September 13, 2019

Haunter - Sacramental Death Qualia

By Bryan Camphire. Over the last five years of releasing music, Haunter has always been visceral and confrontational. But none of their previous records hit as heavily as Sacramental Death Qualia. The opening seconds are antithetical to an ambient intro
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Elijah Tamu.

Over the last five years of releasing music, Haunter has always been visceral and confrontational. But none of their previous records hit as heavily as Sacramental Death Qualia. The opening seconds are antithetical to an ambient intro. Press play and you are bludgeoned with the full force of Haunter right out of the gate. Immediately the listener is thrown straight into the deep end. The effect is intoxicating. Chasers come later. Let it be known from the start that this music is high test.

The vocals are so deep, the guitars low slung, the rhythm section pummeling full force; at first listen it is not easy to get a foothold on this music. The meter is shifting and the harmonies are dense. On Sacramental Death Qualia genre distinctions are obliterated. Elements from all corners of extreme metal are to be found: brutal death cries, majestic blackened subcurrents, technical prowess on ample display, melodies thick enough to make you choke. To be clear, it is not genre bending for its own end that gives this band its strength. Their power lies in their heaving mountainous arrangements.

More than other extreme music artists, Haunter's heady admixture of styles delivers an attack that is as confounding as it is memorable. Every song in this set packs the power to send you into next week and hand you your hat. Still more remarkable, however, is the fact that the album contains plenty of breathing room. Quiet passages and clean melodies abound, providing dynamics that only deepen the darkness of the record as a whole. The mid-marker of the set, "Abdication", track three of five, is a highlight. Here the guitars are entirely clean, there are acoustic passages, trippy sci-fi glissandos, melancholic arco elements, and acrobatic bass work on display. While a lesser act might provide ambient noise as a palate cleanser, Haunter show that they have sophisticated melodic ideas to burn. I can scarcely recall any other extreme metal record that has included an entirely clean melodic track that managed to more than hold its own amidst a set full of barn burners.

Leading up to this record's release, I have had the pleasure of seeing Haunter perfect this set of music in live performance here in their home state of Texas a handful of times. They truly get better all the time. That this music with all its complexity and drastic dynamics can be delivered in a live setting is no small feat. A Haunter show is a testament to the living breathing extreme urgency that this music contains. Don't sleep.

September 4, 2019

Lingua Ignota - Caligula

Way back in 2011, Tori Amos threw out a random comment in an interview about the power of emotion in music: “I'll stand next to the hardest fucking heavy metal band on any stage in the world and take them down, alone, by myself.” As I remember it, there was a
By Justin C.


Way back in 2011, Tori Amos threw out a random comment in an interview about the power of emotion in music: “I'll stand next to the hardest fucking heavy metal band on any stage in the world and take them down, alone, by myself.” As I remember it, there was a short burst of garment rending and name calling from the dumber side of the internet metal community, completely missing her point and falsely equating “power” with “volume.” There are a lot of metal bands Amos probably isn’t familiar with (see, for example, Immortal Bird) that do deliver the kind of emotional experience Amos was referencing. But the fact remains that Tori is and always has been metal in spirit, and for emotional power, she easily outshines basic-bro metal bands.

This memory resurfaced when I first heard Lingua Ignota’s debut full-length, Caligula. Kristin Hayter is the creative force behind the project, and although she and Amos don’t share a lot of sonic similarities, they do share some experiences. Both Amos and Hayter have played with or have ties to the heavy music scene (Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan in Amos’s case vs. The Body and Full of Hell in Hayter’s), both have “complicated” relationships with Christianity, and both have classical music training, piano and voice, respectively. But while Amos has often mixed her emotional power with a bit of sweetness in presentation, Hayter’s music is the ragged edge of an exploding star.

That’s not to say there isn’t beauty in Hayter’s work. Album opener “FAITHFUL SERVANT FRIEND OF CHRIST” finds Hayter’s voice riding on a beautiful string arrangement. You might mistake it for a legitimate hymn if it were not for the dark timbres and the final lyrics, “Bend before unending night.” The fact that she invokes Satan to stand beside her in the next song is another hint that we haven’t stumbled onto Profound Lore’s first gospel record.

Picking genre tags is even less helpful than usual here. The accompaniment to Hayter’s singing is often minimal, with piano or keys punctuated by an occasional industrial or noise flourish. But Hayter’s work is first and foremost defined by her virtuosic voice, ranging from the choral to the operatic and all the way up to black metal-esque screams. “FAITHFUL SERVANT” has a stunning choral arrangement of layers of Hayter’s voice in a striking-but-clean vocal style, but the very next track, “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR,” finds her diving into the lower depths of her impressive range, pleading, “How can you doubt me now?” The song eventually erupts into Hayter’s barely contained shrieks, and the dripping venom she adds to the line, “Every vein of every leaf is slaked with poison” is delivered with such nuance and delicately applied timbre that it’s difficult to imagine anyone singing the word “slake” in a way that’s more viscerally evocative of the word’s literal meaning.*

There are too many amazing moments to detail here, although I’m tempted to do it. The album is a tour-de-force performance pitting Hayter’s substantial chops against soul-shattering emotions barely restrained. I’ll confess: I wanted to write this review much earlier, to coincide with the release of the album, but I just couldn’t do it. Part of that was because the usual b.s. and work stress, but part of it was that the music demands an investment that can be difficult to give. That is in no way a critique--great art should challenge us, or maybe more than that, great art should sit us down in a chair in a room and scream in our faces until we acknowledge it, and Caligula does that. Hayter has been relatively open about her history of a domestic abuse survivor, and although she describes her music as a way of talking about those experiences allegorically, there’s very little to shield the listener from that power, and as someone who’s had some run ins with abuse in my own adult life, I initially shrunk back.

But much like Hayter had to write this music, I felt I had to write this review. I’m going heavy on the astronomical analogies, but this album is a meteor strike to your soul, and if it doesn’t produce a reaction in you, then you might be dead inside. If your takeaway from another site’s blurb is, “Oh, singer-songwriter with electronic/industrial touches, a pretty voice, and occasional metal shrieks,” your expectations going into this are going to be shattered like the breaking glass in “SORROW! SORROW! SORROW!” (even after many, many listens, the sound still startles me every time. That’s where this music is going to take you.) I know I’ve paraphrased this Iggy Pop quote about Coltrane dozens of times, but this is music that can be difficult to get close to, and it’s not going to be for everyone. And that’s fine. But for those who can engage with this work, I think you’ll find yourself changed to a degree you wouldn’t have expected. I am.

*It’s at 1:07 in the track. Go listen now. Do it. I’ll be here when you get back.

August 7, 2019

Der Rote Milan - Moritat

By Hera Vidal. As someone who primarily consumes black metal during the hot summer months, I tend to view it as something that will heighten my misery. After all, black metal has the strangest texture and sound – it can be haunting, beautiful and melodic, or downright sinister
By Hera Vidal.


As someone who primarily consumes black metal during the hot summer months, I tend to view it as something that will heighten my misery. After all, black metal has the strangest texture and sound – it can be haunting, beautiful and melodic, or downright sinister to the point where you consider it to be a murder ballad. Der Rote Milan’s newest album, Moritat, not only touches upon the adventures of Schinderhannes, a German outlaw akin to Robin Hood, but it also elevates what is known as the “murder ballad”, a form of song that discusses crime or a gruesome death.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the sheer heaviness Moritat employs. While there are moments of softness, the atmosphere is heavy with dread and uncertainty. While listening to the record, I couldn’t help but like there was a noose tied around my neck, making my anxiety palpable the more the record reached completion. The music is heavy with chugging guitars and embedded vocal elements – as if the harsh vocals weren’t enough, you can also hear death rattles, signifying people’s demises. However, the heaviness isn’t just death and all his friends; it’s also highly enjoyable, making the listener want to headbang or, at the very least, tap their foot along to the beat.

Moritat is a form of concept album – it looks at various stories where Schinderhannes plays a role, and it’s set in the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War, which, to put it lightly, was a major religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics that eventually culminated into a continuation of the France-Habsburg rivalry for political dominance. Within this setting, Schinderhannes is a folk hero who steals from the (coded as wealthy) French from one side of the Rhine to give to the (coded as poor) Germans on the other. This adds to the grimness and the macabre atmosphere on Moritat offers. What you are getting is death and blood in spades, and you have to sit through this album and wonder whether or not your hands are also covered in red.

However, it’s at final track “Moritat” where things become truly devastating. Here, the epitome of the murder ballad comes rearing its ugly head, making me think of “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera. Although “Mack the Knife” has a whimsical tone to it – it does end happily – there is a sinister undertone that underlies the character of Mack. In the Opera, he is a rapist, murderer, and seducer of underage girls – he’s a candidate for hanging. In the case of the album, “Moritat” talks about Schinderhannes’s death – or what could be considered to be his death – and ends on the harrowing note that death and destruction is upon us, slowly fading away until there is nothing left but the screams of the dead. What a way to wrap up the album.

All in all, Moritat is a powerful album whose themes of war and death seem incredibly relevant to what we are seeing today in the current political stage. Although the increasing rivalry between the U.S. and Russia seems to echo the French-Habsburg rivalry as implied on the album, Moritat make it seem more human with the story of Schinderhannes, and it allows us to feel empathy for a character who was seen as a folk hero. It’s a wonderful record, and one that will most likely land in my EOY list for black metal. Of course I need to go back and relisten to Moritat before December to see where it sits, but, for what it’s worth, I have high hopes for Der Rote Milan and I eagerly await their next record.