Ithaca – They Fear Us (Hassle)
In the case of London’s Ithaca, the old adage of “bursting onto the scene” rang very much true when in 2019 they released the blazing The Language of Injury to (warning: another adage) critical and commercial acclaim. Even then, their unfiltered onslaught, stabbing riffs, and stomping chugs felt like an expression of who and where in their life vocalist and frontwoman Djamila Azzouz and her bandmates were at that time, not an ultimate definition of the band.
People and bands change through personal and collective trials and tribulations. It’s unsurprising, then, that the flickers of optimism and brazen spite, which appeared only as ephemeral surges of dramatic post-rock and shy melodies on The Language, have now come to form the backbone of They Fear Us. Again an expression of where Ithaca are in their lives, the album overflows with a careful brightness. Looking with anticipation towards the future, the aggression is placated by strains of alt-rock and even nu metal, and gorgeously melodic, clean sung choruses chock-full of emotion in the vein of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.
Still, there is no sense of internal tension between the rawer and heartening threads. Instead, the disparate styles flow elegantly into one another, like the mellow acoustic ambiance of “You Should Have Gone Back” that opens up into barrages of distorted energy and post-metal tremolos, only for the lovely “Hold, Be Held” to close the album with lush balladry that glimmers with gentle piano plinks, 1980s synth swells, and Azzouz’s soaring, pop diva-like delivery. – Antonio Poscic
Pestilent Hex – The Ashen Abhorrence (Debemur Morti)
Formed by veterans of the Finnish extreme metal scene, Pestilent Hex relish a very particular time in the black metal tradition. Between 1995 and 1997 the early stages that were defined by heavyweights like Mayhem and Darkthrone were giving way to a newer generation. This is where The Ashen Abhorrence thrives, embracing the melodic and symphonic subdomains of the Scandinavian scene.
Riffs are razor-sharp and filled with melodic hooks. At times they bring to mind the early satanic feeling of Bathory, but it is actually Kvist’s sole full-length, For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike that defines Pestilent Hex. Eerie and upsetting, and still melodic and catchy, it brings a fierce attitude to the forefront in “Nature of the Spirit” and “Banishment”. On the other hand, keyboards are pivotal in this one. The ending of “The Ashen Abhorrence” has a mid-period Emperor vibe, more on the majestic side rather than the epic overtures. At the same time, “Mephistophelean Liaison” and “Old Hag” further augment this element, looking for inspiration from the astral projections of Arcturus. And all of this is refined and produced for today’s scene, achieving a great balance between homage to tradition and timeliness. – Spyros Stasis
Reeking Aura – Blood and Bonemeal (Profound Lore)
Formed by heavyweights like ex-Artificial Brain vocalist Will Smith and Unearthly Trance’s Ryan Lipynsky, Reeking Aura pays homage to the pre-romantic era of doom/death. Their 2020 EP, Beneath the Canopy of Compost, revealed as much and now they are doubling down with their debut full-length Blood and Bonemeal. So, instead of the ethereal and sweet tones of the northern England scene, it is the stench of Autopsy that prevails as “Remnant of Obstinate Rank (Flooding Ratholes)” comes through. It is a brutal and direct message, calling upon many of the early death metal pioneers. Echoes of early Death and Massacre ooze through “Seed the Size of a Spider’s Eye”, while fragments of the New York brutal death metal scene appear in “Grublust”.
While there are some alterations, either in modern death metal takes and an understated technical aptitude, as well as the three-pronged guitar assault, Blood and Bonemeal, shrouds itself in the darkness of the past. Apart from its death metal affections, it also shines a light on the guttural and primitive doom/death of acts like Winter and dISEMBOWELMENT. Excavating these from the mortuary, while adding on top a touch of Celtic Frost-ian groove and some discordant proto-death metal lead work, in the likes of “Harvesting the Hatchet”. Finishing it all off with a few atmospheric interludes, with the psychedelic “The Caretaker” standing out, Reeking Aura round up a strong introduction. – Spyros Stasis
Karl Sanders – Saurian Apocalypse (Napalm)
Have you ever listened to a Nile record and thought to yourself how cool it would be to throw away the aggressive death metal bits and build an album just on the strengths of Egyptian-themed ambient atmospheric passages? If so, Nile’s mastermind and guitarist Karl Sander has you covered with Saurian Apocalypse, the third and final installment of his solo Saurian sequence, coming after 2004’s Saurian Meditation and 2009’s Saurian Exorcisms.
Like those two previous records, Saurian Apocalypse follows a fictional narrative, this time around about a doctor named Eduardo Lucciani and his attempts to recount the final moments of humanity in a future past armageddon. As such, this is a darker and more threatening affair, but still built on foundations of Mesopotamian folk and sprinkled with tropes borrowed from other cultures and musical traditions. Questions of cultural appropriation aside, the ten cuts presented on the album are thrilling little things, each of them haunted by Middle Eastern melodies, guitar licks and shredding in unusual scales, hypnotic percussion, and goosebumps-inducing vocalizations.
With the help of a number of guests—guitar master Rusty Cooley and several current and past Nile members like drummer George Kollias—and an array of stringed and percussive instruments like the bağlama, sistrum, and dumbek, Sanders crafts a journey at times progressive, at others droning and cinematic, but always enthralling and quite unique, as if the acoustic drone-hardcore duo Senyawa collaborated with Neurosis’s Scott Kelly. – Antonio Poscic
Scarcity – Aveilut (The Flenser)
The textural quality of black metal has made it the perfect playground for sonic experiments. From Botanist introducing their dulcimer to early Krallice and Mare Cognitum opening up progressive pathways to outer space. Scarcity, the duo of Brendon Rendall-Myers and Pyrrhon’s Doug Moore subscribe to this notion, making their debut record Aveilut a nightmare come to life. It is something felt immediately as “i” arrives with its feedback, taking on a page from the no-wave scene. At that moment, Aveilut does not even feel like a black metal record but rather an experimental investigation of rock music, getting caught between the noise rock of “iii” and the drone subterritories of “iv”.
Yet, the eye of Scarcity is fixed on the cosmos. With “ii” the duo plunges into a krautrock recital, an endless, celestial perspective uttered forth through the slow drumming and monotonous riffage. Echoes of Krallice and Jute Gyte persist, as this static yet ever-changing motif is unveiled. The return to form finally arrives with “v”, as a more succinct black metal self triumphantly appears in a blaze of cyclothymic riffs and discordant lead work. So, even though this perspective is not entirely new, Scarcity explore some intricate new pathways and deliver a fine work of textural exploration. – Spyros Stasis