PICK OF THE WEEK: Conan remain as barbaric and devastatingly heavy as ever on ‘Revengeance’

ConanI’d never done battle with a barbarian or wiped the blood from the blade of an axe into the grass, relishing another successful battle. Those days were kind of before my time and all, though it’s pretty cool to see all that take place in movies and such. But I’m hardy battle tested. I’d probably fold like a whimpering card table.

I’m not certain the fellows in UK doom unit Conan have waged wars either, but you wouldn’t exactly know that from taking on their crushing, bone-bursting music that they’ve made for the past decade or so. In fact, since 2012, the band has launched three punishing full-length records that have solidified their standing among underground fans and have made them one of the most exciting, reliable bands in all of metal. Now, with 2016 under way and starting off really strong, Conan are contributing to that massive wave with their great third record “Revengeance,” a title that might not be topped all year long. How do you beat that title? Just saying it gets your blood running, and that’s before you even dig into this six-track, nearly 48-minute monster.

Conan coverAfter some starts and stops at the start of their run, Conan released a few EPs before making their impactful full-length debut with 2012’s earth-blasting “Monnos.” That madness spilled over into 2014’s “Blood Eagle,” a record that solidified their penchant for mixing the roots of doom with a modern, smothering sound that unites every era of the sub-genre. The band–its current lineup boasts guitarist/vocalist and original member Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding and drummer Rich Lewis–also have carved out quite the reputation for their live show, where they bring the heaviness of their records and amplify that to ridiculous volumes. I listen to a ton of doom, and Conan without a doubt are one of my favorite bands of that ilk going today.

The record erupts with “Throne of Fire,” a track that tells you all you need to know in its name and that gets charged up right away. The vocals howl with fury, while the bottom end rumbles heavily, and each verses pulverizes you. Gruff growls later emerge, as the tempo of the song pulverizes, clobbering you into unquestioned submission. “Thunderhoof” rumbles from the the get go, with Davis and Fielding both wailing over the devastation, and the pace of the track lumbering along. It will feel like you’re stuck underneath a stampede of warriors as the song progresses, with the guys bashing away and turning bones to dust, and the final moments stretching out the gargantuan punishment. “Wrath Gauntlet” also begins its assault right away, with the guitars bubbling up and later smothering, and the rhythm section trucking monstrously. The vocals at first are forceful cries and later burning growls, and the playing reminds of great mastodons butting heads, clashing like there’s no tomorrow.

The title track follows, a piece that spits noise as it begins and is faster and more aggressive than a typical Conan track. This is an altogether new type of thing for the band, as the vocals are wild and abrasive, the band bludgeons with even greater might, and they sound downright furious and violent. The drubbing goes on and on, leaving you no room to breathe, until it finally fades out in a bed of drone. Holy shit, man. “Every Man Is an Enemy” settles in a field of feedback, with a doomy groove settling over like a storm and the vocals howled. Then we sink into a psyche-heavy, spacey section, playing games with your mind before the devastation comes again. The words are belted out with aplomb, and the back end of the track blows sparks and then bleeds away. Epic closer “Earthenguard” runs 11:44 and develops slowly, taking its time to stretch its muscles. As you’d expect, the track is muddy and smashing, with some trippy guitars washing in and giving the track a bright sheen, and the pace sweltering dangerously. The band lets the whole thing come to a clobbering high in the final minutes, with the guitars gurgling, the assault coming unhinged, and the track surging dangerously before fading away.    

Whether or not they’ve waged wars with minotaurs or stared down great beasts, Conan’s music makes it sound like they’ve got the scars to prove their savvy on the battlefield. “Revengeance” is another bloody building block in the band’s punishing campaign, and with each record, they just get better. As long as we have bands such as Conan around doing their thing, doom will remain healthy, heavy, and absolutely deadly.

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

To buy the album (international), go here: http://shop.napalmrecords.com/

Or here (U.S): http://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/store/

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

Seven Sisters of Sleep further push their chaos, mud-splashed fury on crushing ‘Ezekiel’s Hags’

SOSGetting smothered and beaten severely doesn’t like a terribly pleasant undertaking, does it? That would hurt, man. No one wants to be at the other end of complete savagery. But what if that beating was more of the sonic variety than the physical one? Would the experience sound more inviting to you?

If so, “Ezekiel’s Hags,” the third record from Los Angeles sludge monsters Seven Sisters of Sleep, should be right up your alley. I’ve said this before, but calling music heavy on this site always feels stupid. No shit it’s heavy. But SOS’s brand of muddy, crushing metal has to be described in this manner because it truly is the first descriptor that comes to mind. If you can imagine cement trucks doing bloody battle in some kind of industrial cage, you’ll have a good idea what to expect here, as these 11 tracks pack a severe wallop. This record also is a little beefier than what we’ve come to expect from the band, with the album running about 50 minutes of tar-boiling fury, 15 minutes or so longer than usual.

GD30OB2-N.cdrAlthough the band only has been around for six years, they’ve gotten a lot done in that time frame. As noted, “Ezekiel’s Hags” is the band’s third long player, with 2011’s self-titled debut and 2013’s “Opium Morals” preceding it. They also have put out some split efforts with bands including Ilsa, Shaman’s Owl, and Children of God, and they’ve also splattered audiences with their live show. Here, the band–vocalist Tim McAlary, guitarists Brock Elmore and Eddie Bermudez, bassist Chip Blake, drummer Brian Thomas–sounds as if it is growing into a scarier, burlier monster as they push past the shorter blasts of their past in favor of letting their reach branch out and accumulate bodies along the way.

“Jones” unloads noise right away, simmering there before the track erupts fully. Heavily shrieked vocals, as well as guitars that lean black metal, lead the way, as the vicious agenda blasts right into “Denounce,” the second-longest track at 6:38. The song takes its time and lashes away, as harsh growls pound, and the tempo mauls with a calculated pace. Riffs lap over pockets of thrashing, while the back end destroys, practically spitting nails and then bleeding out in feedback. “Gutter” sits in furnace-like noise before a burly riff emerges, speeds up momentarily, and then settles back into the mud. The band strikes hard, even swaggering at times, before blowing into “Plateau” and its slow chugs. The growls are buried under the chaos boiling, while the guitar blow fire, and feedback consumes all. “Brother’s River” has weird melodies and bizarre riffs, eventually stomping along and chewing on some Sabbath-style guitar work. “Prey” is ominous at the start, with feedback spilling in, filthy growls choking, and the wheels spinning out in the muck.

“Third Season” sounds mournful when it gets underway, letting dark waves crash over, setting the stage for the wrenching growls. The riffs are strong and staggering, with the drums battering you and the vocals teetering between gurgling growls and fierce shrieks. “Sacred Prostitute” has noise scraping and suffocating guitars, with the doom later dropping and further darkening the scene, and the guitars churning and causing total decimation. “Ud-Nun” spills stabbing noises, with more cement truck-heavy doom riffs settling in, and the tempo smudging over the chorus. The final moments completely explode, spewing shrapnel everywhere. “War Master,” as one might expect from its title, is massively heavy, with the vocals finding new ways to frighten and the guitars taking on a tone that oddly reminds of classic power metal. That all sets the stage for the 10:19 closer “Bastard Son,” a track originally available on the Shaman’s Owl split and that uses every second wisely to do as much damage as possible. The track orchestrates a well-planned assault, landing punches slowly and to the right pain points and forcing you to gasp for air in the thick humidity. The pace changes about halfway through this bastard, with the guitars charging hard, harsh wails penetrating, and the song dissolving in bed of feedback, chewing the track’s flesh from its bones.

Unless you have no self-control, you likely can survive “Ezekiel’s Hags” without any physical wounds. But Seven Sisters of Sleep do a fine job meting out psychological and auditory violence, making your psyche feel it’s gone through a 12-round battle with a behemoth. This band is growing massive and unforgiving, and this record is an absolute beast.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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

French explorers Aluk Todolo push smear of spacey, dizzying sounds to send ‘Voix’ into stars

Aluk TodoloAs noted 15 million times on this page, I have been watching pro wrestling avidly for decades. Initially, I just kept up with the storylines from the announcers and the wrestlers talking about their motivations and why they wanted to destroy their opponents. As time went on, I realized there was another layer of plot afoot, one woven together by the performers’ actions, facial expressions, and timing that pushed the sub-plot going on physically.

That idea is one I often think about when approaching instrumental bands. Groups that go without singers and elaborate (or more simplistic) lyrics have a bigger challenge engaging their audience with their musical journeys. I have friends who prefer not listen to instrumental bands simply because it’s not as easy to grab onto the threads, but I’ve always felt the opposite. There is so much space to explore and possibilities lingering out there, that a record could become whatever you want to make of it. French explorers Aluk Todolo are the perfect example of this type of thing, a band that can capture your imagination simply through their playing and jettison you off to somewhere else. You don’t need to have a story told to you. Instead, you can feel their intracacies and waves and take whatever type of trip suits you.

Aluk Todolo coverThe band has returned with their excellent new fourth record “Voix,” a six-movement album (and follow-up to 2012’s great “Occult Rock”) meant to be digested as a whole, because that’s what it is. It’s a piece designed to be experienced as one, not unlike a movie, and as each new segment feeds from the other, you can’t help but get caught in the waves. Aluk Todolo–guitarist Shantidas Riedacker, bassist Matthieu Canaguier, drummer Antoine Hadjioannou–enrapture you with their hypnotic melodies and musical precision, leaving you no need to hear them speak to you with words when they are just as effective using sounds.

Each track is given only its running time as a title, so we start with “8:18” and its doomy lurching that reminds a bit of the opening to “Iron Man.” It charges up and gets loopy and proggy, with some dreamy passages surging, and the journey taking you into pockets of wind gusts. The lead guitar work burns, while a cosmic glaze is drizzled over it all, and we’re into the second piece “7:54.” The sounds that carry over swim, with the drums splattering and the guitars charging. The song seems to radiate, with murk rising and its various parts bustling, and then sounds stretch overhead, sounding like a jet engine. The guitar works smokes and hovers, leading into “5:01.” The humidity thickens as it eases into calm. The track floats for a while before it ignites, with each part of the track then smoldering. The melodies later take on a mesmerizing tone, with the guitars getting tornadic and your brain melting down.

Then it’s on to “7:01,” where the piece settles down again, with a noiry splash and the various sounds crying. The guitars then dig back in and begin to agitate, while the darkness spreads over everything, bringing back the spellbinding power. As the piece goes on, the pace begins to steamroll, the bass gallops, and we’re right into “5:34,” which continues on the same path. The guitars strike like lightning, but as the song progresses, it gets a little moodier. The drums drive, the bassline runs circles, and the track begins to induce panic, leaving you gasping for air as the finale “9:29” arrives and keeps snaking through the thick air. Spacey noises give a hard woosh, with guitars humming underneath that, and the bottom end getting aggressive. The pace scorches later, letting the chaos hang like a cloud before surfy, trippy elements take hold and numb your brain. The final moments slowly trickle off into the distance, as the remaining echoes make their mark.

Aluk Todolo keep driving into deeper black holes and expanding the space around them. Their records are journeys that never feel or sound the same way twice, and that same thing goes for “Voix.” This is a stunning piece of work that is cinematic and mind altering, and it is going to drive you to places in your mind you may not have known existed.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.theajnaoffensive.com/collections/all

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

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

Forndom’s debut ‘Dauðra Dura’ centers itself in the heart of Scandinavian nature, folklore

ForndomIt was a strange weekend of reflection as I was writing this. My town was enveloped with snow and ice, so much so that we were trapped at home for a good bit of the weekend. Living where we do, we’re not terribly close to the heart of nature, being in the middle of a suburb. But I felt like as the snow fell and the streets and homes were encased, I longed to be in the middle of trees and natural wonders.

I got the same feeling from immersing myself in Forndom’s debut record “Dauðra Dura,” a seven-track album that feels like being in the center of a forest. This band is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist L. Swärd, and his atmospheric, stunning world mixes folk, ambiance, and ghostly chants in enrapturing fashion. If you find yourself wanting to walk right into a frosty woodland as soon as you sink into these songs, then you’re in the same place I’ve been with each visit. Swärd pays homage to Scandinavian folklore, mythology, and nature, giving you a deep drink of what from his Swedish homeland inspires his creation. This record, the project’s follow-up release to last year’s “Flykt,” will have your head swimming and your senses pulsating as it connects with your and Swärd’s surroundings.

Forndom coverThe record opens up with “Nio nätters led” that has acoustic guitars bubbling up, folkish chants emerging, and a haunting, woodsy feel to the music as it flows toward you. The emotion is evident, and the spirit of the track you practically can reach out and grasp. Low chants and ambient rumbles are the first things we hear from “Den grymma hästen,” as thunder cracks and guitars begin to jab. Hushed group singing hums, with all elements pushing and slithering to the end. “Resan” simmers in its pot, giving off thick steam and sweltering in its own juices. A single voice calls out wordlessly, sending chills down your spine. “När gudarna kalla” lets darkness waft, as the strings begin to stir, and chanted calls rise up. Horns erupt like a lone call in the wilderness, and doom arrives, bringing with it a thick, impenetrable fog.

“Svitjod” is the longest cut on the record at 5:56, with drums being tapped and a misty atmosphere taking hold. The guitars are gazey and create frost, while the strings scrape and a dark, forestal feel emerges. The track feels like the soundtrack to a short, dark film, and it doesn’t let go until it finally subsides. “Jag vet ett tempel stå” has drums leading into the mire and eerie noise smothering. The melody haunts, while weird and hypnotic sounds swirl, and a strange calm pushes the song into the night. Closer “I Hels sköte” brings in another wave of chants, as the noise swells and later feels like a washed-out fever dream. It seems like you’re ensconced in a strange vision, the space between awake and asleep, with the singing having more force and greater clarity, and the final moments bleeding away for good.

If you’re seeking brutality and decibels, Forndom might not be for you. This music is calmer but riveting, beautiful but stimulating, and it gets into your bloodstream and through to your soul.If you’re hoping for something to fit alongside your Wardruna and Ulver records, Forndom should satisfy that hunger. It’s a strong piece to have with you next time you plan exploring your own neck of the woods.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Chthe’ilist’s murky visions of horror erupt on debut ‘Le Dernier Crepuscule’

Chthe'ilistIn the name of great, unspeakable horrors rising from the depth, as well as the fantasy of great battles of darkness and light, we wrap the week with some music that doesn’t even sound like it was created by humans. And maybe it wasn’t. I wasn’t there when it was recorded, and chances are you were not either. So who’s to say whether this brutal slab of chaos didn’t arise from the depths of the ocean and spread itself into the ears of vulnerable, unsuspecting victims.

The name Chthe’ilist obviously conjures thought of Lovecraftian horror and the mighty Cthulhu, the High Priest of the Great Old Ones who came here from the cosmos and spends much of its existence slumbering in a watery grave. However, the band states the lyrics to their songs are original stories and not derived from the Mythos or any other texts. The ones not conjured in their own minds instead are influenced by various versions of The Legend of Zelda. The music on “Le Dernier Crepuscule” from this Quebec-based death metal band gurgles and mystifies, feeding off the same ideals as Crematory, Demilich, Timeghoul, Convulse, and bands of that nature and allows their terror to reach across eons. The music is baffling and smothering, the vocals have moments where the growls turn into alien-like transmissions, and the band’s seven-track debut record is a smashing, mind-boiling display.

21002 [Converted]It’s pretty clear from hearing this band play that they’re very well accomplished musicians even before digging into their resumes. This is techy and brutal, but not in a lunkheaded, detached kind of way, and the more I hear it, the more I get consumed by its insane waves of madness. As far as the band goes, we have Philippe Tougas (Atramentus, Sercos, etc.) on vocals, guitars, bass, and synth; Claude Leduc on guitars, bass, and synth; and Philippe Boucher (Beyond Creation) on drums. Their mystifying forays stun you lyrically as well as musically (you might need to spend some time to parse through the lyrics for full absorption of these tales), and their commitment to this fury is both infectious and admirable.

The title cut kicks off the record, a stormy, crackling instrumental that’s more of a scene setter than anything. It brings the fog and mystical elements, mixing with “Into the Vault of Ingurgitating Obscurity” that blasts open into gorging violence. The growls sound like they’re being delivered by a cosmic machine, while the music boils like a science experiment, and the vocals later turn to chilling singing. Terrifying shrieks later erupt, as the guitars hit a proggy push, and the track melts into monstrous noises. “Voidspawn” is slow driving at the start before it starts to warp. Misty keys hang in the air, while the music gets dizzying and disorienting. The growls gurgle like they’re bubbling through mud, and some exploratory guitar work sheds some light onto the murky terrain. “Scriptures of the Typhlodians” unleashes hellish noises, with the song erupting and crushing everything in its wake, and the throaty growls doing damage. More challenging playing arrives, with bizarre whispering sitting underneath the storm, and the back end erupting into violence.

“The Voice From Beneath the Well” begins with water dripping as if in a dark space station, and then the bass starts splattering while the pace ignites. The growls sound delivered from a gargoyle, with the melodies causing your head to spin, and the bass slaps adding some unexpected groove. “Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala” is another that sounds like it could have formed in Lovecraft’s brain, but it’s their own piece. The track is tricky and punchy, fast and smothering, with clean singing welling up but later giving way to growls. The soloing hovers and glares, and the latter stages of the song speed up and thrash heavily. “Tales of the Majora Mythos Part I” is full of Zelda folklore, and it was a misty, hypnotic start that flows into piercing guitar squeals. The vocals switch back and forth, from raucous growls to disarming singing, while the soloing tears in out of nowhere and joins up with a pace that starts to mete out destruction. Later, the track hits the mud pits, with bells chiming, pained wails belting, and the piece stretching its haze and capturing minds and souls.

As brutal and astonishing as they are, Chthe’ilist won’t be up every death metal fan’s alley. This is weird, glooping, smeary stuff, and it could take a little time for these songs to have their full effect on you. If you’re excited about unimaginable terrors and death metal that will tangle your brain, tackle “Le Dernier Crepuscule” and get ready to fall into deep, psychological convulsions.

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

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

Or here (vinyl version): http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

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

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

UK metallic dreamers Latitudes push their ambition into clouds with atmospheric ‘Old Sunlight’

LatitudesI like a blunt, reactionary record as much as the next person. But I also enjoy putting on an album that you can tell was formed after some well-thought-out creativity sparked by whatever was moving the musicians at the time. Those are the ones that tend to get those “adventurous” and “cinematic” tags, and for the most part, that designation holds water.

Same goes for “Old Sunlight,” the new and third record from UK post-metal (for lack of a less annoying term) band Latitudes. Actually, that can be applied to all of their recordings, as you can tell these guys work and craft until their musical output matches what’s in their hearts and minds. The seven songs they present here are largely instrumental cuts, with vocals sprinkled in here and there, that could make you feel like you’re soaring through the clouds amid a blue sky. There is a passion and energy that you practically can reach out and touch, and the music can sweep you up and take you away somewhere unexpected.

Latitudes coverLatitudes have been doing their thing for a decade now, releasing their first EP “Black Epiphanies in Slow Motion” a year after getting together. Their first full-length “The Agonist” arrived two years after that, with vocalist Adam Symonds and keyboard player Rich Harper joining up with guitarists Adam Crowley and Tim Blyth, as well as bassist Jon Lyon and drummer Mike Davies.Their second record “Individuation” dropped in our laps in 2012, and all the while, the band has been strengthening their live game, including playing at a slew of major European festivals. All that clearly pays off on this third record, that has the power and energy to floor you.

Instrumental “Ordalian” begins the record in a surge, with noises hovering in the air, making it feel like you’re soaring through cumulus. The riffs crunch and bruise, but it’s not long before you’re immersed in more atmosphere and dreamy passages. Prog bursts flourish, with dramatic pounding leading to the finish line and into “Body Within a Body.” Parts of this remind me of Cynic (especially the alien-style singing), while keys emerge and send the track into the cosmos. In the latter stages, the song opens up and gets more aggressive, raging and exploding before heading into the murk and mire. “Amnio” is another instrumental cut, a shorter track that feels like walking into a science lab, with everything pulsating and visions of rolling past stars rushing to the forefront. “Gyre” also has prog-minded bits before guitars start to charge, and everything is sucked into a spiral. The keys shimmer, while the band hits on some really intricate, perplexing sections that get heavier and chewier as they go on. Finally, the intensity hits a high point before the song fades in a bed of synth.

“In Rushers Bound” has gentle singing at its start, as the song begins to blossom. Clean guitars arrive and add their dashes of color, while the sounds get cloudy, and every element pops. A gazey breeze begins to blow as moody singing arrives, classic metal-style guitars rip, and the song comes to a rushing, emotional finish. “Altar Pieces” trudges at the start, picking up the pace as it goes while the synth bubbles underneath. A blast of power metal blisters, with the drama rising, and then it’s into watery, trickling playing. The final moments are really energetic and smoldering, leading into the closer “Quandary.” This is the shortest song of the bunch at 2:27, and it evokes memories of early Queensryche, when they could be a riveting as anyone. “Let the wolves have their say with me,” Symonds calls, as his words are surrounded by whirring keys, frosty ambiance, and guitars that let a brief flame bring the thaw.

Feeling like a cerebral adventure into the stratosphere, “Old Sunlight” continues Latitudes’ run of making music that captures you and rewards you with a true experience. The fact they keep getting richer musically and more accomplished as a unit is clear on this album, and it should be a barnburner when played live. Latitudes keep building bigger, more dynamic worlds, and there are no boundaries as to where they might expand next.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

Black Tusk bid sad farewell to Athon, unleash explosive, fully energetic album ‘Pillars of Ash’

Photo by Angela Boatwright

Photo by Angela Boatwright

Unless you’ve been trapped at the bottom of the ocean, you’re aware the world was gifted by one final David Bowie record before his untimely passing last week. In everyone’s grief, there was this collection that painted as clear a picture as one will find of a person’s impending doom shared with the rest of the world. The fact he passed just days after its release made it hit even harder.

The metal world kind of has one of those releases as well with the arrival of Black Tusk’s fourth full-length “Pillars of Ash.” It is the first record to be released by the band since the tragic passing of their bassist/vocalist Jonathan Athon (his friends simply called him Athon), a release many thought we’d never see. It’s the final music Athon recorded with his bandmates and touring brothers, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Fidler and drummer/vocalist James May, making it a bittersweet, blissfully raucous record that sends their friend off in as spirited a manner possible. I know tragedy trends to make people look at things with different eyes and hear music with different ears, but this is a fucking killer record. If this is to be Athon’s musical last will and testament, he could not have gone out on a higher, more explosive note.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Black Tusk have been doing their thing a little over a decade now, unleashing their first full-length record “Passage Through Purgatory” in 2008. After a few split releases (with bands such as Fight Amp and The Holy Mountain), they found their way to current home Relapse and released their fire-breathing second record “Taste the Sin” (“Embrace the Madness” is an absolutely crushing track and one of my favorite in their whole run), and from there, it was on to “Set the Dial” a year later. The past five years, the band has been pounding the pavement, putting out smaller releases, and setting the stage for this crushing new record.

The record rips open with “God’s on Vacation,” a churning, menacing track that has Athon (the deep growler) and Fidler (the higher-pitched wail) trading vocal lines, while the band hits total demolition and delivers a chorus that will floor you. “Desolation of Endless Times” is punchy, catchy, and really heavy, with the vocals pulling back and forth and the pace thrashing. “Bleed on Your Knees” is riffy as hell and goes a little more the classic metal route, as the tempo chugs and chews, the song picks up speed, and the dust-up comes to a blistering end. “Born of Strife” has a filthy Southern rock groove to it, with the vocals spat out, the band hitting a hardcore-style fury, and some tasty guitar work burning to the finish. “Damned in the Ground” lets the notes hang in the air before it kicks into high gear. Athon howls away, with the track getting mucky and mean, and the last moments bursting before the cut bows out. “Beyond the Divide” takes a little time to get moving, but once it does, it blasts into bursts of speed, with the dual vocals striking hard and the raucous finish taking on a psychedelic edge.

“Black Tide” has drums bustling and bashing, with strong riffs leading the way and Athon’s growls belting you in the waist. Higher cries explode from Fidler, while swarming melodies rise amid fears of drowning. “Still Not Well” brings the psychedelic wonder back into the picture, with heavy crunch making up the bulk of the track, and more Southern smudge chaos arriving. This track settles its assault a bit, simmering instead of boiling and taking on a sinister groove. “Walk Among the Sky” is super fast, with the chorus stuttered with Athon belting the final word of each line along with Fidler. It’s smashing and guttural, with the final call of, “We are prepared to die,” feeling particularly pointed. “Punk Out” sounds exactly like its title indicates. It’s fast, there is a nice dose of D beat, and the whole thing has a dank basement blur to it. Closer “Leveling” lets the guitars go off, as the track explodes with power, and the assault makes you dizzy and confused. The band keeps up the intensity, giving it all the fire they have until the power slowly fades, and chilling pianos dress the final moments with a cold, drenching rain.        

Black Tusk live on touring and hopefully creating music in the future (Corey Barhort will take Athon’s place in the band). They’ll never be the same band they were with Athon, but their legacy has been cemented. I’ve long been a huge fan of this band, and it’s a little tough realizing this will be the final time we hear them in this form. But luckily we have these final moments this beast known as Black Tusk spent with Athon, and they sure as shit made them count.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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

Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s first EP in a series concentrates on role of one’s family and death

ANbNot everyone is born into rosy family lives. As my life has gone on, I’ve gained more and more appreciation for the family life I have had as I have seen other people deal with theirs. Although a cliche, it’s true that you can pick your friends but cannot pick your family, and no matter how one feels about the people who should be closest to them, it’s a tie you just cannot shake.

The role of one’s family members in a person’s life is a center point of the new EP from Agoraphobic Nosebleed “Arc,” the first of a series of four releases from the band centering on the members of the band and their influences. This one of Kat Katz’s release, and on these three songs, she reveals much about her struggle with her mother’s schizophrenia and her role of taking care of her during her final days of life. That’s pretty heavy subject matter even for a band as smothering as this because it strikes right to the core and is a human a struggle as one is going to find. The added layer of dealing with someone suffering from a mental illness hits home for me as I have had a long struggle with anxiety and had a particularly bad time over the holidays. These songs make me think about the stress I likely put on those around me and am thankful that I am surrounded by people who understand this and support me. Not sure that was ANb’s intent, but that’s something that struck me when combing through these songs.

AGn coverAs noted, this is all Katz here lyrically and vocally. The former Salome vocalist finds herself once again emerged in deep, muddy sludge, three songs that are heavy and ugly. The surrounding is ideal for the subject matter and Katz’s impassioned howls, and she sounds deadly and on point throughout this collection. The band is rounded out by vocalist Richard Johnson (also of Drugs of Faith), guitarist/noisemaker Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer), bassist John Jarvis (also Pig Destroyer) and noise wrangler/vocalist Jay Randall. These three songs are longer than a usual ANb jam, but that allows the band to branch out to sink into these muddy waters and bring Katz’s vision into fuller reality.

“Not a Daughter” gets this going, a title from which you can read a lot. The sludgy swagger hits early, with Kat wasting no time to get her emotions out on display, wailing, “Stop hurting me! Why are you doing this to me?” The track is crunchy and thrashing for the most part, with some thick bass and a swarm of noise rising. As the track and the experience rolls on, Katz howls a very sobering and on-the dot line, “Your mind, a prison,” as the band brings this to a muddy, clobbering end. “Deathbed” follows, flowing over 8:32 and beginning with some catastrophic doom riffs. There are deadly growls that gurgle beneath the din, and the track begins to smother, with Katz pleading, “Forgive me!” with a desperation that is tangible. The track has a nice bit of bluesy smoke that enters the fray, with the track buzzing, and Katz unleashing her soul.

Closer “Gnaw” is the longest track here at 11:24, and it opens with slithering riffs and a clip about schizophrenia. The track hits a slow chug, with Katz unleashing fiery screams, and the band playing swaggering runs again. The track eventually hits deeper pockets of mud, as one might expect, as the guitars chew and churn whatever is in its way. Noise rings out and stings, while vicious screams emerge, more mashing reaches the surface, and shrieks meet with deep growls as the song spirals to it soul-shaming end. If you need a breath, like I did, take it.

All hails to this band not only for putting out a killer EP of material that will churn your insides, but also for Katz putting herself out there like this. The topics she tackles are not easy ones at all, and to express her sadness, frustration, and confusion the way she does surely had to be cathartic for her but also can be healing for her audience. This is a smashing collection, and to think, there are three more of these things to come!

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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

Abbath may have exited from Blashyrkh, but his solo debut sure has wintry, chilly intent

Ester SegarraSeeing a great band fall to pieces always is a sad thing. I’ve long loved Immortal. I drove through a blinding snowstorm with the accumulation occurring in alarming proportions just to see them play five winters ago in Pittsburgh. Fitting though, right? So to hear the band was totally altered by the departure of Abbath Doom Occulta was a depressing thought.

Yet both Immortal and Abbath live on in separate entities, and Abbath has struck first with his new band’s self-titled debut record. While we’re no longer living in the land of Blashyrkh with this new project, the music remains frosty and wintry. That’s also fitting as the day this piece was to run, we’re expecting frigid temperatures in my hometown of Pittsburgh. What we have here with this eight-track first album is a mix of many things. Certainly you feel a lot of Immortal in these songs, but the material also reaches back to Abbath’s I days and even pushes forward into other realms. It’s not purely a black metal album by any means. It’s more than that. It might take a little adjustment to get into the record fully–it took me a few listens to shake my Immortal-like expectations–but you’ll find a fun, fiery collection that sounds alive and breathing fire.

Abbath coverAs for the lineup, obviously we have Abbath on guitars and vocals, his unmistakable gurgle front and center on these cuts. If you’re one of those folks who couldn’t get into Abbath’s vocals, this record won’t change your mind. If you love them, like I do, it’ll feel like a welcome return. King ov Hell (who also played in I) is here on bass, and on the record, Creature (Benighted), who has since departed, handles the drum work. There has been some further shuffling with the live lineup, but your core is Abbath and King, and that really should be all they need moving forward.

The record opens with “To War,” with boots on the ground and the tempo immediately making a statement for what’s ahead. The track takes its time setting up, with the riffs swirling and mashing, horns blaring, and the drums breaking through the Earth’s crust. Abbath is in fine voice, howling the very simple chorus and sneering over the verses. “Winterbane” is a pure dose of Blashyrkh-style assault, with riffs storming forward, those creaky growls center stage, and a really great, catchy chorus that should go over quite well live. The track storms hard and hammers the ground with the white stuff, with the bass rollicking and the intensity building. There’s a brief calm with acoustic guitars chiming, but then it’s back to stomping, with Abbath’s buzzing singing ruling. “Ashes of the Damned” just crushes, with harsh vocals blasting you and even some horns entering the mix. The pace crushes under its weight, with strong melodies and the horns returning for some final blasts. “Ocean of Wounds” has the drums bustling and mega-strong riffs steamrolling. The song thrashes pretty forcefully through the bulk of this, with grumbly growls striking, a murky synth pool rising, and the track ending in a storm.

“Count the Dead” finds the storm continuing, and then the song starts punching, with grim growls and abrasive melodies leading the way. The heaviness continues to build, as wild howls erupt, the drums blister everything, and some great lead guitar work ignites fires and bleeds all the way to the end. “Fennir Hunts” has stirring riffs and devastating drums that approach blast territory. This track gushes black metal intent, as the temp charges hard, feeling a lot like an old Immortal song, with the guitars blazing and the vocals mauling your senses. Good track. “Root of the Mountain” is a strange one, taking on more of a rock feel and settling into a mid-tempo range. The track gets misty and foggy at times, with some swagger injected into the playing and a gust of wind taking it out. Closer “Endless” tears open right away, with the vocals practically spat out and the track pulverizing. The guitars continue to jab, while the vocals fly out fast and frighteningly, and every element crashes down on you and brings the record to a thunderous end.      

While not perfect, this debut Abbath record is a confident step forward into the future, a foundation setter on which this band can build over the years. It’s a rousing listen, one that’ll get your juices flowing, and a collection that will chill your heart to its core. I’m looking forward to hear what the band has live and how they keep moving from here. I guess it’s your move, Immortal.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Bloodiest’s second record has mesmerizing power, spellbinding savagery

BloodiestAfter having barely immersed myself in new music the bulk of December, coming back fresh is a nice experience. No pressure, no burnout, and you can just let the music flow over you. I’m not sure if that’s the reason, but one record I recently tackled stopped me in my tracks halfway through the thing and made me realize I was listening to something that captured my imagination and held it captive through the entire run.

Chicago-based Bloodiest, a combination of well-noted musicians who have come together for a single cause, already had my attention with their debut “Descent,” a record that certainly played to the strengths of each of its members but managed to sound very different from the players’ other projects. It turns out, as strong as that first outing was, and as much promise as it held, it didn’t really prepare us for the band’s new self-titled display that drives Bloodiest’s ambition into the stratosphere. First time I heard the album, admittedly right before the holidays, I was trying to get some work done before the extended break, so I dug in. About halfway through this thing, I noticed the breath being ripped from my chest over how damn good this was. It was heavy, trippy, mesmerizing, weird, and full of energy. The record stuck with me and ended up something I went back to several times over the holidays.

Bloodiest coverFor those unaware, this band is comprised of vocalist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House); guitarists and ex-Sterling members Tony Lazzara and Ed Chaleff; bassist Colin Dekuiper (formerly of Russian Circles); piano/synth player Nandini Khaund; and drummer Cayce Key. On this record, they mix all sort of elements from progressive metal to doom to drone and ambiance to trance-inducing passages that could have you zoning a thousand miles ahead of you all while your brain is being stimulated by their thick, entrancing sounds.

The record starts with “Mesmerize,” a fitting title as that’s exactly what this song aims to do. The guitars are burly while Lamont wails about Josephine the fortune teller, and the track keeps cutting and boiling along the way. The guitars light up and burn brightly, while the melodies snake through the murk, and all of the elements spiral and fade away. “The Widow” runs 7:53 and starts with the bass and drums rumbling and soulful singing bleeding in. The track goes calm and acoustic, with Lamont calling, “Falling from the edge into the night,” and then is builds back up slowly. An ominous pall spreads over the song, and then the cut rips apart, with wild shrieks spraying and a huge deluge that swells to the finish. “Condition” is an interlude that lets cold guitars crawl, a wintry atmosphere sink its claws, and a dusty, noiry finish that leads you into “Broken Teeth.” There you’re met with a riff that reminds of Nirvana, and the pace settles into calm and then fires up again. Crazed shrieks burst, with Lamont prodding, “Smile for me through broken teeth,” as the song heads into gazey territory. Growls assault, as the earth’s crust tears apart, and the song trucks all the way to a violent end.

“Mind Overlaps” has piano dripping and a swirl of voices, with speaking churning beneath the chaos, and a foggy eeriness taking hold. There’s a twinge of sadness to what’s going on, with a noise that sounds like a jet engine raging, and the song melting into noise. “He Is Disease” opens in gloom and doom, as dark layers are built on top of one another, and the guitars chewing muscles. The vocals switch from growls to sneers, with the music causing your head to go swimming, and then the base corrodes and is eaten away. The final moments are burly and clobbering, melting into “Separation” that trickles open before absolutely exploding. The words are barked with authority, while the guitar work sears, and the intensity keeps growing. Lamont begins howling away, with everything being ramped up to a crescendo, and the music churning and burning. Closer “Suffer” emerges out of that, with the fiery playing continuing, wild cries smothering, and riffs pummeling. It’s a shorter song that brings this collection to an end, but a forceful, furious one that leaves everything choking in a cloud of smoke.

Five years was a long time to wait for a new Bloodiest record, but it was damn well worth it. This self-titled album trumps what they did on their debut and proves the band’s sound and potential are limitless. This record should strike and stimulate you, all while taking you into a massive trance. It’s a piece of work that gives you no choice other than to submit yourself to its will.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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