Ash Borer’s black metal turns on cosmic gazing with genre-altering ‘Cold of Ages’

If anyone out there doesn’t believe in cosmic happenings and alignments, allow me to blow your mind. The very morning that photos from the Mars Rover made their way to Earth, I got very excited to see what was coming back. I wanted some fitting background music for seeing these images for the first time, and literally the second I clicked on the story, the new album from Ash Borer landed in my inbox.

Not that the band is on some sort of intergalactic adventure or something, but they’d certainly be fitting for setting a mood for stretching the mind. As heavy and disruptive as the band can be at times, I never fail to gaze into the distance and do heavy thinking while listening to their music. It’s well documented on this site that music of that nature appeals to me, and for the last couple years, Ash Borer have been one of my go-to bands anytime I want to spend time concentrating, reading, or examining because they keep me mentally stimulated while allowing my brain to work on more weighty subject matter that takes some effort.

So it was that my first experience I had with “Cold of Ages” coincided with my space dreams and curiosity over seeing new shots of a far-away land (granted, these images were pretty miniscule, but it didn’t prevent me from imagining what was beyond the frame). I didn’t know quite what to expect, which is always the case with Ash Borer, but when those alien keys washed over during the introduction to opening track “Descended Lamentations,” I realized there probably was no better soundtrack than this song. Then everything exploded and we were off on a black metal voyage through time and space, with doors to other dimensions being torn off hinges with their aggressive assault, proper time to float steadily being worked into the mix when the pace slowed and they took on passages that reminded me of some of the more mystical moments of FALSE’s work, and then everything came back around again with the speedy, furious ending. Out of breath, completely.

“Cold of Ages” is the band’s second full-length effort, with their self-titled debut dropping last year on Psychic Violence. They also have a couple of demos to their name, a split with Fell Voices, and last year’s cassette discography compilation that wasn’t produced in terribly large numbers and was nearly impossible to track down. So the California-based band has been quite busy since their inception in 2008, and with each release, their sound gets bigger, bolder, and more impossible to classify. Yes, it’s black metal at its heart, and it’s harsh and uncompromising, but this new album finds Ash Borer incorporating way more synth into their stew, with N (Nhate Clmnt of Servile Sect) taking on a large role creating mood and atmosphere. It adds a surprising and lush element to the band’s chaotic violence that wasn’t there quite on this level before.

The rest of the singular letter-monikered band — K on vocals and guitars, A on guitars, R on bass, M on drums, and, naturally, N — has grown even deadlier, obliterating your senses with their sheer power and will, and pulling you back in from your daydreams with infectious guitar work that is weaved into every song. They always find a sticky spot in various sections of their sprawling epics that are designed to pull you back to center, and when you do refocus on the matter, you can’t help but surrender to their will and take the entire ride with the band. This is something that gets more apparent with each listen. And you’ll need many listens for complete digestion.

The shortest song on this album is tiny, little “Phantoms,” clocking in at 11:25 and sounding like endless sheets of a thunderstorm. Interestingly, K’s voice takes on a different dynamic and he seemingly digs as far into his chest as possible and comes up with something that sounds like Brian Johnson being tortured. It’s effective, sounds like it hurts, and adds a new depth of intensity to a song that runs the gamut of sound dynamics but ends in cold, icy keys.

“Convict All Flesh” is the longest cut here at 18:09, and it covers a country’s worth of terrain. The song opens with piercing guitar notes hanging in the air, slips into slow, doomy threads, eventually erupts like a comet striking land, and continues to shape shift toward its conclusion. The song is chock full of emotion, K howls like he’s trying to be heard from an ocean away, and the conclusion blasts into something angrier and faster than anything else on the album. Also on that track, adding a level of ghostly beauty, is Worm Ouroboros’ Jessica Way, whose gorgeous voice just chills. Closer “Removed Forms,” that also features Way, tests your will, opening with a spoonful of deathrock courtesy of coldly plucked clean guitar, but four minutes into this dirge, the explosion happens, dizzying guitar work shakes your body, synth is layered in like a thick fog, and cathartic melodies and shouts push things to the limit. It ends in total devastation, almost like a world burning to its core, making one wonder what those Mars photos may have looked like had we gone there thousands of years ago.

Every time Ash Borer emerge from hiding with a new piece of music, their brilliance comes more into focus. This band quickly is becoming one of the most important in all of United States black metal, and soon, with more records like “Cold of Ages,” those parameters should expand to the world. There is nothing but genuine, human emotion coming from this band, and they choose such a medium because their message is so powerful, only this sound could serve their overall purpose. Ash Borer is one intense machine that should only get more catastrophic as time elapses.

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The Foreshadowing finally bring gothic doom to States with Metal Blade’s help

People that deny depression is a true illness and disorder that requires treatment always grate me. Those people either never had a bout of depression (which I doubt) or they’re those faux tough folks who think you just suck it up and move on. Be tough! Yeah. Doesn’t really work that way. Trust me, I know.

So yes, I’ve been down that road many, many times myself, and now and again, I’ll make some return trips for old time’s sake. I’ve been on treatment for more than half a decade (but effectively for the last couple of years), and I can attest that being out of the throes of such constant misery is life altering. But those characteristics I often showed and the weird chemical imbalances in my brain aren’t cured, they’re just kept under control, so when I identify the same things in other people, I can empathize. That’s probably a major reason I identify so much with doom metal, because it can be dreary and the summation of one’s inner turmoil.

That expression can be healthy, though. Bottling everything inside just makes for a powder keg ready to explode, and no one benefits from that, not the least of which is the person suffering. I often find when I visit truly sorrowful doom that I can remember some of the trials and tribulations that overtook me and revisit the ways I started to feel better and how I don’t care to return to that place. It also allows an outlet for dumping the things that still do ail me, because it’s OK and perfectly normal to feel sad, alone, and downtrodden. If anyone ever tells you any differently, smack the person.

So that leads me to Italian gothic doom outfit the Foreshadowing and their latest attempt to break this band in the United States. Metal Blade is picking up the band’s new record and their 2010 release “Oionos” from Cyclone Empire for wider distribution domestically, and people who like bands such as 40 Watt Sun (who are labelmates), Katatonia, and Woods of Ypres might be interested in learning about these guys. The band is made up of members of other notable, but lesser-known outfits such as Klimt 1918, Grimness, Spiritual Ceremony, and How Like a Winter, and their experience making dark, sad metal elsewhere certainly seems to have benefitted these guys with this project. They’re well oiled, effective, and tight, and these two records here certainly deserve your attention.

We covered the idea of sorrow and depression that makes up a giant chunk of the Foreshadowing’s music, but there’s another foreboding element at foot: Apocalypse. You can hear their many references to war, slaughter, and societies burning to the ground to know these guys go beyond just feeling bad. They see the evil and destructive nature of what’s around us and of each other, and they seem very preoccupied with the idea we could be lighting the match to our destruction. Really, can anyone blame them for seeing things this way? Only if your eyes and ears are closed to reality.

We’ll start with “Oionos,” their 2010 sophomore record that’s getting reissue treatment (their debut “Days of Nothing” was released by Candlelight) and should immediately insert itself into the discussion of this decade’s better pure doom albums. It’s a really strong document, one where the band plays with confidence and precision, and the gothic undertones serve the music quite well. A lot of times when bands go that route, they get cheesy and ridiculous, but these guys instead use the intrinsic sorrow found in that music to make their creations even more organically darker.

Vocalist Marco Benevento is worth the price of admission alone. Even when the songs have some weak moments, which they do here and there on “Oionos” and more so on “Second World,” he muscles the band through those parts and keeps you captivated. His voice, an expressive baritone, suits these songs perfectly, and his grasp of emotional delivery is tight and true.

“The Dawning” opens “Oionos” properly, with militaristic drumming, a deep sense of melancholy, and Benevento pondering, “Who knows if we’ll wake up at dawn?” The title cut is interesting, as it opens with what sounds like throat singing, then spills ominous doom and heavy organs all over the place. “Fallen Reign” examines defeat and failure, with the reflective line, “What remains of this life?” “Lost Humanity is crunchier and heavier, showing the more muscular side of the band they’d display in greater force on “Second World.” Same goes for “Chant of Widows.” “Hope. She’s in the Water” is a dark, crushing examination of war-time destruction and how it affects mankind. Accompanying the track is a sample of FDR’s “a date that will live in infamy” speech following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The band covers Sting’s “Russians,” an odd choice musically but certainly not thematically, and they do a fine job, while sobering “Revelations 3:11″ (a scripture passage Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown”) lets the fires burn out and the soot left for examination.

“Second World,” originally released in April by Cyclone Empire, is the Foreshadowing’s latest effort and third overall. It stays the course pretty much, so you’re not in for a lot of surprises, and overall it’s not as strong as “Oionos.” For one, some of the guitar work is a little mundane and dull. Some of the downtuned stuff by Andrea Chiodetti and Alessandro Pace comes off as clichéd and not terribly imaginative (specifically on “Havoc” and “Aftermaths”), but luckily that’s only a sliver of the overall pie. This certainly is a good record, that manages to gain steam as it moves along, and by the time it closes with somber, slightly ambient “Friends of Pain,” the payoff to this experience is measurable.

“The Forsaken Son” is an example of the band getting a little grittier and heavier, and overall the sentiment is a little rougher on this record. There also are some intriguing passages on this album, from the passionate, somber sentiment of “Outcast,” to the near liturgical chants turned in by the band on atmospheric tracks such as “Reverie Is a Tyrant” and excellent “Noli Timere.” The best of all of the cuts are crushing ballad “Ground Zero,” a heart-lies-bleeding piece that could take on any number of meanings, with Benevento observing, “We call our last goodbye,” and folk-infused, furious “Colonies,” which is full of anger and desperation. When Benevento howls, “In the name of Western homicide, we built our empires,” you certainly can feel every ounce of emotion in his voice. It also should give the listener a lot on which to reflect.

It may have taken some doing and a pick-up by Metal Blade for the Foreshadowing to finally have a chance for impact in America. Whether their music takes is another thing, but I don’t see why it can’t. It’s emotional and real, sad and biting, and with rage where it’s appropriate. Plus, they happen to be a damn capable band, one worth following into their murky future.

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Jess and the Ancient Ones unleash occult doom charisma to enrapture on debut

Playing catch-up is something this site tries to avoid at all costs, but sometimes it’s necessary. Or at least it’s just what happens. But I think there’s something to at least being on record with something even if it seems like you’re super late with getting up to speed. I am over-explaining.

Anyway, today’s story has a dual purpose. For one, it’s to shed more light on a really awesome band that certainly defies the parameters of metal and, as a result, comes up with something awesome that could find audiences beyond the extreme listeners. Second, it’s to get to work covering releases from Svart Records, who we haven’t touched upon yet but, with an infusion of new releases from them in my inbox (all of which are quite varied and really engaging in their own right), they’re definitely going to be a part of the mix going forward.

So, even though I’m a few months behind on this, let’s talk about the incredible new self-titled album by Jess and the Ancient Ones, a Finnish occult rock band that might find favor with fans of groups such as Jex Thoth, Blood Ceremony, and The Devil’s Blood. There are seven people behind this majestic rock, and every moment of this record oozes with charisma and energy. It’s like a glorious ’70s cult doom record rose from the ashes, reinvented itself, and picked up enough modern traits to make an impact in 2012. And holy shit, Jess. Her pipes are killer, sometimes raspy, always emotive and soaring, and she immediately catapulted toward the top of my list of favorite modern-day vocalists. She just kills everything on this record, and her singing should be deemed a metallic treasure.

The album has the spooky inspiration of having been crafted by various occult experiences the band members have gone through, and from the sounds of things here, they were profoundly impacted by their experiences. Sometimes bands of this ilk can lay it on a little thick with this stuff, damn near reaching the level of self-parody, but Jess and the Ancient Ones never do that. They always come off as serious and solemn, even when they’re smashing the side of your head with rock so delicious, you’ll want to gorge yourself on their offerings. And hey, go for it. No calories, kids.

I did say rock and not metal. There certainly will be an appeal for some metal fans, especially if you’re into the more adventurous, melodic sides of Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, and Iron Maiden (not vocally, as Jess keeps her voice more down to earth than in the stratosphere), but people who need things all brutal all the time will be lost. That’s their fault for being so closed-minded. Does it help that this band recorded in the same studio that produced some of Watain’s music?

“Prayer for Death and Fire” greets listeners with its smoky organs, muscular riffs, and Jess’ driving voice, pushing the song a little bit toward blues territory. “Twilight Witchcraft” has a psychedelic feel and some really strong guitar work, and Jess makes references to “an angel by my side.” Up next is the record’s centerpiece and, in my opinion, the most impressive song on the collection. “Sulfur Giants” is an epic, starting gently with pianos and mysticism, but then the song blows open, with NWOBHM fire, incredible energy, and Jess’ most powerful hooks on the entire album. When she cries, “Oh, I wish I’d never been born,” you genuinely feel her sorrow and frustration. “Ghost Riders” brings things back to a more traditional setting, with sun-drenched guitars, cool keys, and a doom/prog rock pace that drives you through the whole cut. “13th Breath of the Zodiac” is truly witchy and melodic, and it could be a radio hit if it got some airplay, while “The Devil (in G-minor)” is a total curveball. The song has Western American style, like it was dreamt up after a bar fight, and at times they resemble the band Murder By Death. It all wraps with the second epic “Come Crimson Death,” an amazing, huge power ballad that wrings every last drop of their souls on the ground, with heart-wrenching vocals, a kitchen-sink assault of everything the band does well, and melodies that just stick to you. It’s a fantastic finish to a startling album.

Jess and the Ancient Ones may just seem like the latest addition to the current wave of occult-friendly bands, but they’re so much more than that. They transcend the darkness and creepiness the other bands boast with a charm and accessibility the other groups don’t have in this amount. This is a highly recommended album, one you may find yourself having a tough time putting back on the shelf.

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Hunter’s Ground, Unsacred mangle metal influences on exciting new efforts

Hunter’s Ground

I can appreciate someone with diverse musical interests because I like to think I have those myself. I am pretty open to listening to just about any form of metal out there, and my record collection runs the gamut of musical styles. I mean, there’s no mainstream pop or anything, but I have some things in regular rotation that someone who runs a site such as this ordinarily wouldn’t be expected to own.

Same goes for record labels. I like ones that, even if they specialize in metal, can branch out those interests and cast a wide net. Relapse may have made its name with death metal and grindcore, but they have all kinds of bands now, from the awesome trad metal of Christian Mistress to the evil, menacing blackened death of Weapon. Profound Lore long has been known to include anything they deem to have deep artistic merit in the extreme music world. Flenser tends to do some really interesting things, and even Southern Lord has been able to step back from their drone and doom past to breathe new life into underground hardcore that’s gone pretty much unnoticed by the rest of the world. Variety keeps things fresh and exciting not only for the label but for the listener.

Broken Limbs, in a short amount of time as a label, also has been really receptive to all styles of metal. When I get their promos, I’m typically intrigued off the bat because I don’t know what kind of discovery they possibly could have made since last time I heard from them. And even if not every effort or band matches my personal tastes, I’ve never been bored by anything they released. In fact, two of their offerings — the much-discussed debut EP by Vattnet Viskar and the upcoming stunner by Oak Pantheon — make up some of my favorite music I’ve heard this year. Seriously, wait until you hear the new Oak Pantheon. Mind-blowing experience. I appreciate the lengths they go to shed a light on bands that other labels might not take a chance on, and as a result, they’ve given meaningful opportunities to very worthy bands to have their music heard.

We now have two more records from Broken Limbs that deserve examination, and as you probably expect from what I’ve written so far, neither release resembles the other. Yet, I easily could see how each band could cross over into the other’s audiences to a degree without ruffling too many feathers.

We’ll start with Hunter’s Ground, a Virginia band with a stranglehold on atmospheric black metal that sounds like it came right out of the woods. Well, that’s because it did, as the band used a generator to record their debut “No God But the Wild” in guitarist/vocalist Paul Waggener’s woods-based house, a setting that brought them great inspiration. Anyone into bands such as Wodensthrone, Celestial, and even early Immortal (especially vocally) can find a lot to like on this record, and it does an excellent job capturing the majesty of nature and a primitive expression of black metal that so few bands seem to truly capture these days. It’s a rough, raw album that the band completed in a little under a 24-hour cycle due to the limited power of the generator, and perhaps that short window was key to capturing such an explosive performance.

The record’s a mere 32 minutes long, but they make effective use of that time, weaving six tracks into the production that give a great indication of what this band does well.  “No God” kicks off with the gritty, epic “A Storm of Crows,” a song that’s both aggressive and thought-provoking , with Waggener howling the song title over and over as the tracks expires. “Their Hands Were Stained With Her Dripping Blood” is primal and emotional, with gruff vocals, spirited guitar work, and a surging undercurrent. “And Fed Their Flesh to the Vultures” has a blistering, crushing opening, and it’s one of the most violent songs on here, both musically and lyrically. It’s my favorite track on the record and never ceases to make my fists clench. “Speaking in the Tongues of Trees” changes the pace, as calm washes over, dissonant guitars ring out, clean calls and chants bleed in, and a relatively dreamy sequence is achieved. The final two cuts are the longest adventures, each lasting more than seven minutes with the title track boasting crunch and infectiousness, while closer “The Fireless Winter” is off kilter, with plenty of tempo shifts, thick atmosphere, and some thrashing chugging to keep things meaty and bruising.

Hunter’s Ground are raw and real, honest and heartfelt, and they appear to have a great future ahead of them. Time should only make this band stronger, and their next album really could be something to behold. Until then, “No God” is a solid step toward greatness.

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Also from Virginia, Unsacred also have a knack for black metal passages, but they pack just as much crusty hardcore thunder into what they do to make things interesting. Their amalgamation of these sounds makes for an unpredictable package, where the only thing that’s certain is you’ll be met with punishment and volume, full of power and passion. But unlike many hardcore bands, this stuff isn’t attitudinal and swaggering, doesn’t boast, and instead helps the band come off as human, not meat-headed humanoid. They remind me of a group off Deathwish, who have a giant roster of like-minded artists.

The band’s new EP “Three Sisters” is quite the disruptive little display. It’s but four songs long, but when it’s over, you’ll definitely have felt its impact. “I Carry the Weight Alone” has a black metal meltdown as it opens, feeling gloomy and doomy, but then the whole things blows up, and we’re off to the races, with a galloping tempo and raspy shouts. “Lethe” also is a throat mangler, but it has a lot of air wooshing through it and also sports some sleek guitar lines that would make the Nordic metal bands a little jealous. “Abatement, Loss, and Regret (Three Sisters)” is the shortest song of the bunch, managing to find time to be thorny and calm. Closer “Torch Circle” is the opposite, as it’s the longest song of the group at 7:30, and it allows the band to really branch out, lets notes and passages stretch out, and sets the stage for some really meaningful, cathartic playing. It’s a hell of a song and an indication of just what this band is capable of doing.

Honestly, I don’t get all that excited about straight-up hardcore (I grew up a metal kid), but when bands like Unsacred screw with the formula, that’s when I get on board. Like Hunter’s Ground, the band’s best days should be ahead of them, but they’re definitely working on something noteworthy here. This is one of the few hardcore-based bands I’d make a point to see live, and hopefully I don’t get punched in the face in the process. Wouldn’t be the first time.

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Nihill make inhuman, cosmic noise on bizarre trilogy closer ‘Verdonkermaan’

Most bands I can fairly easily explain to someone who’s unfamiliar with a group’s music. I usually even can give a relatively educated guess as to philosophies and lyrical content, shooting at least for the confines of the ballpark when venturing a guess. But now and again one comes across that throws me for a loop and I’m forced to feign a major injury and scurry from the room.

Try as I might to fake a severed artery in my leg or a major chest injury, I kind of can’t hide from my own site. So it looks like I’m going to take a stab at trying to explain Nihill and their fascinating and bizarre third record “Verdonkermaan.” It’s the final act of a trilogy that kicked off with two equally impressive records “Krach” from 2007 and “Grond” from 2009. In fact, I specifically remember trying to decipher the latter album while drunk and watching a Pitt/Navy football game. That was a remarkably stupid idea on my part, and it didn’t really help me come to any other conclusion than, “I’m pretty messed up and this record isn’t helping.” I mean that in a nice way.  And that came a few months after their debut had reached me via Hydra Head, who certainly don’t fear a musical challenge.

Like their first two records, I’ve relished picking apart “Verdonkermaan,” a title I believe translates into “embezzle,” and found myself captured by the bizarre vortex of sound this band captures and turns into avant-garde black metal magic. There’s no easy way to describe exactly what’s going on musically with this band and this record, and my best advice would be to spend a lot of time soaking up Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega and then try to come back to this. If you’re already indoctrinated into Nihill’s world, you’ll have a far easier time adjusting. But I, too, have spent countless hours with “Grond” and “Krach” and still had to get properly tuned to these hellish transmissions before I was ready to translate my thoughts into words. This is not an easy adventure, and don’t go into it thinking you can coast by. You’ll drown in the shadows.

Nihill is made up of three figures — M. Eikenaar (also known for his work with, uh, slightly more accessible Dodecahedron), V. Koreman (Encircled), and J. Agema (ex-Edge of Anger, ex-Posthuman) — are responsible for the madness discovered on “Verdonkermaan,” and their artistry is both confusing and frightening. I can only describe their sound as a metallic tornado sucked into space that along the way picks up a ghoul world and heads slowly toward the sun to bring upon destruction. What the fuck does that mean, you ask? I have no idea at all. But it sounds like that thing I just typed. It would scare the shit out of me if I saw that thing, by the way. So there’s that.

The five cuts on “Verdonkermaan” are pretty lengthy and don’t have much of a beginning, middle, or end. The songs sort of slip into the picture, already formed, and they shape-shift over their duration into a weird, tyrannical beast. There certainly is melody to be found on these cuts, but there’s just as must compositional weirdness and poisonous fog created by every element of these songs. If you’re looking for lines to howl back, a sign of a hook or a chorus, or anything conventional whatsoever, you’re going to be searching a long time. You need to let these songs breathe and envelop you. The album requires you to be an active participant to try to make sense of what’s around you. If you don’t, chances are “Verdonkermaan” and Nihill won’t make a lot of sense to you. If you give in, you’ll find one of the more adventurous records to surface this year.

“Vuur: the deathwind of resurrection” starts off as unsettling as possible, with strange string strikes and pained warbling that eventually dissolve into destructive weirdness and a firestorm of punishment. The guitar work is tricky, the atmosphere is thick and cloudy, and the vocals are gurgly and strangling. “Spiral: the tail eater” has a really off-kilter launch, but it eventually becomes one of the more approachable songs on the record. Take that description “approachable” with a grain of salt, because listeners not ready for this still will be knocked aside. “Oerbron: returning to the primal matter” is the heaviest song on here, with the fastest pace, shakiest tempo, and most stomach acid-inducing presentations. It is complete damage and obliteration from start to finish, and it really does need the breather that is “Gnosis Part IV,” a carryover theme from “Krach.” This piece is built with eerie whisper loops, doomy ambiance, and swirling sounds that’ll have you hearing voices and mysterious noises in your head well after the track is over. Closer “Trauma: crushing serpens mercuriales” is weird, chugging, scraped with static, and bludgeoned with disruptive, sinister melodies that bring the trilogy to a thunderous, shocking conclusion.

Nihill’s creative inventions indicate the band isn’t interested in playing by rules or coloring between the lines. Much of the time, they don’t even sound human. They make cosmic, disturbing black metal that defies logic and label and should make your skin crawl. Words cannot do their mission or their sound justice so yeah, you probably should try on their bizarre art to truly understand them. Every portion of this trilogy has been exciting and unique, and I’m curious to see what corner of psychosis they explore next.

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King of Asgard row with fury on second Viking-splattered record ‘…To North’

Vikings mixed with metal make for one great scene, and yes, cliche. Yeah, I admit it. And who cares? How can one possibly go wrong with mixing together swords, mythology, mead drunk from horns, and metallic music? Answer is, you cannot.

So the metal world is inundated with bands that call upon Viking heritage and history to propel (row?) their machine. Who can deny the vicious, epic underpinnings of a band such as Unleashed? Or, as goofy and silly as they may seem on the surface, who can seriously hate the big, burly dudes in Amon Amarth, who make some of the most infectious, melodic metal you’ll ever hear? If you’re a doubter, go see them live. You’ll be won over. And now comes a new band King of Asgard to toss their horned helmet into the ring and profess their own allegiance to mighty warriors of days gone by.

The band’s 2010 debut record “Fi’mbulvintr” was a decent effort, one that indicated the guys had some promise but also had a ways to go before realizing their full potential. They meant well and the songs weren’t too bad, but it didn’t really stuck to the ribs after a few listens. But it was enough to make me curious as to where they were headed, and now that their new album “…To North” has surfaced, we have some answers. Luckily what we find on this sophomore display is a band that’s growing deadlier, sharpening their songwriting skills, and adding more muscle into the fray than some of the other bands in the Viking camp. Their music is heavier and more toward the black metal terrain, and while they certainly can wow you with powerful hooks, that’s not all they have to offer.

The quartet that makes up King of Asgard are no rookies. Vocalist/guitarist Karl Beckmann spent time with bands such as Indungeon and Infernal Vengeance; guitarist Lars Tangmark played with Mesentery and the Choir of Vengeance; bassist Jonas Albrektsson still plays with Bloodshed Nihil and Retaliation and used to be with Thy Primordial; while drummer Karsten Larsson remains with Falconer and also played with several other notable bands. So that’s a nice wealth of experience in diverse-sounding bands, and their combined time spent with other groups enables the guys to bring a lot to the table. Already on album two, KoA sounds like a well-oiled machine.

Opening with a scene-setting introduction instrumental that’s full of horns and bravado, the band launches into “The Nine Worlds Burn,” a black metal-flavored crusher that is full of melody and a big chorus, with Beckmann howling, “Carry us home when we fall.” “The Dispossessed” has a glorious tempo, is full of unbridled passion, and has some killer chops by Albrektsson, who really steers this song and gives it its low-end oomph. “Gap of Ginnungs” is a song where the band’s personality really begins to shine through, from the gruff, growl-speak on the verses, to the folkish gang vocals over the chorus, to the surging lead guitars that could cause of tidal wave of emotion inside you. “Bound to Reunite” actually sounds a bit like Amon Amarth, the only time they really veer toward anything predictable, but that said, it’s still a worthy song and a fun listen.

“Nordvegr” makes things go bleak again, with harsher music, murky atmosphere, and strong melodies. “Up on the Mountain” is the second-half highlight, with buzzing, jangling riffs that open the song, full ferocity as the track hits its stride, some acoustic passages to bring things back to Earth, and a truly sinister vibe throughout. “Plague-ridden Rebirth” is the epic of the bunch, clocking in at over seven minutes, and it invites sickness and death to sweep down and choke out their enemies. “Harvest (The End)” has some playful folk moments, and lets you regain yourself a bit, while the closing title cut is an interesting instrumental that would be a perfect seque to a new section of the record. If there was one. Instead, it’ll have to bridge the gap to record three, so there’s a bit of a feeling of disconnect for the time being until that platter arrives.

“…To North” is a solid building block for King of Asgard, and their promise is even more prominent now. I’d still like to hear them carve out a more defined identity for themselves and become truly their own beast, but there’s no real hurry. What’s on this album is way solid and punishing and makes me want to stay tuned to their career. It also makes me want to crush a horn of ale, never, ever a bad reaction to a Viking-themed metal album.

For more on the band, go here:

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Innervenus serves up another killer slab of Pittsburgh metal with ‘Iron Atrocity 2’

Pittsburgh’s tough, son. We kind of have to be. We watched our primary industry–the one that’ll forever be associated with this region–fade away, unemployment skyrocket, people leave the area in droves, and old mill sites sit abandoned like industrial ghosts.

We have big hills and cold winters, and those two things do not really get along all that well, we have rivers that long ago were choked with pollution, and we have a wide variety of people boasting a slew of different nationalities, with sections devoted to those roots. We work fucking hard. We survived a lot of shit. We rebuilt ourselves, were called one of the best places in the nation in which to live, and have had a major resurgence due to the medical industry. Plus the rivers are healthier. You cannot kill us.

Beneath all the current success and rebirth remains a hardened core. You don’t go through hardship without getting tough, and there’s a damn good reason why pop music and glitz and glam don’t work in this town. Our punk scene is mean, not like the shit you see on Warped Tour. Our hardcore bands are a little crazier and out there. We have a lot of dudes walking around here you know have seen some shit, but they’re as real as anyone else. And we have metal that’ll split your skull in two. It doesn’t get a ton of play around here, sadly, as many of the local writers and critics are too busy blowing smoke up the collective asses of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello (and no offense intended to either of those guys), but it’s there. Underneath the surface. Smoldering underground and objecting to the mainstream. Where it belongs. It’s not pretty at all, and we’d likely have that no other way. We also don’t have any bands that would be media darlings, popping up on hipster web sites, but we do possess music that’ll require pain reliever the next day.

Innervenus Music Collection have done their part to keep metal alive and kicking in Pittsburgh, both by putting out music by bands from town and nearby areas, and also shedding light on groups such as Invader, Killer of Sheep, Storm King, and Fist Fight In the Parking Lot. Last year, Innervenus put out a compilation of Pittsburgh metal with its “Iron Atrocity v.1” collection, and now they’re back with “v.2,” another gathering of the city’s biggest, loudest metal-related acts, most of which you can witness live just about any weekend of the year. Last year’s edition included a few bands that made their way out of Pittsburgh and into the national scene, such as Hero Destroyed and Complete Failure, who both had albums released by Relapse, and Abysme, but this year it’s all fresh and new stuff to most folks who don’t inhabit our region.

Like last year’s edition, Vol. 2 has a wide range of takes on metallic music, so there really is something for just about any extreme music fan. Chances are not every song or band will appeal to every listener, but there’s a good shot you’ll hear a few bands that’ll turn your head and make you want to see them obliterate a local venue. For me, who gets out to shows but not nearly as much as I used to, it’s a chance to hear some bands I’ve heard plenty about but just never got a chance truly experience.

Good news for death metal fans as you’re served the healthiest portions. We have a great deal of death bands around here, and sorting through them all to find ones worthy of this compilation cannot be easy. That said, Innervenus collected these bands and found some good ones in Grisly Amputation, whose “Birthed By Defecation” is my favorite song title on the whole thing, which fits as these fellows also have the best name of anyone here. It’s ugly, disgusting, brutal. Their name fits them to a bloody, puss-filled T. Derketa have a more technical, yet doom-encrusted, take on the subgenre, and their “Witchburned” is both edgy and guttural, making you feel a little unsteady. Great fucking band. The final three bands represented on the album–Lythem, United By Hate, Tyrant–have more modern takes on death and would make for good candidates for consideration by Metal Blade or a label of that ilk.

If you’re into something that’s still loud but a bit more creative, you’ll find that, too. Girlfight have something of a Helmet/Unsane thing going on, and while you can call them metal, their cut “Holy Fuck” goes in so many other directions. Lycosa also veer toward death metal, but their “U Mad Bro” also gets soupy, buzzy, and a little bit hardcore. Horrible song title, but whatever. Moths are pretty adventurous but also quite bludgeoning, and their cut “Scabeater” sounds like it was influenced by early Cave In/Botch while also resembling a darker, tougher Cynic. Perhaps my favorite song on the record is “Woman” by October, who have a bit of that icy ISIS feel but also incorporate some Midwestern rock flavor like Across Tundras. That one was right up my alley. Solarburn do the instrumental thing quite capably on “C-section,” a song I really dug but found a little bit too long. I have no problem with longer tracks at all, but this seemed to overmake its point. But the band has a ton of promise.

Other songs kind of stood on their own from a genre standpoint. Local scene vets Liquified Guts do the belchy grindcore thing really well, and the vocals on “Heroshima Cricket” are so ridiculously monstrous and acidic, they sounds like a pig fighting a machine. Vermithrax are a steady modern thrash band, with a little Dream Theater and Judas Priest tossed in, and the guitar work is rock solid on “The Final Feast.” Lady Beast are one of three bands on here fronted by a lady (Derketa we already mentioned), in this case the commanding Deb Levine, and the music sounds like traditional metal done right. The other is Motorpsychos, a long-standing punk/metal institution that deserves your respect, or else, and their track “Victim” is as nasty as they’ve ever sounded. Ascend the Fallen did nothing for me with their metalcore sound “Nightmares,” but that’s due to my tastes. They’re perfectly fine doing this style, even if I think this sound  is overdone. Finally, Blackmarket Bodyparts seem to have played every inch of town, and they’re sticking by their Pantera/Lamb of God-style metal that’s gotten them so far. If you’re into those two bands, you’ll probably like “Slow Bastard.”

This is another nice sampling of what Pittsburgh does well, and you can go download this son of a bitch for free (along with the first volume). If you find something you like, do something cool like going to see a band live or buying a shirt or a CD from them. And make sure you give Innervenus some love as well. They’re helping metal and other forms of extreme music thrive and find an audience here in Pittsburgh, and that’s obviously a labor of love for them. If you’re an out of towner, get a taste of our toughness and vitriol and see that we’re not Bar Rock City, USA. And if you happen to find your way to our lovely town, try to go see one of these bands. Chances are you won’t have to look very hard.

PS — Any of you who are in town can head to 31st Street Pub tonight (Aug. 3) at 9 for the record release party. You’ll get to see Liquified Guts, Motorpsychos, Lycosa, and Ascend the Fallen. That’s one hell of a diverse bill, and admission is $1. You don’t have $1? You can scrounge up that much on the streets of the South Side alone.

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High on Fire’s debut ‘Self Defense’ gets earth-shaking, refined reissue treatment

I’ve been toying with adding a feature that pays homage to some of the albums that have gotten me to where I am as a fan and that have shaped heavy metal as a genre and cultural point. That way, I can better explain where I am coming from with my feelings and opinions, and I can shed a different light on some records that have been equally as formative for other people, albeit in different ways.

Not that we haven’t talked about great albums from the past on this site. We just talked up the first three Witchcraft albums that recently were re-released and also set the stage for their upcoming fourth record “Legend.” We also took a look at the classic Sleep record “Dopesmoker,” one of the most important, talked-about doom metal records in modern history that also popped up here after it got incredible reissue treatment. And while we’re not ready to go back in time just yet to talk about an old album just to do it, we do have another classic in our hands that helped get many aspects of metal to where it is today.

Southern Lord, who also did the new “Dopesmoker” package, went back to the well to bring new life to the debut High on Fire album “The Art of Self Defense.” So if you’re keeping score at home, this is the second Matt Pike-related document that’s gotten a rebuffed presentation, and like the Sleep album, this is an essential buy if you’re a doom, stoner, of just High on Fire fan. The album got a killer remastering and enhancement job by Brad Boatright, who also handled “Dopesmoker,” quite excellently might I add, and worked with other bands such as Noothgrush and OFF! If you embrace the early version of this album and detest when someone takes a classic record and spruces it up too much, robbing it of character, fret not. The album doesn’t sound prettier or more polished or anything of that nature. Instead, the record got some tweaks and twists here and there to make for a more explosive and sometimes dirtier sound, only with more clarity. It sounds just awesome, and while I always loved listening to the early take of “Self Defense,” this one hits harder and has more bite.

“The Art of Self Defense” originally dropped like an anvil in 2000 courtesy of Man’s Ruin Records, and it was the first full-length effort by Pike’s new band after Sleep pulled up the covers and shut their eyes. Unlike the trippy, sometimes totally hazy work by Sleep, High on Fire was a total bludgeoning. You can hear some ’90s-style grunge and doom influences in the guitar work and some of the melodies, but elsewhere, Pike, basisst George Rice (an unsung hero on this album), and drummer Des Kensel lower the boom, reworking the template for their muddy sub-genre moving forward. From this point on, High on Fire would become one of the most influential, respected, and explosively loud bands on the planet. Just ask my wife about their volume. We had to leave one of their shows early because she had a bad tooth, and their mountainous volume beat to a pulp the tender, damaged nerve endings that were in need of repair. Any time I mention that night, she grimaces.

From the moment opener “Baghdad” goes off like a gritty cannon, it’s clear this band is focused on demolition and pain, and they rarely let up even for a moment from there. “10,000 Years” has some great drum work by Kensel, who remains in the band to this day, penetrating guitar work that sometimes delves into Southern rock, and catchy vocal melodies that prove Pike had a knack for groove. “Blood From Zion” is just bad ass through and through, a total, unprotected piledriver that leaves you drooling. “Last” has more of the aforementioned ’90s rock feel — and not the shitty mainstream FM radio kind — and takes the foot off the gas for just a bit. But before the things ends, the band is back blowing shit up with a gallop of a pace. “Fireface” buzzes and pulsates, and Pike injects some bluesy riffs into the track, while “Master of Fists” is a total mauler, with more filthy blues, and a Rice bassline that just kills. Then we get a few added bonuses, with their gnarly cover of Celtic Frost classic “The Usurper,” which comes across grainier and meaner, and “Steel Shoe,” as well as a few demo takes, including “Blood,” “1,000” and “Master.” The alternate takes are rougher and less formulated, so it’s neat to hear where these songs were early on and how they progressed.

This is another great piece of work by Boatright to keep the musical integrity honest and not compromise its power while, at the same time, making “The Art of Self Defense” sound better and stronger. I know I’ll make heads explode at Southern Lord for saying this, but the album also sounds a million times more explosive on my iPod now. Sorry, guys. I do have the vinyl coming, if it makes you feel better. This is an excellent reissue project that’s more than worth your time, and it’s a great chance to get a new perspective on one of metal’s most important debut albums in the past two decades.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy the album, go here:

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Krallice premiere killer new song

A nice little surprise popped up in the mail box today, that being the new track “IIIIIIII” from Brooklyn experimental black metal band Krallice‘s upcoming fourth album “Years Past Matter.” As usual, there is a ton going on, a bunch of mind-blowing layers, howling and exploratory vocals, and guitar work that will make you dork out hard. And because they are such nice dudes, they offered up this cut for you to hear in advance of the whole thing coming out later this month. Check it out below, and if you’re interested in a pre-order, that’s beneath the clip.


For more on the band, go here:

To pre-order the CD version of the album, go here (vinyl will come via Gilead Media):