quarta-feira, 26 de agosto de 2015

AHAB (GER) - The Boats of the Glen Carrig (CD, Napalm, 2015)

RATING: ****

Every time I listen to a new album from Ahab, the same idea occurs to me: they're coming closer to the shore they want to reach. They have been proud flagbearers of the funeral doom genre for over a decade, as you all know, and their music consistently progresses with every album - a tendency that "The Boats of the Glen Carrig" happily (well, gloomingly) confirms. Taking their inspiration from a novel written by William Hope Hodgson about a few survivors from a shipwreck who happen to meet with some definitely strange creatures, Ahab's 4th full-lenght album ultimately fails to conjure that indefinable feel of a band's crowning achievement - but it's far from being a problem, as a single listen will prove beyond doubt that they are sailing towards it and there's no stoping them at all.

The contemplative element of 2012's "The Giant" is obviously present here too, sometimes playing a decisive role in the proceedings. You simply won't be able to listen to the almost post-rock parts in "The Thing That Made Search" and take it as a simple moodsetter for the heavier segment, for instance: the intentions of the track are actually equally strong at the both ends of the spectrum. In fact, you have to search into this very gray area created by the contrast between (relatively) clear and (immensely) dark elements to understand what Ahab is trying to achieve. It gets particularly obvious when you take Daniel Droste's vocal delivery into consideration: he still owns a guttural voice that can make your windows shake, but his cleaner register is slowly but inexorably taking over. And it's not a bad thing, you know, as it enhances the atmosphere rather than softening it and brings some truly grandiose elements to the table. They are still to perfect the formula, that's for sure, as songs like "To Mourn Job" are a little bit too predictable for their own good - you will sure have figured out the album's formula by this point, and the explosions of doom rifferama of this particular track lack impact because of that.

But those among you who enjoy doom metal as funeral as it gets have nothing to fear, really. The overwhelming heaviness that is almost synonymous with Ahab is all over this new record, though many riffs are a bit more swift (perhaps "less crushingly slow" would describe it better) this time around. "Like Read Foam (The Storm)" deserves a mention, as it's easily the more upbeat song ever recorded by the group. On the other hand, "The Weedmen" is an immense triumph for Daniel Droste and Chris Hector, with no less than 15 minutes of swirling riffs that seem to have no beginning and no end, and I mean it in a good way of course. An effect that is enhanced by an excellent production job, that always highlight the right details to create an atmosphere that is consistently dense, sometimes even disturbing, but always quite impressive.

Maybe less tolerating doom metallers will miss the more typical (and less sophisticated) approach from the days of "The Call of the Wretched Sea" (2006), which is understandable to a certain degree. But even those who truly love the Ahab of old will probably agree that, despite being truly tremendous, the early recordings of the band are far more effective than original, playing relatively safe within the boundaries of their subgenre of choice. As time progressed, Ahab sailed beyond the mapped area of funeral doom's sea, and this journey finds in "The Boats of the Glen Carrig" its strongest chapter thus far. The Ahab of today is a stronger, more relevant entity that sounds like no one else and bear a flag all of their own. I'm sure they can do even better, and the shores of their magnum opus are still to be reached - but may the spirits of the ocean have mercy on us when they finally fulfill their doom-laden destiny.

Daniel Droste (V/G/K), Chris Hector (G), Stephan Wandernoth (B), Cornelius Althammer (D).

01. The Isle
02. The Thing That Made Search
03. Like Read Foam (The Storm)
04. The Weedmen
05. To Mourn Job
06. The Light in the Weed (Mary Madison)

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at drequon@gmail.com and let me know!

terça-feira, 18 de agosto de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Turn the Cross Upside Down (EP, Wave, 1984)


I suppose everyone will agree that "Fire in the Brain" was a huge achievement for Oz, taking this Finnish metallers several steps further in the European metal scene. Not that they became world beaters overnight, but the hopeless days of "Heavy Metal Heroes" were put far behind them and Oz looked and sounded like serious contenders from that point onwards. And what would you do after scoring such a magnificent goal, turning a seemingly hopeless scoreline around when no one was expecting it? You play safe, of course.

"Turn the Cross Upside Down" (the EP, that is) is basically an attempt to keep momentum going, not only by recycling two of the finest songs from their previous opus ("Search Lights" and "Gambler"), but also by giving pride of place to a new song that honoured their recent output while giving credible hints of what was to come. "Turn the Cross Upside Down" (the song) starts with pretty epic twin-guitar harmonies before launching into a fast-paced attack that is very likely to put your neck in almost instant motion. Still, it's fair to say they are a bit less frenzied this time around, keeping a fair dose of drive while taking a tad more conservative approach when it comes to speed. The lyrics are not a showcase of poetic subtlety, that's for sure, dealing with satanic imagery in an ultra-clichéd fashion, but the chorus is so damn catchy that you should not be surprised if it stick to your mind for days after listening to it - not that the singalong section towards the end would leave any room for doubt! The songwriting is pretty ingenious, and Ape DeMartini's voice is in great shape, so I must conclude this song turns out victorious in its bloody battle against the lordian guards, or whatever.

The huge impact of "Fire in the Brain" would not be fully replicated by any future releases from Oz - though this humble EP got its share of belated media attention at the early 90s, with some people hinting it was something of a soundtrack for Norway's Inner Circle while burning a few churches... Yeah, a pretty bizarre assumption indeed, but nevermind. In fact, they would slow but consistently slide off the track in future releases, ultimately failing to ever recapture the sheer energy of their strongest record. In retrospect, "Turn the Cross Upside Down" (the EP, and the song as well in a sense) is as short and sweet as "Fire in the Brain" managed to be, serving as a sort of final chapter for a very exciting period in the band's career - one that lasted little more than 30 minutes in total! A fitting way for a band like Oz to reach their pinnacle, if you ask me.

Ape DeMartini (V), Speedy Foxx (G), Spooky Wolff (G), Jay C. Blade (B/V), Mark Ruffneck (D).

01. Turn the Cross Upside Down 4:26
02. Search Lights 3:17
03. Gambler 3:14

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at drequon@gmail.com and let me know!

domingo, 9 de agosto de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Fire in the Brain (LP, Tyfon Grammofon, 1983)

RATING: *****

Some bands fail to impress, some bands improve, and some manage to overshadow their earlier efforts in a way that is even difficult to properly describe. No one who lend an ear for 1982's "Heavy Metal Heroes" - a lackluster semi-metal affair with redundant songwriting and a worryingly lack of musical enthusiasm throughout - could have the slightest idea on what was coming next for Oz. After some serious personnel changes, remaining members Eero Hamalainen (V) and Pekka Mark (D) reinvented themselves as Ape DeMartini and Mark Ruffneck, respectively, and infused new life to this Finnish outfit with the twin-guitar attack of Speedy Foxx and Spooky Woff (very mature nicknames, I know). But perhaps the most important change was the presence of Jukka Homi, who assumed all bass duties and the stage name of Jay C. Blade - and who also took to himself the responsibilities for songwriting, something that surely made a hell of a difference.

"Fire in the Brain" is not only a huge improvement on the hopeless mediocrity of their debut album: it's also one of the most intense and exciting records of the entire 80s metal scene, and I mean it. I don't know, maybe a good dose of self-criticism made them realize how uninspiring their previous effort was, and they decided to take the exact opposite road to the bitter end. Comparisons are few and far between: it sure has more than a flavour of NWOBHM to it, with Raven and perhaps Sweet Savage being the more obvious references, but it still has a maniacal element to their music which is all their own and precious few bands managed to achieve ever since. "Athletic metal", perhaps? It hits you hard, and then harder, and then even harder - almost like they mean it personally, almost like they're saying: "You wanted heavy metal, uh? Well, there you have it!"

Maybe "Fortune" is the closest reference to the early days of Oz, being much more hard rock than all-out metal - but it's still way more forceful and enjoyable than anything you can find on "Heavy Metal Heroes", so we're really dealing with a whole different entity around here. "Black Candles" is also a less hard-hitting number, being far more eerie and morbid than the rest of the songs. It showcases a somewhat ritualistic vibe, evoking images of a black mass with almost disturbing efficiency. This is also one of the finest performances of singer Ape DeMartini, so it's not like this song's less-frenzied approach is disappointing or anything: actually, it's one of the finest moments of the entire album.

But we're all here for the fast tunes, right? And oh man, there's a strong enough dose of those to really set your head on fire. The second half of "Fire in the Brain" is a particularly relentless assault, with virtually no time to breathe between tracks - not that I'm complaining about that, of course. Naming highlights is almost an exercise in futility, as the standard is pretty high throughout, but I just love the way "Gambler" (an instant classic, you listen to it once and you'll never forget it, believe me) metamorphoses into "Stop Believing", with perhaps the best rifferama of the entire album (the score the guitars play during the chorus is particularly impressive). Not that you should skip "Search Lights", "Fire in the Brain", "Free Me, Leave Me" or any other song - and not that you will ever want to (I'm positive you won't). No fillers, no prisoners taken, just unapologetic heavy metal to die for.

Don't bother that much with individual songs anyway: the most important asset of "Fire in the Brain" is its exhilarating drive, a true flood of sheer energy that grabs you by the neck and just won't let go. These guys are not interested in conjuring a wide range of emotions: they want you to headbang from start to finish, until you cause some serious neck trauma to yourself - perhaps it's the way they found to fucking kill you, who knows? These guys are insane, I tell you. And that's why this LP is so short, running for a little more than 27 minutes in total: you just wouldn't survive if it was longer. "I'm the fastest, loudest, I'm the greatest - I am the best!", screams Mr. DeMartini at the very end of "Megalomaniac", and I don't think they leave much room for doubt here. Any self-respecting headbanger should add a copy of this one to his or her collection - if you still don't have it, ask no questions and go get it straight away.

Ape DeMartini (V), Spooky Woff (G), Speedy Foxx (G), Jay C. Blade (B/BV), Mark Ruffneck (D).

All songs written by Jay C. Blade, except 2 and 5 by Jay C. Blade / Spooky Wolff.

01. Search Lights
02. Fortune
03. Megalomaniac
04. Black Candles
05. Gambler
06. Search Lights
07. Free Me, Leave Me
08. Fire in the Brain

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at drequon@gmail.com and let me know! 

sábado, 8 de agosto de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Heavy Metal Heroes (LP, Tyfon Grammofon, 1982)


Some bands take a while to fulfill their promises, as I'm sure you all know. I mean, you don't have to go further than Judas Priest or Deep Purple to find some conclusive evidence that the first album may not always be as groundbreaking as we would like it to be. Sometimes things need time to mature. The Finnish underground legend Oz took their first collective steps to stardom (well, sort of) in rather unauspicious terms with "Heavy Metal Heroes" - an LP that sounds even more pale and unsusbstantial compared with the sheer energy of its sucessor, the immensely enjoyable "Fire in the Brain".

They were a pretty different band of course. Kari Elo (G) and Tauno Vajavaara (B) are competent enough, but both seem to be far away from home in a heavy metal essemble, if you know what I mean. Come on, just take a look at the original front cover and you'll see some seriously non-metallic looks there. They never sound heavy, their contributions never bring any real dynamics to the table, and their lack of enthusiasm is contagious for all the wrong reasons. Pekka Mark (D) keep the beat and not much else, and Eero Hamalainen (or The Oz, his slightly ridiculous stage persona at the time) makes no perceivable effort to liven up such cheerless instrumentation, singing like he's in a boring job and it's only Wednesday afternoon. It was probably a career-saving decision that the latter two became Mark Ruffneck and Ape DiMartini and decided to start things over almost from scratch, as I seriously doubt Oz would ever raise any eyebrows without reinventing themselves as they did.

As for the songs, I think opening track "Hey You" gives a credible warning on what's to come. It's not exactly bad, but how are you supposed to feel electrified when the riffs are played with no heaviness, the singer just mutter the lyrics with zero passion, and the supposedly sing-along chorus is as exhilarating as spending 45 minutes stuck in a traffic jam? It's a particularly frustrating state of affairs, because it's clear for all to hear that the song could fare way better if played with just a little more enthusiasm. You can easily identify NWOBHM as an influence for early Oz, but it's nothing like Raven or Iron Maiden, being way more akin to the hard rocking side of that spectrum - and not a very rapturous one on emulating that, readers take note. A similar verdict can be applied to tunes such as "Capricorn Man", "Second Hand Lady", "Rather Knight", "In the Chains" and so on. There's not a single track that would stick out as particularly bad, but there's no redeeming songs around here either: all we have is a 33-minute ride through tepid, uninteresting semi-metal mediocrity.

That all said, please don't choose this record as an introduction to Oz, as you'll probably dismiss it straight away and risk missing out on at least one excellent album ("Fire in the Brain") and another pretty decent one ("III Warning") by doing so. You wouldn't reccommend anyone to get familiar with Judas Priest by listening to "Rocka Rolla", right? "Heavy Metal Heroes" is one for completists, for those who already love these Finnish maniacs for what they did best and are curious to learn more.

Eero "The Oz" Hamalainen (V), Kari Elo (G), Tauno Vajavaara (B), Pekka Mark (D).

01. Hey You
02. Call from Your Eyes
03. Runnin' the Line
04. Rather Knight
05. Saturday Night
06. Second Hand Lady
07. In the Chains
08. Capricorn Man

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at drequon@gmail.com and let me know!