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Lake of Blood: Omnipotens Tyrannus (Cult of Melancholia)

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At 80 minutes long, Omnipotens Tyrannus isn’t the easiest album to wrap your head around; but then, that’s altogether fitting given that Southern Californian black metal band Lake of Blood’s aim is to make you “cower and weep”. Omnipotens Tyrannus features buzzing melodies pierced by blast-beaten dissonance on an abundance of lengthy tunes, but what Lake of Blood does best on the album is keep things temperamental—ensuring the band’s compositions remain engaging throughout.

Lake of Blood formed in 2007 and has released a couple of EPs, a magnificent split with Panopticon, and 2011’s full-length debut, As Time and Tide Erodes Stone. The band’s atmospheric work draws vivid inspiration from the desert coastline, rolling ocean, and desolate hillsides of its locale, and the seven songs on Omnipotens Tyrannus—featuring contributions from Wrest (Leviathan) and Scott Miller (ex-Sutekh Hexen)—make for some of he most primal and resonant US black metal released this year. The lengthy tracks shroud hot-blooded screeds under doom-laden skies, with waves of transcendental riffing transforming into barbaric torrents. Fans of Drudkh, Panopticon, or Wolves in the Throne Room will find a lot to enjoy in the mix of aggression and meditative melancholia on Omnipotens Tyrannus.

Horisont: Time Warriors (Metal Blade)

I wasn’t overly impressed by Swedish hard rocker Horisont’s second album, 2012’s Second Assault. To be fair, it was somewhat overshadowed by albums from Witchcraft and Graveyard, with both bands tilling a similarly retro rock ‘n’ roll field to bountiful success. However, Horisont’s latest release, Time Warriors, is a right ripping squall of hard rock and proto-metal, and it’s not overshadowed in the slightest, by anyone.

Time Warriors taps into a steelier sounds than Horisont has exhibited before on tracks like “Diamonds in Orbit”, “She Cried Wolf” and “Eyes of the Father”—which feature grittier NWOBHM-esque riffing, and proto-metal’s momentum and melodies. Elsewhere, “Writing on the Wall”, “Backstreet” and “Dodsdans” bring the band’s expected ‘70s psych, with all the harmonies, strut, and swagger of bad-ass rock ‘n’ roll being set right at the front. Time Warriors benefits enormously from Horisont broadening its sound, and as the band doesn’t step outside the ‘70s and early ‘80s for inspiration for one second, it’s positioned itself right alongside its peers, as a leading contender in the retro-rock pack.

Stryper: No More Hell to Pay (Frontiers)

I was going to make a case for Stryper being a better band than Watain here—somewhat humorously, obviously. But then I picked up the latest issue of Decibel magazine and found that someone had done much the same, comparing Stryper to Deicide. So, instead, I’ll tell you why the bible-bashing glam-rocker Stryper is worthy of your attention.

There was a time when Stryper was actually a great band. Admittedly, that was for a few short years in the ‘80s, but if you could cope with all the proselytizing and gaudy pomp, the slick melodic hard rock the band produced was actually immensely enjoyable. The band’s latest release, No More Hell to Pay very wisely reaches back to Stryper’s earliest years, containing tunes that… blah, blah, blah and blah.

You know, selling you on No More Hell to Pay is pointless; it’s either going to be utterly ridiculous or ridiculously cheesy fun. Make your own decision about that. Let me instead explain why I won’t hear a word said against Stryper. In 1986, I went on my very first date, with a very nice young Christian woman, as it happens. Stryper had released its mega-selling album To Hell with the Devil that year, while Slayer had released its classic Reign in Blood. I remember playing my date Reign in Blood, and telling her that Stryper had moved in a new direction, and she was mortified. To be honest, we never made it to a second date, but I bumped into her again at a metal show a few years back, and it turned out she’d grown to love Slayer, Satan, and all his little minions. Now, who says Stryper isn’t good for something?

Uzala: Tales of Blood & Fire (King of Monsters)

The only thing that let down Idaho doom band Uzala’s 2012 self-titled debut was its production. The band arrived with all the riffs required, and vocalist and guitarist Darcy Nutt obviously had a howl that could shatter skulls and bring down walls. The only problem was that Uzala just didn’t have the requisite weight.

That issue has been entirely remedied on the band’s new album. With Tad Doyle serving as producer, he’s amplified all the band’s strengths magnificently on Tales of Blood & Fire. Lengthy churns, like “Dark Days” and “Burned”, contain gargantuan-sounding riffs, with droning distortion delivering the gut punch in good order. Nutt’s voice has been captured to display all the power she possesses too, especially on the multi-layered melodies of “Countess”, and as “Seven Veils”, where the intensity of her vocals draws immediate and very favourable comparisons to Uta Plotkin from Witch Mountain, or Sharie Neyland from Witchsorrow. Alongside Nutt, guitarist Chad Remains, bassist Nick Phit and drummer Chuck Watkins craft some truly Brobdingnagian and majestic doom suites, making Tales of Blood & Fire an album you’ll not want to miss.

Ephemeros: All Hail Corrosion (Seventh Rule)

If the deep dark doom of Uzala sounds enticing, then you might also like to take a step further into the gloom and check out another band with Uzala drummer Chuck Watkins—the death/doom/sludge titan Ephemeros.

The band’s debut, All Hail Corrosion, takes the suffocating funereal tone of the likes of Asunder and Mournful Congregation, and buries it in fathomless murk. All Hail Corrosion is as dismal as it comes, with death metal growls and anguished howls entombed in droning songs that take thick and slow trudges across utterly bleak mindscapes.

Ephemeros is heavy, in every sense of the word. Emotionally traumatic and sonically harrowing, All Hail Corrosion only contains three soul-smashing suites; but honestly, any more might well be mentally ruinous. Like the stunning debut from Lycus earlier in the year, Ephemeros makes great use of minimalist passages of chugging riffs that suddenly drop into caverns of sludgy noise. A murderously methodical momentum pushes things forward, compressing the claustrophobia and morose timbre as it goes. The demoralizing abysses of funeral doom that All Hail Corrosion travels through might not be for everyone, but for those who draw strength from despair, Ephemeros has provided a monumental banquet of daunting metal.

Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.

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