I like the beats and I like the yelling: Warmoon Lord, Institution D.O.L., Tyrannus

Warmoon Lord: Battlespells
Out 25th June on Werewolf Records

Here’s a novel thing: traditional Scandinavian black metal with an original sense of melody. Warmoon Lord’s latest offering ‘Battlespells’ is a tour de force of classic northern European iterations of black metal, but onto this familiar foundation is stamped a marked identity of its own. The backdrop is a comfortable one, with soaring tremolo picked riffs, tight blast-beats, and rich synths bolstering up the sound. But despite the safe approach adopted by this Finnish solo project, they have worked in riffs and melodic refrains of a distinctive character, pleasingly couched within this otherwise popularist blueprint.

Given the above description, the production holds few surprises. Despite the overt references to mid-90s second wave black metal, the mix is relatively clean, with sharp, well defined guitars emphasising their atmospheric qualities over anything abrasively tinny. Drums are also full-bodied, with plenty of bass cutting through the sheen of hyper fast riffs and rich keyboard textures. And the vocal track, although competent, is par for the course in sticking with high-end screeching. Few points for originality, but the philosophy seems to be: if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

In sticking with such well-worn genre traits Warmoon Lord have set themselves up for a challenge. The stakes of which are nothing short of a quest for an identity distinct from the thousands of other artists still making music in this foundational style. But the truth is that with a traditionalist’s approach to tension and cadence, harmonic layering, and no subtle nod to folky licks that wouldn’t be out of place on an Iron Maiden album, Warmoon Lord are able to carve out a niche within a niche of their own that stands apart.

The rich keyboard textures go a long way to aiding in this pursuit, the competency of which should come as no surprise given Juuso Peltola’s dungeon synth project by the name of Old Sorcery. But if we’re mentioning keyboards, we have to make reference to the Graveland in the room. Because despite ‘Battlespells’ being a fast, adrenaline fuelled feast of blast-beats and washes of tremolo riffing, there is a marked flavour of the Polish masters of mid-paced Viking metal in the mix as well. This comes across in the extended Lord Windesque intro to the track ‘The Key of the Moonpiercer’, but also in the heavy, thundering opening to ‘Empowered with Battlespells’, that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Immortal Pride’. And that’s before we come to the noticeable Graveland homage found in the cover art and even the chosen title of the album.

And so, despite Warmoon Lord’s typicality, this is a project that uses the virtues of genre and style to express an artistic identity and vision that clearly existed prior to being funnelled through these genre templates. Rather than becoming a slave to genre box ticking however, this album is demonstrative of an artist with a swaggering confidence and ability to express and arrange this vision into a solid work of otherwise safe black metal. Whether the end result is an important work of preservation and continuity or a risk averse call for artistic stability is really besides the point. Setting aside the politics of genre and the traditionalist/progressive forever war yields a pleasing and escapist album of immersive and engaging black metal that one can easily lose themselves in.

Institution D.O.L.:The Thelema Tales
Out 25th June on Edged Circle Productions

Mystical explanations are thought to be deep; the truth is that they are not even shallow.
Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘The Gay Science’

But Nietzsche, much like Aleister Crowley, knew more than most of the power a good metaphor can hold. And so too does the Austrian ambient duo known as Institution D.O.L. apparently. The “Magick” that Crowley practiced made such overt references to the scientific method as to render the mystical aspects almost meaningless to an outsider when considered in the light of its aspirations to esotericism. But to dismiss the ambiguities of the man himself – no doubt aided by the appropriation of his beliefs in mid-20th Century Western countercultures – is all too easy. The low hanging fruit of Crowley’s modern standing as patron saint of aging hippies and assorted pondlife should not detract from the legacy of the real individual. A man who was able to articulate an understanding of individualism more profound and resonant thanks to its utilisation of occult symbology and practice; one of the great midwives of humanity’s post-Nietzschean stride into the godless unknown.  

Seen in this light, the sober and sombre reflection on Thelema found in Institution D.O.L.’s dedication to the Great Beast is all the more welcome. Originally released in 2020, ‘The Thelema Tales’ now sees a vinyl edition curtesy of Edged Circle Productions. This Austrian duo’s bittersweet combination of spacey ambient, distant spoken word samples, minimal piano lines, and harsh synth tones finds just the right balance between tranquil meditation and unsettling discords to stimulate and soothe in equal measure. It is music that aspires to find rest in that moment between waking and sleep, when life takes on a different perspective, one that can only be grasped momentarily, yet continues to haunt the borders of our conscious lives.

‘The Thelema Tales’ is a compelling dinner party where Death in June join Hecq and Lustmord, serving a dash of martial ambient for flavour, the whole picture is rendered with only implied percussion however, leaving the real momentum of this album to be carried by swelling, singular chords or repeated piano lines. Each track representing a marked shift in tone from dark to light, reflective to fearful. The movements flow seamlessly into one another, giving the impression of one continuous piece cut from a tapestry of many coloured cloths. Shorter tracks such as ‘Ad Astra II’, which is built from simple keyboard lines onto which are placed distant wind samples and intermittent voices give way to the positively bombastic vitriol of ‘Sex with a Seitanist’, which suddenly places the listener into an evangelical sermon from the heart of the Bible Belt.

But despite the deliberately jarring transition, the sense of continuity in tone and intent remains strong, and is sustained throughout this lengthy album. The overt references to WASP American Christian music are set in stark contrast to the graceful Arvo Part style minimalism that characterises much of this album. But whatever tradition Institution D.O.L. call upon, they maintain the underlying tension between a semblance of psychological tranquillity and utter terror; as if begging the listener to drift off into unconsciousness whilst never fully allowing such a ready catharsis.

The lengthy closing number ‘Exodus II’ sees the music meander from soothing choral textures and a brief church organ to the abstract realms of dark ambient, characterised by bottomed out synth tones, swelling chords that rise and fall like the rotations of celestial bodies, and distant timpani drums sounding intermittently in the distance. The promises of a mysticism such as Crowley’s are so easily explained away by the facts of science, despite their undeniable aesthetic appeal as powerful metaphors by which to live. But the joy of artistic expression is the fulfilment of said promises in a way that is both literal and painfully abstract. And no matter how detailed or often the psychological facts are deployed to explain music’s deep and enduring resonance, the magic remains the central facet to which we continually appeal to for answers, answers to questions we are as yet unable to articulate.   

Tyrannus: It Taketh
Out 25th June, self-released

The latest demo from this Scottish…we’ll call them extreme metal outfit…is certainly an interesting brew. The reason for keeping the genre tag broad is the simple fact that the band themselves lay claim to black, death, and thrash metal, which usually means we’re in for a primitive hammer blow of something approaching war metal. But in the case of Tyrannus there really are discernible and competing motivations at work even within this short collection of three tracks, with no small flavour of progressive metal seasoning to taste.

The overall presentation is clearly old school blackened thrash, with warm guitar tones, crisp but organic drums, and many riffs across the opener ‘The Flood’ that pivot on this style. Vocals also hit that mark between classically evil and monstrous whilst retaining the aggression and percussive attack of thrash metal’s punk roots.

But these overtly retro elements quickly give way to an all too contemporary dissonance and an understated prog breakdown. The latter of which showed up to the wrong recording session by any logical measure, but so snuggly and audaciously does it fit with the vibe by developing the piece as a whole to its conclusion, that we are obliged to to tip our hats.

The second track ‘It Taketh’ is the more intense of the two, blending fast paced old school thrash riffs with the chromatic wanderings of Lovecraftian death metal. But again, all is delivered in a pleasingly understated manner. The focus is orientated toward atmospherics over a blunt hammer blow of noise. This track meanders into depressive black metal territory whilst retaining focus with a tight guitar solo that builds into a wonderful anticlimactic crescendo of sorts.

Despite the clear riff-based nature of ‘It Taketh’, Tyrannus seem more interested in creating mood music. The riffs build the foundation of these pieces for sure, but they are simply a means to the ultimate end of eking out odd tangents and creepy corridors of sound for the listener to explore. The spacey clean guitar outro ‘Lake of the Undying’ underlines this message with minimal, delay ridden arpeggios that tale off into the distance. An idiosyncratic demo despite the broad reach of the raw components used to construct this work.  

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