PICK OF THE WEEK: Perfect fall music here on Falls of Rauros’ vast ‘Believe in No Coming Shore’

Falls of Rauros bandThere is some music that’s made for certain seasons, whether that’s the artists’ intentions or not. Some things just seem to fit certain moods, like harsh black metal in the winter or Iron Maiden’s blazing glory in the summer. For whatever reason, the weather just seems to suit those bands, and vice versa.

With tomorrow being the birth of November and another huge step into autumnal terrain, the new record from Falls of Rauros could not have come at a more fitting time. “Believe in No Coming Shore” sounds tailor made for this time of year, and I thought that well back to when I was listening to this thing on a beach with the sun beating down a couple months ago. It made me hunger for cold, dark nights, darker beers, and any excuse to huddle near a fire. The band’s grasp and alignment with nature surely pushes that along, but there’s something about this record that bites your skin with chilly winds and makes you think of chilled creeks and rivers coated in brown, yellow, and red leaves, awaiting the first oppressive snowfall.

Falls of Rauros coverAnother thing that must be noted about this Maine-based black metal band is the richness of their sound that no doubt contributes to the music helping connect mind and body with the season. The band weaves many different sounds into their formula, including a heavy doses of Americana and folk that help further color and inform their hearty, spacious sound. The band–who simply go by their first names of Jordan, Evan, Ray, and Aaron and all contribute to the mix–have been making huge strides over their two full-length albums, 2008’s impressive “Hail Wind and Hewn Oak” and their 2011 follow-up “The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood.” Falls of Rauros have slowly, steadily built a loyal, passionate following of people who no doubt emotionally identify with the band’s music, and they’re bound to be pleased to no end with this incredible new opus, their new high-water mark.

The record opens rather delicately, easing you in with “Blue Misshapen Dusk” that’s constructed with calm, trickling water, clean guitars spilling out slowly, and an airy feel of nature before it leads into “Ancestors of Shadow.” That, too, begins cleanly, building into something progressive, and then letting warm electrics pull a warm blanket over everything before erupting. The vocals are harsh and passionate, with great melodies carrying you on its shoulders and fiery leads that inject more passion than you can handle into the song. Great a song as it is, it’s really a precursor to one of the best pieces Falls of Rauros ever have created. The track is the stunning “Ancestors of Smoke,” a song that builds perfectly over its 10:07, beginning with poetic and furious leads, wild howls that sound like they originated deep in the soul, and a tremendous spiritual alignment among all four members. Halfway through, the song seems to come to an end, before folky acoustic guitars rise up, met with rich, syrupy slide guitars that remind a bit of Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. Heaviness eventually returns, but the band doesn’t abandon the rustic elements, and the final moments are both catastrophic and completely cathartic. This is one of those special cuts where all the parts move together ideally, making for a song that can act as their calling card.

“Waxen Voices” also is a tremendous, challenging track, with acoustics dressing the initial moments and an extended, melodic passage growing out of that, where everyone gets to stretch their legs and build one hell of an atmosphere. The band chugs a little harder on this song, digging deeper into the more disruptive elements of black metal, but there also are some sunburst lead lines here, making me wonder if they were jamming some Allman Bros. at some point during the record’s creation. You can feel this one building in your heart, driving your blood through your veins, and the vocals begin wailing like a battle cry, while the drums deliver a vicious bruising. When the song comes to an abrupt end, you might find yourself totally out of breath. “Spectral Eyes” is fast, melodic, and challenging, with gushing vocals, nicely textured melodies, soulful lead guitar work, and even some bits that sound like they could make an indie rock fan smile. This is a tremendous piece of work, and oddly, it fills me with nostalgia listening to this one, like it’s connecting me with something from my past. I’m still trying to figure out what. Like the opener, the closing title track mixes acoustic with electric guitar, blending them wonderfully. Lead lines burst through this line sunbeams, with the melody feeling numb and sleepy in spots, bustling in others. The track concludes like you’re waking up from a dream that’s gripped you through the night but also gave you plenty to think about during the coming day.

I highly encourage you to secure a copy of “Believe in No Coming Shore” in any (legal) way necessary. It is one of the year’s best metal records and one that will keep delivering every time you visit. Falls of Rauros are in a class all by themselves, a band that has a firm grasp of the heavy, emotional, and delicate and weave it all together beautifully. Crisp winds are in the air, the winter is on its way, and it’s never been a better time to bask in this band’s glory. Do it now before the truly special moment to experience this record passes you by for another year.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/store/

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

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/

Barbelith’s killer debut adds emotion to black metal; souls dusted by Generation of Vipers; Apostle of Solitude emit dark

Barbelith

Barbelith

It’s another one of those weeks where we have more records than days of the week to cover them. We’re winding down the year’s release schedule, oddly, and I keep finding myself buried in records to which I want to give time. It’s looking like November’s not going to be all that merciful either.

So we come back at you with another piece where we’ll give some time to a few records that are recently released or just on their way, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to each of them. What’s also nice is these records come from three bands who could not sound less like one another, so if you’re an open-minded listener you could find a whole lot in which to sink your teeth. In fact, one of these albums came to our attention kind of late, but we liked it so much that we’re going to go ahead and lead with that one.

Barbelith coverBaltimore’s Barbelith aren’t rewriting the book on atmospheric black metal, but they sure are penning a damn good add-on chapter for the genre’s new editions. Powered by emotionally charged music and vocals that match that intensity, this band is putting out their awesome debut record “Mirror Unveiled” on Grimoire Records, one of the more reliable labels for the emerging beasts in underground metal. This 4-track, 37-minute album might make you think of like-minded bands such as Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Yellow Eyes, and the almighty Weakling, and their approach feels fresh and true, even if they’re putting their own spin on a style of metal that’s coming dangerously close to saturation. But Barbelith remind us there still are exciting bands playing this style, and I can only imagine where they’ll go following this impressive, assaulting first album.

The album is comprised of two epics book ended by two smaller, more concise tracks. “Beyond the Envelope of Sleep” kicks things into gear with an ignition of power, drums that go off, and insane riffs that spiral and pile on top of each other. The guitars are melodic and glorious, while the vocals are harsh and punishing, with everything ending on a chaotic note. “Astral Plane” begins in the arms of serenity, making you feel like you’re floating through a dream, but then everything is blown to bits, with heavy atmosphere behind their music, which is thick and apparent on this track. There are times when the song starts absolutely destroying everything in front of it and others when the pace is pulled back and the intensity drops. The band always leaves you wondering when to take cover, and the final minutes that are dressed with cosmic synth, gazey coolness, vocals that sound like they’re hellbent on killing, and cosmic dreaminess prove why these songs are so unpredictable.

“Black Hole of Fractured Reflections” keeps our minds in the clouds, with an airy, eerie start that feels like it’s sprinkling stardust before the damn thing is torn apart. The guitars spiral and find a loopy sense of aggression, while crazed shrieks are traded off with strangled growls, giving a perfect look into what makes this band so destructive. Once again, the calm moments and the violent ones play tug of war, as the tempos and paces play around with your mind, and as the song goes on, it even dips into progressive waters. But that isn’t a permanent move, as the band re-ignites their fires, with anguished howling and chugging guitars giving the end a hard shaking. “Reverse Fall” is your finale, running a strong 6:10 and immersing you in heavy, mystical sounds. The howled shrieks terrify again, with the riffs driving this machine forward heavily and massively. Noises are splattered everywhere, while the band maintains its atmospheric crunch, and the final seconds end the record with an earth-ripping fury.

It’s pretty sobering to realize this is just the start for Barbelith, and this debut is one that’s well worth your time and monetary investment. These guys sound like they could be the future of atmospheric black metal, a band that not only will keep the sound alive but will pump it full of vitality.

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

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

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

Generation of Vipers coverGENERATION OF VIPERS, “Coffin Wisdom” (Translation Loss) – It’s been three years since Knoxville maulers Generation of Vipers have destroyed us with a new studio album, that one being 2011’s malicious “Howl and Filth.” It’s been a more active year for the band as they brought Gilead Media Fest to its knees in July, and now they’ve returned with their blistering fourth record “Coffin Wisdom” that will knock your teeth down your damn throat.

The band’s combo of hardcore, sludge, and doom are on full display on these seven tracks, and there’s hardly any mercy to be had on this record. The songs are drenched in noise and chaos, and cuts such as punishing open “Damaged Awake” (where the thick bassline sounds like a spine of solid steel); the sweltering yet channeled title cut; the mechanically dangerous, feedback-laden smasher “Dark Matter”; and 7:28 bone-crushing closer “Crawling on the Ceiling” that combines killer riffs, muddy ferocity, and noisy melodies making this one to hear when you absolutely need to throw a cinder block through someone’s window. But this band can do other things, which they prove on the more reflective “Haunted,” a song that has an eerie, ghostly first half, where you feel like you’re in the middle of an out-of-body-experience, before they wreck a dump truck into the whole thing and end it in a cloud of explosive rage. These guys are heavy, honest, and massive, and this is arguably their best record to date.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://translationlossrecords.bigcartel.com/

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

Apostle of Solitude coverAPOSTLE OF SOLITUDE, “Of Woe and Wounds” (Cruz del Sur) – If misery, depression, and sadness is more your thing, Indianapolis-based doom metal band Apostle of Solitude are back four years after their awesome “Last Sunrise” (which had one of the most controversial album covers of that year). In the time since, the band has shifted from Profound Lore to Cruz del Sur, but the band’s music is just as heavy, dreary, and darkness-saturated as ever before, as evidenced by their killer new record “Of Woe and Wounds.”

Apostle of Solitude’s music still comes as you from a traditional base, which is sure to please fans of bands including Hour of 13, Gates of Slumber, and some obscure group called Black Sabbath. The 10-track record is fiery, slow driving in spots, and full of great riffs, with there being so many high points, it’s tough to hit on them all. “Whore’s Wings” has tremendous singing from guitarist Chuck Brown, some awesome harmonizing, and warnings to, “See the coldness in her eyes”; “Lamentations of a Broken Man” that’s a profoundly dark and sometimes reminds of early Alice in Chains; “Die Vicar Die” the angriest and, in my opinion, best song on the record, with Brown wondering, “How could a righteous god forgive a monster like me?” and a chorus that bristles with anger; the swaggering and catchy “Push Mortal Coil”; and the epic “Luna” that’s mystical, creepy, sludgy, moody, and lumbering all at once. Apostle of Solitude remain one of the finest American doom bands, and “Of Woe and Wounds” solidifies their rock-solid resume.

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

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

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

Former Trouble members spark new life, light bright doom fire on ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’

The SkullLike many other metal fans, my pathway to doom came from the mighty Black Sabbath. But they weren’t the only band that exposed me to the darker sounds, the slower tempos, and the feeling something sinister could be lurking around the bend. Chicago-based Trouble was just as influential for me growing up, even if their music also radiated light and positivity in a world often bereft of both.

I remember quite vividly riding on the bus and walking the halls of my high school listening to Trouble’s 1990 self-titled record (“End of My Daze” could have played on an endless loop and I would have been happy) and 1991’s “Psalm 9,” and their style of metal awakened something inside of me that opened up my understanding of metal as an art form. To this day, I still love those early Trouble albums and wish their early lineup remained intact. But that’s not to be, as the band has been reshuffled entirely, but a new group The Skull, featuring three former Trouble members including awesome vocalist Eric Wagner, have released their debut record “For Those Which Are Asleep” that seriously alleviates that long-term itch.

The Skull coverWagner’s inclusion in The Skull (named after Trouble’s second record) is the biggest key. His voice still has that higher range, but for the most part, he wields a huskier voice now. But he remains as poignant as a lyricist and in command of the machine as before; he just sounds like he’s weathered battles over the years and has an insight many of metal’s voices do not. Joining him are former Trouble members Ron Holzner (bass) and Jeff Olson (drums), as well as guitarists Matt Goldsborough and Lothar Keller. The band sounds formidable, provides a look back to doom’s metamorphosis through the late 1980s and early 1990s, and stomps forward with a newfound energy and focus that makes “For Those” such a pleasurable listen, especially for us old Trouble fans.

“Trapped Inside My Mind” is a tremendous and fitting opener, as it’s slow driving, doomy, and melodic, with Wagner having his first chance at showing the world just how strong those pipes still are. The riffs are really fun and punchy, and after a wicked solo, Wagner begs, “Help me to escape.” “The Touch of Reality” has some tremendous Sabbath-influenced guitar work and deeper vocals from Wagner, as he reaches lower in his register and still has full command. Once again, the lead guitar work stands out and burns brightly, with a burly rhythm lurking underneath, and the end of track chugs pretty hard. “Sick of It All” pulls back the tempo a bit, but not the heaviness. The song has a nice psychedelic edge to it, with Wagner lamenting the things wearing on his mind, and he sings a little grittier over the chorus, which adds a proper sense of wear and tear. “The Door” also is slower, with Wagner warning, “I am darker than you know,” with a mind-altering glaze drizzled over top. As the song goes on, the sounds cascade, the guitars get bluesier, and the conclusion hits hard with doom, organs, and chimes. “Send Judas Down” is one of the most aggressive on the record, with a nasty riff, a mean sounding chorus, and a pace that could leave you bruised all over. Awesome song.

“A New Generation” is another rocker, with blues-fed doom riffs, a vintage sound that reminds of these musicians’ early days, and the only drawback being a chorus that lacks punch. “Till the Sun Turns Black” is a killer track with a chunky groove and Wagner sounding on fire, howling, “All I ever wanted was to love you back.” It’s dark, punchy, and one hell of a lot of fun. The 7:03 title track begins with acoustic strains and Wagner opening his dark storytelling, with the music sounding dusty and rustic. Then the song powers up, and the guys hammer hard when the chorus arrives, but they eventually go back to a mid-tempo pace for the verses. That only makes sense. As the song reaches its second half, the guitars open up more and conjure some classic metal thunder, the riffs start piling up and wailing away, and things are beaten to dust before fading away. “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” also harkens back to Trouble’s earlier years in a really awesome way. The riffs are heavy, the tempo is just crushing, and Wagner sounds amazing, like he’s turned back the damn clock. Speaking of that, the guys end the record with a new take on Trouble’s old cut “The Last Judgement,” giving it a proper modern update and proving they have the chops to play anything from any era of these musicians’ careers with fire and passion. Really cool to hear this finish off the record.

The Skull’s music hits the doom spot far more effectively than the current incarnation of Trouble, and this is a great start for this band of veterans. Wagner is in fine voice and is as engaging as ever before, and the rest of the band totally delivers the goods on “For Those Which Are Asleep.” There aren’t a lot of bands making the type of music The Skull is, making these veteran players’ work a breath of fresh air not only for doom but the entire metal world.

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

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

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

Mare Cognitum, Tongues deliver own brands of metallic horror, cosmic dreams on new records

Mare Cognitum's Jacob Buczarski

Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski

I have levels of mistrust for labels that put out, like, 40 releases or more per year. How can you get all of that right? How can you ensure your audience that all of these bands and all of these records you release are worth your time? Answer is, they’re not.

This site always has gravitated more to the smaller labels. Not to be elitist. I love the attitude people have that if you don’t embrace the mainstream “underground” metal artists, you’re some kind of dick destroying metal. No. Maybe that music doesn’t resonate with us. It doesn’t for me. Which is why I love getting the occasional promo e-mails from I, Voidhanger, a label that doesn’t bombard you with a ton of new releases but certainly does a fine job hand picking the good ones. A few weeks back, they shot off another that was way more than worth my time, and two of those records we bring to you today. One is by Mare Cognitum, who we’ve discussed before and bears the Meat Mead Meat stamp of approval. The other is a bizarre band called Tongues, that really made a huge mark on me, as much for their music as their inventiveness.

IVR036_Mare_Cognitum_Phobos_Monolith_front_cover_1600pxWe’ve visited with Mare Cognitum a few times in the past when we discussed 2012’s awesome “The Extraconscious Lucidity” and last year’s collaborative effort with Spectral Lore called “Sol.” The Santa Ana, Calif., based project is the brainchild of sole member Jacob Buczarski, who has used Mare Cognitum to reveal to the world his spacious, aggressive imagination, as well as his gift for creating atmospheric, wondrous black metal that reaches out into the cosmos. Buczarski is back with a new record “Phobos Monolith” that finds him branching his abilities out even further, returning with a stunning, forceful record that keeps in place the artistic template but also adds more color, texture, and volcanic eruptions. It’s a hell of a record, and it’s great to hear this project progressing with each new release.

“Weaving the Thread of Transcendence” opens the record with a heavy woosh of sound, clean guitars trickling, and the song eventually opening up in full, driving hard toward the meaty points of this 13:04 cut. The melodies are spacious and spread out over a great vastness, with the vocals erupting as a vicious growl that cuts and devastates. The drums really kick up dust about halfway through this one, as Buczarski glues his foot to the gas pedal and speeds forward, with shrieks piercing the calm and tremendous melody that is thick and deep. “Entropic Hallucinations” explodes open, with the growls sounding monstrous and menacing, and a cool synth glaze setting up behind all the lava flow. The track is even heavier than usual for Mare Cognitum, and even when the song hits some tempo dips, it always returns to power and force. The song really starts soaring as it reaches its back end, with an enveloping darkness making it hard to see your hands in front of your face and the madness spiraling out and leaving you gasping for breath.

“Noumenon” runs 13:06, and it takes its time setting up shop, with noise pockets thickening and piano notes dropping like thick drizzle. Buczarski sets up a great atmosphere and keeps playing from the heart, building thick layers of sound and stretching out the colors and textures. The vocals bleed in, remaining bloody and fiery, and some tremendous leads rip right into a gazey section that lets winds gust up and tear leaves from the trees. As the song reaches its final minutes, it’s impossible not to feel all the feelings. The fires are stoked hard as Buczarski reveals even more emotions lurking within him, and it’s easy to be completely overwhelmed by this track, in a really great way, of course. “Ephemeral Eternities” lasts 15:16, and the final moments of the preceding track flows right into this one. Like the songs before it, things don’t explode right away, as a mood is set and colors are dashed over the canvas before a burning hammer is thrown through it. The vocals are more death metal-oriented in spots, and there are some great thrashy sections here, where Buczarski chugs hard and makes you want to drive a car through a house. The music cascades hard down on everything, the sense of aural violence is everywhere, and the track gives one last good thrashing before it fades out, bringing this excellent album to a thunderous finish. Mare Cognitum are a pretty consistent band, and this project really seems to be coming into its own as Buczarski sharpens his musical tools.

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

Tongues

Tongues

Tongues are a Danish outfit as bizarre and dizzying as heavy and pulverizing. Putting an exact label on what this band–Thorbjorn on guitars, vocals, bass, organ, and Qvortrup on drums, vocals, and lyrics–is pretty difficult. There is plenty of darkness to be absorbed on their debut EP “Thelesis Ignus,” and you can pull strains of black metal and doom from this cloudy, stormy cavern. The band claims to reach beyond the physical and into how the mind and soul correlate with the body and our experiences. So we’re not just being pummeled here. There’s a method to all of this and a greater mission beyond mere metal, something all of us could experience with them as we are all living beings.

IVR038_TONGUES_Thelésis_Ignis_front_cover_1600px“Void Meditation” opens the proceedings, running 10:05 and giving you a strong dose of what’s ahead. The opening is weird and suspenseful, like a curtain is going up to reveal a strange ritual behind it. The growls are gurgly and lurching, with the drums taking on a tribal tone and the entire thing feeling hypnotic. As the track moves along, it gets heavier and more hostile, with the vocals getting screechier and the guitars going off. Things hit thick pits of sludge, the pace and path are unpredictable, and the track comes to a furious ending. “Will of Fire” feels like blurry black metal at the start, with strong, burly growls and later some whispery messages as the song gets a little mystical. The band hits on a massive, killer groove, with crazed playing that defines “all-over-the-map” creativity, and a fire-breathing, devastating last few minutes that seek to deliver an unquestioned knockout blow.

“Last Grip of the Hand of Guilt” has a static-splashed start before it delves into mean death metal trauma. The track has moments that are absolutely hellish, sometimes slowing down to make the beating more deliberate, other times pouring gasoline on the blaze. The playing is relentless and unforgiving, and then black metal stallions gallop with a fury and flatten everything in its wake. The drums tear apart everything, the vocals go absolutely insane, and the aggression keeps multiplying itself before it dissolves into dissonance. “Bloodline of the Blind” is the closer, as “Last Grip” smashes its final moments into the song. This track is completely different from everything else on the record and shows you a haunting, spookier side of the band. The track is made up of strings, weird buzzing and ambiance, and vocals that come buzzed from the throat, like a beast of an insect is delivering this take on Adam and Cain’s tale. It’s a really strange, sometimes upsetting song that could chill the hell out of you, and despite how disturbing it is, you cannot turn away from this track until it finally lets go and allows you to return to some semblance of order. This is a really promising, gripping debut from a new band whose future really could go in any number of directions. Whatever they pick, it’s bound to be horrifying.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/tungerne
So there you have it: Two more strong releases from I, Voidhanger, a label that seems quite content to remain in the underground, serving up the darkest, most fierce that world has to offer. Both bands could not sound any different, but those who swear by the label’s offerings, or anyone who wants something a little more challenging and rewarding in their lives would do themselves good by experiencing both Mare Cognitum’s and Tongues’ new work. You also know by the way the label carefully hand-picks their bands and releases, that they stand by these records wholly and heartfully.

To buy either album, go here: http://www.i-voidhanger.com/mailorder.htm

For more on the label, go here: http://www.i-voidhanger.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Giant Squid pay homage to fallen Greek society on emotional, tragic ‘Minoans’

Giant SquidQuick! Name the English archaeologist known for unearthing artifacts of the Minoan civilization and who had a prominent role of defining what those people meant to the history of Greece as well as the Mediterranean region. Don’t know it? It’s OK if you don’t. I didn’t until just recently, and had it not been for the great new record from Giant Squid, I may never have reason to read up on it either.

The answer to that question is coming soon, but let’s get into the bulk of the progressive doom band’s fourth record “Minoans” and what inspired the band to seek this path. See, Giant Squid always did things way differently than many other metal bands, especially in the doom realm. Instead of basing their work on destruction, death, or negativity, this group always headed outward to the seas, to the scientific, to the natural. The band isn’t just called Giant Squid because it looks good on a T-shirt; it’s because it’s a focus for the band to adventure deep under waters rarely seen by human and pay homage to creatures and things many people haven’t before. They also approach their music differently, branching out for each release, refining their melodies and style, and never returning the same beast. That same goes for “Minoans,” where the singing is as rich as ever, psychedelic bubbling becomes a large factor, and they go heavily toward dramatic, rousing passages, making for one hell of a riveting listen.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}So it’s easy to be moved artistically and learn new things when taking on Giant Squid–guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory, cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz, keyboard player Andrew Southard, bassist Bryan Ray Beeson, and drummer Zack Farwell. I’ve only scratched the surface of indulging in more on the Minoans, who were prominent on the island of Crete from 2700-1450 B.C. Just as fascinated as this lost society is are the many theories for how they met their end, from volcanic eruptions to war to environmental carelessness, all of which easily could bring today’s societies to its knees. So there’s another lesson to be learned from this great band, who we’re so happy to hear from again as their last record was 2009’s concept piece “The Ichthyologist.”

The opus begins with the title cut, with gently moving waves and psyche keyboards washing over and chilling you out. The pace moves along deliberately, with Gregory’s vocals opening up, strings swirling in the wind, and great melodies meeting up with Gratz’s commanding cello. It’s a captivating, swelling cut that opens the record nicely. “Thera” is unmistakably emotional, with more keys drizzling, and a punchier tempo setting the tone. Both Gregory and Gratz provide vocals, often taking turns as the dominant voice, with glorious melodies that eventually meet their end when the doom drops out of the bottom. From there, the song catapults forward, with the guitar surging and dominating, and the song taking on a surfy feel. Remember that question we asked in the opening paragraph? Well, you get your answer on “Sir Arthur Evans,” a track inspired by the man who discovered the remnants of the Minoans and who gets homage paid through jazzy playing and Gregory’s croaking vocals that sound not unlike Tom Waits. It feels like a pirate tale at times, with the end bursting open, the cello adding dashes of color, and the conclusion absolutely rumbling. “Palace of Knossos,” another of Evans’ discoveries, get burly treatment, with Gratz singing, the texture feeling awfully cool, and some strong vocal interplay that takes you down the stretch.

“Sixty Foot Wave” brings the assault of life-ending destruction into play, with the bass driving hard, playful guitar lines emerging, and Gregory calling, “We will be washed clean and torn asunder,” imagining the end of civilization coming to pass. Guitars sharpen and cut, the band hits a cool groove that pushes the song, and everything keeps building until the end arrives. “Mycenaeans” has a steely, punishing approach, with vocal harmonizing, a dreamy texture, and some of the heavier stuff on the whole record. The band then takes an ominous turn, with the cry of, “What god do we turn to?” before the final moments embody total cataclysm. “The Pearl and Parthenon” could be called a ballad, as it’s played slowly and with a lot of heart. The vocals are softer, with Gratz and Gregory taking turns switching off from lead to backing, and the track progresses gently and warmly. It’s not all serenity, though, as the closing minutes get heavier and crushing, taking your head for a serious trip. Closer “Phaistos Disc” has slinking keys and Gratz sings, giving it a honey-rich, smooth glaze, while the band hits yet another jazz groove. The pace swings back and forth, like an ocean growing aggressive and then pulling back, as all the sounds rise up to form one voice. The band starts wailing away, with each piece showing its strength, and the finish feels like a massive curtain drop, putting one final emphasis on a great civilization that was lost in time but has risen up never to be forgotten again.

Giant Squid do a great job standing out among their peers through their passion, creativity, and intelligence. They’re not concerned with overwhelming you with brutality and would rather tell you a story that contains rough edges and progressive sequences. Because of this, Giant Squid remain an ever-evolving band, a group that’ll never came back with the same record twice, and one you can depend on to give you a unique journey you’ll love taking. No, you don’t have to dig into history and learn to enjoy “Minoans.” You can just dig the music. But if you do engage, you’ll become a greater part of this record spiritually and expose yourself to a group of people who faced similar trials and tribulations we do, and perhaps a way we can save ourselves before it’s too late.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://translationlossrecords.bigcartel.com/

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

Atriarch spread their darkness, face death, oppressive forces on murky ‘An Unending Pathway’

AtriarchI don’t know why so many people smile so much, and probably the most irritating thing in the world is when someone tells you not to look so glum. Cheer up, buddy! I feel like people who live that have completely isolated themselves from reality because, if you take a long, hard look at society, things suck regularly, and we are forced to endure a series of endless mental beatings.

Politicians play games with people’s lives and well-being, nothing is more important than money, and you need to have all the latest shit otherwise your life and presence are meaningless. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but that’s a large dose of reality, and a band like Atriarch has a firm stranglehold on the dimmest, most oppressive angles of life. As a result, their music wallows in darkness. You might find that when tackling their work, you feel like a mentally beaten shell of yourself, lying somewhere in a dingy basement while a leaky pipe drips cold water on your forehead in the most irritating example of waterboarding ever. Yes, this Portland death/doom union recognizes those awful realities that surround us, and they aim to tear out of their shells and grasp onto whatever remnants of their spirits and psyche remain in order to overcome all the horrors. They’ve done that over two excellent full-lengths–2011 debut “Forever the End” and 2012’s “Ritual of Passing”–and that sentiment carries over on their devastating third opus (and first for Relapse) “An Unending Pathway.”

Atriarch coverAtriarch’s music certainly stands out in the extreme music world, and in the metal community in particular. As noted, there is heavy doom and strains of death throughout the band’s music, but there also are elements of deathrock and goth rock to be felt, which make the proceedings even blacker. Lenny Smith’s unmistakable, anguished croon sits out in front of this band, as he wails away and tries to find strength in the worst of times. Along with him are guitarist Brooks Blackhawk, bassist Joe Wickstrom (a newcomer since their last record), and drummer Maxamillion, who round out this formidable, imposing group that’s here to drop the hammer on that which holds us back and refuse to piss on the eternal funeral pyre of those very ideals that cause us harm.

Opener “Entropy” begins with eerie, chilling noises, an ominous sign of what’s ahead. The band lurches on, finding some morbid power in such a dank environment, and Smith’s later charge of, “We are all God’s children, and we are all condemned,” puts a bloody exclamation point on the thing before it dissolves into chaos. “Collapse” is dreary and cold, with Smith warbling, “An endless soul, a dying soul, there is no ending and no beginning,” as the band finds a sense of primitive savagery. Later the singing gets slurry before fierce shouts emerge, and the conclusion of the song is just pulverizing. “Revenant” rings out, stinging your ears, before drums take a militaristic approach and Smith unleashes a ferocious growl that’s far different from his typical nasal croon and snarl. The song bleeds slowly in spots, with some beastly moments here and there and vocal torment strangling you at the end. “Bereavement” is a total mauler, something you don’t always get form this band, with the guys unloading an unforgiving assault and the vocals just retching. It eventually evens out, with the singing getting cleaner, the playing getting gothier, and the emotions delivered via hammer, but much of this is as heavy as Atriarch get.

“Rot” is the longest song on the record, running 7:27, and it has a clean, foggy opening, with voices swirling and threatening. Smith imagines a simplistic death and even tidier aftermath of returning to ash, as he howls, “So when I die, bury me here, with no casket or trinkets from life, I’ll decompose into the Earth so the cycle is whole.” The track is utterly dark but also has a bizarre positivity of one man accepting and relishing his role in a natural life cycle. “Allfather” begins misleading, with a calm, even tranquil start before the track erodes, complete with Smith’s vocals registering vicious growls. The song is psychologically gory, with the band building layers of sound on top of each other, and every time you think it’s slowing down, it tears gaping new holes in everything and spits rage. Closer “Veil” is both full of anguish and ripping with terror. Smith goes back and forth from harsh death-like howls to purposely monotone warbling, while the band delivers an assault that’s awash in punk and doom, with noise shimmering. As the track reaches its end, it sizzles and erodes, letting melting pieces of metallic shrapnel fall by the wayside, before it eventually returns to the same noise soup that opens the record. It’s sort of like the album itself is accepting of death and bringing on its own demise.

At first, Atriarch’s music might make you wallow even deeper in the muck and make you wonder if there is any way out. But don’t ignore the band’s defiance, strength, and anger. They are lashing out, trying to affect change within themselves, and refusing to be weighed down by life’s bullshit. Maybe that isn’t always possible, but we must try. Use “An Unending Pathway” as a guide, if you must, and find out if the music and emotions conveyed on these seven tracks don’t cause your blood to rise, your fists to clench, and your will to survive to push against whatever holds us back.

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

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

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

Dawnbringer’s devotion to pure metal takes cold, bloody twist on weird ‘Night of the Hammer’

Chris Black of Dawnbringer

Chris Black of Dawnbringer

If only all musicians, metal or not, could be half as inventive and ambitious as Chris Black. Not only would music as a whole be a lot more tolerable, but we’d have a giant collection of artists whose work is worthy of our time. But that’s not where we live, and Black goes relatively unappreciated by the more mainstream metal crowd.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with dining on mainstream metal, but hearing Black’s work could do that audience a world of good. His creativity resulted in some of Nachtmystium’s best work ever, and his own bands including Pharaoh, High Spirits, and Dawnbringer have brought him to the forefront of underground metal, where he enjoys one hell of a stellar reputation. It seems like the man never rests, and his devotion to the roots of metal and building on those sounds makes him a figure worth revering. Black found a new peak the last half decade with his Dawnbringer project on 2010’s stunning “Nucleus” and 2012’s unreal concept album “Into the Lair of the Sun God,” a record that found favor among just about every corner of the always fickle underground. Now he’s back with a new Dawnbringer album “Night of the Hammer” that is some of the band’s strangest and most varied work.

Dawnbringer coverBlack and his crew still are devoted to the sounds of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and if you dine on classic Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Manilla Road, and Dio, you’ll find a ton to like with “Night of the Hammer.” One big alteration is the greater focus on Black’s voice, as he delivers layered lines that would sound glistening and fresh coming from a classic rock radio station. He is a more-than-capable singer, and now he’s letting himself branch out in the area more than ever before. He also throws a few curveballs on this album, that sounds glorious but is awash in gruesome violence, but those really shouldn’t throw anyone who is a fan of Dawnbringer’s early work or who understands Black’s headspace. In fact, it might take you back to the band’s earliest work. Oh, we’re focused on Black here, but he’s not alone, as Scott Hoffman, Bill Palko, and Matt Johnsen provide the ample, tremendous guitar work.

The record gets off to a gritty start with “Alien,” as it hits a nice groove and has aforementioned layered vocals that give the singing an even richer feel. It’s an odd choice as an opener considering it’s not an adrenaline charger like “So Much for Sleep” or “I,” but it’s a pretty cool song with a damn catchy chorus, with Black getting ominous by observing, “Every night they’re calling me to them.” “The Burning Home” warns of danger on the horizon, with Black howling, “Hide your sons, war has come.” It feels like doom is on the doorstep, like a black swarm of clouds and an unforgiving twister aiming to chew the entire landscape. “Nobody There” is one of the strongest, most memorable songs on the record, with chugging guitars, deliberately delivered vocals, and a tremendous chorus, with Black poking, “Where will you run to?” The slide guitars that color the back end add a nice bit of texture to the thing. “Xiphias” has a folkish feel to it, complete with Black’s vocals that could go just as well with strings and whistles as his metallic backing. Like the rest of the record, nothing but darkness in on the path, as Black matter-of-factly notes, “We won’t survive,” as the song situates itself in watery terror. “Hands of Death” has a classic pace of a Dio song, with start-stop riffing tending the fire, Maiden-esque lead lines blazing the way, and some great, burly soloing that closes the song.

“One-Eyed Sister” is another noteworthy cut as it has a hard-edged sea chanty feel, with Black telling an ominous, bloody tale that could run chills down your spine. Along the way, the bass buzzes, the guitars are richly melodic and dark, and the vocals hammer home the story with maximum effectiveness. “Damn You” is a killer, and one of the most menacing tracks on the album. The opening feels uneasy and bloodcurdling, and the music goes toward bristling doom. The chorus could not be more simplistic, with Black coldly calling back the title, but it works so damn well. Also, lines including, “Are you now prepared to greet the ghosts from hell?” lets you know all you need to about this song’s intentions. Then the album gets weird. “Not Your Night” delves into death metal territory, sounding more like something off “In Sickness and In Dreams,” and while it goes along with the foreboding sentiment of the record, it feels a little odd. Same goes for “Funeral Child” that sounds like a tribute to King Diamond. Black goes for the extreme falsetto with his vocals, which takes a little getting used to, before things settle back down, with Black urging, “Turn your face away.” These two tracks aren’t bad cuts at all, they just feel like they’re out of place sonically. Closer “Crawling Off the Die” buttons up the record nicely, with clean guitars eventually giving way to some drama, the glory of the band’s sound swelling for a final time, and Black singing that he’s indeed off to do that the song’s title indicates.

This is the first Dawnbringer record in a couple of tries that doesn’t totally resonate on first try, but there’s nothing wrong with albums being growers. In fact, I like ones that are because you kind of have to earn them and put some effort into understanding the work. Black continues to push ahead being one of metal’s true ambassadors, and even if he’s not on the tip of the tongues of mainstream fans quite yet, I doubt that concerns him. This is more powerful, challenging, and ultimately fun music from Dawnbringer, one of the most consistent bands in metal this decade.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

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

Live review: King Diamond comes back to Pittsburgh, brings the great Jess and the Ancient Ones

King Diamond at Stage AE  (Photo by Brian Krasman)

King Diamond at Stage AE (Photo by Brian Krasman)

Most of us never will be in the presence of royalty. We wouldn’t be allowed that close anyway. Most of us never will be in the room with a U.S. president or world leader. I have been before, and it’s really not a big deal to me at all. But being in the room with some of the most important figures in the history of metal is attainable, and I was able to be within arm’s length of one over the weekend.

This entry is a pivotal one for this site, for we never have run a live show review before. For the most part, those bore me and I don’t see the point in them. But when you’re in a photo pit mere feet away from King Diamond and you get to see an artist who shaped your taste in metal and that you never saw in the flesh before, things change. So here I was, this past Sunday at Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, a stone’s throw from Heinz Field where the Steelers play (badly) watching King Diamond’s crew assemble the cemetery gates that adorn the front of his stage. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I am, this guy who runs a metal site that pales in comparison to the big ones out there, and I’m going to be able to witness King Diamond, with no barriers in front of me and with me being able to document the evening. How can you ask for more than that?

Jess 6

Jess from Jess and the Ancient Ones at Stage AE (Photo by Brian Krasman)

Well, before we get to the King, we had openers Jess and the Ancient Ones, a band we’ve made no bones about loving thoroughly and who I was really excited to see live. This is a band that, if they did their own U.S. tour, likely and understandably would not hit Pittsburgh. But luckily our headliner has good taste as he hand-picked the group to open his tour. The Finnish band, led by the alluring and powerful singer Jess, looked totally up to the challenge of playing before a roomful of rabid King Diamond fans, and they seemed to do a killer job converting the masses. Jess wailed, let the moment strike her as she seemed caught in a trance some moments, in the throes of dark magic the others, while her band blistered away, delivering their unique brand of occult rock that’s sticky and totally intoxicating. This has to raise the band’s U.S. profile.

When their time came around 8:15, the band wasted no time launching into “Prayer for Fire and Death,” the first track on their self-titled debut from 2012, a record I’ve pretty much overdosed on ever since getting the music. They play with a great amount of confidence, with Jess stomping the floor, her body writhing, and her voice taking command. From there it was into the great “Astral Sabbat” from the EP of the same name, and the thing has a restless spirit and mysterious fire to it that could sweep you right up. “Sulfur Giants,” the best song in their canon and also from their debut, brought the place to the ground, with Jess constantly returning to her infectious refrain of, “I wish I’d never been born.” A brand new track “Casteneda” followed, and it was well tempered and made a nice impact on the set. The band finished off their rousing set with two more from their debut record with “Devil (in G Minor)” and “Come Crimson Death.” It was pretty obvious milling through the crowd that the band turned a ton of heads, and they had a decent amount of customers at their merch table. Also, retreating to the back of the room for the end of their set, it was stunning how the band’s sound and Jess’ incredible voice had no problem making it to the back of the hall with force. Can’t wait to see them again.

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

To buy their albums, go here: http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/en/

For more on their label, go here: http://www.svartrecords.com/

King Diamond and Andy Larocque (Photo by Brian Krasman)

King Diamond and Andy Larocque (Photo by Brian Krasman)

The excitement was obvious for the arrival of King Diamond who, on his own, had not played in Pittsburgh since 1998 (though he had been in town since then with Mercyful Fate). An imposing set of cemetery gates were assembled at the front of the stage, and when the curtain dropped, it revealed a huge, elaborate set that looked like a horribly haunted house, with stairways on each end for the band members to enter and frequently use during the set. Opener “The Candle” from the King’s debut album “Fatal Portrait” kicked off with great dramatics, with our star appearing at the top of the set to unleash his unmistakable and still powerful falsetto. The whole band was jammed full of energy, with King Diamond looking like he is more than enjoying his second chance at life. He reached through the gates, played air guitar on his skeletal microphone stand, and barely stood still for a second while he sounded like a man half his age. By the time the band rolled into “Sleepless Nights,” the machine was absolutely on fire, channeling their heathen best and pounding through the beloved basher from the “Conspiracy” album. Then the song most people probably came to hear arrived early, as the King belted into “Welcome Home,” complete with Jodi Cachia under the grandma mask, as she and her grandson tussled, taunted one another, and finally ended their battle with our face-painted hero coming out the victor. It was a haunting and fun moment, where you get a little sense of humor with your horror.

(Photo by Brian Krasman)

(Photo by Brian Krasman)

From there, the band dashed through classic after classic, touching on “Never Ending Hill” from “Give Me Your Soul … Please”; the title track from “The Puppet Master”; and a jaunt though “Tea,” “Digging Graves” and “A Visit From the Dead.” When the opening strains of Mercyful Fate staple “Evil” launched, the crowd burst to life again, as King sounded a great as he did 30 years ago on this thing, with longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque blazing and completely dominating the song. It was his finest moment of the night, which is saying something because he was awesome throughout. Another Fate cut “Come to the Sabbath” fed off the momentum, and once again, everyone just nailed the thing, with a ritual going on behind the King as he wailed away. “Shapes of Black” and “Eye of the Witch” put the finishing touches on the main set, before all the morons who apparently never have been to a live show and had no idea an encore was coming started to file out of Stage AE. Their loss, as “Cremation” followed a brief break by the band, with the song feeling both liturgical and utterly evil. From there, the band headed into two cuts from “Abigail” with “The Family Ghost” and tremendous “Black Horsemen,” before reflective, eerie “Insanity” from “The Eye” sent the audience home happy and wonderfully enchanted.

It was an amazing night for a life-long metal fan such as me, as well as the mix of young and old (and everyone in between). It was a spirited evening, the people seemed well behaved and genuinely happy to be there, and both bands more than delivered. If you have a chance to see this tour, absolutely go. It’s always a great night when you can spend it listening to one of the most storied acts in metal in King Diamond. Plus, to hear an up-and-coming band such as Jess and the Ancient Ones prove the stage wasn’t too big for them and that they utterly belong bodes well for the future.

(Thanks a ton to Earsplit PR for their help with getting photo access and media privileges for the show.)

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

To buy their albums, go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/b/king-diamond/

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

Venowl keep spreading terror and alarming horror on splits with killers Cara Neir, Highgate

Venowl

Venowl

So, it’s Monday, and that means it’s as good a time as any to get nice and agitated. You probably don’t feel like doing half the things that are in front of you, and the weekend is as far away as any point in the week. Frustrated now?

A good remedy for that goddamn itch that won’t leave you alone is music that sounds like it exists to gnaw on your nerves and piss off those who can’t grasp what it’s all about. That’s where Venowl (][ on guitar, vocals; // on bass, electronics; :: on percussion) come into the scene. If you go online and read people’s reviews and comments about their music, you’d think these guys personally insulted those peoples’ families or stole their dogs. Yes, the music they make certainly isn’t easy to digest, and it can be confusing and insultingly confrontational. That’s why I’ve enjoyed the band’s work, because it is as non-formulaic as it comes, and you never know what’s lurking next. Their songs sound like free-form, open-ended forays into madness that feel like they could last all day long if they so desired. There’s little structure (at least that I can here) or tangible direction, and it just sounds like a flow of aggression that lasts as long as it needs to until the guys don’t feel like killing anyone or themselves anymore. I mean all of that as a huge compliment. I love it.

Luckily for people like me who dig the band’s brand of mind-crushing noise, there are two new split efforts for our consumption. And because we’re focusing on Venowl, let’s not lose sight of the two bands they’re featured with also are killer groups. One of them is killer Dallas unit Cara Neir, who released last year’s tremendous “Portals to a Better, Dead World” and who play an atmospheric, emotionally melodic brand of black metal, punk, and noise. On the other release, Highgate is featured, a sludgy, doomy band whose last full-length landed last year in the form of “Survival” (out on Totalrust Records). Their sound is a little closer to what Venowl do and they also drag you through an epic-length mauler that’ll leave you nice and bruised.

Venowl Cara NeirLet’s start with the Venowl/Cara Neir split, yours via Broken Limbs as a limited-run cassette release. Here, Venowl unload “Scour (Parts I and II)” onto you, and it’s a miserable, devastating experience from the word go. Dissonant noise rings out and forms a death cloud, while sickening, nauseating doom bleeds out in full. It feels like everything is burning badly, with a heavy aura of insanity, drone creepiness, and deranged howls and shrieks that sound like that of a mentally disturbed individual. There’s a feeling of anguish and oppressive mental trauma to be heard, with guitar squall hanging in the air, riffs absolutely bludgeoning, and toward the end of the 21:02 track, feedback vibrating and pissing anger, with final shrieks unloading the last traces of torment. Awesome cut. Totally messed up.

Cara Neir are slightly more conventional creators, with three tracks here that are catchy and fiery. “Aeonian Temple” explodes into black metal chaos, with the band pushing hard with tricky playing and interesting melodies that could get your blood bubbling. There even is a classic screamo sense to the music, and it’s one hell of a blast from these guys (vocalist Chris Francis, multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents). “Nights” is a curveball in a sense, with jazzy guitar work, speak singing, and a feeling that Faith No More might have been an influence on this cut. Eventually some gazey guitars burst into the picture to add more texture, and it’s a really cool change of pace. “Pitiful Human Bindings” has a mathy feel at first, but it doesn’t take long for the black metal trappings to push through, wild cries and screams to pierce, and cascading levels of sound to make this beefier. The final moments are nicely spacious, as the song trudges and bruises its way to a finish.

Venowl HighgateUp next is the release with Highgate, out on Tartarus Records and also limited to 100 cassettes. Here, Venowl stretch out even further with “Vacant Cellar,” a track that runs 34:04 and feels like it’ll keep bleeding forever at points. The opening is dank, like it’s zeroing in on a damp basement somewhere with noises like a blade against vulnerable skin. Doom starts to flood, with wild shrieks and screams expressing emotions most humans never have the misfortune to experience. The track spends its time hammering away, remaining a formless creature, and coming off as quite feral. At around the 10-minute mark, the piece begins to sound like a collection of people wailing and dying, as it descends into mucky hell. About 15 minutes later, it turns into a horror show, with doom churning, the vocals finding new levels of deranged, and the atmosphere aiming to suffocate you in stinking rags. The punishment never relents, with a savage meltdown, a heaping serving of drone, and deafening feedback twisting and smothering until the track finally meets its end. This is exhausting in the best possible manner.

Highgate takes time to set up their scene on the 26:15 “Carved Into Winter.” The band—Steve Porter, Greg Brown, Nate Powell, Shawn Kirst—opens up a cavernous sound, with the feeling of cosmic vastness that meets up with buzzing, steely guitar work that sometimes reminds of Across Tundras at their dustiest. The power then really kicks in, with raspy growls emerging, guitars getting muddier, and the pace feeling a lot more dangerous. The growls keep stretching out, with the band trudging heavily behind, but then things go more melodic and glimmering. But they never lose their edge, as they’re massively heavy no matter what pace they’re setting, and they head right into a pocket of crushing feedback and spacey sizzling. Later, some cleaner guitar work arrives, as the band plods along and keeps their mission deliberate but strong. Finally, their intensity returns, the growls explode anew, and the track tucks itself away, thoroughly satisfied with the way it both pulverized and mesmerized you.

Venowl’s bound to always be a band that annoys and infuriates more people than they convert into followers. They probably relish that idea, because it’s clear their music isn’t here to make you feel good or achieve positivity. But, you know, not all music needs to meet the same goals, a point so many people miss. Venowl are here because they’re supposed to be the way they are, and they’re great at fucking with you. So deal with it. The fact they’ve released some poisonous new music packaged along with great bands such as Cara Neir and Highgate—both way more than worthy of your attention—goes to show their peers agree. Go jump on these limited releases because they sound like nothing else you’ll hear that way, which is a great and horrifying thing.

For more on Venowl, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Venowl

For more on Cara Neir, go here: https://www.facebook.com/caraneir

For more on Highgate, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Highgatedoom

To buy the Venowl/Cara Neir split, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.com/shop/

To buy the Venowl/Highgate split, go here: http://tartarusrecords.com/album/split-3

For more on Broken Limbs, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.com/

For more on Tartarus, go here: http://tartarusrecords.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Menace Ruine’s dreamy beauty shines through the darkness on ‘Venus Armata’

Menace Ruine 2Beauty in metal and heavier music is not a commonly written-about topic here. That’s not on purpose. I guess the natural inclination is to steer toward the dark, violent, depressing, crushing. Plus, since we avoid symphonic metal outright, there’s not much chance to discuss lovely sounds in what’s an otherwise dark musical format.

Not that Menace Ruine don’t have their dark moments, but what I generally find when taking on this Montreal-based duo are sounds that reveal incredible colors, emotional depth, and music that doesn’t make me want to maim and pillage. Instead, I want to reach out with my imagination and keep dreaming. I want to stretch my creativity. I want to escape inside these sounds and absorb every beam of light they emit. The band’s music, which isn’t really metal but certainly can slip over and impact that audience, is a mesmerizing mix of drone, neofolk, gothic sounds, atmosphere, and the spellbinding singing of Genevieve Beaulieu, which are as alive and transcendent as ever on their new, fifth album “Venus Armata.” In fact, even if the sounds don’t grab you at first (expertly put together by S de la Moth), the voice will, and you might find yourself hanging on every breath without even knowing you’re doing it.

Mence Ruine coverMenace Ruine have had a prolific, yet criminally under-appreciated run ever since their formation in 2007. Having offered their debut full-length “Cult of Ruins” in 2008, they’ve reported back pretty regularly, following with “The Die Is Cast” that same year, “Union of Irreconcilables” in 2010, and their Profound Lore debut “Alight in Ashes” in 2012. They’ve also had their work released by noted labels such as SIGE, Alien8, and Aurora Borealis, and they’ve slowly built their following while sharpening their incredible work. On “Venus Armata,” they have put together their best work to date, and while it may take a few visits for the songs to begin taking root, once they do, you’re gone. You can feel the power and spirit pulsating in these songs, and the journey on which you should take mentally will leave you enriched and intellectually refreshed. That’s something brutality hardly ever gives to you.

“Soften Our Evil Hearts” begins the record with cold bells chiming, noise drone rising and getting lathered up, and the atmosphere continually building. Beaulieu’s vocals join the mix, and her mesmerizing ways snake through the song, always keeping you alert and wary. The music feels like a thick fog, with the signing coming on like it’s directing an early morning spiritual, with the tempo twisting and treading up to the end. “Red Sulphur” is a great track and might be my favorite in this band’s entire canon. A blanket of sound feels like they’re being emitted from ancient organs, and Beaulieu unreal vocals kick in. She sounds like a magisterial storyteller, and her harmonies are completely arresting and infectious. Psychedelic sounds arrive, and drums even push things ahead, but all the while the singing is the hook, one of the great performances of the year that should make other singers jealous. It’s hard to do this justice in words. Go listen to it. “Marriage in Death” has slowly delivered drumming, with guitar squall settling in and the singing sounding more solemn. The track bobs slowly on its waves, navigating you through the night, leaving your body quivering like the music. “Soothing But Cruel” is a fitting title for the song it represents, as there’s a deep chill in the air that could sting your cheeks, with emotional vocals that leave cracks in the glaze that forms over top. The composition is glimmering and frosty, with the sounds floating, and eventually dissolving into a deep buzz.

“Belly of the Closed House” stretches over 9:56, and it has piercing strings, a melody that cuts right through the thing,  and layer upon layer of atmospheric playing stacked so high, you can’t see the top. Eventually the vocals emerge, sounding like something magically recorded out of a dream, and the last portion of the song begins to weigh a little heavier, with thick drone and a penetrating show of force. “Torture of Fire” feels shivery and woozy at first, with echoey beats shooting out and striking the walls. The vocals take a different approach and have a new personality than elsewhere on the record, and Beaulieu sounds pretty dangerous. The 16:17-long closing title cut introduces itself by ringing out sharply and drone lowering itself to the ground for a final push. First, the vocals slip behind the noise, which sounds like a million insects buzzing, but then Beaulieu breaks through and takes control. The melodies—both from the music and the vocals—are swirling and trance-inducing, and maybe this is just something I’m pulling out the song, but there’s a sense of sorrow that embraces you like an old lost friend. The emotion conveyed is unmistakable and real. Organs pile on again, the tempo picks up and begins to vibrate with light, and the final sounds create one last cutting swoop before turning into vapor and disappearing before our eyes.

Menace Ruine can be a breath of fresh air for listeners who are too bogged down in violence and negativity. Beauty and light are elements we need to grasp, and even when there are darker moments on “Venus Armata,” I can’t help but feel uplifted when the whole thing’s over. It’s a work of poetry as much as it is a collection of songs, and never have I enjoyed a Menace Ruine record this much. And I love their back catalog. This is worth every ounce of your energy investment in these seven songs, and they will reward you a million fold for your effort.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

To buy the album on vinyl, go here: http://sige.bigcartel.com/artist/sige-records

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

And here: http://sigerecords.blogspot.com/