Mixtarum Metallum VIII: 2014’s Metallic Dawn

[10 March 2014]

By Dean Brown

Contributing Editor

The first edition of Mixtarum Metallum this year covers ten laudable metal albums released in January and February 2014 that we haven’t covered yet. So, without further ado, it’s time to get back to business.

Remnants of Forgotten Horrors (Triumvirate)

January is usually a barren month for metal, though this year has started off with a number of strong early releases that have caused quite a stir. So while everyone began the year debating whether Alcest are metal or not (they’re not—get over it!), a little known Swedish band named Astrophobos appeared on the horizon brandishing the kind of wonderfully melodic black metal that Dissection perfected before Jon Nödtveidt ceremoniously took his own life in 2006.

Comparisons to Dissection are high praise indeed. However, Remnants of Forgotten Horrors, the band’s full-length debut, is a fresh and energetic interpretation of a style of metal that in its current state isn’t usually described as such. And even though Astrophobos are clearly schooled in the practices of the ‘90s Swedish black metal (there’s also quite a bit of Naglfar in the furnace), they pull the genre into the present with pristine production which accentuates the array of gleaming ice-spiked riffs, rapidly shifting rhythms, and lacerating vocal snarls on show.

Condemned to the System (Willowtip)

Almost as old as the grindcore genre itself, Nausea have existed for decades at this stage—not that you’d know if you were to go by the band’s full-length albums. With a gap of 23 years since their first studio LP (the genre milestone Crimes Against Humanity), the Los Angeles-based band—founded by vocalist, guitarist Oscar Garcia (he of Terrorizer fame) and drummer Eric Castro—now launch a second Molotov cocktail of politicized grind in the form of their sophomore album, Condemned to the System.

Switching from bass to his new position as second guitarist for this release is Leon del Müerte (Impaled, Murder Construct), and rounded out by bassist Alejandro Corredor, Nausea have written an album that matches the intensity and ire of their 1991 debut. With those signature punk/hardcore riffs, encased in a killer guitar tone (think Sepultura circa Chaos AD), pushed to the limits by system shattering blasts and D-beats, Nausea position on the grind-gauge beside Brutal Truth and Napalm Death remains in the red—just like their music and hatred for injustice.

Artificial Brain
Labyrinth Constellation (Profound Lore)

Whenever you hear that Profound Lore have signed a death metal artist it’s taken for granted that the band won’t be your typical grunt ‘n’ blast merchants. Latest signees Artificial Brain are no exception. The band formed by Revocation guitarist Dan Gargiulo exist in the Obscura-sphere of death metal, where Gorguts loom as overlords and bands like Artificial Brain are deployed as minions to warp and contorted what remains of humanity’s crippled psyche.

For the most part, the band’s debut album, Labyrinth Constellation, is a relentless deluge of dissonance and instrumental disorder. But there is cunning pacing throughout, and every instrument—including vocalist Will Smith’s (ex-Biolich) meat-gargling emanations—exists in (dis)harmony with one another.

Sometimes technical death metal can be an exasperating endeavour to find any kind of foothold. Yet like their contemporaries in Ulcerate, Artificial Brain keep a serpentine eye focused on song-craft while tearing your head off as a sacrificial gift to their all-consuming overlords.

Palingenesis (Temple of Torturous)

Dimly lit neo-folk and extreme metal have always made for complimentary bedfellows. And underground labels like Pesanta Urfolk and Svart Records have highlighted in recent times, the connection in spirit between the two. Swedish label Temple of Torturous—known for its high pedigree of black metal—has now followed suit and expanded its artist base with the signing of a folk artist in the guise of a German trio who practice the dark arts as the entity Nebelung.

Predominantly instrumental, Nebelung’s third LP, Palingenesis, aches from the profundity of its interwoven acoustic guitars and the delicate layering and interplay of its other earthy acoustic instruments: cello, hammered dulcimer, violin, accordion, harp, etc. An album made for the contemplation of one’s own existence during the shadowy months in which the leaves wither from the trees and the boughs shake from the wickedness of winter’s grip, Palingenesis’s emotional gnaw is just as affecting as the laborious detail that has gone into crafting its six sumptuous and suggestive compositions.

Of Mice and Men
Restoring Force (Rise)

Of Mice and Men don’t really deserve a second chance. You see, the young metalcore mob have made their name from schlepping style-over-substance ‘core to the masses who annually attend the Warped Tour. Breakdown begat boring breakdown, and that was enough for the fringed kids to engorge themselves on.

Although according to Restoring Force (Of Mice and Men’s latest album), it’s obvious that this kind of substance-free existence is not enough to satisfy the Californian band any longer. Of Mice and Men have used the 2012 addition of Aaron Pauley on bass and clean vocals to shake up their sound, and they now include actual songwriting dynamism. Consequentially, by finding a balance between post-hardcore’s melody and emotion and the angst and aggression of nu metal and metalcore, songs the significance of “Glass Hearts”, “Another You”, and the colossal choruses of “Identity Disorder” should propel Of Mice and Men to the same heights as bands like Bring Me The Horizon.

Restoring Force confirms Of Mice and Men are worthy of a second chance—if you’re willing to forgive, that is.

The Wounded Kings and more...

Longhena (Handshake Inc)

Gridlink have fired off fourteen high definition laser beams to finish us off in the form of their final album, Longhena. The band founded by ex-Discordance Axis banshee Jon Chang and Japanese guitar maestro Takafumi Matsubara have managed to match the impossible for their swansong: they have created a grind album as intensively futuristic and inconceivably technical as that of DxAx’s masterwork, The Inalienable Dreamless.

But not only that: Longhena is as hook-filled a grind record as you’re ever likely to hear. Still, don’t equate its unforgettable traits with a dissolution of unorthodox artistry or music that will sound remotely appealing to non-believers’ ears. This remains a ferocious grind album with Bryan Fajardo (drums) and Ted Patterson (bass) warping time and space with their seismic rhythmic interchanges, leaving Chang and Matsubara to engage and terrorize through alien-levels of guitar virtuosity and screeched vocal histrionics.

For a genre normally known for its limitations, Gridlink’s magnum opus is a boundary-blitzing grindcore classic made in real time to be fully understood a hundred years into the future.

The Wounded Kings
Consolamentum (Candlelight)

Doom metal is not the most daring of metal genres, but the way in which bands re-interpret its tenets means the genre still sounds as relevant now as it did the day Tony Iommi summoned the Devil’s tritone and played his first Sabbath riff through an amplifier turned up to eleven.

The Wounded Kings know all about Black Sabbath—and Electric Wizard, for that matter—as they have been hounded/honoured with comparisons since their 2008 debut. However, when you experience the weight and breadth of their second album with vocalist Sharie Neyland presiding a coven queen, Consolamentum, you get the feeling that The Wounded Kings have now released the album that will individualize the Dartmoor band and elevate their status.

Sharie has fully taken to her role as the band’s focal point and her performance is sinister yet sultry, and the way her witchy vibrato reverberates through towering passages of doom is nothing short of magickal. The end effect is the sound of a band putting a hex on their potential and crushing it to dust with the one powerful blow of the doom-hammer.

Helms Alee
Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House)

Helms Alee’s music is brimming with corrosive basslines, guitars that can throttle then console, and drums buck madly but are also capable of calm contrast. Factor in the three-prong vocals of guitarist Ben Verrellen, drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis, and bassist Dana James and you have a distinctive band who court numerous genres without fully committing to one.

Sleepwalking Sailors, Helms Alee’s third studio album, is the most forceful, coherent and dynamic work of the three-piece’s tenure. Always a band capable of twisting different styles of music (post-hardcore, sludge, indie-pop, noise-rock, amongst others) to suit their cause, now the twists have become inconspicuous as Helm’s Alee distance themselves further from other bands.

The core reason Sleepwalking Sailors is a complete success is because it contains plenty of surprises with atypical songwriting keeping the listener on their toes. Helms Alee spray each track with idiosyncratic bursts of violent inspiration while keeping each song focused on being accessible and clearly translatable. It’s a difficult juggling act that would tie a lesser band in knots. Helms Alee, however, keep everything expertly in the air as they stare you dead in the eyes.

Slave to the Sword (Prosthetic)

Californian quartet Exmortus tore through the thrash metal revival back in 2008 with their first full-length of heavy metal furore, In Hatred’s Flame. Now on album number three, the extraordinary abilities of each band member truly flash like lightning striking iron.

Titled Slave to the Sword, adorned with Manowar-worthy album art, and with song titles like “Warrior of the Night” and “Battle-Born”, it’s no surprise to discover this album treads the line of power metal’s fantasy and pomposity. Saying that, outside their version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (its neo-classical shred would make Yngwie Malmsteen blush behind his frilly shirt sleeves), Slave to the Sword happens to be an all out assault with technical thrash metal at its centre and the phenomenal chops of each player used in service of the songs and not vice versa. Each track is biting yet genuinely fun and entirely addictive, and you will get whipped up by the band’s modern understanding of the heroic days of ‘80s metal: a time when melody and might were fundamental to creating riotous, whiplash-inducing songs.

Slough Feg
Digital Resistance (Metal Blade)

Slough Feg are the epitome of a cult metal band. They exist in a realm of their own, worshipped by their loyal fans and cruelly ignored by the rest of metaldom. The band led by the acerbic wit and high intellect of the iconoclast Mike Scalzi (Hammers of Misfortune) seem content with their lot, though.

Snapped up by Metal Blade for their new album, Digital Resistance, Slough Feg have, regardless of the notoriety of their new label, continued with the same traditions and inspirations that have fed their muse since the ‘90s. After the somewhat uneven The Animal Spirits (2010), Digital Resistance—a treatise of sorts on the decline of man at the mechanical hand of information technology—is a return to form. Amplifying the classic rock side of their sound with the thunder and lightning of Thin Lizzy’s Celtic charm shining brighter than any ‘80s NWOBHM band, Digital Resistance’s brilliance lies in its folk-focused rhythms, nifty guitar-work, and Scalzi’s characteristically strong vocal range and considered lyrical commentary.

Digital Resistance is a restrained but rewarding listen that confirms the cult is still alive and well—even though time will tell as to whether this album will recruit new followers to Slough Feg’s heavy metal cause.

Dean Brown has an obsessive love of music in every shape and form, with a deep respect for bands that play from the heart. He is a Contributing Editor here at Popmatters, writer for Last Rites (www.lastrit.es), About.com/heavymetal (heavymetal.about.com/), and his work can also be found at soundshock.com, scratchtheSurface-webzine.com, metalireland.com, tighttothenail.com, amongst others. He is also a columnist for the quarterly digital zine Backlit (www.backlitzine.com). Dean can be found on twitter: @reus85

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/179694-mixtarum-metallum-viii-a-solo-run-through-2014s-metallic-dawn/