Dawnbringer burn as brightly as ever on ambitious ‘Into the Lair of the Sun God’

Chris Black of Dawnbringer

I got into metal for the sound, but I stayed for the adventures. The first time my pre-teen ears heard things such as Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Dio, and classic solo Ozzy, I was captivated and instantly wanted to know more about what I was hearing. The fact that the school I attended warned me repeatedly of the evils of this music just made things all that more attractive while, and the same time, my Catholic guilt burned uncertainties into the back of my head. Being a kid sucks sometimes.

Anyway, from the first adventures I had with metal, I decided I was on the ride for life. I had people tell me I would outgrow it and once I matured and got into the working world, my tastes would change and mellow. The fuck were those people on about? If anything, the passion has grown stronger as every day passed, and part of what’s kept me so interested over the years are the incredible stories told by many of the bands I adore.

I love Iron Maiden not just for Steve Harris’ rollicking bass lines, Bruce Dickinson’s wails, and the dual-guitar assaults (does anyone think Janick Ger’s stuff is actually plugged in?), but for the tales they told and the pictures they created, be it historical, fictional, or a combination of the two. I loved Dio’s threads about good and evil, swords and sorcerers, and the ability to find power within yourself. A more recent example comes from Ireland’s Primordial and the bloody and chilling takes of their nation’s history. With so many metal bands, you’re not just getting music; you’re taking a trip somewhere and learning to escape your everyday life. It’s what we fans treasure and what outsiders often find hilarious about the genre.

That brings us to Dawnbringer, as classic a heavy metal band as you’re going to find these days with the always reliable Chris Black at the helm. You likely know Black from his collaborative work with Nachtmystium as well as his roles in bands such as Pharaoh, High Spirits, and Superchrist, all of which pay some homage to various forms of metal. His Dawnbringer project has been around for a while now, but it really didn’t come into crystal clear focus until 2010’s eye-opening “Nucleus,” their fourth record overall and first for Profound Lore. That album showed just what this band could be, namely a group that kept the genre’s true essence at its heart and expressed itself with exuberance and abandon most other groups would eschew. There was no tough-guy fakery or over-the-top evil attached to the music. Instead, you put on a Dawnbringer album and remembered what it is about metal that attracted you in the first place. Or at least that’s how I felt.

With the new record “Into the Lair of the Sun God,” everything they accomplished on “Nucleus” is taken to the next level. The playing is even more focused, the glory of the riff is amplified a million times, and the sense of adventure is at every turn. Before we go further, I’ll admit the lyrics can be a hindrance if you’re going to take this thing too seriously. There are more than a few cringe-worthy lines, and someone apt to make fun of metal is going to have a field day with this thing. But the same can be said for Dio and Maiden and, holy shit, have you heard any Helloween albums? That’s part of the charm, and while it does perhaps prevent the record from having appeal beyond metal’s circles, who cares? We don’t need those people anyway.

“Into the Lair of the Sun God” is a concept record, and the songs are merely titled “I” through “IX” almost like chapters, which they sort of are. There is a fantasy element to the tale of a driven warrior compelled to murder the sun and his misguided path and eventual plot to carry out his deed, but there are elements of the story that are easily relatable to real life. Who among us hasn’t gotten completely overcome with an idea and filled ourselves with gusto to carry out some mission, with total blinders on as to how difficult and/or impossible the goal may be? On a more primitive and, uh, stupid level, how about those faux tough guys who think they can take anyone, only to challenge an MMA fighter and get completely beaten into the ground? Some people have the spirit of the warrior, but not the tools. That theme is prevalent on this record, and it’s a pretty important lesson for us all.

The nine cuts on the record act like a set of stairs, almost like the one the warrior character takes on his way to confront the sun. “I” sets the stage and lets the listeners experience the first thoughts the protagonist has about his mission, his bravado, and the sun’s dismissal of his mission, reminding him he’s just a mere moral. Undaunted, he concludes, “I am the one to murder the sun.” “II” is fast, played furiously, and has some glorious lead guitar work that puts every modern power metal unit to shame. “III” hits a full gallop and visions of the hero’s eventual demise, and the song closes with a feedback string that sounds like a flatline. “IV” puts in a fight that would make early Maiden more than proud of what Dawnbringer accomplish on this cut, and then things get unexpectedly ambitious.

“V” is a tried-and-true power ballad, with some of Black’s most passionate singing yet. It’s a grandiose statement, one that rivals some of Queen’s most bombastic work, and it’s a mind-blowing display that’s unlike anything any other metal band would dare attempt. “VI” hits on prog rock, with big organs and warnings that the hero’s failure means ultimate demise; “VIII” is crunchy, thrashy piece and is the stage of our great battle, where the hero has an unexpected revelation; while closer “IX” wraps the tale, leaving the warrior’s body at the bottom of the sea after his foolish mission is snuffed.

“Into the Lair of the Sun God” is a very different record based on modern metal standards, but had this come out in the 1980s, it very well could be remembered as a genre classic. That’s not to suggest that still can’t happen for this album, as it’s one of the most passionately, phenomenally played metal records out there. This album deserves to be heard by anyone who claims a love for heavy metal’s heritage, who loves a great tragedy, and who can get carried away by musical brilliance. All of those elements are here, and this could be Dawnbringer’s hour to become one of metal’s brightest celestial bodies.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/deathofhunger

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/dawnbringer-into-the-lair-of-the-sun-god/

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

Ahab’s nautik funeral doom comes of age on incredible new opus ‘The Giant’

I’ve never been a big fan of sea stories. I don’t know why that is, but those types of tales never really made a big difference in my life or played a role in my formation as a person like so many other forms of fiction and non-fiction have.

OK, Homer’s “Odyssey” was a one of my favorite stories growing up, and what metal fan didn’t eventually dig into Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” simply based on the Iron Maiden epic of the same name? But for me, that’s pretty much where it ends. I’ve read “Moby Dick,” but it never was one of my favorite books. That makes me feel a little dumb because we’re here today to talk about German nautik funeral doom band Ahab and their new album “The Giant.” Obviously, the band took their name from the great white whale hunter from Herman Melville’s novel, and their music has been based on dark tales from the oceans and seas.

For album three, the band is tackling a new water-based text in Edgar Allan Poe’s only complete novel, the more-than-a-mouthful “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” The story, published in 1838 in two volumes, follows Pym as he is stowed aboard a whaling ship called the Grampus and faces many challenges, storms, and horrors, as one would expect from Poe, before being rescued by members of the ship the Jane Guy. That’s a horribly bare-bones summary, but those are the basics you need to know. And if you choose to ignore the narrative and simply immerse yourself in Ahab’s music, I wouldn’t argue with that decision, as you’d still get a lot of value from them.

Ahab has been a band since 2004, and they delivered their impressive, hopelessly dark debut album “The Call of the Wretched Sea” in 2006. That album was a mammoth, moved deliberately slowly, and left you feeling as if you were stuck in the darkest depths of the sea with no lights or signs of hope. Three years later, they returned with “The Divinity of Oceans,” an effort that also was quite suffocating and heavy but also added more melodies and even clean vocals into the mix. It turned out it was just the beginning of the band’s coming of age, as “The Giant” continues Ahab’s evolution and add more shades and colors, with doom and death only being two elements of what these guys – vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Daniel Droste, guitarist Chris Hector, bassist Stephan Wandernoth and drummer Cornelius Althammer – bring to the table.

It’s clear to hear how much these four have grown as a band just taking on the opener “Further South,” one of the most accessible, creatively realized songs in their canon that should please their fans and those who swear by Opeth, Katatonia, and Paradise Lost. While there are growls and some muddy moments, the song glimmers and bursts with life, even incorporating some 1970s-style folk rock into the thing. “Aeons Elapse” grows out of this cut, with a calming, seemingly serene open complete with whispery passages and eventually some crooning that gets a bit too throaty at times. “Deliverance (Shouting at the Dead)” follows, and it, too, has a clean introduction before things ignite and sends columns of smoke and flame into the sky with heavier crunching and some lurching growls.

The album and perhaps even Ahab’s career, peaks on “Antarctica the Polymorphess,” an 11:45 gem that is absolutely majestic and damn-near perfect in scope. There’s a watery feel in the first moments, and the band does a fine job setting the pace for this thing, and when the doom-rich leads are unleashed, the song reaches the upper echelon of metal. There are furious growls, mournful clean singing, incredible solo work, and a sense that nothing but danger and darkness is afoot. It’s a remarkable song that’ll be hard for this band to top. “Fathoms Deep Blue” is equally spacious and vicious, feeling like it’s coming right from this quartet’s collective guts, while the closing title track has some awkward group singing (it’s a little too Alice in Chains for someone like me, who can’t stand that band), but it’s a minor blip that gets covered up by more cement-thick riffing, bubbling growls, penetrating noise, and volcanic emissions that end the record on a pulverizing note.

Ahab is a band that continually gets better, and I can only imagine how great they’re going to sound on album four. They’ve progressed organically and haven’t lost an ounce of their fire, and they’re truly one of doom metal’s unsung heroes. Maybe this record will push this band over the top and get them into bigger U.S. houses to douse fans with their waves of nautik funeral punishment.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.ahab-doom.de/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.napalmrecords.com/product_info.php?products_id=14788&osCsid=f7a47e88a0b9a45b5bee415da4e9e848

For more on the label, go here: http://www.napalmrecords.com/

Legendary Saint Vitus prove they’re true doom royalty with awesome ‘Lillie: F-65’

Everyone’s making a big fuss over this Black Sabbath reunion, and forthcoming album, and all the drama. Will Bill Ward be the drummer or will he not? Will the band actually be able to make good, relevant music in 2012? Will Tony Iommi be able to topple cancer and remain healthy for the band’s upcoming activities?

Other than the Iommi question — we obviously hope for the best for Tony and want to see him make a full, speedy recovery — who gives a shit anymore about this? There’s been so much back and forth between Ward and the band, so much silliness, and having back one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time has become something of an annoyance. Never thought I’d say that about the great and mighty Sabbath, but for me, I’m no longer interested because I can just feel what a mess this could turn out to be. I hope I’m wrong. Plus, there’s another legendary doom metal band back together and blowing shit apart, and my guess is their new album will pulverize anything Sabbath tries to commit to record or CD or tape or whatever.

All hail Saint Vitus, one of the most important and influential doom bands this side of Sabbath, one that heavily moved some of the modern era’s most powerful drone acts such as Sunn 0))) and Boris (earlier stuff, obviously), and that is revered in so many circles that they’re practically metallic clergymen. While Saint Vitus weren’t quite as revered in their early years — they formed in 1978 (originally under the name Tyrant), released their self-titled debut in 1984, and stayed together until 1996, releasing seven albums. The band got back together to play some shows in 2003, then fully reunited in 2008 when some of the members’ other groups such as The Hidden Hand and Debris Inc. fell by the wayside. Now, four years later, we have a new record from the band called “Lillie: F-65,” named after a drug. Go figure.

While the album title may be a reference to a downer, this record is anything but that. It’s shockingly good, probably way better than it has the right to be from a group with so few full documents over the last three decades, but when you consider the quality music its members have made as a whole outside the Vitus name, it shouldn’t be such a shock that this record is so crushing. One of the most pivotal elements to this Vitus resurgence is the return of Scott “Wino” Weinrich to the band in front of the microphone where he belongs. Away from the group he’s maintained his status as a metal icon with groups such as The Obsessed, Shrinebuilder, Place of Skulls, and Premonition 13, as well as his solo work, but this seems to be where he belongs the most. He’s Vitus’ true voice.

The band’s spine comes from the steaming, smoking guitar work of Dave Chandler , who’s the other major star of “Lillie.” He sounds as possessed as ever, and the rest of the band – bassist Mark Adams and drummer Henry Vasquez, who took over for the late Armando Acosta – create a bad-ass low end that keeps this ugly, muddy engine humming.

The record opens with “Let Them Fall,” a bluesy, groove-laden rocker that has Wino expressing his frustration with, “Why do I scream at them?/They never listen.” The track ends with a blurry, fiery guitar pocket that leads nicely into “The Bleeding Ground,” a song that opens with a drone storm before easing into a muscular, punchy guitar riff and some really infectious vocal melodies that make these guys sound as accessible as ever before. “Blessed Night” grows out of the shimmery, hazy instrumental “Vertigo,” and it really sets the thing on fire, with some blazing playing by all members, powerful vocal work from Wino, and a closing sequence that’s aggressive and damn near punk thrash in nature. “The Waste of Time” finds the band paying homage to the aforementioned Sabbath, as the music sounds totally channeled from worshipping the doom pioneers, and lyrically a very dark, apocalyptic portrait is painted, with Wino warning, “The final end draws near.” We close with a fitting one-two punch, the first being the depressing, drug-addled “Dependence,” a song that seems to have a pretty clear aim of putting a human face on addiction and its pull, while Chandler’s guitar just spits fire. The record is capped by “Withdrawal,” a droning, whirring, scary piece of guitar work that sounds like it’s living up to its name. It’s an ambient, jarring piece that I could imagine being the soundtrack to someone trying to defeat the clutches of personal demons.

So don’t sweat this Sabbath reunion stuff, as much as they paved the way for Saint Vitus. “Lillie: F-65” is a truly satisfying comeback from a band that also helped doom metal find the acclaim and incredible level of creativity we know today. This is one of the great metal bands of all time, and Saint Vitus still have something moving and important to say.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/saintvitusofficial

To buy the album, go here: http://e-shop.season-of-mist.com/en/items/saint-vitus/lillie-f-65/cd/30622

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Mysterious Book of Sand show their black ambition with ‘Mourning Star’

I appreciate mysteriousness and a thick cloud of uncertainty in my music. Many people claim we know too much these days about the artists who make our favorite music, and I think there’s something to that idea. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what people do in their personal lives, what kinds of philosophies they support (unless, of course, racism or sexism is involved), what they eat, whatever. Seriously, it makes no difference when it comes to enjoying a person’s art. It’s all meaningless.

Therefore, when I do find an artist or band that tells me very little upfront about who they are, I’m relieved by the mystery. For example, one of my favorite new bands of last year FALSE refused to reveal their lineup, their names, a web site, personal details, photos, anything. You could draw some ideas form their furiously progressive black metal, but most of what they offered was left to your imagination. On that same note, Minneapolis black metal experimentalists Book of Sand also do not freely disseminate a whole lot of details about themselves. You can find their names (well, initials) and their thematic structure by doing some rudimentary research online, but you’re not going to find, say, a photo album. You can find details about their four full-length efforts, their latest “Mourning Star” we’ll dissect today, and how to buy their music. But there’s still a lot of details to fill in, and chances are, everyone will use different colors to complete the portrait. I find that exciting because I kind of get a say in how I interpret what the band does.

Book of Sand’s latest opus is brought to you by Music Ruins Lives, a label that probably will never find their products circulating in a Best Buy, and I’m pretty sure they’re OK with that judging by how they operate. They sign unique bands that have something concrete to contribute to whatever genre of music a band attacks, and I’ll always be appreciative of them and Flenser Recordings for introducing me to Wreck and Reference, one of the most emotionally scarring/scarred bands I’ve had the pleasure to cover. Also, what they release they normally do so in limited quantities, so if you’re intrigued by what you learn about Book of Sand’s new one, I’d get on that because they’ve only made 100 physical copies of the thing. Trust me, it’s a precious commodity.

Book of Sand last checked in last year with their “The Face of the Waters” full-length, released by Antithetic Records, and here we are, not even a half year later, with their new opus that’ll test the limits of everything you know and think about music. It’s black metal at its heart, but like bands such as Palace of Worms, Botanist, Horseback, and Bosse-de-Nage, there’s a whole lot more going on besides those sounds that to affix a concrete label to this music would be foolish. It’s also a very challenging listen, not only from a thematic standpoint but because the music is very ambitious and sprawling. I had to digest it in chunks the first time I encountered it, and while that’s usually a bad sign for me, in this case I just needed some time to absorb everything. Since that initial foray, I’ve been able to go front to back with no problem as I got familiar.

“Mourning Star” opens chillingly on “The Face of the Waters” (yes, the same title as their last album) with what sounds like a toy piano and quivering vocals, but just as the thing seems to be dissolving into a disjointed folk song, the noise erupts, and the black beast tears through the surface right for you. “Fits and Starts” also is a red herring when it starts, making you think we’re going to stay calm, but shrieks and machine-like chaos takes the place of serenity, and it’s a blast of fury from that point. We then arrive at the album’s twin epics, starting up with “Crawling Through Sand, Crawling Through Earth,” a doom-spined crusher that is rich with eerie cello work, enrapturing melodies, maniacal shrieks, and just plain scariness. There is a song with the same title on Book of Sand’s debut “How Beautiful to Walk Free” but, full disclosure, I’m not familiar with that album and am not sure if it’s a re-imagined version of that cut. “Planet SUV,” at 15:20, is the longest song on here and the most demanding. Again, cold cellos rise, along with faster and more hypnotic tempos (the melodic repetition has a lot to do with that), some acoustic picking eventually finds its way in, and eventually alien-like noise and terror begins to melt away the walls and bring this thing to the ground. It’s an incredible song.

There’s a bit of a breather that follows with the next two tracks, as both are instrumental and let you just filter what you’ve heard. “A Devil, Not a Phoenix” has a bit of an Americana feel to it, taking on dusty acoustic strings and cello, while “Lord Have Mercy” is the most straightforward song on here, with its buzzing guitar melody and abstract catchiness. “That Tearful Day” is, as you might guess, somber, and it also tosses everything into the pot, from quiet guitar picking, to what sounds like glass bottles being tapped, to volcanic eruptions that shatter the calm. It’s a perfect closing statement for such a powerful document.

As noted, “Mourning Star” isn’t terribly easy to approach at first, but in time, it should make itself more friendly and inviting to the listener, as long and the mind is open and willing. The longer I’ve had to drink this in, the more I begin to understand it and see it in new ways. I admire its daring mission and have been a very eager traveler alongside these tales. I also plan to delve back into Book of Sand’s back catalog for the hidden gems I’ve missed so far.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/book.of.sand

And here: http://bookofsand.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album (physical), go here: http://www.musicruinslives.bigcartel.com/

Or here (digital): http://musicruinslives.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.musicruinslives.org/

Guitarist Weaver sheds light on creation of Royal Thunder’s smoking hot ‘CVI’

It’s only May, and already this year has been packed with a lot of great metal. I don’t recall a stretch of time where I had this much fresh stuff playing on my iPod, whether I’m at work, in the car, walking the dog, whatever. Times like this, it gets tough to recommend good new sounds to people because there’s too much to tell.

Continuing with that line of thinking, today we bring you a conversation we had with Josh Weaver, guitarist and songwriter for Atlanta’s mighty Royal Thunder, a band that inauspiciously reared its head with a December 2010 self-titled effort on Relapse that, had it not surfaced so late easily would have made my Top 20 that year. It was a riveting, husky, rich dose of sludgy rock that sounded like nothing else on the Relapse roster and really got me excited for the band’s future.

Fast forward to right now, the day after their “CVI” full-length hit stores, and we’re looking at a band that’s quickly coming of age before our eyes. The new album is an astonishing, infectious piece of work, that adds more fuzz, blues fog, and kick-ass sentiment to the mix, and it also is a sure-fire candidate for best-of considerations of 2012. The band – vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz, drummer Lee Smith, guitarist Josh Coleman, and Weaver – sound stronger than ever, particularly Parsonz as she absolutely rules this thing with her powerful, sometimes confrontational, always confident vocals. Weaver took time to talk about the album’s creation, Parsonz incredible progression behind the mic, and how the band’s new lineup helped solidify what already was a formidable team.

Meat Mead Metal: OK, let me start with a stupid question: Are you pronouncing the new album title as “106” or “CVI”?

Josh Weaver: You know, I haven’t really even thought about that. It means “106” to me, but I kind of wanted there to be a little mystery behind it. “CVI,” “106,” either way works. (laughs)

MMM: So now that you’ve been able to step back from the album and get a little perspective, how do you feel about it?

JW: Oh, we’re very happy with it, man. I feel like it’s the first record I’ve been on in my life where no corners were cut and we really did everything we wanted to do with the album.

MMM: You had a self-titled album come out in December of 2010. Do you consider that the first full-length, or is it more of an EP?

JW: We look of it as more of an EP. Some people may say it can be looked at as a full-length, but we saw it as an EP. I see (“CVI”) as our debut full-length.

MMM: Soundwise, it’s a real step up from the self-titled EP. You can really hear the maturity of the band and in your playing, and these songs really seem to take on a life of their own. To what do you attribute that?

JW: I think it’s having another year and a half of playing, and playing live all the time. I know for me, I’ve been experimenting with more guitar effects and stuff like that, different pedals. I mean, we just played constantly and it really helped us out as musicians.

MMM: It seems like there’s a real anticipation for the album too. Some songs have been played on various web sites, and there’s a lot of people talking about it. Do you kind of sense that excitement?

JW: Yeah, I do, man, and it’s pretty surreal to me. This is something that I’ve always done, and I’ve always enjoyed playing music, and it’s cool to see people appreciating it. There does seem to be a buzz, and that’s very exciting.

MMM: Talk a little bit about the making of the record and what went into the creative process.

JW: It was a great time. We grew a lot from the recording alone. It was tough. We’d work all day and we’d either come home first or go straight to the studio to keep working on the album. Everyone really put in 110 percent. Our producer/engineer Joey Jones at Aria Recording Studio, he’s such a workhorse and really put in a lot of time and energy too. We basically started off with drums, and we kind of added some scratch bass and guitar tracks, then did the actual bass and guitar tracks, and went on to vocals.

MMM: As far as the songs go, with the exception of “Sleeping Witch” that was on the EP, are these all new songs, or are they things you’ve been playing live for a while?

JW: They were all songs that, for the most part, we’ve been playing for a while. Some of it has been in the back of my head too, like, we never did anything with “Minus,” the song before last on the album. We also never really played “Black Water Vision” either. Jesse (Stuber), our old drummer, had kind of tracked the entire album, and then we decided it was time for him to move on, so we weren’t really able to use a couple of tracks for different reasons. Once we knew Jesse wasn’t going to be in the band, I called Lee Smith, the drummer that we have now, and not long after that came Josh Coleman, our second guitar player. I had the song “Black Water Vision,” and we all put it together in the studio, and it came out great. Other than that, yeah, we’ve been playing these songs for a while.

MMM: Did anything change with the songs once you got into the studio?

JW: Yeah, some little things. Some solos here and there. The vocals, some of it Mel changed up in the studio. They definitely transformed here and there.

MMM: How did adding Lee and Josh to the band affect things?

JW: Well, when we worked on “CVI,” I had recorded a lot of stuff and a lot of overdubs on the guitar. Then Josh left and we called our old friend Lee Smith. Then we got Josh Coleman, who was friends with Lee and who we had known for a long time, on second guitar. Before that, I never would have thought of having a second guitar player. We were in such a transition and were trying a lot of things, and at one point, Mlny was thinking about just singing, and Josh had come over to try to play bass. Mlny ended up wanting to stick with bass and singing, but it made sense to try it out. Since Josh played guitar as well, we decided to try him there. We gave him a copy of the album and he learned the songs so quickly. As a result, a lot of the stuff I wouldn’t have been able to pull off from “CVI” live on my own, he can help with. It’s become like family, man.

MMM: Well, you mentioned Mlny and her vocals on this album. They really soar, and she just sounds super confident with her voice on “CVI.” How do you feel about her performance?

JW: Yeah, I mean, the band started instrumentally, and Mel started playing bass in the band, and we were definitely looking for a singer. I knew she could sing. But even before that, before she even joined the band, she’d hear me playing the songs, and she’s be lying in bed, just chilling and thinking of chord progressions. I think I asked her to try (singing) and so she did, and it’s been great ever since. But slowly she’s grown into such an amazing musician, and I think she’s gotten really confident with her vocals and she’s really pushed herself. At first, she was really shy about even singing in front of anybody, but what she’s done since and what she’s done on this album, she’s come a long way, and she’s so talented.

MMM: Even a song like “Whispering World,” you can really hear the difference. She really shouts out her words, and her performance there really stands out.

JW: Yeah, well she’s done all kinds of stuff. I know when she was younger she started in screaming bands. She’s just going to continue to surprise us.

MMM: We briefly mentioned “Sleeping Witch.” Why did you decide to re-do that song, and how did it slow down so much?

JW: We had been playing it live for so long, and it kind of just became like a different song. It did slow down, and it took on more of a groovy feel to it. It just kind of made sense to put it on (“CVI”), re-do it and revamp it. I still really enjoy playing that song.

MMM: There are a couple of longer songs on there – “Shake and Shift” and “Blue” — that go over the eight-minute mark. Is that the product of the band kind of jamming out these ideas?

JW: Those songs would sort of transform themselves in our practice space. They had a general structure, and then everyone in the band would kind of go in and add their own parts and their own touch.  That’s basically how all of our songs come about, and we’ll play them over and over again both in our practice space and live and see where they go.

MMM: Something I find interesting about Royal Thunder is the band really can play with all kind of different bands, from metal to punk to hardcore to whatever. You’re on a metal label with Relapse. Do you consider Royal Thunder a metal band?

JW: No, I don’t consider us a metal band. I mean, I definitely consider “CVI” a heavy record. It’s funny because going into it, I didn’t think “CVI” would end up being a heavy record, but I think a lot of that resulted from me messing around with fuzz pedals and things like that. They’re a great tool for adding a more extreme dynamic to what we’re doing. We go from a clean part to through the roof. But yeah, I don’t think we’re a metal band. I think we’re a rock band.

MMM: How have things been with Relapse, and how did that relationship come about?

JW: Relapse has been amazing, and everyone has been really supportive and bent over backward for us. They’re all such hard workers at Relapse, and I’m just so happy to be a part of it. But yeah, we played a show in Nashville with Javelina, and they were friends with some people at Relapse and told them to check us out. It wasn’t long after that, we got an e-mail from (Relapse) looking for a shirt and a CD, and when I saw it was from Relapse, I was like, “Shit, I’m going to send them, like, five CDs and a bunch of shirts.” (laughs) Then not long after that, they told us they wanted to work with us and have us on the label. It’s been great ever since.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/RoyalThunderMusic

To buy “CVI,” go here: http://www.relapse.com/search_result.php?search_by=all&q=royal+thunder&x=0&y=0

For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/

Electric Wizard, Winterfylleth reissues provide valuable, dark history lessons

Electric Wizard

One of those weeks, everyone. Sorry for the inactivity thus far, and today’s entry won’t exactly be George RR Martin-esque in length, but we’ll be back on track fully tomorrow. We have an interview coming up from a band that’s releasing one of the week’s more notable, talked-about releases, a look at one of the more peculiar metal releases this year, and plenty more fun stuff. So yeah, we’ll get these spaces filled.

There are a ton of new things on store shelves today, it being one of the more flooded weeks for metal releases, but there are two things available to you that are reissues worth your re-visitation. Or if you’re new to it, checking them out will prove valuable to you, I promise. In fact, one of them should serve as a nice preview piece for one of this coming weekend’s more notable live appearances, and we’ll start with that one.

UK doom unit Electric Wizard are one of the close-out acts at this weekend’s Maryland Deathfest, an event that has quickly become our domestic showcase for everything extreme. The band doesn’t tour the States a whole hell of a lot, and I’m pretty sure landing them here in Pittsburgh will take a quasi-miracle, which only makes events such as their show Sunday evening that much more special. Arriving just days before main eventing the outside stage 1 performances is a CD and vinyl reissue of their classic, incredible 2007 effort “Witchcult Today,” one of my favorite records in their collection. In fact, while most people cite 2000’s “Dopethrone” as this group’s high-water mark, I’ll always lean more heavily toward “Witchcult.”

The vinyl itself is so pretty and majestic. I don’t have a copy myself yet, but that’s going to be remedied soon. The vinyl is silver, looking nothing like your standard vinyl reissues these days, and the gorgeous double-gatefold is adorned with racy, well, cult-like imagery that won’t make the parents of any 16-year-old consumers all that happy. Hide it under the bed, kids. “Dunwich” is one of my favorite Electric Wizard songs of all time (the opening drum beat is awesome, and it just unloads into the main melody), and there are plenty of other killers such as the title cut, “The Satanic Rites of Dragula,” “Black Magic Rituals and Perversions,” and walloping closer “Saturnine.” This is a landmark effort every doom fan should have, and you hardly can do better than scoring this reissue. Also out is a vinyl reissue (purple!) of their 2010 album “Black Masses,” a record I liked but didn’t love. I have a few friends who vehemently disagree with me about this record, so it’s probably just my tastes, but if you’re psyched about it, you’ll probably be pretty eager to land the vinyl.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/electricwizarddorsetdoom

To buy “Witchcult Today,” go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/14536/

To buy “Black Masses,” go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/14534/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/english/content.php

Now, for something completely different. I remember getting the promo of Winterfylleth’s “The Ghost of Heritage” in the mail from Profound Lore in 2008, and the band’s folk-infused black metal hit me really hard. There was a passion and an energy behind it, but also sadness and beauty, seemingly satisfying every need I had when encountering this record. From that point, this English band became one of my favorites, and I have spent a lot of time with this album ever since it landed in my lap on that fateful day. The band eventually signed with Candlelight, and they issued their awesome sophomore record “The Mercian Sphere” in 2010.

For those of you who perhaps didn’t get your hands on their debut when it originally dropped, you have a second chance today when Candlelight reissues that document. The album is remastered by Colin Marston and contains brand-new artwork that sets it apart from its original form. Also included are two bonus tracks. The band draws on its nation’s history and heritage in their music, and while they’ve gotten the dreaded “nationalism” tag from people too blockheaded to see the forest for the trees, their music is instead a tribute and reminder of how their people and land came to be. Plus, pretty sure if an American band turned in a document like this about this country’s history, no one would be chirping about it. We didn’t exactly crucify Iced Earth, did we? And that album was shitty. Anyway, “The Ghost of Heritage” is a great album, very spacious, and it’ll make you dive back into your history books. I’ll be tossing some money down for this new version myself.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Winterfylleth/232057463509264

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

For more on the label, go here: http://candlelightrecordsusa.com/site/

Martyrdöd, Burning Love stuff their latest smashers with anger, attitude


It’s the end of the work week (unless I’m delusional and it’s really Tuesday or something … wouldn’t be the first time), and I’m shot. Just flat out of energy and ideas, and the fumes on which I was running expired a day or so ago. I’ve got nothing left. As frustrating as that is today, it’s also the sign of a fruitful, productive week, something I pined for last year at this time. So no complaints.

When I start to feel this way and just need some kind of boost to get me to the finish line, that’s when I turn to heavy, uncompromising shit that’ll spike my adrenaline and make me want to crumble a wall with my fists. Some blistering black metal often helps, or even some old-school thrash from my high school years, and that’s why having my iPod near is convenient so that if I need that kind of spike, I can find it, no problem. Two other albums, that we’ll discuss today, also can help me through the tired hours and exhaustion, when I’m pretty sure I’ll fall into a heaping pile if I don’t get a serious wake-up call.

Martyrdöd, and their Swedish blackened crust, along with Burning Love, and their Southern-friend punk and hardcore, are exactly what I need on a day like today. There’s no napping allowed, no deep breath permitted, no cool drink of water administered when these bands are at work, and their latest albums are worth your time even if you’re not super tired. Both are, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, hardcore-rooted, but both do a heck of a lot more than that, so you’re getting plenty of color as well. Plus, Martyrdöd and Burning Love are not even remotely alike in any way, so if you decided to take a trip with both, you’re going to have variety.

Both bands’ new records are out via Southern Lord, your home to D-beat, crust, hardcore-laced acts the past few years. While the label may seem a little obsessed right now with this sound, they’ve done a really good job hand picking bands that both fit their new aesthetic and produce quality music. They haven’t misfired once yet, so you can trust their word on this the same way you can about doom, black metal, and drone.

We’ll start off with Martyrdöd, whose new album is titled “Paranoia,” about the only word English-only speakers will be able to decipher on this thing. They recorded this hell bastard at the noteworthy Scandinavian institution Studio Fredman, and the band totally blazes through these new 11 songs with fury and abandon. The guitar work is quite melodic, so even when you’re being bludgeoned, you get something catchy to bleed along to, and that’s how the band gets that black metal influence attached to them. They play scintillating guitar leads that should fire up metal purists, but they keep it to-the-ground crushing enough as not to abandon anyone else.

As noted, these killer diatribes are in Swedish, but even if you can’t understand what’s being shouted, you’ll certainly identify with the rage and trauma imbedded in the music. The record opens with “Nog Är Nog,” a crusty anthem with a forceful tempo and raspy shouts, and that leads into “Överkom Er Rädsla,” a melodic infectious song that sometimes reminds me of envy. “Överkom Er Rädsla” is stuffed with metallic majesty, and it teeters awfully close to the black metal territory; “Det Sker Samtidigt” is heavy, thrashing, and wild, and sometimes sounds like the rails are going to come off the thing; the title cut sounds a little doomy at points; and “Avbön” certainly is heavy enough, but it takes on more traditional rock tones dressed with maniacal shouts that are damn scary.

Martyrdöd finally are getting their chance to make their mark in America, and they couldn’t have better partners in crime than Southern Lord. The CD is available now via the label’s mail order and next Tuesday in stores, and vinyl is out June 19. Links are below for all the commerce.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Martyrd%C3%B6d/175670445796819

Burning Love

The funny thing about Burning Love is that they’re not Southern, despite those humid tendencies making their way into their music. Instead, they’re from the North. The Great White North. Canada. Toronto, to be more specific, and that is where I poke in that comparison to Fucked Up, another hardcore-based band that throws everything it can at the wall just to keep you guessing. The band has been around a few years now and contains members of notable bands Cursed and Our Father. Their latest full-length “Rotten Thing to Say,” the follow-up to their 2010 debut album “Songs for Burning Lovers,” is filled with chaos and attitude, and it would sound pretty OK if you were pouring loads of beer into your mouth or preparing for a scrap. It’ll make you hate people and feel good at the same time.

At 14 tracks, the record may seem a little overstuffed on first glance, but remember we’re talking hardcore here. For the most part, these guys get in and get out of these cuts and do a damn fine job with the time they have. You get a really good idea of what’s ahead on the seemingly innocently named “Intro,” as that’s where the swampiness sets in, and it sets the stage for the rest of the album. “No Love” and “Karla” both are really catchy and filthy songs, with singer Chris Colohan snarling all over these suckers. “Made Out of Apes” isn’t too hard to figure out conceptually, especially when the line, “Weren’t you the one who said ‘dust to dust’?”  is spat out. Add that to the song title, and the message lands perfectly. “Hateful Comforts” is a really fun song and has a muddy, bluesy feel, while a battery of cuts “Tremors,” “Damage Case,” and “Pig City 1” are fast, furious, and totally mean.

Burning Love probably is the most likely of these two bands to find a larger audience – kids who have outgrown Every Time I Die might move onto these smashers – and their new record is a blast to hear. The album isn’t out until June 19, so that’ll give you some to get ready to get some exercise so you’re prepared for all the bruising. Once you have it, it’ll give you a late-week jolt so you can finish the grind.

For more on the band, go here: http://burninglove416.blogspot.com/

To buy either album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/

Aldebaran turn in doom masterpiece with ‘Embracing the Lightless Depths’

Some of my favorite bands are ones that not only move me with their music but also allow me to learn. I like the unexpected event of putting on a new piece of music and hearing sounds that I like but then getting poked by subject matter on which I’m a little in the dark.

Subrosa’s “No Help for the Mighty Ones” is one of those albums, as I learned more of the tale of Tere Jo Duperrault and the 1961 Bluebelle tragedy, an event I had heard about but didn’t dig into until I experienced this record. I’m pretty sure I’m still gleaming facts and oddities from Cormorant’s “Dwellings,” a record so packed with historical storytelling that each song could have you tackling text upon text to learn as much as possible about the subject at hand. For a classic example, who can honestly say an Iron Maiden album hasn’t sent you to Wikipedia to find out more, probably about some battle and its aftermath?

Another band that’s broadened not only my musical interests but my mind as a whole is Portland, Oregon, doom cultists Aldebaran — bassist/vocalist Josh Banke, guitarist/vocalist Todd Janeczek, guitarist Kody Keyworth, and drummer/vocalist Tim CallThey’re named after the brightest star in the constellation Taurus (pretty sure that’s what’s lurking over the red sky and rocky terrain on the Kol Barrington album art), and that distinction fits them because they lit the doom genre with a blinding brilliance in a very short amount of time. Their minds are in the cosmos but also in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, whose writings somehow avoided my radar most of my life. I partially blame a primarily Catholic education, where works such as his generally are frowned upon and ignored (to put it kindly), but my further education in metal has brought his imaginative tales into my consciousness. Aldebaran simply hammered home the fact that I must continue to immerse myself in these stories, and that helped make my research easier for what we’ll discuss today, that being the earth-crushing new record “Embracing the Lightless Depths,” the band’s second full-length effort and proper follow-up to 2007 debut “Dwellers in Twilight.”

I know I sound like a hyperbolic machine the past couple weeks, but hey, it’s not my fault a lot of great, emotionally cathartic music has come out in that period. So here goes: If the year were to end today, “Embracing the Lightless Depths” would be one of three candidates for my top album of the year. It is one of the finest, most meaningful submissions to the doom and funeral doom categories in this young decade, and it is one that demands your patience, undivided commitment, and total devotion for you to absorb it and understand it properly. That might be too much work for some people, and I get that. But the records that stick with me and make indelible impressions are ones of this nature where I have to develop a relationship with the music. I’ve done that with all of Aldebaran’s work, but never more so than I have with this incredible, Billy Anderson-produced document (out on Profound Lore, with vinyl expected later on Parasitic).

There is a gorgeousness and a sorrow to these songs that is very tangible, like you could reach out and touch the emotions. It’s heavy and suffocating, like gravity turning against you and pressing your helpless body against the earth’s crust. You will feel that presence and power if you allow this record to speak to you, and while that all sounds very painful, the submission to the planet’s implosion obviously is metaphorical. There also is a sense of isolation in these songs, like you’re a lost entity floating through space, grasping at a meaning that may never surface or a home that will never open its arms to you.

You might find your interest piqued by the song titles, which have connections to the short story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” written by Ambrose Bierce, whose post-apocalyptic tale and fictional planet influenced many writers, Lovecraft among them. You don’t have to check reference points, but it might help if you want to totally be at one with this record. Um, again, metaphorically. Don’t do anything gross. Three interludes help separate yet link two massive dirges, and those smaller pieces are all instrumental and vital to this record. Opener “Occultation of Hali’s Gates,” “Occultation of Occular Tari,” and closer “Occultation of Dim Carcosa” are clean and haunting, making you feel totally alone yet oddly at peace. They seem inspired by the aforementioned Bierce text and Lovecraft’s later usage, as do the epics that float among them.

“Forever in the Dream of Death” is calculating, builds itself slowly, and gushes with emotion. It runs more than 25 minutes, and each second is used expertly to fill in the dark corners and express total morbidity. Like another great funeral doom band that came before them in Asunder, Aldebaran make you feel and ache for the entire piece, through each titanic shift and guttural growl, and even when they let you breathe a little bit – like during those whispery segments, that remind me a bit of Agalloch — it’s with the knowledge that you soon will be crushed again by their supreme force. “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” is the other giant, running about 29 minutes with just a bit of a faster pace in spots. There are beautiful melodies buried in this black hole of sorrow, and they always return to engulf you and pull you back into the grime. There are particularly interesting and unexpected pace shifts at around the 16:40 and 25:42 marks that really struck me, and the melodic passages that trickle out of each give the slightest glimmer of hope before that pilot light is snuffed again. Each growl seems resigned to a dark fate, and the entire piece sounds like the final voyage of a soul desperately in search of an origin and overall understanding. At least that’s how I interpreted it; maybe you’ll see it differently.

Aldebaran are one of doom’s great hopes, a band that’ll keep the flames burning ever so slowly yet massively. Their words are just as important as their music, and they have captured a means of storytelling and emotional interpretation that few bands ever come close to realizing. “Embracing the Lightless Depths” has “career milestone” written all over it, yet to decide that Aldebaran can’t achieve even greater heights would be foolish. Look how far they’ve come in such little time. They’ve created a masterpiece, and yet there’s so much that remains to be explored.

For more on the band, go here: http://aldebarandoom.blogspot.com/

To buy “Embracing the Lightless Depths,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/aldebaran-embracing-the-lightless-depths-2/

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

Cardiac Arrest splatter blood and guts on morbidly fun ‘Vortex of Violence’

We’ve done a lot of cerebral stuff lately. The music has been. Not my writing necessarily. But things we’ve discussed have been serious, thought-provoking, deep, and challenging, and it’s nice to take all that time to think about things that have oceans of meaning. Who says metal listeners can’t be smart and well-rounded?

But now and again, it’s cool to get back to some pure blood and guts, some disgusting plasma-stained horror that is the foundation of so many forms of metal. It’s not like the people who do that type of stuff aren’t as smart as anyone going, and in fact, you have to be pretty witty to keep that kind of thing interesting for the listeners. But it’s not like when you put on their music you need to have on your smart glasses and prepare for a dissertation. You just want to see the filth.

That’s where Chicago death metal veterans Cardiac Arrest come into play. Their fourth record “Vortex of Violence” is ready for your consumption, and the dish is raw, fleshy, and disgusting. It follows their 2010 effort “Haven for the Insane,” and for those who have been behind these guys for years, there’s no chance you’ll be disappointed. Not much has changed in the last two years, save for them breaking in a new drummer Nick Gallichio, and their instruments of butchery are as sharp and deadly as they’ve ever been since the band formed about 15 years ago.

You’re not in for a technical, polished, pretty death metal album when taking on “Vortex of Violence.” This isn’t that shit they pass off as modern death metal in a Hot Topic or some haven of misery such as that, as this is far too real and ugly to pass that silly test. But that isn’t to suggest these guys don’t have vicious chops, as you’ll learn the band – vocalist/guitarist Adam Scott, guitarist Tom Knizner, bassist Dave Holland, and Gallichio — is more than capable of keeping things both violent and musically stimulating. They don’t fall into the rut so many others do of just drubbing you mercilessly with no color. Their guitar work is interesting, their solos are lightning fast, and their compositions certainly separate themselves from each other.

You’re not exactly eased into “Vortex of Violence,” which I’m assuming you guessed. “Portal of the Damned” rips your face right off from the word go, with brutal, guttural metal, throaty growls, and a thrashing intensity that takes you into “To Their Graves,” that has some excellent dual guitar work; “Relentless Pursuit,” a deadly furious track that eventually melts into doom punishment; “Conjured Being,” a flurried, speedy attack that has Scott howling about such hellish visions as “demons unleashed”; and the groove-infested title track, that could lead to punches landed in chests at their live shows. “Depths of Despair” also bathes in mud pools of doom, though it eventually speeds up and crashes face first into “Ritual Plague,” a song with some astonishingly tight thrashing. “Subject to Torture” has some higher, shriekier vocals added to the deep growls, and as they note, the stench of death is in the air; while closer “The Last Thing That You See” plays on the terror of one’s demise,  played over a chugging, rotting, calculated tempo.

Fans of bands such as Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse, and Cianide surely will enjoy the hell out of this album, as it’s pure, old-school death metal at its finest. These guys are one hell of an entertaining unit, and there’s a ton of crimson-smeared fun to be had on “Vortex of Violence.” Nothing wrong with letting loose and allowing your bloodiest dreams to have a chance to scare you silly. Cardiac Arrest are more than happy to help get you there.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cardiac-Arrest-US/92250701414

To buy “Vortex of Violence,” go here: http://www.officialabyssrecords.com/product_info.php?cPath=21_72&products_id=12244

For more on the label, go here: http://www.ibexmoonrecords.com/

Bay Area’s Castle cut through the gloom with awesome second album ‘Blacklands’

It’s pretty gloomy over where I am today. It’s been raining for days, my basement ceiling is leaking as a result, there are nice pockets of fog everywhere, and things just look soggy and depressing. Therefore, it’s a good day for some pick-me-up doom metal, the one metallic sub-genre that truly embodies how this day looks.

These feelings got me jumping back into my recent stash of promos and one that’s really been moving me lately, that being “Blacklands,” the second effort from San Francisco trio Castle. In the past, the band has described its sound as “witch thrash,” a title that made me chuckle at first until I realized just how accurate a distinction it is. While the band isn’t tried-and-true thrash metal per se (there’s an awful lot of doom, psychedelic rock, and power metal to be had), certainly a lot of what they likely absorbed organically from being in the Bay Area influenced what we hear on this great new album. And it’s a really, really good piece of work, a huge step up from their impressive debut, last year’s “Witch Order.”

The band’s songwriting certainly has improved in leaps and bounds, and I love their approach to riffs and guitar lines, because they put their imagination and some dark ingenuity in them. Because of that, you don’t feel like you’re hearing something a million different bands of this ilk have done before, and as their songs progressed, so did my interest. Also, bassist Elizabeth Blackwell’s vocal work is just mesmerizing, and she has a way of painting the whole thing with an evil brush, but dusting over the songs with infectious hooks that make you want to sing along. When guitarist Mat Davis takes over on a couple of occasions (most notably ultra-aggressive “Storm Below the Mountain” and “Curses of the Priest”), the band takes on a more dangerous, threatening vibe.

Castle kind of have a retro vibe to them, but it never feels put on. Instead, it just seems to be what comes out of the band naturally, and forced to come up with a comparison, I’d say the band’s work falls somewhere in between The Devil’s Blood and Christian Mistress. That’s some damn good company, if you ask me, so anyone into those two acts would behoove themselves to get up on “Blacklands.”

There is gallop and thunder early on with opening cut “Ever Hunter,” a straight-forward track that gets the melody and adventure raging straight ahead. From there, it’s on to “Corpse Candles,” a great track that, while a little heavier than what current rock radio formats tend to support, probably could catch on with listeners on the strength of the chorus alone. I keep going back to this one, and I think it’s my favorite track on the album. For now. The title track is the closest rival to “Corpse Candles” as far as infectiousness, and while Blackwell gets a little raspier here with her singing, she never fails to hit her marks and keep you moving through the gloomy darkness. “Venus Pentagram” is shorter and to the point, going back to the more skull-bashing approach that they employ on the Davis-fronted songs, but there’s also a glaze of dreaminess that hangs over everything. “Alcatraz” reminds me a lot of their Bay Area neighbors Hammers of Misfortune, and the first time I heard the cut, I thought it was going to be a sprawling instrumental. But Blackwell cuts through that and delivers a nastier, grittier performance that lets this song rise above the murk. “Dying Breed” ends our journey with, again, another strong skeletal riff, some smoky emissions, and a damn thunderous conclusion that should leave your heart pounding.

Castle’s name deserves to be on the tip of the tongue of every doom metal fan trying to sift through the good stuff and the pretenders. This band is mighty both in sound and mission, and “Blacklands” is one hell of an impressive album from a group that’s still relatively new. I’ve really enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with this album, and chances are excellent that come the end of the year, this is going to be one of the hot contenders for my 2012 top 40 list.

For more on the band, go here: http://heavycastle.com/

To buy “Blacklands,” go here: http://www.van-records.de/products/en/CDs/Castle-Blacklands-digipack-CD.html

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