Κυριακή, 22 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Imperium Dekadenz - Meadows of Nostalgia (2013)

I don't normally do negative reviews. Perhaps because some of the worst review material I've read is of this kind, usually sadistic beat-downs that portray the worst of heavy metal psychology; try-hard attempts to define objective borders between the bad and the good, the "true" and the "false", a kind of ego-driven or fractionalist fanaticism that succeeds in blinding itself to "otherness", usually differing aesthetics in the case of music, thus being terribly limiting even to oneself. However, I'm not ideologically opposed to critique, just on the premise that it respects the existential validity of those that stand behind the work (both musicians and fans) and that it suggests for improvements, rather than considering its social cause to be the elimination of the, so-called "wrong", art.  So, from time to time, I do happen to come upon some band whose music leaves me frustrated and their success clueless. There is a tendency in the metal universe to judge bands that sign to mainstream labels with an austere and over-expectant attitude, which is not entirely incorrect, based in that a "successful" band uses canals of information that reach wider audiences and that there is a kind of justice by seeing the "good" bands take over these places. However, let us remember that this attitude is as often a result of subconscious (or not) envy (most high-critics of heavy metal got themselves bands that never "made it") and of the peculiar kind of fantasy-elitism that seems omnipresent in the underground; where anything over-ground is proclaimed as populist or decadent, so as to re-enforce the self-affirming notion that everything obscure must be worthy. I cannot claim to be completely impervious to either of these impulses, so it is important to be open and non-determined even while attempting something as experimental as listening to a full album of a band you're already not very fond of, to see if it, well, indeed suck.

My first contact with Imperium Dekadenz was with a song off their 2011 break-away album, Procella Vadens. In "An Autumn Serenade" I was immediately put off by recognizing several Wolves in the Throne Room tropes (notice the riff in 3:16, the drum change and then the lead and oh, 6:50, hallo Two Hunters) being ingeniously ripped off. It's not that direct influence is a bad thing, but when it's not somewhat filtered out in the end, it suggests a lack of identity and personal vision for a band. That incident made me disinterested in the rest of the record, which didn't try hard to impress me anyway with its lack of strong melodies and originality. However, seeing in 2013 the band sign to Season of Mist and their albums receiving generally unanimous praise, raised my eyebrows a bit. Could there have been something that I've missed, did the band improve so much, or is this a case of a big label throwing easy-food around?

After an acceptable acoustic intro, "Brigobannis" begins with strength and dark emotion, being reminiscent of older German bands (yep, obviously it's the language thing too) rather than I.D. as I knew them, a perhaps positive first impression. The sound is more powerful than before, without betraying reverbed atmospherics and black metal tremble, while high-pitched vocals cut through at ease. This is a band that sets the stage well; however, momentous, "vertical" impression does not mean much besides that they know how to play music and afford to get a good production (both not a given in black metal, to their merit). The evolution of a song is a part that usually separates mediocre, one-idea bands with the good ones. Unfortunately, from the third riff and on, we get the typical riffing that is the main weakness of the band. It is usually comprised of two chords and its semi-melodic movements are lifeless, like a vapid imitation of classic black metal.  

"Aue der Nostalgie", however, is probably the most ambitious song in the album, in that it does not relay in a short exposition (it hits the 10 minute rank) but it builds on narrative, deep moods that are centered upon a fiercer kind of black metal. In the first section of the song, the band sounds vital and engaging, incorporating stranger riffing, occasional double leads and a faster, more "masculine" rhythmical drive. It isn't anything too brilliant (and still ends in a predictable manner, in repetition of the ok-ish first riff) but it a song I would listen for a 2nd or 3d time, which gets the hopes up for the rest of the record. "Ave Danuvi", which hails the river Danube, is more epic, slow and sorrowful, sporting a brief, harmonic choir that sounds like a combination of sampled recordings and the voices of the band. This song succeeds too in its narrative cohesion, however, I feel it ends briefly; after an interesting acoustic part that sets expectation and drive for a longer exposition, it seems like the band is hurried to bring back the melodic riff to end it. It is a good song, that rises the band quite above the level of my preconceptions, although I somehow get the feeling that something better could have been done out of it.

"Memoria" is another acoustic guitar instrumental, this time with a fragile and romantic sentimentality, that discloses that the band probably feels confined within typical metal borders. Indeed, the next song, Aura Silvae, is rather upbeat, using major modes that remind me of Alcest, before making an abrupt turn to a darker second riff and then back. It would seem like a case of "wait, that's too happy, we must be METAL" and since the song continued in playing around with conflicting emotions, I checked the lyric sheet (there is a PDF English translation provided, I will applaud here the band for caring to do so) but cannot say I found much to justify this conceptually. In total, this song is as simplistic and uneventful as "Brigobannis" and thus, seems like a filler.

"Der Unweg" begins in a doomier, more contemplative mood, adorned by Burzum-ic bell-like synth. It continues in the same simplistic manner, adding even bouncy rhythms and occasional saccharine licks of presumably alt or-goth-rock origins before taking some dark turns along the way, that somewhat keep the interest at a midway between not-terribly-bored and not-really-interested. Here's what happens with simple music; it needs a certain ambience and context for it to work. Two-chord riffs can be great, as black metal or even pop music has proved countless of times, but this doesn't mean they'll be every time, even if it seemed like a good idea to the musician, at the time of inception. Maybe the guitar sound was perfect then but not after, maybe the arrangement or mixing destroyed part of the impact, maybe the musician didn't materialize what was playing in his/her mind, but for whatever reason, the simpler parts of Imperium Dekadenz don't do it for me.

While "Striga" and "Tränen des Bacchus" fortunately bring back the band in pissed-off black metal mode, it would be time for me to break to track-by-review as moments of boredom begun to prevail significantly, with mediocre and cliched riffing destroying whatever impetus was being born. In total, while this has been an interesting experiment in exposing good sides to a band that seemed to me totally limp in a previous record, I still can't say that I changed my mind too much, nor do I understand their overall acceptance. I still don't get a sense of strong identity, but the biggest problem is in their melodicism, which might be only good for the (low) standards of cascadian-style or "depressive" black metal. Ultimately, their strongest merits are the deliverance and the production, things that many classic records did without. Thus, this a record that I would be suggesting to someone only as a 10th or so choice, for whoever is especially fixated on the genre of melodic, atmospheric black metal. That is not to say that I would not be giving another chance to the band though, if they succeed in framing and elaborating the most ambitious parts of "Meadows" in the future.


Παρασκευή, 8 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

Asynja ‎– Through The Misty Air (2007)

I am not at all interested in nationalistic/racialist ideologies and in fact I oppose them whenever they are expressed in a violent manner against people of different race or creed. However, the romanticist conception of European folk culture has been for long, a source of great inspiration in metal and has in fact contributed works of considerable quality to it. I also think that where credit is due where it's due, and that it's hypocritical to ignore manifestations of an opposing ideology, or judge them on a biased mindset. Besides, the fact that I like this speaks something about me. I don't mean that one has to be a closet fascist for liking this album while supposedly disapproving of the message, or that this or any music has some kind of inherent fascist essence. However, I believe that there are always abstract meeting points between creator and listener, even as distant from each other as the extreme ends of the political spectrum are. Basic impulses that might highlight aspects of our psyche we are not consciously aware of, or even bridge gaps that dehumanize the "other", when we discover that these inner common callings are made to conflict only by the temporary fabrics of environment and hermeneutics. 

I first took notice of Asynja in a metal archives thread, where the amazing "Forward into Battle" song had been posted. I honestly haven't heard again such a potent mix of masculine, warrior metal combined with the moderation and mystic, she-sage assuredness of a female vocalist's delivery. The only other example that comes into mind is the great Lordian Guard, while all these 70's hard rock, "occult" or whatever revival bands with female singers never made it for me, as I can't hear any "weight" or importance in their music. The band seems to be a result of a mix between aesthetics of different scenes; although the end result I would call epic metal, I'm not sure how much Manilla Road or Warlord they've listened. Probably the influence comes filtered through pagan/black metal, mixed with the evidently epic leanings of the viking-rock/RAC genre, which obviously is in the backbones of the musicians. So, I wouldn't be surprised if, by adding the influence of the commercial "gothic/female-fronted metal" genre and some power metal, evident in the guitar section, the end result was something of a happy accident.         

It happens sometimes that guitarists with limited technical abilities can overturn their disadvantage; in this case, guitarist and composer Ferox avoids typical chordal or hyper-active rhythmical embellishments of the power metal-style, to concentrate of the melodic flow of his music. The result is, at most, glorious. The riffs hardly deviate from consonant passages of uplifting, solemn character and while this does obviously have the effect of maintaining a mono-dimensional character to the music, at the same time it constructs an emotional consistency that elevates the band beyond most heavy metal, at least the kind of that tries to produce similar epic and deep emotional statements. Economy and wisdom is utilized in the rest of the instrumentation, keys adding just the right amount of atmosphere, tasteful leads/solos (even though they reveal some of the fore-said technical limitations), a sturdy rhythm section and on top, the defining aspect of the band, the vocalists Eva and Maria (yes, there are two singers listed, even though the timbre suggests that one of them is the basic one). Their/her voice hit just the right spot between the allure of an untrained, honest voice and the power of a confident, worked-upon delivery. Even the, at times, unwieldy English pronunciations add to that, I'd say (well, at least for us proponents of barbaric eastern europe metal...)

The opener "Nerthus" belongs to the stronger side of the album, sounding like a cross between epic and "atmospheric" metal that works just fine. Both power and a mystical, fantastical environment is established, as the vocal lines of Eva or Maria or both convey an assertive, wise tone. It is to be expected that the conceptual framework of the album lies in Germanic mythology, as in the ideology of nationalist socialism it is (supposed, at least at the base level..) to contain the crux of the race's collective essence, an atemporal word-of-the-gods that explains both the past and commands the future, eternal and unchanged, like the "blood" of the race is supposed to be. This song narrates the habit of the goddess of fertility, Nerthus, to visit the mortals and endow them with a temporary sense of relief and peacefulness, commanding them to leave the arms untouched in her presence. Then, at some time, she becomes appalled by the imperfection of the mortals around her, and leaves. A simple tale to portray the need of the "female" mindset to alternate with the "masculine" one in the society, so that at least procreation can take place in-between all the pillaging and killing (and raping, but I guess that's just foreign politics). Interestingly, Asynja do not mention the "fascist" aspect of the story, the drowning of the slaves that have witnessed the naked purity of the goddess while washing her clothes in the lake, something that quite interested Vikernes in the "Nerþus' Love" song from Hliðskjálf , where he proclaims that the sacrifice was in fact voluntary (!) and thus, an aspect of the "natural order" of things.

"Doomed" comes with proud, power-metal guitar leads to follow with a darker, anguished section and then.. cuts abruptly after two and a half minutes, just at the moment in had begun to get really interesting. This also happens to the other mid-tier songs of the album, "I Vargtider" and "Let the Valkyrie Ride", that shun exposition in favor of the spartan tendency of punk-styled music to be brief to the point. Here, a greater knowledge of heavy metal music would be of use to the band; while they undoubtedly handle well the technical and aesthetical elements, that doesn't seem to also happen with the structural ones and I suspect that there isn't the same drive to create a "heavy metal opus" as there is in the more traditional, ambitious epic metal acts. This only happens once, in the fore-mentioned opus "Forward into Battle". Graveland-ian, dark keys, melodic, sober female vocals that complement rather than contradict, as the music marches on at its most epic, towards the battle. Here, the lyrics take their most obvious racial stance, as the warriors are called upon to defend the "Germanic soil". Of course, "the golden hall awaits the fallen", the primordial transcendental creed of the traditionalist societies. Your death has a meaning, in that we will always remember and honor you for sacrificing yourself for the community. The individual has no great significance comparing to the collective civilization; this poetic immortality, remembrance, is the best one can attain by oneself. If you were expecting actual hot, iron-clad chicks to pour mead for you all day though, too bad.

"Through the Misty Air", like every other unsung underground gem, does has its pitfalls. "Fadernass Kall" and "Balder the Beautiful" do the predictable mistake of offering the audience exactly what it would except. With girl vocalists, a light heavy metal instrumentation and "pro-white, positive" lyrics (a term used by the ns community to denote there are no hateful, thus bannable contents - calling to war in such contexts, even in a mythological, generalized way is of course hardly innocent) one wouldn't be too far looking for a Nightwish for all-the-white-family. Indeed, these two are basically teen pop/rock anthems with ethereal/folkish overtones (a little experience with the NS scene also reveals that it is the custom of even the most hard boiled, hateful bands to have 2-3 "ballads" in their records). I don't find that Asynja are at their best when at this mode, while at the same time I cannot said I found it a problem to complete listening to these songs (something that happens very often with same-styled tripe offerings from the mainstream scene) mostly due to the consistent use of strong vocal melodies and refrains. It's good background music, these two, but nothing more. The album, however, closes on a very strong note. A cover on a great Blood Axis tune, Lord of the Ages, which was a big reason that I gave a shot at this album. While I thought it would have been impossible for the band to top the authority of perhaps one the greatest vocal narrators around, Michael Moynihan, this fortunately did not deter them. They omit, perhaps wisely though, the first part of the song, but offer a full-of-light version of the second, almost orchestral-sounding with various guitar, synth and vocal lines, marching drums and the female vocals offering a more "child-like", sunny approach to the original (quite fitting anyway, as this song is about Mithras, the "alternative" sun-god of the middle ages).

In conclusion, like a good percentage of extreme right-wing albums that are being appreciated by the mainstream community, there isn't anything inherently pathological or misanthropic in this release. I can find no negatives in the basis of its prideful, cultural self-approval (I'm proud of who I am too, even though I don't like to shove it up on people's asses) and I think the problem lies elsewhere, mostly in the fear-of-reality kind of idealism and the equalization of self-worth and social acceptance through power and conflict, but that's outside of the scope of this review to analyze. There's another aspect of this band that I find interesting and is really striking, is the presence of the band (or best, its absence of it) which is the complete opposite of what we are used to seeing in the heavy metal scene. There is no website, no interviews and no reviews of the album. Even at Stormfront, for ffs, there isn't much talk of the band. Also, at opposite with ambitious heavy metal bands (especially of a similar genre) that spam the hell of out the press and churn out a ton of releases in constant rate, just one, good quality offering had been revealed and taking into consideration it was 6 years ago, perhaps it's also the last. You would tell that with this kind of light-version, good-music racialism some promotion would have been invested in order to elevate the band to mainstream, propaganda status. Instead, the band just plays from time to time in ns festivals, in Sweden or abroad. This is a kind of approach that places the band more in the category of true folk music, where it is intended for internal consumption, to strengthen the community bonds rather than provide world-wide fame and recognition for the musicians. It is an aspect that further elevates the band in my sight. Although this is a record that I'll return to every once in a while (and mostly for about half of the songs) it is well recommended for the restless seekers of epic music of any genre.