March really had everything in an abundance of excellent works. So, I will not bore you too much with a long-winded introduction. Post-metal legends collaborate, boundaries between black metal and emo are crossed, underground cult legends are reshaped, and progressive death metal explorations are underway. That and much more, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Absent in Body – Plague God (Relapse)
Absent in Body came into existence via a collaboration of heavyweights across the Atlantic. Amenra’s Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove and Neurosis’ Scott Kelly were soon joined by Amenra vocalist Colin H. Van Eeckhout, resulting in the release of a 20-minute long opus part of the Hypertension Records The Abyss Stares Back series. Now, five years later, Absent In Body has graduated from a project and is a fully formed entity. The addition that now completes the line-up is no other than Sepultura legend Igor Cavalera on the drums, as debut album Plague God arrives.
Absent in Body is defined by many elements that its members are known for. Once the guitars in “Rise From Ruins” come in, the track shines with the post-metallic sense of Neurosis. The monstrous distortion roars and the apocalyptic setting is soon established. It is a mode that can be stretched further, into the drone desolation of “The Acres, The Ache”. Yet, this touch of desperation is accompanied by a more emotive quality. This in turn points more towards the work of Amenra. Fumes of psychedelia stem from the dissonant leads of “In Spirit in Spite”, while the mid part with the clean guitars and vocals stands out. It is a much-welcomed sentimentality in the otherwise brutal rendition.
And yet, Absent In Body is not merely calling upon these tried recipes, unfolding even more dimensions with Plague God. The first arrives through Cavalera’s tribalistic playing, giving a different flavor to the proceedings in “Rise From Ruins”. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. From there on, it is the industrial machinations that take over, perfectly complimenting the sludge weight. “In Spirit in Spite” explodes with this mechanized essence, while the stampede in “Sarin” feels unstoppable.
Still, Absent in Body move further outwards. Vandekerckhove relishes the EBM sound, imbuing the groove with these demolishing rhythms, giving more purpose and conviction to Plague God. It makes moments like “Sarin” and especially closer “The Half Rising Man” that much more potent and crucial. And it is this attitude that makes Absent In Body more than just a collaborative project between exceptional musicians. Plague God is not simply a great record, it is also proof that Absent in Body have developed their own identity. – Spyros Stasis
Aeviterne – The Ailing Facade (Profound Lore)
The first time I came across Aeviterne was because one of the members of Seputus (if you have not checked Phantom Indigo, do it now) was wearing a t-shirt of fellow tech-death metallers. That is how I discovered their 2018 EP Sireless. At the time, Aeviterne’s debut EP felt like a very strong technical death metal offering. And even though it did not deviate much from the scene’s norm, it felt that there was a lot of potential. Fast forward to today, and Aeviterne are unleashing their debut full-length, The Ailing Facade through Profound Lore. And here, they exceed all expectations. Sure, the tech death sound is pivotal. It defines the foundations of Aeviterne’s sound. From the opening lines of “Denature” the precise striking and relentless progression take over. It is a work of extremely high aptitude, as tracks like “The Reeking Suns” let on, bringing to mind works of fellow contemporaries like Pyrrhon, Artificial Brain, and legends such as Gorguts circa Colored Sands.
And yet, all this is simply one aspect of Aeviterne, because there is so much more The Ailing Facade explores. The first of these is an admiration of the post-punk ethos. Not only does it provide this work with inherent darkness, but it also builds this underlying feeling of pressure and anxiety. The stop and start movements of “Stilled The Hollow’s Sway” carry this attitude. The dissonant lead work crafts an otherworldly appearance, while the towering, mid-tempo pacing of “Obeyance” further pushes the listener over the edge. The second influence is stark industrial machination. It is subtle in its applications, but defines much of “Pentilent” and especially “The Gaunt Sky”. Further percussive components and meticulous adherence to the rhythm give life to a stark cyber vision.
What Aeviterne have managed to do is quite astonishing. They have seamlessly incorporated these different aspects into their death metalcore. To the point that their presence feels natural within The Ailing Facade, and not as mere alien elements. In doing so, they present a dark and treacherous labyrinth. The erratic progressions and the venomous lead work are able to morph the journey through the maze. On top they have amassed this extraordinary layering, giving great textural detail to their tracks. They are somehow balancing between the otherworldly and the earthly, the majestic and the brutal. It is moments like “Dream in Lies” that unquestionably reveal Aeviterne’s capabilities. Taking on an industrial-esque and post-metallic influence from the likes of Neurosis and Godflesh, it levels up the technical death metal sound.
It’s albums like The Ailing Facade breathing new life into the genre. While many choose to relish the days of the past, they tend to forget how exploratory and unafraid death metal was in embracing other components. Jazz infusions and progressive implementations pushed the boundaries in the early days. Aeviterne understand that to make further progress, you need to walk on new paths. It is that attitude that makes The Ailing Facade an excellent work and puts it early in the year in the conversation for one of the strongest records of 2022. – Spyros Stasis
Astral Tomb – Soulgazer (Blood Harvest)
Formed in 2018 under the Ring Nebula moniker, the act from Denver quickly became part of the new death metal generation. Changing their name to Astral Tomb, they started to output their off-kilter death metal brew. Their initial demo, Subterranean Forms and subsequent EP Degradation of Human Consciousness revealed a diamond in the rough. Brutality and aggression prevailed, while progressive structures and free-form ideas loomed in the distance. It was this perspective that made Astral Tomb stand out. And it showed them participating alongside some of the strongest upcoming death metal acts in the four-way split Chasms of Aeons, alongside Cryptic Shift, Inoculation, and Replicant. Now finally, they present their debut record, Soulgazer.
The foundation goes back in time. It is early death metal days when “Transcendental Visions” comes in. The early stench of Death’s Scream Bloody Gore echoes in the distance, alongside Massacre’s From Beyond. However, Astral Tomb do not linger only in the glorious past. Their stampede takes a page from goregrind’s playbook, especially in “Inertia (Crushing Through the Doorways Of Eternity)”, before a slam perspective comes into view. The groove switches to a mid-tempo stampede, with Astral Tomb completely disfiguring its characteristics.
Still, what resonates the most for Astral Tomb is a much more recent death metal phenomenon, which is no other than Blood Incantation. Many of the themes that Astral Tomb follow stem from their hometown heroes. The investigation of space, the progressive touches, and the boundless experimentation are all staples of Blood Incantation. And yet, Astral Tomb do not simply rehash this recipe. Even though they stand on their progressive side, they take things further. Instead of precision, they implement chaos through free rock implementations. The opening tracks sees a plethora of such outbreaks. Atmospherics come and go, either deep dives into the electronic domain with “Be Here Now…” or subtle ambient construction with the clean interludes of “Ascending a Pillar of Light”.
The thought that sticks with you after the 37 minutes of Soulgazer is that it is still an unbalanced offering. Astral Tomb do not settle on a specific trope and they are unafraid to try different things. And through this approach, they make Soulgazer a very interesting ride. And even though it is not perfect, it shows tremendous potential for the future. – Spyros Stasis
Chaos Invocation – Devil, Stone & Man (WTC)
Chaos Invocation was molded in the image of underground black metal in the 2000s. With their main influence being the extreme edge of the Swedish scene, the act from Germany has slowly built a very strong discography. Through their three full-length records, Chaos Invocation have balanced the bitter edge of the genre, but without letting go of their melodic inclinations. That much has been obvious record after record, from debut In Bloodline With The Snake to 2018’s Reaping Season, Bloodshed Beyond. And they are not about to change the recipe with their new album, Devil, Stone & Man, although they do display a more direct approach.
On one hand, there is a very orthodox approach to Chaos Invocation’s black metal brew. The razor-sharp riffs create havoc in “Strike of the Dominator’s Fist”, while the electrifying lead work of “Triple Fire” display an old-school methodology. This is taken even further with “Curses Upon You”, the pacing and blastbeats suddenly bringing an early black/death spirit to view. It carries a devilish touch, shining brightly in the discordant guitar work of “The Revolting Abyss”. This sinister touch is further augmented through the slower moments. Not that many, but “Diabolical Hammer” sure brings this aspect home with a graphic and vile tendency. It cultivates a blackened majesty, moments like the chorus in “Ordanata Fields” resonating through the darkness.
Still, what makes Chaos Invocation stand out is blending the brutality with melodic inclinations. Again, a different Swedish lineage comes into play here. The early days of Watain are of course an element, as is the work of Dissection circa The Somberlain. It leads to some stunning guitar work, with “A Stranger’s Pale Hand”, and even creates moments of pure atmospherics as happens with acoustic closer “Sacrifices”. Yet, the dedication to melody does not reduce any of the sinister aspects. Both “Ordonata Fields” and “Curses Upon You” see Chaos Invocation bend these hooks to hellish effect. It is a fine balance, but Chaos Invocation walk it with ease. And in Devil, Stone & Man they sound hungrier, more precise, more pristine but still immediate and impactful. Overall, a great new addition to their discography. – Spyros Stasis