December 31, 2015

Label Spotlight: Dark Essence Records

The Norwegian label Dark Essence Records is now on Bandcamp, sharing the page with their parent (and non-metal) label Karisma Records. Dark Essence mostly focuses on extreme metal bands from the label's hometown Bergen. Their roster is home to high profile names like Taake and Aeturnus, but here are three bands you may not have heard before, all from Bergen, and all profiled by the mighty Autothrall.

Artwork by H'grimnir from Helheim

Although their end products might bear a only passing resemblance, I've always likened the progression of Helheim to that of their countrymen Enslaved. Unafraid to evolve themselves into varied configurations, but somehow managing to retain the razor disposition of their early works, these Norsemen explore sound with absolutely no concern for the whining of a reactive audience. Chances are, if you're still on board with the band after 15 years, you're expecting some mild transformation through each of their full-lengths, and Heiðindómr ok mótgang, their 7th, is no exception to this, evenly distributing its creativity through passages of strained beauty and primordial strength. (read the rest of the review here).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Robert Høyem

It's hard not to think of Viking metal as being beaten to a pulp these past two decades, what with a great many subpar acts springing up in the genre and diluting its novelty. I'm sure many have the purest of intentions, and should in no way be faulted for celebrating the subject (especially if its a point of their personal ancestry), but tossing in a few folk instruments and playing forgettable, mead drunken melodies to offset a few substandard black metal charging rhythms is simply not going to cut it. What does this have to do with Norway's Galar? Well, they are one of the few acts to happen along, and not only cut it, but cut the entire forest down to its roots with a sharply hewn axe. Til alle heimsens endar is the band's sophomore album, following up solid debut Skogsvad from 2006, and the band manages to sum up exactly what's been so great about their forebears like Enslaved, Týr, early Borknagar, and Viking-era Bathory without crossing streams too closely with any of them. (read the rest of the review here).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

2007's Cursed Madness was a well-received debut from this Norse cult, one of the few bands out there who manage to crossbreed death and black metal into a manageable and interesting form. This follow-up, Thorns in Existence, offers progress even beyond the debut, an interesting and for the most part original work. This not only impresses via the members' musical capabilities, but the immersion into its many twisted corridors of grief and vitriol. (read the rest of the review here).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 29, 2015

Transcending Obscurity Label Sampler - Volume 1

Here's a huge, free, label sampler from Transcending Obcurity, a fine underground metal label from India. 65 songs from 65 different metal bands all available as a name your price download.

Transcending Obscurity is really two labels in one. The parent label features bands from all over the world (and we have featured a few of them), and the sub-label Transcending Obscurity India features bands from India. The sampler is split up in the same fashion. The first 13 bands are from the parent label, and the rest are all from the Indian sub-continent - India mainly, but also a few from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Thanks to helpful labeling of the individual tracks you get to know where each band is from, and what genre they're playing. So even before listening to their song, I'm amazed that there's a band from Pune, India called Ragnhild that plays viking metal! As label owner Kunal Choksi wrote "This is all you need to get yourself educated on established as well as promising bands from this part of the world in particular". Listen, download, and dig in.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 28, 2015

Final Sign - Hold High the Flame

Beware of first impressions! Case in point: American heavy/power metal band Final Sign, a much classier affair than you might think after seeing that awesomely goofy cover. Hold High the Flame marries hard hitting, even gritty heavy metal with the melodic sensibilities and larger scale of power metal. Final Sign are not afraid to thrash it out and shred (or even doom it down a little); still the chorus of the title track is going to stay with you for awhile. Hold High the Flame has an aggressive production where everything has its place; the powerhouse rhythm section and the fleet-fingered soloing and speedy riffs, courtesy of Brian "Hellstorm" Williams.

Despite all the other qualities Final Sign has, it's the type of band that might fall flat in the hands of a lesser vocalist. But the powerful voice of Shawn Pelata dispels any such doubts immediately. Always in full control, no high notes hit just for the sake of hitting them; this is the kind of voice you need to create power metal that is actually powerful. Couple this with heavy metal that is actually heavy, and I think it's safe to say: if any of these genres interest you, you should check out Final Sign.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 26, 2015

Vastum - Hole Below

By Matt Hinch. It seems sometimes like the death metal bands garnering the most praise are those pushing or breaking through the boundaries of their genres. And if you take a look at genre pioneers like Death and Autopsy
By Matt Hinch.

Cover art by Daniel Butler from Vastum.

It seems sometimes like the death metal bands garnering the most praise are those pushing or breaking through the boundaries of their genres. And if you take a look at genre pioneers like Death and Autopsy that mentality has been around almost as long as death metal itself. But if you put the “brutal” qualifier in there expectations can get dumbed down a bit. Heavy chugging riff, solo that makes you turn to the guy next to you with a “You fucking hear that?!” look on your face, and some indecipherable growling. It's been covered. We're good. (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

But it doesn't have to be that way. Vastum know this and take brutal death metal to another place (as they have previously) on new album, Hole Below. They check all those aforementioned boxes (Leila Abdul-Rauf's solos especially) but it's all swallowed by a different breed of darkness and sinister atmosphere lead by vocalist Daniel Butler's cavernous growls and sexually charged lyrics.

Hole Below is fed by a primal energy tapping into those baser instincts. The riffs lay down a merciless beating with a tendency to throw in a gallop leading to rhythmic and purposeful headbanging urges that are impossible to deny. It's more than a mindless bodily function. Don't misunderstand, there's nothing wrong with giving yourself a good beating but this connects on a different wavelength and deep down a more satisfying level.

Track after track Vastum spread a vile and putrid filth of downtuned crunch aroused by an encapsulating atmosphere. It's undeniably OSDM-based but it feels more calculated and methodical rather than purely angry, hateful or posturing for effect.

Hole Below is at times creepy, other raw and others still driven by a certain madness yet never lets go of that muscular brutality. Given the nature of the lyrics it's not a stretch to imagine this providing the metronomic beat for partaking in sexual acts, depraved or otherwise. Although its terrifying nature and outright brutality sets a twisted mood.

Death metal in 2015 doesn't have to be mind-bogglingly technical or hybridized with any number of things. Vastum stick to the fundamentals and flesh out their primitive style of death metal keeping the animalistic intensity paramount. Hole Below is deeply satisfying and a crucial listen to be sure. Get (off) on it.

December 24, 2015

Kult Mogił - Anxiety Never Descending

Written by Justin C.

Kult Mogił is getting name-checked with the likes of Bölzer and Portal, which are fair comparisons in their own way, but if you go into this expecting smothering blackened death metal like Portal, you may be pleasantly surprised. I like Portal, but sometimes their storm is a bit too much for a full album's worth. Kult Mogił's Anxiety Never Descending takes a different path.

The production here is raw, but yet all the instruments are clearly separated in the mix. Even the vocals, instead of settling into a typically impenetrable death-growl, mostly stick to a harsh rasp, letting bits of the vocals come through clearly. It's an appropriately nasty sound for a band whose name translates to "cult of graves," but it crushes musically instead of overwhelming with layers. The guitar parts are a favorite of mine. Chugging riffs are contrasted with windy dissonance; the different lines push and pull, sometimes acting as counterpoint, sometimes as a creepy call and response. Check out the pure Sabbath-y goodness at the start of "Serene Pond," which is promptly punctuated with a staccato riff and well-placed percussion blasts. The whole album is a play on contrasts, where doomy riffs meet freight-train percussion, while maintaining that cemetery vibe throughout.

If there's one misstep in the album, it's the penultimate song, "The Width of a Forehead." The song's droning core is a solid one, but it's saddled with an overly long intro and outro that a five-minute track just can't support, and for me, the energy ultimately fizzles out. Luckily, this is all washed away by the album's closer, "Palliative Messiah." It's the longest song here, but it never loses momentum. It makes a slow build with plenty of dueling guitar lines before coming to a brief and complete halt, and then exploding again into an ever-increasing intensity. It's a great ride, and a fitting end to one of the more interesting death metal albums I've heard for a while.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 23, 2015

Skepticism - Ordeal

Written by Kaptain Carbon.

Max from Metalbandcamp and I had a joke about me reviewing the new Skepticism. I was reviewing a lot at the time and made mention that if my article was ever delayed it would fit the template of funeral doom. I would like to imagine my joke is just getting funnier the more time passes between the release date and and when I finally review it. Ordeal was released on September 18th, 2015 Let us look at the date. Holy shit, it is almost 2016. I still made it before the end of the year however.

For as much as I was sweating doing this review, the fact remains that the Finnish funeral doom act Skepticism takes their time with records. Ordeal is the band’s 5th record and followup to 2008’s Alloy. That is seven years between albums. I am not making this sort of thing up. Ordeal treads on a very long carpet of already praised records, with specific mentions to Stormcrowfleet and Lead and Aether, both which cemented the band as masters of gloom. 2015 sees a new record coming in at an almost unmanageable 1 hour and 17 minutes. With this density, I think I will be good for the next 10 years.

Skepticism 2012. Photos by Jo T.

I’m sorry, where are my manners? You maybe asking yourself what is happening on this record, and in funeral doom in general. Why in the world is it so slow? It is true that funeral doom, or at least the name, can send people into convulsions over the needless hairsplitting of genres. The music jogs along to the tempo of a funeral dirge, the guitars often times break into wails, and the vocals are derived from death/doom so they creep across mortuary floors. Though funeral doom is practiced by probably a little more than a dozen bands, the fact remains that Skepticism, along with bands like Mournful Congregation, Thergothon, and Esoteric have carved out a wonderful niche full of fog and perpetual longing. The whole atmosphere is meant to be suffocating in its grief and gloom. Ordeal continues this...well...ordeal….by not reinventing funeral doom’s template but rather contributing to its upkeep and restoration.

Ordeal may be Skepticism's most refined effort, but it is only experienced after spending more than an hour with its sound. The band’s structure is a godsend for those who find sitting through 10 plus minute doom songs tiring. Songs like “The March Incomplete” have enough variety between solos and breaks to make the whole experience rewarding and emotionally effective. “Closing Music” does a wonderful job of transforming the atmosphere of older songs like “Organaium” off of Lead and Aether into an actively engaging song that doesn’t just suffocate but rather extols the virtues of misery.

Skepticism 2012. Photos by Jo T.

Skepticism is quietly shining through their most recent albums if only for the fact that the production value is edging towards refinement. Though Stormcrowfleet remains one of the band's most traveled to destinations, it and albums like Lead and Aether are woefully buried under noise and fog. 2008’s Alloy continued the band’s trudge out of the swamp and into the bog that sits sort of beside the swamp. One can hear the difference in “The March and the Stream,” which originally was released on Lead and Aether in 1996 but is given a glamorous makeover with a richer palette of sound and production.

It took me a little bit, and in fact even longer to get around to this album, but I believe the wait was necessary to fully process Ordeal. This is not a record one goes a couple of times through before skipping off to something else. Skepticism has fully shown themselves as masters of their craft and effectively being bummed out for the past several decades.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 19, 2015

Music and Meaning: Revenge - Behold.Total.Rejection. and Amber Asylum - Sin Eater

Written by Craig Hayes.

To my mind, no matter what genre we favour, we’re all aiming to satisfy the exact same desire when we listen to music. And I think you can distill that desire, and the myriad reasons why we love music, into one simple word. All any of us really want from music is to be moved.

There’s no question that music moves us and takes us places. And whatever our resulting emotional or physical states, it’s from those experiences that we find and construct meaning in our lives. For many of us, the desire to discover music that moves us often finds us searching the extremes of musical expression. We want the heaviest, most ethereal, most beautiful or bitterest music. And that quest is perfectly represented by recent albums from American neoclassical ensemble Amber Asylum, and Canadian black and death metal berserkers Revenge.

I’ll understand if you think the elegant music Amber Asylum makes doesn’t warrant comparison to the hateful and primitive noise that Revenge conjures. (Except as an example of how polar opposite styles of music appeal to a wide swath of metalheads.) Yet, no matter the stylistic gulf between the two bands, Amber Asylum and Revenge share a clear link that’s inextricably tied to music and meaning. Let me explain.

Back in the late 90s, Canadian band Conqueror released their one and only full-length LP, War Cult Supremacy, which was a defining moment for fans of bestial black and death metal––or war metal, as it’s more commonly known. James “J” Read was the drummer on that LP, and he’s been the driving force in Revenge since the band’s first bloodthirsty EP, Attack.Blood.Revenge, was released in 2001. And if there’s one thing that Revenge have become known for, it’s their obliterating sound and vision.

Like all bands in the war metal axis, Revenge play pitiless and bludgeoning music. It’s metal born from viscera-strewn battlefields, throughout time and space, and on plains of existence both real and imaged. The focus is always on intensity and overwhelming brute force, and Revenge’s latest album, Behold.Total.Rejection., the band’s first for new label Season of Mist, is a perfect example of how 10-tonne, chaotic metal moves us.

I’m fully aware that suggesting a band like Revenge “moves us” in any way sounds like a highfalutin way to describe the band’s intent or impact. But that’s what’s happening, nonetheless. Sure, that sense of being moved is delivered via a razor-storm of nihilistic noise. Which, incidentally, is something all of us need to experience. I mean, even if you’re not a fan of Revenge per se, you still need to hear Behold.Total.Rejection. Folks love to use terms like brutal and merciless to describe metal albums aplenty, and Behold.Total.Rejection. is the very definition of those terms.

Revenge 2014. Photos by Carmelo Española.

Behold.Total.Rejection. has no hooks, no handholds, and definitely no safety nets. Tracks like “Scum Defection (Outsider Neutralized)”, “Wolf Slave Protocol (Choose Your Side)” and “Mobilization Rites”, as well as every other barbaric track on the album, are maelstroms of twisted vocals, distorted guitars and blastbeat drumming. Basically, it’s the equivalent of standing in front of a mine-sweeping tank in the heat of battle. All flailing chains and reinforced armour and tracks, followed by ceaseless and decimating barrages.

Behold.Total.Rejection. does what war metal does best––it destroys. But inherent in all the destruction is that sense of being moved. Sure, it’s not wistful emotionality you’re feeling, but you are swept up in the turmoil, and there’s obvious catharsis in having the endless annoyances that drag you down demolished.

In essence, Behold.Total.Rejection. kills. But not your spirit. The album moves us to feel at one with annihilation. It moves us to embrace chaos. To accept that life is a war of all against all––all the fucking time. It’s the experience of ruthless negation and pitiless cruelty, never to be forgotten.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Now, whether any there’s truth to the particular worldview that Revenge seeks to share on Behold.Total.Rejection. is obviously up to you to judge. But everything that’s feral, ferocious and inhuman about the album is perfectly counterpointed by the haunting elegance of Amber Asylum’s latest album, Sin Eater.

Sin Eater marks the 20th anniversary of the San-francisco-based chamber doom band founded by multi-instrumentalist and soprano vocalist Kris Force. Yet, two decades down the line, Sin Eater happens to feature some of most moving and soul-stirring music from Amber Asylum yet. Tracks such as “Perfect Calm”, “Beast Star” and “Harvester” weave post-rock, dark ambient, and neoclassical influences around lush string arrangements and poignant vocals. All of which is shrouded in Amber Asylum’s gothic elegance.

Amber Asylum 2011. Photos by Taylor Keahey.

Sin Eater evokes the solemnity and ritual of the ‘sin eating’ process itself. But what the album also does is take the gravity of that process and render it into a heartbreakingly beautiful experience. Even at its darkest and most ominous, such as on the grim post-metal landscape of “Executioner”, Sin Eater still feels alive. Where Behold.Total.Rejection. is a barbaric challenge that negates life with a pitch-black wall of noise, Sin Eater opens its arms wide open. Yes, the music therein is often dark. But Sin Eater welcomes all into its darkness.

Behold.Total.Rejection. and Sin Eater vividly illustrate that polar opposite types of music often move us in entirely comparable ways. The two albums are clearly yin and yang, yet both speak to us deeply. The former by means of an uncompromisingly nihilistic vision; the latter by inviting us in to experience the beauty in haunting sadness and ceremony. Our desires are stated by music’s ability to take us to places. Some are utterly grotesque. Others are wholly gorgeous. But always, and forever, music remains our lifeblood. Taking us on journeys so that we can find meaning in our lives.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 17, 2015

Owl - Aeon Cult

Written by Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Peter Boehme

At only eight and a half minutes, the Aeon Cult EP by the ever-prolific Owl (although it has been almost a year since The Last Walk) is over in the blink of an eye as far as doom goes. And it's mostly definitely doom. The EP is comprised of three tracks that continuously pound the listener to dust in their short run times.

Unstoppable dirging riffs thunder methodically as melodies course through the veins of the beast. Or rather, the piping of the mechanized destructive machination. The industrial tone takes away the organic element of the cause of your doom.

“Mollusk Prince” has some quicker pacing compared to “The Abyss” and “Ravage” giving the listener a more fervent beating.

All in all, Aeon Cult delivers a sound few minutes of world-crushing apocalyptic doom that wouldn't feel out of place on the heavier end of The Crow OST. So consider this review more of a Public Service Announcement: There's new material from Owl. So check it out. Owls are still “in”, right?

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 16, 2015

Iron Void - Doomsday

Written by Karen A. Mann.

There’s little question what you’ll get when you click on the title track from Iron Void’s Doomsday. The first thing you hear is Charlton Heston utter the words “It’s Doomsday!” from “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” And Doomsday it is, throughout the entire release, because Iron Void is a band that revels in traditional doom. Hailing from Wakefield, England, Iron Void respectfully channels Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Trouble with the obvious Sabbathian touches here and there. Though they originally formed in the late '90s, they didn't release a full album until last year. They've followed up very strongly with Doomsday, out now on singer Steve Wilson’s label, Doomanoid Records.

The opening track lumbers out with a raw Sabbath-like riff and good clean singing about clouds turning black and other such apocalyptic imagery. The band spreads its black wings a bit on “The Devil’s Daughter,” which is more of a heavy rocker than straight-up doom, and “The Answer Unknown,” which channels Motorhead. They’re at their best, though, when they keep it slow and low, like on the Windhand-esque “Colosseum.”

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Note: you can also check out this Iron Void interview over at No Clean Singing.

December 15, 2015

Vasaeleth - All Uproarious Darkness

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

Cover art by Antichrist Kramer

Raw death metal duo Vasaeleth have unleashed a river of blood with their second album, All Uproarious Darkness. Though only 19 minutes and five tracks, the record is a full-length release and follow-up to 2010's Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin. From the thick heat of the Southern U.S., Vasaeleth have managed to channel a sound with a deep sepulchral chill — the guitar tone is unforgiving and icy enough to raise hackles and shudders. It's not only the tone that's cold as a dungeon's iron bars, but the mood and concept as well. The record reeks of ill-will and hostility, evoking a sick, snarling atmosphere that stalks and slithers around the listener. The soundscape is swirling and dense, the relentless drums, thick, slime-crusted guitars and bass knitting together into a smothering sonic morass. The brevity of the record is a mercy; All Uproarious Darkness leaves the listener not only chilled and unsettled, but gasping for breath.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 14, 2015

Locrian - Infinite Dissolution

Written by Majbritt Levinsen.

Sculpture by David Altmejd

I totally fell in love with Locrian back in 2012 when I first came in contact with this highly creative trio. They blew me away and opened up a new chapter of music to me. Even though the double album The Clearing/The Final Epoch was harsh and not so listener-friendly I just embraced it wholeheartedly. It was a trip to a haunting claustrophobic post-apocalyptic environment which I gladly revisits on a regular basis.

I have to mention that, to this day, I have not gotten into their album Return To Annihilation from 2013. After some listen-throughs I just came to terms with the fact that we weren’t compatible.

So here I am with a new Locrian album which is much lighter and much more accessible on a grander scale, the haunting drone and eerie bleak atmospheres from The Clearing/The Final Epoch is for the most part gone, and has transformed into a more focused experimental atmospheric post-black-metal with the dark electronics hovering around the tracks, and I love it!

Terence Hannum. Photo by Webzine Chuul.

"Arc of Extinction" opens up with all the ingredients that makes Locrian great: droning guitars, the tormented distant screams from Terence Hannum, the ritualistic heavy drumbeats from Steven Hess that drags you closer while the track builds up into a cataclysmic fury, a tornado of intertwined sounds that breathes like a living entity! 7 minutes of mesmerizing waves of sound and André Foisy’s fine-tuned guitar that just lifts this track above and beyond.

Just like "Dark Shales" has it’s light and fluid meditative mood that feels spacy and futuristic, "The Great Dying" will also lift your mind to another state of consciousness. It blooms out to something that gives me goosebumps, and is maybe my favourite track on this album. It floats seamlessly over into “Heavy Water” that streams thick and fluidly underneath you as you hover over it.

Steven Hess. Photo by Webzine Chuul.

"An Index of Air" makes me want to see them live, this track would be something out of this world to be able to experience live, where the initial lengthy drum and electronic intro will take your senses to another dimension. And as the track opens up and Terrence starts to scream out the few but powerful lyrics; the sound waves, the dim light and the presence of other people in a crowded room would trigger even more ways to enjoy the music.

This album feels more harmonic and balanced but you will still find darker passages with harsh noisy electronics. The track "KXL I" carries this darker and more harsher mechanical droning sound and mood. It has a light guitar on top of a darker undercurrent of screeching electronics. A gritty guitar eventually seeps out of that dark undercurrent and gives this track some really interesting layers.

André Foisy. Photo by Webzine Chuul.

After my first listen-through I noticed that the aura was brighter and more ethereal. Every sound they create in their sonic adventures is carefully placed and structured which results in an awe inspiring synergy, and that is why I never get tired of listening to their music.

With Infinite Dissolution Locrian paints pretty pictures of post-apocalyptic landscapes. So let them escort you, as your mind wander, to an Earth where humans no longer exists. Cease to Grow, Start to Dissolve ("Heavy Water").

And I might have to mention that Locrian’s Infinite Dissolution is number one on my best of 2015 list.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 12, 2015

Cult of Occult - Five Degrees of Insanity

Written by Justin C.

Art by Jeni Fitts / Provoking Drama

I vaguely remember checking out Cult of Occult's first full-length, Hic Est Domus Diaboli in the summer of 2014, and then moving on without a strong impression. I found it a bit too monolithic, I think. It's hard for me to quantify how much they've changed vs. how much I've changed in the intervening time, but I found their newest, Five Degrees of Insanity, instantly addicting.

This is filthy sludge at its most pure. Earlier this year, I compared Bell Witch's album with creeping lava, and I think that metaphor works equally well for Cult of Occult. (I'm also trying to make "lava-core" a thing in metal journalism. Help a guy out!) Five Degrees of Insanity is a vicious, viscous crawl. As if being smothered by lava weren't enough, the band's happy to pound you over the head with a sledgehammer. Hell, I started pounding on my desk along with the crawling beat of "Nihilistic." That water-torture-slow drip of a riff packs a surprising amount of heft.

That song gives you a pretty good feel for the album. There's some obvious variation, like the furious energy in the opening of "Misanthropic," but for the most part, the music stays low, slow, and dirty. Vocals growl for the most part, except when they're shrieking invective like "OPEN YOUR EYES YOUR LIFE IS SHIT!. (In a nice touch, the band has included the lyrics on their Bandcamp page, written as solid blocks of ALL CAPS text. The typesetting matches the intensity.)

Sometimes I think the music could use a little more variation--after all, ten and a half minutes is the shortest track on this mammoth--but there's something absolutely magnetic in this album that pulls me along, even in the face of doubt. And talk about pulling you in: The album art for this, done by Jeni Fitts, could easily be in the Museum of Modern Art. It's the kind of disturbing piece that I'd spend at least 15 minutes staring at while other patrons edged warily around me. It's a perfect fit for this bruiser of an album.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 10, 2015

The Visit - Through Darkness Into Light

Written by Matt Hinch

I won’t go on and on about Through Darkness Into Light by Ottawa’s The Visit. Mostly because words fail to capture the beauty found within these five tracks. As someone who knows next to nothing about classical music I implore you metalheads to listen to this most wonderful cello and voice duo.

Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Musk Ox) mans the cello while Heather Sita Black takes care of the vocals. And both are stellar.

Their compositions are long (the shortest is about eight minutes) but never boring. Each track is fraught with drama, moving from one emotional high to the next. From low and doom-laden to soaring above the highest peaks, Raphael takes the listener to places they can only imagine. Heather sings with the voice of an angel wistfully caressing the soul.

Together they create movements of great tension both loud and soft, slow and fast, rhythmic and melodic. These are met with the aforementioned beauty. These elements and others flow together in operatic fashion, laying out the emotional stories.

Heather’s voice is unshakable. It grabs hold with the intoxicating pull of a romantic lover, ensnaring the listener and opening up their heart with gorgeous melodies. Raphael is equally captivating. His control is masterful and bold, using his entire instrument and varied technique to ensure the darkness and light bend to his will.

Together they become more than the sum of their parts. Their dynamic approach, modern yet traditional, and unquestioned chemistry is stunningly compelling.

Through Darkness Into Light exudes a power far beyond might. Its power comes from within rendering those with open hearts and open minds helpless to resist its charms. The Visit are able to invoke a plethora of emotions and desires including heartache and sadness, joy, revenge, madness, solace, desperation and hope, all under a shifting sky both cold and warm, thick and airy, through darkness into light.

Simply magnificent.

Enough blathering. Just listen and be amazed.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 9, 2015

Label Spotlight: I, Voidhanger Records

By Kevin Page.

Italy's I, Voidhanger Records, founded in 2008, are one of the handful of labels where quality reigns supreme. Not one to simply sign a slew of bands and push product out the door, each artist is carefully picked, and more times than not, something that you should take notice of. Here are three of their most recent releases definitely worth your time.

Cover art by Sergio Gonzales

Santiago, Chile's Nar Mattaru unleash their sophomore full length effort, Ancient Atomic Warfare, 4 years after their debut (which I have not had the pleasure of hearing yet). Joined by new vocalist, Bliol, who sounds just like Dr. Claw from the old Inspector Gadget cartoon (I kid you not and I mean this in the nicest way possible), the band pummel you through 45 minutes of mid paced death metal. Unlike lots of Chilean and South American bands this isn't noisy chaotic war metal. Yet this is far from polished or pristine sounding though and reminds me of an early Immolation without the backwards sounding riffs. Favorite track: "The Great Serpent of Knowledge".

Artwork by Francesco Gemelli

If you didn't get a chance or simply missed my interview with Spectral Lore, there's no better time than now to give it a read/listen (links to 3 current releases included).

Once you are finished with that, Ayloss has even more new material for you to check out in Gnosis, a 49 minute experimental EP. But don't fear the experimental tag as there's plenty of metal to go along with the ambiance, acoustics and oriental instrumentation. If you are a fan of the band, this one might require a little more of your time than usual (at least it did for me). And be sure to check out the mindset behind the release (on their Bandcamp page), which is written in a far more eloquent manner than I could ever hope to.

Cover art by Wiley Trieff

I'm guessing that most people would never peg Howls of Ebb as an American band, I sure didn't. They seem too quirky and unique with their twisted take on the death metal genre. 2014's debut album, Vigils of the 3rd Eye, was literally an eye opener and fresh take on extreme metal. And like most things original, it was glossed over fairly easily. They have now returned with a new 34 minute EP that's even more 'out there', but not in a spacey, wanky, self indulgent way. My initial reaction was to question if this was the same band, as by comparison the debut sounded fairly easy to grasp. This took me repeated spins to finally warm up to it, but once it did, I was treated to a hypnotic black/death soundscape. From riffs, to production and song structure, everything just screams DIFFERENT and that's a good thing. Another home run for I, Voidhanger Records.

December 8, 2015

Tod Huetet Uebel - Malícia

Written by Majbritt Levinsen.

Artwork by Valnoir

Magnificent! Grandiose! Massive and brutal! F*cking insane!

These were the first words that arose in my mind as the crisp and clear sounds of the first track "XIII" started to overwhelm me. What a way to open up into the depths of two tormented souls' artistic world. Yes, Tod Huetet Uebel, only consist of two musicians: Daniel C, who creates all the music and Marcos M, who delivers the anguished vocal. Daniel C has also recorded, mixed and produced the album. The band spawned from the Portuguese underground and the essence of hatred back in 2012 and has since then created their own take on a skewed and anguished world.

Malícia is beautifully mixed, where every instrument has been given its own space, giving you a clear view into all of the corners this album has to offer. The singer adapts the same insane roars, anguished screams and sinister incantations as B from Lifelover and Kvarforth from Shining. Musically Tod Huetet Uebel is black metal mixed up with post-apocalyptic, avant-garde, straight up atmospheric insanity, and moments of clarity and peace.

The album is filled with machine-gun drumming and razor-sharp guitar melodies that occasionally drops into slower passages. On "I" the schizophrenic mind sees clarity, if only for a short time and offers a calm passage before it falls back into the chaotic pit of insanity. And on “IX” the mad fury drops into a dark ritualistic deity invoking state and “V” just simply tries to put a spell on you as it twists and gnarls itself out of an eerie dark place out into the light. The vocals are crow-like, manic roars straight from the asylum and takes on many disturbing shapes which suits the insane world the music is depicting very well.

As I was listening to “XII” for the third time it suddenly hit me that Tod Huetet Uebel on top of everything else has an aura of nihilistic decadence! “XII” also offers very interesting musical side tracks, which warms the inside of someone like me that loves this kind of dark and weird metal. And I could go on and on about passages and melodies I've picked up and taken notice of, but they are too many to mention.

This is music that needs attention, so headphones on and sit back and take notice! If you like the skewed and unordered as much as I, you will not be disappointed. I promise!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

December 7, 2015

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XVII - Kannon

Written by Craig Hayes.

Cover art by Angela Bolliger.

If you want to get a clear picture of the increasing mainstream acceptance of avant-garde or extreme music, then you only have to note that Sunn O)))’s brand-new album, Kannon, was introduced to the wider world by being streamed on Rolling Stone’s website. No offence to the long-running magazine, but folks had waited six long years for a new Sunn O))) album to appear, and seeing it debut on Rolling Stone was a perplexing situation indeed.

Still, I guess that’s a reflection of Sunn O)))’s position in the pantheon of contemporary rock ’n’ roll in 2015. Once upon a time, Sunn O))) were a decidedly underground experimental metal band. But then, stunning albums like 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions, and equally compelling collaborations with Scott Walker (Soused) and Ulver (Terrestrials), clearly raised the cult band’s profile well beyond what I imagine Sunn O))) founders Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson could ever have imagined.

Sure, Sunn O))) are never going to have a smash hit record. But they’re definitely being applauded by a significantly larger audience nowadays. One thing that Sunn O))) have always done, whether popular or not, is to keep moving forward. Which, I admit, is a statement wholly at odds with Sunn O)))’s critics’ usual complaints that the band really don’t change their position enough, or at all.

Sunn O))) 2011. Photo by Webzine Chuul.

However, the suggestion that Sunn O))) are a static band is ludicrous. Because even if their music has often seemed to be made of colossal and immovable megaliths, Sunn O))) have always been fixed on transforming their sound. Yes, the band do work to a template. But increasingly diverse albums like White1, White2, Black One and Monoliths & Dimensions added increasing amounts of colour and texture to that template.

Sunn O)))’s live shows have transformed the band too, with Sunn O))) and their fans exploring enormous sonic pathways together. On Kannon, Sunn O))) also explore a new creative trajectory. It’s not a radical change in direction, but there’s more than enough movement to signal that Kannon represents another step in Sunn O)))’s evolution.

As usual, O’Malley and Anderson steer a course towards the heart of a collapsing nebula on Kannon. But all the heaviness and low-end exploits aren’t just about conveying a dark vision or evoking a grim tone. Sunn O))) also part the clouds on Kannon, with the aim to let a little compassion and illumination shine down. And they’ve drawn inspiration to do that from the world of Buddhism.

The influence of Eastern spiritual traditions might seem like a new tack for Sunn O))), but the band’s music has always featured a meditative pace and aura, as all great transcendental drone does. Although Anderson has said, “I wouldn't consider us to be spiritual people”, a sense of the spiritual is a huge component in the band’s live arsenal. Their concerts in cathedrals, recital halls, and clubs the world over have always been ceremonial affairs, with the band in robes and hoods, ritually summoning giant slabs of mantric sound while shrouded in smoke.

Sunn O))) 2011. Photo by Webzine Chuul.

So spirituality is not unexplored terrain for Sunn O))). But what is new is that Kannon marks the band’s most concise work yet. Don’t panic, Sunn O))) don’t shortchange us on the sheer sonic power front here; Kannon is still an intense experience. However, the album barely pushes past the 30-minute mark.

That doesn’t mean that Sunn O))) were aiming for a more accessible album. Even if famed experimental musician (and Kannon collaborator) Oren Ambarchi’s first response on hearing the final mixes was to say to O’Malley, "Yeah, it's kind of like … Sunn O)))'s pop record." It’s really not. Kannon is pitch-black molten riffs delivered at a molasses pace, as always. And I think we can take it for granted that Sunn O))) won’t be compromising their vision for commercial reasons anytime soon.

The three triptych drones on Kannon were recorded and mixed by Randall Dunn, and the album features long-term collaborators, including Mayhem’s Attila Csihar (who ‘sings’ on every track here), Rex Ritter, and Steve Moore. At its core, Kannon primarily orbits around O’Malley and Anderson’s interplay, as they worship at the altar of amp-melting bass and guitars. “Kannon 1”, “Kannon 2”, and “Kannon 3” are fairly straightforward drones as a result. At least, they favour Sunn O)))’s live set-up a little more, and dispense with the larger framework and orchestral accoutrements of Monoliths & Dimensions.

Sunn O))) 2011. Photo by Webzine Chuul.

There’s plenty of Sunn O)))’s patented 10-tonne distortion on Kannon. “Kannon 1” starts off with a seismic-shaking riff, before the track’s atmosphere thickens and becomes more ominous as Csihar’s eerie croaks and crackles appear. “Kannon 2” churns through the dramatic darkness, as Csihar zealously chants over sub-bass walls of noise. While “Kannon 3”, the final piece in the three-piece puzzle, seals the crypt with a doom-laden drone that harks back to the starkest and heaviest musical motifs of Sunn O)))’s earliest tracks.

In fact, if not for Csihar spitting, growling and/or howling throughout, much of Kannon would fit right in with the bare-boned and punishing drones from early in Sunn O)))’s career. That means, where Kannon sits in Sunn O)))’s oeuvre is a bit of a curious question. In many ways, the album feels like Sunn O)))’s most metal releases since Black One. Yet Kannon is also a sparser and brighter album than the ceaselessly choking and wonderfully nightmarish Black One.

In the end, given that this is around the 20th Sunn O))) album review I’ve written, the fact that Kannon still inspires me to try and unpack its secrets and endeavour to understand its deeper meaning can only be a good thing. Certainly, delivering a more compact yet still deeply contemplative album like Kannon, after such a hugely theatrical work like Monoliths & Dimensions, is an unexpected move. That the band continues to surprise and enthrall, 17 years after their debut, is perhaps the greatest testament to their continuing creative prowess.

Long may Sunn O))) reign as the lords of spellbinding drone.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

November 28, 2015

Grima - Devotion to Lord

Written by Justin C.

I've always thought "atmospheric black metal" was a bit of a misnomer. To me, the name implies a very wispy, maybe even ambient sound, whereas a lot of atmospheric BM has plenty of fire and brimstone to it. It just happens to be a bit more melodic with some quiet parts thrown in. Case in point: The Siberian duo Grima and their debut album Devotion to Lord. (Their Bandcamp page clarifies that "lord," in this case, is "Mother Nature and no human god," so we're not talking about any "white metal" here.)

The two tracks that Naturmacht originally previewed, "The Beginning" and the title track, really drew me in. Grima play heavily melody-driven black metal. The vocals are primarily an icy rasp, although there are deeper growls and the occasional chant-like clean mixed in. The audible bass is a nice touch and always appreciated, and the riffs are heavy on the tremolos. The title track brings in a little Alcest in its intro, but only for a moment. The two bands certainly share a strong melodic sense and an ability to capture a dream-like feel, but I wouldn't lump Grima in with any of the blackgaze bands. This is more of a hybrid of that sound and the nature worship in a lot of Cascadian black metal.

But that brings me to the other thing I enjoyed about this album. Unlike the polished studio recordings you here with a lot of blackgaze and Cascadian recordings, there's a rough-hewn quality to Grima's sound, not so much because of the production, but because of the performances. Grima isn't afraid to leave an arpeggiated riff naked with no accompaniment, like near the midpoint of "The Beginning," and it has a great "recorded live" feel to it, with an occasional string buzz left in. I often struggle with this in my own chintzy recordings--do I go for a raw, one-take recording, maximizing the emotion of a spontaneous performance, or use whatever limited abilities I have in recording to polish the sound? It sounds like Grima's gone for the former here, and that suits the heavy emotional impact of their music very well. And although that doesn't make for a revolution in the atmospheric black metal subgenre, I'd still highly recommend this for people looking for atmospheric BM with a Siberian twist.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

November 25, 2015

Magic Circle - Journey Blind

By Karen A. Mann. Composed of veterans from a slew of well-regarded Boston hardcore bands, Magic Circle are about as unlikely a doom band as you can imagine. They’re also not terribly visible.
By Karen A. Mann.

Artwork by Joe Petagno

Composed of veterans from a slew of well-regarded Boston hardcore bands, Magic Circle are about as unlikely a doom band as you can imagine. They’re also not terribly visible. There’s no Facebook page or dedicated Bandcamp page (you can find some info on their website and the 20 Buck Spin Bandcamp page), and they don’t seem to play live very often. Any publicity about Magic Circle is almost entirely word-of-mouth from dedicated doom fans and blogs. After gaining a lot of underground attention with their 2013 self-titled debut album, they’ve just released Journey Blind on 20 Buck Spin.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

Magic Circle’s music is just as unexpected as their story. The title song begins with a melodic interlude, followed by a slow, lumbering riff that seems firmly inspired by Black Sabbath. It sounds like some funereal doom, and as the song begins to build, it takes on a kind of Pallbearer-ish feel. But then the song stops, and a new, rocking NWOBHM-ish riff with nods to Witchfinder General begins. Magic Circle isn’t planning to plod along forever. They’re going to grab you by the throat and force your fist into the air.

The band does know when to slow it down and give a good dose of molasses-thick melodies, like on “A Ballad for Vultures” and “Grand Deceivers,” and but they never creep for long. Witness the sweet “Metal Gods”-like breakdown in the middle of “Lightning Cage.”

Photo by Carmelo Española.

The real revelation comes when vocalist Brendan Radigan opens up and lets loose with one of the finest doom (or, really, metal in general) voices since Trouble’s Eric Wagner.

Trouble and, and to a lesser extent Saint Vitus, really are major touchstones for Magic Circle, from the riffing to Radigan’s powerful delivery to the introspective, cathartic lyrics. Magic Circle want to take you on a journey through the history of doom, and they don’t need a bong or a copy of Drawing Down the Moon to do it.

November 24, 2015

Label Spotlight: Transylvanian Tapes. Vol. 3

Written by Craig Hayes.

This is the third in a continuing series of posts highlighting recent releases from Oakland, California-based label Transylvanian Tapes. I first encountered the label back in 2013, when the decidedly fetid and pile-driving death metal found on Caffa’s bruising debut, Day Of Disease, caught my ear. Since then, Transylvanian Tapes has issued a bunch of impressive cassette and digital releases. So let’s dive into some more of that riotous noise.

In some ways, Chrch’s remarkable three-track debut, Unanswered Hymns, reminds me of fellow doom band Samothrace’s first full-length, Life’s Trade. Not because Chrch have plagiarized Samothrace’s musical endeavours in any way on their first full-length. But because, like Life’s Trade, Chrch’s first album features a mere handful of songs and still manages to be an outstanding opening salvo due to the astonishing strength of those tracks.

Like Samothrace, Chrch also deal in deeply emotional and enthralling music. The kind of sludgy and transcendent doom metal that’s imbued with a sense of vast space and chasmic depth. It's the kind of music that clutches at your heart, as it soars into the firmament. And it's the kind of music that drags you down with it, when it plummets into caverns of despair.

So, yes, there are only three tracks on Unanswered Hymns. But every one of those tracks is a soul-shaking voyage of considerable length, breadth and impact. You can certainly point to the aforementioned Samothrace as a sonic reference point. As you could Yob, or Bell Witch, and perhaps you’ll even hear a hint of Hawkwind in Unanswered Hymns’more psychedelic passages too.

The point being, there's many influences poured into an album like Unanswered Hymns.But what resonates most, is that Chrch simply make honest music. Music that comes straight from the heart.

Case in point, Unanswered Hymns 19-minute album starter, “Dawning”. There’s a bold opening statement if ever there was one. It’s a do or die move by Chrch. Because your enjoyment of Unanswered Hymns hinges on whether you can digest and/or unpack a massive and multifaceted track straight away. It's a definite line in the sand. But the band wholly justifies delineating that line with “Dawning” by providing a masterclass in how to craft a ten-tonne epic that never loses focus.

Chrch further explores the potential of heavyweight and hallucinogenic doom on Unanswered Hymns’ remaining tracks, “Stargazer” and “Offering”. And both songs, which are also lengthy and involved excursions, are as equally compelling as “Dawning”.

In essence, Unanswered Hymns is defined by its immensity, and rough-hewn eloquence. It’s one of those superbly expressive underground debuts that deserves far more visibility. However, there’s also a grand sense of promise to the album as well. A vivid illustration of the brilliance that possibly lies ahead for Chrch. Because the band have clearly discovered a colossal creative vein to mine.

Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for Chrch. But, for now, there’s plenty of gigantic reverb-heavy riffing and tons of bludgeoning percussion and amp-melting noise to revel in on Unanswered Hymns. Frontwoman Eva’s vocals echo eerily and decidedly spellbindingly from the album's depths. And her voice, whether howling or whispered, forms a large part of Unanswered Hymns' other-worldly appeal.

Ultimately, what makes Unanswered Hymns’an album that I’d recommend you seek out immediately is Chrch’s decision to let their songs breathe with more minimalist and droning passages. Of course, those passages are always followed by superbly sledgehammering doom. But it's the deftly gauged counterpointing between thundering uproars and more ruminative and expansive movements that make Unanswered Hymns such a entrancing album overall.

Unanswered Hymnsha been wonderfully produced as well. It sounds huge, and raw. All jagged-edged, and monolithic in tone and texture. And all of that combines to ensure that it's is a first-rate debut well worth revisiting, time and again.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Like Chrch, San Diego trio Beira also deal in doom metal. However, Beira’s sound harks back further in time to a more majestic era of doom. The band’s vocalist, guitarist and flautist, Ruby Haynes, takes her time building the tension with thick and muscular riffs and on the four tracks that comprise Beira’s Vol 1 release. And, while the rest of the band stomps along with abundant capability and energy, it’s Haynes voice––savagely tearing into passages here, or whispering more ethereally there––that’s going to keep you hooked.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Take a look at that gruesome cover on Cartilage’s It's Necrotic release below. There’s everything you need to know about the lo-fi carnage found in the band's three-song debut writ large. Not everything has to be complicated or convoluted, and It's Necrotic sure isn't. It's simply a 10-minute deluge of blood and guts. It’s crude in character, and primitive in execution. And both of those elements work perfectly together. So if you’re a fan of old school gore-soaked death metal, or rusty bonesaw grindcore, then It's Necrotic will likely fit the butcher's bill for you too.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Devoid are a self-appointed “transdimensional doom metal” trio based in San Francisco. And the band’s I & II album features a great deal of aptly mind-warping noise. Really, it’s no hollow boast on Devoid’s behalf to say the band is “transdimensional” in nature. Because I & II features exactly the kind of turbulent and sludgy sonic worship that's as mesmerising as it is transporting.

Sure, Devoid might not literally be tearing a rent in reality. But you can't knock the band for making a huge effort to grind our reality into the dust on I & II. Devoid wields that same void-opening weaponry that bands such as Usnea, Neurosis or Thou utilise so well. And there's also a heavy dose of the same tripped-out accent that riff-lords such as Primitive Man, Ufomammut or Bongripper exhibit to be heard on I & II as well. Essentially, at their best, Devoid grab you by the scruff of the neck and hurl you into the nucleus of that swirling tempest illustrated on the album's cover. So, if gargantuan and hallucinogenic soundscapes sound enticing, you know where to look.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Notes: Most of the links points to the band's own Bandcamp pages (and all the Devoid songs from I & II are available as name your price downloads on three different albums). For the tape releases go to the Transylvanian Tapes page.

November 21, 2015

Thy Worshiper - Ozimina

By Ulla Roschat.

Artwork by Anna Malarz from Thy Worshiper

Thy Worshiper originally formed in 1993 in Wroclaw/Poland, but are now, after some changes in their line-up, a six piece band and located in Dublin/Ireland. They already have several releases, some demos and three full length albums, and now they return with Ozimina. They call it an EP, but with its six songs and a playing time of about 36 minutes it could almost pass as a full length album.

Ozimina is an invitation to meet the natural world as well as the supernatural. You're a few minutes into the first song and you feel like you're running through a forest driven by a strong heavy rhythm, accompanied by melodic riffs and the sounds of nature, like howling wolves, dabbling water and tweeting birds later on. The whole EP is an utter percussive matter with ritualistic tribal rhythms, and has, combined with the folky melodies, a great pagan/folk black metal character with obscure gloomy atmospheres.

Photo by Abrisad.

With the first two songs you are just running and following the forceful, compelling rhythms and enchanting melodies. With the third song "Ozyny" you find yourself in some kind of shamanic conjuration of supernatural spirits. A droning hypnotic didgeridoo sound and heartbeat backdrop, spoken words (which I unfortunately don't understand, because they are, like all the lyrics, in Polish) that sound like some magic formula, Jew's harp and bagpipe - all add up to a dense, obscure and dangerous atmosphere of a spiritual world. Other than this song with its thick droning sound, all other songs rather have an open, reverberating sound, which lends them a great dynamic and depth.

Photo by Abrisad.

The next track "Wietlica" throws you back into the "peaceful" forest, beginning with singing birds and a simple rhythm produced by some wooden percussion instrument, which btw. contributes a lot to the overall "forest-feel" of the EP. Yet you get the impression that from here everything is not like it was before "Ozyny", as if the experience of the ritual has altered your mindset by some terrifying and saddening knowledge.

Like I mentioned above, it's too bad I don't understand the lyrics. On the other hand, this way I'm free to develop my own stories to the music. Ozimina is a folk black metal album with a great portion of ethnical tunes from eastern Europe and pagan style rhythms, carefully balanced and with an exciting dynamic flow.

The song "Halny" is featured on The Wicked Lady Show 97

November 19, 2015

Witchsorrow - No Light, Only Fire

Written by Matt Hinch.

I’ve sort of got a predisposition towards bands with “wizard” or “witch” in their name. It doesn’t always work mind you, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Most often said band names are associated with doom/stoner acts and such is the case with UK-bred doom merchants Witchsorrow and their latest full-length No Light, Only Fire.

As has been the case since their inception, Witchsorrow live and breathe doom both of the traditional sort and the more modern take on the genre. Take opener “There Is No Light, There Is Only Fire” for example. Sonically speaking it oozes the kind of superfuzzed tone that typifies modern doom but the pace here is blistering by doom standards, as well as compared to much of the album. It barrells forth at a gallop, instantly calling heads to bang as the leads soar to the darkening skies. Thusly, one thinks more toward the traditional spectre of doom in the vein of Trouble and the like in how they can convey a pervading sense of dread without syrupy tempos.

That sort of reverence courses through the album along with a wholesome dose of Sabbath worship, perhaps nowhere more apparent that on closer “De Mysteriis Doom Sabbathas”. It’s a 14-minute test of endurance throwing horns at both Sabbath and the obvious inspiration for the title, Mayhem. (Witchsorrow have covered Mayhem (“Freezing Moon”) previously on an EP of the same name.)

That particular bookend bristles with menace through painfully slow chords bearing down upon the listener and soulful solos breathing colour into the monochrome crush. Witchsorrow’s stock and trade is in that sort of skull-crushing doom of the droning sort but they’re smart enough to know tempo variation is necessary to keep the listener conscious and interested as we see in the six tracks sandwiched between the two extremes opening and closing No Light.

“The Martyr” is like a tar pit ensnaring the listener as they run at full sprint from the plundering pace of “No Light”. The monolithic riffs feel filthy and subterranean as they construct a towering wall of sound. The doom is eternal if not quite funereal until it rumbles into a more uptempo shameless Sabbath worshipping run.

Elsewhere Witchsorrow balance plodding movements with engaging rhythms and cathedral filling vocal laments. Scowl-faced riffs push forth with unstoppable determination, oppressive walls of sound and mind-numbing drone defeating the will to think.

No Light crawls with a disdain for anything less than pure darkness. This gives the album a blackened edge that’s more felt than heard. Their menacing riffs personify doom on both sides of the fence. They glorify Sabbath and give nods to Trouble, St. Vitus et al as well as going all in with contemporaries in North America like Windhand and Uzala.

There’s a beauty to their agonizing and painful doom, likely assisted by the clean vocals. There’s little room for subtlety amidst their calculated reverberations but it’s there if you know where to look. No Light, Only Fire is simply a huge and enthralling doom album that only gets better with each spin. Witchsorrow are well studied in the genre and it shows in how they craft songs that are memorable, menacing and muscular. Darkness reigns. Embrace the flames.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

A Flare in the Northern Sky - Cosmic Black Metal Roundup

By Calen Henry. Upon reflection it’s not actually all that surprising that there’s so much space themed black metal. After all, when one tires of trying to capture the sound of a cold Scandinavian forest what’s colder than the void of space? Travel with me through the void as I present some of my picks
By Calen Henry.

Upon reflection it’s not actually all that surprising that there’s so much space themed black metal. After all, when one tires of trying to capture the sound of a cold Scandinavian forest what’s colder than the void of space? Travel with me through the void as I present some of my picks.

Cover art by Luciana Nedelea

This is the album that started me down the rabbit hole of cosmic black metal and still my favourite. Phobos Monolith mixes blistering tremolo riffs over lightning blast-beats with soaring melodic leads and spacey ambient passages to come up with Blut Aus Nord from space. My only complaint is that the programmed drums can’t keep up with the astounding quality of the rest of the music but that’s hardly the musician’s fault.

Mesarthim takes an almost comically obvious route of combining black metal with cheesy new age keyboard riffs. It’s like the soundtrack to an 80’s science documentary by Emperor. The ridiculous thing is it works incredibly well. This is partly due to the excellent composition in both the black metal and synth parts ending up with something like “black metal Muse” and partly due to the utter commitment in the vocals. The album is also DR 11 meaning very little dynamic range compression was used, making it sound excellent.

Daharaka is Turkish for “blacker” and he certainly is. Unlike some of the other cosmic black metal artists Daharaka sounds like second wave black metal played from space. His guitars and riffs are fuzzy and amorphous but rather than take the kvlt route of trebling it’s guts out he’s applied some effects that give similar results but sound very spacey. There’s something slightly off with the vocals that prevent me from outright loving the album but his unique approach deserves to be experienced. Trve kvlt space metal.

Cover painting by Brian Smith ("By Midnight", 2010)

Tome of the Unreplenished takes the tried and true melodic black metal approach of bands like Rotting Christ and Thou Art Lord and takes it to space. Complete with chanting and “Hellenic” tremolo riffs.

Cover art by Dis Pater

Midnight Odyssey leans more towards the ambient and slow side of things that the other bands on this list for a sound that’s kind of “blackened Enya”. Be warned, though, the album is ridiculously long; 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Art by Paolo Girardi

While quite musically different from the previous five bands you can’t talk about space black metal without its original purveyors, Inquisition. Guaranteed to be the catchiest black metal about space Satan sung by a toad that you’ve ever heard.