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.

July 26, 2019

Scorn Coalescence - Serpents Athirst / Genocide Shrines / Trepanation / Heresiarch

By Bryan Camphire. Cyclopean Eye Productions, a label out of Bangalore, present Scorn Coalescence, a four-way split of blistering death metal. The first two bands hail from Singapore, while the latter two are native to New Zealand.
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Roger Moore.

Cyclopean Eye Productions, a label out of Bangalore, present Scorn Coalescence, a four-way split of blistering death metal. The first two bands hail from Sri Lanka, while the latter two are native to New Zealand. Taken together, the songs capture death metal's potential to be momentous and captivating, the kind of release that you wish was twice as long.

First up is "Poisoning the Seven", by Serpents Athirst. The song feels like an anthem from its opening bars. A minute in, they ratchet up the intensity and the tempo, recalling the relentless death metal of early 2000s Brazilian acts like Rebaelliun and Abhorrence. There is an urgent intensity to the emotions on display here. The track is brimming over with malevolence in its smoldering attack.

Genocide Shrines darken the mood with, "All and/or Nothing". The bass is at least as loud as the guitars and its bombast spews forth with the relentlessness of a Gatling gun. The whole cut is the sound of being ground to a paste on concrete underfoot. Yet for all its teeming antipathy, the music is also painstakingly measured and precise. Its explosiveness is calculated, set off with iron-fisted control.

Trepanation slow things down on "B/H/T". Just when you feel like you're on solid footing vocals and blast beats are thrown over your head and tied tight with rope, as you're tossed into the trunk of a car. The music careens along in fits and starts. When things slow down, an accompanying feeling of dread sets in as you anticipate the violence around the next corner, forced to manage the suspense and catharsis.

Heresiarch close off the split with "Dread Prophesy", a coughing erratic piece of death metal. Fast, confident and careening, it shows how the band's prowess for detailed sprawling death metal takes no prisoners in its assault. Frequent rhythm changes beg repeated listens while sacrificing none of the music's immediacy.

The record as a whole vouches for these four bands' abilities to convey destruction and death distilled into a unique powerful display. This release should leave little room for doubt that this is an era of strong uncompromising death metal. Coming from four bands from extreme ends of the underground, Scorn Coalescence is a vitally concentrated offering.

July 12, 2019

False - Portent

By Matt Hinch. Before we even get into the nuts and bolts of the new False album one must note that this one actually has a name. Previously the Minnesota black metal 5-piece released an “untitled” EP and LP. Sure the Hunger EP had a name but this seems more significant.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski.

Before we even get into the nuts and bolts of the new False album one must note that this one actually has a name. Previously the Minnesota black metal 6-piece released an “untitled” EP and LP. Sure the Hunger EP had a name but this seems more significant. Threateningly or disquietingly significant in fact. A marvelous omen indicating a momentous happening. You see, the name of the album is Portent and all meanings of the word are applicable.

My first listen to False's sophomore full-length came under almost ideal conditions, with the main point against being the fact that it was 30°C and not cold and icy at all. Otherwise, the racing percussion (Travis), atmospheric keys (Kishel) and relentless guitars (Niko – bass, Skorpian – lead, James – rhythm) cascaded through the speakers as trees, bushes, sparsely lit houses and the watchful eyes of nocturnal creatures flew by driven by the aural assault, as a crescent moon hung high in the sky casting shadows upon the already darkened landscape.

The serenity is broken by Rachel's possessed vocals. Bewitching and vile, they strike with all the subtlety of teeth scraping on bone. The passion and desperation, conviction and heart of her delivery leaves nothing to be desired. The somewhat abrupt, barking style won't be for everyone but anything more melodic or less eviscerating would throw off the whole balance.

The three main sources of healing pain on Portent take the long road. Opener “A Victual to Our Dead Selves” is the shortest of the three at almost 11 minutes. As one would expect a lot happens in that amount of time. There is repetition obviously but not for the sake of filler and while the track takes the listener to many different places the path makes sense. The focus shifts at times with more emphasis on the keys, or the vocals, or the epic/power metal moves the guitars make around the 4:00 mark. Definitely not a “set it and forget it” album.

“Rime on the Song of Returning” also packs a lot in. The icy black metal seems unstoppable lest a lack of movement freezes the band in place. Yet, the pace goes glacial for a while. A doomy dread brings a lethargy into play that spills over into a more measured pace. A moodier time. A time without vocals where the listener can immerse themselves even more into the windswept melodies and soothing atmosphere. It's hard to think of anything as soothing when most of the elements hit so, so hard but it happens anyway. Especially the percussion; nuanced, complex, and dominant.

The pacing carries into “The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat”. Kishel's keys show off a new facet for the album careening with a more industrial/air raid quality, like a fall from a great height, or the heartbreak of apocalypse. There's more than enough speed to be had though. False get downright fevered at times channeling every fibre of their being into a cathartic rage.

With the exception of low-key piano outro “Postlude” - a welcome cool down from Portent's unfailing intensity – False go for the throat. A lot happened in the band member's personal lives in the years since their last LP and it has brought the band together in ways us outsiders can never really know. But we can hear it. We can feel it. We can feel a band firing on all cylinders, with purpose, locked in, pouring all their pain, loss, and suffering into their art, their escape, their way forward over 41 minutes of flowing, active and adventurous black metal.

Portent, for all its shifting moods and pacing, feels incredibly fluid. Complex too. On the surface, it's fierce black metal, all flailing riffs and blasting drums ruled by demonic vocals and can be enjoyed for just that. But a more concentrated listen allows the listener to become one with the cold darkness. In this state, the whole can separate into its composite pieces. The path the leads take become more defined, the percussion fully blossoms, sometimes the bass can be heard more prominently (my only gripe about the album is turn up the bass!), and various other production flavours (string noise, thumps, etc) increase the sense of realness enhancing the overall experience.

False make a statement with Portent other than titles, member names, and a willingness to talk about their work. A statement that American Black Metal can go toe-to-toe with its Scandinavian counterparts and come out the other side no worse for wear. Depending on the listener, victoriously triumphant in fact. I mean, isn't Minnesota the most “Scandinavian” state anyway?

July 10, 2019

Antigone's Fate - Insomnia

By Hera Vidal. Atmospheric black metal can be pretty. Even with the many layers and nuances that go into making an album sound as it does, the reason I keep coming back to this genre is because it can be pretty.
By Hera Vidal.


Atmospheric black metal can be pretty. Even with the many layers and nuances that go into making an album sound as it does, the reason I keep coming back to this genre is because it can be pretty. It can be the one beautiful thing in a terrible day, the one thing that makes me appreciate music the way I do. Of course, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the beauty of music – most of us are too busy breaking down each part line by line – but, sometimes, it’s best to appreciate music as it can be: an experience.

Insomnia is the first full-length from Antigone’s Fate, but the origins of the music are not new. Runn, the man behind Antigone’s Fate, wrote a lot of music during a hard period in his life. After a time, he let it sit on his hard drive, not considering it for release. However, when writing for his other bands he decided to reactivate this project, and we got Insomnia, a rather emotional album that deals with heavy topics and themes that were influenced by Runn’s experiences.

Insomnia starts innocently enough: opener “In endlosen Eiswüsten” begins with an acoustic intro before dropping all pretense and going straight into atmospheric black metal territory. All the elements are present: the howling vocals; the soft yet melodious instrumentation that moves the soul; and the ever-present atmosphere that allows you to transcend elsewhere. However, unlike the consistent nature of some atmospheric black metal, where it can get quickly get stale because there is no variety, Insomnia is not a stationary record. While it always keeps coming back to the same musical theme, Antigone’s Fate takes the time to build the suspense, taking the listener to other places before placing them back at the beginning. They also add other sounds to give the music texture and heaviness, shifting it from a melancholic tone to a funerary one. This is mostly evident on “Insomnia 32.3”, one of the more complex tracks on Insomnia. The music not only provides the aforementioned elements, but it also has chanting, syncopated, melodic drumming – almost as if it was going into a welcoming melodeath tone – clean vocals, and quiet guitar riffing that becomes a feature towards the latter half of the song. It’s such a compelling change, one that made me focus on what the music was showing me rather than whatever else was happening. It was calming amidst the atmosphere and the deep melancholy that seems to color this album. Even for nothing else, that part of “Insomnia 32.3” is worth listening to, even if you don’t find Insomnia compelling enough.

What I love most about Insomnia is how its production adds to its layering. I already mentioned that the album has texture and heaviness that allows it to shift without the music becoming stale, adding a form of vibrancy that focuses on the atmosphere. It’s very clear that Runn had a vision when it came to producing this album – he wanted it to stay true to his experiences and his sadness, so he created this deeply layered, emotional album that makes you feel for him. The pain of whatever happened to him is evident, and he will continue to discuss it whenever someone listens to this album.

All in all, Insomnia is a deeply emotional album that truly takes the “atmospheric” description and takes it to a new realm. However, while it may not grab your attention at first, repeated listens make the theme clearer and easier to understand. I will be forever curious about what happened to Runn that made this album so compelling to listen to, but I will be waiting patiently to see what happens next with this project. I hope it is as intense as Insomnia.

July 9, 2019

Riffs for Reproductive Justice

Riffs for Reproductive Justice is terrific compilation of dark music for a good cause. A handful of songs are from albums we have featured, like The Unraveling by Ails and Empress/Abscess by Immortal Bird another handful birds are from bands I have enjoyed live

Riffs for Reproductive Justice is terrific compilation of dark music for a good cause. A handful of songs are from albums we have featured, like The Unraveling by Ails and Empress/Abscess by Immortal Bird. Another handful are from bands I have enjoyed a lot live, like Dawn Ray'd and Closet Witch. On top of that are tracks from all-time favorites like False and Woe - this really is a great collection of songs.

100% of proceeds from the compilation will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Here's Ursula Le Guin on why this is a very worthy cause, why abortion rights are so important:

It’s like this: if I had dropped out of college, thrown away my education, depended on my parents … if I had done all that, which is what the anti-abortion people want me to have done, I would have borne a child for them, … the authorities, the theorists, the fundamentalists; I would have born a child for them, their child.

But I would not have born my own first child, or second child, or third child. My children.

The life of that fetus would have prevented, would have aborted, three other fetuses … the three wanted children, the three I had with my husband—whom, if I had not aborted the unwanted one, I would never have met … I would have been an “unwed mother” of a three-year-old in California, without work, with half an education, living off her parents….

(full excerpt here)

Their body. Their choice.

July 5, 2019

Immortal Bird - Thrive on Neglect

By Justin C. Immortal Bird’s self-description of “crusty blackened proggy deathgrind” may be tongue-in-cheek, but I think it actually reveals a nugget of truth. As I’ve listened to their newest, Thrive on Neglect, on nearly endless repeat these past few weeks,
By Justin C.


Immortal Bird’s self-description of “crusty blackened proggy deathgrind” may be tongue-in-cheek, but I think it actually reveals a nugget of truth. As I’ve listened to their newest, Thrive on Neglect, on nearly endless repeat these past few weeks, I realized that the key to their addictive sound is rooted in duality. They offer up ever-mutating songs, shifting tempo and feel, playing with oblique angular sounds and quick-change ups that will tickle your noggin while maintaining an emotional and musical immediacy from more straightforward realms of metal, making sure you’re not ignoring your feels in the face of the intellectual challenges of the music. Yes, the previous bit may be one of the most pretentious paragraphs I’ve ever written about music, but bear with me, because I promise that it gets to the heart of what I think makes this band so special, and what makes Thrive on Neglect their best album yet.

Vocalist Rae Amitay and bassist John Picillo are joined on this album by two new friends, Nate Madden on guitars and Matt Korajczyk on drums. The core of their sound from previous albums remains the same, but it’s refined and sharpened here. “Vestigial Warnings” takes twisty turns through blasty grind and slower, doomier fare, only to return to a primal stomp at the end. But balancing that, there are moments like the beginning of “House of Anhedonia,” where Amitay opens the song by screaming “We are cursed!”, moments that offer an immediacy that bores right into your brain. “Avolition” is long by Bird standards, coming in over 7 minutes, but it has a telescoping guitar riff that’s one of the favorite things I’ve heard in a while--and of course they fade out with a version of the same riff with harmonics, and I’m a sucker for harmonics. Technically interesting, but still grab-you-by-your-shirtfront direct. Add to that a high, slinky bass riff, and any instrumental music itch I have is well and truly scratched.

The instrumental prowess is matched by emotionally raw lyrics that describe, well, let’s say human relationships that perhaps aren’t operating at their peak. The beginning of “Avolition” offers twisty, dark word play in its first line, “Infatuated with not being alone.” Amitay lets her voice range from low growls to a higher rasp, but her voice never does anything that doesn’t bleed rage and honesty. In album opener “Anger Breeds Contempt,” she percussively bellows “You are. Infection. If. I turn. To face you. I. Know I’ll. Become salt.” adding a nice Biblical allusion thrown in for good measure. If you didn’t know before, her rhythmic delivery here shows her split life between vocalist and drummer.

As of late, we’ve all read a sickening amount of bullshit justification about why shit like stupid Nazi-inspired lyrics somehow “keeps metal dangerous,” but Immortal Bird shows a different, better way. This music is dangerous because it’s musically challenging and emotionally direct and raw. Confronting your inner demons is always more dangerous than lame shock tactics, and adding musical complexity and immediacy in such a fine balance shows Immortal Bird at the top of not only their game, but the whole damn metal game.

June 30, 2019

Windthrow - Treacherous Beckonings

By Calen Henry. Windthrow is a one-man black metal band from Sweden. Behind Treacherous Beckonings’ unassuming cover, though, lurks something a bit special that shines through the haze of bedroom black metal proliferating on Bandcamp. It’s a great little debut that showcases the band’s sound, never overstays its welcome, and hints at where the band could go next.
By Calen Henry.


Windthrow is a one-man black metal band from Sweden. Behind Treacherous Beckonings’ unassuming cover, though, lurks something a bit special that shines through the haze of bedroom black metal proliferating on Bandcamp. It’s a great little debut that showcases the band’s sound, never overstays its welcome, and hints at where the band could go next.

Windthrow doesn’t exactly do anything new, but the influences it brings together work extremely well. Riffs are split between blistering black metal tremolos and galloping heavy metal. Though the album itself is quite short the songs and riffs are long and epic, twisting and turning into and out of solos and twin lead guitar passages.

The performances by lone member Robin Petterson are very good. The riffs all hit and the leads are epic and memorable, even the nyckelharpa interlude is well done. Drums are what really set Windthrow apart from the pack. Lots of single member black metal bands use programmed drums and, unless they’re very well programmed or the artist wants the cold, clinical sound of drum samples, it can detract from the music. Petterson plays real drums on Treacherous Beckonings, and it brings the whole package together.

To top things off is a lovely dynamic master for the digital (DR 10). I’m sure the limited LP run sounds fantastic with a master like that but, thankfully, those of us going digital aren’t left out in the cold.

The most interesting part of Treacherous Beckonings is that it stands as a good debut, but also screams out for where Petterson can go with the project. He’s got the riffs, the chops, the leads, a cool folk instrument and, most importantly for a one man band, the ability to edit. All the pieces are there to develop something a touch longer, integrating the nyckelharpa into the metal songs and giving the whole project its own sound completely.

June 27, 2019

Beastwars - IV

By Calen Henry. Beastwars never promised a fourth album. After going on hiatus upon completing their apocalyptic trilogy, followed by singer Matt Hyde’s Non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, more from the trio seemed even less likely. Matt’s diagnosis, it turns out, catalyzed creativity.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Nick Keller.

Beastwars never promised a fourth album. After going on hiatus upon completing their apocalyptic trilogy, followed by singer Matt Hyde’s Non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, more from the trio seemed even less likely. Matt’s diagnosis, it turns out, catalyzed creativity. Booking studio time straight after Hyde’s chemo treatment ended, the band recorded IV; a harrowing journey inwards through guilt, fear, regret, and hope.

IV brings together the sound of each album in the trilogy; the straight up riff worship of Beastwars, the more angular riffing of Blood Becomes Fire, and the psychedelia tinged, slow burning riffs of The Death of All Things. The longer songs and component riffs on IV often bring all these parts together in a single track while solos twist and turn leading from heavy passages into ambient sometimes post-rock tinged sections. It feels more like a journey than before due in part to the frequent compound metering that drives songs forward, but it also sounds grungier, adding more guitar effects, and doubling down on the loud/quiet verse/chorus structure. The core approach of huge riffs supported by fuzzed out bass remains the same.

Matt’s vocals have changed, though. His quiet, seething vocals still drip with menace, but his huge rafter-rattling howl is thinner, more pained. It’s pleading, bleeding emotion. It could be confronting mortality, recording an album straight after chemo, the crushing weight of torment that pours forth, or it could be all of that. Matt’s performance is gripping. It’s his most nakedly emotional performance and this from the man who opens the band’s catalog with "Damn the Sky," a howling sermon to a dying world.

"Raise the Sword" opens the album on a note of hope and defiance. A short feedback build crashes into a trademark trudging guitar riff supported by fuzz bass with a howling verse before breaking into a quiet bass-led chorus. The verses focus on the toll of regret and guilt, while the chorus frames it with hope,

Breathe long
Breathe wise
Don't fall
Raise the Sword

The song’s bridge breaks into a sample from “The Quiet Earth”, about science in the wrong hands which, at first, seems incongruous with the themes of guilt and hope, but its inclusion becomes clear over the course of the album as Matt couples personal guilt with deep guilt and regret over the state of the earth.

An ambient interlude then brings back the main riff, underscoring another hopeful verse, before a chorus reprise into an unresolved chord while Matt howls “Raise the Sword” one last time. A perfect set-up for the album, hope and defiance in the lyrics, with the unresolved chord emphasizing the beginning of something, not the end.

"Wolves and Prey" opens with effect drenched drums, before the heaviness starts. Again centering on regret, it begins to introduce the colossal societal guilt hinted at in "Raise the Sword". Not only personal guilt, but guilt at the state of the earth and what it means for future generations,

Speak of old kings
Hands of your loss
Let everyone say
What have we done

The song’s bridge introduces a new permutation of the band’s sound; their characteristic extended, stomping bass-led sections underneath long, lyrical guitar leads lending the album an introspective and dream-like quality.

"Storms of Mars", with it’s wah drenched intro, hearkens back to The Death of All Things, before launching into the one of the fastest riffs on the album supporting dual guitar leads with lyrics adopting classical and sci-fi imagery to beg for more time,

Let me live
Give me ten more years
Let the child grow
Let me see new Rome

At the same time it warns not to repeat the mistakes of the past,

A refugee
A world as cruel as the last
Remember thee old Gods
Remember their rage

The song shifts into crunchy bass-led riffing, reminiscent of Blood Becomes Fire, and back before an ambient interlude, led by Matt’s bubbling mid-range rage builds to the song’s climax, over top of octave doubled tremolo riffing he begs to “let the child live, to build new Rome”.

"This Mortal Decay" opens with a classic mid-tempo riff, supported by faster than average drumming, and confronts death more directly, describing looking down from a mountain to see what humanity has wrought, and how despite it all, we can’t give up or give in, or escape our “mortal decay”. The vocals hit a sweet spot with the lurching guitar line; never quite out of control, but never settling down to the simmering rage of the more menacing passages on the album. The only exception is after a string swell to support the song’s bridge, an indictment of reckless technological advancement, where the vocal intensity perfectly matches the instruments

Oh God, oh God
Bring us your neon cross
Oh God, oh God
Drive your speed machine

"Omens", the album’s lead single, opens with a pseudo-gallop reminiscent of “Damn the Sky”, and is classic Beastwars through and through, but with flashes of the more psychedelic from the pre-chorus wah guitar to the almost post-rock outro. It was an extremely well chosen single to show fans the band’s triumphant return as well as their subtle sonic shift both instrumentally and lyrically with lyrics that are more esoteric and closer to the band’s older material than the rest of the album

After brief ambiance, "Sound of the Grave" is a torturous guilt-trip driven by rumbling, fuzzed out bass as the guitars build into the fury of the chorus underneath Matt’s seething sermon on forgiveness, death, and nothingness. The consistent rumbling riffs match the off-kilter tone of the lyrics, wondering what it’s worth in the end,

And I try for forgiveness
In the time of the damned
And nothing is better
Than being in the ground

"The Traveller" may be the album's most tortured vocal showcase. Matt wails over nothing but a solo guitar track until the laid back groove kicks before switching to a classic New Wave drum beat supporting a wicked lyrical twin guitar line through the chorus. It leads into a dissonant, chorus-drenched guitar solo ripped straight from the Nirvana playbook before (again, Nirvana-style) the song gets heavier and almost falls apart as Matt intones,

Blessed is the world
And we all must leave

"Like Dried Blood", in contrast to it’s morbid title, starts with clean vocals accompanied by piano and drums before the typical Beastwars (circa Death of All Things) sound bursts forth then parts and brings piano back to lead. Lyrically it bookends the album; ending the fight started with "Raise the Sword" but far more general with Matt saying his great war is over, but

Like all this blood
It will wash away

IV is a towering achievement. Beastwars have always been darker than average for stoner rock, dealing obliquely with environmental ruin and existential angst. IV turns the lens deeply inward and delivers their most emotionally raw and engrossing album yet. It’s as harrowing as it is addicting to listen to and it’s my favourite album of 2019.

June 25, 2019

Sutekh Hexen – Sutekh Hexen

By Craig Hayes. Real-life brutalities frequently eclipse fictional ones, and the world routinely serves up enough atrocities before breakfast to satisfy the hungriest psychopathic appetites. Of course, all the appalling acts we witness doesn’t stop us from also embracing mountains of abominable art.
By Craig Hayes.


Real-life brutalities frequently eclipse fictional ones, and the world routinely serves up enough atrocities before breakfast to satisfy the hungriest psychopathic appetites. Of course, all the appalling acts we witness doesn’t stop us from also embracing mountains of abominable art. Chiefly because we satiate so many of our demons exploring myriad and malevolent artistic avenues.

In music’s case, reveling in horrifying noise fulfills a desire many of us have to cast aside our public faces and dwell in the deepest shadows. Hateful and hostile music is cathartic, and fiendish communiqués quench our darkest thoughts – which is where nerve-shredding duo Sutekh Hexen enters the frame.

Sutekh Hexen are architects of the unknown, constructing houses of the unholy, and while they’re based in Oakland, California, the band’s aural assaults operate on a more esoteric plane of existence. Sutekh Hexen combine ambient crawls and harsh noise with drone and raw black metal, and their unearthly music is reliably arcane and abrasive. Imagine a delirious fusion of Sunn O)))’s Black One and Lustmord’s darkest explorations as a starting point, and then dig ever deeper into sulfurous catacombs of sense-shattering tenebrosity. That’s somewhat close to Sutekh Hexen’s mode of mining terrors beyond belief, and the band’s recent self-titled album is replete with ear-splitting horrors.

Sutekh Hexen’s new release is touted as their “first proper studio” album, but the band have been prolific dealers of corruptive noise before now. Over the past decade, Sutekh Hexen have released a series of demos, EPs, splits, and more comprehensive releases via a number of underground labels, and their latest eponymous album is being released by noted misanthropes Sentient Ruin Laboratories.

A decade into their career, Sutekh Hexen show no sign of creative fatigue, and their aesthetic strengths and ability to erect temples of transgression are still markedly unnerving. The 10 tracks on Sutekh Hexen certainly show plenty of inhuman muscle while wrenching the gates of Hell open wider than ever. Sutekh Hexen have previously spoken of their interest in trespassing boundaries and distorting thresholds, and new tracks, like “Descent”, “Eye of the Quill”, and unsettling drone “SubStratus”, encapsulate those ideals while being hypnotic and harrowing in both tone and texture.

Pyres of static and filth-lashed noise hiss and clatter throughout Sutekh Hexen, and the band’s defiant music sounds both profound and profane. Tracks like “Segue I: Ouroborus”, “Segue II: Xirang” and “Segue III: Ascent” exist as calmer soundscapes, albeit no less surreal and corrosive, with their tension-ratcheting instrumentation amplifying Sutekh Hexen’s haunting atmospherics.

Elsewhere, “Torrential” is a viscerally intense deluge of disorientating blackened noise, where every piece of vile and venomous artillery in Sutekh Hexen’s armory is unleashed in a cacophonous onslaught. The band do a magnificent job of scraping the most odious and blood-curdling tar from the depths of their caustic creative storehouse. But Sutekh Hexen also know how to gnaw at your anxieties with eerie subtlety. “Pangea Ultima” is a perfect example of that. The track ends Sutekh Hexen on a foreboding note, with threads of grim and gloom-ridden drone dissipating in the murk and mist.

Overall, Sutekh Hexen is as ominous and cryptic as you’d expect, and Sutekh Hexen conjure an uneasy ambience throughout. There’s a lot of pleasure to be found immersing yourself in the band’s world of abject horrors and the ruthless deconstruction of their music plays just as an important role as the building of intimidating steeples of noise.

As always, Sutekh Hexen’s labyrinthine prayers are both meditative and murderous. Audio nightmares leech minimal and maximal chills, and the band’s enveloping tracks exhibit sickening levels of dread as well as an abhorrent sense of awe.

Sutekh Hexen feels fathomless as abyss-bound songs drag you into the darkest pits. But the album also feels infinite as black holes of soul-splintering noise tear reality asunder. Sutekh Hexen remain a mystery and a contradiction, and while Sutekh Hexen is unquestionably disturbing, it’s also sinisterly seductive. Sutekh Hexen's subversive and insidious genius is palpable on their latest release. As is the sadistic glee they experience wreaking havoc on our minds.

June 22, 2019

Gygax - High Fantasy

By Dave Beaudoin. The third release from SoCal rockers Gygax marks a return to the high octane sound of their first album, and while it is a solid effort, High Fantasy doesn’t show the same evolution of their sound that was apparent on their sophomore effort.
By Dave Beaudoin.

Artwork by Fares Maese.

The third release from SoCal rockers Gygax marks a return to the high octane sound of their first album, and while it is a solid effort, High Fantasy doesn’t show the same evolution of their sound that was apparent on their sophomore effort. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a great Gygax album though. On the whole, the album works well, and each track captures the feeling of playing tabletop games with friends. It’s that translation of the theme of tabletop gaming to music that has been the defining feature of Gygax and they don’t put a foot wrong here. The excitement of building a world comes through in the interplay of the dueling guitars and narrative tension created by the vocals - from the intro riff of the opening track, “Light Bender,” the album dives right into lore, with lyrics that sound ripped from a Monstrous Manual.

Gygax’s previous album, Second Edition, stood on the precipice of being a full-on concept album and was a significant step beyond their debut record thematically. This also makes it the kind of ambitious record that can be extremely hard to follow. So it makes sense that High Fantasy represents a return to the roots of Gygax rather than as a further extension of their sound. From the start High Fantasy recalls the free-form roots of the band’s first album Critical Hits and collects a rogues gallery of D&D themed jams rather than presenting a more cohesive sonic narrative. Each track still is laden with lore, but taken as a whole High Fantasy serves as more of a general soundtrack to Dungeons and Dragons rather than guiding the listener through an imagined campaign.

High Fantasy leans heavily on the dueling guitars of Byrant Throckmorton and Wes Wilson to create an energetic and driving album while Eric Harris’ vocals tie everything together. Finally, adding extra flavor are some great keyboard lines by Ian Martyn. Overall the mix is great, and really puts the dueling guitars right out front, leading the charge. I do wish the keyboard sections were given more attention, as there are a few moments where they get lost in the mix and you have to work to really hear the fantastic work being done there.

Because every track is linked thematically not to just Dungeons and Dragons, but to the experience of playing those games, the feeling of traversing a fantastic world rife with magical monsters and fighting side by side with your party for honor, loot, or both carries each track. This is especially apparent on “Spell Shaker” as well as the first single off the album “Hide Mind.” Even the more chilled out instrumental “Acquisition, Magnus Canis” evokes the victory music of video games like Final Fantasy processed through the sensibilities of Thin Lizzy.

“Acquisition, Magnus Canis” also serves as a short intermission between the two halves of the record, both of which keep up a pretty high level of intensity. Even “Mirror Image,” the closest thing to a ballad on this record features some of the most sun-drenched Southern California guitar work I’ve ever heard on a Gygax album. It’s more Gary Hoey than Dick Dale, but it works in context and features one of the catchiest riffs on High Fantasy.

Ultimately, the one real problem with the album is that while each song is solid, there are few standouts and there isn’t enough variation on the album to make any one song particularly memorable. I’ve seen other critics say that Gygax is in a rut with this album and while I understand where they’re coming from, I don’t think it’s really a rut. High Fantasy almost feels like a greatest hits album where every song is immediately familiar and there aren’t any low points, but taken as a whole it fails to make a compelling case or evolve the band’s sound beyond Second Edition. What’s interesting is that if we look at this format from the perspective of tabletop gaming, it helps to rationalize this approach.

If High Fantasy is viewed as a “Gygax Sourcebook,” it makes much more sense as a complete work. In the world of tabletop gaming, between major revisions to the rules (usually referred to as “editions”), companies release sourcebooks that flesh out the world within the bounds established by the core books (in D&D this is the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook). Sourcebooks have historically introduced some of the most legendary settings and iconic characters that have ever existed in tabletop gaming. In Dungeons and Dragons, for example, the Tomb of Annihilation, Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft are all iconic settings that were introduced outside of the main books and hold a much more prominent place in defining Dungeons and Dragons as a popular culture artifact than the rules laid out in the handbooks. The Tomb of Annihilation was even featured prominently in the book Ready Player One as the touchstone for Dungeons and Dragons culture. High Fantasy works on the same level as these types of game supplements. On High Fantasy Gygax take the “rules” they’ve established in Critical Hits and Second Edition and play within that context to tell expanded stories. The result is a great album that delves deep into the underground caverns of the Gygax underdark and extends the fantasy while avoiding making any changes to the rules.

This view also resolves the internal conflict I had when I first listened to High Fantasy. Every track on the record can hold its own against nearly anything else in their catalog, but the lack of a central theme or story seemed like a deal breaker. Realizing that not every Gygax album is going to be a new set of “rules” helps to reconcile what I was expecting from a new Gygax record and allowed me to respect it for what it is, a collection of great rock tracks about dungeons and Dragons. If you’re a fan of Gygax you’re going to definitely dig this album, but if you’re looking for the next evolution of their sound you’ll have to wait. Maybe for the third edition.

June 7, 2019

Consummation - The Great Solar Hunter

By Bryan Camphire. Consummation unleash their debut full length, The Great Solar Hunter, on Profound Lore Records following an excellent EP from 2017 and a demo from 2012. The band took their time with this long player and this fact is evident in the music's meticulous delivery. A
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Artem Grigoryev.

Consummation unleash their debut full length, The Great Solar Hunter, on Profound Lore Records following an excellent EP from 2017 and a demo from 2012. The band took their time with this long player and this fact is evident in the music's meticulous delivery. A black metal trio from Brisbane, for this outing they are joined by American lead guitarist John Gossard of the band Dispirit. This suite of five songs clocks in at a little over fifty minutes. The lengthy tracks allow for rich narratives to unravel as the music runs its course.

Consummation's brand of black metal is thick and aggressive. The performances are precise and the production is crisp, adding to the momentum of the music. Gnarled snaky melodies permeate the album. Bass and vocals take a back seat in the mix to guitars and drums. It's no doubt a conscious choice, emphasizing the midrange frequencies allows the guitars ample amounts of snarl and bite. All of this is accentuated by the leads, which drop in and out like a somnambulant madman raving at the stars.

"Apotheosis", the forth track, is a stand out for me. This tune is played at a slower tempo than the others. This reprieve opens the music up, steeping the listener in dread. The winding guitars drag across the song with the effect of a rusted serrated blade bound to cause infection and make a huge mess.

With a title like The Great Solar Hunter, you might expect a magisterial release. In this regard it's safe to say you won't be disappointed. The tension is ratcheted up through ever-changing ornamentation and layering of melodies as the songs build. Keyboards are used sparingly and usually towards a song's climax, supplying the music with the air of triumphant battle hymns.

Consummation can be thought of as tilling similar fields as some other great bands from the southern hemisphere; Vesicant and Heresiarch come to mind. Theirs is an ominous sound rife with dissonant chords, labyrinthine song structures and decidedly evil atmosphere. Consummation achieve this lurid ambiance deftly on The Great Solar Hunter, showcasing the band's expansive capabilities and potential.

May 30, 2019

Sâver - They Came With Sunlight

By Matt Hinch. When “Dissolve to Ashes” first started playing on a new release playlist I was a little taken aback by this Sâver band. Who are they and what is the futuristic synth stuff doing here? The percussion and bass kept my attention long enough for the Deftones-ish
By Matt Hinch.


When “Dissolve to Ashes” first started playing on a new release playlist I was a little taken aback by this Sâver band. Who are they and what is the futuristic synth stuff doing here? The percussion and bass kept my attention long enough for the Deftones-ish crooning to come in. Still on the fence. Tipping as the bass gets gnarly. And then BAM! DUH-DUH-DAH-DUNNN! An avalanche of leaden sludge full on in the face. I get it now. And that’s how They Came With Sunlight came to dominate my listening habits.

The hardened, sludgy riffs send ripples through the earth’s crust compelling necks to bang with board-breaking force. It beats you up with the effectiveness of a sledgehammer. While it’s not the only example of Sâver's mix of moody moogs and crushing sludge, it is the most overt. Then again, the Norwegian trio do refer to the music as “heavy, spaced-out darkness.” Indeed. I should point out that all three members, bassist/vocalist Ole Christian Helstad, drummer Markus Støle, and guitarist Ole Ulvik Rokseth used in to be Tombstones, and the latter two form Hymn. And Hymn is damn heavy. Their pedigree and familiarity make TCWS's completeness come as no surprise. These lads know what they are doing.

Outside the eerie droning of “Influx” sitting near the album’s midpoint, Sâver sound like a mix of Conan and Ufomammut with more than a little Cult of Luna thrown in. Breach and The Old Wind are other reference points for their style of immersive sludge. Calling it sludge doesn’t even feel right though. Sure, the riffs hit with that kind of intensity, but the atmosphere moves TCWS into another realm. It makes it feel like the whole thing encompasses so much more than riffs and volume. That is also due in part to the progressiveness that flows through the album. That would seem obvious with the Ufomammut and Cult of Luna reference, the former very atmospheric and weird, the latter more exploratory than your average sludge band.

But let’s talk about the opener though. The futuristic synths don’t hide on “Distant Path”. Neither does a section bordering on black metal, all tremolos and yelling. Preceding that Sâver go on a captivating tangent where they, well, the guitar anyway, sits on a note and just pulses on it. It’ll stop you in your tracks and keep you transfixed. Also, for the love of infinite darkness, the crashing and crushing slow doom at the end has the apocalypse at its heel, ready for command.

In fact, just about every song on TCWS features a moment or two that elevates the listener’s experience. Sometimes it’s a riff or a sequence, sometimes the bass tone, drum swagger or a particularly arresting bellow. Sâver, despite this being their debut album transition seamlessly between all their movements. It feels so realized you could wonder where they’d go from here. Anywhere they want, I suppose.

They Came With Sunlight is fantastic. It’s never boring. They know when to bring the songs into focus and with authority deliver concussive blows of heaviness. Muscular percussion carries deadweight strings and fiercely determined vocals. Atmosphere opens up an otherwise oppressive approach. Noise and subtle dissonance inject just enough chaos, and synths alter the feel toward a dystopia. All together it creates an album that becomes more revealing and essential with each listen. Go ahead, get lost in the ungodly heavy riffs rippling through the ground, the vein popping vocals, the entire journey through darkness. They Came With Sunlight sure, but Sâver swallowed it all up and used its energy for decimation. Let it decimate you.

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.