Comic death beasts Gigan back with more insane creations, warps on ‘Multi-Dimensional …’

giganI am convinced Eric Hersemann has been to outer space. In fact, he may have come from there. Well, maybe we all have. You know those theories are out there. But really, Hersemann is from there, and I think he arrived on Earth fairly recently to enrapture us all in his brand of psychedelically warped death metal destruction.

In case you don’t know who I’m talking about, he’s the brain and driving force behind Gigan, one of the most destructive and bizarre bands in the entire metal world and one that certainly stands on its own artistic merits. Their music, with Hersemann at the helm since its 2006 inception, has grown over the years and has become a larger, more violent beast as it’s gained more momentum and the fire in its belly has flared to insane levels. In 2011, their second full-length album “Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes” brought Gigan and its members to their greatest level yet, and the record was just a mind-blowing, face-melting assault that sounded like nothing else in the death metal world. Now, two years later, Gigan are back for more with their third album “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery and Super Science.” Go ahead and take a few minutes to memorize that mouthful of a title.

gigan coverHersemann remains the main beast behind this band, taking care of songwriting duties and playing some of the most bizarre guitar you’ll ever hear (and he’s left-handed!), as well as bass, and other instruments that make the swarm of sound. Joining him on this record are drummer Nate Cotton and new vocalist Eston Browne (who replaces the mighty John Collett, who was a force on their last record). The new guys had their work cut out for the to immerse themselves in this weird cosmos but have done a hell of a job proving their worth. The eight cuts stretched over about 45 minutes are as insane, dizzying, and baffling as ever before, and their assault on this record comes from all over the place, leaving you no time to prepare for it all.

“Beneath the Seas of Tranquility” is a boiling yet crunchy opener that gets the madness kicked off in earnest, as strange melodies build up and are blow away, and Browne’s growls even get some alien treatment that sounds like they are blown through a poisonous cloud. Toward the end of the cut, the band delves into a section that’s damn near grindcore as they peel off techy devastation. “Influence Through Ritualistic Projection” has cartoon-like guitar playing, like it could soundtrack a zany Tom vs. Jerry battle, but then the cut gets harsh and destructive, with piercing guitar strikes that shoot out of the darkness, and vocals that sound infernal. “Electro-Stimulated Hallucinatory Response” sounds like what Primus might have if they had gone straight death metal, as it’s loopy and crazy, with more alien vocals and guitars that buzz like a swarm of winged insects you’ve never seen before. “Mother of Toads,” one of the most normal song titles on the whole damn record, is mind boggling and mega speedy, with warped weirdness, guitars that seem to blast out of every corner of the song, and trippy, spacey wonder.

“Obsidian Sun” opens with a flurry of guitars, and it settles into a thrashy, compelling composition that’s captivating and should hold your interest as the band pounds away. “Cosmic Triangular Communications” has all of the moving parts pulsating and sending out violent energy, and it’s the one song that most resembles what Gigan accomplished on the last record. In fact, it feels a bit like a bridge between the two albums. “Gibbering Hordes of Zemiath” goes back to those swarms I mentioned earlier, as this calculating, penetrating cut makes it sound like those creatures are back for another attack, and the bizarre screaming and screeching heard at the end very well may be their battle cries. It’s creepy. Closer “Bio-Engineered Molecular Abnormalities” is a thick, bubbling cauldron of horror, with the band again going back to dust off their grindcore tendencies. The drums are just devastating and relentless, and the rest of the song sounds like it’s blasting off to go back into space to fuel up on more toxins and troops to make their next assault even more obliterating.

“Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery and Super Science” sure is a crazy-ass development for Gigan, and if your mind was fried on their previous records, you’ll be as shaken and stirred mentally on this one. I prefer “Quasi-Hallucinogenic” over this record, as it felt more immediate and intoxicating to me, and it also happened to be one of my favorite records of 2011. But I certainly like this one, too, and like any of Gigan’s work, it takes some time for their music to really bust through your cells and get into your blood. Hard to say if this will be the same form of Gigan that attacks us next time around, but you can be sure Hersemann will be commandeering the ship with more death metal that doesn’t sound even remotely human.

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Craven Idol’s hellacious debut album ‘Towards Eschaton’ ignites death metal hellfire

craven idolThere are those days when you have water pouring through your kitchen ceiling like it’s Niagara Falls and you have to shell out $500 to fix the thing that makes having evil, infernal death metal at arm’s length such a wonderful thing. Not that it cures any of that or gets your money back, but it at least provides an outlet for your total, complete frustration.

So when this exact scenario happened to me this past week, on my day off no less, and as I spent almost the entire day dealing with what was going on, it made having Craven Idol’s debut full-length “Towards Eschaton” at my disposal that much more welcoming. See, part of my day during plumbing hell 2013 was going to be spent writing this review of the UK-based death metal band’s introductory long player, but because I was busy having my bank account butchered and unloading buckets of water into the yard, that didn’t exactly happen. But it also made me look differently at an album that already was having massive positive influence on me for how good it sounds, because it helped me deal with some frustration and anger, if only because it exactly mirrored what was going on in my head and the fury I would like to release productively.

craven idol coverCraven Idol, the hellish beasts they are, go by pseudonyms that are as awesome and dastardly as their heathen sound. Vrath (also of Coprofagi and Sepulchral Temple) is on guitars and vocals, and joining him are guitarist Scourger (also of Deceptor and Solstice), bassist Suspiral and, for the recording, veteran drummer Volgard (Dying Age, Scythian). The fury behind this band cannot be questioned, and they have such an explosiveness and evil intent that they should frighten not just unsuspecting people who are creeped out easily, but even other death metal bands. They’re that mean and massive, and even while being bruised, you’re also bound to have some fun listening to this amalgamation of classic thrash and death with a heavy dose of evil.

“To Summon Mayrion” welcomes you into this infernal world with eerie noise, liturgical-style chants that haunt to the core, and a chilling ambiance that all sets up before the track even kicks in fully. Then it’s right into a doom-infested assault, a chewy death groove, and fierce, crazed shrieks from Vrath that observes horrors “at the hour of death.” “Sworn Upon the Styx” is one of the shortest songs on the record, but it uses its mangling running time to unleash punishing blasts and fast, meaty guitar trauma. “Golgotha Wounds” begins with ominous thunder claps and relentless blast beats, sending up a cloud of suffocating smoke and chaos led by strong guitar lines and a pure sense of old school death metal that isn’t imitation but truly an example of work that makes that style’s original veins so toxic. “Craven Atonement” has a punk-fueled approach, as the song gallops and riffs sizzle over the top of the track. It’s a great example of the band’s insatiable hunger for madness and sounds downright soaked in blasphemy.

“Codex of Seven Dooms” might hint at a slow-driven, muddy experience, but it’s more fierce and furious than you might expect from the title. There are melodic, triumphant guitar melodies that surge throughout the track, and just when you think the song can’t possibly be more devastating, the thing erupts, and they manage to pour buckets of fuel on the raging fire. “Aura of Undeath” is stirring and blistering, giving another heaping helping of old-school death metal, while “Left to Die” changes things up a bit. There’s more atmosphere, and the outer space weirdness gives off hints of Voivod. It’s a really tricky but enthralling cut that’ll keep you wondering. Closer “Orgies” is, much like its title might hint, a huge release. The band plays loud and fast, showing off more of their punk tendencies, and the gut-filled, filthy track brings the perfect, soiled end to this album.

Craven Idol is another great find by Dark Descent, as they have a practical stranglehold on unearthing underground gems of pure damnation. “Towards Eschaton” is a fire-breathing introduction for this band to a larger audience, and they deliver a crusty, bloody, maniacal record that’s worthy of being mentioned alongside the best death metal platters of the year. These guys are onto something horrific and monstrous, and their first long player is a sign that a new band of warriors is here to reclaim death metal’s past and put to death the pretenders who have sullied the landscape the last decade or so. May they suffer.

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Black metal warriors Gehenna return from the ashes with horrifying crusher ‘Unravel’

gehennaDespite your particular spiritual persuasion, or lack thereof, I think we have a pretty good idea about the concept of eternal damnation and a lashing pit for the wicked. Each religion has its own version of this horrible place, and if you’ve heard a metal album or two, you know the music is fairly wrapped up in evil and chaos.

Nordic black metal heathens Gehenna might not be a destination for eternal suffering, but they probably could not have picked a better name for their black metal art they have spread across the universe for nearly the past two decades. They followed on the path of the second wave of black metal that bubbled up in their homeland, and they were one of the ones that survived past that point and went on to create chaotic, meaningful art well into the future. In fact, they’ve been fairly consistent on their musical output, they’ve slowed down their productivity a bit since the turn of the century. We’ve only gotten three albums from the band in the past 13 years, though at least what they have given us has been very much worth the wait.

gehenna coverThe band’s seventh record “Unravel” finally is in our hands, and it’s their first record since 2005’s “WW,” which was released on Moonfog. Now the band calls Indie Recordings home, and their first offering for that label is as foreboding, dark, and drubbing as anything they’ve ever put out, and it’s sort of a cold, horrible rebirth for Gehenna that not only should please folks who have been along for the ride since their 1994 debut “First Spell” but also should find favor among younger fans who are hungry for something more violent and terrifying than most of what black metal offers the world these days.

Now, even though Gehenna remain, and their mission is just as horrible, the forces behind the band have changed since the last record. Founding member Sanrabb, who handles vocals and guitars, among other things, has been the voice of the band from the start, and joining him this time around are guitarist Skinndod (Throne of Katarsis), bassist Byting, and drummer Slatrarinn. They form a horrific union that sounds perfectly attuned for Gehenna’s 2013 mission and also happen to have made one of the band’s best efforts in some time.

We kick off with “The Decision,” a song that begins with piano dripping down and a grim atmosphere forming before buzzing guitars cut through and the mission is allowed to unfurl slowly. Sanrabb’s vocals are abrasive and throaty, and despite the song feeling downright hellish, there also is a sense of melody that floods the area. Actually, melody is something that returns often on this album, making it approachable yet bloodthirsty. The title cut is blistering and fast, with tortured wails and uncompromising death, though it eventually applies the brakes as the cut drowns out in a fog of doom. “Nothing Deserves Worship” is slow-driving and menacing, as guitar lines are strangled and melodies slip into the murk. It’s hazy and furious, relentless and completely morbid. “Nine Circles of Torture” is one of the shorter cuts on the album, as guitars churn and grow dissonant but eventually ignite into full-blown terror.

“A Grave of Thoughts” has a smoky, slow-burning feel to it, and it also drubs and dumps millions of tons of doom right on top of your chest. At nearly seven minutes, it’s one of the longest tracks on the record, and it makes the most of its running time, burning and scorching the earth as it moves through its journey. “Lead to the Pyre” lets speed and punishment back into the proceedings, and it has a thrashy complexion and is a hammering helping of black metal. “End Ritual” also has a deep serving of melody that pulls you into the track, and it feels like a heavy storm moving through the night, settling over you and drowning you with thunder and downpours. Organs slip in and freeze your already soaked soul, and the guitars completely haunt. In a similar vein, closer “Death Enters” also has its ghostly transmissions, with trickling keys that stagger over its introduction, making it feel like something that would make the late Vincent Price proud. This song is pure magic, as the band hits on an approach where they all sound spiritually aligned in their playing and continually build the drama, only to tear it back down again. “Will you bow down?” Sanrabb howls, as the chaos swells and breaks, the band hits on a dark melody that keeps striking back, and the toxic swarm of damnation the band creates suddenly ends, leaving you in the dark, wondering if you’ll survive.

We may have waited a while for Gehenna to strike back, but it was totally worth every moment. The current version of the band made a painfully dark document that nicely captures the hopelessness and evil that surrounds us now, and while it won’t make you feel any better about the world, it at least should help you understand that you’re not alone in your disillusionment. Hopefully we hear back from Gehenna a little sooner that we’ve come to expect, but as long as they keep creating horrifying records such as “Unravel,” we’re willing to wait in the shadows.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: The Body give glimpse of Armageddon on terrifying ‘Christs, Redeemers’

the bodyYou always read about people saying records are the “soundtrack to the Apocalypse” or doomsday taking music form, and it’s simply a way to easily convey the destructive nature and pure hell contained inside a collection of songs that rise above a normal level of terror.

We’re all guilty of this association, myself included. But it really can’t be used anymore past today, because finally a record that perfectly personifies that description, that ideally conveys the Earth crumbling in on itself, and humanity being crushed into oblivion has arrived. The Body’s new album “Christs, Redeemers” is as black, as dark, as frightening as it gets. Tons of bands make tumultuous musical statements seemingly every week, but they’re going to be hard pressed to out-doom what The Body accomplish on this 10-track, 50-minute slab of horror. Every moment drips with violent drama and end-of-the-world chaos, and this record is one of the most frightening documents I’ve ever heard. Ever.

body coverThe Body always have had a black grasp on the morose and the end of existence. Each of their records–“Christs” is their fourth long player–has built on this subject, and they have become less and less human in their expression of the snuffing out of all things. Add to that that these two guys–guitarist/vocalist Chip King, drummer Lee Buford–also use ghostly imagery, the kind of thing that should make you sleep with the light on at night for fear such apparitions could appear on your wall on in the corner of your room. That, along with their sound, identify and poke all of those great, dark fears lurking beneath you and expose them for you to see and face, even if you don’t want to do that. Who wants to face their destruction? Who wants to see the world ripped apart by weapons or people or demons? No one, as it is most people’s greatest fear, and The Body roll and cover their bodies with the soot of such emotions.

Over time, The Body’s sound also has grown and become uglier, yet more beautiful at the same time. Their horrific, damaged doom has only gotten meatier and more nuanced, turning all the blood of the world black, but their association with the Assembly of Light Choir has added an angelic element to their filth, a collection of sirens to call you toward your destruction. Yes, the sounds they make are gorgeous, but they’re also unsettling, making you realize just after the sense of ease settles in that you’ve been fooled and they have sharp teeth. There’s also the matter of King’s inhuman banshee shriek of a voice, something that rattles and irritates some listeners but that sounds like no one else’s in any form of music. It is the sound of pain, human suffering, and demonic possession, and its shrill knife’s edge can carve its way through your mind and into your soul.

You’re not exactly eased into this record as a chill is sure to hit your blood from the start. “I, the Mourner of Perished Days” feels like a nightmare state, with noise, fuzz, and Chrissy Wolpert opening the tale with her haunting voice, backed by Reba Mitchell. As the frightening buzzing subsides, it leads into “To Attempt Openness,” where the Assembly choir kicks in full amid drone and swirling keyboards. The song eventually blows open, with King howling and shrieking away, and Buford’s drums obliterating and practically taking over the proceedings. It’s not exactly a moment of ease and kindness. “Melt Away” has more ringing keys, calls from the choir, and drums that seem to echo into time, with the band hitting a slow-driving tempo and the vocals carving a road to hell. “An Altar or a Grave” lurches slowly and painfully, with more buzzing noise spilling in like a swarm of giant hornets and a swell of strings proving added texture. The song’s an absolute monster, even the parts that feel more delicate. “Failure to Desire to Communicate” changes the pace as it kicks up the tempo and is heavy and ear-drubbing heavy. The song is loud and thick, the vocals sound like they come from a place of panic, and the track delivers a storm of psychological damage.

“Night of Blood in a World Without End” has Wolpert returning along with cascading strings and corrosion like it’s pouring out of a bitter, old battery. “Prayers Unanswered” is sweaty, muddy, and mean, with Buford’s drums detonating worlds, static spilling in again, the harsh shrieks hitting new levels of fear, and the conclusion sounding like a warped carnival. “Denial of the Species” has drone so thick it could make the great pioneers of doom choke hard, with watery eyes and pools of saliva. Synth boils, King’s vocals hiss with venom, and the strings wail and moan in the night. “Shrouded,” while not really an interlude, is more like the stage setter for the conclusion, as the song is full of white noise and bizarre beats. Closer “Bearer of Bad Tidings” heads right into a cloud of alien noise, more chaos, and squeaking, sharp noises, making you feel like you left the planet, or at least your body. Buford’s drums are like a machine, distributing slaughter and helping drive the doom assault that is ripping open the seal for Armageddon. Feedback bursts, King spits his last, and crust-crushing thunder brings that song and this ferocious record to a fitting end.

Truly, truly “Christs, Redeemers” is the soundtrack to the end of the world. There, I said it again, but I’ll try to say it no more until another record comes along as terrifying and existence-scorching as this one. You’ll stay awake at night grappling with your worst nightmares, you’ll see long-dead souls on your ceilings, and you’ll wonder when the terror will stop. This record’s that massive and tortuous, and your psyche is sure to be damaged once this record becomes a part of your DNA. Rest peacefully for now, because it sounds like the world’s annihilation isn’t going to a pretty, if The Body’s visions are correct.

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Doomriders deliver their most accessible noise to date on infectious ‘Grand Blood’

doomridersA lot can change for a band over four years, especially one whose members occupy other groups. Feelings can change, life gets in the way, and musical interests evolve, so when it comes to sitting back at the table to create, who knows what’s going to come out of it, and if it’s different, is that a good thing?

Surely some of that had to be going through the heads of the members of Doomriders, the band led by Converge bassist Nate Newton, and when it came time to work on their new record “Grand Blood,” the follow up to 2009’s tremendous “Darkness Comes Alive,” it must have been a curious and fruitful period for the band. They sustained a member change, with new drummer Q coming on board, and Newton himself went through some personal trials and tribulations (the story in the current issue of Decibel certainly can flesh out what’s gone on in his life) that profoundly affected him. So with all of those factors coming into play, would it result in favorable artistic results coming from this band, or would the developing tastes and all of that chaos make them miss their mark?

doomriders coverOne visit with “Grand Blood” should be enough to answer that question for you, and any worries should easily fade away. The record is decidedly more rock and roll that what they produced in the past (not that that element ever was truly missing), and they have a new spark and energy that’s different from what they showed on “Darkness.” The riffs are meaty and chewy, the band hits hard but always makes sure you get up OK, and the ride is a raucous, bumpy adventure, but one that ultimately should put a smile on your face. Yes, there are dark moments, as you might expect, but the music feels like it’s trying to overcome any negativity that built up and is showing you can rise again and fight another day, your crushed heart be damned.

As noted, Newton remains the guy in front of the band, with his guitar work and vocals leading the way. You’ll probably notice his vocals have matured quite a bit, and while he’s still totally up for tossing out raspy yelps and shouts, he’s also singing more directly than ever before. At some points, the shouting is kept to a minimum, and it’s a real positive for the music and suits it perfectly. We mentioned Q (Magic Circle and heavily underrated Clouds), who joins the fold that also includes guitarist Chris Pupecki (Cast Iron Hike) and bassist Jebb Riley (Disappear), who round out this muscular unit that sounds like they’re continually figuring out their sound and finding the right way to get across where they are in their journey. This 11-track mauler is proof of that, and it’s hellacious fun.

Following a short, doomy intro track, the band blasts into “New Pyramids,” built from noisy riffs, grit, mud, and energy, giving you an early dose of the rock and roll party they’ve brought along with them. “Mankind” has fluttery lead guitar parts and a sinister melody, and the chorus is in your face and easily memorable, with Newton shouting, “Lost our purpose/Made it worthless.” It’s a dark sentiment, but it’s one you might find yourself shouting back. The title cut feels loopy and chunky, with a muddy swagger and more darkness coming from Newton when he howls, “Give me purpose or let me die.” It’s a really fun song, and eventually it disappears into the atmosphere. “Bad Vibes” just kicks your ass, with a speedy rock sentiment, throaty growls, and a pace that should whip crowds into a frenzy live. “Dead Friends” is another that seems like it’s a little too close to home, as Newton recalls misfortune that befell people close to him, unleashing his agitation and anger on the fiery, simple chorus.

“Death in Heat” brings back the sludge, as well as some penetrating drone, and that dissolves into a doom-heavy, slow-driving mauler that’s one of the heaviest tracks on the record and one of the most dangerous. “We Live in the Shadows” kicks off with melodies that are damn near black metal in feel, but then it starts chugging and heading toward punk and hardcore territory, with Newton unleashing some positivity in the murk by insisting, “We carry on!” “Gone to Hell” has a different feel to it, as Newton lets his natural clean singing voice emerge, and it’s a new, more mainstream side of the band (not in a bad way) that could help Doomriders find a larger audience that they deserve. “Back Taxes” brings frustration back into the mix, and who can’t relate to the idea of struggling and pushing to improve your life only to have someone behind your back waiting for their cut? The song’s abrasive and punishing, bringing forth that nagging sense of debt. Closer “Father Midnight” lets everything burn to the ground, with more doom rising up and bubbling over, throaty screams spilling from Newton’s mouth, and the band later slipping into a destructive, yet trippy, section where they let emotions rise up, only let them melt down again.

Doomriders are back in fine form and earthquaking shape, and the tweaks they made to their sound certainly are to their–and their listeners’–benefit. “Grand Blood” is one of those records you want to grab when shit has hit the fan, you’re beyond frustration, and you need to find an outlet where you can blow off some steam. Doomriders sound like they did just on this album, and it resulted in their most infectious music to date.

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Castevet’s destructive second record ‘Obsian’ is musically astonishing and morally bleak

castevetThere are days when getting into some philosophical exploration is fitting for the occasion, and there are days when you’re better off digging your knife right into the meat of the matter and getting under way with things already. Today’s one of those days because Castevet have returned, and their new record “Obsian” is a dark marauder here to obliterate you.

Way back in 2010 (it feels so long ago at this point), this NYC-based band emerged with their disarmingly impressive debut “Mounds of Ash,” a record released by the always reliable Profound Lore and that stood as one of that year’s biggest surprises. It was both massive and suffocating, a truly eye-opening effort from a band that seemed to have an incredible future in front of then. Then three years passed, which can feel like an eternity for underground metal releases, and they seemed to drop off the radar. Yet they come storming back with “Obsian,” a record that’s even more impressive than their debut and rams you deep into frozen outer space and alien terror. It’s a furious but also intoxicatingly well-played platter that’s both terroristic and brainy. It brings nothing that will make you feel happy inside or give you a hopeful glow, because it Castevet’s world, those would be horrible lies. Yet, It’s also a shitload of deranged fun.

Castevet coverOne of things that makes this new album so massive seems to have come from a major lineup change. Vocalist/guitarist Andrew Hock and drummer Ian Jacyszyn remain from the band’s origin, but joining them for this record is Nicholas McMaster on bass, who plies his trade for other heavy hitters such as Krallice and Bloody Panda and who brings a warped, cosmic, loopy sense to these songs. He’s not just there to add rhythm or a backbone; he’s there to contribute some of the most aggressive, thought-provoking work this side of, say, Geddy Lee, making his instrument as crucial as any other that helps make Castevet’s work what it is.

That’s not to suggest the other two guys were slouches before McMaster arrived, because it’s anything but the case. Hock’s roar remains a thing with which to be reckoned, a cauldron of fire that can scorch you, and his guitar playing remains violent and commanding. Jacyszyn is a steady force behind the kit, as he turns bones to powder. But together as a full unit, these three seem to have stumbled upon something almost alchemic, a formula so volatile and bubbling that it threatens to boil over and scar the world. In fact, your best bet is to tackle “Obsian” with headphones so you can hear all of these elements working together, layering on top of each other, and building to a metallic lather few other bands could achieve. It’s mind-blowing.

“The Tower” blows the fucking roof off the album, with a corrosive burst that crushes souls, and amid that punishment is some colorful prog flourishes that give a compelling edge to such agony and horror. The song is spacious but also violent, and the vocals sound like they were painful to emit. This leads right into “Cavernous,” a song with a raucous opening, harsh vocals, and the feel of a volatile science experiment gone very wrong. The song hulks into the outer edges of their creativity, and the metallic lathering is practically dizzying if you let it get that far into your head. It’s pretty sick shit. “The Curve” is aptly named, as it veers away from what comes before it. It’s just as drubbing and threatening, but in different ways, as sheets of guitar rain down, the vocals blow out as if exploding from a blast furnace, and eventually more prog-drenched madness push in mainly through the force of McMaster’s insane, rubbery playing. The close even reminds of heyday Voivod, with chilling thrashing and nuclear winter apocalypse.

“Fathomed By Beggars and Victims” gets the second half of the record off to a hazy, foggy start, letting a thick atmosphere settle in before the band drops a bomb on the whole thing, delving into thrashy verses, coarse and mean growls, and downright awesome playing. It’s hard not to get overcome by the whole thing, as it’s that infectious, and the final moments of the track feel like a lot like the spirit of late 1970s Rush. The title cut also starts drizzly and cloudy, with a bleak ambiance rising from smoking embers, and the song’s ghost floating overhead, waiting to claim your soul. The song could freeze your bones, and it seems like it’s calling on the arrival of a deep, unforgiving winter. Closer “The Sea of Severance” is a major surprise and signals some changes for the band musically. Sure, it’s crunchy and chunky and it’s violent in its own right, but when Hock opens his mouth, deep, passionate clean vocals come forth, revealing a totally different side of his expression and Castevet themselves. This feels like a more dangerous, thorny Enslaved or Ihsahn, with the band stretching their musical boundaries but never letting go of the ill intent and cataclysmic delivery, and the final few minutes of suffocating doom hammers home that point perfectly.

Castevet seem like a band that is just at the beginning of their formation, especially with the new twists and turns on the awesome “Obsian,” and I can’t wait to hear the next record, if I can be so selfish and push that far into the future. But for now, I’ll take great pleasure investigating all the nuances of this record and feel like I’m being catapulted into space so my body can be torn apart. This is one of the most creatively ambitious and disarmingly dark records of the year, one that sounds like nothing else out there now or that will come before the year dies out.

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Broken Hope return from dirt nap with retooled band, disgusting ‘Omen of Disease’

Broken HopeIf you don’t like being disgusted by death metal, I kind of understand. And I kind of wonder why you’re here reading, since we talk about that. A lot. Not to get in broken-record mode, but death metal has just turned into this thing, where you don’t have to disgust or disturb. You even can be kind of pretty doing it! Huzzahs all around! And money. And bad death metal.

I can only imagine what Broken Hope must feel reentering the death metal world and seeing what has become of the genre. Everyone growls now. They all play what we call “death” and try to be brutal. But does it really work? Or has death become just another homogenized form of metal where bands are seemingly cool with existing and selling colorful, pastel-colored shirts at shitty teen stores? Well, that isn’t true death, and I’m sure Broken Hope would agree, so here we go with “Omen of Disease,” the band’s first record since 1999’s “Grotesque Blessings,” a record that came out way, way before death metal exploded as a genre. And got horribly watered down.

Broken Hope coverHearing “Omen,” it’s almost as if Broken Hope paid no attention to the music that came out since 1999 nor its shifts. It’s almost as if it is completely uninformed as to how death metal has changed. And thank fuck for that. This record sounds devoid of all the bad ideas that came out since this band last ruled the earth and feels like an album that doesn’t give a damn what the followers have done to poison the waters. They only care about the true blood and guts, and if you’re not on board, oh well.

Broken Hope, like many other bands, have been through the revolving door of changes. Some of that is from the natural creative process, and others has been through nature itself. As of today, the lineup stands as long-timers Jeremy Wagner (guitars) and bassist Shaun Glass. Joining them are new vocalist Damian Leski (original vocalist Joe Ptacek passed away in 2010), new guitarist Chuck Wepfer, and drummer Mike Miczek, and they sound as energetic and bloodthirsty as ever before, ready to take on death metal’s current crop of bands. Look out, kids.

“Omen of Disease” is a compact 36 minutes and 13 tracks, and it’ll gross you out and enthrall you with its gore, zombie apocalypse, and vile cannibalism. It opens with a practical warning sign on “Septic Premonitions,” with its eerie gasses wafting and sirens wailing, leading into “Womb of Horrors” and its pit of destruction. The leads are razor sharp, the soloing is astonishing, and Leski’s growls sound like they tore right through his throat and onto the record.”Ghastly” is in a similar vein, with gurgly vocals, cool guitar trickery, and gut-filled horrors that sound like they could make for one heinous mini-movie. “The Flesh Mechanic” not only is an ominous sounding title, but it lives up to its name fully settling into a gory death groove and even slips into some grindcore territory. “Rendered Into Lard” is a highlight not just for its sticky, bloody terror and weird and prog-like passages, but for a disgusting, stomach-turning skit that might make a meal fairly unappetizing after listening. If you don’t at least crack a smile at this, you take yourself too seriously, perhaps. The guttural title track is brutal and crunchy, and the death groove returns again as it heads into sludgy territory.

“The Docking Dead” is belchy vocally and pretty furious musically, with the band just splattering you with noise, while “Give Me the Bottom Half” is built on strong riffs, a full metallic assault, and and playing that goes back and forth from chunky to stunningly precise. “Predacious Poltergeist” opens on a weird speaking sample, then it delves right into soupy, gooey guitar squeals (something that doesn’t really appeal to me), and those noises return on “Carnage Genesis.” These are my least two favorite tracks on the album as a result, but you might feel differently. It’s just a personal hangup. “Blood Gullet” is fast and pulverizing, keeping the attack short and blunt. “Choked Out and Castrated” leaves very little to the imagination, and it shines because of the weirdness in the guitar work, ugly vocals, and devastating drumming. Closer “Incinerated” is a sort of surprise for longtime fans, as it’s a redone version of a track from their debut full-length album, 1991’s “Swamped in Gore.” It’s a pretty cool bonus that shows how the song has developed over time, and hearing this version of Broken Hope tackle the track is a great way to end this killer new album.

Having Broken Hope back practicing their brand of death is a pretty cool thing, and “Omen of Disease” is a bloody sign that their disgusting mission is alive and well. The new version of the band sounds pretty hungry, and hearing these songs lurch on stage live should be something to behold. Longtime fans might have a bit of an adjustment with the new lineup, but several listens should smooth over any worries and cause you to dry heave over this ugliness in no time.

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Instrumental warriors Pelican find stunning new life on fifth record ‘Forever Becoming’

PelicanChanges are a way of life in music and for bands, and the number is quite small for groups that begin and end with the same personnel and the same ideas. Hell, metal standard-bearers Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica have made many changes to their lineups over the years, and they survive to this day, albeit not always as strongly as they began.

Ever since their formation in 2001, Chicago-based instrumental warriors Pelican have gone relatively unscathed, putting out some classic records that helped metal fans accept and champion a band sans vocals and help tons of other artists follow their lead and make this style not only accepted but popular. Their incredible 2003 debut “Australasia” pretty much is like the “Paranoid” and “Number of the Beast” of instrumental metal, and they continued to pave their path from there, gaining more followers and momentum. But then the inevitable changes struck. Longtime guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec stopped touring with the band and eventually announced his indefinite hiatus from Pelican, and their fans started to wonder if 2009’s “What We All Come to Need” would be their final breath.

Pelican coverLast year, those worries took some weird turns. The band released their very strong “Ataraxia/Taraxis” with Schroeder-Lebec on guitar, and then his departure was announced. But rumblings started to surface about a new, fifth album, and now we have the brand-new “Forever Becoming” ready to begin Pelican’s second phase as a band. Guitarist Trevor de Brauw, bassist Bryan Herweg, and drummer Larry Herweg (he of some of the most ridiculous criticism of all time, something I’ll never understand) reconvened to write the new record, and despite initial plans to carry on as a three-piece, instead invited new guitarist Dallas Thomas into the creative process. It was a big chance the band was taking, but one they seemed intent on enacting.

The new 50-minute, eight-track new album does sound different from the band’s back catalog. It’s not foreign territory by any means, and there are moments that sound like classic Pelican, but there’s a decidedly darker edge to some of these tracks. There’s more doom, a murky pall, and even some thick mud the band trudges through, and it turns out the shuffling had a positive effect on the band. In all honesty, “What We All Come to Need” wasn’t a bad record, but it lacked a little magic we’ve come to expect from Pelican, and that returns on this new album. Turns out the changes had a positive effect, and this is of their best efforts in years.

You feel the thick shadows from the start with opener “Terminal,” a simmering, hazy track that immediately alerts you to the doomy edges and solemnity that encompasses many of these tracks. It takes its time, it sets a mood, and it leads you into “Deny the Absolute,” a song with a much different tempo but one that sounds like it belongs right where it is in the sequencing. It bursts through the gates, with burly melodies, more aggression, and a great deal of crunch, and the charged-up riffs and morose trickling feel thick and chewy. “The Tundra” starts off menacing and thrashy, some of the heaviest stuff Pelican have done to date. The guitars are smeared and gritty, the melodies explore but also penetrate, and there are sections of pure sludge from the band that serve notice that they can break bones just as effectively as everyone else. The conclusion is just pure devastation. “Immutable Dusk” is one of the songs that treads closer to classic Pelican territory both in melody and mood. It’s a nice throwback as well as a reminder that while they may be sporting darker threads, they haven’t forgotten what’s gotten them here.

“Threnody” also has a more traditional feel, but it also has its pockets of spiked violence and chaos, as the guitars are especially dismal and cloudy. But the track also has some atmospheric moments where the storms subside and the sun shines ever so briefly. “The Cliff” is the shortest song of the bunch, with a potent post-punk feel and still some darkness, and that leads into “Vestiges,” a 7:15-long helping of aggression (the basslines are like thick steel coils) and thrashy goodness. Yet, like “Threnody,” the blitz is broken up by some brighter melodies that give the song intricate textures and plenty of personality. It’s a really enjoyable, rollicking listen, and it’s indicative of a lot of this new material that feels like it’s taking deep breaths of fresh air. The 9:27 closer “Perpetual Dawn” has a nice dose of sunburnt guitar and reflective melodies, letting you come down a little from what preceded it, and it has a vibrant soul and solid backbone that makes it a nice curtain dropper for the album. There is more post-punk magic, and halfway through, calm arrives, letting the song become downright gorgeous and melancholy, shimmering and sparkling, letting you take a breath and dream along with them. The tempo and volume slowly return, the band kicks into more energy and speed, and the song crescendos into the night, taking you along with it into the stars.

Change is never easy, and you don’t know what’s going to come from it, but it sure sounds like it was a shot in the arm for Pelican. “Forever Becoming” belongs alongside their trailblazing early work as one of their strongest records, and they sound like they’re hellbent on making this new chapter of Pelican’s run a fiery one. This band has crushing new life and potent intent, and I can’t wait to hear how these songs sound live and what comes next from the revitalized Pelican.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Cleric’s debut ‘Gratum Inferno’ obsessed with death and … you know … Satan

CLericAs the skies darken earlier each day, the airs gets colder, and we get back into ritualistic mode of welcoming death and all of its tenets, it’s only fitting we delve into music that welcomes this annual embrace of all things evil and horrible. Ghosts, skeletons, and devils will be everywhere, and as I’ve said before, if you really sit and think about it, these are pretty sick things to be welcoming.

But we do it nonetheless, and this generally is the time of the year when my listening rotation gets much darker and grimier, because I tend to choose my music by the seasons. It is also fitting that we are going to immerse ourselves in “Gratum Inferno,” the debut album from Dallas’ Cleric, a charred, burning, evil platter that’s so good and so infernal, I feel it’s my responsibility to recommend it to as many people as I can. And so here we are, doing just that. Release by Tofu Carnage (a label we’ll be drawing on far more going forward), this seven-track, nearly 30-minute platter of pure death metal might win the record for most references to Satan in such a short time period. It could be a great drinking game. Every time you hear Satan’s name hissed back at you, take a drink. You’re dead by the end of the record.

cleric coverThat’s not to make fun of the matters at hand here. Death metal also has a purely evil past and always dwelled on the darkest, most heinous elements when it was forming as a genre, and Cleric take us back to that time. Their music is gritty, suffocating, and burnt in a large sacrificial pit, and they’re already making for great company as Halloween rolls around and the symbols of pure evil and death are all around us. I can’t think of a better time to absorb Cleric than late at night, when witching hours nears and strange things lurk (or at least our imagination tells us this), although I’ve gotten just as much enjoyment out of this record in broad daylight.

Although we’re finally getting Cleric’s debut now, they’ve actually been kicking around, off and on, for more than half a decade. The band formed in 2007, issuing contributions to a split effort with Pools a year later, and then the group split another year after that, with everyone going their separate ways. The band then reformed in 2011 for a festival, and the machine got its wheels rolling properly after that, leading us to where we are now. Cleric’s members have experience with various other bands, including Kill the Client and the tremendously named Tyrannosorceress, and the current lineup includes vocalist Zac Christian (who jumped on board in 2011), guitarists Chris Richardson and Andrew Hawkins, bassist John Schiller, and drummer Zack Jobin. So we’re still kind of at the beginning of Cleric, and that’s a really good thing.

The title track opens the record with a weird orchestral bit that feels more creepy than classy, and then it erupts into a full-on death assault, boiling and blasting its way along, with burly riffs and strong soloing and vocals that sound like they’re being delivered from hell. “Through the Starless Abyss” is ugly and grinding, and we get one of those aforementioned calls to Satan, with gurgly vocals, dizzying riffs, and enough violence to make you fall over with the room spinning. “From Womb to Tomb” chugs along mightily, with the drums thrashing and mauling your senses, and Christian howling about “Satan’s hunger.” Did I mention they reference Satan a whole bunch of this record? Uh, speaking of which, the next cut “Satanic Dimension” starts with a nasty death groove, as filthy vocals declare, “You will know your one true master,” and the band eventually kicks into a meaty, bloody start/stop rhythm that is pure brutality.

“Into Death and Far Beyond” starts with foggy ’80s-style sci-fi synth, like something you’d hear smeared over a film “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would send up, which is a compliment, by the way. The song then gets horrifyingly thrashy, clobbering everything in its way, yet a sense of melody is beneath, giving the song a catchy vibe even as Christian is pleasing for the dark lord to “destroy the essence of creation.” “Left Hand Wrath,” probably the most creative title on the record, also begins with a weird keyboard display, but then guitars start to whinny out of control, gravelly vocals begin to do heavy damage, and warped guitar parts leave you both enthralled and a little nauseated. Closer “Faith in Debauchery” injects machine-like noises into the song, sounding like a car with a bad engine racing out of control, but the song itself goes slower than those sounds might indicate. It takes its time to settle into a proper rhythm, with guitars charged up, a haunting ambiance taking over the atmosphere, and the song going out on a note that’s practically liturgical, with a chorus carrying out the record to its resting place deep underground.

It may have taken Cleric a little while and a few hiccups along their bloody path to get this album into circulation, but it was worth the wait. This a really good band with a keen eye on death metal’s ranks, where surely they see groups they can devour and dominate in order to prove their superiority. “Gratum Inferno” is a vicious punch to metal’s throat and should only get more deviously effective as each day’s light disappears earlier every day.

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In Solitude surpass metal’s boundaries yet get even darker on third record ‘Sister’

Ester Segarra
It’s always exciting to watch a young band grow. I’m talking a band you pretty much know from the start has something special and should only get better as time goes on and they get more experience. It doesn’t always work out favorably in the long run, but every now and again you run into a group that always knows what steps to take next and seems to know where they’re headed.

I remember seeing In Solitude open the first Decibel Magazine Tour, taking the stage before more well-known heavy hitters The Devil’s Blood, Watain, and Behemoth. They played with a swagger and a confidence of a band that could have been the headliners by the way they carried themselves, and when they launched into their set, they showed it wasn’t just image as they had the chops to complement their stage presence. The audience got it, especially the younger members who seemed to be in awe, and something very special was starting to play out before everyone’s eyes.

in solitude coverIn Solitude have been on the rise since their eye-opening, self-titled 2008 debut, and their sophomore record “The World. The Flesh. The Devil.” in 2011 cemented the fact that this band was ready to explode in a big way, becoming a new hope for heavy metal, a band that would stay true to their roots and let them grow into the future. And then “Sister” arrived, and things changed. Well, their promise and ability to deliver killer records did not. This third platter is captivating front to back, but they changed things. No longer were we hearing a band grounded in early Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate, though some of those traits remain. Instead, they’re branching off in a different direction, embracing gothic and ’80s-style post-punk to come up with something that should shake up not only metal’s foundations, but those of the entire rock world as well. This is a big one.

One of the band’s primary forces is frontman Pelle Åhman, whose deep, direct, quivering voice is a thing to behold, and it’s impossible not to hang onto every one of his dark, foreboding stories. He said in a Decibel piece he doesn’t want to be seen as the centerpoint of the band, but when you’re as good as this guy, it’s hard not to be trumpeted. Joining him are guitarists Henrik Palm and Niklas Lindstrom, bassist Gottfrid Åhman (Pelle’s brother), and drummer Uno Bruniusson. They remain heavy and riveting as a band, but they don’t simply adhere to metal on “Sister,” instead letting other sounds enter the fray, making their approach even darker, which is hard to believe. But it’s true, and you know it from the start that you’re into something really different.

“He Comes” is a weird, acoustically led introduction with a chilling melody and entrance door for, yeah, the devil. It’s echoey and haunting, and it works really well as a gate opener. “Death Knows Where” blows open right from the opener’s fumes, with strong guitar lines, a goth feel to the melodies, and a really strong chorus that should work to ignite crowds live. That takes us into the epic of the collection, “A Buried Sun,” that runs over seven minutes and is moody, sometimes a little slower, and wholly mournful. Of course, things ignite eventually, with a trudging bassline and Pelle sounding like a more possessed Ian Astbury, and it’s one of those glaring examples of just how much this band has grown. “Pallid Hands” is a great cut that digs back into those post-punk sounds referenced earlier, with commanding vocals and scorching guitar work that stands as the loudest on this entire set.

The second half of the record kicks off with “Lavender,” a song that sounds like an old Dokken track when it opens and really is the only thing on here that doesn’t excite me. It’s not a bad song, mind you, just not one I’ve repeatedly gone back to visit, though I do enjoy the psychedelic-tinged guitar work, That takes us into the title track, one of the most mysterious songs in the band’s entire arsenal and also one of their best. “Night was no longer as we knew her,” Pelle howls, as the band backs him up with dark sounds and some really strong soloing. “Horses in the Ground” serves up a nice slab of ’70s-style doom, with the band galloping away into a dark edge of the forest, where they’re met by one of the great sirens of all time, Jarboe, who rises like an apparition and delivers a haunting monologue. The song is episodic and dramatic, and it’s another one that shows just how far these guys have come as songwriters. Closer “Inmost Nigredo” has a slow, smoky opening, making it seem like they might slow burn you the rest of the way, but the band has other ideas. The song eventually runs into a Sabbath-style flow of lava, with the intensity and drama building, and the band creating an incredible burn-it-to-the-ground conclusion that should leave you enthralled and breathless.

In Solitude are on an incredible creative roll, and as they progress and log more miles on the road, spiritually together as a band, and as songwriters, they should just keep getting better. This is a fantastic, potential-surpassed record that’s already topped one year-end list and certainly will place high on many others for very good reason. Hopefully they maintain their grasp of the darkness and keep burning their way through the rest of the metal world to the throne where they belong.

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