PICK OF THE WEEK: Gravehill bring gory, horrific metal grit and guts on raucous ‘Death Curse’

GravehillYou know, I’ve read enough people bitching on the Internet about those who have the audacity to not like the same kind of metal as they do or who, heaven forbid, might have higher standards regarding what goes in their ears, that I’m about to lose it. I don’t respond to these things ever because it’s a losing battle going in, but it’s not like I don’t have my own two cents.

One of the things that annoys some people is when metal fans split hairs about what constitutes a true death metal band. It’s a fight that can go on and on all day without any agreements, but at the end of the day, doesn’t it primarily matter what you like and not what some faceless void on the Internet tells you what’s right or wrong? I’ve said it before, but I like my death metal ugly, with heads nodded toward the genre’s early pioneers, with as little gloss as possible. I want it furious, mean, and if there’s a bit of a sense of humor weaved in, that’s OK, too. I reject outright the bulk of those overly polished death metal bands that dot most of the major indie metal labels’ rosters because it feels empty to me and always seems directed more toward moving units than conjuring the black soul of death metal. It’s DEATH! That’s just me. If it’s not you, that’s great.

CDBO04.pdfOne band that always hits the spot when it comes to death metal is Gravehill, the long-running heathens that raged out of California near the turn of the century and have pumped out horrific goodness ever since. With a couple of EPs and now three full-length records to their credit, including their massive new “Death Curse,” they have kept underground metal fans salivating and have continued to smack skulls together without relent. See, when people get upset because I don’t like the latest, I don’t know, KIllswitch Engage record, it’s because that’s formulaic plastic to me. Gravehill are real, as is their fire-breathing new album (out on Dark Descent, naturally) and I know when I hear them, they are going to fill me with the same hideous joy that the pioneers like Obituary, Death, Morbid Angel, Hellhammer, and so many others have.

Leading the band is the unstoppable force that is vocalist Mike Abominator, who can teach you more about death metal simply from his writing and continual banner waving for the gnarliest, bloodiest death metal bands in existence. There are few ground soldiers as devoted and knowledgeable as he, and you’d do yourself some good paying attention to his work. Oh, and he’s a monster of a singer, with ill intent and a huge dose of personality. With him in Gravehill are guitarists Hell Messiah and CC DeKill, who both joined the fold a couple of years ago; bassist J.T. Corpse; and drummer Thorgrimm. I cannot vouch for these being these fellows’ given names, by the way. But I’m not going to question them either. They’ll stomp in my guts, and they’ll do the same to you if you get in the way of their killing machine.

Following an eerie, bizarre intro cut “Gates of Hell,” that certainly lives up to its name, the band launches into the blazing title track, that starts hammering and killing you from the start. The vocals go back and forth from maniacal growls to gurgly warbling, almost like Abominator is choking on his own blood, and the rest of the band backs him with tremendous thrashing and razor-sharp soloing. “At Hell’s Command” follows, with heavy-duty riffs and menacing growling, and there’s a bit of a classic Slayer feel to some of the music. The song’s final moments hit new levels of animalistic, but the end feels mystical and strange, bleeding right into “Open Their Throats,” a slow-driving, doom-laced track that seeks to ground faces into the dirt. Of course, the pace eventually kicks up into a full fury, with great, spirited soloing, and the vocals are as grisly as anything else on this record. “Fear the Reaper” begins with blistering drumming and some thick bass lines, with stellar riffs exploding, mangling vocals from Abominator, and gang shouts of, “Fear! Fear! Fear!” to hammer the point that, yes, you should cower from death.

“Unending Lust for Evil” isn’t just a great song title, it’s also a punk-fueled basher with more gurgly growls, praise for evil and the evildoers of the word, more deranged chuckling that seems to be rubbing salt in the wounds, and Abominator howling, “Time to kill all! Die!” “Black Blood Rising” is not about the horrible old WCW character (points if you can tell me who played that sad role) and is instead about something a lot more sinister. “Death is coming back!” Abominator promises, with mashing chaos, guitars that’ll light your face on fire, and a blood-curdling chorus that’ll scar you. “Crucified” gets fired up from the start, with guitars churning, more punk thunder, and a gang-shouted chorus that should make this track a live favorite. It also has a cool red herring inserted as it seems everything is subsiding, but just once you think they’re done, they blast back in and up the fiery ante. Closer “The Ascending Fire” has a black metal feel to it when it starts, with dark riffs and smoking terror, and Abominator sounds like a monstrous narrator as he envisions the Earth consumed by fire and left as dust. The music is mean and nasty, as you’ve surely come to expect, there are bursts of speed accompanied by Abominator’s call to “rise and destroy!” Again the guitars go off, with the soloing both agitated and perversely excited over all the trauma. Perfect ending to all the tumult.

Gravehill never will steer you wrong if classic, true death metal is what you desire. There is a reason people gravitate to these bands, because they feel genuine and their art comes from their worm-filled hearts. “Death Curse” is Gravehill’s leanest, meanest effort to date, and if you’re new to the band, this is a really great place to start. Blood, gore, evil, and more are ahead of you, and if you’re sick of gloss and polish and want to feel like you’re being bludgeoned while you listen, these guys will be sure to give you all you desire and more.

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

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

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

CROSSING OVER: White Suns bring agitated, nerve-fraying chaos with noise-drenched ‘Totem’

White Suns
Are you willing to be prodded, agitated, and even irritated by music if, at the end of the experience, you have realize you’ve encountered something unique that likely won’t be found in any other new records you hear in a calendar year? If so, and your skin is thick, you’ll want to pay close attention today.

Each month, we do this Crossing Over section where we visit music that doesn’t really fit into the realm of heavy metal, but White Suns probably will come as close as any to finding true crossover appeal of those who have more daring ears and interests. They are not an easy band to get to know, and there’s a good chance a lot of people who take on their new record “Totem,” that is out on San Francisco-based dark music label The Flenser, won’t find comfort. Actually, if you’re a fan of The Flenser’s offerings, which started metal-centric but have gone beyond those boundaries (I offer up Have a Nice Life, Wreck & Reference, and Planning for Burial as evidence), you’re likely to be more instantly welcoming of this band and this record than a newcomer.  Or someone who needs pure metal all the time.

White Suns coverAs noted, White Suns could find favor among some metal pockets, particularly among those bands who also serve to grate and test one’s patience, such as Khanate, Gnaw, or Gnaw Their Tongues. The group is based more in free-form punk and noise than anything else. In fact, through much of “Totem,” the band’s third full-length effort, it sounds like this band plugged one chord into the wall, the other into their veins and let whatever hell and fury inside them loose. It’s unhinged and unsettling for much of its running time, and it feels so ridiculously and violently off the cuff, that I can only imagine what their volatile live performances must be like. So “Totem” really is not a heavy metal record at all, but you’ll certainly be able to relate to their passion, their panic, and the devastation they create.

White Suns formed in 2006, and they consist of Kevin Barry, Dana Matthiessen, and Rick Visser. Their primary weapons are sickeningly down-tuned guitars, amplified drums, and electronics that sound warped and expertly thrown together, and they’ve offered up two other records (2011’s “Waking in the Reservoir” and 2012’s “Sinew”) and a number of smaller releases before putting together their terrifying new record. They’ve really hit on a firestorm on “Totem,” and while it might crawl under the skin of listeners who don’t have a lot of patience for this level of agitation, it should hit home—maybe a little too hard—for those can identify with what’s going on here.

You don’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for you on “Totem,” as “Priest in the Laboratory” treats you to abrasive madness, talk-yowled vocals, and weird melodies that rise up among the formlessness. The song churns and drills, continuing to increase the pressure you’re experiencing, with the track finally drowning out in a vibrating hum. “Prostrate” is pure noise, with agitated guitars struck violently and the words recited like poetry being spat in the floor. “Disjecta Membra” is a boiling cauldron of panic, with chaos piling up on top of chaos, and the band setting the whole thing on fire to burn freely and, if they had their say, forever. “Cathexis” is maddeningly confrontational, with the shouting feeling like it’s directed at you, and the bulk of the track is marred in mental breakdown that spills into the crushing ending. “Fossil Record” has swirling chaos that crawls slowly, as if injured, and the instrumental, alien weirdness brings a dizzying finish to the first half.

The second side kicks off with “Clairvoyant” that begins with pure rage and fire, and it is the fiercest, heaviest track on the record. The song is fast and corrosive, the vocals are completely unhinged, as if the words of a madman separated from his medicine, and the final crazed shouts of “bleeding out!” repeat over and over as the tide of blood rises and eventually spills over. “World-Lock” actually has some calmer moments, though they are fleeting as the guitars eventually charge up and grow fiery, with the vocals pelting at you like freezing rain. The final moments of the song, with its penetrating programming, could leave you feeling in a trance. “Line of Smoke” comes off like the band felt their way through this one and didn’t have a real plan, though it works pretty well with its hand drumming and attacking guitars, turning into something cosmic and oddly magical. Closer “Carrion” is the longest cut of the collection at 7:08, beginning with feedback-smeared guitars and a stabbing, furious focus. Cries of, “The scavengers are circling!” and, “Soon I will drift away as well,” help you put together the mental picture of what’s going on, and the band pounds away and prods behind him, building a huge wall of sound that dissipates into winds that sting your eardrums and footsteps crunching what sound like 10,000 dead leaves.

White Suns won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for certain, and they’re sure to piss off as many listeners as they please. But I’ pretty sure going into this record that the band knew this and didn’t care at all who they offended with their style, and you can hear that in the gusto and power in which this music is delivered. “Totem” is as furious and defacing as any metal album that’s been released so far this year, and when it comes time to turn the calendar again, we may find all bands were hard pressed to prove they’re as sick as these three.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/White-Suns/226068104102043

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

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

Rhode Island doom merchants Pilgrim return with impressive second record ‘II: Void Worship’

PilgrimIt’s always interesting hearing a relatively new band develop along their journey. Not all bands even seem to do that nowadays, as formulaic has become a commonplace description for a lot of newer musicians. This doesn’t mean all bands need to take major risks in order to get better or to fully form. Just getting tighter and broadening their horizons can be enough.

Rhode Island might not seem the ultimate cauldron of blackness and destruction, but the state did spawn Pilgrim, one of the United States’ more impressive new doom metal bands. They delivered their first full-length effort in 2012 with the strong “Misery Wizard,” a collection of six epics that stretch over 55 minutes, building off the excitement they generated with their killer 2011 demo “Forsaken Man.” They revelled in traditional doom but also drone, and while so many like-minded groups employ growls and screams these days, these guys stick to clean, majestic vocals to tell their tales. It fits their skullduggery, swords, and wizardry that are the themes of their music, and it was clear they had something good here on which they could build.

Pilgrim coverWith the arrival of the band’s second record “II: Void Worship,” that potential Pilgrim held has seriously paid off for them. The music remains true to doom tradition, but they also branch out more than what they did on “Forsaken Man” and stretch it to altogether new areas. They sound stronger and more confident, their songwriting is even better than ever before, and there is just something about this record that grabs you and pulls you into their horrors. The vocals from guitarist The Wizard are more realized, have more depth and emotion, and really get their stories across with great effect. The singing wasn’t bad at all on their debut, but it’s now a strongpoint for the band. Of course, alongside him, is creatively named drummer Krolg Splinterfist, Slayer of Men, who bashes his kit and keeps an evil pace. No doubt he lives up to his name, at least from a figurative standpoint. Combined, these two have continued to create a demolition machine that tells stories of old and conjures weirdness you can feel in your bones. It’s awesome.

The record opens with the bizarre, classically minded “Intro,” that makes it seem like an old door is getting ready to open to take you into a story about creatures long since gone to their graves. “Master’s Chambers” (which runs 10:36) is the first foray into Pilgrim’s expanded headspace, as fuzzy guitars erupt, and The Wizard observes, “I was turned to stone,” that should put chills down your spine about the title character. The song plods along at a nice pace, as the guys hit on a long section of playing toward the end of the song, and once that smoky doom subsides, the vocals turn somewhat tender and vulnerable. The track dissolves into a pocket of rumble and feedback. It’s a tremendous song. That leads into “The Paladin,” a song that shows the more aggressive side of the band. It’s actually a little faster than what we’ve come to expect from Pilgrim, and the vocals have a ’70s-style prog edge to them. It’s a catchy, powerful explosion that’s damn fun to take in. Up next is “Arcane Sanctum,” the first of two consecutive instrumental cuts, that opens with clean tones that eventually meet textured guitars, eerie transmissions, and ghostly playing that might leave you intoxicated.

“In the Presence of Evil” is the next instrumental up, with dark riffs spilling out before they run headlong into pulverizing crunch and classic metal-style guitar work that get the energy level kicked into a higher gear. The title track follows, bathed in furious drone and chaos at the start, with the vocals slipping in and slowly unfurling. A scene of disturbing darkness is set up, with details such as burning candles, and the music fits the mood perfectly. The guitar work feels like it is worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath, as it’s sooty and muddy, but there also is drone and suffocating darkness to all of this as well. That never really goes away. The vocals soar, all the music comes together, and it’s a damn well-done track. “Dwarven March” is another instrumental, but more of an interlude, and it paves the way for the finale “Away From Here,” a 9:38 bruiser that begins as a slow, mesmerizing killer and eventually gets treated with nuanced vocals and bludgeoning hammering. The Wizard hopes “to say one last goodbye,” as waves of classic doom lap over and darken everything with unforgiving tides. The song builds nicely through its running time, keeping your mind engaged and your fears realized as they build toward the final moments of feedback and suffocating smoke. It’s a great final statement at the end of the best thing Pilgrim have done to date.

I doubt Pilgrim’s formation will halt with “Void Worship,” and this should just be another steppingstone of their career angling toward doom greatness. It’s so satisfying hearing this great new record from a band I have followed from their first demo, and the bloody, darkened sky really is the limit for these guys. As long as Pilgrim keep moving on the path they’re on right now, who knows where they’ll go next?

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords/band/pilgrim

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

 

 

Haunting doom spirits Satyress create spooky, smoking magic on chilling debut ‘Dark Fortunes’

SatyressIt’s always pleasingly convenient when you can compare a band or an album to a time of the year or a season, because it’s an easy way to help your readers get into the frame of mind of the music in a way that could make sense with their surroundings. We have that today. Sort of.

Unfortunately in the case of Portland, Ore.,doom rockers Satyress, the time of year that would go best with their music would be mid-autumn, where the leaves are off the trees, their death crunches under your feet as you walk over them, and a biting chill is in the air warning you death is near. In the States, we’re getting ready for spring and new life, a time that seems decidedly the opposite of this band’s music. Oh well. You’ll have that. Maybe a better time to absorb this band and their debut offering “Dark Fortunes” is late at night, with nothing but flickering candles to offer you light, as you enjoy a very dark, very potent beer. That might help you get into the band’s psyche a little better, if you have something to help your mind soar, and if you connect spiritually, you’ll find yourself in the midst of an unearthed gem that sounds poised for greatness.

Satyress coverSatyress actually formed in the brutal winter of 2012, bringing together these punishing forces who would breathe new life into the doom genre, pay homage to its past, and set themselves up for being one of the bands to lead it into its murky future. The main talking point of this band is vocalist Jamie LaRose, whose singing booms out your speakers or headphones, gripping you and pounding you with her passion and energy. I always hesitate to describe vocals in this sense because I’m afraid it’s going to come off the wrong way, but LaRose’s work makes me think of a witches coven, and her in total and full command, with her followers ready to heed her every command. She’s that good and that engaging. The rest of the band are just as rock solid, with Billy Nitetooth as a complete force on guitar, bringing a Black Sabbath edge to his work at times, and Alex Fast (bass) and Yorck Franken (drums) holding down the lower end and rumbling you to death. Another great thing about Satyress is that while they have a decided metallic edge to their music, they also should appeal to rock and roll fans who are hard pressed to find good bands these days who really get their juices flowing. I doubt they’ll be disappointed.

The record kicks off with “Possession,” situated in a killer doom groove that gives way to some serious crunch, while LaRose promises shadowy danger by repeatedly warning, “He’s coming,” and trading off between soaring singing and more aggressive vocals. I’m not taking growls here, by the way. She always stays clean, but she has sections on this record where she sounds more dangerous. The guitar work in this one also keeps upping the ante as the song goes on, ending in a full blaze. “Esta Noche” has a heavy, sinister start until it blows into smokey territory, with LaRose insisting, “All I need is a little more darkness in my life.” The song feels like a total backlash at the light, almost in a vampiric sense, and as the song goes along, the band settles into some bluesy grooves that match the lyrical content perfectly. When the end comes and LaRose repeatedly howls, “Darkness saved my life!” the band matches her intensity perfectly. “Soma” is a total punisher, with NWOBHM-style guitar work burning brightly, a flashy doom swagger that is infectious, and dark fun that’ll get in your blood.

The title track has a grinding, nasty guitar riff that opens the track, but that eventually opens up into full doom glory, with LaRose weaving her magic vocally, promising, “I’m coming out to raise the dead.” Glorious guitars erupt into soloing, with the rest of the band hitting on a crushing tempo that’ll rattle your soul, and LaRose’s voice pushing the song into the stratosphere. “Spread Thin” is slow driving and even a little sultry at the start, but as the song goes on, the tempo builds, the volume kicks up, and the band hits on a fiery pace that is full of volcanic fun. Closer “Archaic Passage” has tar-thick bass work that opens the track, drums keeping an ominous pace, and the guitar work feeling like righteous Tony Iommi worship. LaRose’s vocals take on a different tone, hanging in the air and sounding hauntingly detached, as if she’s a lost soul somewhere spouting incantations and looking for other ghosts to capture. The song has a strange, eerie feel to it, with some spooky tones, and the whole thing bleeds out into the night.

Satyress are at the beginning of their dark journey, so don’t feel bad or out of touch if you are just learning about this band. They have an incredible appeal and true doom magic that not every band of their ilk can boast, and as noted, they have one hell of a great singer who seems capable of anything. “Dark Fortunes” is a really strong first effort, one you should make a point to hear even if you only have a mild interest in doom metal. This band has the chance to surpass that boundary and enrapture a much larger audience. All they need is your ears and an eager heart, and they’ll have you in their clutches for good.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://satyress.bandcamp.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Dark folk duo Barren Harvest expose doom, darkness on ‘Subtle Cruelties’

Barren HarvestWe have made this point before, but it probably bears repeating. You don’t have to play heavily, loudly, and with pure evil pouring out of your soul in order to convey true darkness and hopelessness. In fact, sometimes the quiet approach is the way to go, because the sounds easily can disarm you and catch you off guard when things go south.

You can find all the evidence you need of that theory with “Subtle Cruelties,” the debut full-length record from doom-ridden, dark folk duo Barren Harvest. Now, when I say it has doom elements, do not expect droning violence and muddy punishment that’ll wreck your eardrums. I mean doom in the dictionary sense, of some impending terrible state hanging above your head, because you do get a sense of that going on here. That doesn’t mean destruction, necessarily. It can just be life’s everyday blackness, the woe that accompanies a dissolved relationship, or one’s own depression, that can own us and drive us further and further into the ground.

Barren Harvest coverThe two artists represented here should be known to most metal fans, especially those who visit this site with any regularity. Jessica Way (vocals/guitar/autoharp), of the mighty and dream-inducing Worm Ouroboros, and Lenny Smith (vocals/synth), of the destructive and psychologically chaotic Atriarch, are your two voices, and together they conjure a sound that’s decidedly not metal but could find favor among those who like Agalloch’s quieter moments, Amber Asylum, Ulver, Dead Can Dance, and, of course, Worm Ouroboros. That doesn’t mean the music here sounds like those bands. Rather, their fans probably will understand and appreciate this record more than, say, a Grave Miasma devotee. Both Way and Smith have traveled shadowy territories with their other bands, so this is not new territory. But what they bring to the table is pretty different from anything Smith has done before, and even pushes Way into foggier territory.

“Subtle Cruelties” also is immersed deeply in poetry. The duo found inspiration in Lord Tennyson’s work “In Memoriam,” that mourns the loss of a friend (namely his friend Arthur Hallam who was supposed to marry Tennyson’s sister), and it gets laced through the many “Memoriam” tracks included here, most of which are brief, ghostly interludes. Also, Rumi’s poem “Silent Articulation of a Face” inspired their song “The Bleeding,” that leads off the album, and led to them coining the collection “Subtle Cruelties.” So just from that, you get a sense of the solemnity and sadness that pervade this record, which is darker than many black metal albums.

The record opens with the aforementioned “The Bleeding,” that has thick synth, acoustic picking, and Way’s mesmerizing singing, though later Smith slips in and she takes over harmonies. That’s something that happens a lot on this record, that being one of them takes leads and the other backs up with texture-building harmonies. The song itself gives me the feeling of walking alone at night in abandoned sections of woods, with the feelings of exhilaration and fright working together. Next are three consecutive “Memoriam” cuts, the first with birds chirping and foggy keyboards, the second packed with murky synthesizer, Way’s voice haunting, piano drizzling over the cut, and the song’s spirit hanging in the air. The third has Smith uttering a simple line in a quick bit that’s over in about 10 seconds. “Heavens Age” follows, opening with somber acoustic guitars and Smith’s baritone vocals taking over, with him hitting deep, sometimes detached notes. Way then switches over to the front and delivers some of her most forceful vocals on the record, with her wondering, “What causes heavens to age?” It’s a chilling track.

“Memoriam IV” opens with Way whispering, “When fill’d with tears that cannot fall, I brim with sorrow drowning song,” from Tennyson, and that leads into “Coil Uncoil,” that is built on acoustic guitars and Smith’s raw vocals, that sound filled with torment. “I surround myself in the darkness,” he calls, before Way slips back in and takes the reins for the rest of the song. This track might remind you of a cold autumn day, when rain soaks your clothes and you can’t get a hint of warmth in your body. “Memoriam V” follows and is steeped in the sounds of nature, but also ominous darkness, as Smith takes over recitation. “Claw and Feather” also starts with lushly picked acoustic guitar that is coupled with a sense of dread from the synth and strings. The song builds slowly, with each of them having a turn at vocals, with Smith taking the song to its conclusion. “Memoriam VI” is the longest of these tracks, clocking in at 6:43, and it opens with an angelic blanket of keys, Smith whispering, then warbling as if trying to come to terms with something beyond him, and darkness envelops everything, leaving you with a feeling of such little hope. Closer “Reveal” is the one that reminds me most of a Worm Ouroboros track, but surely that’s just by chance. Guitar lines slowly fall like sheets of rain, while Smith sings over Way’s whispers. Then, as they are wont to do, they switch that up, with Way reaching deep into the void, autoharp making things emotionally frigid, and strings churning. The song plays out like a funeral hymn in a dreamstate ceremony, with dreary melodies, sequences that seem detached from real life, and Way sensing, “My joy and grief are hollow.” It’s an emotionally crushing end to a record that can drive a stake in your heart and leave you wailing.

Barren Harvest prove that musical heaviness is not required to offer up one of the darkest statements so far in 2014. This is a haunting collection, one that could keep you awake at night seeing spirits dancing in pain on your walls. You likely won’t even be ready to see such apparitions because the beauty of this music has arrested your senses. This collaboration of Way and Smith isn’t just fruitful, it’s otherworldly. We won’t have many more dark, cold nights left in the States, but if you find yourself upon one, take the chance to turn down the lights and spend the stretch with Barren Harvest. You might find your own darkness transformed.

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

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

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

Candlelight unearths hidden gems from Coltsblood, Shores of Null, Ancient Ascendant

Coltsblood

Coltsblood

For the last couple years, Candlelight Records has done a great job shedding light on metal bands operating deep beneath the earth’s crust. These groups all have been more than worthy of the attention of metal fans the world over, but for some reason hadn’t quite made it to the surface yet so that more people could appreciate their worth.

The effort reminds of what Southern Lord has done in the same period of time for hardcore and crust bands, though Candlelight’s project, which used to be called the Cult Series, branched out all over metal to find bands of all different styles. This has led to bands such as Wodensthrone, Nine Covens, Reverence, Khors, Cnoc An Tursa, and a few others who got more notoriety and attention simply from having the Candlelight stamp affixed to their album. It’s been a pretty cool undertaking, and now we’re getting some more new bands you might not be aware of yet. But you certainly should work to familiarize yourself with these groups sooner rather than later.

As noted, all three bands whose records are featured in today’s piece have completely different sounds. So chances are, if you’re a rigid listener, you’ll probably gravitate toward one of the bands over the others. But try to expand your thinking if you operate that way, because you might be surprised by what these groups have to offer, even if their music isn’t in your typical wheelhouse. I have no idea what people keep in wheelhouses. Anyway.

Coltsblood coverWe’ll kick off with Coltsblood debut full-length “Into the Unfathomable Abyss,” my personal favorite album of the three we’re covering today and a damn weighty new addition to the doom/drone cauldron that’s been boiling hot for years. If you’re a fan of bands such as Unearthly Trance, Inter Arma, Batillus, or Sunn 0))), you’ll likely immerse yourself gleefully in the band’s imposing heaviness and suffocating sound that comprises this seven-track, nearly hour-long record. The band is comprised of three members (two who are singularly named) including vocalist/bassist John (formerly of strange doom band Black Magician), bassist Jem, and drummer Jay Plested (who still plays with Black Magician). Together, they form a mighty combination that should maul and frighten you but also make you feel hope for this style of doom, that’s admittedly becoming something of an endless sea.

There are three devastating epics on this record, namely “Beneath Black Skies,” a track that sets its pace deliberately but heavily and drags you through clouds of drone thunder, mourning, and some fiery vocal rage to balance everything out; “Abyss of Aching Insanity,” that is full of hammering madness, thick noise, and sweltering madness that could mess with your head; and “Ulfeonar,” that has tribal drumming, deep caverns of sludge, and a lumbering pace that can bust up your face. But there are sections where they change things up, especially on “Blood,” that explodes with a fury and even lets some black metal filth slip in and cover the walls with soot, and “Grievous Molestation,” that also has injections of speed but mostly goes for spacious and atmospheric. Closer “Return to the Lake of Madness” is a clubbing instrumental reminiscent of the epic cuts on here, as it wallows in doom, heaviness, and drone, capping off this killer debut perfectly. I’m really excited about this album and band, and it’ll be fun to witness their metamorphosis as they get more experience under their collective boots.

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

Shores of Null

Shores of Null

If you’re more into melodic and sweeping doom and death metal and bands such as Enslaved, Opeth, Amorphis, Swallow the Sun, and others of that nature, you’ll probably find a lot to like about Shores of Null. The band, that hails from Rome, is still a relatively new venture, featuring members of groups such as Zippo and the Orange Man Theory, and they don’t even have a profile yet on Metal Archives (or I am horrible at searching things). But for a newer group, they’re pretty tight already, trading off between gothic atmospherics and blackened nastiness, with clean singing and grisly growls taking turns telling the stories. As for its members, they are vocalist Davide Straccione, guitarists Gabriele Giaccari and Raffaele Colace (who both provide backing vocals live), bassist Matteo Capozucca, and drummer Emiliano Cantiano. On record, this band sounds full of life and passion, and I can only imagine how that must transfer live.

Shores of Null coverThe nine songs on here are equally melodically heavy and gothically somber, making it perfect music to hear on a dark, stormy day when hope is fleeting. “Kings of Null” follows the instrumental opener “0x0000,” and it mixes deep clean singing with grisly growls, a common occurrence on this record, and the finish even gets a little proggy, which is a nice touch. “Souls of the Abyss” has that aforementioned Enslaved/Opeth feel to it, but not in an imitation sense. It’s more than they absorbed those influences organically and use them as guiding lights for their music. Other highlights on the record include “Quiescent,” a slow-moving, trickling song that has  a deep sense of sorrow dressed in melodic glory; “Time Is a Waste of Land,” one of the heaviest tracks on the record with vicious growls, drums that approach blast beats, and a nice dose of fury; and closer “Eudaemonia,” a track that combines the best of both worlds for this band, trading off between brutality and strong melodies, harsh growls and passionate singing. This band holds a lot of promise as well, and considering they’re so damn new, who even knows how their sound will progress on their next record? It’ll definitely be worth hearing when it arrives.

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

Ancient Ascendant

Ancient Ascendant

Finally, you knew we couldn’t get away without some straight-up death metal, and you get all of that (and even a little more), from UK crushers Ancient Ascendant. This band is the one with the most experience and biggest backstory of all the bands included today, as they have been together for nearly a decade and already have another full-length effort (2011’s “The Grim Awakening”) and a bunch of EPs to their name before their new one “Echoes and Cinder” arrived. The band worked with legendary metal producer Dan Swano on their new record, and once again, they splash doses of black metal and even prog into their furious mix. The members responsible for this nastiness and chaos include vocalist/guitarist Alex Butler, guitarist Nariman Poushin, bassist Alan Webb, and drummer Dave Moulding, and clearly they have sharpened their teeth over the years to become an even more effective killing machine.

Ancient Ascendant coverYou pretty much get thrown into the fire right away with this band, as they kick off with the unforgiving “Crones to the Flames,” a crushing number that highlights Butler’s monstrous vocals that sometimes sound a notch or two more intense than the music. In a good way. “Patterns of Bane” is neat in that it adds some proggy, sci-fi-washed elements to keep you guessing, but you still end up battered; “Fueling the Flare” also has some proggy notes to it, but the focus is on fire-breathing death and blackness, dressed with creaky growls and penetrating chugging that sounds a little thrashy; “To Break the Binds” has some massive double-kick drumming, strong lead guitar work, and more throaty growls that sound like they hurt to emit; and “The Toll of Mourning” is both grisly and melodic, letting the band show off different sides of their musical personality by knocking you over with their power and their prowess. For those who like melodic death on the more violent side, this is a band you definitely want to check out. Ancient Ascendant prove you can do death metal with a modern touch but not lose your sharp teeth, a lesson so many bands of this ilk could learn to make their music sound that much more dangerous.

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

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

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

Dread Sovereign wage war against religious oppression, torment on ‘All Hell’s Martyrs’

Dread SovereignIt’s funny that something like religion, which at its very basics should bring people together, give them a positive force to follow in order to be decent, and offer some structure to one’s life pretty much does the opposite so often. Name another thing that drives people at each other’s throats and causes them to express hatred more than one’s supposed faith.

This isn’t something that has popped up overnight either. For centuries, people have used their god’s name to invade countries, oppress and torture people, cast out those with whom they disagree, and basically act every bit unlike what their faith requests that they do. The number of people who have been murdered in the name of one religion or the other has to be astronomical, and that just flies in the face of logic, does it not? Or is it an excuse for people to be evil? Does it give them something to hide behind in order to justify their hatred, their poor behavior, and their prejudices since their actions are supposedly preordained by a god? This is one of the reasons I chortle every time I hear some gasbag claim that war is being fought against religion. Don’t you figure at some point the people you hammer down are going to fight back?

LP-Gatefold TemplateIt sounds like there is some serious pent-up anger on “All Hell’s Martyrs,” the debut full-length record from Dread Sovereign, the Dublin-based trio that revels in old-style doom metal, some death metal, and even a touch of black metal. We’re talking blackness that dates back to the Crusades, and much of the material here sounds like it emanates from poor souls who perhaps were victims of the Christian violence and oppression and the very natural tendency to lash back at what’s transpired. The words drip like venom from the mouth of Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill like he’s immersed himself in the bad that religion has brought to Europe and his home country over the centuries, and he’s hellbent on firing back.

So we’ve mentioned Averill (he also plays bass on the record), who any metal fan worth his or her weight should know from bands such as Primordial, Blood Revolt, and Twilight of the Gods. This is subject matter he has visited before with Primordial especially, but never has he delivered his words with such darkness, venom, and revenge. His delivery is so convincing and passionate, you can’t help but stand beneath his bleeding heart while he rails against every force that created evil with something that is supposed to be a good force. Joining him are guitarist Bones, who also plays with Wizards of Firetop Mountain, and drummer Simon “Sol Dubh” O’Laoghaire, who plays with Primordial as well as Geasa.

Eerie intro piece “Drink the Wine” opens the record on an ominous note, with noise and the sound of a warped preacher, and that leads into “Thirteen Clergy,” that trickles with doom and terror. “The devil is coming,” Averill warns with monstrous glee, as the song leads into its powerful chorus, where the singing really hits its stride. The rest of the song refers to King Robert II of France, blood being shed on the clergy robes, and promises that, “they will burn at the stake.” This is an incredibly strong song immersed in history and real, bloody events. “Cthulhu Opiate Haze” follows and is as bizarre and fever-dream odd as one might expect from the subject matter, as the song begins to boil and Averil howls about “a nameless horror.” The track builds in heaviness and destruction, the music leaves a chill over your body, and a dark, haunting melody bleeds while Averill warns, “Cthulhu haunts us, he was always with us.” Interlude “The Devil’s Venom” continues the sense of spookiness and carries that over to “Pray to the Devil in Man” that is built with chant-like vocals and even more strangeness. Eventually the song evens out, with Averill sounding much like he does in Primordial as he wails away, and the rest of the band just soars, going back and forth from classic metal glory to death-doom punishment that carries to song to its tumultuous ending.

“Scourging Iron” kicks off with liturgical-sounding chants and trickling guitars before it lights fully ablaze, with guitars rising up and taking control. The song then hits a decimating chug, with noise and squall rising up and choking you out. “The Great Beast” is an interlude that is haunting and filled with strange voices, and it bleeds into “We Wield the Spear of Longinus,” a reference to the soldier who pierced Christ’s side while he hung on the cross. So you learn a lot just from that title, don’t you? This 11:35 track is packed with doom melodies, slow-moving tension, and strange vocals, as if Averill is channeling something weirdly spiritual. Bluesy soloing eventually slides in, giving the song a smoky tone, and the it reaches its climax with Averill howling, “Hail Satan!” seemingly more as a cry of rebellion than an actual show of devotion. “Cathars to Their Doom” runs nearly nine minutes and is unforgivingly heavy and swollen, with Averill warning, “You god will not answer,” as the track boils, chugs, and reaches a dramatic, epic conclusion that would have been a perfect album capper. But there’s one more epic in store, that being “All Hell’s Martyrs, Transmissions From the Devil Star” that runs 13:19 and begins with a Black Sabbath-style pace. Averill takes on the role of evil storyteller, warning, “We shall flay and crucify,” as the band hits a mucky pace that eventually goes mystical and atmospheric. There is a trippy bit of playing that opens a long instrumental section that drives the song toward its finish, and the final moments launch into the cosmos, bathing the end in black stardust.

This record won’t convince or find welcome with the rising tide of people who are using their alleged faith to continue to wage wars and hurt people today. But for those of us who have watched on objectively and have been disgusted by some people’s action towards others, this is an eye-opening experience and a very sobering one. But beyond the lyrical content, Dread Sovereign’s debut is a damn powerful collection that gains steam as it goes on, and there is no way you can question the passion and power behind these songs. This is an awesome force that should find a hungry audience with any number of metal fans, a dose of pure darkness that’ll burn your blood, scorch your soul, but also get your hairs raised on your arms. Hopefully there’s way more coming from this band, because who knows how violent their next record could be?

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.van-records.de/content/en/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.van-records.de/