December 29, 2016

Best of 2016 - Power Metal Edition

By Andy Osborn. Good power metal is rare on Bandcamp. Whether that says something about the genre’s overall lack of popularity, or that the best stuff is controlled by a handful of labels with no interest in modernization, I’m not sure.
By Andy Osborn.

Good power metal is rare on Bandcamp. Whether that says something about the genre’s overall lack of popularity, or that the best stuff is controlled by a handful of labels with no interest in modernization, I’m not sure. Probably a little of both. Not only is it scarce on the platform, 2016 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the stuff. Admittedly I don’t hunt for power metal like I do the darker arts, but even when I take the time to dig deep it was incredibly hard to find real solid material; despite the sound demanding a full group of near-virtuosic musicians and not just the ol’ dude in the basement churning out atmospheric horrors. That said, I was able to scrape the barrel deep enough (through to the floor) to find this quintet of guitar wizardry that stood out above the rest in 2016.

Artwork by Eliran Kantor.

Iotunn deserve an award for their guitar tone alone. It’s not something that regularly stands out in the genre, but the biting, thick sound they have is singular - it was ten seconds into “The Wizard Falls” before I was sold. Denmark, for whatever reason, tends to produce a proggy variety of the sound, and Iotunn are no exception. They have hints of heavy metal, and a slightly American sound that definitely will appeal to Nevermore fans. Benjamin Jensen isn’t your typical soaring vocalist, either. His standard delivery is more of a gruff bar, that occasionally turns to an equally badass growl; something not used nearly often enough in the style. It all makes for a pretty interesting package, and the meandering song structures are captivating and interesting. Even if their overall style isn’t your thing, just ignore that and dig the sweet tone.


Artwork by Kip Ayers.

Power metal, like any style of of heavy arts, can take itself much too seriously. In fact, that’s probably why it’s not as popular as it should be. The songs are meant to be ridiculous and over-the-top, rather than burying the listener in evil cacophonies and pretend satanism. Zephaniah are great because you can hear the band having fun every second of every track. They’re also constantly switching things up, rarely sticking to a formula. Solos, blastbeats, and tempo changes erupt seemingly out of nowhere. They’re masters at keeping their fans on their toes. Reforged is filled with ripping, ever-shredding leads, and a nice hint of thrashy aggression to show off their American roots. The highlight of the album is the tracks modeled after the original Mad Max trilogy that tell the young Mel Gibson tale in metallic, stupidly fun form. It’s a shame they didn’t feel the need to do a part four to match the newest film but don’t worry, our friends in Spellcaster have us covered.


Artwork by Felipe Machado Franco.

In a world where Sonata Arctica didn’t move on from their much-loved original sound to play some sort of watered-down proggy pop-rock, they could have made this album. Taken’s self-titled debut is like a lost work that fits between Winterheart’s Guild and Reckoning Night (while still blatantly stealing the latter's cover art). What that means is Taken play a style of highly European power metal that sticks to the middle of the road; that is, it’s not overly bombastic or cheesy but contains the perfect amount of melody centricity and mildly-soaring vocals to still be taken seriously by those who aren’t power metal diehards. The septet are able to write a relatively lean, solid tracks with plenty of playful hooks, catchy choruses and more keyboard than guitar solos. Okay, a 65-minute debut isn’t exactly trim, but the intention is there, and it’s admirable. Despite a few unnecessary tracks these Spaniards have crafted one hell of a first album that many fans of the style will welcome.


Artwork by Ariel ZB.

Necromancing the Stone are probably the least publicized supergroup in metal history. With a cast consisting of Arsis, The Absence, and The Black Dahlia Murder veterans, it would be a given that that they would be some souped-up, crazy take on melodic death metal. That’s partially true, but with a twist. They smooth out their more aggressive sound with the buttery vocals of Brimstone Coven’s John Williams and then further round it out by (slightly) toning down the brutality in their riffs. And hearing the way they construct their axe wizardry, it turns out there isn’t too much different between the melodic death metal and power metal guitar techniques. They’re both catchy as all hell and painfully badass. The former may call for a bit more palm-muting and less bombast and high fret obsession, but the result is a perfect mashup of the best of both worlds into something entirely different; not to mention one of Metal Blade’s best additions in recent years.

James Malone’s unmistakable technical flourishes are ever-present and like any good power metal, Necromancing the Stone take writing music seriously, but not so much their image - as you can tell by the band name and album title referencing the 80s Michael Douglas adventure-comedies. “Siren’s Call” is the highlight, with it’s unforgettable lead melody that slides effortlessly into a pumped-up chorus booming with double-bass. It’s a swaggering beast of an album, so if you’re in the mood for some aggressive power metal or even light thrashy melodeath, this ragtag group of scene veterans provide one of the most quintessentially American releases of the year.


Artwork by Caio Caldas.

Even more of a supergroup, I can’t believe Eternity’s End flew under my radar until just recently. Featuring former and current members of Obscura, Spawn of Possession and Necrophagist, German savant Christian Münzner just took his recording lineup from his last solo album and threw English vocal vet Ian Parry into the mix. You wouldn’t expect such majestic, epic music from tech death titans but just like James Malone proved above, precision chops are perfectly suited for power metal. The Fire Within is a near-flawless debut that’s able to showcase the axe wielders’ insane technicality without treading too far into Yngwie’s grandiose, pretentious territory. Because despite the technical wizardry at play in the group, there’s only a medium dose of theatrics, solos, and self-indulgence, but still enough to solidly put them in the neoclassical camp. Their experimentation definitely throws on a “prog” tag as well, but one meant as a compliment of the highest order.

Unlike on Taken, the long playtime here is more than bearable, and gives you the feeling that the band could have easily stretched things out or added another track or four without losing steam. I’m very basic in my power metal love, as even a well-written ballad bores me. Power metal is about speed, precision, and fist-pumping choruses so part of what makes Eternity’s End great is that they don’t slow it down, even for a second. Maybe that’s just physically impossible for them. As a showcase, “Eagle Divine” contains the perfect power metal chorus. Gang vocals, empowering lyrics, all while the rest of the band is still going full speed. The end result is nothing short of jaw-dropping and is both the power metal album of the year and one of the best debuts in the genre’s history.

Tagged with 2016, Andy Osborn, Eternity's End, heavy metal, Iotunn, melodic death metal, Metal Blade Records, Necromancing the Stone, power metal, Power Prog Records, progressive power metal, Taken, thrash metal, Zephaniah

December 24, 2016

'Tis the season...

'Tis the season and we're taking a short holiday break. See you again in four (or five) days. It is also the season for making end of year lists, and in that spirit here is the Metal Bandcamp list of The Most Relevant Album For 2016: last years Exercises in Futility by Mgła

Artwork by Caroline Harrison.

'Tis the season and we're taking a short holiday break. See you again in four (or five) days. It is also the season for making end of year lists, and in that spirit here's the Metal Bandcamp list of The Most Relevant Album For 2016: last years Exercises in Futility by Mgła.

As if all this was something more
than another footnote on a postcard from nowhere,
another chapter in the handbook for exercises in futility...


Tagged with Caroline Harrison, Mgła

Teitanblood - Accursed Skin

By Steven Leslie. You have to love a band that throws a big middle finger up to convention and unafraid of getting lost in the shuffle of December album of the year lists, drops one of the best EPs of the year. That is just what Teitanblood have done with Accursed Skin.
By Steven Leslie.


You have to love a band that throws a big middle finger up to convention and unafraid of getting lost in the shuffle of December album of the year lists, drops one of the best EPs of the year. That is just what Teitanblood have done with Accursed Skin. Teitanblood is a band that should need no introduction to the black/death metal maniacs out there having really burst on the scene and created a slew of imitators with their Seven Chalice's debut full length in 2009. The question was never if this EP was going to be good, but rather would it be as good as their previous material. The answer is a resounding yes.

Teitanblood have continued to develop and expand their songwriting capabilities and Accursed Skin is all the better for it. They have discovered something that most black/death bands miss, a little variety goes a long way. Instead of pounding away in one continuous blast of lawless pandemonium, Teitanblood masterfully intertwine harrowing maelstroms of sonic tumult with some of the downright catchiest riffs they have every created (see 3:30 of "Accursed Skin" for an example). They also do a superb job of utilizing tempo shifts to help keep you off balance, never knowing what is coming next. One minute you are grooving away to a killer mid-paced romp and the next the floor drops out from under you, sending you headfirst into a spiraling vortex of sonic madness and chaos. And it’s that chaos that is key here. While lesser bands use murk, dissonance and layering to cover a lack of riffs and technical deficiencies, Teitanblood harness that sonic chaos and tap into it at will in order to create a hellish atmosphere few other contemporary bands can match.

Special mention has to go out to the vocal performance on this EP. NSK’s vocals are some of the most harrowing and downright oppressive utterances put to record this year, maybe only surpassed by Desolate Defiler’s work in Void Meditation Cult. Again, variety plays a huge role in making his vocals so impactful as he veers between ominously layered howls and twisted, demonic growls. Combined with the aural onslaught of the music, NSK’s performance creates an irresistibly immersive atmosphere to these two hymns. So dim the lights, turn up the volume and enter the void because hell is calling and it is glorious.

Tagged with 2016, black metal, death metal, Norma Evangelium Diaboli, Steven Leslie, Teitanblood

December 22, 2016

Mesarthim - The Great Filter

By Calen Henry. Mesarthim's first record, Isolate, took Bandcamp by storm in 2015, with little to no fanfare. The innocuous band and album name, accompanied by a NASA photo of the Horsehead Nebula hid a gem— cosmic black metal with a commitment to "spacey" that no other band has equaled. It mixed blistering black metal, throat shredding vocals and epic lead guitars
By Calen Henry.


Mesarthim's first record, Isolate, took Bandcamp by storm in 2015, with little to no fanfare. The innocuous band and album name, accompanied by a NASA photo of the Horsehead Nebula hid a gem— cosmic black metal with a commitment to "spacey" that no other band has equaled. It mixed blistering black metal, throat shredding vocals and epic lead guitars with synths straight out of a high school science video. Though polarizing, the approach works fantastically and Mesarthim's subsequent output schedule has been as astonishing as the quality and growth through the releases. In one year they released two full length records, two EPs, and a single.

Absence, the band’s sophomore album, didn't completely change their approach but did show them using more varied synths with more emulation of real instruments instead strictly bleeping and blooping. It gave the record a full symphonic feel that really rounded out their sound. The Great Filter furthers that approach but also varies the guitar technique making it, so far, the absolute best release by the band and my personal favourite EP of 2016.

The shift in guitar playing is subtle mainly adds one radically different technique, palm muting. The entire EP, a single 21 minute track is composed around a central palm muted guitar riff that is repeated through various movements and instruments. This riff is unlike anything else by Mesarthim and would sound right at home on a Moonsorrow record. That riff anchors all the other trademark Mesarthim tricks into an utterly engrossing long-form track. (it's only twice as long as many of the tracks on Isolate, mind, so not that long by the band's standards.)

The sheer variety of sonic palettes coupled with the deft handling of transitions makes the extreme musical culture clash all the more apparent and all the more natural. The central riff is shuffled from guitar to emulated string orchestra, and through some of the spacier synth patches occasionally giving way to full on electronic passages, trademark Mesarthim since Isolate. The best, and most far out transitions are done by way of a totally punk rock pick slide that shouldn't work at all but does, like Mesarthim as a whole.

The whole idea shouldn’t work, but not only does it work, it’s phenomenal. Also, like all Mesarthim releases, its $1 USD. Buy it. Space metal doesn't get any better.

Tagged with 2016, atmospheric black metal, Calen Henry, Mesarthim, trance

December 21, 2016

Woe - A Spell for the Death of Man



A remastered version of Woe's debut full-length A Spell for the Death of Man is now available on Bandcamp. This is pure black metal. Not depressive, not atmospheric, and certainly not symphonic. Thick riffing, unrelenting drumming, and searing melodies. Direct and emotional. As Jordan Campbell from Last Rites eloquently put it:

The haunting, oddly naked guitar that opens the record is stark. Desolate. Profound, even. Mostly, it's real. A single guitar. Two minutes of truth or consequences. That's all that Woe needs to bury the seed.



The album was remastered in preparation for a vinyl release by Vendetta Records.
Tagged with 2008, black metal, Woe

December 20, 2016

Angela Martyr - The November Harvest

By Justin C. When I see band with a "for fans of" list that includes Godflesh, Slowdive, and Alice in Chains, I really have no choice but to check it out. That's how Angela Martyr's debut, The November Harvest, was described in promo materials. I'll give you my bias up front: Alice in Chains is probably one of my favorite bands, so this review will no doubt be colored by that fact
By Justin C.


When I see band with a "for fans of" list that includes Godflesh, Slowdive, and Alice in Chains, I really have no choice but to check it out. That's how Angela Martyr's debut, The November Harvest, was described in promo materials. I'll give you my bias up front: Alice in Chains is probably one of my favorite bands, so this review will no doubt be colored by that fact. Most bands trying to pull off that influence would get a stern talking to from me when they failed to do AIC justice, but I'm happy to report that Angela doesn't have to get a tongue lashing.

Morgan Bellini is the main man behind Angela Martyr, but listening to his previous project, Vanessa Van Basten (see here and here, for example), will do very little to give you a sense of Angela Martyr. As far as the "for fans of..." statement goes, it's actually a decent summing up, if a bit reductive. The vocals immediately call Layne Staley to mind. Check out "Georgina," for example, and tell me there's not a hefty dose of Alice in Chains, both vocally and musically there. There are plenty of other spots where their unmistakable sound is an influence, but luckily, Angela Martyr isn't just a retread.

I'm not sure about the Godflesh part of the description--I probably would have cited Jesu instead, as the music tends to have that glacially heavy undertow of Justin Broadrick's early Jesu work--but reasonable people can disagree about which Broadrick project they hear the most. If forced to be mathematical about it, I probably would write the equation AIC + Jesu = Angela Martyr, but as I hinted at before, bands that can be that easily reduced aren't usually very interesting ones, and Angela Martyr is deceptively complex.

Mood-wise, The November Harvest carries you along on a wave of Alice in Chains-style darkness, but without delving into the utter bleakness that band often conjured. Melancholy, and maybe a bit druggy at times, sure, but the bottom never really drops out. The electronic instrumentation--call it Jesu influenced or Slowdive shoegazy or some combination of both--helps buoy the sound as well, giving the whole thing an almost-poppy feel at times. I think the combination of those two elements is what makes this such an engaging listen, rather than something that could have easily just become a grunge throwback. There's not a huge variety over the tracks, but letting it wash over you as a single musical statement isn't a bad way at all to spend 47 minutes.

The 13-plus-minute closer and title track is a bit of an odd duck. It more or follows what's come before, with the exception of a long interlude in the middle that kind of sounds like...slow carousel music? The soundtrack to fairies cavorting in the woods? On first listen, I confess, I kind of hated it, but I sort of learned to surrender to it on repeat listens. Intellectually, I can't really tell you what it's doing there or why, but it's an interesting twist in an album otherwise so consistent.

So what would my "for fans of" statement for this album read? I kind of hate those because they're usually a disappointment, but if you're looking for something that conjures that psychedelic but still metal sound--a place Alice in Chains dwelt--but without trying to be as crushing and dissonant as the music we usually review here, you'd do well to check Angela Martyr out.

Tagged with 2016, Angela Martyr, Avantgarde Music, Justin C, rock

December 18, 2016

From The Metal Archives Vol 4

[When I add labels to the Metal Labels on Bandcamp page I usually scan their releases looking for anything interesting I might have missed. The reviews on The Metal Archives are a great help when doing this: a couple of great reviews
By the reviewers from The Metal Archives.

[When I add labels to the Metal Labels on Bandcamp page I usually scan their releases looking for anything interesting I might have missed. The reviews on The Metal Archives are a great help when doing this: a couple of great reviews means an album I should probably check out. With this series I'd like to share some of my finds - in this edition we're in France and Germany, and the tempo starts up super fast and ends really, really slow.]


If death metal is everything that makes metal good not only exemplified, but taken to its logical extreme, then black metal is the pushback against that idea. It's someone saying "No, that's trendy." And thus the solution was to make something that's the opposite of death metal while still being extreme. Replace heavy riffs with screechy tremolo picked ones, replace amazing complex song structures with "hypnotic" repetition, replace massive, gruesome production styles with thin, wispy ones, replace brutality with "atmosphere," and you have (stereotypical) black metal. More or less. But Antaeus takes the genre into a direction I actually strongly approve of. This album retains a lot of the characteristics that I just complained about, but makes up for it in an amazing way by being rightly pissed off sounding [read Raxz's full review here]



Where to start? A brutal and massive sound. A harsh black metal/sludge alike voice, cleverly used here and there to spread the few words of life’s misery and hope. Intelligent and highly effective song structures, many mid tempo parts being perfect to simply bang your brain out, breaks used cleverly to slow down and to lead to those parts of extreme melody and, yes tragedy! Its unbelievable to listen to this ability to pour both brutality and remarkable melody into one song. Take for instance "Spirit Disease" or their masterpiece "Fall for Your Creation": downtempo brutality – break – short semi acoustic intermezzo – wall of massive low tuned melody. Goosebumps! Listen to "Fall for Your Creation" and you know what I mean. One shivering melodic riff follows the other, all performed using this crushing brutal guitar sound and the "dry" drum sound in slow tempo [read ochsenschaedel's full review here]



The album is very straight to the point, with "Pyre Without Flames" washing over you in a wave of powerful, majestic funeral doom, the distorted guitars sounding absolutely massive. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, however their power is still easily apparent, as The Goat triumphantly bellows, "The free mind is a torch, this land is a pyre!" Criticisms of modern civilization follow, and it is the driving theme throughout the album. After that stellar opening, the album travels through many styles while still retaining a similar mood, although the funeral doom tracks grow more hateful with each passing one. Instrumental passages are placed throughout the album, including the particularly odd, yet endearing track entitled "The Fall of Everything" [read Apatheria's full review here]

Tagged with 2005, 2006, Antaeus, black metal, doom metal, funeral doom, Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon, Norma Evangelium Diaboli, sludge metal, Solitude Records, The Austrasian Goat, Vendetta Records

December 15, 2016

Cokegoat - Drugs and Animals

By Karen A. Mann. Despite my love of alcohol, I’ve never had a Long Island Iced Tea. Any drink with tequila, vodka, light rum, triple sec, and gin seems like a sure ticket to an evening full of regrets and a morning spent hating life. But if Cokegoat’s music really is evocative of that hodgepodge of a drink, then maybe I should reconsider and give it a try.
By Karen A. Mann

Artwork by Max Brown.

Despite my love of alcohol, I’ve never had a Long Island Iced Tea. Any drink with tequila, vodka, light rum, triple sec, and gin seems like a sure ticket to an evening full of regrets and a morning spent hating life. But if Cokegoat’s music really is evocative of that hodgepodge of a drink, then maybe I should reconsider and give it a try.

Hailing from Chicago, Cokegoat really does claim on their Bandcamp page that their latest release, Drugs and Animals, is a “Long Island Iced Tea in a craft cocktail world.”

What that means in practice is that they’re going to throw a lot of disparate sounds at once -- from quiet melodies and sweet feminine vocals to chugging riffs and bellowing -- and it’s actually going to work. Channeling Isis, Neurosis and even The Jesus Lizard, Cokegoat’s music can be described as sludgy, progressive, doomy, discordant, harsh and lulling, all depending on what part of the song you happen to hear. Often it’s all these things at once.

But that metaphor also implies sloppiness and lack of imagination on the part of the band. Imagine a bartender wearily throwing his best bottom-shelf liquors together while thinking “I going to have to clean vomit off the bathroom floor before this night is over.” In that case, Cokegoat really is more like the craft cocktail, expertly prepared with small-batch bitters and micro-sourced ingredients.

You can hear this attention to detail in interplay between harshness and quiet on “Winter of Fear,” the album’s best song. The opening sweeps the listener along, like a river that’s going to crash through bleak sonic canyons, and laze through lush fields along the way. You can also hear it on the last song, “Kreator/Destroyer,” which begins with a lulling, ambient passage that quickly dives into urgent sludge, only to surface back into disjointed, dark ambience. The song grabs you and keeps plunging you involuntarily between cacophony and stillness.

This is the part of the review where I could make a quip about needing to go to the liquor store, but, really, the best way to experience Cokegoat is to crack open a beer, turn off the lights, and let this album’s soundscapes take control and carry you along with them.

Tagged with 2016, Cokegoat, doom metal, Karen A. Mann, stoner metal

December 13, 2016

Lantlôs - Melting Sun

By Sean Golyer. Uninteresting. Slow. Samey. All words that ran through my mind upon first listen years back, and subsequent listens. I didn’t think much of it back then and sorta wrote it off as a weird little experiment from the band post-Neige, but nothing more. Cherry Quartz had some cool moments, though. I did like that track. I gave it some more listens.
By Sean Golyer.

Artwork by Pascal Hauer.

Uninteresting. Slow. Samey. All words that ran through my mind upon first listen years back, and subsequent listens. I didn’t think much of it back then and sorta wrote it off as a weird little experiment from the band post-Neige, but nothing more.

Cherry Quartz had some cool moments, though.
I did like that track. I gave it some more listens.

Well, I guess Azure Chimes is pretty neat too.
Yet more listens.

Damn, Aquamarine Towers has a really great climax and a pretty catchy line.
Before I knew it, I was giving this album a spin on (at least) a weekly basis for months on end. That continues to this day.

One thing the album always had going for it was its sound. It’s so warm, pleasing, and inviting on just about any set of speakers or headphones I put it through. Not to mention it’s not quite like anything else I have heard before or since, particularly in the context of the type of music Lantlos is writing. There’s moments where the guitar tone has a very “scooped”, almost “djent” sound to it, but not always. This is usually a turn-off for me, but used here it seems pleasant and fitting. The bass sits very nicely and prominently under the guitars, adding further layers of warm distortion. Accenting them are some distorted bass synths that crop up from time to time. The vocals are awash in reverb, but not buried to the point that I can’t understand them. The drum-work rounds everything out, being subtle and just carrying the rhythm and adding cymbal washes when needed, or being the driving force behind the heavier moments on the album.

Photos by Webzine Chuul.

The use of space and atmosphere in the mix is other-worldly. “Ethereal” is an adjective I like to use when describing this album to others. While other related bands in a similar vein such as Alcest or Les Discrets often feel like they’re chasing the sound of childhood nostalgia, bittersweet memories, or just plain melancholy, Melting Sun transports you to another space and time altogether. A saccharine heaven, filled with unending rays of pure, golden sunlight reflecting and refracting against a sea of multi-colored crystalline mountains. A place to depart and reflect on the better parts of your once earthly existence. This is the ultimate escapist album and has a nostalgia all its own when the final moments of closer “Golden Mind” wash over you.

That’s not to say all this “feel good” atmosphere comes without heaviness. To the contrary, the masterful use of space and timing only serves to make the heavier and more energetic movements that much more explosive and massive. If you’re any level of a guitar tone-head, or like me just really enjoy the sound of well-crafted mixes, this album is nothing short of a marvel. A wide variety of clean and distorted timbres and textures are on display at any given time. Nary a sound ever comes across as “thin”, “muddy”, or out of place. Nor does it sound too clean or overproduced, it’s all very organic. A testament to a careful and well thought out recording and mixing process, most of which seems to have been done in-house with the band. Impressive.

Melting Sun is a gorgeous album waiting to reward the patient listener. Its hooks are subtle, but they’re certainly there. It proudly sits among some of my favorite albums of all time, or at the very least one of my most listened to. There’s a sort of unspeakable quality to both the atmospheric songwriting and the huge mix that makes it difficult for me to put into words even after over 2 years of listening to it regularly. If you wrote this one off early on as I once did, I highly recommend giving it another spin. There’s more depth here than what it initially lets on, it just takes a willing listener to take the dive as I have.

Tagged with 2014, Lantlôs, post-metal, Prophecy Productions, rock, Sean Golyer, shoegaze, Webzine Chuul

December 10, 2016

Terra - Mors Secunda

By Justin C. Last week I told you about Ash Borer's long-form black metal, but on their new album, Terra laughs at those tiny 12-minute songs. Why stop there when you can push the 20-minute mark? Just seeing those durations is going to be a turn off to a lot of people, but like Ash Borer, Terra makes these lengths work. Aaron included Terra's self-titled album in a Short and to the Point earlier this year.
By Justin C.


Last week I told you about Ash Borer's long-form black metal, but on their new album, Terra laughs at those tiny 12-minute songs. Why stop there when you can push the 20-minute mark? Just seeing those durations is going to be a turn off to a lot of people, but like Ash Borer, Terra makes these lengths work.

Aaron included Terra's Untitled in a Short and to the Point earlier this year. I was pretty taken with that work, but the band's pushed even further on Mors Secunda (Latin for "The Second Death"). Atmospheric black metal is probably a fine way to describe the music, but it's a bit more. There's an element of shoegaze, but without ever drifting too far into pretty. There's an element of drone, which as a genre I usually can't stand, but again, they make it work. I found this two-track album fascinating in a way because I could let it wash over me while I was driving, thinking whatever nervous thoughts I'm prone to, but I could enjoy it just as much listening to every nuance in a dark room. The melodies, like the songs themselves, are epic in scope. Sometimes they resolve nicely, sometimes they bifurcate into dissonance. The vocals, a mid-range shriek, make no pretense of sounding like human language. Like the melodies, they operate in a more complex emotional state.

As with Untitled, there is a misstep or two, mostly in the form of overly long outros. The first track, "Apotheosis," features over two minutes of more or less formless feedback. If you're in drifting drone mode, it doesn't matter so much, but sometimes I found it annoying enough to skip ahead. "Nadir" does a better job with its outro, keeping some form and movement. Sure, it sounds a little silly to say, "This 20-minute-long song would be better at 18 minutes," but that's where I was left.

But I don't want to end on a negative, because this album is a true gem, likely to get lost in the end of year shuffle, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the drumming. I'd be hard pressed to name a recent metal album that had drumming that I enjoyed as much. Only the percussion-centric Botanist would be in the running. The drums here are fascinating, with surprising accents and rhythms. In fact, I'd say the percussion is often integral to the melodic line itself, which is no mean feat when you're working with a non-melodic instrument. The best analogy I could come up with is kind of a nerdy one: Older cars (and modern trucks) typically were built by making a chassis--the backbone of the car--and then adding the body on top. It's a perfectly workable design, although not great in terms of safety and weight. In most bands, the rhythm section is the chassis, and the melody is the body. But most newer cars feature a unibody design, in which the chassis and body are part of an integrated whole. Terra have gone unibody, with all the parts adding to the structure of the music, making a stronger whole.

Automotive engineering analogies aside, it works brilliantly. Whether you want to zone out while you're listening or bring in your laser focus, Terra's got you covered.

Tagged with 2016, Aural Music, black metal, Justin C, Terra

December 9, 2016

Bearstorm - Biophobia

By Matt Hinch. Remember when Kvelertak sort of blew minds with their combination of black metal vocals and mostly hardcore music? Given their recent output it's getting harder to remember the impact of that first album. But if you liked that idea in principal how about black metal vocals over prog/sludge?
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Karl Dahmer.

Remember when Kvelertak sort of blew minds with their combination of black metal vocals and mostly hardcore music? Given their recent output it's getting harder to remember the impact of that first album. But if you liked that idea in principal how about black metal vocals over prog/sludge? Well, it's hard to say “over” as the vocals sit mid-mix but that's what you get from Bearstorm and their second Grimoire release, Biophobia.

The album is listed at five songs but the opener (“Dawn Chorus”) is just nature sounds and “Agaric Catechism” is three minutes of instrumentation that serves little purpose outside a brain reset. Hey, gotta have at least one beef, right?

On the album's other three tracks we get the aforementioned black metal vocals as a voice to dynamic sludge cut with enough progressive edges that it hardly feels like sludge at all. The title track features a nice headbanging pace with doubled triplets (duhduhduh-duhduhdhuh, you know what I mean) giving the track the velocity it needs. There's also a pretty noisy solo, a bass solo, and the beginnings of the prog realms Bearstorm venture deeper into later.

Later as in the next track, “Cravers of a Second Birth”. This one is all over the map in a good way. Riffs continuously spill over into each other, mixing technicality with power, a dark vibe, and fancy fretwork. There's even a big, doomy part to ground things a little amid another bass solo and a skittering, insane feeling. It covers a lot of ground over 6:44.

Not quite as much as on closer “Cryptobiotic Filth Destroyer” though. Since I can't understand the slavering black metal rasps all the time you can draw your own conclusions about the tracks's lyrical content. The vocals are relatively sparse however, as long instrumental passages dominate this one. Rolling thunder riffs with explosive crashes, a building tension, and a delicate, melodic movement where Bearstorm really flex their prog muscles that moves into the payoff you're waiting for comprise the EPs final statement.

Coming in at under 25 minutes the EP isn't as epic as their previous full lengths and the short run time is definitely felt despite the track lengths. Being on Grimoire it comes as no surprise that it sounds great too. Biophobia serves as a nice reminder of what the Richmond, VA product can deliver. Don't be afraid.

Tagged with 2016, Bearstorm, black metal, Grimoire Records, Matt Hinch, progressive death metal

December 8, 2016

Netherbird - The Grander Voyage

By Hera Vidal. Netherbird has been around since 2004, and, after going through a brief break-up period, the band returns with The Grander Voyage, their fourth album. If you are a long-time listener of the band, then you might notice that, on this album, the band has moved into a symphonic approach in regards to black metal, but they have also added touches of atmospheric quality to their music.
By Hera Vidal.

Cover artwork: J. M. W. Turner

Netherbird has been around since 2004, and, after going through a brief break-up period, the band returns with The Grander Voyage, their fourth album. If you are a long-time listener of the band, then you might notice that, on this album, the band has moved into a symphonic approach in regards to black metal, but they have also added touches of atmospheric quality to their music.

So, The Grander Voyage, your fourth full-length album will be released this year in October. Could you explain us the title of this record?

I try to keep both titles and lyrics open for every listener to find their own meaning in. But to me “The Grander Voyage” is about the perspective I have gotten on life as I have become older. I was a very frustrated and sometimes angry person when I was younger, but with time I have come to see things a bit different and I have found more of a calm inside myself. So this album is my way to describe that growth, or evolution. But I think every listener who reads my lyrics can find their own meaning in them and I hope “The Grander Voyage” will mean something else to them.

From Metalfan.

The Grander Voyage begins with “Pale Flames on the Horizon”, which immediately sets the mood for the first half of the album, and it has sounds effects that will show at various points of the album to help accentuate that mood. The song also has a sinister undertone that gets briefly touched upon before leading straight to “Hinterlands”. This song picks up where “Pale Flames” left and it’s heavily melodic—it’s fast, filled with urgency, and on the verge of committing violence. However, before things can escalate, there is a brief atmospheric interlude of acoustic guitar, as if to calm the aggression heard earlier on the song, before going back to that heavy melody that borders on elaborate, symphonic themes. There is a noticeable balancing act between the vocals and the music when it comes to the more emotional aspects of the song: if the more demanding the vocals get, the more intricate the music becomes. This becomes prominent in “Windwards”, where a choral-like backing becomes the centerpiece for the beginning of the song before launching into the same melodic theme that was seen in “Hinterlands”. However, “Windwards” weaves past musical themes with the choral backing, making it sound refreshed. It also begins to mellow towards the end of the song, which shows a shift between the aggression and desperation heard earlier to a sadder, heavier state of being. Whether that leads to a state of reflection or to a state of sadness depends on the latter part of the album.

“Pillars of the Sky” completes the shift into what seems to be a state of reflection by beginning—and staying!—on the acoustic side of things, especially with that guitar playing; it has the main melody, but it’s backed by a guitar tone and vocals that get progressively unsettling. It builds on anticipation and, when the black metal elements drop, it elevates the song to a higher plane of musicianship. It combines distorted black metal harmonies and the main acoustic melody, which begin to slow down before only the acoustic guitar is left, returning to the main melody we heard in the beginning of the song. However, everything once again shifts with “The Silvan Shrine”, where the black metal comes back full force, yet the guitar here seems to be on the groovier side of things. This song focuses more on the musicianship, as the vocals are not a focal point. In fact, they sound like they are fighting for attention, but the guitar and the backing music ultimately wins out. Halfway through the song, the atmosphere of the song completely changes and it sounds so dark—the vocals and the guitar get heavier and harsher, leaving behind the melodic groove. Add the background keyboard and rain, and it sounds extremely sinister. Eventually, the groove sounds return, making the listener realize that the song was much as about catharsis as it was about reflecting on the emotions the music went through. At the end of the album, the listener can hear the sounds of the calming sea, the heavy guitar, and the echoing sounds of the surf as it the voyage comes to an end.

All in all, The Grander Voyage is an album that brings vitality to black metal by not settling on a particular style. While the band definitely had various musical directions and ideas going on at the same time, they definitely were able to tie them at the end, ending the album on a hopeful note. This album contains an excellent blend of symphonic and classic black metal elements that bring atmosphere to the table, while the acoustic tonalities and background noise are a nice touch amidst the chaos. The Grander Voyage is a powerful album, and will definitely leave the listener in a better state than prior to listening to it.

Tagged with 2016, Hera Vidal, melodic black metal, Netherbird, symphonic black metal

December 5, 2016

Krypts - Remnants of Expansion

By Craig Hayes. It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Finnish death and doom metal necromancers Krypts. But here they are again, crawling from the black-hearted catacombs with their grimmer-than-grim new album, Remnants of Expansion. I’ve never understood why Krypts' storming debut, 2013's Unending Degradation, isn’t raved about more often.
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Timo Ketola

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Finnish death and doom metal necromancers Krypts. But here they are again, crawling from the black-hearted catacombs with their grimmer-than-grim new album, Remnants of Expansion. I’ve never understood why Krypts' storming debut, 2013's Unending Degradation, isn’t raved about more often. That album was released by Dark Descent Records, which is a sure sign of commanding metal, and we all know those fiendish Finns are adept at mixing tar-thick doom with crushing death metal. More to the point, Unending Degradation oozed corruption, and like the music of fellow Finnish doom henchmen Hooded Menace, Krypts' songs feature a spine-chilling tempo and tenor that eclipses many of their peers.

Still, I guess there’s something to be said for cult music made by a cult band only ending up the in hands of the most fervent cultists. In any case, Remnants of Expansion is here now, and it wrenches open the gateways to Lovecraftian terror once again. It’s a steep dive into archaic horrors straight away too. Album opener, "Arrow of Entropy", is a supremely dark and atmospheric trudge under endlessly overcast skies. At 11-minutes long, "Arrow of Entropy" is an epic opening gambit as well. But Krypts have no problem filling the track with extremely heavy and hypnotic hooks.

More melodic and monolithic charnel house riffs await on "The Withering Titan". And "Entrailed to the Breaking Wheel" and "Transfixed" are both hulking and bulldozing in equal measure too. If you're a fan of Scandi death metal, then you'll love the mountain of vintage tone, texture, and weight on all the album's tracks. And mixing mortuary leads with mournful refrains keeps the rack and ruin of doom ever-present as well.

There’s an impenetrable density to Remnants of Expansion that's intimidating too. The album’s riffs, courtesy of six-string mage Ville Snicker, and fellow new(ish) guitarist Jukka Aho, are ultra-grim and gargantuan. But those riffs are made all the more wretched and foul as the two guitarists slowly wring every torturous ounce of despair out of them. Vocalist and bassist Antti Kotiranta growls with all the torment and fanatical madness you’d expect from the clergy of the damned. And Otso Ukkonen’s pounding drums provide the all-important doomsday tempo. Add all that up, and there's no question that Remnants of Expansion brings the heavyweight ambience of classic esoteric death metal. But the claustrophobic air of otherworldly forces steadily closing in plays a big role here too.

Obviously, Finland is home to celebrated death and/or doom metal icons like Demigod, Convulse, Thergothon, Reverend Bizarre, and Skepticism. Musically, Krypts are a different breed to those aforementioned bands. But they do bring a similarly solemn sense of gravity. Certainly, Remnants of Expansion is not a shallow or immediate album. And that’s no deficit. There's way too much cookie-cutter death metal out there, and albums like Remnants of Expansion offer a crucial alternative by ensuring that the Devil really is in the details.

Remnants of Expansion is an album to wallow in. Krypts’ slow and steady subterranean dirges divulge more secrets and evoke more menace the deeper you explore them. So get digging into Remnants of Expansion’s earth-quaking murk. Let the corruption take hold. Let the sepulchral insanity reign. Amen.

Tagged with 2016, Craig Hayes, Dark Descent Records, death metal, Krypts

December 2, 2016

Ash Borer - The Irrepassable Gate

By Justin C. Ash Borer's new full length, The Irrepassable Gate, has been getting a lot of press, so I ended up breaking my rule about reading other reviews before writing my own. I was a bit surprised--there doesn't seem to be a clear agreement among reviewers as to whether this album is a refinement or a broadening of Ash Borer's core sound.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Glyn Smyth of Stag & Serpent.

Ash Borer's new full length, The Irrepassable Gate, has been getting a lot of press, so I ended up breaking my rule about reading other reviews before writing my own. I was a bit surprised--there doesn't seem to be a clear agreement among reviewers as to whether this album is a refinement or a broadening of Ash Borer's core sound. It's almost like a black metal Rorschach test. But that said, everyone seems to agree that it's very good.

From my perspective, The Irrepassable Gate is a refinement. The sound is unmistakably theirs, but to my ears, they've tightened down their template and left some of their experimentation behind, especially when compared to the Bloodlands. The tracks are still long for black metal--with the exception of the two "Lustration" interludes, the shortest song still clocks in at nine and a half minutes--but for the most part the length is a non-issue, as the songs take on an almost hypnotic quality. Ash Borer does a couple of things that make this work: they play fast and slow tempos off of each other, sometimes simultaneously. The opening track starts off at almost a funeral doom pace, but that slow, dirty riff is eventually joined by increasingly frenetic rhythm and tremolo'd guitar underneath, which segues nicely to their other strength: layers upon layers playing off each other, sometimes sliding off of each other and other times propping each other up. These layers collapse back together at around the seven-minute mark, but it's not too long before we're off to the races again. There's a lot of repetition, but there are so many moving parts that you barely notice what's carrying you along.

Ash Borer 2014. Photos by Carmelo Española.

If I had to pick a couple of nits, I'd say that the song length doesn't always work in the band's favor. There's a three-minute-long ambient/noise-type break in the middle of "Lacerated Spirit," and I'm not sure it needs to be there. Tension release is handled very nicely by the shimmering "Lustration I and II" interludes, so I'm not sure any song needs this long of a release valve inside itself. That said, it's still pretty damn exciting when the song kicks back in. I also sometimes found the outro to "Grey Marrow" to be a bit of a drag, making my finger itch to skip ahead. But that's partly tempered by the fact that the next track, "Rotten Firmament," is damn near perfect over its nearly 13-minute length. The riffs are sweeping and majestic, and there's an almost palpable emotional progression through the song, even if you can't always pin simple words down to what the music is making you feel. All is forgiven when a band delivers a track like this.

I'd say that if you found Ash Borer's earlier work a bit too long and ranging a bit too far afield at times, they definitely deserve another listen for this album. I like the approach on this album as well as their earlier work, but this album is a nice demonstration of how a band can progress without re-inventing their musical wheel.

Tagged with 2016, Ash Borer, atmospheric black metal, Carmelo Española, Justin C, Profound Lore Records