June 27, 2014

Dweller in the Valley - Younger Dryas

Written by Matt Hinch.

Cover art by Hal Rotter / Rotting Graphics

Frederick, MD's Dweller in the Valley have conjured up a pretty fancy name. It's got a mysterious angle to it and lends itself to images of big skies, gorgeous vistas and other peaceful, serene thoughts. They even bookend this Younger Dryas EP with the sounds of meditation bowls. At least that's what it sounds like.

But between those peaceful moments things are anything but serene. "Welcome to Hell" growls drummer/vocalist Dane Olds on "Mire". That's right. Olds pulls the old Chris Reifert and handles vocals from behind the kit. Neither the vocals or the percussion suffer though. Both are vicious and plentiful. In front of him are guitarist Mike Merriam and bassist Nate McDyer. Together the trio blast through four tracks of absolute savagery.

Feedback rises on "The Shedding" into flaying black metal riffage. They've got a choppy edge but also a touch of groove. Olds' throaty screech matches the rawness that makes up the EP's general tone. The searing track moves without haste as if the thought of stillness is heresy. Blood boils and neurons fire at maximum capacity and then descend to a cooler tempo surrounded by darkness.

The slow-fast dynamic appears again on "Mire" but this time with more extremity. Deathly growls and necrotic shrieks dictate the slitting of throats with razor-edged riffs before a funereal force envelopes the scene.

A dust bowl guitar explodes into a raging vortex of hatred and pain on "Serpent Bearer". The ghastly and ghostly track rumbles and gallops, drowns the listener in darkness and soars beyond the clouds.

Saving the most devastating for last, "Eye of the Ram" closes out the EP. A dirge intro drops the listener into a breakneck swirling vortex of needling and unsettling rhythms. It's abrasive and unrelenting in breaking the will. Burying itself beneath the skin, it causes the urge to tear flesh from bones in futile attempts to end the madness.

Younger Dryas is raucous and raw, belligerent and blackened beyond saving. Dweller in the Valley play with a driving energy that's impossible to ignore. All facets of their blackened death metal gleam in their own way despite their light swallowing qualities. Dweller in the Valley are already a potent force and could very well establish themselves as a name to be remembered in the American black metal scene.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 26, 2014

Cult of Occult - Hic Est Domus Diaboli

By Ulla Roschat. “Hic Est Domus Diaboli” – This is the devil’s house and Cult of Occult cordially invite you to enter. It is the first full length album of the French four piece Sludge/Doom band from Lyon
By Ulla Roschat.

“Hic Est Domus Diaboli” – This is the devil’s house and Cult of Occult cordially invite you to enter.

It is the first full length album of the French four piece Sludge/Doom band from Lyon, released in June 2013 through TotalRust Music and it is following up their first release, a self titled EP (2011).

The opener “In Vino Veritas” is the door to the house. It opens reluctantly with heavy distortion and creaking feedback sounds. You go through that door and you instantly know it leads inside yourself, inside your own drunken mind, where slow heavy riffs and bold messages in short sentences introduce you to your very own devil who infects you with his hatred.

Images and sounds of occultish doomy atmosphere, ritualistic rhythms, slow heavy abrasive sludge, waves of distortion and screaming vocals with the energy of a hot blazing firestorm accompany you throughout the six songs and the 70 minutes of this album.

With the exception of “DCLXVI” all songs exceed the 10 minute mark. They take their time to expand. The tempo is agonizingly slow, the riffs are thick and heavy, huge and monolithic. Repetitive hypnotic rhythms, mantra like spoken words, all enhance the sinister evil ritualistic entrancing atmosphere that kind of naturally and inevitably leads to the celebration of “Magna Eripe” in a black mass. Despite their length and monolithic character the songs keep their tension and energy by well set variations, incredible guitar parts and these aforementioned hot blazing firestorm like screams. They hook you, from the beginning and don’t let you go until the end.

Note: this review was originally posted on the defunct Temple of Perdition blog.

June 25, 2014

Colosso - Foregone Semblances

By Justin C. It hasn't been too long since Colosso released Thallium, which was a tasty mix of modern death metal both with and without vocals. True to form, their new 7", Forgone Semblances
By Justin C.

It hasn't been too long since Colosso released Thallium, which was a tasty mix of modern death metal both with and without vocals. True to form, their new 7", Forgone Semblances, has one track with vocals and one instrumental (although with a few "ahhh's" and "ohhh's" added in for texture).

These two tracks would be a great intro to anyone unfamiliar with the band. "Circles of Defeat" is full of chunky, rapid-fire riffs and deep, satisfying gutturals, which are sometimes backed with deep-in-the-mix cleans. The song fades out with spacey atmosphere, then charges directly into the instrumental "Four Edges of Deceit." It's chock full of riffs of every variety, galloping, stomping, ringing, and anything else you can hope for, and it's insanely catchy in a way that a lot of instrumental tracks fail to achieve.

My only complaint is that I want 12 tracks from this band, not two. But the band is describing this 7" as the end of an era, of sorts, and report they're already well into recording a new full length, so I'll just have to try to keep my whining in check and wait impatiently for more.

Orchid's Curse - Words

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

Album art by Keith MacLeod

Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Orchid's Curse have been making a name for themselves in the underground metal scene since the release of Voices: The Tales of Broken Men, which earned them an East Coast Music Awards nomination in the Loud Album of the Year. Words is a considered attempt to push their unconventional envelope even further, and as might be expected from the album title, Orchid's Curse have chosen to focus on the lyrics and narrative of the album as much as possible. Words is about the use and abuse of rhetoric, and the way that language is twisted by power. "For Those Who Grovel" is a hardcore-meets-hard-rock homage to the snivelling weakness that drives us to say anything to save ourselves, while the titular "Words" is a hard-driving, doom-laden piece that reflects on the simultaneous potential and emptiness of language. Throughout, Orchid's Curse employ their familiar tactic of borrowing the techniques of multiple genres, from filthy death metal riffs to hardcore barks, progressive guitar explorations and dirge-like, doom-influenced song structures. Words is more conceptually sound than its predecessor while displaying the same technical wizardry and vision.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 23, 2014

Hiidenhauta - Noitia on minun sukuni

Written by Andy Osborn.

Don’t get me wrong, I love melodic death metal. Its intense-yet-accessible nature was what whet my appetite for all things extreme so many years ago. But I’ve always been a bit disappointed that it won the world over during the past twenty years, while melodic black metal is a phrase that’s hardly ever uttered, let alone praised. Mention the style to your average longhair and they’ll probably be hard-pressed to name an influential group other than the mighty Dissection. In comparison, bands that grew out of the Gothenburg scene are still obsessed over, mimicked en masse and headlining festivals the world over. How did we get here?

I think it’s partly a branding issue. Bands who associate themselves with black metal rarely like to admit that they’re following any path other than the absolutely most evil, so discussing things like melodic phrasing and perfect fifths is taboo despite using those tools in the music they create. Or maybe it’s just harder to define. The riffing style helps to mark the differences between death and melodeath, but black metal as a whole has never concerned itself too much with catchy guitar lines or palm-muting as incessant tremolo has generally been the name of the evil game. No matter the reason, it’s a style I believe is every as bit important and dynamic as its deathened counterpart, despite its lack of commercial success.

I speak so long-windedly not to make a case just for the subgenre as a whole, but for those who expertly represent it. Hiidenhauta are a young crew from Western Finland that exemplify the lighter, catchier side of the blackest abyss. Their debut is an incredible example of what happens when beautiful intricacies are injected into the most soulless of dark arts. They take heavy cues from Vreid to create memorable pieces with just enough atmosphere to give off a sense of dreamy wonder, adding a deft poetic twist with lyrics in their native tongue.

Chunky riffs, female vocals, a slightly gothic feel… okay, I’m beginning to understand why die-hard kvltists at least may not find its melodic counterpart appealing. But for fans of melodeath, it’s all the same tricks save for a few cosmetic differences. And the room for experimentation is just so much wider. Things like multiple singers, dreamy keyboards, and an underlying folk influence are all elements not unheard of in death metal. Mix all those and see if anyone can make an album this cohesive while slapping the ol’ melodeath tag on it. Combined with black metal, however, it just works. The aforementioned elements come together perfectly on “Ruumisvedet”, a track which balances the perfect amount of hellish fury and subtle beauty. An excellent poster boy for the subgenre at large, and just one of the many breathtaking moments on Noitia On Minun Sukuni.

If the recent reuniting of Vinterland and Century Media’s Dawn reissues are any indication, this is a style that more people are finally coming around to. But just as the melodeath crowd looks ever-longing towards southwest Sweden circa 1994, we have to remember that world domination does not come from history, and must look towards newcomers like Hiidenhauta to carry the torch. Because bands like them deserve a little glory, too.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Giveaway - Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground

The giveaway is over. See who won at the bottom of the post.

Metal Bandcamp has reached 1.000.000 pageviews. Not the most important thing about the blog, but damn, that is a nice big number isn't it? And I'll admit that I probably stare more at these pageview numbers than I should (if you're curious have a look here). So let's celebrate shall we: Enter the first Metal Bandcamp giveaway and you may win a copy of Jason Netherton's book Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground.

Art by Matt "Putrid Gore" Carr,

Quoting the press material the book is "an exhaustive 480 page contribution to the oral history of death metal music and culture. Comprised entirely of first-hand stories, anecdotes and memories, the book reflects on such diverse areas as the early fanzine and tape trading culture, regional 'scene' reports, death metal performance and technique, the recording process, as well as life on tour". Read more (including the long, long list of contributors) on Handshake Inc.'s webshop page. Also check out Craig Hayes review for Hellbound.ca in which he calls it
"an overdose of geek heaven (or hell, take your pick). The book is a hugely enjoyable account of death metal’s history, and Netherton knows a thing or two about that world himself, being a founding member of Misery Index, and instrumental in getting Dying Fetus off the ground too".
For a chance to win simply write a comment to this post and include your email address. Please obfuscate it a little, like "yourname AT gmail DOT com" (or similar), to prevent spammers from picking it up. Anyone (except for Metal Bandcamp contributors) can enter. And should. I mean, you do want to know how this encounter between Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation) and Glen Benton ends, right?

The giveaway is over. Thanks to all who entered, and for all the nice comments. I'm giving away an extra copy of the book. The randomly selected winners are:
HD - skingraph4u (@) hotmail dot com
akubar the seer - Orkishmetal AT hotmail DOT es
The books have now been sent to Shane from Canada and Pablo from Spain. Congratulations to both of you!

June 22, 2014

From Europe with Love (and Death)

Written by Kevin Page.

Our journey begins in Mother Russia. Are you tired of all the pagan and folk drivel that she spits forth? Yeah, me too. So it's my pleasure to introduce you to Pyre. It's filthy, dirty, and slime ridden old school Dismember worship. Think Like an Ever Flowing Stream and Pieces era, but with a nastier production. They have 6 recorded songs to their name (This 2012 EP, and a 2013 split also on their Bandcamp). Chaos Records will be releasing the band's debut full length later this year. Judging by the minimal lack of style change between these two releases (and a live video of a new song on YouTube), I think we know what to expect.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Let's travel southwest for some decent quality food shall we. Hey look, an Italian band that isn't into theatrics and playing at 700 BPM. So what do they play exactly? Why old school Scandinavian death metal of course. Not much else to say on this one. They hit all the points on your checklist of what you expect from this style. This is their debut album released via Memento Mori earlier this year.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Ok, I've had my fill of arancini, let's go get a pljeskavica. This band has been around since 2002 and have just released their 4th full length album this year via Xtreem Music. Some nice vicious death/thrash with Vader and Dark Angel overtones. If you find a moment to catch your breath during this thing, let me know where it exists!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

At this point you are thinking, I need a break, let me go chill out and meditate. Fine, let's travel north to Poland to check out the teachings of Sri Sri Paramahansa Yoganandaji. I don't know about you, but when I think of Poland, my first thought is Indian yogi's, right? Oh, did I mention that while you study the teachings, you'll be assaulted by some bludgeoning blackened death metal? This band has been around since 1999, but it's the first I've heard of them. No frills, nothing grandiose, just straight up black/death. Transcending Obscurity from India is responsible for the release. And not surprisingly, the owner of that label provided all the lyrics for this album.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 21, 2014

Pyrrhon - The Mother of Virtues

By Justin C. All musical taste is inherently subjective, but sometimes I wonder why I pass over some particularly bizarre pieces of metal and not others. I'll be straight with you--I couldn't really get into Pyrrhon's last album, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master, in spite of its awesome title and artwork.
By Justin C.

Cover art by Caroline Harrison.

All musical taste is inherently subjective, but sometimes I wonder why I pass over some particularly bizarre pieces of metal and not others. I'll be straight with you--I couldn't really get into Pyrrhon's last album, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master, in spite of its awesome title and artwork. It just didn't click with me, but it's not like I can say it was too inaccessible. After all, I really like Portal, and I don't think there's any quantifiable measure by which Portal is easier to get into than Pyrrhon. So when Max approached me to write about Pyrrhon's latest, The Mother of Virtues, I almost passed. I didn't think there would be anything for me there. On the other hand, I pride myself on being open-minded about all things music, so I decided I needed to give the album at least one fair listen. A couple of hours later, after the third time through the album, I knew I would write about this, even though I had no idea what I'd write.

Photos by Caroline Harrison.

I've seen Pyrrhon called technical death metal a lot, but at least in the case of The Mother of Virtues, I think that's pretty far off the mark, especially given the kind of sound that phrase usually conjures up. This isn't a tightly focused blast of hyperspeed guitar riffs and turn-on-a-dime musical structures. There is technicality here, but there's also EVERYTHING else here. Calling this technical death metal is like calling Faith No More "rock." It's not wrong, per se, but it's completely inadequate. I used Faith No More in that analogy for good reason, because it's a comparison that I keep coming back to. This is in part because some of Doug Moore's snarlings sound like like amped-up versions of some of Mike Patton's characters, like the sleazy, menacing narrator of "Crack Hitler" from Angel Dust. But I think the comparison is apt in a wider sense, in that there's a huge genre mash up happening in both bands, mixing up rock, metal, jazz, funk, and plenty more. They're not really sound-alikes by any means, but if you got Faith No More together, pumped them full of stimulants, and had them record a new album, The Mother of Virtues might be the result. Like FNM, Pyrrhon makes mashing up different styles seem easy.

Photos by Caroline Harrison.

The second track of the album, "White Flag", is kind of a microcosm of the whole album. It starts out with slow, creeping doom and a low, drawn-out, "Yeeahhhh....," but it's not long before the vocals turn into a vicious blackened assault over a lurching, death-y riff. That's certainly not the end of the variety in riffs, either, since we also get some delightfully Gorguts-ian math freak outs. The madness is punctuated throughout the song's length with creepy, dissonant psychedelic interludes that I refuse to call ambient, on the grounds that there's nothing gentle or backgroud-music-y about them. I prefer to call these parts "creep-bient." And that's not even getting into the genuinely lovely melodies that rise to the surface. The icing on this insanity cake are the very well-written, rage-filled lyrics, like, "But our acid abstentions / Will dissolve the limestone beneath us / And when the sinkhole opens up / We won’t deserve to be pulled out."

Not only is this a mesmerizing stand-alone work, but it's making me go back and re-evaluate their back catalog. Given the amount of music I go through, it takes quite a musical statement to make me do that. If you're a big dummy like me and passed on this one when it came out, take a second (or third, or fourth) listen.

June 19, 2014

Focus on Fallen Empire Records

By Dave Schalek.
By Dave Schalek.

Fallen Empire Records plays a very smart marketing game. Besides capturing a portion of the cassette and vinyl release market, the New Jersey-based label has established a strong presence on Bandcamp. Here’s a quick look at two recent releases.

Artwork by H.V Lyngdal

The phrase “asphyxiating black metal” is used to describe this outfit, an apt description as Skáphe are a swirling miasma of raw guitars, off kilter tempo changes, screeched vocals, and horrid atmosphere. The music takes on a suffocating air, but Skáphe are at their best when they downshift into eerie bass lines and other quiet moments. Comparisons to the now defunct Necrite come to mind, as well as to Pale Chalice and a few other similar bands. Very little information about Skáphe could be gleaned from my cursory research other than the band is from the United States.

A black metal trio from Québec, Eos first gained exposure on the monstrous Svn Okklt cassette sampler in 2013. Like many acts from Québec, Eos play raw black metal with plenty of atmospherics on L'Avalé, officially labeled as a three-song demo. Limited to only 150 copies, your best bet in hearing this release from Eos is on Bandcamp. Two of the songs are new with “Katharsis,” the middle track, having previously appeared on the Svn Okklt sampler. The new songs are a bit different from “Katharsis” with a greater concentration upon slow atmospherics. The production values are slightly different, as well, possibly indicating that the songs were recorded at different times. Regardless, though, L'Avalé is an intriguing release.

June 17, 2014

Pristina - Hopeless•Godless

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

There's a line in Gaston Leroux's original romantic horror novel, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, wherein Christine, upon hearing one of the Phantom's compositions for the first time, describes it as "one long, awful, magnificent sob." Never before has a metallic hardcore album suited this description as well as Pristina's latest effort, Hopeless•Godless. Wrestling with devastation, addiction and loss in a far more immediate, bloody and raw way than their last release, the comparatively more restrained The Drought (ov Salt and Sorrow), this record is as honest and rock-bottom as it gets.

Vocalist/principal songwriter Brendan K. Duff sounds as though he's undergoing an exorcism, each howled or rasped word dragged out of him with hooks and chains. The production is at once simpler and more naked than previous releases as well, with the band handling all the mixing and mastering. (Whereas The Drought was the product of a studio collaboration with Today is the Day's Steve Austin, and had a more layered and sophisticated sound as a result). It's rare that production can be described as "intimate," but there's a skin-to-skin quality to the sound, an immediacy and care in the handling, that's palpable.

Hopeless•Godless is an incredibly painful listen; it's the type of record that's perfectly suited for those moments when the foundation of your life cracks and collapses. If you can stand the pain, this is a masterpiece.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 16, 2014

Lumbar - The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

Written by Aaron Sullivan.

First a bit of history. The band is made up of three members. The always amazing Mike Scheidt of Yob. The, dare I say, American treasure Tad Doyle of Tad and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth and the music and lyric writer of the album, Aaron Edge, also of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth.

For those familiar with DOOM and all it’s sub-genres I imagine Mr. Scheidt really needs no introduction (for the others, check out the Yob epic "Catharsis", you’ll thank me later). Tad Doyle should be, in my opinion, a household name. Or at least one to fans of Sludge. His band Tad was among the bands coming out of the Pacific Northwest that was changing music. They may have labeled it ‘grunge’, but Tad sounded pretty metallic to me. After you are done with "Catharsis" (you’re welcome) go look up Tad’s song "Grease Box" (again, you’re welcome). For me, Aaron was the one I was unfamiliar with. Shame really, as his struggle is what the whole album hinges on.

Everything that makes up this album comes from his struggle with multiple sclerosis. The name of the band is inspired by the numerous spinal taps he had in order to diagnose his multiple sclerosis. The lyrics speak of his days spent in bed and the pain that he was going through emotionally and physically. This is as an artist should be. Open and honest. Tapping a vein and bleeding it out on wax for the listener. Giving catharsis to not only the artists but perhaps to a few listeners that may be going through struggles of their own.

Musically this is Sludge/DOOM. Heavy guitars that sound as if they are played in mud. Thick bass lines and pounding beats. Mike does his usual vocal excellence. His ability to scream in a way that conveys emotion is something I have never heard anyone even come close to. Powerful yet vulnerable at the same time. The weight of the lyrics are not lost in his interpretation of them. The mix of his and Doyles vocals work well. Mike’s higher register and Doyle’s deep almost chant like vocal go great together. Added in the mix of DOOM are songs like "Day Three" and "Day Four" that are almost ambient or noise.

All in all this is a fantastic record. No doubt the inclusion of Doyle and Mike will help raise the profile of this album. But it should not take away credit in anyway from Aaron. For not only crafting such a great record, but also willing to share his personal struggles with the masses. It takes courage to do that and proves that great art does come from struggle.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 13, 2014

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XV - LA Reh 012

Written by Craig Hayes.

Sixteen years. That’s how long riff mangling marauders Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson have been steering Sunn O))) into the crushing depths of tonal terror. Sixteen years of mammoth weight. Sixteen years of maximum reverb. Sixteen years of feedback, VOLUME, and pressure.

Over that time, Sunn O))) have accomplished many things. They've skirted the realms of accessibility, with albums like Monoliths and Dimensions. They've bewildered and battered, with stunning releases like ØØVOID and Black One. And they’ve have crafted massive suites, often from the most minimal of elements, with all those compositions being, well, crushing.

And they snuck an album by me.

It’s true. I made it my aim to review every Sunn O))) release, but I have to put my hand up. I missed this one early in the year.

In January this year, Sunn O))) released LA REH 012, which seems, on the face of it, to be a continuation of exploratory themes marked out by their previous demo release, Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011. Recorded in Los Angeles in 2012, mixed in Paris 2013, mastered by Brad Boatright, and originally issued on limited edition vinyl, LA REH 012 features somewhat of a return to Sunn O)))’s roots.

LA REH 012 features two titanic songs, “Last One / Valentine's Day” and “Invisible / Sleeper”; both making for 40-minutes of molten chords and bone-rattling frequencies. There’s nothing romantic about “Last One / Valentine's Day”, unless your idea of ardour features a love-in soundtracked by ominous organ-liquefying drone. If that’s the case, then you’re in luck, because “Last One / Valentine's Day” brings glacial movements of feedbacking strums the netherworld reverberations that reach back to the uber-slow days of Flight of the Behemoth and The Grimmrobe Demos.

“Last One / Valentine's Day” features guitar and bass, and nothing else. However, as usual, that set-up brings everything. Volume + physicality = sonic intimidation, and that’s all brought to bear on the track. As with all of Sunn O)))’s ultra-minimalist works, it’s the overall weight that counts most, and while “Last One / Valentine's Day” might be repetitive and rudimentary in structure, it hammers home the heavy tones, with monumental waves of guitar.

“Invisible / Sleeper” offers more in the mix. Anguished howls and the mutterings of the damned start the track, before an ascendent riff arises, and the squalling and crawling begins. A little synth creeps in to add some underlying colour, and for the next 20-minutes, it’s all churning journeying. Sunn O)))’s familiar atmosphere of audio asphyxiation rumbles across rhythmless terrain, and there’s no light glimpsed, and definitely no sleeping brows soothed here.

LA REH 012 is, like all Sunn O)))’s releases, a lengthy sojourn where dense sounds simultaneously raise the tension and liberate the spirit. Of course, to make the most of those ingredients, the usual mantra applies; “maximum volume yields maximum results”. Whether LA REH 012 hints at a return to darker, thundering skies for Sunn O))) in the future is yet to be seen, but whether that happens or not, this album is certainly another glorious gateway to oblivion.

(Right, I’m all caught up. That’s every Sunn O))) release reviewed, for now. Now best you go and buy ‘em. I didn’t go to all this effort for nothing.)

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

June 11, 2014

Eight Bells - The Captain's Daughter

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

Based in Portland, OR, Eight Bells are the new project founded by Melynda Jackson, formerly of SubArachnoid Space. After shuttering that project in 2011 (their final album was also titled Eight Bells), Jackson started Eight Bells out of the ashes, bringing along drummer Chris Van Huffel and adding bassist Haley Westeiner, a classically trained musician who plays a six-string instrument. Together, they perform musical experiments, pushing the possibilities of heavy music in multiple directions, plumbing the depths and filth of black metal and sludge while also reaching towards the galactic heights of prog and psychedelia.

The anchor of the record is the guitar playing, both treble and bass, with the vocals serving as embellishment and the drums providing the engine. Instrumental opener "Tributaries" challenges the listener while also serving as a gateway to the rest of the record. It is the final two songs, the titular track and "Yellowed Wallpaper" (the latter of which is a reference to the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which deals with Victorian notions of madness, hysteria and crippling boredom), which form the core of the release. "The Captain's Daughter," in particular, is a violent, virulent, lovely track, exquisitely engineered and as merciless as the multi-tailed whip from which it draws its name.

The challenge of engineering this complex record was admirably met by Billy Anderson (Sleep, Neurosis, Agalloch), who knows exactly when to smoke the glass, smear it with Vaseline or buff it to a crustal shine. The Captain's Daughter is an extraordinary debut that bodes extremely well for the future. Almost Victorian in its elegance and graceful complication, Eight Bells have created a masterpiece that is part clockwork, part cameo and a little bit mad.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 9, 2014

Septicflesh - Mystic Places of Dawn

An Autothrall classic. Originally published here.

Artwork by Spiros Antoniou / Septicflesh

Having already established themselves as one of the most unique and refreshing new faces in European death metal with their Temple of the Lost Race EP, the years were only going to be kind to Septic Flesh, not to mention their listeners. Mystic Places of Dawn was an astounding debut which easily surpassed that 1991 release in both scope and quality, a solemn excursion into places mythological and fantastic, an atmospheric descent of death and doom freckled by the glint of brighter synthesizers, lyrical evocations of the ancient and historical, and the drawling guttural brutality of Spiros Antoniou. It would be a fair comparison to measure this album up against the formative works of the higher profile death/doom hybrids coming out of England (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema, etc). The Greeks are not always labeled as such, but Mystic Places of Dawn paints the same, downward slope to sorrow with an even broader, atmospheric brush.

Septicflesh 2011. Photo by Webzine Chuul

This album is a monster of melancholy, and while it hovers at around 55 minutes, a substantial duration for death metal in its day, I highly recommend listening all at once, for the ebb and flow of the material seems almost too much to contain in just a fraction of its sum composition. The process here usually involves simplistic, driving or dredging guitar lines sauced in a cheesy but ever memorable topping of tinny synthesizers, and the haunting lamentations of guitar melodies filtered through the perfect level of reverb and effect. Don't be mistaken to think this is always being performed at a crawl, because a number of tunes like "Return to Carthage" or the title track thunder along with the same velocity of their death metal peers. However, it's a general rule that the band will segue into some eloquent, doom dripping passage at some point, even in the faster fare, so there is no reason to fear some dearth of variation.

Certain tracks are admittedly 'prettier' than others, like the dreamy sequences of synthesizer bliss that adorn "The Underwater Garden", or the pure synthesizer finale of "Mythos - Part I: Elegy" and "Part II: Time Unbounded", but Septicflesh were one of the better bands to incorporate keyboards into the genre, alongside Finland's Amorphis, who also put out a rather stunning effort in the same year (the phenomenal Tales from the Thousand Lakes). That album had far better production than Mystic Places of Dawn, but the actual contrasts of melody and brutality are quite similar, taking into account the varied cultural subtext beneath the writing. This isn't quite so regal and glorious, mind you, but there is a far stronger sense of sadness suffused over the material. The listener gets a real feeling of ages creeping past, of civilizations risen and then fallen, as if one were to watch the gradual settling of Atlantis to the floor of the ocean, forgotten by all but legends...

Septicflesh 2013. Photo by Webzine Chuul

As I hinted there, the actual mix of the debut is a bit lacking, not so much that it hinders the clarity of the music or the ultimate enjoyment of its contents, but just enough to give a slight air of amateurism. In fact, Temple of the Lost Race sounds to me superior, even if the actual songs are not. That said, its weighty and moody enough to appreciate despite this mild setback, and its in fine company with other Greek masterworks like Scarlet Evil Witching Black or Thy Mighty Contract, both of which have production values that many would scoff at. Actually, a better parallel would be drawn to the Nightfall sophomore, Macabre Sunsets, but that's chunkier and more annoying than Mystic Places. All told, though, the songwriting is consistently impressive, and Septicflesh amply proved their importance as one of the finer atmospheric death metal acts the world over. To think that this isn't even their best...

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Note: This is the 2012 remaster by Season of Mist, featuring new artwork, and the 4 song Temple of the Lost Race EP, mentioned in the review, as bonus tracks.

June 8, 2014

Black Monolith - Passenger

Written by Matt Hinch.

I have this rule of thumb that if a band has "black" in their name, I at least have to try them on for size. Most often it works. In the case of Black Monolith some trusted Bandcamp buddies were willing to pay for their debut Passenger, so that was another easy plus. I laid down some hard earned review writing money (It exists!) and dove right in.

Turns out that was money extremely well spent. This Oakland, CA group take metal and crust it over some d-beat fire leaving a desiccated and charred ruin of your ears. As painful and tortured as it may be, every second is undeniably desirable.

Opener "Intro/Void" introduces the band with an atmospheric and noisy intro leading into oppressive USBM. It's raw and muddy, scathing and densely layered. The guitars cut like serrated blades of sound as the drums castigate incessantly and tremulous melodies lope from mountaintop to mountaintop. The galloping rumble isn't all about pressing inward though, as moments of triumph and airiness find their place here as well as elsewhere on the album.

The two shortest tracks in "Dead Head" and "Victims and Hangmen" show off Black Monolith's malicious d-beat side. The former joined to a lumbering acidity, with an underlying melody evolving into soaring yet still filthy black metal. The latter's swagger battles with sludgy hardcore and a scorching solo.

"Adhere" features windswept and forlorn melodies shimmering below relentless percussion and the tortured ministrations of the harrowing and pained vocals. Similarly, "Gold Watch" sees a forceful racing black metal cacophony give way to glorious epicness while maintaining that snarly attitude.

After enduring the first five tracks the listener is left spent. Black Monolith tear out their emotional core and wipe it all over your face. Inhaling its essence leaves little room for fresh air but the unending darkness recedes on closing track "Eris".

From a slow, downtrodden doom rises joyous post-metal. A glorious light streaks across the landscape soothing the wounds incurred and leaving the listener filled with a feeling of contentment. It's an unexpected but welcome counter to the acute darkness of the majority of Passenger, although shades of the "Eris" aura are woven throughout.

Passenger is a captivating album blended with enough elements to entice a varied audience. There's a commonality across it all that ties it together and makes it feel like a complete whole and more than just a band struggling to find its identity. It's comfortable to say this stellar debut is among the best USBM releases so far this year.

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June 7, 2014

Mad Max's Wheels of Steel #1

Written by Maxim Björky.

Dearest Metal Bandcamp reader, for some reason the friendly administration of this respectable blog has allowed me to subject you to my musical leanings. Then again, should you find yourself even mildly engaged by what’s scribbled below, then you’ll quickly realize that reason’s got nothing’ to do with it. It’s more about tunes that grab you by the intestines. Balls out heavy metal, touches of glam and power, indulgent harmonies, all these can be found below.

There are so many good bands doing this epic metal thing at the moment that I’m almost certain my self-important millennial brain might be playing tricks on me. Wellington, New Zealand’s Fallen Order released their debut EP, The Age of Kings, earlier this year and along with Stone Dagger, Borrowed Time, and Eternal Champion, they make up a nice cadre of promising Manilla Road protégés.

Singer Hamish Murray has a smooth low-octave range that gives this band a nice backbone but the tight harmonies and rhythm section certainly make his job a lot easier. He can also hit those highs when needed. Can’t wait to see what these guys can do with a slightly more atmospheric studio treatment. In the meantime, throw them a few bones.

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This band makes me want to perm my goatee. Aside from all the obvious differences with the Norwegian folk rock band by the same name, Germany's Vamp is cool because they won't give you seasonal depression. This gem harkens back to its 1989 release, when the band finally seemed on the cusp of cracking the mainstream. Queensrÿche and the Scorpions were regularly playing to tens of thousands; surely they could do it too. Alas, it was not in the cards for these chaps. Some combination of label incompetence and awful luck derailed their dreams of stardom. Though they are no more, The Rich Don’t Rock has potential to send you tumbling down the 80s rabbit hole in a very cool way.

The real cornerstone here is Ricolf Cross' ballsy overdriven riffing. Like many sleazy 80s releases, the bass is too low in the mix (yes, that’s my number one complaint about glam), but everything else makes for a series of punchy, shredding tunes that still somehow always end up being about heartbreak. Combine this “what if” time machine with 15 unreleased demos and it makes this pricey digital release a little more reasonable.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

What Call of the Wild lack in nuance and sophistication, they make up for in sheer intensity and firm traditional values like the belief that there is no musical sequence which couldn't use some wild flurries of lead guitar.

The next thing you might notice is that these guys listen to way too much Powerslave (or, by me, not enough). Where their transitions sometimes falter from overly complex lead-rhythm layering, one gets the sense that they’ll eventually start simplifying the bridge riffs to make room for that sugary, satisfying hook. Still the hooks are there, especially notable in the flash of the title track. In any case, the riffs and vibes never fail. Get this album and defend the faith.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Blackened thrash, crust, and osdm are next on the bill.

June 4, 2014

Emptiness - Nothing but the Whole

Written by Kevin Page.

My introduction to this Belgium black/death metal outfit came via 2012's, Error. While not a bad album, it never quite grabbed hold and swept me off my feet. They weren't able to fully encapsulate what they were attempting to convey. The approach was different, I respected that, and it contained enough intriguing ideas that I was willing to give future albums a listen.

Well that future album turns out to be one of 2014's best releases, Nothing But the Whole (once again being released on Dark Descent Records). This is a record that is as equally good as it is different and interesting. There isn't a single thing "typical" about Nothing But the Whole (vocally, musically, production, etc.). While Error hinted at what Emptiness were going for (and only partially succeeding), Nothing But the Whole, swings for the fences and connects.

Now be forewarned, this album is odd in its approach and not traditional by any means. Will this turn off a few people who are impatient? Probably, but its well worth your time to allow it to sink in over the course of many weeks or months. As I write this review I'm still discovering new things I haven't heard before.

You won't be steamrolled or run over like a freight train. What the band has accomplished is the ability to take you on an alternate journey along what seems to be a well treaded path (but really isn't). It will comfortably stray a few yards away in the bushes on the side of the road, almost ready to jump back on the known path, but never does. It deliberately wants to tease you. You'll experience plenty of moments where you think "Ok, they are gonna kick it into high gear here", yet they don't. Again, this may frustrate some people in our instant gratification world but patience and restraint pays off in the end.

Over the course of its 7 songs and 39 minute run time, you will experience a swirling mass of dark atmosphere. You'll hear background chatter as if you were walking on a busy city street. You'll be hypnotized and mesmerized, yet like everything else about this album, not in a way you would expect.

Death metal with a twist. A grower, not a shower. Immolation if they took a "chill pill" and got all trippy and spaced out on your ass. Whatever you want to call it, just get this album.

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June 3, 2014

Clamfight - I Versus the Glacier

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

Artwork by Josh Wright

Hailing from the depths of Westmont, NJ, Clamfight have created a weighty, shambling monstrosity with sophomore album I Versus The Glacier. The riffs are torrential in intensity, vicious as a hailstorm, while the martial drumming keeps the pace relentless. For all their thrash-like aggression and mercilessness, the structure of Clamfight's songs draw much more from the sludge and doom genres. The tone is fat and gelid, scouring the listener, while the emotional timbre of the album vacillates between lung-raw anger and the bleakness of an Arctic sunrise.

Photos by Kevin Riley.

"Age of Reptiles" is a particularly doom-laden, guttural track, exemplifying their sound most clearly. However, it's the stirring, sweat-reeking "The Green Gods of Yag" that's surprisingly the album's standout track, with its compelling rhythm and cinematic density. I Versus The Glacier is the perfect soundtrack to a wrestling match held by frost giants.

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Falls of Rauros / Panopticon - Brotherhood

By Justin C. When I got back into metal a few years ago, it took me a while to sort through all the subgenres to find out what I liked. (And given that there are 378 known subgenres with "-core" attached to them alone, it took a while.) As a result, I came to a lot of subgenres backwards. I don't have a story of my transformative introduction to black metal
By Justin C.

When I got back into metal a few years ago, it took me a while to sort through all the subgenres to find out what I liked. (And given that there are 378 known subgenres with "-core" attached to them alone, it took a while.) As a result, I came to a lot of subgenres backwards. I don't have a story of my transformative introduction to black metal by listening to A Blaze in the Northern Sky or De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. For me, Falls of Rauros was one of my entry points. The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood is still one of my all-time favorite albums, and I’ve been chomping at the bit for more ever since. I discovered Panopticon a bit later on, but Kentucky is simply brilliant, so I actually pre-ordered this split on vinyl, even though I don't own a record player. I wanted that download card in my hot little hands as soon as I could get it, even if that meant getting a big black circle that I didn't need, but now both bands have put their halves of the split up on their respective Bandcamp pages.

Falls of Rauros' two songs have more of that blend of modern folk and black metal that resonated so deeply with me when I first encountered them. Their acoustic guitar work remains heartfelt and integral to their sound, although their first track, "Unavailing," sees the band mixing in some tasty, classic rock-esque guitar harmonies and bluesy, bent-note riffs. But as good as "Unavailing" is, "The Purity of Isolation" is a true showstopper. My favorite part comes about halfway through the song, when the main melodic line is put front and center. I can only guess as to precisely what they're doing here--I don't know if the sound is purely electronic or if there's an instrument underneath being tweaked, but it's haunting. At times it sounds like a cello, and at other points almost like a saxophone. It's accompanied by quietly but insistently strummed acoustic guitar, and it's heart-breakingly beautiful. It remains so when it then explodes into a full tremolo-picked, blast-beated fury. It makes me feel like I should be on a mountaintop, screaming my lungs out in sweet relief. It's probably one of my favorite things the band has done.

I was initially thrown a bit by Panopticon's half. I still very much have Kentucky in my ears, so I was surprised when the blackened Appalachia of that album was replaced by the classic Norwegian black metal sound of these songs. (I shouldn't have been surprised, though, because Austin Lunn hasn't gotten his well-deserved praise by churning out the same material over and over again.) But that said, it didn't take me long to warm up to these songs. As many people who write about music will tell you, if you're going to work with a well-established sound, you have to play the ever-loving hell out of it, and Lunn does just that. Granted, this is Norwegian black metal filtered through Panopticon's very distinctive sound. There's no mistaking Lunn's roars over the infectious tremolo riffs and furious rhythms. The songs aren't steeped in cold, Norwegian atmosphere as much as they are just downright spooky. I don't know if "Can You Loan Me a Raven?" is an allusion to Edgar Allen Poe's work, but it would make a brilliant soundtrack to it.

Sometimes splits can feel a little schizophrenic, but somehow Fall of Rauros' blackened folk and Panopticon's Norwegian revival work together. Having the split on two separate Bandcamp pages gives you the option of picking and choosing between the two halves, but I think fans of black metal will want to get both and keep these songs together.

June 1, 2014

Dread Sovereign - All Hell's Martyrs

Written by Ulla Roschat.

Artwork by Costin Chioreanu

If Mr Alan Averill, alias “Nemtheanga” ever should consider to quit his career as a musician, which god forbid (or devil, or whoever is in charge here) he’ll always make a successful guru or cult leader. His ability to convey his passion and emotion via his voice combined with the charismatic aura of his personality is extremely captivating and enchanting.

I had the great pleasure to see him with his band Dread Sovereign on stage at the Heavy Days in Doomtown III festival in Copenhagen this year and, well, let me put it this way, if he had told me the earth was flat, I would simply have believed it. Luckily he is extremely busy using his persuasive power in his music in various bands and the newest one is Dread Sovereign in which Simon O’Laoghaire (Primordial) alias “SOLDubh” and “Bones” (Wizards of Firetop Mountain) join him.

Photo by Ulla.

The band formed in the beginning of 2013 in Dublin/Ireland and released a 3 song EP in April of the same year and their full length debut now one year later called All Hell’s Martyrs.

The first track is a short ambient psychedelic intro that kind of sets the sinister eerie mood for the album minus the heaviness, but you won't have to wait long for that, for the following songs offer tons of it. All Hell’s Martyrs is basically raw, old schoolish and occultish Doom, quite epic in style with a spacey and ambient edge to it which gives it a kind of modern classic Doom sound, intense and heavy, with a dense atmosphere of pure menacing evil. The songs are uncomplicated in their structure, but by no means simple. They are so carefully composed and arranged, with subtle variations, that make them both, very organic sounding and moving forward by momentums varying in their degree of impact, but always effective.

Everything (or most everything) is right in place, the heavy bass, the structurizing drums, the expressive passionate vocals that carry the melodies and the heavy guitar riffs and solos to die for.

Photo by Ulla.

All the different moods and emotions, be it sorrowful mourning, the menace in ritualistic chants or the pathos of hymnic worship, all feels right, nothing exaggerated, nothing weak and I never heard a song before, that could give such a majesty to sorrow and pain like the final song of the album “Live Through Martyrs - Transmissions From The Devil Star”.

As the album is quite long, its playing time is more than an hour, it was wise to give it some kind of partitioning elements and Dread Sovereign did this in form of two short instrumental interludes, which do even more than that. They suggest to listen to the album as a whole and in the given order, otherwise they don’t make much sense, and they function as doors or transition points that lead into another room, another level of atmosphere, where the light is even darker, the air still thicker and everything’s getting even more intense. The songs merge into each other seamlessly which is another hint to conceive the album as a complete and organic entity.

All this, but most of all the excellent musicianship of all band members and their ability to play off each other so well, gives the album that great sense of organic completeness. Listen to All Hell’s Martyrs and you’ll know this is not just “Nemtheanga” plus two, this is Dread Sovereign.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]