Music

MetalMatters: May 2019 - Back to the Basics and Prepare for Takeoff

Masters of drone Earth return with their more minimal record to date, Full of Hell continue their rampage through power electronics and No Negative carry on bouncing around garage, punk and post-punk. Newer acts Vale, Suspiral, Onkos, and Verwoed take the next step and sound like veterans of the scene.

Every month it is amazing to see how many excellent heavy albums are released, and how diverse their sounds are across the spectrum. Certain routes have already been paved, prepared for those that wish to follow them, but by no means are these finished. It is a very difficult act to try and improve an established genre, or even produce a different take on its core aesthetics, but few braves do attempt to do so. This month Bewitcher arrived with their finest work to date in Under the Witching Cross, perfecting their proto-black metal and old-school thrash infused attitude, while Spirit Adrift further opened up their doom metal core to spread from the genre's origin to its current, wondrous state with Divided By Darkness.

Yet, other acts do not feel contained within the metal genre and are crossing over to different territories. Vale, for instance, produced one of the finest debut records imaginable with Burden of Sight, honing an identity that owes a lot to the crust scene. In a different manner, Call of the Void returned four years after Ageless to remind us all how potent their overarching vision of an extreme sound bridging black and death metal elements with punk and crust progressions was. In an almost poetic way, crust legends Martyrdod instead of doubling down on the fundamental's of their hardcore sound moved towards the opposite direction, embracing many metallic elements for their latest work Hexahammaren.

And there is, of course, the off-kilter edge of the spectrum, and this month it was simply glorious. Sentient Ruin put out two amazing works by Suspiral and Verwoed, opening up pathways between occult death metal practices, obscure black metal methodologies, and krautrock aesthetics and psychedelic hallucinations. On the other end and away from this type of extreme sound, Dylan Carlson and Adrienne Davis returned with a new Earth record, stripping down even further the vision of Primitive and Evil. And of course, Big | Brave made a triumphant return with A Gaze Among Them, a work that puts the heaviest of the Montreal scene band on the pantheon it deserves to be on. These are just a few of the releases featured on this month's column, so dig in to discover a few more fascinating listens.

Bewitcher - Under the Witching Cross (Shadow Kingdom)

While metal might continue to twist itself into wonderful new forms, Bewitcher seem dead-set on dialing back the clock to the early 1980s. Their second full-length offers up some ridiculously rousing, beer-chugging speed metal that takes in the asphalt-dragged punk of Motörhead and the relentless hack 'n' chop of Metallica circa Kill 'Em All­ before dosing the mania with stylistic and lyrical nods to Venom. Everything here is so on the money that it's hard not to wonder whether a deal's been struck with the devil, from the terrific riffing and glory-bound soloing to an expressive and OTT vocal delivery that falls somewhere between Cronos and a lung-parched, thrashed-up Zeeb Parkes. While such atavistic traits are hardly uncommon, what's rare is the diamond-tipped songwriting on display: almost every moment sinks an electrified harpoon deep into your sternum, demanding that hair be whipped, horns be held aloft, and a throaty cry goes up to the rafters announcing that sometimes the old ways are still the best. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Big | Brave - A Gaze Among Them (Southern Lord)

"You don't get to do this," Robin Wattie intones again and again on "Muted Shifting of Space", with a voice simultaneously potent and compassionate. And with each repetition, her resolve grows stronger. Her delivery is fiery. It gives this simple line power and turns it into a rejection of the status quo of patriarchy. An incantation. An act of defiance. Backed by pulses and crashes of compressed riffs, it's a maxim that infects all of A Gaze Among Them, the triumphant fourth full-length of Montreal's BIG|BRAVE.

Coinciding with the lyrical and emotional theme, the music is often oppressively heavy and suffocating, but ultimately liberating. Soothing drones transition into aggressive bouts of shoegaze and drown in rhythmic, decidedly dynamic sludge crescendos. But it's always the magnetism of Wattie's vocals – and her personal experience – that holds everything together. Mathieu Ball's riffs and Loel Campbell's drums gravitate towards her, creating a contrasting harsh wall of sound on "Body Individual" or a sparse, punctuating texture on "The Deafening Verity". Their message is felt and heard. We just have to listen. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Earth - Full Upon Her Burning Lips (Sargent House)

The drone metal scene owes a hell of a lot to Earth's initial phase. The man behind Earth, Dylan Carlson set on a quest of complete sonic devastation, which resulted in a stampede of asphyxiating works, starting with the monumental Earth 2. Yet, over the years Carlson displayed a will to transform the initial monolithic sound of Earth into something more organic, and so a strange process of investigation and inquiry begun. This examination resulted in works that diverged from the mean for Earth, either seeing a heavy post-rock sense as a central feature in The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, a tendency towards the avant-garde with the Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light chapter. This journey appears to have reached a peak with the latest manifestation of Earth in Primitive and Evil, which further exposed the southern rock heritage of the band. The point here is that Earth has always moved, albeit rather slowly, through a variety of ideas and motifs, and this tradition carries on with Full Upon Her Burning Lips.

With their new album Earth take a step back, seeing the band returning to the core duo of Carlson and Adrienne Davies. The effect is quite interesting, with the two musicians being able to still deliver a potent dose of heavy, hallucinatory drone rock, but further evolving their minimalistic attribute through a stripped down perspective. Through this simple change, Carlson and Davies manage to distill much of Earth's identity in its most basic form, relying on the cycling elements of their music to produce their hazy, trademark progression. This unembellished notion of sparsity has allowed much of the instrumentation to breathe further, with the drums, in particular, benefiting from that and now leading much of this record with their ceremonial-like pacing. It is an interesting experiment for Earth and a further modification on its core ideal of minimalism, with some very nice hooks to go along with it. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Full of Hell - Weeping Choir (Relapse)

Over the course of eight years and a dizzying number of releases Full of Hell have forged a bleak and unforgiving path, drawing together the most uncomfortable sounds they can find to carve their distinct and destructive vision. With their Relapse Records debut they've pulled out all the stops, mixing jagged edges, blistering speed and vocals that sound like a cat being twisted in half to fashion a release that's both coruscating and complete. As with aesthetic kinsfolk Column of Heaven or Unyielding Love, it's the seamless knitting together of genres – grind, death metal, power electronics, and Pessimiser Records hardcore – that ensures Weeping Choir is more than a mere blast of untrammeled hate. From the crunching lunge of "Haunted Arches" to the teetering, towering malevolence of "Army of Obsidian Glass" (which features wonderful guest groans from Lingua Ignota) there is a staggering level of coherence on display, the band carefully applying form, structure, and nuance to a sound that could all too easily tip into a meaningless blur of bitterness, chaos, and hate. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Krypts - Cadaver Circulation (Dark Descent)

There's something glorious about how Krypts have developed over the years, with each pained exhortation effortlessly outperforming the last. It has to be said, though, that Cadaver Circulation is really going to take some beating because here the Finnish death-doom machine seem to have reached their logical apotheosis (or should that be nadir?). Opener "Sinking Transient Waters" begins with a mulchy, rot-choked blast before things turn dank and cavernous: plangent discords begin to ring and phlegmy, mutterfuck vocals grumble their way down towards eerie haunted catacombs. It's this artful balance of wet crunch, bloated corpse riffing and grim ambiance that make for such a vast and deeply satisfying listen, putting this one in the running for death-doom album of the year and a shoo-in for those in thrall to Ataraxy and diSEMBOWELMENT. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Martyrdod - Hexhammaren (Southern Lord) / Call of the Void - Buried in Light (Translation Loss)

Stockholm-based group Martyrdöd has been around for quite a while now, always delivering a reliable blend of crust punk, D-beat and melodic death metal. While these elements appeared in various dosages on excellent records like Paranoia and Elddop, the foursome's seventh LP Hexhammeren is the first one that steps boldly towards the metallic and melodic. Throughout the 12 aggressive cuts, the band plays with ferocity. Twin guitars harmonize and spurt spiraling leads and frolicking solos. Undertones of Nordic folk tinge the slamming "Helveteslarm" and the grooving "Bait and Switch", while the upbeat & driven "In the Dead of Night" and "Rännilar" evoke The Jester Race era In Flames. All of this is wrapped in a warm, hazy production and makes for a fun, yet engaged listen that doesn't shy away from dealing with social issues on cuts like the mournful "Nästa Syrien" and the rough "Cashless Society".

In contrast, and while using similar stylistic elements, the music of Colorado's Call of the Void is all about the immense caustic attack of metalized sludge punk. Their music adopts flairs of raw black metal, brutal death metal, and crust and reshapes them into piercing, angry concoctions. There are no duds on Buried in Light, with songs like "Wave of Disgust" entertaining tasty breaks and "Almighty Pig" drowning in a vicious sea of thrashing riffs. Rhythms change fast and gallop with brutality. Guitars switch from buzzing tremolos to blazing harmonies. Meanwhile, Alex Pace's heavy, heavy bass underlines Gordon Koch's nimble drumming and Patrick Alberts' breaking vocals, fleshing out a punishing yet quite enjoyable album. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Bandcamp

No Negative - The Last Offices (Drunken Sailor)

Yes yes, we realize this is MetalMatters, but since metal has done so much greedy grabbing from crust, noise-rock, and hardcore over the years, it seems only right we should give credit where it's due. Besides, however you like your heaviness cooked there's enough nasty shit going on with No Negative's sludgy, snarky, warped take on hardcore to satisfy even the most skeptical metalhead. The Last Offices, see, is definitely not a standard record – punk or otherwise. Sure, it might open with gluey vocals and the kind of broken Flipper riffing that lends itself to Melvins comparisons, but as the record progresses you find yourself encountering the cosmic sprawl of Hawkwind, a post-punk take on the Velvet Underground and hints of The Television Personalities at their most hollow-eyed and haunted. Hell, while we're at it, "Transmission From the Black Hole" sounds like Lungfish by way of 1960s psych and threaded with post-Moss Icon Tonie Joy guitarwork, which might mean little to the average Beherit fan but, take it from us, works wonderfully. – Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Onkos - Onkos (I, Voidhanger)

In place of the usual crushing and distorted electric guitar riffs, a barrage of acoustic pizzicatos and muted, frantic tremolos tear the silence. Bombastic and sinister thumps of shekeres, not triggered blast beats, carry death metal rhythms. Spaced out, ominous synths flow in and out of focus. Tempos and harmonies shift constantly. And above this idiosyncratic mayhem, tormented growls tell horror stories of battles with cancer. The eponymous debut of Robert Woods-LaDue's project Onkos is one of the strangest records I've heard in a long time. An experience worthy of the moniker "experimental metal".

Woods-LaDue's acoustic take on black and death metal is equally terrifying and fascinating. By deviating from the usual aesthetics of the genre, familiar tropes and structures appear deranged and threateningly wrong. Touches of insanity seep through the gruesome and naturalistic lyrics – "My abdomen is falling out / A fresh disgorge / Cancer, cancer," he mutters deliriously on "Hepatic" – and turn Onkos into a genuinely unsettling and unpleasant experience. An archetype of morbid curiosity that forces us to face the grim reality and fragility of our bodies. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Sick Gazelle - Odum (War Crime Recordings)

During the 2000s Bruce Lamont was conducting some of the decade's most intriguing musical experiments. His main band Yakuza spread far and wide, with the saxophonist binding together everything from Napalm Death's grind to Faith No More's alternative aesthetics and to progressive and free-jazz notions. Through the years Lamont has also appeared in many collaborations with other open-minded experimental musicians, in Corrections House and Circle of Animals. Today he returns alongside longtime friend Erick Block and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley for another off-kilter investigation.

The debut record of Sick Gazelle appears to have happened randomly, with Shelley being at the same recording studio where Lamont and Block were jamming and decided on the fly to join them. This spontaneous experiment was successful as the three musicians kicked off a fantastical journey of experimental jazz. But, what is surprising here is that even though all three musicians are known for their edgy sound and extravagant performances, Sick Gazelle offers a more smooth and soothing offering. The glacial movements of "Depot" initially move this endeavor towards a drone trajectory, before the darker, haunting "Pacific" joins in. While "Laguna" offers a more abrupt presence, Sick Gazelle never completely explode and instead traverse cosmic jazz territory with "Atlantic", providing the record with the meditative end it deserves. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Spirit Adrift - Divided by Darkness (20 Buck Spin)

Nate Garrett's previous records with Spirit Adrift often used the comforting heaviness of traditional doom metal to silhouette naive, but crucially idealistic worldviews into affective narratives. On their third album Divided By Darkness, they move farther away from doom metal and into the unknown.

This liberation from genre constraints reflects an acceptance of difficult themes and dimming of optimism. "We've been asleep too long / When did the dream go wrong / Where has the future gone / How will we reach new dawn," Garrett croons solemnly on "We Will Not Die". He sounds resigned, accompanied by tightly played thrash riffs and grooving rhythm. The songwriting is now direct and focused, conforming to themes and emphasizing the music's sensibility.

While the remains of doom metal foundations push through on "Living Light", it's the band's other styles – indebted chiefly to Metallica and Judas Priest – that flicker bright. The Sabbathian, classic heavy metal of the title track turns into a mournful subversion of arena rock on "Tortured by Time". A wash of fuzzy guitars and punctuating drumming on the beautiful ballad "Angel & Abyss" shapes a forlorn progression reminiscent of YOB's hymns. Synths and keyboards adorn the instrumental "The Way of Return" and end Spirit Adrift's exquisite, emotionally impactful story. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Suspiral - Chasm (Sentient Ruin)

The last few years saw the rise of the cult black/death metal scene in all its various flavors, from experimental obscurists Portal to fiendish nihilists Mitochondrion. At first glance, Galician outfit Suspiral fit the same mold, resulting in an occult drenched rendition of black/death annihilation, but a further dive into their work says different. The band's first two works revered in the ethos of the underground black metal scene of the 1990s, summoning the very early days of Emperor and Satyricon with a hint of Beherit's mystical adventures for good measure. But, instead of the solely aggressive essence of that scene, what Suspiral also developed was a trance-like methodology and progression borrowed from the krautrock scene.

The band's latest record Chasm is the peak of this alchemical process, distilling the darkened vision of the 1990s underground extreme metal scene and binding it with the hazy and repetitive rendition produced by the likes of Faust and Ash Ra Temple. The overall result is aided by the old-school production ethics, dressing the music with a dark cloak that boosts its ominous sense. It is what makes moments like the all-out assault of "Crown of Chaos" appear that much more demonical and devastating. At the same time, it provides a dark, cosmic theme for the monotonous exploration of "Boundless Waters". Through this combination of sounds and events, Suspiral have stumbled upon a very poignant identity and one that they will hopefully keep exploring to no end. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Vale - Burden of Sight (The Flenser)

The infusion of black metal with a punk or crust aesthetic might not necessarily be a novel idea, but there are few artists that manage to get it right. Despite being on their first record, Vale display a deep understanding of this subtle formula, combining and balancing the crude aggression of crust expertly with the textural aesthetics of black metal. That is no surprise when examining closer this new entity because while Burden of Sight is their debut record, this band is comprised by extreme music veterans that have participated in acts like Lycus, Abstracter and Ulthar.

The purpose of Vale is music that is direct and powerful, and from the opening seconds of "Final Flesh", it becomes abundantly clear that these guys mean business. The initial black metal leads and the accompanying blast beats deliver a continuous assault, before transforming through heavier breakdowns into sharp, metallically infused punk outbreaks. Even though Vale do not keep their foot on the pedal throughout Burden of Sight, they never really pump the breaks either. Their slower moments in "The Guilded Path" or the sorrowful beginnings of "Grief Undone" see them divulge into a slower, blackened sludge-leaning state, while their controlled death metal expansions complete their terrifying presence and elevate Burden of Sight on the pedestal it deserves to rest on. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Verwoed - De Val (Sentient Ruin)

There is a rich tradition of solo projects and one-person bands in black metal, originating from the early days of Bathory. Through the years it appears that this methodology and modus operandi has been very suited for the grainy, introspective and bitter sense of the genre, resulting in several terrific acts like Leviathan, Xasthur, and Panopticon. It is the same methodology that drives a new project coming from the Netherlands in Verwoed, who released a debut EP Bodemloos in 2016 and now return with its debut full-length De Val.

What is pivotal about Verwoed is the project's mastermind, Erik B., firm grasp on the multifaceted essence of black metal. It is this deep understanding of the genre, its various intricacies and subtleties that made Bodemloos such an excellent introduction, and it now makes De Val an even more thrilling release. Every track of this record is a complete journey through the landscape of the genre, traversing through its aggressive edge to its boundless majestic representations, while always keeping in mind the psychedelic capabilities of the genre. Everything in De Val builds towards its most potent moment in closer "Verder Van Het Licht", which doubles down on the atmospheric edge of the spectrum with its eerie lead work and fantastic clean vocals, perfectly concluding this work in a magical manner. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

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