PICK OF THE WEEK: Coldfells gaze at winter’s expanse and beauty on frosty, doomy debut record

Leaves started budding on the trees here in February. In Pittsburgh. February. Nothing to see here, right guys? Anyway, it feels a lot like we were robbed of a winter around here. I have a bag of rock salt that’s been in my trunk since Thanksgiving, and there it lies. Unused. So, a season of retreat and getting a chance to burrow both mentally and physically never really happened because winter never arrived.

Luckily, the fellows who comprise new band Coldfells did not have that same experience. Or at least not to the same extreme. These Appalachian-dwelling musicians still have winter in their hearts, and their amazing first record, a self-titled affair, is a portrait of their introspection. Over five vast, spacious tracks that meld doom and black metal expertly, this band—vocalist/guitarist Aaron Carey (Nechochwen, End, Infirmary), bass/drummer/backing vocalist Andrew D’Cagna (Nechochwen, Obsequiae, Unwilling Flesh), guitarist Jonny Doyle (Plaguewielder, Horse Drawn)—cast their gaze on their wintry surroundings, appreciating the vast loneliness that many people see but also paying homage to the beauty of those surroundings that only are available maybe a quarter of the year. The music itself is a triumph, often grisly and dangerous, but always with heart-soaring melodies and powerful singing mixing with it, giving it both dark and light textures. It’s very much like the winter in that vein, and the music here is unforgettable.

“The Rope” is the stunning 10:26-long opener, which starts with pastoral keys before tearing open in atmosphere. Guitars reach out while the melodies gush, and the growls add another level of power to the thing. “Beneath the cruelest sun or under blackened sky,” is called, while the track trudges from there, moving into more reflective pools later. The final moments are stitched together by powerful lead guitars, rattling speed, and a final rush of sound. “The Sea Inside” trickles open before tearing apart. The band invests in pure savagery before pulling back and slowing down into monstrous doom. Clean singing bellows and spirits are high before calm interjects itself and spreads over a lengthy piece of terrain. Before it’s all over, the fire re-ignites, and the track comes to a chugging finish.

“All Night We Flew” unfurls slowly before the verses start thrashing, and grim growls mix with strong singing. The pace surges, as the vocals stand out as a highlight of the track, and guitars take off into a Southern bend, driven by slide playing. Everything from there is volcanic. “In Time Shall Be Forgotten” is downright vicious at the front end, with black metal-style playing cracking skulls. Then things grind into a slower death metal pace, with animalistic growls over the verses, and the band driving their picks into the earth. Reflective lines are sung about humankind’s tiny impact and presence when compared to the rest of the vast universe, and the track fades out in sunburnt guitars. Closer “Eons Pass” is goddamn epic from the start, as the singing punches your chest, and then ominous growls slide in as the track gets grittier. Organs spill, giving the track a spacey essence, while melodies bustle before things head off into the water. Quiet solemnity rears its head, settling your bones, before the track takes an evil turn, with destructive, threatening playing smearing madness before fading into the deepest woods.

We may not have the chance to bask in the majesty of winter any longer here on much of the East Coast, but the themes and journey woven into Coldfells debut record don’t necessarily have to be applied during that season. Any sojourn out into nature can be a perfect setting for absorbing this music, as it has so much to offer. This is one of the best debut records of the year so far, and it’s not going out on a limb to suggest this record will weigh heavily when we’re summarizing the best music of 2017.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: http://shop.eihwazrecordings.com/

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

And here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/

Novembers Doom continue dark journey through solemnity on excellent 10th album ‘Hamartia’

Is there such thing as a legendary figure that operates under the radar? It seems like those who are considered such an important figure would have a very obvious career trajectory and a clean line of disciples walking behind that person singing his or her praises. But is that always the case?

While many doom fans certainly know who he is, I would posit that Paul Kuhr could be exactly the type of person noted above. Certainly, he’s made a name for himself fronting Chicago-based doom band Novembers Doom for nearly three decades now, but you don’t always hear his name tossed around with other genre builders who also made music during that time. He and Novembers Doom definitely deserve to be mentioned alongside groups such as Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride (Andrew Craighan guests on their new record, quite fittingly) and Katatonia, and they further solidify their impressive resume on the band’s killer 10th record “Hamartia.” As usual, Kuhr is out front and center, twisting and turning his voice to suit the music as it morphs from unforgivingly heavy to gothy to emotionally dramatic. For the first time in band history, Novembers Doom have kept a lineup in tact from the previous album (2014’s “Bled White”) as guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Morchese (Divinity Compromised), bassist Mike Feldman, and drummer Garry Naples (Without Waves) combine with Kuhr to create a cohesive, powerful unit ready to push the band toward its landmark 30th year.

“Devil’s Light” begins the record with epic guitar work and melodies that boil and crush. Murky synth makes its way into the mix to add darkened texture, while the howl of, “My soul is pain!” after a riveting solo, gets the album off on the right foot. “Plague Bird” starts clean and ominous before leaping headlong into distortion and power. “This air is poisoned with the past,” Kuhr calls, letting you feel his blackness, while later he returns with growls as the song enters its gothy, murky finish. “Ghost” also begins serenely before the doors are ripped off, and the chaos pushes in. Kuhr’s vocals are more conversational here, as he unfurls his tale and warns, “Run while you can.” The track eventually finds its way to solemnity, as Kuhr notes, “I’m haunted by the ghost of yesterday,” letting you feel his anguish and frustration. “Ever After” emerges from aggressive drumming and a trudging pace, keeping things thrashy and punchy, even as Kuhr goes for croon, though he leans toward grit later. Great soloing bursts through and pushes the fires to an uncontrollable level, bringing this killer cut to a smoldering finish. The title track simmers in quivering noise at the outset, then sad keys and acoustics wash in, with Kuhr coldly singing through the mist. The band does a great job creating a somber environment that keeps hold until it fades away.

“Apostasy” is the angriest song on the record, as guitars tear things apart, and Kuhr’s growls grind meat in its gears. “Your god is dead!” he howls, as powerful, punishing soloing erupts and brings the song to a vicious end. “Miasma” is gothy and shadow-filled, with Rhiannon Kuhr trading lines with Paul and making her presence greatly felt. The song is sad and cloudy, but still heavy, with calls of, “There’s no life without you,” making a huge dent in your chest. “Zephyr” is awash in acoustics at the beginning, though it gets punchier and heavier as it goes on. Kuhr’s growls land hard, though clean singing dresses the choruses, and more stellar guitar pushes this song aggressively over the finish line. “Waves in the Red Cloth” actually has some Western musical influences in it, with slide guitars drizzling over the song. But there also are crushing, devastating moments, as lurching singing turns to guttural growling, and the track takes on a sinister tone. Closer “Borderline” is a 9:03 ballad that gushes with pain and emotion. “I wave goodbye with bloody hands,” Kuhr moans, as the band delves into a classic doom dirge that’s melodic, heart-tearing, and full of longing. As expected, the tempo gets crunchier, with fierce vocals situated underneath Kuhr’s clean singing, and soloing that burns away. It’s a really fantastic song and a great way to end their 10th album.

Kuhr and Novembers Doom have been a part of doom’s spine not only here in America but around the world. “Hamartia” is another fine example of their strength, a strong, varied record that finds the band as formidable and vibrant as ever, with no end in sight. It’s great having a band such as this who may have carved their legacy a little further underground reminding us all their importance and power.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/NovembersDoom1989/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/novembersdoom/exclusives

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

Italian funeral doom maulers Fuoco Fatuo swim toward fury with mind-altering ‘Backwater’

Falling through an endless chasm, through space or some sort of mysterious void, not knowing if you’ll land. Or where you’ll land. Everything feels weighted down on your chest as you catapult through time and eras, unable to stop, unwilling to grab on for safety, and living in a reality that’s utterly terrifying because your destination is shrouded in mystery.

That’s kind of what it feels like tackling “Backwater,” the gargantuan new record from Italian funeral doom band Fuoco Fatuo. It’s a misery-inducing, disorienting experience, a collection of four really, really long dirges that feel like they grind you in place, but alas, you’re on a journey the entire time, falling and falling. It’s not that this band—guitarist/vocalist Milo Angeloni, guitarist Giovanni Piazza, bassist Andrea Collaro, drummer Davide Bacchetta—simply squeezes the hell out of you. No doubt they do that, but they also flow somber melodies and shadowy playing into their epics, keeping you on the edge of your seat and not sunken into the cushion. On this monstrous album, the follow-up to 2014 debut “The Viper Slithers in the Ashes of What Remains,” the band devastates you slowly and fluidly, taking you on a journey that could be deep space or far under the sea. Either way, you’ll freeze to death or suffocate.

“Sulphureous Haze” is your 15:53-long opener, a track that sits in foggy doom that spreads itself ominously before the lurching and growling gets more intense. The track erodes into a slow soot, with a torturous pace spreading out and the music feeling cavernous. Sorrowful melodies billow as leads bleed massively, the pace suffocates, and the noise hovers over the scene before bowing out in chaos. “Rainfalls of Debris” is even longer at 16:06, instantly launching a funereal pace that sifts into a dark mist. The growls wrench while the pace pounds, as the band continues to unload its fury, and massive heaviness pushes down with great might. As the song progresses, it slows down and becomes more mystical, rumbling and pulsating to the end.

“Perpetual Apochaos” is the shortest cut at 13:20, unleashing grinding growls and hanging noise in the atmosphere. The guitars chug and chew as the tempo gushes sorrow, while the song gets heavier and more aggressive. Guttural crunching and a totally devastating path crumbles into the void, disappearing into the cosmos. Closer “Nemesis” is the longest track at 16:55, as synth weirdness drifts over the madness and riffs bubble slowly. The vocals smear deliberately, as the sadness gets thicker and more oppressive, with sonic terror meted out. The melodies spin into loops, mesmerizing and hypnotizing, as the music burrows deep into the ground, and everything comes to a mind-altering end.

Fuoco Fatuo’s slithery, inky funeral doom should make you feel like you’re lost in the cosmos, in a never-ending free fall through weightlessness. “Backwater” is both brutal and mind-numbing, a record that should help you get lost inside its chamber of horrors. The detachment you’ll experience for an hour might induce panic in the claustrophobic or help those seeking a journey into the unknown expand their sense of morbid adventure.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/FUOCO666FATUO/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

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

Seattle’s Isenordal smear doom clouds with black metal chaos on gloomy ‘Shores of Mourning’

Having a fit of depression or a dark pall hanging over you after a devastating situation can make it feel like life has come to a stop. You can’t fight it or avoid it or even get relief unless you’re sleeping (and even that’s not a given), and it feels like forever before you’re out of the clutches and able to feel the highs and lows of everyday life again.

“Shores of Mourning,” the debut record from Seattle’s Isenordal, is an examination and journey through a time of loss when avoiding the suffocating shadows and begging for life to have rays of brightness again consume all hours. The grief that hangs over one’s head makes it feel like being trapped in a mental cell, a sort of personal prison, and the only way to make it out is to survive and adapt. This six-track, 48-minute record is a stunning display combining black metal, doom, Neofolk-style orchestral arrangements, and plenty more into a package that drips with blood and rages with emotion, carrying you through the entire trip from cataclysmic pain into the dawn of mental salvation. The band—guitarist/vocalist Kerry Hall, violist/vocalist Marisa Janke, guitarist Sam Smallidge, bassist Jeff King, pianist/organist Lieu Wolfe, drummer Brian Spenser—sounds like a storm ripping through, pushing and pulling, leaving you devastated in its wake.

The title track starts the record, an 11:15-long piece that’s the longest song on the record. Waves lap as piano drops and strings thicken. As the song opens, abrasive shrieks and guttural growls combine, with Janke’s singing pushing more texture into the mix. The music is moody and effective, with goth-rich funeral bells chiming, engorged death bringing carnage, and the pace really picking up. Speed kills as the band races toward the exit, with cool acoustic flourishes picking up later and bringing the song to its end. “Of Winged Fire and Crawling Shadow” is rustic at first before the earth cracks and lava flows. Vicious riffs and mangling vocals arrive before calm rises, and clean calling adds a sense of beauty. Later, the tempo erupts again, with the band finding a thrashing groove, with gruff lurching and riveting strings bringing the song to a conclusion. “Pyres at Nightfall” arrives in a mist of clean guitars and strings before a slow-driving pace drops hammers. Nasty vocals tear at the skin, as the music mauls, the vocals are delivered wildly, and sweeping strings deliver freezing winds that punish your muscles.

“To Tear the Veil of Dreams” has a cold, trickling start, moving at a deliberate pace and feeling like a funeral dirge. Strings flood as the band begins trudging, with gravelly growling and slashing guitars making their way through the madness. The track swirls and pounds, landing final blows that are bloodthirsty. “A Gallows’ Prayer” starts with piano, shadowy guitars, and a goth feel returning. As the track progresses, it comes to life, stampeding hard and letting the guitars chew up the scene. Thrashy playing and razor-sharp leads draw blood, while surging melodies wrap up with chaotic power, as guitars and strings chisel away at the finish. Closer “Cleansing Rites” has guitars streaking and choral beauty swirling, with shrieks delivered over the fairly minimalist setting that dresses to first few minutes. From there, fogs emerge and shield the visions, as the song gets heavier and heavier, with the world being torn apart, growls echoing, and everything washing away in a flood of raw acoustics.

Isenordal have a pretty strong debut record on their hands with “Shores of Mourning,” and it’s going to be interesting to hear where this band goes in the next few years as they develop as a live band and as songwriters. These six songs are compelling and intriguing, bringing you through the ebbs and flows of this journey through darkness. This is a powerful first statement that could be the first building block for a really special band.

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

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

Or here: http://eternalwarfare.storenvy.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eternalwarfare.org/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Pallbearer hit prog-fueled doom stride, create magic with excellent ‘Heartless’

Photo by Diana Leezadlo

Huge, calendar-marking metal releases are kind of things of the past, as the mainstream doesn’t understand fuck all about what’s going on here. Add to that, the number of huge bands that actually matter to people has been scaled back to mostly the really bad ones. And then there’s Pallbearer.

The Little Rock-based doom band has grown in profile little by little ever since the release of their genre-redefining debut “Sorrow and Extinction” in 2012, a record that reminded the world that, holy shit, this stuff could be sung instead of growled. Not only that, but the music was captivating and powerful, leaving you on the edge of your seat the entire listen. “Foundations of Burden” followed two years later and now, with Pallbearer arguably the most-talked-about band in underground metal comes their massive third album “Heartless.” Simply put, this is their finest hour (it’s literally one second short of one!), the place where all the solid building blocks they’ve laid down come together to create a gargantuan fortress no one can topple.

The band—vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist/vocalist Devin Holt, bassist/vocalist Joseph Rowland, and drummer Mark Lierly—has grown in leaps and bounds, becoming strong players and songwriters. On this record, they even go beyond doom’s walls, layering in a dose of progressive rock and metal that melds perfectly with their melodic grit. This is one of the year’s most anticipated records by a ton of people (us included), and this thing over-delivers. It’s a tremendous piece of music that pushes this band’s trajectory upward and cements them once and for all as modern metal royalty.

The record kicks off sort of uncharacteristically with two shorter songs. Well, shorter for Pallbearer. “I Saw the End” is the 6:10 opener, and the guitars sort of fold into the thing out of nowhere. Strong riffs kick things into gear, as Campbell’s soaring vocals, which are just outstanding on this record, begin to push into focus. “Blacken the sky, can’t stand to see the sun,” he calls over the chorus, as the band travels peaks and valleys, tempo shifts, and burning playing that scorches over the end. “Thorns” is a burly 5:24, kicking off with a grittier feel that builds to a great chorus that swells in your chest. The bulk of this is so catchy, just bursting in your blood, while more stellar guitar work glimmers, and later the track trickles into quiet. Of course, there’s a burst from the other end, which delves into powerful singing and the harmonies among members adding dark beauty to the piece. “Lie of Survival” starts clean, with sorrowful leads pushing through and poking at your inner sadness, and the band staying on a mid-tempo path. The singing is strong and compelling, later going into reflective waters, where you’re allowed to chill for a bit, then heading into an immersive synth cloud before fading away. “Dancing in Madness” is the second-longest song at 11:48, spilling in with drums rumbling and the guitars entering a hazy, Pink Floyd-esque unfurling that’s stunning. The singing is spacey and echoey, playing tricks with your mind at times, and the music manages to be both elegant and psychedelic. The track toughens up toward the end, as the words are delivered forcefully, with calls of, “Unforgiveness thrives, we cannot survive!” rolling with force. The song wraps with an acoustic flourish before melodies bleed out.

“Cruel Road” is both punchy and spacious, and you certainly can feel that big prog influence pumping through the music. There’s a cool vocal tradeoff among members, with the line, “My sunken hopes are buried deep,” conveying the hurt. Later on, guitars shift to a different pace, as things get hypnotic and trudging, hitting hard and often, with more muscular vocals causing some unexpected bruising. The title cut is an 8:10 piece that starts with acoustic picking before it opens wide. The pace is pushy and churning, chewing away at muscle before going cold. From there, voices flutter in the air, getting crunchier and more aggressive as it builds. “There, it’s done, I’ve ended its dominion, blood red tyrant now overthrown,” Campbell calls, adding some of the record’s bloodier visuals. The power stays strong and forceful from there, finally sizzling out. Closer “A Plea for Understanding” is a show-stopper, a Black Sabbath-style ballad where the band isn’t afraid to show pain and vulnerability. The song takes some time to sink in its teeth, but once it does, the emotional caterwaul takes over. This is some of Campbell’s finest singing, especially over the chorus when he wails, “I just want to give to you, all that you have given to me.” It’s way more impactful than just reading it in writing. Once the soloing kicks in, it pulls in the same vocal melody from the chorus, adding a heart-splitting dynamic, and from there, the cut keeps wrenching at the veins, looking for drops of blood, with Campbell leveling, “Try to lose myself, but nothing ever changes, try to love myself, but nothing ever changes.” This song is an incredible statement, one most metal bands shy away from these days, and it’s a gigantic curtain drop on a great record.

There are bound to be some detractors—that’s the fucking internet for you—as Pallbearer further refine their sound, but if so, they’re missing the point. These guys are a scary-good machine, and “Heartless” is proof that the heavy metal album again can be a destination event, one that brings listeners the world over together to marvel over the majesty. This is the album that should push Pallbearer to newer and greater heights, and if that doesn’t happen, then maybe there’s no hope for us after all.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

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

Falls of Rauros rumble toward prog journey, flex black metal muscle on ‘Vigilance Perennial’

Photo by Drew Buerhaus

People and things change over time. At least they should. How boring would it be to remain in the same spot doing the exact same thing over and over again until you die? Pushing beyond one’s personal boundaries can be a rewarding decision, and it can transform what you do into something altogether different.

I’m not sure that was the thinking going in when Falls of Rauros recorded their stunning fourth record “Vigilance Perennial,” but they certainly didn’t have an interest in running in place. Before you get worried, Falls of Rauros remain the same atmospheric, woodsy black metal band they’ve been all along. You haven’t been abandoned. But on this record, you get a deeper, richer band, one that digs into their wells of creativity and found some new elements to bring to the table. The band—Jordan, Eva, Ray, and Aaron—spreads further into progressive waters, and very excitingly so. This record is heavy and punishing, sure, but it’s also exhilarating. This music flows beyond black metal’s walls and rushes into plenty of other regions, expanding their reach and strengthening their base. This is the most surprising record of their run so far and one that proves Falls of Rauros won’t be held back.

The atmosphere of this record is apparent on opener “White Granite,” where the music begins flowing easily, hinting at serenity, before the track rips open, and feral howls punish. The prog-fueled energy pushes its way through, while guitars gush and glow, and vicious vocals add thorniness to the proceedings. The path goes cold, while guitars stretch their way across the void, and tremendous texture is added to the piece. This 10:11 cut wraps up with vocals wrenching and a burst of life shoving in before meandering out. “Labyrinth Unfolding Echoes” starts with gentle echoes and pianos dripping, as delicate waters trickle before the hammer drops. The growls wrench, while melodies add more light, and the cries and growls meet up with further forays into progressive paths. The soloing that creeps in is warm and gushing, though wild shrieks punch in, the drama rises, and everything ends in synth wash. “Warm Quiet Centuries of Rain” is a quick interlude piece with reflective guitars and wintry folk melodies that ice the blood.

“Arrow and Kiln” is the longest track at 12:03, and it has a spirited start flush with tremendous melodies that sweep up your heart. Abrasive vocals scrape, while the playing destroys with great purpose before the tempo cools off. A foggy synth bed settles on the ground, while acoustics slip in and flow toward a prog-bested section highlighted by some tremendous guitar work. The tempo glows and causes you to shield your eyes, as synth blankets once again, and the track fades out delicately. Closer “Impermanence Streakt Through Marble” has clean guitars leading into the scene, while the music swirls, and one of the record’s most memorable guitar runs takes place. Howls explode, the guitars bleed warmth, and violence and magic intertwine and crash land. The song then hits a stretch of wild storming, as all the sounds rush together, firing over and over until all elements crescendo and fade.

Over the past 12 years, Falls of Rauros have been one of the most exciting bands in the USBM scene, and that climbs onto an even higher level on “Vigilance Perennial.” They could have remained in their comfort zone and continued making the same brand of black metal they have all along, and no one would have batted an eye. But that’s not good enough for this band, as Falls of Rauros have continued to push borders and create whatever it is that’s in their rustic hearts.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: https://www.nordvis.com/new_products

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

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

Staring into the endless chasm, German doom crushers Morast infect senses on ‘Ancestral Void’

Nice weather and the sun shining through the windows can’t always wipe away the feeling of utter desolation. It doesn’t wipe away the darkness or the depression, and it doesn’t make one feel any less like falling deep into a void, hoping never to return. Not to start this thing totally in the negative or anything.

Morast’s debut full-length “Ancestral Void” is a misery-inducing collection of six songs that wallows in the darkest depths and only push to the surface the ugliest, most ferocious sounds. This German horde of doom/death peddlers have no use for mercy or sugar-coating their message on these six songs. Instead, they stand right over the abyss, describing the horrors beyond and forcing you to wallow in the hopelessness. The band—vocalist F., guitarist J., bassist R, and drummer L—level you with a huge serving of doom that is served alongside helpings of death and black metal, making their sound hard to classify exactly and impossible from which to escape. Before this effort, the band has demo and a split effort with Ultha (containing Bathory covers!), but this is their first full foray into the world, and it’s goddamn terrifying.

“Crescent” opens the record with spacious doom crunch, menacing growls, and a punishing pace that begins the bruising. The track simmers and gives off steam, with the violence hovering in place and the final minutes brutalizing. “Forlorn” has guitars burning and monstrous growls, as the riffs bring pain and scorn. The vocals unleash torment, as the guitars bubble up and add more muscle to the piece, and a filthy, miserable attitude is smeared all over the final moments of the track. “Sakkryfyced” has guitars swimming as the pace heads into a slow grind that is devastating. The band unleashes ugly decimation, though melodies exist in the muck, offering something of a bright light amid the chaos. The pace continues to destroy, with everything bleeding out in madness.

“Compulsion” lets the bass hulk around like a beast, as the vocals wrench, and strange melodies sicken the mind. The majority of the song is grim and harsh, as the vocals act like they’re telling a blood-soaked story that offers no peace. “Loss” sprawls slowly, though heavily, and slowly grunted words mix with riffs that pour gasoline on the fire. The tempo is ridiculously slow, but always deadly, as the back end is smeared out in noise. The closing title cut dumps chunky riffs into the mix, as the music drones and takes on a Triptykon-style vibe. The tempo broils the senses, as F wails, “Standing at the void of no return!” The vocals then go to moaned singing, dripping in misery, as the band unloads the final assault, chugging away until all is snuffed out.

Morast’s nastiness and hellish horrors are delivered in abundance on “Ancestral Void,” and it’s a really eye-opening first record from this band. It’s not always easy to navigate the sea of darkness when it comes to bands reeking in morbidity, but Morast manage to rise above that flood and grab the beacon. They are unsettling and mind-numbing, perfect music for when you want to loosen your grip and fall into nothingness forever.

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

To buy the album, or for more on the label, go here: https://www.van-records.de/

Luminous Vault take hypnotic journeys into death and inner struggle on fiery ‘Charismata’

People don’t tend to like dwelling on uncomfortable things. Just witness our pop culture. It’s one feel-good, throw-away thing after another without an ounce of genuine pain, discomfort, or sadness to it. It’s a gigantic, fake, sugar-shocked smile devoid of any real substance because no one ever hurts. If they did, they might not buy the products!

NYC-based black metal duo Luminous Vault is here to put a change to all of that. So, maybe they won’t penetrate the overall populace, the people who really need a wake-up call. But they’re here to deliver a trance-inducing exploration of and journey into death, rebirth, and the struggle within for those who don’t mind dwelling in discomfort. On their new thunderous new EP “Charismata,” the band—guitarist/vocalist Mario Diaz de Leon (noted solo artist whose also known for Oneirogen), bassist Samuel Smith (Artificial Brain)—put you through an industrial-tinged assault that should have your head spinning within seconds. That the contents inside your head will come perilously close to spilling out should not be a concern, because you’ll be at the eye of a vortex looking to suck you into forever. These four songs are heavy, hypnotic, and outright devastating, adding another killer building block on top of the foundation they laid on 2015’s EP “Communion,” pushing their obelisk toward the heavens.

The collection starts with “Birthblood,” as noise and trudging playing knock down the goddamn door and charge inside. Guitars rain down, as de Leon’s vicious howls make first impact. Eerie melodies pile on each other, while guitars spiral, the low end gets muddy as hell, and murky strangeness begins bleeding heavily, as noise and feedback stretch and fade out. “Kyrious” is ominous right from the start, with calculated beats and grisly vocals tearing down any sense of comfort. “You will sacrifice yourself unto the plague!” de Leon howls, as the track takes another twist toward the bizarre, continuing the band’s mission to contort any hint of normalcy.

The title cut is hypnotic and a force of nature, leaving you desperately grabbing for something solid to support your balance. It’s of no use as the band pushes the monstrous assault into overdrive, with the maniacal vocals drawing blood and piercing noise carving away at your ear drums and dragging you all the way to the finish line. Closer “Tower” is the longest song at 11:28, starting with strangeness flooding the senses and guitars burning and leaving thick black smoke behind. If there’s such thing as funeral death metal, this is right down that decrepit alley, as guitars chew away, and abrasive vocals push the pace toward total audio violence. Industrial-style beats and a clubbing bass thicken the waters, while the charge hits a high point, pulls back its force, and bleeds out with the back end of rumbling noise.

Though it’s a smaller serving in form of an EP, Luminous Vault pour enough chaos and punishment into “Charismata” than many bands put into something twice as long. These songs grip your hand and pull you into the madness, with you having no choice but go along as you can’t fight the beast. You’ll be forced to confront darkness, morbidity, and your own demise, but once you’re done, nothing will fucking scare you ever again.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

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

Death metal lifers Memoriam pay respects to lost comrades with war-torn debut ‘For the Fallen’

To be in the presence of death metal royalty is not a thing to take lightly. Especially at a time when metal’s legends are beginning to fall in front of us or at least are seeing their power drained, we must grasp when our leaders are strong and still delivering vital content to push the movement forward.

Bolt Thrower’s demise last year was a major blow to death metal, as they were one of the purest forms of the sound. Their loss left a major gap, and they are absolutely not replaceable. That said, the silver lining in all of this is that the band Memoriam rose in its wake, a group that’s here the continue the path BT and others blazed, as well as to pay homage to those who have moved on to a different plane. Led by unmistakable vocalist Karl Willetts, who howled in front of BT for years, the band also includes heavy hitters including former BT drummer Andrew Whale, bassist Frank Healy (Benediction, Sacrilege), and guitarist Scott Fairfax (who is a live contributor to Benediction). This union initially formed to pay respects to late Bolt Thrower drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns, but they ended up coming up with some really punishing original material. That’s now yours to have on their thunderous debut “For the Fallen,” an eight-track, 43-minute monster that does everyone’s roots, as well as all of death metal, a tremendous amount of honor.

Opening track “Memoriam” is more like an introductory piece, as the death machine begins to crunch, and Willetts’ barks enter toward the end, pushing everything to “War Rages On,” a track that’ll make most people feel right at home. Howls of “war!” spiral in as the song gets going, with punch and crunch making an early statement, and Willetts’ wails, which are a little nastier than his Bolt Thrower work, delivering blows. The track is pure brutality, which is just what we expect. “Reduced to Zero” drives a little slower but just as hard. “The prophecy foretold, the end is near,” Willetts warns as the track takes on a mashing, decimating pace, leaving a smoking pile of rubbish in its wake. “Corrupted System” is fast and damn-near punk-like, as Willetts screams, “The walls are closing in!” as riffs pile up and punish the ground below it. The relentlessness never gives way, as things just get more furious as we go, with Willetts repeatedly yelling, “Corrupted system!” as a way-too-sobering, we-can-see-you accusation.

“Flatline” is one of the longest cuts at 7:45, and it gets going with guitars churning and the heat making itself oppressive. Gruff growls and razor-sharp riffs tear through the flesh, as the band mixes some thrashy goodness and even some very BT-like guitar work into the fray. The final minutes raise the stakes again, as the song devastates and then flatlines. “Surrounded By Death” sounds like what its title indicates, as savagery and blazing lead guitar work create havoc. The pace is animalistic, and while the beating ends quickly, it is unforgivingly doled out. “Resistance” is another hefty serving of crunch, with the pace tempered a little more but still offering total fury. Willetts growls are throaty and fierce, with the song coming to a piledriving finish. Closer “Last Words” is heavy but also emotional. Paying respects to those who have fallen along the way, the band delivers a hammering display, with Willetts letting his heart bleed with, “As I face the end, my heart to you I send.” While gushing with sadness and tribute, the band still manages a way to keep their war-torn agenda rich and fulfilled as they see their comrades to their graves before pushing out for another mission.

While we continue to mourn Bolt Thrower, having Memoriam isn’t just a next-best thing. It’s a damn solid, smothering band that keeps the ravages of war in its path but also looks back and raises battle flags for everyone who became a part of their story along the way. Death metal isn’t exactly terrain for feel-good stories, but Memoriam certainly fits that. “For the Fallen” is a record that should put a smile on your face while you’re being destroyed by their music.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Twilight Fauna push deeper into rustic folk on rousing ‘The Year the Stars Fell’

How many albums or how many songs do you hear each year that give you a glimpse into the creator’s homeland and the traditions held within. Not many, right? And that’s OK. Not every band is resigned to bringing their homeland or territory into their sounds (well, at least if they’re not European), and often what we get is devoid of the strains of where one calls their dwelling.

That’s beginning to shift a bit when it comes to American metal, and Twilight Fauna is one of the bands helping make that so. Long helmed by Johnson City, Tenn.’s own Paul Ravenwood, his band’s music has rounded more toward the Appalachian sounds in recent year. The band’s latest album, the excellent “The Year the Stars Fell,” continues along those dusty, foot traffic-battered roads, giving you a deep breath of air from where he grew up and formed into the person he is today. These six tracks are his most dedicated yet to bluegrass and traditional folk sounds, that meld with his misty, shadowy black metal ideally. Yes, a natural comparison will be (and has been) made to Panopticon, which makes a lot of sense, but these two projects are very different from each other. Ravenwood (who is joined by drummer Josh Thieler of Pittsburgh mashers Slaves B.C.) mars his black metal with cosmos and blankets of sound, often forcing you to listen closely for his animalistic calls and melodic progressions that crawl deep underneath the earth.

“The Ghosts We Leave Behind” starts with plucked banjos and a storm picking up on the horizon. The track is rough and rustic, feeling like it could have emanated by a lost soul in an abandoned field at night. The spirits keep floating over, haunting, and leading toward “Falling Portraits,” a song we premiered last week. Here, black metal fuzz rises up and scorches, as washed-out growls and rumbling drums lead the way. The melodies intertwine and twist through the darkness, with thunder overwhelming as the track heads back into folkish waters. Acoustic guitars and banjos meet, as clean singing from Ravenwood returns, and the rusty sentiments disappear into the night. “Light Over Mountains” is another crusher, though bluegrass elements crawl through the first minutes before the fire catches and lights up the night sky. Harsh growls and ferocity spill, maintaining the intensity, but it, too, has its end point, where it gives way for calm. Whistles call out and solemnity peaks before the crushing re-engages and bursts toward the ending.

“Across the Blueridge” is part of a traditional made famous by Doc Watson, and it’s the rawest track on the album. The singing creaks and cracks, giving it more of a human feel, like Ravenwood is more concerned with the message he’s delivering than the package in which it arrives. “A Thinning Veil” is kicked into gear by the drum work, as we head into a noise-marred demolition, with melody snaking through chaotic madness. Serenity rears its head, with clean guitars and echoed singing, but then everything blows up. The music lays waste to the senses, while the vocals peel away at the flesh. Closer “10 Starless Nights” begins quietly and delicately, as the first minutes trickle into a field of shoegaze, and then the tide turns. The vocals hiss and punish, while the music kicks up dirt and leaves divots in the ground behind it. Coldness enters the air, chilling your flesh, before the music slips into the background and back into the forest whence it came.

Twilight Fauna is using traditional sounds etched from Ravenwood’s home territory and mixing it with the darkest of metallic styles and coming out with something his own. “The Year the Stars Fell” is a dramatic twist in the band’s journey and should provide plenty of fodder for listeners who simply want to lie on the ground and stare at the night sky. Rustic and rousing as this is, it’s a record that could help you make closer ties to the artist’s roots and perhaps even see if they connect to your own.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://twilightfauna.bandcamp.com/album/the-year-the-stars-fell