doom metal

Black To The Future Tour: Ghost w/ Purson

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 23, 2015
Ticket cost: $27.60 ($40.30 with Ticketmaster’s asshole-ish convenience fees)
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

I think it’s about time for a pre-review rant about concert ticket prices. Shows that are at Alrosa Villa or Ace of Cups and/or promoted by Columbus Events Group are very reasonable in terms of cost with minimal advance fees. But then there’s Promowest Live and Ticketmaster. How do they think that adding a 50% markup on ticket fees is acceptable? Why even bother working with the evil empire that is Ticket[ass]master in the first place? There are plenty of good shows both at the Newport and the LC Pavillion, but these fees price me (and probably others) out of their shows.

That didn’t stop the Newport from nearly selling out last night, easily eclipsing the Decibel Magazine 2014 tour stop for the largest crowd I have seen at this venue, approaching upwards of 1,700 strong. With more than a handful of audience members dressing up in their Papa Emeritus garb, Ghost put on a stellar show that engaged the entire crowd. But was their performance worthy of an all-time favorite designation? What about Purson? Read on, together as one.

Purson: 3.0*
Set length: 40 minutes

This might be one of the few occasions where I can say with a straight face that the opening band sounded better than the headliner. …why are you chasing me with pitchforks? At least give me a chance to explain.

Perhaps it was because they had one less member to work with; they had pretty much the same makeup as Ghost, running two guitars (with founder Rosalie Cunningham handling the lead vocals), one bass, the drums, and a set of keys. Having even one less person to mix can make all the difference in terms of sound quality; I took my usual perch on the balcony towards the center of the venue*, and their take on 70’s style psychedelic progressive rock sounded pristine. It was like I was watching them play in their practice space. The only issue I had with their sound was with the somewhat soft backing vocals, and half the time, it just looked like the person who would be singing backing vocals just had their mouth up towards the mic while playing his instrument, which brings me to my next point:

While that kind of intimate feeling in a large venue can be a good thing, the drawback here is that Purson lacked any semblance of stage presence, spending less than a minute talking to the audience over the length of their set. The band didn’t move around on stage and, with a few exceptions, showed little visible energy. The lighting was consistently dark and brooding, and their song selection was also puzzling; their last song, even with a brief uptempo section, was easily their slowest of the night. All of that adds to listener fatigue, at least from my perspective.

Two audience members who were more familiar with Purson than I was told me that they heard the band’s full studio releases and felt indifferently about them, but said they sounded significantly better live than on tape. After taking another whack at their music, I can’t help but agree. Their latest EP, In The Meantime, is solid, but the sound on stage is vastly superior. Even so, I’ll be looking forward to their next release, Desire’s Magic Theatre, when it drops in the near future.

They could also stand to lower t-shirt prices. I have a hard time paying $35 for a t-shirt for any reason, but that goes double for a band that I’m not especially blown away by. They’re good, but not “$35 for a t-shirt” good.

All that said, Ghost picked an ideal touring mate for their jaunt around North America, as Purson is a great complementary counterpart to Ghost.

Ghost: 4.0*
Set length: 110 minutes

Ghost has the art of stage presence down to a science. With Papa Emeritus leading the five Nameless Ghouls, the band’s performance took on a life of its own. Even before the set started, anyone who was, for whatever reason, unfamiliar with Ghost quickly got their answer as to what they got themselves into; with a large satanic alternate cover art banner in full display and church choir music blasting on the speakers, everyone knew they were in for a night of occult counter-culture shenanigans. And for those still confused, the crowd was chanting “Satan! Satan! Satan” shortly before they started.

Once the band took the stage and roared into the spooky “Spirit,” it was all smiles from the audience, and rightfully so. And while I greatly enjoyed their set, I had a few nitpicks with it. The obvious first complaint is that the band was a little bit too loud across the board. One of my favorite features of Ghost’s studio albums is the subtle mix of the drums, but that is nixed here in favor of a straightforward drum blasting. This was especially noticeable on “Con Clavi Con Dio,” arguably my favorite Ghost song.

Papa Emeritus III, meanwhile, was somewhat flat on his lower notes on occasion. And while all of the new tracks they played (the only one that wasn’t played was “Deus In Absentia”) sounded great, I was shocked at the largely ignored Kansas-esque keyboard riff in “Absolution,” and further puzzled by the use of a keytar on “Mummy Dust” instead of the former.

There was also the small issue of Papa Emeritus taking off his anti-papal cloak during “Cirice” midway through the show and leaving it off for the rest of the show. I’m not sure if that’s normal, as this was my first time seeing Ghost live, but it was baffling to see him perform without that garb. But that doesn’t take away from how great of a live song “Cirice” is.

Minor shortcomings and/or question marks aside, this was a pretty special show; most notable was the debut acoustic performance of “Jigolo Har Migiddo,” adeptly showing off the skills of the Nameless Ghouls. Papa Emeritus III also gave several small percussion instruments to fans for them to play during this song.

Watching “Year Zero” was a spectacle in and of itself, and I was thoroughly pleased with “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a song that I was already highly fond of and is currently stuck in my head. “Ritual,” “He Is,” “Stand By Him,” “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and “Mummy Dust” also stood out among their best songs as tracks that translate extremely well into a live setting.

Closing out the show with “Monstrance Clock” was simply masterful; it seems like an odd choice until you realize that there are few things better in a concert setting than having a huge crowd singing along with a backing track choir as the band exits the stage: “Come together; together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.” Fucking genius.

Above all else, Ghost is right up there with Devin Townsend in terms of personally engaging with fans during the set. I counted at least ten instances where Papa Emeritus singled out a specific fan who said something to him, and there were nothing but smiles coming from those fans. It was a high-energy set that should be considered a must-see for any metal fan.

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*If you go to the Newport and are looking for the best possible sound quality, stand as close to the sound booth as possible, located behind the main concert floor and next to the bar. 

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Review: Ghost – Meliora

Location: Linkoping, Sweden
Genre: Psychedelic Doom
Released: August 21, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

This being Ghost’s third album, I could make some cliché statement about this one being the charm if not for the fact that they already had me at their debut, Opus Eponymous. The combination of “Deus Culpa” and “Con Clavi Con Dio,” organ and all, is high on my fictitious list of memorable album openers and the rest of the album was generally pretty good.

Their follow-up, Infestissumam, took some of that sparkle out of their sound. “Year Zero” is a rare distinction in that it serves as a single for the album and is actually the best track on it. So after some legalese regarding their name and the “death” of Papa Emeritus II, the anonymous band created Papa Emeritus III and undertook a slightly different direction under producer Klas Ahlund (who has run the gamut of all kinds of pop music since 1998 ranging from Eagle Eye Cherry to Ke$ha). The easy assumption would be to declare that some shadow writer would come in and fuck everything up for the band and its image, but that assumption would be incorrect.

The production on Meliora is stellar, and the poppy elements of the production lend to some catchy music. What we have here is an album that is fun and has plenty of replay value, but to say that it is a truly great album would be a stretch.

“He Is,” and “Spirit” are both fantastic songs. The former comes across as an extremely well-done parody of a church hymn, while “Spirit” is another solid album opener for the band with a haunted house feel permeating the song, even during the heavier, Black Sabbath-y portions.

The rest of the songs are generally good, but have their flaws. “From The Pinnacle To The Pit” and especially “Mummy Dust” have a solid premise but are repetitive. “Absolution” has an amazing chorus and the most Kansas­-sounding bridge not played by Kansas, but the verses are forgettable. The ballad, “Cirice,” meanwhile, is too long for its own good. One feature that I really like about Meliora is its interludes, “Devil Church” and “Spoksonat.” I normally do not care for interludes, but they flow together well with the album’s main tracks.

Album closer “Deus In Absentia” is another haunting track; the echoing effect at the end of each chorus, as well as the choir section at the end of the song, really hit home. Surprisingly, Ghost’s Satanist lyrics are noticeably tamer this time around, and I think it’s a good look for them. Infestissumam came off as trying too hard with the shock factor, which was a hindrance to the overall package.

Adding some more progressive elements will help on future releases. For those who aren’t particularly obsessed with changing rhythms and melodies, Meliora will be a solid spin many times over with its doomy psychedelia.

Overall: Entertaining, but occasionally repetitive.

Rating: 3.5*

Listen to the official full-album stream with links to purchase Meliora here

Review: Rise Of Avernus – L’Appel Du Vide

Location: Sydney, Australia
Genre: Progressive Gothic/Doom Metal
Released: January 20, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Diving For Treasure

By: Kris Kotlarik

Sometimes, you pick up an album from a band you have never heard of for no real reason. Maybe the album art looked cool, or perhaps you saw the “for fans of [insert band here]” label on the album’s wrapping. In this case, I noticed that an Australian band had a French album title and decided to give it a shot. Sometimes these endeavors are an abject disaster. This is quite the opposite.

This is Rise Of Avernus’ debut effort, and it’s a fantastic one at that. A glance at the band members’ prior history shows a bunch of bands that I know nothing about. As a whole, I don’t know much about Australia’s metal scene, with the first bands coming to mind being Ne Obliviscaris and 4Arm. Rise Of Avernus has now made the list of bands from Australia to watch going forward.

For a band that is labeled as a gothic/doom metal band, they make a lot of forays into death/black metal and add a lot of symphonic elements to their sound. There is a brief section of “Ethereal Blindness,” for example, that has violin playing over a bass groove and a minimalist percussion style that sounds beautiful. The next track, “Embrace The Mayhem,” makes extensive use of a saxophone that is being played in a jazzy style, and the results are stellar. There’s a false ending on this track that trolls the listener with some smooth jazz stylings from said saxophone. The only other false ending I can think of that I really enjoyed was Blind Guardian‘s “The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight,” and this one trumps The Bards’. Catherine Guirguis, the band’s keyboardist at the time, shines on vocals here. Unfortunately, she is no longer in the band, but they recently announced on Facebook that they hired Mares Refelaeda, a new female keyboardist and vocalist. It will be interesting to see what the band does with her on upcoming releases should they decide to retain her for studio releases.

Guirguis is also effective in “Disenchanted,” which begins as a track that could be mistaken for an early-era The Gathering album before changing gears several times. “An Somnium” may be my favorite track on here; it starts with a nice keyboard melody before blasting the listener with some major-league death metal, with violins clearly in the mix. “As Soleness Recedes” closes the album with the best display of clean male vocals here, and has an overall sound reminiscent of Katatonia. “The Mire,” meanwhile, reminds me somewhat of Arcturus mixed with Septicflesh.

The only two tracks that I didn’t fully enjoy were the opener and the title track, the latter of which essentially amounting to an interlude. The opener, “A Triptych Journey,” has a nice sound to it but feels slightly drawn out in relation to the other tracks on this album. One question that I was not able to find the answer to was whether or not the orchestration is authentic or a product of the keyboards. If it’s the latter, then they did a great job on the mix because it sounds authentic to me most of the time. In any case, this is the kind of music that deserves a dedicated lineup of studio musicians that are skilled in non-electric instruments. If Dimmu Borgir can get a full orchestra to play live with them at Wacken, I hope there’s a few good Australians that would pitch in on music like this.

Overall: With its unique take on the stagnant doom metal genre, this album is a clear-cut top five album of 2014 as of now. 

Rating: 4.0*

Review: Edge Of Haze – Illumine

Location: Espoo, Finland
Genre: Progressive/Symphonic Doom Metal
Release: August 21, 2014
Format: MP3 (192 kbps)
Feature: Global Conquest – Upcoming Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

I know I’m not alone in saying that there are albums that start out deceptively strong and have some innovative qualities to them, but then come away disappointed in the final outcome. Unfortunately, Edge Of Haze’s second album fits that description, but with a couple of caveats. 

“Drawn” opens off Illumine on a fantastic note; there are signs of progressive instrumentation, much in the vein of Haken. The vocals sound like they could have been delivered from Soen’s front man, which I consider to be a high compliment. It takes a while to build into it, but the payoff is quite rewarding. There’s also a section of this track that almost takes on a lounge feel to it, further pointing the needle towards Haken and their over-the-top instrumental breaks. So far, we’re off to a promising start.

Most of the tracks that follow, however, sound way too much like their fellow countryman Insomnium, who I already wrote a mixed review of earlier this year. With that said, there are some nice touches of synth, especially in “Unlearn,” and the intro to “Into The Red Sun” sounds like A Natural Disaster-era Anathema, which was a nice change of pace. 

The final two tracks return to the vibe that “Drawn” started. They don’t sound similar by a long shot; in fact, one could hear some djent or -core influences put in. It’s done in a tasteful way that makes a unique contribution to this album’s sound. The ending to “Newfound Horizon” is another unexpectedly pleasant twist.

Illumine is based loosely off of the plot from Escape From Camp 14. Those who have read the book may appreciate the lyrical content, which is already good by this genre’s generally standards, more. 

Overall: Very uneven. There’s parts of this that make me want to come back for more, while other parts are merely just tagging along for the ride.

Rating: 3.0*

 

ATF Review: The Gathering – Mandylion

Location: Oss, The Netherlands
Genre: Doom/Gothic Metal; Progressive Metal
Released: August 22, 1995
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

I am going on the record in saying that Anneke van Giersbergen is one of the best metal singers of all time. Devin Townsend is up there, as well, and the results are about as amazing as you would expect two of the most talented individuals on the planet to sound when working together.

But before all of that; before Townsend unleashed the sonic bombardments of City and Ocean Machine in 1997, came Mandylion, the first Gathering album with Anneke. This would mark the beginning of The Gathering’s transformation from just another doom metal outfit to an alternative rock band that would later redefine the entire scope of the genre. Mandylion bridges the gap between the two eras, and is a rare exception to the “bridge under construction” rule when it comes to bands that slowly, yet drastically, change their overall sound. Even though the instrumentation is still generally what you would expect to find in a doom metal album (generally slow and at least somewhat downtuned), it sounds more upbeat with Anneke on board, with her vocals soaring above everything.

It starts off with “Strange Machines,” beginning with a simple,unassuming guitar rhythm. But after a short buildup, Anneke comes in and starts singing about traveling through time:

Russian revolution, let’s do that in one day
Beethoven and Gershwin I think that would be o.k.
More than anything I wanna fly in strange machines

I wanna do centuries in a lifetime
And see it with my eyes
Watch Jesus rise, if he ever did…

The lyrics take on a serious form on occasion as seen in the second part of the quote, but the (George) Gershwin line is a clear reference to his musical, Oh, Kay! There’s also an interesting line about touching Chaka Khan in the last verse. Khan is still alive and was only 42 at the time of this recording. Nonetheless, it’s a standout track with two lengthy instrumental sections that, while still heavy in sound, are far more upbeat than one would expect this kind of music to sound.

The next track, “Eleanor,” shows off the low end of Anneke’s vocal range, especially in the closing minute. “In Motion #1” and “Leaves” are both Anneke-heavy tracks, with the former boasting a dual-layered chorus. “Leaves” is much slower and is the most traditional doom song here, but Anneke is several octaves above it all.

The second half of Mandylion is much more instrumental-oriented, with vocals taking more of a secondary role. “Fear The Sea” is another slower number, driven by an especially poignant bass line. The midsection instrumental is a solid preview of what to expect on later works, such as How To Measure A Planet? The title track is a haunted instrumental that is powered by a theremin and what I believe are bongos, as well as numerous other electronics and a brief moment of Anneke singing upper-register ambient vocals. This has the feel of meditation following the consumption of various substances, but if you need to blaze it up in order to enjoy this song (and album), then you’re doing it wrong.

“Sand & Mercury” is a nice song, but at ten minutes is way too long. Following a varied instrumental, it completely changes gears following the halfway mark, slowing down to a crawl. Anneke comes in with vocals that aren’t especially powerful in a tangible sense, but strike a chord emotionally. The closer, “In Motion #2,” begins with a well-crafted use of strings. Although this isn’t Anneke’s best vocal display, the part where she sings “It is sad how the rain falls down” over a suddenly lively riff that reoccurs later is among the album’s best moments.

To be clear, this isn’t an “Anneke van Giersbergen is great and the rest of the band just serves as her cronies” album. What she does is breathe life into the music, which was already good but not spectacular before she came in. In every track there is an instrumental section that makes the listener take notice to just how great the band is as a whole. The following effort, Nighttime Birds, was more experimental but did not resonate with me nearly as much as this did. How To Measure A Planet?, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

Overall: There will never be another album that effectively blends doom metal with top-notch female vocals to the extent that Mandylion achieved.

Rating: 5.0*

Bonus Thoughts: “Strange Machines” and “Sand & Mercury” each have samples that, until reading about where they originally come from, don’t make much sense. The one from “Strange Machines” is fairly straightforward, as it comes from a film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, while the one that ends “Sand & Mercury” is J.R.R. Tolkien reading a quote from 20th century French feminist Simone de Beauvoir.

Review: Dawn Of Solace – The Darkness

Location: Lahti, Finland
Genre: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Released: May 26, 2006
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Diving For Treasure

By: Kris Kotlarik

The genre tag is a little misleading, in my opinion; there’s not much of a death metal vibe from Dawn Of Solace’s only album, but the melodic doom metal part definitely makes sense. The band makes solid use of acoustic instruments and clean vocals in addition to fairly standard doom metal lyricism and instrumentation. The problem is that most of the songs don’t go anywhere.

By my count, there are two stellar songs; “Dead Air” has the best example of the aforementioned clean vocals that occurs throughout the track, and the ending is especially heavy The Darkness‘s standards. “Wrath Of Gods Amongst Us” has shades of prog and has a particularly impressive section of dual growling vocals.

The intro, “Dying Daylight,” as well as “Winter Song” and closer “Avalanche,” are all space fillers with some combination of ambient noise, acoustic guitars and repetitive patterns that don’t progress. Out of the other three tracks, which I consider to be alright but not spectacular, “I Am Chaos, I Am Destruction” comes closest to being a top song but doesn’t quite get there; it starts building up midway through and really brings it home towards the end, but the first half is forgettable. “Wings Of Darkness” and “I Was Never There” both drag on for too long and would have been better served with a couple minutes chopped off.

Overall: Not a bad album by any means, but there isn’t much to make me want to come back for more.

Rating: 2.5*

Review: Barathrum – Legions of Perkele

Location: Kuopio, Finland
Genre: Black/Doom Metal
Released: September 7, 1998
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Library Randomizer

By: Kris Kotlarik

During my semester in Tampere, Finland two years ago, I went on a CD binge. And how could I not? There are a grand total of zero record stores anywhere near Eau Claire, Wisconsin that sell this kind of music. Legions of Perkele looked interesting to me at the time, mostly because of the novelty factor of “Perkele” being a mild swear word in Finnish (its American counterpart: “Dammit”). Only one song really grabbed my attention on the first listen; in fact, I have listened to that song many times since then. I can’t say the same for the rest of the record.

Legions of Perkele is Barathrum’s fourth album, and I’m having a hard time finding a word to describe it other than “repetitive.” Good moments come in bits and pieces; there’s a nice, heavy buildup at the end of “Revenge By Magick” that transitions flawlessly into “Angelburner,” which is driven by a cool bass line. The title track has an interesting bass line as well, but it is eventually overtaken by the same repetitive melodies that occupy about 90 percent of the record.

There were also several parts that outright annoyed me, most notably the ending to “Last Day In Heaven” that is garbled beyond any sense of coherency, and some out-of-place spoken vocals on the title track. The rest of the album proper is one repetitive song after another with little going for it.

I specify “album proper” because the two bonus tracks following it are actually really good. Both are re-recordings from earlier albums; “Deep From The Depths” has a more aggressive and varied sound, while “Warmetal” is an all-around gem of a song that shows no mercy. Be that as it may, I would recommend looking into Barathrum’s earlier albums if this style of blackened doom metal appeals to you. Otherwise, skip it.

The lyrics are pretty much implied by the song titles; you won’t find anything innovative in that department, either.

Overall: “Perkele” indeed. 

Rating: 1.0*