Kvesta’s Debut – “Ibex Arrival”

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There’s nothing more enticing than mixing the chocolate of Thrash into the peanut butter of Black Metal.

The recipe may seem simple and can be done, but it is very easy to flunk. So enters Kvesta, a brand new little beast out of Black Metal’s cradle of Norway, who takes the mix and adds a rancid dash of punk and a much unexpected pinch of personality usually lacking in both genres; one’s too busy trying to cause chaos and the other is too egocentric to give a shit.

They make demonizing fun.

The production, itself, is reminiscent of the 80’s analog. Technically a one-man band with a lead guitarist whose work ranges from expected to extremely creative, with some special guests thrown in, (including Leviathan), Kvesta at least gives the impression of a fully-staffed outfit. Raatten, who takes the lead vox, guitar, bass, and drums to task very well, demonstrates individual and unique understanding of each instrument. Yet, delegating the solos to a guitar specialist and sharing the spotlight with various talents at certain key points in the work shows strong leadership, as well as deeper understanding of his own limitations and/or the needs of the song.

There’s some musicianship here. It may not be groundbreaking inspirational, dripping in phenomenal, legendary skill, but it’s there, peeking out through addictive riffs and enticing, tribal rhythms.

a2206826503_10The show begins with “Grande Messe Noir,” which gives the impression of a cold, dank room with a captive’s shaky voice chanting over the hums of a guitar, like earth simmering beneath. With nice timing between rests, each chant is joined by another in crescendo and off-harmony, giving the initiation more definition and strength. It is classic Black Metal kitsch, but with a twist; the illusion of a storyline, not just merely atmosphere.

Raatten’s vocal style is Danielsson-esque; strong, throaty, but clear. It does not throw a punch in the chakras with a tremulous vibrato, but then again, it doesn’t need to. The riffs and the rhythms are the anchors here – the Thrash element – which is especially apparent in “Midnight Blasphemy,” “Dark Presence,” “Warlock,” “Sadistic Goat Regime,” and “Pestilent Virulence.”

The latter even adds a call-back element, pleasantly commemorative of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Suicide’s a Solution.” All tracks are nice, short, and sweet, leaving before they risk outstaying their welcome, even if you want them to stick around. The project elevates in sound and structure with each song, building in confidence and creativity as it progresses.

Though it is very impressive, and extremely unusual, to actually hear a clean, meandering bassline in a Black Metal track, it is unfortunate that some of the blast beats fall lopsided, sounding more like single-fire gunshots rather than an assault weapon. However, considering there’s only one captain manning many parts of the ship, it can almost be forgivable. Yet, some of the amateurish lyrics, such as, “We’re in the forest / We are summoning demons…” can roll your eyes. But truthfully, Ibex Arrival is too good to waste on silly nit-picking.

This is very good Metal, full of bombast, edge, volume, and attitude. And for a debut? It will absolutely be worth to watch and see what this little baby grows up to be. Ibex Arrival will be released on August 16th on CD digipak and…cassette.

Welcome to the playground, boys.

4 / 5 stars

Official Kvesta FB page

Kvesta on Bandcamp

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Avatar – “Feathers and Flesh” Review

Avatar-Feathers-and-FleshReleased: May 13, 2016
Entertainment One Music/ENT. ONE MUSIC
June 10, 2106 — T. Ray Verteramo

The cardinal rule of art: If you have to explain it, it’s a failure.

Whether it be paintings, dance, film, whatever – if you need to write an essay on what your work is about, then it’s worthless. Once the artist is done, the art needs to take over and speak for itself.

One of the benefits of just downloading music without the illustrations, photos, or lyrics is that it becomes a true test of the quality in every way. There are no pretty-pretty distractions or leading suggestions; just the unseasoned meat from the sandwich without the dressing.

Avatar did not fail with Feathers and Flesh, but they very easily could have.

It is understood that this band grew up together in life, as well in music. Years of honing their perspective crafts, learning the dynamics and the ropes, and consistently taking their passion to the next level with every project is apparent, as well as discussed. They have wonderful talent, but are not virtuosos, and (thankfully) they do not have any pretenses to claim to be so. But, nevertheless, their carnival image is grossly deceiving and at times, even unfortunate.

People do judge books by covers, especially in a “beauty-myth” dominated society. Johannes Eckerstrom’s “dark jester” character is black humor with lost context upon first impression. The rest of the band, with equally strong presence in respect to Eckerstrom’s role as frontman, take their places in the play in a way, on the surface, that seems seriously silly.

Only until the audience listens to the music do they realize they are consuming the work of master storytellers.

The one consistency throughout their entire discography, aside from their expanding buffet of styles and experiments, is their immaculate sense of theatre, which is tremendously obvious with their “Photoshop-free” videos. Many bands use prog techniques, but Avatar’s exclusive use of tempo changes, dynamic, tone, harmony, movement, and word to portray a character, a scene, an emotion, or a theme, with such exquisite timing, is downright Ph.D. shit.

Then, the gimmick delivers the punchline: “Hi! Welcome to the dystopic circus of the human condition. Surprise! This is art, motherfucker. Bring a snack!”

Well played.

So, naturally, when Feathers and Flesh, their first concept album, was announced, much breath was held. The release of “For the Swarm,” raised many eyebrows. Again, on the surface, it’s a relentless hammer-to-skull song. But, beneath the skin, it captures the personification of the day in the life of bees so splendidly, there was no need for explanation. We got it.

The work was a success, as well as the other premiered tracks: “House of the Eternal Hunt,” “Regret,” “Tooth, Beak, and Claw,” and that perfectly pompous, anthemic, “The Eagle Has Landed.” The work speaks for itself.

And much of Feathers and Flesh does. However, if this was not a concept album, it would be a collection of misappropriated, orderly cacophonous stick in the ear with a handful of really addictive treats. But, being that it is a concept album, it saved them. Everything recorded now has a sense purpose. And with purpose, there is refinement and sometimes, clarity.

With blindfold on, what they did right was the journey, itself. There is a path with progression and key characters that direct, redirect, and take effect. It is easy to visualize, even smell, the planetarium skies over the fields and blood-soaked gizzards. “One More Hill” was particularly draining, as Avatar put determination to sound, which was brutal. The rhythm section of John Alfredsson and Henrik Sandelin earns special accolades for their work together in “Pray the Sun Away,” as they created a shamanic-Metal atmosphere with patterns nearly consistent with New Guinea traditional polyrhythm – and with the particular subject matter, Avatar once again demonstrates that expert narrative touch.

Again, without the use of visual aids, there was a definite sense of plot, though not completely clear in details. There is a battle being waged. There are casualties and victors, predators and victims and the sun has something to do with it. There is a whole menagerie in action, with some scenes so sinister, such as the “I’ve Got Something in My Front Pocket for You” number, ruthlessly abducted then distorted from the South Park episode, “You Just Got F’d in the A,” which could potentially trigger a post-traumatic stress attack.

Where they faltered, however, was the distinguishing of characters. Though the personalities were powerfully and vividly conveyed, it was difficult to determine whose personality was whose. Either there were possibly too many characters or they were developed as anti-heroes/pro-antagonistic. In regards to the latter, if that was their intention, it is an extremely sophisticated approach, which is remarkable. But upon first listen, the confusion distracts from the transport. (It’s hard to “be there” when you don’t get it). However, the array of portrayal is so captivating, it heightens the curiosity, which keeps the ears peeled.

AvatarbandFeathers and Flesh is not an easy listen. Of course, there are times when the groove takes over and the songs are engorging, yes, but it is clearly not designed to enjoy on a stretch of black sunshine in a stolen Lamborghini. This project is a complex, multi-dimensional result of five ever-evolving musicians whose consummate skills for the dramatic may just be a little ahead of their time.

But, make no mistake: Avatar’s time will come. It won’t be long. And when the world gets past the costumes, that carnival ride won’t have brakes. Bring a snack.

3.5 / 5 stars

Avatar official FB Pa

Official Avatar site

Despite – Synergi

Review: DESPITE – Synergi
T. Ray Verteramo

Eclipse Records

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A good band will keep you guessing, but an exceptional one will keep you listening.

Despite has some very different bits of meat stuck on their Core-ish bones. Using just a touch of progressive elements to flavor the delivery, Synergi succeeds as a viable work of art of unquestionable Metal. Flexible, yet distinguishable – hard, but not stubborn. The clean singing is not too clean and the blastbeats don’t blast, but, somehow it all works.

This is an 18-year old band from Sweden signed to a New Jersey label, who once donated proceeds from their single, “Praedonum” to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which makes them almost as interesting to know as they are to hear. VH1 voted them one of “fifteen metal bands you should be listening to,” in 2015. http://www.despiteofficial.com/

There are no particular instruments that stand out or outshine any other, but the subliminal nuances of a hum or a soft harmony here and there add an eerie, intriguing touch to the songs and their sound.

The first video, “As You Bleed” is a visual yawner, unfortunately. The whole “band plays on while splattered in Kool-Aid” schtick has been so overdone, it’s almost lazy. However, they picked a good song to kick-start the promotion, as it’s got a great hook and tons of ‘tude.

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Other notables, such as “Perpetual Weakening” which opens the curtain with atmospheric tones before jumping into a dysfunctional monologue, is rich in tempo changes and meandering dynamics. “Chaos Trigger” has got some nice bite and scratch with over-the-top vocals and deep harmonies.

“Time Lapse,” however, is a different fish as their one Melodic Death piece on the project, which they pull off very well. Though, it may be commercially acceptable, it is not a thoughtless product. There’s real feeling and strength to this tune that may potentially open other avenues for this daring band to explore further.

VH1 may actually have a point. Synergi adds just a touch of theatre and a whole lot of proper rage, splicing yet another head off the Metal Hydra. Not that we need another sub-genre head on the monster, but a new face could make a nice change.

4/5 stars

 

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