Music

MetalMatters: May 2020 - Adapting to Reality

The masterful progressive work of Caligula's Horse, the reinvigorated spirit of Winter through Goden and Old Man Gloom's return alongside a healthy dose of black metal, hardcore-infused outbreaks, and noise rock highlight the month of May in heavy metal.

We hope you are all staying healthy and are managing as best as you can with the ongoing crisis. It is a tumultuous time, filled with uncertainty and unrest, but the only way out is, of course, through. For May, we have collected some of the releases that really stood out to us. From records that allowed us to travel far into the folk past with Árstíðir lífsins and Horn, to works that reinvigorated the progressive metal spirit of the '00s in Caligula's Horse. The forward-think black metal from Esoctrilihum and Neige Morte, as well as the blackgaze of Sojourner, are standing side by side with the raw and uncompromising new record from Revenge and Akolyth's debut work. At the same time, the punk beginnings of black metal are once again brought to the surface through Okkultokrati's latest work, while the death metal-infused hardcore of Xibalba continues to cause utter havoc.

In a devastating fashion Jacob Bannon and company form Umbra Vitae, collecting the most brutal that extreme music has to offer and weaponizing it to maximum effect, while on the metal fringes noise-rockers Wailin Storms unleash their asphyxiating new offering in Rattle. We have seen bands amalgamate sounds of the past, be it Cauldron Black Ram's volatile death/black/sludge outbreaks, or Cryptic Shift's modernizing the best that retro extreme metal has to offer. And speaking of retro, Goden rise from the ashes of Winter to complete a 30-year long-awaited return in Beyond Darkness, while at the same time eternal tricksters Old Man Gloom return with two phenomenal works in Seminar VIII and Seminar IX. – Spyros Stasis

Heavy Metal Guitarist by The Digital Artist (Pixabay)

Árstíðir lífsins - Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir (Van Records)

Iceland's Árstíðir lífsins are a committed band. The flesh of their pagan Viking black metal is not only immersed but fundamentally constructed from folk and skaldic elements. For large parts of the second Saga á tveim tungum installment, the band thus sound like a more serious, hermetic Wardruna, weaving spoken-word incantations with acoustic instruments in dark marches. And when these transition into black metal segments, the escalations come naturally and feel earned, like attention-grabbing climaxes of a bard's story. Channeling Enslaved, Emperor, and even Batushka, these metallic segments radiate with the same mystic, gloomy energy as the folkier passages, but are gifted with an additional layer of ritualistic aggression in which tremolos engulf polyphonic chants with goosebumps-inducing dirges. – Antonio Poscic

Horn - Mohngang (Iron Bonehead)

While as epic as Árstíðir lífsins' expansive pagan vision, the music of German one-person band Horn is much more focused and overwhelmingly metallic. Instead of relying on brooding, folk segues, Mohngang creates its hymnic demeanor from impactful and grandiose hooks, sustained crescendos, and sweet melodies carried by tremolos like snow dancing on gusts of wind. Majestic music with an insidiously transporting quality. – Antonio Poscic

Akolyth - Akolyth (Amor Fati)

Old school black metal possessed a certain inner menace that manifested in equally sinister ways. Seesawing tremolos, hyper-speed blast beats, and lo-fi productions all joined in a ritual of malevolence. Moods and stances of old are amplified to extremes on Akolyth's undoubtedly contemporary debut. Compacted into four bombastic, incisive cuts, this is a wickedly raw form of black metal, even when the single-member behind the project allows for melodies and grooves to temporarily breathe, only to underline the surrounding musical intensity. – Antonio Poscic

Neige Morte - IIII (Division Records)

Arising from the same space of dissonance and mischief as Akolyth, trio Neige Morte push traditional black elements and atmospheres in the opposite direction. First, they deconstruct and dissect them until they become almost unrecognizable textural objects. Then, they piece them back together into filthy, avant-garde tinged assaults. The resulting music is a delirious projection of black metal's tumultuous punk soul seen through eyes of contemporary improvisation—which guitarist SA aka Sheik Anorak is not a stranger to. Mind melting stuff that often sounds as if someone threw you in the mouth of an industrial washing machine. –Antonio Poscic

Caligula's Horse - Rise Radiant (InsideOut)

While both of Caligula's Horse's previous two full-lengths, 2015's Bloom and 2017's In Contact, were widely regarded as some of the best progressive metal records of the decade, they never quite clicked with me. Perhaps it was the Australian group's shift towards angular, djent riffs combined with straightforward song structures that sounded obvious and bland. In contrast, Rise Radiant's flow progresses by looking back, shaping itself in the image of a traditional progressive rock album.

Here, the band change gears fluidly and naturally, taming heavy riffing into fuchsia atmospheres, adopting an approach reminiscent of the heyday of progressive metal in the early 2000s and a style that brings bands such as Pain of Salvation or Andromeda to mind. However, there are still brazenly aggressive segments here—the opening "The Tempest" brims with thrilling grooves and twisted riffing. But these now feel purposeful and better integrated. Especially when the melodies of "Slow Violence", the soft but dynamic call and response of "Salt", and the electronic balladry of "Resonate" crash on the shores of the driven "Oceanrise". A lovely prog metal album and possibly the band's best to date. – Antonio Poscic

Cauldron Black Ram - Slaver (20 Buck Spin)

Black metal's fierceness. Death metal's burrowing attacks. Sludge's filth and sense of rising and weightless falling. Thrash's ability to swirl melodies into incisive slashes. Cauldron Black Ram's Slaver has it all, entangled into a supremely vicious yet captivating concoction that was born in unrest, unable ever to stay still. Not wasting a moment, the band roll right out of the gate with the dangly, buzzing "Flame". Later, they march a thrashy imperial march on "His Appearance", groove boundlessly on "Temples to Death", roll in blackness like Howls of Ebb on "Graces Awaiting Corpses", crawl and stomp through sludge swamps on "The Pit", and contort as if buried in a space-time distortion on "Stones Break Bones". And while this amalgamation of styles could have easily ended up suffocating and soporific, the Australian trio's slightly loose and nimble touch instead joins them into a magnificent whole. – Antonio Poscic

Cryptic Shift - Visitations From Enceladus (Blood Harvest)

Were you to shuffle and jump around "Moonbelt Immolator," the 25-minute-long frantic epic of Visitations from Enceladus, you might get the feeling of listening to a sampler. At one point, Cryptic Shift excavate the ruins of early Atheist jazz death, complete with Latin music flourishes, syncopations, and contorted riffs. In the next, we're listening to a death-doom crescendo, crawling and heavy like a mammoth. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere—and sandwiched between two sections of guitar licks and leads à la Satriani—echoes of Coroner and Blood Incantation collide in salvos of thrash guitars and nervous riffing. The music is as insane as it sounds on paper.

The cut is a maelstrom of styles meshed, overlapped, and alternated, always performed technically with aplomb. But despite the apparent disjointedness of matter, the Leeds based quartet make the whole work by way of some occult magic, shifting between styles with a keen sensibility and assembling a cohesive musical narrative from the myriad of metal traditions. The other two cuts on the record are much shorter and to the point, somewhat obscured by the demolition that came before them. While more traditional in their approach to technical death and thrash metal, they are still quite worthy on their own. – Antonio Poscic

Esoctrilihum - Eternity of Shaog (I, Voidhanger)

For France's one-person avant-black project, Esoctrilihum, Eternity of Shaog is the album. A record which sees all of Asthâghul's ideas, concepts, and idioms—which never failed to intrigue, but occasionally felt scattered and unfocused—coalesce into a whole that is much larger than the sum of its parts. Listening to it means witnessing the birth of the first of many climaxes of an inventive, open-minded journey.

The wild, harsh sonic palette and experimentation that characterized the previous four albums—released in a short, three-year span—are still present here. But now they're held tighter together, forming songs that at times even resemble classic black and death metal cuts. This is an album of exciting contrasts. Songs like "Orthal" often sound galvanized, rolling with blackened death determination. Then their dark, rich textures are made to undulate on waves of groove, dilated vocal lines, and surprisingly poignant guitar leads.

On the layered "Exh-Enî Söph (1st Passage – Exiled from Sanity)", we hear glimpses of eastern tunings in the buzzing riffs that bring the death metal of Nile to mind, before "Thritônh (2nd Passage – the Colour of Death)" showcases just how brutal this music has learned to be. Ultimately, the many fantastic moments scattered around the album—the revolving violin glissandi of "Aylowenn Aela (3rd Passage - The Undying Citadel)", the mournful atmospheres of "Monotony of a Putride Life in the Eternal Nothingness"—elevate Eternity of Shaog to near-masterpiece levels. – Antonio Poscic

Goden - Beyond Darkness (Svart)

Now, this is an echo of the past. The year is 1990, the early days of doom/death as it slowly flourishes through the underground. And while the Peaceville Three are taking over the UK and diSEMBOWLMENT are causing the land down under to rot, in New York, it is Winter that has come. With their debut and sole, record Into Darkness, Winter mapped an intriguing trajectory for doom/death, between its rotten origins and its majestic heights. Unfortunately, Winter would only go on to release one additional EP Eternal Frost, before their name dissipated into the cult mythos. Yet, something began to stir within the mind of Winter's guitarist, Stephen Flam in recent years. Participating in Serpentine Path alongside the entire line-up of Unearthly Trance and Ramesses/Electric Wizard guitarist Tim Bagshaw must have brought back memories of this forgotten ear. So now the spirit of Winter is resurrected through Goden.

Aptly named after Into Darkness' third track, Goden unveil the evolution of Winter. While Stephen Flam is the only core Winter member present, he is joined by Winter's session keyboardist Tony Pinnisi and vocalist Vas Kallas, aka NXYTA, of industrial act Hanzel und Gretyl. Diving into Beyond Darkness sees Goden further stretch Winter's original vision. While Into Darkness featured a distinctive majestic sense, it was balanced nicely with the heavy, rotten essence of death metal. In Beyond Darkness, that is slightly reversed as Flam and company construct primarily around the majestic melodies and towering forms.

Tracks like "Twilight" and "Kom Susser Tod" are perfect examples of this methodology, as the keyboards take over with their constant, smooth presence. On the other end, offerings like "Cosmic Blood" and "Rise Genesis" follow an old-school approach, as the distorted guitars rise, and the deep, guttural vocals fill the space. Yet, what is most striking is the depth of Beyond Darkness' ambition, spanning for over 75 minutes filled with interludes to boost the record's narrative. It is a double-edged sword because while it makes the record that much more impressive and awe-inspiring, it also adds a tentative monotony to it. Yet, Goden's intentions remain pure, and their act of reincarnating Winter is intrinsically successful. – Spyros Stasis

Old Man Gloom - Seminar VIII: Light of Meaning / Seminar IX: Darkness of Being (Profound Lore)

It is the return of the tricksters. Old Man Gloom's path of destruction has always been sprinkled with a sardonic intent or, at times, full-blown pranks to fans and media, as with their 2014's Ape of God, which turned out to be two records instead of one. However, this moment in time finds Old Man Gloom at a vulnerable state, following the tragic death of Caleb Scofield and with the entire world in an unprecedented crisis, instead of playing another joke, they leave aside the jokes for a second and perform an essential task for the time at hand. That is unleashing another work that expands their vicious and caustic brew of post-everything.

The dual records of Seminar VIII and Seminar IX, arrive to solidify the polymorphic nature of Old Man Gloom further. Usually, so-called supergroups take a safe path, relying on works of the past and attributes of the individual members' style instead of breaking new ground. Nothing could be further from the truth for Old Man Gloom. Seminars VIII and IX are ambitious to the core, featuring the whole array of influences and sounds that made Christmas, Ape of God and NO such excellent works.

Noise soundscapes, oscillators rising from the deep, and the ambient leanings collide with the intrinsic doom nature, as heavy, monolithic riffs extend through extreme distortion to unfathomable heights. Light of Meaning kicks off in an ambient sense before "EMF" completely unravels in a punk-ish rendition. It is an aggressive, raw, and energetic offering that gives way to a moment of primal doom sense, as "Wrath of the Weary" unleashes its sludge-oid tentacles. Longform compositions in "Final Defeat" lend an eerie tonality, before one of the most surprising moments arrives in "Calling You Home". In a strange twist, Old Man Gloom exploit the clean vocals, dialing back the distortion for a beautifully crafted epic and emotive moment. And then it is, of course, industrialized hell that ensues with "By Love Is Healed", resurrecting the early days Godflesh influence.

Darkness of Being explores the same path, starting things off with the same brutal, industrial sense of "By Love Is Healed". The approach is more extravagant as "Heel to Toe" lends its noise rock unpredictability, finally decomposing into the processional and strangely psychedelic "The Bleeding Sun". Again it is the longform compositions that fully explore Old Man Gloom's rich core, with "Canto de Santos" originating through intra-dimensional and alien landscapes, coming slowly into form through an impressive build to a sludge peak, only to cause everything to dissolve back into the punk ethos. Even more impressive is "In Your Name", as the sludge side is pulled to its extremes, distorted vocals echoing through eternity and big riffs crash on top of the soundscapes eventually returning into their noise foundations. The strangest moment is "Death Rhymes", probably the most delicate moment in the discography of Old Man Gloom, where an acoustic guitar and clean vocals lead the way through a landscape of noise effects and fuzziness, building an introverted moment with a delicate twist. Throughout their existence Old Man Gloom have done everything they could think of to come off as tricksters, playing pranks and relying on unconventional tricks, making fools out of all of us. But, the biggest trick they have managed to play is making everyone pay more attention to their quirks and non-conventional behavior instead of looking into the actual quality of their records. Both Light of Meaning and Darkness of Being are stellar works that encompass the best elements of modern extreme music. Despite all of Old Man Gloom's efforts to shy away from that, that much is obvious. – Spyros Stasis

Okkultokrati - La Ilden Lyse (Southern Lord)

In its inception, black metal was heavily rooted in the hardcore punk spirit. Pioneers of the second black metal wave were able to transform the raw and aggressive quality of punk music into a grimmer, colder, and more desolate flavor. Somewhere along the way, this connection was kind of forgotten, and it was in big part Darkthrone's triumphant return with The Cult Is Alive that rekindled that fire. This shift has spawned disciples of different flavors, from the classic heavy metal infused Kvelertak, black 'n' rollers Vreid and hardcore fiends Okkultokrati, who are now unleashing their new record La Ilden Lyse.

Okkultokrati revel in both the harsh attitude and the bleak presence. They are not so much caught between the worlds of black metal and punk, as they are fusing the two into a single entity. "Cold and Cruel" is the perfect combination of Scandinavian grimness, as the repetitive beating and cutting vocals dictate the monstrous intentions, and the eerie leads add to the mystique. Yet, at the same time, the groove and progression owe much to the hardcore scene, their mantra-like repetitions channeling the genre's ruthless aggression. "Mother Superior" is similarly delicious, gleefully molding the punk spirit and a slight rock 'n' roll feel with the eerie black metal methodology. Okkultokrati recite an old recipe, but their dedication leads into a marvelous blurring between styles. – Spyros Stasis

Revenge - Strike.Smother.Dehumanize (Season of Mist)

Black and white cover artwork, three words separated by a couple of dots. While Revenge's packaging has never been flashy, it has become a trademark of the cult black/death act's mythos. For it is adhering to the old disciplines of war metal, the early days of black metal pandemonium fused with the rotten proto-death metal sound. In their path of mayhem, Revenge have produced excellent works of extreme anguish, with their lo-fi production, in your face progression and cataclysmic effect causing absolute devastation. This tradition proudly carries on with their latest offering Strike.Smother.Dehumanize.

If it is novelty you are seeking, you will not find it here. For Revenge do not need to reinvent their sound, they already know what their identity is and how to expose it to full effect. The blastbeat tempest kicks off from the first seconds of "Reaper Abyss (Real Pain"), setting the tone. It is in their fastest moments where the true chaos of their nature is most clear, leaving behind a carnage of dissonance, cutthroat vocals and piercing cymbal hits. This is war music, pure and straightforward. Drops on tempo, in the likes of "Salvation Smothered (Genocide of Flock)", bring in the unearthly groove while the schizoid lead work of "Death Hand (Strike Dehumanization)" sees their berserker mentality come to full fruition. These are all testaments to one of the most caustic and uncompromising acts of our times. – Spyros Stasis

Sojourner - Premonitions (Napalm)

The lasting feeling you are left with after listening to Sojourner's music is one of solemn, almost pastoral beauty. Awash in nigh blackgaze tremolos and thick, foggy, yet never overbearing atmospheres, the tenebrous songs on the band's third full-lengthPremonitions taste and caress as if they were imagined in a dream. A spiritual dimension parallel to the material, just within but always out of reach.

And even as the instrumental fabric made of diffuse black metal elements, punctuating piano, fluttering woodwinds, and gentle melodies contracts from vast expanses into tight, fleetingly aggressive bouts, Emilio Crespo and Chloe Bray's vocals maintain an ethereal sensation of floating in the dark. Like a string connecting realities, emanating from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Threading lovely music. – Antonio Poscic

Umbra Vitae - Shadow of Life (Deathwish, Inc.)

In 2019 Jacob Bannon, Mike McKenzie, and Sean Martin came together with Wear Your Wounds, a project dedicated to investigating the subtler regions of their sonic inclinations. And so Wear Your Wounds dwelled on ethereal compositions, defined by post-metal structures unfolding through epic and heavy outbreaks. Yet, the three musicians felt hungry to roam in the opposite direction, focusing on the most extreme and aggressive sides of their vision. Enter Umbra Vitae, with Bannon, McKenzie, and Martin being joined by Greg Weeks and Jon Rice for one particularly devastating dive.

All these veterans have records of endless disquiet and utter belligerence under their belts, but Umbra Vitae is a different type of beast. The brutal, blastbeat-infused progression of "Ethereal Emptiness" sets the tone, the track frantically moving through death metal motifs with math rock infusions adding volatility. The weight is rigid, as they drop the pace in "Intimate Inferno" creating moments of towering disruption, as deep guttural vocals combine with Bannon's trademark shrieks. The hardcore spirit still provides a certain edge to this concept, as the repetitive outcries in "Return to Zero" accommodate the blackened essence of the track in the most fitting way. Shadow of Life sees these veterans venture into something new for them, and they approach it in their trademark fashion, making Umbra Vitae a must listen to act. – Spyros Stasis

Wailin Storms - Rattle (Gilead Media)

No wave and noise rock expose a deep primal pool of creativity. The early works of Swans oozed with this animalistic spirit, and Coil's investigations of spirituality have unearthed something almost forgotten about the human psyche. Hailing from North Carolina, Wailin Storms possess an uncanny ability to project these reptilian brain emotions through their passionate, cataclysmic rock form.

In their latest work Rattle, Wailin Storms lose no time in introducing their angst-filled rollercoaster sound. Imposing riffs come together in a tempest as the title track unfolds, creating a moment of epic proportions through dissonant chords, heavy bass, and larger than life vocals. And it all comes through in how Wailin Storms structure their music, as "Teeth" showcases with the heavy riffs stacked on top of each other, creating an asphyxiating wall of noise. Further devastation and anguish are explored through the likes of "Sun" and its maniacal progression and the tribal-esque spirit of "Rope", before more intriguing paths are explored in the doom induced "Grass", the hazy and strangely psychedelic "Wish" and the absorbing "Crow". Rattle is an extensive work, open to all influences, accepting the entirety of the spectrum, with Wailin Storms creating a wonderfully intense work. – Spyros Stasis

Xibalba - Anos En Infierno (Southern Lord)

The underworld is a place of fear and desolation in many traditions. In Mayan mythology, the name of the underworld roughly translates to "a place of fear", and it is exactly that sentiment that California's Xibalba has been chasing since their inception. The hardcore band's vision does not remain contained within the punk discipline but crosses over into the land of death metal and doom. It is a path that has produced a series of exciting results, from debut record Madra Mia Gracias, Por Los Dias to 2015's Tierra Y Libertad.

Their latest work Anos En Ifnierno further pushes this trajectory. The hardcore groove is, of course, king, setting the tone from the first moments of "La Injusticia", quickly bastardizing with a death metal progression to create inharmonious havoc. The versatility continues to shine, with the band dropping the tempo and creating their doom pinnacle with "Corredor De La Muerte" as Sabbathian riffs meet with the hellish ambiance. The intricacies continue with the tribal percussion setting ablaze "Saka", as the hardcore progression meets with a bacchic ceremonial tone leading into the death frenzy of the title track. And yet Xibalba persist, with the two-part "El Abismo" seeing them extending their scope to new, ambitious levels as the longform tracks morph through death metal and hardcore to doom implosions and clean ambient passages. – Spyros Stasis

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