May 31, 2014

Hoth - Oathbreaker

By Matt Hinch. I talked to Yob frontman Mike Scheidt once. (OK, twice. But the second time was only for a minute or so.) We didn't even talk about Yob, or even metal really. We talked about our kids and parenting them. It was obvious to me that, as any decent parent should, Mike loves his kids.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Dusty Peterson

You name your band Hoth. That's from Star Wars. Okay, you've got my attention. Melodic black metal you say? I'm listening. Hard.

Hoth is the product of the Seattle duo of David Dees and Eric Peters. This second album of dedication to the ultimate in nerdery is flat out fantastic. Even without the concept behind the lyrics, Oathbreaker still ranks among my favourite releases of 2014's first half.

Sonically speaking, Oathbreaker takes a black metal core and fuses elements of symphonic metal, power metal and folk metal - three of my least favourite metals - but do it with such skill and earnestness that it's easy to become completely enamored with it. It's definitely a plus that there isn't even the slightest whiff of cheese.

Hoth know how to work the icy atmosphere angle. Their black metal chills to the bone and is enhanced by absolutely frigid yet expansively epic melodies. Faster than light rhythms and gorgeous acoustics combine with rancorous screams and mind-boggling percussion over nearly an hour of intensely dramatic music. Their combination of second wave bleakness, Primordial grandeur and Eluvietie folkiness is no mind trick.

They can really set the tone with beautiful acoustics and piano sections, pulverize with a fierce thrash attack a la Skeletonwitch, and pull a fair ambiance out of the ether. It's the way they are able to seamlessly stitch together such disparate aspects into a cohesive and catchy whole that makes Oathbreaker so stunning.

So now that we know Hoth can craft epic soundscapes of Euro-flavoured epic black metal rife with immaculate melodies issued from a cold, black heart it's time to get to the lyrics.

Hoth are able to take a subject like Star Wars, which could so easily stink the place up with all the power of Limburger in this context and give it a treatment that makes it even more epic than it already is. The icing on the cake is that they do it so cleverly and veiled. The story behind the concept follows Anakin Skywalker from his prophetic birth to his rebirth as Darth Vader. The thing is, at no time is there any overt mention of Star Wars. Instead it chronicles the rise and downfall of its unnamed character in a setting befitting any imagined epic. Although, Star Wars fans could no doubt be able to piece it together regardless of previous knowledge to the band's intentions.

Honestly, I listened to Oathbreaker at least a half dozen times before I read the lyrics and I was already willing to bestow the rank of Master on the duo. They blew me away like the scattered ashes of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Their mastery of the concept behind Oathbreaker takes it to the next level.

Oathbreaker is a stunning example of what can happen when you fully commit to a vision. It takes balls to do a black metal Star Wars concept album but Hoth pull it off amazingly. Icy blasts, relentless pummeling percussion and eons worth of epic melodies soundtracking a brilliant concept make Hoth and Oathbreaker stand out from the pack. It's worth every Galactic credit.

May 29, 2014

Thantifaxath - Thantifaxath

By Andy Osborn. Flying completely under the metallic radar, Thantifaxath quietly released their debut 12-inch at the end of 2011, which made it too late to appear on just about every annual best-of list. But after stumbling across it
By Andy Osborn.

Photo by Nicéphore Niépce

Flying completely under the metallic radar, Thantifaxath quietly released their debut 12-inch at the end of 2011, which made it too late to appear on just about every annual best-of list. But after stumbling across it a few months after it came out it quickly became one of my favorite releases of that year. The unknown members hide their identity and perform live with countenance-covering robes to obscure their ages and genders; an increasingly popular trend among groups who eschew the modernity of social media and "celebrity" worship.

But within seconds of the first proper track, it's clear this isn't your neighborhood undergound kvlt collective. "Violently Expanding Emptiness" opens with one of the most memorable intros in recent memory. Not only is the bass audible, it's catchy and clean; lending its voice as a guiding force in the sonic onslaught. And this theme continues as you slowly realize the vocals are understandable - though without losing any of the chaotic depravity as is the norm in the genre. The EP continues to confound as it works its way through the next ten minutes, expanding on the beautifully non-canon sound with guitar solos, precision atonality and punishing yet unique percussion.

They fuse their melodic rhythms with odd time signatures and an experimental sheen reminiscent of Deathspell Omega, giving the finger to simplistic black metal that would make the complex French hordes proud. They may have only four recorded tracks to their name, but these clandestine Torontonians have shown a proficiency and sound unparalleled in the sea of North American black metal. With no online presence it's tough to say what the future holds for the band, but a recent live performance of a new song promises there is much more up their dark, flowing sleeves.

May 27, 2014

Vanhelgd - Relics of Sulphur Salvation

Written by Kevin Page.

This Swedish band has progressed nicely since their 2011 album, Church of Death. While I enjoyed that album it was not overly memorable or something I placed into heavy listening rotation. Church of Death, was more in the vein of prototypical old school Swedish death metal: fuzzy guitars, pounding rhythms, the whole nine yards.

With Relics of Sulphur Salvation, their 3rd full length album, all of that is about to change. Standing tall as one of the better albums of 2014 (so far), everything on this album screams of a band maturing, progressing and hitting their stride. The production is much more professional. The musicianship is better and the song writing more thought out and memorable. They are still a Swedish death metal band, but with the added black aesthetics of fellow countryman Unanimated and the underpinnings of Dissection. Ironically enough the band is neither influenced by or listens to these bands. Go figure. Chalk that one up to something in Sweden's water supply.

What they have been able to accomplish here is something that Lantern (Finland) did last year with their album, Below (though these bands sound nothing alike). By mixing and old school sound and merging it with a modern day feel, Vanhelgd have created something they can call their own.

The lead track, "Dödens Maskätna Anlete", hooks you in immediately and sets the pace for the remainder of the album. It's a perfect example of what to expect: heavy, melodic, evil, and just catchy as all hell. Over its 41 minute run time, it never lets go and holds up after repeated listens. It's one of those albums where each song has it's "moment" that you can point to and say "oh, I love this riff" or "this part feels so awesome." A must BUY for you and a band that hopefully gets its "due".

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 26, 2014

Runes of the Evening - Runes of the Evening

Written by Calen Henry.

Runes of the Evening are a melodic black metal band from Dallas. Runes of the Evening is their self titled debut LP, after having released 2 EPs.

Full disclosure, I’m pretty far from a black metal purist. I came into the genre through Cobalt, and Wolves in the Throne Room first, Then blackened folk metal like Falkenbach and Thrawsunblat. I love the musical hallmarks of the genre; blast beats, tremolo riffs, and dissonant chord voicings, for example. I've even become partial to black metal vocals over most other distorted metal vocals.

Runes of the Evening nails all that, and has recorded it all with a spot on mix of clarity and rawness. I have little patience for black metal’s historical penchant for poorly recorded music for the sake of sounding raw. Runes of the Evening achieve a raw sound, with a nice treble snarl on the guitars, but everything shines through in the mix. It’s a good thing too because these guys can write riffs, and have a killer drummer.

Most of the songs are build around tremolo riffing and blast beats but the riffs are really melodic, sometimes even featuring twin guitar harmonies, and often headbang inducing. The guitar and drum work is top notch, shifting seamlessly between riffs and rhythms. The band sounds like a blacker, more raw version of Thrawsunblat, stripped of folk, with a dash of Agalloch’s heavier moments.

Unlike a lot of melodic black metal bands, Runes of the Evening are rarely “atmospheric”. Most of the songs absolutely rip. Softer moments are kept to a minimum, which really gives them impact. The songs are medium length, generally 5 to 8 minutes, giving them enough time to let you hear and enjoy all the riffs, but still keeping things moving.

Though at the core they’re a black metal band, Runes of the Evening are not afraid to cherry pick from other genres. There are a couple of searing solos, and some fantastic galloping rhythms throughout, and even some sweep picked riffs. It’s an impressive achievement to make such a melodic record, but make it sound so black metal, rather than “blackened other genre”.

I’ve seen almost no coverage of this release, which is a shame because I love this album. It’s as if they reached into my head and made a record that features everything I love about black metal and nothing I don’t. This album should have been all over 2013 “best of” lists.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 24, 2014

Vassafor / Sinistrous Diabolus - S/T

Written by Craig Hayes.

Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus make merciless and mind-crushing metal, from a uncompromising standpoint. The New Zealand-based bands are part of that increasingly rare breed of bloody-minded underground artists that put the integrity of their music before anything else. Technology might well have transformed the way bands promote their music, and revolutionised the way we access it, but you’re not going to find Vassafor or Sinistrous Diabolus waving a flag to get your attention.

You discover Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus; they don’t seek you out.

When you listen to either band, you’re listening to artists that are compelled to create, regardless of who is listening. That’s how it’s always been for Vassafor founder VK (aka Phil Kusabs) and Sinistrous Diabolus overlord N.K.S (aka Kris Stanley), and in recent years, both of their bands have released full-lengths that have shown an unwavering commitment to crafting meticulously arranged yet wholly murderous art.

The history of Sinistrous Diabolus is inextricably bound to the release of the band’s 1993 demo, Opus One. That cassette is the most influential death/doom recording released in New Zealand’s early extreme metal history, and you can find it on Sinistrous Diabolus’ Bandcamp page to download for free. However, on that very same page, you're also going to find the band’s first full-length release, 2013’s Total Doom//Desecration, and that album proves that Sinistrous Diabolus’ best work doesn’t reside in the dusty annals of extreme metal history.

Total Doom//Desecration, which I’ve reviewed here before here on Metal Bandcamp, was a monolithically heavy album. Spilling over with pulverising doom and churning death metal, the album channeled feedbacking noise through mangled melodies, resulting in a deeply unnerving and demoralising ambience. All of that is brought to bear on Sinistrous Diabolus’ 20-minute contribution to this split release, “Aeon Tenebris - Aeo Lacrimis”.

“Aeon Tenebris - Aeo Lacrimis” drags desolate soundscapes over godforsaken landscapes, and it's a hypnotic dirge, bringing torment and torture, monstrous guitars, and wretched vocals. It all makes for traumatizing funeral death/doom, but while the song’s harsh lurching movements pile on the ominousness, the vast chasms between notes are of equal importance. “Aeon Tenebris - Aeo Lacrimis” builds layers of oppressive sound across plunging depths of despair, and Sinistrous Diabolus ensures that the all-important and discomforting feeling that you’re about to plummet to your demise is always there.

Traumatic depths are something Vassafor’s multi-instrumentalist and vocalist VK knows all about too. In 2012, Vassafor released the Obsidian Codex, and the album was a masterpiece of Stygian and esoteric black metal. The 96-minute double LP was an absolute tour de force of doom-drenched tremolo pickings, pitch-black aberrant death metal, inhuman snarls, and suffocating occult atmospherics. Obsidian Codex was grand in vision, complete in realisation, and made zero accommodations. It was one of black metal’s most strident releases, and Vassafor brings that same sense of pitiless, unyielding power to their two songs on this split release.

Vassafor provides one original track here, “Ossuary in Darkness”, and one cover, “Son Of The Moon”, which was originally performed by Greek black metal legends Varathron. The 15-minute “Ossuary in Darkness” threads sepulchral wrath through a diabolic requiem, with grinding black metal and beastial vocals bursting, recoiling, and attacking again through a thick brume of spine-chilling doom. “Son Of The Moon”, sees Vassafor keep the raw Hellenic riff of the original song front and centre, while tearing another ritualistic rent in reality around it with an extraordinary level of iron-fisted intensity.

Aesthetically, Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus’ alignment on this split makes perfect sense, on many levels. Ideologically, the two bands are equally dedicated to crafting uncompromising music, and each has a legacy of recordings that show a total commitment to that. You’re either on board with this eldritch duo or not, and there are no accommodations made for weak-willed or timid souls on this split release. Sonically, both bands revel in apocalyptic sounds and visions, welcomingly embracing chaos, devastation, and malevolence. Black, death, or doom metal are portals for Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus. They’re gateways to other dimensions, other states of being and understanding. All to be fearlessly torn open, with catastrophic noise.

Ultimately, what is most important about this split release, is that Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus underscore that true integrity imbued in true art makes for mesmerising creativity. That ensures this release feels like a genuine trip to hell, although, keep in mind, there’s no guarantee you'll be making the return journey.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 23, 2014

Xenomorphic Contamination - Chasm of No Return

Guest review by BreadGod from Servile Insurrection

Xenomorphic Contamination is the union of two Italian men named Max and David. Max used to play guitars for Vomit the Soul and David plays drums for Septycal Gorge. I know for a fact that Vomit the Soul and Septycal Gorge are two amazing brutal death metal bands, so I was not surprised to discover that Xenomorphic Contamination plays some amazing brutal death metal that slams so hard it will collapse your face.

The funny thing about this EP is that even though it was recorded at David's house, the production sounds amazingly professional. The instruments come in nice and clear but the sound is still amazingly heavy. This amazing production is backed up by awesome and brutal music. David is known for playing drums for several prominent Italian brutal death metal bands, and his many years of experience are obvious on this album. His rapid double bass sounds like an alien drill that's about to ruthlessly probe Uranus, he blasts with all the intensity of a world-destroying super laser that's about to be shot at your dick, and his cymbals sound like the clanging of dissection tools.

The growls are guttural and indecipherable. It's a perfect fit for the theme of this album, as these guys sound like they're speaking some grotesque alien language. Best of all are the guitars. The tone is dark, thick, heavy and crunchy. Their groove riffs are violent and infectious and their structures remind me of bands like Hour of Penance. They also play plenty of slam riffs that feature copious amounts of pinch harmonics. Hell, some of their pinch harmonics sound like Hour of Penance. They even take the time to play some amazing, downright alien tremolo riffs, such as those on the song “Metamorphic Oblivion”.

This was an amazing debut EP. David puts on an excellent drum performance and Max's riffs and vocals are delightfully brutal. I can tell just by listening to this that Xenomorphic Contamination is going to release plenty more wicked stuff in the future. It's good to know that the Italians are still making some great brutal death metal.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 22, 2014

Dave's Demo Roundup Vol II.

By Dave Schalek. Kudos to our host Max for sending me the latest and greatest in demos hitting the Bandcamp circuit. Up on the docket for this issue of Dave’s Demo Roundup we have releases from Necrot, Lawless, and Cold Fell.
By Dave Schalek.

Kudos to our host Max for sending me the latest and greatest in demos hitting the Bandcamp circuit. Up on the docket for this issue of Dave’s Demo Roundup we have releases from Necrot, Lawless, and Cold Fell.

Cover by Lukas Krieg

As good as the Bay Area scene is these days, it’s not really one known for OSDM (with the notable exceptions of Acephalix and Vastum). That’s about to change as Necrot tear through a raw as Hell three-song demo (well, it’s an EP) in The Abyss. The Abyss as a title is apt; beefy OSDM with a wicked guitar tone and a crushing bass and percussion steamrolls over you in about 12 minutes. A deep seated production that’s crystal clear aids the cause, and the guitars also have a very subtle degree of technicality to them whilst buried amidst gigantic riffs. Atmosphere is further enhanced by gruff vocals.

Speaking of Acephalix and Vastum, it will probably come as no surprise that there’s a fair amount of cross pollination going on between those bands and Necrot with shared members.

Artwork by Kyle House

Speaking of cross pollination, guess what? Yet another band with member connections to Acephalix, Vastum, and Necrot appears in the form of Lawless, a Bay Area OSDM act that is rapidly causing me to rescind my earlier statement.. Like Necrot, Lawless law down the law with a three-song demo of extremely chunky, bass heavy OSDM with a mid-paced gallop and the proverbial two-ton weight utilized as a production value. A bit slower and slightly less raw than Necrot, Lawless provide a nice finish to a one two punch of releases from the Bay Area. Unfortunately, Lawless have apparently disbanded, but I suspect that we've not heard the last from the circle of musicians connected to these bands.

Switching gears, the U.K.’s Cold Fell play scathing, ice cold black metal with lots of tremelo-picked guitars, subtle hints of melody, blastbeats, and hoary rasps. Obviously influenced by the Second Wave of Norwegian Black Metal, Cold Fell would fit right in with early Gorgoroth and, perhaps, Burzum, as their two-song demo does take on an air of the majestic. A more modern production differentiates Cold Fell somewhat from the bands of the era, but the subtle hints of melody go a long way towards making Cold Fell a pleasing listen.

May 21, 2014

Yayla - Nihaihayat

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

Cover art by Emir Toğrul

Yayla is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Emir Toğrul, and Nihaihayat is the latest exploration of the Turkish black metal necromancer's vision. At five tracks and 51 minutes, Nihaihayat is an expansive, windswept piece. The long instrumental passages create a deep sense of isolation and spatial emptiness — when Toğrul's vocals do come in, they are layered and distant, somehow at once breathy and searing as a blast furnace.

This isn't a record that focuses on preternatural speed, but rather atmosphere and environment. The crashing cymbals and icy riffs combine to create a sense of eerie loneliness, even when the sound swells and presses in closer. At once hot and haunted, Yayla capture that peculiar shiver that only comes when you find yourself standing in a lone cold spot in an otherwise warm room, as though you were sharing the space with a ghost.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 17, 2014

Dephosphorus - Ravenous Solemnity

Written by Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Viral Graphics

There may be a Greek Orthodox Church but there's nothing orthodox about the mayhem of Greek grind crew Desphosphorus. These progenitors of the term “astrogrind” take the base of grind and subject it to enough cosmic radiation that the resulting mutations spliced into Ravenous Solemnity present a fearsome yet inviting amalgamation of extremities.

Desperate and pained screams wreak auditory havoc with a tortured and strangled viciousness over a mixture of blackened grind and sludgeoned noise. The elasticity of their compositions pushes at the limits of comprehension. The tracks turn in on themselves, shooting off in different directions with dizzying inertial violence.

All the speed of grind, black metal and even thrash fire the afterburners into the chaos of a magnetically unstable asteroid field. At every swerve a new riff, time signature or atmosphere careens into your field of hearing. The damage sustained from the devastating impact of an array of sickeningly catchy riffs and gut-wrenching grooves is readily absorbed.

An appreciable amount of technicality lifts Dephosphorus above the trappings of mere speed. Not to mention the dynamic changes from mind-blurring velocity to mid-paced castigation, doomy atmospherics or noisy discordance that are executed with the utmost precision and not the faintest hint of anything but elite craftsmanship. The pilots of the good ship Dephosphorus know exactly what they are doing. Their absurd complexity is naturally organic and at no time feels forced.

Vacuous grooves and icy blasts implode and explode; the compression and expansion radiating a seething malice from a dark atomic core. The frantic intensity of this stellar LP may burn hot but the nuclear entropy is controlled so that the embers set ablaze continue to smoulder long after the void has been crossed.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 16, 2014

Abest - Asylum

Written by Justin C.

I've long been drawn to music, art, and literature that's composed with limited palettes. Whether it be Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and his focus on vertical and horizontal lines and only primary colors, American writer Raymond Carver's short stories composed of plainspoken, stripped-down sentences, or Tool's minimalist jams, I find something inherently fascinating out of someone creating so much out of so little.

Abest's post-hardcore and sludge mix appeals to that part of me. As on their demo, Abest works with just a few sounds on their full length, Asylum. You get bass, drums, chiming clean guitars mixed with distorted riffing, and those meaty, hardcore bellows. The tone of those don't vary much, but don't mistake limited ingredients for a limited sound. The band might leave out the samples, synths, orchestrations, and other ornamentations, but they still conjure up plenty of variety and emotional power. The title track (probably my favorite) shows the full range of what they can do. The jangling dissonance of the opening moves into a slow-paced stomp, then eventually gives way to a quiet, mournful passage before ramping back up to a grinding riff you'll feel in your teeth. The textures range from delicate to soul-crushing.

The band may be sticking to the basics of what made their demo so enjoyable, but there's also growth. The full-length gives us a more pronounced bass presence that rounds out the sound nicely, and in subtle ways, the music is spookier and more dissonant than the demo tracks. Songs break apart and reform in ways that are unpredictable but utterly satisfying. I have no doubt this will be on my year-end list.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 14, 2014

Zatokrev - The Bat, the Wheel and a Long Road to Nowhere

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

Based in Basel-Stadt, Switzerland, sludge-laden, blackened doom band Zatokrev have released a writhing, shattered slab of sound for their third full-length, The Bat, the Wheel and a Long Road to Nowhere. There is an Eastern European influence to the sound that extends beyond the vocals, giving this record a Byzantine edge that works to their advantage, sharpening their riffs and imbuing the darker, more melancholic passages with exotic smokiness.

Photo by Pedro Roque.

Opening track "Goddamn Lights" is nothing short of stunning, and the rest of the album's admittedly vast 76 minutes unfurl from there. There are passages that drag here and there, almost as if the songs have wandered off and become distracted by their winding, meditative structures, but this is forgivable for the moments when the storm gathers and a glorious doom crescendo rains down.

Photo by Pedro Roque.

The acidic vocals — thin and rasping — form an excellent counterpoint to the deep, baritone choral moments, as well as the ponderously thick, fat guitar tones. Strong, sinuous and strange as any tentacled beast, Zatokrev should be proud of this surprising and ambitious release.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 12, 2014

Antiverse - Cosmic Horror

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Pär Olofsson

If you were teaching a university course on history and influence in modern metal, you could easily devote a class session to Antiverse's Cosmic Horror. At it's heart, this is modern, thrashy metal (or deathy thrash metal) that's proud to show off its influence without being derivative.

The intro track features some tasty guitar harmonies, giving us some classic metal/NWOBHM influence right off the bat. The vocals are typically hardcore-tinged death growls, with a few black metal rasps and, awesomely, Rob Halford-isms mixed in. Check out those high cleans in "Bethlem" and "The Beast of Bray Road"! "The Commutator" has an old school Metallica-inspired riff that, if we're honest with ourselves, we're never actually going to hear from Metallica again. As someone who is tragically old, it's heartening to hear someone take that influence and make modern metal with it.

If you can't tell from the cover art and album title, Antiverse does a lot of sci-fi and horror-themed songs. We get spores from outer space ("The Expressionless") and wormholes ("Aurora"), as well as "Apex Predator," which puts me firmly in mind of the move Species. (As a side note, Natasha Henstridge-core should be a metal subgenre. Get on that, fledgling metal bands!). Of course, if Antiverse were just a sci-fi-themed nostalgia act, rewriting the hits of yesteryear, there wouldn't be much to get excited about. Luckily that's not the case. The influences are clear, but Antiverse melds them together into a distinct sound of their own.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 11, 2014

Lord Mantis - Death Mask

Written by Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Jef Whitehead

A devastating pedigree breeds devastating progeny. So it follows that the resultant third spawn of the musical breeding of the four entities known as Lord Mantis is more uncompromisingly scathing than you could possibly imagine.

From its opening moments, Death Mask sets the nerves on edge. Pain, anguish and negativity then drown the listener in a pool of their own congealing blood until its merciless end. Death by a thousand cuts, each more painful than the last. Metals of the black, doom and death varieties are forged together into seven tracks of unbending and razor-edged hatred.

"Body Choke" sets the portentous mood with lumbering doom plodding through the darkness, each step pulverizing the desiccated husks of the dead beneath their leaden feet. The wall of malicious noise is cut with buried melodies and abrupt outbursts of antagonism.

Andrew Markuszewski. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

That blackened death terror flows through the album. Its effect is overwhelming to the point of servitude. Not through excessive administrations of directionless noise however, but with fearsome savagery and unrepentant tone both aural and mental. Sanity is severed by the shards of broken glass used to slit wrists in an attempt to snuff out a life not worth living; its failure leaving a scarred ruin desperate for peace.

Ken Sorceron (Abigail Williams) and Andrew Markuszewski (Avichi) wrestle from their guitars an embarrassment of bile soaked riffs. Along with drummer Bill Bumgardner (Indian) and bassist/vocalist Charlie Fell they channel lugubrious doom and putrescent death into a swirling vortex of corrosive black metal. The psyche is stripped away and sucked into a spiraling wormhole of regret and powerlessness, emerging unrelieved under a sky of unyielding scorn.

Charlie Fell (top) and Ken Sorceron. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Fell's sinful screams drip with loathing. They sound like a long dead victim crawling back from the catacombs shrieking vengeance upon their torturer, only to realize they themselves are responsible. Shackled by fate to endless suffering, cries of angered despair issue forth from the pit of that tormented soul with unnerving and vile acidity.

A measure of catharsis, however incomplete, is to be found on closing hymn "Three Crosses". A building doom pounds as layers of sound wrap around vocals just as harrowing and ruinous as ever. An open section strips away the detritus as the track segues into a dark and narrow, Withered/WITTR-like black metal chasm. On the other side lies a militant discord and penetrating cacophony. Its conclusion coils paralyzing tendrils around a spent heart, finishing the cardiac arrest with pulsating hate.

Bill Bumgardner. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Death Mask is cruelty and bitterness molded into agonizing sound and forced upon the world without remorse. It's raw yet refined in its intention to bury the listener under mountains of ill will, contempt and disgust. It is a culmination of all that is wrong with humanity and the human spirit. No human soul can remain unaffected in the face of such dedication to unflinching and unsettling passion for inflicting terror.

Lord Mantis have turned abhorrence inside out for this rancorous and hostile release. Death Mask is not only their best work to date, but one of the the best in all of metaldom so far this year.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

May 9, 2014

Nightfell - The Living Ever Mourn

Written by Kevin Page.

Kudos to Islander of No Clean Singing for putting this one on my radar. Nightfell, featuring the duo of Tim Call (The Howling Wind, Weregoat, Aldebaran) & Todd Burdette (Trauma, Warcry, Tragedy), have created something very potent. I know of some of the bands these chaps are already in, but I don't listen to any of them and they hold no special affinity in my heart. So going in I really had no expectation (good, bad or indifferent), which is always the best way to approach new music.

It screams of a doomier version of Edge of Sanity (more specifically the Purgatory Afterglow album, especially in the production department). The guitar has a nice balance of fuzzy tone, fat bottom end and warm juiciness. Vocally this rests somewhere between Dan Swano (sorta) and your typical full on war metal cavernous hellfire type. This mixture though gives it its own distinct character. And since the vocals are not overly dominant in the mix, it allows everything to breathe more than you are used to these days.

So while this is mainly a doomy to mid paced death metal album, it's injected with a dash of American style, some clean spoken passages, acoustic guitar, and a sprinkle of black metal as we get near the end. I wouldn't call this genre defying or anything outside the box, but who cares. It feels fresh, utterly convincing and damn enjoyable.

Also, they are very liberal with their use of 'pick slides'. Me likes 'pick slides'.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Khonsu - Traveller

Written by by Andy Osborn.

One of the most surprising and intriguing debuts of 2012 was Khonsu’s Anomalia. The progressive project flirts with spacey, industrialized black metal that sounds like it’s written by a composer gone mad, looking to the stars to seek his sanity. In reality, the mastermind behind the band is S. Grønbech, brother of Arnt Grønbech of Keep of Kalessin. While his brother started his metal career at an early age, the more reclusive S. waited in silence, honing his skills before unleashing it in a torrent of undeniable talent.

And the Traveller EP is a project in and of itself. As it features really only one new song, it’s more of a showcase of what the band is capable of, made to satiate the salivating fans looking forward to the sophomore full-length. We’re welcomed beyond the stratosphere by a series of robotic voices, then rocketed into “Ix”, a reworking of a track the brothers wrote for KoK 11 years ago. It rips through intricate, fast paced palm mutes and an ever-present layer of ethereal synths that remind that the darkness of space is never far-off as we speed through the void, only to be given a sharp, unexpected turn. “Army of Me” continues in much the same pummeling fashion, until the uncharacteristic lyrics make you realize it’s actually an incredibly well-executed Bjork cover. They take the 20 year old hit from the Icelandic goddess and disfigure it beyond recognition into an ethereal death jam, seeping with nuance and energy.

But for all the greatness of the previous reworked songs, it’s the original that stands out the most. “Visions of Nehaya” is the highlight of the EP and worth the price of the journey despite its short runtime. It cycles through just about every form of extreme metal, hitting hyperspace with its insane tempo and fast-paced bludgeoning. Then, the terminus is reached at “The Malady”, a full-on electronic remix of the song from Khonsu’s debut, slowed down but filled with an infectious pulse that lulls you into a hypnotic state.

Although the release doesn’t offer much in the way of truly new music, it shows just how dynamic the Grønbech brothers are. Unafraid to flaunt their influences and experiment with a surprising cover and intriguing remix, Khonsu are slowly but surely proving to be one of the more interesting Norwegian bands to recently join the scene. It’s clear this out-there EP is testing the waters for an even more experimental and intriguing future.

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May 7, 2014

The Shrine - Bless Off

Written by Matt Hinch.

Cover by Kris Kirk

Not enough of what I listen to would be considered "fun". Black metal's not fun. Doom's not fun. Death metal's not usually fun. But you know what is fun? A motherlovin' fuckload of fun? Bless Off, the newest from California trio The Shrine.

Following the success of their debut (Primitive Blast) they've gotten even better. Bless Off is still as energetic but perhaps a little less punky. Don't worry, they're still holding on to their love of Black Flag. In fact, "The Duke" features lyrics written by Chuck Dukowski himself for an unreleased Black Flag tune. I'm no Black Flag expert but The Shrine share the same sort of groovy pulse with a bit of swing.

The other side of The Shrine's chosen path is Black Sabbath. No, they're not drudging the depths of doom but you can find Sabbathisms throughout. Bassist Courtland Murphy's style reminds me a lot of Geezer. "Hellride" is pretty doomy during the solo and if the riffs that open and close "Nothing Forever" aren't unabashed Sabbath worship I don't know what is.

Bless Off, (and The Shrine in general) is sickly infectious riff rock pulling from '70s garage rock, the aforementioned Blacks and a healthy dose of sun-baked stoner rock. Their solar powered groove machine bears a lot of similarities vibe-wise with former tour mates Fu Manchu. But instead of cruisin' the highway in a Chevy van adorned with airbrushed boobies, The Shrine are carving empty pools like the skate punks they are. Forget the soundtrack for Lords of Dogtown, you just need this.

Vocalist/guitarist Josh Landau plays fuzzy, fast and loose with scorched, bluesy solos. His simple lyrical approach and straightforward song structures are quite refreshing and far too easy to get behind. Many sing-alongs with his punk-infused snarl and holler ("Tripping Corpse", "Destroyers", "On The Grind") and much air guitaring are to be had.

Holding down the drum throne is Jeff Murray. Although I figure he bounces off of it a fair bit. His hard-hitting Animal-esque style is pure energy but not without a little flair. And cowbell (More cowbell!). When I'm pounding through the floorboards in time with his kicks and otherwise not using my hands for driving, my ride magically transforms into a VW Thing with the top down, a "trunk" full of beers and a glove box reeking of pot. It's fucking party time, dude!

Bless Off is gritty, amped as shit and so catchy it's ridiculous. It bangs harder than a dorm room bedpost on a Saturday night. Heshers and punks unite! Grab your boards, beers, and bongs and hang on for the party of the year. If this doesn't get you hard, well you can just Bless Off!

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Circle Takes the Square - Decompositions​: ​Volume Number One

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

Artwork by Drew Speziale

With Decompositions: Volume Number One, their sophomore release and first record since 2004, self-described apocalyptic punk rockers Circle Takes the Square achieve something that tastes like the burning circuit boards of cyberpunk, smells like a rain-drenched, ruined city and bleeds like heavy metal. The record is defined by a pervasive, oppressive atmosphere of gloom shot through by the manic, frenzied lightning of Andrew Speziale and Kathleen Stubelek's duelling vocals. The instrumentation is a strange and varied landscape, featuring grim passages of blasted concrete that ache of exposed rebar punctuated by brutal landslides where tempos and time signatures collapse upon each other.

Photos by Robby Schulze.

For all the technique and experimentation, however, the greatest strength of Decompositions is that it's never content to be merely clever, but also strives for emotional authenticity. It cuts to the quick, going for the dripping green vitality at the centre of a slumbering branch. As absorbing as it is challenging (especially the monstrous "Singing Vengeance Into Being"), Decompositions is an easy record to become obsessed with.

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May 6, 2014

Thrall - Aokigahara Jukai

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Tom Void

"Aokigahara Jukai", roughly translated from the Japanese, means "Sea of Trees." It's a relatively small forest in Japan at the base of Mount Fuji, and it's a popular place for suicide in Japan.** It's also reputably a place were "ubasute" was once practiced, which is the abandonment of the sick or elderly in a remote place to die, although how much of the practice is simply folklore seems to be in dispute. This all sounds like great fodder for a doom album, but Australian band Thrall have taken it on with black metal instead. And now that I've heard it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Suicide can be as much about rage as it can despair.

Thrall play a thrashy brand of black metal that, at times, puts me a bit in mind of Dark Funeral. The vocals have a very satisfying rasp to them, and guitars and rhythm are very well executed. The band also has a penchant for mixing slower, doomier passages in their songs, which are very effective given the subject material. Interestingly, though, the mix of tempos backfires on them a bit on the first half of the album. As I've said, the songs are very well done, but the first five tracks are a bit repetitive. You're pretty much guaranteed a shift to a slower tempo about halfway through, before a change back to a more galloping tempo. The overall effect is that you're listening to the same song over and over again, and although it's a good song, it can be a bit wearying.

Photo by Bad Teeth

But at the sixth track (and the best song on the album, in my opinion), things get more interesting. "The Pact" starts as blackened doom, with a well-earned and slowly building intensity. The band plays tempos off of each other, mixing fast guitars with slow drums and vice versa, providing an excellent sense of tension. At times, the vocals are pushed nearly to the breaking point, sounding almost painful. The song eventually circles back along to its doomy beginnings and beautifully transitions in to "Ghost Chryslides," which showcases a simple guitar line mixed with wind chime-like bells. I know it's a bit weird to say, "I really like the part on that black metal album where they play the bells!" but it's the moving breather that the first half of the album desperately needed. The last track on the album features a riff and variations that are toe-tappingly and head-noddingly catchy.

There's a lot to like here, even if it feels like this should have been a killer EP instead of a full album. It's well worth checking out, and if you find your attention wandering a bit in the first half, I urge you to hang around to see what this band is capable of. A Facebook post indicates that they've started writing their next album, and given the promise shown here, it could be some exciting stuff.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

**As metal fans, most of us are probably fairly desensitized by shocking imagery. Cartoon depictions of someone tearing out his or her own intestines barely merit a shrug. However, if you Google image search "Aokigahara," as I did, you'll find some lovely shots of the forest mixed with very bleak images of the bodies of real people who have committed suicide. Depending on your sensibilities, proceed with caution.