Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed and dark aesthetics


As you probably all heard, Lou Reed, one of the most influential figures of rock music has died yesterday. A lot of things were written about him and there were a lot of reactions to this huge loss of the music world. So, I just want to say what he personally meant to me. Not at all unexpected, it is related to his involvement with the Velvet Underground.


In my opinion, he was the second largest figure (first being Roy Orbison) in rock music that conveyed dark aesthetics to its listeners. The themes and lyrics of such songs as Venus in Furs (later covered by Krieg, which further proves my point), Heroin and Femme Fatale explore some very dark themes like addiction, sexual deviation and emotional pain, which certainly existed before and were probed by numerous bands and composers. However, in the music by the Velvet Underground these themes take a central role as opposed to some twiggy endeavors of other artists. Every composer of classic music, without exception, had his version of requiem. Thus, every one of them payed heed to the theme of death creating masterpieces of dark music. But these were never the main focus of their music. I'm not trying to denigrate any of those composers' accomplishments, because each of them (Rachmaninoff, Schnittke, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and others) were great at making personal music, but it never, strictly speaking, contributed to the whole movement of dark scene, as we call it these days. I may be wrong, but there were no wide-spread movements of lovers of grim aesthetics in the past, such as we had in the 80's and 90's. By releasing aforementioned songs in a cluster, it made the Velvet Underground one of the few bands that encapsulated the essence of what further became goth-rock, horror electro, black metal and other numerous music styles and artistic movements that constitute the whole of dismal, baleful aesthetics in general.

In addition to his music was Lou Reed's image. In combination with gloomy songs, his androgynous proto-gothic appearance (he used black nail polish, eyeliner and even lipstick)  made the effect of what later became inseparably intertwined into darkwave scene. His image was one of the first shifts towards dark aesthetics. Of course, there were others, who felt and expressed growing melancholy of the time, such as Peggy Lee with her highly underestimated album “Mirrors”, released in 1975. Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Kiss and other classic heavy metal bands were on their way too, but at large, their music was still bore positive, optimistic mood. Yes, they sang about some very tricky themes, but the real pain and darkness was rarely expressed at that time and existed in an inchoate state. When I listen to them, the overall perception is cheerful and happy.

So much for that. I think I made a point. I’m sure it is very tentative matter and everyone perceives music differently and many would say that I’m wrong, but again, as I said in the beginning it is just what I see in Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and what I think about their significance and contribution to dark music scene. I’m sure Mr. Neil Jameson would agree with me at least to some extent.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Help Rebuilding Helvete!


As many of you may already know, legendary black metal shop Helvete (Oslo, Norway) was recreated with the help of Fenriz and others. Now everyone can donate to the shop maintenance via PayPal.

РayРal Account: ciiekals@hotmail.com 
Account Number: 97133323701

The source of this information is the official page of the shop https://www.facebook.com/NeseblodHelvete/info

Names of those, who made a donation will be included in this list, which will hang inside the store:


I think it's a great way to contribute to the common cause. This shop is a symbol of prosperity of the black metal, even though it was non-existent for a long time. I think if we want to keep black metal going we must support its cause by all means. 

I feel really sad that one shop like that closed before me once. It was the only black metal store located in New York City and was a part of Hospital Productions. I still feel a bit responsible for its closure, because I only bought like 3 CD's from there in 3 years, so... Now I believe that everyone must support what they like. If you really like a store, you must help it by at least buying something from it, because it may just close and all you get will be BestBuy and Walmart.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Culto Apokrypho: Oneiroporos, 2009 (Review)

This short self-released work demonstrates supreme ability in combining different textures and elements into organic and entertaining music. I say that it is entertaining, because the work is very dynamic and has quite moving melodies. It is primarily black metal/folk, but the guitar sound is thick and smooth akin to that of atmospheric black metal. There is a good deal of clean vocals on this demo, not to say that it's a bad thing, but rather it makes it melodic and moving. The clean vocal is deep, low and masculine and reminds me of druids somehow, because sometimes there are multiple vocals creating a choir. As an analogy I think that earlier works of Urfaust is more or less a good comparison in terms of vocals and the use of other sounds. Sometimes the melody may seem a bit epic, as well as the overall mood of it, but when it blends with other elements, it goes far above this tag and creates more authentic atmosphere, which lacks clichés in melodies or the meaning.

First track named "Autumn Ritual" is especially captivating and moving. Bass-guitar outlines the distorted guitar creating mid-paced doom-ish black metal. I want to stress here the work of bass-guitarist, because it does make a difference. Thick smooth sound of it is very pleasing for the ears, which speaks to a good recording. Compared to the recoding of "Redeemer", another demo by Culto Apokrypho, guitars in Oneiroporos sound smoother and of better quality. The melody conveys mystery, dangerous darkness, but then shifts to inspiration and then, once more, shifts into part of some ritualistic mood. Autumn Ritual combines sounds of water, burning wood and many other textures. The track is not limited to slow pace, but incorporates faster drum bit and at some points more rocky/riffy guitar. 

Second track ("Pontoporos") is upbeat acoustic guitar accompanied by a hand drum, may sound a little tedious, but pleasant to hear. This track is pure folk. Melody tells something of fun and gay feelings which sink into warning mystery and vocals are almost recitative, slash, whisper. It reminds my vaguely of the Forest of Shadows, but I might be wrong in that, as there are many bands that include whisper and recitative into their music.
(Athameron, the founder)

Axis Mundi is a congruent mixture of distorted guitars, which still sound a bit close to doom metal guitars. This guitar layer is penetrated by classic piano and clean vocals, interchanges with calmer acoustic guitar part that is accompanied by hand drums. Some interesting and brave accord and key transfers, that make very nice bridges between the parts. Melody is very moving and that's probably why it kept my attention. Two scream/grim vocals are recorded simultaneously, but enter the song very seldom. There is no repetition whatsoever, which makes it interesting to listen.  

The last track is apparently a remix of This Land Of Lorn, which appears on previous demo. Acoustic guitar is layered with some synthetic ambient sounds as well as violin and piano, faintly coming here and there. Being a violinist myself, I know how hard it is to record a violin, so I wouldn't be very judgmental of the violin sound here, which is not as good as on Drifting In Dreams, last track of the Redeemer demo. There is a progression in this track even though it slightly repeats itself. Here, musicians experiment with more synthetic sounds, but cover it with strong and stern choir by the end. The use of synthesizer is not alien to as it appears in their previous  Redeemer demo of 2007.

All in all, there is a great potential in Oneiroporos and Culto Apokrypho show their skill both in song-writing and mixing of different elements. It was hard for me to trigger my imagination to produce some material imagery, because, as it often happens with good music, the whole attention is dedicated to enjoyment and perception of music, rather than translation of it into mental pictures. The music itself has less of a black metal influence, than 
Redeemer demo, which has more of conventional black metal parts and more of the scream vocal. Judging by these two demos, the band both grows and shows constancy in its authentic style.

There are many less known but talented projects in Greece and Culto Apokrypho is one of them. But it's a fairly young project, so may be it's to early to demand recognition. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Elffor: Son of the Shades, 2002 (Review)



Recent invasion by dungeon synth prompted me to review black metal bands that contained some synthetic sounds. One such project is Elffor, originated in Spain and founded by Eöl, its only member, it depicts the times of feudal warfare, medieval castles and age of heresy.



Opening track is truly epic and magnificent, cold and windy with gathering storm it greets us by majestic choir akin to Gregorian choir at the same time soothes us by gentle piano melody and then back to grim synthetic strings. Except the guitar and howling wolves on the background Elffor’s music seems to be utterly synthetic, i.e. played on synthesizer (or electric key-board), but wielded masterfully into a magnificent organic piece of music. The sound of Son of the Shades is rather medieval than modern. Now, that term dungeon synth was coined, more people, including myself understand the true atmosphere of the synthetic music that pertains to depict olden times and tries to be perceived as lyrical, as opposed to the rest of electronic music, that tried to keep up with trends of the time of its creation, such as Tangerine Dream or ambient works by Steve Roach.


Son of the Shades by Elffor, as well as all other works by this one-man-band, in spite of its synthetic nature accomplishes the task that other electronic musicians never even thought of. While ensembles of classic musicians try to recreate medieval music by authentic means with help of acoustic classical instruments of the period the music was written in, a new frontier of electronic music was open and became known among the populace. This new style translates medieval music in new terms, applicable to the modern nostalgia of forgotten tradition, union with nature and old gods. Some slight pagan imagery is indeed present in work of Elffor.





So, going back to Son of the Shades, it is mostly ambient, or, pardon me, mostly dungeon synth with very unstressed guitars, moderate use of drum machine and grim vocals. Together these techniques compile to a quite orthodox work, as various black metal bands are commonly called now for their vigorous use of so-called canons of black metal composition. With great intent they bore inexperienced listener with seemingly repetitive or explicitly heavy riffs. A perfect example of heavy “orthodoxy” will be Watain, Ondskapt and Ofermod, while for milder spiritual endarkenment reader may preview “Moonlight Butchery” by Judas Iscariot or recent works by Hypothermia.

Elffor accomplishes this task of keeping conservative side of music by purely electronic means. The modernity of electro sound is forever put aside with this new style. What it actually does to the atmosphere is that it adds certain pious or religious tinge. And, before you start to shout blaming me for subjectivity, I have to warn you that I voice here a view of many people I spoke with and they expressed similar sentiment, while listening to either dungeon synth or orthodox black metal. This is a kind of godless piety, humbleness of superficial form, but still very much like that of a praying medieval monk.

Son of the Shades is distinctly medieval and canonical. It brings to view the images of battles or great gothic cathedrals or even a herdsman playing a flute among the fields or woods of 13th century Europe. Indeed, some of the flute parts remind of Italian Ars Nova. Overall the music is very stern as it might be expected from historically reconstructed music of Middle Ages, when life was more about survival than joy.  Such sternness may even be inspected in meant-to-be-jolly medieval Christmas carols, typically and to this day they sung on cold streets. Stern look of the corpse-painted face on the cover of this albul well speaks to this rigor quality of its music. Lyrics of the album, however scarce, are of rather soft nature. It speaks of moon, loneliness and, of course, blasphemy, for it is the intent of most of the black metal music and is one of its defining characteristics. So much for Elffor.

For those who like this kind of atmosphere, other works by Elffor are recommended as well as the whole newly defined style of dungeon synth. 



Aeshma: Nightside of Eden, 2013 (Review)




Sweeping consciousness into primeval jungle of sounds and ritualistic rhythms, the first track of  Nightside of Eden takes us into a dreamy side of half-sane visions of shamanic priest in lands untouched by civilization. Under the cover of darkness these aboriginal people perform their sacred ancestral rites. Knowing the dedication of the previous works to the concept, I would suppose that the theme of this music bears some grim allusions to tribal magic and bloody rites, perhaps, practiced even to this modern day and time in the forgotten and hardly reachable villages of the third world countries. There is no sign, however, of diabolic or satanic intrusions of the Christian era, except of demonic-sounding vocal recitative, which intrudes into layering of this album quite seldom. The back-side of the cover informs that the concept of the album is based on Kenneth Grant’s book Liber Arcanorum, which may differ from the analogies and imagery I draw here, but I analyze the music rather than the intentions, with which it was created. I leave up to those who more vigorously interested in Aleister Crowley and other mystics to find out and unveil the underlining concept of the music. I will concentrate here on the music side.

The music of this electronic album by Aeshma is akin to some earlier works of Psychonaut 75, but takes more hypnotic and ever engulfing turn. In other words, compared to previous works by Aeshma, such as Serpent's Core, this new album is less thick with different sounds and effects, but sounds more old-school-ish and underground-like. The quality of sound is, of course, spotless and masterfully recorded.
Nightside of Eden is filled with sounds that remind of different creatures, such as snakes, owls, exotic birds and insects. Night moths, dragonflies with quietly mumbling deadly frogs appear in the background and wild colorful flowers, glowing in the moonlight pass the view of the listener. Almost every song is pierced by a constant, almost unchanging drum-beat, characteristic of ritual music with the intention to put its listener into a trance. Well, this album fully accomplishes this task, but it makes the thoughts flow smoothly rather than in a haze of inapprehension.

Mesmerizing vocals of the singer adds another layer, recite some portions of Liber Arcanorum, split our hearing into a new portion and wield it into an alien universe of thick night and beautiful garden of the jungle, hence the name of the album, Nightside of Eden. Later in the album there might be few surprises, but the whole atmosphere of the album is held constant and magnificence, with all its dreaminess is preserved. Lovers of the early works by Endvra will enjoy this work of Aeshma. This project is actually seems to be taking an opposite course of development, i.e. first album being quite elaborate and having very different tracks with different music tricks, whereas Nightside of Eden is more minimalistic and spacy, which, as strange as it may seem, captures the attention better than the variety of sounds used in previous works of Aeshma.

The album is quite short, however, so if you are scared to get bored by the drums in this album, there is simply no time for that. Strangely, I would prefer it to be much longer, to enhance the entrancing effect of it. The cover of the album is filled with witches and Satan residing on his throne, which doesn’t go along with imagery I draw here, which leaves freedom for interpretation, rendering my opinion merely subjective. Some of the tracks may point, still, that I might be right in my expatiations, e.g. tacks “the Toad” and “the Cave” do provide some sense of primordial human existence.

It is a pity that such high quality music is kept in the web for free download, as well as other albums, but Aeshma has been participating, from what I heard in some electronic music fests in Ukraine, so I hope this work will not be left unnoticed and soon be released on official label. Nightside of Eden is valid both conceptually and music-wise, provides with rich imagery and room for interpretation.