Mixtarum Metallum V: 10 Great Metal Albums from Early 2013

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.


Concrete Sustain

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


IV: Mandragora

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


Light Bearer
Silver Tongue

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

Total Negation and more…

Sky Burial

Echtra’s Sky Burial is philosophically and musically bound to the transcendental, nature-centric promise inherent in black metal of a Cascadian bent–see Skagos, Alda, Falls of Rauros, and Wolves in the Throne Room etc. No surprise there, given that Echtra himself is involved in the eco-orientated Fauna, a band that’s made three fantastic ambient/black metal albums. Similarly, Echtra’s solo project utilizes black metal’s aesthetics to encourage shifts in consciousness, and over the course of two previous LPs Echtra has blended tracks into singularly mesmeric and poetic suites. With acoustic guitars, percussion and droning, cyclical riffing, Echtra crafts elongated odes that use black metal to prize open the third eye, while the ambient components provide the meditative medicinals.

Sky Burial comprises two 23-minute tracks (“Sky Burial I” & “Sky Burial II”). The first unlocks the doors of awareness, the second throws them wide open, though both tracks are laden with layers of gentle folk and icier electric guitar. “II” is heavier in the latter half, as waves of riffs build to cosmic crescendos, but both tracks are made of the same atmospheric vapors and conjure the same mind-altering emotionality.

Sky Burial is an introspective album, and in the same way that Fauna weave archaic motifs through slowly emerging themes and textures, Echtra builds upon enigmatic foundations to create hauntingly melodic and hypnotic passages. The subtlety within Sky Burial‘s minimalist narrative speaks of far greater meaning to be discovered over repeated listens, and its intensity is undeniable. — CH


Caladan Brood
Echoes of Battle

Kicking Tolkien into touch , Utah’s Caladan Brood — who consist of a faceless duo known only as Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword — instead delve into Steve Erikson’s fantasy series Malazan Book of the Fallen for thematic inspiration. On their magnificent debut, Echoes of Battle, the band bring Erikson’s tall tales to life, and do so by blending symphonic and folk flourishes with wonderfully melodic black metal.

Like Summoning before them, it’s clear that these two musicians are conscious of the pomposity that typically degrades fantasy-based metal. And through the substance of Echoes of Battle’s music, the iron clad duo have been careful to avoid such pitfalls. This has been achieved to the extent that even the clash of swords that resounds across the heroic title track avoids sounding cheesy and actually enhances the medieval atmosphere.

There is also a sense of spaciousness and subtlety to each song, and the grandeur of the sumptuous keyboards on “City of Azure Fire” actually deserves to have the abused descriptor, “epic”, applied to it. These dramatic twists and turns contrast greatly with the fierce nature of “Voice Born of Stone and Dust” and the folk metal heights of “To Walk the Ashes of Dead Empires”. And as the sombre sound of a trumpet on “Book of the Fallen” signals the end of what can only be described as one of the best medieval sounding metal albums to ever be recorded, Caladan Brood have emerged victorious. — DB


Total Negation
Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume

Total Negation’s Zur späten Stunde and Zeiträume EPs are being released together, with a conceptual linkage exploring dreams and the “delirious state of mind” found when drifting into slumber. Each EP works well as a complete album, with bleak, lo-fi black metal and thematic similarities sitting at their hearts. Main-man Wiedergänger reconnoiters those night-time wanderings with vibraphone and melodica in hand, delving into Krautrock and ’60s and ’70s psych to add an eerie and outré atmosphere throughout.

Zur späten Stunde is the more orthodox of the two EPs. “Einkehr” and “Abstieg” are astringent, tremolo-picked frenzies with malevolent shrieks and crashing drums from bottomless pits. “Freilauf” is pure synthesized dread, a slow-pulse crawl of nighttime horrors and echoing percussion that leads into Zeiträume, where things take on a more eccentric inclination. “Gesit”, “Zeit” and “Raum” juxtapose furious riffing with idiosyncratic clanging lurches, and “Traum” rounds things off on a sour heave of black metal with Hammer Horror tinkling chimes and distorting effects.

Zur späten Stunde and Zeiträume are filled with equal amounts of distorting dissonance, despair and prog- and Krautrock-fuelled fluctuations, and all the songs conjure the same level of hallucinogenic disorientation. Wiedergänger’s eventide and reverie visions allow an admirable sense of artistic risk to shine; his psychedelic black metal is imaginative, and fittingly full of illusions. — CH


The Formulas of Death

Tribulation’s 2009 full-length debut, The Horror, was a ferocious romp through filthy death metal — the band were all about bite and bludgeon, and looked set to lead the resurrection of Swedish DM alongside the likes of Morbus Chron. But forget all you previously knew about Tribulation, because these Swedes have taken a daring detour off the left hand path with their second LP, The Formulas of Death.

The sonic progression that Tribulation have undertaken on The Formulas of Death is absolutely astounding. By stripping the Swedish DM of their formative days down to its core, and submersing it in the mysticism of psychedelic and progressive rock, as well as laying heavy emphasis upon black metal’s austere attributes, Tribulation have created fresh ground and separated themselves from their contemporaries.

Spanning 70 minutes, The Formulas of Death is a heady trip that captivates to the point of intoxication. Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band provide just as much of an influence as, say, Nihilist, and because of this there is a mysterious quality to the LP that exists within potent psychedelic music. The psych haze swirls in and out of each of these intricate compositions, yet does not take away from the heaviness that remains an essential part of this four-piece’s sound.

The progressive riff progressions and propulsive percussion ooze black metal and death metal without leaning on traditional traits — save for the coarse screams of bassist Johannes Andersson — while the lead guitar work displays endless progressive flair. All this amounts to an album that aches to be explored time and time again. This is the evolution of Swedish DM from barbarity to a higher level of cerebral complexity. The Formulas of Death is that important of a release. — DB


Pearl and the End of Days

Back in 2011, label Profound Lore released Grayceon’s critically acclaimed third album, All We Destroy. To this day, that release sits high in Profound Lore’s prodigious back catalogue because it’s so utterly distinctive. Grayceon’s sound is built around the haunting cello and vocals of Jackie Perez Gratz, with dexterous drumming and downtuned sludgy riffing added in to craft something as artful and skewed as the work of metal/prog-naught Giant Squid (a band that shares current and past members with Grayceon).

Grayceon’s latest release, its Pearl and the End of Days EP (released on the always fascinating Flenser Records), sees the San Francisco-based trio in formidable form, after a hiatus of sorts. Blending prog-rock, sludge, neoclassical glimmers and unconventional ambles, Pearl and the End of Days‘ two songs–the 10-minute “Pearl” and the 17-minute “End of Days”–are sprawling feasts of complex time signatures, rock-hard rampages and ethereal drifts.

The EP is imbued with serpentine structures, and the experimentalism is all there with the cello ringing loudly through capricious melodious sections. But Pearl and the End of Days also comes with agile drumming and mounds of glutinous riffing, and it represents a harder, more biting sound from Grayceon since we last heard from the band. There’s a clear sense of renewed gusto to the EP, and Pearl and the End of Days is a welcome and rockin’ return from one of metal’s most enthralling and ingenious bands. — CH