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The Return of the Unweeping Moon (1994)
 

Released in early 1994, The Return of the Unweeping Moon is the third demo tape from Vlad Tepes. One of the most notable members of the French Black Legions, alongside bands like Mütiilation and Torgeist, Vlad Tepes plays a rather unique style of raw Black Metal that shows a strong sense of songwriting and a firm connection to the band's old school roots. While the best example of their sound can be heard on the March to the Black Holocaust split with Belketre, the other various recordings are worth hearing, for hardcore fans of this band / style.

Three of the songs on this demo are present, in a much more presentable form, on the aforementioned split L.P. This enables the listener to really get a sense of how the material developed, as well as how the musicianship of the different members improved. While a lot of underground releases, around this time, were busy ripping off the bands from Norway, Vlad Tepes really had their own thing going on. This is raw, unpolished Black Metal that is severely under-produced, not because the band was attempting to create a necro feeling, but because of the equipment available to them. One can detect hints of thrash, here and there, along with some guitar melodies that add depth and verge on epic. "In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness", in particular, features riffs and a lead solo that owe something to early Bathory and would not have sounded out of place in the early-to-mid '80s. Only one track fits the typical Second Wave sound, consisting of tremolo melodies and straightforward drumming, which is "Massacre Song from the Devastated Lands"; however, even this song shows a great deal of development and skill in songwriting. This is the sort of song that takes the listener on a journey through ruined castles and darkened forests, in the dead of night. Though the sound quality is very poor, it has nothing to do with sloppy execution. Wlad, Vorlok and Niflheim were all in time and functioning as a cohesive unit, during the recording of this demo.

Not necessarily essential, The Return of the Unweeping Moon is still of interest to fans of Vlad Tepes. Though the material is present on other recordings, it is sometimes nice to hear different interpretations, and one can really appreciate the quality of the later versions. It is a shame that the band was not able to properly record all of their songs and release a few full-lengths, as they were capable of brilliance, at times.
 
(20 Feb. 2012)

 
 

Celtic Poetry is the second official demo from Vlad Tepes. For those unaware of this band, they were one of the best-known members of the French Black Legions, and for good reason. Along with Mütiilation, they created some of the best music to come out of this scene, and this 1994 demo is no exception. Regardless of the raw and under-produced sound, this is superior to a great majority of Black Metal albums being released for the past decade or more.

All of the songs on this tape were later recorded for the March to the Black Holocaust split album, with Belketre. As one might imagine, the versions featured here are a bit rougher, in every sense. Naturally, the production is more raw and distorted. The guitars possess somewhat more of a grating sound that on the later recordings, or even the next demo, for that matter. The bass adds to the maelstrom of hatred with an ominous rumble. The drumming is quite buried, but still audible. The vocals are lower than they would be on the following demo, for the most part. Overall, the presentation is very grim and obscure.

Musically, the type of arrangements and variation that Vlad Tepes are well known for are present here, though maybe somewhat more difficult to discern. "Drink the Blood of the Celtic Disciple" is a massive piece, stretching for thirteen minutes, taking the listener deep into the bowels of Hell. At times, there is almost a Viking-era Bathory vibe, or maybe something more akin to Isengard. Later in the song, there is a sombre section that features a cold open-arpeggio riff, before erupting into another freezing tremolo melody. Everything flows very well, and is coherent and well thought-out. There are no unnatural transitions, despite the length and ambitious approach taken with this track. One can still detect a Rock vibe, from time to time, on songs like "Under the Carpathian Yoke", in a style similar to the old Hellhammer demos. "Misery Fear and Storm Hunger" is a little too distorted, at times, for the riffs to really come through and have the intended impact, and it is a good thing that the song was re-recorded, as it is far too good to have been left like this. Either way, it features some of the most memorable riffs of the entire demo, and some of the darkest moments as well.

The Celtic Poetry demo is not exactly essential stuff, since all of these songs appear in a better form on March to the Black Holocaust. The overall quality is below that of War Funeral March, for comparison. This is more recommended for die-hard fans of Vlad Tepes, or just those curious to see how the band progressed from its earliest days. The songs were, more or less, complete and fully developed by this point. The only difference is that the better sound of the split L.P. allowed for them to be better appreciated. In all honesty, the execution was likely a little tighter, also. This is not a bad demo, at all, but not terribly worth the money to seek out in its original format.
 
(23 Dec. 2012)

 
 

In 1994, Black Metal was already transforming and many bands were going down the wrong path. Tons of clone bands were beginning to appear, often making horrendous music and others were showing up on the scene and adding ridiculously inappropriate elements in an effort to set themselves apart or to seem more sophisticated than the rest. While many great albums were released that year, from the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Gorgoroth and others, things would soon deteriorate.

Yet among these newer bands, there were some that were keeping the black flame alive and doing somethng worth commending. In the French Black Metal scene, the LLN bands were spawning their own form of hellish chaos, with the likes of Mütiilation and Vlad Tepes at the forefront of this movement. The influence from the Norwegians was quite obvious, from the start, and still these bands managed to add their own character and identity to the music that they created. In the case of Vlad Tepes, there was a certain old school feeling that was present in nearly everything that they did. Wlad and Vorlok had a clear background in traditional Metal, which often influenced the structures and melodies that were used. Even from their earliest demos, such as 1994's War Funeral March, one can hear this.

Vlad Tepes rarely gets the credit that they deserve for being top-notch songwriters and very skilled musicians. They were deceptively smooth in their playing, not nearly as sloppy and primitive as Mütiilation was in those early days. The sound of this demo is quite raw and has a really ugly vibe to it. However, this is mostly due to the primitive production. The vocals are rather high and there are times when it seems as if the vocals were done right next to the tape recorder while the music was being played in another room. Regardless, the sound is not bad at all. It never reaches the point of being unlistenable, by any means. The guitars possess a decent amount of fuzz and the drums are audible, though nicely in the background.

As for the music itself, these songs are light-years ahead of what a lot of other Black Metal bands were doing around the same time and Vlad Tepes would be more highly regarded had they been able to record a proper full-length album. As one might imagine, the majority of the demo is dominated by high-tempo drumming and fast-picked tremolo riffs. Still, this is not quite as minimalist as you would likely expect. There is a good amount of variation in the riffs, often with a somewhat epic feeling being conveyed by the way the different guitar melodies are arranged. There is even a dynamic sense to the percussion, keeping things basic and yet not becoming too lazy. There are even lead guitar solos, here and there, which add a lot to the compositions. They not only suit the songs perfectly, but they serve as another reminder of the band's old school roots. At times, there is a detectable Rock vibe, but this is not as present on War Funeral March as on some other recordings. Despite creating a rather gloomy atmosphere at various points, especially some of the riffs in "Returning to My Old Battlegrounds" and "Frozen Dead Kingdom", Vlad Tepes displays a great deal of energy in most of these songs, which is something that a lot of bands completely lack. The riffs are never flat or boring, at any time throughout this demo.

War Funeral March may be one of the easier Vlad Tepes recordings to get into, as it possesses a fairly good overall sound and is bereft of the type of hissing and distortion that may make some of the other demos difficult to listen to. It really is a shame that they kept to making demo tapes and split albums, rather than going into a proper studio and banging out a couple full-lengths, at some point. These guys were easily more talented than a great deal of the bands that were getting much more attention back then, and the same holds true even compared to most of today's Black Metal bands. This demo has the grimness of an old Darkthrone album with the musicianship of early Gorgoroth. The only real difference is the low quality production. Either way, that somewhat adds to the atmosphere and in no way detracts from what is going on. At the time, there was a total rejection of the modern garbage that was being vomited forth by so many bands. Things have only gotten worse since then, but at least these old recordings still exist. There are no samples of church choirs or clips from movies, no weird effects on the vocals or stupid gimmicks in the lyrics or overall presentation. This is how underground Black Metal should sound. If you haven't heard this yet, seek it out.
 
(18 Dec. 2012)

 
 

Released in January 1995, Into Frosty Madness is the fifth proper demo tape from Vlad Tepes. Unfortunately, this is one of the worse-sounding cassettes from this French band, one that does little to dispel the notion that the LLN movement consisted of talentless bands that churned out senseless noise. Of course, this is not remotely true, but the chaotic sound of this recording is of the sort that likely strengthened such negative claims.

Overall, the sound is really cluttered and muddy. Vlad Tepes has somewhat of a reputation for embracing a lo-fi sound, but this is even more primitive and difficult to wrap one's head around than most of their other demos. The drop in quality is even more evident when these songs are compared to the earlier versions that were released on the War Funeral March demo. Whereas the various elements managed to stand out on that tape, here they blend together into a chaotic maelstrom of fury and hatred. Everything is more intense and somewhat barbaric, from the guitars and drums to the vocal approach as well. In some ways, this can be beneficial and will certainly appeal to those that prefer an even more raw sound.

As for the music, itself, the band's talents are somewhat harder to appreciate on this particular release. Anyone unfamiliar with Vlad Tepes would be advised to start elsewhere, as this tape is something that has to be digested for some time. It is not for those that are looking for instant gratification, in any way. However, the type of listener that can really put some time in and focus on the brilliant songwriting and the deceptive sense of melody and structure that exists within this often-frenzied style will eventually come away with a greater sense of respect for the work of Vlad Tepes and an understanding that this is far superior to the hordes of pretenders that flood the Black Metal scene today, making plastic albums that lack any real meaning and only seek to offer up thrice-regurgitated ideas that possess absolutely no substance. Into Frosty Madness offers an even more grim and necro perspective on these songs and is sure to please any fan of this band.
 
(20 Apr. 2013)

 
Brouillons I (1995)

 
Among the better-known offerings from the LLN movement is the Vlad Tepes / Torgeist split L.P. The contributions from Wlad and Vorlok were originally released in a limited number as the Brouillons I demo, in 1995. This tape captures the raw essence of Vlad Tepes, one of the elite bands of the Black Legions, near their peak. This material may only be second to the songs on March to the Black Holocaust in quality and overall sound and should appeal to anyone into the sort of raw Black Metal that was coming from the French underground in those years.

Vlad Tepes starts the demo with a familiar melody. "Raven's Hike" seems to take "Wladimir's March" and expand upon it, quite a bit. The atmosphere is very epic and memorable, showcasing the band's old school roots. Once "Abyssic & Funeral Symphony - An Ode to Our Ruin" gets going, though, things really pick up. Vlad Tepes delivers the type of sound that bands like Torgeist only hinted at. Here, we get the fast tremolo melodies and the pummeling drums, though not just for the sake of creating a noisy or chaotic feeling. This is neither of those things. The riffs are, obviously, well-developed and mixed with a traditional approach that brings the songs to life much more than the underground posturing that most bands cling to, these days. It would appear that "In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness" was among the band's preferred tracks, as it was recorded a handful of times. This version is a little slower than the one found on March to the Black Holocaust, enabling the Bathory influence to come through a little more. All in all, the Vlad Tepes material is much more intelligible than that of many other LLN bands, which is no surprise as they were simply better songwriters. Each song possesses its own identity and really catches your attention. In particular, the somewhat epic and old school vibe of "Tepes - The Unweeping" is among the best songs that this band ever recorded. There is a dreary feeling that is rather subtle, but still manages to permeate you subconscious. This gloomy atmosphere deepens as the track continues, dragging you into the dark past. Unlike a lot of bands, Vlad Tepes was actually able to mix in older influences in a natural way, as opposed to a song clearly taking a left turn to include an "old school" section that did not truly fit. As for "Those Black Desires That Torment My Soul", this song was not on the split and I am not sure if it was fully meant to be a Vlad Tepes song or not. It first appeared on the 1994 demo of their other project, Black Murder. Either way, the feeling is dark and morbid in a way that eclipses everything else on here. From the eerie riffs to the tortured howls, this really possesses more of a melancholic atmosphere.

The production is surprisingly good for a Vlad Tepes demo, being clear enough for everything to come through well, yet still possessing a raw and underground approach. Unlike the Into Frosty Madness demo, for example, all of the elements are able to be deciphered, from the hateful vocals to the creative guitar riffs and the percussion. Unlike later versions of these songs, they are not dominated by the more trebly and thin sound. One has to wonder which was preferred, since this recording was chosen for the Black Legions Metal split, yet the band continued to record these tracks a couple more times, as if they were not satisfied with how they turned out. In my opinion, they did the best job the first time around, as this demo really captures the atmosphere of the songs very well and allows for all of the hard work and brilliant songwriting to be appreciated.

Vlad Tepes is another band, similar to Moonblood, that was too good for the limitations that they had to work under. Whether it was due to lack of interest on the part of the band members or of labels, the truth is that these guys should have been recording proper albums for several years at least and it is a crime that they did not. Thus, Brouillons I is even more essential for fans of Vlad Tepes. Of this there is no doubt. This is one of the better recordings to come from any of the LLN bands and certainly killed Torgeist's contributions to the split album that this ended up on. It certainly ranks near the top of their discography in terms of sound quality. This may fall a little short when compared to March to the Black Holocaust, but not by much. Seek this out if possible.
 
(22 Feb. 2012)

 
March to the Black Holocaust (1995)
 
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Vlad Tepes and Belketre were two of the best LLN bands, while seeming to be the complete opposite of one another. Any fan of the Black Legions should be aware of this split, though acquiring it may be quite difficult as it was only produced in 1000 copies. This is, definitely, one of the best LLN releases.

I first heard "Massacre Song From the Devastated Lands", late one night, while listening to "The Haunted Mansion". I was immediately drawn in, yet it would take three more years before I was able to listen to this full album. Once I did, I kicked myself for being so lazy and not trying harder to find it before then.

March to the Black Holocaust offers, probably, the best material Vlad Tepes has ever recorded, and they begin this monumental album with the brief intro, "Wladimir's March". This features somewhat of an upbeat guitar riff and the drumming compliments this well, serving to produce mental imagery of marching through the battlefield, over the corpses of the slain. Vlad Tepes songs, while relatively short, possess an epic feel. Of course, the twelve minute masterpiece, "Drink the Poetry of the Celtic Disciple" takes this to greater limits.

This is not typical Black Metal. The raw production, dissonate melodies and misanthropic vocals are all present; however, there is a, somewhat, sorrowful yet folky atmosphere that maintains deep roots in old school Heavy Metal. The production is typical for most of the LLN bands, being raw, yet all of the instruments have room to breathe and are clearly discernible. The drum work is simple, often slow and plodding but usually mid-tempo and keeping rhythm and structure. There's no blasting to be found here. The vocals are done by both members at times. The primary vocalist is not far removed from early Graveland. For Vlad Tepes, this is surprisingly good. The bass is quite audible, being less trebly than one might expect. The album is filled with memorable melodies and riffs that will remain with you. Overall, this is my favorite material from this band.

As for Belketre's half of the split... This is very abrasive, raw and hateful Black Metal. This is a complete change in style from Vlad Tepes. This is extremely raw, even by Black Metal standards. The buzzing guitars cut their way through the mix, like a scythe. The vocals are seething with pure hatred for humanity. The guitar riffs are eerie and filled with enough treble to make your ears bleed. The drummer is quite competent, never missing a beat. The bass is low in the mix, though easily audible as it is the only instrument (aside from the bass drum) that actually creates any bass frequencies. The sound quality may be less than ideal, but the musicianship is dead on. This music fills your heart with dread, like being hunted within the impenetrable darkness of your own mind. This music is depraved and nihilistic.

The vocalist deserves much praise for producing some of the most hateful sounds ever caught on tape. The misanthropy spews forth like venom, in a screeching manner. This is not the result of a man 'attempting' to sound evil; it is the sound of a man consumed with pure hatred. This is the predominant feeling created by Belketre; not solitude, sorrow or despair, but hatred.

The majority of the songs alternate between fast drumming and screeching chords and mid-paced drumbeats with eerie melodies. There are a few brief interludes that include slightly distorted guitars playing eerie melodies as guttural, nightmarish vocals reverberate around the speakers. This not only provides a 'break' from the main songs but adds to the ominous atmosphere that is being created. My personal favorite has to be "Night of Sadness", with its sorrowful intro and the hatred being spewed by the vocalist as the guitar riffs twist and gouge at the ears of the listener.

There is no point comparing the two bands, as they are vastly different entities. They both contribute enough quality Black Metal to make this an essential release. Seek this out at any cost.

(1 Nov. 2008)

 
 

Dans Notre Chute was released in July 1996, as always, in limited numbers. A lot of times, a band will do this because they just are not that good, but such was not the case, here. This is one of the last demos from Vlad Tepes, one of the most revered bands of the French Black Legions. Recordings such as this prove what a shame it was that these guys never released a full-length album, as it would likely be considered a classic by now.

The material on this demo is not entirely original. Four of the six songs were previously released, more than once. The first several tracks were already available on the Broullions I and II demos, as well as the split L.P. with Torgeist. The song "In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness", in particular, had been recorded five or six times, by this point. For whatever reason, Vlad Tepes liked re-recording their own songs, which is sometimes common with demo releases anyway. For the most part, these songs are very similar to the earlier versions, so there was little necessity in playing them again. The two new tracks fit in well, showing a lot of consistency with the band's songwriting. As usual, they manage to utilize a good mixture of old school influences with more of an overall Second Wave feeling to dominate the material. Like Moonblood, some of their inspirations can be heard, yet they possess a sound that is purely their own. The music consists of eerie tremolo melodies, a handful of memorable thrash riffs, and a hellish feeling rivaled only by Mütiilation (especially on "Our Soul's Worries"). There is also an epic quality that shines through, from time to time. This is most noticeable in "Raven's Hike" and "Tepes - The Unweeping". The quality of arrangement and composition on display here is vastly superior to most Black Metal bands that were releasing full-length albums around this time.

The production is fairly good, compared to a lot of the other Vlad Tepes releases, though maybe not on par with March to the Black Holocaust. While things do tend to get a bit unclear, from time to time (not helped by a persistent buzzing sound that lasts throughout the entire recording), it hardly gets to the point where one can no longer follow the guitar melodies. This possesses a similar sound to the old Mayhem rehearsals and live albums, such as Live in Leipzig. It definitely qualifies as lo-fi, but not to the extent where it is impossible to enjoy.

In the end, Dans Notre Chute is among the most essential Vlad Tepes releases. This should appeal to anyone that appreciate raw, under-produced Black Metal in the vein of Moonblood, Mütiilation and Black Funeral. If you have not yet been well-educated regarding the LLN, this would not be a bad place to start.
 
(24 Feb. 2012)

 
 

Vlad Tepes is an odd band in that they did all that they could to ensure that their music only reached the hands of a select few, at least at the time. With the quality of songwriting that Wlad and Vorlok were capable of, it is doubtless that they would have produced countless classic Black Metal albums. For one reason or another, they chose the path of obscurity. Along with extremely limited demo tapes and split releases, Vlad Tepes made their art less accessible by utilizing horrible sound quality that went beyond necro. This added a sense of character to their music, in some sense, yet could also detract from the riffs at times. The band's final offering (of original material) came in the form of La Morte Lune, released in August 1997. This tape represents a bit of a regression, as far as the sound quality goes, opting for an even fuzzier and more oppressive feel than ever before.

When first confronted with the shoddy production and grim approach, some might expect the music to be sub-par and amateurish; however, such an assumption would be quite erroneous. Much like their counterparts in Germany, Moonblood, Vlad Tepes wrought brilliant soundscapes within the realm of lo-fi Black Metal. There is absolutely nothing second-rate about the songwriting or musicianship that is on display, here. One might get the impression that only harsh sounds will vomit forth from the speakers, yet there are many haunting subtleties that create a morbidly disturbing atmosphere. The different songs possess a variety of tempos, from the typical fast-paced tracks that one would expect to those that best resemble a hellish war march, fit for demons and other creatures from the darkened past. The feeling conveyed is pitch-black and sends chills up your spine, especially “Morte Lune”. The vocals are still as unrestrained and feral as ever, hardly following logical patterns. While the voices call from the depths of the underworld, freezing your soul, the guitar melodies swirl around you like blackened flames that distort reality. “L'Envol Du Corbeau”, in particular, transforms your surroundings into something hardly recognizable, where nightmares bleed into your waking thoughts, with the line separating them becoming imperceptible.

As mentioned before, the production is hideous and this only benefits the music by helping to establish an obscure and distant feeling. The mix is bass-heavy, creating a thick wall that hardly allows for any treble to exist. Still, the riffs can be discerned with close attention, while the drumming sort of blends into the noise, at times. Many would say that a clearer sound would have made this music even more enjoyable, but the rotten quality actually helps the macabre atmosphere. This is not a case of poor musicians trying to hide their imperfections by utilizing a necro sound. Anyone familiar with Vlad Tepes knows that they were quite skilled when it came to writing and recording Black Metal. They were far more talented than a good number of bands that were praised for doing little more than adding keyboard nonsense over sterile riffs.

As far as it is known, La Morte Lune is the final recording of original Vlad Tepes material. It is quite possible that the band persisted and simply kept their music to themselves and those close to them. Either way, it was a loss to the LLN and to Black Metal, as a whole, when this band chose to descend back to the infernal depths from which it was spawned. Do not be turned away by the poor sound. This is high-quality material that deserves to be heard.
 
(12 Apr. 2012)

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