What We Missed a Decade Ago
The CoC Staff Analyses Albums From 1995
by: Pedro Azevedo
Having started in August 1995, back then with a much smaller staff than what we have now, a number of albums from that year were never featured in Chronicles of Chaos. Some of those came to be considered classic or in some way important albums, while a huge number of others were quickly forgotten about. This article concerns itself with the former. Our current staff looked at some of the albums we missed back then, reviewing them from a present day perspective ten years later. We hope you will find the result interesting, and perhaps also pleasantly nostalgic.


454 Big Block - _Your Jesus_ (Century Media)
by: Aaron McKay (9 out of 10)

Can you wear out a CD? If not, I sure gave it my best shot with 454 Big Block's 1995 release _Your Jesus_. While we all have been influenced every step during the course of our lives continuously, and I sheepishly admit my roots stem back a bit more than a smidgen further than the mid '90s, _Your Jesus_ struck a vein much the same way as the Crumbsuckers did back in 1988 with _Beast on My Back_. Both were exercising a cross-over approach that just clicked somehow. While the Crumbsuckers took the harsher metal and raw punk hybrid for their own, 454 BB explored the hardcore-esque side of metal's melodic tones where their songwriting was concerned. It is all here: the religious discontent of the title cut to the societal strife of "Held Down", to the chaotic nature of interpersonal relationships found on "Cold", "Dead Inside" and "No One". Like they say, misery loves company.

Barring a few key exceptions, identifying with 454 BB's day-to-day relevance was in no way a stretch of the imagination. While 454 BB was thick and rich in their own right, the driving rhythms and their fluid nature were alluring. They fought back any notion of abandoning a progressively in-your-face style that you might expect from a Boston, Massachusetts cross-over outfit.

The eleven tracks culminate with "Dirt". This song displays the very essence of 454 Big Block's approach. The harsh subject matter of rape just simply underscores the expansive advance 454 BB coerces from their material unleashed upon any unsuspecting listener. Pound for pound, these heavyweights were for all intents and purposes ahead of their time. Unsettling yet intently fascinating, would this four-piece still pummel the scene today, I shudder to think of the heights they might have achieved.


Anathema - _The Silent Enigma_ (Peaceville)
by: Pedro Azevedo (10 out of 10)

Although I recently wrote a brief review of _The Silent Enigma_ as part of a list of fundamental doom albums for my article "Doom Metal: The Gentle Art of Making Misery", there is no way I would allow its omission from this retrospective piece. In the aforementioned doom metal article, I wrote:

"_The Silent Enigma_'s predecessor _Serenades_ (1993) and successor _Eternity_ (1996) also rank as two of my favourite doom metal albums ever, and remain fundamental in their own right. The lovelorn dirges of _Serenades_, led by singer Darren White, and the similarly emotional but somewhat Pink Floydian _Eternity_, where current singer Vincent Cavanagh first explored his clean vocals, deserve a place in any doom metal collection. Yet _The Silent Enigma_ is perhaps Anathema's most distinctive accomplishment, in the sense that it captures Anathema at a point where their music was not only incredibly emotional, but also delivered with great intensity. This doesn't mean the mellower efforts that followed are less worthy, but there is no escaping the classic status of songs like "The Silent Enigma", "Shroud of Frost" or album closer "A Dying Wish". While showing the band in the middle of a massive transition, _The Silent Enigma_ is a hugely inspired album, with a superb combination of atmosphere, emotion and riffs."

Anathema's expansive songwriting on _The Silent Enigma_, coupled with a unique mixture of metallic and emotional intensity, ensures the album's immense quality remains untouched a decade later. _The Silent Enigma_ had a major impact on me when it came out, both on a musical and personal level, and it is no less overwhelming today. In this album there are riffs, clean chords and lyrical passages that bear a spontaneous ability to affect the listener the likes of which can very seldom be heard. There is only one somewhat weaker track, namely "Nocturnal Emission", but one thing should be entirely clear: in my opinion, this is one of those extremely few albums that transcend genre and even music itself, able to become embedded in the very soul of those it touches. "...And there is no song... just a delusion of silence."


Beherit - _Electric Doom Synthesis_ (Spinefarm)
by: Todd DePalma (8.5 out of 10)

Although diversions from black metal into electronic music became in vogue during the second half of the Nineties, projects such as Neptune Towers and Beherit sought to renew the ethos of their creators, having peaked respectively some years earlier under different provisions, by delving into less traditional structure in ambient composition. In Beherit's case, the adjustment came at the price of its subacid guitar style gained from introduction to the Brazilian scene and the sussurate phantom voice of frontman Marko Laiho, resigned to work more as sculptor than orator behind his new incarnation. The daemonic appellation remained intact presumably because the ideas remained the same; the occult thematic previously dealt with so explicitly retained its potency in abstraction, mutating into phantasmagoric trance invocations, "Ritual", as plastered on the back of one album. This contributes in part to the commercial and critical shadow over this album, which is too fucking weird for some and not grounded enough in the old ways for others. All in all, this seems for the best -- experimentation within metal that breaches into some commercial success concomitantly creates nouveau acknowledgement of the early canon; the attempt at preserving integrity in this way, if we can reasonably assume the goals of the artist, is thus achieved.

Similarly, across the metal spectrum we see bands cite and integrate outside influences to flavor their new material, which can result in pompous ebb of quality. The problem with crossing over in general is a deficient subtlety wherein the perspective of the composer leans on cliché and blunt reconstitution, sporadically introducing these elements in ways that preclude either being fully realizing or made into something new. This is why the much-hyped music of Leviathan only becomes intriguing when split from its confused inclusiveness or why another recently celebrated band such as Woods of Ypres' perfervid pop/rock expeditions are as convincing as Sum 41 jamming with Halford and King.

Beherit's final work is a nine track voyage that renders the aural essence of cinematic horror and science fiction in a way both physically and psychologically evocative of chaos. It's episodic, as in the act of dreaming. While at rest, the human body is prone to a number of disturbances that disrupt the sleeping process. However, most of these brief arousals never last long enough for us to remember, and so by morning we awake believing to have lain in steady repose throughout the evening. The physical may also be true of the mental -- that dreaming, when characterized by random shifts in activity and image is seldom one long circumstance, but a collection of fragmentary scenes merging in succession during a process of interrupted languor, a natural editing of the subconscious. In this manner, the album opens with a dragline of dissonant keys trickling through the auricular gate of its listener, appropriately titled "Ambush", soon lost in the epileptic blur of "We Worship". Improving on the hollow, amateur Midi sound of _H418ov21.C_, this work produces a more surrounding, complex audio environment; polyrhythmic drums echo toward the edges of cyber-punk futurism with brooding, eastern tones cloaked in heated distortion accented by a chorus of strings. What at first could be confused as excursions into modern dance music in employing upbeat rhythm loops ("Drawing Down the Moon") reveals itself more as electronic folk music that (as the recycled title underscores) reiterates a kind of magical arch with a semi-glorious accent of wonder and tension that evokes man in the grip of syzygy. The writing becomes more lucid as time passes, harmonizing the fractional beats and effects into less abrasive ambulation; contemplative wanderings such as "Sense", with astral drifts comparable to Norway's Biosphere or "Temple of Lykos", ending the album with a ripple of taut somnambulance that hints at the final stage of transformation, the end of Beherit: Suri Shaamani.

Because self-understanding is the only palatable excuse for art in the first place, the uncharitable tone that takes place over these later recordings is itself admirable and completely in the spirit of the original material. In this context (pandering to no one), alienation uncovers actual power. And with Laiho still being roughly around the age of twenty at the time of this shift, _Electric Doom Synthesis_ gives one of the more fascinating glimpses into artistic development within (without) the genre.


Crown of Thorns - _The Burning_ (Black Sun)
by: Pedro Azevedo (8.5 out of 10)

I have said this before, and I will say it again. For the past few years, an ever increasing number of bands seem determined to be the loudest, fastest, sickest or most brutal in the scene. They tend to become more dependant on image and/or production as a result, and ultimately their focus often seems to shift away from the actual music. A lot of the members of these bands are probably too young to have been aware of _The Burning_ when it heralded the arrival of Crown of Thorns (later known as The Crown), but they would do well to give it a spin or ten today.

_The Burning_ may not have a fancy production job, but every instrument is discernible and the final result is quite adequate; it may not have great shock value, but it has plenty of vitriol and energy; and it may look more juvenile than fashionable, but it contains more cracking leads and riffs than you might expect. With song after song of furious, memorable death/thrash, Crown of Thorns crafted an infectious and highly enjoyable debut, with numerous highlights and very few passable numbers.

Crown of Thorns would then release the much less consistent _Eternal Death_ (still worth picking up for the brilliant "In Bitterness and Sorrow") before moving on to their famed death 'n' roll albums as The Crown, starting with the crushing _Hell Is Here_ -- but that same hellish raw talent was all here already, and it shows.


Dark Tranquillity - _Of Chaos and Eternal Night_ (Spinefarm)
by: Pedro Azevedo (9.5 out of 10)

Since I can't pick Dark Tranquillity's 1995 classic _The Gallery_ and yet again go on about how it remains one of my favourite albums (because it has already been famously covered in a certain review back when it came out), for tradition's sake I'll just do the next best thing: review the EP that preceded it earlier that year.

Truth be told, the reason why I picked _Of Chaos and Eternal Night_ goes much deeper than the CoC tradition of somehow always mentioning the infamous _The Gallery_ review in these special articles. On this four song EP, we're taken back to a time when some EPs were still actually very much worth buying. _Of Chaos and Eternal Night_ was made up of a reworking of a song from the band's debut _Skydancer_ and three original tracks which were never released elsewhere (although the EP itself was later part of a reissue of DT's aforementioned debut _Skydancer_). It served both as an introduction to the style from which _The Gallery_ would later be born, and also to the band's new line-up -- most notably with Mikael Stanne (guitarist on _Skydancer_) superiorly taking over vocal duties in place of Anders Friden (who joined In Flames).

Simply put, _OCaEN_ is full of cracking music from beginning to end, and that certainly hasn't changed a decade after it came out. The final stretch of the title track and the main riff on "Away, Delight, Away", in particular, remain as two of the finest moments in DT's outstanding career. The production may be a bit thin, but the vibrancy and excitement of DT's music could not be stifled. As a stand alone EP or together with _Skydancer_, _OCaEN_ remains a mandatory collection of songs for those who appreciate technical, energetic metal that complements its huge successor _The Gallery_ nicely.


Death - _Symbolic_ (Roadrunner)
by: Paul Schwarz (10 out of 10)

Released in March, a mere five months before CoC began, Death's sixth album presented a new manifesto for metal music. Mingling complex yet catchy melodic strains with percussion possessing not only potent power but genuine, subtle eloquence, _Symbolic_ established new foundations. Eschewing both mainstream trends and underground tendencies of the time, Death's mastermind (guitarist, vocalist, primary songwriter and sole lyricist Chuck Schuldiner) took his music in a new and intensely ambitious direction -- one barely hinted at by Death's previous work. Certainly the increasingly fast, technical direction pursued since 1990's _Spiritual Healing_ -- which had climaxed in impressive if somewhat stifled style with 1993's _Individual Thought Patterns_ -- pointed towards the fact that _Symbolic_ would be a progressive rather than retrogressive work; but the sheer scope of Schuldiner's vision and the almost total success with which it was realised was nonetheless unprecedented, even in a history as exemplary as Death's.

Working from March to September of 1994 alongside drummer Gene Hoglan (the only other surviving member of the Death line-up which recorded _ITP_) Schuldiner cemented the foundations of Death's exquisitely reborn, reinvigorated sound. Turning in a career-best performance, the ex-Dark Angel sticksman not only did Chuck proud -- he upped the ante on metal drumming for the second time in his then ten-year residency as one of the true greats of the genre. Allowing himself the freedom to embrace his personal drumming influences and be inspired by their work in the process, Hoglan played it all, to paraphrase Jag Panzer's Reynold Carlson. Taking the dictate given him at the Bradford clinic of one Dom Famularo, Hoglan happily stole from other drummers; "...mainly Castronovo on Marty Friedman's _Dragon's Kiss_" [Slagwerkkrant, June / July 1995]; putting together an identity to his playing which was genuinely instrumental: a potent voice to lend to _Symbolic_'s multifaceted song. Giving Hoglan the freedom to express himself allowed Schuldiner to free the guitar, _Symbolic_'s most singularly expressive voice.

Instead of being a mere time-keeping, pace-asserting device -- as they so often are in heavy metal -- the drums of _Symbolic_ both set and off-set tone, regularly creating genuine atmosphere. But most importantly, they speak alongside, rather than being regularly subsumed by the two guitars which lead the album's immensely engaging musical dialogue. Though it is the variety inherent in _Symbolic_'s songs which primarily accounts for how this pentrating and pronounced percussive pulse of Hoglan's comes across, the contribution made by bassist Kenny Conlon (recruited only five rehearsals before the recording of _Symbolic_ began) is of significance. With little time and a comparative lack of experience, Conlon simply grooved on Hoglan's rhythm, mirroring his patterns and locking to his step. Instead of contributing creatively, Conlon gave definition to what was already mapped out, amplifying the impact of the patterns Hoglan had laid down.

The potency and prevalence of this rhythmic foundation was ultimately secured by engineer and co-producer Jim Morris, who worked alongside Schuldiner at Morrisound studios in Tampa, crafting an exquisitely balanced, richly dynamic yet grippingly powerful sound for Death's sixth album. (As Schuldiner himself put it: the difference in sound between _ITP_ and _Symbolic_ is a difference between night and day. [WATT, April 1995]). It is Morris whom Schuldiner credits with opening up Death's sound on _Symbolic_. Primarily this is because Morris, in pitching the guitars higher, gave them a clarity and power which they had never had under Scott Burns, who had produced Death's three previous platters. Given a perfect platform to speak his penetrating musical piece, Schuldiner crafted songs which prized variety alongside heaviness, and accessibility alongside originality. Teaming himself with an old high school friend who, like Conlon, had cut his teeth with local Florida bands purveying "progressive hard music" [Spark, March 1995], Schuldiner embraced metal traditions without succumbing to the temptation to simply play up to them. The new man, Bobby Koelble, may have been deemed a "big traditionalist" [Spark, March 1995], akin to his immediate predecessor, Craig Locicero of Forbidden, who had taken King Diamond man Andy LaRoque's place during the touring for _ITP_. But the little that Koelble does contribute to _Symbolic_ as a writer (he takes solos only on the first two tracks, according to the album's credits, which claim general authorship to Chuck Schuldiner exclusively) is not simply showy metal leadwork: his closing solo on "Zero Tolerance" -- flavoured by jazz fusion influences and expertly, economically appropriate in its placing -- is among _Symbolic_'s most beautiful moments. Schuldiner and Koeble together laid down the most singularly expressive set of intertwining guitar voices in Death's illustrious canon.

As ever, the most profound thrust of Schuldiner's expression is through his music. Though the lyrics of its title track opener delve interestingly and in searchingly affecting style into the man's past with his band and in the scene -- exquisitely mirroring the song's daring, dynamic thrust, which plays with tempo and mood freely, evidencing a relaxation in its creator which was unprecedented in Death's history -- _Symbolic_ otherwise contains little, lyrically, which is of great significance in itself or which carries significant poetic weight. In this sense, it is very much a metal album: the music is very much the focus.

His stated purpose to keep metal alive, Schuldiner fashioned songs for _Symbolic_ which were laden with melodic hook lines and solos. But simultaneous with this return to old metal roots was not only the continuation of Death's progression drive, but its fierce intensification. Opening up to his influences, Schuldiner successfully matured Death's sound without losing its identity to self-indulgence in the process. Graceful in a way heavy metal rarely is with success, _Symbolic_ melds its own highly developed formulation of the kinetic approach to our beloved style, pioneered by Slayer and others in the Eighties, and adapted to a fine point by death metal's collective offspring in the Nineties -- to a fluid, often richly melodic and always exquisitely pronounced chorus of two guitars. Throughout this album's fifty minutes, primal, propulsive energy and delicate, subtly affecting emotion intermingle effortlessly. There is nothing in the collective catalogues of Dream Theater, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate and Iron Maiden which reaches as far and indents its stamp on the ages quite as profoundly as _Symbolic_ does, in this writer's opinion.

Majestic and epic yet measured and often intimate, _Symbolic_ more than achieved its creative goal: to save metal from stagnation, either induced by mindless mass-market trend following, or small-minded scene loyalty. It may not have made Death into the Iron Maiden-and- Metallica-combined-for-the-Nineties that its creative success deserved, but its legacy has lived on -- inspiring countless bands to scale heights of creativity hitherto undreamed. Though Schuldiner had forged propulsive, smooth and insistent songs in the past, here he finally found a way to make even the most dynamic tempo and mood shifts in stunningly seamless fashion. _Symbolic_ set a new bar which has not actually been -raised- in the ten years since its release. When it celebrates its Jubilee, it will sound as good as it does today -- or perhaps more likely, it will sound even better. An undisputable milestone in the history of metal.


Fleurety - _Min Tid Skal Komme_ (Misanthropy)
by: Todd DePalma (8 out of 10)

Is Fleurety a black metal band dreaming itself as a progressive rock band, or is it a progressive rock band dreaming about playing black metal? The question had still hardly been answered when the Norwegian group released their 2002 album _Department of Apocalyptic Affairs_, creating a new round of confusion as the band leapt from the black metal milieu altogether and into lush electronic rock perplexities. But the skill and linearity with which Fleurity is able to assume seemingly incongruent roles is what makes their debut record such a fascinating work; one that utilizes extreme structural dissonances to portray terror next to the serene, refusing to limit itself to a single atmosphere.

_Min Skad Til Komme_ is, contrary to most perceptions, not quite "all over the place". It chooses from a select cache of influences to form a party of distinct personalities that eventually get along rather well, providing potent imagery in evocative composition which the first track "Fragmenter Av En Fortid" illustrates so wonderfully. What starts as a breezy interlude of undistorted guitar strums and juicy bass notes wandering tranquilly through an empty kind of happiness becomes devoured by the static intrusion of what is now cliché black metal fare in minimal and diminished chords that temporarily erase so much sunny-ness from the air. For the next forty minutes from this into the proceeding tracks, Fleurety arrive at more complex structures involving the combination of bass and drums working in jazzy counterpoint rhythms next to odd cadences of a guitar style which shows far more in common with the prog-metal quirks of Amorphis than fellow countrymen and equally controversial auteurs Ulver. Still a novelty in 1995, the estrus charged female howls of Marian Aas Hansen double adhesively within these lifting Pagan melodies, alternating duties with the torn expressions of Fleurety co-founder Svein Egil Hatlevik. The pair displays piquant antiphons of the descent from accepted beauty to licentious expression and total possession, evinced here in one fell swoop that can still upset the dogmatic and religious mien of the Christian and black metaller alike.

Recently re-issued by Candlelight with new artwork, the 2004 version of this disc also includes as a bonus the full _A Darker Shade of Evil_ demo and "Absence", taken off one of the Blackened compilations. Highly recommended.


In the Woods... - _HEart of the Ages_ (Misanthropy)
by: James Montague (10 out of 10)

I must have listened to this album at least a hundred times in the hundred days following its purchase, eventually declaring in 1999 that _HEart of the Ages_ was one of the three perfect metal albums ever made. While the advancing years have sapped my ability to blurt out such fanboyish hyperbole, I must say that my enthusiasm for this album has yet to fade -- though it has adapted itself somewhat to my evolving (or possibly regressing) tastes. These days I skip the annoying quasi-gothic, emo-doom pandering of the three-and-a-half minute "Mourning the Death of Aase", but this small blight in proceedings is more than offset by the renewed wonder I feel for "Wotan's Return", a quarter-hour monolith of early second wave black metal riffing and palpable spirituality. But that's not to say I'm only in it for a bit of old-school Norwegian worship. In the Woods... started their career with only one foot in the black metal circle and ended up a hop, step and a jump away. Even at this early stage, they displayed a wondrous range of technique and songcraft that has stood the test of time better than most of their contemporaries.

Starting with a basic palette of tremolo picked guitars, monolithic drums and desperate screams reminiscent of early Burzum, each track on _HEart of the Ages_ offers something new, whether it be female vocals, natural sound effects (insects and the like) and more prog-rock synth backgrounds, frog-like fretless bass solos or primitive beats that you can imagine being played around a Pagan campfire many centuries ago. Every song is composed with overwhelming skill, patience and inspiration. The extravagant song length isn't down to repetition -- even though "Wotan's Return" is the most black metal piece on the record, it covers an extraordinary amount of ground in its fifteen minutes. I also love the fact that there's an instrumental on this record entitled "Pigeon". A pigeon is just a common, smelly bird, right? Ironically though, the track is a beautiful, soaring, majestic piece which eagles and falcons would be proud to call their own.

Ten years on, this album should have shown up on your radar at some point, and though the band's subsequent dive into more prog-metal territory may cause consternation for the extreme metal fan, there really is no excuse to ignore this inspiring, epic achievement. Brutal it may not be, but few recordings in any genre have come this close to awakening the ancient spirituality of those oft-invoked northern forests.


Meshuggah - _Destroy, Erase, Improve_ (Nuclear Blast)
by: Brian Meloon (10 out of 10)

_Destroy, Erase, Improve_ was Meshuggah's breakthrough album, and remains to this day their defining moment. While their sound was hinted at in 1991's _Contradictions Collapse_, and mostly defined by 1994's _None_ EP, this album fleshed out and solidified their style.

The essence of their sound is their heavy, tight, syncopative and polyrhythmic riffs. But with this album, they expanded their use of melodic jazz / fusion-influenced sections. The melodic abstraction of these sections provides a stylistic counterpart to the rhythmic abstraction of the heavy parts. To complete the package, Meshuggah add aggressively shouted vocals, highly precise playing, and ultra- powerful production. It's a combination of elements that works well together, and really hasn't been improved on in the last ten years.

Looking back, what stikes me about this album is how completely the band executes their vision. On many albums, the riffs are a hodge- podge of different styles and influences; but on _Destroy, Erase, Improve_, every riff is true to the style. It's a rare album that achieves this degree of focus, and an even rarer one that breaks new ground while doing so.

Ultimately, this is a landmark and important album. It not only provided the high water mark for the band's future work and their solo projects (e.g. guitarist Fredrik Thordendal's 1998 solo project _Sol Niger Within_), but influenced dozens of other bands as well. As such, it belongs in any serious metal fan's collection.


Morbid Angel - _Domination_ (Earache)
by: Jackie Smit (10 out of 10)

For me _Domination_ was an epiphany. Where hindsight would perhaps label it as the record that in the eyes of many led to Morbid Angel's fall from grace (no pun intended), from the moment that I hit the play button one fateful Thursday afternoon, it had me entranced. It wasn't a case of discovering a new band; I had devoted ample time to the likes of _Blessed Are the Sick_ and _Covenant_. _Domination_ was just one of -those- records -- an album that hit me with the same blunt force impact as _Reign in Blood_ had done to a previous generation a decade earlier.

What better way to leave a lasting impression than to start a record with a track like "Dominate"? Brutal, aggressive and stripped of all but the faintest Lovecraftian bent -- another erstwhile trademark of the band -- it sends a powerful message to the listener that for the next fourty-five minutes, all bets are off. From Bill Kennedy's chunkier production, through to the heavier focus on melody and David Vincent's noticeably deeper and more intelligible vocals, _Domination_ draws inspiration from its three predecessors, and elevates it to almost overwhelming heights. Ironically, the distinct and more sonically uniform sound that is so crucial to the overall feel of the record was another of Trey Azagthoth's many peeves as he headed into recording _Formulas Fatal to the Flesh_, but it remains impossible to ignore its effectivity in light of the menacing opening riff to "Where the Slime Live" -- an uncharacteristically slower, though no less compelling number.

These two tracks are mere appetizers for the main course however, and it's the post-apocalyptic hammering of "Eyes to See, Ears to Hear" that definitively sets the tone for the rest of the album. Minutes later and "Dawn of the Angry" and "This Means War" launch a dual pronged battle hymn; the band tearing through riff after classic riff, while Azagthoth lays down some of his most inspired and inventive lead work to date. A brooding and majestic "Caesar's Palace" is a logical follow-up to this compendium of violence, with Trey, by his own admission, paying homage to the guitar work of Eddie Van Halen -- steering the album's mood toward something distinctly darker, building up to the climactic crescendo of "Hatework".

Ten years on, and the album still bristles with the same vitality that was coursing through it in 1995, dropping nothing to the deluge of critically acclaimed newcomers in the scene. Its detractors have been vocal, but it is held in the highest regard by much of the band's fanbase -- including Devin Townsend, who interestingly references it as his favourite death metal record. As for my two cents: _Domination_ still has no equal. Its influence on my aesthetic sensibilities was profound, and it remains the primary benchmark against which I hold every death metal record that is passed my way. For those who would underestimate the lasting legacy it has left on the underground, a brief listen to Decapitated's _The Negation_ -- to name but one example -- provides abundant evidence to the contrary.


Opeth - _Orchid_ (Candlelight)
by: Pedro Azevedo (9 out of 10)

Adorning the front cover, two pink orchids on a plain black background; no band name or album title in sight. Turn the CD case around, and all you see is the track list and four silhouettes standing against the sunset. The monochromatic remainder of the booklet finally unveils a band logo on a low contrast page: the name Opeth is at last revealed, as if timidly hidden in a grey mist.

Most of those who made it this far and -- against all odds -- picked up the plain bright blue CD inside for a spin back in 1995 were probably unaware of what awaited them. Inside lay a gem of an album made up of over an hour of intricate, progressive and emotional metal, strongly rooted in dual guitar work that evolved throughout each lengthy composition. Two other characteristics immediately stood out: the demonic roar and whispered voice that accompanied the music so suitably, and the well integrated acoustic sections that appeared every now and then.

_Orchid_ marked the debut of what would become one of the most distinctive and celebrated bands in extreme metal today. It would be followed up in 1996 by the more progressive and considerably successful _Morningrise_ (which, like its predecessor and successor, originally bore no band logo on its front cover), before the departure of original members Anders Nordin (drums) and Johan de Farfalla (bass). These were replaced respectively by drummer Martin Lopez and, later, bassist Martin Mendez.

While it lacks the stronger production and clean vocals Opeth regularly use today, _Orchid_ still remains a highly intriguing, memorable and enjoyable record to date. It is therefore an album worth possessing not only for its historical value, but also for the relevancy it retains ten years after its release -- a rare thing indeed, and the herald of a great career.


Sieges Even - _Sophisticated_ (Under Siege)
by: Brian Meloon (8.5 out of 10)

Germany's Sieges Even have so far released five albums (the band have recently reformed and are planning a sixth), but I find this album to be their best. The band's debut album, 1988's _Life Cycle_, was technical thrash, heavily influenced by Watchtower's _Energetic Disassembly_. Their next two albums, 1990's _Steps_ and 1991's _A Sense of Change_, saw them moving in a more prog-rock direction, similar to mid-'80s Rush. Finally, 1995's _Sophisticated_ and 1997's _Uneven_ found them with a new guitarist, a new vocalist and a new sound.

I'd describe this album as a cross between Watchtower's _Control and Resistance_, Extreme's eponymous album, and Mordred's _Fool's Game_. The similarities to Nuno's funk-styled guitar work for Extreme are pretty obvious, but the complexity of the music is more similar to Watchtower. It retains some of the technicality of their earlier work, interspersing highly technical sections with simpler and more commercial sections. Yet despite the complexity, the songwriting is generally very good. Not only do the songs generally flow well, but the band were able to make each song unique while retaining an overall characteristic sound.

The performances are all very good, with amazingly nimble guitar work. Guitarist Wolfgang Zenk pumps out riffs varying from thrashy to mellow to funky to punky to jazzy without missing a beat. The bass work and drumming is also exceptional, frequently following completely different rhythmic ideas than the guitars, but somehow making the two parts work together. The vocals are also very good, strong and clean without being whiny or awkward sounding.

That said, this isn't a perfect album; I have basically two complaints about it. First, the songs are occasionally a little too commercial, though these parts are thankfully isolated to only a few songs. Second, the album loses steam in the second half, and several of the latter songs drag. Nevertheless, what makes this album noteworthy to me is that it has aged so well. A lot of albums sound dated after ten years, but _Sophisticated_ still sounds fresh to me. Probably this has to do with the level of energy in the music and the fact that they have a distinctive sound that no one else has copied since. Whatever the reason, this is an impressive album that has stood the test of time.


Sol Invictus - _In the Rain_ (Tursa)
by: Todd DePalma (9 out of 10)

By this time in songwriter Tony Wakeford's career, he had drifting far away from the semi-acoustic post-gothic niche so similar to his former project Death in June and onto more intimate exhibits aided by cello, drums and violin. With his dour voice still intact, _In the Rain_ is sunken in the expression of love and cynicism brought together in strange and exquisite song, an album of often tenebrous pieces that dance in the fire of the past.

A mixture of Brahm's mournful urgency and English folk song, these eleven tracks wrap both a morbid humor and strong indictment of modernity within deceiving textures of music that strangle your senses with obsessively noir orchestrations, highlighted by the tandem of Nathalie Van Keymeulen and Céline Marleix-Bardeau on violins, bringing ensorcelling Celtic vibrations to the fold. The pomp of "The World Shrugged" and "In Days to Come" momentarily diffuses the somber mood towards the disc's end, but by then we can't recover. Even in appealing to hope and love there is an inescapable dimension of mortality in all things, as in the heartbreaking admissions of "Believe Me" that run with a stainless veracity:

"Fields of Spears, our creation
For our crimes there be damnation
The blood of the past, it does bathe us
The fingers point to blame and claim us
And without love we are lost
Believe me, we are lost
With out love, we are dust
Believe me, we are dust
Without love we lose our souls
And mine had left long ago
The gods above and the gods below
Believe me"

This track, if you had to pick one, shows Wakeford as easily the most coldly articulate and powerful folk artist since Leonard Cohen, who he has undoubtedly outshined in quality while continuing on for almost two decades.

Like their prior and much admired album _Lex Talionis_, 1995's _In the Rain_ marks a new musical direction in the Wakeford discography that would continue on for at least a few more years and records, eventually topped by the release of _The Blade_, and then moving on to experiment with jazz instruments and rhythms for the new millennium. For those unfamiliar, this is as good a start as any; and for those who've been long captivated, why not pull out your copy again to contemplate the future, as "when we fall we'll fall like Rome".


Summoning - _Minas Morgul_ (Napalm Records)
by: Pedro Azevedo (9 out of 10)

If there ever was a band whose music could transport the listener to Tolkien's Middle Earth, in my opinion it is Summoning. Miles away from their raw debut album _Lugburz_, for most listeners _Minas Morgul_ is where the voyage begins.

The basic elements employed by this Austrian due from here on are simple enough: black metal shrieks, fuzzy guitar lines, a wide array of keyboard effects, and a very distinctive and pronounced drum machine. Various layers of these ingredients are successively added to the music, serving as building blocks that Summoning combine to shape each track. This often results in lengthy compositions -- soundscapes of almost minimalist valleys and climatic peaks -- as Protector and Silenius strive to represent various moods within their music.

Summoning would refine this approach on subsequent albums, namely _Dol Guldur_, _Stronghold_ (which in my opinion remains as their crowning achievement to date) and _Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame_. Although it is a little rough around the edges and its arrangements are comparatively modest, _Minas Morgul_ is a very inspired album that warrants an important place in Summoning's discography through the sheer strength of the ideas commited to disc.


Ulver - _Kveldssanger_ (Head Not Found)
by: James Montague (9 out of 10)

As the late Chuck Schuldiner once said, serenity is sacred. But for restless and demanding types like myself, it's not the easiest thing to find in the music world. After all, that stuff they call "easy listening" on the radio is nauseous tripe that induces hypertension in every muscle of my body. Barbra Streisand, relaxing? Ugh! You've got to be fucking kidding me.

Ulver, on the other hand, know a thing or two about crafting a mood; or at least they did in their earlier days. With _Kveldssanger_, the second part of their initial trilogy, they created some truly magical and serene music that really does have a meditative quality. As most people in the Scandinavian metal scene would already know, this album took the mystical folk components from the debut album _Bergtatt_ and expanded on them, while the following album _Nattens Madrigal_ took the harsh black metal component and cranked it up to phenomenal levels. For this instalment of the saga the aim was, according to a translation of the archaic Danish liner notes, "to paint Naturall- Mystickall & Trollish Atmospheres solelie with acoustick Instruments, and what You hear is the result of late Nightes where we have found ourselves in Creative Longing for old Norway's grand Historie, marvellous Nature and the Spellbinding Atmospheres of Olde that She doth convey".

Of course, not being Norwegian I couldn't really relate to Ulver's specific yearnings, but even in the vastly different climes of Australia, I too whiled away many an evening looking out at the bushland behind my home, gazing at the stars and just letting this wonderful music flow through my brain as I thought about nothing in particular. How often can one claim to be so content, oblivious to one's worldly troubles? It's all too rare, and sometimes you need some help. _Kveldssanger_ did exactly that.

How did Ulver achieve this "natural-mystical" atmosphere? It takes talent, no doubt, but it also takes modesty, in a sense -- modesty that allows the musician to act as a channel for their innermost passions and spirit, uninterrupted by the urge to show off. What I mean is, the band didn't try to over-elaborate their spiritual message, and thus run the risk of suffocating it. Most of the tracks are based around simple but beautiful acoustic melodies by guitarists Haavard and AiwarikiaR, about half of which are accompanied by Garm's wonderful clean singing. The vocal arrangements are a little more complex, with up to four vocal tracks overdubbed, but the harmonies are very soothing and not at all bombastic. "Ord" and "A Cappella" are both purely vocal tracks, as indicated by their titles. On a few tracks a cello is used to create a more sombre mood, while occasional use of the flute gives a more nostalgic feel. I simply love the last 80 seconds of "Hiertets Vee", where the sound of a winter breeze accompanies a dual flute melody to create a magical atmosphere and an effortless high.

Since I already had the other two parts of the trilogy, buying _Kveldssanger_ was the easiest decision I ever made, and the rewards were sweet. The quality of the compositions exceeded all expectations, complemented by the understated oil painting by Maria Jaquete that adorns the cover.

On a more personal note, one thing which strikes me as remarkable with the Ulver trilogy is that, though the methods may vary, the psychological effect of each album is much the same. It's quite bizarre how the two totally polar styles employed on _Kveldssanger_ and _Nattens Madrigal_ both send me into a nostalgic trance, and says a lot about the brilliance of this band's early work.


Ved Buens Ende - _Written in Waters_ (Misanthropy)
by: Todd DePalma (5.5 out of 10)

There are several parallels between this short-lived group and their Norwegian brethren Fleurety. Both released their debut records on Misanthropy within the same year, both offered a more avant-garde take within the black metal genre, both employ the use of female vocals to this effect, and both have seen their work now reissued through Candlelight Records. But the most interesting link is how both of these groups compare to certain established death metal acts hailing from the border country of Finland. While the latter carries a certain folkishness within jazzy parameters roughly akin to Amorphis, Ved Buens Ende's sound is closely modeled after the nightmarish structures of Demilich (and attentive enjoyment of Darkthrone), which the first track of this album readily gives away in a cascade of dusty icicles crashing over the semi-tribal rhythms of drums. The blending of these different elements not only contextualizes the cross-influence occurring at the time, but of when the proverbial ice began to break within the genre. While _Written in Waters_ shoots for something of a synthesis between the atypical groove and austere harshness of these two, it loses an organic quality in the process and becomes deadeningly pretentious as well. It's not long after the first twenty minutes that the album begins plunging into grating dramaticism via the monotone vocals and dissonant chords continuing into each track without adding any depth, while the passivity in the production gives this new sound a stone atmosphere of technical hebetude. Simply less alive and content to run in circles, the band stretches a rough blueprint for potential brilliance into an hour's worth of music that leaves so much to be desired. (And has since been realized further and more recently in the current work of Deathspell Omega.) Though it has achieved a kind of prestige in obscurity, _Written in Waters_ represents an incomplete idealism with a certain conceit -- or, depending on how you wish to view it, laziness -- that sets traps all around, diminishing its grace, and leaves it best relegated to small doses of memory.

(article submitted 12/8/2005)


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