2004, Osmose Records
I'm not a big fan of Osmose Records. The label itself, not the bands that they have put out, as some of those are among my favorite bands ever in the black and death metal genres: Enslaved, Angelcorpse, Immortal, etc. I have never heard a positive thing about Herve and Osmose's business practices. Whether it's ripping off other companies in Europe and in the States, stealing money from bands, enforcing bizarre and arbitrary signing practices, etc. this is one of those labels that keeps alive all of those bad stereotypes of an exploitive music business that you hear about in the underground all the time. It is interesting to see how the terribly manipulative and depressingly "commercial" behavior of the major houses is reflected in the practices of grassroots organizations like underground distributors and labels. Apparently there is no level of the music business that is immune to theft and the exploitation of artists. What can one do about this? Simple: don't support these labels. Don't buy their products, don't go see their bands (unless you are sure the band is getting a cut of the profits), don't give the label any money at all. Write them continuously to let them know what you think of their behavior. Unless they're rich beyond belief or completely callous and insensitive sooner or later they'll get the message. If they don't? I would suggest force.
If you like a band on a label like Osmose, try to do a good deed for once and instead of going through their handlers get the music from the band themselves. They may have been given copies of their album in payment as part of their contract, or if they are willing to subvert their own label they might be able to get you a copy at a discount, or just make a copy of it for you. It's important not to support a label like this in any way. Give your full support (emotional, social, monetary) to the band, not the leeches living off their creativity. In any case you will be able to make contact with the band and gain a personal connection, something you will not be able to buy from their label. If you want to spend money on music, make sure it gets to the people who are making it, please.
I don't buy anything from Osmose, and I haven't for years. They also have never supported this magazine in any way. In writing to them for five years they have never returned a single one of my emails. So, as far as I'm concerned, Osmose and Erebus have an equal relationship. I write reviews of their bands because I want to support the groups themselves and their music, not the label.
Why do bands continue to sign with Osmose? Ultimately I'm not an insider at that level, so I don't know for sure. I think it probably has a lot to do with the label's strange prestige, or rather...their track record of releasing so many good albums (which should be seen as a production of the bands on their label, not the label itself), although they have released just as many mediocre ones. As you have no doubt witnessed, when most bands get big enough to actually have some kind of leverage, they usually leave Osmose. Marduk and Immortal are two that come to mind immediately. Bands at this point (in the history of metal) take a look at their record collections, see how many of those albums came out on Osmose, and then conceive a desire at some point to reach this "pinnacle" (irony!) of the music business. I think it has more to do with bragging rights than anything else. However, you have to ask yourself: how much is the esteem of the ignorant people surrounding you worth? To me the respect of bands who have been through this whole process and have come out on the other side working independently (free of exploiting music label owners) would be far worthier.
Ravager is an interesting band to me because they are involved in a lengthy process of change right now. Antimo, also of Disgorge and a few other bands, is at the center of this group and it is his excellent vocals (improving all the time) that drive forcefully their sound to the forefront of my consciousness. For the most part, and starting where the last album left off, this is hyper-aggressive Krisiun or Angelcorpse-style blackened death metal (this is just a classifying convention, they don't really sound like either band although the influences are of course there), although all kinds of other inspirations bleed through as one gets deeper into the record (there is a section that reminds me of the last Mortuary Drape opus, for example, and others that immediately call The Chasm and Incantation to mind). The last Ravager album "Storm of Sin" disappointed me because I thought it failed to adequately capitalize on the energy and melodic originality of the Domain (this band's former name) material on the split album they released with Demonized on American Line Productions. See my review of that slice of terrorism elsewhere for my exact thoughts. This album, however, does so - it is, in my mind, a worthy successor to the split album and makes me forget the existence of the debut. Maybe I should go back and listen to the debut again now? I don't know. This is much darker, more openly melodic, and more original than it (going by what I learned from their debut, again) should have been, or what I expected. The riffing is savage, expert, adroit, capable, and the tracks show (in their execution and performance) a lengthy time of composition, patient deletion, editing and reworking. Ravager have improved as songsmiths. Several sections in the various songs surprised me with their writing: the way they were linked to their surrounding transitions or bridges, the ways in which they reflected on other parts of the individual compositions, etc. Also worth mentioning is the rough production, especially the ghostly or "spectral" sound of some of the soloing, which I thought fit this style of music perfectly. While most other bands on Osmose are content to rest on their laurels and rework the elements of their style that got them signed in the first place, Ravager are trying to evolve. At this point in the metal scene, I can only admire them for that. They have created a new voice within their particular genre, even if it is at a level of particulars and subtleties that may escape casual fans of this kind of music. I look forward to their next release, of course, but in the meantime I will be playing this album a lot, as I have been for the past week. This is excellent material, and I hope they continue on this new path of progression.