October 31, 2014

Universe217 - Ease

By Kevin Page. It's been a stupendous year in Greek metal, with a seemingly high quality release coming out every couple of weeks. So it should be no surprise that we are about to add yet another one to the list, via Athens own, Universe217.
Written by Kevin Page.

It's been a stupendous year in Greek metal, with a seemingly high quality release coming out every couple of weeks. So it should be no surprise that we are about to add yet another one to the list, via Athens own, Universe217.

Practicing what I guess you would call "experimental doom", they released their stunning 3rd album, Never, in 2013. They have now followed that up with a new EP, appropriately titled, Ease. Just like the name implies, the band is showing us their mellow side without losing an ounce of effect. I would say this is similar to what Alice in Chains initially did between their full length albums on SAP and Jar of Flies. They went acoustic, slowed things down, got tender, wrote great songs, and still maintained their identity. If these Greek maestros continue to do this, consider me on the bandwagon.

Photo by alepuda

Throughout the course of its 21 minute run time, there isn't a single wasted note. It starts off with this ambient ethereal sound (like the morning sunrise) with vocalist Tania making her presence felt immediately. To say I'm in love with Tania's voice would be as dramatic of an understatement I could make. She could read the classified ads and I'd find it utterly enthralling. For those new to the band, think Janis Joplin, but less raspy, with maybe a touch of Ann Wilson, singing metal songs.

Once the opening track kicks in, its memorizing. The beautiful bass tone, tasteful drums and gently picking of the guitar, They exercise such restraint, that it always leaves you wanting more, but in the best possible way. Sometimes a song winds down and you almost expect another chorus/bridge (just out of habit with most music) yet its not there. Whether this is intentional or not, I'm not sure, but it's brilliant. I'm never unsatisfied, yet always craving more.

Picking out a favorite track is next to impossible. Every song has its moments that I could point to as a highlight. Not only do I highly recommend this release (since it is THE BEST EP I've heard all year), but suggest you to listen undistracted and in one sitting. Let this envelop your mind. I don't even want to taint your experience by getting overly detailed about the music either. Stop reading and press play. I implore you.

October 30, 2014

Myopic / Torrid Husk - Crawling Mountain Apogee

By Matt Hinch. I've written about both Myopic and Torrid Husk before and now the two come together on a split entitled Crawling Mountain Apogee. Each band contributes two tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at 8:12. With so much time to work with there is plenty of room to explore.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Brandon Geurts

I've written about both Myopic and Torrid Husk before and now the two come together on a split entitled Crawling Mountain Apogee. Each band contributes two tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at 8:12. With so much time to work with there is plenty of room to explore. And explore they do.

Myopic opens the split with the 10:44 “Unction in Passing”. The track builds slowly with dominant bass leading the way. Post-black metal moments give way to the progressive bass and searing black metal runs. Even then, they surge with a tremulous flair and flow and an openness that's hard to categorize. It's when the bass takes over that the soul of the track is laid bare. There's a beauty in the simplicity that gives it tremendous heart. From there the track meanders hither and yon, returning to its blackened core and integrating their exploration as it circles around between aggression and progression.

Moving into “Remembrance” Myopic takes a darker, more menacing turn bringing in doom elements. Holding on to the prog and post touches the storm intensifies as trembling guitars break free of earthly tethers to dance among the stars. Eventually the darkness pulls the track back into the depths and set it upon a chase before concluding in an amalgam of the track's elements.

Torrid Husk follow up with “All Ballasted the Elk”. Field recordings give way to their melodic black metal full of reluctant warmth and disgusted raspy growls. It morphs into a zone with some bounce to the percussion. Even the melodies take on a different, more uplifted feel. That doesn't last as a brief scorched earth moment leads to quiet introspection like a fog clearing to reveal true feelings; shedding an artificial protective exterior. Even more desperate vocals call for a blasting, swirling, burrowing return. Fight and flight at once, closing out with harsh but relieving melody to ease the scars.

“So howled out to the world to give him a name” goes for the throat in a most unsettling way. Deathly growls and a paranoid aura are enough to make the skin crawl under a relentless battering of percussion and fast yet creepy rhythms and melody. Delicate guitar breathes air into the song's midsection only to be destroyed by black metal's annihilating force. Progressive elements and soaring melodies mingle with forceful percussion and slavering vocals coalescing into a wave of feedback and a closing return to the field recordings.

Both bands have upped their game on this excellent split. Fusing powerful and velocious black metal with dynamics and progressive explorations, Myopic and Torrid Husk push their names into new regions of recognizability. Coupled with the spectacular production that comes out of the Grimoire Records camp, it's apparent that there is a wealth of talent and vision comprising these two bands. Crawling Mountain Apogee is everything the name implies and more. Unsettling, awe-inspiring, far reaching, muscular, challenging and captivating.

October 29, 2014

Sterilizer - Sterilizer

Written by Craig Hayes.

Sterilizer is the latest one-man bout of musical mayhem from the mind of the talented graphic artist, designer, and songwriter Brandon Duncan. A couple of years back, under his Sequence of Prime moniker, the Missouri-based Duncan self-released a phenomenal album, Inter-. That album was technically dazzling, cerebrally challenging, and featured a turbo-speed collision of industrial thrash and grind. Everything on Inter- came from the sharp-witted brain and instrumental mastery of Duncan himself, which was impressive enough. But he was also more than willing to share his passion for the science and technology that inspired the album, because Inter- also came with a rather wonderful recommended reading list that was essentially nerd nirvana.

Sterilizer also brings a heavily scientific accent on the band’s self-titled debut, but things seem much closer to home than the galaxy gazing of Inter-. Songs titles like, “Depopulator”, “Dis-content”, “Revenge”, and “Equalizer” suggest a certain amount of sci-fi influence, perhaps combined with a loathing of Homo Sapiens, or at least a level of disgust at humanities failings. That’s all backed by Sterilizer’s music, which mixes an ice-cold and clinical technological approach to reassembling sound into to exterminating noise.

In fact, there's something of a Terminator-ish endoskeleton to Sterilizer. The album definitely feels retro-futuristic, and mechanically ruthless, and it contains abundant industrialized metal riding on a destructive power-electronics pulse. There’s a nerve-shredding feel to Sterilizer, residing somewhere between the engineered chaos of Author & Punisher and the industrial death noise of Theologian. However, the strongest call-back here is that Sterilizer grinds along with the kind of industrial dread that Ministry brought when the band was still a force to be reckoned with, circa The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste.

The punishing drum programming and seizure-inducing noise found on Sterilizer contains as much pummelling sonic muscle as it does utter emotional insanity. As one of my more astute Facebook pals noted, there are parts to the album that sound like, “Nailbomb going off in Godflesh's Fudge Tunnel”. I couldn't have put it better myself. Sterilizer does hark back to an age of musical revolution with its rapid-fire metal-and-electro-grind. But the album still manages to push forward into a new dark age, filled with abundant pandemonium and despair.

One-man. Many ideas. All gathered and rendered into a wholly impressive and assaultive avalanche. Sterilizer is yet another mad/genius release cooked up in Duncan's laboratory.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 27, 2014

Necrophagia - WhiteWorm Cathedral

Written by Kevin Page.

I'll be honest, I haven't listened to anything by this band since their debut, Season of the Dead, in 1987. Maybe it was all the starting and stopping of the band multiple times over the years that caused me to not want to get vested in them. But for whatever reason, I'm glad they are back on my radar since their new album, WhiteWorm Cathedral, is a fantastic slab of old school metal meets death metal.

This album also marks the return of Mirai Kawashima (Sigh) on keyboards. Initially my elitist flag was raised thinking, what does Necrophagia need with keyboards? But I see Mirai has played on 3 prior studio releases, and hearing the fantastic results on this one, I have some catching up on their back catalogue to do. Fear not though, the trademark Necrophagia sound is still present, but with a creepy horror movie feel added to the equation. Killjoy's half vomit half spoken word vocals are still front and center and serve as the calling card here.

For the most part WhiteWorm Cathedral is a mid paced tromp through the graveyard with a nice thick and meaty guitar tone that feels like its oozing blood. Every song is littered with horror movie quotes and never takes itself too seriously. It's a refreshing change in this day and age where you have extreme metal concept albums up the wazoo and an overabundance of 7+ minute songs. You won't have a zillion notes crammed down your throat and the band doesn't try to be the most brutal thing on the block. It knows its place, its comfortable with it and asks you to come along for the journey.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Dawnbringer - Night of the Hammer

By Calen Henry. Dawnbringer’s Night of the Hammer takes the relatively straightforward traditional metal of Into the Lair of the Sun God, slows it down to a more traditional doom metal pace and showcases Chris Black’s now clean and clear vocal delivery through an array of stunningly
By Calen Henry.

Dawnbringer’s Night of the Hammer takes the relatively straightforward traditional metal of Into the Lair of the Sun God, slows it down to a more traditional doom metal pace and showcases Chris Black’s now clean and clear vocal delivery through an array of stunningly composed and performed standalone songs.

The songs mostly plod along at mid pace like Argus or Solstice but, the devil is in the details with Night of the Hammer. My initial reaction to the record was positive, but no more than most other solid traditional metal and traditional doom bands. But then I couldn't stop listening. I just kept playing it again, and again, and again. (It helps that the it’s only about 40 minutes long, so it’s over before I’m really ready for it to be).

There are so many small touches that make Night of the Hammer so fantastic. “Nobody There” ends with a slide guitar solo. “Xiphias” and “One-Eyed Sister” start out as folk songs and gallop into twin guitar NWOBHM fury. The extremely doomey “Damn You” ends with on a run down a scale, but blast beats explode on the final note, turning into the first note of “Not Your Night”, a full on black metal track, with the only distorted vocals on the album.

While the composition and performance are stellar, I have one quibble with the production. The drums sound lack punch. It certainly doesn't ruin the experience, and they hit enough at high volume. But everything else is so excellent that it would have been nice for there to be just a bit more “oomph” in the drums.

This is the hardest part to put into words. Night of the Hammer just feels metal. The riffs, the melodies, the vocals, the transitions, every part of every song comes together perfectly to make an album that just exudes pure metal glory. It’s a showcase for songwriting, rather than any technical wizardry, and the songs are so, so good. They all beg you to sing along and lose yourself in the storytelling.

Album of the year, so far.

October 25, 2014

Infinite Waste - Ghost Town

Written by Calen Henry.

Artwork by Hal Rotter

Infinite Waste are a Doom/Grind band from Oakland. Instead of adding a grindcore sneer to doom or playing Sludge, they effortlessly switch between frantic Dillinger Escape Plan grind and ultra-heavy, crushing doom in an oil and water approach to the two genres. There are absolutely massive doom passages right next to lighting strike chromatic grind riffs, and it works really really well.

The approach is pulled off partly through excellent composition and playing and partly through great production, showcasing the doom and the grind sounds equally well. The dynamic range is pretty compressed, unfortunately, but everything comes through in the mix.

I probably wouldn’t have heard of Infinite Waste, let alone listened to them were it not for Kevin, the drummer (who also plays drums in Forgotten Gods) emailing me about the EP. Ghost Town is a very abrasive record, leaning heavily on the more dissonant side of Doom. Being more into doom like Pallbearer and Argus and less into grindcore than I used to be, I wasn’t initially sure I’d like the EP, but I’m glad he told me about it. The Ghost Town EP rips and I totally dig it.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 24, 2014

Abazagorath - The Satanic Verses

Written by Justin C.

U.S. black metal band Abazagorath has been around since 1995. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with their work, but in defense of my ignorance, this year's The Satanic Verses is their first full-length since 2004. Better late than never, though, because as I told Max when I first heard the promo, "This band rips like some kind of industrial ripping machine!" (Yes, I am a true wordsmith.)

The basis of Abazagorath's sound is more second-wave Norwegian than anything you might associate with the present-day USBM scene. When I first listened to the opening tracks, I thought this would be very thrashy, Satan-obsessed black metal, not unlike what I've heard from 1349's new album. Very good, but maybe nothing ground breaking. On repeat listens, though, I kept finding more and more things to like.

Founding member Warhead. Photo by Metal Chris

There's a great amount of vocal variety happening here. The wraith-like rasps are very satisfying, but there are also some deeper gutturals and an occasional raspy clean mixed in. And that's not even the most interesting part--in several songs, like "Visions of Azrael," there are vocals that sound very much like Mongolian throat singing. It's mostly used sparingly--more for an accent than anything else--but the growling resonance of the technique is well-suited to black metal. Variety is also the name of the game in song lengths. You get everything from quick, two-minute blasts like "Revelations," up to nine-minute mini-epics like "Return to Jahilia." The latter, in particular, shows off the band's songwriting chops. The intro could be another throwaway acoustic intro, quickly forgotten, but they take care to incorporate that melody into the song itself, which a lot of bands don't seem to bother with. As with many albums that make the transition from good to potentially great, there's an attention to detail here that makes all the difference.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

As an added bonus, the band has taken the time to put albums going all the way back to 1996 on their Bandcamp, so there’s a lot to check out.

October 23, 2014

Castle - Second Coming / Labyrinth of Death

Written by Maxim Björky.

The difficulty of writing grandiose diatribes about two-song EPs hasn't stopped people from doing it before. The best is when a tech death EP –itself a combine-like exercise barely deserving to be labeled art— invokes a wheezing essay that reads like a vocabulary quiz. None of that here, ladies and gents. The two jams on this here Castle 7” are a nice snapshot of the forceful trad/doom hybrid the band has become known for, but they don’t justify my subjecting you to a measure-by-measure root canal of a review.

Instead I wanna talk about how incredibly underrated I think this band is and why people are bad at understanding why this band is good.

This EP combines a haunting cover of Alice Cooper’s “Second Coming”, a song whose only real downside is that it is less than 3 minutes in length, with “Labyrinth of Death”, a track from the full length released shortly thereafter. To my knowledge, Under Siege doesn’t exist on bandcamp and, all that being said, I’m gonna use this EP as a chance to preach from up on high for a couple of paragraphs.

First, this Alice cover is fantastic. It’s been a nice keynote in my recent rediscovery of his early work. “Labyrinth of Death” is a jammy Sabbath Vol. 4 type track with some nice grooves and hooks. Liz Blackwell’s vocal ambitions aren’t any more extensive here in terms of range but she’s still that hybrid of Ozzy and Leather Leone that makes this band instantly recognizable. Needless to say, the last full-length, Under Siege, really stuck with me. I find something peculiarly enticing about Castle’s ability to tap into Mercyful Fate, the aforementioned Alice Cooper, NWOBHM weirdoes Hell, a bit of Venom, and a few other vibes. It’s the sound of a time when evil was mysterious, sexy, left something to the imagination. At the same time, they don’t sound exactly like any of these; pack songs with plenty of jagged rock riffs; and demonstrate that songwriting lightweights they certainly are not. From what I know, they’re nevertheless playing club shows to 25-40 some odd people a night, as happened last time I saw them.

If ever there remained a flicker of doubt in your mind that public opinion remains a race to the bottom, this should be the end of it.

Thanks for letting me clear the air. Namaste.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 22, 2014

Label spotlight: Rising Beast Recordings

Written by Aaron Sullivan.

Art by William David Pollard.

Rising Beast Recordings is based out of Los Angeles and run by James L. Brown. He may be most well known for being the guitarist of L.A. Black Metal band Harassor along with Pete on vocals and Andor on drums. A band I have had the pleasure of seeing many times as they are part of my local scene. The label seems to serve as a place for James to experiment with other genres of music he also enjoys. The three bands, other than Harassor, that are on the label are Moonknight, Dargar, and Attakkr along with some self-titled music. All different in their own way despite being from the same person.

First we start with Moonknight. Moonknight is best described as Atmospheric Black Metal. With three full lengths, two E.P.’s and two splits this is the band with the most material. The first album Toplov is very raw. Burzum-esque riffing, with distorted vocals. But with the second album, Ligeia, the production is a little less raw on most songs. The sound is full and the atmospheres even more present. Song lengths increase allowing him to do more in each song, the song "Thyrsgreiden" being a perfect example of this. That album even ends with an ambient track. With 2014’s Death Card it is a perfect mix of all that has come before. The production is not too raw and not too clean. It’s the sweet spot in between that gives great atmosphere but allows for everything to be heard. Even with shorter song length nothing is lost, they are leaner and meaner if you will. This is top notch Atmospheric Black Metal. Fans of Burzum, Striborg, and ColdWorld will not be let down.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Next up is Dargar. This sees James teaming up with Harassor singer Pete Majors doing guitar and vocals with James doing drum programming. Dargar are a Blackened Noise band. Harsh guitars over cold electronic drumming with gurgling distorted shrieks. The sound is ugly and violent at times. Other times slow and dark. Songs are disjointed and unnerving. At no time does this feel like safe listening. Can’t tell what the lyrics are, and I’m not sure I want to know. All of this adds up to a great listening experience for me. At the time of this writing I am on a big Noise/Dark Ambient kick, so this was just what I was looking for. While Moonknight’s atmospheres are expansive at times. Dargar’s atmosphere is claustrophobic, intense, and unsettling. Best heard with headphones in total darkness.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Then there is Attakkr. Best described as Ambient Drone. Three albums all recorded in 2006 but not released until 2013. Even though they are divided into three albums all the songs could really make up one album. These are songs to get lost in. At times it reminds me of Boris when they get drony. A song like Heavenly Bodies (from Blade of Ithiel) is aptly titled. As it makes me feel as though I am ascending into the sky. The song Amalantrah (from Zantetsuken) even having clean vocals and sounding like some lost Shoegaze track from the early 90’s. Never overly harsh with just the right balance of dark and dreamyness added to the mix.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

There's also his self-titled material. The first being a Drone/Noise album Isle of the Dead. This one featuring another member of Harassor drummer Andor Kappen doing vocals on "Twilight of the Beast". At first listen I wondered why this had not fallen under the Attakkr name. But there are enough differences that I assume he felt the separation was needed. The cool part is each track really stands on it’s own. Drone runs through each, but the songs are all very different from each other. Like the Drone into Sludge of Psychometry or the shoegazy drone of The Hollow.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The other self-titled album may be the oddest of the bunch. It’s a two track Theremin album. Now I won’t pretend to love it. But I do love his willingness to experiment and try something new. It’s an interesting listen to say the least. Trippy, psychedelic, and a bit creepy all at the same time.

The thing that is impressive about this label is the variety found within. Now that is not too uncommon for a label. But the fact that it is primarily being done by one man is what really sets it apart and makes it more impressive to me. Many artists have tried to express themselves outside of their comfort zone. Some fail, some succeed. I count James L. Brown among the successes.

Bulletbelt - Rise of the Banshee

Written by Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Scarecrowoven

I hope you've done your stretches because Rise of the Banshee from New Zealanders Bulletbelt will give your neck a pretty hefty workout. Intensity is the name of the game as the quintet thrash and bash a blackened path through just about whatever they damn please.

Ross “Rots” Mallon and Ryan O'Leary make up a potent twin guitar attack. Blistering rhythms and scorching solos melt skulls (why stop at faces?) and tear holes in the sky. Sure, they can bring a pall of doom over things but they're all about the shred. Mixing a speed-ridden thrash with soaring black metal tremolos, the pair push ever onwards toward the next opportunity to make you clutch your oversized invisible grenades and scream “FUCK YEAH!” They reach back and pull the inspiration of their forebears into the modern age. Technically precise yet still catchy, the two work in tandem and on separate paths with enthusiasm and cohesiveness.

Tim Mekalick completes the stringed trifecta with stellar bass work. He can keep up through the frenzied gallops but he's more than just frequency filler. His dexterity cuts through the mix to highlight how he's able to work off the base riffs and runs while adding nuance and complex character. After a number of listens it's still fun to pick out the little things he's doing. And that's not just because I play bass. His rhythmic partner in crime, Steve “Cleaver” Francis is no slouch either. He spurs the guitar steeds on mercilessly with blast beats galore but he's no one-trick pony. Flexibility and strength play a large role in his impact but as with every facet of Bulletbelt, intensity is the driving force.

Perhaps no member of the band is more intense than vocalist Jolene Tempest. I have my doubts on that being her Christian name but in any case she more than lives up to it as she is a tempest indeed. Banshee is also appropriate as her demonic rasp is the stuff of nightmares. Throat-shredding barks command attention and respect. You can hear every fibre of her being channeled into her delivery for maximum depravity.

It's not as simple as five deft musicians, however. Bulletbelt also write sweet tunes. Each track on Rise of the Banshee, whether it's the 7:27 “Death Tinted Red” or the 3:19 “Sniper” is a headbangin' rager compelling furious bodily reaction. Catchy riffs, rapturous solos and well-timed and executed tempo changes make for an engaging and memorable listen.

Come to think of it, they push all the right buttons in much the same way as Skeletonwitch. Fast, intense, proficient and equally magnetic on record as they are live. They sound evil and epic in the way blackened thrash is supposed to but it doesn't feel like a shtick. Like the 'Witch, you can hear how they live and breathe the music but we're not led to believe they live in a cabin on a snowy hillside or hide from the light in a secret dungeon abode. This is straight up metal for metal's sake. Thrashing, bashing, searing, soaring. It's complex but honestly convincing. There's menace, melody, momentum and memorability. Epic undercurrents shade the maniacal attack and spine-shivering vocals. Just as a bulletbelt is stereotypical heavy metal attire, Bulletbelt take the basic tenets of heavy metal and rip your throat out with them. But do so without cheese or cliche.

Raise your fists, friends. The banshee is rising. Just listen to her wail.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 18, 2014

Execration - Morbid Dimensions

Written by Atanamar Sunyata.

Artwork by Kristian Valbo

The fathomless depths of death metal know no bounds; be thankful. Execration carve out a virgin slice of that ever expanding universe, crafting mid-paced paeans to death in the adventurous vein of Morbus Chron, Tribulation, and Necrowretch. Morbid Dimensions is more primal than polished, more savage than a six-pack of xenomorphs, and weirder than that “one weird trick to prevent cancer”.

Perfectly insane arpeggios and inutterable tremolations frolic amidst herds of primitive, trampling riffs. These grooves crackle like that Mercyful Fate LP you’ve been spinning nonstop for 30 years. Morbid Dimensions plays out in masterful movements, with ebbs and flows of riffs most fine. One moment you’ll be banging your head in assent, and the next you’ll be pondering the infinite facets of sinister pointillism a la Negative Plane.

These diverse compositions are accompanied by organically obtuse rhythms and filthy-fresh bass lines. Add in a barrage of truly demented howls, and you have an album ripe for close listening and repeated spins. When the death toll for 2014 is tallied, Morbid Dimensions will be on my short list.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Morbid Dimensions is available digitally via Duplicate Records right now, with a physical incarnation to follow from Hells Headbangers in December.

October 16, 2014

Hexis - Abalam

Written by metal.txt.

Danish blackened hardcore that has more in common with cold industrial than any passionate youth crew anthems. Most of this album is a relentless assault, and yes, that’s a cliche in metal, but roughly 25 out of 35 minutes of this fucker is anchored by jackhammer blast beats. Vocalist Filip sounds like he’s about halfway through a demonic possession, all snarls and screams, but maintaining enough power to not get lost in the chaos.

Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

The closer, "Inferis", twice as long as any other track here, presents a band that has grown weary of their own audial attack. The track is almost like the usual hardcore breakdown but slowed and stretched out into a 9-minute growl. It’s a fantastic song and a style Hexis revisited on their split with Primitive Man.

Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Abalam is not the best album of the year, even on this short of a release the sound of the early tracks gets a little one trick pony after a while. But it is a release I've come back to quite a bit this year, whenever I feel like… feel like… hold on let me Google something. Whenever I feel like “getting fucked in the earholes with a sledgehammer”. Ah, yes.

Abalam by Hexis is available on Bandcamp here:

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Or you could be like me and buy a tape of the album in Paris where a weird beard Frenchman will glare at you since you just ruined his day by *daring* to step foot into his store. Whatever.

October 14, 2014

Swallowed - Lunarterial

Written by Kevin Page.

Cover art (Four Eyes) by Peter Birkhäuser.

When it comes down to it, Swallowed could have gone the easy route and spit forth 8-10 songs that sounded like their 2010 self titled EP and most people would have been happy (myself included). But instead they made a record that's vile, nasty and uglier than you would have imagined. This isn't a pretty album. It's not meant to be an easy listen.

Plenty of bands back in be early '90's based half their so called 'savagery' on a piss poor production. Even nowadays you can find endless bands that slap the treble knob all the way up to mask the fact they can't play a decent chord. Swallowed simply relies on the grotesqueness of the riffs. Imagine Autopsy's Severed Survival, doomed up, put the guitar higher in the mix and sprinkled with a Finnish Black/Death flair. The sound is both non retro and non modern at the same time. The production has this wonderful feeling of horny elephants stampeding through the room causing mass chaos.

Throughout it's 53 minute runtime you will feel as if you were jettisoned in an escape pod and crash landed on a desolate planet. There's nowhere to turn, you don't know what to do or where to go. Suddenly a violent cacophony of instruments makes you run for your life. Yet there is no escape, no happy ending, just barren nothingness. If the cover art doesn't creep you out, picture it while listening to the monstrous 25 minute closing number, "Libations". It's nerve racking and uneasy. And I love it.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 13, 2014

Labyrinthine - Ancient Obscurity

Written by Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Zdzisław Beksiński

I'll try and make this relatively short so you can just get right to downloading Labyrinthine's Ancient Obscurity. It's pay-what-you-want so you have no excuse. Just do it and thank us later.

Labyrinthine is the work of one man as is often the case for black metal of this ilk. That man is known as J.L. (aka James Lipczynski). And for this second LP under the Labyrinthine banner he has crafted an incredibly deep collection of songs that has entranced me to such a degree that I was reluctant to even begin to verbalize it.

J.L.'s vocals are cold and menacing. They're other-worldly, like the voice of our reptilian master's dying breaths cursing their demise. Irascibly delivered lyrics of “fantasy, imagination and astral projection” related topics cannot always be understood, but if they have been brought into existence with the same care as the music then it's worth the effort to figure them out.

Where the album really makes its mark is in the melodies. Even though J.L. acts alone he plays with a three-headed beast (at least). Multiple guitars are guided on circuitous paths, winding back and forth, up and down with grace and a decidedly human element. Bass as well winds its way through the expansive layers, providing warmth against the bleak six-stringed counterparts.

The listener finds solace in those sinuous melodies turning back on themselves. The hypnotic repetition so common in modern black metal shifts with the tides to avoid redundancy. And the production makes things pop so it's more than static-laden noise looped incessantly.

But it's those guitars that really ensnare the listener with their torturous sorrow and undying beauty. They're like colours shimmering on a spiderweb being gently buffeted by a cool breeze at dusk. The programmed percussion acts as earthly anchors lest the steely, interconnected melodies be swept into the ether and carried to a dimension far more deserving.

Ancient Obscurity is haunted by a spectral presence. It's bleak and stoic yet emotional and encapsulating, existing in multiple places at once. It feels like basement black metal without sounding like it. Sonically consistent front to back and with countless melodies resurfacing in the mind, Ancient Obscurity quietly, deceptively and effortlessly forces its way into the black metal album of the year conversation. I for one haven't found a way to break its spell.

That wasn't very short, was it? It's easy to get lost.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 9, 2014

Exhumed - Slaughtercult

An Autothrall Classic. Originally published here.

Exhumed, along with Impaled, are essentially the bastard Californian children of the great Carcass. While the latter may emulate the original a little more safely, Exhumed take the dual guttural/snarl vocals and apply them to a lot more 'thrust' in the music. This is fast, furious, vitriol, like a morbid butcher in a rush to clean up the body parts of his latest 'works' before the authorities arrive. Grinding, brutal guitars are not entirely void of melody, and each track on Slaughtercult is a veritable riff slugfest of undeniable pathos. Their second full-length effort, it managed to destroy Gore Metal in all conceivable ways and wound up one of the best death metal albums of Y2K.

Exhumed 2011. Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

This is just one of those unrelenting death metal events which remains entertaining throughout its entire playlength. Most of the 13 tracks clock in around the 2-3 minute mark, the perfect length to get you excited, rev your bonesaw, inject the formaldehyde, molest the corpse, and get the hell out of Dodge. The immediate one-two knockout punch of "Decrepit Crescendo" and "Forged in Fire (Forged in Flame)" is the aural equivalent of a nuclear explosion in your pants. Violent orgasms of spasming, grinding riffage and carnal lyricism.
Scalding and melding her minge
Smell the acid reek of pubic hair singed...
Melt and weld...Raze and smelt
Blistering crotch...Searing hot...
OUCH. "A Lesson in Pathology" once again features great grinding rhythms over the dual bludgeoning throats of Matt Harvey and Mike Beams, and the explosive leadwork is just awesome. "This Axe Was Made to Grind" is pretty much a metaphor for the entire career of this excellent band. "Carnal Epitaph" shows a slight Necroticism/Heartwork influence in its cold but full riffing. "Dinnertime in the Morgue" is simply superb, rarely have I heard cannibalistic grinding death of such intense quality. There is not a stinker in this bunch, unless you mean the stink of corpses, of which there are plenty available to play with. Other choice tracks on this morguenum opus include "Fester Forever", "Slave to the Casket" and "Funeral Fuck".
Eat, drink, and be merry
For tomorrow we die
Meat is just flesh, only temporary
On its pulpous provisions we dine
A carnal cornucopia
Of maturating bowels and offal
The bitter rasp of decay`s pungent taste
Permeates every putrid mouthful

Exhumed 2011. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Slaughtercult sounds insanely good even by modern standards. Perfect grinding tones over slightly lower drums in the mix than usual, but this is what creates the punishing sound. The vocals, though totally Carcass clones, create an added layer of percussion. The guitars slay, and not simply because of their aggression, but the amount of quality riffing interweaved with the forward propulsion. If you can sit or stand still while listening to this album, you are out of order. A robot. Exhumed is a whirlwind of chainsaw bliss, worthy of any mortician's meatpile. Like the yeast on a cadaver's nethers, it grows finer with age

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

This edition of An Autothrall Classic is inspired by an article Matt Harvey wrote recently. It consists of reflections about the evolution of death metal, as he has witnessed it, during the time he has spent in the scene. The article has just been re-published by No Clean Singing, so go there and check it out, it's a great read.

October 7, 2014

Zombiefication - Procession Through Infestation

Written by Justin C.

At the end of the summer, the latest album from Mexico's Zombiefication, Procession Through Infestation, quietly snuck out into the world. The release date wobbled around a bit, and I didn't see much of a publicity push either, which is a shame, because the band consistently puts out some of the best death metal around. Zombiefication's primary members are Arturo Vargas on vocals and and Jacobo Córdova on bass and guitars (credited as Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Jacko, respectively). Córdova was recently lauded in these very pages for his participation in Majestic Downfall, and his work there is indicative of the quality of music you can expect from Zombiefication.

At the time of this writing, there are only two tracks available for streaming on Bandcamp--"Procession" and "Infestation"--but they're fairly representative of the album as a whole. If you dig what's playing there, I can't imagine you not liking this album. In fact, I can't imagine anyone not liking this album, period. Zombiefication does a lot of things well, but there are a few things that stick out to me in particular. The vocals, for one, show a fantastic variety. There are plenty of the de rigueur low gutturals, but Vargas isn't afraid to let his voice lift up into a higher, positively unhinged sounding howl. Added to that, Cordova is a fantastic guitar player and riff writer. It's nearly impossible not to have your brain infected by the doomy main riff in "Crossing the Rite" or not pound on your car's steering wheel along with the thrashier riff in "Infestation." They're heavy as all get out, sure, but they're also melodic and memorable.

The cherry on top of all this is how they structure their songs. Sometimes you're just in a mood for an unbroken WALL OF BR00TAL, but Zombiefication knows how to break up their sound. Don't worry, there are no 7-minute ambient tracks here or pointless spoken word interruptions--the relief comes in change ups in tempo and texture inside the songs themselves, like the quieter arpeggiated riffs that show up at the midpoint of "Infestation." During a particularly long and painful commute, I listened to this album almost three times through without a break, and I never got tired of it.

If you're nervous about only hearing two songs, I can understand that, but this is the sleeper death metal hit of 2014, and more people should be listening to it.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 6, 2014

Blut aus Nord / P.H.O.B.O.S. – Triunity

Written by Craig Hayes.

Cover art by Katarzyna Urbanek

No matter the style, tone, or texture of their releases, what’s always stood out in the discography of Blut aus Nord is that the band exhibits a breathtaking array of ideas, creative prowess, and instrumental expertise. The avant-garde French black metal band has constantly reshaped their sound over the years, and it’s all been delivered with wholehearted (or, perhaps more aptly, blackhearted) commitment. The band’s trademark metaphysical aesthetic has shadowed all of the band’s work, but the strongest element that binds releases such as Memoria Vetusta II, MoRT, Odinist, or the band’s heralded 777 trilogy, is Blut aus Nord’s consistent desire to experiment and remain unpredictable.

There’s no change in that approach on Blut aus Nord’s latest split release, Triunity, where the band shares space with fellow French outfit P.H.O.B.O.S. Frédéric Sacri is the artist behind P.H.O.B.O.S, and while the one-man band gazes into the abyss for inspiration like Blut aus Nord, P.H.O.B.O.S. favours the world of droning doom and industrial metal. P.H.O.B.O.S and Blut aus Nord certainly operate at different points on the extreme music compass, but there’s a clear alliance of wills where both bands favour esoteric sounds that ignore schlock chills and aim for something deeper and more unnerving.

Blut aus Nord mainman, Vindsval, is joined by drummer Thorns on Triunity; and that live percussion brings a more organic punch to the band’s three songs on the release. “De Librio Arbitrio”, “Hùbris” and “Némeïnn” mix crooked and choral vocals with eerie synths, and, of course, Blut aus Nord’s contorted riffs and melodies all feature heavily. In amongst the layers of atmospheric and Gothic grimness, there’s a sense of meticulously arranged experimentalism, where Blut aus Nord’s evolving process also brings the presence of menacing otherworldly forces. For anyone who’s enjoyed Blut aus Nord’s previous exploring of ominous shades of darkness, Triunity is set to be as equally rewarding.

P.H.O.B.O.S. brings something very different to Triunity. As mentioned, there are ties that bind the two bands, but it's probably an intimidating prospect to be sharing a split with Blut aus Nord. No problem there, because P.H.O.B.O.S. easily holds their own on “Glowing Phosphoros”, “Transfixed at Golgotha” and “Ahrimanic Impulse Victory”. Where Blut aus Nord approach the infinite void with a sense of imposing grandeur, P.H.O.B.O.S. is more surgical in methodology. Deep space electronics are fed through bitter industrialism on P.H.O.B.O.S.’ tracks. Glitchy lurches, pitch-black drone, and warped synths and samples all twist around each other, as P.H.O.B.O.S. displays a knack for evoking urban decay, and the fear of a world well past the point of return.

While Blut aus Nord and P.H.O.B.O.S. each take very different routes through the darkness on Triunity, they meet at the point where nightmares are not so easily shaken off during daylight hours. Both bands bring that feeling of profound unease we know well when we look out the corner of our eye, and see that ever-present undercurrent of doom and despair waiting to strike. Call it all harmonious disharmony, or perhaps a shared sense of discord, Triunity offers two avenues of enmity that end where the truth of existence is laid bare, in all its disconcerting horror.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 5, 2014

Fórn - The Departure of Consciousness

Written by Erik Highter.

Artwork by Bryan Proteau.

On their full-length debut, The Departure of Consciousness, Boston quintet Fórn prove that slow pounding visceral doom didn't end when Asunder split asunder or Burning Witch was reduced to smoldering ash. While audibly influenced by those two bands, they finds their own path through the funeral doom morass. Fórn understand glaciers not only move slowly but that they abrade and pulverize the landscape they cross; their songs contain blackened sections like ogives, and vocal shrieks that break out of the guttural depths, as surprising as snow-covered crevasses in the ice.

After the "pomp and fell circumstance" march of the instrumental introduction "Emergence", those abrasive elements come into focus on the "Dweller on the Threshold". With thickly distorted bass and guitars, and a varied, almost tribal, drumbeat, "Dweller on the Threshold" summons the sludge before settling into a cymbal heavy more traditional rhythm. But just as the Neurosis-tinted sludge quickly gave way to classic slow doom, that sound is suddenly and effectively fractured by what can best be described as a black metal breakdown. Vocalist Chris Pinto, previously employing the thick, guttural howl – all phlegm and fire – so common to the genre, suddenly wails and cries like his spine is being ripped from his body. Paired with the tremolo guitar attack it proves unsettling, unexpected, and entirely welcome. The fall back to sludgy doom is false relief; the dweller is still there, but the glimpse of the true horror of its form recedes into nightmare.

The unease continues through "Gates of the Astral Plane", where once again Fórn upset expectations with shifts and styles that are rarely explored within the context of funeral doom. But it is the next track, "Alexithymia", that is the heart of The Departure of Consciousness in both sound and theme. Alexithymia is the term for the inability to come to grips with one's emotions. This manifests as a lack of empathy, confusion of physical and emotional stimuli, and is sometimes connected to outburst of rage or crying because of a distinct and constant dissatisfaction with the world. Knowing this unlocks the album, with its stylistic twists and turns and abrupt moments of rage and forlorn keening. The song itself encapsulates that feeling of disconnect and frustration, with the circular guitar figure becoming a feedback loop without release. When the rage breaks the circle, it's temporary; even as Pinto's vocals seethe the circular guitar figure returns and "Alexithymia" closes in once again.

That failure is a pall that hangs over the whole record, reaching its darkest depths over the paired closers "Suffering in the Eternal Void" and "Cerebral Intermission". The violent anger of the early tracks are here muted and distant. The titular void renders the howling impotent, and the only answer is to shut down. That Fórn end the record with an intermission is one of the driest, darkest laughs of 2014. Gallows humor that causes even the hangman to raise an eyebrow.

The most astonishing part of Fórn's debut is how entrancing they make psychic and spiritual desolation. The Departure of Consciousness is filled with memorable hooks and motifs, and because of the sublime mixing and mastering each mournful cry and distorted riff has its own space to resonate both sonically and in the mind. They also don't wear out their welcome; at 35-odd minutes, the album never loses its focus and is all the better for it. Fórn's glacially slow march is just beginning, and the metal world better take notice before their just so much till left behind.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

October 3, 2014

Falls of Rauros - Believe in no Coming Shore

By Justin C. I've made no secret of my love for Falls of Rauros. 2011's The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood was a revelation, and their split with Panopticon served as a tasty snack to hold me over until their new full length, Believe in no Coming Shore. The album starts quietly, with a short-but-sweet instrumental showing off their folk-infused guitar chops.
By Justin C.

I've made no secret of my love for Falls of Rauros. 2011's The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood was a revelation, and their split with Panopticon served as a tasty snack to hold me over until their new full length, Believe in no Coming Shore.

The album starts quietly, with a short-but-sweet instrumental showing off their folk-infused guitar chops. If anything, they've further expanded the realm of influence they use on this album. You get snippets of modern folk, classic rock, and tasty blues-based harmonies. Sometimes I feel like I hear a little from Scottish folkster Bert Jansch, a bit of Zeppelin, a snippet of The Allman Brothers, but the brilliance here lies in how well all of these things have been assimilated into Falls of Rauros's sound--there's never a moment where you say, "Eh, that's just a revamped riff from so-and-so," because they've taken all these sounds and made them their own. Of course, that's not to say this is all a folky-rock party--those black metal screams kick in soon enough, and the drums blast away underneath as if this mash-up of light and heavy were the most natural thing in the world.

As much as this album is a loving showcase of guitar compositions, nobody in this band is slacking off. The drums are fierce, restrained, and intricate at the same time, and the interplay of the bass with both the guitars and the drums is incredibly well done. You can hear all of this because the album is mixed in a way somewhat unusual for metal--all of the instruments and vocals are more or less at the same level. It's the kind of production more common to jazz albums, but it works amazingly here, letting each individual instrument room to breathe.

This is one of those albums that makes me want to guide you through track to track, pointing out all of the things that have delighted me, but that can be deadly boring. If one track shows off the full breadth of the sound here, it's probably "Ancestors of Smoke". The first half of the track is no-fussing-around black metal, with tremolos and a push-and-pull percussion dynamic. But at the five-minute mark, the song comes to a dead stop and reemerges with earnest acoustic guitar, adding in a bluesy electric over top, slowly building. It's the perfect blend of folk styles that manages to sound true to form but fresh and modern at the same time. It's not long before those screams blow back in, adding in perfect tension and release.

Listening to this album, I sometimes felt like it was written for me, but I suspect I won't be the only that feels this way. The music is beautiful, and the emotions expressed range through melancholy, righteous anger, hope, fear, triumph, and all the other feelings that we don't necessarily have words for. The best kind of music fits into those wordless spaces and let us feel those things that we'd otherwise be unsure of what to do with, and Falls of Rauros certainly makes the best kind of music.

Temple of Void - Of Terror and the Supernatural

By Dave Schalek. As soon as you listen to Of Terror and the Supernatural, you’ll immediately think that Temple of Void hail from Sweden, circa 1992 or so. Turns out that’s not the case, however, as this quintet hails from Detroit, Michigan.
By Dave Schalek.

Cover painting by Bruce Pennington.

As soon as you listen to Of Terror and the Supernatural, you’ll immediately think that Temple of Void hail from Sweden, circa 1992 or so. Turns out that’s not the case, however, as this quintet hails from Detroit, Michigan. Nonetheless, Of Terror and the Supernatural, the debut full-length from Temple of Void, is a direct descendant of classic Swedish death metal and doom/ death metal from bands as widely varied as Grave, early Opeth, and Edge Of Sanity. Toss in modern nods to doom metal giants such as Evoken and a gigantic production, and you've all the hallmarks of a minor classic.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

Frankly, Of Terror and the Supernatural totally snuck up on me as I was expecting basic death metal and not much else. Certainly, you’ll get that impression right out of the gate with “Embalmers Art”, a straightforward death metal track to open the album with bludgeoning riffs and a mid-paced tempo. Obviously influenced by Grave and other, early Sunlight Studios-era bands, Temple of Void soon downshift to a slow dirge, a pattern that repeats throughout Of Terror and the Supernatural. Songs such as “Beyond the Ultimate” and “Invocation of Demise” also demonstrate Temple of Void’s fascination with mid-paced Swedish death metal.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

The basic pattern of death/ doom metal may be somewhat unoriginal, but the album is very good throughout, and Temple of Void wisely add some interesting songwriting elements to their delivery, elements that separates them from the hordes of other bands treading the same waters. Hints of subtlety begin with “To Carry This Corpse Evermore”, a pleasant acoustical, instrumental composed and played by the singer, Michael Erdody.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

More changes appear in “Bargain in Death”, a nearly eleven minute long song deep into the album that serves as the centerpiece with a huge riff enhanced by a slow pace, only to shift to an uptick in tempo, and, subsequently, into a slow dirge enhanced with a spoken word sample and a booming bass that is given room to breathe. A melody creeps in later with a nice guitar solo.

A showcase song, “Bargain in Death” easily demonstrates that Temple of Void are a band to watch in future releases. "Of Terror and the Supernatural" is much better than the average death/ doom metal album, and is certainly worthy of your investigation.