March 27, 2020

Wake - Devouring Ruin

By Matt Hinch. Wake's previous album, Misery Rites, should have garnered the attention of anyone who hadn't been paying attention already. It was a potent blend of black metal and grinding madness. Anyone who thought new album, Devouring Ruin was going to follow the same formula would be wrong.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Alexandre Goulet.

Wake's previous album, Misery Rites, should have garnered the attention of anyone who hadn't been paying attention already. It was a potent blend of black metal and grinding madness. Anyone who thought new album, Devouring Ruin was going to follow the same formula would be wrong. Sure, those key elements are present and accounted for but they've further honed their melodic touches and technicality and shifted in a more deathly direction.

Opener “Dissolve and Release” opens the listener's ears with a fairly melodic section but the hammer has to drop, right? It does with the force of a Prairie blizzard leading into “Kana Tevoro (Kania! Kania!)”. Technicality and off-kilter riffing compete with blasting drums and chest-caving vocals. As claustrophobic as it sounds the solos are quite expansive while still grounded in darkness.

Elsewhere we find demons unleashed. Fast, angry, and destructive. Vocals breaks and a slower pace rub elbows with more impact riffing. The back and forth between annihilation and lamentation feels more like reality than some bands one-vector approach. “Mouth of Abolition” features devastating deathgrind sewn together with prog touches and melody. The vocals, however, give no quarter amid the pummeling, yet there's enough emotion throughout to pull something out of you.

“Torchbearer” sees an atmosphere of doom devolve into noisy paranoia. A slow chug drags the listener through swamps of death before it rockets into black metal fury. There's really a lot more than just that as this track tops 10 minutes! Not too typical for grind! I don't think anyone has accused Wake of being typical.

“In the Lair of the Rat Kings” balances their signature grinding madness with some flourish. It's a banger though; total annihilation with some real heavy movement. It leads right into the penultimate track, “Monuments to Impiety”. More rage, more speed, more angularity, more heavy-handed groove.

Other than its runtime of over seven minutes closer “The Procession” brings together all the elements present in the previous nine tracks (save the two “noisy/arty” interludes). It encapsulates all the deathly weight, speed changes and bulging muscularity Devouring Ruin is built upon. It even feels like a conclusion (to the album). It has a climactic feel like it's rising, freed from the ground it so mercilessly pounds.

Wake are seriously making a name for themselves. Not only in the grind scene but as one of Canada's best extreme acts. With Devouring Ruin they are elevating an already top shelf game. This is a band not content to sit on their laurels and remain in a comfortable zone. They're pushing themselves and genre conventions and we are all the beneficiaries.

March 24, 2020

Planet of the Dead - Fear of a Dead Planet

By Calen Henry. I love Beastwars so imagine my surprise when an album from a Wellington-based stoner doom band boasting a wicked sci-fi album cover surfaced on Bandcamp and it wasn’t them. Surprise turned to delight when I hit play on Planet of the Dead's Fear of a Dead Planet. While they certainly Obey the Riff, they set themselves well apart from New Zealand’s apocalyptic doom phoenix.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Jonathan Guzi.

I love Beastwars so imagine my surprise when an album from a Wellington-based stoner doom band boasting a wicked sci-fi album cover surfaced on Bandcamp and it wasn’t them. Surprise turned to delight when I hit play on Planet of the Dead's Fear of a Dead Planet. While they certainly Obey the Riff, they set themselves well apart from New Zealand’s apocalyptic doom phoenix.

Planet of the Dead draws deep from the well of stoner metal and 90’s alt-rock to create a menacing atmosphere then whips up a sci-fi sandstorm. With lyrics drawing from well-known fantasy and sci-fi as well as a few deep cuts - bonus points to them for having lyrics on their Bandcamp page.

The album opens with "The Eternal Void". It's drawn out intro creates the perfect ominous vibe for vocalist Mark Mundell’s melodic howl to tell the tale of the advance of the White Walkers. He then drops into a menacing growl with echoes of stoner metal godfather Matt Pike. The vocal shift kicks the instruments into a lumbering staccato shuffle, showing their hand for the rest of the album. Their “trademark” sound is the juxtaposition of sinister semi-clean vocals and more guttural howls over a similar juxtaposition of slow, menacing passages and extremely groovy, choppy fast riffs.

Album standout "Mind Killer" is the grooviest of all. Opening with a sample of the Mentat Mantra from David Lynch’s Dune, the band then shifts into a groove that sounds like Queens of the Stone Age filtered through High on Fire. With Mark turning the Mantra into the first verse and the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear into a glorious chorus reminiscent of Trent Reznor. The rest of the verses weave in the band’s own lyrics about Paul Atreides’ choice between the machinations of the Bene Gesserit and the logic of the Mentat way.

Shifting to a stomping rhythm weirdly reminiscent of Silverchair’s largely forgotten hit "Freak", the band completes the sci-fi / fantasy hat trick with another Dune track. "A Million Deaths" focuses on Paul’s visions of death, his fear of them coming to pass, and his inability to prevent them on his current path.

"Nashwen" goes deep with nerd cred (full disclosure: I didn’t figure this one out myself) for another groovy track with 90’s NIN sounding vocals, this time about Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe. It’s also the first track on the album to feature an extended guitar lead and it’s pretty killer over top of the bands crunchy riffs.

The rest of the track list carries on the band’s formula of groove vs trudge, but the back half of the album has fewer direct sci-fi references and is slower, on balance. "Walk the Earth" bears special mention, though, as it’s inspired by Dawn of the Dead and thereby calls back to the band’s name (though the main inspiration for the name is the Electric Wizard track Funeralopolis). The subject matter is a great fit for the band’s sound. Much like the album opener the slow riffing is a perfect fit for the creeping dread of a George A. Romero inspired song.

Planet of the Dead’s slow/fast formula creates a great signature sound considering Fear of a Dead Planet is only their first full length. It does, however, have the odd recycled riff, but the feeling of deja-vu never lasts long before they do something creative and switch things up. Plus it sounds great, especially for a debut. The master is more dynamic than average for stoner doom coming in at DR 8 and it really shows. Everything sounds massive and the bass really comes through to drive the huge grooves.

Planet of the Dead are unlikely to convert staunch detractors of their chosen style but stoner metal lovers will find a lot to love here, and a surprisingly original take on an overdone sound in what I consider to be the best stoner metal debut since Ordos’ House of the Dead.

March 20, 2020

Hubris - Metempsychosis

By Justin C. Chances are good that you’re reading this while under some level of self-imposed quarantine. It’s not a lot of fun, even for those of us who have had work from home situations before. It’s even less fun for people whose income depends on being able to go out in public and gather people around them, like our beloved bands.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Jérémie Hohl.

Chances are good that you’re reading this while under some level of self-imposed quarantine. It’s not a lot of fun, even for those of us who have had work from home situations before. It’s even less fun for people whose income depends on being able to go out in public and gather people around them, like our beloved bands.

So what to do? Well, there are no easy answers to that, but some folks are trying. Bandcamp itself is waiving its share of sales on March 20 to help artists. (And for those of you griping that it’s just a “token” or some such nonsense, please go away unless you’re also donating 100% of your income to others for any period of time.) Art as Catharsis, a label that supports all manner of avant garde music, is giving 100% of their profits directly to their artists through the end of March.

So what to buy, what to buy.... I got into Art as Catharsis way back when through Serious Beak, an instrumental band that Lachlan Dale, label founder, plays in himself. That’s a good start, but for a recent release of metal-adjacent, instrumental music, let me recommend the latest by Hubris, Metempsychosis, an entirely engaging album centered on Greek mythology.

I say “metal-adjacent” here because this doesn’t have the heavier vibes of bands like Russian Circles or Pelican, but like those bands, Hubris knows how to write a damn fine instrumental song. And although there is a lot of delicate loveliness, they also aren’t afraid to get their stomp on when needed. The heaviness is judiciously meted out, like around the halfway point of album opener “Hepius.” I’ve poked fun of other post-metal-type bands that seem to stick to the quiet-LOUD-quiet-LOUD formula, which can be a bit exhausting, but Hubris ebbs and flows, builds and retreats, making even their longer songs pass by like a dream.

Give Hubris a devoted listen, especially since your other option is to enter the Thunderdome to fight people over toilet paper. If you’re able, support the bands you like through Bandcamp this Friday, or from Art as Catharsis the rest of this month. Every little bit helps.