Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ifing- Against This Weald (2014)

logo and title-less painting by Anthony Schechtman
Truthfully, this week's post almost never happened. Utter chaos has been swirling and nearly boiling over at work, countless errands are being run during any potential "down time" and above all else my most recent hours have been spent just merely trying to sure up any and all loose ends before a short (but much needed...) 5 day respite in the pits on the western coast of Florida beginning this Friday. The all mighty and important Ipod is maxed and near bursting at the seams, few pictures and video are going to survive this quick vacation aside from the geeky Untappd feed, I'm sure. Besides music, I dont have a damn thing packed yet, but that is just fine with me, I'm sure my lovely girlfriend would argue otherwise... A backpack and a local liquor store will suffice most of my other needs during our stay anyway. A few hours lounging in the sun, ice cold Cigar City beers in hand, with blackened tunes blaring in my head sounds absolutely perfect right about now... 

An album I've been obsessing about for the better part of the year has been the debut "full length" offering titled 'Against This Weald' from Michigan's newest atmospheric duo, Ifing. From the moment I laid eyes on the thought provoking painted cover art back in late winter I knew this was going to be quite the special release. Instantly I was reminded of the painting dawning Ulver's Bergatt, which to myself and to many others as well, is regarded as one of the most beautiful and respected black metal releases of all time. Ominous, wintry grey skies and a timid body of once rough waters meet with the slope of a tree riddled mountain in an unknown and unnamed land, textured wonderfully, creating atmosphere in the room before the play button has even been pressed. A whimsical logo, drenched in all its folky and Norse inspired goodness completes the piece and had my attention and obsession instantly. 

Ifing consists of 2 musicians both formally of the obscure Michigan based band, Through The Mist. Based on their last names and song writing abilities alone, I'm sure the ancestors of the Wicklund's and Petersen's are quite proud of their Scandinavian heritage being passed down in expert fashion via musical directions by these lads. I could be wrong of course and their family tree's could branch no further than say Brooklyn, or something... Anyway, the album consists of only 3 tracks, a 4 minute instrumental intro, imperative to building the correct setting and back story to the two heaping servings of perfectly executed atmospheric black metal with lots of emphasis on folk passages with the occasional, but so epic, usage of synths and field recordings. The vocals range from the mid ranged barking howls of expected black metal fury to a very low end heavy clean chant which when mixed with the right wind instruments and building bellowing riffs become so utterly powerful and catchy that its just plain ridiculously awesome and inspiring. The second track titled, "The Stream" is so accessible, amazingly well structured, pleasing and audibly addicting that it basically has become somewhat of a bench mark to me in which all others of the style are to be measured against. Just stunning work which touches and masters all the important bases of the style. In short, 'Against This Weald' is a remarkable release, albeit a rather short one, which will surely rest proudly, swords raised high, in my top 5 of 2014 come the years end. 

a gnarly aerial view of Michigan, looks black metal as fuck, send me some Bells and Shorts beers, guys ;)

Issue Reviewed:
Blood Music, Digipak, Limited to 1000 copies, BLOOD-051

Packaging/Presentation (7.5/10)
Like I got into earlier, the artwork here is just an amazing piece. The overall layout however is just brief and gives us little detail to the band or lyrical story of the material within. Maybe an eventual reissue will elaborate some more? I'd be interested for damn sure, keep me in the loop!

Material/Production (9/10)
Again, with a track like 'The Stream' it is hard to deny the sheer mastery of the genre these 2 Michiganians have displayed. The recordings are mixed beautifully by River City Studios and I couldn't ask for a more clean listening experience. This album kicks ass in head phones, in the car, out of a shitty boom box and even through some rough computer speakers. Really great sound quality.

Replay Potential (10/10)
Easily my most spun CD of this years releases. The entire album clocks in at under 40 minutes and due to the depth of song writing and structure can be listened to on repeat. I've gone through this album 4 times in writing this review. No bullshit. 

Value (8/10)
Amazing artwork. Amazing material. So satisfied with this purchase up and down. Being that these guys are signed to a Finland based label and have a really wonky Bandcamp page, the album took a hot minute to reach my greedy hands after the official release but no worries and no hard feelings are to be had. 

Overall (9/10)
More please. Please? Oh, dont forget to show them some of that Facebook lovin'

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nasheim- Solens Vemod (2014)

Solens Vemod cover painting by R. Jonsson

This past weekend I did some camping and heavy drinking at the Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown NY for their annual 'Belgium Comes To Cooperstown' event. This festival is quite the ode to the illustrious lifestyle that is the modern day US craft beer explosion as well as a mighty nod to the much older and much richer culture of the Belgian beer scene. This, my 6th time over 8 years in attendance and the celebration, beer selection and of course, the hangover just gets larger with every passing anniversary. The first morning, as usual, I found myself awake before most, sluggishly stumbling through the mountainous terrain, cutting through the thick morning fog and battling the falling mist and summer dew. If not for my trusty Ipod the peaceful dawn would have quickly become unbearable, most likely resulting in conversation with another sloppy and battered enthusiast of which I certainly was not in the mood. After taking advantage of the scenery and snapping a few photos, I perched on a cement slab directly behind the brewery where I set up post for about an hour or so. A somewhat dry seat was quite attractive at this point and it was far enough from the reaches and odors of rent-a-johns to keep my already sour beer scorched stomach from turning against me. I had exhausted a nice chunk of 2014 releases and classics on the 4+ hour ride up to the site the day before, saving a few favorites for this kind of inevitable moment.

one of the photos I took on Saturday morning at the brewery

After scrolling shortly, I settled on Nasheim's 2014 movement 'Solens Vemod'. An appropriately titled piece which translates in English to 'The Sun's Sadness' and at this 6 AM moment in time the struggling sun was surely among friends, all struggling after a booze filled night of partying. Nasheim is a solo Atmospheric Black Metal project from Sweden. Sole member Erik Grahn is a one man wrecking crew of song writing and performance. A guest musician by the name of only E. Almroth takes care of the subtle cello and violin work here. Active since 2001, this is the first full length released under the Nasheim banner although Northern Silence Productions has been a backer since 2004's Evighet / Undergång demo compilation. I have not heard any other material than 'Solens Vemod' but I will be purchasing that release shortly as I'm sure its quality is nothing less than superb.

A perfect mix between harsh black metal, backed in times by ravenous blast beats sandwiched between stunning and memorable riffs with a dark, looming folk influence and ethereal atmospheric wandering passages all maintain a unique balance and harmony throughout this incredible 4 song album. The recipe is near perfect and the material never becomes tired, monotonous or predictable. The tempo changes come at just the right time, engaging the listener deeper into the void of existence that they are currently teetering on. Did I mention the riffs? God damn it. The guitar (and bass!!) work here, although simple enough, it is beyond effective in displaying a wide range of emotion and skill set. A great mention should be made about the vocal work done here as well, aside from the brash screams which are more than competent, there are some very nice clean works done here as well, mostly in the form of ghostly dissonant group chants that add another layer to the atmosphere created. A surprisingly clean production rounds out and heightens the beauty and power of these wonderful compositions. 

Issue Reviewed:
Northern Silence Productions, Gatefold Digi, NSP 124

Packaging/Presentation (9/10)
This digi is absolutely beautiful. The amazing artwork painted by "R. Jonsson" rests upon a thick stock and stretches across 2 panels. The other panels address a scene much like the one I experienced in the mountains this weekend. Fog, mist, trees all tinted an eerie green hue, lyrics neatly printed atop. Wondrous and creepy, totally fitting to the music within. Northern Silence's releases this year have all been top notch in appearance and of course material.

Material/Production (9/10)
Nearly flawless. At times some of the material reminds me of other bands within the genre and surrounding genres. This is not a bad thing. Never once did I cringe and say... that sounds just like "_______". Shit happens. This album fucking kills, get over it. The production is one of the best I've heard for the style. 

Replay Potential (9/10)
I bought this back in April through the amazing US based Ominous Domain distro and have already spun it countless times over the past 3 months. This album is a very enjoyable spin and it clocks in at under an hour making its replay value pretty damn high.

Value (7/10)
Imports are kind of expensive, what can I say other than I'm a cheap bastard? It still wont stop me from buying most of the Northern Silence, Svart and Nordvis releases, unless of course they want to send them to me ;)

Overall (9/10)
This is a top 5 album of 2014 for me easily.  Both veterans and newbies to the genre alike will find something to gush over here. I hope there is a long string of quality Nasheim releases ahead of us. I cant wait to pick up the back catalog. Pretty sure the first pressing of under 2000 copies is all but gone although you should be able to find it if you try hard enough. Buy it digitally or stream it on Bandcamp in the mean time. Just do something about this.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hermóðr- Vinter (2014)

Cassette edition by Schattenkult Produktionen
Hermóðr is not your average one man black metal band from the snow drenched fjords of Sweden whose songs are about winter, nature and the hardships endured by the ancestors of days past. Well, actually, muli-instrumentalist Rafn, the engine behind this project, is kind of exactly that, but I'll be damned if you classify Hermóðr as merely just average.

Vinter was originally released on January 3rd via ways of cassette through a wonderful but small German black metal label named Schattenkult Produktionen. Limited to 100 copies and given a very small promotional push, it is no wonder why this, the first Hermóðr full length, has gone all but unnoticed in the rankings of 2014's strong black metal output thus far. Those of us who were lucky enough to stumble upon some of his earlier work, like 2013's 17 miniute long epic of an EP titled Thrudvang, knew exactly what immense levels of quality were to await us on board this anticipated debut full length offering. 

2013's Thrudvang

The raw emotion directly involved when creating a good, great, atmospheric black metal record cannot be an easy skill to conjure up for the artist but when achieved, it separates the bad from the good and the good from the great. Right from the opening notes of 2014's 'Vinter' it is made very clear that this is going to be a harsh and abrasive album from start to finish. Through each of its 6 (7 on the Wolfspell Records CD version) lengthy tracks, the frozen beast lurking within these recordings has its heart set on grabbing the inner reaches of your weaknesses with its gnarled teeth while constantly performing countless vicious attempts at severing any remaining fragile threads of hope that exist within the cracks and frail breath of your battered being. Feelings of sorrow and dread are continuously combated with moments of lustful purity, natural beauty and a general sense of becoming that ultimately makes the listener quite apparent of just that exact before mentioned and all so important characteristic... Pure, raw, concentrated... emotion. This is the key to great atmospheric black metal. Tortured screams of a highly distorted nature can surely display an emotion of sorts on their own, so can driving guitars and pounding drums... but thats the easy part. Pair this formula with the delicate balance of ghastly and almost otherworldly clean vocals which lay hidden deep within reverberated echoed walls of brash guitar leads and then morph them with an eerie but well structured labyrinth of thought inducing passages that will send chills down the back of your neck in fear and can ultimately put a freeze on the soul. Even on this absolutely scorching day of brutal New Jersey heat and humidity this album calls to the inner winter in man. This is the difficult part you see, this is what makes Vinter a stand out album amongst hordes of imposters.

CD Jewel Case edition by Wolfspell Records 2014, limited to 500 copies

Issue Reviewed:
Wolfspell Records, Jewel Case Edition, Spell003, #93/500

Packaging/Presentation (4/10)
Weak. a borrowed painting, some snow covered mountain tops and trees. The design sports the painfully average but yet expected "black metal' font and the overall layout is quite bland. One of the paintings on the inner liner notes would have made for a much better choice in cover art, in my humble but albeit useless opinion.  

Material/Production (8/10)
Dissonant, heartfelt and honest atmospheric black metal that speaks to the frozen breath of mankind past and present. The one man band aspect will always gain extra respect from me and I find it truly amazing that in only being active since 2012, Hermóðr has already amounted a catalog of high quality releases that most full black metal acts can only dream of. Aside from this outstanding full length in 2014,  Rafn has also released a split EP with Leben and another 3 song EP titled Förlorad. Talk about dedication to his craft. I can only hope for more. 

Replay Potential (6/10)
A lower score here isn't necessarily a bad thing to me. The harsh reality is that this, and other albums like this, really succeed in sucking the life/will out of you. It would be sonically impossible to listen to this on repeat honestly. Your mind, soul and ears need time to recuperate and properly absorb the material. Carefully chosen listenings will trigger a thought provoking experience that is sure to evolve with each carefully timed spin. 

Value (7/10)
I'm sure happy with my purchase, I'm a sucker for hand numbered limiteds! And besides that... All other Hermóðr releases are available for FREE on the Bandcamp page. So its only a matter of time before this album is as well. unless you're a nut like me and have a need to own the physical copy, it honestly gets no better than that.

Overall (8/10)
This is sure to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Download it, buy it, share it, go and like Hermóðr on Facebook. Just be sure to do something about this.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Format Change?

and now for this format change here is a midget wearing a bikini

Hello there. It sure has been a while since I've vomitted in the direction of my brethren in metal lifestyle via the internets. I'm almost certain that any readers I may have had clinging on for dear life since 2010 or so are now 100% gone. Surely strutting away with their massive heads held high, pursuing another crumby metal themed blog that actually fucking updates itself more than 3 shitty times a year. And for this, I'm kind of sorry. I've let you down..

My outlooks on downloading have changed dramatically over the past 2 years or so and I've been finding myself streaming (and purchasing, but I'll get to that later...) a very large percentage of my listening recently. Bandcamp has become an amazing new friend of mine and my soon to be 1 year old, RateYourMusic page is a daily staple in keeping my listening logs as neat and tidy as possible. As I ascend deeper into my later 20's my OCD worsens and its only a matter of time before I begin cataloging my own daily bowel movements... 

I digress and shall, for now, spare you my crazies. Mostly spacial reasons are to blame behind this abrupt change in my mentality. Years of careless downloading has lead my hard drives to hold hundreds (read: thousands) of great records that would become nothing more than a poorly marked folder, lost amidst a sea of bullshit albums and demos, trapped and sandwiched between others, all within their own pathetic, unorganized and poorly marked folders etc etc. Often thoughts of, "I'll get around to it...", seem to disappear as soon as the next download begins and then ends as the cycle is repeated countless times over. This practice helps no one. 

Having sought out and captured the rarest, disgusting and most obscure records of the early 90's and having conquered a majority of the darkest depths of the vastly unknown death and black metal underground of all the eras combined, my focus has mainly turned now to FUCKING LISTENING TO IT ALL. And not just simply listening. But truly absorbing the world-class albums according to my bizarre personal tastes and basically just discarding the rest. 

I've been spending a ton of cash this year on building up my physical CD collection and replacing old burns and MP3's with the actual copies, originals or reissues, I'm not terribly picky in that sense. I've also been adamant that I purchase at least 1 CD released in 2014 per week in order to continue my support of the now cultural minority that still wants to own a physical CD/Vinyl/Cassette etc, rather than just the digital bullshit. 

Anyway, my goal is to supply YOU, the ever so avid reader of 'The Guttural Munk' with at least one, well written, educated and passionate review each week of an album that I have recently purchased whether it be a new release or aged obscurity, complete with the occasional pictures, video reviews and legal streams when possible.

Rest assured, I will spare you from reading about the impact and influence of albums like "Nespithe" for the hundredth time on the hundredth blog. But seriously if you havent picked up the 20th Anniversary digipak from Svart Records your totally missing out.

More vomits to follow very shortly...