Summer is upon us, and we have some heavy tunes to go with it. A month of returns, June sees iconic post-metal acts Amenra and Bossk make a comeback, while Chassm and Somnuri add the necessary new blood to the scene. Moving to the doom premises, Boss Keloid unleash a highly energetic listen in Family the Smiling Thrash. Meanwhile, Hellish Form dwell in the funereal aspect of the genre, and the multifaceted Bong-Ra allow us to revisit the magnificence of Antediluvian. On the more traditional path, the return of Pharaoh is upon, the band unleashing The Powers That Be after nine long years, reminding us of the potency of their heavy/power core.
Moving to the fringes, the death metal stench is unmistakable, with Cerebral Rot dropping their sophomore record, Excretion of Mortality. Staying with the traditionalist approach, Crypta have risen, featuring members of the legendary Nervosa, with debut Echoes of the Soul. Retaining a death metal perspective in its most outlandish form and adding a touch of black metal to the mix, Seputus create a monstrous offering with Phantom Indigo. Moving into black metal, Gorgon greatly improve on their second album since reestablishing the group in 2017 with Tradition Satanae. Seance Of from the land down under offer a variation on the traditional black metal recipe. Standing out is the Warmoon Lord’s sophomore record Battlespells, calling upon the second wave black metal sound and its epic underpinnings.
That leaves us with the bizarre. Odd Circus make an impressive amalgamation of metallic jazz filled with psychedelia. Trialogos move into an all-encompassing rock form ranging from the atmospheric and folk-ish to the experimental and krautrock-ish. For Iceburn, moving into the abstract and strange always came naturally, so the circular progressions and post-hardcore themes should not come as a surprise to any fans of the collective. And rounding up this mix is Thy Catafalque, returning just one year after the magical Naiv, with a strong work in Vadak. – Spyros Stasis
Amenra – De Doorn (Relapse)
On the backfoot of the first post-metal wave in the 2000s, brought forth by American acts like ISIS and European outfits in Cult of Luna, a new generation was already coming of age. Year of No Light, Celeste, and Bossk are some of the names, but arguably the most pivotal entity is Amenra. Hailing from Belgium, this collective soon amassed a vast discography filled with splits, collaborations, extravagant live performances, and the like. In 2003, they started unfolding their Mass chapter, which would be split into multiple parts and would come to an end (?) with 2017’s Mass VI. Now Amenra opens up a new chapter with the release of their Relapse debut, De Doorn.
In many ways De Doorn is an evolution of Amenra’s Mass vision. Notions of atmospheric sludge, minimalism, and post-metal still swirl into the collective’s kaleidoscopic vision. Yet, here there is a looser sense when it comes to the progression of the compositions. Amenra always had a cinematic quality, through which they could craft and build sonic monuments. Sceneries open up through simple means. Be it the slithering movements of opener “Ogentroost” or the eerie and obscure gloom of “Het Gloren”, they bring to life a bleak sense capable of reaching an existential depth. The incorporation of Caro Tanghe of Oathbreaker works wonders to this end as well, her delivery perfectly meeting with Colin H. Van Eeckhout’s grainy shrieks. But then it is all about the arrangements and the build-up.
Starting from minimal roots, be it simple atmospheric plunges like “De Dood in Bloei” or acoustically inclined overtures, as the opening for “Voor Immer”, Amenra are always able to focus in and guide them to impressive crescendos. It is a modus operandi that has defined them, but the freer and more relaxed development of De Doorn, has really improved on it. The heavy riffs of “De Evenmens” with its cathartic ending and the closing storm of “Voor Immer” make for truly astounding moments. Even though it is not a complete renovation, De Doorn does build further upon Amenra’s concepts and delivers in full. – Spyros Stasis
Bong-Ra – Antediluvian (Tartarus)
As Bong-Ra, Dutch musician Jason Köhnen is best known for his frantic breakcore style that placed him in the neighborhood of electronic maniacs like Igorrr or Venetian Snares. Outside of this main project, he co-founded with Gideon Kiers the now-defunct seductive dark ambient bands the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and the Mount Fuji Doomjazz Orchestra. But his 2018 record Antediluvian—now released on vinyl for the first time thanks to Tartarus—is a gargoyle unlike any other in or out of his oeuvre.
The four pieces join drone, doom, sludge, and jazz elements into an unholy marriage and press them against a backdrop of dazzling, patchouli-scented mysticism. Reaching back to his metal roots and with the help of the trembling detonations of Hungarian drummer extraordinaire Balázs Pándi, Köhnen creates one of the most exhilarating jazz metal albums in memory. It rumbles, screams, roars, and explodes so ferociously that air seems to escape the room as you listen to it. At the same time, the music permeates and suffocates everything like a pillar of dense black smoke. Within it, flashes of harsh noise, Carpenteresque synth progressions, and power electronics dance some unfathomable dance that provides a reprieve before plunging back into the thick of it. – Antonio Poscic
Boss Keloid – Family the Smiling Thrush (Ripple Music)
With Family the Smiling Thrush, Wigan’s Boss Keloid continue an exhilarating run of form that started with one of my favorite heavy albums from 2018, Melted on the Inch. Having transcended traditional stoner and sludge rock tropes, this new album delivers another slab of madly inventive and progressive heaviness. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the curiously twisted style of sludge nourished by Slugdge, the fivesome churn out heavy, seismic riffs, then twist and turn them upside down, embellishing fuzziness with melodies and breaks. Alex Hurst’s vocal performance is once again exemplary. He always appears to anchor the crunchy instrumental madness around him, whether by almost growling along crunchy start-stop grooves and Eastern melodies on “Orang of Noyn” or delivering an arena rock chorus against the bluesy attacks of “Gentle Clovis”. What a huge and vicious yet funky album this is! – Antonio Poscic
Bossk – Migration (Deathwish)
Similarly to Amenra, Bossk came into existence a bit late. The UK act first appeared in the scene in the mid-2000s and went on to unleash a series of EPs showcasing a great deal of promise. The long-form compositions of I moved through ethereal post-rock waveforms to brutal post-hardcore via sludge explosions. Sanding their rough edges, Bossk produced II with the sound acquiring a smoother tonality while taking risks when it came to their song progression. Unfortunately, that is also when Bossk’s first phase comes to an abrupt end. It would take until 2016 for the band to get back together and unleash their debut, Audio Noir, fulfilling the promises of Bossk’s unique take on post-metal. This is what Migration now comes to further confirm.
It is difficult to escape clichés and find your own way within a genre that is as established as post-metal. Yet, Bossk’s ability to do exactly that felt like it came naturally. It is variations on a trusted theme, and slight shake-ups and changes can take you a long way. Take the use of electronics, for instance, with members of Endon helping out in this domain. Bossk implement those injections to stand on their own, as is the case with the pulsing effect of the opening track or to pronounce their music intensity further. The noise creates an ever-changing background in “HTV-3”, making a tumultuous ride through the post-metal soundscapes, while the post-hardcore-induced aggression comes as the final catalyst.
Ambiance is key, and the post-rock narrative helps to mold this, but it is still performed in an off-kilter manner. For instance, through the sparse guitar notes of “Unberth” colliding with spoken word samples. And then there is the completely immersive semi-industrial progression fitting into a post-rock motif, only to result in electronic rock incorporation. The scope here is impressive. Adding further grit, Bossk call upon iconic Cult of Luna vocalist Johannes Person to maximize the impact of “Menhir”. An impressive performance that brings to mind the heavier aspect of Cult of Luna.
On the other end, “Lira” opts for a slight doom touch on the riffs, seeing Bossk take a rougher path with a more traditional metallic sound. Still, at the end Migration, even though it stands upon the shoulders of giants, does not feel like it is merely copying what came before. Bossk set their own path, and it has never appeared as complete as it is here. – Spyros Stasis
Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Mortality (20 Buck Spin)
Know thyself a fundamental principle to live by. And US death metal beasts, Cerebral Rot, understand this concept deeply. There is no question with regards to the identity of the band, no questions concerning their vision. Cerebral Rot want to play retro, disfiguring death metal as it was first envisioned in Scream Bloody Gore and stretched to the extremes in the Autopsy-ian tradition. That is the lineage that gave rise to Odious Descent Into Decay, a disgusting work of guttural death metal. And now, it is being followed by an even nastier specimen in Excretion of Mortality.
In pure old-school fashion, Cerebral Rot do not attempt to spread into new sounds or expand on their vision. They are just attempting to hone their craft, improve their skill and come out with an even nastier record. And that’s what Excretion of Mortality is, one sickening journey through disfigured guitars, funereal pacing, and harrowing vocals coming from the abyss. It is an extreme work, the distorted guitars of the title track heralding the coming stench and the wooly bass causing the ground to tremble. If you are looking for grace and poise, you will not find it here. This is a record that moves with the elegance of an African elephant (I had to throw a Run the Jewels reference in a death metal album review).
The pacing is grand, drunkenly moving through death/doom passages to faster explosions, as with “Bowels of Decrepitude”, always carrying the carrion stench. It is a work that reeks of decomposition and majesty, as closer “Crowning the Disgustulent (Breed of Repugnance)” showcases in its Incantation reveling approach. That is where Cerebral Rot lives, not in the progressive spheres, merging jazz with extreme metal or promoting an avant-garde ethos, but rather thriving in the dirt and grit, disgusting to behold and terrifying when it appears. And you got to love Cerebral Rot for being able to bring this feeling to today’s extreme music scene. – Spyros Stasis