Wednesday, 27 May 2015

#377 Beherit - Drawing Down the Moon

If proof were needed that Finland packs one hell of a punch when it comes to metal, 1993 is a good year to look at. Indeed, it was a hell of a year for black-metal regardless of nationality... but not least for two of the most crushing black-metal records to emerge from any of the newly-kindled scenes at the time; Archgoat's "Angelcunt" and Beherit's "Drawing Down the Moon", the latter of which is our focus, but both of which have had a lasting impact on the genre. Both are testament to the nebulous and unrestrained spirit of black-metal at the time; there was much less of a normative nexus of expectation into which bands were drawn. For that reason, records like "Drawing down the Moon" stand the test of time; offering piecemeal and necessarily innovative interpretations of the whispers of an evil genre, which was substantially less established than it would go on to become. In many ways, with any genre, the albums which are spawned before the development of an orthodoxy can often turn out to be the best.

"Drawing Down the Moon" - and Beherit in general - are often lumped in with the bestial black metal category, and you can certainly grant that with an album like this, bedecked with fuzz-laden buzzsaw tone and at times a primitive approach to riffs and percussion, it's an easy assertion to make. It's not necessarily incorrect, either. Crucially however, wherever you tried to pin Beherit on a map, it would always be an outlier, and perhaps that's one of the great things about it; "Drawing down the Moon" is a unique piece of work. The heaviness might be among the first striking features of the records; well-defined and memorable riff-work creates a dark and occult sounding onslaught which rises with ease above being a mere wall of noise. It's this earth-rending but malign heaviness which captures a part of black metal which I love, and one often neglected by the more typical artists in, for instance, the Norwegian scene. Tremolos may be the default currency of black-metal these days, but records like this have gnashing, crushing elements in their riffs, akin to the shrieking, rusty jaws of hell themselves opening to devour - something which is less seen in the genre than one might hope, which, of course, renders it all the more welcome.

Beyond the heaviness, however, the record is also profoundly atmospheric. The second and third full-length Beherit records are entirely ambient, and you can very much feel it foreshadowed here in the keyboard use. Sparing but effective and prominent synthesiser use garnishes the record with all the more power to be evil-sounding - almost cosmically malevolent. The record draws you more and more into the desolate soundscapes conjured therein, to catch your death from the cold, airless vacuum. The keyboards are well executed, offering strong crescendos and passages in tracks with a primitive - but not comically primitive - approach; neither so minimalist as to be contrived, or so complex as to make the music sugar-coated. As I've mentioned countless times, this very much the Goldilocks-zone of synthesised use in black metal - and "Drawing Down the Moon" succeeds at being slap-bang in the middle of that. Indeed, it's more than just the synth which is just right. It's a very heavy record, but without sacrificing ease-of-listening. Despite my expectations while I was first discovering black-metal, records like this are not especially difficult to listen to, and even more-so now that my taste has become somewhat more rounded. Ultimately, the albums only real vice - and one which is easy enough to overlook - is the "whispered" vocal sound, suggestive of vocals which were recorded at a much lower volume, in places, than the rest of the instrumentation. Fortunately, this seems to only be an issue on a couple of tracks, and, as far as I know, has been far more prevalent on other records which I nonetheless succeeded in enjoying.

Here, I suppose, I should make some sort of whimsical statement to the tune of "why didn't I get into this band sooner". It's a habit I have, that's for certain. However, this time I'm content to be happy that I've discovered Beherit now. It doesn't matter so much about the order - and it's very reassuring that however hungry I am to discover more bands, and explore the music I love - it's never going to run out. On my journey, I've unearthed another classic, for myself at least - I'm sure most of you already knew it... but now I do, too.

This is a 8.5/10.

Beherit on Facebook
Beherit on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

#376 Goatlord - Reflections of The Solstice

Goatlord are one of those anomalies... and like all anomalies, should be treated with distinct interest. I don't immediately recall how I discovered Goatlord, but their work was recently brought back to my attention in a way which I'd usually be too cynical to indulge; through watching "best underrated whatever" type videos on YouTube. Usually, those sort of videos are top-ten lists composed by someone who only knows eleven bands - but this one seemed to actually have some good stuff in it; Goatlord, Kat, Torr - various bands I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of. Regardless, with Goatlord recalled into my short term memory, I dredged the depths of the internet to find their 1991 record "Reflections of the Solstice".

Rising straight from the nebulous realm of those early-nineties extreme metal records with red-logos and white artwork, Goatlord, like many of their aesthetically similar peers, tend to be press-ganged into the proto-black metal realm, and for the most part not wrongly so. Whilst having evil spewings on record from as early as 1987, the band's first and technically only record, "Reflections of The Solstice" came out just as the smell of change lurked like fresh blood in the air of extreme metal. It's only natural that proto-black metal springs to mind as the first association. The albums murky, blasphemous sound, combined with a grim and minimalist aesthetic certainly conjures reminiscence of the devilish revelries that were beginning to poke their heads above ground at the time. Goatlord's sound on "Reflections..." is quite a unique one, however - a little too warm with the guitars to have the eeriness of some first-wave and most second-wave black metal, but sufficiently eclectic in its influences to sound fairly unique; an interesting coming together of doom, miasmal death metal, and a more eighties orientated residue, replacing outright bombastic extremity with occasional flashy solos and hooks. Despite its warmth, "Reflections..." is simply too evil to fit the mould of a lot of the extreme which was being created around the time. Even within a genre which at the time was decidedly devilish, it is a black-sheep, and presumably one with a sacrificial purpose ahead of it.

The elements involved are united under both a primitive and filthy mantle of production - aside from a slightly odd drum-sound, in places - and relatively primitive musicianship and composition; powerful and lumbering, emphasising simplicity, but without robbing the record of flow to any tangible extent. It's very much the best case scenario in any record such as this; that unification of a primitive approach with sustained musical adequacy, and a lot of primitive extreme metal records lose something by only having one of the two - sometimes neither. Nothing stands in the way of this record, however. While neither scathing nor frigid not technical, the record is still one which drools with malice and evil in a way reflected by neither the archetypal black-metal that was on the rise, or the death metal which was beginning to level-out. The closest comparison I can bring to mind with any immediacy is the lurching maleficence of bands like Nunslaughter, particularly for the doomy, cackling and brooding sections delivered with great impact by both of the bands mentioned. Goatlord are amongst the most memorable of the USA's contributions to the most evil side of metal during the early nineties, with one of the more wholesome and well-rounded records of its type.

There are relatively few records out there which do quite what this one does - and even fewer which are contemporary to it. The record has a sound which manages to cohesively bring together an impressively diverse range of extreme-metal elements, while subscribing fully to none of them - it's a curiosity piece which transcends that role and provides a legitimately enjoyable and refreshing listen.

This is an 8/10.

Goatlord on Metal Archives