BENEATH THE NCS RADAR (PART 21): ÁRSTÍÐIR LÍFSINS, KASHGAR, RITUALIZATION, DEAD LIMBS
(Our super-hero friend Gorger returns — quickly — with the second 2017 installment in his ongoing series providing super-heroic support to our mission by reviewing releases we’ve overlooked. To find more of his discoveries, type “Gorger” in our search bar or visit Gorger’s Metal.)
In the very first sentence on your average Beneath the NCS radar post, Islander tends to present me as some kind of super-villain who “embarrasses” everyone by holding up whatever gem they’ve “failed” to mention. Although I dream of becoming a super-villain when I’ll never grow up, this might leave you with a somewhat distorted impression. Allow me to clarify.
There’s about a dozen metal albums being released every single day. Counting all kinds of releases, we’re talking 45-50 a day altogether. And that’s just the “tip of the iceberg” that’s being listed on Encyclopaedia Metallum, whose strict policy prevents more alternative forms from gaining an entrance. (I’m all about true metal, and so I agree, but that’s simply
a matter of taste because I’m so bloody trve). If we were to look into all kinds of unconventional styles that might appeal to metalheads, whether it’s atmospheric dungeon synth, soaring acoustic tree-hugger hard rock, or DIY slam-punk hardcore grind-screamo, the list of daily musical launches would grow insuperably massive.
No single human would be up for the task of absorbing all this. Just presenting it would mean receiving newsletters from thousands of bands and labels. Just imagine opening your mailbox only to see that you’ve got 263 new mails. For the past hour. Obviously, there’s going to be tons of shit that floats underneath the radar for any one of us, and my inadequate radar often fails at noticing passing jewels too. I also often find myself detecting a gem and grasping for it, but failing to grab a firm grip, I helplessly end up observing it float off into the mist.
I might, in an infallible matter, present you with those hidden gems that the wretchedly flawed NCS-crew fail miserably to cover, but unfortunately, I’m not the super villain/prophet (delete as appropriate) you all visualize. I just do what DGR, Andy Synn, Austin Weber, TheMadIsraeli, Comrade Aleks, KevinP, Wil Cifer, or anyone else writing anything for this putrid site does; giving Islander a hand by chipping in with some precious metallic picks for the perpetually unquenchable masses. Only difference is they present relevant artists and releases, often in advance, whilst I’m always late to the party like some late bloomer. I’m just another enthusiastic metalhead, whose antennas are no more superhuman than anyone else’s. I’m sorry to disappoint you and to rip this revered illusion of yours to shreds.
What? You already knew all this? Oh… Good. I guess…
ÁRSTÍÐIR LÍFSINS – HELJARKVIÐA (EP)
As mentioned in connection with Islander‘s List of Anticipated 2017 Metal Releases, Árstíðir Lífsins are back. The trio, previously presented in conjunction with their third album Aldafoðr ok munka dróttinn released in late 2014, should be familiar to most of you. The Icelandic / German band consists of Árni from Carpe Noctem, and Stefán and Marsél, both associated with Helrunar. They’ve had the same stable crew over the years, except for Georg from Drautran who departed during 2014. The band hasn’t been around for ages, they can celebrate their ten-year anniversary next year, but they’ve certainly made their mark. Heljarkviða consists of two tracks, and is presented as an EP, but the fact is that each song is as lengthy as a respectable EP on its own. Together, the two clock in at 40 minutes.
Árstíðir Lífsins doesn’t use typical Viking tonality, but you can find the sturdy moods of a long-bygone age in the well-preserved Norse vocals and the dramatic music. The style can be called a kind of pagan metal with elements of black, Viking, and the atmospheric sub-genre. The album’s concept is based on Norse mythology, and sees a warrior die outside of battle. Briefly put, he thus ends up in Hel, and not in Valhalla. This unfortunate event is closely followed by Ragnarök, where the dead return to earth. If I listened solely to the moods of the music, however, I could just as easily have interpreted it as a dark and sombre hymn to Odin.
The music has a number of quiet and dreamy passages, albeit at times marked by disturbing dramatic violin. When the music is not characterized by acoustic and orchestral instruments in harmony with the sounds of nature and the sea, with water playing out its versatile repertoire of sound effects, the music has a somewhat resounding and massive appearance. Intensity occurs in the music, but in a calm and lightly surging pace with a hypnotic effect like tranquil waves. The vocals are at times black and biting, but often appear in the form of deep, manly Viking choirs. Some Teresa is also credited for guest vocals, but I can’t say I’ve noticed a fair maiden astray at sea or bewildered in woodlands.
The two songs have lots of mood in stock, and are characterized by great variety and competent performance. I know that Árstíðir Lífsins master their profession, but my amazement at just how incredibly proficient they do it never seems to cease. The music is simply exceptionally comfortable. At times I argue that an occasional release isn’t obligatory. Well, if you appreciate dramatic, evocative, and hypnotic pagan metal, Heljarkviða is mandatory, whether you choose to recognize it as an EP or LP.
Heljarkviða was released by Ván Records on January 27th, but if you have gaps to fill, do feel free to dive deeper into the band’s complete discography while you’re at it.
KASHGAR – KASHGAR
The newcomers in Kashgar promote themselves as Kyrgyzstan’s only active metal band. I thought I was clever when I smoked them out by claiming that Darkestrah also hail from Kyrgyzstan. I still had to eat my accusation of forgery, for the trio from the steppes are of course right when enlightening me that Darkestrah flagged out many years ago and turned German. During the past four months, another Kyrgyzstani band named Panzer Bulldozer have popped up on Encyclopaedia Metallum. But let’s ignore that, as I’m not interested in making an ass of myself one more time.
The trio play a kind of black/death that does not quite fit into any square pigeon-hole. The expression also varies somewhat on the album, something that doesn’t make it easier to define the music. Not that it sounds way too schizophrenic for this reason. Much like Black Hole Generator and Black Anvil, for instance, the band have a somewhat diffuse expression that’s rooted in black metal, but that differs from the usual recipe. A majority of the songs may be said to have a partly melodic and relatively progressive slant, and a rather gloomy atmosphere.
A majority of the songs have a relatively calm feel, albeit with aggressive undertones, while they sometimes seem to lose their temper and resort to rage. At first listen, “Scent of Your Blood” hardly seems compatible with the expression in the first two songs, while “Albarsty” riffs like a ragingly rabid Black Sabbath, high as a kite on fly agaric. These songs, and some other segments, have a stronger, more inaccessible underground feel.
The expression nevertheless has commonalities that prevent too much splay, and the last time I checked, it was still allowed to experiment a bit on a self-released debut. Not that it’s easy to look up the related laws as it basically consists solely of unwritten rules. In addition, there’s status in breaking the rules.
The self-titled debut has a certain home-made charm, which falls naturally considering they’ve done everything besides the mastering on their own. The band’s guitarist Ars is the one who has torn off his hair in despair attempting to fine-tune the sound, while the mastering was entrusted to Achilleas C. of Varathron and Aenaon fame. The deep, rich, and suitably distinct bass sound in particular deserves praise.
The lyrics focus on Tengrism, a traditional religion, not only of the Kyrgyz, but of the Mongolian and Turkic people. The band Tengger Cavalry is named after Tengri, the sky deity, by the way. Kashgar apply a shamanistic approach. You can read this interview if you’d like to learn more about their motivation and history.
The album has a somewhat strange and primitive feel, but it is also charming. With a little airy and splayed gap in the material, it’s not easy to say exactly where Kashgar will go from here. The future may prove to become interesting.
Kashgar was initially released independently in digital formats back in August, before being launched on vinyl through Manifest of Hate Creations in January.
RITUALIZATION – SACRAMENTS TO THE SONS OF THE ABYSS
After having dwelt in the fetid underground, six feet beneath the most heinous and depraved subsoil for over 10 years, French Ritualization are ready to drop their debut Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss, also mention on said List of Anticipated 2017 Metal Releases. The album is a dirty, infected manifesto of foul and bestial death metal, not intended for the faint of heart. Brutal pace and raw, infernal downpour is the recipe the guys swear to when they launch a sonic attack with blasphemous lethal lust.
The band’s violent appearance is a unison roar of pounding rhythms, beastly strings, and frenetic vocals. The chaotic tones that can sometimes give associations to something that the most brutal amongst ye will vaguely recalls as melodies, only causes disorientation and dread. All that is missing to make the picture complete is a goat in the title. Allow me: Sacraments to the Sons of the Goat, or maybe Sacraments to the Goats of the Abyss. Now wasn’t that better?
“And he saw that a bizarre kind of harmony was anew restored, and that a seed to conflict had been sown, and that the germ known as mankind would annihilate each other. He ended thus his life, knowing that it was consummated”.
Sorry about this outburst of profane revelations. Ritualization made me do it.
The sound is adequately cacophonous for this maddened symphony of putrefaction. That there is something askew with the sound just around the four-minute mark in “The Graveyard Coven”, is something I simply put on the account for hiccups in the mp3 conversion. It’s nevertheless just a drop of blood in the ocean, and only the most hungry sharks will be afflicted by it.
The ten songs of the grave-desecrating Frenchmen, whereof one intro and one outro, roll like tanks without unnecessary refined finesse. Bombs and grenades rule the land, and there is never a dull moment amongst the 43 minutes that the war of nerves last. Only unruly frenzied fear and loathing from the inside of the tomb.
Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss was released by Iron Bonehad on February 13th.
DEAD LIMBS – SPIRITUS/SULPHUR
Dead Limbs is a debuting trio from Brazil. Although, their EP Lighthouse from 2015 was only 4 minutes shorter than 35 minutes long Spiritus/Sulphur. The band have come up with a story titled “The ash seeketh embers”, inspired by Greek mythology and Hermetic philosophy, where the protagonist tries to cross metaphysical boundaries to a mental state beyond the humane through transcendental means. The concept forms the basis for Spiritus/Sulphur, and parts of the story are published with the album, while the rest of the story will be made available shortly.
Generally speaking, it may seem like the band play a form of atmospheric post-black/doom metal, with influences from both dsbm and death/doom. After first of all having noticed the thick shoegaze atmosphere, I feared everything would facilitate only limited enthusiasm on my part. I still gave Dead Limbs a chance, for such is the burden on my shoulders. But seriously, something about the music appealed to me immediately, and despite some moderate scepticism I suspected a certain appealing depth within Spiritus/Sulphur.
According to the band, they’re mainly inspired by Agalloch and Mgła, the former shining most clearly through the band’s rather distinctive brew. The music contains elements from all of the aforementioned branches, as well as a dose of ethereal ceremony, without sounding distinctly occult. As with Agalloch, strong melodies and moods have been given the highest priority, and the variation is very good. The diversity in the music’s progress, with different vocal forms, different guitar sounds, and diverse rhythms and pace, is quite ingenious, and the difference between calm, careful, and dreamy sequences and aggressive rasping segments of intense misanthropic loathing, is like night and day.
There’s a relatively large amount of calm and doomy music on the album, both soft and mild, almost acoustic-like, and heavy, down-tuned and dirty. That’s not a disadvantage, for it’s the part of their works that Dead Limbs master the best. The sore and frail parts are beautiful, and they sound really good too. The fastest parts are never frightfully breathless and extreme, partly because of the drums, which never take the plunge into the blastosphere. What works the least on Spiritus/Sulphur is the vocal in the most intense sections, as the depressive squeals feel a bit contrived. The album splays a bit, as a few sequences don’t work optimally, while other parts are entirely magical. The benefits without doubt outweigh any disadvantages, though.
I would never have guessed at Brazil as the origin, as Dead Limbs aren’t what I associate with South America, but I’ve probably grown an erroneous preconceived attitude toward an entire continent. I still don’t hear any Mgła, but the traces of Agalloch, et al., can clearly be detected, along with a more indeterminable whiff, possibly from as differing acts as for example Hortus Animae and Paradise Lost.
Spiritus/Sulphur condemns redundant monotony, and chooses instead to contribute to intricate diversity with soul. The songs are written with a natural drive in their constant advancement, which take the listener on a journey into unknown and turbulent waters. I close my eyes and feel the butterflies go wild in my stomach. Along with thick, heartfelt moods of grief and despair, loss and resigned acceptance, the Brazilians have created a debut that grows and grows until words become as hollow as the mental lightheadedness one is left with. Compared to many a generic release within this and similar amalgamations, this is a very good album, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone attracted to tristesse.
Spiritus/Sulphur was released by Northern Silence Productions near the end of January.
I’m all over that ÁRSTÍÐIR LÍFSINS EP/LP. It’s quite varied and epic.
We at Kashgar thank you for reviewing us . . .
And we thank you for raising that yurt clad banner high on the metal map.
THAT RITUALIZATION IS SOME SICK SHIT BRA
Big fan of that Ritualization album…nice choice to bring some attention to
Guhhhh I love that I can hear the bass clearly on that Ritualization release
I didn’t realize these were beneath the NCS radar as I have all of them but all killer cuts never the less. Big fan of Ritualization. Every track holds it weight.
See just how miserably they fail? Your antennas seem to be on the alert, though.