Firstly we are off to Poland for Black Altar  the work of the barbaric looking Shadow. This act have been active since 1996 with two full length albums and a couple of other split releases in their armoury. It would appear that they have on the whole been quiet though since last full length ‘Death Fanaticism’ dropped back in 2008. After an unsettling intro of static noise ‘Nighthunter’ gets thorny talons in and rips apart with spiky guitar, deep bass tones and fearsome vocals. There is little in the way of mercy shown here at first, the drumming is incessant and the attack ruthless. With a highly orthodox feel about things the song stalks, as the title suggests, slowing down and injecting a dark melody to proceedings and a sombre depressive atmosphere. There is a bit of an early Satyricon feel about some of the riffing on this one which is no bad thing and as the weighty intensity of ‘I’m Demon’ brings back the relentless fury it is impossible not to be swept off by the head banging tumult. Last black hymn ‘Deep Cut Into The Open Wound Of Mankind’ slices and dices away in a precise whirlwind of sound designed to take your head off. Good stuff, certainly worthy of further exploration.
Greek band Varathron [7.5] are elder statesmen of the scene having been spawned way back in 1988. They should have caught your attention at some point having released a veritable arsenal of material including four studio albums and various compilations. They certainly are the stand out band of these three mainly due to the over theatrical and flamboyant oratory approach of singer and sole founding member Stefan Necroabyssious. “My name is Arawn” he proudly declares with Luciferian intent on the opening number Arawn’s Reich and I am instantly intrigued. Musically things are much more expansive and the arcane sound has a mystical feel about it centred around the melodic twisting and turning guitar riffs. This is certainly a different form of ‘black metal’ than performed by the others and reminds a bit of the likes of Root to me. Rather than dropping down a deep gorge they chuck us in the ‘Black Swamp’ for second offering which rattles off in a much faster fashion with a loud roar chasing the instruments. Slowing down again into the groove that the band seem to favour attention is drawn to the sinuous riff-work and those over the top gurgling vocals that at times make me think of Brian Blessed angry at having been left waiting for a drink at the bar. Proving that they really are quite different last track is no less than a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Ancient Warrior.’ It’s quite funny comparing the two versions vocal styles which are both at opposite ends of the scale. I prefer this version.
That leaves USBM horde Thornspawn (3) whose offerings are much shorter than the other bands. Around since 1993 this lot have a big back catalogue but have not crossed my radar before. On the strength of these tracks I am not going to be searching the four albums or the other four splits which they have been concentrating their efforts on since 2007. To put it simply the sound on these numbers is terrible, bass heavy and muddy as arse! Sorry that is a serious description. Singer Blackthorn rasps loud in the mix with a really monotonous range about his style and the primitive musicianship is rough and all over the place. Seriously this sounds like a crap demo band rather than an act who have been active for two decades! I am all for basic sounding primitive black metal with cruddy production but nothing is distinguishable or stands out from these four numbers the daft title of the last one ‘Thorns Of Black Spawned From The Altars Of Norhtarav’ being particularly stupid but at least I guess it adds to their kvltness! They do win the most likes of the three group’s on their Facebook pages so despite coming very much at the bottom as far as this review goes they have at least achieved something over the other two bands who completely wipe the floor with them in style and substance!