PICK OF THE WEEK: Saarela shows new face on Jess by the Lake on debut ‘Under the Red Light Shine’

When an artist accumulates a body of work, an expected path or voice develops that normally carries over as music is created and released over the years. That’s a complicated way of saying when a band or artist puts out a new record, typically we know what to expect. There’s a comfort in that, as adjustment to fresh material doesn’t take as long, as something familiar washes over you.

Jasmin Saarela isn’t one of those artists. In her work fronting Jess and the Ancient Ones and their offshoot project the Exploding Eyes Orchestra, she and her bandmates have come up with something different each time out, even if some of the threads were the same. But on “Under the Red Light Shine,” her first record under her solo moniker Jess by the Lake, we see yet another side of her personality. Her energy and occult swagger remain, but her approach to this work pulls things back to the ground a bit, letting things marinate and settle, though never relenting in her passion. She assembled a new full band—guitarist Aapo Kauppinen, bassist Heikki Leppäjärvi, keyboard player Ethel Seppälä, and drummer Marianne Heikkinen—to help flesh out her visions and give her a strong foundation for her unmistakable, soul-scorching voice to tread. She tells stories of life, her surroundings in nature, the human condition, and longing, pulling any listener whose heart bleeds the same into her circle.

The title cut is the opener, as groove crunches and organs swirl in, leading to Saarela’s singing landing as she calls, “Somebody, please help me.” Later on, her longing and pain is apparent as she admits, “There was nothing I could give him,” as the song blends out in bluesy guitar work and a rousing chorus calling back the title. “Freezing Rain” reminds a bit of a JATAO song due to its stickiness but not necessarily its sound. It’s more grounded but rousing, as Saarela’s repeated wails of, “Feel the burn,” swirl over and over in your brain, and the playing allows your mind to cool off a bit. “The Wait” trickles in, as breezy verses lead the way, and the chorus then pulls at your heart, as Saarela wonders, “What if my heart turns to stone?” It’s a nice, riveting ballad that lets you in on the emotion, leads you to foggy marshes, and then bleeds way. “Halo (Ghosts in the Flames)” has keys dripping and Saarela’s singing feeling softer, as she asks, “Are you chasing the halo?” The track has some lightly jazzy moments, as rain sheets delicately before Saarela prods, “You were searching for love, did you find it in you?”

“Nightmare” is a fun one, as Saarela imagines a female hunter stalking her prey, sneaking in the night, following her sense for blood. “Sharp as a knife, fast as a rifle,” Saarela describes her character, while bluesy attitude boils up and leaves blood streaks. “Legacy” also is pretty dark as things get off to an ominous start, with the melodies slithering along. “Look at your life, hollow bones and empty inside,” Saarela pokes while calling out to a mother and father for ways in which she was failed. “I gave life a chance, it was the only chance I ever had,” she sings, as the track trickles out into sorrow. “My Hands” has guitars poking and stimulating verses before a chorus of, “The rain falls just for you,” sends cold waves. The verses are shadowy and gothy, while the guitars light up, the chorus barrels back through, and everything melts out in a bed of keys. “Interstellar” closes the record, a 9:19 ballad that numbs from the start, as Saarela sings of being “slowly headed into stars.” She guides us through this tragic tale, with the song picking up volume and intensity as it goes but never boiling over too much. Saarela splits and reveals vulnerability, while the playing haunts and hypnotizes, and the guitars streak the sky. The song bleeds, the music mixes into stardust, and this fascinating journey comes to an end.

Jasmin Saarela has been one of heavy rock’s most fascinating, intoxicating singers the past few years, be it with her other bands or here on her Jess By the Lake solo project. “Under the Red Light Shine” is as strong and moving as we expected but with some twists and turns and a little more down-to-earth emotion than we’ve come to expect from her. Saarela’s voice is a gift that never disappoints, and this is a shadow-rich, dream-inducing look into her psyche that we’ve not really seen before now.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://svartrecords.com/?show=all_items

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

Minnesota maulers Wolf Blood pour fuzzy doom and clubbing heaviness into storming opus ‘II’

It’s been heavily storming here in Pittsburgh all week, about as badly as it has at least since last spring when we got pummeled. These storms have kind of been getting more and more frequent (probably no scientific explanation for that or anything…), and every time one comes down, it gets inside my body and bones and helps me embrace darkness.

I was thinking of that this week when I was taking my final critical listens to Wolf Blood’s punishing second album “II,” their first in five years since their self-titled debut dropped, and one that felt just right as the weather was getting more violent. The band’s brand of heavy, sometimes psychedelic doom felt just right as vast storm clouds moved through and darkened what’s normally a bright afternoon sky or thickened the night and made the outdoors look like a chain of light explosions. The Minneapolis-based quartet—guitarist/vocalist Mindy Johnson, guitarist Mike Messina, bassist/vocalist Adam Rucinski, and drummer/vocalist Jakob Paulsrud—packs plenty of power and swagger into this record, and it’s a really fun and furious listen that feels like one of those slowly boiling storms.

“Lesion” gets the record off to a fast start as it pummels hard, with cool buzzing riffs flying and Johnson’s vocals pushing the narrative. The music then slinks into the dark before the pace picks up, with the music getting heavy as hell, before things sludge out into psychedelic waves before stomping to its end. “Slaughterhouse” has an ominous edge that greets you, with Johnson’s singing sending cold waves and the track taking on a ’90s feels. Rucinski’s voice takes hold as he wails, “The darkness in your mind will set you free,” as the soloing heats up, and the track begins to gallop. The track charges all over, things get nasty, and the playing reminds of Kylesa in their earlier days. “Kumate” runs 8:22 and opens delicately before the playing gets mechanical and grinding, and a long intro feeds into a savage display that leaves bruises. “Beast has risen from the altar, consumes your soul, leaves you blind,” Rucinski sings, as the leads catch fire, the pace lacerates, and the track destroys until it bleeds away.

“Opium” is a fast one, reeking of High on Fire-style chaos, laying waste to what’s around them, and Paulsrud’s vocals leading the way before the track spirals out into hell. “Story of a Drowning Man” takes things in a darker area, as the shadows collect amid a bluesy start that also has a desert sunburnt aura. Rucinski’s singing is stronger here than anywhere else, sounding soulful and emotional, while track leans into dusty terrain as dirt trails are pounded. Johnson’s voice as she sweeps in and takes the reins, while the back end of the song soars and burns away. The 11:22 “Tsunami” closes the album by sneaking in and warming up before our eyes and ears before the battering ram in unleashed. Music buzzes while Johnson’s voice swirls in the fury, calling, “Tonight is coming, tomorrow is dead.” The playing snakes as Rucinski sings of a wizard finally coming into his own and controlling his realm, while the song blasts, the playing gets massively heavy, and things come to a smearing finish.

Wolf Blood unload doom fire and fuzzy chaos on “II,” a record that is heavy and spellbinding, bringing their massive assault into focus. The music isn’t necessarily limited to a doom audience, as anyone who dines on riffs and likes to be battered by their record collection will find a lot to like here as well. This is a strong second step into the world for Wolf Blood, and they have the swagger and fire to accumulate a much larger swath of followers.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://wolfblood666.bandcamp.com/

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

Scofield’s passing looms heavily over Cave In on glorious cosmic rock burst ‘Final Transmission’

To say that a record is tough to listen to usually means the music isn’t any good or the production is poor or something along those lines. You typically don’t say that about a powerful album, one that contains some of a band’s most reflective, thought-provoking work in a long time, but then again, most of those records aren’t Cave In’s tragic new album “Final Transmission.”

Maybe calling it tragic isn’t quite the right descriptor. But considering this album features the final work of bassist Caleb Scofield, who was killed in an auto accident last March before the band could formally record the music they had prepared for “Final Transmission,” it can be fitting. His death sent the band into a spiral, as it also heavily affected members of his other band Old Man Gloom, which pretty much is a given. It was utterly devastating, and if you get a copy of the new issue of Decibel, they do an incredible cover story on Scofield that is one of the best pieces that magazine ever has done. Those involved with the band and Scofield’s circle of friends talk about how hard it is to hear the nine tracks that comprise their sixth record (which is made up of the demos they had recorded, which sound pretty damn good) because Scofield’s presence is so heavily felt. But it’s also a triumph of an album in a way, a deeper push into their space rock tendencies with a few kernels from the “Until Your Heart Stops” and “Jupiter” eras along the way. The rest of the band—guitarist/vocalist Stephen Brodsky, guitarist Adam McGrath, and drummer J.R. Conners—has expressed that the direction and voice of the album is very much Scofield’s, and to see it through is a way to give him and his fans one final time together. Also, half the proceeds of the record will go toward Scofield’s family.

The opening title track is a heartbreaker, comprised of a skeleton of a song Scofield had sent to the band, played on acoustic guitar. It’s naked and driving, with his hums interrupting and utterly haunting the flow. Then we’re into “All Illusion” that opens into a mid-tempo rocker, with Brodsky’s steady, strong voice leading the way with the chorus lapping over like a warm wave of water with the jarring call of, “What doesn’t kill me may survive.” “Shake My Blood” has a cool riff, a spacious aura, and Brodsky calling, “No one leave, no one leave to say goodbye.” The pace is weird and tempered, which chills the flesh, while the powerful chorus comes back around before the song dissolves into noise. “Night Crawler” gets heavier and burlier with the bass chugging, the tempo trampling, and the band thrashing away, with the music finally soaring off into the sky.

“Lunar Day” is a quick one with noise rushing and drenching the song, static burying the light, and ringing smearing, leading into “Winter Window” that is one of the strongest songs on the record. Guitars come to life as Brodsky’s voice pushes higher as he wails, “Oh, sweet nausea, moving slow.” The track takes on doomy, oily thickness later, bringing the song to a pummeling finish. “Lanterna” starts with Brodsky calling, “Eternal light is her name,” as muscular riffs flex, and the track begins to speed up, blasting its way into deep space. “Lost on my own, only see monochrome,” Brodsky observes, while cosmic riffs continue their ascent, and the song disappears in the clouds. “Strange Reflection” has darkness falling and the riffs playing in the shadows, as the singing pulls the ropes, and the chorus flows. “Someone took me to the dance of dead souls,” Brodsky sings while the song picks up and then disintegrates. “Led to the Wolves” closes the 31-minute album by bringing sweltering heaviness, metallic chaos, and vocals that pour swarms of hornets onto an angry blaze. Brodsky sings of seeing “fire in their eyes” as the track convulses in madness and then comes to a devastating end.

Losing Caleb Scofield dealt a massive blow to the heavy music world, to Cave in, to Old Man Gloom, to his wife and children, and the world is lesser without him. That’s what makes “Final Transmission” so tough to tackle, because his presence is so overwhelming and involved. Given time, this record likely will be remembered as another daring turn for Cave In, and valuable and emotional collection that captured the last bursts of an amazing musician.

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

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

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

Redbait seek total destruction of oppressive power structure, unload devastation on EP ‘Cages’

Photo by Rebecca Redbait

One of the more annoying things in a world full of them is when an artist with a platform gets shit for trying to sue their vessel to bring about political change. “Why don’t you concentrate on music?” Well, see, they are. It’s just that the message is more personal for them, and to write that off is the height of arrogance and shallowness. And fear. Especially fear.

St. Louis-based crushers Redbait never have backed away from a fight, and their new EP “Cages” continues their blast back at patriarchal politics and the oppression that comes from that, especially as it affects women, people who aren’t straight, and those of diverse ethnic backgrounds, as well as standing up for the rights of workers. If you’re embracing your red-white-and-blue tank tops and MAGA hats, this EP might be hard to digest. Good. It should light your gut on fire, because Redbait’s sure are burning as well. They also tackle issues such as addiction, animal welfare, and other personal topics, so you always get a bloody-heart-on-sleeves assault that should have you thinking and evaluating. The band—vocalists Madeline and Rebecca, guitarists B and W, bassist N, and drummer C—is utterly on fire on these five tracks that mix crust, hardcore, death, and more, and they leave proper bruising to remind you of what you just witnessed.

“Capital Gains” bursts out of the gates, as Madeline’s and Rebecca’s vocals jostle and punish, the pace gallops furiously, and a thick bassline lets the track slither to its end. “Our Town” has throatier singing, growls and shrieks meeting, and the riffs cutting everything to shreds. The growls decimate, with authoritative shouts of, “Shut it down!” while the track thrashes away. The title cut explodes with violent, cool melodies that swim right for a channel of muck. That slows things down pace-wise, but things remain impossibly heavy as growls and shrieks rain down, and noise barrels until it expires. “Bred for the Knife” stomps forward with dual guitars striking, as both singers deliver a charge, later declaring, “An individual is not a product!” Acoustics then wash in as warm leads soothe, and the track sizzles in a fiery finish. “Forever Ends Now” is the closer, starting with clean guitars and singing, then getting gazey and reflective. The tempo bubbles before shrieks break glass, the guitars churn and give off thick smoke, and a brief respite is destroyed with a devastating assault that ends the record on a blistering note.

This site always will be a friendly home for bands such as Redbait, who use their fury and venom to raise issues that long have been ignored and pushed to the background. “Cages” isn’t here to have a civil debate or let their detractors have a say, nor should it. It’s a blast to the mouth of oppressive politics as well as a voice to those who feel lost in society to remind them they’re never alone.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://newagerecords.net/products/redbait-cages-7-ep

Or here: https://redbait.bandcamp.com/album/cages

For more on the label, go here: https://newagerecords.net/

AEW debuts, and we lose our collective shit and cry and etc.

I’ve long joked that this site is a quasi-metal site posing as a metal blog, and there’s a lot of truth to that. We’ve done a few full wrestling stories before, often involving members of the metal community, and those have been fun. I also drop a ton of wrestling references into my stories. I guess that’s caught on because someone in a band we’ve covered a few times asked me if I was writing up AEW’s debut show Double or Nothing. I guess I am, friend.

This past Saturday, the new promotion All Elite Wrestling presented their first show, a pay-per-view event called Double or Nothing that was nearly five hours of wrestling action so good, it made me want to pinch myself. I had high hopes for this promotion funded and owned by Tony Khan (his family owns the Jacksonville Jaguars) and helmed from a management standpoint by wrestlers Cody and Brandi Rhodes, Nick and Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and “Hangman” Adam Page, all stars in varying degrees in places all over the world from WWE to Ring of Honor to New Japan Pro Wrestling. Their goal was to create a wrestling company that returns the basics to the game, promises no-bullshit finishes, doesn’t sway from blood and violence, and embraces diversity, but in a way that feels genuine and not like some marketing ploy. Saturday was their first chance to put their money where their mouths are, and holy shit, did they knock it out of the park with a fucking rainbow shot into the river.

First, the production was top notch, reminding me of WCW’s glory days when they were the working company where you know you’d get strong matches and a minimum of garbage. Well, AEW delivered zero garbage. At all. Second, the matches were thoughtful, well worked, and told compelling stories that WWE has been missing for at least the past two decades. Guys, can we all admit WWE has been in a creative freefall since, oh I don’t know, 2001? AEW promised to deliver the goods to you, and they did it all night long, from the free hour-long pre-show to the nearly four-hour main card that never, ever provided that bathroom break fodder. You didn’t want to leave your TV for fear you’d miss something, which was tough for me since I was trying to grill and pour beers while things were going on. Tough problem to have, right?

Let’s start with the brother vs brother confrontation pitting “American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes vs older brother “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes in a match they should have had at Wrestlemania in 2015 but the wise people at WWE thought it better relegated to Fastlane that year. Brother vs brother matches never seem to take, but holy shit did this one ever succeed. After Cody symbolically took a sledgehammer to a mock of Triple H’s throne, he and his brother decimated each other in a bloodbath people will talk about for ages. Dustin bled like a faucet as he and Cody had an emotional battle where they hit each other with everything they had, Cody pulled dirty tricks, and Dustin survived all the odds, only to fall to a second Cross Rhodes to take the loss. As massive as that was, afterward Cody confronted his brother and refused to let him retire. For he had signed for a match against the Young Bucks at Fight for the Fallen in July, and he didn’t need a partner or a friend. “I need my older brother,” Cody said, voice quivering with emotion. The two brothers tearfully hugged and I definitely didn’t cry in my living room. What a moment. Cody and Dustin proved the world wrong, and they turned in a classic. Big Dust would have been proud of both of his boys.

Then we had the main event pitting Chris Jericho, ever the chameleon, against the “Best Bout Machine” Kenny Omega in a match where the winner would face Adam Page for the first AEW World Heavyweight championship at a time to be determined. Like a minute in, Jericho accidentally busted Omega’s nose, and that led to another bloody battle, this time by accident. Not to be deterred, Omega dug down deep and turned in another great performance, and Jericho again defied time and showed that age is only a state of mind as the two pushed each other to the physical limit, with Jericho taking the surprising win with his new Judas Effect back first finisher. The idea makes sense to have Jericho in the first title match as he brings a bigger name than anyone on the roster, at least as it pertains to the general public. Plus, you can have Omega in the role of babyface pursuing Jericho’s belt (I’m assuming he’s going to beat Page). But the biggest shock was yet to come. As Jericho celebrated, out of the crowd came the debuting Jon Moxley (you may know him better as former WWE star Dean Ambrose) who made his way through the crowd, gave the Dirty Deeds to the ref and Jericho, then pulled Omega up onto the decorative poker chips to deliver another underarm DDT there and toss him to the ground. The crowd went apeshit, and I imagine Vince McMahon was launching curse words all over the place, which amuses me to no end. Moxley signed a multi-year deal, so he’s here for the long haul. Great move by AEW getting this deal done.

There was so much more, and I could be here all day, but let me hit the rest of the highlights with tidy bullet points.

  • In another massive surprise Bret “Hitman” Hart presented the new AEW world title, though he was interrupted by the goddamn great MJF, who already might be the best heel promo in the business. He mocked Hart, Page, other wrestlers (at one point he insisted, “I’m no horse professor,” which made me spit my beer), only to be fought off by Jungle Boy (Luke Perry’s son!) and Jimmy Havoc. Fun segment, though the belt did get lost in the shuffle.
  • The Young Bucks came out dressed like Elvis (they were in Las Vegas, after all) for a goddamn car crash match with the Lucha Brothers (Pentagon Jr. and Fenix) that more than lived up to expectations. The Bucks retained their AAA tag titles, but not without taking heavy punishment This one is far, far from over.
  • There were two really strong matches featuring AEW’s women’s division. The first featured Pittsburgh native Dr. Britt Baker DDS defeating Kylie Ray, Nyla Rose (she was game but a little out of her element …give her time) and a surprise addition Awesome Kong, who had a hell of a showing. The other had the team of Hikaru Shida, Riho, and Ryo Mizunami defeat Yuka Sakazaki (best ring entrance music in the game, by the way), Emi Sakura (dressed like Freddie Mercury!), and the legendary and fearsome Aja Kong when Shida pinned Sakura.
  • Jim Ross returned. I just missed his voice. I know people were on him about some shit, but look, it’s Jim Ross. He’ll make mistakes. But he will care a million percent, and that’s something. Also, nice first shot for Alex Marvez, and Excalibur did a great job.
  • Strong opener with SCU facing Strong Hearts (the iconic Cima with T-Hawk and El Lindaman) and winning. The OWE contingent is going to be a big factor, and they could revolutionize wrestling like the cruiserweights did in WCW.
  • The pre-show battle royal was insanely fun, a great new concept, and can we talk about how cool Sonny Kiss is? He ( I hope I’m using his pronouns correctly) was so great and gave Tommy Dreamer a series of butt butts. Also, Luchasauras ruled, and Orange Cassidy is an idiot, but I love him.

Anyway, I’m excited for American wrestling. I hope AEW explodes and pushes change in WWE. We deserve better. AEW delivered better. We may be on the cusp of an amazing time for pro wrestling and its fans.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Pelican’s rise marked by loss, tumult, rebirth on pounding ‘Nighttime Stories’

Photo by Marfa Capodanno

Lots of times on these pages, when a band returns after a long absence, we talk about finally having new music in our hands, as if that’s something the band owes us all. It’s not like band members are sitting around doing nothing in between records, and often there’s a really great reason why you haven’t heard from an artist over an extended period for myriad reasons from creative processes to tragedies.

Chicago-based instrumental powerhouse Pelican haven’t come around with a new record in six years, with their last one, “Forever Becoming,” landing in 2013. There have been some live albums and smaller releases since then, and the band also has been doing shows (I finally got to see them for the first time last summer at Migration Fest), but now we have their long-awaited sixth full-length “Nighttime Stories,” a record with a lot of tumult, frustration, and heartbreak behind it and one of their heaviest albums ever. The band—guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Dallas Thomas, bassist Bryan Herweg, drummer Larry Herweg—lost close friend Jody Minnoch, vocalist for Tusk, a group that also included de Brauw, Larry Herweg, and former Pelican guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. Minnoch was the one who coined the title “Nighttime Stories” and planned to use it for the next Tusk record, so it is used here in tribute to their lost friend. Add to that, Thomas also lost his father during the writing process for the new album, and he’s paid homage on the record’s opening track (with Thomas playing his dad’s Yamaha acoustic guitar). Add to that the chaos going on in society and other events affecting their lives, and you get a fiery, melodic, emotional record that will have your heart burning inside your chest.

“WST” opens the record, a track set in dark, moody clouds as acoustics settle, electric guitars slide in, and a dusky atmosphere paves the way for “Midnight and Mescaline” that delivers a punchy pace right away. The melodies loop you in as things take a burly turn, chugging and chewing its way, blasting doors, and letting riffs continue to build pillars to the stars before things come to a muscular end. “Abyssal Plain” lands blows as the drums clobber, and a catchy tempo takes you for a ride. The riffs twist and reveal thick layers of sinew, while the back end gets smoky and doomy, smothering to the very end. “Cold Hope” has sinister guitars stretching out as things get dusty and immersive, with things feeling slightly off kilter as it goes. The track is both melodic and crushingly heavy as the riffs blister, the track gets crunchier, and the leads begin to soar while the drums decimate the senses.

“It Stared at Me” unveils colder guitars trickling like a chilling rain, a nighttime vibe setting itself up, and slide guitars adding even more ache to an already bruised song that sinks into the desert and buries itself. The title cut opens with muscular pounding, the track bashing away, and the guitars snaking themselves through the scene. The weight kicks in even harder as the melodies pick up grit, doom hammers drop, and the band thrashes out to the end. “Arteries of Blacktop” smudges faces while the bass bends around corners, and the guitars heat up. Things settle into a cloud and ease before everything ignites again, dark riffs envelop, and the track deals more scarring before trickling away. “Full Moon, Black Water” ends the record and starts gently enough with noises simmering, guitars creeping, and then we’re in full panic, feeling a bit grungy and rough. Riffs gets muddy and more aggressive, ripping away at the earth and letting scraps fly. Halfway through, we’re boiling in lava, guitars shriek, and the mud cakes and spatters. Things ease later and get dreamy, letting you come back to earth and find your footing again.

Pelican’s members have had to deal with a lot in the past six years, and their return on “Nighttime Stories” is triumphant and explosive, the sounds of a band reborn. They’ve dealt with the blows life has had to offer but refused to blink in the face of opposition. Their strength and fire are splattered all over these nine songs, with Pelican emerging from the other side a tested but more formidable band.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://southernlord.com/store/pelican-nighttime-stories/

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

Nocturnus AD finally able to continue ‘The Key’ plots with stunning cosmic opus ‘Paradox’

“Game of Thrones” just ended this week, and people are super pissed. The author of the story didn’t finish his work in time, so the two people who were in charge of directing the show had to tell another person’s tale. The reaction from people all over the place has been less than enthusiastic, and most people can’t help but wonder what could have been had the other two texts been completed.

It’s possible that whole story would make Mike Browning laugh. He’s had to wait nearly 30 years to continue the story he started on Nocturnus’ 1990’s cosmic death metal classic “The Key,” and in the time since that landmark record arrived, Browning lost his spot in the band he founded, and he did what he could to find his own with After Death. Now, 28 years later, Browning has returned with Nocturnus AD and have a massive new album “Paradox” that is viewed to the follow-up to “The Key” and the continuation of the story he initially laid out. On this album, we follow Dr. Magus after his body is ravaged by an alien disease and he is kept intact by use of a bio suit. Browning is joined by his After Death mates—guitarists Demian Heftal and Belial Koblak, bassist Daniel Tucker (formerly of Obituary), and keyboard master Josh Holdren—as they forge a path back into the universe for more tales of horror and chaos, with music that’ll twist your brains inside and out.

“Seizing the Throne” begins with keys whirring and hovering before the song is torn open with thrashy intent and Browning’s growls sounding evil. The playing is goddamn delirious, which easily makes the room spin, while the maniacal storytelling reaches its apex on this song, slowly ramping down to its finish. “The Bandar Sign” begins with more spacey synth with Browning’s vocals raspy but intelligible as he observes as the “soothsayers shed their skin, dressed in black hooded robes.” The guitars mash while the keys send bolts of energy, coming upon a scene where priests are carrying out sacrifices as the track warps out. “Paleolithic” fires up right away, as Browning spits out his words, turning crazed in a hurry. The guitars explore while the keys remain engaged in mania, with daring weirdness welling up, the vocals jabbing the heart, and the song coming to a dramatic close. “Precession of the Equinoxes” is punishing as hell, while the keys achieve an alien carnival feel, and the vocals scrape at the skin. The guitars flutter, giving off cool prog winds, while the words later are barked out, and the song manages to be pretty fucking fun amid all the chaos.

“The Antechamber” bursts open and makes anyone in their way dizzy as hell. Browning’s vocals delivery doesn’t vary much, which is part of the charm, as he wails, “Now I hold the key to the mysteries from beyond,” while he’s surrounded by music that strikes out in fury.  “The Return of the Lost Key” is mystical at first, floating in the air, before the track is torn open, and guts are spilled all over. The guitars are blazing and go off, while Browning howls, “I have the power to change history,” as the doctor holds the magic key that set into motion that time-altering events of this album’s predecessor. “Apotheosis” has a rush of robotic noise before the track punches out and unleashes some bizarre antics followed up by thrashing skullduggery. The track is warp speed and feels not of this earth, as soloing wraps this thing up in a strange, sinewy bow. “Aeon of the Ancient Ones” has, you guessed it, brain-mangling keys, guitars sending charges, and the track later floating into dreamy terrain. The leads sprawl, the synth washes over, and Browning calls, “There are no gods at the gate,” as things come to a weird ending. “Number 9” ends the album in breath-taking fashion with the synth creating a fog, riffs tricking you, and the music in this instrumental cut closing up the story. Energy splatters like stardust, the keys take over and rampage, and record comes to a proggy, adventurous conclusion.

It may have taken nearly three decades and a lot of tumult to get here, by Browning and the rest of Nocturnus AD finally have been able to connect the stories started on “The Key” and put them back together again. The fact the music sounds so much of the era in which “The Key” originated but also has modern flourishes is proof the band has stayed tuned to what’s happened over time but also knew what ancient space dust would make this special. This is a fantastic follow-up to a record that’s been begging for a sequel to tear open those old wounds again.

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

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

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