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In the past few months most of the stuff, which I have listened to was obscure and usually old school death or black metal, so yesterday I thought “OK, maybe it is about time to listen to something different, maybe something what I haven’t listened to for years...”. Personally I am quite open minded metal maniac, I think, I have many different styles of this music in my collection, obviously death and black are in advantage, but there’re also some other types of metal, which I like and listen to; for example I have nothing against listening to something like Bestial Raids and then Opeth the same day. And something called symphonic black metal is also among the styles, which I like. I am not maybe the greatest fan of this style, not every band which plays it can interest me, quite often such bands would rather irritate me (for many reasons: too soft or too poppy music or maybe because of the hilarious image like in Ancient or The Kovenant…), but certainly there are some hordes, which I just like. Let’s see: Limbonic Art (masters and one of my favourite bands ever!!!!!!), Morgul, Diabolical Masquerade, Obtained Enslavement, Troll, Covenant, Arcturus, there are even some Dimmu Borgir LPs, which I like… So, definitely this style of music has a lot to offer. So, yesterday I picked up an album from another such project, one which I haven’t listened to for years and which seems to be quite forgotten nowadays, so that’s a good reason to remind it to you… Here is Tartaros from Norway. I do realize that this band and its leader Charmand Grimloch may be known mainly because he’s been a live member of Emperor for many years, playing keyboards for them for few years. But I sincerely advise you to listen to Tartaros for its musical value, as I dare to say that if you’re into the bands, which I mentioned above and want to hear one of the best symphonic black metal releases from Norway from the 90’s, then “The Red Jewel” is one for you.
I haven’t listened to for years and at the moment I also don’t own Tartaros’ debut CD “The Grand Psychotic Castle”, so I won’t be comparing “The Red Jewel” to it. But it is a shame that none of these two albums is not available anymore, as I think this band deserves way more recognition. Let me be honest: “The Red Jewel” is just an excellent CD. Musically I think it is quite close to Morgul, early Covenant, Arcturus, but at the same time Grimloch had enough ideas to have his own identity. I love the atmosphere of his music and that sort of cosmic sound of the keyboards. It sometimes sounds close to “Aspera Hiems Symfonia”, but Tartaros feels to be faster and darker, not as theatrical and not as epic. Morgul comparisons or those to the early Covenant (especially in “Into the Faculty of Wonderful Secrets”) have a lot of sense as well, as all these bands seem to have similar attitude and songwriting style.
When describing the music on “The Red Jewel” I guess I should start with the keyboards. Their orchestral parts are very important to the music of Tartaros and Grimloch arranged them in very impressive and extravagant way. Each song is richly arranged with this instrument, but at the same time the keyboards haven’t been emphasized, but they’re sometimes almost hidden behind the guitars, which was a very good decision in my opinion – this way they’re not so dominant, but at the same time they play equally important role to the guitars (the only failure of the mixing is slightly silent sound of the drumming – in this case it is drum machine, but it could have been more audible – and almost complete lack of bass). Anyway, I like the production of “The Red Jewel” and such mixing of the music allowed the more metal and uncompromising side of Tartaros be audible and you can truly feel it, when the music speeds up to become more furious, dynamic and aggressive. It never feels too soft; it luckily never also feels like “sweet and too easily listenable”, which is a great advantage of “The Red Jewel”. If you listen to those harsh vocals of Grimloch (which only sometimes are accompanied by clean, epic singing) you may then realize than even if it is symphonic black metal, the music is still damn freezing cold, evil and utterly dark and is also very dynamic and energetic – something not every band in this style could achieve. And more so, not a single song or even not a single moment of “The Red Jewel” feels to be not good enough. I listen to this album more and more and I just cannot see any minuses in it… it sounds diverse and perfect. “The Ruby Mine”, “The Storm of Terror” (which is the most uncompromising and furious song from the album), “In the Intense Domain of Grievousness” (again, mind blowing stuff with crazy speed and ferocity mixed with splendid dark, sinister and sick atmosphere!) and “The 5th and the Hysteric” would be the most memorable and effective songs, but the truth is that the entire album is just stunning and have no weaknesses, each time I listen to it I feel very pleased and excited about it, so I can only strongly recommend you getting such an awesome, but horribly underestimated and unknown, nowadays most likely almost forgotten album.
The whole album was supposed to have a continuation (at least this is what the booklet next to the lyrics to “The 5th and the Hysteric”). Sadly it has been 14 years since the release of “The Red Jewel” and it doesn’t seem like Tartaros will ever be releasing anything else. I have no idea what Grimloch is up to nowadays, maybe he’s not involved in the metal music anymore or maybe he just has been abducted by the Aliens? I haven’t heard about the dude for many years, which is sad. Maybe someone, who reads these words, knows what have happened to him? Please let me know. All in all I strongly recommend you getting this CD. I also have a message to the labels out there: get both Tartaros re-released, both on CD and vinyl, as they do not deserve being covered by the time and dust. This is timeless and excellent music, strongly recommended!
Standout tracks: “The Ruby Mine”, “The Storm of Terror”, “In the Intense Domain of Grievousness”, “The 5th and the Hysteric”
Final rate: 90/100
Yesterday I found myself covering a Hungarian band with a fantastic reputation as supreme art. Forest Silence’s ‘Philosophy of Winter’ is a contributor to the small sections of the black metal scene which are subtly influenced by normally subdued aspects of the instrumentation, such as bass and, most importantly, the keyboards. Once again I have uncovered for myself a real treat in the form of Tartaros’ ‘The Red Jewel’, another subtly keyboard driven black metal record akin to theatrical avant-gardé bands like the well respected force of Arcturus, particularly their darkest record, ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. There are those that might argue that the debut was, in actual fact, much darker than the aforementioned sophomore, but since Arcturus had begun to move away from their black metal roots and towards a darkly deranged circus sounding style, I will stricken it from the record, since it doesn’t portray well what the majority of their material was like, whereas ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ is more adept at doing so, since the final assault, ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ once again restored that sound after a brief intermission with the lighter ‘The Sham Mirrors’, though it is an incredible feat in its own right.
Though the bands only musician, Charmand Grimloch, doesn’t dabble too much in allowing us into his mind to see his repertoire of influences, we can assume that bands like Arcturus, or even Emperor, with whom Charmand Grimloch played live keyboards for over a period of two or so years during the late 1990’s, have had an impression on what proceeds when the play button is apprehensively pushed down hard. The sense of apprehension I have whenever I tap into a new stream of music is one that goes down either one of two vastly different tributaries. First, a band can take the deathly wrong turn and up end in a place whereby I’m forced to repress the duration of the record from my mind, or they take the turn down the path of righteousness. ‘The Red Jewel’ is so exuberant, that I cannot help but feel like a bundle of excitement whenever it bursts open into life and courses through my veins like a bloodstream feeling the effects of a multitude of drugs. Not only do the usual instrumental aspects, such as the drums, which are particularly bombastic, or the guitars play a significant role in making this an exciting listen, but those keyboards are a quintessential element of Tartaros’ darkly charming style.
Charmand Grimloch, a man with much experience of playing keyboards at the highest level (as shown in his performances, on a live circuit, for well established bands like Emperor), definitely knows how to spark the interests of a passive listener as they travel through the mighty realms that this record invigoratingly moves through. Swiftly moving away from the guitars as a main influence behind the chaotic style, ‘The Red Jewel’ focuses in on areas which don’t receive as much attention by critics, like the drums. As aforementioned, the drums are given a really bombastic feel by the production, which keeps us on the edge of our seats. Strangely, when I’m listening to ‘The Red Jewel’, I am often reminded of those theatrical sci-fi shows of the 60’s and 70’s. Shows like a William Shatner led Star Trek, for instance. Songs like ‘Into The Faculty of Wonderful Secrets’ forces my mind to wander back in time and remember watching those ridiculously over-the-top sci-fi epics as a child. I remember being impressed by the engaging storylines and the primitive fighting that took place -- some of the elements of this record remind me of how I felt as a child.
The guitars are like chainsaws, cutting through my emotions and scarring me permanently with the marks of their memorable riffs and delightful solos. The title track is a fine example of this, with it’s chaotic distortion and superior vocals from Charmand Grimloch himself, as he performs every aspect with coolness personified. I never imagined someone like him being able to capably write songs and feature such infectious keyboards, which instantly hook the listener. He seemed like a mere rookie compared to other bands of this sort of nature, like Arcturus (though they’re far less domineering when it comes to controlling an atmosphere and making it able to penetrate the memory), simply because his other projects have never really gotten off the ground. To date, this is his only full-length, which is a shame because he is a monstrous musician, capable of such majesty and memorable moments, particularly in areas where we don’t expect them, as with the keyboards that act like some sort of whirling dervish, spinning and entrancing us with its bright colours and dynamic patterns.
Charmand Grimloch takes ample time exploring his other worldly sound, despite the short nature of most of the songs. I feel however, that the length of the songs is just about right. If they were extended, the chaos that ensues could become overwhelming and the amount of variation lost in translation. As they are, Charmand Grimloch leaves himself a perfect amount of time to spin of a number of catchy riffs, as well as engaging the atmosphere, as well as the avid listener, with a number of treasured background keyboard symphonies. If you extracted the other elements of the instrumentation and left nothing but the keyboards, you could have another mesmerising record all on its lonesome and it would cope with the pressure of being a solitary force well, I’d imagine. So, though the guitars, drums and vocals (though these do vary, with moments of cleans vocals, though they are sparse) are far more harsh than the expressive keyboards, they tend to compliment each other well on this devilish record. With an excellent balance between forcefulness and subtlety, Charmand Grimloch has departed the scene with one hell of a final swan song.
Born to dinobot parents and named after a Pokémon, one can well imagine that Tartaros mastermind Charmand Grimloch has led a hard life, and while we’re sorry for that, it has evidently had the positive side effect of improving his music by way of making him a more warped individual than those who ordinarily attempt so-called symphonic black metal. What’s so “symphonic” about symphonic black metal anyway?
1. Music. of, for, pertaining to, or having the character of a symphony or symphony orchestra.
Come on now – does your typical “symphonic black metal” band really have the character of a symphony? Perhaps a symphony that consisted solely of a string section with a part-timer on piano, and mostly just played backing chords… and we’re overlooking for a moment these bands’ rarely-more-than-incidental resemblance to black metal. I’ve got a more accurate adjective for bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth: gay.
gay [gey] adjective, -er, -est
1. having or showing a merry, lively mood: gay spirits; gay music.
2. bright or showy: gay colors; gay ornaments.
3. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures: a gay social season.
I do believe that would about cover it: they are merry and lively, they are bright and showy, and they are quite disgustingly social for nominally “black metal” music. Ergo, as Webster indicates above, they play gay music.
But Tartaros is a whole different species of monster, the sort that’s only as merry as maniacal laughter or as bright as the candles of a demon-summoning ritual of evil, or whatever. Certainly it is quite anti-social, which I endorse. Lord Grimloch forgoes the standard video game synth settings on his keyboard in favor of weirder, more abstract sounds, which remind a bit of what it might sound like if the Tall Man were to join up with the Killer Klowns from Outer Space and play organ at their circus. It is very goofy, but also weird and eerie, as opposed to goofy and effeminate, which is usually what we have to put up with. It’s not very symphonic, admittedly, but we can make do. At least it isn't gay.
The keys completely dominate the music and atmosphere, with everything else just sort of being there as expected, which is something of a minus. The guitars are more technical than they have to be – less indistinct tremolo and more distinct rhythms, quite like, yes, some later Emperor or Dimmu Borgir. I’d be hard-pressed to recall a single riff from this album, but that just isn’t how the guitars work on this album. I won’t hold that against Tartaros, although when the keys drop out, leaving the guitars without the necessary air support, things get a little boring.
Drumming is provided by a machine set to “blast” (probably; if not, it might as well be). The vocals are just regular black metal vocals. That comes out to a little too much just-regularness for my taste, and I think The Red Jewel would’ve been better served if the rest of the music could match the flamboyant weirdness of the keys. Even so, I like this, even though I don’t like this sort of thing.
The first time i listened to this album, i simply felt bad ... this music seemed all wrong and simply had no appeal or didn't even try to be catchy.
This is Tartaros, very harsh, heavy, evil and doing that while using a synth which obviously sounds like one.
The guitar blocked riffs sound very clean, while the other ones alongside the vocals are dirty as hell.
Although i hate plastic synth sounds the work here is pretty good, and many effects are used to form a music which turns your stomach down.
For me this is a different kind of black metal, a kind which isn't trying to lure listeners with catchy melodic tones or with idiotic extremist ideals - this work is pure evil, and kicks ass - the only reason it didn't score a 100 for me was the fact
grimloch used his favorable synth is such a clear manner without even trying to have sounds in the level of real orchestras, a shame.