PICK OF THE WEEK: Oak’s spacious doom spills pain, utter despair through center of debut ‘Lone’

It’s getting toward the end of the year, and while this is a magical, joyous time for some, for others, it brings with it pain, depression, and bad tidings. The same could be said for the winter itself as it can look absolutely amazing outside, but inside one’s head, it can feel like the absolute worst as the sunshine turns gray, and seasonal misery sets into the bones.

That sets the stage for “Lone,” the debut record from Portuguese death/doom duo Oak, whose four-track collection is arriving Dec. 20 by way of Transcending Obscurity. Yeah, we’re a little early with this, but that’s because this is the final full week of reviews for this year (we have one more coming up next week), but we’d be remiss not to jump on this one, which hit us right in the guts. The pairing of guitarist/vocalist Guilherme Henriques and drummer Pedro Soares opens up a cavern to despair and disillusionment, meeting up with those dark feelings you might be experiencing as the year winds down. It’s a strong record that mixes brutality and melody, atmosphere and chaos, as the band pours down on you all of the smothering pain they can pack into four songs.

“Sculptures” slowly drips open as the drums begin to rumble, and then the 16:34-long puncher splits up the middle and spills. The growls lurch in Henriques’ stomach as they enter into a sorrowful atmosphere that’s both melodic and morose. Clean playing enters and floods while calm darkness spreads, and the playing continues to lap. Growls roar as slow-driving playing bores through your chest, the drums hammer your senses, and everything goes cold as the song bleeds away. “Mirror,” which runs 19:13 and is the longest cut here, follows as its slow drip starts to openly burn and churn as the growls corrode, and melodies bubble through the center. The track charges as the vocals blast, while the drums slowly awaken and bring on a calm murk. There’s a long instrumental section that conjures further misery while the track punishes anew, and growls and screams blend. The deluge of playing floods as everything moves back into darkness, with synth spreading like plague. The track tears shit apart again before the growls crush, and everything slips away.

“Abomination” is the tiniest of the bunch, clocking in at 6:19, which is long for many bands. The track pounds flesh as the growls bubble, and the guitars catch fire. The grimness stretches its wings and flies morbidly while the mashing slows down but still murders, as the calculated burning scorches flesh, and the track suffocates as it slips away. “Maze” is the 8:58 closer, and it bludgeons from the start, delivering punishment that lasts and hurts. Death madness reigns and eats through intestines while the playing pounds at already bruised bodies, as strange layers keep setting up on top of each other. The growls smother as the playing destroys bones, hammering away while growls move their way into hell, and the track comes to a heart-stopping finish.

The slithering slowness and thick shadows that permeate Oak’s killer debut “Lone” can swallow you whole and rob the light as you find yourself pulled down their dark tunnels. Their mix of swelling doom and fiery death doesn’t try to emulate anything that came before it and instead takes those building blocks and creates an atmospheric hell all their own. As our final pick of the week for 2019, this album nicely encapsulates the despair and hurt we’ve endured the previous 11 months.

For more on the band, go here: https://oakdoom.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://tometal.com/store/

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

Houston’s Oath of Cruelty bash skulls with death-filled thrash on ‘Summary Execution at Dawn’

We’re at a point where heavy metal never has been more intelligent. Though some pockets never have been denser. Anyway, there’s a lot of heady material out there that gets inside you and makes you think about things be it the state of the earth, our unraveling society, or even just our place on this planet or the vast universe as a whole.

Sometimes it’s OK to just be bludgeoned to death as Houston-based mauled Oath of Cruelty seem to have in mind on their spastic, rowdy debut record “Summary Execution at Dawn.” This isn’t to suggest the music is lunkheaded or that they lack intelligence, because the way these songs are structured and assault you suggests anything but that case. Also, the songs titles are great. But if you’re seeking for a record to challenge your knowledge or philosophical standings, you’re going to want to look elsewhere. If you want 33 minutes of absolutely sadistic insanity and clobbering death metal-driven thrash that’ll beat the fuck out of you, then look no further than this trio of heathens—guitarist/vocalist Dave Callier, guitarist Danny Hiller, drummer Matt Heffner.

“Pounding Hooves of Shrapnel” gets things started with a furious pace, guitars going off, and growls that feel like they’re trying to rub cinders into your eyes. The track stampedes from there as the leads just melt, rampaging toward “Stabbing Forth With Invincible Damnation” that’s equally as lava-filled and bloodthirsty. The vocals split throats while the speed makes things difficult for you to keep up, finishing the track off with blazing soloing and hefty thrashing. “Through Alchemy and Killing” has riffs attacking right from the start, as the pace delivers a slashing attack you can’t sidestep. The drumming is a double-kick assault before soloing ignites, and the gruff vocals send shrapnel into the hellish power surge. “Pathogenic Winds of Swarm” unleashes madness as the vocals breathe fire, following by playing that seeks to decimate its enemies. Wills are driven into the ground, and submission is the only way out as the band sets fire to whatever stands in front of it.

“Into the Chamber of Death” delivers heavy blows as the leads catch fire, and the growls punish over a massive chorus. Riffs twist into infernal insanity, leaving a trail of blood and broken bones behind it. “At the Tyrant’s Behest” has horses galloping on their way to battle, and when the song opens up, it’s clear you’re in the midst of violence and bloodshed. Raspy growls spit venom while the guitar work gets lathered up into a frenzy, and cool leads and vocal drone bring things to a weird conclusion. “Victory Rites of Exsanguination” bursts as echo settles in before the band starts to open fire wholly. It’s a break-neck pace that delivers the bulk of the damage while the guitars char a path, leading to a smoke-filled ending. “Denied Birth (Merciless)” brings with it menacing guitars and a tempo that chews the ground and vomits it back at you. The drums destroy, fueling the clobbering pace, while the title of the song is wailed repeatedly before the life is sucked away. The title track draws the album to a close as it charges up, brings vile growls, and then the track loses its mind. Fists fly as the growls explode from Callier’s mouth, while monstrous destruction follows, and the track comes to a suffocating end.

It may have taken nearly a decade for Oath of Cruelty to deliver its debut full-length, but shit takes time, and there should be no complaints once people finally get to hear “Summary Execution at Dawn.” Every bit of this thing delivers violent intent and thrashy beatings that’ll leave your flesh raw after you’re done wrestling with these nine tracks. This is metal that is here to be an agitating force, with zero concern for your mental or physical well-being, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

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

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

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

Québecois black metal kingdom gets even stronger with Trépas’ calamitous ‘L’héritage du monde’

Quebecois metal, huh? What are they doing up there and how are they poisoning the waters in order to cultivate such a savage movement that’s running out tons of goods bands that absolutely destroy? Don’t get me wrong: It’s always been ripe territory for great music, but something has really happened in the past few years that have forced up to pay attention or else.

We have a new contender with blood smeared across its jaws in the form of Trépas, a band combining formers members of Outre-Tombe and Morgue, two other noteworthy crushers from the Great White North. This band is getting ready to deliver their debut offering “L’héritage du monde,” a six-track smasher. It’s a great late-year delivery, one that’ll get your blood racing through your veins as you head outside to face the inevitable frigidity. At least I think it’s going to get cold at some point. The band—vocalist Goliatt, guitarists Harfang and Orme, bassist Fleau, drummer Averse—don’t have a lot of info circulating besides their Facebook page, and not a lot of information is readily available about the band. And that’s not a big a deal as how the music sounds, and it feels massive, doomy, and punishing, another fine example to stand alongside Forteresse, Hellebore, Monarque, Gris, Tenebrae, and so many others carrying their province’s banner.

“Rivages Sombres” bursts open and pounds away as vicious cries rain down, and the drumming hammers the senses. Strong leads blend into atmospheric clean guitars the send chills, while wrenching growls burst out of that, opening up a black stampede that rages to the song’s surging finish. “L’aube” unleashes a melodic charge that heads into an assault of massive shrieks, while the playing races underneath the array of colors. The playing is jolting, while the vocals pierce your eardrums, and the song ends with a strong stormfront that leaves behind thick sheets of ice. The title track also gets off to a ravaging start, which gets the air jostling in your lungs, all the while the band is going in between clean passages and massive blasts. Growls and shrieks mix and blast the surface with icy refuse, with a flood of chaos bringing a rush of guitar work that lathers and leaves strange textures and markings behind.

“Charognes” has riffs strangling, shrieks blasting, and the guitar work running circles all over everything. The song tries to take you down and smother you, though some mercy is allowed when clean guitars circulate, swimming with the current. That later detonates with savagery as the track gains dangerous amounts of speed, and the song has a massive final burst. “Trépas” has a different feel when it gets started, changing the mood a bit, but then the drums are unchained, and the growls punish you. Melody again courses as the shrieks jab at your flesh, while growls strike before the song barrels into its final resting place. “Errance” is your closer, and it makes its way in calmly before its guts are ripped out. The drums pound hard as the pace jostles, with strong guitar work making its black metal soul even more apparent. There’s a killer solo that paves the way for some classic metal pockets, and the track stays on a melodic turn as its finds its way into the darkness for good.

Trépas are just taking their first steps as a band, but their debut “L’héritage du monde” is a burning example of just how devastating this group is even in its infancy. The tracks here are rich and explosive, massive jolts coming from the north and warning about their impending arrival into the great black metal battleground. This is a really good time to get on with some bands that are just scratching the surface, and Trépas would be an excellent place to start.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sepulchralproductions.com/collections/preorders

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: In Human Form twist their vile progressive art to insane darkened levels on ‘III’

The day after a major holiday here in the States has the tendency to leave us sluggish and lying in piles, with our bodies still trying to work its way through the endurance test it faced yesterday. Yet, it’s not time to lie down and take it easy at all. What better opportunity to put your mind and body through a sort of metaphysical workout musically the day after heavy intake?

With that said, get ready to be wrestled to the ground by progressive black metal force In Human Form, who are about to deliver their impossible-to-classify third record “III.” Really, complicated compositions and metal that’ll challenge you heart and soul is nothing new for this Massachusetts-based wrecking unit, as they’ve been doing this thing going on a decade and a half now. As their time has gone on, they’ve refined their machine, sharpened edges, and thrown caution to solar winds, which they do on a whole different level on this three-track, 47-minute album. You’re reading that right, so as you can guess, you’re in for an enthralling endurance test when tackling these songs. The band—Patrick Dupras (vocals, lyrics), Nicholas Clark (guitar, alto sax, keyboard, samples), Dave Kaminsky (guitars), Shalin Shah (bass), Rich Dixon (drums)—is joined by special guests Evan Crandell (alto, tenor, and baritone sax) and
Hannah Pitkin (vocals) on this consciousness-expanding collection that demonstrates that you shouldn’t abandon your musical year in October or November, because relevant, striking records are release well into December, with this being a pulverizing test case.

“Apocrypha Carrion” opens the record with a blast as shrieks hammer away, the bass bubbles, and guitars slither through spacious terrain. The band sets an early tone of daring playing, sprawling away while the vocals are wailed, leading to a dramatic shift to heavily proggy waters that then soak the land. Dupras’ shrieks explode as he calls, “You’re grasping at straws,” following with, “You’re feeding on lies, you’ll be thrown to the lions.” Soloing erupts and roars as Crandell’s saxophone bursts in, feeling like a 1980s blast into strange territory while the leads flutter and cause adrenaline to surge. The track then slowly trudges as the playing spills gloriously, rushing to the drowning finish for the 18:37-long track.

“Weeping Stones” greets you with synth waves and a dialog from Clark about the Medusa, begging for her arrival. The journey is calm for a while as the sax blends in and jazzy leads follow, as an icy flow is achieved before heat melts that away. The pace then charges up, bringing a wall of horns with it with the music sweeping dramatically to the mammoth closer. “Canonical Detritus” is a 20:28 adventure that quakes the ground with devastating shrieks striking while the pace is fluid and burning as the guitars smash through prog castles. The growls get darker and devious as the brain-tangling playing snarls and tricks, spitting into the void and getting chaos in return. A nice run of classic-style metal floods as the sax rolls in again, while the punishment cools and lets the blood congeal. It isn’t long until any hope of calm is forever disrupted while black metal-style melodies rage, and Dupras wails, “The hour has come, the event horizon.” The track pushes into a melodic haze as emotion is at its apex with the music bustling and the track coming to a punishing end that feels like its pumping blood into the stars.

In Human Form’s music long has been a challenge to fully absorb mostly because there are so many different elements to search through, and every time you think you have answers, they get scrambled again. “III” keeps going their furious pace to build new metallic structures that act differently than what came before them and force you to reimagine what heavy music sounds like. This isn’t a record you can put on and let simmer in the background; it demands total participation otherwise you’ll be left painfully behind, struggling to close the distance.

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

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

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

UK black metal powerhouse Fen continue injecting wintry winds into madness on ‘The Dead Light’

I often associate music with weather, and I’m not sure why that is. But that’s the way it is for me, and after I hear a record a few times and truly get a feel for it, I immediately begin to associate what I’m hearing with the temperature and conditions that would most fit what’s swirling in my brain. As fall reigns and winter approaches, that only gets stronger.

“The Dead Light,” the sixth record from incredible UK black metal band Fen, is one that feels most at home during a soaking rain and cold weather, which, funny enough, was the condition when I was doing my note-taking listen to this collection. This band has been a personal favorite for a long time, and I’ve always found them to be a superior group in the whole atmospheric black metal terrain, even being able to do battle with the rightly celebrated Agalloch any day of the week. This new effort continues to build Fen’s reputation as a thought-provoking, imaginative unit as the band—guitarist/vocalist The Watcher, bassist/backing vocalist Grungyn, drummer Havenless—delivers the goods on their Prophecy debut, one that hopefully continues to swell their mass of followers.

“Witness” unfurls quietly before it expands majestically in scope with clean group singing bustling and colors being mixed into the murk. Whispers snarl and threaten and the horizon darkens, leading into “The Dead Light Part 1” that delivers proggy punches out of the gate. Heavy shrieks explode from the Watcher as the pace begins to thump and the ground swells. That burns into an acoustic path that takes the journey for the next bit before the heaviness is born again. Melody infuses with thrashy intensity while group calls surge your blood, and punishment and growls drop the final hammer before leaning into instrumental “The Dead Light Part 2” that’s made from vibrating tones, crunchy guitars, and a spirited pace that delivers the proper exclamation point to the end of this pair of tracks. “Nebula” starts slowly, trickling inward before prog fires burn brightly, and then the Watcher’s growls leave bruising on your chest. The track gets gruff and tricky while the drums power, and melodic runs keep the song trucking until it hits an icy edge that brings a chill to your flesh. The bass then sparks and chews as the song re-opens, clean calls bellow, and everything rushes to an explosive finish.

“Labyrinthine Echoes” begins with clean guitars draining before the song bursts and growls hammer you. The playing takes a daring twist and heads toward progressive waters again as the music rains down and continues to get more aggressive. The song hits a stretch of calm before lighting up again, with the Watcher wailing, “We lie to ourselves,” as the track bleeds away. “Breath of Void” assaults from the start before the guitars go exploring, and strong shrieks combine with imaginative guitar parts that get your mind working overtime. Calm along with solemn whispers combine before the tempo kicks back up and delivers a thrashy dose of punishment. Sludgy hell then emerges, punching out before the song disappears into mist. “Exsanguination” has a tempered opening as singing spreads before things are whipped into higher order. The vocals inject dreamy thinking as soaring calls head over the mountain. The track chills and slithers, gradually slowing down before the track floats off. “Rendered in Onyx” ends the record with cold winds touching down before punches are landed, and fluid guitar work chews nerve endings. Growls then destroy as the song picks up a savage pace that sheds blood, raging and burning into an acoustic wash, adding calm, freezing layers that hint at the wintry onslaught ahead.

Fen continue to carve out their creative path into the upper echelon of atmospheric black metal on “The Dead Light.” It’s going to get cold any day now here on the East Coast, and it’ll soon be time to hibernate with music that exhales its gripping breath into the air. This is another stunning addition to a catalog that’s as strong as anyone else trying their hands at this style of music.

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

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://us.prophecy.de/?

Or here (International): https://en.prophecy.de/prophecy/fen-the-dead-light.html?listtype=search&searchparam=fen

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

Ragana’s societal anger blends into atmospheric doom chaos on icy ‘We Know That the Heavens…’

Photo by Bailey Kobelin

It’s late in the year, and most of the noteworthy music is behind us as we have to face the tidal wave of best-of lists that already have come rushing our way. But the past couple years, there has been strong music bleeding out through December, and that same thing is happening this year. Basically, don’t tune out on 2019 or you’re going to miss some cool shit.

One of those is a quick two-track release from Ragana, the anarcha-feminist black metal and doom powerhouse that is putting a bruising edge on socially conscious art. Maria (guitars/vocals) and Nicole (drums/vocals), the two members behind this force, have struck back with “We Know That the Heavens Are Empty,” a tremendous piece that, while it’s two songs, is really one full piece stitched together. It also shows the band expanding their sound a little more as they blend plenty of atmosphere in with their abject heaviness and emotional turmoil the duo commonly displays. The title of the recording comes from an 1892 poem called “The Toast of Despair” by anarchist artist Voltairine de Cleyre, which adds to the band’s commitment to their ideals and their devotion to their movement’s history.

“Waiting” starts off with clean guitars trickling in before the track bursts open, creating heavy tides before things calm, and the pace brings solemnity. The calls of, “Light flickers as I wait for you,” increase the feelings pulsing through this, and then the power jolts again, the crunch is delivered, and furious shrieks leaves heavy welts, as feedback rings out, mixing into “The Tower” that starts with slow drubbing. The singing spreads its wings and soars with calls of, “All day, I’ll lay,” before things are shredded, guitars bustle, and the shrieks leave devastation behind. Guitars bubble and spill over as the track chews everything in its gears, noise returns and stings, and the track slips into the void.

Ragana’s power is on full display with “We Know That the Heavens Are Empty,” as the band again proves it’s one of the more unique forces out there, as their sound continually evolves and strengthens. These two songs are jarring and get inside you, changing your mental makeup while this music has its way with your mind. Ragana delivered to us a late-year gem that will continue to quake the ground and your own bones well into its full life cycle.

For more on the band, go here: http://ragana.org/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Mesmur smear world-toppling misery all over funereal third record ‘Terrene’

If you were to tell me the entire world is in a freefall, I wouldn’t argue. In fact, I’d probably ask if you’ve been paying attention to things I say in real life, on social media, and on this page because I bought into that concept long ago. But there are so many in denial for various reasons—brainwashed by moral-free politicians, their money is in jeopardy, they don’t care—that is never hurts to bluntly hammer home to point over and over again.

Funeral doom crushers Mesmur, a band whose members hail from all over the world, aren’t just bringing you that perspective from one country or one continent. They’ve seen it, lived it, breathed it for years, and that pushes over into their stunning third record “Terrene,” which is a mammoth of an album. While the band has basked in the stars in the past, this new record is more earth-bound in its approach, though there remains alien DNA all over this thing. Their drubbing approach to doom remains as dark and dank as ever, but there also is more atmosphere than ever before as well as added texture from guests Don Zaros (of Evoken, who handles flute) and Nadia Avanesova (cello) as they infuse color into the work that this band—vocalist Chris G. guitarist/synth player Jeremy L., bassist Michele M., drummer John D.—has committed to history.

“Terra Ishtar” emerges from the skies with a frosty pace and a cosmic, spacious atmosphere that unfurls into evenly paced punches and then cavernous growls that rupture your bowels. Synth spreads as a sorrowful adventure begins to take hold, with the leads opening and stretching their wings and the double-kick drums ravaging the earth. That pushes back into space again as orchestral synth creates waves, and a mournful haze begins making its way across the ground before things ramp up again. Hulking growls pummel as the stars sizzle, and everything melts into a slithering dirge. “Babylon” has keys shimmering as we open into a scene from a dream, pounding away as the tempo boils. Keys bleed despair while the growls set in and chew your guts, with things getting sludgy and tough to travel. The guitars begin to weep as the music gets slurry, floating nautically into another round of savagery. The track hulks into a synth haze, bludgeoning repeatedly until the melodies melt into the clouds.

“Eschaton” has gothy keys and a bone-crushing pace as growls begin to crawl through the mud. The leads then catch fire, and the playing is more uptempo, at least as it refers to Mesmur’s typical pace. The growls punish before the playing goes cold, leaving you in chills as it mixes with cleaner waters and ghostly speaking. Strings then gather and sweep, swimming into moody guitars and murky synth that give the track a gothy finish. “Caverns of Edimmu” closes the record by unloading murky sounds and a more vulnerable pace, as it feels like the world is falling apart. The growls are smeared with psychedelic echo while the keys crawl and lower a goth-style curtain. While that’s happening, a sci-fi-style bubble bursts as the growls begin to aggravate mental wounds, and the playing gets purposefully dreary. Sorrowful scraping keeps working at sore spots while the grisly hell combines with elegant synth to put a morose sheen over everything, with the song coming to a mystifying, mind-teasing finish.

“Terrene” is meant to be the more grounded record of the band’s collection, but Mesmur definitely didn’t abandon the cosmos on these four funereal passages. This band remains under the radar for many, which is a shame since Mesmur have been nothing but solid since they started, and their third record continues to open their expanse. Perhaps this new document will be what the band needs to open more ears and bring added followers to their morbid procession.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://solitude-prod.com/releases/solitude-productions/mesmur-terrene/

For more on the label, go here: https://solitude-prod.com/