Autumn – And We Are Falling Leaves…

15/02/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Autumn
Title: And We Are Falling Leaves…
Label: Stygian Crypt Productions
Genre: Doom Metal

Track Listing:

01 The End of Last Summer (Intro)
02 The Druid Autumn
03 Whispering Your Name…
04 Fallman
05 Gods
06 The Sons of Ocean
07 The Dance in Blood
08 Bottomless…
09 Shine on Me
10 Wings (rehearsal)
11 Feasting the Dark Half (rehearsal)

I’m still trying to work out why anyone would release this record. Russia’s Autumn, the first band to name themselves so, originally brought out “And We Are Falling Leaves” back in 1997, and nine years later the ever-enthusiastic Stygian Crypt gave the world this boon of a re-release. Just why they did so beggars rationale. Ideally, reissues are brought out to assuage thirsty fans wanting to stock up on original copies of a popular record, or to give a new selling direction to an already familiar old favourite. Listening to this, I’m finding it hard to believe that either reason could be the case. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any explanation apart from there being surplus plastic down at Stygian’s manufacturer or a band member nostalgically re-funding their debut as a tribute to the doom band that never was. Or certainly, never should have been.

There’ll probably be one or two of you thinking I’m unfair. I’d normally urge you to listen to the thing yourself before making further judgements but fortunately I’ve done the work for you. At first glance “And we are Falling Leaves” fools you into thinking that it’s a professional release with its mystical lush artwork of airbrushed charcoal forests. The humble tree probably gets featured on more metal album covers then any other inanimate object: immediately it screams “atmosphere – this way”, “woefully intense music alert” and “this may be too deep for you” before you’ve snapped open the plastic case. Unfortunately, the artwork’s the best things about this disc. It’s mutton dressed as lamb, Cinderella before midnight or Dr Jekyll at his most ascetic, since what lies on the laser-burned polycarbonate of the CD itself is a very ugly creature indeed.

There is no single instrument on this record that drags it down into the musical mire – it’s really a joint effort. Every note played, every syllable sung, is done so with such banality and lack of skill that Autumn come across as little more than musical sadists. Yuriy Vaschenko’s vocals, for what they are, are not the spitting, gruelling growl that we’re used to hearing in doom metal, but more an adolescent choking, a struggling larynx with no power or force. He attempts some clean vocals as the record progresses and these are equally bad, impressively straddling the line between croaks and indecipherable white noise. It’s not like the song-writing doesn’t need help either – each track is quite colourless and flat with mediocre guitar playing and blotchy drumming, and even though you want to give the band some leeway since it’s their first release, you can hardly be bothered to. It’s far better to turn it off, stick another CD on, or stab yourself in the eye with a pair of secateurs.

There is, surprisingly, one good thing about the music on this album, which is the female vocals. These are provided by Svetlana Polezhaeva and they’re beautifully sultry and erotic, even mimicking some of the excellent female vocal work in Siebenburgen’s Delictum. Svetlana seems to have ducked out of the music industry since this release, possibly changing her name for obvious reasons. Either way, it’s the one ruby in the dust here, though it’s not enough to make the album worth listening to for any longer than the 72 minutes of its duration.

Stygian Crypt have decided to round the reissue off with two tracks from the band’s rehearsal sessions. If possible, these should have been tagged on to the end of a rarities and B-sides album rather than an original full-length since they sound even worse than the material before them. Sadly, ploughing through this disc has really lead me to question the motivation of an ambitious and dedicated record label, and I’m still to come up with an answer. My only hope is that Stygian Crypt have better albums on their catalogue and that deciding to release this was only a momentary lapse of taste.

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Mistress Of The Dead – White Roses, White Coffin

15/02/2009 § 4 Comments

Artist: Mistress Of The Dead
Title: White Roses, White Coffin
Label: Epidemie Records
Genre: Funeral Doom Metal

Track Listing:

01 My Beloveth
02 The fading Light in her Dying Eyes
03 She Gave Me Her All…
04 White Roses, White Coffin…

Mistress of the Dead is not actually a ‘mistress’ at all. It’s the one-man project of Vlad Cristea Vales who has been running it single-handedly for the last five years. Maybe Vlad is confused about this own identity, maybe he has gender issues, or maybe he has a hope for something greater than the good Lord dealt him, but either way his vocals have the sound of someone with the right pair of chromosomes. Mistress of the Dead’s music is bleak – very much so – as well as being drawn-out, heavy, and at times downright wearying, but this wouldn’t be funeral doom otherwise. However, there’s something about Mistress of the Dead’s sound which is more pensive, more wistful and even more lonely than a lot of similar artists.

“White Roses, White Coffin” is dedicated to Jindřiška, an enigmatic figure who’s alluded to only once inside the album. Not much is known about her apart from the fact that she has passed away from the artist’s life or fantasy, but the album is nevertheless one long musical eulogy to her. ‘Long’ is the operative word here since this album, though only four tracks in total, is nigh on eighty minutes’ worth of doom metal dirges, the shortest song clocking in at a very generous 13 minutes. The album’s artwork is filled with allusions to cemeteries and flowers, the staple fodder for this kind of music, and though it may fool you into thinking that there’s an air of beauty hidden within its aural layers, there certainly isn’t. “White Roses, White Coffin” is a pained piece of doom metal: a massive, mournful hymn to unrealised affection, and at times it’s almost difficult to listen to because of it.

It’s not just the emotional content which makes the album hard to listen to. It is a mammoth, demanding piece of work and there’s no point in which you’ll hear the music picking up at anything above 30 bpm. This is emotional battery at its most slothful and only on repeated listens does its structure start to unravel itself. Vlad Cristea Vales, after several hundred demo’s worth of musical compositions, knows that doom metal is not all about thudding guitar riffs but ambient sections, and especially at the beginning of the album we find the distortion ushered out the way by elevating guitar and organ drones which provide solace from the darker, grimmer moments.

Of course it’s not just the instrumentation that plays a part in the ambience, but the vocals as well. Vlad’s voice is thick, gruff and syrupy, singing the lyrics so slowly that they’re indistinguishable from actual words, sounding more like tortured, otherwordly snarls. According to the inlay the lyrics are made up of coherent sentences – but they’re so drawn out and elongated that the only way you’d be able to decipher them is to speed them up to triple their original tempo. This all adds perfectly to the viscosity of the music and though it would be nice to see some more tuneful riffs, melody and hooks, this isn’t really what funeral doom is about. Mistress of the Dead produces songs for the most dour of moods: those unrushed, uncompromising moments of solitude where harmony is thrown aside to make way for the very depths of lengthened, crushing bereavement. “White Roses, White Coffin” is not an album that you can sling on at any moment and expect to hit the right spot, but when it does it’s quite beautifully reassuring.

Draconian – Where Lovers Mourn

31/03/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Label: Napalm
8 Tracks
Language: English

The BnB genre is a place for wannabes and imposters. It is a court for those with delusions of musical grandeur to frolic in, to experiment with the sounds of their predecessors, and to come up with something that sounds clichéd and overdone. Very few bands in BnB dare to do anything too progressive, and unfortunately Draconian aren’t one of them. However, one thing that Draconian do tend to do well is to go on about how damned depressed they are. In fact, anyone that makes too much of a point of something ends up being rather unconvincing, and I don’t believe that Anders et al really want to flap about in their own misery any more than I want to hear lines like, I have a thousand reasons to die/and many millions of tears to cry. If you’re really that depressed about things, just terminate your miserable existence and don’t whinge about everything. Or maybe sell a few more albums and then do it.

Still, there’s nothing on Where Lovers Mourn that is going to stir the dead in their graves, but on the whole it’s not a bad album. Sure, they really exploit the point that they would rather be collectively hanging themselves from the rafters than growling another microtone, but if you strip away the pretentiousness, you end up with quite a decent piece of BnB. Not only this, but some of the tracks on the album are not only nicely written and put together, but the quality of the sound production really does the music justice.

The album starts off with The Cry Of Silence, which is one of the best BnB tracks I have ever heard. I absolutely adore the strength of Anders’voice and though the song bobs along at an almost lento pace for about five minutes, when it speeds up, it’s a real pleasure, then dipping down again before the final runaway crescendo. What such a good opening number does for the album is to create a precedent and a prescience, showing us that there will be other moments on the album when we will all be feeling just a little bored by the slothful gait of some of the numbers and at other times riveted by their momentum. It’s all very well for the odd black metal number to be plodding and slow, but I did catch myself nodding off quite frequently in some of the later numbers here. Fortunately there are good songs like Silent Winter, which bounces along at a nice pace with some beautiful choruses and a helter-skelter of chromatics round the midsection. Lisa Johanssen has a good voice to really carry the higher notes, and thankfully, though it has choral elements to it, it’s not too squeaky or warbly, which is just as well, because I’m really starting to get fed up with ‘operatic’ Gothic Metal vocalists who probably think that Opera is only a web browser and that an ‘aria’ is a nice part of town where middle-class people come from.

Silent Winter, unfortunately, cannot save us all from the dirgefest to follow, and songs like Solitude and Reversio Ad Secussen do very little for the album apart from drag its tone further into some kind of musical bog. I’m aware that this stuff is supposed to be depressing, but if I were thinking of committing suicide and I was listening to these tracks at the time, I’d be too bored to do it. Nevertheless, it does get a little bit better later on, The Amaranth being another goodie, though the version on the demo was way better before Napalm got their hands on it. The guitar is so full-on and crunchy that it sounds a little tuneless and that Johan is actually attempting to start his car in the background rather than play power chords. There is also the gesture acoustic number Akherousin, which plays perfectly well apart from the fact that the violin playing sounds like a cat high on catnip battering a squeaky mouse, and then there’s the finale, It Grieves My Heart, which is one of the better and more interesting tracks. If this track had been included earlier in the album it would have provided a glimmer of hope against the dull opacity of the gloomier numbers, though by the end of the album it’s hard to be too enthusiastic about it.

Where Lovers Mourn is by no means a bad peace of work. This is the sound of a bad who obviously have found their musical niche and it’s going to be difficult to see if they’ll ever veer off this trajectory. The amount of time they have been around before Where Lovers Mourn shows a strong willingness and forceful direction, so it’s a shame that this, for all intents and purposes, their debut, falls flat on a number of levels. The main problem is that a lot of the songs are too similar, and not only that, but sometimes they trudge along at the same slow pace for too often. This hardly instils the listener with a sense of awe and excitement, but nor is it meant to, though I don’t think Draconian’s intention in writing the slower numbers was to make their listeners get so low that they want to catch forty winks. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to respect the power and the dark beauty of some of the songs here, and they really show talent and promise in an otherwise incentiveless and monotonous subgenre. Draconian are capable of capturing the dark atmosphere that a lot of Gothic Metal misses out on, and for this they should be commended. With the right amount of work Draconian could fly the flag for a new era of quality BnB, though with this album they didn’t quite reach the bar enough to raise it.

7/10

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