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Thursday 29 August 2019

Reviews: Mortem, Baest, Idolatry, Ewigkeit (Paul H, Val & Rich)

Mortem: Ravnsvart (Peaceville Records) [Val D'Arcy]

Although a relatively recent announcement, the return of Mortem carries with it high hopes. 30 years since their demo Slow Death, Marius Vold (Thorns, Arcturus) and Steinar Sverd Johnson (Arcturus, Covenant) come together with Hellhammer (Mayhem, Covenant) and Tor Stavenes (1349) to create surely, one of the most anticipated Black Metal releases of 2019. Mortem formed amidst the underground of the then new Norwegian Black Metal scene but never went any further, with members splitting to form primarily, Thorns and Arcturus and moving in distinctly different musical directions. That said, with production and artwork on their demo from Euronymous and Dead respectively, plus the individual successes of their future musical endeavours, Mortem went on to become a highly regarded name in the formation of the genre.

Fast forward some 30 years and we have Ravnsvart (Norwegian for Raven), a full length album full of atmosphere, darkness and cold. Although Ravnsvart is, at its heart true to its roots in terms of style (albeit worlds apart from the almost inaudible low-fi sound of their demo) there is ample variation here to satisfy black metal fans of all generations and schools. In particular, the extensive use of melody and synths will appeal to fans of Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. The production is also of its current time; clean and deliberate, creating a polished and accessible sound. If you were expecting a low-fi 4-track recording then this is about as far from that as you might imagine.

The musicianship is as you'd expect from the pedigree in this band, hard to fault. There's an array of really pleasing riffs on offer here, the songs are a mix of mid and fast paces with beautifully interwoven synths and even the odd solo thrown in for good measure. Although I struggle to fault this album in any major way, there are some fleeting proggy interludes that do feel somewhat unnecessary and out of place, and in my opinion, add nothing to the overall experience. There's a grandness to the album as well as a continuation from song to song that gives the feeling of a soundtrack to an epic journey, which I personally love. Its the sort of album that leaves an imprint on you, not in the way that cheesy, catchy tunes do. Rather in the more subtle way of infiltrating the darkest corners of your mind, permeating your subconscious to create a lasting association with your current state and being.

Of course the formation of supergroups and reunions are nothing new. Particularly in recent years. Sceptically, this may be symptomatic of the fact that bands are looking to this as a reliable means of making some additional income. Equally sceptically, it may also be telling of the fact that its been whole decades since the genre defining bands and albums came to light and we live in an era of nostalgia. The more I think about it, I also think its musicians' way of obtaining a temporary creative license to play something contrary to what their established trademarks dictate they should. There is indeed a feeling of nostalgia present here, but it's not so much of late 80's dawning of second wave (although I can hear threads of Bathory hidden in the fabric) but rather the late 90's and early 00's. This is by no means a bad thing as that period was a real coming of age of many bands, graduating from the early years of black metal and evolving to take on the forms they continue to display and grow today. This may divide some listeners who favour a truer, more traditional early 90's sound. However, if you're of a certain age like me, then this, along with other bands (such as Nordjevel to name one), resurging the sound of my teens is too good and satisfying an indulgence to turn down, particularly when done as well as this. An expansive, immersion of black metal, thoroughly enjoyable. 9/10

Baest: Venenum (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ve been to Aarhus in Denmark. Back in 1989 it was a bleak, industrial city which would serve perfectly for a death metal backdrop. Enter Baest, the powerhouse quintet who have been establishing themselves one of the country’s most promising metal acts in recent years. Winning awards for best metal album and best newcomer, subject of a documentary about their tour with Decapitated (Den Satans Familie) and hitting numerous festivals this year including Summer Breeze, Ruhrpott Metal Meeting, Copenhell, Roskilde, Royal Metal Fest, Eurosonic, as well as huge support slots with Abbath, Hatebreed, Dying Fetus, Entombed A.D. and Decapitated.

That’s all well and good but do these Danish bastards deliver? In a nutshell, yes. Album number two, Venenum, which follows 2018’s Danse Macabre, opens with savage waves of HM2 pedal driven riffs, pounding drumming and guttural vocals, a trademark sound which has propelled the band to the top of the Danish death metal tree. Think Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower and elements of Death and you have Baest. Venenum evolves from the strong Swedish death metal influences of their first release and takes a more diverse approach, focusing on the impact of slower, more crushing anthems. Following the frantic Vitriol Lament, Gula is a knuckle dragging ape in comparison, wearing a beater and devastating all in its wake with its sheer weight.

The punishing riffs may be slow, but they lose none of their impact, whilst the rhythm section is locked tight. Simon Olsen’s demonic roar is immense throughout, a vocal delivery from within the very bowels of hell. The groove infestation on Nihil demands movement, with the underlying duel guitar duels of Svend Karlsson and Lasse Revsbech adding an almost Egyptian feel to the track. This is Lamb of god meets Nile in one massive collision. The track As Above So Below pays tribute to the late Chuck Schuldiner, combining his melodic style with Baest’s own brutal ferocity whilst the remixed and remastered No Guts, No Glory cover, originally recorded in 2017 pays homage to Bolt Thrower. With a European tour supporting Aborted and Entombed AD coming shortly, Baest are one powerful machine. If you get to one of those shows, be sure to get there early. This is a death metal album at its most raw. 8/10

Idolatry: In Nomine Mortis (Humanity's Plague Productions) [Paul Hutchings]

Canada isn’t instantly recognisable for black metal. Enter Idolatry who hail from Edmonton, Alberta. In Nomine Mortis is their second full length album, following on from 2016’s Visions From The Throne Of Eyes. With a sound that combines the old school, think Emperor, Bathory, Inquisition and Necrophobic, this sophomore release sticks closely to the black metal blueprint at all stages. Punishingly heavy blast beats, intense tremolo riffing and rasping vocals that suggest pain was induced to achieve the result, this contains a meaty middle. Whilst there is little new to grasp, there is enough for the talons to at least break the skin. The Canadians drive their sound forward with some strafing groove ridden demonic tunes, bookending the album with instrumental tracks, and favouring a mixture of epic six minute plus beasts alongside more immediate, ferocity.

Take opening track Towards The Widening Eye and the blistering horrific The Serpentine Possession which feature multiple changes of direction, vicious riffing and a pummelling so ferocious that you almost miss the underlying melody, albeit one with clawing hands that have dirt under the nails. These are complimented with fiery shorter passages of play which cause tremors. Listen to Revelations In Black, sample the girth that comes with Breathing Dust including the ponderous doom laden middle section and you’ll understand. Vocalist Ba’al Berith (Nick Gartner to you and me) has one hauntingly croaking evil vocal. Drummer Daemonikus Abominor (Chuck Murphy) switches with ease between pulverising blast beats and a more restrained mid-tempo approach, underpinning the whole album and locking it tight with bassist Tormentus Prometheon which allows the swirling riffing of Lycaon Vollmond (Tommy Kirby) and Sludge to explore and reign unfettered. There is something intimately enticing about this album. It may not be the most original release in the past 20 years, but there is a niche that still needs filling from time to time. 7/10

Ewigkeit: Starscape 2.019 (Death To Music) [Rich Oliver]

Starscape was the second album by British experimental black metal project Ewigkeit released back in 1999. Mr. Fog (the brains and sole member of Ewigkeit) has 20 years later given Starscape a reimagining and rerecording much as he did back in 2017 with the rerecording of the debut album Battle Furies. Starscape 2.019 isn’t a replacement for the original but simply a tweaked and improved version. The production and sound quality is vastly improved over the original. The guitars are squarely up front along with the keyboards having been quite buried in the original version and really lets the fantastic tremolo black metal riffs shine throughout. The keyboards retain their spacey sound and 100% add to the atmosphere of the album. The keyboards are also well utilized in the more symphonic and electronic influences moments throughout the album. 

Mr. Fog also employs more of an array of vocal stylings in the new version from blackened shrieks, death metal growls, spoken word narration and the always fantastic baritone clean vocals. Starscape 2.019 is a very enjoyable update. The original version of Starscape whilst an enjoyable and original piece of 90’s experimental black metal hasn’t aged too well especially to the poor sound quality but this rerecording definitely does these songs justice and shows just how ambitious Mr. Fog was so early on in his career. 8/10

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