The Howling Wind return with EP ‘Oak’ that demonstrates their alliance with cosmic elements

Not all bands find the need to expand and push their own boundaries, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Consistency and your audience knowing what to expect from you can foster a lot of goodwill and a lack of bad feelings from those who consume your music. It’s smart business. But that’s also not for everyone, which is a reason metal has become so diverse.

It’s not like The Howling Wind is recreating anything with their new self-recorded EP “Oak,” but for them, it’s showing an even more expansive mind frame that could get pretty fucking exciting if this is an indication as to where things are going. Its two members—Ryan Lipynsky (guitar, bass, vocals, synth, noise) and Tim Call (drums, vocals, noise)—remain committed to elements of black metal and doom in their music, but with the heavier contributions from their ghostly synth, the music goes to a different level that can chill you to the bone. These four tracks that stretch over 15 minutes are slim, trim, and immersed in something that feels like it’s clouding your mind with imaginative impulses and warped devastation like they’re taking a trip to a new plane of existence.

“Cursed Machines of Catastrophic Failure” punches open, delivering raw fury and chaos, the guitars chugging in soot. Riffs slice as the track gets thrashier, synth clouds over everything, and the atmosphere is filled with melody and violent tendencies. The title track starts with guitars dripping in before heavy punches land, and the vocals scrape through a foggy synth haze that fills your lungs. Melodies compel as creaky vocals rumble, and then the sounds melt into serenity, giving an unexpected dose of calm. Things slowly slither back, the guitars generate scornful vibes, and everything is swallowed into the void. “Time Erosion Weapon” dawns in a sci-fi synth scape, and then vicious howls arrive and claw into muscle. Punishing riffs send cinders flying, the drums smash, and a black metal-style assault melts into sinister shrieks and a tornadic pressure. “Lost Dark Mountain” ends the EP with a sound bed created by thick keys, and the vocals twist into your psyche and leave damage. The guitars float in a spacey gasp of psychedelics, the vortex starts to swirl, and everything disappears into cosmic mystery.

“Oak” is the first new music we’ve heard from The Howling Wind since their 2019 full-length “Shadow Tentacles,” and what we find on these four immersive tracks is their continued foray into exploring more mysterious and dangerous sounds. This is a satisfying bridge to connect whatever comes next, and if this is any hint, then the next record could really be a total mindfuck. That sounds like an alluring possibility as these two keep pushing the possibilities of what it means to be heavy and sinister.

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Indonesian power Pure Wrath pay homage to mother ravaged by tragedy on ‘… Woeful Hearts’

A lot of people, myself included, feel like we’ve been through hell the past few years with everything we’ve had to withstand. And it’s been a lot, and it’s been painful, and some of us lost a lot. But there are people who have been suffering far longer and have endured punishment and devastation we only can imagine. Those people don’t have that luxury; their hell is real.

Indonesian black metal force Pure Wrath, the brainchild of Januaryo Hardy (he handles vocals, guitars, bass, synth, songwriting, and lyrics) delivers something more harrowing and heartbreaking on their excellent third record “Hymn to the Woeful Hearts.” On this album, Hardy writes in dedication to a mother and survivor of the 1965 Indonesian genocide whose son was kidnapped, tortured, and beheaded. It’s a tragedy that haunted all of her days, spending five decades trying to live as if nothing has happened when inside, she was undone by grief. It adds a much heavier pall to this record that sounds vibrant and melodic but is awash in a story that would cripple most people. On the record, Hardy is joined by guest musicians Yurii Kononov (drums, and also of White Ward), Dice Midyanti (piano, cello, additional elements) and Nick Kushnir (additional guitars) to add more spirit and texture to these six tracks that easily can be absorbed into your bloodstream.

“The Cloak of Disquiet” opens with acoustics and fires crackling before a melodic rage explodes, stunning and crushing emotions. The leads glimmer, and a brief cold spell designed to relieve the pressure paves the way for another gust, even with some clean calls rushing behind. Drums crash as the playing flows, bringing everything to an arresting end. “Years of Silence” brings guitars gashing as raw wails hammer, and keys drip in to add a new eloquent element. A moody pace begins its stretch, and then things get electrified all over again, keys melt into the earth, and things end in elegant bloodshed. “Presages From a Restless Soul” rips open and blisters right away, flooding the senses and wrenching your mind. The tempo continues to steamroll as the shrieks devastate, and cleaner calls send cool waves to soothe you. The guitars gust again as the vocals smother, and all the elements melt in glorious haze.

“Footprints of the Lost Child” pummels with a frenetic pace as the melodies hit their breaking point. The synth gives some regality as the playing cascades dramatically, letting your blood surge. A dip into acoustics and foggy synth goes into rippling power, speedy and heartfelt energy, and a finish that robs you of breath. “Those Who Stand Still” quakes as it starts, crushing with great riffs and hypnotic playing that makes your heads spin. Things gets numbing as the pace halts, noise drizzles, and then a fresh explosion acts as a tidal wave, leaving everything washed away. The title track closes the album with clean trickling and synth rising with the atmosphere acting like a calming force. Strings glaze as warm, gentle waters flow, mixing into a cosmic void that bring this instrumental cut to an end.

“Hymn to the Woeful Hearts” is the finest work of Pure Wrath’s run, an album that establishes a major chunk of the melodic black metal world to them, which they richly deserve. Every part of this record is jammed with genuine emotion and unmistakable power, truly paying homage to the mother whose experiences are at the center of this record. This is a rush of an album musically, something exciting and utterly electric, but at its core, it’s a human story about someone who would not give in even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Cult of Luna’s emotional growth burst packs power on ‘The Long Road North’

Photo by Sylvia Grav

One’s presence here on Earth should not be a sedentary one, simply taking up space and absorbing oxygen and fuels just so we live to the next day. Sure, we’re all busy and have different responsibilities than we had even a couple years ago with how much our world has changed, but staying in the same place and just walking life like a treadmill at one speed is no way to exist.

Long-standing Swedish metal institution Cult of Luna is the perfect model of that thinking as they’ve demonstrated their flexibility and refusal to settle over the past almost quarter century. That goes even further than ever on “The Long Road North,” their eighth and first full-length since 2019’s amazing “A Dawn to Fear.” The band—vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Kihlberg, guitarist/production master Magnus Lindberg, bassist Andreas Johansson, keyboardist/vocalist Kristian Karlsson, drummer/percussionist Thomas Hedlund—used the chaos that steamed from “Dawn” and their 2021 EP “The Raging River” and turned inward to measure personal growth and progress. It’s a mental adventure to become the humans the band strives to be, and it can work as a great tool to apply to our own lives, making sure we avoid complacency and we continue to grow.

“Cold Burn” begins plotting with chilled synth and a ramming pace, the gut-wrenching shrieks feeling particularly jarring. The track is icy and dark, trudging through the woods and collecting atmosphere, and then the keys thicken and travel, delivering an emotional heaviness you can taste. The roars land hard again, and a hazy gust comes to rest amid doomy warnings. “The Silver Arc” is dreary as it hangs overhead, the roars crunching and directing toward cataclysmic power. There’s a gothy feel that comes within the mist that’s gathering, and there’s a sense of calm that lands, laced with just enough unease. Things hiss before we head for an explosion, the vocals wrench forcefully, and the leads grow more immersive, the final moments pounding out your guts. “Beyond I” bathes in a synth cloud as Mariam Wallentin (of Wildbirds and Peacedrums) wails, “Someone’s calling out my name,” as the track bows to the chilling night. “An Offering to the Wild” is the longest track as 12:45, and it lets time for the atmosphere to build and mature, as the track unfurls its wings. At just before the five-minute mark, the roars land, and things come apart, compelling and scorching as the tension builds, while the earth rumbles below. The vocals sink teeth into flesh as fires flare, and a strange vibe settles into the waters, making everything feel uneasy. The flow comes alive again, overwhelming with power, and then everything fades.

“Into the Night” drips in feeling psychedelic, with a Floydian ambiance and force, the singing moving clean through the fuzz. The tempo works gently but forcefully, as Persson dreamily sings, “I hear you calling to me,” sending chills down your spine. The whole things blows up finally as the intensity blasts, with everything dissolving into eerie zaps. “Full Moon” is a strange, apocalyptic instrumental built with ominous stomps and chilling keys, moving toward the title track that starts with a dusty western sensation, almost as if you’re expecting cacti and coyotes calling. The vocals wrench as a spacey vibe darts through, moody backing increasing the darkness. Things keep pushing as the atmosphere thickens, keys ring out like signals (that element reminds me of “Finland” from “Somewhere Along the Highway”) before the vocals rush and punish. The playing drives harder as your heart rates increases, crushing and merging with the increasing noise hum. “Blood Upon Stone” combines thick keys and jolting riffs, the vocals peeling back flesh, the rocks pelting your prone body. Cosmic melodies snake into your oxygen as dark waves lap the shore, and a reflective stretch leaves you blissfully prone. Things heat up again as the vocals gut, a burst of sound flattens earth, and the final moments soar far into the deep night.  “Beyond II” closes the record letting synth sheets float and woosh, the drums crumble, and weird sounds and moans intoxicate you, preparing you rest under a canopy of stars.

Cult of Luna never fail to capture the imagination, and “The Long Road North” is another high point in a career full of them. Their soul journey they’re on with this record is impossible to shake, and who would want to when you’re surrounded by quaking, strikingly emotional music that gives as much to your heart as your mind? This is an all-time great band still operating on a frighteningly high level on their eighth record, and every journey with these nine tracks is an experience that will change you forever for the better.   

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Legendary Voivod remain vital, cosmically tormented on great 15th offering ‘Synchro Anarchy’

Photo by Catherine Deslauriers

Metal has its hefty share of bands that embrace speaking out on societal and political issues as well as trying to preserve the planet and take up for people with less power. That’s made it a lot easier to find bands that identify with our particular viewpoints, especially those who happen to be sympathetic to trying to preserve life for those around us.

Legendary Montreal sci-fi thrashers Voivod were some of the first to do that, lacing their early music with Reagan-era paranoia, nuclear worries, and environmental themes, with a huge dose of intergalactic fantasy, hence their alien mascot of the same name. After four decades of existence, the band is still running strong, getting ready to deliver their great 15th record “Synchro Anarchy,” an album that’s a blast of fun and finds Voivod sounding as powerful as they have the past 20 years, bringing their weird, warped style to these nine new tracks. The band—vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger, guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, bassist Dominic “Rocky” Laroche, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin—maintain their unique style as they sound undoubtedly like Voivod, and they remain as skeptical and worried about the world in which we live and whether enough people care to try.

“Paranormalium” kicks off the record, and immediately we’re ensconced in that bizarre Voivod spaceship only they can commandeer. The tempo jars as Chewy’s guitar work wonderfully reminds of the late Piggy’s weirdness, and we’re off to the races. Belanger is in fine voice, nasal and direct, playing with our emotions as this cut has all the classic trappings this band created. The title track brings jolting guitar work as the playing knifes your ribs, and there is some nice group harmony over the chorus, Belanger poking, “What are the odds?” Things get tricky before the guitars turn warmer, and then things glimmer as one more chorus blazes skies. “Planet Eaters” focuses on humanity’s penchant for scarring our own world and our formulating plans to branch into space with Voivod’s patented brand of absurdist humor that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. A proggy jerk hits you hard as the bass folds, the pace clobbers, and a spacious stretch lights up the soloing. “Mind Clock” is moodier and even a little softer at times, especially vocally, at least for the first part. Things heat up as the bass get flexible and the guitars chug, giving off their classic sense of thrash. The music turns feverish, whipping through space, speeding and tangling as things end in eerie detachment.

“Sleeves Off” brings crushing riffs and heavy bass, battering and confounding, the slippery verses feeling like alien flesh. A wah-heavy solo washes in and warps while the final moments explode and shred bone. “Holographic Thinking” gallops in as strong vocals bruise, and the guitars dice and emit stardust. “Gone forever! Out there, fading out,” Belanger snarls as the guitar work climbs into the atmosphere, searching and scanning for signals. “The World Today” delivers sludging bass and a jerky pace, with a smooth chorus numbing your senses. Guitars get strange and bubble, and the playing is never not catchy, always making your brain work overtime. “Quest for Nothing” has trudging riffs and an active imagination, and even some gang shouts are worked in to add to the wounds. “I am a small grain of sand,” Belanger notes, later following with, “This life is the only one I have,” a needed warning for those who haven’t been living within themselves. “Memory Failure” ends the album by chugging in and chewing bone, humid playing coating the flesh. “You’re here to find it, you’ll never find it,” Belanger taunts as soloing goes off, rubbery rhythms confound, and the song wanders off into the open void.

After 15 albums and four decades as one of the most forward-thinking bands in the history of metal, Voivod continue to deliver the charmingly weird goods like they do on “Synchro Anarchy.” These guys never sound old or dated as their music lives in the stars, and they’re as hungry and paranoid as they’ve ever been, which makes them such a charming and challenging band. All hail the Voivod, destroyer and distributor of justice in the universe.

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Sataray’s alluring, dark aura gets inside your bloodstream, chills on EP ‘Blood Trine Moon’

Photo by Hali Autumn

I was just having a conversation with someone about using substances when listening to music in order for the elements of the art to open up in different ways. It’s not a plight to get fucked up; you can do that anytime. Instead, I see it as a way to let the music work into you in ways your brain might not allow otherwise so that you can absorb it in a different manner.

I guess what I’m saying is I want to get high listening to Sataray’s new EP “Blood Trine Moon,” and it’s only because the impact it has on me sober likely can’t match what it would with some THC in my system. This four-track collection is immersive in a way that it acts like a ghost within your body, guiding you and helping you achieve visions you didn’t know were possible. Sataray titled this EP metaphorically to describe her creative process of bleeding and reflecting, and it impacts the music in such a haunting and gorgeous way that it is impossible not to be overcome from endless chills down your spine. It’s impossible to describe with words, but that’s why we’re here, so let’s try.

“Astara” opens with noises pulsating and a murky cloudiness overhead, swallowing you as chimes tingle. Ominous tones take over as spacey isolation becomes more apparent, darkness enveloping as Sataray chants the title as everything is vaporized. “The Lake” jars with synth and a shadowy essence, while ghostly calls emanate from damp corners. Weird vocals surround you as alien vibes work through your bloodstream, and an angelic haze lures you to somewhere you might not feel safe. “Fecundi” enters with a sense of regal origin, the vocals hovering over you in the collecting fog. That whole thing enshrouds as sounds vibrate, and a hand reaches out from the mystery, building pressure and bowing out to the night. “Hexen Nacht” closes things with voices gathering and an epic vibe building with synth strikes dashing. Percussive sounds rattle as the playing sweeps, and then beats punish and tease. A warming stretches over everything as the darkness thickens and your consciousness fades.

Sataray’s music is a ghoulish presence that easily can overtake you if you let it, and there’s no reason you should fear that journey. “Blood Trine Moon” is a calming but battered tribute to the creative process, a glimpse into her mind as she uses the spirit that moves her and compels the music you hear on this EP. This is a rich, stimulating experience that should align with anyone who sees the music they embrace as a sort of psychological partner.

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Hyper-prolific Krallice yet again create genre-defying heaviness on wiry ‘Crystalline Exhaustion’

The joke is always when Krallice release a new record, we go on about some surprising slab being dumped in our laps with us having no idea anything was even brewing. That wasn’t the case this time as the genre-strangling band gave us enough advanced notice and a solid release date to anticipate, and sure enough, they delivered as scheduled, not trampling anyone’s anxiety.

Well, that is until taking on “Crystalline Exhaustion” for the first time, the band’s 11th record in 15 years, which is just ridiculous for a band that puts out such complicated, confounding art. This six-track, 50-minute extraterrestrial being fits along with Krallice’s other records, but it also stands by itself based on the vibe and energy this thing delivers. The band—guitarist/vocalist Nicholas McMaster, bassist/vocalist Mick Barr, keyboardist/vocalist Colin Marston, drummer Lev Weinstein—still grapple in some form of black metal, though their sound has advanced beyond any label one can affix to their creations. The most chilling element here (other than the psychotic songwriting) is the increased presence of keyboards that add a ghostly, intergalactic sheen to these songs that aim to wreck your life.

“Frost” starts with bass hiss and a strange aura unloading, the synth that is a vital element of this record first rearing its head. The track spurts to life as the vocals endlessly wrench, and the band achieves an insanity and connection most bands only dream of realizing. The track gets frosty and mystical, the vocals seethe, and everything spirals back into the keys that swallow the final moments. “Telos” drives into your chest as the keys drip and the vocals punish, the drums ripping holes into reality. The feel is aggressive and gothy, the latter part something I’d never imagined I’d use to express Krallice, but here we are. Lastly, the guitars heat and melt, and beastly growls disorient as the track fades. “Heathen Swill” enters in tornadic fury as the keys bubble, the vocals dig in, and it feels like all the elements are swimming in your brain. The growls corrode as the playing staples your brain, the rhythm section ties psychosis in knots, and it feels like you’re having a sci-fi out-of-body experience that melts in a haze.

“Archlights” ruptures as harsh howls flatten, and a gruff, punchy tempo shoots sparks as the bass plods. A mystical aura is achieved as the synth chills and steam rises, the band continually confounding logic and time. The last gasp ramps up dangerously, trampling and disappearing into a brain fog, leading to “Dismal Entity” that begins shady and mysteriously as the synth increases. The track flexes with attitude as tricky power exerts itself, and you’re dodging punches you don’t even know are coming, moving into a synth swirl that mashes muscles and cells. The 14:11-long title track brings the record to its end as synth floats in an eerie cloud, and a thick blanket slowly absorbs all light. The playing tangles and gives off a freezing wind, reminding of prime early 1980s Rush, and about halfway through, the shrieks attack and crush. From there, it’s a strenuous ride as scorching playing and nausea-inducing melodies confound. It feels like hurtling toward the deepest reaches of the cosmos, playing games with your psychological well-being and body temperature, leaving you iced and devastated.

I’m not sure how Krallice can continue at this creative clip with 11 albums in 15 years, three in the past three! “Crystalline Exhaustion” is proof that this band has gears that most bands don’t even know exist, and to come up with something this compelling and strange that feels utterly fresh is astounding. The rules don’t exist anymore with Krallice, if they even adhered to any in the first place, and this record is as exciting and vital as anything else in their untouchable catalog.  

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