Condor: El Valle del Condor (2018)
Bogotá’s Condor have been on the radar as one to watch ever since their debut ‘Nadia’ dropped back in 2013. Since then they have released three more LPs of consistent quality, and a slow but sure musical evolution has taken shape; demonstrating a talent and an ambition to be just a little bit different. The music itself orbits around melancholy death/doom metal, but transcends the tag in many ways. Condor do not shy away from flourishes of everything from black metal to power metal and plenty of neoclassical passages thrown in for good measure. The cover-art for each of their albums calls to mind children’s fairy tales. The perfect complement to this deeply contemplative music, with lyrics that ruminate on national identity and loss.
Poor production has been a barrier for many when approaching the music of Condor, and admittedly their first two releases were mired in demo quality tracks that do not do justice to this epic and mature metal. But for the determined, one can see flashes of magic beneath the noise. Their latest LP ‘El Valle del Condor’ released in November 2018 sees them further shed these superficial shortcomings whilst further developing their irresistible brand of doom metal.
Any sound engineer will tell you that drums are the hardest thing to mix. This is particularly true of music where the drums are so integral to the sound, oftentimes treated as a lead instrument as much as they are metronome; as with jazz and the more extreme genres of metal. On previous works this has been one of the main detriments holding Condor’s music back from really shining. This has been cleaned up a great deal on ‘El Valle del Condor’, and we are left to enjoy the sheer no nonsense creativity of Condor’s melodic, mournful riffs.
Broadly speaking their music is melodic doom metal. But there is much besides worked into the mix, to the point where this could be called a melting pot of different shades of metal. All this is worked together under the discipline of these musicians to form a cohesive whole of melodic, neoclassical metal informed by baroque and folk music as much as it is thrash or black metal. Vocals are a high pitched, distorted shriek akin to Martin van Drunen with slightly more emotion worked in. They contribute to the sense of loss that Condor’s music sometimes invokes. Of a past or a childhood never to be found again. Look to Newcastle’s Horrified for a very similar experience from the UK.
If you look past the superficial shortcomings in all four of Condor’s LPs thus far, you will be rewarded with refreshingly original metal. So far they haven’t put a foot wrong creatively, being an apparently bottomless well of ideas. Never shying away from the different musical techniques and styles, all are put to the service their music, and each release has an unmistakably style unique to Condor.
Siete Lagunas: I & II (2018)
Colombia’s Siete Lagunas are the brain child of Francisco Fernández López and Antonio Espinosa Holguín of Condor; their black metal side project. Formed back in 2017 their two rough demos have been brought together this year into one release by La Caverna Records, simply entitled ‘I & II’ (2019). As you would expect from the pedigree, this is first and foremost passionate and sorrowful black metal as much as it is aggressive. The tracks are of demo quality, but unlike Condor this is less of a detriment to the finished product.
Although the riffs are richly intricate and melodic, they are mostly tremolo strummed (mostly). This allows them to turn the poor production values to their advantage. The music of Condor is complex and delicate, and would benefit from more clarity. But the blasting yet melodic black metal of Siete Lagunas transforms the grainy static into rich layers of atmosphere. There are thrashy numbers to be found here too, akin to early Bathory, but again, these musicians are attuned to the appeal of unadulterated primitivism at the heart of black metal.
The other curious thing to note is how short these tracks are. The first handful taken from ‘Demo I’ barely clock in at over a minute, but still manage to pack in plenty of decent riffs without being cluttered. Although these micro-songs are unquestionably raw black metal, structurally it almost feels like grindcore. ‘Demo II’ is also made up of a collection of black-metal-in-miniature tracks. Stylistically the music harks back to pre-1990 black metal, ditching the tremolo strumming and going for a thrashier approach with more maniacal vocals.
Make no mistake though, this is not beginners black metal. This is demo quality even for the standards of a subgenre infamous for offering no olive branches to new listeners. The metal numbers are sometimes broken up by noise interludes which call to mind Burzum’s early demos. Uniquely atmospheric ambience created solely from guitar noise. Another segment of crossover appeal for shoegaze fans I guess.
One can hear the germinal of some really great black metal in these works. Here’s hoping an LP is in the offing for Siete Lagunas. In the meantime there’s much to enjoy for the black metal enthusiast within these demos.
Also available on La Caverna Records, two forgotten treasures of death metal
Crucifixion: Paths less Taken/ Raising the Dead rerelease (1998)
Crucifixion are another lost gem from the gold era of death metal. Hailing from Houston Texas, they had a good eight year run back in the mid-1990s that saw two solid LPs before they threw in the towel. They would have been consigned to the history books had the good people at La Caverna Records not resurrected this work and re-released it for our listening pleasure. This compilation brings together Crucifixion’s second album, ‘Paths Less Taken’ (1998) along with a selection of demo versions of the same songs entitled ‘Raise the Dead’.
Crucifixion bring together a number of threads of North American death metal on this second album, the most obvious being that good old bastion of brutality, New York’s Suffocation. The vocals certainly owe a debt to Frank Mullen, being of the same highly aggressive death metal bark. The guitar tone is very reminiscent of ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’, and the approach to riffs is of a similar mechanical yet technical leaning. This heavily distorted guitar sound underpinned by crystal clear drums allows for enough clarity for the riffs to shine in the faster passages, and allows enough space for Crucifixion to really develop slower, melodic doom passages.
And this is where they diverge from these much loved New Yorkers. Atonal technical death metal is interwoven with remarkably melodic guitar leads, leant more complexity thanks to increased use of dynamics more common to progressive metal. And this leads us on to the other main inheritance apparent in ‘Paths Less Taken’, that of progressive death metal. The obvious influences come from the likes of Cynic, later Death, and Pestilence. Crucifixion seem bent on extending out these passages until they dictate the entire mood and structure of the track.
This makes for a real treat for any fan of 90s death metal. Crucifixion have not re-invented the wheel in their marriage of two distinct approaches to death metal, but where they excel is blending these styles together into a cohesive whole, rather than shoving together two disparate approaches to death metal without connecting the musical dots (see Opeth).
Thrombus: Mental Turmoil rerelease (1993)
Further lending credence to the myth that 90s death metal is a bottomless pit of undiscovered gold is Oregon’s Thrombus, and their sole LP ‘Mental Turmoil’ (1993). Both in title and music, Thrombus are a less aggressive, more atmospheric version of Autopsy’s ‘Mental Funeral’ (1991). Relatively slow for death metal, this is directly informed by the likes of Celtic Frost and their penchant for doom, before death doom really took off thanks to the likes of Asphyx and Incantation.
I guess with the frequent call-backs to older, atonal death metal, blended with tritone play a-la Black Sabbath, and a healthy dose of rhythmic diversity, this is death metal’s equivalent to party music. I mean that in a good way mind, as for all my hints at this being derivative it is nevertheless fucking fun. I have no doubt it is meant in all sincerity as well, as the riffs are of a higher standard than a mere copout.
I cannot over state how much this sounds like Autopsy, right down to the vocals which – although helped along with additional reverb – are incredibly similar to Chris Reifert’s influential guttural sadism. For those such as myself who simply cannot get enough of old school death metal, ‘Mental Turmoil’ is well worth a listen all the same. You won’t get anything new out of it, save variations on the same themes we’re well used to in 2019, but Thrombus were masters of their craft. There is nothing but quality riffs and biting leads to be found here.
All these releases can be found at La Caverna Records at bandcamp, spread the love and stay tuned for more from our friends in Bogota.