November was an absolutely packed month. Just to put this in perspective, six releases from our End of Year list were unleashed in November. But, that is not all that this month had to offer.
In the experimental rock realm, Buildings return with their devastating fourth full-length Negative Sound, screamo newcomers Frail Body explore the new paradigms of extreme hardcore music in A Brief Memoriam, and deathrock revivalists the Wraith unleash their 1980s infused full-length Gloom Ballet. At the same time, on the outer reaches of avant-garde music, the trio of Catatonic Effigy, featuring some of the most skilled musicians in the scene, distort the experimental viewpoint by using an extreme metal lens.
Yet, it was again the black metal acts that take the lion’s share. The mysterious multinational trio Decoherence finally unveil their debut record Ekpyrosis, exploring dreams of nocturnal psychedelia. On the other end, black metal dissidents Liturgy make a surprising return with H.A.Q.Q., tilting towards a more conventional approach than their previous polarized opus The Ark Work. Meanwhile, Schammasch continue to relentlessly pummel through with their avant-black metal motifs in Hearts of No Light and Witch Trail carry on their uncategorizable blackened path in The Sun Has Left the Hill. On the more traditional edge of the spectrum, two exquisite one-person projects, Abigail Williams and Sartegos, make astounding returns, while French melodic black metal outfit Tan Kozh revel in their pagan energy. – Spyros Stasis
Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark (Blood Music) / Sartegos – O Sangue De Note (I, Voidhanger)
2019 as a whole has been an excellent year for black metal. Yet, it was November that surprised me the most, with two fantastic records from (basically) one-person projects that had been around for a while but have now suddenly and significantly raised their game. The first of them, Olympia, Washington’s Abigail Williams (alias Ken Sorceron and guests), delivered their most focused vision of atmospheric black metal to date. On Walk Beyond the Dark, tasty riffs guide us into moody passages infected with crying tremolos and cello squeals, while melodious leads and a beautifully mournful atmosphere carve a path through mazes of excellent songwriting.
On the other hand, Galician Rou Sartegos—who has been around since 2008—entertained the rawer aspects of black metal on Sartegos’s first full-length O Sangue De Noite. He shifts gears from lovely synth-infused atmospheric intros and intermezzos like “Ventos (Prelúdio)”, through the slower-paced, Atriarch-like blackened deathrock drive of “Solpor dos Mistérios”, to the tremolo-infested romps “As Devesas som dos Lobos” and “Baphomet no Rashulmat”.” An incredibly well-rounded debut. – Antonio Poscic
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent)
The amount of hype and attention devoted to Denver, Colorado’s death metallers Blood Incantation is so excessive that it’s impossible not to be skeptical of it. But as it turns out, this is one such occasion when the overflowing elation is completely justified. Hidden History of the Human Race is not only the quartet’s best record to date but one of the high points of the decade in terms of the genre. This is cosmic, progressive, and technical death metal of the highest order whose drum and bass vibrations threaten to shatter old stars while riffs and growls ignite new ones. And to parrot another cliché, there’s nothing else quite like it out there. – Antonio Poscic
Buildings – Negative Sound (Gilead Media)
Ugliness and dread do not exist only in the dark corners of goregrind; neither do eeriness and pessimism only wander the far reaches of black metal. In the extravagant edges of noise rock and the intersection with alternative rock and indie music, Buildings from Minnesota have found a fountain of terror and grit. Through their three previous records, the band has been slowly working towards a defining moment, with 2017’s You Are Not One of Us first appearing as the pinnacle of their creativity. That, however, now changes with Negative Sound.
“Found myself a hill to die on” are the opening lyrics unleashed in a semi-relaxed tone. The ticking sound creates strange anticipation, and before you know it, the full weight of the trio is set loose upon you. Monolithic riffs converge rapidly in the follow-up “Sit With It”, creating an asphyxiating ambiance highlighted by an infectious groove and dissonant guitar interludes. Still, there are many faces to Buildings, and they do not miss the chance to explore them. Southern-esque guitars lead the way in “Certain Women” before again the sludge sense returns, with a guitar playing that would make Caspar Brotzmann proud echoing through “Sell Down the River” before the Swans-ian element rears its ugly head in “Human Filter”. Yet, what defines Buildings is their reluctance to let go, to take it easy for a second. This record source its prowess from an unearthly intensity, a feeling of being under constant strain, and never letting go. – Spyros Stasis
Catatonic Effigy – Putrid Tendency (Iluso)
Fusing jazz with metal is an ancient recipe. Technical death metal pioneers like Cynic and Atheist first uncovered this alchemical process, which has since been applied to countless works. Yet, the relationship between metal and jazz seemed to run on a single gear, a joined space defined by the technical necessities common on both genres. For Catatonic Effigy, this status quo is not enough, and with their debut record Putrid Tendency, they attempt to further bridge these two parallel realms.
The band includes three of the best minds that avant-garde music has to offer in drummer Michael Caratti, guitarist Alvaro Domene, and bassist Colin Marston. In their first collective effort, the three pioneers dive into the darkness of extreme experimental music, masterfully navigating through its underground pathways. Noise and improvisation greet you with “Putrid Density”, as an overwhelming cacophony highlights the free-jazz/free-rock side of this work. The ride only gets bumpier with the disfigured, death metal essence of “Garakku” before the drone majesty of “Supernova Remnant” is invoked, leading beautifully into the ambient bliss of “Time Dilation”. As expected by its personnel, Putrid Tendency is an ambitious work that requires time and patience but rewards tenfold. – Spyros Stasis
Decoherence – Ekpyrosis (Sentient Ruin)
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the rise of two of black metal’s most notorious dissidents. After an initial purist black metal assault, Blut Aus Nord contorted the genre’s bitterness into an industrial amalgamation with The Work Which Transforms God. At the same time, Switzerland’s Darkspace, to this day one of the scene’s most underrated acts, were exploring the cosmic realms of atmospheric black metal. These acts left a trace in the darkness, something that only the chosen few could retrieve and follow. Among them is multinational act Decoherence, who after unleashing two exquisite EPs as appetizers return with their debut full-length, Ekpyrosis.
Decoherence excel in weaving a thick ambiance. The black metal brew, fierce and rigid, is presented under rich layers of noise and electronics. Opener “Rearrangements Collisions” excels in this modus operandi, following the traditional riffing and relentless blast beats recipe, moving with conviction through the labyrinthine progression, while being concealed through this celestial, heavy veil. It is a realm of pure dissonance and darkness, and Decoherence still make the extra plunge in the deep black fumes when the slow breakdowns arrive.
What ensues in the remainder of the record is that more enticing, with “Primordial Replicator” and “Vestiges of the End”, further exposing an ambient side, with the riffs on retreat and the soundscapes on the rise. It is at that moment that the rhythmic patterns take on the distinctive industrial repetition, cold and detached marching through the unforgiving darkness. And It is exactly there that Ekpyrosis succeeds, in the coherence (no pun intended) that the band showcases in its arrangements and progression. The record arrives with an impeccable fluidity, and it is exactly that factor, which awakens all the industrial bleakness, the ambient bliss, and the psychedelic vapors. – Spyros Stasis
Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence (Season of Mist)
In the world of Esoteric, the eight years since their previous full-length Paragon of Dissonance must seem like an instant. Because for the Birmingham quintet, time is a leaden and malleable concept, in which majestic, huge riffs become elongated, collapsed unto themselves, and made to echo into eternity, while abyssal drum hits and bass lines pulse at frequencies that appear as vast and ancient as the universe itself.
A Pyrrhic Existence is, of course, born of the same cloth, a mixture of funeral, death, and doom metal, and spread over almost two hours of soul-crushing material. While unimaginably heavy, it’s also music that follows a breathing, organic rhythm, only projected and observed on the scale of eons. But in the end, it is the fleeting moments of beauty amongst this desolation that get you: the occasional melodies, the feedback loops that hint at a deceptively familiar strain of psychedelia, and the guttural vocals which seem to detach themselves from the surrounding thick textures. Like mirages in the desert, they offer deceptive gifts of hope and suck us in even further into doom. – Antonio Poscic
Frail Body – A Brief Memoriam (Deathwish Inc.)
The early 2000s were an interesting time for extreme music, with the new, rising metalcore scene taking over the majority of the spectrum. But while Roadrunner were pushing the new blood of metal musicians, soon to become the mainstream of the genre, something exciting was brewing in the hardcore domain. During the same timespan, the screamo scene going through its renaissance, with the lifeblood of the genre first baptized by the likes of Heroin and Antioch Hour, was now rejuvenated by an array of impressive acts in Gospel, Orchid, and Envy. The roots of this tradition run deep, and they have today delivered astonishing acts in Touche Amore and now newcomers Frail Body.
After a series of low key EPs, the band from Rockford, Illinois, return with their debut record, A Brief Memoriam, a condensed dose of angst, aggression, and melancholy all filtered through layers of distortion. The attack is immediate with the band not playing around in opener “Pastel”, as the relentless drumming sets the pace. Within a mere 155 seconds, Frail Body unleash hell, provide melodic interludes, and astonishing breakdowns. That need for projecting a direct message, without fillers or confusion, is the prime focus of Frail Body, and it is exactly that attitude that makes their strive towards catharsis so real.
The tumultuous “Your Death Makes Me Wish Heaven Was Real” beautifully combines aggression with post-hardcore structures, reaching an emotional tone through extreme agony. Even more pronounced is the post-genre influences in “Traditions in Verses”, the majestic progression of “Cold New Home”, and the acoustic “At Peace”, all adding to Frail Body’s stylistic depth, showcasing how many layers this band entails. – Spyros Stasis
Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q. (YLYLCYN)
There are two ways in which progress happens: with small steps or long, vertiginous leaps. To their detriment, Liturgy’s The Ark Work landed in the latter group. In a review I wrote about the album in 2015, I called it a “monumentally different artwork, a crossroads, and the birth of something new”. While the record went on to be panned by critics and largely forgotten by anyone but the most hardcore fans of Liturgy’s mastermind Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, I maintain that its perverted black metal sound has stood and will stand the test of time as a work unrivaled in terms of alienness and the ability to instill a sense of listening to music like no other.
Leaving that experiment behind, Liturgy return four years and two new faces later (Leo Didkovsky instead of Greg Fox on drums, Tia Vincent-Clark in place of Tyler Dusenbury on bass), and a style that is much safer, almost conservative in terms of the group’s oeuvre. Despite the sonic saturation of most of the music on H.A.Q.Q. and the various styles that Hunt-Hendrix and his cohort entertain—microtonal guitar licks, dissoluted chants, harp blooms, and discordant flutes are enveloped in blast beats and roaring, glitching tremolos—the album often falls back into straightforward songwriting and soundscaping efforts, augmenting rather than revolutionizing black metal’s basic elements.
Ultimately, even if not as radical as its predecessor, H.A.Q.Q. is catchy and quite listenable, a record which extends Hunt-Hendrix’s philosophical meanderings and shows another glimpse of his musical prowess. – Antonio Poscic
Lord Mantis – Universal Death Church (Profound Lore)
It is rare to find complete fluency in extreme metal. It tends to be the case that when bands cross over multiple genres, black/death, progressive black metal, or post-black metal, usually you get an effect of oil mixing with water. Even though these entities are presented together, you can quite easily tell them apart. That is the one thing that can never be said about Lord Mantis. From the start of their blackened journey, the band from Chicago made it a point of blurring the extreme metal boundaries, unifying them to spectacular results. Granularities of influences are, of course, still felt, but the overall end product is truly hybrid.
The return of Lord Mantis with Universal Death Church was unexpected. The band was initially put to rest in 2017, following the tragic death of Bill Bumgardner. Yet, Charlie Fell, Andrew Markuszewski, and Ken Sorceron came together, and with the help of Dylan O’Toole, Bruce Lamont, and Dallas Thomas unleash their best work to date. Combining an eerie quality and an impossibly heavy groove, Lord Mantis set forth through the continuous, dissonant riffing of “Santa Muerte” as the distorted vocals tear holes through the fabric of reality. Lord Mantis have always produced records that were hellish rides through dangerous territory. Still, the harrowing effect that tracks like “Qliphotic Alpha” and even the interlude “Low Entropy Narcosis” radiate with are truly the stuff of nightmares.
However, in true protean fashion, the band can switch gears with fluidity, exploding in blast beat blitzkrieg in “Fleshworld” or raging through heavy grooves in “God’s Animal” and “Damocles Fall” and even immediate, catchy anthems with “Consciousness.exe”. There are even moments of psychedelic introspection, an LSD trip gone horribly wrong with closer “Hole” featuring the exquisite saxophone of Lamont. Universal Death Church is a record that has everything, and if anyone has been sleeping on Lord Mantis, it is about time to wake up. – Spyros Stasis
Necropanther – The Doomed City (Independent)
I hardly remember when I last listened to a band that’s as confident in their sound and outrageously fun as Denver, Colorado’s Necropanther. Much like their awesome 2018 record Eyes of Blue Light, The Doomed City is another non-stop blitz of melodic death and thrash metal constructed around sci-fi tropes. With the group’s thematic focus shifting away from Frank Herbert’s Dune and towards Michael Anderson’s cult flick Logan’s Run, the music gains a slightly harder edge. Riffs, blast beats, and growls hit more precisely and roll less freely, but lose none of their immediacy as if trying to convey the urgency and fight for the life of the film’s titular character. An album that I can wholeheartedly recommend to, well, everyone. – Antonio Poscic
PH – Osiris Hayden (Svart)
Mr. Peter Hayden Band is one of the most mysterious entities to enter the rock scene in recent memory. Hailing from Finland, the band shares much of the spiritual DNA that has defined their compatriots, mystic ritualists Dark Buddha Rising, and black metal psychonauts Oranssi Pazuzu. Through the years, Mr. Peter Hayden Band has made one thing certain: This is all an experiment. Throwing together minimal ambient, psychedelic rock, krautrock, and doom metal, the band has built an exquisite discography, yet it feels like everything is only now beginning with Osiris Hayden.
Shedding their skin, the band switched their name to PH, signaling a moment of change. That is further illustrated from the opening notes of “Three of Wands”, where the minimal aptitude collides with the space rock element and electronic backbone. Tribal percussion awakens in “Emergence”, adding to the spiritualism of Osiris Hayden, resorting to a strange ambivalent progression, before making a complete turn, diving into the harder industrial influence of “Justified” and “Sun Sets for One”. Even more apparent is the presence of electronica, with the short interlude “M47eria Prima”, reshaping the band’s identity in just over two minutes.
Yet, it is PH’s psychedelic pedigree that molds most of their latest work. Their grasp is vast, going from moments of perfect introspection, with the hazy and otherworldly “Uhrilahja”, to open and undiluted Krautrock bliss in the fantastic “Origo” and “Ad Coronam”, before reaching an interstellar level with closer “Tachophonia”. Much like their record’s namesake, PH has spent its time in the underworld waiting, but finally, the moment of resurrection has arrived, and it is glorious. – Spyros Stasis
Schammasch – Hearts of No Light (Prosthetic)
While not quite rivaling the breadth of 2016’s triple record Triangle, Hearts of No Light compresses and amplifies that same sprawling, expansive style which made the Swiss quintet stand out among their avant-black peers. Throughout the nine songs, each of them a microcosm of sound and atmosphere, Schammasch move from the monumental post-metal and atmospheric black metal buildups of “Winds That Pierce the Silence” and “Qadmon’s Heir”, wander through meaty doom-sludge explosions on “Ego Sum Omega”, and turn to their black metal ids on the aggressive “Rays Like Razors”, “I Burn Within You”, and “Katabasis”. And amongst this crushing metallic heaviness, they even throw a Joy Division inspired curveball in the form of the odd but excellent “A Paradigm of Beauty.” – Antonio Poscic
Tan Kozh – Lignanges Oublies (Antiq)
Black metal exists in the edges of the extreme metal spectrum, an obscure region created through the mythos of the Norwegian black metal scene. Despite the majority of the genre’s traditional approach being an acquired taste, there are instances of bands crossing over to the melodic edge, even reaching a mainstream perspective. The immediacy of Dissection’s melodies and the direct approach of Rotting Christ’s latter days are templates to this approach.
Tan Kozh from France follow in the melodic black metal footsteps by way of a folk overlay. Formed by members of Belenos, Way to End, and Les Chants de Nihil, this quintet are set on exploring the no-bullshit melodic black metal approach. The production aids greatly in that respect, with the band offering a lush but not overly pristine space that greatly compliments the band’s biggest strengths. The lead works brilliantly cut through, “Ecce Homo”, spiraling through in its fantastic hooks.
The energy and purpose of Tan Kozh explode through the intoxicating groove of “Viens a Moi” and the lightning-fast “De Brest a Brest-Litvsosk”. At the same time, the vocals are at the center of it all, an unconventional move for a black metal act, but the skill of Sven and Yamhah can awaken an array of flavors and characters to narrate this work. An excellent first step that will not allow Tan Kozh to pass unnoticed. – Spyros Stasis
The Wraith – Gloom Ballet (Southern Lord)
Resurrecting a style and modernizing it is a herculean task. Yet, that is what Kaz Alvis and Davey Bales had in mind when they started working on the Wraith’s debug EP Shadow Flag. Through just three tracks, the duo encompass the intersecting qualities of deathrock, the raw punk energy, and the otherworldly darkwave bleakness. Today Alvis and Bales return, this time around with drummer Scott Rayner and bassist Paul Rodgers, and with Puscifer’s Mat Mitchell in the production helm for their stunning debut Gloom Ballet.
The Wraith’s new full-length is once again a glorious ride through deathrock nostalgia. The haunting guitar melodies lure you in from the opening seconds of “Ballad of Aeon” with Bales’ prominent vocals traveling through darkwave passages and anthemic, arena-rock choruses. As the record progresses, what becomes apparent is this feeling of complete confidence. The Wraith feel comfortable in their skin and certain about their identity, as they travel through the pummeling “Prevail”, the sardonically livid “The Devil’s Serenade”, and the bigger than life “Barbed Wire Somber”. Their detours in bleaker settings arrive with a nice mysterious touch that adds to the horror punk aesthetic, especially impressive in the gothic bliss of “Toil” and the goosebump-inducing “Of the Earth”.
The underlying factor in everything the Wraith do is a sense of perfect clarity, and that provides Gloom Ballet with its distinctive, albeit nostalgic aroma. – Spyros Stasis
Witch Trail – The Sun Has Left the Hill (Babylon Doom Cult)
In their early days, Witch Trail found the sweet spot between black metal bitterness and thrash aggression. It was an old, well-tried mixture, and it served well. Yet, somewhere in their journey, they started to rework this idea, experimenting with the main notions of black metal and thrash and have since almost completely jumped ship to find a novel sound, now leading to the release of their second full-length The Sun Has Left the Hill.
In many ways, Witch Trail’s sophomore record is a post-black metal work. Not in the sense that it contains shoegaze or post-hardcore elements, that is not what this band is interested in. What Witch Trail have done is to move on the black metal outskirts by embracing a holistic heavy metal ethos. Their guitars are sharp and furious, opener “Sinking” speaking volumes to that fact. And yet, there are times for slow-moving grooves and epic renditions, as is showcased in “Afloat”. It makes The Sun Has Left the Hill a work that truly has everything, from the straightforward notions of the genre to the downright bizarre. “Silent Running” is a prime example of this ability, with the band relying on a peculiar, drunken recital for the first part before switching gears and unleashing an Iron Maiden inspired, circular lead work. It is this bravery to try out things that make Witch Trail so difficult to categorize, and that is their winning attribute. – Spyros Stasis