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.