Grind masters Gridlink deliver mind-melting last will and testament on savage ‘Longhena’

Photo by Scott Kinkade

Photo by Scott Kinkade

There’s something to be said about going out on top. Apparently it’s not easy to do, because so few people do it, but the ones who recognize it’s time seem to be able to pass into their next project or phase of life ever so gracefully. It’s a lesson a band like Queensryche–all 47 versions of them–could learn a little something about.

Had the members of beloved grindcore outfit Gridlink not decided to call it a day as a band, it would be hard to imagine anyone complaining or accusing them of staying around too long. After all, on three releases, the band has hardly enough material combined to fill, say, the length of one Iron Maiden record. But this is grind, and the atmosphere is so much different in this genre, so this isn’t some kind of surprise. Nor is it an accusation of a lack of material, because even though their albums are so damn short, they always packed a wallop and have become some of the most beloved grindcore releases in the modern era. They were just that good.

12-inch-jacketLast year, through a series of social media posts, the band indicated it no longer would be going forward as a unit. It was said that guitarist Takafumi Matsubara wanted to move on from playing grindcore, which is understandable since it’s an exhausting effort and might not provide the creative outlet that he truly needed. As for the rest of the members, certainly committing to this style has to be draining. But they did indicate another record was a possibility, and we now have that monstrous thing with their third, and final, effort “Longhena.” From it’s hefty (for them) running time of 22 minutes, to its weirdly futuristic cover (a woman seemingly prepared for space battle, rather than the Kabuki figure that graced their last two), to the savage intensity we’ve all come to expect from the band, the band put its best foot forward for their final record, one that’ll leaving us wanting more even though we know we’ll likely never get that.

Vocalist Jon Chang is well known from his time fronting grind pioneers Discordance Axis, another band cut short at what seemed to be its creative apex, as well as the decidedly thrashier Hayaino Daisuki, who we haven’t heard from since 2010. His vocals are unmistakable, screamy, in your face, but always strangely in control. Matsubara (also in Hayaino Daisuki, as well as several other bands) is an integral member on guitars, as his playing is imaginative, all over the map, and dominant in so many forms of metal that he weaves into the music that it would be impossible to imagine this band without him. Rounding out the lineup on this record are bassist Teddy Patterson III (also of Hayaino Daisuki, as well as a former member of Burnt By the Sun and Human Remains) and drummer Bryan Fajardo (Kill the Client, Noisear, Phobia), who make their explosive presences known. Recorded over five days in Japan, the band struck while the iron was hot and pumped out 14 crushing tracks that, if these really are the final we ever hear from Gridlink, certainly will make for a fitting epitaph.

The record opens with “Constant Autumn,” a track that has a weird prog-like start before it ignites into a grinding assault complete with Chang’s banshee-like wails and even some well-placed melody over the chorus. “The Last Raven” is one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss it cuts that lands, crushes, and takes off, making for a strange lead-in to “Thirst Watcher,” an instrumental track featuring violinist Joey Molinaro (Pittsburgh/Brooklyn-based player who is no stranger to grind, since he has played Discordance Axis songs during performances). The song is swirling, cool, and spacey, a total departure for the band. Then “Stay Without Me” blows up righteously, throwing shrapnel in your face as Matsubara weaves a little bit of power metal glory into this track, and it’s another that’s as catchy as it is violent. “Taibas” is like a fire flash, with tricky guitars and pulverizing drums, and that’s followed by “Retract Perdition,” that has some black metal melodies, a tempo that stomps guts, and Chang going off with some of his wildest shrieks. “The Dodonpachi” then rises up, does its damage with equal amounts of speed and melody, and then fizzles out in smoke.

“Black Prairie” is blinding and panic-inducing, with authoritative vocals, mathy guitar work, drums laying waste to everything, and the band hitting a severe chugging pace as the track draws to its close. “Island Sun,” one of the longest cuts on here at 2:32, also infuses black metal majesty into the scene, with plenty of crunching intensity but also some atmospheric pockets that give you some breath before you’re trampled undertow. “Chalk Maple” goes back to outright violence, with deeper, deathier growls that very well could be coming from guest vocalist Paul Pavlovich of Assuck. “Wartime Exception Law 205” is one of the shortest cuts on the record, and it reeks of death and manic frothing at the mouth. “Ketsui” is completely insane but also impressively experimental, with more black metal touches and melodies that should make your head tilt. The title track is built on swirling guitars, crazed vocals, and even some calculated, thrash-infested sections that are meaty and mauling. The closer “Look to Windward” is your epic at 3:11, with guitars hellbent on achieving speed, tricky compositions, more cutting violin, portions that sound inspired by classical music, and more catchy bits that’ll get your heart racing.

Although only 22 minutes long, “Longhena” is an exhausting record just because of all the twists, turns, earthquakes, and intensity. You definitely get your fill. In many ways it’s a very surprising Gridlink album because of all of the added colors they put into their music, but they always were a creative band, opening their reaches well into the future. It’s a sad feeling knowing we won’t be getting anymore live Gridlink appearances nor recorded output, but at least the band went out on top, when they still were operating with breathtaking precision. You have to respect and appreciate that they felt their time had come to call it quits, and they went out with a hellacious, world-smashing bang.

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Artificial Brain unleash space madness, sci-fi-style horror on ‘Labyrinth Constellation’

Artificial Brain coverI love watching old outer space movies, preferably in black and white, because they’re so bizarre, claustrophobic, and unquestionably fun to watch. Nothing good possibly could come from being in deep space, and there’s sure to be carnage at some point, with forces beyond people’s control coming to kill.

It’s equally as great when a band comes along and makes music that gives off that same chilling feeling. Voivod were masters of that (their mascot is an intergalactic warrior who goes through space on a conquest) and still can instill those thoughts today. And a new band Artificial Brain has come along whose members also have their minds in the skies and beyond. They go past dead stars and undiscovered planets (at least by Earthlings), bring their own damage along the way, and work to separate themselves from the rest of the modern death metal crop simply from their strange sound and brutal approach. It’s like space movie gone wrong, where the heroes die horrible deaths on screen and aliens extend their tentacles to choke out humanity. That’s it. No happy ending, and no golden boy to shoot into the stratosphere and saves us all.

It’s not that Artificial Brain are onto something completely different with their debut record “Labyrinth Constellation,” but they certainly are one of the more interesting, thought-provoking death metal bands to come along recently. I’d make loose comparisons to bands such as Gorguts, Gigan, Krallice, and Demilich (more on that later), but it’s not like Artificial Brain sound exactly like any of those bands. The guitar work, courtesy of Dan Gargiulo (Revocation) and Jon Locastro, is devastating and exploratory, giving you a dose of their incredible prowess and machine-like brutality. The bass playing is rubber-band dexterous, popping and bending all over the place, proving how good and imaginative Samuel Smith is. The clubbing drumming from Keith Abrami works perfectly, and the guttural vocals from Will Smith is gurgling and deep, almost like that of Antti Bowman of aforementioned Demilich (which makes sense since Smith was in a group called Biolich that basically worshipped the Finnish technical monsters). In fact, if there’s one thing that may keep some away from the band, it’s the vocals. I tend to be hot and cold on this style, but I like Smith’s work, as it’s not just cliched pig squeals he brings to the table. He has a force and a presence vocally that, to me, sets him apart from the rest of these types of vocalists. Maybe you’ll feel differently, but don’t let it scare you away.

The record opens with a sci-fi basher “Brain Transplant,” starting like a strange downtuned engine before the band explodes with a force, with belchy growls and spindly, technically wicked playing dominating the situation. That leads into “Absorbing Black Ignition,” an off-kilter, mind-altering track full of thrash and crunch, with the vocals going into screaming hisses. The bass snaps like a dragon’s tongue, and strange organs freeze you and carry the track to its ending. “Wired Opposites” is more atmospheric, letting you have a few gasps of oxygen, with the music bubbling over, and the vocals remaining in their gurgling, brutal fashion. It’s a really compelling track, one that demonstrates how they’re operating on a creativity level a step above many modern death bands. “Worm Harvester” begins in ugly fashion, then it evolves into musical gloop and a ton of tempo changes that keeps you guessing as it progresses. “Frozen Planet” also is an adventurous one, with tricky playing, cosmic mentalities, and a tempo that keeps ramping up as it goes on, with Smith’s vocals reaching into screamy madness.

“Orbital Gait” completely erupts from the start, with a faster pace, drums that aim to break every bone in your body, and more playing that easily should capture your attention. There even are some vocals that reach more toward yelling than growling, which is a nice change of pace. “Bastard Planet” is gruff and raspy, with the fellows going all over the place with their playing and creating a dizzying pace, and a finish that is bashing and mashing with spastic guitar work. The title cut is prog-minded and menacing, with a nice robotic noise glaze at the finish, which leads to “Hormone’s Echo.” That track has a calculated, massive pace, with tortured wails, guitar static feeling like cosmic interference, strange echoes, and further mind-altering playing that should twist your brain. Closer “Moon Funeral,” the longest cut at 7:01, starts with plenty of atmosphere and dreamy sequences before it corrodes and gets massively heavy. The vocals maintain their belchy, deep, monstrous tones, the playing is slurry and drunken in spots, they eventually slip into areas of complete destruction, and the finish is raucous and violent.

Artificial Brain shouldn’t worry about impressing with their playing, because only an idiot would not realize how strong these guys are individually and as a band. Sort of like Demilich, they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who love this style of sci-fi-washed, technical death metal, chances are going you’re going to be thrilled to death. I’m interested in seeing where this band goes in the future and how and if things change up musically or they get weirder. There’s a ton of potential here on “Labyrinth Constellation” that should hit home with anyone else who have nightmare of floating through deep space with only death as a certainty.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Thou return with ‘Heathen,’ a devastating statement that’s sobering

Photo by Mary Manchester

Photo by Mary Manchester

Each year, there are those monumental releases that you wait for, devour once they’re in your grasp, and roll around in your head for weeks as you try to determine what it means to the world and, most importantly, to your own experience. We’re so very lucky to have one of those for you today, perhaps my personal most-anticipated record of 2014.

We have not gotten a full-length record from Baton Rouge, La., sludge/doom band Thou since 2010’s incredible “Summit,” a record I specifically remember hearing for the first time on my way home from work, after a particularly brutal day, and being overwhelmed by the depth of the music. I recall e-mailing label owner Adam Bartlett on my way home (at a red light, of course, by how blown away I was by the record, and that feeling remains to this day). Part of the reason for that reaction is because I already was a major fan of their first two full-lengths “Tyrant” and “Peasant,” and the song “Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean” has been my favorite track in their discography. Well, until now. The advancements I heard were just profound.

HeathenIn late March, “Heathen,” the fourth full-length record from Thou, arrives. Just having the music in my possession was cause for great elation, and the first trip through it was practically ceremonial. This band has meant a lot to me ever since they came to my attention when their first album was released, and to me, they are the most important doom metal band out there right now. I don’t know the band personally, but from having read some of their interviews, I’m sure they’ll brush off that statement and keep forging forward with the menace and hunger they’ve always had inside of them, but for me, modern doom begins and ends with them. There are no other bands that make me feel inside my soul what this band makes me experience, and there are very few vocalists who can match the intensity and boiling humanity of Bryan Funck, who enunciates as well as any vocalist in metal. You feel and experience every word and phrase, and the lyrics are something worth poring over for hours, which is especially the case with “Heathen.” In fact, if you want to check out the words in advance of hearing the music, go to the band’s site (listed below), and you can read them for yourself. But as impactful as they read, they gain a million pounds when delivered by Funck.

I also have been a little hesitant and intimidated to write this review, because after having fully digested “Heathen” after so many listens, I want to make sure I do justice to this record. It is yet another gigantic leap forward for Thou, their most-realized record to date, and one of the best doom-based records I have heard in a long time. Having the respect and admiration I have for Thou, I also was nervous taking on the album because I didn’t want to be disappointed. That notion washed away immediately as I realized I was in the grasp of a document people will remember for years and that for sure will be in my personal collection until the day I die. I know those words sound hyperbolic, but I’ve had ample time to weigh these thoughts and figure out exactly how I feel about “Heathen.” It’s a triumph on every level, as it revels in subject matter such as agony, steadfastly living in the present and rejecting any notion of future or everlasting existence, sexual frustration, the power of nature, and so much more.

“Heathen” opens in as calculating a manner as possible with 14:32 “Free Will,” as the band lets sounds build, makes tensions, rise, and sets the stage for the song’s water bursting several minutes in when Funck howls, “Open your eyes and exalt, exalt in this fragile world!” This is where he directs your attention to living in the now, making the best uses of the resources you have in front of you, because who knows when your number is up? The song has some incredible ups and down, some pits of vicious sludge, and when Funck growls, “There is no such thing as time, there is no such thing as negation,” the hairs on your arms can’t help but rise. “Dawn” is an interlude, one of three instrumental cuts on this record, and it leads into “Feral Fawn,” that begins with quiet guitars from Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium (their work complements each other perfectly), that leads into a punishing outburst, with animalistic vocals, and emotional playing by all members (including bassist Mitch Wells and drummer Josh Nee), with the final two minutes of the track burning particularly brightly. “Into the Marshlands” feels mournful at its start, and out of that grows molten, infectious melodies. Funck observes the decaying influence of urban areas and humankind’s journey further and further away from nature, as he commands, “We must return to the womb, to the heart of vitality, wherein lies the strength, the marrow, the pulsating blood.” It’s hard not to be affected by those lines and the fact that everything he says hits home for me. “Clarity” then trickles in, another interlude, to take you to the second half of the album.

“At the Foot of Mount Driskill,” a reference to Louisiana’s highest natural summit, is yet another piece admiring the hugeness and majesty of nature and realizing our smallness in comparison. The song drives slowly, as guitars conjure a foggy feeling, and the whole band works to just drub you. There are cleaner melodies lurking underneath all the crunch, and, as usual, Funck grasps the subject matter by the throat and delivers his words with humble conviction. “In Defiance of the Sages” also is clubbing and nasty, as Funck once again demands existence in the presence and eschews those who live too much in the past and too far into the future to be productive and meaningful right now. It’s a powerful message we all could use. “Take Off Your Bones and Dance In Your Bones,” is a longer instrumental piece that is clean, dreamy, and buzzing. Then comes “Immortality Dictates,” a song that is one of my favorites in their history and rivals aforementioned “Chained.” The song is gorgeous in spots, and sobering, as Funck’s companion Emily provides vocals that are as sobering as they are lovely. Of course, the song itself is damaging after it grows out of its deathrock-style opening, as it moves and grinds at you, with vocals sounding like they’re right in your face. Again there are reminders of the present, as well as the unmet desires that can torture, and the refusal to live freely within those wants and needs. Toward the end, Emily calls, “You know that I love you, here and now, not forever. I can give you the present. I don’t know about the future.” It’s just an amazing song. Closer “Ode to Physical Pain,” just like the opener, takes its time to bloom, with a quiet, humming introduction, and a Western feel to the music before it ignites. The song is bludgeoning but also solemn and melodic, and as the track goes on, the band builds layers of burly, dark, filthy playing that works perfectly, with Funck insisting, “Lasting wisdom only exists in abandoned fields, in the dusty swamp, on the burnt out plains, on the desolate hillside.” It’s one final massive dose of reality for a record overflowing with it, for the good.

Thou’s power and meaning is unmeasurable, and their influence on modern doom and sludge metal might not be completely at hand yet, but it will be soon. A record like “Heathen” should stop the world in its tracks, should cause other artists to take notice, and should make listeners rejoice in having a document so heavy, honest, and true. This band is one of the most important going right now, and they are a true representation of the spirit of the underground, and a group that has plenty of personal meaning to me. All hail “Heathen,” a record that already has a ridiculous head start toward the best metal recording of 2014.

For more on the band, go here:

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Helms Alee keep things punchy, interesting, and all-inclusive with ‘Sleepwalking Sailors’

helms alee
Seattle has plenty to be excited about these days, what with their professional tackle football team prevailing in the Super Bowl, a game highlighted by me blowing out a tire and damaging my car in the process while driving home during halftime. Remember how I said it’s been a bad week? So yeah, they’re all pretty happy right now, and rightfully so.

But there’s another reason Seattle folk should be excited, because yet another awesome band from that area is back with a new record, that being “Sleepwalking Sailors,” the third full-length from Helms Alee. Here’s a band that really should be better known by now, and maybe this great new 11-track record will get the job done. The band is heavy enough to appeal to a metal audience (they’re touring alongside Russian Circles and Inter Arma, but sadly they won’t be on the version of the bill hitting my hometown), yet they also are melodic and approachable enough to appeal to fans of modern rock and roll and indie rock. I always found their records a lot of fun, and their sophomore album 2011 “Weatherhead” is on still in heavy rotation at my house today.

helms alee coverThe story of “Sleepwalking Soldiers” is pretty interesting. Helms Alee used to be on Hydra Head, the incredibly eclectic label founded by Aaron Turner responsible for releasing music by bands such as Oxbow, ISIS, Torche, Cave In, Daughters, Jesu, and plenty more. But Hydra Head announced they no longer would be releasing new music, so Helms Alee found they needed another label home. They started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of “Sleepwalking,” and eventually, Sargent House came into the picture and decided to release the album. That’s a big move for the band, as Sargent House has a pretty great reputation for putting out strong, adventurous music by artists including Chelsea Wolfe, Boris, and Marriages, and perhaps this is what will help them get into more ears and their records into way more homes. They totally deserve it, as they’ve been working hard and making great music for years.

The band formed in 2007, combining Ben Verellen (Harkonen, These Arms Are Snakes) on bass and vocals, Dana James on guitars and vocals, and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis on drums and vocals. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach, especially vocally (seeing as that everyone gets a chance), and that’s a formula they’ve always made work quite well. Their first full-length “Night Terror” dropped on Hydra Head a year after their formation, and their aforementioned “Weatherhead” arrived three years later, showing a band that had progressed dramatically as players and performers, but still had the weird, mathy quirks that helped make them special. They also offered up a few smaller releases last year, including splits with Ladder Devils and Tacos!, keeping them in their followers’ minds while we waited for their third full-length. Now, two years after their last long player, Helms Alee keep improving as a unit, and they’ve never sounded as good as they do on “Sleepwalking Soldiers.”

“Pleasure Center” opens with swollen feedback, liquidy riffs, and Verellen howling on vocals (he actually handles the bulk of the lead duties on the record). It’s a buzzing, gruff song, and it’s a blast of energy. “Tumescence” is sludgy and metallic, with lush backing vocals balancing out the meatier yowls, and the guitar work is really strong and razor sharp. “Pinniped” delves into 1990s-style rock, sort of in the Breeders’ wheelhouse, and it’s a nice chance for listeners to sing along with this sometimes-punchy, sometimes-breezy cut. This should go over well live. “Dangling Modifiers” follows on the same pathway, with a jumpy opening that settles into a bumpy melody, shoegaze guitars that spread over the terrain, and atmospheric treatment. “Heavy Worm Burden” is one of the more confrontational songs on the record, with guitar squall, vocals that are in your face, especially shouts such as, “Animal mind is not simple,” and a musical breakdown at the finish matches the complications mentioned in the lyrics. Strong cut.

“Crystal Gale” is a shorter song that feels more like an interlude (not to mention the cheeky title has to make you chuckle), and that moves into “New West,” that has gritty guitar work, plenty of melody, and vocals switching off among members (giving that all-inclusive feeling). Eventually the music rises up to flood levels, with the guitars bubbling and giving off fumes, and the band exploring its way through the cosmos. “Fetus.Carcass” is an interesting one, as Verellen steps back from the mic for part of the song, allowing more soulful singing to take center stage (I admit I’m not sure if it’s James or Matheson-Margullis on vocals), and throughout its run, it keeps changing its pace, personality, and colors. “Slow Beef” has a Western-style opening, a long intro that establishes the song, and suddenly a blow up as the drums go nuts, the song plods along and bruises, and keyboards bleed in to add more texture. “Animatronic Bionic” is proggy, catchy, and muddy, and it paves the way for closer “Dodge the Lightning,” a grindy, mucky, but eventually dreamy song that lets them stretch their muscles. The middle portion is damn-near pop territory, though that doesn’t last long as the song picks up intensity, howling vocals erupt, and the final moments of the track chug mercilessly.

It’s great to hear Helms Alee firing on all cylinders like they do on “Sleepwalking Soldiers,” and the benefit of having Sargent House behind them should only strengthen their position. These are songs that sound like they’ll translate pretty well live, and they’re full of energy, interesting turns, and explosive fun. Helms Alee still remain something of an undiscovered treasure, so hopefully that changes for them as more people discover this killer new record.

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German duo Mantar mix burly riffs, hunger for war, mud on debut ‘Death By Burning’

MantarThere probably isn’t a great way to die. After all, you’re dying, and that isn’t any fun, nor is it anything someone should look forward to happening. But there are a lot of ways, I think, that are worse manners to exit existence, such as drowning, succumbing to a long, wasting disease, or being eaten or buried alive. I would like to opt out of those.

Oh, death by fire also has to be on that list, because that would be absolutely painful and miserable. I was thinking about that when listening to “Death By Burning,” the debut album by mauling duo Mantar that has been bruising my hearing the last month or so. That would be an awful way to go. This Germany-based band brings it when it comes to violence and dropping a ton of bricks on you with their music, and some fingers could be pointed to bands such as Darkthrone, Motorhead, Eyehategod, Asphyx, and Crowbar as far as influence is concerned. These dudes make a ton of noise, fire up some great riffs, and just let loose their metallic power.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The battle team of vocalist/guitarist Erinc and drummer/vocalist Hanno only have been a band since 2012, and in that time they’ve released a 7-inch containing two songs that wound up on “Death By Burning,” and have obliterated senses live. Their music sounds like you’re going into a war. Yeah, it’s kind of fun and catchy in spots as well, but never do you get the sense they’re here to lift your spirits and fill you with sugary joy. There will be bodies littering the ground, blood spilled, and land dominated, if Mantar can have their way, and you’ll know you’ve gone through a beating once you hear these 10 songs. By the way, it might sound cliched, but the best way to witness this record is as loudly as possible. Maximum volume, everyone.

The record opens with “Spit,” a carryover from the 7-inch, and it is galloping and massive, with raspy vocals, simple but effective thrashing, and even some infectious melodies that stick to your ribs. “Cult Witness” has a rock and roll feel, something that pops up now and again on this album. The vocals are rough and raw, and the band finds a nice groove that is downright nasty. “Astral Kannibal” was my favorite track on the record first time through it, and it remains that way, with sludgy, bluesy riffs that stick in the earth, huge doses of heaviness, more ugly vocals that aim to scathe, and, and a nice bit of guitar chugging that could have your fists pounding in no time. “Into the Golden Abyss” pours more R&R influence into the mix but also gets thrashy and massive, with shouted vocals that sound directed right at your face. “Swinging the Eclipse” is full of mangling noise, as it boils slowly, mashes you up, and revels in its thickness.

“The Berserker’s Path” sounds just how you’re likely to think it will, as it rages forward, kicking up dust and collecting damned souls. The song is merciless and steeped in destruction, with battle cries of, “Warriors of the north!” “The Huntsmen” is fast and furious, with more menacing vocals that sound delivered through thorns, great guitar work and punishing drums. “The Stoning” leans heavily into its spoil of riffs, with throaty yowling, spacey guitar work, and threats of, “We’re the belly of the beast.” Acidic! “White Nights,” the other carryover from their 7-inch, is slow driving and melodic, with howls of, “Domination!” as you imagine the band gearing up for a war in which they’re entrenched for the long haul. Closer “March of the Crows” is a true oddball, as it runs 7:49, remains instrumental, and finds the band branching out their sound into the atmosphere. There is plenty of doom smoke and oppressive drone, heavy noise glaze, and meaty riffing that, along with the drumming, create a picture of total chaos, a warfield in its aftermath as the survivors look to pick up their, and their comrades’, pieces.

Mantar’s first metallic blast is a very impressive one, and “Death By Burning” is the first real surprise of the year from a band seemingly coming out of nowhere with something wholly great. As this band goes forward, it’ll be interesting to hear what they do with their sound, if some influences end up eclipsing others, and how their songwriting develops. Amid the chaos and choking blackness of their debut, there is so much to be excited about with Mantar. You can just feel a great band in your bones, and Mantar is one of those that can turn them to powder.

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German neofolk trio Nebelung reach out to nature, calm frayed nerves on ‘Palingenesis’

Nebelung, Oktober2013
There have been more than a few entries on this site where I describe music perfect for dealing with contentious situations and all-around garbage life events so that you don’t lose your mind and starting punching your walls bloody. Most of those records involve hellish bands and uncompromising heaviness that match the chaos brewing in your head.

Well, today’s a little different, and unfortunately, I’m writing these words because I’m smack in the middle of the bullshit and could use something to balance me. It also just so happens that when I planned my review subjects week ago, that I’d be talking about “Palingenesis,” the new record from German neofolk unit Nebelung this week. Turns out their music would be spending a lot of time soothing my aching head and evening out my exploding nerves over the last few days, something to which I’d usually turn to the most heathen black metal to solve. But that’s why sometimes the universe actually aligns with you after it screws you, so this music was even more heavily embraced the past few days than it was the last month.

Nebelung coverNebelung is not a metal band by any stretch, though their record is being released by Temple of Torturous, home of acts such as Fyrnask, Fall, and Spectral Lore, that all have delicate and atmospheric elements and all kind of exist on the outskirts of pure metal. This trio, comprised of Stefan Otto (classical guitar, steel-string acoustic guitar, piano accordion, Indian harmonium, hammered dulcimer, glass harp, frame drums, chimes, bells, rattles, voice), Thomas List (steel-string acoustic guitar, classical guitar, field recordings), and Katharina Hoffmann (cello), keeps things aligned with nature, quite rustic, and even morbidly calm at times. Their music is utterly gorgeous and emotionally affecting, and at some challenging times the past week, they’ve helped me get a grip and relax, as I’ve been able to dissolve into what they’re doing on this incredible record, their third long player overall.

So yeah, you’re not going to get evil growls, sinister riffs, blasts, or Satanic transmissions. But if you get into the quieter, folkish parts of bands such as Agalloch, Ulver, Amber Asylum, Wovenhand, or many of the bands on the Bindrune Recordings roster, chances are you’ll like what you hear on “Palingenesis.” Hell, you just have to be an open-minded human being unafraid to identify delicate beauty in your music, and you can be swept away without even realizing it.

The record opens with “Mittwinter,” a haunting song for which they just made an equally moving video. Dark acoustic guitars conjure up spirits and create a picturesque sound capped off by woodsy dynamics, sweeping strings, and hushed vocals that trickle along underneath. “Polaris” is a moody one, with plucked guitars, whispers fluttering about as if a million souls are trying to reach out, and thick strings generating an unmistakable haze. “Nachtgewalt” has more picked acoustics, some hammered dulcimer that lets darkness drop like rain, thick cello, and eventually a sense of calm that rises up out of such smokiness. The emotion conveyed in this one is very thick, and it’s sure to creep inside your heart.

“Aufgang” is sweeping and delicate, as the cellos take control and weave their mysteries over the song. The song has particularly soft moments and is a perfect opportunity for the listener to achieve a state of meditation to balance out any tension. Trust me, it works. “Wardlung” is the longest song on the album at 14:32, and much of it works to create a soundscape, remain in that terrain, and keep building on top of it. It’s more of a hovering song for the most part, with trickling acoustics, a calming pace, and a very natural flow that eventually changes with about five minutes remaining. Then, the tempo plods and bobs, as if floating on the water’s surfaces, and it creates a mesmerizing conclusion to the track. “Innerlichkeit” is the 9:21 finale that’s a highlight piece, of sorts, for Hoffmann’s amazing cello work, that she uses to create a dark, misty picture that plays along with the other strings and elements working alongside it, with everything eventually fading out into the night. It’s a finish that’ll rob you of your breath.

Nebelung might not be for your Cannibal Corpse crazy, but I think most metal fans have open minds and can find solace in something like this amazing record. “Palingenesis” sure has leveled me off after a heavy dose of tumult, and it’s especially welcome during these later days of winter, when we’re still being bombarded by nature and often trapped inside to admire its majesty. This music works perfectly with that and just might broaden your horizon,

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