Some of the best metal I've heard comes from The End Records in California. There is nothing pretentious about these bands. There is a common bond that they share: they seem to make music for the sake of making music, whether it is popular or not.
THE END RECORDS
556 S. Fair Oaks 101-111
Pasadena, CA 91105
The End Records Website
Sweden has Opeth, Australia has Avrigus, and America has Agalloch. Each of these bands are exceptional groups in terms of dark, emotional heavy metal with that atmospheric touch. Each of them are unique in their own rights, and yet there is a similarity in effect. I have been eagerly awaiting a new release from this band, Agalloch, with the same anticipation I would have for Opeth and Avrigus. And now my hunger is temporarily satisfied with this offering. It reminds you of that saying for weddings, "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue." Old would be the unreleased tracks "Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor", "Foliorum Viridium", and "Haunting Birds". The new would be "A Poem by Yeats". And the something borrowed would be "Kneel to the Cross", a cover of the Sol Invictus song—I confess this is the first time I’ve heard it. And while this isn’t a full-length release of all new material, it is quite a welcome addition to the CD collection. The opening three songs, "Of Wind . . .", "Foliorum . . .", and "Haunting Birds" are similar in style as the material contained on Pale Folklore. "Kneel to the Cross" has the same atmosphere, but the structure and style of the song is more like what you would expect from Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Of course, I guess it sounds like Agalloch covering a Sol Invictus tune, but I wouldn’t know any better. And the closer, "A Poem by Yeats", is a semi-ambient tune guaranteed to make you feel suicidal if you don’t already. So, until we are graced with a full-length, this one definitely hits the spot.
The Impressionistic music of such composers as Tchaikovsky was meant to suggest mental images to the listener. Whether intentional or not, Agalloch’s melancholy Metal achieves the same goal: it paints a mental image. As I listen to it I see a group of people clad in fur and walking across snow-capped mountains. The lyrics and artwork on this disc are also very suggestive. Lyrically Agalloch’s “Pale Folklore” is a depressive, wintry story. It seems to be a concept album. In a word, melancholy. The music oscillates between reflective non-distorted parts accented with piano and keyboards to heavy driven parts. These opposites are masterfully woven together into more than an hour’s worth of listening.
To be sure, “Pale Folklore” is an incredible platter of artistic and emotive music. It is obviously not meant for the 3 minute song crowd, but for those who want something more substantive. Musically I think Agalloch should be called Atmospheric Progressive Metal with smatterings of Death and Black influences. Bands that come to mind are Agalloch’s labelmates, Sculptured, and a few Australian bands: Kohllapse, Paramaecium, and Avrigus. I suggest a dim room, a comfortable seat, and a nice drink. Sit back—it doesn’t matter if the volume is loud, the effect is the same. Though some bands in this loose genre become boring after a while (e.g., Anathema), Agalloch’s music doesn’t. It is a thoroughly enjoyable disc.
Interview with John Haughm of Agalloch
Certain musical categories lend themselves to certain expectations. The label “primitive black metal” means that an album is going to be musically simple, harsh, fast, and poorly produced. On the other hand, the label “classic German power metal” means that what you are about to hear is a highly polished, well-produced, and well-executed album. Such is the case with Edguy. I’ve heard for some time that Edguy are an awesome band, now I know why so many people rave about this band. Despite their bizarre name, Edguy are obviously a band serious about making quality classic/power metal. They sound like one part Helloween/Gamma Ray, and one part Iron Maiden/Barren Cross. In short, they are an awesome band that mixes polished commercial metal with some aggressiveness. While their previous albums were imported by Metal Blade, this newest album is brought to us courtesy of The End Records and Century Media. Those who are familiar with Edguy’s previous works already know what a phenomenal band they are. For those unfamiliar with them, I can recommend them highly, even if I’ve only heard this one album. I get a lot of power metal CD’s. Most of them are really good. This one is among the best.
Epoch of Unlight represent the best of two death metal worlds. Their particular strain of metal, in my opinion, is one half of the North American style with blast beats and hyperfast riffing (Kataklysm, Death), and one half Gothenburg a la At the Gates, The Haunted, etc. And while each of these individual styles have been endlessly exploited by all the big labels, Epoch of Unlight seem both fresh and familiar by being a hybrid of the two. It’s hard to think of another band right off that sounds quite like this, but comparisons do come after all. Combine this with more of their dark imagery, likely inspired by the writings of Brian Lumley, and you have killer music and lots of atmosphere.
Once again, I must begin a review for a The End Records release by complimenting the label for impeccable taste in music. While Green Carnation may sound like an odd name for a metal band, let me assure you that you will not hear a finer album. Most connoisseurs of real metal will immediately recognize the name of the mastermind behind this creation: Tchort. For those of you who don’t recognize him, he was the touring bassist for Emperor. And while Ihsahn may be considered the true genius behind Emperor, I confidently assert here that Tchort is his creative equal and, in fact, this release from Green Carnation blows Emperor’s latest (and last) out of the water. That may sound like blasphemy to some, but those who feel this way have not heard Green Carnation! And by the way, I am an avid Emperor fan.
How does one begin to describe this album? This is a particularly difficult thing to do here. But I guess it is best, first of all, to mention the obvious fact that while this album is an hour long, it only registers as one track. It is actually many songs, but they are just woven together in without any breaks in between. It appears that the whole thing is something of an epic, perhaps a dream. It is very poetic lyrically, and emotional musically. At times aggressive, and at times reflective. It has real singing as well as a children’s choir. It has a whole host of string and wind instruments as well. And yet, I think it should either be labeled as Progressive Black Metal, or simply as Dark Metal, the latter being preferable. Fans of Opeth or Katatonia could really get into it on the one hand, and perhaps Mental Home on the other; and yet it seems to have a much broader appeal. Now, if you think what I’m describing is too good to be true, or if you think I’m exaggerating, I recommend you locate some mp3’s on the label’s website in order to find out for yourself that I am not making a mountain out of a mole hill. Let me just end the same way I began. Some labels are just known for great releases, The End is one of those labels. The day may come when I receive one of their releases and I am not moved by it, but that day seems far off. If you are impressed by the likes of Agalloch, Sculptured, and Nokturnal Mortum, then there is no reason you won’t be blown away by Green Carnation.
I’m sure that my review is just going to be one of many rave reviews this CD is predestined to receive. Let me just begin by giving you this personal testimony. First, after hearing Love History on the “White Nightmare” compilation CD, I bought their first album, “Galileo, Figaro, Magnifico”. Second, if I had not received this CD as a promo I would have bought it too. That’s how much I like this band. Understand? I feel rather confident that with such a band The End Records has a very solid future. Now, anything else I say, no matter how eloquent, is superfluous.
With this second album Love History branch out, diversify, and reinvent themselves into a more eclectic sounding band. I hardly know how to begin to describe this album. Words like “clever” and “intelligent” immediately come to mind. Other adjectives: diverse, complex, cool, fresh, radical, inspiring, surprising. Whereas the first album was basically a two-man project, this album seems to have been made by a full band of six very talented people. From the very beginning of this CD Love History begin mixing tempos, dynamics, instruments—everything—into a very new, fresh, and surprising (I know, it’s redundant!) album. Nearly everyone on this CD sings and there are several styles. One of them has a raspy, gruff voice. Another one sings like Vintersorg. On the second song, “Angealism” one hears a little of that Vintersorg sound. Then of course there are the female vocals. All this occurs over some crunchy guitars in the Metal parts. At other times these guys play some awesome Spanish style guitar like on “Korbel”. These guys are obviously more than just guys who play Metal, they are well trained musicians. After all the raving I did over In Flames’ “Clayman” and Nevermore’s “Dead Heart in a Dead World”, I must say that here at the end of the year 2000, Love History have definitely created the album of the year, rising to the top of what has been a tremendous year for Metal. And this is still my judgement in light of the great new November’s Doom’s album. So take my word for it, this album deserves to be heard. To top it all off, there is a video track for the song "Lost" which is extremely well done.
Due to a distribution deal with The End Records, Hall of Sermon can now get their releases into the U.S. The first of these is this new release of cover tunes by Love Like Blood. Last year’s Enslaved + Condemned album was a musical triumph for LLB and one might have really wondered how it would be possible to follow it up without being repetitive. Wisely the Eysel brothers opted to forgo the writing of new material and record sixteen songs which they feel are landmarks in the gothic scene. By doing this they satisfy the demand of fans for a new recording without spreading themselves too thin in the writing department. They’ve chosen songs from such diverse bands as Joy Division and Marilyn Manson, Christian Death and the Cure, etc. These songs span the last twenty years. But what makes this such a pleasing album is that since one band is doing them all, it gives them a unity and cohesion. You feel like you are hearing sixteen new songs by LLB, not a “Who’s Who . . .” And while there is nothing new here, one at least hears these songs with new ears.
Thanks to a distribution deal with The End Records, the latest from Italian greats Necrodeath is available in the U.S. For me this is my introduction to the band. At first I thought I wasn’t going to be impressed with a band that has a less than original name. Boy was I wrong! I can imagine that many reviewers will label this as black death metal. Others may be tempted to draw some comparisons to Swedish death bands, especially of the Gothenburg persuasion. But frankly, while I think there is some merit in those comparisons, I believe they overlook an important element of this Italian band’s sound. I’m referring to some very distinguishable parallels with early German thrash metal. Listen carefully and I think you’ll hear an echo of Kreator, or perhaps even early Destruction in their sound. The main difference is that Necrodeath don’t always play at 300 mph, but that sound is definitely there. The music is mega heavy like Swedish death metal, and it certainly has some harsh black metal sounds, but ultimately it makes one think of a slowed down Kreator/Destruction. For me that makes Black As Pitch a real keeper. The only problem is that the album is too short!
One of the most talented and most under appreciated—and overly blasphemous!—Black Metal bands is Nokturnal Mortum. This is the CD release of their debut recording which first appeared in 1996. In five short years the band has produced three excellent black metal albums and Knaz Varggoth has also released the 70+ minute solo project called “Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra”. All of these releases are just unbelievably enjoyable musically, even if their ideology offends many—even black metallers! It is only a matter of time before they get some major recognition if they can tone down the ideology/imagery. Though the extremism may work for Mayhem, they have the benefit of longevity (since 1984) and also the benefit that they are from Norway, a land with a ton of popular black metal bands. Nokturnal Mortum does not have that luxury. And though they can hold their own against many a Norwegian band, their opportunities to do so seem a bit more limited.
After giving this disc a single listen I decided it was time to go back and listen to To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire and NeChrist again (I don’t have Goat Horns). I like those two albums a lot musically, but I think I actually like this one better. Even though much of the production here belies the fact that it was originally a demo, demos don’t usually sound this good, and the music here is just phenomenal. The mixture of primitive black metal with folkish melodies, usually played by the organ-like keyboards, is a combination that truly sets Nokturnal Mortum apart; not so much for their originality, though they have that, but because of how well they do it. Lunar Poetry deserves a place in the Black Metal Hall of Fame if such a place ever comes into existence. But whether it does or not, it certainly belongs in the collection of any aficionado of true black metal. As an added treat, this disc features an excellent cover of Celtic Frost’s “Sorrows of the Moon”.
I could easily write two reviews for this CD. One would focus on the music alone, the other on the subject matter. As a whole one could label NM as Primitive Hateful Aryan Black Metal with Slavic stylings. Also present are the spiked clubs, bullet belts, corpse paint, and goat skulls with horns. Few bands, regardless of the designation “satanic”, venture this far into the depths of hatred and blasphemy. Despite this, I find the music incredibly well-crafted. For this reason I want to treat the music and subject matter separately.
First of all, the music. “Nechrist” begins with the sounds of birds and insects. A very peaceful sound. The next sound you hear is some sort of Slavic folk horn right before NM explode into 9 tracks of thunderous Black Metal. Aside from the horn, the first track “The Funeral Wind Born in Oriana” also features some fiddle playing—can you imagine it?!—and the sounds of celebrations. I picture a group of people dancing around a large bonfire at night. Gypsies perhaps. In any event it sounds really cool. The rest of the music is totally engrossing as the guitar hooks are very catchy and the keyboards are very complimentary. After track 9 there are 78 four-second tracks of the sounds of nature: birds, etc. Track #88 finishes out the CD with over 7 minutes of music and then the CD fades out with the sounds of twilight insects. Throughout this CD Nokturnal Mortum make use of all sorts of additional instruments and an entire folk orchestra to create the most musically diverse and enjoyable Black Metal album I’ve heard yet. Musically, NM deserve 10 points out of 10.
As Nokturnal Mortum has ventured far beyond the ordinary musically, their lyrics and art are of such an extreme nature that it would make most people very uneasy. This is no surprise to those already familiar with NM or other such bands. While many bands of different genres of Heavy Metal will use satanic imagery for their albums, NM exude pure hatred for Christ in songs like “jesus blood” (notice the lower case letters not found in the other song titles). I’ve always wondered if bands who write such blatantly blasphemous lyrics actually believe in God. If they do, then they must also believe in Hell. One wonders what sort of masochistic, self-destructive attitude would lead to such blasphemy. And, if they don’t believe in God, I assume they are attacking the “idea” of God and Christianity which, in a way, validates them by making them seem important enough to attack. In any event, this is very unsettling. Along with this is the obvious Aryan/white supremist imagery in the artwork (AK 47’s with bullet belts) and songs like “The Call of Aryan Spirit.” This is the same sort of imagery that caused many to turn their backs on Varg Vikernes (Count Grishnakh of Burzum). Perhap’s Nokturnal Mortum express their attitude best in the tray insert: “We declare total war. Slava! War is sacred!” In conclusion and at the risk of sounding cliché, this is not for the faint-hearted.
Unlike the new album, Nokturnal Mortum’s second album has more of that “wall of sound” production that makes few of the instruments distinguishable. The main exception to this is the drums which obviously cannot blend with guitars, keyboards, and bass. Also, there is an occasional keyboard flourish; the keyboards often carry whatever melody NM has. Otherwise, the production lends itself to the uniformity of sound. Dare I say it “traditional Black Metal” similar to Darkthrone and the early Norwegian bands belonging to the “Black Circle”? One exception is that Nokturnal Mortum does a better job of mixing up the tempos instead of just playing fast. One might even compare them to Emperor’s “Nightside Eclipse” era. Track number seven, “Cheremosh”, hints at the musical diversity and folk sound that NM have mastered on the next CD, “Nechrist”. Majestic but not theatrical, brimming over with hatred and violence, “To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire” is like riding 90 miles per hour backwards on a roller coaster in the dark. Beware!
Anyone who has heard the first Odes of Ecstacy release, Embossed Dream in Four Acts , doesn’t need to be told what a great band this is. That CD revealed a band with a great deal of talent and the potential for further development. Then came the song called “Abstract Thoughts” which appeared on the “White Nightmare” compilation CD put out by The End Records. That song, which also appears on this album, “did it for me”. I was hooked from then on.
Odes of Ecstasy walk a fine line between a style of clean Death Metal like the Swedish do and something like Progressive Metal. Their sound, as I have indicated, is very clear and defined and heavy. The male vocals are gruff but not growly. So the guitars, bass, drums, and male vocals give Odes a very heavy, metallic edge. But counterbalancing this is the melodic keyboards and the beautiful, operatic female vocals provided by Christina Maniati. This balance is what makes Odes sound like such a full band. Another band which loosely operates this way is Orphanage, though these two bands don’t really sound alike. Whereas groups like The Sins of Thy Beloved and Tristania have a similar sound, those two bands have a rather Gothic tone; I prefer to think of Odes as more Progressive.
The CD begins with “Ignorance”. This is a really interesting tune because it satisfies the Metal head while sounding like a disco tune. Be sure and notice the upbeat drumming. On track five, “The Conqueror Worm”, lyrics taken from Poe, Odes shows us a band who has a concept not only of dynamics, but also of time changes. It is a definite standout track. The title song is quite an orchestral work. It, along with “Abstract Thoughts”, reveals what an intelligent band they are. “Stigma” comes closest to sounding like a Gothic tune. The CD ends with “In Despair”. This isn’t the sad, morose song you might expect. Instead, it ends the CD on a very aggressive note. To summarize, this is a very satisfying album and it is a stronger release than their first, which was excellent!
Everything I’ve heard so far from The End Records has been very intriguing. Perhaps this one is the most intriguing. “Apollo Ends” is not the sort of CD that reaches out and grabs you at first. Your first impression is something like, “Oh, this is different. It is interesting” (does this sound corny?). But as the CD plays on you find yourself pulled further and further into the twilight world of Sculptured. When it is over you want it to start all over again. Like Agalloch’s “Pale Folklore”, it doesn’t matter whether you play this CD loud or not, it is the overall experience that is important. But unlike “Pale Folklore,” the music and lyrics aren’t melancholy so much as Expressionist. From beginning to end the lyrics focus on feelings and impressions. There is a real continuity to the lyrics with themes that repeat themselves throughout. But none of this is concrete. Like I said, it focus on feelings, therefore it is very abstract. Consistent with this is the inside artwork which consists of nature scenes and expressionistic painting.
Along with the lyrical and artistic abstractness is the musical style. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything quite like it, though I can say that I personally would classify it as Progressive Art Metal. They don’t really sound like any band I can think of but do have some affinities with other bands. Vocally, Brian or Don—I’m not sure which—occasionally sounds like the singer from Voivod (Snake?). The vocal delivery is very smooth and laid back, as is the music. It is obvious that Don Anderson has studied Jazz guitar. Though this is obvious, the songs do not sound like distorted Jazz. Instead, it sounds like Progressive Metal with reflective lyrics and Jazz influences. Perhaps the real heroes here, aside from the creative genius of Anderson, is drummer John Haughm (also of Agalloch) who plays all the transitions as smoothly as a Jazz drummer, and bassist Jason Walton. These guys provide a backbone for the music that is so smooth you might miss them if you aren’t paying attention. Occasionally the band slips into an odd tempo, but amazingly, what makes Sculptured so unique is that they play at such a slow, smooth, lilting pace. There is no hurry getting through these songs. And often times, the easy tempo and the constantly moving guitar lines make for a totally engrossing—and refreshing!—style of music. It does remind me a bit of Believer’s “Dimensions” album, especially track 7, “Summary,” a 40 second review of the musical themes of the album. The only difference is that Believer was much heavier. But perhaps the most surprising thing of all is the use of horns—real horns, not synthesized horns—in most of the songs. The bottom line is that this is a very enjoyable album, though it is hard to describe. Certainly it is one of the brainier Metal releases.
Interview with Sculptured
The End Records continues to bring to us bands with dark moods. Sleepless is one such band hailing from Israel. Their music, while not as “heavy” as most of the other bands on The End, certainly fit well into the atmospheric milieu of those bands. I guess you could call it gothic, it certainly has the whispered/hissed male vocals counterbalanced with mournful female vocals similar to bands like Undish, etc. They sound, in fact, something like a guitar-oriented version of Autumn Tears or Dargaard. But really, I think it is simply best called “dark music”. That’s what it is: dark, moody, and enthralling. If you have been pleased with the other releases on this exceptional label, I think you’ll find that Sleepless offers a different approach with a similar effect.
VIRGIN BLACK “Somber Romantic” There is no shortage of metal releases today. While the new millennium has proven to be a fertile time for heavy metal of all different persuasions, there is also the danger that many of the exceptional releases will be obscured in a sea of mediocre recordings. One such release that should not be overlooked is Virgin Black’s Somber Romantic. Whereas terms like dark, passionate, and atmospheric are used liberally by reviewers today, passing Virgin Black off as just another gothic metal band would be equivalent to passing Emperor off as just another Norwegian band. Don’t make that mistake. Somber Romantic is a transcendent release; that is, it goes beyond the expectations that arise from the descriptive words listed above. The operatic vocals of Rowan London (also keys), for instance, are simply mesmerizing. His voice is unique in all of metal, comparable only, perhaps, to the legendary Messiah Marcolin. Virgin Black makes use of orchestral instruments along with industrial elements and a choir to enhance the intense musical experience. But unlike many bands, they do so with great care for changes in dynamics—this album is not all loud or all mellow; it is an emotional roller coaster with intense highs and depressing lows, power and frailty, divinity and humanity, all rolled up in one. You may just be moved to tears as you listen to it. The band is rounded out by the exceptional talents of Samantha Escarbe (guitar), Craig Edis (guitar, vocals), Ian Miller (bass, vocals), and Dino Cielo (drums). Already released and highly acclaimed in Europe on Massacre Records, this U.S. release from The End Records features not only Sombre Romantic, but also its predecessor, the Trance E.P. One can only expect that by their notoriety will grow with it now being made available in the U.S. Sit back in a comfortable chair, turn down the lights, put on the disc, and bask in the rich musical experience that is Virgin Black!
This CD displays the variety of talented bands on The End Records. As I've stated above, I have yet to hear a disc from them that I did not find interesting and quite enjoyable. Though there is some variety of styles between these groups, they seem to hold some similarity in that they all seem to be somewhat introspective--with the exception of Nokturnal Mortum--but they all seem to enjoy music for the sake of music. Here’s how the other tracks are:
#1 “Abstract Thoughts” by Odes of Ecstasy is a very operatic piece with two sopranos (high pitched female singers, not the dumb HBO show) singing to some orchestral music in a very industrial style. It’s hard to describe but is very beautiful.
#3 “Stained” from Mental Home. This track is an advanced mix from the now released “Upon the Shores of Inner Seas”. Apparently they were going to name it “Against the Sun” from the looks of this CD.
#4 “The Gleam of Midnight Sky/Smell of Tears” by Love History. Once you hear these two songs which are connected (over 11 minutes in length) you’ll understand why they are called Love History. Very Progressive Death Metal with male and female vocals and piano. The two songs are tied together with a somewhat ambient track.
#6 “The Key to the Gates of Apocalypses” by Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra. Very black metal in the vein of Bathory’s “Blood, Fire, Death” album. Very triumphant and commanding. Creepy too.
#7 “Toy: A Primrose Path to the Second Circle” by Scholomance. Similar in sound to Mental Home and recent Samael with Black Metal type vocals. Impressive mixing of sub-genres. Samples included.
#8 “Conflagration of Hate” by Epoch of Unlight a pretty straight-forward Death Metal Band. Interesting song.
As far as compilations go, this one is exceptional. Take a chance and see why I’ve been repeatedly complimenting The End Records.
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