July 30, 2013

Chrome Waves - Chrome Waves

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

The self-titled debut album from a new black and doom project, Chrome Waves are a trio composed of Stavros Giannopolous (the Atlas Moth), Jeff Wilson (Nachtmystium) and Bob Fouts (the Gates of Slumber). Heavily blackened and beautifully atmospheric, the record displays both a light touch and a heavy mood, like a delicate sketch made with a piece of charcoal pulled from a funeral pyre.

The songs flow into one another with inexorable forward momentum, like the seamless transition from "Hearts of the Feathers" into "Height of the Rifles." In fact, a great strength of Chrome Waves is the transitions, which all feel as smooth and organic as a joint fitting into its socket. Two of the six songs on the album are entirely instrumental, but far from breaking up the momentum of the record they provide valuable moments of introspection before the intense, harsh vocals return. Each song is expertly constructed, but the genius of Chrome Waves is the way in which the individual pieces are juxtaposed against one another. Each piece recontextualizes and supports the tracks around it, making the album much more than the sum of its parts and a sheer joy to listen to, from a structural point of view.

Chrome Waves are an example of a coterie of incredibly talented musicians pooling their creative efforts to make a truly stunning piece of musical machinery. It is incredibly exciting to think of what they will produce next.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 29, 2013

Shadows in the Crypt - Cryptic Communications

Review by Red.

Would you be surprised if I told you that one of last year’s most underrated albums came from the “bowels of Pennsylvania” (whence the band hails, according to their bio)? Cryptic Communications is indeed such an album and one that twists the conventions of its chosen sub-genre in an interesting way.

Would you be further surprised to hear a black metal band who combines said sub-genre with long, fluid, shredding guitar solos? If you’re anything like me, sure. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of such a combination. Indeed, it was my belief that black metal guitarists eschewed such displays of musicianship. After all, it seems so obvious that such a thing is unnecessary to their particular brand of pummeling. Yet here we are.

Another note from the Shadows of the Crypt bio: they came together to make the most extreme metal they could. That certainly sheds some light on the black+shred combo.

The elements of the band’s sound coalesce most readily in the standout track, “Embracing the Forbidden Arts”. Now, if you’re listening on Bandcamp, you’ll notice that the aforementioned is track 2. But according to the Metal Archives, track 9 “Beneath Threatening Skies” should be up top. Personally, I like that one as an intro more than a closer. At any rate, “Embracing the Forbidden Arts” is a standout for two reasons: first, there are some excellently played riffs that combine with the drums to really pummel the listener. Second, the solos are a bit more tasteful and integrated into the song’s fabric better than you might find further on.

After that killer track, one would be forgiven for thinking that that’s all she wrote. But there is another standout near the end of the record, “Revolutionary Genocidal Madness”. This track takes a decidedly non-BM riff and rides it into plains of headbanging. Closing track “Disgracing the Pulpit” ends with a tasty set of beats, including some rampaging double-bass that manages to fill up all the spaces and yet not be completely straight ahead.

Production-wise, I would call it drum-oriented. The guitars are double-tracked and sit roughly on either side of the kit. The drums are right in the center and are loud. You could probably hear the kick drums from a mile away. I’m not sure where the bass is; it’s probably buried underneath the drums.

I called Cryptic Communications one of the most underrated of 2012 earlier because it really functions as a solid whole. Even though the two tracks mentioned above stand out, the experience is quite cohesive and consistent when heard front to back.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part X - Dømkirke

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.

Painting Tania Stene.

Dømkirke was recorded during 2007's Borealis Festival at the Bergen Cathedral, Norway (Cathedral is domkirke in Norwegian). With the church dating back to the 12th century, you could rightly say that Dømkirke is Sunn O)))'s most sacramental, and in turn, most ritualized release; or that it’s an ungodly display of its live prowess. Either way, the fans in attendance were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Originally pressed on double vinyl, with stunning artwork from Norwegian visual artist Tania Stene, Dømkirke's initial LP release came with the caveat that it was a one-time issue. But thankfully, with Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp reissues, the album's appearance is another Elder-godsend for Sunn O))) fans looking to complete their collections.

Dømkirke is, of course, notable for being recorded in Bergen. The town itself is legendary enough in metal circles for the misdeeds that occurred there in the '90s, and Sunn O)))'s own investigations into hellish and corrupting noise are well established. However, if you add into that the transcendental promise of Sunn O)))'s low-pitched sonics, the clear link between Sunn O)))'s earth-quaking meditations and religious awe, then you've a match made in heaven (or hell – take your pick).

Unlike previous Sunn O))) albums, Dømkirke was a commissioned work. The organizers of the Borealis Festival asked Sunn O))) to write a suite that kept in mind gothic and Gregorian hymns, and all manner of grim tidings from the Middle Ages. The local Bergen religious community wasn't entirely enthusiastic at Sunn O)))'s appearance in their sacred hall, but really, you couldn't have asked for a more fitting band to play the venue. Sunn O)))'s subterranean harmonics have always come loaded with gloom, doom and a reverence for the transformative power of sound, and as for Gregorian hymns, the band's entire oeuvre is stacked with firmamental mystery, and sub-terrestrial wickedness.

Certainly, the four 15-minute plus tracks on Dømkirke are loaded with all the solemnity the occasion offered. The line-up for the album sees Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley (guitars) joined by long-time collaborator and enigmatic Hungarian henchman Attila Csihar (vocals). Oslo-based noise-maker Lasse Marhaug is on electronics, Steve Moore’s on the organ and trombone, and Tos Nieuwenhuizen dispenses the Moog(ness).

Moore's church-organ drone interweaves with Csihar's vocals on first track "Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself in Clouds?". Csihar alternates between baritone growls and wide-throated Gregorian yowls, before the rest of the band turns up on "Cannon". On that track, Anderson and O'Malley's power chords come crashing down atop Marnhaug's electronics, and his buried vocals and trombone. This assault is perhaps in recognition of 1665's Battle of Vagen, which resulted in a cannonball in the cathedral's exterior wall, embedded there to this day.

As with Sunn O)))'s past endeavors, Dømkirke toys with architectures of sound, but here, Sunn O))) is able to combine that with the architecture of the church itself. Accordingly, the melee of feedbacking guitars and vocal howls combine into a saturating mass on "Cymatics" – reverberating off the church's stone-walled interior – while "Masks of the Atmospheres" sees Sunn O))) winding down, the echoes conjuring the aftermath of destruction and chaos.

With Sunn O))) aiming to reflect the aesthetics of Bergen Cathedral, and combine that with a devout darkness and, no doubt, a nod to Christian hypocrisy, the album makes full use of the band's armaments. Monolithic heaviness is combined with sophisticated compositions (albeit still dirty, downtempo and downtuned), bringing plenty of ceremonial grandeur – especially where the songs build layers upon the reverential space of the church itself.

Dømkirke provides more evidence that to truly appreciate Sunn O))) you need to stand front and centre, with sub-harmonics drilling into your psyche. That's superbly exhibited at the end of the album, in the pause between the band ceasing to play, and the audience returning to their senses, and finding the strength to applaud. Those who believe that seeing Sunn O))) live can be akin to a spiritual experience can certainly point to this album as proof. Lord knows what fans would have made of the Dømkirke experience in person, but for the rest of us, the album's explorations of texture, volume, and time reaffirm, yet again, that Sunn O))) taps straight into the eternal.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

July 28, 2013

Katechon - Man, God, Giant

Cover art by Mari Oseland

Slow but... well, slow, more albums become available on the Nuclear War Now! Productions Bandcamp. The latest example being Man, God, Giant the debut full-length from Norway's Katechon. It would be easy to lump Katechon in with the blackened death metal crowd, they would also fit in quite nicely as members of the punkish black metal society. I think the merry Lurkers nailed it when they wrote "Not quite black metal, death metal or hardcore but rather a stunningly honed and natural melding of all at once"

Like most bands on the NWN! roster Katechon are nasty, guttural, and murky. But they are also better produced and goddamn riffy. A few tracks are 'just' roaring d-beat infused thrashers, but most work as songs, not just a collection of (great) chunky riffs. Check out the soloing and melody of the almost epic album closer "Beautiful Desolation", and I think you'll agree that the more Katechon break away from the crowd, the better they sound. Man, God, Giant is a great starting point, I look forward to hear what Katechon does next.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 26, 2013

Eagle Twin - The Feather Tipped The Serpent's Scale

Review by Aaron Sullivan.

Hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah comes the Sludgy behemoth known as Eagle Twin. My first exposure to this band was when they opened for Sunn O))) on their Grimmrobe Anniversary Tour in 2008. At that time I knew nothing of them and their first album was still a year away from coming out. This two piece consisting of guitar and drum took the stage and jaws dropped. I know many walked away, just as I did, anticipating an album from Eagle Twin. When The Unkindness of Crows came out it blew me away. The Feather That Tipped The Serpent’s Scale did the same completely avoiding the sophomore slump.

Photo by Taylor Keahey

A little background to the first album as it ties into the second. The first album dealt with crows as creatures of myth and power. Inspired by the book Crow from author Ted Hughes. And as it says on their Bandcamp page,
In this installment the crows documented in the first album have battled the sun and were burned back down to earth as black snakes, the concept of the album continuing mainly on the snake and its various mythic and symbolic incarnations. Ultimately the great ancestral snake is transformed from its lowly beginnings back into a bird soaring upon the thermals.
Pretty heady stuff for a Sludge band. But they pull it off brilliantly.

If forced to fit Eagle Twin into a genre Sludge works best. But elements of DOOM and Drone make their presence known throughout the record. Guitars are overbearing in tone and sloth like in pace. The drums are not just there to keep a beat. They also serve to fill in a lot of the open spaces left when only having two instruments. The vocals are also something that set them apart, at least from other Sludge. Gentry’s vocals are very reminiscent of Tom Waits with his gravelly delivery that fit the music so well. Overall there’s a spiritual or ritualistic feel to Eagle Twins music, much in the same way OM’s albums feel. Perhaps a bit darker though.

Photo by Taylor Keahey

As said before. I was blown away by them the first time I heard them and have been with each release. A band that touches on all things I enjoy, not only about Metal, but music in general. If this is something you enjoy I highly recommend getting their first album as well. And since Southern Lord for some reason has not put it on their Bandcamp. Do your due diligence and email Mr. Anderson and beg, plead, and otherwise annoy him until it is on Bandcamp.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 24, 2013

Pyres - Year Of Sleep

Written by Justin Petrick.

The highly anticipated debut album from the Canadian band Pyres is a beautiful example of how moving this type of music can be if done properly. They have created a bombastic hardcore sludge album that has a heart that beats constantly throughout and exudes the angst, hatred, heartbreak and anxiety that the songs espouse. On this album Pyres brings huge hooks and grooves while staying true to their sludge roots. With a dash of progressive metal (see title track) and a flourish of wide ranging melody and rhythm this album breaks the mold of the modern sludge band as we know it today.

The album’s opening song “Proximity” opens with a slow groove that slowly builds into a powerful riff and the growling vocals of Andrew Wilson that guide us down the lonely and angry song of despair and hope lost. The second track “Deserter” changes up the formula a little bit allowing the vocals to take over the beginning of the song and then the band does what it does best with the second 2/3 of the track. They keep the rhythm and grooves moving and keep the song fresh throughout and lay down strong memorable riffs. The title song is a slow and steady blast of sludge that builds to the most solid riff on the album. The song is a showcase of how well guitarist Marc Delparte and Wilson work together being able to create such a strong bond that the fluidity of their guitar work is impeccable.

From the stoic riffs of “Atlas Cast No Shadow” to the almost perfect “Deserter” the complexity of each song is realized through the polished playing of the band. The galloping rhythm and tone of “Everbearing” is a fine example of the ability of Pyres to take control of the music and create a feeling of epic bliss through aggression. This album seems to get better and better after each listen as new bits and pieces of the intricate power of this album are realized which only increases the likability of this stellar release. Take my word for it; you will not be able to listen to this album only one time, I challenge you to try!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Year Of Sleep vinyl is available from Granite House Records.

July 23, 2013

Hull - Beyond the Lightless Sky

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

This sophomore album from Brooklyn, NY-based quintet Hull opens with a thunderous blast, more psychotic that psychedelic. Then, about three minutes into "Earth From Water," the cacophony changes, slows down, breaks apart and becomes layered. After the initial avalanche, the songs become a series of small collapses, with the real danger of crush injuries. The occasional bit of clean singing is combined with harsh vocals, bowel-shuddering growls and manic shrieks, to fantastic effect.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

The guitar sound is sinewy and massive, like a terror bird stretching its wings. Occasional clear iridescent shimmers, like the rainbow on top of an oil slick, define the syrupy guitar tone. Beyond the Lightless Sky plays with ideas of weight and weightlessness. Like the hull of a vast freighter, the album is at once impossibly heavy yet capable of staying afloat, cutting through waves like a hot knife through better. Hull have made something immense and nimble, ponderous and powerful.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 21, 2013

Monoliths and Opinions: Part IX: Sunn O))) meets Nurse with Wound - The Iron Soul of Nothing

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 Timo Ketola.
And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
In 2007, Sunn O))) handed the masters of ØØVOID to UK-based experimentalists Nurse With Wound (NWW) with a brief to rework the tracks for an upcoming reissue of the album on Daymare Recordings. Sunn O))) had hoped the works would be returned as something akin to NWW's dark ambient masterpiece Soliloquy for Lilith, but what NWW founder Steven Stapleton (and cohort Colin Potter) handed back to Sunn O))) ranks amongst the very best drone and ambient works ever released.

Sunn O)))'s expectations may have been for NWW to reduce ØØVOID to a dark droning funereal pilgrimage, but asking for their interpretation was always going to result in something idiosyncratic and creatively distinctive. Since 1978, NWW has been dishing out fascinating drone, industrial, avant-garde and ambient works, and the hugely prolific band is no stranger to celebrated remixes and reconstructions, collaborative or otherwise.

The Iron Soul of Nothing took all the intestinal-twisting elements of ØØVOID and filtered them through NWW's patented "sinister whimsy", resulting in material that is replete with Sunn O)))'s gloominess, but that NWW have claimed as their own. While the album retained traces of its parentage, NWW reconstructed a Frankenstein monster out of tape hiss, baleful noise, buried riffs and vocals and industrial screeches—and, of course, all of that was channeled through the mind of Stapleton, a certified (mad) genius of musical adventurism.

Case in point: "Dysnystaxis (... a chance meeting with Somnus)", a 19-minute track that fuses increasingly bleak atmospherics with subtly layered orchestrations, heightening the ominousness and the insanity. Or: "Ash on the Trees (The sudden ebb of a diatribe)", where the previously obscured vocals of Pete Stahl are unearthed, smeared with 17 minutes of corrosive minimalism, then smothered in mechanical noise, throat chants, pious chimes and the unholy arrival of a riff from hell—one of few overt references to the ØØVOID source material. Really, ØØVOID was reborn on The Iron Soul of Nothing, with the two-part "Ra at Dawn... " suite providing 30 minutes of susurrus static and synth that is as unnerving as it is utterly prepossessing. The half-hour sojourn of haunting serenity never reaches a peak, simply layering bleakness atop of beauty till the nerves are frayed.

NWW's "alchemical dialysis" of ØØVOID saw the band distill Sunn O)))'s original potion, then reengineer its components into an unconventional concoction—one in which the avant-garde accent hasn't obscured the primal base-note that burrows into our shared fears. Comparing The Iron Soul of Nothing to ØØVOID highlights the intrinsic link between acts like Sunn O))) and NWW—both bands clearly explore discomfiting spheres from angles that merge and diverge. While Sunn O))) may have handed the album over to be reworked, NWW re-imagined it in its entirety, and that's a testament not only to Sunn O)))'s ability to inspire, but also to NWW's stubborn creative vision; not that either was in any doubt.

The Iron Soul of Nothing sounds nothing like ØØVOID, and therein is its brilliance. NWW took ØØVOID and wrote their own tale with the thematic and sonic threads they felt were strongest. It was a given that a NWW + Sunn O))) match-up would produce something remarkable, but The Iron Soul of Nothing eclipses expectations. As Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley rightly said, The Iron Soul of Nothing is, "A vast creepy sonic journey, some part drone/depth of SUNN O))), other part concrete weirdness of Nurse, third part just downright out there in surreality and obscure referencing."

Sunn O))) and NWW are a match made in a madhouse—or a haunted house—and creeping, weird, surreal and obscure sums up The Iron Soul of Nothing perfectly.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

Leucosis - Leucosis & III

Review by Justin C.

Coming in at close to 70 minutes, Leucosis's second, self-titled album is a massive and immersive experience. Our own Max described the band's first album as "atmospheric, gritty, and very doomy black metal," and that description still suits them.

Leucosis is all about layers. "Taiga" starts with a solo guitar line that sounds like it's being beamed to you from outer space. A guitar playing counterpoint, bass, and delicate percussion come in subtlly, slowly building until a doomy riff and icy screams kick in somewhere after the 4-minute mark. "Aponea" has a ferocious tremolo guitar line that winds its way around just behind the scenes, not taking center stage but rather adding color. The closing track, "Euthenasia," has a mournful guitar line that almost sounds like a xylophone playing in the background. The thing that really stands out for me is how the production tends to treat all of the layers equally. Instead of having a vocal or guitar track riding out well in front, the instruments share almost equal footing, blending into one another and making you really listen. It doesn't hurt that all of the performers are top notch. As I've said before, I don't tend to notice drums as much as other instruments, but the percussion here is a study in both restraint and fury, depending on what the songs demand.

Shortly on the heels of the self-titled album, Leucosis also released a two-track EP called III. The first track, "III" is a nearly 20-minute monster of churning black metal that never seems to back off in intensity. It also shows off a new vocal style, adding in some truly demonic roars to contrast with the higher-pitched screeches. The second untitled track is almost entirely ambient sound effects. I was put off at first, because I wanted MORE METALZ! from this album, but it's an interesting choice--in a way, it lets you decompress from the first track. It's also a brave choice, given that our digital world makes things like this so easily skippable. It will be interesting to see if these two tracks are part of a larger work or intended to stand on their own. But even if the idea of an ambient soundscape ending with near silence sounds unappealing, III is worth the price of admission for the self-titled track alone.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 18, 2013

Jucifer - The Russian Album

Review by Andy Osborn.

Cover photo by Edgar Livengood

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most brutal assaults during World War II. For five months the Soviets held off Nazi battalions while they lost over a million lives and witnessed the decimation of one of their home. But they ultimately prevailed and helped turned the tide of the War with what would become one of the greatest triumphs in military history. With За Bолгой для нас земли нет, Jucifer tells the tale of this struggle through the eyes of the metropolis and its people.

This is a clear-cut concept album and as the Cyrillic title shows it’s not created for easy consumption. The band want to tell this tale in their own way, and they want to do it without compromise. This means starting with a spoken word intro entirely in Russian which will challenge even the most ardent fans, but as you wind your way through this dense maze keep in mind that everything has its place and you will be rewarded for your patience. From the opening note of the first proper song, Jucifer make clear their intention to overwhelm your senses. Amber Valentine’s otherworldly-tuned guitar rumbles through your ear canals and into your very being as the riff grows into its stoned self. At 9 minutes long and glacial in pace, “Song of the Waking City” makes it tempting to take out the bong, but that would be unwise at this point. A clear mind is essential for what’s to come.

Photo by Jaime Garcia Perez

Jucifer have become known as one of the most effective multi-genre anomalies in the business, and they spend the next hour breaking every barrier that ever existed between the most crushing of metal underworlds. Doom, stoner, sludge, grind and punk are peppered throughout what’s become known as The Russian Album, sometimes with entire songs dedicated to their worship and sometimes with just a riff or rhythmic thought thrown their way. Although I’ve never had the chance to witness them live, Jucifer's show is known for its eardrum bursting capabilities and the production here captures that perfectly. Nothing is slick or polished, just tweaked to the pinnacle of heaviness while the duo squeeze every last possible decibel out of their minimal equipment. Dangerously high is the only volume at which this album can be fully appreciated; if your ears aren't hurting or your windows aren't shaking, the majestic onslaught is not being fully experienced.

Total war has now descended upon you as shots are fired from all sides and the lyrics progress into further detail of the bloody onslaught. Just like in battle there is hardly any rest, no respite for the weary. By the time you have wandered into the vast wasteland that is the aptly named “Siberia” most will have made up their minds as to continue or not on this punishing trek, but persevering forward will be rewarded. These seven minutes of drone make some of the most cataclysmic and devastating recordings imaginable, and act as an icy wall standing guard over the album’s second half. Across the wintry desert, distortion continues to pummel and destroy as the tale of one of the world’s most infamous battles draws to a close. But as I neared the end a sense of desperation became present as I realized just how much weight this album carries. There is still so much to comprehend and absorb it may be years before anyone fully understands or realizes what Jucifer have done here. Multiple listens have still hardly begun to scratch the surface, but the sense of standing in the shadow of something unparalleled is obvious.

Photo by Jaime Garcia Perez

The husband and wife team rarely miss the mark on this 80 minute monstrosity of an album, but at points the overt complexities do get a bit frustrating. The Russian Album closes as it opened, with a spoken Russian passage ending the tale. While not unsurprising, the following six minutes of what sounds like someone walking around with a microphone in their pocket certainly are. An unceremonious end to the journey to be sure, but not one that stands in contrast to this maddeningly complicated work.

I can’t imagine anything much more challenging music than a Russian history concept piece showered in disgustingly dirty sludge, but Jucifer have created something special with every ounce of their energy and passion. The fact that it’s this elaborate and confounding is a testament to their dedication and strength, qualities shared by the soldiers who fought to save their beloved city.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Owl - You Are the Moon, I Am the Night

Review by Red.

Owl’s self-titled debut was released in early 2011. It was a cavernous and atmospheric recording that displayed allegiance to the old-school aesthetic. It was timely, as other bands were jumping on the OSDM bandwagon. But it was also a flawed release that did not embody the talent of the players involved. It was also an exception in the Zeitgeister catalog, as no other band in the collective had yet explored death metal.

You Are the Moon, I Am the Night is somewhat less obsessed with atmosphere. There’s still an ambient track and two of the three proper songs are more concerned with constructing a soundscape rather than bruising the listener’s eardrums.

The title track starts with a couple seconds of noise. Then a heavy-handed and completely unsubtle riff comes in. Within 30 seconds of play time, the album distinguishes itself from its predecessor, for the better. There is an energy and a sense of immediacy that seemed wholly missing from the previous release. The track twists and turns through a number of different riffs, notably a very simple two-note line that first occurs around the six-minute mark. Guitarist and singer Christian Kolf’s vocals are strong throughout and there is nary a hint of the idiosyncratic cleans that many would associate with him from his work in Valborg and Skarab.

The pace of the album is generally slow to medium. This would be a problem if the guitar figures weren’t so enthralling. Patrick Schroeder’s drumming is solid; on this release he seems to have brought a bit more fluidity to his playing, with some especially impressive fills.

I thought the chanting section in the last few minutes of the title track went a little long. Thankfully, some of the better riffs underpin it, so it’s not completely tiresome. Another minor complaint I might have is that “Memories of Dead Dreams” relies a little too heavily on suspended chords and doesn’t create as much tension as the other two songs.

But let’s not lose sight of one simple fact: You Are the Moon, I Am the Night is not just better than Owl’s previous album, it’s one of the better albums of 2013.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 16, 2013

Khors - Wisdom of Centuries

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

Cover art by Sir Gorgoroth

When you talk about Ukrainian black metal, many incorrectly believe that Drudkh are the only band of note fitting that narrow description, but this assumption leaves out sombre, devastating sonic engine Khors. Their 2010 full-length, Return to Abandoned, was a furious record, replete with strong melodies and the kind of genuine rage that leads you to believe the this music could only be played with shaking hands and a shredded throat. In many ways, Wisdom of Centuries conjures a similar level of intensity, especially on nine-minute track "Black Forest's Flaming Eyes," which roils and shakes, tremulous one moment and stormy the next, fierce and changeable as the weather.

However, Wisdom of Centuries is a much sparer and starker record as well, in large part because it's simply much shorter. Fully half of the eight tracks are short instrumental interludes ― brief moments of reflection and meditation ― which do contribute to the atmosphere and brooding tension of the record. However, this also means that the album is really only four full tracks in total, making it feel much more like an EP ― the ideas have less time to develop and the concepts come across as oversimplified. While what is here is lovely, harsh and challenging, Wisdom of Centuries remains frustrating, in that there isn't enough of it.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 15, 2013

Mahat - Looking For A Ride

Review by Justin Petrick.

There is one truly easy way to win me over if you are a band; give me a great bass line! That’s it I am that easy, I need nothing else to satisfy my musical needs. OK, maybe I need a little bit more, like a crushing groove and vocals that are sung with such grit and spit that it almost scares me when they hit their peak of aggression. Mahat has supplied all of this and more on their album Looking for a Ride. One of the most solid stoner/traditional heavy albums I have heard so far this year. With the full-throttle crush of the opening track “Atacama” you are instantly aware that Mahat is not here to play games with their music. They are determined to pummel you with their sound and fury and to do so with satisfying grooves and musicianship that should not be ignored.

Mahat has taken what is a fun and usually mellow style of hard/heavy music and turned it on its head. It all starts with the opening track but Mahat do not let off of the gas throughout the rest of the album. "Looking for a Ride" takes the grooves and riffs of the opening track and infuses that with a leading bass line and drum fills that will satisfy the stingiest of stoner aficionados. But the band doesn’t stop there moving right into the gem of the album "Role Model Education", the distinct heavy riffs and grooves continue but are enhanced by the stellar and upfront bass work and the aggressive yet appropriate vocals, this song epitomizes what this album and band are about. While listening to the album you can feel the heart that the band puts into the songs and the musicianship throughout. With a blend of heavy stoner, progressive, and at times sludge Mahat has created a sound that will hold the interest of listeners and there will be no stopping that foot tapping and head bobbing to the grooves. There is no letting up on this album, it is a joyride of melody and hooks, a high speed car chase that has you holding on to the dashboard white-knuckled and smiling the entire time.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Ghost Idols - Ghost Idols

Review by Aaron Sullivan.

From my home town of L.A. comes Ghost Idols. A three piece who’s self titled debut album is a great mix of spacey rock and post-punk. Songs have a bounce to them with a spacey pop feel at times coupled with great west coast punk sing along style vocals, also mixed in are some very Sludgy riffs. The bass playing is monstrous and really stands out in the mix. It, along with the drums, constantly driving the songs and allows the guitar to add with the riff or simply go off on it’s own. The drumming does that tribal thing I love so much to help build a song before it takes off. This is an album chock full of energy. The overall production makes the album fell bright and alive.

My only regret is that I have yet to see these guys live. And that is really a shame because if these songs sound this good on Bandcamp I can only imagine how they explode in a live setting. I need to stop imaging and make it real.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 14, 2013

Monoliths and Opinions: Part VIII - Sunn O))) & Boris - Altar

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.

Altar is the album on which Japanese drone and psych-rock overlords Boris synchronized their slow-motion orbit with Sunn O)))'s ominous trajectory. Previously, Sunn O))) had been joined by many individual collaborators, but Altar was an alliance in which Boris's members Takeshi, Wata and Atsuo sat alongside Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson as equal partners. That's not to the say that Sunn O)))'s previous collaborations came with any sense of hierarchy, because the band has always afforded its collaborators a huge amount of creative freedom, but it's important to point out that Altar was Sunn O))) and Boris, not Sunn O))) accompanied by Boris.

Joining Boris and Sunn O))) on Altar was a raft of other musicians, including Randall Dunn (Master Musicians of Bukkake), Joe Preston (Earth, Thrones, Melvins etc), TOS Niewenhuizen (God, Beaver), Soundgarden's Kim Thayil, Rex Ritter (Jessamine, Fontanelle), Steve Moore and Adrienne Davies, and vocalist Jesse Skyes and her bandmates from the Sweet Hereafter, Bill Herzog and Phil Wandescher. Also included on Sunn O)))'s Bandcamp version of Altar is the 28-minute bonus track, "Her Lips Were Wet with Venom (SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas)". Originally included on limited editions of the physical album, the song features Earth guitarist Dylan Carlson; his dusty twang parting the dark clouds that gather over the portentous multi-player guitar overload, granting an view of the stars overhead.

As you'd imagine, there are plenty of sluggish, churning passages of metallic drone to be found on Altar--along with ear-splitting feedback to jolt the senses. Boris certainly brought all the downtuned bulk and tonality they were employing at that point in their career. However, Altar isn't about the combined weight of Boris's sonic investigations meeting Sunn O)))'s abundant mass; it’s a highly creative synthesis of two bands exploring new ways to communicate.

Altar conveys the notion of innovative transmissions exceptionally well, while simultaneously being, in parts, the closest Sunn O))) has ever come to rocking out. Tracks such as "Etna" or "Akuma No Kuma" aren't exactly sprightly, but they are full of life. On "Etna", four guitars, bass and drums all push forward with a distortion-soaked drone, but it is animated and driven. On "Akuma No Kuma", trombone, a six-pack of synths, and percussion all swirl through a space-rock melee that runs atop vocoder vocals and a low-end cosmic pulse. While both tracks are enthralling and surprising, they aren't the only songs to deliver unexpected detours.

"The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)," features Jesse Skyes' delicate vocals surrounded by a gentile piano waltz, an echoing guitar strum, and muted percussion—which all settles into an ethereal and avant-pop meter. "Fried Eagle Mind" brings something unforeseen too in its disembodied guitar trills, ghostly vocals and drifting ambient washes of sympathetic synth (all mangled by a familiar feedback riot that finishes its 10 haunting minutes). "Blood Swamp" takes that feedback and distortion for a 15-minute straight-down-the-line choking drone, with its dark frequencies benefiting from Kim Thayil's presence—one of five guitars set on evoking amplifier-sacrificing horrors. "Blood Swamp" is certainly the closest track to adhere to the expected result from a Boris and Sunn O))) collaboration, but one of Altar's greatest strength is that it delivers the unanticipated.

Fans of Boris and Sunn O))) may well have thought the collaboration would bring abundant mammoth riffs, with Boris, at the time, having recently released the double CD Dronevil, and the crustier Vein (while Sunn O)))'s previous release had been the black metal drone fest Black One). However, Altar isn't a simple continuation of the two bands' then current interests. Sure, there are gargantuan guitars, and the heady resonance of Sunn O)))'s sub-harmonics and Boris's feedback punch are there, but there’s also extensive use of synth and a far stronger pull towards the constellations than the caverns.

While accessible is often a dirty word in the heavier realms, Altar's blend of the unpredicted and familiar serves as a great introduction, and even a somewhat friendly entry point, into the individual catalogues of Boris and Sunn O))). Ultimately, it's Altar’s unanticipated diversity that is its finest feature, and it's an album that serves fans of droning metal, avant-rock, and gloomy experimental fare equally well.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

Lord Impaler - Babylon Whore

Review by Andy Osborn.

In my musical quests I generally seek out more the more convoluted subgenres of the dark arts, but there's something about the summer months that brings forth a need to revel in the power of ripping, no-nonsense black metal. For reasons I can’t explain the warm sunshine just pairs well with corpse paint and nail gauntlet wearer’s creations. Marduk's Serpent Sermon filled that void perfectly last year, and this two song release is currently worming its way into my sweaty ear canals and staying put. And like the aforementioned filthy Swedes, these relentless Greeks inject an undeniable sense of groove into their murk, making for a pleasantly catchy distraction from the heat.

Though the band has been around for a decade and a half this is only their second proper release, following on the heels of a 2011 full-length which featured Mayhem’s Hellhammer on drums. At under 10 minutes, this mini EP is obviously teetering on the edge of brevity, but that’s all the band needs to explain their craft and win over new legions. And while the venom spewed forth from Lord Impaler may be straightforward, it's far from simplistic. Infectious as a viral outbreak, every individual piece of the two track pair stands out. Blood curdling vocals, varied but relentless blasts and a knack for bridges and dizzying fretwork fuel the onslaught. The titular track is the definite stand-out and explosive from the start, but “The White Dream of Ziz” makes its darker intentions known with a bit of patience and calls you to listen again and again. Lord Impaler isn’t going to shatter any boundaries with these two tracks, but black metal isn’t about progress. It’s about destruction, and Babylon Whore devastates.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 13, 2013

Grinding For A Cure Volume 1 and 2

Review by Justin C.

The fine people over at No Clean Singing recently posted about a group called Alz-Grinders: Grinding for a Cure, which has put up a massive, two-volume grind compilation on Bandcamp. And by massive, I mean a staggering number of songs. There are 190 tracks in these two volumes, and the volumes are selling for a paltry $10 each. Do the math: At the minimum donation, you can get all these tracks at a price of a little less than $0.11 per song. The sales of the comp will help fund research for a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Christine, the organizer of the project, explained exactly what they plan to do with the money:
We have collected $725.00 so far. The money will go to the Alzheimer's Association. I chose them because they were a huge source of support for both me and my Mother. The cash goes towards research and the services that the Alzheimer's Association provides for the families affected by this fuckn monster. These sevices include: a 24 hour helpline, Support groups for both patients and caregivers and Education. They have classes for brain healthy cooking, compassionate communication, art and much more and are FREE.
On a purely selfish note, I think this is fantastic, because grind is the subgenre of metal that I probably know the least about, so I can check out a massive dose of it from gobs and gobs of different bands. On a less selfish note, Alzheimer's disease is a terrifying illness and one that needs our attention, especially given the aging demographics here in the U.S. and other countries. People who suffer from it are robbed of the most basic parts of themselves, and the burden placed on their caregivers is huge. If you have the cash to spare, seriously consider helping them out, and then reap the dual reward of good karma and a giant pile o' grind.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 11, 2013

Ash Borer - Bloodlands

By Red. Someday soon, Ash Borer will release an album of material that I love unequivocally. Bloodlands isn’t that, but it’s damn close. One can draw a throughline from their first full-length to now and notice a satisfying increase in quality. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the self-titled album.
By Red.

Cover Art by T. Ketola.

Someday soon, Ash Borer will release an album of material that I love unequivocally. Bloodlands isn’t that, but it’s damn close.

One can draw a throughline from their first full-length to now and notice a satisfying increase in quality. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the self-titled album. In spite of the hype it received from multiple outlets, I didn’t find it to be compelling. Indeed, I was confused by the rapid switching from all-out black metal assaults to more placid instrumental lines redolent with “post-rock” influence. Cold of Ages upped the production quality and the compositions made more musical sense.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

Like their full-length releases, Bloodlands contains a small number of tracks that run to great length. The production is noticeably dirtier than Cold of Ages. “Oblivion’s Spring” opens with a clean guitar figure that is gradually joined by second guitar before exploding into noisy black metal. An interesting transition occurs around five-and-a-half minutes in. Where one might be expecting a switch back to the clean guitar that opens the track, instead the band slows down, but keeps the distortion on. This results in the most engrossing portion of the EP, as the guitars get a little doomy and the drums throw more fills into the mix.

The intro of “Dirge/Purgation” follows a similar path. It starts with clean guitar that morphs into droning noise before the distortion kicks in. The relative success of the next three to five minutes depends on one’s appreciation of the tremolo lines that the guitarists throw at the listener. While I don’t think they are as compelling as the band’s other ingredients, they are competently played and display an adequate grasp of the sub-genre’s dynamic.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

That’s not to say they haven’t created an emotionally stirring work here. “Oblivion’s Spring” moves me in a way that I’ve never felt while listening to this band. Similarly, “Dirge/Purgation” throws some tasty slower tempo passages into the mix that demand attention.

Lastly, there’s the cover art, a fascinating piece which appears to be done in either charcoal or pencil. Like the music within, it frustrates those searching for easy categorization. To this viewer, it appears to be a snake (or wingless dragon) in a swamp with storm clouds overhead.

Bloodlands is an excellent EP from a band still on the rise. Just when you think they have nothing left to say within an oversaturated sub-genre, they find a way to tweak their sound and continue to surprise the listener.

Helcaraxë - Red Dragon

Review by Justin Petrick.

Cover art by Alan Lathwell

Let me be perfectly clear as I start this review that a band as strong as Helcaraxë in the realm of melodic death metal with a penchant for J.R.R. Tolkien may be one of the more bizarre marriages I have come across. Looking at the album cover, the song names and the sound and one instinctively thinks that they will be listening to another European band with lore to explore. But boy are you wrong! This band from New Jersey (Yes New Jersey!), have created a stellar melodic death metal album that is as brutal and strong as anything you will hear in this genre of music today.

Helcaraxë have produced a solid album with Red Dragon and have competently used the most aggressive sound they could muster to tell the story that they have interpreted. It is a testament to the band that they were capable of creating an original sounding album in a genre that tends to stay pretty safe most of the time. Helcaraxë are smart with this album and showcase the innate abilities to bring something fresh to this genre and allow the beautiful guitar harmonies to lead the way while allowing the rhythm section to help move the songs along.

For the most part every song on this album is solid with the stand outs being “Skin Changer” (with a guest appearance by Dark Tranquility's Mikael Stanne), “Dungeons”, “The Arkenstone” and “Circle of Firelight”. Using the solid and surprisingly appropriate growl of lead singer Jesse Traynor, the urgency and aggression of these songs convey the epic atmosphere and the overall brutality of the subjects being offered. Yet even with all of this speed, aggression, and brutality the listener is able to develop a deep feel of the songs and embrace the subtle progressions as the album moves from song to uninterrupted song.

So as I have all learned you can’t judge a band by its album cover. I would never have pegged these guys as Americans let alone from New Jersey, but it is a great surprise to see a band this talented come from the US and have created an album that measures up to the likes of European favorites like early Amorphis or Dark Tranquility. Hopefully this trend continues for Helcaraxë but in the mean time give Red Dragon a listen.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

July 9, 2013

Lycus - Tempest

Review by Justin C.

Artwork by Paolo Girardi

After releasing a very well received demo in 2011, Lycus is back with their first full length, Tempest. It's an interesting title choice. A black metal or grind album might be better named after a violent wind storm, but on the other hand, the Shakespeare play of the same name features themes of exile, deformed monsters, shipwrecks, and the occult, which would be well accompanied by a soundtrack of funeral doom.

Lycus draws on some of the same strengths they used in their demo. The low, growling vocals that are a hallmark of funeral doom are joined by a cleanly sung, chant-like baritone. That isn't the only twist Lycus throws us, though: They also mix in bursts of black metal. At about the 7-minute mark in the opener "Coma Burn," we get a maelstrom of blast beats and tremolo guitar lines that passes almost as quickly as it begins. Two of the tracks also feature the excellent violin work of Christa Schmidt. Electronic effects made to sound like symphonic instruments can add a cool bit of atmosphere, but there's no mistaking the real thing and the textures it can add.

If your songs move at a geologically slow pace, you can't hide a lack of songwriting chops behind blazes of technicality, and Lycus has the songs. They're based less on striking riffs that jump right out at you (although the descending guitar line that runs throughout "Coma Burn" does haunt my dreams) and more on atmosphere, movement, and complexity. "Engravings" is the short track here at just under 10 minutes, but the songs don't bore; they envelop you. This is aided a lot by the production, which does an excellent job of letting the guitar, bass, and drums all occupy their own space.

I did have a moment of hesitation with the outro to the album closer, "Tempest." The song comes to a fairly well-defined end at about 12 minutes in, but the final 8 minutes are a wash of ambient and electronic sounds with a hint of feedback. I'll be honest--it annoyed me on first listen. I've found it more hypnotic after repeated listens, although I suspect the effect would be more enhanced by ingesting various substances.

Ultimately, though, I’ve always maintained that the best music has to be compelling regardless of one’s chemical state, and I think this album does. I suspect that there’s a decent overlap between ambient/drone fans and doom fans, so the extended outro is unlikely to bother most people who would be interested in this, and even if you hit “stop” a little early, this album has no shortage of excellent doom.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Kalopsia - Amongst the Ruins

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

Cover art by Pär Olofsson

New Jersey death metallers Kalopsia have taken a rather circuitous route in releasing their sophomore effort. They initially attracted the attention of Decibel, who broke form to stream "Salt Down Earth" off what was then their demo. The record eventually found a slightly odd home, being classic American death metal released on German label Godeater. Amongst The Ruins is their first record since 2003's Exquisite Beauty of the Defiled, released by the long-defunct Think Metal. Since then, they haven't exactly been in hibernation, as the band feature current and former members of Funebrarum, Deteriorot and Dehumanized, but it did take a while for the planets to align for Kalopsia to make music as a unit again.

This is one of those cases where the wait has certainly been worthwhile, as Kalopsia offer up an excellent example of thick, meaty guitar tones delivered at an absolutely punishing pace. The vocals are a high point, somehow sounding both monstrously guttural and weirdly articulate. While death metal tends to be a somewhat saturated genre, an argument that "Liar's Eulogy" or "Green Eyed Monster" are somehow unnecessary would fall flat. For those who want an extra dose of blast-driven, sweaty aggression, stinking and straight from the shore, Amongst The Ruins delivers.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Shroud Eater - Dead Ends

By Ulla Roschat. Miami fl. based three piece Sludge/Doom band Shroud Eater is back with the EP Dead Ends as a follow up of their debut full length album ThunderNoise (2011). Dead Ends comprises of 5 tracks and has a playtime of about 28 minutes altogether.
By Ulla Roschat.

Miami fl. based three piece Sludge/Doom band Shroud Eater is back with the EP Dead Ends as a follow up of their debut full length album ThunderNoise (2011). Dead Ends comprises of 5 tracks and has a playtime of about 28 minutes altogether. In these mere 28 minutes quite a lot of things happen, though. And what’s happening mainly here are goove ridden swampy sludge riffs, furious tribal drumming, thick driving basslines and bellowing howling vocals drenched in a haunting and brooding atmosphere.

The intro “Cannibals” sets the mood with its voodoo like drumming and haunting ghostly shouts and echoing cries. All songs carry this initial mood further but each develops its own character around it. Be it the brooding menace and slow build up that crashes down cataclysmically in “Sudden Plague”, the thick sticky muddy slowness of “Lord of the Sword”, the powerful ferocity of “Tempest” or the enchantingly melodic ambience of “The Star and the Serpent.”

Photos by Keeley Kennahan.

Dead Ends is a coloss, the sound is monolithic. The songs are carefully written, perfectly structured and tight. Not one moment is wasted, everything is filled with sense, tension and atmosphere. They refer to and complement each other. But what amazes me most is the way Jean Saiz, Janette Valentine and Felipe Torres play off each other. This is what makes everything sound incredibly organic and unique.

July 8, 2013

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part VII - Monoliths & Dimensions

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.

Cover art: Richard Serra "Out-of-Round X" (1999)
...music is like a mirror, you know, you project your emotional state into it and you can take out a various amount of your emotional state. As far as being a player in the music, the main emotion is transcendence, when it's done right ... transcendence has a joy attached to it.
– Stephen O'Malley, Wire magazine interview.
Let's just get the obvious fact that Monoliths & Dimensions is a transcendent masterpiece out of the way first. Obviously, it's easy to mock the term transcendent, and Sunn O))) themselves aren't afraid to throw a few sly winks the listeners’ way while toying with gigantic sounds and themes. However, the teeth-rattling physicality of Sunn O))), and the low-end distortions and frequencies of their sound, are used as provocative sonic devices as much as any note, chord or refrain. At the end of the day, there's really no other word to describe the full-blown impact of those reverberations, and Monoliths & Dimensions’ title is certainly an apt summation of the band's fundamental premise and aesthetic.

The four songs that make up the album – "Aghartha," "Big Church," "Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)," and "Alice" – are sublime representations of Sunn O)))'s maximal minimalism; consummate reflections of light set against dark. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley returned to lengthier compositions on Monoliths & Dimensions, following Black One's shorter, murkier and grimmer fare. But what was most surprising was the amount of radiance and color the album exuded – although, with vocalist Attila Csihar on board to dispense the dark metaphysical musings, those hues are streaked with wonderfully sour shadings too.

While Sunn O))) may previously have been defined by its grim robes, Monoliths & Dimensions brought a sense of rapture in its balance of restraint and abandon. Sure, the band performed live with monks' cowls pulled up, Csihar hissed, gurgled and growled up front, and the smoke machines expelled a choking haze, but Monoliths & Dimensions expanded Sunn O)))'s sonic girth, unveiled symphonic and choral arrangements, and favored the spiritual potential of jazz and blues, bringing soulful muscularity to the album.

Photo by Sean Hopson

Take, for example, the album's final track, "Alice". The song title itself is a tip of the hat to jazz legend Alice Coltrane, and you'll find the expected funereal stew of electric bass and guitar, but there's also violin, viola, French and English horns, harp, clarinet, flute, oboe, trombone and double bass – all arranged by noted composer Eyvind Kang. Kang's arrangements throughout Monoliths & Dimensions bring brass, conch shells, bells, strings, and woodwind into the proximity of Sunn O)))'s devastating drone, yet through subtle interweaving they add to the band's core hulking noise, creating much of that aforementioned pigment and rhapsody.

"Alice" sees a pile of instrumentation from numerous guest performers added in, but the song emerges as a suite that is mangling and mighty, yet intimate and gentle – the trombone solo to finish drifts out with bittersweet elegance. "Alice" is the perfect example of the expansive space ripped open by Monoliths & Dimensions, where volume, vibrations and crawling chord progressions result in ruptures of beauty and dissonance. Much has been made of Richard Serra's "Out-of-round X" cover art – its magnitude of size and depth encouraging even larger contemplations – and there are parallels to be drawn between art that engulfs and Monoliths & Dimensions' ability to offer immense soundscapes that conversely encourage insular, meditative and, yes, transcendent states.

On Monoliths & Dimensions, that level of contemplative energy is profound – the strongest Sunn O))) has ever produced. The band's previous endeavors had welcomed an increasing array of metal, noise and experimental musicians into the fold, but Monoliths & Dimensions features dozens of different collaborators, all bringing their individual voices, ideas and musicianship to the album. Along with the aforementioned Kang, Australian guitar player Oren Ambarchi returns with vocalist Attila Csihar, and joining them are Earth's Dylan Carlson, trombonists Julian Priester (ex-Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock) and Stuart Dempster, vocalist Jessika Kenney, noise-maker Daniel Menche, Steve Moore, Rex Ritter, Joe Preston and a Viennese women's choir too. The roll call of performers is vast, and Monoliths & Dimensions is, accordingly, Sunn O)))'s most ambitious album. But while it takes the band into new territory compositionally, it isn't, as O'Malley noted, "Sunn O))) with strings, or metal-meets-orchestra material."

Photo by Sean Hopson

Although Monoliths & Dimensions isn't, as O'Malley rightly points out, Sunn O))) gone wholly orchestral, the album's cosmic and creative freedom clearly draws from the free-jazz bent of Sun Ra's Arkestra. Similarly, Sunn O))) explore texture and tone, with the extra instrumentation advancing the virtues of timbre and tenor more than any firm structural concepts. Opener "Aghartha" oozes forth with a giant buzzing riff digging into a deep furrow. O'Malley and Greg Anderson are joined by a chamber ensemble, a dung chen (Tibetan horn), and discordant piano, strings, effects and horns. Waves of sound wash in, buffeted in the dank churn, and with tortuous creaks and the enigmatic dry baritone of Csihar speaking of tunnels opening, "Into the great nothing" and, "Giant spaces that rent gravity/Unto the depths of the earth" you have a track that's earth-quaking in its magnitude.

"Big Church [Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért]" features the Viennese women's choir lead by Jessika Kenney (and comes with a fantastic opening riff that sounds like it’s digging its way out of Stalingrad’s heaps of rubble). The '[Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért]' subtitle is an almost untranslatable Hungarian notion dealing with consecration and deconsecration, and the song fittingly comprises angelic voices wrapped around a ceremonial drone overload. Guitars from Earth's Dylan Carlson, Oren Ambarchi, O'Malley and Anderson are joined by Csihar's cavernous barks, with layers of trombone and organ from Steve Moore, and choir, brass and string arrangements buried among fevered chants. "Big Church," like the rest of Monoliths & Dimensions, is a superb example of beautifully gruesome gospel. Follow-up, "Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)", sees a male choir of William Herzog, Brad Mowen, Daniel Menche and Joe Preston provide the deep growls, and with the gong, moog and keyboards of Ambarchi, Ritter, Moore, respectively, it all resembles rumbling machinery crushing cathedrals; triumphant trombones blare like a '70s horror soundtrack with every merciless turn of the rusting gears.

Photo by Sean Hopson

For those who may find Sunn O)))'s previous work too dense or forbidding, Monoliths & Dimensions opens up their sound – so much so that it has become their most visible release yet in terms of widespread media coverage. That's not to say that Monoliths & Dimensions is particularly accessible (the feedback-soaked deconstruction of doom is ever present), but the way in which Sunn O))) surround their fundamental primitive ventures with additional explorations of acoustic sound results in a tour-de-force of imagination. Minimalism is stretched to its maximum potential, providing handholds for the band's low-end to climb to more sunlit heights, while the guitar drones continue their cruel acts of compression – crushing the nerve endings, and squeezing the psyche.

Irrespective of genre, Monoliths & Dimensions is simply a perfect example of true artistry. The album is a gut-level, instinctual punch, and a means of kick-starting deep rumination, and it's that duality that makes it such a transcendent work. Echo, silence, mammoth noise, and swells of evocative ensembles offer rich rewards for repeated listens, and few, if any, bands have come close to such a gloriously creative collision of metal and experimental music. There's no doubt that Monoliths & Dimensions is an outstanding piece of avant-garde virtuosity – as seminal a work as the very best defining releases of Swans, Current 93, Coil or Nurse With Wound.

(Here ends the run through of Sunn O)))'s core full-length albums. If you've hung in this far on the Monoliths and Opinions journey, then cheers – I really appreciate the company. Next week we begin to tackle Sunn O)))'s live albums and other important full-length and EP remixes and collaborations. Until then… )

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.