PICK OF THE WEEK: Mare Cognitum, Spectral Lore traverse planets on enormous split ‘Wanderers…’

Often at night when I take my dog into the backyard so she can relieve herself/bark wildly at the dogs two doors down, I gaze up at the sky and wonder what the could be going on beyond our world. Sure, it’s probably chemicals bubbling and strange skies hanging over barren, uninhabited land, but it’s also cool to think what it might be like to stand on one of those faraway planets.

Establishing said mythology for each planet in our galaxy became a creative point for like-minded atmospheric black metal bands Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum, who join forces once again on their intimidatingly expansive split release “Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine,” a 10-track, 115-minute collection that definitely weighs you down by its sheer girth. But don’t be intimidated by that insane running time, as the record doesn’t feel nearly that long because the two artists here—Ayloss of Spectral Lore and Jacob Buczarski of Mare Cognitum—fill this with explosive wonder and fluid musical storytelling. The two worked together before on 2013 split “Sol,” but this one is above and beyond that endeavor. Taking influence from Gustav Holst’s “Planets Suite,” an orchestral work with pieces named after each planet and its corresponding mythological representative. The songs take their time and build their own worlds, the goings on within, and the power emanating from each celestial body, blasting you generously with might and majesty.

“Mercury (The Virtuous)” has Spectral Lore starting off the collection with a storm whipping, which very well could be solar, before the track builds and colors rush. Finally, the playing begins to ravage as Ayloss’ screams destroy, and the pace is relentless. The track stampedes with savage vocals, melody spilling, and the track stomping out. “Mars (The Warrior)” is Mare Cognitum’s first cut, running 09:25, which is one of the shorter songs on here. Riffs erupt under a melodic passage, tracking violently and heading into cavernous fire. The guitars begin to bend in a Blut Aus Nord fashion before the playing unravels and raptures, hypnotizing before destruction rides again. The drums pound away, Buczarski’s vocals penetrate, and the track ends in a feverish haze. “Earth (The Mother)” is 11:56 and has Spectral Lore back in the saddle, offering clean tones and an eerie ambiance. The tempo kicks in along with Ayloss’ growls, while the guitars bleed into the pace, and a heavy wave of emotion strikes. The playing is blinding and just gets more aggressive, going faster, bleeding emotion, and lashing out with crazed cries. Mare Cognitum deliver “Venus (The Priestess),” a 12:27-long track that greets you with elegant playing and a breath of calm before a huge deluge lands, and Buczarski’s vocals cut through that. Heat melts into the fog and mist, as a freezing gaze pushes through smashing and smearing, and the playing wells up. The song floods the senses while riffs keep looping, charring to the finish. “Jupiter (The Giant)” is still Mare Cognitum offering a 15:04 cut that charges slowly, simmering into calm while thunder strikes, and a storm spreads over before the vocals land about 5 minutes in. The track plays games with your mind and heart as the playing snakes through the murk, and blood rushes. The main riffs comes back and infects, rains reload, and the song rushes to a huge finish.

Spectral Lore returns with “Saturn (The Rebel)” and envelopes you in shadowy darkness before Ayloss unleashes harsh shrieks, while mind-bending melodies come through and shock the senses. The vocals then ravage as the music goes into a light-headed slurry, the bass folds dimensions, organs spill, and the humidity bleeds out into the sky. “Neptune (The Mystic)” is Mare Cognitum, and the song blasts in with amazing force, as Buczarski’s shrieks carve wounds into your brain. The playing mauls and creates bruising, as the soloing explores the outer reaches of the galaxy before rage reignites and threatens safety. The music begins to spiral cosmically, hurtling toward the stars, while the melody gushes anew, and the end is ripped out dangerously. Spectral Lore brings you “Uranus (Spectral the Fallen),” which runs 12:24 and penetrates the world in mere seconds. Harsh growls hiss as the bass recoils, while doomy slithering adds an extra layer of grit to the song. Drums rain down while chaos bubbles to the surface, but then everything halts, and we’re in solemn sailing. Speaking and trippy adventures combine, working into the clouds as drone buzzes heavily, and the track returns to its bed in the stars. The final two pieces combine both bands, starting with “Pluto (The Gatekeeper) Part I” that’s an 11:30-long ambient passage that hosts a deep noise storm that reaches its long arms around you, as spirits from deep in the universe stretch their influences into our minds, leading to finale “Pluto (The Gatekeeper) Part II” that lasts a cool 12 minutes. The track opens in mystery before shrieks strike out of nowhere, and alien keys land and soak the ground. Guitars build a blaze before the music numbs momentarily before the next explosion. The serving of ferocity stomps as terrifying cries jolt from beyond, the leads fire up, and a bed of keys brings a steamy atmosphere that floats off into worlds unexplored.

Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum not only are musically aligned, but they are cosmically as well as they prove yet again on “Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine,” already an early contender for one of the best collections that will come out this year. Their individual pieces stand apart from each other but also intermingle, and when they combine forces for the last two songs, this whole thing truly comes together. Granted, this record is a monster that takes a significant time contribution to handle at once, but that time you set aside will be more than worth it once you reach the end of this adventure, absolutely floored by what you just heard.

For more on Spectral Lore, go here: https://www.facebook.com/spectral.lorebm

For more on Mare Cognitum, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MareCognitumMusic/

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

Or here: https://marecognitum.bandcamp.com/album/wanderers-astrology-of-the-nine

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

And here: https://www.facebook.com/entropicrecordings/

My Dying Bride overcome family trauma, band turmoil to create doom destroyer ‘Ghost of Orion’

Life is cruel and often makes no sense, which sometimes makes it impossible to have any real hope or, for some, take solace in spiritual beings who apparently have our best interests in mind. It’s one of those reasons that when I find myself complaining about some mundane problem or thing that’s just annoying me, I make myself remember there are worse problems out there, and this will pass.

So, when you imagine all of the things that go wrong in this world, there are few things as senseless and devastating as a child having to stare down their mortality. That’s one of the many things that faced long-standing doom institution My Dying Bride in the time that followed their last record, 2015’s “Feel the Misery,” an album that had a title no one could have predicted would come true as painfully as it did. Yeah, the band faced untimely departures of some of its members since then, but that would be nothing compared to vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s 5-year-old daughter being diagnosed with cancer. Luckily for her and for the Stainthorpe family, she would defeat that heartless menace, but the emotional toll had to be enormous. That said, this and members leaving the fold served to galvanize My Dying Bride, and they return with “The Ghost of Orion,” a record that continues on the high note “Misery” struck and is an album that is pure MDB through and through. The band—Stainthorpe is joined by guitarist Andrew Craighan, bassist Lena Abé, keyboardist/violin player Shaun Macgowan, and drummer Jeff Singer—hammers through an eight-track, 56-minute gem that feels like the band is still reveling in their classic days, broken but unbowed.

“Your Broken Shore” starts the record, and it’s an early indication as to just how powerful this collection is. Stainthorpe is of strong voice from the start, mixing clean vocals over the verses, harsher during the chorus as he calls, “The doom of your broken shore, it washes over me, hair woven of the sun and the sea.” A quiet haze of strings sweeps as the song pulls back and forth, ending on a fiery note. “To Outlive the Gods” opens up guitars as slow-driving despair scrapes the ground, and the chorus strikes you right in the chest. An emotional pall adds heaviness as Stainthorpe wails, “Ruin came slowly and devoured all of me,” as sorrowful leads flood, and the track trickles away in pain. “Tired of Tears” unloads gut-wrenching power as the strings darken, as Stainthorpe admits, “I know no life can live forever.” The chorus is weighty and gripping, as he calls, “Lay not thy hand upon, lay no hand on my daughter,” which strikes hard as he recalls his family’s rough past. The singing is passionate and heartfelt here, and the somber strings add the ideal level of darkness. “The Solace” features Lindy Fay Hella of Wardruna on vocals, as she adds a haunting edge to a song that only gushes guitars as the ambiance drifts over like a slow-moving storm.

“The Long Black Land” runs nearly 10 minutes and starts with quivering strings and deeper vocals, as Stainthorpe urges, “Listen to my voice,” as the skies blacken. A sense of calm arrives, cool winds blow, and the track feels almost nautical, lapping as the song begins to pick up again. Guitars coat with condensation as Stainthorpe urges, “Hold my hand, young one,” before the song comes to a melodic end. The title track is a quick interlude with clean guitars spiraling, whispers swirling, and the fog encircling. “The Old Earth” is the longest track, running 10:30 and immersing itself in clean doom. The vocals drip before the song begins to carve forcefully, and then fierce growls erupt and unleash grit and murk. The track hits gothy waters as grim growls drop their hammers, with the pace shifting violently, and mercy refuses to arrive. The playing beats down forcefully, strings moan, and then everything disappears into smoke. “Your Woven Shore” is a slight return of the opening track, lettings its melody swim through the body of the song, angelic voices sweep through, and the track spills onto mystery.

My Dying Bride had a stretch they surely would not wish in the worst of Earth’s enemies, but in the end, the most important issues were triumphed over, and we have “The Ghost of Orion” as a result. This is a record with which I spent a great deal of time ever since it landed in my lap, and it’s a master class of true blackness and dark chaos, of which this band has dominated in their three decades of existence. Hopefully the band’s darkest days personally are behind them and they continue to reward us with gut-wrenching, elegant doom for years to come.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

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

Canis Dirus return from beyond with cold, passionate display on raw ‘Independence to the Beast’

Artists take time away from their projects for myriad reasons, and it’s really none of our business why it happens. But for as prolific as some artists seem to be, there are others that aren’t constantly cranking out material. But when they do, a lot of times it was worth the wait.

We haven’t gotten a new full-length from Minnesota black metal duo Canis Dirus in eight long years, the last one being “Anden om norr” that was released in 2012. Last year, things started to stir with the arrival of their “Das Leben ist fur die Lebenden, der Tod ist fur Alle” EP, and later in the year, the band—vocalist Rob Hames, multi-instrumentalist Todd Paulson—announced they would be returning with a new full-length under the Bindrune Recordings banner, bringing more nature enthusiasts under that label’s embrace. That new record is now arriving in the form of “Independence to the Beast,” a six-track crusher that feels explosive and raw at the same time, a new blast of fury from two guys who take their time and craft their work to their own specifications. Taking their name from the ancient dire wolf, the band prides itself in celebrating life’s natural birth and death cycles, and within that is creative and spiritual rebirth, a stage in which they’re now operating.

“We Are the Ancient Ones” tears the lid off the record with fierce shrieks and the playing burning flesh before things settles into a slower pace. There’s a rock feel underneath the chaos before wrenching power is unleashed again, with eerie synth coming in to chill your blood. The leads warm up again and usher in punishing waves before noise hangs in the air and drifts away. “Father” delves back to the band’s folk roots as acoustics pick their way through the weeds, and the verses are more spoken than sung, with Hames wondering, “Father, am I strong enough?” before asserting, “Yes, son, stronger than he,” as the song ends in reflective pools. “The Child and the Serpent” has synth building and creating ambiance before the power erupts, and the metallic assault takes on a dusty feel. Shrieks scrape as the song mixes light and dark, feeling hypnotic and strange at times during this 11:49 journey, as guitars quiver and echo. “It comes to you like the serpent came to Eve, your eyes will be open, and you will be like god,” is a statement that jolts the final moments before the track drains into the river.

“To Cast the Runes” also brings folk spirits back into the mix with spoken lines that climb into your brain and a mesmerizing inhibition that melts thoughts. “Extreme Might of Resolve” explodes with shrieks and dizzying guitars before synth meets up with bending riffs, and the music spirals into freezing terrain. Manic shrieks then fire up as the playing begins to maul, letting a classic metal-style riff have its space to develop and knock you flat on your ass. It’s a killer. That guitar line keeps coming back for more as a solo rips hearts, and the playing clubs your muscles into shape. “Unyielding” closes the album, and it’s the longest track at 15:46. It starts in a bed of melody before chaotic playing strikes hard, bringing moodiness and outright violence. The song has a vibe that makes me think of being lost in the forest with the midday sun beating down, and a calm folkish sprawl arrives and is burnt to a crisp by a terrifying assault that could tear doors off their hinges. The track steamrolls as noise builds to a climax, murky and trippy playing enters, and the track is allowed to bleed away slowly, taking with it your mind and spirit.

Time away can be valuable both for the artists who make music and for the listeners who consume and celebrate it, as it allows us a chance to remember what it was about a band that made them special in the first place. “Independence to the Beast” very well could be that thing for long-waiting Canis Dirus devotees, and the six tracks that greet you at their gnarly gates will ensure you that the fires are blazing as hot and heavily as ever.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

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

Pure Wrath revisit horrific time in Indonesian history on jarring, charred EP ‘The Forlorn Soldier’

Every country’s history is packed with both positive and negative events that helped shape society and get people to where they are today, for better or worse. It seems like a lot of times people don’t want to reflect on the things that don’t shine a good light on one’s homeland, yet shelving those things don’t help us learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them in the future.

Indonesian black metal band Pure Wrath has unearthed one of those on their thunderous new EP “The Forlorn Soldier,” a three-track effort that trades quantity for utter brutality. This release looks back on the Indonesian genocides in 1965 and 1966 when the Indonesian army turned its wrath on Communist Party of Indonesia members, Gerwani women, ethnic races, and other leftist sympathizers in violent attacks that cost countless lives. This album focuses on a story on one family whose members vanished swallowed up by the evils of nationalism. That makes this material far more terrifying than any satanic or demon-driven metal because these events are real things that happened to people and tore lives apart. Reality is always more frightening. The band is the brainchild of Januaryo Hardy, though he gets contributions from drummer Yurii Kononov (formerly of White Ward) and piano from Dice Midyanti (Victorian), and this is the band’s second EP to go along with two full-length albums, the last one being 2018’s “Sempiternal Wisdom.”

“When a Great Man Dies” starts things off with blistering fury as melody floods over, and Hardy’s nightmarish shrieks strike. Keys come in and rain over the chaos while the rage builds to a boil. Storming playing saturates the ground before soulful clean calling mixes in, changing the dynamic for a stretch before synth wafts in, and warbled speaking bows out with the song. “Children of the Homeland” ruptures from the start as riffs begin to make their way in, and murky synth lets a fog envelope. Shrieks rain down as the pace grows more frantic, and then clean playing introduced serenity for a bit, as the music float on waves before it ruptures again. The keys leave a glistening glaze as the music pounds the shore, shrieking smothers, and the track ends hellaciously.  “With Their Names Engraved” closes the album, beginning with clean notes that trickle  before riffs cascade, and the track spills guts dramatically. Clean singing mixes with slower-driving playing that remains just as heavy, while a synth cloud drops before the music gushes with power. A short clean part changes the pace for a stretch before eerie calls go out, passionate guitars erupt, and the track churns to its emotional finish.

Hardy’s revisiting a horrific era in his country’s history can’t be easy to confront, but he does so with blunt emotion and power on “The Forlorn Soldier.” The music continues to evolve for this project, as this EP pushes their sound even more atmospheric and demonstrates the possibilities Hardy possesses for Pure Wrath. This is a band and release that deserves the greater exposure it will get from Debemur Morti, and hopefully more people will learn about this project’s music as well as the terrible events that never should be repeated again.

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/band/pure-wrath

Or here (Europe): https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/422-pure-wrath-shop

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Drown imagine immersion in water as traumatic metaphor on dark ‘Subaqueous’

Photo by Lillian Liu

I went white water rafting once. Once. I already didn’t like water a hell of a lot, at least not natural bodies that could have their way with me, and my nerves during said excursion are likely what led me to fall off the raft, briefly get my leg caught on a rock, and think I was never going to see the surface again. Let’s not even get into my anxiety outside of that.

The Marvok Soroka-driven project Drown used that name because the music under this banner follows a protagonist as the person slowly becomes submerged—not necessarily literally—and feels the great pressure as the lungs take on water. So, on the second Drown album “Subaqueous,” it’s not that you’re hearing a tale about a person slowly dying under water; it’s about someone facing grief and depression, finding the earth slowly sinking beneath the crust, and the idea of control or solace being the furthest thing from the mind. Musically, you’re overcome by true aquatic doom, as the blackness of the sea surrounds you, sometimes feeling like a picture of beauty, at others creating a scene that sparks claustrophobia and panic and you struggle against yourself to reach the surface. It’s been six long years since we got the first chapter of this tale (2014’s “Unsleep”) from Soroka ( also of Tchornobog and Aureole), and it stills feel like the weight of an entire ocean sits on top of us.

“VI: Mother Cetacean” opens the record and runs a healthy 20:52 yet isn’t the longest song of the pair. Waves rush in and flood as guitars drip and a heavy doom curtain falls, enveloping everything in shadows. Riffs melt stone, and the emotional playing tears at the guts, with Soroka’s deep lurching growls sending shocks through your system. The sea’s utter blackness and hopelessness are never more apparent as the track floats into solitary fear, floating into cavernous noise and music that feels like it’s efforting to stay above water. Wild wails curse as the track tears forward at a calculated clip, as guitars trickle lightly, draining off into the void that swallowed whole by sorrowful strings and echoing that sound like you’re succumbing to the beyond.

“VII: Father Subaqueous” is the final track and the mammoth cut at 21:04. Again, the waters overwhelm as sadness feels like it comes from the depths and utterly claims you. The vocals wrench as clean playing arrives like a steady drizzle, soaking clothing and adding to the misery, and then Soroka’s lurching growls return and consume before lights wash over again. That leads into a vast expanse that brings in a deathrock vibe before the song reopens and wails away. The leads catch fire, and the emotion crushes before the guitars turn the screws again, and the tempo brings added pressure. A warm haze hovers overhead as the string bed returns and brings a haunting elegance, while the music crescendos heavily, the music moans, and the playing bows out at sea.

It’s easy to feel lost, hopelessly sinking, and out of control when grief and depression take hold, and only someone who has faced these things could possibly understand the pain involved. Drown’s “Subaqueous” is a trip into that world, only instead of just feeling pressure from a mental state, it’s from being swallowed whole by a massive, unmoving body of water over which you have no control. The misery and chaos are real, and perhaps the only way out is to become one with that very watery burial ground into which you’re forever submerged.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/drown-subaqueous

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

Izthmi emerge from Seattle with fierce tale of finding solace on massive ‘The Arrow of Our Ways’

I would imagine mental health providers are having a hell of a time trying to treat the people who come to them for care. That’s the ones who haven’t been trampled by our medical system, but that’s a story for a different time. I know that I’ve been murky and struggling more than usual, and it’s not a big surprise considering how stressful every new day seems to be.

Trying to find solace within or even be able to get a better sense of self also is a challenge, something that’s at the heart of Izthmi’s stunning debut record “The Arrow of Our Ways.” The record is a concept piece about trying to find inner peace despite the struggles we face every day, most of which we can’t control. The band’s music is based primarily on melodic black metal and riffs that come at you in waves, but there also are elements of noise, ambiance, and darkness that envelop the music and deliver it to the center of your heart. The band—Jakob Keizer (vocals, synths, modulators), Autumn Day and Brett Tomsett (guitars), Gabe Kangas (bass), and Nolan Head (drums)—has been around for about four years now, hailing from Seattle and having just a demo to their credit before this release. But this group sounds far more seasoned and powerful than their years, and this eight-track, nearly 46-minute display should turn tons of heads.

“Chasm” begins sounding like the world’s gravity is weighing down on it and crushing it as keys mix and, and a cosmic treatment is spread, blending into “To Traipse Alone” that immediately floods your senses with melody. Fierce shrieks arrive and bring molten rock with them, but then cleaner guitars blend in and bring calm. That doesn’t last long as things erupt again as grisly vocals punish, with a thunderous assault working its way toward prog-minded soloing. The pace shreds flesh, getting thrashy, while everything then blends into “This Listless World” that trickles in before being ripped apart. Intricate playing sprawls while Keizer’s screams pelt the chest, continually building into an all-out assault. The drums clobber shit, the growls twist, and guitars sicken as things burn into delirium. The vocals drive down hard before things come to a destructive finish.  “Interlude” has sounds glimmering and a hypnotic edge before melting into the ground.

“Useless Is the Song of Man, From Throats Calloused by Name” has jarring riffs and floods the scene with its might, as gazey sequences cloud the skies, and the melodies multiply themselves. The track then gets a little more into gritty death terrain, speeding and thrusting before cool winds arrive. Clean chant singing chills the flesh before the power ramps up again, the momentum storms, and the track bleeds into a wall of fog. “A Shout That Bursts Through the Silence of Unmeaning” brings another tidal wave of exuberant melody before acoustics take over and offer a hush, letting your panic subside. Then it’s onto another burst with Keizer’s shrieks ripping through bone and the track soaring into the atmosphere. Guitars sweep while the growls crush rock with the song entering a tornadic sweep before quiet guitars arrive and relieve your wounds. “(The Angels Are Lost)” is a quick instrumental built on a reading of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which is heavily recommended, and then it’s into the closing title track that explodes and brings ferocity and turmoil. That playing twists your brain while the music cascades, working into a monstrous pace that tramples away. The tempo stomps and wrenching melodies make their final stand, bringing Keizer’s last gasp of thunderous shrieks before the song ends abruptly.

I feel like a broken record saying this, but our journeys through life seem to get more challenging as these past few years have gone on, watching our social constructs and climate measures collapse. Izthmi’s “The Arrow of Our Ways” is a jarring trip through that, and its rushing power never relents through this record, even when the sounds are quieter and more reserved. This is an album that can pummel you if you just take on the music, but pouring yourself into the entire experience can perhaps ease your trouble a bit as you climb these hills, hopefully not alone.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://withinthemindrecords.bigcartel.com/

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

Insect Ark’s instrumental chaos envelops mind, creates journeys amid mysteries on ‘The Vanishing’

Photo by Chris Carlone

I had a discussion with a fellow writer a few years ago about instrumental music and the ability to tell stories within its confines. His assertion was that without words, there is no way to really push forward a plot. I countered that artists who truly understand the medium don’t have the limitations that words add to a story, and the ability to create an imaginative world is even greater. Obviously, I’m right.

A few months ago, I had a chance to see Insect Ark as they played the support slot for Oranssi Pazuzu, and when their 45-minute set was done, I had to go sit down to collect myself. Their sprawling, hypnotic music is delivered sans words, and their masterful grip was such that I was locked into what they were doing from moment one, and that didn’t relent until their final note. I had already been a fan of the band before seeing them, but their set elevated them to truly special status. All of that also paved the way for “The Vanishing,” the band’s new record and one of their most impressive albums so far. For this record, Dana Schechter (guitars, pedal steel, synth) is joined by drummer Andy Patterson (formerly of SubRosa) on a six-track journey that, if you’re willing to submit to their creative path, will take you on a mental excursion that will fuck you up at times, leave you breathlessly enthralled at other point. Schechter imagined a scenario of being lost at sea, with no hopes of being found, playing on the idea of just how small we are in our world and universe. That’s a hell of a concept to try to take on and not lose your mind in the process.

“Tectonic” starts with a thick riff, the drums kicking in, and the feelings inside you soaring. A Western vibe drips color over the playing while cosmic sounds swirl in the clouds, and the track keeps rumbling. The sounds disorient as they develop, slowly pummeling with fluttering keys and the track bleeding away. “Three Gates” leaks guitars strumming and the drums unfurling as dusty melodies work their way into the DNA, and things begin to slur. The playing stomps and chews while a psyche edge numbs, bowing out to the dusk. “Philae” arrives in a flurry of drumming as guitars whir and buzz. A mesmerizing haze intoxicates with churning guitars and the rhythm tapping away. Keys rise like a swarm of insects, slipping through the darkness, and hypnosis gets inside of you before succumbing.

“Danube” has strange noises creating a bizarre environment before guitars melt, and that leads into freezing solemnity. Sounds squirm and guitars weep, and then keys well up to create a thick mist that stings the skin before fading. “Swollen Sun” has the music swelling up, creating a thick gray stream that bathes in space murk. The playing hulks through the galaxy like a beam, decimating the surface as your mind is lost in a dream. The title cut closes the album, running a healthy 10:51 and slowly making its presence known. Lasers form and cut through the playing as the pace hovers, and the Western skies again hang over the song. Slide guitars darken the track while strange waves create frightful confusion, and that ominously slithers toward heavy chunking. The guitars make the room spin as the drums pace, letting your imagination wander, as the tempo and volume increase. The track doubles up its efforts to open wounds, while everything becomes a combined force that bleeds into the sun.

Insect Ark’s music doesn’t need words to be effective, which they prove convincingly on “The Vanishing.” This band is able to help you conjure visions and stories in your head as the music passes through your ears and spills into your veins, and where you go with that is entirely up to you. This record is another sold building block for Insect Ark, and the more people that come in contact with them, the more beings whose imaginations will be expanded for the better.

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

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

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

Dutch mind flayers Fluisteraars unveil inspiration from flowers’ life, eventual decay with ‘Bloem’

It’s winter here on the East Coast, or so the calendar would lead us to believe. It’s really not that cold, and snow has been awfully hard to come by the past few months. Anyway, spring isn’t that far away, and very soon, life will spring again in the natural world, filling our hillsides with lush trees and our gardens with plants and flowers.

It’s fitting, then, that Dutch black metal enigma Fluisteraars has returned to our world with their imaginative third record “Bloem,” a collection of songs that takes flowers as its primary guiding point. All you have to do is look at the dreamy album cover to know that and then dig into these songs, which are lush and rich, brimming with life and violence. At the same time, flowers eventually decay and also can be symbols of death, giving them a duality that makes their presence even more meaningful. “Bloem” is the band’s first new record in five years (the last one was 2015’s “Luwte”), and it develops even deeper than what we heard from them in the past, and they’ve never exactly adhered to borders. What we get from Fluisteraars—vocalist/lyricist Bob Mollema and guitarist/drummer/primary songwriter Mink Koops—is a further trip into black metal’s earthy terrain where emotion is at its apex, and the color palette from which the music is drawn is vast and free.

“Tere Muur” opens the record with stiff punches before the melody unloads, and the music fires up. Scathing vocals begin to chew at the senses as the playing rushes hard, and absolute mental chaos in unleashed. Power continues to spill as tremendous storming arrives, and the track ends with a furious blast. “Nasleep” has guitars stampeding and a delirious assault as destruction spreads itself, only to be swallowed by echoes. Hypnotic calls mix with strange interference, and then the track stomps ahead, simmering in sound. Keys drip through a dreamy sequence, and then the track comes back to life, gazey clouds collect, and a mid-tempo surge ends the song in the atmosphere.

“Eeuwige Ram” starts with, you guessed it, plenty of melody as the howled vocals whip through a blood surge of playing. The ambiance then thickens and plays tricks with your mind, while the song gets catchy and mesmerizing. Horns and synth combine to add another layer of meaning, while the final two minutes of the song stage a spirited, rustling jaunt. “Vlek” unloads with a hail of nails and scraping vocals, creating a scene that’s dangerous and bloody. Gusty playing then meets up with a folkish sequence, bringing some calm to this piece. The power kicks back in as the riffs enrapture, and an extended section of playing allows the band time to develop a spirit. Torches burn and are held aloft, while the song pours its guts until it has no more to give. “Maanruïne” ends the record by turning up a fluid vision that is broken up by vicious growls. Acoustics and horns take over, bustling and ripping through the weeds, before breezy “woah-oh” chants arrive. The song remains heartfelt and blood-surging before acoustics return, and a thick fog creates a place for the track to disappear.

Fluisteraars’ music isn’t likely for those faux tough dudes with rigid tastes who think black metal can be one thing and one thing only. “Bloem” is proof that the rewards are even greater when artists push beyond and paint with strokes that so many others fear to try. This is sweeping, heartfelt music that feels like a storm is brewing, eventually saturating the ground and making it possible for life to bloom eternal from it.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.eisenton.de/en/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Intronaut put everyday uncertainty to test on icy ‘Fluid Existential Inversions’

Living from day to day never has been more challenging. For me, anyway, and I’m sure for a lot of you. Mental illness remains a major factor in our lives, and the only time it ever seems to get addressed is with lip service when people don’t want to pay attention other things ruining lives. Everyday is a mystery, and not always in a good way, as we try to move from one anxious moment to the next.

The constant instability facing us everyday is a major part of what inspired “Fluid Existential Inversions,” the wondrous sixth record from LA prog-metal inventors Intronaut, and their first for Metal Blade. We live in volatile times, and things are not so black and white that easy solutions aren’t just pulled out of thin air. Not that Intronaut are here to help you find any of those; rather, their music can stand as a gateway to let you branch out and explore what’s inside your heart and mind. It’s also been a decade and a half since this band formed, and their approach to this record wasn’t to crank out ideas they’d already processed. They easily could have fallen into old patters and still created a great piece of work, but they pushed aside comfort and instead went with what moved them (the addition of keyboards being a major and most welcome change). What resulted is the band—guitarist/vocalist Sacha Dunable, guitarist Dave Timnick, and bassist Joe Lester (Alex Rudinger handled drums on the album)—created a timeless, fresh new Intronaut record that challenges and enthralls, never making it sound like they’re smarter than you are, and always inviting you in for the journey, even if it’s one you’ll have to take in your own mind.

“Procurement of the Victuals” is an instrumental open that drip colors before pounding away, paving the way toward “Cubensis” and its intricate fury. The chorus is swelling and colorful as Dunable calls, “The things you see all melt in your mind,” as the band bursts through that in psychedelic fashion. The track melts into breezier terrain, letting you drift for an extended period before the hammer drops, the chorus returns, and rubbery playing takes us out. “The Cull” is both cosmic and muddy as hell as Dunable’s growls grow dense, and crunchy muck gnaws at muscle. A synth gaze sweeps into a chorus that bustles before the song takes to your dreams, and the blended singing makes your head spin. That dissolves into a prog explosion than filters out into the sky. “Contrapasso” is gritty when it starts with Dunable observing, “It turned out to be a dream,” as things remain within the rocks. Guitars swelter and join with a synth fog, letting spacey strangeness dot the evening sky. The pace reopens as deeply harmonized singing makes your blood flow, and the guitars act as a numbing agent.

“Speaking of Orbs” releases synth pulses and fully opens up its ribcage, leading into a tremendous chorus that might be the best of a group of good ones. The track crushes from there as the bass menaces, and imaginative pathways are revealed before a pummeling close. “Tripolar” buzzes when it starts as Dunable calls out, “I thought I had escaped, of course I never would,” before nasty tones are brought forth. The band unleashes destructive power before evolving into strange cosmic jazz that cools the skin and fills your head with stars. The playing keeps jabbing at your chest before the track comes to a blistering finish. “Check Your Misfortune” unloads cagey violence and leaves ample flesh bruising. Cool verses merge with melodies that seem to have come from beyond as it flows gently but weirdly. The propulsive keys make me think of King Crimson, and the final moments bash away at the gates. “Pangloss” starts with a gnarly riff and buzzing vocals as the chorus rises, and the bands cuts through everything. Suddenly, if feels like dusk arrives as the music has a total nighttime vibe, numbing your brain and blasting out. “Sour Everythings” closes the album by bending into the scene with the bass stomping and the playing chewing through steel. All forces align and work to destroy from the inside out, smashing away at boundaries both musically and mentally. Guitars rise and mangle as the playing crushes teeth before a cooling breeze eases over the bubbling flesh, and the track bleeds away.

Our existence is fragile and volatile, both literally and metaphorically, and every day we’re alive trying to deal with surrounding circumstances of which we have no control. Intronaut bring both a sense of imaginative purpose and volcanic fury to the table on “Fluid Existential Inversions,” and a single journey through the music will open your mind to many ideas perhaps you never considered before. Intronaut refused to play it safe when creating this sixth record, reaching beyond comfort to find answers, which we might also have to do if we’re to successfully navigate our daily lives.

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

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

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

Blood Spore imagine hellacious tendril invasion to maul us on ‘Fungal Warfare Upon All Life’

Let’s face what has become pretty obvious: We’re kind of fucked. Sure, there is time to reverse the damage we’ve done to the planet and ensure there’s a healthy future beyond our own life cycles, but have you met some of the people in charge of making decisions for us? You think those criminally corrupt wastes of existence are going to save the day?

So, what is the answer to saving this place? Maybe it’s not humanity. Perhaps it’s not about saving anything, Maybe it’s an alien lifeform looking from beyond, seeing fertile ground, and realizing the opportunities locked within if only we weren’t here recklessly destroying shit. That’s a premise of “Fungal Warfare Upon All Life,” the nasty debut EP from Philly maulers Blood Spore. They imagine a fleet of, in their words, “poisonous tendrils dripping with infected blood” that arrive here to do battle for our home planet. Shit’s not looking good for us, by the way. The band—bassist/vocalist Christopher Emerson, guitarists Luke Gary and Kylar Bartee, and drummer Fred Grabosky—released this music on their own last year, but Blood Harvest swooped in and are releasing this beast on cassette, CD, and vinyl, bringing this hideous mission to more folks hungry to hear about our gory demise.

“Hostile Fruiting Bodies” begins with slowly trudging death and gruesome vocals, making for a furious display. Burly and punchy, the riffs chew into your sides, the bass unloads, and the leads smear blood over everything on front of it. Ugly growls send some final shrapnel, as the song ends in abrupt grossness. “Code to the Saprophyte” has guitars emerging and stinging, as hypnotic waves explode and cloud your brain with storms. The track slowly pulverizes, entering sludgy waters and bringing with it ugliness and hellish torment. Their mauling then is ramped up further, destroying what it can get its proverbial hands on as the growls corrode bones. The leads ignite flames, while the track blends out into echoing insanity. Closer “Apex Colony” stomp and tears itself apart with the riffs crushing and the growls splattering. The playing is utterly devastating as the earth’s new overlords land with noise hanging overhead and a humid assault clouding your senses. The leads twist into smashing chaos as soot engulfs the lungs, while the growls peels back the flesh. Doomy guitars emerge and darken skies, blending into an ambient haze eventually swallowed for good by alien tides.

The way we treat our home planet, we really don’t deserve it, and if there’s a group of outside beings with their sights on our world who plan to treat it better, could you blame them for trying? Blood Spore’s story might be fictional in theory, but who’s to know if we aren’t being watched by some other group who see this place’s possibilities as ripe with only us in the way? “Fungal Warfare Upon All Life” could be the first shots in that battle, and when it’s over, humankind might be the ones on the outside looking in on a place we never really appreciated.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.bloodharvest.se/?s=blood+spore&post_type=product

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