April 20, 2018

Ails - The Unraveling

By Justin C. It was about this time last year that I was giddy over two new songs by Ails, a band fronted by ex-Ludicra members Laurie Shanaman and Christy Cather. Hearing these two together again in a new black metal project is a delight
By Justin C.

Artwork by Andrei Bouzikov.

It was about this time last year that I was giddy over two new songs by Ails, a band fronted by ex-Ludicra members Laurie Shanaman and Christy Cather. Hearing these two together again in a new black metal project is a delight, and Ails' first full-length, The Unraveling, provided everything I wanted and more.

It's tempting to compare and contrast this band with Ludicra. That legacy looms large. And after all, if you put Robert Plant and Jimmy Page together, the end result is undoubtedly going to be a bit Zeppelin-ish, and the combination of vocals from Shanaman and Cather on top of Cather's guitar work can't help but be a bit Ludicr-ish. Album opener "The Echoes Waned" even has a lovely acoustic guitar interlude with some heavy picking, not unlike what I noted way back when (in my very first review here) of Ludicra's Hollow Psalms. But the more I nerded out on musical analysis, the more I realized it was a bit unfair to both the other members of Ludicra and Ails. And truth be told, that lovely familiarity is mixed with plenty of new sounds.

"Any Spark of Life" mashes up tremolo and palm-muted, thrashy goodness in guitar work that's both tempestuous and melodic at the same time, and that's coupled with Shanaman's always-ferocious screams on some bleak material: "The only reflections I can see / are the dark circles underneath / eyes that harness the sadness." "Mare Weighs Down" brings in a sense of horror movie soundtrack with lyrics about nightmares: "Falling into slumber brings no peace of mind / it stirs up horrors." "The Ruin" takes a more feral turn before the album closes out with "Bitter Past," a track that ranges over blasts of guitar, clean vocals, and breaks where Shanaman's shrieks are allowed to howl over just the rhythm section. The lyrics themselves aren't in the least bit coy: "Forgive to forget / forgive to move on / spoken so eloquently / but chronically wrong." The music burns in your ears with extreme metal's version of catchiness, and the words forego convoluted Satanist texts for emotions and experiences anyone can relate to.

At 41 minutes, this album is short, but only in the sense that I want so much more. The length is actually downright perfect. Easy to absorb in one sitting, but with plenty of things to chew on for repeat listens. Have I written this as a bit of a fan boy? Yeah, probably, but the internet is welcome to decry my lack of "objectivity" in my subjective opinion. If you know Ludicra, you'll want to get on this. If you don't, you'll want to get on this, then go back and get your hands on everything Shanaman and Cather have done.

April 13, 2018

Møl - Jord

By Justin C. If you've read anything about Møl's debut album Jord, you've no doubt heard "Deafheaven," "Alcest," and "blackgaze" bandied about. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for that sweet mash up of shoegaze waves of sound and black metal shrieks
By Justin C.


If you've read anything about Møl's debut album Jord, you've no doubt heard "Deafheaven," "Alcest," and "blackgaze" bandied about. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for that sweet mash up of shoegaze waves of sound and black metal shrieks, although I know both the genre tag and some of it's better-known practitioners get people's hackles up. I don't know if Møl is going to change anybody's diehard opinion on that, but before you skip ahead, let me at least tell you how they stand out.

To my ears, Møl pulls influence from music a little bit older than shoegaze. Sure, mentions of Slowdive in the promo materials are apt--I can hear a little bit of that--but Møl's melodic sensibilities come out of 80s pop and goth as much as 90s shoegaze. The clean guitar line that opens the album could have come from The Cure or Depeche Mode, although it doesn't stay in that vein for very long. There’s plenty of heavy here, though. "Vakuum," for example, starts out with some nasty old metal riffs, but keep listening to the chorus of the song, blanketed with prominent synths and poppy melody, and tell me you can't imagine this song on The Breakfast Club soundtrack. Granted, it would have been a much gnarlier movie, one in which Ally Sheedy's character probably would have killed one of the other students, but it would have been a lot more interesting.

Photos by Mariann Libach Burup.

And this is what makes Møl interesting. It's as if they decided to take the most inoffensive synth pop as a basic template and angry it the hell up. Not that there isn't plenty of heavy to be found. "Ligament," probably my favorite track on the album, starts out as heavy as they come, blasting with shrieks and growls before gradually morphing into a sound that I called "shimmery" in my notes, before coming back to full aggression mode. There's even a bit of lovely clean singing later in the song that twists in and out with the shrieks. It's harsh, meditative, and uplifting all at the same time.

Mixing black metal and 80s synth pop shouldn't work, but it does, and it's so damn catchy. It doesn't hurt that Møl cleverly avoids some of the excesses of their peers--there's only one instrumental interlude, "Lambda," and it's lovely, and the tracks are relatively short, much like the pop songs they take influence from. No long, wandering interludes here. The whole album is laser focused and well paced. Even if you think you're done with blackgaze (or never wanted anything to do with it in the first place), Jord is well worth checking out.

April 9, 2018

Messa - Feast for Water

By Calen Henry. Messa's debut, Belfry made waves. Their occult blues from hell, rooted in 60's rock as much as 70's proto-metal, sounded like an apocalyptic coven worshiping at the altar of Jefferson Airplane, SunnO))), and Black Sabbath.
By Calen Henry.


Messa's debut, Belfry made waves. Their occult blues from hell, rooted in 60's rock as much as 70's proto-metal, sounded like an apocalyptic coven worshiping at the altar of Jefferson Airplane, SunnO))), and Black Sabbath. Delivering equal measures of riff mastery and experimental ambient weirdness, it was one of 2016's best doom records and made them a kind of torchbearer for "weird doom".

Feast for Water once again delivers the doom. Messa lay down riffs that go almost exactly as expected, but always slightly askew, keeping things interesting. The guitar solos, rooted in psychedelic blues, writhe and twist in ways many metal guitarists can't manage and Sara's powerful vocals pull it all together. The doom never loses the melody, letting the weird be weird.

And they bring the weirdness. Not content with their ambient psych doom from Belfry, Messa have branched out even further, bringing in jazzy moments, black metal, and noise. Some of the changes are clear right from the start. After an ominous low string opening over the sound of flowing water, opener "Naunet" builds into a climax of static before breaking. Any album that opens like a clipping. album has my attention.

"Snakeskin Drape" the album's first real song reassures listeners that Messa still bring the fuzz and the riffs before "Leah" breaks everything apart. Much of the track is classic Messa, big riffs a ripping solo, and great vocals but after opening with some SunnO))) worship (if they hadn't strayed so far from Goatsnake) it breaks into a laid back groove with jazzy keys that wouldn't be out of place on a Jaga Jazzist album. Sara's lovely vocals work astonishingly well over their newfound jazziness making the numerous other forays into it across the album seems natural rather than silly or gimmicky.

Apart from "Leah", "Tulsi" is the band's biggest departure. Still weirdly cohesive, it shows Messa's trademark sound expanded with echoes of Vhol; raspy vocals, chromatic tremolo runs, and spacey sludgey riffs, before breaking into an extended saxophone solo. As with the rest of the album, Sara commands all with her vocals and they keep the disparate parts together.

Few bands can take an already diverse sound, exponentially diversify it, and keep it so cohesive. Though they sound quite different, the result is reminiscent of Boris. Both bands mix heavy rock with seemingly whatever else takes their fancy, and make it work. Messa make weird doom even weirder and it's absolutely wonderful. Not everyone will want to be along for the ride, and if you're not Monolord have got your back for straightforward doom. Those up for the weirdness will be amply rewarded for their adventurousness.

April 8, 2018

Foehammer - Second Sight

By Matt Hinch. Technically Foehammer's self-titled release from three years ago (almost to the day) is considered an EP as it only has three tracks. Put them together and it breaches the 30-minute barrier. That sort of song length carries over
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Luciana Nedelea.

Technically Foehammer's self-titled release from three years ago (almost to the day) is considered an EP as it only has three tracks. Put them together and it breaches the 30-minute barrier. That sort of song length carries over to their debut LP, Second Sight. This time we get four songs encompassing a punishing 46 minutes with closer “The Seer” clocking in at 16:40. Heaving riffs and heavy tone lay a severe beating on the listener as the guttural vocals and heavy-handed percussion tie the sludgy doom package together.

Foehammer immediately set out to crush skulls with slow, plodding doom. Their amps give off a constant call for death with a pounding cadence that doesn't quit and rarely speeds up. It's far from boring though as some riffs come across as slightly off-kilter. Not easy to do at funereal speeds as that kind of thing can get trickier than you think.

Often time they throw in a little flair. An atypical lick here and there and usually a solo too. The solos reveal a soul behind a solid wall of nasty, downtuned distortion. They scream of ache, betraying a visage of muscularity and an m.o. of sonic destruction. Even the riffs contradict the anger factor with despair and pain.

They're not afraid to lighten things up though. At least temporarily. “Axis Mundi” starts with a nice acoustic passage before laying down some drone and a more epic feel reminiscent of Conan. Interestingly enough, Conan has a song called “Foehammer”. Common inspiration is likely not a coincidence.

Elsewhere, early Pallbearer shades the crawling, sprawling doom giving the listener something to hold on to during what could easily become an endurance test in less capable hands.

To be honest though, you come to Foehammer to have your head caved in by brutal, relentless, bone-shattering doom riddled with a dirty tone and enough volume to shake foundations. Second Sight delivers all that with the kind of heaviness that causes gravity wells powerful enough to bring down the sky. It's a bruising effort that methodically pulverizes while making you feel like a powerful (yet perhaps complex) tyrant at the same time. If Foehammer slipped by you those many moons ago then maybe it's time you take another look with Second Sight.

April 6, 2018

Vilkacis - Beyond the Mortal Gate

By Justin C. At this point, I think it's only fair that we consider Michael Rekevics as his own subgenre of black metal (MRBM). He currently plays or has played in Yellow Eyes, Vanum, Vorde, Fell Voices, and possibly 36 or 37 other bands.
By Justin C.

Cover art by M. Rekevics.

At this point, I think it's only fair that we consider Michael Rekevics as his own subgenre of black metal (MRBM). He currently plays or has played in Yellow Eyes, Vanum, Vorde, Fell Voices, and possibly 36 or 37 other bands. I've been to two different festivals during which he played multiple sets with different bands. He's also the sole creator behind Vilkacis, who, after four long years, has produced a new album, Beyond the Mortal Gate.

Although it's been a while since Fever of War, the actual recording for Beyond the Mortal Gate started right after the completion of Fever. The new album feels like a conversation with an old friend that continues to flow even after long periods of absence. Both albums are muscular, impassioned black metal, marked by the unwavering intensity Mr. Rekevics brings to all his projects.

The delicate instrumental intro, "Snowfall by Torchlight," perfectly encapsulates its title with its sound. It feels like the sunrise I woke up to this morning, with an April snowstorm starting. After that, the album starts running and rarely slows down. "Defiance" burns with a drive that feels like Motörhead, which isn't surprising given that I've seen Rekevics play bass, and he wails away on it like Lemmy did. The melody line is simple but effective, and Rekevics's vocal roar still hits you in the face like a blast furnace.

When I used the word "running," to describe the start of the album, that was a deliberate choice. It really does feel like a race being run--either toward or away from something--although like any good album, it doesn't stick to just one feeling or pace. "Spiritual Retribution" slows down a bit and offers some unaccompanied, chiming tremolos, and if anything, "Boundless Spell of Realization" turns things further up in intensity, with Rekevics letting his voice rise to an almost unhinged feeling. The closer starts with a simple, martial-sounding drum beat with a slow guitar line like a clarion call.

Although this album continues the meat-and-potatoes black metal of its predecessor, there are some nice tweaks to the template. The production, in particular, is just a bit cleaner, with Rekevics's vocals pushed just a bit up in the mix. The primitive, raw feeling isn't gone, but the tweaks make for a better-sounding album overall, and the vocals in particular start to approximate the intensity you experience when seeing Rekevics perform life. I definitely recommend that experience--there's no doubting how serious Rekevics takes his music when you see him perform--but even if you don’t get the chance, this album is yet another welcome entry in the MRBM canon.

April 5, 2018

Mesarthim - The Density Parameter

By Calen Henry. True to form, Mesarthim dropped their third full length, in the middle of the (Australian) night with no fanfare. Following Isolate, .- -​.​.​. .​.​. . -. -​.​-​. . (Absence), and five EPs The Density Parameter continues their
By Calen Henry.


True to form, Mesarthim dropped their third full length, in the middle of the (Australian) night with no fanfare. Following Isolate, .- -​.​.​. .​.​. . -. -​.​-​. . (Absence), and five EPs The Density Parameter continues their synthey exploration of the outer reaches of black metal.

Despite their relatively niche sound, Mesarthim have a diverse back catalog and The Density Parameter pulls from it all, melding searing black metal with the spacious synth sounds from Isolate, the more orchestral sound of .- -​.​.​. .​.​. . -. -​.​-​. ., and the lush, driving synths of the later EPs, especially The Great Filter.

As always it's a space suit gloved middle finger to metal genre conventions and an excellent album. Plus, listeners who stay right to the end will, once again, be rewarded with an album closing Morse code message. The payoff is worth decoding it.

April 4, 2018

Drudkh - They Often See Dreams About the Spring

By Alain Mower. Ukraine's premier Black Metal band Drudkh are also one of the most time honored and accomplished groups in the genre, with Їм часто сниться капіж (They Often See Dreams About the Spring) being their 11th full length release
By Alain Mower.


Ukraine's premier Black Metal band Drudkh are also one of the most time honored and accomplished groups in the genre, with Їм часто сниться капіж (They Often See Dreams About the Spring) being their 11th full length release across a career punctuated with seminal records and critical acclaim that has earned the group one of the most dedicated fan followings in metal music.

Guitarist Roman Sayenko and frontman Thurios are the creative forces behind the songwriting of Drudkh, establishing the unique sound of folk-influenced melodies, sprawling epics and enveloping atmospheres the band would become known for as they helped establish the subgenres of Atmospheric Black Metal and Pagan Black Metal.

Lyrically known for their embracing of deep set sorrow and profound loss, Drudkh is cited to be most inspired by the works of contemporary, nineteenth and twentieth century Ukrainian poets, leading the bands writing to thematically sweep from Ukrainian history, culture and mythology to philosophy, mysticism and nature.

With this new entry to their catalog, Drudkh seem to be returning to some of the more aggressive roots in their songwriting, the sprawling epics of mid tempo tremolo guitars and dynamics sprawling like the night sky unfolding behind a fading sun.

They Often See Dreams About the Spring seems to align musically and thematically with some of the groups recent themes, the omnipresence of darkness and loss that exists in a modern society that has killed our connections with the magics of our mother earth.

The excellent production, particularly seen in the clarity of tight drum work that dictates mood and tone through the pacing of the entire record, as well as in the mixing of Drudkh's numerous layers, creating idyllic backdrops painted through a seamless meshing of synths and the rhythmic tremolo of the guitars frees up space for the shifting melodies and lyrical narratives.

While taking on a more slight air of aggression and bitterness than their most recent work, and the continued dividends that come with a bigger production budget since their move to the Season of Mist label, They Often See Dreams About the Spring doesn't do anything Drudkh haven't done before with their songwriting or sound, and this is something I'm quite happy about.

Few groups can hold a candle to Drudkh when it comes to this brand of Black Metal, and one key aspect that always pulls me to listen to every release they put out is the continued curiosity of hearing masters of their craft pursue their craft.

That is to say, If you have listened to the group before and didn't find yourself in love with their atmosphere focused, bleak approach to this unique style of admittedly difficult to listen to and potentially "acquired taste" music, I don't believe Drudkh are trying to change your mind with this new album.

If you, like me, find this to be extremely up your alley, then They Often See Dreams About the Spring might just be the best you'll hear this year.

April 3, 2018

Anna von Hausswolff - Dead Magic

By Alain Mower. Anna von Hausswolff, the gem of Sweden's Experimental Pop scene, is only as difficult to describe musically as she is relentless in her pursuit of uncompromising creation of deep wells of emotion and meaning in her compositions.
By Alain Mower.


Anna von Hausswolff, the gem of Sweden's Experimental Pop scene, is only as difficult to describe musically as she is relentless in her pursuit of uncompromising creation of deep wells of emotion and meaning in her compositions.

To say that Von Hausswolff's music is Darkwave or Goth revival, takes away from the Neoclassical, Drone and Experimental sides that mirror and counter-define every movement. Shirking easy identification is almost an acknowledgement by the artist herself that the music exists somewhere between music and black magic; the modern and the tribal; the mind and the spirit; or, to drive home the juxtaposition that is "Dead Magic", life and death.

Anna von Hausswolff 2016. Photos by Pedro Roque.

Much of the unique sonic foundation of the album stems from the organ used and recorded on site, captured using the 20th century organ at Copenhagen’s "Marble Church", Marmorkirken, one of the largest churches in Scandinavia and center of the Frederiksstaden district in the capitol.

The production of Dead Magic was handled by Seattle based Randall Dunn (Master Musicians of Bukkake), renown for his production work with iconic acts such as Sunn O))), Earth, Boris, Kayo Dot, Myrkur and Wolves in the Throne Room (whose recent album, Thrice Woven, Anna von Hausswolff contributed vocals to).

Anna von Hausswolff 2016. Photos by Pedro Roque.

Anna von Hausswolff is most recognizable by her powerful and evocative voice, the kind of which you only hear a few in your lifetime. She uses this power to remind the listener of the magic that once resided in the spaces between our everyday, even in the mundane.

Music was magic, the changing of the seasons, the experiencing of snow on naked skin, squishing mud through our toes, magic was all around us. The death of magic, rooted in the death of perhaps our awareness, our connection with our past or our nature. The polarizing of all that we are, hope and despair, all that survives is here in Anna von Hausswolff's three movement, five songs.

The truth, the glow, the fall. Knowledge and fear of the unknown. Power and fear of death. A greeting and the fear of being forgotten.

April 2, 2018

Primordial - Exile Amongst the Ruins

By Calen Henry. Exile Amongst the Ruins is Primordial's ninth album in their 27 year career. Sharpening with black metal menace the epic melancholy they share with Solstice and Darkest Era, they've carved a unqiue niche in metal
By Calen Henry.


Exile Amongst the Ruins is Primordial's ninth album in their 27 year career. Sharpening with black metal menace the epic melancholy they share with Solstice and Darkest Era, they've carved a unqiue niche in metal. Their morose grandness, though similar to their moody brethren, draws from different parts of the metal canon. The band weaves an ebb and flow of emotion but, unlike the guitar driven attack of Solstice and Darkest Era, all serves A. A. Nemtheanga's powerful vocals.

He is a singular vocal force falling almost in the middle of the metal vocal spectrum. He sings powerfully, melodically, and sounds like he could front every band from power metal to black metal. On Exile Amongst the Ruins, his full range is on display, from blackened rasps, through a cavernous bellow and a heavy dose of his trademark melodic grit.

Primordial 2016. Photos by Pedro Roque.

Though the songs feature driving riffs, pummeling rhythms, and great guitar leads, everything feels like it's feeding and supporting the vocals, building epic crescendos for Nemtheanga that are as likely to build through an entire track as break into a riff, solo, or fill. Tracks mostly stick to Primordial's formula but show surprising range exemplified by the first two tracks and their placement on the album. "Nail Their Tongues" is latter day Primordial at their most metal, building a simple guitar line into a fierce riff backed by blast beats, tremolo picking and Nemtheanga's fiercest vocals on the album. It's immediately followed by the post-punk inflected "To Hell or the Hangman", one of the album's standout tracks.

Though the songs vary, the core Primordial sound never gets lost. This can come off as lack of variation when not giving the album careful attention, but devoted listens to Primordial's marching, brooding hymns to history reward with layers easily missed. Primordial's sound is so their own, so completely owned, and Exile Amongst the Ruins delivers another grand foray into it.

March 30, 2018

Vallendusk - Fortress of Primal Grace

By Hera Vidal. About three weeks ago, I wrote about Vallendusk’s Homeward Path and I mentioned that the band has a comforting, atmospheric black metal appeal and a tendency for cohesiveness and musical experimentation. For their third album
By Hera Vidal.


About three weeks ago, I wrote about Vallendusk’s Homeward Path and I mentioned that the band has a comforting, atmospheric black metal appeal and a tendency for cohesiveness and musical experimentation. For their third album, Fortress of Primal Grace, it seemed they decided to amp their other metal influences and fully let that meld with the atmospheric black metal to create something greater and majestic.

True to their brand of experimentation, Vallendusk still makes me want to get up and dance, as their ever-present folk tones continue in effect. What’s even better is that they took their melodic metal influences and they ran with it, creating an album that continues in that warm vein of atmospheric black metal. However, instead of their focus being in the music, a lot of attention has been paid to their atmosphere. With the usage of clean vocals and what sounds like a reel, the atmosphere feels like a warm blanket, letting the listener become acquainted with the comforting sounds of the backing melody. This album isn’t meant to scare you or make you go into a certain headspace to enjoy it; rather, it uses tones that have already worked in the past and they incorporated new sounds to keep things fresh and vibrant. Vallendusk even makes the atmosphere even warmer by adding acoustic touches to the music, amplifying the overall mood of the record. Vallendusk has definitely expanded their musical range by adding to their vast catalogue of musical elements that they can get away with.

What also caught my attention regarding Fortress of Primal Grace was the overall high production value the album has. I have mentioned that they have a tendency for cohesiveness, but everything about Fortress is clean – the mixing is excellent, the instrumentation doesn’t overpower the vocals, and the sound is crisp and clear. You can hear every single aspect of the tones used on the album and how they are all woven together throughout the album. You can’t help but marvel at Vallendusk’s cohesiveness. Granted, pulling this off on the first two albums is unheard of, but actually continuing their streak of excellence shows off Vallendusk’s incredible musicianship. This is a band that knows what works sonically and have decided to stick with it.

All in all, Fortress of Primal Grace is an excellent testament of Vallendusk’s brand of atmospheric black metal. Fortress is the most accessible and approachable of the three albums so far, but it also shows just how keen their musical evolution is. From emphasizing atmospheric black metal on Black Clouds Gathering to the clean instrumentation of Fortress, Vallendusk is a case study of a band that truly knows their stuff.

Zuriaake - Gu Yan

By Hera Vidal. China isn’t one of those countries I would consider to be very metal. For one thing, there’s censorship and Communism, and metal is one of those things I would consider to be very Western. However, since the eventual spread
By Hera Vidal.

Artwork by 代千竹

China isn’t one of those countries I would consider to be very metal. For one thing, there’s censorship and Communism, and metal is one of those things I would consider to be very Western. However, since the eventual spread of black metal to the rest of the world (the never-ending “third wave”), many countries have taken black metal’s DNA and modified it, creating music that fits their culture and what they want to show.

Zuriaake, a Chinese band who came into the scene in 1998, is no exception to the rule – except they decided to combine atmospheric black metal with depressive overtones, and then adding traditional Chinese instruments that add nuance to the music. Their brand of atmospheric black metal is enjoyable and highly accessible, creating a perfect marriage of melodies that makes the album sound majestic. This album reminds me of the wuxia films I grew up watching as a kid, as the music presents a perfect backdrop for the stories in those films. It’s dark and emotional, but there is also a sense of hope on this album that translates well to the listener. Interestingly enough, the music becomes more and more Chinese the further you listen to it. At first, it stands quietly in the background, but by the time “邊關” begins, the full effect of the Chinese instruments have blistered your ears, creating an Imperial Court feel that you could see in films. It also allows the listener to fully enjoy the album on its own, as the vocals only accentuate the majesty of the music. You can easily lose track of time while listening to the record, but the headspace it allows the listener to be in is a calming one, even with all the black metal elements the album has going on.

The bulk of its music is on the sprawling 20-minute track “邀 (广寒 / 仙游 / 南柯)”, which is the crowning jewel of the album. This bombastic, emotional track shows the multitude of what Gu Yan has in store, and it’s so massive, you can sit and listen to it with your mouth wide open. It almost feels like there are three songs in one, but they are so well-put together that they flawlessly meld into each other. Even if you decide that the album isn’t for you, listening to “邀…” is recommended.

All in all, Gu Yan is an album that represents China as a country with a stake in black metal. It’s majestic, emotional, and reminiscent of wuxia films. There’s something incredibly imperial to it, as if the music had been smuggled from the Forbidden City. I am surprised by this album. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I expect it will get a permanent spot on my winter playlist.

March 28, 2018

Akvan - Forgotten Glory

By Hera Vidal. One of the most unlikely places that black metal would show up in would be in the Middle East. Plagued by war and, in many cases, strict religious laws, metal is not the sort of music that would thrive in this region.
By Hera Vidal.


One of the most unlikely places that black metal would show up in would be in the Middle East. Plagued by war and, in many cases, strict religious laws, metal is not the sort of music that would thrive in this region. However, that hasn’t stopped many people in these countries to make their own black metal and add their own spin to it. Despite the usage of YouTube and Bandcamp for musicians to publish their music, Middle Eastern black metal still remains underground, but that hasn’t stopped listeners to get their hands on it, and enjoy the music that comes from the region.

Is metal (black metal or otherwise) easy to come by in Iran?

First off, metal and Western music is technically banned, even though you can find bootlegged copies of any current US Top 40 artist on every street corner. If you look hard enough, I’m sure you can find some shops that sell bootlegged metal albums, but it would prove an arduous journey. The Internet in Iran is ridiculously slow, especially if you try to download anything. Not to mention that it is heavily censored. But the Iranian people will always be one step ahead of their government and every now and then I’ll run into people who know what the hell I’m talking about when I mention black metal.


Akvan is a one-man black metal project from Iran that, despite its ban of Western culture and music, has managed to create a compelling project that tackles both Iranian history and mythology and how its culture can be misinterpreted by its own people. Forgotten Glory is no exception to Akvan’s past demos – it continues to explore Iran’s history through music. What I love most about Forgotten Glory is how the project combines traditional Iranian instruments and black metal tonalities, creating music that sounds somber yet furious. There is a deep rage that comes out through the album, as if Akvan was angry about the current politics in Iran and wants its citizens to listen to read the history, not just focus on the current laws the country has. However, the somber nature, which comes from the tar, adds to that feeling that, despite the rage Akvan feels, looking at the history is nostalgic, back to a time that seemed easier to understand.

It’s very difficult to put what one is feeling through words, but you can’t deny that Akvan’s music is incredibly emotional. For one thing, you can’t help but sympathize with the stories that Akvan presents. In some cases, you can only feel the rage that he presents. In other cases, you can’t help but look fondly at the stories he presents, as if you are too identifying with the lyrics he presents to you. As a foreigner in a country that feels like a second home, I can’t help but try to find comfort in Akvan’s music. By listening to the music and looking at the lyrics, it reminds me that I know almost nothing about my country’s history (unless we are talking about the dictatorships and the systematic killings), allowing me to gain appreciation for another country’s history. Akvan makes it approachable, respecting his origins and also the changes that Iran has gone since its inception.

All in all, Forgotten Glory is an album that pays respect to both its subject matter and the land that allowed it to come forth. Despite the ban, there is no stopping black metal from assimilating itself into other countries, especially when it’s used to talk about culture, politics, and religion. In a country where church and state rule together, Akvan thrives, showing us the resilience of the music that refuses to be limited.

March 27, 2018

Frozen Gate - Behind the Dark Ice

By Hera Vidal. Frozen Gate are a band from Switzerland, which doesn’t bring up the image of black metal in the slightest. When I think of Switzerland, I think of Sybreed and Celtic Frost—one of the major pioneers of proto-black metal—
By Hera Vidal.


Frozen Gate are a band from Switzerland, which doesn’t bring up the image of black metal in the slightest. When I think of Switzerland, I think of Sybreed and Celtic Frost—one of the major pioneers of proto-black metal—but they are not on the top of my list for black metal. However, this band is relatively new—they have been active since 2013 and Behind the Dark Ice is their debut album—but the scheme of this album is ambitious, which says a lot about most black metal I have listened to.

Everything about Behind the Dark Ice screams “grandiose”: they have a black metal sound with a huge, orchestral and choral backing. It sounds cold, and the deafening wall of sound is enough to overwhelm the listener. The first two tracks, a two-parter of a piece named “Evangelium”, are impressive and reel the listener in to listen to the rest of the album. Each track is also a little over four minutes—with some exceptions—and they are laden thick with music that pulls you in. The orchestral backing is massively woven with black metal tonalities—the blast beats, the harsh vocals, and the frigid atmosphere that the music seems to evoke—creating a theatre of sound that uses every instrument and voice at their disposal. Xeonyr from Ne Obliviscaris and Roger Rüfenacht from Bloodstained Ground make appearances on the album, their respective appearances add flair to the music, and their vocals alone are enough to make their songs standouts.

Frozen Gate also doesn’t shy away from creating an atmosphere for each song. For example, “Enter the Gate” uses pounding drums to create an assault of sound before lapsing into softer sounds, generated by a guitar and a piano, before returning to the backing keyboards, vocals, and strings that give this album life. This is what true symphonic black metal should sound like: heavy, dark, and with enough orchestral power that could fill an entire concert hall. There is power behind Behind the Dark Ice and it shows just ambitious the band is about their music.

In short, Frozen Gate’s Behind the Frozen Ice is a grandiose yet stark album whose relentless power is impressive within its scale. This album is long—almost an hour of heavy, powerful music—and filled with gorgeous melodies. There is a lot to keep the listener engaged, but it runs risk of being repetitive. I am surprised the album didn’t falter the entire time I was listening to it, but it goes to show that the band wasn’t messing around when they decided to make their debut a powerful one. After all, sometimes, you have to go big or you go home.

March 26, 2018

LvxCælis - The Watchers

By Hera Vidal. Every now and then, I come across Chilean metal, which I have learned to appreciate over the years, given how far removed I am from a country I identify with. I am not familiar with the Chilean metal scene per se, but I do listen to it
By Hera Vidal.


Every now and then, I come across Chilean metal, which I have learned to appreciate over the years, given how far removed I am from a country I identify with. I am not familiar with the Chilean metal scene per se, but I do listen to it, and I have come to realize that Chileans are best known for their thrash metal Of course, we are talking about black metal; why not bring forth the religious overtones we have come to appreciate and discuss about this genre?

Liberation!
For all those who have suffered
Under the four elements of this matter.
Those who kissed the skull and cried.
Reborn in spirit and left behind their animal state.
We raised our temple and toasted in thy name.

LvxCælis has the ritualistic tonalities of Batushka and the raw power of creating incredibly fast-paced and driven music. The Watchers is an ode to the Luciferian Gnosis, where Lucifer is not seen as an evil archetype to God, but is seen as a liberator. You can explain the Creation myth in Genesis as Lucifer, disguised as the serpent, liberated Adam and Eve from their Garden of Eden by showing them the truth about the world. LvxCælis holds nothing back in their odes to the Luciferian Gnosis: their music is driven, well-made, and terrifying.

The atmosphere they have created on the album is ceremonial, and the chanting, syncopated voice gives the music an air of trying to summon Satan from the abyss so they can speak to him. In the past, I have mentioned that Litourgiya was to turn the vernacular on its head, especially due to their ritualistic tonalities and almost politically-charged outlook. LvxCælis not only manages to turn the vernacular on its head, but it also deconstructs it and sets it on fire. The Watchers is the soundtrack to a demon-summoning ceremony and it’s lovely.

The Watchers is the literal polar opposite of what Chile is religiously. Chile is a Catholic country; various aspects of its everyday life have some Catholic values attached to it. Although church and state are officially separate, the Catholic Church and its affiliates enjoy a certain amount of privilege and preferential treatment in the government. What better way to rebel against the imposed religion than by creating a black metal album that seem to bring Satan into the conversation? Perhaps The Watchers isn’t about rebelling, but about understanding a belief system that most people don’t seem to either discuss or understand. Either way, The Watchers forces the listener to have questions, to have doubts about various belief systems, and to see that while the world472esn’t have all the answers, you can find comfort in knowing that finding them is part of growing up.

All in all, The Watchers is a Chilean black metal gem, filled with a certain raw quality and introspection that you want to question. I do hope that LvxCælis continues to bring their game into creating more religious black metal—after all, talking about the Luciferian Gnosis is one step into bringing religion into a positive light—but I do hope we can hear it in Spanish sometime in the future.


[This week on Metal Bandcamp Hera takes you on black metal journey around the world. After South America, next stop will be in central Europe.]

March 24, 2018

Arkheth - 12 Winter Moons Comes the Witches Brew

By Steven Leslie. It’s no secret that it has become increasingly difficult to stand out amidst the ever flowing stream that is black metal these days. Good and even great albums are washed away under a current of static hiss and more kvlt than thou histrionics
By Steven Leslie.

Artwork by T Bare McClough

It’s no secret that it has become increasingly difficult to stand out amidst the ever flowing stream that is black metal these days. Good and even great albums are washed away under a current of static hiss and more kvlt than thou histrionics, sadly leaving many with the impression that modern black metal has moved well past its sell by date. Thankfully there are bands like Arkheth who explore and expand the boundaries of the genre while consciously keeping one foot in the grave, remaining tethered to the atmosphere and sonic elements that helped to make black metal special.

First I have to make mention of that cover. I must admit that the initial impression was less than positive and had me questioning if the black metal tag was some sort of joke; however, closer inspection revealed a genius at work. The cover takes traditional genre elements (forests, witches, etc.) and flips them on their head by injecting a wash of new colors and embellishments, exactly mirroring the bands sonic enhancements to black metal. This is reflected in Opener “Trismegistus” which immediately sets the mood with a riff structure and guitar tone that reminds of an unholy combination of Dødheimsgard’s more recent creations with the otherworldly style of the always excellent Negative Plane. Over the next seven minutes the music continues to warp and mutate, never content to sit still for long – even when the opening riff returns, it is enhanced with new tones and sonic hues courtesy of saxophonist Glenn Wholohan. Over all of this, main man Tyraenos spews out devilish invocations via some of the best black rasps you will hear all year. And that’s just the first song.

Over the remaining four tracks, Arkheth throw all sorts of musical elements into the blender, injecting echoing arpeggios over rock beats that morph into ice cold tremolo picked melodies and blast beats before collapsing into dissonant soundscapes. Tyraenos is no one trick pony vocally either. While his black rasps are a personal favorite, he is just as skillful with his malevolent whispers and downright derange “clean” singing. What makes it remarkable is that it all fits together so well. Unlike Sigh for instance, sorry Sigh fans, which just sounds like the musical kitchen sink was thrown into some demented circus composer’s score, every new tone, sound and sonic element on 12 Winter Moons Comes the Witches Brew feels necessary and planned for maximum impact. Clearly Tyraenos spent the eight years between albums well, honing and sharpening his compositions to a razor’s edge.

Throughout the album’s 47 minutes, the constantly shifting, perverted musical landscape keeps you off balance and toys with your mental state in the best possible way. There is not a moment of this album that doesn’t demand your attention, constantly drawing you back in the second your attention even considers wandering. From the psychedelic cover to the unique and skillful incorporation of saxophone and the utter unpredictability of the songwriting, Arkheth has managed something truly unique, a remarkable achievement in and of itself. That it is so completely engrossing and excellent from start to finish is just the icing on the cake.

March 23, 2018

Death Toll 80k - Step Down

By Professor D. Grover the XIIIth. Greetings and salutations, friends. I return from another long spate of procrastination to bring you a look at one of grindcore's underrated gems. Now, one does not need to be a grind aficionado to be familiar
By Professor D. Grover the XIIIth.


Greetings and salutations, friends. I return from another long spate of procrastination to bring you a look at one of grindcore's underrated gems. Now, one does not need to be a grind aficionado to be familiar with the legendary Insect Warfare; even a tertiary knowledge of the genre should be enough for one to at least be aware of the brilliant World Extermination, a modern death-grind classic. However, it's less likely that you might be aware of Finland's own Death Toll 80k, even though they've been active since Insect Warfare's heyday. The bands share similarities in style and sound, and given that the latter band didn't really start releasing albums until after the demise of the former, it's not hard to imagine Death Toll 80k as a sort of spiritual successor to Insect Warfare.

Death Toll 80k's 2011 full-length debut, Harsh Realities, was a perfect example of this. Like Insect Warfare, they displayed a penchant for dropping punk riffs into their songs to give the listener a brief respite from the otherwise relentless blasting, and they also alternated between nigh-unintelligible guttural roars and higher-pitched screams. Harsh Realities was short, 23 songs in 25 minutes, but it packed enough sonic violence and variation into that span to feel satisfying.

Death Toll 80k at Maryland Deathfest 2013. Photos by Metal Chris

Still, it took 6 long years for Death Toll 80k to release a follow-up, but happily there was no rust to be shaken, as Step Down finds the band picking up where they left off. Here they shoehorn 17 songs into 15 vicious minutes, once again opting for that famed grindcore brevity. The pace is relentless, making the 15 minutes feel even shorter, but it seems that there is less variety present as compared to Harsh Realities, instead relying more on straight-ahead blasting. It's possible this is a side effect of the reduced run-time, but it's a mild disappointment that is more noticeable when you listen to both Death Toll 80k albums in succession.

Step Down sounds good though, with a slightly fuller production than its predecessor. It's claustrophobic and loud (with a dynamic range score of 5), but with grindcore you have to expect an aural assault, so this really isn't overly detrimental to the experience. The whole point of a grindcore album like this is to bludgeon the listener straight in the eardrums, and Step Down accomplishes this with ease. This is the kind of music that will frighten small pets, singe eyebrows, and kill your neighbor's trees. If you're looking for the musical equivalent of a blowtorch to the face, then you can rest easy, because you have come to the right place. Hope you brought safety goggles.

March 20, 2018

Furia - Księżyc milczy luty

By Hera Vidal. The more black metal continues to progress, the more it allows bands to experiment with both sound and technique. It allows these bands to break from the standard mold of black metal and let them do what they want while keeping
By Hera Vidal.


The more black metal continues to progress, the more it allows bands to experiment with both sound and technique. It allows these bands to break from the standard mold of black metal and let them do what they want while keeping it in the genre. When I heard that Furia had released their newest full-length album, Księżyc milczy luty (“Moon Silent Severe”), I was intrigued but time was not my friend. Now that I have some time and I slowly going through all the albums I missed, I decided to visit this album and see why everyone was in love with it.

Księżyc milczy luty begins with “Za ćmą, w dym”, which is quite a quiet start to a black metal album. It reminds me a bit of Chopin, especially since a lot of the Chopin I know tends to border on the quiet. However, as the track progresses and the guitar riff continues to repeat in order to accentuate the atmosphere, you realize that the song creates a sense of weightlessness. The music sounds airy and catchy, and the vocals here are deep enough to send chills down your spine. The weightlessness, however, drops on “Ciało” and it becomes heavier. It almost feels claustrophobic, as if you are losing air the more you continue to listen onwards. Considering how the album is about the moon, it makes sense to lose some air the higher in space you get. It’s emotional, bleak, and it almost feels like you are about to lose consciousness. However, you are rewarded with the rage of “Tam jest tu”, which reeks of fire and brimstone and makes you scared of what is to come. “Tam” is melodic and beautiful, and it doesn’t shy away from the usage of heavy guitars to make its point for the listener. Apparently, life on the moon is not as simple as Furia makes it out to be.

Things begin to get darker in “Grzej, where the listener gets a blast of black metal, especially in the vocals. There is a restrained rage underneath the surface before the vocals, with their howling, kicks in. This song is incredibly somber and it doesn’t shy away from using all of its pent-up rage to make the listener understand and empathize with some of the strong emotions we hear on the track. “Zabieraj łapska” reminds me a lot of Ved Buens Ende in how the usage of vocals creates a sonic atmosphere that is alien and overwhelming. The listener begins to appreciate the quiet moments the track has, because the vocals can literally scare the shit out of you when you least expect it. The song also has a lot of impact and the vocal assault is almost zealot-like, as it continues to hammer into you until the music stops. Album closer “Zwykłe czary wieją” has a lot of thrash metal tonalities that makes the song enjoyable to listen to. The vocals are between clean and harsh, and they chant throughout the track, as if they are worshipping whatever lives on the moon. There is a high level of distortion to the song that builds in intensity, but allows the melody to continue. When the song ends, the music hits feedback, allowing the listener to breathe once again.

All in all, Księżyc milczy luty is a melodic yet claustrophobic album that impresses you with its beauty and its brand of black metal. It’s as if they took Chopin, wrung it through death and moon worship, and created something foreign that makes the skin crawl. This isn’t Furia’s first rodeo, and they know full well what they are doing. I like it and I want to spend more time with it. Kudos to Furia and I look forward to what they will put out next!

March 19, 2018

Hinayana - Order Divine

By Majbritt Levinsen. Hinayana’s Order Divine is by far one of the most anticipated releases for me in recent time. So when I got a copy of the album in advance I hardly dared to push play! Would it meet my expectations?
By Majbritt Levinsen.


Hinayana’s Order Divine is by far one of the most anticipated releases for me in recent time. So when I got a copy of the album in advance I hardly dared to push play! Would it meet my expectations? Or would It be so bad that I wouldn’t be able to write down a single word? Luckily it was not the latter as it would have been a terrible review.

I was taken by surprise by Hinayanas demo - Endless from 2014 and loved their moderately paced gloomy melodic death metal, the only thing I really missed was air between the instruments. But I’ve got something to tell you and it is this: there is plenty of air, it is absolutely worthy of appraisal and it is too damned short! Casey Hurd, should be proud of what he and the rest of the band has accomplished; it is quality melodic death metal with a dash of doom which can be heard on repeat. You can take any given track of the album and not be disappointed.

From the first atmospheric intro the mood of the album is set: organic, vast and grandiose with a melancholic dark spirit. The cold wind and the melancholic guitar lets your mind wander to a cold, barren, grey and doomed landscape filled with dark struggles of the mind. After the intro follows "The window" which sends the album on its way galloping over before-mentioned harsh landscapes.

The album is perfectly mixed, everything lays in neat layers letting you explore every instrument. The drums has such a rich warm tone that kind of sucks you into the core of the tracks and together with the bass sets a stable foundation. The rough grinding guitar that makes up the massive wall of sound together with the keys, which by the way is so subtle and finely added that they really enhances the tracks to a grandiose state. On top of this you will find clear delicate guitar melodies that all together pleases my ears in symbiosis with Casey’s articulated growls.

So what can you expect? Not a dull moment that is for sure! Extremely steadfast melodies that offers everything from powerful passages to moody depths and enlightened heights. The album is homogeneous and hold together so tightly that it is hard to pick a track to single out, but there is one that, for me at least, stand out just a bit more and it is the overall darkest track of the entire album "Return to nothing". It hit a chord with me from the very first time I heard it. Its gentle buildup, Casey's whispers in the beginning, the moodier darker feeling and finally the great chorus that sparks an overwhelming urge to break into a sing-a-long frenzy only matched by Amon Amarths' "Guardians of Asgaard". So please join me while I jump up on a rock, gazing out over the barren lands, raising a fist towards the dark rainy skies and bellow out: "Pain, follow me now. The darkest place I left behind!", just before making a free fall into oblivion!

This could have been the perfect ending to a perfect album, but the album closes off with the slower paced "Conduit Closing" which brightens up the mood a bit with a more airy contemplative feeling. It is as if the albums dark struggle has been resolved and has come to some kind of peace and that is the perfect ending to a perfect album!

March 16, 2018

Gygax - 2nd Edition

By Dave Beaudoin. Hailing from Southern California and named for Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Gygax has always worn their influences on their sleeve. Their second album even takes it title from the naming conventions
By Dave Beaudoin.


Hailing from Southern California and named for Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), Gygax has always worn their influences on their sleeve. Their second album even takes it title from the naming conventions of tabletop role playing games with album artwork straight from the so-epic-it-should-be-painted-on-a-van aesthetic of 80's gaming.

Artwork by Fares Maese.

2nd Edition opens with an epic call to arms showing confidence not usually heard leading off a sophomore effort. Featuring a great 70's rock riff that takes you right back to the days of riding your bike over to a friend’s house to gorge on pizza and high fantasy into the late hours of the night. From both a structural and thematic perspective, having an absolutely rocking call to arms as the first track then leading into the “why” of gaming with "It Makes It Worth It" really works. By following up the invite with a seriously blistering number that celebrates making up stories about elves and dragons reaffirms the theme of the album and doubles down on why D&D resonates with so many people. 2nd Edition also mirrors the story arc of a well crafted tabletop roleplaying encounter and is meticulously accurate when referencing D&D lore

The lead single off the album, "The Lascivious Underdark" is perhaps the most overtly D&D themed song on the album and continues to display the quality of Gygax’s songwriting. The main riff is absolutely infectious and so many of the guitar and drum fills are a real testament to the great harmonized guitar acts of the 70's and 80's. The obvious comparison is Thin Lizzy, but there are also progressions and structures that sound like they could be Queen if Brian May was really into T-Birds. The interplay of lead and rhythm guitar on the album is fantastic and really shines on repeated listens. There is also great stereo separation on many of the tracks that enhances the dueling guitar nature of the songs. Also, I’m pretty sure this is the only song about a Mind Flayer who is just looking for love/lunch.


"Pure Hearts" is the second single on the album and for me is the obvious standout track. The hook is fantastic and would sound at home on a Huey Lewis album, but it’s obvious that Gygax prioritizes painting miniatures over playing sports. Pure Hearts also represents the first downtempo track on the album and while it’s still an upbeat number, it foreshadows a shift in tone that defines the second half of the album. I’d also like to point out that somehow Gygax managed to write a great rock song about undying love and magic that contains a reference to a transmuter’s tower.

The second half of the album is where Gygax starts to get into ridiculously deep D&D lore. "Song of the Silverhands" and "Wish" both have some very specific references to epic heroes in the overarching world of D&D. The Silverhands were three sisters, raised by one of the greatest mages in the lore, and who each went on to each be a major hero in the overarching world of Dungeons and Dragons. They founded the Harpers and the Spellguards. In "Wish", the story of a Spellguard who encounters a succubus is told in detail as a cautionary tale for any party that wishes to go up against a powerful magic user.


Both tracks display Gygax’s respect for not just the themes they’re singing about, but the musical history they represent. The horns on "Song of the Silverhands" are expertly woven into the sound of the track and show an ability to not just put a song together but to orchestrate a spectacle. Though I imagine this song is destined to be a deep cut off the album, it’s the one I’d most like to see performed live in a stadium.

As the album winds to a close, "Heavy Meddle" shifts to a soulful and almost jazzy tone setting what could be literal campaign flavor text to music. This track in particular shows off Eric’s range as a bard (though album credits list him as a cleric… I assume he’s dual class).


After taking a bit of a break with some slower tracks Gygax’s 2nd Edition closes with an absolutely ripping battle anthem. The aptly titled "Second Wind" is yet again rife with specific D&D references, so if you thought the party was going to phone it in at some point, you’d be mistaken. "Second Wind" also provides a great rock’n’roll close to the album after the previous two relatively slow tracks and brings the album full circle.

2nd Edition is a fantastic album full of classic heavy metal riffs that sound great even if you’ve never cruised the strip in a custom van or invited the gang over to slay some dragons. The mix is pretty dynamic and sounds great when cranked up. The album is out on Creator-Destructor Records and Gygax is supporting it with a tour of the western US If they’re coming to your town I’d definitely encourage you to grab your dice and head to the show.

March 15, 2018

Slaves BC - Lo, and I Am Burning

By Matt Hinch. Let's get something out of the way before we get into it here. If you look at the tags on Slaves B.C.'s latest, Lo, and I Am Burning you'll notice one is “christian”. Looking at the song titles should make that obvious as well.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Josh Thieler from Slaves BC.

Let's get something out of the way before we get into it here. If you look at the tags on Slaves BC's latest, Lo, and I Am Burning you'll notice one is “christian”. Looking at the song titles should make that obvious as well. But fear not, fellow unbelievers. You can barely understand what they're saying anyway. In a good way. Besides, there's some pretty dark stuff in the Bible too. As long as you like fearsome black metal hybridized with a handful of other genres, philosophy shouldn't be an issue. I probably shouldn't even have brought it up. I was just a little surprised is all. Even though I have a vinyl copy of their previous LP.

A telling example of their style hits you like a sledgehammer right away. Opener “Lo” is a flurry of black metal struck with a little discord. The vocals are positively shiver-inducing. You'll find a sludgy bit and you'll get pounded by some death metal. I'd hesitate to call it a formula but it's fairly indicative of what unravels throughout the album.

No matter where you find yourself within the nine tracks you can be sure to be consumed by darkness. Both the foundational elements of black and death metal strengthen this feeling. The black metal comes at you fast and tremulous incorporating atmosphere when needed and launching you into icy, windswept flight elsewhere. The death metal veers to the left of old school. It's got that edge of weird that seems to be all the rage right now, but they keep it within the range of normal comprehension while emphasizing an ominous nature.

On tracks like “We Are” and “XLV” the pace slows in places as the mood thickens. Pounding chugs more akin to deathly doom and hypnotic repetition move into dangerous sounding places where paranoia grows.

There's even a groovy sway guiding you to sink into despair but rise back up, lifted by off-kilter discord and black metal fury. Case in point; “Unclean”. The listener fights a doomy slog until cresting the peak and rumbling down the slope on an avalanche of anguish then continuing through the valley and across the plains while storm clouds gather to facilitate annihilation.

Slaves B.C.'s greatest asset is their ability to stitch together a multitude of styles and feelings into something seamless that makes you feel uncomfortable on a sliding scale yet constantly yearning to feel it harder. More pain! More darkness! More catharsis! All the while coarse, feral, vampiric screams twist your vertebrae as you're driven to throw your body headlong into the maelstrom.

Lo, and I Am Burning is a raucous steamroller of energy creating and releasing tension deep within. It's dynamic and noisy, frightening yet alluring. If you're looking for release, look no further than the cleansing fires Slaves B.C. have set ablaze. Amen.

March 13, 2018

Carpenter Brut - Leather Teeth

By Jeff Treppel. After a string of rapturously-received EP’s and a tour with Ghost that helped expose the synthwave sound to a wider audience, it was probably about time for Carpenter Brut to put out their first proper full-length
By Jeff Treppel.


After a string of rapturously-received EP’s and a tour with Ghost that helped expose the synthwave sound to a wider audience, it was probably about time for Carpenter Brut to put out their first proper full-length. In true iconoclastic fashion, of course, they tossed Leather Teeth out into the world with almost no warning. And boy, have they incinerated any expectations.

While the debut trilogy stayed pretty close to darksynth conventions, last year’s CarpenterBrutLive, forged from several US tours, showed more of a focus on a full-band sound and a cover of “Maniac” that served as harbingers of their new direction. The EP’s were a solo undertaking by Franck Hueso; Leather Teeth finds him embracing his newfound collaboration by unleashing a demonic disco extravaganza. In doing so, he succeeds where most synthwave artists fail: each of these eight songs has their own distinct identity, ironically creating more of a cohesive feel than if each track blended together.

The title track skews the closest to previous efforts, with its hard-hitting beats, but after that it’s the Wild West. “Cheerleader Effect” features Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg doing his best Tears For Fears impression. “Sunday Lunch” invites vaporwave over for waffles. “Monday Hunt” Perturbates furiously. “Inferno Galore” feels like the Blade Runner soundtrack performed by Goblin. “Beware the Beast” takes HIM to Miami. “Hairspray Hurricane” might be the most evil thing Jan Hammer never composed. “End Titles” ties it all back together seamlessly. Members of Hexvessel and Klone provided their voices, metal superproducer Jaime Gomez Arellano (Paradise Lost, Ghost, Primordial) helped record the vocals. In other words, this is a seriously impressive undertaking.

Leather Teeth packs one fierce bite. Already one of the biggest names in the scene, they stake their claim here as not only some of the best songwriters, but some of the biggest innovators in synthwave. As other luminaries like Perturbator and Gost seek to distance themselves from that label, Carpenter Brut take the sound to an entirely new level.

March 12, 2018

Darkest Era - Severance

By Calen Henry. Though Severance is almost four years old, now is a great time to revisit it. Darkest Era share an overall mood with Solstice and Primordial, the former just released their first album in 20 years and the latter is releasing their ninth
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Costin Chioreanu.

Though Severance is almost four years old, now is a great time to revisit it. Darkest Era share an overall mood with Solstice and Primordial, the former just released their first album in 20 years and the latter is releasing their ninth at the end of the month.

Darkest Era, though being the youngest of the three bands, was the first I heard, diving into the other two when I wanted more of what Darkest Era had on offer. All three bands play melancholic folk-inflected metal leaning on melody and compound time signatures. Primordial's epic melodic blackened take on heavy metal and Solstice's bottom heavy epic doom approach neatly bookend Darkest Era's sound; faster and more blackened that Solstice but doomier and more classic metal than Primordial.

Darkest Era 2013. Photos by Dvergir

At their core they're a classic heavy metal band complete with epic clean vocals and twin guitar attack. Their magic is how they bring other styles into the fold without ever sacrificing the classic metal feel. The songs are rife with tremolo guitar lines and blast beats as well as melodeath style repeated note riffs instead of sustains, strung together with folky rhythms and with melancholic lyrics straight out of the doom playbook. Through it all they never lose the fist-pumping heavy metal feel.

Bands incorporating many styles can sometimes come apart a bit at the seams but there are no weak points on Severance. The vocals soar throughout, the drums kill everything from the blasts to the 6/8 stomp, the guitars nail everything from the screaming leads to the tremolos. There are even numerous audible bass riffs that round out the record.

Severance is simply one of the best metal records of the past decade. Darkest Era stand with Solstice and Primordial as titans of metal.

Note: Since Severance, Darkest Era have released a 2 song EP with nicely dynamic production (DR 9). If they keep that production for their follow up full-length I will never stop talking about it.