It seems Smoke is still behind schedule with their releases, as even their most recent one features material from the end of '09. Well, they're slowly catching up with time. Smoke is a duo from the Netherlands that explores the dimensions of chaotic and improvised black metal, and this is their third release (the previous one can be read about here). "Haze" was released as a CD-R with fancier layout and a "baggie containing various items," and as a bit simpler tape version with one additional track.
The tape differs from the band's two earlier ones by having a consistent soundscape, aside of minor balance changes between some songs. Aside of this one factor the tape continues from where the previous one left off; crude, violent and improvised black metal with both a dark and hostile feel. The sole guitar sounds even heavier than before, and has a good amount of grain in its sound which helps it fill the soundscape nicely without the band having to resort to a thinner, more hissing soundscape, or heavy use of echo; and through using just one guitar, the soundscape has enough breathing space as well, so it doesn't sound overcrowded. The overall heavier soundscape gives the songs power, not the least through the powerful, primitive and highly energetic drumming, and keeps them from becoming a stale mass of pointless motion.
Even though the songs are improvised, as said above, they have enough variation and changes to stay interesting. Still, I think it's clear that the atmosphere and overall style are the release's selling points instead of any actual compositional or musical talent. The harsh and gritty guitar teams up with the drums in making a dense and powerful soundscape, and the guitar sound has some softer harshness due to the lo-fi recording equipment so it automatically creates some background texture as well. The music would eventually become dull, but the echoed growling and howling vocals lift up their value a lot every time they appear; when the music relies on primitive and simplistic values, not much is needed to make an impact. For example, a brief moment of feedback right before a song's start can make it a lot more powerful.
The songs come of as a collage of shorter and longer "black metal jams" (with some death metal-twist), which vary from mid-tempo to downright slow bits with punk-simplisticity, as well as to some faster and full-speed blasting parts; the songs are mostly fast but the is still no particular emphasis on any of these, as the songs take their uncontrolled trails to any of these as long as it fits their slowly morphing crusade for chaos. The B-side's opening song or two are a bit fumbling, partly due to their just a bit harsher more audible guitar sound (it's just a small change in balance), but otherwise Smoke has got their act together pretty well. There are some unintentionally sloppy chords and short bits here and there, understandibly, but overall the tape stays well on the positive side when it comes to its quality. The atmosphere is kept hostile, instead of just attempting to do so.
The tape might seem a bit lenghty, but lasts surprisingly well for its lenght - at least as a tape version, can't really say anything about the CD-R. The really natural tempo-switches and the songs melting together into one entirety with some interludes, raw calm bits and a continuous unpredictability make this release really enjoyable, although there's still a lot to do when it comes to more innovative and daring guitar riffs and such experimentations; the band now handles the basics, and after still further refining them they should head further. A recommended tape for them who enjoy slowly progressing, hostile soundscapes and rehearsal tapes, and is noteworthy as a demo-stage release. Play loud. The band is in the process of getting their first studio recordings released as a split with ProSatanos, and I'm more than curious for that one.
One final comment. I found out that I had originally been listening to the tape's sides in the wrong order, since the sides aren't named. The A-side ends to an outro-like bit of guitar distortion and noise and opens up with the most straight-forward material, whereas the B-side opens up just a bit slower and ends to an extremely dull cut-out. The tape works well either way, so pick your preference. The drone-bit serves well in cleaning the listener's ears and keeps him/her from getting used to the soundscape in the halfway, and thus is a recommended pick as well. My main point: label your tape's sides if you want it to be listened in the correct order. Otherwise the tape's visual side is commendable.