March 31, 2013

Light Bearer - Silver Tongue

Written by Craig Hayes.

What is it that you truly seek in heavy music? If it's a straightforward headbanging path of least resistance, then Light Bearer’s latest album, Silver Tongue, is not for you. It is neither expeditious nor immediate, and it’s all the better for its complexity. Like many profound works of art, it's serpentine in its sagacity, weaving labyrinthine trails of philosophical and metaphysical radicalism—leading, one hopes, to true enlightenment.

Formed in London in 2010, Light Bearer is a means for vocalist Alex to pursue his Æsahættr Tetralogy narrative in musical from. His allegorical tale--which draws influence from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, the book of Genesis, and John Milton's Paradise Lost—emphasizes "atheist/anti theist and radical left wing/free thought ideologies". It seeks to highlight, and thereby dismantle, doctrines that "should have been abandoned before the dark ages". Lofty goals indeed, and you can't fault Light Bearer’s dedication to the mammoth task at hand.

The bulk of Alex's tale will be unfurled over the course of four full-lengths. The band's 2011 debut, Lapsus, covered chapter one, with offshoot themes explored on the subsequent Beyond the Infinite; The Assembly of God EP, and the Celestium Apocrypha: Book of Watchers split with Northless. Silver Tongue continues chapter two of the story.

The band plays an aptly Herculean and theatrical mix of post-hardcore and ambient and progressive metal, and multi-layered musical edifices rise and descend as Alex's story unfolds. That movement is obviously familiar—Isis or Ufomammut rattle and rumble with the same momentum—but Light Bearer does not mechanically follow any previous maneuvers. Counterpointing the hymnal and the hostile is obviously de rigueur for a post-hardcore aesthetic, but Light Bearer's motivations are tied to evolutionary ideas. Thus, its sound is not limited by what is 'allowed'.

Silver Tongue offers plenty of sonic depth, with fluctuating time changes and oscillating excursions bound to the raw, gut-felt passion of the material. The hum and thrum of strings and/or keyboards, on "Matriarch", "Silver Tongue" and "Beautiful is This Burden", encourage you to search for meaning in their mournful swells. Meanwhile, the feverish blasts of hardcore and ice-cold sludge on "Amalgam" and "Aggressor & Usurper" display all the vexation and wrath. Each individual track explores avenues both serene and severe, but all come together to form an over-arching movement. Collectively, Silver Tongue is operatic in scope, its musical and thematic astuteness offering myriad colors and textures that mix pummel and dynamism with perceptiveness.

Silver Tongue bears the hallmarks of erudite post-hardcore, and that ensures its potency. Its 80-minute running time may seem intimidating at first, but the album doesn't wane. It remains wholly intriguing, as colossally heavy build-ups explode around important plot points, and atmospheric soundscapes convey the tale in mystical and material form. Light Bearer has an important message to convey, seeking to obliterate those ideologies that have stifled and subjugated freedom for far too long. Silver Tongue is a potent artistic statement, and it is delivered with indomitable intelligence and commitment.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 29, 2013

Wolves in the Throne Room - Malevolent Grain

Wolves in the Throne Room have opened a Bandcamp page, and released the majority of their catalog to it. You're probably aware of WITTR's full-length albums Two Hunters (2007), Black Cascade (2009) and Celestial Lineage (2011), and they're all here (the only one missing is their debut full-length Diadem of 12 Stars from 2006). So I would like to point you in the direction of the EP Malevolent Grain, which was released three months before Black Cascade in 2009.

Malevolent Grain contains two very different songs. The first one, A Looming Resonance, is brooding, almost psalm-like medium to fast paced black metal, featuring solemn female vocals. The second, Hate Crystal, is a carefully crafted piece of black metal, first white hot and furious, then dissolving into ambiance and digital effects. If you don't like contrasts in your music, then maybe this EP is not for you, as these quotes from various reviews imply:
the first track is very strong and melodic, the second track sounds very much [like] throwaway B-side material.

The first track is nice for a few times, but [...] gets less interesting after more listens. Hate Crystal hasn’t yet let me down once though and is one of Wolves’ finest

[Hate Crystal is] a ten-minute masterpiece of black metal, [...] but tragically sharing space with an absolute clunker.
I like contrasts, and I think Malevolent Grain is an astonishing success. Individually the two songs are great; but they also work really well together, mixing the brutal and soothing aspects of black metal to great effect. The end result is one of those great EP's, where the whole is better than the sum of it parts.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Another album not available on the WITTR Bandcamp is Live at Roadburn 2008. But you can find it as a name your price download at the Burning World Records Bandcamp, right here.

March 28, 2013

Ladybird - Demo 2012

Written by Ulla Roschat.

Heaviness Is Spelled L-A-D-Y-B-I-R-D

Ladybird are a three piece US band from Tempe/AZ. The band was formed in 2011 and this demo was released in April 2012.

The three songs of this demo are basically heavy slow, sludge/doom riffs, thick with distortion and fuzz, to monotonous repetitive bass and drum rhythms plus snarling screeching vocals.

Monotonous yes, but it doesn’t feel like that at all. Instead the hypnotizing entrancing rhythms first draw you into a viscous magma-like sea of fuzzy heavy riffs, but then also save you from drowning in this sea of sound. The crashing cymbals cut a path through the thickness and the steady bass provides at least a tiny sense of motion.

Almost everything in the songs goes to the max... fuzz, distortion, feedback, repetition, slowness, and above all heaviness. The only thing kept a tight hold on here is change. The more precious are the moments where change occurs.

In the first song Ontological Physicalism, when it is about halfway through..., some short breaks of the cymbal beats and you are at the mercy of the overwhelming riffs, yet you enjoy the release from the repetition. Gone Away offers a break towards the end. A small island of a fuzz free quiet little blues jam gives you time to shake off the sludge crusts, just to be thrown into the droning noisy last song Slow, and here you finally drown... slowly.

This demo is far more than just a heavy sludge beast. Ladybird have a very special way to feast on abundance and simplicity at the same time, which makes a great deal of the demo’s appeal and fascination. This is 27 minutes of pure listening pleasure..., and highly addictive.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 25, 2013

Inter Arma - Sky Burial

By Andy Osborn. Fitting a mold somewhere in the vast landscape between Baroness and Ash Borer, Inter Arma exist as a hulking monolith of cross-genre experimentation.
By Andy Osborn.

Fitting a mold somewhere in the vast landscape between Baroness and Ash Borer, Inter Arma exist as a hulking monolith of cross-genre experimentation. Sky Burial is the sophomore full-length and Relapse debut for the Virginians who, like their music, have been slowly but steadily pounding away at the metallic psyche. The press release for the record mentions a full five genres that the band spreads its wings across, daunting and daring to be sure. But unlike so many hybrid acts seeking to carve their own unique niche in the world of heavy music, Inter Arma do so effortlessly without straying too far from their own established identity.

Sky Burial is a risky and monstrous effort, maxing out a CD at 70 minutes and pushing the limits of a single release. The meat of the album is feasted upon in the form of five double-digit tracks that weave their way through doomy sludge but never fully give themselves away. Skip to any given moment and you don’t know if you’re going to be confronted with a blackened barrage, an eerie acoustic diversion or a slow-fuse of Deep South-inspired drudgery. Breathers come in the form of Americana passages that take a break from the doom and gloom and give you a chance to relax in the eye of the storm before the cyclonic winds pick up again.

Photos by Karen A. Mann

Upon my first listen, the diversity and dynamic approach of the tracks left me unsure of what was fully taking place. There’s just so much to digest. The continually rising and falling tension spellbinds you as you wait for the moments when chaos unfolds in a most satisfying manner. It's rare to find slow music that can increase your heart rate and keep you on edge; at times I was left physically nervous. But providing such an emotional and engaging ride is precisely what makes an artist great.

The highlight of the album is the last quarter hour. “Love Absolute” works in partnership with the beginning of the final, titular track to prepare you for the absolute onslaught of the album’s end. Caution is thrown to the wind as Inter Arma end Sky Burial with frenetic, interplaying riffs that build off one another until exploding into a cacophony of never-ending fills and catchy melodic flourishes. You’re left in an eerily calm state, unsure of the madness that was unleashed… and you can’t wait to experience it again.

March 23, 2013

Acrania - The Beginning Of The End

Guest review by BreadGod from Servile Insurrection

Album artwork by Pär Olofsson

I first heard Acrania when they released their split with Blue Waffle and I was immediately hooked to their wicked slams. Ever since then I have been eagerly awaiting the release of their first EP. That day has finally come, and The Beginning Of The End certainly exceeded my expectations.

Unlike most other bands, Acrania don't just stick to one formula. They're not afraid to experiment with their sound and include elements from several different genres. They're sort of like Cursed Altar in a way. First and foremost, they're a brutal death metal band, but the slams they play are more akin to deathcore. Normally I hate deathcore, but they manage to combine it with brutal death metal so well I don't even notice it. Not only do they bring forth massive payloads of brutality but they also manage to sprinkle in some melody and colorful technical displays.

They even manage to get in some clean guitars. Thought you'd never hear those on a brutal death metal album. They first appear on “Auctioneer Of Depravity”. They act as a soothing yet ominous intro for the brutality to come. They also appear on “Dimensional Molecular Transcendence”. The jarring transition from balls-out brutality to dark, almost dream-like clean guitars is enough to make you go, “Woah! What the fuck just happened?”

The vocals are incredibly diverse. Like all other brutal death metal bands, he utilizes deep monstrous growls, but he also dominates the high section with lots of vicious screams. He also performs lots of inhaled growls that add an extra element of nastiness to the music. Sure, there are a few bree brees on this album, but they're not too bothersome. At least he isn't talking about how much he likes shredded wheat.

The instrumentation is superb. The drums excel at playing fiery blast beats with lots of double bass, complex fills and crushing slow sections. The bass provides a great deal of muscle to their brutal assault and are even given a few spotlight moments where they can show off a great deal of flair, such as on “The Depopulation Program”. The guitars are just as diverse as the vocals. They still play the chugging rhythms that are a hallmark of slamming brutal death, but they also play a few riffs that have a great deal of groove, as well as a few riffs that show off their technical skills. I was most amazed by the wicked solo near the end of “A Trophy Of Corporate Disfigurement”. I later learned that this solo was performed by Kevin Schwartz of Pathology. Awesome!

The Beginning Of The End is easily one of the best brutal death metal albums I've heard in a long time. Not only do they flawlessly play slamming brutal death metal, but they also include elements of melodic death metal, technical death metal, and deathcore in a way that doesn't feel contrived or forced. Everything feels natural, every element fits nicely with each other. These guys have so many fresh ideas, and I'm eager to see what they'll craft next.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 21, 2013

Ramlord - Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom

By Craig Hayes. Life is a struggle, whatever your situation. It is complicated and often disheartening, and it can become wholly precarious in the blink of an eye. Seven days a week you haul yourself out of bed and brace yourself for another day.
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Aeron Alfrey.

Life is a struggle, whatever your situation. It is complicated and often disheartening, and it can become wholly precarious in the blink of an eye. Seven days a week you haul yourself out of bed and brace yourself for another day. You stare at grey polluted cityscapes filled with the detritus of capitalism’s crumbling facade and wonder if you’re any different to those forgotten souls huddled on street corners begging for change. We’re all, in one form or another, victims of the cold indifference of modernity.

This is why you must listen to Ramlord.

The New Hampshire trio are not going to solve your problems, let's be honest about that, but then, that's not in Ramlord's gamut. Jan ("usurper tongue and nihil resonance"), Ben ("blastphemous degradation of the human spirit") and Mike ("low souled grinder of the underbelly") make music to lean on when life gets hard, providing a means to spit those feelings of frustration, antipathy and revulsion back into society's face.

Ramlord dispense the best kind of music for venting rage and outrage--blackened d-beat. Punk and black metal (the perfect combination of hostility and militancy) are wrapped around Ramlord's grinding, stench-ridden swamps of sludge, crust and powerviolence. The band make inflammatory battering noise, and have a number of Bandcamp releases, including their powerful 2011 debut full-length, Stench of Fallacy, along with splits with Condensed Flesh and Cara Neir. The trio have recently released their new album, Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom, which comprises 11 putrid screeds of bile and belligerence, providing all the ammunition you need to stock your armory of enmity-driven convictions.

Like the best crust-slathered bands of yore (see Discharge, Hellbastard etc) Ramlord waste no time on ambiguity. Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom opens with the bitterly churning "Nihil Fucking Lifeblood" and "Weakness", before tearing through a triple dose of 30-second breakneck tracks of toxic metallized clangor. The bass-heavy sludge trawls of "Retrospect Dissonance" and "Dependency" rumble forth with strength that’s both crushing and macerating, while "Extinction of Clairvoyance (Part Two)" drops fuzzy noise-rock into the mix, although it’s very quickly smothered by virulent blackness.

Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom is exactly what's needed to strengthen your resolve against attacks from our contemporary world. It's ugly, as are the problems we face daily. It's as chaotic as our feelings and as bleak as the futures we face. And it's primal, just like those base instincts we need to survive.

However, in rendering the harshness of life (both external and internal) into 40-or-more minutes of sweltering sonic filth, Ramlord don't just highlight issues, they offer deep-rooted solace. The world is an uncaring and callous place, delivering never-ending streams of tragedy, but albums like Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom allow us to cope. In the album's frenetic velocity there's a sense that you’re not alone. When Ramlord roars, they roar for you. The band take our shared fears and frustrations and channel them into a sound just as discomforting as anything we see on the news, but in doing so, they provide us with exactly what we seek: catharsis.

Ramlord make malformed and monstrous noise, but the reality they represent is not distorted in any way. Crippled Minds, Sundered Wisdom is the truth. It may well be harrowing and rotten to the core, but even on our best days we know what lurks over our shoulders. Like the best crust bands (past and present) Ramlord don't just provide us with the ordnance we need to bolster our defense, they stand there alongside us, howling defiantly at the world.

March 19, 2013

Junius - Reports From The Threshold of Death

By Natalie Zina Walschots. Boston, MA-based space rockers Junius have produced an album of contrasting and contradictory textures for their second full-length. On one hand, Reports from the Threshold of Death is anchored in heaviness.
By Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published by Exclaim.

Boston, MA-based space rockers Junius have produced an album of contrasting and contradictory textures for their second full-length. On one hand, Reports from the Threshold of Death is anchored in heaviness. The drumming clashes and clangs, while the bass lines are often as heavy as iron ore. On the other hand, there's a spacey lightness to the vocals. Joseph Martinez's voice is as rich and sumptuous in tone as it is un-tethered in style. The choral vocal elements also have a free-flying quality, adding brightness and a sense of space to Junius's sound. The vocals lift the lid off the album, leaving a big, open sky to wander in.

The melodies on Reports from the Threshold of Death are dreamy and complex, and the songs choose to walk into the light, to brighten and sublimate. There isn't a great deal of differentiation between tracks, however; it's often difficult to tell, just by listening, exactly which song track is playing, as they all pulse and twinkle in a similar way, bleeding into each other. This is a very easy album to get lost and drift away in.

Into Darkness - Into Darkness

You know that feeling when you hear something for the first time, and you go "fuuuck this is really good"? Into Darkness an Italian death/doom band, in the 90's ancient way, was recommended by Kim Kelly on Twitter. She has great taste, and more often than not her Bandcamp picks are pure gold. So naturally I jumped on Into Darkness right away, and there it was that feeling. The moment the first song began the things to like about the demo started piling up. I'll let Islander from No Clean Singing explain what I mean:
Apart from the effective bleakness of the atmosphere, there were four more things I really liked about this song: The guitar tone (raw and rancid); the terrific riffs that the band unleash in the parts of the song when the tempo accelerates; the ghastliness of the vocals (remarkably reminiscent of Asphyx’ Martin van Drunen); and the great contrast produced by the clean melodic guitar leads. Oh fuck, I loved the drumming and the organic production, too, so that makes five and six.
Do you also know that feeling when you want something right now, but you just can't have it? The Into Darkness demo was streaming-only on their Bandcamp. There was mention of a sold out tape and future vinyl and CD releases. But no digital download option. I inquired the band about it, and was told the it would happen when all the physical format were eventually sold out. That feeling... Fast forward to now: The CD and vinyl are still available, but two hours ago Into Darkness made it available for digital download too. If remarkably fresh sounding death/doom rooted in the Asphyx / Derketa tradition, with varied songwriting and an excellent production, sounds like something you'd like, you have to check this out. Go go.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 17, 2013

Archon - Ouroboros Collapsing

Review by Justin C.

Artwork by Jacob Hansen

I like music that's on the doomier side of things, but it's a tricky genre in its own way. With so much music out there right now, it's easy to get into the habit of sampling bits and pieces, which favors subgrenres that punch you in the face right out of the gate. How long do you give music that has a slow build when there's so many other things to check out?

I almost missed out on Archon's new one, Ouroboros Collapsing, because of that kind of impatience. The first track, "Worthless," starts with slow, ominous bass, with the other instruments providing more atmosphere than melody. The drums are sparse. Rachel Brown's high, clean vocals and proper guitar don't kick in until almost three minutes in. I found myself thinking, "O.K., this is clearly good, but what will I get from another hour of this? Isn't there something more insane I could be listening to?" That's where I could have made my mistake. Because at five minutes in, we get the first taste of Rachel's beastly growls. One of the first things she rasps is, "You have no concept of value!" Sorry, Rachel. I almost didn't. Archon proceeds to do the neatest of tricks: Making a 15-minute-long song feel expansive without being plodding or tedious. This mix of vocal styles, including Chris Dialogue's own death growls, are a big part of making that happen, but no one in this band is a slouch. Buzzing guitar and bass riffs move at a stately place, slowly changing and evolving.

The band speeds things up for the next track, "Desert Throne." The drums in the intro sound like cluster bombs going off, the guitar is chiming and persistent, and the bass provides a winding, Sabbath-esque bottom end. Rachel alternates between growls, shrieks, and cleans with ease, and Chris provides the worse cop to Rachel's bad cop with his own gutturals.

The mix of doom, sludge, and psychedelia throughout the album's four tracks is immensely appealing, and each song evokes its own mood and feeling. "God's Eye" switches from frantic tempos to stomping sludge, and the album closer is another fascinating, thirteen-minute epic. The reminder for me is to not get too hasty to click to the next thing, or else I could miss gems like these.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 16, 2013

Bolt Thrower - Realm of Chaos [Full Dynamic Range Edition]

By Kaptain Carbon. They said I could do a review on a classic album that is being re-released. I chose you Bolt Thrower. For those not familiar with death metal or tabletop gaming, Bolt Thrower is an English metal band who came to recognition due to their embrace of themes from the tabletop wargame Warhammer and its sci-fi sister Warhammer 40K.
By Kaptain Carbon.

They said I could do a review on a classic album that is being re-released. I chose you Bolt Thrower. For those not familiar with death metal or tabletop gaming, Bolt Thrower is an English metal band who came to recognition due to their embrace of themes from the tabletop wargame Warhammer and its sci-fi sister Warhammer 40K. While fantasy and metal have never been that far separated, both death metal and Warhammer are lesser employed components. These two unique aspects combined to create one of the most endearing sci-fi/fantasy themed death metal band of its day and..well...for a very long time.

Realm of Chaos was released in 1989 and was the first album to start a two record arc which took place in the Warhammer universe. The record is now a pivotal album in the death metal scene according to death metal fans who happen to be fantasy nerds. Like most classic old school death metal albums, there exists a balance between raw power and what seems like endless imagination. Realm of Chaos, within Bolt Thrower’s narrative, was the turning point between their deathgrind debut In Battle There Is No Law! in 1988 and the more refined death metal masterpiece War Master in 1991. 1989 was a magical time for Bolt Thrower where cosmic scourges were blasted from existence by the fury of unstoppable percussion and riffs. this was a record for all eternity.

I am going to be the first to raise my hand and admit that I do not have near the refined taste of many audiophiles. While I could separate large differences in bit rates, conversations about dynamic range, clipping, and compression usually make my eyes roll back. It is not that I do not think these are vital aspects of music enjoyment, rather I feel like a tourist lost in another country unable to read the road signs. I do not know and usually cannot tell the difference. I am going to trust that the full dynamic range edition of Realm of Chaos has fixed any wrong which was initially done at recording and that this edition is the one to really brings out the nuances in those death grind drums.

While I just make a snide remark, the new Earache edition is noticeable in quality, even for someone who is half deaf in terms of audio appreciation. Songs like the destructive “World Eater” profit from the clearer audio as does the title track. The guitar riffs in both, which were already menacing, become devastating which in turns contrasts the drums that no longer drowning in a mud of mid range. Earache’s edition allows people to experience, more clearly, a battlefield where the power of instruments levels one another. guitars are cannon and the drumwork from Andrew whale resembles a sturdy and reliable siege machine. Though there are only 5 people present on the record, the album feels like an endless landscape of death and destruction. through the myriad of chaos and lawlessness aspects of the remaster are still more defined. It is still a robot death riot but at least I can see what is sort of happening.

Realm of Chaos, historically, succeeds because of attitude. The standoff between foreboding terror and apathy towards danger makes the experience enjoyable. Much like its tabletop influence, death on a massive scale becomes family entertainment with instances of cheering and carousing. Few songs in the history of time can make me feel like I could rip a car apart. Songs like “Through the Eye of Terror” tells me I can. I blame Gavin Ward and Baz Thomson’s guitarwork as it lays crucial groundwork for wanton anarchy. There is no possible attempt at order.

I am not saying this edition is the definitive way to experience Realm of Chaos because there are still debates over CD versus vinyl versus having the band come play in your bedroom. For those audio plebeians and even newcomers, this Earache edition maybe a perfect way to re experience the madness which has already destroyed our very being. For those newcomers, prepare your very being for destruction by said madness.

I enjoy Bolt Thrower for many reasons. One of the more selfish reasons is because their brand of fantasy metal is so much more advanced than lets say dragon based power metal. Both aspects are obscured by noise and complicated ruled books. Bolt Thrower is not for the tame of heart and a commitment must be made for its enjoyment. Realm of Chaos is a weekend excursion that doesn't cost a lot of money but a large portion time and effort is demanded. I have already RSVP’d and am currently working on my costume. Hide your cars.

Kaptain Carbon is the proprietor of Tape Wyrm -- a site site dedicated to cassette releases and underground metal reviews. In his free time, Kaptain Carbon reviews sword and sorcery films for Hollywood Metal, moderates Reddits r/metal, and spends way too much time playing Magic the Gathering.

March 14, 2013

Ancient VVisdom - Deathlike

Review by Justin C.

Up until recently, Prostehtic Records didn't offer much on their Bandcamp page. At best, you'd find one song per album for streaming and no purchase options, but they've started quietly uploading whole albums for streaming and purchase. Let's hope this is a continuing trend.

Among Prosthetic's new Bandcamp offerings is Ancient VVisdom's excellent album Deathlike. The band features clean vocals and a two-guitar attack, one acoustic and one electric, but don't confuse this with folk metal. Alice in Chains is a common reference point, and an influence the band themselves cite, but I think that comparison is a bit too easy. (Although if you like the two acoustic-electric EPs Alice in Chains did, Sap and Jar of Flies, I think you'll like Ancient VVisdom, too.) It's probably best to call the band "heavy" and leave the classification at that.

What's most impressive about this band is how they take their range of influences and produce a cohesive, distinctive sound. The guitars work perfectly together--this is not a case of an acoustic guitar added to a rock band to make it sound folky, or an electric guitar added to a folk band to make them sound harder. The two work in tandem, carving out their own spaces without either overshadowing the other. The drums are stripped down and often unusual--their first album featured a machete as a percussion instrument--and it gives an ancient feel that befits the band's name. At times, the percussion reminds me very much of early music: think Renaissance music from the 1500s. But don't worry, this isn't the kind of music the court jester would dance to. It's just another aspect that the band incorporates seamlessly into their sound.

Deathlike is loosely a concept album about humankind's obsession with death, but it's not all gloom and doom. In fact, I find it fairly uplifting. The title track gives a hint to this duality with the lyrics "Have you just begun to die? / Deathlike / ...or have you just begun to fight?" This album isn't about giving up, but I think it's about accepting the inevitable but still living. Not to mention that the vocal harmonies on this track still give me the chill, even after repeated listens (maybe even an obsessive number of listens...). Nathan Opposition's vocals are exactly what you want from clean vocals in heavy music--they're emotive without being overwrought, using dynamics and shading in all the right spots. I think the whole band has made a big leap between their previous effort (A Godlike Inferno, also available on Prostethetic's Bandcamp), but I really hear Nathan pushing out into his full vocal range on this one. This is going to be on my best-of list for 2013.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 13, 2013

Thrawsunblat - Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings

By Andy Osborn. Thrawsunblat is a completely different entity today than when Canada 2010 was released. Once a Woods of Ypres side-project, mastermind Joel Violette has turned the entity into a mighty force; recruiting former Mares of Thrace member Rae Amitay and Massachusetts madman Brendan Hayter to fill out the rhythm section
By Andy Osborn.

Thrawsunblat is a completely different entity today than when Canada 2010 was released. Once a Woods of Ypres side-project, mastermind Joel Violette has turned the entity into a mighty force; recruiting former Mares of Thrace member Rae Amitay and Massachusetts madman Brendan Hayter to fill out the rhythm section and help him fully realize this massive concept album. Opening with a piano ditty that will make you think you’ve accidentally put on a Korpiklaani record, “Lifelore Revelation” explodes into furiously fun upbeat fare that sets the stage for the rest of Wanderer. Speeding tremolo melodies dance across gallop-happy riffs as Joel’s clearly ecstatic voice and solos flash by, moving ever forward. “Once Fireveined” reeks of adventure in music and words, a bombastic anthem that spits flame and thunder and results in an epic call to arms that would be welcome on a march to war. And the journey is just beginning.

Barrelling forward, you’ll soon realize the album isn’t all fast melodic metal. On “Goose River” and “Maritime Shores” the Thraws crew go full folk, crooning of drinks and beauty over gorgeous acoustic pieces that transport you to a 19th century pub where all are strangers, but none are enemies. It’s refreshing to hear a hybrid band of this type using their lighter side for more than just cliché opening or closing tracks; these calmer excursions are full and rich and fit between the heavier pieces beautifully. Folk music has for too long been incorporated as a gimmick in the metal community and Joel and co. affirm its rightful inclusion by playing it from the heart with dedication and reverence. As you continue to be transported up mountains and across rivers the full-length becomes ever more familiar but never ceases to intrigue.

Wanderer is clearly the result of years of hard work. The album is incredibly dynamic and varied, a folk-ballad here, a maddened blast there, and the feeling of the trials and tribulations of a life-changing journey permeate the hour long trip. Black metal doesn’t have to be all satan and frostbite, and Thrawsunblat prove this with an uplifting tale of loss and exploration and the feeling of hope to match. I’m not sure whether the continent of which they sing is one of this world or another, but this Canadian mastery makes me want to start my journey towards it.

Fyrnask - Bluostar

By Natalie Zina Walschots. Bluostar is the first full-length effort from underground black metal band Fyrnask, following a demo they produced in 2010. The subject matter of the album is based upon popular black metal symbolism surrounding rituals and nature.
By Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published by Exclaim.

Artwork by At the Ends of Earth Design

Bluostar is the first full-length effort from underground black metal band Fyrnask, following a demo they produced in 2010. The subject matter of the album is based upon popular black metal symbolism surrounding rituals and nature. While the guitars on most releases of this type are thin, cold and buzzing, the guitar tone on Bluostar is considerably warmer, almost seeming to vibrate, evoking a dragonfly's wings. The production is clean, if a little hollow, and very unforgiving, making the instruments sound a bit thin and weary, at times.

While their longer, aggressive, traditional black metal songs are decent, the shorter, moodier, ambient and atmospheric pieces, like "Eit Fjell Av Jern," are so much stronger. These are brooding and ominous, with rich, sumptuous tones. These numbers focus on the strength of the human voice, letting the instruments lift and amplify that power. While the vicious, venomous passages ring a bit hollow, when Fyrnask slow down, they create some strange, lovely soundscapes.

March 12, 2013

Lich King - Born Of The Bomb

Artwork by Tom Martin from Lich King

In the biography section on the Bandcamp page Lich King has a pretty good description of what they're about:
We create new old-school thrash metal in the vein of EXODUS, VIO-LENCE, S.O.D., SLAYER and others. We think the sound of thrash was perfected in the 80’s and we’re not trying to add anything to the mix. We’re just coming up with riffs and songs that the old masters didn’t.
So nothing original then, but it is good? Let me start by pointing out that Born Of The Bomb sounds fantastic. The production is clear and dynamic. The riffs sounds big and fat, the bass is audible, prominent even, and off course the drum sound is perfect (Born Of The Bomb was produced by Lich Kings's drummer). And the musicianship is top notch, featuring a super tight rhythm section and spirited soloing.

The songwriting then?, you may ask. It is quite solid. There's the requisite catchy retrash tunes, but a little Vektor style dissonance creep in here and there, and they move into epic thrash territory with Agnosticism. Which features the best soloing on the album (and that is saying something), and also these interesting lyrics:
Existence and what's after the end is unclear
Religion, turn from reason and live without fear
Oblivion, logic tells us that nothing awaits
The answer, is it worth what the question creates

Go and ask the scientist
Go and ask the holy man
Both will claim to know what follows death,
so in our wisdom
This is mixed with over the top thrash tropes like Maybe other bands play and maybe Manowar kills. But none of that shit matters Lich King rules from We Came To Conquer. I like this mix of tongue in cheek goofiness and more serious stuff. I like the music too. The quote from the Bandcamp page is continued on Lich King's Facebook page: Despite that fact and our best efforts, we seem to be developing a signature sound. Dammit. I am curious as to where this development leads the band.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 10, 2013

Panopticon - Kentucky

By Aaron Sullivan. For my money THE most exciting American Black Metal band going, is Panopticon. Austin Lunn’s vision come to life musically. With 3 albums and countless split’s he has used each to explore different themes as well as musical direction. With Kentucky he has taken it to new level not only for him
By Aaron Sullivan.

For my money THE most exciting American Black Metal band going, is Panopticon. Austin Lunn’s vision come to life musically. With 3 albums and countless split’s he has used each to explore different themes as well as musical direction. With Kentucky he has taken it to new level not only for him, but what can be done in the realm of Black Metal.

Kentucky is a very personal record for Austin as it has been his home state for the last 10 years. In this album he speaks of the states history with the coal miners, how the practice of coal mining affects the environment, the massacre of Indians at Ywahoo Falls, and the forest he finds himself in when feeling lost. Now anyone who has been following Panopticon for some time knows that the addition of Folk (including banjo: see Collapse album) is nothing new for this band. With this album he turns it up a notch. Adding straight up Bluegrass and his take on traditional mining protest songs. Have no worry though. The Black Metal is in full force with songs like "Black Soot and Red Blood" and the epic "Killing the Giants as They Sleep". The sound is full and songs feel alive. The acoustic passages are rich with texture. The protest songs need no distortion or harsh vocals to get the anger across to the listener, their message is clear. As always with all of his albums, for me, the stand out is his drumming. The tone he has just grabs you by the throat and never lets you go.

This is a band I have followed from his first album. With each new release I thought he would never be able to top himself, and with each new release he does just that (Kentucky is my 2012 album of the year). With Kentucky he has set the bar very high. But with his talents I have no doubt he will meet and exceed expectations.

March 9, 2013

De Lirium's Order - Veniversum

Review by Tentaclesworth.

The band in question today is De Lirium’s Order. Their signature brand of tech death is unparalleled. Everything about their latest offering Veniversum is tasteful and unique. The guitar playing in particular is the bands biggest draw. Right off the bat, the track ‘Autistic Savant’ smacks the listener with some of the most prolific guitar playing since Death. The note choice, phrasing and harmonies that the guitarists come up with is simultaneously catchy, melodic and very original. Now, I mention Death for good reason. Fans of Death will be familiar with Chuck Schuldiner's innovative soloing, signature harmonies and groundbreaking riffs. De Lirium’s Order guitarist Juha Kuplainen really fleshes out and expands upon Schuldiner’s style (circa Sound of Perseverance) in a way that I’m sure Chuck himself would be proud of. Essentially bridging the gap between Death and spiritual successors, Obscura. By using Death’s style as a foundation, De Lirium’s Order have created their own unique style that is instantly recognizable. A true feat considering how many parallels can be drawn between bands these days.

There are also a lot of really progressive elements about Veniversum. They manage to sneak in a lot of outliers like symphonic elements, bluesy solos, piano sections and more apparent things like the odd bout of clean singing. Every little subtlety they put into their music gives each song it’s own identity nullifying the typical ‘it’s death metal all the time and eventually it just sounds like bleh’ complaint that a lot of death metal releases suffer from.

Even if you’re turned off by the notion of death metal, I urge you to give this album a spin. Just to get a taste of the intricate and unique tones and riffs. You won’t be blown away by the vocals or drums, but it’s easy to appreciate the uniqueness of De Lirium’s Order.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 8, 2013

Koldbrann - Vertigo

Koldbrann's Vertigo is available on the Season of Mist Bandcamp. Formed in 2001, this is only Koldbrann's third full-length; one that contains the bands answer to the question of where Norwegian Black Metal is heading these days. Basically Koldbrann's answers by wandering off the beaten path - by diversifying, while still writing solid, kick-ass songs. That's How Kids Dies' track descriptions gives you a good picture of the different locations Koldbrann visits on Vertigo:

Photo © Per Ole Hagen, Artist Pictures Blog, All rights reserved.
“Stolichnaya Smert” is a high-octane ode to the cruel mistress vodka, while the awesomely titled “Goat Lodge” splits the difference between Carpathian Forest and Celtic Frost, and then chucks in a bluesy solo for good measure. “Totalt Sjelelig Bankerott” starts off as an oldschool blackened scorcher before morphing into punked up nastiness and back again. Things even get a bit psychedelic on album closer “Inertia Corridors,” a track that juxtaposes ice-cold guitars against magic mushroom synths.
Photo © Per Ole Hagen, Artist Pictures Blog, All rights reserved.

Let me add add that the first song IntroVertigo mixes rousing rock infused riffing with subtle dissonance and cold keyboards hinting at avantgarde French black metal. All this may give you the impression that Vertigo is a disjointed affair, but it is held together a stellar production job. It is clear, even pristine, but also surprisingly meaty, letting all those big fat riffs shine. Vertigo is one of those albums that manages to be both diverse and cohesive at the same time. Read the review from Angry Metal Guy and check it out.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Thanks to Per Ole Hagen for letting me use his photos. They originally appeared in this Inferno Festival Kick Off 2013 article, and you can see many more on his Flickr.

March 6, 2013

Encircling Sea - A Forgotten Land

Written by Ulla Roschat.

A Forgotten Land is the third release of the four piece band “Encircling Sea” from Melbourne/Australia. They had two earlier releases, I (2009) and Écru (2010).

A Forgotten Land is one of these few albums I actually don’t want to describe in categories and terms of genre and style etc. This is one of these few albums of which I just want to say “Listen to it!” “Why” so you’d ask justly, and I’d say “... because this is music with such an amount of emotional impact that all words trying to describe it must fail.”

I’ll give it a go, anyway...

The album consists of four songs and has a total run time of about 68 minutes. The musical style is basically atmospheric black metal that draws on progressive, electronic, post-metal elements and quite a lot of folky tunes. The lyrical themes are about our need to (re-) connect ourselves to the power and beauty of nature and the need to feel being part of it.

All four songs are of considerable length, the shortest “Become” is somewhat short of 11 minutes, the longest “Return” is about 20 minutes long. Each song uses its length to slowly build up its dark and thick atmosphere, to unfold all its many layers of sound textures and fill it up with an incredible wide range of dynamic intensity. Between extremely quiet parts, especially in the all-acoustic sounding “Become”, with the beautiful female/male clean vocal duet and relentlessly crushing heaviness, there’s such an enormous variety of moods and atmospheres, that simply captivate and suck you in, mesmerizing ambient sounds and melodies to fall in love with.

Seriously, this is one of the most emotionally unsettling exciting and beautiful albums I’ve listened to in awhile.

Listen to it!!!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 5, 2013

Klabautamann - Our Journey Through the Woods

To celebrate its 10th anniversary Klabautamann has decided to make their debut album available as name your price for the rest of the year. Looking at the whimsical cover to 2003's Our Journey through the Woods you might believe this to be humppa-style folk metal. Fortunately (at least for this reviewer) you would be wrong.

This is melodic, thrashy, and even progressive black metal. And yes there are folk overtones. They stem mostly from the use of lush acoustic guitars, that are very well integrated with the songs; even appearing om top of double bass and blast beats to great effect. The production is very natural sounding, the drums are a little lower, and the bass higher in the mix than usual. The bass tone and playing is straight out of some 70's prog band; you'll hear more bass playing on this album than on many, many black metal albums put together.

The intro is too long, but then it's thrash black metal time with Der Nöck. The third song Trolldance is also a feisty affair, only more melodic and with more of the lush acoustics. Next is the first album highlight Rabenmorgen; simply a wonderful song (also the one you hear when you click the player. Good choice). A good example of how good clean instrumentation can sound alongside more traditional black metal playing.

I could continues to give you examples (like, check out the bass playing in Seaghost), but suffice it to say that the album moves from strength to strength, concluding with the epic Autumn's Breath. I'll leave you with these parting words from Michael Wuensch of Last Rites: Our Journey Through the Woods delivers what I believe all good fairy tales should deliver: imaginative stories unfolded through a nice balance of light AND dark.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 3, 2013

Primitive Man - Scorn

Written by Aaron Sullivan.

Scorn is the debut album by Colorado’s Primitive Man. From the members of the grind band Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire. But this is no Grind. This is bleak, ugly, blackened Sludge/DOOM. With an intensity few can match.

You get the idea from looking at the cover this is not a safe record with some cool riff and songs about drinking beer. This is as intense as the cover would have you believe. Songs have heft and weight to them. There is an underlying anger and ominous aggression no matter the pace of the music. It’s a vibe set early and often. Guitars tearing through your ears, heavy bass rumbling pushing speakers to the max, while the pounding of drums set the foundation. Rasped vocals only add another layer of ferociousness atop an album that is overflowing with it. The production is perfect for this type of music and being a three piece I imagine helps in that. Each instrument can be heard individually and no one instrument dominates. As for lyrical content I am not quite sure. The only lyrics on their Bandcamp page posted are these,
No one is listening. No one Fucking Cares.
Well I for one am listening, and boy do I fucking care.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October Falls - The Plague Of A Coming Age

Review by Andy Osborn.

First, a primer: October Falls is the project of lone wolf M. Lehto, who’s been creating majestic metal for over a decade. He splits the band between two genres; melancholy Finnish folk that’s wholly instrumental, and a folk-inspired black/doom hybrid not unlike Agalloch. While both styles share aesthetic similarities, they are separated by release with folk albums denoted by a square logo and the metallic records with a circular design. But the pure folk years are long bygone and the last few releases have disposed of a logo altogether, showing that the project is concentrating one, whole sound.

Anyone familiar with folk/black hybrids won’t be surprised to find out that October Falls’ material draws inspiration from Finland’s natural beauty – this is the first album not using a wilderness photo on the cover. As stereotypically Cascadian as a one-man project influenced by nature sounds, October Falls is the real deal. The music is beyond emotional, you can feel the cathartic release in every note, every word. M. takes his music very seriously, which is why this is only the fourth October Falls full-length in the project’s twelve year existence. Lehto’s music is criminally underrated; the most prominently his work has ever been displayed was in a half-page Decibel feature in 2010. But with The Plague of a Coming Age, that is all set to change.

While sonically somewhat similar to 2010’s A Collapse of Faith, the new record moves the band in a direction that can only be described as melodic dark metal. Acoustic guitars are almost completely eschewed and the focus looks towards heart-wrenching melodies and woeful cascades of sound. Also gone are songs of double-digit length as M. Lehto and company spread their creativity across more tracks, resulting in the most dynamic and varied October Falls release to date. But the folk aesthetics remain in each carefully crafted riff and field recording; neither is overdone or lightly written, giving an unparalleled emotional weight to the album.

Undoubtedly, the cast of guests that appear on the album helped fuel the growth in sound the project has taken. This is the third record featuring Moonsorrow’s Marko Tarvonen on drums and first with Ensiferum’s Sami Hinkka on bass; Tomi Joutsen’s signature clean vocals completes the trifecta of borrowed Finnish talent. While the rhythm section is undeniable hefty, it’s the croonings of the latter that really stand out. Tomi first appears on the album’s title track, interspersing his angelic voice with Lehto’s rasps. But a few tracks later Lehto fully relinquishes control. On ballad-esque “Boiling Heart of the North”, the melody and melancholy grow so strong that that you think Mr. Joutsen had graciously given an unaltered Amorphis track to the release.

I’ve always loosely associated October Falls albums with different seasons, and the newest release sets itself firmly in the Spring. The sorrow and hardships of winter are still present, although fading, as a seed of hope is planted. Change is in the air like rain, damping spirits yet promising new life. On The Plague of a Coming Age, M. Lehto’s roots remain deep and strong but it’s clear his branches are reaching out to new heights.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

March 2, 2013

Rorcal - Világvége

Review by Zamaan Raza.

Rorcal are a doom/drone band from Geneva formed in 2006. Világvége is Hungarian and translates to “the end of the world;” perhaps not a terribly original sentiment for metal band, but its expression is almost flawless. Instead of the desolation of the aftermath, the sheer volume and density of this music evokes the chaos of annihilation.

Their last album, the superb Heliogabalus, was a single intimidating track of sparse, supine doom metal in excess of 70 minutes, strongly reminiscent of Khanate or France’s Monarch. Világvége is a different beast. Whilst Heliogabalus gradually builds momentum like a freight train, Világvége lurches from the languid pace of its predecessor during the first two tracks to an apocalyptically urgency in the third, somehow maintaining its coherence throughout the album. Frenetic, bees-in-a-bucket tremolo riffs are punctuated by gloriously dense blastbeats. All the hallmarks of black metal are here, but the production is doomy with copious low-end, and the drums are front and centre, while the vocalist’s monotone shrieks hint at the band’s hardcore origins.

Rorcal have perhaps been dismissed as one of the glut of Neurosis/Isis-aping post-whatever bands, but with this effort, they deserve your attention

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March 1, 2013

Batillus / Whitehorse Split

The Batillus / Whitehorse Split is another one of those splits that have been, well, split. Each half appearing on Batillus' and Whitehorse's Bandcamp pages respectively, one for free (name your price), the other for $3 AUD.

All three songs are sludgy industrial tinged doom, suffocated by distortion and volume. The Whitehorse track appearing as the abrasive counterpart to Batillus' more sleek persona. Relatively speaking off course, as Valley of Steel warns that on the latter of the two Batillus tracks the combination of deep bass frequencies with crashing cymbals and nearly-inhuman rasped vocals are almost enough to drive the listener to madness.

Musically the split is successful. Whitehorse are solid, Batillus gives us an inkling of what can expect on their new album Concrete Sustain. (Stream one track from that here). The split have been joined below for your convenience, check it out.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]