Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Root - Hell Symphony

By Andy Curtis-Brignell. Root are one of those bands that never quite seem to get their due. As part of the preternaturally influential but still obscure crop of early Eastern European black/death bands with Master’s Hammer and KAT, the Czech act have their die-hard fans, but in my experience they primarily focus on the band’s debut album Zjeveni and Hell Symphony’s follow-up The Temple in the Underworld
By Andy Curtis-Brignell.


Root are one of those bands that never quite seem to get their due. As part of the preternaturally influential but still obscure crop of early Eastern European black/death bands with Master’s Hammer and KAT, the Czech act have their die-hard fans, but in my experience they primarily focus on the band’s debut album Zjeveni and Hell Symphony’s follow-up The Temple in the Underworld, being the two albums closest to the Venom/Hellhammer/Bathory template. However Root, despite 30+ years of existence, have never made a true misstep and, bucking the trend that saw most 80s survivors churn out either tedious epic metal or AOR crud (hi Metallica) their more recent work was amongst their most creatively fertile - toe to toe, Black Seal and The Book wipe the floor with their late 90s/early 2000s competition.

But this isn’t a career retrospective - I’m here to write about my favourite Root album, Hell Symphony. I could start by talking about how comparatively polished the production is, or how excellently the central concept (a form of sonic grimoire, each song dealing with a particular demon) is executed. Instead, I want to look briefly at how astonishingly varied this album is. Ranging from technically stunning thrash to creeping, chugging death metal via the sonic abjection of early black metal, Hell Symphony is rounded off with a touch of classical clean guitar and the inimitable operatic ‘Attila Csihar sings Verdi’ vocals of band leader Big Boss, Hell Symphony covers more ground in its spare 41 minutes than most bands do in their entire careers, without ever feeling contrived. Indeed, the album as a whole gives the impression of being streamlined and produced with a supernatural level of restraint and economy - dynamically this is one of the most interesting metal records of all time, with nothing ever feeling too saturated or overblown whilst maintaining a consistently high level of engagement and excitement. This relationship between the albums brevity and its dynamic content also keeps the album feeling curiously unresolved, as if it could loop endlessly around some ancient darkened grotto until the demons conjured within are ready to rise. Hell Symphony is exactly that - an orchestrated piece designed to show the listener around the band’s demonic weltanschauung.

However the concept never overtakes the execution, and whilst the songs benefit from context they also shine individually, "Belial" and "Loki" being particular highlights. There’s an unexpected accessibility to Hell Symphony that belies the overtly dark and satanic imagery and concept, not to mention the band’s relative obscurity. The thundering drums and grooves remind me more of Beneath the Remains era Sepultura than anything being put out by black metal acts at the time, whilst the intertwining guitar melodies and ripping thrash sections resemble nothing less than some kind of Mercyful Fate/RTL-era Metallica collaboration, albeit with vocals from a drunken, phantasm-beset Pavarotti as opposed to some generic leather-clad showman.

There’s a fundamental sincerity to Hell Symphony that I think may be one of the reasons why it has failed to see mainstream success. There are no pyrotechnics to their diabolism, and there’s no sensationalism in their performance. Putting aside the impressive guitar licks and how easy it is to bang your head to it, there’s an almost indefinable humility to the record that makes you feel as though the band aren't simply paying lip service to any aspect of their performance. They believe, so we believe. I think that might be the highest compliment I’m able to pay to such an interesting, varied, dynamic but ultimately restrained piece of metal art.

Tagged with 1991, Andy Curtis-Brignell, black metal, epic heavy metal, Eternal Death, Root

Monday, March 27, 2017

Vagrond - Regret

By Hera Vidal. Sound expansion in black metal usually leads to a polarizing reaction. On one hand, you have people who applaud bands who use different tonalities and incorporate them into their music. On the other hand, you have people who
By Hera Vidal.


Sound expansion in black metal usually leads to a polarizing reaction. On one hand, you have people who applaud bands who use different tonalities and incorporate them into their music. On the other hand, you have people who make it a point in their lives to not listen to anything outside of their comfort zone or choose to comment on how certain subgenres shouldn’t change. I am in the sound expansion camp, and I fully believe black metal will continue to evolve, both in sound and in lyrical content.

Will I regret this when I reach the end?
No satisfaction, it’s all just pretend
I need to find it before it’s too late
I carry this fear an unbearable weight

Regret is an album filled with a woe and melancholy that seems to imprint onto the listener. There is also something quite simplistic about the music, especially given their influences. Black metal is there, but they also have a prominent shoegaze sound and a bit of progressive metal going on. These elements give the album some character and seek to experiment rather than stay in the same repetitive state. However, it is a bit slow in the beginning and it doesn’t start to pick up until the third track, “Inertia”. Here, things start to change around the 2:00 mark, and it becomes an explosion of color and warmth. There is this guitar riff that launches into a vibrato and the sound it makes catches your attention. This hits you when you least expect it and you have to wonder why they made that choice. That’s when you realize that the progressive metal bit comes late into the album, and you can only keep listening as you try to pick up your jaw from the floor.

For the most part, there is a criteria for creating the black metal sound: the dissonance, the high-pitch screaming, blast beats, and passages of instrumental music. However, this album lacks the dissonance and the high-pitch screaming usually seen in most black metal. It sounds like Vagrond took out important parts of the black metal sound, injected shoegaze-like vocals, progressive metal guitar tonalities, and deconstructed it in its entirety. It’s striking, and it’s a combination I want to see more of in the future. My only concern is that the album feels too short, despite its tracks’ lengths; however, I do understand that extending the playing time would make the album stale.

All in all, Regret is a blueprint to create new sounds within a genre that has become saturated over time, and I do hope that this blueprint only helps expand the typical black metal sound. Why try to stop the inevitable in a subgenre where lo-fi distortions are seem as an aesthetic choice rather than a criteria? Vagrond has potential and, despite their substantial releases, I do hope they continue to experiment with their sound.

Tagged with 2014, ambient, black metal, free download, Hera Vidal, Vagrond

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pallbearer - Heartless

By Calen Henry. Pallbearer's first two albums are modern doom classics so expectations are high for Heartless. By splitting the the difference between Sorrow and Extinction and Foundations of Burden and confidently experimenting over top of their trademark mournful but hopeful epic melodic doom, they've created their finest record yet. Not only does it not disappoint
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Michael Lierly.

Pallbearer's first two albums are modern doom classics so expectations are high for Heartless. By splitting the the difference between Sorrow and Extinction and Foundations of Burden and confidently experimenting over top of their trademark mournful but hopeful epic melodic doom, they've created their finest record yet. Not only does it not disappoint, it's almost incomprehensibly good.

Sorrow and Extinction was, especially in retrospect, a remarkably restrained record showcasing the band's expert melodic riffs above all else. The vocals were a bit timid but rounded out the band's now well established sound. The warm crush was wrapped in equally warm and dynamic production giving the band a unique voice in contemporary metal, sounding vintage but timeless.

Foundations of Burden stuck to the core musical formula the band developed on their debut, but developed their sound with more lush arrangements. Their massive riffs were fed through walls of guitar tracks and combined with harmonized vocals that were a marked improvement on the debut, adding a depth to the music that felt like a natural follow-up to Sorrow and Extinction.

Improved though the music was, the production was markedly different than the debut opting for a much more polished and modern sound. The overall sound was less dynamic and the drums, in particular, had a very "studio" sound. It diminished the overall impact of the album somewhat but certainly didn't majorly detract from the album.

Photos by François Carl Duguay.

Heartless brings back the production of Sorrow and Extinction. The drums are huge, the whole mix is wide open and the guitars are warm and fuzzy. Musically things are more restrained than Foundations of Burden. There are layered guitar parts but almost always multiple distinct melodic lines not a layered wall of sound. The vocals are the strongest they've ever been, thrown right up front and leading the band in many cases.

It's not simply a "mashup" of the first two albums. The band confidently expands many facets of their established sound. In addition to the trademark legato guitar lines, the band brings their heaviest riffs yet. There are some riffs so heavy and melodic that they wouldn't be out of place on a Jesu record. The heavier parts contrast with a new exploration of face-melting solos reminiscent of Mastodon's Brent Hinds' as well as some softer synth-supported passages. These new sounds are worked right in with the old giving a stylistic breadth to the songs that, while not lacking before, brings a new kind of magic to the band's sound.

The vocals are also a mix of old and new. Heartless has some of the absolute best harmonized vocals the band has ever done. They're mixed with some entirely new techniques for the band ranging from the processed ethereal vocals in the first half of "Dancing in Madness" to some shout-singing supporting some of the heavier parts of the second half, and even some gang vocals in "Cruel Road". Like the guitar approach, though, these vocals styles are expertly weaved together ebbing and flowing with the rest of the band.

Though an historical analysis and list of improvements goes a long way to make the case that this is far and away the best Pallbearer record, it all comes together, even more than their previous albums, to create a palpable sense of emotion that cannot be completely communicated in a review. Both intimate and awe inspiring, Heartless connects with the listener in a way many albums, especially metal albums, do not. On my fourth or fifth listen it was as though a switch flipped and I went from simply enjoying the record to really connecting with it; not the lyrics, but the music as a whole. A bit like the feeling when Sorrow and Extinction’s opener "Foreigner" transitions from the the acoustic intro into the huge distorted riff, but sustained over the entirety of the album. It's something that Pallbearer always almost instilled for me, but never completely until Heartless.

Tagged with 2017, Calen Henry, doom metal, François Carl Duguay, Pallbearer, Profound Lore Records

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jute Gyte - Perdurance

By Bryan Camphire. The music of Adam Kalmbach, under his Jute Gyte moniker, exists at the outer regions of that which is far out in heavy metal. The music paints harmonies beyond the capacity of modern tempered western instruments by implementing the use of ‘just intonation’ guitars.
By Bryan Camphire.


The music of Adam Kalmbach, under his Jute Gyte moniker, exists at the outer regions of that which is far out in heavy metal. The music paints harmonies beyond the capacity of modern tempered western instruments by implementing the use of ‘just intonation’ guitars. A guitar designed for ‘just intonation’ is one with the frets rearranged at different intervals than those of a standard guitar, resulting in a melodic matrix entirely apart from do re mi fa so la ti do. As if this unique harmonic system was not enough to make matters unpredictable, Jute Gyte informs listeners in the first line of the notes to Perdurance that, “several tracks on this album feature multiple simultaneous tempi”. That is one way of saying, listen to this music at your own risk if you use a pacemaker.

This is not to say that Jute Gyte’s music is without precedent. In the notes to Perdurance, influences of particular metal bands are name checked, specifically, Inquisition, Grief, and Eyehategod. One can also hear similarities in Perdurance to avant-leaning metal projects like Thantifaxath and De Magia Veterum, as well as in the ritual industrial of Murmuüre and Wold. The notes to this record go on to talk about the music in much greater technical depth, cite inspiration from classical music and display the record’s literary influences on its sleeve. This is not a band about which one can say they need no introduction.

Perdurance, to be sure, is comprised of heady stuff. It is, however, important to note that, for all its use of carefully considered philosophies, Perdurance is also a record made with a lot of feeling. This man spends seemingly every waking hour he has making this music, and the passion that is poured into its inception definitely comes through the speakers as Perdurance coughs forth its chaotic hymns. The guitar playing on this release is so visionary and unique, it is enough to make you think you’re hearing colors.

The project is staggeringly prolific; and yet, the attention to detail contained within the releases, generally speaking, makes them feel anything but dashed off. Metal Archives lists no fewer than twenty-six full-lengths by Jute Gyte in the last decade, in addition to various splits and EPs. To say that this is the work of an inspired artist would be an understatement. It is the work of a man possessed. The music, in turn, carries an absolutely maniacal intensity.

Still, for all of its spiraling intensity, I have to say that my favorite moments are when the breakneck tempi lay off the pressure a bit; these moments - such as the riff beginning at the 5:25 minute mark of the tune "Like a Woodcutter Sawing His Hands" - feel like brief respites in between bouts of forced ingestion water torture. As one can well imagine, the record makes for a cacophonous listen. For those of us not yet hooked up to life support machines, Perdurance is also a very rewarding listen.


[Check out Bryan's playing in Bloody Panda and Traducer]
Tagged with 2016, ambient, Bryan Camphire, experimental black metal, free download, Jute Gyte, noise

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dodecahedron - Kwintessens

By Justin C. I really liked Dodecahedron's debut album, although I found it to be a bit uneven at times. Some tracks stretched a bit too long without a tight enough focus, particularly in the first half of the album. That said, the final three tracks
By Justin C.

Cover art by M. Eikenaar.

I really liked Dodecahedron's debut album, although I found it to be a bit uneven at times. Some tracks stretched a bit too long without a tight enough focus, particularly in the first half of the album. That said, the final three tracks of that album, "View from Hverfell I-III," more than made up for any earlier dalliances and truly showed what this band could do. If you haven't listened to them, do that now. Click that link up there. I'll wait for you.

Now back to the new album, Kwintessens. I poked around on the interwebs a little to see if the band talked about the subject matter of the lyrics at all (more on that to come), but what I did find is that EVERY review you'll read will either compare them directly to Deathspell Omega or go out of its way to mention that you shouldn't make direct comparisons to Deathspell Omega. I'm going to strike the middle ground, because bands like Deathspell Omega and Krallice immediately came to mind as touch points for Dodecahedron. That said, we're talking about a familial resemblance at most. Yes, Dodecahedron make dissonant black metal their home, but you're not getting Paracletus pt. 2 or Years Past Matter revisited. If anything, I find Dodecahedron to have a lower barrier of entry than either DsO or Krallice. This is that rare album that's challenging, but that you can get close to almost immediately.

The album's main tracks give you a tour of the Dungeons & Dragons dice, or more mathematically speaking, the Platonic solids. After the tight, building "Prelude," "Tetrahedron" splatters spidery, dissonant lines all over. But before this track is done, it gives you a glimpse of what sets Dodecahedron apart. The song ends with a stomping, chugging riff that should satisfy anybody's recommended daily allowance of red-meat-and-potatoes heaviness. "Hexahedron" uses a similar bag of tricks, also to great effect. "Dodecahedron" (the song) throws another curve with a chiming, almost ethereal intro, one that persists through the song even when they blast back into fury.

I mentioned lyrics before. I was fortunate enough to get my pre-order of the CD a week early, so I had lyrics on hand. There are some striking turns of phrase here, particularly when it comes to colorful imagery. Sure, there's blackness and "ashen" faces screaming, but "Hexahedron" also gives us an "amethyst mist dissolving all figures," and "Dodecahedron" describes "liquid gold running through my veins." Of course, this is still metal, so "Icosahedron" gets evil-gear metaphoric with this summing up of existence: "During out stay between the grinding wheels of the great design our souls crushed between the teeth." The lyrics remind me a bit of Bosse de Nage in a very general stylistic sense, sometimes reading more like short stories than verse.

The fact that the running time of Kwintessens is 42 minutes compared to Dodecahedron's 53 minutes says a lot. This is a tighter album with the kind of high-concept songwriting the band showed in the "View from Hverfell" tracks I mentioned earlier. There's growth in every aspect here, and it's an energizing listen even as it tests you. I know, I know, we've already heard some b.s. about other black metal albums being "Album of the Year," and yes, it's still too damn early for that crap, but Kwintessens is the strongest contender so far in my book.

Tagged with 2017, avant-garde, black metal, Dodecahedron, Justin C, Season of Mist

Woe - Hope Attrition

By Andy Osborn. I hold Woe in ridiculously high regard: their debut is the absolute pinnacle of USBM. Ferocious, blistering tremolos at the forefront of everything with a burning punk edge is what makes great American Black Metal, and Woe helped define the genre as a whole with that explosive introduction. The follow-ups, with a bit of stylistic wandering and occasional clean singing might
By Andy Osborn.


I hold Woe in ridiculously high regard: their debut is the absolute pinnacle of USBM. Ferocious, blistering tremolos at the forefront of everything with a burning punk edge is what makes great American Black Metal, and Woe helped define the genre as a whole with that explosive introduction. The follow-ups, with a bit of stylistic wandering and occasional clean singing might not have done much to clarify or expand their aggressive, singular sound, but now they’ve returned with a new fiery rage. It seems the lineup changes and sonic meandering are now in the past, as Hope Attrition strives to regain the same furor, suffocating anguish, and pure hatred that made the debut a classic and turned the band into a personal favorite.

The first few minutes flirt with the senses as the band rebuilds, one brick at a time, and each piece is absolutely gorgeous as it's introduced. The buzzy, razor-sharp guitars give way to the painfully devastating pummeling provided by recent recruit Lev Weinstein—undoubtedly the right-coast’s most devastating skinsman, who’s given one of his beefiest productions to date and adds a glorious heavy base to the band. His little cymbal accents and quick fills are the best in the business. Then, with an introductory shriek of “This is a failure!” it’s clear this is a group reborn with fresh passion and intensity.

Chris Grigg, Woe’s visionary, takes a cathartic but demanding approach to everything he touches as he seemingly drains his entire energy with every shout, every riff. My favorite Woe moments have always been those where it’s our main man alone with his guitar, playing his heart out and draining his lungs of everything they contain. A few of those moments are scattered throughout the album and provide some incredible sparks of tension relief.

And the whole package is utterly relentless. “A Distant Epitaph” is the only break from the chaos, a sub-minute acoustic meditation that almost feels required. The rest is a whirlwind of swirling riffs, poisonous atmosphere, and punishing rhythms. I’m not sure the band intended for their horrid creation to be enjoyed with a smile, but it’s impossible for such cathartic anger not to provide a little bit of downright fun, although the lyrics like the cover art paint a much bleaker picture.

With Woe’s new (ridiculously photogenic) lineup they’ve offered up their most fully realized, cohesive album since their debut and by far their best-sounding, courtesy of Sound Spa’s Stephen DeAcutis. The passion, filth, and pure vitriol that USBM demands is all there, and especially given the state of our world in this moment, Hope Attrition is a required listen.


[Please support Woe on their upcoming tours by ordering the album from their Bandcamp. See that buy link above? Just click it, you know you want to. Or go to the Bandcamp page itself for physical releases and awesome merch bundles]
Tagged with 2017, Andy Osborn, black metal, Woe

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Behexen - By The Blessing of Satan

By Andy Curtis-Brignell. The lazy man’s Behexen review goes like this: use the typical ‘raw black metal’ signifiers; talk for a paragraph or so about the so-called ‘Finnish Filth’ movement; mention Beherit; close. Essentially discussion of Behexen, or at least this period of their existence, is typified by their apparent
By Andy Curtis-Brignell.


The lazy man’s Behexen review goes like this: use the typical ‘raw black metal’ signifiers; talk for a paragraph or so about the so-called ‘Finnish Filth’ movement; mention Beherit; close. Essentially discussion of Behexen, or at least this period of their existence, is typified by their apparent ‘regressiveness’ and primitivism. That’s not what I want to talk about.

I’m consistently fascinated by liminal spaces in music, particularly when one can follow a band through their career and find points of flux - moments of uncertainty or experimentation that add a new dimension to music you are apparently familiar with. When we join the band for By the Blessing of Satan, we land squarely in the midst of one of these locus points. The band’s debut album Rituale Satanum from four years earlier, whilst a satisfying piece of work in its own right, is epitomised by a meat-and-potatoes approach to black metal, with very little beyond simple ferocity distinguishing it from the rest of the early 2000s swell of resurgent Euro-BM. This wasn’t helped by a particularly hollow and generic wind-tunnel production job that made it difficult to pinpoint the songwriting chops displayed on its followup.

By contrast, BTBOS has a thick but granular quality to its sound, conjuring visions of vast, sharp boulders rolling over and over you in the bowels of the earth, while Hoath Torog’s white-noise shrieks ceaselessly peak and crash like the waves of some awful sunless sea. Sonically the album appears to have been far more deliberately engineered to highlight the band’s growing talent in terms of dynamics, pacing and melody - because this is a truly melodic album despite its pace and ferocity.

Behexen 2014. Photos by Carmelo Española.

Whilst there are storming numbers such as the opening title track and the raging "Fist of the Satanist" where speed and intensity approaches Antaeus levels of belligerence, the real meat of the album comes in the mid paced numbers such as "Black Metal Baptism". The melodic interplay displayed on this track in particular is astonishing, with an unusually (for black metal, anyway) prominent bass guitar providing both a dense bedrock for the song and a deeply harmonious counterpoint to the yearningly overdriven guitars. "Black Metal Baptism" resonates with deeply felt emotion, which is all the more remarkable when both the title and lyrics seem to evoke a kind of black metal manifesto:
Black metal baptism opened the gates to darkness
and gave me the powers of sorcerers
The sign of black pentagram burned deep in my heart.
Arguably since the work of depressive pioneers such as Strid black metal has aesthetically been torn in two apparently opposed directions: the melancholy and the furious. The greatest acts are, in my opinion, those who can bridge the gap between the two, smelting something new and complex from an overused forge. With "Black Metal Baptism", Behexen reconcile these two concepts beautifully and crucially this is done seamlessly within the context of the album as a whole. By the Blessing of Satan has all the speed, anger and intensity of the most popular Norsecore but with a sense of pathos and depth of feeling that’s often alien to this strand of the genre. Sadly the main influence that seems to have been borrowed from this period of Behexen’s work seems to be an aping of the bands almost romantic fervour for satan-worship (count how many ‘orthodox’ black metal bands sprung up between 2004-6, Ill wait) rather than focusing on the sincere emotion that lay behind it.

After the success of this album and having become key influencers in the genre, the band would travel further down this melodic path with the followup to this album, My Soul for His Glory. Unfortunately the tradeoff seemed to be unequal hereon out, as the highs and lows of BTBOS are normalised into a more anonymous, if more harmonious, whole. By the Blessing of Satan truly then exists in a liminal space - between chaos and order, triumph and sorrow, hatred and love.

Tagged with 2004, Andy Curtis-Brignell, Behexen, black metal, Carmelo Española, Woodcut Records

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Doomed and stoned in Brazil

By Karen A. Mann. I’ll admit that my knowledge of Brazilian metal (and Brazilian music itself) doesn’t extend far beyond the major players, but when Max sent me links to about a dozen current doom bands from there, I was pretty intrigued. After giving them
By Karen A. Mann.

I’ll admit that my knowledge of Brazilian metal (and Brazilian music itself) doesn’t extend far beyond the major players, but when Max sent me links to about a dozen current doom bands from there, I was pretty intrigued. After giving them all a good listen, I was also impressed and with faced with a conundrum. All of them are damn good and really worthy of a review on their own. I did ultimately decide to cull the list down to the five that stood out to me personally. I also tried to get a good mix of styles, as many on the original 12 were heavily in the stoner groove.

I can say this: Belo Horizonte -- home to Sepultura and Sarcofogo -- really must be the capital of Brazilian heavy metal because many of these bands call that city home. Also, I was impressed with the vocalists of all these bands, almost all of whom sing clean and possess some serious pipes.

Art by Cristiano Suarez.

The first band on the list, and the clear standout in many ways is Necro, a young, female-fronted psychedelic doom trio that released two singles in August and September of last year, and their first full-length (Adiante) in December. With clear influences including Budgie, Deep Purple and Wishbone Ash, Necro’s sound featuring multi-part rhythm changes, freak-out guitar solos and the odd Mellotron touch just to chill things out.


Art by T. Witchlover.

In October of 2015, Necro released a split with another band, Witching Altar, (see here and here) which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be currently active (that split was the last thing they have listed on Bandcamp). That’s unfortunate because Witching Altar -- especially on that split -- offers a heady mixture of of Uncle Acid’s trippy melodies and Pentagram’s foreboding gloom, with a little hit of The Hellacopters’ speed and sneer.


Artwork: Lucas Krepa

Hailing from Florianopolis, Muñoz operates pretty firmly in the stoner groove, with bluesy, fat riffs and head-bobbing grooves. Check out their September, 2016, release, Smokestack.



Fallen Idol offers bombastic epic doom in the vein of Candlemass with fist-pumping riffs complemented perfectly by Rodrigo Sitta’s powerful, clean, high voice.


Artwork by Daniel Bretas.

Fans of The Blues Pills and Blood Ceremony will love this witchy, female-fronted band, whose name translates to Dune, Breeze and Flame. Their January, 2016, release features evocative vocals by Anna Martinez, over fuzzy guitars and heavily foreboding keyboards.


If you’d like to check out the other bands on the list:
HellLight - Pesta - Cattarse - Abske Fides
Fuzzly - Ruínas de Sade - Pantanum
Tagged with 2015, 2016, Brisa e Chama, doom metal, Duna, Fallen Idol, free download, Karen A. Mann, Muñoz, necro, psychedelic rock, stoner rock, Witching Altar

Friday, March 10, 2017

Pillorian - Obsidian Arc

By Sean Golyer. For many, Pillorian’s debut will be a place both familiar and new, fraught with some heavy baggage from the past. Understandably, some will color their idea of this band with past work of the members of Pillorian, most notably Haughm and the late Agalloch. Fewer still may even give a pass on this album simply for
By Sean Golyer.

Artwork by Niels Geybels.

For many, Pillorian’s debut will be a place both familiar and new, fraught with some heavy baggage from the past. Understandably, some will color their idea of this band with past work of the members of Pillorian, most notably Haughm and the late Agalloch. Fewer still may even give a pass on this album simply for its storied, drama-filled origin. In some way this scornful view of the band was perhaps not an oversight, as its very namesake means “of, or relating to, scorn and condemnation”, though I’m certain the choice of name is multiplicitous. My aim, however, is to take this album on its own merits and review it as such, independent from these inevitable connotations. I think Obsidian Arc deserves at least that much, as (spoiler) it’s already a standout metal release for 2017.

Make no mistake, this is a Metal album through-and-through. While it certainly contains elements of neo-folk and “dark metal” sprinkled throughout its roughly 50 minute runtime, I don’t think it’s a bold statement to assert Obsidian Arc’s raw, metallic nature. The stripped-down, traditional approach to the arrangement coupled with the speed and ferocity only briefly touched on by Haughm’s previous work is what I find to be immediately gripping about the album. It’s also completely unafraid to develop massive, riffy hooks in tracks such as the doom-like “Archaen Divinity”, the black metal ripper of “Forged Iron Crucible”, or the dark and progressive single “A Stygian Pyre”.

The backbone of this wild and untamed fury is the drumwork of Trevor Matthews. Thunderous and pummeling, it is the hate-filled glue that really brings these tracks together and adds that extra layer of energy and anger in an already mean and nihilistic album. Even Haughm’s vocals, while familiar in tone, have a scathing acidity to their delivery that is refreshing and exciting to hear. The rhythm guitars are pretty meaty and tonally dark for a black metal album, adding to overall the heaviness of the mix. Sparkling acoustic guitars are often subtly layered with the rhythm guitars, peaking out only when they need to add to a folky vibe or smartly allow the song to breath a bit while other instruments drop out for an interlude. The use of this strategy is particularly notable on opener “By the Light of the Black Sun” and “The Vestige of Thorns”. The lead guitar tone used for a few solos and ebow parts throughout are a fun calling card of Haughm’s previous work and will be familiar to many.

But I suppose the real question at play here is: is it actually good and worth your time? Does it surpass these artists’ previous work? That’s a difficult question to answer, and maybe my own cautious apprehension to it is answer enough. But I also think it to be a tad unfair. What I will say is that it is a strong debut worth listening to at least once and is a refreshing take on the “dark metal” genre. I’m certain some of you may feel it’s derivative. Others may think it solid, but not exceeding expectations. All of these are valid in their own right, and I don’t think less of anyone who comes to this conclusion. But for me personally, it scratches an itch that needs to be scratched. Some songs are weaker than others when judged individually, but after multiple listens the album really works well when taken as a whole, as it is likely intended. While I still feel like it may take another album or two to truly find their own voice, Obsidian Arc is not only a solid debut, but likely will remain a strong contender for my favorite albums this year. Time will tell.

Tagged with 2017, black metal, Eisenwald Tonschmiede, Pillorian, Sean Golyer

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Planning for Burial - Below the House

By Justin C. When I first saw the cover for Planning for Burial's new album, Below the House, I immediately said, "That's Pennsylvania." There was probably a brief spike in my blood pressure, maybe the beginnings of a fight-or-flight reaction. I'm probably no different than anyone who grew up in a place where they never felt they belonged and fled as soon as possible
By Justin C.


When I first saw the cover for Planning for Burial's new album, Below the House, I immediately said, "That's Pennsylvania." There was probably a brief spike in my blood pressure, maybe the beginnings of a fight-or-flight reaction. I'm probably no different than anyone who grew up in a place where they never felt they belonged and fled as soon as possible, but the muted color palette and sense of gloom conveyed by that cover art is how most of my childhood memories from Pennsylvania look. Thom Wasluck, the man behind Planning for Burial, moved back to his childhood home to record Below the House, and when asked in an interview at CLRVYNT what moving back to Pennsylvania was like, he said, "Pretty awful. [Laughs]" You can read that interview for more insight into what it was like moving back and recording there, but given that "gloom" finds its way into most genre descriptions of Planning for Burial's work, you'll quickly figure out where you are on the emotional spectrum without the background story.

For our purposes, this is probably more of a metal-adjacent(tm) album review, although it fits in well with The Flenser’s catalog. There's harshness here, and if you were to listen to the opener, "Whiskey and Wine," with its heavy, Jesu-like undercurrent and black metal-like vocals, you might go in expecting a more metal album than what you're actually going to get. Sure, the third track, "Somewhere in the Evening" comes back in with that molten bottom end, and there are some shrieks buried deep in the mix, but the clean vocals on top make this feel like a conflict between listlessness and rage instead of a full-on barn burner.

More than anything, this is often sparse, vulnerable music. "Threadbare" accurately describes the music it contains. The vocals are clean, the music is at times minimal and stark, although there's also a warmth to it, as hard as it may be to pick out at times. There's a bit more fire to Below the House than Planning for Burial's last album, Desideratum, but the heaviness comes from mood, not volume. "Dull Knife, Part 1" might sound like heavier shoegaze or slowcore, but "Part II" is a singular-minded, almost plodding tune that builds so subtly that you might not even notice. The plaintive, repeated line, "Call me back home / calling me back," is damn near heart-breaking, even when additional guest voices join Wasluck.

I found this album difficult to listen to, but not because of rapid-fire time changes or overwhelming dissonances. This music is difficult because it cuts to your core if you let it in, and it taxes you emotionally. As I mentioned up top, I think this album carries a little more weight for me because Wasluck and I share Pennsylvania as the setting of perhaps not the most fun times, but beauty can still come from that. As the only lyrics for "Dull Knife, Part I" say, "This is the place I live / But it's not my home / This is the place I live / My roots don't grow." Get into this gloom and let it change you, and maybe even free you.

Tagged with 2017, Flenser Records, Justin C, Planning for Burial, post-metal, post-rock, shoegaze

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Age of Woe - An Ill Wind Blowing

By Ulla Roschat. Age of Woe is a quite young five piece band from Gothenburg/Sweden. They founded in 2010 and An Ill Wind Blowing is their 2nd full length album. At first listen the album may appear unspectacular, but if you allow it to unfold its active substances to take hold of your brain through several listens, you may also find it magically varied, skull crushing and
By Ulla Roschat

Artwork by Magda Piech.

Age of Woe is a quite young five piece band from Gothenburg/Sweden. They founded in 2010 and An Ill Wind Blowing is their 2nd full length album.

At first listen the album may appear unspectacular, but if you allow it to unfold its active substances to take hold of your brain through several listens, you may also find it magically varied, skull crushing and spine tingling in an unobtrusive, unpretentious and subtle way, wrapped in a smooth mix of crusty HC, Death Metal, Doom and Black Metal.

The riffs are trudgingly heavy as well as they are catchy. The leads are driving as well as they are melodic. Pummeling, propelling drumming, passionate, creaky vocals, distorted, but grooving guitars and well placed word samples … all drenched in downtuned filth and crusty rawness.

In 36 minutes and seven songs Age of Woe conjures the 'Ill wind', tempestuously blowing or mephitically looming, but always evil and destructive. The only moment you could possibly recover your breath would be in the melancholic instrumental "Kiñe Weza Kuruf Konkey", but just for about one and a half minutes, before it gets cut off violently by the next track to destroy all hope for any stable calmness (this is one of the best transitions between two songs, ever).

Although the basic atmosphere is utterly dark and depressive throughout, it is constantly infused and mingled with different moods, be it a somewhat old fashioned occultish horror feel, a more unnerving and abrasive industrial vibe, a slightly disturbing chaos or a melancholic despair.

The term “active substances“ I chose deliberately to evoke associations of drug usage, because the album somehow works like weed. All the moods you can possibly find in the album are in a well measured balance. If you want to focus on one, you can happily do it. You want to get crushed immediately? Turn up the volume, feel the groove, bang your head. You want to feel the creepy, cold fear and despair? Sit down and let it crawl through your ears into your brain. But you can as well just let it all flow and enjoy to get blown away.

The track "Heavy Clouds" is featured on The Wicked Lady Show 134.

Tagged with 2016, Age of Woe, crust punk, death metal, Ulla Roschat

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The cut above: a look back at 2016 part 2

By Bryan Camphire. Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love, the 2016 album by Polish black metal horde Cultes des Ghoules, has five songs and clocks in at one hour and thirty-eight minutes. To refer to this record as epic is no cheap use of hyperbole. The songs are dynamic and feature frequent change ups.
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Mar.A.

Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love, the 2016 album by Polish black metal horde Cultes des Ghoules, has five songs and clocks in at one hour and thirty-eight minutes. To refer to this record as epic is no cheap use of hyperbole. The songs are dynamic and feature frequent change ups. The bass is particularly prominent, and there are even occasional drum and bass breaks, a feature that feels almost more punk rock than it does black metal. This music is raw. The production feels like it is going for as close to a live sound as possible. The effect is to give the feeling of being in the room with this evil coven of sadistic Satanic musicians, witnessing their heresy live as it happens. The singer of this group is known as Mark of the Devil (Is his given name Mark? One wonders... because that would be pretty clever...). To me, he has every bit as much character and originality as Ozzy Osbourne brought to the genre of metal some forty-five years ago. Mark of the Devil cackles, croons, chants, grunts, growls, screams, whispers and sermonizes with extreme gusto. He does his job with a depth and thoroughness the likes of which I haven't heard equaled among other hordes of blasphemers. This man truly sounds like a evangelist for Satan preaching from an altar top adorned with a prostrate virgin oozing blood from every pore. Highly recommended devilry.


Artwork by Trine + Kim Design Studio.

Virus are among the stranger acts making heavy music at present. In fact, their guitar work is predominantly clean, so it is difficult to even categorize the music they make as metal. The devil being in the details, it’s in the group’s sinister use of harmony where the real mischief lies. Put another way, if one were to take the work of Virus transcribed as sheet music and feed it into a synthesizer, no matter what patch one might try to apply (How does this music sound transposed for brass instruments? Or, how might this sound if played on an accordion?), the result would sound much more menacing than most metal music on the market today. This group has been perfecting their craft for decades, and it shows in the strength of their songwriting. This music exists in a delirium entirely of its own.


Cover Art by Raul Gonzalez.

Here we have the genuine article in contemporary American black metal. We take a look at the front cover of this record and we see cold deep blues and blacks everywhere, lightning striking, storms raging, swirling mystical mists, craggy pathways leading downward toward perdition laden with stalactites dripping dreary deathless doom. At the center of all of this is Death Fortress. What secret lies beyond those dark castle walls? How does this horde reign supreme in the realms of the Unyielding? The magic is in the breakdowns. I’m talking about those sections of music where the band plays in half time. The drummer smacks the bell of the ride so hard it sounds like broadswords clashing. The listener pumps her fists and thinks it might just be time to go burn down a church. Listening closely to the tempo changes on this album, one marvels at the rhythm section’s deft balance of tempo changes.

The first track, "Enthroning the Oppressor," goes full tilt for four full minutes of blistering blast beats until that breakdown finally comes in glorious half-time. In the next track, "The Erasure Of Species", Death Fortress seems to sense the lust for blood in the audience, and the breakdown comes forth right at the two minute marker. One can feel the boots stomping along to this deathless march. Then along comes "Mercyless Deluge", and the band careens forth until just one minute and twenty seconds before a riff is played in half time… only to reveal itself as just a fraction of a larger phrase, which speeds up and then slows back down and then speeds back up again, like some unearthly carriage racing around corners driven by mad rabid beasts unyielding in their drive towards the beyond. "Scourge of Aeons", the fourth track, speeds along unremittingly throughout its entire length.

This is where things start to get interesting into the record’s B side. This is where the breakdowns turn into dirges. Track five, "Power Beyond the Stars," plays it’s first minute and a half slowly, really letting the bass come to the fore, and the band just builds and builds from there, upping the tension more and more. "Trail of Graves", the penultimate track, starts fast before devoting its entire last half to an evil menacing dirge. The last track is the record’s title track, clocks in at ten and a half minutes, with drums changing all over the place - which, by the way, is becoming something of a trademark style of Shawn Eldridge, the same drummer of Ruinous, who plays like an undead hellspawn. Get this record already, now that I’ve broken down nearly every breakdown for you. "Enthroning the Oppressor" will never feel so good outside the confines of the unholy Death Fortress.


[Check out Bryan's playing in Bloody Panda and Traducer]
Tagged with 2016, avant-garde metal, avant-garde rock, black metal, Bryan Camphire, Cultes des Ghoules, Dark Essence Records, Death Fortress, Fallen Empire Records, Virus

Friday, March 3, 2017

The cut above: a look back at 2016 part 1

By Bryan Camphire. With Krighsu, Wormed shattered the ceilings of what had been done in brutal death metal. Not since Nourishing the Spoil by Guttural Secrete has a record raised the bar for this extreme subgenre quite so much. I imagine these guys must have eight hour band practices three or four times a week in order to get this tight.
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Phlegeton.

With Krighsu, Wormed shattered the ceilings of what had been done in brutal death metal. Not since Nourishing the Spoil by Guttural Secrete has a record raised the bar for this extreme subgenre quite so much. I imagine these guys must have eight hour band practices three or four times a week in order to get this tight. On top of that, the songs sound like they were made using some William Burroughs style cut-up method. The rate at which the parts change isn’t simply blistering, it can sound downright maddening. The band almost sound like robots reading stock market fluctuations scrolling across the ticker in real time and converting this information into death metal. To think of this music for what it is, as highly rehearsed and extremely exact, is to marvel at this band’s prowess and precision. The stuck-pig vocals aren’t for everyone, it’s true. That said, this band is truly a cut above. Purists often tend to complain about how drum triggers take some of the humanity out of metal making. To that, I say, listen to Wormed, they play inhuman music in the best possible sense.



Clean vocals in heavy metal have become so anomalous that there is a metal blog entitled No Clean Singing. Vocals - especially cleanly sung vocals - can possibly, at best, convey feeling. Sinistro packs more feeling into one tune than most bands pack into an entire album. Lately, across the myriad subgenres of extreme metal, some of the boldest bands are experimenting with clean singing, and the results are often fantastic. Bands like Bölzer or Batushka or Temple Nightside deliver crushing metal with the use of clean vocals without sacrificing a shred of darkness or menace. With Sinistro, the vocals propel the funereal arrangements behind them to produce something truly transcendent. This is extreme metal that you could play in the car with your mom or at other times when Grave Upheaval might not exactly fit the bill. Semente was largely misunderstood and overlooked by the press, and that oftentimes can be a great indicator of a monumental record, so good that people had to sleep on it because they just were not ready.


Cover art by Daniel Corcuera.

For my money, Ruinous set the bar when I think of the real deal in contemporary death metal. I do not intend to throw out hyperbole while acting as though these matters are not completely subjective. I’ll just talk about what sets Graves of Ceaseless Death apart from the masses for me. And the production is as good a place as any to begin the adiscussion. The bass is high up in the mix, which seems to be a trend in metal these days, and I love that. The tones of the guitar and bass are menacing and in your face. The drums are live and direct. The frequencies are a bit compressed, at the expense of things like cymbal decay and dynamic range. Still, this is, after all, a death metal record; which is to say, the dynamic range doesn’t have to be gigantic for the band to sound heavy as all get out. The effect of the kind of production in play here is to make the listener feel like he or she is in a small basement club in the front row, as opposed to a cavernous hall where the sound is coming more from the PA system than from the band’s amps. It feels like being hit by a truck.

The performances on Graves of Ceaseless Death are phenomenal. What is most impressive to me is that the band chooses to leave tiny mistakes in the tunes, rather than whitewashing the performances in the editing process. The result is that the blood sweat and tears that went into the music truly comes across in the playing. As far as the tunes go, repeated listening reveals the fineness of detail contained in this music. The drums seem to change patterns every eight bars or so. Shawn Eldridge is one of the fiercest drummers I know of in metal at present. His drumming sounds truly unhinged and apoplectic. And the riffs are always blistering. The third track, "Dragmarks", is one of the best death metal tunes I’ve heard in recent memory. My favorite part in the entire record might be the riff immediately following the three minute marker in "Dragmarks", because it sounds like the band is about to go careening off of a cliff. Graves of Ceaseless Death is a beast of a record, a tremendously impressive full length debut. One can only imagine how this band will ramp things up going forward.


[Check out Bryan's playing in Bloody Panda and Traducer]
Tagged with 2016, brutal death metal, Bryan Camphire, Dark Descent Records, death metal, doom metal, post-metal, Ruinous, Season of Mist, Sinistro, sludge metal, technical death metal, Wormed