Doom smashers Usnea take sci-fi nightmare, apply to modern hell on violent ‘Portals Into Futility’

We are living in what could become a great era of escapism. Look around you. We’re living in a dark, most volatile time, while those who run the world are pretty much at their absolute worst. Or at least our country’s is. Every day, things seem to get more inexplicably stupid, and it seems it can’t be long until we’re all wondering how things go as bad as they did (that is if free thought is still a thing).

Portland, Ore., doom crushers Usnea aren’t exactly going to lift you out of your doldrums on their crushing third record “Portals Into Futility,” but you might be able to revel in the fact that we still have a chance to avoid the worst. The band sunk back into science-fiction dystopian stories, which all-too-frighteningly capture a lot of what’s going on today, and pour that into this 5-track, 56-minute monster. The songs are long, crushing, agonizing portraits that mix funeral doom, death metal, sludge, and many other elements into stories that dreamed of a time when humanity was at a crisis of being, something that might not be that far in our future. So, maybe it’s not as escapist as one might hope for, but you at least can get lost in the music and float in the thick waves that look at a way of life we don’t have to accept yet, as long as people stay awake and fight. That last part might not totally be in the band’s—guitarist/vocalist Justin Cory, bassist/vocalist Joel Williams, guitarist Johnny Lovingood, and drummer Zeke Rogers—motivations, but that’s certainly floating in the bloody water if anyone cares to reach out grab the last sliver of hope.

“Eidolons and the Increate” is the 11:57 opener, the second-longest song on the record, one that has a rain-smeared start. Droning singing collects before the song barrels open, and terrifying cries unleash punishment. The track stomps through mud, while deep growls rumble, the fires build to a rage, and the intensity floods over. The track later goes cold, feeling like a deathrock chill, while fog envelops the senses, warbled singing melts into shrieks, and the track has a crushing finish. “Lathe of Heaven” drubs for 9:45, though it begins in a heavy pocket of atmosphere that slowly gives way to panic. Melodies snake through the chaos, as gargantuan growls bring fury. Unhinged wails, including a cry of, “Nothing is certain!” pummel as anguish bleeds hard and noise spirals away.

“Demon Haunted World,” named after Carl Sagan’s book (at least I assume), is the shortest cut, as It’s bled into from the song prior, and noise begins to ache. Liquid melodies trickle into the madness, as energy spits, wheels spin in the mud, and the track absolutely gushes. Shrieks mix with growls, as moodiness blazes, and that violent blast packs the final minutes with fear. “Pyrrhic Victory” is like a stomping giant decimating villages with no mercy. The vocals are terrifying as usual, and even as the tempo plods along, it never fails to land devastating blows. Mournful melodies swim in tears before the bottom drops, the heaviness is crushing, and the soloing that ends the song torches the flesh. Closer “A Crown of Desolation” is the longest cut, stretching over 19:04, and doing so with trickling pianos and simmering sounds at first. Of course, the gates drop hard, and doom beasts roam the land, as the singing goes from growls and screeches to bellowing clean vocals, while the band lays waste. Later, some psychedelic colors are smeared into scene, as sadness forces you to take a deep drink, and emotional guitars cascade. The drums rattle and crush your teeth, the track heads into deeper waters, and darkness swallows everything whole.

Humanity might be heading right into the gears of a combine, and perhaps the music we hear on Usnea’s “Portals Into Futility” can help us prepare for that reality. For now, it’s a morbid look into a future dressed in hatred, fear, and death, something that is just in our imagination. For now, it’s a dose of escapism bordering on real life, a way of being we still have a chance to stop.

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Grift’s Gärdefors reflects on what shapes human experience with emotional stunner ‘Arvet’

We cannot escape who we are. We might try to color in our personalities or try to change parts of our lives, but ultimately, we cannot move away from what’s buried at our very core and has been there since we’ve become human beings. Our journey from birth to wherever we are now is etched into our hearts and minds, and that never can be altered.

That’s a major theme of Grift’s excellent new record “Arvet,” which translates to “the heritage.” Most of us have big dreams and aspirations in life, and we spend a lot of time trying to reach those goals. Not all of us make it. Many of us fail to live up to the big expectations we build for ourselves. But if we never get there, all we have to fall back on is ourselves and who we truly are. Experiences are things that create the very fiber of our beings, and band mastermind Erik Gärdefors delves into this sensitive territory on these six songs. He brings to the table elements of black metal and rustic folk, which are sounds that comprise his other works, and the music here bursts with emotion. Gärdefors’ vocals roar and sometimes buckle with the weight of what’s he’s singing. These are vulnerable tracks when you dig beneath the surface, and no matter how loud or savage things get, we’re always returning to our essence along our lifelong journey.

“Flyktfast” opens the record with acoustic passages, strings calling, and a rustic sense that makes it feel like you’re in a misty woods. The song then opens, as harsh cries rain down, leading to an emotional rush and huge wave of melody, which Gärdefors amplifies with more heartfelt cries. The song goes into a dramatic swell, as the playing reveals its huge heart, and the track comes to a rousing end. “Den stora tystnaden” rides in on acoustics and tapped drums, as Gärdefors’s gruff singing leads the way, and the pace takes on a slower, more calculated approach. Then things burst with no warning, as emotions cascade like a soaking rain, and the feeling conveyed just wrench you. Black metal power and majesty unfurl, bringing everything to a head before the sounds fade into woodsy calm. “Glömskans järtecken” has bells ringing, dogs barking, and creaky noises before the song slowly begins to open its doors. Gärdefors sings cleanly, as the song takes on a folkish vibe, before the volume rises and breaks through the gates. Harsh wails and sweltering guitars meet, as the intensity crescendos and blasts toward its finish.

“Morgon på Strömsholm” is the weirdest of the bunch, a sort of lamentation set to music more than anything. Air breezes by while birds chirp, while aching strings and clanging bells provide our stunted melodies. For the most part, the track is bone dry, but by design. It feels like a gasp of harsh winter when moisture is at its lowest point. “Utdöingsbygd” also starts acoustically, though guitars eventually ring out and begin to take over. Gärdefors’ voice pierces the calm, as his growling crackles and gives off sparks, and melodies soar over top. The feel is glorious, and even when serenity arrives and patters, it’s always with the promise of another emotional deluge on the other side. Closer “Nattyxne” has a rousing start, as speed is represented in full, and wild wails barrel over the horizon. The playing is channeled and intense, as the vocals pull at your psyche at some points and blow you down with hearty bellowing at others. As the song winds down, a female voice joins in to add a different texture, and the storm slowly subsides and fades with the clouds.

Gärdefors will dig inside you and unearth some scars on “Arvet.” Even if his words don’t resonate because of language barrier, the music itself is dark and emotive enough that the messages should register nonetheless. The music is a stark reminder that we’re always digging and clawing our way through our time here, and whether for good or bad, we always have our true beings to return to when things happen to hit rough patches.

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Argus simmer in classic doom, metal, unleash glorious epics on massive ‘From Fields of Fire’

So much metal revolves around ugliness and anger and violent audio assaults that it feels like the bulk of what we’re served is mean-spirited and furious. That’s totally fine, by the way, because I think we all like that stuff, no? Still, it’s always cool to hear a band that remembers metal once reveled in power and glory and played up those two elements hardcore.

That’s a big reason I’m always excited to have a new Argus record to absorb. “From Fields of Fire” is the Pennsylvania-based band’s fourth record, and it’s their most enrapturing by far. The days of Iron Maiden, Dio, Judas Priest, Cirith Ungol and others creating music that made you feel like you could brandish a sword and take on anything (you can’t, by the way, so let’s keep that in-house) comes rushing back with these killer nine songs. And it’s not that the band came rolling into this thing without battles to fight themselves. Some lineup turmoil occurred, changing the band’s ranks, as guitarist Dave Watson (formerly of Icarus Witch and Mantic Ritual) and bassist Justin Campbell (formerly of Tabula Rasa) joined the fold that includes longtime members Brian “Butch” Balich (vocals), Jason Mucio (guitars), and Kevin Latchaw (drums). Musically, the band is on fire, sounding channeled and pounding, and Balich puts in his best performance to date. Not that he’s been a slouch before. Anything but! Yet, he’s on fire here, bellowing his heart out, adding a little grit, and gushing with emotion. The band really has found new life, and it’s all over this record.

“Into the Fields of Fire” is an intro cut that combines weird noises, static interference, and acoustics, leading the way toward “Devils of Your Time,” which feels rather apropos considering the recent news cycle. The track stomps, while Balich prowls, wailing, “Rise against the devils of your time!” Strong soloing and doom punishment add a good measure of bruising, going into “As a Thousand Thieves” and its muddy blistering. The song is a little harsher, especially vocally, as the band gallops hard, mixes in some scintillating lead lines, and Balich wails, “My hell awaits me!” “216” starts off slower, as guitars cry out, but then the pace kicks up. Intricate, classic metal-style riffing drips with color, as the song reaches back to the genre’s roots. “Circle of fire, your final test along this road,” Balich weaves, as the band backs him with “oh-oh” gang calls, and the guitars tend the fire.

“You Are the Curse” is a killer, perhaps the best song in this band’s entire catalog. The guitars charge ahead, feeling like they’re running alongside Maiden, and the chorus absolutely crushes you. If this thing isn’t stuck inside your head after the first listen, with Balich calling, “Your fate reversed!” then I can’t help you. This is a crushing song, one of the best metal tracks of the year. “Infinite Lives Infinite Doors” is the longest song, stretching 11:14 and dominating the entire time. Epic doom riffs spiral, as the track slowly comes to life. Steely verses flow into the simple, but steady chorus, and there are plenty of musical fireworks to add meat. The guitars are engaged in a duel, taking turns dealing blows, conjuring a nice NWOBHM sense over the track’s final minutes. “Hour of Longing” is dark and shadowy, a mid-tempo scorcher that Balich just rules. “Sometimes in the stillness, I can hear your voice,” he cries, as the moodiness and sorrow well around him, trickling out in black. “No Right to Grieve” is a doom ballad and has Balich signing deeper than ever, as clean guitars deliver emotional balance, and the song builds its intensity. Soloing soars, cracking the sky, as the band conveys incredible power before bowing out. “From the Field of Fire” is the closing outro, the bookend that lets loose rustic guitars and the final rains soaking the ground.

Argus have proved themselves and created a name over more than a decade together, and “From Fields of Fire” is the best thing these guys have created to date. The songs are chock-full of heart and energy, and they recapture that era when you could put on a metal record and slip into your daydreams. Argus may have had to hit a few bumps in the road, but they’re stronger for it.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Ovakner’s first EP ‘Ar/Lume’ expands reach with cassette release, added tracks

This has been a prime time for social unrest and expressing rage and frustration. We are seeing that play out in the United States, and around the world, as people are battling their problems, normally inflicted by those above us who stir the pot. In those times, it’s good to have a creative outlet to release your frustrations, and having music that can act as a means for your bloodletting can be the perfect thing for you. It sure has been for me.

Spanish band Ovakner didn’t necessarily position their music to go along with the current events and the anxiety and pain that go along with it. Their focus is on paganism and urban destruction, so it’s not totally off the mark. It’s more their sound and their crusty death metal that lands dangerous blows and causing the ground beneath you to quake where it can align with what you might be feeling every day. This three-headed creature—vocalist/guitarist Rober, bassist Lois, and drummer Alberto—originally put this music out their debut EP “Ar/Lume” earlier in the year in CD form, but now Eihwaz Recordings is following up with a cassette version with two extra songs, one a pretty killer cover track. This is a really strong, fun listen, and it should give you plenty of room to burn off all of your negative energy.

“Ar” kicks off the record with a gust of wind before the song grinds open, and Rober’s nasty growls make their way into the mix. The band hits a thrashy boil before guitars begin to unload the heat, and even some melody is worked in for good measure. Rober’s voice takes on robotic effects, then the song re-ignites, vicious howls tear into flesh, and the song comes to a rumbling end. “Inexpungable” blisters from the start, as Rober’s howls get vicious and scathing, and the band takes things to new heights of heaviness. Doom bells clang as the song goes cold for a stretch. But then the terror is renewed, and brutality is spread to every corner. A cover of Eat My Fuk’s “Destroy the Factory” is one of the new cuts on here, and it’s a fun, punk-filled ride given a death metal beating. There are gang shouts over the spirited chorus, and the track burns out with great power and enthusiasm.

“Urco” is a new original, and it’s utter demolition right away. The vocals clobber, and the playing is both massively heavily but also strangely infectious. Humid notes hang over the song, and the band pounds you into oblivion, and later on, the pace calms just a bit before heading into sludgy terrain. Rober speaks ominously over the chaos, which fades out into the distance. “Lume” unleashes D-beat madness and crazy, yelped screams, while the band applies more of a punk/hardcore vibe. A strong, blazing solo causes you to shield your eyes, while the back end is awash in blasts and shrapnel. “Portalen” is a serene instrumental closer, as acoustics are strummed and the main melody line feels folk-influenced, but in a European manner. The track is earthy and solemn, a total change-up from the car-crash destruction that preceded it.

Ovakner’s first assault is a channeled, smothering one, as this great EP “Ar/Lume” will attest. This is an unexpected, yet totally welcome addition by Eihwaz, proving their metallic palate is wide and varied. This album will leave bruises and welts, though you’ll probably leave feeling that the punishment you endured was well worth it.

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Outer edges roundup: o Heiðrún brings feverish terror; Nordra, ATDM haunt varied soundscapes

It’s no secret we don’t always do metal every day of the year. In fact, recently, we’ve gotten a nice serving of music that, while still heavy, isn’t always in the metal category outright. So, it’s time to unfurl a slew of these records we’ve been absorbing the past couple of weeks, as they’ve each got something completely different to offer.

If you’re from Pittsburgh and regularly attend shows in the local metal scene, you likely know Shy Kennedy. The vocalist for the crushing doom band Horehound, she commands audiences, lures you into her world, and often looks like she’s seconds from destroying you. On o Heiðrún, she shows a completely different side to her creativity. The first time I heard the songs from “The Human Voice Is a Disease,” it was late at night after a few dark beers, and I was shocked by the different Kennedy I was hearing on these songs as compared to Horehound. I thought of Nadja, Menace Ruine, and even some Black Boned Angel. These seven songs drag you into a chilling, surreal world where you feel like the existence you’re experiencing is something you haven’t visited before. My head spun the first visit I had with these songs, and as I’ve returned more times, the songs have revealed themselves more, and the darkness has become thick enough to taste.

“Lighthouse” is the first cut out of the gate, and from the start, voices flutter, the noise spreads and haunts, and low and high voices battle it out for control of the brightness. “A Dusting of Filth” is the longest song at 9:15, and it begins with demonic whispers slipping through the cracks before spilling into a terrifying vortex. A collection of gasps brings panic, even before the eventual release, and the sounds swirl and hypnotize, continually making you feel for the walls for balance. Kennedy’s voice cries out later, as a swarm of sound suffocates, a psychedelic stretch brings a fever dream, and a long sequence of delicately sung lines help settle the blood pressure and push you into hypnosis. “Follow Me to the Sea” immediately pushes your head into the fog, while noises collide, a cosmic dawn breaks, and what sounds like a million pounds of broken glass is dumped over the finish. “Death Will Cradle Us” has commotion and stuttered breathing, as sound spills like lava, and the back end is engorged with noise. “Pestis” has Kennedy’s voice convulsing as sounds float and panicked breathing gets your mind working overtime. Growls scorch, while the overall ambiance feels utterly terrifying. Closer “Creature” sounds like it should soundtrack a waterlogged, slimy sea beast approaching land and looking for flesh. Horror synth, the feeling like the ceiling is dripping, and weird zaps accompany voices that breathe down your neck, a frightful encounter that influences your nightmares forever.

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Monika Khot has been making waves underneath the surface for some time now, not only working in her Zen Mother project but also destroying the senses with Nordra. The debut, self-titled record under that banner is being released via limited vinyl by Sige Records, a very fitting home for her and this music, and what you’ll hear will challenge all your senses. Khot took these songs on the road supporting Sumac on their tour last summer, bending and stretching them in the live setting. What we have is a record that’s often harsh, sometimes baffling, always compelling, and bleeding with intensity. The concept revolves around the idea of the loss of information from analog to digital conversion, and she achieves this with piercing guitars, dense noise, analog synth, homemade electronics, and sometimes her voice. It’s a strange puzzle, but you’re bound to benefit from trying to piece it all together.

“Apologize to Me, Humanity” opens the record with chirpy beats, static, and synth stabs, as the music goes into a sort of panic. Doomy synth unfurls, as the noise spreads over everything, and sounds reverberate and fill your soul. Quiet, moody singing arrives as the music goes into a haze, fading out and into the mouth of “Regret 1” that has noise stinging and beats shuffling. Sounds swirl into a mesmerizing cloud, as weird videogame-style noises rush in like a steady rain, and melodies conjure hallucinations. From there, the sound gates flood and drift away. “New Cycles” has sounds sprawling, beats burning, and a humid strangeness. Sounds glaze as we veer into weirdness, and from there, clean guitars trickle, and the music builds and fades. “This Is Dissent” is your closer, as sounds hiss, dark shadows creep into the sunlight, and more game-like noises pelt the senses. A dreamy whir arrives, as a wall of beats keeps building, noises bubble to the surface, and the track fades, bringing you back to your much less interesting reality.

Bringing together two prolific forces on one, singular recording opens a lot of possibilities. Aaron Turner (Sumac, Old Man Gloom, ISIS) and noted musician Daniel Menche worked together before on a collaborative effort involving Mammifer, but on “Nox,” it’s just the two of them pulling each side. This 31-minute recording (also out on Sige) is immersive and flushes your brain with power. The track maintains a pretty steady pace over its time, with distress, frozen vocals, and noise stabs popping up along the way. The record itself, spread over two sides of vinyl, slowly came to form as Turner and Menche collaborated, twisted and contorting the song where it needed, using modern technology to create a piece that feels spiritually transcendent but also oddly calming. Listening to the piece, which feels like it flies by because it’s so immersive, is something for a quiet place, where distractions are few and far between.

They start with a long, trance section, with chants emanating, and a sense of calm both bringing ease, but also a premonition that you’re being haunted. Voices float in and out of the clouds, which they do during the entire 31 minutes, and guitars strike like lighting at about the 9-minute mark. Cosmic lathering and an angelic haze push in, and then the earth starts to feel like it’s crumbling beneath your feet. A chill blows in before guitars cut back in at about 21 minutes, leaving noise to soar like a ghost and cloudy singing getting into your bloodstream. Suddenly, the intensity rises, applying pressure and making it feel like the universe is going to crumble. The waves pull back a bit before what sounds like an oversized industrial fan kicks in and continues to make itself larger and larger until you can’t fathom anything else. That continues right up to the end, and once it fades into the horizon, you’re bound to be pasted to your seat, trying to remember how you got there in the first place.

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Two-headed black metal beast Leucosis battle, display turmoil on bloody third record ‘Liminal’

Black metal exists amid chaos. Nothing is certain or permanent. Life is only worth extinguishing. Artistic unions last as long as they can before they are expunged. It’s not supposed to be an easy way of life for a musician, and the expressions are intended to be dark and unforgiving, strange spirals into which one cannot just expect to be released.

If any modern band knows that cycle of destruction better than Leucosis, I’d like to know who it is. They have revolved, evolved, and devolved over the past eight years, putting out some of the most enthralling black metal in the U.S. and, when the spiritual forces have aligned, led to live shows that crush souls. But it’s not been an existence of permanence. Players have come and gone. The process of just being a band has been a daunting challenge. And their idea of what Leucosis even is has been tested on numerous occasions. But persevere they have, and they return with their cataclysmic third full-length “Liminal” that is here to burn your soul beyond recognition. The two players behind this project—vocalist/guitarist Jeff Lynn (formerly of Gaze) and drummer Jacob—have committed their own internal forces to this project, and this five-track album is a black metal expression that is full of emotion and hell, as the songs do their best to blacken your mind.

The 10-minute “Bereft” opens the record with a burst of storming black metal, very much like the incredible rain deluge outside my window right now. The vocals burn while the riffs spear, as guitars spiral out from there, and chaos chars bodies. The drums rattle before the song comes to a halt, dragging along in a noise cloud. A serene stretch leads to the intensity building back up again, the track chugging all over, and a thrashy assault crushes walls before subsiding in warmth. The first of two untitled instrumental tracks follows, as surfy notes sway, the music causes your brain to freeze, and a strange trickle of coldness envelopes your body.

“Saturnial” opens abruptly and begins driving viciously. The melodies burst, while the growls are engulfed in hellish madness, and a hurricane force rips everything apart. The pace pelts your face with cinders, while the guitars gush with emotion, and the monstrous growls that erupt and pummeling playing that accompanies bring everything to a bruising finish. The second untitled instrumental is soaked in mournful horns and a driving rain, going right into the heart of 8:45 “Liminal.” A doomy, foggy presence greets you, while the music feels somber, and a voice speaks in the distance, as if from another dimension. The vocals tear into the flesh, as the pace changes back and forth from calm to volcanic. Winds blow through like a deep winter storm, and on the other side, black metal chaos spills blood, bringing the song to a ferocious end.

Leucosis have not had a smooth path to where they are now, but they forged ahead and created this devastating monster “Liminal.” There’s a shitload of black metal out there, and it’s always hard to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not. Leucosis are the real shit, and this record should cement them as USBM warriors for years to come.

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Paradise Lost further carve up their sound, delve back to dark roots on death-doused ‘Medusa’

Paradise Lost have spent the past three decades helping to redefine doom metal and become one of the most important forces in all underground music. The band has created some timeless classics (as well as a few that weren’t quite in that league) along the way, and here they are, still standing and making music that’s as vital as ever.

The band has returned with their 14th album “Medusa,” and what we find is a group that has rediscovered its fire and seemingly turned back to the clock to their “Lost Paradise” and “Gothic” days. They returned the death metal elements to their music fully with 2015’s “The Plague Within,” but they’ve toughened up their sound even more, while never losing track of their gothic tendencies. It’s no secret Greg Mackintosh’s work in Vallenfyre helped him add more virulent strains to what he does with this band, but vocalist Nick Holmes bringing back his hellacious growl blackened their sound even more. Let’s not forget he’s also singing with Bloodbath, a gig that surely had a major effect on him. Rounded out by guitarist Aaron Aedy, bassist Stephen Edmondson, and new drummer Waltteri Vayryen (also of Vallenfyre), the band created a tremendous late-career record that’s as strong as anything they’re released in the last decade.

This eight-track, 42-minute mauler opens with “Fearless Sky,” as organs ring, mournful guitars spill, and Holmes’ grisly growls push into the picture. The cut has a funereal pace, with leads heating up, Holmes singing out, “Reach for the symbol of your wound,” and smothering soloing leading to the cut’s devastating finish. “Gods of Ancient” has a muddy start before the band hits a doom groove, and the leads cut into the meat. The growls churn, guitars leave brush burns, and the song comes to a crushing, shimmering end. “From the Gallows” trudges through mud, as the guitars leave a slimy glaze, and the gloom is laid on thick. The soloing from Mackintosh melts flesh, while Holmes growls rumble, and a pummeling lament rules all. “The Longest Winter” starts with birds crying, and then guitars charge in with frosty keys. Holmes unleashes shadowy singing, and the chorus benefits greatly from his expression, while growls follow as the song darkens. The soaring chorus keeps returning for more blood, as the cut keeps your heart pumping.

The title track has buzzing keys and Holmes delivering soulful clean singing. Again, the band delves into goth-style melodies, which they do so well, and the tempo starts and stops, pulling you along for the ride. “This life, the last,” Holmes calls, while the emotional bloodletting gets thicker, and feedback blows away. “No Passage for the Dead” has grinding growls, sludgy riffs, and growls mixing with singing over the chorus. The track is both destructive and spacious, as the guitars lead your mind into space. “Blood and Chaos” has a folk-flavored approach, though electrified as all hell. Holmes digs deeper into his singing voice, feeling like his mouth is dropping words dripped in black blood, and the track lands some heavy bruising before it finally brings mercy. “Until the Grave” starts solemnly before ugliness rears its head, and the growls chew away at flesh. “The light follows day, say your prayers,” Holmes urges, while star-dusted keys deliver shadowy mystery, and the track has a decimating finish dressed in death.

Still standing 30 years later, Paradise Lost have no interest in resting on their reputation and cashing in simply because of who they are. “Medusa” shows a hungry, channeled, ferocious band that still has the goods to deliver doom mastery. This band helped create the crooked path of doom, and they’re not done carving that devastating roadway.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Sannhet pour emotional tumult, devastating self-reflection into ‘So Numb’

Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

It’s strange, as you grow into an adult, how much of your life is shaped by your childhood. I’ve come to learn that personally in 1.5 years of therapy, and you can see that play as people reach high school and college age. Our upbringings have a lot to do with who we are and what we become, and there’s not much we can do to change that foundation.

The cover of Sannhet’s new record “So Numb,” their third, depicts a mother shielding a child’s eyes, but as they point out, the scene isn’t necessarily a wholesome, loving one. It’s meant to show a child being hidden from dangers and bad things in life, something we all must experience as we grow, thus potentially resulting in a young person who cannot effectively deal with stress, anxiety, and failures. Because of this thinking, the band—guitarist John Refano, bassist AJ Annunziata, and drummer Christopher Todd—decided to take these nine songs and use them to face the challenges of existence head on, without blinders and masked eyes, and tackle whatever adversity is in front of them. That burst of energies and catapulting emotions come across strong and clear on this collection, easily their best record so far, and the fact they can get across these things in instrumental form is stunning. It’s like a soundtrack for one’s developing mind.

“Indigo Illusion” starts the record with the tempo driving and goth-friendly guitars spilling open. The melodies create a fog dream, while the band hits a post-punk groove, the leads soar and then chill, and everything cascades to the ground. The guitars in “Sapphire” trickle generously, creating a deathrock mood, and then the music begins to burn. Gazey waves break, as an emotional caterwaul bursts and infuses everything with color. The guitars sear through the calm, before cutting abruptly at the song’s end. The title track is murky and punchy, settling into a quiet bed of sound and giving off a mystical vibe. A sweltering melody line erupts out of that, some of the most memorable guitar phrasing on the record, and from there, the energy surges all the way to the finish. “Fernbeds” is the longest track, a 7:29 cut that starts with echoing bass that veers into cold shadows. The drums crash, and the song takes on the feel of a cold, rainy Autumn day, with guitars coming out of that like a rare sunbeam through the downpour. Later, the song quivers, while melodies slice through, and clouds rush as the music fades.

“Salts” bathes in smeary guitars, as the bass bulges, and a post-punk-style assault begins. The drum beats stutter while the guitars navigate cold, rapid waters that continue until they reach the shore. “Way Out” runs headlong into meaty basslines and a chugging pace. Air gushes into the picture, as the clean guitars add additional breezes. Keys blend in as the song darkens, and one final burst works to negate any brightness. “Secondary Arrows” soaks in a noise haze, while keys drip and the bottom drops. A synth mist wets your face, while the pace plods along, and the music sizzles out. “Sleep Well” is a disruptive force on the front end, with the volume increasing, strong riffs flexing their muscles, and a Rush-like feel to the ambiance. The bass lands blows while the guitars spirals, bringing the song to a pit of sludge. Closer “Wind Up” starts with calming chimes and thick sounds floating in air, as cosmic winds arrive to bring an otherworldly feel. Keys bleed as the music blends into time, leaving the record on a somber note.

Sannhet’s indescribable sound keeps developing, as do their compositional chops, which are at their peak on “So Numb.” The band hits upon so many mental and physical lows and highs on this record, that absorbing this in album form, one song after another, is the best way to take the entire psychological inventory packed into this collection. It’s a high point for a band that keeps topping themselves with each new release.

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Lisa Cuthbert’s ‘Hextapes’ gets just vinyl treatment, further exposing her mesmerizing ways

Heavy isn’t necessarily about the gravity or weight of sound. Sure, most of what’s described that way involves tons of distortion and rhythm sections that feel like cavern walls falling on you. But there are other ways to assign the descriptor “heavy,” and emotional impact certainly is an element that qualifies.

Lisa Cuthbert is proof of this. Here on “Hextapes,” she weaves haunting melodies, her ghostly voice, and heart-pounding drama to prove that over these eight songs, she sure as hell is heavy. The music was released digitally last spring, but in accordance with her upcoming live shows, underground metal powerhouse Iron Bonehead is releasing a vinyl version, which is very much fitting for these great pieces. She has played with heavy hitters including Sisters of Mercy, Draconian, Ulver, Wovenhand, and more, and her solo work is In the same vein as Chelsea Wolfe, Kate Bush, Myrkur, and Anna Von Hausswolf. Cuthbert gets inside your veins and blackens you. The songs are lovely, chilling, and bloody emotional, and every trip with it is something that you’ll never forget.

“Killing Fields” starts with noise simmering and her mesmerizing singing, bringing some PJ Harvey-style allure. The song hovers overhead and threatens soaking rain before fading away. “The Host Wants a Parasite” has Cuthbert’s vocals shrouded in a quivering cloud of sound, while the dark, shadowy pace stretches like a ghoul, and the comparisons to Wolfe come rushing to the forefront. The final moments feel like being enveloped in dark, with Cuthbert’s voice stinging. “Under the Stars” has steely guitars and a moody ambiance, as the music takes on a mournful, lonely feel. The fire keeps burning gently throughout its run before it bows to the night. “Eye” has enchanting, layered chorals, feeling like an old-time dream viewed in black and white. Synth creates a haze, and Cuthbert achieves a sort of gothic soul vibe, with her singing acting as the song’s biggest muscle.

“Will” has pianos splattering and a trance-inducing path, as everything feels like it’s making its way down a hidden, funereal stream off to the land of the dead. “Effigy” is the longest track, clocking in at 7:44, and it starts with winds whipping, guitars creaking and sending shivers, and the pace gently flowing. Her quiet voice soothes and guides you into a psychedelic ambiance, which keeps your imagination on high as it works its way into the stars. “Pillar” has a jolt of nighttime coldness, like you’re rambling in a car on a cold night with the windows open. The singing grips, while the music washes over your brain as you drift off into dreamland. Closer “Hands Clean” has pianos, her singing, and a rush of sounds heading into a psyche cloud. “You’ve done your part,” Cuthbert insists, as the music swells, strings strike, and everything disintegrates back into the earth.

Lisa Cuthbert’s name should spread to more people now, and deservedly so. If you were late on discovering “Hextapes,” then now’s the perfect time to introduce yourself to her darkly adventurous world. This vinyl edition is the ideal way to experience Cuthbert’s music, and these eight songs will keep you captivated long into the winter months.

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Der Weg Einer Freiheit push their black metal to new extremes on existence-destroying ‘Finisterre’

Photo by Sophia Weißberg

In order for styles of music to survive, it’s going to take interesting new bursts of creation and evolution that reach other corners. Otherwise, we’re going to keep hearing the same noise and ideas over and over again until it dies an overdue death. While some people have cried about change, others have taken up the quest and helped metal get more captivating and surprising.

German black metal quartet Der Weg Einer Freiheit have been one of those groups that have taken the basics of their sound and pushed and pulled its borders elsewhere. Now, on their fourth record “Finisterre,” the band continues their association with powerhouse Season of Mist, and they hold up their end by delivering five tracks of intelligent, hybrid black metal that both crushes and challenges at the same time. The band—vocalist/guitarist Nikita Kamprad, guitarist Sascha Rissling, bassist Nico Ziska, drummer Tobias Schuler—has been active since 2009, and in that time, they have released four powerful platters of their forward-thinking, progressive-twisted black metal that is awe inspiring witnessed just coming from a mere set of headphones. To be in their presence as they mow down whoever’s in front of them must be an experience that leaves bodily welts considering the amount of damage their recorded output kicks out.

“Aufbruch” begins the record with someone speaking in German over cold guitars that chill to the bone. Suddenly out of that, the storm begins and brings astonishing power. Chant singing drips over the monstrous growls when the chorus arrives, and the drumming is just punishing as it ruptures and mauls. Later, clean calling enters, as the song gets proggy, but then things turn back toward a strain of black metal that will sound perfect once fall arrives. The track ramps up again, leading toward its chaotic finish. “Ein letzter Tanz” is a beast at 13:48, with the first moments trickling blood before guitars begin agitation, and full ignition is achieved about three minutes in. Grisly growls and melodic drama push the agenda, while a period of vicious storming blackens the scenery and brings fear. The track turns on a dime for a moment, getting downright breezy, but then it’s back to the fighting pits as gazey atmosphere cascades over the darkness, the vocals wrench, and the track disappears into ash.

“Skepsis Part I” ignites from the start, as tricky melodies make their presence known, and then the whole dam bursts. The track is trudgy and smothering for a while before some elegant playing spills in and adds more texture to this rousing instrumental. The conjoined “Skepsis Part II” is animalistic right as it begins, as speed and guttural savagery combine and create a nightmare void. The pace is relentless, as the track pelts with acid, the cries are raw and pained, and the final moments bash with ruthless aggression. The closing title track runs 11:13 and immediately charges. The track has a prog-fueled base, as vicious cries mount, and the tempo hurls anvils. Kamprad’s growls are monstrous here, while the band hits with sudden impact, creating gut-wrenching power. Melody slips in, bringing brief serenity, and lush strings stretch over the fury. The song later cracks and begins hammering again, as the band slowly pushes their way to the end with a slowly fading assault that fades just as strings pick back up and bring the song to a morose conclusion.

Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s power is astonishing, so much so that Kreator’s Mille Petrozza has sung their praises, and that is paid off in spades on “Finisterre.” These five tracks are repeated piledrivers, crunching your spinal column mercilessly into the ground as they waylay you with their intensity. This is the type of stuff that keeps black metal morphing and developing, promising that with bands such as this, the style won’t always sound the same but will never die.

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