French trio Aluk Todolo create magickal dreams with double record ‘Occult Rock’

Falling into a trance of getting spaced out is something you can do without the aid of drugs or alcohol. And I don’t mean you’re tired and fall into daydreams because of your exhaustion. No, I’m talking about falling into a state of zoned-out comfort where you can relax, think, explore, whatever.

Sure, a lot of people take  yoga or do meditation to achieve this state, and that’s all good. But what if you aren’t interested in those activities but still would like a way to reach beyond and achieve a spiritual or intellectual branching out that stimulates your mind and body? Might I suggest a run in with Aluk Todolo, the French power trio that can help you slip away just by visiting their new, third album “Occult Rock”? It’s an expansive double album that’s infectious and mesmerizing, never losing an ounce of steam over its 85-minute running time.

The three guys who make up Aluk Todolo – Antoine Hadjioannou, Matthieu Canaguier, Shantidas Riedacker — are members of underground black metal bands Diamatregon and Vediog Svaor, but they don’t entirely pour all of that influence into what’s on this record. It’s there for sure, especially the opening track, where it sounds like a boiling cauldron of hell and chaos, but they do so much more than that. You have a heaping dose of doom, the Krautrock and space rock thing, some psychedelics, and just plain bubbling rock. They have an excellent grasp of how to make all of these things work together, and their compositions are expertly constructed and played. That’s a major reason why these eight long songs, all that range around the 10-minute mark, are so effective and never feel long or overstretched.

Another thing these songs do so well is, as mentioned, set up that state of trance. It’s recommended you listen to these songs front to back and devote the time necessary to do so. It’s appointment listening, where you set up camp somewhere comfortable, put on a quality set of headphones, and let these songs establish themselves in your mind and soul. The music swirls and infects, enraptures you, and takes you on an adventure. The songs draw you in with the surging melodies and sense of invention, and they keep you going by layering in repetition, stunning sections of molten doom and drone, and dreamscapes that go along with the mangling and thrashing that do the physical damage.

The songs are called “Occult Rock” 1-8 so you can keep them apart. While there are no words, there still are themes at play that deal with alchemy and primordial vibrations being turned into matter, and the sonic manifestation of all the forces of the universe into an octagonal prism that is this album. OK, that’s pretty abstract as a thought and gives you a lot of weird things to think about, but if you keep those cosmic, magickal thoughts in mind while absorbing this record, it’ll all make sense eventually.

The first half begins after sticks crack together with a fluid, black assault that also would sound fine with wild growls and shrieks over top. Then again, the music is interesting and expressive enough on its own that it doesn’t need them. The music bores a tunnel through the middle of you, and it soars nicely into the second track, that opens a bit like an early Rush song and has some great bass work attached. The climax builds early on, or so it seems, but they manage to take the song even higher with added aggression and some strong lead guitar work. The third track begins in a drone fog, with doom-like feedback, eerie rumbling, and a prog melody. The Kraut influence really sinks in heavily here, and madness erupts to its conclusion. The fourth cut, the last of the first set, is hypnotic and also has a prog feel, and eventually it settles back to a spacey, watery landscape.

The second half opens ominously, with a great doom melody, thick bass work, guitars simmering, and an edgy classic rock-style melody. Psychedelic guitars burst and swirl, and the song’s pace eventually grinds into a fog. The sixth cut has a pushy, guttural opening, but then it heads into an off-kilter pattern, some crazy drumming, and a completely trance-inducing cloud. It’s, by far, the weirdest song on the record, and that’s a really good thing. It’s the pace changer. Song seven keeps with that new personality and bizarre path  with a surfy opening that sticks around for a while and shows the band willing to be a bit more playful. The bass just goes off, rumbling and churning throughout, as the rest of the song settles into the mist. The final and eighth song brings back the tumult, with whirring keys, a sinister, downright mean guitar line, a crush of feedback, and a finish that’s like the band waking you from your dreams by beating you into the ground. It’s a rude awakening, but a needed one.

Aluk Todolo’s “Occult Rock” is wonderfully thought provoking, always enthralling, and trance inducing, so they achieve exactly what they set out to create. You can read, work, relax, or run to this music, and it really would fit the scene just fine. But again, set yourself a nice 90-minute window to appreciate this record, because you owe it to the band and yourself. It might help you sort the scattered thoughts and feelings in your mind and reach beyond your own reality.

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Seattle’s Bell Witch breathe morbid new life into doom on chilling debut ‘Longing’

As much as I love doom, in all its various incarnations under the metal banner, it’s really easy to get bored. That probably seems strange on the surface, especially if you don’t know a lot about the subgenre, because it would seem that variety is abundant. Well, it is, but that still doesn’t prevent occasional boredom.

As many different ways as there are to play doom and as many different descriptions as there are for this style of music — traditional, sludge, funeral, occult — it can be overwhelming. My inbox is just swimming with promos from any number of doom bands, and I’ll be honest, I’m probably only going to fully digest 20 percent of what awaits me. For the most part, it’ll be a song here, a song there, and delete. I’m cynical, yes, and maybe even a little burned out as the year draws to a close, but as much as seeing the doom tag on a subject line or band description intrigues me, it also equally deflates me. Is it really doom, or do the people playing it only think it is?

Coming across a strong new band that breathes new life into the territory is a blessing, and I felt that way the first time I heard Bell Witch’s 2011 demo, a four-track excursion that I’ve listened to pretty regularly ever since I came across the recording. When I learned the band had hooked up with Profound Lore for their debut full-length offering “Longing,” it made complete sense to me. The band seemed they’d be right at home there, and the autumn, post-Halloween release date is prime time for such a dark release. As expected, it’s really compelling and has made for excellent repeat listening.

Bell Witch hail from Seattle and are a two-man operation, with Dylan Desmond (Samothrace, Lethe) handling bass and vocals, and Adrian Guerra (Lethe, Sod Hauler) on drums. They do play a muddy, sludgy style of doom for the most part, but there are so many other elements involved that make them stand out. First, their atmospherics scream with life, taking what would sound fine in a small room into something that would be equally as powerful in a cavernous hall. Second, they also have a bit of a freak folk element to what they do, and that’s mostly because of the vocals, both from Desmond and guest Erik Moggridge (Aerial Ruin). Yes, the bellows and shrieks are there, but the variation in the singing make Bell Witch sound downright bloodthirsty one moment, bookishly observant the next.

What Bell Witch create on “Longing” is episodic. Everything builds slowly on this record, from open to close, and it works best when you tackle the whole 67-minute document at once. It’s jam packed with peaks and valleys, and it never stays in one place for very long. The demo was an eye-opener, no doubt, but this record takes what they accomplished on that mini release and blows it open completely.

The first three songs on the record form something of a triptych. All have similar titles conceptually, and they fit together like a long, harrowing story that can’t do without one of its parts. “Bails (Of Flesh)” opens the record and is 20:41 long. It never feels remotely that lengthy, and it’s a totally satisfying piece that practically could have acted as its own EP. The first part of the song is methodical and mournful, as melodies and power begin to build, and when Desmond finally drops his lurching growl into the mix, the devastation arrives. But there are delicate moments as well, such as Desmond’s clean singing that sounds like it comes from deep in his soul, and the song has a vulnerability that shines through even at its darkest. “Rows (Of Endless Waves)” crashes open, with skin-peeling shrieks and epic crushing, then the vocals go to a clean bellow, making the track sound somewhere between Agalloch and the Decemberists. Later, the tempo changes and turns into something Pink Floyd might have churned out at their most paranoia-ridden. The vocal phrasing is menacing but clear, and when the line “drink blood from the masses” arrives, you realize the sinister intent. “Longing (The River of Ash)” opens solemnly and maintains a slow-driven tempo through most of its 12:05 running time, and it’s a powerful ending to the first half of the record.

The second half opens with two cuts you might know if you heard the band’s demo. Instrumental “Beneath the Mask” still has Vincent Price’s creepy dialog from “The Masque of Red Death,” and that acts as the spine to this piece, which acted as the intro originally. Then comes a new take on “I Wait,” which now has a murky, chant-like warble weaved into the first few minutes before the penetrating shrieks and hypnotic guitar work drops the hammer. It’s the most savage, violent piece of music on the entire album. The closing “Outro” is moody and returns to some melodies heard earlier on the record, closing the book on “Longing” and its autumnal, completely menacing majesty.

Bell Witch seemed to exude potential on their demo, and they cash in huge on “Longing.” This isn’t your run-of-the-mill doom album, and it’s chock-full of both heart and horror. Each moment drips with purpose and keeps you going through every slithering twist and turn. Bell Witch are a band you need to know right now, because they certainly seem like they’re going to be a major story going forward.

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NYC’s Flourishing offer but three songs, but clobber you on EP ‘Intersubjectivity’

This week isn’t over yet? You mean with an election, a relatively childish aftermath by so many people, and a killer work week that there still is time left? That makes my desire to weave beautiful poetry about music sort of fleeting. It’s not that I don’t care. I do. I just want to get on with it, so let’s go.

There’s no reason to go all philosophical and essay-like anyway about a three-track EP, even one packed with such violent demolition as the new one from Flourishing. Let’s not piss around. We got to know these three NYC-based fellows on their 2010 EP “A Momentary Sense of the Immediate World” and awesome 2011 debut full-length “The Sum of All Fossils,” and almost as if intending to capitalize on that madness, they pick right up where they off on “Intersubjectivity,” this dizzying, industrially brutal, face-bruising collection that gets better with each listen.

I can rattle off a list of bands you might hear traces of when you take on this record: Helmet, Tombs, Portal, Godflesh. None perfectly summarizes the madness within, but my guess is a fan of any of those bands will find something to like on “Intersubjectivity.” Flourishing are brutal, no doubt, and there are hints of death metal, hardcore, doom, and sludge in what they do, but everything gets a nice coating of glass shards and sand that suffocates the whole thing and really dirties up the production. That, of course, is not a criticism. It makes the music that much more sweltering and swarming, with the noise coating your ears in madness and systematic punishment.

Flourishing is comprised by only three dudes, which is astonishing since it sounds like 50 furious robots made this noise. Guitarist/vocalist Garrett Bussanick, bassist Eric Rizk, and drummer Brian Corcoran wield their instruments like mighty battle weapons and make enough volume for a handful of bands. Their emotional output and complete meltdown musically is the thing from which burial dreams are made. Only you’re not underneath dirt, but a hundred million pounds of smoking steel.

“A Living Sundial” opens the EP like industrial smokestacks hacking pollution into your lungs, as the fellows play with a machine-like precision, Bussanick’s vocals take on an infernal growl, and the piece delves into hopeless, sooty doom. The path is harsh and unforgiving, and the music has no other goal than to maul you beyond recognition. “The Petrifaction Lottery” somehow achieves a level of madness even greater than the opener. The song is abrasive, vocals harsh and inhuman, and oddly enough, toward the end a beam of spacey beauty shoots through, riding a brainy prog wave. And then it’s strangled. The closing title cut opens with a thick bassline and near-tribal drumming, before a rather interesting melody slips in, sludgy, world-ripping riffs erupt, and the whole thing takes on a tunneling heaviness. It sounds like a drill boring its way into the Earth, looking for magma, and the tortured screams and shouts indicate the music has accomplished that mission. It all melts away into caustic glory that leaves your body a pile of ash.

It’s a small dose of thunder from Flourishing (though it’s more than 20 minutes), but it’s also a nice stopgap before album No. 2. The band is as fiery and damaged as any others out there, and they seem to be tapping into their potential as a unit. They’ll damage your hearing and psyche and probably have a lot of fun doing it.

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Geoff Tate completely humiliates himself on horrific solo outing ‘Kings & Thieves’

EDITOR NOTE! Hi, everyone who suddenly is stumbling upon this story. This piece is almost 9 years old. It’s based on one bad Tate solo album and how poor his voice sounded at the time. It seems fans of Tate (Taters? Tatians?) are very upset about this nearly decade-old story because I guess he sounds better live now? Which, if he does, great! I’ve been a fan since “Rage for Order” was released. I hope he IS sounding better now. Anyway, the comments section has been a good time, and feel free to ignore this and still fire away. Just figured I’ve give some context and a reminder of how old this story is before you lose your mind over it. I love you. 

When long-standing bands change singers, it’s generally never a good thing. That’s usually a symbol of decline, that the meaty years are over, and that desperation has set in. It seems other positions can be switched out, like guitarists, bassists, drummers, and things can go smoothly. For the most part. A singer change almost never ends up as a positive.

That said, why the hell did Queensryche wait so long to part ways with Geoff Tate? He’s been the epitome of badness for more than a decade now, turning in flat, emotionless vocal performances, with nary a hint of the razor-sharp, high-pitched wail he used to possess. At one time, Tate was one of the greatest, most dynamic, most charismatic singers in heavy metal, but some time after their heyday with “Empire,” he unraveled and hasn’t been the same since. It was a shocking decline that happened so fast. The band hasn’t been the same since, and they’ve put out some downright putrid albums. Only 1994’s “Promised Land” possessed anything approaching listenable vocals, though the rest of the material was sub-par, and after that, it was the pits with that band. I take no great pleasure saying this either, as Queensryche made two of my favorite albums ever — “Rage for Order” and life-changing “Operation: Mindcrime” — and were a gateway to heavier music for me. Their fall pains me greatly.

Most of the reason the music sounded so lifeless of late was Tate. He was a shell of his former self. I saw them live in 2000 opening for Iron Maiden and was blown away by how much of the group’s live act depended on pre-recorded high vocals since it was obvious the frontman could not hit those notes anymore. That was an eye-opener. Since then, I’ve taken a chance to listen to at least some of the band’s more recent records, and none have approached passable. “Operation: Mindcrime II” should not exist. Ronnie James Dio’s appearance aside, I do not acknowledge it. “Tribe” is an abomination. Finally, everything came to a head this past year when the band and Tate allegedly had a physical altercation in Brazil.It was said threats were made, perhaps weapons made an appearance, and Tate found himself out of the band. He, of course, protested that decision and decided to carry on with his own version of Queensryche. The other members did the same, replacing Tate with Todd La Torre. It’s all a big fucking mess.

Over the summer, a video that acted as a promotional tool for Tate’s revived solo career popped up online, and it was desperate and pathetic. It screamed mid-life crisis. It practically required promotional shots with Tate dressed in Tap Out gear, it was that silly. It was the Tom Cruise Scientology video of metal. Then came a new tour and a new album “Kings & Thieves,” released on Century Media’s prog-centered Inside Out imprint. My hopes and expectations were as low as you can imagine, and Tate still managed to find a way to disappoint me with his artistic output.

One of the things with which Tate accused his former Queensryche mates was that he was responsible for all the musical material as of late and they brought nothing substantive to the table. They disagreed and said their ideas were voted down for Tate’s much-worse compositions. I wasn’t around to hear these two parties’ ideas pitted against each other, but if I have to judge based on “Kings & Thieves,” my guess is Tate is a liar. This record isn’t just bad. It’s the worst metal album of 2012, bar none. It’s practically impossible to handle the whole way through, but somehow I managed. Barely.

Tate’s voice remains lifeless. He can’t hit the high notes at all, and when he tries, his voice just fades into an uncomfortable, off-key moan. His lyrics are embarrassing, out of touch, misplaced, and very, very creepy. He tries to spark sensuality in a song like “Say U Luv It” — and can we quit with the improperly misspelled song titles, for fuck’s sake? — but he sounds more like a guy who should be on a sexual predator list. He sounds old and borderline criminal, at least based on the lyrics. Tate is 53 and pretty damn smart. He can do better than this, at least lyrically.

“The Way I Roll,” a saying reserved for old folks who think they’re up to speed on the way kids talk but are like a decade behind, is humiliating. It’s Tate trying to convince you he’s an edgy, bad guy, and he loves danger. Sometimes he stays up all the way until 11 p.m.! Stay out of his way! It’s like some guy at the bar talking your ear off about his modern misadventures, and you know none of his stories are true. It makes him sound like a sad old man clinging ever so desperately to his youth. “Evil” is another song where he’s trying to be a bad ass. Plus the song has unnecessary, weird vocal effects. Ballad “Change” just doesn’t work at all.

“Tomorrow” is a breezy mid-tempo cut, but wow does Tate just strangle the song with his vocals. You know how sometimes you’ll hear someone sing karaoke and in your head you’re like, “That guys needs to come down a few registers. He’s killing himself up there.” How did anyone hear these vocals and find them acceptable for release? Terrible song. He struggles like crazy on “Dark Money,” and it’s another example where his voice just won’t let him do what he was capable of doing 20 years ago. It’s tough to hear. The harmony behind “These Glory Days” defines tone deaf. Who OK’d this?

OK, let’s be nice? Car crash opener “She Slipped Away” isn’t pure torture. Tate goes lower and deeper and sounds fine, but there are more stupid effects that just pop in, and it’s not all that memorable. But it didn’t turn my stomach. And that’s it. That’s where any hint of a compliment ends.

It’s not my business to demand Tate retire and stop making a fool of himself. That’s up to him, and he’s earned that right. He doesn’t need a moron like me giving him career advice. That said, it can only get worse from here unless Tate has a miraculous recovery vocally, which just doesn’t happen at his age. This is a sad, misguided tragedy of an album that encapsulates just how far Tate has fallen. Avoid this album at all costs, if you know what’s good for you.

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Theologian channels anger, betrayal, mistrust on ‘The Chasms of My Heart’

If you live in America, today’s a rather profound, gigantic day. We vote. We decide who the next president is going to be. Not that it really matters all that much. But even more than that, at least to me, is the hate no longer will be broadcast 24 hours a day in the form of campaign ads and people trading insults and treating each other like complete garbage. Until primary season, that is.

I’ve heard enough lies that last six months to last my lifetime, and I’ve tried to ex-communicate as many people as possible from my life who have this seething agenda, not to make a positive change that hopefully will brighten our lives, but to fucking win at any blood cost. No matter who suffers. No matters the depths to which they will sink. No matter the amount of misinformation they need to spread across the ears of any person who doesn’t have enough time to keep up with every dishonest blow. I put way more blame on one party over the other, but it’s all the same. It a cesspool of dishonesty and treating each other like a commodity and a number. And so help you if you disagree with the person across from you. The vilification never will be enough.

To an outsider, our country must seem like a dark, evil country. Like a land with two entirely different faces where we welcome you to this place of opportunity with one hand, and stab you in the back with the other for having the audacity to improve your lot. Reading some of the quotes inside the new Theologian release “The Chasms of My Heart” really kind of reignited the fires inside of me, because it’s clear that sole member Leech has been feeling the tumult, too. Maybe not in the form of physical and mental disgust over an embarrassing election that made people around here seem like the lowest form of life. But he seems to feel the cavernous pain, the betrayal, the poison, and the piss. Spending time with his latest album illustrates that point even more, and it was welcome listening for me as I crawled to the end of this finish line, where I really can take no more posturing and pretending. This feels like a voice crying in the wilderness for sanity, and I totally get that.

Inside “The Chasms of My Heart,” which is a gorgeously packaged album in a DVD-size digipak, Leech quotes French novel “The Torture Garden,” by Octave Mirbeau, written during the Dreyfus affair. In that text, you certainly can pull apart the hilarity of political fighting and the contradictions of government, but it goes much deeper than that. And Leech uses a line that centers on death and dispair and hopelessness, almost as if the situation you’re in never can be overcome. On top of that are the people around you, who look for any opportunity to dig another blade in and draw more blood. Salt for the wound. It’s a pessimistic a sentiment as they come, but at the same time, it’s also tragically true. This happens to all of us, though in varying degrees. Leech meets this head on, even himself dedicating the album to “others, there, the cruel ones; who from the depths, speak with two tongues; who in emptiness of spirit, leave me to struggle in the wake of their transgressions.”

If you’re not familiar with Leech’s music under the Theologian banner, or his previous work in Navicon Torture Technologies, then you might need to prepare yourself. This music loosely can be called blackened industrial, but that’s not really even accurate. It only gets you part of the way there. Underneath that, you can hear elements of ambiant doom, post-rock, and electronica, and the entire thing blends all of those sounds together to make a greater whole. It’s a claustrophobic, scary experience to take on this eight-track, near-hour-and-20-minute-long expression of grief, pain, and Apocalypse, though if you’re like me, you’ll get caught up in this heaving storm and live vicariously through the anguish. It’s not exactly metal. In fact, thematically, it’s much darker.

We open with 14:37-long “Abandon All Hope,” a rather fitting title considering what’s on this song and what follows. The synth haze and dank ambiance hang overhead threatening to blind you, and eventually a drubbing beat leads in, with washed-out vocals stretched out in the background. It’s an awesome, murky piece that will make you feel completely isolated. “Starvation Is a Legitimate Weapon of War” is the shortest track on the album, at only 4:40, and it’s equally cloudy and penetrating. “My Body Is Made of Ash … I Live as Ash” is already depressing when you read the title, then the whirring, buzzing synth takes you under and into a weird melody, banging like a hammer on steel, noisy, muffled screams, and hypnotic chaos that tears you in two.

“We Can’t All Be Victims” opens with thick drone and rivers of sound full of electrical charges, and beneath it all is a thin line that’s damn near danceable. “I Don’t Exist” is wrapped in static and insect-like buzzing, and the finish gives you a feel that usually accompanies the deep throes of medicine head. “Bed of Maggots” wooshes and soars, carrying with it a banner constructed out of cosmic dreaming and doom drone, and again, panicked vocals are snuffed out by an oppressive blanket. The title cut reminds me a little bit of WOLD, but with alien weirdness traded out for human torture, and eventually the beats and synth lines remind me of techno. The violent kind. Closer “Every Road Leads to Abandonment,” that lasts 13:02, brings this whole marathon of punishment to a proper end, with pounding, disturbing noise hisses, a melody that sounds like a smoldering freight train chugging through tar, and a nightmarish howl that should fray nerves.

There are no sinister riffs, you likely won’t make out a word of the vocal transmissions, but if you feel like you’re on your way to some sort of hell abyss listening to “The Chasms of My Heart,” don’t be surprised. This is dark, foreboding stuff, and it’s not recommended to those with a fragile psyche and no willpower. Leech — fitting considering his name — bleeds every drop of himself with this effort, leaving no emotion, betrayal, or disappointment on the floor. It’s a well of sickness and frustration this Theologian album, and it’ll be a perfect companion long into the night when human beings trade insults and cut down each other’s character all for the sake of someone who doesn’t even know they exist.

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Paroxsihzem’s charred, terrifying debut an astonishing display of bizarre power

We can all agree it’s been a miserable week here on the East Coast, right? And I’m not even on the coastal portion — Pittsburgh being a couple hundred miles away from the really bad stuff — but even we had a fairly annoying week with all the wind and rain and outages. Some to the south of us had a pretty bad snowfall. That’s not even scratching the surface of what our friends on the East Coast have dealt with, and we hope everyone is able to pick up and carry on, simplistic as that thought may be.

I sit right by a giant window at work, and all week long I had a bird’s eye view of the muck and dreariness, the miles of traffic backed up because of the poor conditions, and the lousiness of it all. The darkness has made me want music equally as suffocating and agitated, and wouldn’t you know it, almost as if on cue the debut album from Canadian scoundrels Paroxsihzem landed in my inbox. It’s a Dark Descent release, and as you may know by now, I really dig that label because they know what the fuck they’re doing. I assumed awesomeness with this album, and sure enough I was paid many times over for my faith, as this self-titled crusher was just what I needed to match the morbidity in my head.

Formed in Toronto in 2007, this band offered up a couple of full-bodied demo recordings before finally carving out this seven-track, nearly 38-minute opus of chaos. If you’re into bands such as Portal, Mitochondrion, and even Autopsy, you probably can get with this band, whose traits are quite similar. The music is grinding and charred, the vocals are buried a bit, yet still powerfully infernal, and the arrangements sound like a cacophony of madness. But listen closely and you can hear the machination of it all, which is quite impressive. You’ll be required to peel back many layers on this record, but doing so will reward you with a better understanding of everything going on with this mangler. I’ve only had it a week, and I’m totally hooked.

Thematically, Paroxsihzem — vocalist Krag, guitarist Impugnor (also of Nuclearhammer), bassist Orpheus, and drummer The Desolate One (also of Nuclearhammer) — are vague yet focused. They touch upon history, psychology, philosophy, and suicide, but it’s up to you to determine what it’s all about. That’ll require a lyric sheet, something we don’t have as of this writing, but surely what you’ll discover will take some time to sort out in your head.

The record opens with a blurry intro of smeared noises and samples, conjuring an eerie spirit just minutes into this thing. “Vanya” then explodes out of the gates, sounding like blackened death metal burned in a furnace, with ominous vocals, chunky riffs, and a doomy ambiance. “Nausea” may give you just that, with its dizzying pace and churning melodies, and part of the way through there is a thrashy breakdown that rips the lid off the song. Awesome piece of carnage right here. “Deindividuation” is a disturbing mid-way point, with much of the song held up by more creepy voice samples, eventually leading the way to furious growling and a total menace of sound that blankets you with fear.

“Godot” (a Samuel Beckett reference perhaps?) is heavy and grinding from the start, feeling like metal on metal much of the time, and there’s a renewed sense of dread with this one, as it punishes without relent. “Tsirhcitna Eht” has an interesting, rising melody and some really bizarre guitar work that may cause you to tilt your head in confusing. But it’s a penetrating, effective song as well, and it will drub you into submission before too long. Closer “Aokigahara” is both mystical and doom-led, and its title is taken from the Japanese Sea of Trees, a site many go to commit suicide. The song is blurry and foggy, making the vision a bit distorted, though the intent of the song is clear in that you are to suffer internally. It’s a heavy ending to one weighty document.

Paroxsihzem are another astonishing find for Dark Descent, perhaps the most reliable death metal label out there right now. This band is ugly and torturous, the way this style of music should be, and devoting time to Paroxsihzem almost means submitting your energy as well. This record is an excellent late-year find, one that I’m certain is going to stick with me long into the winter months, when depression and solemnity pretty much are a given.

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Dragged Into Sunlight’s nightmarish ‘WidowMaker’ is one of the year’s best

I’m sort of obsessed with serial killers, as my wife can attest. Uh, let me explain that. If there’s a marathon on Biography or some other cable channel about serial killers, good luck removing me from in front of the television. I don’t admire the murderers, let me be clear about that, but I am fascinated by what makes people act the way they do and what causes humans to kill methodically.

There’s a psychosis and a sickness to these people, but also a lifetime of sadness, neglect, and misunderstanding for the most part. Generally serial killers are not from normal, stabilized backgrounds, and even if they achieve a modicum (or more) of success during their live doing things other than killing, there’s still that underlying disease. Something has scarred these people, sickened them, and it has remained a dominant part of their lives. It’s almost like they need these kills to stay alive themselves. It’s an utterly terrifying proposition.

This brings us to Dragged Into Sunlight, the UK-based doom/death merchants whose identities are unknown and who perform in executioner-style masks. How fitting. Their music is suffocating, powerful, and pretty scary, but not from some ghoul-and-goblin standpoint. They espouse human hatred and suffering, psychological torture, and fear mongering, things that affect human beings in a real, non-horror-film kind of way. These are tangible things that impact people of all walks of life every day, and this band immerses themselves into the nuances of it all to make the sickest, most deranged music possible. Their live performances, so I hear, are beasts unto themselves.

November is a weird time to greet one of the best, most unforgettable metal albums of the year, but that’s just what we’re doing with “WidowMaker,” the band’s sophomore effort and follow-up to 2009’s “Hatred for Mankind.” When I got this record, I was in sunny, warm Rehoboth Beach on vacation with my wife, and despite the relaxation and happiness of being away and around sources of great beer, I downloaded this murky bastard anyway and listened poolside and on the shore. And I listened again and again, and I became obsessed, and suddenly our nighttime conversation turned to the black, uncomfortable feelings I got from the album (I mean that as a positive) as well as the samples the band selected, that are comprised of quotes from serial killers.

The band, while unforgivingly heavy and violent, also does a fantastic job creating atmospheres, as creepy and horrific as those may be. You’re not constantly being clubbed over the head by these mysterious creatures — T on vocals, A on guitars, C on bass, J on drums — because often they make you sit bound and gagged so that you can emotionally absorb the carnage in front of you. You’re made to sit and wait, suffer the psychological torture, and eventually go back to the beating that certainly will end badly for you. While these guys may not be serial killers (that we know of), they have the proper mentality of picking a victim and slowly, methodically breaking down the subject. Their music is a spiritual flaying on every level, each cut driven by hatred.

The album begins oddly, with a 14:51 instrumental “Part I,” the longest track on the record. Before the music really even gets a chance to set in, you’re hearing from murderer Tommy Lynn Sells, as he creepily recounts his work saying, “I like to watch their eyes fade, their pupils fade. It’s like setting their soul free.” Pure madness. The song itself is full of oxygen and colorful compositions, with thick strings, somber clean guitars, and a scene that grows more terrifying as the song goes on. Finally, we hear Richard Ramirez, “The Nightstalker,” question the validity of his sickness and make a fairly cogent, yet twisted, thought about how his crimes are no different than how societies and nations formed to begin with. Then shit gets real.

“Part II” continues the story with the bludgeoning beginning right away. Harsh shrieks and howls, a black doom gallop, and mucky tempos arise and begin the kill with reckless abandon. The track lasts 11:48, and it’s both astonishing and exhausting, demanding every ounce of your energy. They hit pockets of furious thrashing, a section halfway through the song that made me want to throw nails at children, and eventually the strings return to add an extra layer of macabre, as if they needed to do that! Our morbid tale ends on “Part III,” a 13:11 closer that’s the nosiest, most experimental of all the selections, with noise hissing, shrieks tearing through your nervous system, and even some prog-fueled playing to intrigue you before they cut the cord. It’s heavy, spacey, and disturbing, and when we get our final message from a killer, about his desire to go back to slaying. It’s a seedy, gory look into the psyche of permanently warped individual who deserves a life behind bars.

This material is sure to disturb, even offend some listeners, and the words you hear coming from killers’ mouths is enough to keep you awake at night. But bottom line is this is one of the best metal releases of the year, one that as of this writing is vying for a top spot on my 2012 list. This band already was a monster, but they’ve added layers and shed flesh in such a way that they are ready to declare themselves one of metal’s most dangerous, unpredictable, frightening beasts. If one day they’re leading the rest of a murderous pack of followers, remember their reign of terror all started with “WidowMaker,” a record that’ll change your sleeping patterns to keep you nightmares at bay.

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