Welcome to another edition of Mixtarum Metallum, where a raft of albums from the heavier realms have their best features amplified and illuminated. Collected here are a stack of releases very worthy of stacking in your stocking come Yule — including a few albums that contain some of the finest music you’ll likely hear all year.
As usual, bands from across the metal spectrum are indulged, from the subterranean to the experimental, with the only prerequisite for appearing here being a strong sense of wholehearted (or even better, blackhearted) zeal.
Upcoming, of course, is the end of year list season, where we’ll all have the opportunity to rant and rave about our picks for the best heavy music from 2013. PopMatters will be running its annual Best Metal list, featuring contributions from a number of writers, while I’ll be off wandering the vaults to highlight some underground gems, with my final Ragnarök column for the year.
Until then, I hope you’ll find something to add to your end of year list naughty list here. Hail Santa, and deck the hall with entrails. Let the noise begin.
Nocturnal Graves: …from the Bloodline of Cain (Hells Headbangers)
Drummer L Wilson and guitarist Decaylust from Australia-based blackened thrash crew Nocturnal Graves already contributed to a wonderfully murky black and death metal collision on Denouncement Pyre’s Almighty Arcanum earlier this year. And with Nocturnal Graves, they’re involved in yet another thoroughly enjoyable and primeval pile-up on …From the Bloodline of Cain.
…From the Bloodline of Cain finds Nocturnal Graves continuing their quest to pay tribute to ye olde South American and German thrash, black and death metal, and the album rips and rages with the vitriol and velocity set on 11. Tracks like “Promethean War”, “The Conqueror’s Flame” and “The Great Adversary” are neck-snapping reminders of thrash metal’s most intensely visceral years — where every ugly metallic element was thrown in the cauldron for good measure. Much like Deströyer 666, Nocturnal Graves mine filthy finesse from old-school hovels, and while …From the Bloodline of Cain isn’t revolutionising metal whatsoever (not that that was ever on Nocturnal Graves’ agenda) there’s plenty of bloody chaos to get bespattered by here.
Craven Idol: Towards Eschaton (Dark Descent)
Speaking of old-school charmers, UK-based Craven Idol also dives deep into subterranean thrash and black metal on its full-length debut, Towards Eschaton. Featuring more fantastical and mysterious cover art from Paolo Girardi (metal artist of the year, undoubtedly) Towards Eschaton wraps traditional metal’s snaggletoothed bite around death metal churns and blackened thrash screeds.
Like Nocturnal Graves, Craven Idol mentions bands like Sarcofago, early Slayer, and Bathory in passing, but there’s also a thread of classic doom weaving through Towards Eschaton that brings dark and portentous lurches to tracks like “Codex of Seven Dooms” and To “Summon Mayrion”. Obviously, Craven Idol isn’t presenting anything new here, per se, but what the band does exceptionally well is keep the momentum mercurial, and wholly homicidal. Be it a flash of Autopsy, a NWOBHM sprint, or a fat dirge of doom, Craven Idol mixes a heavily ritualised potion that boils away with an alluring slaughterhouse tang.
Cara Neir: Portals to a Better, Dead World (Broken Limbs)
The last full-length from Texas-based duo Cara Neir, 2011’s Stagnant Perceptions, took black metal, hardcore, and crust punk, and pulverised it in an anarchic musical blender — making for a powerful coalescence of genre with razor sharp barbs. The band’s new album, Portals to a Better, Dead World does much the same. Only this time, Cara Neir has added in even more crossover ingredients, with math-core, post-hardcore, and progressive rock being ground up too.
All of that means that Portals to a Better, Dead World once again ignores any and all boundary restrictions, and it’s Cara Neir’s most experimental album to date. Multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents, and vocalist Chris Francis, certainly set out to challenge on bristling compound metal/punk punishers like “Peridot”, “Red Moon Foreboding” and “Dust Collector”, but they don’t let any highfalutin endeavors overtake the emotional rawness and caustic, hybridised sounds. Portals to a Better, Dead World is impressively sophisticated, but at its heart there’s a simple purity, all set around some hellishly hooky riffs.
Atlantean Kodex: The White Goddess. (20 Buck Spin)
German troubadour of traditionalism, Atlantean Kodex, crafts the kind of grandiose classically influenced heavy metal that would do Manowar proud — while featuring none of the oiled muscles, or leather posing-pouches. The White Goddess is Atlantean Kodex’s follow-up to 2010’s well-received The Golden Bough, and while that album was epic enough, The White Goddess steps things up another level in the bombastic stakes.
The White Goddess features eight tracks of irreproachable classic metal. Four of the album’s monumental odes pass the 10 minute mark, all are linked by instrumental interludes, making for an hour of unadulterated (and irony-free) head banging heaven. With masterful and anthemic riffing, Herculean percussion, and the triumphant vocals of frontman Markus Becker, echoes of symphonic arrangements, Bathory’s bite, and Candlemass’s unrelenting doom are both heard in the tempos and temper. Atlantean Kodex lays out a lyrically rich mix of mythology and history around heart-stirring and dauntless melodies on songs like “Sol Invictus” and “Enthroned in Clouds and Fire”, but all tracks are monumental metal sermons, delivered from the mount of might and majesty. All hail the eternal glories of heavy metal.
Argus: Beyond the Martyrs (Cruz Del Sur)
It’s easy to imagine Atlantean Kodex headlining a European metal festival in front of 30,000 rabid fans. However, somewhat earlier in the day, you’d probably find a band like US-based Argus on the bill. That time-slot is no indication of any lack of prowess — like Atlantean Kodex, Argus delves back in time to the roots of metal traditionalism, but features far more of Manilla Road’s underground tenacity, or Slough Feg’s fiery grit, than any over-the-top histrionics (and the band is all the better for it.)
Argus’ latest album, Beyond the Martyrs, is a worthy follow-up to 2011’s excellent Boldly Stride the Doomed. Once again, guitarists Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson weave the duelling melodic six-strings and uptempo soloing, while vocalist Brian Balich roars over the top. Argus has found a superlative balance between wielding all the accoutrements of orthodox power-metal and doom, without dipping into any pastiche. Songs like “Endurance We Conquer” and “Four Candles Burning” are reminders of the ready appeal of Iron Maiden-like melodic gallops, steely vocals, and burly, fist-pumping choruses.”The Coward’s Path” and “Beyond the Martyrs” bring more slow-motion grimness to the album, but what Argus bring most of all is authenticity and integrity — and Beyond the Martyrs keeps it true, 100 percent of the time.
Hail of Bullets and more…
Hail of Bullets: III: The Rommel Chronicles (Metal Blade)
At this point in time, legendary death metal vocalist Martin Van Drunen could probably read out his shopping list and we’d all tune in. His work with death metal pioneers such as Asphyx and Pestilence has been hugely influential, but thankfully, Van Drunen’s never been remotely keen on resting on his laurels.
Since 2006, he’s been a crucial cog in the war machine Hail of Bullets. Like the band’s musical inspirations (most obviously, Bolt Thrower), Hail of Bullets’ bombardments are highly evocative of their chosen subject matter. The band’s latest release, III: The Rommel Chronicles, is much like the band’s two previous full-lengths, being a pounding broadside of battle-themed death metal, with plenty of vintage groove and grunt. Overt technicality is often eschewed for artillery barrages, and from “Swoop of the Falcon” through to closer “Death of a Field Marshall”, the album rains down the often sombre and bloodthirsty melodies. Drummer Ed Warby produces all with the appropriate buzzsaw rawness, and with Dan Swanö handling the mix, it’s all hammering and blitzkrieg bursts of riffs — making for yet another thunderous and crushing release.
Castevet: Obsian (Profound Lore)
Deciding exactly where New York-based Castevet fits in the taxonomy of extreme metal isn’t the easiest of tasks — if you care about such things. The trio obviously holds black metal in high regard, but then math-rock, post-hardcore, progressive-metal, avant-jazz and, well, seemingly everything else plays its role too. In fact, aside from the band’s impressive dexterity, its best element is an ability to combine mind-boggling and multifaceted musical density with demented darkness.
The band’s latest album, Obsian, packs meticulously constructed songs into 37 minutes, somehow expanding the laws of time and space as it goes. Ice-cold, asymmetrical tremolo bursts, oddball dissonant swerves, dazzling drumming from Ian Jacyszyn, and all manner of volatile sonic insanity reigns. Bassist and vocalist Nicholas McMaster from New York black metal innovator Krallice joins Castevet on Obsian, adding to the hyper-manic technical artistry on offer, and songs such as “Cavernous”, “The Curve” and “As Fathomed by Beggars and Victims” are skewed and demanding jigsaw puzzles. However, while amplified technicality frequently leads to utter emotive sterility, Castevet keeps things wholly engaging — a feat that few bands as brutal and complex are able to do.
Corrections House: Last City Zero (Neurot)
The line-up for Corrections House is intimidating. The band features Mike IX Williams (Eyehategod), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza), Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Sanford Parker (Minsk), and lyricist Seward Fairbury, and while that may look like a dream team of darkly poetic soothsayers, understandably, such a collection also brings the ‘supergroup’ nerves too.
Sludge and post-metal might look likely, and they do feature, but noise rock, sinister synth, distorted guitars, twisted electronics, drone, folk, and industrial clatter fill the band’s debut, Last City Zero. At a stretch, you could say the album is a sum of each artist involved simultaneously pouring their thoughts into the 50 post-apocalyptic-themed minutes of morose experimentalism.
Certainly, with voices like Kelly and Williams involved it’s not surprising that the songs are filled with messages of societal and psychological ruin. However, musically, Last City Zero is a grind through decaying factories of noise, and the last breath of modernity’s mechanics. Fears of a ‘supergroup’ fumble can be put aside here, because Corrections House operates well outside the expected sonic borders, and in doing so, is well worth tracking down — before it all ends.
Shooting Guns: Brotherhood of the Ram (Pre-Rock/Easy Rider)
It’s downright criminal that Shooting Guns’ name isn’t being shouted from the rooftops. The Canadian instrumental band’s Polaris Prize-nominated debut, Born to Deal in Magic 1952‒1976 was a fantastic mash-up of Hawkwindian freakishness, droning doom worship, and Krautrock vibes — all delivered with an Electric Wizard-worthy weight in parts.
Shooting Guns’ new album, Brotherhood of the Ram, takes the band’s down-tuned psychedelia even further out into the cosmos, riding on the back of elephantine rocket ship riffs and acid-soaked synth. Stonkers and stompers like “Real Horse Footage” and “Motherfuckers Never Learn” blend proto-metal drawls with hallucinogenic dirges, “Predator II” piles on the distorted doom, and “Go Blind” drags barbed blues into infinity. The key to Shooting Guns’ success is that, for all the band’s minimalism, it fills its tunes with heavy hypnotic grooves (like Sleep, Earth, Circle, and Neu! jamming together in orbit), so there’s nothing but all-encompassing songs and the accompanying heady nod. Obviously, volume, volume, and more volume is required for full effect. Tune in. Now.
Indricothere: II (Gilead Media)
On the other side of the instrumental coin, you’re going to find the technical whirlwind that is Indricothere. The guitar and programmed percussion project from maestro Colin Marston (of Krallice, Gorguts, Behold the Arctopus, and Dysrhythmia) offers Byzantine levels of virtuosity on II, with maze-like progressive metal being the musical mainstay on the album’s interlinking tracks.
One kosmische synth sojourn stands out as a counterpoint on the album, but in the main, II is exactly the kind of release that will appeal to hard and fast guitar nerds — and that’s no slight on what’s contained within. Fact is, with experimentations that call to mind the musical insanity of Dysrhythmia, II‘s technical extremeness is bound to a serious appreciation of structural eccentricity. If you’re a fan of mind-melting layers of multi-limbed metal played with savant skill on Warr guitar, then the endless soloing and riffscapes of II do provide for some of the best blends of complexity and brutality on offer. Painstakingly arranged, II proves that Marston is a master of intricate instrumentation and composition — but also available, for a wholly contrasting treat, is Marston’s recent XI album — which provides 90 wholly wonderful minutes of dark ambient synth journeying.
Hexer: Hexer (Gilead Media)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based black metal trio Hexer goes in for abundant animosity and anonymity. The band doesn’t play live, and has released a demo and two cassette recordings in the past that lean hard on unrefined black metal from deep, deep underground. Husband and wife Phlegethon (guitars) and Ansgar (vocals) are joined by Lazarus (AKA Mutilation Rites’ George Paul) on guitar and drum programming, and Hexer’s self-titled release for label Gilead Media sees those cassette recordings remastered by Adam Tucker for issuing on LP.
Hexer provides a little over half an hour of old-school Nordic black metal, with the stench of thrash and the scene’s crustier influences creeping in. The early years of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Behexen or Marduk are reference points, at the very least in Hexer’s obvious enmity of the human race. Ansgar screeches hellishly throughout tracks like “I:II” and “II:I” and “II:III”, while Phlegethon and Lazarus add on the torrents of ice-cold, coarse riffing. If the notion of traditional, lo-fi, second-wave black metal appeals — and it does to me — then the antediluvian temper of Hexer is all set to stoke the fires of malevolence. Like the early work of those aforementioned black metal miscreants, vexation is set before virtuosity on Hexer, with waves of hostility defining the band and album’s aesthetic.
Toxic Holocaust and more…
Toxic Holocaust: Chemistry of Consciousness (Relapse)
If there’s one thing Toxic Holocaust founder Joel Grind seemingly loves — aside from bands like the Exploited, Venom, and early Slayer — it’s keeping busy. This year has seen Grind release a compilation of Toxic Holocaust’s rarer tracks (From the Ashes of Nuclear Destruction), an immensely enjoyable Bathory-inspired solo album (The Yellowgoat Sessions), and more work alongside Abigail’s Yasuyuki Suzuki, with their excellent crossover Tiger Junkies project.
Grind’s latest Toxic Holocaust release, Chemistry of Consciousness, continues his documentation of punk and metal’s sordid affair, all wrapped in his usual DIY attitude. The 11 tracks therein take bands like Chaos UK, GBH, and Discharge, and feed them through a pulverising thrash metal mill, and the only thing ‘different’ on Chemistry of Consciousness is that stronger stench of UK hardcore.
Riffs rage and vocals vomit, with Grind setting the meter on molten mosh on quickfire tracks like “Rat Eater”, “Out of the Fire” and “International Conspiracy”. Blast-beats meet d-beat, and vintage punk-infused riffing crunches and punches with thrash metal’s swing on Chemistry of Consciousness‘s half hour. While there’s absolutely nothing new here, Grind’s formula is pretty much putridly perfect, so why not make full use of all that venom (and Venom). Great stuff.
Motörhead: Aftershock (UDR)
With the recent unsettling health issues faced by Motörhead frontman Lemmy still fresh in the mind, the band’s 21st album, Aftershock, feels more important than ever. Who knows how long Motörhead will continue, but if Aftershock is its finale, then it’s gone out on its best album in years. Some might say that one Motörhead album is much the same as another, which is, of course, entirely true. However, with all the worrying drama in the Motörhead camp of late, it’s deeply satisfying to discover that on Aftershock the band still sounds utterly driven to craft its wholly distinctive rock ‘n’ fucking roll.
Motörhead sounds more energised and urgent than it has in over a decade. Drummer Mikkey Dee maniacally pounds the kit with all his might, while guitarist Phil Campbell dispenses the jagged blues and steely rawk in rapid-fire bursts on tracks like “Paralyzed”, “Heartbreaker”, “End of Time” and “Death Machine”. In the main, songs tear along with all the band’s patented pummel, although “Lost Woman Blues” and “Dust and Glass” feature some smoky blues and soul, and Lemmy’s much-loved gutter growl comes with welcome amounts of acidity and brawn. Aftershock isn’t a revelation as such, but it does provide rock-solid and wholly welcome evidence that Motörhead won’t be going quietly into the night.
Kuolemanlaakso: Musta Aurinko Nousee (Svart)
Finland’s Svart Records has fast become one of the strongest and most interesting labels in existence. Featuring an eclectic roster of artists tackling progressive and experimental rock, folk, punk, and all the varying shades of metal, Svart has an enviable strike rate of fascinating releases. Of late, and definitely of note, from the heavier end of Svart’s ranks we’ve had releases from death metal legend Convulse, the post-punk rumble of Beastmilk, and the psychedelic tumble of Seremonia. Also, we’ve seen the space-and-stoner rock overload of Domovoyd, the acid-fried lurch of the “funeral directors of doom” from Tombstoned, and the classic doom hammer-drop of Church of Void. And it doesn’t stop there. Check out the analogue punk/metal annihilation of Speedtrap, and the Krautrock and black metal of Oranssi Pazuzu.
Any one of those albums is well worth checking out, and also upcoming from Svart is a new EP from Kuolemanlaakso. The five-piece band features members from acts such as Barren Earth and Swallow the Sun, and the Musta Aurinko Nousee EP follows the thick and atmospheric doom route Kuolemanlaakso first explored on its well-received 2012 full-length debut, Uljas Uusi Maailma. Death metal growls and groove-laden trawls are backed by flickers of symphonic synth on Musta Aurinko Nousee, with the primarily slow-motion and heavyweight crawls drawing from Celtic Frost’s latter years in tone and temper. Musta Aurinko Nousee is a great, albeit more compact, follow-up to Kuolemanlaakso’s debut — and the promise of a new and epic full-length looms on the horizon.
Oranssi Pazuzu: Valonielu (20 Buck Spin/Svart)
Welcome to one of 2013’s very metal best albums — if not the best. Along with the likes of Sub Rosa, Inquisition, and In Solitude, Oranssi Pazuzu returns this year with an album destined to be career defining; one that every release from the band henceforth is going to be measured against. That’s of course both a blessing and a curse, which, when you think about it, is pretty appropriate in Oranssi Pazuzu’s case, given the music it provides brings the celestial invocations and the earthy evils.
Valonielu sees the Finnish band inject a heavier dose of Kraut- and psychedelic-rock into its sound, while stripping its harsh chainsawing black metal back to its leanest Darkthrone-esque roots. Oranssi Pazuzu’s two preceding albums, 2009’s Muukalainen Puhuu and 2011’s Kosmonument, were both genre-bending and -blending works, and both hugely enjoyable also. However, the astronavigation Oranssi Pazuzu indulges in on Valonielu is truly of the outer-limits variety.
Tracks such as “Vino Verso (Askew Sprout)”, “Uraanisula (Molten Uranium)” and “Reikä Maisemassa (A Hole in the Landscape)”, feature bitterly cold sheets of black metal riffing, all layered with cosmological muscle. The fact that Valonielu is one of 2013’s most engrossingly adventurous and eccentric metal journeys is undeniable. And with lysergic space-rock colliding with malevolent metal throughout, it’s an album that secures Oranssi Pazuzu’s place as one of metal’s most creative and important bands.
Weekend Nachos: Still (Relapse)
You’d be totally forgiven for skipping on by Weekend Nachos, simply because the band’s moniker doesn’t exactly lend itself to the notion of discovering breakneck tunes. However, that’s exactly what the Chicago-based outfit provides on its latest album, Still, its follow-up to the similarly neck-vein-bursting Worthless.
Still‘s 12 tracks collect blistering squalls of hardcore, all slathered in
powerviolence aggression, with NOLA-esque sludge and crusty bursts of doom. Like many bands of its ilk, Weekend Nachos have a lengthy discography of splits and EPs to explore, and the band’s vicious and unrelenting sound contains elements that’ll be very enticing for fans of label Southern Lord’s horde of crossover combatants.
Tracks off Still, like “No Idols and No Heroes”, “S.C.A.B”, “Satan Sucker” and “Wolves”, are quick-fire and acidic battering rams wrapped in distortion, with vocalist John Hoffman spitting out the lyrical offensives over the top. There’s nothing remotely understated about Weekend Nachos, and if hateful music that pushes the message that the world is fucked, right to its core, sounds tempting (and why wouldn’t it?), then Still is just the kind of uber-threatening bout of brutality you need.
Mammoth Grinder and more…
Mammoth Grinder: Underworlds. (20 Buck Spin)
The clue to Mammoth Grinder’s squalid sound is right there in the band’s name — ie expect proboscidean-sized gutter-punk/metal crushers. The Austin, Texas-based four-piece’s new album, Underworlds — its first full-length since 2009’s Extinction of Humanity — is the very definition of the trusty (and in this case, extremely crusty) truism, all killer, no filler.
Clocking in at 28 minutes, with not a second wasted, Underworlds stacks grindcore atop of thrash, d-beat, and down and dirty Stockholm-influenced death metal. Fans of Wolfbrigade, Nails, Vastum, Napalm Death, Tragedy (and all their ruthless and scabrous brethren) will find a lot to enjoy here. Mammoth Grinder charges head-first through 10 tracks, with the most ‘epic’ of the lot barely passing the four-minute mark. Call-backs to the birth of death metal and grindcore are heard, with Possessed and Autopsy lingering about as Mammoth Grinder bulldozes through a bass- and distortion-heavy mix of sludgy, seething, and violently concussive maelstroms. Shock and awe, all round.
Mamiffer/Circle: Enharmonic Intervals (SIGE/Ektro)
Enharmonic Intervals is the first in a proposed series of collaborations between entrancing sound/art project Mamiffer (Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner) and Finnish master of the mercurial, Circle. Recorded in a 19th century stone church in Finland, on a single day, Enharmonic Intervals sees the artists involved explore improvised, liturgical drones — where the heavy use of Paschen Organ results in substantial cerebral and spiritual weight.
Enharmonic Intervals‘s seven tracks cycle through deep channels of psych-flecked experimentalism, with feedback and hallucinogenic howls set against soothing lilts and a fair amount of synthesized mayhem. Outbreaks of blissful and brutish noise are the result, and the site-specific minimalism of the album’s recording location is woven in as dramatic laminations rise and fall.
Enharmonic Intervals is reflective and spacious, in parts, although garbled sonics aplenty bring the thundercloud atmospherics. Much like Mamiffer’s stunning collaboration with Locrian on Bless Them that Curse You, Enharmonic Intervals benefits enormously from artists willing to serve the song, and not their own agendas. For those with an open mind, there’s some fine outsider art to get entangled in here.
SubRosa: More Constant than the Gods (Profound Lore)
Salt Lake City doom band SubRosa found fame off the back of its sophomore album, 2011’s No Help for the Mighty Ones, where frontwoman Rebecca Vernon’s tales of woe were spun around dual electric violins, 10-foot thick guitars and bass, and authoritative percussion. The band’s latest release, More Constant than the Gods, offers much of the same dynamically, but so much more creatively — and its 68 minutes are overflowing with mammoth and moving suites.
More Constant than the Gods goes deeper than SubRosa’s past recordings, traveling further into gothic heaviness on monstrous tracks like “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” and “Affliction”. Journeys back in time feature too, as folkloric tales are wrapped in monolithic riffs on “Cosey Mo” and “Fat of the Ram”. More Constant than the Gods is a hulking piece of staggering artistry overall, where divine threads of ethereal and neo-classical sounds are woven into huge battering canvases — making for a truly unique and powerful release. Transcendent, and undeniably captivating, More Constant than the Gods combines the sweetest melodies with colossal feedback-fed dirges, contains a heart-wrenchingly finale in the majestic “No Safe Harbor”, and is utterly bruising — both sonically and emotionally. Lets call it what it is: perfection.
Falkenbach: Asa (Prophecy Productions)
You’ve got two very clear choices when it comes to listening to metal produced by the Heathen hordes. You could check out the antics of Turisas or Týr, for bit of chest-beating action. Or, alternatively, for something with actual meaning, bands like Moonsorrow, Árstíðir Lífsins, and Falkenbach (the Düsseldorf-based project of Vratyas Vakyas) await. It’s the oeuvre of those latter warriors that you really want to explore, with albums like Moonsorrow’s Verisäkeet, Árstíðir Lífsins’ Vápna lækjar eldr and Falkenbach’s Heralding…The Fireblade being thematically and musically thunderous, while nuanced and highly evocative.
Asa is the latest (and sixth release overall) from Falkenbach, and like the band’s previous releases it is meticulously composed, and filled with atmospheric odes conjuring misty forests and cloud-covered fjords. Harsh and gentler vocals are sung in an almost extinct West Germanic dialect, and as you’d expect from Falkenbach, folk instrumentation is exquisitely blended with melodic black metal throughout.
Grand tracks like “Ufirstanan Folk”, “Eweroun” and “Vaer Stjernar Vaerdan” nestle around the fire alongside driving, folk-fuelled assaults like “Stikke Wound” and “Wulfarweijd”. Asa is a return to the fiery passion and expressive pastures of Falkenbach’s prime years, and it’s an album that teaches those more banal folk metal bands a thing or two about authenticity, and true craftsmanship.
Sutekh Hexen: Monument of Decay (Black Horizons)
It’s been turbulent times in Sutekh Hexen’s ranks this year, with one member exiting under a very bitter cloud. Still, if there’s one band where emotionally corrosive exchanges form a crucial sonic and thematic component, then Sutekh Hexen is it. The band’s entire output thus far has been one gigantic psychological battle, and its latest EP, Monument of Decay, is yet another challenging piece of avant-blackened noise that drills straight into the cortex with malevolent glee.
Featuring four tracks that take extreme ritualised sound to the point where ‘unnerving’ is a vast understatement, Monument of Decay explores demonic ambience, power electronics, gnawing noise, and feedback-soaked black metal. The “abyss architects” in Sutekh Hexen have always engineered works that amplify dread while holding a reverence for the ritual magic inherent in nightmare-inducing layers of noise, and with the band having a more fully-fleshed line-up on Monument of Decay, the EP peers into a multitude of Mephistophelian corners simultaneously. Like the work of kindred sorcerers of horror, such as Gnaw Their Tongues or Theologian, Monument of Decay is highly recommended for all your morbidly esoteric and conjuring endeavors this anti-Christmas.
Lake of Blood and more…
Lake of Blood: Omnipotens Tyrannus (Cult of Melancholia)
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.
Obliteration: Black Death Horizon (Relapse)
Obliteration: Black Death Horizon (Relapse)
Death metal band Obliteration got off to a great start in 2007, with its debut, Perpetual Decay, seeing a release on Tyrant Syndicate — the sub-label at Peaceville records overlorded by Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto. It probably helped that the band is from Darkthrone’s hometown of Kolbotn too, but it really wasn’t nepotism that unleashed Obliteration on the world.
The four-piece’s blend of old-school death, doom, and thrash metal was pretty much perfectly putrescent from the get go, and Obliteration’s new album, Black Death Horizon, furthers the band’s obvious obsessions with necro-worship and all things reverb-drenched and fetid. Black Death Horizon provides seven raw, merciless and festering death metal dirges. Speedier pummels splatter the putrefaction about on “Goat Skull Crown” and the punk-injected “Sepulchral Rites”, and skull-mangling trawls like “Ascendance (Sol Invictus)” and “Black Death Horizon” bring the band’s love of mucilaginous doom to the fore. Throughout, Obliteration drags viscous bloody hooks around before accelerating into thrash metal sections that take the sewage hurricane along for the ride. You can obviously play spot the Morbid Angel, Asphyx, or Autopsy while you’re here, if you like, but Obliteration’s ready to bury you with its own shovel load of ice-cold, rotten filth.
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.
Vaura and more…
Vaura: The Missing (Profound Lore)
With the likes of Toby Driver (Kayo Dot, Maudlin of the Well) and Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Gorguts) in the band’s ranks, it’s a dead cert that Vaura is going to be indulging in some impressive and ambitious sonic journeying. The band’s 2012 debut, Selenelion, drew its share of rave reviews for its mix of progressive and post-metal with shoegaze, post-punk and darkwave — with Josh Strawn’s (ex-Blacklist) vocals being a particular highpoint.
Vaura’s latest album, The Missing, takes those elements, and combines them with a stronger strain of gothic rock that would do the likes of the Cure and Joy Division proud — and then runs it all through a progressive filter, overseen by the likes of Rush, circa 1984. All of that is fused to fiery metal on tracks like “The Fire” and “The Missing”, while elsewhere, “Incomplete Burning” and “Mare of the Snake” follow trails first cut by bands such as the Sisters of Mercy, or the Mission UK. Electronics creep around the terrain Vaura explores, and a great deal of black metal’s tremolo hiss skulks here too.
However, as on the band’s debut, what is most evident on The Missing is a disregard for creative restrictions. If it takes a combination of black metal, post-punk, and post-rock to secure the tone on one section of “Passage to Vice”, and something else entirely to serve another section seconds later, then that’s the path Vaura follow. And what could have been a jumble of contrasting genres is in fact an ingenious blend. Still, with Driver and Hufnagel here, did we really expect anything less? [SoundCloud]
Vastum: Patricidal Lust (20 Buck Spin)
With a lyrical focus on psycho-sexual trauma and existential pain, San Francisco, California-based death metal band Vastum certainly tells a different story to many of its peers. The band features Leila Abdul-Rauf, from the exceptional Hammers of Misfortune, as well as Daniel Butler, from the crust/death beast Acephalix, and both trade vocal growls and grunts throughout the toxic trudge of Patricidal Lust.
Patricidal Lust is released via label 20 Buck Spin, which already issued one of 2013’s finest examples of rancid death metal in Bone Sickness’s Alone in the Grave EP earlier this year. Like Bone Sickness, Vastum doesn’t toy with sonic subtleties. Tracks from Patricidal Lust, such as the obliterating “Enigma of Disgust” and “3AM in Agony”, are Bolt Thrower-battering, mid-tempo stompers — all covered in the scabs of crust punk, and dripping morbid doom pus.
Vastum’s debut, 2011’s Carnal Law, was a heavy-enough release, with its murk-ridden churns smashing together eroticism, anguish, and insanity in an obnoxious stew. On Patricidal Lust, Vastum gets even sicker, down-tuning in the dungeons and twisting unsettling narratives around gruelling death/doom, with zero light, hope, or escape in sight.
Northless: World Keeps Sinking (Gilead Media)
Northless is a post-metal band, as much as it’s a sludge, noise-rock, prog, doom, hardcore, and post-rock band. The Milwaukee heavyweight’s sophomore album, World Keeps Sinking, is a big step up from Northless’s debut, 2011’s Clandestine Abuse, which was itself brain-belting — heavy as a pallet of bricks.
On World Keeps Sinking, Northless has upped the lot, with grander, heavier, and more-dynamic compositions. Echoes of Neurosis, Swans, and Shellac can be heard, but what Northless deals in, primarily, is off-kilter uber-intensity. “Kuru”, and “Communion” are bass-rumbling crawls towards oblivion, with giant, reverberating sounds slamming into contorted textures. Elsewhere, the 15-minute “Passage” takes a stroll through a crystalline and melodic intro, before plowing into walls of noise cut with angular and technical guitar lines, and more of that bass, bass, and bass.
If you felt that post-metal was past its best-by date, World Keeps Sinking serves as a great example of a band taking the scene’s original premise of moving forward, and combining that with soaring songwriting unafraid to show its gorgeous and grotesque sides.
Imperial Triumphant: Goliath (Vatican)
You really don’t need to hear of a note of New York black metal four-piece Imperial Triumphant’s latest two-song release, Goliath, to appreciate where it’s coming from. The cover features an illustration of an elephant executing a man by stamping on his head, and if you take that into consideration with the band’s moniker, you’ll have a fairly close match to the brutal and, well, wholly triumphant, cacophony that awaits you.
What you won’t get from that equation, however, is just how wonderfully twisted Goliath is. With Imperial Triumphant featuring members from death metal explorer Pyrrhon in its ranks, it’s no surprise that Goliath takes a route that’s distorted and contorted, calling to mind the demented avant-garde volleys of Deathspell Omega or Blut aus Nord. Goliath‘s two songs, “Sodom” and “Gomarrah” (no prizes for guessing the fire and brimstone lyrical themes here), surge through merciless barrages of often atonal weirdness — with skewed riffs, solos, and mutilated melodies bringing an almost Ulcerate-like angularity.
The emphasis here is on crooked soundscapes, where relentless dissonance and unremitting percussion construct an abnormal framework on which to hang Imperial Triumphant’s psychedelia. At mid-point on “Gomarrah”, things get real strange, with slow-motion rewinds sending things off into a psychotic spiral as horror is heaped upon horror until the demonic atmospherics fade out.
If all of that sounds attractive, then Imperial Triumphant’s 2012 debut, Abominamentvm is an album you should seek out too — with Goliath being an excellent extension of the merciless madness and technical prowess you’ll find there.
Wolvserpent: Perigaea Antahkarana (Relapse)
Wolvserpent’s sophomore album, Perigaea Antahkarana, is 80 minutes long yet only contains four songs — if you’re not a fan of lengthy ritualised journeys, move on. However, if you are someone who enjoys the prospect of magical meditations, then the folk, drone, doom, death, and black metal provided by Wolvserpent duo Blake Green and Brittany McConnell might make for one of the best, albeit challenging, pathways to paradise you’ve heard all year.
Perigaea Antahkarana is produced and engineered by Mell Dettmer, whose work with the likes of Sunn O))) and Earth sees him brings the appropriate levels of reverent and exalting weight to proceedings. With Green and McConnell having two decades of classical training behind them, Perigaea Antahkarana is arranged in a manner befitting the duo’s vision of sprawling gothic compositions, with the aim, you’d presume, to grasp the trance-inducing tendrils of the subconscious. Vast cinematic songs, like the breathtaking “In Mirrors of Water”, offer steep steps of heartbreaking and apocalyptic doom, while reverb-rich weeping and wonderment appear on the slow crushing crawls of “Within the Light of Fire” and “A Breath in the Shade of Time”.
Perigaea Antahkarana isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s bathed in mystique, while testing your will, but the payoff is, of course, emotional and spiritual enlightenment.
Primitive Man: Scorn (Relapse)
You know you’re onto a good thing when you come across a band that sounds like it hates the entirety of its potential audience. That’s certainly the feeling you get when you press play on Scorn, the first full-length from Denver, Colorado doom trio Primitive Man. The band’s debut sends out a clear message that the rest of humanity is wholly repellent, while also taking self-loathing into some truly depressing and sinister grottos of noise.
The band lays out a true challenge to your mental strength straight away, by opening Scorn with the 12-minute title track — which is a soul-crushing and wholly misanthropic beginning. Throughout the album, Primitive Man sounds utterly hateful, and while other bands drown their music in the kinds of feedback and apocalyptic pummel you’ll find on Scorn, few drop into the pitch-black pits of doom displayed here. Tracks like “Antietam” and “Astral Sleep” are caverns of hopelessness, where raw and ragged dissonance and sludge combine claustrophobic weight with cataclysmic atmospheres.
It’s hard to recommend an album like Scorn, because it’s simply so bleak and destructive. Although, I guess, that’s also the most perfect recommendation of all.