With things being pretty stormy and unpredictable in my part of the world the last week or so, it’s been a fine time to delve back into my collection of woodsier metal. It just makes sense to me to embrace nature’s beauty and viciousness at the same time, and visiting bands that respect and embody both of those traits always sound good when lightning is blazing across the sky.
In a matter of incredible, yet coincidental timing, I just so happen to have two promos at my disposal from a label that chooses its moves wisely and always has their ears tuned toward bands that celebrate the natural, folk-embellished in the metal kingdom. Bindrune Recordings’ motto is “Woodland Denizens, Unite,” and really, that tells you a lot about the label’s roster. Most of its bands sound like they have their minds in the moist, forestal areas, and they always choose to release music that is as mentally stimulating as it is loud and abrasive. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorite labels in metal, and I always heavily anticipate their releases, as sporadically as they come. Not complaining about that, by the way. I’d rather have a little of a good thing than a ton of stuff that’s hit or miss.
Bindrune has one hell of a bounty for listeners this time with new releases from two of their best bands. Both of the efforts signal a bit of a departure from the bands’ previous work, but not in any radical way that long-time fans could not have seen coming. And I’ve been listening to both albums quite steadily since getting my promo versions, so I’ve had a really nice sonic backdrop to the recent downpours.
We’ll start with Blood of the Black Owl, the more bizarre of the two bands, at least in my opinion. When I first came to know of this project with the self-titled debut album in 2006, it wasn’t exactly love at first listen. I don’t think anyone would argue that Chet W. Scott’s voice takes a little bit of adjustment, it being a creaky, throaty, otherworldly kind of instrument. It can be a bit off-putting, and I found it that way when I first came to know of Blood of the Black Owl, but I kept with the music and now have come to really like his vocals. They don’t sound like anyone else’s, and they buzz and scrape over the landscape of his songs. Musically, I’ve always enjoyed the thunderous magic Scott creates with this project, and the shape-shifting that’s gone on over four full-length albums now has been organic and enriching.
The latest Blood of the Black Owl opus “Light the Fires!” is the most varied among the band’s full-length albums. It takes what was started on 2010’s “A Banishing Ritual” and stretches it even further. The moments of hulking doom and black metal are few and far between, and most of what you’ll find is a trance-inducing, 1970s-prog-embracing, spiritual journey that examines nature, the state of the environment, and humankind’s role in protecting and demolishing it. I am saying this without the benefit of a lyric sheet, so I’m drawing some conclusions here, but I don’t think I’m far off. What cannot be mistaken is the sound that varies radically from what was on the debut album but also continues to transform this project into one of the more thought-provoking, evolutionary in all of metal. It’s a breath-taking performance.
As is the case with most BotBO albums, the songs on here are really long, quite involved, and demand your undivided attention. The record runs 73 minutes, and trust me, you’ll be exhausted when it’s over. I’ve only sat down and gone front to back with the record in one sitting a handful of times, as I usually dip in, take on a few tracks, get a breather, come back. But that certainly is not to suggest the record is too long, because it is not at all, there is just so much going on, from the droning, shakers, throat buzzing, and ritualistic ooze on opener “Caller of the Spirits”; the trippy, folk-dusted, mesmerizing “Wind Eyes”; psychedelic-laced, melodic, spaced-out “Rise and Shine”; “Soil Magicians,” where hints of doom metal rise to the surface; and closer “Disgust and the Horrible Realization of Apathy,” the most metallic, aggressive song on here, and for good reason as Scott seeks to shake out of their selfish comas those who pay no mind to the Earth’s true condition. It’s an awesome, riveting conclusion to Blood of the Black Owl’s most complete, emotional work yet. Go get this.
As a Pitt football fan, I should hate any band that calls West Virginia home, but alas, I can put that aside for a group as fulfilling as Nechochwen. They, too, have quite a woodsy side to them, and their music can be as calming as it is tumultuous. But as noted before, we’re dealing with two works that have a sense of departure, and the band’s new “double EP” “OtO” may send for a loop fans of the band’s two other full-length displays. Now, we’re not talking a whole new dynamic for this band. They’ve always had a heavy hand toward folk and Native American styles of music, but never more so than what they offer up here. With the exception of the final two songs on this effort, there’s nary a black or death metal note to be found. That said, it’s a really interesting, spacious collection of songs.
The duo conceptually grasps onto themes of ancestral wisdom and native tradition, and while those may sound foreign to such a technologically obsessed society, they ring true to Nechochwen. This is a very emotionally spiritual album, and it’s clear from their playing how deeply they tap into their influences and translate that in their music. The first four songs especially sound like they were dreamt and even performed deep in the forest, where their ancestors once walked, initially planting the seeds for societies that would follow. The lush folk melodies of songs such as opener “Cultivation,” melodic and proggy “On the Wind,” with the refrain, “Do you remember songs they used to sing?” and “Haniipi-miisi (Elm Tree)” and its woodwinds and quiet strumming set the stage and evoke imagery.
The heavier stuff also has quite an impact but never strays from the folk foundation. “He Ya Ho Na” gets punchy and violent, but eventually the band breaks into what sounds like a Native American chant, and trippy guitar work bleeds in to change the scene a bit. It sounds like keyboards, but I’ve been assured it is not. Nice work on that, because it’s really convincing. Closer “Pekikalooletiiwe (Instructions; An Exhortation)” begins calmly enough before exploding into black message rage, furious playing, and then a tranquil finish that lets the smoke from the fires dissipate.
Both of these records are worth your time and monetary investment, and especially with autumn not all that far off, these albums will sound perfect when the air is getting chilly and crisp. But you don’t have to wait. We’ll have more thunderstorms and natural fireworks that can be sound tracked fittingly by these amazing works.
For more on Blood of the Black Owl, go here: http://www.myspace.com/bloodoftheblackowl
For more on Nechochwen, go here: http://nechochwen.com/
To buy the albums, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/distro/newarrivals.html
For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/
To stream either album, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.bandcamp.com/