PICK OF THE WEEK: Alcest return to form and maintain a grip of recent adventures on ‘Kodama’

alcestThere are bands that have ridiculous standards they must meet with every release. Not sure that it’s fair, but for those artists who actually create sub-genres of metal, whether intended or not, everything they put out into the public gets scrutinized in ways many other artists don’t face.

That said, any new Alcest release is going to be heavily examined, put through the ringer of criticism, and compared against the band’s older work simply because of what they’ve meant to the world. The band basically created the shoegaze-glazed section of black metal, paving the way for groups such as Lantlôs, An Autumn for Crippled Children, and Deafheaven (another that gets shoved through the meat grinder every time they move) that would help swell this sound. But it all comes back to Alcest, and their new record “Kodama,” their fifth, is another that will have people poring over the details and discussing the music on end. So we’re only too happy to toss our voice into the mix. This album is tremendous stuff, both a return to form and an extension of where the band has been going the past few years. There is plenty of lovely, atmospheric stuff here, lush melodies, and cloudy transmissions, but the band also has turned back toward their black metal days, delivering crunch and harsh vocals back into the mix. It’s a record that works surprisingly well and should satisfy all Alcest disciples. Except the assholes.

alcest-coverAs most know, Alcest is the brainchild of Neige, who not only powers this music but also has one of the most recognizable voices in all of modern metal. Along with him as always is drummer Winterhalter, and together they create another labyrinth of sound in which it’s incredibly easy to get lost. Those who liked what the band were onto with 2014’s “Shelter” (that record got knocked around, but I’ve always liked it) and 2012’s “Les Voyages de l’âme” should ease into this, as the ideals there certainly aren’t abandoned. But if you have partiality toward the earlier work including 2007’s “Souvenirs d’un autre monde” and 2010’s “Écailles de lune,” you should like the increased heaviness. Actually, fuck all that. If you like good music that sweeps you away and infiltrates your imagination and emotions, you’ll like this record because it’s a tremendous piece of work.

The title track opens the record with guitars charging and heading for the air, with melody ripping and Neige’s unmistakable singing leading the way. Fog rises as the ambiance gets moodier, with the track getting grim and sliding into a noise glaze. Hearty “oh-oh-ohhhh” calls bring the spirit up, and then the song begins to subside and fade away. “Eclosion” has a heavily emotional start, with a post-rock breeze chilling the surroundings before everything ignites. The harsh cries we noted finally make their presence known, chewing away at the sinew, and later melodies erupt anew, surging your bloodstream, and clean singing collides with cataclysmic shrieks before the track trickles off into an icy stream. “Je Suis D’Ailleurs” has clean wordless wails at the front end before the song buzzes away and strong singing melds with the song’s progression. A rush of colors flood in, while spacey keys spread their wonder, the track begins to fly, and everything comes to a bruising, scraping finish.

“Untouched” has clean playing and singing at the start, with a serene tone being set before it ultimately powers up. The verses hang back a bit, letting the music sting, while the singing begins to pound away. The track goes cold, taking you under the water, before it ignites again and ends on a thunderous note. “Oiseaux de Proie” lets noise hover over the scene before it gets washed away and powerful melodies arrive. Guitars start to spiral, making the sky spin as you gaze into it, and the singing continues to lift you up. The song is a total rush of energy, and pulverizing shrieks enter to poke at your scars before cosmic energy enraptures, and heartfelt sound sprawls infect your dreams. Closer “Onyx” slithers as dark waves boil, while delicate mists coat your face, the sounds wash over you, and the track fades away into the distance, allowing you time to reflect and figure out how this incredible trip affected you.

Alcest remain one of the driving forces of modern metal, and “Kodama” only should solidify the stronghold over which they have a death grip. Their music of beauty and brutality sounds as vibrant and relevant as ever, and this record shows a band that’s still pushing through on their journey. Alcest’s stellar reputation is well earned, and this album can sit comfortably alongside anything they’ve done.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.alcest-music.com/

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: http://us.prophecy.de/oxid-oxid-5/

Or here (internationally): http://en.prophecy.de/pre-order-bundles/

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

Desert death unit Gatecreeper spread horrific, thrashy power on debut ‘Sonoran Deprivation’

Photo by Hayley Rippy

Photo by Hayley Rippy

The other night, the evening sky was a warm autumnal orange, splashed with a little bit of purple. It was ideal, and the fact that the wife unit was inside the house decorating for Halloween made the season and the display outside perfect. It made me think I wanted something musically that would suit the mood, and I realized I had just the thing.

Arizona-based death metal band Gatecreeper not only had the perfect brand of death metal for what I was seeking, but the cover of their debut record “Sonoran Deprivation” even matched the colors I was seeing on the horizon. The band’s horrific, spectacularly played death metal is just right for this time of the year when the chill is in the air and decay creeps across the land and all the way to the top of our trees. Sure, the title may be calling back to the desert region that spans across their stomping grounds, but there’s just as much terror and violence that it also can remind of slasher film bloodshed. If you’re not much for the imagery the music conjures (at least to me), you simply can revel in the fact this is raucous, drubbing death that always goes down right, even if sickens the belly.

gatecreeper-coverGatecreeper have been together for just three years now, but they’ve already done a nice bit of damage before this debut record landed. They released a self-titled EP a year after they congealed, and since then they’ve been a part of three split efforts, joining the likes of Take Over and Destroy, Young and in the Way, Home Wrecker, Outer Heaven, and Scorched. The band’s power spreading across the underground obviously caught the attention of Relapse Records, who are releasing “Sonoran Deprivation,” and the band—vocalist Chase H. Mason, guitarists Eric Wagner and Nate Garrett (Spirit Adrift), bassist Sean Mears, and drummer Metal Matt—clearly have been sharpening their teeth and their chops as they get ready to incinerate the world on this nine-track, 31-minute slasher.

You can’t top an opening song called “Craving Flesh” as it punches hard, with harsh barks that have a slight hardcore edge to them. The guitars burn and slither, while the pace slows but hammers before reigniting and blasting to the finish. “Sterilized” has a churning opening, with vicious growls, a trudging pace, and the doom smudge lowering. Fiery leads erupt before everything ends in smoke. “Desperation” is a quick one, but it’ll bloody your nose. Noise hangs in the air before the tempo detonates, spreading misery all over its nearly two-minute run time. “Rotting as One” is thrashing and mean, with raspy howls, poisonous leads, and overall evil intent. The back end of the track smears blood right into “Stronghold,” where riffs begin pelting the flesh. The guitar work chews bones, while the drums absolutely devastate, as the song grinds to an ugly, brutal ending.

“Patriarchal Grip” spills doom like tar, while the terror bleeds into the picture, and the noise makes your ears rings. The song tears apart and spills the guts, as the band stomps the ground to dust while infernal growls fill your lungs. Strong riffs and barked grunts clobber, and then the final moments bring a cataclysmic ending. “Lost Forever” is crunchy as hell, with raw growls scraping at the flesh and the music mashing. The track is blistering and chaotic, completely clobbering the senses. “Flamethrower” has a kick-ass, Euro-style death opening, sounding like the glorious early ’90s, while the song rumbles and rages, treating you to a track that should make you relish the roots of this style of music. Closer “Grotesque Operations” is the longest cut at 5:44, beginning by lowering the doom drapes and then lighting them aflame. The speedy assault then moves into meaty thrashing before returning to thick fog that hangs in the atmosphere. Riffs roll out of that and land body blows right up to the final moment.

Gatecreeper’s “Sonoran Deprivation” is a really promising debut record, and this band’s brand of European-slashed death metal sounds sinister and destructive. The power and precision with which they play this stuff is infectious, and their extra doses of doom and thrash strengthens their assault. This is ideal death to play on loop as the nighttime gets creepier and the seasonal decay bleeds into the outside world.

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

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

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

Trap Them keep trudging exact same metallic path, get sort of predictable with ‘Crown Feral’

I’ve talked before about formulas and how they can be good or bad for a band, depending on the situation. Having expectations met always is a nice thing, and it keeps you in that warm, tight cocoon where nothing ever changes and you can rest easily. But when does that become monotonous and start causing disappointing instead of comfort?

I think Trap Them may have hit that tipping point on their new, fifth record “Crown Feral.” Through and through, it’s a Trap Them record. It’s noisy, violent, brash, and unwilling to compromise. That last part might be the problem. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the record, and those who want it by the numbers will be satisfied, there’s a sense of too much comfort sinking in. What a weird thing to say about a group as maniacal as Trap Them. These 10 songs feel like ones you’ve heard from the band before. Most of them follow a similar pattern, they’re all about the same length, and you never walk away surprised at all. Maybe you’re thinking, “No shit, asshole. That’s the point.” That’s fine. But from a band that’s undoubtedly talented and frighteningly brash, “Crown Feral” feels like the band went to the well one too many times. Again, the songs themselves are fine. If this is your very first experience with Trap Them, you may differ from my thoughts. But five releases in, I’d like to see them take some risks and dig up new ground.

trap-them-coverTrap Them have been running full speed ahead since 2002, with their first full-length “Sleepwell Deconstructor” emerging five years later on the Trash Art! label. From there, they returned at a pretty steady clip, with “Seizures in Barren Praise” dropping a year later on Deathwish Inc., 2011’s “Darker Handcraft” marking their Prosthetic debut, and “Blissfucker” destroying lives in 2014. That’s not to mention their EPs and smaller releases along the way. The band—vocalist Ryan McKenney, guitarist Brian Izzi, bassist Galen Baudhuin, and drummer Brad Fickeisen—once again holed up with Kurt Ballou at GodCity Studio, and the result, as noted, is exactly what you’d expect. It does serve their immolated, self-destructive history well, if anything, and will cause bloody mouths live.

“Kindred Dirt” gets things started with noise, fittingly feral howls from McKenney, and some doom spilled into the concoction, as all of this chugs right into “Hellionaires.” There, smothering riffs and a ripping fury take hold, while dissonant guitars hang over portions of the track before demolition comes to claim souls. Guitars rise and wash out, while the back end is actually kind of catchy. “Prodigala” has drums stomping as hell is unleashed. One of the better riffs on the record then scrapes away, as the pace trucks, a simple chorus lays waste, and wild howls get trampled by the chaos. “Luster Pendulums” is speedy and raucous, a bout with total punishment, with heavy thrashing and guitars chewing scenery. “Malengines Here, Where They Should Be” is crunchy and heavy, with the pace grinding, the vocals stabbing, and the atmosphere starting to feel a little hypnotic, which is the first real twist on the album.

“Speak Nigh” continues into a blinding fury, with maniacal yelling, the band mauling, and the taste starting to feel a little samey. Things do change up on “Twitching in the Auras,” where McKenney’s vocals rip over a hanging storm of sound, giving this an injection of strangeness. It’s smudgy and ugly enough, but the extra weirdness they allow into the room does enough to make this one stand out in a choking cloud of smoke. “Revival Spines” is washed out at first, but then is launches into raspy growls, guitars cutting, and the track steamrolling. “Stray of the Tongue” takes things back to predictability, though the cut is short enough, built on bass slither and virulent vocals. Closer “Phantom Air” has a creepy start before guitars catch fire, the vocals lacerate again, and the band throws in a few curves for good measure, giving a glimpse that they’re capable of changing up this engine.

Trap Them might do well to pay closer attention to the paths Converge have trudged, in that they kept their base in place but also shook their bones and brains so that things didn’t grow stagnant. “Crown Feral” is just fine, and in a vacuum it likely would feel a lot fresher than it does here. Trap Them might want to think about shaking things up on record six and exiting their comfort zone so that the danger and volatility in which they excel could feel terrifying again. In the meantime, this is fine but not super exciting.

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

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

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

After years sitting on digital shelf, Ordo Obsidium’s second record gets physical release

ordo-obsidium-coverImagine toiling away at something for years, putting your life’s blood and sweat into it, yet it never seems to come to fruition. Despite how much you may believe it what you’ve done and feel that your work is substantial and worthwhile, it sits on the sidelines waiting for it to be made into something substantial that can be held in people’s hands.

Bay Area-based Ordo Obsidium faced a similar crisis with the release of their great second record “A Crooked Path to Desolation.” Technically, the music has been out there in digital form for the past three years, so if you were paying attention and jumped on this, then this is old news to you. But now, the music finally is getting proper physical release on digipak CD and vinyl, years after it first was promised. But better late than never, because this music has held up and sounds just as crushing and vital, with Eisenwald coming through with a copy of this record you literally can hold in front of you (though it’s frighteningly limited as just 300 pieces per format). And if you’re a fan of doom-scraped black metal, you’ll drink this down quickly, with no regard to how your body can adjust to absorb and digest.

The other impressive thing about Ordo Obsidium, despite their music being flattening and morose, is that the group is built by some folks you know well if you’ve dug deep into U.S. black metal soil. On this record, the band is credited as Balan (Palace of Worms) on guitars, keys, bass, and vocals; Incitatus on guitars, bass, and vocals; Sokol on vocals; and Otrebor (Botanist) on drums. That’s a formidable collection of players, and their work here is dreary, smothering, and actually perfectly timed to resurface when chill and death is about to be in the air again. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the record was produced by the late, great Jef Leppard, who not only had the best moniker but also helped create some crushing metal. See, Vastum. By the Ordo Obsidium’s 2011 debut “Orbis Tertius” also is a pretty damn worthy listen, though it’s a different configuration of the band.

The record starts with “Ominous Clouds,” an aptly named intro cut that’s awash in strange noises, wordless calling, and whispers whipping about. The title track tears open this track in earnest, as the guitars cry doom, grisly growls mix with gothy singing, and later everything totally erupts. The tempo bends and twists violently, while the cut crunches and lurches before it fades away. “Nightbird’s Song” unleashes powerful riffs, shadowy singing that gets washed into the background, and gurgly growls emitting disgust. The filth and fury are thick, while guitars rain down, throaty calls beckon, and violence mixes with melodies for the final doses of bloodshed. “Dire Monument” meets you with a driving fury, abysmal growls, and later some glorious power that stretches over the muck. The lead guitars trick and trudge, eventually hitting a slower pace, where synth floods, and the pace is deadly and demanding.

The second half opens with “The Warping Palace,” where guitars burn, the setting is ominous and cold, and the pace is thrashier, which is a nice touch. Strangled cries burst, while moody soloing settles in, strengthening the song even more. The cut then delves back into classic metal, though it meets up with carnage and eventually bleeds away. “Morose Delectation” snaps with speed and savagery, feeling raw and grim as it drips with horror. This one is situated a little closer to death metal, as the growls are harsh and grimy, the pace intensifies, and everything winds up in a pit of dust. “Breath of Eternal Light” starts ripping veins from your neck at the very start, as it decimates with wild howls, a thick bassline, and a thrashy assault that leaves you in the dust. Riffs chug, but then things get trippy and psychedelic, with guitars spraying all over and rumbling to the final resting spot. Closer “Doom Herald” lives up to its name, slithering over death grounds, teasing a slower cut until the bottom is torn out and terror arrives. The vocals gurgle, strong melodies dominate, and slurry fury and metallic terror cascade until the end.

Ordo Obsidium may have waited a long time to get “A Crooked Path to Desolation” into physical form, but all that matters is that time has arrived, and it sounds a great as ever. Where the band goes from here is anyone’s guess, but the fact they created some great hidden gems while in our midst should not go unnoticed. This is a record that’s waited a long time to get its just due, so don’t be foolish and sleep on this creeping beast.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Oathbreaker reveal most personal, diverse record of their lives on ‘Rheia’

oathbreakerLife can be a pit of torment for those not so fortunate. Or even for those who have everything you’d think they’d ever need. Things can eat away at your psyche like a hungry animal chewing at your bones, and trying to find a way to cope with that isn’t always an easy thing. Or even possible.

Tackling “Rheia,” the stunning new record from Belgian band Oathbreaker, the pain and discomfort is palpable. The chaos and hurt drips from these 10 songs, and the heaviness of this record isn’t just in the metallic power. It’s in the words and the way the music is expressed, and there’s no way to avoid the tidal wave of emotion that crashes over these songs. The things and events that color and bruise our lives often can begin in our earliest, most formative days, and many people who have been followed by ghosts their entire lives often took on those scars when they were young. That’s another element that hits heavy as a mountain on “Rheia,” and the visions of one’s earlier days—in this case Oathbreaker’s singer Caro Tanghe—land like a heavyweight blow to the chest, leaving you gasping with the wind knocked out of your lungs.

oathbreaker-coverThe amazing weight of this record not only comes from the words that drip blood but also from the playing. Simply put, Oathbreaker have made an incredible transformation between records two (2013’s powerful “Eros|Anteros”) and three. The growth and maturation in the songwriting, the understanding of nuances, the identification of when to embrace serenity and when to rip off heads is spot on. Guitarist Lennart Bossu, bassist Gilles Demolder, and drummer Ivo Debrabandere not only rely on their hardcore roots but also mix in doom, black metal, and moody atmospherics to achieve an immersive, full-bodied sound. And it’s not like they were slouches before this! As for Tanghe, this is her finest hour. She has become one of the best voices in all of heavy music, able to howl like the gates of hell have opened and sing as lovely as anyone when delicacy is needed. All of this is combined with her painstaking words that dig deep into the heart and soul, shaking you to your core.

“10:56” and “Second Son of R” open the record as conjoined tracks (they even released a video containing the two cuts together). The first song begins a capella, with Tanghe recounting someone plunging out of a window and landing face-first on the cobblestone. Bleeding and in disrepair, the music enters and rises as Tanghe melds along with them into a horrific explosion. From there, memories of childhood dash across the frantic song, laying waste to everything, poking at memories dashed with rejection and filth. The screams and growls are fire-breathing and dangerous, as the guitars crush and over the chorus, through gritted teeth, Tanghe wails, “Don’t make me pity you.” The song sounds like it’s buttoning up, going cold and quiet, before hell engulfs the world, and animalistic, surely cathartic cries blast from Tanghe’s body almost as if she can’t control the emotion. “Being Able to Feel Nothing” exposes itself from its title, as dark fury pelts and raspy singing uncovers “the stains I’ll never manage to remove.” The lava pours anew toward the end, and Tanghe wails the title over and over again. “Stay Here” pulls back some, with acoustic guitars leading, the singing as strong as anywhere, and a touch of noir adding more shadow. “Needles In Your Skin” is another highlight, with clean singing and Tanghe calling, “I’m reaching out for you,” before the guts are torn out. The storm hovers overhead and tears down walls, with the track trudging, melody merging with volatility, and Tanghe wondering, “How could you go without me?”

“Immortals,” an interesting title if you know anything about the myth of Rheia, has slurry singing and a punchy tempo before the lid if pulled off. The pace explodes, with terrifying howls switching off with passionate singing, the pace crushing but sometimes bringing serenity, and later the pounding arriving all over. Tanghe sings over the smoke pits, while the guitars gaze, and the song comes to an atmospheric end. The next three cuts are interconnected, with “I’m Sorry, This Is” a pocket of ambiance and peripheral noise, mixing into “Where I Live” that has sounds penetrating and voices buried beneath. The song then takes off, with horrible cries and screams cutting through the center, and noise squalls pushing into “Where I Leave.” There, guitars chime, and a fog situates over it all, with the pace plodding along as Tanghe levels, “I’ll be a lonely child.” The song has ample amounts of power, though it’s widely delivered at mid-pace, and the ending run of refrain repetition and hypnotic playing leave your head spinning. Closer “Begeerte” has voices spiraling in a vortex before clean guitars drip, static drums punch holes, and a pace that feels like feet trying to make their way through thick mud spreads. “I draw pleasure from it,” Tanghe calls, as the song begins to lift off from the earth and disintegrate into the sky.

Oathbreaker truly have come into their own three records in their run with “Rheia.” The performances from every member are top notch, and the depths into which these songs dig make them unforgettable and dangerously effective. These songs will reach deep within you and perhaps even poke at pain you’ve long since stored away. This is one of the most powerful records of the year, and it could just be the beginning of this band doing really incredible things.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://store.deathwishinc.com/category/new.html

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

Emma Ruth Rundle reveals inner turmoil, explores dark times on nakedly raw ‘Marked for Death’

errThere are artists whose records immediately grab you, strangle your lungs, and cause your mind to go into near panic mode over the sheer transparency of their work. The late Jason Molina was an artist like that for me, someone who you trusted was putting every thought and emotion, no matter how scarring, in front of you to examine. There’s nothing left to imagination.

With her excellent third solo record “Marked for Death,” Emma Ruth Rundle is becoming one of those artists. The first time I spent with this record left me gasping, wondering what I’d just heard and if I could face it anymore. This is accomplished amid quiet, vulnerable folk, smearing rock, and Rundle’s raw, expressive voice that sounds as naked and vulnerable as ever on this record. The album is situated in darkness, self-doubt, defeat, and confusion. There is life and love irretrievably broken, and every word that comes out of Rundle’s mouth seems so vital and final, that you feel like she’s about to close the door on you, never to speak to you again. These are some of the best songs Rundle ever has created, and it’s unquestionably her best solo record.

err-coverWhile Rundle’s solo work might not seem a natural for a metal site, we beg to differ. She’s made impressive, penetrating noise with post-rock stompers Red Sparowes, stoned-out The Nocturnes, and with noisy rock band Marriages, whose last record “Salome” we reviewed, loved, and still listen to a lot to this day. This is her grimiest solo work, and while not always heavy musically, it certainly is lyrically. “Marked for Death,” as noted, is Rundle’s third record on her own, with her first being “Electric Guitar One,” an instrumental, ambient-based collection, and her second the excellent “Some Heavy Ocean,” one of the best records released that year. That should tell you something when we say this new one is her best work, because the bar was high, and she hurdled the shit out of it.

The record wastes no time going for the throat with the title cut, a song that creeps its way into the room, starting quietly and unassumingly before breaking open on the chorus, with Rundle morbidly poking, “Who else is going to love someone like you who’s marked for death?” Strings cut in, the mood is dark and vulnerable, and Rundle finishes up by asking, “Who else would ever stay?” “Protection” is blunt and something altogether different from her last record. Actually, there are a lot of songs like that here. Anyhow, drums encircle, while the music take on a noiry swoon, leading into the chorus and the thunderous guitar smear that emerges from there. “I am worthless in your arms,” Rundle calls, while spacious, bloodletting playing fills up the room and your chest. “Medusa” unleashes dusty guitars and emits a Western moan, while other elements mix in and give it an autumnal chill. Later the song turns dreamy and hypnotic, later disappearing into numbness. “Hand of God” trickles in with acoustic guitars, as the song gets darkly moody, with Rundle directing, “Bring your sons and lay them down in front of me.” The fog keeps thickening and sweltering, with the track ending in a murky haze.

“Heaven” opens amid quiet guitars and hushed singing, with a simple kick drum poking holes over the chorus. Strings mix into the piece, as the noise levels rise and threaten before the tide pulls back and drags everything toward the sea. “So Come” has thorny guitars and verses that feel like they’re about to crack under the emotional weight. The chorus allows for the release, with Rundle leveling, “All these things come down, I wish they would not,” a line that will spin in your head over and over again. “Furious Angel,” while not the loudest track on the record, is the one that brings the most vengeance. Stormy guitars, an ominous ambiance, and Rundle demanding, “Rain death from above onto me,” provides both the hell fire and the brimstone and should leave any listener heaving. Rundle leaves the biggest crusher for last, a raw, noise-buzzed, completely emotionally exposed track “Real Big Sky,” smartly presented in its demo form. There’s no way not to be impacted by the song, as you can’t tell if she’s about to give way to death or if she’s observing another person’s fight. “I don’t want to be awake when it takes me,” she calls, making it seem like she’s begging on bloodied hands and knees. But she injects a bit of hope, adding, “I can’t wait to see you smile on the other side.” It might be the saddest song of the year, and it would be easy to imagine someone totally vulnerable to what’s going on here being rendered smothered, emitting wailing, uncontrollable tears.

Rundle has made the record of her life with “Marked for Death,” the most exposed, heart-bruised of her career. These are songs that should bring people to beg for mercy and they confront the same hurt and confusion Rundle did when writing these songs. She has gone from being a great artist to one you have to stop whatever you’re doing to hear. Rundle’s always been an excellent vessel for delivering pain, but now she’s entered a new level of power that could cripple weaker souls.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/emma-ruth-rundle/products/marked-for-death-bundles

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

Doom duo Vile Creature look at escape into fiction for relief on new EP ‘A Pessimistic Doomsayer’

vile-creature-2Over the summer, tons and tons of people, your barely esteemed writer included, got caught up, nay, completely enraptured, with a group of kids in Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983 whose best friend goes missing, only to have them go on an eight-episode escapade trying to find him. It was a totally unexpected, transfixing show that bridged generations and caused an insane amount of fan-crazed discussion.

The magic behind that is we got caught up in the lives of characters who don’t actually exist and a scenario that didn’t actually happen. When you step away from what that is and break it down, it seems like a pretty crazy thing to do. But the show “Stranger Things,” and so many other programs, books, movies, records, etc., that enrapture us, often do so because they are an escape. They’re a way to set the events of our daily lives—whether they’re good or bad—aside so that we can have somewhere to go and lose ourselves for some time. It can be both healthy and harmful, depending on how far we take it, but often it becomes absolutely necessary just so we can get away for a while.

vile-creature-coverCanadian doom duo Vile Creature document that very thing on their thunderous new EP “A Pessimistic Doomsayer,” which acts as a sort of reaction piece to their excellent debut “A Steady Descent Into the Soil.” Standing up for social issues the way they do often can bring terrible criticism and mockery from many in the metal world, because too many have a narrow-minded vision for what this music can or should do. That pressure, along with the harsh realities of everyday life we all experience, can put one in the position to need an escape. Therefore, these relationships with fictional characters and scenarios can provide an outlet, relieving the tension for some time and helping one experience something positive. Read further here to Noisey’s write-up about the record. Metal has an abundance of negativity on which to feed, and that’s actually a good thing, but the counterbalance from the band—drummer/vocalist Vik and guitarist/vocalist K.W.—also can be a great, enthralling thing, especially when you submit yourself to their cavernous onslaught of sound. In addition to the core members of the band, vocalist Laura Minnes provides her great voice, balancing out the savagery.

The EP is made up of a 17:50-long title track that opens with delicate sounds as the track begins to sets its pace. The track begins to buzz and then erupts, with clean calls of, “From darkness you must fall, frail and weak,” as the seeds are planted for the journey ahead. As the track picks up steam, the sludging turns violent, as Minnes’ singing meeting headlong with furious growls. “This world has no safe space for me!” Vic wails, adding extra, grimy emphasis to “we.” That chaos simmers as the ambiance sets back to serene and dreamy, Minnes noting, “We live like cicadas, burrowing for years, avoiding predators.” That’s a sobering line, as it perfectly describes those of us who try to dig beneath all of the turmoil for a place to gather one’s sanity. The singing is pained but confident over the din of noise, feeling like the aftermath of a soaking summer storm, and then the fires burn again. The song begins to hulk anew, with Vic wailing, “I am the mountains that crush, I am the end, I am the reckoning, I am your end,” as the track dissolves back into the earth.

Vile Creature’s run is just beginning, but already they have two emotionally jarring pieces including this great new EP “A Pessimistic Doomsayer.” We’ve all poured ourselves into something in order to escape everyday life or the things that threaten us in order to gain some composure or simply to disappear for a while. This band has expressed those ideals and what leads to them quite well, and this EP lets you know if you need those times to get lost in another world, you’re certainly not alone.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://vilecreature.bandcamp.com/album/a-pessimistic-doomsayer

To buy their debut album (just issued on vinyl), go here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/collections/lps/products/vile-creature-a-steady-descent-into-the-soil-lp

Winterfylleth sweep back with trademark atmospheric black metal on ‘The Dark Hereafter’

winterfyllethI’ll avoid the expected and obvious way to say this based on modern pop culture, but the winter months will be here soon in North America. The evenings already are noticeably losing their light as the days go on, and mornings are starting to arrive with a chill in the air. It’s the perfect time for black metal, as well as countless servings of dark beers.

It’s also the ideal setting for the arrival of new music from English black metal band Winterfylleth, whose new record “The Dark Hereafter” is more of the good stuff. The band doesn’t travel too far away from the boot-caked icy trails they’ve walked for years, and anyone who is a fan of their music dating back to the beginning should feel warm and welcome with these five new tracks. If there’s one alteration, most of the songs are a bit shorter and to the point. Also, we’re served about half as many songs as we’ve come to expect on what’s the band’s shortest record to date at a little under 41 minutes. But that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. It’s a succinct, tight record that makes its point and gets out. There’s something to be said for not overfeeding, and you won’t leave this feeling overly full.

winterfylleth-coverWinterfylleth, whose name translates from Old English into Winter Full Moon, which represents the first full moon of October, have been making atmospheric black metal infused with boatloads of melody for nearly a decade now. The band—guitarist/vocalist Chris Naughton, new guitarist Dan Capp, bassist Nick Wallwork, and drummer Simon Lucas—first shook hearts on their excellent 2009 debut “The Ghost of Heritage,” released by Profound Lore. Their 2010 offering “The Mercian Sphere” saw the band move to Candlelight Records, and that was followed by “The Threnody of Triumph” in 2012 and “The Divination of Antiquity” in 2014. Two years later, we’re greeted “The Dark Hereafter,” a record that keeps adding fuel to the band’s English history-centered violence.

The title track opens the record, with the song erupting in a fury immediately, melodies lapping over everything, and the growls rumbling. The track has an epic feel, which is not exactly a surprise for a Winterfylleth song, and from there the darkness overflows before bursting with life on the back end before fading away. “The Pariah’s Path” is treated with thick melodies and swirling playing, with Naughton’s passionate cries pounding inside your chest. The playing is infectious and spirited, with riffs spilling all over the place, a clean calm emerging temporarily, and the band picking up with deep “oh-oh-oh” bellowing as the song disappears into the fog. “Ensigns of Victory” is built on strong riffs as the song launches forward. Melodies sweep everything in its path, while every element cascades gloriously, and the band continues to pound away. Wild cries and hammering riffs combust, as the song comes to its final resting place.

“Green Cathedral” is the longest cut on the record as 13:03, and it is inspired by a concept by author Ben Myers (Turning Blue) that the natural and rural world can be a more spiritually enriching place than any religion. Well, those things sure as shit inspire far less hatred and violence. The track begins with an eerie soundscape spreading as the music turns to a gothy flow. As the song begins to open up with power, acoustics blend into the mix, and the track heads in a mid-paced march. Moody soloing arrives, which the tempo changes up, and synth begins to stretch over like a cloud. As the song reaches its final minutes, it hits into full bore again, with wrenching cries and a solemn reading lingering over the last notes. Closer “Led Astray in the Forest Dark” has drums crumbling, riffs cutting in, and one real surprise in the emergence of clean singing. Naughton’s voice sounds almost liturgical at times, calling, “No one remembers me,” as the electricity blends with acoustic passages, and a lightning storm of soloing arrives and ends the song on a blood-pumping high.

Winterfylleth have been one of the most consistent bands in black metal both in sound and work ethic, hitting back every two years without fail. “The Dark Hereafter” serves to further solidify their catalog and to provide a record that’s a little easier to digest with each listen. Their music is set for seasons like the ones on which we are about to embark, and this record will make a fine companion on freezing days and endlessly darkened nights.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Doom-smeared black metal violence erupts on Predatory Light’s debut record

predatory-lightAs much as metal has expanded philosophically and musically, there’s still more than enough room for chaos, hatred, and putridity. After all, much of metal works to expose the dark side, the thorny reality that is everyday life, and the ways we can slice through all of that via fire and violence.

That brings us to Predatory Light, whose debut, self-titled record pours on the volcanic ash, the smothering anger, and the gory punishment. Granted, they have more going on in their minds than just blunt assaults, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Their doom-infested servings of black metal will leave you with the feeling that you chewed your way through a coal mine, choking on the ash, begging for water, oxygen, or just a merciful end. The six songs that make up their debut record punish and penetrate your senses, dragging you against your will into the mouth of hell. As noted, we’re not dealing with caveman material lyrically and philosophically either. Predatory Light see this music as a vessel, a way to tear back the mind and flesh and to reincarnate oneself in torment. So you’re challenged and pushed in every aspect of this record, and this band is one to fear.

predatory-light-coverAs noted, this is the initial full-length record under Predatory Light’s belt, but it’s certainly not the first thing they’ve ever dragged to the surface. The band released two demos in 2014, just three years after they formed, and then a year later, they contributed to a fiery split effort with Vorde. The members of this band—guitarist/vocalist L.S., guitarist K, bassist D.F., drummer N.M.—bring with them experience elsewhere burning trails with groups as diverse and smothering as Triumvir Foul, Vanum, Ash Borer, Anhedonist, Drought, and many others, and their work here gives the world another powerful, bloodthirsty band to keep black metal deadly.

“Laughing Wound” begins the record, and there’s a bit of gamesmanship at the front end. Noise and keys gel, making it seem like we’re going to ease into this thing, or that a psychedelic bath possibly awaits. Instead, a smothering doom riff drops, brimming in full Sabbath worship, and then the track tears open. Deep, heaving growls arrive, as the song blisters you, and fires start blazing. The pace gets dizzying, almost as if the sparks of lightheadedness are in your field of vision, with wails about tearing away flesh and souls, and the track huffing away. “Lurid Hand” trudges, while the main guitar line snakes all over the place, feeling oddly playful. Dark growls rumble beneath the din, while the song hits hyper drive, with the drums crushing everything, the tempo blinding your eyes, and a mystical finish that lets the song evaporate into mist. “Path of Unbeing” keeps up with the display of metallic hypnosis, with blunt growls punching holes, and the song driving steadily ahead. The song speeds up suddenly, spilling a sea of animosity, with the playing searing, and the guitars cutting their way through. Infernal howls strike the air and induce horror, while the song comes to a smoking, rumbling end.

“Divine Membrance” simmers in harsh sounds and horrific psychosis, as the guitars blow things apart and riffs begin to bend all over the place. Nasty death-style growls surface, with a spooky pace taking hold and the track then launching into speed. The riffs spill down into a doom sprawl, with the cut dissolving into dust. “Sacrum (Feral Devotion)” has a strange, chilling beginning, with clean guitars whirring and then the claws sinking into the earth. Crazed cries and lurched growls mix together, as the menace hits a sense of urgency but then calms into haunted madness. Then, the gas pedal is glued to the floor, and the track burns off violently. Closer “Born of the Wrong Blood” spins your surroundings, almost to the point of nausea, while gurgling growls and tornadic guitars shake that up even further. The song clobbers heavily, as wild shrieks lace the flesh, howls of, “Speak!” bruise you, and the song fades into a hellish oblivion.

Predatory Light’s journey may have just begun, but the woods are on fire behind them, and they are insistent on incinerating everything in front of them. This self-titled debut is a smoking, sinewy, swaggering record that rubs your face in the dirt until you come up gasping. If more black metal sounded as feral and vile as this, that section of the metal world would be in much better shape.

For more on the band, go here: https://predatorylight.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.invictusproductions.net/shop/

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

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

And here: https://www.facebook.com/PSYCHICVIOLENCERECORDS/

After marking 30 noisy years, Neurosis return with another crushing opus ‘Fires Within Fires’

Photo by Scott Evans

Photo by Scott Evans

We’re not often is the presence of royalty these days when it comes to metal and heavy music. Part of that is there just aren’t many old guard gods left among us, so when we hear from them, it becomes a major event. The other reason is we’re just not creating those types of musicians and bands anymore.

So when you get a new record from one of these bands who are unquestioned standard-bearers, it’s practically time for genuflection and silent reflection. So if you need to do that before taking on “Fires Within Fires,” the 11th record from Neurosis, it is very much understood and expected. This band is arguably the most influential heavy music act of the past 20 years (the band itself just celebrated their third decade together), and their impact is so great, it’s impossible to measure. Remove Neurosis from music history, and you’d see bands just vanish from the planet in some sort of bizarre rapture. Without this band, there are sections of music that likely don’t exist, and any time they reveal new music, it’s something to behold.

“Fires” is one of the band’s shortest records in a long time. At five tracks and 41 minutes**, it almost seems like an EP simply because of who is involved. The band—tp0004c_Double_Gate_Cover_onlyguitarists/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till; bassist, backing vocalist Dave Edwardson; keyboard player/sound designer Noah Landis; drummer Jason Roeder—convened in conjunction with their shows celebrating their three decades together and started hammering out new sounds and fleshing out these songs. This record, at least to me, didn’t impact me instantly. In fact, I’m still feeling my way through these songs to see how they hit me. At times, the record feels more stripped back than the onslaughts we’ve come to expect from them. It’s not nearly as huge and engulfing as their last record, 2012’s “Honor Found in Decay” and their classic works. It certainly is a good record, but sometimes it doesn’t feel full. Maybe that’s because of its length. Maybe expectations are the cause. But whatever it is, I’m still seeking its full power.

“Bending Light” begins the record with plodding pounding, the guitars taking on a liquidy feel, similar to how they were a couple decades ago, and a long, crawling stretch. Psyche keys wash into the room, and then the bottom tears out, with cries of, “This restless sea is breaking me!” smothering with tumult. Later, refrains of, “Peeling the skin away reveals the heart,” sits in chaos, which simmers until it gives way. “A Shadow Memory” boils amid clean guitars and a calculated pace, before the words are barked out as the pace pulls back. The eruption hits, with more colors poured into the guitars, the impact shaking the room, and the riffs tearing away the pieces of crumbling walls. “Slit the throats of those who light the torches!” is bellowed with conviction as noise leans in and pulls the track to its end.

“Fire Is the Lesson” starts with stirring, slurry guitars that punch deep and jar your brain inside your skull. The rhythms cross your eyes, while Von Till and Kelly trade off howling lines, making for a scary, two-headed beast. A hypnotic acoustic line blends in behind, giving the track an uncomfortable vibe. Later the song spits shrapnel, with the title warbled over and over again, and the final minutes scathing. “Broken Ground” lets sounds hover, spreading dreamland sentiment into Western dust. The song kicks up, with every element threatening, and the growls churn and breath iciness, giving off the ambiance of a cold winter afternoon spent in the wilderness. Further explosions come out of that, but all of that dissolves into psyche clouds. Closer “Reach” is the lengthiest cut at 10:37, with effects spiraling, harmonized singing bleeding emotion, and a shadowy section of land bathing in darkness. Guitars come to life, albeit during a tempo that is numbing and serene, something that feels like it’ll last the length of the song. But you know it’s a red herring, and with minutes remaining, the band crushes you with heavy riffs. Noise zaps at you, as the voices feel like they’re bound to decimate throats, as the cry of, “We will never, ever get to rest!” feeling like it could be the band’s motto and a promise that there is more terrain left to burn in the future.

Neurosis making new, relevant music is a wonderful thing, and they haven’t lost their edge. “Fires Within Fires” doesn’t instantly come off like a classic, and at this point, and I don’t feel it’s in the top half of their best work. But with each Neurosis record comes absorption, and honestly, this would be an easier review to write a year from now instead of with limited listens. Neurosis remain one of heavy music’s greatest peaks, an unattainable high-water mark for every other band. Even a good Neurosis record is better than most, and who know how this thing will grow in the months and years to come?

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

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/artists/neurosis/?no_redirect=true

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

**There are track listings elsewhere that have this record closer to 60 minutes with longer track times. Are we being Old Man Gloomed here? Just putting that out there.