Alcest defy metal’s boundaries, deliver a dramatic shoegaze wonderland on new ‘Shelter’

“You’ll grow out if,” is something most of us hear from authority figures or parents or both when we’re growing up because of something we acquire an interest in. Usually they say that as a manner of relief so that they can rest assured one day this particular so-called scourge can be expunged and the person goes on to more acceptable interests.

Sometimes that ends up being true and a person does indeed grow out of something, or it turns out the person really liked the thing he or she discovered, sort of how I have been with heavy metal since I was, oh, 10 years old. But let’s not discount the growth factor, because sometimes people’s tastes and interests do change and morph throughout time, especially when it comes to musicians. The anger, angst, and brutality one wanted to show in the late teens or early 20s isn’t necessarily going to be there a decade or so later, so I’ve found it unfair when people pile on someone and take them to task for changing a sound. It happens, and as long as it’s done organically, and not just to make a fast buck, then what’s the issue?

promoThat’s sure to rise again now with Alcest’s new record “Shelter,” a collection that doesn’t really sound like something that would get reviewed on a site such as this. But the band began heavier in their early days of 2005 EP “Le Secret” and 2007 full-length debut “Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde,” though they never were grisly or violent ever. Alcest visionary Neige–a veteran of bands such as Peste Noire, Amesoeurs, Lantlos, and Old Silver Key just to name a few–used this forum as a way to project himself back into a fantasy dreamland he says he’d visit as a kid. It was an escape, a place of beauty and peace, and as time went on and more and more records showed up from this band, Neige and musical partner Winterhalter (Bahhrect, Phobos, and also formerly of Amesoeurs and Peste Noire) pulled further and further away from heavy metal and into a shoegaze fog that was far more serene and beautiful than the music from which both musicians originated. It was obvious for a long time Alcest’s ultimate goal wasn’t intended to be a metal band, but rather something far for ambitious and all encompassing, and that goal has been achieved to the maximum on “Shelter,” the album that is sure to drive off those who only desire metal. But it’s going to find a tidal wave of more listeners who can appreciate the dreamy sounds, melodies, and pretty sights. It’s a major shakeup but one anyone paying attention had to see coming. This can’t come as a shock.

Now it comes down to what you make of the music and if you can digest this phase of Alcest’s transformation. Neige himself has said that he considers influences far beyond metal when it comes to this band (we’ll be smacked right in the head with that later in the review), but there’s already derision rising over the record from some, and my guess is not because the music isn’t good. It’s because it’s not metal. And it isn’t. But why must that matter. If you can disassociate yourself from preconceived notions or the demand for brutality, you might find a collection of sweeping, dream-inducing, surging songs that find this duo realizing creative highs they never would have realized had they stuck to a rigid template. It’s a record that might even be dropping a little early, as it’ll make great, breezy spring listening when things are coming back to life. Hell, I have tons of metal albums, so I don’t need Alcest to mimic those. I happy with this duo as they are, and this progression feels and sounds right.

The record begins with a lush, greeny “Lungs” that sets the stage for the rest of the record and gives you an answer right off the bat as to what you can expect from the rest. That leads to “Opale,” that’s flush with shoegaze power, energetic vocal melodies (especially during the chorus), and a full journey into otherworldly wonder. It’s a really catchy thing, and you easily can get swept away by what the band’s conjuring here. Then it’s on to “La Nuit Marche Avec Moi” (which translated means “The Night Walk With Me”) that greets you with bent, almost surfy guitar work, a sense of spring fever in the melodies, and guitars that erupt in waves and rush all over you, making them the perfect companion of Neige’s clean, soaring vocals that always have been a strong point of this band. “Voix Sereines” (“Serene Voices”) follows and is far moodier and darker, benefitting from Birgir Jon Birgisson’s production as he pokes at that Sigur Ros sound he helped craft in the studio. Some distortion charges up here and there to give a hint of agitation, but for the most part this song is comprised of bright playing, wordless singing toward the end of the song, and a glorious personality they craft to near perfection.

“L’Éveil des Muses” (“The Awakening of the Muses”) has a murky, ominous open when compared to the rest of the record, though it’s not angry by any means. Dark melodies spiral behind the composition, cloudy guitars set up and begin to dampen the area, and Neige’s vocals carry through and then above all that fog. It’s the least shimmery song on the collection and it’s as close as you’ll get to feeling like death is near. The title cut has a mid-tempo makeup, but as the song develops, it really lures you into the big picture. There is an unforgettable, surging chorus that bursts with life, as well as an emotional outpouring you can’t help but feel deep inside of you, and once the final piano trickles and the song crescendos, you’ll feel like you’ve gone on a magical journey. “Away” lets Neige wear his influences right on his sleeve–and places them in front of the song–as Slowdive’s Neil Halstead handles lead vocals, delivering the only track written in English. The song begins and ends with deep pockets of folk melodies, and in the middle of the song, Halstead hits all the right buttons, delivering lines such as, “I wish my mind could wander without pain,” with depth and humanity. The 10:05 closer “Délivrance” is a massive conclusion, with noise wooshes, thick, gorgeous strings (courtesy of Amiina’s string section through the record) guitars dripping and then building into a frenzy, higher-register vocals from Neige to complement his normal laid-back tones, the band spitting light with their playing, and a final few minutes that lets the emotion crest and then gently fade.

There are bound to be listeners disappointed with this record–and Alcest as a whole–because this is a totally different record for the band. Yes, they’ve been building to this, but there still will be people who are shocked awake and will have knee jerk reactions. But don’t let that happen to you. This is a glorious, beautiful record that cements Alcest as one of this era’s most giving, emotionally honest shoegaze bands, and “Shelter” just might open this group to more people. There’s probably no turning back for Alcest, and that’s OK. Sometimes we grow beyond boundaries, and we should all be so lucky to do it as gracefully as Neige and Winterhalter.

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Indian return with the scariest, most deranged doom of their lives on nasty ‘From All Purity’

Indian band
How many bands in heavy metal truly scare you? Are there really that many? A lot of times, bands trying to get across that terrifying image only end up coming off as wacky. Does anyone seriously shiver at the sight of a bunch of grown dudes in corpse paint? I didn’t think so.

It’s not so much the image of a band that conveys fright anymore, but the music. Again, there aren’t a lot of bands that even get that right and really find a way to shake you up, but one band that always answers the bell when it comes to freezing your blood is Chicago-based doom band Indian. Looking at a picture of these four, yeah, they look surly. They might not be the first people you’d want to approach to ask for directions. I’m just getting that from their picture. But their music is another thing entirely and can cause your guts to liquify in no time at all. They go the extra mile to get across their psychological terror and always make sure they pummel you as hard as possible in the process. In fact, their new record “From All Purity” ups the ante on that to a ridiculous level. It’s positively (negatively?) scathing.

indian cover“From All Purity,” the band’ fifth full-length effort and second for Relapse (2011’s “Guiltless” was their debut for the label), is a monster. Because it sounds like one. It’s like it was grabbed unwillingly from the underground, forced to gasp sooty air, and shoved into existence to maim and scar anything in front of it. You could imagine this thing as a beast slithering around, clawing the earth, bleeding everywhere, and causing screams and panic from anyone who encounters the thing. It would be damned by all, with ground troops forced to come in and attack the thing before it can destroy and sicken all. I know that all sounds a little silly, but put this killer slab on, turn it up as loud as you can, and see if it doesn’t make sense. I might have even sold it short.

Indian actually are one member short from the lineup that recorded “Guiltless,” but you won’t know it from this mammoth assault. On guitars and vocals are Will Lindsey (Anatomy of Habit and ex-Nachtmystium, among others) and Dylan O’Toole, who both keep things deranged, destructive, and demented. With them are bassist Ron DeFries and drummer Bill Bumgardner (also of Lord Mantis), who keep the low end thick and punishing, like you’re being beaten senseless in a pit of tar. Not a comfortable experience in real life, but it makes the band’s brand of doom coat you and maul you just right. I haven’t seen anyone credited with noise on this record, but there’s still plenty of that to make this collection even more suffocating.

You’re indoctrinated quickly in both sound and lyrical content with opener “Rape,” a pounding, maniacal, noise-rich track that is sweltering and mean. “The rape of everyone!” is shouted (at least that’s how it sounds, as I don’t have a lyric sheet), as the band hits on an off-kilter, psychotic fix that is unhinged and animalistic. “The Impetus Bleeds” pounds and drubs, with a dark melody slithering behind everything, and static rumbling while the band scalds you with their might. The sound is bathed in corrosion, the vocals are volcanic, and the final minute of solemnity gives off a hint of sorrow and pain. “Directional” is a slow-hulking crusher, with the vocals set to mental abuse, and the band clubbing you with throbbing doom that keeps kicking and punching at you until it finally subsides all of a sudden.

“Rhetoric or No” is one of the scariest songs in this band’s entire bank, as it is savage from the start, with massive doses of heaviness, mournful guitar lines that add an extra shade of darkness, and sizzling noise thats lead into fiery, damaging shrieks that dissolve into deranged madness. This is a huge undertaking emotionally, and I can only imagine how this song is going to kill live. Then it’s on to “Clarify,” a song that’s drowning in piercing noise, filthy drone, crazed zaps, and shrieked shouts that sound borderline torturous. The ambiance this track achieves is skin crawling, and the howls that are smeared over this, formless and hopeless, simply make the track that much heavier emotionally. Closer “Disambiguation” starts off cosmically slowly, like you’re being poisoned by some intergalactic clouds, and then gravel-filled growls roll in, howling lines like, “All I want is repetition!” A dark funeral doom wave laps up, adding a black texture to the mix, and then drums explode into a double-kick storm, as the song grows thunderous. The final moments are both anguish-filled and blisteringly devastating, as the final moments of relentless hammering suddenly dissolves into space. It’s the perfect exclamation point on the end of the murderous statement.

Indian’s campaign of terror is alive and well, and unsuspecting listeners might find themselves running for cover even from a smaller dose of “From All Purity.” This isn’t a riff-fest for you to hammer out at a party with session ales. It’s a dark, angry, potent record best served with a dark, barely legal-ABV beer, when you’re at your lowest trying to find meaning in your late-night haze. The only answers you’re bound to find are ones that’ll disturb you to no end, so hopefully you’re well enough to handle what Indian are likely to help you find.

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Chicago’s Murmur stretch black metal’s possibilities into outer space on self-titled record

The words progressive and experimental probably scare off as many listeners as they attract, because it seems more and more, people are less willing to take risks on what music they absorb. I say that because I know when I drop those descriptors in conversation with people, they draw eye rolls for the most part. That always makes me sad.

Well, hopefully you’re up for a challenge today, because we’re here to discuss Murmur’s self-titled new record that’s being released by Season of Mist, and if you have ears that don’t like being pushed beyond your comfort zone, you might balk at this one. It’s an odd one. But if you’re like me and relish having your mind blown, then set aside an hour or so and take on this new nine-track record from this Chicago band that is as unclassifiable as they come. They’re labeled black metal, and there certainly are some of those elements, but there’s as much prog, doom, post-metal, and fusion qualities to their sound that no one word can properly define what they do. In fact, I’ll let my summaries of these songs do the rest of the talking as far as what you can expect from the music, because I could be here all day.

murmur coverThe band has been active since 2007, dropping the massive “Mainlining the Lugubrious” in 2010, that has one of the more interesting, potentially skin crawling album covers of the past few years, and there are zero horror elements to be found. That record also wasn’t an easy one to get to know, and if you’re familiar with it, or their work on the 2011 split with Nachtmystium, then at least you have a starting point for getting comfortable with the new album. But the new self-titled record goes so far beyond the black metal territory, that if that’s a necessary trait you need from them, you’re going to be in for a little bit of a shock. It’s not correct to say they gave their sound more of a streamlined approach, because it’s still a puzzle that’ll baffle most listeners, but they definitely are a more inclusive bunch now and apparently have a knack for spreading into more of metal’s territories and not limiting themselves at all. It’s a damn ambitious statement.

Perhaps a major reason for the band’s sound transforming the way it has is that Murmur’s lineup is almost entirely different than the one that created “Mainlining.” Matthias Vogels (guitars, vocals, noise, synth) has been around since the debut, with Shane Prendiville (noise, guitars, vocals, synth) and drummer Charlie Werber (of the mighty Guzzlemug) joining up for the split with Nachtmystium. In 2011, they were joined by bassist Alex Perkolup, whose has one hell of a presence on the new record, and that lineup appears to be the strongest to date for the band. While they do a lot of chem lab experimentation and playing, their compositions sound organic and explosive, and never like they’re piling on layers just to do so. They’re one of the more interesting metal bands to come around in some time, and they could just keep shapeshifting as they move forward and get more congealed as a band. It’s a scary thought.

Opener “Water From Water” already will clue you into some things changing, as there’s an eerie calm that begins the record that eventually gets swallowed whole by chaos. Murky, muddy black metal, growls and shrieks that sound tortured, and a strange chorus that has the title sung repeated almost robotically dot the track. Some calm settles in, piano keys drop, but then the chaos rises again and heads right into the burly, tough “Bull of Crete.” This is an impressive nine-minute masher, with off-kilter melodies, howled vocals, and a pathway into brainy melodies that sound a little bit like early Mastodon. After the band meanders through the swamp, they erupt with a thrashy, but bizarre section that sounds like Primus if they specialized in death metal, keeping them foaming at the mouth all the way to the song’s conclusion. The 11:34-long “Al-Malik” follows, and it continues to up the ante musically. There are strange, cosmic keys smeared across this track, plenty of tempo shifts that keep your mind racing and wondering, and long section of progressive playing that boil and splatter. The song seems to be achieving peace at times, but the final few minutes blow that idea apart with mad chugging and metallic strength. Most of the song is music, with vocals at a minimum, and it’s a pretty exciting ride.

Following instrumental “Recuerdos,” a four-minute stretch of Midwestern-flavored acoustic playing, classic rock, and jazz, it leads to a three-song stretch that’s all weaved together. It starts with “Zeta II Reticuli” (named for a binary star system) that trickles open but eventually explodes with power. The guitar work builds and really starts trucking, making for some of the heaviest music on the whole record. The band heads into a pit of sludge, with furious growling, a high-spirited prog-style jam, and a bed of spacey keys that leads right into “Zeta II Reticuli Part 2” that starts with Rush-style instrumental interplay. The song gets mean in no time, with menacing, intimidating growling, metallic punishment, and tricky playing that’s enthralling and panic-inducing, leading toward the final segment “King in Yellow.” This is where the psychosis sets in, as manic shrieks and animalistic growls spill forth, weirdness spreads across everything, and a long stretch of banging and smashing drag you to the finish line. You might need a breath once these three cuts are over. “When Blood Leaves” changes the pace of the album again, as they veer back into the atmosphere with numbing prog rock that might remind you of modern-day Cynic, passages of clean singing, and a strange sense of dream-inducing trauma. Finally, the band finishes off with an eye-opening cover of King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part 2,” which also is the final track on the the KC record of the same name, and they treat it with reverence and some of their own touch. The song is crunchy and chugging, with keyboards blazing, the drums kicking in and exploding, and the guys building to the big finish perfectly, leaving you out of air in your lungs.

This is a record that demands your participation, and it’s a thick, meaty, dense affair. Murmur don’t make it easy for you, but if you hunger for bands that take something like black metal and stretch it as far as they possibly can, sort of like Oranssi Pazuzu, then this might be your band. They’ve grown in leaps and bounds the past few years, and if they keep expanding at this pace, who knows where they’ll be next record. Don’t let the idea of progression and experimentation scare you. Give this band a shot and you might find yourself in a metallic world you never knew existed before.

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Canadian-Swedish doom killers Culted expand blackness on massive ‘Oblique to All Paths’

Culted's Canadian members

Culted’s Canadian members

Smoke rising from chimneys are fires always makes me think of doom. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the slow burning, or perhaps it’s the billowing smoke that can serve to suffocate and destroy, but it’s an image that always makes me think of that form of metal.

And that makes some sense today as we’re here to discuss “Oblique to All Paths,” the new opus from transcontinental blackened doom band Culted, their second album overall, and their longest document by far. We haven’t gotten a new album from the band in nearly five years, as their debut long player “Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep” landed in 2009 (they did follow up with an EP “Of Death and Ritual” a year later), and I was wondering if the project was still alive and kicking. But lo and behold, their new album landed in my inbox late last year, and any worries I had disappeared pretty quickly. Same with any concern if the project could match their debut.

Culted's Swedish vocalist Daniel Jansson

Culted’s Swedish vocalist Daniel Jansson

Culted’s setup is a pretty bizarre one, not one you see very often, if at all, in any style of music. The band’s members never have all been in the same room together before and, obviously, never have performed music as a full band. They have created every one of their releases through sharing files electronically, with the band’s Canadian-based musicians Matthew Friesen (guitars, bass, noise), Michael Klassen (also guitars, bass, noise), and Kevin Stevenson (drums), who all have been a part of the band Of Human Bondage, creating the group’s hellacious compositions and sending them to Swedish vocalist Daniel Jansson (Deadwood, Keplers Odd) for his mammoth roars and fits of ambient terror. It’s a formula that shouldn’t work, but they’ve proved it does for them, and “Oblique to All Paths” is all the proof you need.

OK, so doom might not be the proper term for Culted’s music, not that there isn’t tons of that element. They’ve branched out their sound a little on this record, which we’ll detail momentarily, and have pumped way more noise, static, and horror into their formula just to keep you feeling as uncomfortable as possible. Their songs are mostly pretty long, pulling you into a slow drubbing, and if you come out the other end unbruised, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

GD30OB2-N.cdrThe record opens with the massive, nearly 20-minute “Brooding Hex,” one of the most impressive songs in the band’s catalog and a perfect example of how Culted’s sound has matured and stretched over the years. The track actually opens with some trickling deathrock and murky stretches that sound a lot different from the terrain they usually trudge, but it obviously gets monstrously heavy and vicious with chugging doom that’s matched with some imaginative psychedelic guitar work that’ll trip you out. This track will screw with your mind, as drone cascades down, heaviness keeps hammering you, and the song eventually blasts into outer space. “Illuminati” is a nasty cut, with galloping riffs that feel like High on Fire at times, layered vocals that create a trance state, and a pit of chaos that pummels until it eventually subsides. “Intoxicant Immuration” rises out of noise and rams right into cement-thick riffs, swirling voices, menacing growling, and funeral-heavy leads. As the song goes on, it gets heavier and heavier, with the final minutes rumbling, lurching, and mauling.

“March of the Wolves” is shorter and to the point, with dissonant guitars, doomy riffs, blistering drumming, and fury that bleeds into the interlude “Distortion of the Nature of Mankind,” a cut that brings down the fire momentarily before it blasts into the final two tracks on the record. “Transmittal” runs 11:52 and opens with industrial-style pounding, black metal-friendly melodies, and more psyche-smeared guitar work. Most of the song is lumbering and slowly paced, potentially lulling you into thinking things are going to stay at this clip before the final few minutes erupt into a blaze and get moltenly heavy. The ending crushes and terrifies, giving you a sobering reminder of just how nasty Culted can be. Closer “Jeremiad” is the track with the least amount of surprises, as it carves its doomy path, stays in it, and never really veers off the path. It’s sludgy, punchy, mean, and maybe just a bit formulaic. It’s not a bad cut by any means, but it feels a little static coming after six cuts with so much innovation. And trust me, it’ll bloody you anyway.

Culted have proved that long-distance relationships definitely can work, as long as all of the elements are there to keep things fresh and exciting. This may never be a band that gives us a new record every two years, but as long as they deliver mammoth riffs, horrific noise, and first-class blackened doom, who’s to complain? “Oblique to All Paths” is a massive step ahead from their debut album and the first devastating dose of doom in 2014. This is a mighty, scary band, and hopefully their campaign of disaster lasts long into the future.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Waldgeflüster return to soundtrack the deep freeze with ‘Meine Fesseln’


If you’re in a territory like I’m in, it’s a perfect time to find a nearby forest or wooded area, grab a sturdy walking stick, and take in the beauty of winter. Snow crunching beneath your boots, the cold air filling your lungs, and the naked trees providing for a breathtaking look at the landscape you wouldn’t ordinarily get in the summer. Oh, and wear gloves. Can’t stress that enough.

What am I on about? Well, it’s always nice to have the perfect musical companion for those times, and no I don’t mean blaring Immortal while you’re on your trek, unless you plan to battle weird beasts. Instead, go for something that in itself is aligned with nature and will soundtrack your trip beautifully, like the latest album from Waldgeflüster called “Meine Fesseln.” This project’s music always works well with the elements, but none have grasped and embraced winter quite as effectively before as this new third record. Maybe some of that is because I listened to this a ton before Christmas, when we had more than a few whiteouts, but I have a feeling it’ll give me the same chills in, say, August when I’m at the beach,

waldgefluster coverIf you’re new to Waldgeflüster, let’s pepper you with a little background. The project is the brainchild of Winterherz, who went out on his own in 2005 to create this music so he could send his own version of black metal into the world. His sound definitely is savage and uncompromising, but there is so much more to the music than just brutality. There’s also rustic, woodsy beauty. Waldgeflüster (which translated means “forest whispers”) released its debut album “Herbsklagen” in 2009 and followed that up with “Femundsmarka – Eine Reise in drei Kapiteln” in 2011, where he continued to build upon his musical and philosophical ambition.

But those records pale in comparison to what he accomplishes on “Meine Fesseln,” his first for mighty Bindrune Recordings and one that finds Winterherz collaborating alongside a number of notable musicians including Austin Lunn (Panopticon, Seidr, Kolga, and more) on guitar and mandolin; drummer Tobias Schuler (Fuck You and Die); Johann Becker (Austaras, Vukari) on violin, Janne Väätäinen (Haive) on kantele; Lukas Danninger (The Course Is Black) on piano; Arvagr (Dagnir en Gwann) on added vocals; and Aimo Fuchs on electronics. That may sound like a hefty array of musicians for one black metal record, but they all blend together perfectly, with Winterherz’s black visions the directional light in the dark. Anyone whose record collection contains heavy doses of Agalloch, Panopticon, Winterfylleth, and anything on the Bindrune roster is bound to be right at home with this record.

The album kicks off with “Der Nebel,” which opens with acoustic strains and folkish wonder before it ignites into a fury that includes strong, infectious melodies, vicious growling, and a sense that you want to rush outdoors and see what you’ve been missing indoors. First time I heard this song, I was gazing out my window at dusk’s red skies with a beer, and everything seemed perfect. And it was. “Karhunkierros” follows, with a similar mix as the opener, blending black metal majesty with quieter, forestal wonders. You get hammered by the sounds, that’s for sure, but you always get room to breathe as well. There’s also some pretty nice vocal tradeoffs, going from guttural to clean and back again. Nice bit of texture there. “Wie eine Weide im Wind” is my favorite cut on the record and one that really captured my imagination. Acoustic rumbling meets trickling waters, gurgly vocals eventually give way to speaking passages and cleaner singing, the melodies scream winter’s dominance, and the final minutes are so dramatic, going from clean to impossibly heavy, that you’re forced to the edge of your seat.

“Trauerweide Teil I” is the first of two dreamy, cold interludes, with rain draining downward, cleaner tones leading the way, and savagery eventually slipping back in with crunch and throaty growls. Then we’re on to “Wenn die Morgensonn…” a 9:51-long journey that is trance-inducing and a little spacey, with some similar melodies making their way back into the story, moody keys giving a psychedelic edge to the proceedings, guitar work glowing and lighting up the night sky, and the vocals as passionate as anywhere else on the record. Pianos drop in, start-stop thrashing helps the back end of the song explode, and forceful shouts push all the way to the finish, standing as the last thing you hear. “Mit welchen Fesseln,” that runs 11:53, is another interesting piece that’s full of experimentation, from New Wave-style guitar work in spots, some clean vocals, other guitars that positively soar, and massive thrashing that makes up the final few minutes of the song, leaving you in a cloud of forest campfire smoke. Finisher “Trauerweide Teil II” is the second part of the aforementioned interlude, letting the album slip out quietly, unassumingly, with more acoustic guitar work, softer vocals, piano, and a breeze of strings. It’s the ideal way to end this record, and maybe even cap off your walk in the woods.

Unless you speak German (I do not), you might have to do some translation in order to understand what’s being said, but there’s no emotional barrier when it comes to the music. It’s righteously heavy when it needs to be, positively beautiful in spots, and perfect for this time of year in North America. Waldgeflüster is a project that helps you appreciate these days and see them as glorious and freeing, and “Meine Fesseln” is a magnificent way to spend these days. I can’t stop listening to the damn thing, and if you’re in the same mindframe as I am, you’ll be in the same frost-encrusted boat.

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Grind pioneers Nausea return with more societal disgust on ‘Condemned to the System’

Nausea band

I spend the bulk of my winters trying to avoid nausea like a crazy person. Seriously, hand washing until my skin is dry and bleeding, sanitizing my hands even if they’re full of the cuts I acquired from washing too much, and wiping down everything in the house just in case there’s something lurking that could turn my stomach. It’s like a job.

Yet here I am, walking head first into Nausea, though this version’s most welcome and a lot of fun. The one I speak of is the long-standing grind and death pioneers of the same name who finally have a new record for us just days in 2014. Of course, just because the band has been sickening metal fans the world over since 1987, we haven’t gotten a ton of material from these bastards, who basically helped develop the template so many bands today follow. Their debut full-length “Crime Against Humanity” dropped way back in 1991, back around the time Metallica lost their balls, and ever since then, we’ve only gotten a bunch of demos and some compilations (as well as live shows). But now their second album “Condemned to the System” is here, and it’s like these guys never really went away in the first place.

CD BookletReleased by Willowtip Records, “Condemned” finds the band lashing out at societal and political targets such as religion and corporations, and they’ve not lost an ounce of their fire and disgust that made them what they are. The record contains a bunch of brand new tracks fresh from whatever anger and frustration they’ve been storing over the years but also has some selections that are older jams or unreleased from their lifetime creating chaos together. Together, they make for a cohesive, punishing release that should get your gears moving and your fists ready to damage things in your house. Watch out for glass.

Today’s Nausea lineup contains longtimers Oscar Garcia (formerly of Terrorizer and the band’s origin group Majesty) on guitars and vocals, as well as drummer Eric Castro (also of Majesty). Joining them are guitarist Leon del Muerte (his impressive resume includes bands such as Dreaming Dead, Murder Construct, Intronaut, Exhumed, and way more) and bassist/vocalist Alejandro Corredor (Dia de los Muertos, Pounder, and Chemical Bitches), who certainly know how to bring the pain and misery like the guys who helped form this thing. The band sounds hungry and ready to take shit down on this record, and it’s a thrill to have this band back to show the rest of their followers how this is done.

We open with “Freedom of Religion,” a crunchy, fast, bruising track that mixes barked growls along with shrieked vocals. And then we’re off and right into “Does God Need Help?” one of their older tracks they revisit, given a destructive, thrashy update that is both heavy and miserable. “World Left in Confinement” is speedy and splattering, with growly vocals, raging playing, and bruising intent. OK, I know some of these details seem a little brief, but this record maintains an intensity that keeps ripping you through from track to track, so a lot of the songs have similar identities but still maintain their own evil intent that sets them apart. Anyway, we’re then onto “Cries of Pain,” a song that begins hinting at doom but then rips open with raw savagery and clubbing grind. “Hate and Deception” lives up to its name, opening with more thrashing goodness before dissolving into total speed, throaty growls, and some really great lead guitar lines you don’t often find in this genre. Really nice touch.

“Corporation Pull In” has drums that explode all over the place, with blasts that meet fiery riffs and more throat-mangling vocals. “Fuck the World,” another callback to the past, is perfectly blistering, with a catchy death metal groove, raspy vocals, metallic galloping, and swirling guitar soloing that’ll leave you dizzy. Revisited “Falsely Accused” is crunchy and mashing and even settles more toward classic punk territory when it comes to the guitar work. “Condemn Big Business” also has been available in previous form, and here it is relentless, destructive, unforgiving, and impossibly heavy, further satisfying anyone’s need for speed. “And We Suffer” has more rock-solid riffs, blast eruptions, and a tempo that trucks forward, not caring who might get chewed up along the way. There are creaky, demonic shrieks, monstrous growls later in the song, and a sense that you’ve been absolutely devastated by this band. It’s a nice feeling, oddly. They close up shop with another reworked older cut “Absence of War,” a punk/hardcore-style smasher that lets loose one final burst of violence to make certain you have gotten your money’s worth and that you might not be moving around for a few days.

So, OK, I may fear the sensation of nausea, and maybe this band can provide some of that sickening churning, but taking on this group is always worth the abuse. This stellar new lineup, awesome album, and further threats to be maimed live makes for a great start to this year. These guys haven’t pulled a punch yet, and they certainly don’t on this 11-track, 29-minute record that could help you fall in love with classic grindcore all over again.

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Hell, Amarok bring hellacious amounts of doom, visions of madness on split release

Hell's portion of the split

Hell’s cover on the split

Surely you’ve heard someone talk about how they’re being tortured or are in living hell over something, be it their job, a life situation, or just something meaningless they’re blowing way out of proportion. That’s not to suggest some of those out there don’t have some real problems, though, and there are people whose music makes up my record collection that I do not doubt for a second have been there and maybe still are.

A split record that’s reaching us via vinyl from the mighty Pesanta Urfolk certainly falls into that category, that being the effort combining Salem, Ore., underground doom standard bearers Hell (has a name ever said it all better than this one?) and Chico, Calif., sludge demons Amarok. The music has been available before now on cassette via Vulture Print, but having this bastard on vinyl is very much welcome and should make any metal collection that much more tortuous. The bands make plenty of sense together, as you’ll be able to attest from hearing these songs, and it sounds like the embodiment of psychological and physical abuse.

We’ve covered Hell before (not to be confused with the other bands with this moniker including the U.K. NWOBHM revivalists), and they’ve ignited the doom world with three full-length maulers, titled I through III, that provide some of the most frightening and infernal sounds to come out of extreme metal’s horrible underbelly in a long time. You see the band name, you see their red-splashed artwork, and you kind of know what to expect once you take on the music. And they just bludgeon you over and over again. I think they’re one of the best doom bands in the world.

As for Amarok, they have yet to deliver a full document since their formation in 2010, though they released an EP the year they formed and now have contributions to three other split efforts, including this one with Hell. Like a band such as Velnias, their songs are kind of woven together over all of their releases, with each new tracks getting Roman numerals in front of them, indicating some sort of interconnected storyline or philosophical exchange. Their sound is nasty, stoner-friendly, and sludgy, and hopefully more people will be keen to them now with this split.

Hell offer up three tracks that stretch over 18:37, making them some of the shorter songs that band has done in some time, but since they’re sonically stitched together, they still feel like massive epics here to disrupt your life. They kick off with “Deonte,” a menacing, terrifying song that gives you a deep gulp of what makes this band so powerful. This thing is ferocious and devastating, with noise sweltering and threatening to overlap you. That bleeds into “Oblitus,” an instrumental cut that’s guttural and cement thick, with guitar feedback rising up and enhancing that sense of dread and terror that’s in your soul. That siren-like assault continues, as drums kick up and take a larger role, and noise gets smeared all over everything. Then it’s into their last track “Dolore,” nearly eight minutes of fury that’s thick, muddy, and hammering. There’s a sense of funeral doom sorrow that cuts through the center of this thing, somber melodies, strings that pierce the skin, and an eerie cold front that moves in toward the end and carries this home.

Amarok's version

Amarok’s cover

Amarok has but a single track, “V: Red Oak Wisdom,” but it’s a massive 20:43 killer that morphs and grows and subsides and rises up again and again over its running time. The song opens with slow-driving doom, gurgly growling that mixes with wild shrieks, and sprawling playing with a drubbing approach. These guys sound both channeled and full of direction yet just unhinged enough to give them the proper bloody edge. As the song progresses it eventually finds a sense of calm, with piano notes dripping in, and moody, solemn strings providing more texture to what’s already a dark piece. Of course the intensity kicks back up again, with anguish-filled wails and screams, devastating pounding from the rest of the band, and a sense you’re in a pit of danger from which you cannot escape. The final minutes are complete panic and obliteration, giving the track the proper smoke-filled feel but also leaving you wanting more from this band’s deranged supply of, well, hell.

As the best splits are wont to do, this release gives new listeners a great sense of what each band does really well and serves as a proper introduction into each’s war-torn world. For those who have been along for the ride with one or both, it’s a worthy addition to your catalog, one that’ll feel just right when you, too, feel like you’re in an everlasting vortex of personal torment and want to hear something that matches the intensity of your wailing and anxiety. It’s better than punching a brick wall until your hand’s bloody, that’s for sure.

For more on Hell, go here:

For more on Amarok, go here:

To buy the album, go here:

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Iskald travel into a deep Nordic freeze on expansive, thrilling new record ‘Nedom og Nord’


Today is a day where people in far colder regions globally laugh at us on the East Coast of the United States. It was scheduled to be at least 2 degrees Fahrenheit the day this is to run, with an overnight low of -9. OK, go ahead and laugh at us, Western Canadians, Norwegians, Russians, and anyone else who sees these numbers and chuckles.

OK, so we’re not quite as good as handling these conditions (the courts are scheduled to be closed because it’s too cold … the courts!), and when they do happen, we kind of don’t know what to do. Stupidly. So it’s pretty great that we have a new record from Iskald to discuss today, as this is a band that knows something about grim, frostbitten, cracked, and bleeding. Yeah, they embrace the inclement weather (their name translates of “ice cold” after all) and all-around deep freeze, and they pay homage to that on their new album “Nedom og Nord,” their fourth full-length effort. They looked to the northernmost regions of Norway, the Arctic regions that have enveloped their lives, and used that to influence this album, one of their frostiest–and most interesting musically–to date.

iskald coverIskald also decided to branch out their sound even more on their deadly journey “Nedom og Nord,” playing more with atmospherics and letting their songs breathe and develop more than in the past. That resulted in a record with the least amount of songs yet, as there are six on this new album, but it’s a collection with more realized, though sometimes meandering treks, and it easily can mesmerize you like staring at a snowstorm slamming down as you try to drive a car at night on poorly lit roads. It’s equally enthralling and frightening as you drown in isolation.

Iskald is the vision of two men who have been behind the helm since their formation in 2005, that being Simon Larsen (vocals, guitars, bass, and keyboards) and Aage Andre Krekling (drums). They are joined by two other members live–guitarist Ben Hansen and bassist Kenneth Henriksen–but the musical vision on this album and their others are all theirs, so you have them to blame if you feel like you’re shivering and quaking when hearing these songs. Opinions are sure to vary on their new approach to the music, but you’ll have that anytime you change up your DNA. But it sounds like these guys really have their heart in this new direction, which really helps drive forth this new era. And truth be told, I like the expanded sound a lot.

Our adventure begins with “A Fading Horizon,” that gets the record off to a spellbinding start, as they conjure up sounds that might make you feel like you’re stuck in a whirling vortex. The vocals are gruff as usual, the song makes nice use of violent thrashing even while it’s trying to set a mood over its 7:04 run time, and the leads are razor sharp, cutting through the thick ice into your soul. “Underworldly” kicks off with strong melodies, which is a regular trait on this album, and just minutes into the cut, it erupts into blistering black metal that gallops and crushes your puny lungs gasping for breath. The music easily can sweep you away, but it always grabs you and batters you, with the blood freezing almost as soon as it boils through the surface of your skin. It sometimes feels a little long, but lengthy excursions can be that way at times and it never detracts from the overall effectiveness of the track. That leads us to “Iskald,” of course named for the band, and it’s a perfect anthem for them with prog-fueled black metal, some sections that feel like modern Opeth, a strong mix of clean beauty and metallic devastation, and a final passage that’s purely acoustic and makes it feel like you’re disappearing into a fog. Good cut.

“The Silence” brings back the punishment, as it’s crushing pretty much throughout its duration, with Larsen howling lines such as, “I am the torment,” and, “I bring the darkness,” over music that makes sure that message hits home. This is the darkest, crunchiest track on the whole record and should satisfy anyone’s penchant for brutality. “Nidingsdad” follows with a sprawling, air-filled opening that quickly is sucked into an explosion of blasts, menacing devastation, and a total outburst of black metal violence that provides that deep helping of warmth you need to unfreeze your cells. This is nasty, stomping, and even when some cleaner vocals come in to provide texture, a song that’ll leave bruises on your body. Finally, the title track returns to the melody and epicness heard earlier in the record, and at the risk of beating a frozen dead horse, brings a blast of winter back into the picture. There are some cleaner sections here, that work nicely to change the pace when it needs to, smoldering heaviness, and eventually the song fades slowly into the night, as you watch its figure disappear down a long, dark path.

Iskald should provide plenty of wonder for me through the remainder of the winter, as the two coldest months are upon us, and they always give Immortal a run for their money when it comes to truly conveying the pain and misery of frozen terrain. “Nedom og Nord” is their most realized work to date and perhaps an indication as to where Iskald will travel in the future. If that’s the case, I’m certainly along for the ride, no matter how many layers of clothing I’ll need to wear.

For more on the band, go here:

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Exhumed, Iron Reagan slap you out of your holiday malaise on crushing split 12-inch release

exhumed reagan

OK, kicking and screaming, dragging our legs, we delve full on into 2014 and the hundreds of releases ahead. I guess we had to go and do this eventually, right? And if we need something to kicks us awake and make sure we don’t slack ever, we have a damn nice split release for you today that just might have the same effect on you.

We all know Exhumed, right? Long running death grinders who have been beating the hell out of us for two decades now? They just released “Necrocracy” last year (another solid effort that we reviewed for you) and proved that they’re as hungry and as furious as they’ve ever been before. But how about Iron Reagan? This band just came together in the last couple years, combining members of bands such as Municipal Waste and Darkest Hour, and they put out their debut record “Worse Than Dead” on the rock-solid A389 label. Their style is hardcore-laced, nicely metallic, and politically and socially pissed off, sounding like a band that would have done really nicely in the late 1980s and early 1990s when that stuff was at its starting point.

So, what do these bands have in common? Other than their relentless sounds, they also happen to share a new split 12-inch that’s out now on Tankcrimes Records, and it’s a damn good time that’s over before you know it. The eight-track release (each band gets four songs) runs just a bit over 11 minutes, so you have no excuses about not having enough time to get obliterated, and it gives a nice look back at where Exhumed came from and where Iron Reagan perhaps are going in the future. It’s vicious, fast, and immediate, and it’ll bloody your nose.



We’ll start with Exhumed’s portion of the release since it’s the longest display of the two bands. “Gravewalker” kicks off with thick, penetrating bass, punchy thrashing, and vocals that switch back and forth from guttural growling and fierce shrieks. There’s a punk feel to this track, it’s pretty damn crushing, and it sets the stage for “Dead to the World,” a total speedfest with menacing shrieks, grindcore rolling into hardcore influences, and utterly violent growls. Then we move into two interesting, apropos cover cuts. First up is a take on Minor Threat’s “Seeing Red,” that they treat with fury and edginess, earthquaking playing, and threatening gang shouts. They finish with their version of Negative Approach’s “Ready to Fight” that is strong, raspy, and blistering. Oh, and a dog gets some time barking, which upset my own dog. See, even dogs can get pissed off over this. How can that be a bad thing?

Iron Reagan

Iron Reagan

Iron Reagan’s serving is short but effective, kicking off with the 54-second blast “Life Beater” that’s thrashy, fast, and nasty, with vocalist Tony Foresta howling with reckless abandon, matching his band’s sonic intensity. Then it’s onto “Gave Up on Giving a Fuck,” a mashing dose of punk thrash, with spirited backing vocals and clubbing ferocity meant to maim. That leads us to the epic of this band’s contributions, the 1:33-long “Mini Lights” that’s full of shredding guitar work and poisonous vocals that sound both accusatory and even a little insulting. But you’ll get over it because you’re a grown-ass adult. Closer “Holy Water Makes Me Wet” is a perfect example of the band’s combination of irreverence and slap-you-awake honesty, with pushy, shout-filled vocals and a killer crossover feel that could cause you to get decapitated in the pit. Reminds me a bit of “I Predict the Death of Harold Camping,” a song that CAME TRUE!

So we’re starting off 2014 with a short but sweet review about a compact release that is a total death party from two really good bands. It won’t take you long to listen, but it might take you some time to recover. Other way, this is definitely worth it if you need your ass kicked into gear and your motivation refilled after the long holiday malaise. Worked for me, and I’m as tired as they come.

For more on Exhumed, go here:

For more on Iron Reagan, go here:

To buy the album, go here:

For more on the label, go here: