Tradition meets experimentation. This month has seen a number of acts pay homage to long-standing lineages. From the folk black metal of Alburnum and the (extra cheese please!) power metal of Fellowship, this notion holds. Pestilent Hex revisit the icy dreams of Kvist, Reeking Aura excavate the death/doom of olds and Triumvir Foul dip their death metal in a blackened essence. On the other end, there is an abundance of works that looks beyond. The avant-gardisms of Ashenspire and Imperial Triumphant dazzle, and the nihilism of Chat Pile leave all without words. It feels like a ceremony of opposites, with both sides making July a very exciting month for extreme music! So dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Alburnum – Buitenlucht (Babylon Doom Cult)
Netherlands’ folkish black metal scene keeps growing, and Alburnum are the latest addition. Their introduction is presented in condensed form with their debut full-length Buitenlucht clocking just under 30 minutes. What is apparent immediately is the fine balance between the folk melodic inclinations and the bitter black metal spirit. “Ik Kan Niet Zien” fervently appears, the Scandinavian lineage nicely augmented through an injection of emotion and lyricism. Similar is the case with “Eeuwig Licht” splattering the gray soundscapes in brilliant colors, while the title track delivers a more brutal and unyielding representation.
This experiment is as old as black metal itself, and through the years many have approached it in different ways. Alburnum take note of these efforts and succeed in this process. The instrumental augmentation sees the classic introduction of acoustic guitars in “Eeuwig Licht” and closer “Fluisterend Water,” but also the inclusion of accordion and mandolin, both of which are surprisingly fitting. Add a touch of a slower pace, a few grand mid-tempo moments, and you get a very solid first effort. – Spyros Stasis
Altars – Ascetic Reflection (Everlasting Spew)
Death metal can be an exciting playground for experimentally minded bands, willing to push the genre to its true extremes through dissonance and the introduction of non-idiomatic and noise elements. If you need evidence, go listen to Chaos Echœs, Catatonic Effigy, or, more recently, Abhorrent Expanse. Still, mimicking Gorguts and Portal is one thing; making a great album out of this concept is another.
Luckily, Altars have both the required out-there ideas and the songwriting chops to pull them off. Their sophomore LP comes nine years after Paramnesia and brings the temporarily disbanded group back from the dead with material that is both deliriously weird and strangely pleasurable. From the opening “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” to the closing “Inauspicious Prayer”, the Australian trio bombards a landscape covered in filthy, thick death metal molasses with sharp shards of cacophony, sludge, and even black metal elements.
The eight songs thus have no choice but to meander, fuelling the destruction. First, they find themselves roaring with bombastic old-school death metal, riffs as piercing as knives, and growls extracted from some ungodly liminal space. Then, they oscillate violently between black and brutal tech death metal that feels like listening to the sounds of possessed moshing. Stringed together, these moments make for a breathtaking dance between styles and a breathtaking album. – Antonio Poscic
Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture (Code666)
In many ways, the superficial aspects of Ashenspire’s sophomore full-length Hostile Architecture resemble the grandiose folk-infused avant and progressive black metal of A Forest of Stars, complete with swirls of morose strings, poignant clarinet lines, and melodies blossoming between cracks in the concrete black metal pavement. But unlike the autopoietic nature of a Forest of Stars’ style and the occult and abstract themes they indulge in, a much more painful, urgent narrative and ideological framework drive. Ponder the title of the album for a second, and bring to consciousness what it relates to: structures and buildings weaponized against the downtrodden and an attempt to criminalize and erase the poor.
Hostile Architecture is more than just empty words and blithe notes against capitalism and contemporary forms of fascism hiding with it. It is a resounding artistic proclamation whose ideas pour through each seething note and grunted stanza. But unlike singer and drummer Alasdair Dunn’s other RABM (Red and Anarchist Black Metal) band, Tyrannus, whose messages are often direct and raw, Ashenspire’s libretto is philosophical and poetic, reminiscent of old Partisan songs. Even the band’s album announcement reads like a Mark Fisher-inspired manifesto, not a blurb meant to generate excitement with the album.
“Fuelled with your labour / Built with your bones. There are no great men / Only the great many,” spits Dunn on “Tragic Heroin”, his inflection closer to the Fall’s Mark E. Smith rather than any black metal vocalist, pushing against a progressive tangle of string tremolos and twisted, grooving riffs. A saxophone screams through “Apathy As Arsenic Lethargy As Lead” and smashes the post-punk-like, jangly cycle of words ignited with anger against the exploitation of (precarious) workers: “We are the cult of work / We are the cult of labour sold.”
As Hostile Architecture nears its end, Ashenspire turn their attention from the oppressed to the oppressor, unleashing a potent affront as if echoing Karl Popper’s thoughts on tolerance. “What good is civility in the face of a kerb full of teeth? / ‘Tis no broken system; but the product of it,” Dunn roars on “Cable Street Again”—a reference to the London Cable Street clashes between fascists and antifascists in 1963—accompanied by marching hammers of vile black metal. “If it’s to be Cable Street again, we won’t win through debate. You can’t reason with malice. The fasces must break.” This astonishing album concludes, but the battle continues. – Antonio Poscic
The Bearer – Chained to a Tree (Silent Pendulum)
Following three EPs worth of hardcore walloping, Austin’s the Bearer push forward with their debut record Chained to a Tree. The recipe is unchanged, as soon as “Pulled Back In” arrives its overwhelming groove and brutal takedowns. It is a heavy and distorted affair, taking on a slight sludge dirt to mold its extreme hardcore. From there on, echoes of early Converge and Botch swarm in. The discordant riffs and awkward rhythms of “Jagged Lines” and the chaos and havoc “Sympathy Pains” cause are the highlights.
The Bearer draw from their hardcore ethos, a lineage that screams through the attitude of “Let It Burn”. In this old-school appearance, they thrive, delivering ecstatic applications with “Jury of Oppressors”. Yet, it is the most recent pedigree that wins it over for them. The dark hardcore quality presented by the likes of The Psyke Project is triumphantly championed in the title track. Still, they travel further, exposing an intricate quality with the clean parts of “Gleam” and the post-metallic manifestation of closer “Holy Water”. Overall, a very well round and finely crafted work of fierce, extreme hardcore. – Spyros Stasis
Black Magnet – Body Prophecy (20 Buck Spin)
James Hammontree’s vision for Black Magnet balances the notions of extremity and immediacy. That was true for the act’s debut record, Hallucination Scene. In taking on aspects of metal and punk, wrapping them under an industrial guise, Black Magnet produced a work that was both brutal but also catchy. Today, Hammontree continues to walk the same path with Body Prophecy. Fragments of the great industrial scene of old still define much of the core. The mechanized aspirations of Ministry’s circa The Land of Rape and Honey are exposed, taking along the contemporary views of artists like Trent Reznor, in the likes of “Incubate.” This notion is further stretched, embracing EBM applications in “Floating In Nothing” and post-dance hysteria with “Body World”.
While this is the bread and butter for Body Prophecy, Hammontree displays a more open perspective this time around. The metallic touches of the past are more pronounced and combined with a punk attitude they result in utter havoc. That is the essence of tracks like “Violent Mechanix” and “Last Curse”. Similarly, the post-punk pedigree of Killing Joke shines with a sense of ire and vitriol in “Sold Me Sad”. For the most part, Hammontree reveals a strong connection with the past, but still finds moments to explore beyond. This is where the minimal applications of ambiance come in handy, with “Hermetix” standing out. But it is also the brutal beatdowns that showcase a different type of sovereignty. The breakdowns in the opener “A History of Drowning” are near apocalyptic and display the full majesty of Body Prophecy. – Spyros Stasis