Dissecting 2013

2013 was quite the year for Enslain Magazine, taking us on a plethora of awesome adventures from the frosty mountains of Dovre to the dingy alleys of Bucharest and the sunny shores of Zadar.  Most importantly, it saw the release of a new print issue, bearing the number 11.  A lot of thought was put into making the magazine thematic yet varied, colorful yet coherent – summing up our most significant experiences and passions from the last couple of years in all things metal.  We’d like to think it turned out pretty nice.

While Ossi took a more prominent role than before in the forging of the new issue, ascending to a position one might call “co-editor,” we had the honor and delight to take in some new blood as well.  With the launch of the Enslain blog, Kari joined the fold, mainly providing interrogations with groups he deems best in cruelties of death and doom, and more recently, Tommi stepped in as a record review contributor.  Welcome to Hell, dudes, let’s make 2014 the best one so far.  Anyway, as clichés dictate, here’s our wrap-up of last year, with each of us listing the five top dogs in releases, as well as the most decimating live experience endured [except Tommi, who thought that pretty much all gigs he saw last year sucked balls].

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Lady Enslain:

With such a constant stream of gigs and festivals proliferating, I often find it difficult to stay in the loop of new releases, being that my auditory nerve is disposed already to monstrous amounts of new music.  That being said, I did make a conscious effort this year to go excavating for precious metals, and some gems were surely unearthed, adding richness to the ever-growing collection.

I bypassed adding a couple of obvious contenders to this list – like Amorphis’s Circle, Dark Tranquillity’s Construct and Rytmihäiriö’s Todellisuuden mestari – partially because these newest efforts, though solid and in heavy rotation in the Enslain household, were more or less unsurprising.  I went instead for the ones that came up from behind with a tight chokehold on my throat, screaming into my soul and refusing to let up.  Those are the albums that made 2013 remarkable.

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Ereb Altor: Fire Meets Ice (Cyclone Empire)
While several of the bands on my list are awakening from their lengthy slumbers, these guys just seem to spew out annual perennial productions, as if they can just haphazardly meander into the studio, discharge their pent up doom riffs, and discover they’ve done it again. Fire Meets Ice continues where the previous attempt left off, having more of the black metal flavor than their beginnings – which were perhaps too indistinguishable from the lads’ epic doom counterpart Isole – while this opus more seamlessly incorporates the myriad elements into an inseparable and defining concoction. As the appellative suggests, the album is a delicate balancing act of opposites; vocals that alternate between striking hymnal cantillations and ripping chasmic roars, accessible and Viking-oriented anthems polarized with crushing and smothering enslavery. This release ticks all the right boxes, and really suggests a reinventing or discovery of identity; and I’m really liking what I’m hearing. Not to mention, I could listen to a full album of the brief intro, whose introspective and gentle Throes of Dawn reminiscent piano melody just melts my insides.

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Eternal Tears of Sorrow: Saivon lapsi (Massacre Records)
When I think about my initial intent for relocating to Finland, it was precisely for greater exposure to music like this – keyboard-enriched luxuriously embellished melodic death at its most proficient. Yet, I found the flame of Finnish Metal excitement quickly fading into a dull flicker, diminished by cheap imitations, overemphasized instrumental masturbation, and humorously trivializing folk overtones. Enter Saivon lapsi, which solitarily reignited this escaping passion by making it all consequential once again. That melancholic Northern drama is recreated with the austere ambience of the keyboards and the exquisitely sad acoustic passages, which teeter totter with the high-neck chugging riffs and soaring leads that elevate the mood to one of cautious sanguinity. The enchanting and competent clean vocals are minimized for effect, leaving the majority of the music the accompaniment of surprisingly low and gurgly growling. Dreamlike and heavy on emotion, Saivon lapsi shows compositional prowess and a gentle reverence for their music and identity. Now, is it too much to ask to play a gig once in a while, for fuck’s sake, since I came all this way for that express purpose?

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Extol: s/t (Indie Recordings)
Extol has been tremendously important to me ever since their first full-length Burial hit the streets 15 years ago, but not being as active as a fanatic as myself may have desired, their recent break left us without a new attempt since 2005. This, along with numerous stylistic transformations and line-up reformations throughout the years, left my faith in this self-titled effort in serious question; a significant amount of inspiration and a clear, singular vision would be essential to allow this record a respectable place in their modest but genre-shattering collection. Well, fortune smiled upon me, and their very personal vision remained safely encrypted within this musically proficient, compositionally hyperaware, dynamically-designed release of sophisticated melodic metal. Their familiar and inimitably complex note progressions find a modified string here, and while increasingly progressive, they manage to present this without going beyond my reach, nor neglecting tremolo picking, occasional djent riffs, and varied extreme metal influences. And Peter Espevoll once again delights with his saintly voice – arguably one of metal’s finest – along with distortedly annunciated growls. Now it just remains to be seen when their crowdfunded film will reach our desktops.

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Magister Templi: Lucifer Leviathan Logos (Cruz Del Sur Music)
As a reviewer, I’ve found the modern system of digital promos to be daunting and unappealing on so many levels, lacking the tangibility and anticipation the real deal used to provide, and I nearly stopped paying them any mind at all. Then I happened across the promo debut of Magister Templi, an altogether unfamiliar band that evaded my typical criteria for discovering new tunes. Playing doom in the heavy/occult persuasion, the none-too-complex songs were nearly overburdened by somewhat adolescent vocals, and were wrapped up in a retro-style unpolished production. Yet, I downloaded it with an odd note to myself: actually almost cool. Two full playbacks later, I found myself falling, like Lucifer, into their mind-relegating abyss, coaxed by the ambitious and unadulterated voice of Abraxas d’Ruckus – with his cleanly soaring and intriguing vocal melodies coating the appropriate yet entirely non-derivative lyrical themes. This, coupled with enslavingly memorable and expertly arranged riffs, drowned out any reservations I may have had, and a chance encounter with their live manifestation in Norway solidified the blip this band had on my radar into a full-blown storm of blinding light.

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Omnium Gatherum: Beyond (Lifeforce Records)
Since coming to Finland, Omnium Gatherum has been one of the bands whose gigs I endeavor to never neglect, as they’ve proven themselves again and again to be entertaining, engaging, and explosive on stages of all sizes. The enigmatic element of the equation has been deciphering why their recordings never quite enacted their magic on me. This is where I found Beyond to come in and finally elevate these world-class performers into a serious, multi-dimensional powerhouse of unfettered melodic emotionality and thoughtful musicianship. Shedding the charming innocence of earlier attempts, this release reveals a sophistication in composition and an awareness in their identity that has taken them far beyond their humble beginnings and into the next sphere of cognition.

 

Honorable mentions:

Shade Empire came out of left field with their newest sordid symphony Omega Arcane, but will still require several more concentrated efforts on my part to absorb the rich and complex stew they’re serving. Germany’s most genuine Scandinavia-worshippers Agathodaimon came forth with another slab of juicy, prime meat, yet failed to maintain that level of consistency in their musical conception. Having just days ago discovered the new release of Britain’s progressive BM outfit Code, I may find the as-yet undigested material retroactively appending to this list. Tribulation’s sophisticated sophomore effort The Formulas of Death knocked me to the decay-drenched ground, but didn’t engage and enrage me as much as the releases making it my top echelon. And to not neglect the homeland, or the hometown for that matter, Philadelphia’s Woe have further developed their multifaceted and limitless alteration of black metal with their newest effort, yet sometimes – in their eager experimentation – cross into ecosystems I’m not sure I can adapt to.

Gig of the year: Before the Dawn, Black Sun Aeon, Routasielu @ Finlandia-klubi, Lahti, February 23

Though I found out later that BtD actually did perform a number of pre-agreed international dates after this announced “finale” gig, this abrupt and debatably pre-mature act of mass capital punishment served as a hometown farewell for many impassioned fans and friends – from both far and wide – of Tuomas Saukkonen’s then-active bands. There I mourned not having had a chance to get deeper into Routasielu, not knowing what would become of Black Sun Aeon and Routasielu’s pure-voiced incantator Mikko Heikkilä, and not having attended so many Before the Dawn appearances, presuming there’d always be another just around the corner. The night was significant, somber, and sobering, leaving few dry eyes at the alumni’s visibly emotional outpourings.

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Ossi Turpeinen:

Compiling a list of the past year’s topmost releases is an excruciating task, as there’s too much tremendously enjoyable music coming out all the time for one mind to keep track of – especially when your taste is as all over as mine.  I often find myself catching up with even familiarly reliable bands’ latest efforts way after the release – not to even mention the numerous new discoveries I make in preparation or in the aftermath of live shows – so two years from now, my 2013 faves might be quite different…  But in the end, whether you impatiently download the album months before the release date or randomly pick up a used copy at a flea market decades afterwards, the finest works of art are timeless, and basking in their divine glow gives my existence as much of a meaning as I need.  Cut the pompous bullshit, here’s some of my soundtrack for the dead and gone 2013.

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Akitsa: Arraché à la mort, forcé à vivre et mourir à nouveau
(Tour de Garde/Hospital Productions)
I hadn’t been keeping track of the latest endeavors of these Canadian purveyors of primitivity until finding myself compelled to check out the duo’s latest split releases prior to their Finnish live debut at Black Flames of Blasphemy. This side of the LP they shared with Ash Pool quickly reminded me of the reason for my initial fascination towards the band, piercing my ears with wonderfully ripping rawness and majestic minimalism. Take simplistic mid-tempo black metal, add in determined RAC-style bulldozing, and blend with hostility in the spirit of Absurd’s finest/worst moments; voilà, excellence is served.

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Bölzer: Aura (Iron Bonehead Productions)
This Swiss duo didn’t enter my realm of perception until I heard that we’d be seeing them live in Norway, and already after a brief sonic inspection online, I knew I had come across something exceptionally impressive. The band capture that foreboding aura that so many are after in black and death metal, but so few are able to reach and vomit forth to the listener these days, and bind it together with crushing heaviness. With unusual, mesmerizing riffs, varying tempos and a voice ranging from invocatory clean wails to cavernous growls as their weaponry, Bölzer conjure up an aural abyss of devouring malice and captivating dread.

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Nothing More to Eat: s/t (independently released)
NMTE’s extremely energetic and entertaining gigs had made me hungry for another recorded dose of their catchy casserole baked out of grind, hardcore and metal, and early 2013 brought a whole 25-minuter of this saliva-inducing yumminess to my dining table. These 14 varied and personal compositions carry the band’s wild and genuinely fun vibe throughout the disc, and are packed with groove, rage and catchiness that should make you wanna start jumping all over the friggin’ walls.

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Sleep of Monsters: Produces Reason (KHY Suomen Musiikki Oy)
Despite not really dwelling in the realm of metal, Produces Reason easily claimed its spot in the frontline. While vocalist Ike Vil’s previous involvement in the iconic Babylon Whores was my motivator for lending an ear to SOM’s debut, this new outfit has its own hooves to stand on as well. I can’t help but compare the two, though. SOM’s bony arm isn’t rocking the cradle in as straight-forwardly heavy and forceful a manner as the Whores’, but has a slightly gentler touch – a more accessible and gothic one, perhaps. However, occasional wanderings into trippier scenes of beauty add a pleasant pinch of obscurity, and along with Ike’s grimly charismatic voice and familiarly unfamiliar lyrical esoterica, keep the footing firmly on the darker side of things.

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Speedtrap: Powerdose (Svart Records)
Having already left a smoking hole in the ground on my heavy metal map with their two previous shorties, Speedtrap’s first full-length was a long-awaited effort that met my high expectations with its blazing, relentless force.  Memorably crafted songs shine with turbocharged guitarwork and intense vocals executed clean and high, perfectly living up to the keywords already contained within the moniker and the album title.  No wonder the band has received hype up to mainstream media in Finland, as Powerdose is an explosive package of traditional yet deliciously fresh-sounding metal that’s bound to make fists clench and heads bang.

 

As you might notice, my listing is dominated by debuts, as that’s when a band has the best opportunity to grip you by the throat and make a life-lasting impression, if you ask me.  Rytmihäiriö’s Todellisuuden mestari received a shitload of rotation in the household, but it’s not like them releasing another kick-ass album was an exciting surprise.  Beastmilk’s Climax proved to be as absorbing as hyped with its cold and apocalyptic post-punk, but hardly needed another inch of exposure.  The Crescent’s Risti continued Enochian Crescent’s legacy with burning fervor and shining originality, but was slightly short of a classic as a whole.  Marking a noteworthy stylistic change towards traditional doom metal, Moss’ Horrible Night felt almost like a debut, and pulled me deeper into the depths than any other representative of the genre has in a considerable while.  Young outfits like (Psychoparalysis), Nuclear Omnicide and Solothus brought their first full-lengths into the light, showing talent and promise.  The list could go on and on, so I guess it wasn’t a bad year after all.

The most horrifying highlight on stage: Repulsion @ Hammer Open Air (Mannin navetta, Lieto, July 20)
While my top-5 of albums might’ve presented a few less usual culprits, for my favorite gig of the year, I have to go with something safely obvious.  Still almost 25 years after its release, Repulsion’s Horrified is the ultimate grindcore album, and seeing their reunited asses putrefying on stage has been one of my primary gig goals for a few years already.  My somewhat massive expectations were met with an insanely intense razorblade tornado of glorious ugliness, leaving survivors speechlessly gasping for air in the wake of one of the most destructive live shows possible.

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Kari Kankaanpää:

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Coffins: The Fleshland (Relapse Records)
When I heard the first song from the preceding Coffins EP with Ryo on vocals, I knew something awesome was on its way.  I wasn’t wrong.  Their sound hasn’t evolved too much, but why tweak something that is perfect already?  And so, if you love Coffins, you will most likely love everything they have done: the overly putrid guitar sound with wicked grooves, the crushing doom parts… Even though I loved Uchino’s vocals on earlier albums, Ryo adds a whole new gear.  Sadly, he left the band after recording The Fleshland, so we shall see how the new singer will work.  Anyway, brilliant album from a consistently brilliant band!

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Sulphur Aeon: Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide
(F.D.A. Rekotz/Imperium Productions)
Sulphur Aeon was one of those bands that I hadn’t heard before – not a single song – but I just thought “this band has a cool name, need to check them out!” But after hearing this album, things became clear to me; these Germans mean business! Such strong and pounding death metal, with an overall sound that’s heavy and with enough hooks to keep you in its deadly grasp until the very end.

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Concrete Icon: Perennial Anguish (Black Vulture Records)
Another debut album that blew me away. Concrete Icon was already familiar to me from their solid EP’s, but with this first full-length effort, things just get more varied and even stronger. From blasting parts to creepier, doomier riffs, these guys keep it together flawlessly, making them by far one of the finest bands in my hometown of Turku. If the opportunity presents itself, don’t miss the chance of witnessing their truly powerful live performance!

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Uncoffined: Ritual Death and Funeral Rites (Memento Mori)
Yet another one of those bands whose debut hit me like a fist to the jaw. When I received the album in a trade with the lovely drummer-vocalist Kat Shevil, I was certainly not prepared for this. Uncoffined deliver crushing death/doom metal to the bone, keeping things damn rotten, dirty and ugly. Six long, painful songs of horror and death.

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Autopsy: The Headless Ritual (Peaceville Records)
Autopsy is one of the few bands that have made a “dignified” comeback. They didn’t return from the grave with a half-assed album, though 2011’s Macabre Eternal was a bit too long in my opinion. With The Headless Ritual, things are more compact and crystalized. Insane leads and solos, unbelievably filthy vocals, and lots of rhythmic variation, from fast pummeling to slow and epic parts. They don’t come up with anything that new in the genre, but are masters at what they do. In my view, Autopsy is the best death metal band in the world, and they are truly back to butcher!


Honorable mentions:

Decaying: The Last Days of War (Hellthrasher Productions)
Krypts: Unending Degradation (Dark Descent/Me Saco Un Ojo Records)
Purtenance: Awaken from Slumber (Xtreem Music)
Civil War: The Killer Angels (Despotz Records)

Best live performance: Candlemass @ Hammer Open Air (Mannin navetta, Lieto, July 19)

For me, Candlemass is the ultimate. When I heard they would be co-headlining the summer’s Hammer Open Air with Mats Levén on vocals… oh boy, was that a dream come true!  Playing all the essential classics alongside some of the strongest songs from the final album Psalms for the Dead, I couldn’t have asked for much more.

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Tommi Ilmanen:

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Kauan: Pirut (Blood Music)
For you who aren’t familiar, Kauan is a group from Russia/Ukraine combining folk, doom metal and post-rock. And as the unexpected icing on the cake, their songs are written in Finnish. The master behind their art, Anton Belov, has always managed to carry out near-perfect albums, but now with a complete band behind him, Kauan has finally hit the bull’s eye. Pirut is a massive one-song opus featuring flamboyant riffs and epic melodies, spiced up with melancholy and beauty. Every time I listen to this, I find something new and compelling that makes me love the album even more. It’s impossible to portray Pirut adequately for somebody to really get what it’s all about… so get your ass off the couch, get the album, and submerge yourself in this masterpiece.

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Arckanum: Fenris Kindir (Season of Mist)
Where many other black metal bands turn to bland and dull remembrances of their past, Arckanum continues its glorious march with no compromises or servility. Fenris Kindir is a perfect example of what metal is intended to be; full of aggression, attitude and malevolent acts towards gods. “Fuck off!” says the back cover of the LP, and that is exactly what you should do if you can’t stand the restless death and all-devouring darkness that Arckanum represents.

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Urfaust: Die erste Levitation (Ván Records)
Who needs alcohol or drugs when you can listen to Urfaust? [We do! ~eds] The masters of psychedelic black metal and intoxication just blew my mind with this 7”, presenting one of the best releases they have ever made. As the sole track doesn’t really add anything new to their musical formula, it’s still a fine addition to Urfaust’s ever-growing line of releases; no need to change the recipe for one’s draft if the results are as tasty and scrumptious as this. Hope that they’re going to make a new full-length soon, as these one-song releases just make me even more thirsty!

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Deathchain: Ritual Death Metal (Svart Records)
After releasing their second, hard-hitting album Deathrash Assault, Deathchain’s weaker follow-ups showed them digging themselves so deep into the pit of the possessed (pun intended) that I was almost one hundred percent certain they wouldn’t be able to arise to their former splendor. But, lo and behold! Death Gods was unleashed from its unearthly slumber, and Deathchain made it back to the first class of death metal bands. So were they able to repeat the trick with their newest effort Ritual Death Metal? Not quite, but it’s still far superior compared to most of their catalog, and at the same time the best death metal release of 2013.

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Agnes Obel: Aventine (Play It Again Sam)
If you are the type who thinks that metal is the only music to listen to, just walk away. We’re talking about folk/pop now. There are times when you are fed up with blast beats and tremolo riffs, and giving your ear to that noisy growling and screaming just makes your head hurt. Then you simply have to surrender to this lady and her resonant piano, as Aventine must be the most beautiful piece of music that came out last year.

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