August 17, 2018

Rebel Wizard - Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response

By Justin C. I've most-often seen Rebel Wizard summed up as "NWOBHM meets black metal," and although that's a little reductive, it's also a pretty good summing up. Whether switching back and forth between those two broad styles or
By Justin C.


I've most-often seen Rebel Wizard summed up as "NWOBHM meets black metal," and although that's a little reductive, it's also a pretty good summing up. Whether switching back and forth between those two broad styles or mixing them in more subtle ways, there's no denying that dual influence, and it's still in force on the new album, Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response.

That's not to say that sole member NKSV (a.k.a., Bob Nekrasov) is in any way musically lazy. The second track, "The Prophecy Came and It Was Soaked With the Common Fools Forboding" starts out with some seriously riff-tastic NWOBHM before gradually escalating into black metal territory with the addition of tremolos, black metal screeches, and blast beats. Once the two elements have been successfully mixed, the song charges onward to the end with the throttle wide open. "Healing the Chakras With Heavy Negative Wizard Metal" takes a slightly different path, starting off with a more "traditional" black metal intro before moving into trash territory. No matter how NKSV proceeds, though, it's impossible to deny how ripping these songs are.

Is this all a bit tongue and cheek? Most likely. The cover art shows a hooded figure triumphantly holding aloft two Gibson Explorer-style guitars, which young me remembers being a signature move from bands in the NWOBHM heyday. Song titles like "Drunk on the Wizdom of Unicorn Semen" mix the profane and the goofy into word salads. But is the music itself a joke? Not at all. Unlike Steel Panther, for example, who tries (and fails) to entertain by parodying a musical style that was already a parody of itself, Rebel Wizard cranks out damn good tunes without making you feel the need to qualify it by saying, "It's good...but it's kinda dumb."

Sure, I could pick a few nits. Two different songs go with the somewhat-tired "rain/nature sound" effects. The album's closing track, "Exhaustive Glory," is unfortunately named because pushing 10 minutes and lacking the dynamicism of most of the other tracks does, in fact, make it a bit exhausting. But credit where credit's due: NKSV samples a fairly moving speech from philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti for the album closer, when he could have gone the easy path and put in some overcooked Satanism or dialog from a Mad Max movie.

But when all is said and done, this is an album that will rip right through you. Triumph of Gloom is the last Rebel Wizard album I've spent significant time with, and NKSV has upped his songwriting game as well as his level of shred, but technicality never overwhelms the musicality. So by all means, put the extra-kvlt doom and gloom aside for a little while and rock out. Maybe even smile a little?

August 15, 2018

Dvne - Asheran (Vinyl Master)

By Calen Henry. Just in time for the first anniversary of Asheran, Dvne and Wasted State Records released a digital version of the vinyl master on Bandcamp. The vinyl master (DR 9) is less compressed, allowing details in the music to come through better
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Eli Quinn.

Just in time for the first anniversary of Asheran, Dvne and Wasted State Records released a digital version of the vinyl master on Bandcamp. The vinyl master (DR 9) is less compressed, allowing details in the music to come through better than the digital master (DR 6). The original master is quite good for a loud master, but it's such a dense and carefully composed album that the vinyl master gives it the depth it always deserved.

Asheran is a concept album. Drawing inspiration from Frank Herbert, Hayao Miyazaki, and other conservationist-leaning science fiction writers, it tells the epic story of a long exiled space-faring race returning to their home planet to find those left behind having shunned technology, living in harmony with nature. The returning Asheran see the planet as their birthright and thus are compelled to wage a holy war on the others, forcing them to break their sacred oath and unearth their long dormant war machines to defend themselves. Eventually the planet itself goes into self-preservation mode and culls both factions, restoring the balance of nature.

The music flows naturally through the acts of the story, but it’s an album of contrasts: quiet builds versus crushing fuzz, psychedelic stoner metal versus suffocating death metal, and Victor’s cleans against Dan’s growls. The added dynamic range gives a heft that was lacking before. Almost every track on the album features some kind of soft/loud or fast/slow contrast, and these sections sound glorious on the dynamic master; little details surface with each listen. The band has said that they cut around 30 minutes of material from the final album, and it shows. It is expertly paced.

The most evident improvement is the clarity of the bass and drums. All the little cymbal accents are now apparent, and transitions into drum-heavy sections, like the intro to "Viridian Bloom," sound huge. The bass is an integral part of the compositions, often picking up the melody and leading songs, and the added dynamic range helps the bass cut through giving a much fuller listening experience.

Asheran was already a jaw dropping achievement, and the newly released vinyl master makes it even better. Credit to Wasted State Records and the band for releasing it, and simply adding it to the existing album listing, rather than a separate album forcing people to double dip. Hopefully for their next album Dvne will simply release the DR 9 master as the standard version, like Pallbearer and Unleash the Archers.

August 13, 2018

Golgothan Remains - Perverse Offerings to the Void

By Hera Vidal. Black metal will forever be associated with Norway; there is no denying that aspect, given black metal’s origins and lyrical content, especially post-Black Circle shenanigans. Because of this, country-specific black metal is usually overlooked and underrated.
By Hera Vidal.

Cover art by Morkh.

Australia is well-known for their vast metal scene, and while my focus has remained on the realm of black metal, I tend to pop up my head from time to time to smell the flowers outside. Now, death metal is certainly not my thing – I tend to prefer the symphonic and melodic versions of death metal – but I slowly eased into enjoying Perverse Offerings to the Void, Golgothan Remains’s debut album. A stellar piece of work that comes wrapped in a disgusting, putrid layer of sound that contains the dirtier aspects of wherever this album came from.

Before jumping headfirst into the album, I wanted to look into the band’s name. Their name is a reference to Golgotha, known as Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified. Although no one can agree where exactly the crucifixion occurred, the Gospels claim that Golgotha was outside the city of Jerusalem, accessible to passers-by. Golgotha can also be translated as “skull,” meaning that church scholars have interpreted the name to mean a place that looks like a cranium or has skulls buried on site. (Golgotha is also said to be the final resting place of Adam’s skull.) It would make sense that the band would take their name from the remains of Calvary, as it was known as a heap of death where the skulls of the deceased could be found.

Perverse Offerings to the Void is unlike anything I have ever heard. It has a heavy black metal backing but remains heavily focused on its death metal roots. There is something incredibly melodic about it, slowly easing the listener into enjoying the record. However, a big part of the album’s impact is just how gross it sounds. It feels like the members are playing music with instruments covered in filth and grime, making them sound harsh and dissonant. It also doesn’t help that Golgothan Remains made their music sound cacophonous with a touch of melody. This becomes evident on “Timeless Eradicator” and “Looped Depraved Spell,” as their penchant for melody helps contrast the sound of the down-tuned guitars and harrowing vocals. Perverse Offerings to the Void sounds like death metal being played in a swamp in dense climate, which, given Australia’s climate, should come as no surprise.

The vocals also don’t help with easing this image of filth and putridity, as they are both ferocious and muted. Their quiet aggression is constant, and they sit in the foreground, acting as a balance point to the music. They also have a tendency to be haunting, as if the void opened up and let all of these screaming souls out by accident, calling anyone unfortunate enough to hear them to their doom. I also couldn’t help but notice that the vocals sounded a lot like their brethren Spire’s on Entropy. Underneath the layers of filth, the vocals are the only anchor that keeps the listener hanging on beneath the heavy atmosphere and the cacophonous instrumentation. They haunt you and torment you until the end of the album, and you can only hope that their onslaught is over before you decide to end it yourself.

All in all, Perverse Offerings to the Void is a good debut that fills a niche in death metal. Although its brand of death metal is not something I am familiar with, I can appreciate the aesthetic and the dedication that went into making this album. I found myself enjoying the album despite its cacophonous nature, and I recommend this album to anyone who needs some intense death metal in their lives.

August 11, 2018

Parius - The Eldritch Realm

By Calen Henry. The Eldritch Realm surfaced from cruising Bandcamp tags. Stephen Andrade’s pitch perfect 1930’s movie poster-inspired cover jumped out from the list. Expecting some sort of horror themed “Scooby doom” album, I was pleasantly surprised
By Calen Henry.

Artwork painted Stephen Andrade

The Eldritch Realm surfaced from cruising Bandcamp tags. Stephen Andrade’s pitch perfect 1930’s movie poster-inspired cover jumped out from the list. Expecting some sort of horror themed “Scooby doom” album, I was pleasantly surprised to find Parius play technical melodic death metal permeated with vintage horror. Though death metal is rife with supernatural themes, Parius is the only melodeath band I’ve encountered that’s so committed to the campy vintage horror aesthetic usually confined to doom bands, right down to a Rod Serling impersonator narrating segments to bookend the story.

Technical death metal tends to be a hard sell for me. I like bands with a unique spin on the genre over simply riffs. Parius’ sound is rooted in the melodic death metal of US heavy hitters like Arsis and The Black Dahlia Murder, with a dash of neoclassical-leaning Necrophagist. Parius bring killer but accessible melodic riffs and solos. They're not reinventing the wheel. Their strength is how they alter the formula with aesthetic. For Parius the aesthetic is far more than a gimmick; it permeates the album and elevates it to something truly special. It’s a concept album, of course, and in 29 minutes they’ve got more conceptual ideas than many bands can manage in an album of any length.

An unnamed protagonist goes on a journey to save his immortal soul. Guided by Lilith, the earth’s second moon according to astrologer Sepharial, the protagonist journeys across the river Styx, phylactery in hand, unafraid, taunting death. Led by a mysterious melody, he passes through the Lychgate, the threshold to the underworld, on his way to confront the Ophidian God. On his way, the serpent king snares him and destroys the phylactery. The hero disconnects from his physical body and breaks the bonds, but, shock and terror, his unbound self is given totally to the mysterious melody, and he becomes enthralled. Lilith, now personified as a demon, has betrayed him, and he takes her place at the serpent king’s side, binding him forever in the Eldritch Realm, just as fear of death sets in.

The album starts with the crackle of needle on wax, then an ominous orchestral intro, segueing into the first track’s introductory piano motif, reminiscent of "The Twilight Zone" or "The Outer Limits." The music then moves right into full-on melodeath assault, but the campy horror is never lost. Underneath the lightning guitar solos, hard-hitting riffs, and machine gun drums, a vein of reference and reverence runs. Without straying far from the melodeath formula, they add motifs and progressions found in vintage horror soundtracks. The back half of "Crashing Black Moon" offers some of the most prominent examples, including reintroducing the bass riff from the first half of "Eldritch," the piano picking back up the intro to underscore the double kick-driven clean vocal section, a spooky keyboard solo, and the break into evil circus music.

The vocals tie the musical approach together with an equally all-encompassing approach. Vocalist Louis Thierry is a beast. Like the instrumentals, the vocals are rooted in death metal, mostly split between a rasp and a guttural growl, both wonderfully delivered. But as the story progresses, he also employs a hard rock sneer, falsetto vocals (sometimes harmonized), a manic sermon style delivery, and some spoken word passages. There are even a few times when a vocal melody is revisited by the guitars or bass, tying the concept together further.

It’s possible that this would all fall apart if they didn’t have such a fantastic concept to tie it together. Drawing from pulp horror, debunked astrological musings, and Greek mythology, they’ve crafted a story that’s Lovecraftian without any mention of Old Ones; campy, but not totally silly, and the concept is more rewarding the deeper you look.

Like the recurring motifs that underscore the death metal, song titles and lyrics reference each other. The phylactery, being boundless, and what lies between hell and the protagonist recur throughout the album’s run time. The whole thing is also perfectly in tune with both "The Twilight Zone" and Lovecraft’s writing, where in the face of adversity, the protagonist may not come out on top and dramatic irony looms large.

The icing on the cake is the production. Though not particularly dynamic (DR 6), everything sounds excellent and balances. The bass is clear and present, and the drums have an appropriate heft without succumbing to the clicky sound that busy tech-death drums sometimes can. They sound human, but all the complexities are apparent. In fact I’m hard pressed to think of another album with high-speed drums that sounds this good. It’s hugely impressive for an independent release.

From nowhere Parius have blown me away and released one of my favourite albums of the year. They’re asking next to nothing for The Eldritch Realm on Bandcamp. You won’t hear anything else like it this year. It won’t bring the tech the way some other bands might, but I like it all the better for the way they balance it with concept. The whole package is like nothing else I've heard.

July 25, 2018

The Lion's Daughter - Future Cult

By Justin C. I called The Lion's Daughter's last album. Existence Is Horror, "full-bore blackened sludge." Their newest, Future Cult, is built on the same foundation, but with a new twist: synths! I will admit upfront that, because I am an old
By Justin C.


I called The Lion's Daughter's last album, Existence Is Horror, "full-bore blackened sludge." Their newest, Future Cult, is built on the same foundation, but with a new twist: synths!

I will admit upfront that, because I am an old, I often equate heavy synths automatically with 80s music. Fair is fair, a lot of interesting things have been done since that time in terms of electronic music, but that tends to be my basic starting point. With that admission out of the way, I think The Lion's Daughter is definitely borrowing on a bit of 80s nostalgia here. A lot's been said about the slightly-modern-yet-still-retro soundtrack of the hit show Stranger Things. If you've seen that show, I dare you to listen to "Call the Midnight Animal" and NOT think of Eleven traveling to the upside-down to fight monsters. In fact, I think "Call the Midnight Animal" would make a better soundtrack to that show's boss battles, given the ferocity of the hardcore-blackened-prog-sludge that underlies the mean-sounding arcade game synth riff the song is built on.

The Lion's Daughter 2016. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

For fans of the band's previous work, I think Future Cult could be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of album. I've seen a few grumblings about it being a "mix of synthwave and plodding hardcore." But even if this new layer to the band's sound isn't to everyone's taste, I think comments like that are overly dismissive. The band hasn't just slapped synths on top of the template from their last album. Basic sonic similarities aside, they've let some of these songs breathe a bit. "The Gown" mixes in a heavy dose of eerie atmosphere with a slower-burning doom feel. I'll admit that this doesn't always work--I think a couple of tracks, including "Grease Infant," fail to build up the necessary momentum for what the band's going for here.

A few missteps aside, though, this is still a tight album at 37 minutes, and if you dug the band's last album, you owe it to yourself to give this one a fair spin. If the band had just redone Existence Is Horror with the chords in a different order, we'd all be bored, but they've taken a somewhat-risky step out into potentially more interesting waters. I'll be curious to see if, down the road, we look back on this as a bit of a transitional album on the band's part, moving into a sonic area that they may not have fully under their control yet. But even so, I think this album still stands on its own as another solid entry in their discography.

July 21, 2018

Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light

By Calen Henry. Skeletonwitch are my favorite blackened thrash band. No other has quite the same mix of caustic blackened riffs and vocals with a deep-seated sense of melody pervading this sound. Devouring Radiant Light is the band’s first full length in five years
By Calen Henry.


Skeletonwitch are my favorite blackened thrash band. No other has quite the same mix of caustic blackened riffs and vocals with a deep-seated sense of melody pervading this sound. Devouring Radiant Light is the band’s first full length in five years, and their first with Adam Clemens, after the dramatic departure of founding vocalist Chance Garnette. It sounds like a proper rebirth. The album art is the first clue. Skeletonwitch 1.0’s covers were always adorned with a fanged, antlered skull. It was their Eddie or Vic Rattlehead. Devouring Radiant Light eschews that for the first time. Instead, it’s a simple painting of a faceless hooded figure, wreathed in mist. It’s more Gothic, stately, and sinister than before, and perfectly reflects that change in musical style.

It’s not a reinvention, though. New vocalist Adam Clemens’ vocals are on point. He brings the same witch rasp as Garnette did, supported by the same lightning black-thrash attack juxtaposed against the supreme melodicism of the lead guitars and solos, peppered with chromatic and bluesy runs. In short, it’s Skeletonwitch, and it rips. But it does way more than just rip. It’s the most expansive, dynamic, and layered record in the band’s catalog. Most of the tracks have more elaborate compositions than before, with more time given to letting them build and flow. That can make the record seem less accessible than previous outings at first blush, but repeated listens reveal highly detailed songs that are more than mere riff collections. They flow in and out of classic Skeletonwitch with moments of legato lyrical guitar leads, clean vocals, and slow doomy builds. The centerpiece of this is, undeniably, the title track. Starting with a slow clean intro, it weaves through eight minutes of new and old ‘Witch, ending with a beautiful natural guitar harmonic passage.

The only black mark on the album is the production. Like Serpents Unleashed, it was produced by Kurt Ballou. He's a heavy hitter in “loud metal” production, and it's serviceable, but only just. Ballou is known for more straightforward loud bands, and Skeletonwitch have elegantly exited that group on Devouring Radiant Light. The music is more nuanced than Skeletonwitch has ever been before, and it really deserved a producer like Colin Marston, who knows how to bring out both the dirt and the detail of a metal band. The album succeeds in spite of the production, not because of it.

And the album is a complete success, musically. It's simply the best record in Skeletonwitch's catalog. It's everything one could have hoped for from Skeletonwitch 2.0: ripping blackened thrash at heart, but brought to a new level with the kind of experimentation the band never attempted before.

July 20, 2018

Khôrada - Salt

By Justin C. Writing about a band like Khôrada is both a joy and, ironically, a truly difficult task. Lots of reviews talk about bands that "defy genre boundaries"--I'm sure I've personally said it before--but Khôrada makes me regret using that phrase
By Justin C.

Artwork by Cedric Wentworth.

Writing about a band like Khôrada is both a joy and, ironically, a truly difficult task. Lots of reviews talk about bands that "defy genre boundaries"--I'm sure I've personally said it before--but Khôrada makes me regret using that phrase to describe any band other than them. It's not that you'll hear some Jute Gyte weirdness or a metal band made up of only tuba players. You'll hear familiar bits of doom, black metal, sludge, and what we olds used to just call "rock and roll," but they're combined and performed so flawlessly that it almost seems like something completely new. Familiar and elusive at the same time.

Most people probably know the headlines on this one: Aaron John Gregory, vocalist and guitarist of Giant Squid, joins three former members of Agalloch: Don Anderson on guitar, Jason Walton on bass, and Aesop Dekker on drums. That will be the marketing pitch, anyway, and it's a smart way to get them a lot of attention. But if fans come looking for a bit of Agalloch Part II, they're going to be much disappointed, because this is not that. What they will find, though, is some truly brilliant, emotionally hefty music. No "new" band should be this good on their first outing, although of course these aren't 18-year-olds making their first record, either.

The debut album, Salt, is unapologetically about environmental collapse and possible extinction-level events for the human race. The opening track, "Edeste," has lyrics like

Nature is convinced
it's time for a sixth extinction event
before man has the chance
to gnaw her to the bone.

Nobody's hiding their lyrical intent here. "Water Rights" is also not coy about being a protest song about the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock protests:

When word comes down the pipe
from the biggest suit of all
to pillage their water rights
as the snow falls
Disregard their thirst.

Mixed in is a short but devastating portrait of a miscarriage ("Augustus") and a scene of a parent explaining to their child about man-made climate change ("Wave State").

Gregory's vocals are uniquely his own, although I often found myself jotting down comparisons to other singers--maybe a hint of Mark Kozelek at the end of "Edeste"? A little bit of Tom Waits's gruffness in "Water Rights"? But name-checking won't really help me describe his unique voice to you. There are a few snarls, but he mainly sticks to a mid-range clean that veers ever-so-close to over the top without ever actually going there. These lyrics could make for a schmaltz-fest in the wrong hands, but he manages heart-breaking emotional highs and lows in a powerful, straightforward way. The musicians meet him at his level, adding instrumentals that may be a bit cerebral at times, but never emotionally remote. This might be one of the few bands that truly deserves the label "progressive," not in the sense of a weird, technical wankfest or 70s throwback, but music that truly moves us and them forward at the same time.

I don't know what kind of reception this album will get. Some true metalheads might find it not enough, whereas it may still be too heavy for others. The words are topical and current, but on the other hand, this is a bad time (particularly in the U.S.) to express sincere environmental concerns without fact-less hordes shouting you down. But it's a truly special and remarkable album, so I hope it's heard and enjoyed as widely as possible.

July 13, 2018

Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

By Justin C. Theeyyyyy're back! The black metal-adjacent band that seems to ruffle more kvlt feathers than any other has returned with a new full length, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. The title alone will probably be enough for the trve
By Justin C.


Theeyyyyy're back! The black metal-adjacent band that seems to ruffle more kvlt feathers than any other has returned with a new full length, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. The title alone will probably be enough for the trve to ball up their fists in rage, although it's not some attempt at emo-cleverness, but rather a line from a Graham Greene novel written nearly 70 years ago.

That said, the band made an interesting choice with the first track, "You Without End." It starts with a simple piano figure that feels like a movie soundtrack focusing on a melancholy return home. The rising guitar line that ramps the song up turns it into a song you might have danced to at your prom...except for George Clarke's trademark growls, that is. It's almost as if the band is daring critics and fans alike to recoil.

It's the first step on a strange journey. The second track, "Honeycomb," brings us back to territory more familiar to previous Deafheaven albums, with the twist added of some seriously Dinosaur Jr.-inspired guitar work amongst the tremolos and blast beats. But hey, if you're going to cite a guitar influence, it's hard to do better than J. Mascis, regardless of genre.

Deafheaven 2016. Photos by Webzine Chuul.

"Canary" and "Glint"--the latter of which might be my favorite track--go along with the theme of making the listener wait, perhaps to the point of being confounded. Both have relatively mild guitar openings pushing past the two-minute mark before the METALZ kick in. But hot damn, when they kick in, we're back to the emotionally cathartic, heart-on-sleeve roars from Sunbather and New Bermuda.

And just to add to the already somewhat-strange mix, "Near" is a short, almost straightforward shoegaze tune with subdued clean vocals, and "Night People" brings Chelsea Wolfe in to co-lead vocals with her own, inimitable darkness. And if I'm not mistaken, that's Clarke singing cleanly along with her.**

As I've always said, I try not to read other press before I write my own review, but in this case, most of my listens came through NPR's stream of the album, and I can't help but pull a few choice bits. I do think the band is being "willfully cheesy" at points--although I don't think NPR or I would use that as an insult. I think their observation that, "If you've mocked Deafheaven in the past, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love does not care to meet you in the middle." is also on point. This album probably won't change your mind if it's already made up. To be honest, if I read what I'd just wrote, I'd be skeptical, even as a fan. Truth be told, though, I listened to this album three times in a row on first sitting. As willfully cheesy, twisting-and-turning it may be, I can't help but feel that Deafheaven is a band that is earnestly making the music they want to make, without an eye toward popularity or grimness or anything else. I have to admit that New Bermuda didn't stick with me the same way Sunbather did, but Ordinary Corrupt Human Love already has me hooked.


**At the time of this writing, I did not have access to liner notes, so I'm just assuming the male cleans are Clarke here. All apologies if it turns out another singer is credited with that part.

July 3, 2018

Empire of the Moon - Πανσέληνος

By Hera Vidal. Black metal will forever be associated with Norway; there is no denying that aspect, given black metal’s origins and lyrical content, especially post-Black Circle shenanigans. Because of this, country-specific black metal is usually overlooked and underrated.
By Hera Vidal.


Black metal will forever be associated with Norway; there is no denying that aspect, given black metal’s origins and lyrical content, especially post Black Circle shenanigans. Because of this, country-specific black metal is usually overlooked and underrated. Nowadays, Polish and Icelandic black metal are becoming part of the forefront, while others are making a comeback. The Greek black metal sound has always been around, but it’s making a comeback, and for a sound that gave us Rotting Christ, we tend to forget the other bands. Call them the true black metal denizens if you will.

Celebrate your crepuscule nature,
Rid of your innocence and grace,
Crush the righteousness of your creation,
Crucify the savior inside.

A quick translation note (anyone can correct me if I am wrong): While the word Πανσέληνος can translate to “full moon” in English, there is something else that is worth mentioning. The word σέληνος can be transliterated to selinos, which gives us the name Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon and the translation to the word “moon”. However, given the prefix Παν-, meaning “all”, “everything”, and, in this context, “involving all members”, can literally translate Πανσέληνος to “involving all members of the moon”. This means that the band didn’t just focus on one primordial goddess lyrically; they focused on a triptych of goddesses and their associated realms: Tiamat, Kali, and the obvious Selene.

From the very beginning, Πανσέληνος has a consistent flow in the music, especially between and within its transitions from song to song. It starts and ends with a classical piece, with heavy piano and backing strings. The first seconds sound like something is ascending towards the heavens, before the piano, strings, and what sounds like a full orchestra come together and create a first movement. After the first track, the album spears forth with sinister synths, heavy distorted guitars, and hellish vocal work. Hearing the clean play of the blast beats and distorted guitars is highly satisfying. It’s fast, filled with moving emotion, and brilliant tonality that remains grandiose, culminating in the fifth track, “The Nine Skulls of Kali.”

Throughout the album you can also hear spoken word mantras, as if the speaker is worshiping the triptych of goddesses that gave birth to this album. What I love most is the lyrical content. Not only is the band worshiping moon goddesses as a whole, but they are worshiping the primordial female nature of life. While these goddesses gave us life and can be seen as generous or even tender in nature, they can also be destructive and cause calamity onto us who don’t understand or insult them in any way. Ah, the essence of woman!

All in all, Πανσέληνος is an album filled with soft yet destructive ferocity, and one that seems content in reveling in its nature. There is a lot of emotion and clean production values that shouldn’t go unnoticed on this album and shouldn’t be forgotten. Given the strong, infernal vibes this album has, their lyrical content is something to look forward to. I expect great things from this band, and I do look forward to their next release!

June 22, 2018

Khemmis - Desolation

By Calen Henry. Khemmis’ last album, Hunted, immediately grabbed me. Their “doomed rock and roll” combined melodic, epic doom with elements of stoner-doom, death-doom, and traditional metal for a wonderful “kitchen sink” approach to metal.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Sam Turner.

Khemmis’ last album, Hunted, immediately grabbed me. Their “doomed rock and roll” combined melodic, epic doom with elements of stoner-doom, death-doom, and traditional metal for a wonderful “kitchen sink” approach to metal. Desolation sees the band digging in to their signature sound and shedding much of the kitchen sink approach to create their best record yet. The album will likely cement their legacy alongside bands like Pallbearer and Power Trip as crossover darlings.

The vast majority of Desolation is Khemmis’ signature melodic doom: melancholy, slightly sinister riffs under soaring tenor vocals. This time they delve even deeper into melody, edging further towards traditional metal, with harmonized vocals lines, lyrical dual guitar leads, and even some lower register vocals reminiscent of the late David Gold of Woods of Ypres

The mix of traditional metal and doom carries through to the band's lyrics. They adopt a lot of the swords and sorcery trappings of traditional metal, but, in a time when traditional metal lyrics about the glory of conquerors' pillaging can seem problematic, Khemmis are refreshingly depressing. Truly living up to their self-styled genre, "doomed rock and roll," they sing of cursed bargains, doomed legions, sole survivors and the associated guilt, isolation, and desolation. It’s extremely fitting that the album is called Desolation, as that single word gets right to the crux of the album’s themes.

Photos by Nessie Spencer.

They also ditch other musical styles, except for death-doom, and the result is transcendent. The deep dive into melody juxtaposed against the filthy death-doom riffs creates a fantastic dynamic throughout the album, but it’s when the band directly mixes the two, giving us twin guitar shredding over galloping death-doom or harsh vocals over soaring guitar melodies, that their sound becomes truly legendary. Album opener “Bloodletting” showcases this beautifully, when soaring guitar and epic vocals suddenly break into a filthy death-doom riff accompanied by an extended twin guitar solo.

With the overall stylistic change, the album doubles down on melodic vocals and some raspy harsh vocals that are more black metal than death-doom, but they work extremely well with the band’s overall sound. The melodic vocals are even better than on previous albums, and the combination of lower vocals and faster tempos than Pallbearer sets Khemmis apart from their closest sonic touch point.

The production is also slightly improved over Hunted. It's a bit more dynamic, and although it's still brickwalled, the slight improvement makes a difference. There is no audible clipping, and everything sounds just a bit better than it did in 2015.

Desolation one of the year's best metal albums, and the stylistic changes mean that anyone not completely melody-adverse should check it out, even those not sold on Khemmis' previous material. The band has completely come into their own. Hunted absolutely floored me in 2015, and Desolation is leagues ahead of it.

June 19, 2018

Mercyful Fate - Melissa

An Autothrall Classic. Perhaps the only tangible quip I could launch against Mercyful Fate's seminal debut is that, compared to the King's next six full-length records (from both Fate and his solo band), I hold Melissa in somewhat lesser regard
An Autothrall Classic. Originally published here.

Artwork by Thomas Holm.

Perhaps the only tangible quip I could launch against Mercyful Fate's seminal debut is that, compared to the King's next six full-length records (from both Fate and his solo band), I hold Melissa in somewhat lesser regard, owed largely to the fact that the sum songwriting is marginally less infectious. Just about every stylistic die had been cast here which would serve Kim and his companions for decades hence, but in terms of sheer riffing stickiness and atmosphere, this album just doesn't have the same gallery of chops and leads as its successors. That being said, this album still deserves the forklifts of accolades dumped upon it, because Melissa remains one of the highlights of 1983. One of the better overall European metal records of the earlier 80s outside England. Heck, apart from Don't Break the Oath and the band's more divisive reunion disc In the Shadows (which I happen to favor, others not so much), it's probably the one mandatory purchase in their discography.

Melissa was actually my second exposure to Fate, having first bought the sophomore at a young age, and I admit it was underwhelming at first, if only because I had enjoyed the other tape more. But not only does this debut age well, it has managed to never accumulate much dust on its surface in going on thirty fucking years! Melissa still feels fresh and innovative, a more complex offering than what most of the group's British peers were capable of writing at the time, and also a hallmark of strong production values and deft musicianship. It might have taken time for some to adjust to King's eery and unnerving falsetto shrieks, which he lays on pretty thick throughout this, but there is no debating the amount of effort and professionalism in the compositions. Thomas Holm's cover art is remarkable, a screaming skull that bleeds hellish red light and gives a sense of sheer monument. The lyrics are maniacal blueprints for many themes Diamond would later flesh out in both his bands, with an emphasis on history, archaic horror, and occult topics fundamental to King's later pursuance of LaVeyan Satanism.

Pacing and production are key here, integrating the critical moments of atmosphere with the thundering, primal speed metal melodies and swaggering grooves that would come to define the group's sound as it supported the chilling vocals, which in metal music had simply never gone so 'over the top' without losing the gravity and impact of their subject matter. I realize that many outsiders to the band's sound, or power/heavy metal screamers in general (Halford, Dickinson, etc) must immediately find this vocal inflection comical in nature, but there was never anything remotely 'funny' about Diamond on these old Mercyful Fate records, he was a shrill specter that I took quite seriously even if I had to adjust myself to this timbre as the primary vocal tone. He's got his grittier end, mid range register also, but it's not quite so distinct. I wouldn't say that the melodies he summons up here are nearly so unforgettable as those he'd weave in later to several of the King Diamond concept albums, but for '83 this was pretty damn ambitious even when you placed it up against a record like Piece of Mind, Bark at the Moon or Balls to the Wall.

The instruments also sound stunning, with the better balance and clarity than the band's eponymous 1982 EP. Kim Jensen's drums are loaded, with a nice slap to the snare and some great reverb to the kicks that really measure off well against the guitars, though the cymbals and hi-hat seem a fraction more muffled. The bass lines are enormous and muscular when needed, like the close of "Evil" where the guitars remind me of the primary riff in Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" before that charging power metal finale; but Timi Hansen also slinks along with a creepy class through the record's more atmospheric climes. As for the guitars, they are just beyond compare, with an effectively chunky fiber to them that allows the looser, glimmering leads to wail and writhe above and really stand out. They're also incredibly busy here, constantly twisting and turning into some new 'banger of a riff and really controlling the tempo for King's lyrical tales. The leads are usually quite brief through the album, but none of the notes seem misplaced, and I'd rather a band give me some spikes of emotion and harmony rather than indulge themselves to the detriment of the songwriting.

"Curse of the Pharaohs" is a real bruiser, and one of my all time favorite Mercyful Fate tracks, but I'd have to give "Black Funeral" the pick of the litter, a thundering and frightening piece where King's voice and the triplet rhythm collide in a moonlit, haunted tower. "Satan's Fall" is the most ambitious in terms of its length and construction, with an opening segment that feels like an occult "Immigrant Song", and some grimy and shuffling riffs deeper in which are among Shermann and Denner's most inventive (Jensen also shines here with a few cadences in the bridge). That said, there's nothing here which even hinges on 'bad'. Pieces like "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" and the bluesy "Melissa" itself might not resonate with me as much as "Gypsy", "Night of the Unborn" or "A Dangerous Meeting", but they're all well written and stuffed to the ghastly gills with conscious effort and variation. Fuck, I listen to these songs now in 2012 and they still don't give me any impression of becoming 'dated', though as a huge King Diamond nutter I'm understandably biased.

No, it's not the eeriest record in the Danes' lexicon, but along with the rest of Diamond's works from '84-'90, this is well worth breaking out for another Halloween spin, since it's lyrics and concepts of witches, Satan and the restless dead make a great accompaniment to the aesthetics of the holiday. Granted, there's nothing so obviously cheesy or 'haunted house' here like you'd find on a Cradle of Filth disc, but instead more of a bite out of classic horror antiquity, a spiritual celebration of black/white films with Lugosi and Karloff. Like Dracula, The Wolfman or The Mummy is to nearly a century of film scares, this record serves as an aesthetic monument to its medium. How many heavy, power, speed, thrash, black and doom metal acts owe so very much to Mercyful Fate? The answer would be next to incalculable, so I'll just stick to 'all of them' and you can mark your own exceptions to the rule.

June 16, 2018

Hoth - Astral Necromancy

By Calen Henry. Hoth return with Astral Necromancy, following up to 2014’s Oathbreaker. Their debut EP Infinite Darkness mixed Skeletonwitch and Amon Amarth with Star Wars fandom, but didn’t predict the nuanced folky black metal of their debut full length
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Dusty Peterson.

Hoth returns with Astral Necromancy, following up to 2014’s Oathbreaker. Their debut Infinite Darkness mixed Skeletonwitch and Amon Amarth with Star Wars fandom, but didn’t predict the nuanced folky black metal of Oathbreaker. Chronicling the rise and fall of a hero forsaking the light and succumbing to darkness, with the music becoming progressively darker as the character embraced darkness. Without referencing Star Wars it was easily read as a Darth Vader concept album.

Astral Necromancy returns to esoteric Star Wars concepts, but tells a larger, darker story with composition to match. In contrast to Oathbreaker, Astral Necromancy isn’t a chronological concept album but a collection of songs, all part of the same universe-spanning story. Musically it is more immediate with fewer folk and ambient passages, the majority of the album is either riffs or solos. The tone is set with “Vengeance”, a ripping track that opens the album at full burn. It introduces both the sound of the album, as well as the concept. Tearing through riffs and solos it talks of vengeance, both against old masters as well as time and memory; the desire and give in to darkness, and burn out the light, despite being born in it.

Like Oathbreaker, there is no mention of anything explicitly Star Wars on Astral Necromancy, but throughout the album themes of the dark side of the force recur; trading one’s soul for dark knowledge and in the process giving up one’s humanity to embrace darkness, isolation and anger. The duality of lusting for power and awareness of what is lost along the way permeates the album. Tracks like “The Horrid Truth”, “Ascension”, and “The Void Between The Stars” speak knowingly of what one loses along the path to the darkness, and contrast with tracks like “Passage into Entropy” and “The Gathering of the Accursed Artifacts” speaking of the power the darkness brings. “The Citadel of the Necromancer” and “Solitude” bring everything together. The latter describes the battle against and defeat of the Necromancer’s apprentice whose commitment to the darkness paled in comparison to the light of his former master. The former describes the Necromancer’s gnawing fear, as he waits in his fortress for a vision that never comes, that all the sacrifice will amount to nothing.

Astral Necromancy is approachable despite it's blackened space-ward gaze. The production is pristine with extremely precise drums, tight guitar playing and raspy vocal delivery that manages to be comprehensible. Though it feels leaner, it’s almost the same length as Oathbreaker, making it seem like Hoth have jammed two albums’ worth of riffs into one album and trimmed almost all the fat. It makes for an excellent musical complement to their previous effort, objectively better, but ultimately a complement, rather than simply superior.

June 13, 2018

Here Lies Man - You Will Know Nothing

By Calen Henry. You Will Know Nothing is Here Lies Man’s second album in as many years. The band’s sound is self described as “What if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat?” and difficult as that may be to grasp that’s exactly what they’ve done. Comprised of members of Antibalas, they know Afrobeat
By Calen Henry.


You Will Know Nothing is Here Lies Man’s second album in as many years. The band’s sound is self described as “What if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat?” and difficult as that may be to grasp that’s exactly what they’ve done. Comprised of members of Antibalas, they know Afrobeat and how to expand its sonic palette.

Band founder Marcos Garcia explains that, in the same way Tony Iommi structured blues influenced songs around core riffs, they create riff based songs influenced by Afrobeat. The result is magical, and seems completely natural. The hypnotic grooves inherent to afrobeat are a perfect match to the equally hypnotic heavy psych sound of fuzzed out guitar and keys. It’s no fluke, though, the playing on the album is excellent with intertwining rhythms backing driving guitar lines.

Though I’m no expert on Afrobeat the album strikes me as being extremely dense and exceptionally rewarding for those wanting to deep dive into the music while also being superbly accessible. The production makes it an easy listen, too. The dynamic range (DR) score is 9, so there's lots of room for all the parts to come through. It makes for an easy listen - I’m on my third listen in a row as I write this.

Though not exactly metal, Here Lies Man are completely unique, totally heavy, and one of 2018's essential albums.

June 8, 2018

Yob - Our Raw Heart

By Matt Hinch. I talked to Yob frontman Mike Scheidt once. (OK, twice. But the second time was only for a minute or so.) We didn't even talk about Yob, or even metal really. We talked about our kids and parenting them. It was obvious to me that, as any decent parent should, Mike loves his kids.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Orion Landau.

I talked to Yob frontman Mike Scheidt once. (OK, twice. But the second time was only for a minute or so.) We didn't even talk about Yob, or even metal really. We talked about our kids and parenting them. It was obvious to me that, as any decent parent should, Mike loves his kids. I even think he mentioned how hard it was to be away from them when on tour. So one can only imagine how hard it was for him thinking he might leave them forever as he battled a severe intestinal disease last year. He fought hard enough to survive and once you hear Our Raw Heart you could even say he thrived.

Drawing inspiration from a life or death battle can lead to a powerful album and let me tell you, powerful doesn't even begin to describe Our Raw Heart. The album title itself is a perfect description of the journey the listener takes on this superb album. In experiencing ORH (and/or seeing Mike's ordeal unfold on social media) his heart becomes our heart and the emotions expressed are as raw as they can get.

On another level even the “our” part could be seen as an expression of the band itself. It wasn't just their bandmate fighting for life, it was their friend. I'd like to think that shared struggle plays into the wholeness one feels on what should easily be considered the band's best album to date.

ORH is a masterwork from beginning to end. From the martial chug of “The Screen” to the funereal pace of “Lungs Reach” to the overwhelming title track to the quietude and beauty of “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and every moment in between Mike, bassist Aaron Rieseberg, and drummer Travis Foster keep the listener completely enthralled. Or at least they should be. Yob has been getting progressively better with each album anyway as the band and its members continue to mature so this should come as no surprise. Personally Atma cemented my fandom, Clearing the Path to Ascend was so good I want a tattoo of the cover, and somehow ORH takes things beyond that level of adoration through a continued evolution of their sound.

I doubt a vocal instructor would call Mike's singing voice “great” but it's honest, raw, and expressive. It works for him in all his many endeavours though and especially in Yob. I don't see how anything or anyone else could make it work in quite the same, effective way. Deep, fierce growls are at more of a premium here but as the method of musical doom-bringing varies so do the vocals. From the subterranean to the stratospheric, they are the emotional pulse of the album. They convey the needed emotion without being moody. It all starts with “Ablaze” and his husky, weathered throat now bearing new battle scars representing the very scathed nature of survival at all costs.

Lyrically the album is cryptic enough and not too linear which lets the listener interpret it in their own way, applying those words to their own situation. Or one could put oneself in Mike's shoes and feel what he felt as much as you can. A particular line in “Beauty in Falling Leaves” brings maximum heft (which I'll get to in a minute”) but something as simple as “Rise!” from “The Screen” means so much more when put into context.

Yob 2016. Photos by Webzine Chuul.

The entire album can be considered typical Yob at this point as a varied mix of tones, paces, and volumes all play into their sound. ORH is no exception to this despite not feeling quite as dark overall. Aggressive, yes. But somewhat lighter. “Ablaze” falls into the “punishing doom laced with melody” category, as does the title track. As tough as these tracks can feel the human emotion always shines through in the interplay between darkness and the light. “Our Raw Heart” mines a heavy riff the same as “Ablaze”, letting melody and atmosphere fill out the sonic space.

“In Reverie” and “Lungs Reach” fill in the slower end of the cadence spectrum. The former never really breaking faster than a brain-crushing slog while conveying a good message in the lyric “The sun rises still”. No matter what happens to you or I the world keeps turning, so keep fighting to see it break the horizon day after day. The latter is even more funereal with more distinct atmosphere, growls, and a tone so heavy it will shake the wax right out of your ears.

“Original Face” tears it up! A hard drive is tempered ever so slightly by a hypnotic, rhythmic sway. It's a powerful assault on the senses that never lets up. It's kind of punch in the gut after “Beauty in Falling Leaves” from a vibe perspective but not an unnecessary one.

No doubt by now, I hope, you've already heard “The Screen” and its martial riff parade. It's mean and chunky and “holy shit!” heavy. But even it attains lift off to soar far above the earthly plane. It's kind of an odd choice for the lead single but perhaps they just didn't want to play their hand too early.

So now that I've talked about every other song let's tackle the album's high water mark, “Beauty in Falling Leaves”. Put the title in context. If you thought you were going to die wouldn't you find untold beauty in the seemingly mundane? Now take that sort of awe and apply it to a song. This song. This breathtaking expression of emotion. If “Marrow” brought you to tears, as it has so many, be prepared for heavier waterworks. Mike's expressiveness on this track reaches new heights. The melodies are entrancing and the subdued heaviness sits like lead on the heart.

Yob really work dynamics to full effect on this one. The quieter, minimal sounding verses prime the emotional pump for when the choruses hit and blow the whole thing wide open. It feels like there are multiple climaxes as every bit of feeling is wrung out of both the performers and the listener. The clincher is the line “Your heart brings me home”. No matter who you are that statement perfectly sums up the will to live. It carries hope. It signifies that one thing worth living for. Love. Yob is love after all, and something that meaningful in a Yob song is almost too much to bear.

To think that this album could easily have never happened at all is a heavy thought. Instead, Mike won and Our Raw Heart is the result. It's immense. It's heartbreaking. It's inspiring. Every band has their ultimate masterpiece (Emphasis on ultimate. Yob has more than one masterpiece.) and Our Raw Heart is it. If the Oregon trio manages to continue getting better after this I don't know what I'll do. I only have so much money and so much skin to cover. Honestly, I hope they do. In the meantime, the Yob legacy lives on in our raw hearts. And remember, YOB IS LOVE. So love Yob.

June 7, 2018

Not metal enough for Encyclopedia Metallum

By Calen Henry. The Metal Archives has notoriously strict moderation of what is and isn't metal. So, despite being an essential resource for metalheads, it paints a somewhat incomplete picture of metal as a whole. Some bands get blacklisted early in their career
By Calen Henry.

The Metal Archives is a fantastic and very comprehensive resource for all fans of metal. But they do have a notoriously strict moderation of what is and isn't metal. Some bands get blacklisted early in their career then change styles and are still out. Others do the opposite and stay in. Some genres seem to be simply disliked. Whatever the specific reasons, here are some excellent and definitely maybe metal bands who are not listed on Encyclopedia Metallum.

Artwork by John Dyer Baizley.

I love Kvelertak. This roundup was partly so I could talk about them, even though they're hardly unknown. They play this great mix of blistering black metal and sleazy honky-tonk barroom rock (complete with bluesy piano) and feature three guitarists. Only their first record is on Bandcamp but it set the template for the sound they still employ; stomping rock riffs, blazing tremolos and glorious scream-along choruses, in Norwegian, of course. Honestly if Kvelertak aren't metal I don't even know which way is up.


Artwork by Mark Facey.

In contrast to the proliferation of bands adding progressive elements to metal, giving us things like "progressive atmospheric technical depressive blackened deathdoomgaze" Dreadnought play blackened prog rock. They write long complex songs featuring keyboards, flute, saxophone, and beautiful vocal harmonies but also tremolo picking, blast beats, and shrieking vocals. Their albums are an elemental cycle, Lifewoven is earth, Bridging Realms is aether and A Wake in Sacred Waves is water. Each one is stunning but their newest brings everything they do together in the most spectacular package. Their older albums are Name You Price so, really, get them all.


Artwork by Andrew Saltmarsh.

Toehider is Mike Mills solo progressive metal project. It's utterly fantastic. It sounds like Protest the Hero but none of the songs are serious, as evidenced by the latest album name. Topics range from knocking over a cabinet at an estate sale to ruminations the nature of ghosts and existential ponderings of humans versus eggs.

Though the topics are ridiculous the music is anything but. Mills is a jaw droppingly talented musician. Many full bands could never hope to do what he does by himself. The vocals, riffs, solos, and composition are all meticulous and excellent, spanning through almost all styles of melodic progressive metal from the edge of prog rock to extended range chugging.

June 3, 2018

Cult of Occult - Anti Life

By Justin C. I wrote about Cult of Occult's last album, Five Degrees of Insanity back at the end of 2015, and at that time, I dubbed it "lava-core" because of its slow, smothering heaviness.
By Justin C.


I wrote about Cult of Occult's last album, Five Degrees of Insanity back at the end of 2015, and at that time, I dubbed it "lava-core" because of its slow, smothering heaviness. (And yes, I'm still trying to make "lava-core" a thing. Metal journalism needs to catch up with my inventive new micro-genre labels.) Their newest, Anti Life, doesn't radically change their sound, but as I said with their last album, I still find it strangely compelling.

If not lava-core, then call this funeral sludge rage. The tempos are achingly slow--better measured by an hourglass than a metronome--but the intensity is ratcheted up to 11 for each long, agonizing beat. This is the music you listen to when you go on a rampage in a steamroller. The songs are long (the shortest is still over 12 minutes) and punishing. That's not to say there's no variation--there's a nice stretch in "NI" when the roar-growl vocals go nearly a capella, accompanied only by the bass and the occasional drum strike before the guitar kicks back in--but by and large, this is an album that wants to grind you into submission with repetitive intensity. You could almost call it drone if it weren't so damn menacing. My cat is normally happy to listen to black metal with me, but this album made him hide in the other room. How Cult of Occult manage to make what, by most definitions, is pretty minimal music fascinating is a bit of a mystery (and maybe some black magic), but I'm once again ready and willing to be smothered by their brand of slow-motion sludge.

May 31, 2018

Akhenaten - Golden Serpent God

By Justin C.There's probably no shortage of bands in a lot of different genres that dabble with "exotic" sounds. Imagine somebody bursting into a practice space and saying, "Hey, I learned about the Phrygian dominant scale from my Mel Bay book!
By Justin C.

Artwork by Sketch the Soul.

There's probably no shortage of bands in a lot of different genres that dabble with "exotic" sounds. Imagine somebody bursting into a practice space and saying, "Hey, I learned about the Phrygian dominant scale from my Mel Bay book! Let’s write a 'Middle Eastern' song...about my girlfriend!" Not so with Akhenaten. Listening to their new album, Golden Serpent God, you can tell that there's no dabbling here. It's death metal, yes, but serious thought and study has been put into the Middle Eastern influence and themes.

Akhenaten is just two brothers, Jerred and Wyatt Houseman, who are alumni of Execration, among other bands. I had a brief e-conversation with them, and they cited Melechesh and Al-Namrood--from Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia, respectively--as inspirations for the kind of band Akhenaten is. Their commitment to their brand of death metal-Middle Eastern fusion is also evident by the fact that they "wanted the music to be more focus driven on the ethnic instruments themselves.” They use not just a sitar, which would be an easy and obvious choice, but also the Turkish saz, the oud, and a hammered dulcimer-like instrument called the santoor.

With this arsenal on top of the standard guitar, bass, and drums, Akhenaten creates bottom-heavy death metal with insanely catchy melodies. Whether they're playing a earth-rumbling bottom end that alternates with high melody lines ("Dragon of the Primordial Sea") or combining the thunder with tinkling accents ("Pazuzu: Harbinger of Darkness"). They fuse the western and eastern sounds as seamlessly as metal bands who draw on American or English folk sounds. For my money, Akhenaten actually do it a lot better.

As the band told me, a fascination with Mesopotamian mythology is also clear in the lyrical content. They write about anything from Ereshkigal, the Sumerian goddess of the underworld, to Pazuzu, the king of the demons of the wind in ancient Mesopotamian mythology (and, in my opinion, the subject of the best song on the album). And of course there’s a nice shout out to the Stargate franchise, in whose movie and (multiple) TV shows we learned that the Egyptian gods were actually malevolent alien slave drivers. They deliver all this in both a low, death metal growl and a more Ihsahn-ian croak, not to mention some clean, Middle Eastern vocals in “Akashic Field: Enter Arcana Catacombs,” all of which make for a nice contrast.

I got on board with this band they released Incantations Through the Gates of Irkalla back in 2015, and Golden Serpent God is an improvement in almost every aspect, including composition, balance, and sound quality. That's saying a lot given that Incantations was a damn fine album in and of itself, but Golden Serpent God elevates the band to a new level.

May 30, 2018

Ellende - Todbringer

By Hera Vidal. Ellende returns to form with their second album, Todbringer (“death bringer”), which brings back their florid passages in High German, their emotionality, and, of course, their musicianship.
By Hera Vidal.


Ellende returns to form with their second album, Todbringer (“death bringer”), which brings back their florid passages in High German, their emotionality, and, of course, their musicianship. Everything that made Ellende fantastic is brought back on this album, only on a greater, broader scale. However, on this album, they seem to have dialed back on the black metal and have decided to mostly focus on the backing elements of the album. There is a lot of acoustic elements that can be heard throughout the album, but they aren’t left in the dust by the resounding black metal or by the impressive build-ups the songs have. In fact, they tend to bring some color on an album that reeks of death and destruction. One can even claim that Todbringer is possibly darker than its predecessor, and with good reason.

Once again, we return to the musicianship and emotional range of the album itself. Unlike Ellende, which seemed to use more strings than actual electrical instruments, the roles are switched this time. While the acoustic elements exist, they are not the focus. Even on the quieter aspects of the songs, they are still in the background, adding color and light into their music. Of course, the whole album is now built on the vocals and the emotional range, which are harsher, darker, and almost unhinged. There is something to be feared in the contrast between the slow, almost ethereal music and the screeching, harrowing vocals that come and go between passages of music. The pain is almost unbearable and it sucks you into only feeling what Ellende is feeling. The music becomes heightened, the vocals become heightened, and the urgency that strikes only cements what you already know: by the end of this, the speaker—or someone else—is going to die.

Photos by Skimaniac.

However, as the album progresses, the music becomes melodic and hopeful, negating the aspect of death. Towards the end of the album, there seems to be an acceptance of some sort. Whether the person has accepted their death or has accepted that, despite the urgency and the need to die, they have decided to remain hopeful. The music is no longer aggressive and filled with woe; rather, it employs softer elements and focuses more on the musicianship. In the beginning, everything was about the musicianship in regards to the vocals and the emotional range the vocals and the music provided. Now, the musicianship takes center stage, allowing the listener to fully bask in the beauty of the music. 50 minutes isn’t enough to get a full experience; you have to listen to it again to fully understand it.

All in all, Todbringer is a testament of Ellende’s skill and vision. Ellende may be a one-man project, but the people Lukas has collaborated with are fully with him to share his vision. He know what he wants out of it, and he knows what he wants to make with his group of musicians. Once again, Ellende proves that, sometimes, expert musicianship is all you need to make something beautiful, even when the language barrier exists. I have high hopes for Ellende and I am quite excited to see what else they bring in the future.

May 25, 2018

Skogen - Skuggorna Kallar

By Hera Vidal. Although atmospheric black metal can easily become saturated, it’s always interesting to hear elements of other genres embedded within the structure of the primary genre. Granted, bands are not required
By Hera Vidal.


Although atmospheric black metal can easily become saturated, it’s always interesting to hear elements of other genres embedded within the structure of the primary genre. Granted, bands are not required to be innovative to be considered part of a genre, but they should be able to bring their own identity to their music. In the case of Swedish band Skogen, they bring a lot of their form of folk to their brand of atmospheric black metal in their newest album, Skuggorna Kallar.

Skuggorna Kallar (“Call of the Shadows”) is one of the most direct, succinct albums when it comes to scope. For one thing, they give you exactly when you expect: folky black metal that is both dark and fun to listen to. The musicianship involved is of high caliber, and it shows in the placement of the instruments – they create a melodious overtone that easily becomes the selling point of the album. They also have varying dynamics, creating a heavy yet highly atmospheric quality that simultaneously minimalistic and majestic.

What you get is music that you can relax to, yet never fails to show just how heavy it can get. However, what stays constant throughout the album are the vocals. Whether they are howling or clean, the vocals are the driving force behind the music and they are striking. I am surprised that there are a lot of clean vocals in comparison to other albums I’ve listened to. Perhaps they are moving in a new direction and are cementing their roots now so the new ideas and tones can be explored at a later time.

Photos by Robban Kanto.

However, I do have a problem with the production. Everything about the music is great - from the moods set in each song, to the vocal interplay, to the overall atmosphere - but the mixing sounds disparate, as if they didn’t take the time to fully mix the instruments well. There are a lot of lo-fi elements here that could work very well, but they aren’t mixed properly and, instead of contributing to the atmosphere, sometimes they take you out. Note that this may be due to the fact that I am so used to listening to black metal with a cleaner production.

Overall, Skuggorna Kallar is an excellent album that is direct and succinct in both scope and length. Personally, I am interested in their clean vocals and their continued use of folk elements, and I would like to see where this can lead. Hopefully, they are able to conceive a larger scope that works well both in their favor and in their themes.

May 23, 2018

Kekal - Deeper Underground

By Calen Henry. Kekal are a long-running Indonesian avant-garde metal collective that I had never heard of until they contacted me about their upcoming record, Deeper Underground. They play an abrasive amalgamation of metal and electronic music
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Levi Sianturi.

Kekal are a long-running Indonesian avant-garde metal collective that I had never heard of until they contacted me about their upcoming record, Deeper Underground. They play an abrasive amalgamation of metal and electronic music that hearkens back to the early to mid 2000's drum machine heavy aural assault of bands like Genghis Tron and Agoraphobic Nosebleed but share more aesthetically and thematically with anarcho and crust punk.

They are a bit of a musical oddity, mixing hyper-speed programmed drums, howling, growling, and clean vocals, melodic not-quite-traditional-metal riffs, and synths for a sound that’s Genghis Tron meets Cormorant by way of Neo Tokyo. The sound is simultaneously futuristic and caked in grime favouring hard edged rhythms layered over top of dreamy synths, with a mix that skews trebly. There’s an eerie familiarity with which the music flows. Riffs sound like something heard before, but just weird enough that it can’t be placed, then it's gone into the next one. It’s an oddly compelling mix that will no doubt prove polarizing.

The work is clearly a passion project for leader Jeffray Arwadi. Packaged with the download is a complete lyrics book as well as a book of essays, one for each song, as well as individual artwork for each song file in the download. Lyrically the songs are a mix of scathing criticism of the state of the world from lack of attention paid to climate change, to wealth inequality, and the corruption of spirituality by religious dogma. But, in contrast to much metal, these are interspersed with tracks about pushing through and refusing to give up hope in the face of adversity.

It’s certainly not an easy listen, and those who insist on keeping their metal apolitical will be turned off. Anyone feeling musically adventurous and who has been watching the state of the world, trying to balance crushing doubt with nervous hope, will find much with which to engage in Deeper Underground.