October 31, 2013

Zemial - Nykta

Review by Andy Osborn.

When dealing with a metal artist that has been active since the 1980s you’re bound to dig up a twisted corpse of complicated storylines; a revolving door lineup, stark stylistic changes, days worth of recorded work that takes dedication to fully appreciate. But even a cursory glance at Greece’s Zemial shows that none of these conventions are present. Possibly one of the longest-running one man shows in metaldom, sole proprietor Archon Vorskaath clearly cares little for racking up a massive discography. Releasing the debut LP For The Glory of UR in 1996, he waited a full decade before bestowing his next full-length venture upon the world. Now, seven years later, comes the third - and presumably final - chapter in the Zemial lorebook.

Nykta is a near indefinable work deeply rooted in the works of the legendary acts of the 1980s. It mixes first wave black metal with traditional influences and dabbling in more experimental compositions that expand beyond the formative decade to explore a more forward-thinking, galactical approach. The taken tactic is almost unheard of in the current fad of throwback metal where the direct, instant gratification approach to songwriting is king. That isn’t to say Nykta isn’t without its straightforward, headbangable moments. While they abound in pieces peppered throughout the full-length, the relentless “Under Scythian Command” and “Deathspell” sound like they could have been lifted directly from Slayer’s Show No Mercy.

Meanwhile, on any other given song you’re likely to hear the indirect approach favored by an artist willing to experiment with his craft by equally splitting his time between two distant worlds. That is, until the album begins to draw to a close. The massive “Pharos” is Zemial’s attempt at becoming his vision of the heavy metal jam band. The 14 minute epic moves from no-frills riff-rocker to prog metal exploration that combines the best (and worst) of everything you’ve heard up to this point. While it has some inspired moments, the improvisational feel and six minute fadeout make you start to question Archon’s sanity; especially when juxtaposed with the final, completely empty track. But the latter is supposedly on purpose, as the man in charge explains:
Alright, track #9 is NOT QUITE silence - and that is exactly the point. It is based on a John Cage composition titled '4:33.' This is a tribute to his genius. I know I am already pushing the envelope with the album having such diverse elements, and a track of that kind - meant to make people think - might elicit interesting responses.
I could offer more than a few interesting responses to putting a blank track on an album and calling it a tribute to another artist’s work, but I’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist to help preserve the dramatic and diverse Nykta. The album shows a seasoned musician giving tribute to the era that shaped him while bending and shaping its sound to fit into a modern day, ethereal mold. A few minutes of it may have reached too far into the stars, but the parts that linger between the atmosphere and the galaxy’s outer limits are simply brilliant.

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October 30, 2013

Orbweaver - Strange Transmissions From The Neuralnomicon

Written by Kevin Page.

Artwork by Jeannie Saiz

I've never seen an album title and artwork so indicative of the final product on display as we do here.

If Hate Eternal, Gigan, Gorguts, Ulcerate and Obscura had a gangbang on Miami Beach while tripping on acid, this is the love child they would spawn. A trippy psychotic dissonance that grooves and burrows into your brain, grabs hold and makes you think, "how can something so OUT THERE feel so memorable?".

Lead by the twin guitar attack of Randy Piro (ex Hate Eternal/Gigan) & Sally Gates (ex Gigan), this 5 song EP takes you on a 30+ minute space journey you never thought could be so warm and cuddly. Interspersed with just the right amount of intergalactic weirdness (think 1970's sci fi horror), which allows to you catch your breathe and cleanse your palette, I can only hope for more unreal escapes from this outfit in 2014.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Nadja - Dagdrøm

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

Of all the adjectives and sub-genres that have been employed to describe Nadja's experimetal, ambient dirge-gaze, "dreamsludge" is most relevant to their latest release, Dagdrøm. The album name translates as "daydream" in Danish and it's an extremely fitting title for a record that spends its duration spiralling inwards, exploring a pulsing, imaginative internal landscape.

The core duo of the band, Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff, are joined by former Jesus Lizard drummer Mac McNeilly, whose contributions add an insistent depth to the record, a sense of gravity and a sucking, almost threatening vacuum.

The songs still progress at a writhe and stretch, crawl and plod pace, but there's added urgency to the tracks that makes them feel as though they're uncoiling rather than dragging themselves along. The guitar layers are thick and scratchy as steel wool, and the vocals an eerie, humming lullaby, as we have come to expect from Nadja. But what sets Dagdrøm apart from their other work is just how deep this rabbit hole goes and how menacing the sounds echoing up from its depths are.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Note: This version of Dagdrøm features 11 bonus tracks of "unreleased session material with Mac from Aidan Baker's solo album The Spectrum Of Distraction"

October 29, 2013

Dying of the Light - Monolithium

Written by Craig Hayes.

The world is awash in environmental devastation and social degradation; but hell, just consume, consume, and consume – it’ll all be okay. Press play on GTA 5 and ignore that politicians are busy selling your future to gluttonous mega-corporations. Just slap on a smile, plug into the anesthetizing matrix, and dismiss the plight of capitalism's countless victims while you’re at it. At least until they're clawing at your door.

Still, it's not all bad news, right?

There is resistance out there, with rowdy bands launching incendiary tirades, and spitting truth into the face of power. Sonic subversives aplenty warn of the storm that's going to devastate humankind unless we wrest control of our greed and superficiality, and you can definitely mark down New Zealand industrial duo Dying of the Light as one of those strident voices.

Dying of the Light was formed in the mid-00s by Rangi Powick (vocals/guitar/programming) and Chris Rigby (vocals/bass); the duo had previously explored musical slaughterhouses with their sludge and grind band, Chapel of Gristle, in the mid-90s. However, Dying of the Light is here to point out where the harsh reality of humankind's current course, and all our accompanying failings, are going to lead us.

Dying of the Light's latest four-song EP, Monolithium, clangs and crashes, and gnaws at the nerves – with strychnine-laced aggression. Mastered by James Plotkin, a man well versed in handling such heavy ventures, Monolithium is the band’s best release yet. It's a big step up from Dying of the Light's self-titled debut EP from 2010, and Monolithium's release was accompanied by a superb apocalyptically themed video for the title track, which was posted by a stack of sites online.

The EP's songs, “Monolithium”, "Tribulation", "Privatise the Sun", and a cover of New Zealand band Shihad's "Factory", all speak of ruinous machinations and brutal scenarios. And DIY industrial doom, influenced by artistic insurgents, is what Dying of the Light delivers. Godflesh would be one reference point for a band that's inspired Dying of the Light’s sound. But you can also add in the eccentric streak of New Zealand masters of abrasive noise, such as The Skeptics, along with echoes of JG Thirlwell's jarring endeavors, or the scrap metal hurricane of Einstürzende Neubauten. Dying of the Light’s fusion of the biological and mechanical isn’t really one thing or another, it’s just a stentorian mix overall. Probably best summed up by the band’s own chosen description: "Monolithic slabs of heavy as fuck ass-kickery".

There's no industrial-lite or manufactured angst with Dying of the Light, and the band isn't interested in selling a lie. Monolithium is all grimy and gritty, a portentous pandemonium dosed with sci-fi speculations – projecting ugly pictures of broken futures. On the title track, corrosive riffs and mechanised percussion rain down, while dual-vocals bellow that we're on our knees already, being "reprogrammed" and "medicated", while our "existence is winding down". "Tribulation" brings a grinding dirge, with caustic vocals howling around a militaristic drum attack, and bombarding noise. "Privatise the Sun" sees contorted shoegaze mix with razor-edged experimentalism, and cruelly vitriolic lyrics. On "Factory", Dying of the Light cuts straight to the vein of darkness in the original tune – with sheet-metal percussion, thick bass rumbles, and icy riffs dehumanizing and then obliterating the flock.

It's been a big year for harsh and heavy New Zealand bands, and Monolithium is another in an increasingly long line of releases from the nation’s shores well worth seeking out. It's a defiant and angry EP – as all such metallic broadsides should be – but the best thing about Monolithium is its mutinous musicality. It demolishes the lies of modernity by using its own machinery against it, and that's exactly the kind of rabble-rousing uprising we should always support.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Check out Craig's interview with Dying of the Light over at his blog Six noises.

October 27, 2013

Faces of Bayon - Heart of the Fire

Artwork painted by Hillarie Jason

Faces of Bayon plays the kind of doom that is all about the atmosphere, not about being the most fuzzed out, or the most crushing. The evil buzz of the bass, the hypnotic tribal drumming, the tension-filled cymbal work, noise, and the discrete but effective synths; they all work together at creating and accentuating a very haunting, somber, even wondrous atmosphere. Fitting for an album that chronicles the damnation of Lucifer and his fall from Heaven.

Sure some songs on Heart of the Fire go back to Black Sabbath for a few of their riffs, but what Faces of Bayon really shares with the masters is the ability to create genuine tension - check out eerie "In my time before Hell" passage at 05:00 in "Brimstoned" for an example. They also know when to lean back and let the album breathe a little, with songs like the ambient, almost psychedelic "Godmaker", and the simple and beautiful instrumental album closer "A Fire Burns at Dawn".

"Where the Golden Road Ends" is the most traditional stoner metal sounding song, and while not bad, it feels a little long in the tooth on Heart of the Fire. But in general Faces of Bayon's songwriting is dynamic, adding tempo shifts and interesting chord progressions to the doom palette. Mention must also be made of Matt Smith's raw vocal performance; he makes parts like the "Cry me a river" beginning of "Ethereality" sound decidedly ominous. Heart of the Fire got a few great reviews when it was released in 2011, check out Doommantia's and a typically thorough one from The Obelisk. And check out the music of course.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 26, 2013

Dead in the Dirt - The Blind Hole

Guest review by BreadGod from Servile Insurrection

This is Dead In The Dirt, a grindcore band from Atlanta, Georgia. First of all, is it just me, or do these guys look fucking old? I'm certain these guys might be younger than what they appear, but the old-timey photo filter doesn't help matters. Second, I'm mesmerized by the cover for their debut album, The Blind Hole. It's so strange and ominous, like something Sunn O))) would use. (This actually makes sense as Dead In The Dirt are signed to Southern Lord Recordings, which is owned by the men behind Sunn O))).) You would never expect this album to be filled with angry, violent grindcore.

The drums range from simple mid-paced beats that sound quite similar to hardcore to rampaging blast beats. The snare has a great deal of impact to it and the cymbal work is rather intricate. Unlike most other grindcore bands, Dead In The Dirt breaks up the pace by including some slow, crushing beats like those on “Strength Through Restraint” and “Caged”. On top of all that, they also play some great, complex fills. When it comes to the bass, it mainly follows the guitars, but their sound is extra thick which helps to give the music more impact.

The vocals utilize both a harsh, gruff growl and a manic scream, both of which are performed really well. The growls bring the evil and the screams bring the chaos. It's a perfect combination. You want to know what's even better than the vocals? The guitars. They show no mercy. They exhibit a lot of feedback, which makes for a very harsh experience, but if you're brave, then you'll be in for some awesome musicianship. They still play those simple, blazing fast riffs that grindcore is famous for, but they also play some mid-paced riffs that sound quite similar to hardcore. They also play a few crushingly slow riffs that lean towards doom metal, like those on “Halo Crown”. They even play a few riffs that sound similar to black metal, such as those on “The Blaring Eye” and “Caged”.

This album may not last very long (twenty two songs blaze by in a little under twenty four minutes), but it leaves a huge impact. It's a perfect blend of grindcore, hardcore, and even bits of doom metal and black metal. Dead In The Dirt is barely five years old and they're already paving a trail of death and destruction. They rank right up there with Delete the Mass as one of my favorite new grindcore bands of the year.

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October 22, 2013

So Hideous - Last Poem​/​First Light

Review by Justin C.

So Hideous, formerly known as So Hideous, My Love, is back with a new full length, Last Poem/First Light. Although they now have 50% less name, they make up for that in enthusiasm, bombast, and sheer number of personnel: the quartet recorded the album with help from a mini-orchestra, including 10 string players, a tuba, and choral voices.

Stylistically, So Hideous falls somewhere under the post-rock/post-black metal realm. Black metal's corrosive shrieks and tremolo-picked guitars are joined with shoe-gazey waves of sound and over-the-top emotion. "Over the top" is a pejorative term more often than not, but I'd have a hard time thinking of another way to describe the sometimes overwhelming passion expressed in the music. Their closest contemporary is probably Deafheaven, but whereas Deafheaven mine the sounds of 90s alt rock, So Hideous leans more on classical composition. Adding orchestral elements to rock or metal can be a dicey proposition. Every time I think of aging bands (who shall remain nameless) hiring a full orchestra to re-record bloated covers from their own back catalog, I get more than a little eye-rolly. So Hideous avoids that problem by making the classical components integral to their compositions. The album's strongest cuts, "My Light" and "Rhapsody," sound like seamless wholes, rather than black metal songs with orchestration slapped on after the fact. I also hear elements from instrumental post-rock bands like Explosions in the Sky, like in the delicate melodic line that erupts into a full storm at the beginning of "Last Poem."

The lyrics I've read don't suggest any particular religious affiliation, but in an interesting twist, some of the songs are almost hymn-like. The album-closer "Glory" in particular has an almost-religious, rapturous feeling, and "Stabat Mater" takes its name from two Christian hymns about Mary. The emotional heft of the song seems more in line with "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" ("The sorrowful mother stood"), but "Stabat Mater Speciosa" ("The beautiful mother stood") might be equally apt, in the way that sorrow can also have an element of joy. Clearly this is something that traditional black metal bands would be leery of, but the beauty of the newer black metal scene in particular is its willingness to expand well beyond orthodoxy. Fans of full-bore, emotional metal with nothing held back would be well-advised to check this out.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Note: Due to So Hideous signing with Prosthetic Records, Last Poem​/​First Light is back to pre-order status with a 29 April 2014 release date, coinciding with Prosthetic's release of the vinyl version (more details on the Bandcamp page).

October 21, 2013

Arnaut Pavle - Arnaut Pavle

By Dave Schalek. Portland, Oregon label and distro extraordinaire Fallen Empire Records is extremely generous on Bandcamp, asking customers to name their price for most, if not all, of the releases and re-releases from the label.
By Dave Schalek.

Artwork by Astral Body Horror

Portland, Oregon label and distro extraordinaire Fallen Empire Records is extremely generous on Bandcamp, asking customers to name their price for most, if not all, of the releases and re-releases from the label. Not only that, but Fallen Empire Records has its collective ear finely tuned to the underground, mining the analog waters for some truly excellent releases, mostly of the black metal variety.

One of Fallen Empire’s most recent finds is Arnaut Pavle, a mysterious Finnish outfit who will be releasing their debut full-length in 2014. While we wait for that, Fallen Empire treats us to a re-release of their previously released (and sold out) demo from earlier this year. Arnaut Pavle play sloppy, messy low-fi black metal that comes off as a collision between early Gorgoroth and d-beat fueled latter day Darkthrone. The whole glorious mess is very rough, in your face, and definitely a bastard child of the analog era.

Fallen Empire’s specialty, at least on Bandcamp, is providing high quality digital releases of material that would only otherwise be available on vinyl and/ or cassette formats. You can’t go wrong by jumping on board Fallen Empire Records with the debut from Arnaut Pavle.

October 20, 2013

Vetter - Vetterkult

I was asked if I listen to other genres than metal. My reply was "I like the occasional non-metal album, but as for liking entire other genres, not really. Metal, taken as a whole, contains so much variety that I never feel I'm missing out on anything." On Vetterkult, Vetter mastermind (and sole member) Håvard Tveito takes much of the variety I like and crams it into one single album. He successfully applies a fiercely Norwegian black metal filter to everything from sludgy bass-driven dirges ("Brennoffer"), very noisy soundscape/orchestral pieces ("Over Havet", "Stenklang"), and even an epic folk song ("Peters Vise"). That he manages to work such diversity into a cohesive statement is no less than remarkable.

Brattefoss, Norway. Photo by Asbjørn Hansen.

The two cardinal works on Vetterkult are "Brattefoss" and the closing title track. Both uses a tension-release technique usually associated with post-metal (without sounding anything like it), as droning avant-garde black metal morphs into something else. In "Brattefoss"' case blackened Sabbathian doom, in "Vetterkult"'s walls of epic riffing that ends the album on a triumphant note.

The merry Lurkers writes that Vetterkult "achieves the impossible dream of uniting ancient tradition with fiercely modern metal". They also mentions that the album mey be need to be given a few chances before it falls into place. I agree and suggest you get started as soon as possible, the player is right below...

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 17, 2013

A Storm of Light - Nations to Flames

Written by Red.

I remember reading interviews with bands in the mid to late 90's. Usually, the topic of discussion was their newest full-length. There would be remarks about how different it was and how troubled they were at the prospect of repeating themselves. They were also confident that they had done something new and transcended their past work.

My argument was always something like this: don't worry about replicating the results exactly, just try to match the feel. In other words, get the vibe right and let things flow from there. Whether or not a record is "good" will always come down to the riffs. But usually, there is a palpable sense (from the listener's side) that the band was feeling something, whether it's motivation, anger, other emotion, etc.

To me, A Storm of Light has captured the sound and energy of early Mastodon. It starts with the theme of Nations to Flames . Fire imbues this record from front to back, even to the cover art. It is referenced in the lyrics. It is ever-present and inescapable in the instrumentation.

Photo by Taylor Keahey

The band is categorized as doom metal/post-rock. Generally, there was a specific type of ambiance that was present in the band's music prior to this record. They pursued a sound somewhat similar to Pelican and bands of their ilk. Now, that ambiance has been excised. What we have here are 11 tracks that go for the throat (with maybe two exceptions at most) from beginning to end.

A Storm of Light also has the benefit of surprise on their side. Can anyone say they expected the band to drop the atmospheric part of their sound and produce a record like Nations to Flames? I doubt it. I wouldn't have bet on such a thing. And that surprise is integral to the record's impact. Surprise and directness make a good combination.

Though the songs are penned by the band, they have a couple guests on guitar, Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) and Will Lindsay (Indian, ex-Nachtmystium). Since there are a number of tracks they appear on, it is safe to say that they have an influence on the direction of the record, whereas on previous albums the guest parts might not have taken it to another place. "All the Shining Lies", for example, uses a riff that betrays heavy Thayil influence.

From Josh Graham art exhibition. Photo by Taylor Keahey

Band guitarist Josh Graham was known for his involvement with Neurosis as visual artist. He has created an intriguing and evocative set of artwork to go with the album, which is available as a PDF with the digital download. The lyrics appear to be hastily scrawled, along with a miniature manifesto describing human greed and other failings. The cover itself shows a cadre of "true believers" burning the American flag. Within the rest of the liner notes, these people are shown in various positions against a background of fire. And the last page shows the eyes of one particular true believer, hooded and masked.

Nations to Flames is consistent in theme and attack; its directness and revolutionary-leaning rhetoric make it a resonant album in turbulent times.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 16, 2013

Incantation - Vanquish in Vengeance

Cover art by Worthless

It is always exciting when I browse a new label Bandcamp for the first time. My aim is to discern which albums are good, the end goal to decide which one I will ultimately be writing about. I carefully listen to tracks (sometimes whole albums) from many of them, before I make a hopefully well informed decision.

Not so much on the Listenable Records Bandcamp. My entire decision making process was "THE NEW INCANTATION?? HELL YEAH!!"

Perhaps it's the Dan Swanö production, perhaps it's a fuck you to the legion of bands usurping the Incatation legacy, but on Vanquish in Vengeance the band sounds fresh and energetic; quite a feat considering their long career (nine full-lengths since 1992's Onward to Golgotha). The basic Incantation blueprint is still there - as Doug Moore/IO writes: "Stiff-limbed blasting exists to set up stinky doom slowdowns. It’s a common ploy now, and it offers no surprises. Incantation is simply better at using it than virtually anyone else".

There are little tweaks here and there, for example feedback and pinch harmonics are put to great use in "Transcend into Absolute Dissolution"; but mostly it's "just" a collection of muscular riffs bolted onto a rock solid set of songs. The biggest change is in the sound. Very gritty and raw (love the guitar sound!) but without the murkiness usually associated with the infamous Incantation sound. You still got the heaviness and the oppressive atmosphere; the clarity of the mix somehow makes it even more crushing.

My favorite songs are the aforementioned Transcend into Absolute Dissolution, the ritualistic Profound Loathing with the interesting drum patterns and atmospheric soloing, and of course the brutally slow funeral doom of Legion of Dis. But really, there is not a bad moment to be found, Vanquish in Vengeance is simply a great death metal album.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 15, 2013

Colloquial Sound Recordings: Dressed in Streams, A Pregnant Light, and This Station of Life

Written by Craig Hayes.

Damian Master is the proprietor of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based label Colloquial Sound Recordings, and under the moniker, Deathless Maranatha, he's also the sole member of avant-garde black metal band A Pregnant Light. Founded in 2011, Colloquial Sound deals, primarily, in black metal and blackened-punk cassettes, and the label has quickly established a dedicated following with excellent releases from the likes of A Pregnant Light, enigmatic one-man black metal outfit Dressed In Streams, and Aksumite and This Station Of Life (both of those band's also featuring Master in the ranks).

Colloquial Sound has recently joined the hordes on Bandcamp, and that's been a gift for fans (and potential devotees) because the label's releases have often been issued in limited physical quantities. Colloquial Sound has a fascinating roster of artists to explore, with the majority of the label's releases seeing waves of lo-fi black metal and/or crusty hardcore crashing into experimental tones and textures. Along with the aforementioned bands above, you'll also find groups such as Vestal Virgin, Obliti Devoravit and Gethsemane on Colloquial Sound's Bandcamp page, and all are well worth seeking out. However, from here on in, we're looking at A Pregnant Light and Dressed In Streams, because both have released some of the label's most fascinating sounds thus far.

Black metal band Dressed In Streams is notable for being wholeheartedly mysterious, extensively using Indian melodies and themes, and injecting plenty of psychedelia into its sound. The band has released a soul-scouring demo, a self-titled debut, The Search for Blood EP, and it has also featured on the superlative 70-minute Svn Okklt compilation of obscure and truly underground black metal

All of Dressed In Streams' releases so far have been ominous vistas where the other-worldly encounters the outer-limits of the cosmos. They're idiosyncratic, vicious, and replete with the shrouded sinkholes of guitars, and the band's latest release, DIS + Azad Hind, collects its debut, follow-up demo release, and "Deep Saffron"–the track featured on the Svn Okklt compilation.

DIS + Azad Hind's six songs are epic in length and deeply esoteric in nature, with atmospheric black metal meeting ascending kosmische synths, while abrasive guitars and sinister, trachea-destroying vocals battle for supremacy. Highlights include, "Leaping Tiger", with its raga beginning segueing into an aptly arcane churn, and scorched-earth opener "Sleeping Foxes", which features Bladerunner synth battling with frenzied and echoing tremolo challenges howled straight from the caverns (all of which careens towards some heinous nirvana).

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

A Pregnant Light offers something completely different to Dressed In Streams. While still a black metal band in theory– although, purple metal is how APL sees its hue–much like crust metal/punk act Raspberry Bulbs, it's a whole range of other elements that grants APL a distinct tang. Over the course of seven EPs and a trio of splits, APL has shifted from a lo-fi black metal band with a crusty and blast-beaten backbone, into one that draws from Goth, indie and post-punk realms too.

All of that means, APL sometimes sounds like the Cure jamming with Mayhem, and at other times, like Joy Division covering Striborg. Either way, APL crafts sublime work, and whether dwelling in a murderous and pitch-black climate, or rising on tides of more melodic, melancholic or triumphant tonalities, the band is ceaselessly engaging.

Highly recommended are APL's two most recent releases, the Stars Will Fall and Domination Harmony EPs. Both feature a more anthemic and accessible tone than the band's earlier work. However, don't let that stop you traveling back through APL's catalogue to releases such as St. Emaciation or Death My Hanging Doorway. All of APL's work–from the angriest tirades to the most seraphic ascents–bristles with raw poetic energy, and moments of jaw-dropping creativity.

APL and Dressed In Streams are both avowedly intense bands, but their nerve-shredding build-ups often give way to passages where all that dark reverb and feedback dissolves into icy contemplative scenes. Both band's are channelling their respective voices through the perfect sonic vents. Whether loud, quiet, cryptic, glistening or downright fifthly, APL and Dressed In Streams' ooze imagination in volumes, and at volume.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

PS) Hi there, Max here. Craig said it was OK to use this PS to draw your attention to This Station of Life; now that we're moving through Colloquial Sound Recordings territory. Last years "full length" (7 songs, 15 minutes) Plastic Fire is raw black metal. A very lo-fi production and the pvnkish assaults goes hand in calloused hand with eerie melodies, and the catchy ("My Hunger"), and even triumphant ("Pick") riffs. Nothing progressive or atmospheric here, this is inner city black metal.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 14, 2013

Colosso - Thallium

By Justin C. When we last checked in with Colosso, the band was essentially a one-man show, written and performed by Max Tomé with guest drumming from Dirk Verbeuren.
By Justin C.

When we last checked in with Colosso, the band was essentially a one-man show, written and performed by Max Tomé with guest drumming from Dirk Verbeuren. For their new EP, Thallium, the band has become a four piece. The basic style is the same--a brand of metal that floats somewhere between avant garde death metal and technical death metal--but the sound has broadened with the addition of new personnel, retaining its fierceness but taking on a more organic sound.

The first three songs--"Quadrangular," "Orthogonal Path," and "Prime"--act as a three-part instrumental introduction. At first, I was a little surprised that the EP was so front-loaded with instrumental tracks, but on the other hand, Tomé is happy enough to let the instrumental parts of his songs shine through--as a matter of fact, he offered the whole first album as an instrumental-only download.. The music holds up just fine on its own. Of the three instrumentals on this EP, "Prime" is a real standout. It's moody, dark, and melodic, with a great bass line winding its way through.

"Ecosystem" is the first track with vocals, and it starts off like a proper punch in the face. I used the term "stabbing" in my review of the first album to describe some of the riffing, and that still applies here--they dive up and down the fretboard violently when they're not out-and-out stomping. The final two tracks, "Into Infinity" and "Minus Infinity," provide an epic closing. "Into Infinity" is a quiet, building lead-in, with a steady pulse on top of a deep drone, which then explodes into full roar for "Minus Infinity." "Minus Infinity" could be the soundtrack to a space-themed horror movie, with blasts of fury for all of the interstellar battles and a chiming guitar line floating above it like a distress signal from a drifting, broken ship.

Thallium shows quite a bit of growth for such a new band, but the band has evolved while managing to keep the core of what made Abrasive Peace so enjoyable.

October 13, 2013

Blodsgard - Monument

Review by Sean Golyer.

Blodsgard’s full-length debut Monument has been a long time coming, bringing with it the resurrection of True Norwegian Black Metal. It has been like the threat of a distant enemy, always lingering just on the sea’s horizon. Plotting; waiting for the perfect moment to strike. We weren’t prepared, even those of us who knew of its coming. But it’s too late now; our reckoning has come. The icy grip of Norway’s greatest musical genre has me in a stranglehold that I can’t seem to shake loose from.

Melodrama aside, this album fucking rules. Monument is my favorite album of this year, shaping itself up to be a black metal classic worthy to sit among the greats. From furious beginning to melancholic end, Blodsgard had me enthralled the entire way through. The production and sound can be characterized as being distinctly Norwegian, yet refined, modern, and enjoyable without losing any of black metal’s edge. It’s truly a culmination of influences ranging from Burzum’s dark ambient experimentations cropping up on “Livet er Avlyst” to the thrashing, in-your-face riffage found on albums like Mayhem’s “Chimera” or Immortal’s “Sons of a Northern Darkness”. My shitty comparisons don’t do this album justice however, as the sound and songwriting as a whole is something Blodsgard can call their own. There’s something to be said about artists who are able to work within a genre to create something familiar and unique all at once.

I could delve deeper into the moments that make up my favorite tracks, but Monument is an experience to be had with your ears and not spoiled with my words. The raw power of “Mentalt Minefelt”, the icy, depressive atmospheres of “Monument” and “Livet er Avlyst”, the spine crushing, Zimmer-esque brass sections of “Kaoskonstruksjon” all make any words I have seem petty in comparison to simply listening to them. Just give this band your time and I promise that you’ll be rewarded if you’re at all interested in the black metal genre.

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October 11, 2013

Oranssi Pazuzu - Valonielu

By Ulla Roschat. Oranssi is the Finnish word for ‘orange’, Pazuzu is an Assyrian/Babylonian evil demon who personifies the chilling winds bringing fever and disease…., or the colorful psychedelic space rock and
By Ulla Roschat.

Cover art by Costin Chioreanu

Oranssi is the Finnish word for ‘orange’, Pazuzu is an Assyrian/Babylonian evil demon who personifies the chilling winds bringing fever and disease…., or the colorful psychedelic space rock and the cold, dark, bleak black metal which are the main and most dominant musical styles Oranssi Pazuzu use in their music to create an atmospheric soundscape that is pretty unique…, no not pretty..., it is unique!

Two mood settings that are millions of miles apart from one another, one should think, but once again and more convincing than ever the five Finns show us that they not only get on well together, but that they can create completely new atmospheres and pictures. Already their first two albums Muukalainen Puhuu (2009) and Kosmonument (2011) had been intriguing and well done attempts. Valonielu now appears like a huge step the band made in their development, but also sheds a different light upon both earlier releases.

Photo by Jo T.

Like two (or more) diafilm photographs, one in a broad range of colors, the other one in black, white and gray, laid on top of each other in varying extent and positions can show us different pictures and pieces of reality that would remain hidden, when we looked at each photo separately, Valonielu seems to work with different styles and elements. Laid upon each other in varying manners, intertwining and merging, every space that’s left free by one is conquered and filled by another, thus creating depth, density, dimensions and motion.

Driving repetitive krautrock rhythms with floating, wafting melodies get pierced by harsh, bleak black metal vocals, industrial, dark wave, doom sounds and noise rock… all melt into a spacey, eerie atmosphere that feels strange and disturbing, but is amazingly organic and natural at the same time.

Once the opener “Vino Verso” has entranced and sucked you in (and this will inevitably happen), it spits you out again into a foreign universe to begin an exciting trip.

October 10, 2013

Ayr - Nothing Left To Give

Written by Majbritt Levinsen.

What is this? I’ve been in a musical vacuum for a really long time, nothing has moved me, nothing has set me on fire, nothing has impressed me. And then Max sends me a link to this... It’s sad, melancholic, dark, rough and just so uplifting wonderful!

Ayr, formed in 2009 in North Carolina, has according to The Metal Archives been on hold since 2011. Luckily according to their Facebook page new music is brewing, and none is more happy than I! The core of the band features members of the blackened crust/hardcore band Young and in the Way: Rick Contes - guitar, vocals and Randy Baucom - drums. Young and in the Way is however not my kind of music, but Ayr definitely is.

The opening track "Thirst" starts out with a screeching sound, but quickly manifests itself as a massive revelation that draws you in into its atmosphere and beauty. The songs are vulnerable, full of despair and loneliness, but also fast and furious, determined, on the path to death. The vocals consists of raw anguished yells that indulges a hard to shake off feeling, together with the musical ambiance. You feel it even though you might not hear the lyrics.

I like when I get goosebump moments and "Starvation" had just such a moment for me - when nothing but the guitar is left to carry the track, and the rest of the band picks up again and finishes it off in the most fierce and brilliant way. The structure appeals to me; it might be my favorite track from this EP.

The instrumental "Hallucination" slows down to a shoegaze tempo, with great ambiance. It has an overall feeling of an otherworldly loneliness. The track is fluid like calm waves hitting the shore.

The final track "Expiration" offers new goosebump moments; it starts out slow, desperately dragging itself along, picking up the pace, getting lighter as it progresses. The track lets go of the darkness somehow in the end. But even though it is more than 7 minutes long, it is way too short! It feels cut off. I’m expecting more after it has fallen into silence and I’m thinking - "Is that all?"
My bones are buried
Last breath is carried
Dark light, where I did live
I have nothing more to give
Together "Thirst", "Hallucination", "Starvation" and "Expiration" gives us a glimpse into the process of dying until there is nothing left to give; I really hope Ayr has more to give.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 8, 2013

Kevin Hufnagel - Ashland

Review by Justin C.

Monogram by Karlynn Holland

If my random wanderings through YouTube are any indication, the ukulele is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. I don't know if it's because they can be had for relatively cheap, or because they seem easier or more approachable than guitars, of if the kids of today are really getting into Tiny Tim, but a search on YouTube for "ukulele" yields two and a half million hits. They range from dreary pop covers recorded in bedrooms to the occasional gem, like a uke-accompanied Tom Waits cover.

Photo by Metal Chris.

Enter Kevin Hufnagel, the guitarist from Gorguts and Dysrhythmia, among others. He's posted an album of original, instrumental songs performed on baritone ukulele on Bandcamp. The album opens with a track called "Ancestral Instinct," and if you played it for me without telling me what it was, I don't know if I would have guessed the instrument. The song features an otherworldly, percussive sound that apparently involves a Popsicle stick. It's a sound he returns to again in the appropriately titled "The Otherness." But if you're worried that the album is all experimental technique and strangeness, don't be. Hufnagel shows off his classical guitar training on a number of gorgeous, fingerpicked tunes. "Perpetual Shadows" has a melancholy, Eastern-tinged sound, and "The Courtyard" is a blend of folk and medieval melodies that somehow sounds ancient and modern at the same time. "The Gift," which is one of my favorites, is a ringing, chiming piece of loveliness, and the title track had me rushing to my own classical guitar to try to recreate it.

Photo by Metal Chris.

All that said, I don't think this is an album that will only appeal to musicians or aficionados of advanced ukulele technique. It's not metal, but it's music that is at times dark but always beautiful. I suspect that most fans of Hufnagel's other bands aren't just fans of metal music, but of music in general, and they'll find a lot to like here.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 7, 2013

Portal - Vexovoid

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

Cover art by Kriss Hades

Heavy metal, as a genre, embraces and encourages strangeness. Works based upon eldritch, Lovecraft-ian evil are almost commonplace. Profound Lore has set itself apart as a label both by the quality and uniqueness of the releases it has put out. But even in this context, Portal stand out as exceptionally weird. Based in Australia, the band members label their music death metal, but that term does nothing to capture the alien, insectoid nature of their sound. Known for their gripping live shows, which see the band members don face-obscuring costumes, Portal are led by the towering Curator, who's been known to wear everything from a massive clock headpiece to tentacles on his hands, and spidery guitarist Horror Illogium.

Photo by brandi.

Portal are a band that never break character and Vexovoid is their fourth full-length release (along with two demos and two EPs), continuing their well-established theme of creating deep feelings of dread, alienation and confusion in the listener, all through exquisitely made and intelligently deployed aural assaults. The record gives new meaning to the phrase "ear worm" — these are not friendly tunes stuck in your head, but a carnivorous sound burrowing towards your sweet neo-cortex with every shrieking chord and shuddering drum blast. The Curator's voice is a dry, spidery rasp, conjuring the ticking horror of segmented legs. Whatever phobia you nurse — arachnids, snakes or the dark –—whatever the weakest points in your psyche are, Portal will sing a song for that particular broken place in your brain.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 6, 2013

Noisem – Agony Defined

Written by Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Szymon Siech

I’ve read recently that Avenged Sevenfold have alluded to taking the torch from classic acts like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer when said bands call it quits. Now, I don’t have much respect for A7X anyway, but those feelings aside, I would listen to Noisem before making those kinds of proclamations. What I’m trying to say is if anyone is going to carry the flag of thrash/metal into the next era it’ll be a bunch of kids from Baltimore. Despite their tender ages (members between 15-20!) Noisem play with the skill of musicians twice their age.

Their raging debut, Agony Defined hits the ground at full speed and launches into the first of many, many face-melting solos in the opening seconds. We’re talking serious shred capacity here. Soon enough, it becomes blatantly apparent that Noisem don’t know the meaning of anything less than full throttle. For just under 26 minutes ear canals are assaulted under a barrage of hyperspeed riffing, blasting drums and raspy, thrash-inflected death metal vocals. There’s an energy at play that is undeniably infectious.

It’s one thing to put the pedal down and erm, thrash away, but it’s another to know how to actually drive. And that’s where Noisem show a wisdom beyond their years. Jaw-dropping solos aside, these guys know how to write songs. Tornado riffing can turn-on-a-dime into catchy-as-swine-flu magic, or practically halt altogether to deliver a couple suckerpunches before returning to the mayhem. Yeah sure, some of the riff structures may sound similar but remember, as accomplished as Agony Defined is, it’s still a debut. The beauty is, they’re only going to get better.

Noisem define what it means to be metal. Youthful exuberance, rebellious spirit and a louder-faster attitude culminate into the crème-de-la-crème of modern day deaththrash while still paying homage to the old masters. There are plenty of players in the neo-thrash game (Havok, Municipal Waste, personal favourites Blood Tsunami) but Noisem have time on their side, the hunger that comes with youth and if Agony Defined is any indication, the confidence to propel them to great heights. Get in on the ground floor people, Noisem could very well be the future of heavy metal. No pressure, guys.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 5, 2013

Eschatos - Heirophanies

Review by Andy Osborn.

I’ll be honest, I’m drawn to bands from lesser-known locales. While there will always be a flood of talent from the usual geographic suspects, I find discovering music from less-populous nations a rewarding form of rooting for the underdog. I’m particularly fascinated by areas physically close to Scandinavia that have yet to see much extreme music seep into their ecosystem, exactly like Eschatos’ home of Latvia. Even forgoing the aforementioned reasons, Eschatos are the type of band that I find myself on a never-ending quest for. A completely independent act, they create interesting music with a proper grasp on their craft and message, even offering their wares for free. Groups like this are what Bandcamp is all about.

The five track Hierophanies was quietly unveiled at the beginning of 2013. The nightmare-inducing yet beautifully rendered monstrosity adorned on its cover is a perfect metaphor for Eschatos’ music; their objectives are clear, their intentions sinister. A deep sense of tension lays within the fretwork, adding an ever-present sense of dread to the relatively slick guitar tone and production. They prove that black metal doesn’t need to be lo-fi and murky in nature to produce a feeling of unease in the listener, a trick borrowed from Enslaved - from whom Eschatos no doubt take much inspiration.

Photo from Eschatos @ Wacken Metal Battle semi-final 31.05.2013 taken by Laima Faltere.

The music is clearly prog influenced, without the need for baffling time signatures or hyper-complex structures. This stripped-down approach is from where the quartet derive much of their strength, but also some weaknesses. Overly-simplistic guitar solos unfortunately result from this method, they tend to distract rather than enhance. Luckily these missteps are few and far between. Vocalist Kristiāna’s shrieks are downright gut-wrenching; she joins the small but reputable ranks among the upper echelon of female black metal vocalists. Her style is uncannily similar to Ludicra’s Laurie Shanaman, in fact, this whole album could be mistaken for the newest offering from the Bay Area geniuses, had they stayed together and been transplanted to the small Baltic nation.

Admittedly I know very little about the Latvian metal scene, but I’m confident in saying Eschatos are among the small country’s elite. Their music is a brand of its own, funneling inspiration from well-known foreign waters and mixing it with an unknown homegrown concoction. Who knows, maybe with the help of this debut we’re just a few years away from discussing the “Riga sound.”

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 3, 2013

Unbirth - Deracinated Celestial Oligarchy / Extermination Dismemberment - Serial Urbicide

Review by Vonlughlio

Artwork by Federico Musetti

Amputated Vein Records is a Japan based label operating since 2002, dedicated to brutal death metal and related genres. Currently they have 50 releases in their Bandcamp page, including releases from Pathology, Viral Load, Cephalotripsy, Godless Truth among others. Being a huge fan of the brutal genres, one day I found myself streaming everything on the Bandcamp! Besides making my ears bleed, I found two great new albums I’d like to share with you; one quite technical brutal death metal, the other more fast and slam oriented

Unbirth are from Italy, I already knew a little about the band because they feature members of Mad Maze and Logic of Denial, both bands I like. According to Metal Archives unbirth “is a sexual fetish involving the desire to be "swallowed alive" by the female genitalia.” Despite that name, the lyrics are not your typical, blood, guts, kill, but instead focuses on inner struggle and the cosmos, like these from "Crowding at the Edge of Cosmos"
Icy blades fly in the darkness of silence. Launched by the gnashing of colliding events. Galactic pillars and archs are made of rioting souls that crowd at the edge of cosmos. Time, space, destiny. With closed eyes I admire the blaze that comes over.
Another aspect that I enjoyed of Deracinated Celestial Oligarchy is how perfectly Unbirth mix the brutal with the technical without indulging in mindless guitar wankery; making it work perfectly with the structure of the songs.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Artwork by Marco Hasmann

Extermination Dismembermet are from Minsk, Belarus; I didn't know about them before, what caught my attention was was the awesome cover art from Marco Hasmann. I'm glad it did, because ohh boy this is some of the best slam of 2013, great drumming, sick vocals and amazing riffs. This is one one non-stop fast track record, it zips by real fast despite being around 40 minutes. Really diverse patterns in the songs structures and amazing performance all around by this band. I hope they continue down the same road with future releases

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 2, 2013

Anaal Nathrakh - Vanitas

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

Artwork by Mick Kenney

With their seventh full-length, Vanitas, Birmingham, UK's Anaal Nathrakh remind listeners that the number seven plays an important role in the biblical apocalypse. The breaking of the seven seals calls down the four horsemen and sets off a series of cataclysmic events; seven angels blow trumpets that demolish civilization; and seven bowls pour out plagues and judgements on the world.

Photos by Jo T.

The duo's familiar banshee-like wails are joined by commanding passages of clean singing that, amidst the fierce yet mournful guitars, come across like apocalyptic heraldry. There is a catchiness to the song structures that occasionally brushes against an industrial influence, but it is the swollen, rotten majesty of tracks like "Feeding the Beast" that defines the album, a feral delight at the fragile and mortal, of how easy things are to ruin. If the world is indeed going to end, Vanitas is a record that not only celebrates destruction, but dances in the ashes.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]