In a packed month with 20 great new heavy metal records, Faceless Burial and Necrot stun with their death metal prowess, Jaye Jayle and Steve Von Till break ranks, and Primitive Man gaze further into the abyss.
Usually a quiet month, August has been full of surprising and amazing works. This year, when taking into account everything that is happening worldwide, this extra busyness is deeply appreciated, and its escapism is most welcome. And where to escape to? Pretty much anywhere you want. From the extreme edges of black metal through the atmospheric tropes of Ars Magna Umbrae, the bleak onslaught of Panzerfaust, the bitter melancholy of Selbst, the crust invocations of Svederna or the death metal crossover of Temple Nightside, there is ample ammunition to keep you going.
On the borders of death metal there is of course the returning lords Incantation, along with like minded relative newcomers Faceless Burial, and old school masters Necrot returning with their sophomore work. Caught in the extreme edge of the spectrum, between death and doom there are two new introductions, with the majestic Atramentus and the psychedelic Self Hypnosis both unveiling excellent debut full-length albums. And if you want to indulge in the lighter side of doom, then Turtle Skull's Monoliths might be just the pick for you. If you are looking for something with a traditional flavour, Unleash the Archers' excellent Abyss stretching the notions of power and heavy metal.
Caught in the hinges, living in the spaces in between, the experimental and progressive scenes had one hell of a month. Titans to Tachyons provide a stunning work of technical, avant-garde heavy music in Cactides. Black Crown Initiate continue to jaggle styles, adding another excellent entry to a near stellar discography while Expander continue to thrive within their neurothrash brew in Neuropunk Boostergang. On the more extreme edge there is of course Primitive Man with Immersion, bouncing between the sludge weight and dirt, and the overwhelming power of noise.
Relishing the joys of gloom there is Rope Sect, delivering an excellent work of post-punk and garage rock glory in The Great Flood and Ulver returning with their disco infused, post-punk inspired latest vision in Flowers of Evil. Finally, we also have the folk renegades. Both Evan Patterson and Steve Von Till found solace in the more traditional form, but their projects have taken a surprising turn with unexpected yet most enticing results. – Spyros Stasis
Ars Magna Umbrae - Apotheosis (I, Voidhanger)
Ars Magna Umbrae's 2018 LP Lunar Ascension remains a highlight of atmospheric black metal in recent years and a bright anomaly in the often dreary status quo of the genre. Built by the band's sole member Kthunae Mortifer (aka Petros Xolaiathyos), the album compelled the usual expansive but gentle atmo tropes. It featured flickering tremolos washing over distant blast beats, abysses of electronic effects bridged by apocalyptic textures—into blazing charges, substituting melody, and deep-rooted beauty for sheer dissonance.
On Apotheosis, his second LP under the Ars Magna Umbrae moniker, K.M. builds upon everything that made Lunar Ascension fabulous but trades some of the previous directness and Hellenic metal crunchiness for compelling amplifications of mood. In turn, this tweaked approach makes the music crushingly oppressive and downright evil sounding. Cacophonous masses of humming riffs spiral into chaos and traverse a bleak atmospheric wasteland populated only by growls, screams, and cackles trapped in eternal torture. They form a symphony of noise that, despite being sourced from occult and philosophical motifs, we ultimately experience on a subliminal level as it draws us closer and closer to its black heart. – Antonio Poscic
Atramentus - Stygian (20 Buck Spin)
Featuring members of many acclaimed extreme acts in Gevurah, Chthe'ilist, and Funebrarum, Atramentus were forged in the Great White North's sub-zero temperatures. Therefore a product of their surroundings, Atramentus dedicate their craft to establishing a glacial and processional brew of extreme doom/death, venturing in the so-called funeral edge of its spectrum. Their vision is now unveiled with their debut record Stygian, coming through powerhouse label 20 Buck Spin.
Extreme doom/death offers several trajectories and different paths one can take. There is the guttural edge, introduced by dISEMBOWLMENT, the psychedelic machinations of Esoteric, or the grand, ambient takes of Thergothon. With the latter Atramentus resonate the most, offering a towering experience through majestic soundscapes and over the top tropes. Harnessing the epic aspect of doom metal, they introduce "From Tumultuous Heavens..." with the heavy riffs pummelling down before the descent into the keyboard abyss occurs. The keys play a pivotal role through this work, becoming a central component of Atramentus' identity, awakening the act's epic overtones.
From these soaring heights, Atramentus take us to endless depths, as they expose their dark ambient leaning, producing moments of terrifying minimalistic bliss in the closing moments of the opening track and the "An Ageless Slumber" interlude. They resume a reign of doom/death terror with "Perennial Voyage", closing the record with an explosive black metal twist. – Spyros Stasis
Black Crown Initiate - Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape (Century Media)
It is rare to find a band that pursues a classicist approach, yet does not fit in any particular mold. That was exactly the sentiment when Black Crown Initiate arrived with their debut EP back in 2013. Song of the Crippled Bull fit the progressive death metal mantle, but there were just so many different ways in which Black Crown Initiate further spread their sound. Brutal death metal outbreaks, a melodic underbelly, ethereal lead work verging to post-rock, doom infusion and a metalcore demeanor. Everything fit in Black Crown Initiate's scope, and through the years they have continued to move forward, unveiling two excellent works with The Wreckage of Stars and Selves We Cannot Forgive, and now they are unleashing their Century Media debut in Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape.
Again elusive and ever experimenting, "Invitation" is introduced through clean passages and a melancholic vocal delivery before the metallic explosion arrives through deep gruff vocals and an off-kilter structure. Somewhere between metalcore and progressive death metal they find their home, but they still wonder outwards. "Son of War" and "Trauma Bonds" both venture into the post-rock domain, the first in a disfigured sense that awakens an otherworldly essence while the latter with an ethereal touch. It is the progressive mindset that guides through the various corridors in Black Crown Initiate's intricate maze, with the technicality always on a high and the rhythmic patterns combining beautifully to create a multilayered backbone.
That progressive sentiment is forever present in the bassline and progression of "Holy Silence", while the melodic intersections of their death metal leaning combine perfectly with either full blown blastbeat assaults or melodic metalcore notions, as with "Years In Frigid Light". While Black Crown Initiate have honed this multifaceted style, Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape does not venture far from their sense of norm, yet they perform their ideas and combine their concepts that much better. – Spyros Stasis
Expander - Neuropunk Boostergang (Profound Lore)
Metal-punk? Neuropunk? Re-thrash? Some other strained neologism. But who the hell cares. Whatever wacky moniker you want to name their style, the Texan quartet Expander have quite simply delivered a glimpse into the future of thrash and metal for a world that has no future. And in that bright tomorrow that might never come for the human race, this ungodly concoction of dissonant guitar stunts, huge beats driven at the speed of light, and mind-bashing vocal assaults underlined by retro-futuristic electronic effects will perhaps be worshipped by a race of robots instead. As a reminder of the silly meatbags that created them but didn't deserve to live. Listen to Neuropunk Boostergang before your face is melted away. – Antonio Poscic
Incantation - Sect of Vile Divinities (Relapse)
Out of the two standout death metal records of the month, Incantation's Sect of Vile Divinities is the obvious safer choice, delivering another serving of the three decades young band's signature style. But as was the case with guitarist John McEntee's previous outings under various incarnations, "safe" here means "the (d)evil you know". And it's a brutal devil that doesn't care to be your acquaintance. On the opening "Ritual Impurity (Seven of the Sky Is One)", Incantation lay down their cards and deal another hand of apex brutality.
Their attacks are packaged in bombastic and grooving slabs of old school death metal, as the band take a perverted sort of pleasure in creating the filthiest, most suffocating music possible. All of it is, of course, piped through vintage elements. Guitars buzz heavily from deep catacombs, blast beats rip angrily through molasses and growls torture vocal cords. Meanwhile, the occasional melodic solos and leads let through a deceptive ray of light, only to collapse the ceiling again. At times blazing fast like on "Fury's Manifesto", at others crawling down to funeral doom tempos with "Scribes of the Stygian", Sect of Vile Divinities is peak Incantation through and through. – Antonio Poscic
Faceless Burial - Speciation (Me Saco Un Ojo)
If Incantation represents death metal's still vibrant old guard, then Faceless Burial are their rightful heirs, and Speciation is a sonic monument built in the honor and written in the image of all strains of death metal that came before. Incredibly varied and technically complex, the Melbourne trio's second LP sheds tempos and riffs continually, slithering and tempting like a snake on desert sand, combining visceral brutality with magnificent virtuosity.
One needs to look no further than the opening "Worship", where they traverse the space between Dying Fetus's impactful grindcore and Gorguts inspired chaos of discord in a matter of seconds, breaking everything up with chunks of Cryptopsy's brutal technical death metal. With nearly no peers, apart from equally inventive groups like Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold, Faceless Burial have created a masterpiece of death metal and undoubtedly one of the best death metal records of the year. – Antonio Poscic
Jaye Jayle - Prysyn (Sargent House)
It was around 2014 when Young Widows guitarist/vocalist Evan Patterson embarked on a different journey. Founding Jaye Jayle, Patterson left behind all of the noise rock explosiveness and the post-hardcore progressions to focus on a dark folk essence. The result was a series of singles and EPs, as well as two excellent full-length works in House Cricks and Other Excuses to Get Out and especially the brilliantly dark No Trail and Other Unholy Paths. Yet, enthralled in this dark neofolk essence was not enough for Patterson, who now returns with a surprising release in Prysyn.
While Jaye Jayle relied on an acoustic backbone, deeply rooted in folk music tradition with a southern gothic twist, Prysyn instead looks into the synthetic and the abstract. The entire record was worked on by Patterson and Chelsea Wolfe collaborator Ben Chisholm, produced using the bare minimum of applications, mainly GarageBand on an iPhone. Does this mean the record is less magical? That Patterson and Chisholm could not re-awaken the spirit of Jaye Jayle? The answer is a resounding no.
Through the electronic corridors of Prysyn, Patterson's vocal delivery echoes with an emotive nostalgia, masterfully narrating personal stories that deeply resonate. Also, the flexibility of electronic components has now allowed a more diverse palette for Jaye Jayle. The downtrodden essence and pessimistic outlook lives and breathes through the passages of "A Cold Wind". Meanwhile, minimal interjections create fascinating offerings of sparse arrangements in "The River Spree" and "Last Drive", and the abstract mentality and fervent experimentalism result in moments of majestic sonic collage with "I Need You" and "From Louisville".
No matter the mode, the great story telling ability, the enticing narrative is retained, while the atmospherics offer a wider spectrum of flavours, turning Prysyn into a wonderful prism. – Spyros Stasis
Necrot - Mortal (Tankcrimes)
Bay Area's Necrot saw a meteoric rise following their debut record Blood Offerings. Formed by members of acclaimed extreme acts like Vastum, Acephalix, and Watch Them Die, Necrot traversed the underground releasing demos that highlighted their deep appreciation for the early death metal style. The intersections between the punk aggression and the death metal stench are where Necrot live, and through Blood Offerings they produced one of the finest examples of that sound. Now, with expectations at a high they return with Mortal.
There are no surprises with Mortal, and with a fantastic handle on their identity and sound, Necrot improve their craft and deliver another fine blow. The hellish lead parts awaken the infernal element of Mortal as "Your Hell" introduces the album, bringing to mind the sinister edge of Autopsy and early Death. These hooks come easily to Necrot, and they complement perfectly the schizoid guitar solos that enrich each track's progression. They march on through disharmony and brutality, at times, taking on a slithering form in "Asleep Forever", slowly approaching with malicious intent. While at other moments, they transform to an all-out assault, with an almost militant aesthetic, verging to very early Bolt Thrower glory, as in "Mortal". Everything clicks together nicely, Mortal becoming a record that encapsulates the aura of a long-gone era while at the same time being able to modernize its potency. – Spyros Stasis
Panzerfaust - The Suns of Perdition II: Render Unto Eden (Eisenwald)
Refinement and progress. It is these principles that define the evolution of Canadian black metallers Panzerfaust. Their inspiration is in the dark womb of the second black metal wave, enthralled by its lo-fi aesthetics and bitter approach. Through The Winds Will Lead Us… and The Dark Age of Militant Paganism, Panzerfaust reproduced the teachings of the genre's greats, taking the traditional ethics to heart and contemplating its misanthropic attitude. Yet, it was Jehovah-Jireh: The Divine Anti-Logos that saw them blossoming. Their style matured, still carrying on the traditions, but that is when Panzerfaust started walking their own path. And so they continued with the beginning of an ambitious quadrology, with The Suns of Perdition I: War, Horrid War. The return now with Render Unto Eden is even more caustic and abrupt.
In distilling black metal to fit their needs and wants, Panzerfaust have been able to create a potent dose of fury and mayhem in Render Unto Eden that operates in multiple levels. Descents into the ambient and opaque, setting a fog of war before the actual battle commences. The opener "Promethean Fire" showcases this subtle injection of scenery, as does the processional introduction to "Pascal's Wager". Meanwhile, for fans of the dystopian, there's also the inclusion of the famous 1984 quote regarding the bleak future, "Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever."
That is the sentiment that Panzerfaust want to pass on, an utter annihilation through a bloody carnage, and inspired by the atrocities of the past century, and they create a work that is polemic and yet cathartic. "The Faustian Pact" goes off in an absolute blaze as the frantic progression collapses into an insane groove as deep guttural vocals appear through the darkness. "Areopagitic" constructs a monumental grandeur through its graphic onslaught, hammering down the heavy rhythmic patterns before tilting towards a dissonant mania. Render Unto Eden finds Panzerfaust at their best, having figured out their sound, having made black metal their own and they are now on a stampede. – Spyros Stasis
Primitive Man - Immersion (Relapse)
Dark and twisted, crushing, overwhelming, and all-consuming. That is the reality for Primitive Man, for the band from Colorado has made a point to weaponize doom and sludge, noise and power electronics to maximum effect. This much was certain from the release of their debut record Scorn in 2013. Since then, Primitive Man have been on a path of destruction, collaborating with fellow travelers in Northless, Sea Bastard, Hell, and the mighty Unearthly Trance. This spring of productivity has resulted in the exquisite Home Is Where The Hatred Is EP and the punishing Caustic, with the trio now returning with renewed brutality in Immersion.
The primal sense and the animalistic attitude take form, with "The Lifer" coming into view in a darkened cloak through a mist of noise. Harsh feedback, glacial pace, brutally low vocals greet in this domain of despair as Primitive Man deliver a recital of punishment and anguish. Everything is piercing and cruel, as the howling guitars of "Entity" revolve in a spiraling fashion for the entirety of the track to build this otherworldly, verging on the psychedelic, sense. And this is a trip that has gone horribly wrong, as Primitive Man navigate through all this awe-inspiring weight through the processional progression of "Foul", the synthetic corridors of "∞" and finally closing this savage listen with a sadistic pinnacle in "Consumption".
The concept of immersion is usually associated with immersing oneself in a dreamlike state, an ethereal domain but for Primitive Man this is a complete Immersion into a heartless world, one that mirrors the worst qualities of our own. – Spyros Stasis
Rope Sect - The Great Flood (Iron Bonehead)
It is quite interesting when a sense of gloom becomes infectious. In the late 1980s, the pioneers of deathrock tapped into this strange paradox. Sure, they were conjuring depressive darkness, filled with horrid thoughts and damned feelings, but what guided them in doing so was the immortal spirit of rock 'n' roll, standing side by side with necessary post-punk injection. In recent years some have unearthed this energy, the most obvious examples being Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures. It is now the turn for Germany's Rope Sect, who after delivering their Personae Ingrata EP, return with their debut full-length, The Great Flood.
The dichotomy between gloom and joy is defining Rope Sect, and it is what elevates the songs of The Great Flood to become unconventional hymns. There is a beautiful simplicity that defines The Great Flood, with Rope Sect truly reaping the rewards of the "less is more" principle. The progression of "Issodahores" builds an awe-inspiring scenery through its repetitive unfolding, while the post-punk attitude of "Rope of the Just" adds a certain explosiveness to this endeavor. Yet, it's the unbelievable hooks that Rope Sect can construct, moments of pure anthemic caliber that raises their music to new levels.
The chorus of "Prison of You" is pure gloom goodness, with the heavy bass providing the drive, while the exceptional vocal delivery perfectly reinvigorates the deathrock and goth aspects of post-punk. Similar is the case with the more melancholic and laid back "Hiraeth", as the soft vocals, and sparse instrumentation create moments of doom induced beauty, even allowing for a black metal twist near the end to build on top of all this glorious bleakness. It all stands as a testament to the exceptional grasp that Rope Sect possess on this sound and scene, and it all now pays off with a magnificent work. – Spyros Stasis
Self Hypnosis - Contagion of Despair (Svart)
In the early 2000s, Kris Clayton established his project Camel of Doom, with a vision of extending the stoner/doom flavor towards new experimental realms. Notions of psychedelia and progressive rock found their way into Camel of Doom, with the band's output becoming more and more daring, leading to the release of 2016's Terrestrial. Working on new material for Camel of Doom, Clayton started to experiment further, toying with concepts and ideas beyond the band's scope and so a new entity was born in Self Hypnosis. Joined by Camel of Doom contributor, drummer Tom Vallely and Esoteric guitar/vocalist Greg Chandler, Self Hypnosis arrive with an intriguing work in Contagion of Despair.
The reach of Self Hypnosis is extensive with Contagion of Despair encapsulating many diverge elements and influences. The basis is still in the extreme doom/death domain, with the slow pace dictating the progression, while the heavy, distorted weight hammers down throughout. Still, there is a higher dimensionality that Self Hypnosis call upon in their doom invocations, which is their psychedelic edge. Taking a page from the unearthly approach of Esoteric, Self Hypnosis indulge in a hallucinatory application of sweeping delays and ambient flourishes, beautifully arranged through the lead work in the opening of "Succumbed" and halfway through "Omission".
Where things go further, however, is in Self Hypnosis ability to absorb more off-kilter influences. The shorter tracks of this record in "Empowered", "Leeches", and especially "Scandal" carry much of Neurosis DNA, with an aggressive hardcore infused post-metal approach. This idea still holds with the longer tracks, with Self Hypnosis undergoing at moments post-metal transformation, enhanced through a more ethereal representation. Considering the already prevalent progressive rock aspect of Clayton's songwriting, this proves to be an excellent combination, fitting in harmony with the overarching vision. Industrial augmentations in the tempo and progression and dark ambient interludes complete a grand and ambitious vision for Self Hypnosis, with Contagion of Despair becoming a near-perfect introduction. – Spyros Stasis
Temple Nightside - Pillars of Damnation (Iron Bonehead)
Australia's Temple Nightside play the type of blackened death metal that would have soundtracked my nightmares as a kid growing up in a Catholic environment. For their music possesses a decidedly evil character, a soul of devil-worshipping manifested through a sound that's murky and lo-fi just enough to recall the rawness of early black metal. It also allows for their musical prowess—terrific seesawing riffs, shapeshifting growls and shrieks, and thunderstorms of blast beats—to shine through. Throughout the nine tracks, the foursome sequences tempos and moods, allowing themselves to almost grind to a brooding halt on "The Carrion Veil," before creating a Slayeresque speed metal whirlwind and wall of death inciting bedlam on "Blood Cathedral." – Antonio Poscic
Selbst - Relatos de Angustia (Debemur Morti)
While they play with similar speed and conviction as Temple Nightside, Chilean one-person band Selbst diffuse that particular atmosphere of nefariousness into flamboyant demonstrations of nearly symphonic black metal. In that sense, Relatos de Angustia is an ambiguous and ambitious record that manages to retain a sense of menace while veering dangerously close to the unrestrained melodic richness of Debemur Morti label mates Aara and the doom-laden, sullen territories of early Agalloch on cuts such as "Deafening Wailing of the Desperate Ones" and "The Depths of Selfishness". Later, progressive, twisting segments make way for blackgaze and post-metal introspection on "Sculpting the Dirtiness of Its Existence" and climax in the slow-moving melodies of "Let the Pain Run Through", punctuating a thoroughly immersive and varied black metal affair. – Antonio Poscic
Svederna - Härd (Carnal)
Rounding off the trio of August's best black metal releases, Svederna's Härd showcases just how flexible the genre can be, dropping into anti-systemic and (eco) activist moods in place of Temple Nightside and Selbst's shadowy motifs. Perhaps that's why the album has a distinct crust edge, faintly reminiscent of outfits like Iskra. Meanwhile, the ten compact songs attack furiously and relentlessly in the vein of Dissection with galloping drums and bumbling guitars. Here, "Skuld Och Vita Knogar" rolls along with nigh revolutionary energy, "Tempelhärd" delivers an imposing metal hymn, while "Förtigen" alternates a wall of bending and blending tremolos akin to early Enslaved and thrashing explosions to emphasize several high points of a very enjoyable album. – Antonio Poscic
Titans to Tachyons - Cactides (Nefarious Industries)
Trio Titans to Tachyons play knotted, libertine music on the border between the heaviest of metal genres and complex contemporary avant-garde tendencies. Like a fusion of Dysrhythmia's tech-metal insanity and Mary Halvorson's fluid improvisations, their style's harmonic and rhythmic makeup possesses a certain je ne sais quoi so characteristic for New York's creative music scene.
Produced by Colin Marston and with a rhythm section comprised of frequent John Zorn collaborators Kenny Grohowski (drums) and Matt Hollenberg (bass guitar), there are times at which Cactides might indeed feel like an extension of Zorn's metallic branch Simulacrum or one of Marston's math rock bands, only for these familiar structures to then be thrashed and thrown in unexpected directions under the leadership of ex-Gigan guitarist Sally Gates.
Part composed and part improvised, the five pieces on Cactides morph continuously, held together only by faint melodic themes and grooves that get destroyed and recreated. They move from jazz rock-like attacks sustained by tense bass-drums interplay, through repeating, tight-but-loose proggy parts à la Orthrelm, to swinging scorchers propelled by Gates's angular riffing. The trio finds themselves in a completely free space on the closing cut, which allows them to indulge in sparse instrumental explorations, filling sound spaces with screeching guitar licks, rumbling bass explosions, and grinding percussion. It all makes for an exhilarating ride, equally satisfying in a cerebral and visceral sense. – Antonio Poscic
Turtle Skull - Monoliths (Ars As Catharsis)
It is winter in Australia, and autumn is knocking at the door on the other half of the globe, yet Sydney's Turtle Skull have released the ultimate summer psychedelic doom record. While their home country has been a veritable Petri dish for psychedelic and adventurous but rocking bands in the past few years — Tame Impala and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard chief among them — Monoliths distances itself from all of those outfits by splintering and splicing their own species of psychedelia with unexpected touches.
Take the opening "Leaves" on which long-buried echoes of an electronic organ whisper and gasp accompanied by a sharp haze of vocal harmonies that the Beach Boys might have envisioned had they grown up on stoner and desert rock. Then, we're hit with a thousand-ton sledgehammer of fuzzy sludge as hard, and enormous riffs explode into the sonic picture, quivering, expanding, and contracting.
Weaving through progressive, droning, shoegazing, and ambient parts, Turtle Skull's "flower doom" is, above all, bright and optimistic music. One in which gorgeously harmonized vocal lines embrace and shine over all like a never-setting sun, illuminating bouts of heavy doom that sizzle beneath their feet. And while traces of bands like Astronoid, Black Mountain, Tarot, and Psychic Ills appear in occasional mirages, none of them are quite comparable to the elation and hope that Turtle Skull emanate. Like a tripped out stroll in the desert, they turn Monoliths into a mind-altering and life-affirming experience. – Antonio Poscic
Ulver - Flowers of Evil (House of Mythology)
Ulver's tendency for experimentation was profound within the early black metal scene. Sparkling Bergtatt with clean vocals, diving headfirst to a completely folk instrumentation with Kveldssanger were early signs of this boundless mindset, but what then ensued was mind-blowing. Electronic influences and avant-garde approaches soon became the norm, drone and post-metallic allusions sprouted forth. But Ulver would not stop there, and even in recent years, they have continued to evolve bravely. The Assassination of Julius Caesar saw them expose their dance influences and bring to the surface a pop sensibility, a quality that now persists with Flowers of Evil.
The presentation of Flowers of Evil, as was the case with Julius Caesar, is presented in a heavily 1980s induced form. The dance mentality, coupled with a light post-punk flavor, combine in perfect harmony to bring forth intoxicating grooves and progressions. The opener "One Last Dance" is the perfect specimen, as the heavy bassline defines the groove, and Garm's always stellar vocal delivery oozes with a profound sentimentality. Slight leads and passing synths add to this grand image, which is even more prevalent in "Machine Guns and Peacock Feathers" with the guitars taking a background, yet pivotal, role.
Still, these wolves have not transformed into sheep; they are merely camouflaging in sheep's skin. Just beneath the seemingly cheerful and joyful presentation, Ulver's darkness still prevails either in their lyrical presentation or the record's ambiance. The elusive progression of "Hour of the Wolf" achieves much with its minimal approach, while closer "A Thousand Cuts" projects a beautifully darkened sorrow to wrap up another excellent work for the Norwegian masters. – Spyros Stasis
Unleash the Archers - Abyss (Napalm)
Apex was always going to be a difficult album to follow for Unleash the Archers. Pulling together from a myriad of power metal variants and often looking beyond to heavier genres, from European power through symphonic to death metal, the Canadian power metal quartet managed to brew a perfect storm. A maelstrom of riffs led by the roaring mercurial voice of Brittney Slayes that balanced between over the top heroics and earnestly astute, darker counterpoints. Abyss is a further refinement of that same sound, another smartly written and catchy record that manages to remain quite serious despite the inherent pomp of the genre it operates in.
On the title track "Abyss", Unleash the Archers contrast scorching passages with exuberant choruses and grooves elevated by thrash riffs. Later, they reach for ABBA infected disco and pop flourishes on "Through Stars" and evoke Dream Theater's sense of prog theatricality on "Faster Than Light", before hardening the edges of their accelerating power metal attacks with blast beats, tremolos, and call-and-response death growls on the strong "Legacy"/"Return to Me"/"Soulbound" triptych. And if the final notes of the closing anthem "Afterlife" leave a taste of a more muted and safer record when compared to Apex, there is still enough quality here to safely keep Unleash the Archers in a class of their own, both in style and character. – Antonio Poscic
Steve Von Till - No Wilderness Deep Enough (Neurot)
Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly both have found comfort in returning to the point of origin. The cataclysmic nature of Neurosis, their dedication to a heavy, extreme, and deeply spiritual and transcending aesthetic do not come easy. It is a process of catharsis, rewarding yet painful. Still, it is with their solo work that they find shelter. For Steve Von Till, it has been the excellent Harvestman project, navigating masterfully a drone/tribal domain and his other solo project, relishing in his love for more traditional Americana with a darker twist. It is through this project that the great composer has unveiled a series of meditative and introverted works in As the Crow Flies, If I Should Fall to the Field, and the exquisite A Grave Is a Grim Horse. In 2015 Steve Von TIll made a return after eight years with A Life Unto Itself again relishing in this folk spirit, but now comes a slight twist with No Wilderness Deep Enough.
This project started quite differently for Von Till, this time considering working on an instrumental ambient album. Working alongside Brent Arnold on cello and Aaron Korn on french horn, and with Randall Dunn engineering the album, No Wilderness Deep Enough soon evolved into the continuation of Von Till's solo project. While remnants of the rock form and the folk instrumentation have dissipated, the Americana aesthetic still echoes through the corridors of this work, with Von Till and company unearthing its quintessential melancholy. The minimal instrumentations and progressions unfold organically, growing menacing in the shadow of the ongoing effects as with "Shadows on the Run".
There is an elemental aspect about this work, a deep connection with the natural world and its decadent state, with Von Till masterfully narrating this tale. Through the epic openness of "The Old Straight Track" and the moving melodies of "Dream of Trees" to the harrowing approach of "Trail the Silent Hours", Von Till is brilliantly bending his traditional influences, daring them to evolve into something different but without losing their identity. – Spyros Stasis
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