Beats and yelling from: WitcheR, Протидія, Acid Blade

WitcheR: Lélekharang
Out 15th October on Beverina Productions/Filosofem Records

Sleepy and obscure melancholic black metal emanates from the speakers on playing WitcheR’s latest LP ‘Lélekharang’. This Hungarian outfit seek to turn the mournful undercurrents of European black metal of a more melodic bent toward – as the cover art suggests – themes of witch persecution. Structurally and stylistically, Summoning stands out as a key influence here, as soaring longform riffs gradually eke out a narrative arc that runs like a continuous thread through each lengthy track. Although WitcheR opt for a more organic flow to the pacing of this music unlike the explicitly sequential metal of their Austrian counterparts.

All is slow and ponderous. These pieces are in no rush to depart, and refuse to indulge in bombastic speed thrills or laboured symphonics. But keyboards do function as a lead instrument. As the guitars incrementally flesh out their epic tale, they deploy an array of patches and textural flourishes to populate the soundscape with shortform material, from simple piano “riffs” to synth leads and rich string tones.

Drums and vocals are perhaps the most typically metallic elements of ‘Lélekharang’. With the former pacing these tracks out as if they were funeral doom numbers, building simple patterns into one another to culminate in soft crescendos of emotive release. The latter opting for a fairly standard mid-range black metal crooning that – although unremarkable – more than meets the tragic moment of the music itself.

Despite the overtly atmospheric/ambient colouring of ‘Lélekharang’, there are scattered moments throughout that adopt an almost lyrical sense of play, such as the mid-point of the title track, that bends its pronounced aesthetic toward a chanting, anthemic climax. Guitars make great capital out of simply doubling the tempo of each riff, thus heightening the dramatic stakes with only the simplest of alterations to the musical architecture.

The album is capped off by what at first appears to be a rather surplus rendition of the first movement of Beethoven’s 14th piano sonata. But whilst seeing it on the track list may raise an eyebrow, when it actually appears it proves to be a neat and remarkably suitable way to close off the album. It may be one of the most “done” pieces of classical music, but some works transcend their own cliché, and prove to be every bit as diverse and enduring as the overstated rhetoric would have us believe. All of which leaves us forced to conclude that WitcheR are both talented composers and arranges, but also have a good ear for their own aesthetic and sonic offering, and how best to deliver this to the world.

Протидія (Protydiya): ​П​р​о п​р​и​р​о​д​у (On Nature)
Out 10th October, self-released

‘Про природу’ sounds like Van der Graaf Generator shaking hands with Темнозорь at a music gear convention. Fragments of black metal via Ukrainian folk do emerge, as do light symphonic metal elements. But the overall presentation is so sterile, so exacting, and so forensic that the whole things comes across as a musical testing lab more than anything that once resembled the organic joy of folk music. But herein lies the real fascination of this album, and its idiosyncrasy that really does warrant some inspection.

Sharp and angular guitar lines weave their way around hints of melodic black metal and prog rock, leaping from crisp overdriven leads to aggressive power chords with ease. Any forward motion they accumulate is quickly arrested by the next segment, which reliably takes the music down a thoroughly juxtaposed path. That being said, despite the angular, undulating, stilted shape of these tracks, thematically ‘On Nature’ is a remarkably cohesive album. Burrowing consistently down channels of quirky folk metal, progressive tangents, and outrageously bombastic symphonics.

The production is markedly clinical. With mechanistically precise drum work laying a complex but solid foundation onto which are placed the interweaving layers of guitar, accordion, clean and distorted vocalisations, and choppy string segments. One may think that such synthetica would detract from the album’s naturalistic themes. But the result is oddly hypnotic. The raw material may be decidedly artificial, but the compositions themselves are superficially spontaneous and free enough to do justice to the liminal subject matter of the album itself.

Some may find the bouncy concoction of black metal misanthropy with jaunty folk ditties a little hard to swallow. But the end result never falls entirely into farse. The impression is more one of great whimsy and play, a celebration of the more joyful aspects of the natural world and the people’s and eras that inhabited its foothills, their traditions, beliefs, and sources of solace. ‘On Nature’ is a curious album of folk metal, that further strips back the overtly metallic elements into complex textural colourings, allowing the unpredictably progressive tangents of folk metal to further foreground themselves.

Acid Blade: Power Dive
Out 2nd December on Personal Records

Nostalgia generates some odd feedback loops at times. Although looking at the age of the members of Acid Blade, the old school power metal vibe they leverage is a piece of history rather than memory for them. And then there’s the 70s sci-fi aesthetic of the cover art, reminding us that classical heavy metal’s fantastical preoccupations also came with a considerable dose of futurism. Meaning that the futurism that Acid Blade harken back to on this album is oddly forgotten, a quaint throwback to a time when civilisational futures were a given and not the dread question mark they are today.

What of the music then? Acid Blade are everything that is both great and obnoxious about German heavy metal, in that it is entirely free of irony. On the one hand, this gives it a sincerity, freedom, and joy that British and US counterparts are just unable to match. We can’t help but wink at the audience and let them know that it’s all for show, or worse, a sarcastic façade. On the other hand, it also means that if a listener is not willing to meet the Germans in the moment, and embrace the shameless bombast, energetic intensity, and childlike sense of wonder, the whole thing will just collapse into the ridiculous.

Acid Blade sit at the apex of this tension for their debut album ‘Power Dive’. As an expression of the idea of metal as it was in the early 1980s it is near flawless. Soft, organic production elevates the dual lead guitar attacks to front and centre, drums a subtle and bass laden pounding beneath, lending the mix weight and gravitas. Sharp bass lines cut through at key junctures, expanding the melodic jigsaws of each piece. And of course, soaring metal croons pontificating on jeopardy and fantasy in equal measure.

It is of course redundant to speak of what Acid Blade bring to the table in terms of originality. Rather, one would want to say that its encouraging that such naivety and sincerity still has a home within the cynicism of metal’s modern lexicon. But one cannot help but sniff out an air of the sinister even within this risk free sanctuary. The relentless drive to energy, speed, intensity, amped to eleven from start to finish. Escapism morphing into denialism. A patchwork of ancillary noise and activity deployed to cover up our true misgivings about the state of the planet. Heavy metal of this kind reaches into the past or into fantasy not as outlet, but as the only choice remaining for those interested in psychological survival.

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