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Exciting but Unfocused USBM - 79%

Musical Warfare, August 24th, 2012

Kansas black metal horde Stonehaven have given us a promising glimpse into USBM’s future in the form of sophomore offering Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes. As a black metal album it’s sort of all over the place, but the album’s unpredictable nature is actually what makes it so interesting. Often the band will switch from depressive, Burzumic atmospheric riffing to more old-school punkish guitar work, even flirting with Enslaved-like progressive riffs in several places. The vocals and drumming are fairly typical but they certainly get the job done, and more importantly they stay out of the way while the guitars spout everything from sickly melodies to raw power chord blasts and chilling atmospherics. From the band’s press release it sounds like Stonehaven prides themselves on their colorful style, using bits and pieces of various black metal subgenres to convey a theme of old world horrors:

“Our album is the end product of years of hard work. It captures the horrors of old world Europe: atrocity, murder, and Norse Heathenism.From aggressive black metal riffs to magnificent Viking melodies, Concerning Old-Strife And Man-Banes encapsulates a journey into the terrifying past of our ancestors.”

The production of the album is a little weird, with everything mixed toward the higher end to give the guitars a sickly sort of quality rather than the more expansive, powerful sound that some modern black metal bands employ. Regardless of their production choice, Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes is definitely impressive and showcases the significant amount of talent and songwriting creativity this band has. The lack of a focused sound is not really a concern and is something that many more established bands are also guilty of; ultimately it comes down to whether a band can temper the schizophrenic nature of their songs with riffs that are actually good, and Stonehaven certainly show the ability to do that on this album. The production issue is a bit noticeable but doesn’t detract from the band’s vision or the enjoyment of the album too much. Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes is one of this year’s more exciting US black metal releases so far, and fans should make sure to check it out.

(Originally written for Musical Warfare)