Black Metal Roundup: Woe + The Amenta + Ocram + Hagl + Vanhelga + Sidious

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Reviews by Jason Guest

Darkness descends once more upon Midlands Rocks Towers and from the door to the labyrinth beneath again emerges that strange shadow of what was once presumably a man. Vanishing almost as quickly as he appeared, all that remains as evidence of his presence are six albums for review:

  • Woe – Withdrawal
  • The Amenta – Flesh Is Heir
  • Ocram – Praeludium
  • Hagl – In The Heart
  • Vanhelga – Höst
  • Sidious – Ascension To The Throne Ov Self

Woe – Withdrawal

Candlelight Records

Maintaining the outstanding quality of musicianship and song-writing that made their previous albums so remarkable, album number three from New Jersey’s Woe is the kind of album that has the kind of force that will drag plenty of those who’ve been hanging around on the outskirts of black metal deep into the abyss. With lyrics that are as uncompromisingly immediate as the music is brutal and remorseless, Withdrawal plots a narrative that begins at the end with the crushing duo of ‘This Is The End Of The Story’ and ‘Carried By Waves To Remorseless Shores Of The Truth’ and culminates in the inevitability of isolation and despair.

Surging ever onward in a blend of black metal, hardcore and thrash, save for the twenty five seconds of acoustic guitar that opens ‘All Bridges Burned’, there is no relief from the relentless battery. The clean, melodic vocals of ‘Song Of My Undoing’ work well and augment the depth of despair in the harsh vocals, providing a more “human” facet to the desolation and dejection that underpins the savagely bleak aesthetic. But it’s the hardcore-weighted thrash of ‘Exhausted’ and the slow, grooving title track – distinct opposites in terms of sound and atmosphere – that standout the most. With a new lineup behind him, vocalist/guitarist Chris Grigg’s created an album that is ruthless, barbarous and beautiful. Whether you like black metal or not, get it.

Woe - Withdrawal

8.5 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. This Is The End Of The Story
  2. Carried By Waves To Remorseless Shores Of The Truth
  3. All Bridges Burned
  4. Ceaseless Jaws
  5. Song Of My Undoing
  6. Exhausted
  7. Withdrawal

 

The Amenta – Flesh Is Heir

Listenable Records

With three EPs in the interim since 2008’s n0n, The Amenta first album in five years sees their penchant for masochistic ambition again underpinning their work. Drawing in equal measure on death, industrial and black metal, The Amenta ensure that not one moment of this mechanical animal is anything less than penetrating. Woven into the blasting drums, the leaden chords, the serrated riffs, and the snarling vocals are disquieting atmospheres that penetrate every pore and bear down with an industrial weight of colossal proportions.

The use of electronics has again been utilised to maximum aesthetic effect, colouring the album with a cold and calculated façade that is both suffocating and threatening, fortifying the filth and grime that is the album’s energy source. While the chilling ambience of ‘A Womb Tone’ and ‘A Palimpest’ may appear to bring a temporary respite from the industrial battery, there is a distinct sense of menace somehow greater than that of the other tracks residing within them. Dense and intense throughout, Flesh Is Heir’s design is one of unremitting terror.

Dancing in lead boots on the fence between sanity and its more interesting opposite, this is a precisely crafted and sharply produced killing machine. The Amenta’s ambition has always threatened to undermine their achievement but, as with n0n, with Flesh Is Heir, that ambition has been realised. Not for the weak of heart, if you ever wanted an album that put up a fight, this is it.

8 out of 10The Amenta - Flesh Is Heir

Track listing:

  1. Flesh Is Heir
  2. Ego Ergo Sum
  3. Teeth
  4. A Womb Tone
  5. Obliterate’s Prayer
  6. Sewer
  7. The Argument
  8. Cell
  9. Disintegrate
  10. A Palimpsest
  11. Tabula Rasa

 

Ocram – Praeludium

Independent release

Spanish one-man band Ocram’s début EP is twenty four minutes of raw and primitive black metal, no more. With the instrumental title track, the jaws of the underworld slowly open and what spews forth is twenty four minutes of raw and primitive black metal. Out of the gates blasts ‘Rebirth’, a fairly straight-ahead track with a simple structure and a curious operatic vocal making a thankfully brief appearance midway before fading out and leaving the track feel incomplete. ‘My Last Prey’ drags the temp down for a depressive intro before shifting back up to speed with a tremolo-picked riff that is far from impressive or impacting before the track fades out again at some seemingly arbitrary point. ‘My Death’ is ferocious enough, as are ‘This Is My Throne’ and ‘Arrogant To The End’ but all – including the first three tracks – fail to deliver anything that would distinguish Ocram as innovative or inspired. And the faithful cover of Marduk’s ‘Opus Nocturne’ adds little and could easily have been omitted without affecting the EP.

It’s fast and aggressive and all-things typical of raw and primitive black metal but there’s little if anything that makes this standout as even an interesting début. Maybe in a few years, Ocram will return with something more worthy of our time. The potential’s there, somewhere…

Ocram – Praeludium5 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Praeludium
  2. Rebirth
  3. My Last Prey
  4. My Death
  5. This Is My Throne
  6. Arrogant To The End
  7. Opus Nocturne (Marduk cover)

 

Hagl – In The Heart

Casus Belli Musica

After a breathily spoken intro, Russia’s Hagl gallop out of the hellish abyss with a bunch of tracks that blend pagan melodies with the rancour of black metal. What sets Hagl apart from the horde is their ambitious attempt to do as much as they can with each track. Structurally, no two tracks are alike, each one presenting much in the way of opportunity for diversity, an opportunity that, sadly, isn’t exploited as much as they perhaps could have been. For instance, the impressive acoustic work of ‘Thunderstorm’ and ‘Wake Up!’ both scream opportunity but the band quickly reverts to blasting out the insistent melody over and over again. And though both ‘Thunderstorm’ and ‘Howl As A Wolf’ are very good, the sound effects are almost embarrassing (no prizes for guessing what the sound effects are).

That said, there is an abundance of musical ideas that are executed very well with ‘Howl As A Wolf’, ‘Europe’, and ‘The North’, standing out as superior tracks that make this album worth a listen, the latter track’s mid-section bordering on the progressive and seeing the band push beyond the limits that they seem happy to work within for the rest of the album. Hagl’s third album isn’t bad but neither is it great. It’s got its moments but not enough of them to warrant rating this anything better than good.

Hagl – In The Heart6 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Intro (In The Heart)
  2. Heavy Gale
  3. Mors Triumphalis
  4. Thunderstorm
  5. Howl As A Wolf
  6. Europe
  7. Above Death
  8. The North
  9. Wake Up!
  10. Outro

 

Vanhelga – Höst

Art of Propaganda

Black, depressive, and colder than a corpse at Christmas, Swedish duo Vanhelga’s second album is laced with beautifully bleak melodies cast against a stark and emotive backdrop. With opener ‘A Sinister Longing’ setting the melancholic tone with an eerie rawness filtered through icy guitars and ugly, decadent vocals, the near-tangible emptiness between the bright piano and the lo-fi guitars of ‘Lugn’ amplifies the album’s feeling of disparity. This deep sense of being at variance with the world enhances the album’s depressive mood and, from ‘Desperation’ through to closer ‘Livets Bitterhet’, the melancholy that underpins Höst manifests itself in a variety of ways, each as affecting as the last. A little disjointed here and there, this is as harsh and unfeeling as it is withdrawn.

Distorted, contorted, and disconsolate throughout, there’s an otherworldly feel to the album and the experience is one of an all-consuming escapism. While its coldness is both tranquil and serene, there is something quietly unsettling about how alluring and seductive this desperate soundscape is. Much more than a one-dimensional slab of gloom, while black metal’s raw and serrated aesthetic remains at its core, it’s with tracks such as the experimental ninety-second ‘Udda Tankar’, the comforting haze of ‘Sorg’, and the electronic ‘Armageddon’ that are utterly enthralling.

There are occasions when the album becomes predictable, particularly when the tracks begin cleanly and slowly-but-surely start to crumble into masses of distortion, but mainmam 145188 is too skilled the artisan to rely upon the formulaic for his craft. Dramatic, atmospheric, and inebriating, if you desire a journey into the bleak then this seventy-two-minute slab of depressive black metal is right up your ill-lit alley, you miserable shit.

Vanhelga - Höst7 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. A Sinister Longing
  2. Lugn
  3. Desperation
  4. Underbart Sant
  5. Overklighet
  6. Udda Tankar
  7. Sorg
  8. Pessimist
  9. Vilsen
  10. Armageddon
  11. Hopplös
  12. Livets Bitterhet

 

Sidious – Ascension To The Throne Ov Self

Kaotoxin Records

From London, UK, Sidious’s début EP, at eighteen minutes, brings together death metal with the symphonic and the Scandinavian rather nicely. Don’t worry, that is the one and only use of the word “nice” that you will ever find associated with Ascension To The Throne Ov Self. Promise. This is as ugly as a carvery at Hannibal Lecter’s house. The drums blast machine-gun beats constantly; the guitars fire rapid riffs constantly; and Tom ‘Void’ Allen’s grim grunt spews venom and bile.

While you may be thinking that there’s enough of this stuff out there already, Sidious bear a distinct quality that, if they manage it right, will set them apart from those that attempt the same. Balancing well the black, the death, and the ornate yet controlled keys and orchestration, this release marks Sidious out as a band to keep your eye on. Muscular in every way imaginable, let’s hope that the band’s combined musicianship that has manifest itself in these four excellent tracks is a potent portent of what will be an incredible album.

Sidious – Ascension To The Throne Ov Self7 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Insurmountable Mass
  2. Sentient Race
  3. Nihilistic Regeneration
  4. Ascension To The Throne Ov Self

 

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