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February 2017

Island – Apex

The whole Zeitgeister Music collective is heavily underrated, at least in my humble opinion. Their best-known act probably is Valborg, followed by Klabautamann. The latter are one of my favourite bands – not only of this collective, but in general. Another one of my favourite bands is Island, a now split-up project masterminded by Florian Toyka and Christian Kolf. They started playing a unique variation of progressive death/black metal (on Orakel), then developing into something that bears a closer resemblance to progressive rock (especially on Island), while still retaining some of the extreme metal influences (Enigma of the Stars). All of their outputs mean a lot to me, and they never get boring because of all the interesting rhythmic changes, the unique and memorable riffs, the vocals, the impressive song-writing skills, and so on.

I can practically listen to their stuff for several days in a row, but I guess the track I listened to the most is “Apex” off Enigma of the Stars. I particularly like the build-up towards the final part with its intense and interesting rhythm as well as the emotional density of the final part itself, during which the use of brass instruments is a great feature, giving this part its peculiar atmosphere.

Listen to it here: Island – Apex

 

 

 

Myllykangas – Älä Tule Takaisin Ennen Kuin Olen Vanha (or: strange Finnish acoustic folk music)

Finnish atmospheric sludge metal/post-hardcore (or whatever) band Callisto just posted some infos about other projects their members have been working on during the last years. One of these projects is that of Markus Myllykangas, their guitarist and shouter. It’s a solo project (with a little bit of support) that features mainly acoustic guitar music. This in itself is nothing spectacular, but what Myllykangas actually offers surely is! It’s definitely unconventional, especially as a disharmonic approach is often implemented, so that some of the songs positively remind me of the doomgrass music that Xasthur unplugged (formerly Nocturnal Poisoning) recently released (like this, for instance).

It surely rather is uncomfortable music than some happy folk stuff. But, as always, listen for yourself: http://www.itsejulkaisut.com/itse

 

Review: Amiensus – Ascension

Amiensus are a relatively young band hailing from the USA – young especially with regard to the age of the band members, who were mostly born in the early to mid-90s, which means that they were in their late teens when they formed Amiensus. Sure, this mere factum isn’t something extraordinary, so why am I mentioning their age? – Simply because of the incredible level of musicianship, songwriting skills and overall maturity that the band displays on their second full-length album. This maturity was already indicated on their previous full-length, Restoration, but it is obvious that they further developed these skills within the two and a half years that passed between the release dates of these records.
This band was unknown to me until the second half 2015, when I accidentally saw that Arsafes, known amongst others for his involvements in Kartikeya, Nevid, and his self-titled project, advertised them via social media and actually did the mixing and mastering of this record. This got me intrigued, so I decided to give the album a listen – what a lucky decision!

Stylistically Amiensus play an amalgamation of a variety of different styles, ranging from black and death metal of a more progressive symphonic kind to dark metal with certain folk and (post)rock influences. All in all, I’d label them as progressive symphonic black/dark metal. But this could mean a lot of things, doesn’t it? So let’s try to describe in particular how Amiensus sound.
The sound on Ascension is great, powerful, and massive, everything is audible, and each instrument can be followed for the whole duration of the album. I imagine achieving this was a hard job, as there are a lot of facets and layers present in most of the songs. Arsafes did an amazing job in putting them into place, giving this album its unique and very professional sound.

The most striking characteristic of the album are the vocals, which were contributed by almost all of the members. There are black metal screams and death metal growls of different pitch present in almost every song, which are emotional and fit the different styles extraordinarily well, contributing massively to the atmosphere. The same applies to the clean vocals, which are mostly performed in baritone range, sometimes standing alone in the musical landscape, sometimes arranged in choirs, often interacting with and counterbalancing the harsh vocals. This certainly adds to the epic, symphonic character of the music.

The guitar work is outstanding as well. The riffs are very precisely played and the guitar sound fits the different styles very well. As the music mostly is of melodic nature, the lead guitars play an important role in creating the atmosphere, while the rhythm guitars in interaction with the accentuated and well-executed drumming and bass do what they are supposed to do: build up the basis for everything, while also being responsible for several highlights. There are many calmer parts with emotional clean guitars as well as a bunch of great soli. The keyboard plays an important role as it does not only enhance the symphonic character, but sometimes it even pushes to the front and assumes a leading role. In general, Amiensus know very well how to build up and release tension, which makes this album so outstanding. A huge spectrum of different emotions is set into tune in a way that younger bands seldom achieve. Be it the raging black metal parts or the dreamy soundscapes with clean guitars and a certain post-rock feeling, every detail appears to be well-devised, displaying the meticulous work these guys are able to do, which borders perfectionism.
The lyrics are also worth following, which is something of huge importance to me. They are personal, but with a certain level of abstraction that reflects my own lyrical approach to this kind of music. Mostly, they deal with philosophical and theological questions, mirroring the protagonists’ search for knowledge, for the self, for truth. Most remarkably, Amiensus manage to treat these subjects in a very authentic way, which is where many bands with similar lyrical themes fail. I guess this is one of the reasons why this album appeals to me so much. Another crucial aspect is the rhythmical variation, especially the six-eighth time that they frequently use, as I personally consider odd time signatures to mirror life in a more appropriate way – and as they resonate more with myself.

It is hard to give some musical references for this kind of music, which is somewhat unique at least to me. Other reviewers have mentioned Agalloch, especially referring to their more folk-influenced passages on their previous album. I am sometimes reminded of early Dornenreich and early Empyrium with regard to the calmer and folkier parts and the clean vocals, while October Falls come to mind during the dark metal soundscapes. Symphonic black metal acts like Dimmu Borgir might serve as a reference, too. Additionally, I had to think of Klabautamann several times, specifically of their first two albums, although Amiensus’ approach is slightly straighter.

Last but not least, even though I really love this album, I have some critical remarks. First, the clean vocals sometimes sound a little bit too adjusted for my taste, so I’d recommend being careful not to become too nu-metal. Secondly, although there are some really ugly passages on this album, the harmonic, symphonic approach leaves not much room for rough edges. The album is homogeneous in a good way, but when the band continues their remarkable development, I fear that their music might get more predictable, or even cheesy, so I suggest keeping this in mind, although I imagine it difficult to continuously walk this borderline of styles whilst maintaining it as authentic as they did up to now.

But listen for yourself!

(This review also has been published in German for www.stormbringer.at)

Zdzisław Beksiński – Dmochowski Gallery

In regelmäßigen Abständen besuche ich wieder die Online-Galerie, welche für diesen polnischen Ausnahmekünstler posthum erschaffen wurde. Dabei sprechen mich vor allem die Gemälde aus den Sälen 10 und 11 an. Sicher, das Ganze ist meistens recht morbide, doch dennoch wohnt dem für mich dennoch eine gewisse Schönheit – und vor allem Wahrheit –  inne. Und zum Nachdenken regt derartige Kunst allemal an. Interessant ist vor allem auch, in welcher Art er anscheinend die Welt wahrgenommen hat und was ihn beschäftigt hat.
Davon mal abgesehen zeichnet er sich durch einen sehr hohen Grad an Originalität aus, wie ich finde, was wohl auch daran liegen mag, dass er keinerlei formale Ausbildung zum Maler/Designer oder so besaß.
Und wie bei vielen anderen großen Künstlern endete auch sein Leben recht tragisch: Seine Frau verstarb 1998, sein Sohn beging 1999 Selbstmord – und er selber wurde 2005 von einem 19-jährigen angeblich wegen der Weigerung, ihm eine geringe Geldsumme zu leihen, mit 17 Messerstichen ermordet.

Empyrium – The Ensemble of Silence

It’s been almost 20 years since the release of Empyrium‘s magnificent atmospheric dark folk metal (or whatever) album Songs of Moors and Misty Fields. I think I first listened to them around 2004 or 2005, when I was about the same age that the main protagonists had had when the recorded this album. That might be one reason why this album resonated so much with me back then. I simply like everything about this record, the musicianship, the vocals, the overall melancholic-beautiful atmosphere, the lyrics… It feels very genuine for me, a feeling that might by due to some of my own musical ideas sounding somewhat similar – although I wasn’t able yet to set them into music outside my head.

Apparently, Empyrium also dealt with the same kinds of literature (Romanticism) back then, although I focused on German poetry, whereas the lyrics on Songs of Moors and Misty Fields are clearly influenced by British poets (which I discovered a little later) like Percy Shelley and John Keats – the latter to such an extent that Empyriums’s Ode to Melancholy quotes Keats’ Ode on Melancholy with the phrase <<She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die>>.

But no more words – just listen to the song and read the lyrics, and order their stuff somewhere!

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