Welcome back to Mixtarum Metallum, where PopMatters’ scribes and metal devotees, Craig Hayes and Dean Brown, take a monthly jaunt through a few notable metal releases. As in 2012, Mixtarum Metallum is not remotely concerned with how that metal is packaged, be it black, death, progressive, noise, ambient, traditional, grindcore, vintage, lo-fi, hi-fi, post-this, post-that, or cut with a hard rocking’ swagger. What’s important is that it tramples like a rhinoceros, shatters the heart completely, or reinforces the theory that Old Nick really does have the best tunes. If this is your first visit, welcome aboard; if you’re a returning reader, we’d like to say sorry that the Mayan apocalypse never turned up. Still, there’s always the Rapture to look forward to. Until then, let’s get cranking with a look at 10 great albums from early 2013.
Imagine a ravaged world where Isis reached Celestial then continued to forge ahead with Godflesh remaining as their prime influence, and you will have a fair estimation of where Concrete Sustain, Batillus’s second studio release, stands. This New York based group deal in doom that dwells in bleak industrial wastelands, all blistered from the daily grind of Brooklyn.
Each of these six songs hypnotize through corrosive grooves that pulse like one monochromatic mechanism. Rippling industrial noise is emitted throughout, and vocalist Fade Kainer’s static screech exists deep within the walls of impervious riffs and martial rhythms. Sandford Parker returns as producer—a position he held on the band’s first studio release, Furnace. And he does an excellent job of capturing the acrid decay of modern life that Batillus convey through the music of “Concrete” and “Cast”.
Elsewhere, “Beset” stutters into a languid doom movement that recalls the feedback-riddled roar of Electric Wizard if they emerged from the weed smoke and sobered up the realities of this desolate planet. The doom of “Thorns” moves at a similar speed, yet the industrial aspects of this song contain more humanity than what you would otherwise imagine. And it’s a welcome conclusion, particularly as the two songs that precede it, “Mirrors” and “Rust”, offer no reprise—the Godflesh-ian riffs and hammering beats crumble the ground beneath and swallow you whole.
With this record, Batillus have now realized their potential.Concrete Sustain is the sound of hope fading amongst the ash and misery of our times, with just a hint of redemptive light peering in.—Dean Brown
Black metal is supposed to be bold, and Botanist sure shows there’s abundant fertility left in the genre’s soil. So much, in fact, that while Botanist’s roots have always resided in black metal, the (one-man) band’s fourth LP, IV: Mandragora, has spread even further away from the genre’s borders. The new album imagines our protagonist, Otrebor, in the role of eco-terrorist, leading an army of mandrakes from his Verdant Realms to wage war on humanity. That conceptual adventurism is matched by Botanist’s most musically imaginative album yet.
Botanist is famed for using hammered dulcimer and percussion as primary instrumentation, and on the new album those eccentric sonics are submerged in reverb washes. IV: Mandragora channels Blut Aus Nord as much as Slowdive and neo-psychedelia, with “Nightshade (Mandragora II)” and “Mandrake Legion (Mandragora V)” seeing Botanist’s blast-beaten past drenched in crepuscular shoegaze. If not for the delightfully crooked vocals and ill-omened undercurrents many parts of IV: Mandragora would almost be blissful. Certainly, “Rhyncholaelia Glauca” and “Nourishing the Fetus (Mandragora IV)” are both fragile and furious, but Otrebor taints their post-black metal beauty with glee.
It’s in that dichotomy between darkness and light that the album works best, where black metal’s buzz is smothered in dream-like surges, making IV: Mandragora simultaneously grotesque and gorgeous. It’s all a highly idiosyncratic journey that’s both trance-inducing and bewildering. IV: Mandragora is magnificently warped, and it is one of 2013’s very best albums so far.—Craig Hayes
Putrid Death Sorcery
If it were not for the modern production sound and the fact that Necrowretch hail from the French Alps, you would easily believe that Putrid Death Sorceryis a lost ‘90s death metal gem found in a shadowy lake in Sweden. This record ain’t no pillage of Entombed’s esteemed discography, however. Instead, Necrowretch stain their death metal assault in the style of Merciless with blackened riffs as feral as those of Canadian heathens Blasphemy.
While there are slower tempos deployed during the title track and “The Anthropomancer”, and Vlad’s (guitars/vocals) stylish solos betray the grotesque onslaught, the band’s raison d’être is to just go straight for the throat. Not content to curse the listener with the scathing riffs of “Defiler of Sacrality”, Vlad also screams like a daemon unleashed: spewed from hell and ripping the souls of sinners. His vocals drip with malice and his fangs really flicker during “Purifying Torment” and “Goat-Headed”—his phrasing hitting a Jeff Walker-esque rhythm on the latter.
The Necrowretch duo, Vlad and Amphycion (bass), have this blackened death metal sound nailed to the floor in all its putrid glory, but purists may crave a cruder production when met by the modernity of this record. There is merit in this, but such gripes are skinned and forgotten once these eleven songs sink their sharpened claws into you.—DB
Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius
Blood-curdling, murk-ridden and intimidating. That sums up mysterious UK-based death metal band Abyssal. The group self-released its debut, Denouement, in 2012 to much acclaim, and much like similarly unnerving acts Portal or Mitochondrion, Abyssal specialize in sounds that are eccentric and challenging, even for the diehard death metal fan.
The band’s sophomore album, Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius, was released in January 2013, and has been recently re-issued on a limited edition CD run by Profound Lore. Novit… unearths even more miasmic foulness than Abyssal’s first album. “The Tongue of the Demagogue”, “Under the Wretched Sun of Hattin” and “Created Sick; Commanded to be Well” are intense, atmospheric churns, with coagulating riffs and mud-spattered drumming coming straight from some hitherto unrevealed dimension of horror.
Antediluvian and, of course, Incantation purvey a similar kind of nightmarish noise (if you require a reference point). And tracks off Novit…, such as “The Headless Serpent” and “A Malthusian Epoch”, are sheer blizzards of chaos drowning in fetidness—with vocals scoured from the bowels of Hades. Abyssal’s artistic ethos is centered round an Ernst Fischer quote (“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay.”) and that is palpably manifested as Novit… plummets into caverns of putrefaction and reverb-saturated depths. Novit… is blackened death metal excellence, and its clotted cadence and malevolent utterances signal the death march for us all.—CH
In the year 2013, the last thing you want to be accosted by is post-metal. This sub-genre was hammered to death by the volume of neck-beards who discovered Isis and Neurosis, and then decided to form groups which stole everything but the vitality of these two bands and bored everyone to tears with incremental build-ups and crescendos that you could see coming a mile away.
Thankfully, Light Bearer happen to be one of the more erudite post-metal bands to come along in the last few years. This band’s appeal is not just found in the calamity and silence of sound, but interestingly, in the detailed concept which enshrouds their records. The follow up to Lapsus, Silver Tongue, further expands upon the narrative written by vocalist Alex; set to cross two more LPs and a number of EPs. Based on atheist and anti-theist theologies, and inspired by the works of Philip Pullman, John Milton, as well as the Book of Genesis, Alex has weaved an metaphorical tale that would require the length of a thesis to explain—one which demands dedication from its listener to fully comprehend.
This dedication is stretched to its limits by the fact that Silver Tongue runs a mammoth 80 minutes. But between Light Bearer’s dynamic music—which incorporates violins, piano and acoustic guitars to hold the pressure in place, add atmosphere to the delicate sections, and cast shade upon the screams and pummelling hardcore—and the intricate concept, your attention is fixated. Let Light Bearer lead the way; for this absorbing journey is far from over.—DB