Friday, February 24, 2017

Unearthly Trance - Stalking the Ghost

By Karen A. Mann. New York’s Unearthly Trance have been crafting earth-crushing sludge with a strange, darkly magical quality since 2000. Over the course of several releases, they’ve moved from a blackened sound to one that’s doomier, more psychedelic and experimental. Their latest Relapse release
By Karen A. Mann.

Cover art by Orion Landau.

New York’s Unearthly Trance have been crafting earth-crushing sludge with a strange, darkly magical quality since 2000. Over the course of several releases, they’ve moved from a blackened sound to one that’s doomier, more psychedelic and experimental. Their latest Relapse release, Stalking the Ghost, sees them at their most expansive and diverse. Through eight songs, they cover a lot of ground, from pounding heavy rock to crushing, murky doom to droning noise, all with occasional clean vocals and guitar cutting through the ominous layers.

The album opens with “Into the Spiral,” a straight-ahead, sludgy rocker that seems pretty cut-and-dried, until the song suddenly slows down, with the vocals shouted in like a call from outer space. That unexpected quality is what makes Unearthly Trance such a compelling listen. Just as you’re riding along with a song and think you know where it’s going, the journey suddenly becomes weirder. Not only are you no longer on the same road, you’re not even in the same universe.

This quality is best embodied by three successive songs in the middle of the album. The first is “Scythe,” which begins crushingly, with majestic, classically doomy guitars, and ominous, shimmering cymbals.

“Famine” is cold and crushing, with singer/guitarist Ryan Lipynsky’s death-rattle vocals rumbling under layers of noise. The song veers into clean, minimalism before swirling into a discordant, repetitive riff. An unexpected soaring solo rises, phoenix-like, out of the murk.

Finally, “Lion Strength” showcases the band’s more psychedelic side with a swirling, trance-like melody and ominous vocals that sound as if they’re being yelled from far away, ominous, before the song floods back in with a wallop.

It should be noted that all three members of Unearthly Trance, along with Tim Bagshaw of Ramesses/Electric Wizard/With the Dead, also comprise Serpentine Path, which veers more toward English horror doom than psychedelic sludge. “The Great Cauldron,” with its plodding, angry riffing, is the song is the song where the connection between both bands can best be heard.

Stalking the Ghost truly goes out on a limb with the final song, “In the Forests Keep,” which begins quietly, reverby clean guitars and a foreboding, extended melody as droning noise wells up behind it. As the noise becoming more insistent, a voice, sounding as if it’s being transmitted from outer space, recites the ominous lyrics before the song fades away. It’s an unexpected, and yet appropriate, finale to the album.

Tagged with 2017, doom metal, Karen A. Mann, Relapse Records, sludge metal, Unearthly Trance

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hymn - Perish

By Matt Hinch. I'm not sure exactly how Perish, the debut full-length from Norway's Hymn made its way to my ears. It was likely something to do with the phrase “two man doom”. There's a magic that often happens under those conditions. OM, for example. Jucifer isn't always doomy but they have it. So do Black Tar Prophet (if you haven't heard of them, check 'em out.)
By Matt Hinch.


I'm not sure exactly how Perish, the debut full-length from Norway's Hymn made its way to my ears. It was likely something to do with the phrase “two man doom”. There's a magic that often happens under those conditions. OM, for example. Jucifer isn't always doomy but they have it. So do Black Tar Prophet (if you haven't heard of them, check 'em out.) I know there's other doom duos out there but they're failing to surface in my mind given the tonal onslaught of “Serpent” inflicting my aging ears at the moment.

As the (almost) centrepiece of the six track LP “Serpent” anchors Perish with a determination and darkness that keeps the album rooted in heaviness. It's mean and evil. As with most the tracks here it never stays in one spot too long, moving through tempos, moods and intensities. It creates space and then collapses it through pounding percussion and mountain shaking guitars.

Photos by Pedro Roque.

“Rise” unfolds over 12 minutes giving it even more time to venture wherever Markus and Ole feel like going. Slow, droning doom, rumbling tank sludge riffs, quick, almost black metal parts, all saturated in volume and epic tone. “Spectre” holds many of these same qualities as well. But it has this simple, martial riff that pulses and hammers at you inducing irresistible banging of the head and stands out at the album's most memorable moment.

As massive as everything is instrumentally, the vocals take care of business in a big way (Yes, that's a Big Business nod.), roaring across continents in the spirit of Jon Davis of Conan. The similarities to Conan don't end there either. Hymn cultivates gargantuan riffs and powerful movements with the ease of their UK brethren. However, Hymn are more dynamic in my opinion. Every song is a journey with its ups and downs, slogs and races wearing you down. Their ability to stitch it all together is confident and unshakeable, deafening and defiant.

Photos by Pedro Roque.

Whether they're slugging out torturous doom, breaking necks with sludge, or injecting adrenaline into the mix to clear cut your consciousness, Hymn do it well. Very well in fact.

Throughout Perish they channel bands like Sleep/OM/High on Fire, the aforementioned Conan, Big Business, hosts of other doom/sludge bands like Black Cobra(!) as well as the mighty Yob. That's not to say they're simply a patchwork of influences. Hymn write their own odes to heaviness and do it with enough dynamics and flow to catapult themselves into the same echelon as the bands they're compared to. Perish curdles and corrodes its way into your mind instantaneously and sets up residence. It's powerful, emotional and exhausting. If you like heavy ass sludge/doom with epic undertones, warmth, and skillful song writing, your prayers have been answered.

Tagged with 2017, doom metal, Hymn, Matt Hinch, Pedro Roque, stoner metal

Monday, February 20, 2017

Indie Recordings roundup: Sahg, Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, and King

By Hera Vidal. Founded in Norway in 2005, Indie Recordings started as a side label for Indie Distribution, but quickly became one of the leading independent labels in Scandinavia. A major part part of their success stems from developing some of the better-known Norwegian bands - like Satyricon, Keep of Kalessin, and Sahg - into their roster
By Hera Vidal.

Founded in Norway in 2005, Indie Recordings started as a side label for Indie Distribution, but quickly became one of the leading independent labels in Scandinavia. A major part part of their success stems from developing some of the better-known Norwegian bands - like Satyricon, Keep of Kalessin, and Sahg - into their roster, but they also have signed foreign bands, such as Cult of Luna and King. Because 2016 was such a big year for metal, we will take a look at some of the major releases the label has graciously put out that year.

Artwork by Robert Høyem.

I originally wrote about Memento Mori a few months ago and decided to revisit it, since this album became one my favorites in 2016. After another few listens, I can say that Memento Mori still stands the test of time. Revisiting this album is like greeting an old friend: it reminds me of its melodic nature and how it seems to play out, to the listener’s delight. Olav Iversen’s vocals remain as mesmerizing as the first time I listened to this album in its entirety. Each time I listen to this album, there is always something new to focus, giving Memento Mori a lot of replay value. There is something beautiful in the pain the album seems to reflect, and it delivers. Given the heavy subject matter and some of the deeper themes the album focuses on, there is joy at the bottom of it all. The music seems to reflect that; even the weakest song on the album, “(Praise the) Electric Sun” is a jam, which goes to show that Memento Mori has something for everyone.



Clocking in at almost 54 minutes, Mariner is bound to make you transcend into something otherworldly. Continuing to explore impressive themes, this album is the closest thing to space exploration we have in post-metal. What I enjoy most about this album is its peculiarity. The music is majestic and slightly dissonant, reflecting the chaotic nature of space, and Julie Christmas’s voice reflects that nature just on her range alone. At first, I pegged her as another Chelsea Wolfe, but her voice is something else entirely. There is something so chilling and beautiful about her voice and how its vibrancy seems to add layers to the atmosphere the music creates. The second her vocals came in “A Greater Call”, my mind was completely blown and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. On their own, Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas already create impressive music that seems to push the borders of imagination. Together, they craft something unimaginable that cannot be put into words. Although the album may be a little difficult to get into, don’t let that deter you from listening to Mariner. It’s beautiful, dissonant, and filled with an ethereal quality that borders on terrifying.



2016 was a big year of debuts, with heavy hitters and lukewarm releases alike. Fortunately for the Australian band King, Reclaim the Darkness falls on that spectrum of great debuts. This album is blackened melodeath goodness with Satyricon-like vocals and big melodies. However, don’t let the “blackened” label fool you; there are thrash elements embedded in their guitar, showing off their musicianship and their extensive blending of various influences. The vocals are also versatile, going from your standard black metal screams to traditional Swedish melodeath tonalities. The main track especially takes cues from Swedish melodeath, and we can see that the band begins to build their own identity on those cues. What’s even better is the fact that the album has some great drum work; usually, in black metal, the drums tend to be filled with blast beats, but here they are a combination of beats, each suited to what the song needs. They are also so incredibly melodic that they are quickly becoming some of the best melodeath I have heard in recent years. I have high hopes for this band, as Reclaim the Darkness is one of the underrated gems in 2016, showing Australia’s penchant for excellent metal.

Tagged with 2016, atmospheric sludge metal, Cult of Luna, death metal, doom metal, Hera Vidal, Indie Recordings, Julie Christmas, King, melodic black metal, post-hardcore, post-metal, progressive metal, Sahg

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dakhma - Suna Kulto

By Matt Hinch. This is (MI’s) Dakhma. There are many (named) like it but this one is better. This Dakma is not your friend. It is intense. You must listen as intensely as Dakhma plays. Without volume Dakhma is useless. Without Dakhma, your ears are useless. You must listen to Dakhma loud. You must listen to Dakhma louder than the enemy telling you to turn it down.
By Matt Hinch.


This is (MI’s) Dakhma. There are many (named) like it but this one is better.

This Dakma is not your friend. It is intense. You must listen as intensely as Dakhma plays. Without volume Dakhma is useless. Without Dakhma, your ears are useless. You must listen to Dakhma loud. You must listen to Dakhma louder than the enemy telling you to turn it down. You must drown them before they silence you.

You will keep Dakhma at the ready even as you are ready for Dakhma. You will become part of each other.

Before Grind, you must swear this creed. Dakhma and yourself are the defenders of crust. You are the masters of black metal. You are the saviors of ferocity. So be it, until there is catharsis and peace.

Grindin’.

Photos by Carmelo Española.

In recent years there’s been a lot of talk about female-fronted occult doom bands (which I love) but at the other end of the spectrum there seems to be a lot of grind (hybrid) bands with female “singers” tearing heads off like it’s their reason for existing. Cloud Rat slays, Couch Slut has a new release in the works, Fuck the Facts have been at it forever, Closet Witch totally wrecked my brain and now Dakhma has set out to eviscerate with Suna Kulto.

So if having a throat shredder without testes isn’t considered a novelty anymore (which it shouldn’t be) then what is there to set Dakhma apart from the rest? Well, how many grind bands do you know with songs around 20 minutes long? Yeah. (If you answered this with any number above two, get in touch with me.) That’s right. Suna Kulto is two tracks covering a rough and raw 40 minutes.

As you can imagine “Coins” and “East” are more than just blasting away at 1000 bpm for 20 minutes. That would be ludicrous and exhausting even for the listener. Despite being tagged as black/crust/grind one could almost throw “post-” into the mix. But they don’t sound like some sappy band when not pinning you against a wall under a flurry of kidney punches. There’s ample melody mixed in. “East” has a nice long section that occupies the same sonic space as a band like Alcest or even Pelican. “Coins” does too for that matter.

Guitarist Derek seemingly does it all, from blistering grind to atmospheric black metal to introspective melody. Stitching all that together takes vision and he has it. There’s nothing awkward about the transitions between styles. Matching him pound-for-pound is Dylan on the drums. Subtle when he needs to be and explosively violent otherwise, he’s a destructive force bashing away like there’s no tomorrow.

Let’s not forget Claire. Talk about tempest! She screams with reckless abandon, no holding back, no fucks given. But she’s not all over the record. Satan knows what she’s doing when she’s not losing her mind but she lets the songs breathe. The vocals are well placed and make an impact. And at least we know she’s breathing. She’s got quite the set of lungs!

Putting it all together Suna Kulto sounds and feels like a storm. Sometimes you hit the eye, sometimes it lashes and beats you, exhausting your will, and sometimes it rises above the furor and the majesty of the hurricane of aggression is seen from a beautiful vantage point.

Grace, grandeur and scope meet intensity, catharsis and force to make a captivating exercise in pushing boundaries. Don’t let this pass you by.

Tagged with 2016, atmospheric post-black metal, Carmelo Española, crust, Dakhma, free download, Matt Hinch

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sinmara / Misþyrming - Ivory Stone / Hof

By Kaptain Carbon. I wonder if we'll ever look back through history and mark the mid 2010’s with an Icelandic black metal explosion. I wonder if there are even enough bands or albums to constitute said explosion, or if anyone will remember how it felt
By Kaptain Carbon.

I wonder if we'll ever look back through history and mark the mid 2010’s with an Icelandic black metal explosion. I wonder if there are even enough bands or albums to constitute said explosion, or if anyone will remember how it felt when there were so many bands coming out of one small island country known for mythical creatures. The year 2015 seems so very long ago, which was the release year of Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu, and Sinmara’s 2014 release Aphotic Womb seems even further away.

The history of Iceland’s black metal scene can be traced further back, but right around 2014/2015 is when things started to get crazy with blog attention and magazine articles. At this moment, Zhrine, Wormlust, Svartidauði, Naðra, Mannveira, and a handful of other bands all share one blistering hotbed of hate and dejection and in a couple of years, perhaps we can discuss these bands without seeing them as some cultural anomaly. Until then it is almost impossible to discuss one without at least mentioning the others.

Artwork by Joseph Deegan.

Ivory Stone / Hof is a stopgap, break, or harbinger for two bands who have been over a year without a record. Misþyrming’s debut was released 2 years ago this month with Sinmara’s debut even earlier. It is getting to the point when we will be expecting new material from both artists and the very short Ivory Stone / Hof split seems to be doing just that, as it presents two tracks that not only reignite interest in both bands but perhaps give horrid visions for the future. Splits are a fantastic, low stakes chance for a band to renew their interest in the world or chill the air with dark portents.

Perhaps the more surprising of the two is the absolute barbaric track from Sinmara. As if recorded inside a dust tornado, the rhythm and instrumentation for "Ivory Stone" is far more than expected since their debut. This track of surprise continues well into the song with changes in instrumentation and ascending guitar lines that feel like spiral staircases into maddening towers. While Sinmara was one of the first bands out of Iceland's black metal metal scene that I discovered, but soon forgot, "Ivory Stone" reunites me and perhaps others with that same calculated aggression that fueled their debut.

Misþyrming is perhaps the most well known or recognizable names from the whole of Icelandic black metal scene for nothing else than people do not know how to spell their name without copy/paste. If you had forgotten how aggressive Söngvar elds og óreiðu was, allow your memory to be jogged with the raw punch of "Hof". Perhaps even more than their previous works, this band steps on the throat of listeners leading to something that is tyrannical and obliterating in its very nature. "Hof" adds to its off putting position with cryptic spoken word segments which break the assault of the music that does not come gentle. If anyone has forgotten what this band introduced themselves as, allow this to be a gentle reminder in the form of a closed fist.

Splits are a fantastic way of sampling music but also projecting directions for bands. If I were to give a summation of the Ivory Stone / Hof split, it would be business as usual in Iceland with the potential for some catastrophic disasters in the future. The pairing of these two seems like a match made in anywhere but heaven.


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.
Tagged with 2017, black metal, free download, Kaptain Carbon, Misþyrming, Sinmara

Monday, February 13, 2017

Gloson - Grimen

By Calen Henry. Gloson take their name from a an undead pig monster in Scandinavian mythology (pictured on the cover of Yearwalker, Gloson's EP). The Gloson would lurk in graveyards and charge between the legs of unwary travelers, slicing them up with the row of spikes on it's back. It would also knock over travelers by
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Ogino Design.

Gloson take their name from a an undead pig monster in Scandinavian mythology (pictured on the cover of Yearwalker, Gloson's EP). The Gloson would lurk in graveyards and charge between the legs of unwary travelers, slicing them up with the row of spikes on its back. It would also knock over travelers by shaking the ground with stomps from its powerful hooves. Totally metal and totally fitting for Gloson's sound.

Grimen is Gloson's debut full length album. It expands their refreshingly straightforward take on post-metal injected with crushing doom metal. Each song gradually builds to a crescendo with few bells and whistles. Though undeniably indebted to post-metal pioneers Gloson's core sound takes much of their core sonic palette from doom/sludge.

Instead of using post-metal as a jumping off point, like they did on Yearwalker, on Grimen they dig deep into the doom side keeping things refreshingly simple and crushing. The guitars are lower, the vocals are deeper, and the atmosphere is almost always sinister and foreboding. Even through the slower passages the atmosphere doesn't let up. There are no soaring dreamy passages, everything is on message; crushing and sinister. The album opener, "Prowler", sets the tone. After about two seconds of ambiance and a single drum beat count-in the a massive riff drops and doesn't let up.

Post-metal can sometimes meander and seemingly go nowhere as it crawls towards the inevitable payoff, but Gloson have none of that. Except for closing the album with some full on but excellent Isis worship, almost every track starts the post-metal build with a killer doom groove. And these riffs are magic. The pace is slow and foreboding but the riffs and passages are full of little embellishments that demand attention. It's a slow headbang almost all the way through the album, but never a stupor. The band's total mastery of groove complements their no frills approach. The rhythmic foundation is so solid that it effortlessly guides the songs through their huge riffs into brushes with melodic leads, didgeridoo, church bells, Mellotron (I think), and some strings.

While it may not convert the doom and/or post-metal averse fans of either of those genres would be remiss not to check out Grimen. There is little out there with "post" in the genre that's as refreshingly straightforward while still being totally engrossing.

Tagged with 2017, atmospheric sludge metal, Calen Henry, free download, Gloson, post-metal

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mercyful Fate - In the Shadows

An Autothrall Classic. In the Shadows could be considered a righteous 'comeback' record long before metal comeback records became a thing, as the majority of 80s acts hit their midlife crises and decided to give it that last college try. King Diamond and crew weren't leaping back into some trending rebirth of aesthetics in 1993...traditional heavy metal
An Autothrall Classic. Originally published here.

Cover art by Torbjörn Jörgensen.

In the Shadows could be considered a righteous 'comeback' record long before metal comeback records became a thing, as the majority of 80s acts hit their midlife crises and decided to give it that last college try. King Diamond and crew weren't leaping back into some trending rebirth of aesthetics in 1993...traditional heavy metal, especially here in the States, was a veritable dead zone. Beyond the touring stability of a few dozen acts, grunge and death metal had all but taken over, and groove metal reaching terminal velocity thanks to Pantera's success. That a defunct Danish staple like Mercyful Fate could return with such a fantastic record as this is a testament to how great they were in the first place, but color me unsurprised...

...because for about 15 years, Kim Bendix Petersen never once let me down on a single full-length. In fact, beginning with Melissa and Don't Break the Oath, up until the time someone lost their marbles and decided to release that riffless, idealess, uninspired creative nadir The Graveyard, King Diamond/Mercyful Fate probably laid claim to the greatest streak in all metal music. Ten full-lengths of quality in that '83-95 era, ranging from just 'great' to utter perfection, and yes I'm including Time and The Spider's Lullabye in that total. So when the King decided to take a short respite from the constant touring and brilliance of his solo group and reunite with his alma mater, with less than a decade since Don't Break the Oath, I had little to no trepidation about the ability of these men to deliver, and not only were my expectations met, but in some departments exceeded. Don't Breath the Oath is, and will likely remain my favorite of the Mercyful Fate records, but without question, I find In the Shadows to be their most creative. The sophomore is the first I'll turn to when nostalgia summons, but this felt far more unique to me in 1993 than Oath did in 1984.

A statement that would likely generate some dissent among various acquaintances who have argued with me that this simply sounds like another King Diamond solo record, but I have to disagree. Apart from the fact the two groups are inexorably linked due to Kim's falsetto shrieking and thematic similarities, I have long found the playing of the Shermann/Denner configuration quite different than Andy LaRocque. These guys had a more workmanlike unity to their playing, where Andy's more like a one man exhibition falling somewhere between Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen, regardless of whoever is backing him up. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy all three of these legends (and Mike Wead to boot), and they could easily cover for one another if the need arose; but while there was obviously some influence from the old Fate carried forth into the King Diamond legacy and then back again, it's definitely the rhythm guitars that make all the difference discerning between the two...that and the fact that this particular disc reached a new benchmark in production quality that even renders masterworks like Abigail and The Eye somewhat unwashed (though I wouldn't trade the atmosphere inherent to those recordings for the world).

But In the Shadows has an atmosphere of its own. The record is loaded with these incredibly interesting, eerie and slower lurching riff progressions that are remarkably well-conceived, the sort of planning you're just too rarely going to find in a younger or 'throwback' band more concerned with copying pre-existing patterns of chords and mutes and then juggling them around like lottery balls. Granted, these unique twists did exist on the first two Fate outings, but to a lesser extent, not as fully fleshed out. Fear not: there are still numerous bursts of intense, melodic speed/heavy metal here as found in "Egypt", the spiritual stepchild to "Curse of the Pharaohs". Hank and Michael can certainly eviscerate a fretboard, but without exception, it's the moodier and measured picking patterns on this album that truly excel and stand to memory. By 1993, when many groups had dissembled or were stylistically shifting towards the status quo, Mercyful Fate was polishing and innovating its own brand into crystalline clarity and ear-carving catchiness. And it's not simply limited to the rhythms...the leads and melodies here are spectral, pristine, and just as important as their surroundings, and you also feel a tasteful amount of blues and 70s hard rock inspiration over the entire album.

What's more, the musical decisions here really seem to fit the individual tales of specters, seasons, shadows and other introspective gloom that dominate the lyrics. Unlike King Diamond records, which are more or less metallic-orchestrated novellas following an internal narrative, these read like short stories, though often also from the first-person perspective. Petersen shines throughout, engaging in quite a lot of his mid range to balance off against the shrieks and grooves in cuts like "The Bell Witch" and "The Old Oak", with a few of those blissful, ghostly lower falsettos emphasized with an additional whisper track. By this point, the King might be considered a master composer by any standard, so it's not unexpected that he can so carefully lay down each line, an author aware of every phrase before he dips his pen in the inkwell. The synths strewn across the songs are generally tasteful and supportive, occasionally reminding me of their use on The Eye, especially in the instrumental "Room of Golden Air" which honestly is the one tune that sounds like a leftover from that period. Acoustics are likewise sparse, used only in brief segments (like the intro to "Egypt"), it's ultimately those uncanny and morbid mid-paced rhythm guitars that drive so much of this experience.

Morten Nielsen's beats, while simplistic and rock-oriented rather than intense, have this great mix with just the right amount of resonant to the snares and kicks. The one component lacking for me here is the bass playing, which seems really subdued, and not one of Timi Hansen's finer performances alongside the King. I mean, this is a very airy, eloquent mix, like a cold moonlit night with only a few clouds; so a booming or buzzy bass tone might prove distracting, but the volume is such that it only hovers below the rhythm guitar and I don't pick out a lot of interesting or inspired grooves and fills, with a few exceptions like "A Gruesome Time" where the instrument shines a little more than usual. Otherwise, In the Shadows just sounds so timeless and tremendous that I would hardly change a bloody note. Even the 1993 rendition of "Return of the Vampire" sounds dramatically improved thanks to its production...would've been better as a pure bonus track, since it seems mildly redundant, yet in keeping with the various 'sequels' on the album like "Is That You, Melissa" or "Egypt", it makes some sense and is thankfully tacked on as the finale.

Mercyful Fate had such a classy comeback here that it's hard to imagine any long time fans not enjoying it, beyond those easily marginalized louts who seem to joy in clinging to some proscribed period of a band's work and then automatically rejecting everything exterior to that phase. In the Shadows is intelligent, it's intricate, and it's thoroughly innovative despite such a strict adherence to the band's lyrical aesthetics and traditional 80s style. With the exception of "Room of Golden Air" and "Return of the Vampire", it's quite coherent without any of the tunes sounding quite the same, and it's even got that captivating cover image which broaches a number of the album's subjects. Perhaps most impressive, at least to me personally, is that this is one of those rarities which seems to improve with age, despite its minor flaws. I enjoyed this more in 2003 than 1993, and now in 2013 that trend continues, to be reflected in my rating. I simply can't imagine spending a Halloween without throwing this on the deck at least once. I know, the same could be said for anything King put out in the 80s with either vehicle, most of which is mandatory, but In the Shadows is absolutely one of those uncommon gems of that earlier 90s period not to involve death or black metal. If I find myself in the mood for hellfire, leather and burning witch-skin, Don't Break the Oath would still be the defacto Fate disc due to its ferocity and importance, but this is such a great record to kick back to on an autumn New England night with a seasonal brew, to just watch the leaves drift or wallow in the slowly encroaching cold.

Tagged with 1993, Autothrall, heavy metal, Mercyful Fate, Metal Blade Records

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wiegedood - De doden hebben het goed II

By Matt Hinch. Now when Belgium’s Wiegedood burst onto the scene in 2015 with De Dodden Hebben Het Goed there was lots of talk about their name. Usually in jest. I was guilty of this. But despite what it looks like it actually translates to “death in the cradle”, commonly referred to as SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Pretty painful times.
By Matt Hinch.


Now when Belgium’s Wiegedood burst onto the scene in 2015 with De doden hebben het goed there was lots of talk about their name. Usually in jest. I was guilty of this. But despite what it looks like it actually translates to “death in the cradle”, commonly referred to as SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Pretty painful times. And it was a painful album of atmospheric black metal that did a pretty good job of blowing minds away. A few months shy of two years later, they’re back with De doden hebben het goed II and blew my mind all over again.

If you don’t know, Wiegedood is made up of Oathbreaker’s Wim on drums and Gilles on guitar, with Amenra’s Levy on vocals and guitar. (FWIW, the members have also done time in Hessian and Rise and Fall, among a host of others.) This time out the trio have dialed back the atmosphere a little but dialed up the aggression. Most of the time their fury strips flesh from bone. Not all the time, however.

Photos by Webzine Chuul.

The title track lets off the gas some. Levy still screams with a wet, throaty rasp but at the song’s beginning it’s over a haunting tone from what sounds like a melodica(?) before moving into a black metal slot more sonically occupied by a band like Burzum; measured pace, atmosphere and a deep chanting vocal character.

Elsewhere the trio put forth a dynamic and atmospheric take on black metal that never lets you think it’s anything but. Even when “Cataract” starts melodic and morose before launching back into a scorched earth policy. There’s no doubt it’s black metal. And terribly good black metal at that. “Smeekbede” pulls in a little of that grandiose/Behemoth feel while drilling through your breast plate and casting your soul out while tremolos dance in the moonlight, among other things over its dynamic six-plus minutes.

Photo by Webzine Chuul.

As good as those tracks are, and they’re really good, they’re nothing compared to “Ontzeilling”. Pardon my French but it’s fucking amazing. Here’s where you can really feel they doubled down on the fury. From the get-go it’s full on, blasting, with off-the-rails cathartic vocals but around the three minute mark the riff hits. Oh! That riff! It will stop you in your tracks. It’s not just frenetic tremolos. It’s shredding. Mindblowing shred but firmly within the black metal oeuvre. Now, it’s the kind of speed and aggression that one finds in death metal - and the urge to circle headband is fierce - but the picture it conjures is not of gore but a landscape of darkness racing below as you soar towards some unseen point with all possible urgency. It’s almost too much to handle.

De doden hebben het goed II is marvelous. “Traditional” black metal can get flat and tedious if you let it. But bands like Wiegedood (and Winterfylleth) are able to colour the darkness in subtle ways that lift their music up from the horde to a position of power and note. Then grab you by the throat and take off. They’re able to captivate the listener without sacrificing pure, unadulterated ferocity.

Now please excuse me while I air guitar to “Ontzeilling” like a fool while screaming into the void (as Levy does at the end of the album). There’s demons to be unleashed.

Tagged with 2017, black metal, Matt Hinch, Wiegedood

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Ominous Circle - Appalling Ascension

By Nate Garrett. Before I ever heard a note of music from rising, unidentified Portugal death metal collective The Ominous Circle, I saw their promo photos. The band’s aesthetic is essentially the overlap section of a Venn Diagram composed of Portal (frightening shrouds masking their possibly disfigured/monstrous faces) and Hooded Menace
By Nate Garrett.

Cover art by Davthvs.

Before I ever heard a note of music from rising, unidentified Portugal death metal collective The Ominous Circle, I saw their promo photos. The band’s aesthetic is essentially the overlap section of a Venn Diagram composed of Portal (frightening shrouds masking their possibly disfigured/monstrous faces) and Hooded Menace (leather jackets, an unspoken vibe that they can and will kick your ass). The aforementioned bands are two of my favorites in the genre, so I was already sold. That being said, you can’t always judge a book (or band) by its cover. In this instance, however, my preconceived expectations happened to be accurate. On their debut album Appalling Ascension, The Ominous Circle play vicious, genre-bending death metal that is somewhere in the realm of a less frenzied Portal or a more chaotic Hooded Menace, with plenty of their own unique brand of evil interwoven throughout.

The album begins with the lengthy intro "Heart Girt with a Serpent". This track consists of otherworldly chants and howls set to a background of nasty feedback and droning guitars. While this is a powerful approach to setting the mood for the oncoming storm, this intro could stand to be more concise. Trust me when I say that it’s sometimes tricky as an artist to find the balance between propagating a vibe and keeping the subject engaged, and I’m not against this sort of thing. It could just stand to benefit from being shorter.

The first actual song, "From Endless Chasms", blasts furiously out of the gate with a straightforward death metal assault. The lead vocal is comprised of traditional but notably aggressive low-end to low-mid roars and growls. This vocal approach always fits the fluid nature of the music, which encompasses a plethora of closely related styles over the course of the album. The band also experiments with several ancillary vocal approaches, including dual-tracked and gang vocals. Historically speaking, these methods run the risk of producing distracting or even corny results, but The Ominous Circle use them to great effect. When the secondary vocal enters, the more high-end shrieks complement the lead vocal, and make the entire experience even more horrific.

Photos by Daniel Sampaio.

The guitar work is truly special, that much is evident. Amongst the chaos of blast beats, a simple dirge is established, and it becomes an infectious hook the likes of which is lacking in the majority of the genre. This hook transforms into a triumphantly evil passage of guitar harmonies. This section delivers tragedy amidst the horror, providing an emotive quality also rarely present in music this crushing. All this glorious guitar work eventually collapses back into sheer madness. As the song concludes, the lead guitar hook returns and it’s clear we’re dealing with something remarkable. This opener is a revealing cross-section of the rest of the album, and among other things, it establishes the fact that The Ominous Circle excel in the songwriting department. Though this music is as savage as it gets, it is not lacking in catchiness and natural flow.

Up next is "Poison Fumes". Here the band showcase just how good they are at slowing things down. Rather than focusing on grinding and blasting, this song draws its strength from a primal, tribal source. The space between notes allows the vocals to shine. I’ve always preferred death metal singers that sound more monster than man. I prefer to hear noises that sound like they’re coming from something that must be locked in a basement between takes rather than a guy delivering a standard performance, and this fits the bill. He sounds violently fucking pissed off. So does the rest of the band. Sections of this song even dabble in what could pass for beatdown hardcore, but only the furthest reaches of the evil end of the spectrum. Enter the aforementioned gang vocals. Rather than coming across like some sort of wannabe NYHC street crew, these guys sound like the most initiated sect of a cult, attempting to summon some ancient Lovecraftian horror in a dripping cavern. The guitar solo on this track introduces us to some stunning skills reminiscent of Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth. Like Trey himself, the lead guitar player’s performance writhes with shrieks, squeals, and shredding atonal runs, but also plenty of moments that are memorable and downright catchy. This is no easy feat for any guitarist, and it is on full display not only on this song but the entire album.

Photos by Daniel Sampaio.

Track four is a tune entitled "Ateh Gibor Le-olam Adonai" (plug this into Google if you want to devise your own theory about the significance of that title). This is another interlude/intro type track, a dirge equal parts mournful and terrifying. The drummer relies on his massive floor tom accents, a technique he utilizes with great success throughout the album. To me, this track serves as an intro for the next song, but I understand why it is a separate track. I enjoy the cultivation of dread and menace, but some listeners may prefer to cut to the chase. Granted, at under 3:00 this interlude is more concise and purposeful than the intro to the album. This leads us to "A Gray Outcast", possibly my favorite track on the album (though "Poison Fumes" is another contender). The song opens with blasting drums, and light speed riffs that seem to be more clear in the mix than in previous tracks.

On that note, I’ll take this opportunity to address my only legitimate gripe with the album, the occasional misguided production choices. This drummer should be proud of his incredible performance, don’t get me wrong, but there are times when the drums are so prominent in the mix that they mask what the guitars are doing. Admittedly, I’m partial to guitars, and this issue seems to gradually correct itself over the course of the album. Part of it could also be the low tuning of the guitars, as the lower and faster the riffs, the harder they are to hear. In this particular case and later in the album, the faster riffs are more in the treble range, which seems to work better within the context of the mix. None of this is enough to detract much from the album.

Moving on, the majority of this song consists of death metal by way of lumbering sludge. These riffs wouldn’t be totally out of place on an Eyehategod album. Imagine Morbid Angel at their slimiest experimenting with the New Orleans sound. The vocals are particularly brutal, and seem to be a bit more up front in the mix - an intimidating approach. One of my favorite moments on the album comes when the music drops out and the vocals sustain, fully exposing the singer’s Portuguese accent. This summons nostalgia of listening to Sepultura as a youth, and the fist-clenching intensity that Max’s voice evoked. It has become even more apparent at this point that the band combines many elements of heavy/extreme music, but their approach is distinct and makes sense. The Ominous Circle’s identity is fully established.

Photos by Daniel Sampaio.

Track six, "to En", picks up the pace. The intro flirts with D-beat over a pummeling undercurrent of double bass. Eventually it explodes into full blown D-beat verses alternating with a pummeling, floor-tom-accentuated slow section. Again, the band expertly and seamlessly utilizes both lightning-fast and funereal paces. Just when I thought this album had it all, the singer unleashes his first and only Celtic Frost-style “AGH” to welcome perhaps the most pummeling section of the album. This standout song is concluded after another masterfully morbid guitar solo. The only flaw in this song is a moment when a single guitar, promptly harmonized by a second guitar, furiously introduce a section only to be overshadowed by the hi-hat. I must cry foul on this. No one wants to listen to hi-hat over guitar, biased or not. As with similar issues before, it’s not a grievous enough infraction to ruin the song by any means, but someone should have put their foot down on this.

"As The Worm Descends" is as apt a title as any on the album. This song fades in - yet another example of the band finding ways to make every single song special - culminating in a primitive groove. The bass and kick drum are locked inseparably under the terrifying swarm of guitars. Later in the song, my favorite trick in the drummer’s arsenal returns: the familiar dual floor tom explosions. The guitar solo on this track strays from the beaten path, with the introduction of a wah pedal. As if things weren’t chaotic enough, The Ominous Circle continues to raise the bar. They don’t stop upping the stakes on the album closer. "Consecrating His Mark" is a culmination of everything appealing (or appalling) about this album, that somehow manages to introduce even more insanity. This 10-minute odyssey is the perfect way to end such an epic album.

Appalling Ascension is almost a perfect album. It would be, if it weren’t for a couple of preventable missteps on the production side. This is a matter of taste of course, and just to be clear, this album is still damn close to being flawless. It will haunt listeners with its stunning balance of unpredictability and familiarity; chaos and cohesion; blending of styles and strong sense of identity. The band lives on the edge of the line of “too much,” both in their aesthetic and music, but they never cross that line. This results in a constantly maxed-out threshold of all things bad ass. The Ominous Circle is something special, and Appalling Ascension is as strong a debut as any band could ever hope to have.

(One note about the production: this review is based on a high-quality Bandcamp download of the album, as the vinyl is not yet available. If the issues I have with the mix are not present on the vinyl, I will gladly retract them.)


Nate is Spirit Adrift, and plays guitar in Gatecreeper.
Tagged with 20 Buck Spin, 2017, black metal, death metal, Nate Garret, The Ominous Circle

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ordos - House of the Dead

By Calen Henry. Based on the spooky cover art, a foreboding mansion in front of a blood moon, issuing a river of lava, Ordos’ House of the Dead looks like it could house almost any metal sound. Thankfully Ordos sound like groovier Monolord meets Beastwars with a dash of Ghost. Trust Sweden, the land of Monolord, Salem's Pot, and Vokonis to deliver your stoner doom.
By Calen Henry.


Based on the spooky cover art, a foreboding mansion in front of a blood moon, issuing a river of lava, Ordos’ House of the Dead looks like it could house almost any metal sound. Thankfully Ordos sound like groovier Monolord meets Beastwars with a dash of Ghost. Trust Sweden, the land of Monolord, Salem's Pot, and Vokonis to deliver your stoner doom.

Firmly rooted in riff worship though they are, Ordos' greatest strength is variety. Stoner doom lives and dies by the riff, but can often simply be a band murdering said riff with the fuzz turned up to 11, like Sabbath from hell. It takes a special band (Monolord) to make that no frills approach work long term. Ordos have the riffs and the chops for it but they're thankfully not happy with just killer riffs.

It's almost like they came up with the aesthetic for the group then crammed in whatever music they thought was necessary to make it awesome. House of the Dead is, unsurprisingly steeped in the occult with tracks like "Satan Venit" and "The Witch" and, musically, everything supports the spooky vibe they've got going on.

The vocals are of particular note and range from throat singing through spooky horror movie narration, Matt Pike/Hyde inspired howls, and straightforward bluesey singing. Metal vocals sometimes come off as an afterthought, simply added because that’s what you do to complete your band. Ordos’ excellent vocalist forms an integral part of the sound and helps elevate them to something really special.

The instruments complements the vocal changes extremely well morphing effortlessly from thundering grooves into smooth extended leads. The riffs and rhythms are particularly excellent. They never stray too far from stoner doom expectations but never fall into total Sleep worship.

The magic is that it all holds together and never meanders. The relatively short 42 minute runtime helps that too. I'm telling you now, Ordos are the next Monolord. They're going to be big. Get this album.

Tagged with 2017, Calen Henry, Ordos, rock, stoner metal

Friday, February 3, 2017

Old and new Blood: Scum - Garden of Shadows / Setentia - Darkness Transcend

By Steven Leslie. Who doesn’t love Finnish death metal? From Amorphis to Demilich and everywhere between, Finland has produced some world-class death metal bands despite rarely getting the same level of credit their Swedish counterparts receive. Scum is one of those unheralded bands from the early Finnish scene
By Steven Leslie.


Who doesn’t love Finnish death metal? From Amorphis to Demilich and everywhere between, Finland has produced some world-class death metal bands despite rarely getting the same level of credit their Swedish counterparts receive. Scum is one of those unheralded bands from the early Finnish scene who did manage to release a couple of solid full-lengths between 1994-95, before seemingly dropping off the face of the planet. Now, 20 years later, their third full-length Garden of Shadows has finally been released through Blood Music. Don’t be fooled by the timeframe though, this is not some has-been band coming back after years away from the scene to try and cash in on some underground nostalgia. No, this album was actually recorded 1996 and is just seeing the light of day.

Kudos go to Blood Music for recognizing that this little gem deserved to be released, even if it was a few decades late. Falling on the more melodic side of the spectrum, Garden of Shadows offers forty odd minutes of classic sounding death metal. The focus here is not on brutality or speed, but on creating striped down catchy songs that will embed themselves deep into your limbic system. Despite the lack of tempo variation, most songs stick to a doomy mid-pace cadence, there are enough quality riffs and memorable moments to ensure that you won’t get bored. Tying the album together is a somber, almost gothic overall vibe, which fits the music perfectly and helps it transcend the technical elements. For example, while the riffs and solos are excellent throughout, the rhythm section is quite plain and offers very few surprises, but do not detract significantly from the overall experience, as the emotional power over the music outshines any performance deficits. Overall, Garden of Shadows is a memorable slice of death metal history that any fan of early death metal will be happy to sink their teeth into.


Artwork by Roger Moore

Who doesn’t love New Zealand death metal? Okay, maybe it doesn’t have the history of Finland or Sweden, but come on, Ulcerate alone makes up for all of that right? Ulcerate is in fact a great place to start with this six-piece wrecking crew, as the band have been labeled as Ulcerate clones by some of their more vocal detractors (as if having more Ulcerate would be a bad thing). While there is certainly some crossover, especially in the angular, bludgeoning riffs they create, there are also some areas where the band diverge.

First, and most significantly, Setentia aren’t afraid to inject a little more melody into their songs. It’s this melodic element that make their quite technical riffs really stand out from the pack and allow the songs a unique character many of their modern death metal compatriots lack. Even with the extra focus on melody, they never sacrifice any of the suffocating atmosphere that makes this kind of death metal so powerful. Setentia excel at striking a balance between atmosphere, complexity and brutality, and Darkness Transcend is all the better for it.

They also aren’t afraid to let their music breathe a little bit, which allow those crushingly dense moments they share with Ulcerate to do even more damage. It’s akin getting your head out of the water just long enough for you to think you can get a breath, before another wave slams you back down with a lung-full of water as you are submerged back into your watery grave. If I have one complaint about the album, it would be the overly triggered/replaced sounding drums, which is an all too common problem in modern death metal. Despite the issue I have with the drum sound, Hugo Gravelle’s performance behind the kit is top notch, providing a rock solid backbone for the music to flow around. With Darkness Transcend Setentia have given New Zealand’s favorite sons a run for their money and established themselves as a band to watch in the pantheon of modern death metal.


[Today, Friday the 3th, Bandcamp will donate 100% of their share of any purchase you make to the American Civil Liberties Union. Additionally Blood Music will donate their share of all digital downloads purchased to ACLU, Doctors Without Borders, and No One Left Behind]
Tagged with 2016, Blood Music, death metal, free download, progressive death metal, Scum, Setentia, Steven Leslie