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Cnoc an Tursa – The Giants of Auld

Posted in CD, Folk, Metal, North of the Wall with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 2nd March 2013 by underthenorthernstar

Cnoc an Tursa
“The Giants of Auld”
Released: 25th February 2013
Folk/Black Metal
Released via Candlelight records

I’ve been waiting for the new Cnoc an Tursa album to be released for a good while now; their 2008 demo has sterling songwriting, and their sound was begging for a bigger release. So when I heard that they had been signed to Candlelight Records in October last year, I started getting excited; the number of folk/black metal bands who have released near-perfect albums on candlelight is staggering – Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone, Falloch, Altar of Plagues, the list goes on. So, what was the result of such an immaculate pairing? The newly released The Giants of Auld, of course.

With a scream of “Sons of Alba, rise in the face of tyranny!” the album begins. And what an album; the sound is an intense blend of folky melodies, intense black metal and haunting, deeply emotional choirs and flute – the closing track, Blаr na h-Eaglaise Brice, is a purely instrumental, minimalistic celtic folk piece, and one of the best of its kind that I have heard – bringing together a hugely immersive atmosphere. Despite Cnoc an Tursa not being a band in quite the same pigeonhole as their contemporaries, the achieve a very similar sound that, to me, is equally conveying of the band’s passion for its country’s history. One could be forgiven for worrying, having listened to the 2008 demo, that their earlier songs (which, for the most part, comprise the first half of the album) could have become over produced, too clean. Thankfully, this is not a problem; the album is not without an edge, not without its humanity.

The songwriting (let me leave no doubts about this) is flawless. The Lion of Scotland and Hail Land of my Fathers are completely full of hooks, and you will find yourself humming each and every individual melody in those songs, which is something very hard to achieve on what is very predominantly a black metal album. Something that this album “gets”, is that you can have huge, catchy melodies without being at all cheesy. I never for one moment found myself saying that a particular section was misplaced. In addition to this, the band never lets melody cheapen the album; a problem that many bands have is they oversaturate their sound with keys, making the songs “catchy”, but far less powerful. Keys are definitely present in this album, but they very much provide a supporting role, building the sound from the foundations up.

So, I have not been disappointed; more encouraged. Cnoc an Tursa continue to be a fantastic band. This album is consistent, immersive, and above all, genuine. Very few metal bands can communicate quite this level of passion through their music, and I will come back to this album time and time again. Fantastic work, and one of the best releases of the year from one of the best bands to come out of Scotland.

5/5
Alasdair “Scotch Egg” Dunn

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Jorvik Festival 2013: Let’s get Pillaged

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on 20th January 2013 by underthenorthernstar

This February, the annual Jorvik Viking festival will be underway, and those of us who were there last year will be getting very excited indeed around this time. Why? Well, the lovely people at Asgard Promotions brought us a stunning show in the form of the mighty Tyr last year, and they plan to pull it off again; this year, they’ve managed to secure folk metal heavyweights Heidevolk for us, not to mention the devastatingly good Irish black metallers Celtachor and stunning Yorkshire symphonic-y folk-y metal outfit Cryptic Age. Aren’t they brilliant? Go and buy tickets and/or some of their excellent selection of Viking/Celtic jewellery HERE. Tickets are only 15 quid, and we can assure you, VM was there last year; this event is phenomenal.

Celtachor have just released their debut album, Nine Waves from the Shore, which you can purchase/listen to HERE, as did Cryptic Age with the recent Sounds of Infinity. Get it HERE.

Also, Heidevolk just released a new music video; Here is Als De Dood Weer Naar Ons Lacht!



Alasdair “Scotch Egg” Dunn

Interview with Sworn To Oath

Posted in Interview with tags , , , on 17th January 2013 by underthenorthernstar

Sworn To Oath have been shaking the UK’s underground metal scene to its core with both of their highly rated EPs, their explosive live shows and strong work ethic. With a debut album currently in the making, the Scotch Egg collars the trio for a quick word.

Alasdair: What’s the meaning behind the band’s name, Sworn To Oath?

Sworn To Oath: When it all started we swore to an oath that we’d put everything we had to give in to the band, when thinking of names it kept re-occurring & eventually stuck.

A: How is the experience of working on your first full length album?

S2O: Amazing, we’re really exited about it, we feel  like its a huge progression from our previous releases. It’s awesome to let initial ideas evolve into a finished article that we can’t wait for everyone to hear.

A: Any big shows lined up for 2013?

S2O: We don’t have anything planned as of yet, our main focus is on the record, but we’ll definitely have a heavy schedule later this year.

A: You just released a new, FREE single, Stand Alone, what has been the response from critics/fans?

S2O: We’ve had a great response on the whole, we wanted to give people an idea of what to expect from the album, but it’s definitely just the tip of the iceberg.

A: What are the lyrical themes/ideas behind the new album?

S2O: A huge variety really, we have a lot that we want to say with this album. We touched on everything from soul searching to society and our current state of mind.

A: If you could replace the sound track to any film with your own music, which one would it be and why?

S2O: Talledega Nights, because it’s so funny and if you ain’t first, you’re last.

A: What is life on the road like for a three-piece, in comparison to a bigger band?

S2O: You’ll have to ask a bigger band. It’s cool, there’s much more room to do activities.

A: Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?

S2O: Come to a show, bang your head, check us out online, stay tuned for the debut album and DON’TFUCKABOUT.

You can check out Sworn To Oath at their official Facebook page; which can be found at this location.

 

The Devil – The Devil

Posted in CD, Experimental, Metal with tags , , , , , on 10th December 2012 by underthenorthernstar

 

The Devil
The Devil
Released November 12th, 2012
Experimental Black Metal
Candlelight Records

 

So! I do love a bit of home-grown British metal, and with the recent release of both Old Corpse Road and Winterfylleth’s astounding new albums, it seems to be a very good time for British black metal. As you can imagine, I was pleased enough to discover that Candlelight records had just signed and released the first album of an enigmatic new band, called The Devil, who have chosen, like the humongously popular Ghost, to remain completely anonymous. Before reviewing this, their debut, self-titled album, I knew nothing of them, and it’s safe to say that all I know now is that they play some fairly interesting experimental black metal.
An extremely unconventional and instantly noticeable trait seen here is that no real vocals are used until the 6th track, and even then, it is only a spoken word section. Instead, the songs are filled with recordings of news bulletins, political speeches, and even the moon landings. It’s hard to distinguish one song on this album from another – they do tend to flow together. It does serve to an extent to immerse the listener, but is still just far too repetitive to warrant it. I felt very much like there should have been some kind of building atmosphere, but it just… didn’t quite materialise. The music is very minimalistic – drums rarely shift from a simple 4/4 pattern, never once going into blastbeat territory, nor even really making much use of double bass. The guitars are simplistic, and riffs are rare, if they appear at all. Choirs often meander through the background, filling out the fairly small sound, but are nowhere near the epic end of the scale.

When it comes to production, everything sounds clean; perhaps a little too clean, a bit too studio-made. Call me a traditionalist, but the music is just far too polished. It’s not REAL enough. Everything is clear, and clean, but it seems like a very shallow sound.

The whole album… frustrates me. I want it to go somewhere that it stalwartly refuses to go. No real Crescendo, no climax… it just wanders about for its duration and fritters away. Nothing stands out, nothing really changes. While it’s interesting, and indulges in some unusual ideas, it’s just not enough to be a bit odd, minimalistic and Anonymous. Maybe I just don’t get it, but I’ve heard far superior atmospheric, “experimental” black metal, and this just doesn’t cut it. A mask doesn’t make you good.

1.8/5

Alasdair “Scotch Egg” Dunn

Skálmöld – Börn Loka

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , on 28th October 2012 by underthenorthernstar

Skálmöld
Börn Loka
Released: October 26th
Folk Metal
Napalm Records

Skálmöld, the Icelandic folk metal band, have just released their second album, Börn Loka, following the critically acclaimed Baldur of 2010. They’re an interesting band; instead of dressing up in furs and kilts, like a huge margin of the Folk/Viking/Pagan metal scene do, they play in the guise of unassuming, smartly-dressed guys, who just happen to be playing songs about Vikings. They are unique, especially in this particular scene.

Well, this album. It’s pretty impressive how different Skálmöld manage to sound without actually differing too much from the archetypical Viking Metal sound; they sound somewhat… bigger. The album doesn’t often branch out into the realms of the 9 or 10 minute song (Only the epic closer, Loki, does this), nor does it feature huge orchestration. It does, however, feature 3 guitarists and 4 members who regularly do vocals, with (the fantastically named) Björgvin Sigurðsson being the main vocalist – not to mention a keyboard player, who often uses choir or even Hammond organ (such as on Gleipnir) to boost the sound’s vastness.  It’s really immersive without being pretentious, or, indeed, very slow.

As for musicianship, the band members are absolutely splendid musicians. It was a joy to listen to these songs, it made think about what was going on, while carrying me through the story of the album effortlessly. A folk melody here, a vast choral passage there, a thrash riff thrown in for good measure… there are many twists and turns on this album, which, instead of making the album inconsistent, seems entirely appropriate.  Another thing that the listener should be acutely aware of is the flawless production; the album sounds clean, but also organic, in the sense that there feels like the album has not been meddled with using technical studio wizardry. The mix is good too, nothing feels lacking, nor anything overbearing.

Overall, damn good. It’s just a shame that the album came out at the same time as the colossally hyped new Wintersun album (admittedly a fantastic album, but nonetheless), as it is unlikely to get the attention it very much deserves. I’d advocate the listening of this album very highly; Folk Metal done seriously, done without cheese, done (dare I say it) right.

4.7/5
Alasdair “Scotch Egg” Dunn

 

Dragonforce/Alestorm @ O2 ABC Glasgow

Posted in Gig, Live with tags , , , , , , , , , on 19th October 2012 by underthenorthernstar

Bands: Dragonforce, Alestorm, The Defiled, Cavorts
Location: O2 ABC, Glasgow
Date: 28/09/2012

In order to be fair to the first two bands who were playing this gig, I have to not say my honest opinions – I’m sure they have their respective fanbases (proven by the legion of moshing 14-year-olds), but they really weren’t my thing.

Moving on. It must be said that I had been looking forward to this gig for a very long time; the last time I had seen Dragonforce was in 2009 when they had toured with Sabaton, a fantastic gig by all accounts. (Incidentally, Sabaton are also doing a UK tour with Eluveitie in November; if you’ve not seen them live, I highly recommend it.) Since then, they had gone through a lineup change, recorded and released a new album, and highly impressed me, as you can see from my review here. Naturally, I was interested to see how their new singer Marc held up live; the man has a fantastic voice, but I had to see for myself.

But before Dragonforce would take the stage, another one of my favourite live acts were playing; I interviewed Alestorm last time they had played here, which was an incredible gig, so of course I was really rather stoked to be not only seeing them again, but interviewing them again (That previous interview can be seen here). Some arrangements were made with Alestorm before the gig that we would do the interview later on that night, as they were staying with a friend of mine and it would be convenient for everyone. This did, however result in a very slightly drunken interview at 3 in the morning, which shall be on the site very soon, I promise.

But I digress. Alestorm played an excellent set; Keelhauled, Wenches and Mead, Nancy the Tavern Wench; a fairly standard set by all accounts, but no less entertaining, especially when, like you should be at an Alestorm gig, you are ever-so-slightly drunk. Leviathan was a particular highlight for me, mainly due to the fact that the crowd enjoyed it quite a fair amount. It must be said though; the amount of crowdsurfers and pre-pubescent “moshers” was somewhat off-putting. Can’t be helped, I suppose, but when I’m trying to windmill I would appreciate it very much if you weren’t landing on my neck thank you very much (Blah blah blah old man complaining blah). Excellent set guys, well done!

However, Dragonforce… well, I’m a self-professed Dragonforce lover; something that gains me a great deal of ridicule. I enjoyed myself hugely at this gig – I was somewhat taken aback that singer Marc Hudson could hit the notes he did. Managing old songs (Fury of the Storm, Valley of the Damned etc.) and new (Cry Thunder, Seasons) alike, he actually managed to distract my view away from the frantic and blister-inducing guitar work of Herman Li and Sam Totman, ever the centre of attention. Managing for the most part to steer away from technical difficulties, the set seemed flawless; even the crowd became far better. The unity felt by all to Cry Thunder was a fantastic feeling. I even caught one of Sam’s picks; so frankly, the night didn’t feel like it could get any better.

This was, of course, before Alestorm, Dragonforce, I and a multitude of others ended up at Glasgow’s Cathouse venue, singing Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica, Lost horizon and Meatloaf into the small hours of the morning.

5/5

– Alasdair “Scotch Egg” Dunn

A Hero A Fake – The Future Again

Posted in 'Core, Alternative, CD with tags , , , , on 3rd August 2012 by underthenorthernstar

A Hero A Fake
The Future Again
Released July 2012
Post-Hardcore
Victory Records

Allow me to start off by saying that I cannot stand Post-Hardcore. I regard it, along with a multitude of various other Kerrang-cover-adorning subgenres as whiny, mindless, poseur dribble. Listening to such scene bands is about as fun as bathing in napalm and then going for a roll in a lovely salt pit. Regardless, I have listened to A Hero A Fake (missing a semicolon there, lads) on their new album, “The Future Again”, and you get to read my thoughts on the matter. How very lucky.

Well, speaking positively, the production isn’t bad. The instruments are clean-sounding, and everything is well enough mixed. This is probably due to the band being instantly marketable to the hordes of scene kids that follow such music, so the label will have splashed out on a nice studio. And fair play to them, it does sound nice on that front.

But OH MERCY. Breakdowns. Breakdowns everywhere. The default “let’s be all heavy hurrdurr” breakdown makes a stunning appearance on this album. But EVERYWHERE. All is standard, chug chug guitars, China cymbals and quick bursts of double bass… nothing new, whatsoever. It just sounds repetitive, not to mention gob-smackingly unoriginal. What makes it worse is that in places, this is accompanied by the most painful-sounding, horribly generic “shout-along” lyrics… And on that note, I must say, the lyrics in general? Good Lord. It was painful. I’m sure, if this sort of thing is your cup of tea, then they must be very meaningful, but honestly? It just sounds childish to me. Not at all helped by the absolutely pathetic vocals… from what I can hear, they appear to have two vocalists, one of whom does a fairly decent scream, but the other does one of the most pitiful sounding “loud talks”. I can’t call it anything else, because he just sounds like he’s talking loudly the whole time. It’s interesting to note that when all the “Metal” press began to slate Metallica and Lou Reed’s “Lulu”, the same kids who love this music hated it. But the vocal style sounds very very similar, and is based around an Identical idea. It sounds horrific.

The artists themselves are skilled. Yes. They have the ability to play their own instruments, and do so well. But then again, it should be expected of a band to do that. Writing good music is where real talent lies, and I’m afraid there was absolutely nothing here of any particular artistic merit. For example, Quorthon couldn’t really sing, and most of the songs Bathory wrote are not particularly technically complex. But that music was brilliant, and Bathory stand out, because their songwriting was immaculate. A Hero A Fake are EXACTLY the same as every other band of their kind, and will be forgotten by next year, having ridden on the crest of what is currently fashionable, and then drowned in an ocean of mediocrity and terrible songwriting.

I’ve heard nothing today to change my opinion of Post-Hardcore, ad if that’s what you enjoy, then sure, go and spend your money on this. You’ll be delighted, because it’ll sound exactly the same as every other band you listen to, and we wouldn’t want anything different, would we?

Just don’t get annoyed when I spend MY 12 quid on something that won’t make me want to burn out my ears with my own stomach acid.

1/5

Alasdair Dunn of Norderobring