PICK OF THE WEEK: Occultist will blacken your Friday with crust violence on ‘Death Sigils’

Photo by George Lawhorn

Photo by George Lawhorn

So, did you go out for Black Friday shopping? Were you one of those people who got punched in the mouth because you were trying to do something nice for your loved ones and some jerk holding a flat-screen TV over his asshole head knocked you over and caused you an injury you didn’t deserve? Do you kind of need something to help you get out that stress and fury?

Well, you’re in luck! Richmond, Va., crust maulers Occultist have you covered in a gigantic way with their debut full-length “Death Sigils” that’ll make your blackened heart feel so much better, as you imagine all of those materialistic zombies being consumed by a karma combine, their body parts being strew about in parking lots of major big-box retailers nationwide. I think people need to see the torn limbs of people who treat each other like jerks on a day when the idea is supposed to be to do wonderful things for the good people in your life. Oh, but anyway, Occultist will be your new favorite killing warriors once you take on “Death Sigils,” and it’s a shame it’s coming out so late in the year because late November records tend to get lost in the mix when best-of time comes around. Well, they won’t be forgotten here.

occultist coverOccultist have been active since 2009, and before this album arrived, they had a demo “Hell By Our Hands” to their name. Yet, for having so few pieces of recorded music on their resume, they sure pack a channeled wallop on “Death Sigils.” Their time plying their trade live, playing alongside bands such as Pentagram, Gwar, Black Anvil, Dragged Into Sunlight, and Nunslaughter (we in Pittsburgh still claim them as our own) certainly has been to their benefit, and their power and strength is not to be questioned. Nor will you question them once you hear this eight-cut, 36-minute dose of hardcore, crust, metal, doom, and death. It just kills.

The entire band brings it hard on “Death Sigils” and makes for a terrifying force, but the most powerful part of the band is singer Kerry Zylstra (or K.Z., as she goes by), whose barks, growls, and howls should scare you straight in no time. She has a command and a fist-to-your-jaw authority that lets you know she means business and is not to be messed with. Along with her creating this chaos are guitarists K.J. and J.R., bassist N.A., and drummer L.H., who make for one deadly team and are sure to be bruising faces for years to come. So be warned.

The record opens with “Iron Distort,” a sludgy, punishing track that bursts the crust right away and serves up your first dose of devastation. The vocals are mean and menacing, and the band thrashes you righteously. That leads to “Devil’s Breath,” that kicks off with a mean, attitude-spitting riff, throaty growls, and a mashing pace that keeps this song quaking and spitting molten lava in your general direction. If you’re feeling dizzy, that means it’s working. The title track is up next, and the drumming rattles you from the word go, with eerie darkness setting in like a plague, vocals from K.Z. that sound like she’s channeling the spirit of classic thrash metal, strong waves of chugging, and a simple chorus where the title is shouted back, which should cause for a crowd frenzy live. “Ritual Blast” rips open, with more charging, scary yelling, and even some black metal-style melodies that slip in and up the ante of evil. As crazy as the song’s front half is, it gets even nastier later when they get their proverbial blade swinging wildly.

“Path of the Damned” smokes early, with N.A.’s bass and L.H.’s drums forming a thick swirling vortex that bleeds into a burst of thrash goodness and even some sleazy riffs that reek of classic gutter rock and roll. There are some excellent lead lines in the song, and the classic heavy metal vibes cannot be denied. “A Hell for the Innocent” is muddy, mucky, and punchy, with violence igniting, and the band just trucking full speed ahead, damn whatever’s in their way. K.Z.’s vocals are spat out, giving her words even more weight and damage. “Blackest Apotheosis” has a scary, murky intro that slithers along and, while it’s as heavy as anything else on here, takes its time doing its damage. Of course, the song melts down totally, with the vocals sounding maniacal, the melodies coming on thick, and some weird atmosphere adding extra chills for good measure. Closer “Towers of Silence” is the longest track at 6:28, and it lets the doom fog roll on and poison everything. Some razor-sharp dual guitar lines set in, and then we’re on our way, with more devastating chugging, additional swatches of black metal, the last gasp of devastating vocals from K.Z., and a bed of noise that rises and chokes everything to the ground.

So yeah, if you’re way pissed off today and wish to see the dregs of humanity blacked out forever, Occultist will be the medicine that’ll bring you back to earth and have you feeling normal again. No way you’re more pissed off than this band, and no way your display of anger can be more volcanic than what you’ll meet on “Death Sigils.” This is another killer band from Richmond that has sharp teeth, an agenda of chaos, and the will to cross off every target on their list, and as long as they keep on the path they’re on, they should be causing metallic misery for years to come. Don’t sleep on this awesome band. Occultist are one of the most promising bands of 2013, and they’re coming for your throats.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occultist/115493598623

To buy the album, go here: http://primitivewaysrecords.com/store

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

Czechs Cult of Fire pay homage to Hindu goddess, death rituals on swirling ‘मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान’

Photo by Maija Lahtinen

Photo by Maija Lahtinen

We tend to get a little excited around here when we come across a record that sounds like nothing else we’ve heard before during the year, because there’s a painful lack of variety that has marred metal. But it can’t just be different than everything else, because if it doesn’t also deliver sonically, then it’s just an oddball bouncing around.

Coming across “मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान,” the new album from Czech death maulers Cult of Fire, certainly fits the bill for a record that completely stands apart musically from everything else released in 2013, but it’s also a stunning, exemplary piece of work that is one of the best black metal-style releases out there, one you should investigate right now. But keep an open mind for what you’ll hear. The music has distinct Far East-, Hindu-inspired influences that play a heavy role on this album, and while their metallic edge is tried and true and delivers brutality as fiercely as any other band, that mystical edge is what sets them apart. The album title is Sanskrit for “Ascetic Meditation of Death,” and all of the songs are written in the same language, providing a bit of a language barrier if you can’t read the words. I also don’t have access to the lyrics as I write this, so I can’t really take a great stab at what it’s all about, but their bio hints at opening up and revealing ancient texts and speaking in forbidden tongues. It just adds to the mystery.

cult of fire coverThe three artists who comprise Cult of Fire–vocalist Devilish (of Dark Storm), guitarist/vocalist Infernal Vlad (Maniac Butcher, Death Karma), and drummer Tom Coroner (also of Maniac Butcher and Death Karma)–certainly have a grasp of violent, lava-splattering black metal that’s uncompromising and unquestionably furious. But those Eastern-style melodies, as well as their willingness to sink into post-rock and prog territories, make their work even more interesting and riveting, and all of those colors fuse together onto a wonderfully chaotic kaleidoscope. While the band is paying homage to muses such as the goddess Kali and Hindu funeral ceremonies, they’re keeping your head spinning and heart racing with their incredible playing, that pays off that promise that this is one of the most interesting, unique albums you will hear all year. Or maybe all the way until Cult of Fire put out new music again.

The opening track “संहार रक्त काली” (“Samhara Rakta Kali”) opens with a swirl of sitar and a droning chant, but then the cut opens up and hits on its full intensity, with churning guitar work, hellish misery, creaky growls, and a nice dose of speed that’ll bruise your chest as it rollicks you. That leads into “अस्तित्व की चिता पर” (“On the Funeral Pyre of Existence”) that gives off the first fumes of prog rock, with keyboards ringing out, only to be blown apart by furious playing and gurgly vocals. The melodies whip into a frenzy, and after the song calms in the middle for the death fires to crackles, it reignites and pummels you until its finish. “शव साधना” (“Shava Sadhana”) begins with swirling organs, almost as if setting the proper ambiance for meditation upon death, but then violent savagery gives way, and the band begins to thrash anew. There is speed and terrifying tyranny in the air, and proggier tones return as a voice chants in the background, perhaps as some sort of ritual. It’s an enrapturing piece that never loses an ounce of its intensity. “काली मां” (“Kali Ma”) is another ode to the Hindu goddess, and it’s one of the most intoxicating pieces on the whole album. The music swirls, and the chant-like vocals move both heart and soul as the track plays out, moving in and out of the verses and keeping you in a trance. It’s the most approachable track on this whole album.

The mesmerizing haze is ripped apart in no time by “मृत्यु ही सत्य है” (“When Death Is All”), a monstrous, pulverizing track that immerses itself in black thrash and even more prog, especially with the organ-like keys. It’s a punishing song overall, and that leads nicely into “मृत्यु का वीभत्स नृत्य” (“Fierce Dance of Death”), a song that might remind you of earlier Enslaved. There is an epic black metal feel to the song, as well as one that feels aligned with nature, and there is both blistering assaults and colorful textures that give you the best of light and dark. “खण्ड मण्ड योग” (“Khanda Manda Yoga”), a terrifying, violent, self-mutilating process of rebirth to which the band gives the proper fiery treatment is another stunner. The song drives a little slower than the rest, but the intensity never dips, and the whole pace changes with about two minutes left when the menace returns and the music feels like it’s going for your limbs. Closer  “दिव्य प्रेम की ज्वाला से दग्ध” (“Burned By the Flame of Divine Love”) returns to the sitar doom that greeted you on the opener, only to be met by thundering guitars and gong shots that seem to signal the end to a ceremony. Chants return and get inside your head, the pace is more post-rock and atmospheric in nature, and the instrumental hypnosis provides the perfect background to the recitation that’s going on as the track lumbers toward its conclusion. Once it’s over, if you don’t have chills, you may have to go back and experience this all over again to ensure you absorbed correctly.

So as noted. Cult of Fire have delivered one of the most intense and special albums of the entire year, and had it not dropped so late in November, chances are this record already would be on the tip of every scribes’ pens. This is an experience you will not soon forget, and it’ll take a long time to remove it from your bloodstream, if you can at all. Cult of Fire deserve much respect for making something so different and captivating, but never losing one spark of their black metal fire. Go out of your way to hear this album.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.cultoffire.cz/

To buy the album, go here: http://ironbonehead.de/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://ironbonehead.de/

Corrections House bring together metal royalty on unpredictable ‘Last City Zero’

corrections housePutting together members of two of the most influential and respected metal bands of the past 20 years sounds like a sure way to get people excited for a new project. Then you throw in two guys who earned their reputations more recently and also have penchants for destroying formulas and going their own way, and that’s enough the drive excitement through the roof.

That’s what you get with Corrections House, the union of vocalist Mike IX Williams of the unstoppable, revered Eyehategod (as well as other bands like The Guilt of… and Arson Anthem, among others) and guitarist Scott Kelly of the mighty, oft imitated Neurosis, has arrived, and sonically it has brought with it sounds you might not totally expect if you’ve followed their storied, hallowed careers. Joining them are Bruce Lamont, whose Yakuza is one of the most inventive, genre-busting acts going in metal, who brings his powerful sax and voice to this group, as well as Sanford Parker (Minsk, Twilight, ex-Nachtmystium), who adds programming and keyboards to this swath of sound. So yeah, the sum of all parts is a little different than what I expected, and I’m sure many of you will feel the same way, but damn it if it doesn’t work beautifully.

correction house coverCorrections House certainly bring their share of doom and gloom metal to the party, but there are more electronic elements, punk and post-punk, as well as ranting spoken word that turns this band into something completely unpredictable and quite volatile. As these eight songs on their debut album “Last City Zero” play out, the interest builds, and panic sets in, and you’re wondering just where these guys are going and how far off the rails they’re willing to travel. That looseness and sense of danger, as well as their willingness to put all of their demons, anger, and frustrations out there in ways in which any human can relate, make this record even more powerful and Corrections House a band that certainly sounds like it could have a nice, long life as long as they can work out all of their members’ schedules. Let’s hope that’s the case.

The record opens with “Serve or Survive,” and right away you’ll understand you’re in for a completely different experience, not just from these guys’ respective bands but from all of extreme music in general. Williams chants over and over, “The travel of the stone,” which might help you slip into that trance sense they’re trying to achieve, and the seeping guitars and thick synth then are broken apart by static, an eruption of noise, and soulful yowling that makes the destructive conclusion that much more fiery. “Bullets and Graves” shoots off a round of electronic beats that works its way into Ministry-style demolition and psychosis, with a savage assault, and spacey, stabbing sax. “Party Leg and Three Fingers” opens with solitary beats and a mucky, muddy guitar assault, with fierce yelling, doom sludge that adds metallic tonnage, and more sax that flutters in the atmosphere. The song is menacing, dark, and seemingly devoid of hope, and it’s as heavy as a ton of bricks. “Run Through the Night” opens with acoustic flourishes and a synth haze, before sax rings out and Williams launches into Mark Lanegan-style quivery vocals. Guitars begin to fire up behind everything, creating a drone flurry, and Williams begins on a rant of spoken verses, something that he returns to later in the record.

“Dirt Poor and Mentally Ill” has a darkwave feel to it, and if you’re truly deranged, it’s something you might even be able to dance to, albeit not out of celebration or anything. The growls are grimey, the beats sound like stones being whipped against the side of a house, and the final minutes of the song are as rage filled and painful as anything else on this album. “Hallows of the Stream” has a Western rock feel to it, with Williams’ vocals sounding not unlike Tom Waits. The song pounds you slowly, with Lamont’s sax adding alien texture, and plodding noise and static messing with your mind as the song drowns. The title cut has a clean start, but that serenity is short lived as Williams begins on a poetic dissertation that raises questions, stabs at society, and generally leaves a ton of mental scars. A wordless harmony eventually rises up behind to add melody, and this epic dose of reality should leave you spinning and wondering about everything around you. The closing cut “Drapes Hung By Jesus” is the longest track at 9:40, and it feels like a piece that was built organically, with each member adding their own two cents as the tempo and tension build. Beats kick in, steely riffs begin to maul, and screams are buried behind this trancey puzzle. As the song reaches its conclusion, the fury bubbles over, with sax and drone welling up, and savage screams and howls erupting, adding one final molten diatribe to a record full of them. This is one hell of an exclamation point.

It already was an interesting idea, this Corrections House project, when the lineup was announced, but it’s hard to say anyone could have predicted what we would hear on “Last City Zero.” It’s an astonishing, unsettling, pulverizing record that is unlike anything else you’ll hear from the extreme music world this year. It’s the culmination of four unique forces who meld together expertly to create noise and chaos in a manner only they can realize. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come from this band, because it seems they’ve only scratched the surface.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/CorrectionsHouse

To buy the album, go here: http://www.bluecollardistro.com/neurotrecordings/categories.php?cPath=1030

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Facing uncertain future, Edge pours doom soul into Lumbar’s debut

Lumbr bandWhat if you woke up one day and found out that the things you love to do the most suddenly were going to become a great struggle, if they are activities you’d even be able to do at all for the rest of your life. How would you deal with that, and how would you fill that void in your life?

That’s what happened to Aaron Edge, guitarist, drummer, and graphic designer who played with bands such as Rote Hexe, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, Grievous, Hauler, and Roareth when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this year. The very things he loved to do the most soon would become impossible to carry out as the autoimmune disease spread its pain with him facing a long road of treatments. So he took on the project Lumbar as his final musical excursion where he’d be the brainchild behind what was going on sonically. While some people may have lamented and wallowed in their condition, and understandably so, Edge was having none of that and set out for one last great experiment that would wind up producing one hell of a mind-blowing album with “The First and Last Days of Unwelcome.”.

Lumbar coverEdge wrote and performed all of the music and penned the lyrics, and he’s also joined in the excursion by two huge presences in Mike Scheidt (YOB, VHOL) and Tad Doyle (of the great Tad, as well as Brothers of the Sonic Cloth) who add their own personalities and spirits to the music, becoming ideal partners for helping Edge carry out this project. The music is heavily doom- and noise-infused, although unlike many records from those subgenres, the songs aren’t all that long (the lengthiest is 5:04) and the record itself clocks in just under 25 minutes. That may feel like EP territory for a doom album, but once you experience this, you definitely will not feel short changed. Nor should you anyway. It’s quite a journey to take, and just knowing what Edge was experiencing and that he had to put his whole heart and soul to this final living document adds yet another level of emotion to the album.

By the way, there are a few ways you can grab this album. Southern Lord is offering the record on vinyl and digitally. Holy Mountain Music has the CD and cassette version of the album coming soon, as well as some pretty rad T-shirt choices. All of the band’s proceeds are going to help fund Edge’s medical expenses, so be cool and go buy a copy of this. You won’t just be helping an artist who really needs it, you’ll also getting a really unique, compelling collection of music at that. You really can’t go wrong. See links below for more, and keep checking back for the cassette, LP, and CDs as they aren’t listed yet.

The seven songs simply are called “Day One” through “Day Seven,” and the record begins with a clip from the “Twilight Zone” episode “The Little People.” Then the music opens into spacious doom, Scheidt’s high-reaching vocals erupt and scrape the ceiling, and some bluesy playing slithers in, undercut by vicious growls and drubbing. “Day Two” rumbles open, with noise simmering and hanging in the air, stretching into a full blast of chaos. The song hammers you slowly and impossibly heavily, and the dueling wailing and growling that mix together might make you feel a little dizzy. “Day Three” has some guitar whinnying at the start, and then it dissolves into earth-crushing sludge, with yowls, maniacal shouts, and toward the end, the sound starts to ramp up before is whooshes out at the end. It’s a really interesting track.

“Day Four” gives you more of an early hardcore or noise rock feel, kind of like Unsane or something along those lines, with muddy riffing and shouts of, “Why are you here? Who sent you?” The song is crushing and violent, and it’s the most straightforward, direct punch to your face of all the songs on the album. Then “Day Five” lands like a buzzing, angry nest of insects, spreading ambient noise and haze over its 2:07 running time and a nightmarish experience altogether. “Day Six” lets the classic doom smoke rise, with grimey drone settling behind everything, riffs rising out of the ash bent on devastation, and Scheidt’s wail muscling its way back into the picture and taking everything into the stars. There is bluesy playing, hulking riffs, and another exit into a bed of noise. Closing “Day Seven” is eerie and slow moving at the start, before the bottom drops out and fires begin to rage again. The song might make you feel like the walls of your house and closing in on you and getting ready to fall, and if you have the end of this track raging at full volume within your confines, that might actually be the case. The finish is just devastating, the perfect way to top off this fantastic effort.

We wish all the best to Edge in his future, and thank him for all of his contributions to the music world, including this unreal final endeavor Lumbar. Who knows what the future may hold and what he may go on to do, but Edge, Scheidt, and Doyle make for an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime dream group that will keep its creator’s spirit and fire burning long into the future like it very much deserves. Not to be lame, but, long may you run, Aaron Edge.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/thelumbarendeavor

To buy the cassette or shirts, go here: http://holymountainprinting.bigcartel.com/category/lvmbar

To buy digitally from the band go here: http://lumbarsl.bandcamp.com/

To buy the LP, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

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

Circle return … kind of … with all new lineup and hellacious new record ‘Incarnation’

Circle cover
There are those bands that, no matter how much music they release, you always know what you’re going to get. If that’s a good or bad thing, that’s up to you. Then you have those that change things up as they go along and kind of keep you guessing as to what they’re going to try on each new recording. Then there is Finnish band Circle.

Anyone who knows anything about this band knows you can’t expect anything when they put out a new album, except for music in some form. Over countless recordings (good luck trying to figure out how many they actually have, though I saw the number 27 full-length albums somewhere), this band that specializes in what they call New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal does whatever they want. It could be anything. Power metal, thrash, Krautrock-splashed rock, prog, you name it. Whatever they’re feeling at the moment, that’s what ends up on their albums, and there is no way at all to tell what you can expect until you put the record on and let it hit you. Hell, just compare 2012’s “Manner,” that was released by Hydra Head, and the album we’ll discuss today “Incarnation,” which is back on the Ektro label. They don’t even sound remotely like the same band. Well, that’s because they’re not the same band anymore.

Another tenet of Circle is the roster shuffling, and there has been a full dose since that last recording. Uh, wait. Let me back up. We’re talking the last full Circle full-length record. There was that split release this year with Mamiffer in which Circle was a mere two members, to equal the members of their collaborators, and that lineup was Jussi Lehtisalo and Mka Ratto. Those two guys don’t appear on the new Circle album because they’ve moved onto their Falcon project (think weird, synth-laden 1970s rock and a bunch of other weird shit), so yeah, what you’re left with is a new lineup since the Circle name is “on loan” to other artists. Yeah. So Circle is kind of a different band altogether now, and this formation has come up with something unforgiving and maniacal. God, this is strange and hard to explain.

“Incarnation” is one of the most grisly, violent record in the Circle arsenal, and the five guys who put this thing together really must have been tapping into their darkest, muddiest side when it came to making these songs. Elements of sludge, death, black metal, and even wildly varied experimental sounds make up this five-track album, and as used to weirdness as Circle fans have become, this record might even surprise most of them. Maybe the fact an entirely different band operating as Circle will be strange to some, but the five guys in command here–Rami Simelius, Ville Valavuo, Tommi Sookari, Markus Hietamies, and Jussi Rajala–knock this shit out of the park and keep the long-standing moniker in damn good shape.

We kick off with the mangling title cut, a song full of ugly, doom-riddled chaos, infernal growling, long stretches of penetrating drone, and maddening tension that could remind some of Neurosis’ more infernal moments. The thing feels lead heavy and threatening and could throw you for a loop if you have even the slightest of expectations. “Infamy” is built on a tough-as-nails guitar riff, with doomy, burly smashing, ferocious death metal-style growls, eventually a faster tempo that leans into hardcore terrain, and tasty guitar soloing that adds a bit of showmanship to this black cauldron or torment.

“Transcending” has long periods of stretched-out noise, weird, chilling chants, and a relentless period of pounding and drubbing, that eventually meets a high dose of mud and leads to one mean meltdown. The band just lets loose, pouring on the punishment, with screams and shrieks sounding beastly and from the woods, with an untamed spirit giving the song its animalistic magic. Then the record gets weird for its final two cuts. “Bloodstreams” doesn’t even reach two minutes, and it’s a hulking bulldozer of beastly death metal, gruff growls, and killer chugging that’ll leave bruises. Then there’s the wacko closer “Burden,” the song that most sounds like one from Circle’s past, with a purposely repetitive pace, chants and calls, warbling that seems to come stream of conscience, proggier playing, and a lot less harshness. It’s long at 11:21, and it takes its time doing what it does, and when the song finally reaches its end, the strange space jam and final hisses of noise seem like the perfect way to end this eclectic record.

Who knows who will be behind the Circle moniker the next time around, but if it’s this crew, I’ll be pretty happy to hear where they go next. Naturally, they’re going to need to switch things up if they do another one, because that’s just how the Circle machine goes. But for this one, they hit on all the right ugliness, tear the right amount of flesh, and keep things just weird enough to justify and rubber stamp their existence as Circle.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.ektrorecords.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.ektrorecords.com/ektro.php

Aussie death metal burners Grave Upheaval drive into hellish abyss on debut album

grave upheavalI may have asked this before, but what the actual hell is going on in Australia? I mean, I’ve seen Outback commercials before, and everything seems so cheery and fun there. No one ever frowns. Ever! OK, all joking aside, we Americans do get a sunny, happy outlook when it comes to Australia, but the land’s metal output seems to indicate something different.

Most of us already know of Portal, the hellish, costumed death metal demons that brought a new sense of terror to the subgenre and remain one of the most mysterious bands of our time. We also have Mournful Congregation, kings of funeral doom who make some of the most emotionally anguished sounds going today, and every one of their albums is a journey through psychosis, trauma, and suffering. That’s just scratching the surface of Aussie bands not named AC/DC, that also includes Assaulter, Bestial Warlust, and StarGazer, showing the uglier, more violence side of that part of the world.

grave upheaval coverNow we have one of the ugliest, most terrifying bands to date to slither out of Australia with Grave Upheaval, a band that sounds like what it might underneath a hundred million tons of burning coals, as you’re suffocated and charred. Their music is hard to describe accurately because it’s more like a presence than a composition. It stands still and just drone and bores through your soul, with no intention of dazzling you or getting your energy to a higher level. They simply want to pound away over and over until you have no choice but to tap for submission. The closest comparison is Portal, but without the dizzying musicianship buried underneath all the layers of filth. That’s not to suggest these guys don’t also have those chops (after all, they share a member with that band and Impetuous Ritual), but their mission is to crush and kill. Period.

OK, so as noted, this band has a tie to Portal with their drummer Ignis Fatuus, who plays the same with this band but handles guitars and vocals for Impetuous Ritual. He takes no name in this band. The other member, who also goes nameless, handles everything else, including those smothering vocals, and the songs on the record don’t even get names. Neither does their debut full-length, out on Nuclear War Now!, which only helps to build the mystery and terror behind this band. Their style is not going to be for everyone, and it takes a certain headspace to embrace and identify with this music (is it scary that I do?), but if you get it, you’re fully committed.

The first track gets the record off to a ripping start, with frightening drone and vocals that sound like a demonic hiss rising from the earth’s crust. The guitars are thick and clubbing, and if you’re not attuned to what this band is doing, your head is already spinning. The second track is menacing and drowns in soot, drubbing you slowly but heavily, like hell has opened up and coated the Earth’s surface with fire. As the song reaches its finish, the music grinds to an even slower pace and strengthens the grip around your neck. Track three opens with sludgy doom riffs, and production-wise it’s the cleanest sounding song on the whole record. That doesn’t mean it’s pristine or pretty, by the way. Just a little less encrusted in dirt. Anyway, the vocals return to their whispery haunting, and the band continually goes for your throat.

The fourth track veers into blinding madness, with the drums just erupting, the vocals sounding as demonic as ever before, and the guitars wearing away. Then, the growls reach a screechy level, eerie drone chants float behind, and the devastating tempo boils over. Anyone who says this band shows no variety–and that stupid complaint is out there–apparently skipped over this song. The fifth track has a numbing pace, with the tempo pounding and tortured wails driving home the pain and agony. The sixth track wastes no time delivering buckets full of punishment, with a doom finish to the music, and a catastrophic wave of feedback that pierces the mind and soul and turns them black. The closing cut is the longest, at 10:15, and it takes its time setting up its mission and sucking you into its vortex. The drubbing remains mostly at the same speed, with elements poured over it such as melodic nuances, more doom creepiness, grinding death hell, and a dizzying final few minutes that should leave your room spinning. It’s a record that, if it hits you in the right spot, could end up on repeat for hours as you examine each inch of its chaos.

Grave Upheaval’s hopeless, tortured death metal won’t excite everyone, especially those who think this subgenre’s centerpoint is teen clothing shops and summer package tours. Those people are flat out wrong, by the way. That’s not an opinion. This band is frightening, overtly violent, and should make your guts go frozen in no time which, if you’re a true fan of death metal’s essence, should provide a lifetime of morose happiness.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/grave.upheaval

To buy the album, go here: http://www.nwnprod.com/shop/

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

Noothgrush, Coffins team up for one of the bloodiest, filthiest splits of the year

splitThe best split releases are ones that give you something that excites you and offers an appetizer serving of music from bands that have a bit of commonality but aren’t really cut from the same cloth. If you’re getting two bands that do the exact same thing, then what’s the point?

One of the year’s best and most satisfying splits is ready for release next week, a bright gem in the late year burial ground of releases where not a whole lot of noteworthy releases pop up. That would be the one that pairs up Noothgrush, the eccentric, go-at-their-pace sludge doom warriors from Oakland, Ca., with Japanese death cult Coffins. These bands do not have a ton in common sonically, and they have even less in the manner in which beach releases music. But when paired together, it works. Noothgrush is a band with an extensive amount of releases but only one proper full-length, that being 1998’s “Erode the Person.” On Coffins’ end, they, too, offer up a bunch of mini releases, but they also regularly put out full-length recordings, their most recent being July’s “The Fleshland.” These bands smartly combined for this devastating split being released by Southern Lord that is well worth your time and money.



Noothgrush got a nice reintroduction to a wider audience a couple years ago with their live compilation “Live for Nothing,” also released by Southern Lord, and last year they contributed a song to a split with Suppression. The three songs available here provide their most extensive work in years and hopefully a sign the machine is moving full bore again. The lineup is mostly the same as we’ve come to know over the years, with Gary Niederhoff on bass (he also has done guitars and vocals over the years), Russ Kent on guitars, and Chiyo Nukaga on drums. The big change is the addition of new singer Dino Sommese, who carved his path with bands such as Asunder, Ghoul, and Phobia. The refurbished unit sounds hungry and powerful, and these three cuts are a real treat.

We open with “Humandemic,” a bluesy, slithering, savage cut that is crushing, sludgy, and mean. Sommese’s vocals work really well with it, and the band sounds right at home. That leads to an updated version of “Jundland Wastes,” a band trademarked Star Wars-referencing cut that has been featured on other releases but gets new life with this 2013 version. The song remains filthy and awesome, the grooves are just as nasty, and this update is earth-crushing wonder. Closer “Thoth” pays tribute to late Bay Area DJ Cy Thoth and includes warped, paranoid, but really fun samples of his voice, warning of all kind of atrocities and opining that the world is a prison. The song is full of slow-driving doom, furious, snarling vocals, noise ringing out and piercing your ear drums, and all-out, muddy violence. It’s a hellacious finish to these three cuts, and one of the great surprises of the year in that we actually have new Noothgrush material. Hopefully there is much more to come in the near future.



Coffins, of course, have made a name for themselves due to their ugly, gory, hellacious death metal, and they have been work horses, touring relentlessly and adding tons of releases to their already bustling canon. Aforementioned “The Fleshlands,” their Relapse debut, was another dose of blood-splattered fun and doom-coated fury that highlights what this band does so well. The Coffins fellows, in case you need an update, are vocalist Ryo (who switched over from drums), guitarist Uchino, bassist Koreeda, and drummer Satoshi, and as you’ll hear on their two songs on this split effort, they have no problem churning out a ton of material and keeping everything fresh and brutally savage.

“Drown in Revelation” greets you with impossibly heavy thrashing, a mean, nasty disposition, and throaty, animalistic vocals that truly hammer home the violence and horror of Coffins’ way of life. Every time you think the song can’t possibly get heavier, it does, and these guys just blow shit apart and let the body parts land wherever gravity places them. “The Wretched Path” has gurly, throat-mangling vocals, a killer pace, and a totally nasty death groove that just pulverizes. Razor-sharp lead guitar work snakes over top the chaos underneath, some bluesy hues erupt from the carnage, and the song ends with a pocket of devastating death metal that’s some of the heaviest you’re going to hear anywhere.

This split just obliterates, and at 29 minutes, you’re going to get just enough to keep you full and no more than that. Leaving people wanting more always is a good idea, and no one in their right mind would complain if these songs are merely here to tide you over before new chaos comes at you from these two hulking beasts. Go grab this filthy bastard and make your Thanksgiving week as morbid as it can possibly be.

For more on Noothgrush, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Noothgrush/193662010656114

For more on Coffins, go here: http://www.coffins.jp/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Lake of Blood storm into greatness on stunning ‘Omnipotens Tyrannus’

lake of blood bandIt was only a couple years ago that an album called “As Time and Tide Erodes Stone” ended up in my inbox, before it was pressed by The Flesner on vinyl and when the California-based band Lake of Blood still were an underground mystery to most people. But there was something there, and that album stuck with me for a while, ending up a go-to when I needed something to hear while I was on a long walk or drive when I could fully and properly absorb the music.

Now, two years later, the band is back with an astonishing late-year album “Omnipotens Tyrannus” that’s out in cassette only for the Cult of Melancholia label, and does it ever up the ante over their full-length debut album. Not only is it that much more realized musically and astonishingly heavy, it’s also one hell of a lengthy listen, with seven cuts stretched over 80 minutes and guest appearances by the mighty Wrest (Leviathan) and former member Sutekh Hexen member Scott Miller, whose nightmarish soundscapes add a chilling element to this collection. It’s the sign of a band truly coming into its own, and while it takes a nice commitment of time to get through the album, you’ll find yourself better off for it once it plays out in full.

12 Jacket (Gatefold - Two Pocket) [GD30OB2-N]It’s easy to hear, even with a cursory listen to “Omnipotens Tyrannus,” just how much this has band has grown as songwriters and how much more they understand what they’re trying to do philosophically. The atmosphere is rich and thick in their style of black metal, almost as if you could reach out and touch mists from the oceans or furious winds whipping off the shores near the coast, and the thunderstorming that’s weaved into their music also feels like they’re trying to give a proper soundtrack to that event and give it even more quaking power. There’s such a noticeable difference in the band–and they were damn good on their debut and other split and mini releases–and they sound on the cusp of heading down the road to long-term greatness. If that does happen and this band does blossom, you can mark this album as their first real step.

Yes, the band has two pretty notable guests on this album, and perhaps that’ll open them up to a wider audience that they deserve, but the credit for this amazing album sits squarely in the laps of the five who made this thing possible. Vocalist Haagr, guitarists Samael and Nordic, bassist Krajavic, and drummer Xsithis have really come together as a unit, channeling their rage where it needs to be, getting the most out of every second of this album, and going back and forth between moods organically,making you anticipate every crushing high and slip into each emotional valley. It’s an album that continues to give and reward, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the majesty of this thing and wonder where the hell the past 80 minutes have gone.

“Blood and Mercy” opens this opus, and right away you get a good idea of what awaits you on the rest of the album. The song erupts out of a body of noise, with black metal-style wailing, howling vocals, and charged up melodies that serve to infect. The cut keeps twisting and turning over its 11:13 running time, always keeping the drama high, and eventually drowning out in the noise from which it came. “He Who Becomes” is an interesting one, as it shows more prog tendencies, colorful acoustic guitar passages add texture, and once the hellish storm dies down several minutes in, a long woosh of noise eats up the final minutes of the track, immersing your brain in cloudy wonder. “In Wells of Shadows,” at 13:30, dips into doom, with a somber opening and slow-driving melodies before it really hits its stride. The vocals hit a punishing wail, the song bursts apart and lets a flood of dark colors bury the sun, and a bed of total decibolic violence bleeds over, keeping up with the competing melodies insistent on infusing beauty. It’s quite a struggle between light and dark, and a damn rewarding one for the listener.

“Agape” will make you feel slurry and dizzy from the start, with its weird, medicine-head opening that might make you think the song is going somewhere it isn’t. Of course, shit blows up, with some spirited, killer chugging and vocals that rear infernal levels of scorching, and an awesome pace that should keep your blood pumping and … then unpredictable changes that take the song back to eerie and spooky. This section will chill your blood cells and have you seeing spirits, but then the madness blasts in again and erases that temporarily, before acoustic guitar and piano drops take you out. “Tyrannus” trickles into the scene before it hits its stride, with more texture coming by way of the acoustic guitar work, melodies that surge and burst in incredible colors, and a finishing few minutes that go from brain-picking prog rock to flesh-ripping black metal that eventually dissolves into more doom. “Omnipotens” is the longest cut at 16:15, and it provides the perfect curtain dropper, even though it technically isn’t the final song. There’s a buzzing, driving force that brings the song out of the shadows, and over its running time, it visits each tenet of what Lake of Blood do so well, from sooty, evil black metal, to melodic and adventurous playing, to clean, yet jarring sections that lets your mind wander, but only so far. A doom fog settles over everything and threatens to suffocate, but in the final moments, the song comes alive again and ends on a note of total menace and fury. Closer “Reflect and Suffer at the Paw of Grace” a 3:43 come down, is a great summary title for the album, and a proper closer, as it’s a lush bed of noise and atmospherics, with weird music and a voice mumbling wearily behind it. The track feels like the final moments of a hellacious storm, where you’re first looking out your windows to inspect the aftermath. Sadly, there are people doing just that this week.

Lake of Blood are a force, one with which to be reckoned, and they’re coming for us all. The advancements they have made from album one to two are almost impossible to believe, yet here’s your evidence. “Omnipotens Tyrannus” is the first major step of a really special band threatening to take black metal and stretch its boundaries even further, purists kicking and screaming be damned. This record will open your mind, compel you to imagine, and enrapture you in its power. This band has arrived, and it’s hard to predict where Lake of Blood will go next. But rest assured, it will be somewhere earth-shattering.

For more on the band, go here: http://lakeovblood.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://cultofmelancholia.storenvy.com/

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

REISSUES: YOB’s ‘Catharsis’ a doom classic; Solstafir’s fiery debut finally unearthed

YOB catharsisI have had a weird history with metal, one where I spent a long stretch of time not really listening to it. Once I got to college and starting working as a radio DJ, my tastes started to change, and I got way more into indie rock and far less into metal. So I missed a nice chunk of time.

The past decade and a half, or so, I have been fully back and immersing myself in all things metal, but because of the time I spent away, there’s still a bit of catch-up that I sometimes have to do, even for some music that was released during times I’ve been fully participating. That’s why reissues are always exciting for me when it comes to records I either missed or never got to get a proper version to appreciate.

Today we have two records that fall into that category for me, and maybe they do for you, too. Or maybe you’ve always been into these releases but would like a fresh new copy. I’m always game for that aspect, too, which is why I acquired all-new versions of all the Carcass albums when Earache did their reissue run, because I like to have the best possible copies of records that I hold dear.

YOB's "Catharsis" lineup

YOB’s “Catharsis” lineup

Let’s start off with “Catharsis,” the second record by the mighty YOB which is now being reissued by Profound Lore, the label that put out the band’s most recent two studio crushers “The Great Cessation” and “Atma.” Funny, but I didn’t get into the band until a year after this record came out when Metal Blade sent me a copy of the band’s 2004 album “The Illusion of Motion.” From that point I was hooked by this band, but it’s not until now that I’ve fully gotten to experience “Catharsis” in this manner. By that I mean, not on a substandard burned copy, not hearing someone else’s copy in the car or something. This is a remastered version of a record that’s become to be known as a cult metal classic (complete with new artwork), and if you absorb these stunning three epics, you’ll know why people who hold this record dear feel that way.

Of course, Mike Scheidt is front and center and the visionary of this incredible band, and he really stretches the sonic qualities of his voice here in a way we’d all come to expect on future releases. Added to that his guitar work not only is full of doom power but also bluesy humidity and psychedelic wonder, really letting you stretch your brain while listening. Joining him are drummer  Gabe Morley and bassist Isamu Sato. They open up with “Aeons,” an 18-minute boiler that stays in its pace and really burns over its running time. It’s a mind-altering, weird, bubbling cauldron of power, with Scheidt switching back and forth from his Ozzy-like high-pitched cries and guttural growls. “Ether” is the short one of the bunch, only clocking in at “only” a little over seven minutes. It’s sludgy, punishing, crushing, and still will warp your mind when you hear it. The soloing is molten and blazing, and the final few minutes of mauling might make you want to hit something with a hammer. The 24-minute title cut closes the album, and is it ever a mauler, taking its time to get going, with the bottom dropping out, devastation sweeping across, only to give way to calm again. The song continue in that manner, building astonishing highs, with Scheidt’s voice reaching for the tallest mountains, and returning to the guttural again, with menacing growls and chaos, building to the final few minutes where the band lets loose and speeds things up, ending the record on a crumbling crippling note. Holy shit.

If you never got your hands on this record and need to complete your collection, or you just want to hear what is, still today, one of the most forward-thinking doom metal albums in the world, “Catharsis” will open your eyes and help you see metal in a way you never have before. That’s what makes this a full-fledged classic.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

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

solstafir cover

On a completely different end of the metal spectrum are Iceland’s Solstafir, a band that you can witness in person at next year’s Maryland Deathfest and whose sound has become more of a post-rock-influenced style. Their most recent album is 2011’s “Svartir Sandar,” released by Season of Mist, and if that was your first exposure to the band, you might be surprised by what you’ll hear on their reissued debut album “Í Blóði og Anda.” You pretty much had to be at the right place at the right time in order to have a copy of the original version of the album, because it basically disappeared right afterward, but Season of Mist are releasing this much sought-after album, along with a second disc or record of demo and rehearsal cuts, so this tremendous album can be back in circulation.

sólstafir7“Í Blóði og Anda” (translates to “In Blood and Spirit”) does have elements of post-rock and black metal, but there’s just as much post-hardcore and classic screamo influences as well, making this one hell of an interesting mix of sounds and one of the most passionate albums in their collection. The nine-track, 56-minute album is sequenced pretty weirdly, with the shorter songs dominating the first half of the album, and longer ones, beginning with “Ei Við Munum Iðrast” and ending with sweeping closer “Árstíðir Dauðans,” complete with atmospheric passages and a female voice adding the right texture. Also in that stretch of epics is “Bitch in Black,” a folk-infused smasher rife with references to a woman with “eyes that glare like burning churches” and ritualistic activities. The front half is more immediate and to the point, with highlights coming on the punchy and fast title cut, that ends in a pocket of space rock; “The Underworld Song” that also reaches the cosmos and is played with undeniable passion; as well as “Tormentor,” that’s rife with punk rock energy.

There’s a lot to like on “Í Blóði og Anda,” and raw and untested as this band was at the time, clearly they were onto something and had the heart and drive to make it so. Having this record available—finally—on wide-range basis is something the metal world needed, and it’ll even make you see this band a little differently. Perhaps another benefit is younger bands might finally hear this record and understand how to deliver music with honesty and passion, something so sorely lacking today.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.solstafir.net/

To buy the album, go here: http://e-shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Swedish sludgers Serpent Omega bring on the volcanic mud on killer self-titled debut

SO_8[300CL]Messy and filthy, punishing and violent. Those are really good traits if you’re describing a relatively new metal band to an audience that might not yet be familiar with the artists, and since I’m doing that today, I’m pretty comfortable with those words as descriptors for Serpent Omega.

The Swedish sludge band has been in operation for only two years now, and before their debut, self-titled record dropped earlier this year, they had only a demo to their name. But for having such little time together as a band, they’re already making some impressive steps forward with this seven-track, 36-minute album released by Mordgrimm that is finally moving its way across the world and bringing the group’s fury to more and more people. There are some easy touch points if you want comparisons before digging into the band’s music, so think of the earlier years of both Kylesa and High on Fire so you can know what to expect philosophically. Or maybe quit screwing around and put this bastard on as loud as neighborhood decibel limits will allow and get with a band that’s just at the beginning of their campaign.

00._CoverWhile the band heavily revels in sludge, they also mix in classic doom, black metal, and noise into their cauldron and are a true force to behold. In front of the band is Pia Högberg, whose vocals are menacing, forceful, and totally in command. Not to take anything away from her bandmates, but she is the primary reason you’re bound to be sucked into Serpent Omega, because she’s that impressive of a force, and she sounds as mean and powerful as anyone else in the genre. The rest of the lineup is rounded out by guitarist Andreas “Jonsson” Westholm, bassist Tomas “Brief” Westberg, and drummer Sakke Sexton, who bring the devastation and fiery charm to this killer debut record.

The album opens with unmistakable doom swagger with “Skullwand,” a vicious, unrelenting cut where Högberg’s voice is full of grit and menace as she drags you along through the dirt, kicking and screaming. Toward the end, she really lets loose, yelling and howling, while the band delves into blackness, with killer guitar work and near-blast beats. “Smoke Ritual” begins with ominous tones and slips into slow-driving murk that sets the mood. The music is melodic and catchy, but Högberg’s voice remains tough, and when the song really hits its stride, chugging guitars and smokey power take over and suffocate you. “Hammer” opens with some chilling chants before it launches into a volcanic rage, bringing back those High on Fire comparisons, but there also are some guitar parts that remind of the very early days of Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. Högberg’s vocals reach a nasty shout, where you practically can imagine her pointing an accusatory finger in your face, and the final minutes of the song are so threatening, you might think death is near.

“Warmachine” is aptly titled, because the song sounds like it’s soundtracking a sword-wielding combine coming right at your face, ready to spill blood and destroy flesh. The song gallops and maims, while Högberg’s vocals reach a banshee shriek full of terror. “Red Sun” has a foggy, disorienting opening before it ignites into full-steam-ahead thrashing, with forceful shouts, gale-force-wind storming from the band, and a bloody, lava-filled explosion that again exposes the band’s raw power. “Serpent Omen” is the shortest song on the record, and it’s the one that feels a little too much like everything that came before it. The track’s not bad, but it doesn’t really stand out among the rest. Luckily the epic closer “Konflux” brings it all back together again, starting with static and tribal drumming, eventually slipping into a slow-driving tempo, and letting the leads slice inside and make their own trails. The song slowly builds the drama, letting the tempo swell organically, the scuzz to build up at the base, and the sludge hammer to begin swinging at full force again, pushing the song to its mauling, molten finish. What a way to slam an exclamation point at the end of their statement.

Serpent Omega are still an underground gem waiting to be fully discovered, and considering they’re just starting out, the thunder and chaos is bound to get more destructive from here. This debut is a promising, smoking slab of sludge that you should try to get your hands on so you can get in on the bottom floor of this band’s run. Serpent Omega have the power and fury to be a  major player in the underground metal world, and this album likely is just the first devastating shot before they deliver the knockout punch in the future.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://mordgrimm.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Mordgrimm