November 23, 2017

Phlebotomized - Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact

By Hera Vidal. Phlebotomized is one of those cult bands that disappeared during the late 90’s, only to resurface 16 years later. Their music is what I can only describe as avant-garde, reminding me a lot of Ven Buens Ende and their classic Written in Waters.
By Hera Vidal.

Cover art by Patrick Van Der Zee

Phlebotomized is one of those cult bands that disappeared during the late 90’s, only to resurface 16 years later. Their music is what I can only describe as avant-garde, reminding me a lot of Ven Buens Ende and their classic Written in Waters. However, unlike Ven Buens Ende, Phlebotomized is much more approachable, less chaotic (to an extent), and much more enjoyable. While researching this band and album(s), I saw comparisons between Phlebotomized and Amorphis, and even listened to Tales from the Thousand Lakes to see whether the album had the same sound. I would consider Phlebotomized to be Amorphis’s more flamboyant Dutch cousin – they run in the same sonic circles, but Phlebotomized likes to experiment.

Now, Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact is actually a compilation of their classic albums, Immense Intense Suspense, released in 1994, and Skycontact, released in 1997. Because this is two albums in one, I will be focusing on one album at a time before giving my closing remarks on this compilation.

Of the two, Immense Intense Suspense is the most conventional – that is, it follows the true-and-tried of death-doom, but it does have some quirks to its music including touches of tech death in the guitar, acoustic tones used sparingly throughout the album, and an avant-garde vibe that comes out through the usage of keyboards. What makes the music work is actually the usage of a violin. There are moments were the main focus of the music is a heavy, sludgy guitar that really brings out the death metal. It can be heard throughout the album, warring with the violin, creating an intense wall of sound that doesn’t let up even during the quiet parts of the album. In fact, one can say that the album is focused around the violin, making sure it shines when it can. Throughout the album there's a suspense coming from not knowing what to expect, as it surprises you at every turn. It definitely sounds a lot different than what was available at the time, but, nowadays, you can find similar surprises in album from say, Oranssi Pazuzu or A Forest of Stars.

Skycontact, on the other hand, decided to throw much of the conventional metal out the window and go full avant-garde. Unlike the non-linear musical structure and lyricism that was used in Immense, Phlebotomized decided to fully embrace their quirky soundscape and their penchant for experimentation, forgoing the violin for the usage of synthesizers and fuzzy guitars. This leads to a cohesive structure of music that, while it can go from one place to another rather quickly, can still follow a set theme. One can claim that Skycontact is a full descent into madness and dreams, dense in its complexity and atmospheric in vocal usage. If Immense is the outside world, then Skycontact is Wonderland. The dreamlike atmosphere of this album is something to behold, fully embracing their quirks without losing all of their previous death-doom sound (see the delightfully titled “I Lost My Cookies in the Disco”).

All in all, Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact is a compilation album that provides ready access to a band’s discography that is highly niche and would need someone else to direct you to it. Depending on whom you ask, either album is polarizing yet accessible. Personally, of the two, I would suggest starting with Skycontact first, as I think it is the most accessible and enjoyable of the two. Given my penchant for progressive metal, that side of the compilation was easier to take in. Overall, the compilation is a great introduction into the avant-garde, and I fully recommend it to those who enjoy a little weird in their metal.


[Note: track 1-7 is Immense Intense Suspense. Track 8-13 is Skycontact.]
Tagged with 1994, 1997, 2014, avant-garde death metal, doom metal, Hammerheart Records, Hera Vidal, Phlebotomized

November 20, 2017

Archspire vs. Gigan

By Calen Henry. Technical death metal is a hard sell for me. Necrophagist's Epitaph is one of my favourite metal albums but little else, save for Virvum and early Arsis has really grabbed me. I've investigated Necrophagist alumni's various projects
By Calen Henry.

Technical death metal is a hard sell for me. Necrophagist's Epitaph is one of my favourite metal albums but little else, save for Virvum and early Arsis has really grabbed me. I've investigated Necrophagist alumni's various projects as well as other tech death royalty (Spawn of Possession, Beyond Creation, First Fragment, etc.) and though I like a lot of them, they mostly don't stick for me. It's ironic, then, that I'm writing a double tech death review for two albums released in the same month, but here we are. Maybe it's because they're both space metal....I do love space metal....

Artwork by Eliran Kantor.

What grabs me about Necrophagist is the successful juxtaposition of neo classical solos over top of filthy death metal riffs. Until Virvum took that template to space on Illuminance, adding synths and leaning on augmented arpeggios, not much else "post-necrophagist" had stuck with me. Archspire take all the parts I love about Virvum and Necrophagist and dial them up while also adding aspects I generally thought I didn't like about tech death; relentlessly fast drums and extreme extended range guitars. I like Relentless Mutation a lot. Archspire have won over this tech death cynic.

Archspire write songs. Above everything else that's what makes Relentless Mutation work. The riffs, solos and vocals all work together to create songs. Faster and more complex songs than most bands, but songs first. There's a flow to the songs that guides the listener through their whirlwind of musicianship. Plus, spacey synths and solos are always a good thing in my book.

The core of the sound is ridiculously fast riffs, inhuman drumming and ridiculous neo-classical solos. They even manage to utilize extended range guitars without coming anywhere close to the "inept Meshuggah" sound lots of bands end up with. Almost unique to Archspire, though, are vocals that keep pace with everything else. The lyric video for "Involuntary Doppelganger" is almost too fast to read. The vocal style will likely be polarizing but it suits the band and increases the cohesion of their sound.

I find Archspire are a bit too "up to 11" to be an all out win for me. Though Relentless Mutation is a stronger album than Illuminance and less overt Necrophagist worship, I personally prefer Virvum's approach because they really embrace the atmospheric side of their sound slowing things way down for long periods. That's not a criticism, though, merely my personal preference. Archspire are extremely talented and write amazing songs.

Given my general tech death cynicism, anyone looking for amazing, creative, neoclassical tech death that absolutely doesn't let up needs to check out Archspire. They've created one of two tech death albums to really grab me since 2005, and that's no mean feat.


Artwork by Dr.Winter.

Gigan sound like Gigan and only Gigan and Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence sounds like Gigan. The closest reference point would be Artificial Brain with a dash of Portal, but Gigan are the undulating, tentacled eldritch space horror to Artificial Brain's soot covered, smoke belching robot overlord. They're also the farthest thing from Archspire despite undeniably being technical death metal. Gigan are the antithesis of the tight tech death of both the neo-classical solo loving side of tech death and the complex dissonance of Gorguts and their myriad followers. They also predate the recent influx of WASDM (Weird-Ass Space Death Metal), having been releasing albums since 2008.

Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, and various other "Dissonant death metal" are something I usually appreciate but don't really actually want to listen to. I love Gigan, though. They are similar in sound but their approach is more organic; ebbing and flowing through ambient interludes, dissonant madness and massive headbanging riffs seemingly by feel rather than due to tightly constructed songs.

There's an almost lazy feeling to the flow largely due to the amazingly laid back drumming in the face of the buzzing guitar riffs. The drumming creates an overall groove that's unmatched by any other technical band and makes Gigan's flow seem effortless.

Interestingly, though the record features some of the most accessible WASDM riffs in tracks like "Plume of Ink Within a Vacuum" and "Ocular Wavelengths' Floral Obstructions", the album is bookended by two 10 minute tracks that hold nothing back and have no interest whatsoever in accessibility (one of them, "Wading Forwards Through Matter and Backwards Through Time" has to be in the top 5 track titles of 2017).

You have to want to get into Gigan and they don't seem to care if you don't. But they really are among the most accessible WASDM and my personal favourite. There's an addictive weirdness to Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence that keeps me coming back. Essential listening if you're up for the strangeness.

Tagged with 2017, Archspire, Calen Henry, Gigan, progressive death metal, Season of Mist, technical death metal, Willowtip

November 15, 2017

Auðn - Auðn

By Hera Vidal. Iceland has become known as one of metal’s most buzzed-about places, especially since their music scene is home to some of the biggest names in black metal right now. We know that Iceland’s climate serves as inspiration to the raw emotion
By Hera Vidal.

Cover art by Víðir 'Mýrmann' Þrastarson

Iceland has become known as one of metal’s most buzzed-about places, especially since their music scene is home to some of the biggest names in black metal right now. We know that Iceland’s climate serves as inspiration to the raw emotion behind the music, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that anything that comes out of Iceland is worthy of note. However, my preferences lie towards the atmospheric, so when I saw this album, I decided to take the plunge and listen to it.

Auðn is a relatively young band, having only released this album, but they already sound like pros. They are already set in the way they wanted to sound, and it shows. Everything about their musicianship sounds impressive, and it comes as no surprise that their atmosphere is one of the most noticeable things this album has to offer. Auðn’s atmosphere may be cold, but there is also some warmth that is offered to the listener. The warmth stems from the album’s melodic nature, which is strange considering how most atmospheric black metal is supposed to sound bleak and cold. However, the highly melodic sound and the bleak atmosphere provide a beautiful sound that makes it greater than itself. It literally takes the listener elsewhere, and transcends them to a place where they can forget about everything for a while. Given how this album is 36 minutes long, it seems Auðn thought it appropriate to make their debut succinct and enjoyable.

Now, another thing worthy of note is their production value. I try to not focus on production a lot, but their production is so clean and so well-done that one can’t help but notice how elevated it sounds. In my listening experience, black metal albums don’t have good production values, and, if they do, they tend to emphasize a part of their sound while staying relatively the same elsewhere. What Auðn has done is place emphasis on parts that are stressed throughout the tracks, but have also kept the album consistent—there are no stray notes or stray sounds. When these parts are stressed, you can hear all the different elements they have added into the layers of music—you can hear the deep bass, the clean vocals, and the syncopated drumming. For a band whose name translates to “wasteland”, there is nothing desolate or barren about anything this album has to offer. It’s beautiful and grand, which is a big statement coming from a young band.

In short, Auðn is a gem of an album that has a lot to offer and say in the span of 36 minutes. This feature makes the album digestible and enjoyable. The best part is that this album gets better with every listen, and you can always come back to it for comfort. I have a feeling we are going to see more from Auðn, and, when they do decide to release another album, I hope it is just as fantastic as this debut.

Tagged with 2014, atmospheric black metal, Auðn, Hera Vidal

November 12, 2017

Noothgrush / Corrupted split

By Craig Hayes. Bandcamp is a fantastic resource for discovering, acquiring and sharing mountains of neck-wrecking music. However, for whatever reasons, loads of formidable metal and punk bands are still either virtually or entirely absent
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Hal Rotter.

Bandcamp is a fantastic resource for discovering, acquiring and sharing mountains of neck-wrecking music. However, for whatever reasons, loads of formidable metal and punk bands are still either virtually or entirely absent from Bandcamp’s pages. One of the best of that bunch was cult Japanese sludge legends Corrupted. But label 20 Buck Spin recently remedied that issue by reissuing the band’s long out-of-print split release with Oakland, California sludge titans Noothgrush.

Corrupted and Noothgrush’s self-titled split hit like a war hammer when it was first released in 1997, and it remains a significant release in the annals of genuinely misanthropic sludge to this day. Rather than give the split a polish before its re-release, 20 Buck Spin handed the collaboration over to studio wizard Brad Boatright. His remastering adds a “fresh layer of tar” and ensures the split’s corrosive potential is maximised. And Hal Rotter provides new and fittingly grim artwork for Corrupted and Noothgrush’s split as well.

If I’m being honest, while the split is certainly intimidating –– and arguably even iconic –– its arrival on Bandcamp is also just a great opportunity to finally wax lyrical about Corrupted right here on Metal Bandcamp. (And if any label wants to upload the rest of Corrupted’s releases to Bandcamp, I’d be eternally grateful.)

Corrupted are notable (as much as any deliberately reclusive and recalcitrant underground band can be) for a number of reasons. First, since forming in Osaka in 1994, the band have avoided media-friendly antics, and they’ve maintained an aura of hermitic mystery about their status to this day. Second, most of Corrupted’s lyrics have been sung in Spanish –– although, English, German, and Japanese turn up too. Third, the band hues closer to a second wave punk group than a metal band in aesthetic terms, which isn’t too surprising given sludge’s origin story or the sheer number of filthy punk-informed metal bands in Japan. And lastly, much of Corrupted’s extensive discography is found on split releases with a wide range of sludge, doom and grindcore bands.

Musically, Corrupted are often staggeringly heavy. And they're always toxic in tone too. The band remain steadfastly wretched, even when exploring more ethereal pathways. And like a lot of other Japanese metal and punk bands –– see Church of Misery, Funeral Moth, G.I.S.M., Framtid, Disclose, and innumerable others –– Corrupted cut right to (and then rip out and expose) the visceral heart of their chosen subgenre. The band’s ultra-slow and doom-fuelled sludge is threaded with drone’s deepest, darkest and most mesmeric minimalism. But Corrupted are also an inherently belligerent band only too happy to upend expectations and deliver delicate or quickfire songs.

Corrupted’s punishing sound is primarily constructed of distorted and down-tuned guitars, guttural growls, and layers of feedback framing megalith riffs on often epic-length tracks. The band’s 1999 album, Llenandose de gusanos, featured two songs: a 50-minute doom and dirge number followed by a 74-minute ambient crawl. 2005’s El mundo frío featured a single and surging 72-minute track. And alongside those releases, albums like 1997’s Paso Inferior and 2011’s Garten der Unbewusstheit (the band’s most creatively subtle work yet) highlight Corrupted’s astute understanding of how to increase the audio torture and tension while also providing a crucial cathartic purge.

That’s all there on the band’s split with Noothgrush as well. The release might be two decades old, but age hasn’t tempered the palpable sense of intense loathing and then emotional exorcism that both Noothgrush and Corrupted display. The three songs on their split provide consummate lessons in nihilism, antagonism, and abject fucking misery. In fact, the release makes it readily apparent that bands like Noothgrush and Corrupted clearly schooled plenty of today’s sludge and doom miscreants in how to crush listeners in both psychological and musical terms.

Noothgrush sculpts a harsh, uninviting scene on opener “Hatred for the Species”. The track’s an animosity-filled haven for sonic masochists, but Noothgrush have no problem upping the ante with 14 minutes of “doomed psychosis” on the mind-mangling follow-up “Draize”.

Corrupted provide the split’s final 15-minute track, “Inactive”, which sees them dragging throat-slit barks and undulating sludge across a hypnotic hellscape. The track’s steadily grinding cadence pushes the raw and slow-baked sludge forward throughout. And if you’re a fan of the pioneering muck and murder of bands like Dystopia or Grief, then there’s a lot to love (in a very unhealthy way, of course) right here.

As the blurb on the Bandcamp page for Noothgrush and Corrupted’s uncompromising release points out, ‘doom metal’ means many things to many people nowadays. There's no question that the split is the antithesis of the kind of hip sludge and doom that wields “upbeat warm waves of ‘stoner’ riffs” made by bands wearing their “top dollar vintage tees”. Noothgrush and Corrupted deal in hatred, not hugs, and their split is a firm reminder of a time when underground sludge and doom combined a genuine sense of emotional devastation with withering levels of malice.

Tagged with 1997, 20 Buck Spin, Corrupted, Craig Hayes, doom metal, Noothgrush, sludge metal

November 9, 2017

Dynamic Metal - Round Two

By Calen Henry. The previous article in this series got good traction so I'm back with a few more bands that do more than just make great metal. They also make great sounding metal. Solstice play Epic Doom Metal, a genre that is really big in 2017.
By Calen Henry.

The previous article in this series got good traction so I'm back with a few more bands that do more than just make great metal. They also make great sounding metal.

Cover art by Harry Clarke.

Solstice play Epic Doom Metal, a genre that is really big in 2017. New Dark Age, though, was originally released in 1998 and the dynamic CD master is on Bandcamp. It measures in at DR 12 and absolutely crushes. Their epic, melodic medieval approach to doom can be heard in numerous newer bands. Darkest Era sound like Solstice + Primordial. Khemmis take epic doom and apply the "kitchen sink metal approach" to blending the genre. Bands like Atlantean Kodex simply sound like Solstice. Plus, their "archaic language about castles and monsters" approach is everywhere in metal now.

Apart from simply being fantastic doom metal New Dark Age is eally elevated by the folk influences. The riffs, vocals, and lyrics are extremely folky and the album features numerous fantastic tracks that are straight up folk songs with no metal whatsoever. This commitment to "folkiness" can make the vocals seem a bit off putting at first. There are some sections that feature harmonies not usually used in metal. Bands like Darkest Era have much more approachable vocal styles. But the vocals on New Dark Age complete the sound and after an acclimatization period I found myself to be a big fan.


Album art by Dymond Starr Austin.

Dreadnought play the proggiest metal to ever prog. They might be best described as "blackened prog rock" All the prog rock trappings are there. Their albums are an elemental cycle with the title track from their newest album being 17 minutes long. They use flute, piano, organ, and saxophone as well as lots of clean vocals. They mix that with vicious blast beats and snarled vocals.

Lifewoven is the first in their elemental cycle, being earth themed. It is also, unfortunately, the only dynamically mastered album in their catalog measuring DR 10. Bridging Realms (aether themed) and A Wake in Sacred Waves (water themed) are both excellent albums but they are not at all dynamically mixed both coming in at DR 5 and DR 6 respectively.

Lifewoven sets up Dreadnought's sonic template from which they don't much deviate on later albums. Long songs with complex multi layered sections flowing between prog rock and black metal. Though sounding nothing alike their long form immersive approach to songwriting brings to mind Elder, and is part of why I like both bands so much.


Album artwork by KolaHari.

Æther Realm are part of an amorphous wave of new American (and Canadian) metal taking influence from myriad styles but always with a bit of melodeath, folk, and black metal. Thrawsunblat play the blackest version of it, Wilderun are the folkiest, and Xanthochroid are the most symphonic and cinematic.

Æther Realm, hailing from North Carolina, exhibit the strongest melodeath links but mix it with black metal, a bit of folk, a symphonic edge, and phenomenal production. The master for Tarot is DR 10 and it sounds incredible. The drums, in particular are punch of give the music a great visceral quality, like Vainaja (though sounding almost nothing like them). The mix doesn't emphasize guitars over other instruments so everything comes through wonderfully.

Tarot is an album that piqued my interest on production but really sells the music as well. The musicianship and composition are excellent as well and improved, rather than hampered by production.



Dead Congregation's Promulgation of the Fall is a modern old school death metal classic. It also sounds terrible. It's incredibly dynamically compressed (DR 4), to the album's detriment. Amazingly they followed it up with a two song EP that incredibly dynamic (DR 12). It's also, unsurprisingly, excellent. Hitting a sound between Ominous Circle and Vainaja. Worth a look for any death metal fans wanting great sound to go with great music.


Artwork by Anni Buchner.

Ruff Majik sound like The White Stripes weaned on stoner rock. The vocals are very "Jack White" and the music has the same frantic raw feel of early White Stripes but with a metric tonne of fuzz. The band also records their material live in studio which gives the music an organic spontaneous feel at the expense of some fidelity. So far the band has a trilogy of animal themed EPs and are working through releasing four parts of an album to coincide with the change in seasons. They're South African, though, so the season changes are opposite to what us northerners are used to. Of their catalog The Swan appears to be the only release with a dynamic (DR 12) master, but musically it's all great.

Tagged with 1998, 2013, 2016, 2017, Æther Realm, Calen Henry, Dead Congregation, death metal, Dreadnought, epic doom metal, folk metal, free download, melodic death metal, progressive rock, Ruff Majik, Solstice, stoner rock

November 6, 2017

Sol Sistere - Unfading Incorporeal Vacuum

By Hera Vidal. I have had my run-ins with Chilean metal over the years and they are probably best known for their thrash metal, given both the speed of the music and the freedom the subgenre gives them for creating music.
By Hera Vidal.


I have had my run-ins with Chilean metal over the years and they are probably best known for their thrash metal, given both the speed of the music and the freedom the subgenre gives them for creating music. In this scene, a lot of bands wish to reach some mainstream prominence, whether it is getting signed to a major label (prior to their split, Mar de Grises was signed to Season of Mist) or being well-known around the world (Pentagram Chile comes to mind due to the underground tape trading circuit). However, some of the best bands are actually underground.

I used to have a silence manifestation
Directly outwards explodes your mind
When you reset your reality
Mind destruction is the authority

Sol Sistere is one of those underground black metal bands that already have so much experience in the Chilean metal scene, given how all of its members have been in bands prior to this one. However, what makes this band—and this album!—stand out is just how ballsy they are with their music. Unfading Incorporeal Vacuum sounds like an atmospheric black metal album, but it has the ferocity of classic black metal that doesn’t let you go away. However, unlike classic black metal, where anger seems to be the default emotion that can be heard, there is a sadness that shrouds the music. “Death Knell” sounds like a death tone, something you play to let everyone know that someone has died.

From that point, the music just seems to get sadder with each track, although the emotional range that is found within each track is something of note. For example, “Sight of the Oracle” starts off with constant guitar picking and backing bass before launching into a flurry of desperation that takes over the track. However, it quickly goes back to that atmospheric quality that we see a lot of in black metal and it makes sure to bring that emotional range back to peak. The vocals here are a work of art; they are not overwhelming and are thought to be more of an accent piece. Because of it, the focus is usually on the music and the atmosphere it brings to the listener. If you don’t feel something at the end of it, then you need to listen to this again.

Despite all of this, there is something that Sol Sistere lacks before they can be considered to be one of those classic metal bands. The problem with reaching peak during an album is that it doesn’t offer something new in the music. One of the faults of atmospheric black metal is the fact that the music can drone on forever without anything changing its structure or its tone. In such cases, atmospheric black metal should value quality over quantity. However, despite its constant musical structure, Unfading has the emotional backing to make this one of the most enjoyable albums I heard in 2016.

All in all, Unfading Incorporeal Vacuum demands your attention with its brand of straightforward, atmospheric black metal and emotional range. There are moments where the album flatlines a bit, but it picks up and continues to soldier on. This band is young, and I do have high hopes for them as they continue to specialize in black metal. They may be called South America’s best-kept black metal secret, but they still have a lot to prove to everyone. Kudos to Sol Sistere!

Tagged with 2016, atmospheric black metal, Hammerheart Records, Hera Vidal, Sol Sistere

November 3, 2017

Nomasta - House of the Tiger King

By Calen Henry. Nomasta take their most clear influences from interesting places. They sound like a mix of High on Fire and early Mastodon; between the slightly dissonant angular riffs of Remission and the more polished filth of Leviathan.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Steve Myles

Nomasta take their most clear influences from interesting places. They sound like a mix of High on Fire and early Mastodon; between the slightly dissonant angular riffs of Remission and the more polished filth of Leviathan. Given that the members of Mastodon reportedly met at a High on Fire concert it's and interesting and fitting mix of influences.

One of Nomasta's biggest strengths is the ability to really get at the feel of both bands without sounding like they are outright copying. They mix the thrashy stoner stomp of High on Fire, as well as eerily Matt Pike-like vocals, with the monolithic rolling riffs and the coiling serpentine leads of Mastodon but all the riffs are their own, paying homage rather than copying. The result is a straightforward sounding record that belies the underlying complexity, much like the bands they draw influence from.

With those primary influences House of the Tiger King is unsurprisingly loud and riff filled. But melody runs through the whole record. From the angular melody of their Mastodon worship through the more straightforward metal riffs and the melodic flourishes layered over top they expertly inject melody into the heaviest sections. That's coupled with soaring fuzz-drenched dual guitar leads, reminiscent of Blue Record era-Baroness.

In the present golden era of prog metal, Nomasta also stand out by not sounding particularly "proggy". For me they don't quite reach the heights of Dvne's Asheran for "Mastodon torchbearers". But their more straightforward approach will likely win them the type of old Mastodon fans that fell out of love around Blood Mountain or Crack the Skye and don't go for Dvne or other overtly progressive doom.

Tagged with 2017, Calen Henry, Nomasta, sludge metal