Belgian force Kosmokrator put hellfire into black, death metal on mean ‘Through Ruin … Behold’

There is no doubt there is evil afoot in this world, and all one has to do is turn on the news or, if you’re really in the mood for self-masochism, get onto the Twitter. It’s weird to think sometimes we have to remove ourselves from this reality and visit with hellish creatures and forces of eternal damnation to make our hearts feel a little better. Twisted as that is.

So, it was, after once again being pulverized by the day’s events that “Through Ruin … Behold,” the debut record from Kosmokrator, felt like it was just the elixir needed to cope with 24 more hours of bullshit. The Belgian beasts mash together death and black metal with great effect, and though they’re just now issuing their first official record, the band has been together since 2013 and have put out smaller releases along the way. This seven-track, 47-minute record is not trying to be anything it’s not, and it isn’t relying on trying to keep up with ever-evolving sounds. This is a crushing, mind-erasing affair that the band—vocalist J., guitarists C.M. and D.V., bassist T., drummer P.R.—fully commits to driving into your chest like a cannonball, with you heaving for breath and blacking out.

“The Push Towards Daath” has an eerie beginning before the hammers are dropped in the form of splattered guitars and wild growls. The evil assault makes its way toward doom horns and an outright bludgeoning, while humid flames rise, the drums pace, and the finish is an outright drubbing. “Ruins” has guitars threatening before unleashing, as nasty wails and a mighty force punch toward your center. Yelled lines and a furious pace unite while the steam thickens, and the track burns out of time. “Irreversible Pathways” is smothering as the track goes for broke and powders bones, while evil howls crush and shake the brain. The sludgy assault and massive barrage continue while warped riffs bounce off your skull, and the song slowly bleeds away.

“I Am the Utterance of My Name” has strange sounds that make the flesh crawl as the guitars cut through meat and muscle, and weird growls turn beastly. The tempo then picks up and makes a run through the middle while wild cries pummel, and a fever dream sinks into your bloodstream as the track loosens its grip. “Kosmokratoras I – In His Name Shineth the Sun” starts in a sound bath before weird riffs tumble and the bass thickens. The tempo punishes while the track lays waste, and then a female-driven choral section sets in as the playing kills, only to return to madness before the song bows out. “Nathir” has riffs encircling and the verses charring before the whole world seems immersed in madness. The track is a constant assault that makes you dizzy as it goes on, finally ending in smothering hell. “Gestorben Muss Sein” is the closer and gets started with charged up guitars that give off heat before the song truly bursts. Deep growls arrive, as if choking on mud, before the terrain gets doomy and ugly. The song folds in cold trickling that provides a moment of solace as a female voice fires up, the track crackles, and the intensity quakes before exiting into fury.

Kosmokrator’s debut might have taken some time to arrive, but “Through Ruin… Behold” is a fully realized, smothering record that completely rips you apart. This record feels like it’s trying to force you into the eye of evil, accept its command, and commit to an eternity of suffering all because it’s what you deserve. This record will carve you up and leave piles of your flesh and blood behind in piles.

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Dallas death squad Cleric add weird cosmic dashes to muddy devastation on ‘Serpent Psalms’

Photo by Kathleen Kennedy

The cosmos and death metal have become strange bedfellows over the past few years. It wouldn’t seem like they’d make sense together on the surface but adding those weird dashes of synth along with pulverizing chaos and wooshes from beyond really work well if you know how to mix those parts. And get ready for a giant wave of new bands that totally can’t.

Continuing that movement with great power are Dallas death pounders Cleric on their second record “Serpent Psalms” that arrives six years after their debut offering “Gratum Inferno. It’s not that the band is digging full bore into alien conspiracy and intergalactic tales (um, that record comes later this year), but their sound very much falls in line with that style. They splash their Scandinavian-friendly sound with strange pockets of synthesizer that makes it seem like a you’re locked in a B-movie alien invasion in which the only way to survive is battle to the end. The band—vocalist Zac Christian, guitarists Chris Richardson and Ben Cooper (he replaced Cody Tatum after the recording), bassist Todd Thompson (he replaced John Schiller after the recording), drummer Zack Jobin—continues their raw, savage sound on this record that is devastating front to back.

“Maw of Absolution” begins with a cloud of synth and the cosmos bubbling before the track is shredded open, and the death march is on. The track is bludgeoning and bloody as riffs chew up muscle, the growls smear, and the drums bring devastation that eventually sinks into the muck. “Lucifer Triumphant” has muddy riffs and beastly growls with the leads sizzling in doom. The track then melts to a slow drive with the growls crushing and the pace defacing whatever is in front of them. “Of Twilight and of the Grave” has weird 1980s keys sickening brains before the piledriver is delivered. The track sinks in mud as the playing hammers away with the drums opening up slaughter and strong soloing blaring. The growls deal further blows, scraping away before the spaceship returns and summons the body. “Possessed in Congress” is not seemingly directed at the current political scene but might as well be. Chants bring in the song before things get fast and punishing with total violence leading the way. The track smears blood into the wounds before some final barks cement the weird finish.

“Unending Spectral Bloodshed” has riffs swaggering, the growls gurgling, and the guitars hovering over the killing field. The track breaks apart and sprays shrapnel, while strange guitars make flesh quiver, wild yells belt out, and the leads heat up and drive us into hell. “All Death Unseeing” has doomy riffs entangling while the tempo lurches, and then the song tears open. The band begins landing heavy body blows, as the song smashes bones, the growls turn to stabbed yelps, and the track ends in a furnace fire gone astray. “Satan Be Thy Name” is speedy and rowdy, bashing in heads and rolling in the aftermath. The track is thrashy as hell and has an easy chorus that will work well live, rolling around in chaos as the song bows out. “Forever Coils the Serpent (Opener of the Way)” delivers speedy riffs and some disarming melody, going more the black metal route before heading into muscular mashing. Guitars light up as the soloing scorches before everything dissolves into a gooey patch. “Destroying Eye of the Self” begins with a blanket of synth before meaty riffs rumble, and grim calls blister your chest with shots. The drumming then murders before soloing erupts, and then things turn murky and weird. A terrifying trance is achieved as growls return to destroy, and everything ends in utter brutality.

Cleric’s smashing approach to death metal is satisfying and gruff, and the extra cosmic seasonings they sprinkle onto their grim stew on “Serpent Psalms” can cause shivers along with the bruising. They’re also just making really good death metal, if we want to state this on the most simplistic of levels, and that’s really the reason to visit this record in the first place. It’s good to have this band after the long time away, and they’re entering back into a morbid world in which they’re more than equipped to survive.

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Mamiffer reflect on life cycle, remedy for personal darkness on chilly ‘Brilliant Tabernacle’

Photo by Ethan DeLorenzo

There tends to be a rather direct focus on death on this site, which you have to expect since it comes with the territory. But that’s not all there is to extreme music, just like volume and face-mashing intensity are not musts when it comes to metal. There are the everyday machinations of life that also come into play and inspire, even if we don’t get a lot of beauty here all the time.

Mammifer’s primary creative driver Faith Coloccia never has followed the typical paths when it comes to her music for this project, and that carries over to “The Brilliant Tabernacle,” her latest creation under this banner. The music is immersive and contemplative, certainly not an album that’s going to leave anyone deafened, but that’s never been the point to Mammifer’s work. Here, she celebrates the patterns of life from its fragile creation to the pain we feel along the way, working toward our ultimate end. The central character finds itself rotting and adversely impacted by modern life, only finding union with one’s true soul through immersion in love. Part of what helped inspire this music, which often freak like psychedelic folk combined with spiritual passages, also was formed after the birth of Coloccia’s first child after the last Mamiffer album “The Hope Unseen.” She, along with a group of other musicians, including partner and longtime Mamiffer member Aaron Turner, visit themes of hope, love, support, and surrender on this collection that should stir inside of you some emotions perhaps left buried.

“All That Is Beautiful” starts the record as pianos slowly emerge, drums activate, and Coloccia’s vocals begin their ascent. The music feels breezy and even chamber-friendly, while guitars begin to drone, letting things burns off, while the song ends in a noise pocket. “River of Light” has drums tapping and haunting vocals fluttering while flutes fill the room with air, and static builds. The music hangs overhead and intoxicates, opening the gates for “So That the Heart May Be Known” that has keys dripping and hand drumming. The playing stings and stretches with the main piano line returning and crushing, and the singing increasing its presence. Violin scratches as sleigh bells ring, with the vocals swimming back in before the song bows out.

“Two Hands Together” lets piano spill as Coloccia calls, “In this water, deliver me, child, I grow for you.” She sings of experiencing the baby’s cry over a ceremonial expression, buzzing keys, and an ambiance that feels like a hymn. “To Receive” has a deep Middle Ages character with strong vocal melodies, making your head float along with the words that Coloccia uses to entrance. “Hymn of Eros” has noise churning, woodwinds traveling in from the hills, and the track building itself amid drums circling and keys blending into the scene. Droning digs into your temples while galactic strikes land, and the song slips into the cosmos. “To Be Seen” has pianos bubbling as visions of early morning unfurl, with Coloccia ensuring, “You are one of us.” Violin cuts through as folkish acoustic guitars add texture, organs spread, and all of the elements come to a head. Calming singing sinks into your bloodstream, as the song’s spirit becomes one with the wind as it moves back into the stars.

Mamiffer’s journey has been unpredictable, as every stop along the way has offered something new and substantive, not just a new series of songs. “The Brilliant Tabernacle” follows that tradition and is a record that provides a personal journey on which you can join and experience all of the throes of existence. Coloccia is an artist who always gives full of herself, but she’s never given of her heart and soul like this ever before.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Sunn O))) surge with ‘Life Metal’s’ darkly pensive companion release ‘Pyroclasts’

Photo by A.F. Cortes

One thing about music that infinitely interests me is how a record gets made. What was the process like? Who did what? Were things planned out or spontaneous? It’s a question I commonly ask bands when I do interviews, and I always worry it’s going to be the most boring of all the things I pose to my subject. But sometimes it leads to a really interesting answer.

When it comes to Sunn 0)))’s new piece “Pyroclasts,” the band details in the bio materials for the record that they would begin and end each day in a 12-minute drone session, a way to align creatively where they would time pull together their creative energies. The music you hear here is what was captured alongside the work that made up their last album ”Life Metal,” released this past spring, and both records are conjoined in that way. They share a pathos in another way in that the songs are spiritually and creatively aligned, with “Pyroclasts” working as a sort of companion piece or sibling to “Life Metal,” something that becomes apparent with numerous listens to both. Joining the primary hooded figures Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley are Tim Midyett, Tos Nieuwenhuizen, and Hildur Guðnadóttir, and together, along with producer Steve Albini, they conjure four passages that bring energy and immersive power but also pull back and let you explore mentally.

“Frost (C)” begins with noises quivering as the guitars initiate their reign, and drone rumbles into swirling winds. The track keeps moving and subtly building parts to the whole, while the ambiance chills you to the bone. As the music begins to permeate your cell structure, there’s a slight rise and fall in tone, while the music vibrates, shimmering before subsiding. “Kingdoms (G)” leans in with lighter noise before the drone awakens and peeks over the horizon, with threatening guitars just behind it. Sharp notes jolt while the heat picks up, churning its way to more warmth, while a strange melody lurks beneath the surface. The track then feels like an engine, charging one last time before fading out.

“Ampliphædies (E)” has an immediate surge, with notes crushing, the guitars haze hovering, and the volume rising and promising more friction is coming. Again, a melody line is present, though you have to clear the weeds in the waters some to hear it, and there’s a vibe that weirdly reminds of Soundgarden. Sounds power and pierce any sense of calm while fuzz murmurs, and the track slips into stardust. “Ascension (A)” ends the record by introducing burly guitars, reverberations deep in the ear canals, and a long, trance-inducing stretch that generates heat. The tones cause the floors to shake, eating away at the psyche before a buzzing glimmer leads to an abrupt ending.

The end of the “Life Metal” cycle gets an immersive, reflective jolt with “Pyroclasts,” which is one of Sunn 0)))’s most calming records in their entire catalog. Don’t take that as meaning it’s not pulverizing when it needs to be, because they still carry the iron. It’s a strong piece to compliment “Life Metal” as well as a trance-heavy creation that can more than stand on its own in the band’s mighty catalog.

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We’re swamped! Hammering new stuff boiling from Lungs, Volur, Amber Asylum, and Vestigial

Lungs (photo by Bronson Karaff)

Doing this site isn’t easy sometimes, because there are moments when the music just pours in like crazy. We have that situation right now with too much stuff to talk about this week, so we’re going to capsule a few releases you should keep your eyes and ears on. The four artists who created these three records could not be any more different from each other, so there’s a lot of sample.

Minneapolis-based doom-sludge artists Lungs are one of those bands that likely could find an audience outside of heavy music. Yeah, they’re meaty as fuck, and their music can dent in your sides, but they bring something entirely different to this style in their vocals. You definitely will get some guttural screams, but you also are rewarded with stellar harmonizing that stands apart from so much of what other bands of this ilk tend to do. And it is so refreshing. Their new record is “Estuary,” and it comes with a heavy heart as it’s dedicated to their late guitarist Sean Tobin, who passed away last year. Its current lineup—guitarist/vocalist Jonas Kromer Yela, bassist/vocalist Mike Cushing, guitarist Dan Lee, drummer/vocalist Jeff Nicholas—delivers a five-track opus that’s powerful, emotional, incredibly human, and wholly unforgettable. It also features guest vocals from Erin Severson of the awesome Former Worlds, and everything on here may need time to sink in, but once it does, you can’t shake it.

“Matriarch” begins the record with guitars simmering before barked wails interject, then the vocals smooth out with some lurching singing. Things turn muddy and ominous as guitars melt, eerie harmonizing drips, and the guitars sizzle out. “Unbecoming” glimmers in calm, as hearty singing slathers, feeling psychedelic and dreamy. “Will you be forgiven?” they ask before the track punches, muddy basslines pummel, and the track heads into proggy waters before disappearing into the void. “Oak” is gentle and jazzy as it starts, as the signing pulls you in only to have you bludgeoned with power. Growls scrape while the song goes back and forth from threatening to mentally soothing, twisting and turning all the way, dragging you through the thorns. “At the Estuary” is the longest cut, running 10:05 and easing you through the cosmos as it goes. Much of the song is reflective, with the singing boosting the tendency to float away. Later on, the track stomps heavily as the soloing catches fire, and the pace jerks and crumbles. Howls ring out as the music spirals, and the pace is ramped up hard, with the final minutes paying off in smashing devastation. “A Blessing, a Curse” closes the album, simmering in strings before destroying the senses. Riffs swagger as the band unloads chaos, and though there are stretches where we pull back and achieve calm, the bulk of this thing goes right for you, jostling and maiming, leaving you a heaping pile of flesh when it’s done.

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To me, the best split recordings are ones that pit bands that are not much alike, though their music makes sense together. That’s what we have with the new collection from Toronto doom dreamers Volur and long-running San Francisco-based neo-classical ambient unit Amber Asylum. Each side of this thing could not sound any more in conflict, but it works perfectly. You get the volcanic and adventurous thunder of Volur with bassist/vocalist Lucas Gadke, violinist/vocalist Laura Bates, and drummer Jimmy P Lightning on their four “Breaker of Rings” movements that suck you right in and mash you. Oh, if you’ve never seen Volur live, change that. They’re stunning. Amber Asylum brings you back down and has you floating through mysterious ghost worlds as they—the lineup for the record includes Kris Force, Jackie Perez Gratz, and Erica Stoltz, though Fern Lee is also a member—enrapture you and let you drift away with them to explore places you didn’t know existed.

The first of the four “Breaker of Rings” tracks opens with sounds quivering, violin streaming, and a mournful sentiment, with the song slowly forming and the drums opening, crashing into the second movement where Gadke’s singing kicks in, hovering over the murky playing. The violins swarm like a storm, sounding ominous and drawing you into the dark as the third section takes over, mostly built by Bates’ violin playing that thickens the drama and even comes off like a horror score at times. The final segment runs 10:02, breaking open and rumbling with lurching growls and soaring strings. Corners are dark and enchanting, others are volcanic, and everything comes to a gigantic finish that crunches. The Amber Asylum portion also consists of four tracks, starting with haunting “Séance” that has a cosmic ambiance that swims in the stars, pushing toward 11:07-long centerpiece “Blood Witch.” The singing floats, strings and bass fold into the mix, making everything dreamy and foggy. That leads the track into strange mists, slowly haunting as it goes, with the call of, “His cruelty is kind,” bruising as the song subsides. “Swarm Interlude” vibrates and echoes, melting into closer “Malaria,” where strings numb and the music glazes over. Cello beckons beneath it all as dark drama stretches, and everything disappears into the cold.

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We get a lot of music submissions from bands looking to get something onto our site. It’s very humbling that people care what we think. A lot of times I’ll read the bio and decide if I want to dig deeper. To be honest, when I first read the description for Grand Rapids, MI, extreme metal band Vestigial, I didn’t give it much hope of ending up on the site. DevilDriver is mentioned in the bio, one of my least favorite bands of all time, and some of the other groups noted are a collection of not-my-cup-of-tea artists. Nothing at all wrong with those bands; they just do nothing for me. But then I realized I was being a little unfair, so I gave a test run to “Crown of Serpents,” the band’s second record, and I’m glad I did. This doesn’t really sound like the bands they note in their bio as it’s much heavier and nastier. It’s well-played death metal, the type that a label like Unique Leader might snap up, so if that’s your thing, you’d definitely want to give these guys—guitarist/vocalist Michael Stellema, guitarist vocalist Tyler Stellema, bassist Joey Barnett, drummer Mike Miller—a solid listen.

“Phantasmagoria” is a quick opener to this concept record, and the song gives you a taste of what is ahead. Their brand of death is pretty straightforward, and it leads you into the other beasts lurking. “Dethroned” hammers and feels adventurous (the glitchy effects should go, as it’s become a genre trope), as fluid soloing rises, and piercing shrieks rain down. “Usurper” is in a similar vein, going full bore after you and doing damage, while “The Swarm” has jerky riffs that cut through steel as well as growls that sound like they’re gurgling on blood. “King Carrion” is meaty with molten guitars and a very heavy hand, landing heavy blows. This is another where some of the washed-out effects feel stale, and really, the music is strong enough to stand on its own without those dashes. “Hangman” is swaggering and drips with attitude, while closer “Rust” pulls back a bit and lets the music simmer, which makes a world of difference. This shows another side of the band as they remain heavy but also show reflective tones, as the guitars explore and even have a touch of prog strength to them.

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Vastum creep into darkest parts of perversity, psychological ire on scarring new ‘Orificial Purge’

Photo by Chris Johnston

Obviously, we love death metal here, as that tends to be one of the most covered terrains of heavy music we write about. But some of the classic stuff that spilled blood, guts, and gore always has been fun but never came off as psychologically warping. It’s kind of like when you watch a slasher movie. You can enjoy it, but it never seems real. The bands that really can get inside your head are our favorites.

Bay Area heathens Vastum are one of those that morbidly capture the imagination and warp it beyond recognition. For nearly a decade now, the band has been unearthing takes of sexual depravity and psychological scarring that would make bands vomit in their own laps. The band’s fourth record “Orificial Purge” continues to toy with the mind all the while devastating you with their sound. You could simply put this album on, forget the words you’re hearing, and enjoy it for a vicious, pounding slab of dark death metal. But spend time with the words, and you might not sleep at night. Not because of some boogeyman or monster tale, but because of the acts and ideas you hear conveyed in their lyrics. Also, don’t think that because they’re delving into sexual issues and acts that you’re going to walk away horny or with ideas. Well, you might, and we don’t kink shame here. But you’re more likely to be horrified legitimately by the band—vocalist Daniel Butler, vocalist/guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf, guitarist Shelby Lermo, bassist Luca Indrio, drummer Chad Gailey—and the corners in which they shed light. Yeah, the music rips. But the thematic elements tear psychological well-being apart.

“Dispossessed in Rapture (First Wound)” kicks off the record with strange, pained moans in the background before things comes to, um, life. Riffs pummel while the dual vocals work as a vicious tag team to batter you around. The chorus strikes with music and words as Abdul-Rauf wails, “Churn in your center, feel me arrive, don’t lose faith, that this fist is alive,” with her practically spitting that last word. “I on the Knife (Second Wound)” is bloody and devastating, as the words describe endless self-inflicted injuries with a blade, as the instructional lyrics practically taunt to derive obedience. “This wound is your life, knowing, cutting, sever your head, now you sit on the knife, burning pleasure, unknowing death,” is a horrifying wake-up call, as the band delivers it with force. Lurching and attacking, the band wraps you in riffs and guttural grunts that explode with pain. “Abscess Inside Us” has guitars jolting and grim growls, and even some of the playing later on is a little proggy. A storming solo drains from overheard, while the wails of, “Malicious adoration in my confusion and complex grief, I have a long way to go before I set myself free,” lands as the song comes to a gloomy end.

The title track has guitars stinging and strange, detached speaking sounding like it comes from a lobotomized mind. Grim growls and sinewy riffs strike, as the vision of, “Orificial passage, an elemental drift, everything erected, everything impotent,” bruises you, with the song coming to a startling, weird ending. “Reveries in Autophagia” has growls menacing, while the words come at you directly and in sobering tone, while the band causes your bones to crumble. “Whittling down my flesh to the most vile of excretions, dining on my psychesoma, I serve up another limb,” is enough to make anyone shudder with dread, but that feeds you into fiery soloing, as other elements pile up and make breathing nearly impossible before everything chugs out. “His Sapphic Longing” mercifully ends the record as strings moan, riffs slowly fold in, and then the animal is on two feet, walking upright toward hell. The vocals trade off, describing unfathomable situations, ending with, “Reach beneath the cloth (slip inside me), nobody will save you (from this rapture), his sapphic longings gagged and bound, inside the phallic tomb his father gave unto him,” which should just make you convulse with nausea. The band puts the final touches on this by slowly stretching out the torture, with the song finally boiling in its own juices in a relentless sound vortex.

Vastum long have been favorites here at our silly web site, and they’ve yet to let us down with death metal that crawls into our minds and eats at the wiring. “Orificial Purge” is another in a line of tremendously titled records that are not here to give you an escape into fantasy world. This music is here to confront the darkness and some of the most profane examples of human behavior that, while it might sicken some, are reality. That’s always more unsettling than a zombie eating someone’s intestines an album cover, as cool as that might be.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Savage Master conjure hellacious metal fires with killer ‘Myth, Magic & Steel’

Photo by Rachel Autumn Deering

Heavy metal’s foundations are built on myths, legends, demons, wizards, and all kinds of fantastical creatures. Just look at the covers of any collection of metal albums in your local record shop, and you’re going to see some crazy shit that took some creative jumps to dream up in the first place. It’s part of what makes metal lore so exciting.

Following in the path blazed by bands including Iron Maiden, Dio, Warlock, Judas Priest and so many others come Savage Master, who not only pay homage to classic sounds but also make their own mark in metallic glory. Proof of that is on their third full-length “Myth, Magic & Steel,” their first for Shadow Kingdom and one hell of a blast of vintage glory in a modern world. This record is a nine-track, 40-minute blast that’ll make hearts soar of anyone who has followed metal’s story the past five decades or so, and it brings back to the forefront the foundation mentioned in the opener, where strange creatures and occult forces burst from the seams. That not only make this record something that trickles with true metal blood but also provides one hell of a good time. The band—vocalist Stacey Savage and her hooded menaces guitarists Adam Neal and Larry Myers, drummer John Littlejohn—delivers over and over again as evil is afoot and magical forces are ready to capture your soul.

The title track gets things started with a killer riff driving the excitement and Savage’s direct shouts spreading blood over the verses. The chorus is a killer with the whole band howling, “A world of fantasy revealed!” along with Savage, making it meatier and even catchier, and later on, the soloing lights your flash on fire before the track ends with Savage screaming, “Myth, magic, and steel!” “The Devil’s Ecstasy” has rambling riffs that smoke during the verses, with Savage again in command, especially on the chorus where she keeps things simple but effective. Later she commands, “So come take my hand, the ways of the witch, sign it in blood, 666,” before guitars again catch fire and race toward the finish. “The Owl” has ominous tones as it begins, as the tale slowly unfurls and also leaves some bruising. “I see hell fire burning even higher,” Savage calls on the chorus, as the soloing takes off and rules, and the band returns to the refrain before punching out. “Flyer in the Night” has guitars charging up, verses that pelt your chest, and yet another sticky chorus that sticks inside your head. Soloing takes control, leading into the night with torches, before Savage ends with, “Soon I’ll meet the gallows and I’ll part forevermore, becoming one with my source.”

“Crystal Gazer” starts chugging and landing blows, with Savage asking, “Do you hear a voice calling from the other side?” The vocals are a little gritter here while the leads melt faces, and the track slowly bleeds away. “Lady of Steel” is a blast, one they performed at Metal Immortal Festival over the summer in Pittsburgh, and it features three verses, one taken by Savage, one by Deborah Levine from Lady Beast, and one by Sandy Kruger of Sacred Few. It’s a tremendous cut that gets your blood surging as these three awesome vocalists show their absolute grip over metal’s forces. “High Priestess” is more slow driving at first, working its way through the verses, with gang vocals over the chorus as Savage wails, “Daughter of the moon,” and later, “Risen from the tomb.” It’s eerie and punishing and perfect for this time of year. “Far Beyond the Grave” has a killer riff that surges, and their love for 1980s metal is smeared all over this thing, in a great way. The soloing even takes a different turn, sounding like its phrasing the story musically before the track ends in a pile of ash. Epic closer “Warrior vs. Dragon” runs a healthy 8:24, and it tells the story of a hunter tracking down its fire-breathing prey. The first half of the song is calculated, as Savage vows, “In death you know you will be set free, Dragon, let the wind carry you home.” Soloing spreads its wings, then suddenly, the gas pedal is pounded, and the track goes into overdrive. Savage’s vocals come harder and faster, setting up the dragon’s demise before the song blends into somber acoustics and a strange trippy cloud that carries the poor beast home.

Savage Master’s reign has been a glorious one as they have retraced what brought metal to where it is today and have decided to add more chapters in their own unique voice. “Myth, Magic & Steel” is a fiery, catchy record that is packed with songs you can’t help but yell back live, with fists fully pumping. This band lives devoid of trend or tastemaker expectation and instead smash full speed ahead through the boundaries, holding heavy metal’s banners aloft with power.

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The Great Old Ones draw dark horrors, dizzying black metal with mind-bending ‘Cosmicism’

Photo by Joel Queyrel

Many corners of black metal lurk with strange, fictional creatures, which is part of what makes the music so intriguing. French beasts The Great Old Ones have reached their arms around Lovecraftian horrors, which also have a massive impact on the heavy metal world (I mean, Metallica have been influenced by the writer’s monsters), and that’s helped their music become so ominous.

We’d be remiss not to point out that it’s accepted that H.P Lovecraft was thought to be a racist piece of shit, which it isn’t too hard to figure out by reading his many stories. So, this is hardly an endorsement of his thoughts and feelings, but one cannot deny his creations have had a huge impact on the literary, fantasy, and horror worlds, and because karma is a motherfucker, the writer died penniless. So, fuck him. But we’ll  concentrate on the music here instead, as there’s no indication the band agrees with the man’s viewpoints. Digging into the band’s sweltering fourth record “Cosmicism,” it’s obvious the Great Old Ones—guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Guerry, guitarists Aurélien Edouard and Alexandre ‘Gart’ Rouleau, bassist Benoit ‘Barby’ Claus, drummer Leo Isnard—immerse themselves in dark mystery and terror, as this album is a journey into the center of mystery that keeps your head spinning the entire time.

“Cosmic Depths” is an introductory track that swims in clean waters as murk gathers overhead, and it’s into “The Omniscient,” a 9:26 crusher that gets that chaos and confusion flowing right away. After it drips from the ceiling, the track rushes to life, chugging and mauling, with a storming fury unable to be contained. The vicious growls and storming madness eventually go cold, as chills go down your spine, and then things slowly ramp up again. The track unleashes tornadic hell, destroying what’s in front of it as wild growls pummel, the music cascades, and everything ends in a blaze of power. “Of Dementia” spirals and causes vertigo, with melody snaking through savage waters. A strong riff arrives as the song’s backbone, with a stabbing breakdown pummeling and sludgy terrain being stomped. Sounds hang in the air as the main riff returns, continually rounding and disappearing into a fog. “Lost Carcosa” is spindly at first before it unleashes a ton of bricks. The playing is smothering and heavy as the pace suddenly switches to something thrashier, with creaky speaking haunting and sending the track into a spacious hell. The playing simmers while the growls lurch along, the sound hovers, and everything splashes into a pool of acoustics.

“A Thousand Young” is the longest track, running 11:43 and starting with a strange alien cloud moving in before the storm tears into the atmosphere. The playing trucks while the growls decimate surroundings, mashing hard and creating an epic sensation, burning in place while char marks are created beneath it. Hypnotic riffs pile on as the vocals gnaw on flesh, repetitive melody lines create hypnosis, and the track slowly bleeds away. “Dreams of the Nuclear Chaos” rupture with strange riffs and a sweltering, mentally disarming assault. Underneath the layers of soot is a weird catchiness that almost feels poppy, but you can barely even put a finger on it. But it’s there. From that point, the music continues its rumble, setting the stage for “Nyarlathotep,” a song based on the horrifying fictional outer god. Slow drumming and a calculated approach allow an ambiance to be formed before things get strangely muddy, and the vocals scrape the inside of your skull. Things get heavier from there as detached speaking haunts before things turn thrashy and crunchy. The song keeps building its pillar toward the skies before cracks form, and the structure falls like powder to the earth. “To a Dreamer” is a bonus track and the closer depending on what edition you have, and it’s a mind scrambler that fills the room with noise. The track is heavy and vicious, smothering with weird speaking as the pace lights up and destroys worlds. Savage cries and mystical melodies loop together as the band pushes their final bursts of energy, bringing the song to a huge, devastating finish.

The Great Old Ones keep shapeshifting each record, warping their black metal power into stranger and more destructive forces. “Cosmicism” is another massive step for the band into the future as they conjure music that recreates black metal’s universe in their own image, making it scarier and more esoteric. This is a record that needs to be visited a few times to be fully absorbed, but once it’s in your head, you’ll be hard pressed to remove those tentacles from your brain ever again.

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Black metal force Dawn Ray’d strike back against tyrrany on fiery ‘Behold Sedition Plainsong’

Now’s the time to strike back. Here in the States, we’re under the thumb of a fascist regime that has done everything it can to lie, cheat, and steal in order to exert its control over the American people. That same thing is happening in many other places around the world, along with seeing extreme right-wing hate groups boil over and threaten people’s safety and well-being. It’s time for it to stop.

Funny enough, but the people who use violence and fear and terror to try to make their impact are the same people whining about the left not being peaceful enough in their protest and making those people who use fear feel threatened. Awww, poor babies. But fine, you want peaceful protest? Look no further than UK-based black metal band Dawn Ray’d, who have used their platform to fight fascism, sexism, racism, and any other force that works against the people. Their anarchic power is all over their records, including their new second full-length album “Behold Sedition Plainsong,” their first official release for Prosthetic Records. If you’re already indoctrinated into their sound, you know Dawn Ray’d create passionate, fiery black metal that also can be catchy and sticky, with an added element of violin weaving in those extra strains of sorrow. The band—vocalist/violinist Simon B., guitarist Fabian D., drummer Matthew B.—now has a wider reach with their alliance with Prosthetic, and as noted, now’s the time to strike back against the forces of tyrannical evil, which this record definitely does.

“Raise the Flails” is a quick introductory cut with guitars awakening, the violin stinging, and the power eventually kicking in, with strong wails by Simon B. lashing, “Wield your mighty lances! It’s time for new tales of resistance!” before we’re headed into “The Smell of Ancient Dust” that’s raucous as hell when it starts. The violin threads its way into the mix as harsh wails and sweeping playing catch you up in the madness, and a gritty chorus helps increase the surge. Later, the melodies swell massively, while the guitars march, the drums blister, and the track returns to dust. “Like Smoke Into Fog” has the guitars hanging in the air before they make good on their threat and rip the place apart. The vocals are savage on the verses, lashing back at corrupt cops and homophobic priests, and the galloping tempo then is tempered by a haze that rises momentarily before the playing ignites again. Fierce playing and destructive shrieks fire the final nails into the ground before acoustics join for the final moments. “To All, To All, To All!” bursts from the gates and immediately makes your blood rush as the shrieks rumble over the verses, only to have the song meet up with a folkish calm. From there, the violin cries before the song explodes again with monstrous wails, a stomping assault, and the strings stinging their last. “A Time for Courage at the Borderlands” begins with sorrowful playing, joined up by the violin, and from there, the band delves into the plight of others who find themselves turned away by those who could supply aid. “Can you imagine the horror of a fence they won’t let you through? Another country refusing help, what if that was you?” Simon B. posits, making the listener face the moral crisis amid a storm of playing that gushes with passion.

“Songs in the Key of Compromise” has blazing riffs and relentless verses along with vocals that refuse to cave in to pressure. The track then calms to a strum while the music begins to trickle through ice before fading. “Until the Forge Goes Cold” has raw wails and surging playing, as the melodies scrape against the skin, and delirious playing gets your mind racing. The riffs just keep piling up while punches are thrown, as Simon B. calls, “And when they asked us to kneel, fascism is the hand that keeps us down,” as everything disintegrates into a blazing inferno. “A Stone’s Throw” begins with moody acoustic guitars as the violin sweeps over the top, and hearty group singing causes the banners to flap. The track remains in a folk vein, a dark, dour feeling that chills your bones. “Soon Will Be the Age of Lessons Learnt” buzzes slowly as death growls and shrieks strike, and the playing goes for the throat. The violin playing adds heavy emotion behind it, as Simon B. wails, “Only in their death will our debt be erased, and we wait, build, grow, agitate,” all before the track is left to drip into dust. “Salvation Rite” begins with the violin leading like a beacon as the track slowly unfurls. Finally, the lid if ripped off and the fury boils over, while shrieks pound the senses, and a merciless tempo mixes into folk winds, dissipating into calm. “The Curse, the Dappled Light” ends the album by splattering mud and blood, unleashing a vicious pace that comes right for you. “And if they crush our fierce rebellion, if they stamp out defiance-light, I’d sooner cast off subordination and believe in reprisal, and die for spite,” Simon B. lashes as violins and majestic riffs melt together while the music fully floods over. The band vows to continue their fight whatever the cost, and everything bows out with the faint trace of their bonfires still filling your sinuses.

Dawn Ray’d have been fighting for justice and equality ever since they emerged four years ago, and already they’ve made a major impact for metal’s anti-fascist movement, which is gaining ground. But besides all of that, they’re also a blood-rushing, compassionate band that makes music you can feel deep inside your body. “Behold Sedition Plainsong” is a fire-breathing set of anthems that burn the torches against hatred and unquestioned power, a record that should unite those fighting the same battle to keep going until all of the enemy’s blood is drained.

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Botanist assemble full force as planet’s still harrowing future comes into focus on ‘Ecosystem’

Photo by Siren Sea Media

The earth is slowly suffocating, and we humans have a pretty large hand in making that happen. In many ways, we’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to this planet, despite all the technological advances we have made to push humankind. We have been the ones choking out its heart, and if scientists are right (and they probably are), we could be very close to annihilating this place.

Avant-garde green metal spirit Botanist has been telling us this for years now over a series of full-lengths, smaller releases, and splits, and the message hasn’t really changed: Plant life one day will rise up and claim us all after we’ve done our damage. Only problem is, we’re now in danger of killing our real-life Verdant Realm that we might not live to see this play out. Nonetheless, Botanist is not to be deterred, and the project is back with “Ecosystem,” a release that features the entire fleshed-out lineup—Otrebor on dulcimers, harmonium, vocals; Davide Tiso on bass; Daturus on drums; and Cynoxylon on additional vocals—so it’s not just a dulcimer-and-drums effort. That gives these songs even more body and texture, not to mention vocally the music pushes past shrieks and whispers to embrace cleaner singing that also adds a pretty cool texture to the songs.

“Biomass” begins the record with the dulcimer hammered and all of the forces rising, as wild cries jab into the ribs. The chorus backs up and swells while gruffer vocals push in before calm emerges. Singing and shrieks mix while a panicked tempo jars and moody chorals take us out. “Alluvial” has light strumming before things comes to life with clean singing and a breezy atmosphere before things darken. Vicious howls blister, whipping up crazed winds before things disappear into the background. “Harvestman” has dour melodies darkening the ground before the track rips things apart as shrieks make dents in the assault. Guttural growls give the track more of a death metal essence while the dulcimer goes off, and there’s a furious rush to the finish. “Sphagnum” is slowly picked as singing floats overhead, and the atmospheric pressure gives a Pink Floyd feel. The growls return as the music spirals, and then the guts are churned. Choral sections add some beauty to hell, as everything bleeds out.

“Disturbance” has noises rising, the dulcimer shaking, and heavy shrieks raining down blood. The track has a dramatic tone as insanity ensues and spreads, while a crazed fury digs in its claws. “Acclimation” is calm as it starts, softly pushing the pace, as choral parts mix with grisly growls. Cymbals crash while a clinical-style melody reaches its roots, vicious shrieks scrape, the music crescendos, and the final sounds are delicately played strums. “Abiotic” begins slowly as the drums and bass pick up, and solemn singing from Cynoxylon and vocal harmonizing give lushness to this folk-flavored cut. The singing continues to push the plot, observing that “a path of doom is laid” before the song slowly fades. “Red Crown” closes the album with a huge, joyous feel as the drums rumble, and the singing swells with, “Sunlight rains down through the branches and reaches the ground.” As the track goes on, the music continues to add muscle, the singing floods the senses, and the track subsides with the call of “with balance ruling, red crown, ecosystem” as the grip is gently loosened.

Our fate is nearly sealed, and the people who make the actual decisions in this world have turned blind eyes to the problem vexing the earth. So, it may be time for the Verdant Realm to rise up and slaughter us all for the good of this place. “Ecosystem” is another warning, an additional plea for us to wake up and start caring for our surroundings before it comes for us and removes our stain from the planet. It might sound grim, but it’s the fate we currently deserve.

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