PICK OF THE WEEK: White Ward mix cold jazzy sentiment with black metal on ‘Love Exchange Failure’

Compassion and concern for one another aren’t really things you find on most metal records. Especially ones that are heavy as hell. But it’s worth examining because we live in an era where we are busy and distracted and not terribly open to other people. Stress and mental wounds are rarely healing, and that can affect the way we treat one another.

These things were rolling around the brains of Ukrainian black metal band White Ward as they approached their second record “Love Exchange Failure,” their second overall. They thought about how involved our lives have become, how many people have lost the ability to love (not sexually, necessarily) other people, and how that affects us mentally. It’s a heavy thing to mull, and when you think of how our lives have devolved, especially socially, the idea is worth considering because we’re likely all guilty. That is why the band named the record “Love Exchange Failure” because it observes people using more hatred than love when dealing with other people. Using this record, that is a seven track, 67-minute epic, lets the band also apply different sounds and textures to their atmospheric black metal, another way in which the band—vocalist Andrii Mai, guitarists Yuriy Kazaryan and Mykola Jack, bassist Andrey Pechatkin, drummer Yevhenii Karamushko—digs into your mind and makes you think of things in ways you maybe haven’t before. They’re joined by assorted special guests to unfurl this album that is sobering and deeply emotional, and it might take a few listens to fully absorb all that’s here.

The title track starts the album with the sounds of urban life as sirens cry in the distance before keys and sax meet up to add to the ambiance. Three minutes in, the song explodes as Mai’s vocals rip out, and emotional trauma is spread heavily. Calm later returns as the music breezes and keys drop, and then the fires ignite anew, with wrenching vocals and pulsing drums. The track continues to punish as guitars and drums charge, but then things are swallowed into a jazzy mist as the song fades into the night. “Poisonous Flowers of Violence” has gazey dripping that’s sets the mood before things fully erupt. Melodic riffs and spiraling playing join with Mai’s harsh cries, with the song utterly waylaying with power. Gruff growls give off a guttural jolt before rain picks up, and the soft sax arrives again. Guitars return to inject some electricity again, while the back end of the song mixes keys, sax, and woodwinds, ending in serenity. “Dead Heart Confession” has dark guitars trickling, as quotes from Jeffrey Dahmer slip behind, sending chills, before everything is wrecked. Growls decimate as the classic metal backing brings a weird sense of nostalgia, while the leads rush through a thunderstorm. The seas calm while sax reverberates, the bass bends, and the song ruptures all over. From there, the playing swells again, growls split the senses, and the song floats away into the arms of shadows.

“Shelter” is an instrumental track and one of the shortest here, clocking in at 5:41. Keys and whispers unite before the body crumbles and noise begins to spread, making everything beneath it burst. Later on, chimes ring on as the music hovers, and then it’s into “No Cure For Pain” that stays with the delicacy. The track takes time to get moving as a mood is established, and at about 3:35, the playing get shredded with growls smashing and the tempo destroying. Sounds mash into an epic solo that again brings back the feelings of metal’s glory years before the hammers drop all over again, and the vocals pelt the flesh. Sax playing mixes in with the thrashing as the group joins up in rousing “ah-ah” calls, and deep crooning from Vitality Gavrilenko goes for the chest before the shrapnel is spewed all over again. “Surfaces and Depths” is very different but really rewarding, a true example of the band’s flexibility. Keys set the tone, as things head into jazzy waters again, and Renata Kazhan lends her smoky voice to the track, making it really stand out. “We are all doomed, so ease your prayers,” she urges, as the song pushes into the lonesome night. Sax swims through before a mighty deluge strikes at the end, taking the song into its resting place. Closer “Uncanny Delusions” also brings different winds, as clean guitars flow generously, and vocals from Ivan Kozakevych (with his thick Ukrainian accent) add a brassy, elegant feel to the song. Eventually things blow apart, and the metallic attack arrives, complete with Mai’s wrenching screams. The meaty mashing always melds back with shadowy playing, feeling like a fog is taking you to a haunted place. All of that disappears like a spirit into a strange stretch of old-timey music and disarming crying that leaves you chilled to the bone.

White Ward is a band like few others who combine savage blackness with smooth waters, mixing so many moods and emotions that you never can get too comfortable. “Love Exchange System” also is a record that, thematically, sets itself apart from so many other extreme music albums and the bands that play them. This is a human record centered on concern and compassion, and the music will stay with me into the colder months and the years beyond. It’s that impactful.

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

Cult of Luna’s ambition hits back with enormous highs, crushing emotion on huge ‘A Dawn to Fear’

I’m not sure that this is the age of the epic. Media gets consumed and spit out so quickly that it’s hard to make an impact with a longer piece, unless we’re talking a movie, where you’re forced to sit there for as long as it takes. Musically, things are broken into little bits, and while there remain stars, there hardly is the lasting impact for artists that there used to be.

Swedish crushers Cult of Luna have been doing things for more than two decades now, and in an age of here today, gone later today, these guys have heavily thwarted the notion that they need to make things digestible. Their new record “A Dawn to Fear” is an absolute mammoth at eight tracks and 79 minutes. If you don’t have the patience and willingness to immerse yourself in something that demands that long, you’re going to miss one of the most fascinating and crushing records of the year, one that belongs next to Cult of Luna’s finest moments. The band—vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Kihlberg, keyboardist/vocalist Kristian Karlsson, bassist Andreas Johansson, drummer/percussionist Thomas Hedlund, drummer/studio engineer Magnus Lindberg—didn’t set out to create a straight narrative and instead let things be looser when creating what you hear, and the result is fiery, fluid, and kinetic, an album that doesn’t feel as long as it is. That approach worked perfectly, and this album unravels itself and reveals more secrets with every listen.

“The Silent Man” opens the record with noise swelling before the music begins pounding, and Persson’s growls start to settle in. The keys leave a strange film as the journey whirs along, unloading chaos before things get equally mesmerizing and crunchy. Slide guitars give off a haunting vibe as moody organs spill in, the track gets a spacey texture, and everything bleeds away. “Lay Your Head to Rest” is the shortest track, running 6:24, and it begins with electric pulses and muddy punishment before Persson’s growls break up the ground. The track hulks along while sounds hover, crushing wills and landing heavy punches to the end. The title track sparks and lets dreams spill through, as numb singing takes over for the roars, and the darkness floods. The slide guitars again spark a mood, letting you settle into dusk before the track gets thornier, and the growls smash the senses. Things go back to reflective as dark notes drip, and the misty sadness spreads all over the earth. “Nightwalkers” trickles as the bass begins to plod, sprawling and mashing with growls scarring. Strange keys wash in and makes your mind feel strange with the growls returning, the pace boiling and steaming, and the organs acting like a slow-release drug. That all is swallowed whole as the band chugs heavily, fiery playing increases the heat, and the track dissolves into mystery.

“Lights on the Hill” is the longest track here, clocking in at 15:07, and each second is well spent. The front end has a psychedelic Pink Floyd feel, with the song slowly unfurling, bleeding and crawling into an extended instrumental section. The vocals finally rip in about six and a half minutes into the song, and from there the monstrous theatrics continue to pile on. The assault is calculated much of the time while the synth blazes, and fiery cries leave bruising before the final stretch fades into serenity that’s dragged off into the distance. “We Feel the End” is hazy and intoxicating with softer singing and a post-rock-style feel, not unlike Crippled Black Phoenix’s delicate moments.  The track remains pulled back, as rainy clouds thicken, the atmosphere is filled with gray, and the music ends in a somber shadow. “Inland Rain” has energy poking through, barked vocals, and a slurry ambiance that feels cosmic and welcoming. The keys blend and send off mist while the growls crush, the music crescendos, and the final moments smash things to bits. “The Fall” is the closer, opening slowly and letting the first section of its 13:13 get settled. Finally, the track bursts with the growls scraping, as the wrenching pace and the hammering music batters everything. Melody slides into fog, washing through the unknown, and then the song explodes dangerously again. Savage wails and the band unloading molten rock makes the world melt, but then the guitars get colder, the emotions settle, and the track flows into the universe.

So many bands have come along and tried to tread the same waters as Cult of Luna, but none of them have captured their penchant for adventure and desolate heaviness the way they can. “A Dawn to Fear” is another monstrous display from this band, one that fits right along their classic works but pushes them toward their future. This is another awesome display, one that uses every ounce of their imagination and energy and leaves you heaving with breath when it’s over.

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

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

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

Atlantean Kodex’s epic majesty unleashes ancient tales, fallen reigns on ‘The Course of Empire’

Over the past decade and a half, there has been so much death and black metal clogging up extreme music’s veins, that it seemed many had forgotten there were either ways to play this stuff. Yet slowly, things swung back, and bands that employed more drama and clean singing worked their way back in to claim time, and that’s made the whole scene a more nuanced place in which to be.

I’m not sure a band such as Atlantean Kodex would have been as roundly accepted by a larger audience had they been in the meat of their career 15 years ago. It was a different time, and things had switched to tougher styles, and bands like these tended to fall by the wayside with extreme music audiences. Then again, it’s hard to deny a band as great as this, so maybe they’d have been the exception. Nonetheless, we have them now, and their magnificent third album “The Course of Empire” has arrived six years after their high-water mark “The White Goddess” aggressively grabbed people’s attention (it was our No. 1 record that year). This new one hardly pulls back on the ambition, the huge sounds, and the soaring vocals that help make this band as special as it is. With 10 tracks spread over nearly 63 minutes, everything here is epic and huge. This is another master class in epic heavy metal, making them the closest modern equivalent we have to an Iron Maiden or a Manilla Road. But they’re so much different than those bands, and so many others than came before them, that I don’t want to pigeonhole this German crew—vocalist Markus Becker, guitarists Manuel Trummer and Coralie Baier, bassist Florian Kreuzer, and drummer Mario Weiss. They’re a force of nature barely contained to wax.

“The Alpha and the Occident (Rising from Atlantean Tombs)” is a quick, yet vibrant opening where guitars begin to awaken, and Becker calls, “Empires, rise, empires fall,” a sentiment that returns later in the record. “People of the Moon (Dawn of Creation)” trudges open and is a perfection dictionary definition of an Atlantean Kodex song. The verses pump, and once the chorus arrives, all gears are shoved into overdrive, with Becker wailing, “And now our hearts still yearn, but the world, unheeding, turns.” The track pulls back a bit before a big return complete with guitars slathering, the pace charging, and Becker singing, “Ghost kings chanting of tragedy and mirth,” as the song ends. “Lion of Chaldea (The Heroes’ Journey)” keeps the momentum moving as winds blow in, horses trample, and a killer metallic riff cuts through steel. “We walk as giants among mankind,” Becker declares, as a tremendous chorus jams in yet another dagger. The soloing catches fire and burns out of control, the chorus resurges, and the track ends in flames. “Chariots (Descending from Zagros)” has a cinematic opening, as Becker calls, “Tremble all ye who have heard the call, for another kingdom falls.” The track then gets pretty savage, as the band pounds away, and a massive chorus strikes, as Becker sings of “devouring rage, brimstone, fire, and smoke.” The track continues to char while an emotional solo guts before the assault lessens, and the track ends in quiet guitars and softer vocals. “The Innermost Light (Sensus Fidei)” takes its time building, as Becker warns, “Where there is silence, there is thunder,” as the group harmonizes behind him. Ominous drumming rings out while organs swell, and Becker finishes with, “No more war in the palace of light.”

“A Secret Byzantium (Numbered as Sand and the Stars)” has a calculated open, taking its time to stretch its wings as cities burn. “In their tales, we became gods,” Becker notes, melding the idea of legends and tragedy. The chorus is pretty different, even understated, as the tale rambles on. “A path of wisdom we blazed through heathen darkness,” Becker calls as the track winds down, birds chirp, and doomed bells ring. “He Who Walks Behind the Years (Place of Sounding Drums)” is thunderous and immersed in European folk music, with a heavier edge setting sparks. “Will I ever walk this earth again?” Becker wonders, though later he reminds, “My kingdom is not of this world,” as a powerful solo tears down walls. The tempo and tone both are ignited, while the band bashes away, the singing soars, and the final moment return to the same, lush folk base that greeted us. “Spell of the Western Sea (Among Wolves and Thieves)” is a quick track with water crashing, singing floating, remembering a time when the narrator was king, and things flowing toward “The Course of Empire (All Thrones in Earth and Heaven)” that has a modern Maiden taste to it. “Empires rise, empires fall,” Becker reminds, coming full circle from the record’s start, as the track splashes like a tidal wave, sweeping you along with it. “Nothing sacred’s left alive,” Becker wails before the band goes into a full “woah-oh” chorus that should be a killer live, with the track suddenly fading away about seven minutes in. It rises again in the arms of folk before things explode again, and the track comes to a glorious finish. Closer  “Die welt von Gestern (Abendland)” closes the record with a voice speaking in German, waves crashing, and the feeling of being at sea. Fire crackle and the music heads off over the horizon.

The glory of heavy metal is alive and well with Atlantean Kodex, one of the great bands of our age. “The Course of Empire” is another rushing, historically slashing record that makes your heart soar while also directing you toward Google searches to learn more about the content that makes up these songs. There are few bands as special as this, so whenever we get to bask in their glory, we should remember to realize how memorable their presence really is.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Atlantean-Kodex-187524197964771

To buy the album, go here: https://www.van-records.de/advanced_search_result.php?keywords=atlantean+kodex&x=0&y=0

For more on the label, go here: https://www.van-records.de/

Weeping Sores spark horrifying union of death, doom, haunting strings on icy ‘False Confession’

Taking a chance when it comes to making music either can be a rewarding surprise or an unmitigated disaster that probably should have remained on the shelf. Whatever the result, it’s still a worthwhile venture because even if things turn out really not good, there’s a chance to learn and get better. And when it goes well, you have something that jumpstarts your blood flow.

“False Confession,” the debut LP from Weeping Sores, definitely falls in the latter category. Mixing death, doom, and violin is a thing that either could go very right or depressingly wrong, but all the right buttons are hammered over and over again on this thing, making it one of the more interesting debuts to come along this year. Combining Doug Moore (guitars, bass, vocals) and Stephen Schweiger (drums) from death chameleons Pyrrhon with violinist Gina Eygenhuysen, who played live with Tchornobog, the band crafts a compelling, pulverizing amalgamation of the dark arts on this six-track, 56-minute collection. With that run time and that amount of songs, you already have figured out this band puts together lengthy compositions, and you’d be right. But they never overstay their welcome and, in fact, make great use out of every inch of sound that’s here, putting together nightmares, shadows, and ghostly beauty into a devastating package.

“Scars Whispering Secret Tongues” opens the record with equal parts crunch and delicacy as adventurous riffs swell, and grim growls destroy. There’s a sense of adventure as well as things shoot into space and the guitars slurp. Growls and shrieks trade places before an orchestral sweep comes in, the track lurches, and a strong solo leads into a hazy fog. Mournful playing then bleeds before the violin takes us into the dark. “Song of Embers” flows in feeling reflective at first before the strings thicken, and the emotion wells up. The ground rumbles as growls cut through, while the violin pounds and stuns, growls smear, and fire and melody intertwine. The track hammers, vicious growls smear, and things come to a savage end. “Transfiguration of Flesh Into Dream” is lurching hell from the start before ugly, smashing death arrives, and a ferocious pace dictates terms. Steamy leads stretch, making your head swim, while ugly vocals bubble to the surface, demolition lands, and the violin adds a sinister vibe that ends the song in terror.

“The Leech Called Shame” drubs from the start, feeling inventive as the violin flows. That goes into mammoth pounding as the strings blend in again and sting, a trudging fury mounts, and your mind can’t help dripping from your ears as the track ends in a bed of feedback. “Valediction Prayer” sludges slowly as the growls and shrieks again unite, and the tempo pounds heavily as the violin drizzles pain. Noise scrapes as the song blends into proggy territory, while things pick up and feel more dangerous. The song takes on a baroque horror feel while the music swims through the air, you can’t help but feel disoriented, and everything bleeds out in noise. “Sinking Beneath the Waves” ends the record with strings echoing and slurry riffs getting going. Mean roars slash as the track parades in muck, and snarling death smashes the senses. Growls gurgle blood before calm sets in, taking its time before going off again. When it does, the track mixes brutality and melody, your synapses split, and an angelic haze hangs over everything as the record melts into a time warp.

Weeping Sores is more than just an interesting project from three well-accomplished creators. It’s a smothering, inventive group responsible for a shape-shifting record in “False Confession” that seems to change before your eyes and ears with each listen. The album and band are more than a sum of their parts; this is a promising beast that I can only image how it will sound once record two comes along.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

Or here (cassette version): https://www.riffmerchant.com/product/weeping-sores

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Crypt Sermon unveil enthralling, masterful opus ‘The Ruins of Fading Light’

Every year there are incredible records that come out that you’re certain are going to stick with you well beyond the 12 months in which you’re in. They’re kind of tougher to mine now with so damn much music out there which, again, isn’t really a complaint. But they’re out there, and the ones that are meant to be a part of your mental fabric likely will find their way.

A couple months back, Crypt Sermon’s heavily anticipated second record “The Ruins of Fading Light” arrived in my inbox, and I don’t think there’s been a week that has passed since where I haven’t visited with it at least once. Hopes already were high after their great debut “Out of the Garden” landed four years ago, but the results here on this 10-track opus are beyond expectations, an album so good that it already feels like a classic. Their epic doom falls into the league of bands such as Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, and even Dio-era Black Sabbath and Fates Warning (I know they’re not a doom band…), and their Biblically influenced storytelling centered on life, loss, and limits of faith as well as their absolute command of their style are astonishing. It also should be noted that singer Brooks Wilson is an absolute revelation here. As good as he was on their debut, he’s absolute world league here, one of the best voices in metal now and one of the record’s main events. The rest of the band—guitarists Steve Jannson and James Lipczynski, bassist Frank Chin, and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga—are stellar as fuck as well as they hammer these epics over the wall, making for one of metal’s more magical releases of the year.

“The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame)” starts with eerie sounds and hoofs pounding the ground before the song opens in full, trudging away. “For every kink in our armor there is a notch in my hilt,” Wilson declares, before going into a simple chorus that’s easy to call back and is infectious. A huge solo kicks out as Wilson wails, “Burn!” with the track coming to a rousing end. “Key of Solomon” has a great riff and a pace that chews bone with Wilson in command, calling about “signs and sigils painted on the floor.” Another great chorus strikes, which is another that gets into your chest, as the guitars go off and spill into chaos, bringing the track to a burning end. “Our Reverend’s Grave” is punchy as hell with Wilson wailing, “Come down, Moses, the mountain’s on fire,” as the smoke spreads and chokes. The ground quakes as Wilson points out, “At the end of the life, there’s nothing,” as cold guitars flow, the title is called repeatedly, and the track ruptures to the surface. “Epochal Vestiges” is the first of a trio of interludes, as keys rush feeling like a film score, as bells and chimes lead to “Christ is Dead,” which is a stone-cold classic, and the fucking record isn’t even physically out yet. Everything about the song is massive, from the guitars to the singing to the drama, and the chorus absolutely puts it over the top, with Wilson wailing, “I’ll stare into the eyes of the devil until I know we’re truly free.” Just an awesome cut, one of the best of the entire year.

“The Snake Handler” runs 9:11, the longest song on the album, as guitars slither dangerously before the pace chugs and charges. The singing is a little grittier on this storyteller, as Wilson calls, “We’ll take up stakes with poison in our veins,” and amazing lead guitar work rips things apart a little more. The guitars work trades off and later joins up, with the song bursting at the seams at the end. “Oath of Exile” is an interlude cut built with rain showers and guitar smears, and that leads into another mini-track “Enslave the Heathens” that uses clips from Orson Welles’ version of “Macbeth,” quiet flutes, and hand drumming. “Beneath The Torchfire Glare” has a grimy start with the song sounding like mid-90s Metallica (I don’t mean that in a bad way), as Wilson snarls, “I bring your disaster, become your master.” The tracks keeps getting filthier, a song of domination and strength, powered by a strong chorus that’s easy to keep in your brain. The track is steamy and fluid, leaking grease as it reaches its end. Closer “The Ruins of Fading Light” is a disarming ballad that plays like a warning to life’s dangerous twists and turns. “Life is a foolish game we play, o, child,” Wilson warns, as the track delves deeper into life, loss, and failure. Things crescendo into mountainous madness, as Wilson wails, “No heaven, just hell in ruins of fate and light,” before the track explodes to a finish.

Doom metal is awash in great bands, but Crypt Sermon have to be considered at the top of that pile, even with just two records under their belts. “The Ruins of Fading Light” in an unbelievable album, one of the best of the year, and a collection that would be an all-time milestone if it was in circulation for 30 years or so. But this is a modern gem, an album that is packed front to back with glorious thunder that strikes over and over and leaves you for dead.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

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

Michigan grinders Cloud Rat put chaotic blast into poison world of madness on fiery ‘Pollinator’

Photo by Jason Tipton

We live in a strange, volatile place that, at current state, doesn’t seem to be getting any friendlier any time soon. On top of that is you have people who are trying to find a place to belong where they feel safe and accepted, and then there are those on the other side who belittle those individuals and taunt them to get tough or suck it up. What a load of horse shit.

Seeking and finding acceptance is something many of us need, and often we find that in music. Michigan grind beasts Cloud Rat have been one of those bands that have fought for the oppressed and those who need a scene with which to align, and over the past decade, they’ve backed that up with some of the most volcanic creations in heavy music. Now comes their explosive new full-length “Pollinator,” a 14-track barrage that isn’t just brutality for the sake of it. Their music never is that way. Hidden beneath all the trauma are messages of hope in a world full of hell. The band states that the lyrics address trauma and memories, relationship and communication issues, and trying to navigate all of that in modern society. Vocalist Madison Marshall, guitarist/keyboard player/sampler Rorik Brooks, and drummer Brandon Hill hope what you hear on “Pollinator” can wash over you and help you find a connection in a place where there is so much negativity. Not that they don’t also delve into some of the darkness and blackness, because they definitely do. But out of that comes power and hopefully the inspiration for others to push their own minds and try to change their worlds for the better.

“Losing Weight” starts the record as a blast that lasts less than 2 minutes and is a volcanic burst as Marshall’s vocals strip away at muscle, with the song grinding you down into “Delayed Grief // Farmhouse Red” that utterly goes off. Murky synth gives off clouds while the vocals snarl and crush, the band hits a thrashy fury, and shrapnel piles up at a sludgy end. “Seven Heads” has strong riffs, Marshall dicing the senses, and everything smothering before a strange fog sickens. The guitars then round back and destroy, leading into “Night Song” that echoes out front before yells bleed in, later turning to desperate cries. The track then gets heavier and uglier as the band wrecks shit, ending in total panic. “Wonder” has guitars flush with color and mangling vocals as Marshall admits, “My brain never shuts off!” That continues to pile into fury, rushing into “The Mad”  that opens into slowly mauling anguish and emotional leads before the song opens up. The drums decimate along with the rest of the assault, leading toward “Al Di La” that sits in a melodic haze. The song then starts trucking as everything in front of it is destroyed, Marshall’s growls slash, and the aftermath is swallowed into a mist.

“Last Leaf” has guitars trickling in before everything explodes. Massive riffs and animalistic growls deface, ending in a pile of filthy mashing. “Zula” is a quick, blinding attack with sickening screams and a tornadic pace, ramming into “Biome” that has vicious growls and a tempo that sucks you under forever. The playing begins to spin out, making the room catapult, ending in a massive rain. “Webspinner” is a piledriver, bending your neck, smearing soot in your face as Marshall accuses, “You would do anything,” as the music swims into hell. “Luminescent Cellar” slows things down, allowing reflection, slowly buzzing into your brain. The dreamy sequence is then torn to shreds as guitars gurgle, with everything ending in guttural wails. “Marionettes” has a melodic open before Armageddon lands and blackens the earth. The storm rips through, sending mud and trees flying before things drip into dreams. “Perla” finishes the record with melody again shining through, with Marshall’s vocals there to lacerate the night, and thrashy, mashing verses that’ll leave you bruised. The mood changes about halfway through, adding even more emotion to the song and ending everything with your heart bleeding out.

Cloud Rat are a force with which to be reckoned both on record and live, and the music they deliver on “Pollinator” is vital, devastating, and perhaps just what so many of us need to hear right now. The band never has been shy about spreading their messages, and they’ve been a strong voice standing up for positive social and political efforts in which they believe. Along with that, they’re also one of the most inventive and calamitous bands in heavy music, and this record only goes to further solidify that point.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://cloudrat.bandcamp.com/

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

Philly’s Sheer Mag combine big riffs with family loss, politics, work chaos on ‘A Distant Call’

Photo by Marie Lin

It’s always weird when you hear a song in a commercial that totally isn’t representative of the product being moved nor the mood they’re trying to strike in the piece. That’s either because the makers didn’t understand the song or they didn’t give a shit and figure you won’t either. But it’s one of the ways people misunderstand music’s intent despite how it sounds on the surface.

If you dig into Philly rockers Sheer Mag’s new record “A Distant Call” and don’t immerse yourself in the lyrics and story that connects these 10 songs, you might get the wrong idea. With its killer riffs, rock n roll attitude, and Tina Halladay’s impossibly infectious singing, this record might sound like a great album in which to toss back beers and get sunburnt this summer, or at least what’s left of it. Not that you can’t do that, but you’d be missing a pretty deep, painful tale that’s being told here, one based on a period in Halladay’s life that might help connect the band with listeners going through similar struggles. Through her singing, she tells a story about a women who lost her job and also is dealing with the death of her father, with whom she’s had a difficult relationship. The record also touches on modern politics that feel a lot like old politics as well as workers standing up for their rights. It’s also, all of this aside, a punchy, ultra-catchy album that’ll definitely catch you off guard as the band—Halladay is joined by guitarist/lyricist Matt Palmer, guitarist Kyle Seely, bassist Hart Seely—pays homage to the arena rock era, as these songs are huge and will overwhelm you.

“Steel Sharpens Steel” opens the record with a wild howl from Halladay and the riffs getting going, with a killer bridge with her calling, “It’s a chain reaction when you turn the other cheek, remember if you’re looking for action, and you’re feeling dull and weak.” The simple chorus is easy to call back and is a defiant call that the hard times make you tougher. “Blood From a Stone” has a great riff and is a little breezier, as Halladay insists, “But I won’t cry, cuz I should have known, that to get some comfort from your aching heart, is blood from a stone.” A cool solo rips out, which is par for the course on this record, and Halladay blasts back about the struggles of living check to check before the track rings out. “Unfound Manifest” has a steely guitar line driving through before a twin assault is launched. “Sinking in dark waters, fighting back against the tide, can’t hold on much longer when the salt begins to rise,” Halladay notes, while the strong chorus gets the blood going, and the track comes to a fiery end. “Silver Line” changes things up as it has a shimmery psychedelic feel, making it easily stick out in a good way. “I’m making it day by day,” Halladay insists while a warm solo sinks in, and the track comes to a dreamy finish. “Hardly to Blame” has a nighttime vibe and a bruising chorus, as the guitars light up in neon. “I tried to love you, I tried to tell you,” Halladay sings at the end of the chorus, while the song itself fades.

“Cold Sword” has riffs powering through, though the song comes with tragedy and sadness, as Halladay sings, “Today I got the news that his heart gave out, I know I’ll never have another, but what father darkens his own house?” Her voice is a highlight of this song, which is no surprise, as amid hardship, she manages to stand her ground despite an unsteady future. “Chopping Block” has guitars that remind of Priest’s synth-based days in the 1980s, as the singing pushes hard, the chorus crunches, and the call of, “The final hour strikes the clock, they need to pay, they owe us our back wage,” drives everything home. “The Right Stuff” has Halladay tackling body image and her defiance when adhering to what society determines is beauty, which she says right here in the song. Along the way, the band creates a psyche vibe, as she strikes back with, “If you’re worried about my health, shut your mouth and keep it to yourself,” as a killer solo strikes the final nails. “The Killer” is an awesome cut that delves back into politics continuing in a ruinous cycle that only serves to beat us down. “He’s got you right between the eyes,” Halladay warns, as the band puts together a super infectious chorus that sounds cheery but is anything but. The record ends with “Keen on Running” that has the bass slinking with the drums, the guitars mangling, and Halladay’s singing sounding softer in spots, where she pokes, “On our backs, they want to see us fall.” The band drums up a huge classic rock-style finish that ends the record in a barrage of fireworks both musically and emotionally.

Sheer Mag’s power and exuberance are impossible to ignore and a super refreshing breath of fresh air in our current musical climate that very often forgets to have fun. At the same time, “A Distant Call” has sobering subject matter that can cut right to the bone, especially for those who have experienced these same struggles. This is a hell of a statement, a really strong record, and the further push to the future for one of this era’s most energetic rock bands.

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

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