July 31, 2019

Wolvhammer - The Monuments of Ash & Bone

By Matt Hinch. It feels like it's been longer than four years since the last Wolvhammer release. I didn't forget about them though. New album, and first for Blood Music, The Monuments of Ash & Bone definitely made the wait worthwhile. I admit I haven't gone back and reminded myself
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Brian Sheehan.

It feels like it's been longer than four years since the last Wolvhammer release. I didn't forget about them though. New album, and first for Blood Music, The Monuments of Ash & Bone definitely made the wait worthwhile. I admit I haven't gone back and reminded myself what their previous records sounded like but sometimes context just isn't in the cards. Besides, this album hasn't left my phone in a solid year.

In my humble opinion, or rather, as pertaining to my personal tastes, Wolvhammer are upper tier USBM. Never mind your basements and bullshit necro recording techniques. Monuments sounds great. Sounds huge. Sounds nasty. There's no doubt to the black metal base here but it's not all blasting and arctic wind riffing. Atmosphere plays a part, as well as varied tempos and pacing. It's not “black 'n' roll” though.

As you may or may not know vocalist Adam Clemans also sings for Skeletonwitch. When he was announced as Chance Garnette's replacement my initial reaction was basically “COOL!! That guy kicks ass!” Kick ass he does. Most of the time he rips ears with his signature snarly rasp. Clean vocals aren't out of the question but his chilling delivery mates perfectly with the bulldozing riffs and energetic percussion. Guitarists Jeff Wilson and John Porada, bassist Andrew Gerrity, and drummer Garry Naples round out the new lineup in case you were wondering.

Most of the album is fast enough. Militant, biting, gnashing and fierce. Physical and bruising. Wolvhammer drag the listener through the darkness on the back of their infectious riffs and feral energy. Stand out track “The Failure King” is so powerful. It came on the PA between sets at a Goatwhore show and I was just as excited for that as anyone actually on stage. Closer “Solace Eclipsed” though slows it down, bringing in plenty of atmosphere and those clean vocals. The tone of this track feels more morose and cold, a change not met with listener resistance for the album's waning sounds. It still has some pounding moments to inject a sense of determination the listener can take with them. As well as a desire to start it all over again!

The Monuments of Ash & Bone is fantastic. Wolvhammer's sense of motion and conviction doesn't go unnoticed. There's nothing to complain about. Its aggression and dynamics hit the sweet spot and give me the sense that their live show is something to witness. USBM doesn't get much better for me. I'm already yearning for their next offering but this one provides plenty to chew on (and burn through) until that day comes.

July 29, 2019

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions: Part XVIII - Life Metal

By Craig Hayes. There’s an overarching theme linking many of the reviews of the latest release from formidable drone-lords Sunn O))). Critical consensus suggests the band’s eighth studio album, Life Metal, is Sunn O)))’s most euphoric release yet
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Samantha Keely Smith.

There’s an overarching theme linking many of the reviews of the latest release from formidable drone-lords Sunn O))). Critical consensus suggests the band’s eighth studio album, Life Metal, is Sunn O)))’s most euphoric release yet –– and there’s definitely an element of truth to that tale. Sunn O)))’s creative architects, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley, have spoken of setting themselves the challenge of making an album that’s heavyweight but also enlivening, and Life Metal is certainly brighter and more upbeat than Sunn O)))’s previous releases.

That said, while Life Metal sees Sunn O))) pivot, creatively, the band aren’t taking a radical leap into entirely new territory. Even at their darkest, Sunn O))) have always made rapturous music, and their tracks are often tailor-made for ecstatic psychological adventures as much as far-reaching cosmic voyaging. Sunn O)))’s fans certainly know the band’s mammoth walls of noise can be uplifting –– especially if they’ve ever seen the band live –– and Life Metal is equally exhilarating.

Sunn O)))’s new album channels the light in a way that their other albums haven’t, but it’s only the first of two such releases Sunn O))) are planning to unleash in 2019. A second, and apparently more meditative album, entitled Pyroclasts, is planned for release later in the year. And it’s worth pointing out that Sunn O))) recorded both Life Metal and Pyroclasts over a two-week period, which is markedly less time than they’d usually spend in the studio, and that’s no doubt why Life Metal sounds and feels so energetic and instinctual.

The album delivers four lengthy sermons, and all the teeth-rattling frequencies and amplifier worship you’d expect is here. Sunn O))) continue to explore the physicalities of their sound with gigantic/downtuned/slow-motion riffs, and Life Metal also continues to fuse sound art to subterranean metal. Sunn O)))’s familiar minimalist/maximalist technique is put to expert use throughout, and the band are supported, once again, by a cast of crucial collaborators.

Noted producer Steve Albini plays a huge role in Life Metal’s success. Albini’s well-earned reputation for channeling gargantuan guitar noise makes his teaming up with Sunn O))) seem like a dream come true –– and it is. Albini’s rawer, all-analog approach forgoes Sunn O)))’s usual digital layering, and recording everyone in the same room at the same time increases the energy of Sunn O)))’s armory of overblown riffs, adding visceral and tangible texture to their sound.

Longtime Sunn O))) contributor Tos Nieuwenhuizen adds the electronic flourishes to Life Metal, while Australian minimalist composer Anthony Pateras supplies delicate pipe organ. Tim Midyett contributes bass on the album, and frequent Sunn O))) collaborator, Icelandic cellist and singer Hildur Guðnadóttir, contributes striking vocals, electric cello, and haldorophone. Also of note is artist Samantha Keely Smith, whose vibrant cover art for Life Metal powerfully visualizes Sunn O)))’s revised musical palette.

Life Metal opens with a neigh and gallop on "Between Sleipnir's Breaths" –– that’s a reference to Odin's famed eight-legged steed, if you’re curious. Sunn O))) drop a distorting riff the size of Mount Everest to kick things off proper, and the atmospheric track/trek is made all the more vivid by Guðnadóttir’s spellbinding vocals, which are woven around massive and undulating shifts in sound. Twelve dramatic minutes later, one of Sunn O)))’s most colossal opening tracks ends, crushing any concerns about Life Metal’s “brightness” somehow muting Sunn O)))’s core strengths.

Sunn O))) contrast darkness and light and/or ferocity and fragility on "Troubled Air”. The band thread pipe organ into the depths of the fathomless drone, offsetting the punishing ambience with bursts of luminosity. Claustrophobic heaviness –– fuelled by feedbacking riffs –– engulfs the 19-minute “Aurora”. But Guðnadóttir's presence, however brief, melts the glacial ice, clearing a path for the behemoth/transcendent drone to lumber forth. Heavy, low and slow, “Aurora” exemplifies the immensity and the intensity of Sunn O)))’s sound.

Life Metal finishes with the 25-minute opus "Novae". Titanic in form and content, "Novae" lurches forward, propelled by its own gravitational weight, with Guðnadóttir’s eccentric haldorophone coloring the drone and adding detail. Epic-sized (and certainly epic-sounding), "Novae" boils with chest-crushing riffs while traversing rocky and scorched terrain. In parts, Sunn O))) dial down the in-your-face forcefulness to creep through starker caverns of sound, but momentous undertones keep pushing "Novae" forward until its exorcising end.

Life Metal is staggering, towering, and surprisingly beautiful. The violence of Sunn O)))’s sound hasn’t been tempered, it’s more a case that Anderson and O’Malley have highlighted the light in the darkness, injecting more captivating subtlety and splendor into Life Metal’s vast seismic suites. The result is a breathtaking, often soul-stirring, album, with Sunn O))) displaying genuine grace amongst all the grit. Life Metal challenges our ideas about what Sunn O))) and their music are capable of. But, best of all, the album underscores that Sunn O)))’s ultimate creative destination remains tantalizingly unknown.


The Sunn O))) Monoliths and Opinions series.

July 26, 2019

Scorn Coalescence - Serpents Athirst / Genocide Shrines / Trepanation / Heresiarch

Cyclopean Eye Productions, a label out of Bangalore, present Scorn Coalescence, a four-way split of blistering death metal. The first two bands hail from Singapore, while the latter two are native to New Zealand.
By Bryan Camphire.

Artwork by Roger Moore.

Cyclopean Eye Productions, a label out of Bangalore, present Scorn Coalescence, a four-way split of blistering death metal. The first two bands hail from Sri Lanka, while the latter two are native to New Zealand. Taken together, the songs capture death metal's potential to be momentous and captivating, the kind of release that you wish was twice as long.

First up is "Poisoning the Seven", by Serpents Athirst. The song feels like an anthem from its opening bars. A minute in, they ratchet up the intensity and the tempo, recalling the relentless death metal of early 2000s Brazilian acts like Rebaelliun and Abhorrence. There is an urgent intensity to the emotions on display here. The track is brimming over with malevolence in its smoldering attack.

Genocide Shrines darken the mood with, "All and/or Nothing". The bass is at least as loud as the guitars and its bombast spews forth with the relentlessness of a Gatling gun. The whole cut is the sound of being ground to a paste on concrete underfoot. Yet for all its teeming antipathy, the music is also painstakingly measured and precise. Its explosiveness is calculated, set off with iron-fisted control.

Trepanation slow things down on "B/H/T". Just when you feel like you're on solid footing vocals and blast beats are thrown over your head and tied tight with rope, as you're tossed into the trunk of a car. The music careens along in fits and starts. When things slow down, an accompanying feeling of dread sets in as you anticipate the violence around the next corner, forced to manage the suspense and catharsis.

Heresiarch close off the split with "Dread Prophesy", a coughing erratic piece of death metal. Fast, confident and careening, it shows how the band's prowess for detailed sprawling death metal takes no prisoners in its assault. Frequent rhythm changes beg repeated listens while sacrificing none of the music's immediacy.

The record as a whole vouches for these four bands' abilities to convey destruction and death distilled into a unique powerful display. This release should leave little room for doubt that this is an era of strong uncompromising death metal. Coming from four bands from extreme ends of the underground, Scorn Coalescence is a vitally concentrated offering.

July 12, 2019

False - Portent

By Matt Hinch. Before we even get into the nuts and bolts of the new False album one must note that this one actually has a name. Previously the Minnesota black metal 5-piece released an “untitled” EP and LP. Sure the Hunger EP had a name but this seems more significant.
By Matt Hinch.

Artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski.

Before we even get into the nuts and bolts of the new False album one must note that this one actually has a name. Previously the Minnesota black metal 6-piece released an “untitled” EP and LP. Sure the Hunger EP had a name but this seems more significant. Threateningly or disquietingly significant in fact. A marvelous omen indicating a momentous happening. You see, the name of the album is Portent and all meanings of the word are applicable.

My first listen to False's sophomore full-length came under almost ideal conditions, with the main point against being the fact that it was 30°C and not cold and icy at all. Otherwise, the racing percussion (Travis), atmospheric keys (Kishel) and relentless guitars (Niko – bass, Skorpian – lead, James – rhythm) cascaded through the speakers as trees, bushes, sparsely lit houses and the watchful eyes of nocturnal creatures flew by driven by the aural assault, as a crescent moon hung high in the sky casting shadows upon the already darkened landscape.

The serenity is broken by Rachel's possessed vocals. Bewitching and vile, they strike with all the subtlety of teeth scraping on bone. The passion and desperation, conviction and heart of her delivery leaves nothing to be desired. The somewhat abrupt, barking style won't be for everyone but anything more melodic or less eviscerating would throw off the whole balance.

The three main sources of healing pain on Portent take the long road. Opener “A Victual to Our Dead Selves” is the shortest of the three at almost 11 minutes. As one would expect a lot happens in that amount of time. There is repetition obviously but not for the sake of filler and while the track takes the listener to many different places the path makes sense. The focus shifts at times with more emphasis on the keys, or the vocals, or the epic/power metal moves the guitars make around the 4:00 mark. Definitely not a “set it and forget it” album.

“Rime on the Song of Returning” also packs a lot in. The icy black metal seems unstoppable lest a lack of movement freezes the band in place. Yet, the pace goes glacial for a while. A doomy dread brings a lethargy into play that spills over into a more measured pace. A moodier time. A time without vocals where the listener can immerse themselves even more into the windswept melodies and soothing atmosphere. It's hard to think of anything as soothing when most of the elements hit so, so hard but it happens anyway. Especially the percussion; nuanced, complex, and dominant.

The pacing carries into “The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat”. Kishel's keys show off a new facet for the album careening with a more industrial/air raid quality, like a fall from a great height, or the heartbreak of apocalypse. There's more than enough speed to be had though. False get downright fevered at times channeling every fibre of their being into a cathartic rage.

With the exception of low-key piano outro “Postlude” - a welcome cool down from Portent's unfailing intensity – False go for the throat. A lot happened in the band member's personal lives in the years since their last LP and it has brought the band together in ways us outsiders can never really know. But we can hear it. We can feel it. We can feel a band firing on all cylinders, with purpose, locked in, pouring all their pain, loss, and suffering into their art, their escape, their way forward over 41 minutes of flowing, active and adventurous black metal.

Portent, for all its shifting moods and pacing, feels incredibly fluid. Complex too. On the surface, it's fierce black metal, all flailing riffs and blasting drums ruled by demonic vocals and can be enjoyed for just that. But a more concentrated listen allows the listener to become one with the cold darkness. In this state, the whole can separate into its composite pieces. The path the leads take become more defined, the percussion fully blossoms, sometimes the bass can be heard more prominently (my only gripe about the album is turn up the bass!), and various other production flavours (string noise, thumps, etc) increase the sense of realness enhancing the overall experience.

False make a statement with Portent other than titles, member names, and a willingness to talk about their work. A statement that American Black Metal can go toe-to-toe with its Scandinavian counterparts and come out the other side no worse for wear. Depending on the listener, victoriously triumphant in fact. I mean, isn't Minnesota the most “Scandinavian” state anyway?

July 10, 2019

Antigone's Fate - Insomnia

By Hera Vidal. Atmospheric black metal can be pretty. Even with the many layers and nuances that go into making an album sound as it does, the reason I keep coming back to this genre is because it can be pretty.
By Hera Vidal.


Atmospheric black metal can be pretty. Even with the many layers and nuances that go into making an album sound as it does, the reason I keep coming back to this genre is because it can be pretty. It can be the one beautiful thing in a terrible day, the one thing that makes me appreciate music the way I do. Of course, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the beauty of music – most of us are too busy breaking down each part line by line – but, sometimes, it’s best to appreciate music as it can be: an experience.

Insomnia is the first full-length from Antigone’s Fate, but the origins of the music are not new. Runn, the man behind Antigone’s Fate, wrote a lot of music during a hard period in his life. After a time, he let it sit on his hard drive, not considering it for release. However, when writing for his other bands he decided to reactivate this project, and we got Insomnia, a rather emotional album that deals with heavy topics and themes that were influenced by Runn’s experiences.

Insomnia starts innocently enough: opener “In endlosen Eiswüsten” begins with an acoustic intro before dropping all pretense and going straight into atmospheric black metal territory. All the elements are present: the howling vocals; the soft yet melodious instrumentation that moves the soul; and the ever-present atmosphere that allows you to transcend elsewhere. However, unlike the consistent nature of some atmospheric black metal, where it can get quickly get stale because there is no variety, Insomnia is not a stationary record. While it always keeps coming back to the same musical theme, Antigone’s Fate takes the time to build the suspense, taking the listener to other places before placing them back at the beginning. They also add other sounds to give the music texture and heaviness, shifting it from a melancholic tone to a funerary one. This is mostly evident on “Insomnia 32.3”, one of the more complex tracks on Insomnia. The music not only provides the aforementioned elements, but it also has chanting, syncopated, melodic drumming – almost as if it was going into a welcoming melodeath tone – clean vocals, and quiet guitar riffing that becomes a feature towards the latter half of the song. It’s such a compelling change, one that made me focus on what the music was showing me rather than whatever else was happening. It was calming amidst the atmosphere and the deep melancholy that seems to color this album. Even for nothing else, that part of “Insomnia 32.3” is worth listening to, even if you don’t find Insomnia compelling enough.

What I love most about Insomnia is how its production adds to its layering. I already mentioned that the album has texture and heaviness that allows it to shift without the music becoming stale, adding a form of vibrancy that focuses on the atmosphere. It’s very clear that Runn had a vision when it came to producing this album – he wanted it to stay true to his experiences and his sadness, so he created this deeply layered, emotional album that makes you feel for him. The pain of whatever happened to him is evident, and he will continue to discuss it whenever someone listens to this album.

All in all, Insomnia is a deeply emotional album that truly takes the “atmospheric” description and takes it to a new realm. However, while it may not grab your attention at first, repeated listens make the theme clearer and easier to understand. I will be forever curious about what happened to Runn that made this album so compelling to listen to, but I will be waiting patiently to see what happens next with this project. I hope it is as intense as Insomnia.

July 9, 2019

Riffs for Reproductive Justice

Riffs for Reproductive Justice is terrific compilation of dark music for a good cause. A handful of songs are from albums we have featured, like The Unraveling by Ails and Empress/Abscess by Immortal Bird another handful birds are from bands I have enjoyed live

Riffs for Reproductive Justice is terrific compilation of dark music for a good cause. A handful of songs are from albums we have featured, like The Unraveling by Ails and Empress/Abscess by Immortal Bird. Another handful are from bands I have enjoyed a lot live, like Dawn Ray'd and Closet Witch. On top of that are tracks from all-time favorites like False and Woe - this really is a great collection of songs.

100% of proceeds from the compilation will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Here's Ursula Le Guin on why this is a very worthy cause, why abortion rights are so important:

It’s like this: if I had dropped out of college, thrown away my education, depended on my parents … if I had done all that, which is what the anti-abortion people want me to have done, I would have borne a child for them, … the authorities, the theorists, the fundamentalists; I would have born a child for them, their child.

But I would not have born my own first child, or second child, or third child. My children.

The life of that fetus would have prevented, would have aborted, three other fetuses … the three wanted children, the three I had with my husband—whom, if I had not aborted the unwanted one, I would never have met … I would have been an “unwed mother” of a three-year-old in California, without work, with half an education, living off her parents….

(full excerpt here)

Their body. Their choice.

July 5, 2019

Immortal Bird - Thrive on Neglect

By Justin C. Immortal Bird’s self-description of “crusty blackened proggy deathgrind” may be tongue-in-cheek, but I think it actually reveals a nugget of truth. As I’ve listened to their newest, Thrive on Neglect, on nearly endless repeat these past few weeks,
By Justin C.


Immortal Bird’s self-description of “crusty blackened proggy deathgrind” may be tongue-in-cheek, but I think it actually reveals a nugget of truth. As I’ve listened to their newest, Thrive on Neglect, on nearly endless repeat these past few weeks, I realized that the key to their addictive sound is rooted in duality. They offer up ever-mutating songs, shifting tempo and feel, playing with oblique angular sounds and quick-change ups that will tickle your noggin while maintaining an emotional and musical immediacy from more straightforward realms of metal, making sure you’re not ignoring your feels in the face of the intellectual challenges of the music. Yes, the previous bit may be one of the most pretentious paragraphs I’ve ever written about music, but bear with me, because I promise that it gets to the heart of what I think makes this band so special, and what makes Thrive on Neglect their best album yet.

Vocalist Rae Amitay and bassist John Picillo are joined on this album by two new friends, Nate Madden on guitars and Matt Korajczyk on drums. The core of their sound from previous albums remains the same, but it’s refined and sharpened here. “Vestigial Warnings” takes twisty turns through blasty grind and slower, doomier fare, only to return to a primal stomp at the end. But balancing that, there are moments like the beginning of “House of Anhedonia,” where Amitay opens the song by screaming “We are cursed!”, moments that offer an immediacy that bores right into your brain. “Avolition” is long by Bird standards, coming in over 7 minutes, but it has a telescoping guitar riff that’s one of the favorite things I’ve heard in a while--and of course they fade out with a version of the same riff with harmonics, and I’m a sucker for harmonics. Technically interesting, but still grab-you-by-your-shirtfront direct. Add to that a high, slinky bass riff, and any instrumental music itch I have is well and truly scratched.

The instrumental prowess is matched by emotionally raw lyrics that describe, well, let’s say human relationships that perhaps aren’t operating at their peak. The beginning of “Avolition” offers twisty, dark word play in its first line, “Infatuated with not being alone.” Amitay lets her voice range from low growls to a higher rasp, but her voice never does anything that doesn’t bleed rage and honesty. In album opener “Anger Breeds Contempt,” she percussively bellows “You are. Infection. If. I turn. To face you. I. Know I’ll. Become salt.” adding a nice Biblical allusion thrown in for good measure. If you didn’t know before, her rhythmic delivery here shows her split life between vocalist and drummer.

As of late, we’ve all read a sickening amount of bullshit justification about why shit like stupid Nazi-inspired lyrics somehow “keeps metal dangerous,” but Immortal Bird shows a different, better way. This music is dangerous because it’s musically challenging and emotionally direct and raw. Confronting your inner demons is always more dangerous than lame shock tactics, and adding musical complexity and immediacy in such a fine balance shows Immortal Bird at the top of not only their game, but the whole damn metal game.