January 15, 2018

Chaos Moon - Eschaton Mémoire

By Ben Handelman. Chaos Moon, once a relatively inactive outfit, has grown increasingly active and prolific since its reemergence in 2014. With the release of last year’s ferocious Eschaton Mémoire, the band has staked out territory
By Ben Handelman.

Album art by Jef Whitehead

Chaos Moon, once a relatively inactive outfit, has grown increasingly active and prolific since its reemergence in 2014. With the release of last year’s ferocious Eschaton Mémoire, the band has staked out territory that should take it from buzz band to “must-hear” status, if anybody’s taking proper note. The sinewy "The Pillar, Fall, and The Key" begins the assault in a proper fashion. There are shades of ambiance that neither comfort nor soften, but rather add to the general queasiness, especially as things begin to deteriorate halfway through. It's in the moments where things drop out that Chaos Moon's loose and limber take on haunting (or perhaps haunted) black metal shines its brightest, as the density is harder to fully appreciate until an element is peeled back momentarily. The true face may remain unknown, yet the individual components of it all rise up from the burbling unease, allowing just enough clarity to keep the listener from complete unawareness.

Cryptic phrasing aside, what Chaos Moon does best is remove the listener from present space and create another entirely. The album’s three lengthy tracks flow into places beyond one’s active mind, creating a hypnotic result in even the most focused audience. Music that interacts with the listener in an almost visual way is inherently more potent, and this is the territory much of Eschaton Mémoire covers. It’s delicate and deliberate, almost fluid in quality, yet when it decides to snap, it’s the most pointed sensation. These separate moods circle each other constantly, channeling something that would seem otherworldly, yet is innately animalistic and painfully human.

Is Eschaton Mémoire good? Undeniably. It is one of the most cathartic black metal albums to come out in recent memory. Is good the goal, though? Probably not. This isn’t about being good or bad, although a review inevitably forces the author to pass some sort of judgment. Instead, this is about feeling. There is so much happening, especially in the twenty minute sprawl of the title track, which is an emotional and spiritual ride. From the truly feral vocal approach to the subtle strains of tortured melody that creep in through both synthesizers and brittle guitar leads, there’s almost more than can be contained or conveyed with mere words. Sure, on the surface this is a black metal album, and there won’t be any specific sounds that can’t be understood here, but as an experience this is worth a deeper visit. Headphones on, world tuned out. Get into it and let it get into you.

January 8, 2018

Auðn - Farvegir Fyrndar

By Calen Henry. Even after the explosion of interest in the Icelandic black metal scene Auðn are a bit of an outlier. Though their icy, jangly, dissonant riffs definitely fit into the Icelandic sound they bring in other styles
By Calen Henry.

Cover art by Víðir 'Mýrmann' Þrastarson

Even after the explosion of interest in the Icelandic black metal scene Auðn are a bit of an outlier. Though their icy, jangly, dissonant riffs definitely fit into the Icelandic sound they bring in other styles creating a unique sound in an oddly crowded scene from the tiny island nation.

Their self-titled debut mixed the Icelandic approach and atmospheric black metal with beautiful results. Farvegir Fyrndar keeps the icy black metal but shifts the mix from atmospheric black metal to post-rock.

It works a bit to Auðn's detriment that they've chosen to mix two styles that are very much in vogue. It makes their approach and execution seem less fresh than it really should. They fall somewhat victim to the information overload of the Internet age. You've heard all the things they're doing before just not together or combined this well. Don't be fooled. Auðn are excellent. Icy, nihilist black metal in the vein of Misþyrming, Naðra, and Sinmara mixed with the lovely post-metal of Sólstafir is a wonderful combination.

Though I personally prefer their self-titled debut's more atmospheric take on the frozen rage of Iceland, Farvegir Fyrnar is a great evolution of the band's sound. I particularly like their penchant for compound time (notes grouped into three, rather than two). That being said, the production on this new record is a touch lacking compared to the debut, with little in the way of dynamic range.

Through no fault of the band’s Farvegir Fyrnar is at risk of getting lost in the plethora of metal albums, black metal albums, post-rock albums, and Icelandic black metal albums. Those interested in that list shouldn’t let it go ignored. Auðn have forged themselves a place in modern metal, polishing the frozen heart of Icelandic nihilism to the sheen of post-rock.

January 3, 2018

Vesicant - Shadows of Cleansing Iron

By Bryan Camphire. Vesicant is a blackened death metal two piece out of New Zealand. On their ferocious debut, Shadows of Cleansing Iron, they deliver seven knotted dismal cuts full to the brim with suffocating dread. The music is
By Bryan Camphire.


Vesicant is a blackened death metal two piece out of New Zealand. On their ferocious debut, Shadows of Cleansing Iron, they deliver seven knotted dismal cuts full to the brim with suffocating dread. The music is peppered with odd meters all over the place, having the nightmarish effect of having to navigate your way out of a minefield in the dark as you watch your blood drain from your body slowly into the dirt. No one section overstays its welcome, fortunately. The frequent changes in the landscape result in a compelling listen front to back.

At the forefront of Vesicant's detailed songcraft, the drums propel the music forward with deft musicality. Mere time keeping this is not. Commanding martial snare rolls abound in slow parts as well as in the faster sections. Odd accents are thrown in all over the place, all off kilter and sinister. In one moment the percussion is tightly locked up with the iron-sprung grip of a bear trap. In the next moment the drums are loose and unbridled, as though giving chase along a blood-stained crooked trail. Note the different speeds of the blasts within a single riff as the "Uncoiled Desolator" begins to unfurl its ugly self scarcely a minute into the track. This high level of nuance in the drumming compels one to pay closer attention with each listen.

The detuned guitars sound as if the gain is turned up all the way on the amps. It's a scorching noisy sound that cuts. The riffs strike an excellent balance of being both both catchy and unpredictable. Harsh guitars meld with the martial drums in a way that's abysmally oppressive, like you're clawing your way out of a pine box six feet deep til your flesh turns to bone.

Song titles here seem to hint at deeper darker meanings. "Enceladus" could refer to a World War 2 vessel or to a moon of Saturn. "Uncoiled Desolator" could refer to anything from a bandolier to the Prince of Darkness on the eve of the Apocalypse. These kinds of evocations add to the sense of foreboding present throughout Shadows of Cleansing Iron.

Vesicant emerges as one of those rare bands who pack more ideas into one song than most bands manage to fit into an entire record. This may not be obvious at first sit down with this album because if one were to drop the needle at any given point on Shadows of Cleansing Iron, you will hear a very singular heavy sound throughout. Quiet breakdowns are nowhere to be found on this record. It is all one ferocious onslaught. However, upon close inspection, rows upon rows of teeth reveal themselves. It's a sound that's precise, consistent and well-sharpened. Shadows of Cleansing Iron is a ripping debut full-length release from very promising fresh talent.

January 1, 2018

The Beastwars Trilogy

By Calen Henry. None of the Beastwars albums are new, but in the fall the band made all their albums Pay What You Want on Bandcamp (until April 2018) to support singer Matt Hyde's cancer treatment so it seems like a good time for a retrospective on their trilogy of albums.
By Calen Henry.

None of the Beastwars albums are new, but in the fall the band made all their albums Pay What You Want on Bandcamp (until April 2018) to support singer Matt Hyde's cancer treatment so it seems like a good time for a retrospective on their trilogy of albums.

Thus far the band has recorded a trilogy of albums focusing on a combination of apocalyptic description and introspection; either describing destruction or musing on coming to terms with the resulting death. The albums aren't exactly concept albums but along with the overarching concepts there are recurring images; birds, mountains, rivers, and magic that represent the struggles with life and death on which the band focus. The band's original goal was a trilogy so it remains to be seen if they keep going. Either way, they've recorded an exciting trilogy of albums like no other band, in a crowded and sometimes boring genre; stoner doom.

Artwork by Nick Keller.

Beastwars came to my attention in 2013 with Blood Becomes Fire but I didn't really get them until I went back to the self-titled, specifically the opening song "Damn the Sky".

It is as fine a manifesto as any band could have, summing up the band's unique take on stoner doom, with a layer of grunge, in one track. Anchored by a mid-tempo guitar pseudo-gallop and the band's characteristic crunchy bass, Matt Hyde's vocals shine. Like no other vocalist he careens between a gravelly smooth croon and a god bothering howl introducing tenets of the band's world:

Take me to the top of the hill
Where the birds refuse to fly
Raise your hands your hand to the damned sky
Watch those twin moons collide


Photos by Mark Derricutt / Chalice of Blood.

Artwork by Nick Keller.

Beastwars appears to be set in a time of magic and myth with references to ships as well as magic, while Blood Becomes Fire is set in the future and features the point of view of a time traveling astronaut. It also marks a musical shift for the band; both noisier and more melodic.

Where Beastwars takes the band's mantra, "Obey the Riff" pretty literally, Blood Becomes Fire anchors the huge guitar riffs with more angular bass (and sometimes guitar) riffs but introduces more melodic guitar leads. It takes the band's unique spin on stoner doom to a new level, really giving the band a sound like no one else. It also works with the lyrical shift, from impending doom to the aftermath of apocalypse.


Artwork by Nick Keller.

The final album in the trilogy, The Death of All Things, mellows out the band's overall sound but maintains a level of ferocity, especially in the vocals, that makes for a sound unmatched in modern metal.

Though the album features the band's lyrical touchstones like mountains, rivers and magic, the album is less concerned with description and more with thoughts on the death of all things. The lyrical shift, combined with the musical shift makes the album all the more successful. The more mellow, deliberate tracks are a master class in stoner doom composition. Most bands can only wish to write one track as good as "Witches', let alone a whole album.


I'd also be remiss to talk about Beastwars without mentioning Nick Keller's fantastic cover art for each album. His vivid paintings give the slight visual push that helps transport you to the worlds the band creates. I'm sure the LP sleeves are amazing.

The only blemish on the band's catalog is production. All three albums are mastered very loudly. It's only truly a detriment on the first record which has noticeable clipping, but it can make all three records, back to back, an exhausting listen. And, at 40 minutes apiece, the albums beg to be binged.

That aside, Beastwars are something special. They took a tired genre back to its roots and built a characteristic sound through three musically and lyrically cohesive albums, each having its own sonic identity. Anyone with even a passing interest owes it to themselves to check them out and let’s hope there's more to be heard from them.