Archive for Katatonia

Review: Ellipse

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on January 25, 2013 by Magadh

Ellipse L’Ampleur du Vide

ellipseI’ve taken a lot longer writing this review than I otherwise might have. Which is not to say that I’ve devoted a particularly great degree of thought or craft to its actual composition. And certainly not that, as you can see, that I’ve actually written a huge amount about it. It was more a matter of it sounding like something else, something in particular, and not being able to remember exactly what that something was. This precipitated a search through my collection of Gothenburg deathmetal releases, which is pretty extensive. My search was ultimately crowned with success although, as will become clear below, the fruits of such success were not really consonant with the amount of time that devoted to the search.

Anyway, what the hell, you may ask, am I talking about? I’m talking about a little six song release by a band from Nantes called Ellipse. As you’ve probably gathered from the statements above, the general stylistic territory explored by Ellipse is the Gothenburg style of deathmetal. Since its origins in the early 1990s, this particular medium of expression has been quite thoroughly explored and it is arguable that a lot of the creative spirit has been drained out of it. This is at least the case if one takes the fact that Evergrey, a band shorn of any guts or substance, are still able to sell records. Even excepting the deficient entries in the field, it must be said that this is a wide, although still fertile, stylistic zone.

Those daring to enter such a crowded field undertake a risky endeavor. It is all too easy to become yet another nameless practitioner in an overloaded style. Ellipse, it must be said, have a few things going for them. They have rock solid musicianship, which is an absolute must for this particular line. They have a female vocalist (and quite a good one at that) and this immediately separates them from the deathmetal pack. Their lyrics are in French, which I regard as a major plus. As a native speaker of English, I have the luxury that most bands sort of concede to the hegemony of my mother tongue. I understand why they do it, but it is refreshing to hear a band that doesn’t. Too few English speakers take the time to learn another language, and merely assume that the world’s culture will make the effort to come to them. For a number of reasons this expectation is justified, but it is pleasant to see people resist the temptation.

If you only listened to the first thirty seconds of this disc, you would assume that they were going to sound like Katatonia in the Discouraged Ones era (which is no bad thing). They then move on to hit a range of stylistic points within the subgenre, sounding now like Dark Tranquility, now like Carnal Forge, now like later period Nightrage. The similarity to the last mentioned act is pronounced, and I am rather ashamed to say that it took me upwards of an hour to identify the similarity.

The fact that Ellipse sound like a lot of other bands is not by any means a criticism. Such is the nature of this particular format that it is unavoidable. In L’Ampleur du Vide they have put together quite an appealing release. Their take on the style as fast and aggressive with a compelling melodic element that keeps one interested. And this is, as far as I am concerned, a major achievement. If you’ve been following the deathmetal scene for any length of time, you’ve heard this kind of thing before. To hear it done in a ways that makes you want to hear it again is a rare and excellent experience.

This live clip gives a pretty good idea of what they’re all about.


Review: Downfall of Gaia

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by Magadh

Downfall of Gaia Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes Metal Blade

At some trying point in history, a famous white guy (now long dead) said something like, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” I don’t know how true it was then, but I assure you that it’s been such a time around the bunker for the last couple of weeks. Perhaps a fortnight ago the autolock on one of the outer doors malfunctioned allowing one of the local zombie hordes access to some of the peripheral cells of the bunker. Of course, the secondary system kicked in, and when the motion sensors were tripped half a dozen claymores went off, reducing the zombies to feculent grey mist. This all happened while Mrs. Mags and I were on a little trek to one of the local settlement to try to barter some of our soilent purple for some electronics that we needed. Not surprisingly, our return to find the peripheral cells covered in a fine patina of zombie remains resulted in the following exchange:

Mrs. Mags: Did you remember to lock the outer door when we left?

Magadh: Of course I did. I did it just after I finished loading the food cubes into the atv.

Mrs. Mags: Well, somebody forgot to lock it and it wasn’t me.

Magadh: So what are you saying?

Mrs. Mags: What do you think I’m saying?

After a few more iterations it became clear that I was going to be spending the next few days in the cells with a high pressure hose getting things squared away. Ahh, marriage.

Of course, all of this happened while the Captain was out of the picture. He was in one of the local trading bazaars the other week and heard some deranged prophet gibbering about heading to the east to find a promised land of peace and freedom. Needless to say, he was all over that like a cheap suit. The last I saw, he was headed into the mountain passes wearing an old Hawaiian shirt can carrying a gallon jug of margaritas. I expect he’ll be back any day now.

Anyway, normal service is now being resumed. I’ve been meaning for a while to do a piece on the German dark crust band Downfall of Gaia. They have been on the radar for a bit and since they’ve just had a record come out on Metal Blade, it seemed like an appropriate time to say a few words. DoG come from the German city of Hannover which, as their bio on Metal Blade’s site appositely points out, is not one of the real fashion spots in terms of the German music scene. Many people (including myself) are aware of one and only one band from that particular locality: The Scorpions. True to form, DoG rock like a hurricane, although in a rather different musical than Rudolf Schenker and co. They’ve been around since at least 2008, when the released a self-titled demo. The four songs included presented an interesting mixture of blistering, crusty thrash, slower breakdowns that bore a certain similarity to bands like Tragedy, and acoustic sections that would not have been out of place on Discouraged Ones-era Katatonia. This release set a pattern which extends to their entire body of work: acoustic elements, some of which are quite extended, are used to set up crushingly heavy central riffs.

On Epos, released in 2010, this approach was sharpened and refined. The acoustic intros were rather more lush, and they tended lead into passages that drew the best out of blackened doom without giving in to it’s boring excesses. They also began to experiment with rather longer songs, with “Zerfall” (“Collapse”) running just over ten minutes. Long songs can be a good thing, assuming a band has the ideas to support the length. This can be a hard quality to pin down, but you can tell it’s happening when you find yourself getting lost in the music, rather than wondering when the song is going to end. The songs on Epos do a good job of drawing the listener in to a dark world and keeping them engaged, which is a real sign of success in a cut lasting 8-10 minutes.

DoG followed Epos with a split with Hearts of Emperors released in February of last year. What was said above about Epos holds a fortiori in this case. DoG’s contribution to the split comprises two cuts totaling over 20 minutes. It is common for bands in this style to try to extinguish the last embers of your soul, and two 9+ minute songs, if done poorly, could probably accomplish that, although not in the way intended. Continuing to fill out their style, DoG’s cuts on the split sound like a crustier version of Moonsorrow, sliding at points into a sound reminiscent of Counterblast.

Earlier this year it was announced that they had signed to Metal Blade. This in itself was a bit surprising, to me at least. Perhaps it is because I am so old, but I still associate Metal Blade with all those cookie cutter, Brian Slagel produced bands from the 1980s. They seem to have expanded their outlook, quite impressively in this case. DoG’s latest release, Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes, came out a couple of weeks ago and has hardly left my disc player since it arrived in the bunker. The seven songs comprised therein represent the fulfillment of an arc of stylistic development from their demo. The tunes retain the soft/loud dynamic, and they still do an excellent job of creating atmosphere. The improvements in Suffocating are twofold. On the one hand, the recording is rather better than on previous releases, given a sharpness and immediacy to their music that was somewhat muffled on earlier releases. On the other, they have managed to rein in their arranging to a certain degree. Although they still do some pretty long songs (two cuts clock in at over ten minutes) their songs have a more precise shape and approach. They seemed to have added a bit of black metal influence, although it may have been present in earlier releases without having been highlighted by the mix. In any case, this is an absolutely crushing disc. Fans of bands like Neurosis will enjoy with, as will those who enjoy blackened crust on the model of Hammers. Find one at your local market before the snows come and the passes close for another season.

Those looking for a bit of instant gratification can find some sustenance here.