Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hela - Broken Cross


Spain probably has one of the most under rated metal scenes of all times. Though its early grind and thrash scenes have legendary status in metal circles and the quality of modern death metal is laudatory, exports of other genres from this country have for some reason never garnered much attention. It’s one of those stories when failure of recognition was not because of dearth of quality or exiguousness of originality but quite probably lack of support or distribution channels which contributed to the ignorance towards this country’s metal exports. Like modern day Germany and Sweden, Spain too has developed a thriving, dynamic and competent stoner scene because of the paramount importance given towards quality and ingenuity, traits that are oft missing in the stagnant and redundant metal scene today, and thus more often than not getting efficacious results. From the country which has produced bands like Arenna, Horn of the Rhino and Great Coven which have appealed to our senses comes the new band on the block, Hela.

Formed after splitting up of the band ‘The Sand Collector’, Hela contains members of the aforesaid band and another band Nahrayan, which concocted a unique sound by mixing doom, death and sludge metal. They released their debut album entitled ‘Broken Cross’ earlier this year. Seeing that the band’s repertoire consisted of such musicians who showed a proclivity towards innovation rather than blindly setting on paths paved by the grandfathers of the genres it was no surprise to me that Hela have a sound that they can call their own. Hela’s music can be described as an assimilation of a sound that was created by Subrosa on their debut album, the quixotic yet riff driven take on the psychedelic infused meanderings of Ufomammut, riddled with melodic sections and a penchant for female fronted occult themed doom bands and have the sound which Hela can call their own.

In Norse mythology Hela was the daughter of Loki the Trickster, who was half rotted, and though very compassionate and caring also exuded an aura of dreariness and anxiousness and this is the reason why this collective foursome work under this name. The music of Hela though of onerous girth never really batters your eardrums enough so as to provide a tempestuous listening experience though it is extremely capable of doing so. The artwork is very reflective of this unique trait as well. The artwork which shows a mortified and depraved figure is drawn in cool colours, which reiterates my earlier point, that though this band is very capable of doing serious damage, they choose not to by taking a laid back approach and instead of choosing to batter the listeners into pulp with their inordinately corpulent riffs choose to create a wall of sound that is more benevolent than malevolent.

Extremely guitar driven, these six songs which last 46 minutes are testament of the originality of the band who have chosen to create their own path instead of following generally accepted trends. The song structures are masterfully created as well. The band keeps thing fresh by constantly reinventing itself and instead of sticking to a preconceived template introduce a lot of variation. Though there are extremely riff driven sections there are also sections which transfer the listener right to the psychedelia influenced expanses of the unknown. If there is catchy verse there is the long instrumental section as well. What is worth mentioning here is the prodigious amount of a variation present here not only on each track but on the album as a whole. While tracks like ‘Horns Of God’ or ‘Slave Of The Witch’ are all about the copious riffs wherein the drums bash forth the colossal riffs which are well bolstered by the bass which seems to strung by string strong and thick enough to hold up bridges, there is also ‘The Wicked King’ which produces memorable choruses and tracks like ‘March Of the Minotaurs’ and ‘Black Eagle’ which gyrate more towards the firmly driven roots of traditional stoner metal only for the band to subjugate you to music therapy with the album closer ‘Flesh Ceremony’.

Though there exists such amount of dissimilitude everything seems to flow which crystal clear clarity and fluidity and seems to be part of a greater picture. Be it the operatic vocals of extremely powerful lead singer Isabel Sierras whose voice slightly reminds me of Alunah lead singer Sophie Day, or the furious drum fills of Miguel who knows when to up the tempo so as create maximum impact, or the intertwining goodness the bass and guitar played by Julian and Tano respectively, everything seems a perfect fit and ultimately ends up creating a sound and an experience that Hela can claim their own. This album here is the dark horse of the best stoner album of the year, and with half the year already gone remains my favourite in this category. If you want stoner music with is approachable, does not quickly fall into a boring self parody and different you need not look further. Hela has arrived.

SCORE - 85/100

Sunday, June 2, 2013

High Priest Of Saturn - High Priest Of Saturn


To be acutely blunt and straightforward, in the today’s day, if there is one genre that is extremely overstuffed and wrought with unoriginality, it is stoner metal, and more specifically stoner/doom. Bands with their recycled Sabbathian riffs and Electric Wizard type drawn out song structures have made this a genre of who can come up with the best tribute to the aforesaid bands rather than delving into something new or expanding the boundaries of the genre and its sound in any way and have in the process made the regular stoner sound an extremely monotonous one where each bands sound like the next. Amidst this platitudinous and trivial contention of who can sound the heaviest or who can come up with the catchiest chorus, arises a power trio by the name of High Priest Of Saturn all the way from Norway. One instantaneously clubs black metal with the country of Norway, but they have quite a budding doom metal scene as well with bands like Sahg and Black Lodge having gained international recognition, and more recently Devil with its retro take on doom metal has gained them quite a few admirers.

Some of you may be aware of the band, consisting of Merethe Heggset who is the driving force of the band taking on the dual duties of vocalist and bassist, Andreas Hagen handling the drums and one half of the axework with Martin Sivertsen taking care of the other half and guest musician Ole Kristian Malmedal running has ethereal fingers over the organ. The band which released its self titled debut demo back in 2011, has come up with their first album, also self titled in early 2013. The new albums along with minor touches on the two tracks present on the demo, contains two new songs as well, which together stretch a tinge more than forty minutes. Though the average track length is rather high the inoffensive attitude and warm recording make for a very relaxing, almost ethereal experience.

While most bands fight trivial contests of who can be the loudest or who an immerse themselves the most in fuzz, High Priest Of Saturn have come up with a very laid back style of heavy stoner psychedelic metal. The music that the band play can be described as a portal between the past and the present with one foot firmly rooted in the 60’s psychedelia and 70’s Sabbath, with the other foot planted in the modern day stoner territories with its love for being drenched in fuzz, and still not being derivative in the least. Think Windhand minus the excessive fuzz molded with Spacefog without the aggression wrought together to create a swirling, mixing out of body experience into the atramentous passages only illuminated by torches lit by trips into the psychedelia infused expanses into the unknown. After you wrap your head around this imagine a continuous undercurrent of the organ throughout the release, taking the backstage instead of being the center of attention like in bands like Stonehenge and you have the primordial sound of a power trio collectively known as High Priest Of Saturn.

The band focuses not on a particular riff but instead focus on creating an experience where the focus of the listener is not drawn to any particular facet but instead to the natural progression of each track with its twists and turns. Though mostly trudging along with a slow speed it in an album where one moment you are in the midst of sleepy jam only to be broken by the copious bass of Merethe, and though there are jams dotted throughout the release the band does show a proclivity towards more structured songs. Though this release is mostly instrumental, enveloped in a smoke with mystical purging qualities, High Priest of Saturn is a part of the new wave of doom bands where the leading member is a female and to call her voice angelic or like that of a siren would be gross understatement. It is her performance on the bass as well on the mic that bind the band together which such malleability so as to create an extremely fluid release and it is her flexibility during the vocals that thrust the band to higher grounds of greatness. At times crooning, at times soft spoken, almost ethereal and at times singing at a powerful lower register, she has come up with a performance that has set the bar very high for both current as well as future ladies of doom. It’s not all about Merethe. Though she does add an air of mystery around the band and is the bands most distinguishing feature, it also the axework of Andreas and Martin who without following of trends have set out to create a path of their own with their dreamy guitars and lengthy solos that transport the listener into a soothingly whimsical world of musical therapy. I often wonder why bands that play heavy psychedelic rock never use the influences laid down by the grandmasters of the genre, Pink Floyd, but here the band put that question to rest and play solos reminiscent of the great band including one on the track ‘Crawling King Snake’ which sound like something Floyd would have played during their ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ days.

All this held together by the organ played by the magic fingers of session member Kristian has by alchemy created this unique experience and has had got this band functioning in a territory where not many seemed to have dared to explore. This is as original, and as different as different can get in the modern day of stoner. It is a genuine, frank, straight forward and heartfelt release without the pretentiousness and without the over reliance of paths already well set and is an impeccable debut that is an absolute must have for all fans of the genre.

SCORE - 77/100