Monday, August 20, 2012

Sanctus Infernum - s/t

** 1/2 on *****

Mark Anderson played bass on a couple of Manilla Road's later album - their comeback, Atlantis Rising and  its follow-up, Spiral Castle. But Sanctus Infernum, where he presides as guitarist and presumably main composer, is a rather different entity from that epic metal juggernaut. Sanctus Infernum plays what sounds to me like more or less straight traditional doom metal with some death metal influences, largely in the vocal department but also in the form of an overall darker sound than the usual trad doom fare.

I hesitate to use the term death/doom, to be honest, because that subgenre is usually associated with death metal bands with darker riffs and doomy interludes, like Autopsy or Asphyx. Here, the music is firmly rooted in the mid-tempo thud of doom with the death element being a matter of arrangement sensibilities and of course the grunted vocals. These are a little monotonous, which gets boring at times - but is also rather effective on the nightmarish, incantatory 'The Journey Back', easily the best song here with its varied passages and some downright hypnotic verses, low, sludgy and grinding.

The album opener, 'Flesh Without Sin', is the not most auspicious start to things, featuring a jerky, groove-metal reminiscent riff with growled out vocals after a brief intro - but the secondary riff is more of an old school chug. Things pick up from there and there's a nice atmospheric guitar solo to wrap things up, but this song is never going to be my favourite. 'God Unto Myself' immediately drew me back in however, with a groovy, doomy opening melody and a crawling verse riff that builds into a more slamming passage. The song doesn't quite break out of its own groove or hold any surprises, but it builds nicely and boasts another melodic, eerie solo. But if things are beginning to seem a bit underwhelming at this point, the aforementioned standout track, 'The Journey Back' kicks in with a weird backmasked declamation over halting acoustic chords followed by some of the best riffs and melodies on the album and some very twisted, dark lyrics delivered with conviction.

'Facing the Black' continues in the vein of songs that could easily have fit on a Candlemass-style album with different vocals. 'Suffer' takes the pace a few notches higher with another chugging riff, followed by another album highlight, 'Waking The Dead', which features an implacable, subtly surging riff that oozes with sludgy disdain, underpinned by a simple but effective rhythm section groove. The rest of the album - 'What Calm Is Without Storm' and the epic 'Let It Be So' each have their moments.

 But overall, this album achieves its impact through a consistency of tone, through the cumulative impact of heavy, trudging riffs and plaintive solo breaks. The rhythm section is solid but uninspired and the vocals, while by no means a style that I find unsuitable, are not especially interesting. In sum, I'd have to say that Sanctus Infernum have a somewhat unique approach to the death/doom confluence, leaning musically more to the trad doom side. This is by no means a bad album, there are times when I have enjoyed it a great deal, but the band doesn't create enough memorable melodies or riffs to compensate for the workmanlike nature of most of the individual components. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Genocide Shrines: Devanation Monumentemples

While India barely has a handful of credible extreme metal acts, the metal scene in Sri Lanka seems to be brimming with bands that are committed to their sound and don't try to sweeten the deal with the inane 'prog' or 'melodic' additives too many Indian bands resort to. And then there's the integrity factor - even some of the most avowedly recidivist Indian bands sound to me like they've studied mainstream 90s metal melody more closely than is strictly old school. You don't get any of that with bands like Funeral In Heaven, or Genocide Shrines.

Genocide Shrines' sound is definitely not for the metal experimentalist or the -core fan who wants something a little more kvlt to round out his playlist; it's uncompromisingly primitive and dark music. If you like Inquisition, Archgoat or Grave Miasma, you might find this to your liking. It lurks on the slower end of that spectrum and the riffing is on the simplistic side, but I get the strong sense that this is a matter of a chosen idiom rather than a product of musical inadequacy.

I will however say that this debut EP suffers from Necros Christos Syndrome - the interludes and intros can get in the way of the music. With only 4 substantive songs on display here, I did find myself coming to resent those interludes on repeated listens, but that was because I'd have liked to hear more songs like the doomy 'Apparitions of Spiritual Obliteration' or 'Nectars of Tantric Murder', a sluggish, ritualistic number that is easily the highlight of the album.

To sum up, this is a solid, credible band and a brilliant first release for the Cyclopean Eye label. But too damned short at just under 20 minutes.

Ankrismah: Dive In The Abyss

*** on *****

The booklet for Ankrismah's debut album, 'Dive In The Abyss' is a remarkably apt indication of the sonic vistas captured within. The paper is heavy, dull-textured and so dark it seems to soak up the ink printed onto it, making the off-white and grey text hard to read at best, or reducing it to a faint pattern against the darkness. The music is a lot like that - dark, bleak and murky. The production is crude - the drums are especially strangely mixed, kick drum, snare and toms lurking in an almost subsonic stratum while tympani crash and quiver in a haze of white noise. Vocals are low in the mix and often deviate from the printed lyrics - where these are discernible - into raw, primal nonverbal roars and cries.

For all of that, the music is surprisingly varied in its own way. You won't get the overt experimentation and eclecticism of better known French Black Metal bands like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega here, this is a far more traditional approach to the genre, rooted in the sounds of Darkthrone's Transylvanian Hunger, or Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas with perhaps a nod or two to the uncompromising textures of Inquisition.

A case in point is the opening track, 'Black hole' which kicks right into a dissonant, pulsating riff that instantly reminds me of early second wave Black Metal, right down to that low-fidelity sound. After this set-up, the music moves via a discordant ascending pattern into a mid-tempo groove with rasped, eerie vocals. This in turn moves into a truly glacial section with slabs of distortion hanging in the air and conjuring the occasional counterwave of feedback. We're almost in Khanate territory now. Khanate fronted by Attila Csihar, maybe. This extended section seems to descend further and further into dark ululations and unearthly atmospherics that one imagines being produced by inhuman cultists in some nightmare land even HP Lovecraft may have feared to tread before simply coming to an end. A fairly predictable opening for this kind of throwback music, but followed by a breathtaking journey into unexpected depths.

'Profanation du Vice' is a more standard song for the genre, but effective at that with its pulsating medium-fast riffing and tortured vocals. Sometimes, with more commercial black metal bands, the vocal stylings seem to lose their meaning - they're so poised and clinical that one wonders why the singer even needs to maintain a vocal tone that was originally conceived as a rabid cry from the gut, anti-poise and anti-structure. The tortured, off-kilter vocals here easily capture the sense of the truly unhinged that Thomas Warrior used to channel in the Hellhammer days. And that's a good thing. 'Nothing Around' has even more tortured, bestial vocals, but nothing sets it very much apart from the preceding song musically, apart from its extreme brevity.

'Crawling Mist' is an altogether more distinctive song, a seething inferno of murky riffing and a croaking vocal delivery that reminds me of Inquisition songs like 'Desolate Funeral Chant'. While this song doesn't have the sheer sweep of 'Profanation' it's definitely one of the highlights of this album. 'I Curse' hits the ground running with pummeling, droning riffing that may be generic but succeeds at conjuring a dark, ritualistic mode rather than simply merging into nondescript Black Metal wallpaper. 'I worship madness' continues with the trend of songs that are basic in conception, but achieve what they set out to do.

Still, I was pleased when 'Kill Yourself' once again stepped out of the formula, beginning with a brief, slow passage before plunging back into an uptempo riff. The song moves through the by now familiar dissonant, airless landscapes (or rather, seascapes, given the title of the album) and then takes another turn to the slower side before a final surge of speed that is abruptly cut off, leaving us with the subsonic surges of sound that constitute 'Narcose'. Tortured vocal textures weave in and out of the mix. This atmospheric piece serves as a bridge to the excellent album closer, 'To my grave'. While it doesn't notably depart from the pattern established by the middle run of the album, something just sets it apart - better riffs, probably or just a greater energy during the recording of this particular track. It also helps that the song displays a dynamic range, moving halfway into another funereal section with simple, doomy riffs and lots of sonic space. In any case it's a great closer to the album.

I'd classify this album as a grower. It takes time to identify the high points and get the measure of the album. And Ankrismah don't make it easy for the listener. There are no keyboard layers or melodic guitar passages to provide an obvious contrast to what are essentially 9 tracks of uncompromisingly old-school, lo-fi Black Metal. Instead, it's the occasional placement of slow-paced, yet equally dark and gruelling passage that serves as counterweight to the more straightforward stretches of the album. This isn't going to be a crossover success, or appeal to listeners who are expecting the kind of experimentation Ankrismah (and label owner Shaxul) seem to have turned their back on - but that doesn't change the fact that this is an intense, nightmarish album and a debut that holds the promise of greater things as Ankrismah hone their songwriting chops.