Another month, another blast of records! Death metal seems to have really picked up in the month of April, from the melodic aspirations of Fires in the Distance and the black/death of Decipher all the way to the avant-garde and progressive views of VoidCeremony, Lunar Chamber, and Asystole. Similarly, black metal sees a number of acts dedicated to the origins of the genre, like Thysia and Bonjour Tristesse, but there are also those that travel the astral planes. The first outing of Altari is such an instance, as well as the return of the mighty Dødheimsgard.
Post-punk nostalgia from Poison Ruïn, heavy metal goodness from Tanith, and a healthy dose of sludge hybrid menace from Sunrot and Wallowing join in. In addition to the cherry on top of this glorious bunch, the new album from the harrowing Bell Witch has arrived to haunt us all. That and much more, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Allochiria – Commotion (Venerate Industries)
While their own promo materials compare them to the likes of Cult of Luna, Amenra, and Neurosis, the Greek quintet is much more than just another clone in a sea of derivatives. Instead, their vision of sludge and post-metal is dynamic and fresh, sprinkled with just a bit of noise, hardcore, black, and doom metal tropes necessary to ensure that their third album remains interesting throughout. Trimmed to a lean 36-minute running time, Commotion feels like a constant meat grinder, construing buzzing tremolos from screeching feedback, then tearing down and rebuilding everything in the form of crunching, chugging post-metal à la prime Isis and martial and marching heaviness. When usually tiresome post-metal elements do appear, like the odd patient crescendo and endless plateau, they are used to great effect, gluing together otherwise disparate sections. – Antonio Poscic
Altari – Kröflueldar (Svart)
The rich Icelandic black metal scene keeps on giving. A new addition is Altari, who have been working on their debut record Kröflueldar for nine years! If you are going into this expecting to experience the ferocity of Svartidauði or the sickening hooks of Misþyrming, then think again. Altari’s path deviates fairly quickly from their compatriots. Sure, there is a shared lineage for the off-kilter and dissonant. The echoes of the “V” brigade, Voivod, Ved Buens Ende, and Virus still echo through the title track and “Leðurblökufjandinn”. The dissonance and unconventional approach give rise to a bitter world, a bizarro spiritual realm twisted beyond recognition in “Vítisvilltur”.
Yet, Altari control their black metal form. They do not explode into fervent outbreaks. Instead, they take on further divergent elements to complement their facade. Post-punk and no-wave motifs roam with the likes of “Djáknahrollur”, seeing the rhythm section rise to dominance amidst a freestyle-infused storm of lead work. It is a path that crafts a dreamy scenery, soon turning towards dark pathways. The uneasiness and uncertainty that the title track and “Hin eina sanna” are menacing, while the line that “Kröflueldar” walks is subtle and fine. The further descent from a Sonic Youth-inspired perspective to a full-blown dream pop essence in “Sýrulúður” completes this intricate puzzle. It is this unwillingness to adhere to norms that elevates Kröflueldar. – Spyros Stasis
Asystole – Siren to Blight (I, Voidhanger)
New York’s Asystole have obviously taken a cue from the best that death metal has to offer in terms of its technical and avant-garde variants and delivered a serving of their own inspired vision. Their debut, Siren to Blight, is a slab of dissonant, twisted, and twisting death metal. Compressed in less than half an hour, the seven tracks circle, tumble, and twitch, moving from the jazzy inflection of “Song of Subservient Bliss”—complete with moments worthy of bands like their producer Colin Marston’s Dysrhythmia—to the bumbling, boa constrictor flow of the Suffocation-evoking killer “Sophist Paralysis” and the Wormed-like brutal slam and groove of “Spirit Mother”. Mind-bending, excellent stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Bell Witch – Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate (Profound Lore)
Since the release of their 2012 debut, Longing, Bell Witch have risen in meteoric fashion within the extreme doom/death sphere. Four Phantoms and Mirror Reaper stand as testaments to the harrowing depth that slow pace, patient progression, and overarching darkness can establish. Now, Bell Witch open up a new chapter with the planned trilogy of Future’s Shadow. In this first part, they take a cue from Mirror Reaper, going for one long-form composition clocking around the 83-minute mark.
There is a plethora of tones and vibes that Bell Witch conjure. The initial ceremonial keyboards take on a majestic quality. It is a grand moment, setting this vast and expanding piece. Soon enough, things take a psychedelic twist, putting a veil of darkness over the proceedings. The vocal chants complete this picture, again opening up this pathway toward a monumental and epic representation. Doom explosions resume, erupting in drone fashion. The pensive aura of 1990s doom/death similarly infects the proceedings, its looming presence echoing with a sense of melancholy. Melodic inclinations complete the scenery, the gloom now cutting even deeper as the lead work arrives.
Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate features the trademark qualities that define Bell Witch. However, there is a different perspective that the duo takes. The pace is even more glacial than before, there is a more pronounced sense of patience and purpose through the proceedings. The explosive elements are more restrained than in the past, and the piece flows in a cyclical fashion. Patterns are revisited, the ambiance ever-changing and yet staying the same. It is an exquisite start to this trilogy, and it whets the appetite for what might come next. – Spyros Stasis
Bonjour Tristesse – Against Leviathan! (Supreme Chaos)
Despite the project’s name—”bonjour tristesse” translates to “hello sadness”—Nathanael’s work under this moniker is significantly less suffocating and more direct than the music he used to make with the now disbanded Thränenkind/King Apathy. For one, Bonjour Tristesse works with uncut black metal and is likelier to lean into its outward anger and antagonism than to allow itself to dwell in morose thoughts. Take the opening “Turmoil”, for example, which swirls around with ferocity through melodic yet raw attacks before contorting into an implosion of atmospheric black metal, conjuring a sensation of affront and bile.
“Nightbringer” slows things down and becomes a sonic manifestation of existential misanthropy, while “Against Leviathan” and “Ode to Emptiness” meander between dynamic black metal and melancholy moods. These are songs whose long, minutely constructed structures come to life through sheer emotion, which allows them to flow freely while engulfed by a blinding blaze of fury. – Antonio Poscic
Decipher – Arcane Paths to Resurrection (Transcending Obscurity)
While they might hail from Greece, Athens-based Decipher are not your run-of-the-mill Hellenic black metal band. In fact, they are definitely not just a Hellenic black metal band. While there are moments in which flourishes of the melodic, ritualistic style surface, for the most part, their debut Arcane Paths to Resurrections finds a niche of its own, book-ended by blazing second-wave black metal on one side and brutal death metal on the other. This is not typical blackened death metal either, as the elements of the two styles are mixed in various dosages depending on track and passage.
“Chants of the Unholy” and “Lost in Obscurity” are almost pure black metal cuts driven by blistering tremolos and blast beats, while the towering mid-tempo rise-and-fall of “Enslaved to Be”, the thrash-drive of “Altar of the Void”, the atmo black beauty of “Penance”, and the chanted choruses of “Sanctum Regnum” let other influences take charge, all the while retaining a sense of inner melody. A really strong debut. – Antonio Poscic
Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current (Peaceville)
One of the most radical and forward-thinking acts to grace the black metal scene, Dødheimsgard morphed their grim black metal into something truly unique. From the raw outings of Kronet Til Konge and the black/thrash of Monumental Possession to the extravagant, avant-garde essence of Satanic Art and the absolute pinnacle with their electronica-infused post-everything opus 666 International, Dødheimsgard have done it all. From Supervillain Outcast and onwards, Dødheimsgard have kept the identity of 666 International, although with a slightly more tamed perspective. So, eight years after A Umbra Omega, they continue with the same motif in Black Medium Current.
The splendid amalgamations spread across genres. The black metal essence takes on multiple representations, from the most bitter of beginnings in “Et Smelter” and “Det tomme kalde morke” to further augmentations. Atmospheric treats tastefully add to the majesty of “It Does Not Follow”, and dissonance through the Ved Buens Ende lineage engulfs “Tankespinnerens Smerte”. Yet, the feverish dream takes over when off-kilter components join this mix. The piano parts echo through the distance, creating this grand yet uncomfortable setting in “Interstellar Nexus”. At the same time, electronica mutates the rigid forms, at times giving a paranoid quality, while at other moments, a more chilled, still uneasy perspective. The spiraling descent continues even further, the jazzy themes of “It Does Not Follow” construct this bizarre lounge vibe, and the Devil Doll element fully awakens in “Voyager” and closer “Requiem Aeternum”.
Dødheimsgard are still driven by their visionary instincts, the ones that led to constructing a record as unconventional and unique as 666 International. Still, today they appear more certain, they have departed from their overtly rebellious side and have entered a period of maturity. So, while Black Medium Current does not embrace the extravagance of their youth, it still features an extraordinary scope of experimental music. – Spyros Stasis