Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell (Season of Mist)
Rising in the late 2000s, the obscured form of Finnish doom/death powerhouse Hooded Menace would go on to haunt us into the 2010s and beyond. Grim and relentless, Hooded Menace funneled the darkest that slow, guttural death metal a la Autopsy and Asphyx had to offer, without forgetting the early days of the Peaceville Three. However, there was another key ingredient that set Hooded Menace apart from the rest. Throughout the filthy corridors of Fulfill the Curse and Never Cross the Dead stood a beautifully crafted riffology. Sure, heavy and slow riffs came crashing down, but beneath the rumble, Hooded Menace always explored with intricate lead work. It is something that has followed the band around since then, becoming more direct over time. And it is now fully blooming in The Tritonus Bell.
What always ran beneath the doom/deathcore was an appreciation of traditional heavy metal. And here, Hooded Menace give it free roam. “Chthonic Exordium” sees them awakening a darker and meaner “The Hellion”, with a strong sense of melody oozing from every note. NWOBHM leads into more off-kilter expressions, with the Mercyful Fate-inspired leadwork sipping into “Chime Diabolicus”. From there, Hooded Menace patch together their Frankenstein’s monster, pieces of Sabbathian ‘70s glory make an appearance molded through the gaze of doom revisionists like Cathedral, circa The Ethereal Mirror.
Solos are flowing abundant, the inclusion of Andy LaRoque behind the production helm making perfect sense. The grit of doom/death merges with the direct and sharp quality of traditional heavy metal. Still, exploring the territories beyond, “Those Who Absorb the Night” sees the heavy metal ideals morph into a Paradise Lost induced glory, while the sparse ambient parts of “Corpus Asunder” bring to mind the poetic essence of My Dying Bride.
The Tritonus Bell sees Hooded Menace at a pivotal stage. Holding onto their core doom/death aesthetics, they also choose to showcase their love for the classic side of heavy metal. To that end, they write some of their catchiest material to date while still retaining a grim hold with their death howls and glacial pace. On the one hand, Hooded Menace have probably achieved all they set out to accomplish within their doom/death comfort zone, so continuing down that path would likely abide by the rule of diminishing returns. So instead, they traverse into something different, making a relatively unique combination of sounds and methodologies. The experiment is successful, yet whether it is better than their first couple of works is up for debate. Only time will tell, but for now, relish into some hellish doom/death infused with traditional heavy metal. – Spyros Stasis
Ixtlahuac – Teyacanilitztli Nahualli (Nuclear War Now!)
Throwback with a twist. That is the concept of the international band Ixtlahuac, featuring members from both the US and Colombia. Here, the well-known recipe is early days extreme metal. The days of thrash aggression are coming to fruition, and the separation between the black metal and death metal domains is still blurred. That is where Ixtlahuac thrive. But, like many other like-minded artists across the US, like the Black Twilight Circle collective and First Nations acts like Pan-Amerikan Native Front and Infernach, they do not simply regurgitate the past. But still, they do not forget their underground spirit. The sardonic demeanor presented by France’s Les Legions Noires is present, both in its lo-fi aesthetic but also its mixture of the extreme with the atmospheric.
Nuclear War Now! is repressing Ixtlahuac’s demo Teyacanilitztli Nahualli while retaining the true spirit of the work. Here, the Scandinavian sceneries or the mystical catacombs are replaced with the Mesoamerican ritualism and ambiance. This cvlt essence is greatly met with lo-fi production, arriving harshly through the buzzsaw-like guitars of “Ixlthaucán de los Brujos”. It is a terrifying presence that draws much from the early teachings of Blasphemy. This black/death goodness surrounds the work, as Ixtlahuac apply the proto-death metal dissonance and the polemic black metal demeanor. The explosive pace of “Huehuecoyotl” and the diabolical sense of “Rito Ceremonial en la Zona va negativa” (covered from fellow black/death act Engendro Malévolo), set the scenery ablaze. Yet, it is never about speed explicitly but rather dedication. “Ritual de Fuego Nuevo” sees Ixtlahuac travel further to the past, unearthing the Celtic Frost grandeur in its supreme form.
Still, while much of the record relishes the black/death sound, Ixtlahuac still inject a few compelling ideas. A mystical essence spreads through the corridors of Teyacanilitztli Nahualli, taking the clean, ethereal instrumentation and turning it into a nightmarish scenery, as is the case with the record’s introduction. Subtly applying additional instrumentation gives a degree of depth and sees an almost western-like ideal sprout forth. It feels like a complete descent into the unknown when “Xolotl: 4 Puntos Cardinales (Outro)” makes its appearance.
But, again, Ixtlahuac travel deeper with “Guía Mistico: Xoloitzcuintle” and “Coatlicue Nunca Muere”, going full-on improvisation to unleash one of their most pivotal moments. They continue to explore the parallels of their sound with the underground spirit of black metal scenes of old. It is this aspect that lifts Teyacanilitztli Nahualli past the power of its influences. And though its rough and raw exterior does make it quite impenetrable, it is these well-placed twists and turns that grant its ultimate preciousness. – Spyros Stasis
Modern Rites – Monuments (Debemur Morti)
The prolific nature of atmospheric black metal act Aara is impressive, with the duo releasing a record each year since 2019. In the aftermath of Triade I: Eos, Aara guitarist Berg collaborates with visual artist Johnny Warren to create Modern Rites. Apart from his visual art, Warren also helms post-metal project Kuyashii, exploring the fringes of metallic heaviness and shoegaze expression. With Modern Rites Berg and Warren step away from the atmospherics and post-metal tones of their main projects, focusing their energy instead on the melodic side of black metal.
The fruit of their labors is presented in their debut full-length Monuments. The first impact is twofold. First, there is the raw, brute black metal force. Arriving with a degree of meanness to it, it produces moments of dissonant havoc. “Unburdened” evolves through a heavy, relentless facade that adds to Modern Rites’ grit for a dystopian and unforgiving delivery. Then, moments of disorienting fashion arise from the dark, “Nothing Left to Give”, seeing this dissonant touch being stretched, adding to the palette of Modern Rites. Yet, on the other hand, the melodic leaning overpowers all of this. The lead work in “Vigilance Eternal” is stunning and moving, while closing track “Machine Paradox” relishes its melodic underpinnings. How the lead work ebbs and moves, weaving the flow of the record, is extremely well worked out.
Now, the other element of Modern Rites comes into view. Some may consider this an industrial component, and some elements point towards that direction. The rhythmic backbone of Monuments has a very mechanical and strict sense. Yet, it never really reaches for the complete industrial coldness or the slamming repetition. It is something that moves Modern Rites more towards the direction of a metalcore tinge. The pacing, the breakdowns all stand out brilliantly. The ending of “Vigilance Eternal” is epic, adding a refreshing touch. While “Black Wolf” moves with a dexterous and fluid mannerism, avoiding the confinements of strict monotony.
Then there is the overall approach of “Self Synthesis”, carrying much metalcore DNA while still relishing in the polemic black metal nature and always served with a strong dose of melody. It is precisely there that Modern Rites settle, and it is an interesting amalgamation. The only criticism here is that the record itself operates on a fairly singular gear, and while the ride itself is enjoyable, one cannot help wonder how much more exists beneath the surface. Hopefully, this will be unveiled on Modern Rites’ next release, and knowing how prolific these musicians are, that should not take long. – Spyros Stasis
Netherbird – Arete (Eisenwald)
Compared to all the anguished, tortured, dissonant, and disturbed music that graces the pages of this column, the black metal of Swedish group Netherbird might sound just a bit too safe. But it’s exactly within that circumspection that lies the appeal of their new album. Leaving behind previous works’ occasional Destruction-like melodic aggression, Arete slips in and out of symphonic and progressive infused takes on black metal.
Although the style often evokes the expansive blitz of Agalloch’s early phase or, in a counterintuitive twist, the atmosphere of Dark Tranquillity’s melodeath, the eight songs here are still reasonably varied despite their familiar elements. They trade flickering tremolos and nervous blast beats for harmonious riffs and marching rhythms, only to dispel them all with mellow, atmo black like sections. If Arete is the black metal equivalent of comfort food, it is undoubtedly a really tasty one. – Antonio Poscic