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

Braveyoung’s shadow-plagued darkness pours itself into pool of emotion on ‘Misery and Pride’

Feeling somber and overwhelmed isn’t always the greatest way to spend your time. But we don’t really have a choice when those darker clouds situate themselves above our heads, so what really can you do other than absorb the morbidity? I happen to think it’s healthy to let yourself fall victim and feel those emotions, because it hardens us and perhaps helps us cope a little better next time.

I keep thinking about that while absorbing “Misery and Pride,” the new long player from Portland, Ore., trio Braveyoung. Their music always captures the imagination from the first second, but this collection of seven songs is something different entirely. Their normal contemplative, storm-on-the-horizon compositions remain intact. But this time around, it feels like a classical ambient piece smeared with blood and tears, one that pulls at your heart and drives you into the rain. I can see this being a record that also could bring calm and solemnity to someone trying to escape the day and spill themselves into a distracting side activity. But I can’t shake the pain and the longing, the sorrow and the pain. This also feels like a bit of a rebirth for the band—brothers Zac and Isaac Jones, along with Mike Rich—whose last LP was 2011’s “We Are Lonely Animals,” as they’re re-emerging after a series of digital-only EPs that set the path. What you’ll hear here is full bodied and draining, leaving you a mess of liquid and flesh.

“Wonderful” starts the album by spilling in slowly, dreamily, as keys swirl in the atmosphere. The music keeps spreading and bending, getting blurry and even sleepy, as strings open and sting. The texture shifts, as drama builds before everything fades. “You Pigs Should Find a God to Love” is a short one, with pianos dripping and quiet, sad sounds mixing in with static, moving toward 10:43-long “Blue Beyond the Hill” that sounds ominous at the outset. The pace keeps danger in mind, as strings sweep and move into gazey territory. The playing quivers, as sorrow folds even more heavily into the mix, making your heart heavier and muddier, as the song flows away. “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go” runs 7:55 and lets chilling piano plink onto the ground, with strings serving more power and the foundation swelling with morose feelings. Doom-ridden horns blow, as the feeling of loss permeates the scene, with music pumping in deliberately, getting louder and more agitated before dissipating.

“Such a Worm As I” also is a shorter one, with sounds pulsating and delicate melodies pulling themselves over like a blanket. The music gets thornier, and then everything moves toward “I Lay in Dust Life’s Glory Dead” that open and lets keys gush lightly, with spacious strings stretching the atmosphere, and the song suddenly leaking to its conclusion. Closer “The Good King Will Punish You” is dark and threatening as it gets under way, with string and keys again making for shadowy allies, and thick cloud coverage blocking the sun. The song swoons in murkiness, and that feeling stretches and plugs every hole of light struggling through, giving way just as the tension builds all over again.

Braveyoung lure you into their possession and refuse to relinquish control until you submit yourself to “Misery and Pride.” It’s a record that could knock you on your ass due to its pure outpouring of emotions and the impact in which it lands. It can be a passageway for addressing the darkness at your center and helping you find a way out of that pit of despair. Or it’s just going to shove you in deeper.

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

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

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

Fen dig up roots while pushing universe of black metal with riveting mammoth opus ‘Winter’

At first, this week seemed like a terribly unfitting time to have a visit with winter. February was unseasonably warm around here, so much so that trees and plants started to bloom. But before we knew it, the coldness returned with a vengeance, and winter has us in its sights this week as it prepares to lay waste to the East Coast of the United States.

So, it turns out the timing was perfect to visit with “Winter,” the stunning new record from English black metal band Fen, who are one of the most ambitious and thought-provoking bands in the sub-genre. Seeing that this is the English three piece’s fifth record, the band—bassist/vocalist Grungyn, guitarist/vocalist The Watcher, drummer Havenless—decided to go back and dig up their roots that initially fed this great machine. At the same time, they also have branched out their sound even more, incorporating prog, doom, and atmospheric shoegaze into their sound, creating a greater, fuller Fen. That transformation backward and forward is very apparent on these five songs and generous 75 minutes in run time, easily their beefiest release to date. If you’ve been along for the ride since 2009’s “The Malediction Fields” or just caught on with 2014’s “Carrion Skies,” you’re bound to enjoy and overindulge in this journey that just bursts at the seams with goodness.

The mammoth “I (Pathway)” starts the record, a 17:08 epic that begins in the midst of cold guitars, gazey melodies, and the call of, “All will fall,” sung almost solemnly. From there, the pace picks up, as roars explode, and the band heads into grisly, yet proggy, terrain. Later, strains of elegant playing stream down, while black metal chaos rips from that, with wrenching growls scathing before the song trickles out in a dose of calm. “II (Penance)” jars you right away as it tears away at the senses. Harsh growls and compelling playing light the way, while a prog-fueled bassline bubbles, and a dose of crunch ends up in watery strangeness. Out of that, the cut explodes again, with odd voices warbling, the rhythms pulsating, and the track burning away with intensity. “III (Fear)” has the bass flowing into a hazy atmosphere, letting the song set its temperature and slowly build itself. Once the track unloads, harsh wails and constantly changing tempos greet you and push you in multiple directions. As the cut progresses, the band crushes hard, the song washes over what it destroyed, and a hugely melodic ending sends final sparks flying.

“IV (Interment)” runs a hefty 14:52, and it starts cleanly, almost beautifully, as if serenity is about to stretch itself. Hulking charging then emerges, with vocals that soar over the din, and then growls and punishment meet and tear things apart. The track has times where it’s both airy and vicious, with the call of, “I have nothing left to give,” hitting home and swelling your chest. From there, the drums decimate, destruction explodes, and the cut comes to a calculated finish. “V (Death)” is another monster at 12:41, and it’s flooded into from “IV,” leaving it simmering in a sound bath before all is blown to bits. The playing is as strong as anything else on the record, as a tidal wave of emotion surges and becomes the dominant trait. Some gothy parts are mixed into the stew, while melodic steam, further adventures into prog, and a conversion from savagery into beauty is smeared over the song’s back end. Closer “VI (Sight)” has a soothing beginning, with a synth cloud hovering overhead, sax notes drifting, and the song fully blooming about halfway through. Clean singing and thorny growling mix together, as strains of death metal rear their ugly head. The final moments of the song do nothing to soothe any wounds, as the intensity and barbaric fury leave a litany of gashes and blood streaks.

Winter may be ready to loosen its grip on us at some point, but Fen are making sure that frigidity lasts a little longer with this massive record. “Winter” is recommended to be a full-album experience, which asks a sacrifice of your time, but that journey’s ultimately worth it. Fen’s world keeps expanding by leaps and bounds, resulting in a spoil of riches for anyone who consumes their music.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.auralwebstore.com/shop/index.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.code666.net/

Noisy Celestial Bodies mount horrifying sound war as gods clash on ‘Spit Forth From Chaos’

There are those bands that people seem to either love or hate, with practically no one falling in between. Rush, for example. I love them with all my heart, but I have friends who despise them as fully I love the Canadian power trio. But I get it. It’s hard to find middle ground on something so unique.

That is bound to be the fate that greets Celestial Bodies, a group that combines members of Nihill and Dead Neanderthals. This duo is ready to unleash one of the strangest, noisiest abominations in some time with “Spit Forth From Chaos,” a record that imagines a cosmic war pitting the deities Absu and Tiamat (not the bands, mind you) against the horrible forces they released into the world. The record sounds like a clash of the gods, one that’s fought with chainsaws, machinery, and uncontrollable violence most could not even dream. There certainly is a basis in black metal, but the grinding noise that mixes with it isn’t totally out of bounds from the current darkwave movement. Much of the album sounds like it’s crafted by intergalactic motorcycles running on engines not even invented yet on our planet. It’s bound to excite as many as it nauseates, and there likely could be a great war between those who embrace it and those who reject it.

The terror begins with “The Final Covenant,” where beast-like howls and bizarre noises meld to begin the vortex of madness. This sounds like complete chaos, as if machines are chewing through scenery, and that pushes toward “The Nazarene Bastard Crowned” that is a short blast but a relentless hellscape during its entire run time. “Burning Trident” has drums barreling toward the gates and noises scraping and swirling. The track bathes in total strangeness, with a wail of, “My light is your darkness!” penetrating the mind. “Destroyer of Aeons” has an odd wave of synth at its front end, with wild howls and tortured cries crushing any hope of peace. Static mounts like a swarm, met by the cry of, “Your world is falling to pieces!” “Return to the Endless Void” has synth sprawl grinding away, more noise swelling, and a vocal assault that leaves bruising. It sounds like an arcade of damnation over its run, blasting its way toward “Sign of the Wolf.” There, the storms settle overhead as gruff growls punch, and a furious rant smothers and demolishes, leaving you running for cover.

“Chaos of Infinity” has drums igniting, weird mechanical guitars chewing away, and the vocals sounding as if they’re emitting pure pain. Some of this music is Tron-like, futuristic and claustrophobic, settling alongside a heaping helping of death. “Kingdom of Black Torment” has drums clashing with noise horror, as strange synth flows in and makes a weird soup, and complete insanity burns out of control, bringing with it alien-like power. “No Place to Hide” doesn’t stay long, but while it’s here, it brings drums pulsating and keys streaking blood, setting the stage for “Reflections of Ain Soaf.” “Tonight, we sacrifice!” is howled, as chilling keys and trickling music slowly pool and make travel dangerous. The shout of, “It’s time to die!” should shake you to your guts, and if it doesn’t, the music will. Finally, “Towards Perdition” caps the record, a 5:44-long bruiser built with quivering synth, space invaders-style attacks, plunder, and the declaration, “We spill the blood on the altar!” as the track disappears into mystery.

Celestial Bodies’ noise war is one that’s going to get people caught in its gears as it grinds them into bloody piles of meat. “Spit Forth From Chaos” isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s audibly offensive and purposely abrasive. Those who like that kind of thing (and I am one of them) will absorb these sounds into them and, along with that, recreate the unholy battle of the gods in their minds.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Woe’s scathing black metal blasts at faith, fear on firebreathing ‘Hope Attrition’

Photo by Samantha Marble

As black metal continues to add to its ranks and, admittedly take on a shit load of water, a return from one of the masters is a welcome thing. And so we have Woe rising back up to reclaim their rightful place among the sub-genre’s finest by creating a firestorm of an album only they can pull off.

“Hope Attrition” is the band’s fourth album and first in four years, since 2013’s great “Withdrawal,” and with that time has come a bit of change. The ranks have shuffled again, as longtime creator and leader Chris Grigg (guitars, vocals) and bassist Grzesiek Czapla (he’s also handled drums and guitars in the past for the band) now is joined by guitarist/vocalist Matt Mewton and drummer extraordinaire Lev Weinstein to round out this vicious new lineup. Another shift is with their old home Candlelight Records essentially deceased, they’ve caught on with the awesome Vendetta Records to release this new platter, which is filled with vitriol, spite, anger, disillusionment, and any other emotion that can rot your insides. The band is absolutely on fire, with Grigg sounding like his growls and shrieks are here to wake up a world that long has been lulled to sleep.

“Unending Call of Woe” is an ideal starting place, as riffs charge up, and the first part of the track unravels in a calculating pace. But then the song whips into gear, with Grigg howling, “This is a failure, and every wretched word is broken!” as things go off the rails and enter high speed. Grigg’s vocals go from virulent growl to mad shriek, as the band keeps crunching, guitars boil, and the song bleeds away. “No Blood Has Honor” is a firestorm, as the band rips away, and an assault on blind faith and the ramifications of fear spit from Grigg’s mouth. “When you close your eyes, how do you close your eyes? What could you know about honor?” Grigg stabs, as a blistering assault unfolds, and the whole thing comes to a hellacious end. “A Distant Epitaph” is an acoustic-tinged instrumental that is a needed comedown after what preceded it, and then it’s on to “The Din of the Mourning,” which tears out of the gates and rips them to shreds. The vocals practically screech with anger, while a tidal wave of melodies lap up on the shore with no warning, leaving any bystander running for shelter. The vocals are crazed, while the music loops into spirals, pushing off spirited guitar work and a steamrolling tempo. “We wait too long to live, we wait too long forever,” guest vocalist Brooks Wilson (Crypt Sermon, Trenchrot) calls, as the cut comes to a fiery finish.

“The Ones We Lost” tramples a mid-tempo path to start before it bursts open, and the vocals settle into strangulation mode. “How do I live with this atrocity? Who do I blame for this defeat?” Grigg howls, as the pace rips apart everything in its wake, leaving fallen buildings and lung-choking dust. The pace continues to wrench and chew away at flesh before it grinds to a finish. “Drown Us With Greatness” has a blazing opening, with scorching guitar work adding to the already agitated pace. The vocals breathe flames, as very decidedly black metal melodies trample over you, and some off-kilter passages aim to hypnotize and potentially nauseate. Gruff growls and unquestioned intensity unleash viciousness and drag to the song to its ending. Closer “Abject in Defeat” tramples in with drums rolls and strong riffs, as a channeled assault and thought-provoking lead guitar work unfurl and present a different side of Woe’s vitriol. Grigg’s vocals lurch and corrode, with him wailing, “All paths led out to sea, and slowly I discovered, this world is not for me.” That puts a painful, sobering exclamation point at the end of a song where fear and terror and the pressures of the surrounding world settle in and bring on self-implosion.

Having Woe back in our midst is a necessary and welcome thing, and “Hope Attrition” carves a deadly new path for the band, while acting as a wake-up call for a black metal terrain that often lacks teeth. Woe’s mission never has wavered and always has been here to shake, prod, and provoke, and as this new record proves, there are very few who could hold a candle to their rage.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.vendettarecords.bigcartel.com/

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