PICK OF THE WEEK: Krieg ramble down tumultuous, interesting path on thunderous ‘Transient’

KriegI know there are these obvious things we writers are supposed to say about Neill Jameson when we write about his music. But excuse me if I don’t go that way. Let’s concentrate on the matter at hand, that being his longtime black metal band Krieg and their tremendous new record “Transient.” If you want to read about other stuff, might I direct you to Google and the millions of other scribes writing the same goddamn things?

It’s been four years since we got a full-length effort from Krieg, that being 2010’s “The Isolationist.” Not like the band has been silent, especially this year with a slew of mini releases that include a couple of EP-length offerings and splits alongside Wolvhammer, Ramlord, and Moloch. But a full document from the band is something altogether different, and this one’s a damn fun one. Yeah, that’s right. Fun. Not that there weren’t torment and black thoughts that had a bit to do with the creative process, but the music itself kicks your ass and gets inside of you. This is as close as I’ll get to unearthing any drama Jameson has experienced, but his work here with Krieg sounds like what Nachtmystium have been trying to achieve. There’s a kick-ass rock and roll vibe to their infernal black metal, and it sounds like it’s breaking the chains of genre boundaries and expectations and just going for it. I’m a big fan of Krieg’s entire catalog, but this record is one that makes me feel alive and brimming with energy.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The 11-track, 56-minute bruiser that is “Transient” is a true group effort, not that others haven’t been. But this one really feels like all of the forces coming together, and not just Jameson (or Imperial, as he goes by here), but also guitarists A. Poole (Chaos Moon, Esoterica) and D. Zdanavage (Castle Freak); bassist D. Sykes (Occult 45); drummer J. Dost (Invasive Command, Occult 45); and programmer Diabolus (Vrolok, Nod, etc.). Many times with past Krieg records, I’ve gone one listen and done because they have been so scarring and furious, you need time to reflect and recover. But this record is just so damn listenable and raucous, I usually find myself repeating once these 11 songs run out. Don’t get me wrong, there still is a ton of darkness. It’s just presented in a different way, in a manner where Jameson and the band feel so damn alive.

“Order of the Solitary Road” is your opener, and it lets noise hang in the air before dark riffs torch its face off and harsh growls carry the day. There is some melody that’s allowed to mature, something that’s a hallmark of this record, and the track ends with a killer groove that’ll bruise your eyes. “Circling the Drain” sounds depressing as hell from its title, but musically it’s a charge of speedy metal, outright punishment, and vocals that sound programmed to maim. There’s a bit of calm at one point, but that’s blown away by some final moments of aggression. “Return Fire” is blistering and monstrous, living up to its name through and through, and while there are some atmospheric parts that let you breathe, for the most part it’s pure demolition. “To Speak With Ghosts” has a haunting open, and the pace is channeled, deliberately harsh, and altogether pummeling. “Atlas With a Broken Arm” explodes on impact, with vicious growls, a storming pace, and drums that could leave you a pile of powder. There are some harsh shrieks, a pace that lets the chaos swell, and animalistic mashing that ends the song on the perfect brutal note.

“Time” gives you no chance to prepare, as it breaks open and starts its mauling immediately. It’s a weird, dizzying piece, with the music shaking you to and fro, maybe even giving you a sense of nausea before it’s all over. “Winter” is a great take on the Amebix track, one of my favorites on the album, as it reminds me a bit of Tombs’ latest work, but only in presentation. The guitars are chilled and frostbitten, the vocals are barked with authority, and the drums are absolutely thunderous throughout this one. “Walk With Them” is flushed with melody, harsh growls, and moody playing, with more post-punk essence coming into play. “Ruin Our Lives” is pretty different, with the tempo playing games with you mind and the electronics coming in and giving the song something of an alien feel. The music is stormy and settles into a mid-tempo, almost like a black cloud stationed overhead, and only once it breaks from that static headspace does it launch into full-throttle violence. “Home” will arrest you. Over noise, whirring dust, and damaged acoustics, Jameson waxes poetic, speaking—not screaming or growling—about the darkness in his life, his past, each turn he takes, and what’s inside of him. Hell, at times it sounds like a suicide note, remembering something that used to be there, isn’t now, and the decision as to what to do with that. “Surviving just seems like a chore,” he admits, something I’m sure we’ve all felt at times, while the music kicks up smoke and makes the whole scene surreal and sobering. It’s a piece I’ve gone back to numerous times, and with each listen, I find it impacts me in a different way. Closer “Gospel Hand” brings back the outright aggression and decibolic fury, with punishing, angry music, vocals that match it perfectly, staggering sweltering, and noise that bubbles you in poisonous lather. It’s really the perfect ending. It’s a final explosion that should leave you in the dust.

Krieg remains one of the U.S.’s most interesting, challenging metal bands, and Jameson never seems content to just sit there and collect accolades. He pushes things, and with the band he has assembled for “Transient,” he’s found kindred spirits who seem to have the same ideas in mind. This is a punishing record, a dark statement, but also one that just bursts with power and organic energy. This is a great curve in the road for Krieg, one that should drive the band into new, previously undiscovered terrain most bands are afraid to walk.

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

To buy the album go here: http://candlelightrecordsusa.com/site/

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

Earth pull back desert dust, visit darker, ominous terrain on wondrous ‘Primitive and Deadly’

Photo by Samantha Muljat

Photo by Samantha Muljat

Writing about music to which you have a personal connection can have some ups and downs. First, you might tend to look favorably on anything new a band such as this does, which kind of undoes the critical process. That’s the negative, believe it or not. On the other hand, you know what the music feels like to you, what kind of effect you hope it’ll have, and if the new music fills that space in your heart.

Earth is a band like that for me. I know most people gravitate toward Dylan Carlson’s masterful use of the guitar, and it’s not like I don’t, too, but there’s something more there. There is something spiritual and fulfilling that, when I get new Earth music, it’s a chance to unravel other parts of myself perhaps previously guarded. Even going back to their older records, I remember where I was when I first came to know the piece, what I was experiencing, and why it’s become such a big part of me. There have been life struggles, work problems, and other things that Earth’s music has guided me through, and I’ve always been appreciative that their creative force exists. Their new record “Primitive and Deadly” is one that took me through a trip to every section of Earth’s creative cycle, from drone gods to dusty, Americana-bent pioneers, and it has sent me on a journey like no other before it.

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThis record is Earth exploding as a creative force in a way most people who have grown to love the band (especially over the last half of their run) will be shocked to hear. Carlson, along with longtime collaborator, drummer Adrienne Davies, work alongside bassist Bill Herzog (Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Sunn 0)))), guitarist Brett Netson (Built to Spill, Caustic Resin), and guitarist Jodie Cox (Narrows) to create a sonic landscape that pushes, taunts, threatens, and warns of cataclysm. This isn’t an easy-on-the-soul Earth record by any means. Adding to the thunder is the inclusion of guest vocalists Mark Lanegan (one of the world’s best, most diverse singers) and the incredible Rabia Shaheen Qazi (Rose Windows), who both add more color, tumult, and expression to these pieces.

“Torn By the Fox of the Crescent Moon” opens the record with one of the band’s most sinister riffs to date, an indication the darkness has come early and thick and won’t be dissipating soon. The doom spills like blood, with dark keys mixing in, some of that Western-dusted magic the band weaves so well rising, and diverse guitar trickle meeting up and blending in. “There Is a Serpent Coming” is an apocalyptic wonder, with Lanegan’s raspy, world-weary singing painting the song brilliantly. “I see behemoth coming,” he howls, as the band works along him to douse psychedelic wonder over a track that should shake you to your core with its tales of Biblical destruction. “From the Zodiac Light” brings Qazi into the mix, as her haunting, smoky vocals sprawl out over this slowly burning piece. “It’s all over now, there’s no need to come down,” she practically chants, sounding both alluring and threatening. Later when she calls, “The devil’s got you,” along with swirling, churning music, you really do think your soul has taken a boat ride down a dark river to hell. Incredible song.

“Even Hell Has Its Heroes” goes back to steely, bone-munching riffs, marching along with cool melody lines, fiery playing, and mind-altering composition, complete with chimes and bells. The song builds a wall of noise that eventually dissipates, like an engine slowly petering out. “Rooks Across the Gates” takes its time, meandering through sun-bleached sections of guitar, washed-out, gritty waves of sound, and Lanegan’s scorched storytelling, at one point ominously noting, “I dropped her in the Eastwoods stream,” which should put a chill up your spine. The track ends in a pit of static, as you sit there wondering what you just heard. It’s riveting. Closer “Badgers Bane” has buzzing, filthy guitar work, and some of those classic Carlson style melodies you know are his even if the record doesn’t say Earth on the spine. The music soars in spots, and noises swoop in and out, eventually giving way to Davies’ drums that lead toward the final section. That’s where guitars stab into the night, a fog rises, and everything is carried out on evil wings to its final, mysterious resting spot.

A quarter century into their run, and Earth remain on a quest for something spiritual, creative, cosmic, maybe all of the three. “Primitive and Deadly” is one of their most exciting adventure in years, a real wakeup call for anyone who thought this band had settled into a comfortable groove and intended to stay there. Carlson, Davies, and the rest of the cast have created something stimulating and true, one of the deadliest collections on their canon. It’s a true pleasure to behold with every visit. Earth show no signs of slowing down or stopping, and that’s a great sign for the future of the world itself.

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

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

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

Fistula’s monstrous, pissed off ‘Vermin Prolificus’ may re-open wounds, rally additional rage

FistulaThe other day, I heard the song “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. As many times as I’ve heard it, the song really hit me because we don’t seem to have as many poignant tracks that smack us over head regarding what’s happening right now. In this moment. It decried the 1970 slayings at Kent University by the Ohio National Guard and still had an effect to this day.

Well, there have been other songs like “American Skin (41 Shots)” by Bruce Springsteen that uncovered atrocities by groups designed to protect us, but that’s few and far between these days. Music is designed to sell and not upset, with a girl sticking out her tongue and gyrating fairly harmlessly acting as a controversy or thought-provoking action. Even the metal devoured by the mainstream, Best Buy-frequenting listeners is weak and harmless. Pretty sad, actually. However, Cleveland-based doom/sludge band Fistula have designs on waking up the resting masses. And with what’s going on in Ferguson, MO, right now, they have the perfect audience and target for their rage. It’s not a gimmick either. No way that they knew their vitriolic, furious song “Pig Funeral,” from their new album “Vermin Prolificus,” would drop at a time when mistrust against police authorities would be at its highest. But sometimes you time things just right, and I could hear this song being an anthem of unrest for those who are fighting those who they believe don’t have society’s best needs in mind. And rest assured, if you’re easily offended or blindly follow authority, you’ll be offended by this track. In a huge way.

Fistula coverNow, Fistula have been around for a decade and a half now, and their current formation is largely new. Guitarist Corey Bing has been around for the long haul, and the band has a really strong new lineup that includes vocalist Dan Harrington, bassist Greg Peel, and drummer Jeff Sullivan. However on this record, Sean Linehan handles bass, while Nate Linehan is on drums, just so there isn’t any confusion. By the way, a thrash back against the police isn’t the only raw subject matter that’ll poke your silly little bruises. Drug use, violence, and psychological issues also get their fair share of time, and if these are subjects you can’t stand to face, get ready to cry and fold into a corner. They hold nothing back at all and spare no feelings. But if these are subjects you also find poke at you, then you may embrace some comrades in arms with Fistula.

The record opens with “Smoke, Cat Hair, and Toenails” that’s complete with sludgy riffs, wailing feedback, and snarling vocals that could motivate or annoy you, depending on where you stand. The song progressively gets uglier, with Harrington delving into unforgiving shrieks, then a sample plays from the movie “Don’t Answer the Phone,” where a girl in drug rehab is forced to shout back with more and more authority about how drugs are more important than her family, boyfriend, and doctor. That’s a segment that loops through this record, by the way, giving a hypnotic, terrifying effect. “Harmful Situation” follows, and it’s fast, punishing, raw aggression buried in a field of noise. Then we finally meet up with “Pig Funeral,” a song that has a myriad of samples designed to hammer home their point about mistrust of police, their authority, practices, and sometimes brutality. One of the most gripping lines they use is one from the film “Satan’s Sadists,” and that helps lead into this sludge-meets-hardcore pounding, where Harrington spits, “They run this shit, they run this town.” The track gets progressively angrier over its 9:18 run time, and by the time it ends, it feels like a goddamn rally cry. It’s one of the most gripping songs of the year.

The 54-second “Sobriety” is up next, and its damage sets in quickly, with Harrington declaring, “I want to get fucked up today.” Always good to know what you want. “Upside Down” is another violent one, with scary vocals, music that veers toward punk, and absolute menace, especially with declarations such as, “We only want to abuse you, hang you upside down.” Not much guesswork involved when someone comes at you that bluntly. The 8:43-long title track follows, and it’s a long musical diatribe set to more swirling samples that could cause your mind to dissolve. We hear from the girl from “Don’t Answer the Phone” again, and her pounding into submissions as she finally shouts, “The drugs are more important than everything.” The band just piles on the fury, clubbing your senses over and over again, leaving you a heaving pile of goo once this disturbing, entrancing piece finally loosens its grip. Closer “Goat Brothel” is a final quick burst, with hardcore-laced thrashing, a maniacal pace, and desperate screams that make you wonder if everything simply ended in fire. Actually, you won’t really have to ponder that too deeply. The scars are way too apparent.

Not everyone is bound to agree with Fistula’s approach here, or their lyrical intent, but that’s kind of the point. Music—good music, anyway—is supposed to make you feel something, react, have emotions that might spill out of control. Shit’s way too safe. “Vermin Prolificus” does not step lightly, and once people get hint of “Pig Funeral,” there’s bound to be a tidal wave of reaction both positive and negative. Good. This is worth debating. This is worth hearing. This isn’t a group of brain-dead morons whose fans drunkenly trash a parking lot because they can’t handle themselves. This isn’t faux controversy like some overrated pop darling whose every shit is sent up as on offering on high. This is the real shit. This will piss you off. This will ball your fist. The fact that the music also is absolutely volcanic is icing on the cake. Go get this record, let it infect you, and see how you feel when it’s all over. No way that you come out of this unscathed.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fistula666

To buy the album, go here: http://www.patacrecords.com/distro/Fistula-Vermin-Prolificus-Vinyl-LP?zenid=99repv15st3d4gna38s5a5sra4

Or here: http://tolivealie.com/store/index.php

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

And here: http://www.tolivealie.com/

Blood of Kingu return with furious dose of black metal on ‘Dark Star on the Right Horn…’

Kingu coverIt’s not really wise to say I’ve missed the fellows from Ukraine’s Blood of Kingu considering the members have been fairly prolific the past few years. All of the members are part of long-running Drudkh, a favorite of this particular site, as well as Old Silver Key, who sadly closed shop after one great full-length.

But Blood of Kingu is a far different beast than those other bands. This is their vicious, wholly black metal-fed monster, and their new record “Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon” is their first since 2010’s somewhat-easier-to-say effort “Sun in the House of the Scorpion.” What does carry over to this band is the group’s refusal to participate in interviews or promo shots or any over-the-top marketing campaign of any type, so what you’re left with to digest is the music alone. What a refreshing way to go, and who really cares about whether there’s a photo of the band anyway? Well, glossy color magazines do, I guess. But here, it’s the music that demands your attention and nothing else.

Anyway, the core of the band remains intact, with one important new member added to the fold. Roman Saenko is your vocalist/guitarist, and he offers up some of his most brutal, blood-gushing work to date on this record. With him as always are guitarist Thurios, bassist Krechet, drummer Yuriy Sinitsky, and brand-new keyboard player Vlad, also a member of Drudkh, as well as bands such as Deliberate Chaos and Pragmatik. With these nine songs, they turn up the destruction to new heights and deliver one of their most satisfying releases ever. Hell, I wouldn’t throw you out of the room if you said it was their best work ever.

We start off with “Crowned Scarlet Moon Is Waiting for Eclipse” that has eerie noises built into it but that completely ignites into black metal madness. The guitars spiral and create a vortex effect, the growls are deep and guttural, the drums echo, and the music itself penetrates deep into your pores. “He Who Is Not To Be Named” is not a Harry Potter reference. Instead, it’s a heavy dose of ancient pestilence, with horns blowing like there is going to be a great battle in the sand, and the blood of soldiers and slaves are about to be shed. The music is infernal and burning, the drums are hammered by mallets, and the vocals are on fire. “Mother Hydra” has a bit of hand drumming, which is the only delicate element of the track. The vocals buzz in Saenko’s throat, feeling alien-like, and the rest of the band serves up a total drubbing. “Enshrined in the Nethermost Lairs Beneath the Ocean” not only sounds like the most terrifying place on Earth, the music lets you know it is. Punishing drums, deep growls, lead lines that send jolts down the spine, and more throat buzzing dress this piece of abject horror.

“Red Star on the Path of Ea” is a brief, sandy instrumental that leads into “Sigil of the Watcher,” a dark, threatening piece that continues to mash your already-brutalized senses with damaged, swirling guitars, drums that seek to do damage to your bone structure, and vocals that are choked with menace. “Prayer to the Gods of Night” is another quick, instrumental interlude that carves the path toward “The Bringer of Pestilence,” a track that is as ominous and dangerous as its name implies. There is fantastic, melodic lead work that powers the song forward, interesting musical progression that keeps you wondering where you’re headed next, and, naturally, vocals that shred skin. Closer “The Cycle Returneth” opens with hammering drums, vicious growls that spit venom into the wind, violent melodies, and that tornadic effect again, where it feels like you’re encircled by the band’s fury, pulled into a dark vortex, and swallowed into oblivion. Perfect ending to a clobbering record.

So, it might be a while before we hear from Blood of Kingu’s members in this incarnation, but we know the musicians responsible for “Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon” will be back with us in some form or another. This record is another gem of disaster from these guys, one of the most pulverizing documents in their entire creative canon, no matter what band you’re talking about. This record is worth embracing for its black metal magic, its intent to do harm, and for its infectious pull that engages your mind and then maims it without ever looking back.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blood-of-Kingu/121725098029258

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

Or here: http://shop.season-of-mist.com/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: YOB return with transcendental doom on ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend’

Yob Press Photos 2014 - Clearing The Path To AscendI love music that helps me transcend. It’s always great to have something that gets in my blood and helps me stretch beyond the here and now. I’m talking music that goes in my ears, coats my brain with dreams and ideas, and stands apart from the rest. And just to be certain I’m not misunderstood, I don’t need substances to make that happen. Because the music’s working that well.

Over the years, long-standing doom warriors YOB have done that for me. Their music is heavy and sometimes brutal, but it’s intellectual and spiritually stimulating as well. Every one of their records feels like another step in their evolution, not only as artists but as people, too. There’s this thing about their music that just feels like something that’s supposed to lift you up and help you see beyond this world. You don’t need any mind-altering medications to get there, as noted, because the power of their music is enough. That carries over to the band’s seventh album “Clearing the Path to Ascend,” their first for Neurot after having Profound Lore release the past two, and one of the finest records in their career. In fact, it rivals “The Great Cessation” for me as my favorite in their canon. It feels like yet another rebirth for YOB, this one dragging them into more tumultuous grounds.

YOB coverMike Scheidt is out on front of this unit, giving his distinct singing/growling, expressive guitar playing, and introspective lyrics to this great band. He’s one of the most gifted, unique artists going today in heavy music, and few others have a resume as impressive as his. Along with him in YOB are bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster, the same lineup that brought you 2010’s “Atma.” It sounds like they’ve channeled their inner beasts and vowed to let their animalistic tendencies flow freely on this record, and over these four tracks, you get plenty of punishment along with philosophical wonder to keep a perfect balance.

The record opens with the tremendous, nearly 17-minute “In Our Blood,” a track with a clean, dreamy opening sequence that spills into massive sludge and heavy crunching. The music swelters, while Scheidt’s nasally pinched singing takes over, at times sounding like a voice from beyond. The track builds beautifully over its extended running time, with growls mixing in for a more monstrous atmosphere, the music going clean and spacious, and a final blast growing out of that complete with fiery soloing and vicious shouting. “Nothing to Win” is one of the heavier tracks in YOB’s catalog, and certainly the burliest cut on this record. The music boils over, with the guitar work firing on all cylinder and leading the way into the madness, a thick bassline that mauls everything in front of it, and grainy noise that spills over toward the end. Scheidt howls over the heavy charge, that reminds a ton of High on Fire, and as the song reaches its finale, the band makes a concerted effort to keep dropping the heavy lumber. Just a killer song.

“Unmask the Sceptre” is mesmerizing at the start, as the song trickles open, but then they hit on a thunderous tempo switch treated with a nice helping of grisly growls. A trance-like melody slithers through the track, giving it a spacey feeling, but it always goes back to being stormy again with fiery guitar playing and the rest of the band burning brightly. Winds woosh through, the song trudges slowly in its final minutes, and it all disappears into the mist. Closer “Marrow” runs 18:48, and it brings the damage back down to earth. The song is emotional and solemn, with Scheidt leaning heavily on his cleaner vocals, and the bulk of this feels like a soulful, heartfelt reach out into the cosmos. There is some psychedelic trickling that arrives, a pocket of deeper, softer vocals not often heard on YOB releases, and finally a point where the floodgates are allowed to open just a bit. The tempo pushes a little harder, the vocals reach for a higher level, and then everything is snuffed out, with the track fading away into the darkness. Just a breath-taking finish to a stunning record.

YOB always find a way to reach a new high point, and “Clearing the Path to Ascend” is one of the finest statements of their career. It has the crunch to satisfy those who need it heavy, but it also can help you get lost in the emotion and let your mind wander. It’s a deep thinking kind of record, both for the band and the listener. Full commitment to the music is the way to absorb all the vitamins and nutrients from these six songs, and it’s the only may it can spiritually nourish you. I’ll always be thankful for having YOB as part of my musical DNA, and they always deliver when I need something with true substance and passion and not just a drubbing for drubbing’s sake.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

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

Dark Fortress imagine world on doorstep of demise, chaos with ambitious new ‘Venereal Dawn’

635405074659276554Despite the objections of people who subscribe to certain political leanings (AKA, those who hate and deny science), the possibility that we are choking the world to death is very real. I know, what a shame with the Earth only being 6,000 years old. Ugh. Shrug. Go away.

But that threat is there. Temperatures rising, pestilence moving its way across the globe to permeate every corner, and there always being a chance we could be wrecked for good by something catapulting through space. Life and the Earth are fragile, and that could be altered at any time, sending us into a frenzy. Topics such are these are what long-standing black metal unit Dark Fortress tackle on their latest album “Venereal Dawn,” their most musically ambitious effort to date. Never a band to shy away from a violent, uncomfortable topic, the band delves into the very-possible scenario of the Earth being devastated and life possibly being extinguished. What would that do to our psyche, the way we deal with others, and staring death in its eyes? That is the basis of vocalist/lyricist Morean (also of Noneuclid) on this seventh record, and he jumps into the burning caverns of hell with both feet. Just look at the scorched Earth album cover, and you know what you’re supposed to envision listening to this record.

635405074681116592Along with Morean on this album is the same cast that brought you 2010’s “Ylem.” On guitars are V Santura (Triptykon, Noneuclid) and Asvargr; Draug is on bass duties; Paymon on keys; and behind the drums is Seraph (Noneuclid). The music branches out far past black metal’s caverns, embracing elements of prog rock, doom, and death metal, and the vocals also push more boundaries. It’s a record that might surprise some people in scope but shouldn’t be a shock as they’ve always shown signs of steady progression.

The opener is a big chunk at 11:03, and it spreads itself methodically and with eerie wings. Speak singing emerges to start the tale, but then the song opens up and begins mauling. Furious blasts, buzzing growls, and total violence take over, but later they’re washed away by some strange choral sections, chanty shouts, and powerful soloing. It’s a hell of an opening salvo. “Lloigor” follows, going a little over nine minutes, and it actually feels a bit like an old Opeth song at the start. There are strong growls, a heaping dose of crunch, and progressions into speed and back to more channeled tempos. “Betrayal and Vengeance” has a punishing pace, with plenty of raw growls. But it also is flushed with melody, searing keyboards, and more choral sections. It’s a pretty weird journey. “Chrysalis” heads deep into prog territory, at times sounding like Rush’s more aggressive moments. There are strangely delivered vocals, weird melodies, and singing that sometimes feels a little strange.

“I Am the Jigsaw of a Mad God,” at 8:33, is one of the most interesting cuts on the record, and one of the darkest. There are sections of unbridled savagery, growls that sound like they’re trying to bring down the heavens, bizarre sheets of synth, and a killer vocal sequence that certainly should prompt callbacks live when Morean howls, “First came light!” It’s an awesome piece. “The Deep” pulls back, lasting only a couple minutes long, with rustic, rickety acoustics and crazed growls sneaking in. “Odem” starts like it’s going a folkish route before it blackens heavily, and Morean viciously shouts, “Drink deeply as you breathe me in!” The song is threatening and morbid, and it consistently goes for the jugular. “Luciform” is the weakest track of the bunch, with OK melodic vocals and decent melodies that hang in place. The track darkens with a little over a minute to go, with a killer bassline letting loose and it crushing what remains in its path. The 11:12-long closer “On Fever’s Wings” starts with dripping piano and proggy black. Morean hisses, “Keep heaving, keep breathing,” as soulful female vocals reach out and add a sense of sad elegance to the mix. The song remains stormy and humid, dragging you along behind it, and finally it dissipates with some desperate calls from the backing singer. The song ends much like the world would seem to in this case, finally after a prolonged bout of torture.

“Venereal Dawn” does take a bit of adjustment. That’s not because of the leaps and bounds the band took musically, but because there is so much here to digest. Each listen should unveil new layers and ideas perhaps unnoticed on first or even a few listens, which always is a welcome thing. It’s also fascinating to think that with how far they’ve come on this record, where will album number eight find them? That’s anyone’s guess.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.darkfortress.org/

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

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

Nightmarish figures american provide soundtrack to hell on debut album ‘Coping With Loss’

AmericanDo you watch television or follow the news even a little bit? If so, are you pretty sick by now? The worst of humanity seems to have reared its ugly head the past few weeks, not only in America, but around the world as people fight for their freedom and others battle against pestilence.

An ugly world needs an ugly soundtrack, one that lines up musically and philosophically with the crumbling societal and political blocks. It’s not even on purpose that we pick a band named american (lowercase by design) to resemble all of that strife and human horror going on in the world, but it fits. The mysterious duo’s debut full-length record “Coping With Loss” (out on cassette and digitial formats) is about as terrifying, noise drenched, chaotic, and outright violent as one is bound to need to endure these times. Settle yourself inside these seven tracks, and you will be identifying with madness and fury that people protect themselves inside proverbial cocoons to avoid. But you can’t turn away from this so easily. It’s bound to make your eyebrows furl, and if you’re a less than ambitious listener, this assault of black noise and frazzled nerves probably will cause you to reject outright. It’s OK. Not everyone is strong enough to look the demon in the eye.

There is not much known about these two other than they hail from Virginia and that the lineup consists of Jim Gullickson on vocals and drums and Mike Bamford on vocals, guitar, and bass. There are no live actions, there are no promo shots, and come to think of it, with all of this shadowy activity, I’m surprised they have embraced having any publicity at all. Their sound is a crumbling, sooty mix of noise, black metal, sludge, hardcore, and doom, and their music is chest-bursting heavy, with their overall philosophy seemingly being that of hatred, destruction, and annihilation via sound. It’s heavy, all-out psychological warfare going on, and the weak of heart are bound to end up balled up in a corner weeping from fear.

“Ritual Suicide” makes its presence known early, and really, you don’t have to venture much further than the song title to know what’s up. A driving tempo, harsh black metal-style howls, sludgy riffs, and layers of pure infamy make up this thing that delivers severe body blows. “Descendants” opens with a computer-generated voice that reminds of Pig Destroyer’s eerie “Jennifer,” and then it’s on to another eruption that meets up with strong melodies that completely disarm. The vocals are harsh shrieks, and a curtain of absolute darkness is dragged over this abrasive bastard. “Retinere” begins like it’s going down a murky doom path, but it’s something of a red herring as the band turns toward a manic fury, sweltering, sludgy chaos, and warped sense of reality. “Lamb to Slaughter” is a weird one, with dark, buzzing leads and a tempo that hulks rather than decimates. Screams and shrieks sound like they’re being delivered by a demented individual (and who’s to say they aren’t?), and the end of the track boils and sizzles.

“Pulse Beating Slowly” begins with static spitting everywhere, strange samples that are frightening, eerie and weird cries, and a terrifying horrorscape from which it’s impossible to turn your head. “Solace in the Silence” provides anything but that, with furious blasts meeting up with washed out black metal strains and howled vocals. The melodies only cement the strangeness, and the final moments are imbedded with destructive noises. Closer “Coping With the Loss and Insurmountable Guilt of Existing” tells you all you need to know from its name, just like the record opener, and with 17:54 with which to work, these guys have plenty of room to spread their bleeding tentacles. The track is packed with static, pastoral-style chants, noise chirps, and dissonant melodies that sound purposely disengaged. Static pulses and electric zaps blister your senses, while a spacey computer voice settles in to chill you even further. The final moments of relentless repetition act like blows to the head over and over, doing the best they can to knock you out and put you out of your misery.

The world’s a goddamned horror. Get used to it. People are getting worse, so this isn’t getting any better. In a few years, you’ll be begging for a band like american to come along and soothe you with absolute audio hell so that something can sound more damaged and deranged than what’s going on in your consciousness. “Coping With Loss” is that record, and it’s here for you now. It’ll lull you into the recesses of nightmares and let you see the worst for what it really is.

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

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

Or here: http://sentientruin.bandcamp.com/

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

Opeth’s ‘Pale Communion’ pulls further away from death metal while they tend to prog flames

OpethBy now, we all should have accepted that Opeth have moved past this death metal thing and are a full-throttle prog band now, right? I don’t want to devote a huge paragraph to explaining this to anyone, because it should be common knowledge to most people who visit this site. Oh, well, I kind of just did that, didn’t I?

Anyway, yes, anyone who was holding his or her breath hoping Opeth’s new record “Pale Communion” finally would be the one that put them back on the path to “Blackwater Park”-ness should just go ahead and take in some oxygen. It’s a worthless cause, you see? Opeth clearly have changed their stripes, and they’ve done so gradually throughout the years. So what greets you on this new, eight-track collection should come as no shock. Where you might be a little shaken (and not necessarily in a bad way), is the power and confidence with which Opeth deliver their music. They have fully embraced this new direction, and they take what they did on “Heritage” and push it full force into the future. There’s no turning back now, not that the band would even entertain the notion. If you’re one that only can accept this band in their death metal phase, you’re likely gone for good. “Pale Communion” is not bringing you back into the fold.

Opeth coverI admit I miss Opeth’s older days. I don’t begrudge them these changes. You can hear it in the music, in leader Mikael Akerfeldt’s interviews, in pretty much every bit of Opeth’s DNA that this is where they want to be. They sound damn good doing it too, from the organ-heavy passages, to the spidery paths the compositions take, to Akerfeldt’s very much stepped-up role as a vocalist. This record wasn’t done to gain them more fans or expand their audience. If anything, it might do the opposite, but I doubt the band is terribly worried. It sounds like these guys–also includes guitarist Fredrik Akesson, bassist Martin Mendez, keyboard player Joakim Svalberg, and drummer Martin Axenrot–are having way too much fun doing what they’re doing now.

“Eternal Rains Will Come” is one hell of a song, and it blasts you in the face with its 1970s-style prog assault, warm keyboards, trickling, and lush group vocals that sound dynamite. There is some great lead vocal work as well, which isn’t a surprise, and the guitar work is top notch, carrying you to the raucous end. “Cusp of Eternity” is the heaviest of the bunch, and it’s as close as the band comes to their burlier early work. The guitars chug pretty hard, Akerfeldt sounds at the top of his game, and the wordless chorus is a riveting one that’ll stick in your head long after it’s done. “Moon Above, Sun Below” runs 10:52, and there are some more forceful yells mixed into the vocals, which is a nice change of pace. The music is adventurous, with Akerfeldt noting, “Home is my grave,” and eventually everything runs into a bluesier section, with the vocals fitting right along with it. The final moments are dressed with whirring, spacey keys and drizzling piano. “Elysian Woes” is a much softer song, with acoustics leading the way, and even some flutes having their moment. Later, keys flutter, and Akerfeldt admits, “I don’t want to bear my scars for you.”

“Goblin” is an interesting, fun instrumental cut, with pulsating keyboards and a jazzy approach to the playing. “River” rises out of that with acoustic lead lines that mix into an oddly classic rock-style segment. In fact, the track sounds so much like mid-1970s American rock, it takes a little bit of getting used to coming from these guys. Later, the song feels a lot more like an Opeth cut, with the music getting earthier and challenging, and the final moments catching fire. “Voice of Treason” runs exactly eight minutes, and it mixes all kind of textures into the scene. There are echoey keyboards, strings that drive the song hard and really grab your ear, and later some Middle Eastern-flavored melodies. The song keeps morphing and growing, never showing its hand as to where it’s going, and it all ends up in a charged up finish complete with soulful vocals. Closer “Faith in Others” is another softer track, but one that’s propulsive and active. There are pianos and strings to provide color, and the vocals reveal a sense of vulnerability. Eventually guitars bleed in, meet up with thick strings, and build toward a lush finish that feels like the sun setting after a long, productive day.

Like I said, I much prefer Opeth in their death metal era than their foray into progressive rock. But they sound like a band that’s come alive, and that’s just too bad I feel the way I do. “Pale Communion” is a damn impressive, well played, well executed record, and I’d imagine its true home format is on vinyl, pouring like honey form your speakers. I don’t doubt Opeth’s heart and path for a second, and really, that’s all that matters. There always will be people like me left to tread backward into the band’s catalog as these guys catapult into their future.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Pallbearer has doom formula perfected with unreal ‘Foundations of Burden’

Photo by Diana Lee Zadlo

Photo by Diana Lee Zadlo

When I was a kid and a teenager, way, way before the Internet just handed us everything and stripped away the mystery from everything, I remember waiting with baited breath to hear follow-up records from my favorite bands. I recall stowing away any time a band such as Iron Maiden or Metallica or Testament issued a new record, studying the details, following along with the lyric sheets, and taking it all in.

That sort of mystery and excitement doesn’t really exist anymore. Maybe it really is because we’re served up preview songs, we see album covers well before they’re in stores, or if you’re a writer like I am, we hear the records sometimes months before they’re ready for purchase. It’s hard, then, to have a truly special moment with a band or a record, or to have that much-anticipated follow-up that your entire year revolves around. Luckily for me, and I know for tons of other readers and listeners out there, Arkansas-based doom metal band Pallbearer remains one of those shining beacons in the metal year that is truly worth anticipating. What they would do to follow up their universally praised (justifiably so) debut record “Sorrow and Extinction” matters a whole lot. Incredibly so. What other album carries the weight, importance, and expectations this one does? And if you say Mastodon, you can log off the goddamned site right now. Yes, so many of us have rolled out the ragged red carpet for Pallbearer’s second album “Foundations of Burden,” and is it ever worth it.

Pallbearer coverPallbearer–guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell, guitarist Devin Holt, bassist Joseph D. Rowland, and drummer Mark Lierly–haven’t just successfully matched their monumental debut, a record that made the metal world realize there is beauty and worth in doom in its most traditional form. They have eclipsed it and pushed themselves to that proverbial next level. This is one of those rare records these days we wait with strained patience to hear, and once it reaches in and permeates our brain we realize we’re in the presence of one of the most important bands of our time. This is the modern-day answer to those aforementioned legends. Pallbearer may not sell out stadiums, block up big-box store shelves, and get massive airplay on lame-brained radio stations. Instead, they’re the a band pushing boundaries, making metal count in its purest form, and just mattering a whole motherfucking ton. This six-track record is a massive accomplishment, a touchstone in current metal history, and one that should cement them as the demigods. That’s not overstatement. That’s the truth. This is the big band that never lets you down and makes you get lost in the magic of being a metal fan.

The expanded, elevated sound is apparent from the opening strains of “Worlds Apart,” as it just bursts open with glory and sullen energy. Campbell’s vocals are a total revelation here and on this whole record, and he has really stepped up his game. He’s one of the best singers in metal now, period. The song travels well over its 10 minutes, with rich, elegant doom tapestries painted, vocal harmonies popping from the woodwork and enhancing the band’s sound even further, and a dramatic journey sprawling that pulls through this cut and never lets you lose your focus. “Foundations” has a burlier opening, and once again, the vocals are practically magical, as Campbell unfurls lines including, “We shall build here, in this cursed place,” almost acting like the band’s comment on their place in the metal world. The back end gets incredibly lush, and the singing and harmonizing are gorgeous, sweeping you up and enthralling you. It’s just an amazing song. “Watcher in the Dark” is a really interesting one, as it gets gritty following its majestic start. But then it delves into murkier territory, at times feeling like a really early Queensryche song, and the way it plays out is unlike anything else in the band’s catalog. That said, we haven’t even gotten to the most surprising cut on this fantastic album.

“The Ghost I Used to Be” is the track most people have heard by now, as it premiered a few weeks ago over at NPR to much excitement. The opening riff is cool and icy, and that leads into a synth section that feels like the trickling soundtrack of an old B sci-fi movie. After a steadily moving first part of the song, it gets a little more aggressive, with shouts sliding next to Campbell’s smooth vocals, and it provides a rougher edge to this one. There is some great soloing that emerges, and the final minutes of the song burn brightly and in a calculated manner. Now, for the track that’ll take most by surprise. “Ashes” is a three-minute gem of a song that acts as the record’s “ballad.” It’s quiet, with plinking, spacey keys and a cosmic environment, as Rowland takes over on lead vocals, quite capably might I add. It’s a daring little thing, and it expands Pallbearer’s universe even further. Finally, 11:41-long closer “Vanished” arrives, on the wings of slow driving melodies and softer vocals from Campbell. The song travels a deliberate but steady pace for the first half, but later it opens up and gets a little heavier. Things gets muddier, everything comes in heavier, and the vocals swing back to being a little more forceful, and always brimming with passion. Finally, the song hits its final stretch, as the band begins to dim their torches as the passage fades into night. If you find you’ve halted your breathing, you’re not alone. This record will do that to you.

Yes, you’re going to hear tons of praise and read millions of inches of copy of writers like me raising up “Foundations of Burden.” It’s not hyperbole. It’s not hive mentality. It’s people realizing we are in the midst of a great, special metal band that really is just at the start of their run. And already they have delivered two all-time classic records that must be a part of any metal collection worth anything. Go get this record, put on your headphones, and let each rich second of these songs take over and make you feel joy in metal again. Not many bands can do that, so why not indulge in the ones that can?

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

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

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

Botanist turns focus toward praise, adulation of beloved green life on joyous ‘VI: Flora’

BotanistReally great music is a labor of love. You can feel that in your bones when you come across an artist or a record that is filled with genuine emotion and passion for what’s going on musically and thematically. It’s not something that needs to be explained; it’s something that grips your heart and lets you know what’s there is true.

I’ve always felt that way about Botanist, the one-man, dulcimer-and-drum-led project of one Otrebor. Over the past several years, he has given us a glimpse into his Verdant Realm, where plant life and nature is the only thing that matters, and its human central figure the Botanist surrounds himself with the greens that he loves and takes care of so dearly. But there’s always been a sinister, dark edge to the record and the songs (especially on “III: Doom in Bloom” and “IV: Mandragora”), mainly because the Botanist and his surrounding creatures hope one day to bring humankind to their knees for the atrocities they have committed against plant life. But the intentions are noble. The Earth has spiraled out of control into a place of corporate-driven agendas, political fighting, and the strangulation of the very idea of scientific theory by some very short-sighted people. The Botanist imagines a day when nature rises again and reclaims what is her very own. These tenets play right into the heart of black metal aesthetics, where Botanist’s music has its base, but in a way no one ever really imagined before.

Botanist coverBut on “VI: Flora,” the scene changes a bit. Not that every bit of music Botanist has put out has necessarily been devoted purely to the Botanist character’s crusade, but this one is the most unique out of the entire catalog. I mean that musically and emotionally. This record is more of an adulation to the surrounding plant life in the Verdant Realm. It’s a genuflection, a devotion, an embrace of all of the elements of nature that make the Botanist’s very human heart glow. You can feel that shine through in the music, as these 11 songs are some of the most upbeat, emotional, and catchy of his entire run, and it’s impossible for anyone who listens to this record not to be carried away or even shed a tear for what’s being expressed here. It’s utterly jubilant in spots, and even when the music bears its edges, it’s more of fierce devotion rather than the will to maim. It’s an amazing, breath-taking collection that fits with the whole but truly has its own place.

Opener “Stargazer” gives the record a triumphant feel from the start, with the vocals veering toward whispery and washed-out creaking. The melodies glimmer at times over this track, and eventually it fades out and sets the stage for “Callistemon.” The song has an upbeat, almost post-punk feel, as the composition stings with power, and the vocals lie low in the layers of sound. Toward the end, the drums really burst with life, as Otrebor plays like Neil Peart in a burst of spastic, jazzy fury. “Cinnamomum Parthenoxylon,” named a critically endangered type of evergreen tree, is treated with faster tempos, explosive emoting, and a blazing attitude, as if the focus here is to lash out over this creation’s fragile future. It’s the first real hint of deep-seeded darkness on this record. “Gleditsia” bursts with life from the start, with drums rumbling, the dulcimer hammered with gusto, and turning into a catchy pace that could sweep you up to sing praises back yourself. “Rhizophora” trickles slower, with some buzzing, a nice dose of drone, and noises hanging in the air that feel like a hovering insect. It’s a mesmerizing song that can make you feel a little woozy inside.

“Dianthus” is another song with a really strong melody that packs a punch. It’s a catchy, steady track, with the vocals coming out as whispers again, and the back end of the song is damn near poppy! “Leucadendron Argenteum” is the longest track on here, running more than six minutes and establishing an amazing sense of atmosphere. The piece builds out of that spaciousness, and the tempo kicks up like so many of the other tracks on this record. The song is packed with heartfelt passion, both musically and vocally, and once the main body of the music burns out, quiet dulcimer takes the remains to its exit. Really strong. “Pteridophyte” has some noisy elements, as that energy washes over the music and gives it a rougher edge. Again, the outer edges appear to glimmer and practically give off a euphoric shine. “Wisteria” is launched by stick cracks, and then it’s off into the haze, with clean singing lurking. It gives a different feel to the song and also offers another new glimpse into this project’s heart. “Erythronium” emerges from the final notes of “Wisteria,” and it takes a colorful, driving push forward. The vocals again are whispery, the presentation is sweeping, and joyously so, and the song makes for one great last burst of praise. The final cut “…Gazing…” is 54 seconds of emotional comedown, as the dulcimer quietly leads us out of the Verdant Realm and back to reality.

Botanist has been one of the most prolific projects in metal the past half-decade, and each new chapter is enthralling and a another step up from what came before it. “Flora” is a very different record for this gifted artist, and it’s one that you can feel in every ounce of your being. You don’t necessarily have to understand everything that’s being said right away. You can sense the wonder and love in each note. It’s been an amazing ride we’ve taken with each new Botanist release, and Otrebor always has something new to reveal. If anything, maybe this record can help more listeners feel the love the artist and main character possess for nature around us and make us think twice next time we take it for granted. That’s worth hailing indeed.

For more on the band, go here: http://botanist.nu/

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

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