Judge this one by its cover … yet do not judge it only on its basis, and do not be fooled by it. The Swiss outfit Stoned Hill presented the demo if they were going through the job interview, not simply stuffed a no markings CDR in an envelope. Leather cover folder, full size band pictures, member profiles, professional booklet with lyrics – the presentation is impressive and unmatched thus far by a young band submitting its seminal work for judgment on this site. High marks are certainly in order.
I am sure Stoned Hill members would not be satisfied if presentation was the only thing I praised. Going back to those band pictures and speaking of being fooled, I have to admit my first thought was that I would be hearing another Cradle of Borgir modern black metal wannabe. In the words of one of my beloved sportscasters: “That is why they play the game”, i.e. do not come up with your conclusions just by looking at the bandmembers’ makeup.
From the first listen up until it was time to submit this review I remain torn trying to label the style of music on Arising of Utter Darkness. Is it black metal or thrash metal? Unresolved in my feelings I am going to christen it blackened thrash and hope the Utter Darkness forgives me. The main reason for confusion – take away Janu’s vocals and there is little in Stoned Hill pointing outright into black metal direction.
There is little chaos and blinding speed on the album, some of the early raw black metal trademarks. There is no hidden atmosphere. There is no filthy punk attitude propelled along by incessant blastbeat. Don’t be mistaken, however. Stoned Hill can shred, but their riffing is very clear sounding, very tight and almost has a dash of classic metal in it. The speed can grow to a feverish pitch (Deformed Child), when needed, and this thrash blend can be fast (Living for Self-Destruction), but there are songs here proceeding at Iron Maiden gallop pace (Unleash Hate), flexing muscles all along the way no matter the tremolo. Stoned Hill is not a stranger to melody either, thrashing out some Italian (?) melody in Cum into a Lifeless Whore (grind title no doubt, but grind style appears only towards the end), or twin guitar harmonies on Mayhem and the title track, perhaps the most melodic song on the album.
Many songs on Arising of Utter Darkness have multiple parts. Nosferatu and Mayhem are two completely different songs stylistically, yet both feature a heavier doomy moment. The band often includes militaristic march breakdowns which should be winners with headbanging crowds (Nosferatu, Deformed Child). The apotheosis of such mosaic approach is mid-album instrumental Symphony Diabolica where the beginning blast onto thrash onto grind devolves into a heavily syncopated section guaranteed to break your neck. If anything, this is prog thrash which goes on for 8 long minutes.
The tight thrash and ambitious song structures would not have been possible without individual bandmembers’ skills, and I have to say that I am impressed. Finger nimbleness is on full display on the album, culminating with multiple leads in just about every song. Those abrupt rhythm changes and bass runs (Living for Self-Destruction) would not be possible without rhythm section holding its ground. In the middle of this instrumental prowess Janu comes in to inject venom into the sound with his dual vocals, throat burning high pitches replete with periodic snarly growls.
In a silly tradition one is forced to mention the influences when describing the young band’s demo, but it is very difficult to say who Stoned Hill sound like. This is no Teutonic thrash a la Destruction and Kreator, and this is definitely no Marduk oriented all-out speed madness. Never as melodic as Keep of Kalessin or later day Satyricon, this is nowhere near as raw as early Immortal or Tsjuder. In its slower moments Arising of Utter Darkness has a little bit of Celtic Frost shadow cast upon it, but that is some giant shadow no Swiss band can possibly escape. If there was one far-fetched comparison I could come up with it would be Norwegian band Susperia, where thrash also met black metal head on.
My only complaint is the length of some of the tracks. Cicero was a good speaker because he was always short and to the point. Veni, vidi, vici is another perfect example from the Roman world. When you can impress and win the listener, there is no need to drag on repeating yourself. I understand there were a lot of ideas the band wanted to put out, but more reserved approach to songwriting would make for more focus and easier album to digest. Nevertheless, the music of Stoned Hill in the end matches and exceeds their presentation.
Killing Songs :
Nosferatu, Mayhem, Arising of Utter Darkness
|Alex quoted 81 / 100|
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