Cult Series Day 1: Khors add folk power to black metal on ‘Wisdom of Centuries’

I appreciate a long-standing institution that isn’t afraid to try new things to keep everything fresh.  Case in point: I just saw Rush last night, and they pulled about as unpredictable a set as you’re going get from a band that storied. Great stuff.

Similarly, Candlelight Records could just keep putting out records by its main roster and certainly get by on their history alone, but apparently that doesn’t satisfy them creatively. So they’ve created this Cult Series of releases that injects some fresh new blood into their catalog and keeps their eyes and ears geared toward the future.

Originally, I was going to take the three releases they’re putting out and do one whole entry on them. But the more I listen to each one, the more I realize each record deserves its own entry. So for the rest of this week, we’ll tackle Candlelight’s Cult Series by shedding a light on each release, why they’re important, and how they differ from each other. And trust me, if you pick up these albums by Khors, Wodensthrone, and Reverence, you won’t just be getting a grouping of things that sound exactly alike. Each band has its own ways, its own approaches, and even if they come from the same centerpoint, they get to their destination in unique ways

First up, we’ll look at Ukrainian band Khors, comprised of artists who have been in/are in other notable bands such as Hate Forest, Flying, Tesseract (I know, I know), Ulvegr, Ygg, and many more. The group’s new record “Wisdom of Centuries” is their fifth overall, and follow-up to 2010’s “Return to Abandoned,” and their melodic, flurried, nature-leaning black metal certain should give fodder to listeners who choose to take on their music while walking through forests. It also has a taste of their homeland’s folk stylings, giving you a bit more than just a blast of violence with some nice colorful edges to go along with their metallic servings.

Admittedly, I was a little late to the Khors party, as I didn’t really catch onto the band until “Abandoned” was released in 2010, alongside their “The Flame of Eternity’s Decline/Cold,” a reissue of the group’s first two records. But being that I like the style of ethnic black metal that is these guys’ specialty, the music struck me right away, and I spent a great deal of time playing catch-up to where we are now. “Wisdom of Centuries” just may be their best record yet, and considering it has the force of Candlelight behind it, the album could be the one to make an impact in America with people who dig Drudkh and Negura Bunget.

Khors, who take their name from the Slavic god of sun and light, also have a bit of a cosmic bend to their music, as if they’re fusing the wonders of our planet to what’s beyond. It won’t make you feel like you’re taking an intergalactic head trip or anything, but enough of it’s there to make it seem as if you’re floating with the stars. The band itself is comprised of guitarists/vocalists Jurgis (a newcomer on this record) and Helg, bassist Khorus, and drummer Khaoth, and they do a fine job setting up an atmosphere, adding their brand of storming and keeping things succinct and trim on “Wisdom.” They’re in and out in a little over 38 minutes, proving brevity can accentuate power.

“Through the Clouds of the Past” is an ominous instrumental opener that lets the fog into the room and sets up the ambiance. That allows “Black Forest’s Flaming Eyes” to charge into the room, with its aggressive melodies, windy keyboards, and hand drumming to establish both sonic power and rustic beauty. “The Last Leaves” has more of a classic metal feel, with airy keyboards and … for some reason … a horse whinnying out of nowhere. It’s pretty weird. “Where the Grandeur of Mountains Embraces the Space” manages to get a bit trip-hop, as it wooshes and exhales otherwise, acting as a lead-in to “Horizong Glassy,” another instrumental track that reaches into the cosmos for inspiration and leaves you in a sleepy trance. The title track then erupts, acting fearsome and daring, with some mid-tempo melodies, whispers, a pinch of sludge, and birds cawing to perhaps counteract the horse. I guess. All kidding aside, it’s a muddy little thing that’s really well put together. “The Only Time Will Take It Away” has some of the most pronounced folk sections of the entire record, but it eventually leads into some chaos, cascading, emotional peaks, and a conclusion that really wells up in your eyes and chest. It’s quite affecting. Outro “Twilight” leaves you room to take a deep breath, relax, and consider what you just experienced, and the cool haze in which this is washed makes for exceptional daydream fodder.

Khors deserve to have more recognition and accolades than they have collected so far, as they’re a refreshing, thought-provoking unit. As noted, having Candlelight behind them should help, as should the strength of this exceptional fifth record. Do make a point to check this out if you dig folk-minded black metal, outer space, or aggressive star gazing. You’ll be rewarded heavily for your investment.

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Finland’s Ensiferum serve up another rowdy, folk basher on ‘Unsung Heroes’

I worry that not enough people listen to metal to have fun anymore, and at times, I probably can be counted among that number. When I discovered metal as a kid, I loved it because it was loud, different, shunned by much of the mainstream, and most important of all, a good time. Some of the best times I had growing up was going to see bands such as Megadeth, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Testament and getting lost in the moment.

These days, since they’ll give any asshole a blog, it seems there’s more judgment of other people and their tastes, as well as lambasting bands and their philosophies, than ever before. People don’t listen to the right black metal, they don’t understand the proper doom bands, they’re not kvlt enough, that band’s sold too many albums for anyone to care, that band tours with the wrong bands. There are so many accusations bandied about and accusations made that the essence of our fandom often gets lost. Remember putting on a record and enjoying it just because it’s fun? That’s still OK, right? To have fun?

I say all of this because I’m coming at you with “Unsung Heroes,” the fifth and latest album from Finnish Viking/folk metal titans Ensiferum. I don’t mean to lump them in with the vague examples I gave above, because I’m not sure how people perceive them on every multi-level of judgment rendering. I’m not that tied into the genre in which these guys play, and I always feel that because I’m not European, I can’t quite grasp what bands of this ilk are trying to do and what they mean to their fans. I always imagine that these folks go over big at an event such as Wacken, where people are drunk and baked and just want to … have fun. And that’s the angle from which I approach this band.

While I’m not a huge fan or collector of this style of metal, and a lot of the genre turns me off mostly because it just doesn’t translate with me, I dig Ensiferum. Their album covers always stood out to me, something that drew me to power metal growing up, and their music is charged up and full of enthusiasm. Their style makes me think back to when I was growing up and I didn’t care about politics, philosophies, what label a band was on, or any of that. I just cared about what the music sounded like, and Ensiferum help me remember that a bit.

This band’s music also pokes at my affinity for modern-day Amorphis and their huge, hearty melodies, as well as the drunken brawling aspect to Amon Amarth, another band I feel gets dismissed sometimes by people who take themselves way too seriously. That band kills, and their albums are a blast, and I get a lot of that same spirit with “Unsung Heroes.” The album certainly has the Euro folk dynamic going on, but the band doesn’t exactly smash you over the head with it (with the exception of the dual “Celestial Bond” tracks, the first featuring the wonderful Laura Dziadulewicz, that kind of get a little too “Lord of the Rings” in spots). Their music is heavy, growly, nasty at times, and full of energy, I can’t help but get caught up in the infectiousness of it all when I take on this record. I’m grateful for that.

After a dramatic intro cut “Symbols,” the record rips open with “In My Sword I Trust,” a big, riffy song that could be perfect soundtrack fodder for a Middle Ages battle videogame, where you bleed, fight, and free villages from the bad guys. It’s such an adrenaline rush of a track. The title cut is another big one, with horns, a huge chorus, a bit of classic rock swagger, some furious growled verses, and a giant dose of folk infusion. “Burning Leaves” has a main guitar riff that sounds a little same-y, but the mid-tempo approach and emotional performance make the song really stick out among the rest. It’s the one I have listened to most out of all 10. “Retribution Shall Be Mine” is perfect for a revenge-minded song, with fast, power metal-influenced guitar work, a neat prog-style keyboard solo, and a tempo that should make you want to throw a fireball out a window. “Pohjola” is in a similar vein and is the second heaviest song on here. Toward the end, there’s a dramatic reading by actor Vesa-Matti Moiri that sounds ripped from a movie, and it suits what’s going on perfectly. “Last Breath” is a cool song with a strong Celtic and punk rock vibe, right down to the raspy clean vocals and rowdy ambiance. Then, 16-minute closer “Passion Proof Power” acts as a true climax, with the band spilling in every stop, every thing they do so well, every peak and valley they possibly can traverse. It’s equal amounts powerful, rousing, silly, and yes, fun.

You always know what you’re going to get from Ensiferum, and that’s a good thing. It’s nice to have a band on which you can rely to capture and carry you off to a faraway land for some adventure and mischief. This band always delivers on that promise, and five records into their career, they’re hitting on all cylinders. Now, where’s my mead horn.

For more on the band, go here:

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Serpentine Path’s hulking debut should keep listeners in doom-encrusted trance

I was pretty crushed to learn that Unearthly Trance would no longer be a band, as they were one of my favorite doom units for some time. Their mean, filthy approach and bizarre occult messages kept me thinking and excited with each release. Their last album “V,” that was released in 2010, got ample amount of play that year and still gets plenty now, as does the rest of their back catalog. So I have plenty of their material to keep me happy, but the prospect of there being no more new music from them in the future, if the dissolution stuck, kind of sucked.

But, despite the news that UT wouldn’t make it beyond 2012, it was coupled with realization that its members weren’t going their separate ways. If you don’t follow the band, that might be confusing, so let me clear the air. Unearthly Trance, as an entity, would be retired, while its roster — guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky (who we visited a few weeks ago with his other band The Howling Wind), bassist Jay Newman, and drummer Darren Verni — would continue to create music together with a notable addition to the fold — former Electric Wizard/current Ramesses guitarist Tim Bagshaw. They struck earlier this year with an EP released by Parasitic that showed their wicked promise.

That all might seem unnecessary. Why couldn’t Unearthly Trance simply bring Bagshaw into the fold and continue forward with their heavyweight new member? Because that would actually be the pointless act and perhaps even be counterproductive. For one, Bagshaw takes the bulk of the creative duties with Serpentine Path, and that comes across in the drubbing, droning doom metal these guys kick out. Second, it allows everyone to have a fresh start, including Lipynsky, who is only concentrating on vocals with Serpentine Path. Oh, and they’ve since added Stephen Flam from Winter on guitar, so holy shit, how could a band get more massive than this? That, basically, should explain why shelving Unearthly Trance was critical and starting with a new identity was needed. This is not Unearthly Trance at all, and it doesn’t sound like them, really.

People more into traditional doom and death metal should find a lot to like on the band’s self-titled new record. You get eight truly muddy and skull-smashing tracks here, and all of them pack serious power and ill intent behind them, which should pacify anyone who wants their music to have that truly evil edge. My first listen was interesting, as I was trying to hold at bay all the things I come to expect from this band’s parts and see this group for what it is, and that wasn’t easy initially. But not in a bad way. It may have helped a bit, to be honest, because while I had some expectations based on knowledge of Unearthly Trance, it was refreshing and enlightening to hear something different.

Lipynsky’s vocals are more attuned to his UT work than the Howling Wind, where he delivers more in the black metal vein, and he’s easily one of the highlights of the album. Musically, the band really delivers, sometimes showing off more modern shades, while also reaching back to the roots of Black Sabbath to color in the edges with something more bluesy. The record has a lot of groove as a result.

The album rips open with “Arrows,” a track that dips into Revelations 13:11 before the hammering doom and filth begins to level you. There’s a deep serving of savagery here, with an underneath that’s a little mystical and psychedelic (do I hear synth?), but the crunch pretty much reigns supreme. “Crotalus Horridus Horridus,” a song that takes its name from a rattlesnake prevalent in the eastern United States, is aptly monikered as it slithers its way around, leaving death and fuzzy doom in its wake, with raspier vocals from Lipynsky, who at one point howls, “No retreat!” “Bats Amongst Heathens” is the first truly Sabbath-sounding song on the record, and it’s capped off with a field sampling of bats that gives the track extra creepiness. “Beyond the Dawn of Time” opens with a line from the trailer from “Last House on the Left,” and it melts into a foam of noise, drone, and bruising stomping.

“Obsoletion” is the most interesting cut on the album and the most different. The guitars cry and whinny, sort of like Kim Thayil from Soundgarden’s early days, and the track has more atmosphere and earthiness than the other seven cuts. “Aphelion” goes back toward dipping into Tony Iommi territory with the guitars, and it has a nice blues-infested shuffle toward the end that might, gulp, make you move. “Compendium of Suffering” is packed with feedback, gurgly growls from Lipynsky (at one point observing, “The sound of tragedy”), and weird, echoing noise. You’ll be left bruised, believe me. “Only a Monolith Remains” is the closer, and it opens on a sorrowful, yet bafflingly heavy note, and the whole thing builds to a iron-thick finish that, at one point, has a section that sounds like an anvil being assaulted by a hammer. And maybe that’s what it is. Just brutal and fiery.

I’ll still miss Unearthly Trance if they never come back, but having Serpentine Path in that band’s wake is a pretty damn good option. This record is a seriously awesome slab of vicious doom metal that should scare the shit out of most bands in metal. I can’t say I’m surprised at that considering the sum of this band’s parts, and I’m really excited to hear what these guys conjures in the future.

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Protestant’s new ‘Reclamation’ infuses emotion and fury into hardcore assault

Nothing like being thrown right back into the raging fire, huh? The one drawback to vacation is that as much as you enjoy it, once you return, you’re a week behind in your work and have to put forth furious effort to catch up to where you were. That’s way easier said than done, and in some ways, you never really catch up.

All week long, I feel like I’ve been operating in a foreign land, with weird material that makes no sense to me, and a workload that both seems to have been on pause and changed entirely in a little over a week. Thus is life, and there are people fighting diseases and hunger and shit who would love to trade places with me. So we carry on, and it was so nice to have some great accompaniment music this week to help stoke the fires. Most of what’s gotten me going we can’t talk about yet, because the release dates are several weeks and even months away, and some of the music has a review embargo on it. Crazy, right?

Luckily “Reclamation,” the new, limited release from Milwaukee hardcore maulers Protestant is one we can discuss right now, and it was one of those promos that when it arrived in my inbox, I kind of had to rub my eyes to make sure I was seeing what was in front of me. I’m not a huge hardcore guy, as I’ve stated in the past, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It’s just my metal collection heavily outweighs my hardcore stockpile, so there are fewer of those bands that get me amped for new material. Protestant is one of them, and the second the download was completed, I had the music on my iPod and in my ears.

Protestant have been around nearly a decade now, and they have a nice collection of split releases, 7-inchers, and full-lengths to their name. In fact, their “Judgements” album is one of my go-to records when I’m feeling more into taking on hardcore than metal, which mostly happens when I’m going on my daily hate walk. This band’s music always manages to get into my blood and kick my ass in a totally positive way, and that record was one that really opened my eyes and kept me paying attention to this band. It’s a killer serving of emotional punishment, and I’m never not in the mood to hear it.

But we’re here to discuss “Reclamation,” and what a fine five-track collection it is. The band sounds just as spirited and channeled as ever, and the production quality of these cuts is a step above some of the earlier material. The guitars are alive with energy and adrenaline, and the vocals sound like they’re drawn directly from the heart. That’s another thing I really love about Protestant is that you have no question they mean every second of their songs, as they never let up as far as expression and delivery are concerned. You have no choice but get captured by them.

Side A has three cuts, opening with “Home,” a melodic outpouring that’s packed full of humanity and relentlessness. That leads to “Jan Palach,” a song named after a Czech student who committed suicide via self-immolation after the Russian invasion. As you can imagine, the song is pushy and righteous, with lines such as, “I’ll fight to save what’s left,” setting the revolutionary tone. The title cut wraps up the first side with a more metallic feel and some piano dripping into the song, as epic guitar work and raspy howls push the other way. Side B kicks off with “Unbecoming,” a bit of a departure from the rest of the songs, with a slight black metal flavor to the whole thing. “Salad Days” ends the collection and really goes for broke, with a jarring assault, more throaty vocals, and a finish that leaves you wondering how anyone could be left breathing if they unleashed this cut live.

As noted, this album is limited edition, with only 500 copies being pressed (400 in black vinyl, 100 in white), with Halo of Flies handling business in the United States and Chaos Rurale eviscerating Canada. This is a hell of a good collection, something to both tide you over until Protestant put together another full-length and to deliver some bruising songs that’ll give you a boost when you need one. I pretty much always need one, so this package will come in handy.

For more on the band, go here:

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Oak Pantheon Pt. 2: Band gives insight into creative process, lyrical meanings

Friday, we brought you the first part of our interview with atmospheric Minnesota black metal band Oak Pantheon, where we discussed what went into their new record “From a Whisper,” out on Broken Limbs Recordings. Tanner Swenson, Sami Sati, and their engineer Sean Golyer all took part in answering the questions, and in this final installment, the guys talk more specifically about some of the songs on the record, discuss their creative process, and take some good-natured shots at each other.

Meat Mead Metal: The artwork for “From a Whisper” is really striking. Who created the cover, and what is that image supposed to convey? It feels very forestal.

Sean Golyer: Bob Stokes at Minotaur Printing & Design painted our art on canvas. We had a few ideas for the cover art, but the one that seemed to stick was recreating the final scene from the last song of the album. We like to generate strong imagery to tell a story through our lyrics, and we wanted the art to convey that as well.

MMM: Sami and Tanner, you remain the sole creators behind Oak Pantheon’s music. How did you come to start working together? And what’s your process like?

Tanner Swenson: Sami and I have been working together since early high school, so it’s been well over five years since we started working together.  We’ve been in multiple bands together, and when each of those projects fell apart, we were the two guys that moved on together. We met Sean through a music class during our later high school years and worked a little with him on older projects. He and Sami kept working together while I was off doing other stuff and eventually recorded “Architect of the Void Pt 1.” They asked me if I could help them with the drums on that track, and I just became the other member of Oak Pantheon.

Our process mainly consists of us individually writing and demoing songs, then working together more for the final recording. Time and distance are a factor in our lack of team writing, but I think it may be for the better because we can take our time coming up with well thought-out, unique songs rather than simply jamming on a riff until we come up with the next one.

Sami Sati: Honestly, I can’t remember playing guitar much before knowing Tanner.  We’ve always been such a huge influence on each other that at this point we can be in completely different rooms, write three to five songs each, and have a cohesive album that sounds like it was all written by the same person.  And that’s exactly what “From a Whisper” and “The Void” were.  We’ll send demos back and forth and critique each other’s work, which makes the end result much better.

I think the most important thing behind the Oak Pantheon writing process is that we’re just complete dicks to each other when we need to be.  I still remember sending off the original demo for  “We Will Tear Down the Gods,” and within a few minutes Sean and Tanner just flat-out told me the song sucked.  And it definitely did, since I went back and listened to it the other day for a good laugh.  I’ve worked with a handful of artists over the past few years, and the projects that last are the ones where no one is afraid to offer or receive criticism.

MMM: Sean Golyer is credited with engineering your music. How vital is he to Oak Pantheon’s sound?

SS: Sean is a useless piece of shit, and Oak Pantheon would be better without him.  He ruins the integrity of every song by making each musical part stand out rather than letting the music speak for itself.  He also convinced us that signing with Broken Limbs would be a good idea.  Everyone knows that music takes a huge nosedive in quality once a band sells out and signs to a label.  I think if “From a Whisper” is viewed as a train-wreck by the metal community, it’s pretty much all Sean’s fault.  But if “From a Whisper” is regarded as a success I will, without hesitation, take all of the credit for it.  I mean, I did the lead vocals AND guitars.  Sean shouldn’t even be allowed to answer questions in this interview. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarcasm duly noted)

TS: We give Sean a lot of grief about how worthless he is, but in reality he is extremely important to the process.  He acts as a producer, engineer, and mixer and also deals with most of the business end of the band.  He does a really good job of letting Sami and I focus on making the music as good as possible while he does a lot of the hard work.  We’ve noticed that Sami and I work really hard on writing the material, then starting at the tracking process the workload shifts heavily over to Sean.  We’re very fortunate to have such a dedicated and reliable engineer for the band.  We consider him to be another member of Oak Pantheon.

SG: The feeling is mutual, boys. ❤ I receive their demos, tell them how much they suck, they tell me how much I suck, etc. It’s a vicious cycle, but it works for us, haha. They make the turds and I polish them.

MMM: One song from the new album that really stood out to me is “Aspen.” It has a black metal majesty, for sure, but it also has some old Amon Amarth-like melody. And the lyrics are some of the most affecting on the album. Talk about what went into this song and what’s behind it.

TS: Most of “Aspen” was inspired by my wife’s family dog being hit and killed by a car this past year. It really affected my wife and, in turn, me. I started to think about how attached people can get to something or someone and not realize it until something tragic happens and how deeply that tragedy affects so many others both directly and indirectly. I already had ideas for the chorus, and this new theme fit really well with the existing theme of loss.

SS: Yeah, “Aspen” was written by Tanner, so I don’t have too much to comment on.  I do think the lyrics are incredibly important however and reflect a large part of Oak Pantheon’s approach to handling difficult topics.  Tanner already described why he wrote the song, but when I first read the lyrics, I could easily relate it to experiences in my own life.  Everything dies, and as a result everyone deals with death.  This was also the first song we recorded vocals for on the album and was largely the reason for the vocal style change.

SG: It was one of the songs that even in demo form had an immediate impact on us all. Instrumentally it was really catchy, fast, and hard-hitting in comparison to our other material. Once we started getting lyrics though, the song took on a real meaning for us. We’ve all dealt with loss in our lives, whether it’s a family pet, a mother, or relatives. This song enables us to vent a little bit of that and hopefully other listeners can too.

MMM: “Descend Into Winter” is one that seems to have a grasp of the nature theme. First words on the album are, “Here comes the snow.” Is winter a time from which you draw a lot of creativity? If so, what is it about that time of year?

TS: I love the aesthetic of winter.  Being outside late at night during snowfall is one of my favorite things, and the serenity of it gives me a lot of inspiration.  Also, it’s super kvlt.

MMM: “From a Whisper” is going to be primarily a Bandcamp and limited physical release to start, is that right? Are you looking into doing something wider as far as physical release?

SG: In a perfect world where money isn’t an issue, we would’ve released on just about every physical platform out there. CD, vinyl, cassette, whatever. Whether we branch out from here depends on the label and how well this album takes off. If there’s demand for it and we have some cash, we’ll absolutely be on board for broader releases across more media in the future.

MMM: Are there any plans to tour for this album? If so, are you looking at regional stuff, or do you plan to tour the country?

SS: It’s something we want to do, but we want to do it right.  It’s not on the top of our priority list, and there’s still a lot of things that need to happen before we get a live act together.  We want our live performance to be just as polished as our recordings.  To add to that, Oak Pantheon still isn’t a full band yet.  Once we find a drummer that we think fits in with Oak Pantheon, we’ll try our hardest to play some shows.

For more on the band, go here:

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