PICK OF THE WEEK: Rundle, Thou combine their immersive forces on ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’

Photo by Craig Mulcahy

When I was a kid, my friends and I would go on and on about what would happen if Jason Vorhees from the “Friday the 13th” series battled Freddy Krueger from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise and what that would be like. The bloodshed! The horror movie high spots! The victims that suffer along the way! Of course, when we got it, it was … meh.

Still, a meeting of powerful forces is what we get in musical form when Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou met up to create “May Our Chambers Be Full,” a seven-track collaborative record that brings them together into a singular expression that feel likes their union is cosmic. By the way, this record is a million times the superior of the “Jason vs. Freddy” movie, but it’s Halloween and all of that. That thought of major powers meeting remains relevant though as putting these two together on paper seemed like a really captivating idea, but in execution, it surpassed even what we held in dreams thinking about this album. Rundle and Thou—vocalist Bryan Funck, guitarists Andy Gibb, KC Stafford, and Matthew Thudium, bassist Mitch Well, drummer Tyler Coburn—create their own world here. This is not Rundle singing over a Thou record; this isn’t Thou pounding into an ERR creation. This is an experience only possible through DNA from every member mixed and allowed to fully realize their combined vision.

“Killing Floor” starts with guitars rising from ashes before the track bursts open, and Rundle’s voice leads the way. Funck plays more of a back-up role here as his growls complement the singing, while the chorus trudges on, and Rundle calls, “Move your body from this place.” The voices then switch roles as shrieks scrape, and the gaze burns off, leaving scorched earth behind. “Monolith” is crushing and clobbering from the start as Rundle’s voice transforms to a higher plane, sounding more like she does with Marriages. The pressure keeps building as her singing swelters, with the back end picking up filth, and the track mauling on its way out. “Out of Existence” is sweeping and dreamy as it blossoms with Rundle’s voice floating above the chaos, and then the bottom drops. Funck’s growls tear through guts, feeling animalistic as the playing matches. A deep fog opens and covers with thickness while moody leads lean in, Rundle’s voice powers, with the track ending in a sound warp. “Ancestral Recall” starts Rundle opening the track before the growls swallow serenity whole, and the guitar work spirals and mystifies. Rundle whips back in and she and Funck join in true duet mode, blood streaking clouds, letting the intensity fill your chest with emotion.

“Magickal Cost” starts rusty and like something that crawls out of the evening dusk, a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Rundle’s solo albums. Guitars echo and moan as the sun sets and splashes oranges and purples across the sky, and then the ugliness rears its head as Funck digs into the center, with guitars glimmering. The drums hammer as the dual vocals mash together, leaving a power surge in soft echo. “Into Being” starts in a hush with Rundle’s singing mixing with Funck’s harsh tones, with strings drizzling honey over hell. The crunch arrives with the chorus lighting up the night while the leads take off and blaze, charring the ground and evaporating into the mud. “The Valley” ends the album, and it’s as monumental track, an 8:58-long rush of emotion that makes your heart cry out. Strings swell as Rundle’s singing slithers into the murk as she calls, “The fear of giving up is in the valley.” Drums echo as the violin slowly melts, feeling like it’s about to wither away before the power is charged up. Rundle and Funck join swords, giving their words two different textures and perspectives, causing you to quake where you sit as souls are destroyed, hearts diced and splattered.

Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou coming together already felt like a dream from a parallel universe, but “May Our Chambers Be Full” is even more immersive and magical than anticipated. The fact that both these forces meld together so well feels like they were meant to create as one, and every moment of this record should have you wondering if your heart and ravaged body can take anymore. This may be ERR’s and Thou’s first full journey together, but I really hope it’s nowhere near their last.

For more on Emma Ruth Rundle, go here: https://www.facebook.com/emmaruthrundle/

For more on Thou, go here: http://noladiy.org/thou.html

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/releases/products/sba007-emma-ruth-rundle-thou-may-our-chambers-be-full

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

Countless Skies inject color, emotion into progressive death metal on expansive opus ‘Glow’

Having a lot of music being made and more options for listeners is a great thing, and you’d have to try awfully hard to seek out something that’ll move you and fail completely. That’s ideal for a listener who can pick and choose what they want to hear, but when you’re writing about it—yes, this again, get your own site, then—the ocean of releases can be intimidating and exhausting.

When I got the promo package for “Glow,” the second record from UK-based Countless Skies, I wasn’t really bursting with excitement off the bat because progressive melo-death isn’t really something that makes me all that excited. But I try to stay open-minded, and I trust Willowtip, so I dug in, and if I’m not a complete judgmental asshole! This record is absolutely nothing like what I thought at all, and I’ve been fully immersed with each trip I’ve taken alongside these seven tracks. While, yes, progressive in nature, this band isn’t noodling the fuck all over themselves and instead find ways to work interesting patterns into their melodic death, which is gritty, satisfying, and soaring. That Countless Skies—vocalist/guitarist Ross King, guitarist James Pratt, bassist/vocalist Phil Romeo, drummer Nathan Robshaw—pull this off with such precision and actual human heart is impressive, and while it might not be edgy enough for some, I really like the mix of spacious and devastating, dealt in balanced servings.

“Tempest” starts the record with waves crashing before the crunch hits, and then spacious playing rushes along with King’s growls setting in. The chorus is huge with clean singing surging, with keys fluttering after that, and a total prog assault arriving. Emotion floods as guitars explode, with the song draining out. “Summit” begins with rich gothy keys and a chugging pace as huge vocals explode, and the growls utterly swelter. The chorus feels gigantic and gets your blood going as we head into a fog with the bass swaggering, synth zapping, and grisly growls taking the track to its end. “Moon” starts in a noise haze as the keys drive, and a crunchy fury pokes holes in the walls. The chorus is sweeping and massive as progressive winds push, and the guitars burn openly. The final moments allow for some final bursts as the track disappears into the horizon. “Zephyr” trickles in coldly as the keys set up shop, and the bass actively wrestles its way through the weeds. The vibe is solemn and fitting of the early evening, when the skies grow sleepy, as the final minutes break out and explode with crazed fire.

The record is wrapped up by the “Glow” triptych, which runs over a healthy 20:29 and starts with “Part 1” that emerges out of a thick haze as bass trickery unleashes its strangeness. Guitars darken as clean singing swelters, with the growls bursting behind that like a beast in the night. Guitars smear as the playing boils, with parts of the track soaring, other sections diving deep into ocean waters. Guitars give off the day’s final rays of light, mixing into “Part 2” that jolts with energy and atmosphere, with King’s singing firing off energy. Growls add an element of ugliness as the leads take off, and a heartfelt gust of playing kicks up dust, cold keys chill, and we head into the final segment “Part 3.” Acoustics sweep with synth bursts as King’s singing opens and fills your chest. The melodies swirl as the guitars send electrical charges, and the fiery pace is on, with the playing quaking the earth. The growls scrape at flesh as the pace dizzies and clobbers, and the final hammer is dropped as the light fades.

Countless Skies aren’t concerned with pure savagery at all corners, as their commitment to melody and true human emotion make “Glow” a record that isn’t just here to get you maimed. This is a really energetic album, one that gets inside of you from the start and lets you explore every corner of the world they create. Granted, the world seems flooded with bands mixing prog into melodic death metal, but few do it with the precision and heart that are shown by Countless Skies.  

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.willowtip.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.willowtip.com/home.aspx

Death metal elite Carcass blast back with punchy EP ‘Despicable’ that maintains surgical essence

There’s no real reason to wax poetic in this introduction, because we’re here to talk about Carcass, one of death metal’s most legendary bands, so they don’t need me trying to establish an ambiance in order to discuss them. They have a new EP, it precedes their next full-length that is expected in 2021 (that is if 2020 ever truly ends), and it’s a pretty good time.

“Despicable” is the band’s first release since their incredible 2013 return album “Surgical Steel,” a record that was met with an avalanche of praise, and rightfully so. These four new songs follow along that’s same path, so if you dug “Surgical Steel, you’re going to feel pretty at home with this collection. I’m not sure these songs are better than anything that’s on “Surgical,” but they’re in the same league, and if you’re like me, the more you visit, the more you’ll like these cuts. The band—bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker, guitarists Bill Steer and Tom Draper, drummer Daniel Wilding—maintain their edge, ripping out quality melodic death metal that remains bloody and deadly, which is really all anyone could ask.

“The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue” bleeds in with guitars rising before the punches are thrown, and Walker’s growls scrape away. The guitars tangle as the pace changes up and tramples, and soloing unleashes steam that wilts wills, coming back with a pulverizing pace that is catchy and chaotic as the track comes to its end. “The Long and Winding Bier Road” has snaking riffs and strong melody over the verses while the song makes good on its title by taking you on neck-jerk bends. Vicious growls dig into the flesh, trudging amid fluid guitar work that scatters. The fun main riff then rounds back and helps the track end with a crunch. “Under the Scalpel Blade” has the guitars sinking its talons as things get thrashy, and a maniacal chorus plays with your psyche. Vicious riffs arrive as soloing blinds and glimmers, lighting up the room while the momentum barrels through and burns off. “Slaughtered in Soho” unleashes great guitar work and a more channeled pace that aims to leave bruising. Melodic leads ice bruised flesh as the soloing ignites fires but also explores outer space, giving an essence of strangeness before the track comes to its end.

We still have a little but of time to wait before we get the proper follow-up to “Surgical Steel,” but “Despicable” is a nice appetizer as we wait for that collection. If this is a mere preview of what’s ahead, it demonstrates Carcass are on the same path they were seven years ago, which is a good thing, and that means there are nasty, good times ahead. This is a fun EP that packs a lethal punch and will have you reveling in death metal greatness.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://media.nuclearblast.de/shoplanding/2020/Carcass/despicable.html

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

BleakHeart’s somber doom sits in inner turmoil, mental wounds on stormy debut ‘Dream Griever’

Photo by Sarah Hoster

We’re all in hell. It would be pretty difficult, and quite frankly a little irresponsible, to say anything otherwise. It’s also OK to admit these things, because it’s truly the only way to get inside of those issues to address them so they don’t fester and eat away at your mental health. But they’re there, eating away at you, taking with it your energy and will to find strength.

That journey and battle is detailed in “Dream Griever,” the debut record from BleakHeart, and while the music itself might feel like soothing psychedelic doom at times, don’t forget that underneath it all are waves of pain, anger, and loss. Those are all things that result in heavy, chaotic emotions, stuff that can boil in your gut and leave you up at night, staring at the ceiling wondering when things will feel normal again. Were things ever normal? The band—vocalist/keyboard player Kelly Schilling, guitarists JP Damron and Mark Chronister, drummer Josh Kauffman—works on trying to address these matters and acknowledge the struggle that’s happening, all the while trying to maintain a grip on sanity as to avoid slipping underneath the waves and being dragged out to sea.

“Ash Bearer” slowly comes to life as spacious playing opens the atmosphere, and Schilling’s singing is soft and dreamy, a state in which it remains for the bulk of the record, and for great effect. The doom drops later as the singing gets more forceful as the track slinks in the dark, and a dreamy fog settles into your mind. “I can feel the walls closing in,” Schilling laments as the cold numbs your bones, and the track melts into the night. “Heed the Haunt” is moody as it unfurls, as waves push, and the pace is deliberate. The power jolts later as Schilling’s singing soars, and the track manages to get burly and bruising, as guitars buzz and inject energy. Doom waters lap as the guitars weep, the singing comes to life, and the track disappears in a trickle.

“The Visitor” mesmerizes as it settles in with keys bleeding and delicate singing layering in clouds. The heaviness picks up as Schilling’s singing pierces, and the pace drubs harder as the intensity heats up. The playing bashes and leans into your chest while volume squeals, intergalactic beauty is unfurled, and the track bleeds into noise. “The Dead Moon” emerges with the drums pacing things and a misty ambiance leaving your face covered in mist. Shadows thicken as the track warms and charges, while it feels like the oncoming storm is growing more serious. The ambiance is somber and emotional as the track finds its way into the increasing tide. The title track ends the record and has a late-night vibe, as Schilling’s voice crawls through the fog. The pace then begins landing blows and gets grittier as fantastical visions are laid out with the singing with Schilling wondering, “What has been gained? What has been lost?” Hypnosis thickens as doom smashes, cosmic synth brings alien paralysis, and all the chaos in your brain melts into nothingness.

While “Dream Griever” feels like a record that could soothe your wounds musically, digging deeper into what’s going on reveals the inner turmoil that consumes so many of us and can drive us to our edge. BleakHeart find a way to drill a hole into your consciousness and find those very things themselves, and the playing here can give you a way to address that pain but also work to find some peace. This is excellent music for taking the lights down, calming your frayed nerves, and getting lost in music that understands where you’ve been and tries to make your absorption a little less harsh.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sailorrecords.com/store

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: War on Women continue facing down injustice, fight back with ‘Wonderful Hell’

Photo by Julia Schwendner

In a couple weeks (um, maybe), we’re going to find out a lot about what the next four years of our lives are going to be like once the 2020 presidential election is decided. I can imagine what people from other parts of the world think when we go on about how batshit awful things have been since Trump has been in office, but we haven’t even come close to capturing it. Much as we have tried.

The thing is, even if that shitfucker loses the election, it doesn’t mean things are over and done with and we can just breathe a sigh of relief. There remains a chasm of injustice and unnecessary pain sustained by women, people of color, the LGTBQIA+ community, the poor, and plenty of other people, so the work is really just beginning. That’s captured in a raucous blast on “Wonderful Hell,” the new album by War on Women, who have spent their entire run fighting for those who end up under the boot. The band definitely lights raging fires and blasts back at what’s become an even more oppressive government and the amount of abuse and inequality that still runs rampant in this country. But the band—vocalist Shawna Potter, guitarists Brooks Harlan and “Jenarchy” Jennifer Vito, bassist/vocalist Sue Werner, and drummer Dave Cavalier—also infuses the music with hope and a stuff kick in the ass to keep working and never forget what dragged us here so we can ensure it never happens again.

“Aqua Tofana” opens the record bleeding in as the track is fast and pushy, with Potter dealing punishment along the way. The record imagines revenge by poison, even if the intent is totally exaggerated, though try not to quiver as Potter howls, “‘He’s one of the good ones.’ Well good or not you must kill him, kill him, kill him already, kill him,” with the track ending in a power burst. “Milk and Blood” has a great riff out front and a catchy pace as things also lean toward sinister at times with Potter spitting, ” Consume and suck and eat and fuck.” The chorus is tremendous, and the soloing cutting through it all is razor sharp, filling the room with smoke that leaves you gasping. The title track burns its way in before lighting up and jolting. Potter’s words are shouted, with shrieks stabbing, and there’s a post-hardcore rush to the chorus when she sings, ” Let’s raise some wonderful, beautiful hell and make this world worth living in.” “This Stolen Land” starts with a child chorus singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” that warps out at the end before the band tears into xenophobia and the politics behind it, delivering a channeled assault that pounds away. “Shake the cages and storm the gates, the clock is ticking, and they can’t wait,” Potter wails with authority as the track continues with an energetic, yet urgent tone, with the song evaporating into a noise cloud. “White Lies” clobbers with punk catchiness, though its message is defiant and refuses to give an inch to authority. “We politely request you get your boots off our necks,” Potter demands, though there’s little patience in her request as the lack of justice fills the streets. The track is full of attitude and refusal to give an inch, and it’s an anthem for 2020 and beyond.

“Big Words” has guitars churning and chugging as strong riffs act as glue, and the vocals show vulnerability and pain. The track pokes into betrayal and intentionally damaging someone’s feelings, with the bass picking up steam and the track blasting shut. “Seeds” has a speedy pace as the words fall at an alarming clip from Potter’s mouth, while guitars spiral. “Love in wartime, how do we survive? Once we combine, we can’t be defeated,” she wails out in union with those fighting with her as anger rises, the guitars scorch, and the last bits of this thing just kill. “Her?” is a blast back against the ridiculous thought women can’t lead and the fact that they’re held to standards men are not. “But her emails! But her makeup! But her health! But her age! But her voice! But her hair! But her clothes! But her face!” Potter blasts, and that’s just the first section of the song as she and the band light fires to the way women are regarded by some in society. The track ends with a recitation of women’s names who have been impacted by such treatment, and it makes no exceptions for politics as they name Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris alongside Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman. “In Your Path” is a quick blast, lasting only 1:11 but carrying a ton of impact. Feedback boils before the track is whipped into a frenzy, as the excuses for why women are assaulted are torched with Potter stabbing, “The rapist is you!” “The Ash Is Not the End” lands punches early with Potter’s speak singing and the band dropping the hammer. “It’s all just a matter of time, it’s all just a matter of time,” Potter sings over a rousing chorus as the track takes aim at burning away poisonous systems and rebuilding them just and inclusive.  “Demon” closes the record, a darker, more reflective track that simmers in guitar echo and heavy shadows. Potter’s singing is softer, yet soulful, first time through as she notes, “In a small corner of my body, there is a demon who lives, press your hand right here, you just might feel him.” As the song builds, the heat gets more pronounced, Potter’s voice adds intensity, and the track ends feeling uneasy, as if the first bits of the wound finally are being scratched.

War on Women have been vital and volcanically sobering ever since they started, but there’s something about this year we’re in and the political climate choking us all that make “Wonderful Hell” such a crucial record. Keep in mind while there is a lot here that revels in pain and a system that aims to continue crushing people (women especially) under foot, don’t lose sight of the positives, in that we can take control and try to change this. The fight isn’t over, there is more blood and tears to be shed, and we need more people like those ones who make up War on Women to keep us focused as we swing for the fences of justice.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.b9store.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bridge9.com/

Mr. Bungle make face-smashing return to thrashing madness on ‘… Wrath of the Easter Bunny’

Photo by Eric Larsen

I’ve written more than 2,000 pieces for this site, and I’m always amazed looking back at stories I’ve gotten to write, the new bands I’ve pored over that have become modern heavy hitters, and the legends who I didn’t know I’d even have a chance to spill on at length about who have been a part of a site with such a dumb name, people think I’m joking when I tell them what it’s called.

Anyway, today’s another one of those landmark days, because it is the first time I get to devote a full piece to the insane and legendary Mr. Bungle, a group that had a huge part in completely fucking up what I thought music had to sound like a good two decades or so ago. I had some conventional thoughts and ideas and liked heavy music I could hear on the radio, but records such as “California” and their self-titled opus led me down a darker, more enthralling path. Now, more than 20 years after their last album, the band is back with another curveball “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo,” a re-recording of the 1986 piece that was their first release ever. If you’re familiar with their genre-defacing, completely unhinged other three records, get ready for something a little different. In short, this is a thrash metal album from wall to wall, a chance for the core of the band—vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Trey Spruance, bassist Trevor Dunn—to unleash hell along with two noted powerhouses in Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and former Slayer drummer (and Fantômas member along with Patton) Dave Lombardo to hammer out these 11 tracks that will pretty much floor you.

“Grizzly Adams” opens the record instrumental style as things seem to float in ether at the start before noises lurch, feeling like the ideal intro for a thrash metal album, butting heads with “Anarchy Up Your Anus.” A sample from “Disney’s Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” (voiced by Rhea Perlman!) mixes in before the thing explodes, with Patton’s forceful howls driving through flesh. The verses are rapid fire while gang shouts add even more energy, and the chorus kills again before the track finally expires. “Raping Your Mind” is chugging and blistering with a speedy punk vibe and Patton’s vocals just shredding. The soloing lights blinding fires as the playing goes for the jugular, while the playing continues to agitate until furiously bleeding all over itself. “Hypocrites/Habla Espanol O Muere” is a mix of a new track out front, and then the band tears into a reworked cover of S.O.D.’s “Speak English or Die,” spinning it toward Spanish. A zany insertion of the chorus from “La Cucaracha” jerks heads before the band smashes into their own take on the crossover classic, with Patton wailing, “Speak Spanish or DIE!” “Bungle Grind” begins as a speedy, maniacal beast that mashes away with Patton’s gravelly vocals peeling back flesh. He then veers into inhuman shrieks and gurgles as the guitar work explodes and helps amplify the insanity. A goddamn whistle pierces any sense of calm you were trying to build as a final eruption results in alien growls and an injection of speed.

“Methematics” is the longest track at 8:45, and the riffs charge up as Patton’s vocals murder sanity. Insane cries burst as crazed gang yells dress the chorus with added brutality, while Patton rattles off a list of things he loves and hates. The bass hammers as the guitars get primed up again, unleashing great speed that’s impossible to control, so just get the fuck out of the way. “Eracist” is punchy and agitated as Patton’s words are snarled, and the simple one-word chorus will be easy to yell back live in 8 years when COVID is over. The track gains speed dangerously as the soloing destroys, and the chorus worms its way back in, reminding you of its devious catchiness. “Spreading the Thighs of Death” delivers smothering thrash, tearing the track open at the midsection. The song is spirited and out for blood as guitars fry, and a strangling pace wrings the last drops of life, with Patton sounding like he’s choking on his own blood. “Loss For Words” is a blast through the Corrosion of Conformity cut from 1985’s “Animosity,” treated with horror and might. “Glutton for Punishment” is fast as hell, with the band applying ample pressure and the vocals switching from grit to whispers. Soloing drives a cement truck through your house, killing with intensity before the track stampedes closed. “Sudden Death” is your closer, a final burst of stirring, bloody thrash that explodes with rage. Patton’s vocals feel like he channeled 1984 as the track feels like a beast from another era, which leaves the heart warmed, if not just slightly diseased.

If you were expecting the zany, genre-slaughtering Mr. Bungle of old, you aren’t being served here, but that’s OK. “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo” is a trip back to a time before they stretched themselves all over the place by instead plastering their heart in an era when metal was getting heavier and more dangerous, something that’s all over this record. The album loses a tiny bit of steam as it rounds toward that massive finish, but that’s a minor issue with a revived, enraged Mr. Bungle that feels like they’re getting perverse pleasure sharpening their blades.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://blixtmerchandise.shop/ipecac-music-store

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

Botanist expand ranks, focus on plants bailing us out yet again on oxygen-rich ‘Photosynthesis’

In the dark annals of metal and heavy music in general, there have been myriad concept pieces that encompass entire albums and drive you into story mode. We’ve had government conspiracies and murderous nuns, chosen beings who cannot handle their powers and head down a path toward self-destruction, the plight of coal workers in the Midwest, aliens, you name it.  

Bay Area force Botanist have been creating conceptual pieces ever since they got started more than a decade ago, based on happenings in the fictional (we think!) Verdant Realm, and along the way we’ve had plant life battle back to wrest control of the earth from humans. But this time around, Botanist bring an album focus unlike any other we’ve heard before in that it’s simple on the surface but looks at a process that sustains life all over the world. “Photosynthesis” is literally about that very process. It focuses on plant life breaking down sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen, basically keeping animal life afloat in the process. Typically Otrebor is the sole person performing the music, but this is one of the project’s collaborative efforts where they expand the band as Daturus handles drums, Tony Thomas plays bass, Chelsea Rocha Murphy contributes vocals to a track, and the legendary Dan Swano is responsible for audio production. It’s a more full-bodied effort, and it bursts with life.

“Light” starts the record on a bright note as propulsive melodies stir, and the clean singing adds a hypnotic edge. The dulcimer rains down while the playing turns rustic and prog-fueled as the track ends in spacious wonder. “Water” slowly comes in as the melody chimes away, and the singing floats like a cloud. A dreamy haze hovers as whispers poke through the shadows before the playing turns spirited, and things charge and bubble as wild howls rip out into the night. “Chlorophyll” feels both ominous and grandiose as it stretches its wings while shrieks hammer, and an abrasive feel scrapes at the earth. Shadows wash in as the song bursts with energy, anguished wails leave bruising, and the power finally subsides. “Dehydration” stings with dulcimer notes before the drums kick in, and things are speedier than what preceded it. Harsh growls blister as the melodies begin to spread, setting off chemical impulses that rush the song into panicked gusts.

“Bacteria” hangs in the air and as the drums begin to unravel, and the track slowly builds its intensity. The drums then crush wills as Otrebor cries, “Regeneration!” while the music blends into dreamier terrain, adding clean calls before the track bleeds out. “Stroma” packs dulcimer, hearty growls, and even some atmospheric singing that melts your psyche. The pace is daring and pushy, adding a psychological edge as the fogs begin to collect, with things coming to a smothering finish. “Palisade” enters with the drums driving forcefully and manic vocals adding extra layers of anxiety. The playing feels like it wrenches your guts while synth creates a disorienting pall, while a pillowy haze settles as gentle strums take us away. “Oxygen” closes the album by launching in an urgent pace, rushing through and crashing into storms. Spirited singing mixes with shrieks, while the playing takes on the vibe of a black musical, pushing into chilling winds and murky synth. The dulcimer drips as the singing rises again, a choral gust warms chests, while Otrebor calls, “To the flora and the fauna,” as the track disappears into clouds.

There likely isn’t another heavy music record anywhere that uses photosynthesis as a conceptual center, but that’s fitting as there really is no other band quite like Botanist. “Photosynthesis” is a fascinating record, another great version of this collective form of the band that helps to fully flush out every corner. This album will live in your psyche both as a raging storm and a calming spirit as you consider the very process that helps us unworthy humans remain alive.   

For more on the band, go here: http://www.botanist.nu/

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

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

Canadian killers Occult Burial smear fiery thrash into black metal with ‘Burning Eerie Lore’

I’m old enough to remember the early embers of heavy metal’s expansion into nastiness and, well, heaviness, as I, as a child, dined lustily at thrash metal’s table. At the same time, hearing the early strains of what turned into black metal via Venom and Celtic Frost was something I didn’t super appreciate at the time but totally do now.

So, when modern bands come along that feel like they’ve had that same journey, my juices start to flow. It’s been that way with Occult Burial, the vicious black thrash band from Ottawa … Ontario, Canada, who have returned with their delirious second record “Burning Eerie Lore.” Not to strip away the devotion to satanic chaos, but this record is fun as fuck. Like, from moment one, things get set on fire in such an exciting way, and it never relents over its nine tracks and almost 40 minutes of material. The band—vocalist/bassist Joël Thomas, guitarist Dan McCloud, drummer Dan Lee—just nail that sweet spot between black metal and thrash and do it in a way that’ll light your hair on fire. Also, there is no excuse for not trying on this record because multiple labels are handling this with just about any format you desire, so get on this shit.

“Intro/Warning to Lust” fires up and blazes as the drums and bass thump, guitars cut through, and everything hisses toward the title track that smashes you right away. The leads go off, and Thomas’ shrieks crush souls as speedy hell is easily achieved. The chorus is simple but deadly while the shrieks aim to peel paint from the walls, and the track stampedes home. “Bastard Curse” has guitars mangling as great riffs powder bones, and a chorus that doesn’t overthink things and just wails hits hard. The playing stomps as the vocals fire away, leading to the soloing overflowing with evil intent, ripping through as the band thrashes. “Skeletal Laughter (Ode to Graves)” brings a channeled beginning before the drums detonate as the riffs just explode. The chorus is great and catchy while the soloing has a filthy rock n roll vibe before things come to a mashing end. “Pyramide de Têtes Coupées” just unloads as horrifying shrieks bloody noses, and the band turns the playing into a rampage. Punchy and vile, the vocals tear back in as the riffs charge, ending everything in a cloud of dust.

“Highway Through Borderland” spits guitars that carve through stone as the verses blast away, and the chorus adds an added jolt of energy. The playing is brutal and fun as doom bells chime, and keys enter and mesmerize before the pace changes on a dime, and we round back toward demolition, with savage cries and plastering destruction slamming the door shut. “Bleeding Spectre (Queen of Doom)” starts as a guitar blast as things blaze out of control, and the riffs tease even more tension is ahead. A tornado of madness rips through while the band tries to bash skulls, and wild cackles work into the massive fires. “Les Griffes du Désespoir” has confounding riffs before the pace jolts, and the vocals smash through with blades exposed. The playing is rowdy and clobbering as the soloing melts into the scene, while the tempo splatters, and the track is hammered shut. “Temple of Mutants (Black Adoration Pt. II)” closes the album with the bass chugging and the playing adding heat, while the vocals scrape flesh. The brewing storm then arrives in full as killer guitar work flexes its muscles, the punishing chorus strikes again, and the track ends thrashed to death.

Occult Burial’s raw, maniacal black thrash is on an utter rampage on “Burning Eerie Lore,” a record so massive it took 19 different labels and format to get this to everyone who needs to hear it. This record is an utter blast to tackles as it lets the fires of rebellion burn brightly, but they always remember to keep things sharp and deadly. This is a damn powerful band and record, and their homage to metal’s past and the evil woven into its fabric earns them much-deserved respect.   

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

To buy the album, go here: https://invictusproductions666.bandcamp.com/album/burning-eerie-lore

Or here: https://electricassaultrecords.bandcamp.com/album/burning-eerie-lore

Or here: https://stygianblackhand.bandcamp.com/album/burning-eerie-lore

Or here: https://templeofmystery.ca/new-occult-burial-full-length-burning-eerie-lore-now-available-for-pre-orders-on-cd-and-cassette/

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

And here: https://www.electricassaultrecords.com/

And here: https://www.stygianblackhand.com/

And here: https://templeofmystery.ca/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Molassess shed devil’s blood, blaze rousing new routes on ‘Through the Hollow’

Photo by Ryannevan Dorst

Almost all bands when they start are not carrying with them a legacy that went beyond music and had its claws firmly steeped in spiritual and philosophical terrain that was larger than any of the members themselves. The Devil’s Blood may have a relatively small body of work and history, but their pull went beyond all of that, influencing and moving people after they passed.

That end came when leader Selim Lemouchi passed from this earthly terrain in 2014, and the band’s run halted abruptly. But a few years ago, things started to bubble, and its members were asked to perform at 2019’s Roadburn, planting the seeds for Molassess, the second phase of the work started by the Devil’s Blood. Here, the band has arrived with their debut album “Through the Hollow,” a nine-track, 65-minute opus that not only lives up to their original formation’s work but also pushes beyond that into something even more immersive and imaginative. Molassess brings former the Devil’s Blood members entrancing vocalist Farida Lemouchi (she was known as the Mouth of Satan), as well as guitarists Oeds Beydals and Ron van Herpen, and bassist Job van de Zande, and they’re joined by drummer Bob Hogenelst and keyboard player Matthijs Stronks on this new project that continues to carry the spiritual mission started by Selim into whatever chaotic future is ahead of us all.   

The title track starts with strange noises floating in before guitars spiral, and a trippy feel is achieved quickly. Lemouchi’s unmistakable singing unfurls as a sprawling journey spreads out and carries the bulk of this 11:06-long track. Keys haunt as wordless calls soothe, and the music keeps tunneling as Lemouchi calls, “No more bridges left to burn,” amid a psyche haze that fully intoxicates. “Get Out From Under” has guitars trickling and more exceptional singing straight from Lemouchi’s guts. The chorus is tremendous while the vibe is mesmerizing and driving. The stirring playing continues as warm guitars heat up and bring a deep, golden ’70s vibe as prog-fueled playing takes the song to its end. “Formless Hands” runs a healthy 10:54 and blasts alive with keys jolting and a great, lively feel taking over your chest cavity. Leads buzz as the band’s fluid playing reminds of a heavier early era Chicago or Yes, as Lemouchi wonders, “Are you along for the ride?” Synth spits hypnotic patterns as the playing trudges into druggy weirdness, and a long, mind-altering instrumental section rounds back as Lemouchi’s singing returns bellowing, and the track keeps warping your mind even as it bows out. “Corpse of Mind” flows in mystically as melodies spread and the vocals float, with Lemouchi commanding, “Break through the eyes of time.” The singing feels otherworldly while the end of the track disappears into a void.

“The Maze of Stagnant Time” leads in with guitars firing and a burst of emotion as the singing pushes the boundaries. Wordless calls cause the fervor to rise while the riffs get agitated, and cool keys and jazzy guitars bring cold rains to soak the ground. “I Am No Longer” melts in with guitars liquifying and dreamy slowness dictating the pace at first. Drums bustle, joined by keys perfect for nighttime as Lemouchi declares, “I am forever haunting.” The music segues into elegance and seasonal coolness while brains bubble from skulls, slide guitars bring unexpected heat, and the track blisters out. “Death Is” is a great goddamn track, a revelation in a record full of body-tingling stuff, this one acting playful from the start with guitars couch-locking you. There’s such a strange vibe as vintage guitars zap through what feels like a tasty, deadly selection from a nightclub dedicated to total darkness, leaving you lying, gasping in your own juices. Such a good song. “Tunnel” cuts through as sounds rattle and a strange vibe sets up shop. Bass pumps while the drums snap with life, as echoing, nightmarish strangeness attaches onto this instrumental and brings it to chiming end. “The Devil Lives” is the perfect final cut, a 10:33-long anthem that feels like it stitches its path from the last band to this one. “Something’s amiss, and you KNOW it,” Lemouchi stabs with a line that’ll chill your bones while the guitars intoxicate with a mix of blues and psychedelia. The playing feels like it travels across a sea before it rises up again and Lemouchi delivers the most jarring line of the record with, “The devil’s blood is within me,” which should electrify you as guitars echo and moan, soling later brings metallic sparks, and everything ends in a tornadic abyss.

Following up the sound and legacy of the Devil’s Blood had to be a harrowing task, but what Molassess accomplish here keeps intact the veins the original band grew into the earth while branching off to other areas not yet explored. I had been heavily anticipating “Through the Hollow” all year long, to the point of where I feared my expectations were too high, but this band absolutely decimated those. This is one of the most magickal, emotionally moving records of the year, and it’s a fresh beginning for a band whose mission was nowhere near over.

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/band/molassess/

Or here (International): https://shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.season-of-mist.com/

Pallbearer deliver powerful emotional glimpse into family, loss on moving ‘Forgotten Days’

Doom metal always has had its hands in things other than pure evil, as it’s often delved into other areas such as depression, sadness, decay, and the fragile human state that feels like it can fall apart at any second. This is a year where these themes hit particularly hard, and music that can find that centerpoint can be a profound way of connecting and growing.

Arkansas doom beasts Pallbearer not only have scratched many of these surfaces but also have traveled deep within them to craft records that have carved out a much-deserved stellar reputation for the band and have helped create three landmark album giants for the sub-genre over the past decade or so. And now comes “Forgotten Days,” another record pushed back to later in the year due to the blessed virus, but this stuff almost hits even heavier now than it may have when weather and moods were getting to their apex. The band—vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell, guitarist Devin Holt, bassist/vocalist Joseph D. Rowland, drummer Mark Lierly—focuses on family and what those ties mean. It’s not a love letter home. Instead it’s a further exploration into loss and pain as Rowland returns to themes of losing his mother a decade ago which helped paint debut “Sorrow and Extinction” while Campbell’s selections deal with passage of time and memory, as his mother is now dealing with her own mother Alzheimer’s disease, a level on which I can relate right now. It’s an incredible, sobering journey both thematically and musically, one that hits a little heavier to the heart and soul than many other doom records right now. 

The title track gets us started as noise bleeds in before the riffs open in earnest. The vibe is ominous and dark as over the chorus Campbell wonders, “Is this insanity? Will they come to take me? Who can I trust with tomorrow? I can barely trust myself.” Warm soloing rushes in, filling your senses, while Campbell notes, “Times have changed and so have I,” before things take off again, and pained echoes add the final nail. “Riverbed” has rich riffs and a chorus that can make your heart grow cold. Spirited crunch dusts up the moodiness as guitars lather you, and some power adds more taste. The singing is heartfelt as usual while a final simmer lets the heat collect and cause sweating. “Stasis” has livelier guitars and a driving force, while Campbell laments unwanted change in one’s life. “This place, so hollow, seems like a prison cell to me,” he drives on the great chorus while synth wells up and adds new textures, while the track ends in echo bath. “Silver Wings” is the longest track on the record, a 12:18-long epic that reminds of the band’s earlier days. The track takes some time to set up the atmosphere, and once it does, solemn vocals are dripping while the emotional pull runs into colder storming. Later, synth zaps while the leads heat up, while the guitars combine and create a force one cannot stand down.  

“The Quicksand of Existing” chugs while delivering smoking doom, following the longest track with the shortest, clocking in at an uncharacteristic 3:59. They make the most of it as the verses are gruffer, the guitar work even heavier, and the pall of doom brings certain darkness. “Vengeance & Ruination” mashes from the start, going to squash guts as Campbell jabs, “Carve away dignity, piece by piece for all of us to see.” The track hulks as the band adds layers of emotion to what’s already a vulnerable scene, and then the tempo punches up as heaviness and warmth combine to bring a chunky finish. “Rite of Passage” begins clean before the guitars push the issue, and spiritual ache is dealt generously. “One question to ask of you, did part of me die while watching you go?” Campbell delivers as pain collects, while the soloing rises, and the track burns off into a reflective pool. “Caledonia” is the closer, and it starts delicately before that trademark Pallbearer crunch drops. There’s a deathrock vibe that carries with it damp winds while keys zap into a hazy ambiance as Campbell calls, “I wasn’t aware that fate would plunge the knife, I watched the color fade out from joys of life.” The soloing has a psychedelic edge to them as a bluesy fog arrives, the chorus bites back again, and the track fades into the cold.

This is likely to be the record that gets the band the most attention simply because they’re firmly ensconced on Nuclear Blast now, but Pallbearer deliver a hearty, emotional reckoning on “Forgotten Days.” There’s a noticeable effort to trim the fat from their songs, for the most part, and it does give the record more urgency and never sacrifices the depth. More ears are bound to absorb Pallbearer’s music this time around, and they’ll be rewarded with a great record that continues to show why they’re so special and highly regarded.     

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.pallbearerdoom.com/forgotten-days

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