September 5, 2020

Lares - Towards Nothingness

By Ulla Roschat. Towards Nothingness is the sophomore album of the four piece German Berlin based band Lares. The band founded in 2015 and this album follows up their first EP Mask of Discomfort from 2017. Towards Nothingness is 8 songs and about 36 minutes of Blackened Psychedelic Sludge/Doom, and it's also an apocalyptic space trip.

Artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski.

Towards Nothingness is the sophomore album of the four piece German Berlin based band Lares. The band founded in 2015 and this album follows up their first EP Mask of Discomfort from 2017. Towards Nothingness is 8 songs and about 36 minutes of Blackened Psychedelic Sludge/Doom, and it's also an apocalyptic space trip.

The album starts with the track "It Burns" and yes it burns like the rocket that shoots you into space and into unknown realms, fueled by driving, hypnotic rhythms. A distorted, psychic buzz that keeps you trippin, and soaring harsh vocals with blackened ferocity. There are also a few moments on the album that create a sense of contemplative floating, like in the second track "Theiaphobic Ansia", but they never feel like a soothing weightlessness or moments of serenity. With a sound damp and blurred with distortion and electronic effects they rather create an atmosphere of depressive bleakness and disorientation.

And these first two tracks are a perfect introduction to the album. They showcase the album's basic and omnipresent atmospheres.

Yet each song has its own moods and defining elements that make them memorable. There's the urgency of the ferocious vocals in "Cursed With Embodiment", the somber, gloomy doom riffs and huge build up of "SN1987A Space Alteration Machine", the loud-quiet dynamics and glorious propelling drumming in "Grey Haze" that keep spiraling deeper and deeper into the unknown. The dark and brooding ambience of "Oumuamua", the gooey, bluesy riffs and the spacious sound of "Catacomb Eyes", and, eventually, the droney, almost formless waves of noise of "Towards Nothingness", that let you know you've reached your destination.

This variety of nuances weaves a thick, expanding texture into the entire album and adds to its dramatic structure with waves of tension building the all encompassing structure. The highest peak of these waves is no doubt "SN1987A Space Alteration Machine". This is the longest track of the album (9:21) and Lares don't waste one second of it. Here they set space truly ablaze like a supernova with a sweeping, carefully layered build up creating a sublime, intense and monolithic atmosphere.

It's Lares' ability to combine the fierceness of Black Metal, the abrasive filth of Sludge, the entrancing grip of Psychedelia, the gloomy heaviness of Doom and the thrilling dynamics of Post Metal in an exciting way, that makes Towards Nothingness an organic, cohesive unity and an extremely rewarding listening experience. And to make the sense of completeness even "completer", once again, Mariusz Lewandowski perfectly captures the soul of the music with his cover artwork (like so many times before for Abigail Williams, Astral Altar, Bell Witch, Elder Druid, Eremit, Jupiterian... just to name a few). So I am hoping for a vinyl edition of Towards Nothingness, not only, but also, because of this great artwork.

August 22, 2020

Ars Magna Umbrae - Apotheosis

By Bryan Camphire. The Great Art of Shadows. This is one possible translation of Ars Magna Umbrae. This Latin name may not easily roll off the tongue, but no matter. Listening to this music, it's clear that the artist who created it is not interested in easy pleasures.
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Dhomth

The Great Art of Shadows. This is one possible translation of Ars Magna Umbrae. This Latin name may not easily roll off the tongue, but no matter. Listening to this music, it's clear that the artist who created it is not interested in easy pleasures. The Great Art of Shadows could hardly be a more evocative and mysterious moniker. Apotheosis, the band's third release, is also a fitting title as it is indeed a high point in the development of this compelling and carefully crafted body of work.

Ars Magna Umbrae is a one person black metal entity hailing from Poland. The band's previous release, Lunar Ascension, caught my attention as it was released by the venerable I, Voidhanger Records, an unmatched tastemaker dealing in present-day outer reaches of music. What shocked me about this artist then--and continues to do so now--is the uniqueness of the voice. There is a sophistication in the sense of melody and composition that becomes instantly recognizable and sounds like no other.

The high level of talent on display in the music of Ars Magna Umbrae is unmistakable. I'm of the opinion that heavy metal music is a realm toward which musical savants gravitate who would have, in former times, gravitated toward classical composition. Nowadays, composing classical music is no more likely to pay the bills than metal. Metal music affords unique opportunities for emotional expression. Black metal can be seen as an especially emotive sub-genre, one that venerates individuality and poise. Describing how imperative it was for black metal bands to be unique in the genre's early formative years, Garm, aka Kristoffer Rygg, of Ulver put it thusly,

“I think in those days that was a major criterion; to be a force to be counted on in the scene, you had to create your own thing. This latter-day perception that true black metal only sounds like Darkthrone is just fucking silly, it’s a lot of distortion on the original idea, which included stuff like Mercyful Fate, for crying out loud. The charisma of the music was really paramount."
Going into detail about the singularity of the music on Apotheosis, there are passages to be found within this release that are nothing short of jaw-dropping. One such moment arrives as the second riff on the second song, "She Who Splits The Earth". A woozy 4/4 rhythm is stomped out as the guitars glissando up and down the fretboard with uncanny precision. The off-kilter feel is accomplished by the guitar cramming more notes into the phrase than seem to want to fit, almost as though it's transposing some odd-metered tabla phrase into an otherwise aggressively head-banging riff. I feel like I'd have to hear it slowed down to even begin to make sense of it, yet it's this smearing of my perception that makes the riff so intoxicating.

Other Apotheosis highlights include: The wet gurgling vocals in the lumbering end section of "Mare Tenebrarum" (The Dark Sea), evocative of a pyroclastic flow belching skyward and scorching everything on which it lands. The asymmetrical opening section in "Of Divine Divergence" giving way to a sharp-taloned riff that shreds the listener to ribbons, ending in yet another inter-dimensional guitar glissando. The dueling guitars in the mid section of "Oracle of Luminous Dark"--one of which is played by G.G. of Cosmic Putrefaction--sounding like they're acting out the scene depicted on the cover art for Dawn of Possession.

Apotheosis ends with a number called, "Ignis in Tenebris" (Fire in the Dark). It starts off sounding like the amp was just turned on mid-phrase, as though the song was already unfolding before we arrived to witness it. It builds steadily ablaze with the energy of an all-encompassing darkness. Some time later, as the spell and the album is extinguished, the guitar mimics the dying sounds of smoldering flickering tongues.

Ars Magna Umbrae is a force to be counted on. Apotheosis is their grand gesture. It's a record of sweeping vision and charisma.

August 14, 2020

Bull Elephant - Created From Death

By Calen Henry. Anonymous UK collective Bull Elephant's sophomore album picks up where the debut left off and this time the band are less cagey about the subject matter, giving a pretty clear overview of Created From Death's narrative.


Anonymous UK collective Bull Elephant's sophomore album picks up where the debut left off and this time the band are less cagey about the subject matter, giving a pretty clear overview of Created From Death's narrative.

The album's eight songs switch between the story of the eponymous Bull Elephant, now in human form, and the build up of tensions during World War II, both on conventional and unconventional fronts. The Cult of the Black Sun, self-professed descendants of a corrupted god, seek to re-enlist the bodies buried in mass graves as an unending undead army. To combat such unholy creations the creature goes "from beast to human to beast again". From reborn human flesh, the essence of the creature known as Bull Elephant is transferred into the form of a great whale, and on that note the album ominously ends. They'll have to go far to top Mastodon's Leviathan for "battle whale concept album" but I'll definitely be along for the ride.

Just as the the story for Created from Death is a bit more succinct than Bull Elephant so is the music. This time around the band digs deeper into groovy doom-sludge, leaning more on the melodic "almost-a-scream" style of vocals and keeping the really heavy and really atmospheric sections for key story moments. The change makes for a more cohesive album than Bull Elephant. Created From Death flows better, has deeper grooves, and more memorable riffs but owes a great deal to the debut. The sequel wouldn't work without the set up from the first album. Bull Elephant introduced the whole mythos, where Created From Death gets to dive right into the next chapter.

The ridiculous multi-album concept (there's clearly going to be at least one more part) may not be for everyone, but Bull Elephant deliver the goods, both in riffs and concept. Sign me up for album no. 3.