Posts Tagged ‘ Gothic Metal ’

Album of the Week 51-2017: Septicflesh – Codex Omega

While the orchestral death metal of Septicflesh should have a decent amount of appeal to me, their albums always felt just short of interesting to me. Admittedly, 2011’s ‘The Great Mass’ came close, but this year’s ‘Codex Omega’ was the first Septicflesh album I pretty much enjoy start to finish. In essence, the elements that defined their last few albums are the same as those defining ‘Codex Omega’, but something has changed for the better. It is sort of hard to put my finger on what that is exactly, but let’s make this review an analysis of the album’s immense qualities.

First off, let’s focus on what has changed since the somewhat lackluster predecessor ‘Titan’. Most obviously, Septicflesh changed drummers. Former Decapitated drummer Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lechner is now on the stool and the band certainly profits from his approach to extreme metal drumming. His style seems to be a little looser and somewhat less predictable than that of most of his peers. Though I don’t know big his role in the songwriting process was, the unconventional placement of his accents must have influenced the dynamics of segments like the intro of ‘3rd Testament (Codex Omega)’ and the chorus of ‘The Faceless Queen’.

In addition, Septicflesh worked with in-demand producer Jens Bogren for the first time, who did an incredible job. Mixing a Septicflesh album cannot be an easy task: there are bottom-heavy riffs that give the music its balls, but there are also huge orchestral parts that define Septicflesh’ music. He managed to find a perfect balance between these two seemingly contrasting elements though, creating a surprisingly natural drum sound for Lechner in the process. The drums on many contemporary extreme metal records sound computerized to a fault. On ‘Codex Omega’, you can actually hear that a person is hitting them. Hard. Look no further than the intro to ‘Dark Art’ for proof.

Quite simply, the songwriting had a bit of a boost as well. ‘Our Church, Below The Sea’ could have easily been a dime a dozen extreme symphonic metal song, but the way the two guitar parts are interwoven creates an almost baroque guitar pattern. Opening track toys with expectations of tempo in a really powerful way, best expressed in the start-stop riff that occurs repeatedly throughout the song, while ‘The Gospels Of Fear’ is composed in an almost lineair way that makes it feel like it is coming over you in waves. Closing track ‘Trinity’ is a masterpiece due to its relatively simple, yet extremely powerful rhythms and its effective use of dynamics and acoustic instruments, which lend an almost gothic-like feel to the track.

‘Codex Omega’ is the album on which Septicflesh finally makes use of its full potential. While the excellent work by the choir and the FILMharmonic Orchestra of Prague add an irresistible layer of bombast to the music, the album would not have worked nearly as good if the basic compositions were an less good than this. Even the most standard extreme metal riffs have been arranged in a way that it sounds just a little different. Easily the best death metal album released this year, symphonic or not.

Recommended tracks: ‘3rd Testament (Codex Omega)’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’


Album of the Week 33-2017: Moonspell – Alpha Noir / Omega White

Bonus cd’s with complete albums are something of a strange phenomenon, but they have been appearing more frequently. It is especially strange when the bonus album is significantly better than the main portion, as is the case with this double album of Portuguese gothic metal stalwarts Moonspell. It could be a simple matter of preference, as ‘Alpha Noir’ emphasizes the band’s extreme metal roots, while ‘Omega White’ is pretty much a full-on gothic rock album. While the band’s power was always in blending these genres, it is praiseworthy that they were inspired enough to come up with this much material that stays interesting almost all the way through.

The sharpest division between the two albums is undoubtedly in the vocal approach of Fernando Ribeiro. Apart from the verses of the title track, ‘Alpha Noir’ features his guttural, yet still somewhat comprehensible growls almost exclusively, while his beautiful, deep baritone takes center stage on ‘Omega White’. Still, there are compositional differences. Only a few songs could have been on either album, depending on the vocal approach. ‘Omega White’ is notably more atmospheric, with Pedro Paixão frequently adding keyboards in addition to guitar riffs, ending up sounding somewhat like a more guitar-heavy take on The Sisters Of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim.

Having said that, ‘Alpha Noir’ excels when its songs feature a healthy dose of atmosphere as well. ‘Em Nome Do Medo’ has all the riffy violence you could wish for, but also has some excellent keyboard textures and a beautiful, open middle section. ‘Versus’ is a lesson in layering and song construction, while the bombastic opener ‘Axis Mundi’ is an absolute highlight. It is also, together with the title track, the only song with notable gothic overtones. The cinematic instrumental closing track ‘Sine Missione’ is nothing short of spectacular.

‘Omega White’ is more memorable and consistent, however. Starting out with the gorgeous ‘Whiteomega’, it is obvious that we’re dealing with Moonspell’s goth sound here. This could be an issue for some fans, but the songs are so good that it is easy to forget about that. Its great chorus and the sensuality turn ‘Herodisiac’ into a classic that should not be reduced to bonus track status, while ‘Sacrificial’, ‘White Skies’ and ‘Fireseason’ are all expertly constructed, infectious goth rock tracks with big, beefy riffs, haunting melodies and an excellent vocal performance by Ribeiro. The atmosphere isn’t quite as dark and mysterious as on the 1996 classic ‘Irreligious’, but the best songs are equally impressive.

Ultimately, one could wonder if it would be wise to release this as two separate albums. Personally, I would have gotten rid of some of the weaker tracks (my suggestions: ‘Opera Carne’ and ‘Incantrix’) and released this as one excellent 70-minute album, which could work wonders for the dynamics as well, but I guess people who are only into the band’s heavier side could just settle for the normal edition without ‘Omega White’. However, that would mean missing out on Moonspell doing what they do best: crafting atmospheric songs with great vocals. It’s your choice.

Recommended tracks: ‘Herodisiac’, ‘Whiteomega’, ‘Alpha Noir’, ‘Axis Mundi’, ‘Sine Missione’

Album of the Week 17-2017: The Gazette – Dogma

The Gazette is one of the most popular Japanese rock bands even outside of their native country. Save for a couple of songs, they never appealed to me much until they released their most recent studio album ‘Dogma’. For this dark monster of an album, the goth factor in the band’s familiar alternative metal sound is turned up considerably, resulting in an immersive atmosphere that works surprisingly well alongside the downtuned riff work. Despite being recognizable as an album by The Gazette, ‘Dogma’ is – thus far – a unique entry in their discography and truly takes their sound to a new level.

People who like The Gazette less than I do are prone to dismiss them as a Dir En Grey clone. And while they share a dark aesthetic as well as a preference for the downtuned mayhem of the American nu metal scene of the mid-ninties, The Gazette has always had a sound closer to J-Rock, though on ‘Dogma’, the J-Rock sound is mainly limited to Ruki’s baritone. The electronic experiments of recent albums are still there, but less prominent in the mix. This is a good thing: while the electronics made The Gazette stand out, they feel much more like an integral part of the sound here.

‘Dogma’ definitely excels most during its more atmospheric moments. Sure, the extremely heavy riff work by Uruha and Aoi – as well as their massive, crushing guitar sound – makes for pleasant headbanging on tracks like ‘Rage’, ‘Deux’ and ‘Incubus’, but if it wasn’t for the darker material, I may have taken a pass on the album. The fittingly titled closing track ‘Ominous’ has a subdued, brooding character that doesn’t really sound like anything the band has attempted before. The transitions are a little sudden, but it works remarkably well. Its finale is excellent.

Even better is ‘Deracine’. The guitar interaction in the verses – a pronounced riff with background atmospherics – is incredible, Ruki’s vocal melodies are fantastic and its atmosphere, which at times feels like a relatively heavy J-metal band covering Killing Joke, is impossible to escape. Another highlight is ‘Wasteland’, which brings together all the extremes of The Gazette’s sound. The guitar layering is extremely tasteful and the song flows very pleasantly. ‘Lucy’ is a little more straightforward and probably would not have stood out as much on a different album, but its effective main riff and huge chorus are great. The title track serves as a perfect introduction with its dark, gothic verses.

Before ‘Dogma’, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with an album by The Gazette altogether, but the fact is that it’s a strong, well-rounded album that doesn’t easily let its listener go. It also sounds less like a band trying to emulate its American influences than some of their early works, opting for a sound of its own instead. This is a development that I can only applaud and as a result, ‘Dogma’ is definitely worth hearing if you like your music heavy, dark and atmospheric. I’ll be honest: I never knew they had it in them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Deracine’, ‘Wasteland’, ‘Ominous’

Album of the Week 40-2016: Epica – The Holographic Principle

Regardless of your opinion on Epica, you have to admire their ambition. This time, the band decided to beef up their already bombastic sound by leaving orchestral samples for what they are and using only real instruments. That may seem like a minor detail, but it won’t take long to realize that ‘The Holographic Principle’ is sonically spectacular. All instruments have an unprecedented brightness and an energy to them. And even more impressively: the increasing heaviness of the Dutch sextet surprisingly also continues here. Everything about the album is supersized and that works much better than it should have.

Admittedly, I also dismissed Epica as just another Goth band initially, but ever since former God Dethroned members Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) and Isaac Delahaye (guitars) have joined the band, their sound grew heavier and more interesting. A lot of things happen within the songs. Not just arrangement-wise, but also compositionally. There are bands on the more progressive end of the spectrum whose material is more predictable. And there’s something exciting and energetic about the record that should be the norm in contemporary Metal. If it was, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about the future of the genre.

What impressed me most upon first notice is how memorable the riffs are. Even moreso than the choruses. The main riff to ‘Edge Of The Blade’ refused to leave my head for days. This is essential to the album’s brilliance, because even though there is quite a bit of chugging on the lowest string, this memorability gives every song a face of its own. None of the songs sound alike. Riff heavy monsters like ‘Divide And Conquer’, ‘The Cosmic Algorithm’, the closing titular epic or the amazing ‘Tear Down Your Walls’ all approach the guitar work differently. It’s what keeps the album interesting through multiple spins.

Obviously, the orchestral instruments leave their mark on the sound of the record. The band has worked with actual string instruments and choirs in the past, but the input of the flutes and other wind instruments is notable here. Or listen to how the percussion augments the atmosphere of the darker sections in ‘Dancing In A Hurricane’. Or how cinematic the interaction between the heavy guitars and the orchestra is in ‘Ascension -Dream State Armageddon-‘. But even when the record focuses more on Delahaye’s guitars, like on ‘A Phantasmic Parade’ – of which the verse sounds like an inversion of the one in Black Sabbath’s ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’ – there’s a certain bombastic quality present.

Vocally, the band has made quite some progress as well. Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of grunts, but Mark Jansen’s sound nice and intense here. Simone Simons still isn’t my cup of tea; she’s a very capable mezzosoprano, but I don’t find the higher registers of her more “Pop” range very pleasant to listen to. However, even in that range, she delivers one of her best performances yet here. A special mention goes out to Van Weesenbeek: he is simply what a contemporary Metal drummer should sound like. Technically superb, but also a hard hitter. Simply excellent.

Ultimately, only ‘Beyond The Matrix’ fails to impress me and that’s just because I think its chorus lacks power. It’s quite simple: ‘The Holographic Universe’ should be a delight to anyone who enjoys symphonic Metal, regardless of what additional subgenre you choose to decorate it with. It’s a highly dynamic, energetic record with a dozen of very interesting compositions. In a way, it’s the album I’d wanted Rhapsody to make for a long time, albeit with a more contemporary edge in the shape of grunts and seven string guitars. One of the better Metal releases this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ascension -Dream State Armageddon-‘, ‘Tear Down Your Walls’, ‘Edge Of The Blade’, ‘The Holographic Principle -A Profound Understanding Of Reality-‘

Album of the Week 38-2016: Kreator – Endorama

‘Endorama’ is Kreator’s most controversial album for a reason. It’s just not a very good reason. Sure, it’s not the Thrash Metal that the Germans are known for, but flirting with New Wave, Postpunk and early Gothrock influences has made the record unique, both in Kreator’s disography and in the European metal scene. People might think you may have to look for rifs between the atmospherics, but ‘Endorama’ is still very much a guitar driven album. A rather memorable one at that. Only the fact that their masterpiece ‘Coma Of Souls’ was released in 1990 keeps this from being Kreator’s best nineties record.

Maybe the presence of former Coroner guitarist Tommy Vetterli has left people with the wrong expectations. Instead of bringing the complexity of the Swiss geniuses with him, his Kreator debut ‘Outcast’ is the band’s simplest record to date. Here, his influence is most felt in the production. The shoddy industrial leanings of the previous three records are exorcized in favor of a more atmospheric, layered approach that feels a little like what Coroner did on ‘Grin’. The main difference is that ‘Endorama’ borrows from the Goth scene, bringing to mind The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and late eighties Killing Joke.

Admittedly, the low budget video of suited-up frontman Mille Petrozza in a nightclub was a little awkward, but ‘Chosen Few’ is actually a really good song. The rhythm may be borrowed from Killing Joke’s ‘Love Like Blood’, but it’s effective. In fact, never before or since has Jürgen ‘Ventor’ Reil’s drum work had so much swing. Petrozza’s surprisingly intimate vocal performance also works wonders. Another highlight is ‘Shadowland’, probably the most “Metal” song on the album. The main theme is excellent and memorable, while the riff work gives the song a vibe somewhat reminiscent of Nevermore.

Easily the most Gothic moment on the record is ‘Passage To Babylon’, with its strong focus on Christian Giesler’s bass line and the piano part. Petrozza’s voice has a somewhat tormented quality, which really adds to the dark atmosphere of the track. The subtle orchestral samples in ‘Everlasting Flame’ are also something that could only appear on this Kreator record. Closing track ‘Tyranny’ improves upon the ‘Outcast’ formula by better dynamics and a really strong melodic theme, while the remarkably upbeat, catchy opener ‘Golden Age’ could at the time have been a minor hit for any band without Kreator’s prominent Thrash Metal history.

While the album does wane a little bit towards the end – ‘Soul Eraser’ and the relatively riffy ‘Pandemonium’ aren’t quite as strong as the rest of the record – and more variation in the tempos may have made it even better, ‘Endorama’ is a record full of well-written songs, strong performances and an excellent production. Petrozza is rightfully still proud of the record. And that’s a good thing, because I hate it when musicians try to cover up their willful experiments. If you’re not a Thrash conservative, give the album a chance. Just forget that the band ever recorded ‘Pleasure To Kill’ and let these amazing songs work their magic. It’s well worthy of your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shadowland’, ‘Chosen Few’, ‘Passage To Babylon’

Album of the Week 15-2014: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

Celtic Frost’s swansong ‘Monotheist’ and Triptykon’s ‘Eparistera Daimones’ were simply works of art. Dark, bleak, twisted and ominous art, but art all the same. And as I loved that dark, doom-laden and unique approach, ‘Melana Chasmata’ was a work to look forward to. And as such, it didn’t disappoint. While Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s approach of the aforementioned album is maintained, he also stubbornly refuses to release the same album twice, as he always has done. This album is slightly more accessible due to the average tempo being slightly higher and the song structures being somewheat easier to follow. Still, background music for the faint of heart this is not.

Though there’s still plenty of slow, dirge-like material on ‘Melana Chasmata’, the atmosphere this time isn’t one of quiet, self-destructive introspection all the time. Some of the songs are quite melancholic in nature, while others are surprisingly aggressive. In fact, there are two fast and intense Thrashers this time around in the shape of the brilliant opening track ‘Tree Of Suffocating Souls’ and the blood boiling ‘Breathing’. The main riff of the latter still has the dissonance that we’ve grown used to from Thomas Gabriel Fischer and his fellow guitarist V. Santura, but the Thrashy aggression meets doomy darkness approach brings to mind Celtic Frost’s legendary ‘To Mega Therion’ album.

On the more melancholic side of the album, we have ‘Aurorae’, which builds upon a beautiful clean guitar with perfect delay, layers of harmonic feedback, a subdued and doomy riff and Fischer’s anguished moans. The way this song builds up its tension is far beyond what many alternative (post-)Rock bands who are attempting something similar can possibly wish for. The almost ambient epilogue of ‘Waiting’ contains one of Santura’s most tranquil and beautiful guitar solos thus far, while the semi-Industrial ‘Demon Pact’ displays a combination of darkness and despair unheard of since Bauhaus classic ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Emily Brontë tribute ‘In The Sleep Of Death’ contains some wonderful clean guitar coloring and the brilliant semi-clean main riff of ‘Boleskine House’ is a brilliant mislead, as it almost suggests a lighter, more positive song than it actually is. The dirge-like slow riffs of ‘Black Snow’ are closest to the debut.

When listening to the album repeatedly, it dawns on me more and more what a fantastic drummer Norman Lonhard is. His forceful, untriggered sound is already a revelation, but he is a master of using space. Many Metal drummers have a tendency to fill up every void with fills, while Lonhard lets it be and still manages to be incredibly tight. Bassist Vanja Šlajh has a bit more room in the mix this time and is a very powerful bassist.

Despite the slightly different direction taken here, those of you who liked ‘Eparistera Daimones’ are quite likely to get into ‘Melana Chasmata’ as well. It’s another dark and brilliant piece of art that everyone involved should be extremely proud of. And although the album is again very inaccessible, those of you who found the debut interesting, but slightly too hard to get into, you may want to give this album a chance. In the end, I can’t think of any reason why anyone into dark, atmospheric and expertly written Metal shouldn’t be able to appreciate this.

Recommended tracks: ‘Breathing’, ‘Tree Of Suffocating Souls’, ‘Aurorae’