Prog-thrash rising stars OND are back with the timely new single ‘Carve’, which tells the tale of a pumpkin being carved…from the point of the view of the pumpkin. For a metal song that sincerely explores this subject matter, this about as good as it could possibly be. ‘Carve’ sees OND once again mixing straight faced humour with impressively tight progressive thrash metal. The track starts out at a breakneck pace, channelling classic Voivod and the Teutonic school in their ability to combine technical thrash riffs with an energy and fun often missing from American counterparts.
And just when you thought it was all over, they offer a dirgey breakdown that gradually and patiently builds into all out chaos. The tension and release offered by taking the track completely off the rails at the midpoint, before bringing things back around to the opening riff is incredibly well-executed. It’s a classic track structure for many styles of metal; whereby completely shifting the tone after the initial assault sheds new light on the opening riffs. Adding subtle variations and solos once the pace gets going again helps to achieve this sense of a journey taken. This is an integral element in the structure of much metal music.
The production is very slick. OND’s brand of technical thrash metal is one that lends itself to a crystal-clear sound to really capture the complexity and flourishes behind each riff. There are two vocal tracks, one set beneath the lead vocal line, with the voice altered to sound more demonic. This lends an extra level of sincerity to what is essentially a rumination on what a pumpkin would be thinking if it was carved for Halloween. If that sounds a bit ridiculous it’s because it is. But OND deliver this with such class and conviction that one cannot help but carried along by it.
There’s also a video to go with this single:
(Warning, contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing)
Venezuela’s Irillion return this year with their second EP ‘Fatanyu’. This is raw, atmospheric black metal with a few novel twists that elevate it above being yet another lo-fi quest in obscurity. One such element is the guitar tone, which is meatier than one would expect for atmospheric black metal; there are hints of the classic Swedish buzzsaw sound, which is combined with a light drizzling of static that populates the whole recording. This creates a unique vibe as this guitar tone is able to articulate the more intricate melodies whilst simultaneously carrying those extended tremolo picked sections. This shines through despite the production values being those of black metal at its most alienating.
Another novel element to ‘Fatanyu’ is taking the fairly standard flourishes of a Judas Iscariot say, and combing them with some unexpected influences from an older school of metal; one that calls back to the 1980s. Celtic Frost riffs along with some hints at black ‘n’ roll make an appearance, but they function is to compliment the elegant faster passages rather than dumbing down the experience. The result is surprisingly upbeat yet mournful black metal, invoking both joy and pathos in the listener through these subtle shifts in key and tone. Vocals are of the deep, guttural death metal variety, something that I always appreciate within the black metal framework. There’s nothing wrong with a shriek, sure, but it can be overdone within the genre at times.
Irillion are also more sensitive to the power of rhythm and its ability to morph a piece of music in new and unexpected ways. Underpinning this kind of music with rhythmic diversity is a way of getting more from less. For instance, the staccato opening to ‘Belzoond’ is in complete contrast to title track ‘Fatanyu’, yet it works because the stop/start timings are underpinning chords that work tonally with what has come before (despite their rather bluesy quality).
This is a neat little EP that will be granted extra shelf life owing to these subtle tricks of technique that expand on familiar approaches to black metal. Of course, novelty is not everything. But Irillion have plenty to offer in their music even if we set aside the minor tweaks they have made to the foundations of these compositions. Let’s hope they expand further on this in the future and unleash the full potential of these new creative spaces for black metal.
I don’t normally go in for operatic or symphonic metal (aside from that one ‘Nightwish year’ when I had as a kid). Like a lot of power metal, despite the dedication to musicality and the vaulting ambition of many works produced under these styles, it is both samey yet completely overbearing. But Pallas Athena are adding a different twist to an old story on their debut EP, released in February of 2019. Or rather, they write interesting progressive metal that just happens to aesthetically present itself as symphonic metal. Think a more gentle Septic Flesh for a close approximation.
The production on ‘The Awakening’ is a little muddy for such theatrical music, but its colour still shines through regardless. The backbone of these tracks is a guitarist that knows their onions when it comes to esoteric tremolo picked riffcraft. This adds a level of sophistication to the sound that is lacking in more poppy iterations of the operatic form. Which brings us screaming round to vocalist Vickie Harly. Although clearly operatically trained, her voice sits halfway between the full opera technique and more contemporary clean singing. She is able to jump from each style effortlessly, offering up a charismatic display that both elevates the music and allows it to shine in its own right. Multiple backing vocal tracks also add layers of texture and harmonies to the riffs, serving as an additional instrument for the most part.
Besides some fairly nifty prog-metal chucked in for good measure, one reason why this music stands out from the usual crop of operatic metal is subtlety; or rather, patience. The reason operatic metal often does not work is nothing to do with the style itself, it is that those who play it are often over excited, and chuck everything they can at the listener without let-up or room to breathe. Pallas Athena on the other hand, take their time some more. They build into the more full-on sections after layering up the music step by step, varying the intensity and making full use of contrast and the benefits this has for creating drama. Even the pop number ‘Lilith’ eventually morphs into a prog-metal masterclass in tension and release.
‘The Awakening’ is a promising little EP that pulls on many traditions in metal and prog-rock to create a fresh take on a very marmite genre within metal. Even if operatic metal is not usually your bag this still comes highly recommended for the sheer talent and passion behind the song writing.