cover-mysticum02.jpg

 

“Planet Satan”, the much protracted second album of Norwegian industrial black metal pioneers Mysticum, finally arrived after an 18 year layoff. Whereas almost all of the key figures of the Scandinavian second wave bands have either changed direction drastically, or split up altogether – Mysticum remains a pillar of artistic integrity. Their sporadic output has yet to be matched, or surpassed by its more popular, and arguably more prolific peers. Never the most productive, or active of bands the long awaited “Planet Satan” sounds as the logical follow-up to 1996’s “In the Streams Of Inferno”.

Of all the Norwegian black metal hordes Mysticum was probably the most interesting. Overlooked in its day, and the true pioneers of the industrial black metal subgenre, they never truly split in the traditional sense. Instead they gradually became inactive in the early 2000s. In 2011 the band returned to a more active state, with the original line-up of “In the Streams Of Inferno”, the band’s pioneering 1996 debut, returning to complete work on its long announced, but constantly pushed back, second album “Planet Satan”. The austere spirit of its debut album is intact, yet the more polished approach of “Planet Satan”, and the better integration of its electronic – and industrial components, make this new album far easier to absorb than its somewhat grating but pioneering debut. Of its competing triumvirate Dodheimsgard, Thorns and Ulver – only the latter remains active as an everchanging entity for its creative force. Mysticum, thankfully, remains consistent with its past output – and has improved upon the formula where needed.

One of the greatest strengths of “In the Streams Of Inferno” was its unrelentingly blight atmosphere. As on its debut the suffocating bleak atmosphere of post-apocalyptic dystopia, and feelings of alienation, and cold uncaring prevail. Although generally downtrodden “Planet Satan” isn’t without its humorous quirks. Opening track ‘LSD (Lucifer In the Sky with Demons)’ is an obvious jab at the classic The Beatles tune ‘Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds’. Its final third is introduced by 8-bit video game synthesizers, and its catchy mantra-like chorus is easily the highlight. ‘Annihilation’ starts out with a blaring air raid alarm, and is a blistering black metal track with David Parland-era Dark Funeral riffing. ‘Far’ is more conventionally black metal but puts more emphasis on its cold, spooky atmosphere through usage of sparse sound effects. ‘The Ether’ sounds as a nearly perfect combination of martial industrial beats and Norsecore. ‘Fist Of Satan’ downplays much of the electronics, but is hampered by subpar hardcore shouts being its primary vocal style. The cringeworthy vocals notwithstanding it is one of the best cuts on the album by a long shot. ‘All Must End’ and ‘Cosmic Gun’ sound the closest to the debut album in terms of drum programming, arrangements and song construction.

Mysticum_press5470-Photo-credit---Peder-KlingwallAs far as pacing and construction is concerned “Planet Satan” follows the template laid out by its 1996 predecessor. In the intervening two decades the trio has become better songwriters and instrumentalists. This translates in the songs having a better flow, and each of the various components fitting seamlessly together. The entire album is a cohesive whole from front to back, and nothing of it feels disjointed or out of place. Likewise does this second album close with a moodsetting piece, here being ‘Dissolve Into Impiety’. As an atmospheric instrumental that opens with an extended didjeridoo introduction (similarly to its usage as in Hate Eternal’s ‘To Know Our Enemies’ and Cryptopsy’s ‘Screams Go Unheard’) it works wonderfully despite its mountainous oriental feel. It attempts to recapture the alchemy of the entirely downtrodden ’In the Last of the Ruins We Search For A New Planet’ that closed out “In the Streams Of Inferno”, and succeeds. Notable is that the last track of the preceding album hinted at the title and theme of this new record. Whether the final song title here is suggestive of a potential third album title remains yet to be seen, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it did.

In comparison to “In the Streams Of Inferno” the screeched vocals have been largely abandoned. The vocals range from rasps, to grunts, screams and hoarse barks, still shared between guitarist duo Benny Cerastes and Ravn Preben Mulvik (Prime Evil). Liker most of the album the vocal lines sound more organic, fluent and natural than the sometimes contrived ones of its predecessor. In the intervening (almost) two decades technology has thankfully catched up with Mysticum, and for the first time the trio was able to fully capture its vision. One of the most notable improvements is the very polished, bass-heavy production job. “Planet Satan” was recorded and mixed at Fias Co. Studios with producer Sverre Dæhli. The album was mastered at Strype Audio in Oslo, Norway by the much in-demand Tom Kvålsvoll. The monochrome futuristic artwork by Daniele Valeriani, most famous for his post-Parland Dark Funeral output, fits ideally.

Due to its protracted gestation period and troublesome production history “Planet Satan” was released through Peaceville Records as the band’s previous contractor Full Moon Productions declared bankruptcy, and its contracts were bought/licensed out to other interested parties. History appears to repeat itself as 1996’s “In the Streams Of Inferno” was similarly bought out by American black metal specialist imprint Full Moon Production from the collapsing Deathlike Silence Productions in the aftermath of Aarseth’s passing. Likewise is “Planet Satan” a militant, hostile and abrasive piece of industrial black metal that hasn’t lost any of its edge despite a decade plus conception.  More conventionally black metal than its pioneering experimental predecessor, and far better produced, “Planet Satan” proves that Mysticum’s debut wasn’t a fluke. Hopefully it won’t take Mysticum another 18 years to produce a worthy successor to “Planet Satan”.

cover-vader02.jpg

 

After releasing one of the best selling demos in the genre, and releasing an excellent debut on Earache Records, Poland’s Vader had to prove their initial success wasn’t a fluke. In the intervening three years they released a live album and an EP while they prepared their second album, the first to feature all new and original material. On its second album things fell in place for Polish death metal combo Vader as they honed their sound into perfection. “De Profundis” is the template of which all future albums would be based, and a yardstick against which Polish death metal at large is often measured.

One of the first things to notice in the three years since the debut is how tight-knit and together the band has become. This second album largely does away with the thrash metal architecture of “The Ultimate Incantation” and places a great prominence on the Morbid Angel influence that already loomed over its debut. What remains intact from the debut is the heavily Slayer influenced riffing and the dynamic range that is now integrated into a faster, leaner and overall more percussive framework. While the album easily matches Suffocation’s “Pierced From Within” in terms of intensity and propulsion Vader is more direct and compact in comparison to that lauded band’s assault. Vader’s material is hardly what you’d call simple or straightforward by any reasonable measure, but they refuse to play technical or complex just for the sake of being so. In a sense they is the European counterpart to the enduring US death metal band Cannibal Corpse. Vader is about emotion, and no record displays this more brilliantly than “De Profundis”.

Vibrant and lively, even with the significantly bass-heavier but still bare bones production the songwriting of Wiwczarek and Raczkowski reached a peak. Presented here is a style of utterly relentless death metal clearly rooted in European thrash metal but with an American sense of urgency. Once again the album was promoted with a promotional video, and for this album ‘Incarnation’ was chosen. A wise choice if you consider that this track brings together everything this album is known for in a radio friendly three minute cut. As always with Vader the leads/solos and drumming are central to each of the cuts. Wiwczarek and Raczkowski shine on each of their respective instruments, especially Wiwczarek who besides doing vocals handled rhythm guitar, leads/solos and bass guitar duties. He is the embodiment of a hands-on approach. Where at this time a lot of death metal frontmen were moving towards a deeper, more guttural vocal style, Wiwczarek retains his throatier and more human approach while intensifying his overall delivery. All aspects have been improved in comparison to the debut that was released three years prior. Vader was about to go places in a few years.

All of the lyrics were written by Pawel Wasilewski, except ‘Silent Empire’ was written by Pawel Frelik while ‘Blood Of Kingu’, ‘Revolt’ and ‘Reborn In Flames’ were all written by Wiwczarek. ‘Reborn In Flames’ is in fact a re-recorded track from the 1989 “Necrolust” demo tape and the one but last of that era to appear on an official studio outing. All the music was written by Wiwczarek. Vader is one of the few to have most of its lyrics written by people not involved with the band or its associates. The practice is continued here but remains in place to this very day. As a result a lot of the early releases of this band are steeped in occult, thelemic and esoteric subject matter before it was popularized by that other famous Polish death metal band Behemoth, and to a lesser degree by the significantly more underground unit Lost Soul. Liner notes detail the meaning for each of the cuts presents on the release. For the first time the band is credited in producing itself, although that in truth means Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek. He would handle all production duties (along with the engineer) from this point onward.

“De Profundis” marks the first appearance of long-time bass guitarist Leszek ‘Shambo’ Rakowski and a returning Jaroslaw ‘China’ Labieniec. Although both being credited for partaking in the recordings it was the duo of Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek and Krzysztof ‘Doc’ Raczkowski (drums) who laid down all instruments in the studio. Wes Benscoter was chosen to provide the fantastic artwork for the album, and the band recorded at Studio Modern Sound in Gdynia, Poland. The album was released originally through Croon Records, but saw several reissues over the years by Pavement Music, Avalon/Marquee, Conquest Music, System Shock and Metal Mind Productions, all of which often added the ‘I Feel You’ cover from Depeche Mode or an assortment of other bonus content. The album sold approximately 17,000 units in two weeks in Poland during its release, and to this day it remains one of best and most loved death metal albums by a wide margin.