Appalachian black metal force Athame unearth devilish chaos on blasting ‘With Cunning Fire…’

athame-liveOf all the dark elements and influences in black metal, there is some major factors lacing through all of it, the most penetrable and blood-curdling of them all. The dark arts, the dark one. You get it. The entire sub-category of orthodox black metal is devoted to the grimmest forces of them all, and the disciples seem to loop over and over through the world.

Now we have a new entrant in the form of Athame, a three-headed force hailing from parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia who pour all of their horrible power into the debut record “With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve.” Their name is inspired by a double-edged dagger used during traditional witchcraft ceremonies, and you can feel that blade dragging down your chest, opening a single avenue of blood during these songs. The record is being released by Grimoire, a label that’s picking up serious steam and is becoming one of the most reliable and interesting in all extreme music. Their diversity is a great thing, and they’ve found another ashen gem in Athame. The infernal fury is thick and apparent here, and if you like your black metal strictly from the old gods, this is one you’ll want to devour whole.

coverIt’s been a mere three years since Athame’s formation, and in that time, the band—vocalist/guitarist Jere, bassist NAM, drummer Haste—comprised a demo and this first record. Comprised of members of bands including Fortress and Wolfnuke, Athame pile on themes of witchcraft, Luciferianism, and occultism on these nine tracks, and even if you’re not down with the spiritual aspect of their music (I pretty much listen for musical reasons primarily), there’s no denying their commitment to the dark and their absolute willingness to bask in whatever moves their poisonous spirits. It’s refreshing to get a black metal record that revels in all of this, and one that could revive the flames within you because, admit it, there are those times when the foulest and vilest senses come to pass, and you’re OK with that.

“The Pillar” is a quick intro cut that opens the record with an eerie synth fog sweeping and monstrous chants sending chills. “A Lost Congregation” is the first full cut, with filth smeared over everything, strong riffs knifing their way in, and growls absolutely crushing. Speed plays a part, with the band leaving you dizzy, and as the storm begins to loosen its grip, an oppressive humidity and doom ugliness take hold. “Five Fold Kiss” smashes open the gates, with wild howls emitted by Jere, and a haze of misery spreading. The soloing arrives and turns the ground ablaze, destroying and raging over all, and smothering doom drops hammers. Maniacal shouts then enter the fray, and the cut comes to a slow-driving finish. “Nema” is another quick instrumental with slurring synth, fires crackling, and warped voices, and that leads to “The Heretic’s Horn” that exudes terror right away. Guitars echo and quiver, with wailed vocals and a calculated pace doing its damage. The drums are crushed, with a terrifying call to arms to “warriors of apostasy,” and the track grinds down with thick Sabbathian riffs.

“For Generations” has a wild, dizzying start, with infernal howls and sooty guitar work choking dust everywhere. The drums splatter while the guitars create fog, and Jere’s Tom G. Warrior style yell of, “Now and forever I burn!” hammers home the band’s might. “Nameless Craft” takes the band back to speed territory, with a mean tempo unleashed, the drums splattered, and the growls practically demanding fealty. The final moments of the song worship fire before it bleeds out in noise. “This Is What the Devil Does” has a driving guitar chug and is monstrously heavy. The track punches away viciously, with weird synth rising up like a spirit from a swamp, and the final moments of the song are just bruising. Closer “Witchfather” begins with a mystical crunch, chants, and charring madness that grasps you by the throat. A violent stampede breaks out, as the bone-crushing playing barrels ahead, mixing into a sticky atmosphere, ritualistic howls, and a sickening synth sheet that amplifies the horror and spreads it to dangerous levels.

Athame’s fury is razor sharp, and their classic sense of black metal pays proper homage to the pioneers of the genre but never comes off like they’re trying to ride anyone’s coattails. The atmospheric fires and animalistic rage that make up the tracks on “With Cunning Fire and Adversarial Resolve” are thick and punishing, and they’re threatening to rampage out of the Appalachians with blood-thirsty swords held aloft. Any sad soul that finds itself in their way can prepare to see the other side of this plane.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/athame666/

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

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

All Your Sisters’ post-punk misery delivered in overcast pain on ‘Uncomfortable Skin’

All Your SistersI’m not so certain I buy into the theory that we’re living in the end times, mostly because that assertion always comes from the frothing mouths of religious kooks. But shit’s pretty bad and getting worse, and at a time when humanity should be expanding its thinking and intelligence, the exact opposite is happening. One of the world’s great intentions, the internet, sure is pushing that along.

So dark music goes mighty well with dark times, and the work of All Your Sisters sure seems like a fitting way to celebrate watching the world decay away. The two-headed beast that’s charging in out of San Francisco would also have sounded fitting in the Reagan era, especially due to their sound, but instead their dark post-punk, darkwave, and just a little bit of doom is here to usher in dirges for today’s misery. Founding member Jordan Morrison (vocals, synth, guitars) initially created the band as a solo outfit for him after the dissolution of his past band, and along the way, he brought in like-minded musician Mario Armando Ruiz (drums, synth) to round out the project and begin creating shadowy misery together, and they’ve landed with sinewy second record “Uncomfortable Skin.” Morrison cites his years working as a EMT in Las Vegas and seeing some of the worst, most disturbing things of his life, events that could turn anyone’s outlook into a morbid, ashy thing. In turn, those experiences colored in his lyrics over the life of this project, and they sure bring a dour outlook to these 10 cuts.

All Your Sisters coverThe record starts with “Nothing Is Sacred,” which has noise ringing out, sounds rumbling and twisting, and an overcast feel rolling over and into “Open Wide” that kicks off with dark guitars and drums pummeling.  The whole thing feels dreary, like a rain-soaked day without a prayer on sunlight, which actually is the vibe of the whole record, now that I think of it. Morrison’s singing warbles coldly, while the guitars fire up, and the track ends in a whirlpool. “Black God” jabs you in the ribs at the start, with echo-rich singing smeared over the track, and the tempo getting punchy and loud. The elements pile up on top of each other, and the song ends in a vibrating soundscape that manages a few seconds of glow. “Heater” has spacey synth before the burst comes. The cloud cover gets thick, as Morrison dreams of “ashen and suicide,” and just as you’re feeling like you’ll be swallowed whole, the song comes to an abrupt end. “Loss” is the lengthiest one at 6:56, and its programmed beats and sound swirls grab you right from the start, pushing you into frosty singing, chilling sentiment, and guitars lighting the only fires. Toward the end, riffs spit static, and the cut explodes into dust.

“Remains” lets the basslines drive hard before the guitars begin churning, and a gazey assault gets ramped up. The vocals sound aggravated and pissy, as the volume level rises, and the band lands their meatiest punches yet. “Filled With Waste” has bass plodding along, with deep, dreary singing adding even more depth to the piece, and the dank sentiment getting so thick, you practically can dig into it with a spoon. “Shame” has an early Depeche Mode feel to it, with the pain boring a hole in you, and the guitars cutting everything down. “Why won’t you return?” Morrison prods, as the song ends in a blinding flash. “No Hope” is as gloomy as its title indicates, moving slowly and dragging you wounds-first through the rocks. “He won’t be there when you’re gone,” Morrison pokes, as the final moment sink in its teeth and drag out the pain. Closer “Reconcile” pops with noise, with the bass driving into space, and the intensity building as the song goes along. The tempo also gains momentum, with Morrison continually wailing, “Reconcile!” amid an oppressive wall of sound that takes your inner worst and amplifies it for you and the entire world to see.

All Your Sisters are as dark and doom-ridden as the gnarliest metal band going on about death and misery, though this duo’s songs are dressed by real-life horrors one cannot unsee. “Uncomfortable Skin” should help them expand their reach into more people’s psyches, and perhaps some listeners can find some solace along the way. If you feel pain on a regular basis, you’re not alone. These two are more than willing to take you by the hand and let you in on their experiences, against which yours might pale in comparison.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Anicon exude chaotic power, smother with riffs, atmosphere on ‘Exegeses’

AniconThe United States has become a rich, fertile ground for developing black metal bands. Whether it’s Weakling, Wolves in the Throne Room, Krallice, or Yellow Eyes, there is a hell of a lot for us Americans to brag about when it comes to this style of music and neck-breaking bends and heady twists this land has applied to that sound. Now we have another heavyweight emerging in the form of Anicon.

To be clear, Anicon are not newcomers to American black metal. They’ve been around several years, doing the road warriors thing, blowing the doors off small venues in towns all over this nation. In fact, they’ll be headed back to my corner of the globe next month playing on the ultra-limited Ruins of Beverast tour, and I’m as excited to take in Anicon as I am the headliners. In tow will be their first full-length record, the mighty “Exegeses,” the culmination of several years of creation. This record is not the result of a linear creative route, as they formed these songs over the last couple years, even though other, non-related music was dreamt up by the band in the timeframe. But Anicon determined these seven songs belonged together, and after painstakingly examining what they had, the final collection we receive here are the ones that they felt should make up “Exegeses.”

Anicon coverAnicon have been together since 2010, with the founding duo of guitarists/vocalists Nolan Voss and Owen Rundquist creating their initial self-titled EP that would see the light of day two years later. As time went on, they brought in other creative partners, namely bassist Alexander DeMaria (who has played as a part of Yellow Eyes’ live unit) and drummer Liv Weinstein (Krallice, Geryon, Bloody Panda), and released a split effort with Belus as well as a stunning EP “Aphasia” that came out last year. But “Exegeses” is another level for the band. It’s their arrival as one of the most formidable and powerful black metal bands in the United States. They can stand in front of anyone from a heaviness standpoint, but they also wash their art in thought-provoking passages and creatively played songs that stimulate the mind and not just the animalistic part of one’s soul.

The record wastes zero time getting started, opening with the smearing “Toil and Mockery,” a stomping piece that threatens early and unloads searing riffs. In fact, riffs are in abundance on this record. Howls whip at your skin, and the band heads into a thrashing panic. The pace pelts, with melodies lathering and the growls blurting out fire, and the pace twists and turns all the way to the finish, which unloads devastation. “The World As Will” is spindling and spiraling, with the riffs bruising, and the wails of, “Stone by stone by stone!” helping you envision the band piling massive layers. The song seems to ease for a moment, but out of that comes crushing drums and guitars whipping up a dizzying frenzy, with a full-on assault ending in a fury. “Mazzaroth” has a gruff beginning, with the song pounding down, and a gritty onslaught unfolding. There are bits here that are as infectious as they are deadly, and some of the guitar work sounds borderline euphoric, as if it’s pouring blinding sun into your eyes. Of course, the track turns ugly again, and the blood streak is dragged over the end of the song and into “Robed in Torments.” There, a heavy cloud cover hangs, while sorrowful melodies bleed into glorious, classic-style guitar lines that singe. The violence is unleashed, with feral growls, power metal-style soloing (it makes the hairs on your arm stand up), and a teeth-grinding conclusion that mashes your nerves.

“Hallucinating Fate” is on fire right from the start, with furious growls leading, melody spreading its wings, and their unpredictable ways keeping you guessing. Atmospheric guitar work unleashes a wind gust, and the lead playing gets your blood rushing hard. The track keeps rolling and accumulating bodies Katamari-style, before the track reaches a wintry finish. “From Teeth, From Tongue” has striking riffs out front, with the music blistering and soaring hard, and the playing doing its damage. The growls tear in and get gurgly, with a doom haze beginning to stretch darkness overhead, and the sounds boiling. Later, the band hits a stretch of serenity, allowing you to catch a breath, but the chaos returns and upends you before the track finishes. Closer “In Shadow & Amber” has a delirious pace, one of the most insane on the entire record, and the band unleashes its assault with churning growls and outright speed. The cry of, “My will remains,” blasts you in the chest, as the tempo changes up and goes progressive, leaving you grasping for the wall, the floor, or whatever will break your fall. Fiery growls scrape once more, and a final, scorching outburst does the remaining bit of damage, dragging you to the brink of submission.

“Exegeses” already is on the short list of the best music put out so far in this middle-aged 2016, and it’s easily one of the most satisfying black metal records that have crawled out of any land during that time. Anicon already have a stellar reputation based on their recorded output to this point, as well as their thunderous live show, and this record only should cement that. This album should be seen years from now as a landmark that formally introduced one of the country’s most important bands into the landscape.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

Or here: http://avantgardemusic.bigcartel.com/

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

And here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

Spanish black metal warriors Sheidim drag out underground ugliness on ‘Shrines of the Void’

SheidimLet’s put away the long entrance trying to associate music with something deeper. Some metal is there to bring out the darkest, ugliest elements of society, drag them up to the surface, and make the entire world confront what they may not what to see face to face.

Spanish black/death metal band Sheidim are only more than happy to dig up the deadliest, vilest components of the world, and it sounds like those things are smeared into their massive debut record “Shrines of the Void.” This record, being released jointly by Me Saco un Ojo and Dark Descent, is utterly infernal, a proper next step after their debut 7” “Amidst the Shrine of Consciousness/In the Light of the Dying Stars” that was released last year. There is no accounting for polish or making thing proper and tastefully presented, and that’s for the good. This record, packed with seven tracks that run over 40 minutes and drip with hatred and madness, are packed with melodic punch when the need arises but always scrapes your face into the pavement for good measure. Built with members of Suspiral and Morbid Flesh, the band is comprised of vocalist A.K., guitarist C.S., bassist A.T., and drummer J.F., smothering listeners with chaos and fire, leaving you in a pit of ash.

Sheidim coverThe record belches open with “First Poison,” a track that lets noise boil and scald before frozen riffs send a chill down your spine, and feral howls belt over the calculated pace. The guitars get moody, but it’s not long before everything hits full gallop, wildly swinging away. The aggression builds, with the soloing smashed over the top, and the track comes to a punishing end. The title cut has a doomy sentiment, even giving off a slight High on Fire vibe due to the guitar work, and A.K.’s carefully delivered growls ensure you get his feral message. The track gets thrashy and misery inducing, with the cut pelting you all the way to the finish. “Deviant Kingdom” has solid guitar work, bone-crunching drums, and a humid ambiance. The cut breaks open later on, killing everything in its way, while the riffs snake through the void, and the growls insult and injure.

“Sunken Nigredo” is raw and heavy, with grim growls, black metal melodies, and a speed burst later on. Soloing wails out, and the hammer drops without a hint of mercy. “Amrita” spills buckets of noise before it jars suddenly and potentially leaves you concussed. The track mashes viciously, though some atmosphere is injected into the terror, and the growls menace. The final minute of the song ramps up the intensity, barreling downhill and right into “Without Ruins.” A huge assault greets you at the gates, with a sinister vibe poking its way into the mix, and creaky growls scratching at the wounds you’ve suddenly accumulated. Smoking riffs make their presence felt, while a meaty stomp drives you to the soot-caked conclusion. Closer “Remnants” continues to apply the pressure, with the growls punching their way into your chest, and then dual guitar lines arrive to splash a golden sheen onto everything. The soloing erupts and burns, the final moments clobber your brains, and A.K.’s gasp of, “The sweet release of death!” brings the album to a proper, poisonous end.

Sheidim have a hellacious debut on their hands with “Shrines of the Void,” and their bloodthirsty assaults on these seven songs could leave your muscle and flesh hanging from your bones. They’re ugly and mauling, but they also have a way to get inside your blood and move your darkest spirits. It makes sense two labels have to tackle this record, because it is a mammoth of a display.

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

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

Or here: http://www.mesacounojo.com/shop/

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

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

Harrower’s atmospheric black metal visits turmoil, climbing out of chaos on ‘Remembrance’

Harrower coverMost of us have our share of personal struggles that storm within us and can end up defining who we are. Those forces can twist and contort us, drive us to the brink of madness, and cause our blood pressure to rise. How we fight back against that, or find some measure of solace, could determine whether our darkness ends up making us stronger.

Those ideas pour into “Remembrance,” the debut record from New York-based black metal band Harrower. Even their name hints at strife and chaos. The band explains that while the word harrower means those who cultivate the land, they clash that with the term harrowing that has much darker meaning as something distressing and disruptive. So, it’s easy to figure out how the gears have been moving the last few years while the band worked on this record, both musically and conceptually, and “Remembrance” is an entire exercise in delving into dark, miserable times, working your way through that to coping and understanding what has been hanging overhead. Harrower use the natural world as a backdrop, and that element is an essential part of finding one’s way through to the other side. That’s a lot to absorb on the surface, but as you take on this record, that idea should open itself up to you.

Harrow is a four-headed beast with Tyler Wickham on guitar and vocals, Jun Cheong on guitar, Ernst Wickham on bass, and Jon Nobile on drums. The band has poured three years of work into “Remembrance,” dressing it with raw black metal, atmospheric passages, and rustic elements, not terribly different from what a band such as Alda have put into the world. They recorded this record in the mountainous regions of upper state New York, pulling them face to face with the nature that inspired them to explore these dark times and find a resolution. The record sounds tastefully lo-fi through most of it, giving it a pure, unpolished essence that makes the record sound even more like it comes from human hands made calloused during its creation.

“Embracing” opens the record with noise and electronic interference before the song combusts and harsh vocals crush. The song later halts and goes cold, heading toward “November,” a 10:34-long epic that’s the second longest on the record. The song trickles before blooming with life, with the playing pummeling, vicious growls lacerating, and the music utterly blistering. The pace tempers again before another explosion, with savagery spilling out of the cracks, and lava-like melodies raging through the light and dark. The shrieks echo away, like a lost soul in the wilderness, and the track smothers all the way to its end. “A Pale Sun” opens with ominous guitar work that ignites and sends the track into a thrashy corner. The music boils while the pace churns, as gazey melodies stretch over top and wild howls hammer your senses. The cut ramps up again toward the end, with the guitars blazing heavily and the track bleeding away.

“The Tower” is the longest selection at 11:11, with a cold, chilling haze covering the area at the start, with melodies unfurling, and a thick fog overhead. The eruption arrives, with fierce cries mixing in with clean and elegant playing, and all of the elements gather and rain down in sheets. The song really swells up threatening chaos, but then it all blends into the calm and sneaks away. “Mountain Cradle” unloads aggressive drums at the front, rumbling the earth, and the turmoil hits cool waters, with thick melody and vicious growls making their way in. Guitars roll in and lather, with massive riffs slicing, and a harsh, doom-encrusted conclusion landing hard. Closer “Harrower” runs 9:28 and pulls in shimmering guitar work and scraping growls. Guitars chug before hitting cold waters, with the pace slithering along before it hits the furnaces. From there, the tempo gallops, a cosmic madness floats, and the track hits a final crushing assault, as if signaling the crashing through what haunts you and grinding it into dust.

Harrower have made quite the mark on their debut record, as “Remembrance” is rich musically as well as thematically. They join a pretty crowded group of bands elbowing their way into the atmospheric black metal field, but they gain momentum over these six cuts and prove they belong near the front of the pack. This is a rewarding experience for any listener, whether you’re here for the music or you plan to immerse yourself in their journey of facing hell and coming through on the other side.

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

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

Capsule doses: Völur, Gjendød, Grey Aura all receive new life as their music expands reaches

VolurI just whined last week about the amount of music weighing down my inbox and me mentally. Well, that is not letting up at all, as I have way more music this week than time to devote a full day to it all. So we’re going to spend today looking at a few new releases that are damn fun listens and that you should spend some time getting to know.

It should be no secret to anyone who has read this site with any regularity that I really love Blood Ceremony, and their latest record already is high up there on my list of favorite stuff from this year. So when that band’s bassist Lucas Gadke’s other project Völur announced their first full-length “Disir” would arrive this year with greater distribution from Prophecy Productions, with bated breath I awaited. This record, originally released in cassette form as their demo in 2014, is a dark, ominous slab of doom that’s largely instrumental, and it’s one hell of a transcendental listen. Joining Gadke here is vocalist/violin player Laura Bates (Fresh Snow) and drummer Jimmy P. Lightning (Do Make Say Think) who add their power and energy to this four-track adventure. It’s certainly worthy of the larger audience it is sure to reach, and it might throw Blood Ceremony acolytes for a loop, as Völur is entirely different.

Volur coverThe record opens with “Es wacht aus seinem Grab,” where feedback stings before guitars wail and cut through the dark, with Bates calling out wordless transmissions like her life depends on it. The violin slices its way, as a wall of psychedelic guitars burn brightly, increase the size of the blaze, and then wash out dramatically. “The Deep-Minded” is slow and murky to start, with the strings swelling to life, and a threatening ambiance washing over all. As the track progresses, it sits on a calculated pace, with harmonized singing blended in, sounding like chants, strings chilling again, and a thick melody mixing into trance-like silence. Layers continue to build, with the sound stretched to its very limits before ending in a pierce of noise. “White Phantom” is a little quieter at the start, with the music flowing gently and expanding, feeling a lot like rustic folk music in spots. The emotion packed into the song is evident, and the bulk of this is quite lovely and always captivating. The 14:03-long closer “Heiemo” sits in a bed of strings before every element jars awake anyone trancing out. Sounds flow in, as a single guitar pushes its way into the fray, and a sense of calm hovers over the area like a cloud. The track then takes on a Far Eastern feel before folk shades return, and the song comes to a rushing, passionate end. It’s great that more people now can hear “Disir,” but I’m holding out hope for brand new music from Völur.

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

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

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

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

Gjendød coverHeading into more sinister territory, we visit with Nordic black metal threat Gjendød and their crushing self-titled EP. It’s the first recording for this band that just formed last year, and other versions have been released earlier in 2016. But now Hellthrasher Productions, who released the album digitally in April, are giving the world a CD version, and if you’re bound to dine on Second Wave black metal, twisted with a heavy dose of weirdness, then Gjendød probably will excite the shit out of you. Comprised of guitarist/bassist K and vocalist/drummer KK (I guess it’s good there’s no third member, considering their naming convention?), the band rips out the good stuff, keeping things grim and filthy but never forgetting to splash some melody in there for good measure. Also, after hearing KK’s strange growls, you might convince yourself he’s a goblin. Who’s the say you’re wrong?

The four-track collection kicks off with “Evig Svart Røyk,” a song that blasts open with intensity and sprinkles black metal melody like blood. The gurgly, maniacal vocals we promised are there and can disturb anyone not ready for them, though later some ghostly whispers head in to add a different kind of chill. Then the band rises back up, reapplies their stranglehold, and squeezes you until blackout. “Menneskeavl” is fast and blinding, with the vocals sounding like they’re being delivered from the back of a throat choked with blood. The pace halts and allows the humidity to build, but then the track gets serious gas pedal treatment and mauls right up to the end. “Forknytte Tunder” smashes heavily, but it does have an infectious melody running through its center. The song manages to be both grim and catchy, with the vocals devastating, the band absolutely drubbing, and everything being swallowed by the chaos. Closer “Likdans” has a slower start, as it boils in its calculated pace and slithers toward its prey. The vocals send quivers down your spine, while the music chugs and chews violently before a mesmerizing pace sets in and sends you off into a noise haze. Killer first blast from this band, who hopefully have a lot more madness up their sleeves.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Gjend%C3%B8d-1099509976778327/

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

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

Grey AuraDutch black metal force Grey Aura decided that they didn’t just feel like making an album. They wanted to make a movie. So here we are with their way-more-than-a-mouthful titled “Waerachtighe beschryvinghe van drie seylagien, ter werelt noyt soo vreemt ghehoort,” brought to us by the wonderful people at Blood Music. The album focuses on Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who tried to find a northeastern passage to Asia. On his final attempt in 1596, he and his crew got trapped in the ice near the island of Novaya Zemlya, and the crew was forced to construct a home made of driftwood and parts of their ship to survive to brutal Arctic conditions. The thaw finally came in June the following year, with most of the crew plagued by scurvy. Barentsz would not survive the voyage home. In their effort to pay homage to this explorer, the band hired voice actors to play out scenes (I believe the words are in Dutch), and they spread this opus over two long, involved discs that are quite an undertaking to digest at once. But it’s worth it, and it’s great Blood Music is giving this album a larger stage, considering it was released in only digital form in 2014 after three painstaking years creating this piece.

GRey Aura coverOf course, not all of the 18 tracks on this hour-and-24-minute-long record are songs. Interspersed are tracks that push the story through dialog and sound effects, so you really feel like you’re a part of the sojourn. Of course, if you don’t speak the language, like I don’t, you still can feel the urgency in the delivery from the voice talent and follow the piece to its bitter end. As for the musical portion of the collection (11 songs in all), they’re packed with atmospheric black metal that this duo—Tjebbe Broek (guitars, piano, keys, foley effects, sound design) and Ruben Wijlacker (guitars, vocals, bass, drums, foley, sound design—smears with heavy layers of sound and volcanic power. First musical track “Naar het noorden” is grim and melodic, bringing an icy chaos into the mix, and letting the band’s full complement of elements stretch out and pull you into the doomed journey. “De kust van Nova Zembla” begins in a dream haze, with the music feeling somber and disorienting, letting you dream until the song opens up and crushes you with brutality. “Een bevriezende zee” creaks like early black metal, grinding you in its gears and hitting you with hurricane force before a dreamy interlude enters, a breath before you’re mangled again. While “Nu alle troost ontbrak” concludes the record on a furious note, with guitars storming, voices warbling, and a pace that destroys and defaces right up to the end. This an awesome undertaking that’ll ravage you over a motion picture-length run time and keep your blood rushing in your veins the entire time.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/greyaura3/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/store/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Forteresse pay homage to history, fighting back with ‘Thèmes pour la Rébellion’

ForteresseRebellion is about as vital to heavy metal as lungs are to human beings breathing and staying alive. As a style itself, it’s a form of lashing out against the mainstream, and even within genres, there are battles against each other. Hell, black metal itself might not exist if it were not for the rise of death metal and some people’s aversion to what it was becoming. Rebellion against a form of metal!

Quebec black metal band Forteresse also has rebellion in their blood, and on their amazing new record “Thèmes pour la Rébellion,” they paint a bloody photo of the carnage suffered during the Lower Canadian Rebellion that took place in 1837-38. Known as the Patriots’ War, the conflict pitted the lower Canadian area, now known as Quebec, against British colonial forces, in which they ultimately were unsuccessful. As expected, the band’s melodic black metal spread over this eight-track record is packed with violence and glorious fight, as the songs are incredibly catchy but unmistakably brutal. There’s a sense of vengeance rushing through these, and the band does an amazing job bringing you into the heart of battle, as blood splashes all around you.

Forteresse coverAs for Forteresse, this is their first record in five years, their last being the much-celebrated (and for good reason) “Crépuscule d’Octobre.” The band, a leader in the much-praised Quebecois metal scene, have been making powerful music for the past decade or so, and ever since their stunning debut “Métal Noir Québécois,” they’ve been making an impact on the metal scene not only at home but all over the world. This group—vocalist/guitarist Athros, guitarist Matrak Tveskaeg, bassist/guitarist/lyricist Moribond, and drummer/keyboardist Fiel—pack their sound with such molten power on this record, it’s impossible not to get swept up in their assault and feel the plight of the patriots in your soul.

“Aube de 1837” is the introductory piece, as fires crackle, people howl for war, and explosions can be heard, and that barrels into “Spectre De La Rébellion,” a track that shoves you full force into the battle. Black metal melodies are lathered heavily over this cut, with fierce growls punishing, and the band hits a glorious high. It feels like the opening salvo being fired, when energy and ferocity are at their zenith. “Là Où Nous Allons” follows with strong riffs and a thick atmosphere. Guitars swirl amid the gritty vocals, while a spoken passage arrives, and the band even tries on some wordless harmonies. From there, the track surges anew and heads out in a whipping wind. “Par La Bouche De Mes Canons” has a stampeding opening, as strong melodies cascade, and the thrashing crushes you alive. The chorus is absolutely on fire, with the guitars on a total rush, with group “ahs” ringing out and the song bleeding away.

“Le Sang Des Héros” is jackhammering from the start, with wild growls arriving, the song spilling all over the place, and vicious growls pelting you. The fiery passage eventually halts and lets the smoke clear before the pace ramps up again, overwhelms, and slips away into the trickling waters you hear at the end. “Forêt D’automne” has raucous melodies and gruff growls, with the tempo increasing and pounding, feeling like a storm is swelling overhead. There is amazing energy pushing from this one, and it ends in the palm of nature, with insects chirping and owls chattering. “Vespérales” continues the push from the songs that preceded it, with animalistic shrieks bruising, and the playing crushing. The song gets atmospheric for a stretch before the track starts killing again, with strangled growls, riffs burning, and everything ending in a driving rain. Closer “Le Dernier Voyage” is an ambient-rich soundscape. Clean, watery guitars trickle, while moody, murky fog settles, and the final notes feeling like a smoke-has-cleared passage that laments the lost fight but pays homage to their battle.

Forteresse’s mastery continues on “Thèmes pour la Rébellion,” a record bleeding with history and their passion for homeland and heavy metal. They’re still a band that’s slightly under the radar for so many, and hopefully this record will wake up more listeners to their incredible sound. If you’re one who thinks black metal has reached some sort of creative limit (admittedly I do from time to time), Forteresse will destroy those worries as they ignite your heart and face with their savagery.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Forteresse-312227428819928

To buy the album, go here: http://www.sepulchralproductions.com/collections/preorders

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

Thrawsunblat try to reconnect to their natural surroundings with strong new ‘Metachthonia’

CDI101_1P_insert.epsOne of the single most infuriating things I encounter on just about a daily basis is trying to walk somewhere and having to avoid other people because their stupid faces are pasted to a phone. Part of me gets it, because I use my phone a lot, but I make a concerted effort to pay attention when I’m walking or driving because there’s nothing on that screen that can’t wait.

Our society is becoming more and more consumed by technology. It’s getting to the point where you don’t really have to go to the site of your job to even do your work. We’re all interconnected by cables and satellites, and it is starting to take place of the relationships on our lives. I feel like some of that bled into Thrawsunblat’s great new record “Metachthonia,” a concept piece that wonders aloud what happened to our connection with nature. The word metachthonia is ancient Greek for “the age after that of the Earth,” and it’s where we find humanity in this electronic era. The six songs on this record lament a time when we would immerse ourselves in, and learn from, the natural world around us, and it expresses a longing for that time that, sadly, looks to be dead and buried for so many.

Ever since forming seven years ago, Thrawsunblat have been carrying on the tradition of folk-infused black metal over a first album “Canada 2010,” a couple of EPs, and their excellent second full-length “Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings.” The band is comprised of former members of Woods of Ypres, and that group’s late leader David Gold even coined the Thrawsunblat moniker. Joel Violette is out front on guitar and vocals, and he’s also the band’s primary lyricist. Along with him are bassist Brendan Hayter (Blood of the Goods, Obsidian Tongue) and drummer Rae Amitay (Immortal Bird), who provide the solid backbone for the band, and inject thunder into Violette’s atmospheric, heady compositions. Also, Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Musk Ox) adds cello work and a ton of depth to this record.

“Fires That Light the Earth” kicks off the record, a 10:46 opus that starts with solemn strings and quivering atmosphere before the track charges ahead heavily. The riffs batter you, while Violette’s vocals scrape the skin off your flesh, and the drumming dusts bones. Later, clean singing arrives, as Violette continually calls out references to Metachthonia, and the tempos mix together from serene to savage, with the final whispered message of, “I found my answer,” slipping away with the song. “She Who Names the Stars” starts in a pit of prog death, with clean signing spilling in, and a surging chorus. Violette gets grim later on, pushing the growls from the pit of his stomach, while the melodies swirl and carry you through the piece. “Do you not take comfort in seeing the same stars as your ancestors?” Violette asks, as the final minutes duel in light and dark, with the track disappearing into babbling water. “Dead of Winter” starts with harmonizing before it crushes hard, with a trade-off of singing and shrieks and a pace that’ll get your blood flowing. Sometimes this song reminds of Amon Amarth’s burlier early years, flooding you with riffs and vocals that make you want to conquer a mountain.

“Hypochthonic Remnants” is heavy and gruff at the start, later blazing with melody and delivering a chorus that provides a serious crunch. The body of the song is punchy and blasting, with Violette howling, “Sing to the sky!” and their sweeping heaviness blending into rustic folk. The last moments drip away with acoustic power adding beauty. “Rivers of Underthought” continues that woodsy ambiance, letting that flow until the track explodes. The vocals are shriekier, with the strings rushing and ramping up the drama, and a killer section of soloing lighting new fires. The track slips into serenity, allowing you time to breathe, and clean guitars explore on the other end of that before then whole thing explodes with life and rumbles to a finish. Closer “In Mist We Walk” is another epic at 11:40, starting softly before the riffs rips things apart. The pace kicks up and drives up dust, with an enthralling tempo taking hold, and later a Medieval-flavored passage of acoustic guitars making it seem like you can hear branches crunching and smell cook fires wafting. The back end returns to chaos, with the track blasting your senses, and the song fading into the night once its glorious run dissipates.

Thrawsunblat’s reach deserves to grow with the dawning of “Metachthonia,” which stands as another huge step forward for the band. Perhaps this music would be best served and honored absorbed outside at night while connecting galaxies, or on the path of the nearest wooded trail as you reconnect with your surroundings. Yeah, you might end up listening to it on your phone in that situation, but put it in your pocket, take a deep breath, and enjoy what’s around you while you still can.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.brokenlimbsrecordings.net/#!store/azhdm

Or here: https://thrawsunblat.bandcamp.com/album/metachthonia

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

Kayo Dot, Astronoid stretch out heavy music in totally opposite directions on excellent albums

Kayo Dot

Kayo Dot

Doing different things in metal and heavy music in general should be cause for excitement. It is for me, anyway, as there are a lot of bands out there doing the same or really similar things. But you know how the rest of this goes. While some folks embrace the music and appreciate artists taking different approaches, you have people whining like heavy music is being destroyed.

We have two bands today—one a veteran act constantly changing its stripes; the other a newer band getting a nice amount of attention—with new albums that you might not expect from the extreme music field. Feelings are bound to be mixed when approaching either one, just because conventional thinking locks people’s brains and feelings into impenetrable boxes. Those who don’t mind doing something a little off center might find two of the year’s more interesting, exciting records that could open up new worlds and ideas to you.

FR68_12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007]We start off with Kayo Dot, the long-running band helmed by the brilliant Toby Driver that has been twisted and contorting their own world over the past 13 years. It’s amazing it’s only been that long, because it feels like this band has decades’ worth of material and opuses to their credit, and over their run, they’ve changed so many times. None of their records are alike. “Blue Lambency Downward” and “Hubardo” sound nothing alike, for example. Same with “Gamma Knife” and “Coyote,” my favorite Kayo Dot album. And for their latest record “Plastic House on Base of Sky,” they’ve gone even further into the deep end, with a record built mostly by synthesizers of all shapes, sizes, and eras, and Driver’s surprisingly smooth, soulful singing. To be clear, this record, their eighth, is the least metal thing in their catalog. Instead, it’s an icy, futuristic, robotic dreamscape that’ll alter your mind, which should make up for any lack of head-bashing fury.

This cloudy transmission starts with “Amalie’s Theme” that’s built on heavy beds of murky synth, beats kicking around, and Driver’s breathy singing, which sounds different than it ever has. The song has a heavy haze that feels like a bizarre dream, and that blends into “All the Pain in All the Wide World” that sounds like early ’80s Rush at the start. A moody synth rock vibe travels through the song’s bloodstream, with Driver later struggling to communicate and to hear, lamenting, “You missed the point, you’re just not listening.” That could be a statement for anyone who can’t grasp this record. “Magnetism” is dark and has vivid strikes, with a nighttime feel flowing through the track and a hypnotic ambiance flooding the senses. Guitars enter the mix, with the beats getting more aggressive, sheets of synth storming down, and a massive, disorienting front stretching its muscles and eventually disappearing into a whir. “Rings of Earth” unfurls slowly, with a mesmerizing tempo, smooth singing that would soothe if they didn’t feel so alien, and an agitated finish that leaves welts. Closer “Brittle Urchin” is a sharp curveball, with a spacious, jazzy approach, beats striking, guitars churning, and Driver’s floating words jabbing, “I could never last.” Another unexpected turn from one hell of a great band.

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

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

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

Astronoid

Astronoid

Astronoid seemed to blasted to earth out of nowhere, but truth be told, but they’re been around for a few years now, with a couple of EPs to their credit. They’ve grabbed a lot of attention the past couple weeks with the release of their excellent debut record “Air,” yet another landmark piece this year from Blood Music (maybe you’ve heard of their box sets?). This Boston-based band already is making people feel sour because of their—gasp!—melodies, hooks, and the fact that the high-pitched singing sounds like nothing what you’d expect from a metal band playing raucous, driving post-black metal. The best comparison I heard was if Mew played black metal, or, if you will, if Deafheaven had clean singing. Or if Cynic got nasty again. I find this band enthralling and refreshing, and as a person unabashedly unafraid of a good hook, I get lost in this shit easily. This is a damn good record, one that’s bound to gain added traction and life as more people hear it.

The record gets off to an inauspicious start, as “Incandescent” takes its time to stretch its wings, piling on layers of sound before the song gets amped up. Then, there’s a stunning one-two punch starting with “Up and Atom,” a helium-frenzied song that bursts with colors in the air, with the ridiculously high vocals over the chorus infecting you, and the rest of the track rumbling with a fury. It’s followed by “Resin,” a black metal-infused cut with a surging chorus packed with gigantic hooks, explosive melodies, and a level of hugeness not often displayed by bands in the extreme sector of music. “Violence” is dreary, with alien-like vocals, and it’s followed by “Homesick,” another huge one with a blistering chorus and moments that sound like Coheed and Cambria’s early work. You’ve heard this already about Astronoid, but they have a smothering, raucous time unleashing “Tin Foil Hats,” with a smashing chorus that was guitarist/vocalist Brett Boland wailing, “The clouds will part the sky, sun shines on my face!” It’s hardly grim. It’s damn-near jubilant. The title track is airy and dreamy, but it has its moments of serious grit. “Obsolete” has some awesome exploratory guitar work and pokes at comparisons to Cynic, while closer “Trail of Sulfur” is packed with passion and energy, as the song bursts gloriously, wrapping guitars surges and heavy breezes over Boland’s declaration, “All that we have, we leave behind.” This is a smashing, downright euphoric first album, and it’s damn sure to give you a head rush again and again.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/store/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/

Kayo Dot is a band that has captivated me for years now, and I’m certainly not shocked by the radical shift into spacey trance that they unleash on “Plastic House on Base Sky.” As for Astronoid, they’re one of metal’s most exciting, albeit unconventional, new bands, and their possibilities seem limitless. I relish having two albums so radically different from each other and so much else of what’s going on out there, and the more artists we can have challenging the status quo, the better.

Swedish black metal maulers Naturvidrig unleash fear and chaos on debut EP ‘Sönderfall’

NaturvidigDark times call for dark music, and if you’ve been paying any attention these past few weeks, we definitely are in the midst of some grim shit. Human suffering, death, people using religion to justify their shitty behavior and reprehensible action all have been in the news cycle, and it’s not like it’s anything new for us or the rest of the world.

With that hunger for dark music at its apex (at least for me), Sweden’s Naturvidrig have surfaced with their debut EP “Sönderfall” that feels like the soundtrack to misery and pain. Their name roughly translates to “obnoxious nature,” and their music certainly can get under the skin of anyone who wants art that’s pretty, polished, and spiritually inspiring. As for the title of their EP, it means “decay,” and that seems to be an ideal descriptor for humankind right now. The world is burning, the soot is gathering, and the blood is pooling, while those who can bring about change are busy arguing semantics, perceived messages from deities, and whatever bullshit prevents them from acting. Perhaps a few rounds in Naturvidrig’s ring would be a perfect message that we see the chaos, we’re swimming in it, and you’re to blame. See, this is what happens when you write an album review the day of a national tragedy.

As for the band itself, it’s a two-headed beast about which we know very little. Helmed by Thomsen (guitars) and Ataraktika (vocals), the band creates raw, poisonous black metal that injects just a bit of death metal sentiment into its DNA. There is some melody worked in for good measure, but it’s there to balance out all of the madness that’s poured into these fiery six cuts. Originally released by the band in February, Pittsburgh’s own Ancient Future stepped up to the plate and put out the album on limited edition cassette (I have one, and it sounds dynamite), which actually feels like the proper format for this one. The lyrics are in Swedish, so I know fuck all about what they’re on about. But you can feel the venom and wretched power that no language barrier ever could hold back.

“Du bistra rekryt” starts the piece by charging out of the gates and storming with bloody battle axes. Grim shrieks rattle bones, while the music gets punchy and melodic. A smothering groove settles in, with the band laying haymakers all the way to the finish. “Miserabilist” trudges hard from the start, with a piece that feels like black clouds are overhead and threatening. The vocals pierce, giving the track a maniacal feel, but later they turn into wild howls that feel like they’ll blow you down and over an embankment. The pace stays dangerous throughout, with the final moments thickening you and coating your face with humidity. “En ytterligt korrupt själ” maintains that oppressive heat, with the vocals shredding, and the track grounding and pounding into oblivion. The guitars later spill out and rip away at flesh, and the pace gets even more insane, dropping the hammer again and again and ending with a murderous assault that’ll concuss your soul.

“Avskyvärld” is an immediate eruption, with the shrieks sounding delivered by a hoarse banshee and the riffs hitting break-neck speed. Suddenly everything comes to a halt, as a misty ambiance arrives, as if the song is enclosed in a mysterious realm. Once it breaks out of the other side, the track rolls on and reestablished its momentum, bleeding right into “Den mörka porten uppenbaras.” There, the drumming kicks down the doors, as the pace hits high gear, and the gruff vocals mete out more punishment. Speedy riffs again come into play, providing a rush but also a reminder that all is unsettled, and from there, the kit takes another hellacious beating before the song twists and grinds into the night. Closer “De svagsintas eviga enfald” has guitars cascading and the most melodic pace so far. The tempo chugs and chews, while the pulverizing thrashing is complemented by mind-altering noise, and a bleeding display pushes ahead. From there, the fires begin to die down, the playing gets cleaner and more atmospheric, and just when you’re waiting for the next attack, the whole things gets swallowed by an atmospheric vortex that finally provides you with mercy.

This is a promising, volcanic start for Naturvidrig, who are another promising new black metal band that have a firm grasp of history, while burning their own path. There’s a full-length in the works from this band, and I’m excited to hear what they can do when they spread their filth over a full release. If you like your black metal raw, relentless, and practically choking you to death, Naturvidrig are only too happy to oblige making you feel even more pain than you do right now.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.ourancientfuture.com/collections/all

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