August 31, 2013

Tribulation - The Formulas of Death

Review by Andy Osborn.

Cover art by Jonathan Hultén

There are a few different types of truly great albums. There’s the ones that initially fly under the radar until dozens of repeat listens reveal their power and significance. There are some that are so ahead of their time that their greatness isn’t realized until years later. And then there are albums that blow you away from the very beginning and you cherish each new second as the recording enters your ears for the first time. This is one of those albums. It’s so good that I’ve been listening to it on a regular basis for six months and have only now been able to put my feelings about it into words. In fact, every time I’ve sat down to write about this record I’ve been so engrossed and distracted by the music that words just seems to escape me.

The relatively dormant Swedes begin their second full-length with the rare instance of an intro track that’s worth listening to. Eschewing ambient noise or the hyper-orchestral build-up, “Vagina Dentata” sounds like a fully realized song sans vocals, plus it has a name that would make any person uncomfortably cross their legs if thought about too much. It sets up the following 70+ minutes flawlessly by presenting the band’s distinct style in an easy to understand burst of energy. One thing to keep in mind is that Tribulation have no qualms about infusing and contorting death metal to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable. This is because the band takes an anything-goes approach to the genre, forging a path in a world rife with maps and pre-defined routes.

The Formulas of Death is anything but. There isn't a single death metal cliche to be found; no gore-obsessed lyrics paired with a guitar tuned to one of the first three letters of the alphabet, and no HM-2 buzzsaw tone or early ‘90s bandwagon hopping. In fact, the simple term Extreme Metal would be the best descriptor to avoid a mass of hyphenated adjectives and subgenre nit-pickery. And Tribulation know the key to extremity lies not in riffs and blasts that scream at the listener to realize how heavy they are, it's rather subtlety and intrigue that draws and holds attention. Destructively catchy riffs are as fleeting as they are numerous as the quintet cycle through a seemingly endless arsenal of head-bangable weaponry.

“Suspiria” is the mid-album, mid-tempo highlight, marking the first time the band has reached into double-digits. It plods through with an impressive groove held up with leads that range from the quietly ominous to bombastically melodic, holding your attention for the next slight turn or sonic deviation. Its almost symmetrical execution shows just why the Arvika natives are such good songwriters; they evolve and add nuance to the song without adding too much experimentation to leave the listener bored. Every song is a highlight in its own way and it’s clear that souls at the very least were signed away to achieve such otherworldly inspiration. Like the first track on the release, the instrumental interludes of the Silent Hill-like “לילה” - Hebrew for “night” - and “Ultra Silvam” aren’t unwelcome and instead add a sense of depth and clarity to the band’s overall mission.

Less thrash-focused than their debut and at more than twice the length, The Formulas of Death is an unusual example of the sophomore self-discovery record that completely transforms a band and launches them to greatness. Its varying styles and nuanced structure provide a hefty dose of vitality into the Swedish death metal scene while launching it into a new era. An era that will be heralded and defined by this release.

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August 30, 2013

Shriner - 2011 demo

Review by Aaron Sullivan.

Hailing from New Jersey comes the Sludgy Post-Metal band known as Shriner. Jersey has a pretty healthy Sludge scene with bands like Sadgiqacea and Ominous Black to name a few. With this demo Shriner are looking to add their name to the mix.

This genre is one that seems to produce a new band every few minutes, so finding one that can separate itself from the pack can be hard. With Shriner it’s not what they do in the heavy department that sets them apart but rather the quiet parts. They don’t mind getting quiet with shimmering guitar parts that seem to sway back and forth. These are atmospheres you can get lost in, hypnotic and beautiful. Then, in comes the heavy to snap you back to reality. Crushing distortion to push your speakers to their limit. Three songs, two clocking in at over 10 minutes (and the third pretty close to ten) they do a great job of always moving the song along. Never shifting gears too abruptly, but also never staying in one place too long. Vocals are harsh but low enough in the mix to not overshadow the music. The production overall is great.

In a genre as over run as Post Metal it is nice to hear a band that gets it right. I see big things happening for Shriner. Or at least as big can get for a band that play’s Metal.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 28, 2013

Hivelords - Cavern Apothecary

Guest review by Chris Grigg.

Artwork by Tim Buckley

Any review that starts from a position of bias but does not acknowledge said bias is misleading, so it needs to be stated that I am a Hivelords fanboy. I produced their Grand Cromlech 7" and was asked to do the same for Cavern Apothecary but my schedule made it impossible. In a way, I am glad; contributing to the recording process makes the final master feel much less magical, makes the sum parts stick out more, makes it feel more personal (which is nice) but removes some of the distance required to be truly awed by a work. This is the case with Cavern Apothecary. I wish I could have worked on it, I am glad I did not; I am in awe.

Photo by Jordan Fogal.

"Awe" is a powerful word. says, "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like." It suggests the union of the emotional and the intellectual; with it comes an implication of mystery, of distance, of otherness. These are things I get from this band and this record. There are many words that get used to describe metal bands, especially of the black or blackened variety: evil, demonic, twisted; but Hivelords manage to pull off something I find more rare: deep, ominous, creeping, oozing, existentially threatening. Their sound suggests a maturity far beyond their years. Most musicians toil for years before they find such a perfect union, but Cavern Apothecary manages it all: vocals that at times direct traffic and otherwise take the traditional extreme metal "sound coloration" position to make room for haunting riffs; solid, perfectly placed in-the-pocket drumming; and the most clever, mature use of bass I have heard on a metal record in years. Look no further than second track "Antenna Manifest" for this to come into plain view. From its huge, ominous opening to the chilling warble of Kevin North's delay-heavy vocals, to the shifting of the melody from guitar to vocals to bass back to vocals, as the song climbs and pounds and pushes forward until all pieces are full of unnatural energy.

Photo by Jordan Fogal.

Hivelords squeeze everything they possibly can out of their material. Their understanding of their craft is a treat, one of the underground's best-kept secrets. They are more HP Lovecraft than Clive Barker and possess a "less-is-more" ethos that most bands never quite understand.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Menace Ruine - Alight In Ashes

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

Artwork by S. de La Moth

As metal becomes increasingly hybridized, with more sub-genres and novel combinations springing up all of the time, discovering something genuinely new becomes increasingly rare. Still, every once in a while something comes along that sounds like nothing else, but itself, and that is certainly the case with experimental Montreal duo Menace Ruine. Their fourth full-length, Alight In Ashes, is their most ambitious to date, employing much cleaner and more sophisticated production than any of their previous efforts. The band's two members (S. de la Moth and Geneviève) have assembled a sound that they can genuinely claim as their own out of a relatively few key parts: muted percussion, complex and droning guitars, and at the forefront of every composition, Geneviève's insistent, haunting voice.

Photos by Pedro Roque.

The layered production is unlike anything I've heard before, with some elements, like the vocals, set in stark relief, while other elements are heavily veiled, as though seen through smoke, as a barbed riff or aching trill of a cello will drift in only to be obscured. They certainly brush against other influences. "Salamandra," for instance, has an eerily psychedelic quality, with hints of folk, occult rock, shoegaze and even a touch of black metal staining the edges of the sound. Menace Ruine certainly don't exist in a vacuum, but though moments of comparison to Nadja or Bloody Panda may come up, in terms of a certain technique or moment, their sound and compositions are entirely their own: fresh, surprising challenging and distressingly beautiful.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 26, 2013

Skeletal Spectre - Voodoo Dawn

Review by Justin C.

Cover art by Adam Geyer

With all the talk of how extreme and brutal metal can be, it's easy to forget that it can actually be fun. Enter Skeletal Spectre, who play straight-up, horror-themed death metal that's heavy as can be but still a blast to listen to.

Voodoo Dawn is the band's third full-length, and the second of which to feature Vanessa Nocera on vocals. Nocera is without question one of my favorite vocalists in metal. Her growls range from low and gravelly all the way up through black metal shrieks, but with enough clarity that the listener can actually make out the words. If you're curious to hear how much she can do with her voice, check out "Bone Dust." Near the end of the track, Nocera makes sounds that would cause the heads of mere mortals to turn inside out. On the final track, "The Flip-Side of Satan," we even get a bit of clean-singing Nocera, doing an evil duet with her own trademark growls. Nocera makes a lot of music that's worth digging into, including doom/death with Wooden Stake and some thrashier offerings with Howling, who's coming out with a new album in October.

Skeletal Spectre is completed by Behold the Pentagram on guitar and bass and Haunting the Beyond on drums. I'm sure they have real, human names, but in the interest of fun, we'll stick with the psuedonyms. Their buzzing guitar riffs and thundering drums bring Entombed to mind, but all you really need to know is that they play a no-frills style of death metal that's well-crafted and downright catchy, but it's done without sacrificing any of the heaviness you need and crave. (And, as a matter of fact, there is a song about ritual sacrifices on this album.) Sometimes you just need to step back from the dense and avant garde, and when I listen to this album, I drive too fast and drum on the steering wheel. What more can you ask for?

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August 23, 2013

Pendulous - Mirrored Confessions

Written by Aaron Sullivan.

Pendulous is a DOOM band from my local scene here in Los Angeles. A band that I have had the pleasure to see a handful of times and am very glad to see they have something they can share with the rest of the world.

The albums opens with a spoken word track called "Disheveled" about depression and loss of self. This helps set the mood for the rest of the tracks that follow. Pendulous play a style of DOOM that is slow and sorrowful. Not as much about riffs as it is about tone and weight. Vocals are interesting mix of Death Metal style vocals and very mournful clean style that reminds one of the vocal work of Warning/40 Watt Sun’s Patrick Walker. The combination of Death DOOM and clean atmospheric parts are well done. Heavy when it is needed while also allowing songs to breathe and resonate with the listener. This again gives a Warning vibe. One much different than the one Pallbearers amazing album Sorrow and Extinction gave us last year. But I think Mirrored Confessions deserves just as much attention.

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August 21, 2013

Winterfylleth - The Threnody of Triumph

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

This is the third full-length from England's Winterfylleth. Recorded with Welsh producer Chris Fielding (who is best known for his work with Primordial and Electric Wizard), The Threnody of Triumph is their most cerebral effort to date. British black metal often has a reputation for being more staid and restrained that either the sour, smouldering disgust that pervades the Scandinavian tradition or the bleak, wild experimentation that has come to characterize the French. Winterfylleth use this structure and hoary dignity to their utmost advantage. The song structures are massive and architectural, almost Victorian in their complexity.

Photo by Jo T.

While Winterfylleth have the market on dour firmly cornered, The Threnody of Triumph also neatly avoids any charges of pomposity or stuffiness via a combination of earnest, gut-twisting emotional authenticity and moments of sparkling, unabashed loveliness, like instrumental interlude "Aeftereild Freon" or the tremulous outro on the title track. At once intellectual and moving, The Threnody of Triumph is a gothic castle of a record that's worth exploring.

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August 20, 2013

Hesperian Death Horse - Mrtav

Review by Majbritt Levinsen.

From the very first skewed notes that emerges out of the calm dark atmosphere I’m caught and drowned. Lured in by the beautiful haunting callings from the depths. I like how the music takes off into new directions, evolves, twists and turns. The sound is nervy, rough, dark, sinister, sad and beautiful all at the same time. The vocal is rough quenched whispers of despair that evolves into full blown frustrating screams. This gives the songs an extra emotional boost and couldn’t be more suited to the purpose of making a truly noteworthy release. I’m lost for words...

Hesperian Death Horse is an experimental, post-metal band from Zagreb, Croatia formed in 2012. The band members are: Dario Orač - guitars/vocals, Domagoj Žunić - bass/vocals, Sven Sorić - guitars/vocals and Ivan Kukuljević - drums. Together they have set out to create music about the psychedelic, nihilistic poetry of everyday stumbling from death to birth and between, and they have, so far, done this very well.

Mrtav (Croatian for Death) is the first release of a planned trilogy covering the 3 stages of the human life cycle Birth, Life and Death in reverse order.
[...]Despite our different languages, cultures, ideals, beliefs, and values, we all birthed into this world, live our lives, then die. It is that simple and thus, we are all equal. We want this music to convey one’s internal vision of what happens during the last moments, be it minutes, hours, or days, of our life.
Sven Soric, guitarist of HDH (Source: Play the Assassin).
And I have to mention the lyrics! They are very special, thought provocative, elusive and up for interpretation.
It burns my halo to ashes that you're so misguided.
Elders…they feed on the young ones.
Masticating thyroid, covering in black robes to unveil the muck.
The silence roars with plagiaristic monuments.
Crown yourselves in the sewers of misbelief.
Embrace His left hand path to digest.
I'm laying. Now lay your hands on me.
Circulate through me. Disgrace me.
From “Morte (Part 4:Oltar)”
I like this concept and am very much looking forward to the following releases. Hopefully by the end of the year I will have a new Hesperian Death Horse album to listen to, this time covering life! In the meantime I will dim the lights, sit back comfortably and enjoy this journey into the final stages of life: death.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 18, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XIII - Che, Candlewolff ov Thee Golden Chalice, Cro-Monolithic Remixes for an Iron Age, and compilation appearances.

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band has explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

Thanks, from the bottom of my rotting little heart, for following this Monoliths and Opinions project. This post is the last in the series, at least until Sunn O))) put another thundering work on Bandcamp. Cheers to, (L) LORD <------(((O)))------>SOMA (R), and their numerous collaborators, for crafting the abundant victuals to review in the first place, and thanks, of course, to Metal Bandcamp's overlord Max, for indulging my (((drone))) obsession.

Photo by Metal Chris.

As much as you could argue that without drone architect Earth there would be no Sunn O))), you could also construct a pretty solid argument to say that without the avant-garde sound experiments of New York legends Suicide in the 1970s the world of droning and dissonant guitars and electronics would be a far more timid place. In 2008, label Blast First commissioned a series of 10" EPs to celebrate the 70th birthday of Suicide vocalist and no-wave hero, Alan Vega, and Sunn O)))'s contribution to that series saw the band collaborating with Finnish experimental electronic duo Pan Sonic on, "Che". The track sees Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson bring warmer, albeit still intimidating, riffs to the table. Wrapping those in Hammond and Moog, and adding in deep vocals from Joe Preston, and splintery electronics from Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio, there's a fitting sense of eccentricity and awe to "Che". It's six moody and textured minutes of buzzing and psych-fuelled grimness, all dipped in due reverence.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

As far as revered goes, British DJ John Peel was a hugely respected figure in music history too. A longtime supporter of adventurous music across the genres, Peel's BBC Radio 1 Sessions were famed for their importance in promoting non-mainstream bands. Peel was a huge fan of metal, putting Napalm Death on his show from the beginning of their career and, of course, he was a big fan of Sunn O))) as well. Peel died suddenly in October 2004, and Sunn O)))'s "Candlewolff ov Thee Golden Chalice" was recorded the following December – having been commissioned before Peel's passing. The 19-minute track begins gently enough, for a song from Sunn O)))'s universe, with the ebb and flow of subterranean riffing clawing its way to the surface. Moog and harmonium intertwine with the lava flow riffs later on, and a tamboura jangles away like a dark wind blowing through the wreckage of a temple. There's no doubt Peel would have heartily approved of the slow creeping tempo of "Candlewolff ov Thee Golden Chalice"

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunn O)))'s oeuvre is, obviously, primed for remixing. There's a lot of time, space, and caverns to explore and rebore, and that was resoundingly proven with the magnificent feast that Nurse With Wound provided on The Iron Soul of Nothing. Famed producer, mixer and mastering wizard James Plotkin – one of O'Malley's co-conspirators in the sadly departed colossus Khanate – leant his remixing skills to the band on single remix track, "Veils it White". Utilizing material from Sunn O)))'s Flight of the Behemoth recording sessions, Plotkin sculpted a lengthy, rumbling slab of minimalism and injected it with piercing pitches, stark piano, and industrial clangs – all twisted around feedback and nose-bleeding frequencies. Similarly to Nurse With Wound's remix ventures, Plotkin took the familiarly Sunn O))) into unfamiliar and fascinating territory.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

As well as being remixed, Sunn O))) have also played the role of remixer, and Cro-Monolithic Remixes for an Iron Age sees the band remixing a track each from Earth and Japanese noise legend Merzbow. The bare bones of the Earth remix, "Rule The Divine (Mysteria Caelestis Mugivi)" were taken from the original multitrack tapes of Earth's 1993 album, Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version – which is, of course, the womb from which all metallic drone was born. The track can also be found on Legacy Of Dissolution, an album well worth seeking out, containing more Earth remixes from the likes of Mogwai, Justin Broadrick and Autechre.

Photo by Metal Chris.

"Rule The Divine (Mysteria Caelestis Mugivi)" was clearly a joy for O'Malley and Anderson to lay their hands on. The way in which they revel in amplifying the elongated passages of harsh scrapes and scratches brings more Stygian gloom to the track, and a hollowed-out midsection sees Carlson's guitar return for a powerful, reeling finish. In Merzbow's case, Sunn O))) remix the Japanese digital devastator's track, "Frog"– retitling it in the process to, "Catch 22 (Surrender Or Die)". O'Malley and Anderson burying the glitch and squalls in the back streets of a sci-fi nightmare, with the digital maelstrom burnished somewhat by a singular deep note that brings a prolonged undercurrent of doom to the fore.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Finishing up this Sunn O))) collection are two compilation tracks lurking on the band's Bandcamp page. "Isengard (chopped and screwed)" comes from the, Does Your Cat Know My Dog, compilation, and recorded live, the track is a grungy and grunty kick in the stomach, followed by another to the teeth. However, "BP//Simple", taken from the Jukebox Buddha compilation, sees the band toying with the possibilities of the Buddha Machine loop device to magnificent effect. The little heard track is actually one of Sunn O)))'s most beautiful, and it certainly deserves more attention. It's 10-minutes of sacramental hum and thrum, with chants carried on a circuitous, warm and fuzzy drone; very spiritual, very deep, and very... O)))hmmmm.

Maximum volume yields maximum results.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Photo by Metal Chris.

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

August 14, 2013

The Howling Wind - Vortex

Review by Andy Osborn.

The cross-continental duo of Ryan Lipynsky and Tim Call have been making albums as The Howling Wind since 2007. A Profound Lore staple since the label was just a fledgling, they have seen three of their full-lengths released under the banner. So it was quite the surprise to wake up one morning and see a new Howling Wind album unleashed upon the world, put forth independently barely a year after their previous effort. Ryan, who supplies the vocals and guitars, had this to say about the unexpected release:
Originally it was going to possibly be a vinyl EP for a label. But as we kept writing and started recording we decided that since it was something we were recording entirely on our own without a budget, that it might be cool to self-release this one. Almost as an experiment.
Listening to the pair’s fourth album together, it’s clear that there’s a reason they have kept the band’s roster to just themselves. Having no plans to ever play in front of an audience, they live and thrive in the songwriting and recording process. Blending their respective genre backgrounds while giving an equal amount of attention to sounds both familiar and freakish, The Howling Wind reach amazing heights on Vortex. The album progresses like a story arc, building and gaining momentum before exploding at an apex: “Dissonance in the Atmosphere.” A perfect track title for the band as their knack for balancing atmosphere, melody and chaos spews forth relentlessly. Its augmented chords and off-kilter riffing flow effortlessly, resulting in a dynamic that's jarring as well as calming - a perfect final storm before the album begins its descent.

Mid-tempo BM is one of the most unforgiving permutations as it can expose and highlight that weak transition or the sparse verse that hasn't been fully fleshed out. But the two craftsmen switch things up just enough to keep things interesting without succumbing to the overtly weird or numbingly simplistic. Song structures are there if you look for them and occasionally a guitar solo will even slip through the din. Lipynsky’s knack for matching his vocal rhythms to the guitar lines is unique in this typically frog-throated underworld and the whole production is as well-rounded as you can get from an extreme metal record.

The unorthodox release of Vortex made me approach how I digested the album in a completely different manner. When a band I know and admire announces an album I tend to follow the marketing of it; mentally preparing myself as I take in the album art, track listing, an early stream of a song and finally taking a refresher on the band’s back catalogue to see what progressions will be made, if any. Delving into a new album free of PR bombardments and false hype was a refreshing experience, made only more rewarding by The Howling Wind’s refined yet insane brand of black metal.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 13, 2013

Atriarch - Ritual Of Passing

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

Artwork by Stevie Floyd.

Note: The review was written in 2012.

Portland, OR-based, doom-soaked, gothic death rock-drenched outfit Atriarch have had a dizzyingly prolific year. Their debut album, Forever the End, was released in 2011 and introduced their sound by painting a stark, spiky musical landscape. Earlier this year, their split with Alaric added breadth and depth, exploring the more emotive caverns and crevasses of the doom spectrum. Now, with sophomore effort The Ritual of Passing, Atriarch have tightened the seams between their various influences.

Photos by brandi.

The blackened quality of the guitar is no longer merely freezer-burnt in its chilliness, but genuinely hypothermic, spreading across the record organically like tendrils of hoarfrost. For all their noisy squall, Atriarch also masterfully deploy a much more controlled low end, a deep and rhythmic drone that evokes a sense of ritual and gravitas. It's the atmosphere of The Ritual of Passing that makes the record excellent, from the beckoning, creepy ominousness of "Altars" that sounds both like an invitation and a threat to the stalking, seductive horror of the outro. Atriarch have evolved from a promising band to watch to an act that have our undivided attention.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Pine Barrens - Kingmaker

Artwork by Steve Larder

Pine Barrens - Kingmaker. You know about punkish black metal right? This is more the other way around: black metal infused punk. Add crust, hardcore, grind, even a little doom, and you end up with a band not entirely unlike the genre-benders you find on the Southern Lord roster. Pine Barrens certainly knows the power of the riff too, check out "Nerves" from 2:05 onwards - and appreciate this solid advice:
And out there somewhere someone is keeping tabs,
so look at yourself and clean yourself up.
Most of the the songs are intense and catchy bursts of energy. The playing is extremely effective; so effective that you may not notice that it is also detailed and technically proficient. Pine Barrens are not afraid to inject a little complexity here and there, without going all mathy on us.

What will make your ears stand up are the last two songs "Binary" and "Solitude (My Love)". "Solitude" is a kind of progressive doom punk epic, which doesn't make any sense on paper, but absolutely does when you hear it. "Binary" has one of the nicest (and most surprising) song restarts I have ever heard. I won't spoil it for you, just urge you to click the player below, and check out Kingmaker for yourself.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 12, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XII - The Rehearsal Demo, Oracle, and Angel Coma.

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band has explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

We're nearing the end of this Monoliths and Opinions project; in fact, you're reading the penultimate post right now. So far, we've covered Sunn O)))'s full-lengths, live albums, and a few collaborations, and from here on in we're picking up splits, singles, and a few one-off releases. 

The Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 is, as the title suggests, a stripped down release. Recorded in Los Angles, mixed in Paris, and mastered by Audiosiege studio extraordinaire, Brad Boatright you can expect plenty of organ-liquifying heft and heave. Originally available on Sunn O)))'s 2012 European and US East Coast tour dates, Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 contains three raw, rumbling and reverb soaked drones, with samples added on from Russian director Konstantin Lopshansky's post-apocalyptic film, Posetitel Muzeya. "Holy Water", "Peacock Angel" and "Power Nurse" are all, as you'd expect from a rehearsal, lengthy chest-crushing dirges where Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson wrangle the riffs and wrestle with the feedback and distortion to search for points worth further exploring. Very much in keeping with Sunn O)))'s earliest work – and thereby evoking Lopshansky's vision of a broken world very well – the Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 is fittingly bleak and dispiriting. 

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunn O)))'s work has always sat right at the nexus between mind-obliterating, doom-drenched chaos and avant-garde artistry. As a result, the band's unorthodox craftsmanship has appealed to many in the contemporary art world, and that appreciation is best represented by Sunn O)))'s 2007, three-song EP, Oracle. Born from a collaboration with New York-based sculptor Banks Violette – who cast Sunn O)))'s backline and instrumentation in resin and salt for an exhibition at London's Maureen Paley Gallery in 2006 – Sunn O))) provided the song "Orakulum" to soundtrack the presentation. The aim of the exhibit was to evoke feelings of absence, loss and a, "phantom of what once was", and there's no doubt the tectonic reverberations and slow, sinister slides up the fret-board on "Orakulum" do just that. 

Giant molten chords grind inexorably forward on "Orakulum", and mixed with Attila Cishar's gargles and growls, it must have sounded intensely powerful, and equally discomforting, in the enclosed space of a gallery performance. Also included on Oracle is the eccentric horror/doom of "Belülről Pusztít", which sees Cishar's demonic vocals echoed by Predator-like clicks and rattles, Joe Preston wielding an actual jackhammer, and the rest of the band clanging and crashing like a collapsing factory in the background. Final track, "Helio)))sophist", is an album unto itself. It features a collage of recordings taken from the band's European tour in July 2005, and accordingly, it's 46 demented minutes of trawling, crawling, and bone-rattling cacophonies.  

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Of course, all that bone-rattle had to come from somewhere, and as Sunn O))) has always made explicitly clear, the band has been hugely inspired by the godfather of dirge and drone, Earth. Sunn O))) have paid that debt back in numerous ways, collaborating with Earth founder Dylan Carlson and, of course, O'Malley and Anderson's famed label Southern Lord helped rejuvenate Earth's career.  Angel Coma is a split release from both bands, sold on their European tour in 2006, and on Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp page, you'll find their contribution to the split represented by, "Coma Mirror" and "Coma Mirror (no vocals). 

The track might come as a surprise for anyone expecting Sunn O))) to tip their hat to Earth and provide something akin to Carlson's current (and wholly magnificent) dusty and psychedelic drone. Instead, "Coma Mirror" is 13-minutes of ear-piercing and delightfully disagreeable blackened noise, with power-electronics provided by noise combatant John Wiese, and wraithlike vocals from the abyss courtesy of Xasthur. "Coma Mirror" builds and builds, with thunderous, gnarled and pestilential layers heaped atop denser choke-holds of noise, till it all becomes one cyclonic, head-fuck entanglement of overloaded, pulverized and distorted riffs and electronics. It's a great track, one of the most impenetrable and, in turn, fascinating tracks that Sunn O))) have produced – having much in common with experimental dark noise/metal band's like Locrian or Gog . With Angel Coma originally released on very limited, and now exceedingly rare, vinyl, it's well worth your time to pick "Coma Mirror" up. 

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

August 11, 2013

Rotorvator - I Vivi E I Mort

Review by Craig Hayes.

I Vivi E I Mort, the debut full-length from Italian band Rotorvator, contains equal amounts of psychotic circuitry slaughter, grinding gears of industrial noise, and lo-fi black metal. The album plummets into a fittingly pitch-black and apocalyptic abyss filled with mechanical dissonance, demonic vocals, and hypothermic riffing that revels in annihilation. No surprise then to find I Vivi E I Mort is released by the always fascinating purveyor of humanity's demise, label Crucial Blast. 

Superbly packaged in a DVD case with ten additional artworks, I Vivi E I Mort is a nerve-shredding listening experience, keeping thematic and sonic company with recent – and equally intense – releases from the Crucial Blast from the likes of Actuary and Mors Sonat. Like the bulk of the label's roster, Rotorvator's aim is to make a noise inspired by catastrophic disharmony, and while those goals are definitely met on I Vivi E I Mort, what the album captures best is the sound of humanity on the point of collapse. 

I Vivi E I Mort uses a jagged-edged audio drill to attack society with the clinical ferocity of homicidal machinery brought to life. Clanging metallic soundscapes are bombarded by manipulated distortion, and raw industrial metal and black metal's sinister hiss claw through blistering waves of martial percussion and doom electronics on tracks like, "I Morti", "Domenica" and "Facing West". All tracks on I Vivi E I Mort are awash in corrosive vortexes, where spectral atmospherics meet mechanical murderousness, and the album's acidity strips away the skin, while crushing the spirit. 

If you can imagine Gnaw Their Tongues, Utarm, and Thorns simultaneously peaking on a nightmarish hallucinatory experience, then that's a good summation of the visions being conjured throughout the album. Eerie psychedelic ambience, and that aforementioned lo-fi and frosty black metal, combine to bring plenty of seething sinisterness to proceedings. However, it's the sheer dementedness of I Vivi E I Mort that's the album's best feature; and "Humming Bones" sounds like Rotorvator having all the barbarity of the world injected into its third eye through a large bore contaminated needle, while covering early Depeche Mode, Ivs Primae Noctis, and Blut Aus Nord at the same time. 

There's also skewed darkwave, trip-hop, breakbeats, loops and buckled synth to be found strewn throughout the album. All is mangled and mutated into a funeral march for the world, (particularly on tracks such as, "L'Eternita" and "In Limine"), which ensures I Vivi E I Mort sounds eccentric and evil, but most of all, subversive. The album's black metal nucleus is surrounded by dispiriting electronic mayhem, negating any notion of advancement through technology. I Vivi E I Mort sounds exactly like it was constructed in a deep underground bunker, where news channels and horror-porn are played on a fast-forwarding continuous loop, for extra end of the world inspiration. The album shoves serrated synth, brittle riffs, and blackened and abrasive noise right down the throat, leaving you choking on modernity's death rattle. 

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August 9, 2013

Close The Hatch / Idiedtrying - Split

Review by Aaron Sullivan.

Today I check out a split from Red Moth Records that has a band I am familiar with, Close The Hatch, and one that I am only now discovering in Idiedtrying. While the bands do share some commonalities each makes their own statement.

First with Close the Hatch. I reviewed their Dual Volumes album last year. They are a Post-Metal band adding flavors of Shoegaze and Ambient. The two songs on this split continue with that formula. Throaty vocals over sludgy guitars open the first song before it gets lost within a beautifully hypnotic midsection and then shifting into heavy chugging guitar ending. Song two opens with a piano and goes into what is almost a poppy sound with clean vocals over the top. This song really shows off their quieter side and how well they can create beautiful melodies and atmosphere. Just more great stuff from a band I have come to expect great things from.

And then there is Idiedtrying. Where to begin? Only one song, but one that is 13 minutes in length it feels like a tale of two songs in one. It opens with a very chaotic and claustrophobic harshness that reminds me of Today is the Day (which is a good thing). Going from Grind to Sludge in no time flat and with no warning. Adding things like movie clips and strange sounds to create more of that uneasy feeling. Then somewhere around the 8 minute mark it shifts into a straight up Atmospheric Sludge song.

The commonality these two bands share is that neither is content with simply staying in the same place for an entire song. They shift gears more than a driver in any of the Fast and Furious movies. Keeping the listener engaged and wondering where the song will take them next. I’m glad to see Close the Hatch continuing strong and also glad to have been introduced to another exciting band in Idiedtrying.

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August 8, 2013

Sleepers Awake - Transcension

Review by Justin C.

Artwork by Douglas Fordyce.

Sleepers Awake served as a good reminder for me: listen first, read later. When you're going through a lot of bands for the next thing that might strike your fancy, it's easy to be swayed by the "recommended if you like" references you get from reviews or self-descriptions. Sleepers Awake has a lot of positive press (as it turns out, deservedly so), but the names of bands they're compared to contained a couple of bands that I flat out don't like. (I'll be polite and not say which ones.) One oft-mentioned band is Tool, who I love, but using them as a RIYL can still be deadly. Bands that are declared to be "the new XYZ," when XYZ is an iconic and unique band, often end up being pale imitations. Think of every awful band that was proclaimed to be the new Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, only to go nowhere because their heroes were their whole musical world and they had nothing fresh to offer.

When I listened to the first track of Sleepers Awake's album Transcension, I admit it: I thought, "Oh great, they want to be Tool." Chris Thompson has clearly been influenced by Maynard James Keenan, although I think one of Keenan's other projects, A Perfect Circle, is a better comparison, because Sleepers Awake has a lusher sound than the brilliant minimalism of Tool. If I'd turned it off then, though, I would have missed out, because they're not trying to be Tool, or A Perfect Circle, or any other band I could name. You could make a case for how each of their influences comes into play, but in the end, their version of proggy metal is uniquely their own.

Sleepers Awake isn't as heavy as most bands we review on this site. They use some growling vocals, but for the most part, Thompson sticks to his clean voice. Luckily, it's a very good voice, and he uses genuine emoting instead of the over-the-top theatrics that you get from some prog bands. Everyone in the band is very skilled and very restrained in a similar way. Yes, this album is a 70-minute-long concept album about augurs, who were priests in the Roman era who were charged with interpreting the gods' wills, but the length feels right, and the esoteric content never threatens to overwhelm the music. The songs have a natural flow to them, and at their edges, they blend together into a whole. Saying that songs blend together is often an insult, but in this case, it's a result of stellar song craft. It also doesn't hurt that the guitar riffs and solos from Thompson and Rob Bradley are tasteful and melodic, that Kedar Hiremath knows when the bass can step out with a flourish and when it should be a rhythm instrument, and that Chris Burnsides' drums are tight as can be.

I don't know that much about the history or lore of augurs, but I still find myself singing along to these songs anyway. Who is the "chosen rival" they sing about in "Burdened"? It doesn't matter--I still shout along with the words when I'm listening to this in the car. With song titles like "Burdened" and "Saints Condemned," you can get the general sense that the character of "The Augur" is going to face some ups and downs. But even without spelled-out details or a degree in mythology, you can follow the emotional arc, and you can't ask for much more than that. Music has to resonate regardless of lyrical content, and Sleepers Awake achieve that with aplomb.

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August 7, 2013

Fight Amp - Birth Control

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

Artwork by Dan Smith

New Jersey pugilists Fight Amp are in their eighth year of writing and performing metallic, punk-influenced noise rock. Their third full-length offering, Birth Control, is somewhat of a concept album that follows the narrative of an apocalyptic bildungsroman, as the main characters struggle through life, from adolescence 'til death, contending with social evils and the end of the world.

With that story arc in mind, the record doesn't sound as heavy as you would expect. The drumming is nimble and heavy on the cymbals, evoking bottles breaking one moment and ice floes cracking apart the next. The bass lines bring most of the weight and a sludgy texture to the mix, whereas the guitars often break off, swarm and fracture, attacking the listener like an angry cloud of bees convinced you just took a bat to their hive. The vocals have a wailing quality, channelling more disappointment than rage, a tribute to that peculiar, contemporary, defeatist mindset that combines defiance with complete cynicism.

"Should've Worn Black" is an album highlight, with the most texture and meat to the sound, the grooviest rhythms. All taught muscle and frustrated energy, Birth Control is a lean engine chugging inexorably towards hopelessness.

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August 6, 2013

Uneven Structure - 8

Review by Majbritt Levinsen.

Atmospheric post-apocalyptic organized chaos with a tilted limping groove. What can I say? I like it! Intriguing, playful structures and a massive sound, that will keep your ears busy. This is progressive djent-ish metal with a groove and a nice ambience. Djent can be hard and demanding/tiring to listen to, but Uneven Structure isn’t really djent, they are something more. It is distorted and fractured but all of the elements are headed in the same direction: forward and upwards!

They manage to add enough soft breaks and variation to the otherwise demanding syncopated, polyrhythmic, off-beat, drive of the bass, guitars and drums to ease the listening experience. Extremely skillful playing as well as the songwriting and a crystal clear production all makes this a complete package. The vocal range also impress me, as it goes from rough harsh roars to fine-tuned clean singing.

Dive down in the layers and let yourself be engulfed in the maelstrom that is 8.

Uneven Structure resides in France and consist of: Jérôme Colombelli - Guitars, Benoit Friedrich - Bass, Igor Omodei - Guitars, Aurélien Pereira - Guitars, Matthieu Romarin - Vocals and Jean Ferry - Drums

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August 5, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XI - Sunn O))) Live (Collected).

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band has explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

Photography by Koen Jacobs

You could probably make a case that you have to see Sunn O))) live to truly appreciate the band's power. You can put an album on, follow Sunn O)))'s instructions to the letter ("Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results") and you'll feel the abundant weight and density of its sound. However, that's never going to replace standing in front of a gigantic stack of amplifiers as Sunn O))) blasts out seven shades of sub-harmonic hell as you gaze dazzled at hooded figures prowling around on a smoke-filled stage.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The problem is, many Sunn O))) fans have never seen the band live – myself included. So, live recordings and an inordinate amount of time spent on YouTube has to slate our thirst for the full experience. However, that isn't a tragic tale per se. If you're seeking the recorded Sunn O))) live experience, one of the benefits of the online world is that you've got multiple choices of multiple line-ups in multiple venues at your fingertips, and that's certainly the case when it comes to the live releases collected on Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp page.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

If you want to listen to Attila Csihar's distinctive vocal stylings, or hear a fuller band line-up, you can indulge in the fantastic liturgical overload of Dømkirke, or try LXNDXN Subcamden Underworld Hallo'Ween 2003 – which includes the 49 soul-crushing minutes of "The Libations of Samhain". Solstitium Fulminate contains two tracks recorded live in 2005, and was originally included on the first 2000 copies of the double CD version of Black One.The release sees Csihar, Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson joined by Oren Ambarchi on guitars and electronics, and Tos Nieuwenhuizen on synth, and the band tear a ragged hole into other dimensions with the gloriously abrasive "Wine & Fog" and "Vlad Tepes"– Csihar chanting, growling and gargling with all his diabolic glee.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Agharti Live 09–10 comes highly recommended too. Recorded at the tail end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, Agharti Live 09–10 sees Monoliths and Dimensions ripped up by O'Malley, Anderson, and Csihar and disgorged in a new form – with songs stretched, reinterpreted and retitled. "Descent/Ascent" and "A/Interior I/Eye" offer two magnificent and mammoth drones orbiting 20 minutes in length, with Randall Dunn's front-of-house recording perfectly capturing all the mind-obliterating fuzz and churning, frequency ferocity.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

While many associate Csihar as being the Sunn O))) vocalist of choice, he's not the only noted black metal howler to have played live with the band. La Mort Noir Dans Exch/ Alzette, recorded in Luxembourg in 2006, features Malefic (Xasthur) out front, joining the usual gruesome twosome of O'Malley and Anderson, and additional noise-makers Dylan Carlson (Earth) on guitars, Tos Nieuwenhuizen on Moog, and Steve Moore on trombone. La Mort Noir Dans Exch/ Alzette also sees Randall Dunn occupying the live sound engineer role again, and accordingly, tracks such as "Hallow-Cave", "Reptile Lux", and the 22-minute lurching onslaught of "CandleGoat/Bathori" are bleeding-raw bruisers; exactly the kind of monoliths of trudge and trample you'd imagine them to be.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

If Sunn O))) as a trio sounds good, then Live White is definitely worth your time too. Joining O'Malley and Anderson on the release is Rex Ritter. And, as is par for the course with Sunn O))) live, the band transforms its recorded works by twisting the roots of tracks from Flight of the Behemoth, OO Void, White1 and White2, and striking them all with a slowly swung sledgehammer of sludge, doom, feedback and distortion. The 17-minute dirge of "Funerældrone // Funerælmarch (To the Grave)" – dedicated to Thorns' Snorre Ruch – is alone worth purchasing Live White for.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

If Sunn O))) as a trio seems excessive, then GrimmRobes Live 101008 – recorded at the Regent Theatre in Los Angles in 2008 – captures the power-house duo of O'Malley and Anderson celebrating the GrimmRobes 10th anniversary concert. Originally issued as an extremely limited tour release, the 90-minute-plus set is, as you'd expect, tyrannosaurus drone drowning in a tar pit – skull-splittingly brutal and all the more beautiful because of it – and The GrimmRobe Demos are also celebrated on Live at Primavera Sound Festival 2009 on WFMU. The famed demo (tracked here as "I | II | III") is performed in lumbering, crushing, and emotionally devastating style in front of an audience of 6,000 in Barcelona – no doubt setting a record for the number of minds Sunn O))) can melt in one sitting.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

In all, Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp live selection provides abundant evidence that the band is always mesmerizing in concert. Some might suggest that a live recording is nowhere close to the in-person live experience, but until the band hits your town, there's more than enough potent and pulverizing fare here.

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

August 4, 2013

Theoria - Mantra

Guest review by BreadGod from Servile Insurrection

The Servile Insurrection blog just reached 100,000 views. BreadGod digs deep into the metal underground. Obscure demos by long defunct bands are trashed on a regular basis, but there are also great finds in the Bandcamp (and ReverbNation) roundups, reviews of newer albums, and plenty of idiosyncratic stuff. We have featured a few reviews by the proprietor before, today we celebrate the milestone by running two more. According to BreadGod both albums "have easily earned spots in my best albums of 2013 list."

Cover artwork by OKKVTE.

Syria is an absolute mess right now. There are far too many details to go into, so to keep it simple, let's just say the scene's not pretty. Despite all this carnage, two intrepid men have found the time to create dark, blasphemous black metal. They call themselves Theoria, and Mantra is their debut. First of all, you gotta have some serious balls to be producing metal in the middle east, especially if it's black metal. Second, when I went onto their Bandcamp page, the slogan on their page banner read, “Every man is but a galaxy unto himself.” This quote sends an individualist message and stands in direct opposition to the original collectivist quote from John Donne, “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” I'm loving these Syrians already.

Despite being made in a war zone, the production quality is amazing. The distortion has that classic Norwegian fog aspect to it, and the music just exudes a powerful atmosphere. The drum performance feels and sounds raw. They let loose a torrent of stripped-down blast beats and rapid double bass that create swirling mayhem. The guitar performance is equally raw. They mainly utilize rapid tremolo riffs and cloudy, distorted riffs that sound like a swarm of hornets. Some of the riffs are slow and depressive, such as on “The Chime of Lifeless Matter”. For some strange reason, they remind me of Grimlair. They also play these dark clean guitars that give the music a dissonant, Deathspell Omega-type feel. There are even times when they'll play thrashing rhythms. Some of the riffs on “Inner Tempests” remind me of Metallica.

The vocals consist of a hoarse, gremlin-like rasp. Normally, I don't like this type of vocal performance, but I think they make sense in this context as they help give the music an unearthly feel. Speaking of which, the keyboards also help to reinforce this atmosphere. Sometimes they create an interstellar environment, such as on the song “Theoria”. Other times they play these passages that give the music a mysterious desert feel.

Many black metal bands glorify war, death, and destruction, but they have never experienced it. They don't understand the true gravity of those subjects. These Syrians know. The emotions they display on this album are genuine. This is one of the most enchanting displays of raw black metal I've heard in a long time. It's dark, it's dreary, it's gloomy, but it also has a wondrous mystique to it, something that few white men could hope to produce. This album is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp, so go on there and pledge your support.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Vallendusk - Black Clouds Gathering

By BreadGod. I remember reviewing Vallendusk's self-titled EP last year and I loved it. Ever since then I've been eagerly awaiting the day when they would release some more stuff. At last, that day has come. Their full-length debut
By BreadGod.

Artwork by Yudha Lesmana.

I remember reviewing Vallendusk's self-titled EP last year and I loved it. Ever since then I've been eagerly awaiting the day when they would release some more stuff. At last, that day has come. Their full-length debut, Black Clouds Gathering, has just been released by that fantastic purveyor of obscure oriental delights, Pest Productions.

The members of Vallendusk have either saved up a lot of money or they have friends in high places, because the production on this album is superb. The sound is clear and warm and all the instruments shine through with ease. Whereas most other atmospheric black metal bands stick to mid-paced rhythms, the drums here like to play fast and hard, with constant blast beats and double bass crashing down upon you like torrential rain. However, there are those times when they play simpler post-rock beats to keep things from getting repetitive. The vocals consist of a rasp that reminds me of Skagos, Oskoreien, and other similar bands. Pretty standard but still well-performed.

As with most other Indonesian acts, the best part is the guitar work. Unlike most other black metal bands, the tone Vallendusk uses is warm and resonating, a trait which can best be heard on songs like “To Wander and Beyond” and “Into the Mist”. The rapid tremolo riffs they play exhibit melodies that help to create an environment that is grand and epic in its scale. This wondrous and expansive feel can best be seen on songs like “Among the Giants” and the thirteen minute long epic “Land of the Lurking Twilight”. Some of these melodic riffs can be downright catchy, as can be heard on “Realms of the Elder”. They throw in lots of different influences ranging from post-rock to Norwegian black metal to create a guitar sound that is fresh and unique while still familiar and pleasing to the ears. Not only that, but they also play plenty of acoustic guitars to add a bit of variety and break up the pace.

Vallendusk easily exceeded my expectations. They created something that boasts amazing and powerful production, superb and relentless drums, and wondrous guitar work. This album proves that the Indonesian metal scene is getting larger and more vibrant with every passing day. Not only can the Indonesians produce great death metal, they can also produce great black metal.

August 2, 2013

Byzantine - Byzantine

Review by Justin C.

Cover art by David Friedmann.

Byzantine is a bit tough to pin down in terms of genre. I was going to describe them as "West Virginia metal," but I realized that might not mean a lot to people who didn't grow up in that particular area of the U.S. (I was born and raised in western Pennsylvania.) The band describes themselves as "underground progressive groove metallers," which is probably as good a description as any for a band that pulls together so many sounds and influences.

For those unfamiliar with the band, they put out three very well-received full-lengths in the mid-2000s before going their separate ways shortly after Oblivion Beckons came out in 2008. Luckily for us, they returned in 2013 and launched a successful Kickstarter program to fund their latest self-titled album. (Full disclosure: I was one of their backers. One of my rewards was a painstaking transcription of all the guitar parts, so watch for my upcoming, not-at-all-anticipated classical guitar arrangement of the track "Efficacy.") We all know that coming back from a gap like that is a dicey proposition--not everybody can make a comeback like Alice in Chains has. But Byzantine pulls it off, and I think their new one is probably their best work.

There really aren't very many bands out there with a sound as unique as Byzantine's. You'll hear modern thrash, the pummeling of Pantera, the melodicism of Judas Priest, and even some full-on jazz bits. As usual, writing out a list of bits like this can make a band sound like an incoherent mess, but I wouldn't be talking about them if that were the case. They blend all of this into their own unique sound, and the album is filled with 5-minute tracks that feel tight and expansive at same time. Chris Ojeda sounds like he was four or five singers trapped inside his body, summoning them at will. Take "Efficacy," which is one of my favorites. After an acoustic intro that builds into a thrashy groove, Ojeda alternates lower, death metal-like growls with higher screams that flirt with black metal, and after a quieter interlude, you also get to hear his melodic cleans.

The guitars are fantastically orchestrated, and I mean "orchestrated" literally. They're complex and multi-layered, and although the technical abilities are evident, they never devolve into wankery. The riffs are memorable, and the guitar solos are some of the best I've heard on any metal or rock release in a while. Instead of falling into the trap of throwing down crazy displays of skill with no connection to the song, the solos are musically well thought out and integral to the songs. There's even an awesome jazz interlude in "Signal Path" that has some Wes Montgomery-inspired octave lines. It takes a pretty deep skill set to pull this kind of thing off. I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't also mention the bass and drums, which make a crazy-tight rhythm foundation for all of this.

Byzantine is one of those bands that I just won't shut up about. I'd happily wander the streets of Boston wearing a sandwich-board with their name on it. Everyone interested in modern metal should check these guys out. Two of their previous albums are also available on Bandcamp, and you should buy those, too. And go to see them whenever they play. And buy them beers.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]