Absolutely packed, the month of November really had something for every taste. Khemmis and Black Soul Horde relish their doom ethos through traditional metallic influences. Dream Unending relish the atmospheric doom/death of olds, while Mortiferum dive into the genre’s most extreme form and highlight its darkest corners. Dold Vorde Ens Navn, formed by veterans of the black metal scene, awakens the genre’s cold and bitter precision, while the ever industrious Ayloss returns with Mystras’ sophomore full-length.
And for the more adventurous, there is the return of progressive masters Cynic with Ascension Codes. Even more out there is the latest Diablo Swing Orchestra genre-bending mix. And for a couple of completely out there works, Emma Ruth Rundle resumes her fantastic singer/songwriter journey with Engine of Hell. On a more sinister note, Treha Sektori plunge into the dark ambient abyss for their NoEvDia debut, Rejet. While the collaboration between City & i.o. showcases one of this year’s most ambitious experimental works. That and much more in this month’s feature, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Black Soul Horde – Horrors from the Void (Vinyl Store)
Writing about Black Soul Horde’s previous record, last year’s Land of Demise, I described it as the pinnacle of the current resurgence of doom and NWOBHM-tinged traditional heavy metal. On Horrors from the Void, not much has changed. The Greek group has brought the epic heavy metal formula to perfection and that’s an excellent thing. Their riffs are still massive and harmonically vibrant. Their rhythms gallop, slow down, and ramp back up over stomping drums and booming bass. Vocal lines soar above clouds and descend into misty baritones. And the atmosphere? As epic and grooving as ever. It’s more of the same, but woven around excellent songwriting and performed with aplomb. Not much more one could ask for. – Antonio Poscic
City & i.o – Chaos Is God Neighbour (Éditions Appærent)
Will Ballantyne, aka City, and drummer extraordinaire Maxwell Patterson, aka i.o, are two like-minded spirits that relish the thrill of experimental music. Their collaborative project made its first appearance in 2019 with Spirit Volume through PTP. Despite its short duration, the two artists covered an astounding amount of ground, hopping between different moods and genres. The minimalism of musique concrete, the harshness of noise and power electronics, and the deconstructed view of electronic music defined much of Spirit Volume. Now, they take it up a notch with their debut full-length in Chaos Is God Neighbour.
Their new record is the fully realized promise of Spirit Volume. Once again, City and i.o cover a substantial sonic territory. Everything remotely related to electronic music is fair game, and the duo makes sure to investigate everything, down to the deepest level. It is the atmospheric tinges that define much of this work. At times they take on a dystopian form, as the minimal applications of opener “Desolate Revenant” set a desert landscape. Similar is the case with the darker, nightmarish minimalism of “Breech”. It is a pathway that opens up further ideas as the track transforms, dwelling into the dark ambient territory. It is a stripped-down, harrowing vision that City and i.o call upon, time and time again. “Omnistack” features this quality, feeling like a primordial ritual composed of abstract sounds.
Harsher moments still arrive, with the duo again showing an extensive range. “Descendent Cross” takes on the power electronics mantle, the industrial backbone protruding through the wall of sound. It feels like chaos is raining down, and it only gets more abrupt. “Bleak Chain” and “Marrow” see City & i.o call upon their punkish lineage, offering a deconstructed post-hardcore application of their vision. And yet, within these moments they find some serenity. The clean vocal delivery in “Bleak Chain” acts as a soothing counterpart, courtesy of x/o. In a similar fashion, the legendary Dis Fig makes an appearance, and her vocals fill the dark void of “Unkind” to offer moments of serenity. Even at times when the brutal instrumentation comes rushing down, as in “Omnistack” and “Circling Orc”, the duo is still able to retain this strange sense of balance. A zen-like state amidst their post-apocalyptic scenery.
It is this ability to travel far and wide that really does it for Chaos Is God Neighbour. The amount of emotions and genres, the extent of their experimentation is the winning factor for City & i.o. The number of flavors that the record provides is just difficult to believe. And yet, they still retain their equilibrium. – Spyros Stasis
Cynic – Ascension Codes (Season of Mist)
Those who expect Cynic—nowadays essentially Paul Masvidal’s solo project helped by drummer Matt Lynch—to ever make another Focus might as well stop reading here. Not only because Sean Reinert and Sean Malone are no longer with us, but because Ascension Codes leans in heavily into the airier stylistic narratives introduced by 2008’s Traced in Air rather than trying to reproduce the perfect storm of jazz death demonstrated on the group’s cult work.
While Ascension Codes, of course, fails to live up to that particular record, it also washes away the bad taste left behind by 2014’s messy Kindly Bent to Free Us. In a sense, this album manages to do what Kindly couldn’t in finding a solid balance between New Age pop inflections and underlying progressive metal tendencies. Woven around an esoteric concept, there are nine proper cuts here, stringed together with the help of short instrumentals. For the most part, these intermezzos seem superfluous, as the cuts are strong enough to be able to carry the album and its story on their own, combining beautiful passages with bouts of controlled aggression into a thoroughly enjoyable whole. – Antonio Poscic
Daxma – Unmarked Boxes (Blues Funeral/Majestic Mountain)
Formed in 2014, Daxma have been steadily building their discography in the underground heavy scene. The band from California subscribes to a particular subdomain of extreme music, the pivotal intersection between doom metal weight and post-metal/rock elusiveness. Through this mode, Daxma has gone on to produce two EPs, The Nowhere of Sangri-La and Ruins Upon Ruins, alongside their debut full-length The Head Which Becomes The Skull. Released independently, Daxma’s debut was defined by its raw energy. Now, they return with a more refined sound in sophomore full-length Unmarked Boxes.
Staying true to their core visions, Daxma continue to build their work on two pillars. On one hand, the ethereal post-metal melodies. Running through the majority of this work, these downplayed movements allow for extensive soundscape building. The beautiful melodies and free-flowing progressions allow for the creation of beautiful fleeting imagery. The opening track is a testament to this approach, especially once the subtle vocal delivery comes in to complete this dreamlike scenery. On the other end, Daxma complements their post-metallic identity by driving the doom metal weight. The heavy riffs of “Hiraeth” come crashing down, building this pensive progression, a steady processional through the wonders of the cosmos. These two forces, coupled together bring to life the grand and majestic quality of Unmarked Boxes. And it is what makes Draxma’s sophomore record so enticing. The off-kilter use of post-metal to boost the majesty of doom metal, something that the likes of SubRosa have been known for, alongside this sentimental depth. It makes Unmarked Boxes an excellent coming-of-age work. – Spyros Stasis
Diablo Swing Orchestra – Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole (Candlelight)
The music of bands like Diablo Swing Orchestra often depends on a certain schtick. In the case of the Swedish outfit, the novelty is right in their name, with swing a central influence and defining characteristic of their take on avant-metal. But while their first couple of records all fully leaned in that particular idiosyncratic clash of genres, Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole seems to pose the question: what if we added ALL OF THE GENRES to our metallic mix?
The thirteen cuts on the record are wild and disparate creatures Frankensteined from parts of various styles. “Sightseeing in the Apocalypse” is all symphonic, akin to certain parts of Queen’s oeuvre. “War Painted Valentine” ups the ante on quirkiness, reaching Mr. Bungle levels of strangeness. “Celebremos lo inevitable” dives into a mariachi and flamenco fiesta, before roaring back to a metal show. Throughout, there are glimpses of djent, dubstep, and film music that surface and disappear. At times, they feel as if they are placed in the mix for novelty’s sake alone. At others, they seem like the most genius arrangement and off-beat symphony of unrelated elements. Disorienting? Perhaps. But so, so alluring. – Antonio Poscic