June 30, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part VI - Black One

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band has explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

Artwork by Jo Ratcliffe
Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being – like a worm.
– Jean-Paul Sartre "Being and Nothingness".
Sunn O)))'s sound is, essentially, a colossal form of orchestrated chaos. Within you find a conflict between order and disorder being fed by palpable clashes of sub-harmonics, bruising feedback, and nerve-tweaking ambience, and the cadaver-strewn and cavernous noise of 2005's Black One exhibits those contrasting elements superbly. It is, at once, the darkest and most misanthropic album Sunn O))) have recorded so far, and yet it is also the album that drew the band out from the shadows and into the... well, not exactly the light, but certainly into the orbit of a wider range of fans. Black One brought Sunn O))) widespread media interest, even though it is the band’s bleakest work – never pandering to the possibility of popularity – and while the album's markedly crooked sonics don't make for easy listening, Black One attracted a slew of positive reviews and attention.

The increased visibility for Sunn O))) following Black One's release was due to a number of factors, the majority of them associated with the addition of darker colors to the band’s palette. Black One is the band's most overtly metal album (thus far), but for all its conjuring of the darkest entities in the metal canon it maintains the avant-garde fluency of its previous work.

Sunn O)))'s investigations of all things disconcerting and demoralizing on Black One benefited from a raft of collaborators eager to help the band dispense the malevolence. Malefic (aka Xasthur) is here, contributing guitars, keyboards and vocals; Wrest (Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice, Twilight etc) provides vocals; Australian experimentalist Oren Ambarchi adds vocals, horns, woodwind, bells, drums, and guitars; and John Wiese (Sissy Spacek, Bastard Noise) and Mathias Schneeberger bring the electronics and grim ambience, respectively.

Live at Roskilde Festival 2005. Photo by Antti T. Nissinen..

Aside from Malefic and Wrest's connections, the obvious nod in Black One's title, and Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s own mixed metal histories, there are also plenty of other links to black metal to be found. "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)" features lyrics from Immortal's tune of the same name, lyrics from Mayhem's Dead are used on "Candlegoat", and "Sin Nanna" is a reference to one-man Tasmania-based black metal act Striborg. Of course, there's also the now legendary tale of the claustrophobic Malefic being shut in a coffin and loaded into a hearse to record his vocals for "Báthory Erzsébet", and the resulting track, Sunn O)))'s self-styled homage to Bathory's "A Fine Day to Die," has all the terror of Malefic gasping for air to add to its petrifying (and suffocating) mood.

Suffocating is probably the best word to describe much of Black One. O’Malley and Anderson had been making plenty of smothering noise beforehand, but Black One draws the listener in with its hypnotic beastliness, before gripping the throat with strangulating noise. Sure, it's artful in its approach, but Black One is Sunn O)))'s most explicitly murderous album.

Opener "Sin Nanna" sets the scene, bringing the immediate, hollowed-out Mephistophelian drone. "It Took the Night to Believe" mixes Wrest's and Malefic’s vocals (guttural, indecipherable groans and growls, backed by echoing, eerie shrieks) with a contorting megalith of a riff. "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)" strips Immortal's original tune down for 10 minutes of white (or black) noise, with warped vocals buried in feedback and a distorting quagmire of gruesome drone. "Orthodox Caveman" is a look to the past, its more, well, orthodox tenor keeping to the band's original Earth-inspired drone – albeit with Wiese's noise and Ambarchi's drums adding another layer of crackle and thud, respectively. While "Cry for the Weeper" creeps along on a 14-minute expulsion of brown-note fetidness ("...summoned by a vastness that kills certainty without thought").

Live at Roskilde Festival 2005. Photo by Antti T. Nissinen..

"Candlegoat" combines Dead's lyrics with Wiese's "casket electronics", Malefic's guitar, and the uber-deep thrum of bass and guitar from MK Ultra Blizzard and Mystik Fogg Invokator (aka O'Malley and Anderson). However, it's Black One's final track, the aforementined "Báthory Erzsébet", that is Sunn O)))'s most notorious. Shoving Malefic in the coffin results in plenty of desperate vocals, and the initial chiming bells and sub-subsonic drone ensure all the funereal atmospherics are there. It's near the halfway mark of the 15-minute track before a riff arrives, and while the lead-in is spectacularly (and hauntingly) evocative, when those gigantic, sludgy chords come crashing down (and Malefic's coffin-bound panic sets in) you've all the makings of what many consider to be Sunn O)))'s most devastating track – transcending this dimension to somewhere that dark gods gather and howl with inhuman glee.

In all, Black One is Sunn O)))'s most avowedly negative album, yet (and here are those contradictions again) its legacy has been incredibly positive. the album’s success encouraged (and allowed) Sunn O))) to tour more frequently, play evermore interesting venues and festivals, and granted the band a higher profile and a subsequent increase in respect in both metal and experimental music circles. Black One is Sunn O)))'s most theatrically dark album – although follow-up Monoliths & Dimensions would amplify the dramatics to a staggering, albeit differently oriented, degree. At its heart, Black One explores more noxious and pernicious frequencies – harnessing the malignant corruption therein – and the album's mix of buckling laptop noise, titanic drone, and shrieking black metal reveal how effective Sunn O))) are at communicating outright evil and underlying gut-twisting terror.

If you're ever feeling a little jaded about metal's ability to unnerve, Black One is the perfect album to listen to. It's a deeply disturbing excursion into some horrifyingly bleak realms, and accordingly, it is one of Sunn O)))'s very best works.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

June 28, 2013

Vukari - Matriarch

Review by Andy Osborn.

Artwork by Elizabeth Puetz

A new force has risen in the American Midwest. Chicago duo Vukari just debuted their first recording, and it’s a multi-headed beast of an album. They play the best kind of black metal; atmospheric, ethereal, and somewhat indescribable. This is dark art, disguised as music.

As you begin the transition into their aural world you’ll notice that the crushing-yet-uplifting approach is oddly familiar, and it becomes very clear that this project isn’t just some weekend hobby. These guys know what they’re doing. That’s because although Matriarch is the group’s first album, there are years of metallic experience under the group’s individual belts. Bassist Spenser Morris also plays in Vit – a band we explored way back in 2011 – and spends his days recording bands in the Chicago area. He teamed up with a friend, and the two of them hired Weekend Nachos singer John Hoffman to fill in on drums for the recording. And between them, a horribly perfect formula reaches equilibrium.

With the first two tracks both feeling a bit on the intro side of things, Matriarch takes its time growing into itself. But when it arrives it does so flawlessly. “Robes of Crimson Gold” is the first full taste of the band’s potential and it wastes no time cycling between the magic black metal formula of tremolo attack, soul-crushing vocals and melancholic melodies. Textured keyboards are tucked neatly behind the guitars with just enough dynamics and caress to elicit that heavenly aura that’s the staple of great atmospheric bm. After another interlude we arrive at the meat of the album, where Vukari truly shine.

“Midwife Crisis” may sound like the title of a cheesy sitcom episode, but the longest track preseneted is a devastating slab of blackened doom. The downtrodden melodies are slowed to an introspective pace, but sandwiched inside them is one of the most brilliant sparks of the album; a furious, fiery bridge that drives you between the more somber moments as it burns and collapses under its own weight. The last track further experiments with the mixture of all that is icy and heavy. It ends with a post-rock finale that barely gives you time to reflect upon what you just experienced, so you might as well dive right back in.

The 28-minute debut costs a mere pittance at their Bandcamp page, and as this is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing debuts of the year it’s more than worth the cost. Just over a week has passed since their first album was released, but be prepared to remember Vukari. Only more great things can await.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 27, 2013

Emperor - In the Nightside Eclipse

An Autothrall Classic. Originally published here.

Artwork by 'Necrolord' Kristian Wåhlin

A lot has been said about Emperor through the years, and not all of it flattering (Norwegian black metal + popularity = walking target), but indisputably they were and will always remain one of the most important of the 'second wave' bands within the genre. They also bear a distinction as one of the most 'dignified' in the field, having conquered several shores with their mighty live performances and then choosing to avoid the pitfalls of stagnation when they felt they no longer had much to offer. This decision came after four full length efforts, each of which marked a notable stage of evolution, Ihsahn and Samoth never content to rest on their laurels by rehashing or sidetracking their writing process.

My personal interest in their work waxed and waned through these changing tides, being of the tiny minority that found Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and Equilibrium IX to be flawed outings beyond a few particular tracks, and later developing a fondness for their divisive grand finale, Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise. However, I have long treasured their debut In the Nightside Eclipse, not only as the masterpiece of Emperor, but one of the absolute pinnacles of the genre, the sort of rare accomplishment that is reached only a few times in each generation. In fact, I'd go so far to claim that In the Nightside Eclipse is the greatest 'symphonic' black metal album ever written, even if that symphony consists of only Ihsahn with a keyboard and a vivid imagination.

So much about this record is enormous. The cover is by far one of 'Necrolord' Kristian Wåhlin's most beloved images, a beautiful but menacing moonscape of towers and bridges, vortex clouds, woodland expanses, haunting spirits and battle starved humanoids, almost like the final battle of The Lord of the Rings being played out across a 2D nightmare diorama set against the band's impeccable logo and a wisely chosen, archaic title font: every depraved D&D maniac's dream come true. The production itself is airy and horrific, falling somewhere below a polished state without the intentional marring of fidelity committed by so many of the band's countrymen and peers. Complaints about the mix might be seen as partially valid, for example the rhythm guitars feel mildly faint against the swelling synthesizers and rasp, impish drawl of Ihsahn, but I can honestly say that I would have it no other way, and the very 'flaws' themselves of the production only add to its memorable nature.

It also invoked a stark balance of terror and majesty that thousands of others have attempted but so often failed to emulate. Sure, In the Nightside Eclipse is rather dated in the grand scheme of its genre, but there is this timeless, authentic quality found somewhere in the margins of highly effective composition and thematic intent that has never ceased to thrill, and when I think back on many late autumn or winter night drives I took to and from my university, along the sparsely populated back roads of central and western Massachusetts, listening to this as my drug of choice, I still get the occasional shiver down my spine. Perhaps I'm just a spineless pantywaist for admitting it, but this album used to scare the fuck out of me, as I attempted to conjecture about the Norse madmen responsible for its existence and what a pale wraith of uncultured American flab I must have been by comparison...

There are also songs. Eight beautiful, flawless songs that foster the cold moonlight and stir the despotic winds of egocentric fantasy. Twilight wanderings from the bleak core of the human psyche, the devious spirit, to the expanse of endless, distant fires that leer at us from beyond the known sphere upon which our flesh depends, the cosmic eaves of horror and uncertainty that bear down upon the soul. The cleverly (?) titled "I Am the Black Wizards" is probably the best known of these, a clarion call to battle against a thousand years and suns, a tribute to all black and blazing phantoms of antiquity. Samoth's guitars are scathing delights that resonate like frozen fire across the punishing prowess of Faust, the tongue of Ihsahn spewing wretched poetry, the backbone of Tchort rumbling beneath like a ghastly march towards oblivion. The gorgeous sequence at 1:50 is strung out across the starlight like a chorus of waning angels, twisting into a powerful momentum worthy of even Bathory's epic Blood, Fire, Death, and at 4:00 you can prepare yourself for one of the most captivating, eerie melodies in all human history.
My wizards are many, but their essence is mine
Forever there are in the hills in their stone homes of grief
Because I am the spirit of their existence
I am them.
"Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times" travels from an icy momentum to a schizoid funnel of discordant, driving chaos, then back again as the snarling erupts, while Faust gets so much exercise that it's a wonder he didn't suffer one or many heart attacks during the recording. "Inno a Satana" fills out like a contaminated muse, licking the wind with soaring, clean vocals and more of the brazen, synthesized choirs that work as well here as on nearly any other recording on Earth, while "The Burning Shadows of Silence" thrives on stun, whipping breezes of dementia that adorn the scintillating ghostlike savagery of the keys. "The Majesty of the Nightsky" rolls over you, transforming you into some fallen, final chess piece before the sailing Nordic melodies around :40 sweep your ashes and sorrows into the dust of ages, and the 9+ minute epic "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" cycles through its grim, ambient intro to some of the most threatening but beautiful black metal to ever lock up the joints of men. Really, every fucking song on this album is unmitigated awesome, and I am nearly as awestruck today as I was when I first heard it.

You could say that Emperor were the first of their kind to take the 'high road' in black metal, to transform this vile and infectious new brand of extremity into something so much more grandiose than it might have deserved, while Darkthrone was well underway mastering the 'low road' of delicious primacy that was born of Hellhammer, Venom and Bathory. In the Nightside Eclipse is so desperate and inspired that even Emperor could not and never will surpass it, and clearly a standard was being set well out of the reach of most impersonators, even with over a decade of interim in which to refine it. Ambitious as they are, and try as they did, the later efforts do not possess this same level of consistency, exchanging atmosphere for the technicality inherent in progression, and the precision of bigger budget, studio accessibility. I wouldn't trade this album for a 100 Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, and to my ears, it remains one of the greatest of its kind, alongside A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Transilvanian Hunger, Black Shining Leather and Blood Fire Death.

June 26, 2013

Skagos - Anarchic

By Aaron Sullivan. Black Metal has it’s share of scenes, and my favorite by far is the Cascadian. Named after the Cascade Mountain range that goes from British Colombia south into Northern California. Producing bands such as Alda, Fell Voices
By Aaron Sullivan.

Black Metal has it’s share of scenes, and my favorite by far is the Cascadian. Named after the Cascade Mountain range that goes from British Colombia south into Northern California. Producing bands such as Alda, Fell Voices, Threnos, and the band that this review is about, Skagos with their second album Anarchic. Their first album Ást is among my very favorites to come out of the scene. So my expectations for the new album were pretty high.

Atmospheric Black Metal is the name of the game. With Ást it was the feeling of being in the forest around a large fire as ancient hymns were performed for the audience. With Anarchic the atmosphere is still there but the compositions are meant to include some more of their musical influences. One of them being Shoegaze. Something that is becoming very popular of late and they use it to great effect in this album.

The number of tracks depending on your purchase may vary from 2 to 3. But within those tracks they are made up of 7 different movements, each one seamlessly flowing into the next, without gaps or pauses. This it makes it a hard album to really write about (at least for this reviewer). It really is something that just has to be heard. To take something out is to lessen the overall. This is an album to get lost in, to be experienced from start to finish.

I feel you have to applaud any band willing to venture out past what they have done in the past to try something new, and Skagos have done just that. They could have easily done Ást part two. But instead they took a chance and made a very unique album, that stands out as one of the albums of the year for me.

June 24, 2013

Headcrusher - Let the Blood Run

Review by Majbritt Levinsen.

Art by Jon Zig.

I have had Headcrusher’s album Let the Blood Run in my collection for quite some time now, and it has been played whenever I need my fix of something faster, brutal and groovy.

It’s easy to get into and like Headcrusher as they play a blend of Thrash/Death/Hardcore with a massive fat sound and a vocal that ooze of ferociousness. The riffs just caresses the ears and activates the headbanging reflexes, and are a pure joy to listen to. They have managed to break up the songs in nice portions with changes of pace and structures. The speedy pace is mixed with great mid-tempo passages, where they let the music get some air. You will even get some nice guitar solos, that does not become ‘too much’ but ends just before you think: OK enough already!

Headcrusher was formed in 2001 in Pereira, Colombia, moved to New York in 2007 and relocated one year after to Austin, Texas. As I was looking into their background, some questions arose, and if I am wondering, somebody else might be wondering too. So I took the questions to the band and vocalist Gustavo "Kike" Valderrama were so kind to answer them:

Photo by MarkScottAustinTX.

You moved to New York in 2007, why New York?
There are several reason why we moved to New York. But, to make long story short, we had our first U.S tour on the East Coast. We had good friends in New york city who supported us since our arrival. At the end of the tour we decided to stay in New York to record new material, and one thing led to another. We ended up living in New York for over a year.
You then relocated to Austin a year later. Why?
After one year in New York a few members in the band decided to go back home to Colombia to pursue other endeavours. That left the writing core of the band, drummer Alejandro and guitarist Carlos, sort of in the middle of nothing. After a few conversations with our current vocalist and bass player, they decided to move to Austin,TX and relaunch the band in TX soil.

Photo by MarkScottAustinTX.

From where or what do the band draw inspiration?
I would say the inspiration for making a band and playing live came from some of the local acts in our hometown Pereira, Colombia. We used to go to local shows and see all these killer bands. We started writing songs when we barely knew how to play our instruments and little by little we improved our writing and performance skills. Musically, I would say metal in general. We all love the metal genre and its different branches from classic stuff like Sabbath and Maiden to Death metal like Dying Fetus and Suffocation. We try to take a little bit from all what we like and listen to.

Photo by MarkScottAustinTX.

How did the band get together? Who met who, why and how? (How did it all start back in 2001?)
That's kind of a long story. Currently, the only original member is our drummer Alejandro. He started this band in 2001 with some of his best friends. A few members left the band in the first couple of years. Around, 2003 Carlos became the bass player and eventually the guitar player and main songwriter in the band. From there, Kike our vocalist joined us in 2005. He left the band in 2006, and rejoined in 2008 within bass player Gustavo. David joined the band in 2010. This is the line-up that has been established in the U.S and has released material in American soil.
Let the Blood Run was released in 2012. Mixed and mastered by Tue Madsen (The Haunted, Behemoth, Dark Tranquility etc) and the Artwork was done by the talented Jon Zig. If you have 1 dollar to spare you can own this great album!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part V - White2

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band have explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

In 2004, Sunn O))) released White2, the band's counterpart to 2003's White1. What defined White1 was Sunn O)))'s investigations into the understated potential of sounds less overtly thundering than before, but White2 ("optimized for blackened Sub-Bass systems") marked a return to directly menacing realms. The album continues Sunn O)))'s challenge to the listener, inviting you to consider the subconscious, subliminal and conceptual potential of experimental sounds, and the Bandcamp version of the album offers four ponderous reverberations of low-frequency, nose-bleeding, avant/über-doom--with vinyl bonus track "Decay1 [The Symptoms of Kali Yuga]" included (should you need yet another reason to be downloading this version).

Opener "Hell-O)))-Ween" produces a series of gnarly chords that Sunn O))) mine over and over for 14 minutes of sub-harmonics meeting Sabbathian power– for a return to the thickset repetitious dirges of the past. Following track, "bassAliens", begins with haunting droplets of sound before heaving itself into a mix of electronic crackles, feedback and bass buzz (with gaseous, disintegrating blurps ending all). However, it's all really a set-up for album highlights "Decay2 (Nihils' Maw)" and "Decay1 (The Symptoms of Kali Yuga)", which are astonishingly psychologically heavy 25-minute-plus drones of mysticism and creeping mayhem.

Both songs feature vocals from Attila Csihar, who would go on to contribute to Sunn O))) in a far stronger capacity on future releases. Here, Csihar recites passages from the ancient Indian text Shrimad Bhagavatum. Sunn O))) and guests sculpt otherworldly and desolate drones around his guttural voice with waves of feedback and pulses of noise bolstering the portentous readings. "Decay2 (Nihils' Maw)" and "Decay1 [The Symptoms of Kali Yuga]" are bone-chilling in their minimalism--and of course utterly thrilling too. While the evil chanting is akin to Satan whispering in your ear, the Indian religiousness proves that Old Nick doesn't have a monopoly on all the darkness, or the apocalyptic menace.

White2 offers a vivid and decidedly nontraditional portrayal of a yawning, monstrous maw; either that, or it's simply the sound of the universe dying. Somewhere in between the two is probably closest to the truth, but as the guitars, bass and electronics convulse, churn, fragment and realign, the extra-sensory and out-of-this-world reward is wantonly dispensed. The album, like its predecessor White1, offers a sacred space to retreat to and ponder upon (even confront) the extramundane. In all, White2's unorthodox instrumentation and phrasings brought Sunn O))) a lot more media cover, but the band's next release, Black One, would take things even further--both sonically, and in terms of the attention it brought the band.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

June 23, 2013

Entropia - Vesper

Entropia's Vesper is very well crafted Polish post-black metal. You can hear elements of sludge and shoegaze in the forceful, almost groovy drumming and the layered guitars. But mainly this is dynamic black metal

Cover art by Marcin Gadomski

Entropia's Vesper is very well crafted Polish post-black metal. You can hear elements of sludge and shoegaze in the forceful, almost groovy drumming and the layered guitars. But mainly this is dynamic black metal, with strong gritty riffing, and keyboards that adds lots of chilling atmosphere without ever becoming overpowering.

Entropia is more blackened and aggressive than most bands with the "post" moniker, but the atmosphere is one of despondency, expressed by the desperation of the vocals and the song topics. According to this interview with Decibel the songs on Vesper deals with the concept that
"all kinds of people, be it a mathematician, physicist, poet, inventor or a philosopher, all of them, no matter how vast their knowledge is, how deep they understand human nature, they will always have to face loss and death, and there is no way around it, it’s just a matter of time"
The best songs on Vesper ("Dante", "Gauss", and "Marat") are what I would call "perfect" music: Never boring, but not too fanciful or inventive either. They mix aggression and solemn beauty, and toy with your imagination in a most satisfying way. The instrumental "Vesper" is basically a longish intro to "Tesla", the most aggressive track on the album, but overall this is a great debut. Highly recommended.

June 21, 2013

Autolatry - Native

Review by Justin Petrick.

Artwork by Casey Stone-Pirrie

I was originally introduced to Autolatry right here on Metal Bandcamp when I stumbled across their incredibly underrated but truly exceptional EP Of The Land. At the time, I wrote a mini review of the album on my blog and the one thing that I wrote about Autolatry that still stands true is this band has the "ability to incorporate unique instruments and sounds and beautiful breaks that you wouldn’t normally hear on an ‘extreme’ metal album". While there is going to be some discussion on whether this band is truly a USBM band or part of some other genre should be discarded as any debate will take away from what is a solid album that arguably spans several metal genres.

Similar to past offerings by the band, Native is a concept album centered on the assimilation of Native Americans during the settling of New England colonies. One would think a significant task in and of itself as this is some pretty weighty subject matter and it needs to be translated just right to make sense. Autolatry has done just that and much like Of The Land this album gives the listener a look into the landscape and history of their home state with authority and respect. This album shows the dedication that this band puts into their music as the story unfolds throughout the interpretation.

Transitions are made in these songs that lend themselves to a more progressive side of the music and this actually brings more scope to the songs than I think the average USBM band tries to achieve. The combination of the semi-clean vocals and spectacular mid-song break of “Pale Dishonor” is a showcase in how well a band comfortable with each other can achieve a level of excellence that is hard to quantify. The final song on the album, also the title song, ends in a cacophony of metal goodness that it optimizes the energy, aggression and passion that play out on this album. I could go song by song describing in each what makes them so significant to US metal as it stands today and what makes this album so unique but all one really has to do is give this album a chance and feel for themselves the power of Native.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 19, 2013

Crown - Psychurgy

Review by Justin C.

A friend of mine recently took me through the playlist he likes to use when he runs. It was mostly hip-hop and radio-friendly guitar rock, but he said his main criteria was to pick tracks that were consistently up-tempo and aggressive. I think Crown's first full-length, Psychurgy, achieves that kind of focus of purpose, but this isn't music you would listen to while running or lifting weights. If your workout routine involves slowly and methodically punching boulders into pieces, then Crown has the playlist for you.

Aside from two interstitial pieces ("Kynesyk I and II"), the album is unrelentingly thundering and heavy. They have a song called "We Will Crush the Open Sky," and I don't think that's a metaphor. The music is a mix of doom, industrial, and drone that would be perfectly at home on a playlist with Jesu. The band's two members are both guitarists, leaving the drumming to a capably programmed drum machine, but the real draw is the melodic-yet-glacial melodies they create. The music sounds like it was composed to pull down mountains, but there are still stick-in-your-head melodic hooks, like the mournful figure that weaves through the track "Serpents and Fire." Vocals come as satisfying growls and "cleans," at least of a sort. The vocals are often treated with different electronic effects, adding a nice bit of variety, although in a couple of places, I found the vocal effects to be a bit too heavy-handed. The otherwise excellent track "We Will Crush the Open Sky" gets off to a rocky start with vocals that are so flattened and altered that they sound a bit like Stephen Hawking's vocal synthesizer, but this is a rare misstep on an otherwise fantastic album.

The fact that the duo have only been a band since 2011, and the fact that they've released an EP, a split, and a full-length of such high quality in such a short time makes me very excited to hear what they'll do in the future.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 18, 2013

Taake - Noregs Vaapen

Review by Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published here by Exclaim.

Infamous Norwegian black metal band Taake emerge from a cloud of scandal and imprisonment to triumphantly release Noregs Vaapen, their best record to date. Taake is an old Norwegian word for mist or fog. The band belie this name with an incredibly clear, concise artistic vision characterized by icicle-bright guitar work. Noregs Vaapen can be interpreted as a response to the dissatisfaction in the black metal community; it is a reflective, celebratory, anthemic album hearkening back to the finest classical black metal.

The tracks on Noregs Vaapen all have very linear song structures, as opposed to the circular compositions on a great deal of contemporary black metal. The vocals hiss and ooze like poisonous fumes, somehow both splinter-thin and complex. There's even an extraordinary banjo solo in "Myr," which is a battle lusty as it is twangy. Taake have a few stylistic surprises tucked into this brilliantly executed, classical structure. This is as smart as it is slavering and vicious.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 16, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part IV - White1

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band have explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

Play your gloom axe Stephen O'Malley
Sub bass clinging to the sides of the valley
Sub bass ringing in each last ditch and combe
Greg Anderson purvey a sonic doom.
― Julian Cope + Sunn O))): "My Wall"
Obviously there's a multitude of reasons why an album sits on your list of favorites, but one of the prime reasons is likely to be because it’s how you first encountered a band. 2003's White1 was where I first stumbled across Sunn O))), or, more to the point, it was where I first heard the album's opening track, "My Wall", which features Julian Cope's madcap poetry (see above). I was sold on Sunn O))) from that moment on.

White1 continues the sub-sonic explorations of previous album Flight of the Behemoth, but where that album brought the droning noise courtesy of collaborator Merzbow, White1's collaborations bring the droning mysticism. Along with the aforementioned 20 minutes of druidic lyricism of "My Wall", White1 also features "The Gates of Ballard", which contains Norwegian folk poem "Håvard Hedde", recited in Norwegian over a distorted stoner rock bass riff by Runhild Gammelsæter--O'Malley and Anderson's compatriot from Thorr's Hammer .

"A Shaving of the Horn that Speared You" follows an even more skewed trail, with abstract flickers of electro-acoustics and sonorous breaths rising from, and falling into, a chilling ambient void to construct a deeply buried nightmare set to haunt in the wee small hours. "CUTWOODeD" also features on the Bandcamp version of White1, seeing Sunn O))) collaborating with Ulver--a match made in ambient heaven (or hell). Accordingly, "CUTWOODeD" is a steep plummet into atmospheric doom, with the menace therein coming not from any prominent riffing but from foreboding electronics riding atop some tail-end feedback, with a fantastic and fantastical vintage sci-fi/horror vibe cradling all.

White1 is as ruminative and doom-laden as any Sunn O))) release, but simultaneously, it's a huge departure from what came before. Sunn O))), of course, always provide unconventional routes into darkness, and White1 is an idiosyncratic and gloomy commentary on a range of topics outside the norm, thanks to contributions from Ulver, Gammelsæter and Cope. White1 barely stalks the borders of its more metallic predecessors, but while the mammoth rumbling riffs are scarce--and thick atmospheres and the blanketing of textures are the key means of purveying the mood--what White1 lacks in brute, upfront force is more than made up for by providing four distinctly different and compelling tracks.

Sunn O)))'s sinister feedback is evident on White1, but it’s the band’s least sludgy, and least overtly crushing album. The band’s decision to experiment with a more multifaceted sound (de-tuning, muted aggression, distorted acoustics etc) means that White1 is less of an immense wall of sound. However, like all Sunn O)))'s work, if taken in large doses, emotional injury is guaranteed.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

June 15, 2013

Twingiant - Sin Nombre

Written by Ulla Roschat.

This 5 track Ep “Sin Nombre” of the four piece band Twingiant fom Phoenix/Arizona is that kind of music that makes me turn the volume knob up to eleven and gets me on my feet and move - headbang, dance, play air guitar, shout and growl along - in other words: it’s the kind of music for my neighbors to peek through my window for their regular confirmation I’m still nuts.

“Sin Nombre” is the band’s second release (April 2013) and like its predecessor “Mass Driver” (April 2012) the EP delivers a high dosage of warm fuzzy low end desert rock combined with raw brutal heavy sludge. This is an intriguing combination granted, but to give my neighbors their spectacle it needs more than that. Twingiant keep the mix in a constant tension that’s slowly moving swirling and rolling between, rather than boldly contrasting, a laid back attitude of bluesy desert rock and punishing heaviness. The songs are carefully structured, dynamic build-ups provide depth and color and give each song its own zip and mood. Be it the many changes in rhythm and tempo, the breathtaking guitar solos, the powerful “beard & whiskey” vocals or the voice samples accompanied by dynamic rhythms dramatically supporting their eerie atmosphere.

This is what makes “Palisnero” a straightforward rolling groovy killer that severs your head from your body with a sludge machete so sharp you don’t even notice you’re dead until the voice sample of Richard Kuklinski talking about hate... This is what makes “Fossilized”, despite its entrancing repetitive underlying rhythm, a most varied and dynamic trip with many surprising changes, breaks and guitar solos... This is what makes “La Haine” a heavy monster, again with a voice sample, this time of a French movie with the same title... This is what makes “Cloaked in Black” a boiling cauldron of some spacey doomy bluesy sticky stuff... and this is what makes “Sin Nombre” the perfect “neighbor-confirmation-of-my-still-being nuts” music.

The last track “Ricky X R.I.P.” is not a song, but a homage to the late Rick Martinez (I’m writing this with a lump in my throat), host of the Wreckage Metal Radio Show.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 13, 2013

Vassafor - Obsidian Codex

Written by Craig Hayes.

No period in heavy metal's history is littered with more formative demos than the 1990s. Of course, many of those bands would never release another work, which, honestly, probably wasn't such a bad thing. However, two demos from New Zealand bands from the era would prove hugely influential in shaping the nation’s extreme metal framework.

The doom/death slaughterhouse of Sinistrous Diabolus's 1993 demo Opus One was a seminal NZ metal release, and the band's full-length debut, Total Doom//Desecration, was recently covered right here on Metal Bandcamp. However, Vassafor's 1997 Demo I also made a similarly long-term impression on New Zealand extreme metal. Not only did the demo contribute to sketching out the initial template for the nation's rawest extreme metal, but subsequent releases from Vassafor have drawn in wider elements of doom and death metal, and the band's influence in the global extreme metal underground has spread accordingly.

Vassafor is fronted by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist VK (aka Phil Kusabs), and while the band have released a series of demos and EPs since their 90s formation, Vassafor's debut full-length, Obsidian Codex, wasn't released until 2012 (2013 on Bandcamp). VK was busy in the meantime, playing in bands such as Diocletian and Ulcerate, but what Vassafor are most (in)famous for is taking inspiration from the iniquitous work of first-wave black metal acts such as Bathory and binding that to a sense of rite and practice. For Vassafor, there can be no music without accompanying ritual.

Released on Parasitic Records, Obsidian Codex is proof of the band's ceremonial intent. The double album is a sacramental onslaught of pitch-black doom distortions, frenzied tremolo pickings, and occult-drenched themes. Over its 90-minute-plus running time, Vassafor take you on a journey over infernal topography, where songs bleed into one another, and bone-rattling moments of trepidation are hypnotic and suffocating. VK and drummer BP slather on the direful atmospherics, tempos shift from creeping to crushing, melodies arise to be carved up and buried, and the songwriting is masterful and merciless.

Some albums are simply made to test your will. Obsidian Codex is definitely one of those, and it easily falls into the camp of best albums you may well have never heard. Tracks such as the 12-minute "Obsidian King", 16-minute "Archeonaut's Return" and the 23-minute soul-crushing "Nemesis" are all lengthy trawls through the netherworld of grinding and impenetrable black and doom metal--Vassafor are hellbent on straining the mind to breaking point. Heavy on the second-wave inhuman growls, and laden with dark revelations, "Sunya (Void Paradox)", "Abysmal Herald of Desolation" and "Makutu (Condemned to Deepest Depths)" are churning screeds of black-hearted intent, backed by a solid wall of viscous noise.

The production on the album will be familiar to fans of Diocletian, Antediluvian, or the brethren gathered on labels such as Nuclear War Now! and Dark Descent. It's clotted, murky and infectious, yet clear enough to appreciate the nuance within, and much like works from Witchrist or Teitanblood, Obsidian Codex is an unrestrained war on divinity writ large. It's a mammoth piece of very dark art, both in terms of its actual running time, and the sheer weight of the enmity within. Everything, from its dense production to musical execution and aesthetic vision, is presented with an extraordinary degree of focus-- something that never drops one iota over Obsidian Codex's lengthy running time.

For those inclined to seek Vassafor out, Obsidian Codex isn't the only work the band has available on Bandcamp. A raw and bloodied live broadcast recorded in February 2013 on San Francisco's KFJC radio station is available for a name-your-price fee, and label Dark Descent also released the powerful Elegy of the Archeonaut compilation in 2012--collecting unreleased rehearsals, as well as studio recordings.

For close to two decades, Vassafor have been paying worship to tenebrous energies, and the reward for fans on Obsidian Codex is a monumental avalanche of audio violence and black-hearted, overpowering horror. The entire album is a work of vision, tracks working together to form a composite, singular whole. Of course, that doesn't stop you enjoying tracks on their own, but if you want the full efficacious effect, set aside time in a dark room to listen--and then set aside another hour to recover.

Obsidian Codex is corruption, ruination and sacrilege incarnate, and really, at this end of days, what more could you possibly want?

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 12, 2013

Shining - One One One

Review by Justin C.

Let's get this out of the way up front: There's saxophone on this album. I know some people have an attitude about horns in their metal, but I think saxophones are pretty metal. Yes, they're literally made of metal, but I think they're also metal in attitude. Ihsahn certainly agrees, and you can trust him, right?

I admit that I'm biased. Long before I started playing guitar, I played the saxophone. Adolphe Saxe, the inventor, originally designed versions for orchestra and military bands, but for my money, it didn't find its true home until the invention of jazz. You may only know it from the mewlings of people like Kenny G, but in the hands of players like John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, the sax has been used to create some of the strangest and most demanding music in existence. And what is that if not metal? Personally, I don't think I would have gotten into more extreme metal if I hadn't already cut my teeth on avant garde jazz. Without doing an academic study, I'd even go so far as to say that the experimentation started in 1950s and 1960s jazz paved the way for some of the crazy metal we have today.

Photo © Per Ole Hagen, Artist Pictures Blog, All rights reserved.

In support of that thesis, we have Shining, a fascinating Norwegian band that started out as a jazz quartet but ultimately morphed into the black-electro-industrial metal band we hear today. Their previous album, Blackjazz, was so far out there that it was hard even for me to get a foothold, but their newest, One One One, has all of their experimentation but with insane catchiness and immediacy. Just try to listen to the opening track, "I Won't Forget," and not get it stuck in your head. Jørgen Munkeby's vocals are snarling and raspy, but completely intelligible. Unlike a lot of metal singers, he doesn't drop down to a low guttural for emphasis--he charges up to the very top of his range. Guitars are processed with outer-space distortion backed by punchy bass, keyboards provide all manner of different textures, and the drums are frenetic but laser-precise. And then there's Munkeby's saxophone. His tone is fantastic by any traditional standard, even when he pushes it to the limits, and he uses his sax to full effect as a metal instrument. Check out the solo in "The One Inside." It's as fearsome and gripping as any guitar solo you'll hear.

Photo © Per Ole Hagen, Artist Pictures Blog, All rights reserved.

The album wouldn't be so good if it were all jazz freakouts. The songwriting is also tight and top notch. For example the guitar riff in "Blackjazz Rebels" is as catchy and bluesy as anything out there. Even though it's immediately accessible, I find new things to dig on every listen. If you passed on this one because you were put off by the out-there-ness of the last album, I'd urge you to check this one out. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The photos originally appeared in this Shining, One One One live at by:Larm article, check out Per Ole's Flickr for many more Shining photos.

June 11, 2013

Deafheaven - Sunbather

By Justin C. After their last album, Roads to Judah, I expected deafheaven's follow up to be solid, but I was completely unprepared for how amazing Sunbather is. At the heart of this album are four massive tracks --"Dream House," "Sunbather," "Vertigo," and "The Pecan Tree"
By Justin C.

After their last album, Roads to Judah, I expected deafheaven's follow up to be solid, but I was completely unprepared for how amazing Sunbather is. At the heart of this album are four massive tracks--"Dream House," "Sunbather," "Vertigo," and "The Pecan Tree"--which are blended together with interstitial tracks that range from the strange to the harsh to the beautiful, sometimes all in one song. And when I say "massive" tracks, I mean that in every sense. "Dream House" is the shortest at just over 9 minutes, and all four travel through a gamut of emotions and musical soundscapes.

deafheaven continue with the palette of sounds they used on Roads to Judah. The music mixes black metal, shoegaze, and the chiming guitars of 90s alt-rock into a seamless whole. I'm sure I won't be the first or last to mention that "Dream House" in particular gives a nod to U2 with Kerry McCoy's echoing guitar melodies, but don't worry, there are no guest appearances from Bono. George Clarke's black metal shrieks sound as though he's trying to cram the full range of human emotion into every syllable, and he never lets up. It should be overwhelming, or at least tiring, but somehow it works over these songs that never settle into one emotion.

If you're worried that this music isn't black metal enough, don't be. I try not to read too much about albums I want to review, but there's been a lot of press on this album, and be it in the article itself or the comment sections, someone inevitably wonders if this album belongs to some other genre, and of course "OMG! The cover is pink so it's not metal!" But there are blast beats and tremolo guitar lines here. "Vertigo" has some very traditional sounding black metal elements, but on the other hand, it also has a 5-minute intro with lightly dissonant guitar lines and a warm bass line that permute through sunny melody lines, grinding riffs, and a full-blown guitar solo before the vocals start. Even at its blackest, the music still absorbs all these other sounds.

None of these elements are combined haphazardly, but yet they all manage to coexist at the same time. The album's closing track, "The Pecan Tree," starts in familiar black metal territory before heading back to chiming guitars and piano. The final lines, "I am my father's son. / I am no one. / I cannot love. / It's my blood." are delivered over almost poppy guitar rock. In a way, it sums up the overall feel of the album. Rage and heart-breaking sadness are here, but somehow, it's still exhilarating at the same time. Listening to this is like being emotionally wrung out, but in a cathartic and liberating way. The band has said that the general theme of the album is the attempt and failure to achieve perfection, and although there's disappointment in that search, the album itself creates the feeling of redemption you can get from both the trying and the failing.

June 10, 2013

Voices - From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain

Review by Justin C.

Rising from the ashes of the late, great Akercocke, Voices have just released their first album, From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain. It's a challenging album of progressive black metal, and I have to admit that I struggled with it at first. I think it's still very worthwhile, though, so let me give you the run down.

Peter Benjamin, the former bassist of Akercocke, delivers the vocals as a combination of mid-range black metal shrieks and his clean, emotive tenor. In some cases, we even get lilting, female vocals thrown in. You can hear all three in "Eyes Become Black," and you can hear Benjamin become his own, demented choral group in "Everything You Believe is Wrong." For the most part, the guitars skip the standard black metal tremolo lines and instead mix grinding, dissonant riffs with touches of math-rock freak outs. The guitar line in the opening track, "Dnepropterovsk," is as much an alarm from an ambulance as it is a riff, and "Fragmented Illustrations of Anger" has a whole sampler platter of jittery leads snaking through it. The bass is actually audible--which is always kind of exciting in black metal--although it's as much atmosphere as it is rhythm section. We also get some quiet acoustic passages and bits of piano here and there.

Which brings me to where I had trouble with this album. The music is forward-thinking black metal that's challenging in and of itself, but I kept getting hung up on the drums. They're provided by David Gray, who was also the drummer for Akercocke. His talent is obvious, and he plays with the kind of unrelenting fury you might expect. That said, the drumming sometimes bulldozes over the more interesting aspects of the music. Blast beats fire away over quieter interludes, and I'll be honest: Sometimes I really wanted it to stop. I don't think the problem is Gray's musicality, as it's clear he can play with a deft touch when required, but more the production, which puts a lot of the percussion very high up in the mix. In spite of being very intrigued by the music, I had to step away from the album after the first listen because the drums were stuck in my ear to the extent that I had a hard time hearing anything else.

When I came back to the music after a break, I did find I could "tune" my ear to hear the balance of the music again, and the album hooked me all over again. If you're a drum enthusiast, I suspect you'll love the album for the exact reason I struggled with it, but even if you're not, this is fascinating music well worth your time.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 9, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part III - Flight of the Behemoth

Written by Craig Hayes.

Self-proclaimed 'power ambient' duo Sunn O))) was formed by guitarist Stephen O’Malley and bassist Greg Anderson in the mid 90s, and since then, the band has explored the possibilities of sonic and emotional reward via thundering and increasingly more adventurous drones. Recently, Sunn O))) put their entire catalogue up on Bandcamp, and over the next few months I'm going to look at every release. Call it my 'Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions' project, or call it a fan biting off far more than he can chew. Whatever the case, here we go... unto the breach my friends; I hope to see you on the other side.

I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge, or lustre, or name.
― H.P. Lovecraft, Nemesis
Album number three for Sunn O))), 2002's Flight of the Behemoth, set the band's collaborative and creatively expansive endeavours firmly on the boil. The sub-harmonic and bowel-churning drones, along with the band’s patented tenebrous tones, were all present. However, the presence of Masami Akita (aka noise overlord Merzbow), who mixed tracks "O))) Bow 1" and "O))) Bow 2" and provided heavy handed additional duties on "F.W.T.B.T", saw Sunn O))) take a significant step into new sonic territories.

The subterranean frequencies of first track, "Mocking Solemnity", and follow-up, "Death Becomes You", were Sunn O))) 101 – 23 combined minutes of intestinally twisting crawls. The tracks were, as you'd expect, leviathans of minimalistic riffing, lumbering forth with maximum crackling feedback and thunderous brutality. Certainly, both tunes were as hypnotic as Sunn O)))'s previous work, with guitar and bass progressions set to a crippled snails pace. However, it was on "O))) Bow 1" and "O))) Bow 2" were things began to get really interesting – and a little more unhinged.

Bringing Merzbow on board was a sage move by Sunn O))). His layering of clanging piano and squalling bursts of noise atop Sunn O)))'s sludgy low-low-end - and then manically mixing all – saw Merzbow's contributions to "O))) Bow 1" and "O))) Bow 2" bring horrific life to the tracks. His jarring electronic touches cut deeply and raggedly into the baseline drone, which was clearly the point. Sunn O))) doesn't make comforting tunes, Merzbow is no great friend of sonic serenity, and the nerve-shredding result was all the more compelling due to the uncomfortable clashes. The Bandcamp version of Flight of the Behemoth also contains "O))) Bow 3" and "O))) Bow 4", which provide an additional 50 minutes of Sunn O))) + Merzbow. Recorded live in 2007, both tracks feature Attila Csihar on vocals and Oren Ambarchi on guitar (along with other collaborators) and the resulting ear-splitting feedback and noise – along with Csihar's monastic chants – sees relentless audial sustenance provided.

Merzbow's contributions aside, what Flight of the Behemoth is equally famed for is "F.W.T.B.T" – a song with real history. First, there's the gleeful stab of it's full title; "FWTBT: (I dream of Lars Ulrich being thrown the bus window instead of my master Mystikall Kliff Burton)". No second guessing Sunn O)))'s message there. Second, there's the fact that the song is, nominally, a cover of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Although, Sunn O)))'s reinterpretation and deforming distortions make comparisons redundant. Third, "F.W.T.B.T" was the first studio track ever recorded by Sunn O))). Tracked at the same sessions that birthed The Grimmrobe Demos. And lastly, and most interestingly, the song was originally commissioned by Dwell Records for a Metallica covers compilation; the label rejecting the completed tune. Rejection be damned, of course, because "F.W.T.B.T" is hellish fun. It's ten minutes of down-tuned rumble and buzz with guttural vocals from Hades, and, in a first for Sunn O))), it features a drum machine thumping away in the murk. In its entirety, it's a head-first pitch into a black hole – much like the rest of Flight of the Behemoth – and with Merzbow's able assistance, swirling chaos reigns.

Flight of the Behemoth grants a magnificent view of Sunn O)))'s past and its future. The collaboration with Merzbow signalled the band's upcoming alliances with a huge range of metal and experimental creatives, and while the band's down-tuned trawls were ever present, there was a clear broadening of its sonic palette. In that regard, Flight of the Behemoth could be seen as a crucial transitional album for Sunn O))). Although, lets be clear, there's nothing hesitantly of half-heartedly explored here. That broadening scope would come to fruition on the band's next album, 2003's magnificent White 1; where Julian Cope turned up to recite his druidic poetry, and Runhild Gammelsæter spun a tale straight from Norwegian folklore. Until then...

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

June 8, 2013

Tyrannosorceress - Demo 2011

Besides having an awesome name Tyrannosorceress is one of those bands that are difficult to pigeonhole. The base is sludgy black metal, but you can hear death metal, and doom too. It doesn't matter much though, because it all hangs together. The songwriting is solid, and the performance is pretty intense. Tyrannosorceress does both chaotic blasting sections and epic soloing with aplomb. The double tracked vocals and weird lyrics creates an almost evil psychedelic atmosphere.

The production could have been a little fuller, but this is a demo after all; the slight tinniness doesn't detract from the overall quality of the music. Despite being way blacker, Tyrannosorceress reminds me of Agrimonia in the way they transform different genres into coherent songs. The band is currently hard at work writing their debut full-length. I hope it gets a Bandcamp release, for I would very much like to hear what Tyrannosorceress bring to the table in the future.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 7, 2013

Esoterica - Idololatriae

Painting by Francisco Goya - Adoración del nombre de Dios

My first foray into music that combines noise with melody was Curve's Doppelgänger (check out "Ice That Melts The Tips" here). On Esoterica's Idololatriae the noise is much harsher - the genre is dissonant, atmospheric black metal in the vein of early Blut aus Nord. But if you take the line from the Doppelgänger review on AllMusic stating that the album "features breathy, dreamy vocals over top layers of throbbing guitar, dense keyboards, and sledgehammer drumming to create formidable aural textures", it fits remarkable well on Esoterica's music (...except for the "breathy, dreamy vocals" part off course).

Three of the songs on Idololatriae will appear on a new full-length in the future, for now you can enjoy them sandwiching two interesting ambient tracks, making this a rather perfect EP. I know I look forward to hearing more from Esoterica.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

June 6, 2013

Sauroctonos - Our Cold Days Are Still Here When the Lights Are Out

Review by Andy Osborn.

Artwork & design by Yuriy Kononov from Sauroctonos

Those familiar with the non-typical black metal scene know that Ukraine is (surprisingly) at the forefront of the sub-genre of which I write so much about. Drudkh has been making some of the world’s most hypnotic revelry for over a decade now, and rising symphonic paganists Khors were just signed to Candlelight Records, who will be releasing their fifth full-length in September. So it’s no surprise that the country would spawn the newest hellchild of blackened tinkering, Sauroctonos. Although the band has been around since 2005, this is their first official release. And what a release it is.

When I say non-typical, I mean it’s almost as far from black metal musically as you could imagine. If you’re a fan of screaming guitars, never-ending blast beats, satan worship and low-fi sludgery, then Sauroctonos is not for you. But if you’re a fan of the recent post-rock infusing the genre — and fellow countrymen — has toyed with; with its toned down, relaxed and atmosphere-heavy nature, you’ll want to pay attention to Our Cold Days are Still Here When the Lights are Out (OCDSHWLO? Can’t imagine what that sounds like in their native tongue.)

The first thing you’ll notice about this record is how beautifully crisp it is. It’s clear no shortcuts were taking in the recording or mastering process. Every note, cymbal, pick slide and breath is fully developed in the cleanest way possible. Holy shit, black metal where not only can you clearly hear the bass, but with its infectious grooves it’s much more than a backing instrument for the band. Other surprises come with the way the band incorporates acoustic guitars. While their use is nothing new for the genre, the band plays them sparingly, in a hook-driven, almost poppy fashion that experiments with some light electronica diddling on top. It works perfectly.

Take the progressing sound of Enslaved to its beautiful extreme, with only the slightest hint of distorted guitars but never giving in to the cliche of clean singing, this sounds like a band perfecting a magnum opus, not newly releasing their first album. The shortest track is six-and-a-half minute “Grayscale Flames” which dances nimbly between the band’s peaceful jams and indescribable high-speed thrill rides. The others do so similarly, but so well that that you’re still begging for more after you reach the 10-minute closer, “Farewell.”

Despite the beauty and progressive nature of the band, when the album is over there isn’t too much left to reflect on. No memorable riffs, no unexpected genre-shifts, no large differences really between any of the songs. But it would be unfair of me to dock points from the band for those complaints, because Sauroctonos is not in the riff-crafting business. They’re in the melancholic atmosphere business. And in that business, success is never determined by headbang-able drop-tuned chuggery. It’s determined by the choice of chord progressions and switching — both dutifully and beautifully — between carefully thought-out guitar tones; and in that market they excel. Because it’s not the type of album to reflect on after you’re finished with it, it’s one you have to experience in the moment.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Demon Lung - The Hundredth Name

By Andy Osborn. Getting signed to a big label on the strength of a short release alone is something that rarely occurs in today’s climate. Years of local shows, self-releases and constant touring are the typical requirement for bands to make the “step up” so it really stands out when a two-year old group gets quickly snatched by an acclaimed label
Review by Andy Osborn.

Artwork by Tom Bates

Getting signed to a big label on the strength of a short release alone is something that rarely occurs in today’s climate. Years of local shows, self-releases and constant touring are the typical requirement for bands to make the “step up” so it really stands out when a two-year old group gets quickly snatched by an acclaimed label. But that’s exactly what happened to Las Vegas coven Demon Lung. After self-releasing a critically acclaimed EP last March, Candlelight signed the newcomers and fast-tracked a debut full-length for the quartet.

Demon Lung are part of what I like to call the New Wave of Female-Fronted American Doom Metal, joining the likes of Castle, Witch Mountain and Subrosa with their take on the timeless subgenre. NWOFFADM can come in many forms, just look at the differences to the aforementioned groups and you’ll find no lack of diversity. But they each owe something to one that has come before, an unmistakable influence or stain that has rubbed off onto this younger generation. And Demon Lung wholeheartedly embraces their influences, working closely with a vibe akin to Candlemass while adding a distinctive American spin.

The Hundredth Name opens in homage to the forces of metal with an offering of distortion and grime before trudging into the introduction of the album’s concept. Effortless chugging mixes with well-placed hammer-on riffage as the band gives forth a tale of Satan’s son who has arrived on Earth to deal with the nasty issue of all creation. Shanda Fredrick’s soaring vocals interplay with riffs that deceive; both devastatingly heavy and surprisingly melodic. Guitarist Phil Burns is the master of tension, holding each note and coaxing out every possible sound wave until the last possible moment and delivering the next crushing chord with satisfying accuracy. For almost an hour the band explores the ancient ways of the weighty without falling into any patterns or easily adopted habits. Up-tempo verses are used sparingly, appearing at choice intervals to keep blood pumping and the ears guessing. There’s no filler to be had in this meaty debut, just intelligent heaviness with the right amount of melody.

Demon Lung show why DOOM has existed, and thrived, for 40+ years. There’s no lack of intrigue to be discovered in their heavy, blues-driven guitar work and solid song writing skills. Wielding these weapons, the group plots their own path while remembering their elders. The torch has been passed, and the masters of old should be pleased.

June 5, 2013

Geng-Grizzly - Screwing Yourself To Live: A Chopped & Slowed Tribute To Black Sabbath

Screwing Yourself To Live is chopped & slowed versions of 13 classic Black Sabbath songs. What is "chopped & slowed"? you may ask. Cvlt Nation helpfully explains in this review of the project:
it is the remixing of songs by slowing the tempo down to between 60 and 70 quarter-note beats per minute and using techniques such as scratches, doubles and stop-time to chop the song into a chopped up version of its original.
The perpetrators themselves explain "We thought up this after we smoked too much weed". And the techniques used plus the use of manipulated samples turns the songs into dark and ominous trips. As an added bonus the slower speed literally leaves you with you more time to enjoy Black Sabbath's musicianship. Bill Ward's drumming sounds great, and Ozzy at low-speed is pretty terrifying; check out the trip hop like version of "Hands of Doom" for an example of both. Screwing Yourself To Live is a dark re-imagining, Black Sabbath as you haven't heard them before.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]