PICK OF THE WEEK: Siberian doom explorers Below the Sun set dial for the cosmos on ‘Envoy’

Below the SunVast desolation is a concept that totally frightens me. Thinking about the cosmos and the far-reaching expanse it holds is enough to intimidate anyone. How much is out there, what worlds remain unexplored by humans, what kinds of technology exists on other planets that we can’t even comprehend? It’s mind blowing, astonishing, and quite humbling.

But a journey to those far-off places likely won’t be relegated to science-fiction in the future. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in one of our reincarnations we might be the people to stretch beyond the Earth and reach out to beings not yet encountered. It’s a subject broached by mighty Siberian quintet Below the Sun on their incredible new record “Envoy.” It imagines a future trip on Voyager I out of our solar system and into the sea of stars and other worlds, where no one from this planet has a hope to even explore in this lifetime. But why hold that back from preventing our dreams, where we can wonder just what humankind is capable of accomplishing and just where we might measure up on the universal food chain. We might end up not liking what we find out. Then again, this world could use a dose of reality every now and again.

Below the Sun coverThis band is a secretive union, whose identities take a backseat to their artistic endeavors. Having first performed together in the middle of a Russian forest to create a one-off funeral doom piece, the band has morphed from there from a kernel of an idea to a full-blown band. Their music easily engulfs you, ranging from doom to funeral bleakness to sludge to post-metal, and the journey you take with them over these six songs could take your breath away. The tracks often feel ceremonial, like you’re watching an idea or a concept experience birth, maturation through life, and an ultimate end, where the mileposts can be counted upon final reflection. The music is moving and monstrous, and like the universe itself, it’s sometimes so daunting that all you can do is let it wash over you.

The record is front-loaded with beefy, longer tracks, the first being 11:09 “Outward the Sky,” which enters into serenity before it blows apart with black chaos and gut-wrenching growls. It plays with tempo quite a bit, pummeling you one moment, easing you into clouds and breeze the next, and in the middle of all of this, a strange, ghostly transmission comes in that really makes you feel like you’re leaving the Earth. Sorrowful guitars arrive, the vocals go for the throat, and everything ends chugging in mud. “Cries of Dying Stars” could make your hairs stand up with its chilling, trickling introduction, and then it soars into a soulful section of melody, with the band continually adding layers of drama. The back end feels like a journey deep into the stars, working past the Milky Way and into beyond. “Alone” runs 10:26, quietly setting a mood and letting whispers establish the tone. The song then gets sludgy and ugly, with guitars stinging, the atmosphere boiling heavily, and growls spilling over, with cries of, “Alone!” toppling everything and injecting a true sense of isolation.

Monster “Drift in Deep Space” goes 15:27 and is the centerpiece of the record. Heavy drone rises at the dawn, with guitars sparking, lurching, and spilling over the land. This track harkens back heavily to the band’s funeral doom past, as it levels you slowly but heavily, setting a mournful, anguish-filled sentiment. The growls stretch longer than they do elsewhere, as the cosmic pot gets hotter and angrier, the guitar work sprawls out over the night sky, and the tempo starts pounding relentlessly like an engine that’s just heating up. The final two tracks are instrumental cuts, with the first, “Breath of Univerce” feeling like it’s set up to bring you down emotionally from what you just heard. The song hangs in the air, the approach feels alien, and your head is likely going to be floating as closer “The Earth” arrives. There, guitars burst with life, the melodies surge and shake you to your core, and some real grit makes its presence known, dashing any sense of beauty with a streak of blood. Things start bashing with severity, making it seem like you’re in for a crash landing, but then things even out, chirps and buzzes enter your headspace, and everything washes away. Wow. What an intense, amazing trip that was.

Below the Sun have the might and majesty to go a long way, and “Envoy” should signal the first major step in their sojourn. Like the ideas put forth on the record, the band sounds ready to break past their earthly surroundings to see how far and wide they can expand their reach. Their potential is limitless, and they should have major appeal to anyone who wants to strap into the spaceship cockpit and soar past worlds you only dreamed existed before. You’re sure to have a unique experience and feel every ounce of this band’s pure strength.

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

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

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

Metallic mind-benders Sannhet create bendy, destructive new journey on riveting ‘Revisionist’

SannhetI’ve mentioned this many times in the past, but we do have an obsession for putting labels on our metal and trying to argue whether something does or does not fall under that gigantic umbrella. The arguments usually get stupid, and so much of that effort never focuses on whether the music at hand is, you know, good.

I say this because we take another visit with instrumental band Sannhet, whose new record “Revisionist” is about to drop and who, once again, have come up with a document that leaves us totally dizzy and cloudy headed. The trio have been making strange, compelling sounds for five years now, with their excellent 2013 debut “The Flood” being released by Sacrament (of well noted and loved NYC venue St. Vitus) and entering the world to wide embraces. Yeah, it was a whirling dervish of insanity, and it was hard to put your finger on just what that sound was supposed to be. But no doubt it was heavy and exciting, and it sure as shit deserves inclusion into the metal world. Now, with their second album upon us, it’s time to once again have those annoying conversations about where these guys fit. Doesn’t matter. As long as people acknowledge the awesomeness of this nine-track journey, you can call it what you want and classify it as whatever. I’m too busy enjoying it.

Sannhet coverThis band—guitarist/sound looper John Refano, bassist/visual artist AJ Annunziata, and drummer/sampler Christopher Todd—now call the challenging, always interesting Flenser Records home, and Sannhet’s music continues to develop and warp in the best possible way. They can thrash you and bash you, taking you into stormy black metal servings and doom-laden terrain, but they also can ease it out, get atmospheric, and even go zooming through the stars. It might not be skullduggery from open to close, but it’s a damn bumpy ride the more adventurer of listeners should enjoy thoroughly.

The title track kicks off the record, a rumbling, spacey thing that hits a boil early and heads right into the midst of moody fog. The sounds continue to develop and fold, eventually landing in a pocket of mist. “Lost Crown” follows, breaking up any semblance of calm with disruptive drumming, static-fed guitar lines, and a melody that bursts wide open and darkens the scene. All elements keep piling on top of each other, with thrashy sections adding grit and the whole thing going out on a blistering note. “Enemy Victorian” is a little chilling at the start, like you’re on your way to a horror scene, but then guitars sweep in, feeling a little surfy at times. The track then takes on a wintry ride, enabling you to see your breath in front of your face as you follow the path. “You Thy_” has an aggressive start, with melody intertwining into the fury and the rhythm tapping at your head and nerve endings. But clouds re-emerge and fresh air flushes into the scene, letting you stand in the gust of wind.

“Striking Forward” lets loose some random notes that float in the air before the band heads into murkier territory, where it might be tough to see a hand in front of your face. The guitars hum and then bristle, with emotion striking a high point, and the militaristic drums inject some structure into what’s a slurry environment. “Atrium” starts with a voice sample that leads into the guitars striking you to attention and the melody soaring away. The track can make you feel numb in spots, but it also is damn riveting. “Empty Harbor” has a lonely feel, like a single soul standing on an early morning shore before a journey the figure must make itself. Sounds ring out, with the ambiance feeling solemn, but the ending picks up and catches fire. “Mint Divine” has a voice sample snaking through the structure, feeling like a hallucinatory vision, rising and falling and always leaving you wondering where you are. Closer “False Pass” has a quivering, ghostly voice sending transmission in the background, offering nautical information, before the thing tears open and starts pummeling. The melodies are strong but also frosty, generating smoke from a growing fire, getting punchy and a little proggy, and slipping into a furious display. That lets them get their last, hammering shots in before everything submits to corrosion.

There are plenty of bands out there doing the instrumental thing and going on all kinds of explorations, but no band does it quite like Sannhet. They have their own way, their trademark style, and a reckless abandon that makes “Revisionist” such a thrilling ride. The more they shapeshift into a different beast, the more chaos we have to look forward to as they soar into the future.

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

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

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

NYC’s weird Imperial Triumphant warp minds, incinerate wills on devastating new ‘Abyssal Gods’

Imperial TriumphantWell, hey, mid-week and the motivation and energy are on their low end. That is expected, as we drag toward the weekend and a temporary solace, but for now, let’s talk about something that should keep us awake and, dare I say, utterly terrified until then.

NYC’s Imperial Triumphant have struck back with another album of jarring, experimental, codeine cough syrup-laced black metal on their furious and baffling new record “Abyssal Gods.” This album can lull you into a dream-state haze and split the side of your head open the very next minute, and they are practically the dictionary definition of the word “unpredictable.” These 10 tracks go from astonishingly brutal to feeling like something out a fever-induced nightmare, to something elegant and classy, but in a way that feels like someone was murdered and you’ve stumbled on the path of said destruction. This second album from this crew is a serious escalation in trauma, and it’s bound to leave you feeling uncomfortable and terribly uneasy.

Imperial Triumphant coverThe fellows behind this band you’ll know from other places, with Ilya Ezrin on guitars, vocals, and orchestration; Alex Cohen (Epistasis, Pyrrhon, Malignancy) and Kenny Grohowksi on drums; and Erik Malave (Pyrrhon) on bass. Joining them on this massive, mesmerizing document are a bevy of other musicians who add their talents, including Bloody Panda’s arresting and captivating vocalist Yoshiko Ohara, who help makes the warped, terrifying “Krokodil” reaches even greater heights of deranged wonder. This record sounds like one that could be played fittingly in a castle entertainment hall or a dank dungeon, where thirsty rats roam looking for an evening meal.

“From Palaces of the Hive” begins the crazed assault, with synth sheets raining down, chaotic horns bursting forth, and the pace going nuts with the vocals sounding monstrous. The attack continues until it finally fades and leads into the title cut. That song lurches hard, jarring up the contents of your stomach, with the melodies feeling woozy and terrifying. “Dead Heaven” is jammed with weirdness, with the guitars charging forward, the vocals registering as a gurgly growl, and the song getting warped in a million different ways. There are spooky group howls, with the music hitting a tear that’s practically cartoon-like in its fury. The last moments then crush and mash you into the dirt. Instrumental “Celestial War Rape” follows, with nightmarish choral arrangements and sparks of true horror preparing you for “Opposing Holiness” that staggers out of the gates like a mad man with a sharp, rusty weapon. The song is thrashy and vicious, making its point and getting out while you’re completely disoriented.

The aforementioned “Krokodil” is up next, and it begins with two minutes of damage that slowly builds its intensity. The music hangs in the air like a cloud of stinging insects, with a pace that is beyond messed up and vocals sung entirely in Russian (with Ohara one of the voices with the biggest impact). The song makes your head feel odd, but when it’s over, you’ll know you’ve been on one hell of an adventure. “Twins” trudges and pounds, with destructive madness spilling out and you left feeling like you’ve been drugged and left for dead. The pace plays around, slowing down and speeding up, and the track ends on a thrashy march. “Vatican Lust” is another instrumental that pits its roots into a cloud of tornadic noise, ambiance, and ominous bell ringing, and then it’s into “Black Psychedelia,” which is a bit of a misleading name. You’re not headed deep into space; you’re bound for the graveyard. The track situates itself in filthy doom, with the growling sounding menacing, the tempo feeling beastly, and great soloing erupting. In fact, if anything, this is the most conventional track on the record, yet it would be the oddball on any other band’s album. It flat out destroys at the end, with a weird transmission taking it out and into the instrumental finale “Metropolis.” This sounds like something from the “BioShock” soundtrack, with weird fuzz filling the room, eloquent old piano dripping, and the song feeling kind of jazzy, like a classy final salute as you’re lowered into oblivion.

You’re definitely not going to have a run-of-the-mill experience taking on “Abyssal Gods.” It’s furious and fascinating, always twisting and turning itself into a brand new beast. Imperial Triumphant have succeeded in injecting a sense of unseen danger into their work, and you’re going to be on the edge of your seat as you’re moved by the drama and kept alert in case you need to run for your life.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.auralwebstore.com/shop/index.php

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

Catching up: Mastery offer dark terror; Negura Bunget hit the woods; Pelican mount the cliff

Mastery coverIt’s been pretty damn busy in our world the past few weeks, as life sometimes get in the way of the operations. So, yeah, we’re a little behind. But today’s as good a time as any to get on the record about a few releases that have been burning up our ears lately, so we can officially clear our schedule.

First one up is one of the most deranged, relentless things that has been featured on this site in quite some time. Well, I guess since last time we talked about this band three years ago (for a split effort with Palace of Worms). One-man terror striker Mastery finally dropped a first official full-length effort in “Valis.” It’s five tracks of audio torment and living hell, and while that might seem to be a description that gets attached to metal albums far too frequently, you can take it to the bank on this one. The band is the sick brainchild of San Francisco-based Ephemeral Domignostika (Pale Chalice, Asubha), and he sounds like he’s trying to embody the darkest depths of hell in these songs. You’re going to have your face bashed over and over against the ground, and you won’t get up until you’re sufficiently bleeding.

The record is bookended by two mangling epics, the first being “V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.” that runs 17:53 of unforgiving, unmerciful trauma. It opens with strings stinging as if they’re contained in a tornado of angry hornets, and then things start crushing heavily. Domignostika’s vocals are bizarre (think Fortress Crookedjaw of WOLD), and my non-metal-listening wife said they reminded her of Skeletor. Fair point, and certainly not a negative, as Domignostika sounds unhinged and full of chaos, as the music sprays all over the map, never feeling like it’s on a single straight path and always meandering into different zones you never see coming. There’s a quick section that calms down, where acoustics blow in and the clouds clear, but then it’s back into the storm, where only terror exists.

“A.S.H.V.E.S.S.E.L.” is a quick, serene interlude that is trancey and strange, and that leads into “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” that erupts into black metal fury. The shrieks are wild and animalistic, while the guitars get blurry and slurry and the assault comes on full throttle. The music keeps biting away at your nerves, driving you as close to insanity as possible, and later the riffs stretch out, the winds grow darker, and eventually the madness fades away. “I.L.L.S.E.E.K.E.R.” is another interlude that bridges to the conclusion, with cosmic blips and frosty energy. The 12:39 finale “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” is vicious and warped right off the bat, and like the mammoth opener, it never lets you catch your breath. This track is total violence, with thrashing black metal fires raging, the approach feeling maniacal and unplanned, and you feeling psychologically battered once it’s all over. This is not a record your average metal listener will be able to handle. This is seriously mind-altering shit, and it’s a black metal record that will permanently burn a hole in your soul.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Mastery/64687

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

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

Negura Bunget coverIt’s been five years since we’ve heard from Romanian atmospheric black metal band Negura Bunget as far as full-length efforts are concerned, but they’ve finally returned with “Tau,” their seventh record. Much has changed with the band over the years, from their sound growing more rustic to them shedding band members, but they remain a strong, captivating unit capable of making you want to take a long sojourn into the forest to help you reconnect with nature.

The band’s new record runs eight tracks and about 50 minutes, and varies in intensity and sound. For example, riveting opener “Nametenie” goes from acoustic flourishes and woodsy whistles to growly, grisly carnage, to psychedelic, panic-inducing theremin passages that’ll have you seeing ghosts. Yet something like “Curgerea muntelui” has a “Game of Thrones” style foggy opening, folk-flushed trudging, and a path that’ll make you think you’re on your way to an overnight camp out in front a legion of cookfires. Then there’s “Împodobeala timpului” that has a weirdly dancey setting, in the foresty type of way, with female vocals sweeping in, heavier thunder rocking the ground, and a really interesting atmosphere that feels like the sky is about the tear open. Granted, this record takes a little while to warm up, and it took me a couple of listens to really feel comfortable. But now that I do, it’s something I’ll be going back to very often in the future.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.theconnextion.com/prophecy/prophecy_index.cfm?

Or here: http://en.prophecy.de/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://en.prophecy.de/lupus-lounge/

Pelican coverTwo years ago, we got the most recent studio effort from Chicago instrumental warriors Pelican, that being the excellent “Forever Becoming.” One of the standout tracks on the album is “The Cliff,” and apparently the band also sees that as a key track as it’s the name of their new EP, where the song gets all kinds of new treatment. Now, a four-track EP where three of the tracks are the same song might not seem enticing to some. But you have to hear the music to understand why this is a really rewarding idea and why you definitely need this thing in your Pelican collection.

The first version is a notable one, because it features vocals for only the second time in the band’s history, provided by from Allen Epley (The Life & Times, Shiner), who also sang on “Final Breath” from 2009’s “What We All Come to Need.” Here, he dresses the song with his dark singing that makes you wonder if the song is supposed to be romantic or darkly obsessive (or a combo of the two). It’s a really interesting twist on the song, and you might have a hard time shaking it. The other two versions are remixes, one by Justin Broadrick, who stretches out the run time by adding plenty of echo, industrial sparks, and dark energy. He also keeps it an instrumental piece. Aaron Harris and Bryant C. Meyer (ISIS, Palms) treat the vocal version, washing out the singing and making it feel psychedelically detached, while adding a great deal of meaty power. Closer “The Wait” is a reflective, serene cut with moody guitars and strong emotion, making me hungry for whatever the band dreams up next. This is a pretty interesting treat that hopefully paves the way for Pelican’s next full-length.

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

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

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

Viking metal legends Enslaved deliver their strongest record in a decade with great ‘In Times’

EnslavedLong-running, legendary bands run a serious risk by staying around so long and continuously offering up new material. See, having so much success can split your followers into different camps, mostly those who prefer the earlier stuff and those who lean toward the later material. My tongue’s in cheek here. It’s great that a band can have a half-century run of legitimate relevance, people’s silly objections be damned.

The great Nordic Viking metal standard bearers Enslaved have fallen into that category. Their earlier stuff—records such as “Frost” and “Eld”—swung closer to the heathen-style black metal of the second wave, coming in gnarly and ugly for the most part, even if it also was flush with a lot of native melody. As time has passed and the band progressed in their ways, they’ve gotten less brutal and brainier, evidenced by their most recent albums “Axioma Ethica Odini” and 2012’s “RIITIIR.” Now, with their 13th record “In Times” washing up on our shores, people should know what to expect from these guys: black metal, atmospheric prog passages, long songs, and tradeoff between gurgly growling and spacious singing. Yeah, it’ not break-neck savagery the entire time, but Enslaved know what they’re doing. They pack a serious wallop live, and I really have enjoyed their work in the last decade as much as their early stuff. Oh, so I guess that makes me a member of the third camp who can appreciate all eras of the band.

Enslaved - In Times - Artwork“In Times” actually is my favorite of all the Enslaved records from the past decade. They really hit on something with these six songs that run about 53 minutes total, and they manage to weave a lot of memorable moments into what’s going on here. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this record from my first listen to my most recent, where I took my notes, and it’s impressive what Enslaved still are accomplishing in 2015. Yeah, you’re going to have people who eschew this because it’s not pure black metal, but whatever. It’s a damn good listen, and I really love the thing. As for the band’s integral parts, surely you know the two long-standing warriors Grutle Kjellson (bass/growled vocals) and Ivar Bjornson (guitars, keyboards), as well as punishing guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, drummer Cato Bekkevold, and keyboard/mellotron/clean vocalist Hebrand Larsen, who added a serious element of melodic depth to Enslaved’s sound when he joined in 2004.

The record opens with “Thurisaz Dreaming,” which ignites from the start with a black metal-style assault, gurgling growling, and raucous grit. That spills into a dreamy melodic section, where the pace remains steady but more texture is added with clean singing and keyboards. “In the nighttime, I can hear you dream,” Larsen sings, only to have Kjellson growl those same words when the song swings back to darkness again. The song catches fire, twisting and turning as Enslaved are wont to do, with the track getting a blistering end. “Building With Fire” is arguably the strongest track on the record, opening with flames crackling, funeral bells ringing, and the music heading into dreamland. The thing fires up over the chorus, with Kjellson howling the song’s title with conviction, only to have things go back to serenity again. This pattern continues throughout, with melody always heading back to the eye of the storm, and the song ends rather suddenly, as flames chew the last moments. “One Thousand Years of Rain” has acoustic and electric guitars co-mingling and giving the start a rustic feel before it blows open into a rage, with the vocals absolutely mangling you. The carnage and power are apparent, with calls of, “The sun is dying,” spilling into the mix. The band then hits on a very Viking-centric pocket of melody, feeling like a festive beer hall chant, which leads into a final burst of energy that takes the track to its finish.

“Nauthir Bleeding” is one of the more melodic, serene cuts on the record, as the thing opens in cloudy skies, soaring over mountains and letting you see the layout of the land. The singing is breezy and spacious, with the growls acting more as a complement than a main element, though we do get some sections of gruffness and fury. It’s a pretty different sounding song, even for modern-day Enslaved. The title cut follows, thrashing heavily right away and leading into a crushing assault. Singing does enter the picture to counter the growls, with Larsen wailing, “Across the ocean of time,” as the band then leans into a ’70s-style prog section. There even is a pocket of vocal harmonizing, like they’re some sort of deranged Beach Boys, before we’re back to violence and a feeling that a major, bloody battle has been won. Closer “Daylight” is an interesting conclusion, as it delves toward ballad territory at times. Not in a weak, hyper-sensitive way, but just more in feel and scope. It has its slower moments, but those always are filled in with passion and great singing, as well as soloing that feels like it was pulled in from the cosmos. It also has its tougher spots, with chugging guitars, growls that sound coated in phlegm, and a dramatic, passionate finish that’s the perfect final salvo for this adventure.

“In Times” is a fantastic effort from this long-standing institution, and Enslaved sound inspired and bursting with life. These cuts have everything you could want, from grisly to gorgeous sounds, punishment and emotional depth. When all is said and done for Enslaved, I’m not sure where this record will fall in the pecking order, but I’d certainly put it closer to the top half. It’s their best work in a decade that has contained some pretty strong work from this band.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.enslaved.no/

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Crypt Sermon unleash heavy dose of doom on great debut ‘Out of the Garden’

Crypt SermonIt’s been a long, very busy week, and as a result, it’s been a little slow around these parts. There have been many affairs outside the metal world that have taken precedence this week, which does happen, but all of our efforts within the musical spectrum have been directed to making sure we got to this week’s end point and, arguably, the best metal record that’s come out so far this year.

You hear a lot about traditional doom and heavy metal and the reverence many of us pay to those areas. Bands like Candlemass, Sabbath, Dio, Iron Maiden, and Cathedral formed so much of the lexicon that we know, and their effects will be felt until the end of time. It’s refreshing when a newer band comes along that feeds into those ideals but whose members also have their own modernity and freshness to keep the metal world moving forward. We have that in abundance with Philly’s Crypt Sermon, whose debut record “Out of the Garden” is an absolute must-hear, must-have for anyone who relishes metal’s roots. There is elegant playing, royal heaviness, adventurous storytelling steeped in lore of many kinds, and a sense that what you’re hearing is a special, landmark release and definitely not something you’ll forgot tomorrow. Hell no. This thing stays with you, and it’s my favorite thing I’ve heard so far in this still quite young 2015.

Crypt Sermon coverCrypt Sermon is built on the back of rock-solid players including vocalist Brooks Wilson (also of Trenchrot, Grass), whose expressive singing and approach to his role makes him captivating and impossible to ignore; guitarists James Lipczynski (Labyrinthine) and Steve Jansson (Trenchrot, Grass, Infiltrator); bassist Will Mellor (Hivelords); and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga (Ashencult, etc.). Many of the songs thematically draw from Biblical stories (no, they’re not a Christian band, you dolt), and if you have familiarity with the text, you’ll recognize some of the plot points presented here. Metal bands have pulled from that ancient texts for years to add layers of adventure to their songs, and this band does it as well as any that have come before them.

“Temple Doors” opens the record as a riff lights the initial fire that eventually builds to full conflagration. The song has a classic doom feel, with the vocals clean but gruff, touching upon elements of mercy and healing. “Son of David, is that who you are?” Wilson calls as the track’s character, and the band surrounds that with a proper dose of tough chugging and glorious soloing. “Heavy Riders” just kills, and it’s an easy signature cut for the band. The guitars trudge hard, with doom bells ringing out, and a the simple but punchy chorus will stick in your head. The song later toughens up even more, with Wilson noting, “Darkness weighs heavy on our hearts,” as the track ends in a surge of darkness. “Byzantium” swelters and boils in a mid-tempo range, with sorrowful melodies bleeding and the drama applied in thick layers. It’s another where Wilson keeps the message basic, with a callback chorus you’ll anticipate, with tremendous leads taking the song to its conclusion. “Will of the Ancient Call” is murky but also aggressive, with the vocals driving the song ahead, especially with morbid lines such as, “Awaiting death’s final call, the sweet release,” with the back end catching fire and hammering hard.

“Into the Holy of Holies” is another big one, running nearly eight minutes and establishing itself as the band’s first true epic. There’s an ominous aura that surrounds this one at the start, as acoustic guitars find their way in. But then the track bursts apart, with a furious thrash assault breaking out that you might not see coming and more excellent guitar work that gets in your blood. The storytelling is dynamic and compelling, with Wilson calling, “There is no fire to give us light,” though the guitar work does its best to act as a torch to light the way. Just an excellent song. “The Master’s Bouquet” is the oddball of the bunch, leaning closer to King Diamond territory and feeding off Hank Williams’ country spiritual of nearly the same name (in fact, that song’s first section is spoken over the beginning of the song, and the chorus remains intact). The themes here are far darker, and way more hopeless, as Wilson observes the life-giving flowers dying and the music providing an excellently gruesome backing. The closing title cut is a fantastic curtain dropper, with slow-clubbing doom driving ahead, the music feeling dark and gritty, and Wilson noting, “There’s no light in paradise.” The guitar work later feels psychedelic and damaging, with Wilson dealing, “We can never atone for our crimes,” as the band lights up the night once again, ending the album on a mind-altering note.

Do yourself a favor and go out of your way to hear this record. Crypt Sermon’s arrival is a huge high point this winter, a burning beacon in what’s otherwise been a frosty, fog-thickened season. “Out of the Garden” is a stunner, an incredibly rewarding doom metal opus that will remind you why you fell in love with heavy metal in the first place.

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

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

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

Necrowretch’s second serving ‘With Serpents Scourge’ proves death metal is best served raw

NecrowretchGnarling, mangling, mean death metal is as fun as any form of music, if you ask me, and can be the best that the metal world has to offer. That’s when it’s done in a certain way, when it’s ugly and menacing enough, when it gets horrible blood flowing a little faster through your veins.

A few years ago, metal giant Century Media signed up little-known French death metal unit Necrowretch to go alongside their wildly successful, jamming-Best-Buy-aisles bands that are way more prominent in stature. And that’s actually a good idea, because to have a label with the sway and recognition level as Century Media, they easily can add credibility to a smaller band that’s as good as—and I’d say better than—most of their other acts. Necrowretch was a pretty bold singing for them, but the band came through in a big way with their thunderous debut record “Putrid Death Sorcery” that was one of the finest death offerings of 2013. After just a couple of years, these guys have come raging back with a massive, impressive second album “With Serpents Scourge” that ups the ante and just hammers the living hell out of you. If you liked their first record, be prepared to be blown off the planet.

Necrowretch coverThis band is gnarly, mean, and the epitome of graveyard-ready death metal. Their riffs rule hard, the vocals are mean and hardly polished, and you can just get inside their world of madness and let the grotesque horrors take you away. This trio—vocalist/guitarist Vlad, bassist Amphycion, drummer Ilmar—have sharp teeth and unkempt claws that enable them to go for the throat and pull out your guts, and over two records now, they’ve proved themselves one of the deadliest, most feral death metal bands going. As filthy as this stuff can be, it’s also a great pleasure to hear play out, and these guys are building a massive amount of momentum that won’t be easy for people to ignore.

“Black Death Communion” is the perfect beginning, with noise welling up, water dripping as if in a dank basement, and then strong, ripping guitars hammering you, getting ready to chew up your flesh. The band starts to chug with speed, with vicious growls spilling out, a boiling, stinking aura being set up, and monstrous growls dealing a bloody exclamation point. “Feast Off Their Doom” is righteously titled, with a riffy, mean disposition and the drums being pasted heavily. The vocals go from gruff growls to violent shouts, while the guitar work sounds feral and galloping. The title track follows, with mangling growls leading the way out of the gates, smothering death piling on top, the drums again taking a wicked beating, and the band stabbing forward, spitting out their fury. “By Evil and Beyond” is fast and dressed in murderous blasts and heavy riffing. Again the band dines on speed, with the guitar work tearing worlds apart and the band hitting a rowdy, boiling finish.

“The Bells of Evil Schism” bursts open with no warning, with a thrashy, mashing assault, the guitars absolutely ruling and setting everything ablaze, and a real sense of menace entering the picture along with a renewal of their thirst for blood. “He Thrones on Thy Sins” is heavy and merciless, and what’s become a recurring element, the drums are just beaten into the soil. The music starts to bubble up like a lake of blood, both thick and ripe with stench, and the back end is slammed shut with a heavy dose of crushing. “Even Death May Die” is torn open from its center, with the pace clubbing with pure devastation and a nasty, sharp-toothed fury of fists to the face. There is some great soloing that emerges, splashing this track with a classic death metal feel, and it leads its way into a solitary moment of calm. “Infernal Imprecation” is a quick interlude that’s rolled over the drums and a haze of sound that could lull you into a false sense of security. Then closer “Motem Ritu” unloads buckets of miserable doom, with the tempo rumbling hard, more killer riffs rushing in like a pack of heathen warriors, and the vocals sounding as raw and painful as anywhere else on the record. As the song builds its temper, the soloing kicks out and lights up the sky, and the final moments give the band a last chance to terrify you and rip you limb from limb.

Necrowretch’s fury continues to get more and more violent, as well as satisfying, and “With Serpents Scourge” continues their absolute assault on the death metal world. They may not be a featured release at your local big box store, but they’re death at its best, most raucous. This is audio violence through and through, and if you aren’t overcome by their ferocity and terror, then maybe you need to listen to something a little more gentle on your senses, you big baby.

For more on the band, go here: http://necrowretch.net/

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

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

Atmospheric doom maulers Izah unload tons of emotion, power into intense, fiery debut ‘Sistere’

IzahIt’s time to take on some serious heaviness today. We mean that both from a philosophical and outright dosage standpoint. It’s a bulk, industrial-sized mammoth we’re talking about, and if you can handle this record this week, you can handle anything.

Dutch maulers Izah are dropping their massive debut record “Sistere” onto the world, and it’s one hell of a journey to take. It’s emotional, dark, sometimes uplifting, and always effective. And it’s long. We’re talking 72 minutes of tumult packed into just four tracks, so you know you need to invest your time and energy into this thing. It doesn’t let you drop in and sample. This is a full album experience, and to handle it any other way would almost be disrespectful to the music. Plus you really won’t be experiencing this in the right manner by taking on a track here and there. This thing builds from moment one, and by the time the thing finally expires an hour and 12 minutes later, you’re going to be spent.

Izah coverWhile we’re just getting the band’s first record here in 2015, they’ve been together since 2006. The band—vocalist/synth player Sierk Entius, guitarists Roel van Oosterhout, Twan Bastiaansen, and Michel de Jong (who also adds synth), bassist Frans Derhorst, and drummer Tijs van Wegberg—falls into similar territory as ISIS, Neurosis, Cult of Luna and groups of that ilk, and they carry with them the same intensity and penchant for dramatics. They have their cataclysmic highs and their thought-provoking lows, letting you have time in the midst of a volcanic eruption and following that up by taking you through tranquil journeys in cool water.

The album opens with 13:30 “Indefinite Instinct,” which begins with bristling noise, voices crying out in the distance, and off-kilter clean guitars that could make your head feel strange. Then things really open up, with roared vocals that sound hardcore-inspired, a grittier tempo, and heavy, blistering guitars. Later, the track gets dreamy and hazy, with sounds hovering and floating before everything toughens up again and throaty growls return. The back end sizzles out, with whirry keys and foggy sentiment taking everything out. “Duality,” a 15:59 crusher, starts with pure savagery, sludgy and heavy guitars, and roaring that could rupture veins. The cut goes back and forth from vicious to airy, which most of the songs are wont to do, but things really change up when news clips slip into the background, from portions about the Unabomber to bits about man vs. machine. From there it gets thunderous, with melody sliding in to add color, and the fireworks totally blazing.

“Finite Horizon” is the shortest cut at 11:37, and it starts by chugging right away, with an assault that reminds of bit of Helmet, leading into dreamier sequences containing cleaner singing and cloudy sentiments. That switches to a guttural, hardcore-heavy assault, with crazed shouts, bendy and rubbery guitar work, and mathy, mechanical trudging that feels inspired by Godflesh. Calm does rear its head, with melody weaving its way into the fire, and the final minutes toggling between light and dark. The monster 31:02 title cut ends the album, and it’s one hell of a piece. Keys bleed in, with great, emotional playing getting the epic off to the right start, and the growling sound just wrenching. The snowball keeps rolling down the hill, picking up steam and building mass, with the band exploring every aspect of their sound. A rough, violent dialog then works its way in, sounding like a relationship and maybe even lives unraveling, and it’s tough to kick the disturbing sense you’ll feel. The intensity keeps multiplying, with the vocals going back and forth from singing and killer howling, doom horns feeling world toppling, wild wails rising, and noise building up like a death storm. The final 10 minutes are ambient, delicate, and fragile, letting you mix into the background with the record and giving you space to have some easier breaths as the album fades away.

Izah may have taken their time finally putting their first big stake in the ground, but they knew what they were doing and clearly were making sure everything was ready for their formal introduction into the world. “Sistere” is a passionate, raucous experience, and the record that will get inside of you and completely change your demeanor. This is a smothering debut that definitely should put Izah on the map in permanent ink.

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

To buy the record, go here: http://www.nordvis.com/store/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: King Woman emerge as first vital new band of year on dark, scarred ‘Doubt’

King WomanIt’s obviously still really early in the year, and we’re bound to have a ton of new bands emerge and make serious impacts on our lives. Our first one has come its way courtesy of a stunning debut EP that is soul-shaking and completely intoxicating.

King Woman is driven by Kristina Esfandiari (of Miserable and formerly of the criminally underappreciated Whirr), whose soulful, husky, expressive voice is one you cannot possibly ignore no matter how hard you try. But why would you do that? The first time I heard this band’s first full EP “Doubt,” it was late in the evening after a strenuous day of work when all I really wanted to do was relax. Funny enough, these four songs did the total opposite, turning on the emotions and making me sit at attention because of what I was hearing. In my ears and coursing through my brain was a serving of doom, noise, shoegaze, and rock that was mixed together perfectly and made me want to get caught up in every moment of this thing. I had heard a bit about the band before I experienced the album, and I knew Esfandiari’s work fronting Whirr. But nothing could prepare me for the experience I had. I was in a state of complete submission.

King Woman coverAs for Esfandiari, this EP not only was a major creative step forward for King Woman, it also was a way for her to try to shed the pressure of her Christian origins and upbringing, a subject matter that hits pretty close to my heart as well (though not to the degree to which it impacted her). She saw the band and the music she and King Woman create as a form of therapy for her to deal with and try to make sense of the oppressive religious upbringing she experienced. She also focused on other dark, troubling topics such as rejection by family members and friends once she chose to turn her back on religion, abuse, sex, metaphysics, and many other topics that she pours her heart and soul into. Even if you don’t pay close attention to the words or have trouble making them out, as the dark, fuzzy production sometimes prevents, you cannot avoid the sadness and pain embedded in these songs, because they burst from Esfandiari’s words.

King Woman had offered up a couple of smaller releases before the “Doubt” EP came together (I consider them “new” because they’re really coming to major public attention now in case you feel like picking hairs with the headline). Formerly a project entirely Esfandiari’s, she decided to recruit other players once the project got back off the ground and landed guitarist Colin Gallagher and drummer Joey Raygoza, both of whom she grew up with, as well as bassist Sky Madden. The music they create is intoxicating, heavy (both physically and psychologically), often sweepingly beautiful, and always effective. While only four tracks at under 20 minutes, it’s still some of the most impactful, heart-whipping collections of music so far in 2015.

“Wrong” opens the record in a storm of noise that’s infiltrated by guitar buzz. Esfandiari’s vocals float over top like a ghost, permeating the senses and adding chilling lines such as, “Fill this place with fear,” that has a greater impact knowing what this record is all about. The song keeps building layers of tumult before it finally dissolves in feedback and static. “King of Swords” is a showstopper, with a doom-infested, mournful atmosphere, where Esfandiari wails, “No love … Love is gone,” as if it’s tearing her essence apart. The track is immersed in murky power, as the music moves along at a calculated pace, and the singing keeps gripping you and making you face the sadness welling up like a flood. Esfandiari keeps repeating her cries, making for a mesmerizing, gut-wrenching experience. “Burn” is a little different, adding some breeze into the picture and even sounding like something off a classic 4AD album. Then guitars ring out like a siren and keep piercing on a loop, with a whirling feeling created by the music, Esfandiari’s vocals spilling forth, and a foggy sentiment meeting up with the track’s final rumbles. Closer “Candescent Soul” has guitars crackling and crumbling slowly, the singing coming in softer and more delicate, and a haze hanging in the air above you. The last moments are cloudy and gazey, with the record’s spirit vanishing and you left standing breathless.

King Woman certainly have arrived in a huge way, and Esfandiari is an artist who I want to follow with great interest. While it’s sad to think of the torment she had to go through to get to the point where she created these songs, the art itself is exemplary and incredible to hear, and maybe the material on “Doubt” can help other people get through the same issues. This is a band that cannot be overhyped, because they’re massively impressive and a true gift to music. I can’t wait to hear a full-length record from this band, as it seems like King Woman only are scratching the surface of their ocean of potential.

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

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

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

Mexican death cult Hacavitz turn toward raw black metal on violent ‘Darkness Beyond’

HacavitzIt’s not uncommon for a band that lasts many years together to eventually pull back their sound and have their intensity even out as they grow older. Or maybe that fire that once burned intensely in their creative souls is satisfied now, and their musical output is not as urgent as it once was.

Luckily, Mexican heathens Hacavitz know nothing about those things. Here they are, 12 years into their run together, and their music gets getting more savage and violent. Nowhere is that more apparent than on their new record “Darkness Beyond,” their first release in five years and the nastiest thing they’ve done to date. It’s not like this band took it easy on their other three full-length albums. Quite the opposite. But on this seven-track, 56-minute monster, Hacavitz renew their artistic desire and hammer out a piece that’s full-blown black metal in scope. They’re going for blood here and proving their crushing nature isn’t anywhere near slowing down, and that will be apparent to any listener who tries on this album for the first time. You’re going to get flattened.

Hacavitz coverThe band—vocalist/guitarist Antimo Bounanno (also of Blood Reaping and Castleumbra), guitarist Ivan Ochoa, bassist Ulises Sanchez (Beyond Stench, Evil Entourage), drummer Cesar “Led” Sanchez (Drowned in Blood, Profanator)—dropped their first EP in 2004, a year after forming, and delivered their debut full-length “Vengaza” a year later on Moribund Records. “Katun” followed in 2007, and in 2010 they went to Embrace My Funeral Records to release their third opus “Metztli Obscura.” Their sound was centered more on blackened death metal in years past, but now they seem to have only ill intent and a thirst for blood in mind as they sharpen their sound and make music as destructive as ever before.

“Terra Nihil” begins the assault, as a dizzying, humid open spills into a trucking tempo and vocals that sound vicious and charnel. The drums are utterly destroyed at times, with the pace continuing to pick up steam, some melody blending in for good measure, and savage howling taking you to an abrupt end. “Deadream” is the first of a trio of epics, running 9:04 and going into the path of swirling guitars, gruff growls, and a sweltering fury. The song eventually pulls back just a bit, letting eerie, chilling sentiments to enter the room, and that leads back into crazed shrieks and an atmosphere that bubbles with heat. The song erupts volcanically, with tortured screams peeling your eyelids open permanently, and charging guitars rolling into the devastating conclusion. “Livskit” starts with rain falling and a solitary guitar piercing the air. There’s a sense of frightening isolation, as the waves of noise pour on, and this churning instrumental leads into the title cut. That beast starts with doom-infested waters lapping the shore, gut-wrenching riffs swelling to the surface, and the journey pushing forward. A wild cackle spills from Bounanno’s throat, the music cascades down, and pained vocals provide the dark last moments.

“Herejia” is another behemoth, lasting 9:13 and tearing right open with a fit of rage and raw, vicious pummeling. The vocals sound terrifying and a little deranged at times, with guitars dripping like they’re sprinkling blood and a pocket of channeled soloing a little afterward. The song then re-ignites, with blazes glowing brightly, Bounanno wailing for “darkness absolute,” and the final moments packing on a few extra helpings of torment. “De Humo Negro y Ceniza” (translates to black smoke and ash) does feel like it’s hoping for conflagration, with guitars shimmering and the vocals coming on like a poisonous fog. The tempo chugs hard, delivering wave upon wave of brutality, and even when the volatility seems to calm, it always goes back to thunder and damage. Until is just dissolves all of a sudden. Closer “Time Is Now” is a 12:11 crusher, settling into a doomy tone and a slower delivery, leaving you disoriented and hanging by a thread. Then the speed hits, as the music gets even heavier, with Bounanno vowing, “There’s no future, there’s no return!” amid suffocating smoke. The melodies are purely black and sinister, with noise practically strangling every living thing in front of it, crazed howls tearing into the night, and the guitars smothering and blistering until they finally, mercifully fade.

Hacavitz always were a force of complete obliteration, but they’ve upped the ante heavily on “Darkness Beyond.” The songs are meatier, the atmosphere is way more volatile, and these blistering tracks leave plenty of open wounds that are bound to sustain infection. This band keeps getting more and more severe, which makes you wonder if they can come up with something this devastating a decade into their run, how fiery might their future be?

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hacavitz/245881618866104

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

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