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This is one of those demos that makes you extremely eager to hear what the band will go on to do later in their career. I, for one, have to say that I am really, really excited about where this band could go, so much so that I’m downright anxious to get my hands on their new material. Pagan Hammer’s debut demo “Pagan Wolves” is not only a very good display of fairly unique black metal with great guitar work and an excellent atmosphere, but it also hints at something much greater. While this band is already very good they have the potential to be absolutely suburb. However there are some kinks here and there that the band has to work out before they can reach this level of excellence.
As mentioned before, this demo has some pretty clear flaws, but although they may seem serious at first, after repeated listens they aren’t nearly as noticeable, some of them even turning around and helping the music in a way. The biggest flaw here is the vocal delivery, with a sound that could be compared to typical black metal vocals being done by a guy who has completely lost his voice. Kurt von Ehlerson uses a scream that is very quiet, raspy, and completely devoid of any power or strength. It is so bad at times that it sounds almost as if he is whispering. This frail sound does not work with the music at all, and after only a few minutes of listening to this demo, the vocals become very annoying. The production is also flawed, and it affects the drums more than anything. The drum production is very quiet and lifeless making them sound completely sterile and dull. They sort of just meander along in the background never really doing anything to distinguish them from background noise. Although it is somewhat annoying, it isn’t all that bothersome simply because of how inoffensive and unnoticeable they are.
While this demo does have quite a few flaws, it also has one complete, standout highlight in the guitar work. The riffs are of the black metal variety, tremolo picked (as far as I can tell), utilizing folkish melodies, and having a somewhat epic feeling ambience. On first listen they sound more or less like the typical kind of stuff that would be heard on any other black metal releases of this style, but with more listens a different side of them unveils itself. They have an odd, drifting quality to them, almost like they are being pushed along by a soft yet constant breeze, and there is a certain beauty to this. This is due to a couple of things, the absence of noticeable drumming or a distinctive rhythm section, and the droning effect that the riffs posses. So while I commented before on the bad drum sound, it may have been a necessary evil. The other thing that conveys this feeling is the general lack of aggression in the riffs. They seem a bit calmer and mellower than one would expect, playing more with emotion than brutality. However, they definitely do not feel tame or watered-down at all, as this feeling was clearly intended to create the flowing nature that is on display here. They are a decidedly gentle beast, one that has the capability to go wild with rage but does not see any need to. There are also keyboards present here. They don’t really do all that much though, usually just harmonizing with the riffs, and, besides from a few sections, they rarely stray out of the background
That atmosphere that this music creates is immediately fascinating and fairly unique, bringing to mind vivid winter imagery, but then twisting that idea into one that is stirringly creative and original. As mentioned before, the music seems slightly more peaceful than most black metal, and this directly affects the atmosphere. While it still gives the feeling of thick snowstorms in a darkened forest, it doesn’t really have any of the aggressive or violent components in it that are commonly accompany such themes. Instead this is replaced with a feeling of sorrow, and mourning, or sometimes (if I’m in the right mood) sad reflection, and remembrance, almost like sitting and thinking about a long lost loved one or something similar. It’s almost like the atmosphere of “Det Som Engang Var” smashed up against that of “Pure Holocaust”, which turns out to be one hell of a combination.
Although I could go farther into what the band does right and wrong, I don’t really feel any need to. For the only way that this can be fully enjoyed is if one stops trying to dissect every aspect of the music and just listens to it with a more or less blank mind. For the real quality of this is much greater than the sum of its parts, and the actual listening experience is truly what makes this so enjoyable. While every element of this, on its own, feels somewhat delicate and fragile, the music as a whole is still completely enveloping, encasing the listener its wintry, but also sad, and somewhat depressive atmosphere. The music swallows the listener whole, and because of this listening to it intently can be an amazing and, at times, almost beautiful experience, but only if one ignores its many flaws and embraces its strengths.
Overall, I must say that this is a great demo and an even greater first step for the band. The excellent, flowing riffs paired with a beautiful atmosphere construct one great release that wraps the listener in a shroud of interest that doesn’t go away until the last note fades away. However, there are a couple of obvious flaws that take away from the whole experience and keep it from reaching its true potential. If those things are fixed, the next release from Pagan Hammer could be some of the best black metal in years.
(There is also a cover of Burzum’s “War”, but I’m not factoring it into my rating. If you really must know how it is, it’s about as good as the original. It isn’t bad, it isn’t great. It’s just, hugh, WAR!)
First off, let me say that listening to Pagan Hammer is like walking through the most brutal frozen tundra out there. Don't get me wrong either, I mean that in the best way possible. Vampiric Tyrant Impaler is a true visionary in my eyes, an artist of music. When you pop in this demo, it really just takes your breathe away. The atmosphere makes your mind go into a coma flourishing with wolves and the arctic tundra. The rawness and ambiance of the demo is just mind boggling. Not to mention Pagan Hammer is a one man band! I have endless respect for people, who can actually start a band on their own, play all the required instruments, make a demo, and actually have made quality music that will blow your mind.
I want to elaborate on the atmosphere of Vampiric Tyrant's music. It literally makes you feel like you're in a battle, a battle taking place on the frozen tundra of Siberia or something. Yes, make no mistake about it, the ambiance of this music is simply amazing. It is possibly the most raw, folk, ambient music out there in the underground. This demo is truly a gem, more people need to know the extent of how good this demo is. It should really be a crime to not listen to this (no really, A CRIME!). If I had to compare a band to Pagan Hammer (which I don't like to do, Vampiric Tyrant's music is just too damn unique), then I would compare them to the likes of...Burzum, possibly (old) mayhem, and lastly (old) Bathory. But forget comparing, Pagan Hammer is really too unique to be compared.
Now, I would like to talk about the actual music. I would classify Pagan Hammer as a type of epic, folk, and ambient black metal. Something that is extremely rare coming out of the U.S., yet alone North Carolina, and trust me, I'm from NC. Anyway, you can't really crucify Vampiric for not adding a lot of vocals in his tracks. After all, it is an ambient BM band, and quite frankly, I think not adding a lot of vocals is the right choice. In my opinion, it's a great move on his part. Honestly, I would say that this is the best epic black metal coming out of the U.S. right now, and even better then a lot of the ones over seas. I would like to also elaborate on the guitar and drum work. He uses the drums unlike a lot of the other black metal bands do. He never blast beasts for no reason. You see, he realizes what will happen to the music if he was to use the blast beat 24/7, the drums are very conservative, which is a good thing. The guitar and bass work also lay down a lot of the ambient and raw parts of this demo; they help define the genre Vampiric is playing, and also help define his uniqueness. Without his guitar and bass work, he wouldn't be playing epic/ambient black metal.
Basically, when it all boils down, Pagan Hammer is fresh, new, and just plain ambient/raw/epic black metal; it's good, bottom line. I cannot wait for Vampiric's next demo, EP, or whatever; I know if it's anything like this demo, then he has a huge hit on his hands. I really hope the next piece of music he makes is a step up, if it is, it should blow away a lot more people and not only get them into this genre, but into Pagan Hammer in general. If Vampiric continues to make music like this, then I see a very bright future for his band.
Pagan Hammer is perhaps the first artist I've reviewed where I've had nothing to say about their (or his, rather) contribution to the metal scene as a whole. Commenting on something that is not squarely focused on the music Pagan Hammer creates seems deeply inappropriate when faced with music of such purity of vision and delivery. In this spirit, I'll not be referring to any pretentious evaluations on what Pagan Hammer 'means' on some political level, but rather, I will merely attempt to evaluate the strange, beautiful creature that 'Pagan Wolves' is.
The first demo of this artist is a stirring one on many levels. Playing a somewhat droning, ambient style of black metal, yet lacking the inherent pretense that many of such artists hold, Pagan Hammer's style is not one to easily pin down. I would describe the music on 'Pagan Wolves' as a mixture of Canadian standby Bloodaxe, new Israeli sensation Animus, and little-known Polish artist Northland. Pagan Hammer possesses the drifting, tidelike rhythms and flow of the first, the droning qualities, repetitive drumming, and some of the melodic sense of the second, and an additional burst of melodic stylings and bass heaviness of the third. This combination results in a heavy yet quickly-moving piece of repetitive, melodic black metal that disengages almost entirely from the root genre. There's essentially no resemblance to anything out of Norway or any traditional sonic qualities of black metal; it is indeed much like Animus' style of what I call 'black music'; black metal minus any trace of its heavy metal origins.
The guitars are by far the core of the music here. Presenting a sort of combination of the strings of Bloodaxe and the keyboards of Animus, the tone has a very indistinct, yet softly marbled quality to it, with gentle, rounded tones that move like water through the four tracks. Apart from a brief section of brilliant, crystalline tremolo in the beginning of 'A Fallen Warrior', the rhythms are completely indistinct, reducing picking down to droning chords sustained and gently changed over long measures and lines of music. A bass appears to be present; an extra dull, almost inaudible throb under the swirling majesty of the guitars, appearing unintentionally when played with extra volume. Seemingly programmed drums (apart from on the Burzum cover) are a blurring set of speedy, twinkling ride cymbal, low, rumbling bass drums, and very quiet snare, generally playing very simple rhythms, though not with quite the absolute minimalism of Animus. The drum sounds themselves are extremely pleasing, belying a sort of aesthetic concern that goes beyond that of the average black metal artist. Indeed, this demo is very pleasing to listen to, with its noiseless production, pulsing low end, and distinct instrumentation. The final piece added is that of vocals: in this case, infrequent, and when appearing, distorted beyond all recognition of the singer as human, not unlike Canadian stalwart It's use of monstrously reborn whisperings. In this case, they sound like wind, or some other natural force similarly wintry and dancing, with reverb driving the voice into caverns of quiet before brutally erupting in a breathy, nearly wordless cry.
The atmosphere is strange; wintry, yes, but more water than snow, lacking the bite and viciousness of an artist like Immortal in favor of something more distant and beautiful. I would not describe the music as very harsh or raw, despite the naturally anti-egalitarian sounds of the recordings, and the atmosphere is in a way similar, like a distant view towards the water off Antarctica rather than freezing in a blizzard like Bloodaxe. It is desolately beautiful yet unfailingly intense and proud in its delivery, and the energetic hum indicates a spirit more inclined towards introspective reflection on nature than warfare, even though this is naturally violent music.
Of all the demos I've received, 'Pagan Wolves' is most certainly one of the best. With an incredible strength in both songwriting and atmosphere, I eagerly look forward to more music of such stark beauty as this. While it is certainly not for anyone, and is comfortable in its position as outsider art, it is most certainly a release to investigate for the greater musical community. The measure of what makes black metal great is in its ability to transport the listener to another realm far beyond ours. 'Pagan Wolves', if nothing else, certainly does that.