Hulder lash back with scathing black metal assault on coarse EP ‘Embraced By Darkness Mysts’

We try to work about a week ahead with new music so when we write about it, you have time to consider it, buy it in advance, and help out the artists we feature here. This is a weird week. Next week’s release schedule is as weak as I can remember in some time, so this is a nice chance to visit with recent records that we didn’t get a chance to feature but are well worth your time and dollars.

Last year, I was turned onto Hulder, the one-person project helmed by the Inquisitor, and the “Ascending Raven Stone” demo. Her primitive, darkened form of black metal made me think of the mid-2000s when Xasthur, Striborg, and others were proving this style of music didn’t have to have heavy-handed production and bells and whistles to be utterly mortifying. We now have new Hulder music in our hands in the form of 7” release “Embraced By Darkness Mysts” that feels like a rampaging ghoul in the night, seeking your flesh and blood as it hunts in the dark. By the way, the physical version of this release? Totally sold out. Luckily, the music can be purchased now on Bandcamp, so it’s not like you’re without options. And this is so raw and embedded in chaos that it’ll be something with which you’ll want to spend lots of times investigating the ins and outs of the music.

“Unholy Divine” is the A side and begins with static-rich guitars, woodwinds calling gently, and birds chirping before the savage burst of black metal rips through your chest. Scathing growls and a thunderous pace are under way before you know it, and strange, eerie calls are situated behind the thrashing. A murky chorus adds to the mystery, while the Inquisitor unleashes raspy growls, the riffs circle back for one last gallop, and everything ends in punishment. “Interring the Light” is waiting for you on the other side as bells chime, the beast snarls, and riffs rise out of the madness. It feels like a late autumn chill has overtaken you as guitars rip from black metal’s old veins, the playing gets speedy as hell, and suddenly we’re rocketing toward a cliff, threatening existence as a whole. “Darkness consumes,” she wails as the animalistic growls get bloodier, the fires rage toward the skies, and everything floats off on a bed of chimes toward a final resting place.

Hulder remains a mystery to the metal world at large, though from the strength of “Embraced By Darkness Mysts” selling out of its initial run, more and more people have caught on. This is violent in nature, a mysterious slab of chaos, and just enough of a serving to keep your stomach pangs at bay. Hulder’s grip is just beginning to tighten, and once she has full command, good luck finding a god who will still have mercy on your filthy soul.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://hulder.bandcamp.com/album/embraced-by-darkness-mysts

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Russian Circles remain steady, get even heavier on psyche-crushing ‘Blood Year’

Consistency in music is a nice-to-have element, but with things changing so much, musicians coming and going from bands, and inspirations not always being up to par, putting out a series of strong records isn’t always a given. The ups and downs sometime accumulate charm over time, or it makes the high points even more satisfying, but hammering it home every time is a lofty expectation.

Which makes it even more astonishing that Russian Circles nail it every time out. With the release of their seventh record “Blood Year,” this instrumental trio continues what’s been one of the most consistent runs in music in any category, as they always bring their best. This record follows three years of touring on their last album “Guidance” (their last time in Pittsburgh sold out, and I was late to the draw) and the trials and tribulations that come with that, and they pour all of that unrest in these seven tracks. This is some of the band’s meatiest, heaviest music yet, and while they’ve always sort of been metal adjacent, the band—guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Dave Turncrantz— moves a little closer to that center here, and it’s an exhilarating experience. But it’s not just sonic punishment, as the melodies remain powerful and charging, and the album is imaginative as hell.

“Hunter Moon” enters as an introductory piece that fades in slowly, situates in the darkness, and then lurks toward “Arluck,” where drums meet you at the gates and set the pace. The bass drives hard while the guitars light up, with the riffs absolutely trucking. The guitar work continues to punish as you wind through back alleys and into a cold patch, where calm and echoing slide guitars set the mood. The song ramps back up, splashing psychedelics before hammering everything home. “Milano” starts dreamy but punchy with melodic smashing and seething riffs. Cold guitars chime behind the main wall as the emotion wells up and raises temperatures, stretches, and wails out in noise.

“Kohokia” gets off to an ominous start, as the drumming brings more darkness, and the playing feels introspective and spacey. Just then, the intensity and the volume pick up dramatically, as strong melodies pull into volcanic waves before a cloud cover settles over and gives a break from the sun before darting off to the stars. “Ghost on High” is a quick interlude built by quivering noise and buzzing, leading toward “Sinaia” that bubbles in the atmosphere as the pressure climbs. A deluge of guitars rushes over the ground as the playing gets muscular and angular, slowly crushing you to a stain. From there, the riffs pummel the senses as the drums light up, the track begins to find its grounding, and the end comes forcefully. “Quartered” closes the record, beginning in echo before massive guitars come in, setting up the heaviest section of this record. The track is muddy and thrashy as hell, making it feel like the band has gone into the heart of battle. That continues to snake through the entire song, making every stretch dangerous and refusing to relent until the assault has reaped its rewards.

Russian Circles continue to be compelling and fiery seven records into their career, and “Blood Year” is the band reshaping itself yet again, something they’ve done quite well over their 15 years together. The music is melodic but authoritative, forceful but thoughtful, and it’s ripe for repeat listening, which isn’t a surprise coming from this band. Russian Circles haven’t disappointed us yet, and clichéd as it may sound, this album almost sounds like they’re just getting started.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/russian-circles

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

Clouds Collide allow grief and dark emotions to be tackled on gazey ‘They Don’t Sleep Anymore’

Sadness and grief are things we cannot avoid, and at some point in our lives, we’ve all had to deal with these entities. The result can bring depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, all of which are pretty hard to shake, especially when it feels like you’ve had a gigantic cavern drilled into the center of your heart. Where we go from there depends on how we pull through.

Chris Pandolfo always has used his Clouds Collide project to delve deep into his soul, but never more so than on his third record “They Don’t Sleep Anymore.” This five-track offering has Pandolfo, the band’s only member, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of his mother’s passing as he himself stares 30 in the face. The record isn’t really about that thematically, as he said there isn’t an ongoing plot. Instead, it’s him digging through his emotions, his darkness, and creating music he hopes can help connect with people experiencing the same types of things. Those who deal with trauma or who are grieving or who struggle with mental health issues could spend time with this music and perhaps see something of themselves in what’s going on here. Sonically, Pandolfo still uses black metal as a base, but there are elements of emo (in a good way), shoegaze, and doomy melody that keeps you guessing. He trades off between piercing shrieks and earnestly delivered singing, giving the music different textures that take you in and out of splintering heaviness.

Clou“Entanglement” comes in with post-rock waves, pushing a gazey atmosphere as wild howls punish over the top. Clean singing then follows, giving an about-face that cools the temperature, as the guitar work feels inspired by Smashing Pumpkins. The track is breezy later before growls return and crush again, the emotion builds into a wall, and the vocals get more forceful before a giant crescendo ends. “Cosmic Loneliness” rushes open, with the music feeling big and elegant and vocals bursting through the gates. Growls scrape before Pandolfo returns to cleaner tones, digging into his heart, and then a watery, murky edge pushes in. Wrenching cries crash down as Pandolfo’s soul squeezes all its contents from itself, sounds spill, and everything loads into the sea.

“Golden Youth” lets cool winds touch down, feeling like it’s mid-summer, as clean singing continues that ambiance. Wild howls and tumultuous curves unite to bring storm clouds, as guitars turn into a psychedelic cloud, soothing wounds before things explode again. The track swarms, the singing reminds me of Duran Duran for some reason (which is a compliment), and the track bleeds away. “Parallel Ruminations” basks in ’80s-style keys before the track rolls into violent winds. Singing returns as the keys blur, with screams then taking control, the tempo poking into blood, and a fury spreading. Keys spiral while cries tear through the night, with wrenching playing twisting at your guts. “Infinite Purgatory” ends the record by slowly unraveling, with singing and harsh vocals trading off and Pandolfo calling, “Please release me, I’ve been in prison for too long now.” Gutting sadness takes on a major role as gothy clouds hover, and then the track strikes hard again. The screams punish, the gazey bleeding spills ahead, and waves crash down, with the mist leaving a coating on your face.

Soaking in shadowy chaos and bathing in sonic beauty, Pandolfo pours his entire self into “They Don’t Sleep Anymore,” a record that’ll tax your heart and mind. There is a lot going on here, and it might take a few visits through this album just to examine all the twists and turns and each bleak corner. It takes a lot of pain and suffering to get to this point, and Pandolfo showed the strength and courage to put himself and his gushing heart on display.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://warcrimerecordings.bigcartel.com/product/they-don-t-sleep-anymore

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

Mysterious Swedes Mylingar mix your senses into panic, further smear reality with ‘Döda Själar’

Entering into the mouth of madness, a strange coil in which you’re shuttled forcefully to a destination not of your choosing and that hasn’t exactly been cleared with you beforehand, there you are, thirsting for breath. That never seems to come as the horrors only multiply, and you’re left trying to decide what to do yourself when this violent adventure ends. If it ends.

That’s how it felt for me tackling “Döda Själar,” the miasmal second release from Mylingar, a strange Swedish black and death metal entity that operates behind a shroud of mystery. That means I have no idea who makes up this band, but that really doesn’t matter at all. If anything, it makes the music scarier because while they claim a Scandinavian home, I don’t know if they’re telling the truth. The way their tar soup death trap that is their music pours out, this band could be an alien enterprise here to fool us dumb fucks on earth who can’t seem to get out of our own way on our pathways to stupid. These seven tracks wrapped over 40 tornadic minutes are powerful and scathing, easily defacing what’s left of your fragile psyche.

“Obalansen” starts the record in the midst of immediate panic as guitars torpedo, and the strangling growls cause your mouth to slobber spit and blood. The pummeling filth piles high as the music sets to destroy you, the words are gurgled, and everything comes to a disorienting end. “Nedstigningen” gets started with weird grinding before the growls enter the fray, and then things just burst into pieces. The music spirals as madness cooks in a boiling cauldron, meanwhile things get meaner and nastier, as all sense is thrown into a fire, and all that’s left is sanity’s ashes. “Offret” rises from the scum as the drums maul, the vocals choke on vomit, and tricky riffs send everything for a loop. Wild cries echo and charge, and then the band dials up another violent outburst that peels the flesh from your face and comes to an end in a sickening echo.

“Bländningen” storms and then catches fire, as monstrous growls penetrate, and a quick burst of high anxiety makes the chemicals in your brain freak the fuck out. The strange assault continues, making the room spin dangerously as sounds crash into weirdness. “Mållösheten” has feedback wailing before heading into doomier terrain. The pace is filthy and nauseating as the melodies bring great confusion, and the playing spins through outer space. The back end is heavy and disarming, with the track bashing your fingers as it closes. “Giftet” has dark guitars churning before the pace is torn apart, and everything is beaten down in its path. The playing is both muddy and suffocating, giving off a feel that everything is spinning out of control, with no way to restore order. Closer “Forlusten” runs 10:16 and is the longest cut on here, opening with a raging fury and angrier, faster growls. The track simmers and gives off steam, but later on things get tricky and punchy, as the track melts the flesh from your bones. Guitars sizzle, the growls terrify, and things end in a creepy echo pit, with the track coming to a demonic end.

The terror here is real, it’s tangible, and it will get inside your blood and sicken you before you even have a chance to absorb what’s happening. Mylingar’s chaos multiplies on “Döda Själar,” a record that feels like a full trip into and through hell, with no escape plan on the agenda. It’s terrifying music for terrified people, and it’ll totally destroy your brain.

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

To buy the album, go here (U.S.): https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/d-da-sj-lar

Or here (Europe): https://shop.amor-fati-productions.de/en/

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

And here: http://www.amor-fati-productions.de/

Minneapolis monsters Grogus twist brains, bruise bodies on smothering killer ‘Four Kings’

Have you ever put on a record from a band not really knowing what to expect, and when the whole thing is over, you wonder what the hell has just happened to you? Like, you lost track of time somewhere, and you know you’ve been through an adventure because your head is swimming with information, but you can’t pin down just how you go to where you are now.

My first trip with Grogus’ second record “Four Kings” was that exact thing, a total mindfuck that definitely made it feel like I’d been through a war, even though my body had no wounds or scars with which to attribute to said experience. I’m not even sure I can accurate describe what I heard on this record, though I’m going to spend 500 or so words trying, so if this all goes to shit from here, just know this music is impossibly heavy, defiant to all rules and regulations, and one of the most satisfying records I’ve heard all year, and I’ve heard a fuck ton. This one really stands out for its creativity and heart that the members—Jonas Yela, Dan Lee, and Boone Epstein (formerly of Former Worlds)—put into these six tracks that feel like they’re picking you up for a world-toppling backbreaker, only to drop you right on the base of your neck.

The record opens with “An Oceantomb of Centipedes,” which, if we’re being honest, is a really uncomfortable idea. Anyway, wild howls, muddy clubbing, and drubbing doom drag you through the dirt mouth-first, as the thick bass trucks, and a brief clean breather leads to the next round of blows as a storm begins to build. The band continues to clobber away as sounds well, raw cries and clean guitars clash, and everything fades into mystery. “Biovore” goes right for the jugular as meaty hammering and heavy screams lead the way, and the pace tears your apart in the midst of a tornado. The monstrous devastation never lets up until the track comes to an abrupt, fiery end. “An Augur of Ebrietas” is heavy and tricky, stomping dangerously as the growls lay waste. Guitars burn as the savagery is multiplied, while buried howls and a rumbling assault bring this one to an end.

“Goat Temple” is the longest track here, clocking in at 10:01 and letting noise and space debris float across the sky. An ambient horror is established as the first seven minutes of the song float in mystery, taking you far under the waters until it feels like the pressure will break you, and then jarring you to the surface again, as the volume and violence rise. Noises continue their waves, drums tap and echo, and everything is sucked into a vapor cloud. “A Call Beyond” has guitars that purposely try to tangle your brain, growls that land blows into your chest, and guitars that slice and dice. The track twists maniacally as vicious growls strike, and everything is burned off. “An Altar of Despair” ends the album by bringing in static-marred riffs, dangerously thick bass lines, and leads that bleed and glimmer, upping the heaviness factor. The track hammers away the entire time, eventually grinding its way into a liquidy atmosphere that smears your mind. The final minutes lead to a giant crescendo that builds, blows its stack, and leaves everything around it buried in rubble.

Cosmic oddness, massive heaviness, and bizarre creations make up “Four Kings,” a record that’ll definitely leave you in a heaping pile of some sort, be that physical or mental. Grogus deliver a massive hammer blow on this album, and if you’re like me, you’ll be perplexed as to how you got from point A to point B, but revisiting the record repeatedly does help you manage the fury. This is a mashing album that’s challenging from front to back, and when you’re done, you’re bound to find yourself utterly exhausted but enthralled you took the ridiculously bumpy ride.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/album/four-kings

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Coldness falls as Silence in the Snow freezes bones with ‘Levitation Chamber’

At the beginning of a strangling heat wave here on the East Coast, it seems an odd time to talk about music that feels like it ushers in coldness and atmospheric dampness. But that’s just what we have, and while it might feel a little more fitting to hear on a chilly October evening over dark ales, perhaps it can offer to soothe our skin while it breaks out hearts.

Oakland-based duo Silence in the Snow even have a name that can put a chill down your spine, making like a Nordic black metal band with ice in its veins. But the band’s second record “Levitation Chamber” doesn’t deliver the tremolo-picked heaviness or spine-shattering shrieks and instead serves up frosty post-rock-style power mixed with dark psychedelics on a piece that plays tricks with your mind. The duo of guitarist/vocalist and Cyn M and drummer Trevor DeSchryver (he plays live drums for Wolves in the Throne Room and also plays in Lycus) put their shadowy hauntings together over seven tracks that are arresting and freeze your cells in place. It’s a record that took me a little while to get to know, but once I did, I’ve gone back and revisited the music, getting a different feel every time.

“Time Will Tell You Nothing” opens the record by slowly leaking in, letting melody loose, and spreading aching strings. “Shadows dance in the light, illuminating cold, hard ice,” Cyn M calls, with her vocals quivering and mixing with the fog. Drums tap as strings scrape, and Cyn M urges, “Lift me into the night sky,” repeatedly as the song fades out into murk. “Smoke Signals” has punchy drums and a deathrock feel as the music and singing are more aggressive. “And in the dark, I see nothing, a little spark can take me there,” Cyn M wails, letting the emotion build and the shadows spread, ending in a dreamy pocket. “Crystal Spear” has a heavy post-rock vibe, as Cyn M prods, “May the crystal spear pierce the light, seeing through an empty lie.” The chorus is rousing and cutting, always returning to bruise again, as the admission of, “I feel so alone now,” dealing the heavy hand.

“Garden Of Echoes” begins with music pulsating, creating a thick haze of confusion with the playing raining down and thickening the fog. Dreary keys add to the dark texture, while the drums pace, and the melodies splatter over the end. “In the Dark” has guitars gently melting, while Cyn M belts, “In the dark I hide, all alone tonight, lost in my head, everything’s on fire.” The inky waters let keyboard lines sink though them like a knife, while the sounds bleed out, and the charging subsides. “Cruel Ends” is punchy and gothy, with deeper, gritter singing. Cyn M belts, “Spirit is guiding me, slow decay in the mind, wearing down walls that bind,” as the strange waves splash around. The gloaming essence reaches around, streaming and slowly bleeding down the drain. Closer “Dread the Low” starts with guitars leaking ashy drips, as the slowly delivered words leave you numb and disoriented. Sounds slowly spiral, as the feeling of longing and desire sink into the veins, and Cyn M ends with, “The waves come crashing in, I dread the low,” with her repeating the last line over and over as the song disappears into a thick haze of organs.

Silence in the Snow’s thick shadows and cold embrace might not be heavy in its purest sense, but the emotion and bloody tears that soak this thing make “Levitation Chamber” a strange, ghostly experience that could pulverize you. The music is ethereal and feels like a spirit traveling next to you, with you catching the movement out of the corner of your eye now and again. The music might make you think you’re locked in a spiraling dream that chills your flesh and makes you wonder where you are once you finally come to again.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://us.prophecy.de/artists/silence-in-the-snow/

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

Steel & Bone Volume 1 features Horrendous, Tomb Mold, Daeva, Immortal Bird among others

It wasn’t very long ago that a lot of really good underground metal shows (for lack of a better term) would pass over Pittsburgh regularly. But slowly over time, that whole thing changed, and we have a veritable riches of shows each week in which to indulge. This week alone there are four heavy music shows in our area, and Steel and Bone Vol. 1 is one of them.

Steel and Bone Productions is a group that has grown out of Winterforge Promotions, run by the gentlemanly Christopher Woodford, who is taking a much-deserved break from promoting. To really signal their arrival, Steel and Bone will present an unreal seven-band fest Saturday at Cattivo that has a lineup that is unstoppable. There are three bands that have brand-new records out, all of which are some of the best of the entire year, plus we have the Pittsburgh debut of Horrendous and a slew of other bands both national and local who will make this an event you’d have to be an asshole to miss. Things get started at 5 on Saturday (doors are at 4), and along with these monster bands, there also will be tons of merch available (Season of Mist will be there as a featured vendor), as well as Cattivo’s pizza that is some of the best in town. Here’s a quick rundown of every band you’ll see that day.

ABYSME (5-5:25): This Pittsburgh death metal band has been an institution the past 15 years, and their 2012 debut album “Strange Rites” was reissued in 2016 by Our Ancient Future, and they put out an EP last year called “Acrid Life” on the same label. If you haven’t caught Abysme and you’re a local, what fucking shows have you been going to see? This band will destroy your life, so best be prepared.

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

RITUAL MASS (5:45-6:10): Ritual Mass is a Pittsburgh band that has a 2017 demo that is one song and 14 minutes to their credit officially. But they bring way more than that. They’ve been destroying audience on shows locally for the past few years, and they’re a band you really need to pay your mind, because their power and chaos will smother you.

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

DAEVA (6:30-7): Black thrashers Daeva played their first live show ever in Pittsburgh at last year’s Migration Fest, and they return to the scene of the crime (well, at least when it comes to the city) nearly a year later with another serving of vile chaos. 20 Buck Spin delivered their debut EP “Pulsing Dark Absorptions” which is a five-track, 20-minute mauler (including a cover of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush”) that only hinted at the madness ahead. Not sure what they have in store for Saturday, but chances are it’ll split your face in two.

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

SUPERSTITION (7:20-7:50): Vile and heathen death metal your thing? Then, by all means, let Superstition lure you into the darkness, where you have no idea what awaits. They just released their debut full-length “The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation,” and this band contains members of Ash Borer, Predatory Light, and Vanum amongst them. But what they do as Superstition goes even beyond what they do with their other bands, delivering scary, relentless, punishing death that feels like it pays homage to the pioneers of the genre but delivers and smears modern blood into the mix.

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

Photo by Andrew Rothmund

IMMORTAL BIRD (8:10-8:50): If you’ve read this site for an extended time, first of all thank you. Second, you’ll know we have a soft spot for Chicago death grind mashers Immortal Bird. But look, it’s not just us. Their new album “Thrive on Neglect” has been getting praise left and right, and it’s for good reason. This is the best thing they’ve done to date, and just like Tomb Mold, they’re even better live than on their recordings. Rae Amitay is a fire-breather as the vocalist and lyricist for this band (spend time with the words if you want your soul to bleed) and the rest of the band is just as ripping, making this a formidable unit that’ll break you.

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

Photo by Jake Ballah

TOMB MOLD (9:10-9:50): Speaking of death metal, Toronto’s Tomb Mold have made some of the best music in that sub-genre over the past three years, when they have released three records, the latest of which is the wicked “Planetary Clairvoyance.” There are few bands doing it things as effectively as these guys, and the amazing thing is as good as their records are, they’re even better in the live setting. Their new one only will have been out for 24 hours by the time they hit town, but that should give you enough time to overindulge in this album before they start up and tear out your throat.

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

HORRENDOUS (10:10-end): Not many bands are twisting death metal to their ill quite the way Horrendous have the past decade. Their latest album, 2018’s “Idol,” saw them take their art even further, mixing more progressive elements into their sound and again challenging what it means to play death metal in the first place. “Idol” was the band’s first record for Season of Mist after years recording for Dark Descent, and it’s an album that firmly cemented them as one of metal’s most interesting bands.

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

To get tickets, go here: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4233224?fbclid=IwAR2dtFOS3SXkCxjH8fmhMGo6NbYT02DfiLUTBLPORF5BHO-9wPfePBSAGHE