August 31, 2014

Mad Max's Wheels of Steel #3

Written by Maxim Björky.

Folk Metal tends to get roughed up a bit in some circles. Now, folk bands aren't getting stuffed into lockers just because they reside at some intersection of a cultural faire and a sword n’ sorcery convention, nor is it because they necessarily count more silly bands among their own than any other metallic subsidiary. Rather, I would venture that folk metal’s embarrassing extended family is much more commercially viable and visible. This tends to obscure some very dynamic acts, ones that are both menacing and uplifting, whose albums are unabashedly melodic yet still manage to feel righteously savage. Here are just a few of those.

This is what it sounds like when Polish transplants in Ireland get really into traditional Celtic dances. Though I'll leave it someone more versed in the genealogy of folk music to delve into this, I gotta say that the smoothness with which these guys fuse Slavic and Celtic themes might be as much a testament to their own ingenuity as to the common Scandinavian influences that run through both cultures. The vocals are just great on this newest record and are probably the most dynamic and enjoyable part. If you like acts like Hagalaz’ Runedance, or even Satanica-era Behemoth, this constitutes a must-buy. The end result is some pretty epic harvest season type tunage. Come to think of it, this should have made it onto my best of 2014 So Far list but I snoozed on it hard. Much recommend!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Astral Body Horror

I still having a hard time believing that you have to tell folk metal fanboys and fangirls about this band. They are goddamn majestic. Tengger Cavalry bring Kublai Khan’s conquest of China to life with vivid, colorful instrumentation. Even with my base knowledge of Mongolian culture, it’s hard not to note that the righteous gallop of “Battle Song From Far Away” seems to capture the fortitude of an army which so easily swept across much of the known world in the 13th Century. And while much of the album is horseback riding music, the punchy, memorable “Summon the Warrior” will get the blood pumping. On top of that you get the usual Tuvan throat singing, which complements everything nicely.

I have never wanted to fire a bow so much in my life.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Moonroot

I’ve asked many people, nerds and heshers alike, to define just what pagan metal is and have never gotten a consistent answer. I get that we're splitting hairs here but it seems even the thematically defined Viking metal thing is easier to anoint as a genre. This is what this band is often labeled and I'm just not sure it does them any justice. It’s a rich tapestry of leads, samples, hymns, and blasting refrains, one that’s at its most novel on jams like “Wayfarer’s Awakening”, “Doomsayer”, or the massively rewarding, guitar-driven “Don’t Tell Lies to Children”. Much like the world-renowned beer their hometown of Pilsen is known for, Panychida’s music is crisp and full of haunting accents that linger with you long after. One often recalls Thyrfing or even Enslaved. Just as suddenly, they can rip into some dense commentary on modern warfare on songs like “Love Bombing”. These are the kinds of curveballs I search high and low for.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love slamming cheap domestics to a Finntroll set as much as the next guy but, for me, this stuff is at its most compelling during the kind of soul-searching that happens to Moonsorrow and Arkona than when dressing up to see any one of the innumerable of bands whose whole aesthetic is a dwarven bar fight.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 30, 2014

Wolvhammer / Krieg - Split

Written by Matt Hinch.

The inevitable matchup between US Black Metal stalwarts Wolvhammer and Krieg has arrived. A couple months ago to be correct. I'm a little behind. On this split from Broken Limbs each band contributes a single track making for a quick and dirty little 7".

Wolvhammer takes the A Side with sludgeoning black metal on a track titled "Slaves to the Grime". Based on a groovy pulse and a simple yet effective riff it mixes more tempos in before returning to the original headbangin' throb. Epic, doomy passages open up the snarling tone and skittering guitars bring paranoia to the sludgy plod. Blackened rhythms up the ante to match the disgusted rasp admonishing the mindless hordes driving themselves toward extinction in service to "The Man". It's nothing unexpected from Wolvhammer but that's not a complaint. It's yet another example of how they are able to fuse the spirit of black metal to engaging riffs and grim but grinning groove.

The ever-prolific Krieg take a more frigid path on their side. "Eternal Victim" may only be 3:30 long but there's no lack of icy venom. It too comes full circle, starting and ending on a cold, dark, gritty note. The overriding feel is one of bleak desperation as the impassioned screams reek of hate and menace. But stuck in the middle is a super catchy riff that makes you want to grab someone by the throat and scream "This is what it's all about!" full on in their face. Following a brief blitz the track returns to the anguished darkness and fades into nothing.

Both bands have a busy 2014 with Wolvhammer releasing Clawing into Black Sun on Profound Lore in July and Krieg set to unleash Transient next month as well as live dates for both. So when this came out back in June it served as a sort of teaser for both band's new albums.

The pairing is natural to be sure. Both songs give the listener something to grab on to as they grapple for purchase amongst the icy tone of these USBM mainstays. And hey, it's cheap!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 29, 2014

EP madness

By Kevin Page. Belgian black/death outfit, Possession, stormed out of the hellfire gates last year with their His Best Deceit demo. While not anything overly original, it was well done and convincing enough for me to put them on my radar for future releases.
By Kevin Page.

Cover art by Thorncross.

Belgian black/death outfit, Possession, stormed out of the hellfire gates last year with their His Best Deceit demo. While not anything overly original, it was well done and convincing enough for me to put them on my radar for future releases. Well, they haven't wasted any time and are back with a new 2 song EP, titled Anneliese. Without giving up an ounce of their furious nature, they demonstrate how restraint can make your music even more potent. They've mixed it up with slower tempos and catchier material while the reverberating demonic vocals are even more bombastic. I'm a huge stickler for the drum sound on most releases, and the very "live" feel and just that "slap" of the drum here really tickles my fancy. Very impressive.

England's Binah released their debut album, Hallucinating in Resurrecture, in 2012. While I appreciated the style (old school death metal with the Entombed guitar tone) it wasn't something that ever stuck with me or made me want to break out for repeated listens. I enjoyed it, I just wasn't ga-ga. Which brings us to the new 12 minute EP, A Triad of Plagues. Definitely a step up from their past material. Far more memorable and a band that sounds much more comfortable with their style. They retained the same sound you heard on the debut, but refined it and made it just a wee hair less suffocating. Good to see a band 'up their game'.

Furious Scandinavian-esque black metal from Greece. Septuagint reminds me of mid era Marduk. Lots of frantic blasting but with more tempo breaks than you would expect. This is where the band really makes their mark and separates themselves from just being another ferocious black metal blitzkrieg. And when they slow down you can hear the atmospheric guitar tone that almost has a post black metal feel to it. Don't be alarmed though as the material is neither of those two previously mentioned styles. If it makes you feel any better, there's a bassist in the band, but in typical black metal fashion, you can't even tell.

Artwork by Profanum.

Metal Archives lists this as a demo. The band call it a promo. Bandcamp calls it an album. I'm going with EP as that suits this post. Raw, filthy, vicious, and bestial death metal from New Zealand. This sits somewhere between Heresiarch/Diocletian and Impetuous Ritual/Grave Upheaval. The production sounds like it was recorded in your garage in the early 90's, but that only adds to it charm. If you've never heard of any of the bands I just mentioned, I'd proceed with caution before listening. If those bands tickle your fancy, then Vesicant is another band to add to your 'must listen' list.

August 28, 2014

Skogen - I döden

Written by Majbritt Levinsen.

Artwork by Samos

When the full album stream of Skogens new I Döden (In Death) was made available a few months back I immediately proclaimed that this just might be an album of the year for me. I made my pre-order of the album before I had even heard the full album to the end and I have not one ounce of regret about that decision.

As I sit here with my headphones on and absorb the music with my ears and feel the music in my gut, I also smell the ink from the booklet and watch the stunning artwork of Samos/Wolkogniv from Folkingrimm Art, all my senses are in use. It is more convenient with digital downloads through Bandcamp, in regards of storing and mobile accessibility, but I still buy physical CD’s and even LP’s, and when the packaging is as well done as this, then I am truly happy!

Skogen has since their formation in 2009 been pretty productive and released 4 albums and has with this release gone back to the sound of the first two albums, which are more atmospheric and slow. The band consist of Jocke Svensson, bass and vocals, Mathias Nilsson, guitars, keys and vocals and Linus Larsson on the drums.

What makes this album great? When three people with a mutual musical/artistic direction and passion comes together and all are equally involved and no boundaries is set, you know something great is about to happen. The tracks have been carefully arranged on I Döden and though I at first thought the slower "Solarvore" didn't really fit the rest of the album, as it is has a little different feeling than the rest of the tracks, it has grown on me, slowly.

What hit me the most, when I first heard the album, was the clear sound of the recording. I Döden bursts out and attacks your ears with brutal delicacy, offering some insane melodic parts, that almost invites to some heathen bouncing around, and the acoustic guitar parts are so delicate and fragile but so perfectly placed within the tracks (the title track "I Döden", is a perfect example of this). Skogen uses keys with moderation just the way I like it; they give the tracks depth and atmosphere and doesn't overpower. Depth and atmosphere is what you'll find on this album whether it is in the more raw and powerful tracks or in the more mellow passages.

And I simply have to quote an anonymous Bandcamp’er: "..."Sleep" should be the song playing for us when we go to wherever the fuck we go when we die.". I couldn't agree more, the track is simply beautiful in all it’s atmospheric, and I would say hypnotic, black metal glory. Thankfully we get +13 minutes of this little masterpiece that closes off the album.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 27, 2014

The Flenser Part Two: Have a Nice Life, White Suns & Planning for Burial

By Craig Hayes. In the first part of this Flenser Records feature, I looked at recent releases from avant-garde black metal band Mamaleek, and harbingers of electronic doom, Wreck and Reference. Both of those bands are based in California, and both are duos, but those aren't the only commonalities between the two bands. Mamaleek and Wreck and Reference also blend a lot of influences from
By Craig Hayes.

In the first part of this Flenser Records feature, I looked at recent releases from avant-garde black metal band Mamaleek, and harbingers of electronic doom, Wreck and Reference. Both of those bands are based in California, and both are duos, but those aren't the only commonalities between the two bands. Mamaleek and Wreck and Reference also blend a lot of influences from well outside metal’s usual sphere of interests into their sound, and while the two bands are sonically dissimilar, they both take a similarly experimental approach in their songwriting.

In doing that, Mamaleek and Wreck and Reference both make innovative music, but they both also feature plenty of core metal references in their sound as well. Flenser also releases works by bands that don’t reference metal as directly, yet those bands are still making music that contains a lot of elements that would appeal to fans of dark rock and metal. There’s been three albums added to Flenser’s Bandcamp page of late that fall into that category, so let’s take a look at that trio of releases, and their creators.

Every band wants to make a good impression on debut, but when Have A Nice Life released their first full-length, Deathconsciousness, back in 2008, they delivered an outright underground classic. The band’s founding members, Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, crafted a sprawling double album, where shoegaze, industrial rock, indie pop, and traces of metal were all twisted around the heavy presence of post-punk. Deathconsciousness’ reputation has only increased since its release, so six years later, Have A Nice Life’s second full-length album, The Unnatural World, has a lot to live up to.

Thankfully, Have A Nice Life have come up with an album that is just as rewarding as Deathconsciousness. The Unnatural World takes the band’s post-punk core, and adds in a heavier dose of death-and-gothic-rock, while the presence of murky shoegaze and industrial noise is still keenly felt. For any metalhead seeking music that is meditative and mysterious, the counterpointing of gorgeousness and grimness found on The Unnatural World is bound to be attractive. Certainly, The Unnatural World is as emotionally heavy as any release from the realms of doom or sludge metal, and with waves of fuzz, reverb, feedback, and distortion spilling from walls of guitar, there’s abundant crossover appeal lurking in the album’s depths.

Dark dirges off The Unnatural World, such as “Guggenheim Wax Museum”, “Burial Society” and the bass-heavy blast of “Defenestration Song”, see ice-cold vocals thread through despairing atmospheres – bringing all that wintery '80s post-punk chill. However, along with that, much of The Unnatural World finds that aforementioned shoegaze arising from shadowy drone too. There’s static and thunder on the album as well – particularly on “Cropsey”, where industrial beats erupt into blown-out percussion – and throughout The Unnatural World, as songs tumble through the aether, the ceaseless presence of distortion and echo means everything rides on a crest of dissolving into chaotic noise.

That brings tension to tracks like “Unholy” and “Emptiness Will Eat The Witch”, undercutting their grace with the presence of something unnerving and malevolent at work. That’s exactly what makes The Unnatural World such an enthralling album overall. It’s an undeniably haunting and hypnotic release, with plenty of passages to sink into, but there’s an ever-present sense of something waiting just out of view. Something biding its time, until its decided it’s the perfect moment to crush our hopes, and shatter our dreams.

You'd be hard pressed to come up with any clear set of descriptors to capture the mayhem found on White Sun’s latest album, Totem. You'll find large doses of some kind of post-hardcore, avant-jazz, and noise rock hybridisation lurking on tracks like “Priest In The Laboratory”, “Clairvoyant” and “Disjecta Membra”. However, forget any semblance of actual structure. I mean, there’s ear-piercing guitar and concussive percussion aplenty – and tracks like “Cathexis” and “World Lock” are pretty much heaven for fans of demented guitar abuse – but everything is ground up and spat out via some glorious no-wave head-fuckery.

“Fossil Record” takes a more ambient or synthesized route, and Totem’s last track, “Carrion”, isn't so much music, as just some kind of poetic final punishment. Really, overall, Totem is just ill-natured and utterly unfathomable. White Sun’s clearly aren't interested in catering to any comfort zones, but just see if you don't hit repeat straight away after Totem finishes. Music this bizarre and defiant demands repeated listens – if only to try and make sense of why it’s so damn enjoyable. For those who claim to be very open minded, Totem is still bound to be a head-scratching challenge. Still, I’d take that over safe and anodyne music any day of the week.

Thom Wasluck’s solo project, Planning for Burial, has a lengthy discography of splits, EPs, and cassettes to be found on Bandcamp, and Desideratum, the band’s second full-length recording, is the band’s debut for Flenser. Planning for Burial takes doom and post-metal and runs that through a melancholic slowcore filter – resulting in the kinds of ambient and gothic drone that would appeal to fans of Jesu or Nadja. Tracks off Desideratum, like “Where you Rest your Head at Night” and “29 August 2012”, bring waves of minimalist, feedbacking gloom. Yet, like all of Planning for Burial’s work, heavenliness plays just as an important role as heaviness.

The connection between lost love and an aching for physical contact saturates Desideratum, and there’s no finer example of that being rendered into musical form than on the album’s final track, the 16-minute “Golden”. Cold washes of guitar begin the song, but halfway through, all the droning feedback, synth, and death-march percussion takes on a brighter hue. For sure, “Golden” remains utterly heartbreaking, but, like the best mournful musical experiences, there comes a point where utter bliss arises from misery. There's a lot of ecstasy to be found in the fragility of Desideratum; that solace that always comes from sharing the beauty and emotional rawness of despair.

The Flenser Part One: Mamaleek & Wreck and Reference.

August 24, 2014

The Flenser Part One: Mamaleek & Wreck and Reference.

By Craig Hayes. We’ve all watched an underground record label get off to a great start, only to then take a huge misstep, and buy into the hype surrounding their own success. Soon enough, that label is releasing a steady stream of sub-par albums, just to keep up the pace, and all too quickly
By Craig Hayes.

We’ve all watched an underground record label get off to a great start, only to then take a huge misstep, and buy into the hype surrounding their own success. Soon enough, that label is releasing a steady stream of sub-par albums, just to keep up the pace, and all too quickly, the trust we'd had in them to separate the wheat from the chaff on our behalf is destroyed.

Thankfully, on the other side of the coin, we have labels like Flenser Records to remind us that a rising profile doesn't have to mean any diminishing returns. Over the past five years, the highly respected San Francisco label has released a long line of riveting albums, including unquestionable classics, like Panopticon’s Social Disservices, crucial early releases, like Lycus’ Demo MMXI, or genre-shattering releases, like Botanist’s IV: Mandragora.

Flenser has always released compelling music, and it’s worth pointing out, those releases come stamped with integrity and ingenuity too. Many of the artists who've recorded for Flenser have experimented with cross-genre hybridisation, and while many have tapped into similarly gloomy and gothic atmospheres along the way, they've all had distinct artistic visions. That’s meant that Flenser is famed for hosting bands that often ignore the boundaries of their respective sub-genres, thereby challenging traditional notions of what metal is supposed to be.

Certainly, some of the bands that feature on Flenser’s roster wouldn’t identify as metal at all, but for open-minded fan of dark music, there’s a lot that’ll resonate in those bands sonic and emotional heaviness. Groups like Bosse-De-Nage, Skagos, Circle of Eyes, Palace of Worms, and many more, have ensured that Flenser has become a reliable and – here’s that all-important word again – trusted source of imaginative music. There’s been a number of engrossing additions to the label’s Bandcamp page over the past couple of months, and in this two-part Flenser feature, I'm going to take a look at recent releases from Mamaleek, Wreck and Reference, Have A Nice Life, White Suns, and Planning For Burial.

Details about experimental black metal band Mamaleek are scarce, but what we do know is that the band is made up of two brothers, who wish to remain anonymous, and they’ve recorded their past releases in San Francisco and Beirut. Anonymity suits the band well, because, like Sutekh Hexen or Wold (both masters of tenebrous noise), Mamaleek's sound also features as much mayhem as it does mystery.

Mamaleek’s latest release, He Never Spoke a Mumblin' Word, sees swarming avant-garde black metal collide with jagged industrial rhythms. Samples, effects and demented vocals rise from squalls of hallucinatory noise on the title track, and Mamaleek conjures chaotic nightmares on “My Ship is on the Ocean” and “Almost Done Tolling Here” too. All of those tracks contain plenty of madness and menace, and when “Pour Mourner’s Got a Home” sets off at a more ambient pace, opening with mournful female vocals, Mamaleek’s crooked melodies soon turn that song into a thoroughly disturbing ordeal as well.

He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word was recorded by the band, and is about as caustic as you can get. The production is the kind that'll strip skin from your bones, but its been mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Botanist, Wreck and Reference), so, for all of He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word’s corrosiveness – and everything here is über-distorted and packed with venom – it still sounds fantastic, and makes for a magnificently mind-melting experience overall.

He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word isn't the only album from Mamaleek to be supremely discomforting either. Mamaleek’s three previous full-lengths (all available on the band’s own Bandcamp page) are well worth seeking out. Each takes elements of drone, psychedelia, world music, shoegaze, electronica, and math and indie rock, and drowns them in storms of pitch-black, fuzz-enshrouded static. Mamaleek deserve a lot more attention for their ability to take those eclectic influences, slather them in monstrous eccentricity, and create mesmerising experimental black metal. He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word comes highly recommended. Although, perhaps not for those of a nervous disposition.

Flenser is known as a label that supports artists interested in reconstructing metal’s motifs. With releases from bands like Botanist and Bosse-De-Nage on the label’s books, trampling conventionality is definitely welcomed by the label, and no more is that apparent that on the Flenser's releases from Californian duo Wreck and Reference.

Wreck and Reference discards guitars and bass for electronics and death march drums, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the band lack any devastating power. Wreck and Reference take darkwave and gothic, industrial, and noise rock, fuse that with facets of bleak and quarrelsome metal, and create nerve-shredding synthscapes. By any reckoning, Wreck and Reference’s music is emotionally devastating, bringing as much despondency as any funeral doom, and on the band’s latest album, Want, Wreck and Reference continue the same fearless journeying into the desolate realms exhibited on previous releases, No Content, and No Youth.

Tracks off Want, like “Corpse Museum”, “Apollo Beneath The Whip”, and “Stranger, Fill This Hole In Me”, bring as much unconventionality as they do nonconformity; seeing anguished vocals wound around heavy-weight frequencies, all layering on the tortured atmospherics. The ease with which Wreck and Reference bring suffering to the surface is impressive, and within seconds of pressing play on Want things are utterly bleak. However, as much as there’s a lot to admire in Wreck and Reference’s balance of technical prowess and dramatic lyricism, the band’s willingness to experiment is just as praiseworthy.

Like all of Wreck and Reference’s previous releases, Want defies genre restrictions. The band are following their own path, into the void, but much like fellow sonic explorers Locrian, Wreck and Reference aren’t just daring listeners to accompany them on journeys across apocalyptic terrain. The band is also demanding that those very same listeners question what metal is, or could be. In that sense, Wreck and Reference are unquestionably confronting. Exactly how all truly innovative bands should be.

The Flenser Part Two: Have A Nice Life, White Suns & Planning For Burial.

Blood Red Water - All the Ills of Mankind

Written by Ulla Roschat.

Cover art by Alicia

Did I mention that I’m a sucker for some really raw, filthy grimy sludge with hard hitting brutal riffs that wallow in low-end frequencies, blessed with a production that takes care not to clean all the dirt and mud out of it, but instead helps it ooze through my speakers or headphones to creep through my ears into my brain?

I did not? Well then let me tell you I’m a sucker for... Blood Red Water.

Just once in a while I get to know a band that meets all the needs of my sludgy heart perfectly. Five piece band Blood Red Water from Venice/Italy already made my heart jump with their first effort Tales of Addiction and Despair from 2012. And just once in a while it happens that this rawness and grittiness I love so much is not “smoothed out” in further releases. and that’s what Blood Red Water managed to do with All the Ills of Mankind. Of course the EP is different from its predecessor and in many ways a huge step forward, but thankfully it keeps the raw dirt and brutal intensity.

While the first album has some more HC influences and is more volatile and edgy as a whole, on All the Ills of Mankind the focus is more on the groovy and melodic side. Don't get me wrong, it’s still heavy as fuck with a sinister, menacing and slightly insane atmosphere.

The opener invites you to "A Ride in the Funhouse", drags you into a fair scene - the horror version - with creepy and weird laughter, distortion and feedback sounds, before the heavy riffs and dark throaty menacing vocals (to die for) crush you. This sense of menacing insanity is carried further through the whole album, increasing the groove and methodical rhythms with each track. The middle and low paced rhythms are entrancing, not really going into psychedelic areas, but keep you captured to make you an easy victim for the looming venomous danger.

All the Ills of Mankind includes five songs and has an overall runtime of about 28 minutes - 28 minutes of pure muddy sludge joy, intense and highly addictive.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Note: Originally posted on the defunct Temple of Perdition blog.

August 23, 2014

Majestic Downfall / The Slow Death - Split

Written by Kevin Page.

I'll admit to being biased when it comes to splits. I immediately think of "throwaway tracks" and bands just using it as a stopgap until their next full length. So when I heard that Majestic Downfall (viva la Mexico), who I very much enjoy, was doing a split with a band I never heard of, The Slow Death, I was curious, to say the least. Majestic Downfall just came out with a damn good full length album last year, Three. Were these leftover tracks not good enough to make the cut on that album? Majestic Downfall is the brainchild of Jacobo Cordova, how could one man have this much new material so soon? And this is a death/doom, not 60 seconds grindcore songs. So what gives?

Well, I'm ecstatic to be soooooo thoroughly wrong. These 3 songs and 35 minutes are quite simply the best thing Majestic Downfall have ever done. And out of the 100+ albums I've heard (so far) this year, its easily the best of the bunch. It has a little bit of everything: doom, death, grind, emotion, change of pace, peaks and valleys. Heck, even it's softer moments (when you can breathe) only help to accentuate it's overall brutality. It's masterfully written and beautifully put together. Everything sounds so good, lush and organic.

"Dark Lullaby" features the best riff Jacobo has ever come up with. Heavy, melodic and memorable. I never once felt cheated for it's 13 minute runtime. I especially love the fast section toward the end of the song before it turns back to the main riff and the delicate picking to finish things off. Overall the fastest and most uptempo of the songs here. It feels over almost too soon. How is that even possible? Best song of the year and best 13 minutes of the past decade. "Renata" is next, and follows in a similar vein. It's a bit doomier and more introspective (which I would expect for a song named after your oldest daughter). Not having the benefits of the lyrics, it feels like the trials and tribulations a father would go through raising a daughter. There's this sense of trying to keep going in the face of exhaustion. "Obsidian" is the final and doomiest track (probably most reminiscent of their prior material). Wonderful bass parts throughout this whole song. That uptempo riff at the end excites a positive riot in my brain. Also, I must praise the work done by Roberto Granados. His solos all over these 3 tunes are nothing short of bliss. Incredibly tasteful with a wonderful tone, I wouldn't change a single note.

As I mentioned before, this was my introduction to Australia's The Slow Death. So I had a proper frame of reference when writing this review, I went back and listened to their prior two full lengths albums. Unlike their partners in this split, The Slow Death are mired in almost a funeral death doom plow. Stylistically anyone familiar with their prior work will feel right at home with these 3 new tracks. The overall production might be a little cleaner, the female vocals more prominent, with a few more touches of gothicness as well. But don't fear, the ultra deep death growls remain and feel much more focused and striking. Even though there isn't really an ounce of "urgency" in their approach, this feels more immediate, like a band finally firing on all cylinders. I will admit, this took more time than usual to really sink into my cerebral cortex. At the end of the day though I'm glad I was fortunate to stumble across this band. They already have a new full length album in the works for later this year/early 2015.

In conclusion (how trite, I know), this is probably the easiest $6.99 purchase recommendation I can advise you to make. Heck, the Majestic Downfall tracks are worth that price all by itself. And if you're a fan of The Slow Death and never heard Majestic Downfall, that's a wonderful bonus as well. 67 minutes of music goodness awaits thee.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 21, 2014

Big Dumb Skulls presents: Carcariass - Killing Process

Big Dumb Skulls is a blog with a simple but brilliant concept. Guided by the mysterious Council of the Elders of the Skull ("a nine-man cabal nestled in an underground bunker somewhere in Luxembourg"), each day the Friars Wagner and Johnsen unveils a new skull cover, takes a look at the artwork, and gives a quick review of the music.

The writing is often hilarious and the put-downs are legendary ("This fucking band. God damned DevilDriver"). The Friars share a deep love of metal, and have a keen eye for some of the dumber clichés associated with it. I'm working my way through the Skullection from SKULL1, learning about metal albums I never ever want to hear, and gaining an insight into the convoluted process a band undergoes before slapping a Big Dumb Skull on their cover. Like SKULL476 below.

Cover art by Olivier Salin

The skull:
Here is a clear case of a band having a vision for their album cover firmly in mind before they found the actual illustration. “We’ll call it Killing Process and put up some computery fonts and shit and it’ll be like Killing Technology and the Terminator all wrapped up in one, mes amis,” someone in the band probably said (in a haughty French accent, but not in French, for some reason), and everyone agreed that was an awesome idea, but then their artist friend showed up at the rehearsal space with a canvas, saying, “Here it is! Here is your cover!” and presented an admittedly badass skull. And then they were torn, because they all loved the futuristic dystopia angle, but they also thought the skull was totally manly and awesome, and heated discussions were had until the bassist suggested that they just merge the two concepts. “Like, maybe the computer robot guy shot a laser at this dude and fried off all his flesh and left a big hole in his head? We could have some numbers or something from the Terminator’s heads-up display on the side, like this is just some program he runs all the time, like his killing program,” and everyone stopped fighting and broke open a bottle of wine and rejoiced at the brilliance of this plan, which saved the skull AND the band.

The music:
This is one of the very, VERY few albums in the Skullection (particularly this deep) that this friar owns, but while I have long appreciated this standout slab of French melodic death metal, The Council prefers its Frankish metal to be the work of a lone, bearded, black metal loser in his bedroom, and as such must have overlooked this excellent release. How else can we explain its late position in the Skullection? Perhaps The Council’s thoughts on the matter were influenced by the rather low quality of Carcariass’s other releases, which are uniformly less good than this standout album. Killing Process is a mix of light melodic death metal (think Arch Enemy at the turn of the millennium), latter-day Death, and more complex fare, although it never rises to the level of, say, Theory In Practice for technical content. Compared to the particular strain of tech death that has arisen since the release of Necrophagist’s Epitaph, Killing Process might seem tame, but where it lacks in balls-to-the-wall displays of instrumental proficiency (or for that matter, labored brutality), it compensates with generally memorable riff- and song-writing. The production is tight and clean, and although I’m fairly certain the drums are programmed (this despite a credit for a human drummer), the work is sufficiently well-done that I’m not bothered in the main by the artificiality of the percussion. The entire affair is undergird with that uniquely French weirdness that animates pretty much everything on labels like Adipocere and Holy. This is a no-brainer purchase for anyone with a predilection for left-of-center death metal.
— Friar Johnsen

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Big Dumb Skulls presents: Cauldron Black Ram - Stalagmire

Big Dumb Skulls is a blog with a simple but brilliant concept. Guided by the mysterious Council of the Elders of the Skull ("a nine-man cabal nestled in an underground bunker somewhere in Luxembourg"), each day the Friars Wagner and Johnsen unveils a new skull cover, takes a look at the artwork, and gives a quick review of the music.

The writing is often hilarious and the put-downs are legendary ("This fucking band. God damned DevilDriver"). The Friars share a deep love of metal, and have a keen eye for some of the dumber clichés associated with it. I'm working my way through the Skullection from SKULL1, learning about metal albums I never ever want to hear, and the often tragic plight of the skulls adorning them. Like SKULL459 below.

The skull:
Let this be a lesson to sleepy skulls everywhere: no matter how tired you are, DO NOT lie down for a nap in a drippy limestone cave. You drift off for a couple decades of well-deserved rest and when you wake up, you’re fucking fossilized to the ground, with nothing to do but wait for some asshat paleontologist to show up and dig you out. And if one of your skull buddies finds you while you’re sleeping, you can be sure when you wake up there’ll be a dick drawn on your dome, in Sharpie no less. You’ll never live that shit down.

The music:
When I started spinning this disc, I was immediately reminded of Meathook Seed’s excellent, underrated debut, Embedded, which was built on weird, slinky riffs, jarring transitions, and a sort of willful inexactitude. No one ever made another album like Embedded, and I’m not saying that Cauldron Black Ram finally have. Nor am I suggesting that Cauldron Black Ram were influenced at all by that one odd Mitch Harris side project, but they have clearly arrived at a similarly strange notion of death metal (minus the keyboards and drum machine, though). Without sounding deliberately old fashioned, Cauldron Black Ram have made an album that evokes the spirit and dare I say curiosity that used to animate at least some small sliver of the death metal scene. Unquantized, only as tight as you can get from rehearsal, and defiantly mid-gain, Stalagmire is death metal freed from the horse-race demands of brutality, speed, and technicality that have nearly ruined the genre in the last decade. If it’s not as good as 2014′s leading contender for death metal album of the year, Morbus Chron’s Sweven, there’s also no shame in that second place finish. Cauldron Black Ram have been around forever, but I’d never heard them before now, and for sure I’ll be working my way backwards to determine when it was they got so good.
— Friar Johnsen

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 20, 2014

Darvulia - L'alliance des venins

Written by Steven Leslie

Artwork by Tara C.

Anyone even remotely familiar with black metal will know that France has a long and storied history of producing some of the genre’s finest and most revered acts. From the lower than lo fi approach of Les Légions Noires to orthodox and boundary pushing bands like Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord. Darvulia continues of the tradition of brilliant black metal flowing out France’s wonderfully diverse scene. The band, that released their first demo in 2000, draws their name from a Hungarian witch named Anna Darvulia, famous for being one of the servants of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Báthory. That should give you a good idea of where the band draws its lyrical and thematic inspiration. While all the lyrics are in French, there is an occult and sinister atmosphere permeating all of their works that should be easily discernable even to those who don't speak the language.

L'alliance des venins is the band’s second full length, released in 2005, a mere three years after their brilliant debut long player L'ombre malicieuse. Storming right out of the gates with a blistering assault of all the usual traits associated with the second wave of black metal made famous by their northern counterparts. While the first few minutes packed with blast beats, tremolo picked riffs, demonic atmosphere and harsh screams may lead many to believe this is standard second wave worship, do yourself a favor and continue to listen. About three minutes into the open track the band throws in a dissonant and sinister riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a DSBM album. This dynamic shift is done so naturally that you can’t help but marvel at the songwriting acumen of this French horde.

These sonic shifts from all out second wave onslaughts to more dissonant and atmospheric sections are where the band really shines. As soon as you think you know where a song is going, they throw you a curveball. Every track on this album is a master class in how to take people’s expectation and destroy them in the span of a few seconds. This variety and incorporation of different strains of black metal means the album never gets stale no matter how many times you listen to it.

Darvulia aren’t afraid to experiment with more rock-based rhythms and riffs either, while always managing to maintain the arcane and sinister atmosphere black metal requires. The aforementioned atmospheric and DSBM elements the band utilizes continue to rear their ugly heads throughout the album. Never quite as mind warping as listening to a Blut aus Nord or Deathspell Omega composition, but still pulled off with stunning style and grace. The bands’ playing throughout is stellar. From the throat scorching, vitriolic screams of R. to the magnificent drumming display put on by Akhron, it’s a masterful example of black metal done right. Anyone with even has the slightest interest in French black metal would do well to check out this slab of black metal magic.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 19, 2014

The Proselyte - Our Vessel's in Need

Written by Justin C.

I bought The Proselyte's 2011 album, Sunshine, shortly after it came out, and it's never left the music collection on any of my iDevices. Given the amounts of music I churn through--and Apple's stubborn refusal to provide me with a 1-terabyte iPhone--that's no easy feat. Now, after what seems like far too long, The Proselyte are back with a new EP, Our Vessel's in Need. They play a brand of stonery/sludgey metal that will appeal to fans of bands like Sandrider and Torche. The Proselyte skew a bit darker than those two bands, but even so, they're an excellent example of how a band can be heavy and substantial but still fun.

Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Vocals range from soulful cleans and harmonies up to a throat-shredding snarl, and the cool part is that they hit all the points in between. You can hear the snarl being ramped up in the opener, "End's Regions." There are great vocal harmonies throughout, like the soft-heavy moment in the middle of "Existential Risk." The guitar, bass, and drums are putting out some of the most thundering and aggressive sounds on the EP, but then you suddenly hear Ask and you shall receive... being crooned. It's reminiscent of one of my favorite tracks on Sunshine, "Slaw." It's another stomping tune that stops midway and breaks into a chorus of, While you wait, here's the sunshine! I'm always a sucker for a well done light-heavy contrast. On paper, a quick change between filthy sludge and a downright cheery singalong shouldn't work, but it does for The Proselyte. It's also a great reminder that although a catharsis might leave you with bloodied knuckles, crumpled in the corner, it could also make you want to drive really fast on a sunny day, grinning ear to ear and howling along with some bitchin' tunes. tunes.

Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

EP closer "A Stubborn Hem" is a bit of a departure from the other songs. The running time pushes into the six-minute territory, in contrast to the mostly three- to four-minute tracks that precede it, and the band slows down to a doomy, sinister crawl. It's a great showcase for the rhythm section--any time you get audible AND interesting bass lines from a metal band, a demon gets its wings--and there are some fantastic, Alice in Chains-type vocal harmonies creeping throughout. It's also a great example of a band stretching out their style template without sounding like a completely different band. It's a haunting ending to the EP, and hopefully a tantalizing preview of more to come.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden

By Calen Henry. Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer’s sophomore album is the perfect follow up to Sorrow and Extinction. In contrast to some other opinions, though, I don’t think it’s a better record. Instead, it’s the perfect follow up because it’s a fantastic record, that shows the band’s growth, but complements the first record, rather than superseding it.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Sean Williams

Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer’s sophomore album is the perfect follow up to Sorrow and Extinction. In contrast to some other opinions, though, I don’t think it’s a better record. Instead, it’s the perfect follow up because it’s a fantastic record, that shows the band’s growth, but complements the first record, rather than superseding it.

Pallbearer play a very traditional style of doom, but their strong sense of structure and melody is what really sucked me into their music. That’s gotten even better on their second record. The layered guitars are even more intricate, but not self indulgently so, and Brett Campbell’s vocals are stronger and more up front.

Billy Anderson’s production has subtly changed the band’s recorded sound making a different feeling record than before. Sorrow and Extinction sounds very vintage-heavy, almost like it could be a record from the ‘70s. In contrast, Foundations of Burden’s mix sounds thoroughly modern and HUGE.

Pallbearer 2012. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

The opening tracks of both albums (“Worlds Apart” for Foundations of Burden, and “Foreigner” for Sorrow and Extinction) act as microcosms of this difference. “Foreigner” starts with a lengthy acoustic intro, before dropping the DOOM with a wonderful vintage sound leaving lots of space in the music. The airy vintage sound continues through the album and is the perfect fit for the composition and arrangements.

“Worlds Apart”, on the other hand, gets right into riffs, with thick layered guitars and vocals and a huge sound, more in keeping with modern North American doom bands. The whole album is much more full and almost lush, with the exception of the keyboard interlude “Ashes”. The fuller sound complements the intricacies and scope of the new songs.

So, while I love Foundations of Burden, I especially love that it made me re-appreciate Sorrow and Extinction, rather than replacing it in my music library. Time will tell if one album will become more classic than the other, but for now they are both totally essential.

August 17, 2014

Harangue - By the Strength of the Mighty Atlas

Written by Matt Hinch.

Cover art by Jeff Cook / Ink Culture Studios

I'm not going to pretend I don't have a bias towards Toronto metallic hardcore crew Harangue. I've known vocalist Michael Kopko for nearly 15 years and consider him a true friend. So I'll try to detach myself from that as much as possible to talk about their new EP By the Strength of the Mighty Atlas.

Connection or not, he spits venom every time he steps up to the mic. Not necessarily with his words but with the corrosiveness of his passionate hardcore screams. Often times he opens his heart as well. Kopko also has a tendency to perform in bands with names that suit his style. His delivery does harangue and his previous band was With Conviction. Conviction is an attribute that suits the band behind him as well.

Guitarists Danny Panzini and Dave Caporale, bassist Jules Parris and drummer Masazumi Mitsuno are as tight as Masa's snare. The easiest handle to put on them is the aforementioned metallic hardcore but for this EP there's much more dissonance, atonality and noise than previous efforts. Not to mention an uptick in production quality and overall performance ability.

I don't listen to near enough hard/math/noisecore to get a grip on the myriad sounds that been referenced in regards to the Harangue make up. But the skull-crushing intensity of Vision of Disorder, off-the-wall fret play of Coalesce and Botch, and uplifting moments a la Norma Jean can be heard. Despite none of the music writers being Helmet fans (except Kopko), some of the Page Hamilton tone and riffing sneaks its way in there as well. For what it's worth Kopko is also a fan of Earth Crisis, Cave In and Glassjaw if you're looking for more reference points. Whether it's intentional or osmotic, the local Toronto/Montreal scene rubs off on them too. People familiar with bands like Godstopper, The Great Sabatini and even Vilipend may catch a glimpse of those bands as well.

Kopko's lyrics and vocals are easy to get behind, especially when the mix of simplicity, intensity and dexterity he's singing to is so diverse yet cohesive. Heaviness meets angularity meets scorching rhythms meets spazz meets darkness. No matter the tone or speed, Harangue get the body movin'.

They take the hardcore path less trampled, weaving and careening through bruising beatdowns, guarded emotional heights, rubbernecking notes and walloping grooves. On the longer tunes Harangue pack in riffs like sardines in a can without losing the web of musical bonds that hold the tracks together as referenced on the outstanding “Empty Mouth”.

Even on shorter songs they leave an impact and on a couple are aided by the vocal talents of Pretty Mouth's Lance Marwood (“The Solidity of a Ghost”) and “NJ” Borreta of Hammerhands (“The Engine 2.0”). Both guests compliment Kopko's dry rasping outpouring naturally.

Capping off the 20 minute EP is the epic length “Familiar Face on a Stranger” clocking in at over six minutes. Panzini and Caporale are unpredictable and tangential, yet simple and meaty. Parris invades like a swamp fog coating it all with his beefy tone and Mitsuno is his usual self, all over the place but locked right in.

By the Strength of the Mighty Atlas marks a step up for the TOHC quintet. They've taken every facet to the next level capturing the live intensity that hardcore bands need to have. I've personally been getting the word out on these guys since 2012's Feeding the Wolf mini-EP but By the Strength of the Mighty Atlas is what is going to spread their punishing mentality to the audience they deserve.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 16, 2014

Mad Max's Wheels of Steel #2

Written by Maxim Björky.

Wheels of Steel is back for another go ‘round; this time taking up the thrashier, grimier side of things. I’m going to try to throw a couple of newer things into this cocktail of an article along with one release that brings up the rear by a year or two. Then again, committing to formulas is what kills careers, substantive ones like those we herald in our favorite bands, so this will probably change. I’m hoping the rich coffers of tunage I empty at your feet will be enough to help you ignore my sleep-deprived typos and run on sentences.

So, I have a confession to make – I don’t really like Municipal Waste. I listen to every release and react positively towards it but it just doesn't give me that feeling that crossover once did. There was a time when I would sing the praises of bands like All Out War and thought military style caps were acceptable (those were dark times). I don’t plan on living in a cave any time soon, so I need this kind of gas-guzzling degeneracy to get the engine revving and boy does Bat deliver.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Astral Body Horror

I believe this one has graced the pages of Metal Bandcamp once before but with a 2014 full-length on Fallen Empire Records evidently in the cards, seems like a good time to remind folks that these dudes exist. To say that Arnaut Pavle sounds like Darkthrone is like saying, “Beatles influenced band now on tour,” when talking about Oasis. A few of these tracks sound like B-sides from A Blaze in the Northern Sky – stompy, crunchy, gravediggin’ riffs thrown together without much of a regard for subtlety. Then, of course, you’ll hit that clever moment when they seamlessly shift gears from Darkthrone to….Darkthrone, this time conjuring up the graveyard kegger vibes of F.O.A.D.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

One of the best releases of the year – glammed up and still somehow raw and snotty. The bands other work was unfocused and its lo-fi songwriting was stripped naked with the kind of overproduction that made it so you could hear every little defect. It just wasn’t working. Now, these guys have four high-flying songs that fuse the nastiness of WASP with the party rock of Turbonegro. It’s just slightly unrefined enough to get the point across and still allow you to hear every instrument. Highly recommended!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Until next time.

August 14, 2014

Vemod - Venter på stormene

Guest review by BreadGod from Servile Insurrection

The Autistic Metalhead blog has changed name to Servile Insurrection. We have featured a number of reviews by the proprietor BreadGod before, here is his take on Vemod's beautiful debut from 2012.

Vemod has been around since 2000, but I've never listened to them until the release of their debut full-length Venter på stormene, which was released a full twelve years after they were formed. I guess it's true that great things take a long time to produce, because this album is a thing of beauty.

The production is a fuzzy, clouded affair, like a snowstorm. The drums frequently switch between vigorous blast beats and slow rhythms that allow time for introspection. The vocals consist of an angry rasp that echoes across the frozen tundra, like the growl of a wolf. However, they make things interesting by also including these low droning monk-like chants and even a few clean vocals. The guitars play icy cold tremolo riffs and, they implement repetition to create a hypnotic effect. They also play a lot of slow clean guitars in between the black metal to create a feeling of solitude.

The third track, "Altets tempel", offers up a startling change of pace. It offers up almost thirteen minutes of mystical, trance-inducing ambient. It contains samples that sound like the sparkling of an aurora, curving its way across the sky, shining its otherworldly light upon the snow. This song also includes organs. They're not bombastic in any way. Instead, they reside in the background so as to enhance the mystic atmosphere.

Vemod produces some of the most beautiful black metal I've heard. I was drawn to this album by the cover depicting an aurora, and I was mesmerized by the music held within. Vemod deserves more attention. Go get your copy today!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Stop...Demo Time!

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

August 13, 2014

Sadgiqacea - False Prism

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

Artwork by Fred Sadgiqacea

The debut from Philadelphia, PA sludge-mongers Sadgiqacea contrasts a fat, wet guitar tone with crisp doom drumming and abrasive, blackened vocals. Stretching 40 minutes across four monumental tracks, the duo combine elements of doom, shoegaze, aggressive sludge and even some field recordings into a vast and varied textural journey. The tracks have the looping, elliptical, ever-evolving structures that have been favoured by post-metal giants Neurosis and Isis, but their muscular, emotive drumming also evokes comparisons to Kylesa.

Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Sadgiqacea do an excellent job of creating tension via the throbbing, coiling way the songs move, roil, unfurl and transform, but what makes False Prism stand out are the moments where the music transfigures, becomes minimal and unnerving, like the eerie strings at the end of "False Segments" and the hissing, mournful bleakness near the conclusion of "True Darkness." Though this is their first full-length, Sadgiqacea refined their sound and aesthetic over an EP and a pair of splits before this release appeared, and that time and consideration show. False Prism is a seething, captivating album that is out to draw blood.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Editors note: Candlelight Records UK also has a Bandcamp now. It has more than twice the number of albums than the USA one, but the prices are much higher. Take this album for instance. USA: $6.60. UK: £7, which converts to $11.75. Many Candlelight albums are found on both Bandcamps, I know which ones I'll be buying.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

August 12, 2014

Muscle and Marrow - The Human Cry

Written by Ulla Roschat.

Album art: Dorota Jedrusik

Muscle and Marrow is Kira Clark (vocals/guitar) and Keith McGraw (drums/samples), a pretty young two-piece Doom band from Portland/OR/USA. They formed in 2013 and now released their full length debut!!! album The Human Cry in a tape version through Breathe Plastic Records. A vinyl version will follow soon (September) by Belief Mower Records.

The Human Cry is nine songs and 39 minutes of a dark, doomy, haunting and depressing nightmare - a nightmare of a dangerous beauty, with atmospheres and emotions so intense, so alluring and enchanting they simply absorb you, totally suck you up.

Clark’s outstandingly expressive vocals move through soundscapes of droning distorted heaviness, melancholic somber guitar melodies and hypnotic drumming like the ghost of a tortured soul moves through its purgatory. Repetitions of short sentences or phrases in variations feel as if the ghost tries out different keys on the door that leads to salvation ... , vocals going from soft and clean to spoken words to guttural, harsh and forceful, changing pitch, sometimes adding a subdued tremolo. They are fragile and powerful, melodious and dissonant.

The songs are so richly and deeply textured with varying and contradicting elements that build a huge dynamic power and an overall unearthly atmosphere that constantly escapes your grip, and despite all the ultra-heaviness there’s a sense of this ghost floating around, it’s here and there, changing direction, changing moods and wears myriads of different shades of despair, melancholy, fear and anger.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The song “Spirits” is also featured on The Wicked Lady Show 67