Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Moontower - Black Metal Terror

Moontower - Black Metal Terror
2004, Total Holocaust Records

Not to be confused with Dan Swanö's project band with the same name, this is a traditional Polish black metal group playing in a very conventional manner using a war chest of instrumental techniques and compositional ideas mostly handed to them by Graveland. First forming - as far as I know - in 1998, Moontower to date has released six collections of songs into the underground, including a recent full-length called "Praise the Apocalypse" (which I have not heard yet, but will hopefully track down soon) and a split EP with the NSBM band Ohtar, the actual existence of which I can not actually verify. Before all of this, and before the "In the Shadow of the Wolf" EP on Total Holocaust from last year, which is in no way representative of this band's possibilities and/or potential - although it is indicative of the inspirational debt they owe to Rob Darken, as it starts with a pedestrian, workmanlike Graveland cover - Moontower released a tape demo called "Aryan Metal Terror" in the year 2000 (graced with cover art from an Albrecht Durer piece). This CD is a reissue of that demo. I do not know why Total Holocaust chose to change the name of this release to "Black Metal Terror" (this title was also the name of a song on a EP of theirs called "The Wolf's Hunger"), perhaps that reflects a reluctance on the part of the label to be linked to any sort of NSBM reference (or at least an open advertisement of such), or it might have just been changed because this CD features the demo plus two extra bonus tracks, a cover of Bathory's "Armageddon" and a sequel to an earlier song called "The Tower of the Moon Part II", and as such is not exactly a strict reissue of the demo. It doesn't matter. What I really care about is just having this material on CD, in a media form that will not (hopefully) wear out...

Why? Well, this is simply one of the best Polish black metal releases I've ever heard. When I say "Polish black metal" the archetype I envoke/evoke is of course anything even remotely connected to Graveland, as most of the second-tier bands from this country do not see it as one of their duties to hide their immense debt to the inspiration and aesthetic guidelines of the first few (three - maybe?) Graveland releases. The way that aesthetic debt appears here, on this release (and not necessarily other Moontower productions) is the form the vocals take and the sound and methodology of the keyboards. Other than that, Moontower do not seem to have any kind of direct link to Darken's work...but these two appearances or instrumental qualities are so overwhelmingly important in the overall sound of the material here (and its impact on one's imagination) that to ignore them would require an immense effort of concentration...and I'm not sure the results would justify the experiment. However, in mentioning this delineation of influences on certain instruments and not others, what I'm really trying to point at is the fact that there are elements in Moontower's music that set them apart and make them (appear) original. The leading example would be the guitar writing and the entire sound of the guitar, and its concentration on heavy, thick chord progressions and crunching, rhythmic motifs allied to the more traditional tremelo-picked or quick-strummed black metal riffs. In addition we have a drumming technique in use here that I can not see descending from Capricornus...rather let's fly from that association, take a stab in the dark, and link it (maybe) to death metal ("The Honour of My Blood", 1:45-2:30, rising again upwards into a blast, or very creatively in "Fields of Death" at 5:20) or just basic older thrash. Interesting, and atypical in the Polish scene.

It's the vocals, however, that will capture your attention here as they are so high in the mix and thus buzz eternally at the edge of your consciousness as you reach deep into the analog tones with your ears and try to just isolate certain guitar segments...or the skilled drumming, which is buried beneath a wall of cold, black mud. The screeching, warbling, neurotic strains of Belial (or is it Seth?) call up "In the Glare of Burning Churches" effortlessly, and also distantly link this band within the black metal pantheon with such acts as Mutiilation or...Celestia - dare I say it? It's the same type of tense, stretched, anemic wailing and caterwauling that we would expect from Darken's "witch burning at the stake" emotings or the frenzied obsecrations of most other underground Polish acts. I can not discern that many idiosyncrasies in this portion of their sound, so I'll leave it at that...

What I do mainly appreciate in their traditional instrumental approach is the keyboards. Whatever particular programming style or distinct sound Darken used on his first couple of releases, Moontower almost exactly duplicate that here. There are differences...for example the instrumental sections of the Intro and Outro (capitalized because they are actually separate compositions and individual tracks) feature tones that Darken probably would not have embraced (or even admitted existed), but that is no matter and is just another element setting Moontower apart. However, where the keyboards are traditional, stirringly epic, beautifully dark Graveland-inspired additions, they add so much to the songs just in their basic, rudimentary shadowing and atmospheric, chromatic illustration that their absence, I feel, would be sorely felt. They are the extra 10% that takes the listener over the edge firmly into Moontower's realm, and lets him/her leave the "real world" behind.

As for the two bonus tracks here appended as a finale, I can't say that much about them. The production on the first is of course much better than the earlier demo songs (be prepared for a volume shock if you have the sound turned up really loud to soak in the lunar tones from the demo), the sound on the second is much worse...but that doesn't matter. The finishing offering here, the cover of "Armageddon", is a somewhat...strange version of the simplistic, bestially brutal classic from Bathory's first, with vocals that seem like an afterthought as they are sloppy and ill-performed. I believe it's also almost 30 seconds longer than the original. Strange? In any case it doesn't add much to one's understanding of the influences Moontower may have had in the past (their demo wasn't recorded that long ago, only in 2000!) and I will probably ignore it in the future. The new track before it, "The Tower of the Moon Part II", is also completely different in interpreted intent and technique from the demo material, being much less dynamic and evocative, but carrying with it an interesting and very forceful, direct guitar sound. I suppose one can just investigate this band's newest album if one were really interested in their current direction. Total Holocaust has also released that in tape format, and ISO 666 records is supposedly handling the CD version.

I am grateful for Total Holocaust and Moontower getting together to put this great material on disc, though, as I feel it deserves to be archived and studied. It's very interesting music, and some of the most atmospheric art to fall from the Polish scene in its tumultuous, short history. I recommend finding this if you are interested in exploring one of the region's best kept secrets.