Utopia – Stalker (APF)
Utopia is the new project from uber-guitarist John Bailey, known from touring days with Aled Jones and Russell Watson, and Corrupt Moral Altar screamer/vocalist Chris Reese. The two come together with an astounding array of collaborators to establish Utopia. Relishing the thrill of experimentation, Bailey and Reese do not shackle themselves to specific genres. And in this process, they make Utopia’s debut record, Stalker, one of the most enticing outbursts of extreme technical music you will hear this year.
A common problem with works that travel to technical heights is that there tends to be a one-dimensional result. The artists focus more on crafting super-complex structures, combining strange scales. While sounding impressive, the approach appears to be a touch pedestrian. Thankfully, this is not the case for Utopia, and how they construct Stalker goes through many modes. The start shows an appreciation for old-school death metal, especially the jazz/death fusion of pioneers such as Atheist. The maniacal progression, the drops into full jazz modes with “Bus Station Roof” is spectacular. While on the other hand, the verging on slam death pace and tempo in “Impotent Prophet” shows the extent of the act’s versatility.
And that is not all. The majority of the time for Utopia is spent in a strange mathcore foundation. Grind inclination defines “Spirit Wives”, with Reese going for the jugular. But, it is the moments of strange, weird rock vibes that stand out. The off-kilter progression of “What About Me” carries a Swans-ian influence, while “Moscow Holiday” scoops a healthy dose of noise rock and adds to the mix. But still, Utopia travel further, moving towards the sludge and post-metal frontiers explored by the likes of ISIS. With “A Projection of Me on You”, they set on a path of destruction through sludge riffs and post-metal grandeur.
Similarly, the title track sees this ethereal concept come to a nightmarish form, preparing for the heavy doom grandeur of “Happiness”. With Stalker, Utopia have managed to create an extraordinarily dense and multi-layered work. And while technical to its very core, Stalker succeeds in every goal. The songwriting and flow are excellent, the record’s dynamics are very well placed, and the timbre is rich and diverse. A fantastic work altogether. – Spyros Stasis
Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Relapse)
Wolves in the Throne Room helped to both redefine and modernize black metal in the 2000s. Their initial run is nothing short of stellar, records like Diadem of 12 Stars, Two Hunters, and Celestial Lineage standing as pillars of the modern atmospheric black metal scene. Following a brief hibernation period and a record filled with dark ambient, drone, and kosmische Musik ideas in Celestite, the Weaver brothers made a return. Thrice Woven, the act’s first black metal record in six years, saw Wolves in the Throne Room transform. Distinctly more melodic and with epic underpinnings, it found Wolves in the Throne Room at a pivotal moment. Now, this transformation further evolves with Primordial Arcana.
Primordial Arcana expands on the ambient essence, exploring folk pathways, dungeon synth inclinations, and vast, atmospheric sceneries. It is clear from the get-go, as “Mountain Magick” arrives, the black metal dissonance is exchanged for an exquisite atmospheric touch. The keyboards work wonders, adding to the distinct melodic power and expanding the sonic textures. They are primarily responsible for providing Primordial Arcana with its otherworldly essence. From there on, the folk elements of “Spirit of Lightning” see Wolves in the Throne Room join the Ulver earthy spirit with the mid-period grandeur of Bathory. A mid-tempo march, drawing upon a seemingly ancient lyrical quality. A work crafted by bards of times long past. And just a step away in the same track, the Weavers and Keyworth explore their love for the dungeon synth scene, something that becomes that much more apparent in the darkened gloom of “Through Eternal Fields” and especially “Underworld Aurora”.
In shifting their focus to these atmospheric sceneries, Wolves in the Throne Room have given away part of their earlier fervent attitude. The unyielding black metal explosions of Two Hunters do not dominate Primordial Arcana. But still, these are called upon at times of need. “Primal Chasm”, one of the best moments of the record, blazes with a dissonant edge, drawing an Emperor-ian influence before plunging into a mid-pace atmospheric black metal assault. Keyworth’s deep, guttural vocals are a stellar inclusion, delivering more punch to the proceedings while Nathan Weaver’s screams echo through the darkness. – Spyros Stasis
Wormwitch – Wolf Hex (Prosthetic)
The magic of Vancouver-based quartet Wormwitch is the sort of spell that lives in misty woods under monochromatic atmospheres, where wolves howl and witches cackle. In the sonic realm, it manifests as a melodic but deeply malevolent form of black metal. Wolf Hex, the quartet’s third full-length, cradles within itself the sort of music capable of contemplating mischief amid swirling tremolos and pummeling blasts in one brooding passage while grooving violently and rocking with blues overtones in the next. Thank Satan, then, for the atmosphere dissolving punk-thrash cover of Metallica’s “Hit the Lights” that closes the album because otherwise we might get lost in Wormwitch’s woodland maze forever. – Antonio Poscic