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.

May 13, 2019

Dreadnought - Emergence

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

Artwork by Mark Facey

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

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

Photos by Kyle Gaddo.

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

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

May 10, 2019

Spirit Adrift - Divided by Darkness

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

Artwork by Joe Petagno

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

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

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

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

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

May 7, 2019

Leechfeast - Neon Crosses

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 27, 2019

Tanagra - Meridiem

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

Artwork by Gary Tonge

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

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

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

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

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

Helms Alee - Noctiluca

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


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

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

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

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

April 8, 2019

Bridge Burner – Chlorine Eyes / Abyssal

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


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

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

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

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

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

April 6, 2019

Magic Circle - Departed Souls

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 22, 2019

Aephanemer - Prokopton

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

Artwork by Niklas Sundin/Cabin Fever Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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