Smoke – Haze (CD-R, Crimes Against Skin)

The artwork display and case of Haze looks very sleek on the outside, with full wrap-around cover art of a demonic battlefield and the band’s logo swirling out of a candelabra. The CD-R is housed in a thin DVD case, with a insert card attached to the inside with information about the release and a hand-numbered stamp at the bottom right corner. Haze even comes with a sample of moss taken from the Santa Cruz mountains.

But the sound of the CD-R is anything but clear, utilizing the hazy and lo-fi production values popular with black metal releases. And that’s the way I like my black metal as well – with none of that clear, crisp production that over-the-top, more mainstream “black” metal bands use now. Smoke’s lo-fi sound creates a more sinister atmosphere, where the vocals linger in the background like howls of torture.

The lyrics are fairly indecipherable, mainly screams and moans of torment that accompany the bleak riffs of guitar very well. Musically, Haze delivers much of what you’d expect from a black metal band, and in terms of style, it’s less symphonic than Norwegian black metal, instead delivering fast blast beats and flying guitar riffs that repeat over the length of the song. I’ve got to say, what stands out the most to me is the vocals, which deliver that sense of satanic cult worship – mainly deeper groans that sustain rather than the standard shrieks, but there are some of those as well.

As the liner notes state, the nine untitled tracks on Haze were improvised by the members, and though it’s possible to tell with some of them (track one, for instance, tends to drone on for longer than necessary, quite possibly due to an uncertainty of where to end), many of the nine tracks feel nicely rounded, or at least saved by good musicianship during questionable moments.

Though it’s difficult to pick out of the tracks certain definable moments of clarity, the fourth track easily stands out as one of those hard-hitting tracks that gets at the core of Smoke. With both shrieks and groans, blast beats and a fake-out ending that restarts with pummeling drums and a sore-throated yell, the track features all of the material that makes Haze such a great listen.

Track 5 also features a great digression into noise and industrial static mayhem, along with muffled screams in the background. There’s not a lot of noise featured on this album, but the dissection of sound at the end of this track is really great and warrants further exploration from Smoke.

I’m definitely proud to include this CD-R in my collection of furious and raw albums. This is black metal for those who hate clean production, despise any of the noodling, post-rocky wankery of symphonic BM, and love the irresistible charm of pure satanic anger and aggression. The one critique I would give is the fact that the songs do tend to blend together, although it produces one 40 minute jam of fast-paced black metal fury. And for improvising all of it, that’s pretty damn good.

Pick it up here. Copies are going fast.

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