It’s the hottest month and the best remedy for the heatwave, you guessed it! Loads and loads of heavy and dark music to carry us over to safety. We get everything from the extreme metal spectrum, old school black and death metal records, and more modern interpretations in a very busy July. A healthy dose of doom, some of it with a sprinkle of shoegaze, a glorious post-metal return, and a few avant-garde experiments in folk, death metal, and ambient. And, of course, a parody just to keep things a bit light. So dig in, and good luck with the heatwave. – Spyros Stasis
Leila Abdul-Rauf – Phantasiai (Cyclic Law)
Like Musk Ox (reviewed elsewhere in this column), Leila Abdul-Rauf’s solo work is far removed from her role in metal bands like Cardinal Wyrm, Hammers of Misfortune, or Vastum. Like Diminution and Insomnia before it, Phantasiai is a conceptually heavy album about “a character being seduced and consumed by a powerfully addictive phantasy”, then experiencing “a renewal in which what little is left of the former self is vaporized through a crucible of sorts, then re-organized into a new physical and spiritual existence.”
While seemingly abstract and challenging to communicate through sounds and words, Phantasiai does just that. It turns the two suites “Distortions in Phantasy” and “The I Emerges” into an immersive experience. It makes the listener feel the loss and rediscovery of self-using an arsenal of instruments, noises, and sonic tapestries. At one point, a glockenspiel cuts through an eerie ambient tapestry, releasing floating chants tethered to it and creating an exit from the personal hell. But then a trumpet blurbs a deceptively comforting phrase and chains you back to the bottom of the pit.
This sonic narration continues throughout, and while evocative of the works of Jarboe and Lisa Gerrard, its soul is much more sinister and dark. This feeling persists even when a piano line gives “The I Emerges IV: Cell” a soothing backbone and ensures that everything will be all right in the end. – Antonio Poscic
Arna – Dragged to a Lunar Grave (Signal Rex)
Newcomers in the underground black metal scene, Arna from Spain, aim to turn back the clock and revel in the greatness of the ‘90s. The old-school mentality is evident throughout their debut record Dragged to a Lunar Grave, starting from the disturbing synthesizers that introduce “Gallows Tree”. It is a necessary introduction, easing the plunge into the Scandinavian abyss, with the polemic and direct explosion soon arriving. Channeling everything from the Darkthronian malevolence and the Gorgorothian grit, Arna do not hold back. The monotonous beating of “Moonknife” reveals their intentions in full, their cold and relentless approach shining through the grimness.
This love for the traditional black metal sound stands out for Arna and draws them sonically closer to the earlier days of Spectral Wound. Still, there is a bit more to dig into Dragged to a Lunar Grave, as Arna are not afraid to explore their more melodic inclinations. There is a slight flirtation with the Mgla approach, adding addictive hooks to their bitter black metal. Yet, these harrowing melodies do not take away from their venomous offering; they add a more graphic and even epic feeling to the endeavor.
This grand sense blossoms through the lead work of “Dolme”, while it allows the closer, “Aunra”, to gain unstoppable momentum, exploding in a brilliant crescendo. The production aids greatly here, providing the necessary clarity for the melodies to cut through, the drums to make even more of an impact, and the vocals becoming overwhelming. It is hard to believe that this is just the debut for Arna, and they are raising expectations here. – Spyros Stasis
Concilium – Desecration (Sentient Ruin)
The Portuguese underground extreme metal scene has been blossoming for a while now. Since the late 2000s and early 2010s with Black Cilice’s furious raw black metal, something twisted has been brewing in the country. That has now resulted in a rich scene, with many bands putting out works through the Signal Rex label (like Arna this month), while some like Gaerea reach even commercial success. Now, from the depths, Concilium rises with a black/death cultish sound, preparing to unleash their debut record, Desecration, through Sentient Ruin.
Concilium make use of an array of inspirations for Desecration. Those who came before, the great old ones, you might call them, are here to shed light (or darkness) for guidance. The twisted passages and the brutal sound of Desecration carries the stench of the current black/death scene, be it the grimness of Mitochondrion or the ritualism of Abyssal. It is a meeting between devastation, as with the furious “From the Chalice”, and heavy doom in “Secret Land of Impure Blood”.
But, Concilium do not wander solely on the surface of these influences. They travel back into the past, unraveling the glory of Beherit not only on their raw aggression but also on their ritualistic sense. That infects Desecration with bitter psychedelia, a guttural stench that awakens this nightmarish sense. Far remote from gentle dreamscapes, “Shadow Gospels” explores this harrowing storm, a force too powerful for the senses to process or understand.
The lo-fi production takes this work a long way, tying the brutal and harsh manifestation with a more atmospheric presence. It is something wonderfully explored in the clean, mystical passages of “From Emptiness to Oblivion” and the outro of closer “Blood Candles”. For a sound and style of playing that feels close to being saturated, it’s refreshing to see newer acts, like Altarage and now Concilium trying to expand it. – Spyros Stasis
Dungeon Serpent – World of Sorrows (Nameless Grave)
When I think of the “one-person metal band”, the first thing that pops into my mind is usually “atmospheric black metal.” Not in the case of Dungeon Serpent. Instead of wallowing in dissolved tremolos and contemplating the nature of the universe, Vancouver’s Arawn plays a fast and furious style of melodic death metal. Think Kataklysm with a bit of early In Flames and At the Gates thrown into the mix for good measure. This approach makes World of Sorrows into a fiery affair of groove and grumbling riffs, progressive sections and acoustic interludes, tasty solos, and careening leads, all of it wrapped in a punkish, raw production that gives the relentless attacks a sharp edge. Not just that, it’s also a promise of even better things to come from Dungeon Serpent. – Antonio Poscic