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Fire Burns In Our Hearts (1999)
 

Fire Burns In Our Hearts is the first full-length album from Finland's Clandestine Blaze, released by Blackmetal.com in 1999. Truthfully, this is not a very good representation of the band, as it sounds very much like an extended demo. The quality is very much below that which one would expect from Mikko Aspa. It is difficult to discern whether or not he was aiming for a necro sound, or if he simply lacked the resources to make something that sounded better than this. Either way, this is not a good first impression.

I purchased this album after already picking up Night of the Unholy Flames and Fist of the Northern Destroyer. I had a fairly high opinion of the band, as far as Third Wave Black Metal is concerned. This release nearly killed that, though I obviously took note of the fact that this preceded the others. I tried to get into it, but it simply wasn't worth my time. There was no point in listening to some third-rate Darkthrone rip-off when I could just listen to the real thing.

Musically, there is nothing original going on here. This is highly derivative of the early Norwegian Black Metal albums, though entirely lacking in quality. There are a couple of interesting tremolo riffs, on "Anti-Christian Warfare" and "Native Resistance", with the latter being the best song on here. However, the song structures are weak and each goes on far too long. This would all be fine, for a demo, but this is supposed to be a debut album.

One of the biggest problems with this recording would have to be the vocals. Mikko sounds terrible, and one has to wonder if he's attempted to use some effect to alter the sound. If so, all it did was make the issue worse. It sounds less like a Black Metal vocalist and more like a fork that got sucked into the garbage disposal. He's not really known as one of the best vocalists around, anyway, but the performance here is quite dismal. Then again, it matches the overall output.

I cannot recommend Fire Burns In Our Hearts to anyone, with the exception of fans of Clandestine Blaze that simply wish to own all of the albums. However, I cannot stress this enough, do your best to pick it up at a discount and absolutely do not waste some ungodly amount of cash in an idiotic attempt to track down an original copy. It really isn't worth it. Mikko did a fine job of mixing his influences with a style of his own, later on, but it hadn't happened yet, as of this album. Stick to the later releases.
 
(20 Sept. 2009)

 
Night of the Unholy Flames (2000)
 

Night of the Unholy Flames is the sophomore effort from Finland's Clandestine Blaze, the solo project of Mikko Aspa. This album was the first full-length to be released on his own label, Northern Heritage Records, right before Deathspell Omega's Infernal Battles. In many ways, this should be considered the true debut from Clandestine Blaze, as Fire Burns In Our Hearts was more of a demo than a real album. This release takes the basic concept of what Mikko was attempting on that release and finally sees it through.

An ominous intro precedes the first song, setting the tone for what is to come. "Chambers" erupts from the calm, racing forward at a fast pace and slaughtering every living thing that it comes upon. The guitar tone is cold and somewhat sharp, but not hard on the ears. This hearkens back to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger, with the minimalist songwriting and execution. The song features mournful tremolo riffs with blasting drums underneath, keeping a decent pace but never going too far. There are moments where the guitar is left to stand on its own, which really helps to add a sense of gloom and melancholy to the atmosphere. While owing quite a bit to his Norwegian idols, Mikko uses the same formula but his melodies have a distinct sound and vibe of their own. What he has done is to build upon what came before, rather than simply imitating it. The lyrics are a bit controversial, discussing the extermination of Jews and Christians. One has to wonder why it is alright to criticize one group and to wish them dead, yet it becomes wrong to apply the same idea to the originators of the Judeo-Christian mythology that has plagued the world for so many centuries.

"Cross of Black Steel" is not the most impressive track, as it is one of the earliest examples of Clandestine Blaze attempting to utilize riffs inspired by Celtic Frost and these songs always seem to fall flat. This mid-paced tune is not all that bad, but it is rather uninteresting and seems to be a waste when compared to the other songs. Nonetheless, it does serve well to break up the monotony of the album, shifting gears for a few minutes, though he could have worked harder to make the song more dynamic.

The title track returns to the faster tempo from before, utilizing a similar overall structure and approach. This song features a very hypnotic main riff, within the framework of raw minimalism that Clandestine Blaze excels at. Mikko's vocals are deeper than those of most other Black Metal vocalists, but it works well as yet another element to separate this band from the countless others that employ a similar style. The song is very repetitive, but never boring. The guitar melodies are haunting and will likely remain with you long after the album has concluded.

"Invisible Death" continues the fast-paced and minimalist approach, while standing out from the others and maintaining its own identity. The atmosphere takes on a more bleak and dreary feeling, as a mournful guitar melody emerges, from time to time. There are no instances where one gets even a brief glimmer of hope. This drains your spirit and leaves you nearly empty. Everything is very subtle, and yet highly effective. The production helps, as it is raw and yet with a clear focus on the guitars. This shows vast improvement over the first release.

The less-than-stellar Celtic Frost vibe returns on "There's Nothing". It is a shame that Mikko did not try to work this influence into the songs in a different manner, rather than writing bland songs that stuck to the basic formula and fail to keep the listener's attention. As with the previous mid-paced song, it at least works to break things up and give you a chance to rest.

"Aikakausi on Lyhyt" shifts back to the Transilvanian Hunger style, though with a little less success than some of the previous songs. This is not a bad track; however, it does not quite stand up to the earlier ones. It is the only song on here with Finnish lyrics, something that Clandestine Blaze did not often do.

The final song is "Future Lies in Hands of the Strong", which is a slower song with influences from Burzum. It is more of an outro, really, as there is no definite structure and the only vocals seem to be distant screams and gargled noises that are difficult to decipher. After a few minutes, the same ominous sound from the intro returns to end things.

All in all, Night of the Unholy Flames is a very good album and reall shows a lot of improvement from Fire Burns In Our Hearts. This is the moment where Clandestine Blaze really developed its own sound and rose to the top of the Finnish underground. This shows a very good re-interpretation of the Second Wave Black Metal sound, as defined by the Norwegians in the early-'90s. Mikko takes a good amount of inspiration, and upholds the traditions, yet adds his own vision in order to create something unique. If you are a fan of raw, minimalist Black Metal, seek this out.
 
(6 Feb. 2007)

 
Deathspell Omega / Clandestine Blaze split (2001)
 

By 2001, Deathspell Omega has only released a demo and one full-length (which actually contained only four new songs, with the rest taken from the demo). Clandestine Blaze had two albums already, though the first one was of lower quality than most demos. The point being that neither band was as established as they would become. As a result of this, as well as the fact that Mikko seemed to be pretty well acquainted with Shaxul and Hasjarl, they decided to release a split album through Mikko's label, Northern Heritage. Neither band had truly realized their own styles, fully, and it is doubtful that either knew that they would later combine their sounds to create a new identity for Deathspell Omega. At any rate, the songs here are fairly strong, though not the most impressive of either band's career.

Side A features Clandestine Blaze, starting with "Will To Kill". This lengthy song takes a minute or so to really get going, presumably in an effort to create a dark atmosphere. Once it gets going, it is the standard fast style in the vein of early Darkthrone, complete with blasting drums and tremolo riffs. The sound is better than that found on their first album, though it doesn't seem to be at the same level as Night of the Unholy Flames, though it's not far off. His vocals, as usual, are a bit deeper than one might expect from this kind of music, which may help in differentiating it from some of the bands being emulated. While Clandestine Blaze would go on to forge their own identity, while still maintaining this sound at their core, this was still developing by this point. An additional lead melody, near the end, brings more life to the song but doesn't last very long.

"Blasphemous Lust" is pure Hellhammer / Celtic Frost worship. One has to wonder if Mikko was actually so much a fan of these bands or if this is simply a continuation of his tribute to Darkthrone, perhaps being ignorant to the fact that they had taken this sound from the aforementioned bands. Either way, it's quite boring. Almost all of the Hellhammer-influenced songs from Clandestine Blaze are tiresome and far too derivative of the original to warrant its inclusion on the album.

The next song is another short one, though it's far superior. "Raping the Innocent" features a very clean-sounding tremolo riff (that seems to have had some distortion added after the fact). As the song really gets going, the riff changes and the listener is left somewhat disappointed. A couple minutes later, the more interesting melody returns. However, it is ephemeral. It is always frustrating when a musician drops something that has a lot of potential in favour of less-inspired riffs.

"Genocide Operation" is the longest song on the split, clocking in over eight and a half minutes. It is also the best of the Clandestine Blaze tracks. This one reminds one of Burzum, with the slow pace and the style of riffing. It has a very cold and mournful atmosphere, with additional notes flowing through to increase the sense of despondency. This epic composition may be one of the more ambitious efforts from this point in Clandestine Blaze's career. It is very minimalist and primitive, yet it manages to create quite a dreary feeling. It leaves you feeling drained of all energy, simply waiting for your inevitable death. As the cold hand rips into your chest and takes your weakened heart within its icy grip, you have neither the will nor the desire to resist.

Side B features Deathspell Omega, and they waste no time in getting started with "Bestial Orgies". In total contrast to the atmospheric song that ended Side A, the band unleashes cold tremolo riffs, semi-fast drumming and raspier vocals that are more suitable to the music. The drums actually sound real, as opposed to those on Infernal Battles, so this is already an improvement. The guitars possess a sharp sound, but not nearly as raw as the old Darkthrone albums that they are hoping to recreate. With this first song, the band displays that they have improved quite a bit in the time since their debut album was released.

"The Suicide Curse" is the highlight of Side B. It begins with a very clear tremolo riff that appears to be the focus of the song, above vocals or drums. This is a very good thing, as the guitar riffs should always come first. The style employed here is almost reminiscent of Hirilorn, the previous band of Shaxul and Hasjarl, in the sense that the lead melodies are very clean-sounding. As the song progresses, the pace slows down and there are some open-arpeggio riffs that add depth to the atmosphere, hearkening back to the old Burzum albums. However, the feeling is quite different here. The song then speeds up again, utilizing a different tremolo riff but maintaining the high tension. This transitions back into the first riff, which is utterly brilliant. Regardless of whether or not it's based on some earlier work of Darkthrone or Gorgoroth, this is pulled off very well.

The split ends with "Seal of Perversion". It appears that the songs should have been placed in a different order, as this can in no way compete with the previous song. It's solid enough, surely, but very few songs could have successfully followed "The Suicide Curse". This one is, again, in the Transilvanian Hunger vein, consisting of blasting drums and tremolo riffs. There is definitely a chaotic feeling that runs through Deathspell Omega's work, yet it's always very cohesive. Mid-way through the song, the pace slows down a bit and becomes oddly catchy. It then returns to the previous tempo. The song, probably, goes a little longer than it should; it might have had a stronger impact if it had been more concise. However, there are no serious complaints other than the poor placement of this song. It feels anti-climactic when following something of such high quality.

All in all, this release displays the further development of these two bands, with Deathspell Omega showing marked improvement over their previous output. This is a worthy purchase for fans of either band.
 
(22 Sept. 2009)

 
 

Following the split with Deathspell Omega in 2001, Clandestine Blaze released a series of demos before their next full-length, 2002's Fist of the Northern Destroyer. The first of these demo tapes was Beneath the Surface of Cold Earth, released in a limited number as only 400 were made and distributed, at the time. The material on here is very much in line with the albums that precede and follow it, and there are certainly no surprises to be found. It is a rather unremarkable release, except for the fact that the title track served as my introduction to the band, nearly a decade ago.

"Beneath the Surface of Cold Earth" begins with a mid-paced riff that is very reminiscent of Burzum. The feeling is cold and grim, with a slight hint of melancholy. As the song progresses, the pace picks up and the open-arpeggio chords transition to tremolo-picked melodies that are accompanied by rapid-fire drumming. The faster sections are, as always, in the vein of old Darkthrone. This mixture has been fairly consistent throughout the entire career of Clandestine Blaze. The slower parts possess much more atmosphere than the rest, but as a whole this is a very solid track and certainly of high enough quality that I was motivated to seek out more of the band's material, upon hearing this for the first time.

The next song is one of Mikko's obligatory Hellhammer/Celtic Frost tributes, and it is not very interesting. For whatever reason, the man simply cannot construct a decent song in this style. Whenever he attempts it, the result is always boring and uninspired.

"Funeral of Humanity" is the final track, and it returns to the type of style that this one-man band is most successful at. The cold tremolo riffs hearken back to the days of Transilvanian Hunger, though Clandestine Blaze has always been good about making sure that the songs are composed of equal amounts of hero-worship and original ideas. After a few minutes, the atmosphere takes on an added sense of doom, thanks to the inclusion of a slower riff that hovers over the proceedings like a black cloud. As the faster melodies emerge once more, there is an epic quality present that can not be fully explained. The variation in percussion offers a bit of an assist, allowing the riff to breathe a little more. As the track slows down and reaches its conclusion, a rather pointless outro drags on for the final few minutes.

The material on Beneath the Surface of Cold Earth is nothing terribly special, but it is worth a listen if the opportunity arises. However, it is not recommended that one should go to great lengths to obtain this, as the full-lengths are of the same or higher quality.
 
(21 Sept. 2011)

 
 

Fist of the Northern Destroyer is the third full-length from Clandestine Blaze. It was recorded in March 2002 and later released on Mikko Aspa's own Northern Heritage record label. With this album, the trademark sound of Clandestine Blaze was fully established and the position near the top of the Finnish Black Metal scene was unquestionable.

After hearing the Below the Surface of Cold Earth demo, I began my search for any Clandestine Blaze material that I could get my hands on. This album had just been released, so it was the most accessible. Looking back, it's a good thing that I ran across this rather than the debut, as I may have given up on the band at that point. This one had enough of an impact that I soon sought out the earlier releases and then kept up with those that followed.

The album begins with "Fist of the Northern Destroyer", which opens with an uncharacteristic scream and a very high-energy tempo. The sound is very similar to the low-fi, organic feeling that was present on the previous release, making these two the only albums in the band's discography that possess such a similar sound. This song is fast-paced and very memorable. It utilizes the familiar tremolo-picked melodies that owe something to the old Darkthrone albums, yet Mikko has created his own unique style of playing, within this basic framework. While one can hear the influences, it is undeniably Clandestine Blaze. The vocals are still on the deeper end of the Black Metal spectrum, being filled with utter hatred and contempt. This is good music for beating someone to death, with your bare hands.

"Praising the Self" features a vastly different atmosphere than the first song, being much slower and possessing more of an epic feeling. The music is very minimalist, as Mikko understands well that musical vision comes before showing off. This is one of the main reasons he has kept this as a solo project, since he knows that many would become bored with the simplistic approach that is required to realize his artistic vision. The song employs more tremolo riffs, for the opening minutes, though they are played over slower drums, thus giving an entirely different feel. The song then shifts toward using the arpeggio riffs as well as some simple strumming to create a more dismal and cold feeling. This is soon joined by a simple, yet highly effective, lead solo that adds to the mournful feeling of loss and hopelessness. The melodies are absolutely haunting and will remain in your subconscious until the glorious day of your demise.

The next song is "Doll of Darkness", which returns to a faster pace. With the fast tremolo riffs and the frenetic drumming, this embraces repetition for the purpose of lulling the listener into a trance, receptive to the dark and hateful message conveyed through the music. This is one of the least dynamic songs on the album, yet it fulfills its purpose.

"Ribs of Virgin" is another song in the vein of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. This one is slightly more interesting than previous attempts at this style, but I maintain the position that these riffs should be kept only as a part of other songs, as opposed to making an entire song in this style. They are always the most boring ones on any Clandestine Blaze album, for one reason or another. The lead solo and old school drumming save this one, but it's still one of the least impressive songs on here.

The more melodic side of the band returns with "There Comes the Day". The sound returns to the fast-paced Black Metal, inspired by the second wave. The guitar melodies possess a sharper sound, making them stand out quite a bit more. Though it clocks in just under four minutes, this is certainly one of the most memorable songs on the album. The sound is somehow mournful and dark, yet optimistic in the sense that there is hope for the triumph of chaos over order.

"There comes the day
When streets are colored with blood
And burden of humanity
Is left behind"

"Goat - Creative Alienation" returns to the slower style of emulating Celtic Frost. The song also features riffs reminiscent of Burzum, and the two are mixed quite well. The melodies are hypnotic and dismal, giving the impression of having your soul dragged through the shadows of Hell. Nothing is entirely clear, but the sensations are undeniable. This is the feeling of terror and dread just before the true torment and suffering begin.

The album ends with "I Have Seen...", which is an epic song that clocks in over ten minutes in length. It begins with the sparse chords being played along with a distant tremolo melody, creating an abstract feeling. This changes as the drums come in, carrying things along at full speed. The nearly-gargled vocals instill a sense of utter contempt and hatred, though this isn't as aggressive as the first song. About halfway through the song, the pace slows down once more and atmosphere darkens. The open-arpeggio riffing that is synonymous with early Burzum is on full display here, creating a very desolate feeling. After a couple minutes, the speed picks up again and continues through the end of the song, where an otherworldy outro finishes things off.

"When pulling out the knife from believer
I have found god in myself "

Fist of the Northern Destroyer is highly recommended. It is one of the best Clandestine Blaze albums, as well as being one of the few from the modern scene that I find to be worthwhile. One cannot categorically label all newer music as bad, but it's increasingly difficult to discover anything of substance. This is one of those albums.
 
(22 Sept. 2009)

 
Satanic Warmaster / Clandestine Blaze split (2004)
 

In late 2003, Werwolf of Satanic Warmaster and Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze came up with the idea to do a split that featured both bands. However, their approach to this was a little unconventional. With both of them being the sole member of their respective bands, they decided to include a few collaborative tracks. So, to go along with the one song, a piece, that each band contributed, they also recorded four as a two-piece. Werwolf handled the guitars and bass, while Mikko takes care of the drumming. They trade off on the vocals, each writing their own lyrics. The results were released through Northern Heritage, in February 2004.

The split begins with "Intro/My Torments", the intro being adequate enough, almost reminiscent of something from the Hellraiser series. After a couple minutes, it fades as Werwolf begins to scream and the guitars follow. He handles the vocals, on this song, though one might guess that Mikko had some input regarding the opening riff. About four minutes in, the song finally starts. The vocals are weak and the drums are mixed too high. It's very fast-paced, in the vein of Transilvanian Hunger. To be honest, though both bands have long used the aforementioned album as a template for their own works, they usually added a bit of their own feeling to the songs. Here, it seems more generic than usual. The production quality is similar to a garage rehearsal, though this isn't always a bad thing. In this case, it drags the music down, a slight bit. All in all, a below average start for the split.

"Sacrificial Fires" starts with some feedback, before going into a slow Celtic Frost-inspired riff. This song was, obviously, written by Mikko as he has a tendency to include similar songs on every single release in Clandestine Blaze's discography. It's not terribly bad, but it's grown a little boring by this point. Some riffs are taken directly from Morbid Tales, only slowed down a bit. I guess this is fitting, since Gabriel had previously stolen the riff from Venom. So far, this split is hardly worth the effort of taking the CD out of its case.

The next song, "Conspiring Winds of the Abyss", starts out with more feedback. This is already annoying. Thankfully, it's one of the better songs on here. Werwolf is back on vocals, as the song is yet another tribute to Transilvanian Hunger. It consists of cold tremolo riffs and fast drumming. The vocals are a far cry from the masterful work of Nocturno Culto, but that's no surprise. The main riff is one of the best on the split. It's completely derivative of Darkthrone, but at least it's done competently enough. The pace slows down, near the middle, giving a nice eerie feeling. This doesn't last too long, though it produces a nice trance-like riff that is reminiscent of early Mütiilation.

"Disease" is another song with Mikko on vocals, beginning with even more feedback. He really lets loose on this song, with some shrieking mixing in with his usual vocals. Musically, it's another fast-pace, tremolo-driven song in the early Norwegian mould. There's a little variation in the drumming, but this is overshadowed by the fact that Mikko seems to really be struggling to keep up on this track. There is a cool lead solo, late in the song, that kind of salvages things from being excessively boring. It's not too bad, but I expected a little more from both of these guys.

This is followed by a Clandestine Blaze song, "Guided By the Black Light". Here, Mikko returns to the deeper style of vocals that he is known for, while the guitar playing is a little heavier. The slow parts of the song possess an eerie feeling, yielding some haunting melodies. The faster parts are quite awful, really, being poorly executed. It's sad, but I've rehearsed with worthless garage bands that played tighter than this. The worst part is that it's a result of pure laziness, as anyone familiar with Clandestine Blaze knows that Mikko is capable of much better. It is clear that hardly any effort was put into this.

"To the Legions" is a Satanic Warmaster song. The opening is not very good, as the attempt to match the tortured screams of Count Grishnackh come off as laughable. Once beyond this, the rest of the song is actually fairly decent. It features a rather catchy take on the typical Celtic Frost-type rif. The vocals are a bit strained, but far better than the weak screams that opened the track. A few minutes in, the song picks up speed and returns to the Darkthrone worship that preceded this. Despite this, there are also more riffs in the Finnish style that one would expect from the same guy that recorded Opferblut. A lead melody flows through, temporarily, to add some epic sense to the proceedings. Mikko should have played drums on this one as well, since the timing is off at one point. Outside of the first minute, this is probably the most enjoyable song on the album, after "Conspiring Winds of the Abyss". The outro is completely necessary, but it's pleasant enough. It has kind of a somber feeling, which goes nicely with the disappointment that the listeners are surely experiencing.

This split is little more than a Finnish Black Metal tribute to Darkthrone. There are a couple decent songs and a few nice riffs to be found, but it's hardly something that is worth any great amount of effort to track down. I have to say that both of these guys are capable of better, though I get the impression that this release was meant to have that rehearsal/jam feeling. If that is true, they certainly achieved this. The raw production is is fine, but the sloppy playing is unacceptable. Though both bands rely heavily on their influences, they've also managed to incorporate their own style into the mix, moreso in the case of Clandestine Blaze than with Satanic Warmaster. Either way, here, this element seems to be lacking for the most part.
 
(30 Sept. 2009)

 
 

Deliverers of Faith is the fourth full-length from Clandestine Blaze. This opus stands as the darkest album recorded by this Finnish Black Metal band. Released in December 2004, this album was limited to 500 vinyl copies and 1500 CD copies, meaning that I'm even more thankful to the kind soul that sent this as a gift, over a year later. I can't imagine not being able to hear this album as it is the pinnacle of Mikko Aspa's creativity. This came out many months after Deathspell Omega's Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, and I'd say that it is the more solid of the two records.

The album begins with "Beyond the Reason", which starts with some feedback that leads into the main riff. Right away, the only real flaw of the album is revealed. The production is a step down from what was achieved on Fist of the Northern Destroyer. I felt that the sound of that album was perfect for Clandestine Blaze. Here, the drums sound odd and a bit louder than I would think necessary. In a way, this takes away from the guitar melodies, which are standard fast tremolo-picked riffs on this song. However, with all that said, one slowly adopts a new perspective as the track progresses. The production works well with the songwriting to create an otherworldly atmosphere; one of eerie detachment from reality. This music pulls you through a portal to another dimension. In this place, everything is just a little off from what you are used to; just enough that you are incredibly uncomfortable and disturbed. This feeling will only grow as the album goes along. Musically, this song consists of sections of typical fast-paced Second Wave Black Metal mixed in with old school Celtic Frost rhythms, producing something ugly and almost frightening.

"Psychopathia Sexualis" continues to borrow the riffing style of Mikko's Swiss heroes. Why he chooses to do this on every single Clandestine Blaze release, I am not sure. It's almost like an obligatory thing, as if he has to include some old school Black Metal references to legitimize himself... or he reallt, really likes these kind of riffs and doesn't realize that he's not terribly good at them. This one isn't all that bad, though it's all the other things that are added along with the main riff that really help to carry it. There are some horrific screams in the background, at certain points, that add to the strange feeling. More or less, this mid-paced song plods along and is one of the least memorable of the record, though it does nothing to take away from it, either.

The next song is the most epic composition, perhaps, of the entire Clandestine Blaze discography. "Winter of White Death" creates an ominous aura of desolation and terror. It begins slowly, with sparse chords that crawl under your skin and a haunting melody that slithers up your arms, moving toward your torso. Once there, it reaches out and tears at your heart while applying awful pressure to your lungs. The sound is utterly dismal and darker than black. A desolate tremolo riff is then joined by the drums, still seeming out of place but adding to the overall effect in an unexpected manner. This song takes you to a place where all of your worst fears become reality; to a world of unending torment and suffering beyond that which you've ever experienced. Here, you re-live the most painful moments of your life and find that even the pleasant times were but an illusion brought on by your own insanity. This song crawls along at a funereal pace, creating this horrific soundscape through minimalism and artistic vision. There are no symphonies or choirs added to this. It is barren and bleak, much like the atmosphere it produces. Even during the best of times, listening to this imbues the listener with an unsettling feeling. This is mournful and cold, suitable for one's final moments on this rotten earth. In fact, this is the type of musical piece that could send an already weakened person over the edge of sanity and into death's embrace.

"Falling" follows with a return to the speed and intensity from the first song. The melancholy tremolo riffs and fast drumming return, doing well to carry on the tradition of Transilvanian Hunger while being immersed within the nightmarish melodies of Clandestine Blaze. Mikko's vocals possess enough reverb on this album to really give a strange and distant feeling to them. It adds to the uncomfortable and disjointed sense that this record bears. Around the middle of the song, the riff changes and is accompanied by a blood-chilling voice that seems to be moaning from deep within the abyss. The tension continues to build until everything slows down, briefly. This is followed by the return of the original riff and more half-shrieked screams to go along with the normal ones. In the closing moments, these screams are joined by the moaning from before, which is no wmuch louder. You are getting deeper and deeper...

This is followed by "Tormented", which starts with slow doom riffs that maintain the rather unpleasant feeling that has been conveyed, thus far. It is, more or less, a slowed-down Hellhammer riff. There also seems to be some faint keyboard presence, adding another layer to the terrifying aura that this music possesses. It fades out, before the hateful vocals begin, returning in between verses. This only increases the sense that you've been pulled from your body and dragged into some unknown hell dimension. Half-way through, a lone tremolo riff rises from the fiery depths and is joined by tortured screams, mirroring those which reside within your own being. As this lengthy journey continues, you find yourself expecting the night to soon end. You look forward to any sign of light, as you are lost in this void of nightmarish despair. But time stands still, here. This night will never end... your suffering has only just begun.

"Grave of Gratification" starts out with one of the most memorable riffs of the whole album. It features a tremolo melody that is supported by fast-paced drumming, building upon the tension and dread already created by previous songs. To say that this bears an epic feeling is an understatement. It is the climax of the whole album, yet in some ways what it represents is only the beginning of your eternal journey through true darkness. This is the kind of music that infects your soul, yet you appreciate it all the more for this fact, oblivious to the slow spiritual death that this will cause. Like a moth to a flame, you cannot help but be drawn to these miserable and tormented sounds. It is pleasing to listen to, as the music is well-crafted, yet the experience is unpleasant and almost painful. It serves to reveal those frail illusions that you've used as a crutch to get through this miserable life. It strips you of all that you hold dear, raping your dreams and poisoning your hopes. In the latter half, things slow down and the eerie feeling is intensified. Desolate screams are heard, coming from all sides, like spectres of your own failures. While your body falls into the lonely grave, unmarked and unmourned, your spirit is taken to depths unfathomable, where the real torment shall soon begin. As the final dissonant chords fade, the final indecipherable screams call out to haunt you for eternity...
 
(3 October 2009)

 
 

Church of Atrocity is the fifth and, so far, final release from Finland's Clandestine Blaze. It would appear that, by this point, the band had become more of a side project of Mikko Aspa, as he was investing more and more time onto Deathspell Omega. In a sense, it's understandable, as DsO had really caught on and was growing in popularity, following 2004's Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. Mikko was still overflowing with enough creativity to produce a monument of his own, in the form of Deliverers of Faith. However, as 2006 rolled around, he'd already contributed to yet another DsO release (the Kenose E.P.) and was working on material for Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (an album that I still haven't listened to, all the way through). As a result, he had less and less time for his original band. Though die-hard Clandestine Blaze fans were eagerly awaiting the follow-up to the brilliance of Deliverers of Faith, what they got on the 31st of October 2006 was somewhat of a let-down.

I just happened to check the Northern Heritage website, and was surprised to see that a new album had been released just a week earlier. Since Clandestine Blaze was among the few newer bands that I supported, I quickly ordered the album and eagerly anticipated its arrival. In our frozen apartment, I hastily explored this offering, but it did not meet my expectations. I hoped for something that would follow the approach found on the previous album, but this seemed like a step backward. Also, it came off like something that had been rushed. My theory was that Mikko was too busy with Deathspell Omega to truly immerse himself in this project anymore, thus this served as a farewell to his fans.

The title track is up first, and the initial complaint comes right away. The opening riff has no melody to it; it simply exists to create noise. There is no effect, no atmosphere. It is entirely pointless. This is but an exercise in going through the motions, more or less. It takes about a minute for a haunting melody to creep in, and it seems to be buried a bit, in the mix. It also disappears too quickly. Vocally, this is what would be expected; no change at all. Mikko never had the greatest vocals, but they're fairly easy to identify. Things settle down, briefly, in the middle of the song, before speeding back up. If the point of the lifeless, droning riff is to provide some contrast to the bleak melody that is sparsely interwoven into the song, it was not done to its full potential. It dominates far to much of the song, and makes this one less enjoyable than it should have been.

"Ashes of the Eternal Wanderer" is next, and this is the longest song on the album. This epic clocks in at just under twelve minutes, and possesses much more feeling than the last track. One could almost compare this to "Winter of White Death", from the previous record. It's mid-paced and bearing an overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy and sorrow. The production, on this album, is harsher than on the last few, but it suits the music well enough. The bass stands out on a way not previously heard, adding to the miserable aura. It weighs heavily on your heart, making it difficult to breathe. By the time the vocals enter the soundscape, the feeling is slightly less dismal, simply because Mikko's approach is more evil than tortured. In between verses, we return to the main riff and it slowly drains you of all will to go on living. As those things you need so badly are torn from you, your existence is enveloped by a nightmarish chaos from which you know no escape. The depressing sounds serve only to drown any hopes that you have been clinging to. There is no escaping the pain or the loss. Your hopes and dreams shall be reduced to ashes. The song later transitions to something without form or direction, becoming more atmospheric yet less anguished, as the flames overtake all.

The next song is the obligatory Celtic Frost worship, "Storm of Purification". I've observed that every album must have one of these, regardless of whether or not it fits into the scheme of things. This isn't as boring as some of the others, but I've rarely found them to really flow well with the rest of the material. At any rate, it sounds about a thousand times more evil than anything Tom Warrior was ever involved in, so there's something to be said for it.

"Last Morning of Old North" returns to the feeling established by "Ashes...", being mid-paced, dismal and hauntingly dark. At his best, Mikko is among the elite in creating a truly black and hopeless atmosphere through his music. At times, it becomes unreal in a sense, going beyond his predecessors in terms of creating something that can only be described as abysmal and otherworldy. Beyond the opening moments, the song picks up in speed and would best be compared to Transilvanian Hunger-era Darkthrone, though being 100% identifiable as Clandestine Blaze. I've always felt that it is perfectly fine to have obvious influences, so long as you've added something unique to your own writing abilities, to make it different. Later in the song, the tremolo riffs and fast drumming gives way to a return of the opening melody, filling your mind with thoughts of misery and self-torment. The lyrics of this song are among the most interesting, as they obviously refer to the problems being face by Northern Europe, regarding immigration and the way in which most of Europe is being given away to outsiders, while they willingly let this happen and do nothing to defend their homeland. With this in mind, it becomes all the more depressing.

This is followed by "Frozen Angel", a song that starts out with a nice old school Black Metal sound. This one has more of the old Celtic Frost feeling, though filtered through Darkthrone as opposed to coming straight from Morbid Tales. By that, I mean that it really sounds like something taken from Darkthrone's interpretation of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. It's a fairly decent track that never really builds up much speed, but there's the sense that it could have been a little better.

The final track is "Unforgiven Acts", which takes the listener back to the Darkthrone-inspired tremolo melodies and fast yet primitive drumming. This songs features memorable riffs and could be compared to the final song from the previous album, in terms of structure. It utilizes similar sound effects, in an effort to produce the same nightmarish effect. The end result is not as profound, but this is one of the better songs on the album.

Church of Atrocity has its moments, but I don't feel that it is the album that Mikko was capable of giving us, nor do I think that it is a proper finishing point for Clandestine Blaze. One can only hope that, once the hype surrounding DsO dies down a bit, he may have time to really develop his ideas and make another solo album that reaches its full potential. While the songs on here are kind of hit and miss, none of them are bad. There are a few good songs and a few that needed more time and energy put into them. In the end, the good moments make the album worthwhile, so long as you're not expecting another Deliverers of Faith.
 
(14 Oct. 2009)

 
 

Falling Monuments is the first full-length album to be released from Finland's Clandestine Blaze in quite some time. Arriving at the end of December 2010, from Northern Heritage Records, four long years had passed since the last album, Church of Atrocity. It seemed that the band was put to rest with that record, since Mikko was busy with Deathspell Omega. In a sense, it was almost as if this had become a forgotten side-project that he no longer had time for. Even the last album was rather lackluster, compared to those that had preceded it. Clandestine Blaze was never really known for being terribly original; more than anything, the band served to keep alive the basic sound and spirit of the Second Wave of Black Metal, with a little something else added in. However, a clear progression could be seen over the course of the first few albums. 2004's Deliverers of Faith marked the high point of Mikko's creativity, something that was lacking on Church of Atrocity. Following that release, Clandestine Blaze seemed to fade into nothingness, destined to remain a footnote as the solo project of the DsO vocalist, and nothing more.

After four years of silence and making pretentious music that no longer had anything to do with Black Metal, the old spirit began to stir and Mikko felt the need to return to his roots. Much like with the last album, Falling Monuments had very little promotion and I only learned of the release by chance. Due to the feeling of being somewhat let down by Church of Atrocity, I was somewhat hesitant to give this a listen, despite the lengthy amount of time since the band's last output. Upon first listen, the album is not particularly impressive and does not do much to correct the mistakes from the last outing. Nonetheless, it is another decent slab of northern Black Metal that is sure to satiate those needing more of this type of music.

"Unfolding Madness" begins with an intro that is reminiscent of the one used for the Satanic Warmaster / Clandestine Blaze split. Noises that almost remind one of something from the Hellraiser films are joined by distant and tormented screams. Suddenly, the music comes in and begins pounding your skull. Fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums signal the return of one of Finland's least known Black Metal bands. The production is a bit strange, being kind of hard on the ears at first. This keeps in line with the last few albums, since he chose unorthodox sounds for each one, for one reason or another. The drums are a little too loud in the mix, though this might please those who always complain about how low the percussion is in minimalist Black Metal. After a couple minutes, the pace slows a bit, before a more miserable and torturous melody dominates the sound and is joined by howls of despair. The final moments of the song are the most memorable and it is at this point that your ears begins getting used to the odd mixing.

The next song is "Possession of Nordic Blood", which is more mid-paced and features some ominous riffs. The sound is very primitive, yet still has the trademark Clandestine Blaze melodies and is slightly disturbing, yet not as dark as it could be. Typically, Mikko includes one or two mid-paced tracks that rip off Celtic Frost riffs, and end up being boring as hell. Thankfully, this one is still dynamic enough to avoid falling into such traps.

"Call of the Warrior" begins with some simplistic and rather boring riffs, before speeding up and becoming a little more interesting. The riffs are difficult to hear, but some sort of horn accompanies the proceedings and gives more character and helps add a feeling of dread to the song. It could be something else entirely, but that is what is sounds like. There are some decent riffs, but the production hinders any possibility of fully appreciating them. In that sense, it's almost like some of the old Moonblood rehearsal tapes; there would be brilliant melodies that were impossible to really soak in, due to the poor sound. Necro production is one thing, but one should always ensure that the guitars are clear enough for the full effect to be felt. In this case, it's walking a fine line.

This is followed by "Melancholy of the Falling Monuments", which is a slower-paced song that really drains the life out of you. From the first moments, this manages to stand out from the rest of the songs as one of the true highlights of the record. Mikko's vocals hearken back to the early days of the Second Wave, reminiscent of Nocturno Culto, in a way. The riffs are sorrowful and one can feel the hopelessness and the urge to turn away from the dying world, to simply crawl into an open grave and forget all that has been lost. There is no longer any will to fight and reclaim what once was; rather, it is easier to sacrifice all hopes and dreams and to just put the blade to your flesh and begin carving until the snow is stained with your blood. The song is very minimalist, yet subtle additions come near the end to ensure that the somber atmosphere crushes your spirit.

"Bloodsoil" picks up the pace, after a brief intro. The cold tremolo riffs don't sound terribly original, and you almost get the sense that you've heard these same melodies from this band before, but it is all well done, nevertheless. Again, the drumming is a little too high in the mix, but the guitars are able to cut through. This track is very reminiscent of old Burzum, especially as the pace slows down and a tortured scream leads into a section where nothing is left but a lone guitar. Nothing is wrong with this, especially since Varg is no longer interested in keeping his old sound alive.

The next song is "Horizon of Ego Annihilation", another mid-paced song that features good use of tremolo riffs to accentuate the power chords. The vocals are placed well, suiting the dreary aura quite well. As the riffs change, one gets the sense that something horrible will soon happen, and that the worst is yet to come. The song is very short, clocking in at just under three minutes, but its simple melodies are effective.

"Endurance of Supremacist Ritual" starts out with slow doom riffs, before the drumming kicks in and an eerily familiar guitar melody rises from the darkness. It should be easily recognizable to any fan of Norwegian Black Metal, as it was ripped straight from "Where Cold Winds Blow", from Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Odd that Mikko took four years in between Clandestine Blaze releases, yet was unable to write a full album of original material. The song is not bad, but I preferred it the first time I heard it... on the Darkthrone record.

Finally, the album ends with "Discordant Howls of Tormented". This is another mid-paced track, featuring some rather miserable sounds, though not as dark as anything found on Deliverers of Faith. After a couple minutes, the song speeds up with blasting drums and fast tremolo-picked guitar riffs, soon joined by the haunting sounds of a funeral organ. This small addition manages to do a lot for the atmosphere of the song, which is somewhat strange to think of since Clandestine Blaze always managed to do so well with so little, in the past. The song fails to deliver the type of soul-crushing despondency that is alluded to in the opening moments, due to odd structuring and ideas that are never fully built upon. While possessing some of the best riffs of the album, the song clearly struggles at some points.

Much like Sargeist, Clandestine Blaze was dormant for several years. However, unlike his Finnish peers, Mikko was unable to return to form in a way that makes the listener feel that the lengthy wait was worthwhile. Falling Monuments has its moments, but one gets the sense that the brilliance that was touched upon with Deliverers of Faith will never again be matched, as many of the ideas that made that album what it was were stripped away and used for Deathspell Omega instead, leaving Clandestine Blaze with only the more primitive and less-inspiring material. The new album is solid enough and is by no means bad, but one would expect a bit more from a band that has been silent for four years.
 
(20 Mar. 2011)

 


Clandestine Blaze is a rather obscure band from Finland. It seems that the last several albums are released almost in secret, as news spreads so slowly and not much is mentioned about them. Even on Mikko's own Northern Heritage website, the mention of his latest release is usually buried in with everything else, with no special attention given to it. So it is no surprise that, despite the album being released in May 2013, I am just now learning of the existence of Harmony of Struggle. Thankfully, fans of Clandestine Blaze were not subjected to another four-year waiting period, as before. Especially since the last two albums, Church of Atrocity and Falling Monuments, were mediocre when compared to the Mikko's earlier works. As such, expectations for this record were rather low. This was a good thing, as it led to somewhat of a pleasant surprise to find that this collection of songs seems a bit more inspired and coherent than the last couple of releases. 

Past albums from Clandestine Blaze have been characterized by somewhat odd production jobs, yet Harmony of Struggle sounds much less awkward and possesses a better sound than its immediate predecessor, in particular. Whereas the last record was distorted in the wrong ways, enough to negatively affect the overall atmosphere, this effort is instantly more pleasing to the ears. The guitar tone is powerful and raw, with no excess irregularities in the sound. At times, it hearkens back to Night of the Unholy Flames and Fist of the Northern Destroyer, especially during the faster parts. The drums are at just the right level, rather than pounding on top of everything. The percussion is more blunt, rather than possessing the hollow and distracting sound that was present on some previous albums. The vocals sound nearly identical to most of the band's previous works. Mikko's voice has always been deeper than most standard Black Metal vocals, and buried just enough to allow the guitar melodies to be the primary focus but still high enough to be easily discernible. 

Musically, this is definitely the strongest work to be released under the Clandestine Blaze name in nearly a decade. The songwriting is much more cohesive and the addition of eerie keyboards, from time to time, really accentuates the riffs and the overall feel of the tracks in a positive way. While Fallen Monuments was a step up from Church of Atrocity, in some aspects, the poor production was really detrimental and the whole thing was rather forgettable. However, Harmony of Struggle is makes much more of an impact from the very first moments of "Memento Mori". This morbid intro sets the tone for what is to come, somewhat reminiscent of Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice from Deathspell Omega. This leads into the intense "White Corpse", which is a fast-paced track that belongs among the better Darkthrone-inspired pieces that Clandestine Blaze has produced. Mikko always excelled when he went for the more straightforward songs that featured tremolo riffs over fast and primitive drumming. "Messiah for the Dying World" and "Wings of the Archangel" also follow this pattern, though the former also includes a more Celtic Frost-derived mid-section and a slower ending. While certainly influenced by the sort of riffs present on Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, he has always managed to add his own unique take that made his band stand out among the legions of clones. Slower songs, such as "Myth Turned Alive" and "Autumn of Blood and Steel" possess more power and add a bit more of a morbid feeling to things, with the latter being book-ended by two more instrumentals. While the influence of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto can still be heard, the Burzum influence that once made up a fairly strong part of the Clandestine Blaze sound has gradually faded.

Harmony of Struggle features some memorable songwriting and is quite a solid album. With that said, it still lacks the severely eerie and darkened feel of Deliverers of Faith. It would appear that, in retrospect, that record was an anomaly within the discography of Clandestine Blaze, as Mikko has never before or since produced something with such a nightmarish feeling. Perhaps, it is unfair to compare all subsequent works to that one. So, ignoring that, it would be safe to say that this new record is the best thing he has done in the past ten years or so. It may be lacking something, similar to recent efforts from Horna and Sargeist, but this is a worthy listen and should please fans of Clandestine Blaze or Finnish Black Metal, in general.
 
(29 July 2013)

 
 
 


Two years have passed since the last Clandestine Blaze album, and very little of worth has emerged from the realm of Black Metal in that time. So many mediocre, forgettable, plastic, fake and worthless recordings have polluted the scene, so it is extremely refreshing that Mikko has returned with another dose of pure and uncompromising Finnish Black Metal, in the form of New Golgotha Rising.

Clandestine Blaze has always managed to maintain the traditions of Black Metal while also adding something to it, proving that one needs not countless bells and whistles to dress up the music if a true understanding of said music is possessed in the first place. While only clocking in at around thirty-eight minutes, New Golgotha Rising feels far more immense and meaningful than one might expect. The songwriting is rather stripped-down and primitive, but is not really minimalist in the same sense as Transilvanian Hunger or the old Branikald material. Though the songs are pretty straightforward, there are enough variations in the riffing and also subtle changes in the percussion that give a lively and often aggressive feeling to the songs. As usual, the compositions center around sombre and menacing tremolo melodies, with a good mix of old school riffing thrown in. One can hear definite influences from the early albums of Darkthrone and Burzum, which have long been key components to the foundation of this band. The latter begins to bleed through in the second song, "Fractured Skull", which possesses an ominous feeling that hearkens back to tracks like "Praising the Self" from Fist of the Northern Destroyer.

One thing that Clandestine Blaze has always been capable of is creating a dark and unsettling atmosphere. It is not just that Mikko knows which notes to play, but he knows why they need to be played and by which methods to best get the most out of each one. The opening riffs of "Consumed By Flames" really demonstrate this, reminiscent of Darkthrone's "Where Cold Winds Blow". Bands such as Satanic Warmaster often displayed enough technical skill to closely imitate the old bands, but always failed to give the songs any true depth or to imbue the listener with a sense of dread. Clandestine Blaze is no shallow copy.

Often, throughout the career of this band, Mikko has tried his hand at incorporating Celtic Frost influences, with varying degrees of success. It has only been in recent years that he has managed to really work these bits into the rest, without it sounding disjointed. In the case of the title track, Fenriz would be very proud of the way Tom Warrior's riffing style has been utilized to create something dark and evil, rather than boring and plodding. In fact, this almost pays homage to Hellhammer's "Triumph of Death" with the tortured screams and genuinely plague-infected feeling of the riffs.

The only real weak point of this record comes with "Culling the Species". The choice of a cleaner vocal approach is quite odd and produces a strange effect. The music is not bad, but the vocals are rather awkward and take some getting used to. I would recommend just skipping it, but some of the riffs are really worth hearing.

The gloomy and macabre feeling deepens with the final two tracks, featuring a lot of mid-paced and funereal riffs. "Passage to New Creed" features somewhat of a false-finish, perhaps a nod to classic Bathory. "Final Hours of Sacrifice" is the lengthiest song on here and offers absolutely no hope, no refuge and not a trace of light breaks through this inescapable darkness. The slow intro is a harbinger of things to come, while the main tremolo riffs wear you down and cut though you with an frigid sense of melancholy that will haunt long after the record has ended.

There's nothing plastic or disingenuous about this. The production is appropriately raw, but retaining enough clarity for everything to be heard. As for the songwriting, there is nothing to complain about. In an age where so many false bands wrongly whore out the aesthetics of Black Metal and receive undeserved praise, Clandestine Blaze simply toils away in relative obscurity and continues to churn out worthwhile pieces of music that remain true to the essence of Black Metal and do well to keep the black flame burning through these darkest of times. New Golgotha Rising is very much recommended.
 
(11 Apr. 2015)

City of Slaughter (2017)
 

Clandestine Blaze has for several years been one of the most reliable Black Metal bands of the modern era. Never the greatest, but always able to deliver consistent albums that uphold the traditions of decades past. In February 2017, Mikko returned with his ninth full-length album, City of Slaughter.

For the most part, this L.P. offers precisely what one would expect from Clandestine Blaze. Stylistically, there is no change from the previous records, which is a good thing. In general, the only thing that Mikko really 'experiments' with has to be the production, which often takes a few listens to get acclimated to some of his more peculiar choices. The guitars possess a rathe favourable tone, maintaining sort of a sharp and rusty sound. As with Harmony of Struggle and New Golgotha Rising, the drums can be distracting at times, mostly due to the volume of the snare. Otherwise, there are no real complaints to be made.

Some of the songwriting can be described as, well, less-than-grim. "Remembrance of a Ruin" was an odd pick to open the album, with the more relaxed pace and the slightly off-putting backing vocals reminiscent of "Culling Species" from the previous L.P. Things pick up with "The Voice of Our Mythical Past", a faster song with the typical tremolo picking and memorable melodies that Clandestine Blaze has long been known for. "Circle of Vultures" utilizes more of this, though interspersed with mellow sections with sort of a plodding double-bass carrying things forward. Both of these songs feature some of the best riffs on the album, though. "Prelude of Slaughter" is a non-essential track, merely consisting of some synth and backward vocals, basically an interlude that goes a bit longer than it should.

It leads into the centerpiece of the record, "Return into the City of Slaughter", which is a lengthy song that sounds like something from Darkthrone's Panzerfaust, offering up a great deal of Celtic Frost worship. There are brief passages that add a sense of morbidity to the track, as well as sparse use of eerie background effects. The song is structured well and builds up a sense of tension as it goes along, with even the vocals becoming more intense. Whereas some of Mikko's forays into Celtic Frost territory have been hit and miss, this time he makes good use of Tom Warrior's style of riffing, mixing with his own style of songwriting, to create something epic and memorable.

This is followed by the more straightforward and primitive "Archeopsychic Fear" and "Century of Fire". Both are characterized by grim vocals, somewhat mournful tremolo melodies and fast-paced drums, though the latter does fall off the rails around the middle. Suddenly, things get rather calm and the drums become a little overactive, playing some ill-placed catchy beat that is just really off-putting. It reappears a minute or so later, which is so near to the end of the album as to leave a lasting impression of annoyance, at least to my ears.

Much like New Golgotha Rising, City of Slaughter is a rather decent record, overall. Despite beginning and ending with the weakest tracks (and the only two that I'd consider to be flawed), the rest of the material delivers a solid dose of Finnish Black Metal. While not necessarily up to the quality of Harmony of Struggle, it's certainly worth picking up for fans of Clandestine Blaze.
 
(4 Mar. 2017)

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