Self billed as “two men, two guitars, a voice and machine”, Alsace, France’s C.R.O.W.N. has undervalued itself with such a technically correct description. You see what the duo of P.G. and S.A. has failed to inform you is that C.R.O.W.N. create the kind of music than gnaws at your inner being and prods at emotions you didn’t even know were raw. So many bands list Neurosis as an influence and, musically, plenty of bands can mimic its sonic destruction, but very few can mine its elemental core.
C.R.O.W.N., however, are one of the few, and the band’s full-length debut Psychurgy is a torrential outpour of emotion. Psychurgy expands impressively on 2012’s The One EP, aspects of industrial, post-metal, electronica, sludge and doom all converge together as engineered beats hammer and hypnotize throughout each extensive composition and S.A.‘s vocals turn from lung-burning roars to deep mantra chants (similar in tone to Scott Kelly). “Abyss” and “Blood Runs” sound like empires crumbling into the sea and the crescendos of the latter provide a towering finish. The capture and release dynamics utilized during “Empress Hierophant” shows considerable songwriting expertise and the electronic embellishments of “Telepath” imparts a cold air over the latter half of Psychurgy. The atmosphere is grey and desolate right through. Highlighted by the demonstrative statement of intent that is “We Will Crush the Open Sky”, which leads the way to the tremolo picking and jolting blasts at the beginning of “Alpha Omega”, before pounding processed beats drop to punctuate the colossal riffs as you genuflect beneath the heaviness of it all. It’s a stunning hour of impenetrable and intense music that, beside the odd flicker of hope, offers no forgiveness. ~ DB
The Crowning Horror (Agonia)
The Crowning Horror is the first full-length in five years from long-running Swedish duo Pest. Drummer, guitarist and vocalist Necro, and bassist and guitarist Equimanthorn, have been dishing out sadistic and orthodox black metal since the late ‘90s, and fans of early Bathory, Darkthrone and Hellhammer—or the more contemporary misanthropy of Thrall or Craft—are bound to find The Crowning Horror enthralling and enticing.
The Crowning Horror is, essentially, studded gauntlets, inverted crucifixes and back-patched nastiness engulfed in a savage blizzard of retro riffing. Black and thrash metal’s first serrated sorties ring loud here, and while The Crowning Horror‘s production harks back to the pitch-black and often punked-up cult chaos of yore, there’s nothing derivative about the album. NWOBHM and speed metal turn up on “A Face Obscured by Death”, “Volcanic Eyes”, and “Demon”, and “Thirteen Chimes” chugs and churns with brooding, scorched-earth doom.
However, while the vintage Mephistophelian glorification of the past is evident, Pest brings freshly killed nourishment to this fetid feast. There’s no denying this stuff sounds primeval (with the emphasis on evil), but The Crowning Horror‘s 10 ruthless tracks are a classic reminder of the mayhem of black metal’s dawn. With dirty and distorting melodies, serpentine sprints up the fretboard and abundant rasping vocals, The Crowning Horror exposes the roots of indisputably nefarious and toxic metal. ~ CH
Lychgate (Gilead Media)
Gilead Media’s reputation as a label that releases contemporary black metal of the highest order has crystallized this year with the double debut of Fell Voices’s opaque opus Regnum Saturni and the grandiloquence of Lychgate’s self-titled full-length debut. Co-conspirator Craig Hayes already lavished due praise upon Fell Voices, so for this installment of Mixtarum Metallum our attention turns to the equally enticing Lychgate.
With underground musicians from Omega Centauri, Esoteric and Lunar Aurora in its ranks, Lychgate already comes with an impressive pedigree before any music is heard. But upon exposure to the band’s debut, it becomes abundantly clear that this stable of musicians have lived up to expectations. After the bombastic mood-setter “The Inception, “Resentment” is a disorientating union of Emperor’s baroque black metal and demented organ thrills that swarm as the song progresses. It’s a regal highpoint early on but Lychgate does not lose any of its devilry as the album progresses. “Against the Paradoxical Guild” and “In Self Ruin” both display deep-set doom and death metal undercurrents during the spiralling guitar leads of the former and harmonic-heavy riffs of the latter. And, as with Slidhr mentioned above, Lychgate refuses to use blasts and tremolo-driven passages as a crutch to join each idea together. Instead when the band does blast hellbound (“Triumphalism”) it holds real power, particularly considering each turn of this debut is sinuously executed and some sections are genuinely surprising (See: the eerie tiptoe of an acoustic guitar on “Dust of a Gun Barrell”). Symphonic without being sterile, stately without sacrificing the sinister elements intrinsic to black metal, Lychgate is a fully formed example of a modern black metal band at its finest. ~ DB
Shadows (Profound Lore)
On the sophomore album by Boston, Massachusetts-based Morne, 2011’s Asylum, the band indulged in some real alchemical magic. Sludge and doom, all scabbed over with crust, soared to firmamental heights, and came crashing down to six feet under—with the netherworlds of darkly atmospheric post-metal being thoroughly traversed. The band tilled a similarly emotive field to that of Neurosis (the founding father of such down-tuned, impassioned artistry), with Morne’s searching spirit harnessing whatever sonic tools were required to hammer the psychological weight of its missives home.
Morne’s new album, Shadows, brings that same level of import and impact, with layers of contorting riffs from Milosz Gassan and former Grief guitarist Jeff Hayward interwoven with waves of Ian Shultz’s meditative keyboard passages—along with heavy-footed percussion and tectonically rumbling bass. Hypnotic and elliptical guitars convey a mix of post-punk and death rock bleakness, with steely psychedelic shifts appearing amongst all the slurry and hulking chug. “A Distance,” “New Dawn” and “Throes” are all sprawling melancholic epics. Ambient passages cut with slashing and sluggish riffs ensure Shadows is Morne’s most solemn release yet. However, while the lumbering stretches provide immensely heavy and glutinous quagmires to wallow and weep in, gothic melodies and Gassan’s cathartic bark bring the majestic tonnage of funeral doom too. Shadows may be grimmer than anything Morne has produced before, but it is also the band’s most beautifully wretched work; it underscores that heavenly feel of living through hell. ~ CH
Year of Sleep (Granite House)
In keeping with the insidious theme of debuts worth your dollar, let us introduce you to Pyres. The embers of Pyres have been stoked for a number of years (and one EP) but now Granite House Records has fired up the torch and illuminated the band from Toronto by releasing its debut, Year of Sleep.
Picking up from where The Red Album-era Baroness left off, Pyres bring back the mountainous riffs and the aggression that, besides bands like New Zealand’s Beastwars, has been missing from sludge metal over the last few years. Growling grooves rip through your speakers as melody and might coalesce with the lion’s roar of guitarist Andrew Wilson during “Proximity” and “Deserter”. “Year of Sleep” spreads eagle across 9 minutes of pysch-dipped sludge; Pyres wielding a dynamic series of winding riffs and neck-snapping rhythms distinct from the Floydian-phrasing of the song’s beginning. Elsewhere quaking bass-lines reverberate beneath coarse bellows as “Atlas Cast No Shadow” takes no prisoners by smashing through various tempos and running headlong until its end. Yet it’s when the entire band come together to hammer the grizzly end-groove of the finale “Everbearing” into the dirt that Pyres reach High on Fire levels of barbarism with this cavernous clout. But not only that, there are also moments during Pyres’ debut where you will witness hints of where this band may go in the future, should they experiment like the sludge behemoths that strode before them. In the present, however, if you have been salivating since the release of Beastwars’ Blood Becomes Fire, then Year of Sleep will leave you in a pool of your own milky mucus. ~ DB
Manégarmr (Southern Lord)
On Belgian four-piece Hessian’s Facebook page you’ll find the band’s genre listed as “punkmetal”. Note the non-separation of the two genres, and you’ll see where the band sees its debut, Manégarmr, sitting sonically. Like many of Hessian’s Southern Lord brethren, you will find a crossover of genres here, with an intermingling of bone-crunching hardcore and bone-chilling black metal, and visions of apocalyptic chaos leaking through.
Named after a wolf in Norwegian mythology that devours the sun every night, Hessian is certainly, and aptly, bestial. Tracks from Manégarmr, such as “Ascension”, “Plague Monger” and “Mother of Light”, are frenzied, animalistic, and unswerving expressways powered by indignation and bordered by ruin. Torrents of metal and punk cut both ways on the album, and slower, more doom-infused tracks, such as “Vamacara” and “Swallowing Nails”, reveal that a lessening in velocity does nothing to reduce the different ways the band’s down-tuned thrusts carve and cleave. Manégarmr is a deluge of heaviness and hostility, but there’s subtlety to its battery where eccentric soloing and circuitous, crooked guitar dissolve and reform. Don’t let a combined “punkmetal” tag fool you into thinking Mánégarmr is simply a familiar or simplistic amalgam—there’s a lot more inventiveness going on here than that. ~ CH