Enslaved Begin Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

enslaved in studio

There are very few bands out there who actually get to the point of putting out 13 albums, but even fewer still whose 13th album would actually be something you’d look forward to hearing. Enslaved, however, are one of those few. Their 2012 full-length, Riitiir (review here), found the Norwegian five-piece continuing to expand the walls of their creative wheelhouse, pushing further into grandiose progressivism while retaining their roots in black metal. It was an exciting record, and as they’ve shown no signs of stagnation since — guitarist Ivar Bjørnson is a co-curator of Roadburn 2015 and Enslaved will perform their Skuggsjá collaboration with Wardruna there — it makes it easy to look forward to their next outing.

The short version? Greatness assumed. This from the PR wire:

enslaved in studio 2

ENSLAVED ENTER THE STUDIO TO RECORD 13th ALBUM

Last week’s autumn equinox brought equal illumination to Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres, but it also sparked other blood-warming news: the thirteenth studio installment by Norway’s progressive extreme metallers ENSLAVED is now underway.

From his home in Bergen, Norway, ENSLAVED guitarist, songwriter, and founding member Ivar Bjørnson takes some time to provide the following update:

“My favorite time of year is whenever we enter the studio with ENSLAVED to record a new album. Now the season of creative madness, endless days, and bleeding fingertips is upon us again… O joy! As before, it is the unholy trinity that forms the first line of attack: I (guitar), Grutle (Kjellson, bass & vocals), and Cato (Bekkevold, drums), are recording the foundations of the album live, while Ice Dale (lead guitar) and Herbrand (Larsen, vocals & keys) will add their instruments and voice in their own studios after these initial core sessions. Then I will add some wackiness at my home studio, before we all get together again to finish it.

“I feel that I have delivered basic material that is rock solid. I have poured my very life and heart into these compositions while the rest of the band have refined it, shaped it, and delivered it like their very lives depended on it. It has been challenging to keep up the pace with the way the songs wanted to go; life flows its ways and takes its turns regardless of your artistic ambitions. However, the music led the way through the fog and I just followed, and never doubting the oncoming album for a second.”

Main recordings for the as-yet-untitled new album are taking place at Duper and Solslottet Studios in Bergen, Norway with additional recordings done at Conclave & Earshot Studios (presided over by ENSLAVED members Larsen and Ice Dale), and Ivar Bjørnson’s Peersonal Sound Studios.

Additional experimentation and sonic exploration will be conducted deep in the woods of Valevåg south of Bergen where the band took a mobile studio to record the infamous “Thorn” 7” single in 2012.

The album will be produced by band members Ivar Bjørnson, Grutle Kjellson & Herbrand Larsen together with Iver Sandøy. Mixing will be done by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios in Örebro, Sweden.

Cover artwork will once again be illustrated by long-time collaborating artist and “sixth ENSLAVED member” Truls Espedal, who has painted all album covers since 2001’s Monumension.

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Enslaved, “Thoughts Like Hammers” official video

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Roadburn 2015: Enslaved and Wardruna’s Skuggsjá Collaboration, Floor, Virus, Sólstafir, Bongripper and More Join Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

roadburn 2015 banner

Unbelievable. I’m not even sure where to start with the latest round of additions to Roadburn 2015.

The Enslaved and Wardruna collaboration Skuggsjá, or the not-gonna-miss-‘em-again Virus, or Floor or Bongripper doing two sets. It’s overwhelming, to be perfectly honest with you. I’m exhausted right now. Well, I was exhausted anyway, but still. You get my point.

I’ve heard from a couple other acts who can’t announce yet but definitely have “April European tour plans,” and there are one or two other names I’m dying to see if they get added to the fest, but gadzooks, that’s a lotta Roadburn. All I can say is dig in, there’s a lot to catch up on:

skuggsja at roadburn 2015

Enslaved and Wardruna To Perform Skuggsjá, The Sound of Norway’s Norse History at Roadburn Festival 2015

Roadburn Festival 2015 Ticket Pre-Sales Start Thursday, Oct 16th 2014 at 21:00 CET; Pre-Sales Party at The 013 Venue (NL)

Bongripper, Floor, Sólstafir, Virus, White Hills, Messenger, Junius, Skeletonwitch, Svartidaudi, Mortals, The Osiris Club and Zoltan also confirmed for the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival.

We’re elated to announce that Enslaved and Wardruna will perform Skuggsjá, the sound of Norway’s Norse History at Houses of the Holistic, Ivar Bjørnson’s and Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik’s curated Roadburn event on Friday, April 10 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Written by Bjørnson and Selvik for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution and premiered this past weekend at the Eidsivablot festival, this will be Skuggsjá’s first performance outside of Norway, and will certainly be one of the highlights of the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival.

Skuggsjá translates into ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection’ in the Norse language, and the commissioned piece not only contextualizes harder music’s role in the democracy in Norway in 2014, but also joins threads from the country’s ancient musical history and solidifies harder music’s position as Norway`s most important cultural export.

By highlighting ideas, traditions and instruments of their Norse past, Skuggsjá will tell the history of Norway and reflect relevant aspects from the past into the present day. In light of this they will reflect on themselves as a people and nation. In a magnificent tapestry of metal instrumentation, a wide variety of Norway and Scandinavia’s oldest instruments, and poetry in Proto-Scandinavian, Norse and Norwegian, Skuggsjá will be a fusion between past and present, both lyrically and musically.

We simply can’t wait to experience it ourselves, to hear how how Norwegian metal has developed from its rebellious roots into the highly acclaimed artistic expression of a complex music genre, under Norway’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.

In related news, Virus, Junius, Skeletonwitch, Svartidaudi and Icelandic heathens Sólstafir, who are currently making huge waves with their latest release, Ótta, are also confirmed for Houses of the Holistic, Ivar Bjørnson’s and Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik’s curated Roadburn event on Friday, April 10 at the 013 venue.

Tickets for the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival, set for April 9 – 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands, will go on sale on Thursday, October 16, 2014. Set your alarm and get ready to score your tickets at 21:00 CET!

The majority of Roadburners live outside The Netherlands, which is why ticket pre-sales will start at 21:00 CET. This should be convenient for most time zones. Apologies to our friends in Oceania who will have to wake up early (or just stay up late)!

We are pleased to report that there will be NO price increase this year.Three-day tickets will be available for 165 Euros (excl. servicefees); four-day tickets will cost 185 Euros (excl. service fees). Afterburner-only tickets will cost 32.50 Euros (excl. service fees). Please note that one-day tickets are not available for the Thursday, Friday or Saturday Roadburn dates. Online buyers can order a maximum of four tickets.

For everyone in the Netherlands and Belgium: we are aware that your local ticket outlets will not be open when pre-sales start, which is why we are throwing another pre-sales party at the 013 venue in Tilburg (NL). From 19:00 CET – 20:30 CET you will be able to purchase a maximum of four paper tickets for Roadburn Festival 2015. Guaranteed!

In addition to making it easy to get tickets, the pre-sales party is going to be a blast! This year, we have invited The Machine and Radar Men From The Moon to provide the soundtrack.

The live music part of the evening starts at 20:30 CET. Roadburn’s artistic director/promoter Walter Hoeijmakers will be on hand to share the latest festival updates, too.

Chicago instrumental band Bongripper will make a welcome return to the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival with two sets that feature their unique brand of devastating doom. The first will see them play their latest album, Miserable, in its entirety at the main stage on Thursday, April 9. The second will be later that weekend (more info about the date to be determined).

If you are a fan of stellar riffs and molasses-thick distorted guitar tone, Floor has everything you want in music. These Floridian sludge/pop pioneers get a lot of comparisons to lead singer/guitarist Steve Brooks other band, Torche — and rightfully so — with his instantly recognizable singing style and guitar tone. Floor, however, is the essence of pure heaviness, with just a nod to the pop melodies that have spurred Torche on to crossover success. Come feel the downtuned thunder of Floor’s bassless power trio attack when Floor plays the main stage of the 013 venue at the 2015 Roadburn Festival on Thursday, April 9.

Combining many of the essential themes of Roadburn music in their volatile sonic elixir — psych, space rock, stoner rock, kraut rock and noise — have made White Hills one of Roadburn’s favorite bands. Their bespangled and energetic live shows have a life and chaotic energy of their own that reshapes their music and creates powerful sonic programming driven by pure energy, exactly the kind of thing that Roadburn celebrates, and fans seek. White Hills will make a very welcome return to Roadburn for a main stage performance on Sunday, April 12.

After winning the limelight category for the brightest young rising stars in the progressive sky today at this year’s Progressive Music Awards this past weekend, Messenger will bring their acid folk/prog and psychedelica to the 20th edition of Roadburn on Saturday, April 11.

Mortals, The Osiris Club and Zoltan have also been confirmed for the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival.

Curated by Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Wardruna‘s Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik, Roadburn Festival 2015 (including Skuggsjá, Enslaved, Wardruna, Fields of the Nephilim, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin performing Dawn of The Dead and Susperia in its entirety, Zombi, Sólstafir, White Hills, Bongipper, Floor and The Heads as Artist In Residence among others) will run for four days from Thursday, April 9 to Sunday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

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Skuggsjá teaser video

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Roadburn 2015 Curators Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 23rd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Here’s what I know: I know that between having Enslaved‘s Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna‘s Einar Kvitrafn Selvik curating and having The Heads as artist-in-residence, Roadburn 2015 is going to make for one adventurous weekend. The craziest thing about it? It’ll totally work. It’ll be amazing. Don’t doubt it. At this point Roadburn‘s vibe is so dead-on that if, say, you want to have a day hand-picked by dudes in black and folk metal bands while off in a corner somewhere there’s a handful of British psych rockers jamming out, rest assured, the crowd’s gonna have no problem rolling with the spirit of the event. Further, it’s stuff like this that makes Roadburn what it is.

Looking forward particularly to seeing what Bjørnson adds to his curated day, since my understanding is he’s into heavy rock of various stripes, but special performances by both Enslaved and Wardruna as a part of the evening’s events is an excellent way to start while we wait for further announcements.

Dig it:

IVAR BJØRNSON OF ENSLAVED AND WARDRUNA’S EINAR KVITRAFN SELVIK TO CURATE ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2015

(Special shows by Enslaved and Wardruna)

We’re beyond thrilled to announce that Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved and Wardruna’s Einar Kvitrafn Selvik will curate the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival, on Friday, April 10, 2015 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

As curators, both Ivar and Einar will personally select the bands for their curated Roadburn event, named ‘Houses of the Holistic’, and play special shows with Enslaved and Wardruna respectively as well.

The Norwegian pair, both former Roadburn performers, have played an important role in bringing together the past, present and future sounds of hard rock, progressive metal, and alternative scenes, which makes them the ideal choice to carry on the tradition that began in 2008 with David Tibet of Current 93, and continued with Neurosis, Tom G. Warrior, Sunn 0))), Voivod, Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard and Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth.

One of the most hard-hitting and progressive bands to come out of Norway, Enslaved has drawn other musical genres and artistic expressions into the realm of metal, while being recognized for merging tradition and modernity in a unique blend of rock, prog and black metal, earning them Spellemann Awards (Norwegian Grammys) for much acclaimed and groundbreaking albums such as ‘Isa’, ‘Ruun’, and ‘Vertebrae’ among others.

Enslaved’s performance, dubbed ‘House of Northern Gods’, will consist of a set list specially put together for ‘Houses of the Holistic’, featuring songs from the band’s entire catalogue that embody the Norse gods, with accompanying visuals created by revered Romanian artist, Costin Chioreanu. Be prepared for a surprise or two, or even more.

Ivar Bjørnson comments: “To say that my dream as a kid was to one day curate the Roadburn Festival would perhaps be to take it a tad too far – but it isn’t that far from the truth. There’s some ridiculously big shoes to fill, but luckily negative pressure, idea draught and performance anxiety aren’t something I’m into. It is my favourite festival in one of my favourite parts of the world; so this is nothing short of one the biggest honours I’ve been given! It is a privilege to undertake this challenge in twosome with Einar; an artist I truly feel in tune with artistically and philosophically – now it is all about hard work and dedication to ensure that the audience and the festival itself is given a Friday to enjoy, experience and remember. I for one can’t wait!”

Winning the award for Best Underground Band at the 2104 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards, Wardruna has taken Einar Kvitrafn Selvik’s musical visions out of the contemporary framework and back into the authentic sounds and instrumentation of ancient Northern Europe. Wardruna (featuring Gaahl and Lindy Fay Hella, alongside Einar) received rave reviews for their mesmerizing 2009 debut ‘Gap Var Ginnunga’ and equally exciting follow up, ‘Yggdrasil’, the first two albums in the planned ‘Runaljod’ trilogy that interprets the ancient runic alphabet of the Elder Futhark.

Wardruna’s special ‘Houses of the Holistic’ performance will definitely add another dimension to the kaleidoscope of styles and sounds associated with Roadburn.

“It is such a great honour for me; to be awarded the responsibility of carrying out the traditional role of the Roadburn curator”, says Einar Kvitrafn Selvik. “Doing it together with Ivar makes it even more special. Roadburn is in my opinion such a high-level music festival – all quality to the fingertips. It is also a festival where presenting high quality musical art is more important than anything else, such as genre distinctions and scene divisions. We will work hard to deliver a program that both explore territories one has come to expect at Roadburn, while at the same time continue to expand its boundaries into new sonic realms.”

While the two curators’ musical output differs instrumentally and stylistically, Bjørnson and Selvik have a common direction towards the primeval and undiluted, not only in their own artistic expressions but also in their taste for other music, which is ultimately what they wish to present at Roadburn 2015 during ‘Houses of the Holistic’. We look forward to this collaboration and cannot wait to see how both Ivar and Einar will expand Roadburn Festival‘s musical horizons as well as explore more familiar territory from new angles. We will definitely be in for some artistic surprises, and Norway’s Norse history, too!

Roadburn Festival 2015 (including The Heads as Artist In Residence) will run for four days from Thursday, April 9 to Sunday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

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Enslaved, “Thoughts Like Hammers” official video

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Live Review: Enslaved, Pallbearer, Royal Thunder and Ancient VVisdom in Manhattan, 02.22.13

Posted in Reviews on February 25th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Work kept me late, but as soon as I could, I hauled ass into Manhattan and got downtown to Bowery Ballroom. Parking right across the street from the venue was nothing short of a miracle — it’s embarrassing how much time I think about traffic and parking as relates to going to shows — but I still missed a decent portion of Austin, Texas, natives Ancient VVisdom‘s set opening for Royal Thunder, Pallbearer and Norwegian progressive black metal stalwarts, Enslaved. When I got there, the shenanigans were already well under way.

And I do mean shenanigans. It was the last night of the tour and all four bands had been on the road for a solid month together, so at times it felt less like a show and more like a blowout, but though the crowd hadn’t actually spent a month on the road with Enslaved (ah, to dream), the lighthearted atmosphere was infectious. When I walked in, Ancient VVisdom had been invaded by Enslaved drummer Cato Bekkevold and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, who were holding up signs with synonyms for the band’s name. My favorite was “Early Medieval Know-How,” but then, I’ve always been a sucker for linguistic humor.

That continued throughout the night, culminating in a free-for-all late into Enslaved‘s set, but there was actually some music played as well. Though I’ve heard their stuff and certainly seen their name around the last few years, I’d never actually seen Ancient VVisdom before, and from the stand-up drums/percussion to frontman Nathan Opposition‘s charismatic delivery, what I saw of their time intrigued. On a basic level, they’re playing metal, but blending acoustic and electric guitar, they revel in a folkish tradition that adjusts the form. I don’t know how much I missed, but I wouldn’t shy away from seeing them again sometime if the occasion should arise.

A quick changeover and Royal Thunder were underway. I probably didn’t give enough attention to the Atlanta natives’ 2012 Relapse Records debut, CVI, but I was glad to finally get the chance to see them, having missed their roll-through with Pallbearer last year. Royal Thunder and Ancient VVisdom would keep on for another week after the Enslaved tour ended, so they were still well into the business end of a show, playing a crisp, tight set of tracks from CVI that culminated in the extended moodiness of “Blue,” which was hypnotic enough to convince me I need to buy the album and dig in further.

They performed as a trio, bassist/vocalist/eschewer-of-vowels Mlny Parsonz, founding guitarist Josh Weaver and drummer Evan DiPrima, and brought a subdued progressive sense to the show, not entirely unaware of their own pop leanings when they came up, but actively avoiding simpler approaches in favor of a headier take while making the complex sound easy. My impression might have been totally different had I spent more significant time with the album, but at very least seeing them made me want to rectify that situation. When they were done, “Blue” having exhausted its course, I wondered how much of Ancient VVisdom I’d actually missed, since the first two of the four bands had blasted through so quickly. It wasn’t yet 10PM by my Casio (yeah, that’s right), and the night was half over. I’d gotten word beforehand that Enslaved were due at about 10:45, so Pallbearer still had a decent amount of room to work with.

No doubt there were a few in the crowd who thought of the gig as a Pallbearer show with Enslaved headlining, and though I wasn’t one of them — sorry, my heart belongs to Norway — such was the level of impact of Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, Sorrow and Extinction (review here), when it hit last year. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece have been through a couple times since then and their NYC fanbase seems only to have grown since I caught them at a packed-out St. Vitus bar last spring. No secret why, with the viscosity of their tones, psychedelic flourish and mournful emotionality.

I stood in front of guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell, who did well in balancing the melancholy of the songs with a sense that he still wanted to be playing them. Might’ve helped that on the other side of the stage, guitarist Devin Holt and bassist Joseph D. Rowland (interview here) were having a contest to see who could headbang hardest, or that drummer Mark Lierly kept such propulsive time, but though Pallbearer‘s music is inherently contemplative, regretful and lumbering, they weren’t boring to watch as they played it. Even Campbell, who was hardly thrashing around, gave a physical sense of performance to what he played, and it went a long way. The end-of-tour pranking continued when Enslaved bassist Grutle Kjellson came out wearing a Mastodon shirt with a giant fake joint and proceeded to play paddleball by Lierly‘s kit. The band did about as well as one could hope in holding it together.

From what I could see, the room was more or less full by the time Pallbearer started, and the crowd was as interesting a blend as the lineup of acts playing. Metal dudes, rockers and doomers might occupy roughly the same subcultural niche, but I’ll be damned if you could pick out who was who in the audience at Bowery Ballroom. All things considered, everybody got along well enough while Pallbearer wrapped with an unnamed new song that was long, heavy and bleak, making a solid follow-up to Sorrow and Extinction highlight “An Offering of Grief,” the rise and crash of which is nothing if not tidal. Presumably they’d been playing it the whole tour — which would make it decidedly less new from their perspective — but it should say something that even after the reception of their last album, they still believed enough in the strength of their latest work to end with it.

My intent had been at some point during the week prior to give myself an Enslaved refresher, running through the last four or five albums in their catalog in preparation for seeing them for the first time in I don’t know how long — they last came through NYC with Dimmu Borgir in 2011 and I arrived at Terminal 5 just as they were announcing the last song in their set as the title-track to 2004’s Isa; I also missed them at Roadburn in 2010 — but time didn’t permit such luxuries. Not that I don’t know those records, just that Enslaved have a dozen and I’d been immersed in the most recent of them, last year’s Riitiir (review here), to exclusion of everything else and Vertebrae (2008) and Ruun (2006) were ripe for a revisit. Forget it. I don’t have to justify my pre-show rituals to anyone. Point is, I wanted to listen to more Enslaved last week than I actually did. It’s kind of a common affliction for me.

Early into their time, Kjellson said that on the tour they’d been beset by blizzards, power outages and a number of other obstacles to cut them short, but on the last night, they were doing a full set, and they followed through. Most of the material was from their Nuclear Blast era — the last three albums: Riitiir, 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here) and Vertebrae — but earlier material was sprinkled throughout, beginning with the title cut from Ruun, with followed “Riitiir” at the very start of the setlist. The intricate, proggy rhythm patterning was welcomed by the crowd, well familiar with its twists and turns, and leading to the grand chorus of “The Watcher,” Enslaved did well immediately to show the diversity in their sound more than 20 years on from their beginnings.

If anything was missing, it was “Fusion of Sense and Earth” from Ruun, but the varying textures of “Ruun” and “The Watcher” covered a lot of ground, guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal creating a wash of distortion through which Larsen‘s clean vocals and Kjellson‘s signature rasp cut with little difficulty. When “The Watcher” gave way to “Thoughts Like Hammers,” the Royal Thunder crew came out dressed in a Halloween costume holding up a sign that said “Thor Likes Hammers,” and that was a good bit of fun to go along with the Riitiir opener, though whichever dude it was — nothing against him — hardly made for an attractive valkyrie. “Ethica Odini” led to Riirtiir highlight “Roots of the Mountain,” which alone was worth the drive into Manhattan, and though by then more people had come out on stage — some in their underwear, Royal Thunder‘s Weaver spitting beer on the crowd — Enslaved played through it all coolly.

Bekkevold led the way into “Materal” from the new album, and the shenanigans subsided for a time, though the energy in Enslaved‘s set was consistent throughout. After “Roots of the Mountain,” and more particularly after having beer spit on me, I headed toward the back to watch the rest of the show from a fuller vantage, and while I never considered “Materal” one of Riitiir‘s more engaging tracks, it was different from everything else Enslaved played, and made a good setup for their dip more than a decade back to 2001’s Monumension for “Convoys to Nothingness” and even further to 1993’s Hordanes Land EP for “Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor,” which Kjellson seemed to note would probably be lost on the crowd but clearly enjoyed playing nonetheless. Their regular set capped with a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song,” arranged as Kjellson noted, by Ice Dale — and that’s pretty much when all hell broke loose.

In addition to a joke from Bjørnson and a few words from Ice Dale making fun of Kjellson, the bassist also opined while drinking that cognac was France’s only contribution to world cuisine — good for a laugh and a toast from the crowd, whose spirits were likewise high — “Immigrant Song” brought forth members of Ancient VVisdom, Royal Thunder and Pallbearer all, who took to the stage for a brodown the likes of which I’ve rarely seen at a gig. Weaver jumped on Bjørnson‘s back as the band jammed out, and Pallbearer‘s Campbell hit up a Robert Plant falsetto while “sharing” Larsen‘s mic. The chicanery continued on and I don’t think Enslaved were fooling anyone when they took a bow and left the stage, though they were gone a while, presumably doing pre-encore shots. Time well spent and hooch well earned.

“Fenris” from 1994’s Frost and the title-track of 2004’s Isa — “One more short one,” said Kjellson — made for a substantial encore, the raw raging of the former leading to the still-brutal hook of the latter, and when the show and their month-long North American tour was over, Enslaved took a boozy bow and split. Lights came up, house music came on, and I shuffled my way out of the Bowery Ballroom with everyone else who’d stuck it out through the encore, maybe not feeling the same sense of job-well-done accomplishment as the bands, but at very least feeling lucky to have been able to catch the final night of a tour that was clearly so special to everyone involved.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Buried Treasure and the Walking Ghosts

Posted in Buried Treasure on February 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Time was limited. It was Monday morning and I was supposed to go to work after all, but as I was in New England anyway, a quick run to Armageddon Shop in Providence didn’t seem all that unreasonable. I’ve never come out of there feeling less than satisfied, and even back in December at the Boston store, I was able to pick up a few winners. Plus, Armageddon‘s been on my mind lately with their handling the repress of Elder‘s Spires Burn EP and the release of Magic Circle‘s self-titled, for which I have a review pending. All that, coupled with my general desire to crane my neck before a CD rack, made the stop a necessity. Turned out work was still there when I finally showed up anyway. Go figure.

On the wall of my office is a post-it with albums I’ve been meaning to pick up — mostly review stuff that labels won’t send out physical copies of anymore that I’ll grudgingly buy and devalue the effort I put into writing about them while also diminishing my appreciation for the record out of the pervasive annoyance. It’s a vicious cycle. Anyway, most of what’s on it I couldn’t remember, but it was fine. I managed to find enough and then some, as you can see in the stack above. The new Bedemon (track stream here) and Seremonia (track stream here) records were a must, and I hadn’t actually gotten a CD of the last Enslaved (review here), so I figured if I was going to give someone the cash for it, at least I could feel good about it going to Armageddon. The rest was gravy.

The first Hooded Menace full-length, Fulfill the Curse, Orodruin‘s Claw Tower and Other Tales of Terror and the repress of Life Beyond‘s Ancient Worlds were cool finds, but I was even more stoked on the 2003 Cream Abdul Babar/Kylesa split on At a Loss. I think they came by their progression honestly and I think Spiral Shadow (review here) bears that out, but it’s easy to forget how blisteringly heavy that band was at one point, all noise and fury and potential. With the unbridled weirdness of Cream Abdul Babar to complement, that split was a killer. The punkish War and Wine by the UK’s The Dukes of Nothing was something I had my eye on for a while, with Orange Goblin‘s Chris Turner on drums, bassist Doug Dalziel (ex-Iron Monkey) and Stuart O’Hara (ex-Acrimony, current Sigiriya) as one of two guitars, and more on the hardcore end, the self-titled collection from Hard to Swallow was a pleasant surprise, spanning the short tenure of the outfit that featured Jim Rushby (Iron Monkey) on guitar and Justin Greaves (Iron Monkey and even later of Crippled Black Phoenix) on drums and a host of others from that sphere ripping out primitive, violent bursts in rapid succession.

With 13 tracks in 27 minutes, there’s little room for screwing around, so Hard to Swallow get right to it, blending raw riffage with extreme punk fuckall. The compilation was released on Armageddon‘s own label, and though it’s more hardcore than what I’ll generally grab, it’s a solid, intense listen. A secret track incorporating Sabbath‘s “Under the Sun” into a grind medley made a decent, meaner answer to The Dukes of Nothing‘s album on Tortuga, and the metallic outing from Enslaved and Seremonia‘s distinctly Finnish weirdness. More local to home, I grabbed Halfway to Gone‘s split with Alabama Thunderpussy, which I already own but figured for six bucks I’d take a double, and the 1997 debut from underrated Jersey-based psychedelic rockers, Lord Sterling.

Your Ghost Will Walk was one of those albums I figured I’d probably never happen upon, perhaps even less so in Rhode Island. I haven’t been chasing it down for years and years or anything like that — a preliminary search can find copies out there — but neither was I going to pass up the chance to get a new one. The pressing is on Chainsaw Safety Records, may or may not be original, and for anyone who heard Lord Sterling‘s Weapon of Truth (2002, Rubric) or Today’s Song for Tomorrow (2004, Small Stone), the first one is a little more jagged, a little more post-hardcore, somewhat less psychedelic, though the ethereal garage via The Doors vibes of the later albums are definitely present in some nascent form. I always dug those guys, so it was cool to hear where they came from a little bit.

Because I can’t resist a CD on Man’s Ruin and because I’m forever a sucker for NYC noise, I impulse grabbed The Cuttroats 9‘s self-titled. The band had Chris Spencer and Dave Curran from Unsane in it, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong and I was right. It was a last-minute thing as I was looking through, but I’ve done way worse. All told, the haul was well-rounded and with a cup of coffee from the bakery down the street, I felt like the win was even more complete. About five hours later, I strolled into my office like I owned the place.

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Enslaved Announce North American Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Well, no way this one isn’t a win. Norway’s Enslaved will hit North American shores just at that point when you think winter will never end, and they’re bringing Pallbearer and Ancient VVisdom along to support. Enslaved will be promoting their most excellent Riitiir release (review here), and I’m already anxious at the thought of seeing “Roots of the Mountain” live. Call the greatness assumed if you want — this is going to fucking rule.

The PR wire sends details:

Norwegian progressive extreme metal band ENSLAVED will return to the U.S. and Canada in early 2013 for a headlining, 20-show “Winter Rite” tour joined by U.S. doom metallers Pallbearer and occult rockers Ancient VVisdom as openers. Kick-off is in Philadelphia on January 30th with the tour closing in New York City on February 22nd.

ENSLAVED rhythm guitarist/songwriter/lyricist Ivar Bjørnson checks in from Norway about the upcoming trek:

“North America has become like a second home-shore to us; the rising support we’ve been getting for the last albums and tours has been amazing! We’re more than ready to come over again and play our new album Riitiir live to show that the new material is extremely well-fitted for a live setting, and to reflect the enthusiasm and dedication we’ve been getting from the fans over there! See you on the road!”

Confirmed dates for ENSLAVED’s headlining “Winter Rite 2013” tour are:

01/30/13 Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA
01/31/13 Ottobar – Baltimore, MD
02/01/13 Mr. Smalls Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA
02/02/13 Magic Stick – Detroit, MI
02/03/13 Reggie’s Rock Club – Chicago, IL
02/04/13 Mill City Nights – Minneapolis, MN
02/06/13 Marquis Theater – Denver, CO
02/08/13 The Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
02/09/13 Slim’s – San Francisco, CA
02/10/13 Branx – Portland, OR
02/11/13 The Highline – Seattle, WA
02/12/13 Biltmore Cabaret – Vancouver, B.C. – CANADA
02/14/13 The Pawn Shop – Edmonton, AB – CANADA
02/15/13 Dickens Pub – Calgary, AB – CANADA
02/16/13 The Exchange – Regina, SK – CANADA
02/17/13 Osborne Village Inn – Winnipeg, MB – CANADA
02/19/13 The Opera House – Toronto, ON – CANADA
02/20/13 Les Foufounes Electriques – Montreal, QC – CANADA
02/21/13 The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA
02/22/13 Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

RIITIIR, ENSLAVED’s twelfth studio album, debuted at #8 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart in October with the band’s highest first-week sales in their career in the United States. The album is already a contender for many “Best of” year-end lists around the world for 2012. Pick up a copy at http://bit.ly/enriitlp and see why that is.

ENSLAVED will be headlining Scion A/V’s Roadburn Records showcase on Saturday, November 10th, 2012 at The Roxy in West Hollywood. Also performing are White Hills, Scott Kelly, Earthless, and Astra. RSVP to the All Ages event here: www.scionav.com/METALSHOW

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Scion A/V and Roadburn Partner for Label Showcase

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Roadburn goes Hollywood! If there was any conflict involved, you could almost call this a clash of the titans. Somehow “alliance of the titans” doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it, or “titans putting on a killer show.” Still, pretty bitchin’ that Roadburn and Scion A/V Metal could get it together for a label showcase. How bitchin’, you ask? Well, it’s just about giant-size poster bitchin’.

Dig it:

Scion A/V Metal are excited to announce their next Scion Label Showcase with Roadburn Records!

We are taking over The Roxy in West Hollywood, CA on Saturday, November 10, and we’re bringing Enslaved, White Hills, Scott Kelly, Earthless, and Astra with us. RSVP coming soon, so stay tuned to Scion A/V Metal’s Facebook page.

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Enslaved Interview with Ivar Bjørnson: Patterns in the Currents

Posted in Features on September 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

It makes for a pretty vivid scene: In the waiting room of a maternity ward in a Norwegian hospital there sits a man with long hair and a big beard. The room, like most places in a hospital where they let the public go, it smells sterile and is brightly lit, even at night — and it’s Norway in December, right between Christmas and New Year’s, so it’s night a lot — and like most men in maternity ward waiting rooms, the man looks worried. But he doesn’t bite his nails, or tap his fingers, or scratch his head, or jerk his legs. He’s got his phone out and he’s using it to write music.

The man is Ivar Bjørnson. He’s the guitarist and one of two founding members remaining in progressive black metal progenitors Enslaved, and the piece of music he’s writing will not only serve as his daughter’s introduction to the world, but also the resoundingly triumphant final stretch of the song “Roots of the Mountain,” one of many highlight moments spread throughout the eight component tracks of Enslaved‘s 12th full-length and third for Nuclear Blast, Riitiir (review here). Fitting that such a part should be composed in that situation — the thematic tying together the diverse music and lyrics of Riitiir is man’s need for and reliance on ritual for comfort, and one imagines that having been in Enslaved since he was a teenager a good deal of his personal rituals are wrapped up in it. Indeed, the guitarist acknowledges this about himself and his fellow founder, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, with whom he started the band in 1991, when he says, “It’s impossible to say where Enslaved stops and our personalities start.”

Appropriate too, then, that Enslaved should have handled the basic engineering job for Riitiir on their own, with work split between Bjørnson‘s home studio and the professional studio run by guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and keyboardist/clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen, since the farther inward their songs look, the more intimate and personal they become, no matter what kind of cosmic largesse may emerge in their layers. Once Bjørnson, Kjellson, Isdal, Larsen and drummer Cato Bekkevold had put their tracks to tape, the band returned to Sweden to mix with Jens Bogren at Fascination Street studios as they did with 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), which was a stunning progression particularly in its second half from the more stripped down direction they seemed to be taking on 2008’s Joe Barresi-helmed Vertebrae. Perhaps their collaboration with the Opeth, Katatonia and Amon Amarth mixer is becoming a bit of a ritual as well. All the better, since if Riitiir proves anything, it’s that there’s strength to be gained from familiarity, from comfort and repetition.

And yet, Riitiir is also inarguably the farthest out Enslaved have pushed themselves in their progression, so while some of the elements are recognizable and the final output is definitively their own, they’re continuing to reshape what that means. Along with new sounds , experiments in structure and an enduring lack of limitation by genre or doing what’s expected of them — I don’t even know what that would be at this point, except perhaps to step forward from where they were last time out — Enslaved have begun to further highlight the dynamics involved in repetition, introducing a part and then reintroducing it later, somewhat changed, or, as in the case of “Roots of the Mountain,” not being afraid to make the most of a genuinely approachable hook. As a result, the songs have gotten longer in general and more pointed in their development. While ritual may factor in thematically and in terms of process, Enslaved are by no means going through the motions.

Because it’s less a reflection on me than the conversation itself — that is, because it feels less like I’m puffing up my own ego — I don’t mind saying what follows is one of the best interviews I’ve ever conducted. Open, honest and thoughtful, Bjørnson generously gives insight into the Enslaved‘s workings, both in terms of the day-to-day banalities and the more abstract creativity driving the material, while also offering his opinions on the future of the music industry in the age of pay-to-stream, the shift toward more extended material (which is actually a return to earlier days, but in a much different stylistic context), tour plans in support of Riitiir, their Roadburn experience, the state of Norwegian microbrewing and much, much more.

All told, it’s a little over 6,700 words, so if you read it in pieces, I get it. However you take it on, please keep in mind Riitiir is out Oct. 9 in the US (Sept. 28 in Europe), and please, as always, enjoy.

The complete Q&A with Ivar Bjørnson is after the jump.

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Enslaved, Riitiir: Becoming the Heralds

Posted in Reviews on August 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

In some ways, Enslaved’s twelfth album, Riitiir, picks up right where the last one left off. 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here) was the Norwegian progressive black metallers’ most expansive outing yet. balancing a more traditional (as far as that kind of thing goes with Enslaved) first half with a second that found them pushing the boundaries of influence into doom and even a burgeoning psychedelic sensibility, all driven by their overtly metallic context but given melodic breadth that even pivotal works of their new era like 2004’s Isa or 2006’s Ruun began to point toward and which was all-too-briefly affirmed on last year’s subsequent The Sleeping Gods EP. Since 2004, the band has been putting albums out more or less like clockwork, and despite having moved to Nuclear Blast for each North American release since Vertebrae in 2008 – Riitiir is their third for the label – they’ve been consistent in lineup while exceeding themselves in terms of quality of output. Riitiir – also written as the all-caps RIITIIR, and derived from the words “rites” and “rituals,” themes that encompasses much of the record’s lyrics and musical sensibilities – was recorded across a variety of studios in the band’s native Norway, and overseen by the band personally, but to mix, they teamed with Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios in Sweden and listening to the various layers at work on the eight tracks, it’s no mystery why. Along with their most prevalent melodies yet, Riitiir also boasts the complex arrangements vocally and instrumentally that have been a hallmark of the band’s latter-day work. It’s an album you can listen to three times in a row and hear something different each time, whether it’s a tempest guitar lead in “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal or Ivar Bjørnson or a subtle harmonic shift in the vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, whose voice has become more and more a fixture of Enslaved’s work since he joined the band in 2004.

And certainly pre-Larsen albums like 2001’s Monumension or 2003’s Below the Lights were not without their progressive sensibilities, but the work the band has been able to do since his arrival is in a different league entirely. There will be those who disparage their growth as some shedding of black metal trueness. I’m not one of them, and I think to limit Enslaved to one genre or another at this point is to undercut the value of what they do, especially in the songs of Riitiir. Bassist Grutle Kjellson still has his trademark rasp and Ice Dale offers no shortage of monstrous and deathly growls, but it’s the lushness that Larsen brings in his clean singing and synth work – Bjørnson contributes synth as well – that ultimately define some of the most memorable parts of Riitiir, be it the rush of “Veilburner” where he tops a near-punkish beat from drummer Cato Bekkevold or the subdued finale of closer “Forsaken,” the atmosphere of which is no less lonely than its title. Throughout, Enslaved bask in their own indulgences and put them to good use, leaving no avenue in the songs unexplored or underdeveloped. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a result of this, the individual songs are longer than one might have come to expect from the band, the halfway marker “Roots of the Mountain” – a landmark in more than just its track placement – being the second track to top nine minutes behind opener “Thoughts Like Hammers” and the closer clocking in at a weighted 11:15. That’s not quite the 16 minutes that “793 (Slaget Om Lindisfarne)” took to open 1997’s Eld or the lengths they went to on their 1994 debut, Vikingligr Veldi, but on average, they’ve pushed further time-wise to match their expanding scope on Riitiir, and even on the title-track here, which at 5:26 is the shortest of the bunch, it’s time well spent.

While it’s a little ironic that Enslaved would be around long enough to bring them full-circle from starting off with longer tracks, delving into shorter bursts and then working their way back up over the course of their last several albums, the principle difference between Riitiir and the several outings preceding it is the effectiveness of the blend of influences. Axioma Ethica Odini, which was one of 2010’s best albums, make no mistake, kept the bulk of its progressivism for its second half, and it wasn’t until the last two tracks – “Night Sight” and “Lightening” – that the staggering melodic reach of the band  in its current incarnation really unveiled itself. It’s in that regard most of all that Riitiir picks up where Axioma Ethica Odini left off, as there seems to be a willful shedding of concern for expectation happening right from the start of “Thoughts Like Hammers.” The progression is more rock-based and bombastic. The first verse is a genuine stomp, Bekkevold holding back as he does a lot throughout from unleashing blasts or double-bass drumming, and Kjellson starts off Riitiir with a vicious slew of cosmically-themed lyrics. All seems to be going according to plan until the chorus opens up, Larsen comes in on vocals – he’d done a kind of call and response during the verse as well, but the chorus is all him, and in layers – and the majesty really takes hold that the fabric of the record is made apparent. Enslaved won’t be burying their progressive elements this time around, but neither do they shy away from crushing heaviness, as “Thoughts Like Hammers” shows as it approaches its midpoint break, Kjellson and Larsen once more in a call and response, but over a more vicious instrumental burst. An airy solo follows and long synth lines sustained under Bekkevold’s tom runs while Kjellson gurgles out a few more lines, then shouts back a spoken part and a more melodic guitar takes hold to lead back to the initial verse and chorus interchange. If it sounds confusing, it is. If it sounds like a lot going on, it is. Among Riitiir’s impressive achievements, not falling apart halfway through has to be considered right at the top.

Presumably though, if that fate was going to befall a band like Enslaved, it would’ve happened at some point before their twelfth album in. “Thoughts Like Hammers” makes an intriguing opener, showing right away that the band have pushed themselves even further in terms of their arrangements and structuring since the last time out, and that their level of performance, as ever, is second to none. Larsen in particular has surfaced as a defining presence in the band’s sound, and his increased range and confidence on Riitiir only makes the material richer. He appears vocally on every track on the album – he was on almost all of Axioma Ethica Odini as well but for the instrumental interlude – but more than that, he is clearer, more forward and more accomplished-sounding than ever before. Because of the complexity of the arrangements of which he’s a part with Kjellson and Isdal, it wouldn’t be fair to call him a “lead” vocalist, but he makes choruses like that of “Thoughts Like Hammers,” “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” and “Roots of the Mountain” powerful and memorable in ways they simply wouldn’t be without his input. The three distinct voices of Enslaved each have a role to play in the overall balance, but with the bass-heavy groove of “Death in the Eyes of Dawn,” it’s Larsen’s that most stands out, however killer the opening gurgles sound. The song develops some of the spoken ideas of the opener, using throaty semi-whispers to top a bouncingly proggy guitar line during the bridge before Larsen takes over for the pre-chorus and chorus. Isdal returns for the next verse and the cycle seems ready to repeat itself, but a cut to a solo section instead of the Larsen-topped pre-chorus acts as an unpredictable shift and a quick section of effective stops leads to a heavier overall push, Bekkevold announcing its coming with fervent snare rolls and Kjellson coming on for an all-cylinders burst that shifts back to the progressive bounce with hardly any announcement at all. Again, it works. The initial verse/pre-chorus/chorus/post-chorus arrangement repeats, and in the last minute of the song, a stretch of acoustic guitar is introduced to carry the flow into “Veilburner,” which is shorter at 6:46 and more simpler overall in its structure.

Given what Enslaved have so far done on Riitiir, it would just about have to be. Whatever shift it makes to a more established pattern, however, “Veilburner” more than makes up for with its chorus. If modern Enslaved has a prototype arrangement, “Veilburner” is probably it – Kjellson fronting the verse and Larsen taking over for a galloping chorus – but the chorus has a second stage and it’s among the most grand of any on Riitiir. They repeat it twice, Larsen holding the fore once he’s come to it, repeating the lines, “I cannot tolerate being held in the dark/I need to see/I will the flames,” in his kind of drawn out, dreamy melody, seemingly unaffected by the rush beneath him, and when the song opens up and the low-mixed growling accompanies, there’s hardly a finer example of the offsetting melody and brutality to be found in modern metal that is still worthy of the name. Kjellson returns for a final verse and the song cuts to noise that bleeds directly into “Roots of the Mountain,” which stands among “Thoughts Like Hammers” and “Forsaken” as one of the several peaks of the record. At 9:17, it is grandiose, but not inflated. Solid. It is the catchiest chorus on Riitiir and ties together not only the theme of rituals, but the career-long battle-mindedness of Enslaved with their cosmic side and even a flourish of inward wisdom-seeking. Again, it sounds like a lot and it is, but it’s all there. And for those who’d relish the head-down pummel of Enslaved at their blastbeaten heaviest, that’s there too, right in the beginning of the song, which shoves its way through the first verse before you even realize it. It’s only when Bekkevold evens out his bass drum and Larsen hits a newfound falsetto in the chorus that “Roots of the Mountain” makes itself fully known. They rush through another verse and get back to the chorus in good time – rightly so – and let loose a guitar solo before bringing in a different progression, also led out by a solo, this time in an ascending line that leads to a break of Kjellson’s bass and the drums (which sound sampled if they aren’t). The guitars kick in and Larsen spits some raw philosophy, and for a minute, it genuinely seems like the song is in its final stretch.

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13 Before ’13 — Albums Not to Miss Before the End of 2012

Posted in Where to Start on July 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

We’re more than halfway through 2012, and we’ve already seen great releases from the likes of Orange Goblin, Pallbearer, Conan, C.O.C., Saint Vitus and many others, but there’s still a long way to go. The forecast for the next five months? Busy.

In my eternal and inevitably doomed quest to keep up, I’ve compiled a list of 13 still-to-come releases not to miss before the year ends. Some of this information is confirmed — as confirmed as these things ever are, anyway — either by label or band announcements, and some of it is a little bit vaguer in terms of the actual dates, but all this stuff is slated to be out before 2013 hits. That was basically my only criteria for inclusion.

And of course before I start the list, you should know two things: The ordering is dubious, since it’s not like I can judge the quality of an album before I’ve heard it, just my anticipation, and that this is barely the beginning of everything that will be released before the end of 2012. The tip of the fastly-melting iceberg, as it were. If past is prologue, there’s a ton of shit I don’t even know about that (hopefully) you’ll clue me into in the comments.

Nonetheless, let’s have some fun:

1. Colour Haze, She Said (Sept./Oct.)


I know, I know, this one’s been a really, really long time coming. Like two years. Like so long that Colour Haze had to go back and remake the album because of some terrible technical thing that I don’t even know what happened but it doesn’t matter anymore. Notice came down yesterday from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek that the recording is done and the long-awaited She Said is on the way to be pressed on vinyl and CD. Got my fingers crossed for no more snags.

2. EnslavedRIITIIR (Sept. 28)

The progressive Norwegian black metallers have put out 10 albums before it, and would you believe RIITIIR is the first Enslaved album that’s a palindrome? Kind of cheating to include it on this list, because I’ve heard it, but I’ve been through the record 10-plus times and I still feel like I just barely have a grasp on where they’re headed with it, so I think it’ll be really interesting to see what kind of response it gets upon release. Herbrand Larsen kills it all over these songs though, I will say that.

3. Mos Generator, Nomads (Oct. 23)

Hard for me not to be stoked on the prospect of the first new Mos Generator album since 2007, especially looking at that cover, which Ripple Music unveiled on Tuesday when it announced the Oct. 23 release date. It’s pretty grim looking, and even though Mos once put out a record called The Late Great Planet Earth, I’ve never thought of them as being particularly dark or doomed. I look forward to hearing what Tony Reed (Stone AxeHeavyPink) has up his sleeve for this collection, and if he’s looking to slow down and doom out a bit here, that’s cool too. I’ll take it either way.

4. Ufomammut, Oro – Opus Alter (Sept.)

No, that’s not the cover of Oro – Opus Alter, the second half of Italian space doom grand masters Ufomammut‘s Oro collection — the first being Opus Primum (review here), which served as their Neurot Recordings debut earlier this year. That cover hasn’t been released yet, so I grabbed a promo pic to stand in. I’m really looking forward to this album, though I hope they don’t go the Earth, Angels of Darkness Demons of Light route and wind up with two records that, while really good, essentially serve the same purpose. I’ve got my hopes high they can outdo themselves once again.

5. WitchcraftLegend (Sept. 21)

I guess after their success with Graveyard, Nuclear Blast decided to binge a bit on ’70s loyalist doom, signing Witchcraft and even more recently, Orchid. Can’t fault them that. It’s been half a decade since Witchcraft released The Alchemist and in their absence, doom has caught on in a big way to their methods. With a new lineup around him, will Magnus Pelander continue his divergence into classic progressive rock, or return to the Pentagram-style roots of Witchcraft‘s earliest work? Should be exciting to find out.

6. Wo FatThe Black Code (Nov.)

After having the chance to hear some rough mixes of Texas fuzzers Wo Fat‘s Small Stone debut, The Black Code, I’m all the more stoked to encounter the finished product, and glad to see the band join the ranks of Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk and Gozu in heralding the next wave of American fuzz. Wo Fat‘s 2011 third outing, Noche del Chupacabra (review here), greatly expanded the jammed feel in their approach, and I get the sense they’re just beginning to find where they want to end up within that balance.

7. Blood of the SunBurning on the Wings of Desire (Late 2012)

As if the glittering logo and booby-lady cover art weren’t enough to grab attention, Blood of the Sun‘s first album for Listenable Records (fourth overall) is sure to garner some extra notice because the band is led by drummer/vocalist Henry Vasquez, better known over the past couple years as the basher for Saint Vitus. Whatever pedigree the band has assumed through that, though, their modern take on classic ’70s heavy has a charm all its own and I can’t wait to hear how Burning on the Wings of Desire pushes that forward. Or backward. Whatever. Rock and roll.

8. SwansThe Seer (Aug. 28)

This one came in the mail last week and I’ve had the chance to make my way through it only once. It’s two discs — and not by a little — and as was the case with Swans‘ 2010 comebacker, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (review here), the far less cumbersomely titled The Seer is loaded with guest contributions. Even Jarboe shows up this time around, doing that breathy panting thing she does. Unnerving and challenging as ever, Swans continue to be a litmus for how far experimentalism can go. 3o years on, that’s pretty impressive in itself.

9. Swallow the Sun, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird (Sept. 4)

Apparently the Finnish melo-doom collective’s fifth album, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, came out earlier this year in Europe, but it’s finally getting an American release in September, and as I’ve always dug the band’s blend of death metal and mournful melodicism, I thought I’d include it here. Like Swans, I’ve heard the Swallow the Sun once through, and it seems to play up more of the quiet, weepy side of their sound, but I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months.

10. My Sleeping Karma, Soma (Oct. 9)

Just signed to Napalm Records and tapped to open for labelmates Monster Magnet as they tour Europe performing Spine of God in its entirety this fall, the German four-piece are set to follow-up 2010’s Tri (review here) with Soma. Details were sketchy, of course, until about five minutes after this post initially went up, then the worldwide release dates, cover art and tracklist were revealed, so I updated. Find all that info on the forum.

11.Eagle Twin, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale (Aug. 28)

Way back in 2009 when I interviewed Eagle Twin guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley about the band’s Southern Lord debut, he said the band’s next outing would relate to snakes, and if the cover is anything to go by, that seems to have come to fruition on The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, which is set to release at the end of next month. As the first album was kind of a mash of influences turned into cohesive and contemplative heavy drone, I can’t help but wonder what’s in store this time around.

12. Hooded MenaceEffigies of Evil (Sept. 11)

You know how sometimes you listen to a band and that band turns you on in their liner notes to a ton of other cool bands? I had that experience with Finnish extreme doomers Hooded Menace‘s 2010 second album, Never Cross the Dead (review here), except instead of bands it was hotties of ’70s horror cinema. Needless to say, I anxiously await the arrival of their third record and Relapse debut, Effigies of Evil. Someone needs to start a label and call it Hammer Productions just to sign this band.

13. Yawning Man, New Album (Soon)

Make no mistake. The prospect of a new Yawning Man album would arrive much higher on this list if I was more convinced it was going to come together in time for a 2012 release. As it is, Scrit on the forum has had a steady stream of updates since May about the record — the latest news being that it’s going to be a double album — and Scrit‘s in the know, so I’ll take his word. One thing we do know for sure is that the band in the picture above is not the current Yawning Man lineup. Alfredo Hernandez and Mario Lalli out, Greg Saenz and Billy Cordell in. Bummer about the tumult, but as long as it’s Gary Arce‘s ethereal guitar noodling, I’m hooked one way or another.

Since we closed with rampant speculation, let me not forget that somewhere out there is the looming specter of a new Neurosis album, which the sooner it gets here, the better. Perhaps also a new Clutch full-length, though I doubt that’ll materialize before 2013. And that’s a different list entirely.

Thanks for reading. Anything I forgot or anything you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment.

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Top 20 of 2010 #5: Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini

Posted in Features on December 23rd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Sometimes this album is so beautiful it hurts. The melodic breaks, the interplay between Herbrand Larsen‘s and Grutle Kjellson‘s vocals, the keyboard flourishes, the pounding heaviness of it. I know there are a couple really amazing progressive black metal bands out there — Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord come to mind — but for me, nothing tops Enslaved, and Axioma Ethica Odini might be the bravest album they’ve made in their 20-year career.

You could sit for a week and parse every second and still not manage to capture it. I remember the first time I listened, I was just so happy it didn’t follow a similar production course to that of 2008’s Vertebrae, but it wasn’t until I really dug into Axioma Ethica Odini that the scope of the thing became clear. The first half of the record is your pretty typical Enslaved material — still better than, oh, everything else in its genre — but Side B’s prog overload really pushed Axioma Ethica Odini into the upper echelon of 2010 releases for me. It’s another one of those albums I just can’t seem to leave home.

Even listening to it now to write this, I’m distracted by the fucking brilliance of the album (among other things). The chorus of “Lightening” gives me a chill up my spine every time, and even a song like “Singular,” which I didn’t fully appreciate when I reviewed the record, has grown on me to the point where I’ll put Axioma Ethica Odini away for a day or so, then stop and say to myself, “Why the hell am I not listening to Enslaved?” And you know what the answer is? The answer is I put on Enslaved. Constantly.

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Enslaved Interview with Ivar Bjørnson: Embracing the Opposite, Becoming Whole, and Sampling 16 Varieties of Sierra Nevada in a Single Sitting

Posted in Features on October 28th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I was the last in line for phoners during Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson‘s recent weekend press day to discuss his band’s latest album, Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), and as such, I expected that by the time he got around to me, he’d probably want little more than to go get a sandwich, go to the bathroom, or at very least, talk about anything other than Enslaved, the record, touring or any of it. It was a thrill to find out how mistaken I was.

Axioma Ethica Odini, rich in its sound, complex in its execution and boasting moments of unparalleled progressive extremity, is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of this very diverse year. It is Enslaved‘s 11th and follows 2008’s Vertebrae, which I felt was held back by its production, and in particular by the mixing job of Joe Barresi (Tool‘s 10,000 Days, Queens of the Stone Age, Clutch, etc.). Though he was quick to correct my impression, Bjørnson noted as well the less than ideal sound of that album, and as Axioma Ethica Odini was recorded by the band themselves in the home and professional studios owned by the five members of EnslavedBjørnson, fellow founder bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen and drummer Cato Bekkevold — and mixed by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street in Sweden, one can imagine some change in approach was intended.

Whatever they did, it worked. On the cusp of their 20th year, Enslaved triumph with Axioma Ethica Odini in a way I don’t know if they ever have before. Sure, their oldest material is heralded as being centrally influential among the Viking and black metal sets, but from where I’m sitting (not there, basically), their even more important work began with the incorporation of prog elements on 2001’s Monumension and was built on for subsequent offerings, Below the Lights (2003), Isa (2004), Ruun (2006) and even the aforementioned Vertebrae, which given different production might have even surpassed its landmark predecessors.

Not that I’d do any better — or get past “hello” — in his native language, but there were some parts of the interview I couldn’t quite make out in the transcribing process, and a crappy phone line didn’t help, but I did the best I could to put together the most complete Enslaved interview possible. In the Q&A that follows the jump, Bjørnson discusses the Axioma Ethica Odini recording process, writing during the summer, Enslaved‘s four-show stint at Roadburn this year, and much more.

Hail Norway.

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A Lesson in Ethics from Enslaved

Posted in Reviews on October 15th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Bordering on two decades together, Norwegian black metal pioneers Enslaved push their progressive tendencies even more to the fore on their 11th studio album, Axioma Ethica Odini (Nuclear Blast). Their legacy having grown increasingly over the course of the last 10 years with excellent albums like 2003’s Below the Lights, 2004’s Isa, 2006’s Ruun, and most recently, 2008’s Vertebrae — which I’d gladly argue was held back by production issues despite songwriting as accomplished as ever — distributed more widely in the US and with more and more acts taking a prog approach to extreme metal, Axioma Ethica Odini finds Enslaved taking on the role of seasoned veterans. Their heyday is by no means behind them, either creatively or in terms of fanbase, but they’re an experienced band, they know what they want from their sound. That they’re still growing as players is something of a bonus.

That growth, most obvious in the clean vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, who joined the band full-time after Below the Lights, is readily on display throughout Axioma Ethica Odini. In many ways, it’s a tale of two albums, with two sets of four tracks, divided by a centerpiece interlude, each showcasing a different side of the band. Both are heavy, to be sure, but the wide variety of personalities shown throughout, and the bent toward experimentalism on the back half of Axioma Ethica Odini, makes the difference clear. One constant throughout is Enslaved’s unmistakable quality of vocal arrangements. Bassist/founding member Grutle Kjellson’s signature rasping screams, left too dry and too forward on Vertebrae, are as throat-searing as ever and punctuated by deathly backing growls and echoes. Opener “Ethica Odini” establishes a full production sound and shows Enslaved haven’t lost the edge or the drive toward extremity that made their early work in the ‘90s so powerful.

They get into a pattern between “Ethica Odini” and follow-up “Raidho” of breaking through the thrashing madness — and here I’ll note the killer tones captured in the guitars of Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and band co-founder Ivar Bjørnson — for keyboard led prog breaks, during which Larsen takes the lead over Kjellson vocally, but it doesn’t last long. “Waruun” almost reverses it, keeping the music behind Larsen’s parts heavy in proportion to the other pieces of the song to establish more of a flow. This way, a strong opening of what fans would expect from modern-day Enslaved is given, but the band moves quickly to show they have more than formulaic songwriting on offer. “Waruun” boasts another excellent vocal arrangement, and if heavy music has ever raised the hairs on your arm or sent a shiver down your spine, it’s bound to do it here as well. The shortest of the “regular” (non-interlude) tracks at 5:38, “The Beacon” might also be the most extreme. Opening with blastbeats from drummer Cato Bekkevold, the song moves from an abrasive verse to a melodic chorus in a way not so much different from much of latter-day metal, but the production, vocals, guitar leads and angular break distinguish it. As it transfers back to the verse and again through the chorus one last time, it feels like a closer, which only heightens the transition into the interlude “Axioma” and further distinguishes the two pieces of the record.

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audiObelisk Presents: Live Roadburn 2010 Streams from Enslaved and Dream of an Opium Eater

Posted in audiObelisk on October 11th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

I have it on authority from Walter himself that these are the last of the Roadburn 2010 audio streams, so get ‘em while they’re hot. I’ve kept up the best I can with what’s been posted from this year’s festival, but if you think there’s anything you might have missed, the whole collection of streams is available here. If you’re bored at work or have 55 or more hours to kill, they’re a great way to go.

The last two streams are Enslaved and Dream of an Opium Eater, which features Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, whose pretty mug accompanies this post.

Listen in good health:

Enslaved live at Roadburn 2010

Dream of an Opium Eater live at Roadburn 2010

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