26 Jun 2017

Puteraeon - The Empires of Death (Self-released 2017)

Puteraeon is a death metal band in the classic Swedish tradition, a genre which has had a long-enduring resurgence. In fact, such a long one that I refuse to call it a trend or revival, Swedish OSDM is obviously here to stay whether you like it or not. After three full-length albums, with one clearly following the line of the other, Puteraeon hits us with an EP containing their strongest material to date. 
Puteraeon has managed to put out three strong albums, and in quite rapid succession at that. If you count their demo releases (which you should), which are long enough to be regarded as full length albums as well, Puteraeon has put out an staggering amount of songs between the years of 2008 and 2014. To my surprise though, things went silent for three years after the release of "The Crawling Chaos". The band later announced in 2017 that they were going to self-release their new material, and in the format of a thee track digital EP, an unexpected turn of events if anything. And now with the announcement of a physical version of the EP on the horizon (only vinyl is real!), it's high time to talk about this EP.
That these guys love for all things H.P. Lovecraft shouldn't have passed under anyone's radar, this time the man himself even adorns the cover art. Jonas Lindblood's well of HPL-lyrics seems to inexhaustible and by this time I would have a hard time imagining a Puteraeon that didn't worship at the grave of the man at night.
Speaking of the grave or Mr. Lovecraft, "Providence" is the opening track of this EP. Tastefully named after the quote "I am providence" which embellishes his headstone. Puteraeon has always had very strong productions, and to my surprise that has not changed here. Even though they this time around employed the reigning world champion of overly compressed- and ear numbing productions, Dan Swanö, instead of Andy LaRocque who has worked on previous albums. This song is extremely well put together, and no part lingers for too long before changing it up. Blastbeats are intertwined with melodic breaks and chugging guitars in a way seems very thought through. One listen to this song often results in at least two more in order to hear your favorite parts again, the true mark of a great track. I do somewhat miss Jonas's deep and guttural voice though. The change in vocal style was in my understanding due to his old approach being hard to replicate live, and I can't argue with that reasoning. The vocals are more articulated here than ever before, and in the end the change is probably for the better. After all, Jonas has lost none of his vigor while bellowing over the epic guitar breaks in the middle of this song.
"At the Altars" follows in a slightly more melodic fashion with the guitars of aforementioned Jonas and guitarist Rune Foss harmonize skillfully and just the right amount without going overboard. The song also features a well played solo, echoing over a cavernous riff-landscape. While "Providence" is a swirling vortex of madness (in the best possible way), "At the Altars" is a more catchy affair with parts that get stuck in your head and vocal lines you can anticipate to scream along to at a live show. As with the previous track they change things up at just the right moment to keep your interest peaked, and this goes to show that you can still write this type of death metal as long as you're smart about it. Good musicians will still write fantastic songs even if it's a genre that's been done several times before.
Closing song "Epitaph" opens with a blast, in the most literal sense, quickly changing between it and the most classic of Swedish guitar rhythms which continues into the verses. And by this point drummer Anders Malmström has proved that he has more than mastered everything that is to be expected by a death metal drummer, though it would be nice to hear some other form of blastbeat other than the classic grind here and there. This is a short, and to the point, track that is over before you know what hit you. A perfect closing number that leaves you hungry for more.
It was a great relief the hear this EP having as good a production as it actually does, the guitars are warm and powerful, the drums sound very organic instead of the castanet-sounding kicks I was fearing. One note I'd like to add is that I would have preferred to have the bass louder in the mix, but that is something I could say about just about any release nowadays. The whole sound has a lot of air and room to breathe even though all instruments are going full throttle basically all the way through.  
Puteraeon seem to have gained a lot from taking some extra time to refine the material before release, and after all three years is not an atrocious time to wait for quality. If we're lucky they have more tracks in the bank already, and maybe the next release will be an offering with a longer runtime. Either way, I'll be happy to hear more. If you don't like this, you probably don't like death metal, and if you're tired of the genre, you probably weren't that into it to begin with. The ghost of HPL bestows "The Empires of Death" with: 8,6/10

19 Jun 2017

Monasterium - S/T (No Remorse Records - 2016)

Monasterium is the side-project of a couple of the mysterious members of Evangelist and both these bands feature many of the same elements. What Monasterium has to offer that Evangelist has not got already is a slight pivot towards the realm of heavy metal, not a far leap from the safety of Epic Doom Metal, but an ever so effective one non the less. This self-titled debut starts- and ends strong, with a slight dip in the middle and features very fine bass work throughout.

I've been a fan of Evangelist since the release of their second album "Doominicanes" in 2013, and have been eagerly awaiting a follow-up as I felt that album was stronger than their debut. While I don't know how many of the Evangelist members are involved in Monasterium, other than that they obviously share the same vocalist, due to Evangelist deciding be one of these anonymous acts of late. I was still excited to see a new album released from the same creative minds.

Monasterium sure chose the right song to open the album. "Christening in Blood" is a very effective number with incredibly heavy riffs that even manages to get to the first chorus before the time meter hits the minute mark, a remarkable feat for a doom metal band if anything. It also doesn't take long to hear that vocalist Michał Strzelecki is an obvious fan of Messiah of Candlemass fame, and no one can blame a doom metal vocalist for this. Though Michał's vocals does sound a bit "throaty" and almost at the brink of being strained at times. Luckily he seems to be very aware of where his limit lays and never bites of more than he can chew, even though it sounds like he is very close to at certain times. When he hits the notes in the line "a lost offering of life" in the chorus, it is with a great passion and seriously goose-bump inducing. A special mention needs to be made of Filip Malinowski bass work as well, who doesn't fear doing his own thing behind the wall of riffing guitars instead of just following the rhythm guitar, neither here or in any of the other songs. Which is something that plagues doom metal of this type, and metal in general. Filip does instead seem to have taken a page from Geezer Butler's great book of bass playing, rather than Leif Edling's (there's truly enough of Leif to be heard on this album anyway).

"A Hundredfold Cursed" opens with power chord riffing, and we get better insight in the instrumentation that Monasterium has to offer with a dynamic shift into the clean verse, with even more great bass lines. The drum production fits this dynamic composition very well, and has a sound that can carry both heavy riffing, clean interludes and double bass lines, all demonstrated in this song. The chorus here is far from as powerful as the song before, but somber and languishing, even more so towards the end of the song where they scale things down to bare minimum. I tend to more often get the double bass riff that follows the chorus stuck in my head rather than the actual chorus.

Dirty sounding guitars lead into "The Pharisee's Tongue", playing a dissonant chord before proceeding into another power chord onslaught. This song has a good drive to it, and features exciting drums  and energetic vocals in the verses, I am however not a fan of the dissonant elements to the guitars in this track, which kind of kills it for me. The guitar solos could also use some work, as they get the job done but doesn't really raise any eyebrows neither here on or the rest of the album, with a few exceptions.

Tribal drums echo under ominous synthesizers as we enter "In the Shrine of the Jackal God" and are treated to the heaviest riff on the whole album. Monasterium then dives into an oriental sounding heavy metal riff that fit's the theme of the track just perfectly. And when the first word of the line "twelve names of the demons" hits, shivers run down my spine. With a bit more energetic chorus this would have bumped down the opening track as my favorite track on the album, but now falls a bit flat. The guitar solo on here reaches the highest point of the album, with some extra harmonies and even more middle-eastern sounding melodies. Guitarist Tomasz Gurgul seem to do his best lead work when keeping it simple and effective.

Things pick up again with the monumentally titled "In Hoc Signo Vinces", another track leaning toward the heavy metal-side of things with a jumpy riff and somewhat upbeat attitude. The lighthearted demeanor is quickly rectified though when the crushing verse rumbles into the song like a slow-motion avalanche. What I have yet to mention is how much I like Monasteriums lyrics, which are very well written. Especially in regard that English is not their first language, or is even taught in regular school programming in Poland to my knowledge and speech in foreign movies is overdubbed to Polish.

"I will tremble the walls of Rome, in the Orient I will raise my throne
All the west I reclaimed and Byzantium shall carry my name
Apparition in heaven above, divine light descending like a dove
This God I invoke, to perdition I sentenced my foes" 

That's some well-written stuff if I've ever seen it. This song has an excellent chorus, beautiful clean interludes and a short and effective solo, even if Tomasz tries some flasher stuff. Do yourself a favor and go listen to it, as it is available for streaming both on the Monasterium's YouTube channel and their bandcamp page.

"Moloch's Uprising" takes the tempo down again into doomier realms, but sadly disappears a bit among the other strong finishing tracks on the album. However, since this is not an overly long album, which actually clocks in on the rather perfect forty minutes and the song itself is the shortest on the album it doesn't disrupt much and gives you a chance to take a breath and gather your thoughts before the finish. "Moloch's Uprising" feature parts that are what I usually call "Iron Man-esque" where the vocals and guitar work in unison on the same melody, this is something that I rarely appreciate. Luckily the whole song is not written like this.

Finally we ascend "Into the Mountain of Power", a Conan - The Barbarian inspired number (the movie, not the short stories), and I am all for that. A bass intro leads into this full blown heavy metal epic, which draws to mind Manowar's more grandeur moments, like "Gates of Valhalla", "March for Revenge" or even "Battle Hymn". Michał even gives his best shot at a falsetto scream á la Eric Adams in the end, which I would gladly welcome more of. Drummer Maciej Berniak experiments with some interesting tom work and syncopation in this track, and it all feels very tight and like the instrumentalists are well rehearsed and aware of what the other guys are doing instead of just focusing on their own parts.

Lets call this is a very good "debut" from Monasterium, even though at least some of the guys have released albums together in the same genre before. It features a very good production overall with a clearly audible bass (thank the gods of doom that we don't miss any of these bass lines), excellent drum sound, clear vocals and crisp guitars. The lyrics are very well written, although Michał's accent takes a bit getting used to if you haven't listened to eastern European bands before. The guitar solos could use a bit of work from time to time, but always gets the job done. No one can complain over the quality of the guitar riffing and song composition though. Monasterium's self-titled album shall conquer in the sign of: 7,8/10

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12 Jun 2017

Cerecloth - This Temple is a Grave (Bloodsoaked Records - 2016)

Cerecloth plays death metal with a sound akin to Bolt Thrower or Cancer, but other influences can be heard once the obvious has been stated. "This Temple is a Grave" is their debut demo which leaves little more to want, other than more material.
Remember 10+ years ago when every new band didn't have to call their low budget demos a "debut EP" in a desperate attempt to make it sound like a professional release? Cerecloth sure seems to at least, which was what first caught my eye. Being released by Bloodsoaked Records, which has a keen ear for finding underground gems both around their native Sundsvall and other places also increased the chance of this being a demo worth getting. Needless to say, the logo patch packed along with the cassette (yes, cassette) now proudly adorns my battle vest.
Opening track "Strangling the Saint, Strangling the Prophet" doesn't waste time introducing each instrument one at a time, but instead kicks right off into the verse riff which is a melodic affair of Bolt Thrower flavor. Followed by a crawling bridge and chorus with un uneasy aura which draws the mind to early Morbid Angel's heavier material. This feeling is further cemented by Mangus Ödling's  lyrical themes, and once the first solo on this demo hits your ears even more Morbid Angel influences seems to be heard in this at-first-glance Bolt Thrower tribute. The lead guitar work here, and throughout the whole demo, is superb and backed up by a really stable foundation by the rest of the band.

The title track "This Temple is a Grave" also wants to give you your moneys worth as soon as possible and dives into an incredibly groovy riff, much made so by Emil Leijon's kick drum capabilities and syncopated cymbal hits (he also delivers some of the patented Bolt Thrower "double-kick-drum-and-syncopated-snare-beat" later in the song, but lets end the BT-comparisons here). This track has more drive to it than the previous and moves into a nice melodic interlude after the solo, played tightly on muted guitar strings. And Magnus bellows "This temple is a fucking grave" with an admirable conviction before the shortest song on this twelve and a half minute demo comes to and end.

Last out is "May your Corpse Become the Instrument", and here Cerecloth treats us to a more traditional intro sequence before moving into yet another groovy kick drum carpet-bombing that basically continues until the last note rings out. Here is where I'd say there is a bit room for improvement as the verses in this track feel a bit anonymous, especially after the two first songs, nothing that makes me rewind my tape before the track is over though.
I am a firm believer that a demo should be allowed to sound like a demo, and don't expect new and unestablished bands to be able to barf up thousands of euros to hire famous producers. Sure, the guitars sound a bit muffled, the cymbals are somewhat splishy-splashy, but I'd be damned if it doesn't get the job done! Looking at their lineup, these guys has obviously been in a studio for larger productions with other bands before. But "This Temple is a Grave" feels like a very honest debut done with the means available, and neither does try to, or needs to be, more than it is.

I for one am looking forward to further releases from Cerecloth, and I believe that their plans are to release more demos before going for a full length. I do hope for some more variation, and I realize this is rather minimalistic death metal, but I am not proposing acoustic or orchestral interludes between the songs. But some more significant changes in tempos and lengths between the songs would be a welcome addition. In short, the material here is very strong, I just want to hear more of what the band has to offer. "This Temple is a Grave" rightfully earns: 7/10

Cerecloth on Facebook
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Below - Upon a Pale Horse (Metal Blade Records - 2017)

Below plays Epic Doom Metal in the vein of bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. "Upon a Pale Horse" is their second full-length album, and offers some improvements in certain fields. If the album manages to grow over time in the same way as the debut, the minor problems it suffers from will be all but forgotten.
I really enjoyed Below's debut "Across the Dark River" which had a few songs at really grabbed me right away on my first listen, and the rest grew on me a lot as time passed. I was naturally quite looking forward to the follow-up, having pre-ordered the silk-grey marbled vinyl as soon as it was available. So, how does it hold up?

"Upon a Pale Horse" opens with an ominous intro, clocking in at just over one minute, while it sets the mood just fine for the music to follow I cannot say that an intro of this type is something I listen to more than the first time playing the album. Even lifting my tone-arm over it when playing my LP.

The album then descends into the real opening track "Disappearing into Nothing", which was released as a music video before the album release. The track has a great chorus that will get stuck in your head immediately and the song is fairly representative of what this album has to offer, with heavy riffing and soaring vocals. The first thing that strikes me is that Zeb's vocals have improved quite a bit since the album before, and they were pretty damned good already back then. He seems to have mainly developed in his high register, delivering several high pitch-perfect screams throughout the whole album that lends a power-/heavy metal approach to his vocal style, which is a welcome addition as he doesn't go overboard with it either. This goes to show that there is always room for improvement, and came as a happy surprise. The guitars have a huge and hollow sound that fits the style perfectly, and the overall production is an improvement from last time as well. Very warm sounding without becoming muffled.

If there is one qualm I would have with the production though, and this is a minor one, it would be the drums. In this day and age of drum triggers and precise compressors it's hard to say, but either the drums are triggered (albeit, quite tastefully so with good sounding samples) or Doc is a very hard-hitting drummer. Now, being a hard-hitter is a good thing, but in this type of dynamically written songs I would like for it to not sound like the drummer is trying to pound the snare into dust while the guitarists are plucking cords on clean guitars and while vocals are more laid back. This is best represented in the following track "The Coven". I do believe this is a production issue, because I hear a lot of tastefully played ghost-notes on the snare in this track as well, but I miss a little of the "middle ground" between ghost-notes and pulverizing blows on both kick and snare as I don't get the same impression from the toms.

Sadly the title track "Upon a Pale Horse" is the one I had the hardest time getting into. The verses are fine and have nice interludes between the vocals with some really stable kick-drum work and the bridges are epic with church choir-like vocals. But there is something awkward about the chorus to my ears and it doesn't quite stick to my head. This track clocks in at over nine minutes, which is fitting for a song about the end of the world, but I must admit that this is the track I have skipped the most on my several times listening to the whole album. A sad fate for a title track indeed, though things are about to pick up after this.

"Suffer in Silence" is a up-tempo offering (at least by doom metal measures), and the whole of Below really shines in this track, the drums are coordinated with a stable bass line and driving the track forward with some really cool hi-hat work in the bridges. Berg and Paud play interestingly colored chords in the verses while Zeb gives it all he got, later going in to a perfect doom metal chorus. The track finally ending with one of the aforementioned high pitched screams, just perfect.

The song seamlessly transfers into "Hours of Darkness" without the listener noticing, pulling the tempo down again when the unison verse kicks in, drudging onward relentlessly. A very melodic refrain is offered with high quality vocal melodies over some as good guitar leads. To top the track off we are also treated to the best guitar solo on the album, I am however unaware if it is Berg or Paud who is responsible. The song fades away with a kind of cheesy "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" that I could live without, but it's a small price to pay for a track of this overall quality.

The absolute highlight of the album is the heavy-as-a-truck-of-bricks "1000 Broken Bones", the lyrics are ferociously spat out over a catchy riff, and the church choir from "Upon a Pale Horse" makes a return with the same epic results. The track might be a bit repetitive, but if you can't handle that you are probably not into doom metal. It's simple and effective, even utilizing a key signature increase towards the end.

For me personally, the album could have ended here and I would have been fully satisfied. But we get one final offering with "We are all Slaves" which picks up with some clean guitars. That the guys in Below are fans of the Tony Martin-era of Black Sabbath is no secret, having been stated in interviews and with them even playing a cover of "Headless Cross" at live shows. This is very apparent in the vocal delivery in this intro, just listen to the phrase "The faceless masters pulling strings" and try to say that that sliding glissando and vibrato is not straight from Mr. Martin's songbook. This is a somber track, and the band gets a tad political with addressing the problems with todays society in the lyrics. The chorus is grand, but much in the vein of previous songs, and we get another fine guitar solo before the song descends into a two-minute outro.

"Upon a Pale Horse" is a fine album, and earns the same score I would give "Across the Dark River" after the album has had the chance to grow on me for three years. Meaning that if this latest album from Sweden's Below manages to grow in the same way during the year we have left it will be a strong contender when the summary of 2017 is to be made. Even with some very minor hiccups in the production, and some parts I found to not be as catchy as others "Upon a Pale Horse" earns: 7,5/10

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