Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sundays of Misfortune 7: Dead Revolution

By Andy Osborn. After five long years, the wait is over. Hammers of Misfortune, the most singular purveyors of American proggy heavy metal are back with Dead Revolution. As is their wont, they are unsurprisingly sporting another lineup change - this time with an all-new rhythm section
By Andy Osborn.

[In 2014 Hammers of Misfortune made their non-Metal Blade discography available on Bandcamp. In the Sundays of Misfortune series Andy Osborn guided you through all of it. Since then Metal Blade has opened a Bandcamp page, and in this installment of the series, Andy reviews Hammers of Misfortune's new album Dead Revolution. Here's to hoping it won't take another 5 years before it's time for another Sunday of Misfortune.]

Cover art by Robert Steven Connett

After five long years, the wait is over. Hammers of Misfortune, the most singular purveyors of American proggy heavy metal are back with Dead Revolution. As is their wont, they are unsurprisingly sporting another lineup change - this time with an all-new rhythm section, one half of that being Will Carroll of Death Angel fame. A long break, with new members and lots of lived life (and near-death) in-between can only mean one thing; there is no way to even begin to guess what this thing is going to sound like. Their last two efforts were both a bit out of left field so it wouldn’t be surprising if this album took another turn to the unknown.

But in a what’s a wonderful surprise to me (and many other fans, I’m sure), the style fits closely with their sound from a decade ago, sounding like a fitting end to a trilogy started by The August Engine and The Locust Years. It's fast and furious, picking up the pace from walking speed to a high octane diesel. From the first note you can hear the new urgency and excitement in this form of Hammers. The quick, mighty riff is back as the band throws it all into high gear, re-introducing themselves once again.

"Velvet Inquisition" introduces things with no fewer than three guitar solos and some brilliant organ counterpoint. Next up, "Dead Revolution" sits near the top of the hammers Discography, a strong contender in the fight for the best-penned song in their history. From the glorious mutating riff at its forefront, the untouchable chorus, and even that stupidly awesome cowbell, it throws punches impossible to dodge, deftly dropping jaws.

It’s also the best sounding Hammers record. The organic, mellow production gives everyone the space and sound they deserve. Joe Hutton’s sultry voice sounds sharper - due either to a new approach or some smart equalization - so he sounds a bit different than our introduction to him on 17th Street. But it works. He also shares more duties with Sigrid, making the album sound more like a team effort. They all just work together, and it feels like a true collaboration from a cohesive group - something they haven't accomplished in a long while. And the natural yet beefy drums are something that even Mikael Akerfeldt and Fenriz could agree sounds outstanding.

The band has appeared to expand their influences, too. And as is their expectedly unexpected way, it appears they’ve gone the Spaghetti Western route. The Americana acoustic guitar and trumpet on "Here Comes The Sky," hint at this, but they really go for something new on closer "Days of ‘49." An ode to the gold rush era, Hutton pulls out a prospector’s drawl as he croons his way through tales of gamblers and outlaws. It’s a risky way to end an album, but the payoff is huge.

It excites me to say that my favorite flavor of Hammers of Misfortune is back and stronger than ever. They're once again sounding like a cohesive unit, and it comes across in droves in the exciting, thunderous tracks. There's plenty of new elements and experimentation to be found, though, and even through massive lineup changes and 15 years they prove there is no one else quite like them.


Tagged with 2016, Andy Osborn, Hammers of Misfortune, Metal Blade Records, progressive metal, Sundays of Misfortune

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Agrimonia - Agrimonia

I hate to be the "I only listen to their demos" guy, but in Agrimonia's case it's mostly true. Not because the albums are bad (check out 2013's Rites of Separation), the demo is just too good! I originally found it on the Moshpit Tragedy Records Bandcamp page which is now defunct. But I recently got permission from the band to give the demo a new home on Bandcamp. Just skip my little review below and go straight to the music. I'm sure you'll like it.


Agrimonia plays a mix of heavy sludge, and dark and brooding post metal. And crust, don't forget the crust. Even when Agrimonia takes flight on the wings of a post-metallic melody, everything still sounds so deliciously raw. Especially the throat rasping vocals does their very best to deny the listener any post-metal "prettiness". The songs are are expansive and lengthy, they move from place to place without losing their sense of continuity. Even at their most atmospheric, you can always on a killer riff kicking in and keeping things moving. Check out the first song "The Unknown Bury Me" below, it is a lesson in how to build up a song with tension; when the vocal riff finally releases the tension, you know this is exciting stuff.


Tagged with 2008, Agrimonia, crust, free download, post-metal, sludge metal

Thursday, July 28, 2016

From The Metal Archives Vol 2.

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.
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, accompanied by a paragraph from the review that made my ears stand up and take notice. In this edition we have three very different takes on black metal from Bulgaria, Brazil, and Scotland.

Artwork by Stidesigner.com

Perfectly Calm starts off with a medieval-symphonic and melancholic touch that runs for trying to create an atmospheric passage which is easily accomplished, "Indifferent" shows the display of powerful soundscapes and slow vibe that will rise even more in the following tracks, a great opener that sets the vibe for the emotions, keep an eye the violins presence, voices and ambient, this is a song that may seem out there at first, but will grow on you over time. "Dissolving into Nothingness" deserves a special mention, depression, emotion and despair running through the violins, dense fog rising on the vocal work and despaired atmosphere, simply 7 perfect minutes of atmospheric black metal with an epic touch, indeed the highlight in the whole album and simply stunning... (read InternalStruggle's full review here).



Cover art by Misja Baas

This music comes from a time when pushing boundaries was not even a thought in the minds of metal musicians, for as long as you were playing what you felt in your heart and being true to that form that is what was most important. There is an extreme ancient “coldness” to this material. This is something that comes from the void of nothingness to consume all ideals of what you thought was real and true in life. Reminiscent of bands such as Varathron, Mortuary Drape, and a nastier grittier version of Beherit with elements of Goatlord thrown in, Mystifier’s Göetia is a sonic journey into the murky and gloomy depths of Brazil’s black metal scene and it will enlighten you to the undeniable excellence of their song construction and overall mastery of the genre itself... (read Akerthorpe's full review here).




Perceiving these guys as an entity that serves in the temple of form and structure would be much more accurate observation, as their music is all about the melody, proportion and carefully conceived arrangements. The opening track "All Man’s Redemption" stands as the best possible testimony to that claim, there is no need to go any further. The guitar sequence at the beginning, the way they build dynamic of the song by placing layer after layer of outstanding riffs, only to culminate at the 3:16 mark with that amazing guitar break – absolutely nothing about this song indicates a beginner’s effort. Which leads us to the true highlight of this album and that is the outstanding guitar work. Literally every song on The Wayward Ceremony has some interesting and contagious guitar hook that is catchy and apt to get instantly remembered... (read Towards The Inevitable's full review here).


Tagged with 1993, 2008, 2015, Ars Magna Recordings, ATMF, atmospheric black metal, black metal, Darkflight, death metal, doom metal, Greyhaze Records, Haar, Mystifier, progressive black metal

Monday, July 25, 2016

Castle - Welcome to the Graveyard

By Karen A. Mann. I admit it took seeing Castle live for me to finally understand what a great band they are. Their well-honed live show exudes danger and ferocity, with singer/bass player Elizabeth Blackwell controlling the audience like a sorceress.
By Karen A. Mann


I admit it took seeing Castle live for me to finally understand what a great band they are. Their well-honed live show exudes danger and ferocity, with singer/bass player Elizabeth Blackwell controlling the audience like a sorceress. The problem is that their recorded output, while certainly promising just hasn’t held the same sort of energy.


That changes on Welcome to the Graveyard, just released on German label Ván Records. On this release, Castle’s street tough mixture of doom and hard rock is as arresting as their live shows. Between Blackwell's magically foreboding wail and guitarist Mat Davis' shredding, Welcome to the Graveyard sounds like a lost hard rock classic, one that wouldn’t be out of place among ‘70s-era Scorpions, Judas Priest or Blue Öyster Cult.


Skulking like wraiths in a blackened landscape, the band charges through eight fairly short songs (only one squeaks past the five-minute mark) that grab you, rough you up and leave you battered and bruised. The band is at its best on "Flash of the Pentagram," with Blackwell and Davis chanting the vocals together, and "Down in the Cauldron Bog," which showcases Blackwell at her most soulful and a particularly searing lead from Davis.


Tagged with 2016, Castle, doom metal, heavy metal, Karen A. Mann, Ván Records

Friday, July 22, 2016

Numenorean - Home

By Justin C. I'm going to start this review off a little strangely, so bear with me. The music on Numenorean's album Home is very good. I urge you to stick around and hear me out on why I think so. That said, the band may have shot themselves in the collective foot here
By Justin C.


I'm going to start this review off a little strangely, so bear with me. The music on Numenorean's album Home is very good. I urge you to stick around and hear me out on why I think so. That said, the band may have shot themselves in the collective foot here, because the album cover of Numenorean's Home is an abomination. (What you see above is the outer sleeve Season of Mist is covering the CD with.) You can skip the next two paragraphs of this review if you've made up your mind about this album art already, or if you just don't care.

I'm not going to get into the usual lengthy discussion of whether metal is supposed to be offensive or shocking. Metal can be whatever it wants to be. And we've certainly seen all manner of gross-out WTF-ery that most fans don't bat an eye at. But here's the difference with Home: The album cover is a real crime scene photo of the real, murdered body of a two-year-old girl. The victim is Kristen MacDonald, who, along with her pregnant mother and sister, were brutally murdered in 1970. Her father Jeffrey was convicted of these murders.

Now, you can head on over to Decibel magazine's interview to get the band's full explanation of the album's theme and why they picked this image. They describe the album as broadly covering childhood innocence lost, as we go through life seeking and failing to find true happiness, only reclaiming our innocence in death. This is fine fodder for black metal, but in that context, I'd argue the photo doesn't even make sense--this murdered girl experienced just a tiny piece of that lifelong arc. The stated concept is rife for thought-provoking images, but I think the band's chosen art direction fails to act as anything more than cheap shock value. I don't buy the "art shouldn't be easily digestible" line they give in that interview as a pre-emptive defense, because this art doesn't challenge our thoughts or worldview, unless your worldview is missing the idea that two-year-olds being stabbed dozens of times is anything other than tragic. But after all my verbiage, I'll let one of Decibel's commenters, T, sum it up much more concisely: "Great tracks, great band, fuck your album cover."

All that aside, the music itself? Compelling. The band falls into the general area of post-black metal, and you'll see a lot of reviews use Deafheaven and Alcest as touch points. Deafheaven is a fair reference, although I'd argue Alcest is not. There are bands out there that try to ape Alcest's ineffable, dream-like quality, but I don't think Numenorean is one of them. I hear more of a melodic DSBM vibe here, like Woods of Desolation. The sound of the vocals being just on the edge of breaking reinforces that feeling. Numenorean makes big, anthemic, yearning black metal, and of all the bands that are working with this, I think they're one of the best. They draw on the pure intensity that Deafheaven uses, but (and it pains me to say this as a Deafheaven fanboy) they excel at album writing, allowing tension and release without the use of annoying filler tracks that Deafheaven has come to favor.

"Home" opens up the album with a downright sunny-sounding riff and a push and pull throughout its length, dancing between quiet and loud. It's a tactic that can fail spectacularly if you're not careful, making for a grinding and repetitive listen, but they use it skillfully throughout not just this song, but the length of the album, and it gives the music a sense of compelling motion. The album almost rushes by, in spite of some over-ten-minute-long songs. Numenorean also manage to blend black metal and pop/alternative rock almost seamlessly. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing--how do you mix that sensibility with blast beats and tortured screams roiling over top? It's no mean feat, and Numenorean's take on it is one of the best I've heard.

As you'd expect, the album takes a darker turn as it progresses, matching the band's stated theme. "Thirst" has a darker, more "classic" black metal feel to it, and after a brief respite in "Shoreless," "Devour" rolls in with an even darker feel, mixing in some low growls and shouts in the vocal lines. "Laid Down" is appropriately both ferocious and elegaic, marking the end of the album and, metaphorically, life, quietly drifting away.

So I'm ultimately torn. I still buy physical releases when I really like the music or the packaging is particularly artful, and in this case, I have the former without the latter, and I won't be adding the actual CD to my collection. I’d never suggest banning something like this, but I don’t want the physical artifact in my life, either. I'll just pay for the bits and move the cover straight to the digital trash can. I can see this album sticking somewhere in my regular rotation because I love how the music transports me, but the cover photo is going to haunt me, but not in the way good art should. It's a brilliant album, and here's to hoping Numenorean can follow it up with something equally compelling, but without staining it with an abhorrent visual.


Tagged with 2016, Justin C, Numenorean, post-black metal, Season of Mist

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It’s Not Night: It’s Space - Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting

By Majbritt Levinsen. I’ve had the worst writers block! I haven’t been able to put words to anything I’ve been listening to lately and I haven’t been listening to much music either.
By Majbritt Levinsen.

Art by Travis Lawrence

I’ve had the worst writers block! I haven’t been able to put words to anything I’ve been listening to lately and I haven’t been listening to much music either. I’ve been doubting myself over and over again and had pretty much come to terms with the fact that I would not be writing anything for a very long time. But then this album came along and something scattered...

Yes, this is some of the best instrumental heavy psychedelic dreamy stoner space desert rock I've heard in a long time!

The intro "Nada Brahma" is filled with meditative grooves and intertwined spoken words which gently prepares your mind for the journey to inner and outer space you are about to depart on. After the intro the massive "The Beard of Macroprosopus" wells over you like a hot desert wind, and you are carried off to an exotic location where you can almost visualize ghostly belly dancers under a star bestowed night sky. It is transcendentally spacey, intense, organic and almost like a live jam, and this can be said about the entire album.

"Across the Luster of the Desert Into the Polychrome Hills" offers a slow and gentle build up where the percussion sends my mind off on a trippy time-travel back to a time when even I was hardly born. It all ends in a sonic adventure with intergalactic space cruising mode activated.

Both "Starry Wisdom" and "Pillars in the Void" starts out with a slower pace, but where "Starry Wisdom" takes on a happy playful groove that eventually descends down into a slower and darker atmosphere, "Pillars In The Void" takes a darker path right from the beginning. That path takes a wonderful turn around the 6 minute mark and shoots you in hyper-speed way out past the terrestrial planets, out towards the gas and ice giants.

"The Black Iron Prison and the Palm Tree Garden" closes off the album with some slow all engulfing dark psychedelia that will make you wonder if you should headbang in slowmotion or meditate. I think I did a combo and enjoyed every second of it.

All this measures up to some great psychedelic space desert rock with a warm and fuzzy aura and a vast galactic scenery.

INN:IS is a trio based in New Paltz, New York, with Kevin Halcott on guitar, Michael Lutomski on drums and Tommy Guerrero on bass. Special guest on track 2 and 6 is Rick Birmingham on fiddle, he also produced the album together with the band, and also recorded and mixed the album.

If in doubt: Our Birth Is But A Sleep And A Forgetting is a highly recommended listen!


Tagged with It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Majbritt Levinsen, psychedelic rock, stoner rock

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sundays of Misfortune 6: 17th Street

By Andy Osborn. Any band that switches a key member with almost every release invariably starts to look like a solo project over time. There’s a reason we jokingly call the thrash giants Megadave
By Andy Osborn.

In 2014 Hammers of Misfortune made their non-Metal Blade discography available on Bandcamp. In the Sundays of Misfortune series Andy Osborn guided you through all of it. Recently a new Hammers album was announced (pre-order here), and Metal Blade uploaded 2011's 17th Street to Bandcamp. And so, two years later, it's time for another Sunday of Misfortune.


Any band that switches a key member with almost every release invariably starts to look like a solo project over time. There’s a reason we jokingly call the thrash giants Megadave, and there’s no question who was the mastermind behind Death before his untimely passing. Although it was already becoming clear, 17th Street settles any debate that Hammers of Misfortune belongs to John Cobbett. With their third lead vocalist in as many albums, it’s yet another major reincarnation of the premier Bay Area non-extreme metallers.

17th Street showcases John Cobbett’s skills as a musician and bandleader, but also as a nucleus able to attract incredible, unknown musicians to his cause and get them to put forth otherworldly performances. This is proven by new vocalist Joe Hutton, previously of southern-fried doomsters The Worship of Silence, who steals the show. His buttery tenor was tailor made to fit with Hammers’ unique style, and the album seems crafted specifically to showcase his talents. Tracks like "Staring (The 31st Floor)" and "Summer Tears", the latter being a full-on ballad, show him front and center as the band plays with their newfound introspective, slowed-down style.

Compared to most of their earlier material, 17th Street is a laid-back affair. It only borders on metal, and leans more towards a prog-infused hard rock. There are fewer fist-pumping riffs and epic choruses filled with chanted harmonies. It’s more stripped-down and straightforward, but still retains the band’s unparalleled approach to their singular sound. Like the previous double album, the organ is as ubiquitous as the guitars, as both trade leads and give the nine tracks a twisted, playful spine.

The album’s first single and defining track, "The Day The City Died," is the most quintessential Hammers song of the bunch. A bit faster than the most, it’s at once uplifting and utterly depressing. An ode to gentrification, it’s a goodbye to the Bay Area that so many artists, musicians, deadheads, and bohemian types once knew and loved. Even though it was written five years ago, it perfectly captures the upheaval caused by the unending influx of tech money which continues to this day and makes life near impossible for those on a blue collar salary. Hammers have never been a political band, but John Cobbett moving to the Bay has defined a large part of his life, and each line is unsurprisingly dripping with equal parts sadness, frustrating, and gratitude.

It may not be the Hammers of old, but it’s a solid addition to their discography and a fantastic introduction to Joe Hutton. John Cobbett’s tasty licks and solid songwriting continue to be the center of the Hammers of Misfortune universe, but also prove his uncanny ability to nurture and showcase talent. The band continues to dance on the line between prog, heavy metal, and rock, and their first album for Metal Blade is a welcome addition after their previous experimentation.


Tagged with 2011, Andy Osborn, Hammers of Misfortune, Metal Blade Records, progressive metal, Sundays of Misfortune

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Make - Pilgrimage of Loathing

By Karen A. Mann. After playing and recording on and off for years, Chapel Hill, NC, trio Make suddenly ascended to a higher level with last year’s The Golden Veil. That album showcased the band’s ability to play opposites against each other: clean and sludgy, natural and mechanical, stark and lush
By Karen A. Mann

Cover Art by Fritz Silberbaur

After playing and recording on and off for years, Chapel Hill, NC, trio Make suddenly ascended to a higher level with last year’s The Golden Veil. That album showcased the band’s ability to play opposites against each other: clean and sludgy, natural and mechanical, stark and lush.

In the year since that release, much has happened in the US, especially in their home state of North Carolina. Mass shootings have made us weary, Donald Trump has a legitimate shot at becoming our next president, and in North Carolina, a law was enacted that (among other things) dictates that transgender people use toilet facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The members of Make are pretty angry about all these things, and have made no secret of their disgust with their government and those who applaud the government’s actions. With laser-like precision, they’ve managed to channel all this seething anger and hate into their latest release, Pilgrimage of Loathing. The result is like a sledgehammer wrapped in gauze.

Pilgrimage of Loathing begins with "The Somnambulist," which sets the scene for the entire album. The song begins with foreboding, atmospheric guitars, and angry rolling drums. Suddenly there’s a calming interlude with clean vocals. The song reaches a sludgy climax with bellowed lyrics, "YOU, you were wrong!"

From there the album veers from unrelenting noise to the types of soothing melodies your yoga instructor might play during a session. A prime example is "Two Hawks Fucking." While the name is rather ham-handed, it’s a pretty good description of what the song actually sounds like -- sensual and majestic. Meditative. I made the mistake of listening to this while driving through an empty landscape, and had to turn it off because I could feel myself going into a trance.

If that song lulls you to sleep, you’ll be slapped awake by "Human Garbage," which angrily bursts open from the first note, with sludgy bass and guitars, and screamed/bellowed vocals. At 3:23, it’s the shortest song on the album, but it packs a lot of venom in a small package.

The album ends with "Nothing," which opens with a repetitive guitar delayed guitar, slight drums, exotic melodies, and chant-like singing. But like almost everything else on Pilgrimage of Loathing, this song doesn’t stay calm for long, as it builds to a crescendo of frenzied screaming and ends with angry white noise.


Tagged with 2016, doom metal, Karen A. Mann, Make, post-rock, progressive sludge metal

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows

By Karen A. Mann. One Thanksgiving years ago, a friend of mine and I decided to get out of the house and go see the Russell Crowe Napoleonic naval epic Master and Commander.
By Karen A. Mann

Artwork by Orion Landau

One Thanksgiving years ago, a friend of mine and I decided to get out of the house and go see the Russell Crowe Napoleonic naval epic Master and Commander. Unfortunately, everyone else in town had the same idea, and the only two seats available in the theatre were at the very front and off to the side. We spent the next two hours feeling like we were strapped to the bow of that ship as it heaved through a stormy sea at the bottom of the world. Crew members lost their minds and were cast overboard as the captain desperately chased a bigger and faster enemy. We left the theater feeling overwhelmed and slightly seasick, but ended up talking about that movie all weekend.

That’s the same feeling I got from Inter Arma’s astounding new album, Paradise Gallows, their first full-length since their groundbreaking 2013 release Sky Burial. Lurching through nine songs, Paradise Gallows is a harrowing epic with lyrical peaks and valleys that tosses in everything from blackened discordant guitars to elegiac piano melodies. The cover artwork even includes a sinking ship -- complete with a corpse dangling from the mast -- crashing against a garishly colored sky.

Trey Dalton. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

The album’s opener, "Nomini," is a fairly short instrumental number that begins with a somber and lulling acoustic guitar, then segues into a melody that recalls Sky Burial’s Pink Floydian "The Long Road Home." But lest you get too comfortable, the next song, "An Archer in the Emptiness," stomps in like a giant, propelled by T.J. Childers’ frenetic drumming, and Joe Kerkes’ steady low end. The song crashes and soars, buoyed by Mike Paparo’s trademark angry bellow.

One of the album’s finest moments happens on “Transfiguration,” the album’s frenetic third song, which begins with another discordant crash, with Childers and Kerkes propelling the song as guitarists Steven Russell and Trey Dalton play a repetitive, hypnotic riff, and Paparo shrieks through the chaos.

Mike Paparo, T.J. Childers, Steven Russell. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Lyrically, Paradise Gallows is equally intense and unexpected, channeling Existential and Romantic themes of despair, spiritual upheaval, and the relentlessness of nature. On the title song, Paparo sounds like a ghost mournfully echoing from a watery grave:
When I was young, I inflicted a heartless sin. I mocked my fate and ran wild until chance led me here, Where I grew drunk on the trace of a fermenting sun, And buried my failures beneath the ebb and flow of the tides.

Time, have you forgotten my sullied name? Time, have you forgotten the shameful wounds? Time, have you forgotten the boundless grief, I so callously wrought?
Joe Kerkes. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Much has been made -- with good reason -- of the fact that Paparo branches out into clean vocals on this album. Comparisons to Nick Cave are pretty spot-on, particularly on "The Summer Drones," a languid, shimmering song in which the singer alternately intones and bellows the lyrics to masterful effect. Paparo also shines on the final song, "Where the Earth Meets the Sky," where he’s accompanied by haunting backing vocals and a gentle, regretful melody.

With each successive album, Inter Arma has defied genres and gotten away with boundary acrobatics that other bands couldn’t, simply because their ideas are so fearlessly radical and confidently executed. They’ve set a new standard with Paradise Gallows, leaving the listener feeling ravaged, doomed and strangely hopeful.


Tagged with 2016, blackened sludge metal, Inter Arma, John Mourlas, Karen A. Mann, post-metal, Relapse Records, southern metal

Friday, July 8, 2016

Athame - With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve

By Justin C. I'm going to start this review right at the beginning of the album, because it contains a valuable lesson for all metal bands: "The Pillar," the first track on Athame's With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve
By Justin C.

Cover illustration by Slime

I'm going to start this review right at the beginning of the album, because it contains a valuable lesson for all metal bands: "The Pillar," the first track on Athame's With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve, is the intro track done right. It's about a minute long, it builds dramatically with some creepy vocals and electronic touches, and then it gets out of the way, nicely setting up the album proper. It is NOT several minutes of white noise with annoying samples from a movie or a bunch of field recordings mixed while somebody was high. Take note, other bands. This is how it's done.

And with that, we're launched into this black metal trio's debut album. There's a lot to like here, as evidenced by the copious notes I scribbled while listening to it. Athame hits an interesting balance. It's raw and rough black metal in a way, but without a throwback sound or ultra-low-fi production. The guitars have a meaty, sludgy tone, the percussion is crisp without sounding slick, and the vocals are delivered manic-preacher-style, a lower growl than what you typically get in black metal, and drenched in reverb. "A Lost Congregation" comes out the gate with a relatively straightforward drum pattern and riff, but it's mere seconds before it lurches into the blasting and tremolos we know and love. At times I found myself thinking that Athame almost has a grind sensibility for quick change ups between black, sludge, and doom, but the listener doesn't get whiplash from the changes. The infectiousness of the music carries you along through the twists and turns.

And there are turns a plenty. "Five Fold Kiss" starts like a maelstrom, but the band manages to let a little air and space into the middle of the track without losing intensity. The guitar riff in "The Heretic's Horn" sounds, appropriately, like a trumpet issuing a call to arms. "Nameless Craft" even gets ripping with a little old school thrash in the beginning. But like I said before, this never feels like a mish-mash of styles full of wrenching transitions. It's all blended into a coherent sound that starts from the beginning of the album and, with only slight detours in the interstitial tracks "Nema" and "This is what the devil does," carries all the way through the swirling madness in the last track. It might be weird to call a black metal album "refreshing," but I think this one qualifies, without leaving any of the grime and evil behind.


Tagged with 2016, Athame, black metal, Grimoire Records, Justin C

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Black Cobra - Invernal

By Natalie Zina Walschots. Invernal is the second full-length San Francisco, CA-based doom sludge duo Black Cobra have released with Southern Lord. The album was recorded with Kurt Ballou at God City Studio in Salem, MA, and the end result is a noisome, toothsome beast
By Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published here by Exclaim.

Artwork by Sam Ford

Invernal is the second full-length San Francisco, CA-based doom sludge duo Black Cobra have released with Southern Lord. The album was recorded with Kurt Ballou at God City Studio in Salem, MA, and the end result is a noisome, toothsome beast. Whereas some aggressive music is mechanical, like a demolition derby, Invernal is distinctly muscular. The sound evokes the aggression of gladiators battling, the threat of meat rather than metal.

Black Cobra 2012. Photo by François Carl Duguay.

While the composition is layered, complex and even chaotic, it is always highlighted beautifully. One element of the din is picked out more clearly, like a picture with one plane of depth in focus and the rest left to blur. This shifts over the course of each song. For example, the focus and clarity leap from the rough, throbbing bass riffs to the sparkle of the crash cymbals and back again in "Corrosion Fields."

Black Cobra 2012. Photo by François Carl Duguay.

Another element that sets Invernal apart is its aural temperature. Much of sludge is associated with heat: liquid tar, bubbling pitch. Black Cobra have made something cold. The sound is thick and gelid, in the way that some liquids increase in viscosity before they freeze. Invernal is hypothermic, the only warmth drawn from vibrating guitar strings and body heat.



Note: This year Black Cobra released a new album Imperium Simulacra on Season of Mist, in September they will touring Europe with Yob.

Tagged with 2011, Black Cobra, doom metal, François Carl Duguay, Natalie Zina Walschots, sludge metal, Southern Lord Recordings

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ashbringer - Yūgen

By Justin C. When Ashbringer's Yūgen came out, Jon Rosenthal over at Invisible Oranges categorized it as atmospheric black metal but said he liked it, in part, because it's an "emo record at heart. Even though he cited it as a positive, those could just as easily be fighting words."
By Justin C.

Artwork by Tryfar

When Ashbringer's Yūgen came out, Jon Rosenthal over at Invisible Oranges categorized it as atmospheric black metal but said he liked it, in part, because it's an "emo record at heart." Even though he cited it as a positive, those could just as easily be fighting words. If I hadn't heard the album before I read that, I might have kept right on going. But it's actually fair, and it's not a bad thing, either.

Ashbringer's first full-length, Vacant, was done by Nick Stanger alone, and it's a solid atmospheric black metal album. With Yūgen, Stanger has expanded the project to a full five piece (with the occasional guest), and with it, the project's sound has expanded and changed. The music is now bigger, heart-on-its-sleeve, bombastic black metal. The vocals are well within the fuzzy boundaries of black metal shrieks, but they also teeter just on the edge of breaking, not unlike...well, emo vocals. But it works, and I don't think you have to be in any way a fan of emo to enjoy this. (I'm, at best, a 0.5% emo fan, because I did really like Thursday's War All the Time back in the early aughts.)

It doesn't hurt that Stanger and co. are riff machines. There's plenty of tremolo'd goodness, like in "Lakeside Meditation," but they're also masters at creating single-line riffs that will get stuck in your head. I've had a descending line from the album opener "Solace" permanently lodged in my lobes ever since I heard it. What also helps move this music along is the band's understanding that you can't turn up the emotional heft to 11 and leave it there for a full album without exhausting your listeners. There are nice releases, like the acoustic interlude in "Solace" or the spacey interludes in "Celestial Infancy."

There are a couple of missteps toward the end of the album, although I think it's more a case of trying to push too far rather than a lack of skill. The title track has some great guitar work--including a neat staccato riff and some really cool experiments in guitar tone--but the clean vocals provided by Elizabeth Redding, while very well performed, never really gel with the rest of the song. The penultimate track, "Omen," shows off some guest trombone work and band member Cormac Piper's bassoon, both of which are very cool, but a sugary sweet melody enters in the middle that bears a strong resemblance to late 70s/early 80s Top 40. I can't lie--it immediately makes me think of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You" from 1975, and it's more than a little jarring.

That said, the band comes roaring back with "Glowing Embers, Dying Fire," which in spite of its title, brings back the black metal storm needed to properly close out the album in anthemic (and emo-y!) style. For an hour's worth of music, I'm more than willing to overlook a couple of blemishes in what, to me, is a very unique and strong contender in black metal for 2016.


Tagged with 2016, Ashbringer, atmospheric black metal, free download, Justin C