Vinyl Resurrection: Pittsburgh death vets Abysme find ‘Strange Rites’ slithering again on reissue

abysmeIt’s as good a time as any to be a fan of the vinyl medium. Just about everything gets released in that form these days, which makes it easy to fill your shelf. On top of that, many recordings from the past that either never got the treatment or long sold out are getting new life from a release in that format.

These next two days, we’re going to look at a pair of records that finally can be yours and haunt your record players for years to come. Today, we focus on “Strange Rites,” the only long player in the history of Pittsburgh death metal institution Abysme. Their name has dotted plenty of killer multi-band bills across the city, not to mention when they hold their very own beatings, and their sound and style really are summed up perfectly by the album title. Originally, this album was released by Hellthrasher back in 2012, but now Pittsburgh-based label Our Ancient Future is bringing this back into the mix on a 12” vinyl release that sounds great and should expose this awesome record to more people. If you like your death muddy and bloody, without an ounce of bullshit, then you need Abysme in your life.

abysme-coverAbysme have been doing their thing for a decade now, drumming up horrific, gut-wrenching death metal that rolls around in the doom tar pits enough to make their music hold onto the filth with all its might. The ranks consist of guitarist/vocalist Brad Heiple (formerly of Funerus), bassist Mike Bolam (formerly of Crucial Unit, Warzone Womyn, and Necrolysis), and drummer Timothy R. Williams (formerly of Alpha Control Group, Human Investment), and they mete out channeled, furious destruction on this 10-track, 34-minute record that is paced perfectly and comes in an ideal serving. I’m a walking cliché now when I mention music that goes perfectly for the dead of autumn, when all life decays, but whatever. Abysme fits the bill perfectly, as their might goes well with the chill.

The record rips open with “Scribbled in Dust,” with weird noise hanging overhead, grinding death, and the guitars going off. The track gets uglier as it goes on, with Heiple gurgling, “Are you a monster or are you death?” as the track rumbles away. “Beyond the Seventh Door” is a brutal assault, mashing away at your senses, as guttural growls mix with ferocity and bloody your knuckles. “Formless” has a smudgy pace, taking its time to blast away, with downtuned muck and ugly growls. “Formless, nebulous,” Heiple wails, as the slow-driving pace applies the pressure, and the soloing erupts and burns away. “Annihilated Memory” also simmers in slow-charging terror before the pace rips apart and begins destroying everything. Another mad burst arrives near the song’s end, dealing another heavy dose of punishment. “Gift to the Gods” shows off a little in a Morbid Angel-style unleashing, as the song thrashes hard, the drums clobber, and guitar lines get tangled up, causing the noose to tighten.

“We Shall Sleep” is relentless from the start, as the band unloads a feasting of punishment. The brain is battered inside the skull to near concussive levels, while the pace then rolls in the mud, as putrid growls and blistering misery take over. “Terminal Delirium” has a raucous start, with the tempo picking up as the song goes, never holding back on its mission. The back end is grisly and monstrous, coming to a sudden, abrupt end. “The Third Day” churns and gives off steam, as the drumming leaves bruises, and the track slips into doomy hypnotics. The darkness of the track is apparent, but never more so than when Heiple wails, “Submerged in futility, and heaven mocks above the dark deep.” “Fallen Colossus” bleeds into the picture as blasts arrive, followed by mean riffs that spread horror. The bulk of the song is rough around the edges and thrashy, leading to a raspy, sore finish. Closer “Remarkable Conqueror” explodes, with a pulverizing charge and the vocals delivered from a heaving chest. As the song nears its final resting place, the pace slows, noise spreads its wings, and fierce drum strikes end the assault.

I know I’m excited to have “Strange Rites” on my LP shelf, and anyone who has followed Abysme through the years, or who appreciates honestly gruesome death metal, should be equally as pleased. This band has been doing good things for a long damn time now, and hopefully even more ears will be reached outside the city limits with this vinyl edition. As long as there continue to be bands such as Abysme, the true, rotting underground of death metal will slither long into the future, spreading blood and puss all along its path.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Death Fetishist unload psychological torment on fiery ‘Clandestine Sacrament’

death-fetishistTo be on the brink of potentially losing your grip on reality is not necessarily a fun thing. The mind does some weird shit, and those unable to exact control over one of the most crucial organs in the body can spiral into madness. Just something such as generalized anxiety can lead one to a descent into insanity and the inability to find a modicum of comfort.

I say all of that because the music on “Clandestine Sacrament,” the debut album from Death Fetishist, brought those ideals into my head. The band claims it exists in the rift between madness and catharsis, calling Death Fetishist the oracle of dread everlasting. That sounds like a pretty involved idea, but when you hear these eight songs, that concept will become clearer, even amid the murk. Journeys with this record have taken me through dark mental tunnels, under the surface, sometimes suffocating and wondering if I’d ever resurface. That’s how struggles with anxiety have been for me, which always feel like me sifting into the madness, and these songs brought that cranial pressure and physical and mental panic to the forefront. But in a strange way, that’s made for a cleansing experience, something you don’t get with every black metal record that comes down the pike. Or any record. Perhaps my mind is wandering from their actual mission, but this is where the album dragged me.

death-fetishist-coverDeath Fetishist’s approach to black metal certainly isn’t conventional, but considering who is involved with this project, that’s not a surprise at all. Matron Thorn, who you’ll know from such brain-bending bands including Aevangelist, Benighted in Sodom, and Crowhurst, is out front on vocals, guitars, bass, and other duties, while G. Nefarious (Panzergod) is on drums. That’s a pretty challenging duo, and on this record, they’re joined by other notable musicians including Doug Moore (Pyrrhon), D.G. (Misþyrming), Jurgen Bartsch (Bethlehem), and Mories (Gnaw Their Tongues), who add their own terrifying touches to this music. Before this record, the band had two EPs to their name, both released this past year, all leading up to this cataclysmic, psychologically damaging debut opus.

The record opens with “The Gifted Medium,” a sort of introductory cut built on eerie noises, smearing keys, and Julia Black speaking hauntingly, sounding like she’s communicating from another world, pushing, “I surrender my existence to you,” before rounding out repeating, “All is quiet now.” “Astral Darkness” starts in what feels like a black vortex, with strange noises whipping overhead, and the weirdness completely engulfing. The song starts to stomp ahead heavily, as grimy terror rolls into channeled growls, noise that feels like blood being smeared across the dirt, and the whole thing imploding and stirring into “Voidtripper.” Harsh, direct howls pelt you, while the music begins to make the room spin, and penetrating playing eats into your chest. The bulk of the track is haunting and hypnotic, finishing in a dark storm that rumbles into “Netherrealm,” where the chaos continues. Strong guitar work, devastating drumming, and echoing growls partner with melodies that are mystical and atmospheric. Fierce growls lash out and do harm, while the song drives to a slow ending, with choral chants taking it away.

“Beauty From Wrechedness” is dissonant and tornadic as it starts, with coarse growls scratching the surface and madness swimming through. Suddenly, the track’s guts get ripped out, with the world feeling like it’s crumbling apart, insanity sinking its teeth, and the song blistering into heavy storming. “Verbrannt in altern Morast” is a strange, unsettling instrumental where noise hovers, and a synth fog drags an alien ambiance into the cut’s heart. That strangeness drips into “Wreckage of the Flesh,” where flesh-crawling sounds meet up with bone-chilling guitar work and growls that echo into space. The pace crawls but bludgeons, with growls gurgling pain and torment, and a maniacal burst coming out of that. The song starts to strangle the senses, while the charge leads into impenetrable mud, and the assault blasts out again before fading. The 12:35 closer “Upturneth the Chalice” is a mammoth track that tears open, completely overwhelming the senses. The playing settles into an unforgiving display of repetition, while the track begins thrashing wildly, and horrifying yells scrape and draw blood to the surface. As the track goes on, the wall of terror cascades sounds, as the song fades into strange transmissions, and the voice that greets you on the opening is here to guide you into the void.

Death Fetishist’s unconventional approach to black metal not only impacts the way you process sound and art; it also stimulates the darker reaches of your mind where you may not often travel. “Clandestine Sacrament” is a smeared, unforgiving record that relishes catapulting you into hellish vortexes and forcing you to look inside. This is music that leaves you feeling somewhere between being able to let go of your ailments and watching your psyche crumble into a million pieces.

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Tardigrada create black metal with shadowy, heavy storming on crushing ‘Emotionale Ödnis’

tardigradaTrue human emotion is something that gets kind of a bad name when it comes to metal. Every record that’s meant anything to anyone must be dashed with some kind of human feelings, otherwise, what is it that lights a fire inside? Even if it’s raw Satanic heathenism. Sure, those people might laugh at those who wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves, but it’s all coming from the same center point inside.

All those words are there to set up talking about “Emotionale Ödnis,” the debut record from Swiss black metal band Tardigrada, and from the album title alone, which translates to “emotional wasteland,” you can tell they’re smearing what they feel inside into their music. It’s pretty easy to tell from the first few minutes of this record that the band isn’t holding back when pushing out their inner turmoil, and that results in songs that are thunderous from a volume standpoint, but also from that of the human experience. Bands such as Alcest and the stupidly maligned Deafheaven come from the same spots as Tardigrada (though don’t really sound like them) and paint with the same colors. If anything, Tardigrada’s threads are heavier and more savage, but make no mistake, you’re going to feel something.

tardigrasa-coverEnglish speakers may be kept at a bit of an arm’s length as the lyrics are in the band’s native tongue, but you can’t miss the musical expression and the way the words are driven home. The band itself has been together a little over a half decade now, with live shows a rarity, as they have been working to perfect their sound. The group—guitarist/vocalist Kryptos, guitarist Threnos, and drummer H.A.T.T.— only had a 2012 demo before this, but clearly they caught the attention of Eisenwald and Fallen Empire, who are putting out this record, and this debut is sure to gnaw on way more hearts than just mine. The album is just a barnburner of gut-scraped expression, and it kills. Ignore the heart-wrenching stuff if you must. I ignore all the silly Satanism in records from bands I love. You can do the same for this scorcher.

The record is constructed with five interludes and five full tracks, and we get started with “I,” as chilling guitars and moody melodies set the tone and stream toward “E Sturm Zieht Uf” and its shadowy presence. The beginning of the cut is bleak and drizzling, but then it opens to fierce shrieks and the drama pounding on the gas pedal. The intensity builds with the track, with shrill howls bruising, gazey playing gushing, and a sudden burst of power toward the end of the track coupling with crazed howls that sweep you away. “II” floats on clean guitars and haunting echoes, making its way toward the gates of “Die Wand,” which impacts with a surge of sound. The song speeds up, as the fierce shrieks intensify and claw under your fingernails. The atmosphere gets stormier and more threatening, with melodies cascading like sheets of heavy rain. As the assault subsides, a thick fog and cold winds greet you, making you think you’re in the clear, only to drag you back to the eye of the storm. That paves the way for the song’s fiery finish, which fittingly resolves in a driving rain. “III” continues the precipitation and thunder, soaking the ground beneath your feet, which threatens to swallow you whole.

“Erschöpft” swims in glorious melodies that spray sunlight, leading into a heavy, crushing section and another charge of animalistic fury. The vocals grind into your bones, while the song spirals and causes the room to move, and the drums hammer away without mercy. The shrieks wrench, the music floods, and the final moments make their final impact before fading away. “IV” brings your temperature down for a moment, with quiet, reflective guitars glazing, only to fade into the mist. The title track then strikes, ripping open and letting out flushing melodies that fill the senses. A short stretch of calm allows temporary breathing space, only to be crumbled by the next attack and the vocals that sound like they’re going off the rails. Drums splatter while gazey guitar melodies unfurl, and the whole thing comes to a rushing end. “V” is the final interlude, a solemn, dark passageway toward closer “Verfall,” which wakes you with a thunder crack. Huge riffs prevail, while the song begins punishing heavily, driving you to run for cover. The track is the band’s terrifying last gasp on the back end of a record that, suddenly, has your guts tied in loops and your chest in full heave over what you just experienced.

Tardigrada’s bloodletting is on full display on “Emotionale Ödnis,” and that wasteland is filled with torment, scorn, and hurt. This record will bruise and scar you, whether you expect that or not, and their music will march into your heart and pull the chains that bind it. This band is one hell of a revelation so late in the year, and their darkness is far thicker than anyone’s forced evil.

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Planes Mistaken for Stars roar back with agitated, bloody pain and aggression on raspy ‘Prey’

planesI don’t tend to be a huge festival goer, mainly because I have very little patience and don’t like being around a lot of people I don’t know for very long. But festivals have been good for me when it comes to discovering bands I didn’t know previously—novel concept, eh? —and a little more than a decade ago, I had one of those experiences.

I was at a fest that I really only attended because a friend wanted to go, but it was there that I came across the thunderous post-hardcore band Planes Mistaken for Stars for the first time. My initial impression is they were heavy and kind of scuzzy, and they stood apart from most of the other groups at this event, because the bulk of the lineup was poppier and skewed much younger. I went on to buy “Up in Them Guts” not long afterward, and from that point, I followed the band pretty closely. Things seemed to be looking up for the band at the time, as well, as they signed to Abacus and put out 2006’s great “Mercy,” but not long afterward, the lights went out for the band, and they folded up their tent. But then in 2010, Planes were reactivated, as the guys started doing shows and getting their energy going again. Now, a decade after their last record, the band has returned with their fourth album “Prey” that sounds like these guys never went anywhere.

planes-coverPlanes Mistaken for Stars now call Deathwish Inc. home, as ideal a place for them as any, and they sound as unbalanced, heavy, and scarred as ever before. The unmistakable, gravelly croon of Gared O’Donnell remains there, smearing blood and emotion over everything, and with him are guitarist Chuck French, bassist Neil Keener, and drummer Mike Rickets (it’s notable that longtime guitarist/vocalist Matt Bellinger is not part of the band anymore). This album, like many of the Planes’ past work, is a grower. It sounds great on initial listen, no doubt, but more visits reveal other layers and colors that emerge over time. My feelings and understanding of this record are far different on listen 20 or so than one, and it’s as good as anything else in their catalog. It’s also colored by O’Donnell’s trek into Middle America, where he took up residence only to find a crumbling wasteland seemingly in midst of delusion.

The record opens with the stabbing, pissed off “Dementia Americana,” where O’Donnell delivers his rage pointedly with howls marking “you faking motherfucker, who the fuck are you?!” It’s a song that doesn’t even reach two minutes, but it sheds the blood, with the frustrated shouts of, “Wake up!” looking to thrash clueless ears. “Till It Clicks” is whirry and weird, with O’Donnell’s trademark raspy singing pushing, with the band backing him with atmospheric punch, slide guitars crying under the din, and a noisy punchout. “Riot Season” charges up, with wild howls mixing with air-filled playing, as O’Donnell warns, “It’s riot season again!” “Fucking Tenderness” has a nice, strong riff that powers the tempo, and the verses are bursting with energy as they lead to a grounded chorus. The melody is infectious, and the impact is bruising. “She Who Steps” has jangling guitars that lead to a fierce charge. The playing goes to loosen teeth, with the back end calming down, with static rising, and piano dripping like a clogged gutter.

“Clean Up Mean” is a really strong one, beginning with drubbing and guitars soaring, while the chorus has O’Donnell admitting, “Don’t want to love you no more,” in a moment that will stick in your head all day. “Black Rabbit” is a soul cutter, as raw acoustics strike, with “O’Donnell darkly warbling, “Here are your keys,” before noting, “What a fucking mess.” It’s a sad, heartbroken song that’ll jab you and let you bleed out before the door slams closed at the end. “Pan in Flames” eases into the fire before it tears open and lets the guitars scorch. The music pulls back a bit on the chorus, though the vocals hit hard, and later the soloing completely goes off and leaves torched flesh. As the track goes on, the singing scars, and heavy bass work takes us out. “Enemy Blind” has quiet guitars and coarse singing, with psychedelic keys washing in, and O’Donnell urging, “Stop killing love.” It’s another pained, stinging track that pushes the thorns in deep. Closer “Alabaster Cello” bleeds into grime and breeze, with a post-punk fog warping the guitars and the music simmering. O’Donnell’s voice isn’t heard until halfway through the song, as the track gives off heat, and the insistence of, “Now we wake,” sends the record off on a hopeful note that things are just beginning again.

Having Planes Mistaken for Stars contributing new music to our world is a very welcome thing, and “Prey” is a really strong effort that keeps giving with every listen. It also helps that no other band sounds remotely like Planes, and no one should even try. This is raspy, testy, catchy stuff that sounds pretty great anytime, but especially when you’re in a foul mood.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Urfaust push blackened hypnosis into stars on airy ‘Empty Space Meditation’

urfaust-013Bands that truly stand out in metal are kind of tough to come by. That’s not really the artists’ fault necessarily, because there are so many bands out there and so much music, that doing something that truly sets you on your own cloud isn’t easy to accomplish. When you’re able to achieve that, it’s an accomplishment that should not be underestimated.

One of the bands that has been on their own path ever since their formation is Dutch duo Urfaust, who have become one of those bands you either grasp or don’t. Those who do get it immerse themselves in their sounds, and their epic fourth record “Empty Space Meditation” is another strange chapter in their existence. It’s hard to pin down exactly what you hear on this six-track album. Surely there is much black metal terrain stomped over these mind-altering tracks, and some of the ambient elements we’ve come to expect from Urfaust also are woven into the picture. There also is doom, drone, and, as the album title declares, meditative passages, making for a record that could have you staring miles off into the distance while the music encapsulates your brain. You won’t be crushed and stomped by them on this album, though there are many heavy sections. Instead, you’ll take a raucous and often serene trip that’s unlike anything else in metal and only capable by Urfaust.

urfaust-coverWhile the band has been in operation since 2003, this is only the fourth full-length record in Urfaust’s existence. Not that they haven’t been plenty busy, as they’ve offered up split releases and smaller efforts over their 13 years as a group. The band—guitarist/vocalist IX, drummer VRDRBR—never shows the same face or personality twice. At times, they’ve been fully metallic, while other releases have been floating in the atmosphere, feeling like the soundtrack to a non-linear dream. Never knowing what to expect every time Urfaust come back at us is one of the things that makes them so interesting and, thus, has helped them create that unique personality that is theirs alone and unlike any other metal bands in their environment.

All the songs are called “Meditatum” and numbered I through VI, and everything blends together, beginning with “I” that has noise unfurling and weird chants swirling. A dreamy haze melody awakens, and it weaves its way through the entire record, and after wooshing through the outer reaches of space, we’re into “II” that begins with wild howls that switch to horrifying screams. That synth melody slides in here, as the harsh vocals turn into bellowing singing that sometimes reminds of Mike Patton without the psychopathic derangement. The chaos later spills again, as the wails go wild, the music rumbles into a cosmic glaze, and the track swims into lucid dreams, making its way for “III.” Damaged sounds whirl and dizzy, driving slowly and pouring more singing into the mix, feeling like it is exorcising demons. Creepy and bizarre sounds smear its blood, while terrifying wails and spacey organs mix and trance out.

“Meditatum IV” simmers in throat chants as it starts, and then it drives massively, with evil laughs and spooky organs chilling your flesh. The heart-swelling singing punches at your chest, making your heart race, with the hypnosis sinking into your brain. “V” starts with unsettling clanging before the guitars begin to breathe fire, and strange singing causes your temperature to go up. As the track reaches its finish, it brings out the weaponry, as the song is punching, crunching, and willing to do heavy bruising. The closing cut “Meditatum VI” has an Indian flavor to it, as sitars join up with a soundscape and team up with wordless calls. The track then unleashes its power, causing your head to spin, and then we enter a chamber of total hypnosis, with the synth line swimming back into the mix, resurfacing as the record’s spine. That pathway continually loops and, along with the record, floats off into the distance.

“Empty Space Meditation” is another incredible journey through Urfaust’s mind-set and creative galaxy, and they embrace a path that is only theirs and that no one should dare tread. This is an incredible album that could transport you somewhere else and have you feeling like you’re traveling outside your body, which is an exhilarating experience. This band might not shower us with full-length records, but when they do return with one, it’s always a journey like no others.

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Black metal collective Urzeit mix up words, put self-hatred into focus on ashen ‘Anmoksha’

urzeit-coverI never trust people who seem permanently, unflappably happy. It’s not that I reject people feeling good about themselves or expressing joy, but when there’s only one mode, I’m perpetually annoyed. I don’t know why that is. I never feel this sense of everlasting happiness, and I don’t think I ever want to.

I’ve always wondered if I hate parts of myself and am permanently annoyed with my shortcomings, which is why therapy is such a great tool. I don’t know where I stand yet on this matter, but I hold that it could be true. So never mind if I detest you for being happy. It’s not you, it’s me. That idea of self-hatred is what initially intrigued me when I got the promo and background material for “Anmoksha,” the debut record from Urzeit. The music examines these dark, internally festering ideas of self-hatred and unrest, that quivering feeling where you think you could claw your way out of your own body. But the record also balances that with the knowledge that we have positive aspects about ourselves, leading to a great internal struggle between dual characters. That probably sounds insane to people who walk around with smiles pasted on their faces. For the rest of us, it makes sense.

Urzeit, which is based in Portland, Oregon, has been around for the past three years, releasing a couple demos, a compilation release, and a split with Akatharsia. “Anmoksha” is the first full effort for the band—drummer/vocalist A.L.N. (Mizmor), guitarist R.F. (Ash Borer, Triumvir Foul), bassist M (also of Ash Borer and Triumvir Foul)—who are members of the Vrasubatlat circle and have used reconstructed words to create the album name and the song titles contained within. For example, the title of the record “Anmoksha” is made from English an (without) and Hindu term Moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth, leading to ultimate peace) to create a word that means no rest/no peace. The music pays that off, as it is feral, fiery, and often primitive sounding, with vocals that feel like they’re paying the price for all humankind’s wrong deeds and bad turns.

urzeitlogo1“Imnagas” is a blood-curdling instrumental opener, where thick basslines suffocate, wordless shrieks lacerate the senses, and savage chaos bleeds its way into the title cut, where guitars start in a blaze. Pained shrieks and engorged growls mix, mashing together over lines such as, “The fool, marked and sentenced, tossed about as their toy,” as the pace settles into purposely repetitious guitars that drub your mind. Horrible wails and infernal playing that melts brains pushes and stretches into “Exeris,” which blows up from the start into a passage of heavy-as-fuck punishment. The growls and shrieks thicken, sounding like they’re being delivered during the exact moment of existential crisis. The howl of, “I tear at my skin … would that I ripped it off! My reddened eyes beg to be scratched out,” conveys the physical aspect of that torment, as the song ends in feedback and screams. “Nascphanin” unloads the pain right off the bat, as the drums rumble, the bass clobbers, and shouts of, “My self-hatred is unmistakably clear, but why I even give a fuck, why I seek out standards I conceive of, leaves me crawling on the ground,” that has the essence of grinding one’s knuckles into the cement just to divert the source of the pain. The melodies during this one are confounding and swirling, with the tempo grinding violently before finally giving way to silence. “Bellisunya” has riffs tearing out of control before the drums unload a ton of bricks. The vocals scrape, tearing at its own psyche by lamenting, “An empty hide bag represents me,” while the flow turns hypnotic, sickening your stomach and making your eyes turn before a final punk-infused blast is buried in noise.

“Illartha” is massive and thrashy from the start, as crazed madness spreads itself over everything, and deep growls and manic shrieks deliver the bloodied message. This track pelts your temples relentlessly before giving way to “Autmomus” and its huge riffs and feeling that the earth is imploding. Spindling guitars, a speedier pace, and gurgled growls are part of this recipe that warps any sense of reality you have left and buries you even deeper into the machine. “Migrakama” launches with a startling cry, with the pace breathing fire, and the riffs making themselves an indefensible force. Hellish horrors bleeds into the picture, and the tempo never lets up, beating you and removing submission as an option. “Gravivek” toys with the notion of trying to do the same thing over and over and getting nowhere. “To bash one’s head against a wall without end, and hope to see less than total gore,” hammers that part home amid slow-driving misery and added horrible cries. After a calculated drubbing, the song tears open in earnest, devastating with speed, grim growls, and a menacing disposition, bringing the hammer down repeatedly, leaving bits of flesh and blood speckled everywhere. Closer “Entitiksha” is filled with noise and grimness before turning into a complete decimation. The playing loops, playing games with your mind, while the smoke builds and slowly chokes you. Cries of, “All is selfishness and woe! I’m found a coward, nursing myself, unable to cope and be alive,” as the song builds toward the desire to crush this cycle and find freedom. As it goes, noises crackle, the assault slows but doesn’t relent, and the psychological wasteland that’s behind blows up ash and sparks from the battle that took place.

Urzeit play with the notion of seeking betterment in a world that has no purpose, and that’s another feeling that’s all too prominent right now. “Anmoksha” is the ideal vessel for absorbing one’s negative opinions about oneself and either understanding them or letting them fester. This record feels like it’s paying its debt to the idea of lack of peace and rest in every ounce of the music, making for an experience that isn’t just another metal album, but also a sobering examination of life and purpose.

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Legendary Darkthrone smash giant serving of riffs, classic metal fire into ‘Arctic Thunder’

Photo by Ester Segarra

Photo by Ester Segarra

There are those characters, be it people in your lives, figures from television shows or movies, or folks you read about in books that, no matter what, you cannot help but like them. I’m a big wrestling fan, and every time the New Day comes out, I have a great time. I don’t care if people think their act is tired.

When it comes to metal, we have many of those figures as well, including that beloved Darkthrone duo Fenriz and Nocturno Culto. I know there are a division of fans who can’t get beyond “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” and want them to be heathen black metal warriors forever. But long ago it was clear the two fellows who make up this band don’t feel that way, and shouldn’t that be the bottom line? So, over time, the band has served us black metal, death metal, thrash, and their latest amalgamation that mixes all those things together, with a nice, crusty 80s flavor. That spills over again on the band’s 14th record “Arctic Thunder,” another dose of good stuff for those of us who followed this band’s insane ride, no matter what sounds they threw at us from album to album.

darkthrone-coverOne thing that’s supplied in major portions on this record is the riff. They are smooshed all over these songs, which, again, sounds like the band letting loose in their basement and playing whatever comes to their metallic heart. Unlike usual, Culto handles just all the vocals, save for a yell here or there from Fenriz, your friendly neighborhood politician against his will, while the drumming is skull bashing and frenetic. Part of the reason for that raw sound is the band recorded the album in their old rehearsal space The Bomb Shelter, where they worked to scuff up and dirty these songs as much as possible.

“Tundra Leech” sounds dirty and raspy from the start, with killer riffs, a pace that chugs along, and Culto’s grim growls. There’s a really old-style feel here, which obviously permeates the entire record, and later there’s a nice change of tempo that shifts. The guys thrash away, with Fenriz’s calculated drumming, only to mash fingers again at the end. “Burial Bliss” is fast and punchy at the start, with the growls scraping and cries of, “The circle will not be broken!” sounding more like an oath. The track is punishing and catchy, fading out at the end. “Boreal Fiends” starts with Culto howling, “Against the wind!” as you pretty much can envision battling against an icy assault. An outright killer riff wraps itself around this song like a snake, with clean calls blurting out, and eventually the pace hitting a sludgy skid. From there, slow-driving fury and a maniacal cowbell call out, while the soloing begins to scorch minds before the song fades. “Inbred Vermin” starts with, you guessed it, another killer riff, as the song lights up and blasts its way through, with Culto vowing, “We will ride the winds of the thunder god!” This song also slows down toward the end for the band to grind you through the mud.

The title track gets off to a raucous start, with the riffs pummeling, vile and creaky wails dropping, and guitars lighting the blaze with a thick 1980s sheen. By the way, the record, and this song as a result, is named after a Norwegian metal band from the 80s that Fenriz loves. Because of course. “Throw Me Through the Marshes” is situated in a doomy haze, with throaty howls crushing and speed driving through later and blowing everything to bits. The back end of the song gets eerie and foggy, staying that way until it bleeds into the night. “Deeplake Trespass” starts with black metal-flavored melodies, with the band throwing haymakers and bloodying lips. The pace jerks to a different track later, as guitars go exploring into the wilderness, with the track blinding and startling as it concludes. Closer “The Wyoming Distance” has riffs, slowly delivered fury, and a huge blasting end. It’s not the most dynamic song of the bunch, but it’s fun enough, and it ends with our Darkthrone heroes laughing in the distance, aware they’ve destroyed us all over again.

At this point, most people know what to expect from Darkthrone, and for someone like me who has pretty much enjoyed every era, it’s more destructive ear candy full of fun and substance. Fenriz and Culto have no one to please but themselves, and they sure as shit sound happy and smothering on “Arctic Thunder.” If these guys keep digging back to what makes them happy and only serving their own whims, these guys will stay young at heart and metal to the core well after we’re all but memories on this earth.

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