My Top 15 Albums of 2017


Hi! Still existing and loving my family, hope the same goes for all of you. I may be retired from all else in the music world, but the year end list is eternal.

Sample size: I have 83 albums released in 2017 at the time of writing this. Can’t promise I actually listened to all of them.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Ranking music is silly and I generally discourage it.  (But I do it once a year anyway…….)

15. Chinese Man – Shikantaza

trip hop/hip hop

Sample track: Liar

fun French hip hop/trip hop album that seems to have gotten overlooked a lot. I listened to it a ton earlier this year. It’s not something I’ll remember years down the road, but it certainly earned a spot for as much as I played it.


14. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

stoner prog

Sample track: Sanctuary

For me personally, this is probably the most unorthodox pick on my list, because it is heavily rock-centric in all the ways that typically turn me off. God but something about rock and roll has always felt absolutely soulless to me in a way that few genres can match at their worst. But Elder just do what they do so damn well that it’s impossible to hate this opus. An endless onslaught of prog ingenuity with a nice stoner rock crunch that keeps it driving from start to finish. It’s 64 straight minutes of ear candy without a dull note in the mix, and I have a world of respect for how flawlessly these guys accomplished what they set out to do.


13. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

post-black metal

Sample track: This Forest For Which We Have Killed

Krallice are responsible for a lot of the best music to come out this decade, and in 2017 they pumped out two new ones (both painfully late into the year for a band that requires a lot of repetition to fully appreciate). While I haven’t actually read anything about either of these yet, the distinctly different styles between them have me pretty convinced that Mick Barr wrote the bulk of this one and Colin Marston took charge on the other. Go Be Forgotten gets off to a glorious start with its opening track, but the remainder has so far failed to really captivate me to the extent that most of their previous works did. It doesn’t raise the bar (or if it does, it hasn’t sunk in yet), but it’s still a fascinating exploration of highly complex soundscapes that few other artists have the technical precision to delve. And god that opening riff is sick. Krallice will be a perpetual year end contender as long they keep doing what they do.


12. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

folk rock

Sample track: When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay

I have mixed feelings about this album, and my inclination is to point out the negative; suffice to say, it’s not lacking in universal praise. It wouldn’t be on my list if I didn’t love it. The reason it’s not higher is that, as I see it, Tillman too often defaults to rather throw-away lines. That’s not inherently problematic (see: my #1 pick), but I think it clashes with the more refined, theatrical vibe of the sound around them. Simple case in point: Total Entertainment Forever kicks off with an absolutely delicious line–Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift–and follows it up with something so generic that I feel it only exists to achieve a rhyme–after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes. Sometimes gentle flaws make a work all the more endearing, but Pure Comedy goes too big and refined to get away with it for me. I feel like he aimed extraordinarily high and almost got there.


11. Tchornobog – Tchornobog

blackened death metal

Sample track: II: Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)

A landscape album as only blackened death metal can paint one. Tchornobog takes you on a 64 minute journey across an entirely unpleasant and stomach-turning waste of all purpose ugliness that really reflected how I’ve felt about the world this year any time I let my attention range beyond my immediate household. We’re talking death metal aesthetics here so yes, that can be a compliment. And while the visions are certainly exotic, there’s not much surrealism of the lofty, artistic sort you find on say, a Blut Aus Nord album. It’s just leaves you feeling kind of dirty. It hit a note I could appreciate while maintaining enough melody and progression to avoid succumbing to redundancy.


10. Hell – Hell

doom sludge

Sample track: Machitikos

Ridiculously heavy slow-rolled sludge that shouldn’t require any genre appreciation to crush your skull. At its peek on “Machitikos”, the quality of this album is unreal. Unfortunately I was pretty late to the ballgame, and their more ambient moments are going to take more than a sporadic month to leave a lasting impression or definitively fail to. Nowhere to move but further up the charts for this one.


9. Nokturnal Mortum – Істина

pagan metal

Sample track: Дика Вира

We’ve certainly come a long way from Knjaz Varggoth screaming hateful nonsense to crackling cassette recordings of Dollar General synth, and as endearing as Nokturnal Mortum’s early works may be, you can’t deny that he has matured (both musically and intellectually) substantially over the years. This album thoroughly lacks the trademark Eastern European folk metal execution that Knjaz inspired more than perhaps anyone else: brutally hammered folk jingles lashing out violently from beneath a wall of modern noise. Істина is a lot more even keel, to such an extent that its metal elements almost feel unnecessary at times. It fully embraces the more cerebral, orchestral sound we began to hear on Weltanschauung and leaves most else behind, achieving a new height in terms of orchestration. I do miss Knjaz’s more passionate explosions, but I don’t consider that a flaw. The real down side to the album for me stems from the studio. For all of its grand instrumental diversity, the complete package is a bit washed out. Everything feels like it’s playing in the background as a supporting element to a non-existent centerpiece. It’s something I’m certainly used to–Nokturnal Mortum have always struggled a bit on the finer finishing touches of sound production–but it’s still a fault that’s hard to ignore. An incredibly solid album that could have been even better.


8. Riivaus – Lyoden Taudein Ja Kirouksin

black metal

Sample track: Vihan Temppeli

This is probably the most unknown album on my list. It’s just straight-up black metal. No frills. No novelties. Really it’s the sort of thing I rarely listen to these days, because most great bm artists have moved on to more experimental fronts. But this is tight as fuck. The riffs are great and it’s got a nice punchy pace and a crisp tone that suits the mood perfectly. Outstanding debut from an unheard of artist. Hoping he sticks around for many years to come.


7. Thundercat – Drunk

funk/jazz

Sample track: Bus in These Streets

A tongue-in-cheek dreamfunk fantasy. Artists who can let a cheesy sound be cheesy often accidentally stumble into brilliance. This guy makes some of the goofiest sounds that funk and jazz have ever imagined somehow feel endearing. I’m also pretty impressed by how distinct his sound is. I mean, considering how radically uninformed on this sort of style I am, it kind of blew my mind that I could instantly go “this guy must have wrote the bass lines to Wesley’s Theory“. I think Drunk is an incredibly well-craft work masked behind a delicious veil of comedy. And it’s given us such eloquent 21st century mottos as “thank god for technology, because where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”


6. Krallice – Loüm

post-black metal

Sample track: Etemenanki

If Go Be Forgotten offered Krallice’s most deranged opening melody to date, Loüm might take the prize for their heaviest boot in the ass. Etemenanki hammers down all the brutality of a headbanger’s wet dream from the first note without budging an inch on Krallice’s classic eclectic tremolo noodling. I don’t think I’ve wanted to just open my mouth and shout “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” to a Krallice song this bad since Inhume. As with Go Be Forgotten, there’s a serious question of whether the album as a whole is really that great or if the opening song just carries it, and that’s not to knock the rest so much as to say that by Krallice’s ridiculously high standards I think it might have some mediocrity. You can never really tell with most Krallice songs until you’ve heard them four dozen times. It’s complicated, intricate shit that your brain doesn’t instinctively unravel. My gut tells me that Loüm will keep on growing on me in a way that Go Be Forgotten may struggle to, and I was right about that with Prelapsarian’s incredibly late release last year. (Yes, it is amazing.) The only lasting down point about Loüm for me is, surprisingly, the addition of Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) on vocals. He does a killer job, but I am shamelessly in love with Nick McMaster’s vox and can’t help but miss them.


5. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

folk

Sample track: Crow

Phil Elverum’s wife died last year, and he wrote this album. It’s artistically significant for reasons that are pointless to explain, because I think you will either already get it or it will fundamentally conflict with whatever life coping mechanism you personally subscribe to, and both are fine. It matters to me more than other albums about death because we appear to share roughly the same world view. It isn’t my favorite album of the year because it can’t be.


4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

post-rock

Sample track: Bosses Hang

I somehow managed to ignore the rebirth of GY!BE in spite of being entirely aware of it, and this is the first album I’ve listened to by them since Yanqui U.X.O. fifteen years ago. In the meantime, I’ve become an avid consumer of Silver Mt Zion, and after that long of a break it’s easy to forget just how different the two projects were. I’m at a loss for words to properly describe how I feel about Luciferian Towers because I have nothing remotely current and similar to compare it to. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are both absolutely mind blowing, and I usually skip the first and third tracks and don’t even care. This is the greatest band in post-rock being exactly that.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

hip hop

Sample track: DNA

Every time I saw this album top another year-end list, I wanted to move it further down mine. It doesn’t move me on an emotional level like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not Kendrick’s greatest work. Can it really be the best of 2017? But every time I revised my year-end list, it just kept moving up instead. Everything he touches has a subtle finesse to it. I love the sound of his voice. I love the way he weaves it into the instrumentation flawlessly. I love how every aspect of each song seems painstakingly tailored to suit the intended vibe. I can just really get into this from start to finish time after time with zero effort. It was my 2017 fallback the grand bulk of the times I wasn’t in the mood for something dark or heavy. This album makes me feel empowered every time I put it on with no cheap sense of escapism attached, and god did I need something like that.


2. Boris – Dear

drone/doom/psych/post-rock

Sample track: Dystopia (Vanishing Point)

Wow. This is 16th year that I’ve compiled a year-end list. For the grand majority of that time, I would have named Boris in my top 5 favorite bands if you asked me. During that time, they’ve put out 53 releases just that I have managed to acquire. And not one has earned my #1 slot. Smile came so close. So close. And now I’m saying it again. I almost feel guilty leaving Dear at #2. It was never dropping any lower. But if you’re at all familiar with it, this might sound generous. Dear is nowhere near their most well-received album. It is absolutely nowhere near their most accessible. Doom and drone at its core, it’s a slow drip grind that will leave all but the most steadfast fans bored out of their minds on first encounter. Yet I somehow managed to listen to it close to 50 freaking times. It wasn’t that I liked it at first. I kind of didn’t. But the mood was right. It hit that sweet spot between ambience and melody that made it never quite dull enough to bore inherently but never quite memorable enough to bore through familiarity. It was dark but it wasn’t morbid. It was just the right sort of fuzz to make me feel more alert without distracting me. And it was through that extremely passive but relentless pattern of listening that its finest moments slowly revealed themselves to me, raising the bar higher and higher, until now it blows my mind that a track like Dystopia (Vanishing Point) could have failed to sweep me off my feet on first encounter. It certainly manages to every time now, on take number one hundred and god knows what. This isn’t my favorite Boris album, but I suspect it’s much higher up there for me than for most fans, and after a very great deal of consideration it only failed to take the title by a fraction of a hair. Oh, I also got to watch them play it live in its entirety. 😀


1. Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Americana

Sample track: Lone Star

The grand prize goes to Sun Kil Moon. I think this might be for me what Pure Comedy has been for a lot of other people this year. It just speaks to so much I’ve been feeling in 2017 in a way I can completely relate to. Mark Kozelek takes half of the stuff I’ve been making enemies spouting all year and sets it to solid American folk music. He has a blue collar political perspective that offers no compromise for our “total fucking asshole” President but takes far more cutting hits at liberal America’s zero-attention-span reaction-click-and-move-on culture for allowing the country to fall into this state. The album is a two hours and ten minutes meandering disjointed travel through personal stories and monologues that reach all over the place, but underneath it all is a consistent love and appreciation for the bonds we share in our meager little lives, and an intense compassion for those who have permanently lost them. If he comes across as cranky, he’s just pissed at how many Americans have lost sight of this.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016

Review: Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short


When I fired up Drudkh’s tenth studio album yesterday, A Furrow Cut Short, I was holding my breath in the dim hope that something awesome would slam into my brain from the get-go. After all, this is Drudkh. Not all of their releases have been met with equal acclaim, but they always seem to carry hype on their side.

The album began interestingly enough, with some bending tremolo guitar that kind of brought to mind Blut Aus Nord, and then I waited a bit and moved the play bar ahead. A pretty cool groove picked up around 1:50, and I rode it for a while. The song began to repeat an earlier passage with vocals tossed into the mix, and I moved the play bar ahead. There was that groove from 1:50 again. I rode it. I moved the bar ahead…

Greatness did not grace my ears in a neatly wrapped box, and that was fine. It was just a distant hope. At that point, my immediate instinct was to browse through the sixty minutes of content for all of the gripping moments that would surely rise out of the long black metal grind to knock my head around. A few came. Should I count them? Was that how best to measure this album’s worth? I started to feel a bit silly. This sort of fast-forward treasure hunt has been my subconscious approach to Drudkh for some time now. Here was a band that used to keep me wide-eyed through ten minute tracks as I waited for the peaks to overwhelm me, and over the course of ten albums the appeal had been reduced to skimming. What changed?

The production changed. That’s for certain. Since Microcosmos, Drudkh have been presenting a more deep and refined sound, and I don’t think it did them any favors. It was a technical improvement at the expense of the unique aesthetic appeal of their sound. They also largely left the world of folk music behind. On Songs of Grief and Solitude (2006), Drudkh reworked a variety of earlier melodies from their metal albums into a collection of instrumental folk tracks. It worked really well, and it’s something they would never be able to do with the tunes of Eternal Turn of the Wheel or A Furrow Cut Short.

Song: Cursed Sons I

<@Shad> One day
<@Shad> I will tell my children
<@Shad> That I started the Drudkh wikipedia page.

And there has been one other change. It’s something far beyond the band’s control, but it is significant: historical context. This first dawned on me when I was glancing over the reviews of A Furrow Cut Short already popping up on Encyclopaedia Metallum. One guy started off by writing “Ukraine is not a country where heavy metal thrives like in the UK or Scandinavia”. I stumbled over the words. I suppose fifteen years is a long time when you’re talking music. There are high school kids enjoying A Furrow Cut Short who weren’t born yet when Kharkiv was carving out its claim on the map of metal. That’s a little… weird for me, but it probably has a real impact on how I perceive this music too.

I will never really appreciate thrash metal, because I was never there. I encountered the genre as a prim and proper, cookie-cutter devolution of its original glory. I lacked the contextual sense that something new and monumental was overriding the standards of metal as I’d formerly known them. To me, thrash is just that sound Metallica pioneered, and I have no doubt that this perspective is woefully misguided. This same sort of historical misconception might be taking root on Ukrainian black metal. The reviewer I quoted… his statement would have been a reasonable introduction to Lunar Poetry or Goat Horns in the mid-90s, but by the time Drudkh started to gain attention, Kharkiv was no heavy metal backwater. It was a placename that you gobbled up. “Ukrainian” meant there was no need to sample an album first. You knew you wanted to hear it.

Nokturnal Mortum put Kharkiv on the map, and Knjaz Varggoth’s brainchild still stands leagues above anything else east of Prussia in my book. But Knjaz is also a racist piece of shit, and I can’t say I feel bad that the history books have been rewritten to regard Drudkh as the mother of all Ukrainian black metal. Still, we can’t forget the pre-existing spirit in which this band emerged. Standardized black metal was all about LaVeyan Satanism back then, its music a sort of declaration against society’s disposition to enforce religious values. “Satan” was a shallow facade, and once the point was made, the scene stagnated. Nokturnal Mortum ignited something novel by merging second-wave black metal’s counter-cultural rage with a sort of Bathory-esque true reverence for the old gods. Their music was as hateful as anything Mayhem or Emperor had produced, but it was also rabidly pagan. NeChrist slaughtered the tenets of modern society, smeared their blood across its chest, and danced naked on the pyre.

And that, to me at least, was the spirit of Ukrainian black metal entering the 21st century. It was not merely violent and destructive, but also highly contemplative. The means varied from band to band, but the idea was to bring a bygone spirituality to life. Musically, the tremolo and blast beats found themselves in the company of massive, sweeping auras of sound that might at any minute break into traditional melodies more savage and tribal than anything the co-emerging folk metal scene had to offer. Astrofaes and Hate Forest were two of the earliest bands to emerge from Kharkiv in this new tradition. Astrofaes, headed by Thurios, was the more melodic of the two, with forlorn chord progressions and folk allusions comparable to early Drudkh. Hate Forest, on the other hand, remains one of the most brutal bands I’ve ever heard. It was Thurios’ original collaboration with Roman Saenko, and it was so uncompromisingly violent and minimalistic that it made the most hellish Norwegian offerings feel tame. Yet it was entirely meditative. If Varg Vikernes popularized the notion of black metal as a trance-inducing journey, Hate Forest went leaps and bounds towards perfecting it.

When Thurios and Saenko went on to form Drudkh, the product was more tame than either of their parent projects. Thurios brought the folk and raw melody-crafting via Astrofaes, while Saenko added the trance state and fine touch for aesthetics. At least, that’s how I’ve interpreted it. I certainly can’t offer any informed view into their song-writing process. In any case, what they crafted, not so much on Forgotten Legends but definitely on Autumn Aurora, The Swan Road, and Blood in Our Wells, was totally unique and beautiful. But it did not feel unique to perhaps the extent that it really was. It felt like a brilliant addition to a scene that entailed so much more. (In more than one sense, and not all positive. I am sure the reviewer I mentioned must find it bizarre that almost every summary of Drudkh begins with a preface that they disavow all ties to racism/extremist ideologies.)

Song: To the Epoch of Unbowed Poets

I take two things from this. One is that Drudkh’s earlier sounds float on a cloud of nostalgia. An album that sounded a hell of a lot like Autumn Aurora would really excite me even if it was not half as good, because it would transport me back to a special place and time. The other is that a once unprecedented sound has become pretty common fair. Atmospheric black metal was not invented in Ukraine, but its modern roots run deep there. A lot of bands around the world have since come along and done more with it. They’ve taken it other places–incorporated it into other, equally novel sounds. Saor is a good recent example. In heaping praise on Andy Marshall’s solo project last year, I passively mentioned that it accomplishes its goal “without ever really breaching any new territory beyond the tried and true boundaries of pagan metal”. Well, Drudkh and the Ukrainian scene in general established a lot of those boundaries. And other bands took it further still, to the point where I could speak of an album like Aura without ever thinking “wow, this is original”.

A Furrow Cut Short has some really stand-out tracks. The two I sampled here especially struck me. But it is also lost in time. Changes to production and an abandonment of folk render the modern Drudkh incapable of reaching to the same plain of aesthetics that they once knew. I don’t think it incorporates anything new, either, that might allow me to hear it as a great example of where metal stands today. This album must stand or fall exclusively on its in-born aesthetic value, while competing with the vibe that it is a watered down version of what the band used to be.

That value is, well, average. You can get into the album if you try, but it will not sweep you off your feet. I am not one of these people who cling to the past and expect a band or style to sound exactly like it used to. I am always willing to humor “where are they headed now”, and I have a good deal of respect for what Drudkh did on Handful of Stars even if it didn’t much move me (or seemingly anybody else). At least they were trying to do something. Even Eternal Turn of the Wheel showed motion. A shying away from change, but motion at least, and I modestly enjoyed it for that. A Furrow Cut Short goes nowhere, and that fact drives home the feeling that this band’s sound has grown really stale.

I am a bit torn about A Furrow Cut Short. A part of me thinks “why did they bother?”, but a wiser side enjoys tracks like “Cursed Sons I” and “To the Epoch of Unbowed Poets” way too much to pretend I’d be better off without them. Still, I’m probably never going to listen to this album again. Maybe a quick revisit at the end of the year. There are just too many other bands doing something more original. And too many classics I’d rather rehash, for that matter. It’s strange, because Thurios, Saenko, and the rest of the crew haven’t lost their touch at all. They are doing great things with Blood of Kingu, and Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon would have definitely made my top albums list for 2014 if I had caught it in time. But considering every single member of Drudkh is in that band, I don’t get why Drudkh continue to sound so… redundant.

The album’s available via Season of Mist.

Review: Valknacht – Le Sacrifice d’Ymir


Valknacht is a five-piece paganish metal band from Quebec that have released three albums beginning in 2009–not to be confused with Walknut, the highly acclaimed side-project of Stringsskald from Темнозорь (Temnozor). I suppose I grabbed this album for an obvious reason: it presented a pagan tag from a relatively new act I had never heard of. With the folk and pagan metal scene now fifteen years in the making, a lot of the old stalwarts are simply running low on material. I am always hoping to stumble upon a new collaboration willing to pick up the slack and carry one of my favorite genres onward into a new era. Valknacht could be that band, but it’s going to take some work.

Valknacht – Bataille de Maldon, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

The album begins with a 3 minute intro track that I’ll not bother sampling here. You already know what it sounds like. Oars splash through the sea in time with viking voices oooing and OOOing and sometimes aaahhing. Break and repeat with some overbearing choral and brass synth, throw in a gong for good measure, and you will find yourself in the opening moments of “Bataille de Maldon”. Add a dash of synth woodwind, queue the crunch crunch crunch monotone guitar, and remind your drummer to make it metal in a few more measures. The black metal at 2:05 gives us a well-needed boost, and from there the song transitions to something that ought to be really, really cool. 2:40 made me think of Nokturnal Mortum’s “The New Era of Swords” from Weltanschauung, and for about one minute “Bataille de Maldon” is a song I really want to listen to. But the segment soon gives way to something fairly indistinguishable from what came before.

For the vast, vast majority of this 9:30 song, what you hear is an endless rain of double bass, rhythm guitar that only knows two patterns and three chords, a cheap synth whistle that’s totally unconvincing as the real deal, an admittedly interesting lead guitar, and total synth overkill plugging in every gap, sometimes doubled up with layers of “OOOOOOOOO”.

Yet, this could have all worked out really well. This band surely listened to a lot of Moonsorrow, and the string portion of the synth gets playfully close to Nokturnal Mortum at times. But the rest of the synth is just bad. It feels so fake. They use bold brass like they’re Equilibrium or Turisas, but the music isn’t nearly bombastic enough to merit it. The woodwinds have no depth, no air, no punctuation… Аркона (Arkona) is about the only band I can think of that pulls off fake woodwinds effectively (unless others are doing it so well I take them for studio musicians), and they must have much higher-end equipment than Valknacht at their disposal to do it with. It would have been nothing for one of the band members to pick up a whistle and record it proper. The vocals get really annoying really quickly for lack of dynamics or anything interesting to encase them. And the song goes on and on and on without ever adding much of anything. By 3:10 we’ve pretty much heard everything, and there’s next to nothing in the form of build-up or break until we hit a sudden transition at 8 minutes into an admittedly solid finale.

So, am I going to say anything good about this album? Surprisingly, yes. Quite a lot actually.

Valknacht – Le carmin des anges, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

The tragedy of Le Sacrifice d’Ymir is that just about anyone listening to this album will get the same impression that I did for its first 13 minutes. How many will keep listening? Few, I suspect, and it’s a shame because by the end this album is sounding pretty damn solid. “Le carmin des anges” is the closing track. It should have been the opening. Here is a song that cuts out all of the bullshit and condenses everything I did like about “Bataille de Maldon” into a much more manageable 5 minute package. The term “trying” drops back down my throat, and I hear some really badass Windir licks connected by groovy breaks and synth again reminiscent of Noktrunal Mortum. Thorleïf’s vocals do a total 360, and his previously dull deeper bellows sound epic when juxtaposed and then overlaid with higher-pitched rabid black metal screams.

The collective sound really works here, too. The Moonsorrow vibe they were going for in “Bataille de Maldon” flopped for a far-too-excessive attempt to be epic. That sort of music is meant to sound earthy, and the synth swarm just made it seem cheap and fake. On “Le carmin des anges”, a lot of the frivolous choral and brass sounds are gone, and what remains works far better with the Windir vibe they’re getting at.

Valknacht – Le sacrifice d’Ymir, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

You didn’t have to wait until the last track to find this though. The third, “Chants de guerre”, carries an infinitely more successful Moonsorrow vibe than the song before it. The woodwind’s fakeness is barely significant because the loop it plays is more of an unnatural Falkenbach chant than a harmony. Thorleïf’s full vocal range finally comes into play, and there is way more Windir-esque black metal–a sound they do right. Track 4, “Sur les ruines de Rome”, throws in some seemingly female screams and spoken lines that feel kind of reminiscent of Masha from Arkona, and could be a guest musician or further testament to Thorleïf’s range. (Liner notes for this album have been hard to come by.) As if Masha had been on their minds, track 5, “Le sacrifice d’Ymir”, feels pretty “slava!”, with some frantic whistle and guitar tapping. I had good cause to doubt another 10 minute track, but there is so much more going on here than in “Bataille de Maldon”. Thorleïf’s vocal dynamics alone are enough to make the overdrawn passages–and there are certainly a few–way less dull, the lead guitarist keeps up that Windir kick he’s proven pretty good at, that obnoxious rhythm guitar from the opener is all but missing, mixed down from a nuisance to its proper role and a background accessory.

“De murmures et de givre” starts nice but regrettably returns to a lot of the mistakes of “Bataille de Maldon”–a 7 minute track that could have probably made its point in three and a half. “Que le sang constelle mes mains” gives us our first and last taste of some accordion. Though its synthetic generation is painfully obvious, it does kick off with a melody pleasantly reminiscent of Finsterforst. Again though, the song drones on way too long with boring “I’m going to growl, you chugga-chug, and you hit a whole bunch of notes at once on your keyboard” moments.

So what’s the verdict? I think that this band either ran out of material and had to generate a few filler tracks, or else the minds behind it have some differences of opinion on how they ought to sound and they tried to accommodate everyone. Over all, fans of Windir will find plenty of moments to swoon over, and Moonsorrow die-hards will be modestly entertained. I got a Nokturnal Mortum vibe in some of the synth string utilization and rhythm guitar breakdowns, but not nearly enough to satisfy, and it has to take second stage to a lot of derivative crap. These guys have enormous potential, and they’re relatively young by band standards. I think the inclusion of “Bataille de Maldon” in its present state–at all let alone as the not-so-grand opener–is a little suspect. It would be nice to hear some session musicians for the folk instrumentation, or at least a better keyboard. And they really need to do something about song lengths relative to content. I will have long forgotten Le Sacrifice d’Ymir this time next year, but I won’t forget to check out their future releases. Turisas rose from a totally generic sound to release one of the best albums in folk metal. So did Finsterforst. Valknacht are certainly capable of becoming a band I could fall in love with.

October Music Series: Nokturnal Mortum – Lastivka


And so my month of folk and folk/pagan/black metal indulgence comes to an end. Of course they’re the styles I listen to the most throughout the year, but October always holds a somewhat special status for the genres. It marks the height of fall and the coming of winter, the commencement of the six months of the year I enjoy most, and also the start of the holiday season. Halloween is something of the anti-holiday–an all-encompassing celebration of everything that is not modern Christian/Muslim/Jewish culture. It’s that one break in year-round social norms where people can dress and act in ways that, despite representing the human experience for the vast majority of our species’ existence, are strictly taboo in the today’s world. Sure, plenty of pagan practices may have lurked their way into Christmas and Easter. Sure Thanksgiving, despite its name, remains a fairly uncompromised belated harvest festival. But on Halloween we sugar-coat nothing but the candy, sending our children down the streets as ghouls and ghosts and all sorts of counter-cultural guises, embracing primal human nature with no need for repentance. It might be highly consumer-centric, but a little unrestrained gluttony seems thoroughly appropriate for the occasion. From death and the old gods to vampires and zombies, everything falling beyond the accepted sphere of modern religion has its day on October 31st.

Lastivka, alternatively titled Swallow, is a rather ridiculous rendition of what I gather is a traditional Ukrainian folk song. It first appears on Nokturnal Mortum’s Marble Moon ep, released in 1997. Enjoy.

Happy Halloween Shattered Lens.

October Music Series: Piorun – Nadbuanski Wit


Here’s a song that captures bizarre pagan ritual at its most Dionysian. Barely coherent woodwinds teeter on the brink of madness, spurred on by seductive, primitive drumming and the string drone of what I’m guessing is a hurdy-gurdy. Piorun are a folk and ambient band from Poland, which is not a particularly active country in the pagan metal scene, but it should come as no surprise from the brand of folk they play that the band has ties to Nokturnal Mortum.

It’s not particularly easy to dig up information on these guys. What’s available to me had to be plugged through Google Translator from Polish, but I gather Stajemy Jak Ojce, the 2004 release on which Nadbuanski Wit is the opening track, is their only full-length album.

I’m a bit confused as to just how “Polish” Piorun really is. The references I saw to “ties with Nokturnal Mortum” are a bit of an understatement; Knjaz Varggoth, Saturious, and Munruthel are all a part of the line-up, amounting to half of the band and all of the folk elements. Of the band’s three presumably Polish members, two are only credited with vocals. One, and possibly all three, were members of the now defunct Polish black metal band Archandrja. (I’ve not heard them save a few youtube samples just now.)

At any rate, Stajemy Jak Ojce is an absolutely brilliant album when the folk is allowed to shine. When the ambient takes more primacy it leaves a little to be desired. Nadbuanski Wit falls firmly in the former. Whether you choose to hear it as chilling and demented or as ritualistic and reverent, it’s bound to leave a lasting impression.

October Music Series: Nokturnal Mortum – Cheremosh


Nokturnal Mortum is a name one should only ever drop with caution. They are unfortunately the flagship band of the Ukrainian white supremacist nsbm scene. One might expect idiotic ideas to lead to pretty dim-witted music, but Nokturnal Mortum broke the mold. In fact, they’re one of the most talented bands I have ever heard. Knjaz Varggoth has a seemingly unshakable knack for infusing his music with the all of the pride and hatred that his ideology implies. From 1996 up to the present they have remained on the cutting edge of the folk/pagan metal scene, like it or not.

Cheremosh is conveniently a track with no ideological strings attached. Appearing initially on the 1997 Marble Moon ep and then in slightly more refined form on To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire in 1998, Cheremosh is an instrumental song. The name refers to the Cheremosh river in western Ukraine. With a distinct build-up and climax characteristic of many of their finest songs, Cheremosh transitions from a secluded scene of the river rolling along to some convincing and bizarre pagan ritual. The folk is mostly keyboards–Nokturnal Mortum did not begin to employ traditional instrumentation extensively until the following year on NeChrist. (NeChrist, I recently discovered, is a pun. “Nechist” are evil spirits in Russian folklore.) Nokturnal Mortum did a pretty impressive job of inventing their own folk sound through synth though, and their first three albums gain a lot from it. If you can stomach their ideology, Nokturnal Mortum present some of the most compelling pagan metal on the market, and this isn’t the last time I’ll be featuring them this month.

Review: Ygg – Ygg


I don’t know if I’m just a big fan of the Ukrainian metal scene so I’m inclined to notice or if that country really is popping out more bands than anywhere else in the world, but it seems like a year doesn’t go by that I can’t talk about a new band, probably from Kharkiv, releasing an impressive debut album. Ygg is comprised of three musicians from other bands you may have heard of–Nokturnal Mortum, Khors, and Святогор/Svyatogor to name a few–but I wouldn’t call it a side project. Members of that scene collaborate to such an extent that there’s next to no musician you can associate with only one act. The influences are thus a little more engrained, and it would be kind of silly for me to describe Ygg as sounding like a mix of other bands; they sound like Ukrainian metal. And they sound awfully good.

…Знаю, Висел Я В Ветвях На Ветру…(…I know, I hung in the branches in the wind…)

The album kicks off with one of the more effective intros I’ve heard in a while. Alone it might incline you to expect a pretty elementary album. Simple ambient synths, the overlapping sounds of wind blowing and waves crashing (or are those rustling leaves?), and a jew’s harp that they don’t so much play as randomly wank on amounts to something anyone could create in one take given a keyboard and a sufficiently grim, frostbitten basement.

What I’ve come to find over the course of a couple listens though is that the rest of the album is persistently faithful to the mood it sets. I wouldn’t have even noticed the continued presence of that wind and water effect buried beneath the distortion of the first metal track if the intro hadn’t brought it to my attention, and the jew’s harp bleeds into the next song as well. Over the course of the remaining six tracks these effects fade to be replaced by others, but in a way that maintains consistency from song to song.

YGG

So they’re not really switching gears here. They’re presenting the same scene as the intro from a metal perspective. The trance-like mix of tremolo chords and a moderate steady beat certainly maintains that particular ambient feel, and it’s executed in a way that should make any Drudkh fan happy.

The other elements are perhaps a little less accessible though. The kind of wavy, kind of bubbly keyboard sound would seem a bit out of place for me if Nokturnal Mortum hadn’t used the exact same thing so effectively on Weltanschauung. There is already precedence for associating it with paganism, so the sort of futuristic vibe I originally got from it isn’t an issue here. I imagine if I hadn’t listened to specifically Weltanschauung so many times before it might throw me for a loop.

The most obviously distinguishing feature of the album, the vocals, also require a little consideration. It’s a style very seldom used, and I imagine it would inevitably come off as pretty cheesy on first encounter. Previous bands that have employed it have tended to aim for an effect of pure hatred or insanity, for which it’s probably better suited. I don’t really think that fits Ygg’s picture though. Their sound focuses on nature and paganism, at least as I hear it. The track/album/band name is itself one of the many traditional names for Odin, and the introductory track’s title approximates the opening line of the Rúnatal, a 13th century recording of Odin’s self-sacrifice to acquire the wisdom of the runes. No, the vocals aren’t trying to express insanity or hatred.

So I’m inclined to hear the singing as a sort of vocal reproduction of the howling wind in the introduction. I don’t know, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s an interpretation that works for me. It’s a sound that’s a bit harder to pull off, because a less chaotic theme requires more precision. When his voice occasionally sounds a bit too human it’s more of a brief letdown for me than a poignant reminder of music’s theme. But at this point perhaps I sound so absurdly full of myself that I’m doing the album more harm than good. I’ll just stop. Suffice to say I really like this, and I think a lot more went into its conception than just three guys jamming black metal and landing on something nice. It’s a rewarding work that’s fairly complex in its simplicity, and I highly recommend it.