amenra, it’s here too, in the forlorn worldview, and the way words paint pictures and ideas more than tell you something directly. Both ‘Any Creature’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’ are examples of this.

‘Time is a putty
in your grizzled claw’

What I enjoy about the music of Clara Engel, are it’s sudden shifts and turns. A song like ‘7 Minutes Past Sunrise’ may seem a bit like a Katie Melua song at first until you notice the crumbling world it describes, the grieving notes for a world that is disappearing. Let alone the title, that to me screams Iron Maiden, but hey… There’s a sense of escapism in here too, particularly in a song like ‘Little Blue Fox’, which talks about following the fox to a hidden valley. It’s one of the most straight forward songs on the album.

By the time we arrive at the final song, which is ‘The Indifference of Fire’, the sky has grown a little darker. There is an escape in the music, there is a better place in a world that is generally falling apart and seems uncaring. There is beauty in between the shards, growth between the ruins, and hope. And Clara Engel sings it’s songs.

Underground Sounds: Csejthe – L’horreur de Čachtice

Label: HSP Productions
Band: Csejthe
Origin: Canada

Quebecois black metal is of a distinct kind, full of Francophone fury, gritty sound, and evil. Csejthe is no different in any of that. The band has by now released 3 albums and did a split with Monarque and Forteresse, two bands with an equal undeniable force and power in their sound. Just like these guys, actually, who also are active in some other acts.

Named after the castle of the infamous Countess Bathory, who murdered according to myth hundreds of girls, the theme is clear. Remarkably, this is a steady feat in the work of Csejthe. On this album, they even go deeper into it with a title ‘L’ horreur de Čachtice’ referring directly to the horror and telling the tale.

And we fall instantly into the darkness with ‘Terreur Nocturne’, a slow-paced, almost doomy track of drizzling black metal. The sound is hazy at the edges, creating this mesmerizing Burzum-like atmosphere. Slow and repetitive, that’s definitely what Csejthe is going for in their grinding tracks, though it picks up on ‘Lycanthropie misanthropie’ and the following title track. There are these wailing guitar melodies, this all-over barren feel to the songs, a certain grandeur… It’s what sets the scene apart and makes bands liket his so amazing.

The record doesn’t stick to a steady formula though and every following song has different nuances, strengths and expressions. But at times the band can actually surprise you. Not with their grim and dark stories, but when their music takes radical turns as it does on ‘Le Spectre de Soleil’. A moody, jazzy interlude breaks up the blast beats, like a sun ray through the clouds and its such a powerful thing. But when we hit the final track, ‘Sadique lunatique’ a vitalistic, suffocating intensity hits. The melody just creeps and writhes around the listener in an unnerving, illustrious speed. Hard to grasp, before the blade comes down.

Sightless Pit – Grave of a Dog

Origin: USA
Label: Thrill Jockey

If you bring together Lee Buford of The Body, Kristin Hayter of Lingua Ignota and Dylan Walker of Full of Hell for a project, you’ll get something special. That’s one thing to be certain of and you would know this is if you’re familiar with the relationship between these acts. Kristin Hayter is not someone who takes collaborations lightly and chemistry is essential. The result, Sightless Pit, is an audio exploration of bleak existence and darkness, unlike another on ‘Grave of a Dog’.

The vocal intro to ‘Kingscorpse’ instantly gives you the chills. It’s that weary, forlorn intonation of Hayter that lulls you to a sense of calm. Before you know it, the heavily distorted and gritty vocals overwhelm you over a steady beat. It is pulsating, threatening, dark. An incessant beat that swells and pushes you along into ‘Immersion Dispersal’. You feel as if you’re deep underground at some ‘end of the world’ techno party, where Skinny Puppy worshippers gather.

That vibe is only further enhanced with the ritualistic introduction to ‘The Ocean of Mercy’. It’s remarkable how there’s always tension. Even during the mellow, droney parts of this song with the clean vocals, it’s looming. I have to think of some of the more ambient works by Ulver. The oft angelical singing of Hayter breaks through the haze of noise and crackling effects, providing a new clarity.

Throbbing sounds guide us on ‘Violent Rain’, which takes us back to the minimalism of earlier tracks on the album. It’s a long build-up towards the minimalist piano and a bridge to the much more visceral ‘Drunk on Marrow’. A gloomy, dystopian soundscape, with barking bursts of distortion and pulse that booms in your ears like blood pumping through your veins at full force. In turn, ‘Miles of Chain’ feels more harsh and noisy, with a martial beat that reigns over the roaring sounds and reverberations. It’s a hazy track that turns more sinister and dark as it continues onwards, opening the gate for more darkness to seep in on ‘Whom The Devil Long Sought To Strangle’. Pounding rhythms and minimal, destroyed instrumentations lead us onwards, further down into the pit…

To end up with the sheer magic and tenderness of ‘Love is Dead, All Love is Dead’. It’s despair in its most fragile, hopeless form. A heap of shivering vulnerability, that is left when all is stripped away. It evokes a feeling of guilt, sadness, the sense of inevitableness. We did this, as a world and planet. But that, like anything here, is interpretation, but it’s one based on the power of evocation in this song and the whole album.