August 30, 2012

Varathron - His Majesty at the Swamp (1993)

Let's keep the Greek metal ball rolling, shall we? Varathron hail from Greece and their 1993 debut album His Majesty at the Swamp is one of the quintessential releases of the Hellenic underground metal scene. Comprised of three dudes called Necroabyssious (vocals), Mutilator (bass) and Necroslaughter (guitars), Varathron plays a brand of crudely produced, atmospheric black metal with a melodic edge that's beautiful at times and downright terrifying at others. If you're thinking it sounds a lot like early Rotting Christ, well, that's because these two bands shared several members over the years, including guitarist/vocalist Sakis Tolis, who contributed guest guitars on Lustful Father.

A few songs drag on a bit further than needed, but overall, His Majesty at the Swamp is a solid debut that will impress listeners with its excellent guitar work and brooding atmosphere. It has aged very well and it still holds its own to this day.

August 28, 2012


Today's post features three albums that have been on heavy rotation on my iPod for the past week. All three of these albums - Elegy of Blood by Marauder, Desolation by Wardrum and Into the Netherworld's Realm by Wrathblade - share so many common traits that it makes total sense I'd talk about them in a single post. Here's a list of things they all have in common:

  • All of these bands are Greek
  • All of these albums have been released in 2012
  • All of these bands play epic heavy/power metal
  • All of these albums are blessed with excellent musicianship and are full of great riffs and catchy melodies
  • They also have some pretty awful cover art
  • Each band's vocalist performs in a clean voice and sounds kinda goofy, but totally awesome
  • All of the songs on these albums are tales of war, bravery, valor, fire and sword
  • All of these bands FUCKING RIP!

I'm really getting into Greek metal these days and it seems that this country is full of diamonds in the dirt. I'll most certainly be back with more RADICAL Greek metal bands, but for now, feast your ears on these little gems. Shit is entertaining. 

August 27, 2012

Porcupine Tree - The Incident (2009)

Four years ago, right when I started highschool, I opened a blog called Popculturomania with a friend where we posted reviews. That was my first serious attempt at music journalism. Obviously, our enthusiasm faded after the first couple of posts because we were two stupid kids too busy snorting cocaine, pushing drugs and partaking in other teenage-related activities.

Why am I telling you this? Because, coincidentaly, that's when I also wrote my first album review, which was about Porcupine Tree's then latest album The Incident. It blew my mind so hard that I suddenly felt and urge to open a blog just to tell people how much I like it and why. The review  had about 3 paragraphs and a dozen of half-assed opinions that could be described as making exactly the opposite of sense but still, I consider it one of my best articles yet. It wasn't well written, it wasn't funny, and it didn't even respect the most basic article structure and grammar rules. The sense of accomplishment and fulfiment that I felt as I clicked the post button stuck to me and I never did and never will feel such a strong attachment to any of my articles.
Fitzie has done SHIT compared to what I did.

Today, I'm gonna do justice to it and give it the form that it deserves. You'd better fasten your seatbelts, because it's going to be one hell of a ride.

Porcupine Tree has a long history of being awesome without trying too hard. The band was formed back in the 90's as a joke by Steven Wilson, who was taking a break from being a living god. After sending a few demos to the local studios and recieving mostly positive responses, he realised the potential it had and decided to give it a try. And by giving it a try I mean realising a whooping number of 10 consistently good albums, touring all around the globe and going through a wide variety of styles ranging from acid jazz, space rock, alternative rock to progressive metal. I can't even imagine what would've happened if he took the whole Porcupine Tree thingie seriously.

While not being their best work, The Incident exceeds their previous projects from a lyrical standpoint  by being more personal. Basically,  it talks about how lightly people take shocking, outraging and terryfing events like wars, car accidents, diseases and how cold, introverted, sneaky, cynical and ruthless people have become after centuries of being exposed to violence and abuse. To make it even more marking, Steven Wilson took those powerful, cataclysmic life-changing events and transformed them into some sort of lifeless press coverage to further demonstrate how fragile the human life can be and that just because people have become accustomed to the horrors of this world doesn't mean that they're okay. I can't think of any artist that took song-writing to such a high level of quality and subtlety -  it's really hard to send a message and express so many emotions through songs that are, at a first glance, emotionless. They are so intuitive and accessible, yet so complex and profound, that they appeal to almost everybody, be it your average music enthusiast or an aging metalhead.

Porcupine Tree has always been extremely adept at taking different, even paradoxical  changes in style. Pink Floyd, the band that seemed to be the primary influence back in the day has been all but forgotten. No more space-rock and acid jazz, too. Nowadays, their sound is a weird blend between Radiohead, electronica and industrial music. Don't get fooled by labeling it as progressive metal from the first listen, because you'd be just scratching the surface. At its core, it's anything BUT progressive metal; it's more like the bastard child of Radiohead, Soundgarden  Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails. Even more, they're also able to veer from extreme to extreme in the course of an album, or sometimes a song. There's all sorts of songs : slow, melancholic, angry, aggressive, and passive-aggressive. Apparently, they take pleasure in bashing people's heads by any means possible. For example, check out Flicker...  Isn't that a slow, 20 minute long beautifully paced ballad ? Of course it is... until you reach the middle, where shit get serious. How about The Incident, with its obvious Nine Inch Nails roots? Or Circle of Manias, with its bombastic guitar riffs that could make even Meshuggah quit producing music? Anyway, you get my point. It's a pure clusterfuck.

 This sudden change in style (madness) gives Steven's gloomy lyrics more credibility because, oddly enough, the sound is now more down to earth and relatable. The lyrics have that beloved bittersweet quality, amplified by Steven's mellow, lifeless delivery. It's like listening to and emotionally crippled middle aged man who rambles about the misfortunes he suffered throughout his life, even though he's become accustomed to his misery and benign depression. The lyrics are both heartbreaking and life-changing. They made the 15 old Marco view life in a different light -  I realized that my fears and insecurities are not unique, but common and even natural, normal. For the first time in my life, I felt not weak, but strong and capable of getting past any obstacle that I stumbled into. But there's this one song in particular that totally changed me: I Drive The Hearse. I'm not capable of expressing in my own words what this songs means to me, so I'm going to let the lyrics speak for myself.

When this freedom stains my coat
With the winter in my throat
When I'm lost I dig the dirt
When I fall I drive the hearse

And silence is another way

Of saying what I wanna say
And lying is another way
Of hoping it will go away
And you were always my mistake...

Given time I fix the roof

Given cash I speak the truth

And silence is another way
Of saying what I wanna say
And lying is another way
Of hoping it will go away
And you were always my mistake...

When I'm down I drive the hearse

When this boredom wears me out

Then the sky begins to cloud
Sleeping with my ball and chain
When she cries I take the blame

And pride is just another way

Of trying to live with my mistakes
Denial is a better way
Of getting through another day
And silence is another way
Of saying what I wanna say
And lying is another way
Of hoping it will go away
And you we're always my mistake...

When I'm down I drive the hearse

The Incident is, without doubt, a life-changing experience. Whether you're a cynical, prematurely grumpy 19 year old like me, or a softie, this album will get under your skin. It appeals to everyone so it would really be a drag if you won't give it a try. 


Ahab - The Call of the Wretched Sea (2006)

As I am not a person who gets stuck in a particular genre of music, I like to listen to anything that sounds good, and this spectrum ranges from alternative to, well, doom, and in this case what categorizing freaks like to call funeral doom.  

Ahab released this LP not so many years ago and it just goes to show that there is good doom music to be listened to apart from Anathema and My Dying Bride’s first releases.

For the curious ones, I could tell you that this is a concept album that borrows some of its lyrics from  Herman Mellvile’s ’ Moby Dick’, while the bands name takes after the one of the ship's captain. For me this wasn’t so obvious, since I haven’t read Moby Dick, and yet what struck me the most about this album was the fact that it oozes with an oceanic vibe that’s really hard to describe. It literally feels like you’re on a boat miles away from the shore and you battle with the very forces that nature throws at you.

Music wise, each song is crushingly heavy, the guitars sound perfect, drenched in reverb, while the production makes me imagine the band playing from somewhere below the water. I tell you, it sounds so fucking good that on the faster parts (and they are pretty fast for a doom release) the whole damn house trembles when I turn up the volume. I’m amazed I haven’t blown any speakers by now, since the windows are certainly mad as hell.

And the best part, that tops even the coherent song strong structures, inhuman vocals and the pure epicness of the guitars, well, the best that this album has to offer are the drums. Because my god, I haven’t heard such imaginative drumming and perfect fills since like, forever, and to do this on a FUNERAL DOOM release?!? You’ll have to listen for yourself because I can’t praise it enough.

     Pros: ultra-low vocals, great guitar tones, fantastic drumming

     Cons: while certainly the record has a bass line, the actual bass guitar is rather inaudible

     Highlights:  Below the Sun, Old Thunder

     Rating: 9
     Track List:
  1. Below the Sun
  2. The Pacific
  3. Old Thunder
  4. Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales
  5. The Sermon
  6. The Hunt
  7. Ahab’s Oath   
P.S: Probably one of the best descriptions Ahab can get was a comment I read on Youtube that said "Whales mosh to this song" (referring to Below the Sun).    
P.S 2: I have two more doom recommendations on the way, so stay tuned.