Music

MetalMatters: April 2019 - It Is April So "Why So Serious?"

Sunn O)) return with a magnificent beast, Vaura fully embrace their experimental new wave tendencies, and Dead to a Dying World solidify their position in the extreme metal pantheon, among more exciting new works. And a few announcements regarding the column.

So many records, so little time. When this feature started out the main goal was to distill the swarm. There is simply so much great heavy music out there, and April was a testament to that fact. Bands like Big Business, Inter Arma and Sunn O))) returned with some of their strongest works to date, while the new blood entering the scene in acts such as Ceremony of Silence, Numenorean and Chalice of Suffering displays an abundance of creativity.

There have been some unexpected shortcomings the previous months, but this feature remains dedicated to covering all heavy records worthy of your time. MetalMatters will continue this endeavor and cover the most interesting releases in the metal genre, but the scope of the feature will broaden and explore territories outside what is considered strictly metal. In the coming months, the feature will evolve, but the core goal of providing you with the best that heavy music has to offer does not wither. So, I hope you will join us for this new adventure as we descent and begin to explore a new rabbit hole. – Spyros Stasis

Big Business – The Beast You Are (Joyful Noise)

When Head for the Shallow came out in 2004, it felt like Big Business was something completely different. Even though their sound was based in plenty of rock, heavy metal, and punk aesthetics, the way they brought these pieces together was very innovative. Also, having an unconventional line-up of bass, vocals and drums were key. While certain acts might feel limited in that format, Big Business thrived because of it. It is weird because it felt as if they were almost losing something when they added a guitarist, but since Command Your Weather they have returned to their original core.

The Beast You Are is exactly what you would expect from a Big Business record. That is the best way to sum it up, with the duo still hammering on their original vision. In that scope the groove is central, and it arrives with conviction and power in "Abdominal Snowman", and an even heavier touch in "Heal the Weak". Deviations from the norm was also a major theme for Big Business, and here they explore more mysterious tonalities, solo percussive renditions, and noise element. But the essential element for the band was to create music that is not just heavy but insanely catchy. The epic groove of "Let Them Grind" is infectious and the big choruses of "Time and Heat" take the record over the top. The Beast You Are solidifies how good this band is, and acts as a reminder as to why once upon a time the Melvins incorporated them in their line-up. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Ceremony of Silence – Oútis (Willowtip)

Long-term fans of Willowtip will have learned to savor the label's taste for the uncompromisingly outré, but for anyone who's yet to dabble in their stygian waters this debut from Ceremony of Silence offers a perfect introduction. Oútis is the poison fruit borne of hours spent improvising, and the resultant death-cum-black metal brew sounds like the two people involved have fractured their minds by staring for too long into the gaping cosmic void.

The ideas come thick and fast, with cascading riffs and frantic tremolo picking rubbing up against difficult angles and acres of terrifying space as Oútis contorts, bucks and tangles itself in impossible knots, scraping relentlessly away at your forebrain one moment and lapsing into dark, introspection and skillful melody the next. Fans of Ulcerate, Dodecahedron, Skáphe, and Ehnahre will be compelled to draw the veil back further – everyone else will likely run screaming, hoping desperately to unsee the howling terrors that Ceremony of Silence have loosed on a complacent and unsuspecting world. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Chalice of Suffering – Lost Eternally (Transcending Obscurity)

While Chalice of Suffering's moniker might sound like some wry doom band name algorithm generated it, their music is deadly serious. Theirs is a strange and mercurial brand of doom that's funereal in mood and pace, referencing the grandiose flourishes of Morgion and a flair for the gothic that taps but rarely apes the early work of the Peaceville Three. Vocally we're looking at end-of-tether gurgles, solemn chants, and spoken-word invocations, but rather than rely on bludgeoning riffs things build themselves around basslines that grunt away like tireless Victorian machinery, sensitive swathes of light-touch guitar and tasteful swatches of synth.

Amid all this "The Hurt" channels the strange cosmic swirl that no one ever seems to mention when they talk about "Winter", and majestic opener "In the Mist of Once Was" makes the best use of bagpipes you're likely to hear on a metal record for quite some time. It's a darkly glorious concoction, and while the people who forged it might feel Lost Eternally it's also an album that should prove strangely comforting for forward-thinking doomsters who find solace in the wrist-slitting misery of others. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Crowhurst – III (Prophecy Productions)

The project of Jay Gambit is seriously contending for the title of the most prolific extreme metal band out there, having released something in the range of seventy odd records. Crowhurst has not been standing still, having put out works ranging from black metal to noise, from drone to industrial and from post-rock to electronic. In 2015, the band released I, a record that showcased a more controlled form, as Crowhurst divulged in the gritty sludge sound. The follow-up, II found them moving into the black metal domain but again their focus appeared to be unshifting, retaining a firm grasp on the genre.

Both records were amongst the strongest Crowhurst had released, and that is even more exciting now that the end of the trilogy has arrived. What Gambit really nails is the ability to bring the different sides of Crowhurst together. The aggression and raw perspective of black metal are still prevalent, showcased brilliantly through the caustic blast beats of "I Will Carry You to Hell" and the heavy Celtic Frost-ian groove of "La Faim". Still, Crowhurst don't forget their melodic and atmospheric qualities, awakening an unearthly essence with the bizarre vocal chants and beautiful clean melodies of "Self Portrait With Halo and Snake". It is the underlying darkwave aesthetic that aids in this transition, something that is partly reflected in the vocal delivery of Gambit. That is the winning point of III, as it binds Crowhurst's metal identity with additional influences and concludes the trilogy on a high note. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Dead to a Dying World – Elegy (Profound Lore)

For all the bands trumpeting how progressive they are, it often seems that few are farsighted enough to even see beyond their string of expensive FX pedals. Dead to a Dying World (who feature a lucky seven's worth of band members, which seems somehow significant) can lay honest claim to such traits, somehow sweeping together morose Americana, doom, black metal and post-rock, along with some oddball instrumentation that wouldn't seem out of place on a Current 93 record.

Maudlin opener "Syzygy" evokes a lonesome cowpoke trying to cope with just how cold the desert gets at night things crash into the magnificent heaviness of "The Seer's Embrace", a song that crushes your head with its opening riffs and your spirit with the stark territory it eventually presses into. It's a testament to the skill with which the material is handled that Elegy can evoke outliers like Cobalt, Amber Asylum and the Gault before diving even further down the weirdo rock rabbit hole, winding up in a strange, harsh place where aberrant gems like Souled American or Toiling Midgets don't seem like left-of-center points of reference. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Helms Alee – Noctiluca (Sargent House)

Helms Alee came together during the latter days of the 2000s post-metal wave, releasing a couple of great records through Hydra Head. Back then the trio was ahead of its time, combining the weight of sludge and the hazy post-metal tone with a pronounced sense of melody and catchiness, something that other acts would soon catch up on. Through the years the band has retained its original vision, and today they arrive with their more complete and coherent work in Noctiluca.

Their new work solidifies what Helms Alee has always been about. The off-kilter progressions, guided by Hozoji Margullis' dynamic playing and Dana James' fiery bass lines meet with Ben Verellen's versatile lead work to create this fantastic beast. It all clicks together from the start of "Interarachnid" as the band implements its trademark progression, doubling down on its forceful and heavy sound with "Beat Up" and exploring its more dissonant qualities in "Illegal Guardian". But what of course steals the show is the moments of melodic bliss in tracks like "Play Dead" and its augmentation through a psychedelic injection in "Be Rad Tomorrow" and "Spider Jar". – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Inter Arma – Sulphur English (Relapse)

A certain temporal detachment is necessary to properly assess works of art, particularly music. Once the eyes of the hype machines move on to the next thing and the collective infatuation with a piece fades out, only a few records continue shining brightly. Yet, even from the present fallible position, it is difficult not to categorize Inter Arma's Sulphur English as one of those records that seem definitive of both the band and encompassing style. The Richmond quintet's fourth LP abrades their sound and turns it into an impossibly intense, caustic machinery that is mightier and more impenetrable than anything else they have ever recorded. An intrinsic repetitiveness of this approach makes the music unfurl deliberately and require patience.

Despite reading from all parts of extreme metal's songbook, the resulting patchwork of mammoth-ian heaviness is distinctly their own. Repeated passages of narcotic sludge and doom climax in black metal frenzies and sink into progressive and ambient sections; the latter is as suffocating and heavy as their riff-laden counterparts. On "Citadel", one of the album's standouts, the music undulates and strains trying to break free from eternal, bottomless darkness. Only a sharp guitar lead and stirring solo punch through the thick atmosphere to offer momentary respite. But it's the triptych of "Stillness", "Observances of the Path" and "The Atavist's Meridian" that impresses and oppresses. The cuts transition from bluesy sludge ballads to dispersed and piano-driven ambiance before culminating in a lethargic yet immense and breathtaking attack. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Laster – Het Wassen Oog (Prophecy Productions)

There is a peculiar, delicious deviousness that emerges from the spastic rhythms and buzzing guitar work of Het Wassen Oog. Almost like a deconstruction of death and black metal, the opening "Vacuüm≠Behoud" stumbles forward pushed by post-punk rhythms and burdened by layers of crumbling riffs, sumptuous bass lines, exquisite guitar leads, and reverberated, mischievous vocals. And within this flow, as if occasionally sliding astray, short moments of disjointedness, atonal guitar wails, and intentional skips in rhythm bubble up. It's an approach reminiscent of Virus', with the Dutch metallers playing confidently and loosely.

The style here is varied, nimbly stretching and retreating its claws. Gentle piano keys accentuate the slowed down, quirky post-black leanings of "Schone Schijn". Plinks and plonks underline the convulsive "Zomersneeuw". Elsewhere, Laster sharpen their approach as clean vocal lines morph into vicious growls on the piercing and tremolo-driven "Haat & Bonhomie" and "Blind Staren". But it's idiosyncratic cuts like "Weerworm" that steal the show. It's a song that exists in a continuous, motionless movement with strings, voices, and electronic noises appearing and disappearing in a whirlwind around the base rhythm. A piece as elusive and fascinating as the whole album. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Latitudes – Part Island (Debemur Morti)

"Underlie", the opening track of Latitudes' fourth full-length, leads with a somber soliloquy accompanied only by gentle guitar plucks and terse piano strokes. "This is the River/Nothing/But itself", croons Adam Symonds, his velvety voice overcast with blue tones. This soulful opening is followed by a storm of somber, pensive doom metal and marks a striking departure for the Londoners. In place of progressive instrumentals on Old Sunlight and Individuation, Part Island finds the group settled into an emotionally charged format with Symonds' vocal at the fore.

Their always striking and often subdued aggressive segues are repurposed into elongated black metal riffs and a malleable rhythmic backdrop that embrace vocal lines, following their contours and pulsations. On the introductory "Underlie" and "Moorland Is the Sea" the quintet digs deep into melodic doom metal and travels along prog rock currents. Perhaps Anathema would have sounded like this had they kept metal elements intact during their transitional periods. As the album progresses, Latitudes imbue their music with harsher riffs, evoking a gentler The Ocean on "Fallowness" and "The Great Past". Ultimately they rediscover a part of their past urgency and sharp attacks on the title track, which closes a rich and often gorgeous album. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Numenorean – Adore (Season of Mist)

The term post-black metal gets thrown around fairly easily after the release of Deafheaven's Sunbather. But its broad usage has resulted in a scene resembling a big tent, where the hazy sound of Deafheaven lives next to the bitter and aggressive style of Altar of Plagues. A newer addition to this group of acts is Canada's Numenorean, who spawned to the scene in 2016 with their debut record Home. While uneven, Home did display some promising qualities and Adore now arrives to verify that fact.

What is the most striking quality of Numenorean is that they do not hide away from their intrinsic metallic core. The band enjoys expanding its sound through clean passages, and pronounced use of effects, but beneath all this what remains is a very solid modern extreme metal perspective, with the opening riffs of "Horizon" screaming to that effect. This is taken a step further, as for Numenorean black metal might be a key component of their sound, but they still diverge towards the groove metal territory made famous by acts like Gojira that fiercely shines in "Adore". Compared with Home, Numenorean have taken significant steps forward, and while they have produces solid work, it feels like there is a lot the band can lift from beneath the surface. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Spotlights – Love & Decay (Ipecac)

In a short amount of time, the project of Mario and Sarah Quintero has achieved a hell of a lot. Defined by a DIY ethic Spotlights released their first demo in 2013 and from that point they seamlessly took off, unleashing a stunning first record in Tidals, before their Ipecac debut Seismic came out in 2017. The band truly caught the right feeling at the right time, creating a heavy amalgamation of post-metal and sludge but with a more pronounced shoegaze twist.

Their new record Love & Decay might not see Spotlights make a giant leap forward in terms of sound, but the band is overall so much better. It is the dichotomy between emotion and weight that is highlighted so brilliantly in this work. The perfect example of this is "The Particle Noise" with the heavy guitars suggesting the best progressive sludge had to offer during the '00s, while the ethereal vocals scream of the influence that My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive had on Spotlights. Here it is a big collection of little things that makes the difference. The industrial-esque repetition of "The Beauty of Forgetting" provides a counterweight to the subtle melodies, while the acoustic guitar passages in "Far From Falling" act as a bridge between the post-metal renditions. It is those important factors that make Love & Decay a pivotal record in the band's discography and one that elevates them to a higher level. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Sunn O))) - Life Metal (Southern Lord)

Sunn O))) have always treated drone music as a playground, a domain of infinite possibilities that they can reshape as if it was made of silly putty. Through the years they have imbued this amorphous domain with dark ambient ideas, black metal aesthetics, improvisational overtures, and even orchestral strategies. This point of view has led to an array of fantastic releases, from the early, devastating days of OO Void and Flight of the Behemoth to the introspective explorations of Monoliths & Dimensions.

Life Metal signifies another moment of change for Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson. This is the band's first record to have the great Steve Albini on recording and mixing, which has forced the sound of Sunn O))) into warmer sonic territory. And so the dark and oppressive sound of the band has mutated into an overwhelming but colorful manifestation, highlighted brilliantly also in the record's cover, featuring easily the most vibrant artwork the band has ever used. This switch tilts the scales towards a more graphic and transcendental experience, amplified through the beautiful vocal delivery of Hildur Gudnadottir in "Between Sleipnir's Breaths" and the almost playful improvisational renditions of the guitars in "Troubled Air". Where the band's previous record Kannon displayed a static sense, Life Metal feels like a breath of fresh air for Sunn O))) and it is a work that propels the band's vision going forward. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Teleport – The Expansion (Edged Circle)

They might occupy the same rough cosmic plane as Ceremony of Silence, but Slovenia's Teleport carve their own distinctive nightmare visions when it comes to vicious sci-fi metal. Originally released in 2018 by Caligari Records as a limited-edition cassette, this digital update from Edged Circle means even more people get to stand in awe of the band's eye-clawing Voivodian hellscapes.

The three-track EP mixes crisp, fissured riffing; stiletto blade melodies and vocals that sound like the cracking of ice on a hostile alien planet. If the 20-minute running time looks brisk on paper then rest assured that the sheer density of ideas and elevated ambitions means the experience seems to last much longer, meaning fans of Gorguts, Vektor, and Thantifaxath will have much to pick through until the band's first full-length is cool enough to handle after its hurtling descent to Earth. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Vaura – Sables (Profound Lore)

There seems to be no end to the obsession with the 1980s' darker overtones. Yet, eschewing the usual blunt retro-fetishism and revivalism, experimental bands on the margins of the scene like Kayo Dot and Ulver are co-opting these styles and reshaping them into something distinctly new. This time Vaura, the Brooklyn avant/post-black foursome, shrouds itself with the cold lines of darkwave, the jangly rhythms of post-punk, the enigma of goth rock, and the enveloping, subtle dissonance of new wave.

Sables has little in common with the band's earlier records. The jagged edges of their post-black tendencies shifted towards a much more stable and predictable, but often elating concoction. The band seems convinced and convincing as Josh Strawn alternates between a melancholy and menacing vocal delivery supported by Toby Driver's palpitating bass, Charlie Schmid's scant rhythmic patterns, and Kevin Hufnagel's cold, distant guitar shrieks. Here, the driving pop of "The Lightless Ones" transforms into the gloomy, proggy "The Ruins (Hymne)". There, the simultaneously sparse and propulsive "Basilisk (The Infinite Corpse)" leads into an aggressive title track on which Strawn's invocations are accompanied by metallic traces of musical forms they left behind. It all makes for a compact and candid sound that is equal parts an understated homage and a successful reimagining. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Waste of Space Orchestra – Syntheosis (Svart)

Psychedelic black metal surrealists Oranssi Pazuzu and ritualistic doom mystics Dark Buddha Rising are two of excellent specimens of artistic quality produced by the Finnish extreme music scene. The two bands have a somewhat symbiotic relationship, highlighted by the use of the same practice space/studio, appropriately named Wastement, and the Atomikyla project. Waste of Space Orchestra is an attempt to reach perfect homeostasis, with both bands fully joining in this endeavor.

Syntheosis is far beyond a mere split release, or jam session between bands that just happens to be recorded and released. Syntheosis sees the two bands perform a grand alchemical, one that molds their sounds but also broadens their scope. Elements of psychedelia, doom metal, black metal, ritualism, and krautrock are all joined together, highlighting both the adventurous experimentation of Oranssi Pazuzu and the dark mysticism of Dark Buddha Rising. But, there is also this overarching theme that defines this work, and it reaches an almost operatic level as the three vocalists possess different characters to narrate a pessimistically existentialist work. The use of the word "orchestra" in the band's name is not random, and it does not only alludes to the number of musicians present in this recording. It is a statement of both musical scope and lyrical depth, which makes Syntheosis one of the more ambitious works of the year. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

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