Blood Tyrant expand Wampyric black metal into depths of hell on raw ‘Aristocracy of Twilight’

blood-tyrantWhen you think about black metal, it’s natural if your mind goes right to blood. Why not? Bloodshed is a major factor when it comes to this kind of music, and that essential life fluid is smeared all over the history of this style of metal.

So, when it comes to “Aristocracy of Twilight,” the debut record from Blood Tyrant, you can’t help but be consumed with plasma. The band burns the torches of wampyric black metal, so you know that delving in blood is something that isn’t just a part of their name, but also is factored into their DNA. This, the band’s first record, takes you back to the primal, raw days where black metal wasn’t polished and presented in pristine light. This music sounds like it was created and recorded in a cave, which adds to its charm, and what you hear here could transport you elsewhere. The mysterious duo—Baron Yrch Malachi and The Wampyric Specter—combine to create a sound that’s dark and bloodthirsty but also pounds heavily on your psyche. By the way, I have no idea who does what for this Dutch unit, so let it all meld together and take over your mind.

12Jacket_3mm_spine_all_sides.indd“Dawn of a New Supremacy” begins the record with a wave of synth and the sounds of swords clashing in the background. As a horse stampedes through, the track gets going, with raw growls and shouts, chaotic drum madness, and charging guitars. The final moments of the song hit the gas pedal, and wild cackles erupt, leading the way toward “The False Heresy” and its heavy dose of hypnosis. The tempo thrashes relentlessly, as throat-scraping vocals and a burst of violence create a dangerous title wave. Raw power bursts through, as the senses are clobbered, and a haze of noise spirals away. “Undying Iron Will” starts with oppressive weirdness and crazed howls, as the song unleashes a dangerous assault that’s made that much eerier by the choral calls floating in the back. The tempo shreds, while a madness-drenched stretch arrives and knocks for you a loop.

“Barbaric Wampyrism” is a fiery black metal storm, with an assault that feels like it’s trying to live up to its name. The drums are crushed, while the band hits a mind-altering level, with the sounds droning in circles and bringing disorientation. “Clandestine Bloodmists” is murky and creepy before it gets speedy and drubbing. Raw growls cut deep wounds into your flesh, and a strange sense of catchiness slips into what’s otherwise a blinding war. “Engulfed By Purifying Flames” is fast, thrashy, and fierce, with the growls cutting through the flesh, and the playing making your head spin. The band hammers hard while it has you in its grasp, with the growls conveying ancient evils and the track winding up in a massive fury. Closer “Inertia Meditation” is a brief instrumental comedown, as strange synth rolls in, and the feeling that an ominous spirit is lurking in the mists is something that’s impossible to shake.

Blood Tyrant’s heavily anticipated debut “Aristocracy of Twilight” pays off that built-up interest because it takes black metal back to its formative years, but in a way that pushes the genre forward while keeping the roots intact. These seven songs do a number on you, and the more I listened, the more I kept getting lost in their nightmarish fury. Nothing’s polished or neatly preserved. Everything is choked with blood, which only makes a world of sense.

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7″ City: Barghest, Black Cilice show diametrically opposing black metal on new efforts

barghestThis is a ridiculously tough time to fill sites like these with content. Decent full-lengths are hard to find, though they’re out there, and lots of times, we find ourselves scrambling to get worthy material featured before we dive neck deep into year-end territory.

That’s not to suggest you can’t find nice late-year gems, and we have a couple of 7” releases that could make the end of this disgusting year a little more violently pleasing. Both releases are not for the faint of heart, and anyone out for sugary melody and widespread accessibility can go back to whatever big-box chains still sell metal albums. You should find yourself nice and comfy there with no hints of challenge whatsoever. Whoever’s left, get ready to have your eardrums charred.

barghest-coverWe start with Baton Rouge, La., black metal tyrants Barghest and their new release “Born of Tooth and Talon,” out on Elder Magick Records. The two tracks here were released a little earlier this autumn on a split with Teeth, but this is a nice way to have a compact collection of some of the best stuff on that effort. Those who have followed the band during their journey will notice a more violent, crusty production, almost as if the band thought they had to make their music scarier and meaner. They totally didn’t have to do that, but the band—vocalist Daemontis, guitarists Dallas Smith and Jason Horning, bassist Qutaybah, drummer Philth—went uglier anyway, as these guys sound like they’re plowing through hell and showing what true terror is all about. Also, this is a limited release, so if you want to grab a copy, you better move fast.

The title track opens the thing, with rains soaking the ground, dogs howling in the background, and even doom horns pumping, making this sound like the start of a horror film. When the song erupts, shrapnel spreads all over the place, with horrifying vocals darkening the already blackened picture, and the song delving into speed and chaos. The song gets insanely vicious, peeling back your skin and pouring gallons of salt in your already-fresh wounds. “Sterile Initiates” is the flip side, wasting no time to get the demolition on its way with spindly riffs, throat-mangling growls, and a heaping dose of filth. Strong lead guitar work creates a blinding blaze in the din, while the vocals continue to scathe, and the intensity somehow finds a new level in which to operate. The back end becomes more raucous and unforgiving, unleashing fury until it comes to an abrupt, soul-obliterating conclusion.

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DOOM062_jacket.inddBlack Cilice remain one of the creepiest, most mysterious entities of all black metal. It’s really hard to even describe what this Portuguese band actually does as far as their music is concerned. It’s noisy and marred with chaos, elements are buried in the fog, and their work often feels like you’re being buried in dense layers of static. Their new 7” “Nocturnal Mysticism” is considered an EP, and at a run time of a little more than 15 minutes, it’s definitely beefier than what we normally get from a release this size. It’s also another strong entry from this mysterious group—the band’s membership remains unknown—on a resume that contains three full-lengths and a number of smaller releases, containing a bunch of demos, EP, and split efforts. This one does their brand of darkness a great deal of good. Oh, and this release also goes hand in hand with Black Cilice’s first live performance, set for Dec 16 in the Netherlands, so that’s a pretty big deal.

“Nocturnal Mysticism Part I” begins with a ghoulish, chilling wind moving in and freezing the blood in your veins. Static-stained clean playing begins to trickle through the fog, while atmosphere filled with smoke begins to coat lungs, with the vocals absolutely buried beneath everything. The tempo rattles, while the drums clash, and haunting howling slips through like a ghost, dragging you into “Part II.” There, troubling pounding jars you awake, while off-kilter melodies that sound like they’re drunkenly staggering begin down their path. Melody drizzles, while roars cut in through the void, bringing with them an uncomfortable sense of panic. The music overwhelms and drubs the mind, as hypnotic and sweltering melodies bubble to the surface, and a frigid weather patterns situates itself over all. Finally, winds begin to whip hard, while the song drains to its finish amid a blustery assault.

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Both these 7” releases are bloody and riveting, though each make their mark in much different ways. Barghest go for the jugular in their effort to eradicate the planet of, well, everyone, while Black Cilice swarm your sense with strangeness and peculiar transmissions. Each of these might not speak to the same black metal audience, necessarily, but both are worth your time and the further deterioration of your fragile hearing.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Ash Borer put dark warp on black metal with charring ‘The Irrepassable Gate’

Photo by Luana Magalhães

Photo by Luana Magalhães

Bands that become larger than their sound are not very common. Many times, bands play within the genre confines, sometimes to their detriment, but at least they know the blueprint and can follow it through. Those that transcend are the ones that become truly special.

Saying that, Ash Borer have gone so above and beyond pure black metal, that they operate in a rarified environment that has most of the metal world looking up at them. For nearly a decade now, the band has incinerated any playbook or rules set and gone their own way. Their three full length albums—their latest we discuss today, the awesome “The Irrepassable Gate”—have set new standards and have spawned a ton of bands trying to recreate their magic but not coming very close. Ash Borer doesn’t create albums as much as their do auras, an environment in which you can get lost, charred, and returned, with your potential for dreaming expanded. Their massive sound is so large and encompassing, it goes beyond black metal into something most of us didn’t know could exist before this band came into our world.

ash-borer-coverHaving formed in 2008, Ash Borer launched and immediately started doing interesting things that helped change what we know as black metal. Its members operate somewhat in the shadows, going by singular letters as names—K on guitars and vocals, A on guitars, R on bass and vocals, M on drums—and their members create terrors in bands including Triumvir Foul, Predatory Light, Urzeit, Vanum, Serug Dreg, and many others, but what they do here stands apart from their myriad other projects. Following a couple of demos and a split release with like-minded Fell Voices, the band’s first full-length, a self-titled affair, arrived in 2011, and their second, “Cold of Ages,” dropped a year after that. So, it’s been four years since we got a new full album, and the wait was worth it.

The 11:49 title track opens the record, with a dark, doomy pall spread over everything, as the music tumbles into the void. Savage growls mix into the chaos, as the tempo swirls and the fire kicks up. The guitars burn while the vocals wrench, with the whole thing speeding ahead, more atmosphere mixed into the bleeding, and then things oddly lightening up. Melodies then hurdle through the fear, with the sounds hovering and subsiding. “Lacerated Spirit” goes 10:08, beginning with lurching doom and trickling slowly into an eerie fog. Static and noise join forces, and the cymbal strikes indicate something morbid is coming. That ends up being a furious eruption, as the music throttles, the vocals choke you down, and strong melodies slip into the picture, bringing a dash of lighting energy, and coming to a blistering finish. “Lustration I” brings the first half to an end, an instrumental cut that has clean guitars chiming, bringing in a dream-state fog. Strange feelings rumble, and the song fades into clouds.

“Grey Marrow” starts in the midst of thick hypnosis, leaving your head swimming and wondering if it can get control again. Lead guitars cut in and rip apart the tempo, with riffs splintering your mind, and growls and roars making their impact. Melodies spiral in the atmosphere, while wild howls penetrate, sinewy guitars add bruising, and the final minute becomes a tornadic loop. “Rotten Firmament” is the longest cut at 12:37, as the room spins right away, and the growls begin to chew on your muscles. Melodies snake and rage, while the track hits the gas pedal and achieves warp speed, rocketing through the stars before pulling up on the force. From there, guitars whir and boil before another burst, as melodies confound, sounds keep regenerating, and the track erodes in the face of hurricane-force winds. Closer “Lustration II” is a morbid instrumental that rears its head out of the fog. Crazed wails and psychologically warped riffs do their part to elevate the drama, and the track fades out into a trippy, cosmic cloud of sound.

Ash Borer’s world has expanded and morphed along with them, and “The Irrepassable Gate” continues their long line of mind-stretching, genre-defying black metal. The band keeps pushing what it means to create metal and remains one of the most unique creative forces anywhere. Ash Borer’s trajectory is up and traveling at dangerous speeds, and only a cosmic disaster would be strong enough to stop them.

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New Zealand death metal sextet Setentia blend imagination into fury with ‘Darkness Transcend’

setentiaIt seems that a lot of times when New Zealand is in the news, it’s because of devastating earthquakes. I know they have a lot more to offer the Earth and all, but when I think of that place toward the bottom of the planet, that’s always where my mind tenders to wander. That makes me think that’s why the metal that comes from that region of so devastating.

Continuing along the lines of their countrymates Ulcerate come Setentia, who also play a dangerous, smothering form of death metal, albeit with way more nuances. Their debut album “Darkness Transcend” is here via Blood Music, and it’s a trip through absolute demolition. This seven-track, 51-minute behemoth is packed with devastation from beginning to end, but they also paint other interesting flourishes through their music. The band—vocalist Jasper Russell-Dennis; guitarists Jag Dwaliwal, Cameron Thompson, and Maxwell Gravelle; bassist Adam King; drummer Hugo Gravelle–show the force of their ranks. This record sounds like six guys pouring cement-thick fury, as their sound is far more interesting than your average technical death band and heavy enough to leave your head a throbbing mess when it’s done. Lyrically, the band touches on the frustrations of the human experience and the struggles of just trying to survive this mess. So yeah, it’s plenty dark enough for you.

setentia-coverThe title cut opens in eerie, cosmic noise before the song gushes in earnest, turning toward ominous, dark thunder. Smothering growls and muddy demolition erupt, with the madness bleeding out and wrecking into “Throne of Thorns” and its devastating power. Guttural heaviness mixes with spacious playing, letting a cloud cover form, but then fires rage, and an unmerciful dose of heaviness makes its way into the picture. The track heads into something of a death metal-flavored breakdown, hitting new levels of ferocity, with the vocals shrieking and spitting before a reprieve arrives. “Beyond Myopic Blame” is more of a compact song sandwiched between monsters, as the track rips into mucky death, and a numbing, dizzying pace thrashes you to the end.

“Seeds of Death (Departure)” has a tricky but atmospheric start, with wild roars bruising and an outright assault opening fresh wounds. The tempo is just relentless, tearing apart its surroundings, and then weird transmissions arrive and bring a wave of confusion. From out of that come guitars cutting and sounds boiling, flowing into “Seeds of Death (Remembrance)” that gets your head spinning right away. Mean growls twist around exploratory guitars, and everything is incinerated suddenly, as the song gets incredibly vicious, coming to a sudden, abrupt end. “The Enemy Within” is a 9:06 smasher that’s fast and destructive, storming across the land and carving out its own path. Thing then turn proggy, with the soloing blistering, the band turning up the intensity, and a final dose of clobbering dissolving in a noise bed. “The Fruit of Life” is the 10:16 closer built with spindling guitars and then a chugging explosion. The song is bloody but also prog-fueled, compelling and colorful, with a trippy sentiment soaking the grounds, and all the elements giving off steam. The final minutes arrive like the earth is quaking, but that breaks apart and enters the cosmos, with sounds exiting on a hypnotic loop.

Whatever’s to blame (thank?) for New Zealand’s metal being so damn heavy, it certainly has found its way into Setentia’s DNA. “Darkness Transcend” is a harrowing, blackened slab of torment that will challenge you, mind and body. It’s a damn impressive first release from a promising band, and hopefully it doesn’t get lost in the clutter of all of these late-year releases. We sure won’t forget about it.

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Sea Witch, Black Tremor create different types of instrumental noises on riveting split release

sea-witch-black-tremorWe’re reaching the point in the year where I’m going to have to do a lot of driving in what likely is to be fairly bad weather conditions. I oddly enjoy that, though, because that means a lot of family visits over the holidays, but with all that mileage, having the right music to accompany me is a huge key.

My first visit with the new split LP combining Sea Witch and Black Tremor instantly made me think of those drives, and at the time of this writing, it’s snowing, and the music here has sounded great along with it as I’ve done some minimal travel. Both these bands are instrumental units and draw upon very different sections of heavy music. There’s enough similarities, though, to make their union make sense and these songs work together. Released by Sunmask Records, this five-track collection brings with it bruising power, chilling sentiment, and a blast of mind-enhancing songs that might be able to make your winter a little less harrowing. Or maybe more so? Depends on what you’re seeking, I guess.

sea-witchSea Witch hail from Nova Scotia and are a two-piece featuring JL on guitars and bass and SJ on drums, and they’ve only been making noise for two years now. But in that time, the band has produced a couple of demo recordings, as well as their self-titled full-length debut last year (it gets regular play on my Bandcamp app). Here, the band unleashes three tracks of dark, atmospheric doom that is heavy, thought-provoking, and even a little bit gazey. They’re definitely the heaviest of the two bands, making you think of being lost at night, at sea, with waves churning your belly and you imagining instant doom at a source you can’t identify.

Their share of the tracks starts with “Green Tide,” as sounds blend together, guitars crash, and the pace hulks along. The track trudges over gravel, as gazey sounds flood into the picture, and a strong burst of playing arrives. If you start feeling like your head is swelling, you’re not alone, as the song rolls through various colors before fading away. “As the Crow Flies (Part 1)” has an influx of sounds that pull into storming sludge and eventually a melodic glaze. The melody slithers through as the music wails and crumbles, and a sense of drubbing sorrow begins to take over and move things toward the second portion of “As the Crow Flies.” The crushing mauling is slow driving, pressing your face into the ground before all the elements cascade to the ground. Guitars cry out as sadness emerges, and from there, gloomy playing leaves a black pall, and guitars chew bones to the end.

Black Tremor

Black Tremor

As for Black Tremor, their music also pulls from a post-rock atmosphere, but it’s grittier and dustier, something you could take with you on a late-evening trip across the West. Fittingly, they hail from the Western portion of Canada, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, (dumb fact: Bret Hart won his first WWF title in that town) and their music sounds like it’s a product of their surroundings. The band—bassist Alex Deighton, violin player Amanda Bestvater, and drummer Brennan Rutherford—released their debut record “Impending” last year, and their two songs here are parts of a dual tale they’re spreading out before us. Their music is riveting, moving, and ideal for when the moon breaks the horizon.

The Black Tremor cuts are two portions of a song called “Hexus.” The first basks in serenity as clean tones flow out, and the drums start to kick in. Things get a little jazzy as the strings surge and cut, and slide guitar starts its weeping. The melodies feel rustic and swollen, as an awesome, burly tone makes its way through the cut, and that thickness remains until the first part bleeds out. The second part has the violin mourning and a dusty path being tread. The strings then wrap themselves around rusty guitars, as the Western-rich atmosphere gets thicker, and the song begins to sludge along. The guitars ramp up and begin buzzing, as the violin flutters in the air, the band begins to bring down the hammer, and the hazy, sun-burnt trip comes to a sudden end.

This music is apropos for many occasions, not just snowy sojourns by some dork writer, and there is plenty of substantive moments offered by both bands. Sea Witch do things heavier and muddier, while Black Tremor feel like a chilling adventure through the desolate west. Both are excellent representatives of the healthy instrumental scene, and this split will go a long way toward sound tracking whatever trip you happen to be taking.

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Oskoreien take look at freewill through eyes of murderer with coarse, violent ‘All Too Human’

oskoreienIt’s pretty easy for people to write off criminals or those who erupt in violence as bad seeds who contribute nothing to society and are only out to bring misery. That’s not necessarily untrue. But often there is so much more lying underneath the surface that leads people to evil actions that cannot go dismissed or swept under the rug.

Often, people simply want to put all the blame on the person, for they can choose right and wrong. Again, it’s natural to feel that way. But extenuating circumstances often play a giant role. NFL players have killed themselves, and the result for many is they suffered from brain damage and levels of CTE. They have no control over how they feel. Pro wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his entire family in cold blood, and later, examinations of his brain showed significant damage. That very well could have led to that horrible tragedy. And then there’s Charles Whitman, the infamous “Texas Tower Sniper,” who, after murdering his wife and mother, shot from the tower at University of Texas at Austin, killing 14 and wounding 32. Later it was discovered he had a tumor on his amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions and can cause great impairment if damaged. All of this is the subject matter of “All Too Human,” the amazing new record from Oskoreien, the one-man project helmed by Jay Valena. It’s a four-part concept piece examining true will, inspired by Whitman’s story and what became of him.

oskoreien-coverWe just visited with Oskoreien not long ago when we discussed this project’s great split with Botanist, but this record is the first full-length since the 2011 self-titled debut. Here, Valena plies his trade in noisy, sooty black metal, the kind that sounds like it was born out of psychological isolation, something that is quite apropos when discussing this record. The songs are packed with anguish and punishment, though not of the typical black metal stereotypes. There’s a true human depth to this music which is very tangible, and you walk away from this impacted, perhaps placing more thought on the evils in the world and what’s truly behind everything. Sometimes it’s just pure evil. But not always.

The record starts with “Moai” as guitars awaken and spread out, as the sound continues to build. Melodies pour as Valena’s shrieks are unleashed, feeling tortured and raw, as if they’re coming from a diseased gut. Anguish gushes all over this, as the wrenching vocals continue and deface the path, with guitars lapping over top of the chaos, melodies swirling and dive-bombing, and the whole thing burning off like an oil fire. “Green and Maroon” starts with guitars unleashing small doses of pain, followed by horrifying shrieks that should cause chills to blast up your spine. The music gnaws at your senses, in a similar way as Whitman’s brain was being compromised, and guitars and laser beam strikes rip through, letting darkness spill into the void. A slow, reflective passage unfurls itself before the cut bursts all over, sending wild wails and thick muck flying into your face.

“Ab Aeterno, Ad Infinitum” splashes dark, doomy colors, with the track echoing and haunting over its first few minutes. Once the song rips from the cracks, the vocals are ripe with strangulation, and a great stretch of lead guitar play sprawls impressively. That heads into a horrifying mud pit, filled with a thousand lost souls and their bones, and then a passage that feels like static-filled ISIS lands and delivers body blows. More spacious soloing arrives, which heads into furious chugging, and a solemn glow emerges from that and spreads until the end of the song. Closer “My Flesh Is But a Vessel” gets off to a bashing start, laying waste to any hint of calm and layering frantic cries over a slow-driving tempo. Things begin to hulk along, but then a solemn wind blows in and leads to the next bit of savagery. The playing turns into a series of gut punches, as the cymbals taking a smashing and noise hangs in the air. Soloing bubbles as deep folds of sorrow bring a final dark curtain down on this tragic, too-familiar story.

Valena is having an impressive year, what with his split recording and this excellent new album “All Too Human.” This music reminds us that stories, people, and tragedies are not always black and white, and while we kneejerk and point fingers, sometimes all the layers need to be pulled back first. This is a strong late-year record that should resonate well into 2017 and beyond.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Heavier sounds permeate new Worm Ouroboros creation ‘What Graceless Dawn’

worm-ouroborosWhen it comes to conveying misery and darkness, we tend to lean toward heavier, nastier sounds in which to immerse ourselves. At least we do here on this site. But that’s not always the case, as sometimes a band can deal in more delicate sounds, yet still leave you a heaving, inconsolable mess once their records come to an end.

That’s definitely the case with Bay Area-based trio Worm Ouroboros, who have spread their shadowy, haunting presence over three full-length records now, their latest being the entrancing “What Graceless Dawn,” as powerful and riveting a late-year record as you’re going to find. Over the entire body of work, the band has created music that’s impossible to pinpoint. While not metal through and through, there’s an emotional and psychological heaviness, but intermingled with that are elements of folk, chamber music, ambiance, and death rock. Yet, as I say that heaviness isn’t their primary trait, this is the band’s weightiest record so far. Some of the guitars churn a little harder, the drums chew up the space a little more forcefully, and there are times when you’re ready for the world to begin gushing blood. And sometimes, it does.

worm-ouroboros-coverWorm Ouroboros are just a year away from their 10-year anniversary as a band, and their initial, self-titled debut came out two years after the formed. That record proved that this group had something a little different to add to heavier music, and that promise truly paid off with 2012’s excellent “Come the Thaw.” The band—bassist/vocalist Lorraine Rath, guitarist/vocalist Jessica Way, drummer Aesop Dekker—explores deeper realms of sadness and tragedy on “What Graceless Dawn,” a record that can pull you under the murky waters, force you confront visions of sadness you might not have imagined before, and bring you back to surface a forever-changed person. Get ready to wallow along with them in the doomy, grimy underground.

This six-track, 68-minute record opens, quite fittingly, with “Day,” as the ghostly pace meets with hovering noise, and Way and Rath’s voices begin to mix together, like they do on the whole record. “The sun rises in the east, clothed in robes of blood,” is whispered ominously, as the whole song opens, with a mournful gaze erupting, and the song flowing out into the distance. “Broken Monuments” has singing breaking the surface and moody sounds rising with it. The track plods along in the shadows, as it feels like an old, lost soul is rowing you along through foggy, vine-filled tributaries. Guitars later swell, with melodies spilling down, the darkness dragging its shadows, and a jazzy feel emerging, as the cut gently slithers away. “Suffering Tree” has naked singing and the music trickling in, as a spiritual essence spreads itself and helps the song flow serenely. Rath’s and Way’s voices intertwine like serpents around a tree, while the guitars drag thorns, charge up, and disappears into the mist.

“Ribbon of Shadow” is the longest track at 13:48, as it slowly awakens, quietly breaking its strings and unfurling itself. The drama here is built beautifully, with the singing rising above the murk, and the tempo later getting tougher. Guitars unleash their power, as noises sting, the melodies arrive in waves, and the cut disappears into a cloud. “(Was It) The Cruelest Thing” has hushed vocals and choral winds, staying foggy and calm for a stretch before the volume begins to build. The music here challenges you and refuses to let you off the hook, and even when the tide recedes, you’re still looking at unsettling waters that could swallow you at any time. Just like its beginning, singing dashes over the final minutes, with sounds bubbling up toward the end, and the drums striking away at your ribs. Closer “Night” runs 10:41, with whispers inviting you into the opening, and the track taking on a mystical flow. The playing has a dreamy feel overall, with the voices swirling around your head and the guitars charging up to spit some fire. The song keeps folding and bending, like a hidden forest path, and once the colors begin to mute, everything dissolves into a hazy pocket of sound.

It’s always easy for us to say “this is the band’s best work to date” when it’s still fresh and exciting in one’s mind, but after multiple visits with this record, that feeling has only grown. Worm Ouroboros are at their most visceral and emotional on “What Graceless Dawn,” and the music is bound to grab your heart and significantly impact you. The band’s never going to compete on a decibel level with most metal bands, but they’re as dark, impactful, and misery-inducing as any artists out there.

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‘Gods to the Godless’ is as close as you’ll get to Primordial live without seeing them in concert

primordial-coverIf you ever get a chance to see Primordial, you absolutely should do it. I don’t care what you think of the band, whether you love them, hate them, or are indifferent. Once you experience the band live, there’s no doubt you’ll either walk away an even bigger devotee or a convert who finally saw the light.

I saw the band for the first time in the late spring of 2015 at Maryland Deathfest where, even in the broad-day sunlight, they were a total force of blackness. Their Celtic-and-black-tinged metal sounded as epic and righteous as one could believe, and it was a live experience I cherish to this day and beyond. If you’ve never had a chance to see the band before, their new live record “Gods to the Godless (Live at Bang Your Head Festival Germany 2015)” is a pretty good representation of what you’d hear live. On this 11-track collection that does a nice job spanning most of the way across their career (they don’t touch their first two records “Imrama” or “A Journey’s End”), they took to the stage July 17, 2015, and completely dominated. From singer Alan “AA Nemtheanga” Averill’s opening salvo, “We are Primordial from the Republic of Ireland, and I have a question. Are you with us, Bang Your Head?” it’s off to the killing fields, where the band unleashes anthem after anthem, bleeding passion throughout.

Naturally the set opens with “Gods to the Godless,” from 2000’s excellent “Spirit the Earth Aflame,” as the band—Averill, guitarists Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál O’Floinn, bassist Pól MacAmhlaigh, drummer Simon O’Laoghaire—are in command, mixing in Celtic melodies along with the crunchier sequences. They then shoot back to their most recent LP “Where Greater Men Have Fallen” with sweltering “Babel’s Tower” and the title track, proving once again their meddle is as strong as ever. “No Grave Deep Enough” sounds even more defiant than it does on “Redemption at the Puritan’s Hands,” with Averill wailing, “O, death, where are your teeth? That gnaw on the bones of fabled men?” It bursts with energy and pride, as you pretty much can imagine Averill prowling the stage and wailing his diatribes. “As Rome Burns” reaches to “The Nameless Dead,” as the pace is pulled back a bit, though the performance and atmosphere are as heavy as anywhere.

Averill opens “The Alchemist’s Head” by reminding that the song is about poet and Romantic Age pioneer William Blake, as the band draws from their most recent record. A somber dark opening sets the stage for when the thing rips open in earnest, and it’s one of the more sinister songs on the record. It seems defiance always is a theme with Primordial, and they unleash more of that with “Bloodied But Unbowed,” a track they dedicate to the band Portrait before they launch full bore. “The Coffin Ships” manages to be just as spooky here as it is on “The Gathering Wilderness,” with them trudging through open space, with torches held aloft into the fog. “Heathens, raise your fists!” Averill demands at the front of “Heathen Tribes,” pulling their participation throughout the cut. Once it gets fully under way, it makes your heart surge blood throughout your body in a way only Primordial can. “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun,” the final cut from the latest album, is called a pagan anthem and it unfurls over the crowd. It’s a spirit-rousing track, uniting those who truly do stand with Primordial, and it paves the way for cataclysmic closer “Empire Falls,” one of the touchstone songs of the band’s run, which is the great exclamation point at the end of the set. “We are in the death throes, but we will not go down without a fight,” Averill howls, having no idea how close to home that would hit a year and a half later. The band does an amazing job delivering this, making hairs stand on your arms, with you pretty damn sure you’d head right into battle with them.

If ever you have the privilege of seeing Primordial in the flesh, you really should jump at the chance. They’re one of the most in-your-face, forceful live acts in all of metal, and they should be ranked up near the top in live experiences. Personally, I’m already hungry for a new full-length from the guys, but I certainly don’t mind reveling in live versions of some of their best songs until that day arrives.

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Downfall of Gaia renew black metal aggression, launch bleak sorrow into punishing ‘Atrophy’

downfall-of-gaiaDoom and gloom is thick and heavy. It feels like 2016 has been a struggle from day one, as humanity has taken many steps backward and people are dropping dead left and right. The status of the United States is kind of a trainwreck as well, and the arrival of the darkest seasons of the year could not have come at a better time.

With that said, it’s a great time to settle down with “Atrophy,” the stunning new record from Downfall of Gaia. You want to be smothered into the ground and left for dead? Then this is the record for you, because you will not come away uplifted with your spirits soaring. But if the darkness is something you embrace right now and you cherish music that can wallow along with you, this will feel like the perfect companion in the shadows. On a less foreboding note, this also happens to be the best music Downfall of Gaia have offered up to date, an album that feels fresh and monstrous from listen one, and their passage back to their heavier, angrier roots was a great move to make this a memorable album.

downfall-of-gaia-coverDownfall of Gaia have been laying waste for the past eight years, starting out more as a crust-heavy behemoth that seemed like an unlikely pairing with one of the top metal labels in the world. Yet, they caught the attention of Metal Blade and delivered their stellar second record, 2012’s “Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes,” one of the bleakest, most punishing albums ever released by the esteemed label. Their last album, 2014’s “Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay,” wasn’t a bad effort at all, but it seemed to run in place a bit. The album wasn’t the step forward I expected and fell a little flat. But “Atrophy” steers the ship in the right direction and rages forward, as the revamped lineup of long-time members Anton Lisovoj (guitars/vocals) and Dominik Goncalves dos Reis (bass/guitar) team with brand-new guitarist Marco Mazzola and drummer Michael Kadnar (who played on “Aeon”) to form a fierce group that should power this band well into the future.

The record opens with “Brood,” where noises that sound like a plane engine falling swarm, with drums ripping through that and the song exploding in earnest. Wild cries lacerate the senses, as a black metal-drenched pace is achieved, and feral melodies drip all over. Massive sounds cascade, while a rush of energy, animalistic howls, and the return of that doomed engine round out the track. “Woe” is fairly uptempo at the start, with the band thrashing wildly and guitars calling out in the night. Throaty howls and nasty growls team up, while the drumming just blisters, and the tempo wrecks your already bruised wounds. Some atmosphere is led into the scene before sucked out into a black hole of volatile shouts and panic that eventually trickle off.

“Ephemerol” has a clean beginning with melodies fluttering over top before it blasts open sans warning. Gruff growls and a stabbing pace create havoc, while the bulk of the song goes for the jugular again and again. A cold, murky passage arrives later on, but that ushers in charnel guitars and a gazey finish that leaves you staring blankly into the sky. “Ephemerol II” is a bit of a breather, as over 2:21, noise spits, chilling guitars bring soothing cool, and the madness is permitted to evaporate. The title track follows, as gigantic black metal-style riffing hulks all over everything, and the growls look to smear your face into cinders. Melodies surge, but so does violence, slipping into a cloud-covered guitar glaze that hints at serenity, but lies. The crushing strikes anew, as the wails obliterate hopes, an onslaught of sound suffocates, and a power explosion wraps the cut. Closer “Petrichor” is an instrumental that slowly unleashes its intent only to speed up suddenly and spray shrapnel. That burst is short lived, yet effective, as the final minutes are built on pianos and calm after the destruction, as you gaze at fiery hillsides and choking smoke pockets that line your field of vision for miles.

Downfall of Gaia sound channeled and deadly on “Atrophy,” and I enjoy it every bit as much as their 2010 debut “Epos.” Spilling in more black elements was a wised choice, and the viciousness and morbidity that are smeared over this record give it a nice bloody stench. This is a band that deserves your attention, and they have a rock-solid new record and powerful back catalog to stand as all the reasons why you’ll ever need.

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Crash Course in Criticism: Metallica mix eras in fresh, new ‘Hardwired …To Self-Destruct’

metallicaMetallica is one of the greatest bands of all time. They’ve also become the butt of a ton of jokes, and for very good reason. But they matter, and they’ll always matter, and without Metallica, the landscape of metal would be completely different.

Every time the band comes out with a new record, it’s cause for excitement and extreme anxiety. The too-smart, too-extreme people will write them off like they never fucking created “Ride the Lightning” or “Master of Puppets,” but fuck that. The reason a new Metallica record causes such conversation, be it positive or negative, is because they matter like few other bands, and they will forever. The band is releasing their new record “Hardwired … to Self-Destruct,” their 10th overall and first since 2008’s “Death Magnetic.” Look, at the time of this writing, I’ve not even had the music for 24 hours, but I’ve visited a few times and formulated something of an opinion. If you wanted to hear Metallica return to their savage sound of old, you’ll be disappointed. The bulk of the record teeters between the black album and “Load,” and I already can sense your dread. Let me finish. It also has some of their heaviest work in a long time, including one song I’d put up with the glory years.

metallica-coverAt 12 songs and nearly 80 minutes, this is a double album that doesn’t need to be this long. If they trimmed this to eight songs, this would be a goddamn great Metallica record. But the one thing that prevails throughout, is the band sounds like they want to be here. This sounds like the record they want to make, and not one second of this is forced. So even the stuff that’s more in the “Load” vein sounds good and passionate. If you’ve listened to the songs the band released online, you’ve heard all the best stuff, apart from one song, but the things you haven’t heard mostly works. I think disc one is far superior to disc two, but disc two has the album’s best track. In fact, disc one plus a track or two from disc two would be ideal. It’s crazy. Anyway, let’s take a track-by-track look at this thing.

“Hardwired” – You’ve heard this one. It’s fast, savage, and punchy, and the awkwardly worded chorus aside, it would be a fun show opener.

“Atlas, Rise!” – Another that’s premiered online, and it’s a damn good one. James Hetfield’s vocals, which are ridiculously improved on the whole record, shows the first strain of melody, and this is one of the absolute keepers on this record.

“Now That We’re Dead” – I don’t like this one, but that’s because I don’t like “Load.” This one is very much in the vein of that album, though it’s heavier. Not a terrible song, but it doesn’t do anything for me

“Moth Into Flames” – Another one that’s already been heard online. This is the perfect mix of punchy thrash and accessible melody, and it’s a really strong song. This is another keeper.

“Dream No More” – Look, if you write a song about Cthulhu, I’m pretty much predestined to like it. This sounds like a black album cut, but a good one, and the idea of the dead priest rising from his watery grave always will make great fodder for a metal record.

“Halo on Fire” – This one really doesn’t fit in any era. It’s not super heavy, though it’s pretty engaging, and this features some of Hetfield’s best singing. If you require thrash, you won’t like it. I think it’s a really interesting wrap to the first half of the album.

“Confusion” – Initially I was turned off by this one, but there are some muddy, doomy twists that I don’t expect from this band. The chorus is interesting, and some of Hetfield’s delivery is impactful. Still, if it came to requiring a single disc, I’d cut this one.

“Man Unkind” – Apropos for our current political environment, and one of the more striking set of lyrics on the record. It starts off with a weird clean tone and then slips into “Load”-style groove. Eh. Not terrible, but not essential.

“Here Comes Revenge” – Another that could have been on the black album. The rhythm section smashes pretty hard, and the guitar work would make for a pretty sure-fire radio hit in any era.

“Am I Savage?” – Ominous and heavy, this is another that would have been at home on the black album. I can see this one going over really well live. The groove isn’t obnoxious, and while Hetfield’s singing is a little grating here, he does a decent job on the chorus. Passable.

“Murder One” – This is the one legit bad song on the record. I can’t justify this one.

“Spit Out the Bone” – The goddamn best song on the record, and one that, had it been released in 1995, would be a Metallica classic. The song is fast, ferocious, and pleasingly melodic. I have listened to it over and over again, and it should be embraced as a Metallica treasure forever.

So that’s that, one idiot’s feels on the new Metallica. The album is fun and very listenable, and after all the tumult with this band’s past, I’ll take it. The heavy stuff is very good, and I am excited over the enthusiasm they pour into those ones. The other stuff makes it seem like they really want to be here, and this representation of the band at least can be taken as an honest one. We’re never getting another classic, but an album such as this that has some exciting moments that could become part of their live catalog is the best for which we can ask. I’ll take it.

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