August 30, 2017

Cavernlight - As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache

By Justin C. I remember a discussion with a friend, probably over 20 years ago now, as to whether anyone had ever truly captured the experience of mental illness in a piece of writing. The answer was a solid...maybe? Fyodor Dostoevsky?
By Justin C.

I remember a discussion with a friend, probably over 20 years ago now, as to whether anyone had ever truly captured the experience of mental illness in a piece of writing. The answer was a solid...maybe? Fyodor Dostoevsky? William Faulkner? Emily Dickinson? Sylvia Plath? That's a decent short list, but the lingering issue was the fact that so many people seem to completely misunderstand mental illness and the experience of it. Anybody can sympathize with physical pain, but mental pain? Even now, a decent chunk of the public see psychological pain as something that's not as real as diabetes or cancer, and that fatal outcomes from that pain, especially with the recent suicides of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, seem to elude the understanding--and worse yet, the sympathy or empathy--of so many.

Cavernlight, initially formed by Adam Bartlett (Gilead Media mastermind) and Scott Zuwadzhi, may have come as close to distilling the essence of mental anguish into a work of art as I've heard, achieving something that I often wondered if I could capture myself so many years ago. That's quite an extreme position to take, I know, and I'm sure an obnoxious Facebook debate could be started about what albums truly do this, and since art is subjective, there may be valid other opinions, but I don't think anything has struck me as quite as powerful as the band's As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache.

The music itself evades easy categorization. It's maybe closest in genre to funeral doom, but that's a vast oversimplification. The music is minimal, in its way. Aching melodies are painstakingly formed from just a few notes played at glacial tempos. The vocals, thanks to a range of guest contributors, covers a large pallette. Rachel N. (of False) lends her inimitable roars, Michael Paparo (of Inter Arma) joins in, and Sarah Green adds her haunting, harmonized clean vocals (and cello) to what might be the most powerful track, album closer, "A Shell of One's Former Self."

The notes I made while listening seem inadequate to the task of detailing the music. There are many beautiful moments, releases of pain and frustration, but listing them won't give you much of an idea of what the album is about. Thematically, you can read more about these "5 movements detailing a life that is lived suffering through severe, crippling anxiety and the burden of mental illness" on the album's Bandcamp page, but even then.... This is a harrowing listen. It's music I found both compelling and at times viscerally difficult to listen to, sometimes at the same time. This is the painting you see at a museum that makes you feel something churning in your gut, maybe a feeling beyond words, and although it's not something you'd want on your living room wall, you can't get it out of your mind. It's a release, a burden, and an exorcism all at once, and although the fact that it's firmly extreme metal necessarily limits its audience, I doubt I'll be the only person haunted by it.

August 28, 2017

Guttural Secrete - Nourishing the Spoil

By Bryan Camphire. I saw Guttural Secrete perform Friday July 28th, 2017. They traveled from Las Vegas, Nevada to play the fourth annual Chicago Domination Fest. They came out of retirement more or less to play this gig plus a few select others.
By Bryan Camphire.

Cover art by Mike Hrubovcak.

I saw Guttural Secrete perform Friday July 28th, 2017. They traveled from Las Vegas, Nevada to play the fourth annual Chicago Domination Fest. They came out of retirement more or less to play this gig plus a few select others. Just like every movie you've ever seen where the protagonist comes out of retirement to do just one last ill-advised job against all odds, it was enormously entertaining to behold. Seeing these men play under a strobe light, it appeared that they all had twenty fingers on each hand. It was unreal. Having finally seen them perform live, I thought it high time this masterpiece of theirs, Nourishing the Spoil, got a little more praise, if only to fan the flames in hopes of more to come.

But first a few words about the form. Brutal death metal sets itself apart from other types of metal. The attire is different. You're unlikely to see a lot of leather jackets, jean vests, spikes and bullet belts when these groups play live. You'll see cargo shorts, sweats, band logos on socks and snapbacks ...and oh the band logos. If you were to start your own brutal death metal band, discussing its logo might sound like ordering hashbrowns at a Wafflehouse in the southern parts of the United States. You can get your logos scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced and topped. Album imagery is all gore and more gore, with a few exceptions. The style the bands play deviates from one another only slightly - at least on the surface. To me, it's almost like old-school punk in this sense: groups doing their thing, very happy to be a part of this scene, paying homage to their idols, showing deep respect within the community, and at the same time putting forth a fuck-all type of attitude towards the outside world as though we're all going to hell in a handbasket anyway.

Photo by Bryan.

The ethos is unique at a brutal death metal show. Bands are likely to talk about partying (read: imbibing of illicit substances) with such abandon that you'd be forgiven if you felt like you were in an episode of Wayne's World. The music is rife with riffs that are referred to as "slams", meaning, essentially, that they're - gulp - danceable. Moshing is highly encouraged. Moshing, that dance form that is so easily misunderstood as a machismo display of excess testosterone instead of what it really is, which is people losing themselves in music to a near trance-like extent that manifests itself as intensely physical. After all, women like moshing too. Also, crowd surfing happens, to add to the revery and abandon. Bands thank the audience for their energy. Singers are likely to jump into the pit. In these respects, a brutal death metal show has more in common with seeing a band like Fishbone than it does seeing a band like Portal. I think some of these reasons are, sadly, why more people don't seem to take brutal death metal seriously. But, on the other hand, perhaps it's best preserved as a well-kept secret among those in the know. The bands do seem to enjoy not taking themselves too seriously on certain levels anyway.

But then there's the music. It's technical. Unholy hellfire, is it technical. Guttural Secrete reign supreme in this regard. Since acquiring Nourishing The Spoil some four or five years ago, I've checked out more brutal death metal bands than I can count in hopes of finding some whose music can hold a candle to this record. There are but a precious few that I've been able to discover. One is Spain's Wormed. Another is Malta's Abysmal Torment. I saw yet another band open for Guttural Secrete the other night who hold a candle to them in terms of berserk level of songwriting skill. They're called Delusional Parasitosis. Man, I love that band name. The guitarist was wearing the same Guttural Secrete t-shirt I had on at the show. I had to buy one of their shirts out of respect. I digress. My point is that it's really ridiculously difficult to play the music that these guys play, and that bands who are able to do this with extreme finesse are few and far between. I feel like in the time it took Guttural Secrete to write and rehearse this album, they could have replicated painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Nourishing the Spoil is the telos of the brutal death metal sound.

Photo by Bryan.

The singing in brutal death metal can be thought of as the grain alcohol of metal vocals. It's overproof, and that's the whole point. It can knock you on your ass. This is yet another reason that brutal death metal is put on a shelf and ignored instead of closely examined to access its rich potential. Its not for the faint of heart. Mixed into just the right concoction, however, and this stuff can make for a transcendental experience. Fortunately, that's just what the Guttural Secrete does with their singing. It's beyond the pale, and for that reason it fits the tunes perfectly.

Listening to the songs on Nourishing the Spoil is akin to being dropped into the middle of a dark forest and having to fend your way outward with a machete. The tunes operate on their own logic, it's not one you're familiar with because it's unique unto itself. Only the most intrepid listeners will make it through this record unscathed. The sheer intensity of this music rips through you and eviscerates, like the obscene gore on the record's cover.

I have to admit I am a beginner to brutal death metal. Judging by talking to several wonderful people I met at the show, die hard fans seem to live this brutal lifestyle 24/7/365. Regardless of whether you approach this music as a casual listener or as a brutal death metal obsessive, you'll find that this record is in a class of its own. It's impossible to be indifferent to Nourishing the Spoil, and for that reason if nothing else, it deserves respect. Music this monstrous is not to be taken lightly.

August 25, 2017

Der Weg einer Freiheit - Finisterre

By Justin C. I got on board with Der Weg einer Freiheit two albums ago, with Unstill. I wouldn't say there have been any quantum leaps in sound between that album and their newest, Finisterre, but that's not always a bad thing.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Max Löffler.

I got on board with Der Weg einer Freiheit two albums ago, with Unstille. I wouldn't say there have been any quantum leaps in sound between that album and their newest, Finisterre, but that's not always a bad thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and Der Weg's take on atmospheric black metal remains as satisfying as ever, in spite of some line up changes through these past three albums.

The "atmospheric black metal" label, of course, has broadened so much as to mean almost anything that vaguely fits into the category of "black metal with melodic tendencies and/or some quiet parts." What Der Weg does is an interesting hybrid. They have depressive tendencies--just check out the song titles for a hint, with "Aufbruch" (departure) and "Ein letzter Tanz" (a last dance) kicking off Finisterre--but they don’t use the plaintive wails that usually go along with that particular subgenre. They also have orchestral/symphonic elements, although not the cheesy shlock that some other bands are guilty of. You won’t find thick swaths of synths or strings here--it’s “orchestral” in the sense of a refined ear for composition, rather than slapping extra instrumentation on top of a song that doesn’t merit it. They’re also particularly good at adding a grand sweep of melody without obscuring the dirty black metal underneath.

Der Weg einer Freiheit 2015. Photos by Francis Bijl.

"Aufbruch" is intense almost through its entire length, with excellent mid-range rasps and a piercing melody riding the waves of the music. It's somehow sad and furious all at once. "Ein letzter Tanz" continues that mixing, with a gentle, melancholy intro building over three minutes until the black metal comes back on in full. The turns are dramatic, but they never feel overwrought or over the top. A gentle interlude later in the song, with simple, clean guitar over a mournful tremolo riff makes the music cover a full range, from peak to valley, both in volume and intensity.

Interestingly, one of the shortest songs on the album, "Skepsis Part II," ends up being one of the most epic. It has some of the most furious rhythms and vocals, but it maintains its sense of melodicism even with everything turned up to 11. It's a skill they're particularly good at, and it's one that the raises the band above a lot of their atmospheric black metal peers. If you already know and like the band, I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy this album, too, but if you don’t know them or are feeling a little burned out on atmospheric black metal in general, I urge you to check them out anyway.

August 23, 2017

Marek - Sorrow Lands

By Hera Vidal. I don’t listen to many EPs; I prefer albums because they are longer and tend to explore a set theme or idea until the end of the album. However, because one of my most played albums this year is an EP, I decided to
By Hera Vidal.

I don’t listen to many EPs; I prefer albums because they are longer and tend to explore a set theme or idea until the end of the album. However, because one of my most played albums this year is an EP, I decided to look into some other EPs that caught my attention. This brings me to Sorrow Lands, from a band called Marek.

Reap me of my soul
Burn me and walk away
I am meaningless to all of this
I am nothingness in your eyes

Marek is a new band, but Sorrow Lands tells me that this band wants to set roots down before they decide to do anything else. The minute Sorrow Lands begins, emotion hits you like a ton of bricks—it’s heavy and incredibly psychological, as if there are demons that need to be exorcised. The music reflects this, echoing the sentiments expressed on the album. Sorrow Lands talks about suicide and how he has a dialogue with himself regarding his current state of mind. It seems he has nothing left to lose if he decides to sink into his depression and his sadness; if he sinks into it, then he has everything he needs in order to end his life. However, towards the end of the album, he finds the will to live again, and decides to conquer his inner demons and rebuild his mind temple.

The music seems to shift from complete sadness to a sense of hope – for the most part, the music is dark and heavy. It’s chaotic, but there is a melody underneath the chaos that resonates with the listener. Gradually, the music begins to shift from the depressive tonalities to something livelier, evidenced by the instrumental track “Sorrow Lands”. Throughout the album, the heavy guitars seem to assault you with every note, showing the depth of emotional turmoil the speaker goes through. This comes to a head with “Sorrow Lands” and the final track, “The Second Temple: Mind”. The quiet strains of “Sorrow Lands” shows the beginning of catharsis; it lets the listener relax before returning to “The Second Temple: Mind”, which is livelier than the rest of the album. There are small touches of shoegaze of the track, giving it a certain warmth that had been lacking. This ends the album on a hopeful note, and you end up hoping that the speaker finds some sort of inner peace.

Now, there are some things that could do some work. While the production is of good quality, and the musicians clearly know what they are doing, cohesiveness in some of the ideas and themes might make things cleaner. It’s easy to lose track of your place when you are listening to the album, which doesn’t make a good first impression. However, patience is paid off when the album gets to “The Second Temple: Mind”; the tonalities and emotion in that song are clearly needed after the onslaught of anguish Sorrow Lands conveys.

This is clearly a good first effort for a band barely setting its roots. As a listener, I can only hope that the band continues to improve with time. I am excited to see where the band’s potential can go; perhaps another EP or a full-length album can help explore those venues.

August 22, 2017

Shadow Woods Metal Fest 2017. A preview, from A to Z

By Kaptain Carbon. This will be my third Shadow Woods attendance and perhaps my third preview article for the event. I have always loved this event not just for its diversity but also the support for local and regional talent.
By Kaptain Carbon.

Artwork by Brian Sheehan.

This will be my third Shadow Woods attendance and perhaps my third preview article for the event. I have always loved this event not just for its diversity but also the support for local and regional talent. Going to a festival where the headliners are still slightly obscure, with a supporting bill of bands that may or may not have a Facebook page, is a fantastic way of discovering new music. For a few, the concept of spending the price of a ticket for three days of unknown music seems absurd. For others, it is uncharted entertainment for a weekend that is both relaxing, exciting, mystic, and wild. I look forward to seeing various acquaintances descend on a small children's camp for a weekend of music, art, and maybe irreverent shrieking after hours.

Below is a preview of nearly every band playing. As stated before, one of my favorite things about Shadow Woods is discovering local and regional talent and thus I wanted to listen to everything. Since there are over 35 bands playing throughout the weekend, a short and hopefully funny description follows to guide anyone willing to read over 35 descriptions. If any of the bands or fans have a problem with their description I'll buy you a coffee or beer or run a D&D session at my campsite. We can settle our differences in a world of fantasy under the glow of a campfire ... and by campfire I mean a headlamp strapped to a jug of water.


Aerial Ruin - Portland, OR.

From a very long history of heavy electronic music, Ariel Ruin is an acoustic act that has very little to do with heavy metal other than the haunting and melancholic lyrics that hang in the air like ghosts. I saw this artist open for Agalloch years back and actually did an interview with him for his 2011 debut Valleys of the Earth. It is odd and exciting to finally see him, perhaps illuminated by torch light, in the middle of the woods.

All Hell - Asheville, NC.

Oh shit, what is this? Horror punk/metal that marches to the beat of Motorhead in a room full of writhing corpses? All Hell is from the cool part of North Carolina as the rest of the state might not appreciate drinking moonshine while the dead approach to music. Maybe they would. Who am I to judge? Perfect way to experience this music is by moonlight during a blood ritual, which is what you will be doing anyway.

Review of All Hell - Grave Alchemist.


Bearstorm - Richmond, VA.

Bearstorm has a lot of things going on, and that is not even approaching discussions of their name. Somewhere between progressive metal, death, thrash, cheeky humor and artsy design lies a band that is figuring itself out much in the same way a human struck with lycanthropy does before a full moon.

Review of Bearstorm - Biophobia.

Black Table - NY/NJ.

This will be Black Table’s second appearance at Shadow Woods as its inaugural event was pretty much kicked off with a preface by this New York black metal band. I say black metal since it is easier than trying to hammer down the right mixture of post metal, sludge, doom, post black, and shadows of hardcore that embody this deeply complex and disturbed band.

Review of Black Table - Obelisk.


Castle - San Francisco, CA.

Castle offers something very special for people who are not only into doom but probably have a collection of incense and maybe tapestries with some printed occult symbols. Mysterious and hazy, Castle is the work of three musicians who attempt to conjure 1979 by means of alchemy and necromancy.

Review of Castle - Welcome to the Graveyard.

Churchburn - Pawtucket, RI.

I really hope Churchburn is during the day, since I want to see the nice September sun blot out in misery. Caught between doom, black, and death, Churchburn is teeming with negative energy that has the ability to eclipse any gathering with a body of fucking pent up emotions. I'm expecting it to bum everyone out except for maybe me in the back.

Cut the Architect's Hand - Richmond, VA.

To be honest, the progressive post metal tag threw me for a loop but after being soothed by some grimy production that smells like broken beer bottles, Cut The Architect's Hand sounds less like a deeply introspective studio project and more like a bonfire on a tenement roof.


Dark Water Transit - Baltimore, MD.

It's funny that a festival bringing some of the weirdest acts would have an outlier of angled instrumental rock. From the altar of bands like Polvo and Slint comes a project that is less heavy than it is twisting through catacombs of thoughts and reflections. I only hope this is early in the morning and is used as a bleary eyed wake up for everyone.

Dead in the Manger - coast to coast.

Dead in the Manager takes a lot of pride in their anonymity and the fact they are on 20 Buck Spin, which gives me the impression they have at least someone of importance in their band. Maybe this is not the case and they are just a group of well tuned black/grind musicians with a pretty gnarly name. While their name could imply cheesy brutal death, the reality of this band is much more crushing.


Earthling - Richmond, VA.

For some reason, I thought Earthling was stoner doom obsessed with planets and aliens. What Earthling is really about is more complex as their combination of groovy death / thrash with a crusty exterior is less easy to define. I am sure there will be space here but I expect even more in the 2000 AD style of lasers that cut through flesh and bone.

Elagabalus - Baltimore, MD.

Wow...what the fuck is this? If you were looking for a reason to get weird and your only course for reaching that is a bass / drum combo with heavy synth then Elagabalus is for you. With equal parts sci fi horror and weird fiction, this group is sure to be the strangest thing going on at the time.

Erlkonig - Baltimore, MD.

Had I not known about this project through word of mouth, I would be confused. The near no-fi production of Erkonig's demo is bizarre and their Bandcamp is even more confusing, but with connections among the Baltimore metal scene and the existence of unfiltered aggression, this group of psychedelic warriors is sure to light up the canopies of the woods.


Foehammer - Annandale, VA.

Foehammer has been a household name for anyone familiar with Baltimore’s Grimoire records. Though Grimoire is varied with their catalog, the sound of sludge doom, which sounds like rotting flesh and old pot smoke, seems to be at home at the label. This sort of bizarre mixture is just what one comes to expect and gladly accept.

Review of Foehammer - Foehammer.


Green Elder - Johnson City, TN.

Neofolk / DIY Appalachian ambient is not a far travel from heavy metal. Even if this wasn't a woodsy outdoors festival, Green Elder wouldn't be out of place at a metal festival. The fact that they will most likely be playing an acoustic set in the woods makes the prospect of this raw folk ever more exciting. Caught between relaxation and nostalgic mysticism, Green Elder is certainly going to be interesting.


Heavy Temple - Philadelphia, PA.

Heavy Temple has been a name floating around the tri state area, and with their 2016 EP on Tridroid Records, it seems like these dead eyed blues rockers are gearing up for a full length release. If anything suits a doom filled breakfast over a campfire, it is the sound of Heavy Temple.

Hexis - Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hexis is one of the international guests at Shadow Woods and much in the same fashion as previous installments, the choice for high profile guests are still unexpected surprises. Hexis made an underground splash in 2014 with their album Abalam and since then, they have taken their twisted and tortured style of black/post metal in even more distant directions. I, for one, am preparing to be amazed and perhaps made to feel strange feelings.

Review of Hexis - Abalam.

Human Bodies - Boston, MA.

Oh fuck yes. If there is anything you can count on it is me being excited by the still frontier realm of black / punk. From speed black to crust to hardcore with shrieking vocals, the grimy underbelly of the two genres collide in interesting ways. Human Bodies is an great example, as no matter what time of day they play, it is always going to be a party like a mortuary fire.


Infera Bruo - Boston, MA.

Infera Bruo is slightly confusing since their name and album cover don't really convey the complex relationship this band has with heavy music. Black, progressive, hardcore, post black, jangly electronic, and probably a handful of other genres all mix to create something undefinable but undeniably interesting.

Review of Infera Bruo - Desolate Unknown.

Atmosphere from last years Shadow Woods. Photos by Kaptain Carbon.


Kyoty - Dover, NH.

I think more than anything I want to be Kyoty’s graphic designer, as this band has fully embraced the beauty of minimal art. In place of rotting skeletons or necrotic beats, cool abstract covers grace albums that are full of sleek sludge doom. This is not doom that fishbowls a crypt rather is the introspective longing one has on a misty cliff in the middle of nowhere.


Mome - Portland, ME.

Alright, it is time to get weird. It is not like Shadow Woods hasn't been home to some off kilter bands in years past but Mome may be up there as the weirdest. Now, before you guess ritual ambient or noise since all of that is old news for people, the sound of krautrock inspired bedroom doom synth will truly get you in that special headspace for the weekend.


Nechochwen - Wheeling, WV.

My only disappointment is that I am not going to see a full electric set from Nechochwen, which is sad since their 2015 record Heart of Akamon was the toast of the underground ball. Nechochwen caught everyone by surprise with their mix of classical guitar, native american themes, and chilling black metal. My only solace in the proposed unplugged set will perhaps be a once in a lifetime event given the venue and atmosphere.

Night Raids - Philadelphia, PA.

Oh yeah, this feels like a gut punch. How much noise and disaster can two people from Philadelphia really create? The answer lies at Shadow Woods during Night Raid’s set, which I am sure is either going to end in headaches, fire, or both.


Obsidian Tongue - Medford, MA.

Obsidian Tongue is somewhat related to US atmospheric black metal band Falls of Rauros as well as the Canadian folk / black project Thrawsunblat. Though Obsidian Tongue is not entirely like a mixture between the two, it is in the same ballpark and will be sure to catch the interest of people who enjoy the idea of animal skeletons in the woods.


Panopticon - KY/MN.

Panopticon is perhaps the headliner for Shadow Woods. Along with Vastum, Panopticon is the name that draws the most amount of acknowledgment from people, as this project is one they most likely have heard about. The chance to see this project live is a big deal as the competency with atmospheric black metal, American folk, and hateful transcendence is surely something that will be the highlight of the weekend.

Review of Panopticon - Autumn Eternal.

Percussor - PA/DE.

Percussor worships at the altar of death metal. Obvious connections can be made to bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, and Bolt Thrower as this band swings for the fences in terms of grindy death metal. I have always loved the death metal sets to offset the black and doom ones and I am picturing this set being a perfect afternoon performance.


Seasick Gladiator - Washington, DC.

Seasick Gladiator has a strange name to match their odd music. If hammering down the sound, it would be instrumental progressive metal with a prominent violin. Add to this the celebratory art pieces for each of their songs and one has a bizarre and immersive hallucination.

Sloth Herder - PA/VA/MD.

Sloth Herder has been a mainstay around the local area and having them at Shadow Woods is going to be exciting. Though their name sounds like slow stoner doom, Sloth Herder’s delicate mixture of black metal, grindcore, and noodling chaos makes it the perfect mess to get really into during the weekend. Expect nothing less than a liquor store robbery by masked men while wielding torches.


Take to the Woods - Baltimore, MD.

Take to the Woods is an acoustic neofolk project from Baltimore. This is most certainly going to slot into the more quiet projects of Shadow Woods. With both an occult and dark undertone, combined with some great bedroom recordings from the artist, this will be an act that will speak to a select group looking to commune with the spirit of old.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem - York, PA.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem has been a Shadow Woods institution since its beginning. It is most certainly going to be late at night as the sound of ritual ambient and dark tribal is perfect for those times between the cusp of sleep and the middle of consumption. Be prepared for some of the strangest soundscapes similar to the machinations of the mad.

Toke - Cape Fear, NC.

I'm going to give you one guess as what type of music Toke plays. If the dayglow pot leaf on the cover of their record was not enough indication then the sound of blistering stoner doom should be a big tip off. What was surprising about this North Carolina band was how spite fueled their music really was. Similar to the disdain exhibited by bands like Eyehategod, Toke is here to smoke your weed and call you names.

Review of Toke - (Orange).


Vastum - San Francisco, CA.

Out of every band, I believe I am most excited about this one. This is not because I adore cavernous death metal that seems like it was raised by wolves, rather that Vastum's music has a certain viciousness that is not held by convention or trends and is something that seems innocent until it leaves deep gashes.

Review of Vastum - Hole Below.

Voarm - Richmond, VA.

I am happy to see more Richmond based bands as I want to expand my circle of metal from Baltimore to Richmond. Voarm plays a delightfully rotten variety of melodic black metal, which combined with its doom undertones is certain to amplify those negative emotions that have been clouding your thoughts.


Withered - Atlanta, GA.

I feel strange writing that I haven't checked out Withered, as this Atlanta based black/death band seems right up my alley. Instead of laying out the black/death aggression on one level, this band seems to channel that sound into deep production, which is well produced without any loss of brutality. Both chaotic and disturbed, this band is as surprising as they are effective.

Woe - Brooklyn, NY.

Woe continues to carve out NYC black metal, as their distinct brand of aggressive and grinding black metal feels like the cold touch of concrete and dirt. The band also has a brand new record for 2017, which will probably be on sale for the weekend by light of a campfire.

Review of Woe - Hope Attrition.

Worthless - NY/NJ.

Worthless is from New Jersey and maybe also New York and somewhere in that grey area lies some impressively depressive black metal that has all of the right tones of stinging rain.


Zud - Portland, ME.

Zud, by now, can be considered an alumni to Shadow Woods as they are returning for their second, or maybe third, appearance. Zud has historically played last which is strange given their biker bar style black n roll would be perfect for anytime of the day.

Kaptain Carbon moderates Reddit's r/metal as well as writes reviews for lesser known black, death, and doom metal for Tape Wyrm as well as Dungeon Synth, Tabletop, and Movie Reviews for Hollywood Metal.

[Besides the 36 bands listed here Fiakra (heavy metal from Freehold, NJ) and Dee Calhoun (acoustic set from Iron Man vocalist) are also performing.]

August 18, 2017

clipping. - Splendor & Misery

By Calen Henry. Last year one of the records I listened to most was a sprawling, experimental, science fiction concept album, but it wasn't Terminal Redux. It was clipping.'s Splendor & Misery.
By Calen Henry.

Last year one of the records I listened to most was a sprawling, experimental, science fiction concept album, but it wasn't Terminal Redux. It was clipping.'s Splendor & Misery.

clipping. don't make metal but they are metal. Check out their playlist, "Some metal from 2016". Their Sci-fi cred too is beyond reproach. Splendor & Misery is up for a Hugo award; the first album since 1971 to be nominated.

clipping. are a deconstructionist hip-hop group. Using a backdrop of noise and power electronics they create rap songs both in opposition to and reverential of mainstream hip-hop. Splendor & Misery is where, for me, everything clipping. does comes together perfectly. The noise backdrop, the story, and the varied vocal approaches work beautifully to create a truly compelling concept album in which I keep discovering new details even a year after its release.

In a mere 37 minutes Splendor & Misery tells the story of the sole survivor of an intergalactic slave ship rebellion, the ships's computer that falls in love with him, his rise to intergalactic outlaw, his fight against space and time as the computer abandons him and ultimately his embrace of hope and trip to a "better place". The story itself is interspersed with vignettes that flesh out the world. The story is told through every aspect of the music, building up a fractured narrative that demands attention but proportionally rewards it.

The noise soundscapes, the backdrop for the story, layer Vangelis inspired synths with industrial pounding and all manner of static creating exactly the right mix of oppression, urgency, awe, and desperation to communicate Cargo #2331's plight. Each track sounds like a hulking empty spacecraft hurtling through space but different sounds are layered to create different moods within that spectrum before the lyrics even hit.

Daveed Diggs lyrics and vocals give a huge emotional range to the story. Depending on the voice, whether Cargo #2331, the ship's computer, or story vignettes the cadence and delivery changes as does the post processing applied. Rounding out the story are the excellent gospel vocals from Take 6. The caveat to all this is the album really only works as an album and demands attention to really unpack. It's certainly not light summer listening, but it is essential listening for those at all interested in sci-fi, concept albums, or any kind of experimental music.

August 17, 2017

Rebirth of Nefast - Tabernaculum

By Bryan Camphire. Rebirth of Nefast is a one man black metal project from Iceland by way of Ireland. The band's debut long player, Tabernaculum, is thoroughly honed and expertly crafted. This should perhaps comes as no surprise
By Bryan Camphire.

Rebirth of Nefast is a one man black metal project from Iceland by way of Ireland. The band's debut long player, Tabernaculum, is thoroughly honed and expertly crafted. This should perhaps comes as no surprise considering that Rebirth of Nefast is the brain-child of the recording engineer who runs Studio Emissary in Reykjavik, Stephen Lockhart, who is responsible for the recordings of several seminal albums of the burgeoning black metal scene there. On Tabernaculum, Lockhart's perfectionism is on full display, pulling out all the stops throughout the entirety of this sinister release.

A strong sense of aesthetics pervades the record. It's clear that the production of these songs is every bit as premeditated as the songwriting. However, make no mistake, the fact that the album is highly polished never detracts from Tabernaculum's prevailing sense of menace. In an interview from 2015, Lockhart states,

...there is a small contingent within the Black metal scene who consider everything that does not sound like it was recorded in 1993 with 4-track recorder illegitimate. For me, where this argument falls completely short, is the idea of relying on poor production to provide atmosphere. If Black metal does not sound ‘dark’ or ‘evil’ when you can hear everything that is going on, then there is something seriously wrong with it.

To that point, Tabernaculum is certainly a work that takes full advantage of sophisticated studio techniques to set in place its thick aura of darkness and dread. The result is an album of modern black metal that sounds evil as mortal sin.

Each track is a world of detail, where even the faintest sounds in the background play a significant role in the overarching feeling of gloom. Barely audible keyboard patches cling to guitar tones like cobwebs on so many flying buttresses inside this haunted cathedral of music. Exactly how many guitar tracks are at play at any given moment on the record is deliberately obscured. The songs unfold like tapestries interwoven with magic and mystery.

The six tracks on Tabernaculum each hover around ten minutes in length. Every tune showcases dynamics. All cuts have both fast and slow sections. Many include quieter parts which make the heavier sections all the more striking. The vocals range from hoarse groans to hushed breathy murmurings. All this is cooked up in a black cauldron teeming with a piquant intoxicating fog. A malevolent and majestic offering, Tabernaculum sits on an infernal altar poised to quicken the circulation of your five litres of blood.

August 15, 2017

Amorphis - Tales from the Thousand Lakes

By Nate Garrett. On their second full-length album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Finnish band Amorphis crafted an ambitious concept album based on Kalevala, the national epic of their home country. Twenty-three years after its release, it remains a staple of forward-thinking death metal.
By Nate Garrett.

Cover art by Sjlvain Bellemare.

On their second full-length album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Finnish band Amorphis crafted an ambitious concept album based on Kalevala, the national epic of their home country. Twenty-three years after its release, it remains a staple of forward-thinking death metal.

Opening track "Thousand Lakes" is an instrumental written and performed by then-newest member of the band, keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson. Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ cover painting is a transportive piece of art that evokes a frigid, haunting atmosphere, and this piano-driven intro is the sonic realization of that vibe. Furthermore, the epic poem on which the album is based begins with a creation myth, and when a chorus of bells enters to signal the end of the introduction and beginning of the album itself, it indeed feels as though this is the genesis of something awe-inspiring.

The song "Into Hiding" immediately showcases the band’s utilization of emotive single-note melodies. Throughout the album, these leads soar above the chord progressions of the rhythm section and elevate each song to a level of archetypal familiarity. In more recent years, this approach to lead guitar in songwriting has been used to great effect by fellow Finns Hooded Menace (more atonal, less melodic), and contemporary neighbors Kvelertak (more rock n roll, less traditional folk). Another element introduced by this song is the addition of clean singing. The clean vocals are introduced gradually and are an acquired taste, but once the initial shock has subsided they do enhance the album. Two tracks in, the band has already implemented piano, synth, and operatic vocals, things that were either nonexistent or used sparingly on previous releases. It’s already clear that Amorphis are intent on traversing new territory on this record.

Amorphis 2015. Photos by Dvergir

"The Castaway" features more memorable leads, this time being played in unison by guitar and synth. The verse riff is among the catchiest on the album, and the chorus is as majestic and beautiful as the constraints of death metal will allow. On this tune, Amorphis dip their toes into some elements of doom metal, but they don’t fully dive in until the next song, aptly titled "First Doom". This track is among the album’s heaviest, and one of only two songs that features original lyrics (the rest are traditional, taken from the aforementioned Kalevala). Next is "Black Winter Day", which features more prominent synth and operatic singing. The tone of the album has been firmly established at this point, so the return of the keys and clean vocals is welcome and no longer jarring.

The rest of the album continues upon this course. Guitar and synth leads intertwine above powerful, familiar chord progressions. Savage death metal vocals dominate, but occasionally give way to dramatic singing. The entire affair unfolds and echoes with a dark, chilling quality. Amorphis begin to take even more chances toward the last couple of songs. This culminates in a couple of left-field passages in closing track "Magic and Mayhem", that reside somewhere between industrial, techno, and dance music. If I had to pinpoint a weak point in the album, I suppose this would be it. However, as out of place as it may be, I still enjoy it.

Any band that takes chances in order to evolve and remain fresh will inevitably face criticism for it. Metallica were called sellouts as early as the introduction of acoustic guitar on Ride the Lightning. Fortunately, great bands will always take risks. In all likelihood, Amorphis knew they would alienate death metal purists by making an album like Tales from the Thousand Lakes. Fortunately they didn’t let that stop them from recording a thrilling, one-of-a-kind masterpiece that the rest of us can still enjoy over two decades later.

Nate plays in Spirit Adrift and Gatecreeper.

August 13, 2017

Heinali and Matt Finney - How We Lived

By Craig Hayes. My mental health has taken me to some exceptionally dark places over the years. Most notably when taking my own life seemed like the only option I had left. I’ve always been conscious that killing myself would destroy my family
By Craig Hayes.

My mental health has taken me to some exceptionally dark places over the years. Most notably when taking my own life seemed like the only option I had left. I’ve always been conscious that killing myself would destroy my family, and possibly irk the few friends I have left in this world. But there’s a good reason they call it mental illness.

Being mentally unwell often leads me to believe that my absence would hurt less than my continued presence –– for all concerned. But I’m not telling you this because I’m trying to be dramatic or elicit any sympathy. Many of us have moments in our lives where the void beckons, and trying to stitch together a broken mind and disordered life in the midst of emotional chaos is a relevant issue right here.

I was 9 years old when I saw my first psychiatrist: 37 years later I’m still fighting to survive. What I’m looking for most is understanding. What I want is to have my self-loathing exorcised. I know I’m not alone in desiring either of those things. And that’s exactly what Heinali and Matt Finney’s new album, How We Lived, provides.

Matt Finney is a spoken word poet, and the Alabama-based storyteller speaks to the lost, betrayed, and forgotten. Finney articulates things we find hard to admit, let alone share. And, as I’ve said before, Finney is no stranger to demons; he is here, with his battered heart in hand, to underscore that life is a hard-fought battle sometimes.

I first encountered Finney via his collaborations with Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Oleg Shpudeiko –– aka Heinali. Heinali and Finney’s recordings in the early 2010s were defined by dark prose swathed in often lush avant-garde electronics. The duo’s sprawling tracks featured a heavy, cinematic ambience framed by frequently gorgeous atmospherics, and with (highly recommended) releases like Ain’t No Right and Conjoined, Heinali and Finney drew fans from all quarters.

How We Lived is Heinali and Finney’s first collaboration since 2011. But Finney has worked with other artists over the years. His collaborations with prolific dutch musician Maurice de Jong (Gnaw Their Tongues, Seirom etc), under the It Only Gets Worse banner, are also dramatic and soul-stirring. But with due respect to de Jong, Finney’s work with Heinali set a benchmark that has yet to be bettered.

There’s a world-weary tale behind How We Lived’s creation, and it’s a story worth telling, because it shapes and informs the entire album. After Ain’t No Right’s release, Finney’s life began to fall apart, and following family illness, deaths, and a few creative catastrophes, Finney retreated to a backwoods trailer, where he ceased writing, and sought escape in drugs and alcohol.

It was partly the realisation that his work with Heinali had played such a crucial role in his creative life that Finney was able to slowly find his way back –– both artistically and personally. And How We Lived certainly highlights that tension between the drive to create and the desire to utterly destroy oneself.

How We Lived’s four lengthy songs feature some of most emotionally charged and powerfully affecting work that Heinali and Finney have ever produced. “Relationship Goals”, “Wilderness”, “October Light” and “Perfect Blue” deliver stunning (and often harrowing) narratives, which Heinali frames with evocative music. But here’s the difficult part.

At this point, I’d generally begin to unpack an album’s songs. I would slice ’em and dice ’em, and endeavour to describe their ingredients. But I’m not going to do that with How We Lived’s tracks.

That’s not because those songs aren’t worth the effort; as I said, How We Lived is Heinali and Finney’s most meaningful collaboration yet. But I don’t want to reveal the album’s specifics, because I want you to hear those songs free from my (or anyone’s) influence or interpretations.

In other words, How We Lived needs to be experienced, not explained.

I understand that might not be what you’re looking for here. That’s okay –– I’m sure dozens of other reviewers will pick apart How We Lived with due precision. I just think that it’s an intimate album that deserves to experienced as a whole, free from spoilers or prior dissection.

I will say this though: How We Lived is a haunting piece of art that evokes decaying landscapes –– both psychological and geographic. It delivers harsh truths, plumbed from suffering and bitterness, and cognizance arises from moments of anguish.

How We Lived reminds us that when life falls apart our minds and bodies don’t attack on a single front. They gnaw and they claw at us, insidiously. They tear into different anxieties, from entirely different angles. Until slowly, but surely, those emotional ramparts we’ve so carefully constructed begin to crumble.

Potential remedies are available, should you find yourself in that situation, and there are often opportunities to seek help along the way. I’d encourage you to take full advantage of both, if you’re feeling like your walls are collapsing. But How We Lived also exists as a means to shore up your defences.

I’m not so naive to suggest that listening to How We Lived is going save to your life. It’s not a miracle cure. But it’s certainly a crucial restorative. You will find solace in the album because it acknowledges (with brutal honesty) that life fucking hurts.

Sometimes, the shared admission of that fact is all we need to make it through another day. And there’s no question that How We Lived reaches out from the depths of despair to say: “I hear you. I understand”.

In doing so, How We Lived illustrates why listening to dark art created by troubled souls is so important to our own continued existence. The album resonates deeply, providing vital catharsis, and while it’s unquestionably bleak, it’s also beautifully grim.

How We Lived lets us know that we are not alone. It helps strengthen our resolve to fight on –– until we step out of darkness.

Misery has never sounded so uplifting. Or so emboldening.

August 10, 2017

Pyrrhon - What Passes for Survival

By justin C. My relationship with Pyrrhon has been an on-again-off-again one. I really enjoyed Mother of Virtues, but in spite of the excitement around it, I had a very hard time finding my way in to the Growth Without End EP
By Justin C.

Artwork by Caroline Harrison.

My relationship with Pyrrhon has been an on-again-off-again one. I really enjoyed Mother of Virtues, but in spite of the excitement around it, I had a very hard time finding my way in to the Growth Without End EP. Nothing Pyrrhon does could be considered easily approachable, but for whatever reason, the full-length Mother of Virtues drew me in and the EP didn't.**

I didn't expect to be reviewing their new full length, What Passes for Survival, but here I am. "Tennessee" was the track that caught my attention, a track that starts out with a doomy, bass-driven feel and a glumly melodic riff that comes in and out of focus as dissonance intrudes. In typical Pyrrhon style, the track doesn't really stay in that place, but those flashes of dark beauty among the chaos was enough to draw me in.

That's not to say that Survival is an easy listen or falls into an easy categorization. Call it avant garde death metal, although summing it up as "death metal" is like summing up a Category 5 hurricane as a "rainstorm." As with previous work, Doug Moore is the frontman who does ALL THE VOCAL THINGS. Screeches, shouts, super-low gutturals, you name it. He plays "bad cop vs. worse cop" in the album opener, finishing the track off with the repeated refrain of "Make me what I am / Make me the servant I was meant to be." The instrumental part of the music matches Moore's intensity. Every kind of slashing, stabbing, bruising riff is represented here, and the bass tag-teams with both guitar and drums to great effect. I found myself scribbling down descriptions like "frantically rolling bass," "insect swarm riff," and occasionally "!?@#&!?!?@!"

What really hooked me are the repeated motifs and brief bits of melodicism, sometimes struggling to break through to the surface. The 12-minute mini-epic, "Empty Tenement Spirit," has a very satisfying descending riff that the first section of the song keeps tumbling back into, even as the song structure tries to tear itself apart. Wait another six minutes, and you can hear vocals that sound like an angry giant, matched by an earth-shakingly heavy, stomping riff.

There's really no substitute for immersion, though. Parts of this album will reach out and grab you, but you're not going to wander around humming parts of it after a half-assed listen or two. You need to find a way to crawl inside it and live with it, even when it's viscerally uncomfortable. The last two minutes of the album still give me the heebie-jeebies, both because of the challenging music and because of a sound effect that I can only liken to someone being beaten with a sack of chains. The cover art uses beautiful colors and shadings to surround an animal trying to chew its own leg off to escape a trap, and there's probably no better metaphor for the sounds themselves. Fight it, struggle with it, and resist it, but definitely engage with it.

**Even if, like me, you had a hard time with Growth Without End, I do highly recommend the track "Turing's Revenge," which shows off Pyrrhon's cerebral side. The lyrics talk about Alan Turing, a brilliant English mathematician who spent World War II cracking German codes. He was what most people would label a war hero, but he was criminally prosecuted by the UK in 1952 for homosexual acts. He chose chemical castration as an alternative to prison time, and he died two years later from what was very likely suicide. The government found it in their hearts to to pardon him fucking 2013.

August 9, 2017

Iah - Iah

By Karen A. Mann. Relative newcomers to the stoner/desert rock scene, Argentina’s Iah offer astral enlightenment through hypnotic melodies that keep the listener engaged, even without words. Formed in 2016, the band took it’s name from
By Karen A. Mann.

Relative newcomers to the stoner/desert rock scene, Argentina’s Iah offer astral enlightenment through hypnotic melodies that keep the listener engaged, even without words.

Formed in 2016, the band took it’s name from the Egyptian god of the moon, which is appropriate given their expansive, mysterious tendencies. Their instrumental compositions mix post-rock, prog, doom and stoner elements into a heady formula that elevates the listener to another astral plane.

Iah has two releases to it’s credit: a self-titled four-song album released in January of this year, and a two-song companion EP released in June. Though released separately, the two create a cohesive whole, and are meant to be heard together.

The first release starts off with “Cabalgan los Cielos,” a solid composition that’s heavy on delay, sludgy riffing and spacey interludes. The band pays homage to classic stoner rock, notably Colour Haze, Kyuss and Karma to Burn, through hypnotic melodies and a rock solid rhythm section that keeps the interstellar guitar elements grounded. As you might expect, Iah can tend toward the jammier side of stoner rock, especially on “Ouroboros” and “Stolas.” That latter song ends with some surprisingly doomy melodies, ushering in “Eclipsum,” the release’s final, and heaviest, song.

Unlike the other songs on this release, there’s no build up to this one. “Eclipsum” begins with a sludgy, head-bobbing wah-driven riff that veers off into an ambient passage before crashing back in at the end.

Iah gets heavier on the two-song EP, while also adding more structure to their compositions.The band is at its best on the final song, “Nuboj,” which reveal the band’s progressive and post-rock influences through a combination of straight-ahead heavy rock, soaring guitar melodies and Pink Floyd-style ambience.

Overall these two releases serve as an impressive debut from this new Argentinian band.

August 7, 2017

False - Hunger

By Matt Hinch. The Gilead Media release schedule has been crazy this Summer, to say the least. Plus, each release offers something different. For this one, it's different for more than one reason. Gilead and its fans are
By Matt Hinch.

Cover art by Steve Wilson.

The Gilead Media release schedule has been crazy this Summer, to say the least. Plus, each release offers something different. For this one, it's different for more than one reason. Gilead and its fans are no strangers to Minnesota black metal powerhouse False. The label has released their split with Barghest, their untitled EP, and their 2015 untitled LP. Which are all spectacular by the way. What's different on Hunger, their new two-song EP, besides actually having a title, is its brevity. False are known for routinely breaking the 10 minute mark. The untitled LP had five songs ranging from over 15 minutes to just under nine and a half. However on Hunger both songs TOTAL eight and a half minutes. I'm sure it was a challenge to reign it in but the results speak for themselves.

“Anhedonia” starts off a little slow and the pace does waiver throughout the 4:03 runtime but it stays true to what we've come to expect from them. The keyboards are prominent and as usual give the track a grand, orchestral feel. Of this earth, but not of this time. Tremolos race like horses whipped into a frenzy by their master's crop and soar over dark and foul vistas. You can feel the duality in your bones. The struggle between crushing darkness and a relentless rhythm section versus the often uplifting keys and guitars. Of course, the ghastly and vile vocals render all other feelings moot.

False 2015. Photos by François Carl Duguay.

“Hunger” wastes even less time (but more time) flaying flesh from bone. The pace here is more constant. i.e. Full velocity for most of the 4:29 runtime. But many of the same sentiments imparted by “Anhedonia” are replicated here. The percussion blisters, the guitars rage, melodic tremolos get buried deep in the mind, the vocals make you want to hide. However, the keys are a little more subtle and complimentary but do come to the fore and imbue a sense of angelic grace amid the torrent of audial violence.

It may be less than 10 minutes long but Hunger packs in as much nihilistic yet triumphant black metal as you need. Whether False's move toward noticeably shorter songs is a sign of things to come (I hope not. It's great but not necessary.) or merely an experiment in self-control is really not worth debating. Just take it for what it is: one of USBM's very best satiating your hunger for darkness should the fullness of their 2015 LP be waning.

Draw the shades, free your mind and let Hunger take hold.