There is a lot of great Heavy Metal in Italy that the rest of the world knows little about. At the heart of the Italian scene is NORTHERN DARKNESS.
NORTHERN DARKNESS WEBSITE
ALL CD's $10. Send well hidden cash to:
NORTHERN DARKNESS RECORDS
v. San Quintino, 44
I am now even more convinced that the world can no longer ignore the Italian Metal scene! This album should have been in the running for “Best Album of 1999”, but wasn’t even considered because the Metal world at large know almost nothing about the Italian scene. What a shame! Fans of clean Swedish Death Metal like In Flames or some of the more esoteric American bands like Sculptured and Scholomance will fawn over Ancestral Stigmata. I was so surprised when hearing this because the cover art isn’t that exciting. But the music is way cool. Like I said, the guitars are mixed like the Swedish Death bands, the vocals and drums are clearly distinguishable. Riff and rhythm are important, but the guitars are very melodic at times. Even more, Ancestral Stigmata occasionally meander off the Metal path and play some really cool mello jazzy moments like America’s Sculptured (The End Records). They mix up the tempos and time signatures for a truly “musically correct” album. Keyboards exist in a few key places and they sound wonderful, even introspective. Sometimes the vocalist will stop growling and sing some baritone vocals like many of the Scandinavian folk bands do. “Spirit” is one of the most musically diverse and complete albums I’ve heard in a while. I guarantee that if you are a fan of the other bands mentioned in this review, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good this band is. We’ve got to let the rest of the world know how great they are. They could certainly go far with some exposure. I give this album a perfect score and regret it didn’t get “Album of 1999”. Hey, for $10 you can’t go wrong!
Arkenemy are a very talented band with some great songs. The heaviness of this record and the gruff vocals definitely puts it in the Death Metal section, but the absence of blastbeats and grind puts them closer in sound to the Swedish Death bands than the American ones. There is a real sense in which one could simply call this "Heavy Metal" without getting any more specific. Anyway, the guitar playing is a pleasure to listen to as Eliana (yes, a girl!) and Udo play some really triumphant sounding riffs. Speed is not the issue here, but finesse. These two guitarists are in no hurry with their playing, the tempos are very mid-paced. The lead work is great and fits the music well. And finally, Arkenemy seem to have enough musical ideas for 8 great songs. The group even gets quiet and atmospheric at times, especially on "Imandra Lake". All in all, I think it is a cool cd.
This e.p. is a great start for this Italian band. Their sound clearly reflects the influences listed in their liner notes (e.g., In Flames). However, the subject matter is much more poetic and esoteric. One might imagine a mixture of In Flames with My Dying Bride. Certainly the artwork and lyrics bring "As the Flower Withers" to mind. The vocals, however, remind me of the singer for The Haunted. In other words, Fields of Asphodel are an interesting and enjoyable combination of Metal styles.
Handful of Hate are another one of Northern Darkness’ violent Black Metal bands. I wonder why the fans of Marduk, Immortal, Nifelheim, and old Mayhem haven’t heard of this band yet. Shame. If cold, dark, violent, blasphemous Black Metal is your taste, you can’t get any better than Handful of Hate. The guitars create a daunting wall of sound as the drums blast and pound away. Track 5, “Slaughter of the Slave-gods” and #9, “Submission . . .” are slow tracks and #7, “Master’s Pleasure” is extremely short with some seductive moaning by the label’s Paola Lilith. The vocalist sounds a bit like Attilla from Tormentor/Aborym fame. And the subject matter is rather gross and blasphemous.
Were these guys to move to the United States I’d say they might want to move to Washington State to be near John Haughm of Agalloch and Don Anderson of Sculptured. Or perhaps they would move to the northeastern U.S. to be near Rain Fell Within. Whatever the case may be, Richard and Zurkis, who hail from the Czech Republic, certainly are musical soul mates to the above mentioned bands. Their music is a healthy blend of atmosphere, melody, Death Metal, Goth, gutteral male vocals, sweet female vocals, and some ambient parts. Their lyrics are dark and very romantic. Example: “The Smell of Tears”. Mood is an important adjective here. This is not a gloomy release, though. It is a beautiful release. You can listen to this CD over and over. I originally heard the one track on the “White” compilation put out by The End Records and knew I had to have it. This is easily one of the best releases on Northern Darkness Records. Let me tell you, you can send $10 to Italy and have this masterpiece sent to your mailbox, or you can spend $17 by driving to a local store and buying some sort of musical crap. Now, what does wisdom dictate?
The realm of Black Metal has been home to a great deal of creativity. But I think few bands have succeeded as well as this. What a surprise! Maldoror is like a combination of “Theli” era Therion mixed with Emperor. Their music is very symphonic with loads of ethereal keyboards and choirs, and yet the male vocals are like the hateful Black Metal vocals of groups like Nifelheim, and the guitars are often thunderous and cold like Emperor. The overall effect is something like Majestic Black Metal mixed with Industrial elements. I guess their label mates, Handful of Hate, would not approve of this mixture, but it sounds so good. Musically this is a very strong album and worthy of a great deal of attention. At the end is a hidden track which is basically a techno tune.
Lyrically this band has a lot in common with Therion; that is, the band seems to be very much involved in the Wicca tradition, or perhaps some other tradition of witchcraft. That’s what this whole cd is about. And you will notice that the artwork, which is a blending of Kabbalistic images and cyber images, communicates this interest in “magic”. Unlike many of the Black Metal bands who use satanic imagery for the effect, Maldoror do not seem to be into effect at all. It seems that they are serious.
Norway is going to have to yield a little because Italy is coming on strong with some furious Black Metal acts. One such band is Mater Tenebra. Three words apply here: COLD, FURIOUS, and PRIMITIVE! One may wonder if they really have a drummer because the playing is so fast. No keyboards except the ambient intro and outro to “Mesktet”, and no mellow parts except for the opening track, an acoustic guitar piece called “Moridruin”. Fans of Darkthrone and Immortal will faint with excitement once they hear this CD and realize that those bands have their counterparts in Italy. Rarely does it slow down, and when it does, it is only to suck in more air for another blitzkrieg. There isn’t much more to say about the music except that if you are into COLD, FURIOUS, and PRIMITIVE Black Metal, this is one exceptionally good CD to add to your collection.
Also notice the cool artwork, reminiscent of Darkthrone and the Blair Witch Project! Lyrically most of the songs deal mostly with darkness and mythology. It seems they are interested in being darkly poetic, occultic even, but there doesn’t seem to be any real blasphemy. Even so, these are three evil dudes!
As I continue to introduce myself to the bands on the Northern Darkness label I continue to be impressed and amazed. Here we have a band with some really great Atmospheric Death Metal. They have three guitar players, female vocals, male gruff vocals, and keyboards. The riffs sound totally fresh and inspired for that genre, and occasionally they venture into Black Metal territory. The production is top quality. The nearest American comparison I can come up with for this band would be Garden of Shadows, but even Garden of Shadows must bow to Nemesis Inferi. This CD dates back to 1998 but is well worth getting. Send $10 bucks to Italy and it will come to your mailbox!
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