Left Hand Path
#002: Fine Daggers



everything has its opposite. For the righteous, there are the wicked; for the lucky, there are the unlucky, and for those that live, there are those that die. The ancient Hebrews gave us yamin; the ancient Romans, sinister. Inevitably, these words grew into even more divergent connotation—that of the Right Hand Path and that of the Left Hand Path. This monthly column will celebrate all that resides in the shadow of the left, regardless of religious allegiance or format.


THE AJNA OFFENSIVE

Tyler Davis’ The Ajna Offensive is a label emboldened by incomparable—and eclectic—taste and aesthetic sense. Having released recordings by the likes of Ondskapt, Deathspell Omega, Sigrblot, Averse Sefira, Atomizer, Destroyer 666, Negative Plane, Villains, and a host of others, The Ajna Offensive consistently shirks trends, maintaining a staunch and effective selectivity that many listeners—and genres—have benefited from.

Proprietor Tyler Davis has been involved with Metal and innumerable types of boundary pushing music for years. Davis worked with the omnipresent Stephen O’Malley on the exquisite music magazine Descent and has continued to cast wattage on unique ensembles with panache and unapologetic erudition. Despite Davis’ consuming work, he was gracious enough to entertain a few questions about Ajna’s origin, his writing and dissatisfaction with music’s status quo.

When and why was :AJNA: started? Is the label a fulltime profession run only by you? Did your involvement and relationships established with Descent carry over to working with music from a different perspective?

AJNA: was started, I guess, about '92 or so. It evolved out of a venture I did under the name �Warloch.’ The label is rapidly becoming a full time job in terms of hours in the day it consumes.

My involvement with Descent only jaded me. I realized soon after doing reviews with Stephen that there was way more shit out there than I had ever imagined—and this was over 10 years ago when Black Metal, or whatever, was yet to be in vogue.

When you say Descent jaded you, is it that you were overwhelmed by how much was out there and decided to take a more active role in the music by releasing it, or was it that the volume of bands wore you down to where you didn't want to write about metal anymore?

By jaded I mean that the amount of garbage was extreme, even back then. Stephen [O’Malley] came out to where I lived one Autumn and brought a trunk of demos—over 150 in all. We listened to every one of them and only gave a handful of them good reviews.

It simply illustrated the point that Black Metal would be a future commodity, which was incredibly discouraging. I had no idea that Black Metal wasn’t that far off from being the new punk rock where everyone who listens to the music decides to start a band . . . But, it all made me want to write about metal all the more always stressing the core issues and the substance of the music and the beliefs, trying to hit the essence rather than the trivial. I still don’t know if I succeeded…

This is an interesting situation/predicament especially for me, as I didn't even hear Mayhem until 1994. I grew up on West Coast Thrash, Venom, Bathory, some Deathrock. It seems like the volume of releases is deadening the Metal scene rather than enlivening it. When I was a teenager, all my friends and I listened to all Summer were two or three records: Possessed's Seven Churches, Bathory's The Return, Venom's At War with Satan. We knew every riff, every fill, every lyric. Now it seems that people are more interested in "collecting" and amassing records. Do you think this is something that was going on years ago, or do you think this is a "phenomenon" generated by mass media/internet?

It’s odd to look back now with everything being re-issued. Why didn’t I hear about bands like Morbid Saint or whatever back in those days?! I had my subscription to Metal Forces and tried to keep up, but even then, being 16 or whatever, I didn’t have enough money no matter how much I worked for more music.

I do think the focus these days is on collecting. Another plague is that of collecting in quantity via downloading. We all know people who have downloaded 800 CDs worth of material and listen to an album for a week before they move on. What’s the value or worth in that? How can you possibly gain any essence of the music in such a short span of time, especially considering how much time and energy went into an album’s worth of material? OK, maybe not Black Metal, but you know what I mean. The new Celtic Frost, for example. I can’t sum that up in a week no matter how many times I listen to it. Any CD with any depth demands months, years of attention in my opinion. My mind takes that long to ingest.

:AJNA: appears to be an aesthetically steered label, from the color and layout of the website, to the bands it chooses to brand and unleash. As a result, it's impossible to delineate the label as being this or that. Is this a conscious decision—or just indicative of your appreciation a wide array of music?

Aesthetics is everything. I should say—when doors are opened to the outside world—aesthetics is vital. It has always been the intention of :AJNA: to push the bounds of what is accepted within an otherwise very conservative and close-minded set of subcultures. I suppose the tactics of the label mirror my musical interests—eclectic and fairly unpredictable. Suicidal in terms of running a �business,’ but integrity and aesthetics will long outlive any financial or material gain.

I came to know you through your writing with Descent. Occasionally, interviews have appeared on :AJNA: and some of the site’s record blurbs appear to have your mark. When did you get interested in music writing and are there any plans to have more of your writing on the :AJNA: site?

I would consider myself a terrible writer and haphazard interviewer. But, I've always been interested in what the bands were saying as much as the music. In seemed only natural that I was inquisitive and consequently tried corresponding with those who made such an impact on my psyche. I was bored to death with questions that were utterly superficial.

As for more writing, there are plans to continue to feature (or �expose’) others via the website. A few interviews are currently in the works, although no one is in a hurry these days with so much else to tend to. What that translates to: keeping checking the site.

What :AJNA: release are you most satisfied with and why? What bands would you like to work with that you haven't?

I'd say the Tormentor picture disc still makes me the proudest after all these years. Next would probably be the laboriously hand-made Sacrificial Totem CDR. I'm still proud of MOST of my past releases even though, in my eyes, most of them have had flaws of a minor sort. Such is the nature of this.

There is quite a bit of interest in Descent; have you and Stephen considered reissuing the material?

I mentioned it once, but if I consider myself to be a busy man with no time, and I can only guess at Stephen’s situation jetting all over the world, doing art installations, composing with 20 different people per month, etc. Since I wasn’t the founder/creator/editor it’s up to him to initiate another issue at this point. I put in my vote. There are many people/bands I’d still like to speak with, indeed.
[Stewart Voegtlin]






Negative Plane - Et in Saecula Saeculorum
[The Ajna Offensive]

Et in Saecula Saeculorum: And in Ages of Ages—forever, a phrase cribbed from the Order of the Blessed Trinity and transliterated for those that choose to walk with the Beast. Before the church misappropriated the Latin, the Romans were utilizing the saecula to mark the age—and as an excuse to engage their darker sides with much wine and sex. Florida’s Negative Plane isn’t an ensemble prone to shy away from the macrocosmic, as they work from the recording title into consideration of the universe as void, slinking into the frame as voices take up in song. Drowned tones fall from rafters, their descent enunciated by tumbling bells—the Sabbatic odor. The music that follows is as timeless as the lyrical concepts frontman Nameless Void struggles with. A peculiar and riveting amalgam of Death and Black Metal, Negative Plane pays homage to prior denizens of the Sunshine State, all while fashioning a perplexing strain of music reliant upon guitar work delivered in a classical and nearly antiquarian style. Vocals and even percussion are rendered hallucinatory, cloaked in flange, hurled as spit-filled howls into pitch canyons. Drummer Bestial Devotion is cut from the same cloth as Possessed’s Mike Sus, shirking the shackles of time-keeping and engaging mimetic games with Nameless Void’s guitar. Riffs and fills as locked talons, fallen war dead where corpse upon corpse is heaped in confusion. The “Death Mass” is given a literal rendering as coda: a church organ empties its lungs in a slow emphysemic wheeze. “Trance of the Undead” takes up the keys again in limbo—a tarantella for trampling the cross. Heralding of the “Advent of the Beast” seals the hole, ushering in the time of reckoning as we began: Lo, the house is frenzied with the Lord and the roof revels Bacchant-like. Per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


All Shall Perish - The Price of Existence
[Nuclear Blast]

After its blistering debut, Hate, Malice, Revenge, this Bay Area band is back with a new vocalist and lead guitarist. The result is more melody on the metal side and more breakdowns hardcore-wise. Yes, this is "metalcore," but it's more a true fusion of its parts than the mascara-wearing perversion of the term that have flooded the market. Hernan Hermida has quite a variety of rasps and growls, and Chris Storey has a charming fondness for sweep picking. Imagine At the Gates enlisting Yngwie Malmsteen to cover Agnostic Front (not that Malmsteen would be very happy about that). But drummer Matt Kuykendall steals the show with jaw-dropping speed, power, and taste. Not only does he do bass drum rolls at light speed in multiple time signatures, he also throws in ghost notes, fills aplenty, and colorful cymbal work. Kuykendall hits blastbeats hard, which makes one want more of them and fewer breakdowns. The constant use of harmonic minor also gets a little same-y. But the songs are passionate, the performances are brutal, and the thick, heavy production is perfect.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


All That Remains - The Fall of Ideals
[Prosthetic]

All That Remains used to be one of the hordes of B-grade metalcore bands doing Swedish riffs, good cop/bad cop vocals, emo choruses, and so on. Phil Labonte, in particular, seemed doomed to forever be "the guy that used to sing for Shadows Fall." With this album, however, Labonte comes into his own, as does his band. Labonte's been taking lessons with metal vocal coach Melissa Cross, and it shows—he confidently unleashes growls, shrieks, angelic singing, and cookie monster vocals. But the real step up is in the songwriting. The guitarists cut loose more than ever, with frequent bouts of Eurometal-inspired shredding. The songs, though, are compact, fitting 11 tracks into just under 40 minutes. The chord progressions and guitar tones flow together incredibly smoothly, thanks to production by Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage. Blastbeats in all the right places add a nice touch of brutality. Maybe (and hopefully) melodic metalcore is nearing its end, but All That Remains is now on the same playing field as Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, et al.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Arctic Circle - Forcing the Astral
[Profound Lore]

Canadian ensemble Arctic Circle creates a perplexing blend of Black and Thrash Metal, significantly empowered by mathematical structures redolent of Weasel Walter’s Flying Luttenbachers of old. Yet, instead of stomping out songs with algebraic efficiency, Arctic Circle teeters precariously, as each piece’s palpable structure continually threatens to dissolve into sonic chaos. This sort of template does not translate well into extended composition, and the band recognizes that, creating songs emboldened by their brevity and nearly self-destructive in their brutality. There are some brief classical-ambient interludes here, too, which provide a necessary breather, but also show a facet of the band that needs a bit more fleshing out. Were Arctic Circle to work this into the songs themselves, we’d be dealing with a far superior result.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Atheretic - Apocalyptic Nature Fury
[Galy]

On tennis, comedian Mitch Hedberg said, "I played a wall once. They're fucking relentless." So is this album. There comes a point when death metal gets so densely technical that it stops being brutal and becomes art music. Atheretic reaches that point, and then some. If you headbang to this, you'll unscrew your head. Origin set the standard for this type of metal, but Atheretic has some distinguishing features. First, the guitars don't solo. They don't need to, as the riffs are so complex that they might as well be solos. Second, the bass doesn't provide the low end; the guitars do. The bass is mixed in the middle and is almost a solo instrument, with lots of little runs and trills. Lastly, the songs are compact. Once one acclimates to songs going through seemingly hundreds of riffs and time signatures, they're actually quite digestible. The execution is flawless, and the band moves as an efficient, single-minded unit. Tasteful, thoughtful artwork wraps up this odd package.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Bahimiron - Pure Negativism in Allegiance with Self-Wreckage
[Aura Mystique]

Texas' pre-eminent scribe of mass murder and self-mutilation via the legendary zine, Where’s my skin? strikes again, animating from open wounds to a weapon. The blood-pact: Bahimiron members Blaash, Jenoside, Krag Dagon, and Grimlord upset the ever-growing trend of Orthodox Black Metal with a show of plain and ugly vandalism forcing itself upon the mind and soul. Voices split the air as fine daggers, responded to by effects-slackened gloom—ghostly moans of agony trapped within reality collapsing reverb and masticating jaw formed of war-drums and discordant guitar honed in the style of early Gorgoroth. To think it one-dimensional would be a mistake. The album demonstrates a finer grasp of melody and mediates between this perfunctory motion and dirges that wind toward a literal sounding death rattle. But don't expect anything more dynamic than that, or even to last through it entirely (a whole thirty minutes). What's being presented, after all, is nothing short of the great undoing.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Birds of Prey - Weight of the Wound
[Relapse]

Birds of Prey consist of current and former members of Alabama Thunderpussy, Beaten Back to Pure, Baroness, and Municipal Waste, to name but a few. From such a Southern pedigree, you know you're in for some beer-soaked jams. Accordingly, the band kicks out filthy, downtuned "death 'n' roll" in the vein of Wolverine Blues-era Entombed. Sometimes the songs thrash out and sometimes they swing, but they're all heavier than a Weight Watchers convention. Drummer Dave Witte powers the proceedings with much groove, and Ben Hogg's roar could only come from a large, bearded man. The highlight is the lyrics, which paint a lurid picture of white trash America. Song titles like "Buttfucked with a Shotgun Barrel" and "The Old Lady Rots (But the Checks Keep Coming)" only hint at the mayhem contained within. There are multiple songs about incest and even a song about the Washington bestiality ring in which a man died after being penetrated by a horse. Despite the subject matter, the lyrics are amazingly well-written and read like short stories. Artist Orion Landau turns in yet another gorgeous layout; his designs alone make each Relapse release worth anticipating.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Black Crucifixion - Faustian Dream
[Paragon]

Often erroneously cast as the pet-project of Beherit members, Black Crucifixion nevertheless shares a historically and critically accurate place beside Finland’s premiere Black Metal monster. They represent, in part, a lost era in that countries burgeoning underground metal scene, pregnant with such essential dark materials. Yet the group, founded by Timo Livari (Forn, Fornicator) in 1991, completed only two EPs worth of music (Flowing Downwards, later re-released as The Fallen One in Flames and Promethean Gift) before disbanding a few years afterwards; in the process growing from a fevered mass of serpentine voices and low-fi death-hammering through skin and string toward a latently melodic and drawn-out sound. Ten years later, Livari returned to complete work on the band’s unfinished record, Faustian Dawn. Symphonic, labored, and pitiably carrying-on for nine tracks, Black Crucifixion sleaze their way back into the fold with a strange meld of Celtic Frost, Iron Maiden, and Type-O-Negative, mixing sunken melodic repetition with brighter gallops and incomprehensible keyboard pieces to round out the platter. In each, the faint remnant of those more promising efforts can still be heard; the present disc being no mystery itself, only the awkward conclusion of hiatus which also appears a weaker version of another Livari project: the overblown prog-metal group Promethean (his painfully “erotic” tones sounding uncomfortably gastric, or else just poorly mimicking Tom Warrior). Even if the value of compounding that early sound a decade afterwards remains in debate, through their latest incarnation, we know for sure that Black Crucifixion are now completely irrelevant.
[Todd DePalma]


Blade of the Ripper - Blade of the Ripper
[Devil Doll]

Remember those guys from high school whose bad metal band always played the keggers and quarry parties? They could stumble through a passable "Angel of Death" but always fell apart at the drum solo. They drove El Caminos and Gremlins, smoked ditchweed, and never stopped mourning Cliff Burton. You thought they had given it up years ago for more sedate forms of failure, but they're still around. They now call themselves Blade of the Ripper, and they haven't improved with time. With tuneless vocals, ham-fisted guitar riffs, and lifeless drumming, they're jumping on the resurgent NWOBHM bandwagon, but even second-tier upstarts like Cellador leave them miles behind in both technical and songwriting ability. Aside from a certain charm-of-ineptitude quotient, probably the best thing they've got going for them is that the song title "Possessed by the Night" does effectively invoke Stained Class-era Judas Priest. The song itself, alas, is as bad as the rest of the album, desperately striving for an anthemic quality it never even nears and trotting out a dual-guitar solo so feeble K.K. Downing could play both lines and still have a finger left to give this band a well-deserved flip of the bird.
[Listen]
[Whitney Strub]


Cult of Daath - The Grand Torturers of Hell
[Deathgasm]

Brought back into circulation by Deathgasm Records, The Grand Torturers of Hell finds Cult of Daath in one of their earlier incarnations, declaring war against nuance, fragmenting de rigueur notions of Black Metal orthodoxy with a relentlessly fundamental take on the genre, “waxing poetic” about blood and vomit; flesh and bone; thirst, hate, and lust. In proper stride, drums, guitars, and vocals complement—and befoul—these obsessions, fighting against fluidity, stomping and slashing through completely washed out structures. The duo of Culggath Immortum and Wargoat Obscurum erect a stinking shit pit of sound via guitar, bass, drums, and voice. Vocals are retched forth with enlarged and severed tongue. Words are hissed, gargled, bubbled to the lips as black blood. Thin hi-hats and rumpled paper snare burst and pop around argumentative guitar lines. Black leather, non-life yielding coitus, stone gardens, collared nymphets: this is the de facto soundtrack for these impressions. And for a recording to so effortlessly encapsulate the whole of Black Metal iconography is a rare feat. Cult of Daath is the proper conduit and The Grand Torturers of Hell is their Gospel.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Cult of Daath - Slit Throats and Ritual Nights
[Deathgasm]

More carnage via Chicago; this full length deviates little from earlier efforts, as drums and guitar still chug along seemingly of their own accord; lyrics remain preoccupied with the most fundamental of terrors: implorations to quaff blood from the skull are as rampant as recognitions of piles of burning offal, packs of rabid dogs. “Necrospells” ups the speed, lending an agreeable whiff of early west coast thrash. At other times as in Cult of Daath alternate rumbling double bass drums with sharp riffs, providing point and counterpoint in low and high end. “Conceived through Black Mass Rape,” “Necrospells,” and “Midnight Mutilation” are certainly three standouts, effortlessly conjuring images of the denim jacket and white, high-topped horde—a most welcome revival.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Daughters - Hell Songs
[Hydra Head]

This album, in contrast to much of metal, is truly extreme in that it challenges basic notions of what music is. Reference points include Birthday Party, labelmates Oxbow, and to some extent, Fantomas. The vocals are suitably unhinged, with some debt to David Yow, but the harshness comes mainly from the guitars, which scrape and shriek with unbelievable dissonance. The Dillinger Escape Plan sounds like a church choir in comparison. The tones aren't heavy, but the atmosphere is. Songs lurch and flail, sometimes aborted early-term, and sometimes dragged to bloody, skinned-knee demises. Cello and horns interject at times to add insult to injury. However, there is structure, albeit through crude gestures—primal drum tattoos, perfectly timed feedback, rising six-string anxiety. The production is surprisingly, horrifyingly clear, like one's pre-vomit reflection in toilet bowl water. This nightmare lasts 23 minutes—and you'll find yourself going back for seconds. Daughters embark on a must-hear tour this fall with drone purveyors Pelican and black metallers Nachtmystium.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Dimentianon - Promo 2005
[Paragon]

Long Island, New York's Dimentianon Memorex four new tracks of blackened Death in anticipation of their upcoming full length, Hossanas Novus Ordo Seclurum. Results bare a mixture of NY style Grind chewing its way through streamline melody, often sounding like a messier version of Sarcophagus (perhaps America's finest experiment in mixing the two genres). Dissonant veils conceal the sketchy performances with rough reptilian phrases complementing the Thralldomy croaks and slaughterhouse vocals (aided by Will of experimental Grind unit Biolich and Will Rahmer of Mortician). Production aside, the band sounds at the level they left off on their Seven Suicides LP—capable but lacking that last bit of magic and focus. The spell is realized only through recitation, and although this demo presents a mere sketch, devastation may still potentially linger on the horizon.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Draconian - The Burning Halo
[Napalm]

Despite containing seven members, Swedish act Draconian somehow resists succumbing to bombastic overkill on The Burning Halo, dwelling instead on an elegiac tone that effectively compensates for the album's placeholder status (it offers three new original songs, three rerecorded old ones, and two covers). Andreas Karlsson's synthwork lends a forward-driving melodic temperament to tracks like "Serendae of Sorrow" and "The Morningstar," while Anders Jacobson and Lisa Johnson's male/female vocal interplay helps conceal the fundamentally simplistic doom-goth architecture of the band's songwriting. Draconian is at its weakest when subscribing to standard metal tropes, as on the perfunctory opening riff of "Through Infectious Waters (A Sickness Elegy)," but if one can suspend cynicism the band frequently achieves a haunting effect. "A haze fell forever, with her fading life," Jacobson solemnly intones over bird-chirps on "She Dies." When he reaches the point at which "the Emerald Goddess came to me. She craved my soul," he could well be reading from a lost Ann Radcliffe novel (a good thing). At times the cheese-factor spins out of control; when Jacobson declares, "I've cried a river for you to swim," on "The Morningstar," it's more like Ron Perlman's Beast telling Linda Hamilton's Beauty of his sappy woes. Still, for the most part the mood holds, and Draconian lets out its inner Neanderthals on a pounding cover of Pentagram's "Forever My Queen" that shares nothing but imagery with the rest of The Burning Halo but nonetheless drives it to a compelling close.
[Listen]
[Whitney Strub]


Fleshgore - Killing Absorption
[This Dark Reign]

It takes a little digging to find the vocals in Killing Absorption's sludgy mix; dig a little deeper and you'll find the decomposing body of a boogie-rock band. Like other midtempo death metal acts, from Bolt Thrower to Jungle Rot, Fleshgore thrives on the groove rather than any particular display of showmanship or speed, and tracks like "Twisted Reality" and "Greed" traffic in brawn, not virtuosity. The swamp-of-sound production adds a perhaps unintentional layer of pathos to the album, dulling the edges of uni-monikered Sid's guttural vocals until they sound less like a demonic fiend than a bewildered, terrified beast -- Chewbacca left confused and abandoned in downtown Cincinnati after dark. Granted, he's probably growling some pretty nasty things, but without a lyric sheet the song titles are much less violent than those of the comparable Severe Torture. Guitarist Igor chugs along with a minimum of gratuitous frills, and drummer Max eschews spidery rhythms for the shopworn but time-tested technique of simply hitting really damn hard. The album's nine tracks occupy an admirably concise running time of just over a half hour; if it's not quite superb enough to avoid raising questions of why it merits reissuing (having first appeared in 2003), Killing Absorption is a respectable slab of workmanlike death metal that deservedly brought the band straight outta the Ukraine and into the international underground.
[Listen]
[Whitney Strub]


Gadget - The Funeral March
[Relapse]

A friend of mine had two cats that, when they fought, would coalesce into a swirling ball of fur and teeth that my friend dubbed "World War III." The Funeral March is similarly feral; in fact, it's more like World War I, the most brutal war ever. This is the sound of artillery shelling, bayonet impalement, death with dirt in the mouth. One song even begins with the sound of warplanes, the distinctive whine of Snoopy's Red Baron fantasies. Gadget picks up where Nasum left off (RIP Mieszko), with grim, downtuned grindcore that crams 17 tracks into half an hour. The sound is a tad crustier than Nasum's, and the lyrics are more psychological and less sociopolitical. A few songs are in the band's native Swedish, but otherwise the lyrics are in English and often poetic: "Alas! Did I look away? Have I missed a frame? That portrait doesn't match, it's incorrect. Feels like I think about this every day." Listen closely, and you'll hear abstract, surprisingly sophisticated chord progressions. Relapse's in-house crew of Scott Hull and Orion Landau do a beautiful job with the mastering and artwork, respectively.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Giant - Song
[Southern Empire]

Not to be confused with the late-'80's Giant that did "I'll See You in My Dreams," this North Carolina band does a dead-on Isis impression. It's all there, from gradual crescendos to organic rhythms to vocals mixed way back. However, Giant is slightly more adventurous, with higher highs and lower lows. The songs are long, hypnotic, and patient, often hitting peaks of genuine beauty. Giant can go small like Mono and big like the best on Hydra Head, so if it expands on its foundation, its future looks bright. This fine debut comes in a handsome digipak with a Dischord-esque layout.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Gojira - From Mars to Sirius
[Prosthetic]

Remember when the trees in The Lord of the Rings got up and wrecked shop? This would be an apt soundtrack, as this French band unleashes huge, lumbering riffs and environmentally conscious lyrics (sample song titles: "Flying Whales," "Global Warming," "Ocean Planet"). The wide-open chords and steely precision recall Strapping Young Lad, while odd meters and bass drum polyrhythms bring to mind Morbid Angel's slower moments. But Gojira has been its own beast ever since legal issues forced a name change from "Godzilla" to its Japanese translation. Few bands balance melody, complexity, and heaviness this well. The vocals range from death growls to clean singing (Darkane's Andreas Sydow is comparable), but they always fit the music. Occasionally there's a blastbeat or clean guitar. In general, though, the songs are gut-wrenchingly heavy, the sound of the Earth opening up and swallowing its oppressors. At 77 minutes, this album is massive in every way. Highly recommended.
[Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Hekel - De Dodenvaart
[Total Holocaust]

Sometimes less is more: Cover art being point and fact. Non-Dutch speakers need not scuttle for Internet translating engines as it’s readily apparent that Hekel is by the “intolerant,” for the “intolerant.” One can suppose that this unwilling endurance is extended in all directions, including—but not limited to—race, as a black shrouded figure appears on the cover of the recording donning what appears to be a Klansman’s robe and mask—only stained flat black. The music begins ceremoniously, tying itself firmly to the bucolic heathenism currently in vogue with ritual drums, wolves lowing, birds calling. Thunder grumbles and then guitars wake. What follows is seemingly ad hoc Black Metal: roiling guitar, competent drumming, hateful vocals. This tired paradigm limps through the first few pieces, satisfied with rehashing Vikernes’ Det Som Engang Var with little to no variation. With added speed, Hekel is a much different beast. “Sater’s Wederkeer” and “De Grimmige Sterfte Op De Heide” are the two best tracks on the disc; folky hymns dealt thrashy deaths—and superb ones at that. With Hekel having been around for nearly a decade and only one full length to show for it, it could be a while before a proper verdict can be delivered.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Ion Dissonance / Despised Icon - Demos 2002 & 2004
[Galy]

This split EP of demos is an interesting artifact from Montreal's fertile metal scene. Ion Dissonance may be the most brutal band I've ever heard. That's saying a lot, since I listen to brutal music pretty much 24/7. Unpredictability is the key—other bands may be faster or heavier, but hearing Ion Dissonance is like getting punched, kicked, stabbed, gutted, and tickled in rapid succession. Thus, you get three songs of left turns, left hooks, blastbeats, breakdowns, and general mayhem with zero repetition. There's no better soundtrack for getting the shit beat out of you. Despised Icon is not so insane, just merely crazy. These cats are more metallic, though similarly genre-shredding, with two singers that alternate death growls with even lower cookie monster vocals. Both bands re-recorded these songs for later albums, but the execution here is perfect; the only thing lacking is polished production. Bonus points for the classy packaging, which embeds a 3" CD in a clear 5" disc.
[Listen / Listen]
[Cosmo Lee]


Jotunspor - Gleipnirs Smeder
[Cold Spring Records / Candlelight]

Having been approached by Cold Spring Records in 2005, Ex-Gorgoroth members Tom Visnes (King) and Einer Selvin (Kvitrafn) formed Jotunspor, a semi-experimental project which delivers the niche sentiment common to the duo's recent outings together (Audrey Horne, Sahg) while comfortably book-ending their Black Metal career. Gleipnirs Smeider—translated as "The Forgers of Gleipner" a reference to the silken leash that binds the Fenrir wolf of Norse mythology, the breaking of which signals the first events of Ragnarök—delves into Norwegian heritage in no unique way, divided among celebrant permutations of Norse Arisk Black Metal, marshal industrial rhythm and folk elements that recall Enslaved's more glorious moments (completed entirely in the group's native tongue). The album's lack of surprise is balanced by its sincere adaptation of themes. Blacksmithing rhythm loops beckon chord clusters that resound and trail like glowing embers in the darkness; samples howl and chill, the vocals split between burning rasps and artificial harmonics—an unfortunate and amateurish choice. The album falls short mainly within the electronic field, its dullest moment being a seven minute ambient piece that neither builds to nor connects anything else on disc. The rest may feel rushed and regressive (all written in the studio), but unevenness is still more than can be said about their peers in Gorgoroth. Indeed, it is a sad spirit that characterizes these better efforts as only mildly stirring that feral nature—the solar mysteries, the myths of men. The wolf still hungers, and once again tilts its head toward the night-sky.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Katharsis - WorldWithoutEnd
[Norma Evangelium Diaboli]

The return of Germany’s Katharsis is marked by a different sonic direction; just what that direction is, however, is up for debate. Katharsis’ trademark threadbare guitar, rendered in frayed and splitting lines, is stitched together quite nicely; instead of flaying about, the rhythm-fueled progressions are nailed down, either as a result of the mix or an indication of new technique. Part of Katharsis’ appeal was that the music was the sole yield of method. Drakh, Scorn and M.K. could take to the road without equipment and recreate the nuts and bolts of their set on borrowed guitars and drums. Their sound is in their approach: play it fast—long and hard; play it kaput, ja. There’s no special instrument or pedal. No necessary effect, which is what makes WorldWithoutEnd a bit difficult to absorb. While production is markedly “improved” from 666 and Kruzifixxxion, Drakh’s vocals are distant and coated in superfluous layers. Scorn’s riffs are given palpable definition. M.K. attacks an actual kit rather than ad hoc box and brass. The inhuman stamina remains, as do the silly song titles. And, thankfully, so does the back catalog.
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Manticore - For Rats and Plague
[Deathgasm]

Akron, Ohio: The void. Resident profaners Manticore unveil the third partition of what vocalist Ixitichitl proudly sneers as "no progression" or "maturing" of their sound. True enough, full-lengths run end to end, forwarding the same devotional missive of Black/Death with emetic purgation. On the surface, at least, For Rats and Plague seems tamer than 2004's exponentially vivid Bowels of the Holy Anoint Us in Evil. But fear not or, in fact, piss yourselves in the cyclonic throe of the trio's borrowed brand, re-composed of global progenitors Beherit, Incantation, Obituary and Archgoat (hailed here through a cover of their "Rise of The Black Moon") each a resinous stain on the bell-chimed, low channel satanic drive, wrangling guitar grind and jumper thud of the drum blasts. Vocals are sussurate, scaley invocations that ride across grotesque intestinal rumbles—multi-tracked exorcisms that chafe and seduce over the holy host, and few have done it so convincingly. One can point to its ultimate repetition, the stalling of timeless art as it remains bound to static uproar—For in something this vulgar the eternal is already a needlessly belabored thought—but its well worth indulging, if not at the expense of your own soul, then—glancing back at the cover art—all equally sacred notions of good taste.
[Listen]
[Todd DePalma]


Merrimack - Of Entropy and Life Denial
[Moribund]

Merrimack is French Black Metal that takes no truck with subtlety, wasting all in its path and refusing to go it any way but full bore. That being said, Of Entropy and Life Denial offers little in the way of variety. Each song works in breakneck allegro or languid allegro moderato: speeding up, catching its breath—and speeding up again. This schema has worked to dazzling effect with sister bands Antaeus and Hell Militia—LSK, who plays bass with the aforementioned bands also ends her substantial skills to Merrimack—but here it’s just too much of a good thing, making extended listens something of a great and unwanted labor. To be administered in small doses only.
[Listen]
[Stewart Voegtlin]


Spektr - The Near Death Experience
[Candlelight]

Two-man outfit Spektr is a collaboration between the members of French black metal groups Haemoth and Batthlehorns, suitably titled and acted out on behalf of the invisible and sinister energies purported to surround us all. But The Near Death Experience evokes the supernatural rather than chase after it, a stylized vision of the obscure, depressed and dispersed through the wind (and wind we have lots of). Taking off from the dark segues typical of Haemoth's own recordings, Spektr rotates ambient layers of earth and body—approaching footsteps, stormy gateways and inaudible squelches of uncertain harm with horridly distorted minor-chords blasting alongside a gas-leaking maw, blurred and finished with expediency. Rather than simply parrot the parent act over excessive keyboard drones, however, the album is driven by its reflexive percussion in the appropriate, if slightly contrived, pairing with new techniques the complete opposite of their main endeavors. Unbalanced jazz refrains are hatched and barely settle in amidst faux crepitations of vinyl being fed through the entropic chain. Tracks like "Astral Descent," "Whatever the Case May Be" and "His Mind Ravaged, His Memory Shattered," fall between Mayhem, Krzysztof Komeda and the Bohren und der Club of Gore. But it does not relinquish its objective for sport—a sickly portrait that fits among the more disturbing acts to crawl from underneath Marianne's fair garment. As a bonus, the disc includes a CD-ROM video shot by Spektr and Jean Phillipe Astoux, slash editing stock footage in an abstract visual presentation similar to films like Decasia or Begotten.
[Todd DePalma]


***


Submissions
Left Hand Path welcomes CD, CD-R, LP, 7”, DVD, VHS, and cassette releases to be considered for review. Information on the release should be included, if at all possible.

Address [North America]
Stewart Voegtlin
211 Estoria Street SE
Atlanta, GA 30316

Address [Europe]
Cosmo Lee
Dieffenbachstr. 59
10967 Berlin
Germany

[Many thanks to Justin Bartlett for permitting the use of portions of his drawing "Dissecting Christianity" within this article.]


***


Left Hand Path #001



By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-09-13
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