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/

Mutilation Rites’ ‘Empyrean’ is one of year’s meatiest servings of black metal

People who regularly visit our fine site probably realize we do a lot of positive entries. We (or I … it’s one person here) go negative when we have to, but for the most part, Meat Mead Metal is here to celebrate music and metal that makes us want to break down a brick wall with giant robot hands. There’s enough negativity and hostility out there anyway, right?

But I worry sometimes that because I write about things I love, that when something comes along that moves mountains for me, that it may get lost in translation, or at least amid all the other glowing reviews and pieces you’ll find here every week. That’s kind of an issue with doing a site like this. So with that out of the way, let me categorically, undeniably, affirmatively, fully fucking endorse “Empyrean,” the brand new full-length effort from NYC black metal crew Mutilation Rites, my new favorite band. I know they’re not technically new, as they have a few demo recordings and other mini releases on their resume (I also spoke lovingly about their “I Am Legion” 12-inch a few weeks back, and their other 2012 release “Devoid” also is a crusher), but they’re just now finally breaking through the underground smudge and are ready to take shit over. This record is their first for Prosthetic (vinyl will be handled by Gilead Media), a label that’s really beefing up its roster with some impressive singings, and the association should get the band’s music out to way more people.

Despite “Empyrean” being a little different sonically from their earlier work, I instantly loved it. I have listened to this record just about every day since I got it a few weeks back, and that momentum hasn’t dissipated at all. It’s massive, hulking, and unquestionably impressive. They’re one of the finest black metal bands this country has produced lately, and they’re right up there with FALSE as the groups that I feel will be the flag bearers for years to come. What’s also cool about them, like FALSE, is that they have dashes of other stuff in their music that keeps them fresh. Like, you can’t deny there’s a vintage thrash and punk influence to what you hear on “Empyrean,” and Mutilation Rites’ ability to have a core sound that expertly reaches out to other areas proves just how diverse and dexterous they are as players.

Mutilation Rites — guitarist/vocalist George Paul, guitarist Michael Dimmitt, bassist Ryan Jones, and drummer Justin Ennis — might take some heat from people who only like their raw early days. People are like that. The band definitely stepped up their sound, have a richer production, and show serious artistic ambition. Anyone who pulls the elitist card and claims the band isn’t doing the thing as nasty as they did last year means they’re dismissing one of the most impressive recordings of the year. It’s only May, but “Empyrean” seems like a sure shot as an album of the year candidate. It’s that good, and it’s absolutely essential listening.

The record opens on a bristling note with “A Season of Grey Rain,” a song that I cannot stop revisiting. The vocals are harsh, there’s a true sense of mangling thrash, and the guitar lines weaved throughout the song are infectious, playing over and over again in my head. It also doesn’t help to get comfortable with any section of the song, because they constantly rip you out of your comfort zone and push you into a speeding wagon to the next violent section. “Realms of Dementia” settles into a bit of a groove riff that really makes the stand song out above the rest. Eventually the dudes settle into a slow burn, but they destroy that with lightning speed riffing that sets you up for what follows, namely “Ancient Bloodbath.” This is the other song on “Empyrean” that I play most often, and it has a lot going on within itself as well, from some mathy wizardry to imaginative guitar work to hellfire vocals work, and they even pull out a new trick by drowning the whole ending in doom suffocation.

“Fogwarning” breaks out of “Bloodbath” and stands as the most mangling, unforgiving track on the disc, with fast but melodic guitar work, furious blast beats and a segue back into thrash, which sets the table nicely for “Dead Years.” The opening of the cut reminds me a lot of “Rust in Peace” era Megadeth, only faster and filthier, and when the song is reaching its conclusion, there’s an atmospheric, gazey pocket of guitar that sits behind the song and adds a whole new array of colors. “Broken Axis” makes sure to end the record on a volcanic note, with fast-charging melodies, maniacal vocals, and a rush of noise that’s awfully dangerous.

“Empyrean” is one of the year’s best albums, and you’re going to hear a lot more about this thing come winter when scribes gush on and on again about this thing. I know I will be. This is an incredible record, an amazing first full-length from a band that’s only gotten better over time. Mutilation Rites are the black metal warriors of tomorrow, and you’d be wise to join their cause now to avoid feeling like the millionth asshole on a crowded bandwagon once more people catch onto their greatness.

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

To buy “Empyrean,” go here: http://store.prostheticrecords.com/index.php/sales-preorders/mutilation-rites-empyrean-digi-pak.html

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

To grab “Empyrean” on vinyl (should be available late June/early July) or “I Am Legion,” go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

To grab “Devoid,” go here: http://www.forcefieldrecords.org/store/product_info.php?products_id=636&osCsid=75c2304531edae44f2d9d1d9d2defdc1

#musicdiary2012 — Thursday

As noted, Nick Southall of sickmouthy.com is doing this neat Internet experiment where he’s asking people to keep an online diary of everything they listen to from May 7-13, and document it somewhere online. Here’s today’s.

Rainbow — Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Mutilation Rites — Empyrean

Sleep — Dopesmoker

True Widow  — As High as the Highest Heavens …

Mantas — Death By Metal

Alaric, Atriarch lure you into their darkness with astonishing split album

Getting a new album from a band I really like is pretty great. But getting a new record from TWO bands I really like is even better. No shit, right? Who wouldn’t like that? OK, obvious intro, but that’s true when it comes to what I write about today.

Last year, two bands that really got me excited were Alaric and Atriarch, groups that walk the edges around heavy metal but come more from the deathrock and doom persuasion. Alaric’s debut album came out on 20 Buck Spin and was something that ignited my love for really early albums by The Cure, Swans, and Amebix, while Atriarch delivered their astonishing first record “Forever the End” on Seventh Rule and came from a burlier, blacker area but also had some gothic and New Wave dashes. In fact, the band has a new full-length due later this year on Profound Lore, and I’m pretty excited to hear what they unearth.

But in between both of those bands’ initial offerings and their sophomore platters comes a new split record featuring each getting one side to do their thing and whet our appetites. Alaric kick off the album with three really strong, darkly melodic tracks, while Atriarch lays down two hammers, including one of the angriest songs I’ve heard this still-young year. It’s an appetizer (or dessert, I guess, since both bands’ debuts remain pretty fresh), but it’s a damn tasty one that is worth repeated indulgences.

Alaric

Alaric, who hail from Oakland, Calif., are made up of dudes who have been in other notable bands such as Noothgrush, Enemies, Dead & Gone, and Cross-Stitched Eyes , and their new band sounds like one that could have been a pioneer for the 1980s alternative rock movement had their music been born in that era. At the same time, had they been sandwiched between Celtic Frost and Type O Negative videos on the old Headbangers Ball, and they really would not have seemed in foreign territory. In case you missed it, here’s what we thought of their first record: https://meatmeadmetal.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/alaric-and-alarum-their-names-sound-confusingly-alike-but-their-music-doesnt/

On this split, they open up with “Memory Assault,” a dreary, depressing dirge that’s full-blown watery deathrock, raw vocals from frontman Shane Baker (he’s both maniacal and totally easy to understand when he emotes his misery), and unmistakable anger. “So Far Down” is equally drab and gloomy on the surface, but there’s an undeniable catchiness to it as well, and once you get used to the song, you might find yourself singing along to it. This track is the best example of the band’s pop sensibility – not in the popcorn mainstream sense, clearly – and provides a glimpse into why Alaric are so, well, alluring. Their final track “Weep” is aptly named. It’s sad, depressing, anguished, somber, but also defiant, especially when Baker notes, “Something’s been stolen away.” You get the sense they’ve understood and addressed the darkness, but they’re not giving into the temptation to give up. It’s a really effective ending to Alaric’s portion of the split.

Atriarch

Atriarch’s selections are my favorite on here, and that’s no slight at all to Alaric. Their frontman Lenny Smith (also of criminally under-appreciated doom metal band Trees) is a true maniacal presence, but even when he’s foaming at the mouth and prepared to strike, he’s always in control and knows his game plan. He’s never rattling off diatribes just to do so, and every line he delivers has a purpose and a meaning. The rest of the band provides the proper deathrock-fueled, doom-addled charge, as they can be both brutally aggressive and atmospherically thoughtful in their compositions. Atriarch definitely make the most of their two songs on here, and they have me heavily anticipating their next full-length. Here’s what we thought of their debut: https://meatmeadmetal.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/atriarchs-doom-demands-societal-scrutiny/

“Oblivion” is the band’s first cut on here, and is it ever angry and pointed. It’s one of the most furious assaults on the effects and destructive tendencies of organized religion, and Smith’s delivery (that reminds me of a super pissed-off Chuck Mosely) just hammers this thing home. He speak-sings over the verses, noting how “we are controlled by our fears” and that we’re “still living in slavery,” but his best line comes later in the song when he notes, “If you believe that your instincts are sins, the lie tells itself again and again.” That lyric should be plastered on billboards across the state of North Carolina this week. The chorus is a rush of fury when Smith howls, “The soul inside of you dies and falls to oblivion.” It’s almost like a companion cut to Alaric’s “Your God” from their debut, and it cuts to the bone. “Offerings” is a longer, more contemplative cut both musically and philosophically, but just because there’s more air let into the room doesn’t mean their anger has subsides, especially when Smith accuses, “We are rejected with open arms.” Not exactly the feel-good anthems of the summer.

If you’re not familiar with either band yet, this split is a great introduction piece to let you know what they offer. If you, like me, already are a fan of these groups, it’s a killer stop gap before they strike again with new long players. Either way, prepare for a dark journey that will challenge your spirit, break your soul, and reduce you to a pile of flesh and rubble. Think I’m being over the top? Try it on and see.

For more on Alaric, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alaric/201671150715

For more on Atriarch, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ATRIARCH/241062512127

To buy the album, go here: http://www.20buckspin.com/site/releases/spin046-alaric-atriarch-split-lp/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.20buckspin.com/site/

#musicdiary2012 — Wednesday

As noted, Nick Southall of sickmouthy.com is doing this neat Internet experiment where he’s asking people to keep an online diary of everything they listen to from May 7-13, and document it somewhere online. Here’s today’s.

Mares of Thrace — The Pilgrimage

Mutilation Rites — I Am Legion

Mutilation Rites — Empyrean

Beach House — Bloom

Scorpions — In Trance