Khemmis touch on expectations, battling with mental health on soaring, face-gripping ‘Deceiver’

Our brains and the internet have something in common: They’re both the best and worst things to ever happen to us. We grow up with a sense of self developed not just by us but by people around us, by traditions, by societal structures that do not apply to everyone. It’s easy to get down on oneself when we don’t think we’re measuring up to this imagined set of rules, and our minds drive us into the void.

A lot of this thinking flows through “Deceiver,” the excellent fourth record from doom-inspired classic heavy metal band Khemmis, and these six songs certainly are the darkest of the band’s run, even when they burst with glory. Mental health has taken a beating for so many of us, so not only do we struggle with whether we’re living up to expectations, we also have the burden of being able to cope with depression and anxiety, which the band—guitarist/vocalist Phil Pendergast, guitarist/vocalist Ben Hutcherson, drummer Zach Coleman—has plenty of experience managing themselves. There also are loftier hopes for the band with their move from 20 Buck Spin to Nuclear Blast, but this record absolutely delivers, even showing off some of their heaviest playing to date.

“Avernal Gate” gets things started, and it packs with it a surprise, namely some tasty melo-death riffs that sound decidedly Scandinavian. The vocals soar, though Hutcherson is there with his gutting growls where need be, and that element has a bigger role on this record. “These faded lives are all we have to find our way through shadowed lands, we stumble on with broken backs, holding hearts in calloused hands,” Pendergast calls as the guitars heat up and gush, violence sprawls, and the track ends in glowing embers. “House of Cadmus” begins with clean lines trickling in, and then things open in full, pushing the tempo harder and faster. There is heavier darkness, especially vocally as the moon beams are strangled, and then the growls engorge, scraping through ugly and morose as the track trickles out in pain. “Living Pyre” fires up hard as Pendergast’s singing soars with him wailing, “Outside the storm rages, injustice, bold and ageless, while I’m alone in the cold.” The track remains lit up as growls enter the mix and scrape with cinders, and the ugliness complements the elegance ideally. “I’m drowning in a mind that’s always caving in, the rivers rise and surround me,” Pendergast levels as the track burns off into the sky.

“Shroud of Lethe” starts a little doomier as it moves slowly and deliberately with Pendergast wondering, “Why should I atone and wash away the pain? I can’t trust the memories leading me astray, still I hold on to what I know are lies, written in stone.” The guitars swim and push as all the energies clash, growls peel paint, and the tempos shift into darker water, exploring its pitch-black surroundings. “Obsidian Crown” delivers sinister riffs and then slips into sorrowful terrain, clouding your heart. Great vocal melodies rise as the shrieks add a sense of terror and volatility, the blood runs cold, and the violent jarring takes over and buries the last moments in mounds of powdered bones. “The Astral Road” closes the album with clean playing, echoing leads, and a classic metal assault that emerges and takes over the land. The pace gets exciting and digs even harder, great leads flex their muscle, and Pendergast calls, “I’m praying for the rain to take it all away.” Pendergast and Hutcherson trade solos as things warm up but also start to sting, and then the shadows get thicker and smothering. “If I could throw the guilt aside, I’d let myself be washed away from the chains of pride, into the love that I feel today,” Pendergast wails as the tides rise, the playing scorches, and the final drops sink beneath the waves forever.

If anyone was worried about Khemmis falling victim to pressure because they’ve signed with metal’s largest label, you can forget those immediately as “Deceiver” is a tremendous record, one that ups the ante from their three killer releases that preceded this. The edges are darker and sharper, and the power that always was prevalent in their blood has an even greater role. This will be the band’s introduction to many listeners based on their union with Nuclear Blast, and Khemmis absolutely put their sharpest blades forward, slicing their way to even more hungry hearts and minds.

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

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/nuclearblastrecords

Tower lash back with blazing classic heavy metal, energize blood on ‘Shock to the System’

Photo by Evan Parness

There was a time when heavy metal wasn’t divided by subgenres and people guarding the gates of each with silly requirements. It was just a gigantic force that united every band under the same banner because everyone was fighting for similar things. It’s good that things splintered because metal got to see exactly what it was capable of doing, but if would be fun if there could be more pure coexistence.

Maybe there is and I just have been in the house for too long, but I got to thinking of metal’s glory era when taking on “Shock to the System,” the second record from NYC bruisers Tower. The music they create mines the good stuff that’s been aging in barrels for decades, and they do their best to prove a modern band can capture that same magic. They also have a secret weapon with vocalist Sarabeth Linden who is so good it makes me angry. I’m not as good at anything in my life as she is at using her insanely powerful voice, and it makes me feel bad about myself. By the way, go find the Two Minutes to Late Night clip of Linden singing Boston’s “Long Time” and just sit in awe. But the rest of the band—guitarists James Danzo and Zak Penley, bassist Jeff Filmer (Jack Florio now handles these duties), drummer James Jones—more than hold up their end with playing that’s absolutely on fire and makes your brain melt down based on the majesty of true, glorious heavy fucking metal.

“Blood Moon” kicks things off with the proper amount of energy with Linden giving off the first indication of her goddamn ridiculously strong vocals. “It’s shining like the sea, it’s taking over me tonight,” she wails as the band pummels and sends you off heaving. “Prince of Darkness” is a little, uh, darker with the guitars firing up and hearty “woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” calls getting your blood going. Things stay on fire as the track stampedes toward the finish line. “Metatron” is an instrumental, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all, but it’s kind of like running a big play without your best player. It’s decent, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and then it pushes into “Running Out of Time” that gets the juices flowing properly again. The riffs push as the tempo kills, and Linden warns, “You better run, you better hide.” The soloing explodes with power and chugs hard, the chorus jolts, and the track simmers in flames. “Lay Down the Law” lets the bass pace as the guitars get churning, and Linden’s vocals echo over the verses, feeling a little spooky. The track really comes to life as the singing is a little raspier, with Linden calling, “Sometimes you know you got to lay down the law.” Point taken. Killer track.

“Hired Gun” has a dirtier open before the guitars take hold, and the track blasts through the gates. The soloing ignites while the playing stampedes, kicking up dust as the singing reigns over everything. “The Black Rose” has a speedy start and a pace that can dice flesh, and the simple chorus of the title called back is effective and should get over live. The soloing blisters and makes your nervous system come to life, the chorus races again, and the track has a smoldering end. “On the Line” gallops right away with Linden admitting, “Can’t hold on, but I want you.” That bridge leads to a great chorus that explodes with Linden declaring, “You are mine, you are the one that I love,” as the guitars give off steam and race to the finish. “In Dreams” is the longest track, running 6:58, and the riffs go off, though things turn moodier later. “I need your light,” Linden calls as the playing has a frosty edge before the guitar work melts through the ice. The tempo tramples as the playing splits your chest in two, and Linden wails, “I feel your light inside,” as the track hammers closed. “Powder Keg” is your closer, and it’s one last chance to soak in your adrenaline as everything lights up. “Here comes to wrecking ball,” Linden warns as the soloing jabs your ribcage, things glisten, and the track blasts out for good.

Tower is a great classic metal band with a goddamn incredible singer in Linden, and they make the most of “Shock to the System,” their eye-opening second record. This is a really fun album, something that should bridge generations as gray hairs and newer listeners can find a lot to love with these songs. As good as the record is, I’d imagine it’s even stronger live, so let’s get our shit together so that can become more of a reality.

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

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

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

Vertebra Atlantis twist brains with odd black, death metal on ‘Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss’

Not every piece of art is intended to land with impact for every person who encounters it, and that really is the way it should be. Could you imagine if every person on earth understood and loved, say, Mr. Bungle? Sleepytime Gorilla Museum? Hell, what if every human actually loved Taylor Swift? The record plant backlog would be forever unsolvable, and we’d legit be living in the very real Bad Place.

It’s for those reasons that I appreciate the hell out of Vertebra Atlantis, a strange beast mixing the darkest, most dissonant of black metal with rabid jaw-dripping death metal in a fashion that might be unapproachable for the vast majority of humans. That’s a good thing. The world is fucked up enough as is that a crusher such as the band’s debut record “Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss” need not inhabit all of our brains. No, only those who truly can align on an artistic and psychological level will be able to do the heavy lifting it requires to navigate these seven tracks of unspeakable chaos. The band—G.G. (guitars, synths, vocals), Vrangr (bass), R.R. (drums, vocals)—combines experience crafted from other warped entities including Cosmic Putrefaction, Spells of Misery, and Homselvareg, and they meld their strange powers on an album that’ll take a few visits to begin to understand, even more to ideally absorb.

“Agoraphobic Solipsist” starts as a spacious maw as strangeness bubbles, and the vocals open their sinewy muscles. Spindly leads tangle and add spicy elements while savage playing tears limbs apart, gritty vocals punish, and the track leaks into an eerie abyss. “Carnal Denouement” unloads dizzying riffs and a pace that bursts, melding into hovering synth, and then the vocals turn into alien creaking. Things meet a weird vortex as the guitars splinter, and mangling vocals mess with your mind. The playing drills hard as the track ends abruptly, and then we’re on to the title track that simmers in a low-end stomp. The riffs take a dip toward the sinister as a death assault unfurls, causing your blood to surge as deep growls penetrate, and the sounds slip into a bizarre cavern to rest its scorched flesh.

“Altopiano Celeste” is an instrumental piece that feels like you’re entering a dream sequence in media res, as fantastical waters rush, vicious pummeling slips into a mist, and a final surge is drained of its blood. “Spiritual Onset” clobbers right away as speed bursts, and the vocals belch otherworldly horrors. A feverish aura stabs with intent, the playing destroys bones, and fiery chaos ensues, burning until only ash is left. “Saw Thee Quietly Inurned” lands with maniacal howls and a pace that shreds, leaning into monstrous activity. The drums are murdered as pure death comes unglued, and a quick halt to the storm spills into the final moments where guitars sting and usher us toward closer “The Hermit Strums a Mournful Dirge.” There, guitars boil as clouds hover, and heavy blasts shake your skeletal structure. The power is relentless with your body going into protection mode, pushing toward madness that’s over the horizon. The vocals turn up later in the track, grim punishment is achieved, and the track rips off into space, where it can find its proper home among the stars.

“Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss” not only is a really fun title to say out loud, it’s the name of a record that will leave you challenged and probably a little bit frightened over the mental toll you just paid. Vertebra Atlantis purposely complicate matters and make you take journeys into dark tunnels you’d otherwise have avoided. This is a bizarre experience, and it’s not something for which you can prepare in advance in any meaningful way.

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

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Hyperdontia’s warped death metal twists jaws on face-mauling ‘Hideous Entity’

I’ve been to the dentist a lot this year. A LOT. For all the wonderful traits I inherited from my ancestors, shitty tooth health is one of the less desirable ones I acquired, so I tend to have to do more work than usual in order to keep everything healthy and operable in my stupid mouth. I can only imagine what it would be like if I had more teeth than what was deemed necessary.

So, that was a fairly uncreative way to walk right into “Hideous Entity,” the new record from Hyperdontia, the band whose name is derived from the condition where people have too many teeth in their mouth. Brutal. Speaking of which, this band has helped corner the market on that term with their brand of death metal, but that’s not all they bring to the table. The band—vocalist/guitarist Mathias, lead guitarist Mustafa, bassist Malik, drummer Tuna—tangles you in intricate and strange compositions that’ll both make you ache all over and have your imagination run wild. They make this second record a pretty severe step up from their great debut “Nexus of Teeth” that introduced the world to the hideous formulas cooked up by this Turkish/Danish beast.

“Snakes of Innards” dawns with a doomy pall before the death hammer drops, and the growls mar as they eat into your psyche. The leads begin to charge as the pace brawls hard, the guitar work scorches, and the drums mash to a furious finish. “Trapped in the Void” is beastly as it begins its path, attacking and ripping hard, bringing imminent death. The playing bludgeons as the growls tear at muscle, and the soloing goes off, with the final moments seeded in violent treachery. “Beast Within” opens with great riffs, and then the monster tracks through mud as the playing sautés your brain. There’s a swagger to this thing as the leads fire up, and chaos bursts and drags you to the finish. “Coils of Wrath” has guitars slithering as the pace pummels, and savage thrashing tears your hair from your head. The bass trembles as animalistic pounding and crazed growls unite, and the track has a brutal finish.

“Grinding Teeth” is a pure death assault as the growls penetrate your senses, and vicious pounding has its way with you. Thunderous hell arrives for the second half, the riffs carve wounds in your flesh, and the final moments rip the breath from your lungs. “Lacerated and Burning” tells you all you need to know from its title, and it’s relentless, a slaughter that sprays blood. The growls destroy as the playing feels like it’s trying to stomp your guts out of your body, and there’s an unexpected proggy section toward the end that’ll make you tilt your head in confusion. “Wretched Mockery of Creation” tangles your muscles as the mashing playing hits a fever pitch. The leads soar as grimy death collects, and the tempo runs roughshod, blasting and crushing until its final second. “Impervious Veil” closes the proceedings and brings the pressure, blistering and shaking you relentlessly. A mid-tempo burn makes the pounding hurt that much more as the bass hammers you, and the charging increases. Eerie guitars lead into hellish visions, and the track trickles away like a cold sweat snaking its way down your back.

“Hideous Entity” is peak Hyperdontia, death metal that’s both recklessly pummeling and astonishingly well played. There’s not a moment of downtime on these eight tracks, and even when they aren’t going full speed, they’re delivering dour assaults that choose to scar the mind rather than the body. This record is a like having a tooth removed sans Novocain as you’re left to writhe in the chair with your adrenaline doing nothing but keeping you conscious through unspeakable pain.

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

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

Or here: https://www.mesacounojo.com/vinyl-cds-merch/

Or here: https://desiccatedproductions.com/shop/

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

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

And here: https://www.facebook.com/Desiccated-Productions-102676771618364/

Mysterious Ars Magna Umbrae lean hard into esoteric chaos with ‘Throne Between Worlds’

I’ve long thought that music you have to earn is what tends to stick with you over the months and years after you first encountered said art. It’s also great if a record or a band gets you right away without much lifting on your part. But something that’s complicated and challenging, making you spend time getting comfortable with the music and developing awareness is incredibly rewarding.

Sole creator K.M.’s Ars Magna Umbrae project is one of those that creates art that likely will take a little while to land, and what he’s doing is anything but straightforward. That spills over on his third record “Throne Between Worlds,” the place where it feels like this music exists because its meaning is not held out in front of your face. Over six tracks of mind-altering, brain-tangling black metal, K.M. reaches to forces beyond most out our comprehension to find something to fan these esoteric fires. At the end of these 37 minutes, you’re likely not going to have a massive grasp on what you just experienced, but repeat visits begin to open those doors and transfer the information you need to grow.

“Into Waters of the Underworld” enters amid watery leads and growls that smear data in your mind as everything begins to collect and swelter. Calm interjects itself for a stretch before the heat reignites and spreads, the playing flutters, and angelic calms collect and exit in a cool mist. “Consecrating the Shrine of Undoing” mashes your muscles right away and creeps in a mid-tempo crunch before the lid is blown off. Shrieks shred your brain while a foggy trickle only adds to your psychosis with melodies floating in the clouds. Then the guitar work scorches again as the track heads out. “Beyond the Stellar Gates” gushes and mangles as the vocals gurgle at dangerous levels. An elegant glaze is drizzled over the carnage as vicious roars send shockwaves, and the riffs twist logic. The pace picks up and absolutely torches as the violent mystery stomps out into the night.

“Treader on the Dreamless Path” has a dreamy start, meandering in your mind before the walls come down. The playing destroys and disorients, robbing you of any sense of normalcy as the mauling stings wounds. Later, there are mystical elements that play games with you before the track blurs out in noise. The title track is a bit frosty as it starts, then the guitars stir and agitate, spreading like an impenetrable fog. The track carves around bends feeling both fluid and jarring, flooding your mind, and sending you away reeling. “Metempsychosis (Transmigration of the Soul)” ends the album, an 11:11-long track that starts with dizzy riffs and vicious growls, delivering a disorienting pace. Melodies race, and even when cooler temperatures arrive, there’s torment on the other end, pounding you and folding you into blackness. Infernal shrieks arrive and grasp at your flesh, weirdness multiplies and challenges, and the guitars quiver, with the song finally resting in black pools.

K.M. continues to build worlds only he can comprehend, with that continuing on “Throne Between Worlds,” itself as strange concept that pushes the mind. Each Ars Magna Umbrae album itself is a chance to expand your relationship with heavy music and journey into the center of something almost impossible to absorb. There’s nothing wrong with music that’s easy to digest; but the records you must earn are the ones that tend to offer the richest rewards.

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

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

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

Swedes Astrophobos find spark from various art forms, artists for numbing, pounding ‘Corpus’

Black metal, and metal in general, is generated from tons of different places, a lot of them predictable. And predictability isn’t a negative, necessarily, as long as the music has the proper spark. But when the music comes from somewhere unexpected, or just different, it could be enough to make you sit up and take notice. Again, if the art itself is worth your attention.

As far as “Corpus,” the new record from Swedish black metal entity Astrophobos, the expected can be tossed out the window, because they hardly fell back on old traits. Instead, they immersed themselves in different art forms for their third record, namely sculpture, photography, and music, as well as Lisa Wallert and Morgan Norman’s work that helped the band—vocalist/bassist Micke Broman, guitarists Martin Andersson and Jonas Ehlin (drums were performed on a session basis by Simon Samuelsson)—realize their vision for these songs. What’s contained is black metal that is channeled and destructive, but it also feels like a cut above the rest, likely due to the inspiration that drove their performances.

“Corpus” gets off to a ripping start with Broman’s vile growls hanging in the air alone, carving at you, and once the rest of the band kicks in, it’s off to the races. The riffs stir as the atmosphere gets dangerously cold with the vocals digging into guts, the leads slicing, and everything ending the way it started, with Broman croaking into the void. “Utrotning” rips open with no warning, hammering you with melodic guitars and an approach that aims to deface. The track is both savage and pretty damn catchy as the riffs encircle and enrapture, and the vocals dig in those final daggers that stick under your ribs. “Till djupet” enters with clean guitars, and then the guts are ripped anew as vile growls make their way through the mud. A forceful path is carved as the guitars swirl with reckless abandon, the bass thickens and cuts tributaries, and the track trickles out into space.

“Nattvard” delivers huge gusts and whipping melodies as the guitars lather, and gruff growls add to the bruising. The playing feels like it hurtles through the stars as vicious growls mangle, and the track speeds toward an abrupt end. “Svärta” is clean and eerie as it begins, and the playing mesmerizes as the storm begins to collect. The vocals deliver a dagger as your bloodstream is activated, and the track keeps gaining momentum until it bleeds into noise. “Liktal” drills viciously as the riffs pulse, and the growls stagger through blood. The guitars carve away, and then the melodies get more colorful, paving the way for catchy growls, creaky punishment, and a furious finish that leaves you dizzy. “Under jord” closes the album with sorrowful guitars piercing before the playing tramples, and the growls aim to agitate wounds. The delirious playing has a folk-like vibe to it, crushing and seething, going into pockets of numbing heaviness. Clean female choral sections chill the flesh and leave your mind wandering, leading you out to conclude your journey in misery.

“Corpus” is a headier record than your average slab of black metal as Astrophobos use their diverse inspirations to craft something dangerous and alluring, an experience different than merely a delivery of seven new songs. The playing is savage and inspired, and there is plenty of infectious power that keeps your imagination working from front to back. This is a punishing and thought-provoking record that might help more adventurous listeners to expand their artistic palates as well.

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

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

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

Mesarthim dash into stars and galaxies, create expansive black metal on warm ‘CLG J02182–05102’

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to get to go to outer space, at least not in my physical body. Jeff Bezos isn’t going to hand me a free ticket to travel into the stars aboard his dick rocket, and I’m not about to start a career as an astronaut, so it’s looking pretty slim for me. Luckily, the imagination is one hell of a tool.

The two mysterious entities that inhabit cosmic black metal/electronic project Mesarthim also have very active brains, and they’ve poured that into their music, the latest dose coming on “CLG J02182–05102,” a title that will reward you richly if you pop that into Google. The record is named after a deep galaxy cluster discovered in 2010 that astronomers were shocked to discover is incredibly modern and had elements that were unexpectedly young. That holds tons of possibilities from a space search standpoint, but as far as the music is concerned, its prospects also are limitless. Yes, this falls under the black metal spectrum, but it’s hardly grim and devious. Instead, the music on these six tracks can be melodically explosive, damn near poppy, and a blast to hear and absorb as it helps supercharge your own mental capacity into how far you can travel, even if just in your mind.

“A Generation of Star Birth – Part I” melts open, immediately delivering drama as the vocals smear and the synth sweeps. Keys trickle as a fantastical gaze hangs over, making your blood race, and then the guitars awaken and burn with everything coming to a head and scorching out. “Infinite Density” delivers more gaping synth and a pounding that eats away at you, with the vocals scraping away as the intensity builds. Everything is so infectious as the guitars take off, and the playing lathers with speed, sending great swaths of color across the sky as the energy explodes in a gust. “Tidal Warping” splits open with waving synth and growls ripping into your midsection. The leads launch and spread their wings as the other elements collect and bubble as gigantic melodies flex their muscles, overtaking your senses and taking you on a magical adventure.

“Nucleation Seed” is a quick instrumental that settles into your dreams and cascades into alien terrains to this point unexplored, and then it’s into “A Manipulation of Numbers – Part II (Vacuum Decay)” that is one of the poppiest black metal songs you’ll hear this year. Or ever. Synth and rattling beats set the stage, while the croaked growls have a rap-like cadence to them as they sprinkle across the land. The music explodes into melodies you cannot shake as everything feels spacious and even joyous, increasing your heart rate as the track ends in a jolt. “A Generation of Star Birth – Part II” ends the album, starting as a space gush as keys and drums pace, and lathering shrieks have their way with your imagination. It feels like fires somehow are raging amid the stars as liturgical organs change the attitude, the playing heats up, and the elements swirl, finally landing in a vortex of mystery.

If you require brutality from your black metal records, Mesarthim’s “CLG J02182–05102” likely isn’t going to land very well with you. For the rest of us who don’t have such rigid standards, what awaits is one of the most dramatic and enthralling albums ever to come out of the cosmic black metal circle, something that might even register with non-metal fans provided they can handle the shrieks and growls. This is one hell of a journey, one that reaches across galaxies and leaves you feeling energized and refreshed, which you’re not going to get with every metal record.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sound-cave.com/

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