MORPHINIST, Believer (Transcendent Bringer of Light) (2013, demo)

The skull:
Father, mother and son alike had no idea what the fuck happened. They walked into Applebee’s for their regular Monday night dinner treat, and, as usual, dad asked for a placemat (and crayons) so the kid wouldn’t get bored waiting for the food to arrive. Then this creepy goth kid comes over and slaps this down on the table. The crayons would not write on its weird parchment-like surface, and the maze little Dylan was supposed to navigate was one of dark impossibility. Confounded and frustrated, he didn’t so much cry as scream a nightmarish, possessed howl…the futility of the maze and the skull beckoning inside it proved way too much for this seven-year-old who hadn’t yet gotten over his fear of Barney the Dinosaur. It’s too bad they’d never go to an Applebee’s again — everyone in the family really liked the apps, especially the grilled chicken wonton tacos.

The music:
From the demo title, both the main and the parenthetical part, you might think this is Christian metal of some kind. But then Morphinist released another demo in 2013 called Disbeliever (Descent Into Endless Darkness), so I guess they’re playing on both sides of the philosophical stream. And it’s not they, but he: Morphinist is a one-man show outta Hamburg – and the dude has been in 10 other bands I swear on a stack of skulls you’ve never heard of before. So, what about the music itself? For one-man black metal, the sound is reasonably full and the music is delivered with above-average ability. When the guitars start getting cosmic, chiming out blurry meteor showers on the higher frets, it’s entrancing. But the hypnosis doesn’t last, and ultimately these two long songs (both 14+ minutes) become so excruciatingly boring that it leads to a kind of impatient aggravation. The main problems isn’t that that the parts are bad (lots of them are legitimately good, no doubt) but it has an empty feeling. Maybe that’s what he’s going for, but really, this is instrumental metal that fails where so much other instrumental metal fails: it is glaringly instrumental. A good instrumental metal band should never let you feel like you’re missing something (vocals)… their music should capture the interest wholly and totally so that you don’t even realize a singer is missing. Canvas Solaris was really good at that. Morphinist, however, is not…yet, man, there are some killer passages in first song “Sleep for the Sleepless, Vanquish Your Cage of Flesh,” which reminds of Morbus Chron’s Sweven both musically and in the images its title conjures. There are some fine parts in the second song too (another long title), but you just wish for something else to fill in the gaps here…squishy Moog synth lines…Arcturus-ish guitar leads…or vocals. Later Morphinist (like, the three albums he released in 2014) features some vocals, so maybe I’ll check that out someday.
— Friar Wagner


SIGNS OF DARKNESS, The Fall of Amen (2008, Shiver)

The skull:
It’s, like, a metaphor. The mind IS a maze, a labyrinth of thought! Except it’s, um, a really simple maze, like the kind on the back of the kids’ menu at a shitty restaurant. “Here ya go, Jimmy. Why don’t you plumb the depths of human psychology while we wait for your chicken fingers to come out. We’ll ask the server to bring you some crayons. While you’re at it, why not take a crack at the Puzzler: ‘What does a mazy skull have to do with the fall of amen?’ Huh. That’s a little weird. Well, whatever. Here are the crayons. Maybe draw a mustache on him.”

The music:
Pitched somewhere between black metal and melodic death metal (though leaning toward the former), Signs of Darkness occupy a weird grey zone. There’s no mystery to their music, nor any menace, which renders their black metal a little toothless, and they’re not quite catchy enough to be much fun as an MDM band. They don’t do anything badly, though, it’s just that tonally it’s a little hard to say what they’re shooting for. As a kind of easy-listening black metal experience they’re fine, a way to ease into the genre if you like the more abrasive elements of, say, early Dark Tranquillity, but haven’t quite come around on black metal. But then, who in that situation is going to seek out an obscure Belgian band? Why not start with Sacramentum or something like that? I feel a little bad busting on Signs of Darkness, because they’re eminently listenable and totally pro, and will appeal to people who already own a lot of music like this and enjoy the novelty of new bands, people who don’t always demand originality but require competence. I certainly own a lot of music in that vein, but not in this style, because what I have is enough. For you, maybe that’s not the case.
— Friar Johnsen