PICK OF THE WEEK: Cloud Rat put focus on welling frustration that jars sanity on ‘Threshold’

Photo by Luke Mouradian

Feeling like you can’t take anymore and not knowing where you’re going to find your next reserve of energy, if you even have any stored away, is one of the most frustrating experiences one can endure. It gets your anger, anxiety, and frustration activated, and it can be so much that trying to find calm and reason can be an impossible mission around which no arms could possibly wrap.

When you first read the word “Threshold,” the title of the new record from Cloud Rat, any number of ideas can go through your head. But if you head straight toward a situation that has someone on the brink of sanity, having endured all they can take, then you’re headed in the right direction. The Michigan-based grindcore/punk trio—vocalist Madison Marshall, guitarist/keyboard player/sample artist Rorik Brooks, drummer Brandon Hill—have a spoil of riches that is their vast back catalog, and as time has gone on, they have incorporated many different elements into the sound, refusing to remain uniform. On “Threshold,” the band puts forth some of their most volatile, devastating content. It’s a firestormer, but it also still has plenty of interesting bends in the road that will have you holding on for dear life, and the emotion they put forth floods dangerously from their hearts.

“Aluminum Branches” opens with noise welling and Marshall’s raspy screams decimating, landing punches as the playing slashes and later mauls. There is a moment where the chaos calms a bit, but it’s a temporary respite that ends in shocking fury. “The Color of a Dog” stabs and combusts, the playing mangling as moodiness rears its head, and then everything is turned to strangulating bloodshed that ruptures minds. “Inner Controller (Lucid Running Home)” utterly thrashes as Marshall’s vocals leave bruising, and an electronic buzz rises and torments, the speed swallowing you whole. “Cusp” fires up and steamrolls, trudging as Marshall’s vocals hang like a morbid cloud above the din, her shrieks knifing into veins as things come unglued and eventually dissolve into the earth. “12-22-09” is murkier and darker, the vocals weaving into your psyche, the guitars lighting up and jolting with electricity. The drums punish as the playing gets even more daring, anguished wails working their way into your heart. “Listening Ear” slowly blazes before noise tears it apart, the vocals utterly rip, and the speed encircles, hurtling you toward “Shepherd” that bathes in metallic riffs. The pace bursts as the vocals are throaty and blunt, the panic stabbing its way into the earth. “Imaging Order” changes the pace with melodic riffs and heavy atmosphere before the assault explodes, Marshall howling, “Destroy!” The guitars race as punk energy hammers, Marshall continues to command with force, and angelic noise rises from the charred remains to gasp a hint of beauty.

“Persocom” is battering as guitars tangle and spread, speed torments, and Marshall’s howls leave dents in your chest. “Porcelain Boat” is insanely aggressive, punishing as the drums become a war machine, harsh shrieks opening up once-congealing wounds that now ooze all over again. “Kaleidoscope” opens with synthy chills and heavy fog, bringing more of a straight-up rock vibe that gives you a little breather from the wall-to-wall chaos. Later, that blows up as carnage collects, a melodic gust makes your blood rush, and a strange bed of keys helps you properly disassociate. “Ribbon Boat” charges in with fiery vocals and punk thunder, the gargantuan screams and beastly playing forming something you can’t even dream of challenging. “Corset” is mathy and smashing, the vocals destroy, and the drumming turns bones to dust. The elements combust as the pace jabs and sizzles, riffs thicken, and the final gust makes the blood race through your veins. “Ursitory” unloads with vocals that aim to choke you, and then an odd excursion heads into calmer waters, Marshall flexing her cleaner voice to kelp soothe wounds. Echoes rupture and the temperatures rise dangerously, heading into closer “Babahaz.” Noise hovers like a dark cloud, and then the playing jars viciously, the vocals defacing everything in its presence. Deep growls carve as the playing gets thrashier, melodies emerge that reek of black metal, and the power finally combusts, ending this race in calm, cool waters that wash away your pain.

The hurt, frustration, and anger paced into “Threshold” is palpable, a beast that works with you and against you, helping you see and understand the darkness but leaving it up to you to find a way to friendly shores. Cloud Rat not only sum up the torment in their own hearts and minds, but they also help align with all of us who have suffered greatly and been at sanity’s edge far more often than most of us would be willing to admit. It’s madness, agony, and catharsis laid out over 15 venomous tracks that will put you to the test but also leave you more battle tested and calloused for your next bout with hell.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://artoffact.com/releases/threshold/

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

Human Corpse Abuse take apart bodies and minds with appalling horrors on feral ‘Xenoviscerum’

I like to think I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to obscene horrors, at least when it comes to movies and television. Real-life stuff probably would not go down quite as well with me, but we’ll cross that disgusting bridge if and when we get to it. Having it packed into music so I can escape like a terrifying film is something that’s exciting, though, especially in the season in which we’re enjoying.

Blood, guts, and terrifying bodily transformations are smeared all over “Xenoviscerum,” the debut from Human Corpse Abuse. The band—guitarist/bassist/vocalist Shelby Lermo (Vastum, Ulthar) and drummer Adam Jarvis (Pig Destroyer, Misery Index, Lock Up)—apply menacing levels of grind, powerviolence, death metal, punk, and many other foul colors to mash over these 12 tracks and 17 minutes of run time. Yes, technically there are a dozen songs, but the entire thing is meant to be digested as a single, non-stop piece, and considering you’re not asked to devote a terribly large amount of time, no way this should be a problem no matter how limited your attention span. It’s also helps that the thing is morbidly fascinating, deviously brutal, and packed with abrasive noise that easily captures your attention.

“Spinefucker” churns and crushes as it knifes into existence, spewing violence as vicious shrieks deface, coming unglued as we head into “Cerulean Offal” and its weird and nightmarish synth. Then things get maniacal as the playing corrodes, snarling and pulverizing, tearing everything to shreds as we knife into “Suckling at the Wheal” that immediately lands haymakers. Monstrous hell erupts as wild shrieks undo your mental health, and the playing splatters hard, ending with crazed cries. “Tumor Eater” is a piledriver delivered with little concern for your neck’s health as the gut-ripping riffs explode, clobbering and leaving you reaching for walls with little to no balance. “Endoparasitic Cranial Plasmoid” brings vocal torment and drumming that feels like it’s trying to end your life, the shriek/growl mix doing ample damage and smearing your juices on the ground. “Convulsing Labyrinth of Flesh” is thrashy and intense, punishing as guttural chugging wrecks your digestive system, spreading agony before it flees after having left a sizable pool of blood behind.

“Strangulation Ritual” is blinding right off the bat, the growls gurgling amid the gears of a beastly assault. The guitars go off, snarling with intensity before ripping out your guts. “Spiraling Teeth” is mashing but also has a hypnotic urge that sizzles with relentlessness, burning before it fades out and allows “Necroformicophilia” into the room, delivering total and complete demolition. Everything comes apart as the track is consumed by animalistic hell that blows in, destroys everything, and leaves only tatters behind. “Skinsect” absolutely dissects its victim, turning everything to a pile of goo as the playing deals in complete ferocity that sinks into sludgy pools. “Cryptoglossus (Gallery of Tongues)” explodes out of the gates as growls and shrieks unite and torture, and the insane pace twists your bones into interesting new shapes that will be impossible to reverse. Closer “We Are All in Hell” (featuring vocals from Nails’ Todd Jones) is the epic of the bunch, running 2:57 and bludgeoning and trampling, multiplying the thrashy madness. Shrieks gut as the playing mauls with precision, pouring blood and shards of bone as a sci-fi-style synth blanket covers everything and ends in total darkness.

“Xenoviscerum” is an experience that doesn’t last very long, is over before you know it, and for some reason, it’ll feel like you’ve been through a fight pit and endless bouts you never had a prayer of winning. Human Corpse Abuse dump a ton of influences and sounds into this 12-movement assault, so many that it’s difficult to get a hold of them on your first trip through, or even your 50th. This is intense, violent, and vile, a total and complete beating that will drain blood and marrow from your quivering body, scarring you physically and psychologically.  

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

To buy the album, go here: https://caligarirecords.bandcamp.com/album/xenoviscerum

Or here (CD, Americas and Europe): https://selfmadegod-store.com/product-eng-14349-HUMAN-CORPSE-ABUSE-Xenoviscerum-CD-PRE-ORDER.html

Or here (CD, Asia): https://obliterationrecords.bandcamp.com/album/xenoviscerum

Or here (digital): https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/

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

And here: https://selfmadegod.com/

And here: http://www.obliteration.jp/

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

Sumac, Keiji Haino join again for explosive, improvised chaos on ‘Into This Juvenile Apocalypse…’

Photo by Kazuyuki Funaki

I read an interview with Alice Cooper once who was ruminating on how to create a song and the formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-rinse-repeat that he obviously sticks to and has worked for tons of artists. I’m not criticizing Alice, as I get what he’s saying, but there is more than one way to create art, and a song should not necessarily have to answer to rigid guidelines in order to be considered worthy.

I adore Alice (his music; not his politics), but his head would explode if he had to endure “Into This Juvenile Apocalypse Our Golden Blood to Pour Let Us Never,” the third collaboration between Sumac and Japanese free-form artist Keiji Haino. I fear his formulaic heart would explode if he encountered these six tracks that run nearly an hour combined and absolutely challenge what you might think a song should be. That’s hardly new territory for Sumac—guitarist/vocalist Aaron Turner, bassist Brian Cook, drummer Nick Yacyshyn—and Haino, but on this collaboration, they went a step further, setting up live at the Astoria Hotel in Vancouver and creating spontaneously with no one knowing what would transpire. The effects are awe inspiring, inventive, and intimidating, a record that requires multiple visits to even begin absorbing in full. That’s honestly half the fun.

“When logic rises morality falls Logic and morality in Japanese are but one character different” is your 12:11-long opener, flowing open and wandering, delving into noise howls and pulsating scrapes that feels like they’re eating into your ribcage. Haino’s howls break any serenity, drunken guitars sprawl, and the sounds crash to earth like a wounded satellite, brining pattering power before everything dissolves into calm. “A shredded coiled cable within this cable sincerity could not be contained” dawns in feedback squalls as the drums lumber, and the playing sends jolts through your nervous system. Plucked strings feel like they’re poking as your psyche, then Turner’s unmistakable roar breaks through barriers, letting the chaos build and the noise hammer. Further howls blister, the playing sizzles and fries, and the drums plaster as the full assault slips into the clouds. The title track runs 11:47 and slowly comes to life, letting the pressure collect and the guitars spread in calculated manner. Connections rattle as blood collects in your eardrums, bending and blinding, the drums turning everything into a fine paste. The power scorches, the elements pummel, and its juices are poured into the planet’s core.

“Because the evidence of a fact is valued over the fact itself truth??? becomes fractured” is the longest track at 12:13, fading in from oblivion and trickling as Haino howls relentlessly, repeating his mantras as the playing develops a sense of dread. The sound feels like it melts into a metallic pool, swinging through dreamier passages before stopping at wiry impulses that emerge from the fog. The storm seems to increase as the playing begins to melt, electric jabs raise flesh, and everything grows moody and misty before disappearing. “That fuzz pedal you planted in your throat, its screw has started to come loose Your next effects pedal is up to you do you have it ready?” is a complete blizzard of noise as it enters, chugging and mauling, the roars detonating. Feedback scales as the playing develops a jet engine vitality, Haino wails toward the heavens, and the lapping power seeks to pull you under, ending in a bed of sonic annihilation. Closer “That ‘regularity’ of yours, can you throw it further than me? And I don’t mean ‘discarding’ it” is the shortest track, running 5:37 and unleashing doom that coats the earth. The drumming sprawls as the ripple of fury tortures your brain, teasing and releasing, leaving you charred.

This new collaboration between Sumac and Keiji Haino is something that’s astonishing to accept at face value, and once you realize the particulars of how this piece came together, it’s even more mind blowing to absorb. “Into This Juvenile Apocalypse Our Golden Blood to Pour Let Us Never” is hard to compare to their two previous excursions because it’s its own beast, something that can’t be measured regarding other creations. It’s an experience to behold, preferably alone, maybe with an altered mind, as there is so much here to endure, that undivided attention is the only gift you can offer these artists who left all of what they had on the stage. Song formulas be damned to hell.

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

And here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100024839485399

To buy the album, go here: https://thrilljockey.com/products/into-this-juvenile-apocalypse-our-golden-blood-to-pour-let-us-never

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

Aussie maulers Faceless Burial apply beatings on psyches with ‘At the Foothills of Deliration’

I’m good at a handful of things, none of them expert level, certainly zero of them things that other people would envy or be astonished to see in practice. It’s OK. I’ve come to terms. It makes me a little envious sometimes when I do encounter other people with skills that are so compelling, I don’t even know how to approach an inch of their ability. It’s why I write and don’t perform music.

Australian death metal force Faceless Burial not only are a strong unit when it comes to creating their art; they’re also such technically proficient players that it’s kind of intimidating. On their splattering third record “At the Foothills of Deliration,” the band—vocalist/bassist/synth player Alex Macfarlane, guitarist Füj, drummer Max Kohane—create a cacophony of death metal madness that’s incredibly well played and almost scientific in its execution, but it never leaves behind the heart and emotion. Over six tracks and about 40 minutes, the band turns out a blistering performance that’s flexible, creative, and smothering in the best way possible.

“Equipoise Recast” bursts and turns into a rubbery assault, the playing crunching, the melodies twisting your brain into a pretzel. Things spiral and the vocals get more aggressive, and the hostility continues to multiply, later allowing some spacious energy into the room. Things get tricky and then hazy, the growls engorge, and things ripple out of control. “A Mire of Penitence” mauls as the growls boil, and the insanity hits a fever pitch as gears eat into your flesh. Carnage swells as the thick bass flexes, crushing wills as the playing grinds, and the final bursts rob your lungs of breath. “Dehiscent” tears open and hammers with reckless abandon, creating infernal energy that singes the flesh. The energy spikes as the drumming bores into the earth, the guitar work hisses, and then everything is flattened as proggy thunder levels buildings.

“From the Bastion to the Pit” trudges in grime and continues to get filthier by the moment, devastating with a pace that’s impossible to handle. The force switches paths as it stabs and dares, the growls lurch, and the terrain grows more demonic and intimidating. The playing swelters as the bass snakes through mud, the drums turn planets to dust, and the smearing fury leaves ash in your mouth. “Haruspex at the Foothills of Deliration” is a brief, strange instrumental that’s muggy and situates in clean guitars and a bizarre haze that stretches into closer “Redivivus Through Vaticination” that’s utterly menacing. Growls bury your fear in aggression, the guitars spark a strangling tempo, and hellish battery increases and hunts you down. Guitars zap as the band offers up some final muscle-wrecking power, decimating and suddenly getting ripped away by an abrupt ending.

Faceless Burial obviously have a stranglehold on the more technical aspects of playing death metal, but their creations are anything but antiseptic and showy at the expense of the music. “At the Foothills of Deliration” is another masterful execution of the heaviest, gnarliest of metallic forms, done in such a way that it makes you wonder how the fuck they did this and also keeps you fully immersed in the adventure. It’s hard to ask more for from that from a band such as this, and they continually knock this thing out of the park.

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

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

Or here: https://www.mesacounojo.com/shop/faceless-burial-at-the-foothills-of-deliration-vinyl/

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

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Escuela Grind blast back against oppressors with snarling ‘Memory Theater’

It’s crucial to have a spot to ruminate on issues or one’s own philosophies in a place that’s secure and doesn’t threaten ideas that could trigger those who don’t feel the same way. Having your own territory to explore your mind and ideas is crucial to becoming a fuller person, and as long as those subjects aren’t feeding off fascism or oppression, it’s a great way to enhance your intellectuality.

New England crushers Escuela Grind center on that idea with their thunderous second full-length “Memory Theater.” The title is based on a concept where a space created by those thoughts, feelings, and philosophies is formed, and these thunderous nine tracks are just that for this band—vocalist  Katerina Economou, guitarist Kris Morash, bassist Tom Sifuentes, drummer Jesse Fuentes. This is as volatile creation that also involves Economou’s studies in history, politics and experiential events, along with her own life (a sort of memory play, as it were) and piles that into this pit of explosiveness that aims to destroy those whose goal is to keep people down and fight back against power structures with no interest in equity. It’s so great hearing more bands embrace these ideas and lashing back at the growing tyrannical embrace so many people are inexplicably embracing. This music is more vital than ever.

“Endowed With Windows” opens with urgency, firing up and sludging, easily leaving bruising. “Access my mind through all its windows,” Economou howls, “Not through my hormones nor through my skin tone,” as the track rips away. “My Heart, My Hands” explodes and hammers, sending jolts through your nervous system, chugging and splattering, smearing menace that’s lined with blood. “Cliffhanger” feels doomy and dark when it starts, but then the detonation sends sparks flying, the thrashy fire claiming victims. “Don’t push me because I’m close to the edge,” Economou warns, the playing slowly swaggering and burying you in sand. “Strange Creature” brings trampling guitars and power that corrodes, adding grit that leaves abrasions on the skin. “Banished from the ground, banished from the sea, banished from the spirit,” Economou wails as the menace builds, and the playing melts flesh.

“Faulty Blueprints” is blinding and filled with rage, slaughtering and draining marrow from bone. The guitars swoop as the massacre increases, the words, “Must not rebuild faulty blueprints,” spat from Economou’s mouth. “All Is Forgiven” crushes as the drums mash, and the playing sends bone fragments sprawling. Economou shrieks and rakes you across the coals as the pace gallops dangerously, and the playing stampedes to its end. “Forced Collective Introspection” is absolutely storming, overwhelming before you even know what hit you. The playing continues to get faster and gnarlier, and things are properly unhinged, Economou shouting, “Feels like you got something you want to say, crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” as the final moments are stomped into the ground. “The Feed” mashes as everything comes unglued, the vocals destroying everything in its path. The channeled aggression releases stream that’s built up inside, guitars sweep, ad the drums splatter, letting the blood drip and pool. The closing title track rings out before engaging violently, the fiery vocals elevating your body temperature. The energy is thick and rich, the playing has a manic desperation, and Economou wails, “When I dream, I see skin flailing, loose from tissue, gilt as a painting,” leaving terrifying imagery in your brain as the record comes to a devastating end.

For the cowardly crowd that cries over everything being woke, Escuela Grind is a band you won’t survive, “Memory Theater” a record that will elevate the quivering fear you feel in your guts. This band’s brand of muscular grind is empowering, fights back against people trying to rewrite rules to move the gears of oppression, and fears no one who is trying to stand in the way. The record gets your blood rushing, your strength pooling, and your fists clenched as you join to battle the forces trying to hold you back and bury them deep into the earth.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://mnrkheavy.com/collections/escuela-grind

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

Labyrinth of Stars travel deep into cosmos, unveil death that scars on ‘Spectrum Xenomorph’

I’m going to be super disappointed if one day we finally make contact with intelligent life on other worlds and they end up just being other humans like us. I’m prepared for other humanoids, but I want to them to be exotic and completely different from us. I probably won’t live to see this happen, so I’m not super worried about it, but it’s going to occur one day, and I hope it’s mind blowing (and that I’m still alive).

Newly formed death metal trio Labyrinth of Stars has intergalactic storytelling and examination at their core, and they splash that all over their devastating debut album “Spectrum Xenomorph.” Combining members of other metallic forces including Lantlos, Valborg, and Owl, the band—Markus Siegenhort aka AcidGhost Athereum (vocals, rhythm guitars, bass, synthesizer), Christian Kolf aka Invisible X-Star (vocals, lead & rhythm guitars, bass, keyboards), Dirk Stark aka Transcendent Architect Astralis (vocals)—creates black metal that’s furious, encompassing, and even industrial-leaning in many corners, always leaving room for your imagination to run wild as they dig into extraterrestrial terrain.

“Star Pervertor” feels like it tears in from light years away, delivering stomping that feels like it’s built from alien particles and industrial haze. The playing is piledriving, sinking a knife into the earth, vibrating amid total devastation. “Aethereal Solitude” starts with clean guitars that melt and grind away, pounding through muddy pools of hell. Voices swirl in the air as the playing gets more guttural, crushing hypnotically as it claims your mind. “Ancient Machines in Authority” explodes as the vocals sink in its teeth, trudging hard as you choke from the thick smoke cover hanging overhead. The chorus hits hard as the leads catch fire, a proggy feel twists your brain, and chilling synth leaves you encapsulated in ice. “Log Gamma – Orphan With An Abstract Face” is a quick interlude that sounds like it is delivering transmissions from galaxies far away, feeling frigid and isolated as you wander through the cosmos.

“Galactic Ritual” is devastating, pouring fire and multiplying the monstrous assault that’s coming right for your throat. The lava bubbles as it multiplies at dangerous levels, and the band turns on the burners, scorching and defacing as the cries demand, “Release me!” as things fade into dust. “Vacuum” opens with mechanical terror and power that punches into the crust of the earth. The playing melts into an atmospheric dream as clean trickles push like they’re trapped under ice, the howls reengaging the fury that’s a constant element of this record. “Dissolving Into the Eternal Nothingness” bleeds in and then trudges through blood and bone, the savagery wading in thick oceans of oil. The playing blisters and trudges, delivering dour spirits that slowly dissolve into the night sky. “Transmission Delta – Exile” is the 12:41-long closer that’s an extended ambient piece, one that’ll chill you to the bone. Bass plods as the sound vortex envelopes you, detaching you from reality and building pressure that feels like it’ll make your face explode and belch guts, rumbling into temperatures no human being could withstand.

“Spectrum Xenomorph” is a scintillating journey into worlds not visited by human beings where the darkness is impenetrable, the cold a physical prison. This first record from Labyrinth of Stars might be one that combines hefty forces from other metal projects, but this band is not pinned to any of those entities and exists as its own spirit. This is exciting, scary, and isolated, an album that’ll make you know fear but also adventure as you hurtle into black holes in your own mind.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://translationloss.com/products/spectrum-xenomorph

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

Stormland dig even deeper into Gundam’s mythology, storylines on captivating ‘The Human Cost’

Stormland: Mecha death

There’s a level of violence and devastation one normally expects from death metal, whether or not that’s fair. It’s not like there’s only one way to do things, and as long as it’s something that gets inside your guts and makes you feel the torture, the approach philosophically and lyrically can be any number of things. And it can be fun. That’s OK, even if it’s gross and blook soaked.

When it comes to one-man death bruiser Stormland, long helmed by Justin Pierrot, you’re going to get playing that squeezes your nerve endings, technical prowess that never forgets to add heart, and … tons of tales about the anime creation Mobile Suit Gundam meta-series. I’ll admit up front I know fuck all about this nor Gundam as a whole, but I walked away from “The Human Cost” thoroughly entertained and now somewhat informed about the basics, which I may examine further. Pierrot leapt into the Gundam world on the first Stormland full-length “Songs of Future Wars,” and before that the topic field ranged from politics to Stephen Colbert to fucking Bas Rutten. It’s been a rich collection of ideas that has always made Stormland a good time. But delving again into the Gundam universe makes for as record that’s still violent, plenty bloody, usually ominous, and packed with death metal glory on an eight-track, compact serving of an album that never forgets to entertain you. WITH DEATH!

“Marida” begins, a track based on the character Marida Cruz that bursts wide open and delivers a frantic pace that keeps up the entire track. “You watched your sisters get annihilated, somehow you survived unspeakable things, how could you forgive? Now let violence ring,” Pierrot howls, the leads glimmering, and a spacious jolt swallowing everything whole. “Esper” delivers drumming crashing and slashing death giving a disorienting beating. The guitar work takes on a burst of atmosphere, the low end crushes, and everything speeds up before chugging out. “Extreme Reaction” explodes with zany guitars and an explosive thrust into the stars, the howls rampaging along the way. “Adopting this identity, I am what has saved me, if I can ever be redeemed, I must transcend humanity,” Pierrot belts, the chorus spiraling, ending with the declaration, “I am become Gundam!” The playing continues to open and reverberate, hammering out the final declarations. “Test Subject” is harsh and sludgy as it starts, and there’s even a Korn/Sepultura filthiness that feels oddly satisfying. Pierrot is joined on vocals by Leda Paige (of SISSY XO and The Hallowed Catharsis among others), and her howls over the chorus carve into your mind and let you bleed out from psychosis.

“Lethal Ballet” starts with clean guitars haunting before the energy begins to jolt, and thrashy goodness blasts through, sending cinders flying. There’s a lot of color and variety in the playing, making an already interesting record a little more vibrant, and as Pierrot wails, “To survive another day, time expands as I dance between the beams, I shoot to kill,” the danger is amplified and blisters out. “Rebuilt for Your Whims” features Ross Sewage (Exhumed, Ghoul, Ludicra, etc.) and enters amid a humid atmosphere, the dueling vocals mixing toxicity nicely. The thrashing bruises ribs as the mud thickens, and the spiraling punishment bleeds away. “Beast of Possibility” brings sweltering leads that tease and threaten, and then things get sooty, burying your face into ashes. “What happens when the key opens so much more? When you’ve been given the Beast of Possibility?” Pierrot drives, barreling toward challenging terror and eventually a brief respite of calm. The soloing picks up speed, the viciousness drives the knife, and everything comes to an ultraviolent end. Closer “Beyond Gravity, Outside Time” is an imaginative, even breezy instrumental that takes on some jazzy dashes and swelling melodies, switching back to mauling waves that crash over and wash you away.

Stormland and Pierrot figure out a way to make death metal that’s still plenty violent and twisted, yet in the fantastical world of Gundam, so it’s best of both worlds. “The Human Cost” is a rather compact adventure that is content to blister you with energy and passion and never comes close to overstaying its welcome. This is a gut-wrenching and fun adventure into an anime classic series that doesn’t require your knowledge to enjoy this battering but likely makes it even richer if you’re tied into Gundam.

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

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

Death brawlers Acephalix look at empty heavens and laugh on devastating ‘Theothanatology’

Photo by Adam Houmam

I live in equal parts amusement and abject fury over people who have decided god, the Christian one, is some sort of tool for mocking people in protected statuses, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and anyone whose lifestyles aren’t compatible with theirs. It’s almost like they don’t even understand the faith they hijacked. Provided this god is even real, what if he or she or it died? Gone. Never to be seen or heard from ever again.

“Theothanatology” is the idea or belief that god is dead, and it happens to be the name of the new record from Acephalix, their fourth and first in five years. The band’s brand of spiraling, psychologically scarring death metal remains intact, and they use these eight songs to explore this idea that a celestial god figure did exist and now no longer does. It’s a terrifying idea whether or not you’re a believer in such a thing, and the band—vocalist Daniel Butler, guitarists Adam Camara and Adam Walker, bassist Erika Osterhout, drummer David Benson—plasters these tracks with sinister dread and a spirit that feels like it’s eating into your mind and reminding you that everything you thought was possible has changed forever in as unsettling a manner possible.

“Theothanatologist” is a punishing opener that begins with an ominous preacher quote before it’s on to blistering death, Butler wailing, “Theo… thano… tologistic might,” over the bruising chorus. Guitars heat up as the intensity remains beastly, the growls mar, the playing hits back, and the detached speaking works like a ghost into your brain. “Godheads” has a savage pace and a mix of growls and shrieks, Butler howling, “Godheads, invading Godheads, enslaving Godheads, gripping us tight.” The pace continues to flatten as the band thrashes violently, and everything ends as a warped mess. “Abyssal” lets the bass drive the first mile before the guitars take a spiraling dive, strange speaking sending chills down your spine. The guitar work stretches out and creates a balmy atmosphere, and the heat continues to rise before fading. “Postmortem Punishment” is utterly morbid, crunching bones and plodding as you’re dealt severe punishment. The growls deface as a meaty pace digs into your psyche, the drumming steamrolls, and the final blows leave burn marks all over your body.

“Innards of Divinity” manages to find a way to get even darker, the growling/speaking mix again working its moribund magic. “Blanketed with blood, born amidst as crud, this God eclipsing light, this warmth of sacrifice,” Butler snarls as the guitars grind into a mush, and the pace snakes and destroys, leaving its victims convulsing. “Pristine Scum” dawns amid warmer leads before things get blunt and bloody, the punishment lathering with filth. “Godless believers, they run toward blighted, vacant heavens, disillusioned and squandering life, mania as religion,” Butler stabs, a sobering and accurate portrayal of much of American society as spacey hell opens its jaws, and the guitars glimmer before fading. “Defecated Spirit” brings riffs that threaten and thickening shadows as the growls creep up your back. Twisted madness challenges your mental well-being as the tempo blisters hard, and the final blows of thrashing easily hit their marks. Closer “Atheonomist” delivers thawing riffs and breathy calls before we land in a very deliberate hell. “Atheonomous brute, the law is death, atheonomous brute, acephalic,” Butler howls as the pressure pushes into a sound pocket that aims to swallow you whole, only to be undone by one final push that drives nails into your skull.

In a land where religion once again has been weaponized and used to beat people down, would it be the biggest shock in the world if a god worth any merit would hurl him or herself into the void? “Theothanatology” is the confrontational, devastating documents we’ve come to expect from Acephalix, but as we creep deeper into the point of no return, there perhaps never has been a more vital time for their music. This is a record that will dig deep into your psyche and recalibrate all the mental wounds you’ve suffered at the hands of religion and help you fight back with proper amounts of spite and scorn.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ACEPHALIX79

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/acephalix

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: KEN mode blast with molten rage, frustrations over mental darkness on ‘Null’

Photo by Brenna Faris

I don’t think anyone is arguing that the pandemic has sucked and took a lot out of people psychologically. A lot of people just gave up caring and did whatever they wanted, other folks’ lives (and their own!) be damned. For others, it was a period of necessary isolation where our existence turned into monotony and worry, often taking a severe toll on our well-being.

Winnipeg-based noise beasts KEN mode felt it too, perhaps more than some other people because their artistic outlet essentially was shut down completely. Being in a music scene and having regular activities around making music created a sense of community for the band, and losing that took a toll psychologically, creating darkness where the despair already was thick. The band eventually broke out of that and ended up on a creative tear, the first portion of that arriving with their monstrous new record “Null,” the first of a two-album arc. The second will arrive in the future, but for now the band—vocalist/guitarist/synth player Jesse Matthewson, his brother and drummer Shane Matthewson, bassist/backing vocalist Skot Hamilton, and new member Kathryn Kerr, who plays saxophone, synth, and piano, and does backing vocals—absolutely delivers a stinging, destructive, violent collection of eight tracks that are the most varied musically of their entire run and contain some of their most direct, blunt lyrical content. If you’ve been following along with KEN mode, you realize how serious that.

“A Love Letter” gets things off to an unsettling, bludgeoning start, Jesse’s vocals taunting and snarling, Kerr’s sax feeling like an unhinged jugular convulsing and puking blood. “It was a mistake to ask me for help,” Jesse wails as things continue to collapse both musically and mentally. “This untasteful place, something is broken, something is FUCKED,” drives home the dagger, the violence of hopelessness angling and gushing, ending this thing in warped gears of machine. “Throw Your Phone in the River” follows that up with mauling intent, the vocals scratching at the throat, guitars burning and striking, giving you no time to take control of your emotions before it’s directly into “The Tie” and its warped pit of noise. Jesse calls over the soundscape as the sax returns like a beast at night watching you, always returning to chill your blood. The warped experience climaxes with further disillusion, Jesse begging, “Let this never actually matter at all.” “But They Respect My Tactics” trounces and tangles as guitars heat up, and the humidity is so thick that breathing turns to gasps. “I’m just trying to keep myself from drowning,” Jesse levels soberly as your senses are battered, and your brain is permanently rewired.

“Not My Fault” brings fluid guitars and an uncharacteristic tempered pace even as the vocals scrape fresh wounds. Things get moodier as the blisters rise, and then the agitation overflows, shouts pummel, and your well-being suddenly is called into question. “Lost Grip” runs 10:02, easily the longest song here, and it lurks steadily, Hamilton’s bass making the scene even more harrowing, the menace starting a slow boil. “I don’t believe that you mean well,” Jesse hisses, a sentiment that keeps popping up throughout this creature, also admitting, “We deserve this.” Desert heat thickens as the pace begins to swagger, slashing senses and bones, rolling in somber soil, letting keys drip as everything finally rests in pulsating ash. “The Desperate Search for an Enemy” wrenches as the vocals attack, the bass flattens, and the guitars carve away. Kerr stalks with her sax playing, your nerves are frayed, and the band keeps punching back, letting the disturbed energy take complete control. Closer “Unresponsive” brings gurgling bass and a clubbing pace that sets the perfect stage for Jesse realizing, “I’m unraveling so much faster than I used to.” That sentiment festers, cold sweat lines palms, and Jesse, almost in a trance recites, “Forgotten, erased, unresponsive, replaced, abandoned,” like it’s been beaten into his head. That devastation manifests itself as the sounds thrash, and the essence disappears in filth and noise.

KEN mode records never are easy terrain nor a place where you want to go feel better about yourself and/or humanity, but “Null” takes that to an even higher, scarier level. This record feels like the end of a long period of mental torment, where the recipient has taken on damage so deep and severe, there may not be any climbing out of that hole. Most of us have been there, some of us still are, and for those settling on the brink, these eight songs prove the tension is real, tangible, and something to lash back at with absolute bloodlust.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://ken-mode.com/products/ken-mode-null

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

Philly killers Sonja recount life in shadow, seek bloody revenge on smoking debut ‘Loud Arriver’

Photo by Don Vincent Ortega

I don’t know what it’s like to live my life in fear, and I’m thankful for that. But that doesn’t mean that makes me feel good about our world, because there are many people who live every day unsure if they’ll survive it based on other people’s hatred. There are many groups of people who often are forced to live in the shadows, and half of the government officials in this country are trying to make that fight even harder for many fellow humans.

For Melissa Moore, she hoped she had a place among her Absu bandmates where her coming out as a trans woman would be embraced. Sadly, every member of that band but one is a fucking coward and fired her via email, and now the only label that will embrace that group is one also happily housing music from a band with nazi ties that potentially dabbled in pedophilia. Moore was not deterred as heavy metal is in her heart, and now she and her band Sonja are here with their awesome debut record “Loud Arriver,” a swaggering, steaming slab of power that offers no apologies. Moore—she handles vocals and guitars and is joined by bassist Ben Brand and drummer Grzesiek Czapla, the lone member of Absu who supported her—recounts her life when she had to live in secret and suffered as a result. She also offers messages of revenge for those who judge her and tried to destroy her life. The fact trans people are facing bullshit legislation being levied against them and still have to fear for their safety is a travesty, one of this country’s worst failures, and having more musicians such as Moore out there, in public, creating great art hopefully can help people see her and others as humans who are not to be feared or ostracized and whose work is to be celebrated like anyone else’s. Sonja’s is fucking great.

“When the Candle Burns Low…” gets things going with synth driving and Moore’s vocals sweeping in, with her voice demanding and keeping your attention. There’s a great dark energy lurking, and when Moore vows, “I will never die,” you can feel the defiance as the final blasts send extra energy. “Nylon Nights” is a killer, a track that dawns on a great riff and some lushness sitting behind the shadows. The singing even soothes at times, even when you know you’re being seduced, and Moore calls the title over and over, pushing toward great dual guitar lines and a final surge that bruises. “Pink Fog” starts with guitar work that reminds of Alex Lifeson as things get crunchy and catchy in a hurry, driving and lashing into the inviting shadows. Guitars pummel as Moore’s singing jolts your spine as she calls over temporary silence, driving the dagger into your thigh. “Wanting Me Dead” has an ominous flow as vintage riffs set fires, the playing sending your heart racing. “I’ve been waiting,” Moore warns as the bass plods, things get more delicate, and the call of, “She’s going to start killing people,” is a stark reminder not to get into path of revenge.

“Fuck, Then Die” is both fun and threatening as the guitars prick and probe, and Moore encourages the debauchery by reminding, “Because you’ll be dead tomorrow.” The sleaze thickens in the best way, the playing drives your foot on the gas pedal, and Moore wails, “Just want to fuck all day and all night,” knowing the end result is demise. “Daughter of the Morning Star” starts with the drumming taking the wheel, the vocals soaring higher, and strange tidings spreading, making your flesh go cold. The pace picks up later and catches fire as guitars lather, attitudes get nastier, and everything churns off into a puddle of sweat. “Moans From the Chapel” opens fluidly and sends shivers down your spine, combining elements that are equally breezy and morbid. Guitars glaze as Moore howls, “Tonight, she rides,” as the tempo picks up, and the promise of bloodshed is at hand. The closing title track starts with acoustics and softer tones before the pace launches, the bass thickens, and the guitars slip through the fog. Shadows emerge as wordless calls jostle, the air gets richer, and the final blows leave you gasping for air.

Sonja’s debut “Loud Arriver” is colorful, dark, and rousing, a seedy journey into true-life reality where danger lurks at every corner. Moore’s experiences with her transition, the darkness she had to encounter, and the bloody revenge that lurks in dreams and desires are tangible and get your own blood flowing. We stand with her and every trans artist trying to make an impact without judgment for who they are. We aren’t there yet, but bands like Sonja are vital in helping grow that understanding. This also is a triumph for Moore and Sonja in that they present a bold, defiant, and unforgiving record that captures real heavy metal spirit and stands as a fuck you to anyone who stands in their way, sparkly headband or not.

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

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

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