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.