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Tuesday 29 August 2023

Reviews: Nordicwinter, Knife, AAWKS/AIWASS, Death Wheelers (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen, Joe Guatieri & Ben Price)

Nordicwinter - This Mournful Dawn (Naturmacht Records) [Paul Scoble]

Nordicwinter is a one man band project from Evillair also of Autumn’s Tomb, Graven Dusk, and Sinistral Doom. Evillair has been making music as Nordicwinter since 2006, he is based in Quebec, Canada. In the time Nordicwinter has been making music Evilair has released six albums before This Mournful Dawn, the first being Threnody in 2007, and the last being Beneath The Fleeting Light in 2022. Nordicwinter’s style sits nicely between atmospheric and depressive black metal with also a touch of melancholy doom. I should state at this point that I have several of Nordicwinters earlier albums and consider this to be one of the best depressive black metal acts currently active (although I’ll put aside my fandom, and will try to be objective).
The album opens with Enshrouded By Winter which opens with soft acoustic guitar before a mid-paced blast and tremolo picked riff crash in, the feel is a little atmospheric and a little depressive, with a sad melody. Harsh vocals are added, the vocals are harsh all the way through the album, they are also fairly low in the mix giving them an etherial quality that works perfectly with the material. The song then takes a turn towards the slower and doomier feel, with a drifting tempo, to which a melody lead is added, this is now breathtakingly beautiful and very sad. The song then takes another turn to blasting fast black metal with a much more aggressive feel to it, with a nasty battering snare. The song has a short acoustic interlude before more aggressive blasting. Enshrouded By Winter comes to an end with mid-paced depressive black metal with a great melody.
The next track Deaths Pale Touch has a much more depressive feel to it, the pacing is slower and there are definitely doom influences, one of the main sections of the song, shortly after the songs depressive black metal opening, features a tolling bell and for some reason that just screams doom to me. The song has a short acoustic section before the doomy depressive black metal returns and slowly increases in intensity and tautness until a beautiful melody lead takes the song to its end.
As Twilight Fades takes the album in the opposite direction to the song that preceded it, as it takes us into more aggressive atmospheric black metal. The battering snare is back and although there are slower and softer sections, some with lush tremolo picked melodies and a soft and beautiful piano interlude, the more aggressive feel never seems to be that far away, in fact the slower and softer parts feel as if they are only there to make the more aggressive elements feel harsher.
Autumn's Last Mournful Whisper is the last long song on the album. The song is another track full of slower depressive black metal and melancholy doom. It features some great melody leads over those doomy depressive riffs, which are very affecting. The intensity builds slowly over the course of the song, at times it feels quite dramatic. The song comes to and end with heavy riffs and a mournful melody that is beautiful and heartbreaking. The song is almost desolately sad and melancholy, but also feels very cathartic; perfect depressive black metal.
The album comes to a close with My Lament a soft and beautiful piano instrumental, an arresting and affecting way to end a great album. This Mournful Dawn is another superb album from Nordicwinter, it is every bit as good as the other albums I have, and this on the very top tear of depressive black metal at the moment. The level of emotion, sadness and grief that is contained in This Mournful Dawn is amazing, but Evilair also manages to make all of this mournfulness feel cathartic, and that is why it works so well. Another triumph for Nordicwinter. 9/10

Knife – Heaven Into Dust (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

After their self titled 2021 debut, German blackened thrash punks, Knife were snapped up by Napalm Records and now the German foursome have released their second full length called Heaven Into Dust. Though signed with Napalm, this record is straight out of the Brian Slagel curated Metal Massacre collections in the 80’s. Sharpened riffs, aggressive drumming and snarled vocals make up the bulk of this 35 minute exercise in viciousness. 

Building on an church organ opening, a snippet of something spooky plays and we’re bombarded by the raw, evil speed metal, that is heavily influenced by bands such as Venom who used the NWOBHM to spearhead thrash. The production means that it sounds authentic to those tape trading days as the drumming of Ferli Coltello coming in with tinny, trebly blasts and dull thudding on the title track, the bass of Gypsy Danger is fuzzing and distorted (Night Vision), the guitars from Laz Cultro biting in the riffs but reverbed and layered in the incendiary solo sections such as on Black Oath And Spells which wear those trad metal influences proudly. 

The squawk of Vince Nihil may take a little getting used to for some but you can imagine him just screaming down the mic nose to nose with anyone in the front row as the band carve things up behind him. There are dynamics here though it’s not all about pure aggression. With Torches They March has a denim and leather chug, the grooving thrash of The Arson Alchemist is classic Metal Militia, as is the closer No Gods In The Dark which brings the rage of punk rock too. 

Never mind heaven, Knife are liable to grind your speakers into dust. Bullet belts at the ready and stretch yourself out Knife want pits and blood, and that’s what they’ll get with this new album. 8/10
AAWKS/AIWASS - The Eastern Scrolls (Black Throne Records) [Joe Guatieri]

Canadian Stoner Rock battles head-to-head with Texas Doom Metal as Aawks and Aiwass collaborate to bring together a split album containing two mammoth tracks which both stand at over 10 minutes in length.

Aawks kicks us off first with 1831. A cryptically titled piece which provides the listener with a bumpy ride. The bass and guitars attack the song in such a way that envelop, blending them together to bring powerful forces of heavy fuzz and feedback. Burning the feeling of radiation poisoning into every crevice until the damage dissipates over time, leaving a silent crater of hope where hell once reigned supreme. 

The atmosphere feels weightless compared to the crushing sensation of the past as a soft psychedelic section plays you off into outer space. The drums don’t shine as much as I want them to here, feeling more supportive than impactful. However, the vocals fit perfectly within the atmosphere that this song generates. This track reminds of the likes of English doom metal bands like Electric Wizard and Orange Goblin, combined with the waviness of Bongzilla.

A mysterious alien-like outro then goes into the watery passages of Aiwass’ The Unholy Books, a song that has moments of heavy guitar bliss but unfortunately meanders a lot to get there. The guitar reminds me a lot of Josh Homme in Kyuss, sounding so oddball and doing things that you wouldn’t expect. Unfortunately, the other elements of the song don’t stick out to me, finding the vocals and other instruments to be quite one-note and unadventurous.

Overall, whilst the two songs feel connected, they are separated in their quality. The total package just lacks the spark where I want it to be. 6/10

The Death Wheelers - Chaos And The Art Of Motorcycle Madness (RidingEasy Records) [Ben Price]

Stoner Rock - one of the most primally satisfying subgenres out there. Take your guitar, apply an unholy amount of fuzz, walk back and forth down the minor pentatonic scale, stomp like you’re a caveman who has just been introduced to the futuristic concept of a pair of Doc Martens, and you will guaranteed have legions of drooling plaid wearers (myself included) banging their heads ‘till kingdom come. This is exactly what Canadian instrumental rockers The Death Wheelers have done on their new record Chaos And The Art Of Motorcycle Madness. The guitars are fuzzier than your new pet malamute and pack more beef than a cattle ranch, the riffs are bluesy and filthy, the drums are piledriving in their groove. So far, so good, for Plaid Nation.

Unfortunately, this is about where the good news stops with this record. While the band have nailed the stoner rock format and clearly are proficient players, the lack of a throaty vocalist a-la John Garcia or Chris Cornell leaves tracks like Les Mufflers Du Mal and Lucifer’s Bend feeling, at best, meandering or, at worst, monotonous. Worse still, with the choice of song titles and samples scattered throughout the record, it feels like the band are trying to tap into a ‘Satan, Motorcycles and Drugs’ aesthetic that feels, well, a bit tired at this point.

Plaid Nation need not fear, however, as it’s not all doom and gloom. As I said before, the band are clearly competent musicians, which shines through particularly on the slide guitar-laced Ride Into Röt. Elsewhere, the heavier moments on the album, such as the cacophonous end to Open Road X Open Casket and the fearsome blast beats found on Cycling For Satan Part II, showcase a band who are well versed in kicking things into high gear. Even better is the filthy funk romp of the bongo-touting Sissy Bar Strut (Nymphony 69), which even the most miserly of listeners are defied not to groove along to.

This is not a bad album by any means, but I fear the lack of focus and structure that a vocalist might lend may well mean that it will be an album quickly forgotten. All in all, it pushes enough of the right buttons to rip off whatever it is you’re wearing on your torso and clamber back into your plaid shirt, if only for a little while. 5/10

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