September 30, 2014

Hessian - Mánégarmr

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

With an EP and a pair of splits with Amenra and Pale Creation to their name, Mánégarmr is the first full-length from Belgium's Hessian. The album is named after a wolf that, in Norwegian legend, devours the sun at the end of each day (known as Sköll, in Norse mythology). Members of art collective Church of Ra, and featuring members from Amenra and the Black Heart Rebellion, it's no surprise that this record is deep, strange and apocalyptic. A thick, crusty punk sound is mixed with heavy, metallic elements, leading to a darker emotional register and a fat, textured tone.

Photos by Webzine Chuul.

Tracks like "Plague Monger" go for a more straightforward kind of hardcore violence, whereas "Serpent's Whisper" and "Swallowing Nails" have a blackened cast and a more complex, sophisticated aggression. "Father of Green" and "Mother of Light" are the strongest songs here, and most frightening by far, incorporating towering doom and thick, lugubrious sludge with in-your-face hardcore to create a calamitous din that will leave you declaring, "the end is nigh."

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 29, 2014

Herder - Gods

Written by Ulla Roschat.

Five piece band Herder from Groningen/NL have had quite a lot releases since their founding in 2010, the demo album Herder is Harder and their self titled debut full length album in 2011, an EP Horror Vacui in 2012, another EP called Doomed which marked two changes in their line up, the bassist and the vocalist left the band, the bassist was replaced by one of the three guitarists and for the vocalist a new member joined the band. So the Doomed EP was quasi an introduction of the new vocalist.

And now the band is back with their second full length album Gods. The album is basically a brew of Stoner/Doom/Sludge/HC/Psychedelic sounds, … a sophisticated punch in your face.

The title "Gods" hints at the album’s conceptual frame, as the lyrical themes are about the perception of personalized deities of monotheistic religions and their inherent contradictions and absurdities. Musically the oriental melodies and psychedelic melodies and choraliter chanting as well as the pissed off attitude match the scene very well.

The opening song Genesis 321 is an instrumental except for a quite long spoken word sample, a misanthropic reflection about human consciousness being a tragic misstep of evolution (taken from the HBO TV series “True Detective”) and is a perfect introduction to the album’s themes. The following songs are bracingly varying, each with their own features and characteristics. While one song is more of a fast, angry, hateful HC song, the next one might be more of a slow burning heaviness, yet another one is dominated by a deep groove and psychedelic vibe. Each one of them is memorable after the first listen (one of many reasons you will want to hit the play button again and again).

Still the songs are strongly related, not only by the lyrical themes, but also by their main musical features. There’s an inherent bedrock sound that branches out in various directions, focusing on different aspects in each song. The balance of in-your-face aggression and deep grooving psychedelic oriental melodies, the chanting, the tribal drumming, the face melting guitar solos, the omnipresent (bass-)heaviness, the well set word samples… everything is carefully and cleverly composed into songs that are complex but tight. They have depth, but don't lose a bit of their dynamic impact.

That’s quite a bunch of reasons to hit the play button more than once.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The song "BetrayerDeceiver" is also featured on The Wicked Lady Show 63.

September 28, 2014

Dave’s Demo Roundup Vol. IV

By Dave Schalek. Iceland’s Malignant Mist play staccato, very loud and abrasive, in your face technical death metal in the vein of Meshuggah. Like Meshuggah, Malignant Mist structure their songs around bludgeoning riffs, loud vocals, breakdowns that don’t quite wander into deathcore territory
By Dave Schalek.

Iceland’s Malignant Mist play staccato, very loud and abrasive, in your face technical death metal in the vein of Meshuggah. Like Meshuggah, Malignant Mist structure their songs around bludgeoning riffs, loud vocals, breakdowns that don’t quite wander into deathcore territory, and the occasional blastbeat. Celestial Doom, Malignant Mist’s debut EP, is done well enough, and will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Meshuggah and similar bands. But, I suspect that just about everyone stumbling across this band’s name, or the name of this EP, for that matter, are going to have a few moments of confusion.

Kam Lee probably needs no introduction to those familiar with the history of the Florida death metal scene, but Lee has always struck me as a figure that always seemed to be on the verge of hitting it big, but never managed to do so. Lee has been involved with a number of OSDM Swedish bands over the last few years, and The Grotesquery appears to be his focus for now. Although The Grotesquery have two-full-lengths under their collective belts, Cult Of Cthulhu Calling is a two song single of bludgeoning, slow to mid-paced death metal belying a fascination with all things Cthulhu Mythos. Although not exactly original, The Grotesquery hit with the proverbial two-ton weight with a crushing assault of slow to mid-paced death metal that is all too short.

September 26, 2014

Nightbringer - Ego Dominus Tuus

Written by Craig Hayes.

Cover art by David Herrerias.

Esoteric and enigmatic are obviously words and concepts embedded in the vernacular and culture of black metal. Chiefly because seemingly every band from the sub-genre would have us believe they are either one or both. However, if all a band is really doing is dispensing the same old B-grade Satanist schlock, then calling yourself esoteric or enigmatic is not only a suspect claim but also evidence of a complete misunderstanding of the nature of both concepts.

Esoteric and enigmatic aren't defined by hackneyed ‘more evil than evil’ histrionics, because both entail far deeper and often cryptic levels of knowledge being conveyed. Even if you don’t agree that there are supernatural beings at work, you’d know those bands that are truly esoteric and enigmatic because they’re the ones communicating a profound sense of enlightenment; no matter how tenebrous and terrifying that enlightenment may be. Those bands make you want to believe by releasing darkly devotional music that is overwhelming in its presence.

You can find that presence, and all that genuine esoteric, enigmatic, and diabolic glorification in the works of Colorado-based Nightbringer. The band’s arcane sonic artistry demands a level of consideration and investigation that exceeds stock standard theatrics, and Nightbringer was expressly created as a, “conduit for the contemplations on the mysteries of death as it is understood in the tradition of the art magical”.

Of course, that’s all well and good (or well and wicked, if you prefer), but plenty of other bands would claim to be voicing the magical and mysterious too. What makes Nightbringer’s claim valid is that the band’s releases have exhibited no shallowness or overworked play-acting. Nightbringer has remained firmly fixed on taking the climate of darkness that underscores our lives and amplifying and manifesting that through powerful and transformative expressions.

In essence, Nightbringer doesn’t speak of the mysteries of the great beyond in the abstract. The band directly communes with those nebulousness forces beyond the veil, beckoning them into being in the here and now. That’s been the case since the band’s first full-length, 2008’s Death and the Black Work, it’s right there in 2010’s Apocalypse Sun too, and more than evident in the band’s many split and demo releases.

Their last full-length, 2011’s Hierophany of the Open Grave, was a magnificent achievement in summoning a gnawing and malevolent presence. The album was dense and grandiose, and exhibited more complex and sophisticated songwriting. The swirling and dissonant chaos of orthodox Nordic black metal met the exploratory mettle of esteemed bands like Dødsengel, Deathspell Omega, or Blut Aus Nord. And Nightbringer’s scorched-black tremolo storms, bitter vocals, and technically masterful passages were all set within an orchestral framework.

What made Hierophany of the Open Grave so effective and captivating was that its aura lingered long after it was finished. Combine that with the album's strong sense of transcending the normative and a conjuring of the extramundane, and it seemed as if Hierophany of the Open Grave was going to sit in Nightbringer’s oeuvre as the band’s defining release.

At least, that was the case until their latest album, Ego Dominus Tuus arrived. Ego Dominus Tuus brings more of the same bone-chilling and pitch-black menace that Hierophany of the Open Grave possessed, but there’s even more to admire in Nightbringer’s ability to evoke the unholiest of atmospheres in the most reverential fashion.

That sense of veneration isn’t surprising. All of Nightbringer’s releases have praised the darkness, and in a recent Decibel interview multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Naas Alcameth compared the band’s compositional approach to a mason constructing a cathedral. There’s no more apt a description for the awe that Ego Dominus Tuus inspires than that. Because, as Alcameth pointed out, Nightbringer’s songs are cathedrals of sound – meticulously constructed edifices extolling the virtues of the band’s chosen Lord.

On Ego Dominus Tuus you’ll find intricate craftsmanship and a sense of worship imbued in every note on tracks like “Lantern of Eden's Night” and “Things Which Are Naught”. Both songs are iniquitous prayers, rich with symbolism, and attuned to stir the soul into action. But then, you could say the very same about the enshrouding darkness of “I Am the Gatewayy”, “The Witchfires of Tubal Qayin”, and epic album closer, “The Otherness of Being”.

All of Ego Dominus Tuus’ tracks are forceful incantations in their own right. All contain elements both ferocious and dynamic. And even the more ambient crawl of “Call of the Exile” still embodies the feel of apocalyptic times fast approaching. Any track from the album taken in isolation serves its purpose well – erasing the boundary between this existence and more unearthly realms. Yet, taken as a whole, the 70-minutes of Ego Dominus Tuus also serves as a breathtaking ceremonial suite, where performance and spiritual practice are one.

There is no separation of art and invocation on Ego Dominus Tuus. The album’s impassioned riffs, interweaving vocal lines, and swells of keyboards drive a sinister and symphonic saga forward, but what Ego Dominus Tuus never feels is overlong or melodramatic. That’s not to say the album isn’t dramatic or even bombastic in parts, because you don’t a create a release like Ego Dominus Tuus without having grand plans, and you don’t tear a rift in reality without a sense of extravagant gesturing. Also, Nightbringer are clearly a band that admires classical compositions, so the album is charged with momentous musical and emotional surges.

However, Ego Dominus Tuus is never too exaggerated. Nightbringer tell a tale that is impressively ornate, yet never overblown. Every riff, melody, harsh vocal passage, and beat of the drum has been expertly arranged to evoke exactly what is needed. It’s a considered approach by Nightbringer, one threaded through a cacophony that is savage and ungodly, but always mindful of its overarching purpose.

Ultimately, Ego Dominus Tuus baptizes all in triumphant and diabolic liturgies. Nightbringer is fervent and unnervingly intense throughout the album, and whether you’re a believer or not, the band’s devotion to the dark arts is certainly a testament to its convictions. Ego Dominus Tuus sets a new benchmark for Nightbringer, and for any likely contender for the esoteric and enigmatic USBM crown.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 25, 2014

Earth - Primitive and Deadly

Written by Aaron Sullivan.

Earth, the drone kings of the northwest have returned with their seventh full length titled Primitive and Deadly. As most fans know Earth started as a distorted drone band in , releasing two albums as such. Then came Pentastar: In the Style of Demons; at times drone, at times Stoner/DOOM. After a hiatus Earth returned with an entirely new sound with HEX; or Printing in the Infernal Method. Distortion was lowered and elements of Folk and Country were introduced with great effect. This new style has continued to this day, bringing us to Primitive and Deadly; an album that draws from the past and mixes it with the new Earth sound established on HEX. I had the pleasure of seeing Earth open for Deafheaven earlier this year and they played three of the 6 track from this album. As blown away as I was by them then, hearing the finished product puts them to shame.

Photo by Karen A. Mann

Along with the usual excitement that a new Earth album brings, word came that there would be vocals on it. Not an entirely new element as Pentastar had vocals too (also a demo that Kurt Cobain had sung on was later released on Sunn Amps And Smashed Guitars Live). But unlike Pentastar these are guest vocals by the likes of Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) and Rabia Shaheen Qazi (Rose Windows). Vocals are not the only thing Primitive and Deadly shares with Pentastar. Much like that album Primitive and Deadly has more of a rock song vibe to it. especially on the songs with vocals. But the layered guitars soloing over the top of Carlsons riffs also add to that vibe throughout the entire album. The additional guitars are provided by Brett Nelson (Built to Spill) and Jodie Cox (Narrows). It’s weird because when I saw them live they were a three piece. Dylan on guitars, Adrienne on drums, and new bassist Bill Herzog. Other times I had seen them they had a cello player or they had Steve Moore playing trumpet and organ. So seeing and hearing them as a three peice I thought they were going for a more stripped down approach to the new album.

Photo by Karen A. Mann

In some ways that is true. But the addition of vocals and additional guitars never take away the vibe that Earth creates. It still feels sparse and songs breathe. The new elements only add to the overall. Take the vocals for instance. Mark is a great choice, his gravely Waits-esque vocals a perfect match. The second incarnation of Earth’s music has always given me visions of standing on the edge of cliff looking over the through an open valley surrounded by nature, and his well worn parched vocals only enhance that vision. Rabia on the other hand adds an element to Earth that I never found in their music at any time, psychedelia. Her vocals are as hypnotizing as the tones that Dylan conjures up from his guitar. Her voice sound like a cross between Rose Kemp and Beth Gibbons. Add all this to the solid backbone rhythm section of Herzog and Adrienne, and Primitive and Deadly may be Earth's most ambitious record yet.

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September 23, 2014

Venowl - Patterns of Failure (Remaster)

Written by Craig Hayes.

Artwork by E. Sawyer

I’m a big fan of experimental music, and what’s commonly denoted as falling into the harsh noise realm, so my tolerance for challenging sounds is fairly high. I’m not telling you that because I think I deserve a great big broad-mindedness badge pinned to my chest, but simply to point out that we all have different ideas about what constitutes music. As metal fans, we’re already predisposed to favouring nerve-grating and teeth-grinding sounds. But, even then, as individuals, we've all still got a line somewhere that decides what metal's pushed past our personal boundaries into the sphere of indecipherable and repellent noise.

Illinois trio Venowl are the kind of band that operates on that exact border. Venowl make no concessions to approachability, and they pile on the misery, misanthropy, and audio torture on their 2012 debut, Patterns of Failure – which was re-released by Broken Limbs Recordings earlier this year. The band describes their sound as, “snuff doom”, and that’s pretty accurate. Venowl mixes blackened-noise and sludge with various strains of monstrous sonic filth on lengthy and demoralising tracks, and Patterns of Failure is definitely the kind or release that'll prove thoroughly repulsive to some listeners.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

The three songs on Patterns of Failure are all toxic and tortuous screeds, and they certainly serve as a handy barometer for your emotional fortitude. Patterns of Failure’s title track stretches out to 17-minutes, “Hung Alive By The Ribs To A Gallows” hovers around the 11-minute mark, and “The Bounded and Loathed” drags the torment and ill-treatment out to 27-minutes. Every second of every one of those songs crawls along on smashed knuckles, with slow-motion riffs corroding into ear-piercing feedback and dissonant noise. To accompany that, you get hellish screams and throat-slit gurgles and grunts, all adding in the vocal trauma, and with remastering duties handed over to James Plotkin, Patterns of Failure is exceedingly heavy in tempo, tone, and temper.

If you want some reference points, then bands like Khanate or Primitive Man spring to mind, at least in Patterns of Failure’s malicious trudge. However, the droning derangement of Oregon-based Hell mines a similar level of apocalyptic audial battery, and soul-scouring gloom. Even then, that doesn't really capture what Venowl are doing here, because there’s anguished and despairing howls born from the deepest wounds on Patterns of Failure.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

There’s no way you could describe Patterns of Failure as an easily accessible album, or merciful in any way, shape or form. It is a challenge, even if you’re already a fan of monolithic music that’s testing and taxing. The entirely of Patterns of Failure is a deeply unsettling experience, and the album hammers suffering home with each and every unrelenting and punishing passage.

Of course, therein lies the attraction. Patterns of Failure is ceaselessly demanding, and it constantly tests your will, and the majority of art that provides such harrowing journeys promises a sense of release from your own woes in making it through.

However, that’s not the case here. Don't go looking for any joyous catharsis in the funeral doom and drone of Patterns of Failure, because it provides something far darker, and more dispiriting. You’re not going to be left with the feeling of freedom from your troubles here. Instead, Patterns of Failure offers you a glimpse of your own last and desperate grasps at life. Something you can expect to face, all too soon.

Obviously, Patterns of Failure is highly recommended. Death is coming for us all. You might as well get prepared for its arrival sooner than later.

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September 22, 2014

Hollow - Mordrake

Written by Matt Hinch.

Mordrake is the debut from Montreal symphonic black metal/melodic death metal fiends Hollow. Not to be confused with the seven other Hollows listed on Metal Archives. The group consists of vocalist Mott, guitarist Cadaver, bassist Snow and drummer Blaac. However, there's enough symphonic and keyboard elements here that one would think it would be listed on their lineup but there's no one to lay the blame on.

I kid! I'm not much for symphonics but other than in a few places (like the start of the album) they serve more as accents to enhance the atmosphere rather than dominating the listening experience. Choral voices, strings, brass and synths all work their way into the tight spaces between the blistering attack Hollow are adept at laying down.

The sub-genre tag the band is saddled with isn't exactly on point. The black metal elements come mostly in the atmosphere and Mott's demonic rasps. He also brings a formidable (if unoriginal) deathly growl to match the full depth of their searing death metal. In addition, he employs a clean vocal as well, as the diversity of the band also ventures into epic and Viking-esque realms.

Personally I hear quite a bit of thrash influence pumping through Mordrake. Galloping rhythms and unfettered speed have the biggest impact and there's no doubt Cadaver can shred his way through solo or a hundred. The album was recorded with no "triggers, midi or cut-and-paste" making the brilliant musicianship on display all the more impressive. Blaac in particular is equally talented at hyper-activity and nuance. While Snow puts his gnarly tone and forward-thinking basslines to good use.

As Hollow work their way toward the three-part closing "suite" that lends the album its name, complexity and depth reveal further influence. From folk melodies and prog to shades of NWOAHM and power metal, Mordrake incorporates numerous elements while maintaining the venom and power of their base blackened death/thrash modus operandi. While the RIYL spread includes Dimmu Borgir, Emperor and Cradle of Filth - all apt - Hollow may be more in line to gain praise from fans of Children of Bodom.

Hollow are serious about their corpsepaint and serious about their chops. Let Mordrake be the proof in the pudding that these guys are not to be overlooked.

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September 21, 2014

Protokult - No Beer in Heaven

Written by Matt Hinch.

While not necessarily folk metal, Hoth made me take another look at the genre. Not a long hard one but enough that I noticed Protokult and their latest, No Beer in Heaven. No beer in heaven? I know I'm not going there anyway so no matter.

Methinks this Toronto-based group of European transplants is doing their best to get in all their drinking down here on Earth. Opener “Get Me a Beer” certainly gives that impression. It's a somewhat cheesy way to open an album that's not based on drinking as a concept. Fun sure, but so is the darker fare that follows.

Guitarist/vocalist Martin Drozd and vocalist/woodwind Ekaterina Pyatkova make a good team in the “Beauty and the Beast” style of vocal trade-off. Drozd is diverse with barrel-chested declarations, deathly growls and drunk Viking hollers. Actually he often sounds like Glen Danzig. Pyatkova too takes on some different roles. She can soar with the eagles in operatic fashion but is best suited to her folk voice with a hint of yodel to it. At times she even sounds a bit like Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries.

As one would expect there's no lack of melody here. Vocals, woodwinds and keys all contribute in that regard, complimenting driving riffs and epic passages. Where Protokult succeed is in producing hard-edged metal with enough bite that the folk elements don't take the album down the path that leads to ridiculousness. Also, they don't necessarily stick to one formula. Thrashiness, alternative leanings and pomp all find their place.

At 15 tracks over an hour and three, it can't all be gold of course but even the weaker tracks usually have a redeeming riff or passage. Although a more concise album wouldn't have hurt. There's a little fat that could have been trimmed for sure. Especially on the album's later half. That's where Protokult get a little adventurous. “Brotokult” is a kind of dance hall/trance/KMFDM synth track and “We Smoke the Ganga” is reggae, but very tongue-in-cheek.

No Beer in Heaven is pretty solid overall but shows the band has some work to do to tighten things up a bit. However, musicality is never in question. But hey, if you want something lighthearted to get your feet wet in the folk metal pool, Protokult might be the answer. At the very least it'll get stuck in your head whether you want it to or not.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 20, 2014

Psychotic Gardening - Hymnosis

Written by Matt Hinch.

Winnipeg's Psychotic Gardening bring the heavy with their icy take on death/doom. They've been around in some form or another for the better part of 18 years. And you'd have to wonder how many times the subject of a name change came up and was shot down. Almost as bad as fellow Canadians Nostril Caverns but thankfully the music more than makes up for the bad name.

Their fourth album, Hymnosis is a combination of doom-tinged death metal and foot-dragging doom, sometimes within songs but most often they stick to one style per track. “Defile” features a killer riff to go along with serious crunch and a defined sense of dread. “Genome Degradation” gets pretty groovy while maintaining tonal corruption. Plus, the dual black/death vocals prevent the track from sounding too Rob Zombie-ish.

Their doom tracks take the low and slow path but hold the lengths below six minutes, keeping the album moving. Big riffs and just enough atmosphere make for a depressing Candlemass-gone-demonic vibe. A nice little treat before the album's subdued, Type O Negative sounding closer is a cover of Death's “Open Casket” with guests Tim Roth (Into Eternity) and Chuck Wepfer (Broken Hope). They did a superb job of making it their own.

While not breaking any new ground in the genre Psychotic Gardening have made a pretty good death/doom album that's stuck with me for months since it's release. Never mind the name, give it a spin.

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September 18, 2014

Ancst – In Turmoil

Written by Craig Hayes.

Plenty of metal fans don’t see the genre as the appropriate forum for directly addressing socio-political issues. I’m definitely not one of those fans. I think metal’s big enough and tough enough to handle a few rip-roaring debates in the ranks, and I'm of the opinion that the sonic and ideological battlefield where metal and punk meet is the absolutely perfect place for banner-waving and putting a furious sense of activism into action.

Whether it’s metallic punk legends like Discharge, Amebix, or Antisect, or their endless inheritors, any band combining by-the-throat punk and hardcore with incensed metal riffing, irate vocals, and percussive barrages is guaranteed to get my attention. So, when I saw that German blackened crust collective Ancst summarised the band's lyrical and political stance as anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-religion, and DIY, I have to admit to being predisposed to embrace the band’s revolutionary zeal.

Obviously, nowadays, there’s no shortage of heavy crossover bands that deal in some (or all) of the ideals that Ancst convey. Bands like Ramlord, Masakari, Badr Vogu, Tragedy, Iskra, Martyrdöd, and Nux Vomica might all take different routes through the maelstrom of crust and metal, and some of them clearly favour a more overtly political stance than others, but every one of those bands meets at the point where disgust at the modern world's failings is expressed via hot-tempered and savage sounds.

That's exactly the location where Ancst reside too. You can reference any number of those aforementioned bands to describe Ancst’s mettle, and the band’s music features as much of a crusty stench as it does black metal bite. Ancst originally formed in 2011, and the band’s In Turmoil compilation collects hard to find or out-of-print releases; including EP, split, and demos tracks recorded from 2012 to 2014. Co-released by labels Vendetta, Wooaaargh, and Yehonala Tapes, as well as being available on Bandcamp, In Turmoil's content has all been remastered for a little extra heft, and the collection makes for an admirable introduction to the band’s work thus far.

What you’ll find on In Turmoil is caustic crust and fierce hardcore all twisted round icy tremolo on tracks like “Entropie”, “Frailty”, and “Patterns & Dreamers”. And there are darker, more atmospheric, and downtempo sounds to be found on tracks like “The Faceless” and “Howl”. Vocals are barked angrily throughout, with plenty of irreligious and ill-tempered fervour, and although there are brief moments of melody scattered about In Turmoil, for the majority or the compilation, Ancst deal in seething fury and out-and-out indignation.

Not every track on In Turmoil is a stand-out classic, but the thirteen songs reveal a band exploring structure and style with passion, which is all very encouraging for the future. Really, the only nitpicking about In Turmoil worth mentioning is that some tracks are thicker and punchier than others. That’s nothing that can't be remedied by turning up the volume up, for a more hard-hitting assault, and given In Turmoil represents Ancst’s recordings over a couple of years, it’s not unexpected that some tracks are more honed than others.

There’s certainly a great sense of a rallying call to arms on plenty of In Turmoil’s tracks, and there’s no doubting the energy or intensity of raw and heartfelt anthems like “Another Dead End's Anthem” and “Shallow”. As it stands, In Turmoil shows a great deal of promise. If you're a fan of fellow German bands like Alpinist, Jungbluth, or Downfall of Gaia, then Ancst are well worth tracking down too. The band wields bludgeoning blackened hardcore extremely well, tearing into this callous shit-storm of marginalising modernity that we call home with much-needed venom and strength of will.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 15, 2014

Unlocking the Shrine: A look at The Ruins of Beverast

Written by Aaron Sullivan.

For me Germany is a country that I find synonymous with quality Metal. There may be no band to exemplify that better than The Ruins of Beverast. The brainchild of Alexander von Meilenwald, Ruins is an Atmospheric Blackened DOOM monster. For just a bit of background and perhaps a better understanding of the mindset of the artist; the word Beverast is von Meilenwald's own derivation of the word "Bifröst" influenced by the old Norse term for the bridge between Midgard, the realm of the humans, and Asgard, the realm of the gods. Now this is not that he sings about Norse mythology. But when one imagines the mindset of people as they see the ruins of what would connect them to the heaven they hope for in death, and what might await them on the earth they have been forsaken to. You begin to see what dark and bleak themes await the listener.

His first full length release was 2004’s Unlock the Shrine. The album establishes early on his penchant for creating atmosphere. It opens with slow turning guitars and keyboards along with audio clips from the 1987 movie The Believers, a movie about a New York psychiatrist who finds that a voodoo cult, which believes in child sacrifice, has a keen interest in his own son. These are the type of dark themes that will become a Ruins trademark. One thing that is a huge difference with this album, are the interludes between songs. While not something he gets rid of entirely, on later albums they are a bit shorter and the song lengths are longer. The stand out tracks for me are "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles". It has this great riff that sticks in your head and a great doomy middle. Also "Summer Decapitation Ritual"; starting with it’s bombastic opening and then shifting into this almost Wagnerian middle before returning to it’s Black Metal roots. All will become Ruin standards. A fantastic debut.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

With 2006’s Rain upon the Impure two things immediately stand out. One, the the production is much rawer and two, the songs are much longer. Neither of which is a bad thing for me at all. The songs are so raw they feel almost claustrophobic, as there is little room to breathe in between instruments. This only enhances the dark and ominous feeling that the Ruins experience offers. The songs lengths (none of which are under 10 minutes minus two small interludes) can be seen as daunting for some. Each their own mini epic. But once the songs start the time is never dragging. He keeps things fresh by changing tempos in the songs. A song like "Soliloquy of the Stigmatised Shepherd" starts as a funeral dirge for the first seven minutes before going into an all out rager, then back into the blackened doomyness he does so well. The added Gregorian like chants towards the end only continue to add to the overall atmosphere. While picking a favorite of all his albums is no easy task, this may be the one for me.

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Live at maschinenfest 2013. Photos by s.alt

He returned in 2009 with Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite. This serves as a great mix of the two first album. It has the better production and smaller interludes of the first album but the song lengths and layered elements of the second. There even seems to be a pattern of short interlude, medium length song, then epic song. In a way it really helps with the flow of the album. Songs like "Mount Sinai Moloch" take all that he has learned over the years and all that he done on record and puts it into one song. The Black Metal, the DOOM, the atmosphere. He is really at the top of his game with this album.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The fourth album, Blood Vaults - The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer, was among my favorites of 2013. This album finds Alexander von Meilenwald sound even more polished (or as polished as underground Black Metal gets). But this is not a bad thing. In fact I think it helps. Though I love the rawness of his older albums, the better production does nothing to lessen the overall product. What it does do is make the layers more evident to the listener. Songs are still epic and dark. Exploring all the elements that make up this bands music. The album and lyrics are inspired by German inquisitor Heinrich Kramer’s work about witches and sorcerers known as the Malleus Maleficarum, a concept album if you will. With this album he proved he has found his niche and is experimenting within it.

Ruins albums are ones to sit and listen to. They are long, all over one hour in length, and all their own adventure into Alexander’s dark world. But for those who are willing to take the journey, the rewards are worth it. Because of how diverse and layered each of his albums are I find new things in them with each listen. There is a beauty in his darkness, and the albums transport you to his dark vision like few artist can. One man Black Metal is not rare. But most is minimalistic basement projects and few have the weight of Ruins. Furthermore many one man bands begin to feel stagnant over time. This has certainly not been the case with Ruins.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 12, 2014

It Only Gets Worse - Creation Myths

By Craig Hayes. Matt Finney is a poet. A Southern storyteller. Granting voice of the downtrodden, the dispossessed, and the lost. The Alabama native speaks of those thoughts and feelings we hold deep inside. Those painful emotions that we might be too afraid to acknowledge, to listen to, or to ever vocalise.
By Craig Hayes.

Matt Finney is a poet. A Southern storyteller. Granting voice of the downtrodden, the dispossessed, and the lost. The Alabama native speaks of those thoughts and feelings we hold deep inside. Those painful emotions that we might be too afraid to acknowledge, to listen to, or to ever vocalise. So, Finney does. As much as for his own benefit as on our behalf. His words tell of bleak times and the myriad hurdles we face time and time again, and in articulating the rawest betrayals, regrets, and losses Finney provides a sense of our shared turmoil and suffering, and perhaps, through that, a shared sense of catharsis too.

Of course, what affects one might be brushed aside by another. But Finney is there, with his bloodied and battered heart in hand, offering deeply emotive and honest declarations that powerfully communicate what we all know to be true; life is fucking hard.

I first heard Finney on his collaborations with Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist and composer Heinali. There, Finney’s world-weary and melancholic voice was set amongst downtempo, drone, and ambient guitar and electronic suites. Heinali and Finney’s work together immediately found a lot of fans from across the metal and experimental music spectrum due to the heavy ambience and mix of grim and celestial atmospherics. Originally, most of the duo’s collaborations were to be found on Bandcamp, and some recordings still reside there, but Heinali and Finney’s very best work is found in their Ain’t No Right and Conjoined releases, which were taken off Bandcamp when re-released by boutique UK label, Paradigms Recordings.

Ain’t No Right and Conjoined were released back in 2011 to much applause. But then, everything went quiet. However, Finney returned in July this year, not with Heinali beside him, but with another experimental artist, Maurice de Jong (founder of projects such as Gnaw Their Tongues, Aderlating, De Magia Veterum, Seirom, and Cloak of Altering). With Finney, de Jong has chosen to record under a new banner, It Only Gets Worse, and much like Finney’s work with Heinali, It Only Gets Worse also mixes hazy cinematic suites and electronic washes to bring a sensation of introspective doom that will appeal to the very same crossover crowd of fans as before.

Certainly, the three tracks on It Only Gets Worse’s debut, Creation Myths, are dark and haunting, and de Jong is an artists well versed in crafting ominous soundscapes. “Dropped”, “Indian Summer”, and Creation Myths’ title track, float across what is often beautiful minimalist terrain, with Finney’s spoken-word appearances adding the crucial somber shadows. Creation Myths is less metallic in tone than Finney’s work with Heinali, but his performance on the release is no less stirring.

Of course, with only three tracks here, the major problem with Creation Myths is that it’s all a tantalizing tease – which isn’t, of course, really a problem at all. We can only hope that there’s more recordings to come from It Only Gets Worse because voices like Finney’s aren’t just needed because they enrich our lives and understandings of the complexity of the human condition, they also give us something to hang on to, when we might otherwise feel like letting go.

September 10, 2014

Tetragrammaton - Descendere

By Justin C. Our own Dave Schalek wrote about a demo from Florida's Tetragrammaton a few week's back. That demo featured just two short tracks of doomy black metal that immediately appealed to me, but it did nothing to prepare me for the band's EP, Descendere.
By Justin C.

Our own Dave Schalek wrote about a demo from Florida's Tetragrammaton a few week's back. That demo featured just two short tracks of doomy black metal that immediately appealed to me, but it did nothing to prepare me for the band's EP, Descendere. In this case, "EP" seems woefully inadequate to describe a musical offering that's as dense as a neutron star.

The songs, titled "sermons," have swelled into the eight- to ten-minute range, and each of the three tracks is separated into two movements, for lack of a better term, both in terms of lyrics and sound. As you might guess from the band's name itself and the fact that the songs are called "sermons," the lyrical content (kindly provided in full on Bandcamp) focuses on religion and mysticism. I found references to Kabbalah and Thelema, and I'm sure there are more I missed. I suspect it would take someone with a degree in comparative religion to tease out the full narrative thread of what appears to be a concept album, but even as a layman, I had fun poking around into what I could pick out of the lyrics.

Since I can't provide a better analysis of the narrative arc, I'll focus on what I know a bit more about, namely the sounds. I'd probably call this black metal at its very base, but it borrows liberally from doom and sludge. The vocals are delivered by someone who often sounds like his larynx has been 99% replaced with scar tissue, although you'll find some lovely cleans deep in the mix, notably in "First Sermon." The guitars are often split into two layers, one featuring straightforward sludgy riffs, and the other providing droning sustained notes floating on top. The drumming is a real stand out here. "Blasting" doesn't really do justice to some of the furious freakouts you'll find throughout. There are moments in "First Sermon" when it sounds like the band, led by the percussion, is trying to rip a hole in time and space. The movements in the songs themselves add more differentiation and depth--compare the punk energy that starts "Third Sermon" with the doomy second half, or check out the full stop in the middle "Second Sermon," where an ambient section that appears to be provided by another band entirely (credited to Nuit in the lyrics).

My first listen to this was a casual one, in the car, and although I liked it, I didn't find much to hang onto. As trite as it is to say, "This album deserves your full attention!" in a metal review, it couldn't be more true in this case. On this EP, Tetragrammaton band has provided "more" in every sense of the word.

September 8, 2014

Obliteration - Black Death Horizon

An Autothrall Epic Win. Originally published here.

In honor of the last ever Kill-Town Death Fest where Obliteration played a great set, here's Autothrall's take on the band's third full-length from last year. But first a word on death metal albums:

So, what exactly constitutes a great death metal album in the year 2013? In the 80s, the answer was pretty clearly defined as a record that was frightening, shocking, or breaking new ground through the guttural vocals and increased intensity of thrash techniques. In the 90s, technicality and progression took over, not to mention a bunch of bands attempting to lyrically out-sicken one another. In the 00s, it was studio polish, groove, cross-genre pollination and ultimately, the inevitable slowing down of the innovations that got us there. As for the 20teens, well thus far they've seen the cannibalization of all prior decades, whether in conjunction or in specific worship of a particular scene or trend. So I am forced to adjust my initial answer. A great album, in any epoch, is one that you fucking enjoy. While I'm not ruling out the fact that small nuances and innovations are still trickling into the genre, a great album in one that you fucking ENJOY, and don't let any message board Gestapo or cliquey checklists of 'cool' attempt to convince you otherwise. You don't want to be 'cool', friends, you want to be death metal. As your daemonic counsel, I must insist!

Artwork by Kristian Valbo.

Black Death Horizon is an album that I really, really fucking ENJOY. It's an anomalous, oppressive 42 minutes of proto-death metal influences churned in a vat, stirred to a relish-like composition and then served to you on a rotten bun. It cultivates everything from a raw punk and thrash inspiration to dismal, doomy Autopsisms and Incantationality while marginally altering the strategy of the prior two Obliteration full-lengths, both of which I also...really ENJOYED. It's not quite so brutal and direct as the debut, nor so slimy and squamous as the sophomore Nekropsalms, but more like an atmospheric ritual being evoked on a hellish mountainside where the trees have all been burnt clean by volcanic activity. Caldera metal?!? I want full credit for that. Of course, Black Death Horizons, like almost any death metal record you're like to hear in 2013, is really just a combination of precursor components configured into a slightly new way. Broiling tremolo-picked patterns burst from stretches of moody, death/doom disdain that subsist off dank, uneasy harmonies, and d-beat rhythms weave an undead thuggishness...and happiness is nowhere near at hand, with any and all melodic sensibilities confined to discomfort. Even the leads roil about aimlessly and excitedly like plumes of molten spunk being fired off into the cervix of the ash-caked sky, and ultimately, the Norwegians pulls off what so many bands cannot: a death metal record that actually SOUNDS evil.

Sindre Solen (top) and session / touring bassist Christoffer Bråthen. Photos by Metal Chris

It's not excessively catchy beyond just a handful of riffing progressions (like the Arabesque tremolo guitars in "Sepulchral Rites"), but it's brutally functional and persistent due to a number of employed techniques. For one, the vocals here are howled and grating rather than disciples of the typical guttural blueprint. I'm not sure how many takes it took Sindre Solem beyond the first to finish off each tune, but they sound so genuine and tormented rather than clinical, brickwalled and forced. Just the right level of reverb, and a rawness of feeling which guarantees variety in almost any line or chorus. Another is the voluminous, distorted bass lines that provide a bulkiness against the more straightforward clarity of the rhythm guitar chords. This creates a base ugliness to the proceedings that recounts some of the murk of the sophomore, but complements rather than contrasts the airy hostility of Torp's axemanship. Also, props to this guy for his constant feeling about the fretboard, a parity explored through all the layers and textures of higher strings employed far more often than banal open chord chugging. Black Death Horizon is not an album of breakdowns, but a movement from one bleak ritual to the next which occasionally deigns to rock your goddamn socks off. It's such a natural flow to it that it sounds the natural throughput of twisted minds, not the meticulous mosh hymnal you'll find of most modern death metal. Thus, this fully falls into the 'retro' or 'nostalgia' camp without obeying the rules.

Arlid Myren Torp (top) and Kristian Valbo. Photos by Metal Chris

Also have to complement the drumming, which shifts between warlike, sparse cadence to a more black metal based combination of snares and kicks through the blast-work. The title of this record is no joke, I do actually feel like fans of older Mayhem, Marduk and Darkthrone will get just as much a kick out of this effort as those seeking another Altars of Madness, Onward to Golgotha or Mental Funeral. There's an unpredictable nature about how they've written this (much like the second album) that keeps it fresh and frightening throughout, and the bonus atmospherics like cleaner chanted vocals and ominous droning throat passages show an ethnic flexibility in musical influence that promises the unusual. Not that they're the first group to pull this off, but they do it with restraint...never seeming out of place or like some shallow stab at sounding 'different'. Black Death Horizon makes as much sense musically as a fiery cataclysm that ends civilization by blanketing the firmament with a blanket of soot. In listening, you can just hear all the humans choke through their final moments as they reach forth to touch any glimpse of a glittering star beyond the hazy death beyond their reach. The lucky ones will be disintegrated in magma, but not you, fair, you will suffocate until the very end, watching your neighbors and loved ones perish. That's the sound of one kickass death metal disc, venner.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 5, 2014

Idre - Idre

Written by Matt Hinch.

I'm gonna get this out of the way early. I don't listen to much Neurosis. I haven't even heard Through Silver in Blood for heaven's sake. I know, I know.) That alone should preclude me from reviewing ANYTHING, especially the debut self-titled from Oklahoma City's Idre. The Neurosis influence is thick and leans on the Americana side of that sphere which is in fact the side of Neurosis I have trouble grasping. Across Tundras delving further into that too made me shy away from them. But that's not to say I wasn't going to give Idre the benefit of the doubt.

Idre is steeped in forlorn, dustbowl melodies and slow, plodding movements making for the type of album that requires a certain mood to be fully appreciated. At the same time, Idre is all about creating mood. They do so by shifting volumes, instrumentation and pace over decidedly long songs.

“Factorie”, the first of two tracks clocks in around 26 minutes. A simple crashing thump slowly builds into a flow to open the track. It morphs into a desert landscape of sorrow, loneliness and regret. It's painfully plodding cadence is that of a man mentally agonized to put one foot in front of the other yet undeniably compelled to do so knowing what fate lies at the end of the road. Depressing vocals narrate with a Steve Von Till/Johnny Cash resignation until the sun sets around the halfway mark. Tension mounts as darkness surrounds lo-fi guitars buried under mountains of distortion. An extended instrumental section hypnotizes the listener as the molasses-thick rhythms meander through the plains searching for a peace that cannot be found.

“Witch Trial” comes in at half the time as its predecessor but is no less circuitous or sorrowful. A militant snare marches on through the track's opening movements. It's a more menacing tone but still slow, despairing and hypnotic. Loud/quiet dynamics and varying degrees of urgency and force soundtrack melancholy and sadness. Near the track's conclusion the heavy rolls in like thunder clouds. The fuzz level reaches doom proportions and a heavy drone sets in ensuring burial, not ascendance.

Idre is very chill but like rays of sun peaking between broken clouds, moments of more fevered blood find their place. The slow and hypnotic nature settles the listener into a trance. The patient listener is rewarded by the syrupy dynamics and myriad subtleties that continue to manifest over multiple listens. Idre's vision is clear and well executed. While I enjoyed the louder/faster sections more, I was surprised by how much Idre grew on me. It's apparent that this band could go in a number of directions on future releases and succeed. Or simply soldier on through the haze.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

September 2, 2014

Krieg - Transient

By Steven Leslie. Krieg has returned. For anyone even remotely familiar with US black metal this demonic wrecking crew needs no introduction. Over the course of their 19-year career they have produced some of the finest albums to emerge from the US black metal scene. And their latest is no exception. Transient, which is being released by Candlelight Records
By Steven Leslie.

Krieg has returned. For anyone even remotely familiar with US black metal this demonic wrecking crew needs no introduction. Over the course of their 19-year career they have produced some of the finest albums to emerge from the US black metal scene. And their latest is no exception. Transient, which is being released by Candlelight Records, continues their tradition of challenging and expanding the boundaries of the genre.

Right from the opening track you can feel that this is a special record. This is not the black metal of old. Instead of wind swept forests and icy mountains, what you get is the soul crushing negativity and hatred that only city life can create. This is the sound of urban decay and detritus as you are dragged through the decrepit streets and filthy sewers of the modern world. It’s a journey into the demented mind of street junkies and mental patients. And it is utterly captivating.

Krieg 2013. Photo by Carmelo Española.

Band founder and mastermind Neil Jameson has managed to find the perfect supporting cast to bring his disturbed vision to life. From start to finish this record is dripping with misanthropy and disgust. Jameson’s time in his myriad of side projects, the most notable being The Royal Arch Blaspheme and US black metal “supergroup” Twilight, has clearly rubbed off on his compositions for Krieg, in all the best ways. While Transient has all the hallmarks of previous Krieg releases, the album benefits significantly from Jameson’s vastly improved songwriting skills. Subtle melodies briefly emerge like a glimmer of light, before the seething and swarming onslaught drags you back down into the harsh reality of a meaningless existence. Mesmerizing riffs and drums cascade over you, sucking you in and pulling you into the deepest recesses of a demented mind. All of this is aided by a fantastic production and mixing job. Every instrument is clearly audible, but none of the dirt and grime that are so essential to the bands sound is lost.

Krieg 2013. Photo by Carmelo Española.

Jameson’s vocal performance is gut wrenching throughout. Some of his side projects and previous works have suffered from a lack of variety, but this is definitely not the case with Transient. You can feel the venom and vitriol oozing from every syllable. His vocal attack fits perfectly into each of the songs. From deathly bellows to throat shredding growls, Jameson puts in the vocal performance of his career. It’s a far cry from the standard black metal screech we have all heard a thousand times since the dawn of the second wave in Norway.

This is a master class in album creation from start to finish. What is most remarkable is the bands ability to take a traditional black metal template and seamlessly integrate influences from other genres. The song "Winter" is a perfect example. "Winter" is essentially a crust punk song from start to finish, which in lesser hands would easily stick out like a sore thumb. In Krieg’s case however, the song fits flawlessly alongside the more traditional black metal tracks. Krieg continues to challenge the boundaries of black metal, while staying true to the individualist spirit that is at the core of all great records. The best black metal takes you on a journey, and Transient is no exception. Hatred and disgust have never sounded so good.

Suggested track: "Time".

September 1, 2014

Rather Be Alive - Resiliència

Written by Justin C.

Way back in the late 90s or early 00s, when I was still living in NYC, I saw one of the strangest, avant garde guitar performances I've ever experienced. A relatively unassuming man came on stage with just an electric guitar and one amp, and he treated us to 90 minutes of squeals, feedback, pick scrapes, plinking the strings above the nut, and all manner of other tomfoolery. There was almost no melodic or harmonic structure to hang onto at all. After the show, I went to the men’s room and heard this brilliant summing up from some random drunk dude: "That's art. It's not music, but it's art."

That pretty well sums up how I feel about mathcore bands. Before hordes of Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge fans accost me, I don't mean that as an insult. When done well, I appreciate bands that play in that general territory, including Dillinger. But the unrelenting assault of dissonance, jagged rhythms, and general whatthefuckery engage a part of my brain that's adjacent to, but not directly connected, to the part that engages with music in general, so it's not a subgenre I revisit very often.

Enter the Barcelona-based band Rather Be Alive and their EP Resiliència. They self-identify as mathcore on their Bandcamp page, and I think that's a fair description. The vocals are hardcore bellows, the music is intricate, and there are plenty of quick-change shifts both melodically and rhythmically. But in spite of that, I find Rather Be Alive to be insanely catchy instead of mildly exhausting. The vocals are the perfect level of abrasiveness. When the vocals kick in the opening track, "Acaba amb Mi," I actually sing along with the line, "observa al teu voltan!" That's in Catalan, and I have no idea what it means, but the energy is so infectious that I still sing along. (A quick trip to Google translate gave laughably and obviously bad English translations of the lyrics provided on Bandcamp.)

The instrumental performances are all top grade as well. Check out the jazzy bass solo in "Acaba am Mi"--and when I say jazzy, I mean legitimate, high-quality jazz, not just a half-hearted attempt. The guitar solo that breaks out immediately afterward is a study in simplicity and catchiness. And that nuclear-powered-freight-train riff that opens up "Sense Fugir"! All of this is over drumming that's deceptive in its complexity, intricate without sounding like it's being done by dome futuristic drum-bot.

The EP is just a quick blast of three songs, offered for free download, but here's hoping we get a full length some time in the near future.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]