By Nathanas Trismegistus

Vassafor – To the Death; released, on all formats, August 7, 2020 by (who else) Iron Bonehead Productions. Despite continuing to dwell in relative obscurity today, Vassafor has existed since the olden days – the strange aeons – of black metal. However, the New Zealand unit never released any music until 1997. After their first demo, imaginatively titled “Demo I”, the band split up, only to reform, in 2005, and release a second demo, also imaginatively titled “Demo II”. Vassafor would not release their first, proper full-length album until 2012, but the build-up to Obsidian Codex was marked by some concise, but interesting, EPs and a compilation, released by Dark Descent Records, which, I think, really put them on the map. After another vast gulf of time, Vassafor released their follow-up, Malediction, in 2017. And here we are, in 2020, with the third, full-length assault by the warrior-occultists; an oblique, diabolical deathmarch to bloodstained glory.

To describe Vassafor’s musical style merely as black/death would be inaccurate. There’s definitely a lot more going on here. Elements of doom and thrash (if you can believe it) also comprise the infernal landscape of Vassafor’s musical domain. Their riffing style is, of course, similar in nature to that of Black Witchery or Teitanblood; though, on this album the interplay of rhythm and lead guitars is more akin to what Teitanblood was trying to achieve with their latest release. The closest possible comparison I could make would be with fellow Kiwis, Diocletian. But, imagine if Diocletian wrote songs that were more melodic, far more varied, and considerably longer. Seriously Vassafor songs clock in anywhere from three-to-five-times the length of your average Diocletian track. One Vassafor track could contain all the movements of an entire Diocletian album and that’s not an exaggeration, I think. And the fact that Diocletian is far more popular than Vassafor is an injustice, in my opinion.

The opening – and titular – track expresses the premise of To the Death very well; it is dark, bellicose assertion of apocalyptic mysticism. Tracks 2 and 3 continue the trend of smothering anxiety. I would have said that To the Death was the most succinct and trimmed Vassafor album, simply due to the stellar pacing and brisk tempos, but track 4 does seem like ultimately pointless and redundant padding. Tack 5 has a vicious, aggressive attitude which I thoroughly enjoyed. Track 6 has a lecherous allure and discomfiting brightness to it, but the vocals are so qualitatively dissimilar that it is sort of distracting; though, this may be due to use of a guess vocalist (it’s anyone’s guess who it is). The closing track truly is a journey, and probably – between 2 and 5 – one of my favorite tracks. The only real departures I can detect in the style of this specific album are the weird, whispery vocal segments (when you listen to this album, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about) which are so sparse one might wonder why they even bothered to include them. Certain riffs do culminate in an almost Baroquian fashion. This is also probably Vassafor’s least discordant album, or, rather, the riffs in To the Death alternate more frequently. One might be tempted to call it meandering and aimless composition, but I think this is, perhaps, only true to a lesser extent than previous offerings by the band. I think the songs reach a satisfying conclusion even though the listener might not immediately understand what that conclusion is. The songwriting, overall, is rather complex and, as a result, can be inscrutable. But, upon repeat listens, the point becomes increasingly evident.

The main issue I have with the production quality of Vassafor releases is that they simply have too much low end. They are all just overloaded with echoey bass, particularly with the percussion. And I get that this is a conscious, artistic choice and I wouldn’t begrudge them for achieving the sound that they are aiming to achieve. It is very murky, oppressive, and claustrophobic; but, it’s just not that dynamic. Certain musical artefacts, some of its personality, just gets kind of lost in the bellowing drone, and that might put off a lot of potential listeners. As much as I loved Nyogthaeblisz’s debut last year, it had a similar problem, and I know VK (the guitarist/bassist/vocalist of Vassafor) mastered that album, so he’s probably solely responsible. To be fair, though, the guitar leads (which are solid throughout) do manage to shimmer through the dour mix; and when it works, it does work well. Also, that ever-elusive analogue warmth is certainly present; this album feels like my taint after a trek through a sweltering, tropical rainforest (in a good way).

This album is the sonic equivalent of an atomic eruption, violently ascending, rending the clouds, and eclipsing the stars with baleful, thermonuclear refulgence. I would put To the Death at the same level as Malediction. Maybe a little higher. Technically better on certain fronts, especially the songwriting. It is definitely longer; in fact, it is the longest Vassafor release to date (if you don’t count the cassette version of Obsidian Codex). Just over sixty-five minutes of seething, despair-inducing, apocalyptic black/death metal. It has been a while since I listened to Obsidian Codex, so I’d have to go back and listen to it again, but for the purpose of this review I’ll go on record as saying that To the Death is the best Vassafor release yet. It is, without a doubt, the best release, in its category, this year. If it were up against, say, last year’s Sammath release, or even Hellvetron’s, then this would probably only get the bronze medal. (I do wish Vassafor would take notes from Sammath’s production quality.) LEAGUES better than Diocletian’s futile effort, though. Excellent work, nonetheless. I’ll buy it. Highly recommended listening, essential listening for this year!

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Khthoniik Cerviiks – Æequiizoiikum; released July 17, 2020 by Iron Bonehead Productions. This is the sophomore album from the German trio (which is surprising given the complexity of some of the chords and harmonies present in their music). This album was not my first (third?) encounter with this band, nor was their first. My introduction to Khthoniik Cerviiks came in the form of their 2017 split with US-based band, Howls of Ebb (RIP)—their contribution titled “Voiidwarp”. (The significance of doubling the letter I’s which appear in their track and album titles is a mystery.) This, of course, prompted me to check out their other releases. Though I wasn’t too impressed by their older output, I am happy to give the band a second chance. And I am even happier to report that Æequiizoiikum exceeded my expectations.

Khthoniik Cerviiks’ 2015 debut, SeroLogikkal Scars (a copy of which I do own but I wouldn’t deign to guess how long it’s been since I gave it a spin), was a confused, muddled Frankenstein’s monster of an album, in my opinion. At one moment it was a hellish descent into a Marduk-esque black metal maelstrom; at others it was a Demilich- or Demigod-esque experimental surgery of off-kilter, technical death metal; and at other times it was an auspicious, Voivod-esque, progressive/thrash interstellar jaunt. It was really interesting, refreshing, and – dare I say – engaging; but, ultimately, it was an overwhelming clusterfuck. And maybe that’s impression it sought to achieve.

Æequiizoiikum is definitely an improvement—definitely a step in the right direction. This new album takes Khthoniik Cerviiks’ unique, arcane vision (known, perhaps, only to the band members themselves) and amplifies and refines it. There are definitely some bangers on this album. Tracks 3, 4, and 5 specifically stood out to me. Here we have yet another case of reversed sagging middle; the quality of the middle utterly eclipsing the beginning and the end. The last few tracks, I think, are really where this album falters. The tonal range on this album can really be quite staggering at times. The musical style apparent on this album, to which I’ve already alluded, is a pastiche of progressive thrash, technical death, and orthodox black metal. However, these elements are all reigned in to a degree which is far more palatable and stylistically coherent than ever before achieved by Khthoniik Cerviiks. Æequiizoiikum is just as unpredictable as their first album, but without leaving the listener exhausted and bewildered. The lyrical content, I can only assume (because I have not yet read the lyrics), beneath its obvious references to science fiction, deals with the reliance on and obsession with technology, and the resultant intellectual degradative effect it has on the humans which created it.

If I had any complaints about this album, it would be the sound of the drums, as well as, to a lesser extent, its performance. The bass sound is very modern, clicky, and tech-deathy. The high-hat sounds excessively compressed and way too and prominent in the mix. At times, it seems like the high-hat is the only cymbal being hit And, I’m sorry, but it all just doesn’t sound real to me. I see Khthoniik Cerviiks brought on a new drummer this year. Did he perform on this new album? Did any drummer perform on this album? While I’m on the topic of production, though, the bass sounds great by itself, but is rendered rather emaciated when the full mix kicks in. The guitar tone I can see being a massive deterrent to the misguided fans of the trve kvlt/nekro sound who follow me and might be reading this review in search of bands which fit that mold. It is very mid-focused and trebly. I would consider it smooth, polished, and almost glass-like or not unlike some space-age, high-tech plastic; very much in keeping with a more modern metal sound and the band’s lyrical themes. (I would like to put forward the motion that this style of music be henceforth referred to as black/death polymer.) The overall production quality is vastly improved from other Khthoniik Cerviiks offerings. Whereas SeroLogikkal Scars sounded markedly anemic and hollow, Æequiizoiikum sounds vastly fuller and more dynamic.

Æequiizoiikum is a death-defying, superluminal slingshot maneuver around a supermassive black hole into spatial dimensions unknown. Definitely recommended for fans of Artificial Brain, Chthe’ilist, Demigod, Demilich, Gorguts, Mithras, Nocturnus, StarGazer, Timeghoul, Vektor, and Voivod. If you’re just getting sick of the typical black and death metal affair continuously getting cranked out this year, I would deem it essential. Obviously, not the heartiest of approbations, only because I don’t think Kthoniik Cerviiks necessarily does anything that some of the aforementioned, analogous bands haven’t done better already. Regardless, check it out and decide for yourselves.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Revenge – Strike.Smother.Dehumanize; released May 22, 2020 by Season of Mist, or, rather, Season of Mist’s redundant and utterly insipid “Underground Activists” sub-label. Seriously, I’ll never understand the significance or necessity of the distinction. But who cares? A new Revenge album! Or, at least, that’s what all the milquetoast, wannabe-underground, crater-dome, knuckle-dragging, super-stratum-dwelling, superficial, bullet belt-wearing, battle vest-bedecked poseurs have been clamoring for. The fleeting, unwashed masses have flocked around Revenge for one, very simple reason. Their music – while, superficially, abrasive and brutal – is vague enough in the subject matter of its lyrical content to be socially acceptable or politically correct; and, therefore, marketable. That’s why bigger labels, like Season of Mist, are willing to publish their content. That’s why mainstream metal magazines and websites are willing to endlessly sing their praises.

Revenge needs no introduction. Every hack internet music critic knows who Revenge is at this point. But for the average Joe Q. Public who may have accidentally wandered onto my blog, I will give you a concise biography. From the ashes of Conqueror – a beloved, underground Canadian war metal band comprised of Blasphemy guitarist, Ryan Förster (AKA “Deathlord of Abomination and War Apocalypse”) and Cremation drummer, James Read – Revenge was formed by the latter, but without the former. Their musical styles are similar enough that one could consider Revenge the only legitimate spiritual successor to Conqueror. It should be noted that the same sentiment could also be expressed about Death Worship as it possesses the same line-up as Conqueror. What can I say? The Canadian war metal scene – or Ross Bay Cult – is very incestuous in that regard.

Revenge’s music can be broadly described as war metal, or black/death metal. It is aggressive, fast-tempo, stampede of blast-beats and grinding, low-tuned guitars. What distinguishes Revenge from your garden-variety war metal band is J. Read’s ridiculously skillful and idiosyncratic percussion. It’s like if Hellhammer filled less with his double bass and more with his toms. In fact, I suspect that Revenge has only managed to coast by on J. Read’s drumming prowess and clout alone.

The problem I have with Revenge is not that I think their music is terrible. It’s that they’ve outlived their relevance as a band—as artists. The same, I think, could be said, in general, about the Ross Bay Cult. The scene might as well be dead. It’s essentially on life-support, sustained solely by certain parties (not naming any names, but you know who you are) who wish to capitalize on nostalgia and dupe useful hipster idiots, who are into “retro”, “underground” music, into purchasing a repress of or merch for a 30-year old album. Blasphemy can’t write any new material. Conqueror no longer exists. Any new music must be released, for some reason, by a proxy band with a different name and tedious variations or combinations of old line-ups. And Revenge (you know, the subject of this review) has to release the same album over and over again. Granted, they did attempt to diversify their sound with 2012’s Scum.Collapse.Eradication; but, I think, by the time Behold.Total.Rejection came out, in 2015, people had finally just had enough. People just got sick of buying and listening to the same album repeatedly. Just looking at these album covers and layouts Revenge seem to have mastered the process of commodifying and industrializing their own content. Every album looks, feels, and sounds the same, like a good, familiar cookie-cutter product should. The sound is so consistent throughout their career, in fact, that I have to wonder if they’ve been using the exact same gear to record their music for the last two decades.

The only microscopic, exiguous difference I can glean from Strike.Smother.Dehumanize is that they’ve dialed back the terrible, repetitive solos. The frenetic, chromatic, atonal solos which are emblematic of the genre appear only infrequently throughout this album; and, instead of bare, overdriven tone, they seem to be oversaturated with a modulated filter this time around. J. Read’s drumming sounds even punchier in this album, but that can be merely attributed to slightly bumping up the ratio knob on the compressor or limiter during mixing.

So, how did I feel about the album? Meh. That’s it. It’s like depersonalizing, eyes glazed over, awash with the harsh sound of your drill instructor harshly berating you for your failures at boot camp. If you ask me, Revenge peaked with Infiltration.Downfall.Death and probably should have ended with Scum.Collapse.Eradiaction. If you’ve already listened to either of those albums, then you’ve already heard Strike.Smother.Dehumanize. I can’t recommend this album only because I don’t wish to condone this sort of behavior. It’s not bad. It’s not the total rejection of originality that is Behold.Total.Rejection and it is marginally better than Scum.Collapse.Eradication. I won’t lie, I did find myself banging my head along every now and then. I’m not immune to the allure of Revenge’s infectious grind. In the end, though, it’s just tired and overplayed. Strike.Smother.Dehumanize is no more essential than any of Revenge’s other albums.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Necrobode – Sob o Feitiço do Necrobode (translates to “Under the Spell of the Goat Corpse”); released February 21, 2020 by Iron Bonehead Productions. Portugal, it seems, is trying to make a name for itself by distinguishing itself from the decidedly more popular Spanish black/death or bestial black metal scene. To forge its own path, so to speak. As is the case with this newcomer. Unfortunately, I do not believe they succeeded in their endeavor.

This is the band’s debut, although, I had listened to – and actually own a copy of – their demo, Metal Negro da Morte, which had more of that raw, aggressive energy and tone one would expect from such a band. It was, incidentally, also about the same length as this release. Sob o Feitiço do Necrobode is definitely more polished, strictly in terms of production, than their demo, which, in this case, unfortunately, does them no favors in this regard as the simplicity of their music and songwriting is laid bare for all to witness. It’s not that I expect complexity or intricacy from a bestial black metal band, but, in a genre as rampantly scaturient (and interminably expanding it seems) as this, you really need something to differentiate from the extensive list of near-identical bands. Trajeto de Cabra’s (despite the Portuguese name, the band is actually Canadian) forgettable release suffered the same fate last year, I think. Competition is fierce and you either leave an impression or join the countless forgotten bands in immemorial obsolescence.

 As I briefly mentioned, the songwriting is extremely basic. Common time (4/4) blast beats incessantly hammering away with bland, down-tuned, single-note, chromatic meanderings played over top. The bass is, of course, present and audible, adequately punching its way through the mix. The riffs do deign to, occasionally, enrapture the listener (as the title suggests), but not enough to justify the album as a whole. You will be tempted to nod along with head-bangers like tracks 1, 2, 6, 7, and 9 (which is admirable in a pathetic sort of way). Track 10 does end the album nicely with an ominous, monkish chant.

Overall, though I consider it a bit harsh for this album, Sob o Feitiço do Necrobode was just sort of mediocre. It was not terrible. It did not offend me. It did not anger me. I can’t even say that I’m ambivalent towards it. I feel nothing. It provoked little to no response from me. It’s a short release, so you won’t be wasting too much of your time by listening to it. It was certainly a valiant effort, but, if you’re looking to satisfy that bestial filth hunger, I would actually recommend you skip this one and go track down a copy of their demo. It’s more worthy of your time and money. Obviously, not essential.

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