Album offers peek at a dark metal future

These days, admitting that you are a heavy metal fan is not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, heavy metal has gotten a bad reputation, associated with cheesy bands in the 1980s sporting absurd hair and bad makeup, or for supposedly “influencing” people to either commit suicide or worship Satan.

When I was younger, I listened to quite a bit of metal myself. I would frighten friends and family with the music I listened to: band with names like Metallica, Megadeth and Iron Maiden and songs with titles like “Harvester of Sorrow,” “Wake Up Dead” and “The Number of the Beast.” The album covers would reflect the titles, with pictures of skeletons, demons, graveyards and similar imagery.

Most people figure that it is just a teenage thing and it passes, but I enjoy listening to heavy metal whenever possible. And I am glad to say that I have neither committed suicide, nor do I worship Satan. I like the aggressive music, the bleak lyrics and the blunt attitude of many of the bands. This kind of music helps get out your own aggression, or close off the rest of the world when you want.

Heavy metal is quite popular in Latvia. Most every time I walk around Vecrīga, I see many posters advertising heavy metal bands that are playing in the area. Their shows are well attended, too. Most of their recognition comes through word of mouth. Though heavy metal is popular, many of these bands don’t have the resources to put together a complete album. Thankfully, Gailītis G (of all labels!) has provided an outlet for many of these bands to reach a wider audience.

The fourth volume of the Black Friday metal compilation album collects 15 tracks (totaling about 70 minutes of music) by a wide variety of bands from Latvia. Most of the songs are in English, some are in Latvian and some I can’t tell what language they are in!

The quality of the songs is quite varied. Some are still in the demo phase, but some are release-quality recordings. Regardless, it is still an interesting journey through the rugged landscape of Latvian heavy metal.

The album begins with “Angel’s Tears” by the band Heresy from their EP Heresy. The song begins with a disembodied female voice chanting some Latin words in the style of the “industrial metal” sound of groups like White Zombie. The only words I can make out are the chorus of “God is dead, and no one cares!” It’s a good song.

Also in the industrial metal vein is Huskvarn’s “Save Your Soul,” but the song reminds me a bit too much of Marilyn Manson, although the vocals are hard to hear.

Next is Skyforger with “Sešas ārprāta dienas” from the album Latvian Riflemen. Skyforger’s claim to fame is that they sing songs about Latvian warriors and even dress the part, judging by their picture in the liner notes. Their Web site lists them as being “deeply inspired by their native folklore and pagan heritage” and their lyrics being “poetry based upon the stories from times of the World War I.” Very good guitar work in this one, especially aggressive music, but the lyrics are too far down in the mix for me and I can make out few words.

“Autumn” by Sanctimony, from the album Eternal Suffering, is up next. This is a rather generic “death metal” song. Death metal is characterized by bludgeoning, extremely distorted guitars and drums, along with growled, incoherent vocals (sort of like an angry Cookie Monster). Fans of the genre (bands like Cannibal Corpse and Carcass) will probably like this, but it’s a bit dull for my tastes. The same applies to the group Preternatural with their song “Presence” from a demo tape of the same name. I like the guitar work, but the high-pitched guttural growling makes this song sound like any other death metal song.

Plenty of death metal is found on this album. Songs include Brute Chant’s “Olympiad” from their album Killer Each of You, The track sounds like the production was intentionally made muddy, as the vocals are routinely drowned out by the noisy guitars.

Moving further back to the mainstream is Fatum’s song “We Are Dreaming of Peace.” The hard driving bass line and the harmonies in the guitars remind me of Iron Maiden. Once again the vocals are mixed too far back, making it hard to understand the words. I liked this song, though. Hopefully, Fatum will be releasing more some day.

One of my favorites on the album is Rainmaker’s “Lietus dziesma.” From the great opening bass line, to the rythmic assault of the guitar, to the menacing (and understandable!) vocals, this is one of the standouts of the album.

Heresiarh’s “Higher Than Hills,” from the album Mythical Beasts and Mediaeval Warfare, is what the band on its Web site calls “Latvian dragon metal.” This is due to the fantasy themes that are throughout its songs. One of the latest trends in the metal world is to add female vocalists, perhaps to counterbalance the roughness of the male vocal. However the female vocals in this one are indecipherable as well.

Another favorite on the record is the Dzelzs Vilks song “Ledus,” which balances an extremely rough guitar part with a lighter keyboard part (sounding like raindrops!), as well as a techno beat and howling vocals. This is the most professional sounding song on the record, but that is no surprise, as Dzelzs Vilks’ lineup is just about the same as Deus (S)ex Machina (who released the soundtrack of the rock opera “Fausts”). They have just released an album, Lai arī tu būtu ar mani, that I will assuredly be purchasing next time I am in Latvia.

“Tu jūti” by Apēdājs is another good, straight-forward metal song, with some great guitar effect work. The Quarks’ song “Dziesma par reklāmu” starts off with an extremely deep bass sound, then brings in some crunching guitars as well. Sounds a bit like the grunge-metal style (a la Stone Temple Pilots). Moral Free’s “Bangin’ on the Radiators” is another straightforward song.

Sliede’s “Vēl prasīts” starts off with a very Van Halen-ish guitar intro but then becomes a Black Sabbath-ish (slow and deliberate guitar riff) song.

The most bizarre track on the collection has to be the last one, “Māt, es gribu būt nevainīgs” by the hardcore band Inokentijs Mārpls. Flying along at 100 miles per hour, the song features a rather unearthly falsetto shriek by the lead vocalist. I presume that they are not trying to be serious in this song, but I’m not entirely sure. Unique, for sure, but an assault on the nerves of the listener.

Liner notes are pretty sparse: a picture of the bands but not much else. For these kinds of compilations, information about who is in the band or a Web site address would be useful. Having the lyrics would have helped, too, especially for the unintelligble death metal songs.

Quite a few tracks here are very good. However, many of the tracks are highly derivative and sound very similar to other, more popular bands from the United States and Europe. And a number of the tracks would benefit from a bit more polishing of the sound and music. However, the album does provide a thorough snapshot of the world of Latvian heavy metal. From listening to this record, the future of this style is very bright (though I’m sure most of the groups would prefer to say that the future looks very dark!).


Black Friday, Vol. IV

Various artists

Gailītis-G,  2001

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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