Alexis Marshall – House of Lull House of When (Sargent House)
In 2018 Daughters made their triumphant return to the scene with the oppressive, brutal, and dark You Won’t Get What You Want. It’s arguably one of the decade’s best records, with vocalist Alexis Marshall giving a performance for the ages. Desperate and harsh, frantic and depressive, Marshall’s delivery was flawless to match the twisted post-hardcore of Daughters. Now, Marshall makes a solo effort with his debut record House of Lull, House of When diving into the abstracted realm of experimentalism with the aid of Daughters comrade Jon Syverson and Young Widows/Jaye Jayle legend Evan Patterson.
The Daughters spirit is still present; that much is unavoidable. It echoes both in Marshall’s delivery but also the rockier moments of this work. The Swans-ian reversal of rock music, the no-wave bombardment echoes through the chambers of House of Lull, House of When. “Hounds In The Abyss” couples the noise rock performance with ritualistic pacing, while the intense and abrupt “They Can Lie in There Forever” takes a turn for the nastier. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg because once these loose rock structures start to dissipate, something far uglier rises from below.
From the acapella opener “Drink From the Oceans, Nothing Can Harm You”, you feel the excruciating pain and agony that Marshall is trying to transmit. Sparse instrumentation and minimalism go a long way, providing an obscure atmosphere for “Youth As Religion”. Still, the genuinely harsh is yet to come, drawing upon the industrial essence of Einsturzende Neubauten in the second half of the opening track to conjure this harsh and urban environment. There is no light here, only despair. If that was not enough, “It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore” takes this beatdown to a whole other level, a free-jazz explosion of Aylerian despair, delivering pure havoc.
The mantras from Marshall are just as intense as ever, “Don’t get up, don’t touch anything, don’t touch anyone” before screaming, “You are expected to meet your obligations.” Marshall’s approach in House of Lull, House of When has something akin to Scott Walker’s latter-day works, the experimentation with different extreme genres, the toying with audio samples, and of course the main common thread, this brutal, dark and oppressive outlook. It is excellent work, standing more than just a companion to You Won’t Get What You Want. We are just left as “deer in the headlights”. – Spyros Stasis
Marras – Endtime Sermon (Spread Evil)
Now, this is what I call a throwback. Finnish black metal act Marras might not have been around for long, but their output so far echoes the early days of the second black metal wave. Relentless riffs spawned from the abyss, a malicious perspective infecting the ambiance, and a few nice twists with the implementation of keyboards made Where Light Comes To Die a work of nostalgic grandeur. Marras returns to the forefront with their sophomore work, Endtime Sermon, building further upon their old-school methodology.
Do not expect much of evolution here. The black metal of Marras takes a traditionalist approach, oozing with the ‘90s Scandinavian black metal spirit. It is mean and dark, and it grabs you by the throat as the opener “Shadows Upon the Sacred Land” appears. This grimness draws from various sources, echoing a Darkthronian edge in “Gathered to Rule” or a cataclysmic imperial delivery in “My Cold Grave”. Marras exploit one gear throughout their epic underpinnings, with the band dropping the pace and exploring the over-the-top grandeur.
The Bathory-ian lore is alive and kicking in “From the Last Battleground”, the background choirs setting the scene ablaze and closer “From the Soot of Goahti” with its melodic input. That is also where the keyboards come in handy, further constructing the ambient background in an eerie sense. The title track sees the keyboards appearing like phantoms in the dark, setting a hellish ambiance. Meanwhile, the atmospheric interlude of “My Cold Grave” throws this endeavor into a dark medieval dimension.
As in the past, Marras has also used voice recording to enhance the perverted nature of their music through vocal samples from cult leader Jim Jones. This time around is televangelist Kenneth Copeland’s ridiculous Covid condemnation speech making an appearance, which mainly reminds me of Andre Anture’s sensational cover. It all adds to the end product that is Endtime Sermon. This black metal effort dutifully checks most points for a classic black metal album, combining aggression and hostility with a dark and twisted atmosphere. – Spyros Stasis
Musk Ox – Inheritance (Anamnesis Arts)
Although violinist Evan Runge, classical guitarist Nathanael Larochette, and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne have a history of playing with chamber metallers The Night Watch and Norwegian prog metal band Leprous, viewing their trio Musk Ox exclusively through the prism of belonging to metal circles would be dreadfully reductive. While their music is enveloped in monochromatic sfumato akin to the atmospheres of doom metal bands, their melancholic, opulent chamber-folk lives closer to the avant-figures of the Doomed Bird of Providence and Alison Cotton’s projects or the earthy neofolk of musicians like Fletcher Tucker.
The emotion contained in their first two full-lengths seems to have grown and grown until it overflowed on Inheritance, an album that sees Musk Ox at their most affecting. Each of the five cuts glows with a sentimental mysticism, simultaneously misty and clear like some arcane knowledge intimated by wood nymphs. In “Inheritance, Pt. 1 (Premonition)”, they alternate string glissandi with martellati and percussive plucks on acoustic guitar to set a cinematic stage for an imagined film in the vein of A Dark Song. Then they unfold their story: from “Inheritance, Pt. 2” through “Ritual”, they alternate moments of drama and loss with visceral beauty and love before finding a promise of optimism in the future on the closing “Weightless”. – Antonio Poscic
Nanowar of Steel – Italian Folk Metal (Napalm)
While Nanowar of Steel’s parodical and oftentimes hilarious takes on heavy and power metal are a well-known quantity by now, their albums always felt as if missing that final bit of inspiration to break through the ceiling of awesomeness. While fun, their material seemed a little too strained or on the nose, held back by good ideas stuffed with forced jokes that didn’t quite stick their landing. What makes Italian Folk Metal special is that for the first time, they focus on a particular theme, marrying the various strains of Italian folk to symbols that have defined Italy’s public consciousness for the past 40 years.
This focus might make Italian Folk Metal less accessible for many. Still, it turns it into an endlessly endearing and sometimes even poignant listen for those who share at least some knowledge or understanding of Italian (pop) culture. The opening synthetically symphonic swell of “Requiem per Gigi Sabani in Re minore” is dedicated to the late Italian comic to the closing Festival di Sanremo satire “Biancodolce”, the album is chock-full of memorable moments. On “L’Assedio di Porto Cervo”, they toy with Ensiferum-like melodic power/death metal while name-dropping the cult TV show Striscia la notizia.
“Scugnizzi of the Land of Fires” is as if Pino Daniele joined Stratovarius to play euro-power, while “La Mazurka del Vecchio che Guarda i Cantieri” and “La Polenta Taragnarock” fuse polka and mazurka with the cheesiest power metal. Elsewhere, “Gabonzo Robot” riffs on Italian intro songs for Japanese cartoons like Mazinga and Jeeg Robot with delirious pop-tinged heavy metal. There are simply too many of these wonderful moments to mention. Together they make a gem of a record easily recommended to everyone, but one that Italian metalheads will particularly appreciate. – Antonio Poscic
Night Crowned – Hädanfärd (Noble Demon)
I have a soft spot for bands who are still steadfast in their devotion to the second wave of black metal years after the style’s heyday. Were I to dissect it, my love for this particular variant would probably turn out to be at least in part due to nostalgia, but it also largely stems from pure respect for a continued form that was born perfect and is best kept as-is.
While Sweden’s Night Crowned often reach for elements of death and folk metal in the songwriting, the backbone of their music is still found in the unrelenting, aggressive, yet melodic style. Their sophomore album, Hädanfärd, demonstrates this perfectly. The nine fierce cuts on the record rage on with bombastic riffs, growls, and blasts and occupy a space between rawness and harmony. Meanwhile, chants, synthesizers, and strings circle and underline the awe-inspiring ferocity of the black metal engine embedded in the core of their music to spout a thick malevolent smoke and push everything forward. Majestic stuff. – Antonio Poscic