Altar of Oblivion’s epic sound basks in heavy metal glory on fiery, punchy ‘The Seven Spirits’

Heavy metal is fucking law, baby, and before it splintered off into a million different directions, it was a very defined thing that united the downtrodden and forgotten to a place of great power. I mean, it still can, at least when some dork edge lord isn’t wheezing opposition. Yet, magic can happen, and sometimes we get to bask in the glory of true heavy metal

So, here come Altar of Oblivion with their killer third record “The Seven Spirits” that, if you can’t have fun listening, you perhaps should trade in your heart for a working model. It’s been nearly 15 years since this band first assaulted us all the way from Denmark, and their style is just killer. It’s also been seven long years since we last heard from the band on 2012’s “Grand Gesture of Defiance,” so it’s been a long time coming that we got some new shit. That’s not to speak ill of the band. You can’t snap your fingers and demand what we get on this seven-track, 41-minute album, but it’s a glorious gift that we get to immerse ourselves in this music. If you live and die with Manilla Road, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden (I definitely do), then you’ll throw yourself head first into this record and this band—vocalist Mik Mentor, guitarists/keyboardists Martin Meyer Sparvath and Jeppe Campradtr, bassist Cristian Nørgaard, drummer Danny Woe.

“Created in the Fires of Holiness” rips open the record, with Mentor’s vocals bellowing as he howls about “building a nation of ignorance” that rumbles in your chest. The chorus is strong and easy to remember and call back, while the soloing erupts, blazing its path, before everything ends in calm. “No One Left” has a gothy feel, especially vocally, as Mentor calls, “No one left to see this doomsday prophecy.” The track has an epic feel, as the song laments the loss of loyalty toward others, as the track comes to a bursting end. “Solemn Messiah” has a cold opening before things light up, with a glorious chorus to boot that’ll shake your skeleton. “I am failing people in times of need,” Mentor laments, while synth rolls out, the guitars chew bones, and the track bleeds away. “Gathering at the Wake” starts with a gritty riff as Mentor calls, “All that is left is gone forever,” before the song kicks up and generates a storm. The chorus delivers a hearty power metal-style push, and it’s crunchy and catchy the whole way. Glorious leads melt rock, while Mentor commands, “Lead me to the altar of death, I’m dreaming of paradise,” before an epic eruption brings the song to its close.

The title track trickles in from oblivion (uh, no pun) before meaty singing kicks in, and we’re into a slower, more deliberate pace, sort of like a doom ballad. The track is wrenching and epic with a killer chorus and all the power they can muster in a pretty strong centerpiece cut. “Language of the Dead” starts with weird robotic voices before a killer Priest-style guitar riff launches as Mentor howls, “Tragedy and triumph walking side by side,” before the tempo hits overdrive. The vocals push hard as slicing soloing barrels in, making a deep cut before fading away. Closer “Grand Gesture of Defiance” slips in with a slower tempo before firing up with guitars chugging and Mentor calling, “Visions of hell, I feel the end is nigh.” Soloing brings the power and glory as Mentor howls, “Take me to my grave, I’m tired of being a slave to your sins,” before the song trickles in cold waters, and the synth pushes out.

Altar of Oblivion keep metal’s spirit alive, as they’ve always done, and they’ve never been more all in than they are on “The Seven Spirits.” This is a glorious, fun record that should reignite your metal spirit, and it’ll make you want to fight all the people who have been upsetting you art work. That’s OK, man. This should be fun, and holy shit, this is!

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1349 honor artist Munch with 7″ release ‘Dødskamp’ that pulls back a bit on blackened terror

Photo by Jorn Veberg

Black metal was supposed to be chaos, no rules, and utter destruction. A blight on the body of music that seeks to eat its way to the heart. That’s not actually true anymore as there are a ton of ways that bands get shit for going off script, but the ones that do tend to be the artists that keep things interesting and the listener guessing.

Nordic hell force 1349 are one of those bands. Despite creating some of the seminal black metals album of the past couple decades with “Beyond the Apocalypse” in 2004 and “Hellfire” in 2005, that never convinced them to stay the course and keep delivering versions of that record over and over again. “Revelations of the Black Flame” confused and pissed off some people in 2009 (it’s my favorite 1349 record, by the way) as it was a dense, mud-bleeding beast that didn’t sound like anything they’d done before. Things have continued to remain unpredictable for them, and that carries over onto their new two-track EP “Dødskamp.”  What’s even cooler than 1349 just having a new 7” release is how it came about: The song was commissioned by Visit Norway, Innovation Norway, and the Munch Museum to create a track based on an Edvard Munch piece, so they chose “Dødskamp.” The song itself is definitely a step in a different direction for the band—vocalist Ravn, guitarist Archanon, bassist Seidemann, drummer Frost—in that it’s a little more approachable than most of their material, but it’s still got an evil heart in the end.

The title track begins with a total rock-n-roll drive, which might turn off some folks. I was a little surprised and worried at first, but let the thing grow. Eventually it gets darker and even sludgy with harsh growls scarring and Frost’s drumming turning bones to ash. “Death! Breeding death!” Ravn howls as melodies snake underneath the din, turning everything an ashy sickness. The track keeps pounding heavily, sending splinters flying before the song disappears into sounds similar to what brought the monster into existence. The B side is a live version of “Atomic Chapel” from their “Demonoir” album that sounds … fine. Maybe the digital promo doesn’t do it justice (wouldn’t be the first time that happened with a song), but it feels like the vocals are way up front and everything else is just sitting around in the background. It’s not bad, but I wasn’t blown away.

“Dødskamp” is a pretty unique release for 1349 and black metal in general, and it’s not a bad piece of work. This certainly isn’t prime 1349 material by any means, but it’s strong enough to tide over the hunger for a bit until a new full-length. And if anything, maybe it opens more eyes to Munch’s work, which is decidedly metal as hell.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: L’Acéphale put indescribable horror, savagery into amazing self-titled album

No matter how many records get written about on this site, and no matter how many I hear, there remain times when trying to accurately describe something is a frustrating challenging. That’s not a negative at all, because this means the music is inventive and compelling enough that trying to explain becomes almost pointless. Those records, by the way, tend to stick with me.

Portland, Ore., black metal band L’Acéphale fall into that category and have ever since the project got under way 17 years ago. There had been a long period of dormancy since their 2009 album “Stalhartes Gehause,” their second, but they’re back with a self-titled affair that is utterly astonishing and, as kind of noted in the intro, is extremely hard to put into words. Over seven tracks and nearly 74 minutes, the band—vocalist/keyboard player/mastermind Set Sothis Nox La, vocalist/guitarist Jared Huston, moog synthesizer player/vocalist Markus Wolff, bassist Danny Costa, drummer Charlie Mumma—lay out a dramatic, heavy, mesmerizing journey that demands a lot of the listener. But each ounce you give is paid back double as the chaos unfurls before you, with each chapter feeling like something from beyond this realm. Yet it all fits together shockingly well, with each new twist and turn either making your brain panic in its skull or your body feel like it’s been through unholy destruction.

“Sovereignty” is the 12:13 opener that has voices floating over before the track blows open with strong, imaginative playing. The spacious hell eventually is countered by folkish melodies and acoustics, sending serenity until the next burst of shrapnel and destructive growls. Total savagery is afoot as the rhythm section clobbers, the guitars soar like a Maiden twin attack, and the track comes to a decimating finish. “In Gloria In Excelsis Mihi” is an early curveball, and trance-inducing track that features Geneviève Beaulieu of Menace Ruine on vocals, and her singing absolutely hypnotizes. It sounds like she is reaching out to a long-lost ghost, as the lines swirl and take off from each other. The first time I heard this, I was en route from NYC and had to turn off the song because I was so soothed, I feared falling into a daydream. It’s an amazing piece, something you wouldn’t hear on most metal records. “Runenburg” has an odd start before it lands punches with glorious riffs riding and the vocals drawing blood. The band manages to take their intensity to a new level, quaking your body and mind as riffs speed and threaten, and the growls are crazed. The tempo gets chunky and mean, with sludge being dumped in your path and the guitars spiraling off from there. Furious cosmic waves bounce off walls before the leads pierce skin and bleed out.

“Hark! The Battle Cry Is Ringing” begins with acoustics ringing out and bellowed singing, demanding, “Death to tyrants,” as darkness wells up behind. The track feels a bit like a Dark Ages dirge, with guitars buzzing and the melodies raining ash. Wordless calls send minds racing, while the guitars keep churning and giving off smoke, letting everything burn away. “Last Will” is utterly destructive from the start, making it feel like castle walls are coming down. Vile growls and a ferocious pace induce madness, while the skull duggery takes a brief respite to allow you to breathe before pained moans drag you by the arms, and the track ends in the clutches of a heavy dream state. “Sleep” has piano dripping, drum sticks smacking together, and a slowly hammering assault starting as everything devolves into morbid chaos. The playing is dark and menacing as feedback hangs in the air before everything is torn the fuck apart. War explodes from every corner as things melt into calculating trudging, paving the way for 19:15-long closer “Winternacht.” Eerie synth sets the scary tone as sinister growls are unleashed and guitars explore, while raw crunchiness turns into thrashy goodness. Melodies well up as clean singing slides in, and birds chirp as if the earth’s atmosphere is alive with color. Out of a folk-friendly section comes a bloodthirsty outburst that tears right at the guts. The violence is as hypnotic as it is merciless, and a long section with dialog on top heads into psyche wonder before the assault breaks out again, smearing blood and flesh into a sound void in which it disappears.

Understanding and absorbing a band such as L’Acéphale is not something done easily. This isn’t a push-play-and-get-destroyed kind of band. There are so many peaks and valleys and sounds and bursts and pullbacks that it takes some visits before the terrain doesn’t feel totally alien. But this self-titled work is one of the most indescribable records I can remember hearing the past few years, and its music is going to stick with me for a long time as I try to fully absorb its magic. This isn’t music for a quick pump up; this is an album for long periods of contemplation that will last far after the music has ended.

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Inter Arma continue adding fuel to death metal’s sprawling fire with punishing ‘Sulphur English’

Photo by Joey Wharton

It’s safe to argue that death metal really doesn’t have set boundaries anymore. It’s like a gelatinous blob that’s constantly stretching and forming into new shapes, always canvassing more land than the last time you checked. That infuriates some who would rather see the style stay in the guttural swamps, but there are too many possibilities to satiate those people.

Richmond, Va., death unit Inter Arma are one of the bands that have taken a torch to the castle walls and expanded the kingdom far beyond the eye can see. Over the course of four full-length records, the band has added sludge, psychedelic smear, and even strains of Americana (for lack of a better term) into their music, making them an animal not very easy to predict. That carries over to their fourth record “Sulphur English” that delivers much of what you expect from an Inter Arma record—incredible sprawl, death metal that fucks with your mind, colors you haven’t seen before—but also amplifies the psyche elements and plasters you with a relentless nine tracks in nearly 67 minutes that no other band on earth could duplicate. Like their other records, it takes some time to fully get into what the band—vocalist Mike Paparo, guitarists Steven Russell and Trey Dalton, bassist Andrew Lacour, drummer TJ Childers—delivers on this shifting, shaping beast. You need to spend time before the music transforms from a punishing array of sounds to something that takes full form and pushes your imagination. That time spent will be worthwhile.

“Bumgardner” starts the album first as an eerie, horror-film style opener before unloading the bricks in the second half and plowing into “A Waxen Sea” that starts mauling and chewing. Growls carve through muddy death, always keeping you off balance as they do so well with weird playing and wrenching shrieks. The track gets trippy even while pummeling as the main section returns, crushing souls and punching out in a fiery burst. “Citadel” also spins its wheels in the thickened earth as growls gorge and souls are crushed. Paparo wails about “a stone in the eye of mankind” as his shrieks echo against cave walls before a slow menace crawls through. Guitars go off and create color bursts, and the track seemingly pulls shut before leaking back under the door and ending in a grisly sprawl. “Howling Lands” starts with drums rumbling and a goddamn gong before shrieks are drenched in psychedelics, and your brain is clubbed. Strange sounds well up before an airy ambiance arrives, with melody looping under the building fire, tribal rhythms enrapturing, and the track ending in a bed of acoustics. “Stillness” chills the vibe at the halfway point, as the band turns into western-style noir, Paparo’s singing is hearty, and slide guitars cement the sunburnt vibe. The track burns and quivers before bursting about 6 minutes in, with the drums pacing, the leads going off and soaring, and the chaos is swept up into serenity.

“Observances of the Path” is a quick instrumental piece with guitars howling, pianos dripping, and a post-Apocalyptic feel lurching, meeting up with “The Atavist’s Meridian” that burns up in a pit of bashing drums and unhinged vocals. The track punishes and keeps unleashing strange visions, slipping into calm, mesmerizing playing that melts your mind. Guitars echo while the sounds warble, feeling like a dream state before you’re shaken awake and the ground quakes with fury. Guitars launch and race toward the cosmos, opening space for “Blood on the Lupines” that has synth glimmer and warped singing. Floydian psyche-scapes are built around you, bursting through the sky before the heaviness captures and delivers torture. That lets up to allow singing to re-emerge as the band pounds slowly but steadily, lulling you back into a coma. The title track finishes this monster, opening in strange waters before growls bring things to a boil, and a dizzying assault is unleashed. The tempo crawls monstrously, sometimes going at warped speeds when you least expect it, at others making your head spin with confusion. The bizarre atmosphere brings with it dark growls, blazes raging then subsiding, and everything being swallowed into a black hole.

Inter Arma definitely have a sound to which they adhere, but every time out, they add stranger elements and deface what you know about them so that they’re just oddly recognizable. “Sulphur English” is another monster helping of mind-bending death metal that sounds like nothing else out there and cannot even be challenged. This band has taken death past where anyone ever thought it could go, and the journey is nowhere near being over.

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Waldgeflüster plaster hearts, bleed emotion on darkly rustic, stunning ‘Mondscheinsonaten’

Winter is breathing its last here in the eastern part of the United States. As I write this, we are anticipating temperatures near 70 degrees, and people are getting all hot and bothered about the upcoming warmer months to give solace from a winter that was bizarre and unpredictable. That said, we’re heading right back into the storm, letting the blizzard bruise our faces.

The reason for that is German atmospheric black metal force Waldgeflüster have returned with “Mondscheinsonaten” (in English it translates to “moonlight sonata), an eight-track, 56-minute record that re-opens the majesty of winter and fills your lungs with excruciatingly cold air. On this, the band’s fifth record and first since 2016’s “Ruinen,” rustic folk and molten black metal merge that, sound wise, makes them the European brethren for Panopticon (the bands will tour together, and they have done a split together and contributed to each other’s projects). The songs are sung in the group’s native German, so there will be a language barrier for anyone who doesn’t speak the language. But there’s no way the music itself and the expression won’t set your heart ablaze, as their art is an international language that will fill you up inside. The band—vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Winterherz, guitarists Markus Frey and Dominik Frank, bassist Arvagr, drummer Thomas Birkmaier—sound like they’re rushing the German forest, pulling sounds and inspirations from their hearts and love of homeland to bring an experience that isn’t just a metal record but a portrait of a place in time.

“Einleitung” starts the record with acoustics, the winds whipping, and clean calls, giving off a woodsy folk vibe before meeting up with “Der Steppenwolf” that kicks off with lush melodies and glorious power, amplified with harsh growls. The vocals continue to crash while clean lines wrap around them, with a gazey atmosphere lowering the cloud coverage, bringing a brief calm dotted by guitar lines trickling. When the track opens anew, the playing rushes back and infuses the world with colors, the vocals peels back your flesh, and the fires keep raging until the song slowly fades. “Gipfelstürme” has a folkish open before shit is torn apart, growls surge, and the guitars make the melodies crash through the gates. Things utterly soar, as clean calls add majesty, and even some serene sounds bleed in to add more texture. The growls continue to mangle, with speaking adding to the eeriness, and a rousing return of the chorus splits back in to end the song on a high.

“Rotgoldene Novemberwälder” begins spaciously as guitars erupt, and the emotion is rushed forward. Harsh cries, deep bellowing, and some speaking all take turns over the madness beneath, as the barnstormer ends on a freezing pathway. “Und der Wind…” has dreamy synth to start before the track crackles open with folkish singing and melodies that make your blood surge. The pace storms and gets gnarly, which gets an assist from the vocals, but then things turn unexpectedly breezy, with hearty singing to boot. That doesn’t last long as the growls crush all over, tremendous spirit is injected into the playing, and the spirit digs into your heart before finally giving mercy. “Von Winterwäldern und Mondscheinsonaten” starts with a folk/country feel, a bit of a hint of something that lies ahead, before the heaviness trikes with start-stop playing that leaves bruising. The track trudges for stretches, allows air into the room at other times, while tumult rages later on as hearts and souls explode, and a return of the chorus ends the track with optimal energy. “Staub in der Lunge” is what was foreshadowed a song earlier, as the band enters full country mode here. The singing is soulful and emotionally rich, while the track floods with heart, getting gritter as it goes before finally soaring off into the horizon. If you have the vinyl version, you get an acoustic take of “Der Steppenwolf” as your closer, a reworked stab at the metallic shot you took earlier, giving the song a totally different atmosphere and character.

Seasonally, this record isn’t dropping at an ideal time in this part of the world, but we can still immerse ourselves in wintry majesty whenever we want to by visiting Waldgeflüster’s massive “Mondscheinsonaten.” This music is rich and devastating, an album that never relents in fire and emotion. This is a band we’ve long unabashedly loved, and it’s great to hear this group continuing to expand our minds when it comes to black metal and the drama it can pack when done really well.

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New Jersey death crushers Hath revel in blood, destruction on stunning debut ‘Of Rot and Ruin’

We’ve mentioned before the glut of new records that ram my inbox every day that it’s so hard to keep up with every vital thing going on with metal. Again, a super good problem to have on our end, so I’m definitely not complaining. But I imagine how hard it must be for the waves of really good bands to find the audience that will embrace them.

While trying to wade through all that shit, it’s probably a good idea to have your act together and playing really strong stuff while you’re etching your path. That’s likely what led Hath to come to the attention of Willowtip Records, the label releasing their insanely good debut LP “Of Rot and Ruin.” With only a 2015 EP “Hive” to their credit to this point, the band rips out nine tracks in about 55 minutes, all of which they spend building their case and destroying the senses. The band—guitarist/vocalist Frank Albanese, bassist/vocalist Greg Nottis, guitarist Peter Brown, drummer AJ Viana—blister with death metal fire that’s not quite as technically noodly as a lot of other Willowtip releases (I mean that with all due respect) and instead just goes for the throat with blackened aggression. The music also is compelling and splattering, which means it’s not just here to shed blood but also to twist up your brains.

“Usurpation” kicks off the record with bells chiming and grimy death emerging before the tempo starts bashing away. The leads simmer and send off heat, with the soloing leaning into prog waters. A cleansing burst clears the space, with anthemic blasts closing the track. “Currents” begins with acoustics and hand drums before the band goes on an adventure complete with vicious growls and a monstrous assault drawing blood. Clean wails push in behind the shrieks, while the band unleashes sludgy horror that fades into black. “Rituals” begins clean before a proggy burst opens wounds, and the guitars shred minds. Whispers bring an uneasy calm, and then the drums clobber, clean singing works alongside the growls, and the track manages to be both sinister and catchy before being consumed by a chunky ending. “To Atone” mashes right away, with grisly vocals, muddy playing making your wheels spin, and growls and shrieks teaming up to bring abject terror, with howls of, “I see the truth!”

“Withered” is chilling as it starts, as it trickles slowly before being consumed by a slow-driving hell that makes your muscles ache. Abrasive growls and bubbling guitars work together to deliver total devastation. “Worlds Within” has acoustics and warm guitars out front before it’s ripped apart, and monstrous growls devour things whole. Keys arrive, as prog waters again rush, and classic guitars give the hell a feel of vintage charge. The song then speeds up and enraptures, bringing things back to death that continues to twist the knife in your ribs before trudging away. “Kindling” is an instrumental cut that delivers rustic acoustics, lush picking, and a mellower vibe, which is utterly destroyed by “Accursed” when it launches with devastating punches before pulling back a bit on the relentlessness. The verses then toughen up a bit, with cries of, “I let you fall into the abyss!” swimming amidst the muddy melodies. The track gets meaner as it reaches its final minutes, as weird guitars swoop, the flow gets tricky, and everything comes to a fiery end. “Progeny” caps off the album with bludgeoning heaviness and the howl of, “Here I lie hidden from the sun, ready to be devoured by the slime of the gods.” The pace keeps up its intensity and panic, eventually giving way in a hell storm that ends in doom bells, which acts as a bookend to the record.

Hath’s debut “Of Rot and Ruin” is an impressive display of bone-crushing death metal that’s exceptionally well played and also bloody as hell. This is a band that, while treading water in a sea of other death metal groups, should be able to hold their own with their razor-sharp proficiency and thirst to mangle digits. The best Hath can do to ensure more people are aware of their metallic violence is keep beating the same path they’re on until they’re followed by devoted legions.

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