Ultra Silvam – The Sanctity of Death (Shadow/Regain)
Following the rich Swedish black metal tradition, Ultra Silvam spawned into the scene in 2015, releasing an excellent debut record in The Spearwound Salvation. With a no-bullshit attitude, the act from Malmo walks the path laid out by visionaries of the scene like Dissection, albeit in the more modern form. Aspects of Watain and Sorhin are undeniable, and Ultra Silvam’s new record, The Sanctity of Death, further oozes with this malevolence.
It’s a work that is in equal parts frenetic and bitter. The dissonance rules all, as “Sodom vises himlafärd” sees the ultra-fast progression coalescing with an intrinsic cacophony. It is a gear that Ultra Silvum are very comfortable in, leading to moments of pure mayhem in “Incarnation Reverse” and the closer “Of Molded Bread and Rotten Wine”. Despite their adherence to these faster applications, the grimness and brutality get a further rise with mid-tempo bangers like “Black Soil Fornication”. It augments Ultra Silvum’s eerie touch, making the creeping parts of “Sodom vises himlafärd” strike that much harder.
Still, for Ultra Silvum the overall winning attribute is their ability to balance between the raw melodic black metal aspect and the genre’s orthodox stance. Similar to the early Watain works, they twist the Dissection imbued melodies while taking on the anti-ecclesiastical qualities of Ofermod and Ondskapt. The choirs in the opening track awaken this unearthly quality, while the rocking attitude is further mutilated to balance harmony and cacophony. The title track’s hook is a perfect example of this approach, the catchiness mutated through an uncanny discordance. Though all these qualities have been heard before, The Sanctity of Death displays an excellent grasp of these concepts. – Spyros Stasis
Venator – Echoes From the Gutter (Dying Victims Productions)
Austrian five-piece Venator are to heavy metal what Deathhammer (see earlier in the column) are to blackened thrash: unabashedly worshiping the genre’s classics while giving them a contemporary swirl. Were you to go blind into their first LP, Echoes from the Gutter, I wouldn’t blame you if you mistook the album for a forgotten and now unearthed album from the 1980s. Venator sound (and look) the archetypal NWOBHM part, but their sound is not only honed from the guitar harmonies and digging bass lines of Iron Maiden and the breakneck speeds and soaring falsettos of Judas Priest.
At times, like on the driven “Nightrider”, they’ll dig into American traditions, evoking the thrash-infused style of Omen or early Vicious Rumors. At others, they’ll take a detour down neon-soaked alleys of an 1980s metropolis, with their “The Rising” coming incredibly close to being a metallic version of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”. Venator not only nail the style but also perform the music with impressive technical prowess and gusto. In this regard, the twin guitars of Leon Ehrengruber and Anton Holzner that chase and circle around each other are especially impressive. Taken as a whole, what we have on our hands is a modern classic, in more ways than one. – Antonio Poscic
Venom Prison – Erebos (Century Media)
From the early EP releases, in Defy the Tyrant and The Primal Chaos, it was clear as day that Venom Prison were a diamond in the rough. Combining death metal with hardcore and punk-ish ethos, the outfit from South Wales balanced between passion and precision. What would ensue was nothing short of an onslaught. The releases of Animus and Samsara fulfilled all these early promises. Venom Prison’s vision was to combine death metal brutality with the genre’s progressive and melodic inclinations with an uncompromising attitude. In a fashion usually found in veterans of the genre, they managed to keep that strange equilibrium. From there on, Venom Prison would return by re-recording their first two EPs in Primeval and is now following up with their Century Media debut Erebos.
As singles started to drop from Erebos, it became clear that Venom Prison would further transform their sound. The path of brutality has been waning over time for Venom Prison. The primordial chaos of Animus gave way to a more precise and cerebral methodology in Samsara. With Erebos, Venom Prison take the next step, letting their hardcore ethos and brutal death metal sides subside, allowing more progressive and melodic influences to arise.
Don’t think Erebos is a tamed listen, but it is a record of maturity from Samsara, in many ways mirroring how Carcass followed up Necroticism with Heartwork. There’s much that Venom Prison have learned from the Liverpudlian legends. The melodic steel, catchy and yet harsh, is present throughout, as the razor-sharp riffs of “Judges of the Underworld” come into view. The greatest lesson here is, once again, leveraging brutality with immediacy, and tracks like “Castigated in Steel and Concrete” do just that. The initial psychedelia and the clean backing vocals provide more depth, as does the melodic interlude in “Gorgon Sisters”. The more brutal past still resides in aspects of Erebos. Be it through the blastbeats storms of “Nemesis” and “Golden Apples of the Hesperides”, Venom Prison have not lost their Napalm Death infused grit, although they have certainly subdued it a bit.
Still, what Erebos explodes with is an old-school metallic attribute. Much classicism has inspired Venom Prison this time around, and often finds its origin in the thrash metal scene of the 1980s. The lead work of “Comfort of Complicity” resounds with the spirit of ’80s Metallica and Megadeth, or the groovier end of the spectrum when the grandeur in “Veil of Night” comes in. And still, they find the space to further explore their sonic palette with off-kilter elements. Symphonic touches in “Born From Chaos” and “Technologies of Death” add a nice twist with their slight neo-classical touches. The atmospheric metal in “Pain of Oizys” creates a dichotomy between a dreamy soundscape and a harsh death metal reality. Meanwhile, the electronic touches of “Golden Apples of the Hesperides” reveal what the future might hold for Venom Prison.
The work that Venom Prison have put into Erebos is impressive. Their songwriting is excellent and thoroughly worked out. Everything has its place, and there is no filler. At the same time, it is a record of transformation and maturity. It is the work that will make Venom Prison part of the mainstream extreme metal pantheon. Or the work that will make them the face of mainstream extreme metal. – Spyros Stasis
Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion (Transcending Obscurity)
What is it with great debuts this month? Actually, scratch that, German black metal group Vorga’s Striving toward Oblivion might count towards the best metal debuts this year. Because their take on melodic, atmospheric, and space-inspired black metal manages to masterfully balance the beauty and the beast of it all like not many others out there. Instead of relying on dragging tempos and diffuse textures to build a sense of expanse, they seed hawkish melodies and tight rhythmic patterns that expand and contract. That lets atmospheres grow implicitly from the interstices of this bumbling core until overwhelming everything when the black metal engine quiets down. In total, it makes for an album that feels fragile and even hopeful despite its sonically aggressive presentation. – Antonio Poscic