PICK OF THE WEEK: Shadowy Messa incorporate jazzy tones, psyche storming onto ‘Feast for Water’

It would be the most obvious sentence in this site’s history if I stated that water is one of the most crucial elements to human survival. It also is a major force we cannot always control. People suffer when their supplies are compromised or threatened; floods can destroy homes and towns; its regular use can keep us healthy and alive.

So, it’s not a huge surprise that Italian doom force Messa chose to focus on the vital element as the main topic of their new conceptual piece “Feast for Water.” From the opening moments of the record, you can hear waters rushing and welling, though as the record goes on, its presence is mainly in the words and lyrics. It fuels this impressive second record for this band that debuted a couple years ago on “Belfry” that certainly hinted at the promise they held. Yet here, they completely go for it mixing jazz, blues, and psychedelics into their heaviness on a record that’s often pulled back so that atmosphere can be achieved. It’s a wise move as it makes the heavier parts that much more impactful, and it allows the band to drape the songs in beauty and ambiance. The group—powerhouse vocalist Sara, guitarist/bassist Marco, guitarist/Rhodes piano player Alberto, and drummer Rocco—captures the imagination right away and continues to pound away at your psyche over these eight songs and nearly 50 excellent minutes that should open way more eyes and ears to their magic.

“Naunet” is a quick intro cut with waters rushing and cosmic noise spreading before moving into “Snakeskin Drape” where the liquid continues to bubble. Out of that comes Sara’s voice slowly emerging, burly doom popping, and as bluesy burnt edge to the guitar work. Then, the vocals soar into space, while the drama builds, bringing the song to a smashing end. “Leah” runs 8:09 and spills in on a droning riff and a spooky pace. The track is dark and alluring, with keys plotting their move and the singing coming softly. The power later kicks in, mixing psychedelic energy into the fray, and the blazing soloing that emerges helps light the way. Sara’s singing levels you, while the back end of the song sounds stoned and grimy. “The Seer” is the longest single track, going a healthy 8:19, all of which it dominates. Drums roll in as the slowly simmering plot begins to unfold. Strong riffs partner with jazzy melodies, while Sara’s singing swells and moves. The song’s flow goes back and forth from easy to rocky, cold to hot, as the playing mesmerizes, guitars blister and swagger toward the end, and Sara adds her final notes.

“She Knows” and “Tulsi” play like a single song, and if they were made into one, they’d make up the longest track at nearly 15 minutes. “She Knows” is super chilled out, with keys slinking, Sara’s voice prowling underneath the shadows, and a sense of elegance dashed across the track. Later, the tempo starts pushing and pulling back and forth, and the tranquility begins to show cracks. The soloing erupts, and before you know it, the band unexpectedly hits the gas pedal, sprawling into “Tulsi” where guitars moan, and moody playing sets the tone. The first hints of savagery make their mark, with Rocco’s screams crashing down, and then things get smoky and disorienting. Emotion hits another high point, while a jagged saxophone burst swelters, with the song bleeding away. “White Stains” starts with a sense of ease before things power up, and Sara blisters all sense of calm. The guitars buzz with feeling, while the soloing flashes and blinds your eyes, and it feels live lava is coming from the splits in the ground. Sara’s vocals again take hold of you, while the track simmers in power as it reaches its finish. Closer “Da Tariki Tariquat” is a closing instrumental that acts as an ideal bookend to “Naunet.” Guitars drip and create a tributary, the ambiance sends tingles, and the whole thing is allowed to fade into profound numbness, leaving you lying stunned and silent.

Messa’s liquid rituals on “Feast for Water” are intoxicating, mesmerizing, and bruising, paying homage to an element that makes up a large percentage of our world and bodies. This record rushes the senses and continues to do so as one song flows into the other, building another chapter to the story. This is the true coming of a new, enthralling doom force, one that seeks to capture you by their psychedelic wares rather than earth-smashing volume.

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

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

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

Danish death destroyers Taphos’ mauling demo efforts resurface with debut offering on horizon

It’s easy to miss early underground releases by promising artists. I do that all the time, and I run a damn website. Getting a chance to go back and dine on their early morsels is a welcome idea, especially with new music in the offing, and that’s what we are being offered with the reintroduction of two of Taphos’ most recent releases.

The Danish death metal band (they hail from the same scene as Phrenelith and Undergang) will be unleashing brand new music later this year with the backing of Blood Harvest, one of the more reliable sources of quality underground chaos. Before that, the label is reissuing their 2016 demo “MMXVI” and their 7″ EP “MMXVII” in a single collection so all of their early filth can be found in one location (their 2016 EP also will be released separately on 12″ vinyl). Newcomers to this band will find yet another young force ensuring death metal will be in the right hands moving forward. This unit—vocalist/bassist H, guitarists M and D, and drummer U—makes smothering, harsh, hellish music that reeks of raw nerve and violent inhibition.

“Venus’ Death” gets the 2016 demo started with stunning riffs, deafening howls from H, and the track driving into your chest. Things spill into doom terrain, as they do from time to time, before the drums erupt dangerously, and the track comes to a massive finish. “Upon Withered Wings” is thrashy and hellish, total savagery that’s driven by a storm of devastating riffs. The track picks up some swagger, while the leads soar into space, leading to gory madness and a penetrating end. “Perpetual Void” is fast and nasty when it strikes, as the riffs drive deep holes into the earth, and burly punishment emerges. Once again, U lays waste to the drum kit as soloing obliterates minds, demonic howls wail, and we come to a gory conclusion. “Venomous Tempest” delivers the heavy shadow of doom-death as riffs rain down, the growls are gurgled, and the tempo begins to trample. The soloing sets off light flashes, with noise hanging in the air, panic afoot, and gruesome intentions left to do their worst.

The 2017 demo recording starts with “Sensory Deprivation,” and from the initial strains, you can hear them stretching their sound a bit. It’s muddy and meaty from the start, with riffs choking your airways, and everything piling on from there. The track then speeds up and sends shrapnel flying, with the guitars barreling away, and the song thickening. But then things end on a hypnotic, yet crushing note, making your head spin while it throbs. “Purging Pyres” is the final song and starts doing damage right away. The riffs tear into the earth and bore a hole, as the song punches at faces, and the playing continues scarring. Belchy growls and smothering drums blast, with the track coming to a fiery, suffocating finish.

Taphos’ name already is gaining traction among fans online (I can’t stop seeing their name tossed around), and these two mini efforts forged into one are perfectly good reasons why. Their debut full-length will be highly anticipated here, and in many places, based on the promise of these six songs alone. What they do with that space will be interesting, and there’s a good chance they’ll carve out a ferocious, noteworthy first salvo sure to keep us neck deep in filth.

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

To buy the vinyl, go here: http://shop.bloodharvest.se/?product=taphos-demo-mmxvi-12mlp

To buy the CD, go here: http://shop.bloodharvest.se/?product=taphos-demo-mmxvi-ep-mmxvii-mcd-digi

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bloodharvest.se/

Foehammer unleash mammoth doom on earthquaking, massive debut collection ‘Second Sight’

Photo by Ben Price

Doom is one of, if not the most, interesting sub-genres of metal’s entire universe. It can be played so many ways, with most of its followers willing to feast from its teats no matter the content spewing forth. Gross. Sometimes it swaggers, at other times it lets off smokes, while at others it makes the Earth’s crust quake violently.

Virginia’s Foehammer come from the contingent of bands that make it seem like your house is going to implode when they challenge your speakers. These guys finally are coming at us with their mammoth debut full-length album “Second Sight,” a four-track, 46-minute mauler designed to tear your face right from the skull. They pulverized us with their first EP, a self-titled affair released three years ago, and our eyes and ears surely were ripped the fuck open. On this full effort, the band fully unfurls their prowess and power to show exactly what they have ion their arsenal. The group—bassist/vocalist Jay Cardinell, guitarist Joe Cox, and drummer Ben Price (he just joined this year)—is fully capable of doing damage to your body and hearing, and their music makes them one of the more promising new doom bands who are looking to continue a tradition and make it even deadlier. This is world-toppling stuff, and it’s a massive undertaking to experience this collection all at once.

“Black Numeorean” has noise bleeding into a thunderous eruption, then we’re into a 10:14-long stretch that doesn’t change a whole lot during its run but does remain punishingly consistent. Lurching growls crawl, while the pace bludgeons with accuracy and strength. Every element piles on top until things begin to melt, and molten rock spills forward and fills every crevice. “Recurring Grave” is slow but massive when it starts, feeling like it’s boiling in thick oil before going on an atmospheric stretch. The track gives off a cloudy, rainy essence (which is weird because the sky just opened as I was writing this), with soloing solidifying and soaring over the mire. A burly rhythm section brings added punishment, while the song comes to a crashing, abrupt end.

“Axis Mundi” has a rustic acoustic intro that gives way to a sludgy assault. The vocals belch evil intent, while the band hammers away relentlessly, giving you no room for breath or comfort. The grisly horror is dealt on an even scale before the leads catch fire and send smoke sheets wafting. The drum kit is just pulverized, as the sound finally pulls back the punishment relents. Closer “The Seer” is the longest cut, running 16:40 and starting with noise sizzling and a Sabbath-friendly riff. The guitars continue to heat up before fully unloading, and then we’re into slow-driving hell, with your face feeling like it’s being dragged over concrete. The track again lights up, sending pillars of flame into the night sky, and then black metal-style riffs roll out and clobber, permanently infecting the melodies. The band keeps adding layers, making the weight on your chest unbearable as it hurtles toward a hypnotic ending that folds into space.

It’s no secret we like to dine freely from the table of doom metal, and Foehammer’s offerings are at the meatier, bloodier end. “Second Sight” is a tremendous first full salvo from a band that should have fellow doom worshippers frothing over the possibilities this group’s future holds. For now, we have this cavernous, devastating record that will make it feel like our world is coming to an end.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.australopithecusrecords.com/products/foehammer-second-sight-2xlp

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

A Story of Rats convey darker forces, imaginative possibilities with ‘The Immeasurable Spiral’

We appreciate those moments when we escape from a comfort zone and delve into something completely different. No doubt the bulk of this site is devoted to heavy sounds and morbid darkness, but that can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to contain guitar crunch and vocals that shred throats. It can originate in many places.

So, we don’t find it all that odd to feature two-piece, largely electronic project A Story of Rats, whose new album “The Immeasurable Spiral” is here to bring heavy shadows to your mind. The duo of Daniel Salo­ (piano, synthesizers, timpani, drum programming) and Garek J. Druss (formerly of Atriarch who handles synthesizers, electric organ, vocals, and drum programming) have been creating their sounds for more than a decade now, having released music on their own, as well as a split with Pussygutt (now known as Wolvserpent) and could remind listeners of bands such as Pinkish Black, Dead Can Dance, and aforementioned Atriarch, just with less harsh noise involved. Instead, they immerse you in a sort of dim dream world where you can reach beyond yourself and attempt to understand existence beyond your fingertips. It’s been best consumed by me at night, especially before sleep, because it conjures the strangeness lurking beneath the skin.

“Horn of Silver” is first up on this two-track effort, and its 15:25 are involved and imaginative. The track starts with drum beats encircling, a synth fog moving in, and icy, echoing sounds chilling your bloodstream. Mournful keys create a slowly collecting tidal wave, while talking warbles underneath, and then beams of noise shoot out into the cosmos. Eerie weirdness arrives, as breathy releases pulsate, and a trance-heavy ambiance is achieved, which is ideal for reaching beyond your imagination. Wordless choral sections arrive, and the music heads into drowsy waters, with warbled singing delivering a slurring message, keys zapping, and the song fading into mystery.

“The Calm Lake” runs a healthy 18:13, and it begins with keys floating, and the vocals buried within its cloud. The synth creates an energy beam that blasts through the center, blurring your senses and making it feel like opposing forces are batting for control of your mind. Gentle chimes bring a sense of ease, and the music makes it feel like you’re floating at the middle of the sea, with no land in sight and with you having no choice but to see where the current takes you. Keys re-emerge, as the voices turn to whispers, and the synth pumps goth-style fogs. The music bubbles while the waters build again, and then things speed up, with the drum beats hitting near blast levels. The keys increase their intensity toward a crescendo, while the flood becomes too much to take, and the synth drones out of time.

A Story of Rats’ music lurks beyond metal’s gates for sure, but we’ve all expanded our minds quite a bit the past decade, haven’t we? There are many listeners, especially those from doom and even atmospheric black metal camp, who are bound to be intoxicated by “The Immeasurable Spiral.” Not only does this music give us a chance to expand what this site consumes and brings to you, it also pushes the idea of heaviness into places it doesn’t always tread.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Eagle Twin pit natural might against humanity on grim ‘The Thundering Heard…’

Photo by Russel Daniels

The power of nature is something we cannot fully comprehend. We have no control over it whatsoever, and for some odd reason, so many people lack the proper respect for it. But nature is greater than all of us combined, and its forces could leave us ground up in the dirt. It kind of has a track record of doing so.

That power is evident on “The Thundering Heard (Songs of Hoof and Horn),” the massive third record from Utah doom duo Eagle Twin. Over these four mammoth tracks, the band draws on folklore, the majesty of nature surrounding us, and the impact we have on our surroundings. As you can see from the album art depicting a herd of buffalo being driven over a hillside, it not only clues you in to some of the actions going on in these songs, it’s also a depiction of what’s happening to some of the creatures around us whose actions we affect. Or at least that’s my loose interpretation, though I have been known to be wrong. From time to time. This it the band’s first record in about six years, since 2012’s awesome “The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scales,” and it’s also their shortest at 41:31. But it’s also a concise, muscular package from vocalist/guitarist Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith, one that brings massive amounts of power and conveys the relentless energy of the thundering herd from which the album takes its very-fitting name. It’s a total crusher.

“Quanah un Rama” starts with Densley’s trademark throaty gurgle of a voice, as he wails about buffalo stampeding, with Smith’s drumming adding the proper earth rumbling. Cool dual guitar lines intertwine, as the band hits a bluesy patch, and psychedelic melodies work their way into the puzzle. The main riff returns and continues to clobber, with Densley’s vocals spilling back in and scarring, and corroded guitars adding fuzz. “The bees made honey in his skull,” Densley calls, possibly in honor of drone legends Earth, as the song comes to an end. “Elk Wolfv Hymn” follows with a trickling open, with Densley gruffly singing, “Sun burns through the sky.” Later he observes vultures circling while riffs gather, and the song takes on an even-tempered pace. “The sun is the fiery wheel,” Densley marks, as he’s often looking skyward in this track, and the back end has an eerie calming settling over everything.

“Heavy Hoof” has the singing at its muddiest, with Densley gurgling, “The heavy hoofs dance on your grave.” The track takes on a drubbing, filthy path, while the guitars ring out and hang in the air, and the path tramples everything in front of it like a runaway herd. The guitars unload fire toward the end, as the track comes to a blistering end that smashes bones. Closer “Antlers of Lightning” is the longest track at 14:23, and it starts with thick drone that darkens dreams, and a slow-moving approach pushes toward calculated punishment. Burly leads drive ahead, as the guitars are soaked with power, and the destruction charges hard until noise smears over everything. The final burst has drums breaking the earth’s crust to pour lava, the music slows to a painful lurch, and the track ends in a swarm of sound that stings your ear drums.

Eagle Twin’s might is nearly immeasurable as these two hammers and swagger their way through these great four tracks on “The Thundering Heard (Songs of Hoof and Horn).” The songs get into your head and fill your brain with chaos and devastation, and once they’re inside you, it’s impossible to eradicate them. This band keeps morphing ever so slightly with each release, making tweaks and thickening corners, and these songs are bound to bring the building down when they’re played live.

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

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

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

Vilkacis unleash bloody danger, blistering, melodic darkness on debut ‘Beyond the Mortal Gate’

Hunting through the woods at night, with only your senses to guide you and potential death at each corner might not be an exciting way to go for all people. I’m one of those. I’d probably roll into a ball until the light. But some people have these fight-to-survive instincts that would be ideally employed battling their way through wild conditions.

It’s not necessarily that Vilkacis’ sole creator M. Rekevic is prowling at night, knife in mouth, waiting for the kill, but the music he makes would lead one to assume perhaps he’s always on the hunt. The band’s debut full-length record “Beyond the Mortal Gate” sounds like a primitive, bloodthirsty blast of violence that sounds like it is inspired by something savage and menacing. These six songs are punishing and deadly, proving to be relentless out to outright destroy (this is the first music since 2013 debut EP “The Fever of War”). Yet, there is a nice bit of melody packed into these tracks that provide a glimmer of light, or at least some colors that add dashes to the outright blackness. Rekevic is well known from his work in other projects including Fell Voices, Vanum, Vorde, and Yellow Eyes, but his assaults here are blacker and morbid, a hammering display that could leave your flesh bruised and bleeding.

“Snowfall By Torchlight” is a relatively quiet (so, totally misleading) introduction into what you’re about to face, as you’re bathed in serene guitars and keys before the beast that is “Defiance” tears the world apart. This thing tears open with reckless abandon, as melodic riffs make their way through the chaos and mix with Rekevic’s raw growls that reek of menace. The savage assault blasts out spiraling riffs, allowing the pace to twist some as the onslaught continues. The track hammers, but it also lets interesting colors flood your mind, as everything ends in fire and ash. “Sixty-Three” lets riffs rain down and soak the ground, while a crazed assault follows, and the wild shrieks destroy any hopes of sanity. The power here is flattening and frightening, with the song animalistically taking to bone and flesh, the punishing chorus giving off primal punk power, and the final moments soaking in acid.

“Spiritual Retribution” blasts off, with wrenching screams, channeled riffs, and your nerves being flooded. Strong melodies take hold, one element that continues to provide light in the thickening darkness, while the growls bring menace, and the carnage pulls back a bit. The growls continue to scar, while the guitars go off, and the track disappears into the murk. “Boundless Spell of Realization” has more spirited riffs, tempos that trample, and growls that sound like they were released from a diseased throat. The track splatters and sprawls while the guitars carve their path with violence, and a slight halt gives away to a more delirious assault that mangles all the way to the end. The closing title track is the longest song, clocking in at 10:03, and it begins clean and serene before eerie guitars land, and the song erupts. Raspy growls scrape their messages, while the soloing catches fire and creates a blaze from which you must shield your eyes. The back end has stampeding melodies, growls that aim to kill, and spiraling riffs that pull you into the vortex.

Rekevic’s Vilkacis project stands out from his other work in my myriad other bands, which is apparent from just a few drops of “Beyond the Mortal Gate.” It’s not so radically different that followers of his other bands can’t relate; it’s just an ample increase in the savagery that it might come as an initial shock. This record is punishing and unforgiving, a brutal journey no matter how many times you visit, and a damaging gash to anyone hoping to find an accessible avenue to black metal. This isn’t it, and we couldn’t be more thankful for that.

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

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

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

Indonesian black metal maulers Vallendusk spill melody, chaos with ‘Fortress of Primal Grace’

We cover and drown ourselves in a lot of dark, foreboding stuff, which is only natural since that’s most of what’s out there now, and the world has turned to shit. But it’s nice to get a reminder every now and again that metal can be strong and glorious. If done right, it can still set our hearts sailing toward the skies for an adventure out of body.

Indonesian atmospheric black metal band Vallendusk do all that and more on their stunning third record “Fortress of Primal Grace,” a seven-track, hourlong sojourn into a goddamn rich stew of riffs that could make you want to get up and battle any force of oppression with a golden sword. This isn’t fantasy stuff, just so that there’s no misunderstanding, but holy shit if this thing doesn’t swoop in on eagle’s wings and make you feel all the feelings. While we’re talking black metal and even a few touches of early death metal, I can’t help but feel a Helloween presence in the guitar work, which is a major plus. The way the band—vocalist Rizky, guitarists Danang Sugianto and Valendino Mithos, and drummer Derick Pawira—builds and expresses their music makes it easy for them to get into your bloodstream for full infection, and from the start of this thing right up to its end, Vallendusk do an ideal job adding excitement, humanity, and adventure into their assault.

The record opens with the longest track of the group, 10:38 “The Presences.” Organs emerge as the guitars liquify, and then the leads start blazing. The first tastes of power metal are present, as melodies soar and a prog-infused storm lands. Shimmering playing, scraping growls, and another organ swell bring the track to its end. “In Reverie” follows in a rush of melody, with a great riff knocking down walls, and awesome growls from Rizky leading the way. The leads go off, as the band exhibits their strong playing again, with an absolute storm hanging overhead, the music spitting fire, and the emotion blazing out. “Coronation” storms the land, with the melodies pushing hard into power metal fire, and then, out of nowhere, organs start pumping. It’s a cool about face, and then we’re back to glorious guitar work, some clean singing, and then a section that feels like a combo of old-school punk and, in the best way possible, pirate metal before a rousing end. “Heart of the Storm” has riffs rolling out on a conveyor belt, as the power aura returns, and the leads cut through before a chugging breakdown. The song is exciting and melodic, as a rush of energy charges the speedy finish.

“Eons” opens in an acoustic flush before the song blasts open, and the riffs spill buckets of wild colors. The track is wildly infectious, with the vocals sprawling and hammering, and then the pace pulls back to acoustics. From out of that, the bass throbs, the pace shifts, and we’re off to a blistering end. “Higher Ground” is not a Stevie Wonder cover. Instead, it starts with a folk vibe before it gets chunky and heavy. The ferocity paves the way for gnarly growls, and wordless calls get into your heart and make you want to fight back. The pace remains savage until folk stylings return and help the song fade away. Closer “The Shield” is fast and sprawling, with a power metal underbelly and huge melodies combining with gigantic riffs. The song shows a darker side at times, with the menace thickening and keys emerging to bring on a frost. Finally, the band sets out on a gallop, bringing the track to a fiery, thunderous end.

Vallendusk really find their mark on “Fortress of Primal Grace,” a record that could find allegiances among fans of plenty of different metallic sub-genres. The riffs are plentiful and inspired, while the total package hits on all cylinders, making for an album that zooms by in an hour, leaving you wondering where the time went. It’s heavy and punishing, but also something that, when it’s all over, won’t do any further damage to your already rotting core.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.northern-silence.de/

For more on the label, go here: http://northern-silence.de/

Lychgate further agitate doom, black metal models with weird new ‘The Contagion in Nine Steps’

Photo by Damian Hovhannisyan

We live in a strange time where we are always interconnected no matter how far apart we are. There’s a comfort in that. Friends who live far away, who are not near enough to see in person, can remain vital parts of our lives. World events can be seen and generate a reaction instantly. Ideas can be shared in real time. And, of course, dangerous behaviors also can be exacerbated. Plenty of evil with the good.

One of the dangerous things about being so closely connected to one another is the ability to gang up on people and ideas and bully them or violently persuade them to abandon their thoughts and actions. There’s even good and bad to that one. A group of Nazis gathering to spread ideology should be met with a combined force of people trying to prevent their poison ideas. However, same holds true for those who fight back against hatred in that they, too, become targets of a swam of attacks. This whole internet idea isn’t the whole idea behind Lychgate’s labyrinth of a third record “The Contagion in Nine Steps,” but the idea of swarm behavior they borrow from Stanislaw Lem’s 1964 sci-fi novel The Invincible. Along the way they also lean on concepts of other philosophers (Plato, LeBon, Canetti, etc.) on subjects ranging from civilization, crowd psychology, and consciousness and wrap them into these six tricks that will twist your brain repeatedly. The band— vocalist Greg Chandler (Esoteric), guitarists J. C. “Vortigern” Young (The One) and S.D. Lindsley, bassist A. K. Webb (Ancient Ascendant), and drummer T. J. F. Vallely (Acherontas, Macabre Omen)—create one of the most baffling, immersive records of their run, and it may take several visits just to absorb everything going on here.

“Republic” opens the record with guest player Vladimir Antonov-Charsky’s organ playing leading and dominating the first few minutes of the song. In fact, this track feels like three separate songs stitched together and entangled, as doom pounds away, the song drives hard toward your chest, and deep growls from Chandler make impact. Cleaner singing, almost power metal style, also steps in from time to time, as classical keys spread, and a final dose of heaviness pulls closed the gates. “Unity of Opposites” has inventive key work and a slinking bass line, as things take their time to get moving, and slow fires begin to build. Once the song truly opens, tricky guitar work confounds, while lurching growls and passionate singing expose different shades of the tale. Warm elegance rushes over the final minutes, with the song coming to a buzzing finish. “Atavistic Hypnosis” has keys dripping, with the band establishing a calculated, atmospheric ambiance. Whispers turn into growls, as the pace lurches, the synth hangs like a cloud, and darkness arrives along with smothering singing that reaches into the higher registers. The track gets mean again, darkening boldly before all the lights go out.

“Hither Comes the Swarm” starts with the keys hitting a deep groove, and growls partnering with hypnotic guitars to send you into hysterics. Windy chimes strike, while the keys lather, and the band suddenly hits overdrive with speed and menace. That keeps landing blows as the pace mystifies, throaty growls emerge, and watery keys wash away the violence. “The Contagion” is the longest track, running 8:48 and beginning in a pounding assault with the keys swimming. Clean singing begins the path, with sludgy growling taking over, and while the band is going for the throat, they do so in a way that comes to a cosmic prog mind-set. Eerie choral sections move in, wild cries explode, and the guitars cut through meat to the bone. The pace is strange for the final minute, as bellowing vocals strike, and a haunted music box serves as the outro. Closer “Remembrance” is practically a doom ballad, as the pace remains slow the entire time, and all the singing is clean. The track is slow and reflective, bleeding pain and sorrow, coming to a ceremonial final resting place amid showery keys.

Bands such as Lychgate are what is keeping black metal and doom constantly evolving, breathing beasts, and I doubt you’ll hear another record quite like “The Contagion in Nine Steps” all year. Or maybe not until this band comes up with something new again. It’s not an easy listen, and it will demand some patience, but you will be rewarded with a record that will rewrite your expectations about daring metal albums and might even inform some of your behaviors within society.

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

To buy the album (US/Canada), go here: https://www.blood-music.com/store-us/

Or here (rest of the world): https://www.blood-music.com/store-eu/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Murky sorrow marks Mournful Congregation’s towering ‘The Incubus of Karma’

Imagine a cavern of sadness and despair so deep that falling into it means a lifetime there, trapped until your body finally gives way. The sorrow and pain one would suffer would be immeasurable, as the only thing that would give comfort is the end coming soon. Or eventually. Yet, could there be a sort of morbid beauty to that all as well?

That fate is what kept coming back to me with every visit to Mournful Congregation’s landmark fifth record “The Incubus of Karma,” a six track, nearly 80-minute beast that is the best work this mostly Australian-based band ever has committed to permanent record. The songs are mostly mammoth epics, tracks that seem like they would have a goddamn intermission in the middle, though you don’t want to take your eyes and ears away from the drama. These songs bleed into the earth and create glistening tributaries that crawl at a deadly slow pace as they also carve their way into your damaged psyche. The band—vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Damon Good, guitarist Justin Hartwig, bassist Ben Newsome, and drummer Tim Call (the lone non-Australian in the band)—masters what they’re been creating the past 25 years on this album, perfecting their mission and creating a timeless record that will have people wallowing in the dark for decades to come.

“The Indwelling Ascent” is an instrumental opener that cracks the door and lets the first chilling breezes in. Slow-moving, sorrowful riffs, the type that soak this record, unfurl, delivering an atmospheric pall and settling into 15:42 “Whispering Spiritscapes.” There, guitars rumble and sludge, riffs glimmer, and Good’s earthy growl reverberates through the crust, with the track later going chilly and foreboding, and ghostly speaking sliding behind the wall of doom. We shift again, as guitars flood the ground, the growls pull you under the surface, and an elegant warmth falls over you in the final fourth before more hammers are dropped. Growls overwhelm, the guitars cry out, and a robotic monologue, uttered earlier in the track, delivers the final warning. “The Rubaiyat” runs a generous 18:07, the second-longest cut on this record, and the opening simmers in synth bath, with creaky speaking joining the fray, and the song slowly unloading. The guitars drip while the growls carve the pace, and then more keys wash in and pull the song into the stratosphere. Soloing washes over your numbed senses, and then you’re feeling around in a foggy, mystical corner, seeking a light to show you the way. Guitars keep spilling and bringing steaming power, and the song ends in a lonely pool.

The title cut is a heart-heavy instrumental that starts with acoustic lines before the electrics heat up, and the leads begin to blaze a path. From there, the riffs soar into the sky, while quiet chimes bring the song to an end and tip toward “Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment” that’s a few ticks under 15 minutes. The mystics continue into the front end, as weirdness is afoot, and engorging growls spill into rivers of mud. The leads shine over the top, always a reflective charge in an otherwise dour environment, and out of that, the song bleeds pain. Warbled speaking and guitars that feel like sunrays cut into the night, while the heavily emotive playing flushes your heart and lungs, and the track slowly drips into the deepest of your dreams. Closer “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” is the mammoth here, a 22:05 journey that tests your will. It’s slow and murky at the start, as the song unravels past its opening and then gushes with grim beauty. The growls crush, while the band leans in heavily, and about eight minutes in, things go clean and eventually feel nautical. Of course, the track blasts apart again, with the song moving in waves, soloing scorching, and a deeply sorrowful stretch gets into your bloodstream. A wordless chorus swells, as their playing continues to spread their emotions over every corner of the earth, and the track’s initial riff returns and carries the song off into the cloudy distance.

It’s been seven long years since we got a full-length record from Mournful Congregation, and while they were away, they obviously had their heads deep in the earth’s crust, as well as in their bruised psyches. “The Incubus of Karma” is a major high point for a band that has a ton of stellar documents in their archive, and in this early year, it’s already a candidate for the best record of 2018. You’ll be forced to confront the pain and damage inside you, as the band lets you simmer in your own dark juices.

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/search?type=product&q=karma

Or here (Europe): http://www.osmoseproductions.com/index.cfm

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

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

Primordial build on impeccable resume with mood-shifting new album ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’

The idea of modern metal legends might seem silly. It isn’t. Yes, bands such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Bathory are absolute royalty to this style of music, and for very good reason. But it’s time to start considering bands past their reigns to consider for adulation, and Irish bruisers Primordial should be placed on that mantle.

This band has been around for 27 years now, and I defy you to tell me one release from them that wasn’t absolutely epic. They are about to unload their new, ninth record “Exile Amongst the Ruins” that maintains their amazing reputation and further cements their legend. For those who have been around for the entire ride, or a large portion of it, this record will feel a lot different. The black metal flourishes are scarce, but not in a bad way at all, as things feel more traditional and Celtic-infused. The songs take a little time for absorption, as their characters are not obvious right away like some of their past work. But having to earn an album can be a good thing, and the more I visit this music, the more it stretches out before me. The band—vocalist Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill, guitarists Ciarán MacUilliam and Michael O’Floinn, bassist Pól MacAmlaigh, and drummer Simon O’Laoghaire—has more than one trick up their collective sleeves, and they show that on this expansive new record (it’s eight tracks and 65 minutes).

Primordial records tend to start with thundering tracks, but the first hints of this record being different from the others come with the first cut “Nail Their Tongues.” While still spirited and seeped in biblical lore and violence, the band runs out a nine-minute tale that addresses Cain, Abel, Lucifer, and others, as Averill bellows, “Did you know you were able to pierce the tongues of liars?” Gazey guitars enter, as do Averill’s growls (which are sparse on this record), and things end with a huge blaze of sound. “To Hell or the Hangman” feels a little more like traditional Primordial, as the band hits an exciting tone like they’re on the hunt, and a scarred Averill admits, “I can see in your eyes you want him.” The flames of battle and the pursuit sting your nostrils, as the theme of swallowed pride pelts your chest, the riffs send energy, and this killer cut comes to a bloody end. “Where Lie the Gods” is a 9:12 epic that has a folk-driven, acoustic start before it settles in mid-tempo territory. It reeks of a saga (in a good way) as the story unfurls, strong guitars throw punches as they enter the mix, and sounds cascade. The fogs keep getting thicker and more ominous before the song ends with a spirited assault. The title cut follows, and there, guitars simmer while Averill points out, “Your enemies are long gone.” The track burns the flames for those lost to history, people whose acts have been buried in time, as the track waxes about a place “without history, without nations, without names.” The intensity and emotion continue to grow, with Averill belting out, “We are ghosts among the ruins,” with the song fading into the framework.

“Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed” is venomous and powerful. The track rumbles a bit before letting the Earth’s crust split open with Averill wailing, “Your foolish heart, it poisons the well.” The chorus is tremendous, something that should swell live, and later, things erupt even more. Growls arrive with vows that the foe will succumb to a painful battle, and the track ends in a cloud of smoke. “Stolen Years” has a warm riff and feels like a moody ballad, giving off a more vulnerable vibe than most Primordial songs. Averill marks “our years of pain,” as the track pours emotion and pain into this song, one that marks its mark and sticks with you well after it’s over. “Sunken Lungs” also is pretty different, as the song has some forceful singing that pushes the narrative, while the guitars are active and noir-rich later, there’s even a psychedelic sheen applied later that makes things glimmer. As the song goes on, the tempo blisters even harder, as things crescendo before escaping under the waves. Closer “Last Call” trickles open, as it moves in a calculated pace at the start before the power sets in. “Step up to the gallows and hang me out to dry,” Averill wails, while the tides rise and fall over the song’s 10:32 run time. That ebb and flow lets your breathing fluctuate and your mind race, as the song has guitars cutting into its center before the whole thing fades away.

Primordial remain one of the strongest, steadiest forces in metal, and their emotional conviction and devotion to their and their homeland’s history has kept them one of the steadiest, most honest bands out there. “Exile Amongst the Ruins” is another strong effort from a group staring three decades in the face, with hardly any wear or tear to be shown. Primordial are kings, and their music is such that will stand the test of time, this album included.

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

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

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