Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Nachtblut - Antik (2009)

Nachtblut [Website | Facebook | MySpace ]

I do love me some angry, industrialized Teutonic metal à la Rammstein, Megaherz, and Eisbrecher. Can't get enough of it. A band within this style that I had not heard of, until now, is the nicely named Nachtblut from the Lower Saxon town of Osnabrück. Formed in 2005, the band quickly amassed a rather respectable following and self-released two full-length albums, the latest of which is 2009's Antik. Napalm Records recently signed the band and has remastered, repackaged, and re-released their sophomore effort.

Nachtblut sits firmly within that style of metal sometimes referred to as Neue Deutsche Härte, which consists of driving industrialized riffs, Gothic synth-laden ambiance, and angered German lyrics (though pretty much anything said in German automatically comes across as angry). While the frontmen for most bands of this subgenre typically sing their lines in a deep baritone, Nachtblut's Askeroth bucks the trend with his gurgling blackened shrieks. For the most part, I found his harsh vocal approach seemed to do more to separate him from the band's overall style rather than compliment the tone of the music. The warm, memorable synth-driven melody of the title track, for example, contrasts sharply with Asteroth's snarls. This dissimilitude doesn't come close to derailing the album, however, but was for me merely an annoyance.

I did find the band's overall sound to be highly enjoyable and filled with lush, but never overplayed, synth elements from the alluring Lymania. Her sometimes haunting, always moody contributions provide an appropriate backdrop for Greif's chugging riffs and slightly flashy licks. Said riffs are predominantly of the simple sort, quite familiar to fans of both industrial and Gothic metal. The title track, as well as "Ijobs Botschaft" and "Die Blutgräfin", are prime showcases for Grief's basic but enjoyable style.

While Nachtblut's sound may not be the most original, it's certainly enjoyable. "Sturz Des Ikarus", with its unusual but catchy chorus, and the very Rammstein-like "Hexe" bring the infectious riffing to addictive levels while the dark, menacing keys of "Kreuzritter" and the bombastic refrains of "Ijobs Botschaft" definitely hold attention. Though not groundbreaking, Antik is surely an album that deserves investigation by any fan of industrial and Gothic metal.

Track Listing
2Ijobs Botschaft5:14
3Die Blutgräfin5:19
4Gedenket Der Toten5:31
5Die Mutter Die Ihr Kind Verlor5:12
6Sturz Des Ikarus5:00
9Des Menschens Kunst Blindheit Zu Säen3:35
Total Runtime48:39

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Svartsot - Maledictus Eris (2011)

Svartsot [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Maledictus Eris

Denmark's Svartsot, whose name translates to "black sickness", is an extreme folk metal outfit bearing a number of similarities to bands like Eluveitie and Ensiferum. Folk instruments and traditional Nordic melodies are combined with gristled riffs and harsh vocals for a sound that is both brutal and catchy...and quite familiar in this day and age. The folk metal subgenre is practically awash with bands mixing blast beats with bagpipes, but as with any niche style the fans are always hungry for more quality material and so the bands continue to emerge. Latecomers to the scene, Svartsot released their debut album in 2007 before practically disintegrating over musical and personal differences. Now, four years later, the line-up behind guitarist and primary songwriter Cristoffer J.S. Frederiksen has solidified and the band's third album Maledictus Eris has hit the cobblestone streets.

A concept album exploring the death and despair caused by The Black Death in the middle of the 14th century (appropriate given the meaning of the band's moniker), Maledictus Eris covers all the bases of the folk metal style while sporting quality production values and incredible packaging. Although sung entirely in Svartsot's native tongue, the ideas behind the lyrical content are intriguing and props definitely go out to the guys for embracing their heritage and history. Even had the lyrics been delivered in a language that I could understand, frontman Thor Bager (awesome metal name, btw) gurgles, growls, and shrieks his way through the verses in such a way as to render the words wholly indecipherable. Though I prefer clean vocals to go along with my folk metal, I get where the band is coming from and find that Svartsot's aggressiveness would be muted considerably had Bager sung instead of howled. In fact, he does exhibit some clean vocals on the ballad "Spigrene" and the end result is his shakiest performance on Maledictus Eris. Better to stick with the growls, then.

The foundation of the folk metal genre is of course the use of traditional instruments like bagpipes, mandolin, and bodhrán to lend an ethnic or medieval sound to the folksy riffs and melodies. The combination of these instruments with the more "metallic" guitars, drums and keys is, for the most part, where bands succeed or fail. Frederiksen does a fine job of pairing his caustic riffs with Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen's finely played flute, whistle and pipes, nowhere more engaging than on "Holdt ned af en Tjørn".
The bagpipe melody atop the classic metal riffs helps cement this track as the most memorable track on Maledictus Eris, though in truth the band does a superior job on each and every song to strike the right balance between folk and metal. One drawback to the album is that the balancing act is sometimes too precise, causing a few of the songs to lack enough identity to stand out from the pack. "Dødedansen", as an example, tends to be one of these more or less generically brutal tracks. The mandolin accents mix well with the rather straightforward blast beats and hurried riffs, and while the track is enjoyable it's not overly fetching. Other tracks tread similar territory, but have a little something that sets them apart. The gang choruses of "Farsoten kom", for instance, and the pirate melodies and tribal drumming heard on "Den nidske Gud" are excellent means of keeping listener attention riveted in the moment.

Ultimately, Maledictus Eris is an above average folk metal album that suffers from a couple of lulls. The music is well played, the songs are for the most part interesting, and if you enjoy extreme vocals then Bager will rock your world. Fans of the genre will surely want to add this to their collection.

Track Listing
2Gud giv det varer ved!4:28
4Farsoten kom4:33
5Holdt ned af en Tjørn4:27
6Den forgængelige Tro4:48
7Om jeg lever kveg3:23
8Kunsten at dø5:04
9Den nidske Gud4:49
11Og Landet ligger så øde hen4:45
Total Runtime46:19

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Emblema - Keep Out From Me (2011)

Emblema [Website | MySpace]
Keep Out From Me

Emblema is an Italian alternative rock outfit from the small comune of Gambettola in the northeastern part of the country. Joining together in 2004, Stefano Massari (vocals), Andrea Piemonti (guitar), Massimo Baldini (bass), and Carlo Lastrucci (drums) have released three albums prior to 2011's Keep Out From Me - which also happens to be Emblema's first to be sung entirely in English. With retro movements being so popular these days in many musical genres, it stands to reason that a return to the crisp alt-rock sounds of the mid to late '90s would be equally well-received among fans familiar with that era. Or so Emblema hopes, for their sound is distinctly rooted in the style of bands like Placebo, Sublime, Harvey Danger, and Sum 41.

Massari's vocal style is very similar to that of Placebo's Brian Molko, warranting the general comparison to that veteran UK act, but Emblema's guitar tone is somewhat more organic in nature and definitely less polished - though no less interesting. In fact, Piemonti does an excellent job delivering the hooky riffs that are Emblema's bread and butter. He even shows off a bit on "Rusting All" with a swirling progginess underscored by Baldini's discernible bass lines. The solo on the title track has a bit of a virtuosic quality to it that provides a nice contrast to the funky vibe of the riffs.

Emblema certainly hits all the '90s alt-rock numbers on Keep Out From Me, including a bit of a delve into Sublime-like ska territory on "Day Off". The energetic "Justified" stands out as a favorite for me due to its Sum 41 pop-punk appeal, but I couldn't find a single track that wasn't enjoyable to one degree or another. Through catchy melodies, infectious hooks, and quality vocals, Emblema has crafted an album that is a quality vessel for reaching out to international audiences. If you're a fan of '90s alt-rock, Keep Out From You is an album worth investigating.

Track Listing
1Break the Cover3:44
3Trashing Smashing3:09
4Rusting All3:16
5Keep Out From Me3:13
6Day Off3:24
7A Step Ahead3:11
8Cut Them Entirely3:54
Total Runtime26:56

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: Arkona - Slovo (2011)

Arkona [ Website | Facebook | MySpace ]

Of all the folk metal bands that have burst onto the scene in the past decade, Russia's Arkona is the only one of the lot to have had their music featured on an episode of "The Office" (the American version, of course). Now that's sayin' something. Fronted and creatively driven by the vocal contortionist Masha "Scream" Arhipova, Arkona has been blasting out their pagan-themed style since 2002 but have only recently - since 2009's Goi, Rode, Goi! - made significant headway in a multinational sense. All along the way, Arhipova has continuously sharpened the band's identity to fully embrace their Slavic heritage, pagan beliefs, and love of the more extreme elements of heavy metal. Arkona's new album, Slovo (The Word), is a monumental effort comprised of lush orchestration, stirring choral arrangements, rousing traditional melodies, and heaping helpings of blackened intensity....yet, I don't love the album as much as I should. Slovo has so much going on, with so many tangents and aggregations of differing styles, it was too easy to lose focus and let the album fade into the background.

Ahripova's vocal style(s) epitomize the band's fluid sound. She can lure you in with a heartfelt croon or a seductive whisper, only to pierce your eardrums with a hellish shriek or a ghastly howl. Her ability to skillfully switch styles, often several times during each song, is a trait not common among vocalists and is a testament to her level of talent. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of extremely harsh female vocals so her fluctuating performance was a bit jarring. This intentional inconsistency, mirrored by the musical acrobatics, thwarts the cohesiveness of the album and prohibits the natural flow that makes good albums great ones.

The songs themselves are of epic proportions, not in length but in style. Many of the tracks fail to establish an overall direction, instead journeying from bombastic riffs to pummeling blast beats to acoustic interludes...and back again. The complexity of track is impressive, and the various movements are crafted together quite expertly, but once again there is often more happening within each song than it can hold. The heavy use of traditional instruments is inspiring, however, and places Arkona ahead of bands that rely on synthesized melodies for their folk appeal. The effort that Ahripova and her band mates put forth in bringing to life the history and mythology of their Slavic lands is quite evident as Slovo progresses. The lyrics are entirely in Ahripova's native Russian, which for me adds yet another dimension to the power and mysticism that Slovo represents.

Although I wasn't able to enjoy the album, as a whole, from start to finish, there were countless moments where my attention was riveted to a particular melody, riff, or refrain. The grandiose, medieval intro that is "Az'" sets the mood perfectly, while the chanting refrains of "Bol’no mne" were wonderfully soothing breaks from the howling verses. The mixture of accordion and mosh-inducing riffs heard on "Leshiy" created a rather unique, uplifting thrash atmosphere that fit well with Ahripova's deep and gruff singing. The list goes on, which tells me that Arkona is on the verge of creating something great, something masterful. But Slovo isn't quite it.

Fans of folk metal will find much to like here, as will fans of black and death metal. Prog fans will appreciate the complexity of the arrangements. The pagan and historical subjects of the lyrics will intrigue many metalheads of the intellectual sort. For all of these reasons, Slovo shouldn't be overlooked. It's a decent introduction to Arkona, and an album worth investigating as we wait for the band's magnum opus.

Track Listing
3Bol'no Mne5:42
8Tam Za Tumanami3:53
12Vo Moiom Sadochke2:35
13Stenka Na Stenku2:36
Total Runtime57:40

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