In Slaughter Natives – Cannula Coma Legio

I was fifteen when a friend played to me In Slaughter Natives’ second album, Enter Now The World. It was a revelation. I had never before heard something so powerfully atmospheric, so terrifying, and that spoke to me so much. Without Enter Now the World there would be no Hands of Ruin.

So a new In Slaughter Natives album is a big event here, particularly since they come along so rarely.

Cannula Coma Legio is apparently an appetiser for a forthcoming album, scheduled to appear in late 2014. It contains a mixture of new material and reworkings of older tracks. Several of these tracks were created for Chérie Roi’s fetish performances and there are some rather beautiful bondage photos on the CD sleeve.

in_slaughter_natives-cannula_coma_legioThe first three tracks are new, as far as I know. The album begins with Plague Walk My Earth. Slow martial snares build to heavier pounding percussion, while bells, orchestral sounds and manipulated opera samples create an oppressive atmosphere. Jouni Havukainen’s malevolent whispers are also buried in the mix. Definition of Being Alive contains a more mechanical rhythm, distorted vocals, and layers of noise over a simple two-note bassline, and Silent Cold Body alternates between pounding drums and the sounds of a nightmarish musical box.

The next track, Venereal Comatosem / Closed My Eyes, revisits a couple of tracks from Resurrection. It begins with a reworking of the ambient track Your Breed, and then goes into a new version of the The Vulture. This is a very nice reworking, taking the harpsichord melody from The Vulture and developing it further with additional percussion, vocals and piano. It makes me very happy to hear this sort of reworking which takes an earlier idea and fleshes it out with something new.

The next two tracks are also new. Left Arm Right Arm As My Path is a droning ambient track, with organs, a church choir, and the voice of a preacher all mixed together into a dense soup of sound. Then Gaudium et alia vita mixes dense ambient drones with some thumping drums and some rhythmic bashing on a prepared piano.

Ignis et scalpello / Angel Meat resurrects material from a very long time ago. Angel Meat originally appeared on Enter Now The World back in 1992. Ignis et scalpello provides an ambient introduction, before going into the reworked version of Angel Meat. The reworking is very slight, however. A few sounds have been laid on top of an earlier recording. This is somewhat problematic, since Angel Meat was recorded over 20 years ago, and while the production on Enter Now The World was superb, particularly considering when it was made, the types of sounds that In Slaughter Natives was using back then are very different to the sounds he uses now. This means that the sound just doesn’t fit together very well with the rest of the album. He’s added some extra percussion to the track, which goes some way to smoothing over the differences, but it’s not a complete success. All of which is a great pity, because Angel Meat is a superb track — one of his best — and a full reconstruction with Havukainen’s present, formidable production skills would be a wonderful thing to hear.

The album ends with another ambient track, Three Three Three. This lightens the mood a little with some more angelic choirs, before pounding again with some martial rhythms.

The new tracks on this album stick more to dark ambient territory than most of his previous work. Though there are martial rhythms emerging from the noise, these rarely build to full tunes. The sound design is superb. The ambiences are dense, with many layers of sound from many different sources: metallic screeches, speech, choirs, bells, rumbling drones, et cetera, et cetera, all combining to create a heavy, oppressive atmosphere. Everything sounds crisp and detailed. There are very few musicians who can create ambient soundscapes so convincingly hellish.

The lack of structure and melody, though, is the Achilles’ heel of this album. There’s nothing wrong with ambient atmospheres, and this is very fine dark ambient music, but I find it more powerful and more impressive when music contains some structure. If this were the work of anyone else then I would be satisfied with what it is, but Havukainen has created works of such magnificence that to see him making an album that falls so far short of his potential is very sad. Enter Now the World was filled with exotic grandeur, Purgate My Stain was powerfully malevolent, and this… merely meanders. Apart from the reworkings of old material, the strongest track on here is the first, but even there the melody feels simplistic. And the inclusion of Angel Meat is a reminder of how much is missing from his recent work.

If this were the only album In Slaughter Natives had made then I would love it. But this is not at the level of brilliance of Enter Now the World or even Purgate My Stain, and the curse of making something incredible is that people then expect you to do it again.

Review: Phelios – Gates of Atlantis

Phelios is the dark ambient project of Martin Stürtzer, and Gates of Atlantis is the most recent album, released last year. The project has been active since 2006, but I first heard Phelios on the Dark Ambient Radio series of compilations. The track, Cloud Sector α, stood out as being a step above the general level of quality on those albums. I didn’t get round to giving the rest of his work any proper attention until I saw that he’d released this album, and I thought it would be worth my time to take a listen.

Gates of Atlantis

Gates of Atlantis sounds like it was recorded in deep space. (I know, I know. Space is a vacuum; there are no sounds. But you know what I mean.) Long reverbs and airy drones give the impression of vast distances and giant nebulae.

Most of the tracks combine this with tribal drumming. In the title track this builds up to fast, intricate rhythms. In other tracks, such as Hibernation, this is slower and more subdued. And there are some subtle melodic elements in all of these tracks too. Spiritual Possession has dark, menacing bassline, with subtle distortion, while in Gates of Atlantis, a gentle harp pattern combines with a slow chord progression.

A few tracks contain no drumming at all, such as Temple of Yith and New Stellar Age. These are my least favourite tracks on the album. The slowly pulsating drones of Temple of Yith sound like the breathing of the universe, but while there are subtle changes in intensity during this track, there isn’t quite enough movement to sustain my interest for the whole seven minutes.

The album ends with Ascension, which, with its major chords, brings in the only notes of optimism here. The celestial feel remains, of course, and there are some subdued bass drums softly beating in the background.

Also included in this release is a bonus alternate version of the opening track, Gates of Atlantis. To my ears though, it sounds so similar to the original that I’m not quite sure why it was included. Martin Stürtzer is clearly a man of subtle distinctions, though, so I guess that it made sense to him.

The production on this album is sparkling. Despite the layers of sound, the mix never becomes muddy. Indeed, it remains crystal clear at all times. There is plenty of space for every element. The quality of sounds is also superb throughout. The drums are mixed between acoustic and electronic, but always sitting together convincingly. And the drum rhythms have a natural, tribal feel, with some exceptional moments, such as the subtle off-beat tapping in The Shadow out of Time.

Gates of Atlantis is not as dark as some of the dark ambient music that I like. I’m a big fan of the Cold Meat Industry bands such as Raison d’être and Desiderii Marginis, and this release doesn’t have that sense of sadness and, as a result, doesn’t touch me quite so deeply as those musicians do. Nonetheless, this album is an effective piece of cold, spacey ambient music, and judged by those standards, it is a very fine piece of work.

Review: Cold Fusion – Architecture

cold_fusion-architecture Architecture is the sixth album by Cold Fusion, the solo project of Marcin Bachtiak. I’m familiar already with a couple of earlier Cold Fusion releases, Occupatria and Report, and while I find them listenable enough, I don’t think of them as being particularly interesting. But I’d heard a couple of tracks from Architecture and seen others giving it high praise, so I went ahead and picked up a copy, curious to hear how the project had developed.

After a quiet ambient introduction with some operatic voices, the album launches into a fast-paced and bombastic martial neo-classical track. This is very much the theme of the album. Hard drums and layers of operatic voices and orchestral instruments dominate. The next two tracks continue this theme, with the tense, restless rhythm and staccato strings of Part II: Ultitatis and the dark pounding of Colosseum.

Part III: Venustatis is a more chaotic affair, with densely layered melodic elements creating an intense disorienting effect. It’s by no means easy listening. The musical sophistication shown here outstrips much of the rest of the martial industrial genre.

Divina Proportio changes tack and goes into ambient territory. It’s a track of gentle wind-like swooshes and gentle drones. Half-way through, some hand drums come in, sounding a little middle-eastern. It’s not the most interesting track but provides a small rest for the ears amidst the bombast of the rest of the album.

The album quickly returns to that bombastic mood with the next three tracks, Iunge, Architecture, and City Streets. The latter track, in particular, goes back to the level of sophistication that makes this such an enjoyable album. Again, the tone is dark, the drums are heavy and insistent. But the subtle layers of brass and string instruments create a sad and ominous mood.

There’s a short ambient interlude and then Octagon ends the album with a slightly more pop/rock drum rhythm, but otherwise largely orchestral instrumentation. Then, as the track comes to a close, a buzzing synth starts to dominate. This track doesn’t seem to fit with the martial neo-classical style of the rest of the album, and I can’t help but think that the album would have been stronger without it. But it’s much like how the Amen break made it’s way into one of the tracks on Occupatria. Bachtiak doesn’t quite let go of an aesthetic that comes from more electronic music.

The production on the album is stunning throughout, with the small exception of a strange whistling noise in the Intro. Despite being densely layered at points, the sounds remain clear. The drums are bright and powerful. The orchestral instrumentation sounds convincing rather than artificial.

Ultimately, I find myself very impressed by this album. It is musically sophisticated, well-produced, varied in pace but (with the exception of the last track) consistent in style. It represents great progress from Cold Fusion’s earlier releases.

(The only other thing I’ll say about this album is to note that I also made a release called Architecture a couple of years before this one, and the similarity of the covers is a strange coincidence. Great minds think alike, apparently.)

Review: Kazeria – Discipline of the Shadows

kazeria-discipline_of_the_shadows Kazeria’s Discipline of the Shadows was first released in 2008 as a CDr limited to 50 copies. It was then re-released in 2012. I’m not familiar with the original so I can’t make any comparisons. Instead, this review will focus on the re-release.

The album places itself very much at the industrial end of the martial industrial genre. Growling synths and distorted electronic kick drums provide the base of the album’s sound, while orchestral horns and snare drums mix with the electronics to provide the martial element.

The album opens with Discipline of the Shadows (I), which combines solemn drumming and slow horns to create a dark, ominous intro. Some of the subsequent tracks, such as Wolfmarch and Control Feeds Hope, are faster-paced. On the whole, though, the pace of the tracks is generally slow and sombre, and the album maintains a consistently dark and oppressive atmosphere. Some tracks, such as Endwiderstand, have a decidedly funereal pace. The album ends with a reprise of the first track, closing the album with the same slow menacing atmosphere that it started with.

The sounds on the album are varied, with appearances from church organs, air raid sirens, and even the strumming of an acoustic guitar (albeit sampled from Triarii and Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio’s collaboration, Roses 4 Rome). Unsere Schwärzesten Seelen features some distorted and menacing vocals.

My major criticism of the album is that, on the whole, the tracks tend not to go anywhere. A few percussion sounds will be introduced, a two chord sequence will come in, and then they’ll repeat for a few minutes with maybe a little variation but not much progression. The two tracks that avoid this problem stand out from the rest of the album: Konflikt, with its dynamic build up, and The Rising of a New Utopia, with its more intricate melody.

Overall, the album has many strong points: a variety of sounds and techniques, but with a consistent style and theme, and occasional tracks, such as The Rising of a New Utopia, that stand out in quality. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are too repetitive and lack any sense of wonder or excitement that could really elevate the album. It’s a good album, but it’s solid and consistent rather than exceptional.

Review: Atomtrakt – Artefakte des Verderbens

atomtrakt-artefakte_des_verderbens Atomtrakt is the martial industrial project of Christoph Ziegler, also of the black metal project Vinterriket. I wasn’t previously familiar with his work, but apparently he’s quite prolific. In addition to many Vinterriket albums over the last decade, he’s made a handful of Atomtrakt albums too. Artefakte des Verderbens is the fourth from this project.

The album is a dark and harsh affair, as perhaps you’d expect from someone who has been honing his skills in the genre of black metal. It sits at the noisier, more industrial end of the martial spectrum. But it has its moments of subtlety too, and it has something of the chill, haunting atmosphere of black metal.

The first track on the album, Triumphzug, begins with an intro that is a straight sample of a piece of classical music. (I can’t identify it. If you know where it’s from, please leave a comment below.) As an aside, I have to admit that I’m always a little troubled by sampling of this sort. I have no problems whatsoever with incorporating short samples into a new piece of music, but lifting four minutes of audio from somewhere else, without making any modifications along the way and without crediting the source, does seem a lot like plagiarism to me.

All that being said, when Triumphzug does eventually get started, it is a very strong track. The driving rhythm and cinematic chords are highly effective. The signature style of this album is pounding orchestral drums and cinematic synth chord progressions, with a heavy dose of noise, and Christian’s growling vocals. Mixed in with this are samples from Nazi speeches. Triumphzug features samples from Hermann Göring’s “Thermopylen-Rede”. Though my German isn’t good enough to be sure, I speculate that the entire album may be based on the theme of the Battle of Stalingrad.

There is a good mixture of tempos on the album. Some tracks, like Triumphzug and Stacheln der Vernichtung, are fast and energetic. Others, such as Trümmerfelder and Heimkehr der Verwundeten take a slower, quieter approach, and the album ends on an ambient note with Hungerwinter. Even with Christian’s growled vocals these slower tracks could in some sense be considered peaceful, but it is the peace of a battlefield after the war is over. There’s a sense of doom and despair that hangs over the whole album, and on these tracks in particular.

There is an appreciable amount of skill that has gone into this album. There are some nice, subtle touches in the choice of sounds. Stacheln der Vernichtung, for example, features the strumming of an acoustic guitar amid the noise. A number of the tracks feature pauses between sections of heavy percussion, at points going to fully ambient sounds. In these moments the slow chords and sampled speeches take over, building up the tension, before another explosive burst of drumming and harsh vocals.

Christian’s black metal influences are also audible, particularly in the vocals, which are delivered in the growling, rasping style of that genre. It’s interesting to compare Vinterriket and Atomtrakt. The songwriting style is much the same for the two projects, but Atomtrakt replaces the distorted guitars with synths and the drum kit with orchestral percussion. But the same styles of chord progressions are still there.

This album has quickly become a favourite of mine. It’s not an easy listen. The tone of the album varies from harsh and oppressive to despairing. But when I’m in the mood for something crushingly bleak then this album is perfect. I strongly recommend it for fans of bands such as Wappenbund, Kazeria, and Infestation and those who appreciate the more industrial end of the martial spectrum.

Review: Arcana – As Bright as a Thousand Suns

I’ve been a big fan of Arcana since I first heard them around 1996 or so. Their early releases were on Cold Meat Industry, and along with the likes of In Slaughter Natives and Raison d’être, they were one of the bands that made me fall in love with the label and the whole scene. Indeed, they were probably my first exposure to neo-classical darkwave music, and listening to their first album, The Dark Age of Reason, was massively exciting to me as a teenager. So they’ve been a big influence on me and on my music, and I’ll always look forward to new releases from them. As Bright as a Thousand Suns isn’t new, exactly. It was released back in 2011 (on the same day, in fact, as my album Empire and Dust), but it’s only now that I’ve got round to writing a review.

arcana-as_bright_as_a_thousand_suns

As Bright as a Thousand Suns is the seventh album from Arcana. They moved away from Cold Meat Industry some time ago, and after several releases on Peter Bjärgö’s own label, Erebus Odora, this album was released on Cyclic Law.

The album begins slowly with the piano instrumental, Somnolence. It’s gentle and beautiful; good as an intro but doesn’t go anywhere.

Then it’s into the first song, As The End Draws Near. This song, like the rest of the album, has the trademark middle-eastern percussion that they’ve been evolving since Le Serpent Rouge. While the song is beautiful, it lacks the dynamism of some of their earlier material, and as the album progresses this becomes a repeated criticism.

The whole album is infused with an air of languid beauty. The fifth track, Leave Me Be is really the perfection of that style. It sounds like a summer night in a sultan’s palace — too hot to sleep or even move.

The following track, Infinity picks up the pace a little with a dark, tense opening, but I find myself wishing that it would take advantage of that tension by doing something dramatic, but that never happens and I’m left with the feeling of an anticlimax.

At the end of the album, with the songs The Fading Shadow and As Bright as a Thousand Suns, the some of the middle-eastern style goes away, replaced with a more European feel. These two tracks pick up the dynamism of the album a little, but sadly not enough, in my opinion.

The album ends with another slow piano instrumental, Vinter, closing on the same melancholy note with which it opened.

The musicianship on the whole album is of a very high standard — probably the best that Arcana have achieved so far. Their early work was clearly sequenced on a computer, but they’ve now brought in many more real instruments and that pays off massively in the organic quality of the sound. And the production is smooth and polished throughout.

While this is undoubtedly a work of great skill and beauty, it does want for a little more dynamism. I find myself yearning for a song with the dramatic intensity of Source of Light or Outside Your World, or the cinematic grandeur of My Cold Sea. Sadly this album, while in many ways a brilliant accomplishment, will probably never be one of my favourites.

Review: Stricta Doctrina – Stricta Doctrina

Stricta Doctrina is a one-man martial neo-classical project from Quebec. His eponymous first album was released in 2011 by the Argentinian label Twilight Records. I picked up a copy only recently, and was impressed enough by what I heard to write this review.

stricta_doctrina-stricta_doctrina The album contains martial neo-classical music in a similar vein to artists such as The Protagonist and L’effet c’est moi. The melodies are grand and stately, with just the right edge of melancholy and menace. The sounds are clean, orchestral sounds: Mostly strings, brass and drums, but with a couple of tracks driven more by piano melodies. There are also occasional spoken samples and, in Sur le front, loin de leur patrie, the sounds of war and gunfire.

The tone of the album doesn’t vary much. Sometimes it’s a little faster or a little slower, but mostly it marches along very steadily. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes. Personally, I enjoy that sort of consistency, but I can imagine other people might find it a little monotonous.

The production on the album, which is an important thing to get right for this kind of music, is unfortunately merely ok. The orchestral strings and brass are layered up to make a full, strong sound. On the other hand, the drums remain a little weak. Several of the tracks stop suddenly, without giving any time for the reverb tails to finish, which creates a jarring effect. The few vocal samples that are used don’t blend well with the instruments. They seem to sit in a separate audio world. Ultimately, one is reminded often that one is listening to something produced in a computer. It doesn’t come together as a convincing audio environment in the way that the best work of, for example, Sophia or Triarii does.

Despite that criticism, though, I can’t help but get swept up in the beauty and grandeur of the melodies that Stricta Doctrina creates. I find the album very enjoyable to listen to, and I look forward to hearing more from this artist in the future.