There are two main themes to heavy music releases in February. On the one hand, there’s an abundance of excellent debut works across the spectrum. On the black metal side, Abhoria stir up all the bitterness of the genre, while Vorga look outwards to its dissonant applications. Beyond that, there is Schizophrenia’s old-school thrash throwback with Recollections of the Insane and Venator’s nostalgic heavy metal record in Echoes From the Gutter. Arð are welcomed in the doom scene, with an epic. We also have an exquisite work from Stander in Vulnerable, exploring the experimental capabilities of noise rock.
On the other hand, this month saw the return of heavyweights. Here, some continue to walk on the paths they first crafted. Shape of Despair carry on with their funereal fantasies, while Cult of Luna reiterate their post-metal sovereignty. With some alterations, Tristan Shore returns with Author & Punisher to shine a light on his project’s emotive side. At the same time, Venom Prison further evolve their sound, embracing progressive characteristics. That and much more in an excellent month for heavy and extreme music, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Abhoria – Abhoria (Prosthetic)
Los Angeles’ Abhoria play an all thrills, no-frills variant of second-wave black metal with an added American touch. Featuring members from black and death metal bands like Ashen Horde and Catheter, their aggressive style clashes supremely melodic waves of tremolos with an incessant forward drive and shiver-inducing growls. You know, tremolo-picked riffs played so fast they almost become supersonic screeches. Undulating guitar solos and leads direct a slower, brooding mass of grooves, only to then let them loose into whirlwinds of bumbling melodies reminiscent of Malignant Eternal. That sort of remarkable thing. – Antonio Poscic
Abraham – Debris de Mondes Perdus (Pelagic)
Abraham are not new to the scene; they have explored the darkest depths of the post-metal realm through three great works, with 2018’s Look, Here Comes The Dark standing out. While they have always walked on the darker side, their new work Debris de Mondes Perdus doubles down on that. For one thing, their attention is not fixed solely on the post-metal and sludge realms. Instead, they take on elements of another oppressive scene in no-wave and noise rock. The opener “Our Words Born in Fire” carries that characteristic, while the desperate and unyielding procession of “A Celestial Funeral” drives the dissonance through the record’s core.
From there on, it is a cataclysm of sludge malice, “Ravenous Is the Night” extending this exasperated procession. The slow and heavy riffage mirrors the otherworldly sense of Cult of Luna, circa Eternal Kingdom, especially “Fear Overthrown”. If that was not enough, there’s a blackened injection that infects Debris de Mondes Perdus. The venomous lead work spread throughout the album gives an additional dimension. At the same time, punk-ish touches in “Blood Moon, New Alliance” provide drive and purpose. Yet, it all returns to Abraham’s core aspect: darkness.
Most post-metal and atmospheric works offer an elusive element, verging on the dreamlike. And in most cases, this establishes an aura of melancholia. But, for Abraham, everything is pitch black. The dreamscape of “Maudissements” quickly turns into a nightmare, and the epic manifestation of the closer “Black Breath” is a bitter offering that leads to a devastated world. Debris de Mondes Perdus succeeds because it finds Abraham having mastered this darkness. – Spyros Stasis
Arð – Take Up My Bones (Prophecy)
Mark Deeks is a fascinating figure in the UK extreme metal scene. Not only is he the keyboardist of acclaimed black metal act Winterfylleth, but he is also a certified researcher of the European metal scene, having completed a Ph.D. entitled “National Identity in the Northern and Eastern European Metal Scene”. Now, he sets with his project in Arð, stepping away from the black metal of Winterfylleth and into the territory of doom metal.
And sure enough, as “Burden Foretold” comes in, the slow essence of doom begins to spread. Heavy riffs come crashing down as the glacial progression takes its toll. However, this is not a work based so much on the foundation of the genre. Sure, the Sabbath-ian ghost is present, but it has been filtered through the UK’s doom/death scene. Even though the death metal part is absent, much of Arð’s sound is owed to the Peaceville Three. The lead work in “Raise Then the Incorrupt Body” screams of this heritage, displaying a deep sentimentality and passion. Similar is the case with “Only Three Shall Know”, bringing to mind some of the dark romanticism ushered by My Dying Bride.
Still, Arð are careful in crafting their sound. By distancing themselves from death metal, they walk their own path. And it is something that they also do when it comes to the epic underpinnings of Take Up My Bones. Under the pensive tone, echoes of Bathory’s Hammerheart are detected. But here, instead of the Scandinavian sagas, Arð take on their Northumbrian heritage. Detailing the life of a saint of their homeland, Saint Cuthbert, they move away from Quorthon’s passionate adventures and into their spiritual pilgrimage. The vocal chants do wonders towards that end in “Take Up My Bones” and especially closer “Only Three Shall Know”.
Arð build this stunning monastic tale through components of doom metal with the occasional folk-esque twist. What is found beneath all this is a work of great lyricism and majesty. Ecclesiastical processions are enacted, medieval tones are brought forward, and magical sceneries are formed. It is a harsh journey through a dark landscape. Yet going through the bleakness and weight, the cold winds, and fierce elements, Arð navigate through all with their deep emotive passion. – Spyros Stasis
Author & Punisher – Krüller (Relapse)
Through Author & Punisher, Tristan Shore and his drone machines have been pushing the boundaries of extreme, industrialized doom. Fascinated by the endless sound design possibilities, Shore constructed his own instruments. From there on, he has been navigating the extreme, experimental space. And record by record, Shore has been refining his sound, as well as his machines. The early raw sound of War Cry and The Painted Anger gave way to deeper and more multifaceted works in Women & Children and Beastland. Now, with Krüller Shore further evolves his project’s identity, offering a different glimpse into these nightmares made of flesh and metal.
Shore is still unafraid of pushing Author & Punisher to extremes. The start with “Drone Carrying Dead” sees Author & Punisher at their most brutal. Unforgiving and relentless, they offer despairing moments in “Incinerator”, revealing the full extent of their post-apocalyptic perspective. Yet, that is not what Krüller is all about. Moving outside the industrial sphere, Shore travels to the hybrid IDM realm with “Blacksmith”. Hectic rhythms and jungle-esque breakbeats make for an intoxicating ride. But, that is not all. In the past, Shore has not shied away from his mellow side. It is true, Author & Punisher relish in their brutality, but beneath the cold steel lies a beating heart. And Krüller is the vehicle for excavating this.
On one side, there is the ambiance. That has always been key for Author & Punisher, and it continues to play a pivotal part in Krüller. The subtle progression of “Centurion” sees a detached EDM movement. Slowly structuring this tour of purgatory with the help of Justin Chancellor (of Tool) on the bass, Shore produces a martial procession. It reads almost like a video-game-inspired theme, taking on the exquisite etudes of Brood Ma. This martial approach is also vibrant in “Misery”, where another Tool member, Danny Carrey, appears. Here lies the latest alteration to the core of Author & Punisher. That is the catchiness. Instead of diving solely into the coldness of industrial doom, Shore turns his gaze towards the alternative rock and shoegaze regions.
Thus Krüller becomes a strange dreamscape. The initial impact of “Drone Carrying Dead” mutates into an atmospheric and post-metallic offering. The hallucinogenic element is vital, still clinging into the sharpness and weight of Author & Punisher, but without turning away from Shore’s direct inclinations. “Maiden Star” is a perfect example of this union. The brutal synthetic percussion merging with the poignant, heavy indie melodies to create this otherworldly scenery. And if that is not enough to convince you, then the cover of Portishead’s “Glorybox” surely will. Again, all these aspects have always been there for Shore. But, with Krüller, he shines a brighter light into this side of Author & Punisher. – Spyros Stasis
Borts Minorts + Hug Victim – Brut! (Nefarious Industries)
If you’re in search of some strange, really out-there music, you can’t go wrong with Nefarious Industries’ roster. Their latest release, Brut!, sees Arizona-based experimental musician, performer, and artist Christopher Carlone alias Borts Minorts join forces with Hug Victim, a nom de guerre behind which hides multi-instrumentalist Timo Ellis (of Cibo Matto fame). The music they create together is… well, if Shape of Despair’s funeral doom (reviewed elsewhere in this column) traces the tragic and heavy superego of our times, then Carlone and Ellis’ work reflects its filthy, absurd, non sequitur id.
The album’s eight cuts are compacted into less than a dozen minutes, yet it would take days to unpack each of them. At one point, grooving drum ‘n’ bass sustains a giddy pop-punk progression and a revolving “MOMMY! DONKEY! EVERY DAY!” chorus only for layers of riffs to dissolve everything into creepy squeakiness, grindcore freakouts, demonic laughter, and stabby synths. And those are some of the more ordinary moments here. There are others that give strong the Residents or Mr. Bungle (circa Disco Volante) vibes. Still, the insanity at play is increased tenfold, like the history of music digested, then spurted on the walls of a lunatic asylum. That is to say, unique by way of beautiful, insane randomness. What does it all mean? Who knows. Just let go and enjoy. – Antonio Poscic