A Conversation with Fen’s The Watcher

 

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Photo Credit: Tom Huskinson

Happy 2020 everyone! I had the distinct honor of being able to interview Fen’s vocalist and lead guitarist The Watcher. He discussed a broad range of topics from the conception of Fen’s new album “The Dead Light” to lessons he has learned over the years, as well as his thoughts on the direction black metal is going as a whole. He spent a lot of time giving detailed answers and brought so much insight into the world of Fen and how they have become one of the premiere acts in the United Kingdom black metal scene today. You can check out their new album “The Dead Light” on the following links below. It is an absolutely wonderful album full of greats ideas and new dynamics musical-wise. I hope you enjoy the interview and feel free to comment below.

Firstly, what was the inspiration and ideas that came to mind in the creation of “The Dead Light”?

“The central drive to create what would eventually become ‘The Dead Light’ occurred almost immediately after we finished recording the previous record, ‘Winter’. For me, once an album is completed, it is like the closing of a chapter – what needs to be said has been said and the focus therefore must be to look forward, to give shape to the next phase of expression that needs to be defined, explored and realized.

 With this in mind, we reflected on what we had achieved with ‘Winter’ – we recognized that it was a sprawling, earthy album that was rooted with a sense of weightiness (both sonically and conceptually). Not only this, it was incredibly lengthy and winding from a compositional perspective, which was again a reflection on the labyrinthine, earthy subjects that the album tackles. Therefore, taking all of this into consideration, we consciously decided we wanted to do something very different and found our gaze wandering skywards. I found myself deliberating on the phenomenon of light travelling across the cosmos from celestial bodies that are unimaginable distances away from us here on earth – celestial bodies that may well have become extinct in the time it has taken for their light to reach our mortal, human eyes.

 This initial consideration really cemented the kernel of the avenue we wanted to explore and it was really this premise that underscores the album and indeed gave birth to the album title, ‘The Dead Light’. This is a very direct reference to the phenomenon outlined above – looking upon a window into the distant past, the light from long-dead entities still travelling through the fathomless void to ultimately deliver to us an image of something that no longer exists. From this central premise, the rest of the ideas for the album began to take shape – principally, mankind’s relationship with the cosmos and how this has impacted on the philosophy, theology and scientific thought since the dawn of civilization.  

 Musically, meanwhile, the decision was made to reflect this conceptual stance by creating material that was crystalline, spectral and sharper. It was also key for us to make the new songs more concise – with ‘Winter’, we felt we had taken our indulgent proggy streak more or less as far as it could go. None of us had any desire to simply make ‘Winter – the sequel’ or try and outdo ourselves on the winding ‘long song’ front as I think it would have crossed the line into over-indulgence. So, we set ourselves a new creative challenge – to say as much as we did before but in less time, to really focus on self-editing and brevity.

 For a band such as ourselves who have been writing very long songs since the very start, writing long songs actually isn’t all that difficult. Indeed, you have the freedom to have all the time in the world to basically let your message unfold and develop – the REAL challenge is keeping it brief, keeping the compositions and arrangements tight. We always want to push ourselves and therefore, this was a challenge we were fully up for attempting!”

What was the recording process like? Did you try anything new or different with the writing of the album compared to past albums?

“This album was recorded at Foel Studios with Chris Fielding (of Skyhammer Productions) overseeing the production/engineering. Foel is a place I’ve known about for some time – it is truly in the wilderness, set deep into the depths of the Welsh Countryside and the perfect place to escape from the multitude of distractions that life insists upon throwing at you. When the opportunity arose to record there, we had to take it! Chris is also someone I have been interested in working with for a while – his record speaks for itself after all – so to record with Chris at Foel was something of a dream arrangement.

 It was a real pleasure to record if I’m honest – the isolated setting made not only for total concentration/focus but also the splendor of the surrounding landscape helped inspire, gave us an additional impetus to really deliver. They were hard, long days, don’t get me wrong – there’s only three of us in the band and we all have to ensure that we put in our ‘A’ game – but they were productive, satisfying days. We spent a lot of time experimenting with effects pedals, different amps/tones etc. to ensure that what was ultimately put down on tape was the optimum expression of the sound we were trying to achieve.

 We did try some new things with this record – we worked with clicks for the first time ever, primarily to save a bit of time with the final tracking/editing process but also to ensure that the songs were as tight and as sharp as possible. Writing-wise, the songs very much came together as most Fen records do – myself and Grungyn composing most of the material individually in isolation and then bringing songs (or half-formed songs) to the rehearsal room to be worked on as a full band. As ever, some songs can evolve dramatically at this point in the process whereas others remain more or less as originally conceived. Of course, some rehearsal room improvisation/jamming contributed at points but one needs to be very disciplined with this approach – quite often, ‘jamming’ is a lot more enjoyable for the practitioners than it is for the listeners so a high degree of self-editing and awareness is needed! It can sometimes lead to some quite unexpected and welcome outcomes however so it can be a useful tool for composition when used correctly.”

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Photo Credit: Tom Huskinson

In your description of “The Dead Light”, you wanted to focus your efforts to the celestial skies above. What made you want to go in this direction instead?

“As I outlined earlier, if ‘Winter’ was an exploration of earth, death, burial and renewal then our drive with ‘The Dead Light’ was to undertake an approach that, whilst focusing on something that was the conceptual opposite in many respects, still encompassed a great deal of spirituality. Not only this, the fundamental bleakness at the heart of the human condition is a thread that runs through all of our releases so it is no different.

 That said, I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky, the mysteries of the universe and the fundamentals of the cosmos. Yes, most kids like ‘space’, that’s true – it appeals to the seeking, questing mind for a start and ultimately, how can something so vast, unexplored and quintessentially ‘alien’ to our terrestrial existence NOT be fascinating? For me, I’ve always looked at it from a more scientific angle I guess and indeed, did study elements of astrophysics as part of my degree.

 Ultimately, however, it is the vastness, the emptiness and the sheer mystery of the celestial aether that inspired me to explore these themes. In many ways, the depths of the cosmic voids are the ultimate embodiment of true bleakness – for a band that claims to channel a sense of bleakness through music, it only makes perfect sense to embrace such a topic!”

Fen have been in existence for over 12 years now, what lessons have you learned as a musician/artist since then?

“Many. Whilst all of us had band experience prior to Fen being formed, we have learned so, so much about how to conduct ourselves as individuals, musicians and (perhaps most importantly a collective) since Fen was originally conceived. The biggest lesson for me has been on the business side of things – and as crass as it sounds, it is only when people are actually showing a genuine interest in your band (as opposed to just being supported by mates etc.) that this really starts to rear its head. Sadly, as soon as any amount of ‘real’ money enters the equation, you need to have your wits about you – not only this; you need to stay strong, stand your ground and defend your art.

 We were probably guilty in the early days of under-selling ourselves; or perhaps not fully understanding the value of what it is we can bring to (for example) a live event. We are lot more confident now in what we do and what we can achieve – and in how we respect our own art. We will never undersell ourselves now and I think it is important for all bands to do this. As much as we all want to play shows or have albums printed/released, it is important to understand that labels, promoters etc. are all businesses at the end of the day. With this in mind, any discussions relating to gig booking, signings, releases, must be approached for what they are – business negotiations. It is vital to go in to such discussions with your eyes open and that you stand firm about what it is you expect. At the end of the day, if you do not respect your own art, how can you expect anyone else to do so? We’ve definitely learned this the hard way since we started.

 The other thing I have learned is to never rest on your laurels – never lose your edge or become complacent. Always work on improving in all facets of what you do – composition, musicianship, even just, in how you express lyrical concepts or think through your approach to bringing ideas to life. When a band has been going for a long time and has an established fan base, I can imagine that the temptation to sit back and ‘coast along’, getting by with ‘churning stuff out’ can be tempting. Not for me. After all, you are only as good as your last album or gig and the thought of somehow getting lazy or moving backwards terrifies me. It literally keeps me awake at night – and it should. Standards within the extreme metal scene are getting higher and higher – I try to attend as many gigs as I can, to check out new and up-and-coming bands, to see where the bar has been set. I need to be kept on my toes, to be pushed and to feel the continuing drive to excel and exceed previously set standards. And in my view, this should be the approach of any self-respecting artist!”

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What inspires you to come up with your incredible imagery in your lyrics as well as songwriting?

“I’m a bit of a sucker for a powerful metaphor I have to admit! I’m actually not much of a fan of ‘direct’ lyrics really – nor do I feel particularly confident in writing lyrics that express themes and ideas in a way that ISN’T shrouded in metaphor. That’s an important point for me – I am always conscious of trying to ensure that there is an interpretive quality to what we write, that it isn’t just a lecture or some sort of surface-level story. Layers, inference and subtext are absolutely key.

 So, given this, I think evocative – and occasionally unexpected – imagery is a powerful way of driving ambiance within our lyrics. It helps emphasize the drama inherent within the music whilst also (I hope) encouraging the listener to think a little, to start exploring ideas that aren’t initially obvious within the song and to add their own interpretive slant to what is being discussed. It is almost like painting with words in some respects and as I like to think our music/albums are very visual in many ways – after all, we spend a lot of time developing our album artwork/aesthetics – it is fundamental that the lyrics support this approach.

 Ultimately, the best lyrics act alongside the music to drive the listener ever deeper into the material – to truly resonate with what is being said as well as emphasizing or highlighting the drama of the song playing out. When these two elements synchronize harmoniously, that’s when I personally feel that Fen’s art is at its most compelling.

 And as with all of our writing, the inspiration often comes from within – a feeling, a notion, a state of mind that can often be emphasized by situation or circumstance. A bracing walk through the autumnal fens; a splendid hike through the mist-shrouded fells of the lake district; simply sipping a decent whisky at night in solitude can set the fires of inspiration burning!”

I have read in other interviews that Fen was first heavily influenced by Ulver and the Fields of Nephilim do both these bands still resonate with you now after all these years? What other bands have been influencing you as of late?

“Definitely – Fields of the Nephilim in particular are an absolute staple, one of the fundamental bands for me all these years later. There is just something absolutely magical about their first three full-length albums that remains undimmed by the passage of time. Ulver are similarly vital – ‘Bergtatt’ of course laying down the blueprint for this style of black metal nearly a quarter of a century ago!

 As for bands that I’ve been influenced by more recently, it’s hard to say. When I am composing music for Fen, I try to separate myself from what has generally been on my record deck as my goal is (as ever) to write from a ‘pure’ creative perspective, to channel an almost subconscious creative desire to realise the essence of Fen in musical form. And to be honest, I listen to such a wide and diverse selection of music that it wouldn’t always be appropriate – just recently, I’ve had W.A.S.P.’s ‘The Headless Children’ and Pond’s ‘The Weather’ nailed to the turntable which, great as they are, wouldn’t really be massively appropriate to dip into for inspiration!

 I guess one of the big discoveries over the last few years has been finally getting into Yob – a truly unique band with an absolutely unquestionable vision. Instantly recognizable, diverse, heavy (in the ‘right’ way!), excellent riff writing – Mike Scheidt is as close to a genius as we can get in this scene in my eyes. I’d say these guys are a real inspiration to me – forging an utterly distinctive musical path with such elegance and with just three guys to deliver it. Massive respect.

 Alongside this, I’ve been keeping my ears warmed with all sorts of stuff – plenty of 70s Yes, The Chameleons (another great guitarwave band from the 80s who have a massive impact on the shoegaze scene), the first Verve album, The Great Old Ones (excellent French post-black with Lovecraftian themes. It’s a diverse roster indeed and one that I’d like to think all helps inform how Fen ultimately expresses itself.”

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Lately many bands I have been hearing have been focusing on space and the universe is there a reason why metal bands (specifically Fen) have focused on these themes?

“It is a bit of a weird one – many bands have chosen to explore ‘spacey’ themes in the last year or so it has to be said! I’m not sure if it’s a pure coincidence or just simply the result of individuals despairing so deeply with what is taking place here on earth that they feel compelled to look to the heavens for some sort of solace…

 Like I explained earlier, I’ve always been fascinated by cosmological concepts since I was a child and it is something that has followed me as I have got older. I don’t see how it isn’t possible to be fascinated by this, frankly – there are so many avenues for exploration, so many incredible phenomena that lurk within the vastness of the universe (or even the multiverse if we want to go there…) that it strikes me as willful ignorance to simply disregard any consideration of the cosmos. Out there lie the very fundamental secrets and tenets to our existence here on our rather unremarkable planet orbiting a rather unremarkable star – something that may give some substance, meaning or context to the origins of life here.

 And beyond that, there are so many other phenomena we barely comprehend – dark matter, space/time, gravity, singularity – phenomena which underpin the very fabric of everything that surrounds us (after all, lest we forget, all matter we perceive on this planet was essentially born in the heart of a star). How is this NOT utterly compelling? And of course, given the type of characters who are attracted to the extreme metal genre, it’s no surprise that such concepts have so many willing enthusiasts within the scene. It’s an intoxicating mix of darkness, mystery, nihility (if one adheres to the theory that we are truly alone in a freezing, uncaring universe), violence, destruction and ultimately, sheer unknowable vastness. It’s a rich, rich wellspring for the metal mind to draw upon and such themes/concepts are perfectly delivered via the vessel of black metal I think.”

Fen has become one of the premiere black metal bands in the United Kingdom, do you think black metal in the UK is going in a positive direction or has it plateaued? In general, do you think black metal is an evolving genre or has it stagnated?

“You’ve asked two separate questions here really – firstly, has UK black metal plateaued? The answer from me is a resounding ‘no’ – indeed, it has never been healthier to my mind. There are so many new, up-and-coming bands forming at the moment who not only exhibit a real sense of considered definition and quality-control in their music/aesthetics but also demonstrate a real hunger and drive to succeed. The scene here just keeps getting stronger – it’s a far cry from the early days of it just being Cradle of Filth, Hecate Enthroned and Thus Defiled being the sole flag bearers for the genre on the world stage.

 We have some acts from the UK now really cementing international reputations – Winterfylleth, Saor and A Forest Of Stars being the vanguard of those who underpin the quality of what has originated from this isle in the last fifteen years or so. But there are plenty of others who are now making names for themselves – all adopting their own unique take on the genre but being united by a sense of common purpose and a palpable drive to succeed. Notable acts include Aklash (excellently composed atmospheric BM), Wolvencrown (searing melodic BM), Abduction (harsh, nihilistic fury), Necronautical (riff-heavy and symphonic), The Infernal Sea (vivid aesthetics married to snarling old-school sonics), Thy Dying Light (monochromatic lo-fi aggression) – there are plenty of others. I’d urge you to spend some time digging through everything our scene has to offer.

 As for black metal itself stagnating? It’s hard to say – it’s a genre that has traditionally seen so much reinvention and genre cross-pollination that it has almost become synonymous with change and with evolution. What is interesting however is how conservative much of the fan base can be also – and if one were to take a bigger step back, have we REALLY seen any significant evolution in the last 15 or so years? The whole late-90s ‘weirding’ of Norway was clearly a time of real experimentation, however whilst we did get a handful of excellent records out of it, some of it has not aged well at all. The ‘black metal meets electronica’ thing of the early 2000s also has been (rightly) condemned to the dustbin of history, though someone had to give it a try I guess.

 I guess these were all exercises in establishing boundaries. I think what a lot of the ‘over-experimentation’ enabled was to define the parameters within which black metal could experiment and still retain its identity – and it is much more about uniqueness of atmosphere, authenticity and songwriting bravery but crucially, within the confines of the ‘traditional’ trappings of extreme metal. Some of what I consider to be the most forward-thinking acts of the last 10-15 years (Blut aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, The Ruins of Beverast) use the traditional ‘guitar/bass/drums/synth’ tools of the genre yet deploy them in such a way that makes them original and write material that is truly unique. In this, I can only see the genre continuing to evolve in this way, for more brave souls to continue to push at the edge of the compositional envelope.

 However, this is offset by what I can see in the conservatism that currently dominates the black metal mainstream – when bands like Mgla end up becoming one of the biggest outfits in the genre by essentially re-writing the same three-chord song seven times and calling it an album, you can’t help but ask some questions about stagnation creeping in somewhere! But I digress – black metal is an individual thing after all and I’m happy to leave this sort of thing to the festival crowds whilst seeking out those acts who are trying to push themselves and the genre forwards.”

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What are some of your hobbies outside of music, tell us more about The Watcher as a person?

“Well, I’ll keep this relatively brief – I’m a bit enthusiast of craft beer and single malt whisky. Indeed, I think Scottish single-malt pot still whisky is the greatest drink conceived by human beings – it’s no exaggeration to state that it has been a very important part of the Fen creative process. It’s an evocative, invigorating spirit that carries with it a real sense of time, place and landscape. It has therefore accompanied many a late-night writing session – it’s a rare treat to kick back with the guitar, a glass of cask-strength Ardbeg and then look to summon atmospheric inspiration…

 Other than this, I also quite enjoy hiking across country, up hills and mountains and across rugged terrain. Given I live in the city, it’s not easy to get access to such landscape but we generally try and get away to the wilds once or twice a year.

 I also quite enjoy fantasy gaming – role-playing, tabletop/miniature games and card games. Yes, classic geekery and something that is far more prevalent in the black metal scene than many would like to admit. I know a LOT of folk who have rediscovered their love for miniature paining recently – I sadly don’t have the time to dedicate to it that I’d like but I try and reconnect once in a while!”

Has any movies, books or other mediums helped influence the music of Fen?

“Movies – not really. I enjoy watching films but much more as an escape or a distraction – a way of ‘switching off’ if you will – than as a genuinely artistic pursuit. I guess there’s only so much space in one’s brain and we all need our vices or ways to unwind. So film isn’t something for me that I take inspiration from in Fen.

 Books are a different matter I suppose. Again, I read a lot of escapist fantasy literature to relax, however I also spend a lot of time reading philosophical works also and some of thinking therein really helps with giving form and voice to the lyrics/concepts we like to express with our albums. It’s not something I have the mental energy to dig into all the time but when I can, I do dig into works by many of the existential and metaphysical writers in an attempt to try and add some structure/meaning/sense to my own worldview. Key writers include Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, Russel – I have also dabbled in the works of Neiztche and Sartre but found these perhaps a little TOO opaque, though some of the key themes definitely resonated.

 Whilst the above are not directly referenced or drawn from as inspirational sources, they have been key in helping shape my thinking and my worldview – almost sitting behind what I do in Fen as some sort of inspirational ‘background radiation’ supporting the concepts and ideas we look to explore in our music.

 For ‘The Dead Light’, I have also drawn upon some of the more philosophical/outlandish theories that can crop up at the fringes of astrophysical considerations. Again, this has also been supported by some key writings that deal with the wider implications of a number of scientific theories – Tipler’s ‘The Physics of Immortality’ and Deutch’s ‘The Fabric Of Reality’ are intriguing reads, even if occasionally being a little questionable from a strictly scientific viewpoint. Nevertheless, these are fascinating subjects and any cursory read into metaphysics, astrophysical phenomena and transhumanism is sure to get the inspiration circuits firing.”

Reading more about your background you have your hand in many other musical projects, which ones are you focusing on as of late? Which projects should our readers focus on?

“At the moment, I think it is fair to say that I am only really involved in two ‘active’ musical outlets currently – Fen is of course one of these and the other is what is predominantly a solo outing, ‘Fellwarden’. The latter is an expressive outlet I commenced in around 2014 to give voice to a more sweeping, epic black metal sound that I had been yearning to undertake for some time. Havenless – who has been drumming in Fen since around 2016 – provides the drums for this and I was actually working with him in Fellwarden prior to his involvement with Fen.

 We have just completed work on the second Fellwarden full-length – the debut ‘Oathbearer’ came out in 2017 – and we started work more or less straight away after this so it’s taken a while to come together. That is understandable though as I’ve really pushed the material further on this record – more epic, more layers, a more ‘widescreen’ approach to the compositions. It also really digs deeper into the themes of the project, taking huge inspiration from the rearing landscapes of the Cumbrian fells of North Western England. I think it sounds great myself and I’m really looking forward to it finally seeing the light of day!

 This said, there are other possible things bubbling away – indeed, there has been talk that the long-awaited second De Arma record may finally see completion in 2020 – amongst other things. I guess you could say I like to keep busy!”

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Photo Credit: Stefan Raduta

Fen has done many shows and tours over the years, specifically which ones stood out to you most?

“In terms of individual shows, we have been quite lucky in some respects as we have had opportunities to play at some incredible venues in front of some amazing crowds. Prophecy Fest last year at Balver Hohle in Germany was one of these – the setting was absolutely mind-blowing, awe-inspiring and atmospheric. It was an absolute honour to play. Our set at Summer Sonnewald in Austria back in 2011 was also something special – playing on an Austrian mountainside as night descended and beacon pyres were set aflame in celebration was something else. And our show in Moscow in 2014 was also awesome – we didn’t know what to expect but the venue was great and the audience absolutely reveled in it. Playing in the US in 2012 was a rare treat also, we had a great time. All of these will live with me until my final day but there have been plenty of other great live experiences along the way also.

Tour-wise, the month we spent in Europe with Agalloch in 2013 was an incredible experience. A great bunch of guys for sure and we had such a good time with them – we also played some pretty cool shows along the way as well which helped!”

If you could describe the music of Fen to someone who may not be familiar with the sound how would you describe it?

“Man, I get asked this now and then (normally by curious ‘normal’ people) and it’s so difficult to accurately sum up to the uninitiated I fear! I guess it would be along the lines of ‘atmospheric yet furiously raging metal music, shot through with palpable sorrow and a sense of the ethereal’. Is that pretentious enough do you think?”

Finally, do you have any parting words for our readers?

“Thanks for taking the time to read this and for checking out our music!”

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Bandcamp: https://fenuk.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fenofficial

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2rZmcCq

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/FenBandUK

 

 

Obsequiae “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” Review

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When I heard Obsequiae would be coming out with a new album I was so excited to hear what Tanner Anderson has created. I can safely say that he has created a potential album of the year candidate for 2019. The album is consistent, unique, and beautiful there is not a weak part to be heard in “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings”. When I first heard of Obsequiae, I was very much intrigued because I thoroughly enjoy Tanner Anderson’s project Celestiial. Listening to the epic sound found in Celestiial I was itching to hear a pared down version that was succinct but still had that immense feel to the music, and that is how I found out about “Aria of Vernal Tombs”. I purchased the album right away and immediately got into the ethereal and medieval world of Obsequiae. After experiencing the beauty of “Aria of Vernal Tombs”, I could not wait to hear what “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” had in store for me.

The album begins with an amazing instrumental by Vicente La Camera Mariño, “L’autrier m’en aloie” this is song is astonishing in its beauty and really paints the listener a picture of natural landscapes with ruins scattered across green craggy islands. The instrumental ends and the sounds of wind, and birds take over; then the first chords kick in for the song “Ceres in Emerald Streams”. This track hits all cylinders and rips but has a subtle dreamlike vibe to the guitars that somehow eases the tension completely in the song. “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” has this sound going on throughout the album, which makes it incredibly consistent.

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The next aspect of the album that really is a highlight is the muffled screams of Tanner Anderson, it really adds a mystique to the overall sound of “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” his vocals sound like they were recorded on a cliff side overlooking rivers, lakes and castles in disrepair. It gives an overall natural vibe to the music that fits the themes conveyed in all 12 tracks perfectly. In addition, the lyrical delivery in the songs is top notch and gives a sense of longing for the ancient world before technology took over. The lyrics show a deep yearning for places with overgrown hedges, vast gardens and mysterious woods nearby.

Another thing that makes this album brilliant is how atmospheric and crunchy the guitars are, I picture a bard somewhere in an old church playing electric guitar summoning the ancient spirits of old. There is such a sense of melody and beauty in the riffs and leads. I imagine in my head these songs playing while I ride horseback from the mountains, rivers, and through the misty meadows of Avalon. Each track on the “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” has this mystical, and fey-like imagery found throughout every menhir, sepulcher, and dark/dusty castle corridor. If you are itching to hear an album that will take you to different worlds, this album does it in spades.

In conclusion, I feel this album is brilliant, the imagery, overall sounds and vibe of the album hits all the right emotional notes. As I progressed through the album, I felt such wonderment and even a bit of sadness. There is a sense of longing for worlds lost to time and technology throughout the entirety of “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” it is album that allows you to journey inward to experience a world where your ancestors once walked and the sorrow they felt when man’s folly caused the impending doom of the natural world. “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” is the millions of voices lost to time and decay, please listen to their message.

Rating 9/10

Bandcamp: https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/the-palms-of-sorrowed-kings

 

 

Fen “The Dead Light” Review

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Fen has released a new album called “The Dead Light” it is their next opus in their extensive and consistent discography. I had the pleasure to listen to the album and wanted to say that it is good but there are some moments where the album gets a bit repetitive. Instead of covering themes of nature and the ground beneath our feet Fen have decided to take the listener skywards to the stars and planets above. The album takes me through this journey in a wonderful way. I picture ancient populations before civilization ballooned looking up at the night sky in wonderment and mystery. I think the lads from Fen have constructed an album that really conveys these feelings.

The album starts with an instrumental that paints an image of wandering a meadow at night stargazing. There is a calming vibe with the song but as it progresses, it builds to the first song “The Dead Light (Part 1)” and as the first chords kick in I now see myself sitting on an asteroid shooting through space and time. This song is very progressive in nature, and a bit chaotic in a way to. This is the first major difference from Fen’s prior releases they get much more proggy in their song structure. I think this helps “The Dead Light” but hurts it a bit too. I have not been the biggest fan of prog metal because I feel it meanders too much and gets a bit too technical for my liking. Some moments in the album go in that direction, but Fen are able to balance it out with much more beautiful post metal passages.

As the album continues we are then introduced to another instrumental bridge “The Dead Light (Part 2)” that reminds me so much of Morgion’s instrumental “Solinari” it has this very mystical and ethereal vibe going on with it that is perfect transition to one of the stand out tracks “Nebula”. This is a really well written and beautiful song by Fen, they go straight up black metal meets post rock meets shoegaze in this song. It shows how versatile they are as songwriters because you get a sense of chaos and kinetic energy in one song and now introduced to a very dreamy/introspective tune to balance it out. I think “Nebula” is probably the closest sound to their work off “The Malediction Fields” with an even greater emphasis on clean vocals.

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The last four songs off “The Dead Light” are very different from one another and this where things end up getting a bit repetitive on the album. The first track “Labyrinthine Echoes” is a good song and epic in nature. It sounds like an extended version of Enslaved’s “Return to Yggdrasil” with many movements both heavy and quiet. The next two songs “Breath of the Void” and “Exsanguination” are where the album gets a bit rocky. These songs sound very similar to one another and just bleed into one another. Nothing really stands out about these tracks compared to other amazing songs on the album I have heard so far.

The final song on the album “Rendered in Onyx” is an amazing song and a great closing opus to end the album on a high note. The images in this song are stunning, dreamlike and hopeful. When I hear this song, I picture myself floating in the Milky Way with stars, and planets surrounding me. The millions of suns warming my face amidst the peace and quiet of the interstellar silence. I feel “Rendered in Onyx” is a healthy mix of “Bereft” and “Winter III (Fear)” it has that specific hook that really hits all the right emotional buttons. The combination of clean vocals and The Watcher’s screams makes this song super interesting. It successfully takes you down so many paths both aggressive and calming.

“The Dead Light” is another great entry in Fen’s discography. There are plenty of highlights to be heard on the album there are just some areas that didn’t impress me as much as the songs from Fen’s prior releases, specifically, “Winter” and “Carrion Skies” . If you have been a fan of Fen, you will enjoy this album and may even love the songs I did not enjoy as much. Fen is one of those bands that know how to write consistently good music and I am glad to hear the experimentation found on the album. Eventually the different paths Fen takes with their music will lead to even more interesting and adventurous albums in the future.

Rating 8/10

Bandcamp: https://fenuk.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fenofficial

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/FenBandUK

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Alcest a Retrospective 2012 to 2016

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At this stage of Neige’s career, Alcest started gaining more momentum. Their popularity started growing and growing. More and more fans have gotten a chance to stumble upon the beautiful soundscapes Alcest evokes. Also in this age of Alcest, they went into very different avenues with their music. They started visiting the worlds of dream pop and pure shoegaze as the band progressed, which not only brought in a new type of fan but also showed how versatile and creative Alcest can be. In my opinion, the years between 2012 and 2016 were a mixed bag. The one thing I can say is Alcest’s music still is able to flood my mind with feelings of nostalgia and longing.

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Les voyages de l’âme 8/10

I would say this is my second favorite album by Alcest; there are some great songs on here that really hit the feels. The album is very sunny and warm in nature but still has this cold breeze blowing through it. There are still some amazing black metal moments in “Les voyages de l’âme” where Neige really belts out some really bone chilling screams and shrieks. However, what makes the album stand out a lot to me is how much it puts me into a blissful mood. The music is soft, ethereal and just hits all the introspective bits in my mind. As the album closes, we start seeing a preview of what is to come in the song “Summer’s Glory” for a future divisive Alcest album in 2014. Best songs: Autre Temps, Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles, and Faiseurs de mondes

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Shelter 9/10

For me Alcest’s album “Shelter” is an absolute revelation. Neige has decided to stray far away from the black metal origins of Alcest and decided to create an album of pure moody dream pop/shoegaze. To cap it off Neige enlisted the talents of Neil Halstead of Slowdive to contribute some vocals and guitar to this album. Surprisingly the song “Away” is one of the best songs on the album. It is moving, warm, relaxing and utterly spellbinding. The bulk of this album is incredibly consistent with the most beautiful package of songs I have heard in a long while. Each track evokes imagery that is positive, alluring, and dreamlike. Usually metal albums tend to be dark and dreary, “Shelter” on the other hand is one of the most positive and life-affirming pieces of music I have got to hear. Best songs: Opale, Away, and Délivrance

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Kodama 6/10

When I first heard that Alcest was going to be working on a new album called “Kodama”, I was once again super eager to hear what direction they were going to take the band. When I got the album, I was not impressed with it like some of Alcest’s earlier works. It seemed like Neige was kind of going with the motions in the writing of “Kodama”. The album seemed lackluster to me, and I only enjoyed about three songs off the album. I also thought the album ended too soon and left me wanting more. I was worried that Alcest’s creative genius was starting to wane with “Kodama”. I felt like I spent more time hearing early works then “Kodama” when the album came out. Best songs: Kodama, Je suis d’ailleurs, and Oiseaux de proie

This concludes my mini reviews of the latter half of Alcest career. As I mentioned above it was a very mixed bag in regards to the albums introduced between 2012 and 2016. The one thing I will say is Neige and company are able to still write amazing pieces of music that really brings out both feelings of joy and sorrow in each subsequent album. I still highly recommend giving them a listen if you want to experience music that is achingly beautiful but also brings out so many feelings/nostalgia with frequent listens.

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Bandcamp: https://alcest.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alcest.official

Official Page: http://www.alcest-music.com/

An Interview with Dan Capp of Wolcensmen

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Photo By: Daniel Walmsley

Seemingly out of nowhere I heard about a band called Wolcensmen out of the United Kingdom. I remember I was requesting recommendations on Metal Archives for bands that have a mysterious, pastoral, or woodsy sound and one person recommended them. I come to find out that Wolcensmen is the dark folk project of Dan Capp from Winterfylleth. Being a big fan of Winterfylleth I just had to get my hands on this project. I first bought “Songs from the Fyrgen” and when I heard the album I was blown away about how much it fit the pastoral/woodsy vibes I was itching for in music at that time. As time pressed on Dan Capp announced a new Wolcensmen album called “Fire in the White Stone” I immediately pre ordered the album on CD and vinyl. He also included a short story that ties the whole album together. Dan kept in contact with me about the shipping updates for the items, so we started emailing back and forth. I then asked if he would be interested in doing an interview for my blog. He graciously accepted and after weeks of going back and forth I can now show all you readers our in-depth conversation. I also wanted to acknowledge my friend Annie Cúglas who contributed some questions to this interview with Dan Capp. Their questions and answers are italicized so you can differentiate between the two.

I hope you enjoy this interview about metal, heathenism, inspiration, the runes and everything else in between. “Fire in the White Stone” is out now, I highly recommend giving the album a listen it is a masterwork and worth the time to listen to by the fireplace at night. Make sure you have a glass of fine bourbon in hand and get lost in the world Wolcensmen has created…

Dan Capp

Photo By: Daniel Walmsley

Could you tell us the origins of the Wolcensmen project? What made you come up with the name and the concept?
“The earliest spark of inspiration goes back to my teenage years, when I was first exposed to overtly atmospheric, dark music, but the more definitive moment of intent was in 2010 when I was on tour, in a pub in Dublin watching a folk band play. I wondered to myself why such a sight was less commonplace in England, so I decided I could have a go at making some folk-ish music based around the themes of English mythology and spirituality. When I returned home from tour I began composing initial ideas.
The name evolved over quite a while (whilst the demo took shape, with no sense of urgency). I always loved the word ‘welkin’ – which I’d first come across from the title of Emperor’s second album – and came up with the idea of ‘binding’ it together with the word ‘kinsmen’. So the initial project name was ‘Welkinsmen’. After a while, I began to rethink that a little; ‘Welkin’ is the Middle-English form of the Old-English ‘wolcen’; it means ‘heavens’ or ‘clouds’. And because the themes were going to be overtly pre-Christian, I felt that I should use the more archaic form of the word. It lost the ‘kinsmen’ component as a result, but gained something just as powerful: ‘Cen’ is the English rune name representing the torchlight of community and guidance, and is almost certainly connected, etymologically, to the word ‘kin’. The Wolcensmen bindrune embodies the features of the name: The Tiw rune for sky, two Cen runes for kinship and guidance, and the Mæg (men) rune. Wolcensmen, in a sense, means ‘men of the heavens’, or ‘men of the clouds’ – both of which are fitting for the themes I explore and convey.”

As I was reading other interviews I noticed you have been heavily influenced by the 90s black metal scene, how did you first get into the scene and how has 90s black metal influenced your creativity?
“I was introduced to black metal in the late ‘90s by some slightly older friends from school. I’ve been in love with the spirit of the genre ever since, sometimes inexplicably (given that I have no interest in Satanism). Where I grew up, near High Wycombe, England, there was a tangible connection to the second-wave Scandinavian scene in that it’s where Lee Barrett, founder of Candlelight Records is from. I knew of Lee early on, and by sheer chance later became good friends with him.
Black metal is absolutely responsible for the formation of Wolcensmen. It was the dark atmospheres and pagan-mystical themes of black metal which introduced me to the themes and philosophies I explore with Wolcensmen. The acoustic or synth-driven interludes (and in some instances, full albums) that black metal bands used to compose really captured my imagination. The spirit of those melodies and sounds almost re-programmed me on a spiritual level, and I experimented with acoustic compositions of my own. Fast-forward to about 2010 and I felt there was too little of this music and atmosphere being made anymore, and that perhaps I could do something about that.”

I also noticed that Wolcensmen is often lumped into the Neofolk scene; are you a fan of this style of music and do you personally think it has helped with your ideas as a musician?
“It’s a strange one this. I would say ‘no, I’m not a fan’, but it really depends on how one defines ‘neo-folk’. To me it always specifically referred to that breed of simplistic, ‘strummy’ acoustic act; Examples being Death in June and Sol Invictus. It was the more neo-classical leanings of Ulver, Empyrium and Dead Can Dance which inspired me, and so it was strange when I started to see people labelling Wolcensmen ‘neo-folk’. It doesn’t bother me, ultimately. Labels cannot change what music is, nor what its spirit is.”

Annie: How much of your influence comes from Scandinavian post-metal projects (Ulver, Hedingarna and Wardruna) versus specifically English folk music (The Watersons, Sol Invictus, Skyclad)? Do you consider Wolcensmen an English version of what’s coming from Scandinavia, or coincidentally parallel to developments there?
“That’s an interesting question. I’m not familiar with Hedingarna, but Ulver are a particularly key influence, and Wardruna also as I followed Einar Selvik’s work from Gorgoroth through Jotunspor and the origins of Wardruna. Wardruna’s influence on me is mainly vocal, in that many of my other influences tend to be mostly instrumental. I know a little bit of Sol Invictus and Skyclad, and the only English folk acts I can really claim to be familiar with are Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. I actually don’t feel that Wolcensmen is a ‘folk’ band, even if others do. I love most folk music I hear, but the impetus to do what I do came mainly from a desire to create the sort of epic, mystical atmospheres I heard in Summoning, Forefather, Bathory and Satyricon… but with a different sonic palette.
England is where I’m from, and I’ve never been much good at feigning who I am, or what my passions are. English Mysticism is it! There are enough non-Scandinavians pretending to be Scandinavian these days.”

When I hear both “Songs from the Fyrgen” and “Fire in the White Stone” nature is a huge element to your imagery and the overall sound. What drew you to write such mystical and mysterious music? How did you build a strong spiritual connection to nature?
“It’s simple really: I feel nowhere more content and at peace than wandering among woodlands, hills and shorelines away from the urban sprawl. In my youth, my friends and I would spend our Friday nights lugging a few bottles of beer and a portable stereo up to some nearby woods, building a fire, and sitting there soaking up the atmosphere whilst listening to Dark Medieval Times, Orkblut, Nightshade Forests, Blood On Ice or Morningrise. Going back further still, my grandfather retired in the Forest of Dean and we’d visit him regularly when I was young; he’d take us for long walks through the forest, crossing rocky streams and scaling mossy boulders. I feel like I’m being very cliché, because it’s not exactly original for a black metal fan to glorify wild natural places, but it is nevertheless an important truth for me: I love unspoilt nature and feel perpetually drawn to it.”

In “Fire in the White Stone” you included the release with a short story that directly ties with the album, what made you want to run with this unique approach to the new album?
“It wasn’t a particularly conscious plan. I just wanted a strong concept for the album’s lyrics and moods, but the concept became so fleshed out and detailed that I got to a point where I realised to do it justice, I’d have to write a short-story to accompany the album. I recorded the album nearly one year before it was released, so I knew that I’d have time to pen the story before it went to press. Wolcensmen has taught me one thing about myself: I don’t like to do things by halves. I don’t take the success of Wolcensmen for granted, and I’m not here to make casual, throwaway albums which people listen to once or twice. I have an opportunity I never expected to have, and that’s to make well-produced albums that will be heard by thousands of people. A lot of music gets released every day, in every genre, and I want Wolcensmen to stand as a monument of depth and quality among it all.”

Reading notes on the album on your Bandcamp page you said you wrote the story to get a philosophical message across to your audience. What is the philosophy you were going for in the conception of “Fire in the White Stone”?
“Well, it’s not singular, and I don’t want to go into depth about all of the energies and philosophies present in ‘Fire in the White Stone’. What I will say is that the overall message is one of growth and encouragement. The protagonist in the story is sort of the ‘everyman’ – certainly the ‘every disillusioned man’ – who finds his potential by stepping out of his comfort zone. I’ve studied Alchemy a bit in recent years (the theory, not the practice) and it’s not merely the mundane act of transforming lead into gold, but of transforming anything lesser into its greater potential. This applies on a human-individual level as well as on a societal level. As pretentious as this may sound, ‘Fire in the White Stone’ is designed to be an initiatory experience, musically and thematically. Anyone who truly engages with the music, the story and artwork will find some answer to the question of how they can better their existence. The teachings aren’t mine – they’re the combined wisdom of thousands of years, conveyed through the runes, Alchemists, philosophers and storytellers. I sort of condensed what I’ve discovered into this relatively concise artistic presentation.”

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It seems like the main character is very much a symbol and metaphor of yourself, but is there a story behind meeting someone that is similar to the old farmer?
“No, the farmer really represents recent generations of western men, who were tough, salt-of-the-earth, masculine men but have become domesticated as western comforts set in. Or perhaps, in a sense, he represents western masculinity which has weakened over the course of the last few generations. And by the way, when I talk about ‘masculinity’, I don’t refer to what some people choose to call ‘toxic masculinity’. A real man is just, fair, respectful and honest.”

Were you trying to use a lot of Norse symbolism in the story line? As well as the characters introduced/involved in the story?
“Yes, though I’d politely correct you in that the symbolism belongs to the wider Teutonic (and Celtic) corpus. For example, the swans are closely related to the German ‘Alcis’, and the swan associations of the King Arthur and Lohengrin legends. Some of the symbolism is more commonly associated with Scandinavian lore, such as the Norns, the dwarves who uphold the four corners of the world. Some of it is specifically English, such as the Kalc rune, but a lot of it is common to wider Indo-European and even global mythology.”

What made you come up with the idea of the Swans of Gar’s Edge? You gave them quite an interesting description what is the significance behind them?
“Around the time that I made the Wolcensmen demo in 2013 I had a particularly vivid dream featuring two giant swans. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that this dream was in some way connected to the formation of Wolcensmen and my calling to make something of this musical project. There is an autobiographical aspect to ‘Fire in the White Stone’ and the Swans of Gar’s Edge are a key component of that. At the risk of getting into areas of discussion more spiritual and esoteric than some readers might be comfortable with, the swans demanded something of me and rewarded me in turn. But it’s not a concept specific to me; All of us (who believe in forces beyond the empirical) can connect with these hidden forces to unlock our individual potential.”

When I read the story it really reminds me of the old folk tales about the fae folk, do you do a lot of research on faerie lore and how important are those tales to you?
“I’ve read a number of English and Celtic folk tales, and am particularly familiar with anything that comes to us from an overtly Heathen culture (such as the Icelandic Sagas). I understood early on that the fae folk are intrinsic to the north-west European equivalent of Shamanism and, as mentioned in the answer to your previous question, our willingness to interact with these unseen forces is an important, forgotten principle which I personally try to employ in my life wherever possible.”

As I read the story the protagonist just decided to wander into the woods and the story unfolded from there, what is your take on this kind of symbolism/metaphor?
“It’s a typical, generic basis for an iteration of the ‘Hero’s Journey’, where an unassuming, disenchanted person finds themselves on an accidental journey and discovers something about (or for) themselves or their society as a result. That’s the basic meaning of it. There is another layer which is more specific to the – for lack of a better term – subculture that I and most Wolcensmen listeners are part of. Most of us here are disillusioned with modern existence and seek to enhance the depth and beauty of our existence somehow – usually through immersion in very escapist, otherworldly music, film and literature. The protagonist in a sense represents the conformist finding his way to nonconformity, and some of the dialogue early in the story attempts to convey this.”

Is there a personal significance to the actual fire in the white stone mentioned in the tale? What were you trying to convey with that object?
“This is something I’d like the reader to ponder for themselves, having come to understand the wider context of the story. Anyone who’s read the story and still isn’t sure, I would respond to them with the question: What has fire and light always represented in countless myths through mankind’s history? Why is fire so important to Zoroastrians? What is the extent of sun worship, and why? Why will the avatar Kalki’s sword be ablaze? Why does the Yule ritual consists of bringing fire into the home?”

Photo By: Daniel Walmsley

I also noticed you worked with quite a few great artists to help you conceive “Fire in the White Stone” how did you specifically build your relationships with Aslak Tolonen of Nest and Jake Rogers of Visigoth/Gallowbraid? I cannot picture better contributing artists than those two!

You’re right – I’ve been very fortunate to befriend Jake and Aslak. I’ve known Jake since before I made the Wolcensmen demo in 2013, through working with him on some designs. We soon found a lot of musical common-ground and when I’d recorded the demo I asked if he was interested to hear it. He loved it and told me he played the flute, and should I ever want flute on future compositions he’d be glad to help. I took him up on the offer for the first album, ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ and when it came to writing ‘Fire in the White Stone’ I couldn’t fathom it being devoid of flute. It’s an instrument which brings an ethereal, very-human texture.
As for Aslak: His projects Nest and Syven are a big influence, but I didn’t properly make his acquaintance until last year, though I know he was a fan of the first album when it was newly released. I arranged a Wolcensmen release-show for the reissue of ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ in 2018 and had seen Aslak announcing his readiness to play concerts on Facebook. He’d never performed in the UK before so I thought it was a great opportunity to bring him over. The show was amazing – a real night to remember. Aslak and his wife stayed with me and we got on well. I asked if he might add a little bit of kantele to my new album and he kindly obliged.”

I am also curious how you built your relationship with John A. Rivers (Dead Can Dance’s producer) what is the story behind meeting him and how did you get him to buy into your vision of “Fire in the White Stone”?
“Well, it was purely business to begin with. I’d initially arranged to record with Markus Stock of Empyrium, in Germany. Sadly, that fell through and I was left wondering who else could do a great job with the album. In a moment of madness, or genius, I thought I’d look up who produced the classic Dead Can Dance albums, and to see if they were still working. I sent John an email and to my astonishment we managed to work something out. He liked the sound of the project and was excited to work with me. The rest is recent history. Initially I didn’t share too much with him about the themes and nature of the project – I just wanted to get across to him the sonic qualities and atmospheres I wanted to achieve. He was very attentive and accommodating, and by the end of the project I really felt it had became a labour-of-love. I do believe he’s very proud of his involvement with the album, and that’s a real honour for me.”

Annie: Do you feel like there has been a shift from lo-fi black metal to more sophisticated styles of music that has roots in black/death/doom metal (neofolk, acoustic, ambient, synth work and drone)? Do you think the average metal fan has matured to be more open-minded to these styles of music instead?
“That’s an interesting topic of discussion. The growth in popularity of (for lack of a better term) ‘Viking’ music has been phenomenal in recent years, with metal musicians and fans flocking to acquire nyckelharpas and tunics. But (what is now termed) ‘dungeon synth’ has existed since the early ‘90s. Prophecy Productions has a long history of releasing dark folk and neoclassical music to a predominantly metal audience, and when I first got into black metal there was already an appreciation for industrial, classical and even dark pop and rock music. I think the only thing that has really changed is that widespread elitism has died down, so that people now perhaps take more pride in being receptive to other genres. Wardruna came along at just the right time to tap into a desire for more traditional sounds and styles, and that’s probably moreso a subconscious reaction against the digital, material age than it is evidence of changing tastes.”

Annie: In your opinion how much of Wolcensmen is celebrating a lost past versus generating a timeless present?
“Another good question, causing me to ponder hard. If we consider that technological advancement evolves at an accelerating pace (officially, they say there’s been more technological development in the last 150 years than in the preceding 1 million) then the pre-Industrial way-of-life can rightly be viewed as the more ‘timeless’ state of affairs. So in a way, I see the pre-Industrial era as being timeless, and when I reach to celebrate one, I celebrate the other. The only constants in the history of human existence are things like religion, community, struggle, inter-human relations and our relationship with the natural world. Digital screens, junkfood, bank loans and most modern comforts are but a blip in the timeline.
What I wish to celebrate with Wolcensmen, thematically, are the fundamental truths, mysteries and needs of human existence. The beautiful things which we instinctively know to be good because of our emotional reaction to them. No healthy human is genuinely moved by the release of the latest iPhone, but we are moved by the development of a child’s speech or the sight of a mountain range.”

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What are some other interests you have outside of music? And what have you been listening to for music and bands lately?
“I’m keen on health and fitness, exercising regularly and eating wholesome food. I also like to read non-fiction, to expand my understanding of the world – particularly with regards to existential, spiritual and historical matters. I have a lot of responsibilities, so my leisure time is pretty slim these days. Music is the only ‘hobby’ I have any significant time for.
My favourite recent releases are: Deus Mortem – Kosmocide, Atlantean Kodex – The Course of Empire, Aelfric – Mimir’s Mead, Dautha – Brethren of the Black Soil, Crypt Sermon – The Ruins of Fading Light and Bilskirnir – In Solitary Silence. I’m also never far from sticking on an album by Bathory, Dead Can Dance, Loreena McKennitt, Dissection, Forefather or any of the classic Norwegian black metal albums.”

If you could describe Wolcensmen’s music to someone who may not be familiar with your music what would you say?
“I would tell them that it’s something that needs to be listened to in a state of peace, on headphones or a quiet setting. I would tell them to let the atmosphere lead the way. It’s acoustic, at times epic, cinematic, dark, a deliberate representation of pre-Industrial north-western Europe, designed to take the listener there whilst hopefully also standing as a collection of finely composed, diverse songs.”

And finally, do you have any closing words for our readers and do you see yourself doing some shows in the United States in the future?
“Honestly, no I don’t – not because I don’t want to but because the cost of VISAs, and bringing Wolcensmen to the stage anywhere, are fairly high. I would sincerely love to come and play some shows in America, and if a booking agent wants to help me do that, please get in touch.
To the reader – thanks for your interest and support. It sometimes feels like a miracle that something as sincere and niche as Wolcensmen has been this successful. I’ve never had to compromise or pretend, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m very grateful to have had so much support from true music fans.”

Bandcamp: https://wolcensmen.bandcamp.com/

Official Page: https://wolcensmen.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wolcensmen/

Alcest a Retrospective 2005 to 2010

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I recall a while ago that an old friend of mine introduced me to a band called Alcest out of France. He let me borrow a CD with beautiful artwork of a mermaid, sleeping man, and the full moon in glowing blue hues. I come to find out that this album is “Écailles de Lune” when I first put the CD into my car stereo and drove home the music absolutely floored me. I never heard anything like Alcest before and I have yet to hear any band like Alcest even now. This was the first moment in time that I was enraptured by Neige’s genius, and as the years passed, Alcest became part of my top five bands of all time. I wanted to take this time to do some mini reviews of Alcest’s discography. They have developed a really interesting and eclectic series of albums that are all different in their own unique ways. With the impending release of their new album “Spiritual Instinct”, this is a perfect time than ever to introduce you to the hidden, beautiful metallic world of Alcest.

I am going to split my reviews into two distinctive eras of Alcest. To begin Alcest began its journey with an EP simply called “Le Secret” followed by “Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde” and then capped off with the seminal album “Écailles de Lune”. This era of Alcest was very diverse; there was a lot of experimentation happening earlier in Neige’s career and I think the first half of his discography had so many different and unique dynamics happening.

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Le Secret 10/10

When Neige first described his experiences as a child visiting the “Otherworld” “Le Secret” was the album where we see Neige’s at his rawest and most vulnerable. This two song EP effectively invoked images of dreamlike worlds where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred. The music had a hypnotic and serene type of energy through every note and vocal choice. There is a strong feeling of nostalgia and memory with the musical arrangements and it really puts your mind into an otherworldly atmosphere. When I first heard this album, I was floored at how good it was for an EP, especially with it being Neige’s first album running with the shoegaze and black metal formula. Even to this day I give “Le Secret” a spin and I am still blown away at how simply gorgeous the album is. Best Songs: All of Them!

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Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde 7/10

When “Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde” was released, I never heard any metal album like it before. I would even say it is not a pure metal album at all. There were some riffs and blast beats that are sprinkled throughout the album, but the bulk of the music was driven by shoegazing music. I was hearing more My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins compared to Darkthrone or Burzum. This is what really intrigued me when I first heard “Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde” it’s a unique, fresh and very a different take on metal. The thing with this is album is it starts very strong then it loses my interest. The first four to five tracks put me into such a blissful mood because of how beautiful/evocative the music was. Then as the album progresses the tracks got weaker. The one thing to keep in mind is Neige had to write this album in order to build this metal/shoegaze hybrid into some amazing future records, while building a new genre of metal called “blackgaze” along the way. Best Songs: Printemps émeraude, Souvenirs d’un autre monde, and Les Iris

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Écailles de Lune 9/10

“Écailles de lune” was the first album that introduced me to Alcest. Still in my eyes, this is the best album out of their discography. The beauty in this album is beyond words and the images and feelings conveyed in this album have always resonated so deeply with me. I spent many nights driving around during full moon nights and have “Écailles de lune” blasting from my car speakers. It puts so many images in my head and really brings out a lot of clarity. When my mind is foggy or I am, feeling down I would listen to this album to help me get out of my funk. Every time I hear “Écailles de lune” it helped with my mental health, and gave me a new perspective of my existence in this world. Regardless of the lyrics being in French you know exactly what Neige is trying to convey in this album. The musicianship is warm, introspective, and very dreamlike. The vocals are more ethereal compared to punchy/upfront, and the screams/rasps heard in Neige’s vocals chills you to the bone. It is the perfect album of moods and emotions. There is no room in this album for dry technical work; the album purely thrives on the nostalgic thoughts and feelings we all experience as human beings. Best Songs: Ecailles de lune I, Ecailles de Lune II and Sur l’océan couleur de fer

Here concludes my reviews of the first half of Alcest’s discography from 2007 to 2010 there was a beautiful monster stirring in France at this time. In addition, as this monster rose from the depths a genuine tidal wave of blackgaze bands emerged and yet still Neige and company were way ahead of the pack for quality and consistency from 2012 until 2016.

Alcest

Bandcamp: https://alcest.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alcest.official

Official Page: http://www.alcest-music.com/

Awakening From Space Hibernation

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Last time I updated my blog was back in December of 2018, it has been a bit of a crazy 2019 for me both personally and work-related so I apologize for not updating as regularly as I hoped to be. I have since settled my affairs and ready to get back into the blogging metal realm. If I could give one phrase to describe the metal releases of 2019 so far it has been insanely consistent! This year is one of those years where I just kept buying new releases over and over again. So many big bands have come out of the shadows with new stuff and the bulk of it has been excellent. 

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This also has been the year of me diving down the rabbit hole of vinyl collecting. I found a pretty awesome record store in the new city I am living in and bought a really nice player. Since then I have had many introspective evenings having a beer and listening to records. I think I will find a way to give an update of the latest record I bought at the top of the blog. Currently being shipped to me is Wolcensmen’s new album “Fire in the White Stone”, and Toby Driver’s solo outputs “Madonnawhore” and “They Are the Shield”. And many future albums on preorder, with, of course new reviews to follow when those albums get released. 

Like last time when I gave an update and reasoning for my hiatus I gave my own personal metal highlights for the year. Once again I will give you my take on some of the highlights of metal in the year 2019:

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The first album that came out this year that I really loved is Heilung’s album “Futha” all of a sudden there has been this resurgence of primitive, dark, and beautiful folk music first spearheaded by Wardruna. Heilung released their new album and it follows the same vein as Wardurna but it is so unique in its own way. The atmosphere, instrumentation, and vocals on “Futha” are spellbinding. If you are itching for more ancient Scandinavian folk music give Heilung’s album “Futha” a listen.

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The next album that really stood out strong to me is Cult of Luna’s album “A Dawn to Fear” to me Cult of Luna’s is one of those bands who always blow it out of the water for each subsequent release. The first thing that came to mind when I dived into “A Dawn to Fear” is how pulverizing Cult of Luna hits the senses right out the gate. The album would not let up its aggression, beauty, and incredible wall of sound. There was never much of a moment to breathe or relax while getting through the songs of “A Dawn to Fear” a highly recommended listen!

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A third album that really hit all the right notes for me was Borknagar’s new output “True North” this was the first album that did not have Vintersorg on vocals. All vocals were done by one of the most underrated vocalists in the metal world, I.C.S. Vortex. I have always been drawn to his style and how epic he can be in songs he has sung in. To once again hear him do the bulk of the vocal duties for Borknagar is really cool to hear and he has really tried some new styles to make the songs each unique in their own way. Once again Borknagar has crafted a behemoth of an album that goes into so many interesting directions.

Finally another major highlight for me in 2019 was finally seeing Bell Witch and Neurosis live for the first time ever. They played at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA. They put on a hell of a show that was so memorable to me. To hear some of Neurosis’s classic songs in a live setting was chilling, and beautiful beyond words. As for Bell Witch there has been multiple opportunities for me to see them live and I never was able to, now that I was able to see them live I can see why they still stand out as one of my favorite bands. There are murmurings of them working on a collaborative album with Erik Moggridge from Aerial Ruin and I am beyond excited about what the future holds for Bell Witch as well as this new project.

As for what the future will hold for the Dreaming Metal Muse blog there are new irons in the fire being developed and I look forward to giving you a new year of quality content. I hope to actually stay much more up to date and consistent with the blog. As always, thank you for the support I appreciate each and every one of you out there in the world. Stay metal and stay true!

A Conversation with Jori Apedaile of Eneferens

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Eneferens is an up and coming one-man metal project out of Minnesota, the brainchild behind the band is Jori Apedaile. The best way I can describe his music as a fan is beautiful, resonating, and very introspective in nature. Jori just released his new album “The Bleakness of Our Constant” that came out earlier in November it is a fantastic album full of great ideas and very relatable lyrics/imagery. He took some time to do an interview with me about the new album and the origins/motivation behind Eneferens. I learned a lot about who Jori is and what motivates him to create such beautiful and sorrowful music.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, firstly can you give our readers an idea of the concept and origin story behind Eneferens?

 The project started in the winter of 2015. I had quit all of the bands I was in previously to move to a different city, and inspiration for a new sound emerged with the change in my surroundings. The name Eneferens came to me in a dream one night, and I dissected the root words to form a definition: To carry within one’s self. That resonated deeply with what I was trying to do, and things developed from there.”

What is your creative process in writing your music? Are you more spontaneous or meticulous in putting your ideas together?

 It’s definitely a balance of both. I often start writing a song with something completely out of the blue, but I often have a strong sensibility and can map out where the song needs to go. Other times I surprise myself. I make a strong point to not repeat myself or develop too many songwriting habits, and some of the experimentation trying to steer clear from that has been fairly successful.

When I am I reading your lyrics there is such a sense of melancholy, and themes of love lost how do you conceptualize your lyrics to make them so simply profound?

 Lyrics are by far the most difficult part of the writing process for me because the music already says so much. That’s a very tough question to answer, because I essentially just ponder a lot, and dig deep into what I’m feeling and just hope that something of value will come out.”

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Photo By: Todd Farnham

Nature also plays a part in your themes and imagery why are these metaphors so important to the image of Eneferens?

 The approach to the whole project is to create beautiful and dynamic music. Nature is by far the most beautiful and dynamic thing, so it very easily translates in the music that I make.”

Specifically in “The Bleakness of Our Constant” what made you come up with this title for you newest output?

“Coming up with the title took me a very long time. It was difficult for me to find a name to bring these tracks together because they are all pretty different from one another. I revisited my lyrics and the very last line of Weight of the Mind’s Periapt jumped out at me: The Bleakness Of Our Constant. That was it. To me, the title represents continuing on in a trajectory that is uncertain, can be bleak and difficult, but there is always that stubborn determination to keep going in hopes that things will get better.”

I noticed the sigils on the album artwork what is the significance behind them?

“The sigil is essentially the earth and the sky joined by a very frail thin line. It represents a very delicate sense of balance. Balance is very important in the creation of my music, so I think it is a fitting image to accompany this new record.”

Which bands/artists are you most influenced by and why? Secondly what acts are you currently listening to at this moment?

“I am all over the map. Regardless of what genre an artist is, the ones that influence me the most are those that perfectly convey emotions that I can strongly resonate with. Some of the strong influences that can be found in Eneferens are early Opeth, Alcest, Katatonia (all of their discography), Rapture, and Kauan. Some artists that have emotionally inspired me but don’t necessarily translate in my sound are The National, Neuman, Hundred Waters, Sufjan Stevens, and London Grammar. My music wouldn’t be the same without them even though they’re far from metal. I’ve been listening to a wide variety of music lately: Fleurety, Lantlos, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, mid-discography Ulver, Camel, the list goes on.”

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Photo By: Jori Apedaile

It seems like the reception has been quite positive for Eneferens, how do you feel about this?

 I am very grateful for how well things are being received. It’s very validating, and it means a lot to hear that people are connecting to the music on an emotional level.”

There are so many new, interesting and compelling acts in the metal scene these days. Do you think the metal scene has seen a renaissance?

 No, not necessarily. I think things have progressed fairly naturally in the sense that so much has been done before already and that forces bands to either come up with something very unique, or try to do the same thing but better than the last band. It is an exciting time for metal though because some real creativity is emerging in order to stand out.”

After researching, I noticed you do your live shows by yourself how has that been and do you see yourself adding live members to Eneferens in the future?

 Playing live by myself has been very empowering and it has been received well. I did a northwest U.S. tour earlier this year and a common comment was that they were impressed how big the sound was for just one person. I would eventually like to put together a full live band to make the experience more captivating. We will see what happens in the future.”

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Photo By: Jori Apedaile

If you could describe Enenferens to someone who may not be familiar with your music how would you best describe it?

It’s a combination of many of my influences- black metal, doom, shoegaze, folk. As cheesy as it is, I sometimes call it “beautiful metal” because that’s really what it is. Strong melodies, dissonance when necessary, plenty of atmosphere and a very delicate balance of light and dark.”

Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers?

“Never fear to be different! The best things of all are always one of a kind. Cheers.”

Bandcamp: https://eneferens.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eneferens/

 

A Conversation with Dis Pater of Midnight Odyssey

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Midnight Odyssey is a one man musical entity out Australia, I can best describe the music as epic, sprawling, pensive and spiritual sounding. I was so interested  in the immersive music of Midnight Odyssey that I wanted to interview the man behind the project Dis Pater. He more than graciously answered a series of questions about what made him conceive this timeless and memorable aural journey to the stars . I learned a lot about his creative process and the symbolism behind the music. I hope after you read this interview you will take a chance and listen to his latest endeavor “Silhouette of Stars” which is a compilation of unreleased tracks from different  Midnight Odyssey eras.

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Photo by Ales Gillies and Francesco Gemelli

Could you tell us about the origin stories of Midnight Odyssey and Death Comes Crawling?

“Midnight Odyssey was a concept I had started back around 1999, when I began writing ‘black metal’ music, although it was only on an acoustic guitar. Soon I had saved up to buy an electric guitar and keyboard and soon was able to make rough recordings. I even experimented with a bit of synth music around 2003 but it was quite crude. I spent many years just writing stuff for my own amusement until I thought I might try and put something out to the public in 2007. That’s really when Midnight Odyssey truly began.”

From prior interviews I have read you came up with the moniker of Dis Pater as a symbol of the Roman god of Death. Why is the concept and symbolism of Death so important to the creation of Midnight Odyssey/Death Comes Crawling?

“For me death is the one certainty in life. It is one of a few things that we all have in common, it spans generations, eons, species, even things that by definition don’t live can still die. It is something that relates to everyone, most of us have experienced it, a lot of us fear it.”

As I listen to your projects I get such a sense of vastness, I am reminded of Big Sky Country in the US as I hear your music. Geographically does Australia hold a major influence in your creativity?

“I think the many different forms of geography in Australia, even close to where I live, does play a big part in my writing. I guess in my mind when I write about a forest I’m probably thinking about European forests, but it is the Australian rainforest that would be physically influencing what I write and relate to. But in many ways, things like caves, mountains, waterfalls, even just the sky itself are all contributing factors to me, so again, it’s all from my viewpoint here in Australia.”

There is so much symbolism of space, time, and mortality throughout all your music. Why are these ideas metaphorically significant to your creative process?

“I think these are the key factors of existence. I don’t like to write music that is tied to a time specific moment, so there are no reference to things like phones, tvs, movies, cars, guns, etc. It’s something that doesn’t change even as technology changes. Space and time will affect us and have affected us since the beginning, and will continue to affect us right up until the end. The past for me is the most important, because humanity never really changes, everything we need to know has already happened in one way or another.”

Being a one man band I think there is a lot of freedom found in this format, have you ever thought of adding others to help you develop your vision/themes (specifically in Midnight Odyssey)?

“No I’ve never really considered it for my metal projects. Guest musicians sure, but to turn it into a band is something I’m only considering with Death Comes Crawling. For me Midnight Odyssey would probably ruined if it were on a stage. I don’t think of it as music where people head bang or fist pump the air, where stage lights flash and people applause or banter. It’s really not what Midnight Odyssey is about, it’s as far removed from humanity as it possibly can be.”

You mentioned you were looking into band mates for Death Comes Crawling is there a thought of doing this band live?

“Quite possibly yes. It wouldn’t take much in terms of other people at all, but for me the real issue is time, as I’m very busy with personal and work life. It’s something that I would want to focus on 100%, not kind of stumble my way into it. I think too the style of music is far more worthy of a live setting than anything else I’ve done.”

While hearing your albums there is a huge dark wave vibe going on with the vocals and music of Midnight Odyssey in some moments (even in The Crevices Below) which in turn made you create Death Comes Crawling, what do you like most about dark wave music and why is this style so significant in your albums?

“Well I almost simultaneously got into that music at the same time as metal. For me the two went hand in hand, they were darker in tone, they were about more meaningful things, like death, more emotional and just generally weren’t popular forms of music. It was never about being a guitar god for me, it was creating something through sound that represented what I was feeling, engaging the darker more sinister thoughts within me and finding an avenue to bring those thoughts out. These concepts aren’t unique to metal by any means, and dark wave and other styles like classical music create just the same unique experiences.”

What are some bands/musicians you have been listening to lately? And do you recommend any other dark wave acts that our readers should look into?

“I’ve been listening a lot to the Ancient Records releases, and also the recent Mare and One Tail, One Head. For dark wave, well, I think the best of the most recent bands have been Drab Majesty!”

Also researching prior interviews I noticed you are heavily influenced by Dead Can Dance, I can see their influence in your music what about them stands out most to you? And are there any other acts that have the same significance in your creative process?

“Dead Can Dance embody something that is otherworldly. It is hypnotic, it is mystical and it transports you as the listener into another age. They use ancient instruments as well as new, and Lisa Gerrard’s voice to me is the epitome of beauty and danger. Similarly, Arcana are another that followed that path of sound and who have influenced just as much, particularly for their more dark medieval sound and are perhaps my favourite of all the other neoclassical bands that came out during the 90s and after. But a lot of the old Cold Meat Industry stuff like Ildfrost, Mortiis, and Raison d’être are up there as well.”

 

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What are your thoughts and feelings of the current metal scene? I have noticed more and more creative bands come through on the regular. Do you think the scene is in a good place right now?

“I think the metal scene is healthy, but there are just too many bands. I think maybe it is a little too mainstream, well at least black metal is creeping into popular society more and more. It’s become appealing to casual audiences and I think that is where a lot of problems will happen. But otherwise, I don’t think metal has anything to be worried about. The only thing is over the next ten years when a lot of the older bands will have gone, either through members dying or just breaking up because they are too old, there has to be bands to come in and fill the void.”

Specifically how has the metal scene been in Australia? Has your projects been getting a lot of support locally?

“The metal scene is okay. I don’t have a lot to do with it.  There is some support in Australia for me, but I think my bigger audiences are in Europe and the States. It’s quite diverse, in the fact that I can go to three gigs and see mostly three different crowds of people who I haven’t seen before. But I’m not really into keeping up appearances as such. There are those that I like and though we may not see each other often, we remain supportive of each other’s works and outputs.”

Have you ever got a chance to visit the United States? Are there any specific states or areas you would like to experience to help you develop your ideas and themes of your projects?

“I’ve never visited the United States and to be honest, I think the only place I would travel to specifically to develop any ideas as such would be the volcanoes in Hawaii, as that is something we don’t have in Australia. Everything else would be purely holiday.”

Are you currently working on any new material for Midnight Odyssey or Death Comes Crawling?

“I am working on quite a few things related to Midnight Odyssey at the moment, but it is too early to go into detail about that. I haven’t really got anything else started for Death Comes Crawling just yet, as the bonus track on the CD that is soon to be released was the last thing I had worked on.”

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of your music?

“Well I read a lot of ancient and medieval history books, and latin and greek literature and poetry. It  feeds the lyrical and conceptual side of Midnight Odyssey quite well. Most of my spare time is taken up with music and collecting really.”

And finally do you have any parting words for our readers and how would best describe your music to someone who may not be familiar with your work?

“Thank you for taking the time to read this interview, and I hope you can make the time to listen to some of my output. I’d suggest headphones, at night, alone, looking up towards the stars and planets.”

Hubble Goes High Def to Revisit the Iconic 'Pillars of Creation'

Bandcamp: https://i-voidhangerrecords.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/midnightodyssey/

Official Page: https://midnightodysseyofficial.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dis_pater_official/

A Review of “Salt” by KHôRADA

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When the news came out about the emergence of KHôRADA I was super excited and intrigued to see what direction Don Anderson, Jason Walton and Aesop Dekker would go with the inclusion of Giant Squid’s brainchild AJ Gregory. To me this was quite the dichotomy of styles and influences that could in turn create an album so unique and mammoth that it would be genre-defining than genre-rehashing. I think this has always been the motivation of these talented musicians over the years, when Agalloch was an entity they always challenged themselves and went to higher levels of creativity, the same can be said about Giant Squid. What I see in KHôRADA’s album “Salt” is that Don, Jason, AJ and Aesop do not believe in a mediocre product, they have crafted a piece of music that is relevant, challenging and absolutely crushing. The heaviness in this album is beyond words, there is so much riffs that are doom-laden and just bleak. The sounds erupting from all the instruments absolutely engulfs you in suffocating, strange and otherworldly ways.

When you are first introduced to “Salt” there is a sound of distant horns heralding the end of the world. As the song progresses the helpless, and emotive vocals of AJ Gregory arise from the watery depths. His voice prophesizes the end of the world and the birth of the sixth mass extinction. After reading the lyrics of “Edeste” I came to the conclusion that “Salt” is going to be a hopeless, fatalistic, and nihilistic journey. As the album progressed the themes and emotions in music continued to grow and grow into utter despair and despondency. This may sound negative but I guarantee this is a positive, KHôRADA’s “Salt” is a tiring but important journey of the heart and soul. After multiple listens I was thinking more and more about mortality of not only myself but the whole of mankind. The guitars, bass, drums and vocals put the listener through a series of inner trials and tribulations and you come out of the fog with a different view of life and the inevitable doom that will follow.

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Photo Credit: Cody Keto Photography

As the album progresses the songs get more and more dense/evocative. As I am listening to all the nuances I am hearing snippets of Agalloch and Giant Squid. The guitar work of Don Anderson is always a stand out, the solos and leads he incorporates are very distinctive and melancholic. AJ Gregory’s guitars are a lot crunchier, and it really gives KHôRADA a unique identity. The one thing that really impressed me more than anything else is the bass and drum work of Jason and Aesop. The foundation they have built together really gives “Salt” such depth, intensity and heaviness. The drumming is just outstanding and there are a ton of bass leads and lines that are right at the forefront that makes the tracks all the gloomier.

The one thing you will notice above all else about “Salt” is the very apparent political statement found throughout AJ Gregory’s lyrics. He specifically said in the conception of “Salt” that it is a protest against the Trump-era and how this era will expedite the inevitable end of the world. There is such a sense of anger and hopelessness in the lyrics that it makes you really concerned about the future especially for future generations. Surprisingly enough AJ Gregory, Don Anderson, Jason Walton and Aesop Dekker tend to develop music at the most relevant times which increases the impact and weight of “Salt”. Truly this is a testament to the talent and skill they all have, I am really looking forward to seeing what type of album they will come up with next. When you have such gifted musicians in a project like KHôRADA the next album will inevitably be impactful and genre-defining. In the dark ages we are in now as human race a band like KHôRADA is the light found in the darkest recesses of the abyss.

Rating: 8/10

Official Site: https://www.khorada.com

Bandcamp: https://khorada.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/khorada/

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Photo Credit: Cody Keto Photography