Saturday, 23 December 2017


Vinegar Syndrome are specialising in restoring films (horror, exploitation, and sex) that most other labels would not even glance at, and in doing so they occasionally exhume a real gem.  Disconnected is one such product in my mind.  The first feature of Gorman Bechard (VS have also put out another of his early films, Psychos in Love), Disconnected was made in the early 80s for very little money and actors/crew that were largely friends of one another.  I first came across it in the video collection of someone I knew in the 90s, and was quite intrigued with it at the time.  I later saw it again online before being surprised when VS announced they had rescanned the 16mm source in 2K for a Blu-ray release - I never thought I would see this one!

The story, based on a tale by Virginia Gilroy who never appeared to write anything afterwards, concerns a young woman called Alicia (played by Francis Raines who later turned up in The Mutilator) who accepts a date with someone who spotted her in a nightclub, not realising that he has a fetish for butchering his girlfriends.  She is also being plagued by strange phonecalls that appear to be the doing of the nut who will be wanting to bring her life to an end before long, but it doesn't turn out to be quite so 'straightforward'.
Frances Raines is great here, taking on both the role of Alicia and her more glamorous sister.  She is appealing as a person as well as a woman, almost reminding me of a slightly more normal-looking version of the young Jennifer Connelly.  Because Alicia is so appealing, the viewer actually ends up caring about her to some extent, and does not want Franklin to get his murdering mitts on her!  She's also pretty cool in the sense that she's into movies and works in a video store.  The film is clearly super low budget, but manages to conjure up a grindhouse atmosphere that's quite thrilling for those of us into that kind of thing.  The 80s-esque soundtrack is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of amusing segments, whether it is the cheese-fest disco scene early on, or the intercut sequences of the detective on the case who is quite looking forward to a holiday once it's all over.  Not at all a slasher movie, it worms its way almost into Repulsion territory by its final act.  The film does not conclude itself in a conventional fashion, which may frustrate some viewers, but I personally like the surreal edge that wraps things up.

Vinegar Syndrome have yet again hit the ball out of the park with the package.  Available online as a web exclusive, the slipcase edition is beautiful, the case itself very high quality (a non-slip version will possibly be out at some point).  VS have scanned the 16mm elements at 1.85:1, which is probably the director's preferred means of viewing, although part of me does lament the absence of an opened-up 1.33:1 option (it makes an appearance in some of the extras) - a small complaint all told.  Despite the 2K credentials don't expect an exquisite image: this one is very rough, grainy, and frequently obtuse.  The mono audio track, transferred at a massive 96kHz in DTS-HD MA, does well in its own right, the oppressive ticking of the clock in Alicia's room much more pronounced than you will probably remember it from viewing via video cassette.  Quite an important constituent of the feature, the music sounds quite good also.

The pack contains a booklet with an essay by Art Ettinger, alongside reversible cover art for the amaray case itself, while the discs (both Blu-ray and DVD here) include a commentary track, 40 second introduction to the film from Berchard and his associate producer/assistant director Carmine Carpobianco, an interesting 11 minute interview with Berchard, a further 11 minute interview with Carpobianco, a 'short' film called Twenty Questions by the director which he himself thought lost, and a 17 minute Q&A that took place earlier in 2017 during a screening of the piece.  Twenty Questions, shot around 1988, actually runs for an hour, and features non-stop interviews with random people who answered a newspaper ad as they sit alone in a room with video monitors simply providing personal perspectives on such eclectic topics as fur coats, racial slurs, etc.  I thought it was going to be tough viewing, with no variation in technique, but it turns out to be quite a compelling and candid look at the minds of a cross-section of Americans in the late eighties.  As a collector's package and for the main film itself, this release is a must-get for fans of grindhouse American horror.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

House of Wax

Eccentric and slightly obsessed sculpture Henry Jarrod is challenged by his more money-orientated business partner about the lack of profit that their joint venture, a wax museum, is generating.  When the proposition of selling his half of the business falls through, the partner proceeds to burn down the museum for the purposes of acquiring its insurance benefit.  Jarrod is hideously scarred in the fire, but returns some time later to begin again, only this time the bodies of the recently deceased (including his old partner) start disappearing in the area, while Jarrod's models take on an increasingly lifelike nature...

Remaking the 1933 2-strip Technicolor horror movie Mystery of the Wax Museum, House of Wax follows its source quite closely aside from making the lead character (played by Vincent Price) more soulful at the same time as ditching the fast-talking female investigator of the original.  I don't find the film overly interesting unfortunately; it comes across as hokey and padded with cheese - Price of course was a very hammy actor but I'm guessing the motivation for making the film (to cash in on the contemporaneous popularity of 3D) was never going to give rise to great art.
What does make the film more charming is finally being able to see it as audiences would have back in 1953: in 3D with clear stereo soundtrack (DTS-HD MA 2.0).  The Blu-ray contains the now mastered stereoscopic version, released in various places around the world but here in the UK as an HMV-exclusive dual format edition (the DVD contains the standard 2D viewing option of course).  It's grainy and sometimes soft, the technique nowhere near what it was to become post-millennium, but the effect has depth and draws one into the image with plenty of deliberate trickery to enhance the illusion.  As with the original 2003 DVD release, this set contains the film's inspiration, Mystery..., however, the earlier (and possibly better) movie has not been remastered for HD, which is quite a shame.  I enjoy viewing Mystery... for its beautifully unique colour scheme and oddly rapid pace.  There's quite a bit packed onto the Blu-ray, including a newer 49 minute documentary with comments from renowned film-makers, a commentary and several other bits.  Where HMV have made this more collectable than its overseas counterparts is by packing it in a slipcase with artcards - their Premium collection is quite a string to the bow.  So, whilst the main feature is not the best, I do like seeing older 3D films finally back to their intended nature.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

2019: After the Fall of New York

Set in the far distant future year of 2019 we find that nuclear war has ravaged the world, and along with it humankind's prospective longevity - mutated female survivors of the holocaust are infertile.  Two political factions compete to find ways to restore mankind's ability to continue its questionable existence, one (that responsible for the bomb in the first place) sending in military personnel to New York's wasteland in search of survivors to genetically experiment with.  The other have more ambitious plans: to locate and retrieve the sole remaining fertile female, also reported to be alive in New York somewhere, before departing Earth altogether for the nearest inhabitable planet in order to restart the population using her eggs as its beginnings.  For this they acquire the skills of a rogue survivor, making a deal with him to get him off the planet too, if he can bring out the female alive.  With new companions he enters the hostile wasteland of New York in search of mankind's final hope.
Initially looking like it's going to be trash cinema of the highest order, 1983's 2019: After the Fall of New York, whilst unavoidably containing elements of cheese, is pretty good in my opinion, and featuring miniature work that's better than I expected.  It should go without saying that Carpenter's Escape from New York is obviously a huge influence on this, although influences appear to have their origins elsewhere in addition: Death Race 2000 helps to give our hero, Parsifal, his backstory, while Ridley Scott with both Blade Runner and Alien presumably kick-started the idea of human helpers turning out to be androids.  The spirit of Mad Max is also omnipresent.  On its own merits director Sergio Martino gifts the viewer a number of gory and gusto-filled setpieces, of particular note being the chaotic tunnel-bound escape from the city through increasingly threatening traps.  Prolific Italian star George Eastman also manages to make an appearance as an untrustworthy half ape/half man (leading a group of mutated individuals who now resemble cast members of Planet of the Apes).  The easily offended PC squad will want to give this a miss, for example the story's leading 'small person' is known as Shorty...  To digress, when the characters were discussing Parsifal's mission to locate the final hope in the shape of a fertile woman, I momentarily mused over the possibility that she could turn out to be obese and thoroughly undesirable, much to the chagrin of those chosen to impregnate her for the sake of the human race.  On the contrary, she of course proves to be a true Sleeping Beauty in the form of Valentine Monnier, albeit ultimately underused.  The final scenes could easily have led to a new science fiction adventure in a sequel that was never to be.

Unseen in Britain for a long time, 88 Films have blessed us with a Blu-ray that presents the film very nicely indeed in HD and widescreen, substantially outclassing the old Media Blasters DVD.  Soundtrack is English stereo (the old DVD also featured a faux 5.1 mix that is not missed here).  In terms of the package, you get - as is common for 88's Italian Collection - a reversible cover with alternative artwork (and title, which omits the '2019' prefix), an insert containing an interview with the director, and on the disc itself filmed interviews totalling forty minutes.  Code Red have put out an edition in the US with alternative extras.  Overall it's nice to see such a good looking edition of the film appear from 88 uncut (as opposed to its videotape incarnation, which was truncated in accordance with the trends of the times) and easily available to British and European audiences.

Thursday, 2 November 2017


Umberto Lenzi, director of classic Euro mayhem such as Nightmare City, Hell's Gate, Eaten Alive, Spasmo, etc., and sadly no longer with us (passing away on October 19th this year at 86), took a swing at the swords and sandals subgenre with Ironmaster in 1983.  Expelled from his tribe, caveman and Italian exploitation regular George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori) wanders into the vicinity of an erupting volcano where he accidentally discovers that solidified volcanic deposit makes a formidable weapon.  Using this to his nefarious advantage, he moves on to asserting control over tribe after tribe with his newfound instigator of fear.  Meanwhile a former tribesman makes efforts to settle a grudge between the two of them.
Clearly a bit lunatic, missing a few bolts and all that, Ironmaster's male cast look mostly ludicrous (and probably help to sell the film to gay audiences, where male flesh, often muscular, is on display in abundance throughout) - a musclebound near-nude male in a loincloth does not look nearly as convincing as an athletic female wearing the same!  Warping a view of history-in-the-making somewhat, there can be elements of entertainment found within, but on the whole the film is lodged firm within its time and place, sitting alongside the likes of the Luigi Cozzi Hercules outings from the same period, albeit with less supernatural goings-on.  I was impressed with the score by Maurizio De Angelis, who produces an effective concoction of The Beyond and folk amongst some other atmospheric stabs that elevate the experience, providing an emotional core that might not otherwise have been present.  He'd created a number of memorable scores elsewhere with the likes of Alien 2 and Mountain of the Cannibal God.

A cheap and cheerful release from 88 Films (part of their Italian Collection), I guess you can't expect a huge amount of work to go into an item expected to sell probably by the hundred.  The image is widescreen, reasonable looking and backed up by English only audio (eschewing the trend of the range, there's no Italian language option).  Contained are both a Blu-ray and DVD, although comparison between the two reveal only modest improvements with the former (still the preferred choice in any case).  The package itself has an essay/insert and reversible cover - both sides feature attractive and quite different artwork.  Once cut on its initial UK video release by 24 seconds by the BBFC, the censorship now on the new disc extends to only 8 seconds (a boar's death).  Not really necessary in this day and age but to be honest I can live without watching a few moments of real-life animal suffering.  A contemporaneous US release by Code Red is uncut and better specified in terms of extras (interviews), however, it will also cost non-US based customers substantially more, so you have to weigh up how important those points are when choosing.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


Ejecta (made/released in 2014) is about a mythical blogger obsessed with extra-terrestrial activity and his fanboy companion, who together encounter a threatening lifeform from the stars, the story being intercut with the blogger's subsequent capture by a hostile authoritarian organisation who are willing to torture him to acquire the details of his mysterious experience.

Occasionally an underdog comes along that you've never heard of, turning out to be an undiscovered classic that blows you out of your recliner, leaving you with an inert smile pasted across your face for days.  Unfortunately, it was not this occasion.  Ejecta is science fiction produced on the very cheap, although I would never hold that specific characteristic against a film.  The greater sin that it is thoroughly uninteresting and the viewer may find it difficult to engage with anything that happens on screen.  Odd-looking Julian Richings puts in a reasonable performance as the disturbed blogger, countered by the cringe-worthy take on a nutty woman in charge by Lisa Houle, who appears to be attempting to emulate John Travolta's headcase character performances (which always annoyed me anyway).  There is a lot of dark scenery and plenty of not-particularly-appealing wobbly camerawork no doubt designed to trick the viewer into thinking the production is bigger than a couple of rooms and some woodland, but there will be few who are fooled.  I looked at director Chad Archibald's filmography on IMDb, and aside from The Heretics from 2017, which sounds potentially interesting, there is nothing else much good by him to seek out by the looks of it.
Released by Signature in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray, I viewed the latter to find an average image that probably recreates its digital origins accurately enough, demonstrating multiple aspect ratios intended to reflect different types of footage.  The stereo soundtrack is serviceable and there are, perhaps mercifully, no extras.  If you must buy the film you may as well pick it up on Blu-ray because it's generally as low-priced as the DVD and in fact I bought it for less than most people will have paid for the DVD (it turns up in Poundland occasionally, which is more than its worth).  Better things have emerged from Canada, and this is eighty soul destroying minutes that I have lost forever!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Return of the Living Dead 3

Curt, the son of an army colonel, sneaks with his girlfriend into his father's base to witness tests being conducted on resurrecting the dead for militaristic purposes.  Later on they are both involved in a motorcycle accident, fatal for Julie.  Recalling what he saw at the base, Curt takes the body over to the lab and uses the same techniques to bring life back to the fresh corpse.  The only trouble is, Julie now has a propensity for eating live meat, and perpetually suffers.  Much to the lad's disgust, she finds that the only way of curbing her pain is to actually inflict pain on herself.  The two run into trouble with local thugs and battle ensues between the group as they make their way down into the sewers.

Eschewing the comedy of the first two films, essentially borrowing one or two core elements only, Return of the Living Dead 3 actually proved to be a pretty good film made at the tail end of the prosthetic make-up and gore golden age.  Mindy Clark as Julie puts in quite a fascinating performance of endless suffering mixed with a strange orgasmic response to self-harm (quite a brave theme to tackle, and approached in an unorthodox manner).  In her early twenties at the time, she has mostly moved on to TV work since.  Director Brian Yuzna himself made a number of nice genre entries around the period, including this one, Necronomicon, and Society alongside a moderate sequel to Re-Animator - all worth checking out on Blu-ray.  Of course, in Return there are issues that one has to put to the side (most notably the ease with which Curt is able to sneak into and around the army base, although comment is made early on that security is somewhat lacking), but there are plenty of good set-pieces and surprisingly effective drama along the way.  It also contains a great turn by Sarah Douglas as Colonel Sinclair, who is competing for command of the base and experimental project.
Lionsgate have decided to bless the UK with its Vestron Video range that has recently been pleasing fans in the US.  The Blu-ray package comes in a neat glossy slipcase and features the film (uncut as far as I can tell) in a widescreen ratio with DTS HD MA Stereo sound.  It also includes a commentary and some interviews.  The image quality is okay, but I somehow feel that Lionsgate are palming fans off with an ancient master here, with marginally-better-than-DVD results.  I feel conflicted about it - on one hand it's the best the film has ever looked (aside from any projected screenings back in the 90s no doubt), but on the other we've seen significantly better results from the likes of Arrow when this kind of cult material is re-scanned and mastered properly.  In some respects I guess we can't complain too much because it's better than the film not being released at all.  The audio is clear whilst showing its age and budgetary restrictions, however, I would recommend switching to Pro-Logic if you are watching with a home cinema receiver - the stereo track splits quite nicely, with pleasing rear speaker activity.  In summary, a film that has aged well finally appears in a reasonable HD edition for UK fans to pick up.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Mighty Peking Man

Dating back to 1977, The Mighty Peking Man (AKA Xing Xing Wang) is a King Kong rip-off of the most shameless variety, however, don't condemn it just yet...  Hearing of a giant gorilla that supposedly lives on an Indian island, a group of wealthy Hong Kong businessmen set about capturing it in order to expand their ever-growing fortunes.  For this they acquire the services of a disillusioned, bummed-out anthropologist (Danny Lee), and set off for an adventure to locate the beast.  On the island they first find a scantily clad beauty who was left behind as a baby when her touring parents died.  Somehow she's managed to learn Mandarin in the process, as well as forging a relationship with the mighty gorilla.  She and Danny also develop the hots for one another, and before long the group have captured the ape and chained him to their boat (how they manage this part is conveniently skipped), taking him back to Hong Kong to be put on display like a gargantuan zoo animal.  Naturally, the ape breaks free and causes Godzilla-style havoc in the city.
Closely adhering to the plot of King Kong, the Shaw Brothers make a few changes to the story and process of bringing an oversized animal to the big screen, notably creating the ape by placing a man in a suit on miniature sets for much of the time (instead of time-consuming stop motion effects).  The girl of interest to the ape is not brought to the island either, as she was in the 1933 classic; here she's found almost as if she's a female version of Tarzan, and played by Russian blonde Evelyn Kraft she is almost too perfect for words.  She also possesses the amusing characteristic of not wishing to get clothed up (she does try on a few things on route to Hong Kong but promptly throws them out of the window in favour of her rag bikini!).  The monster gets angry enough to escape when he witnesses someone attempting to rape her (again, that never happened to Fay Wray!) and goes on the rampage that leads up to a climax that apes (apologies...) its inspiration.  The army, appearing with the sole intention of putting an end to all the mayhem regardless of morals, is led by a nasty westerner natch.  Aside from the prolonged frolicking love story element (which bizarrely features Kraft swinging around a leopard on her shoulders at one point), this is an action packed spin on the story, probably better than the 1977 US remake because it's a hell of a lot more fun.

88 Films have put out a dual edition Blu-ray/DVD of The Mighty Peking Man into a reasonably respectable package that preserves its original theatrical ratio in a clean, if a little grainless print.  Comparison between the two discs reveals, surprisingly, almost no difference in terms of raw detail, although contrast is noticeably different.  This may be an older master that's been supplied to 88, as I can't imagine something shot on 35mm in the seventies boasts maxed out detail on standard definition.  However, Blu-ray is not just about picture quality; it still wins out because the DVD is sped up for PAL, and the subtitles on Blu-ray are always more attractive to the eye than the blocky Spectrum-esque characters that plague DVD.  Audio is presented in two options, English or Mandarin (good English subtitles are available), and extras include a commentary by Bey Logan, and booklet that focusses on Danny Lee's cult career (written by Calum Waddell), with a little bit of a look at the film at hand here - apparently the booklet is limited to the initial print run.  The cover is also reversible and packed in a clear case (I actually really like the style of case they've adopted for the Asian Collection, which eschews the standard plastic header in favour of a full size cover).  Probably the best home video release of the movie itself, 88 Films continue to put out cult material of interest in the UK and extend their Asian range with a great addition.

Monday, 27 March 2017


Produced in 1972, Amuck! (AKA Alla Ricerca del Piacere/In Search of Pleasure), this giallo of sorts (really a mystery thriller with strong accent on sexploitation) has sweet but not so innocent Greta acquiring a job as a secretary on an island-bound mansion, where several people are wrapped up in an odd soap opera.  Her ulterior motive is actually to locate her (bisexual) friend Sally, who also worked at the place as a secretary but disappeared under unexplained circumstances.  Greta soon realises that all is not what it seems among the eclectic family.

There's no doubt that most will be enamoured with the near-constant presence of Barbara Bouchet (as Greta), and if that's what you're here for you do get your money's worth!  She looks amazing throughout and is not afraid to show you her physical attributes.  As a double whammy, we're also treated to the contrasting beauty of Rosalba Neri as a sadistic playgirl, while staring-faced Farley Granger, who you may remember from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and Rope, takes on the male lead.  The two lead women were of course known for some decent Euro-horrors/gialli between them throughout the seventies (e.g. Don't Torture A Duckling and Slaughter Hotel respectively), so their dual presence is quite a boon to entertainment value for cult movie fans.  The isolated location is a great idea for both picturesque qualities and the suspense factor, meaning there is plenty to feast one's eyes on during this film.  Where it does fall down a little is in the somewhat languid pace - it could have done with a couple more action or violent sequences here and there to break up the leisurely stroll.  For that reason some viewers may find themselves clock-watching.  On the flipside there is plenty of sex and naked skin, a dreamlike hallucinogenic tendency in places, and the mysterious nature of the characters provides some intrigue.  If you can get over the slow pace it has its rewards.  Admittedly I'm not familiar with Italian director Silvio Amadio's other work, but watching this one does arouse interest in checking his other films out.
Admittedly the releases of 88 Films can vary in quality to some extent, however, I'm very pleased with this Blu-ray.  Restored by boutique label Camera Obscura (for their own non-UK release) the 2.35:1 HD image with generous bitrate is really nice, and looks marvellous on a large screen.  The colours are vibrant, grain is at about the expected level, detail is very good, and damage is kept to a minimum.  The 88 disc features either English or Italian dubs, with optional English subtitles.  Audio via uncompressed LPCM sounds fine (this presumably keeps disc production costs a bit lower than utilising badges such as Dolby or DTS, but the results are as perfect as one can expect for films of this vintage in particular).  It should be noted that the varied music score (composed by Teo Usuelli) on Amuck! is an enjoyable one.

The disc comes with three extras: an excellent 23 minute interview with Barbara Bouchet, who talks candidly about her career generally, and is not afraid to say when she simply doesn't remember making a film.  She seems to have a great personality and looks good considering she's in her seventies.  There's also a 10 minute interview with Rosalba Neri, who conversely claims to remember an awful lot of the time.  The we get a half hour Manchester film festival talk with Bouchet on stage, going over some of the same ground as in the separate interview but captivating nonetheless.  So about an hour of disc-based extras then, which is nice value in my opinion for a film that is not widely known.  On top of that there's a leaflet in the pack with an essay on Bouchet (including some coverage of Amuck!) and the cover is reversible, with an appealing choice of art either way.  A fabulous Blu-ray from 88.

Friday, 20 January 2017


One of the notorious 'video nasties' from the early eighties, Absurd (AKA Grim Reaper 2, Horrible, Monster Hunter, etc.) is sometimes considered a sequel of a kind to the equally lurid Anthropophagus, although the two have little in common other than George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori) playing the central role as an inhuman killer, the cause of a number of grisly bloodbaths along the way.  Here the character is on the run from a priest and deemed to be as near to immortal as possible in the sense that his damaged cells regenerate rapidly.  After being hospitalised during the chase his body repairs and he escapes.  A car accident brings him back to the house where (in the opening sequence) he previously attempted to seek sanctuary.  There he reaps bloody havoc on the inhabitants of the house as the Police waste time giving the priest a third degree treatment.

Pretty straightforward plot with hints of a Halloween influence, Aristide Massaccesi/Joe D'Amato's gutmuncher is a little clumsy in places, but aims for the viewer's throat when it comes to the murder setpieces, and lingers over the details in much the same way that Lucio Fulci tended to during his peak.  Annie Belle puts in a particularly convincing turn during the sadistic oven scene, which is pretty hard to watch and compulsive at the same time.  Absurd veers away from the mystical atmosphere of Anthropophagus but replaces it with doses of unique Italian madness to keep the entertainment factor above sea level (for example, there's another bizarre and very amusing kid, whose pitiful tantrum at not having his say on the TV channel really has to be witnessed!).
88 Films funded this Blu-ray restoration through Indiegogo, and the result is very pleasing: the widescreen HD image features a healthy bitrate providing plenty of detail (and grain, though not excessively so) without distracting damage.  This is certainly the best it has ever looked and sounded, and refreshing to see that the film can finally pass through the UK censors without any slicing of the wrong kind going on (it has not really been available in the UK for years).  The BBFC really have nastier things to worry about these days!  There are two versions of the film contained on the disc: the 94 minute English language version, and a shorter Italian language version with optional subtitles.  I watched the former in full, and sampled the latter - they looked about the same in terms of picture quality.

Also on the disc is an entertaining commentary led by the very amiable-sounding Justin Kerswell with his Hysteria Continues friends.  I enjoyed listening to this as there is a balanced mix of information and general observation of a mostly humorous nature.  There are additionally a couple of recently filmed interviews with George Eastman and Michele Soavi (who has a small role in Absurd as a motorbiker who meets an unpleasant fate).

Exclusive to the Indiegogo supporters (although they may have a handful left to sell direct through the 88 store) is a nice quality glossy slipcase.  The main cover of the amaray itself is reversible while there's also a booklet in my edition although I'm uncertain whether that's in the standard release or not as it is touted as 'limited' on the back cover.  The booklet presents an essay on the subject of video nasties; I'm not sure what more can be said about this stuff but if you are relatively new to collecting then it may be considered a concise overview of the phenomenon.  The writing looks at the furore that exploded during the early eighties, as well as its revival in the nineties following the Bulger killing, before going on to encapsulate a very short analysis of each of the thirty nine successfully prosecuted tapes.

A reasonably entertaining film packed into an excellent edition, this is overall an essential release for the horror collector by 88 (part of their Italian range).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Raventale: On A Crystal Swing

Raventale are a band (primarily consisting of Astaroth Merc) from the Ukraine that I serendipitously stumbled across a few months ago, getting into their quite brilliant Dark Substance of Dharma album very quickly.  The particular disc under review here is a reissue of their very first album On A Crystal Swing (to give it the English translation - the actual original language title is На хрустальных качелях), whose recording dates back to 2006.  The reissue, which I've listened to quite a few times now, also contains three demo tracks from 2005.  Stylistically On A Crystal Swing is not hugely different to their more recent aforementioned album, but there is more of an emphasis on a doom-like atmosphere.
Opening with a majestic intro, which begins with the sound of ravens naturally, we are soon drifting into the fairly strong Огнём кромсая небеса, a keyboard driven, black metal odyssey of sorts.  Then the album's longest piece Серой тоской пораскинулся лес, which I have mixed feelings about.  On one hand there are some incredibly powerful segments that pull at the soul with a might not often heard in music, however... the main sequence is repeated so much that it actually drains the power out of it.  At 13 minutes 39 seconds, most of which is repetitive, it becomes way too long.  Hence on current listens I tend to switch forward at about the seven-minute mark.  It's a shame because, as I say, there is some stupendously tormenting material built into this track.

The next track, Небес смолистая чернь, is probably my favourite, again with doom-laden vocals, a beautiful keyboard-constructed string effect overlays majestic guitar riffs against a mid to slow paced rhythm section.  After that is a two-minute break from power chords in the shape of Дождя колыбель, which is a piano instrumental piece again backed by a string effect.  That leads nicely into the solid nine-minute closer, На хрустальных качелях.  As mentioned above, the reissue (pictured) contains three additional tracks at the end, which were not present on the now out-of-print former edition.  These are basically variants (shorter too) of the tracks I've talked about above, and interesting enough in their own right to warrant a place on the collector's shelves.

Whilst not a supreme listen overall, the album strikes me as a very strong debut, symbolising what was to come.  I've since bought all of the Raventale albums, mostly released by underground label Solitude Productions (although this particular one is by Bloodred Distribution).  My intention is to cover all of them over time; in the meantime I'm hoping more music fans discover the skilled beauty of Raventale's refined brand of black metal.