September 25, 2016

Dark Descent Spotlight: Blood Incantation, Nox Formulae, and Ghoulgotha

By Craig Hayes. Colorado-based label Dark Descent celebrated its 7th anniversary recently, and while there are plenty of other great underground metal labels around, it’s rare to find one
By Craig Hayes.

Colorado-based label Dark Descent celebrated its 7th anniversary recently, and while there are plenty of other great underground metal labels around, it’s rare to find one that’s sustained such a consistently impressive run of releases over the years. Dark Descent’s success obviously owes a lot to the astute curating of its roster, but it’s also worth noting that the label’s never bought into trends or fostered any unnecessary drama in order to sell a few more records from yesterday's favourite band. That’s meant Dark Descent has maintained a reputation for delivering authentic music from authoritative artists. And that’s certainly true of the three releases below.

There’s been a great deal of online praise orbiting Blood Incantation since the death metal band released their Interdimensional Extinction EP back in 2015. It’d be fair to say Blood Incantation don’t sound like a band who really care about a bunch of ‘internet’ opinions, as such. They're analog, old school, and more otherworldly than digitally hip. But they’re going to have to get used to hearing a lot of online praise nonetheless, because the band’s much-anticipated full-length debut, Starspawn, is here, and come 2016's end of year list season, that album is going to be talked about a lot.

No question, Starspawn is one of this year’s best metal releases. It’s murky and filthy, and features chaotic abstractions and musical madness taking a 35-minute rocket ship ride into the farthest reaches of outer space, and steep dive into the deepest depths of your own minds too. Starspawn stands out in death metal’s rotten ranks because it sounds utterly unique, and while Blood Incantation have an uglier and more violent sound than death metal legends like Gorguts or Atheist, Blood Incantation have clearly been inspired by those band’s innovational approaches.

The dark void between the stars seems to be a catalyst for Blood Incantation’s creativity, and the band draws a connection between us and the wider cosmos. However, Blood Incantation also deal in the, “inner world of endless dimensions, astral projection, telepathy, remote viewing, walk-in souls, etc”. So their vision is a far cry from stock-standard death metal scenarios.

In essence, Blood Incantation underscore that death metal doesn’t have to be a blunt conceptual instrument. And their cryptic cosmic aesthetic is matched by mind-melting music that smashes open portals to…well, pick your own deranged dimension/destination.

Starspawn is built on a skeleton of macabre vocals and churning old school death metal; and in that sense Blood Incantation’s music is primitive and battering. But the band also hurl complex technical flourishes in amongst doomier and more ambient passages, which brings elaborate –– and I’m guessing, bong-fuelled –– progressive elements to the fore.

There’s jaw-dropping instrumentation and imaginativeness exhibited throughout Starspawn. Welcome to the death metal album to beat this year.

Mysterious Greek black metal band Nox Formulae consider their debut album, The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy, to be, “a true sonic grimoire...equal to an actual book of Dark Magic”. I’m guessing that’s good news, if occult communiqués matter to you, but even if they don’t, it’s certainly clear that Nox Formulae are deadly serious about their diabolic mission.

Musically, the band follows a fitting path to deliver their dark missives on The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy. Nox Formulae’s sound is orthodox, solemn, and even heavily gothic in parts, but it’s most obviously indebted to the raw tremolo and treble attack of black metal’s second wave. Expect pitch-black melodies, an icy atmosphere, lacerating riffs, and a fair few spine-chilling moments on The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy. But Nox Formulae’s real talent lies in getting under the skin.

That’s no easy feat these days. Metal is drowning in more-evil-then-evil posturing, and supposedly ‘satanic’ bands are now winning Grammys. But Nox Formulae shape ritualistic rites into insidious odes. They write songs that worm and worry at the edges of your psyche. And their tracks linger in the mind, tempting you to return.

The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy is a deep dark well of music and esoterica. It has all the hallmarks of classic Hellenic black metal, with its power to unnerve while unlocking forbidden secrets. A rare and devilish treat, indeed.

Cover art by Mattias Frisk.

To Starve the Cross is the second full-length album from Southern Californian death metal trio Ghoulgotha. The album is markedly off-kilter, and atonal, but for all it’s eccentricities, To Starve the Cross never becomes lost in its own self-importance.

Like Finnish gloom-mongers Hooded Menace (Ghoulgotha’s most obvious peers), there is a heaped helping of graveyard insanity to Ghoulgotha’s music. To Starve the Cross certainly tips its hat to classic horror themes, and Ghoulgotha inject a heavy dose of aptly vintage and black-hearted doom into their death metal. But while that’s all a mix of metal motifs very well-acquainted with each other, Ghoulgotha are still adept at delivering the unexpected on To Starve the Cross.

Ghoulgotha twist and turn their songs on the album inside out –– launching into bursts of impressively technical riffing, only to excoriate that with a wall of noise. Ghoulgotha take those doom and death metal tropes we’ve heard a million times before and deliver an album that’s familiarly barbaric, in one sense, but entirely idiosyncratic and unconventional in another.

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