Laster – Andermans Mijne (Prophecy)
Many have been inspired by the feverish dreams of Ved Buens Ende, but fewer have been able to reformulate them. Laster belong in the latter category, nourishing themselves with the disharmonic visions of the past but without feeling the need to simply regurgitate them. This process has led to the completion of one of the greatest records of the 2010s in Het Wassen Oog, which Laster now follows up with Andermans Mijne. So they continue to glide through their abstracted journey of a deconstructed black metal vision. The discordance is further adorned by jazzy themes in the title track, with the dropped-down tempo of “Wachtmuziek” and the clean moments of “Onzichtbare muur” opening up this bizarro world. Circular motifs complete this transformation, letting in krautrock themes in the cosmic “Kunstlicht” and the anxiety-inducing “Achterstevoren”.
It is difficult to define Andermans Mijne as brutal or delicate. There is this silky quality, a fragile element that comes together, shining through the obsidian facade. Yet, the brutality is undeniable, and it takes many forms. The weaponizing of the jazz rhythms is profound, the barrage of energy in “Stegen Spiegel” being a highlight. How Laster contort and change their appearance is chameleonic, diving through the modal world, passing by art rock peaks, and returning to a fierce black metal state. It is an absolute overload, a work that packs so much potential and inspiration, and a worthy follow-up to their exquisite Het Wassen Oog. And now that is a very tall task. – Spyros Stasis
Marthe – Further in Evil (Southern Lord)
Marziona Silvani is a well-established artist in the underground Italian anarcho-punk scene who now leaps over to the heavier side. With the debut record of her project Marthe, Silvani aptly calls upon the darkest forces from the 1980s. The opener, “I Ride Alone”, is an 11-minute-long tour de force, sprouting from an atmospheric foundation to blossom to an epic, Bathory-esque stampede. It is harsh and unforgiving, and yet it carries much of the melodic doom inclinations of Timat circa Clouds, something that also holds through the clean guitar introduction to “Victimized”.
While there is still a definite punk energy stemming by way of Amebix and their crust legacy, the majority of Further in Evil is molded in the 1980s heavy metal spirit. “Dead to You” echoes with a doom motif, while the electrifying guitar work in “Victimized” sees a proto-black metal side come, the groove pointing to the likes of Venom. The galloping rhythms and the heavy riffs all point towards this heavy essence, but the malice that Silvani can transmit moves the whole endeavor towards a darker essence.
The ruinous, punk-infused approach in “To Ruined Altars” puts that in perspective, but it is the Quorthon-ian side that prevails in the end. The strongest moments of this record are when Silvani channels this epic and grand sense, adorned with punk components and a blackened perspective. It feels as if she is uttering curses from the peaks of mountains. It results in a very honest and, therefore, precious work, and although it primarily relies on nostalgia, it does pay proper tribute to the past. – Spyros Stasis
On Thorns I Lay – On Thorns I Lay (Season of Mist)
Like many acts that track their origin to the doom/death of the 1990s, On Thorns I Lay made a detour through the gothic realm before eventually returning to their roots with 2018’s Aegean Sorrow. Now, their tenth record and first to come through Season of Mist is arguably their finest moment. The melodic doom/death carries the spirit of the 1990s from the moment “Fallen From Grace” erupts. It is a tour de force through both the UK scene in the Peaceville Three and the melodic inclinations of their Swedish counterparts.
Heavier moments ensue, the likes of “Among The Wolves” and “Raise Empress” coming in with more urgency. It compliments this direct and purposeful songwriting, in particular shining through the record’s “hit” with “Newborn Skies”. What is even more welcome, however, is the poignant application of traditional music to this effort. The start of “Crestfallen” sees this mentality, switching from the metal standard standard to a folk-ish leaning. It is the perfect counterpart to this Anathema circa The Silent Enigma element, and it provides a further lift to the glorious closer “Thorns of Fire.” It opens their doom/death to new interesting dimensions, and it is a component that I would like to see them explore a bit more.
Overall, it is quite surprising to think that On Thorns I Lay have been around since 1995 (actually 1992 if you count their previous incarnations,) but it is just now that they have arguably reached their peak. – Spyros Stasis
Ragana – Desolation’s Flower (The Flenser)
In many ways, this is long overdue. The duo of Ragana have been producing some excellent works in the underground Washington scene since the early 2010s. Heavily influenced by the Cascadian black metal but with further influences across the board, Ragana self-released numerous records through the years, but Desolation Flower is the first to be released through a record label, in The Flenser. As such, it acts as a first introduction to this act, and what an introduction indeed it is.
There are many diverse components here. The foundation is primarily on the black metal side, tilting towards the modern implementation. The title sees a furious outbreak, bringing an intense catharsis. The obvious influence here is Wolves in the Throne Room, but there are fragments of earlier influences as well. Aspects of early Ulver, and Agalloch circa Pale Folklore, adorn the passages of “Winter’s Light Pt. 2″.
The menu also includes atmospheric leanings, either subtle as in the title track or more immersive as with “Pain”. The latter is exquisite, seeing their black metal form dissipate and move towards this black metal and shoegaze intersection. There are more amalgamations that Ragana bring to the table, with the awkward progression and strange rhythmic patterns of “Woe” pointing towards a punk and screamo lineage. The post-rock manifestations here awaken the early Pelican methodologies, becoming more oppressive in the likes of “DTA” as fierce sound design is applied alongside them.
Finally, a few doom touches in “Ruin” and the mournful closer “In the Light of the Burning World” open further passageways. Desolation’s Flower features a very colorful sonic palette, and it is delivered in a very raw and unapologetic way, which is the cherry on top. – Spyros Stasis
Sepulchral Curse – Abhorrent Dimensions (Transcending Obscurity)
Finnish outfit Sepulchral Curse play a variant of blackened death metal whose basic elements should be fairly recognizable to metal fans by now (see: Incantation, Sulphur Aeon), rooted in a combination of black metal tremolos and sense of harrowing atmosphere and death metal’s buzzsaw-like, relentless roll down serpentine paths. Regardless of the familiarity of the style, the caliber of the work that the group create within this space is stellar. Abhorrent Dimensions capitalizes on the strengths of its precursor, 2020’s Only Ashes Remains, and delivers seven well-crafted songs with very little fat on their bones and several standout characteristics, from the twisted songwriting and supreme intensity with which the infernal black/death amalgam is performed to the cavernous, recorded-in-hell quality of the production and mastering. Old school cool. – Antonio Poscic
Teeth of the Sea – Hive (Rocket Recordings)
Since the beginning of their career, Teeth of the Sea did not view genres as lanes they needed to follow but rather as colors to use on a canvas. Krautrock and dark ambient became agents, jazz interludes turned into dark passageways to different sounds and sceneries. Their latest effort in Hive sees them take a kaleidoscopic turn from the bleakness of 2019’s Hiraeth. The industrial-informed and synth-driven pseudo-rock of “Get With the Program” sees a more decisive and in-your-face approach. It is a path that naturally leads to the nostalgic 1980s synthpop of “Butterfly House”, where Kath Glifford’s vocal performance shines.
Yet, Teeth of the Sea still have space for the darker, with the mysterious and dense atmospherics of “Liminal Kin”, or the lounge jazz that presents itself through “Artemis.” It is a dimension that opens up further possibilities, as is the case with the triptych of “Artemis”, “Æther”, and “Apollo”, which opens up the krautrock rock, space exploration. The old-school electronica vibes of the opener, the melancholic touches of “Æther” and the minimal quality of the closing track present these brilliantly radiant sceneries.
Still, there is one more gear to switch to with the nine-minute long opus, “Megalofragma”, as the trio create an immersive, alter score that would fit the works of Cronenberg. Industrial elements melt into a brutal and unstoppable progression, where noise flickers cause havoc. It is the high point of the record, with Teeth of the Sea embracing their experimental side. It also highlights the divergence from their previous works, standing as the contrast to their more immediate approach. It is a strong reminder that Teeth of the Sea have not lost their bite. – Spyros Stasis
Theocracy – Mosaic (Atomic Fire)
Led by the soaring voice of Matt Smith—initially the group’s sole member—Athens, Georgia-based Theocracy are easily one of the most vibrant US power metal bands active today. However, their virtuosic, fluid brand of power metal has more in common with the genre’s Euro scene. The fast galloping rhythms and guitar leads, rich with flair, evoke Kamelot, Stratovarius, and Sonata Arctica. Simultaneously, they retain a certain heaviness—a roughness around the riffs—and progressive tint that occasionally brings them closer to their American compatriots Judicator, Iced Earth, and Symphony X, especially on cuts like “Red Sea”.
Synthesized together, these strains form the backbone of a lively and spirited power metal album. A part of this joyous, almost festive atmosphere can be traced down to Mosaic’s Christian themes, but these are delivered in a nuanced way, subtly lighting up the hard and fast flow of “Anonymous” and “The Sixth Great Extinction” with angelic jubilation while showing sufficient restrain as not to become overbearing. – Antonio Poscic
Third Storm – The Locust Mantra (Chaos)
Although originally formed in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t until 2018 that the Uppsala group Third Storm released the solid debut, The Grand Manifestation. Despite their three-decades-long history and roots, the quintet led by Heval Bozarslan—the group’s vocalist and sole remaining member from the original lineup—today play a perfectly contemporary version of melodic black and death metal that avoids the trappings of sounding like yet another Dissection clone.
They mix elements of several very Swedish extreme metal styles, from the unabashed catchiness of melodeath to the grave overtones of progressive doom metal à la Katatonia, into a beguiling whole. Compared to its predecessor, The Locust Mantra is better in every way. The songwriting has improved significantly, resulting in very few filler moments and missteps. Here, the surges of black metal are more ferocious and compact. Simultaneously, the transitions into slower and more atmospheric sections have become coherent and often quite inventive, tying together brutality and gorgeous melodies in tidy knots. Bozarslan’s growls now roar with proper fire. In short, Third Storm have managed to distill and refine their eclectic mixture of styles into an album that still draws from many sources but ultimately feels entirely its own thing. – Antonio Poscic
Tomáš Palucha – Rauš (Day After)
Tomáš Palucha are a Czech rock group named after its core members, Jan Tomáš and Libor Palucha. Their fundamental style leans close to contemporary psych rock but then branches off in various, often unexpected directions. As such, each track on this latest full-length becomes its own rock microcosm, with influences worn on the sleeve but always with an interesting twist. Opener “Hlad / Pistol” surfs on waves of krautrock-infused psychedelia and deadpan spoken word, only for “Never High Enough” to turn everything upside down by dropping into a start-and-stop dub flow, complete with spring reverb on drum hits and squiggly guitar licks.
Despite their disparate sound and ambience, each of the songs on the album is executed to perfection, allowing the post-rock crescendo of “Nahlédněte” to crest into the saxophone-driven, post-punk-adjacent scorcher “Wilde Jagd”, before culminating with “Good Man Bad Man”, a droning, stoner sludge romp that sounds like an unlikely meeting between Earth and Wovenhand. With Rauš, Tomáš Palucha once again make a compelling argument to take their place in the famed history of Czech rock. – Antonio Poscic
Vertebra Atlantis – A Dialogue With the Eeriest Sublime (I, Voidhanger)
Gabriele Gramaglia is one of those magnificent mavericks championed by I, Voidhanger, that seem to excel in every possible take on extreme metal. While perhaps best known for his one-person death metal project Cosmic Putrefaction, the symphonic black metal-leaning group Vertebra Atlantis with drummer Riccardo Nioin is just as excellent. On their sophomore release, A Dialogue With the Eeriest Sublime, the duo make their way through grandiose, synth-laden clearings only to end up in tunnels of suffocating black and death metal, often combining the melodies and hidden grace of the former with the gnarly, dissonant, and twisted nature of the latter into a whole that is as harsh as it is beautiful.
The press release mentions Gorguts and Emperor as reference points for this album in a single breath. In normal circumstances, this would be nothing more than an oxymoron and hyperbole, but in the case of Vertebra Atlantis, the connection is true and well deserved. Eeriest sublime indeed. – Antonio Poscic