PICK OF THE WEEK: Hell’s massive fourth album simmers in riffy sludge, atmospheric suffering

There are people who believe we are actually in Hell. Not an earthly existence, not in Purgatory, but actual Hell. Would anyone be surprised? This past week alone is evidence enough for me, a joke of a time period in this country that feels like we are being fucked with by an evil force we cannot seem to overcome. See how that feels like real life?

So, it’s apropos to have a visit from a Hell of another kind, the Oregon-based doom beast that is the product of the elusive M.S.W. We are being served the band’s fourth full-length record, a self-titled affair that also happens to share a name with the band’s debut opus. At seven tracks, 45 minutes, these are the most songs we’ve ever gotten on a Hell full-length, and the running time should clue you into the fact that this document isn’t packed with dirge epics like we’d grown accustomed to hearing. In many ways, the tenets one expects from Hell—somber, draining drone that pounds away at your soul—remain, but we also get thicker sludge, stoner-style guitar riffs in greater amount, and a sense of urgency that’s surprising to hear from M.S.W. But it also makes for the most unique offering in the Hell catalog, and a massive record that’s devastating and molten from front to back.

The 9:34-long opener “Helmzmen” starts ominously, with clips of the mayday call from the Northern Belle sinking in 2010, which already pushes this into darkness. Then, molten, stoner-style riffs kick in hard as fuck, as noise-drenched growls pierce the surface, a heaping dose of sludge crumbles, and a nasty Sleep vibe spreads and kills. As the song reaches its end, the guitars burn, drums devastate, and the thing ends in corrosive bubbles. “Sub0din” simmers in feedback before riffs rise from the ash, and the growls scorch. There is a severe power surge out of that, as the guitars chug and pound, and then atmosphere whooshes in. Creaky growls that remind of Leviathan jab the veins, while sound spreads like illness and reverberates into oblivion. “Machitikas” is a shorter cut, at least for Hell, and it rolls into burly riffs and a face-stomping groove. As the song progresses, it takes on a hypnotic edge that disorients, while harsh, maniacal screams lash out, and the abject heaviness disappears into the fog.

“Wandering Soul” runs 5:09, and it stomps gigantic holes in everything at the outset. Meaty riffs mix with weird voices, and then guitars swirl and create a mind fuck. Things feel like they’re soaring into a nightmare void, and then the hammers drop again. Strange voices echo, panic is induced, and this instrumental comes to a menacing end. “Inscriptus” is a beast, with scathing screams and blistering violence, as voices argue back and forth over the validity of Biblical truth. The shrieking gets crazier, tearing at your ear drums, and while some atmosphere filters in later, this is a beating. “Victus” is the longest track at 12:35, and it starts with slow-driving horror and wild shrieks that tear at the flesh. Noise gathers like an oncoming storm, as the darkness gets to near sun-blocking level, but later the mood changes. Solemn guitars trickle, while strings layer in texture, but later a hole is torn in the center. Gut-wrenching doom levels cities, vocals scorch the flesh, and layered guitars give the final moment an equally sorrowful and glorious sheen. Closer “Seelenos” is an instrumental that cuts right to the heart, as guitars drip and leave black streaks, while a reading of Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, In my Brain” sinks this further into despair. Female operatic vocals cut in and swell, while the final moments gently bleed away, unable to heal the wound of vulnerability.

The return of Hell three years after M.S.W. started writing the record and five years since the last full-length could not come at a better time. The world feels like it’s crumbling, humanity is accumulating filth, and existence has never felt less desirable or worthy of the sphere we’re given. Hell pack their music with vitriolic power, and these songs will feel like they’re burning you alive.

For more on the band, go here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://sentientruin.com/releases/hell-hell

Or here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/album/hell-full-length

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

Less Art approach dark societal, personal issues with blistering fury on debut ‘Strangled Light’

Photo by Scott Evans

We’re not living in particularly easy times. It feels like we’re in the darkest timeline of real life, a place that looks and feels like what we’re used to but that is populated by villainous figures looking to twist and contort what we know is good and right. That’s on top of what we must deal with personally every day.

Less Art, the new (well, sort of) union of musicians from bands including Kowloon Walled City (if you’re not familiar, stop reading this now and go listen to their entire discography … we’ll wait … it’s the Internet), Thrice, and Curl Up and Die, centers on the types of things that make life and navigating the news every night an impossibility. On top of that, personal demons, guilt, and anxiety are things that eat away at many of us, sometimes making it even more difficult to just deal. The members—vocalist Mike Minnick, guitarists Ed Breckenridge and Jon Howell, bassist Ian Miller, and drummer Riley Breckenridge—pour their volatility and passion into”Strangled Light,” a post-hardcore stew that’s steamy and chewy but also is packed with personal and social messages that might be preaching to the choir for many but also feel cathartic and powerful. This is a big change for these guys who already play together in baseball-themed hardcore band Puig Destroyer (minus Ed Breckenridge) but wanted a more serious route to express themselves. They sure found it, as this killer album can attest.

“Optimism as Survival” starts raw, with Minnick singing about a family tragedy and the process of cleaning out the house of relics and memories. As the band punches along with him, he recalls a grandfather’s suicide, dark family secrets, and all the darkness that should bury a person. “I’m too curious to kill myself,” he wails, refusing the give in to tumult. “Diana the Huntress” sinks its teeth as one of the most aggressive songs on the album. Meghan O’Neill-Pennie (Super Unison and formerly of Punch) shrieks with animalistic abandon over the chorus, as the music lays in punches, and Minnick howls, “This is a warning to those who think we’re weak!” “Mood 7 Mind Destroyer: Guilt” chews on bruised nerve endings that have been beaten for years. Guitars churn and then torpedo through the chaos, while Minnick spits, “It’s a guilty conscience, and I deserve this,” only to follow with the wounded, “My demons have gone hungry, while I starve myself.” “Wandering Ghost” reminds a bit of Thursday, mostly from approach. The talk-sung words are wailed and hang, ready for plucking, while the guitars drip and drums pelt the senses. The throes of addiction and emotional flaws flood to the surface, while the song sits in the mid-tempo simmering.

“Pessimism as Denial” sort of echoes the opener, at least in title, and the track cuts open and lets Minnick’s raspy howls take center stage. “Why don’t we ever help those we hurt?” he wonders aloud, as he touches on subjects including racism and hatred, blasting out, “This system doesn’t work, the world is better without us.” Much of humanity likely is too self-absorbed to consider that line. “Shapeshifter” pulls back the reins some, though it remains intense emotionally. Again, we travel into guilt’s merciless hands, as Minnick fears a death where he feels he didn’t do enough in his life and pleads, “Help me do better.” “Crushed Out” is a firebreather, a track that seems to share the shame many of us feel about the country in which we live, at least how it stands now. “This is a fucking nightmare!” Minnick wails, seeing a scene that no longer looks welcoming and inviting to him and those of his mind frame. “What Is in It Man?” follows a similar vein, but also confronts the contorted views of what God has come to mean or represent to people who have twisted what should be honorable teachings, as well as the violence that resulted from this. “Which school or church will be the next target?” Minnick wonders, as the band backs him with incendiary power. The closing title track has a burly opening and shriekier vocals. The bass spills and thickens the scene, with Minnick reminding, “No one comes back from the dead,” as the band hits an agitated, yet thunderous finish to a thought-provoking record.

Lots of people are asking a ton of questions about the country and world in which we live, and answers aren’t exactly forthcoming. Less Art put a lot of challenging material in front of us on “Strangled Light,” as they turn these nine songs into examinations of events both inside our head and in the world around us. The record is a powerful statement not only musically, which it very much is, but intellectually and morally as well.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/strangled-light

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

Tchornobog wrestle demons, see chaos in the vomit of vile deity on mangling debut opus

The mind is capable of bizarre, terrifying things. It can open all the possibilities in the world, help people create amazing things that push society forward, and can help one achieve greatness. It also can cripple, devastate, and massacre one’s life, rendering everything they do a harrowing experience.

People also can use their minds to expand beyond the here and now, and that’s a major theme on the debut Tchornobog album, a self-titled record that is one of the most challenging, strange records you’re bound to hear this year. Or at any time, really. The record, the creation of Markov Soroka, who has visited us in the past with other vessels such as Aureole and Slow, uses this band as a means of confronting physical pain and illness, childhood trauma, and even his own personal demons, all through the hulking presence of the Tchornobog (the name of the black Slavic deity has many spellings, by the way). Through heavy meditation, intense reflection, and locking mental horns with the deity, the master of all that is evil and vile, Soroka witnessed what he calls “a terrible sensory overload of the black vomit of Tchornobog.” The result of what you hear on this four-track, 64-minute record (that also includes percussionist/drummer Magnús Skúlason) is what the creator was witnessing locked inside his own head, which explains why this record is so painfully chaotic.

“I. The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods of Cognitive Dissonance)” takes nearly as long to say as it does to witness. Eh, not really. This 20:10-long monster immediately unleashes fury and spacey sickness, as melodies swirl, and the initial assault crushes what’s beneath it. Trudging and chewing, the song takes on tenets of technically savage death metal and bizarre transmissions, dragging you over crags of rocks, sharp hills, and deep valleys, pouring disorienting playing into cataclysmic wonder. “The brood withers beneath the surface where her seeds spread,” is howled, as bubbly noises bring the song to a brief halt, before thunderous lurching, mountainous death majesty, and relentless chaos all fold into a strange passage of sound, where the Tchornobog proceeds to vomit and spread its sickness. “II. Hallucinatory Black Breath of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)” starts with Soroka wailing, “Tchornobog of 6,000 tongues! Is there a limp vein into which you have not vomited?” That goes along with pure demolition of the senses, a devastating onslaught that keeps the pressure on high and your body feeling like it could melt. Later, roared vocals mix with bizarre playing, feeling like alien terrain, while the madness only intensifies, putting your mind and body to the test. The music plays warped tricks on your mind, while the final minutes clobber and turn everything into mashed organs.

“III: Non-Existence’s Warmth (Infinite Natality Psychosis)” is born with strings churning and tribal drumming, as clean guitars begin to trickle into existence. Warm sax filters into the picture, sending strange vibes down your spine, and from there, chills enter, radically changing the temperature. The music gets oddly emotional and heavy, as the growls sprawl, doom clouds settle, and the music turns suddenly ominous. The tempo pulls back as drums taps, piano and sax mix and give a jazzy feel, and then the track comes to a spirited end. Closer “IIII: Here, at the Disposition of Time (Inverting A Solar Giant)” runs a hefty 17:48, and Soroka makes the most of the expansive run time. Crunch and noises meet, and the tempo begins smothering. The growls crumble as mournful melodies enter the fray, and the vocals sound like they’re slithering under water. The track then kicks into manic gear, with growls engorging. Crazed playing makes your head spin, and noise swallows everything. The disorienting path goes through bubbling growls, toppling roars, and piercing strings. Savagery crushes souls, while a full-on black metal assault spills out of the void, capturing by surprise, and then the entire thing is sucked back into the cosmos, never to return.

Soroka’s encounter with the Tchornobog resulted in one of the most intense, deranged slabs of metal released this year, and there’s no walking away from this record mentally unscathed. The carnage and fury that lies within these four songs, as well as the psychological entanglement, is enough to impact even the strongest among us. But we all have demons, we all have woes, and taking on this recreation of a close encounter with one of the nastiest forces on any plane of existence can give us some idea of what it might take to get to the other side.

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

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

Or here (vinyl, due in September): https://markovsoroka.bandcamp.com/album/tchornobog

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

And here: http://www.fallenempirerecords.com/

Nan Elmoth plot their spiritual path, pay homage to darkness on grim second opus ‘Void Serpent’

An earlier version of Nan Elmoth

Black metal, for all the weirdness and infighting it causes among its listeners, can be an ultimate source of expression and power. Over the years, its reaches have expanded, as has the thinking among those who create this sound, and that has made for some pretty exciting times. We’re not necessarily painted into a corner anymore, as much as some fight against such freedom.

California-based Nan Elmoth (they take their name from a forest region in “Lord of the Rings”) are doing a noble job balancing elements from the old guard and adding their own mentality that’s grounded in the present. What that means is, no matter how far along you stumbled into black metal, you can find plenty in which to sink your teeth, evidenced by their great second record “Void Serpent.” The music has been out there since the winter, but the album is being issued on a very limited-edition cassette by Pacific Threnodies, so your chance to behold is here. The three members of Nan Elmoth—guitarist/vocalist/primary creative guide Deathweaver, bassist Asmodeus, drummer J. Ross Foster—deliver four lengthy, noise-scorched tracks that unleash chaos and leave anyone in their way battered. It’s an homage to everyone who stood by their band as they walked their spiritual path and a hellish burst that should have these guys on the tips of underground black metal warriors’ tongues.

“Purification” opens the record with feedback buzz swarming and riffs blasting their way forward. Chaotic vocals scrape as the melodies get speedy and hypnotic, lulling you in and out of trance. The music intertwines and lets a hint of beauty into the scene before a new burst of thrashing infects anew, and doomy curtains begin to fall. “Mistress Hel, I summon thee, consume my flesh and all that which lives!” Deathweaver howls, as the song ends in a pit of punishment. “Ravaged by War and Plague” is the longest song, a 10:24 basher that enters right into the heart of the storm. Guitars penetrate, sounding like they’re unleashing a never-ending storm, while the riffs and vocals combine to rub salt into your brush burns. Feedback hangs like a poisonous gas cloud, leaving you disoriented and likely speaking in tongues, while the back end ignites, pours gasoline on the fire, and drowns out in pained wails.

The title track starts off with riffs that should altar your mind (yeah, that’s kind of a theme on this record) before wild growls arrive, and doom-stained riffs begin claiming lives. Molten soloing spills lava, while the growls go for the throat and refuse to let go. Growls and shrieks mix to form a deadly pair, while the song heads toward trudging heaviness, giving it a weighty, muddy feel. The guitars simmer, the track slows and heaves, and then everything folds into a final turn of chaos. “To Walk the Path…” is a fitting finisher that crawls open and then brings a flurry of crazed shrieks. Doom sickness returns and spreads its pestilent fingers, while growls bubble underneath the din. The growls then turn into a hellscape, as the song stomps and twists, letting go a final dose of cosmic hypnosis. “Alone is the wolf who walks the path of the serpent!” Deathweaver howls, as the track clobbers hard, and everything is sucked back into the stars.

Nan Elmoth have a devastating manner about unleashing the dark forces inside themselves, and “Void Serpent” leaves no bloody stones unturned as they go about their mission. This is black metal delivered in a primitive, charred form, though there is far more substance lying beneath all that soot, especially when digging into the lyrics. This release should keep heathen hearts pumping blood as they find elements of their own journeys locked inside.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Couch Slut’s intense psychological torment pours into unhinged ‘Contempt’

Photo by Roger Hayn

People online and … OK, mostly online, whine when anyone mentions the idea of a safe space, like the actual presence of the idea would make classic black metal melt and dissolve from history. So, fine, you want danger? You want to feel like your throat could be slit and blood spilled on the floor at any moment? We’ve got what you demand.

NYC’s Couch Slut is about as unsavory, savage, and blunt as you’re going to find. Their songs bash your face in and spread your skin across the ground because they poke at areas that are genuine and scary. Wait, did you think we were talking about people being safe at shows? No, no. We’re talking about music that actually threatens with real-life shit. The band’s debut “My Life As a Woman” was a jarring noise-rock assault that turned gender-specific roles on its rotting genitals, with an album cover that could cause the uninhibited to shriek over the sight. Now, their killer second record “Contempt” has arrived, and if anything, their knife blades are sharper, and they’re digging deeper into your wounds. The band—vocalist Megan Osztrosits, guitarist Kevin Wunderlich, bassist Kevin Hall, drummer Theo Nobel—put forth a more confrontational and metallic assault than on their debut, and every ounce feels like you could be assaulted at any moment. Lyrical content touching on anger, depression, drug abuse, depression and other very human element chokes you to the ground, and commanding Osztrosits stands over you, blood dripping from split lips, demanding to know if you’ve had enough.

The record starts with the volatile “Funeral Dyke,” where the band bulldozes over you, and Osztrosits jabs, “You’re getting excited!” Sax barrels in and blasts over the chaos, but then things get oddly melodic and palpable for anyone cowering in fear. Noise picks up again and squeals, as Osztrosits blasts, “I will fuck you, now you’re dirt,” as the song comes to a jarring end. “Company Picnic With Dust Off’ keeps the savagery rolling, letting pained wails and mortar fire riffs do their damage. The band thrashes and pulverizes, while Osztrosits drags you through psychosis that makes it feel like you’re living in an uncomfortable reality. Guitars burn again as the song ends in a blinding assault. “Penalty Scar” has guitars stabbing and a catchy tempo heading off, though Osztrosits’ stalking voice pulls you back into the danger zone. The harshness begins to feel oppressive, while guitars scratch against metal walls, holiday-style bells ring out, and everything ends in a cloud of demolition. “Snakes in the Grass” has noise piercing and Osztrosits’ voice stretching and mangling. Some lighter melodies seem to brighten the mood, but Osztrosits drops the goddamn ax, sheds blood anew, and the chaos disappears into a haze.

“Summer Smiles” sounds delightful from its title, but it’s downright disturbing and abused. Calculated drums mix in with noise squalls and guitars, as Osztrosits begins stomping and unleashing a tale that will induce panic. “He said, ‘Don’t you say a fucking word!'” she spits, as the song gets more and more unsettling as it picks up steam. Slow-driving guitars moan before everything erupts into a thrashing outburst that keeps growing louder and more intense over the last minutes of the song. “Folk Song” is a misnomer, as it’s anything but gentle and rustic. The music lights a fire that takes its time accumulating oxygen and gasping flame, as the vocals dig deeper into lifelong wounds, and the playing enters the realm of meanness. Osztrosits’ screaming gets unhinged, while the music disorients, and the track ends with some final punches. Closer “Won’t Come” is a 9:25 change of pace, at least from an emotional standpoint. The music swims in doom pools, while Osztrosits approaches the track differently, yelling her words in the background, almost like she is howling from the back of the room. The cut comes off like a pained confessional, with Osztrosits unleashing her singing voice, which is as immersive as her growls, and the final moments take to the atmosphere, bringing this gut-wrenching song to an end.

Couch Slut are real danger and madness, the type people confront every day of their lives, and “Contempt” is a record that will make your skin crawl. There is no safety for anyone here, because life’s real demons crawl out and slither toward you, set to destroy your life. This band could destroy your inhibitions, your sense of well-being, and your fragile psyche with just a single listen.

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

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

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

A Stick and a Stone put haunting spin on modern struggles with ‘Long Lost Art of Getting Lost’

We’re navigating through some rough times. I say that as a person with not a ton to worry about beyond the day-to-day, so I only can imagine what others less fortunate or a part of groups that push beyond the perceived norm must have to face. The political and societal climate here in America is a sandstorm (don’t read the comments section anywhere), and it’s getting worse and worse with every passing week.

How one stands up to face the tumult is a sign of one’s strength and character, and “The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost,” the third record from A Stick and a Stone, tackles some of that territory. While many bands confront these forces with equal amounts of chaos and destruction as what’s pushed upon them, this band does the opposite. Immersing yourself in these seven songs could help you branch beyond, at least psychologically, and find the tools to overcome. The band—bassist/vocalist Elliott Harvey and viola player Myles Donovan (also of Disemballerina, Negative Queen, Ominous Cloud Ensemble)—use ambiance, doom, goth-rich melodies, and even some sludgy power to create these songs. Harvey, a transgender male, has a voice that confounds and arrests. The press materials describe his singing as “androgynous,” and that’s certainly accurate, but it’s also haunting, arresting, and perfectly suited for this moving material that can grasp the heart and soul. Finding true comparisons for this band’s sound is nearly impossible, but think an amalgamation of various elements from SubRosa, Chelsea Wolfe, Kate Bush, Amber Asylum, and My Brightest Diamond’s edgier moments, and you at least have a starting point.

“Erosion” starts with rubbery bass work and vocals swimming over the mire, as the track opens and starts bleeding. The strings swell as the chorus bustles, as the track truly comes to life. The singing is rich and emotive, the melodies slip into liquid, and everything fades away. “Arrow” has a gentle introduction, letting fog rise, as the track chills the blood, and the doom hammers drop slowly. The track floats into the darkness, eventually rupturing with added force and the drums bursting. The back end of the song has a soaking, rainy feel, as the song eerily slips away. “Prescription” lets bass slide in, as Harvey begs for a doctor to create a unique concoction, calling, “I’ve been waiting so long.” The rhythm pops as the strings add glaze, leading Harvey to strike, “Cut your hair and feed it to your demons, so you can’t hear them shout anymore.” The song is visceral and rattling.

“Spider Bite” has a solemn start, with Harvey observing, “You built a highway through the mountain of your body.” Strings scrape, as the darkness re-emerges and envelopes, with strong singing weaving the tale, and the cut coming to an echo-flooded finish. “Hawk” has strings being plucked and drums being tapped in calculated manner, as Harvey’s singing again drives the cause, and the emotional glaze leaves a bloody oil slick behind. “Why have you gone?” Harvey wonders, as the tempo is pulled back a bit before being released and swallowing everything whole. “Willow” serves a sinister riff, as the vocals bellow and strings moan. “We tried to warn you, don’t build your forts on top of graves,” slithers darkly from Harvey’s mouth, serving as a warning to the times that often has gone ignored. The rhythmic tap out is trance inducing, but also a sobering message to the past, present, and future. Closer “Return” has a dark bassline that bubbles like tar, as the singing quakes, and strings swarm. The song is enough to lull you into hypnosis, as Harvey calls, “And our eyes return to the sun,” as the sounds blend, mystical strings slip into the shades, and the track escapes into the distance.

A Stick and a Stone remain one of the most unusual, yet musically rewarding bands floating at the outer edges of metal’s ever-changing sea, and “The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost” is a record that you won’t soon forget. The music is moving and gripping, while the songs build emotion and, hopefully, psychological strength to help face whatever bullshit spews out of our world at any given moment. This isn’t the heaviest record you’ll hear this year from a decibel standpoint, but it might be on a psychological level.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/A-Stick-and-a-Stone-162036303838692/

To buy the album, go here: http://sentientruin.com/releases/a-stick-and-a-stone-the-long-lost-art-of-getting-lost

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

Venomous Maximus inject gothy darkness, blast of doom power on super fun, punchy ‘No Mercy’

This is going to sound like me complaining and going on like a broken record, but one drawback to doing a site such as this one is you often get lost in a haze of like-sounding music. Despite that, I still find a lot of new stuff to enjoy every year. But it’s becoming far less common to hear a band and walk away feeling like they’re onto something a little different.

Houston’s Venomous Maximus have been around for a little while now, and they’re always one that leaves an indelible impression with each record. That carries over to their new third release “No Warning,” an album that centers on strong songwriting, music that has an unmistakable personality, and the element of fun. You remember that, right? I know it’s not exactly cult AF to admit getting into and actually enjoying yourself with a record, but I’ve done that every damn time I’ve visited with these 10 tracks. Out front is vocalist/guitarist Gregg Higgins, whose singing sticks with you far after the record has finished and has a voice that immediately will strike you as one unique within metal’s confines. It’s a blast to hear him sing and sell the hell out of these songs. With him are essential parts including guitarist Christian Larson (formerly of Eternal Champion), bassist Trevi Biles, and drummer Bongo, and combined, they spread a charming B-movie sense of horror over these doom metal-laced pounders. But it’s not just metal here. You can hear punk and goth influences as well, which adds even more color. That’s especially the case with Higgins’ singing.

The record starts with “I,” a quick instrumental introduction full of quivering keys and cosmic zaps, and then it’s on to “Spellbound,” which drives right into goth-smeared punishment. “I shall run, run, run away,” Higgins wails as the riffs chew a nice bit of the scenery. The melodies grab you hostage, and Higgins ends by adding, “They always said I was lost.” “Pray for Me” has a rainy haze at the front, as murky keys join the fray, and Higgins wonders, “Where are the saints and where are the saviors?” Guitars travel fluidly though the mire, as the track comes to a punchy end. “Return of the Witch” is a definite highlight, as the guitars drive up a storm, the chorus dominates, and Higgins’ singing brings back memories of early-era Iron Maiden. “You said I was yours until you die!” he calls out, as the track gets thrashier, and everything disappears into the darkness. “All of My Dreams” starts in a bath of acoustics before creaking speak-singing enters and carries the track. The drama hits a first-half crescendo, as the music bubbles up, and Higgins howls, “Only true love can break your spell!”

“II” kicks off the second half with a synth fog rolling, giving off a heavy ’80s vibe, and then it’s onto the title track, where heavy riffs split faces, much like classic Priest, and a true sense of vintage metal haunts the halls. Gang “hey! hey!” shouts get the tempo and blood pumping, while the music adds its own fireworks, and Higgins belts, “Time keeps ticking every day.” “Blood for Blood” also chews on metal’s roots, as vampiric visions sink their teeth into the cut, and heavy echo on the voice makes the song feel even stranger. The guitars lather up the scene, creating lightning that blinds you in your steps, while massive chugging and wild calls into the night bring the song to its end. “Endless” is a quick instrumental built with acoustic guitars, thunderclaps, and a soaking rain, then it’s on to closer “Sea of Sleep.” The track wastes no time unleashing its energy, though it also sinks into doomy territory for a bit, trudging toward Black Sabbath territory. Molten soloing turns the earth to liquid, some heavy punches are landed, and the track heads off into the cosmos … until is mysteriously returns a few minutes later to deliver a couple more crunchy riffs.

Venomous Maximus continue churning out really strong material, and “No Warning” is their finest hour (well, 42 minutes) to date. This band is ripe for breaking out to a larger audience, and if this record gains traction, they could follow in Ghost’s footsteps and swell their audience. Every moment of “No Warning” is rock solid, and if you’re still cool with putting on a metal record and having fun, look no further than this swaggering beast.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/album/no-warning-2

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

Taphos Nomos, Urðun combine deadly forces, spread chaos on blood-feasting split effort ‘R.I.P’

Many relationships are built on rocky, unsteady terrain, where the slightest disturbance could set things barreling toward oblivion. Then there are other that, no matter the tumult and the chaos, cannot be torn apart, even with a chainsaw. Today, we have one that falls in the latter category. Let the weeping and outpouring of emotions commence.

See, Pittsburgh’s own death assault unit Taphos Nomos knew one day they would collaborate on a split offering with like-minded Icelandic horde Urðun, but it always seemed that getting the two bands to commit to getting material done seemed to crumble to hell. Band lineups shifted, energies tumbled, yet these two bands would not hear of throwing in the towel. Finally, in March of this year, their split “R.I.P.” saw the light of day via cassette release from Caligari Records, but that wasn’t enough to allow this evil force to spread. Now, Our Ancient Future is committing the seven-track effort to vinyl for the first time, and you would be advised to act soon, as only 200 are being pressed. And you’re going to need one of these if you give fuck all about true, abominable death. That’s what these two bands are all about after all, albeit in much different ways. Taphos Nomos are concentrated largely on death over long periods of time, the fossilization process (as if you couldn’t guess that from their name), and geological horrors, while Urðun are slightly more traditional, immersing you in terror and violent destruction. It all blends together so very nicely.

Taphos Nomos’ section is called “Rarely Investigated Phenomena,” and it opens with “Arboreal Tombs” and its sea of noise and warbled voices singing. Then the song opens, and the death march is on. The pace mauls and slithers toward you, with muddy growls gurgling underneath everything. The tempo then begins to stomp bones, hitting a thrashy fury dressed in scathing shrieks and a blistering finish. “Autocannibalism Beneath the Avalanche” lets sounds hang before the vocals break through. Slow-driving death drags bodies through the muck before the guitars light up and send the fires into screaming madness. It feels like the band is bending time, while the growls turn to disorienting singing before changing back, and everything ends abruptly. “Lightning Stroke Obliteration (Bolt Catcher)” has a serene, acoustic beginning before the violence arrives. Monstrous growls and lumbering guitars lead the way before the thing changes faces suddenly. Bass charges and the whole thing ignites, and while there’s a brief moment where the force is pulled back, it ends with gruesome mauling that tears out your heart. We in Pittsburgh already know of Taphos Nomos’ power (if you’re local and haven’t seen them yet, WTF?), and now it’s time for them to spreads havoc across the world.

The Urðun part is named “Rigorously Intensified Putrefaction,” and that gives you a good hint about what’s ahead. “Tortured to the Grave” has a belchy start before the rhythm section delivers welting, and weird vocals lead to a disarming path of physical death. The riffs destroy, while the playing causes dizziness, and a serving of doom darkens the room before closing the door forever. “Immense Rot” has a bruising start, as the guitars spiral, recoil, and strike, and the drums devastate everything in its path. A bizarre voice speaks out, while eeriness sets in like a death cold, and then the soloing goes off and tears holes in its surroundings. The playing tramples and buries, keeping up the intensity until the song fades into the distance. “Wrath of the Zombies” just obliterates, as killer riffs sink in their teeth and also make maximum impact over the chorus. The track is chewy and menacing, blasting toward a thunderous end. Closer “Grafir & Bein,” named after the chilling Icelandic cinematic thriller, is a calculating beast, unloading at its own leisure but always knocking you for a loop. Doom bleeds into the track, while a section of vomitous choking adds a deeper sense of unease. The song then catches fire again, horrible shrieks send waves of panic, and sooty, marring riffs bring the terror to its final resting place. This is strong, classic death in the vein of Autopsy (the cassette version has their cover of “Charred Remains”), and more of this can only serve to further sicken the underground anew.

This union of Taphos Nomos and Urðun always was meant to be, and despite matters that would tear other bands apart and put such projects on the backburner, both sides bled and strived to make “R.I.P.” a reality. The fact that it contains a sampling of two of death’s true up-and-coming maulers should be even more reason to dig into this and devour. Death reigns supreme again, and these two groups will have a large role in furthering that into the future, whatever of it is left.

For more on Taphos Nomos, go here: https://www.facebook.com/taphosnomos/

For more on Urðun, go here: https://www.facebook.com/urdun

To buy the album, go here: https://www.ourancientfuture.com/collections/all

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Integrity fear no changes, pack unique chaos into stunning, fiery ‘Howling…’

Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

About a month ago, I saw Iron Maiden for like the millionth time. About halfway through their show, it made me realize that these guys, almost entirely in their 60s, are in front of me pouring more energy than I could even imagine into an elaborate stage show. They’re not relying on the hits. They’re pushing challenging new music and related visuals that pretty much make these guys timeless. They cannot die.

I had the same thought taking on “Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Continue,” the 12th full-length effort from long-standing metallic hardcore institution Integrity. This band already has a well-regarded reputation and always have been known as one of the heaviest, most aggressive bands in the world, balancing almost entirely on vocalist Dwid Hellion’s shoulders. This 11-track, 47:30-long record (if you buy it digitally, you get three bonus cuts) isn’t just a run-of-the-mill Integrity record, nor is it one that just shows up and proves there remains power in the Integrity name. Instead, Hellion takes a ton of chances on this record. Yes, much of what’s contained on this album does feel like classic Integrity, but there are so many new twists and turns, and it almost always works. This is an ambitious record that refuses to back down both musically and philosophically (we’re talking an album walking the path of humanity’s final days), and the fires burning within Hellion, guitarist Domenic Romeo, and everyone else collaborating on this collection are unmistakable, making them as dangerous as they’ve ever been.

“Fallen to Destroy” and “Blood Omen” are connected and open the record, as guitars light up, and Hellion’s snarls become pronounced. The song continues to speed ahead, with stellar leads catching fire, and the track ending with a wild, solitary howl. “Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame” has strong guitars sprawling, as Hellion’s animalistic roars come bursting through. Metallic soloing splashes shades of chrome onto the music, and the song ends in a fury. “I Am the Spell” is slow driving and punishing before it launches into a hardcore-style assault. Guitars bubble as the vocals exude emotion, and a raucous section of chugging meets up with eerie voices, leading into the void. “Die With Your Boots On” is not a Maiden cover, but a track that does lean much closer toward the metal spectrum. Strong riffs, glorious melodies, and scraping vocals fill the guts, while the soloing lights up, and Hellion screams the title until his point is bloodily made. “Serpent of the Crossroads” is the first in a stretch of longer songs, clocking at 6:41 and beginning clean. The song itself has a Southern, sunburnt feel, with its slide guitars and Hellion’s gravelly signing. As the song stretches on, so does the weight of the journey, as Hellion calls, “I can never be free!” with the track winding to a thunderous end.

“Unholy Salvation of Sabbatai Zevi ” is a 7:25 track that starts with haunted house-style organs that chill to the bone and guitars cracking open and sprawling. The track is both doom-stained and heavy as fuck, as the pace burns, the growls devastate, and the final moments are drenched in speed and blinding soloing. “7 Reece Mews” is a 6:57 pounder that also adds some different elements. The guitar work is steely, and Hellion snarls over much of this, sounding threatening and pained. “Tonight, we shall bleed them,” he declares over dusty noir, as the guitars bask in the heat, the tempo takes on some swagger, and the last remnants bleed away. “Burning Beneath the Devil’s Cross” has drums kicking in, the bass slithering snake-like, and the song going off. The vocals punish the soul, while the guitar work slices through skin and bone, leading to a blistering big finish. “String Up My Teeth” is an interesting one. Taking on more of a rock n’ roll flavor, the chorus features soulful female backup singers, something you might expect from Roger Waters, and admittedly, it was hard to swallow at first. It sounds fine; it’s just a little strange to hear and absorb. The title cut finishes the set, a 6:46 track that starts with warmer guitars that are split by Hellion’s gruff vocals. Momentum keeps building, as the guitars explode with life, and we head into an unexpected trippy tunnel. The haze thickens, as Hellion’s growls stretch and scar, and everything melts in a molten tributary, with the record heading out into a noise vortex.

Integrity has been one of the most respected, powerful names in extreme music for three decades now, and after all this time, Hellion and his collaborators keep making challenging, relevant statements. “Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Continue” is both a logical next step for the Integrity sound but also an unpredictable turn into exciting new territories. This album grasps you by the neck from the opening moment to the end, and in between, you take a volcanic trip that will leave you devastated.

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

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

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

Expulsion continue horrifying work of making grind bloodier on debut EP ‘Nightmare Future’

Photo by Jay Valena

Sequels, for the most part, never end up being all they could be. There’s a ton of hype, ridiculous tie-ins to chalupas and phone plans and goddamn cell phones. Then the movie strikes, and it’s just a bunch of all talk and no real substance. Unless we’re talking about “Empire Strikes Back,” the greatest movie of all time, no arguments accepted.

I doubt that’s why Repulsion never followed up their classic 1989 debut “Horrified,” a record that was one of the basic building blocks to the grindcore genre. That record has taken on a life of its own (Decibel Magazine is one of the many outlets that has heaped praise and exposed it a much wider audience), and while the band still performs live, they never gave us the sequel to that world-toppling effort. It’s inaccurate to call Expulsion’s debut “Nightmare Future” a proper follow-up. But it’s as close as we’re going to get to one anytime soon. Matt Olivo, longtime guitarist for Repulsion, teamed up with a stellar lineup consisting of vocalist Matt Harvey (Exhumed, Gruesome), bassist Menno Verbaten (Lightning Swords of Death), and drummer Danny Walker (Intronaut, Exhumed, Phobia) to create a new document that pulls from the players’ ugly roots. With seven tracks spread over 14 minutes, this effort is fast, relentless, and over before you even realize the steamroller is flattening you to the pavement.

“Total Human Genocide” kicks off the record with a blast to the gut, as the tempo smashes, and the bass rollicks hard. The riffs take on a killer groove, as Harvey wails, “The final holocaust!” as things come to a devastating ending. “Altar of Slaughter” packs thrash into the mix, as wails of, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” deliver bruising. The leads infuse air into the picture, but then the vocals smash you in the head again, and things crunch right up to the abrupt end. “Mask of Fear” has vocals spat out, with the tempo grinding, and the rhythm section pounding away. The relentless chaos pushes from front to back, as the bass strikes out, and the songs blasts into oblivion.

The title track is speedy and meaty, giving off a Motorhead vibe. The band again delves into thrash goodness, and then Olivo’s soloing goes off and sets fires, leaving you blinded. From there, they hit a nasty punk vibe before spiraling out. “Funeral Bells” chugs and charges, with Harvey warning, “There’s no room in hell!” The grinding tempo chews up the road, but then things change up and take on a different vibe. Doomy winds start to blow, as bells chimes, and funereal winds blow shut the gates. “Compulsions” is speedy and spindly, with the riffs throwing back some major heat, and a hurricane-like force sending your possessions flying into the neighbors’ yard. Closer “Comatose” has a blistering start, with Harvey wailing about rotting in a hospital bed. The riffs dizzy and smother, while the vocals retain their power, and a massive dose of soloing brings a volcanic force that burns to the end.

Expulsion gives listeners a glimpse of what a post-“Horrified” future might have been like with their awesome debut “Nightmare Future.” These killer players deliver a strong, death-filled grind assault that’s dangerous but also fun to take on. Hopefully this band is only scratching the surface of their capabilities and have a full-length assault ready to unleash on us in the near (nightmare) future.

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

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

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