PICK OF THE WEEK: Drown imagine immersion in water as traumatic metaphor on dark ‘Subaqueous’

Photo by Lillian Liu

I went white water rafting once. Once. I already didn’t like water a hell of a lot, at least not natural bodies that could have their way with me, and my nerves during said excursion are likely what led me to fall off the raft, briefly get my leg caught on a rock, and think I was never going to see the surface again. Let’s not even get into my anxiety outside of that.

The Marvok Soroka-driven project Drown used that name because the music under this banner follows a protagonist as the person slowly becomes submerged—not necessarily literally—and feels the great pressure as the lungs take on water. So, on the second Drown album “Subaqueous,” it’s not that you’re hearing a tale about a person slowly dying under water; it’s about someone facing grief and depression, finding the earth slowly sinking beneath the crust, and the idea of control or solace being the furthest thing from the mind. Musically, you’re overcome by true aquatic doom, as the blackness of the sea surrounds you, sometimes feeling like a picture of beauty, at others creating a scene that sparks claustrophobia and panic and you struggle against yourself to reach the surface. It’s been six long years since we got the first chapter of this tale (2014’s “Unsleep”) from Soroka ( also of Tchornobog and Aureole), and it stills feel like the weight of an entire ocean sits on top of us.

“VI: Mother Cetacean” opens the record and runs a healthy 20:52 yet isn’t the longest song of the pair. Waves rush in and flood as guitars drip and a heavy doom curtain falls, enveloping everything in shadows. Riffs melt stone, and the emotional playing tears at the guts, with Soroka’s deep lurching growls sending shocks through your system. The sea’s utter blackness and hopelessness are never more apparent as the track floats into solitary fear, floating into cavernous noise and music that feels like it’s efforting to stay above water. Wild wails curse as the track tears forward at a calculated clip, as guitars trickle lightly, draining off into the void that swallowed whole by sorrowful strings and echoing that sound like you’re succumbing to the beyond.

“VII: Father Subaqueous” is the final track and the mammoth cut at 21:04. Again, the waters overwhelm as sadness feels like it comes from the depths and utterly claims you. The vocals wrench as clean playing arrives like a steady drizzle, soaking clothing and adding to the misery, and then Soroka’s lurching growls return and consume before lights wash over again. That leads into a vast expanse that brings in a deathrock vibe before the song reopens and wails away. The leads catch fire, and the emotion crushes before the guitars turn the screws again, and the tempo brings added pressure. A warm haze hovers overhead as the string bed returns and brings a haunting elegance, while the music crescendos heavily, the music moans, and the playing bows out at sea.

It’s easy to feel lost, hopelessly sinking, and out of control when grief and depression take hold, and only someone who has faced these things could possibly understand the pain involved. Drown’s “Subaqueous” is a trip into that world, only instead of just feeling pressure from a mental state, it’s from being swallowed whole by a massive, unmoving body of water over which you have no control. The misery and chaos are real, and perhaps the only way out is to become one with that very watery burial ground into which you’re forever submerged.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Drowndoom

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/drown-subaqueous

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

Izthmi emerge from Seattle with fierce tale of finding solace on massive ‘The Arrow of Our Ways’

I would imagine mental health providers are having a hell of a time trying to treat the people who come to them for care. That’s the ones who haven’t been trampled by our medical system, but that’s a story for a different time. I know that I’ve been murky and struggling more than usual, and it’s not a big surprise considering how stressful every new day seems to be.

Trying to find solace within or even be able to get a better sense of self also is a challenge, something that’s at the heart of Izthmi’s stunning debut record “The Arrow of Our Ways.” The record is a concept piece about trying to find inner peace despite the struggles we face every day, most of which we can’t control. The band’s music is based primarily on melodic black metal and riffs that come at you in waves, but there also are elements of noise, ambiance, and darkness that envelop the music and deliver it to the center of your heart. The band—Jakob Keizer (vocals, synths, modulators), Autumn Day and Brett Tomsett (guitars), Gabe Kangas (bass), and Nolan Head (drums)—has been around for about four years now, hailing from Seattle and having just a demo to their credit before this release. But this group sounds far more seasoned and powerful than their years, and this eight-track, nearly 46-minute display should turn tons of heads.

“Chasm” begins sounding like the world’s gravity is weighing down on it and crushing it as keys mix and, and a cosmic treatment is spread, blending into “To Traipse Alone” that immediately floods your senses with melody. Fierce shrieks arrive and bring molten rock with them, but then cleaner guitars blend in and bring calm. That doesn’t last long as things erupt again as grisly vocals punish, with a thunderous assault working its way toward prog-minded soloing. The pace shreds flesh, getting thrashy, while everything then blends into “This Listless World” that trickles in before being ripped apart. Intricate playing sprawls while Keizer’s screams pelt the chest, continually building into an all-out assault. The drums clobber shit, the growls twist, and guitars sicken as things burn into delirium. The vocals drive down hard before things come to a destructive finish.  “Interlude” has sounds glimmering and a hypnotic edge before melting into the ground.

“Useless Is the Song of Man, From Throats Calloused by Name” has jarring riffs and floods the scene with its might, as gazey sequences cloud the skies, and the melodies multiply themselves. The track then gets a little more into gritty death terrain, speeding and thrusting before cool winds arrive. Clean chant singing chills the flesh before the power ramps up again, the momentum storms, and the track bleeds into a wall of fog. “A Shout That Bursts Through the Silence of Unmeaning” brings another tidal wave of exuberant melody before acoustics take over and offer a hush, letting your panic subside. Then it’s onto another burst with Keizer’s shrieks ripping through bone and the track soaring into the atmosphere. Guitars sweep while the growls crush rock with the song entering a tornadic sweep before quiet guitars arrive and relieve your wounds. “(The Angels Are Lost)” is a quick instrumental built on a reading of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which is heavily recommended, and then it’s into the closing title track that explodes and brings ferocity and turmoil. That playing twists your brain while the music cascades, working into a monstrous pace that tramples away. The tempo stomps and wrenching melodies make their final stand, bringing Keizer’s last gasp of thunderous shrieks before the song ends abruptly.

I feel like a broken record saying this, but our journeys through life seem to get more challenging as these past few years have gone on, watching our social constructs and climate measures collapse. Izthmi’s “The Arrow of Our Ways” is a jarring trip through that, and its rushing power never relents through this record, even when the sounds are quieter and more reserved. This is an album that can pummel you if you just take on the music, but pouring yourself into the entire experience can perhaps ease your trouble a bit as you climb these hills, hopefully not alone.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Izthmi/

To buy the album, go here: https://withinthemindrecords.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://withinthemindrecords.bandcamp.com/

Insect Ark’s instrumental chaos envelops mind, creates journeys amid mysteries on ‘The Vanishing’

Photo by Chris Carlone

I had a discussion with a fellow writer a few years ago about instrumental music and the ability to tell stories within its confines. His assertion was that without words, there is no way to really push forward a plot. I countered that artists who truly understand the medium don’t have the limitations that words add to a story, and the ability to create an imaginative world is even greater. Obviously, I’m right.

A few months ago, I had a chance to see Insect Ark as they played the support slot for Oranssi Pazuzu, and when their 45-minute set was done, I had to go sit down to collect myself. Their sprawling, hypnotic music is delivered sans words, and their masterful grip was such that I was locked into what they were doing from moment one, and that didn’t relent until their final note. I had already been a fan of the band before seeing them, but their set elevated them to truly special status. All of that also paved the way for “The Vanishing,” the band’s new record and one of their most impressive albums so far. For this record, Dana Schechter (guitars, pedal steel, synth) is joined by drummer Andy Patterson (formerly of SubRosa) on a six-track journey that, if you’re willing to submit to their creative path, will take you on a mental excursion that will fuck you up at times, leave you breathlessly enthralled at other point. Schechter imagined a scenario of being lost at sea, with no hopes of being found, playing on the idea of just how small we are in our world and universe. That’s a hell of a concept to try to take on and not lose your mind in the process.

“Tectonic” starts with a thick riff, the drums kicking in, and the feelings inside you soaring. A Western vibe drips color over the playing while cosmic sounds swirl in the clouds, and the track keeps rumbling. The sounds disorient as they develop, slowly pummeling with fluttering keys and the track bleeding away. “Three Gates” leaks guitars strumming and the drums unfurling as dusty melodies work their way into the DNA, and things begin to slur. The playing stomps and chews while a psyche edge numbs, bowing out to the dusk. “Philae” arrives in a flurry of drumming as guitars whir and buzz. A mesmerizing haze intoxicates with churning guitars and the rhythm tapping away. Keys rise like a swarm of insects, slipping through the darkness, and hypnosis gets inside of you before succumbing.

“Danube” has strange noises creating a bizarre environment before guitars melt, and that leads into freezing solemnity. Sounds squirm and guitars weep, and then keys well up to create a thick mist that stings the skin before fading. “Swollen Sun” has the music swelling up, creating a thick gray stream that bathes in space murk. The playing hulks through the galaxy like a beam, decimating the surface as your mind is lost in a dream. The title cut closes the album, running a healthy 10:51 and slowly making its presence known. Lasers form and cut through the playing as the pace hovers, and the Western skies again hang over the song. Slide guitars darken the track while strange waves create frightful confusion, and that ominously slithers toward heavy chunking. The guitars make the room spin as the drums pace, letting your imagination wander, as the tempo and volume increase. The track doubles up its efforts to open wounds, while everything becomes a combined force that bleeds into the sun.

Insect Ark’s music doesn’t need words to be effective, which they prove convincingly on “The Vanishing.” This band is able to help you conjure visions and stories in your head as the music passes through your ears and spills into your veins, and where you go with that is entirely up to you. This record is another sold building block for Insect Ark, and the more people that come in contact with them, the more beings whose imaginations will be expanded for the better.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/InsectArk

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Dutch mind flayers Fluisteraars unveil inspiration from flowers’ life, eventual decay with ‘Bloem’

It’s winter here on the East Coast, or so the calendar would lead us to believe. It’s really not that cold, and snow has been awfully hard to come by the past few months. Anyway, spring isn’t that far away, and very soon, life will spring again in the natural world, filling our hillsides with lush trees and our gardens with plants and flowers.

It’s fitting, then, that Dutch black metal enigma Fluisteraars has returned to our world with their imaginative third record “Bloem,” a collection of songs that takes flowers as its primary guiding point. All you have to do is look at the dreamy album cover to know that and then dig into these songs, which are lush and rich, brimming with life and violence. At the same time, flowers eventually decay and also can be symbols of death, giving them a duality that makes their presence even more meaningful. “Bloem” is the band’s first new record in five years (the last one was 2015’s “Luwte”), and it develops even deeper than what we heard from them in the past, and they’ve never exactly adhered to borders. What we get from Fluisteraars—vocalist/lyricist Bob Mollema and guitarist/drummer/primary songwriter Mink Koops—is a further trip into black metal’s earthy terrain where emotion is at its apex, and the color palette from which the music is drawn is vast and free.

“Tere Muur” opens the record with stiff punches before the melody unloads, and the music fires up. Scathing vocals begin to chew at the senses as the playing rushes hard, and absolute mental chaos in unleashed. Power continues to spill as tremendous storming arrives, and the track ends with a furious blast. “Nasleep” has guitars stampeding and a delirious assault as destruction spreads itself, only to be swallowed by echoes. Hypnotic calls mix with strange interference, and then the track stomps ahead, simmering in sound. Keys drip through a dreamy sequence, and then the track comes back to life, gazey clouds collect, and a mid-tempo surge ends the song in the atmosphere.

“Eeuwige Ram” starts with, you guessed it, plenty of melody as the howled vocals whip through a blood surge of playing. The ambiance then thickens and plays tricks with your mind, while the song gets catchy and mesmerizing. Horns and synth combine to add another layer of meaning, while the final two minutes of the song stage a spirited, rustling jaunt. “Vlek” unloads with a hail of nails and scraping vocals, creating a scene that’s dangerous and bloody. Gusty playing then meets up with a folkish sequence, bringing some calm to this piece. The power kicks back in as the riffs enrapture, and an extended section of playing allows the band time to develop a spirit. Torches burn and are held aloft, while the song pours its guts until it has no more to give. “Maanruïne” ends the record by turning up a fluid vision that is broken up by vicious growls. Acoustics and horns take over, bustling and ripping through the weeds, before breezy “woah-oh” chants arrive. The song remains heartfelt and blood-surging before acoustics return, and a thick fog creates a place for the track to disappear.

Fluisteraars’ music isn’t likely for those faux tough dudes with rigid tastes who think black metal can be one thing and one thing only. “Bloem” is proof that the rewards are even greater when artists push beyond and paint with strokes that so many others fear to try. This is sweeping, heartfelt music that feels like a storm is brewing, eventually saturating the ground and making it possible for life to bloom eternal from it.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fluisteraars

To buy the album, go here: https://store.eisenton.de/en/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Intronaut put everyday uncertainty to test on icy ‘Fluid Existential Inversions’

Living from day to day never has been more challenging. For me, anyway, and I’m sure for a lot of you. Mental illness remains a major factor in our lives, and the only time it ever seems to get addressed is with lip service when people don’t want to pay attention other things ruining lives. Everyday is a mystery, and not always in a good way, as we try to move from one anxious moment to the next.

The constant instability facing us everyday is a major part of what inspired “Fluid Existential Inversions,” the wondrous sixth record from LA prog-metal inventors Intronaut, and their first for Metal Blade. We live in volatile times, and things are not so black and white that easy solutions aren’t just pulled out of thin air. Not that Intronaut are here to help you find any of those; rather, their music can stand as a gateway to let you branch out and explore what’s inside your heart and mind. It’s also been a decade and a half since this band formed, and their approach to this record wasn’t to crank out ideas they’d already processed. They easily could have fallen into old patters and still created a great piece of work, but they pushed aside comfort and instead went with what moved them (the addition of keyboards being a major and most welcome change). What resulted is the band—guitarist/vocalist Sacha Dunable, guitarist Dave Timnick, and bassist Joe Lester (Alex Rudinger handled drums on the album)—created a timeless, fresh new Intronaut record that challenges and enthralls, never making it sound like they’re smarter than you are, and always inviting you in for the journey, even if it’s one you’ll have to take in your own mind.

“Procurement of the Victuals” is an instrumental open that drip colors before pounding away, paving the way toward “Cubensis” and its intricate fury. The chorus is swelling and colorful as Dunable calls, “The things you see all melt in your mind,” as the band bursts through that in psychedelic fashion. The track melts into breezier terrain, letting you drift for an extended period before the hammer drops, the chorus returns, and rubbery playing takes us out. “The Cull” is both cosmic and muddy as hell as Dunable’s growls grow dense, and crunchy muck gnaws at muscle. A synth gaze sweeps into a chorus that bustles before the song takes to your dreams, and the blended singing makes your head spin. That dissolves into a prog explosion than filters out into the sky. “Contrapasso” is gritty when it starts with Dunable observing, “It turned out to be a dream,” as things remain within the rocks. Guitars swelter and join with a synth fog, letting spacey strangeness dot the evening sky. The pace reopens as deeply harmonized singing makes your blood flow, and the guitars act as a numbing agent.

“Speaking of Orbs” releases synth pulses and fully opens up its ribcage, leading into a tremendous chorus that might be the best of a group of good ones. The track crushes from there as the bass menaces, and imaginative pathways are revealed before a pummeling close. “Tripolar” buzzes when it starts as Dunable calls out, “I thought I had escaped, of course I never would,” before nasty tones are brought forth. The band unleashes destructive power before evolving into strange cosmic jazz that cools the skin and fills your head with stars. The playing keeps jabbing at your chest before the track comes to a blistering finish. “Check Your Misfortune” unloads cagey violence and leaves ample flesh bruising. Cool verses merge with melodies that seem to have come from beyond as it flows gently but weirdly. The propulsive keys make me think of King Crimson, and the final moments bash away at the gates. “Pangloss” starts with a gnarly riff and buzzing vocals as the chorus rises, and the bands cuts through everything. Suddenly, if feels like dusk arrives as the music has a total nighttime vibe, numbing your brain and blasting out. “Sour Everythings” closes the album by bending into the scene with the bass stomping and the playing chewing through steel. All forces align and work to destroy from the inside out, smashing away at boundaries both musically and mentally. Guitars rise and mangle as the playing crushes teeth before a cooling breeze eases over the bubbling flesh, and the track bleeds away.

Our existence is fragile and volatile, both literally and metaphorically, and every day we’re alive trying to deal with surrounding circumstances of which we have no control. Intronaut bring both a sense of imaginative purpose and volcanic fury to the table on “Fluid Existential Inversions,” and a single journey through the music will open your mind to many ideas perhaps you never considered before. Intronaut refused to play it safe when creating this sixth record, reaching beyond comfort to find answers, which we might also have to do if we’re to successfully navigate our daily lives.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/intronaut

To buy the album, go here: https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: https://www.metalblade.com/us/

Blood Spore imagine hellacious tendril invasion to maul us on ‘Fungal Warfare Upon All Life’

Let’s face what has become pretty obvious: We’re kind of fucked. Sure, there is time to reverse the damage we’ve done to the planet and ensure there’s a healthy future beyond our own life cycles, but have you met some of the people in charge of making decisions for us? You think those criminally corrupt wastes of existence are going to save the day?

So, what is the answer to saving this place? Maybe it’s not humanity. Perhaps it’s not about saving anything, Maybe it’s an alien lifeform looking from beyond, seeing fertile ground, and realizing the opportunities locked within if only we weren’t here recklessly destroying shit. That’s a premise of “Fungal Warfare Upon All Life,” the nasty debut EP from Philly maulers Blood Spore. They imagine a fleet of, in their words, “poisonous tendrils dripping with infected blood” that arrive here to do battle for our home planet. Shit’s not looking good for us, by the way. The band—bassist/vocalist Christopher Emerson, guitarists Luke Gary and Kylar Bartee, and drummer Fred Grabosky—released this music on their own last year, but Blood Harvest swooped in and are releasing this beast on cassette, CD, and vinyl, bringing this hideous mission to more folks hungry to hear about our gory demise.

“Hostile Fruiting Bodies” begins with slowly trudging death and gruesome vocals, making for a furious display. Burly and punchy, the riffs chew into your sides, the bass unloads, and the leads smear blood over everything on front of it. Ugly growls send some final shrapnel, as the song ends in abrupt grossness. “Code to the Saprophyte” has guitars emerging and stinging, as hypnotic waves explode and cloud your brain with storms. The track slowly pulverizes, entering sludgy waters and bringing with it ugliness and hellish torment. Their mauling then is ramped up further, destroying what it can get its proverbial hands on as the growls corrode bones. The leads ignite flames, while the track blends out into echoing insanity. Closer “Apex Colony” stomp and tears itself apart with the riffs crushing and the growls splattering. The playing is utterly devastating as the earth’s new overlords land with noise hanging overhead and a humid assault clouding your senses. The leads twist into smashing chaos as soot engulfs the lungs, while the growls peels back the flesh. Doomy guitars emerge and darken skies, blending into an ambient haze eventually swallowed for good by alien tides.

The way we treat our home planet, we really don’t deserve it, and if there’s a group of outside beings with their sights on our world who plan to treat it better, could you blame them for trying? Blood Spore’s story might be fictional in theory, but who’s to know if we aren’t being watched by some other group who see this place’s possibilities as ripe with only us in the way? “Fungal Warfare Upon All Life” could be the first shots in that battle, and when it’s over, humankind might be the ones on the outside looking in on a place we never really appreciated.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bloodsporefungaldeath

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.bloodharvest.se/?s=blood+spore&post_type=product

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bloodharvest.se/

Putrescine’s gritty death metal hits back against tryranny on smothering EP ‘The One Reborn’

The last week or so hasn’t exactly been full of victory formations if you’re one of those battling against fascism and absolute power, hoping the people you voted to elect were going to somehow do something right for a change. Everything boils down to money and control, hardly a new revelation, and it feels like there’s no real way out of this box.

Yet, that’s a defeatist attitude. Yeah, the deck is stacked, and we need a whole lot of things to turn our way before that power finally corrupts, but shit’s not over by a long shot. In this time, finding allies can be a great source of hope, and San Diego death metal trio Putrescine just might be the shot in the arm you need to get through. Their debut EP “The One Reborn” was released independently in August, but Tridroid Records has come through with a cassette release of this monster, compete with bonus content that makes the presentation even heftier. Putrescine’s brand of death is driving, monstrous, and to the point, and their antifascist views only serve to make them another deadly weapon in the battle against tyranny. Here, the band—Marie McAuliffe (vocals, drum programming), Trevor Van Hook (guitars, vocals), Zachary Sanders (guitars, bass)—tackles issues such as climate change, anti-vaxxers, and, yes, every metal band’s favorite subject (and for damn good reason) Bloodborne on an eight-track package that’ll cave in your skull.

“Child Size Coffins” opens by smashing its way in and delivering vintage-style leads that sound like they transcend the ages. Speaking of things that wormed their way through time, we’re talking pestilence here and people’s outright refusal to believe science. McAuliffe and Van Hook trade off vocals here, as they do throughout the record, giving it a pretty cool balance, and the howls of, “Diseases long eliminated wreaking havoc for no fucking reason, advancement condemned by idiots, ignorance becomes fatal,” deliver the guttural point. “Homestead” hits really close to where I live as it revolves around a labor dispute in my neck of the woods turned deadly in July of 1892. The track pounds away and leaves bruising, viciously thrashing its way through, while the basslines recoil. Soloing sprays shrapnel as the playing smears the blood while the leads swim, and the shout of, “Organized labor will not break, bring Carnegie to his knees,” works as a rallying cry.

“The One Reborn” arrives with fluttering leads and tales of the Pthumerian experiment failing. I’m turning on my PlayStation after this, by the way, I’m so worked up. Wild howls and growls create destruction together, while meaty riffs help bring the track to a monstrous finish. “Inhuman” strikes against superpower supremacy and its effects on smaller nations, and the track begins with a clip of House member Ilhan Omar (D., MN) destroying Elliott Abrams over the El Salvador massacre in 1982. The track rips with the same disgust and intensity, mowing down the elite with savagery, while warped paces turn your eyes in your head. “Entropy” has guitars sweltering and punchy riffs tearing open the belly of the song, while satisfying crunch pumps your blood as the song examines our fragility in the universe and the way we are ushering in our own end. The use a section of a Carl Sagan quote to wrap this up, with him warning, “The trap door beneath our feet swings open,” speaks to our fatal mistakes and lack of hope of correcting them. The bonus material contains an industrial-overhauled version of “dS_0” that bathes in synthy scum, while demo version of “Child Size Coffins” and “Inhuman” give you a taste of their raw earlier forms.

There’s a major fight ahead here in the States the next 9-10 months, and while smart, tactical movements as well as a swell of enthusiasm for the cause are bound to be the proper medicine, let’s not totally kick rage and chaos off the agenda. Putrescine’s music can be a perfect companion, and while they might not completely be aiming at governmental leadership on “The One Reborn,” it’s pretty safe to assume they’re in the camp of people lashing back. This is a smashing first effort that hopefully has a full-length serving not too far behind.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Putrescine-464280534319064/

To buy the album, go here: https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/album/the-one-reborn

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TridroidRecords/