Old Tower look beyond modern world, seek shadows, dark with introspective ‘Stellary Wisdom’

If you’re living with a fundamental misunderstanding of what the fuck is even going on in this earthly realm, join the depressing party. It feels like this time and space isn’t even real. It’s a place where the worst elements of us all have come to roost, and that isn’t going to end anytime soon. It’s enough to make one want to retreat into the darkness forever.

While it may not be political or societal woes that pushed the Specter to question the outside world and retreat within, something affected him so greatly that he felt the need to start Old Tower, but we’re all the better for it. Ever since its inception in 2015, the Specter, the lone member of the band, has questioned what’s real and what’s not in everyday life, what’s hiding behind the shadows but also in plain sight. It has permeated his dungeon synth-style compositions over several releases, his latest being “Stellary Wisdom,” his first album for Profound Lore. Over these two tracks and 30 minutes of run time, the Specter establishes a murky, foggy world that’s ripe with emotional torment and atmospheric wonder. This isn’t a record that’s going to have you imagining battles in a dank old castle. Instead, it will have you journeying mentally as if gives you a path to question your own existence and the things around you that influence it.

“Deep Within My Somber Castle Walls” starts the record, a 15:21 epic that starts with baroque-style emanations, key clashing, and crashing noises falling around you. Eerie choral-style effects blend with gothic weirdness, as sooty melodies and cavernous wonders mix together to bring clashing elements into the same concoction. The song begins to fade, but on the other side, keys return with a sense of regality, as things are whipped into a cosmic whir. The calm has holes poked into it, while static begins to spill, noise reverberates, and the track fades away.

The title cut finishes things off, a 15:09 track that has filthy synth pumps, wafting keys, and a mystical stretch of melodies setting the scene. Dark clouds collect, while the coverage manages to be calm and uneasy at the same time, almost like anxiety creeping its way into an otherwise easy mood. A quick fadeout teases serenity, but then the ground rumbles lowly, and cold synth waves begin to lap over the land. The track jabs you with panic, and the haunting passages enter in a cosmic fog that keeps pushing its way deeper and deeper into space. The pace loops and stretches for the record’s final few minutes, letting your mind sink into intoxication as the album disintegrates into mystery.

The Specter’s Shadow Kingdom might not be a welcoming place for all listeners, even those who indulge in dungeon synth, but “Stellary Wisdom,” if given an honest chance, will grow on you and rewire your brain. This is as much a mental record as it is physical, and the battle you wage within its confines can redefine how you experience this type of music. Right now, most of us are lost, and if we can escape into the darkness and determine our own direction in this, perhaps we can find our own path back.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Eigenlicht’s path to enlightenment powers debut opus ‘Self-Annihilating…’

There are probably a lot of people who don’t listen to metal simply to be enlightened. That’s understandable. We want riffs, brah. But that’s not all the genre has to offer the world. Some artists push into other realms and work to transform themselves and inform their music with that journey. It might not take with every listener, but it’s refreshing to have that approach out there.

Olympia, Wash.-based band Eigenlicht (WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT PROMO SHOT?!) are of the breed of artist who are not just bringing you a collection of music to soundtrack your drive or to help you fuck off at the gym. Just reading through the bio materials that accompany their astonishing debut record “Self-Annihilating Consciousness” (released by Gilead Media and I, Voidhanger) can be a little intimidating, maybe even to the point of questioning whether you want to take this journey. The band—vocalist/guitarist Ray Hawes, guitarist Yianna Bekris, keyboard player/flute player/ vocalist Mara Winter, and drummer J. DeLacy—talks of weathering failures, standing and staring failure in the face, and committing oneself to the void, defeated. Yet, they stretch beyond that and refuse to succumb. Each member walked a separate path toward the natural world and achieved a better understanding of existence and a greater grasp on knowledge. It sounds like a team of dark superheroes finally finding each other in the chasm and working toward something that expands their existence, spiritually and physically, and pouring every ounce of that into their music. That music is tough to pin down, but it’s an intoxicating blend of doom, with traces of death and black metal.

“There Lies Already the Shadow of Annihilation” is the intro cut that leads us into the full body, a track comprised of eerie noises, flutes setting you into a trance, and woodsy, atmospheric drone that leads toward 13:43 “Hagia Sophia.” The hypnosis continues here, as melodies enrapture, and organs swirl around that. The track ignites, as growls bubble, and a sorrowful pace leads the way to further anguish. The pace bleeds and then gets calm, as organs echo and tease serenity before a final blast and a frenetic pace entangles. “Labrys” is 11:52 and immediately kicks in with strong riffs and dark spirits. Wild howls mix with guitars wailing, as we head into a crazed fury, only balanced by the cosmic synth clouds. Noise stings, and then humidity sets in, as the band hammers away and even begins to hit the gas pedal. The guitars spit doomy fog, while the piece is completely deconstructed, coming to a slow, dreary end.

“Deifugal Force” runs 13:25, as orchestral synth and B-movie sci-fi effects combine with guitars welling up and a deep sense of murk, and a blast of spacious playing comes out of that. The shadows only grow thicker, sending your mind on a trip, and then the thing explodes about 5 minutes in. Shrieks meet up with gurgling growls, and then the punishment rolls on into heavy blasts. The band continues to unload before the sounds briefly fade before re-emerging into harshness, loops, bells, and a long finish that leaves you exhausted. Closer “Berserker” has a sweltering opening before organs flood, lowering temperatures, which sets the stage for the unexpected: an all-out black metal-style assault. Growls bury you, as atmosphere and chaos join forces, and a brief clean passage acts as a bridge toward the next thunderous storm. Echoing roars and a mystifying onslaught push the song into its back end, and just as the eruption reaches its zenith, it pulls back its might and dissolves into an ocean of sounds.

The five movements that are laid out before you on “Self-Annihilating Consciousness” will not affect you like a run with whatever death or black metal band you seek for letting out your aggression. Eigenlicht have a higher purpose for themselves and, if you choose to commit yourself to the cause, you as well. These songs get inside your head and cause a mental transformation as this record travels through your bloodstream, and each time you return, you get to understand the purpose better and can see how taking your own path of understanding can help enrich your own existence.

For more on the band, go here: https://eigenlicht-metal.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/self-annihilating-consciousness

Or here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

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

And here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

Slow’s smartly named funeral doom gets expanded treatment for devastating opus ‘V: Oceans’

For all the bizarre band names that make up the entire music world, especially the many sub-layers of metal, you wonder sometimes why more artists don’t just get to the point. It’s easier said than done, as the elaborate names often exist because just about every band name is already taken, but every now and again, simplifying things does a world of good.

Belgian one-man funeral doom monster Slow certainly didn’t aim to mince words when naming this project. The records are just that: slow as fuck. And since we’re in the realm of funeral doom, that’s exactly what those following this band need. The music created by Deha (Lore B. of Ter Ziele now is behind the lyrics and conceptual ideas, as she was able to find the right words to express what was behind the instrumental end) drubs you senselessly and pours on punishment that buries you under the weight of the world. The band’s latest opus “V: Oceans” entered the world halfway through last year, but Code 666 is bringing the vinyl release of this record, the way it really should be experienced, as well as a CD and digital version, and it’s a mammoth that retains all the might from when it first arrived. This five-track, 55-minute monster slithers and grinds you into the dirt, but there also is enough solemn melody and atmospheric darkness to keep things interesting while you wallow in pain.

All five tracks on these records are, essentially, stitched together, starting off with 10:14-long “Aurore” that begins with noise hanging in the air and the music floating. The song erupts as growls rise from hell, and from there, sorrowful guitars bubble and bleed over before we head into a pocket of serenity. The track reopens moments later, as the melodies thicken like a storm cloud, and the gorging growls push into the gates of “Ténèbres,” where calm waters are swelled by dripping keys. Creaky speaking crawls before the song splits open fully, and the growls unleash madness. Sad playing wells as cavernous growls overwhelm, emotion builds, and wrenching punishment brings the song to its end.

“Déluge” is the longest track at 13:33, and we get going with pianos bringing rays of light before the violence pushes through the earth. Growls draw blood, while atmospheric playing cools off the earth’s surface, while infernal crushing bloodies hands. Gothy drama combines with emotional heaviness, as shrieks streak, and the music rains down and floods. Dreary pain and drubbing growls meet, while the pace pummels and folds into “Néant,” which has a clean beginning, as a sense of eeriness grows and causes your flesh to chill, and moody keys combine with bludgeoning power. The vocals slither as elegant sadness drapes the picture, and a true sense of misery comes out of that and smashes together catastrophic pounding and gothic tendencies. Closer “Mort” sits in airy keyboards, as whispers roll into the scene, and then the bottom drops out. The tempo adds heavy sludge before spacey histrionics emerge, and then the skull-dragging is amplified. The vocals scorch as emotion overflows, anguished cries pelt your flesh, keys add calm, and the track bleeds off into a vortex, leaving you at the heart of mystery.

Slow’s gargantuan savagery is on full display on “V: Oceans,” a record that should have this project making an indelible impression into funeral doom’s crust. The band’s name pays off the sonic assault you’re about to endure, and that hulking crawling across the earth is enough to exert physical and mental anguish. This record’s expanded reach not only should boost their profile, but it should have those hungry for slow torture thoroughly excited.

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

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

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

Death punishers Genocide Pact keep things consistent, painful on crushing ‘Order of Torment’

Escape music is pretty much a total necessity these days. If you visit this site with any regularity, you’ve already seen my rants about not being able to watch the news without me wanting to drive my car into a nuclear power plant. Even I’m tired of it. So, delving into music that can make a difference in taking my mind out of this hell and into another version is much welcomed.

It is with that thought that we jump head-first into “Order of Torment,” the second full-length release from D.C.-based death unit Genocide Pact, which is one hell of a bastard. Over eight tracks and nearly 40 minutes, this band—guitarist/vocalist Tim, bassist Nolan, and drummer Connor—rips out classic death metal that is no frills, not particularly fancy, and certainly not looking to reinvent the wheel. And why should they? This band is a demolition that grinds away at you slowly, but surely. You’re not in for a science experiment or a trip into deep space, but there are enough bands doing that right now. This is a serving of the good stuff: meat-and-potatoes death metal that tastes great, fills you up, and hits all the right spots you need to walk away satisfied. Who could complain?

“Conquered” gets us started, as noise hangs over everything, and then guitars start to chug. Guttural growls strike, while the band hits a slow, doomy pace, and the track ends on a gruff assault. “Decimation Grid” has thick sludging before things open fully and punish, and Tim’s vocals strangle you. The band mashes you before we’re back to filth, and the final minutes go on a calculated assault. “Spawn of Suffering” starts with an ominous riff, as the band bashes hard, and the growls choke out all the light. The band then mauls you with intent, sprawling into “Pain Reprisal,” which starts with slow-driving death. The riffs coil, while the growls boil, and then the pain slithers and leaves behind a blood trail. Soloing burns hard, and then the song bleeds away.

“Ascendancy Resolved” has a different vibe, as we’re down a path that feels carved by bands such as High on Fire, as gross growls spill out. Humid guitars lead the way, with nasty growls penetrating, guitars building a noise wall, and everything catching fire. “Structural Dissolution” rips apart, with destruction leading the way and mucky growls drowning your senses. Blistering crushing draws blood, as the song rages hard before an abrupt finish. “Authoritarian Impulse” is slow driving and deadly at first before the song kicks into gear. A smothering fury comes out of that as guitars wail and fizzle, with the song bleeding into the void. “Blood Rejection” is your finisher, starting with clobbering ugliness and grim growls before we work into thrashy madness. Disgusting growls mix with ugly punishment, and then we head into a relentless assault that keeps things going until the track fades away.

Genocide Pact deliver a swift, stern beating on “Order of Torment,” their first for Relapse after spending time with the powerful A389 label. Here, they deliver a strong, reliable dose of death metal that helps you retreat from the everyday shit and instead get your ass kicked by something that won’t make you feel violated. There is something to be said for consistency, and so far, Genocide Pact have delivered just that.

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

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

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

Shrouded Stygian Obsession rip open bloody pathway for death with mind-melting ‘Form Is Void’

Death metal generally is ugly and barbaric, which is often how we like it. But infusing some creativity and different types of insanity into the puzzle also makes for a good time, and that actually tends to be the blasts of death metal that stick to our ribs around here.

Just poring through the notes that accompanies the press promo of Stygian Obsession’s opus “Form Is Void” filled us with excitement right away. While we don’t know who is behind this machine—all we’re told is the members take their inspiration from the early genre pioneers, as their identities remain a mystery—there is something alluring not having any idea of the brains that dreamt this gnarly, atmospheric music. The tracks are grim and ferocious, digging into human subconsciousness, but they also bleed with creativity that goes beyond simply wanting to sound brutal for its sake. The bio suggests fans of bands such as Demigod, Grave Upheaval, and Dead Congregation are going to be down with this, but those who worship at the altar of Incantation also are likely to find a lot to like about these six songs. There’s something here that makes you feel extreme unease while your body is tortured.

“Stygian Obsession” begins the record situated in noise, as tribal drumming rumbles, a deep synth haze is born, and formless growls murmur before fading out and toward “Deep in the Bonds of Darkness,” which opens with churning riffs and gorging growls. Synth swims through the muck, while the band pounds away relentlessly, as miserable fury is unleashed, and the track comes to a sinewy end. “Gasping in Nausea in the Throes of Void” has guttural punishment and infernal growls, while the song crunches and thrashes, getting meaner and meaner. The guitars burn, and the growls swirl, with eerie keys bleeding into the picture, and feral growls blending in as the song fades away.

“Ceremonial Rites of the Abyss” ignites and mauls right away. The growls hiss, while the music thrashes recklessly, and the music boils and generates steam. Synth turns to lava, while a savage death assault is mounted, and mind-numbing drubbing blasts your brains into hell. “Vomit Empyral” launches gut-ripping smashing, as the band goes for the jugular before backing off and letting mournful melodies add more blackness. Out of that, the tempo tears flesh from the bones, as the pace rips hard, and the final dose of punishment leaves bruising. Closer “All That Are in the Graves Shall Hear His Voice” starts with drums crumbling and the song blasting shrapnel, leading toward total demolition. Damaged melodies and complete devastation team up, as the growls dizzy, mud thickens the recipe, and the back end destroys the ground beneath, sending everything off into the abyss.

You’re going to find very little information about Stygian Obsession if you peruse the internet, but all you really need to know is what is packed into this destructive package. This is death metal that challenges and melts boundaries, as its noxious fumes waft and infect your bloodstream. This is grim, punishing stuff that’s going to fill you up a lot longer than most servings of everyday death.

To buy the album (physical), go here: http://pacificthrenodies.bigcartel.com/

Or here (digital): https://pacificthrenodies.bandcamp.com/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Portal’s terror explodes from hell in different forms on devastating burst ‘ION’

Truly mystifying and terrifying bands are few and far between now in metal, which is pretty sad. Problem is, there’s so much music out there and so many bands, most of which are very accessible and open on social media, that there isn’t any room for mystique. It’s cool seeing real people doing real things, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for terror.

This is something Australian death beasts Portal long have understood. Yeah, you might think a band donning dark cloaks and a singer with a goddamn cuckoo clock on his head might be gimmicky, and you’re not wrong, but there’s way more to it than that. They crush you under waves of mystery, and their music long has stood out as some of the grainiest, devastating, and oppressive in all of death metal. But something happened along the way. Tons of other bands caught onto their sound, so much so that the band’s brand of noise-marred death is practically known as the Portal sound. Those bands are fucking everywhere now, but no matter. Portal, those hidden maulers, have other tricks up their sleeves. In fact, if you ever saw the band live, you understand just how mind-blowing and proficient the figures—vocalist the Curator, guitarists Horror Illogium and Aphotic Mote, bassist Omenous Fugue, and drummer Ignis Fatuus— are as players and how incredibly talented they are. You get a deep dose of that on their astonishing fifth record “ION,” a nine-track, 37-minute document of terror that is astonishing for many reasons. For one, the songs are not baked with noise, nor do they sound like they emanate from a dank basement. Also, it truly gives the listener a view into just how intensely powerful these cloaked beings are as performers, a fact that hammers you over and over again on this album.

Opener “Nth” is the gateway to hell, a quick intro cut constructed of weird noise scrapes and eerie transmissions, then it’s into “Esp Ion Age” that just goes off the fucking rails. The guitars burst into a cloud of confusion, while the Curator’s vocals sound like they’re worm holing through your head and deep into your brain. The track’s elements fold all over themselves, while the back end of the song melts your mind and fades out fast. “Husk” is destructive from the start, letting guitars race in circles, and the tempos charge into a wall. The vocals peels away the skin, while the pace is delirious, practically causing you motion sickness. “Phreqs” is the first cut the band released to the world, and it rips your insides apart, as evil growls crawl toward you, guitars create a tornado into the afterworld, and the frenetic pace causes panic. Riffs peel off and leave noxious fumes, while the song boils into formless madness, and monstrous noises grinds out. “Crone” has aching strings and guitars sparking, practically bleeding oil, and then things gets shredded. The fury is dizzying, while the growls fold in, with the Curator repeatedly inviting, “Breathe the sickness.”

“Revault of Volts” opens in thick humidity, while the playing bashes away at your bones, and the drumming tries to turn you into paste. Howled, hissed vocals snake toward your mind, with the guitars wrapping themselves around them, jarring and spinning and spilling into a vortex. “Spores” is a drill eating ferociously into the middle of the Earth. This isn’t one for those who get anxiety from penetrating drone, as this song moves at one pace, consistently and violently, with guitars splattering and churning, and the vocals sucking up the blood. “Phathom” has riffs rippling, causing seismic waves, as everything spills like guts, growls begin to spurt plasma, and the end pounds relentlessly before ending suddenly. “Olde Guarde” is the 9:44 closer, and it tears open right away, with guitars destroying and confounding, and a thunderous, devastating pace taking hold. The music creates a thick soot, while the Curator moans and wails his way into the ugliness. The chaotic frenzy suddenly dissipates, overtaken by strange noises that sound like they’ve been created by ghosts, and then an oddly mournful passage emerges. A cosmic star bath floods over, and the record ends in the strangest way possible—in the arms of serenity.

As long as Portal stand as a unit, they’re likely to always shield their true selves from their audience. That’s part of the allure for these guys, though the most important aspect is they make unreal records such as “ION.” This already is a high watermark for death metal this year, and it reestablishes these guys as the masters over all who have followed and emulated their sound. These are the faces of fear, and it’s even more terrifying that we’ll never get to even see them.

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

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

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

Swedish destroyers Agrimonia destroy boundaries, decimate senses on epic-filled ‘Awaken’

Photo by Anders Bergstedt

There was a time when a three-minute song was the ideal way to go about business. The songs were more digestible, and it was far easier to get the pieces on the radio. Even when something did go to a more dangerous length—Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” comes to mind—it would get chopped so that it could make the airwaves. Not much has really changed.

But not all music is made for mass consumption. Some stuff is more explosive and personal and is not meant to be divided into bite-size chunks. Metal long has been the home to music that defies boundaries and embracers sprawl, and Swedish crushers Agrimonia have delivered thunderous epics through their entire 10-year run. That continues on their awesome new record “Awaken,” their second for Southern Lord and one of their most expansive musically. They’re as heavy and thunderous as ever, but they also stretch their sound a bit and don’t always have to pummel you at every moment. The band—vocalist/keyboard player Christina, guitarists Magnus and Pontus, bassist Martin, and drummer Bjorn—doesn’t just stay within one path but pushes into multiple lanes, blending rock, post-hardcore, black metal, and doom into the puzzle. It’s an astonishing mixture, and it’s the best Agrimonia ever have sounded.

“A World Unseen” tears the lid off the record, a 9:11-long track that sets the pace nicely. The track sits in more of a straight-ahead rock/post-hardcore edge, as Christina’s howls bury you, and the melodies tidal wave. The guitars grind, while harsh howls lay waste, but then a wave of acoustics rises and brings calm. Out of that, the band sets into proggy, sludgy waters, while spacious leads infuse atmosphere, and the track bleeds out. The title cut runs a healthy 10:11, and its catchy start and charging riffs work their way into a pace that pummels. Christina’s growls power a super-punchy chorus, and then the song disappears into chilly keys and eerie sentiment before the whole thing ignites again. The howls punish, the guitar work bursts, and everything comes to a fiery finish. “Foreshadowed” is one of the shorter songs at 8:46, and its tranquil trickling at the start flows into a dark, moody ambiance that sets a shadowy mood. The song does start trudging, as the guitars cut you apart, and the tempo is nasty. “Watch out! It’s coming!” Christina warns repeatedly, but it’s too late as you succumb to a devastating big finish.

“Awaken” is the shortest of the group, a 3:01 instrumental that sounds like an interlude on a classic old thrash metal record. Acoustic are picked, and then sounds sweep in, guitars begin to rumble gently, and the track fades out, leading right into the monster of the group, 12:52 “Withering.” This has an ominous start, as storm clouds roll in and threaten, as riffs begin to pile up, and Christina’s chaotic growls drive the points home. Melodies envelop all, as the band settles into a brief hardcore-style lashing, and from there, it’s pure devastation until things ice over toward the end. The song feels foreboding, leading to an ending packed with a nasty burst that splinters and flies into space. Closer “The Sparrow” is 12:26, maintaining that cosmic vibe before a classic metal buildup is mounted. Things get humid, as piano drips, and finally about 3 minutes in, it’s fucking on. Vicious growls and slicing guitars make their way toward you, as damaged riffs and a thrashy explosion spit fury. There’s a black metal splash that colors the surface, and then the song seemingly fades. But it’s not over. Guitars soar again, feeling like they’re set for dusk, while growls snarl, and the whole thing ends up in the pit of a whirring dream.

Agrimonia have a stranglehold on making epic dramas that never feel half as long as they are, something they prove again on “Awaken.” Four albums in, and this band is changing and developing before our eyes, sharpening their edges and amplifying the drama. This is a great band that deserves more people talking about them, so hopefully this collection does the trick.

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

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

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

Hooded Menace increase deadly campaign with doomy, crushing album ‘Ossuarium Silhouettes…’

It’s still pretty early in the year, but everything already seems fucked with no real chance of recovery. So, let’s just immerse ourselves in unnatural horrors to get by. You know, the ones containing zombies and vampires, but not the shitty ones we see represented in our rapidly declining pop culture.

No. We’re talking digging into old films, scratchy ones, where you don’t understand the language, and what’s going on looks cheesy to an extent, but it still scares the living shit out of you. That’s where Finnish doom-death band Hooded Menace long have built their punishing terrors, and we get more of that on their massive new record “Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed,” one of the finest in their entire catalog. As bleak, deadly, and soul-destroying as this record is, it’s a pleasure to hear if their sounds are what turn on your dark soul. We’ve been writing about this band since their start—both here and elsewhere—and I don’t remember another of their albums that was this instantly immersive. I took my cat to the vet the other day and had this playing and kept asking him if he heard this fucking thing? He didn’t give a shit because he was on his way to get a shot, but I knew he knew. This is a massive, unforgiving monster that this band—Harri Kuokkanen (vocals), Lasse Pyykkö (lead, rhythm, and acoustic guitars), Teemu Hannonen (rhythm guitar), Antti Poutanen (bass), Otso Ukkonen (drums)—has created, and it comes at a perfect time when everything seems ready to crumble.

“Sempiternal Grotesqueries” gets things started with pure funeral doom misery, as the growls scrape along, and the pace begins to chug and crush. Melodies pool and flood over, as the riffs strike, and the song bleeds sorrow. Dual guitar lines merge and glow, and then we ramp back into violence, as the growls maul, and everything ends in elegant sadness. “In Eerie Deliverance” trudges and bleeds, as the guitars tear open a hole, and gothic playing emerges. A female voice speaks over the madness, while the song gets scarier, and the growls gurgle mud. Spacious playing comes out of that, as the song ends in melodic acid. “Cathedral of Labyrinthine Darkness” is slow driving with a thick bassline and atmospheric rumbling. The growls crush, pushing toward spacious thunder that opens the storm clouds, and that leads to meaty bass punishing, dual leads adding texture, and the back end wailing out.

“Cascade of Ashes” starts in a pit of growls, as the song blows open, and oxygen-infused terror begins to crawl its way toward you. The pace is lumbering and devastating, and then the pace halts and gives way to stormy, moody guitars. The growls slither, while the murky playing adds to the cloud cover, and the thick music keeps cascading right up to the end. “Charnel Reflections” begins with cool guitars dripping, as the mood gets darker and causes your chest to heave. The track gets sludgy and punishing, as the leads destroy bones, and the ground melts. The guitar work slips into Maiden-like glory, and then the pace kicks back into death, barreling out to the finish line. Closer “Black Moss” is the shortest song at 2:20, a place where guitars fold into each other, and the earth begins to quake. Great leads intertwine, gushing classic metal glory, but once the battle subsides, acoustic guitars emerge and take us into the mist.

Hooded Menace always find the ideal way to rip out our guts, and they’ve done it again, painfully so, on this massive new album. “Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed” is a sinewy snapshot of a band that has recognized its power and is continuing to build on their massive bloodthirst. It’s a miserable world in which we live, so might as well revel with the filth and those who seek to eat our souls, disappearing into the blackness forever.

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

To buy the album, go here (North America): https://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/

Or here (International): https://shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Tribulation’s bloody ascension continues with death-obsessed, blackened drama ‘Down Below’

Photo by Ester Segarra

I’ve mentioned this before, but the era of the big metal record has kind of passed. You do get landmark underground releases each year people get excited about, but beyond whatever shitty record Mastodon releases next, there aren’t a lot of albums that get large amounts of people excited.

Luckily, we have one of those today in the form of “Down Below,” the new record from Swedish black metal band Tribulation that follows up 2015’s much-praised “The Children of the Night.” This is the first really big album of 2018, and to have it arrive so early in the year already gives us a hype benchmark few bands will be able to approach the following 11 months. I asked this same question with the release of “Children,” a record that really left me cold (and, apparently, I’m alone in this assessment), in that does “Down Below” meet the lofty expectations and accolades already being showered on this piece of work (Decibel gave it a perfect 10 score)? The answer this time is a resounding yes. I didn’t dislike “Children,” but I didn’t see what everyone else did. This time, these nine songs that stretch over nearly 47 minutes feel perfectly portioned, inspired, and alive, the mark of a band on the brink of greatness and, if they play their cards right, wild success. There’s not a dull moment here, and the band—bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson, guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén, and drummer Oscar Leander— reclaims some of the heaviness I missed from the last record along with their flare for drama. It’s a tremendous record, one that deserves all the applause it will receive.

“The Lament” gets us started, as cold guitars make the skin chilled, but then the band follows up with a charging blast, and Andersson wailing over the chorus, “Would we see you if you came to us?” as he stares down the result of death. Keys swarm, while the pace chugs, and Andersson laments about his subject facing a situation where one can “never find a way back.” “Nightbound” is a tremendous track, one of the band’s best, and it’s built on a steady guitar line, a humid tempo, and a NWOBHM approach that gives the song a vintage edge. “I remember who we are!” Andersson howls, as psyche-laced soloing spills in, and the infectious playing holds you right up to the end. “Lady Death” has winds gusting and some excellent riffs, with the band building a punchy pace dressed in whirring synth and deathly horrors, back-ended by a nice thrashy finish. “Subterranea” lets keys plink like frozen rain before the song kicks into higher gear, and Andersson calls about “visions in the snow.” The track cools off again but ruptures nicely later, letting lava fill in the crevices.

“Purgatorio” continues to push the death theme, as this cut is built on eerie noise, dusk-like melodies, and a calming pace with cosmic breezes. “Cries From the Underworld” follows, as keys glaze like honey, and the band settles into more of a rock feel (you could point to Ghost similarities). The singing remains gruff, while spacious leads infuse oxygen, and the track comes to a cool sci-fi finish. “Lacrimosa” pounds away from the start, as the pace bloodies noses before the power pulls back. Bells and chants haunt, while the soloing bursts to life, spacey synth flows into the scene, and the cut ends in drama and sorrow. “The World” has keys plinking and a pretty strong lead guitar line, while the verses are moody and gothy. The fires keep raging, and the track ends in the place of fever dreams. Closer “Here Be Dragons” (they wisely decided to shelf this as the album title) begins with synth driving and the playing bruising, as Andersson howls, “Here be death!” as you’re set on a nerve-chewing wait for your own demise. The track is one of the darkest on here, as the wail of, “Don’t you hear the distant howling of the wolf?” lets you hear the end coming, which they deliver with dizzying playing and a tornadic approach that lands at the feet of a psychedelic head trip.

Tribulation are one of the bands that have the best chance of breaking beyond metal’s planes into something greater, and if they get there, “Down Below” will be a major reason. I know we’re supposed to question bands that achieve mainstream accomplishments as somehow no longer worthy of underground embraces, but to hell with that. If you’re good enough to surge, then, by all means, do it. The world would be a far better place if a band such as Tribulation was on the lips of mainstream listeners rather than some of the others out there right now.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Panphage’s run comes to a glorious, rustic end with thunderous last epic ‘Jord’

Certainly, we all know the adage that all good things come to an end. Well, it’s not just all good things. It’s all things. Everything has a lifespan that, once it runs its course, fades out into the night. Creative ventures operate a little differently as those involved can keep things operating and breathing as long as they want, sometime well past the point of health.

One-man Swedish black metal project Panphage has come to its end. While only in existence since 2005, with the first full-length “Storm” not arriving until a decade later, sole creator Fjällbrandt has chosen to cease the project’s existence with the exhilarating third album “Jord,” which is the Swedish word for “soil.” One could argue that in the band’s relatively brief existence, Fjällbrandt has enriched the earth in the underground black metal realms, and now that the harvest is as hearty as ever, it’s time to bow out and let other bands have their time. This record pays honor to Fjällbrandt’s homeland’s heritage, as well as death and rebirth, be it physical, mental, creative, what have you. The seven tracks here well up inside your heart and soul as the soaring melodies and impactful wails (even if sung in a tongue foreign to our own) connect on a spiritual level and help the listener mark the end with Panphage.

“Odalmarkerna” starts the record with waves rushing and the power surging, as gruff growls make their way into the mix, and a melodic surge knocks you backward. The leads burn and glow while the vocals push through, and primal emotions and playing color the song’s final moments. “Måtte dessa bygder brinna” is harsh from the start, as the playing ruptures, and everything flows into an open field of melody. The vocals turn to wild howls, as if calling out from the wilderness, and an infectious chorus makes your heart surge. Lines are repeated like chants, while the playing envelops your soul, and the music overwhelms like a tidal wave. “Ygg (En visa om julen)” has sinister riffs combining with echoing growls, as a heavy Swedish folk influence makes its presence felt before the stormfront rages, and the guitars cascade like sheets of rain. Raw calls blister over the meaty basslines, while the final minute feels like the awakening from a summer shower.

“Skadinawjo” has a clean, calm opening before powerful riffs arrive, and the whole thing ignites. There is a female choral section spread over the chaos, while jarring, heavy growls meet up with a thrashy section that bruises. The tempo manages to get even more violent, and that spills right into “Den tyste åsen” that begins with a colorful explosion. The verses crush, while clean bellowing levels you in the guts, and the guitars cut through the madness. Strings mix in, giving the song a rustic Euro folk feel, and a spirited chorus and a last blast of energy bring the song to a blistering end.  “Som man sår får man skörda” has a savage start, as the music mounts an assault, and Fjällbrandt’s growls start to pummel the senses. The leads blend into woodsy savagery, and then the song halts and enters calm. Knocks echo, haunting you, and then the riffs explode again. Primal shouts make a crater-like impact, while raw fury boils over and the storm fades away. Closer “Osådda skall åkrarna växa (Outro)” has a calm voice calling over reflective music, as the energy lets down, the intensity melts, and the record, like Panphage’s music, fades away.

As Fjällbrandt lays to rest the ashes of Panphage, we always will have “Jord” to return to in order to be nourished time and time again. As for the legacy of this project’s music, it certainly is leaving black metal in a better place than the one it entered 13 years. We pay homage to the awesome band that’s brought us three amazing records, the last of which acted as the perfect epitaph to Fjällbrandt’s creations.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://nordvis.com/vinyl-c-24/panphage-jord-lp-p-630

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