PICK OF THE WEEK: Morbus Chron mix psychedelic wonder, space madness into awesome ‘Sweven’

635246080561749867Bands that can adhere to a certain sound for their entire careers, as long as they make good music, are to be commended for sticking to their guns. At the same time, bands that choose to expand beyond rigid boundaries and really explore what is out there to take their music to the next level are the ones that I find the most interesting.

We’ve heard Voivod explore all over the cosmos to season their apocalyptic thrash metal, Nachtmystium step away from black metal to go into areas like psychedelic rock and industrial (ad635246080561749867mittedly to mixed results), Oranssi Pazuzu create black metal that’ll melt your mind with all of its added influences, and Tom G. Warrior has pushed the limits of extreme metal with the sadly deceased Celtic Frost and his new band Triptykon to form sounds that are downright unclassifiable because no musicians had done it before. Those bands taking risks resulted in records more interesting than what their peers were doing, and even if they hit a wall with what they created, and you at least could give them points for trying something out of their comfort.

Morbus Chron coverWe’re seeing all of this again with Swedish death metal band Morbus Chron, who never did things normally or by the books anyway, but who really have gone off the deep end with the excellent, ground-shattering new record “Sweven.” This is the band’s first record in three years (their debut “Sleepers in the Rift” was released by Pulverised) and their debut full-length for indie giant Century Media, the perfect place for these guys to expand their audience, which they richly deserve. The meaning of the album title is a sort of dream or vision, and sitting down and immersing yourself fully in this record certainly could have you seeing shadows on the wall. It is trippy, psychedelic, and worlds more interesting than what most modern death metal bands are doing, putting them in the category of innovator rather than follower. The songs are musically ambitious and stimulating, and no matter how many times you hear this record, you will notice something you didn’t on previous visits.

Morbus Chron are comprised of vocalist/guitarist Robert Andersson, guitarist/vocalist Edvin Aftonfalk, bassist Dag Landin, and drummer Adam Lindmark, and what they conjure together is as much spiritually spooky as it is brutal. The band maintains some of its old-time haunted house ethos (especially with the shrieky, ghoulish vocals), but they bring together so many other sounds, from 1970s-inspired prog, trippy passages that’ll cause your head to float amongst the stars, and even some jazzy moments where they really hit on something musically and find themselves exploring their muse to its fullest. This band might end up being this year’s big out-of-the-dark metal success story based on “Sweven,” and it’s a good bet to end up on a lot of year-end lists, mine included. It’s really that special of an album.

The record opens peculiarly with “Berceuse,” a word that means a form of a lullaby played in 6/8 time, and here is where they begin to lull you into a staring session, with surfy guitar work, and riveting playing that flows organically into “Chains,” making it sound like one big piece. The tempo kicks up here, with harsh vocals that cut through the murk, and the band hits into a prog-flavored death assault that they follow long into the night. The music slips into trippy territory, a place they visit often on this record, and the finish burns brightly and sounds a little jazzy. “Towards a Dark Sky” is one of the best tracks on the album, as it opens cleanly and seemingly gently before it ignites. The middle portion of the song hits on a musical sequence that, if played on acoustic instruments might sound a lot like bluegrass, and it’s at this moment where the brilliance of the band really hits home. It’s such a tasty little segment. The song starts fading at about the five-minute mark, but then the music returns, goes spacey and contemplative, then blows up in your face at the end. “Aurora in the Offing” begins with a nice doomy, trad metal guitar riff that eventually slips into speed metal territory, letting the band remind you their teeth remain sharp. The soloing reeks of classic heavy metal, and the roars from Andersson are downright monstrous. “It Stretches in the Hollow” is dark and eerie, but also one of the more brutal cuts on here, as screams turn into guttural growls, the dueling guitar work dizzies you, and the finish sounds mystical like a lost part of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.”

“Ripening Life” has a sinister thread running through it, and it has a rustic, country feel to part of the playing (the good, old-time country, not the modern pop bullshit). The latter half of the song just soars, with guitars setting fire to everything, and the vocals a deafening roar. “The Perennial Link” devastates for sure, but there also are plenty of mind-bending things going on here, with keyboard trickling, clean guitar work adding texture, and animalistic shrieks hammering home their message. “Solace” is an instrumental that has a late-hours, nightmarish feel to it, and it leads into “Beyond Life’s Sealed Abode,” that has guitar work that reminds a bit of Blue Oyster Cult, some classically-flavored, but buzzing guitar work, stunning musical interplay among the band, and Andersson imaging what it’ll be like “to take the final leap.” Closer “Terminus” is one last gasp of stardust, an instrumental that let’s you take a final adventure with the band into the universe, with strange, sci-fi-colored guitar work, spacious atmosphere, and a deep sense of exploration that might cause you to need shaken vigorously when the record ends to break from your daydream. Can’t think of a better way to end this album.

Morbus Chron always had it in them to come up with a classic, and they delivered on record two. That’s just astonishing to think how quickly they have come into their own and developed a sound that’s unique, refreshing, and mind blowing. “Sweven” is one of the best metal records I’ve heard so far this year, one that has fully captured my imagination, and an album that I’ve been listening to non-stop since the promo arrived weeks ago. This is the right way to push your boundaries and create something new, and Morbus Chron already have positioned themselves as one of death metal’s most creative bands.

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

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

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

CROSSING OVER VOL. 2: Nadler’s ‘July’ full of raw honesty; Black Mare, Olsen spark fires

Marissa Nadler
Crossing Over is our monthly look at music that isn’t metal but might appeal to our readership, who we have learned have pretty diverse tastes. Just like ours. We’re crossing over into other forms of music.

You don’t have to be metal to be dark, intense, and imposing. Words matter, as does the way artists approach their music, and when those things work together, they can create chills in a way that few others can.

Marissa Nadler always has had the gift to enrapture with her music. At the beginning of her career, she often sounded like a ghost lost in the woods, trying to find meaning of existence and where she belongs, and over time, she has morphed to let us know about herself as she started to take a more human form. From the very start of her career, it was clear she was a special artist whose growth would be something to watch very closely, and she has rewarded that attention over the years with records that grow in scope and body, demonstrating just how strong a musician and storyteller she is. In fact, while her music can sound utterly beautiful much of the time, there often is darkness lurking below that can trip you up and cause you to gasp on shadows. So yes, metal she is not, but incredibly moving and very dark she often is.

Nadler coverYet, Nadler has some ties to the metal scene. She contributed vocals to Xasthur’s swansong album, 2010’s “Portal of Sorrow,” and on her incredible new record “July,” she recorded with doom lord Randall Dunn, who is responsible for working with bands such as Sunn 0))) and Wolves in the Throne Room, whose heaviness can rip worlds apart, and Earth, whose later run of music is actually more in line with Nadler’s art. But working with Dunn doesn’t mean Nadler now will be headlining Maryland Deathfest or anything, but he does bring out some dronier, murkier moments from Nadler’s sixth album, one of the most honest, raw, painful records of her career. There are moments of pure hurt, disillusionment, pain, and sadness, and if you put yourself in Nadler’s shoes, you might find your heart aching along with hers.

This great record opens with “Drive,” a haunting track that reminds a bit of Mazzy Star, with raw acoustic guitars, some syrupy slide toward the end of the song, and Nadler noting, “You’re never coming back.” Then it’s into “1923,” a track that’s heavy on noir, with quietly plucked guitars and strings, with Nadler reaching across time with, “I called you from another century to see if the world has been kind and sweet.” There’s both a feeling of grief and hope in those words, as she tries to find a glimmer of light. “Firecrackers” is just a crusher, a song that has Nadler thinking back to an emotionally scarring time when she recalls, “July 4th of last year, we spilled all the blood.” It’s only violent from a personal standpoint, not a physical one, and this tender cut can hit home with anyone who has been in a fragile situation where relationships fall to ashes. “We Are Coming Back” is quiet and dark, letting you have a little bit of a comedown from the previous track, and it leads into “Dead City Emily.” This song opens mildly, with her noting, “Oh, I saw the light today,” and as the song grows, more layers of sound settle in, and the final moments even take off from this Earth and into the cosmos, a place Nadler hasn’t visited often before.

“Was It a Dream” is another highlight track, opening with strummed acoustics before electric guitars ramble in, setting up Southern rock-style burning that suits this song really well. The cut is steely and effective, and as usual, Nadler’s voice sounds otherworldly. “I’ve Got Your Number” brings back more pain to the forefront, with echoey, layered sounds, Nadler harmonizing with herself, and her driving and feeling her heart smash as she drives down snowy roads in the dark winter. “Desire” also could leave you scarred, as Nadler kicks into dusty folk melodies that feel like they’re as world weary as she is in the song, and she deals with realizing the desire she thought another felt for her was not genuine. “I had it all wrong,” she realizes, dripping her blood all over this thing for the world to see. “Anyone Else” sounds a little more defiant than the rest, especially when Nadler notes, “I hardly think about you anymore,” as she continue to weave her darkness, eventually poking, “What a lie you are living out,” as she lets some noisy drone take the song to its finish. “Holiday in” also sounds like she’s smarting from pain, singing about how she longs to lie in a hotel watching watching crime shows, and eventually she lays it out straight for her subject by observing, “Your fantasies go on forever,” seemingly indicating she’s not willing to go along with someone else’s make-believe any longer. Closer “Nothing In My Heart” is the perfect ending, with Nadler revealing she doesn’t have love inside of her for someone that she thought she did, and she delivers the crushing message with lush vocals and music that’s far more delicate than what she’s saying here. It’s one of those disarming moments where Nadler is so effective, seemingly painting you a lovely, overcast picture when she’s really unloading her pain and disappointment in a way that could hit you from behind if you’re not paying full attention.

Nadler continues to get better as she goes on, and “July” is evidence of that. It’s very much a Nadler record, yet it sounds like nothing else in her catalog. That’s because she has such a unique, alluring voice and a strong way of getting her musical and lyrical messages across that you cannot help but know it’s her. Yet she always finds a way to slightly reinvent herself so every record stands on its own. “July” is her finest work to date, a record that stands above a rock-solid catalog that doesn’t have a weak spot.

For more on Nadler, go here: http://www.marissanadler.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/releases/sbr103/

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

Other releases in February we really loved:

Black Mare coverBLACK MARE, “Field of the Host” (Human Jigsaw) — The most metal we’re going to get with this month’s Crossing Over is Black Mare, the new solo project from Sera Timms, bassist/vocalist for bands such as Ides of Gemini and the sadly defunct Black Math Horseman (whose only record “Wyllt” was a damn-near spiritual experience). Black Mare’s music delves in ambient drone, doom, post-punk, and other sounds, with Simms’ voice floating in the ether at times, taking more command at others. In fact, if you’re a fan of Simms’ voice, this is a must-buy, because it feels like she transcends the human plane more often than not on these songs, peaking on tracks such as the shadow-filled “Tearer,” that pushes into deathrock territory; nightmarish, entrancing “Saturn’s Grave”; and the sleep-inducing, disarming “ISA” that is ghostly but emotional. It’s great to have a new project from Simms, who I could hear sing forever.

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

Olsen coverANGEL OLSEN, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” (Jagjaguwar) — Olsen has a voice that, if you hear it one time, you never will forget it. She has the power to silence a room with her singing, which I saw her do here late last year when she played the Andy Warhol Museum, where she even played a few of the songs we’d here on her incredible second full-length record “Burn Your Fire for No Witness.” Not since Neko Case came along has an artist packed this much emotional power and musical weight into her art, and every song on this great record could stop you dead in your tracks, from the quiet opener “Unfucktheworld,” where she quiety admits, “I have to save my life”; to “Forgiven/Forgotten,” the first of a few tracks that rock harder than usual; the excellent 7-minute “White Fire”; and heart-stopping “Stars,” where she tries to “scream it all back to nothingness.” This is an early album-of-the-year candidate from an artist whose brilliance is only now coming to be recognized. She’s going to be huge.

To buy the album, go here: http://www.scdistribution.com/music-shop.html?class=label&label=Jagjaguwar

Phantogram coverPHANTOGRAM, “Voices” (Republic/Universal) — I just now realized we’re touching on almost all female artists in this installment, and that’s totally by accident. Anyway, Phantogram’s jump to the majors made a lot of sense. The duo of singer/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist/singer Josh Carter sound way more than prepared for the larger audience they are likely to meet with their great second record “Voices.” It has big-time pop sensibilities that easily should make a major impact at mainstream radio but enough quirks to keep their indie following more than satisfied. Seriously, listen to the song “Fall in Love.” It’s playing all over satellite radio now, and I’ve spun it a million times. It should be a huge smash for them. Such a great mix of zappy pop, infectious hooks, and seduction. That’s just one track in a collection of awesome electro-powered crushers that should make Phantogram a very deserved huge band.

To buy the album, go here: http://www.myplaydirect.com/phantogram

Woods of Desolation return with excellent ‘As the Stars’; Northern Silence explore other realms of black metal

D of Woods of Desolation

D of Woods of Desolation

Metal is there to make you feel many of the feelings, be that power, anger, energy, or even sadness. There are plenty of bands you can lump into any emotional category, enough that you can carve out an entire collection and adhere only to that music, which speaks even more highly of the varied approaches one can take to making this kind of music.

Depressive metal is pretty self-explanatory. There is sadness and darkness imbedded in the music, and you’re not really supposed to come away feeling good about yourself or your surroundings. It’s depressing, after all, and if you need a place to wallow and immerse yourself in negativity and tears, this is a great place to do it. I guess you can make a link to artists more on the suicidal bend of metal such as Xasthur and Lifelover if you will, but the intent isn’t necessarily to wallow in ending it all. It’s more to align with your own darkness and express it. Get it out. Maybe understand yourself more and feel a little better for the bloodletting.

Woods of Desolation coverOne band that’s done an amazing job of this is Australian black metal band Woods of Desolation, a group that really hasn’t gotten it’s due yet in North America but really could with their stunning new record “As the Stars.” This thing could unite fans of Alcest who wish the band still worked more in metal than shoegaze and those looking for something to go next to their Deafheaven records, as this thing easily should please both camps. That also marks a bit of an alteration for Woods of Desolation, because their music generally sounded very gritty, washed out, and completely murky, with the vocals buried deep in the mix. But on this one, I even have to wonder how depressive most people are going to find the album because it feels so utterly bathed in light. It feels like an album that’ll work perfectly with the coming days of spring, as we in the States crawl out of our frozen death and into new possibilities. I say all of this very positively, by the way, because I think the record is an absolute stunner. This is the best thing Woods of Desolation ever released, and even if it isn’t meant to feel brighter than their previous work, you can’t avoid that sentiment. It’s one hell of a great twist to the band.

Woods of Desolation is the brainchild of D, the guitarist and visionary for this project, who has led this project since its beginnings in 2005 and has surrounded himself with various musicians to help him achieve his visions. On this record, he is joined by vocalist Old (Drohtnung, Wardaemon), bassist Luke Mills (Drowning the Light, Nazgul), and drummer Vlad (Drudkh), who play their parts excellently. Specifically, Old really brings personality and passion to his vocal work (not a surprise, by the way) and is the ideal mouthpiece for what’s going on here.

The record begins with “Like Falling Leaves,” a melodic, surging track that up front emotionally and is a really great composition. This can make your heart flutter as it hits glorious highs and dark lows, and some of the vocals sound like they’re emerging from a thick mist, trying to lure you to somewhere mysterious. “Unfold” has a clean trickling intro that eventually lets blinding sun burst through and drench you. The vocals are a bit washed out, to give you a sense of detachment, the melodies and heartfelt and true, and the end gets a little mean with some gruff vocals that aim for clean but feel gritty. “And If All the Stars Faded Away” opens melancholic and tender before it ignites into metallic power, with thick, shrieky vocals, wholly emotional playing, and a finish that practically gushes colors of all sorts.

“This Autumn Light” opens with dark, clean guitars, gnashing vocals that go for the throat, drums that crush and bruise your body, and guitars that glow and blind you with beams of light and energy. “Anamnesis” is an instrumental that has a strong post-rock feel to it, an inviting tone that might embrace people beyond metal’s reach, synth that bleeds into the track, and plenty of ever-changing, evolving melodies. “Withering Field” has sing-songy growls, demonstrating Old’s ability to reach for approachability, and the guitar work just envelops and enraptures, showing both D’s creative imagination and penchant for bearing his soul with his playing. Closer “Ad Infinitum” begins with a poppy bend to it, with brighter shades and accessibility, and there is a large shoegaze influence to this track. Guitars surge once again, gleaming beams of power illuminate everything, and the track has an uplifting feel to it once it fades off into night. Maybe that’s not its intent, but that’s what I get out of it. I don’t have access to the lyrics, so it could be a total misread, but I know how the music makes me feel.

Woods of Desolation have another great album on their hands, but this one has a wider reach and could find the project swelling its audience if the music can reach enough people. This also is the tightest lineup the band has had, and it would be great to hear these same people make the next Woods of Desolation album. “As the Stars” is a record you should go out of your way to hear, and even if it is darkness you seek, you might find that a little light is good for the soul.

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

Northern Silence has a few more black metal-oriented releases out now, alongside of this killer Woods record. Here’s a quick capsule of each album, all of which are worth checking out.

Nasheim cover
Swedish band Nasheim finally are getting to us with their debut record, the wonderful “Solens vemod,” an album you might not understand lyrically since it’s all sung in their native tongue. But the music should have no problem penetrating. They offer up four tracks on this album that are all epic in length but make enough twists and turns to keep things interesting and compelling. There are elements of doom and post-rock included as well, and the vocals delivered by Erik Grahn are full of passion and anguish. Murky melodies, destructive songs, and a sense of dread and sorrow are there in full, making this one black, compelling listen.

For more on the band, go here: http://nasheim.bandcamp.com/album/solens-vemod

Ered WetherinEred Wethrin (named after the Mountains of Shadows in Middle-Earth) might sound like a strange beast out of a strange forest in some undiscovered land, but they’re actually from Salt Lake City, Utah, a place that has exploded in the past few years as far as metal is concerned. Their new “Tides of War” is full of Tolkien-worshipping fantasy, melody, and wonder, with the raw, creaky vocals of sole member Sven Smith making it sound like Gollum is going to climb out of your headphones and onto your chest. These songs span the 10-year life of this project and waste no time capturing your imagination. There’s a symphonic element to what this group does, but it’s far more in the Summoning sense than, say, Dimmu Borgir Disneyland weirdness. It was worth the wait finally getting a record from this project, and hopefully there’s a lot more from this folklore-inspired artist in the future.

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

Emyn Muil cover
In the same vein as Ered Wethrin come Emyn Muil (named after the rocky hills near Rohan), a one-man black metal force from Italy that actually manages to take the Summoning thing a little further and delve fully into what I lovingly call Zelda metal (just because I can imagine hearing this while being killed over and over again as Link). There are keyboards galore, plenty of fantasy influences all around, and vocals that can sound almost chant-like at times. Northern Silence is reissuing the band’s 2013 effort “Turin Turambar Dagnir Glaurunga” so that more people can revel in this Tolkien-heavy, epic wonder, and yeah, it might sound a little cheeky to those who need their black metal all serious and sinister. But if you like a sense of adventure in your music and don’t mind feeling like you’re about to soar on the wings of a dragon, you will find a lot to like about this band and this record.

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

To buy any of these records, go here: http://shop.northern-silence.de/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.northern-silence.de/

Thrash survivors Hirax keep firing away, come back with explosive new ‘Immortal Legacy’

Hirax
To carve out a long, meaningful career in thrash metal, one has to be a survivor. Think about some of the thrash bands out there that have been toiling in hardship, covering their elbows in grease, and pounding the pavement just to get their band and their music out to the people. Unless you’re Metallica, Anthrax, or Slayer, that’s not easy task.

But there have been some great underground thrash bands that have had their levels of success but aren’t household names like the ones mentioned above. I’m talking about groups like Destruction, Exodus, Overkill, Forbidden, and Onslaught that refused to give up on their dreams and their passion for playing thrash metal, and they helped lay the foundation for the newer bands out there who are trying to live up to their histories. Another band you can add to that list is California thrashers Hirax, whose frontman Katon W. De Pena is the dictionary definition as a survivor in this form of music, and who keep going strong three decades after formation.

Hirax coverHirax’s run also has been one that’s had its ups and downs, with a long layoff that essentially took them out of the 1990s (which really wasn’t a thrash golden era anyway), and they only have five full-length records on their resume. Hirax got started in 1982, with their first record “Raging Violence” arriving three years later by way of Metal Blade. They followed up with a 16-minute sophomore effort “Hate, Fear, and Power” in 1986, and only a few years later, they would go on hiatus. The band was revived in 2000, with two EPs leading up to their third full-length “The New Age of Terror,” with the irreplaceable De Pena remaining as the only member from the band’s first era, but that certainly didn’t do anything to curb the band’s intensity. A few more EPs followed, then in 2009, we got their fourth full-length “El Rostro de la Muerte.” The band kept rolling live, building up their audience, pushing out the thrash goodness, and offering up a rock-solid compilation “Noise Chaos War,” a series of splits and singles, and now finally their fifth LP “Immortal Legacy” that should only solidify their standing.

If you’ve been into Hirax during their entire run, this new record will be right up your alley. De Pena sounds as awesome and in command as ever before, with his unique vocals that pay homage to both thrash and power metal, and having him in front of this band is all that matters. But that’s not to take away from his bandmates, who certainly bring it hard on this record, including guitarists Lance Harrison and Mike Guerrero (who joined the fold in 2011), bassist Steve Harrison, and drummer Jorge Iacobellis. They’ve also been working hard and non-stop to bring Hirax to more people, and to enhance the band’s efforts on this record, they brought in noted axe men Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies, Fishbone), Juan Garcia (Agent Steel, Abattoir), and Jim Durkin (Dark Angel, Dreams of Damnation) to add their expert lead work and make “Immortal Legacy” an even stronger record. As a longtime devotee to the thrash era of the 1980s, in which I grew up, this record is a total blast of fun and puts a giant smile on my face.

“Black Smoke” begins with a tape speeding up, bombs detonating, and the band kicking you right in the ass with their power. The chorus is a killer based on De Pena’s charisma and delivery, and the sirens that ring out make it sound like all hell is breaking loose. “Hellion Rising” begins with just singing that leads into a massive thrash assault that absolutely trucks, visions of the coming apocalypse, and more rock-solid guitar work that is a staple of this record. “Victims of the Dead” has a massive tempo that positively kills, with De Pena howling, “Release the victims of the dead!” and more tremendous soloing, which isn’t exactly a surprise. “Thunder Roar, the Conquest, la Boca de la Bestia – The Mouth of the Beast” sure is a hell of a mouthful of a title, and it opens with some classic metallic guitar work before the thrash erupts. De Pena is awesome on this track, with him observing, “The overlord rises on wings of steel,” and the rest of the band just sets fire to everything and lets it burn gloriously. “Earthshaker” is a cool guitar-centric interlude that rolls into “Tied to the Gallows Pole,” where engines roar, melodies capture you, and De Pena singing about iron fists and beating back the opposition.

“Deceiver” has a riffy intro, total punishment, and screamier, more high-pitched vocals that is one of De Pena’s staples. Seriously, the guy has been at this so long, and his voice sounds as strong as ever before. The title track is a perfect anthem for the band at this point, and the vocals really sell the hell out of this thing. “S.O.W.” is a short interlude piece that feeds into “Violence of Action” that is fast and aggressive, with De Pena urging attack and “engage the enemy,” as the rest of the band fills the space with smoking chaos, great guitar work, and constant hammering. “Atlantis (Journey to Atlantis)” is a cool bass-led instrumental that gives way to the explosive finale “The World Will Burn,” with guitars erupting and surging brightly. De Pena gives his final calls, with the rest of the band shouting “Suffer the World!” over the tumultuous chorus. Now, if you get the vinyl or digital version of this record, you get another track. But my promo ends here, so that last one will remain a mystery for now. I’ll be seeking it out for sure.

Hirax always deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as bands like Testament, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, and Megadeth, and it’s a tribute to their toughness, hearts, and desire to keep hammering audiences. And here they remain making great records in 2014. “Immortal Legacy” hopefully can be a literal thing for Hirax, a record that can get more people aware of what these guys do so well and more cognizant of their thunderous history. This band deserves to be in more homes, in more ears, and always be mentioned any time the great thrash bands of all time are discussed. Because they are one.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.spv.de/_BRIDGE/products.php?product=265232

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Horror-filled ‘Consolamentum’ is smoking high point for The Wounded Kings

Wounded KingsI always find it a little weird when metal bands call their shows “live rituals,” and as times goes on, more and more groups are doing this. I mean, they’re shows. Right? I guess bands see their craft as being something as an offertory thing so some force or another, but I always see them as ust shows. No offense, everyone.

Yet, when I hear English doom metal band The Wounded Kings, I start to change my mind a bit about that whole ritual concept. Their music doesn’t just sound like slowly delivered, occult-driving doom that many other bands work in these days. Their songs always sound like something more, something darker, something far more evil and sinister. That’s especially been the case since vocalist Sharie Neyland joined the fold and added her powerful, mesmerizing voice to the band’s caldron of murk. Her first work with the band on 2011’s awesome “In the Chapel of the Black Hand” gave us an initial idea of just how special she could be fronting The Wounded Kings, but with the arrival of their new, fourth record “Consolamentum” (their first for Candlelight Records) that promise has been delivered like a ton of bricks. She is the bonafide star of this band (not to take away from the rest of the members, who we’ll discuss momentarily), and every word that drips from her mouth entrances and chills. She’s an awesome force who has very few legitimate peers in the doom metal world.

CANDLE415CD_BOOKLET.inddAs noted, the rest of the band certainly lifts this band up as well and do a fantastic job keeping this dripping in horror and spookiness. Alan Kearney handles guitars, as does Steve Mills, who also adds piano and organ to the mix and is the one member who has been around since the beginning of the band. Al Eliadis handles the low end on bass, and quite capably might I add, while Mike Heath rounds out the lineup on drums. There definitely is a sense of Black Sabbath, Cathedral, and St. Vitus to what this band does, so you’re getting a nice dose of the traditional sounds, but they also could play along fellow modern artists such as Electric Wizard, Windhand, and Occultation and fit right into the mix. That is, if they don’t overshadow all of those bands.

The record opens with the 13:20-long epic “Gnosis,” a track that unfurls slowly and with a purpose, conjuring magic and slow-simmering sounds in the first few minutes, then unleashing molten guitars and crunch, with Neyland finally making her first appearance nearly five minutes into the cut. She sees the devil, battles “temptation and desire,” and delivers that imagery like it’s literally happening as she sings. The song stays on pace and keep telling its tale until the final minute when the band kicks up the pace and crushes to the finish. “Lost Bride” is flat-out chilling, feeling like a song that could be pulled from an old 1950s, black-and-white horror film, with Neyland calling, “I am yours, and you are mine,” in a voice so icily detached, she sounds as if in a trance. The melodies are sweeping, the punishment righteous, and it’s a song that’ll easily capture your imagination. “Elige Magistrum” is an interlude that brings the first half to a close with smoking guitar work that practically coats your lungs.

The title track, all 9:08 of it, kicks off the second portion of the record, fading in from the darkness and hitting on tasty guitar riffs and organs that set the mood and keep you from entering the light. “How long must we wait before the dark?” Neyland asks, as the band goes from doomy mauling into acoustic guitars, more heavy, goth-style organs, and a wave of emotion that grips. “Space Conqueror” is a cool cosmic western instrumental that moves into “The Silence,” a 12:14 scorcher that opens with a slow-driving pace and some of the more interesting melodies on the record. Neyland sings of “genocide on a dark mountainside,” letting you know immediately this will be bloody, while the band hits on long stretches of haunting doom that boils and drones, sets a suffocating atmosphere, and pulls you through the night. Organs are resurrected in the last few minutes of the song, everything washes out into space, and then the band returns to the surface with melodic hammering, heart-wrenching vocals that’ll leave your jaw dropped, and a fantastic psychedelic finish. Closer “Sacrifice” is an instrumental outro with solemn passages, strong guitar work, and freezing sentiments that work as the perfect finish for this amazing record.

We have had a lot of great doom metal the past few years, so much so that we all should feel thankful and fortunate that we’ve been blessed with such a bounty. That said, The Wounded Kings have come in and re-established themselves as one of the leaders, and with their new association with Candlelight, they should reach a much larger audience that they definitely deserve. “Consolamentum” is a major coming-out party for an otherworldly vocal talent like Neyland, and for an incredible doom force like The Wounded Kings. If you’re a fan of this style of music, do not hesitate to put down money for the vinyl (its proper medium) and let this thing totally entrance you. No way you’ll regret the investment in such an incredible document.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.manicmusiconline.com/

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

Montreal’s Hopeless Youth bring violent energy, fresh ideas on killer debut ‘Disgust’

Hopeless Youth bandIt’s a great feeling being able to put on a record and immediately getting yourself caught up in what the band is doing. In my myriad of complaints about modern music well documented on this site, this is another thing that doesn’t happen to me nearly often enough, so when a band that can conjure that experience comes along, it’s something I don’t take lightly.

Tackling “Disgust,” the debut full-length from hardcore-minded Montreal band Hopeless Youth, led to me being overtaken by the band’s power pretty much immediately. You can just feel in their music that they mean every little ounce, and their passionate delivery will grab you by the neck and pull you under if you’re not careful. Their youthful exuberance comes across in waves, but they also have a tenacity and execution that bands in the business for years, putting out heartless record after heartless record, would love to capture in a bottle. Comparisons? Think Converge, Heartless, Cursed. You could imagine this band taking over a small show–in a club, in a living room, wherever–and making it feel like it’s a much bigger thing than it is. That’s not something every band can do, and Hopeless Youth’s grasp of this seems to indicate that the more ears they get their music in, the larger the audience is going to grow. This group sounds like they’d fit nicely on the Deathwish Inc. roster, but Candlelight Records wisely snapped them up (they’ll make nice labelmates with Earth Crisis) and are putting out this dynamic debut. Great move.

8_PAGE_BOOKLET.inddYou’ll notice vocalist Julien Gauthieer right away, as his energy, forceful shouts, and strong enunciation make him someone you must pay your total attention, and I can only imagine the volatility he provides the band live. Along with him are guitarists Denis Desfoges and John Donnelly, bassist Anthony Harrison, and drummer Yann Therrien, a band that certainly feeds off hardcore strains but also adds elements of death metal, punk, post-punk, and post-rock to the sound so that there’s both explosiveness and variety. The band also wisely gives you 10 tracks that are over in just 27 minutes, so there’s enough here to capture your attention, but they know how to give you the right serving and not bloat themselves.

The record opens fittingly with “Battlefield,” a raucous dose of melodic hardcore that’s energetic, catchy, and driven hard by the throaty, raspy vocals. That song washes out and leads right into “Ghost,” a song you may have heard on some corner of the Internet, as it’s thrashy, gnarly, and snotty, with vicious riffs, maniacal power, and a deadly breakdown that could get your face punched. “We Were Told” opens with some blast beats, as the song is fast and crunchy, with Gauthieer shouting diatribes such as, “Crack open my skull so I wouldn’t think.” The song eventually chills a bit and lets a nice post-rock edge slip in. “Rain of Arrows” pretty much enters, destroys you, and leaves before you know what hit you, while “Faithless” has imagery of “drowning in frozen water,” confrontational thrashiness, and even some atmosphere that lets you have a few breaths of fresh air before they go for your throat with one final burst.

“Failure” kicks in with some post-punk stylings, letting them explore their darker melodic side, but then its gets sludgy and doom-infested, with some interesting melodies, and a final gasp filled with harsh growls. “Burnt Offering” is the most metallic track on the record, as they delve unabashedly into crushing death metal territory before they launch into punk-fueled aggression. There is plenty of noise and feedback to batter your eardrums, and Gauthieer’s vocals reach a crazed, unhinged level. “Divided United” explodes out of the gates, with forceful shouts and more hardcore punishment, and that leads into “Hellhounds,” another track that does not waste time spitting shrapnel. The song is violent but melodic, with inflamed vocals that include revealing lines such as, “When you look closer, the scars go deeper.” The record ends with “Abomination” that rises out of a pocket of noise and then runs headlong into awesome riffing and strong melodies that swell amid the carnage. Gauthieer repeatedly howls, “Walk the line!” as the band crafts another world-bursting breakdown that develops organically and should make all the blood in your body hit an instant boil. Awesome finish to a really strong debut.

Hopeless Youth are a definite bright spot for modern hardcore and proof that there are bands that are not interested in painting by the numbers and doing things according to some sort of time-honored formula. How refreshing. They are explosive, infectious, and the absolute real deal, and if they keep coming up with records as strong as “Disgust,” they could become standard bearers in very short order.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.manicmusiconline.com/

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

Dephosphorus’ astrogrind makes for compelling, punishing fun on ‘Ravenous Solemnity’

DephosphorusPutting on a record and immediately, and perhaps even loudly, wondering, “What the hell is going on here?” isn’t something that happens all the time. A major reason for that is not enough bands are bold enough to take chances anymore, and another is so many artists play it close to the vest and don’t want to do something that might aggravate a listener.

I don’t think metallic wackos Dephosphorus even have a word that means “safe” in the universe from which they hail. Oh sure, they claim Athens, Greece, as their hometown, but that’s got to be a front. No band that claims their style as “astrogrind” and that have a record as damaging and as warped as their second effort “Ravenous Solemnity” can possibly be drawing oxygen through human lungs. Or maybe I’m just buying into the whole thing because it’s so damn convincing. Either way, this band actually has come up with something fresh in a world that has seen and heard every idea already. I mean, OK, they’re not reinventing music or anything. They still adhere to grindcore, death, black, and doom metal, but they combine it all in a way that works so great, you wonder if they really are operating on a level above what we humans can comprehend. And if that’s the case, please send more bands like you. It’ll make a scribe’s job a hell of a lot easier.

dephosphorus coverAbove how interesting their amalgamation of sounds happens to be on “Ravenous Solemnity,” their follow-up to 2012’s “Night Sky Transform,” and how well the band gels and carries out these ambitious ideas, there’s a crazy person howling over top of all of this who will cause you to drop what you’re doing and tilt your head. The closest comparison I can make to who vocalist Panos Agoros sounds like is Lemongrab from “Adventure Time,” and I don’t mean that as an insult. He happens to be one of my favorite cartoon characters going. Agoros has that same unbridled rage, high-pitched shrieking unreasonableness, and a way about how he delivers what he’s saying that you wonder if his eyes are bulging out and he’s reaching for your neck. But we also need to pay respect to the other folks supplying this insanity, including guitarist Thanos Mantas and new drummer John Votsis (Dodsferd, Ravencult, etc.) who joined the fold in 2013. These guys are really onto something, and this record is one that, even if it gnaws on your nerves a bit (I love the thing, but I can understand how it could grate some), you’re never going to be anything but morbidly and wholly invested and interested.

“Reversed Into Contraction” opens the record with proggy death metal, those crazed shrieks I mentioned (they are just inhuman, which fits the idea, no?), and a sense of morbid adventure, and that works into “There Is a Color,” with more harsh vocals, a punk flavor to the riffs, and eventually a violent, chewy section of grind that takes the song out. “Ancient Drone” has more frenetic riffing that blows up into a fury, only to run headlong into a murky cloud of doom metal, and “Dark on Dark” is propulsive, fast, and punishing, getting in and out quickly but definitely making its point. “Astrocyte Portal” is a weird one and is one of the most alien-style tracks on this record, as it has its violence, yes, but it really peaks in its final moments when the music evens out, drone rises, and detached, clean vocals emerge, warbling and creating a nightmare state. “Storming the Sloan Wall” has a nice infusion of hardcore-tinged violence, but it also has its share of meaty riffs, strong melodies, and drums that crush, while “False Vacuum” is unhinged, with near blast beats, insane vocals, and outright chaos.

The title track settles into a doomy, filthy groove, playing more on sludge and muddiness, which is a nice change of pace, and that leads into “Towards the Cold, Mysterious Infinity” that has a mystical, chilling start before it blows up in your face and rages. “Hammer of Logic” has more powerful guitar work, crazed grindcore storming, and eventually a slow, weirded-out ending, followed by “A Fountain of Daggers” that’s packed with eerie prog death, raspy shrieks, and strange voices calling out from the darkness. “Buried Alive in Obsolescence” has a Krallice feel at the beginning, with a strange, science lab black metal atmpsphere that eventually melts into punishing thrash and grind. This is a great example of how this band can pull together so many diverse elements and make them seem as if they always belonged together. “Glorification of the Anti-Life Equation” is blistering and strange, with tricky guitar playing, some infernal wildness, and eventually a slowdown that gets airy and, dare I say, introspective. The record closes with “Vicious Infinite Regress,” that kind of pulls everything back together again and gives one last blast of what these guys do so well, from punchy, pushy tempos, to maniacal shrieks, to rough speed thrash that could get you blasted in the mouth. Great finish to a record that always keeps you wondering what explosive pocket of stars they’ll explore next.

Dephosphorus sure make outer space and grinding through the cosmos a pretty damn good time, and they certainly seem like a band that is capable of just about anything. They do so many things so well, and they always figure out a way to make all of those volatile parts work together. “Ravenous Solemnity” is a mind-blower of a record that proves this band fears no borders or lands unexplored, and once they get there and plant their flag in those regions, they are going to dominate everything.

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

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

Or here: http://www.7degrees-records.de/Bestellen-/Order

More more on the label, go here: http://handshakeinc.com/

And here: http://www.7degrees-records.de/