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.