Wednesday, September 16, 2009

GeistkrieG - Demo (2006)

I'm a noob. I need to make that abundantly clear before I say something that will offend anyone. Black Metal fans seem to be the kind that will take offense to things quickly, and have just as strong of opinions, if not stronger, than those of Death Metal fans. As such, it's my responsibility to inform everyone up front that when it comes to Black Metal, I'm still very much a newbie. I also have limited exposure, having heard most "unblack" or Christian Black Metal bands, and hearing very little secular Black Metal, or very little of what would be considered "true" or "kvlt" if you will.

Keeping that in mind, as a metal fan in general, I've tried to diversify myself, not being content to just listen to a handful of genres, but to broaden my horizons beyond the hard rock, traditional heavy metal, and thrash metal that I began with. I have delved into nearly every subgenre of metal I can think of, as well as many styles of punk, hardcore, rock, hard rock, etc. As a result, I feel like I have a good understanding of not only the spirit of rock & roll, but also the aesthetics that make rock & metal so enjoyable. However, as many a Black Metal fan will tell you, that has absolutely no bearing on Black Metal as a style, or as a movement.

So, what is a person supposed to when they learn that the "style" of music they are listening to isn't so much a style at all, but a "movement" of people? And, even though it's not a "style" in the classic sense, there are still conventions that must be followed or it's not "kvlt" or "true" to the spirit of the movment? When I think of this scenario, it reminds me of the early progenitors of the punk movement, and how in the 80's it was such a taboo thing to say you were a punk band if you weren't vehemently against something, or had a platorm on which to stake your claim, be it vegan, anti-establishment, or whatever your political flavor of the month. Black Metal as a "movement" reminds me very much of this, and I think it makes sense that those professing "true" music hold to that mentality as strongly as is possible. For those simply interested in stylistic aesthetics, however, they have the freedom to do much more of what they want, without fear of scenester recriminations, because they will ostensibly be ostracized from the scene they mimic. Such is the way of bands like Bal Sagoth who have a Death Metal and Black Metal hybrid style, but belong to neither camp. They are an island, in many ways.

So it is with GeistkrieG. Jeff Hansen, with his one-man-band approach, creates something that has strong elements of symphonic black metal (ala Dimmu Borgir), as well as death metal elements. However, this is not just a straight death/black hybrid. No, Jeff isn't content to just tread those waters, rather crafting his own unique blend of metal that defies description somewhat, while retaining elements of the 2 base styles he pulls from, along with adding various elements, some of which don't really have anything to do with metal, yet blend nicely. When I first heard his material, I caught wind of the project and visited the Myspace page, quite innocently, to hear a bit of the music from the Myspace player. About 30 seconds into "Spiral of War" I knew I had stumbled onto something special, and immediately placed an order for the demo. For those who don't know me personally, I never do that. I see that as a testament to the quality of the material present. Of course, once I actually received the CD, I was brimming with anticipation to listen to it. I was not disappointed as I popped it in & played the tracks - the unique music was just what I was expecting to hear after hearing a track or two on Myspace. Indeed, this sound is quite unique; I have dubbed it "Castlevania Metal", in reference to the Castlevania series of games. I thought it sounded like it would make a good metal soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for Playstation. Any way you slice it, this is a unique musical experience.

"Spiral of War" begins with some atmospherics and keyboard sounds, then around 15 seconds in, sounds faintly like a turntable scratching. That in and of itself should let you know you're in for an interesting ride! What follows is an onslaught of driving riffs, excellent drumming (including some hyper blast beats), some great keyboard layering, and a nice mix of lower-register death growls and raspier black metal vocals. I also like the symphonic element of the keyboards in the quiet portion of the song before transitioning back into monster riffage. The bass is actually audible here as well, which is a nice touch, since most extreme metal tends to leave the bass buried in the mix. The song transitions about half-way through to what nearly sounds like a breakdown with some rapsy vocals and death layered in along with some rumbling bass, heavy guitar crunch, and keyboard. Then back to the interesting keyboard line & driving riff from the beginning of the song. The quiet section with echoed guitar layers in the background around the 4-minute mark transition the song away from ultra-heavy to an interesting symphonic keyboard affair, and that takes the song out to the heaviness in the last 30+ seconds of the song, once again to what sounds like a breakdown, but not necessarily a hardcore-styled breakdown. It's an interesting way to cap off the song. "Awaken to Trumpets" starts with chirping birds, and a "phased" keyboard and guitar sound that is really trippy. Again, Jeff layers the vocals in here so you get a combination of death growls and higher-pitched black metal rasp. In addition, the keyboards add a nice atmosphere here. At around 50 seconds in, things slow down briefly, and there's a cool keyboard/organ sound that might make one think of the cheesy keyboard sounds in the move "Napoleon Dynamite", which I think is a brilliant move. Of course, this is but a brief moment of respite before the listener is bowled over by chunky riffs again. Interesting keyboard work & sound effects near the 2-minute mark, and a cool effect accompanies the vocals here. We get a short section of sample sounds from some kind of movie or TV show, with a little keyboard, then back into blast beats & driving riffs, with a heavy dose of keyboards to give that eerie "church organ" feel. Great keyboard work transitioning the song at the end with a lot of symphonic feel to it.

"Peculiar Compulsion" starts off with a techno beat and keyboard sounds as if they were coming straight out of an 80s video game, or from the personal library of Joy Electric mastermind Ronnie Martin. Of course, then the song quickly blows right into extreme death/black metal riffing & intensity, with some buried vocals in the mix that creep along under the music. Good transitioning once again between death growls and black metal rasp, as well as some cool fading effects from channel to channel (stereo effects) that sound great with headphones or earphones. The riff around 1:45 is simple, but effective in changing up the atmosphere of the song, and giving it a different feel than just blasting along. Keyboards are a tad more subtle here, but fill in the background nicely, especially with the "plinky" piano sounds, reminiscent of Rammstein in some places. The end of the song brings back some of the "80s video game" sounds as the guitar fades out and back to the techno beats. Closing song "Cobwebs Are Useless For Clothing" has a short fade-in feedback intro, right into a driving riff reminiscent of a monster hardcore breakdown; simple but effective. Of course, the intensity is upped with the keyboards, and the heaviness in the guitar. The transition into an eerie keyboard line over speedy riffing & blast beats is quite cool, with a slightly buried black metal rasp vocal filling in with a lot of inflection. Things slow down slightly & heavy up at nearly a minute & a half in, and the keyboard takes on that real symphonic bent, with some nice faux-violin moments. Death growls start to enter in to the picture a bit later on, and some great double-bass work, as well as sections of blast beats & faster riffing. At nearly 3 minutes, we get a quiet section with a simple drum rhythm, rumbling bass, and a clean guitar rhythm picked out with a slightly dissonant melody. Jeff adds some keyboards about 30 seconds into that, and then brings back a heavily distorted guitar riff and some industrialized vocals, and more of the piano sound from earlier. Nearing the last minute of the song, we get the breakdown again, to great effect. This fades out to a distorted effect at the end, which then fades into silence.

The only drawbacks to this album are the somewhat distorted/compressed production (guitars can get a little too choppy at times), the shortness of the demo itself (minor complaint), and the lack of artwork. The sleeve shown above is just a placeholder. What you get when you order this is strictly a hand-marked CD-R with a small printout card that has the GeistkrieG logo and the list of tracks. Don't let that deter you if you're a fan of the styles involved here, however. This is well worth the effort to purchase. At the time of this writing, the only way to obtain this demo is by contacting Jeff directly on his Myspace.

This has to be heard to be believed. There's really nothing like it that I'm familiar with that so defies black metal convention while at the same time adhering to many of its tenets. If you like the symphonic blackened death sounds of Crimson Moonlight, Grave Declaration, or Dimmu Borgir, you owe it to yourself to check out this one-man project. Jeff is apparently working on a follow-up, though he has said it will be more "serious". My hope is that he won't lose the sense of whimsy that is present here, as well as keeping the experimental nature of the sound, so as not to trudge into already trod black metal territory with little hope of making an impact. I hope by "serious" he means that the project will be more than just a really impressive demo, but more of a fully-realized album event that will take this sound into the next level. Highly recommended.


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