Sunday, August 2, 2015

Label Spotlight: Witching Hour Productions

Polish label Witching Hour Productions have now set up shop on Bandcamp. Their bread and butter is Polish death metal of recent vintage (but die-hard fans of Behemoth and Vadar can find releases of early demos and albums). Of course when it comes to death metal who better to separate the wheat from the chaff than the mighty Autothrall? So without further ado: enjoy his excavation of three massive chunks of death metals from the bowels of the Witching Hour Bandcamp.

Cover art by Zbigniew Bielak

Try and envision a world in which Deicide wrote much better music than they normally do, and incorporated Polish strength blasting and a bit more flashy, thrashing aggression in addition to splitting the layered vocals down to just growls and snarls (and usually not at the same time). This is a world Azarath not only have envisioned, but have manifest into reality for 13 years and five full-lengths, the latest of which is Blasphemers' Maledictions, a brutal execution of dead center production values and rampant, neck snapping anger which leaves but the chalk outlines of corpses in its wake. This would be enough as is, for most folks, and yet they've also seen fit to pen riffs that are actually worth a damn. (read the rest of the review here).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Michał "Xaay" Loranc

"White Architect" builds a nice intro atmosphere that instantly gives you hope that you're about to hear more than the average death record, and "Cortex Defamation" cashes in the check, with tyrannical walls of thick bludgeoning rhythms that instantly get the anger level high and the blood flowing through the limbs that then flail about like an induced seizure. Yet, amidst the crawling, battering of the guitars there are nice little touches of distorted backup vocals, and the leads after 3:00 are fantastic. "A Dying World" charges gloriously across some broiling guitar melodies and spastic bass fills before breaking down into a thick series of shifting, crunchy tempos, and "War Machine" is simply a ridiculous, fucking brutal piece which removed at least three of my vertebrae as I was listening and unable to stop from jerking around the booth, flighty arpeggios complementing Chudy's blunt chorus vocals. And from this just gets SICKER. (read the rest of the review here).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Cover art by Mentalporn

Next to Vader's Necropolis (which is a lot more barebones than this album), it's the best Polish death of 2009, easily obliterating the latest Behemoth for that honor. "Revival" opens with a lush cosmic ambience, with a throbbing bass that helps emotionally ascend into a destructive arsenal of storming riffs as the heavens tear asunder. This album is like the Galactus of death metal. Jacek Grecki has a voice very similar to Piotr of Vader, if a little blunter in places. You'll probably want a breather after this first track, but the intimidating "Personal Universe" will not allow such folly, as it bludgeons you into oblivion like a fleet of Star Destroyers en route to a real conflict. "...if the Dead Can Speak" begins with some timid, flowing guitars, elevating with some breakneck chugging, grooves and double bass madness, before the vocals take command over a simple, rolling pattern. "216" then again annihilates the listener into formless space dust. Get used to it, because it's going to happen again with "One Step Too Far", "Divine Project" and the tribally taunting "Simulation". (read the rest of the review here).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Friday, July 31, 2015

Lake of Blood - Omnipotens Tyrannus

Written by Justin C.

Lake of Blood play what, at first blush, seems like pretty standard USBM. The opening song of Omnipotens Tyrannus puts me in mind of a more aggressive version of the Cascadian sound, but like a lot of bands that manage to elevate themselves beyond "serviceable" into good or great territory, the details make all the difference.

That wave of sound that opens "Blood & Mercy" suddenly breaks at just after the 1:30 mark, and you get an awesome, stuttering riff that kicks off a new direction, string scrape included. I usually hate those, but for whatever reason, it just screams "METAL!" here in an utterly satisfying way. The slithery melody line that follows is addictive as anything I've heard in recent memory, and we're off on an 11-minute black metal odyssey.

There are a lot of great touches here. The majority of the vocals are a lower growl than the typical black metal shriek, but it's also mixed with some unhinged howls and even some cleanly chanted vocals in "Agape." The taut, distorted riffing is sometimes overlaid with an acoustic guitar pushed way up in the mix. This isn't done in the usual "Now it's time for a folky interlude" way, but rather it's added as additional texture.

Like the instruments themselves, the song structures in general also have a lot of variety, mixing in slower passages with all the fury. "In Wells of Shadow" features a an eerie, doomy intro that morphs into some of the highest energy music on the album, and ultimately the track mashes the two ideas together in a pretty ingenious way.

If there's one minor fault to the album, it's the length, or more accurately, how that length is delivered. 76 minutes isn't an absurd album length for metal--it can and has been done successfully--but it doesn't completely work here. There are a couple of overly long outros that could have been cut for an overall tighter album, but I think the real issue is the sequencing. The penultimate track, "Omnipotens," is the longest song here, stretching over 16 minutes, and it's probably the most unusual song in terms of structure, sound, and pacing. Having the bulk of that track fall after the 60-minute mark and following it with a three-minute, mostly instrumental outro track can cause a bit of fatigue. I did an experiment where I started with listening to that track first, and I liked it much better that way. I was charmed by its oddities and dissonance in a way that I wasn't when listening to it in the "proper" order of the album.

But that's a problem with an easy solution: If you get a little worn out, press pause and come back to it. Whether or not that track would have made a better standalone EP is a minor gripe compared to the fact that you get so much good music here.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mouth of the Architect - Dawning

Written by Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published here by Exclaim.

For all ten years of their venerable career, Dayton, OH post-metal band Mouth of the Architect have been seeking a balance between delicate, emotive atmospherics and crushing, sludge-influenced heaviness. Dawning represents their finest effort in this regard, the huge, looping song structures (which gesture towards pioneers in the genre like Neurosis and Isis), filled with moments of fragile intricacy and frail emotiveness, are pitted against the ponderous weight of doom metal structures and laden, psychedelic guitar tones.

Photos by François Carl Duguay.

Dawning sits neatly between their tender 2008 offering Quietly and 2006's more aggressive The Ties That Bind, with disarming moments like the opening of "How This Will End" standing in contrast to the rest of that track's towering intensity. A great deal of the fine balance that characterizes Dawning is made possible not only be the finely crafted instrumentation but the perfectly deployed dual vocals of Steve Brooks and Kevin Schindel, who can layer death howls overtop of each other, contrast harsh against clean, or offer moments of naked, crooning vulnerability.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]