Tradition meets new blood. On one hand, NWOBHM OGs Satan return with another excellent specimen, while across the Atlantic Fer De Lance make their first step into the traditional heavy metal sound. Moreover, experiments continue to fascinate. Eunoia take on the blackened post-hardcore mantle, maniacally infusing their energetic and complex sound with a grim touch.
On the sludge end of the spectrum, Pyrithe expose their heavy ideas through a psychedelic lens of free rock improvisations and krautrock immersions. If that was not brutal enough for April, Abhorrent Expanse dazzle with their jazz incorporations on the extreme metal basis, while Black Death Cult reveal themselves as the outcasts of the black/death scene. And to top it all off, a stunning array of legends pays tribute to the life’s work of Lustmord.
That and much more for this month, including an abundance of references to Bathory on my part! So dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Abhorrent Expanse – Gateways to Resplendence (Amalgam)
Minneapolis quartet Abhorrent Expanse continue the small but infinitely intriguing string of musicians with backgrounds in free jazz and free improvisation interested in playing extreme metal. Like Catatonic Effigy and Threadbare before them, Luke Polipnick, Erik Fratzke, Brian Courage, and Tim Glenn deliver slabs of huge, dissonant death metal only to break them down into free improv freakouts, while combining their disparate elements into a curiously cohesive whole.
As a result, Gateways to Resplendence has the uncanny power of demonstrating just how much the harsh, manic edges of freely improvised shapes and the maximalist bursts of death metal have in common. The music often balances on an edge between them, with the scales often tipping one way or the other. On “Cloak of Ancients”, a patient texture concocted out of tremolo-picked guitar, noise and feedback swallow everything in its path. But “Annihilation Operator” doesn’t mess around waiting to be consumed and instead screams with layers upon layers of death metal. Somewhere in the background, a guitar and organ shred violently before suddenly—in a simultaneously whimsical and earnestly ingenious moment—they become unplugged.
And if this cut was death metal terminally infected with free improv, the tables are turned on “Empirical Languages”, a track that has all the signature elements of a free improv session but with the menacing aura of death metal embedded in its strummed and bowed double bass, picked guitars chords, and spastic drum patterns. Not for the faint of heart! – Antonio Poscic
Black Death Cult – Diaspora (Profound Lore)
Here’s another one from the rich Canadian underground scene. Let the black metal commandos and black/death fiends roam. Acts like Revenge and Antediluvian naturally cause awe. And still, within this melting pot of cacophony and blastbeats, you can find little outlier gems. That is exactly what Black Death Cult are. Featuring one of the main figures of the extreme scene in Timothy Grieco of Antediluvian, Black Death Cult arrived in the scene with 2019’s Devil’s Paradise. And while in many aspects, Devil’s Paradise was clearly of the black/death pedigree, it was still something completely different. Deeper experimentation, an obsession with progressive and psychedelic elements, and the doomed spirit hovering over the impenetrable darkness. Following this excellent, albeit raw introduction, Black Death Cult now return with Diaspora.
And again, there are times when the black/death influence is obvious. The discordance and absurd groove come together, relishing in the proto-death metal style. Thrashy ideas and a Celtic Frost-ian pace arise in “Knights of the Headless Order”. The brutality of Blasphemy is revisited through the second half of “River of Death”. But through those slithering riffs, a doom/death stench arises. “Neon Cross” reveals the primal Autopsy outlook, evoked to complete a tortuous and desperate progression. It also sees Black Death Cult move deeper into the mystical domain. The slow pace results in moments of ambient mysticism, as the opening track blossoms into a sparse representation midway. It is a gear that makes the whole experience feel like an alien ceremony, a ritualistic procession calling upon the great old ones. The tribal rhythms of “Bloodworms” and the clean melodies of “River of Death” relish the same inhuman notions.
But all this is just the basis. For Black Death Cult look to expand on this animalistic palette. The use of audio effects here is exquisite, elevating the level of disturbance in “Neon Cross”. And it can be made out of as simple components as an electric guitar, with the first half of “Knights of the Headless Order” resulting in hair-raising moments. It brings an unstable characteristic to the proceedings and reveals a true progressive spirit. “Inverse Moon” and “The Fractal Conspiracy” achieve the same end, simply with processed vocals and unearthly chants. It is exactly that mindset that separates Black Death Cult, making Diaspora a work that breathes a forward-thinking mentality into an old-school ethos. To be played alongside Antediluvian’s The Divine Punishment. – Spyros Stasis
Eunoia – Psyop of the Year (Nefarious Industries)
Considering the thematic context and aura of mystery surrounding Psyop of the Year, mathcore black metal group (no, really), Eunoia should perhaps consider renaming themselves Paranoia. It’s all a shtick, of course, but one that works remarkably well in combination with the idiosyncratic music which jumps from genre to genre across the eight tracks and the moments of silly playfulness embedded in them. Some parts sound all techy, like Orthrelm or Dysrhythmia on mushrooms. Others wear an ironically serious mask, evoking the avant-black metal of Liturgy and Krallice or the avant-hardcore of So Hideous, but somehow come across even more deranged. If you listen closely, you’ll even find moments of emo post-hardcore à la Hopesfall and concrète. As a whole, though, Psyop of the Years makes for an entertaining and quite ingenious listen, the sort we’ve come to expect from Nefarious Industries’ roster. – Antonio Poscic
Fer De Lance – The Hyperborean (Cruz Del Sur)
This is the debut full-length for Chicago heavy/doom act Fer De Lance, and you will rarely see a better start. Their pedigree runs deep in the heavy metal scene of their city, with members having participated in many acclaimed acts like Moros Nyx, Midnight Dice, and Satan’s Hollow. Having already released an excellent EP in 2020’s Colossus, Fer De Lance make their proper introduction with The Hyperborean.
It is all about the epic scope. From the beginning of the intro “Aurora Borealis”, Fer De Lance set the scenery. Acoustic guitars fill the space, evoking brilliant melodies and awakening this storytelling narrative. And still, when “The Mariner” comes in you are just in awe of what Fer De Lance are able to produce. Classic heavy metal tropes take over, the spirit of the ‘80s shining brightly through the sharp, clean riffs. And while on one hand, Fer De Lance holds this wide and ambitious vision, they still do not forget about the importance of immediacy. In many ways, they mirror contemporary acts like Atlantean Kodex, while still relishing the great offerings of old in the likes of DoomSword and of course, mid-era Bathory. Listening to tracks like “Sirens” carries so much of the Hammerheart DNA, the icy dissonant touch beneath the doomy progression, reveals a nasty streak. Something that stands opposite the trademark clarity of classic heavy metal.
This is also where Fer De Lance deviate. While on first listen, The Hyperborean does follow many of the traditional metal clichés, the Chicago act has a few tricks up their sleeves. On the minor side, they beautifully incorporate the acoustic guitars throughout, either giving additional texture to the heavy moments or breaking into a mellower take. Both “Northern Skies” and the epic closer “The Hyperborean” make use of this technique. But, where they traverse even further is their ability to take on more extreme metal elements. “Arctic Winds” sees them take on a thrash form, adding further grit. But, it is “Ad Bestias” that really sees them shine, injecting a blackened aspect to their epic heavy metal. Even though it does not see them move into Morgul Blade territory, it is something that breaks the norm. It works greatly in favor of what is already an excellent heavy/doom album, making The Hyperborean stand out even more. – Spyros Stasis
Freja – Tides (Babylon Doom Cult)
Freja is the latest addition to the seemingly always blooming black metal scene of the Netherlands. The inception of the band as a result of the 2019 Roadburn commissioned piece Maalstorm, which found members of highly acclaimed acts coming together, including the likes of Grey Aura, Turia, and of course Fluisteraars. That is how the two members of Freja, W., and C. started to plan out their concept and vision. And three years later they arrive with an excellent introduction in Tides.
Tides subscribes to the atmospheric black metal principle. The ferocity and antagonism of the genre still shine through a ferocious intensity. “Our Chosen Path” sets this tone, a raging storm sweeping over the soundscapes. It is a bitter moment, but Freja do their best to diverge the pressure. Dropping the pace, they manage to awaken moments of epic grandeur in the opener, followed swiftly by “Scattered Shields”. What further helps in this process is the post-black metal injection, something that the Netherlands’ scene has mastered. The dissonant take and kinetic energy at times point towards this noise rock dimension, even more, pronounced in “Cataclysm”.
This modernist take is responsible for merging light and darkness. The black metal stampede gives way to a few rays of sunlight. Melodies blossom in “Dusk”, casting a melancholic take over the scenery. At the same time “Of Those Stricken By Fate” completely dives into the ambient, the sparse instrumentation brilliantly accompanying the stunning vocal delivery. Still, no matter the case, what stays with you from Tides is how meticulous Freja have been. Their debut is extensively worked out, everything has its place and purpose. Listening to their long-form compositions, especially closer “Cloaks of Valor” passing through black metal and post-black metal, dissonance and grandeur it is difficult not to be in awe. A great introduction to an exciting act. – Spyros Stasis