May 25, 2019

Misþyrming - Algleymi

By Justin C. You’d be forgiven if, like me, you tended to get a little lost in the Icelandic black metal scene. The number of bands and seemingly relentless release schedules might make it hard to find a new favorite band to
By Justin C.


You’d be forgiven if, like me, you tended to get a little lost in the Icelandic black metal scene. The number of bands and seemingly relentless release schedules might make it hard to find a new favorite band to hang your hat on. Add in unique Icelandic characters--like “þ”, or as I call it, “p with a horn”--and it can be hard for dumb Americans like myself to even communicate about the bands effectively.

I think Misþyrming’s newest, Algleymi, might add some clarity to my life, though. I was so blown away by the promo that I’m writing about it after just two listens, which is a pretty big departure from my usual “10 or more listens with notes” anal retentive approach. Simply put, this album rips and roars in all the right ways. I’ve listened to--and even enjoyed--a fair amount of obscure-leaning black metal, but Algleymi is furious and, at times, downright catchy.

The album starts off with a far-off-sounding yelp before launching into frenetic, no-frills black metal. “No frills” in this case doesn’t mean simplistic or boring, though. The tremolo riff that starts the opening track might hew pretty close to the second wave we know and love, but throughout the albums, the riffs are always melodic, but sometimes majestic, triumphant, chiming, or mysterious in tone. The vocals are a bit lower in register than what’s become typical--think of a gravely rasp a little lower than what Gaahl typically uses--but they scratch an itch I didn’t even know I had. They tend to sound fervent, somewhere between a stern proclamation and a growl, but no less ferocious.

Sometimes I get a little nervous when I see a black metal album with eight or more tracks all around the seven- to eight-minute mark, because that often signals an album that sounds a lot longer than it actually is. Misþyrming avoids this trap by virtue of pure fury, and adding the occasional interlude, like “Hælið”, that stand on their own musically, giving a break into the tension without letting the listener mentally wander off.

If you were inclined to let this one slip by as just another Icelandic release destined to get lost somewhere in the North Atlantic of your record collection, you need to fight off that urge. This is an album worth spreading the news about, even if typing the song names involve a lot of copying and pasting.

May 19, 2019

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – The Tribe & Black Axis

By Craig Hayes. It takes a bold (or entirely reckless) band to deliberately destroy all the signifiers and motifs that define the music we hold dear. But that’s exactly what German guitarist Caspar Brötzmann and his avant-rock power-trio Massaker set out to do in the late 1980s.
By Craig Hayes.


It takes a bold (or entirely reckless) band to deliberately destroy all the signifiers and motifs that define the music we hold dear. But that’s exactly what German guitarist Caspar Brötzmann and his avant-rock power-trio Massaker set out to do in the late 1980s. The band butchered all those characteristics that help us identify and connect with the music we love, and then they endeavored to fashion something compelling out of the wreckage. Bold, for sure. Fucking reckless, indeed. Successful, unquestionably.

Many other noisy alt-rock innovators from the 1980s – see groups like Swans, Big Black, or Sonic Youth – found more international fame than Caspar Brötzmann Massaker ever did. However, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, who were as much audio terrorists as they were music makers, are about to enjoy wider exposure thanks to deafening music merchants Southern Lord. The label is remastering and reissuing Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s first five albums, beginning with the band’s harsh and visceral 1988 debut, The Tribe, closely followed by their heavier sophomore album, 1989's Black Axis.

Caspar Brötzmann grew up in the shadow of his father, Peter, a free jazz saxophonist of some note. The younger Brötzmann was well aware of avant-garde music, growing up, but the elder Brötzmann definitely wasn’t a fan of the wild bohemian hard rockers who appealed to his son. The younger Brötzmann was left to his own creative devices, and the uncompromising music he made corrodes the foundations of rock while still paying tribute to Brötzmann’s guitar heroes, like Jimi Hendrix and Japanese underground legend Keiji Haino.

Brötzmann rejected formal training and took a ‘fuck virtuosity’ approach to his songwriting. Dissonant chords and mountains of feedback were seen as legitimate means of expression – as were warped tunings and teeth-rattling distortion. Brötzmann explored the palpable potential of volume + intensity + volume + (you get the picture), and Caspar Brötzmann Massaker were notably confrontational in their heyday.

Thirty years down the line, the band's debut, The Tribe, still sounds utterly unique and equally enthralling. Untamed tracks like “Blechton” and “Massaker” see fierce metallic riffs batter shards of hybrid art-rock and psych-rock, exposing the dark heart of The Tribe in the process, which often oozes menace. Elsewhere, the “Time” and “The Call” are fed into a no wave meat grinder – producing unorthodox albeit hard-edged songs, constructed out of twisted and tarnished scaffolding.

It’s all mind-bending magic, of course, and Brötzmann’s murmured vocals and oblique lyrics (which are scattered throughout The Tribe) only add to the unnerving and unhinged atmosphere. Brötzmann and his bandmates corral the chaos as best they can on The Tribe and they somehow manage to make music that’s as bleak as a row of rusting and collapsed factories and yet is overflowing with sizzling six-string insanity. Pounding drums and propulsive bass add to the mayhem, and The Tribe’s remastering captures Caspar Brötzmann Massaker's volcanic strengths in all their amp-melting glory.


The band’s second album, 1989’s Black Axis, features more impressively tight and expressively uninhibited interplay. (It also showcases the continued development of Brötzmann’s idiosyncratic guitar technique.) Like The Tribe, Black Axis was recorded at legendary jazz studio FMP in Berlin, but Brötzmann was so tall he could "barely stand up straight" in the rehearsal room. It might be wishful imaginings on my part, but you can almost hear that uncomfortable positioning boil over as bitter and crooked riffs are hurled at the listener on Black Axis.

There’s a heavier percussive punch to the album, mixed with a raw sense of physicality and starker industrial rhythms. The mesmeric mechanics of “The Hunter” calls to mind a critically adored industrial band like The Young Gods. And the mantric tempo on much of Black Axis fuels its hypnotic pulse, especially in the screeching/droning/transcendent depths of the album’s 15-minute title track.

The echo of Hendrix’s wildest adventures still resounds on Black Axis; see the scorching guitar on tracks like “Mute” and “Tempelhof”. There are plenty of anarchic noise eruptions throughout, and flashes of jazz and funk arrive, only to be wrenched inside out. Squalls of guitar eradicate easy handholds and, to be honest, much of Black Axis feels like Caspar Brötzmann Massaker are purposefully fucking with us as much as with themselves, which suits the band’s modus operandi to T.

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s desire to explore the darkest reaches of minimalism and maximalism sees them navigating post-punk and experimental gateways, as well as tearing open all manner of strange and pummeling musical portals. In the end, all that volatility means Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s music is near impossible to classify – let alone describe.

Ultimately, it's that combination of Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s innovative temperament and unrestrained methodology that lies at the heart of their appeal. Most bands are all too easily cataloged and duly marketed to the masses, but decades after their birth, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker still sound like eccentric outliers. It’s not even that alternative music hasn’t 'caught up' with Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, it’s simply that the band were genuine subversives making abrasive and aberrant art.

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker are constantly in flux on The Tribe and Black Axis – endlessly exploring the possibilities of their anti-music/music while simultaneously destroying and remaking their songs at the exact same time. Most importantly of all, by disregarding the rules of rock, and ignoring arbitrary genre boundaries, The Tribe and Black Axis remain daring, defiant and wholly challenging albums to this day.

NOTE: After reissuing Caspar Brötzmann Massaker's first five albums, Southern Lord are planning to release a collector’s boxed set featuring extensive liner notes and artwork by Brötzmann, including a hand-numbered silkscreened print signed by the artist. Details of that venture are forthcoming.

May 13, 2019

Dreadnought - Emergence

By Calen Henry. Dreadnought’s fourth elemental themed album, Emergence, carries on the band’s signature sound while tightening it up. Pulling back from the dizzying density of A Wake in Sacred Waves, it's the band's most direct album but it doesn't sacrifice any of their intensity.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Mark Facey

Dreadnought’s fourth elemental themed album, Emergence, carries on the band’s signature sound while tightening it up. Pulling back from the dizzying density of A Wake in Sacred Waves, it's their most direct album but it doesn't sacrifice any of their intensity.

Emergence is still, at its core, piano-heavy blackened progressive rock. The driving tremolo riffs and shrieked vocals are still prominent, as are Kelly Schilling and Laura Vieira’s lovely piano-accompanied clean vocals and Jordan Clancy's intricate drumming. Flute, saxophone, and keys all make appearances, as with earlier releases, but Dreadnought sound more focused than ever before.

Photos by Kyle Gaddo.

Their first three albums showed ever-ascending progress towards the progressive zenith of A Wake in Sacred Waves, their busiest, heaviest, jazziest, and most dense album. It eschewed some of the dynamic push/pull between heavy and ambient found on Bridging Realms but lost some of the impact of their sound on that album. Emergence brings it back and does it better than on Bridging Realms. There is more defined separation between the band’s main styles; metal, piano-driven rock, and ambient. The sections are also less meandering than on previous albums giving the record a more immediate, less ethereal quality. Sections are more defined, making them stand out so, upon repeated listens, they build familiarity faster than before. The whole album is more immediately gripping while still giving a lot for the listener to dig into. Songs are still long, the compositions are still dense, but it all works and flows better than anything else in the band’s catalog.

Emergence is an excellent entry point into Dreadnought's catalog as well as a refreshing refinement of their formula, but anyone new to the band would do well to check out their other albums. Even though Emergence is their best work they haven’t released anything less than “extremely” compelling.

May 10, 2019

Spirit Adrift - Divided by Darkness

By Calen Henry. Nate Garrett’s solo doom-project-turned-touring-band, Spirit Adrift, returns with their third album, Divided by Darkness, and it’s a stunner. Curse of Conception was one of my favourite albums of 2017 and Divided by Darkness makes it seem like
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Joe Petagno

Nate Garrett’s solo doom-project-turned-touring-band, Spirit Adrift, returns with their third album, Divided by Darkness, and it’s a stunner. Curse of Conception was one of my favourite albums of 2017 and Divided by Darkness makes it seem like a test-run.

It transcends prior efforts and genres altogether into simply "heavy metal", but not in the modern traditional metal sense. Rather, it embodies heavy metal’s history to make something new. There’s the plodding doom of the first album, and the faster death-adjacent traditional metal from the second, but it's mixed with a newly front-and-centre 80’s sound; laced with synths and organ (even the Mellotron's signature 3 Violins patch), the guitar tone hearkens back with faintly reverbed cleans and squealing leads. It's even got mid-solo key changes and a Vibraslap. The pieces all fit together wonderfully, playing not as a rehash but a modern ode to classic metal.

On top of that the riffs, solos, and hooks slay. Songs are almost “anti-progressive” and mostly feature a verse/chorus structure with a bridge and a solo. Each part is impeccably composed and performed making the straightforward structure really work. All the instruments lock in and drive everything forward, giving way to searing leads, but Nate’s vocals really seal the deal. His slightly nasally and a bit raspy vocals have always had that timeless 80's metal quality, but this time they’re huge, even more varied and the instruments have gone back to the 80's with them. The big choruses are absolutely belted out, and the quiet parts are cleaner and fuller. There’s not a line out of place on the album.

My one minor quibble is that the mastering is decidedly modern and brickwalled, though well produced. It only slightly hampers the result, but a huge metal record like this, so indebted to the 80’s, deserves a wide open 80's master. That being said, the usual first casualty of a loud master, the bass, is loud and clear and things sound good all around.

Divided by Darkness it phenomenal. It's the best album the Spirit Adrift have released and the best metal album I've heard this year. Play it loud.

May 7, 2019

Leechfeast - Neon Crosses

By Ulla Roschat. I've been a fan of the four piece Slovenian Sludge Doom band Leechfeast since they started oozing their crusty filthy noise and let it drip into my ears and settle in my brain and soul to never completely leave. That was when they released their first full length album Hideous Illusion in 2012.
By Ulla Roschat.


I've been a fan of the four piece Slovenian Sludge Doom band Leechfeast since they started oozing their crusty filthy noise and let it drip into my ears and settle in my brain and soul to never completely leave. That was when they released their first full length album Hideous Illusion in 2012. Quite some time (and some split releases) lies between their first album and Neon Crosses. And quite some time lies between its release in March 2018 (Dry Cough Records/Rope or Guillotine) and this review.

So this is a kind of "late-to-the-party" review, although I wanted to write something immediately after the first time I heard this mind blowing album. It's an album of the category: "listen to it - words can't describe its magic". This is the reason it took me so long to eventually write this anyway, just hoping my words will make you push the play button, so the magic may unleash upon you..., and the magic starts as soon as you do so.

A creepy voice sample of some sermon /church service and slightly dissonant church bells set the mood - unhealthy, somewhat hysterical, moldy and portentous - the mood to embrace the heavy slow riff that thunders down without warning to push you into a river of viscous dirt and filth, torrential and painfully slow at the same time and it carries you into soundscapes and atmospheres of despair, pain, hopelessness and anger. Right from the start the opening track "Sacrosanct" confirms the thematic direction the album title suggests the album is going to take.

Neon Crosses is all about the wounds and pain that are caused by neglected promises of religious salvation dragged into the unrelenting, cold urban neon lights, that enhance all the suffering by creating distorted and warped reflections through the dripping filth of cruelty and indifference. The vocals, be they throaty, bellowing, gnarling, clean or whatever, are an absolute bliss of emotional impact, especially in the following track "Halogen" where dynamic and intensity grow into a heavy ritualistic Doom with melancholic melodies and ambience.

There's a soothing comfort in this melancholy, but that soon gets spoiled by dissonant distortion and an disturbingly abrupt ending that opens an abyss and you inevitably fall into the pitch black "Tar". This song is sonic tar indeed. You can almost feel the greasy, clinging smear on your skin, smell its pungent odor that takes your breath. This is so heavy, slow, gloomy and gluey and still the intensity here grows with every minute the song progresses until the atmosphere gets unbearably depressing.

All this sounds like the dark chants of a church service or funeral march at times, and  again a wailing melancholy seems to offer relief and salvation, but instead it’s faith itself getting carried to its grave. The repetitive ritual, the monolithic riffs, hard hitting drums and bass lines from hell are of a tightness that is as hypnotic as it is overwhelming and only drag you deeper into the darkness like a slow but inexorable vortex of grime and morass.

On "Razor Nest" more and more mechanical, industrial noises, eerie sound samples and radio messages infuse the already uncanny, somber ambience with post apocalyptic images and a sense of insanity and in the end of the song and the album the only repetitive sound left is the hollow stomping of some machine, stripped of all religious meaning.

If you are into this kind of heavy, doomy, gloomy Sludge, you should give Neon Crosses definitely a try. It is a demanding listen, not only because it's relentlessly heavy and slow, but even more so because it's pure overwhelming emotion oozing from your speakers through your ears into your heart.

And if you get the chance to attend a live show of these guys, don't miss it, it's an experience.

April 27, 2019

Tanagra - Meridiem

By Calen Henry. Tanagra are an unsung hero within the recent US power / traditional metal revival. In 2015, with little fanfare, they released a great debut, None of This is Real, a scrappy mix of traditional and power metal anchored by Tom Socia’s vocals
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Gary Tonge

Tanagra are an unsung hero within the recent US power / traditional metal revival. In 2015, with little fanfare, they released a great debut, None of This is Real, a scrappy mix of traditional and power metal anchored by Tom Socia’s vocals. Closer to traditional metal that power metal, Socia’s vocals are mostly tenor, with a touch of grit giving the band a unique sound in a space rife with squeaky clean cleans and falsetto.

Tanagra, in contrast to much power metal, maintain a lower intensity than typical of the genre. Clearly intentional, and by no means a criticism, Tanagra keep things at a controlled burn. Songs never escalate to a falsetto scream or a huge rhythmic breakdown. For Meridiem, though, the band have polished their sound and really dug into their epic side. It’s bursting with complex arrangements, epic vocals, sweep picking and tapping guitar leads, orchestral embellishments, and even features some forays into odd time signatures like on None of This is Real. The band have upped the ante considerably from their debut, but kept their hallmarks, especially the tenor vocals, which now occasionally dip into baritone. Making no bones about all this the album opens with the over 11 minute title track, starting with the ominous ticking of a grandfather clock before launching into Tanagra’s progressive power metal assault.

It’s immediately evident that extreme care and creativity has been given to the composition and performances and digging into the albums lyrics shows the same. Though not ostensibly a concept album, Meridiem’s songs center around a cohesive fantasy world and tell epic stories of struggle and strife within it. It’s unclear if the band has created the world or simply written in an unnamed existing fantasy world, but either way it adds depth to the music for those willing to dig deep and the band clearly want that, having posted lyrics with all the songs on Bandcamp.

For all the boxes Meridiem ticks, though, it’s let down a bit by it’s production. For all the dynamic instrumentation and vocals, the net result sounds a bit flat. It could be that it’s more compressed (DR 5 to None of This is Real’s DR 8), but Tanagra’s extremely controlled music is robbed of impact due to the production. Some will likely find it more noticeable than others, but it can make the album a bit harder to engage with that it would have been with a more dynamic mix.

Meridiem is very much worth engaging with. Tanagra fill a niche that not many modern bands do, and they do it very well.

Helms Alee - Noctiluca

By Justin C. I stumbled across Helms Alee just one album ago, with 2016’s Stillicide, so I can’t pretend to be intimate with their entire career arc. I’ve seen them described as sludge, psychedelia, and grunge, but I think all of those are off the mark
By Justin C.


I stumbled across Helms Alee just one album ago, with 2016’s Stillicide, so I can’t pretend to be intimate with their entire career arc. I’ve seen them described as sludge, psychedelia, and grunge, but I think all of those are off the mark, especially when talking about their new album, Noctiluca.

I’ve been listening to the promo for this album compulsively. Helms Alee might be metal adjacent at this point, but they manage to mix heavy with charm in a way that have made a recent car accident and injury on top of moving to a new house somewhat bearable. Songs like “Be Rad Tomorrow” have a propulsive, infectious energy. The riff and rhythm are relatively simple, but they’re a great example of doing a lot with a little. Add the combination of both lilting and driving vocals on top in the chorus, and you’ll want to drive down a sun-baked road 100 mph while listening to it.

This particular track also shows off one of the band’s greatest strengths: all three members make strong vocal contributions. Ben Verellen primarily supplies a style I like to call “hollering” next to Dana James’s and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis’s cleans, be they ethereal or driving. The combinations and harmonies brought all kinds of bands to mind, including Kylesa and The Breeders, but that’s more of a “for fans of…” list than anything else.

Helms Alee also manage that rarified achievement of mixing different levels of heavy, light, and trippy while always sounding like the same band. “Play Dead” wanders into early-Baroness territory of heavy rock/metal with interludes of bewitching harmonies, but “Lay Waste, Child” wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now. There’s nothing jarring about the transitions, though. This might not be the kind of bruising music that we typically cover here, but Helms Alee have made a cohesive, compelling album out of disparate sounds, and in doing so, they make a compelling argument against anyone who says that rock is dead.

April 8, 2019

Bridge Burner – Chlorine Eyes / Abyssal

By Craig Hayes. The New Zealand metal scene isn’t short of strong vocalists, but the voice of Bridge Burner singer Ben Read stands out as one of most powerful and versatile. Read’s time fronting bands like In Dread Response, The Mark of Man, and Ulcerate has served him well
By Craig Hayes.


The New Zealand metal scene isn’t short of strong vocalists, but the voice of Bridge Burner singer Ben Read stands out as one of most powerful and versatile. Read’s time fronting bands like In Dread Response, The Mark of Man, and Ulcerate has served him well in developing a vocal style that mines myriad layers of both nuance and savagery from throat-shredding shrieks, snarls, howls, and growls. Read’s recordings with Auckland-based sonic annihilators Bridge Burner feature some of his best work yet, and that’s more than apparent on the band’s latest tracks, “Chlorine Eyes” and “Abyssal”.

Bridge Burner’s new songs are barbaric bait primed to lure fans along to upcoming shows where they're opening for Cult Leader and Primitive Man on their respective NZ tours. That’s an apt pair of bands for Bridge Burner to be supporting too. Like Primitive Man, Bridge Burner’s music explores existential and corporeal agonies and Bridge Burner also make bleak and bruising aesthetic choices that hammer their crushing missives home. Like Cult Leader, Bridge Burner’s music is an intoxicating mix of steel-tipped punk and metal. In Bridge Burner’s case, they smash grindcore, crust punk, and sludge, black, and death metal together with visceral ferocity.

Essenitally, that means “Chlorine Eyes” and “Abyssal” feature brutal blasts of hybridized metal. Breakneck riffs, bass, and percussion batter the mind and body as Bridge Burner’s chaotic maelstroms take hold, and “Chlorine Eyes” features additional vocals from Callum Gay (Spook the Horses, Stress), who puts his gullet-shredding holler to raucous use too. Bridge Burner work a marginally slower and doomier angle on “Abyssal" but it's still a brawling cacophony overall.

“Abyssal” and “Chlorine Eyes” both pummel and pulverize, which is no surprise given Bridge Burner's merciless methodology, but the tracks' ultimate strengths lie in the deep catharsis they foster via punishing noise and incandescent rage. I’ve said it before, but Bridge Burner’s volatile fusion of intensity and negativity carves out a clear pathway to liberation. Call it nihilistic transcendence, or purification through misery and darkness, there’s no question that all the caustic chaos on “Abyssal” and “Chlorine Eyes” will help exorcize your endless inner-demons.

If that sounds good, make sure to seek out Bridge Burner’s excellent debut full-length, Null Apostle, which was released last year (and is also available on Bandcamp). Null Apostle is also overflowing with torment, wrath, and unshackled fury. Perfect for the morbid masochist in all of us.

April 6, 2019

Magic Circle - Departed Souls

By Karen A. Mann. More than three years after electrifying the metal community with Journey Blind, an expertly crafted blend of doom, traditional metal and classic rock, Boston’s somewhat mysterious Magic Circle, have returned with Departed Souls.
By Karen A. Mann


More than three years after electrifying the metal community with Journey Blind, an expertly crafted blend of doom, traditional metal and classic rock, Boston’s somewhat mysterious Magic Circle, have returned with Departed Souls. They haven’t really lost the mystery. Due to obligations with several other bands (Innumerable Forms, Sumerlands, Devil’s Dare, Stone Dagger, Lifeless Dark, Missionary Work, Pagan Altar), they rarely play live, and they still eschew social media. But on this latest album, the band looks further beyond its doomy foundations into the psychedelic world of prog to give us a powerfully mournful ode to those who have departed -- either by leaving this life or by leaving our lives.

However, Magic Circle is pretty blunt with their subject matter and artwork, which features a verdant, overgrown cemetery shown in the golden light of sunset. This is an album about death and endings, but the result is more bittersweet than maudlin, hopeful rather than despairing. A key reason for this is singer Brendan Radigan’s powerful voice, which could take the most mundane material and elevate it to the ethereal. There’s a good reason why he is often compared to the likes of Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan. His lyrics are poetic and kaleidoscopic, frequently invoking the seasons and the forces of nature as a sort of general lament on the plight of humanity.

The album opens with its title song, a Trouble-like medium-tempo head-bobber in which Radigan uses the wheel of the seasons to mourn a passing life.

Another harvest of the year
Echoing through time
Shaping the waves of the biosphere
With the cold wind’s sigh.

But Radigan is hardly the band’s only star. Guitarists Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro, trade evocative melodies, searing dual leads and chugging rhythms, often within the same song. It’s not unusual for them to be plodding on with a Sabbath-tinged riff, only to stop and indulge their inner Iron Maiden.

Magic Circle is a band that you can count on to mix things up. Several songs, including “Departed Souls” and “Valley of the Lepers,” follow this recipe. The album begins to unfold in an unexpected, but welcome way on the fourth song, “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares.” After a spacey intro, the song floats into an exotic, colorful melody with tablas and a retro-organ riff. Radigan croons about “haunting shadows,” a “glowing eventide” and “silhouetted memories.” It’s a very fitting divider for the album, which then becomes more progressive and a little less doomy, evoking Deep Purple more than Black Sabbath.

The band gives the listener a bit of a rest on “Bird City Blues,” a lush instrumental that clocks in at barely over a minute long, and includes the sound of rolling thunder in the distance. After that, the last song, “Hypnotized,” builds slowly, with Radigan coming in at top volume and power, and leading the listener on a roller coaster ride of emotions. As the riffs crescendo below him, Radigan lets loose:

Never to have or to want.
The will crumbles all.
Mortar and brick battlements
Finally fall.
Hypnotized.
And I hold back the hands of time.

For an album about death, Departed Souls leaves the listener feeling peaceful and uplifted.

March 22, 2019

Aephanemer - Prokopton

By Calen Henry. Though death metal is huge right now, the dirty Entombed sound and progressive Death worship prevail. Melodic death metal is somewhat of a rarity. Bands like Be’lakor and Parius carry the torch, but melodeath is one of few death metal variants
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Niklas Sundin/Cabin Fever Media.

Though death metal is huge right now, the dirty Entombed sound and progressive Death worship prevail. Melodic death metal is somewhat of a rarity. Bands like Be’lakor and Parius carry the torch, but melodeath is one of few death metal variants not experiencing a renaissance. On their sophomore album, Prokopton, Aephanemer give it their all to change that.

In Aephanemer the key melodeath parts are extremely strong. They combine gruff rhythmic vocals with melodic palm muted and tremolo riffs underscoring searing dual guitar leads. The dual guitars propel the songs forward, rarely relying on simple chugging instead adding all sorts of melodic flourishes. Vocalist Marion Bascoul’s delivery as well as the phrase construction is very Johan Hegg. Phrases line up with guitar riffs and the staccato delivery juxtaposes nicely with the lyrical guitar work, sometimes even taking on a folk influenced lilt.

Aephanemer ramp things up by adding orchestral elements to the melodeath formula. It's effectively symphonic melodic death metal and it’s glorious. It’s not just some keyboard accents either. The metal and string sections are given almost equal footing in songs and often intertwine. It won’t convert those of the mind that melodeath is somehow inferior to other metal, but for those already fans it’s phenomenal.

Prokopton sounds excellent despite the compressed master (DR 6). Unsurprising given it was mixed by Dan Swano. It’s unfortunate, though, that hiring a string orchestra is (presumably) pricey, because the compositions are excellent, but not quite done justice by the orchestra keyboard patches the band has had to resort to. The album begs for a full orchestra to really do the songs justice. That’s a minor quibble and really speaks to the quality of the songs contained in Prokopton.

Thy lyrical content lives up to the epic and upbeat music. Prokopton is a concept from stoicism and roughly means, “one who is progressing”. Songs follow this idea; either existential pondering on one’s place in life legacy, or epic stories of characters' experience to find their path. Marion’s delivery drives the songs along and the lyrics are really worth reading.

Aephanemer have struck gold with Prokopton.. It's unapologetic in it's embrace of all things epic and melodic. For anyone to whom that sounds like a pro, rather than a con, you're in for a treat.

March 12, 2019

Saor - Forgotten Paths

By Calen Henry. Through his three previous albums, Andy Marshall’s largely solo project Saor honed a unique sound. The project is rooted in atmospheric black metal, but riffier and more melodic, seamlessly weaving in bagpipes, fiddle, and tin whistle
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Atterigner

Through his three previous albums, Andy Marshall’s largely solo project Saor honed a unique sound. The project is rooted in atmospheric black metal, but riffier and more melodic, seamlessly weaving in bagpipes, fiddle, and tin whistle, elevating it to something transcendent.

Saor’s core approach has largely stayed the same, apart from moving to cleaner production from Aura to Guardians. Forgotten Paths, however, marks a musical shift. Prior Saor albums have delved deeply into Celtic music, with many tracks sounding inexorably Scottish. While the main approach remains unchanged, Forgotten Paths branches out from Saor’s roots to use Marshall’s compositional chops to create something less Celtic, but even more beautiful than his previous releases.

Photos by Franck TEXIER

Four elements make up Saor’s core sound: melodic tremolo riffs, driving palm-muted riffs, acoustic passages, and folk melodies. Marshall has a compositional gift for all four, but their juxtaposition and combination is the magic of Saor. Taking cues from post rock, he builds long songs that present motifs separately before dropping into heart-stopping moments with layered folk instruments on metal riffs, then breaking away from metal completely to let the folk instruments shine. These moments have always been gorgeous, but the sonic shift on Forgotten Paths makes them even prettier than before.

It’s exciting to see an artist create a niche and then transcend it. Forgotten Paths does just that. It’s unmistakably Saor, but more diverse and lovely than any prior album. The black metal portions hew closer to blackgaze (helped by a guest appearance by Alcest’s Neige), and the folk arrangements are less reliant on bagpipes, using fiddle and tin whistle more than before. It’s a subtle shift, and although it isn't ostensibly better than Saor's "Celtic incarnation," it stands with the other records as top-tier folk metal.

March 5, 2019

Un - Sentiment

By Karen A. Mann. Just by their name alone, Seattle funeral doom quartet Un would lead you to believe that they are bleak and depressing, bogged down in the darkness of negative energy. The word “un” signals everything that is not: unhappy, unloved, unliving.
By Karen A. Mann

Artwork by Cauê Piloto

Just by their name alone, Seattle funeral doom quartet Un would lead you to believe that they are bleak and depressing, bogged down in the darkness of negative energy. The word “un” signals everything that is not: unhappy, unloved, unliving. The band even states that they wrote their latest album, Sentiment, “as a token of gratitude for all those who struggle against the weight of their own existence.”

“If you have ever questioned your worth,” they write, “if you have ever felt unloved, if you have ever asked yourself if any of the pain is really worth it... these songs are for you.”

There are only four songs, the shortest of which is almost 12 minutes long. Each varies between slow and slower, heavy laden under layers and layers of pulverizing, rumbling fuzz. Singer/guitarist Monte McCleery (who also handles bass duties in heavy doomsters Samothrace) sings an a scraping growl that sounds like a boulder being rolled from the mouth of a tomb.

Yet for all its crushing despair Sentiment is luxuriant and warm, with a contemplative quality that’s ultimately uplifting and even triumphant.

Album-opener “In Its Absence” begins with a radiant, singular guitar melody that evolves into a massive, lumbering riff. On the album’s strongest song, “Pools of Reflection,” guest singer Kelly Schilling of Dreadnought brings an ethereal quality with her high, angelic voice, contrasting nicely with McCleery’s growl and providing a brief reprieve from rumbling morass. The album’s last song, “A Garden Where Nothing Grows,” features an almost psychedelic melodic section with a slow-burning clean solo, before ending in a slow, blackened frenzy. With these last notes, Sentiment leaves the listener with a sense of aching loss that nevertheless feels radiant and serene.

Sentiment was released in September last year. More recently Un released a split with UK doom trio Coltsblood.

March 1, 2019

Chrome Waves - A Grief Observed

By Justin C. Way back in 2012, a fantastic self-titled EP by a band called Chrome Waves came out. Natalie Zina Walschots described it evocatively on our own site, saying, “Heavily blackened and beautifully atmospheric, the record displays both a light touch and a heavy mood
By Justin C.


Way back in 2012, a fantastic self-titled EP by a band called Chrome Waves came out. Natalie Zina Walschots described it evocatively on our own site, saying, “Heavily blackened and beautifully atmospheric, the record displays both a light touch and a heavy mood, like a delicate sketch made with a piece of charcoal pulled from a funeral pyre.” But then for a variety of reasons, the group went dormant, and I sadly thought that the EP was the only thing we’d get.

But rejoice! With some personnel changes, founder Jeff Wilson (formerly of Nachtmystium, Wolvhammer, and Abigail Williams) has brought Chrome Waves back to life with a new full-length, A Grief Observed. I don’t think I’ll come up with anything quite as poetic as Natalie’s words, but I’ll give it a shot.

Genre tags are tricky with this project. I’ve seen post-black, blackened doom, and even blackgaze, all of which are kinda/sorta accurate, but also miss the mark a bit. My oversimplified categorization involves the marriage of DBSM with funeral doom, but without the more polarizing aspects of those subgenres (the yelping vocal style and epic song lengths, respectively). The second track, “Past the Lights,” hits a lot of these marks: It’s a moody piece, but pierced by vicious blackened rasps with just a hint of emo edge. The melodicism is strong throughout the album, whether it’s conveyed by passages of delicate guitar work or the occasional clean vocals.

The title track is a slow burner with heart-on-sleeve emotions, riding on graceful swells and falls in the string-like synths and the rhythm section. But the album isn’t all slow and brooding. Those familiar with Wolvhammer will recognize a punky black aesthetic that shows up in “Predatory Animals,” a rager that manages what a lot of more esoteric metal fails to do: be legitimately, pop-song catchy without a hint of cheesiness.

Really, the greatest strength of this band might be their ability to touch on so many different aspects of metal without sounding like a mixtape of different bands. Each song is unmistakably Chrome Waves. A lot of musicians are capable enough of evoking influences, but it’s the seamless blend that separates the wheat from the chaff, and Chrome Waves delivers. It may have been a long hiatus, but here’s hoping for a lot more music from them in the future.

February 15, 2019

Vanum - Ageless Fire

By Justin C. I’ll put my biases right up front so you can decide whether to trust me or not: It’s entirely possible I’ve become Michael Rekevics’s unofficial PR man. I’ve reviewed a lot of his projects (and there are many), including Yellow Eyes and Vilkacis
By Justin C.


I’ll put my biases right up front so you can decide whether to trust me or not: It’s entirely possible I’ve become Michael Rekevics’s unofficial PR man. I’ve reviewed a lot of his projects (and there are many), including Yellow Eyes and Vilkacis, and I’ve certainly enjoyed his work in Fell Voices and Vorde. I’ve also had the opportunity to see him play with at least three of the bands he performs in or masterminds, and I’ve been consistently blown away by his overwhelming intensity, regardless of whether he’s drumming, playing bass, or singing. I’ve probably used some version of this simile before, but it’s like watching a nuclear bomb detonate in musical form. Rekevics himself said that his influences are “simply powerful, evocative, melodically bold, and honest black metal. No posturing, no irony, just ancient power and timeless force.” And he lives his unique take on those influences on stage.

Vanum as a recording band has been Rekevics and Kyle Morgan, but on their latest, Ageless Fire, they’ve brought their two long-time live members, E. Priesner and L. Sheppard, into the band in a more official capacity. The resulting evolution has made for a Vanum album that meets your expectations--sweeping USBM with walls of sound--while expanding their sound from their previous full-length, Realm of Sacrifice.

Realm of Sacrifice is, to my ears, a darker record, and although Ageless Fire is by no means “the softer side of Vanum,” there’s a stronger musical sense of power and triumph. There’s a striking moment in “Under the Banner of Death” when Rekevics, in his trademark, mid-range growl, proclaims, “Under the banner of death / I am alive / I declare my being / in the language of fire.” I’m not going to all lit-crit and dissect the meaning of this, but it’s hard to deny as a fist-raised, screaming-from-the-mountain-tops moment.

The album as a whole is bit tricky to tease apart. Each song tends to showcase all or most of the band’s signature sounds, making a track-by-track rundown kind of pointless. Sometimes you let the “sheets of sound” (as John Coltrane’s music was once described) wash over you, and other times you dig in with a more singular, straightforward riff. One aspect I particularly enjoy is the twin guitar work that the album returns to again and again. Lines harmonize, and sometimes offer a bit of counterpoint. Sometimes they’re isolated in the quiet, and sometimes they ride on top of the waves.

So have I further sunk into Rekevics fanboyism? Yeah, probably. Fight me. Sure, I suppose there’s always a chance he’ll ultimately spread himself too thin and start repeating himself, but it hasn’t happened yet, and I’m still in.

February 4, 2019

Pan - The Boreal Coast

By Calen Henry. The Boreal Coast is an album of contradictions. The intro track, “Eventide”, sets the tone with a stomping metal riff that abruptly turns acoustic to finish out the 1:46 run time. Throughout the album Pan mix extremely groovy death metal riffs
By Calen Henry.


The Boreal Coast is an album of contradictions. The intro track, “Eventide”, sets the tone with a stomping metal riff that abruptly turns acoustic to finish out the 1:46 run time. Throughout the album Pan mix extremely groovy death metal riffs reminiscent of Temple of Void with whiplash tempo changes, angular sections, softer acoustic passages, and the odd guitar solo. It feels barely contained in it’s sub-forty minute run time.

Though Metal Archives lists them as “progressive doom/stoner metal” Pan are much more rooted in death metal. Vocals are mostly a staccato growl, riffs tend to be angular and much of the album shows a Meshuggah-like obsession with rhythm above all. Progressive is certainly accurate, though. The album practically explodes with ideas. Grooves and riffs fly by, turning on a dime and all manner of clean and rasped vocals supplement the death growls. Interestingly, though, the show-stopper is when they completely change gears in the largely acoustic “Litany Nocturnal”; an ominous western-tinged track with appropriately sinister clean vocals.

Throughout the album the grooves are killer and the whole band delivers, but the frenetic shifts are a double-edged sword. On tracks like “The Apothecary” all the riffs and transitions lock together for a roller coaster of a track. But, because the core of Pan’s sound is angular and highly rhythmic, anything less than an expertly executed transition really stands out. The flow sometimes seems stilted with section changes that sound abrupt or unnatural. That being said, some of these transitions sound smoother on repeated listens, after acclimatizing to the band's sound. It’s by no means a deal breaker, though. The band set a high bar for themselves and sometimes don’t reach it and it keeps a good album from greatness.

In a crowded death, doom, and stoner metal space, Pan do things a bit different, and should be celebrated. Adventurous headbangers, don't miss out on The Boreal Coast.

February 1, 2019

Enon Chapel - Enon Chapel

By Justin C. Before we get to the band Enon Chapel, we’ll take a quick history lesson of Enon Chapel, the church built in 1823 in London. The chapel’s Reverend Howse allegedly offered cheap burials, but then stacked bodies like firewood in a vault underneath the chapel itself.
By Justin C.


Before we get to the band Enon Chapel, we’ll take a quick history lesson of Enon Chapel, the church built in 1823 in London. The chapel’s Reverend Howse allegedly offered cheap burials, but then stacked bodies like firewood in a vault underneath the chapel itself. After discovering this very-unwise burial arrangement, the bodies were eventually removed and buried in a mass grave, and the resulting scandal--plus a population surge that was filling cemeteries to bursting--helped prompt several Burial Acts to be passed, banning further burials inside the city of London. You can imagine that the bereaved who thought they were giving their loved ones a proper, Christian burial were not pleased with what was discovered.

So Enon Chapel the band--funeral doom, right? Nope. This is a 27-minute blast of black punk/thrash, a side project of a site favorite, Balan (the man behind Palace of Worms and a collaborator in Botanist), and Meghan Wood (Crown of Asteria, Iarnvidgur). Wood provided the lyrics, vocals, and most of the guitar solos for the project, and Balan handled the rest of the instrumental duties.

The sound could be superficially described as lo-fi black metal, but it strikes a balance between grit and quality recording. As you might expect, the album opens with some church bells, chants, and eerie, echoing guitar, but the duo doesn’t overplay the atmospherics--they have some more serious ripping to do. The songs, although generally short, pack in plenty of tempo changes and contain an excellent mix of black metal vocal styles, tremolos, and good-old, syncopated thrash riffs.

I don’t usually get excited about projects labeled as black thrash, but this one dances effortlessly between the two genres, as well as a host of other influences, while still keeping a foot firmly in the realm of barn-burning metal. The guitar solos are also worthy of note. Unlike so much forgettable weedly-deedly nonsense, they’re melodic and ferocious at the same time, and they clearly belong to the songs they’re in, rather than simply being an interruption for showing off.

This EP was a happy surprise for me, and although another lo-fi black metal project about corpses could easily be overlooked, I hope people find this and enjoy it as much as I did. It may not be a revolution, but Balan and Wood absolutely nail they style they’re working in.

January 25, 2019

Altarage - The Approaching Roar

By Bryan Camphire. The Approaching Roar is the third record for Bilbao's blackened death metal act Altarage, released on Season of Mist. The set consists of nine songs and clocks in at 43 minutes. In this span, the group reveals an agenda
By Bryan Camphire.


The Approaching Roar is the third record for Bilbao's blackened death metal act Altarage, released on Season of Mist. The set consists of nine songs and clocks in at 43 minutes. In this span, the group reveals an agenda that takes the listener through a broad spectrum ranging from bizarre twisted outer-limits to raw adrenaline fueled fist-pumping anthems. All the while, the sound palate is focused and distilled down to maximum potency. The resulting din is indeed a bestial and ferocious roar.

What makes their music so thrilling is that they take the oppressive sounds of their influences and polish them. The effect on their music is that of increasing the contrast in a photograph. In the hands of Altarage, blacks get deeper, brights more blinding, angles get sharper, textures more abrasive.

"Sighting", the opening track, is both hypnotic and startling. It starts with down-tuned acoustic guitar tremolo picked in a minor key almost flamenco style. This lulls the listener into a whirling trance for a spell. Then the full band crashes in like a violent tidal wave, upending everything in its wake. Altarage really have a masterful control of pacing, in one minute they can drone you a dream-like state, in the next they'll pummel you mercilessly, and eventually they'll lock into an irresistible rhythm and defy you not to bang your head.

"Inhabitant", the sixth track, is another highlight. The guitars seem to mimic a cigarette being snuffed out on your skin. The band kicks in and amplifies this and suddenly you feel like your whole body is being somehow drilled into the Earth while you're helpless to resist the music's momentum. Two minutes in there’s a breakdown—the album is full of these dramatic moments that make you sit up and pay attention—war drums fall into a mid-tempo lock-step. Suddenly this music that up to this point had sounded so alien and strange cracks its whip and you find the need to bang your head under the strange spell of the song.

Altarage have created a set that is measured and rarified. The black and white visual aesthetic of the album art is a compelling visual cue for the ideas that make The Approaching Roar so arresting. It's a record of high contrast, displaying a clear sound saturated with strangeness and emotion for their most powerful LP yet.

January 8, 2019

New Light Choir - Torchlight

By Karen A. Mann. It’s difficult to know just where to begin in reviewing New Light Choir. With black metal, doom, death metal, prog rock and even a little NWOBHM in their musical arsenal, the Raleigh duo isn’t so much genre-defying as genre-transcending.
By Karen A. Mann

Cover art by Thomas Moran.

It’s difficult to know just where to begin in reviewing New Light Choir. With black metal, doom, death metal, prog rock and even a little NWOBHM in their musical arsenal, the Raleigh duo isn’t so much genre-defying as genre-transcending. Band members John Niffenegger (vocals, guitars, bass, keys, synthesizer, Swiss bell) and Chris Dalton (drums, synthesizer, wizard) display an intellectual musical curiosity that’s both innocent and wide-ranging. Their previous full-length release, 2014’s Volume II, hinted at their vision, while remaining true to their stated love of Tribulation-style blackened death metal. On their most recent release, Torchlight, that vision is fully realized, with the drama of Kate Bush calling over the moors to Heathcliff, the pain of Dawnbringer’s dying Sun God, the fist-pumping insistence of Thin Lizzy and Scorpions and the questioning morose of doom. Throughout, there’s a gnarled, blackened thread that sometimes hides and sometimes makes its presence well-known, stitching the band’s disparate elements together to make a musical canvas that’s theirs alone.

The album’s opener, “Grand Architect,” starts off in a singular direction, with a loping riff that would be right at home on a Trouble album. Shortly thereafter, it speeds up into the song’s main melody, which sounds like a blackened version of High on Fire. Niffenegger’s voice is clean, high and insistent as he sings of a “stargazing seer,” and “Grand architect of dreams.” This transcendent theme plays throughout, including the exotic “Omens,” which tells of “the way revealed: An opening into forever,” the Scorpions-worshiping “Psalm 6” and the album’s majestic showpiece, “Stardust and Torchlight,” which includes the lyrics:

As silver beams of starlight stream on lovers lost in dream.
And in the space between our worlds, where day and night collide.

Even the artwork, a painting of a gauzy sunrise over a roiling sea by 19th Century American Romantic landscape painter Thomas Moran, hints at the emotional turmoil brought forth on the album. The Romantics were intrigued by the violence of nature, and considered humankind’s attempts to subjugate it futile. Ultimately, they believed in the supremacy of the individual over the collective and emotion over reason. New Light Choir’s lyrics (mostly written by Niffenegger) concern themselves with the same heady, mythical themes, and feature protagonists who are searching for some sort of cosmic or spiritual transcendence.

There are times when New Light Choir throws all expectations out the window, and the most obvious of them is on the second song, the vintage-worshiping occult-rocker “Queen of Winter.” With organ and Mellotron accompaniment by Scott Phillips (Dalton’s bandmate in indie-rock band Goner and its electronic offshoot Gnoer), “Queen of Winter” easily sound like a lost song from a Blood Ceremony album. This is further proof that even a band as unexpected and beholden to genre as New Light Choir can find a way to surprise their listeners.

January 3, 2019

Death Fortress - Reign of the Unending

By Bryan Camphire. Reign of the Unending. It's a fitting title for a record released just before the fall of Fallen Empire Records, as the label prepares to lock up its gates. The venerable label's influence is indeed unending, and Death Fortress is a band best equipped to exhibit this fact
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Raul Gonzalez.

Reign of the Unending. It's a fitting title for a record released just before the fall of Fallen Empire Records, as the label prepares to lock up its gates. The venerable label's influence is indeed unending, and Death Fortress is a band best equipped to exhibit this fact, as they have been releasing uncompromising music via Fallen Empire throughout the label's seven year history.

Death Fortress make records that sound like the band is playing live in your living room. It's a ferocious sound they've cultivated with heaping measures of muscle and teeth. In an era rampant with over-produced recordings, it's refreshing to hear a set as raw and powerful as this. To my ears, Death Fortress blends the bombast of Bleach-era Nirvana with the blasphemous bent of Belketre.

The human touch to this performance imbues the music with grit and gristle. The drumming is jaw dropping. This has been the case on all of the band's records and the clip is maintained throughout on this release. The vocals are another source of intrigue. Guttural howls are interspersed with hellish cries. These elements combined with gain-heavy guitars and low slung bass lines produce a high voltage of intensity to leave a lasting impression on the listener.

"Nearer to Purity" is a highlight. The momentum this track kicks up and the tension it creates is like experiencing a helicopter crash in a blizzard and living to tell the tale. Half of the tunes on this release have mid-tempo breakdowns. It's these moments that all at once provide reprieve and serve to strengthen the songs' potency. The music gets ratcheted up in these slow sections like a measured ascent that precedes a free fall. It's a sensation you can feel in your chest, and Death Fortress orchestrates the experience with mastery.

On Reign of the Unending, each song title on is concerned with power, and this theme is reflected in the energy of the playing. There isn't an ambient interlude to be found throughout the thirty-eight minute run time of this set. It's all blood and guts. The ferocity on display here lends the music its escalated heartbeat, which cuts a stark path through unforgiving landscapes. Death Fortress brings feverish heat to desolate atmospheres, which are richly realized on this release.