Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Yellow Eyes - Stillicide (Sibir Records & Prison Tatt Records)

A twanging ushers in the madness. Unassuming and pleasant, the sounds of a simpler time. Soon feedback enters and shortly one is trapped in a whirlwind, a chaotic frenzy of expansive riffs and blasting drums. This is only the beginning of Yellow Eyes' new EP Stillicide, a fourteen minute expression of grief, spite, abstraction, and mystery. Like the rest of Yellow Eyes' staggering catalogue Stillicide resides firmly in the realm of black metal, yet the effort is not marred by traditionalism, quite the contrary actually. On this new EP Yellow Eyes continue to push black metal to new soaring heights while remaining mindful of the genre's roots.

In a brief amount of time Yellow Eyes are able to cover an astonishing amount of emotional ground. The style of black metal that the band plays is full of twists and turns, abrupt switches in tempo and feel. Take the second track, "Heat From Other Days," which transitions sharply from aggressive, churning darkness to lush, chiming intricacies, each of which carries a different emotional weight. Vocalist Will Skarstad's characteristic high-pitched rasp is utilized, in it one hears sorrow, triumph, and malice. The lyrics, in typical Yellow Eyes fashion are abstract expressions. Take these lyrics from the final passage of "Heat From Other Days":

"When I was old enough
I pushed aside a tile
And snaked through the cold muck
Into the vast and brittle day
I took the lower path
Full of pellets, unresolved
And I let the heat from other days become my fire"

Yellow Eyes transcend the generic carbon copy black metal lyrics in favor of a more poetic, deeply expressionistic, and symbolic approach. The lyrics found on every Yellow Eyes release further solidify the band's place as an innovative force in black metal.

The music found on Stillicide is very dense, resembling the sound the band utilized on their last release, The Desert Mourns. Both releases see Yellow Eyes moving towards a more lush and bleakly thick sound. The opening of the EP displays this opaque aggression as a torrent of riffs speeds forward backed by relentless percussion, towing the line between shimmering vibrance and raw murk. On Stillicide a new layer of clarity exists, each distinct feature from the duel guitar harmonies to the pulsating throb of the bass to the pounding of the drums can be heard and felt. The high-pitched harmonies that were such a prevalent force in the band's earlier material make a refreshing return on Stillicide but are more fully integrated, adding to the colossal vortex of sound Yellow Eyes creates.

Stillicide sees Yellow Eyes striving forward along the path they have treaded since their inception, that of ingenuity with an eye on tradition. Nothing that exists here will surprise fans of the band's expressive approach to the genre but it will solidify them once again as a unique force in the landscape of millennial black metal and black metal as a whole. Stillicide will be released soon as a joint effort between Sibir Records (a label run by members of the band) and Prison Tatt Records.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Label Spotlight: Vanguard Productions

Describing itself as a Vinland Label & Distro Vanguard Productions is a recently formed entity specializing in cassettes. Vanguard has released twelve tapes in it's short existence ranging from raw black metal to power electronics to neofolk and everywhere in between. In my spotlight of the label I will be taking a closer look at the two tapes from Vanguard that made the largest impact on me.

I have to preface this examination with a warning, while Vanguard Productions is an apolitical label it does not apologize for the political stance taken by it's supporters. Neither of the two projects highlighted in this spotlight have any sort of political stance however it is important that you understand the context of the work. Personally, I believe examining art of all forms and ideology regardless of ones personal belief system is important. That being said, this blog holds no political affiliation whatsoever and without diverging into a political discussion my own beliefs hinge on acceptance. This is neither here nor there, what is important is the music contained in the two tapes highlighted below. Intolerant is a scathingly raw black metal band and Solarthrone is a martial neofolk project.

Intolerant - Snow Stained With the Blood of Traitors

Blisteringly raw black metal is Intolerant's method of annihilation. Grating production and martial, anthemic riffs give the tape an immediately powerful impression. After a short introduction "Resistance to Modern Way" fiercely charges forward, displaying stomping odes to hatred and sorrow. The music contained brings to mind Slavic pioneers of the more atmospheric and introspective forms of black metal like Hate Forest and Drudkh or some of the bands in the infamous Russian BBH. The same majesty is contained in utilization of relentless torrential riffing. Stomping punk aggression is also a key element on Snow, less reliant on punk than say Akitsa but still charged with that same hateful grit. The use of keyboards is a key element to Intolerant's music, utilized to add a layer of sorrowful mysticism to the buzzing whirlwind of the tape. The tasteful usage of something so easily overdone like keys shows the true strength of musicians Warspirit and Discipline. While raw production can easily become a weakness for many bands, relying to heavily on the reverb drenched distortion to cover up inadequacies; Intolerant uses rawness differently. Riffs are still clear in all their triumph and sorrow, the drums, while not necessarily inventive, are aggressive and provide a solid backbone, and the vocals are completely audible and brutish in their execution. 

Intolerant, while not reinventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, succeed in creating some of the most interesting raw black metal I've heard in ages. Combining harsh production, expansive atmospheric riffs, and punk aggression makes the tape a cacophonous tumult. Sold out from the label the tape is available from distros like Dungeon Tapes and Primal Vomit Records. It was also recently made available on CD through the always brilliant Prison Tatt Records or directly from the label. This tape combines all my favorite aspects of black metal and comes with the highest possible recommendation.

Solarthrone - The Light We Follow

The Light We Follow shows Vanguard at it's most introspective and reflective through the entity Solarthrone. A one man neofolk project that makes use of expansive keyboard (also used to make a flute like sound), softly strummed acoustic guitar, chimes, simplistic drumming, and either chanted or stoically recited vocals. While simplistic the atmosphere created is dreamlike, flowing forward through hazy repetition. Obvious stylistic allusions to neofolk luminaries like Death in June or Sol Invictus exist but Solarthrone never relies on a strict framework. The tracks are divided between more straightforward folk influenced tracks and more subtle ambient work. "The Knoll" is one of the more ambient tracks and consists of delicate keys and the sound of thunder crashing. This simplicity is used to maximum effect again on "Moral," whispered vocals, the soft patting of drums, and airy keys envelop the listener in a misty warmth. Solarthrone writes songs to get lost in. The final opus of the tape is "To Lift the Cosmic Veil" and as the title suggests it is a journey into the far reaches of the cosmos. A beautiful strummed guitar finds itself traveling with hushed vocals, seeming to move forwards toward the joys and sorrows of unknown realms. The entire tape has a warm and somber feel, mystic and yet still grounded in stark reality.

Solarthrone perfectly exemplifies the other side of Vanguard's output. A work deeply rooted in both the esoteric and the physical. The hazy mountain range that adorns the tape is the perfect representation of the music inside, reaching towards some unknown but deeply rooted in the majesty of earth itself. The tape is available from directly from Vanguard Productions

This is merely a simple look at Vanguard Productions, an access point if you will. These two tapes stood out for me as the two finest works of the overall brilliant label. Along with Intolerant and Solarthrone Vanguard's rosters boasts exciting projects like Equinox, Thestral, and Bacchanal among others. I encourage you to dive into the world of Vanguard Productions, harshness and splendor awaits those who do.