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MetalMatters: July 2019 - It's Never Too Hot for Dark, Heavy Music

Unconventional rock albums, from poppy sludge outfit Torche, noise rock masters Uzeda and post-hardcore outcasts Cherubs, along with the black metal fury of Falls of Rauros, False, Arkhaik, Celestial Grave and Sanguine Eagle and uncategorized extremists Immortal Bird are among this month's extreme output.

Even though it's July, and the temperature is skyrocketing, and that would usually result in me blasting Kyuss' Welcome to Sky Valley on repeat, I am lost within the darkness of this month's releases (although I must say that Torche did help a bit). The barrage of excellent black metal works continues with Falls of Rauros returning with another epic record, Arkhaik taking us back to the bronze age with debut full-length, while Celestial Grave and Sanguine Eagle through different pathways are reigniting the raw black metal spirit. Death metal follows closely with Tomb Mold unveiling their monstrous third record and Hex turning back the clock to the European death metal scene and the doom/death days of the 1990s and closely followed by the death induced doom/sludge of Nightfucker's debut. And the extreme barrage you, of course, have Immortal Bird and their stellar return with Thrive on Neglect, which somehow touches on all the above and even more.

Still, looking at this month's releases, I cannot help but consider the title of Keelhaul's 2009 record, Keelhaul's Triumphant Return to Obscurity. It is only through sardonic humor that a band can give such a title to their work, but unfortunately, it had a hint of truth. Despite their excellent work, Keelhaul always flew just below the radar, and some of the bands returning this month have had a similar path. There is nothing conventional and straightforward about the sound of Cherubs or Uzeda, and through the years they have helped mold what we currently consider as the noise rock and post-hardcore sounds. Yet, through either bad luck or miscommunications, both acts did not receive the acknowledgment they deserve. It has been a tough and tumultuous road that both bands had to travel, filled with difficulties but hopefully now that they return with these excellent new releases people will re-discover just how stellar and forward-thinking their respective visions for extreme music were.

Hardship, difficulties, and misfortune don't come just from the lack of recognition. It's when those events occur in someone's personal life that they can eventually shape a person's character. It is at the darkest times that anyone has the choice of overcoming difficulties and rising above. It's up to the person to choose what action to take in order to perform this herculean task, but one way of dealing with these situations is fuelling them, allowing something creative to pour through. The recent releases of An Isolated Mind and Lingua Ignota are results of such excruciating moments, and that is the reason why they come across as such honest and at the same time potent works of art. False as well had their fair share of tragedy, but they did not bow down and allow these events water down their approach. Instead, they marched on and unleashed their most complete work to date. It is this resilience that defines most of extreme music, and an aspect of it that we should never overlook.

An Isolated Mind - I'm Losing Myself (I, Voidhanger)

Kameron Bogges wrote and recorded I'm Losing Myself after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and subsequently spent a week in a psychiatric hospital. The music he weaves from this deeply personal experience is as haunting and life-shattering as his diagnosis. Shards of aggressive black metal, akin to painted impressions of manic episodes, are engulfed in atmospheric post-rock passages. Within them, gentle and deceptively hopeful notes surface carried by synthesizers and electronic effects, only to disappear in chasms of anguished screams, chaotic tremolos, and angry blast beats.

Cuts like "Afraid of Dissonance", "Eternity in a Minute", and "Turritopsis Dohrnii" sound like contorted black and death amalgamations, something out of Liturgy's arsenal, observed through a veil of hallucinations. Reflections of a mind trying to feel itself, building and rebuilding. But where we'd come to expect catharsis and reprieve – a happy ending of sorts – come loss and despair. The closing two cuts, "I'm Losing Myself" and "I've Lost Myself", thus become sparser and sparser, while the faintest trace of percussion and rustling chimes disappears into abstract, airless drones suspended in a vacuum. – Antonio Poscic

Arkhaaik - *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós (Iron Bonehead)

A stroll between mystic dimensions. A nightmarish vision of an unspeakable hell inhabited by Elder Gods. Unwilling participation in a depraved ritual. For Switzerland's Arkhaaik—a part of the Helvetic Underground Committee collective—these themes become flesh as they narrate them through the lens of a speculative, forgotten history of our world.

Sung in a fictional yet eerily realistic-sounding language, Arkhaaik's music rolls out slowly, visiting blackened death metal passages on "u̯iHrós i̯émos-kʷe" while haunted by tortured screams, groovy riffs, and burrowing invocations. Corpulent and atmospheric parts alternate before *dʰg̑ʰm̥tós stops, restarts, and plunges into the depths of funeral doom. Then, the trio crawls beneath the ambient, but no less terrifying intermezzo "*dʰg̑ʰm̥tós" on which flutes and sporadic drum hits paint a post-apocalyptic landscape. Finally, "U̯rsn̥gwhé̄n" explodes as a more incisive and to the point, tentatively aggressive number. The song showcases an astute diversity in style as black, doom, and death elements are spliced by twisty, but balanced songwriting. What deliciously dreadful 33 minutes. – Antonio Poscic

Celestial Grave - Secular Flesh (Iron Bonehead)

Celestial Grave, a Finnish black metal duo, have undergone a sort of accelerated evolution since their 2016 demo Burial Ground Trance. At the time fully devoted to raw black metal idioms, they have recently started introducing and amplifying subtle melodic elements in their music, reshaping the caustic black metal framework around them. Along with these stylistic changes, a feeling of melancholy crept in. Their debut Secular Flesh is a culmination of this process—a monolith of gloomy black metal.

Throughout the four tracks spread across half an hour, the duo moves from atmospheric black metal musings through filthier sections only to ultimately find themselves in pockets of harmonies and melancholia. On "Gasping from Lips of Night," one of the standout tracks, they chase guitar harmonies lost in a forest of tremolos, blast-beats, and deranged growls. "Calamitous Love" closes the album with a sickly sweet undercurrent of melody and rounds off Secular Flesh as a thing of ugliest beauty. – Antonio Poscic

Cherubs - Immaculada High (Relapse)

Texan trio Cherubs belong to the historically significant wave of noise-rock bands that appeared in the early 1990s along with the likes of the Jesus Lizard, the Melvins, and Helmet. But while their peers went on to have (too) long careers, Cherubs split up before releasing the excellent Heroin Man in 1994. As is common for short-lived bands, the bright flash of their existence projected a blindingly alluring charisma on their two full-lengths, fueled what-ifs about untapped potentials, and inflated them into legends. Then, during the peak of reunion season in the mid-2010s, Cherubs came back.

Unlike their first post-reunion record, 2015's 2 YNFYNYTY, Immaculada High lives in a much darker place informed by cynicism and exasperation. Their take on noise rock has mutated as well: it approaches the ferocity of METZ, No Age, and Lightning Bolt while retaining strands of their original style. The opening two tracks, "Turista" and "18 the Number", are raucous romps supported by an exaggerated fuzzy production. The music emanates from beneath a hundred of layers and filters and produces a wall of sound that could crumble at any moment. Yet, the trio sway their way through the album's soft middle section and keep things loosely together, even when dissonant riffs saturate "Breath U Can C", absurdist lyrics invite claustrophobia on "Cry Real Wolves", and an intense, super heavy attack makes "Pacemaker" stumble. Cherubs might be from a different era, but Immaculada High is music for today. – Antonio Poscic

Falls of Rauros - Patterns In Mythology (Gilead Media)

Falls of Rauros was always drawn to the folkish edge of the black metal spectrum. As early as their debut record, Hail Winds and Hewn Oak, that inclination was obvious and through the years it steadily blossomed through excellent works in The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood, Believe in No Coming Shore, reaching its peak with 2017's Vigilance Perennial. Yet, alongside this folk characteristic, another prominent aspect was Falls of Rauros' melodic tendencies, acting as a counterweight to the traditional grim black metal tradition.

Even though melody has always been a core component of the band, in their new album Patterns in Mythology it becomes the undeniable protagonist. The beautiful lead work is introduced from the short overture "Detournement" adding a melancholic touch and setting the tone for the remainder of this work. "New Inertia" oozes with the same sentimentality, while "Last Empty Tradition" extends beyond the black metal genre to reach a moment of pure heavy metal melodic bliss. It is a quality that washes over the more aggressive moments of this work, altering the usual grim perspective of polemic moments in "Weapons of Refusal" towards a more epic, triumphant manifestation. The crushing finale "Memory at Night" completes this transformation and reiterates the grandeur that Falls of Rauros are always able to deliver. – Spyros Stasis

False - Portent (Gilead Media)

False are a rising force, and one to be reckoned with in the American black metal scene. The band first appeared in 2011 with their untitled EP, and since then they have released a series of excellent works, a split record with the mighty Barghest, and a stellar, also untitled, debut record in 2015. Now they return with their sophomore full-length, Portent, a work that came to completion through a series of devastating losses from the band. Thankfully instead of retreating as a result of such events False have harnessed these, allowing them to wash into and perfect their approach. The devastating offering from this process is their new record Portent.

Much of False's vision is funneled from the US black metal scene. The aggressive and in-your-face attitude the band displays, along with a bitter dissonance are all present in Portent, leading to dizzying moments of agony halfway through "Rime on the Song of Returning". But there is also a deeper appreciation and embracing for the melodic edge of the Scandinavian black metal scene. The overarching compositions, spanning over the ten-minute mark, and the unconventional use of synths bring to mind the early days of the mighty Emperor. From the beginning of "A Victual to Our Dead Selves", the band explore this narrative masterfully, and combine its ethereal edge with the earthy devastation of heavy, doom-laden moments, as in "The Serpent Sting, The Smell of Goat", finding a fine balance between its different sides. – Spyros Stasis

Hex - God Has No Name (Transcending Obscurity)

For a relatively young and unsung band Hex are packing a serious punch with their second full-length, offering a guttural brand of death-doom that's not nearly as simple as a first glance might have you believe. Sure, there are generous lashings of the Peaceville three at their earliest and most doomed, along with sizeable dollops of Grave, Decomposed and not-quite-so-crusty Bolt Thrower. Amid this tried-and-tested grunt, however, are some more surprising moments – twining, regal guitar parts and keening melodic vocals that add both nuance and a sense of lofty melodrama to an already powerful mix. God Has No Name offers a slow but steady ebb that never fails to crush, but what's most admirable is that it never quite contents itself with the easiest or most obvious way of doing so. – Alex Deller

Immortal Bird - Thrive on Neglect (20 Buck Spin)

Many have attempted to dilute the spectrum of extreme music, trespassing from one subgenre to the next. Few have performed this herculean task with as much ease and fluidity as Immortal Bird. The band appeared on the scene with their independent EP Akrasia in 2013, displaying their genre-hopping, kaleidoscopic take through crust infusion, death metal aggression, blackened eeriness, and sludge overtones. The revelation however came in 2015 with the band's debut record Empress/Abscess. Even though the core aesthetics of the band did not change, what was profound was the radiating feelings of rage and agony gushing from this 30-minute long tour de force.

For their next step in sophomore record Thrive on Neglect and 20 Buck Spin debut, Immortal Bird presented something even more special. The metallic hardcore foundation strikes first with "Anger Breeds Contempt", propelled through the extreme hardcore essence of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Before you know it, the band have already changed their tune and indulge in grind recital filled with blast beats, while the guitars pay homage to traditional black metal riffology. Combinations of the Scandinavian eeriness soon follow, combined with a sludge groove in "House of Anhedonia", while the gorier side is just a step away and comes in full view with "Vestigial Warnings". These protean transformations are endless, and they speak to both the versatility of Immortal Bird, but also at the vision they represent. Unshackled from the chains of boundaries, the Chicago band embrace extreme music in its totality and offer an exquisite tour of all its glory with Thrive on Neglect. – Spyros Stasis

LINGUA IGNOTA - CALIGULA (Profound Lore)

When contemplating on personal experiences, art can become both expanding, reaching beyond genres, but also visceral, attaining a primal characteristic. At least that seems to be the case with the sonic vision of Kristin Hayter and her musical vehicle LINGUA IGNOTA. Spawned into the scene in 2017, Hayter unleashed an astounding record, All Bitches Die, that encapsulated everything from opera to ritualism and from power electronics to extreme doom. It was a complex and bitter recipe, but one that arrived with honesty and purpose. CALIGULA is the next logical step to this modus operandi, resulting in an even more potent and deadly record.

The record kicks off with a majestic and grand overture in "FAITHFUL SERVANT FRIEND OF CHRIST", with Hayter's vocals appearing epically with minimal instrumentation accompanying them. And so begins the transformation as "DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR" causes this ambient scene to slowly unravel as distorted screams join in, forcing the soothing synths into a free-playing, erratic and infinitely dark recital. From that point on everything appears to be fair game for LINGUA IGNOTA with "BUTCHER OF THE WORLD" carrying down a similar path, alternating between an operatic presence to extreme noise explosions.

What Hayter achieves brilliantly is holding on to the progression of her work, masterfully planning and building up to excruciating crescendos or retreating to her ritualistic ways. "I AM THE BEAST" begins as ambient and finishes with an intense noise barrage. Hayter reiterates her core interests in unleashing with full force music that is dark, gritty, and most importantly, deeply personal. – Spyros Stasis

Nightfucker - Nightfucker (Sentient Ruin/Rope or Guillotine)

For all the myriad sludge and doom bands doing the rounds, few tap into the deep sense of human abjection that really makes the genre sing. Nightfucker are one of those rare acts who do, though by the time you reach the end of their bleach-swigging debut you almost wish they weren't quite so committed to their art. This album is a never-ending belly-crawl through shit and misery; a needle-strewn descent into a dismal place where light never shines. Drawing from the grubbier, crustier, monochromatic world of pained 1990s sludge (think: Grief, Noothgrush, Toadliquor), Nightfucker dole out their filth with rancid flair and aplomb. Frankly, we'd expect nothing less from a band featuring members of Moss and Goatsblood within their seething ranks. – Alex Deller

Sanguine Eagle - Storm Mysticism / Shores of Avarice (Profound Lore)

House of First Light, an underground Brooklyn-based black metal label appeared around 2012, and it was actually through this label that a new mysterious entity under the Sanguine Eagle moniker made its first steps. The band's debut demo and their subsequent split release with black metal punksters Oppression revealed signs of immense promise. Sanguine Eagle displayed an old-school traditional perspective when it came to black metal, but they were also willing to explore the deeper, primitive ambient edge of the genre. Years past awaiting for the band to release a full-length record and the wait was well worth since we are now getting two through Profound Lore.

Storm Mysticism, was written first and encompasses the tradition and core ethos of Sanguine Eagle. The ambient leanings are introduced first through the very minimal "Tormento de la Nieve", which appears as an almost kosmische musik interlude, before the soothing guitar lines of "Siete Royos" begin a mesmerizing circular rendition. Anything after that is pure warfare, as "Bride of the Blizzard" enters with its raw black metal brutality and lo-fi presence. It is an astounding assault towards all, a declaration of spiritual war and is carried out in perfection. Here, Sanguine Eagle showcase an exquisite grasp on progression, alternating between straight black metal riffology to moments of heavier groove and retreating to their ambient pathways. The next assault, "Twin Flame" is even more unyielding going for a straight, fast pace for most of its duration, creating a dark textural realm of pure primordial animosity.

Shores of Avarice, which was written after Storm Mysticism, offers a glimpse of what lies ahead for Sanguine Eagle. Here the band look beyond their initial vision, attempting to widen their scope. And it is opener "Bloodborn Veneration" that so nicely highlights the band's mentality. In this case, Sanguine Eagle have bound their ambient tendencies and black metal spirit within a single track, producing a stripped-down, bare-bones version of black metal goodness. While the riffs and pace, the textures and sceneries awakened from this song scream of the black metal tradition, the clean sound and percussion-less presence force the result towards the ambient realm.

The return to the pure black metal form is still prevalent and comes rushing in with "By the Breath of Victory", as the cacophonous guitars are unleashed through a barrage of heavy drumming while the unearthly vocals take over. The title track follows a similar pattern, however here Sanguine Eagle embrace an epic perspective, allowing a solid, straight groove to flourish. In an era where repetition has become a norm when it comes to the traditional black metal form, it's refreshing to see acts like Sanguine Eagle. Bands that push on the boundaries of tradition while still embracing it fully. And with these two records, they showcase what fantastic results this methodology can achieve. – Spyros Stasis

Tomb Mold - Planetary Clairvoyance (20 Buck Spin)

Primordial Malignity was very good, especially for a first release. Manor of Infinite Forms was excellent, built on top of the debut's groundwork while tightening the sound and introducing various technical flourishes. Now on their third full length in three years, Planetary Clairvoyance, Toronto death metallers Tomb Mold deliver a near-masterpiece of not-quite-old-school death metal.

While the introductory "Beg for Life" leads with ambiance and a solitary buzzing guitar, the rest of the run is dominated by a sense of focus. Sludgy, warped death metal is interspersed with tempo and rhythm changes, Carcass-like grooves, exquisitely cacophonous guitar leads and solos, and brutally fast technical sections. All of it underlined by the deepest of growls. Like Suffocation, Incantation, Gorguts, and Immolation blended into a pulp. Planetary Clairvoyance both beguiles with visceral impact and stuns with layers of detail and complexity while retaining an aura of genuine brutality and enmity. – Antonio Poscic

Torche - Admission (Relapse)

It's hard to believe that Torche have been making music for the better part of 15 years. With Admission they seem to have left such ephemerality well and truly behind, polishing the hooks they've been honing since 2012's Harmonicraft to the point where they stick like limpet mines to the soft, wet mush of your brain. While the famed 'bomb string' of course shows its hairy face from time to time, this is an exercise in songwriting over wanton heaviness: a sugarcoated slab of alt-rock wallop that occupies its own strange, dayglo realm and even manages to make gleeful hay from the occasional knocked-off Coldplay melody. – Alex Deller

Uzeda - Quocumque Jeceris Stabit (Temporary Residence)

The opportunity to hear new Uzeda material gets rarer and rarer as the years wear on, to the point where they're almost like fondly-remembered family members that you only ever see at weddings or funerals. Thankfully Quocumque Jeceris Stabit shows the band have lost none of their sharp, hyper-focused chops in the 13 years since they last graced us with a release. Indeed, their noise rock is as compellingly difficult as ever, with the febrile guitar parts, skittish rhythms and hoarse, hectoring vocals (think: Come, Sleater Kinney) capable of bringing out a sense of tense, uncomfortable flightiness in even the calmest listener. While possessed of a lighter, slighter and more delicate sound than every other release on this month's list, there's an underlying sense of strength and tension that makes them just as deserving of any rock fan's time – particularly if the likes of Oxbow, Young Widows, and Dazzling Killmen form staple part of your listening habits. – Alex Deller

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