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Horseback - Half Blood


Horseback exists on the peripheries of metal, where Krautrock, psychedelia, drone and dusty Americana gather to stare into the embers of a fire lit by black metal’s forbears. Half Blood is an eccentric synthesis of diffuse influences, undeniably experimental, but it is a wholly successful release—never so inharmonious or incongruent as to be unwelcoming. Dark panoramic suites come loaded with omen, and there are many evolving textures to be admired. A notable post-rock expansiveness, and the merging of warm rustic roots and cold-blooded black metal, makes for a mesmeric alchemical blend. Much like the band’s debut, Invisible Mountain, the new album’s eventide minimalism lulls, but never dulls. Rasping vocals, fuzzy guitars and open-ended twangs of heavier atmospheric rock make up the album’s first half—leading to the final, three-part “Hallucigenia”. Here, the droning thrum is spread thin, as shadowy undercurrents rise through the diaphanousness, offsetting the serenity with the presence of grimmer tidings. Like Earth, Across Tundras, or the solo work from Neurosis members Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, Horseback drifts from a metallic trajectory, but metal’s premonitory aesthetic remains. Half Blood is exquisite, hypnotic, and certainly one of the most innovative metal releases this year. CH


 

Saint Vitus - Lillie F-65


It has been 17 years since Saint Vitus last released a studio album (Die Healing), and 22 years in all since a Vitus album featured the pained humanity of Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s vocals—which in metal terms—constitutes an absolute lifetime. In their absence, Saint Vitus has been canonised as one of the most hallowed acts in metal, and rightfully so. Comeback album, Lillie F-65does nothing to diminish this status. Sure, it fails to reach the morose heights of genre original Born Too Late, but such a feat was never going to be attainable. What this curt album does is remarkably revisit their much admired sound: Chandler languorously peeling off those queasy, classic Vitus riffs through that unequalled guitar tone, and Wino—whose age has finally caught up to his life-weary voice—singing with deep sentiment on “Let Them Fall”, “The Bleeding Ground”, the “After Forever”-esque: “Blessed Night”, and the chemical comedown of “Dependence”. But what is great about Lillie F-65 is that it proves no matter what has happened in their personal lives, Vitus can come together after all these years and produce something that is still both musically and lyrically relevant. There is life left in the old doom-dogs yet, that’s for sure. DB


 

Jess and the Ancient Ones - Jess and the Ancient Ones


Jess and the Ancient Ones is a seven-piece occult rock band from Finland. Fronted by the enigmatic Jess—who is fittingly possessed by a bewitching voice—the band favors psychedelic, hard rock and proto-metal explorations of occultism, not unlike Ghost, and The Devil’s Blood. With a three-guitar line-up, stirring riffs abound. “Twilight Witchcraft” and “13th Breath of the Zodiac” are rollicking Mephistophelean romps, drawing as much from Mercyful Fate as they do from Uriah Heep and 13th Floor Elevators. Progressive rock appears on the multifaceted epics ” Sulfur Giants” and “Come Crimson Death”, and throughout the band exhibits a wanton delight in transgressing genre. Jess and the Ancient Ones evokes a splendidly vintage supernatural atmosphere. But more impressive is the breadth of the band’s material. From the beautiful bluesy jazz of “Devil (in G minor)” to the ‘70s cosmic hard rock of “Ghost Riders”, the septet imbrues its songs with layer upon layer of captivating melodies, leaving the tunes to linger long after they’re gone. Jess and the Ancient Ones is a highly impressive debut. Elegant, and smoldering with mystical energy and diabolic hooks, it conjures up sinfully seductive harmonies. CH


 

Ides of Gemini - Constantinople


Formed by prolific metal-scribe, J. Bennett, as a medium to convey the supernal tones of his partner: bassist/vocalist Sera Timms (Black Math Horseman), Ides of Gemini—on this their full length debut for Neurot—have dreamt up a delightfully bewitching sound. Constantinople is built upon a skeletal frame whose marrow consists of Victor Griffin riffs at their most reclusive, elements of ‘90s shoe-gazing wistfulness, and the dismal atmosphere that feeds both doom and black metal. Absorbing the songs that formed their Disruption Writ EP, this record moves at a soothing, yet strangely unsettling pace; with Kelly Johnston’s minimalistic drum beats preventing the guitars and haunting vocals from fully drifting into the ether. Found within each of these petrified lullabies is a spell-bound, pop-sensibility and on the spiritual highlight: “Resurrectionists”, Timms’ wounding refrains of “When will I rise? / This body was once mine,” hits you directly in the heart and invokes a high level of emotion that few songs can attain. The fact that Ides of Gemini can harness such feeling and beguile the listener at such an early stage in their career is as remarkable as it is exciting. DB


 

Necrovation - Necrovation


Necrovation’s debut was a muddy buzzsaw blast of primitive Swedish death metal that strictly adhered to the tropes of the scene. It was a solid if unoriginal album, but the band’s self-titled sophomore release represents a gigantic leap in compositional acumen. Necrovation has undergone a metamorphosis, emerging as a more dexterous, ambitious creature. Gone is the murkiness that would have obscured the nimble-fingered fret-board flurries on the new album. A combination of increased melody, a razor-edged guitar tone and a fuller and icier mix adds clarity and finish to the band’s finesse—allowing for a more vivid appreciation of the greater use of shading and technicality. Standout tracks such as “Dark Lead Dead”, “New Depths”, “The Transition” and “Resurrectionist” are filled with rapidly shifting tempos, dynamic soloing and engrossing percussion. This highlights just how far the band has come from the more simplistic songwriting of its last release. The entire album is stacked with memorable, carefully paced riffs, and Necrovation sees a far smarter use of rhythm and dissonance, which adds significantly more power. Thrash, classic metal and bone-chilling doom meet the shadowy assault of death metal—an underground gem waiting to be unearthed. CH


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