Lockdowns are slowly easing, the heatwave is getting closer, and May fully delivered with an abundance of heavy releases. And it really had everything one could hope for. From traditional, well trusted recipes of black metal fury, to doom motifs all the way to technical thrash mastery, drone projections and post-krautrock explorations. So rejoice and dive into the 18 works of this excellent month. – Spyros Stasis
Bala – Maleza (Century Media)
Bala’s third record sees the Spanish power duo of Anxela Baltar and Violeta Mosquera undergo another transformation in style. After the filthy punk and hardcore of their 2015 debut Human Flesh became a slightly less grimy form of grunge on 2017’s Lume, this year’s Maleza swallows whole the influences surfaced on both of those albums and spits them out in the predominant form of ferocious sludge metal.
While the move from Matapadre to Century Media brought with it a slightly smoother production for the duo, the uncut aggression and attitude contained on Maleza corrodes straight through. The pristine rage is once again boundless as it oozes over boundaries and ceilings, but it now possesses a laser-sharp focus. On “Agitar” and “Hoy No”, for example, Bala lay down vicious stoner and sludge lines before letting themselves go completely with the roaring, insane hardcore punk of “X”, and discovering humongous grooves on “Queres Entrar”. A palpable riot grrrl aesthetic is at work here that sharpens even the most melodic cuts like “Rituais” into unstoppable weapons of emancipation. Killer stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Cross Vault – As Strangers We Depart (Iron Bonehead)
During the mid-2000s German extreme metal label Northern Silence started a sub-label dedicated to the finest doom metal had to offer. Its name Eyes Like Snow, and through its ranks rose a number of excellent acts carrying the flame of gloom in all its majesty. Apostle of Solitude, Hour of Thirteen, Rituals of Oak, Wheel (who released an excellent record last month), and the Flight of Sleipnir are just some of the names that rose through Eyes Like Snow. As fate would have it, Eyes Like Snow went into a hiatus in 2015. Yet, one of its last releases came from German outfit Cross Vault in their debut work Spectres of Revocable Loss, with follow-up The All-Consuming being released through Northern Silence itself. A change of label with Iron Bonehead picking up Cross Vault and unleashing the band’s first EP, Miles to Take in 2016, and now five years later, they return in triumphant form with As Strangers We Depart.
As Strangers We Depart is a work of maturity for Cross Vault. The maturity comes regarding the production, which is easily the most complete and appropriate sound the band have had so far. Retaining the weight and the bleakness, it can still highlight all the key factors that make Cross Vault’s doom so enticing. The underlying epic influences, evoked through the mid-period of Bathory, provide this work with a romantic feeling of nostalgia. Coupled with an exceptional lyricism that raises the compositions higher, in the likes of “The Unknown Rewinds” and a fantastic, larger-than-life vocal delivery that shines throughout, Cross Vault take the next step here.
Doom metal needs to be established on great riffs, and here Cross Vault do not disappoint one bit. They expand with their keen melodic edge through their slow, determined pace, leading to moments that awaken a ritualistic feeling as in “Other Rivers” or creating obscure atmospheric passages in “Silent Wastes Untrod”. What makes the difference here is the focus that Cross Vault retain on their compositions. A certain determination has helped them hone their craft and deliver music that does not deviate from its path, making As Strangers We Depart their finest moment yet. – Spyros Stasis
The Flight of Sleipnir – Eventide (Eisenwald)
Another Eyes Like Snow alum, the Flight of Sleipnir has been one of the more forward-thinking and adventurous bands of the ‘00s underground doom generation. This attribute comes from a combination of doom metal with stoner aesthetics, performed in a unique way that allowed them to avoid all the standard doom/stoner approach cliches. Just a quick listen to the riffs of “Nine Worlds” from Essence of Nine will showcase their twist on this true and trusted amalgamation. And they just kept pushing on, becoming more elusive with injections of folk music and black metal vocalizations, all allowing The Flight of Sleipnir to carve their metallic path. And through a series of strong releases with Lore, Essence of Nine, Saga and most recently Skadi, this band has not really faltered. And they are not about to either, arriving with their seventh full-length Eventide.
It is once more the holistic approach that prevails for The Flight of Sleipnir, being able to bend all the different legacies and lineages into a cohesive and singular result. In this manner, they display an extensive palette of flavors, switching fluently from one to the next. It is how the epic doom metal riffs of “Volund” wash over a heavy rock solo, only to collapse through a haze of black metal screams. There is even a touch of post-metallic grandeur at the end of the opening track, surrounding soundscapes rising, conjuring a heavy and yet ethereal peak.
It is this same attribute that allows the Flight of Sleipnir to awaken a range of emotions, as the black metal riffologies of “Thaw” add an epic perspective. Meanwhile, the folk-inspired, acoustic passages of “Bathe the Stone in Blood” give rise to melancholy, and the minimal conclusion to “January” brings a feeling of serenity. What is remarkable and stands true for The Flight of Sleipnir is the unique end product that this exercise in combinatorics brings to the table, with Eventide standing as the most recent example of their approach. – Spyros Stasis
Grave Miasma – Abyss of Wrathful Deities (Dark Descent/Sepulchral Voice)
Brewing in the UK underground and featuring veterans of the black and death metal scenes, Grave Miasma first unleashed their unearthly black/death onslaught back in the late ‘00s. Their debut EP, Exalted Emanation is an absolute scorcher of an introduction. Armed with an old-school mentality that carries the torch of the early black/death scenes, they went on to produce their sickening debut record Odori Sepulcrorum in 2013. Now, eight years have passed, and finally, Grave Miasma return with their sophomore full-length in Abyss of Wrathful Deities.
And into the abyss we descend, embraced immediately by the stench of “Guardians of Death” as blackened thrills and sonic dissonance form a wall of torment and anguish. Crazed lead parts spiral out of control in “Erudite Decomposition”, signaling the days of proto-death metal grandeur. This is a rotten work, and that is what makes it so delicious. The stench of decomposition is not subliminal; it is front and center as it oozes through the dark corridors of “Under the Megalith”.
The slow, guttural wave still carries on, with “Exhumation Rites” dropping the tempo and adding a doom-induced injection coupled with eerie black metal-inspired spasms. And “Demons of the Sand” takes that mentality even further, as the slow pace grants a filthy, infernal aspect to this endeavor. It is this feeling that Grave Miasma are so good at invoking. Hell, even their clean parts are twisted! That tempo drops in “Rogyapa” and the nightmare scenery that their guitars bring to life. Talk about being enveloped in darkness. – Spyros Stasis
Gridfailure feat. Mac Gollehon – Dismemberment Cabaret (Nefarious Industries)
For metal music writers, the most likely association when hearing the name of David Brenner will be the New York-based Earsplit PR agency, which he co-runs with his wife Liz Ciavarella-Brenner and whose artists have often been featured in this column. But aside from his work as PR, Brenner has also made a name for himself as a musician in New York’s extreme music circles. In recent years, he can most often be heard operating solo and in collaborative formations as Gridfailure, a project that explores the most radical corners of harsh noise, power electronics, and metal.
Brenner’s latest album under the moniker Dismemberment Cabaret, tones down the aggression of his earlier releases, dissolving the industrial drilling beats into nearly ambient aesthetics. But while the sonic assaults might have been placated, the dread and discomfort contained in them seems to have gone the other way as the ten cuts here all feel haunted by raging souls tormented for millennia.
A flurry of field recordings, incidental noises, modulating frequencies, static, and manipulated growls flow along with implicit rhythms like sewage from another dimension, while Mac Gollehon’s array of brass cackles from above. The inclusion of the David Bowie and Duran Duran collaborator here is not completely surprising given the trumpeter’s penchant for experimental forms, but how well his echoing sound complements the mad background is almost astonishing. His melodic playing gives the cuts the feeling of a perverted noir and shows glimmers of hope above the terror, only to then take it all away with a harrowing wail. A deliciously terrifying record. – Antonio Poscic