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So it was just Lunar New Year last week and it is, according to the Lunar Calendar, the year of the horse. Whatever that means. To celebrate, here is my long overdue review of the best black metal band I have discovered from the seemingly under-productive underground of Hong Kong.
I like this from the get-go. A great yawning ambience opens 'Temple' before Aum's raw black metal onslaught begins. In terms of style Of Pestilence is in line with earlier materials by Setherial, Enthroned and maybe a bit of Judas Iscariot. 'Sheath to all Swords' is somewhat slower, utilising eerie, whining guitar leads and a droning set of slow guitar riffs for something of a Satyricon-esque effect.
The album's sound is unprocessed, really organic and almost a little cadaverous. But rather than a Transilvanian Hunger or Nattens Madrigal style hum, it's more of a grimy rehearsal room mood you get here. The vocals are occasionally double tracked, giving a more imposing and menacing attitude than I'd expect of most self-released debut recordings.
Tawrich Mantis lays down a fairly convincing performance, especially considering it obviously hasn't had any doctoring or editing whatsoever. He keeps nicely in time, lets loose righteous blasts and rolls, and is clearly talented.
If I were to complain I would say 'The Forge of Zurvan' sure takes its sweet time to get to its threatening, burly climax and the transcendent leads of its finale. But then 'The Thawing of Pestilence' brings things to an awesome, doomlike end. Neat. That is, outside of the 15-minute ambient song that ends some versions... I would prefer that Tsar's penchant for spooky atmospheres be integrated into the actual songs.
I recommend you check this out though, and not just for its "novelty" value as a straight-ahead, no keyboards or symphonies black metal offering from HK, but as an honestly decent contribution to the ever more faceless masses of second wave black metal worship.
Black metal from China? It's from Hong Kong, but yes. Aum consists of three members, one of which is also in the death/thrash band Aortic Regurgitation. The band has only existed since 2010 and had their first EP out the end of 2012. 2 years seems like a lot to write 6 songs, but the overall quality of these tracks is by far good enough to justify it.
It's obvious the band has its influence-wise roots in the Scandinavian scene of the 90's, but then again Aum have a certain touch of melody that makes the EP entirely their own. The riffs are like a mix of Immortal and Satyricon, the vocals a mix of Tom Warrior and Abbath, and the fast drumming is just short of reaching critical mass and causing a meltdown. This is tempo-focussed black metal with a thing for thrashy hooks and ruthless riffing, and it works. "Of Pestilence" may not be a titan of modern black metal, but Aum take all the best elements from various bands and put them together for some straight up good black metal.
To pinpoint the main weakness of the EP it is the fact that they build a lot of momentum within each song but don't utilize it properly. The songs fit together, but not sufficiently so to create a good flow between the tracks. Another thing is that some of the tracks have varying quality which makes me think the EP has been recorded during different sessions, or maybe even at different studios or handled by different personel. While this practice is not entirely uncommon it does give the EP a too diverse feel. They're small complaints in the grand scheme of things, but it does subtract from the overall score.
Originally posted on http://gouls-crypt.blogspot.com/
From Hong Kong come Aum, a name synonymous with pathological insanity and mentally deranged cult leaders. I don't know how much of an impact lyrically Shinrikyo had on this project, but the name is awesome in my book. Anyway, five songs with a massive fifteen minute long droning ambient piece present themselves paired with some rather unique artwork and packaging which adds to the allure "Of Pestilence" creates. Several different styles are present across the release and together they create an array of black metal styles and influences. Musicianship is great on this, production is well done for an underground release - it sounds neither lo-fi and amateur but nor does it sound modern and polished. Instruments are all clear and crisp.
The most distinct factor on the album is the vocals of Tsar who sounds like a croaking reptile lord across the majority of songs like "Temple" and "Place of the Skull." Elsewhere he sounds genuinely sickly, coughing and hacking all over the the place once again in tracks like "Place of the Skull" and "The Forge of Zurvan." I feel illness coming on just listening to it. John Tardy is present across the album with Tsar spitting and grunting incoherently in between riffs and generally laying to tape a disgusting vocal performance that really is the highlight here. Another precision reference for Aum would be 1349's 2010 album Demonoir, which I liked a lot. Aum do a good job of setting the stage for atmosphere without it actually having to be the album's goal - similar to what I felt Demonoir did. The rhythmic style of Aum and the melodic movements all remind me of the black metal super group from Norway.
Other highlights include the riffs of Disease Fiend, a talent carried over from Aortic Regurgitation. A quick run through of the tracks offers several different styles and methods. "Temple" and "Place of the Skull" sound like a combination of Absu and simplified Melechesh. "Sheath To All Swords" has a repetitive marching plod indicative of too many beers and too much Beherit and Hellhammer. Elsewhere though Aum sounds more influenced by bands like Primordial such as on the release's longest Black Metal track, "The Forge Of Zurvan," which is my personal favorite on the album slightly edging out "Sheath's" heave-ho rhythm. While "The Forge" is a bit long - it runs a respectable eight minutes - well placed melody lines at the end of the track and a brisk middle section keep the song moving along and shouldn't result in complaints from commentators.
The final track is fifteen minutes of ambient music and it doesn't really add much to the release. While it is well written and composed to hide secret sounds and interesting noises throughout, it just seems like it's out of place on the release. Admittedly it's not listed on the album listing but it's definitely there and definitely needs to be accounted for since it takes up a third of the entire run-time of the release. I think leaving it off or using a shorter (much shorter) and refined version between the tracks might have fared better. Overall, excluding this ambient piece, "Of Pestilence" is a strong debut for the project and I would like to hear their next release, if they plan on putting anything else out.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones