Ironsword unleash true heavy metal fire, serve the old gods on roaring ‘None But the Brave’

IronswordIt’s not all that often that we get to peg something as true heavy metal these days. Discussions and sites like this get bogged down with a million descriptors and sub-genres that the word “metal” hardly is enough to suffice. But that doesn’t mean that’s the case all the time.

Take Portuguese warriors Ironsword, who practically embody what true heavy metal is all about. Following along the same path as like-minded bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road, and Dawnbringer, this band has burned the torches of heavy metal for the past two decades, making some great, if a little under-the-radar collection of albums. Their latest, the excellent “Nothing But the Brave,” is a true shot in the arm, a collection of 12 tracks that should make you imagine sword battles, wars being fought on horses amid clouds of dust, and the debauchery that follows. If you’re a fan of classic metal, this record should get your blood flowing. Its sound is tried-and-true, and these tracks are so damn catchy and fun, they’re impossible to remove from your head. Not that you’ll want them out of there anyway.

Ironsword coverOriginally, Ironsword was a one-man project for longtime leader Joao “Tann” Fonesca, but as the years have gone by, this has formed into a full group of foot soldiers. For this record, Ironsword’s first since 2008’s great “Overlord of Chaos,” are bassist Aires Pereira (Jorge Martins since has taken his place), and drummer Joao Monteiro, forming a newly fortified group that smashes all cylinders. They serve the old metal gods well, with tremendously fiery melodies, choruses you won’t soon forget, and an honesty and hunger that is contagious and will make you want to follow them right into the mouth of war.

The first cut “Forging the Sword” is so damn great, with the riffs carrying this thing hard, the vocals coming in traditionally gruff, and the chorus blowing a hole in your brain. I have the damn thing in my head as I type this! “Kings of the Night” picks right up and keep pushing the pace, with the music galloping, another strong chorus blowing fire, and Fonesca repeatedly urging, “Fight!” as the song winds toward its end. “Calm Before the Storm” rages forward, with Fonesca howling, “With bated breath, welcome death!” before a strong, easy-to-remember refrain. That’s another thing Ironsword do well. They keep this simple but hearty. The title track feels very Priest, with a galvanizing message hammered home with, “We may fight forever, yet we shall stand together.” It, along with its calculated pace, is enough to make you want to enlist along with their metal battalion. “Ring of Fire” is a stomper, following in the same vein as what preceded it, but certainly not treading water, while “Betrayer” has awesome riffs, a sinister pace, and a quick, one-word chorus that is howled with conviction. Killer track.

“The Usurper” is mashing and violent, with a more menacing tone to the music, a fantastic solo that rips right out of the center of this, and Fonesca howling, “All hail the usurper!” “Army of Darkness” is campy as hell, but I mean that in the best possible way, as the verses are punchy, the tempo is drubbing, and, once again, the guitar work rules hard. “Vengeance Will Be Mine” has … you guessed it … a great chorus, with that payback promised “by the hammer, by the sword,” and it’s one hell of an effective rallying cry. “Cursed and Damned” has a very Maiden-style roll to it, with rich dual guitar lines, a little bit more atmosphere to it, and the guitar playing showing a great deal of soul. “Eye for an Eye,” like so many of the cuts that precede it, is glorious and pounding, with Fonesca promising, “Time has come for glory or death,” with the chorus punching and the soloing burning brightly. Closer “The Shadow Kingdom” perhaps is a nod to their label and begins spacious and clean, feeling like it’s going into ballad territory before it bursts open. But it returns to that dark terrain when the solo strikes, feeling solemn and shadowy, with the final moments mesmerizing as a beast snarls in the background.

Ironsword’s music bows to no trends, cares about no tastes other than their own, and is a bonafide example of the true spirit of heavy metal being alive and burning. “Nothing But the Brave” is another damn good entry from this long-running band, and hopefully it gets more attention from metal fans all over. This band never steers you wrong, and the edges of their blades are as sharp as ever.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/ironsword-none-but-the-brave.asp

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

Faith No More rise from killing floor, release glorious, pushy comeback record ‘Sol Invictus’

FAITH NO MORE San Francisco - October 28, 2014 Dustin Rabin Photography 2680

Dustin Rabin Photography

The past few years have brought the world myriad heavily anticipated reunions, including the likes of Carcass, At the Gates, and even Refused, who just announced a new record. It’s a good time for people who have followed those bands over the years, and the fact new music accompanied those returns is even better. Icing on the damn cake.

But all of those bands coming back paled in comparison to the return of Faith No More. At least for me. I count them as one of the most important bands of my life, one of the groups that changed the way I hear and think about music. They came along at just the right time in my life when I realized mainstream, predictable music wasn’t doing it for me and that I needed something a little bit more in my life. That’s when their unreal, ultra-polarizing fourth record “Angel Dust” arrived, and from there, my life was changed. Getting to see them open for Metallica and Guns n Roses at now-defunct Three Rivers Stadium was one of the great music highlights of my life, and few bands ever have been as important to me as Faith No More have been. From that point, the band itself morphed, putting out heavily underrated “King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime” and, at that point, their final record “Album of the Year,” when they called it a day, thus ending the band’s phenomenal, bizarre run.

FNM_frontBut a few years ago, Faith No More started performing live together again, and then came word of a new album, a fact that enthralled and terrified me. Look, I love the band, but “Album of the Year” fell flat with me, and I was worried this would wind up being a bad idea. But as clips arrived online of the guys—vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Jon Hudson, bassist Billy Gould, keyboard player Roddy Bottum, drummer Mike “Puffy” Bordin—performing some of the new stuff, hope emerged. And a couple months ago when their new, seventh record “Sol Invictus” arrived in my inbox, my love affair with FNM was heavily rekindled. The record sounded so good. So inspired. Of course it’s not “Angel Dust.” Nothing ever will be. But it’s a damn fun, damn good record. I listen to this thing several times a week, and not out of some personal obligation to like it. I do because it makes me happy, and it sounds like the music also has reinvigorated the band. It’s probably the least metal of all of their albums, but Faith No More never was a metal band, despite people trying to shove them into that shelf. Instead they make heavy, agitated, melodic, sometimes schmaltzy sounds, and they haven’t sounded this good in ages.

The opening title cut is an interesting start, a slower, more reflective piece that has Patton wondering, “Where my faith?” over strummed guitar and contemplative keys. Then it’s into “Superhero,” one of the first cuts the band released to the world and a healthy dose of classic FNM. The guys take turns barking “Go!” at the start before they launch full bore. Bottum’s keys that rain over the chorus add a subtle but great touch to the song, with Patton poking, “Leader of men, will you be one of them?” Good song that’s sure to be a live staple. “Sunny Side Up” is a really cool one, with a nice groove built into it that Patton uses to his advantage with his phrasing. I love this one, and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the record. Also, the agitation that’s weaved into an otherwise breezy cut makes for a nice about-face. “Separation Anxiety” also is pretty much classic FNM, with a frantic pace, Patton going from whispering psychopath to high-register crooner, and the band hammering you with a churning pace that should only amplify the panic in your own head. “Cone of Shame” has Patton doing some deep singing and spoken storytelling over steely guitars, snaps, and tapped drums. Later the thing opens up, with Patton wailing, “I’d like to peel the skin off so I can see what you really think,” some thick playing emerging, and some heavy body blows dealt. This one took me some time to warm up to, but I’m firmly on board now.

“Rise of the Fall” is a peculiar one, kind of traipsing along, piano leading, and a cool Euro vibe colored into the melodies. The chorus picks up, with Patton noting, “We’re only chimneys’ remains,” before we head back into dark, mysterious vibes. This also isn’t one that strikes instantly, but further exploration reveals this song’s vast colors. “Black Friday” is just damn shady, with acoustic guitars strummed, heavy echoes and claps driving the point, and fireworks charging out at the end of each verse. This song shows some new wrinkles for the band, and they fit into their DNA just fine. Then it’s onto “Motherfucker,” the song that seems to have drawn the ire of some people, mainly because it was the first glimpse anyone got into the new album. I’ve liked it from day one because I figured it was the ultimate red herring, and now that I hear it in its place on the album, that’s exactly what it is. Each FNM album has a song like this one—“RV,” “Cuckoo for Caca”—that causes heads to tilt and brains to burst into ooze. It’s easy to imagine FNM having fun at everyone’s expense with tracks like this one, especially when Patton wails, “You had it coming.” “Matador” is a great cut. It’s near ballad-like, with piano dripping, Patton going high range and hushed, and the feeling the guys are going to go spacey. But when Patton delivers, “We will rise from the killing floors, like a matador,” the goddamn sun rises, and the songs hits its full pace. From there, the bass strikes its groove, the vocals hit a high point, and the thing just takes over. I just love this one. Closer “From the Dead” is fairly quick, a final ode to the band’s amazing survival, and feeling almost like the euphoric closing credits. Over acoustic guitars, chimes, and exuberant melody, Patton fittingly sings, “Welcome home, my friend,” which might as well be every FNM’s statement to the band itself. Nice ending to a super satisfying record.

To me, “Sol Invictus” is a triumph, and Faith No More’s return has come full circle. This is a genuine, organic portrait of FNM in 2015, and the fact they delivered fresh, relevant, exciting songs makes a longtime fan like me unbelievably happy. I don’t know if there will be another Faith No More record, and I don’t know how long this reunion will last. But I don’t care. I’m living in the moment with this record, and because of that, my smile never has been more ridiculous. Is it going to have that same effect for everyone? Of course not. But I don’t care. The FNM I always loved is back, and that’s all I can really ask.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://faithnomore.kungfustore.com/

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

Void Paradigm’s black metal has warped mentality, progressive tendencies on ‘Earth’s Disease’

Band pictureA great way to start a week is with having your brain smacked back and forth inside your skull so that you are completely awake and ready to tackle your environment. Right? No? OK, be skeptical all you want, but having music that will stimulate your mind and force you to be aware is good for your soul and, in turn, your productivity.

Well, today’s metallic helping will allow you to achieve that mental state described above, as Void Paradigm’s warped, progressive-fed black metal is sure to leave you uneasy and at a higher state of mental alertness. You really have no choice if you’re going to take on their stunning second record “Earth’s Disease” (out on Apathia Records) because once they have you in their grasp, you are a slave to their whims. There is no time, nor any room, to stretch out for comfort. The band puts you into an aggressive, demanding workout over these five tracks, and this follow-up to their 2012 self-titled debut (which was released by Totalrust) ups the ante not only for Void Paradigm but for forward-thinking black metal in general.

Artwork for WEBThe three musicians who comprise this lineup also made their marks with other bands. Vocalist Jonathan Thery made his mark in Ataraxie, Funeralium, and Bethlehem, among others; guitarist/bassist Julien Payan also plays in Ataraxie and also spends time with Sordide; while drummer Alexis Damien is in Orena and Pin-Up Went Down. They combine their flexible resources to make for a dynamic, noisy, hypnotic trip that’s more quaking than it is mesmerizing. They certainly space out in spots, but never long enough to let your mind wander. If it does, the band yanks it back to reality and puts it through enough punishment that you’ll not think of drifting off again. Hence why this record is a good way to get your motivated to tackle a new week.

The record opens with “Crushing the Human Skull,” a song that tells you everything you need to know in its title and gets to work with reverberating noise and muddy chaos. Once the track rips open in full, you are treated to throaty growling, a sludgy feel, and lead guitar work that sounds properly damaged. Crazed howls find their way into the madness, with voices swirling in the air and the band speeding up as the track reaches its end. “Revenge” bursts all over the place, with a dizzying, proggy edge to the track, exploratory playing soaring alongside the damaged growling, and some really cool melodies making their presence known. The track hits a burst, with the drums decimated, guitars bustling, and the back end dissolved in a bed of sound. The title cut opens in static, with each element added in calculated fashion until it reaches the point where everything becomes unhinged. It can get dreamy at times, no doubt, but there is a ton of chaos going on, challenging your senses, before the final minutes are taken over completely by violin and cello scraping their way over the land, leaving a bloody path behind them.

“Sick Life Fading” has dark guitars swelling, creaky speaking spilling in, and a tempo that seems destined for the stars. But suddenly it supernovas, with tricky and heavy playing, a great sense of melody tied in, and some strong riffs that remind a bit of Rush’s Alex Lifeson (which obviously makes me insanely happy). The vocals sound like mad howls, and the guitars swirl at the end, combining with the other elements to cause a vertigo effect. The mammoth 11:08 closer “From the Earth to the Skies” feels atmospheric at the start, but then things get crunchy and scathing, pushing the violence forward, but always taking time to go back to blue-sky entries where the coolness breezes your cheeks, and slow-driving mud awaits at the other side. The situation settles and boils, with eruptions ripping from the earth, the band settling into more progressive waves, and one final implosion being met with militaristic drums and a heavy noise fog settling in and sweeping you away.

Void Paradigm’s approach to their music is fresh and fun, and they never try to fit into any patterns or paint by numbers. This band has a bravado and a creativity you have to admire, and those traits are all over “Earth’s Disease.” This album is a great choice if you need something to get your brain up and running or if you just want a slab of black metal that’s not terribly interested in playing by the rules.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Obsequiae’s Medieval metal brings melodic fires on ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’

Obsequiae bandI need to get a sword. I don’t plan on fighting anyone with it or sparring or even doing anything remotely dangerous with it, mostly because I will be the one who gets injured. But I’d love to have one just so when I hear glorious music that sparks my fighting spirit, I can pretend to swing it around my music room. And probably severely wound myself in the process. Maybe I can just hang it on a wall.

There’s not a time I want to have a sword in my possession more than when I hear Obsequiae and their decidedly Medieval-style metal. If this stuff doesn’t make you envision storming a castle, fighting off knights and other weapon-wielding enemies, swinging from ropes, and saving someone in distress, then you have no imagination. Or just a really bad one. This has been one of my most anticipated records of 2015, so much so that it was one of my most anticipated of 2014. Luckily, meeting up with Tanner Anderson at Gilead Fest last summer and getting to ask the lowdown on this second record was valuable, as he explained the creative process was taking longer than initially planned, but that waiting it out would be worth it. Actually, eager listeners will have to wait a little bit longer, as the CD/digital got delayed to May 26, with the vinyl coming in late June/early July due to circumstance beyond their control. Anyhow, true to Anderson’s word, “Aria of Vernal Tombs” is an amazing adventure, one that makes me want to don a suit of armor and do something stupid.

Obsequiae“Aria” is the follow-up effort to the band’s fantastic debut record “Suspended in the Brume of Eos.” That was an eye-opener as I’d not heard any band quite like Obsequiae at that time, and if others have tried to copy their formula since then, no one has come close to replicating it. Anderson, at the helm on guitars, vocals, and bass, along with drummer Andrew Della Cagna (Infirmary, Nechochwen) and Vincente La Camera Mariño, who provides medieval harp and provides the records many instrumentals, have tapped into something truly special. It really feels like you’re out on your horse on a hot day, trapped in boiled leather, making your way to a fight to the finish. Their adventurous, melodic style sweeps you up, and their skullduggery gives you the taste of blood you so desire.

“Ay que por muy gran fremosura” is the opener and the first harp-led song on the record. The other musical elements do join in, making it sound like the spine of a fantasy book cracking open. “Autumnal Pyre” breaks out from that, with bells ringing as if warning the village of an attack, great lead guitars burning, and harsh growls erupting, feeling animalistic. I could probably use the descriptor “melodic” when discussing every song, so go ahead and assume that, but this cut also has very lush corners, ends that feel like power metal, and the final seconds dissolving in a storm and a female choral part. “Until All Ages Fall” begins gruff and rough, with the guitars soaring over top of everything, some aggression coming out, and the bulk of the track burning the hair off your arms. “L’amour dont sui espris” is one of the harp-rich instrumental cuts, feeling rustic and misty, and that leads to “Pools of Vernal Paradise,” where humid guitars hang in the air, the tempo begins to pound away, and the vocals really catch fire, leading to a more forceful, cutting track than what’s preceded it.

“Anlace and Heart” starts with a burning hot lead guitar line and vicious vocals, spilling into, you guessed it, more captivating melody that makes your heart surge and later music sprawling all about. It’s colorful as hell, and sure to inspire thoughts of battles past (um, hopefully ones you only dreamed), and the final moments tease you into thinking things are calming before the walls are ripped down again. “The Archeress’s Orion” is a quiet, folk-leaning instrumental, setting the path for the destructive, molten “In the Absence of Light.” That cut trudges heavily, with swelling playing, creaky growls, and a driving tempo, with an echoey dialog cutting in later and the charging soloing pushing the way. “Wilweorthunga” is a devastater, ripping right open and really pushing the gas pedal. The song is just thunderous, with the vocals as raw as anywhere on the record and the drums beaten to a pulp. One final harp instrumental arises in the form of “Des oge mais quer eu trobar” that has a foggy, dreamy feel, then it’s right into closer “Orphic Rites of the Mystic,” where guitars make an assault on the senses, and vicious growls arrive to darken the skies. This cut is the closest example to pure black metal on the album, especially vocally, and the mood conjured in the final moments feels like one shrouded in shadows, with a mystical aura rising and then fading away along with this song.

Yeah, a four-year wait was something to behold, but “Aria of Vernal Tombs” is another dark, glorious slab of metal that truly sounds like nothing else. Obsequiae definitely have a great thing going here, and two records into their run, they remain one of the most enjoyable, compelling bands going. Hopefully their move to 20 Buck Spin will be rewarded with a wider audience and perhaps a gig one day in an old burned out castle. They’d be right at home.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://20buckspinshop.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/20buckspin

Fernow pushes Prurient into piercing, emotional tundra on abrasive ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’

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Photo by Becca Diamond

Sometimes great records arrive at the absolute wrong time. There’s a particular atmosphere behind certain records that require nature play its role, and when it doesn’t, it means that the listener might not get the proper experience that would be tangible if the weather was more cooperative.

It seems odd and somehow cosmically not right that most, if not all, of my experiences with the stunning new Prurient record “Frozen Niagara Falls” have come in the spring, when temperatures have been warm and pleasant. That’s not the right environment, and the album’s title should make that clear. Even the bio attached to the record urges you to “listen at night while snow falls quietly under street lights,” yet here in the East Coast of the U.S., that’s something that hasn’t happened in many, many weeks. Yet, improper temperatures and conditions aside, this new full-length from one of the most influential, important noise projects on the Earth still grips and has maximum effect. It still stops and restarts the heart. It still, despite the warmth outside, can chill the blood in your veins. It’s an amazing piece of work that still will stand out as significant when the snow and ice returns many months from now.

unnamed(5)For those unaware, Dominick Fernow long has directed Prurient, a project with more releases than most people probably could count and whose vast and wide-reaching influence is apparent from artists as varied as Pharmakon to WOLD (to toss out some names at random). Over the years, Fernow has created new sounds and personalities, morphed into different forms, burned off old identities, and kept growing into an always formulating beast. “Frozen Niagara Falls” is one of his most significant works, a 90-minute double album that is one hell of a monster to tame and that might require multiple sessions to get through. That said, we’d urge you to get a handle in a single sitting to let each moment lap over you. It’s a stunning experience that fits right along with other Prurient releases but also stands in its own plot.

“Myth of Burning Bridges” is a 10:18-long opener that pours noise buzzes, pattering beats, and cool keys into a percolating pot, dashing in murk here and there. Voices swirl in and out, while a space lab feel eventually takes over, and the voices keep getting more aggressive. The record then hits on a faster pace, with “Dragonflies to Sew You Up” spilling in with strikes, growls, and smeary synth, with a cloudy conversation crawling underneath; “A Sorrow With a Braid” and its shrill shrieks, noises that sound like a drill, pulsations, and nightmarish dialog; and “Every Relationship Earthwise” that has a spacey bend, almost as if you’re floating, with Fernow dealing, “You die first, go toward the light.” “Traditional Snowfall” is more jarring than its title indicates, with warped sounds that make it all feel like a medicine dream and claustrophobic chaos all around. “Jester in Agony” has moody synth, key haze that spreads, and swirling beats that end in serenity, while “Poinsettia Pills” is built on smeared beats, sheets of noise, and wild howls, inducing any shred of panic living inside of you. Then it’s into “Shoulders of Summerstones” that has keys lurking, voices echoing, and a chilly, bizarre ambiance that unfolds.

“Wildflowers (Long Hair With Stocking Cap)” is a short interlude-style piece, filled with noise zaps and squalls, and then it’s into “Greenpoint,” a song that has synth lather and beats bruising. The darkness bleeds when Fernow utters, “You don’t want to hurt anyone, you don’t want to burden anyone, you just want to disappear,” as he recounts scattering ashes over a dark, lonely bed of sound, almost as if he’s examining his own mortality. And maybe he is. It’s impossible not to be affected here. “Lives Torn Apart” is aptly titled, at least sonically, as strange synth and tapping beats set the background for repeated utterances of, “You turned water into wine.” Then comes the first of two songs that feed off the album title, “Portion One” that sizzles in a sound bath, sends echoing mumbles across its 7:03, and puts on an imposing, scary face, like one that would face you if you were at nature’s mercy. “Cocaine Daughter” is horrifying, like a dark dream that continues through the night, with nocturnal melodies dripping and a sense of danger growing more tangible as the song goes on. “Falling Mask” is packed with industrial interference, harsh shrieks and shouts, and rage spilling out of every corner, while “Portion Two” of the title track lets loose video game-style sounds, corrosion, and imposing echo, bringing the title cut couple to a manic finish. Despite all of the darkness and madness that precedes it, the set closer “Christ Among the Broken Glass” is an absolute heart stopper that steals the show, an 11:22-long epic that is awash mostly in acoustics, crackling fires, and dreary transmissions. It feels like being put into a dream state, with sounds in the cold night calling out and grabbing onto you, whispers telling you your fate, and the overwhelming swelling of sounds arresting you and putting you into a state of trance that seemingly is impossible to break. It’s a gem of a song, one of his finest pieces on his stellar, gigantic resume.

With such an expansive musical collection, it’s difficult to say where “Frozen Niagara Falls” ranks. But why even worry about that? This is a great, jarring Prurient record, and of all of his works I have heard (I definitely have not experienced all of them, admittedly) it’s one of the most immediate and emotionally scathing. The weather might not be right outside, but there’s no reason you can’t create a frozen cavern in your own mind and let Fernow encapsulate you there for an hour and a half while he unfurls his latest dimension.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prurient/456204001080978

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

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

Ilsa unleash another dose of sludge-caked doom, crushing horror with ‘The Felon’s Claw’

IlsaThere probably isn’t a less metal way to start off one of these breezy daily essays than with talking about branding, but holy shit, here we go. It’s a lost art in metal. Over the past few decades, bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Emperor, Opeth, Mercyful Fate, and others, not only established their music but what it meant to be those very groups.

Look, it’s extreme metal. I get it. Who needs slick marketing campaigns and such when the idea is to just get pummeled? Very true. That’s not what I mean. Instead, I’m trying to pay tribute to bands that maintain consistency in the way they present themselves so that, when you see their records on the shelves or you see their merch, you know it’s theirs. So often, album covers seem like they got maybe four seconds of thought, and logos have become something of a homogenized blur. Their careful identity construction is one of the things that always made me appreciate DC-based doom sludgers Ilsa, because they’ve taken the time and effort to conceptualize a recognizable logo that has stuck with them over the years, as well as a very consistent style of albums covers—black background, artwork in black and white print—that makes you excited when a new recording is sitting in your hands. And a new one should be making its way to your mitts soon with their excellent “The Felon’s Claw.”

Ilsa coverNow, having a great logo and trademark-style artwork is all well and good, but what if the music doesn’t measure up? That’s never been an issue at all with Ilsa—vocalist Orion, guitarists Brendan and Tim, bassist Sharad, drummer Joshy—as over the course of four records now, they’ve wrecked the senses with their grimy, heavy-as-hell metal that often drubs you to the point of submission. Their tales of horror and destruction often feel like they’re ripped from old films (their name is derived from decades-old Nazi sexploitation films) or the pages of a graphic comic book (or the newspaper, if we’re being honest), and they’ve always packed one hell of a punch into their music. This fourth album is no exception.

The ominous and raucous “Oubliette” opens with record with grim, buzzing melodies, vocals that strangle, and guitar work that hints at classic heavy metal in spots. It’s a strong first blasts and gets you ready for “25 Cromwell,” a gruesome tale about the brutal Wests couple and the carnage they amassed over the years. The band backs the horror with sludgy riffs, stiff growls, and a slow-driving menace, with the crime scene’s address howled over and over, hammering home to infamy of the mass grave site. “Smoke Is the Ghost of Fire” is ultra-slow trucking, with some bluesy guitar work baked in and a strong dose of harshness in the vocals. The pace then kicks up, with the group steamrolling forward and leaving you battered in its wake. “Buried in the Bedrock and Concrete of Our Cities” is a shorter cut, but one that makes its massive presence known over its 2:29. The tempo bursts, the vocals sound chock full of danger, and the fire chokes out anyone in its proximity. “Pandolpho” has a noisy, abrasive open, before the song is properly torn apart and smudgy thrash takes control. The track is mostly sweltering, with Orion working up a foamed mouth vocally, the band pounding away, and the fiery soloing re-opening any congealing wounds.

“Pass Out” has noise glowing at the start before guitars come chugging in and the pace bristles. The tempo is pretty thrashy, with the vocals piercing and the track really catching fire in its final half. “Enter the Void” is overflowing with riffs, and the guitar work sounds ripped from death metal’s decaying book. The whole thing then hits the tar pit, with the band devastating in slow-driving fashion, trading in any speed for abject heaviness. In fact, it feels like the weight of a planet bearing down, and it stays that way until the final moments when the band slams the gas pedal again. “Armstrong’s Mixture” is raw and aggressive, upping the ante a bit, as the song rumbles, the vocals sound a little raspier, and each second of this thing drops with vicious intent. “Katabasis” opens with Orion howling, “It’s coming!” as the band rips into a gut-wrenching section that batters relentlessly. The song just trudges unmercifully, remaining crushing the whole way through and the band totally taking their time with things. You are dragged over jagged earth, face-first, as they punish for nearly nine minutes, finally bleeding out after a fury of guitar soloing. Closer “Song of the Saw Blade” pulls things back toward convention, as they take just a few minutes to unleash some doomy rage and crunch your bones, while Orion growls in your face. The band hits on a face-splitting riff as the song reaches its end while the fellows take a few final stomps at your squishy guts.

It’s great to have Ilsa back in our world, three years after their last record. As usual, consistency is high with this group, from their packaging to their approach to their ability to beat your ass with their music. “The Felon’s Claw” delivers over and over again, and it fits right alongside the rest of their catalog as another wind milling crusher certain to leave you with two black eyes.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.a389records.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.a389records.com/site/

Emotional black metal project Sorrow Plagues gush energy on new EP ‘An Eternity of Solitude’

Sorrow PlaguesEvery now and again, I chuckle (seethe?) about the rigid restrictions so many people would like to place on black metal. According to some, this style of music always should follow the guidelines established by the Second Wave, and anyone who deviates from the course is not true, not kvlt, not real. Eh, whatever.

Doing so would have robbed the world of so many forward-thinking bands that pushed the boundaries of the style (you realize Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, and groups of that ilk wouldn’t exist under these rules, right?), and we’d be treading water with a million bands trying to ape the same template. Actually, we have that now even with such diversity in the black metal realm. It also would prevent a band such as Sorrow Plagues from creating incredible sounds using black metal as a base, and that would be a damn shame. Luckily, many people don’t care about the rules and are more interested to hear where bands can take this sound, and this project certainly qualifies as one not interested in the status quo.

Actually, the term “band” isn’t entirely accurate, as Sorrow Plagues is the work of one man, English musician David Lovejoy (who handles all instruments and vocals). His brand of black metal is wholly atmospheric, awash in sounds and noise scapes, and undeniably emotional. What he creates on this project’s second EP “An Eternity of Solitude” could grab your aching heart and force it to feel something, whatever emotion that might be, and much of the music on this 5-cut collection feels like it walked out of a misty, rain-soaked forest, returning to life to recount the tales on what went on inside that place. The mission would be to carry on those threads to the rest of the world.

“Corroding Evil” starts the trip, with sounds coming in like a major storm front and melodies washing over everything. The vocals are obscured here, as they are through much of this collection, feeling like a voice in the darkness seeking a hand. Synth bleeds into the song, with the guitars returning to chugging, the melodies building back up and filling the soul, and then all elements quietly fading away. The title cut starts with plinking keys, before the song tears open and blood rushes forth. The main line runs into moody keys, giving a gothic feel, and an ambiance that feels like you’re being washed away by a cold rain. The guitars then light up again, creating an energy surge, before everything is snuffed out abruptly. “Failure” has glimmering synth that starts, making you want to shield your eyes, but then it’s into a cascade of power, wrenching growls, and drums that are clubbed (with all of these elements glazed in sound haze). The last part of the song fills up the scene again with elevated emotion and playing that feels like it means everything in the world.

“The Depths of Emptiness” unfurls a dark fog, with sounds hanging in the humid air, and hisses and growls again buried underneath all of the chaos. There are some cleaner guitar lines woven into this song, adding an element of somber calm to what’s happening here, and the track eventually lands in a sea of tranquility, where it sinks to the bottom. Closer “Acceptance” has keys bubbling at the surface, with the guitars later cutting through and letting the damage take hold. The vocals here actually burn over the melodies, taking the forefront for a rare instance, but eventually they’re overtaken by the lead guitar work, that grabs you by the arm and drags you under the water. The track’s life form keeps growing and expanding, picking up new elements and energy sources as it builds and overwhelms you. But just when it seems like it’ll destroy you with a tidal wave, everything gets enveloped and sent back out to sea. It feels sudden, but it’s the ending you should have seen coming all along.

With just a little over a year under his belt and two really strong EPs, Lovejoy really seems to have a handle on what he projects for Sorrow Plagues, as well as an excellent execution plan. “An Eternity of Solitude” is a gushing, dark, dramatic trip that you won’t mind taking over and over, because each time you’ll discover something new. I’m excited about this project’s future and what Lovejoy can do with a full-length effort.

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Noisem grind heavily, light death and thrash on fire with ‘Blossoming Decay’

(Photo by Gene Smirnov)

(Photo by Gene Smirnov)

Hype is a curious thing. We talked about that a couple weeks back with the new Tribulation album (this site was the only one on the planet not to roll over in mud for it, I think), and we are scratching that topic again today. It really can work both ways, that heavy-flowing stream of praise, as it can get people curious to hear what’s going on, or it can make cynical folks boil over like a kettle.

Crossover thrashers Noisem have been met with a tidal wave of talk ever since their 2013 debut record “Agony Defined,” and the band took those waves and turned them into an opening slot on Decibel Magazine’s 2014 tour featuring Carcass, as well developing a sterling reputation for their raucous live shows. Yeah, their age always comes up in discussions, as these guys are in and/or barely out of their teens, but let’s instead concentrate on how they are as a unit instead of how many birthdays they’ve celebrated. These guys have destroyed since day one, and they’re back to proving their mettle again on their excellent second record “Blossoming Decay.” If there ever was any doubt this band deserved the hype they receive, this bastard will shut a ton of mouths.

Noisem coverAt nine tracks and 24 minutes, “Blossoming Decay” (available digitally right now) is perfectly served. The songs rage by and crush in an instant, and you barely have a chance to catch your breath from one crusher to the next. The dudes in the band—vocalist Tyler Carnes, guitarists Yago Ventura and Sebastian Phillips, bassist Billy Carnes, and drummer Harley Phillips—show a growing musical maturity, but they still keep things brutal and raw. In fact, their intensity level has increased, as these guys mash through you with force and malice, bringing to my mind what I felt when I was in high school listening to the early thrash and crossover bands that helped meld my tastes. Oh, and perhaps some of that elbow-rubbing with Carcass wore off on these guys, because they can grind like monsters on sections of this record.

It’s not an immediate burst from the guys, as opener “Trail of Perturbation” starts with eerie soundscapes and a scraping cello, but when the shit hits the fan, it splatters everywhere. The band pushes forward with a burst of power, while the vocals are maniacally spat out and a little grimier than they were on the debut. It’s on to “Burning,” which crushes right away and is speedy as hell. Again, the vocals are laced with menace, with strong lead guitar working burning a path, some steely thick basslines bruising, and the back end of chaos spilling right into “1132.” There, a damn great riff greets you, with the band settling into a thrashy groove and taking their time dealing the punishment. But before all is said and done, the cover is torn off, and the band slips back into full rage. “Replant and Repress” is pure demolition, with rapid-fire vocals, complete blazing by the band, and a meaty overall personality that rewards with violence. “Hostile End/Hollow Life” is an interesting one as the first half keeps up the momentum built on the first half of the record, with parts particularly unhinged and having a hardcore feel. But the second half settles and parks into an embankment of noise that coats the brain and carries into what awaits next.

That would be “Cascade of Stars” that opens with noise and cellos but shortly breaks into doomy clubbing that shows a sludgier side and then a total assault complete with terrifying growls, more clobbering riffs, and guitar soloing that boils over near the end of the track. “Another Night Sleeping in the Cold” had a more traditional thrash feel to it, with guitars grinding, fists pounding, and its relatively short life making its impact and getting out on top. “Graining Enamel” not only sounds painful, but it’ll leave you clutching at your jaw. The band chugs hard, with the drums getting absolutely pummeled and the guitars taking on a classic death metal essence, which should make your skin crawl. The song just guts you. The closer “Blossoming of the Web” begins with muddy bass, guitars shrieking out, and another tasty riff that helps set the path for the gruff, commanding vocals. Guitars rush all over the place, with the band feeding into a final outlet of fury and the guitars rising up to kill one more time. Then it all settles into a dark murk, with black strings calling woozily, almost as if they’ve endured the onslaught right along with you and need to bleed out. Killer finish to a great record.

It’s terrifying how quickly this band has gotten this good, and they have so many miles in front of them, who knows where they’ll be five years from now? Hell, album three should be one interesting milestone for them. “Blossoming Decay” more than lives up to its hype and certainly surpasses the wild expectations people like me had for this album. This is one of metal’s great young hopes, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be dominating for the next decade or two.

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

To buy the album digitally (available now), go here: https://a389recordings.bandcamp.com/album/a389-162-noisem-blossoming-decay-12

To buy the album on CD or LP, go here: http://shop.a389records.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.a389records.com/site/