LIKE THE END RECORDS, NAPALM RECORDS SEEMS TO SPECIALIZE IN A PARTICULAR BRAND OF METAL. OTHER LABELS TEND TO DIVERSIFY. AT THE SAME TIME, THERE IS A LOT OF VARIETY IN THEIR RELEASES. I FIND MYSELF LIKING THE MAJORITY OF THESE RELEASES. DID I SAY "LIKING"? I MEAN LOVING. THIS IS SOME OF THE BEST OUT THERE TODAY.

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Updated 10/20/01

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ABIGOR

“Satanized: A Journey Through Cosmic Infinity” (8 tracks. 41:44).

Few if any other Black Metal bands have ten albums under their belts as Abigor does. They certainly outflank Mayhem whose nearly twenty year history—almost twice that of Abigor!—have produced only about four studio releases by my count, and about as many live albums. Yet Abigor remain one of those bands who are infamous in some circles and unknown in others. Unless I am mistaken, there is a real paucity of coverage of this band. But perhaps that will change.

As for myself, I am no expert on Abigor, I only have their two most recent releases. And yet, from these two releases I am fairly certain I will seek out the others. But let me in the meantime explain this latest release in the context of the wider Black Metal scene. First off, there is a focus on this album on insane tempos and technical guitar playing. Fans of Blasphemer era Mayhem and Aura Noir will immediately approve of Abigor’s music. This is true both in the guitar and drums section. Secondly, while a good deal of the guitar work is technical riffing, there is a fair amount of melodic playing, both the typical single-note Black Metal style, and also the more traditional style. This, along with the more futuristic artwork/storyline brings Bal Sagoth to mind, though Abigor’s music is much more diverse than BS. Keyboards also play a much smaller role in Abigor. But then the keyboards, where they exist, along with some clean singing, bring Emperor to mind. In fact, there is a riff in track five, “Luminescence of Darkness”, that I believe is intentionally taken from “Curse Ye All Men”. It could be a coincidence, but the chances of that seem small to me since the song is so well known. Finally, an occasional thrash riff will emerge on this album that makes you feel the urge to start moshing around the room. I’m thinking particularly of “Battlestar Abigor”. But it doesn’t end there. Abigor also has some slow, atmospheric, spacey sounding sections too. To sum, it is a very diverse record with parallels to Mayhem, Emperor, Bal Sagoth, and more, though comparisons do not necessarily mean that they sound exactly like those bands. Comparisons are only aids to the uninitiated listener. So, while Abigor has become a veteran band in more ways than many more recognizable bands, and aside from the fact that Abigor seems like the band who has the adolescent need to use the word “satan” in all their album titles (this one could be called “Satan in Space”!), it is really a symphonic epic, a technical, marvel and diverse piece of work.

Abigor

“In Memory” (5 tracks. 24:39).

Well, I’ve been waiting a long time to hear this infamous cult Black Metal band from Austria. Ironically, this being their 9th release, it may be hard for me to really get a feel for this band. Two of the five tracks are cover tunes originally contributed to tribute albums on Dwell Records (sigh). The opening track is a fine rendition of one of my favorite Kreator songs, “Terrible Certainty”. Abigor handles this tune in a way that satisfies me and even add some appropriate sounding samples at beginning and end. They do something similar with Slayer’s “Crionics”, only it is not a song I care much for, and so it doesn’t do much for me. Next is a re-recorded track from their original demo called “Shadowlord”. It is a very good, albeit cold and violent sounding Black Metal tune. The guitar work is complex and the tortured vocals are straight out of a dungeon somewhere. Next comes “Crimson Horizons”, something of a Black Metal blizzard crossed with some progressive elements, a very intriguing tune. If this is what the four-track version sounds like, I’d really like to hear how it sounds on “Opus IV”, the album it was recorded for. Finally, the CD ends with Verwustung, an instrumental of sorts. Once again, the music is a blizzard of sound; technical, semi-melodic, and heavy. In conclusion, what this CD has done is pique my curiosity. I am very interested in hearing a full studio album from this band. Fans of the more chaotic forms of Black Metal, bands like Nokturnal Mortum, Nifelheim, and the like, will go for Abigor, if this CD is any indication of their sound. For collectors, die-hard fans, and the musically curious.

BELPHEGOR

“Necrodaemon Terrorsathan” (9 tracks. 35:31).

In a contest for who has the evilest, most offensive lyrics, I believe Belphegor of Austria--not to be confused with Belfegor of Poland—beats Marduk hands down. They may even have a leg up on the Ukraine’s Nokturnal Mortum in terms of genocidal overtones. Funny thing is, no matter how offensive the lyrics may be to Christians—honestly, I don’t take the lyrics any more seriously than I do GWARs!—someone is going to say I have no right to criticize what they write. That, of course, is a double standard and a sign of genuine hypocrisy. But honestly, lyrics that talk about killing Christians, or any group for that matter, could land these guys into some serious trouble. I imagine that is why they don’t give the last names of the band members. Regardless, they probably are writing such lyrics in order to appeal to a certain crowd knowing that they are relatively safe in their anonymity. They are uttering hatred towards a group that practically doesn’t even know of their existence.

Musically Belphegor draw immediate comparisons to several black death metal bands like Damnation (Pol) as well as bands like Hate Eternal and Morbid Angel. Their music is over the top, high speed grinding metal with blast beats galore. The production and musicianship is quite good. But certainly this is one of the most extreme, if not THE most extreme metal album ever to be released on Napalm Records.

Darkwell

“Suspiria” (10 tracks. 46:49).

Napalm has found a band that fits loosely in a category with The Sins of Thy Beloved and Tristania that doesn’t sound anything like them. As a matter of fact, Darkwell are as fresh and different from those bands as they are comparably talented. I immediately liked it, and on the second day of listening I let it play three times before going on to something else. Darkwell’s sound, in my opinion, is all about atmosphere and movement. The music is clearly designed for this effect as they create a wall of guitars which varies from pulsating rhythm to catchy, moving riffs. The drums are very Metal oriented and there is plenty of double bass activity. Nevertheless, Moritz Neuner seems to understand the role of drummer as timekeeper and his work is a contribution to the overall sound, not a hindrance. But of course the melodic and symphonic aspect of this band comes from the keyboards. Occasionally they even sound like a church organ. But as well as the music entrances the listener, everything is subjected to Alexandra Pittracher’s vocals. Her voice is angelic, pleading. Perhaps comparing Darkwell to The Gathering is appropriate, only remember that Darkwell are much heavier with a more somber or morose mood. Thematically this CD seems to be telling the story of a soul that “descends” into Hell. The title track, “Suspiria”, come from a poem of that same title by Henry J. Longfellow. “Suspiria” is a very entrancing CD.

Dominion

“The Hand and the Sword” (9 tracks. 42:31).

Don’t let the cool album cover fool you, this is not a Norwegian/Viking Metal album. Instead, it is an industrial album with Norwegian influences. It happens to be the side project of Tharen and Elisabeth of Dargaard, a band that I have not yet heard. Anyway, with the exception of track 2, “The Angel’s Delusion”, the music on this album is dark industrial with leanings towards Darkwave/dark ambient. “The Delusion of the Angel”, on the other hand, does have guitars and vocals. The vocals are the gruff Black Metal style and the female la la’s the melody sweetly over the music. Much of the music, like the tune “Immortal Rain” brings to mind such Dark Ambient projects as Caul. Here the singing is soft with Elisabeth in the forefront. This music is especially good for those times when you are tired and want to hear something soothing. Other titles include, “The Machine’s Drea”, “With the Strength of Aeons”, and “Tempus Fugit”. Perhaps some Black Metal purists will not like this CD but they will miss out on some cool mood music.

Forlorn

“Opus III: Ad Caelestis Res” (8 tracks. 42:08).

Juxtaposition is a keyword to appreciate this CD for the masterpiece it is. Of all the varieties of Black and Norwegian Metal out there today, few bands combine disparate elements so well as Forlorn. What am I talking about? How about the combination of the cold dungeon style vocals bands like Nokturnal Mortum and Darkthrone are noted for combined with baritone and harmony vocals such as Emperor and Arcturus are noted for? In fact, Arcturus are an excellent comparison for Forlorn. How about the combination of fast, deadly Black Metal guitar playing combined with the more rhythmic, progressive Norwegian/Viking style of playing. What I mean is this: Forlorn’s music combines Black Metal and Viking Metal by bringing both ends of the spectrum to the middle. Some songs are 900 miles per hour and cold, while others are majestic and almost operatic. But most of them are a combination of the two. Included are the merry-go-round keyboard flourishes that bands like Old Man’s Child, Dimmu Borgir, and Emperor are known for. Occasionally the keyboardist even gets the spotlight and plays some very interesting organ style music. It seems to me that this keyboardist is probably trained in—dare I say it?—church music. You know, pipe organ music (Bach was the original Heavy Metal keyboardist). And it all works quite well, in my opinion. I read a few other reviews concerning this album that were kind of mediocre and I am amazed by that. My feeling is that those reviewers didn’t recognize what I feel to be the genius of this album: the marriage of opposing styles of Black Metal. In any event, I am thrilled by this release.

HOLLENTHON

“With Vilest of Worms to Dwell” (8 tracks. ).

If you have heard Hollenthon’s debut release, Domus Mundi, you know you to expect great things with their sophomore release. As expected, there are no disappointments with this album; Martin Schirenc (music) and wife Elena (lyrics) have penned eight more songs of metallic greatness. And while With Vilest of Worms to Dwell is as complex and symphonic in its arrangements as Domus Mundi, it needs to be stated that neither album sounds like the other. Whereas the first contained a broad range of sounds and musical themes, this new one seems heavier and more guitar-oriented. Imagine what Therion would sound like today if they had maintained their heaviness while progressing musically, and you get a clear idea of what this latest masterpiece from Hollenthon sounds like. It’s a bargain at any price.

HOLLENTHON

“With Vilest of Worms to Dwell” (8 tracks. ).

If you have heard Hollenthon’s debut release, Domus Mundi, you know you to expect great things with their sophomore release. As expected, there are no disappointments with this album; Martin Schirenc (music) and wife Elena (lyrics) have penned eight more songs of metallic greatness. And while With Vilest of Worms to Dwell is as complex and symphonic in its arrangements as Domus Mundi, it needs to be stated that neither album sounds like the other. Whereas the first contained a broad range of sounds and musical themes, this new one seems heavier and more guitar-oriented. Imagine what Therion would sound like today if they had maintained their heaviness while progressing musically, and you get a clear idea of what this latest masterpiece from Hollenthon sounds like. It’s a bargain at any price.

Hollenthon

“Domus Mundi” (8 tracks. 45:12).

Once again I find myself associating the word “refreshing” with a band signed to Napalm Records. Hollenthon seems to combine the symphonic elements of Therion’s “Theli” album with the brutality of Death Metal, plus the bombastic power of Black Metal bands like Emperor. But that’s not all. Were it not so heavy, one might expect to find this release in the “World Music” section of your local store. The best example in my opinion is the song “Homage – Magne Nominis Umbra”, which is translated, “The Shadow of a Great Name” (thanks to wife and lyricist Elena Schirenc for the translation). This song begins with a familiar musical theme from, I think, the New World Symphony, but is blended with a very oriental sounding theme. It is a musical mixture equivalent to Schopenhauer’s philosophy. It contains both Martin Schirenc’s gruff vocals (a la Pungent Stench) and also some clean, choir singing. I guess he has doubled his voice here. The guitars play a riff-oriented melody, but there is also the sound of an oriental instrument, no doubt sampled on a very expensive keyboard, for it sounds very convincing. This song is indicative of what you will hear in the other 7 tracks on this disc. But in contrast, no two songs sound anything alike. Instead, you’ll find all sorts of combinations of instrumentation and melody. The key word here is “syncretism”; meaning the blending of disparate elements into a harmonious ideal. Here the music is the most diverse, and yet unified music ever put out in the realm of Heavy Metal. One finds all sorts of melodies, some new, some familiar spread throughout. You hear the synthesized stringed instruments—which actually sound quite good—as well as some other instruments like bagpipes, flutes, and so on. Needless to say, were it released in 2000 I would have definitely put on as the album of the year. But as it was released in Europe in 1999, I’d have to go back and say it was the album of 1999. A final word: if you love this album, Elena Shirenc says, “wait till you hear the follow up!” She is rightly proud.

LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE

“Burning: A Wish” (10 tracks. 45:05).

Lacrimas Profundere, which means something like “gushing tears” or “to weep profusely”, are a powerful band that plays some dark, very emotional metal. Listening to Burning: A Wish reminds me of several of my favorite albums. I’m talking about My Dying Bride’s “Angel and the Dark River” and its successor “Like Gods of the Sun”. In fact, those two albums are by far the closest comparison. But it also makes me think of Opeth, though they are not so heavy as Opeth, and something like Katatonia. You talk about an album which drips with atmosphere, this one is like a dark virtual reality world. Just close your eyes and you’ll be caught up in the mood. Also, the production job is above par. The sonics on this CD are so clear that even the crustiest of audiophiles would be proud to listen to it. Which means, in case you didn’t know it, I seriously enjoy listening to this album. I can’t think of a whole lot more to say about it except that while some albums are cool to listen to, this one is a real pleasure.

Mactatus

“The Complex Bewitchment” (8 tracks. 38:18).

Mactatus has a very exciting album here. It is very powerful Black Metal with crystal clear production. As I listen to it I fancy it as being a cross between Emperor’s latest and mid-career Samael. There is a real affinity with both styles here. First, there is no mistaking that Mactatus are a Black Metal band. The vocals, similar in sound to Galder of Old Man’s Child, are screechy screems set above a solid base of crunchy guitar rhythms and pulsing keyboard flourishes. Come to think of it, The Complex Bewitchment has some real close musical parallels with OMC’s “Ill Natured Spiritual Invasion”. Perhaps that is why I was so taken with this album. The word “powerful” keeps popping into my head. The song “Speak the Words of the Wind” is a really cool one with good samples too. The only real complaint here is that the album is too short. Lyrically Mactatus are not for the weak as the lyrics could be labeled “satanic”, though I would be surprised if they are serious about the lyrics. As a matter of fact, I’m still trying to understand the line “I saw Jesus playing with the Gods”. Oh well, be that as it may, if you aren’t offended by the lyrics or the artwork, you will certainly dig the music.

Siebenburgen

“Delictum” (11 tracks. 69:33).

These Swedish vampires have whipped up a platter of Gothic laced Black Metal with some Bathory influenced vocals. The overall sound is Black Metal, not unlike label mates Mactatus with some very clear guitar, fast drumming, and ethereal female vocals floating over the top. The guitars oscillate between fast Black Metal riffing to playing melody, but the real melody is maintained throughout by the female singing. Unlike The Sins of Thy Beloved, the female does little of the lyric singing and just concentrates on vocalizing the melody. The result is a marriage of the beautiful and the aggressive. Siebenburgen certainly give you your money’s worth with almost 70 minutes worth of atmospheric music (their name comes from an older European word for either Transylvania or Romania). The CD ends with a hidden track, a cover of WASP’s “Animal”. They do a great job with it. Martin Luther is quoted as having said, “sin boldly.” Siebenburgen say, “never regret thy sins, praise them, embrace them . . .”

The Sins of Thy Beloved

“Perpetual Desolation” (9 tracks. 62:15).

Music like this was anticipated by the likes of Celestial Season. But where bands like My Dying Bride, Amorphis, and Paradise Lost have gone wrong, groups like The Sins of Thy Beloved have gone right. The former bands mentioned are pioneers in the genre of Gothic Metal that have gone too far in their endless drive for “progression”. The fans get a little weary of this and the music becomes stale. Why can’t they leave a good thing alone!? Well, then come along bands like we find on the Napalm label: The Sins of Thy Beloved, Tristania, and others. The newer bands seem to have a better idea of what we want. Yes, they begin with something of a Death Metal base and then embellish it with keyboards, female vocals, violins, and such, but they never seem to confuse synthesis (the mixing of styles) with commercializing. With that in mind, we now turn our attention to this very engrossing new album by The Sins of Thy Beloved, “Perpetual Desolation”.

Though TSOTB should rightfully be categorized with Tristania, there are some key differences. For beginners, the male vocals are more Black Metal sounding, and the female vocals more frequent. The female singer is very sassy too, and often erotic sounding. Another key difference is that while the violins embellish the music for Tristania, they are one of the main melody instruments for TSOTB. This is an initial observation, though, and may not be correct. The only solution to that is to listen repeatedly to both groups, which will be cool. The final difference that I notice is a very subtle one for TSOTB, but a very great one; I’m referring to the use of keyboards. Not only do the keyboards support the overall sound of the music, but at times the keyboards take over and the songs bleed into the Gothic Industrial category. When this happens, like in the opening track, “The Flame of Wrath”, I am reminded of a very fine Swedish group called Sanctum (Cold Meat Industry). The Industrial parts are not harsh, but are atmospheric. More than any other Metal band that does, TSOTB are successful in pulling it off. Finally, this album ends with a very cool rendition of Metallica’s “The Thing that Should Not Be”, which I think is cooler than the original. I’m very impressed with CD and I intend to hear more TSOTB.

THY INFERNAL

“Warlords of Hell” (7 tracks. 44:27).

Fast and brutal are two appropriate words for describing this steaming slab of American Black/Death Metal. Fans of the Black/Death mix, i.e., those who might be into similar bands from Sweden like Battlelust , or Polish bands like Hate and Belfegor, will definitely want to add this one to their collection. Other bands that come to mind for comparison are Bloodthorn (NOR) and perhaps Immortal (NOR). Their musical formula is hyper fast tempos, blast beat drums, melodic leadwork, gritty vocals, and some ultra-heavy thrash/death riffs. As to image and lyric, Thy Infernal go for the Immortal and Marduk sort of bad ass attitude. Corpse paint, the flames of Hell, and impaled bodies make up the visuals. Lyrically they are going for the sort of medieval fantasy themes that no one takes too seriously (I suspect they’ll find that the real “Hell” is a letdown!). But all the visuals, the lyrics, and the brutal music make “Warlords of Hell” a one way roller coaster ride straight to perdition. Not for the weak!

Trail of Tears

“Profoundemonium” (11 tracks).
In my mind Trail of Tears represent what My Dying Bride could have been. They are basically a Gothic Death Metal band. Their overall sound is quite heavy while reserving the right to get mellow from time to time. Imagine “As the Flower Withers” crossed with “Like Gods of the Sun” and you might get an idea of what I’m talking about. The male vocalist, Ronny, sounds a lot like Aaron from MDB when he sings gruffly. Occasionally though, like on the song “In Frustration’s Web”, he does a convincing version of Nick Holmes from the early days of Paradise Lost. And Cathrine, the female vocalist, sings a bit of soprano and does the ethereal “ah, ahhs” from time to time. It is a sound that is at once familiar and yet somewhat distinct to this band. Unlike Tristania and Sins of thy Beloved, there are no violins here or choir sections. So in a way they seem a bit more aggressive than their label mates in the same general category. And it seems more than a coincidence to me that Trail of Tears has some similarities to the early days English Gothic Death bands like My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. They are in fact, a combination of the two styles (i.e., the Norwegians Gothic Metal bands and the English Gothic Death bands).

TRISTANIA

“World of Glass” (10 tracks. 60:37 ).

That I came to really appreciate Tristania when I heard Beyond the Veil would not surprise too many people. With that album Tristania distinguished themselves as a better than average band. But as it goes with bands that earn such a distinction, you wait with mixed feelings for their next album. You wonder, will it be as good? Will it be a disappointment? Or will it sound like a repeat of the previous album? Well, I was prepared to be pleased or to be disappointed, but I was not prepared to get blown away. And that is exactly what happened. No matter how awesome I thought Beyond the Veil to be, World of Glass has simply surpassed that album in coolness. For one thing, this album has more of an air of urgency and intensity. The music is utterly powerful. Secondly, while the finer aspects are still there—violind, choirs, male/female vocals, etc.—World of Glass adds a stronger industrial element without sacrificing their character. At times the keyboards double the intensity of the music, not soften it. All this said, World of Glass has its calmer moments, but quality is never sacrificed, and even in those moments Tristania seems powerful. Some bands just have it. They are more than just skilled musicians, because some of the most talented of musicians can be boring. No, these guys have the ability to transcend themselves again and again and create awesome songs. I will definitely be thinking of this album when I try and pick an album of the year.

Tristania

“Beyond the Veil” (10 tracks. 52:17).

Like so many of you, I get tired of people who say that it takes no talent to play Heavy Metal. I’ve long stopped trying to reason with such “pea-brained” people. But sometimes I think if they could just hear groups like Tristania they would forever keep their ignorant mouths shut. But then again . . . ignorance is not easily overcome, is it?

In my opinion Tristania lives up to their reputation for being a phenomenal blend of both beauty and brutality. To call them Gothic Metal might be accurate but I think it falls short of describing this band’s incredible sound. I feel this way because Gothic generally tends to be very repetitive and commercial. Gothic songs usually last in the 3-5 minute range. Here we have a band with a Metal mentality similar to bands like Therion (“Theli” era) and My Dying Bride (“Angel and the Dark River” era, though not as depressive) with a measure of Black Metal thrown in. Present are the combination of gruff male vocals and clean baritone male vocals, female choirs, chunky riffs and smooth melodies, some great fiddle/violin playing, and a few other instruments. Having these elements are one thing, lots of bands do these days. But few of those bands are as elegant as Tristania. Maybe even Therion needs to bow to Tristania. Again, let me emphasize the word “Metal” here. Tristania are NOT an ethereal band likely to devolve into some sickening shadow of Pink Floyd (a la Anathema). They are firmly rooted in Metal. One gets the impression that any number of the group’s members are well-trained musicians, and not just some kids who wanted to play loud music. While the masses may not be able to fathom what Tristania represent, we musical elitists will continue to revel in their greatness.

Vintersorg

“Cosmic Genesis” (9 tracks. 50:20 ).

Were it a fluke we would have known it by now. But as it is, it is not a fluke. After an E.P. and two full lengths, Vintersorg comes at us once again with some fresh and deeply satisfying Nature Metal. I use the term “Nature Metal” because while it sounds similar to Black Metal in the vein of Arcturus at times, it really lacks the occultic overtones. I don’t call it Viking Metal because it doesn’t really make use of Viking themes, although Till Fjalls and Odenmarkens Son may be construed that way. And finally, I don’t call it Norwegian Metal because he is from Sweden. I think Nature Metal sums it all up quite well.

I have the feeling that Vintersorg is a young man talented beyond his years as this album, like the others, display a vast resource of creative talent that is shown in his musicianship as well as his dynamic voice. As a painter Vintersorg paints a broad canvas. As a sculpture of tunes, he finely chisels each detail, creating a lifelike work of art. And with these talents Vintersorg has effectively captured the beauty and mystery of God’s grand universe and put it into song. This time he lets us even hear him singing in English on a few tracks. With these English lyrics Vintersorg is likely to greatly expand his listening audience, perhaps even get to tour the States. Most notable are the songs “Astral and Arcane”, “A Dialogue with the Stars”, and “Cosmic Genesis”. Finally, the album ends with a very stirring and quiet tune, “The Enigmatic Spirit”. It is simply beautiful. Cosmic Genesis is definitely one of the most significant Metal releases of recent memory.

Vintersorg

“Odenmarkens Son” (9 tracks. 44:02 )

Somewhere between the lighter melodic style of the Finnish bands and the heavier, more riff-oriented Norwegian style is this Swedish sound which is best described as Scandinavian Folk Metal. Imagine a cross between Amorphis or Sentenced and Enslaved and you have Vintersorg. True to the Swedish stereotype, Vintersorg are a band of exceptional musicians who combine very folk oriented tunes with shredding guitar solos. There is no attempt here to sound like Yngwe, mind you. Vintersorg are too serious and dramatic for his more playful flair. They don’t “show off” on this record, they just make serious musical compositions. The use of keyboards, nylon string guitar, various strings for embellishment in the background, and some very dramatic clean vocals make this band sound like a modern Metal version of Wagner. As a matter of fact, “dramatic” is the perfect descriptive word for Vintersorg. This is further emphasized by the fact that all the songs are sung in Swedish. As you listen to these songs you feel the urge to be carried away by both its beauty and its sense of urgency. This is especially noticeable on my favorite tune “Offerbacken”. Vintersorg sound like a troup of seasoned musicians with their ability to use dynamics in their music. The have a real sense for appropriateness. And further, they sound like a band that makes music for their own enjoyment, and not for the sake of cashing in on someone else’s success. Even so, they deserve to be heard. I’m going to place this CD in the running for album of the year.

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