Sunday, 9 September 2018

Album Spotlight: Forlorn Citadel - Songs of Mourning / Dusk

Songs of Mourning / Dusk by Forlorn Citadel is to be released in November as part of the Northern Silence Underground Series, which is aimed at giving new and as yet unknown artists a bit of a kickstart with the opportunity to get their music out in physical format. Forlorn Citadel is one of these artists and the album combines the two demos released so far into one release which will get a limited-edition CD run of 500 copies.

These two demos, individually titled Dusk and Songs of Mourning and originally released in 2017 and 2018 respectively are very different in style yet show considerable promise even though Forlorn Citadel is still in its formative years. Originally conceived as an ambient / dungeon synth project with the first demo being entirely in this style, Forlorn Citadel soon moved to incorporate black metal into the picture with the second and it’s this sound which forms the basis of where Solace (the sole member) plans to take the project.

I’ll talk about each of the two parts separately simply because they are very different and mark two different phases of the band. Dusk was the first demo released (although makes up the final part of this CD) and consists three short tracks of pure dungeon synth / ambient style music. What’s here is enjoyable and atmospheric, with serene ambient sounds combining with more solemn and dramatic medieval sounding parts to create a vivid yet calming atmosphere. In all honesty the only real thing that lets the Dusk part down in my opinion is it’s just too short to draw you in and immerse you fully in the sound. However, this was just the starting point for Forlorn Citadel and it serves well to showcase where the roots of the band lie, but it’s with Songs of Mourning where we really see this project take shape.

Released originally earlier this year, Songs of Mourning shows a much improved and much more confident sound, with the addition of black metal as a core ingredient as well. The atmospheric synths are still prominent, but we’re hearing a much more well rounded and fleshed out entity here. Synths may well be common in black metal anyway but given the origins of this band we see the synths employed with great effect and they make up a significant aspect of Forlorn Citadel’s sound, pinned together by the black metal framework. The essence of both black metal and dungeon synth is captured and comes out to the full, complementing each other well and anyone who is a fan of atmospheric black metal of this nature will find much to enjoy here.

Put together, the combined release does an excellent job of showcasing just what Forlorn Citadel is about, as well as acting as a landmark to show where this band is at now and where it came from. Songs of Mourning may well be the stronger of the two parts, but the Dusk tracks are an essential part of this too given that without them you’d lose half of the current make-up of Forlorn Citadel’s sound. I think when all is said and done, the main thing Songs of Mourning / Dusk accomplishes is it leaves you hungry for a full, proper album. It’s a solid release in its own right but also a great appetiser for the upcoming main course and that is something I really look forward to hearing, and I guess this is part of the intent behind Northern Silence’s Underground Series.

This really is a great start, and if you’re a fan of black metal, dungeon synth and ambient music this is worth getting hold of as it plays on the strengths of those genres and makes the most of the common ground shared by them, and as such the music presented will appeal to most people who like those styles I expect. Being honest, I think Forlorn Citadel is a band we’ll hear great music from in the future and hopefully will be a band recognised for doing so. Watch this space folks.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Album Spotlight: Manes - Slow Motion Death Sequence

We’ve seen boundaries pushed in black metal pretty much since the origins of the genre, we’ve also seen a good number of bands shatter those boundaries completely. Bands such as Ulver, In The Woods, Arcturus, and Solefald may have cut their teeth in the Norwegian black metal scene but have since gone on to achieve much more by moving beyond it. Manes are another such band, formed in 1993 and performing black metal up to and including their album Under Ein Blodraud Maane. In 2003 they took a radical departure with their album Vilosophe, heading in a more avant-garde direction and have continued on that path ever since, polarising the opinion of fans in the process as tends to happen.

Cut to 2018, and Manes have returned with their latest album Slow Motion Death Sequence, released
on August 24th via Debemur Morti Productions and it’s likely to be no less divisive amongst metal fans but hopefully it’ll find a dedicated audience who will appreciate what Manes are doing here. I can easily list some of the styles Manes incorporate in their sound, including but not limited to metal, electronica, trip hop, industrial, ambient, alternative rock and pop, frankly though that list is about as relevant to the sound as a list of ingredients in a cake recipe is to how the cake tastes when you’re eating it. Suffice to say, Manes see genres not as templates but as tools to create something entirely of their own, and what they’ve come up with here is something pretty special indeed.

“Endetidstegn” lays the groundwork to Manes’ latest musical vision, the initial minimalistic electronic beats and subdued moody vocals are joined by layer after layer of sound with guitars, drums and additional female vocals coming in and the song gradually building up to a powerful crescendo. There’s a stark contrast between the restrained opening parts and the dramatic conclusion of this song, highlighting the full range of sounds and emotions Manes produce on this album. It’s a great start and a springboard to what comes later, it’s soon apparent that Manes have far more tricks up their sleeves. There’s “Scion” next, with a lighter, more upbeat approach, I’ll admit at first it took me a while to warm to this particular song with the vocals coming across as jarring at first but after a couple of plays I came to appreciate it a lot more. It’s a strange thing with this album, on first listen there’s a deceptive air of simplicity and accessibility, just enough to entice you in further, after a few spins though you really come to appreciate the true depth of the music on offer here and how meticulously crafted everything is. Repeated listens are essential, the fourth will sound very different to the first.

I won’t describe every song on here, each song on Slow Motion Death Sequence is unique in its own way though and there’s some real gems to be found. “Last Resort” is one of my personal favourites, the early parts settling comfortably into familiar sounds, perhaps reminiscent of In The Woods in places as well as recent Anathema. Come the five-minute mark though this song really bursts into life, with a blast of guitars backing up powerful female vocals with raw emotion pouring out. It’s simply breath-taking and standing bang in the middle of the album serves as a real peak to some already epic sounds on either side. There's some dark moments too, “Poison Enough For Everyone” is a much bleaker and more depressive affair, with the downbeat almost spoken vocals backed up by distorted synths soon spiralling into a Reznor-esque anguished style.

There’s much more I could say about this album, suffice to say it’s one of the most unique and rewarding albums I’ve heard all year. It’s hard to draw reference points but from a metal perspective I’d say if you’re a fan of In The Woods, Solstafir and / or later Anathema stuff this will be right up your street, even though the metal aspects are only a small part of what Manes are doing here, you’ll hear more Bowie influence than Black Sabbath. Ulver would be an obvious comparison too, more because they share a similar path and spirit of adventure though rather than with the actual sound, they’re very different bands and it’s unfortunate that fans seem to have been less kind to Manes than they were to Ulver. It is sad that albums like this will often be judged negatively simply by not being “metal”, whereas in fact bands like Manes are producing outstanding original music of a high calibre in a world where innovation is much harder to find and most things have been done before. Hopefully that can be appreciated regardless of whether this is your cup of tea or not. At the end of the day I can draw all the comparisons you want, tell you what’s going on in here but simple fact is Manes stand proudly in their own place with Slow Motion Death Sequence, this is an incredibly strong, rich and rewarding album and for me I’ll go out on a limb and say that in a few years time I fully expect to be looking back on this in the same way I look back on La Masquerade Infernale and Perdition City now. Incredible stuff, give it a chance.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Album Spotlight: Ulykke - Angantyr

So, here’s a surprise, Angantyr is a Danish one-man band I came across way back, probably around 15 years ago if I recall correctly, through the album Kampen Fortsætter. It was an excellent if quite raw release, I’d not kept track of the band for a good while though, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a new Angantyr album arrive unexpectedly in my inbox. Now Angantyr started out as a synth / ambient project in 1997 then quickly became a black metal band, with Ynleborgaz being the man behind it all. He’s released a few albums over the years, but aside from the recent Foragt EP this is the first release since 2012 and also marks the 20-year anniversary since Angantyr’s first demo. The album is titled Ulykke and is set for release on March 30th via Northern Silence Productions.

If you’re a fan of Angantyr, chances are you’ve got a fair idea what to expect, no frills, no nonsense orthodox black metal in the classic 90’s Scandinavian style. You’ll also expect a certain level of quality, in spite of the rawness of some of Angantyr’s previous works what’s always stood out is just how well written and performed the music actually is. This is crucial to bands playing this style, especially now in 2018. After all, Ulykke breaks no new ground nor does it deviate much from its course for just shy of an hour, so if you want to get and more importantly hold people’s attention you’ve got to be top of your game. Angantyr, thankfully, is just that. The potential shown in those early albums has really come to fruition here, 20 years of experience and a considerable amount of talent, not to mention a huge improvement in the production department makes Ulykke an incredibly strong album and a first-rate example of how traditional black metal should sound and still be relevant in today’s era.

Simply put, Ulykke manages to be a captivating and spellbinding album from start to finish, made so by the fact that musically Angantyr knows how to do pull this off and knows how to keep you hooked. On the surface it may sound like just another black metal album, as you listen though the riffs and the outstanding guitar melodies set the path and lead you on an enthralling trip for the 59-minute duration. In terms of the actual songs, there’s little point isolating the tracks individually and you’ll find most of the variety on the album comes within each song as opposed to being radically different from one to the next. Each song though is well put together and packed with ideas, no one part outstays its welcome but avoids being cut short either, and the seven songs here could each be considered as one leg of a much longer journey. Ulykke is fairly upbeat as black metal goes, the harshness and intensity are there in just the right amount but there’s bucket loads of melody employed as well as an entrancing atmosphere which, in spite of the harshness of the style still has a serene, majestic and uplifting quality. Without deviating so much as to be labelled “melodic” or “atmospheric” black metal, Ulykke still manages to be both.

Angantyr’s sound most certainly benefits from the focus and singular vision Ynleborgaz has for his music. I’ll admit I’ve always loved the diversity of black metal, and the dynamic between bands who experiment and push new boundaries alongside those who firmly resist change and stick strongly to tradition is something which keeps the genre interesting. Angantyr has staked a flag firmly in a specific point and refused to move from or look outside that, uncontaminated by current trends and outside influence and for Angantyr this works extremely well. The focus is channelled firmly into this vision, and the result is something which has a refreshing purity to it. That really stands out on Ulykke, some bands playing this style might sound like they’re emulating the 90’s, Angantyr here sounds like it IS the 90’s and for all intents and purposes you could easily be convinced that’s where Ulykke is from. It’s rare to hear that on this level in all honesty, and it’s one of the key strengths of this album.

In summary then, I’d say Angantyr is far better than a band playing traditional 90’s Scandinavian black metal in 2018 has any right to be. If you don’t like that style, there’s little here that’s going to convert you I’ll admit. If you do though, you’re in for a treat with this one. It’s not always about pushing boundaries, experimenting and trying different things, with music like this it’s about performing and enjoying the style of black metal you love, sticking to your guns and keeping the black flame burning. Angantyr has a clear vision of the target, has drawn, aimed, delivered and firmly hit the bullseye with this one. If you’re into this band, Ulykke is a much welcome return after a six-year wait. If you’ve never heard Angantyr, now is a good time to find out why this band has picked up a cult following over the years. No nonsense, no frills, just first class black metal exactly how it used to be, and one I can happily recommend to anyone with any degree of liking for this style.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Album Spotlight: Insurrection - Spreading The Disease

It’s been a while, but the Sine FM Metal Zone blog returns today with a look at the album Insurrection by Spreading The Disease. They’re from Kent, formed back in 2014 by bass player Steve Saunders. So far their output has consisted of the EP Viral, which received much critical acclaim, and now Insurrection, their debut full length album which came out last year. They describe themselves as a modern metal band, list bands such as Slipknot, Machine Head, Pantera and others as influences, and with Insurrection they certainly seem to have impressed a fair few people and made a decent impact.

There’s certainly no denying the passion these guys show here, the tracks here are bursting with rage and energy, there’s a hell of a lot to like about this band for sure. The heaviness is there, meaty riffs and grooves plough forward and bring a sense of fire and passion throughout Insurrection, you’ve got some fierce vocals too from Connor Russell Snyder, the yells and screams delivering the raw aggression and complemented by decent clean vocals interspersed throughout. If you’re a fan of modern metal you’re going to find Insurrection ticks all the boxes for sure, and certainly the younger metal audience are going to lap this up. It does everything you want it to on that front. However, the same can be said of a lot of bands in what is becoming an incredibly saturated scene and depending on your point of view to hear of a “modern metal” band listing the influences they do will typically evoke one of two reactions. Either chomping at the bit, or rolling your eyes in your head thinking jeez, not another. You could be forgiven for the latter of course, and you’d be pleasantly surprised when Spreading The Disease prove you wrong though, as they’ve delivered a strong debut with the raw aggression you want from a contemporary metal album yet showing enough maturity and diversity to impress all but the most jaded of cynics.

I think what I like most about this album is that they’ve drawn on so many different influences that come together to deliver their music the way that they do. They’ve got a very clear vision in how they want their music to sound, but they’ve got a fair few tricks up their sleeve in how they go about delivering that. Metalcore and hardcore fans will find much to enjoy, particularly in the early songs, opener “Find My Path” and “Words Unspoken” for example. You’ve also got a healthy dose of thrash showing through as well as punk spirit and influence showing through in a lot of the songs, both in the riffing and Connor’s vocal style at times on songs such as “Spreading the Disease” and “Greed” for example. The band do ease off the throttle on “Can’t Let Go” and we hear female vocals paving the way for a great solo which even gives nods to prog and doesn’t sound out of place, even a dash of funk on "Brexit Wounds" too. “Save me” has to be a real highlight of the album where Spreading The Disease really let rip and tear at you full force and I imagine it’s ferocious live too. Another highlight is “Whores of War”, clocking in at six and a half minutes but brings together so many of the strong points of this band in one song and serves as a good taste of what they can really do.

On the surface you’ve got a blisteringly intense full on metal album which holds its own on a crowded scene, but you’ve also got a band which can go much deeper and inject their music with a personality entirely of their own, and this becomes more apparent on repeated listens. If there’s any downside to this album I’d say it’s mainly down to the fact that there’s a lot of unrealised potential here. Spreading The Disease stretch far in many directions and are certainly ambitious. However, while I can’t quite put my finger on exact points there’s times where you think that they occasionally miss the mark or more accurately they sometimes fall short of what you really know they can do. That’s no bad thing, it leaves them somewhere to go, this is a debut album and as debuts go it’s an incredibly strong release, but I did occasionally get the impression that they’re trying a lot of different things here and some of it didn’t have the impact it could have. As I say, this is far from a negative point as it didn’t make me enjoy this album less so much as make me curious as to what we may hear from this band in the future.

In summary then, a great debut, and it’s worth checking Insurrection out if this sort of thing floats your boat, and even if not it’s one well worth giving a chance, you may be pleasantly surprised by Spreading The Disease. They’ve lit the fire here, I’m sure it will burn even more brightly in years to come.