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.

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