Bong-Ra – Meditations (Tartarus)
On his new album as Bong-Ra, Dutch musician Jason Köhnen continues his exploration into the possibilities of doom, weaving a variety of external influences and the philosophy of stoicism into the core of the genre. Crucially, and unlike his works with the likes of the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Meditations is first and foremost a true doom metal album, infected but not redefined by a vocabulary of dark ambient, free jazz, noise, and electronic music.
Thus, the foundation for each of the four long cuts on the album is set by roaring guitar riffs and the oppressive, bumbling expansion of Eugene Bodenstaff’s resounding tom hits and electronic bass textures. Flickers of free jazz-like overblown saxophone lines (courtesy of Colin Webster), disembodied mantras, cymbal rides, and snaking oud phrases (by Dmitry el Demerdashi) appear projected on this backdrop, left to sculpt the doom metal matter. At times, they shape pure doom jazz (“Courage”), complete with smoky atmospheres. At others, they explode into pummeling jazz metal (“Temperance”). Stunning stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Boris – Heavy Rocks (2022) (Relapse)
Boris are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get! Stale movie lines aside, the thirty-year-old (!) Japanese trio really are unpredictable in their output, capable of playing everything from bone-shaking drone and harsh noise in cahoots with Merzbow to gorgeous shoegaze and stoner rock. This time around, the third installment in the Heavy Rocks series of albums finds them tracing an alternate history for seventies rock.
The starting point is clear: free-flowing hard rock and guitar-driven psychedelia, styles cherished by many of their compatriots like Acid Mothers Temple and Kevin. Where they go next is much less predictable. From cut to cut, they mutate the basic brew of styles into increasingly out-there expressions. On “She is burning”, they dish out blazing proto-metal with the energy of a teenage punk band, then let a saxophone line rip over the ongoing insanity.
Later, “My name is blank” dives deep into dusty desert and stoner rock, “Blah Blah Blah” gives off the serious classic progressive rock and Rock-in-Opposition vibes, its squeaking saxophones and loose structure evoking the likes of King Crimson and Heldon, “Question” entertains a noise rock and post-metal atmospheric crescendo, and “Ghostly Imagination” jumps up and down along Rammstein-cum-Nine Inch Nails techno/industrial beats and scuzzy riffs. If the fact that this cornucopia of styles placed together makes so much sense is praiseworthy, then the fact it sounds so great is a small miracle in itself. – Antonio Poscic
Conan – Evidence of Immortality (Napalm)
It has been a decade since Conan dropped their debut full-length, Monnos. Things have not really changed that much for the doom act through the years. Their fuzzy sound, flirtations with a sludge-y timbre, and grand approach are still present today in their latest album, Evidence of Immortality. Distortion and weight roam the land, the guitar riffs coming down heavy with the opener “A Cleaved Head No Longer Plots.” The groove is just intoxicating, slow, and monstrous, an awakened beast set loose upon the world. The gritty nature of “Equilibrium of Mankind” further confirms this wooly mammoth-like presence. It is something that sticks even when Conan pick up the pace. The faster tempo of “Ritual of Anonymity” takes on more traditional metallic characteristics, and the faster outbreaks (almost blastbeats) of “Levitation Hoax” still manage to appear slow somehow.
Doom has always flirted with this epic perspective. Since the days of Candlemass that has been the norm, and Conan do subscribe to the epic characteristic but they do not follow the romantic path. No, their stories are written in blood, images of the world inhabited by their namesake. “Levitation Hoax” screams of bloody carnage, while “Righteous Alliance” sees Conan take on a towering and imposing form. It is something carried on with the epic outro, “Grief Sequence,” where the synthesizers are allowed to drive the progression. So the verdict is simple, Evidence of Immortality propagates the Conan mythos. No deviations, no shortcuts, exactly what you would expect. – Spyros Stasis
Dreadnought – The Endless (Profound Lore)
Despite the quality of their works, Dreadnought have been able to keep a low profile. Yet, through the years the act from Colorado has built an intriguing discography. A testament meant to cartograph their view of progressive music projected through an all-encompassing lens. Their return after 2019’s Emergence finds them at a peak with The Endless. From the soft, emotional progressive rock of “Worlds Break,” it feels like this ride is going to be different. And soon enough the sentimentality washes over, post-metallic overtures coming to view and the ethereal lines of “The Paradigm Mirror” prevail. This is where Dreadnought do all their work; unwilling to be confined in this prog rock paradigm, they reach beyond. Jazzy touches and chamber music notions fill the space in “Midnight Moon”, while the classical twists are always close, as is the case with the title track.
Still, this is only the surface for Dreadnought. Digging deeper, they unearth dreamy doom characteristics akin to the great works of Subrosa. Bringing in a full doom weight in the title track, they craft a sense of grandeur uniquely endowed by the tasteful synthesizer inclusions in “Liminal Veil”. More volatility still awaits, as the prog rock themes of the opening track crush upon a blackened aspect, while the scenery is enhanced via slight folk twists. It is this technical, quasi-extreme quality that grips the attention. The bizarre amalgamations of prog rock twisted through black metal notions and jazz themes to create a multifaceted presentation. The greatest weapon of Dreadnought remains their mindset, unwilling to conform to the orthodoxy of progressive rock and instead push against the boundaries. May they continue to do so! – Spyros Stasis
Hexis – Aeternum (Debemur Morti)
Hexis subscribe to the overarching notion of extreme music. Instead of focusing on a particular genre or style, the Danish act creates an amalgamation of different pieces from across the spectrum. Post-hardcore notions and crusty themes a la Fall of Efrafa are just some of the pillars for Hexis’ third record Aeternum. Yet, alongside these proudly stand the black metal darkness and the sludge devastation. This construct is perfectly highlighted through the hardcore storms of opener “Letum,” reaching a fine balance between the obtrusive punk ethos and the grand black metal approach.
It is the ability to interchange these parts in a fluid manner that makes Hexis succeed. On one hand the haunting, eerie presence of “Exhaurire,” builds a solitary scenery in the distance. And then on the other side, the unyielding, relentless groove. Stemming from the hardcore domain, via way of a grind lineage, Hexis deliver pure explosions in the likes of “Divinitas” and “Interitus”. The brutality and in-your-face attitude of “Accipis” and “Captivus” carry the same torch, but also reveal masterful handling of the dynamics.
That comes full circle when the descent to the sludge abyss is complete, with the vitriolic and oppressive “Vulnera”. It is this mentality that elevates Hexis’ Aeternum, bringing them closer to monumental works like Guillotine from their sonic brethren the Psyke Project. – Spyros Stasis