I like the beats and I like the yelling: Krvna, Concrete Winds, Abhorration

Krvna: Sempinfernus
Out 26th November on Séance Records

Krvna may be from Australia, but their heart is very much Romanian, as mastermind Krvna Vatra explains: “this album very much was a way of harnessing the very utilities that helped diminish these superstitions and other darker aspects of ‘Balkan’ culture to, in fact, become a means of amplifying and drawing light to these old superstitions, once again.” This may be a more round about way of saying “it’s about vampires”, but the rich conceptual sentiments are certainly backed up by a solid musical offering in their debut album ‘Sempinfernus’. This is bracing, fast-paced black metal that overcomes its obviously traditional orientation with a strong sense of character, setting out with a clear mission in mind.

The production is relatively polished as far as vampiric black metal is concerned. This has more in common with Dawn’s ‘Slaughersun’ or more recently Tempestarii or Rio de Janeiro’s The Kryptik than it does Mutiilation. Drums offer a constant barrage of flowing blast-beats and crash cymbals that aren’t so much rhythmic as they are linear walls of sonic energy.

Guitars meet this offering with simple, evolving tremolo picked riffs augmented by highly traditional melodic guitar leads and some subtle keyboard work. The guitar tone is on the high end, but the layering up of different, complimentary tracks opens out the music, immersing the listener in the ambitious scope of this album. Vocals sit further back in the mix, acting as a malevolent presence we never quite consciously internalise despite their obvious presence.

These tracks reach a degree of complexity and depth through the sheer accumulation of individual parts, all delivered at exhilarating speeds that mask their elegant simplicity. Much like ‘Slaughtersun’, if one listens to the actual mechanics of individual riffs they are relatively straightforward, composed of small linear note clusters with minor variations worked in on each cycle. Their delivery being predominantly tremolo picked which – alongside the fluid blast-beats and fills that sit beneath them – create basic polyrhythms as each individual component begins to layer up on top of another. Basic lead guitar work or in some cases a keyboard line will further compound this sense of slightly divergent cycles all marrying up into a grander tapestry of cinematic scope.

It’s a highly effective approach to composition that brings greater life to what can sometimes be a colour-by-numbers branch of black metal. But on ‘Sempinfernus’, Krvna have proved to be masters of the subtle art of arrangement. More importantly however we must emphasise the distinctive melodic lines that break away from their rigidly fast foundations, and demonstrate a distinctive and engaging character of their own.

It may not be the most original thing you’ll hear this year, but this still stands ahead of the pack when it comes to the mysterious old fashioned art of marrying a pronounced sense of melodic narrative with the weighty and cumbersome textures of lightning fast atmospheric black metal.

Concrete Winds: Nerve Butcherer
Out 26th November on Sepulchral Voice

The second LP from Finland’s Concrete Winds certainly packs a punch. Although ‘Nerve Butcherer’ is more death metal than anything else, it does bear comparison to Profanatica’s ‘Thy Kingdom Cum’ for sheer chromatic chaos. These are short tracks of seemingly indiscriminate bedlam that seem to jolt from one idea to the next with unpredictable degrees of violence or lethargy, operating under a logic that is at times difficult to follow. However, for extreme metal that attempts to be the most direct and extreme – and there are certainly many contenders currently operating in this field – Concrete Winds are more engaging and multifaceted than many of their contemporaries.

Production is as you would expect, raw and abrasive, but retaining the clarity required to deliver the fullest impact. If the mix were too lo-fi some of the chaos would be lost in static. The riffs are fast, complex, and angular, it’s important that we are able to follow their threads and not bury them in the murk of a mix unable to capture the intensity. There is an immediacy to the vocals, with very little reverb added. They cut through the cacophony of guitars and drums to sit right by the listener’s ear. For all the grand scale chaos of the music itself, the directness of the presentation lends it an unsettling undertone, as if we are being personally addressed by the mayhem.

Anyone can piece together an unholy barrage of chopped up death and thrash riffs, set them to constant blast-beats, and bury the whole thing under wave after wave of static noise. Anyone can, and many do. For all the lofty rhetoric around such releases the results are all very similar, and woefully two dimensional. In order to stand out one has to work in a degree of restraint in order to contextualise the chaos one is attempting to invoke.

Concrete Winds seem to have bypassed this particular conundrum by building up the complexity. There are frequent tempo changes scattered throughout ‘Nerve Butcherer’, but they breeze by so frequently and quickly that it begins to look like a compressed competition for airtime. Like witnessing a fist fight being conducted in incredibly confined quarters. In order to adapt to this highly restrictive rhythmic foundation they throw out riff after riff of basic chord progressions, two note licks, or outrageously abrasive chromaticism.

Although each individual component is simple, they compound and build into an overwhelming picture of sonic information. But hard as it is to follow the meagre overarching threads that are present in the background, we nevertheless feel compelled to stay tuned in, and not allow ourselves to zone out and allow the noise to simply wash over us.

The battle between guitars and drums to dictate the course of the music remains engaging. The music constantly leaps from one moment to the next, introducing elements without warning and dispensing of them just as quickly. But then certain refrains are returned to, even developed over the course of these relatively short tracks. It’s as if Concrete Winds are circling round each idea, discarding the loose fat and gradually honing in on a central theme.

‘Nerve Butcherer’ proves to be an entirely appropriate title with hindsight. These tracks are literally butchering musical elements before our ears, hacking up riffs, chords, and rhythms and splicing them together in malformed parodies of music. For all the chaotic swagger and violence of this album, beneath the Bacchanalian veneer lies a work of subtlety and restraint.

Abhorration: After Winter Comes War
Out 26th November on Invictus Productions

Pay no attention to the title of this EP or the Norwegian nationality of the musicians, the debut EP from Abhorration is very much a death metal affair. Although all kinds of comparisons could be drawn to early Morbid Angel, Possessed, Chile’s Pentegram, and all manner of germinal death metal, listening to ‘After Winter Comes War’ does not feel like being browbeaten into worshiping yet more OSDM credibility.

The production is demo quality, but still able to capture the raw energy and creativity of these performances. Although it feels like we’re sat in the practice room with these musicians, with fret slides and occasional feedback leaking through the cracks, this is still a clear and crisp mix. Some of the cymbal work may be lost in the faster passages, but we are still able to appreciation the nuance of the stilted, choppy drum performance.

The same could be said of the guitars. Abhorration throw a lot of riffs at the listener. They tend to sit on the cusp of old school thrash and early chromatic death metal, but their clarity and impact is never lost beneath the highly unpolished guitar tone.

‘After Winter Comes War’ is akin to rewatching the early history of extreme metal in microcosm, as the flowing punk foundation gives way to Morbid Angel style dissonant leads with a unique melodic character. This is metal emerging out of the looped collection of refrains of rock music and into the narrative, riff-based compositions of death metal. Thundering basslines sit beneath the bombastic foreground, clearly audible again despite the guitars, vocals, and drums all jostling for space on the relatively limited capacity of the mix.

Although these tracks are so obviously “of the past”, we still find it far more compelling than more polished and studied offerings of OSDM for the simple reason that Abhorration feel like they are being themselves. The riffs and their dense and choppy interaction is intuitive, they operate under their own logic, following rules that make sense within the context of the music on its own terms.

There’s still a lot of work for this artist to do in tightening up and focusing their style, maybe expanding some of their ideas and allowing them to air out. But there’s no denying the fact that this debut EP is trying to bring back a sense of spontaneous excitement into death metal, and it’s encouraging to know that this can still be achieved in one of the most un-progressive settings within the genre.

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