November 18, 2019

Epic Metal Roundup

By Calen Henry. Earlier in the month Wilderun released their epic third album Veil of Imagination so it’s a great time to continue the legend and break out some other epic metal. Metal is a genre prone to drama and grandiosity, in other words, it’s epic. Historically, though, epic didn’t simply mean larger than life
By Calen Henry.

Earlier in the month Wilderun released their epic third album Veil of Imagination so it’s a great time to continue the legend and break out some other epic metal. Metal is a genre prone to drama and grandiosity, in other words, it’s epic. Historically, though, epic didn’t simply mean larger than life, it referred to a specific long form of poetry best known through Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad (both of which have been the subject of multiple metal songs). Some albums tell stories in a dramatic fashion befitting the literary meaning of epic be they historical, fantasy, or science fiction. Epic also manifests in the modern sense with bombastic arrangements and long-form multi-part songs. Some albums may even pull off both. Here’s a trio of albums that each approach epic in different and interesting ways.

Artwork by Jana Heidersdorf.

Xanthochroid are top of the heap for high concept epic fantasy metal to the point that they’ll likely turn off some listeners. All of their albums take place in Etymos, a fantasy realm of their own creation. Their website even has a lore section. Of Erthe and Axen is the two-part prequel to their previous album Blessed He with Boils. In brief, it tells the story of two brothers vying for power, the love of a woman, and control of ancient forbidden magic. The concept is engrossing and involved enough that the albums include completely justified listening guides. They lay out not only lyrics but the full-fledged story complete with character dialog and a narrative connecting all the verses and songs together. The songs are so much related that the titles make up the final lyrics of Part II, tying everything together:

Open the gates, O forest keeper
To lost and ancient gardens
To higher climes where few might stand
To souls distant and dreaming

In deep and wooded forests of my youth
The sound of hunger rises
The sound of a glinting blade
The sound which has no name 

Reveal thy shape, O formless one
Of aching, empty pain
Of gods bereft of grace
Of strength, and the lust for power

Walk with me, O winged mother
Through caverns old and yawning
Through chains that drag us downward
Toward truth and reconciliation

Musically it’s symphonic black metal meets Alan Menkin for what really feels like a metal Disney musical. There is as much classical instrumentation (with a delightful amount of oboe) as metal and it features male/female vocal duets telling the characters’ stories throughout. It may not be every metal fan’s cup of tea and it may be too metal for die hard musical fans, but anyone who likes metal, fantasy, and musicals would be remiss not to check it out especially since all their albums are Name Your Price.



Though not particularly epic in the narrative sense, Lör are musically way over the top. They play what is best described as “turbo folk metal”. Though lacking much of the traditional folk instrument backbone featured in many “folky” metal bands they’re folk by nature of their compositions. Many of their songs start with rhythms and motifs from traditional instrumental folk music then crank up the speed, layer face-melting solos over top, and underpin it with machine gun double kick. There’s a classic thrash feel to it that brings to mind early 90’s power metal thanks to the high clip of the riffs, the guitar tone, and the way the synths sound unabashedly like keyboard patches rather than like a real orchestra. It’s a singular sound and one that took me a bit to get into, but man, does it rip.



Nechochwen present a different and somber version of epic. Hearkening back to historical epic poetry, Heart of Akamon tells stories of displaced indigenous people in eastern America and their journeys to find a place to belong and preserve their traditions. To accomplish this the band play a blend of visceral melodic black metal and folk. But even reducing the music to those genre demarcations is a bit disingenuous. Every track on the album is different from the last and each creates a singular mood that beautifully and terribly conveys each story and theme. The album comes with images of the CD booklet that I found to be essential to understanding and connecting with the album. Not only are the lyrics contained therein, but the band has written about the historical context of each song on the album. The album starts with first contact with Europeans in the ominous “The Serpent Tradition” and traverses themes of life, loss, violence, grief and ultimately hope on the album closer "Kišelamakong". Putting it all together with the lyrics and concepts reveals one of, if not the single best, folk metal album I have ever heard.

November 15, 2019

Abigail Williams - Walk Beyond the Dark

By M.A. Spiro. The enigmatic extreme metal collective that is Abigail Williams once again marshals forces to produce a fifth, and likely their most blistering, full-length recording yet. Walk Beyond the Dark, has been released on the group’s new label, Blood Music of Finland.
By M.A. Spiro.

Artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski

The enigmatic extreme metal collective that is Abigail Williams once again marshals forces to produce a fifth, and likely their most blistering, full-length recording yet. Walk Beyond the Dark, has been released on the group’s new label, Blood Music of Finland.

Championed by lead guitarist, vocalist, and primary composer Ken Sorceron, Abigail Williams’ new recording delivers a massive dose of rage-tinged pathos. The seven-track album spins a glistening narrative with themes of despair, longing, and destruction. Prepare for songs like “Black Waves” to tear your heart out and hand it back to you -- still beating. Brace yourself to be swept away by songs like “Born of Nothing,” which harkens back to the most unforgiving sections of the group’s 2012 offering, Becoming.

I reached out to Ken to talk about the album’s creation in detail. He composed most of the songs on Walk Beyond the Dark during the last five years in between contributing his talents to other musical endeavors, such as Cobalt, The Faceless, and Lord Mantis. Some of the songs reflect the black metal intensity derived from the places where he’s been spending much of his time: the otherworldly beauty found in the Pacific Northwest and the arid desolation experienced in the Texan outback.

I wrote all the songs except “The Final Failure,” which was a song that Ian Jekelis (Aborted) brought to the table back in 2014 when he was in the band. It morphed into what it is now after I fucked with it for years.

The everchanging lineups for Abigail Williams have always featured some of the most phenomenally talented musicians around. Joining Sorceron this time are drummer Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy,, Raven); bass player Bryan O’Sullivan (Altar of Plagues, Mortichina), and classically trained cellist Christopher “Kakophonix” Brown (ex-Empyrean Throne, Hvile I Kaos). Not since the album Becoming have the talents of a cellist been featured so prominently. In addition, Justin McKinney (ex-The Faceless) provides a guest guitar solo on the track “Ever So Bold.”

Unlike The Accuser (2015), which included guest vocals from Neill Jameson (Krieg) and Charlie Fell (Lord Mantis, Cobalt), Walk Beyond the Dark features Sorceron singing every tune. Listeners may be surprised at the fair amount of clean vocals employed here, but they don’t overpower the riffage.

Recording for Walk Beyond the Dark took place in Washington, New York, and Dublin, Ireland. Mixing and mastering were accomplished by Lasse Lammert of LSD Studio in Lübeck, Germany. Where the last two albums demonstrated a transition and maturation of the group’s sound, could one say that Walk Beyond the Dark most closely represents the Abigail Williams’ sound? Ken seems to think so.

It really has elements of all four previous albums in my opinion, so in that regard it’s the most ‘Abigail Williams’ sounding album to date. I think it’s a good culmination of everything I’ve done. All those sounds come together to create this album. The production is top notch while still retaining raw qualities. It’s dreamy and atmospheric when it needs to be and punchy and clinical when the song calls for it.

Like the master craftsman that he is, Ken never expresses complete satisfaction with anything he’s accomplished, and the evolution of Abigail Williams is no different. As a musician, he says, he’s

gotten shittier at some things but better at others. I’ve stopped listening to other bands, for the most part, and I’ve just been doing my own thing.

Has Abigail Williams attained its final form? Not likely. For now, Walk Beyond the Dark presents fans with the most accurate snapshot of the level of excellence that American black metal can achieve today. I am pretty sure this will be my album of the year or at least close to the top.

November 11, 2019

Vastum - Orificial Purge

By Matt Hinch. When I wrote about Vastum's 2015 effort, Hole Below I name-dropped Bolt Thrower, Atheist, and Death. Don't ask me why because I don't really listen to those bands. I should but... whatever the case the death metal created by these Bay Area bashers fills the void created by my lack of OSDM listening with new album Orificial Purge.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Laina Terpstra.

When I wrote about Vastum's 2015 effort, Hole Below I name-dropped Bolt Thrower, Atheist, and Death. Don't ask me why because I don't really listen to those bands. I should but... whatever the case the death metal created by these Bay Area bashers fills the void created by my lack of OSDM listening with new album Orificial Purge.

That title sounds like the prep for a colonoscopy. Pain, suffering, enslaved to the agony and in the end, there's no shit left. There was nothing shitty about Vastum to begin with and these six tracks should silence any doubt about the matter.

The other thing lacking here is light. Listening only brings an aura of darkness. Whether it's their “spooky” intros or ghastly atmosphere, or everything in between, Orificial Purge plunges the listener below the surface into a hellish existence where the sinister reigns in hues of black and red.

Black metal may inform the beastly death Vastum is so good at but their right-hand demon is doom. Thrashy cadence and twisted screaming solos mold the album into various tortured and twisted shapes but the heaviness and their slowing down to a lurching place brings the whole world down upon you. No matter the pace – ripping speed, lurching doom, or mid-paced pummelling – Vastum leave nothing on the table. Full-spectrum death metal.

As if the sonics weren't enough, the coal-breathing vocals grab hold and turn your spine to ash. What's left of it anyway. This is the kind of death metal for which furious headbanging will not be denied. It's a primal instinct activated by primal terror. The lyrics are themselves tortured and twisted but also uttered in an equal foul way. Discerning ears are required.

Orificial Purge has it all. A varied pace, cavernous atmosphere, commanding vocals, and serious chops. The most notable change from previous albums, to these ears, is an uptick in production value. Yeah, death metal isn't supposed to sound clean but this does. The nastiness just sounds better. That's really saying something. What are you waiting for? Let the Purge begin!

November 6, 2019

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XIX - Pyroclasts

By Craig Hayes. Critics often point to drone’s snail-like momentum and supposedly flavorless ingredients as the genre’s major stumbling blocks. Obviously, there’s no getting around the fact that drone creeps and crawls rather than sprints or gallops, and drone can definitely be bland and unimaginative.
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Samantha Keely Smith.

Critics often point to drone’s snail-like momentum and supposedly flavorless ingredients as the genre’s major stumbling blocks. Obviously, there’s no getting around the fact that drone creeps and crawls rather than sprints or gallops, and drone can definitely be bland and unimaginative. Even worse, drone can be unbearably monotonous. Laboring at the same point, over and over again.

That’s why truly sublime drone should be treasured, which is where Sunn O)))’s enthralling synthesis of crushing metal and sound art enters the frame. Sure, the band’s music is slow moving and often comprised of minimal components. But all of Sunn O)))’s releases have traversed different audio terrain.

The band’s core creative duo, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley, have explored new and often inventive pathways with every Sunn O))) release. Sometimes those pathways have been shrouded in darkness. Sometimes they’ve been bathed in light. But they’ve never been featureless or one-dimensional.

Case in point, Pyroclasts, the latest colossal release from Sunn O))). It wasn’t that long ago that I was writing about Sunn O)))’s last album, Life Metal, which was the band's most rapturous release yet. It’s a testament to Sunn O)))’s forever-evolving nature that I’ve yet to exhaust my vocabulary about them. In fact, this is the 19th edition of this Monoliths and Opinions series, and I’m not remotely tired of writing about Sunn O)))’s adventures.

Reason being, Sunn O)))’s music always feels so ripe for interpretation, from myriad perspectives. In Pyroclasts’ case, one interpretation points to it being Sunn O)))’s most curious release yet. In a nutshell, Pyroclasts is unrehearsed but still heavily conceptualized and purposeful. It features immense mood pieces, as you’d expect, but they’re off-the-cuff drones, where musicians seek each other out on a higher creative plane.

In practical terms, Pyroclasts is the result of daily practice. Every morning or evening during the two-week recording sessions for Life Metal (at Electrical Audio), Sunn O))) and co-collaborators –– Tim Midyett, Tos Nieuwenhuizen, and Hildur Guðnadóttir –– would work their way through a 12-minute “improvised modal drone”. The aim was to (re)connect and focus energies, and everyone involved immersed themselves in oceans of sound and aligned their creative chakras via meditative means.

As a whole, Pyroclasts is a vast introspective and contemplative work. Digest the lot in one sitting, and you’re in for a transcendent treat. The album’s four lengthy drones merge into one monumental teeth-rattling suite, with gargantuan slabs of noise being channeled in deeply devotional ways. (And, as always, Sunn O)))'s inner space explorations are offset by celestial escapades.)

Of course, Pyroclasts is a companion piece to Life Metal, which is scrupulously assembled and arranged. Pyroclasts is far more impulsive, but both releases share a similar ambience, with molten riffs that are as dense, intense and heavy as collapsing stars. Mesmerizing tracks “Frost (C)” and “Kingdoms (G)” look to the heavens, but they also shake the membranes, memories, and anchors that maintain our place in time and space. Massive chords collide and coalesce, altering our perceptions, which is what Sunn O))) have always done at their best.

In towering tracks “Ampliphædies (E)” and “Ascension (A)”, huge shifts in sound spark equally intoxicating shifts in emotional states. Mantric musical movements see pulverizing tones rise and fall, with subtle melodies lurking beneath the crashing waves of trance-inducing drone. “Ampliphædies (E)” and “Ascension” also have a far more intimate impact, which is just as powerful as their earth-shaking presence.

Like its volcanic namesake, Pyroclasts is a slow-motion eruption. But for all the album’s brawn, Pyroclasts is one of Sunn O)))’s most reflective releases. Perhaps that comes down to the close connections forged as everyone involved sought to find common ground through instinctual and unscripted drones. Whatever the case, much like Life Metal, there’s a brightness and even euphoria to the heavyweight dirges here –– and a similarly mercurial sense of adventurousness.

Sunn O))) have noted that Pyroclasts can be viewed as a lens to “re-experience the complexity" of Life Metal, and you're free to press play and scrutinize Pyroclasts’ contextual (and textural) relationship to Life Metal. What's most interesting, though, is that Life Metal underscored that Sunn O)))’s ultimate creative destination remains unknown, while Pyroclasts highlights some of the experimental footsteps along the way.

In the past, Sunn O)))’s creative preparations have remained hidden from sight. But Pyroclasts grants us a view of the band and their collaborators bonding and scouting potential routes. In doing so, Pyroclasts becomes a profoundly soul-stirring voyage unto itself. Revealing a band eager to explore new artistic methods as well as new creative avenues. Sunn O)))’s artistic journey has made for an enthralling odyssey thus far. Long may their expeditions into the hinterlands of sound continue.


The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

November 1, 2019

Wilderun - Veil of Imagination

By Calen Henry. Wilderun's sophomore album Sleep at the Edge of the Earth garnered a grassroots cult following with its unlikely mix of Appalachia-tinged Americana and epic progressive melodic death metal. Four years later they're back with Veil of Imagination
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Adrian Cox.

Wilderun's sophomore album Sleep at the Edge of the Earth garnered a grassroots cult following with its unlikely mix of Appalachia-tinged Americana and epic progressive melodic death metal. Four years later they're back with Veil of Imagination, an album that's both a departure and a refinement of their last.

Sleep at the Edge of the Earth’s centrepiece was the four-part "Ash Memory". It used leitmotifs to create a majestic folk metal suite moving from acoustic Americana to grandiose symphonic metal and back. Veil of Imagination’s fourteen minute album opener “The Unimaginable Zero Summer” plays out much the same way, starting acoustic and building through movements but it merely opens the album, rather than being a self-contained suite. Throughout the album it’s apparent that Wilderun have improved both their composition and performance chops. Fading transitions are all-but gone, replaced with dramatic stop time, smooth transitions between passages, and meaningful builds into sections.

Veil of Imagination partly accomplishes cohesion by digging into bombastic metal while eschewing most of the Americana making for tighter and still grandiose songs. There’s still a folky vein running through the album, but the resonator guitar, dulcimer, banjo (frailing on the intro aside), and mandolin are all but gone leaving only symphonic metal with a tinge of folk. Much as I’m loathe to admit it makes for a more focused if less unique album.

The orchestral parts are gorgeous and the metal parts have more bite, with more tremolo leads and dissonant chords underpinning the dramatic orchestrations. Vocals are improved as well with more variety on display. Cleans range from low, soft accompaniment for quiet passages to belted choruses and chorale vocals the most grandiloquent this side of the Red Army Choir. The growls have more bite as well, sometimes raspy, sometimes more guttural shifting from Akerfeldt inspired to Swanö. Though not a concept album the lyrics are thematic and focused. Wrapped in the trappings of fantasy the album grapples with the dichotomy of action versus inaction, the desire for control pitted against the fear of inaction. The lyrical focus adds another layer holding the album together as a whole, rather than a collection of songs.

The one pitfall is Jens Bogren's crushing master (DR 6) of Dan Swanö’s excellent production, especially compared to Sleep at the Edge of the Earth which sounded more dynamic than it’s DR 7 mastering score. Veil of Imagination is more dramatic and overblown with layer upon layer as pieces build and when blasts, tremolo picking, chorale vocals, and symphonic elements all come in these parts feel flat and the low end gets lost. It’s especially evident against more sparse sections where the bass and drums are clearly audible. It’s nowhere near many other albums in terms of loudness with no audible clipping and it sounds quite good overall, but an album so lush and detailed cries for more dynamic range to maximize all the different components of the music.

Veil of Imagination's move away from Americana, in some ways makes Sleep at the Edge of the Earth more special but it shows undeniable growth from the band and for 68 minutes of progressive metal to be this cohesive, dramatic, immediate, and layered is truly wonderful. Those prone to deriding epic, dramatic metal as overblown may come away unmoved but Wilderun, by dialing up the bombast, are clearly unconcerned and invite everyone else to pierce the veil of their imaginations.

October 29, 2019

Spaceslug - Eye the Tide

By Hera Vidal. It’s taken me a while to finally get to Spaceslug’s Eye the Tide, a slow burn of an album that eventually seeps into your skin. First track “Obsolith” is an easy starter that lazily drags along the surface. Heavy blues-tinged guitars create a comfortable, consistent rhythm that makes you want to groove and move your body to the beat.
By Hera Vidal.

Artwork by Maciej Kamuda.

It’s taken me a while to finally get to Spaceslug’s Eye the Tide, a slow burn of an album that eventually seeps into your skin.

First track “Obsolith” is an easy starter that lazily drags along the surface. Heavy blues-tinged guitars create a comfortable, consistent rhythm that makes you want to groove and move your body to the beat. The song exudes a sensuality that I tend to associate with post-metal. It feels like touching a live wire whose current emits a warmth that feels intimate.

The layered vocals sounds like a unified voice. All members sing on the album, but if you listen closely, you can hear all the different timbres. For the most part though, the music focuses on the instruments, as if the band recorded this while they were jamming out in someone’s basement. The use of reverb and tone throughout the album seems to also be a character in itself, coming and going when it pleases. There isn’t a focus on it, but when it comes, you will hear it and be swept by it.

As the album continues the vibe seems to shift, going from that relaxed, intimate atmosphere to something a little more sinister. In the third track “Eternal Monuments” the repetitiveness heard in “Obsolith” begins to combine with lower guitar tones. The beat slows and fades away into the next track, “Words Like Stones”, where the music becomes more aggressive with harsh vocals and even blast beats. Like a drug-taking experience, where the psychedelia kicks in about halfway through and then you can only bask in it. The music also tend to drone in the latter half, as the atmosphere ebbs and flows between laziness and mania.

I found myself coming back to Eye the Tide at different times throughout the past year, each time liking it more. Spaceslug's blend of stoner doom is a delight we all need to hear.

October 25, 2019

Alcest - Spiritual Instinct

By Justin C. I finally had the opportunity see Alcest live when they toured with their last record, Kodama. As a long-time fan, it was a fantastic experience: a small venue and a band putting everything they had into their performance. I remember being struck by how heavy Alcest can be, especially on stage.
By Justin C.


I finally had the opportunity to see Alcest live when they toured with their last record, Kodama. As a long-time fan, it was a fantastic experience: a small venue and a band putting everything they had into their performance. I remember being struck by how heavy Alcest can be, especially on stage. That’s not necessarily unusual--the energy of playing in front of a live audience plus many amplifiers often kick up a band’s power quotient. But what I didn’t realize at the time is that it was a little bit of a preview of the energy they’d bring to their next new album, Spiritual Instinct.

Invisible Oranges did an interesting interview with Neige, and in it, he describes this album as a kind of catharsis, a (slight) step away from his more “otherworldly” musical ideas and incorporating more darkness. Make no mistake--this is Alcest-level heavy. This isn’t a brutal death metal album that comes pitched to you as “PANCREAS-RIPPING BRUTALITY ARGGHGHHGHGH!1!!!1!” The very Alcest-ian sense of melody and sweeping soundscapes remain present, but what you do get from Spiritual Instinct is a harder-driving energy than you might expect.

Photos by Abrisad.

The opening track, “Les Jardins De Minuit” (roughly translated, “The Garden of Midnight”), starts out with a pulsing bassline joined by a keening, single-note guitar riff. It’s not long before we’re into some frenetic drums and tremolo riffs with clean, melodic singing riding the wave until Neige punctuates the whole thing with his black metal shrieks. If that sounds like what you usually expect from Alcest, you’re not wrong, but the song kicks off a propulsive feel that carries through the rest of the album, both in the more metal parts and the quieter, introspective interludes. Previous Alcest albums made me want to transport to a different dimension--the dreamworld from Neige’s childhood that drives so much of his musical vision--but this album makes me want to make that journey on a rocket.

One of my favorite tracks, “Le Miroir,” showcases the stronger sense of duality in this album. The song starts with a gently ascending and descending guitar line, swelling and deflating like slow, meditative breathing. (Try breathing along with it--it’s doing wonders for my anxiety.) The line is eventually layered with Neige’s crystal clean vocals, light electronic touches, and distorted guitars. The drums build and eventually recede. It’s not the heaviest track on the album by any means, but again, there’s that sense of motion and release.

It’s easy to get hung up on the heaviness level of Alcest albums. Is this one more or less black metal than the last one, or is this more of their shoegaze side? But as Neige said himself in the IO interview, “There is something people like about us, and it’s also something we like about ourselves which is the fact that we keep the Alcest touch — this thing that makes us Alcest — but every time we sound different.” I think that’s key to their enduring appeal. There’s always that underlying essence that makes their sound instantly recognizable, regardless of whether Neige is trying exorcise some demons or float through the ether.

October 23, 2019

Irata - Tower

By Matt Hinch. Apparently Irata has been around since 2007 but I've never come across their name until now. Also, from what I hear, they've gone through some evolution through math-y and fusion realms to reach the point they're at now. While it would be interesting to dig into those
By Matt Hinch.

Watercolor by Santos.

Apparently Irata has been around since 2007 but I've never come across their name until now. Also, from what I hear, they've gone through some evolution through math-y and fusion realms to reach the point they're at now. While it would be interesting to dig into those formative albums preceding this monster 2019 offering, Tower there's enough right here to keep you entertained. If I had to play my hand early on what Tower is all about I'd say "immersive heavy rock fused together with a slight 90s alternative vibe, pop sensibilities, and a tendency toward progressiveness kept in check by a thunderous foundation."

What does that mean? It means Jon Case (bass/vocals), Jason Ward (drums/vocals/synth) and guitarists Cheryl Manner and Owen Burd gather together a variety of styles and feelings, molding them into one of 2019's brightest shining gems.

The title track gets things started with a chugging force meeting bright slices of light (more on that later) shaded by the accessibility of a band like Torche, vocally at least. This song is relatively short. The themes and general feeling are further expanded upon throughout the album. The key word here is "feeling". Irata make you FEEL the whole time. "Waking Eye" is a good example. The chorus gets right into your soul, screaming guitars bite into a swirl of motion amid proggy riffs, and you're taken home by a controlled freakout at the end. The instrumental portion, something Irata does very well, comes with full spectrum dynamics and an enveloping and penetrating essence. A soothing bassline anchors melodic vocals and guitars during one of the album's quieter moments and gives it a somewhat Tool-like impression. That's not the only time Tool comes to mind either. Also, sometimes you could lift a riff from this and plop it into a Mastodon song and it would fit right in. The surrounding parts give Irata their own identity though.

"Crawl to Corners" really plays into the feeling of light with the guitars. There's a sense or a vision of light filtering through a canopy of trees and clouds, or sparkling upon moving water. It feels like life and growth, a counter to the mournful trumpet that opens the track. However, when they move into crushing mode the darkness comes swiftly.

Closer "Constellations" features those smooth vocals (quite common throughout), sweet bass and incredible groove. It captures a sense of space. Not just the space with the stars but openness and size. The opposite of oppressing even when they hammer the listener with a concentrated attack. It also feels like being thrust forward with all things passing by in a blur but the impressions left and clear and welcome.

Overall the album feels very put together. There's an effortless technicality in the way the guitars weave together on different paths which makes them hit that much harder when everyone comes together. I'm sure there was plenty of effort involved but it flows so well that the listener at least doesn't have to try hard to enjoy it.

It's a beautiful album. "Weightless" is my favourite example. It's 4:20 long and that was probably what time it was when I first heard it if you take my meaning. Vocals soar over crunchy riffs while taking you to the clouds. The whole song makes you feel alive and weightless indeed. It is, as stated on the track, "...so beautiful. So goddamn beautiful!"

Tower is simply captivating. Irata manage to bring a heaviness together with beauty, catchiness, and emotion in a way that feels transcendent. It lifts the listener up, puts them through a range of emotions and leaves them to experience the album from their own angle. I've found myself spellbound and on the verge of overwhelmed. It's a powerful album that leaves a varied and deeply satisfying impression. You won't be disappointed.

October 21, 2019

Mesarthim - Ghost Condensate

With no advance warning Mesarthim, Australia’s highly prolific anonymous space black metal duo, recently released Ghost Condensate, their fourth full length in five years. Despite the speed of their releases Mesarthim’s quality has remained consistent and their sound has evolved considerably
By Calen Henry.


With no advance warning Mesarthim, Australia’s highly prolific anonymous space black metal duo, recently released Ghost Condensate [Editor's note: the review was written in April], their fourth full length in five years. Despite the speed of their releases Mesarthim’s quality has remained consistent and their sound has evolved considerably without losing their signature (and divisive) sound.

The group's 2015 debut, Isolate, introduced the duo’s mix of atmospheric black metal, howling vocals, and spacey synths evoking vintage science fiction and science documentaries. Subsequent releases added to that sound expanding the sonic palette with full blown techno interludes and more melodic lead work on the metal side.

Ghost Condensate furthers this evolution. It draws the most inspiration from their 2016 EP, The Great Filter where they first really dove into the epic. The result is more vintage space opera than science documentary. Ghost Condensate is rife with epic guitar riffs and leads, even breaking out a pick scrape into a face-melting solo, not to mention some truly epic twin guitars. The band’s trademark synths support the guitars while also being given time to shine in ambient and techno interludes

Their fourth album delivers exactly what fans expect from Mesarthim, without rehashing previous releases. Those that object to their mix of synth and metal won’t be won over, but fans of less atmospheric metal that weren’t convinced by their earlier work should check out their current incarnation.

October 16, 2019

Interview - The Ecosystem of a Botanist

Botanist’s newest album, Ecosystem, is another “Collective” album, wherein main-man Otrebor brings his live band into the writing and recording process. The result is in perfect harmony with Botanist’s “solo” albums, but yet also brings in different sounds and energies.
By Justin C.

Botanist’s newest album, Ecosystem, is another “Collective” album, wherein main-man Otrebor brings his live band into the writing and recording process. The result is in perfect harmony with Botanist’s “solo” albums, but yet also brings in different sounds and energies. Metal Bandcamp has covered Botanist from its very beginnings, so you’ve gotten a lot of words from me about the project. For this release, I wanted to change it up a little, and Otrebor was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the album.


In the overall arc of Botanist's developing discography, are the collective albums planned, or do they come about more spontaneously?

The “Collective” albums take a lot more practical planning mostly because they involve other people’s schedules, priorities, and work ethics. In Ecosystem’s case, the initial idea came during the 2017 European tour to make an album that we would play entirely on stage — further differentiating studio / solo Botanist from the live band. We would take a year to write it, and tour on it in 2019. When it’s just me, that kind of deadline is easy to stick to, but with other musicians involved, it goes much slower... like, The Shape of He to Come took 3 years! In contrast, VI: Flora took me 4-5 months from beginning of writing to completing tracking of all instruments. So a year and a half to have a finished album to send to be pressed to vinyl in time for a planned tour made for tight scheduling, as any delays by one member would make all other members’ work more stressful.

Thematically, it’s all the same level of planning, or rather, an album being a “Collective” doesn’t make it more or less planned inherently than a solo album. The most conceptual album I’ve got planned for the future is a solo album, but the “Collective” albums to date and to come are more thematically conceptual than Botanist I/II, III, V, VI...

What drew you to the idea of doing an album focused on the Redwood ecosystem? I know a little about them, and they're pretty fascinating, especially the "mini-forests" that can actually grown on top of them.

The mini forests within the branches of the redwoods are amazing. Redwoods are my single favorite botanical entity, so having a concept album revolving essentially around them would be very inspirational to me. Redwoods will be making another entry or two in albums to come.

Reading the lyrics puts me in mind of a biology textbook in verse form. You cover a lot of scientific ground, but the musical end result certainly doesn’t come across as a dry recitation. Are there particular challenges to lyrically detailing an ecosystem, or do you approach it as you would any other narrative arc?

I don’t really have a deep answer for you. I researched redwood forests, pulled out eight elements that would inspire me to write a song about, and applied that balance of Romantic spin on scientific fact that most Botanist lyric writing draws from. There’s not so much a narrative arc present. The theme is the ecosystem of a redwood forest in the Pacific Northwest of the United States (also some stuff is taken from research about forests in Santa Cruz), but it’s not like a King Diamond album where there are characters and a plot one can follow. I wanted the darkest, most unsettling song to be “Disturbance,” as it’s about forest fires, and the last song to be the triumphant uplift, and that had to be “Red Crown” — the culmination of the theme of the red crown (a term used to describe clusters of redwood trees) mentioned throughout the album to come to a climax with that song being the tribute to Sequoia Sempervirens itself.

The rest of the album’s list was determined by emotional flow and how much one song’s first note transitioned well from the previous song’s last note, how well each side fit onto an LP, and how well we could imagine this album as a live set would flow. Song 1 has a strong anthemic chorus, and its intro works well as a “we’re beginning the set / album” attention getter, before the volume kicks in. Song 7 (“Abiotic”) is the relaxed breather before the big finale. Stuff like that determines how the album gets arranged — it’s largely after that the sets of lyrics get paired up based on mood.

In terms of music, I'm continually impressed with your ability to write a melody that can convey almost any shade of emotion, and every album has some new sonic aspect that keeps things fresh. What struck me with this album is that there are more clean vocals, often in chorus with other band members. You worked those into the last collective album, The Shape of He to Come, but they seem to play a larger role here. Some of them are even painfully vulnerable, like in "Abiotic." Was that a conscious decision to go that direction, or did it just happen naturally? Is it hard to step out from behind a more black metal vocal styling into something so unadorned?

Thanks for that first comment. I want the music Botanist creates to feature a full range of emotions. As much as I love metal, it’s one of the biggest critiques I have of it: Bands on average tend to stick to the same emotional space that they set their bands out to inhabit. Personally, it would burn me out to have to always be angry, or sad, or happy when creating, and having to convey a singular emotion on stage, particularly negative emotions, day in and day out on tour, and to be around that energy that it creates, with people bringing and expecting that kind of energy to the shows... I question what kind of toll that would take.

I want there to be more clean vocals because of the emotional facets that a variety of vocals can bring: screaming, consonant melodic vocals, dissonant, eerie melodic vocals, deathgrunts... it will be an ongoing study of how to experiment implementing them to new results. It’s also because I want to challenge myself on singing better. That’s a personal challenge too, to be willing to be vulnerable on a whole new level. To grow as an artist and explore that emotional feedback. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a great singer, but I do have the ability to write a melody, understand how to construct a harmony, and kind of like my drumming and probably all of Botanist, my style is mine and you'll know it’s me when you hear it. The challenge going forward is to increasingly admit to myself, “yeah, I sing.” It was a self-realization when I was in the studio with Fredrik Nordström and was hemming and hawing about the singing, saying I wasn’t a singer. Fredrik’s response was, “You are. You’re singing on the songs.”

It’s a weird thing coming from a place where I wanted just to play drums in bands, to then doing whatever vocals I could because I was the only person who would, to developing vocals into things I never would have attempted 10 years ago. Then the big challenge is to get it as good as I honestly can, present that new vulnerability to the world, and be prepared for whatever reaction.

“Abiotic” is painfully vulnerable. You’re right. Cynoxylon helped me with some of the sections, and his comment in a part or two after tracking was, “That’s pretty femme.” And it is. It’s an aspect of Botanist that needs to be, whether it’s me singing or not.

Botanist has passed its 10-year anniversary as a musical project. Climate change and environmentalism were certainly ongoing topics when you started, but now in 2019, the conversation seems to be both more impassioned and, unfortunately, just as unproductive. Does that affect how you approach Botanist?

It has no effect on the creative output. I create because I have the fervent desire to do so systematically. I do so in Botanist because I’m obsessed with classical botanical art, Romantic poetry and art, and black metal. What keeps me doing Botanist in particular is it’s enabled me to find something to support that is bigger than I am, that transcends my self-importance and personal needs — feeling that I do what I do to support my own perception of the greater good, which is something I can comfortably and confidently do through art.

For those of us with OCD tendencies, I have to ask: What about V? Where is album V? :)

It exists. It’s called Whorl, and was created somewhere in late 2010-early 2011. The 16-minute “Lathyrus” was up on Botanist.nu for a while in 2011 when I had samplers from the first five records to listen to. Whorl is largely what got Botanist signed to The Flenser in 2013 — Jonathan really wanted to release that record in particular. The problem was that Flora also existed at the same time, and the only person who thought Whorl was better was Jonathan. Haha. Balan from Palace of Worms listened to both on our marathon 2-man drive back from dropping off all the other kids at Sea-Tac airport after our 2013 West Coast tour, and he said Whorl was ok/good, but Flora was clearly the one to release after Mandragora as it was the most remarkable step forward. I believe he’s right, and the fans and critical feedback support that. Look, Whorl is fine, it’s the fifth solo record, it’s not as good as the sixth, and the sixth was ready to go at the same time. Botanist “V” will for sure be released, I’d love to do it with The Flenser, and I’d love to put it out between solo records “IX” and “X,” so by then it will be unmistakably be old school as fuck, and it will at least appeal to the crowd that prefers “the old stuff” more. Hahaha.

September 28, 2019

Abyssal - A Beacon in the Husk

By Steven Leslie. The best music takes you somewhere. Whether it’s a windswept fjord on a pitch black winter night, a glorious battle for the future of the human race deep within the heart of space, or even deep within yourself as you come face to face with personal
By Steven Leslie.

Artwork by Elijah Tamu.

The best music takes you somewhere. Whether it’s a windswept fjord on a pitch black winter night, a glorious battle for the future of the human race deep within the heart of space, or even deep within yourself as you come face to face with personal traumas that drove you to a life filled with depression and anxiety – great music takes you there and provides the backdrop for your imagination and emotions to run wild. For me personally, no matter what mood I am in, I can throw on a personal favorite and immediately be transported not just to another place, but a completely different emotional state. Sadly, as much as I love the genre, blackened death metal often provides the journey, but lacks the emotional resonance that I crave in music. Enter black/death/doom/ambient UK crew Abyssal with their fourth album in as many years to flip my expectations for the genre on its head and set a new benchmark for emotional impact in this dark artform.

If you are unfamiliar with the band and are wondering what to expect, the band name should clue you in – this is a trip to the heart of darkness, an endless descent into the void. Building upon a base of cavernous, chaotic blackened death metal (similar to Aussie nutcases like Impetuous Ritual or Portal) and injecting elements of funeral doom and dark ambient, Abyssal propels the genre forward with a unique and compelling sound. Album opener ‘Dialogue’ sets the tone for the next hour, opening with a few seconds of ominous ambience before sending the listener careening into a maelstrom of vicious blasts and crushing, trem-picked madness, from which a dissonant and unsettling riff rises to the fore, all against a backdrop of colossal, inhumanely deep funeral doom styled bellows. While the core components will be familiar to most listeners versed in extreme music, the way in which Abyssal commands them and weaves them together is both methodical and compelling. Throughout the track--hell the whole album--there is an unsettling feeling as your mind and emotions are taken over by some diabolical, omnipotent force.

The minds behind Abyssal have harnessed the void itself and used it to create a sonic black hole that drives the listener on an inescapable journey that scars the listener’s mind, in the best way possible. While it’s possible to break down the album track by track, I would be doing the band a disservice, as this is one cohesive piece and should be experienced as such. Heard individually, tracks can be enjoyable, but heard in the context and flow of the album, their true impact reveal themselves. While this makes for a demanding and emotionally draining experience, each subsequent exposure reveals new secrets and insights into the artist's vision, making repeat listens not just compelling, but essential.

I also have to note the excellent pacing and production choices the band have made. While it is very easy for this type of music to become monotonous due to the sheer relentlessness of sound, Abyssal wisely integrates dark ambient and doom into more traditional blast fests to create a constantly shifting landscape of sound. There is a real flow to this monster that keeps the listener engaged without ever allowing their mind to drift away from the journey. The production provides just enough space in the blasting sections to make Abyssal’s colossal riffs stand out and differentiate themselves from movement to movement and song to song. While A Beacon in the Husk is by no means an easy listen, it offers boundless rewards to those willing to give themselves over to the void.

September 13, 2019

Haunter - Sacramental Death Qualia

By Bryan Camphire. Over the last five years of releasing music, Haunter has always been visceral and confrontational. But none of their previous records hit as heavily as Sacramental Death Qualia. The opening seconds are antithetical to an ambient intro
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Elijah Tamu.

Over the last five years of releasing music, Haunter has always been visceral and confrontational. But none of their previous records hit as heavily as Sacramental Death Qualia. The opening seconds are antithetical to an ambient intro. Press play and you are bludgeoned with the full force of Haunter right out of the gate. Immediately the listener is thrown straight into the deep end. The effect is intoxicating. Chasers come later. Let it be known from the start that this music is high test.

The vocals are so deep, the guitars low slung, the rhythm section pummeling full force; at first listen it is not easy to get a foothold on this music. The meter is shifting and the harmonies are dense. On Sacramental Death Qualia genre distinctions are obliterated. Elements from all corners of extreme metal are to be found: brutal death cries, majestic blackened subcurrents, technical prowess on ample display, melodies thick enough to make you choke. To be clear, it is not genre bending for its own end that gives this band its strength. Their power lies in their heaving mountainous arrangements.

More than other extreme music artists, Haunter's heady admixture of styles delivers an attack that is as confounding as it is memorable. Every song in this set packs the power to send you into next week and hand you your hat. Still more remarkable, however, is the fact that the album contains plenty of breathing room. Quiet passages and clean melodies abound, providing dynamics that only deepen the darkness of the record as a whole. The mid-marker of the set, "Abdication", track three of five, is a highlight. Here the guitars are entirely clean, there are acoustic passages, trippy sci-fi glissandos, melancholic arco elements, and acrobatic bass work on display. While a lesser act might provide ambient noise as a palate cleanser, Haunter show that they have sophisticated melodic ideas to burn. I can scarcely recall any other extreme metal record that has included an entirely clean melodic track that managed to more than hold its own amidst a set full of barn burners.

Leading up to this record's release, I have had the pleasure of seeing Haunter perfect this set of music in live performance here in their home state of Texas a handful of times. They truly get better all the time. That this music with all its complexity and drastic dynamics can be delivered in a live setting is no small feat. A Haunter show is a testament to the living breathing extreme urgency that this music contains. Don't sleep.

September 4, 2019

Lingua Ignota - Caligula

Way back in 2011, Tori Amos threw out a random comment in an interview about the power of emotion in music: “I'll stand next to the hardest fucking heavy metal band on any stage in the world and take them down, alone, by myself.” As I remember it, there was a
By Justin C.


Way back in 2011, Tori Amos threw out a random comment in an interview about the power of emotion in music: “I'll stand next to the hardest fucking heavy metal band on any stage in the world and take them down, alone, by myself.” As I remember it, there was a short burst of garment rending and name calling from the dumber side of the internet metal community, completely missing her point and falsely equating “power” with “volume.” There are a lot of metal bands Amos probably isn’t familiar with (see, for example, Immortal Bird) that do deliver the kind of emotional experience Amos was referencing. But the fact remains that Tori is and always has been metal in spirit, and for emotional power, she easily outshines basic-bro metal bands.

This memory resurfaced when I first heard Lingua Ignota’s debut full-length, Caligula. Kristin Hayter is the creative force behind the project, and although she and Amos don’t share a lot of sonic similarities, they do share some experiences. Both Amos and Hayter have played with or have ties to the heavy music scene (Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan in Amos’s case vs. The Body and Full of Hell in Hayter’s), both have “complicated” relationships with Christianity, and both have classical music training, piano and voice, respectively. But while Amos has often mixed her emotional power with a bit of sweetness in presentation, Hayter’s music is the ragged edge of an exploding star.

That’s not to say there isn’t beauty in Hayter’s work. Album opener “FAITHFUL SERVANT FRIEND OF CHRIST” finds Hayter’s voice riding on a beautiful string arrangement. You might mistake it for a legitimate hymn if it were not for the dark timbres and the final lyrics, “Bend before unending night.” The fact that she invokes Satan to stand beside her in the next song is another hint that we haven’t stumbled onto Profound Lore’s first gospel record.

Picking genre tags is even less helpful than usual here. The accompaniment to Hayter’s singing is often minimal, with piano or keys punctuated by an occasional industrial or noise flourish. But Hayter’s work is first and foremost defined by her virtuosic voice, ranging from the choral to the operatic and all the way up to black metal-esque screams. “FAITHFUL SERVANT” has a stunning choral arrangement of layers of Hayter’s voice in a striking-but-clean vocal style, but the very next track, “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR,” finds her diving into the lower depths of her impressive range, pleading, “How can you doubt me now?” The song eventually erupts into Hayter’s barely contained shrieks, and the dripping venom she adds to the line, “Every vein of every leaf is slaked with poison” is delivered with such nuance and delicately applied timbre that it’s difficult to imagine anyone singing the word “slake” in a way that’s more viscerally evocative of the word’s literal meaning.*

There are too many amazing moments to detail here, although I’m tempted to do it. The album is a tour-de-force performance pitting Hayter’s substantial chops against soul-shattering emotions barely restrained. I’ll confess: I wanted to write this review much earlier, to coincide with the release of the album, but I just couldn’t do it. Part of that was because the usual b.s. and work stress, but part of it was that the music demands an investment that can be difficult to give. That is in no way a critique--great art should challenge us, or maybe more than that, great art should sit us down in a chair in a room and scream in our faces until we acknowledge it, and Caligula does that. Hayter has been relatively open about her history of a domestic abuse survivor, and although she describes her music as a way of talking about those experiences allegorically, there’s very little to shield the listener from that power, and as someone who’s had some run ins with abuse in my own adult life, I initially shrunk back.

But much like Hayter had to write this music, I felt I had to write this review. I’m going heavy on the astronomical analogies, but this album is a meteor strike to your soul, and if it doesn’t produce a reaction in you, then you might be dead inside. If your takeaway from another site’s blurb is, “Oh, singer-songwriter with electronic/industrial touches, a pretty voice, and occasional metal shrieks,” your expectations going into this are going to be shattered like the breaking glass in “SORROW! SORROW! SORROW!” (even after many, many listens, the sound still startles me every time. That’s where this music is going to take you.) I know I’ve paraphrased this Iggy Pop quote about Coltrane dozens of times, but this is music that can be difficult to get close to, and it’s not going to be for everyone. And that’s fine. But for those who can engage with this work, I think you’ll find yourself changed to a degree you wouldn’t have expected. I am.

*It’s at 1:07 in the track. Go listen now. Do it. I’ll be here when you get back.

August 7, 2019

Der Rote Milan - Moritat

By Hera Vidal. As someone who primarily consumes black metal during the hot summer months, I tend to view it as something that will heighten my misery. After all, black metal has the strangest texture and sound – it can be haunting, beautiful and melodic, or downright sinister
By Hera Vidal.


As someone who primarily consumes black metal during the hot summer months, I tend to view it as something that will heighten my misery. After all, black metal has the strangest texture and sound – it can be haunting, beautiful and melodic, or downright sinister to the point where you consider it to be a murder ballad. Der Rote Milan’s newest album, Moritat, not only touches upon the adventures of Schinderhannes, a German outlaw akin to Robin Hood, but it also elevates what is known as the “murder ballad”, a form of song that discusses crime or a gruesome death.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the sheer heaviness Moritat employs. While there are moments of softness, the atmosphere is heavy with dread and uncertainty. While listening to the record, I couldn’t help but like there was a noose tied around my neck, making my anxiety palpable the more the record reached completion. The music is heavy with chugging guitars and embedded vocal elements – as if the harsh vocals weren’t enough, you can also hear death rattles, signifying people’s demises. However, the heaviness isn’t just death and all his friends; it’s also highly enjoyable, making the listener want to headbang or, at the very least, tap their foot along to the beat.

Moritat is a form of concept album – it looks at various stories where Schinderhannes plays a role, and it’s set in the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War, which, to put it lightly, was a major religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics that eventually culminated into a continuation of the France-Habsburg rivalry for political dominance. Within this setting, Schinderhannes is a folk hero who steals from the (coded as wealthy) French from one side of the Rhine to give to the (coded as poor) Germans on the other. This adds to the grimness and the macabre atmosphere on Moritat offers. What you are getting is death and blood in spades, and you have to sit through this album and wonder whether or not your hands are also covered in red.

However, it’s at final track “Moritat” where things become truly devastating. Here, the epitome of the murder ballad comes rearing its ugly head, making me think of “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera. Although “Mack the Knife” has a whimsical tone to it – it does end happily – there is a sinister undertone that underlies the character of Mack. In the Opera, he is a rapist, murderer, and seducer of underage girls – he’s a candidate for hanging. In the case of the album, “Moritat” talks about Schinderhannes’s death – or what could be considered to be his death – and ends on the harrowing note that death and destruction is upon us, slowly fading away until there is nothing left but the screams of the dead. What a way to wrap up the album.

All in all, Moritat is a powerful album whose themes of war and death seem incredibly relevant to what we are seeing today in the current political stage. Although the increasing rivalry between the U.S. and Russia seems to echo the French-Habsburg rivalry as implied on the album, Moritat make it seem more human with the story of Schinderhannes, and it allows us to feel empathy for a character who was seen as a folk hero. It’s a wonderful record, and one that will most likely land in my EOY list for black metal. Of course I need to go back and relisten to Moritat before December to see where it sits, but, for what it’s worth, I have high hopes for Der Rote Milan and I eagerly await their next record.

August 6, 2019

Arctic Sleep - Kindred Spirits

By Calen Henry. Arctic Sleep’s seventh full length, Kindred Spirits, is something uncommon for a metal album. It is comforting and inviting. The production is natural, the drums sound full, the guitars are tuned low and driven warm, and the vocals are a deeply melodic and harmonies abound.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Jennifer Weiler.

Arctic Sleep’s seventh full length, Kindred Spirits, is something uncommon for a metal album. It is comforting and inviting. The production is natural, the drums sound full, the guitars are tuned low and driven warm, the vocals are deeply melodic and harmonies abound. Even the fret-less bass glissandos sound warm and inviting. It is also an album about death catalyzed by the passing of sole permanent member Keith D’s cat Yoda. The lyrics go deep and complement the instrumental sound to make it into a pastoral rumination on death, life, moving on, and letting go as well as an elegy for Yoda.

Album opener "Meadows" sticks close to the melodic doom sound of 2014’s Passage of Gaia until the song’s last section, where it opens up the sonic palette with a cello drop then some truly soaring vocals. As Kindred Spirits progresses the it continues to open up and explore more genres. Melodic doom metal shares the spotlight with extended range chugging, fuzzed out Smashing Pumpkins style accents, middle eastern tinged tapping, a djembe accompanied acoustic instrumental track, post-punk-ish driving bass, and Jesu-ey walls of warm distortion before going full drone on album closer “Old Soul”. It is an unexpectedly perfect conclusion; the sound of birds accompanying washes of guitar before multi-tracked cat purring closes out the album in what I can only interpret as “kitty heaven”.

Despite all the genre changes the album has excellent flow and the 69 minute run-time flies by, likely due to Keith's singular vision; the songs and lyrics were written by him and he plays all instruments, save drums. He's joined by Nick Smalkowski on drums (that he made!), after being absent for Passage of Gaia and a couple of guest vocalists to complete the sound.

For such a slim cast of characters the result is astounding. The album is bursting with ideas and sounds, though all delivered at a relaxed doomy pace. Despite a fairly loud (DR 6) master, details of the different instruments come through and the whole record sounds great.

Despite my familiarity with the band I managed to completely miss the kickstarter for Kindred Spirits and was unaware of it until release day. Don't make my mistake. Get on this. It's fantastic.

August 2, 2019

Russian Circles - Blood Year

By Justin C. When I reviewed Russian Circles’s last album, Guidance, I noted that there seems to be a certain obsession with the band’s heaviness, with each new album cycle prompting folks to declare that the instrumental trio is at their “heaviest yet.”
By Justin C.


When I reviewed Russian Circles’s last album, Guidance, I noted that there seems to be a certain obsession with the band’s heaviness, with each new album cycle prompting folks to declare that the instrumental trio is at their “heaviest yet.” The fact that I see statements like this referring to every album makes me think a lot of people are missing the point. In fact, here’s my HOT TAKE: By most measures, I’d say the heaviness quotient* of any given Russian Circles album, including their newest, Blood Year, is pretty close to their baseline level of heaviness.

How closely Russian Circles adheres to metal adjacency might be a way to help clarify their genre, but in reality, the band’s a bit more subtle than that. The basic elements of their style are rock and metal based, and for sure, there are always some truly crunchy moments on their albums. On Blood Year, “Milano” ebbs and flows with some doomy/sludgy flavor, and album closer “Quartered” is pretty much fire from beginning to end. But that said, you need to listen a little more deeply to understand their magic.

I said that Guidance had some of their most delicate work, and going back further, Memorial saw the band pushing their limits even further, going so far as to include guest vocals from Chelsea Wolfe. Compared to those two albums, Blood Year is one of their leaner, more muscular albums. To my ear, they’re working more with their basic elements than on other recent records. It’s heavy in its own way, but it doesn’t lack the nuance that they always bring to their work. “Kohokia,” for example, plays with subtle shifts between light and dark, leaving you unsure as to whether you’re being uplifted or weighed down. And “Ghost on High” is another short gem that the band seems so good at--a fleeting interlude with an almost Baroque feel.

Is Blood Year a game changer for the band? Not really, but on the other hand, it doesn’t need to be. Thirteen years after their first album, Russian Circles remain as beguiling as ever, and they remain the standard bearer for how to do instrumental rock/metal.


*Most of our sophisticated readers of course know that the heaviness quotient is calculated thusly:
<math xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML"><mi>&#x393;</mi><mfenced><mi>z</mi></mfenced><mo>=</mo><msubsup><mo>&#x222B;</mo><mn>0</mn><mo>&#x221E;</mo></msubsup><msup><mi>x</mi><mrow><mi>z</mi><mo>-</mo><mn>1</mn></mrow></msup><msup><mi>e</mi><mrow><mo>-</mo><mi>x</mi></mrow></msup><mo>d</mo><mi>x</mi></math>

July 31, 2019

Wolvhammer - The Monuments of Ash & Bone

By Matt Hinch. It feels like it's been longer than four years since the last Wolvhammer release. I didn't forget about them though. New album, and first for Blood Music, The Monuments of Ash & Bone definitely made the wait worthwhile. I admit I haven't gone back and reminded myself
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Brian Sheehan.

It feels like it's been longer than four years since the last Wolvhammer release. I didn't forget about them though. New album, and first for Blood Music, The Monuments of Ash & Bone definitely made the wait worthwhile. I admit I haven't gone back and reminded myself what their previous records sounded like but sometimes context just isn't in the cards. Besides, this album hasn't left my phone in a solid year.

In my humble opinion, or rather, as pertaining to my personal tastes, Wolvhammer are upper tier USBM. Never mind your basements and bullshit necro recording techniques. Monuments sounds great. Sounds huge. Sounds nasty. There's no doubt to the black metal base here but it's not all blasting and arctic wind riffing. Atmosphere plays a part, as well as varied tempos and pacing. It's not “black 'n' roll” though.

As you may or may not know vocalist Adam Clemans also sings for Skeletonwitch. When he was announced as Chance Garnette's replacement my initial reaction was basically “COOL!! That guy kicks ass!” Kick ass he does. Most of the time he rips ears with his signature snarly rasp. Clean vocals aren't out of the question but his chilling delivery mates perfectly with the bulldozing riffs and energetic percussion. Guitarists Jeff Wilson and John Porada, bassist Andrew Gerrity, and drummer Garry Naples round out the new lineup in case you were wondering.

Most of the album is fast enough. Militant, biting, gnashing and fierce. Physical and bruising. Wolvhammer drag the listener through the darkness on the back of their infectious riffs and feral energy. Stand out track “The Failure King” is so powerful. It came on the PA between sets at a Goatwhore show and I was just as excited for that as anyone actually on stage. Closer “Solace Eclipsed” though slows it down, bringing in plenty of atmosphere and those clean vocals. The tone of this track feels more morose and cold, a change not met with listener resistance for the album's waning sounds. It still has some pounding moments to inject a sense of determination the listener can take with them. As well as a desire to start it all over again!

The Monuments of Ash & Bone is fantastic. Wolvhammer's sense of motion and conviction doesn't go unnoticed. There's nothing to complain about. Its aggression and dynamics hit the sweet spot and give me the sense that their live show is something to witness. USBM doesn't get much better for me. I'm already yearning for their next offering but this one provides plenty to chew on (and burn through) until that day comes.

July 29, 2019

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XVIII - Life Metal

By Craig Hayes. There’s an overarching theme linking many of the reviews of the latest release from formidable drone-lords Sunn O))). Critical consensus suggests the band’s eighth studio album, Life Metal, is Sunn O)))’s most euphoric release yet
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Samantha Keely Smith.

There’s an overarching theme linking many of the reviews of the latest release from formidable drone-lords Sunn O))). Critical consensus suggests the band’s eighth studio album, Life Metal, is Sunn O)))’s most euphoric release yet –– and there’s definitely an element of truth to that tale. Sunn O)))’s creative architects, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley, have spoken of setting themselves the challenge of making an album that’s heavyweight but also enlivening, and Life Metal is certainly brighter and more upbeat than Sunn O)))’s previous releases.

That said, while Life Metal sees Sunn O))) pivot, creatively, the band aren’t taking a radical leap into entirely new territory. Even at their darkest, Sunn O))) have always made rapturous music, and their tracks are often tailor-made for ecstatic psychological adventures as much as far-reaching cosmic voyaging. Sunn O)))’s fans certainly know the band’s mammoth walls of noise can be uplifting –– especially if they’ve ever seen the band live –– and Life Metal is equally exhilarating.

Sunn O)))’s new album channels the light in a way that their other albums haven’t, but it’s only the first of two such releases Sunn O))) are planning to unleash in 2019. A second, and apparently more meditative album, entitled Pyroclasts, is planned for release later in the year. And it’s worth pointing out that Sunn O))) recorded both Life Metal and Pyroclasts over a two-week period, which is markedly less time than they’d usually spend in the studio, and that’s no doubt why Life Metal sounds and feels so energetic and instinctual.

The album delivers four lengthy sermons, and all the teeth-rattling frequencies and amplifier worship you’d expect is here. Sunn O))) continue to explore the physicalities of their sound with gigantic/downtuned/slow-motion riffs, and Life Metal also continues to fuse sound art to subterranean metal. Sunn O)))’s familiar minimalist/maximalist technique is put to expert use throughout, and the band are supported, once again, by a cast of crucial collaborators.

Noted producer Steve Albini plays a huge role in Life Metal’s success. Albini’s well-earned reputation for channeling gargantuan guitar noise makes his teaming up with Sunn O))) seem like a dream come true –– and it is. Albini’s rawer, all-analog approach forgoes Sunn O)))’s usual digital layering, and recording everyone in the same room at the same time increases the energy of Sunn O)))’s armory of overblown riffs, adding visceral and tangible texture to their sound.

Longtime Sunn O))) contributor Tos Nieuwenhuizen adds the electronic flourishes to Life Metal, while Australian minimalist composer Anthony Pateras supplies delicate pipe organ. Tim Midyett contributes bass on the album, and frequent Sunn O))) collaborator, Icelandic cellist and singer Hildur Guðnadóttir, contributes striking vocals, electric cello, and haldorophone. Also of note is artist Samantha Keely Smith, whose vibrant cover art for Life Metal powerfully visualizes Sunn O)))’s revised musical palette.

Life Metal opens with a neigh and gallop on "Between Sleipnir's Breaths" –– that’s a reference to Odin's famed eight-legged steed, if you’re curious. Sunn O))) drop a distorting riff the size of Mount Everest to kick things off proper, and the atmospheric track/trek is made all the more vivid by Guðnadóttir’s spellbinding vocals, which are woven around massive and undulating shifts in sound. Twelve dramatic minutes later, one of Sunn O)))’s most colossal opening tracks ends, crushing any concerns about Life Metal’s “brightness” somehow muting Sunn O)))’s core strengths.

Sunn O))) contrast darkness and light and/or ferocity and fragility on "Troubled Air”. The band thread pipe organ into the depths of the fathomless drone, offsetting the punishing ambience with bursts of luminosity. Claustrophobic heaviness –– fuelled by feedbacking riffs –– engulfs the 19-minute “Aurora”. But Guðnadóttir's presence, however brief, melts the glacial ice, clearing a path for the behemoth/transcendent drone to lumber forth. Heavy, low and slow, “Aurora” exemplifies the immensity and the intensity of Sunn O)))’s sound.

Life Metal finishes with the 25-minute opus "Novae". Titanic in form and content, "Novae" lurches forward, propelled by its own gravitational weight, with Guðnadóttir’s eccentric haldorophone coloring the drone and adding detail. Epic-sized (and certainly epic-sounding), "Novae" boils with chest-crushing riffs while traversing rocky and scorched terrain. In parts, Sunn O))) dial down the in-your-face forcefulness to creep through starker caverns of sound, but momentous undertones keep pushing "Novae" forward until its exorcising end.

Life Metal is staggering, towering, and surprisingly beautiful. The violence of Sunn O)))’s sound hasn’t been tempered, it’s more a case that Anderson and O’Malley have highlighted the light in the darkness, injecting more captivating subtlety and splendor into Life Metal’s vast seismic suites. The result is a breathtaking, often soul-stirring, album, with Sunn O))) displaying genuine grace amongst all the grit. Life Metal challenges our ideas about what Sunn O))) and their music are capable of. But, best of all, the album underscores that Sunn O)))’s ultimate creative destination remains tantalizingly unknown.


The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.