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Toteslaut - 89%

Noctir, January 30th, 2012

Nåstrond is one of the many lesser-known black metal bands from Sweden. Forming in 1993, they released two demo tapes while more established groups like Dissection and Marduk were making a name for themselves. It was not until 1995 that the band's debut album, Toteslaut, would be unleashed upon the underground. Unfortunately, this is a record that is still rather obscure when compared to the likes of Storm of the Light's Bane or Far Away From the Sun. There is no clear-cut reason why Nåstrond did not make more of an impact with this record, as it contained enough elements that were typical of the Scandinavian black metal style to appeal to most fans, while also possessing something that was very unique.

My first exposure to this band came from a mix tape sent to me from a penpal in Finland, back in the late 90s. While the song, "Lord of the Woods", certainly met with a positive response, I failed to seek this album out. I was re-introduced to Nåstrond when living in Sweden, some years ago, and could hardly believe that this album passed under my radar for so long. While far from being the most amazing thing to hail from the frozen north, it did not deserve to go unnoticed or forgotten.

Musically, Toteslaut would seem to follow the general patterns of most Swedish and Norwegian bands of the period. One can hear bits of Bathory and Celtic Frost in the songwriting, and the material consists of a good number of pummeling drum beats and fast tremolo melodies. However, to write this off as being generic would be a disservice. Though the style is fairly standard, the actual riffs possess an eerie and sorrowful atmosphere that is unlike anything else that was released around this time. The additional synth passages do well to accentuate this feeling, while not overpowering the guitar riffs. In most cases, the keyboards are more subtle than in a lot of other bands. The vocals are rather typical, not straying from the sound utilized by bands like Marduk and Gorgoroth. Draugr's voice is very hateful, at times, and suits the music well.

The production is the one main weak point. The drums are far too high in the mix, which gives a feeling of being too polished and fake. Actually, the percussion is reminiscent of that found on the first Algaion album, and one has to wonder if a drum machine was used. The vocals are at an appropriate level, though the clean voices should have been buried a little more. The guitar tone is cold and icy, at times, but they lack any sense of rawness and seem a little too clean. It is not as if this sounds like some mainstream release, by any means, but the material would have benefited from a slightly more primitive sound.

The lyrics deal with topics relating to death, moreso than Satanic / anti-Christian themes. However, it is not done in the manner that one would find on a death metal release. The sort of approach that Nåstrond takes as it relates to death is more occult and ritualistic. "May the Rotten Bones Absorb Life Again" is a good example of this, with the creepy riffs complimented by the topic of necromancy.

Despite its flaws, Toteslaut is certainly worth listening to. It is pitiable that Nåstrond's debut effort fell through the cracks and was passed over in favour of so many inferior releases. While using a similar approach as that of many of their contemporaries, this band really captured a completely different type of darkness with the sombre riffs that make up this album. Seek it out and give it a chance.

Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com

Gravestech - 97%

Orlok666, September 16th, 2011

Nastrond remains one of the best bands out of Sweden, yet they are one of the more underground and often overlooked bands from that country. This is unfortunate for their music is dark, occultic and highly atmospheric. Toteslaut is their first full length release, and it remains perhaps their best (or at least my favorite). What makes this release so effective is the atmosphere, and the ways in which their subject matter and interests manage to exhude through the musical creations.

Opening with a simple dank keyboard intro, the first black metal track personifies what you shall find on this release. Effective drum machine programming, a riff oriented guitar based sound, with touches of ambient keyboards and a vocal performance that is possessed and deeply evil. The riffing on this song, and the album in general tends to focus on melodic sounding riffs that are similar to what bands like Horna and Sargeist tend to do, but mixed with a more old school frame of reference. For example when showing the last metal track "Gravestench" to a friend he said it reminded him of Celtic Frost, when revisiting it I could only agree as it has a similar monolithic simplistic vibe, but mixed with the more Norsk aspect of much of the riffing.

However one can not say in any way that this release is at all generic. Nastrond in fact are highly original, their riffing styles and songwriting skills are very different from what is often released into the black metal underground. As is their production ideas. The production on this release is very odd, but because it is clear it is listenable. Essentially what one finds on here is a lack of bass and a focus on guitars, the guitars are given a sound that is less distorted then most metal, and has a focus on low range equalization. Mixed with this is the drum machine, which is given programming that is effective and close to a real drummer, though they do make use of the fact that a drum machine can do things a human drummer can't at times.

There are also touches of keys here and there used as an atmospheric device, I like the sounds they used, which generally tend to be strings, choirs, and sometimes a kind of analog synth sound.

The vocals are given slight reverb, and for the most part are in a mid range to higher pitched scream. At times they become a clean incantation, showing the occultic ideas and inspirations of the band.

The mood of this release is where it wins with me, Nastrond are real and true occultists (around the time of this release they were involved with Michael Ford's Order of the Black Dragon a vampyric magical group) and it shows in the music. The focus is on death worship on this release (where their demos were more focused on vampirism) and a look at the song titles shows in what ways they work with this focus. Often there is reference to Necrotism of every stripe, nights with the dead, ghoulish actions in a cemetery, an ambient piece with an incantation to Kali, explorations indeed of the types of things practiced in Left Hand Aghora practice.
Often one can also hear the words spoken and this helps to build an understanding of this release beyond just the atmosphere that the music reeks of.

Imagine a dark cemetery and the stench of rotting flesh, as a necromancer digs up a corpse and then uses its bones in a ritual to commune with the angel of death. This is the type of vibe one gets off this release.

In the end I can only recommend this album to anyone interested in serious true occultic black metal, the ways its rarely made today. This is one of my favorite and most listened to albums in my collection and I urge you to give it a listen. However I will state two things, one I realize not everyone will enjoy it and two it does take time to grow one you, it took a few listens for me to really get to love this album, but in the end it grew on me like a cancer.

Filthy, raw, evil. The way it should be! - 95%

CleansingPestilence, April 6th, 2011

I came across this band when my friend showed me their song "From a Black Funeral Coffin" from their demo of the same name. Initially I wasn't impressed. It sounded like it was recorded in the back of a car. I enjoy raw black metal, as long as the rawness adds to the music, not obscures it. But this demo seemed nearly unlistenable, so I kinda forgot about them.

A little while later, I looked them up on here and I decided to give them a final try, seeing how as if they're a raw black metal band, they are bound to have SOMETHING in their catalogue that I would enjoy. So I looked into this particular album, Toteslaut.

I am rather happy that I did, let me tell you! This album has quickly become one of my favourite black metal albums I've ever listened to. It sounds the way black metal should sound: filthy, raw, minimalistic, creepy, and incredibly evil. But Nastrond don't come off as a typical "HAIL SATHAN" black metal band. Their lyrics are more about the Occult, and they have a more eerie, ritualistic sounding element to them. They are doing something different than the typical blastbeat drumming and tremolo-picked riffing that is so common within the the black metal sound these days.

The album begins with "Xolotl", a really creepy-sounding ambient piece that sounds like a pulse mixed with a eerie tribal chant. A great way to start the album, as the whole album is rife with eerie soudning ambience and synths. The next song is "En Sang Fran en Pestbesmittad Grav" (which according to my translator means "A Song from a Diseased Grave", an awesome title), which starts of with some cool drumming and a great synth pattern, and some pretty cool riffs.

"Lord of the Woods" is the next tune, and my personal favourite on the album. It begins with some very raw guitar chords, and another very unnerving synth part. The lyrics appear to be about a werewolf, or a person who becomes a werewolf.

The rest of the songs pretty much follow the same formula of raw riffery and eerie keyboardiness. However, with the song "Jai Mai Kali", we are introduced to a whole new tone. The song consists of only vocals, and a very happy-sounding sitar riff. It's a very different tone from the rest of the album, but in a positive way. It adds to the whole "exotic" feel of the album very well.

The final track (and title track, oddly enough) consist of some ambience and a woman whispering in German. A creepy way to end the album indeed. This final track really sticks in your mind, for me anyways.

In conclusion, this is a very raw, evil and creepy sounding black metal album. People who enjoy black metal will enjoy the familiarity of the riffs and drumming, while they will enjoy the breath of fresh (rotten?) air of the ritualistic elements. Well done.

May they die by the sight and smell of me - 85%

autothrall, November 4th, 2010

Nåstrond are one of the more unusual, interesting Swedish black metal acts to arrive in the early to mid 90s, eschewing the raw Norse worship or popular melodic death inflection of a Dissection to immerse their sound into the secrecy of ritual and mysticism. Please do not misunderstand me. There are melodies here, and certainly the tone is pretty raw even for its day, but there was something transitive and creepy about the approach of this duo that felt mildly ahead of its time. The band have yet to receive an adequate wave of recognition, but Frostscald Records might be able to help with this, through a pair of reissues of the first two albums, each packaged with some newer, subtler artwork.

Toteslaut is the first of these, the band's 1995 full-length debut, and in my opinion their best work. An obvious point of comparison for the sound here would be the early, rugged material of Sweden's famous Bathory, as Draugr and Arganas take an incredibly carnal, direct approach, but you will also hear traces of early USBM like Profanatica/Havohej with the turbulent tides of the guitar tone. Beyond that, though, the incorporation of wonderfully primal synthesizers and the occasional chant moves Nåstrond into a territory they could boldly call their own, a vortex of obscure mysticism and raucous, grinding black metal that compensates for its primacy with an overwhelming level of atmosphere, with a variety of vocals that includes Draugr's devious, full snarling and the cleaner sort that well suits the band's penchant for segues of necromantic audio magick.

There are traces here of the more ambient beast the band would later experiment with in more depth, like the ritual intro "Xolotl", or the full track "Jai Ma Kali", which is all vocals, percussion, and sitar strumming. The title track finale is also a haunting piece with steady percussion, eerie male chants and the sample of a woman speaking in German. However, the bulk of the material is crude, driving black metal played at a largely mid-pace with the melodies tucked into the viral chords, and this is where the band truly shines. Tracks like the somber, searing "Lord of the Woods", out of control "May the Rotten Bones Absorb Life Again", and glorious, screaming elegy of "Neuntoter (Yo Soy El Roy!)" all provoke a nostalgia for this period that is rarely captured even by bands that attempt to channel the pure 'necro' aesthetic even today. Several incorporate heavy use of synth, such as "En sång från en pestbesmittad grav", but it only adds to the band's submersed sense of majesty, the fading of old ways, forever captured here.

Toteslaut is a great album, and well worth the dollar if you value the virtues of deep black metal atmospherics carved primarily through honest, festering compositions that conspire below the rasping, sinister tones of the expectant sneer. It might not carry the melodic weight of The Somberlain or Far Away from the Sun, and it also isn't invested in the blasting chaos of the early Marduk catalog, but there is something blissful and blasphemous about how its various joints fuse together into a skeletal cacophony. Along with Mörk Gryning and Algaion, they represent one of those unsung Swedish squads that deserve a second chance, or a first glance from any newcomer to the genre that respects quality over presentation, creepiness above complexity.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

The sound of death - 95%

Pestbesmittad, October 22nd, 2006

When “Toteslaut” was released back in 1995, I didn’t see very many positive reactions to it, so I didn’t check it out immediately. This was a mistake from my side, as Nåstrond’s debut truly differs from standard Swedish black metal. Musically “Toteslaut” hasn’t got anything in common with the typical Swedish BM sound a’la Dark Funeral, Setherial, Dissection, Marduk etc. This is something very different indeed. Nåstrond combines ambient with black metal in a magical/ritualistic way. When you listen to this album you’ll understand why Nåstrond gets referred to as occult black metal.

Production wise “Toteslaut” is unpolished and ugly, yet this along with the at times somewhat chaotic playing only enhances the very intense and special atmosphere. The guitars have a very musty and disease-ridden sound to them, which creates a feeling of death. I also think that the guitar sound on this album comes close to that of Behemoth's "Sventevith" album. The untypical sounding synths and clean vocal invocations are used to great effect on several tracks, while the three ambient tracks definitely add to the album’s obscure atmosphere. “Toteslaut” immerses you into its own world of necromancy, vampirism, pestilence, old folklore and superstition. You don’t just listen to the music - you feel it as well!

Already the start of this album is pretty creepy. First up is "Xolotl", an ambient track that contains the sound of what I think is a heartbeat. In Aztec mythology Xolotl was the god who aided the dead to Mitclan (the lowest level of the underworlds, situated far in the north). So I suppose this track is meant to convey a symbolic descent to the underworld for the listener. This is highly appropriate, since “Toteslaut” concentrates on the darker side of things. “En Sång från en Pestbesmittad Grav” (“A Song from a Pest Contaminated Grave”) has the feeling of something that’s very old and completely decayed, something that will infect you and take your life if you come into contact with it. “Lord of the Woods” is a good example of simple but very haunting use of synths. This track is about lycanthropy and it feels like the synth melody “portrays” a werewolf that roams the woods, preying on unsuspecting victims. “A Black Hearse Clad in Human Bones and Skulls” is suitably named. It’s able to create a vision of a hearse from beyond that mortals aren’t meant to see at all. Perhaps this particular hearse is meant for all of humanity? I wish the lyrics had been enclosed but they aren’t. Also this track sports some simple synth parts that add a very ghostly vibe to the song.

Nåstrond also draws influences from Eastern beliefs. The Indian influence comes through on the non-metal track “Jai Ma Kali”. This track is very ritualistic, a mixture of Indian music and synths, with ceremonial narration by Karl NE. “Gravestench” features some parts and riffs that have a pretty strong thrash metal touch to them but this is no cheap retro thrash metal track. Also on this track Karl again uses clean narration in a ceremonial way. The title track is a ambient track with obscure synth choirs, a looped effect that sounds like a falling boulder hitting the ground and a woman’s voice speaking in German. She’s describing how the vampire rises during the night and goes hunting. However, he must watch out for the sunlight because it will kill him. I wasn’t able to catch all of what the woman is saying because her speech is mixed quite low.

I recommend “Toteslaut” to those who liked Black Funeral’s “Vampyr – Throne of the Beast”. I see these two as sister albums, since both deal with the same topics to a large extent. Both albums also have a kind of medieval feeling to them: old graveyards bathing in the moonlight, werewolves, rotten corpses, rituals and so on.