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Why did they put the Volkurah tracks first? - 69%

iamntbatman, November 21st, 2009

This four way split contains material from black metal bands from the vast wine countries of northern California (Bone Awl) and, uh, Ontario (Volkurah) as well as two Finnish bands (Hammer and Vordr) for a cross-the-pond metal extravaganza. The results are decidedly mixed but fortunately there's enough interesting material contained on this split to be worth your while.

The first two tracks are by Ontario's Volkurah, who play...well, this is pretty much stock standard bedroom black metal. The tinny, super distorted guitars dominate everything else in the mix during both tracks but unfortunately just play some basic chords in a simple strummed pattern. The riffs are neither hypnotic nor catchy and are just kind of...there. The drumming isn't half bad but it's barely audible (especially on second track "Bless the Plague" which sounds almost entirely devoid of percussion until well after the two minute mark). There's no bass presence at all on these tracks, either via bass guitar or bass drums, making the entire thing a mid-to-upper register affair. The vocals are pretty standard black metal screams, not unlike those from Canadian peers Gris, but are buried such that they can't really be fully appreciated. From the horrid production to the generally sloppier than a Manwich guitar playing, there's not really a lot to appreciate on these tracks.

After the two Volkurah tracks, Bone Awl stampede into the room to destroy every trace of disappointment you might have had about this split. The songs here are the usual ham-fisted charging punk assaults I expect out of Bone Awl but the riffs this time around are a bit more complex than usual (though still miles from rocket science). The band uses their trademark noisy, bassy mixture of guitar and picked bass to create some throaty mid-range riffing goodness. The drumming is equally bare-bones but has all of the propulsive punk energy that this kind of music needs. Unfortunately, as with a couple of other releases in the band's discography, the vocals are a bit too buried to be held in the same sense of awe as when they're at their best. But god, are those riffs catchy as hell (the open-string almost thrashy riff in "Life is Blood Red" is a particularly strong standout). The band also marks their return to slower, doomy "last" tracks with "Finally Gone" but, unlike previous iterations of this idea, this one has some lazy-sounding gargled vocals that don't really do much for it. But hey, the riffs aren't bad at all, despite being a bit repetitive. These four tracks are worthy additions to the Bone Awl catalogue and alone make this split worth checking out.

Next up is Finnish NSBM band Hammer. The production here is quite raw but, other than bass drums that are a bit muffled (due to the volume of the bass guitar, no less!) it sounds just fine, though there's a decent amount of tape hiss. The band does a good job of shifting back and forth between more mournful, almost post-punk sounding sections with more subdued drumming and full on blastbeat assaults. The guitar work is pretty basic, with "leads" just being two-note figures and the riffs being simple three-chord affairs but they're pulled off with enough conviction to be worth your time. There are a few more complicated lines, such as the almost-solo at the end of "Vala" and the tremolo lead during the chorus of "Nimeen Kansan Valkoisen." The vocals are pretty darn high-pitched, almost Silencer-esque, which works in general (especially during the faster parts) but gets a bit monotone even after only two songs. It's really nice to hear bass this prominent on a black metal recording, especially one this raw. The band's lyrics are notably absent from the release, perhaps in effort to disguise the band's NS image (although the second song's title would be a giveaway for anyone with access to an online translator or dictionary).

The last four tracks come courtesy of Finland's Vordr and serve as something of a bridge between the punky approach to black metal typical of Bone Awl and more straightforward 2nd wave Scandinavian black metal. The band alternates simpler punk chord progressions (supported by equally simple punk drumming) with a more typical black metal approach with thrashy riffs and blast beats. Unlike the Hammer tracks, there's no bass to be found on the Vordr tracks except for on third song "Crushing with the Wrath of Old" which has a prominent, almost bouncy bassline. The band's guitar tone is also pretty strange; it sounds almost like a heavily distorted acoustic guitar rather than an electric guitar, especially on second track "Inner Desolation." You know that stock sound clip of some sort of large jungle cat yowling off in the distance that plays in pretty much every movie scene when the characters find themselves in some deep, dark jungle? That's pretty much exactly what Gand's voice sounds like, perhaps a little more strained. It's kind of a unique style and it's not outright annoying but it's not jaw-droppingly fascinating, either. The band also suffers from songwriting inconsistencies; first track "Crimson Wind" is a lot better than the following three (especially ultra noisy album closer "Sabbath of Ruin").

To summarize: the Volkurah tracks are pretty much throwaways, the Bone Awl tracks are pretty darn good, the Hammer tracks are strong as well and the Vordr tracks are really a hit-or-miss affair. Bone Awl fans will find a lot to like here, while black metal fans not really into their punky style will really only enjoy the Hammer tracks and the first Vordr track (although that might be a bit to punky for such a person), which only totals a quarter of the split's material. 7/12 is a somewhat decent ratio of hits to misses for a split, after all.