Sunday, 7 February 2010

Tartaros - The Red Jewel (1999) 90/100.

Yesterday I found myself covering a Hungarian band with a fantastic reputation as supreme art. Forest Silence’s ‘Philosophy of Winter’ is a contributor to the small sections of the black metal scene which are subtly influenced by normally subdued aspects of the instrumentation, such as bass and, most importantly, the keyboards. Once again I have uncovered for myself a real treat in the form of Tartaros’ ‘The Red Jewel’, another subtly keyboard driven black metal record akin to theatrical avant-gardé bands like the well respected force of Arcturus, particularly their darkest record, ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. There are those that might argue that the debut was, in actual fact, much darker than the aforementioned sophomore, but since Arcturus had begun to move away from their black metal roots and towards a darkly deranged circus sounding style, I will stricken it from the record, since it doesn’t portray well what the majority of their material was like, whereas ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ is more adept at doing so, since the final assault, ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ once again restored that sound after a brief intermission with the lighter ‘The Sham Mirrors’, though it is an incredible feat in its own right.

Though the bands only musician, Charmand Grimloch, doesn’t dabble too much in allowing us into his mind to see his repertoire of influences, we can assume that bands like Arcturus, or even Emperor, with whom Charmand Grimloch played live keyboards for over a period of two or so years during the late 1990’s, have had an impression on what proceeds when the play button is apprehensively pushed down hard. The sense of apprehension I have whenever I tap into a new stream of music is one that goes down either one of two vastly different tributaries. First, a band can take the deathly wrong turn and up end in a place whereby I’m forced to repress the duration of the record from my mind, or they take the turn down the path of righteousness. ‘The Red Jewel’ is so exuberant, that I cannot help but feel like a bundle of excitement whenever it bursts open into life and courses through my veins like a bloodstream feeling the effects of a multitude of drugs. Not only do the usual instrumental aspects, such as the drums, which are particularly bombastic, or the guitars play a significant role in making this an exciting listen, but those keyboards are a quintessential element of Tartaros’ darkly charming style.

Charmand Grimloch, a man with much experience of playing keyboards at the highest level (as shown in his performances, on a live circuit, for well established bands like Emperor), definitely knows how to spark the interests of a passive listener as they travel through the mighty realms that this record invigoratingly moves through. Swiftly moving away from the guitars as a main influence behind the chaotic style, ‘The Red Jewel’ focuses in on areas which don’t receive as much attention by critics, like the drums. As aforementioned, the drums are given a really bombastic feel by the production, which keeps us on the edge of our seats. Strangely, when I’m listening to ‘The Red Jewel’, I am often reminded of those theatrical sci-fi shows of the 60’s and 70’s. Shows like a William Shatner led Star Trek, for instance. Songs like ‘Into The Faculty of Wonderful Secrets’ forces my mind to wander back in time and remember watching those ridiculously over-the-top sci-fi epics as a child. I remember being impressed by the engaging storylines and the primitive fighting that took place -- some of the elements of this record remind me of how I felt as a child.

The guitars are like chainsaws, cutting through my emotions and scarring me permanently with the marks of their memorable riffs and delightful solos. The title track is a fine example of this, with it’s chaotic distortion and superior vocals from Charmand Grimloch himself, as he performs every aspect with coolness personified. I never imagined someone like him being able to capably write songs and feature such infectious keyboards, which instantly hook the listener. He seemed like a mere rookie compared to other bands of this sort of nature, like Arcturus (though they’re far less domineering when it comes to controlling an atmosphere and making it able to penetrate the memory), simply because his other projects have never really gotten off the ground. To date, this is his only full-length, which is a shame because he is a monstrous musician, capable of such majesty and memorable moments, particularly in areas where we don’t expect them, as with the keyboards that act like some sort of whirling dervish, spinning and entrancing us with its bright colours and dynamic patterns.

Charmand Grimloch takes ample time exploring his other worldly sound, despite the short nature of most of the songs. I feel however, that the length of the songs is just about right. If they were extended, the chaos that ensues could become overwhelming and the amount of variation lost in translation. As they are, Charmand Grimloch leaves himself a perfect amount of time to spin of a number of catchy riffs, as well as engaging the atmosphere, as well as the avid listener, with a number of treasured background keyboard symphonies. If you extracted the other elements of the instrumentation and left nothing but the keyboards, you could have another mesmerising record all on its lonesome and it would cope with the pressure of being a solitary force well, I’d imagine. So, though the guitars, drums and vocals (though these do vary, with moments of cleans vocals, though they are sparse) are far more harsh than the expressive keyboards, they tend to compliment each other well on this devilish record. With an excellent balance between forcefulness and subtlety, Charmand Grimloch has departed the scene with one hell of a final swan song.

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