Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Exoto - Carnival of Souls

EXOTO - Carnival of Souls (THE CRYPT - LP 2016)
This record was a typical blind-buy. I was recommended to check Exoto by a friend, when we were chatting about some old, but lesser known European death metal acts and he recommended me to check them out. I knew the name Exoto, but I never had a chance to hear any music from them. So, I risked some moneyzzz, when The Crypt putted out "Carnival of Souls" vinyl. It's Exoto's debut album, which originally was released by small label called Tessa Records back in 1994. The Crypt / Dark Symphonies took care of the vinyl and CD repress, adding Exoto's 1992 "The Fifth Season" demo as a bonus. As I mentioned, for me it was blindbuy, I was recommended to check this album, this is why I bought the LP – and it is quite nicely released piece on double red LP housed in gatefold cover that includes all sort of essential information about the band and this album in its liner notes. 
So, everything seems great.... Let's be honest though, not always an old 90's death metal album must be freaking good. And not always a blindbuy pays off. To be honest with you, I think that "Carnival of Souls" is rather mediocre record and I would live happy without knowing about its existence. Sure, it's solid, I could occasionally listen to it, but I'm far from praising it and recommending it as a must have type of album. And for sure it’s not “a classic”. 
To my ears, it’s more like thrash than death metal music actually. And let's make something clear - I'm not a huge thrash metal enthusiast. Sure, I like some of the old bands, but I cannot call myself a thrash maniac. I am also not so much into technical death metal and bands like Atheist or Cynic. And this is exactly what "Carnival of Souls" is like. It’s technical death / thrash record haha! Wow, what a hard nut to crack haha. I could moan that when I listen to this music it feels like there's too much thrash and not enough death metal in it, I could moan that I usually like more brutal and darker offerings to listen to. But it doesn't matter. "Carnival of Souls" is not exactly my cup of piss, but it’s fairly listenable. There are surely some good fragments like "Ashes from the Past", "Loss of Identity", "Escape the Eternal Sleep", "After Death"… It has thrash technicality and riffage with nasty and vicious screaming vocals and a bit of death metal heaviness and atmosphere thrown here and there also. It's even fairly melodic sometimes (in "Escape the Eternal Sleep" they even used "Run to the Hills" motif, probably as some sort of joke), slow and faster when it’s needed... well performed and recorded... What doesn’t click the most for me though is the album length, which is something like 50 minutes! When I listen to side A I am pretty excited, Exoto plays some sharp riffs and the songs are very good. With side B the emotions are still there, although they start to fade away a bit. But then you have also side C and the demo on side D and I am already fed up with it haha. There are just too many mediocre songs here, like "Dignity of Entrails", "The Visiting Room" or "Final Discorporation" - songs, which you can live without. Even the demo "The Fifth Reason", which I was pretty excited to hear, didn't win my heart fully, although I like its harsher and vicious sound more than the full length's. Three demo songs were later re-recorded for the "Carnival..." album, but I have to admit that I like their earlier versions more. And even the only song, which was not included to the album, "The Fifth Season", is damn cool, so I am actually quite surprised that the band didn't want to re-record it as well. 
So, not an essential album, but rather something what mostly die hard old school collectors will get. Definitely not an album, which you will play every fuckin week and definitely not a classic. Just mediocre and fairly forgettable piece of thrash / death, in my opinion. 
Standout tracks:  "Ashes from the Past", "Loss of Identity", "Escape the Eternal Sleep" 
Verdict: 65/100 

Nocturnal Breed - No Retreat... No Surrender

NOCTURNAL BREED - No Retreat... No Surrender (HAMMERHEART - CD 1998)
This album is such a fan to listen to. I remember that Nocturnal Breed was getting a lot of negative comments back in the early 00's (because they have members of well-known Norwegian black metal bands – Gehenna and Dimmu Borgir - and because they steal riffs from other bands... bla bla bla bullshit!!!!). For me they were completely incomprehensible. I liked their music and I still do. And the fact that they were taking influences from the old 80's bands was something positive for me, not a reason to dislike their music. 
And 20 years after its release, "No Retreat... No Surrender" still is able to defend itself. I love their crazy riffs, a total "fuck off" attitude and insane, old school metalhead feel. It's one of those albums, which you would like to play on a headbanger beer-party. It's also perfect music to listen to when driving and to enjoy some old school thrash / black metal. Yeah, this is one of those albums, which are influenced by the old bands, but they do everything in slightly black metal way. Just like Aura Noir for instance. So, you can hear here Venom, Motorhead, Bathory, Celtic Frost, Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, Twisted Sister, Exumer and whatever else you will think of, but is old enough. Riffage as well as arrangements are all in the vein of these old bands, but very harsh, sloppy and truly aggressive from start to finish. Yet it’s also insanely catchy and memorable (you will scream those choruses, I bet!). And lots of these riffs are just very, very good. With the vicious way of singing (or screaming), the music has a distinctive black metal feel, very evil, satanic and hateful. I love how it sounds, in songs like "Thrash the Redeemer" for instance... Or in the title track, which is just insanely infectious and memorable.  
The real highlight for me personally is the last song though, a perfect black metal anthem called “Armageddon Nights”, in the vein of Bathory’s “Under the Sign...” and classic Norwegian black metal records. This song has such a killer dark, epic vibe that I just feel goose-skin when I listen to it. It's just fantastic stuff, killer riffs, the best vocals on the whole album... Nocturnal Breed music is easy, song structures are rather basic, so are their arrangements... but that’s the beauty about this old school, traditional thrash metal, which they play. As I wrote in the beginning – fun stuff to listen to. Band your skull!!! 
Standout tracks: "No Retreat... No Surrender", "Thrash the Redeemer", “Armageddon Nights” 
Verdict: 80/100 

Djevel - Dødssanger

DJEVEL - Dødssanger (AFTERMATH - LP 2011)
Did someone say that Norwegian black metal is dead? Yeah, right. Live your pitiful life. I personally think that it always had something great to offer. Even when old bands started to change (and some became a lousy parody), there were newer acts, which raised the flag. Whether we speak of Urgehal, Taake, Tsjuder, 1349, KoldbrannOrcustusmany bands based around Trondheim there's always something great coming up from this country. For me personally Djevel came up with some of the most obligatory and absolutely best black metal since ages. Since ever, actually! If I was going to give you a band, which I think composed albums that are equally good to your black metal classics from Norway, then along Taake it would be Djevel. And their debut LP "Dødssanger" is a fantastic start if you want to check out their music. 
Technically speaking, Djevel music is very close to Taake's. There is the same style of riffage, which would combine (early) Satyricon’s majesty, bit of Kampfar and that Darkthrone'ish or Burzum'esque harshness with killer, epic and damn memorable melodies. There are similar arrangements, production and the atmosphere is equally cold and grim. But their compositions and execution are just spotless. Yes, everything about this record is just superb and my feelings are just exactly the same, which I had when I first listened to "Hordaland Doedskvad" or "Noregs Vaapen". These guys have such a great touch for creating this mesmerizing and blood freezing feeling. And for these great vicious riffs and eerie harmonies. I know how cliché it sounds, but you could really use this music for a soundtrack to your lonely walks through the cold, snow-covered woods. It just works bloody well there. 
But what else can I write... Well, "Dødssanger" is very well balanced, there's not even a second of monotony on this record, I think. The tempo varies from slow to fast as often as possible, even within one song, the riff style is also changing, from typical Darkthrone'ish stuff to that Taake's like grim, yet so damn catchy, sometimes almost folky melodies (like some parts of “Djevelheim” and the small instrumental piece "Djevelslått", which both really reminds me old Satyricon). I sometimes feel like vocals have secondary meaning here, as they do not appear in the standard "verse / chorus" formula, letting the music speak in the first place, what deepens the cold, mesmerizing feel of these songs. I like it that way, because you appreciate all these fantastic riffs even more. And the simplistic, yet good looking artwork completes the album. It's not my favourite in Djevel discography, but they have no weak records.  
Standout tracks:Djevelheim”, “Paakallelsen 
Verdict: 90/100