Menace Ruine paint horrifying terrain on nightmarish new album ‘Alight in Ashes’

Every now and again, we get to a release that makes us wonder, “What is metal?” Everyone has an idea of what it is, or at least what it should be, and it’s hard to argue that anyone is wrong or right. What does it boil down to in the end? A particular sound? A sonic approach? A philosophy? A combination of everything? It makes for quite a debate, and that often gets into subgenres, and what things should be called.

I’ve always held a pretty open understanding of music I include under the metal banner. To me, that doesn’t always mean it is purely defined as heavy metal music, but that it pertains to it. It relates to it. It can appeal to a metal audience. It has the right tenets that it can be in discussion on a metal site and not be out of place. I think a band like Worm Ouroboros is one that pushes the boundaries of metal. Same goes for Mount Eerie, a largely folk-based project that is allowed to travel into black metal and doom drone terrain. But is that explicitly metal? Probably not. A few weeks ago, we looked at the new Assembly of Light, a record that’s decidedly not metal in tone for the bulk of its running time but definitely deserves to be dissected. It also was one of our most highly read pieces in August.

This brings us to Menace Ruine, yet another genre-bending outfit that, yeah, can stand under the metal umbrella. But if some bro is all into riffs and shit and wants to know if he’ll dig the Menace Ruine album, you may have a problem. But do their compositions evoke dread, terror, uncomfortable darkness, and daring expression? Totally. They’re scarier than most of your black metal bands these days, and if you take on their new, fourth record “Alight in Ashes” in a dark room on a stormy night, you might be fumbling for a nightlight. You will see shadows lurking in your hallways, ghosts painted on your walls. But you’re not met with shrieks and metallic fire-storming or blasphemous, murderous lyrics. Their aura itself is unsettling and bizarre, and they don’t need the put-on chicanery to strike a bloody path right through you. It’s a gift.

It should come as no surprise that Profound Lore (CD version) and Sige (vinyl) are putting out this Montreal duo’s new effort, as both labels have a penchant for daring, stimulating acts that sound like no one else. The team of Genevieve and S. de la Moth combine to create a weird, industrial-tinged, black metal-aware, doom-bringing, neo-folk, often bizarre pocket of clouds that may take some getting used to but certainly should keep you stimulated from front to back. Genevieve’s vocals are soaring, slightly nasal, penetrating, and haunting, as they float over their songs, trickling into the works’ pores and letting her essence prevail. There are no screams and growls anymore (that pretty much dissipated after debut “Cult of Ruins”), but what she does should be more than enough to jar you into awarded Menace Ruine your undivided attention.

“Set Water to Flame” opens the collection with trippy, dark melodies, an off-kilter feel, and gorgeous drone, something that’s sort of a hallmark of this record and Menace Ruine as a whole. If you’re one annoyed or unmoved by drone, be warned that you might not warm up to this record right away. Or at all. What’s weird, though, is my wife is heavily dismayed by drone, yet she embraced this record right away. The vocals are haunting, following a woodsy folk style, with Genevieve vowing, “Nothing will bring me back here,” as the track fades into haze. Two bands that popped into my mind were WOLD and Portal. No, the music doesn’t resemble their versions of chaos, but there are those strains here and there that poke at those things. “Salamandra,” a track floated to Internet sites in advance of the album, is the shortest on here, but it’s still quite a puzzle. Organs buzz, melodies intertwine and rumble, and Genevieve waves a tale like she’s trying to guide you into a candy-striped hole to hell. “Burnt Offerings” simmers in battered church pipe majesty, as the thing glows like an ember at the bottom of a charred building. It’s quasi-spiritual in nature, and it’s wholly moving throughout.

“Arsenikon (Faded in Discord)” is moody and cloudy, and it matches perfectly the weather from yesterday: thick atmosphere, gentle fog, light rain, total cloud envelopment. In fact, this music is perfectly structured for that kind of day, one where you’d be inclined to pull out an old Cure or Dead Can Dance album. “Disease of Fear” opens with a familiar-sounding horror house melody, then everything stretches out and bleeds over more than 12 minutes of space. The noise hangs, bubbles of poison emerge, and beams of light shoot through here and there. Closer “Cup of Oblivion” is like a sooty black mass at the start, processional and liturgical, and the noise again resembles organs and haunted dreams. Things flicker, melodies slip in and out, vocals erupt and fade, the song stops and starts up again. It’s completely perplexing and utterly exhilarating. You’ll be tired when this record over. I am every time, but I think that just means it drained me of all of my physical and mental energy.

Are Menace Ruine metal? I’d say they are. They may not conjure classic images of spikes, chains, dual guitars, and madness, but they’re scarier than all of those things combined. This is a psychological, dream-state journey, the backing track to an out-of-body experience gone wrong. They may not look or sound the part of what’s typically in our minds, but trust me, they’re heavy as fuck.

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Finnish heathens Behexen return with evil, dark slab on ‘Nightside Emanations’

Everyone knows metal has a penchant for the dark side. That could be the understatement of all time. Yet that aspect gets played out far too much, where people not in the know about the genre assume everyone is out for blood and worshipping Satan himself. That kind of takes some of the oomph away from the bands that actually are playing their trade for the fellow “downstairs.”

Finnish black metal band Behexen really don’t pull any punches when it comes to their allegiances. Three of their four studio albums specifically refer to Satan in their titles, though one could be interpreted in another way. If you’re completely naive, that is. Their former name is Lords of the Left Hand Path. There’s your evidence. No need for an opinion from the jury. We judge thee Satanic. If you have a hard time handling that kind of thing, you probably won’t be too excited about Behexen. And that’s too bad, because their fourth album “Nightside Emanations” is a really great album that mixes throwback black metal rawness and uncompromising attitude, with modern twists and turns that are more imaginative than what the first and second wave conjured.

Behexen have been an unholy unit for a decade and a half now, releasing their first full-length “Rituale Satanum” in 2000 on Sinister Figure. Already their blasphemous campaign seemed pretty focused, if a little rough around the edges, and they continued on with their mission on 2004’s “By the Blessing of Satan” and 2008’s “My Soul for His Glory,” the latter out on Hammer of Hate. Their new one was picked up by Debemur Morti Productions, clearly the largest label with which they’ve been associated, and the music they delivered certainly is worthy of the greater exposure they should realize.

Vocalist Hoath Torog and drummer Horn have been around since the beginning of the band, and on this record they’re joined by new guitar trio Wraath (of Dark Sonority, Mare and formerly of Celestial Bloodshed) and Shautraug (of Black Stench, Morbid Savouring, Necroslut, and 89,000 other bands). The newly cemented unit sounds pretty tight, and their dizzying, sickening smear over black metal template sounds like something you might expect from Marduk or Funeral Mist. Fun, gooey, violent stuff that’ll keep you up at night. Also, not only do they have Lucifer in mind, but many other ancient deities and demons that have wreaked havoc throughout the ages.

Following a synth-filled intro that sounds like an old horror film score, it’s right into “Wrathful Dragon Hau Hra,” a gurgling, dizzying assault that isn’t short on speed. At one point, Torog howls, “From the eye of chaos, rise now,” as the darkness and torture set in. “Death’s Black Light” is fiery and has a strong old-school vibe, and the simplistic chorus, where the title is shouted repeatedly, would be rousing live. “Circle Me” delves into the bizarre, as the band takes on a mode of worship. Torog calls upon Samael, Lilith, Azazel, and the King to come forth, and the mid-tempo boiler acts as black homage to the dark figures. Be prepared to be freaked out. “We Burn With Serpent Fire” has an ominous opening, calls unto Lucifer, and blends old and new styles of black metal nicely.

That leads us into “Luciferian,” a crunchy, thrashy, and authoritative song that eventually comes off as adoration. It leads into “Awaken Tiamat,” a call unto the primordial goddess that has a propulsive open, doom bells, calculated riffing, and another simple, call-back-the-song-title approach to the chorus that makes it sticky and easy to remember. “Temple of Silent Curses” brings back the damaged compositions, lurching vocals, and a strong splash of lead guitar work, making it one of the most interesting tracks on the album. “Shining Death” is punchy and ugly, while seven-minute closer “Kiss of My Dark Mother” is psychedelic in spots, mystical in others, has slurry, monstrous vocals, and even bathes in sinister melodies. It again prods Lilith and begs her audience, and by the end, it appears as if a vision of the end of humankind and a start of eternal suffering is at hand.

Yeah, you won’t feel uplifted by this stuff, and you’d best believe you’re in for an earnest sounding genuflection to Satan and damnation. If that’s not really your thing, and it really isn’t mine, there’s always the music, that is crushing, stimulating, and a fine amalgamation of historical and modern black metal. Behexen have impressive chops, and if there really are dark lords to be served, they’ll be pretty damn happy with “Nightside Emanations.”

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Traditional doom revivalists Witchcraft finally return with punchy new ‘Legend’

Imitation, flattery, whatever. People accuse bands of biting off other people’s sounds all the time, and sometimes it’s true, sometimes it isn’t. And thus awkwardly begins our tale of Swedish doom metal band Witchcraft’s entry into and journey through the world. They started off as a band that paid homage to Pentagram. Which is weird, because Pentagram basically grew out of their worship for Black Sabbath. Oddly, Witchcraft do still have those traits they absorbed from Pentagram, yet also incorporate enough Sabbath-ian elements to demonstrate the whole circle of influence.

Anyway, enough people have bombarded Witchcraft with the Pentagram ripoff accusations now, and it’s time we clear some air. They may have started knelt at the Bobby Liebling altar, but the band has grown pretty far away from that over their four full-length albums, their latest being “Legend,” out on Nuclear Blast. When I put on the band’s albums, I certainly can differentiate Witchcraft from their influences, and to be potentially sacrilegious, I prefer Witchcraft over Pentagram. Feel free to scorn me in the comments section for my feelings. But it’s true. Their music is smooth, psychedelic, and catchy, and I really enjoy what the Swedes have carved out as far as a career.

One of the main appeals of Witchcraft’s music — and it’s been this way since day 1 — is vocalist Magnus Pelander. His delivery is charismatic, sophisticated, even jazzy at times, and he easily stands out in the entire doom genre for his pipes and style. He’s one of my favorite modern vocalists to hear tell a tale, and he sounds like he could tackle any of the millions of hard rock-related genres and hit it out of the park. He’s as good as ever here, nonchalantly weaving his way through these nine cuts, now and again causing you to leap from your seat with a well-placed yowl or angry declaration. More on that later.

“Legend” is the band’s first album in five years, following up 2007’s excellent “The Alchemist,” a record that had the band moving closer to trippy material. There is some of that on this new album, but most of what you’ll hear is rooted in traditional doom and metal. The songs are strong and catchy, though I’m not sure there’s one that stands out quite like “Walk Between the Lines” or “If Crimson Was Your Colour.” The fiery “Democracy” comes close to that, but for the most part, finding a song that could be a breakout for the band isn’t quite as easy. That said, the entire album experience is a fun one, and “Legend” surely pays off that five-year wait.

Also, the band is comprised of new faces on “Legend,” as 3/5 of the group was overhauled. Making their debut on this album are guitarists Simon Solomon and Tom Jondelius, as well as drummer Oscar Johansson, and that trio joins Pelander and bassist Ola Henriksson. The reconfigured unit sounds pretty tight, and there’s even a new fire lit under the band and more muscle in areas that were lacking on “Alchemist.”

The sonic shift is apparent on opener “Deconstruction,” a driving, forceful song that goes against the band’s sometimes laid-back approach, and Pelander imagines, “Satan is amused,” when he ponders the disastrous ways of the modern world. “Flag of Fate” is kicked open by some tasty drumming, psychedelic strumming, and a strong chorus, making it one of the catchiest cuts on the record. “It’s Not Because of You” is nearly as infectious, especially when the chorus strikes, and it has that classic blues-infused Sabbath feel. “An Alternative to Freedom” is a bit of a grower, with some nice slide guitar, a spacious atmosphere, and electric soloing at the end of the track.

“Ghosts House” also pours in some classic Tony Iommi vibe and overall creepiness, but a weird delayed effect on the vocals on just about every line makes listening to the song kind of tedious. It’s the one misstep on the album. “White Light Suicide” brings the tempo back up, with hand claps and swampy riffs, but then it settles into a middle tempo and grows reflective before an ominous conclusion. Aforementioned “Democracy” is the angriest cut in the band’s catalog, taking a critical political stand, as Pelander launches into well-delivered tirades such as, “Fuck your heroes, and screw your gods.” Yet all the while, he’s singing, not screaming, and doing so with such soul, his anger is even more effective. “Dystopia” is mystical and powdery at the start, before it lights up and guitars and thunder take hold, and the intensity stays pretty ramped up until cymbal splashes push the song to its conclusion. “Dead End,” the 12-minute closer, opens with Pelander asking, “Tell me now, who is without sin?” as he begins his examination. It plays out like an Iron Maiden epic, with pockets of calm and serene balanced with bombastic outbursts and some of Pelander’s most forceful vocals. It’s a song that makes fine use of its running time and puts one hell of an exclamation point on this record.

It’s nice to have a new Witchcraft album in our hands, as they are one of the more colorful, interesting bands in any level of doom. “Legend” certainly was worth the long-ass wait, and hopefully now with a new label home and refurbished lineup, it won’t be so long before we hear from them again.

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UK black metal titans Winterfylleth rise to new height on ‘Threnody of Triumph’

Anyone who follows the “Game of Thrones” book series knows the saying, “Winter is coming.” Have I lost everyone in disgust with that incredibly geeky reference? Hopefully not. Anyhow, it means more than one thing in that series of books, the oncoming extended period of ice and snow that’ll encapsulate the region and the ongoing frosty, violent happenings that will further separate an already segregated world.

Same can be said for the name Winterfylleth, that being there are many meanings. For one, it is the Old English name for the month of October, that will have us in its grasp before too long. It also signals the oncoming of winter, the coldest of seasons that also is staring us right down in our path. Yet that approaching month and season can mean many things to people. It can mean the beginning of hibernation and seasonal depression, where folks stow away and eschew opportunities to be communal. It’s a means of hiding. It also can be a time of great celebration, as holidays near, people grow more cheerful, and we mark the end of a great year, a period of struggle, or something in between.

Winterfylleth, the English black metal band, also can be digested in many ways. On the surface, they can be absorbed as a band playing a primal, expressive form of music that has had more than its fair share of darkness. Put it on, forget everything, and get lost in the chaos. Also, one can get swept up in their cathartic compositions, indulge in their forays into their English heritage, and take it as a way to reconnect with our own pasts. I generally land somewhere in the middle of that, as I love their sound as a whole but always find something true and human beneath the surface. It also helps that their brand new record “The Threnody of Triumph” has landed at the end of September, as the air grows colder, the sun retreats earlier, and I begin to nestle into my collection of books and records and candles and beer. Their music is absolutely perfect for that setting, these seasons.

Winterfylleth are on a pretty consistent album-every-two-years clip, and they’ve taken their time to refine their sound and build their reputation. They debuted in 2008 on Profound Lore with their amazing debut “The Ghost of Heritage,” and along the line, Candlelight Records came calling, reissued their first record, and put out their sophomore release “The Mercian Sphere” in 2010. So we were due for “Threnody,” and what an enthralling collection it is. The 63-minute opus was on many most-anticipated lists for 2012, mine included, and it delivers in every way, resulting in the best album the band ever has produced. Yet, the way Winterfylleth have been improving and enriching their approach from record to record, they’ll likely top this one next time around. 2014, do you want to say?

The band — comprised of vocalist/guitarist C. Naughton, guitarist M. Wood, bassist N. Wallwork, and drummer S. Lucas — also achieve a new level of emotional outpouring in their music. They always achieved incredible, moving melodies in the past, but there’s something astonishing and life affirming about their playing, even when their subject matter is floating in darkness, and so much of what’s on “Threnody” is absolutely infectious and memorable. I can’t say enough about the band’s playing, and it’s another testament to just how much they’ve grown in their time together.

“Threnody” is not a quick listen. As noted, it runs more than an hour, but it’s an ideal album experience. The songs build toward each other quite well, and the nicely placed couple of interludes allow for regaining your ground and getting ready for the upcoming storm. The album opens with “A Thousand Winters,” a glorious, musically poetic cut that indicates right away just what kind of adventure lies ahead. “The Swart Raven” has a structure that reminds me a bit of Alcest, and it opens up into cathartic screams, colorful melodic black metal melodies, and even some acoustic flourishes for good measure. “A Memorial” is a bit more forceful, sort of like early Primordial, and a sense of sorrow washes over as the song reaches its abrupt conclusion.

“The Glorious Plains” has a harder driving opening, harsher vocals from Naughton, and eventually some Euro folk passages that give it a rustic finish. It sounds like a rousing battle anthem. “A Soul Unbound” has plenty of atmosphere and gaze, and the tempo is much slower, though no less heavy, than the rest of the songs. “Void of Light” is the shortest of all the songs that aren’t interludes, though it’s still more than five minutes long, and it runs into “The Fate of Souls After Death,” a song with savage drum assaults from Lucas and more death-like growls courtesy of Naughton. It’s quite heavy, yet also a change of pace, if that makes sense. The closing title cut is full of spirit and heart-wrenching expression, passionate vocals, and shoegazey thunder, that all dissolves into a pocket of ethnic folk that carries the record to its conclusion.

Winterfylleth are separating themselves from the rest of modern black metal’s pack, not only for their unique, historical-based content, but also for their great performances. You can hear the sentiment they put into these songs, and unless you’re dead, it’s impossible not to empathize or simply get lost in their music. This band gets more impressive and powerful with every release, and at least at this moment, the band never has been better. I expect that to change in a couple years, when they get even greater.

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Locrian, Heemann create comfortably terrifying noise on collaborative record

Who doesn’t have a lot to do these days? Who doesn’t have a millions irons in the fire? This is where I’d like to make a 47 percent joke, but I try to steer clear of politics on this site. And another rib poke over that would just be piling on at this point, right? We’re all busy and have ultra-consumed schedules, and I’m baffled when I see someone who can go 80 hours a week and not drop over dead. It’s either tenacity or insanity, but whatever works.

It’s been a pretty active year for Locrian, the Chicago-based drone masters who have captured many minds and hearts, including here at Meat Mead Metal. I often refer to their style of art as “reading music,” and I hope that isn’t taken as an insult. In order to read and absorb, I need music. It’s essential for my process and learning, and it doesn’t take just any type of music for my reading experiences to be fruitful. For example, as much as I like them, Pig Destroyer would be a horrible choice if I’m at work trying to read and edit content. Pretty sure I don’t have to explain why. But I always have something in my ears when I’m at my desk, so it has to be something intellectually stimulating, otherwise I’m just spinning my wheels and getting nothing done.

Luckily, because Locrian have been so damn busy lately, they’ve given me a lot of sound to move me along. Last year they offered up “The Clearing,” a record that made my Top 40 favorite metal albums of 2011 and one that still gets a lot of play now. It helped that this past year the band has hooked up with Relapse and the album was re-released as an extended package called “The Clearing/The Final Epoch,” an expanded set that includes an extra disc of bonus, previously unreleased material. It’s great Relapse expanded this effort’s reach, because it is awesome stuff. In addition, Relapse is re-releasing “New Dominions,” the band’s collaboration with Horseback, a sort-of, kind-of like-minded band we’ve also covered at great length. So that’s a lot of Locrian around which to wrap your head.

But wait, there’s more. Handmade Birds is putting out an interesting new project Locrian did with Christopher Heemann, a German minimalist musician who most notably worked with H.N.A.S. and Current 93, as well as on his own. The joining of these two forces for this album, a part of the Dark Icon Series and an effort limited to 500 pieces of both CD and LP, makes a ton of sense on the surface, but it’s not until you start peeling back the dark, disturbing layers of this whole thing that the true magic shines through. At times the music is beautiful and calming, but it is so in a way that makes you wonder if you’re not relaxing while a sinister forces sneaks up behind you. Because of that, any moment of serenity is ripped apart by what might be lurking in the distance and what catastrophe might befall our world next.

The four tracks on this album all are epic in length, but they’re paced quite nicely. They set up an atmosphere, sometimes provoke, often leave you wondering what’s coming next, and always enthrall. I’m not sure if this is Locrian’s direction, if Heemann influenced this, or if it was a combination of the two, but the music is more grounded, ambient, and middle tempo than Locrian’s most recent work, and the moments of true metallic wonder are few and far between this time around. But that’s totally fine. Both camps have proven over time they are capable of many personas and approaches, and what they achieve here is typically breath-taking.

The record opens on a curious note with “Hecatomb,” a track that has spy movie-style horns at the beginning, before taking on a Western feel, with acoustic guitars, some noise buzzing, simmering noise, and light, unassuming drumming. “Loathe the Light” is the one example where true ugliness is allowed to surface. While the song begins with a mystical, trance-inducing haze, that eventually gives way to frightening, twisted shrieks, eerie keyboards, and doom melting over your body to make sure not one inch of you feels secure. It’s an example of something truly unsettling because it feels so honest and is the only representation of such raw hideousness on the whole record. “Edgless City” comes in and stays in something of a foggy holding pattern, as the tempo takes on a crawl, sounds pulsate and bleed, and the poison makes its way for your lungs slowly and torturously. “The Drowned Forest” takes us home, opening with a long section of repetitive chants, a buzzing low-end hum, and more ambient patterns to soundtrack the world disappearing into ash.

Locrian have proved in the past they are incredible creators of mood whether they’re on their own or with collaborators. Heemann often has been that final piece to a complex puzzle. Together, they make for a dreamy, unnerving pair that can make Armageddon seem like such a gorgeous proposition. But make no mistake, you’re going to burn. It’s only a matter of when and for how long, so ponder that while Locrian and Heemann lure you into a false sense of security.

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Seventh Rule keeps things violent with new albums from Millions, Stoneburner


I have lost count of how many record labels I deal with on a daily basis, but the ones I tend to think about most fondly are the ones who don’t adhere to a specific path and allow themselves to branch out whenever they see fit. It’s obvious the music matters to them, and not staying true to some style or sound, and because of that, their releases tend to be more interesting and worth my time.

You know the names by now: Profound Lore, Gilead Media, the Mylene Sheath, Flenser Records, soon-to-be-deceased Hydra Head. Anytime anything from those labels arrives, it’s time to drop what I’m doing and immerse myself in new music, because I know that it’ll be worth my time. Even if a particular record from one of those sources doesn’t light my world on fire, it at least keeps me invested and curious when I’m listening. Another label we can add to that mix is Seventh Rule, as eclectic a metal-based label as you’re going to find, and one that always seems to unearth something peculiar and exciting to unleash on an unsuspecting public. In fact, this year we’ve gotten the bizarre and spastic rock from Wizard Rifle as well as man-and-machine-made industrial blackness of Author & Punisher. That’s not to mention past releases from bands as varied as Batillus, Atriarch, Indian, and Lord Mantis.

The label, that trades a prolific release schedule for careful craftsmanship, has two other monsters to enter into the fray, one a brand new release, and one we’ve been meaning to get to but just haven’t made it there. And trust me, it’s not because of the music. Sometimes running a one-man site and keeping everything on schedule is a horribly inexact science, thus why we’re only now going to be discussing this album. While we’ll be dissecting two Seventh Rule releases, neither album or band sound anything alike, yet each could find favor among folks who like edgy metal and abrasive noise.

Up first is “Failure Tactics,” the long-awaited new record from Millions. The Chicago noise rockers first left a damaging impression on us with 2009’s propulsive “Gather Scatter,” a record that feels like it came out a million years ago instead of a mere three. That’s what happens when you anticipate. Waiting for a pot of water to boil. It was a killer display that not only established the band as one to follow into the future, but also made me wonder where they were going to do next. We got an EP “Panic Program” in 2010 to tide us over, but now that “Failure Tactics” finally is in our grasp, it’s time to sink in the teeth.

If you like noise merchants or those who dabble in post-punk quaking, bands such as Killing Joke, Jesus Lizard, Harvey Milk, and aforementioned Atriarch, then you need to spend time with this record. The songs are not for the faint of heart, and there is such abrasion and agitation to these compositions, you have to wonder what pissed off and jaded these guys to such an extent. The band — guitarists Scott Flaster (he runs Seventh Rule) and Corey Lyons, bassist Mark Konwinski, and drummer Patrick O’Shea — never lets up in their intensity and mangling focus, and vocally, it sometimes sound like these guys are being strangled as they spew forth their diatribes.

After a jerky, welcome-to-the-massacre opening on “Shadow Copy,” it’s right into the heart of “Shipwreck,” where the noises lather you like lava, the vocals sound sickened and diseased, and pokes of, “We’ve heard it all before!” seem to go out as a sarcastic insult. “Pervert” is just an awesome cut, with jangly guitars and a sinister attitude; “Siberian Angel” is delivered a bit more deliberately, with talky vocals and gut punches; “Tunnel Rat” has a touch of deathrock before its main riff takes over, and the guys declare, “We lost our way!”; “Suicide Artist” is heavy and unforgiving, the most metal thing on here; and epic closer “Darmok V” is full of panic and awareness of one’s imminent demise (not sure if the title is a “Star Trek” reference), with our narrator coming to bloody terms with, “I’ll never see the moon again!” amongst other celestial bodies he mourns. It’s fucking sick and warped.

So we’ve got Millions back, and they’re as creepy and provoking as ever. “Failure Tactics” is an awesome step into their future, one where no one — themselves included — leaves unscathed or without a hefty burden they deserve. Put on this record next time you think you had a bad day at the office. Turns out it wasn’t so bad after all.

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I mentioned we’d lost track of a band, and that would be Portland, Oregon, doom crew Stoneburner. Their debut record “Sickness Will Pass” was released in May, and to much acclaim, and luckily we realized we missed it so we could correct said error. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the band’s brand of sludgy, ferocious doom, but not every band needs to be an innovator. Instead, they deliver honest, hammering metal that’s well played, blisteringly executed, and that should find favor among those who dine on Sleep (with whom they toured), Electric Wizard, YOB, St. Vitus and that ilk of heathens.

One really cool detail about Stoneburner that grabbed me is their allegiance to the riff and their penchant for cranking out pure, 1980s-style heavy metal thunder unabashedly. They clearly have done their homework, as their classic chops are for real, but they’re not living in the era. Stoneburner, instead, spice up their modern take on doom with those parts, yet inject strains of what’s going right now to avoid sounding generational or a disciple of any specific era, including the one they’re helping build. In addition, the members of this band — guitarists Jason Depew and Elijah Boland, bassist Damon Kelly, and drummer/vocalist Jesse McKinnon — have plied their trade with other notable crushers such as Buried at Sea, Heathen Shrine, and, here comes that name again, Atriarch.

“Sickness Will Pass” opens with “Christian’s Charity,” a muddy, Southern rock-fed track that’s chunky and mean, though it cleans itself up just a bit at the end to mislead you into “Marriage,” where they go mostly instrumental and sometimes psychedelic. McKinnon doesn’t crack in with vocals until there are about two minutes left in this cannon shot, and his growls are draped over power and prog melodies. It’s weird and dirty at the same time. “Run Boy…” opens on an exploratory note and even takes a venture into outer space, but then it’s back to the grindstone as they hulk and pound their way to the finish. “Elesares” is the longest track at 8:37, and it makes the most of its running time with noise, savage growls, and violent and drubbing doom artillery. Closer “We Have Failed” is like a summary of everything that preceded it, with mucky doom, eerie ambiance, and a final act of maiming demolition. It certainly left me wanting more.

The world’s got a lot of doom bands right now, and sifting through to find the good ones is growing increasingly more difficult. Thankfully, Seventh Rule did the grunt work to pick out this gem in Stoneburner, a band whose next album will go into my head the moment it arrives. Lesson learned.

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Ufomammut’s ‘Opus Alter’ shows they’re as bludgeoning as they are intergalactic

The outer space psychedelics of Italian doom squad Ufomammut is what always brought me back to their music every time they had a new release. They are one of modern music’s finest at creating trance-inducing atmospherics, and I always get caught up in whatever composition they’re stretching to the boundaries of human dreaming. Unabashedly, I am a fan.

This year has been extra fruitful because the band announced two records that would work together, April’s “ORO: Opus Primum” and now the new “ORO: Opus Alter,” their first two efforts for Neurot. The entire project examined elements of alchemy, with “ORO” being a mutated Italian palindrome that translates to “gold,” with the Latin translation being “I prey.” Along with those ideals is humankind’s quest for total understanding and control of all living particles that make up our world, which is all pretty heady subject matter for two records that are largely instrumental.

“Opus Primum” was pretty much classic Ufomammut: Lots of stargazing, tempos that built deliberately and induced daydreaming, psychedelic electricity, and spiritual awareness, and something that bordered on metal without taking a gigantic leap into that pool. It’s a really great first installment that got my interest going for the second half, but it never made me wonder if “Opus Alter” would be significantly different from the first installment or the rest of the band’s collection. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered “Opus Alter” is practically nothing like anything the band’s ever done before. For one, the thing is heavy. Really heavy. It’s disruptive and tarry and dangerous. Second, while it sets up an atmosphere, it’s filled with smoke and chaos rather than blue skies and vividly beautiful imaginations. It’s the gnarliest album the band’s ever recorded.

The six tracks found on “Opus Alter” really don’t let you do much relaxing or daydreaming. Instead, storm clouds set in, the world goes black, and hellacious displays of lightning and trauma permeate the landscape. Thought you were relatively safe on Ufomammut’s bizarre little planet? You were wrong, and now you must pay the price. But this isn’t just heaviness to go against the grain. If you go back to give “Opus Primum” further review, you can hear the momentum building for this display. Things are bubbling beneath the surface, and considering it’s supposed to be the first half of a collection that means to be jointed, it carries even more weight now that its second half is here. It flows perfectly into “Opus Alter,” and that heaviness that’s ever present is infectious and addicting, making for a walloping album that grows more powerful with every listen. I’ve been through it a ton of times and cannot stop.

“Oroborus” immediately sets the tone for this record, as noise flickers, the bassline slinks around, and a gritty, doom-infested melody breaks out, with guitars acting like sledgehammers. There are some vocals buried in the mix, sounding like the message of someone being swept away, and it ends with sludgy, fiery guitar work I never knew these guys had in their systems. “Luxon” is cosmic from the start before it turns eerie, and from that comes another crushing mass of power, harsh screaming in the background, hazey chants, and punishing servings of sludge.

“Sulphuerdew” is the record’s centerpiece and longest song on the collection. It also happens to be one of the most impressive songs in the band’s catalog, with its cold, dark chugging, Kraut rock tendencies, and outright heaviness. Vocals are wailed, though they’re ambushed by the avalanche of sound, and ultra chunky guitar work is folded in for good measure, in case you didn’t already have two black eyes. “Sublime” also has intergalactic moments, most at the front end, and a lot of the track is built on chirpy keyboards and repetitive guitar lines that cause you to stare and drool. This is your breather, basically. It all ends with “Deityrant,” a title that doesn’t take a whole lot of introspection to understand (clever as it is), and it added a couple tons of extra cement on top of the thing, with guitars making their final mud-baked salvo, robotic noises reaching in from another dimension, and the rest of the statement sizzling away in a pocket of fog. It’s a gigantic exclamation point at the end of a steamroller of a record.

Ufomammut’s imagination has gone haywire in the best possible way. Not only is “Opus Alter” a fantastic record, perhaps the best of their career, but it shines a new light on “Opus Primum,” an album I already liked a hell of a lot to begin with. We all knew these guys could make your head feel all woozy with their weird trappings, so it’s quite refreshing to know they also can bludgeon you with their power. I can only imagine the intensity if they made a singular album that combined both forces. Maybe that’s in their future.

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Blut Aus Nord bring ‘777’ trilogy to close with melodically bizarre ‘Cosmosophy’

When Blut Aus Nord announced a three-album “777” project last year, all to culminate in the calendar year 2011, I grew concerned. That’s a lot of material, and considering it all hadn’t been recorded yet, the chances of the goal being achieved seemed dubious at best. And if the mark was met, how good would it really be since they were cranking out a lot of material in a short time span?

Well, here we are a year and a half after the first installment “777-Sect(s)” was released, and we’re finally on the third of the series. Maybe they overshot when they declared they’d have all three albums out in 2011, but I’m glad Blut Aus Nord took their time. The French experimental black metal band including visionary, vocalist, guitarist Vindsval, bassist GhÖst, and drummer/programmer W.D. Feld, instead spread out their bleak, dark visionary design, that examines humankind’s place in the universe, what happens when one is separated from deities, and the aftermath of the (positive?) chaos, and took their time with the music. That was a good move, as this has been a great series.

“Sect(s)” is the most immediate, classic black metal release of the trio — and I mean “classic” in the sense that it applies to this band — whereas November’s “The Desanctification” played more with atmospherics, studio trickery, and foggy trip-hop influences that intertwined with their violent, more savage tendencies. It was a step up in progression and risk-taking from “Sect(s),” not to mention the rest of the band’s collection, and it is concluding now that “Cosmosophy” finally has arrived. If you were unsettled by the difference and total weirdness of “The Desanctification,” then get ready to be knocked on the floor, but the story capper is like nothing you’ve heard from Blut Aus Nord ever before. And knowing how this band constantly shapes and shifts, you may never hear sounds like these from this band ever again.

Most of what you’ll hear on “Cosmosophy” isn’t really true black metal. In fact, it’s hard to classify what it even is. It’s dreamy, dissonant, shadowy, and ultimately, as the title indicates, cosmic. It’s a bizarre finale to this trilogy, but one that feels right. It seems to achieve a sense of universal and human balance, a weird calming that you arrive at after the terror of isolation. The answers are within you, and the only way you can progress is to tap into that knowledge. If it sounds like the lack of true, horrific black metal won’t appeal to you, please don’t dismiss this. To do so will rob you of one of the most thought-provoking, inquisitive, astonishing albums in metal this year. No other band will be able to claim a document sounding even close to this one.

Like the two “777” chapters that came before, all the songs on “Cosmosophy” are named “Epitome” followed by a Roman numeral. We kick off with the 14th song of the series, so it’s “Epitome XIV” and its melodic, dissonant tones, odd, nearly gothic clean singing, eerie ambiance, and overall weirdness. It has such bizarre appeal and really hooks you into what’s next. “Epitome XV” gets even stranger, with crackling synth lines, dialog delivered in French that is damn-near like a rap, some calls back to the more trip hop moments of “The Desanctification,” and a pit of darkness. Finally on “Epitome XVI” do we finally have something that resembles black metal, as a vortex of horror and piercing growls erupt from an otherwise mournful, synth symphonic piece.

“Epitome XVII” starts off like a rock-oriented song, with a more approachable style and something one might expect to find on the Dead Can Dance pockets of “120 Minutes.” It has a pure post-rock feel, with some wholly emotional guitar work, and eventual dissolution into cleanliness … until sparks fly and the black metal carnage returns again. The off-kilter melodies pick back up, Vindsval’s growls get churning again, and more hellish keyboards simmer anew. Closer and story finale “Epitome XVIII” is full of doom mist and total poisonous gas, as the realizations of the mission strike the heart, and one begins to get the feeling of an out-of-body experience taking place over a charred, dead planet. It feels incredibly empty, yet the heart and mind are full of life after having realized some of life’s great lessons.

I never expected Blut Aus Nord would end this trilogy in such a manner. I have learned not to have anticipation going into this band’s records because they never do the same thing twice. But this is a curve ball like no other, yet it’s one maybe  I should have anticipated. Instead of the story crashing down in an avalanche of power, we got an introspective, crawling-through-time finish. I can only imagine what the next Blut Aus Nord album will sound like, but I imagine it won’t be like this. It’ll be something we’ve never witnessed before.

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Cult Series Day 3: Reverence blow up boundaries on ‘The Asthenic Ascension’

I have said this four billion times before on these pages, but when I get new metal from any French band, I expect total weirdness. That probably isn’t fair, as I’m sure not every band in France is destroying perimeters and redefining genres, but it sure seems like most of what I hear from that country is at all-out war with the conventional.

The most popular French metal band, at least here in the States, is Gojira, and even with them being on a fairly mainstream-oriented label and touring with mundane bands, they still push boundaries most heavily embraced bands adopt and to which they chain themselves. Then you have way-out-there black metal experimentalists such as Deathspell Omega, Glorior Belli, and Blut Aus Nord (wait until you hear their new one … be ready to be surprised), bands that require you to forget what you know about metal and the groups themselves because structure constantly is being burned to the ground.

That brings us to Reverence and their new album “The Asthenic Ascension,” the follow-up to 2009’s “Inactive Theocracy” and fourth full-length overall. This album is a part of Candlelight Records’ Cult Series that we’ve covered all week, also including Khors and Wodensthrone, and theirs is the most unpredictable of the three. As time has gone on, Reverence has gone from pure black metal to more of an industrial black style, and at times, with clean crooning from singer/guitarist I Luciferia (likely not his given name …), they even feel a bit gothic from time to time.

Reverence also strike a balance between France’s outright bizarre metal offerings and their more digestible ones. They do have stretches on their new album where I feel like I’m caught in a dark vortex of noise and nausea that’s actually more exciting than painful, but they also follow up later with stuff that’s easier to handle, quite melodic, and that can give listeners a chance to sing back with the band. I still, at times, I have a hard time fully getting behind Luciferia’s monotone clean warbling, though I admit it does serve the tempo and atmosphere of the music. I think it’s more of a personal preference than anything, so maybe you’ll feel differently.

Right away, Reverence work to develop a sleepy atmosphere with the orchestral synth that opens “Earth,” but it’s a red herring as tricky riffing, a harsh/clean vocal hybrid, and what sounds like choral backing enter the fray and make things really active and confusing. “Darwin’s Black Hall” picks up from there and manages to pull this album into a terrifying realm, with fast and weird tempos, prog-minded, spaced-out stuff, some guitar work that sounds like Gojira, and all-out weirdness that is completely enveloping and impossible to ignore. It’s my favorite song on the record by far. “The Descent” keeps things muddy and chugging, as the band cuts loose and punches its way through the fog, coming out on the other end with the first hints of Luciferia’s cleaner warbling, sheets of synth, and some grit and ugliness. “Psalm IV” begins to hint at where the second half of the record is heading, that being away from the harsh and toward the gothic sickness.

“Ghost of Dust” is the one track that didn’t do much for me. The singing is swaggering, which in this case didn’t feel right, and the cleaner tones hit a little strangely. Much as I’ve tried, I can’t get with this cut. “Cold Room” is a step in the right direction, with some crunch coming back into the picture and Luciferia doing his best Mike Patton deranged wailing. “Genesis of Everything” is a synth-based interlude that pulls into “Those Who Believed,” the most warped song on the collection, where melody meets total psychological madness. The title track finale is the longest on the record, clocking in at nearly 9 minutes, and it acts as a diatribe smeared across outer space, with more bizarre howling, spooky keyboards, trance-inducing guitar lines, and carnage.

Out of the three Cult Series releases, I’d place this third favorite on my list. But that’s wholly based on my preferences and not the quality of the music. Reverence really bring it when it comes to psychological damage and non-traditional thinking, and I’m sure there will be many listeners who find “The Asthenic Ascension” the freshest, most exciting of this series. I’m going to keep working on the edges I found a little rough, and I’m sure each time back I’ll find something new to totally freak me out.

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Cult Series Day 2: UK’s Wodensthrone emit power, pure emotion on ‘Curse’

The one thing that makes me sad about summer drawing to a close, as much as I relish fall, is ferocious, drenching thunderstorms pretty much are coming to an end and should have mere cameo appearances the rest of the year. Especially from my office perch many, many floors above the city, I love watching the black curtain work its way down the river, choke out the light, and bring chaos and instability for the short time it lasts. That never gets old.

I started to think more about that when taking on “Curse,” the new album from UK black metal force Wodensthrone that follows up their excellent 2009 full-length debut “Loss” (that came out on Bindrune Recordings). The eight-track, nearly 67-minute adventure roars and crackles like a fast-brewing storm, has the ambiance like you’re being utterly drenched in precipitation, and acts as a force of nature that you can stand back and admire but certainly cannot stop in its path. The enormity and strength of this record has floored me with every visit, and I notice that I keep going back to this thing over and over and digesting it whole, despite its demanding length.

Wodensthrone’s music isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s pure, classic black metal at its heart (I always think a lot of Bathory hearing their music) with heaping doses of atmosphere, and pinches of acoustic beauty. The words are packed with meaning and personal examination, and each song has a line or two that drove me to track down the lyrics and take a closer look at what this is all about. It’s less and less common that bands these days compel me to seek out the words they’re often indecipherably hammering back at me, but Wodensthrone never seem to have a problem conveying at least part of their message so that you have a lead somewhere. As many bands of this ilk as there are these days — I’ve lost count long ago – Wodensthrone have managed to remain one of my favorites, and their albums get common airplay no matter where I am. It’s great walking music, by the way.

“Curse” is being released as part of Candlelight’s three-album Cult Series, that also contains works by Khors (who we covered yesterday) and Reverence (stop back tomorrow). Of the three, this band has the best chance of becoming a sweeping force across the underground metal world, and while it does take a commitment to absorb their albums, it’s an investment of time you will not feel is wasted. “Curse” is a hunker-down, shut-out-the-lights, explore-your-soul type of production, and I find I get the most out of it when paying it undivided attention. In addition, this five-member, pseudonym-embracing band clearly is getting better as they go along, as they’ve managed to eclipse their debut album, itself an incredibly affecting record that’s only gotten better with age. So you can imagine how good, well-played, and enrapturing “Curse” truly is.

After a clean intro “The Remaining Few,” it’s right into the surging and exciting “Jormungandr,” a song that’s full of melody and adventure, tackling the Norse mythological sea serpent that is the great enemy of Thor. This song contains some of the record’s few cleanly sung parts, and everything here works wonders to get blood flowing and your mind racing. “First Light” has a gazey introduction before it roughens up. The emotion and majesty are there in full, and some folk flourishes eventually find their way into the song. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the spirit of this song and its true human depth. “The Great Darkness” then lets things get ugly, as ominous tones are present, pure black metal heathen shrieks are unleashed, and galloping violence overtakes everything, running headlong into “Battle Lines.” This track is the perfect armies-building type of song, as you practically can imagine Middle Age soldiers gathering their gear and preparing for what could be their final battle. “And so it has come to this, and thus we are undone,” is observed almost as if the narrator cannot do anything to stop the carnage ahead, the price that has been paid, and the curse over their heads, and the song eventually softens following the bloodshed, with soft acoustics and synth mist.

“Wyrgþu,” if you listen closely, has some lushness behind the heaviness and is passionate, but it also erupts and pours out buckets of classic black metal lava. “The Storm,” which was released as a single earlier in the year, is the shortest track at 5:58 and also one of the most savage of the bunch. Closer “The Name of the Wind” runs 13:28 and runs the gamut of emotion and metallic variety, opening softer with some acoustic backing, before kicking into damn-near sing-along-style growling, a total caterwaul of sonic beauty, and heartfelt cries such as, “The gods speak my name.” There seems to be a reference back to Jormungandr and of ultimate victory and overcoming odds, giving the record a triumphant conclusion.

Wodensthrone is one of the most exciting new black metal bands out of the millions of like-minded acts out there, and two records into their career, they’ve already proven themselves a major force. “Curse” will benefit from Candlelight being behind it, but it also should help the band find a larger throng of admirers based on its epic glory. This is a fantastic record, one of the best atmospheric black metal albums this year.

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