DARK SYMPHONIES
box 547
Billerica, MA 01821
USA

E-mail: darksympho@aol.com

Website: Dark Symphonies Website"

Arise from Thorns

“Before and Audience of Stars” (14 tracks. 67:32).
Dark Symphonies continues to expand the boundaries of what “dark” music really is. Perhaps in the case of Arise from the Thorns the term “dark” refers more to the ethereal or numinous rather than the ominous. Arise from Thorns is not dark in the same Baroque/Gothic sense as Autumn Tears, nor doomy like November’s Doom, nor atmospheric in the same way as Corvus Corax. Instead, Arise from Thorns, despite the impression their name may suggest to you, are actually something more like an alternative band. Perhaps even like a softer version of the Gathering. In fact, the more I think about it, the more a comparison to the Gathering seems appropriate. Michelle Loose fills the light soaring music with her steady vocals and lilting lyrics. Acoustic guitars accented with clean electric guitars provide the foundation while the keyboards rise and fall. The bass playing of Chris Welborn reminds one of a jazz bassist; he certainly knows what a note a chord is made of! But understand that this is easy listening and not to be confused with “hard music” just because it is on the same label as some Metal bands. Every Metal head, no matter how cool they are, enjoy some relaxing music from time to time. Here is some relaxing music with that same non-commercial approach that draws us to Metal.

Corvus Corax

“The Atavistic Triad” (5 tracks. 44:18). DARK SYMPHONIES.

After the first listen I decided that this was going to be one of my favorite Atmospheric Metal albums. In less than five minutes Corvus Corax take you from some Mortiis-like medieval ambient music to a very majestic Dark Metal sound. Of course, the first song is over 15 minutes long, so the cycle repeats itself a few times. Talk about epic! There are only 5 tracks on this CD and it lasts for a total of 44 minutes and 18 seconds!

To whom should I compare this? Well, somewhere I read a comparison to Burzum, but being the rookie that I am, I cannot confirm or deny this. However, I think Agalloch and Enslaved with a touch of Vintersorg provide a fair and balanced comparison. Let me tell you, I could listen to this kind of Metal 24/7. It is dark, brooding, majestic, and spiritual in a way. Acoustic guitars, keyboards, and some folksy instruments accent what is an otherwise Majestic Black Metal album. This is the sort of Black Atmospheric Metal that feels no need for speed or hatefulness, but is moody and contemplative. The vocals are sometimes hissing and sometimes baritone like Enslaved/Forlorn vocals. Melody exists from time to time, and balanced with rhythm and a strong sense of dynamics. The overall picture is musical perfection. Perhaps the most interesting song is track 2, “Terminus Est”, which clocks in over 10 minutes long. “Sojourn” is the shortest track and is a very ambient and reflective track featuring some female wailing here and there. By “wailing” I mean mournful singing, not words. On “Mystagogue” the vocals are very Enslaved-like with screeches, yelling, and baritone. The themes are somewhat pantheistic with titles like “Son of the Earth”, and mystical with titles like “Sojourn” and “Mystagogue”.

While I am a big fan of this music I feel compelled to say one negative thing. It is my understanding that these guys—gypsies that they are—“borrowed” car batteries to get to a gig when their alternator went out. I disapprove of that behavior no matter how good the music is. Maybe you don’t think that kind of moralizing belongs in a review, but it’s MY ZINE! Anyway, the music is supreme.

Long Winter’s Stare

“The Tears of Odin’s Fallen” (7 tracks. 62:16).

I listen to LWS and I hear a dark, atmospheric Metal band with elements of Death Metal, but that description is not entirely right. I guess I feel that the term Death Metal too often implies blast beats razor blade vocals. Not so here. The tempos this band uses, along with the pianos and female vocals, might lead one to think of them as Gothic. But in reality, I think the male vocals, along with the guitars, clearly push this band closer to the Death Metal mark. Interestingly, the production favors the mood more than the instruments. I take this as intentional. It is almost as if LWS’s music is meant to be ambient. The vocals soar high above the somewhat muffled sound of the instruments. The instruments rarely sound like individuals and more often sound like one unified sound. Vocally, it seems that this band likes to use dissonance. The opening track, “In the Hall of Odin”, begins with vocal and musical dissonance, and that dissonance is never resolved. “The Last Call” is a very interesting tune which features vocals and piano a lot, and some very interesting music it is. The bottom line with this band is that they will not remind you of too many other bands out there. The best comparison I can come up with would be early Anathema, but even that is not entirely accurate. Sadly, this album, their third, will also be their last as they have broken up.

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL

“Bath” (10 tracks. 61:02) and “Leaving Your Body Map” (10 tracks. 61:02 ).

If you thought MotW’s debut album, My Fruit Psychobells . . . A Seed Combustible, stretched the boundaries of extreme music, you haven’t heard anything yet. Nothing can prepare you for listening to these two albums. One wonders if all the music here—the dreamy smooth passages, the heavy grinding sections, and the progressive/jazzy sections—are simply the cutting and pasting of various musical recordings, or if it was all completely thought out in advance. And yet, all the music is played so consistently and seamlessly that it seems as if this band actually does intend for it to sound this way. On the one hand, there is nothing musically here you haven’t heard elsewhere, it is just the combination of such disparate styles that makes these releases so odd. The nearest musical comparison I can make to them would be Sculpture (The End Records). But the whole thing is confounding. How does this band do it? And how do they come up with some of their titles and lyrics? Blake is mentioned as one inspiration. Further, what is behind this artwork? One wonders if this is all randomness or intentionality, or both. If you look for patterns you may find them, but then you wonder if this is not some gestalt of your own mind, something other than what MotW intended. Or maybe what they intended was just that, your mind to form its own concepts from these elements. (Perhaps if I had more time I could actually devote more time to deciphering these enigmas!) Needless to say, there are at least two things to keep in mind when listening to Bath and Leaving Your Body Map: One: keep your mind free from expectations or you’ll go insane. Two: don’t let anything about these releases surprise you. One last suggestion: don’t listen to them in your car, listen to it at home in a room where you have few distractions. Finally, if you are looking for the unusual, perhaps bizarre, in your music, or if you are simply looking for a challenge, you cannot go wrong with Maudlin of the Well. Oh yeah, I checked, both CD’s have the same number of tracks and are the same length!

November’s Doom

“The Knowing” (12 tracks. 63:40).

My cousin raved to me about this group a couple of years ago. Now I know why. November’s Doom may be one of the most musically adept Metal bands in existence. One thing is firm in my mind, they possess a very rare talent. On the one hand they play with a great deal of finesse and beauty, on the other hand they also play with a great deal of power and aggression. They have crafted 12 very diverse and well polished tunes which have moments of breath taking beauty counterbalanced with sheer power. “Awaken” begins the CD with a sort of melancholy and reserved tone which intensifies slightly with the next two tunes, “Harmony Divine” and “Shadows of Light”. “Intervene” begins and once again we become calm and still. But be careful with this tune. You may get so caught up in the quiet simplicity of this acoustic guitar piece that you might not realize what a musician the person is who wrote it. Some bands put in acoustic pieces where a guy hits a couple of strings on an acoustic guitar. No so with this tune. It is a real composition by an educated musician. This much is undeniable. Next comes the best tune of the album, "Silent Tomorrow". Though it isn’t necessarily in the exact middle, this is the tune which I think the album hinges on. It is a perfect blend of acoustic beauty, spoken vocals and then heavy “wall of sound” guitars and growl. Each song which follows is similar and reaches an emotional climax in the song “Last God” which is the most intense song I’ve heard since “ on Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium album. Then the album unwinds with “In Memories Past” which has some beautiful female vox, “The Day I Return” which has some beautiful piano, and then “Aura Blue”, a last shot at intensity. But that’s not all, the CD actually ends with a remix of “Silent Tomorrow” which is also cool. Friends, it is the end of 2000 but I may just have to say that this album is a serious contender for album of the year.

I am very intrigued by the lyrics on this album. They sound rather positive, but I suspect that there is a note of existentialism here. In any case, the lyrics fit the music like a glove making this one of the most musically perfect albums I own. And you know what? It may be Japanese of them, but they have taken someone else’s product and improved upon it. ND sound a lot like some great British bands, i.e., My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and especially like Ashen Mortality. But November’s Doom seems to have created a much more satisfying product than the aforementioned bands have done. But while those other bands feel constrained to alter their sound into something more commercially accessible, November’s Doom are clearly focused on Metal. And while the comparison’s stick, it should be argued that November’s Doom sound like their own band. Bottom line: you’d be a fool not to get it!

Rain Fell Within

“Believe” (5 tracks. 37:53). DARK SYMPHONIES.

Rain Fell Within are another very atmospheric band on the impressive Dark Symphonies label. The overall mood of this album is somber, but the music is actually very uplifting. The vocals are handled by Dawn, whom I believe is an opera quality vocalist. Her soprano voice is clear, strong, and very beautiful. She is what makes the music of RFW a cut above many other similar bands. She, of course, also plays keyboards quite well. When she sings “I see your face as they carry you away. Now you are gone and I am all alone,” your heart wants to weep with her. This is the overall type of mood this great CD creates. Like French Existentialism, RFW’s lyrics and vocals scream passionately, albeit in vain, for meaning in a world that seems to be devoid of meaning (this isn’t my viewpoint, just the viewpoint of French Existentialism). The title song, “Believe,” is an example of this. One wonders if Camus, Sartre, or de Bouvior would have enjoyed this music .

Okay, what about the rest of the music, right? Well, the music oscillates between moments of sheer power and quiet reflection. The powerful moments have the guitars, drums, and bass playing hyper-speed melodies, the quiet parts are accented by melodic keyboards. As I have said in other reviews of this kind of Metal, I could listen to it all day long. Flawless production top off this high quality release. The only problem with it is that it is too short and leaves you hungry for more. Fans of Tristania and The Sins of Thy Beloved as well as fans of Agalloch will likely fawn over this.

WITHOUT FACE

“Deep Inside” (7 tracks. 35:02).

Would it sound very “unmetal” if I said how “delighted” I am by this CD? More and more I am hearing these kind of bands emerging from Eastern Europe. Almost immediately, and repeatedly, I find myself comparing this Hungarian band to Love History from the Czech Republic. Both bands are made up of dual guitars, keyboards, male and female vocals, and some very progressive dark metal. But while this may sound like a description of a gothic metal band, I assure you that the term “gothic” would be a misnomer. WF is definitely a metal outfit. So my choice of descriptives for the music, then, is progressive dark metal. I think that fits quite well.

For lyrical inspiration, Without Face draw from Poe, Lovecraft, and Longfellow. Always a good choice, don’t you think? Anyway, it is my understanding that this domestic release of “Deep Inside” is only to introduce the U.S. to this band which has already been established in the U.S. They will be recording their second album specifically to be released on Dark Symphonies sometime soon. And may I say, what a pleasure it is to listen to this awesome band. I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

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