The Taiwanese Melodic/Symphonic Black Metaliers of Chthonic have been around for over 15 years and with every new album they have been improving their music by huge leaps. “Takasago Army” marks the band’s latest release and it’s probably their strongest one to date. Having released their last two albums on Spinefarm records, the band has been taking advantage of better production values to deliver their crushing music to the masses.
While there are heaps of Symphonic Black Metal bands, there are only very few that can rock out the Erhu (traditional two-stringed instrument, similar to a violin) and deliver punishing tunes with it. The similarities to bands like Cradle of Filth (vocals and symphonic elements) are evident, but this extra traditional element adds that extra originality that bands need these days to be distinguished from the rest.
Symphonic Black Metal
In the very saturated genre of Atmospheric/Symphonic Black Metal is very hard to standout since most bands sound the same or just sound like shit. However, Astarium from Russia manages to create a positive impression due to the overall sound of their music: not too raw, not too brutal, not too fake (except for the drums). In “Dethroned of Impostor”, we are presented with 40 minutes of engaging music.
Being a one man band, Astarium is limited to using a drum machine (or similar) and this is probably the weakest element of the release, since when they go ape shit, they sound as fake as Pamela Anderson’s titties look. After the creepy opener intro, “Bloodshed Must Goes On” (some grammar check wouldn’t hurt before making the song titles), delivers a nice and brutal attack of fast ‘drums’, traditional guitar riffs and a combination of pseudo growls with pseudo shrieks. The music is very familiar to Limbonic Art (early) and even some hints of Mysticum, etc.
As we all know most one-man bands suck, with a very few exceptions they are just outlets for untalented people to produce what they call ‘music’. Going with this notion, I was gladly surprised by the quality of Astarium’s music, a one-man band from Novosibirsk, Russia. Getting strange looking envelopes from far away places in the world is one of the thrills of working for Infernal Masquerade and this time, the envelope also delivers good music (something that is not the case at least 50% of the time).
“Invasion to Forbidden” is the latest EP from this Symphonic/Atmospheric Black Metal band that while not having the best sound quality or musical equipment, it can surely create a eerie atmosphere and deliver 16 minutes of creepy as shit Black Metal.
After their monumental “Wreath of Thevetat”, Finland’s best Symphonic/Melodic Black Metal band Alghazanth returns with a very interesting offering titled “Vinum Intus”. In three years between releases, the band has managed to fuse new elements into their sound and will surely take by surprise a lot of people, but they still manage to deliver a crushing release.
The album starts off very rudimentary with the straight forward track titled “A Living Grace”. In this song you can immediately notice a simpler and less bombastic sound from the band, but equally cold and raw than before (and other Finish bands like Sargeist and Horna). The keyboard hints are a nice atmospheric element added to this song. The band gets a bit more comfortable and melodic with “With a Thorn in Our Hearts”, some guitar riffs even remind us of Celestia and their melancholy Black Metal style.
It’s been a while since we get the ‘holy shit’ look after listening to a release coming from an unsigned band, and recently Veneficum’s “In Tranquil Absurd” changed that. With a monumental Symphonic Black Metal sound, this American band managed to blow us away after a couple of songs. And while Veneficum does not have the budget to create the expensive orchestrations that bands like Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir are capable of, they do manage to create an epic orchestral atmosphere using synthesizers.
Before you start thinking that we will talk about another clone band that is just trying to capitalize on what CoF and Dimmu have already done, you should give Veneficum a try and verify for your self that they are a quality band with an imposing sound. With the atmosphere being the main ‘attention grabber’, the band also shows great amount of skills in terms of cohesive songwriting, and ridiculously precise execution.
In their two albums after their 2006 reformation, Limbonic Art has managed to tarnish their legacy created by impressive releases such as “Moon in the Scorpio” and “In Abhorrence Dementia”. “Phantasmagoria” is one of said albums, and with this release we can only hope that the band changes their name or goes back to sleep once more.
In another attempt at creating something ‘impressive’ the ‘band’ fails miserably and creates another sub-par release from what once was from Limbonic Art. “Phantasmagoria” features well over one hour of pointless and direction-less songs that will only cause Black Metal fans to cringe track after track, since this release will give you a headache similar to the ones you get by listening to pure static for 6 hours.
Beating on the same dead cat for the last decade, today we have Cradle of Filth and their latest release “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa”. As you can expect, this release is as consistent as their last few, not bad, not great, and just average enough to keep the band’s fans pleased for a couple years. Continuing where they left of with “Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder”, CoF has crafted 11 songs of their trademark Symphonic Black Metal.
It’s interesting to see that a band that pushed the envelope so much in the 90’s, has been very stagnant when it comes to add anything else into their music. While we don’t complain much about ‘sticking to what works’, we are getting tired of CoF re-doing what they did on their previous album every time.
Just when many people thought that Dimmu Borgir will never be as good as in their “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant “ and “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”, we get “Abrahadabra”, another masterpiece from this Norwegian band. While the band’s musical quality had considerably decreased with “In Sorte Diaboli” and “Death Cult Armageddon”, they come back in full swing with an impressive symphonic masterpiece that puts almost everything that Mustis “wrote for the band” to shame.
While many people will be crying and bitching about the Cradle of Filth comparisons, or that this album is too symphonic, blah, blah, blah, WE have to say that this is highly impressive stuff. The orchestration behind this release is, for lack of a better expression, ridiculously impressive. Everything sounds just right and helps build up a brilliant atmosphere that feels like a John Williams soundtrack on top of the traditional Dimmu Borgir sound. We have to recognize that Mustis did a good job before (especially in “Puritanical…”) but this is just ten steps ahead. With Gaute Storaas doing the orchestration of this album, he greatly helps in creating a truly diabolically haunting atmosphere (better than on “Death Cult Armageddon”).
When we where thinking where the hell have we heard of this band before, it immediately hit us that the band had a song (“Black Leather Cult”) in the epic “The Holy Bible” compilation album of Holy Records back in 1996. Fast-forward almost 14 years and, several releases and a brief break up and we have Nighfall back with only one of the original members: Efthimis Karadimas, now only on vocals.
“Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants” marks a very impressive release of this Greek band on Metal Blade Records. Since you start listening to this album, you immediately know that it will surely be an interesting experience. With a very interesting Melodic Black/Death Metal sound, the band quickly brings back of some of their older releases on Holy Records, because of the odd combination of powerful riffs, different vocals (clean and growls), and the elevated us of keyboards.
Abigail Williams, one of the most promising North American bands is back with “In the Absence of Light”, a very dominant second full-length release. After tons of line-up changes, and loosing the very talented Ashley Ellyllon to Cradle of Filth, the band manages to maintain some of its bombastic sound from before and unleashes a guitar-driven Symphonic/Melodic Black Metal attack unlike any other band in North America has ever done before.
Before people start hating on this band, we will mention that they do sound like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, etc, etc, etc, and that the band did have some ‘American’ Deathcore/Metalcore influences. However, the band with “In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns” did craft some pretty nifty Symphonic Black Metal songs that are only rivaled by their European counterparts. The band also sounded completely different to the whole USBM scene since AW used a more symphonic and ‘European’ sounding style. Because of these reasons we do respect and actually like (very much) AW and their powerful sound.