[6 August 2013]
It has been a heated couple of months with contentious debates over Black Sabbath’s 13 and Megadeth’s Super Collider dominating and spamming the high holy hell out of news feeds, forums and every other form of social media that attracts metal’s computer keyboard contingent. Deafheaven’s Sunbather has also received unprecedented levels of online chatter, and expressive and polarizing opinions continue to rage about whether Sunbather is overvalued beyond belief or, in fact, a work of genius, as so many deem it. We here at Mixtarum Metallum found ourselves caught in the eye of the tornado when it came to each of the above mentioned albums, but in an effort to find equilibrium again, we have disappeared deep into the darkest recesses of underground metal. This edition of Mixtarum Metallum takes you from where we left off with V: 10 Great Metal Albums from Early 2013 by scavenging on some of the best releases to arrive during the late-spring to mid-summer months that may have been missed by many.
First off: If you haven’t a sense of humour you will probably wince at a band name like Gaytheist, and move along with your boring life. Those who find the name clever and pretty damn hilarious however, may have a tolerance for a silly song title like “Poocano”. And those who get that far may even press play on this playful trio’s second album Hold Me… But Not So Tight, only to be greeted by some of the best pop-sludge this side of Torche’s sugar-encrusted discography.
While Torche is known for adding plenty of vocal sweetness on top of treacle-thick riffs, Gaytheist, on the other hand, has a singer, Jason Rivera, who is quirky and borderline unhinged. Rivera, who also plays guitar, has a fetish for rubbing awkward melodies against his own riff walls and his voice may be the last blockade for those attempting to give Gaytheist a chance. Be advised: The more you spend time with his vocal eccentricities the more you warm to him and, consequently, the more you will expose your eardrums to the wild battering that drummer Nick Parks gives to his drum-kit. Dropping double bass rhythms at rapid speed; moving in and out of the rolling riffs; almost reaching the point of over-playing, yet never crossing that perilous line—this guy is a beast. Pull all this together and you have a rather bizarre package with two pink creatures embracing on the cover and a band that could care less about your principles and the restrictions that stem from them. ~ Dean Brown
Canadian black metal duo Gevurah (A.L. guitars/bass and X.T. vocals/drums) released its Anno MMXI demo in 2011 to many hails from the underground . The band next appeared on the excellent, and well worth seeking out, two-cassette SVN OKKLT compilation of pitch-black maliciousness curated by the website of the same name, and Gevurah’s latest work, Necheshirion (Hebrew for ‘snake-like’), is the band’s debut EP for label Profound Lore.
Necheshirion is five songs and 33 minutes of vitriolic black metal, presenting “...the rebirth of the enlightened Self rising from its ashes by fire”. There’s no doubting the Dark Lord lit that pyre; Necheshirion embraces the iniquitous roots of black metal in the same way that bands such as Funeral Mist or Antaeus do, i.e. with a sacrificial blade held ready. Tracks off Necheshirion, such as “Mother of Light”, “Flesh Bounds Desecrated” and “Throne of Lucifer”, are hollowed out, ceremonial slaughter-pits of bitter riffing and X.T.‘s ceaselessly acidic bark. Death metal turns up on Necheshirion too, with the EP’s bass and drums staked out in a deformed fashion akin to fellow Canadian deviants Mitochondrion and Antediluvian. Of course, the ceaseless death worship found on the EP cannot come without life, and for Gevurah, it would seem that is a life enveloped in uncompromising and gloriously provocative blasphemy. Hail again, and again. ~ Craig Hayes
The alliterated title bestowed upon Magister Templi’s mighty debut is an infernal inference of where this Norwegian band’s loyalty lies: Lucifer Leviathan Logos. Beyond this occult title exists a realm where Manilla Road, Trouble, Pagan Altar, Angel Witch, Candlemass and Sabbath form an unholy coven of damnation and influence. Presiding as “Master of Ceremonies” is vocalist Abraxas d’Ruckus, whose highly dramatic and semi-operatic vocals (a meeting of Messiah Marcolin and Alan Averill) boom over shredding NWOBHM riffs and the band’s imposing ‘80s-styled doom.
From the opening sermon of “Master of the Temple” to the last gasps of “VITRIOL”, d’Ruckus’s decrees of eternal hellfire rise high as a striking feature of Lucifer Leviathan Logos. However, what stands out beyond his vocal bombast is that Magister Templi’s worship of metal’s inimitable forefathers avoids sounding insipidly ‘retro’ and the shadowy, occult leanings gift the often melodramatic metal a heavy air of authenticity. This authenticity is also coupled with a keen knowledge of how to script fluid tempo changes—rampaging gallops to the Pentagram-esque dirge of “Lucifer” and the cascading doom thrills of “Leviathan”—without sounding disjointed. Such deft songwriting has resulted in a fascinating record, and its name, Lucifer Leviathan Logos, deserves to be chanted like a mantra until the year’s end and beyond. When it comes to Magister Templi, the old maxim that the Devil has the best songs can be bolstered by another time-tested adage: Scandinavia is a monolith for heavy metal. ~ DB
When funeral doom band Lycus released its three-song demo MMXI in 2011, the four-piece’s first recordings found a lot of favor with fans of mammoth and mournful soundscapes. Tempest is the band’s debut LP for label 20 Buck Spin, and again you only get three songs, but there’s no need to be concerned about being shortchanged here. The three devastating dirges provide 40 minutes of soul-crushing doom, and honestly, any more might well lead to irreversible damage.
Lycus’s crawling, über-down-tuned sound calls to mind Asunder or Mournful Congregation, and as with the wonderfully demoralizing fare those legendary bands dispense, Tempest‘s success comes down to tone, both of the musical and psychological variety. Emotionally, “Coma Burn”, “Engraving” and the woebegone 20-minute pilgrimage “Tempest” are gravity-strength comedowns—spilling over with colossally heavy and dispiriting riffing, and throat-slit growls from the abyss. Instrumentally, Tempest is drenched in sludge, streaked with death metal, and features crestfallen droning passages too. Violin adds a melodic gothic canopy. Greg Wilkinson is behind the production desk, and his work with Samothrace is a fine reference point for Tempest‘s Herculean tonal weight. However, what is most impressive about Tempest is that although its three monumental hymns are replete with all the requisite trawling poundage, the range of movement they exhibit taps imaginatively into both nuanced brutality and reflective tranquility. This may be Lycus’s first full-length, but the band sounds fully formed and ready to battle and/or plunge into life’s torments. A truly stunning debut. ~ CH
With an intensity similar to that of Reign in Blood-era Slayer, and a level of intimidation only associated with bands of the American hardcore scene that fought their way through the late ‘80s, the Texan unit, Power Trip, has a mouth for war. Armed with an arsenal of hardcore-shelled thrash riffs that chug, fire and devastate, the band’s Southern Lord debut, Manifest Decimation, is a violent proclamation for crossover thrash in the year 2013.
Danger has been severely missing from the thrash metal bands that came with the revival as too much focus has been given to the lighter, goofier side of the genre. Make no mistake, with the slash ‘n’ burn of the title track, the barbaric hooks of “Crossbreaker” and the rambunctious “Drown” leaving destruction in their wake, there is no booze-fuelled frivolity surrounding Power Trip. Vocalist Riley Gale brings John Tardy levels of death metal maul with his impassioned words torn bloody from his larynx and guitarist Blake Ibanez‘s dive-bombing solos wail out of the murky, reverb-addled mix during “Heretic’s Fork” and “Murderer’s Row”. Not often will you be confronted by an album that you palpably feel the music cleave its way right out of your speakers, but Manifest Decimation does just that, and it’s a glorious noise. Following the release this year of Agrimonia’s Rites of Separation and Abandon All Life by Nails, Manifest Decimation is another blazing gem held in the blistered hands of Southern Lord. ~ DB
Ramesses was formed by former Electric Wizard drummer Mark Greening and guitarist Tim Bagshaw (along with bassist and vocalist Adam Richardson), and the cosmic doom titan was one of the UK’s finest underground metal acts. The band recently split, or at least went into hibernation, but there’s abundant intimidating and hallucinogenic metal to enjoy in its back catalogue.
Case in point: Ramesses’ debut full-length, 2007’s Misanthropic Alchemy, which is seeing a timely rerelease by label Ritual Productions. The double CD set comes with previously unreleased live tracks (including the We Will Lead You to Glorious Times EP and the Tomb demo), and it’s a given you’ll need this is if you’re a fan of psychedelic and occult monstrosities. Ramesses lurked in a vintage vault of horror, incorporating death and black metal, drone and feedbacking noise into its Tyrannosaurus doom. Accordingly, Misanthropic Alchemy is a sledgehammer to the consciousness. It’s a THC and LSD fuzz and buzz overdose, with earth-quaking bass carving gargantuan grooves, and it comes with an astronomical stomp and scatterings of dark film samples to set the miserable mood. Misanthropic Alchemy is amongst Ramesses’ very best work, and with bonus tracks added on it’s all an ultra-grimy and sludgy blues workout you’ll not want to miss. ~ CH
If 2013 was missing anything at its half way point it was a progressive metal/rock record to bask in awe of. Or so you would think. No longer obscured by clouds, In the Silence has delivered one of the major surprises of 2013 with the official release of its debut, A Fair Dream Gone, which showcases the kind of song-writing grace, fluidity and prowess usually indicative of a seasoned band with a string of releases under its belt.
Not often are we presented with an unknown band that has music so immaculately constructed; that spans a gamut of emotions and is not without its moments of genuine metallic force. A Fair Dream Gone Mad is rich with the same melancholy that burdens Katatonia, the spritely bursts of Anathema-hopefulness amongst the dour downpours of reality, Opeth’s stately progressive twirls, the song-writing nous of Steve Wilson and a plethora of other progressive influences too protracted to detail. Such lofty comparisons should not be thrown around lightly—these bands are deified in progressive metal/rock circles this century. Yet with songs the magnitude of “Ever Closer”, “Serenity” and “All the Pieces”, In the Silence deserves to rub shoulders with its inspirations. Remarkably this Sacramento four-piece does not sound specifically derivative of any one of the above-mentioned denizens of boundary pushing excellence, and this misdirection is In the Silence’s greatest achievement. It usually takes bands years—decades even—to scale the summits In the Silence has glided to with ease on A Fair Dream Gone Mad.Undoubtedly, a blinding supernova for the future. ~ DB
If you’re feeling like black metal has become a little synthetic these days, and doesn’t provide enough polarizing noise or diabolic traditions that are actually acted upon, then look out for the arrival of Anti-Cosmic Tyranny in August. The debut from “black metal terrorist” A.M.S.G. was primarily composed while frontman Angelfukk Witchhammer (Ouroboros, Gloria Diaboli) served time in prison for some notably unwholesome ventures. Accordingly, Anti-Cosmic Tyranny‘s premise of genuinely promoting “the awakened era of Esoteric Luciferion Draconis Supremacy” is more than evident here.
Witchhammer plays all instruments apart from drums on Anti-Cosmic Tyranny, and he provides all the bone-chilling croaks and cackles too. Old-school cyclonic riffing, and overloads of fevered percussion, are swathed in corrosive distortion, making the album’s inhumanity explicitly clear. However, although Anti-Cosmic Tyranny is stacked with lacerating, raw, and evocative devilry, the album’s unconventionality really drives the fiendishness home. Psychopathic songs come with schizophrenic structure, vocals are smothered in black noise, and baroque passages, choral voices, saxophone, punk-rock riffing and mystical eastern melodies are drenched in overt, outré, and subliminal sinisterness. Anti-Cosmic Tyranny is bitterly cold, inhospitable and certainly deranged. But, more importantly, it sounds dangerous. Witchhammer follows his own dimly-lit and ichor bespattered pathway of deviant worship and Satanic ritual here, displaying exactly the kind of individualism and lawlessness black metal was founded on. ~ CH
Since the release of Jex Thoth’s last psychedelic doom offering—2010’s Witness EP—music led by the alluring tones of powerful female vocalists espousing the virtues of all things occult has emanated glaringly across the limitless sprawl that is metal. From the Devil’s Blood to Blood Ceremony to Jess and the Ancients Ones to the recent arrival of Purson, it would seem, then, that 2013 is the perfect time to announce the return of the enigmatic Jex Thoth (ex-Sabbath Assembly) from exile.
With a timbre like liquid gold and a devotion to the occult, not to mention an aura that could shatter a psyche, Jex, like the legendary Jinx Dawson of Coven, has summoned quite a few acolytes in her absence. Blood Moon Rise is the band’s second full-length album (the first since Jex Thoth’s intoxicating self-titled 2008 debut), and with a re-shuffled line-up Jex Thoth has amplified the supernatural psychedelia while entrusting traditional doom to provide its centre. It is a slight shift in approach that suits the band and the music continues to form the vessel for which Jex’s otherworldly melodies waft mesmerically into the listener’s path of consciousness. With “The Places You Walk” being the album’s catchiest and most up-tempo inclusion, the rest of Blood Moon Rise is languorous, but intentionally so. Time is no concern, and each song has its own life-cycle as “Keep Your Weeds” and “Psyar” cast shadows on your soul long into the obsidian night. ~ DB
Agrimonia hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, the famed home of the melodic death metal style that bears the city’s name. The band includes in its ranks members of At the Gates, Martyrdöd, Skitsystem and Miasmal, and it trades in crust, sludge, and slowly escalating and eclectic tunes imbued with filth, and dripping ichor. Rites of Separation is the band’s third LP, and the five songs within rampage across the post-rock/metal landscape with epic build-ups giving way to visceral churns of metallic crust and other deleterious reverberations—all cut with isolated and frosty guitar lines. If you’re looking for a familiar reference point, Agrimonia could well be Isis or Cult of Luna’s crustier cousin—albeit it twice removed, and banished from family gatherings for indulging in far uglier and injurious misbehaviors.
Lengthy tracks like “Talion”, “While Life Lies” and “Hunted” are all undulating screeds where death metal, doom, and ambient passages squirm through rising melodies. The aggregate result is the raw, emotional discharge of a death-bed confession—where anger, grief, and intolerable realizations are howled at the impeding void. Rites of Separation is powerful, intense, drags the hook of primal fears, but most of all it fights till its very last breath. ~ CH
As grim as any isolated corner of Norway, Ireland is an ideal breeding ground for the misanthropic bile of black metal. This year Cork’s Altar of Plagues will undoubtedly receive all of the critical acclaim because of its masterpiece Teethed Glory and Injury, but after five years of gestation Slidhr (masterminded by multi-instrumentalist JD) has released its debut, Deluge, and birthed a beast.
Deluge is dense, immaculately structured black metal album that grips the orthodoxy of the genre in one razor claw and inverts it with the same invention as Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega and Smohalla. Lo-fi production has been shunned in favour of a monstrous wall of sound (much like Aosoth’s IV: An Arrow in Heart) and each subterranean layer has been meticulously constructed and shrouded in a thick Gothic veil. JD’s vocals croak like fetid air forced from a coffin, and the riffs and rhythms circumvent the tiresome overuse of tremolo and blast beat patterns by also incorporating mid-paced creeps (“Wielding Daggers”), repetitious bass grooves with shards of riffs (“Their Blood”), as well as the subtle dark-wave melodies that lurk throughout. With Deluge, Slidhr has created a sublime work of black metal that does not flagrantly depend on shoe-gaze or post-rock in an attempt to make the music sound original. A reclusive force deep within the perpetual darkness that is modern day Ireland has now emerged, and after the last doom-march of “Rays Like Blades”, Slidhr’s ascendancy is now absolute. ~ DB
Alone in the Grave is an 18-minute blitzkrieg of fantastically feculent gore from Olympia, Washington-based Bone Sickness. It’s the perfect length to play once, play again, and then once more for extra cellular destruction. The band recalls the messy fornications of death metal, punk and grindcore in their early days, and the result is the hideously ugly progeny of all—ugly, of course, in the best possible sense. Autopsy, Napalm Death and Repulsion all form part of Bone Sickness’s parentage, and if you forced all those bands into a turbo-powered blender with rusty blades, and topped it off with vagrant venom and sullied spite, the seven tracks on Alone in the Grave would be the eventual noxious serum.
Velocity, vexation and gruesome, guttersnipe virtuosity make up the backbone of Alone in the Grave and there’s no breathing room here. It takes scornful skill to plow through tunes this frenzied and head-splitting, and Bone Sickness displays all the moxie and contempt to ensure tracks like “Submit to Decay”, “Paranoid Delusions” and “Alone in the Grave” spit acrimonious acid. Lurching, firing, and exploding with raw and unsanitary excretions, Alone in the Grave is 18 perfectly contaminating and wholly addictive minutes of ferocious death and grind. Also of note is the album’s detailed cover art by Chips & Beer magazine illustrator Hand of Beaver (Chips & Beer being an essential purchase while you’re lurking on 20 Buck Spin’s website picking up this manky gem). ~ CH
Grindcore is a tricky genre to master. The line between feral bursts of well-charged noise and just plain noise is as blurry as one of Danny Herrera’s blast-beats. Songwriting chops is as essential to grind as any, but when it comes to writing songs that last about as long as the lifespan of a gnat, you better pack enough dynamite to take down a squat. All the greats get this, and grindcore exists because of such commitment to its original punked-up premise.
A new axe to grind for your delectation is Portugal’s Utopium. This Portuguese band know how to write fast, engaging grind, and amongst the blasting comes a keen sense of serrated groove similar to Rotten Sound and Nasum. Formed in 2007 with a handful of releases behind them, Vicious Consolation/Virtuous Totality is Utopium’s full-length debut, and its 18 songs careen from whiplash-grind that crashes to a halt in a matter of seconds (“Lodging in a Rut”) to Dismember-like death-grooves (“Owner of a Kept Abidance”) and jagged Burnt By the Sun noisecore (“Through Coalescence”). Lasting 23 minutes Vicious Consolation/Virtuous Totality is a ramshackle recording that sounds loose, lively and volatile, yet the rapid tempos changes are on point and screeching and gurgling vocals keeps the recklessness running. Sure these guys aren’t going to go down as originators—every grind band has been pillaged Napalm Death, Terrorizer since the invention of the blast—but the quality of the grind and gristle of the performance is more than enough to herald them as an exciting addition to the metal’s most mongrel sub-genre. ~ DB
Adoran is a droning sludge and doom metal project from Aidan Baker (Nadja) and Dorian Williamson (Northumbria). The duo’s self-titled debut comes with two songs, the 27-minute “Careful With That Death Machine” and 30-minute “The Aviator”, and if you were lucky enough to have heard Williamson’s magnificent 2012 ambient/metal release Northumbria (with cohort Jim Field) then you’ll be prepared for the aural monstrousness that awaits.
Similarly, ür-drone is what we have here; two behemoth tunes crawling along on Baker’s hawkish drum patterns with Williamson laying on the hallucinogenic, head-nodding bass—imagine OM with a more contemplative than consecrated cadence. Adoran is as much a tripped-out and celestial voyage as an internal odyssey; finding its balance between the awe of stargazing and the acknowledgment of our own infinitesimally small place in the universe. Passages unfurl at a glacial pace, grinding though the range of senses—with fear, confusion, warmth, and bone-aching chills all encompassed. Propulsion is to be found in Adoran, but it’s a tempo that mimics the turbulent beat of the heart and prolonged turmoil of a mind when considering the big questions. Peace is to be found in comprehending that we all are participating in the inexorable creep to the end, and Adoran certainly provides ample sonic ministrations along the way. ~ CH
Chaos-Gnostic Ideology, and Anti-Cosmic Satanism; those are the points of interest for Sweden’s one-man black metal wraith Arckanum. Since the early ‘90s, that’s exactly what Shamaatae (Johan S. Lahger) has advanced and encouraged, and powerful recent albums such as 2009’s ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ and 2008’s Antikosmos have been magnificently feral and intuitive feasts.
On Arckanum’s eighth and latest album, Fenris Kinder, Shamaatae further explores the apocalyptic Nordic tales of 2011’s Helvítismyrkr, and similarly, the new album is an inferno of raw black metal—with a gruesome undercurrent of death metal, and a punk/thrash pulse. Arckanum reaches back, with second wave black metal playing as strong a role as Venom, Bathory or Celtic Frost’s rancor, and Fenris Kinder is a blazing tribute to the fundamental strengths of corrosive and sinister metal. Stripped of any superfluousness, tracks such as “Tungls Tjugari”, “Dolgrinn” and “Uskepna” are corruptive screeds, and even when the folk leanings arrive on eerier tracks like “Solbols Sigr” and “Hamrami”, the vexatiousness never drops one iota. Fenris Kinder is one of 2013’s best black metal releases thus far. File alongside Aosoth’s IV:Arrow in Heart to show that hell is still hammering as loud as ever. ~ CH
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 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
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
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
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
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