Fell Ruin deliver unspeakable torture, doom chaos on debut album ‘To the Concrete Drifts’

fell-ruinI have weird nightmares sometimes about being wedged in a pipe underground. I can’t move, breathing is at a premium, and it feels like my chest is going to cave in. Even though the entire scenario is in my head, I swear it often feels like there is the weight of the world on my chest, like I’m literally being squeezed to death in my cylinder grave.

I got a similar feeling when taking on “To the Concrete Drifts,” the first full-length effort from Michigan quartet Fell Ruin. I guess that might not sound like a compliment at first, but it very much is. The crushing, oppressive nature of this band’s music is absolutely devastating, and while their work makes me think of the most uncomfortable physical state I can imagine, I don’t demand comfort from metal. So, this completely works. These five tracks are fairly tough to describe simply by assigning sub-genre tags, but there’s a ton of doom, some black metal, some death, and an entire bundle of torture packed into this record. The band—vocalist Brian Sheehan, guitarist Robert Radtke, bassist Jeff McMullen, drummer August Krueger—barrels into you over the bulk of this record, and when these 37 minutes expire, you will feel like you were in a five-round battle inside a cage with an unforgiving barbarian.

fell-ruin-cover“Respire” is a brief introductory track, and a misleading one at that. Here, you’re immersed in quiet, trickling guitars and an atmosphere that feels like a warm embrace before you have your head chewed off on “The Lucid Shell.” There, smudgy punishment and wrenching growls grab your guts from the outside and try to pull them through your skin. Weird buzzing leads into calmer, cleaner guitars, but that, too, is a trick, as the band tears the bottom out and openly mauls you. Vicious, muddy playing aligns with deathrock-like coolness, while the growls contort and confound, and the track heads toward a fiery grave. “Spy Fiction Holds in Steady Streets” has a clean yet jarring start, with sludgy thrashing blowing into the scene, and the track suddenly hitting the gas pedal. Things jerk into a section that hints heavily at Sabbath worship, while the track leaves trails of ash. Sounds start to blur together, hinting at psychosis, while a heavy cloud of noises drags the song into the dead of the night.

“To Wither the Golden Rose in Bloom” has a drunken pace to start, staggering dangerously as if it could topple at any moment. The vocals buzz like a deranged insect, while the pace shifts all over, pulling in quaking doom and drubbing fury. The track grinds slowly but is heavy as fuck, with lurching growls, mesmerizing playing, and bleeding, ringing tones causing mental damage. Closer “…And Choke on Nocturnal Breath” is the longest track at 10:05, starting with abrasive black metal-style riffs and vicious cries. The doom then is poured like a thick layer of boiling tar, while the guitars go off and scorch the earth of all of its goodness. As the song stretches, there is a weird warmth that rushes to the surface, as the band heads in a tricky, proggy direction you won’t see coming. Finally, the band declares war one more time, letting their assault rip skin and bone, as the punishment ripples away.

Fell Ruin’s first full foray into the metal world is a crushing, promising one. They have a nice hold on what they do well on “To the Concrete Drifts,” and over time, they’re only bound to get deadlier. The pain you feel once this thing had its way with you will stay with you but also will damage and callous your muscles so that you’re more able to deal with the crumbling world around us all.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

Black Cilice’s mystery-shrouded black metal simmers in melodies, storming on ‘Banished From Time’

blaxck-ciliceThere can be a thin line between gorgeous and grotesque. Something that seems horrifying and scary to some could stop the heart of another who is so overcome by the thing that all the person sees is beauty in creation. Even death itself can have elements of beauty if one can look beyond the finality and pain.

All of that comes to a head today with “Banished From Time,” the fourth release from mystery-shrouded one-man project Black Cilice. The music this unnamed entity has made over the course of nearly a decade has been some of the strangest, eeriest in all of black metal. This new five-track, 37-minute creation continues that path, though this music is some of the most approachable Black Cilice art to date. Now, any newcomer to this band, or even this sub-genre, is going wonder what I’m on about after reading that sentence once they hear the music for the first time. What’s going on here remains buried under blankets of sound, and you still must train your ears to hear the vocals most times. But you can’t miss the melodies, the gut-wrenching emotion, and the tidal waves of power that sweep over you. This is a huge step up from 2015’s “Mysteries” and 2013’s “Summoning the Night,” both powerful collections in their own rights. But this record is the best music yet to have the Black Cilice label, and it could be a gateway for the uninitiated.

12Jacket_3mm_spine_all_sides.indd“Timeless Spectre” is the longest track at 9:49, and it’s our opener, as we delve into a fog of noise. That meets up with swelling melodies and cries that sound like they’re coming from an unmarked grave in the middle of the woods. There are some compelling progressions from one movement to the next, with the song feeling raucous and troubling at times, full of spirit at other points. Late in the song, the yells get desperate, as drums crush, and you’re dragged into the mist. “On the Verge of Madness” is rightfully named, as much of the song could make you feel that this is where you’re headed. It’s ominous and stormy at the start, like a soaking weather pattern hanging over a black night. Vocals unleash fire, while the song sweeps into swirling fury. Gazey melodies add more morose texture, while fierce cries and cascading playing rush to the song’s finish.

“Possessed By Night Spirits” unloads punishment right away, and with its 4:55 run time, the shortest cut on the record wastes no time making a dent in your head. The playing is ferocious and dizzying, as mesmerizing melodies loop over and over, making the room spin. Wrenching cries and sweltering melodies add to the thickness, while the final moments splatter blood and bone. “Channeling Forgotten Energies” thrashes away from the start, with chaotic playing and harsh wails doing battle for control. As things go on, the song gets nastier, with troubling howls, creepy playing, and blaring terror pulling everything to the end. Closer “Boiling Corpses” is noteworthy right away for its catchy but devastating drumming, as well as the guitar work that lathers the song in blood. The track manages to be really catchy but also devastating within the same breath, while the vocals carve into your mind one last time, and the stockpile of melodies burn away and disappear into their black smoke.

As buried in mystery as his identity, Black Cilice’s music always finds a way to rip through the murk and deliver its message. “Banished From Time” might not be an easy record for everyone to embrace right away, but give it time. Its veins will stretch into yours, fill you with darkness, and help you see and hear black metal in a way you never imagined possible.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Black-cilice-180165665369041/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.ironbonehead.de/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Bathsheba put maniacal touch on doom, stoke haunting fires on debut ‘Servus’

bathsheba-bandThere’s a lot of evil in this world, and it’s not exactly hiding in the shadows ready to pounce. In fact, when you consider some of the things going on in this world, and the way certain people are being treated, you’d probably be better off taking a Satanist over some of the people committing atrocities and harming entire groups of people.

So, when it comes to the music of the devil and sworn darkness, it’s more of an escape into something comfortable than a foray into your worst fears. On that note, Bathsheba’s amazing first full-length “Servus” is a much-needed thrust into the unknown, a place where you could be haunted and your psyche may be torn apart, but you won’t feel like you’re amid horrible spirits. Instead, these shadows invite and entrance you, helping you see things from a perspective where a release is healthy, and what’s going on elsewhere is the true fall of humankind. This band—vocalist Michelle Nocon (Death Penalty and ex-Serpentcult), guitarist Dwight Goossens (ex-Disintered), bassist Raf Meukens (also of Death Penalty and Tortureama) and drummer Jelle Steven (ex-SardoniS)—formed just four years ago, but already they’ve got an enchanting stranglehold on their sweltering doom that feels like it’s perfect for any creaky night where your inhibitions could use a boost. These six songs flow together perfectly, and as a whole, they make for an exciting, soul-scorching journey that will keep your blood flowing hard.

bathsheba-cover“Of Fire” begins the record with a quote from “The Final Conflict” before tearing into drubbing doom, and deliberately delivered lines by Nocon rip at your throat. Her voice is in total command, typically delivering sung lines but often unleashing vicious growls that indicate danger. The song rambles on, with chaos invited and the band whipping you into a frenzy. “Ain Soph” is fast and fiery at the start, sounding like a death metal assault blowing your way, before it evens out and lets in more sticky doom. “I am the malicious one,” Nocon wails, while strange, spacey sax moves in and brings chilled winds, hinting toward a calmer trip. But then the band drops the hammer, sludging and pounding, looking to do optimal damage before bowing out. “Manifest” is the longest cut at 10:29, as whispers swirl in the air above you, and the music slips into a seductive shadow that lures you in for more. Nocon continually cries out to “my darkness,” while a bout of really strong soloing pushes in and overwhelms, making up the spine of a lengthy instrumental section that chars the final minutes of this killer song.

“Demon 13” has a cool, tranquil start before it blasts apart and scorches the earth. Once again, Nocon runs the gamut of vocal approaches, driving you with her singing and punishing you with growls, while the chorus is grimy and fun. The track is a nice balance of melodic and menacing, something this band does well. “The Sleepless Gods” grinds your face into the dirt as it spreads its wings. This package of slowly dealt doom is made so effective by everyone’s contributions, as the vocals are strong and compelling, and the playing leaves you both on fire and arrested, as you try to decipher what it is you experienced. Closer “I At the End of Everything” is a burly 8:26, and it hints at calm and restfulness as it begins its strides. But you know where this is going by now. Everything opens up fully, with Nocon stretching her voice and dressing the cut with her blood. “Open your mind!” she urges, as the song heads toward psychedelic and trippy in segments, outright violent in others. As the song reaches its finish, the emotions and volume are on high, and a last cut from “The Final Conflict” wraps a nice bow around this and helps it bookend with the record’s beginning.

It’s funny that people used to fear spooky and devilish surroundings when, really, your next-door neighbor may be the one to avoid. Bathsheba’s “Servus” provides for you a gateway to immerse yourself in dark forces that help you feel alive instead rather than dead over the outside world. This is a punishing, fucking exciting record that’s a blast front to back and over again.

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

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

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

Witchstone blend traditional sounds with vicious modernity on fiery ‘Mortal Fear of Infinity’

witchstone_band_picDoom metal has a long and storied history, and its makeup out of the gates really doesn’t match everything that’s being made now. That’s because the sub-genre has been stretched and changed so much over the years that this beast is much different than what we knew when Black Sabbath first started turning crosses.

Calgary-based doom quartet Witchstone is one of the bands trying to dig a straight path from doom’s roots to more modern versions of the sound. On “Mortal Fear of Infinity,” the band’s second record, Witchstone stay true to more traditional aspects of doom metal and pay their homage. But they also push forward and meld with the classic touches a rougher, grimier edge that easily could remind listeners of Electric Wizard. The band—guitarist/vocalist Sean Edwards, bassist/vocalist Andrew Sanderson, guitarist Ian Lemke, keyboardist/percussionist Joleen Toner, and drummer Marcello Castronuovo—mix psychedelic vibes, trudging fury, and crushing vocals in a manner that makes the music sound both traditional and fresh. These four tracks, that all push their time limits, are enveloping and intoxicating, making for music that should help them find a larger following.

witchstone-cover“The Voidmouth” not only is a tremendous song title, but it’s the noisy, noir-splashed opener that greets you on this record. Winds blow before the guitars light up and set everything ablaze, with gurgly singing and growling pushing through into blistering territory. The song is brutal and menacing, later trickling into cold pools before hypnotic guitars assume control. From that point, your head continues to spin, and the band pulls into “Chrono Shift.” There, insects chirp away, while the band unloads a drubbing pace that pelts with bruises. Psyche keys simmer, while nasty howls and wild shrieks take over, and the guitars continue to play games with your mind. Leads built, veering right toward Sabbath territory, while organs blare and drag the song to its end.

“Estuaries” runs a healthy 8:57, and it slips in with warped guitars and damaged vocals that go for your brain and eardrums. Spooky organs return to bring ghostly apparitions, while the guitars boil over, dumping heat and humidity into the general area. The track heads into a bluesy swagger, as noise gathers at the horizon and spreads across the land, and strange chants climb underneath your skin and fill you with dread. Closer “Maniac of Dane Hil” is the longest cut at 10:37, with the song starting playfully before being overcome by echo-rich guitars and ripping playing. The bands crunches and blasts from there, with blues-splashed guitars spilling, a brief calm sending chills, and a smashing, steady final section hammering home the dread.

Witchstone’s clubbing intensity and smoke-filled aura are apparent on “Mortal Fear of Infinity,” and this band is a hidden gem still sitting beneath the surface waiting for discovery. This force has the goods to unite graybeards and younger audiences under the same banner with their style that stretches across the ages. This band is sitting there, under the radar, waiting to be spotted, so don’t sleep on them before their following ignites, as it should.

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

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

Dread Sovereign provoke fears, snuff out any possible hope on heavy ‘For Doom the Bell Tolls’

dreadsovereign-promoThe world may or may not be screwed. Unless you’re living in a delusional fairytale—and some of you are!—the state of society, at least here in America, never has been worse. We’re a ship whose captain is vomiting in a can because he can’t handle what he’s taken on, and the rest of the world likely is looking on in pity. Or hoping to strike.

“For Doom the Bell Tolls,” the second full-length from Irish triumvirate Dread Sovereign, is coming to us at a time when we probably need it the most. A lot of us are worried about where things are going in this country and in the rest of the world, and having this six-cut platter from which to feast likely won’t make many people feel better. But sometimes looking madness in the eye has a way of strengthening, and this music could provide the life callous we need to deal with the blows of insanity and inanity that aren’t about to stop any time soon. The band—vocalist/bassist Alan “AA Nemtheanga” Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), guitarist Bones (Wizards of Firetop Mountain), drummer Johnny King (Malthusian, Krawwl, ex-Altar of Plagues)—pays heavy homage to classic doom on this effort, but they also splash it with modernity and a deep sense of fear and loathing to keep your stomach churning.

dread_sovereign_van209The title track opens the proceedings, an intro-style cut that mixes bells chiming, whipping winds, and eerie noise that pushes into “Twelve Bells Toll in Salem,” a 13-minute cut that reeks of classic doom stench. The track slowly crawls and piles up bodies, with Nemtheanga belting, “I am the dread sovereign, so take these words!” As the song continues its morbid march, Nemtheanga wails, “Let my death not be in vain,” as an emotional solo tears open the sky, and the bells return to signal the dark curtain dropping. “The World Is Doomed” is heavy and driving, with Nemtheanga accusing, “So many want to watch the world burn.” The guitar work lathers with ill intent, pulling the song into a calmer section where the waves recede, only to drag you back out to sea before you know what hit you.

“Draped in Sepulchral Fog” is an interlude track with a swarm of sounds and strange blackness, leading toward “The Spines of Saturn,” the second-longest cut at 7:56. The ambiance of this one is pretty strange, as the vocals are washed out by fog, and the tempo sits at a light boil while letting off steam. Synth arrives like a noxious smoke, as the song suddenly heads toward planetary exploration. A deep ’70s doom metal aura rises and intoxicates, while the final minute of the song fully commits to its outer space journey from which it’ll never return. The band closes out this offering with a fun, noisy cover of Venom’s “Live Like an Angel, Die Like a Devil,” a selection that seems at odds with the musical vibe set here but it satisfying nonetheless. It’s a loose, raucous end to a record that grinds your face in turmoil and murk, with no mercy on its agenda.

Thing are just going to get uglier, and having hope that we’re going to wake up to a sunrise the rest of the year is not exactly a given. Dread Sovereign are not here to soothe you. Rather, with “For Doom the Bell Tolls” only should exacerbate your fears and ramp up your anxiety that any breath can be your last. So grab onto the darkness while you still can.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.van-records.de/index.php?cPath=15&MODsid=8868220d4842be801ddf47e5391c05fb

For more on the label, go here: https://www.van-records.de/

PICK OF THE WEEK: King Woman’s emotional bloodletting pours on stirring ‘… Image of Suffering’

Photo by Rob Williamson

Photo by Rob Williamson

It always sounds a little dumb in the middle of February to take a piece of new music and call it one of the best records of the year. We’ve got 10 months to go, champ. Let’s pump the brakes. I acknowledge this, but I’m also pretty good at figuring out what music is going to make a lasting impact with me even if I haven’t heard 80 percent of the albums ready to come out this year.

The first time I heard King Woman’s stunning debut full-length record “Created in the Image of Suffering,” it was a couple of weeks before Christmas last year, as this heavily anticipated album finally landed in my inbox. Actually, rewind a little further, the first time I heard some of these songs is when King Woman played The Smiling Moose June 3 alongside Wax Idols when the band unloaded some of their new material. The massive difference from what was on their eye-opening 2014 EP “Doubt” was quaking right from the start, and the many added levels of heaviness and mud, along with vocalist Kristina Esfandiari’s breathy, expressive vocals hit even deeper into the chest than anything they did before. This was a band that was changing before our very eyes and ears, and the end result of the transformation is on this amazing seven-track (well, eight if you get it digitally) record that’s the year’s first absolute must-hear album. King Woman already was a formidable unit, but now they’ve taken massive, pounding steps toward becoming one of the most important bands in heavy music.

king-woman-cover“Citios” is a digital exclusive, a brief intro cut that’s built on low-humming noise and Esfandiari repeating the album’s title. From there, it’s on to “Utopia” and its surprisingly sludgy riffs, oppressive heaviness, and vocals that tear at your soul. “Is this really happening?” Esfandiari wails as the music crusts over in the muck. “Deny” starts with spoken lines, but then Esfandiari’s singing takes on huskier tones while the guitars burn underneath the surface. The band—also including Peter Arensdorf, Colin Gallagher, and Joseph Raygoza—unleashes its fury and begins pounding away, leaving noticeable welts, while unhinged shrieks mix in with the otherworldly singing, with a strong, cloudy storm hanging overhead. “Shame” purposely takes its time to get started, as the riffs jar and the tempo lurches ahead. Later, the song opens up and gets louder, with Esfandiari noting, “You can’t even look at me,” as the intensity builds, and the cut bleeds away.

“Hierophant” is the highlight of the record and arguably the emotional breaking point of the band’s catalog. The 8:01 track basically plays out in two parts, with the first finding a vulnerable, wanting Esfandiari admitting, “What I’m trying to say, I want to be the one you want,” as the song spirals like her heart, following her into desperation. As the second half unfolds, Esfandiari pays her devotion, vowing, “If you’re the sacred script, I am the hierophant,” a lovely, yet heart-crushing sentiment that’s repeated over and over again as the track spills into the dark. “Worn” gets back to grime, as the band unleashes more heaviness, and Esfandiari levels, “I wish somebody would have told me, because the past you can’t get back.” The mid-tempo path picks up volume and muscle as it goes along, ending by stinging your ears and leaving bruises. The scathing “Manna” starts with a capella calls before the song comes along in a calculated manner, with the track taking on dirt and weight, and Esfandiari again repeating the album’s sobering title. Closer “Hem” is the longest song at 8:07, and it begins ominously, with the song feeling its way through the shadows, and Esfandiari observes being “lost in the crowd.” The band keeps adding layers onto the song, revisiting sounds and melodies, causing a hypnotic effect. Esfandiari follows that up by looping her lines of, “I’m reaching for hem,” into a pool of sound, guitars simmering, and a clip of a chorus ending the record and taking with it your heart.

King Woman’s amazing display on “Created in the Image of Suffering” is an emotional tidal wave, one that can arrest your heart and imagination and have you feeling every moment of catharsis Esfandiari goes through with this music. This is a really special band, one that has grown in dramatic leaps from their formation seven years ago to its development and power they display now. This is a record you should go out of your way to hear, because it’s one where you’ll remember exactly where you were when you absorbed it for the first time.

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

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

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

Grails’ six-year disappearance ends with dark, psyche-edged seventh opus ‘Chalice Hymnal’

Photo by Rebecca Steele

Photo by Rebecca Steele

It’s been pretty refreshing the past few years that there has been a branching of musical acceptance among many metal fans to go beyond their comfort zone and embrace other styles of music that at least bleed into their territory. The darkwave movement is a good example, as the murky shadows can creep under your skin like the spookiest of black metal and influence you in the same way. That also goes for quieter, folkish sounds that have made their way into the recipe.

Portland, Ore., band Grails has been an originator among artists that don’t necessarily target metal audiences but have penetrated the gates nonetheless. Ever since their birth into the world nearly two decades ago, the largely instrumental band has traveled through so many terrains, from dry desert folk to smoking doom to post-rock fire. It’s always hard to pinpoint exactly that they are, and that continues on their great new record “Chalice Hymnal,” their seventh full-length overall and first in six years since “Deep Politics.” As Grails are wont to do, they change the script a bit on these 11 new tracks. Strains from the band’s path very much are a part of the picture. But there also are nice doses of the aforementioned darkwave, as well as an urban nighttime feel, as if you’re driving passenger side long after the sun went done and are watching the stars pass by as you gaze into the windshield. The band—Zak Riles, Emil Amos (OM, Holy Sons), William Slater, Alex Hall—also continue to pour psychedelic heat into the mix, making for one of Grails’ most contemplative and stimulating records to date.

grails-coverThe title track begins the record as keys swirl, static beats kick up, and the synth sails on a sea splashed with evening colors. A hazy ’80s feel comes out of all this, with the song breezing into the nighttime. “Pelham” is the first one with the darkwave sense, as guitars whine and noise agitates, taking the song into ’70s sun splash; while “Empty Chamber” is very chilled out, with spacey sounds, smooth singing entering the mix, and with you left feeling like you’ve swept into a long, winding dream. “New Prague” is psyched out, with doom dropping and filthy melodies, while cool synth blows into the back end of the track, letting things burn and charge. “Deeper Politics” has dark keys and the urban edge we mentioned, with the song feeling bigger and more boisterous as synth scrapes its path. “Tough Guy” delves into Far Eastern tastes before echoes pulse, and from there, strange tones mix with a threatening vibe.

“Rebecca” sails into cooler waters, as chimes gives off a sense of calm, and the track feels like it’s floating on your imagination. “Deep Snow II” has quivering cosmic sounds that run right into rustic acoustic guitars. Electrics later bleed in, while a folkish and murky vibe dominates, and psyche-filled guitars light up the night. “The Moth & the Flame” has bending bass and cool keys, with the pace hitting high gear, and shadowy melodies leading the end of the cut into mysterious terrain. “Thorns II” has more acoustics, pushing into psyche folk that’s encased in gold, while guitars wash over the surface, and the song fades away. “After the Funeral” is the longest track by far at 10:19, with keys dripping in, and a gentle, elegant haze overtaking the scene. Horns settle, while exotic melodies arrive, sitting on reflective strings before the song fades with just a couple minutes left, only to re-emerge bathed in noise that smothers the thing in fuzz.

Grails’ music can make your flesh crawl and your insides chill out within the same melody line, and there are plenty of physical reactions you’re bound to have when absorbing “Chalice Hymnal.” My most rewarding experiences with this music has been at night, but that’s just how these songs affected me. Regardless, this band has another burst of mostly instrumental cuts that won’t have you clenching your fists in rage but can let you connect to your other impulses perhaps ignored a little too often.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.temporaryresidence.com/collections/albums

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