Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Hrafnblod - Heathen Psalms

Wodfreca Records 2012

1.Admonition 2.Inhumanity Of The Human Race 3.Ashes Of Tyranny
4.Last Of A Dying Breed 5.The Spirit Of Fyrnsidu 6.Skeletal Skies
7.Tears For The Einherjar 8.Heremaecg Galdr 9.Possessed

Another one man band spawned from the UK underground; this time round we have Hrafnblod, a blackened death metal project from the grimness that is Telford. ‘Admonition’ is a short intro made up of spoken samples and heavy distorted rumblings before ‘Inhumanity Of The Human Race’ blasts open furiously. Insanely fast programmed drums set the pace, the buzz heavy guitars following along with similar lightning speed and precision all backed up with some great vocal work, making use of the black metal standard screams and well as deep, guttural backing vocals. There’s a thrashyness to the riffs which lends itself perfectly to the black metal assault. There’s also a hint of ‘Dimmu’ on display, a very slight hint it must be said. ‘Ashes of Tyranny’ follows on in similar fashion, the pace remaining at lightning speed but the song taking on a more death metal feel, the tone of the guitars keeping the ‘black edge’ to the band’s sound. We even get to hear the bass under the buzz heavy guitars, something not normally heard on the more black metal sounding releases, but a welcome addition to the band’s sound nonetheless. This track gets catchier and catchier the further on into it you delve, finishing on a real high, the ‘Dimmu’ influence again (only very slightly) on show.  ‘Last Of A Dying Breed’ begins in quite a heavy, death metal fashion with the main opening riff taking on a very death/thrash approach. It’s at this point that the programmed drums really begin to sound ‘industrial’ and when they open up at the inhuman speeds really begin to annoy. However, in this track the super-fast speeds are few and far between, a slower more mid pace adopted. The ‘Vinyl Record’ effect half way through this track a nice addition as the rhythm guitar lets loose with a thrashy black metal riff. ‘The Spirit of Fyrnsidu’ suffers somewhat from the outset, the programmed drums being its down fall. The hi-hats sound absolutely horrendous which is a real shame; they are just way too high in the mix, far too precise for the tracks own good. The drums really spoil what is a first rate, brutal and atmospheric black metal song, buzz-saw tremolo picked guitars absolutely seething and etched in a grimness not seen so far on this album. A real shame they ruin this track and a prime example of why human drumming is always favoured over programmed drums, especially in black metal (unless a more natural, organic approach is used).
‘Skeletal Skies’ opens up mournfully, the pace slowed to an atmospheric crawl, the highlight and driving force of the track being the vocal delivery, first rate black metal vocals, a more growled scream used to add real atmosphere. Simple but effective keyboards are introduced, adding a new element to bands brand of black metal. It has to be said that the band are far more effective and a much more attractive proposition when the pace is slowed to a crawl. The drum production jumps out here, sounding much more natural and adding to a sense of gloom and despair…something to think about for the future maybe, slowing everything right down and opting for atmosphere over speed? ‘Tears For The Einherjar’ is used as an interlude, thunderous gloomy samples mixed with dripping water and what sounds like a mouth organ creates a very gloomy atmosphere indeed and works extremely well as a melodic interlude. ‘Heremaecg Galdr’ carries on perfectly form the previous track, fading in with such mournful atmosphere it’s all beginning to take on a DSBM stance which is no bad thing at all. As mentioned previously, the band sound absolutely devastating when the pace is slowed to a gloomy and desperate crawl. The track breaks abruptly with echo drenched spoken vocals taking the lead briefly before the guitars open up again with the effective tortured black metal vocals as an accompaniment. Very effective, very atmospheric and as good as the band has sounded so far. Even when the pace is upped, it is increased slightly into mid-paced territory which sounds so much better and more effective than the hyper-speeds seen in earlier tracks. If only all the tracks had sounded like this!
Closing proceedings is ‘Possessed’, fading in menacingly, the tension and atmosphere and sense of foreboding really begin to build and once again, atmosphere chosen over lightning speed which is a very welcome decision. There’s a real eeriness to this closing track, almost haunting in its delivery, especially when the vocals are introduced, used in an almost chant like fashion. Being the last track it is used as an ‘outro’ for the album, swirling wind samples mixed alongside mechanical, almost industrial soundscapes, it’s a fitting end. A tale of two halves in effect, the first few songs opting for speed over atmosphere and not working as well as the second half of the album. The production on the drums ruining what are actually some decent black metal songs. It’s only when the band decides to slow the pace that they are at their best and most appealling. Everything begins to make sense and musically everything falls into place perfectly. The atmosphere crafted on the slower tracks is extremely compelling and very listenable. Drop the speed and opt for atmosphere, it works so much better. If that’s not an option, get a drummer and ditch the programming, it will work so much better. A lot of very good songs on display which shows real potential for future releases, whatever direction they might take only one man can make that call!

7 out of 10

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