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.

May 21, 2018

Grayceon - IV

By Justin C. Grayceon, at full tilt, sounds like the work of at least seven people, but in reality, they're a trio. Drums, guitar, and cello. There are other metal bands out there that use violin or cello, but for my money, none of them makes it sound as
By Justin C.

Artwork by Pelham Houchin III.

Grayceon, at full tilt, sounds like the work of at least seven people, but in reality, they're a trio. Drums, guitar, and cello. There are other metal bands out there that use violin or cello, but for my money, none of them makes it sound as seamless as Grayceon does. They do this not by burying the cello in the mix, using it sparingly, or treating it like a guitar or bass replacement. It's always present, fully integrated, regardless of whether it's carrying a melody line or working as rhythm.

You'll see the band described vaguely as "progressive," but as in many cases, that's just for lack of a better description. On their newest, IV, the slithery guitar riff that opens the album in "Sliver Moon" does have a proggy feel, but it's meaty and catchy in a way that a lot of so-called "progressive" metal doesn't touch. "Scorpion" goes for a more straight-ahead rock/doom feel. The lyrics, "She waits like a scorpion, finding the perfect time to strike" might not be the most original metaphor, but Jackie Perez-Gratz's soaring, harmonized clean vocals elevate the line. The whole song puts me pleasantly in mind of classic Heart, if not exactly in sound then definitely in spirit.

Perez-Gratz doesn't just stick with clean vocals, either. "Let it Go," which in lesser hands might be a cheesy ballad, is energized by her vicious screams of "LET GO!" competing with the chorus. Contrasted with the cleanly sung "When you find the one you love, don't let go," it's a bit of a mixed message in terms of dating advice, but it's very effective music. The contrast, plus the lovely melody and pure earnestness is hard to resist.

If I had one nit to pick--and it's a small one--it's that the band occasionally adds what I'll call "codas" to songs that don't really need them or don't have the length to support. I feel like "Scorpion" wants to be a straight-ahead, straight-to-the-point rocker, but one can be tricked (as I was) into thinking the band has moved on to another song when it ends with a slower movement, and "Sliver Moon" uses a similar structure. The musicianship is nothing short of stellar in the main parts of the songs and the codas, but they feel just a touch disjointed in songs that are only around the four-minute mark.

That said, I can't imagine anyone who liked their previous work not liking this album. Though no huge departure from All We Destroy, IV gently incorporates some of the changes found on Pearl and the End of Days. There's a refinement and a polishing you can only get with talented musicians collaborating for well over a decade. They've been a bit quiet for a while--this is their first new material in 5 years--but even on first listen of the promo, I was immediately sucked back in by their charms.

May 18, 2018

Morgengrau - Blood Oracle

By Steven Leslie. Unspeakable Axe is quickly becoming one of those labels that elicit a blind buy for me. Through a serendipitous combination of similar musical taste and an impeccable level of quality control, literally everything they have
By Steven Leslie.

Artwork by Nick Keller.

Unspeakable Axe is quickly becoming one of those labels that elicit a blind buy for me. Through a serendipitous combination of similar musical taste and an impeccable level of quality control, literally everything they have put out in the last few years has impressed. Their most recent release, Blood Oracle from Texas Death Metal crew Morgengrau, is certainly no exception. Comprised of members whose background includes killer underground bands like Hod, Plutonian Shore (whose newest release is worth checking out as well) and Trench Warfare, their pedigree is certainly not in question.

Blood Oracle offers up 36 minutes of no frills, meaty American styled death metal with a hint of black metal atmospherics which adds a sinister edge to their compositions. A key factor in the album’s success is that every aspect of the music is crafted with the song in mind. This isn’t an album where the technical prowess of the guitarists or the inhuman drum displays will steal the show. Instead, every instrument works in tandem to create a super tight, but not soulless, seething behemoth laying waste to everything in its path. Equally impressive is the band's ability to incorporate other elements into their core style. Whether it’s the doomed out pacing of the aptly named “Poised at the Precipice of Doom”, the thrashy intro to “Forced Exodus” that could have come straight off a Testament album, or the vocal rasp and blackened atmospherics of album opener “Blood Oracle”, Morgengrau showcase a deft hand at incorporating interesting and unique flourishes to their solid death metal base.

Erika Morgengrau’s vocals also deserve a big shout out. They immediately reminded me of a slightly more death metal Laurie Sue Shanaman of Ludicra, never a bad thing. Morgengrau manages to strike that perfect balance between intensity and clarity, allowing the occult drenched lyrics to shine through and drive a compelling narrative through each of their songs. The production also works well in their favor – clean enough to allow their tight performance to really shine without sapping the human feel that is essential to this kind of music. If there is one "complaint" to be had it comes down to the bands consistency. While there are no bad riffs on this entire album, the high general quality means that very few segments or songs stand out amongst the whole. So while I genuinely enjoy the album every time I listen to it, by the end I am hard pressed to point out a truly memorable song or riff. Its but a small price to pay for an otherwise excellent record.

Do yourselves a favor and snag Blood Oracle, and while you are at it, spend some extra time browsing Unspeakable Axes Bandcamp page. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

May 15, 2018

Grave Upheaval - Untitled

By Bryan Camphire. Among those who till the soil, it is said that the government and the weather are the two most unpredictable things with which they must contend. Powerful machinations and elemental forces are two things that propel the music of Grave Upheaval
By Bryan Camphire.


Among those who till the soil, it is said that the government and the weather are the two most unpredictable things with which they must contend. Powerful machinations and elemental forces are two things that propel the music of Grave Upheaval, especially so on their second untitled record. Grave Upheaval conjure up a sound entirely of their own governance, going so far as working in their own invented language, the sigils of which are included in the packaging of this release. The music pelts its way against the windows of your reality, a storm that no amount of preparation could abate.

When I first heard the record, midway through the third song I thought a small child had fallen down the stairs in my house. My pulse still quickens slightly each time I hear that scream. The vocals on this record are harrowing in the extreme. This might have to do with the fact that the lyrics are concerned with sciomancy, a form of divination through communing with spirits of the dead. In a recent interview, the group tells of the first song herein consisting of a curse upon the graves of priests, rendering them unable to rise in the event of Revelation. Suffice to say that Grave Upheaval goes several steps beyond the heap in their attempts to conjure forth music that is corrosive and blasphemous.

A trinity of contemporary death metal has come from down under, with Portal as the father, Impetuous Ritual as the son, and Grave Upheaval as the unholy ghost. The ritualistic music on offer here is as much concerned with texture as it is with tune. The rumbling guitars suggest gaping hideous spaces. The drums scrape against and bore into the music. Often times these tools play perverse games with time. If the guitars play fast, the drums go slow and then this reverses. But not always. Things are seldom as simple as they may seem on this record. A beat gets subtracted without warning, rendering the proceedings off kilter and all the more sinister as a result. Baneful calls echo as though suspended in a state of falling, endlessly careening deeper into an unfathomable abyss.

It is darkness where light never existed, oblivion, the number zero. These are some images that may come to mind when you listen to the music of Grave Upheaval. The ominousness of their music is conveyed through chants, low frequency bellowing and knotted rhythms. Their very name suggests an unnatural reversal of death. It suits them. Theirs is a sound from the beyond, a violent harbinger played in reverse.

Throughout the course of eight tracks in just under an hour, Grave Upheaval further their music to new extremes. It's a cavernous sound, often imitated but never duplicated, and on this record, through clearer production choices, the blacks only get blacker. Clamorousness cloaked in reverb empowers this music much in the way that villainy gains strength in shadows. Six feet below the surface, this band has no use for titles. This is music that we mere mortals may not make complete sense of. What is clear is that this is a poisonous concoction and it is rising.

May 13, 2018

Sergeant Thunderhoof - Terra Solus

By Calen Henry. Sergeant Thunderhoof couldn’t possibly have anticipated they’d be releasing Terra Solus mere weeks after stoner metal godfathers Sleep dropped their first album in over a decade with no advance warning. It’s a good thing, then
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Sara-Jane Swettenham.

Sergeant Thunderhoof couldn’t possibly have anticipated they’d be releasing Terra Solus mere weeks after stoner metal godfathers Sleep dropped their first album in over a decade with no advance warning. It’s a good thing, then, that it's so good. Drawing more from the Kyuss side of stoner metal than Sleep’s woozy mantras, Sergeant Thunderhoof show stoner metal takes more than killer fuzz, big riffs, and an Orange stack but those certainly help.

Eschewing the progressive trappings bands like Dvne and Elder have embraced, Sergeant Thunderhoof deliver straightforward stoner metal with a dash of psychedelia, for a sound straight out of Palm Desert. Rather than showcasing skill with complex song structure, or lofty concept albums (two things I do so love) they inject their straightforward attack with subtle touches that set them far ahead of the usual “dusty dudes with a riff” desert rock. Like Kyuss before them, they refuse to be pigeonholed into a single sound, delivering varied, impeccably composed songs that always come back to the riffs, but don't live or die by them.

While the songs are rooted in huge fuzzy guitar riffs, the fuzz itself sounds different from other bands. Mark Sayer’s tone splits the different between the smooth fuzz of an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi and the razor-edged Boss Hyper Fuzz. The fuzzed out riffs often twist and turn in unexpected ways playing on expectations of bluesy stoner rock riffs and trading off with the bass to keep the momentum going through solos. The axes are underscored by phenomenal drumming that drives the grooves along and fills the spaces with interesting accents and rhythms, one of my favourites being a penchant for double kick rolls into phrases. The band delivers on both fast rockers and slow jams with their straightforward tunes belying a complexity that only reveals itself if you want to look for it over repeated listens. The more I listen to it, the more I like it and the more I can't stop listening to it.

To top it all off the vocals are fantastic. Vocals often get de-emphasized in metal, but many of my favourite bands are set apart by their vocals. “Half a Man”, the album’s penultimate track, show the band know what they’ve got in their vocalist, giving him a showcase accompanied only by dreamy clean guitar. It’s a stunner. Dan Flitcroft’s range of styles throughout the album is huge from thin and Ozzy-like, to a whiskey-soaked growling croon and full-throated singing layered with vocal harmonies reminiscent of ASG’s Jason Shi, all of it perfectly executed and chosen to complement the songs.

Thankfully, Terra Solus features excellent production to match the music. The master is a bit less dynamic than their last outing, “Ride of the Hoof” at DR 7 instead of DR 9, but it’s dynamic enough that everything comes through clearly and the drums and bass have a nice “thump” to underscore the fuzzy riffs.

With Terra Solus, Sergeant Thunderhoof show how stoner metal is done. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard a Kyussian stoner metal album this good. Even without the “Name your Price” pricepoint it’s absolutely essential listening.

May 11, 2018

Chrch - Light Will Consume Us All

By Matt Hinch. It wasn't too long ago I was writing about Chrch. Their split with Fister last year was pretty good. Luckily the wait was short for the next release, Light Will Consume Us All. On this one we get three tracks ranging from
By Matt Hinch.


It wasn't too long ago I was writing about Chrch. Their split with Fister last year was pretty good. Luckily the wait was short for the next release, Light Will Consume Us All. On this one we get three tracks ranging from nine and a half to up over 20 minutes. So be prepared to invest some time.

“Infinite” starts with a long intro of lonesome guitar setting a longing mood with the percussion sitting in the distance. After a while the drums move up, the guitar moves back, and the vocals come into focus setting up a doomy dirge. Melodic lines weave throughout and vocals range from clean, Dorthia Cottrell-esque to absolutely vile. The passages of quiet and serene and those of outright heaviness show the two sides of the band can co-exist. But to be honest the haunting guitar/vocal part around the 3/4 mark was not expected. Luckily, the crushing volume and massive tone returns on the back of a beastly doom riff to finish things off.

Chrch at Northern Discomfort 2018. Photos by Krups Peredo / Abismo Blogzine.

“Portals” is a complex 14:49 that feels much darker than its predecessor. Slower, more pummelling, more doomed. At least when it wants to be. There are less intense moments on this one too. Eva Rose's clean vocals are ghostly. In fact, all the clean vocals on this are. The cleans really open things up to contrast the oppressiveness they can unleash at seemingly any moment. “Portals” cycles around with the heaviness and airiness eventually converging in the momentous way Chrch are fond of. This track demonstrates how sometimes the music doesn't necessarily take you from Point A to Point B. As the track shifts moods, vocal styles, and volumes - exploring sonic spaces - the listener feels rooted in place as all this happens around them. Powerless but to let the feelings, vibrations, and melodies simply flow through, one must then brace themselves.

Chrch at Northern Discomfort 2018. Photos by Krups Peredo / Abismo Blogzine.

Finally “Aether” wraps up the LP with the most Pallbearer-like feeling. (Maybe it's closer to Warning. I haven't heard them much. Maybe it's both.) For a while slothly doom “riffs” crawl towards what feels like inevitable doom. Rose's vocals softly add to a haunted, melancholic atmosphere amid cymbal crashes and heavy-handed crush. It does get quiet. Heartbreakingly so. Until almost out of nowhere fast and raging black metal fury sends everything else shattering into the void at the command of terrifyingly tortured vocals. The final minute or so of both the track and album strikes a balance between the fury and melancholy with superb atmosphere and a fitting fade to darkness.

For roughly 45 minutes Chrch (Rose, Chris Lemos (guitar/vocals), Ben Cathcart (bass), Adam Jennings (drums), and Karl Cordtz (guitar/vocals)) paint a rich sonic tapestry using light (that will consume us all) and darkness, melody and pure power, warmth and cold. It's textured and multi-layered. Doomed and despairing. Crawl out of your hole and let Chrch do the work of making you wish you had stayed in it. At least not without pulling Light Will Consume Us All back in with you.

May 4, 2018

Afsky - Sorg

By Steven Leslie. Good old depressive black metal! A genre with so much potential, sadly squandered by an avalanche of basement dwelling wannabe Xasthurs. Danish band Afsky entered the scene in 2015 with the release of their eponymous EP
By Steven Leslie.


Good old depressive black metal! A genre with so much potential, sadly squandered by an avalanche of basement dwelling wannabe Xasthurs. Danish band Afsky entered the scene in 2015 with the release of their eponymous EP, which did little to elevate the genre beyond that which had already been established. Now, three years later, main man Ole Pedersen Luk returns with Afsky’s debut album Sorg. My how the times have changed.

The first significant shift, and huge win for Afsky, is that Sorg journeys far beyond the realms of standard DSBM. In fact, the album would be better described as an atmospheric black metal record with depressive elements, particularly showcased in the vocal performance. The expansion of sound and vision allows Afsky to offer up a much more compelling and engrossing sound across the albums 48 minute run time. Coupled with a dramatic improvement in songwriting and a focus on crafting dynamic compositions, Sorg is a breath of fresh air in the genre.

Repetition has always been a critical component in both depressive and atmospheric black metal, a fact that is not lost on Luk. However, instead of simply repeating the same riff for hours, Luk starts with a base motif and layers and develops his riffs, adding new textures which propel the songs forward and suck listeners into his well-developed soundscapes. The clean production, by DSBM standards at least, allows Afsky’s compositional development and beautiful layering to really shine through. Coupled with the albums organic sound, the production provides the record’s seven tracks ample breathing room and highlights Luk’s compositional and instrumental development.

Afsky’s songwriting growth is demonstrated on a track like “Sorte vand”, with the opening riff injecting an air of hope, before allowing the sorrow devour the listener, all without any of the saccharine aftertaste many post-black metal bands leave in their wake. By injecting a little bit of light, Afsky makes their darkness all the more profound and impactful, a trick many Depressive and Atmospheric Black bands could learn from. Another standout is “Vættekongen” where a folky intro gives way to a gripping atmospheric black metal composition that reminds of Taake’s early, harsher sound. On top of this, Luk lays down an excellent vocal performance, perfectly balancing both sorrow and anger in every devastating rasp. The variation in riffs, compelling drumming and powerful vocals ensure that even nine minute songs like “Stjernerne” feel half their length, always a good sign for an album.

If there is one complaint, it falls down to the fact that the majority of the album plods along at the same mid-paced speed. While this isn’t noticeable on individual tracks, for old farts like myself who enjoy listening to entire albums all the way through, it does somewhat diminish the overall impact of the album. With a few tempo shifts added to the already drastically improved song compositions, Afsky could be a force to be reckoned with. Minor gripes aside, this really is a compelling addition to both the depressive and atmospheric black metal worlds and is well worth your time if you have any interest in either genre.

April 30, 2018

The Armed - Only Love

By Justin C. The Armed is a band that's been floating around in my life for a while now. I think I may have first heard their EP Young & Beautiful as early as 2011, or it might have been their split with Tharsis They, a thrashy hardcore band whose album Ominous Silence
By Justin C.


The Armed is a band that's been floating around in my life for a while now. I think I may have first heard their EP Young & Beautiful as early as 2011, or it might have been their split with Tharsis They, a thrashy hardcore band whose album Ominous Silence got positive attention in the metal blogs I frequent. Whenever it was, I've always been charmed--if "charmed" is the right word for such a vicious-sounding band--by The Armed's yearly EP releases.

I always thought of The Armed as grind, although the band self-identifies as punk, pure and simple. Put on "Witness," the opening track of The Armed's second full-length, Only Love, and I think you'll see why I find the band to be at least somewhat grind-minded. The furious electronics, pyrotechnic percussion, and raw, screamed vocals certainly fit in with a more chaotic genre tag. But on this, their second album, the band has expanded their sound a bit from previous efforts. The solid blasts of punk/grind fury now see some cleaner vocals creeping in. Exceptions abound, though. "Fortune Daughter" features some understated melodic vocal lines, but they're contrasted with vicious female vocals from a member who may have been added to duel with the pre-existing male vocalist. (Or she might have been in the band all along. As far as I can tell, The Armed has never been forthcoming with who the members actually are.)

But if you're afraid my description of Only Love sounds like a band starting to go soft, fear not. "Apperception" is a full-bore assault. A casual listener might think the percussionist and his entire drum kit fell down the stairs during the recording while miraculously keeping the beat, but repeat listens reveal fills on top of more fills. There's almost a cathartic build to the song that veers into "sunny" territory, while somehow still being full of fury, which is a juxtaposition the band also executes flawlessly elsewhere, like in "Middle Homes."

Genre debates between punk and metal aside (Encyclopaedia Metallum does not include them, for whatever that's worth), I have a hard time imagining anyone with a passing interest in grind OR punk wouldn't dig what this band is doing, and unlike other bands of a similar spastic ilk, Only Love showcases a band that's evolving and growing. I heartily recommend checking out their entire back catalog, but their newest is a good place to start.

April 27, 2018

Gatekeeper - East of Sun

By Calen Henry. East of Sun is Gatekeeper's debut album, following a string of EPs and splits. The Vancouver band plays epic speed metal adding grit and velocity to the grandiosity of bands like Atlantean Kodex and Solstice. They enter a crowded field
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Duncan Storr.

East of Sun is Gatekeeper's debut album, following a string of EPs and splits. The Vancouver band plays epic speed metal adding grit and velocity to the grandiosity of bands like Atlantean Kodex and Solstice. They enter a crowded field, with traditional and doom metal bands being a dime a dozen right now, but they manage to stand out.

Gatekeeper nail both "epic" and "speed" in their interpretation of metal, the epic side often slowing down into doom territory. The guitars nail double kick backed full tilt riffs and slower drawn out melodic doom with solos to match either style, be it aggressive fret-board pyrotechnics or mournful slow-burn lines. Vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud is equally well suited to either style balancing technique and feeling. He shows great melodic and emotional range matching the flow of epic metal, but possesses a grit and "close to the edge" quality that's perfect when they speed things up but also works for slower passages backed by harmonized "aahs".

The deft merging of styles is matched by songwriting chops. Gatekeeper doesn't really do anything new but they write such great songs, jammed with sing-along choruses and ripping solos that they don't need to. "Blade of Cimmeria" opens the album with a rousing speed metal scream, immediately gripping the listener, then running through some of the faster material on the album, "North Wolves", and "Warrior without Fear". By the time they slow things down and get really epic on "Ninefold Muse", you're hooked.

The vocals sound great and the guitars have just the right crunch, but the mix robs the band of some of their hard earned epicness. The drums are too far back in the mix, and the master is too compressed to allow cranking it to compensate. The band deserves a better mix to really showcase their excellent material.

Still, it's a great album. Edge of Sun positions Gatekeeper as a strong band and is a hugely impressive debut, not to be missed by any fans of the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal.

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.