PICK OF THE WEEK: FALSE return with debut full-length album that sets entire world ablaze

FALSEReally special, really important bands don’t come around every day. In fact, they don’t come around every year. Not to whine, but being a writer who is inundated with music every day and only gets to truly know a fraction of the records I hear every year, coming across a band that fundamentally changes your feelings about metal or music in general happens by chance. So any time it does I try to embrace that fully.

A few years ago, I started hearing rumblings about this band FALSE, a group out of Minnesota that was keeping their business well under the shadows, with only the lucky few who witnessed them live even knowing who was behind the madness and understanding the force of this band. The arrival of their untitled debut recording in 2012 already was an anticipated moment for me after everything I had heard from the band from very trusted sources, and the music on that document instantly transformed me into a FALSE believer. Same goes for their contributions to their split effort with Barghest, and finally seeing this band live, where they manage to conjure something brutal, psychologically draining, and absolutely mesmerizing, it all came together for me. Now, with their first full-length in our hands, I can say this without flinching: FALSE is the best black metal band in America, possibly the world, and they are one of the few groups who can stop me dead in my tracks when experiencing their music.

FALSE coverThe band still eschews almost all interview requests and does not issue promo photos. Finding their names isn’t impossible, but they’re not exactly out there splashing their social media accounts everywhere. It is clear the focus is on their music, and while, yeah, that whole remaining secretive can be seen as something that actually could draw added attention to FALSE, it doesn’t come off that way. And if you doubt that, tackle this five-track, 60-minute watershed album for domestic metal. People like me whine that too much music sounds so terribly alike. Who cares about that when a group like this can pull off a full-length record with this much ambition, emotion, violence, imagination, and creativity? Those other groups don’t matter. Almost every cut is more than 10 minutes long, and each song grabs you from the start, drags you through fierce twists and turns, and turns you up at the end utterly breathless. A lot of good music has come out this year; plenty more will come. But here’s guessing that matching what FALSE bring on this record won’t be topped, just like their EP from three years ago remains one of the finest metal recordings to come out in all of the 2000s. Period.

“Saturnalia” kicks off the record, letting noise sizzle for a moment before the band launches. Rachel’s vocals wrench and slither, as the band hits panic-inducing sections, portions of synth haze that mixes perfectly into the chaos, and intensity that storms heavily. There is plenty of exploration and emotional tumult as the song develops, crushing you into corners, eventually letting you take a breath, then killing again. As the song reaches its last quarter, Rachel howls, “Give us solace in the moonless sky,” as the music bleeds fury and then your heart reaches a dangerous level. That sets the stage for “The Deluge,” a song you have to hear to believe. It might be the most perfect thing FALSE ever created, and the way they build each layer largely is responsible for that. Out of a synth smog, the song rupture and rambles forward. There is a lot of dark melody weaved into the cut, and Kishel’s keys keep adding depth and texture, the guitars cut pathways, and the vocals scar your flesh. A sort of calm comes over the scene, though you know the clouds are about to break, and when they do, what comes next is an absolute revelation. Guest vocalist Sarah Green’s choral-style singing bursts above Rachel’s growled lines, acting as an emotional tidal wave, a total holy-fucking-shit moment that could be the best recorded metal moment of the year. I know it’s only late May. I know that’s hyperbolic. Hear it and see if I’m wrong. I can’t see what will top that one minute’s time. (If you don’t believe me, check the great Steel for Brains site, who debuted the song this week: http://steelforbrains.com/post/120113434952/the-key-of-passive-suffering-a-conversation-with)

If you need time to breathe and reflect after “The Deluge,” it makes sense, but instead, tumble head-first into an untitled cut that wails into rupturing melodies, with a great dose of blackness afoot, vocals that could lacerate, and some really great guitar work that has a classic metal feel to it. In fact, that happens a few times over the span of this album, which is a good time. The final two minutes of this thing just boil over and give the song a truly epic conclusion. “Entropy” is the longest cut at 15:28, and is it ever a world toppler. It unfurls majestically, with guitars catching fire and then the whole thing blowing apart. Synth sheets rain down, as the rest of the band tangles you in a black metal pretzel, with the vocals unleashed in a tempered manner. There are some murky, moody sections, with their artistic tributaries trickling more slowly. But late in the song, a new sense of intensity and speed is realized, as the band drives the caravan down a canyon wall and through the gates of hell. The vocals strike hard, the music causes thunder claps, and it all fades into an ambient void. Closer “Hedgecraft” runs 13:19, and it opens into melodic punishment and a pace that lets the colors and fires slowly build. The guitar work spirals, while Rachel’s words work to run your face into the gravel, and later they strike the gas pedal again on an assault that could cause you great anxiety. In a good way. The band tears into a smothering Iron Maiden-like gallop as the song goes on, with the vocals piercing and then everything dramatically changing the pace yet again. Every element is brought on heavily, like hot wax being poured from a cauldron, and as the guitars glimmer, the music erupts, and the last gasp of vocals deliver their final messages, the song quickly fades into the night, leaving you a heaving mess in a pool of sweat on the floor.

This first official FALSE record had a ton of anticipation behind it, especially with people like me who are in total awe of the band. Having had the better part of calendar year 2015 to absorb it, I still haven’t uncovered every mystery and fully swung through every curve. This record is an astonishing work of greatness, an album that can be held aloft to show just what the United States has contributed to make metal greater and black metal richer. This is a rare band we don’t hear very often. And this record has the power to knock down cities.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/False/3540332204

To buy the album, go here: http://www.erodingwinds.com/product-category/music/gilead-media-releases/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

Danish speed demons Encyrcle ignite flames of metal’s heart, provide thunderous first album

EncyrcleOut of the many topics I speak about over and over on this site, the power of metal is one that gets pretty regular representation. There’s no secret to the fact that this music can be empowering and make you feel bigger and stronger than you are, though the assertion that it’s time to grab a sword and head into town on a rampage always is meant tongue in cheek. Also, I’m terrible with a sword.

But that power you feel inside is legit, and it can happen for many reasons. I always get a charge from bands who perfectly encapsulate the time in which I first discovered metal and let it take over my bloodstream. I remember my formative years listening to Helloween, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Mercyful Fate (all of which were sources of amazing guilt brought on by my Catholic education, funny enough) and realizing this stuff took me somewhere. This dork loser with a handful of friends of the target of plenty of jeers had a place to feel safe and alive. This is all a very melodramatic way for me to introduce Encyrcle and their stunning self-titled debut record that should make you feel that raw, primal power of heavy metal. Genre tags and trends and all of that don’t matter at all hearing this Danish band speed through this 11-track collection that brings to mind all of those aforementioned groups. They also can help you bask in the power of their sound, which, yeah, can make you feel like taking up arms and fighting the good fight for metal. Just be careful with that sword and all.

Encyrcle coverEncyrcle have been mounting their assault ever since forming in 2012, with this record being the first entry on their resume. The group—vocalist N Hydra, guitarists S. Rose and S. Klem, bassist R Koldby, drummer A Edalis—has a rawness and energy that’s infectious, and despite debuting three decades after many of their perceived influences first made their marks, they present and honest, true sound that is raucous, a ton of fun to absorb, and should have you basking in the glory of metal’s old gods.

“Chronoboros” leads you into the chaos, a fiery, yet calculated intro track that bleeds right toward “To the End,” a powerful, rampaging cut that sets the tone early. There are epic, thrash-style vocals, with Hydra reaching higher registers (which he is wont to do) and the rest of the band mashing you with riffs and adventure. “Evoke the Night” is chock full of empowerment and we-fight-together sentiment, with punchy tempos, glorious guitar work, and crunchy thrash, with Hydra urging, “Leave your masquerade behind.” “Bloodbasker” is a total killer, and it should be a great live staple for the band. The track is drenched in speed, the vocals reach high and wail, and the chorus is rousing, with gang vocals you’ll be dying to shout back. Awesome, classic-style anthem. “En Trance” is a moody, burning interlude cut that flows right into “Dizzy Me Deadly,” a track built on fast-moving clobbering, great power, and a simple, memorable chorus. The track really erupts, though, when Hydra howls, “No survival! Go!” right as a fire-breathing guitar solo rips out and scorches.

“Serpent’s Dream” is a mystical but powerful instrumental, mixing in classical elements with their overall metallic haze, and it feels like something inspired by Savatage. Then shit blows up again on “Deathlust,” a track that gallops hard, recalling Helloween during its “Walls of Jericho” phase, and it storms heavily during its run. “Facelasher” brings even more crunch to the picture, with the band piling up killer melodies, and Hydra demanding, “Turn this night into terror,” as the cut surges even more aggressively and opens up new avenues to get wholly decimated. “Black Dust” is the longest cut at 8:16, with the band taking its time to set the mood and letting the atmosphere expand. But then it’s off to the races, with speedy bashing and vocals in colorful storyteller mode. The band chugs along, creating serious smoke in the song’s first half, though in the final few minutes they stretch out their playing and take their time to spark some different shades of color and go out on a reflective note. But closer “Obliteration Eyes” brings demolition back to the forefront, with the drums crushed (reminds a bit of the intro to “Painkiller”), howls unleashed, and the band taking off. Lower singing mixes with siren wails, another strong, sticky chorus establishes itself, and the band goes out all guns blazing, leaving you high from your journey.

Encyrcle’s speed-driven, powerful sound is a real treat, and their self-titled opus takes me back to when metal first bore its way into my heart. It’s a fun listen, an engaging collection of songs, and a call to arms (even if only metaphorically speaking) that should rekindle your initial feelings for this type of music and make you want to ride this fiery chariot all the way to the gates of end time.

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

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

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

Legendary Paradise Lost strike back with death-smeared doom on furious ‘The Plague Within’

Photo by Ester Segarra

Photo by Ester Segarra

Paradise Lost have nothing to prove to anyone. No one at all. Over the course of their storied career, one that has been rich on content, faced times of fervent backlash from some, and spawned a million disciples, they have carved out a legendary status and have been recognized as one of the most important bands in the history of doom metal.

So when a record such as “The Plague Within” arrives, it tends to have a profound, powerful effect on people like me who have followed the band’s long, curved track. As bands go on, they tend to mellow or even out, no longer connecting with rage and turmoil of their younger selves and finding different ways to express their darkness. Paradise Lost, however, do not operate that way. On this 14th record, they have delivered one of the most satisfying platters of their run. Not just because it’s significantly heavier and harsher than anything they delivered in the past decade. Yeah, one can point at Gregor Mackintosh’s death metal band Vallenfyre or Nick Holmes current stint fronting Bloodbath as potential reasons these 10 songs are so emotionally and physically brutal. But that would cheapen this record. Instead, it sounds like the two members’ inner fires are burning as savagely as ever, with the other guys also boiling over with passion and chaos along with them.

Paradise Lost coverMackintosh, the band’s longtime guitar player, and Holmes, their dark voice through their entire nearly three-decade existence, are the members of this band that get the most attention and focus. On top of that, their other bands were top attractions at last weekend’s Maryland Deathfest, letting them stretch their sinewy grit. But let’s not forget their crucial others members, who provide the solid backbone to the Paradise Lost legend. Also on guitars is Aaron Aedy, on bass is Stephen Edmondson, and the “new guy” (well, he’s been on board since 2009) on drums is Adrian Erlandsson, who also plays with Vallenfyre, as well as moderately kind of hugely influential At the Gates. The band pours everything they have into “The Plague Within,” the follow-up to super strong 2012 effort “Tragic Idol,” and may make long-time fans remember why they fell in love with the band in the first place. Paradise Lost’s darkness never stops giving, and the blazes never are satisfied.

It doesn’t take long at all to know things have taken a turn for the dour on opener “No Hope in Sight” tells you that from its title, then it welcomes you into murk. Holmes’ growls are gravelly and grim, though as the song develops, he brings back his solemn singing voice, and the guitar work is riffy and solid, adding muscle to the admission, “It’s a battle as the years start to fade.” “Terminal” has guitars charging, the vocals coming on the winds of rage, and the bulk of the song damp and crunchy, with the doom hammer leveled toward the end. “An Eternity of Lies” is a really great one, beginning with chambery strings and synth washing over the scene, with Holmes delivering a gothic-style performance on the riveting chorus, where he charges, “Fear the isolation,” as well as for lines such as, “All my dreams are make-believe, a sorry endeavor.” “Punishment Through Time” also promises misery, and it brings it in heavy chunks, with thick riffs, howled vocals, a nice bit of soloing, and an effective punch delivered in a compact package. “Beneath Broken Earth” is another high point, as their doom unfurls, the growls come elegantly, and the band hits a funeral doom note, with Holmes later howling, “You wish to die!” It keeps lapping slowly and heavily, giving the first half of the album a harrowing finish.

Weighty strings greet you on “Sacrifice the Flame,” a track that again trades off between growling and singing and that gets a nice boost of energy from the rest of the band. It’s a really strong song that sticks with you and burns the entire way. “Victim of the Past” also takes its time and follows a slower pace, with synth bleeding through the song, and the bulk of the thing feeling like a cold autumn day, when your psyche is at its lowest. The melodies cascade, feeling oppressive and ominous as it reaches its end. “Flesh From Bone” turns things back toward the violent end, with black metal-style flourishes bringing added darkness and the track coming at you with a fierceness. This one is purely devastating, a raw dose of death metal devastation, and it’s the heaviest damn thing they’ve done in a while. “Cry Out” is another one that could be a live favorite, as the riff swaggers with attitude, the tempo punishes, and the easy chorus could inspire their crowds to howl that back with Holmes. He rallies “sinners against the world,” while the band keeps the intensity high until it all burns out. Closer “Return to the Sun” has a theatrical open, with keys and choral chants, before it tears open with a death-like hammering and steady assault that keeps the punches coming. “Please don’t look inside my mind, a place you’ve never dreamed,” Holmes warns as the band ignites a few more emotional fireworks before this powerful collection comes to its conclusion.

Now 14 albums into their incredible journey, Paradise Lost still are delivering astonishing music that should amplify your own morbid feelings and satiate your anger. “The Plague Within” is a record that challenges the doom status quo from a band that helped build the foundation. This is a kick in the backside for all of doom from one of the key architects, which should serve as a wake-up call to everyone.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Cloud Rat’s sound expands while they slay demons on crushing ‘Qliphoth’

Cloud RatFrustration is a huge part of all of our lives, whether we care to take ownership in that idea or not. Things have a way of evening out when things are favorable, meaning it’s a good idea not to get too high with the highs, and I think metal is a way in which we can release some of that anguish and try to find a state of normalcy. Or at least a state in which we can survive.

Michigan’s Cloud Rat always came across to me as one of those bands where, as much as they’ve always tried to put a socially conscious message out there, also seemed like a major source of tension relief for the band. Their amazing new album “Qliphoth” seems to very much tackle that idea, acknowledging dark thoughts and everyday annoyance can encapsulate us, and we can’t always take out our woes on the very thing causing us stress. The title itself comes from Hermetic Qabalah and represents a dark realm that embraces the ideas of mysticism and the occult, approaching the world of demonology. There’s an unmistakable darkness surrounding these songs and the way in which they are dealt out, and the idea that there are obstacles in our lives that prevent us from finding happiness or just achieving goals is put on center stage. Now, how to destroy the demons?

Cloud Rat coverThe band remains intact from their stunning last full-length “Moksha,” with one notable addition. Madison remains out front, the outspoken, passionate head of this band, whose vocals strike you hard and force you to confront her words. Rorik handles guitar work, while Adrian is on drums, and joining the Cloud Rat lineup is Brandon, who handles electronics. If you were leveled by what you heard on their last record, that remains in the form of agitated punk, heartfelt hardcore, and blistering grind. But there’s more to it than that, as Cloud Rat expand their sound and their soul, proving they never are content with standing in one place and have too much ambition for stagnation, both artistically and emotionally.

The 17-track, 40-minute album gets off to an ominous start with “Seken,” with noise swimming and voices in the background before it bursts. The vocals are maniacal, while the tempo stomps, and then it’s into “Botched” and its manic, blinding makeup, finishing off with the line, “We’ve come to worship death.” “The Upper World” has guitars moaning before the band starts pulverizing. Later, things move at a hulking pace, with guitars ripping out of that and the vocals inducing panic. “Raccoon” is cleaner and more reflective, with harsh vocals spread over top and drubbing ideas smearing over an otherwise slower, more serene cut; while “Daisies” is out of control and volcanic, leaving you no time to prepare. “Bloated Goat” feels a little more angular musically, with an At the Drive In sense, though along with that, Madison’s growls bubble up and burn. “Rusting Belt” charges out of the gates, with fierce shrieks, blasts from the drums, and the music taking an even darker, more sinister twist. “Udder Dust” is spacious as first, letting you take in the air, but it, like so many others, gets destroyed with the pace and metallic intent, though there are pockets of melody infused. “The Killing Horizon” then follows, a dark, murky interlude that lets calm return and bridges into the record’s next half.

“The Boars Snout” is animalistic and brimming with madness, with some sludgy doom taking hold toward the end; and “Hermit Interstice” is one where they show more shades, with trickling melodies meeting face to face with the outright chaos the other half of the track holds. “Live Wake” is just demolition through and through, leading you into “Thin Vein,” with its clean, buzzing guitars and washed-out singing settling into the background. The emotion is clear, especially with the vocals, and even though it goes rogue toward the end, the gaze and shadows are what stand out here. “Bolt Gun” is humid and hazy at the start, with doomy passages darkening the scene, the vocals clobbering, and the rest of the band joining in on gang shouts. “Rogue Dark” is lightning-fast thrash, luring you in and letting you help build the fire. When that breakdown hits toward the end, look out. Shit’s about to get fucked up. “Friend of the Court” is one of the longer songs at 3:20, and it opens with crazed howls, with the music following suit in a sense of velocity. The screams are just heart-wrenching, while all elements burst and land in a pit of sludge. The record ends with “Chrysalis,” which opens clean, with a poetic reading trickling beneath before all hell breaks loose. From there, the final salvo is fired, with the band packing every last drop of emotion inside of them into this storming track that brings things to a cataclysmic, ultimately rewarding finish.

Cloud Rat haven’t quite risen to the level of household name among underground listeners yet, but that day is coming. In fact, “Qliphoth” may be the record that gets them there, as this fiery, personal, cathartic album is impossible to ignore. From what they commit to record to their explosive live shows, Cloud Rat are here to make a statement and hopefully to find some peace and solace in their own lives. The fact they shared that with us so we could rally along with them is an amazing gift that their audience no doubt will embrace.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/label-releases/halo81-cloud-rat-qliphoth-lp/

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

Death metal experimentalists Pyrrhon unleash fire-breathing chaos on ‘Growth Without End’

PyrrhonBusiness sucks, and sometimes companies are forced to make decisions based on how much something makes rather than its artistic value. Hence, it seems, why Relapse cut ties with experimental death metal band Pyrrhon after they delivered an almighty great and head-destroying LP “The Mother of Virtues” is because it didn’t “move enough units.” Sad for such a killer band.

But Relapse’s (huge, huge) loss is Handshake Inc.’s gain, as the band has ravaged back with a new EP “Growth Without End” that could be a statement on the band’s standing as a unit or a comment on their constantly morphing sound. And if “Mother” threw you for a loop, get ready to stand there confused as fuck when you hear this astonishing, brain-erasing EP that pushes their game to a new level. Ugh, I hate that statement, but it’s true. The work they do on this killer EP is next level for them. Yeah, the chem lab, dizzying death metal remains a major factor. But they dirty up the machine a bit, add more guttural attitude, and show they are capable of far more than what they’ve already shown. And they’ve shown a ton already.

GGR SINGLE POCKET JACKET UPDATED 032112Your Pyrrhon lineup remains intact, despite the unfortunate label shuffling, with Doug Moore on vocals (and he does he ever turn in a performance here), Dylan DiLella on guitars, Erik Malave (Imperial Triumphant) on bass, and Alex Cohen (Imperial Triumphant, Epistatis) on drums. They definitely morph past what the foursome created on “Mother,” bringing elements of noise rock into the mix, and those who have been along the ride ever since their debut, 2011’s eye-opening “An Excellent Servant But a Terrible Master,” should be pretty excited to hear where the band has gone on this release.

“Cancer Mantra” tears this thing’s shell apart with blistering, mind-bending playing, gurgly growls, and vicious, unpredictable melodies that should shake your innards. The finish is a mixture of fucked up ideas, and then it’s onto very short, but very effective “Forget Yourself,” a song that never makes it to a minute and a half. But during its short life span, it explodes everywhere, spiraling and shaking, with the guitars completely blinding you. “The Mass” starts with cartoon-like playing that is baffling, turning speedy and rubbery as it builds. The track settles for a bit, letting off some steam, and then it goes back into wild howling, spacey soundscapes, and tricky guitar work. “Viral Content” is where things get really bizarre, with the band showing off some of their new, darker shadows and Moore’s vocals bending and twisting in a tortured manner. The song is noisy and loopy, though it slowly builds the tempo, and before you know it, shit’s on fire again. The track sounds pissed and disgusting, and it’s an awfully cool new side to the band. Closer “Turing’s Revenge” has some of those elements as well, but also pits of sludge and mucky death in which to sink. The guitars are smeary, the vocals go from growl to talk singing, the fellows go off into warped land for a bit, and it all concludes with a vicious assault to make sure their point is made and understood.

Sure, having Relapse drop Pyrrhon wasn’t a great development for the band, but clearly they are not letting that hurt them creatively. If anything, perhaps that fueled their fire, as “Growth Without End” is a delirious, fire-breathing effort from a band that’s reigniting the furnace. Wherever the band ends up next, that label is going to get one of the most perplexing, creative death metal bands going, and won’t they be so lucky to have them?

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

To buy the album, go here: https://handshakeinc.bandcamp.com/

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

Atmospheric black metal band Ashbringer delivers darkness with debut full-length ‘Vacant’

AshbringerBeing that we’ve been on a kick lately of weather-related posts, I’ve come to understand my first foray into the woods is long overdue. How is that possible? We’re about a month away from summer starting officially, and I have yet to make a trek into the local wooded areas for a return to nature.

Often those trips involve me bringing suitable music along, and a new gem in the form of Ashbringer’s “Vacant” feels like proper accompaniment as I disappear into the hills and trees. A relatively new project, Ashbringer has all the elements of quality folk-infused black metal, with rustic roots, savagery when the moment strikes, and vocals that go back and forth from utterly violent to solemnly calm. This six-cut, 43-minute first full-length is dosed just right, and the music here helps you flow from movement to movement, where you go on a mini-adventure into the outdoors and reconnect with your more primal self. This feels like an album that would be right at home on the Bindrune Recordings label, as they fit right along with their bands aesthetically (instead Avantgarde has the honors). No matter, you can grab your walking stick and get ready, because you can go on a sojourn with this band both spiritually and physically.

Ashbringer coverAshbringer (who one would hope could arrange a tour with Dawnbringer, Doombringer, and Nightbringer) is the creation of Minnesota-based musician Nick Stanger, who also works with crust band No Heroes, and he creates every element of this project. Ashbringer has only been a thing for two years now, and this impressive first record is a great start for Stanger, who already is making a heavy statement in the nature-based, folk-heavy black metal quadrant. Yes, there is a lot of this type of thing out there. But don’t let that deter you from checking out Ashbringer. They add value to this style of music and prove good ideas still are out there.

“Ethereal Aura Part 1” begins the proceedings, leading you in with spacey synth, strummed guitars, and singing rising up in the background. It’s a gentle, folky track for the most part, until guitars warm up at the end, and it bleed right into “Part II.” Foggy melodies emanate, while guitars start to churn and acoustics work their way in, leading to a total eruption. Savage shrieks begin to spill everywhere, as the intensity builds, sometimes quelled by more serene passages. Quiet guitars and murky synth arrive, but the track again explodes, letting forth emotion and torment, with howling vocals and a mystical end. “Lucid” starts with cold guitars dripping before a terrifying storm sets in, complete with horrifying shrieks, gut-wrenching playing, and alarming melodies. Clean calls eventually collide with the harsh vocals, signaling a bit of a breather. But when the madness returns, it does like a freight train, with sinister speed rollicking you, the song stampeding, and the track eventually settling, with cosmic haze and light hand drumming letting you come back down to Earth.

“With Vacant Eyes” starts the second half of the record, seemingly going a gentler route before melody ruptures and a really catchy tempo takes hold. The song feels thrashy and rough at times. The sounds swim, with harsh growls blasting through, elements cascading downward, and some blast beats tearing apart everything in its wake. Earthy guitars and spirited singing come along, but that’s all decimated in the song’s final moments. “Lonesome” is a scene-setting instrumental, with eerie synth and space dust sprinkled about, Middle Eastern-style melodies playing a part, and rustic percussion, all of it blending into the great finale “Bitter.” The track erupts with rage, with a furious tempo, the vocals scathing, and the playing blasting over you. Acoustics return again, tempering the storm a bit and adding more color, and later more singing blends in that leads the way to a warm, buzzing guitar section. The vocals hit a howl again, with the guitars droning, notes bubbling along with it, the fires burning out, and the track rippling back toward the universe.

Ashbringer is woodsy, violent, and full of life, and “Vacant” is a record that certainly not indicative of its title. It’s full of compelling work and potential for future greatness, and as noted, it’s going to be a choice work for when I disappear into the trees for a long excursion one afternoon. Stanger has a good thing going here, and I’m curious to hear how this project develops into the future.

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

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

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

Vargnatt infuse great emotion, abject heaviness into awesome debut offering ‘Grausammler’

VargnattTrue human emotion and compassion in metal sometimes gets an unneeded slap in the face. How much more mud is going to be thrown in Deafheaven’s direction, despite the fact that all of the scene accusations have been brought on by people other than the two primary members of the group? And now that Alcest have taken a more melodic root, the criticism has come out in full. Not true! Not black!

All of this is a precursor to today’s album, that being the stunning, exciting debut full-length record by Vargnatt called “Grausammler.” Like the aforementioned bands, this project, led by primary member Evae (Impavida, Trautonist), bursts with heart and melody, makes you feel like him pouring his heart and soul into the music, and making you feel the feelings. That, I suspect, is what makes black metal fans so hesitant about the other well-known, very accomplished bands I mentioned, because having real, human emotions goes against the antagonistic, destroy-all feelings that think they have in their hearts. I think what Evae (as well as drummer Wiedergaenger) does on this record is brave, incredibly catchy, and the introduction of another great new force into the face of black metal.

Varnatt coverWhile this is the first full release for Vargnatt, the project has been around for nearly a decade. There are two demo recordings (both released in 2007) as well as an EP (2012’s “Durch die Stille…”) to this group’s credit, but all of it has been building to this record. We mention Deafheaven and Alcest, whose followers likely are to love Vargnatt’s music. But there are comparisons to groups such as Ulver, Burzum, and Bosse-de-Nage that would make a lot of sense, and what you’re going to get is bloody heart on the sleeves, emotionally rich songs that will make you weep along with Evae and maybe be OK with getting in touch with the damage in your heart and soul.

“Welverloren” gets things started in a clean, serene fashion before the burst of power you’re surely going to be expecting. Huge melodies are afoot here, grabbing you and taking you on a ride, and the wails are particularly impassioned, a theme we’ll revisit often on this record. Keys begin to drip, giving a New Wave feel to the song, and the final minutes are spent going back and forth from gentle to gargantuan, with the heart churning all the way. “Allein in mir” trickles open, letting it gain some momentum before the track blows apart. The tempo is punchy, with the playing coming across as both spellbinding and emotionally rich. There are post-rock touches, with Evae letting some rage come forth, sometimes making you think the man is allowing himself to be psychologically tortured by what’s going on here. The song eventually rests on fields of synth, a sense of peace, and some wordless vocal harmonies to hammer home the finality. “In der Irre” has a calculated start, with things naturally settling into place, and the surroundings feeling airy and oxygen-infused. Things start to get murky, with the song coming on like a dark, all-day summer storm, and all elements cascade down, with the vocals wrenching hard and matching the music’s intensity. Everything builds to a crescendo before it starts to give way, and dark strings (provided by H. es. a.e.) take what’s left and carry it away.

“Vor den Toren” has melody bursting from its seams right away, with guitars burning, the vocals sounding pained and vicious, and everything just bleeding heavily. Acoustics blend in later, making the song feel more atmospheric for a time, with winds whipping about to signal the oncoming fury. And when it strikes, it feels like the right swing, as the track unloads a tidal wave of expression and tension that’s very thick and ultimately rewarding. “Grauwandler” is a brief, acoustic-heavy instrumental cut that acts as a breather as well as a bridge to the caterwauling title track conclusion, which explodes with energy right from the start. Savage vocals are a major part of the mix, as are thundering melodies that rampage all over this thing. There’s a cool rock n roll vibe to portions of the song, as Evae rambles forward, and later that’s traded out for some devious black metal-style riffing and scathing growls. There are moments where the track returns to the cold darkness, bringing a chill and making you think there will be calm, but it always returns to its blazing ways, pummeling and devastating you until the cut finally lets its power bleed out.

Granted, this style of black metal is starting to swell, but Evae and his Vargnatt project prove an important part in that growing sub-genre. “Grausammler” definitely is heavily emotional and heart-twisting, but it also has darkness and rougher moments where brutality shines through. This is a really strong album, one that can accompany you on many levels of your own personal psychological housekeeping.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.eisenton.de/shop/index.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.eisenton.de/

Predatory Light, Vorde combine respective black metal science to both terrify and devastate

Predatory Vorde coverLet’s get right into today and get some words down about two of the best black metal bands creating soot-making chaos in underground circles and who would scare the pants off the bands that represent the sub-genre on these silly summer package tours and whose crap you can find at Hot Topic. Not to be all elitist, because everyone is entitled to their own tastes. I just happen to find these bands meatier, scarier, and far more substantive.

Having a split effort combining Predatory Light and Vorde is perfect in a numbers of ways. First, it gets two mega-exciting, uncompromising black metal bands together on a shared release, and it shows the very different ways these groups bring this style of music to life. Also, this is a great way for someone not terribly schooled on these bands, as well as the labels involved–Psychic Violence and Fallen Empire– that are two of the most forward-thinking out there. Predatory Light we visited with recently on the heels of the reissue of their debut demo “MMXIV,” a release that showed immediate promise for this Seattle-based band that combines members of groups such as Ash Borer, Anhedonist (may they rest in peace), Drought, Mania, and many more. They have two songs on this killer collection, and it further tears open the hole they have been droning into the Earth. Vorde assaulted us last year with their excellent debut full-length, released by Fallen Empire. It etched them into time as one of the strangest, most alien-like black metal bands on Earth, one that’ll grab you and weird you the hell out. They’re up to more of the same with their two cuts, and both tracks excite the hell out of me. And make me really uncomfortable.

Predatory Light draw the two tracks that were on their “Death Essence” demo and begin with thunderous “Bathed in Tongues,” which starts at a balmy pace, letting the heat rise up and lilt you. The melodies begin to swelter, the harsh vocals kick in and peel the skin from your face, and the great lead guitar work catches fire and blazes forward. A cloudy, hazy essence then situates itself over the scene, the guitars charge up and begin spiraling out of control, and these threads bleed into “Death Essence,” flowing into slow-moving darkness that stymies and mesmerizes. Then it ignites, with the guitars tearing the scene apart but with the melodies still causing your head to swim. The pace stomps hard, with growls buried under tons of noise, the tempos and melodies changing up and morphing into new things, and a doomy elegance arriving to make everything murkier. The last minutes have the growls blasting everything anew, riffs crashing down, and the track rumbling to a violent finish.

Vorde’s contributions haven’t been heard on a recording before, and they’re bizarre, crunching pieces. “Seven Forms” has a strange, spacey environment, with the odd vocals lurching out and feeling completely detached from humanity. There is harsh gurgling, scary, howled words that chill the bones, and creepy synth lines that give off a feeling of outer space horrors. It’s a transmission that seems like it was jettisoned here from deep in the cosmos, and its piercing finish is completely explosive. “Husks in Cosmic Afterbirth” is pretty aptly named, beginning again in the stars and swimming among terrain never explored by humankind. Again, the vocals are just utterly ghoul-like, making your flesh crawl and your eyebrows wrinkled about the incredibly great confusion over what you’re hearing. The song goes clean and ashen toward its center before it blows open again and the band starts assaulting the hell out of you. Vorde play mauling, smearing infamy, with the sound melting your senses and the final body blows putting you down for good.

These bands are just at their start, and they’re already explosive, misery-making machines. This split release gives you a nice dose of what each does so well, which is a lot of things, and gives you glimpses into the future of underground black metal. Predatory Light and Vorde are names you need to remember and bands you should track down now, with this split effort being a great way to make your formal introduction.

For more on Predatory Light, go here: http://predatorylight.bandcamp.com/

For more on Vorde, go here: http://vorde.bandcamp.com/album/vorde

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

Or here: http://store.fallenempirerecords.com/

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Drudkh let black metal tales swell, inject space into ‘A Furrow Cut Short’

Drudh coverA commitment to secrecy never has been this rare in this time of social media overload and everyone knowing everyone else’s business. There have been many bands that have tried to operate exclusively in the shadows, but as time has gone on, the pull for more information has increased, and many have cracked under the weight of informational demand.

But not Drudkh. The long-running Ukrainian (seriously, an earlier version said Romanian, a mistake I make every damn time I write about Drudkh… Just move there!) black metal band long has refused to do interviews or release band photos. There are no live shows, no overblown media campaigns, and no Instagram feeds where fans can get glimpses into their daily lives. Instead, the band has concentrated solely on their music, and in just 12 years’ time, they’ve managed to pump out 10 full-length records, their latest being the stunning “A Furrow Cut Shot.” While Drudkh have put out a ton of content during their lifespan, they’ve managed to keep things fresh, infusing folk passages where they fit, dabbling in moody post-metal for an album, and thundering back to their roots. But this record, a seven-track, nearly hour-long opus, is the longest of their careers, and it also happens to be the most spacious. It might take some time for these tracks to set in and for you to get a proper grasp of the record, but patience will reward you many times over as it’s a really strong collection.

While their faces remain shielded, we are aware of Drudkh’s members’ identities. Guitarist Roman Saenko (Hate Forest, Blood of Kingu, Old Silver Key) has been there at the front of the band from the start, as has guitarist/vocalist Thurios (who also counts those bands on his resume, as well as Astrofaes). A few years after formation following lineup shuffles, they were joined by bassist Krechet and drummer/keyboard player Vlad, and they’ve been a well-oiled, fiery machine ever since then. On this record, they trade out overall brutality for tracks that get time to breathe and develop, often sprawling near the 10-minute mark, creating moods and adventures that will sweep you up and drag you away.

The record opens with the dual “Cursed Sons” tracks, combined taking up about 16 minutes and really getting your head in the right place for the journey. The first part tears open pretty much out of the gates, with strong melodies dominating and a sense of adventure thickening the air. The vocals take on a storytelling angle, evenly bringing you through the cut and staying a steady hand. The leads soar, the band chugs hard, and the momentum carries into the second part, with dark melodies and charging vocals. Atmosphere blends in nicely, as the pace picks up and increases the intensity. There are a few mood and dynamics shifts as the song progresses, and just as there is one final push, form there everything subsides. Then it’s onto nine-minute “To the Epochs of Unbowed Poets,” which begins with an emotional caterwaul that strikes right away, airy passages that provide depth, and throaty cries that pierce that dark fog building on the horizon. The tracks keeps building and spilling over, settling into crunchy areas, bursting open with bright colors, and finally cutting back as the song reaches its ending, where it finally fades away. “Embers” is a gusty, nature-heavy instrumental, with synth providing dark moods, the band hammering you, and each moment providing a bridge into what remains.

That starts with the dual “Dishonour” tracks, the dose beginning with pure savagery, vocals that match the fury, and the tempo raging hard like an unforgiving storm. Their ferocity keeps boiling, keeps striking, with the pummeling remaining a constant throughout the track and blasting into the second part. There, the tone gets doomy and murky, adding a new element of morbidity into the picture, and later, some sorrowful playing catches up and makes things heavy physically and emotionally. Its shell begin to thicken later in the song, with the madness catching fire and the band laying it on heavily as the track reaches its conclusion. Finale “Till Foreign Ground Shall Cover Eyes” blazes for 8:25 and rips open, with guitars sweltering, the vocals rumbling, and the band eventually taking things to the skies, where you can catch your breath. For the most part, the band maintains the same level of strength through the song, taking you on peaks and valleys, yes, but always firing away hard. It’s a strong, interesting cut to end this record, and when the band finally lets go, you can imagine these tales floating into the waters to become another level of Earthly lore.

Drudkh not only have done a remarkable job protecting their privacy and avoiding the overhype that often follows metal hand in hand, they also have continued to make strong, vital metal over the past 12 years. “A Furrow Cut Short” throws their listeners yet another curveball with these epic-length songs, and it keeps the band interested and interesting. Drudkh always have followed their own inhibitions and seem to pay no mind to metallic trends. That’s long benefited them as creators as well as we who consume their every note.

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

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

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

Dark German shadows Valborg create goth doom morbidity on somber new record ‘Romantik’

ValborgThe days of sunshine and flowers may be upon us, but that doesn’t mean dark and dreary revelations can’t come bursting through the surface even in warmer weather. If you have something burrowing away at you, no wonderful atmosphere or breezy conditions can make it go away, and it’s something that can make you feel like you’re in permanent winter.

I’ve noticed a lot lately—and people have pointed out to me—how often I associate weather and climate with music. I don’t know why that’s the case, but it could have something to do with me hearing music and it conjuring certain feelings that remind me of times of the year. Tackling “Romantik,” the fifth full-length from German doom band Valborg made me think of both the damp, cold autumn evenings of October and November, and the chilly, all-day rain events that can pop up in the spring. There is so much darkness and despair packed into these six tracks, that I can’t help but feel that along with them. And no matter how bright the sky or wonderful the conditions outside, the music brings me back in touch with the chaos that sometimes lovely weather can mask temporarily.

Valborg coverThe three musicians who make up this band have regularly created music the last eight years (their last record was 2012’s aptly titled “Nekrodepression”), and the trio of guitarist/vocalist Christian Kolf, bassist/vocalist Jan Buckard, and drummer Florian Toyka do a fine job making for a foggy, gothy backdrop. It’s almost as if you can reach out and touch the anguish, and even when they slip into German and deliver passages I don’t understand, the intent and weight of their messages are clear. It’s a record that won’t necessarily have you on the edge of your roof depressed beyond belief. But it is one that will understand your darkness and help you wallow in it for 40 minutes or so.

“Vampyr” should suck you into the record right away. Eh, no pun intended. Key drone strikes, with uttered speaking stumbling in and spacey keys launching this thing. The song begins to lurch, with eerie sounds emanating and singing emerging. That’s later eclipsed by doom power, a bloody, deliberate pace, and strong melodies meeting up with stinging keys. The drama spills into “Blitz Aus Sodom,” which begins with drums echoing out, a smeary scene that’s soaked in dew, and harsh growls that add a gruff sense to this all. The track is one where you can point to the band’s gothic tendencies, and it all wraps in a thick mist as it fades away. “Comtesse” is a mesmerizing one from the start, with keys wafting in, tortured growls bubbling to the surface, a hypnotic mood that unfurls itself, and cleaner vocals that return to the scene. More sorrowful sounds emerge, with the melodies mangling you slowly and the end landing heavy as hell.

“Sulphur Putrid Angel” begins with dark melodies, singing coloring the scene with soot, and creaky warbling sounds that meet up with the prog-fed synth that unleashes itself. There is heavy emotion tied into this track, with keys raining down, your head beginning to buzz, and smothering melodies taking you off into the damp woods. “Kryptische Arroganz” has moody singing that leads the way, with organs swelling to the surface and guitars rumbling slowly along with them. The synth pulsates, though the guitars get gruff and ugly, and the heavy emotion that boils up then retreats into the strangest corners of space. Closer “The Haunted Womb” immediately feels different from the previous five cuts, and as somber as things have been to this point, this ups the ante. There is a giant wave of sadness that washes over everything, with the growls a little more crazed than usual and the keys trickling solemnly. The emotion is as rich as anywhere on the album, and the guitars rip out and turn everything ablaze, feeling like light breaking out of darkness and the track, and album, drizzling over its final resting spot.

Valborg’s doom is colored by so many various sounds and elements, that they’re more morose and less traditional than many of the other bands in this genre. “Romantik” drips with darkness and ill intent, and it certainly will be a companion that understands you on those aforementioned dreary rainy days when you can’t overcome your burdens. That can be a good thing, because it’s always good to know you’re understood, and Valborg appear to be dealing with hardships right along with you.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.valborg.de/

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

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