Having the honor of writing up Book of Sand’s new album “Seven Candles for an Empty Altar” is one thing, and its insane mix of black metal, strange experimentation, and overall discomfort has provided me hours of torment. The other thing is today, we present the actual music itself, this seven-track, 63-minute excursion into psychosis and punishment, one of the most warped black metal albums released by anyone this year. We’re not going to talk your ear off. You can read our review at the link below, but find out for yourself what this music means to you and how affected you are when it’s all over. Thanks immensely to Fiadh Productions for trusting us with this stream.
Black metal is a strange and often repetitive style of music, as much as we still enjoy it and sink lots of money into those types of records. I guess we can blame oversaturation of the sound, which applies to many different types of metal, and the difficulty cutting through a lot of that to find the artists who are defying convention and logic, violating all the alleged rules and frames of mind.
Book of Sand long strayed away from the expected and even the comfortable over the course of eight full-length records that have challenged and twisted brains into mush. Yet, on the project’s ninth album “Seven Candles for an Empty Altar,” sole creator dcrf finds inventive and complicated ways to deform black metal and create an entirely different beast that—WARNING!—almost assuredly won’t go down easily. Yes, the bulk of this seven-track, 63-minute opus is grimy and mangling black metal, but there are passages where you’ll forget where you are. You’ll find yourself wandering a blackened garden, stumbling over melted blacktop, and trying to take an inventory of your mental capacity. It also should be pointed out dcrf and Book of Sand are antifascist comrades squarely in the RABM circle and lashing back against the forces of oppression. Yet another reason to support Book of Sand fully.
Opener “Speak in Tongues of the Dead” runs 10:54, and the first chunk of the song has piano driving and stirring, for at least a stretch making it seem like the entire track is a dirge in this nature. About halfway through, the track rips open, dcrf’s howls reverberating, and the playing jolts your skeletal structure. That’s all while strange transmissions char and destroy, battering your psyche. The playing swims in a whirlwind, shrieks punish, and cosmic frying shorts your circuit board. “Soft Sun on Silent Water” opens with somber black metal riffs and the vocals burning, slicing into your brain. Blinding chaos rides hard as the vocals strangle, the playing cascades, and doomy clouds get even darker as mournful sax boils in the background. “Without the Limits of Power” brings tangling guitars that repeat for the first three minutes or so, letting its hypnotic energy spread, and then stiff punches land as the shrieks surface. The playing storms hard as dcrf lets his wild vocals take hold, the playing slashes tornadically, and we’re back to our minds being melted, the energy fading into the shadows.
“Kyrie” delivers abrasive noise and organs flooding, giving off a pastoral vibe before the pressure increases and crushes. The shrieks corrode while unhinged horns trample the ground, the gates exploding and letting rivers of blood rush through. A brief halts lets you catch your breath, and horns return, cataclysm multiplies, and the power sizzles away. “The Realization of Unclear Dreams” is the longest track at 13:51, beginning with horns sweltering, organs rising, and about 5 minutes in, the black metal assault launches in full. The playing is foggy and doomy, and the intensity pulls back and forth, subsiding at times, lashing back with virulence at others. Synth zaps as screeches lace your senses, and the playing gets dizzying and nauseous, spiraling and punishing before being swallowed whole by the cosmos. “6” is haunting and stinging, combining steady drumming with acoustics and chilling winds that make you shiver. The instrumentation reeks of endless darkness, notes chiming out, elegance stretching then dissolving. Closer “A New World Waits in the Soil” is a healthy 10:36 and immediately pummels with vicious riffs and charging shrieks, the doomy ambiance encircling. Cries rattle off the walls, and the melodies begin to feel imminently apocalyptic, the dense weather front menacing from above. Spacey swirls add even more imagination to the formula, your heads fills with chaos, and the playing burrows into the ground, disappearing into the soil forever.
Book of Sand traverse terrain so many other artists fear to tread, because accessibility and comfort are elements not even considered, and pure expression of black metal chaos always is at the forefront. “Seven Candles for an Empty Altar” takes things further than ever for this project, adding different instrumentation and atmospheres to the music and creating something exciting yet shocking to even those who have been with this band since the start. This is ambitious, dark, and devastating, a record that’ll scar you from listen one and change your perception of what is possible when creating the darkest of arts.
Fiadh has a slew of other releases, a really diverse offering that touches on many areas of metal and heavy music. We’ll have a roundup of those coming up Tuesday.
The pandemic had mostly negative impacts on people, and how could it not since it caused so much pain, isolation, and fear? But there were those who used the time to their advantage and tried to grow and change. Some took on new career paths, new interests, new hobbies and perhaps shaped their lives differently and expanded on their knowledge base.
As for German prog death/doom band Disillusion, they had their normal lives of being a touring band taken from them. Certainly, they were not alone in that category, so they used the time where touring wasn’t possible to work on their sound and used that to craft “Ayam,” their tremendous new record. For this album, the band—vocalist/guitarist Andy Schmidt, guitarist Ben Haugg, bassist/backing vocalist Robby Kranz, drummer Martin Schulz (Sebastian Hupfer also played guitar on the record)—is joined by other musicians in Birgit Horn (trumpet, flugelhorn), Clara Glas (cello), Frederic Ruckert (keyboard), and Marek Stefula (triangle) to flesh out these eight tracks and deliver some of the most atmospheric, emotional, and devastating of their run, which truly pays off the renewed focus they were awarded. This is a document that might not exist had it not been for that period of time, and it’s clear from the first visit with this record that the extra attention paid off.
“Am Abgrund” is the 11:21-long opener, dawning in mystical waters, clean warbled vocals meeting up with the crunch moments later. “From the top of the world to the end of the sea,” Schmidt calls as the guitars surge, and the stormy mood gets even more immersive. Acoustics sweep in, cutting into the energy, creaking through the murk as Schmidt wails, “I would like to believe I’m stronger than this,” as the guitars blaze. Gothy doom pumps as sounds liquify, the keys and quiet singing draining away. “Tormento” opens with gentle, breezy singing wafting as the playing jars, and maniacal vocals take over and drain blood. The playing punishes and sweeps, hitting new heights before briefly disappearing into shadows. A doomy push emerges, guttural hell erupts, and the smoke chokes out your lights. “Driftwood” swims in acoustics and delicate singing before gothy thunder strikes, and the melodies trudge and bloody mouths. Leads stretch as the guitars take control, gushing and pushing into dreamy sequences, numbing before slipping into the fog. “Abide the Storm” is the longest track, running 11:51 and churning and punishing right off the bat, the vocals defacing. Gruff shouts and building heat combine, horns pump, and softer playing and proggy thunder take hold, Schmidt wondering, “Where do we belong?” Repeat calls of, “The calm before the storm,” churn in your mind, the playing chugs, and everything comes to a disruptive end.
“Longhope” opens in keys and guitars digging into the ground, Schmidt’s vocals sending cool breezes and strange vibes. The emotion sweeps as the track tears open, the cloud cover thickens, and Schmidt reasons, “We are what we see,” just as the fires are stoked more heavily. The vocals punch, the playing busts, and everything slips into cold waters. “Nine Days” is moody and brings aching guitars, clean singing making the mist in front of you thicken. “You shall never reach the open sea,” Schmidt warns as the electricity jolts, and danger builds, and Schmidt finishes with, “No one knows my dreams tonight.” “From the Embers” slips in with quiet keys that entrance before the explosive pressure breaks, dark singing making the spirits around you come to life. Water laps as soulful calls chill, the guitars taking over and making energy charge through you, soaring with emotions and soothing energy that drains away. Closer “The Brook” wells up and makes blood rush to your face, moving delicately through dark waters and mystical wonders. Later, the playing engulfs, energy spitting fire, the power surging, and then the singing swells all over again. The playing takes jabs at your chest, ghostly echoes penetrate, and everything dissolves into the background.
Disillusion continue to progress a quarter century into their run, once again finding ways to devastate and compel on “Ayam,” one of their most full-bodied records so far. It’s emotional and moody for sure, and the heaviness and thorny playing make for more explosive elements that can torch your flesh and psyche at the same time. The strange mysteries built into the music keep your mind working, your curiosity peaking, and your inhibitions satisfied even if you’re not quite sure how that happened.
You can’t help but gaze into the vast night sky and feel a little lonely. There is so much beyond our world, possibly planets similar to ours struggling with the same issues, forces and beings we cannot possibly imagine. It’s easy to feel small and insignificant knowing you’re but a speck of dust in an entire universe, a place almost all of us never will get to explore.
Those feelings comes on pretty strong when taking on “These Nameless Worlds,” the new EP from Swedish black metal duo Lightlorn, as they offer a small sojourn into the unknown. Over four immersive tracks, the band—multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Renwar, drummer/programmer Riaan—flood these songs with cosmic atmosphere that fills your mind with tingling sensations and makes it easy to imagine leaving this place and finding out what lies beyond the Earth. The music might be epic in nature and fills your eyes with stars, but the thorns are sharp, and you won’t have a ride sans turbulence. It’s spirited and adventurous, sending jolts down your spine and opening your imagination to its fullest.
“Unmapped Constellations” opens with synth hovering as notes drip to the earth before the energy engages. Wild shrieks pierce the sky as spacious melodies race to the stars, the guitars eventually easing and bringing somber tones. That’s a buffer for another huge explosion, riffs charging and encircling, shrieks gusting, and the emotion charging away. “Through the Cold Black Yonder” guts right away as Renwar’s shrieks crush your ribcage, and then the riffs encircle and make the room spin out of control. Some poppier moments bring levity as keys drip and echo, riffs cascade, and the power increases before slipping into spacious numbness. Melodies gush again, keys plink, and every element slips behind the sun. “Dilation Sleep” dawns amid chiming guitars and a rush of fire, crushing and letting emotions gather in a flood. Foggy guitars mars your vision as the synth rises, clean calling icing your wounds and sending chills through your nervous system. The playing all of a sudden pounds away, riffs splatter, and vile howls drive home the daggers. Closer “Stargazing in the Abyss” eases in, the synth blazing and the riffs exploding with devastating power. The vocals wrench as the playing takes on a cool New Wave feel even if briefly, the playing lapping in cold water. Heartfelt chaos is mounted as the guitars gasp lava, the energy catapults, and everything burns off, leaving trails in the sky.
“These Nameless Worlds” contains so many different competing feelings, you might need a few trips through this Lightlorn EP to get a true hold of what these songs mean to you and what is their ultimate impact. It’s easy to slap the cosmic black metal label on something just because it’s immersed in more atmospheric and strange energy, but that descriptor truly fits here. This feels like whipping through the universe, the majesty and vastness making themselves apparent, the heartfelt force of what you’re witnessing making everything inside you shake and shift.
There are people out there—the person writing this passage may be one of them—who have a tendency to see connections between things that are unrelated. I could go on and on about the different ways this has played a role in my life and the solutions I have tried to diffuse the situation, but this is a heavy music blog, not necessarily a place for my personal therapy sessions.
Pittsburgh’s Emilio Rizzo, the mastermind behind drone/doom project Fuzznaut, chose the title “Apophenia” after hearing the word used on a true crime podcast, yet another thing here in which I heavily relate. Add that phenomenon to the pandemic, people buying into conspiracy theories and purposeful misinformation, and you have the recipe for a disaster. There certainly are threads of darkness sewn through these six songs, and how could there not be considering what we’ve all been through? But in the midst of that also is tribute to fallen heroes, namely Gared O’Donnell of the criminally underappreciated Planes Mistaken for Stars and guitar god Eddie Van Halen, adding a sad reminder that life is fragile, and we don’t always have with us the people who helped put us on our path.
The title track starts things, the drone spreading as the guitars flex, traveling through dust and developing a desert vibe. Ominous tones darken skies, but then light beams through and lessens the murk, pavement melts, and everything unfolds before zapping into space. “Parasitic Oscillation” delivers scuffed guitars and dirty quivering as steely melodies intertwine with the light. Things get sludgier and charring as agitated riffs strike, the doomy storm thickens, and the spirit then bleeds way. “What You Seek (Seeks You)” jostles as it enters, slowly unfurling into dissonance, the sounds thinning out like a rain easing up and letting sun through. Distorted leads burn and mystify, and that leads to burlier playing and noises hanging in the air before dissolving.
“Hawks Over Fifth” feels atmospheric and rough at the same time, the guitars heading into strange air as hypnosis begins to take hold. Things get dusty and grungy as the spirit of the thing floats through the air and into your vulnerable lungs. “Seconds Between a Swing and a Hit” (inspired by O’Donnell) opens with a lonesome vibe, the guitars echoing and flooding the senses. The vibe turns moody and rather sinister as your flesh chills, the playing buzzes and reverberates, and everything hurdles off into space. Closer “5184” contains a main riff that was written Oct. 6, 2020, the day Eddie Van Halen died, a fitting tribute from one guitarist to another. The playing trickles and trudges and at times makes the darkness take hold, but then gritty guitar work unlocks hidden sunshine. The playing still haunts in the midst of all of that, and the final moments mangle your psyche before finally letting go.
Rizzo creates an immersive and highly listenable collection of guitar and drone dirges on “Apophenia,” something you can put on if you need time for reflection or you just want to burn one as a long day comes to an end. Fuzznaut is a project that likely will find favor with Earth fans as well as those following local smokers The Long Hunt, and the trip you take here is numbing and slightly mind altering. This is a journey through a dry heat, but one that’ll feel oddly calming and psychologically rewarding.
Dark adventures are not for everyone, but those who embark can find so many things to take away, even when the waters are choppy and dangerous. Records that are more theatrical in presentation don’t offer the quick sugary shots 3-minute songs can, but using your imagination and indulging in the music can help you take that journey and get way more than you can from a bite size.
“Black Terrain,” the second record from Forlesen, is an album that is not great fodder for making quick playlists, unless their music is going to be helping you through a five-hour dental surgery (thanks, Forlesen!). These four tracks that stretch over nearly 60 minutes require your full immersion in order to get all the nutrients packed inside, but if you commit, you’ll find yourself on that dark sojourn, visiting murky terrain but also some exciting peaks that fill your guts with excitement. The band—Ascalaphus (vocals, guitars, synth, harmonium, bass), Bezaelith (vocals, bass, guitars, synth), Petit Albert (guitars, synth, Hammond B3 organ, backing vocals), Maleus (drums)— all have experience with other forward-thinking acts including the Botanist, Lotus Thief, Maudlin of the Well, and Kayo Dot, and they pour all of their imagination, solemnity, anger, and restlessness into this incredible record. It should be noted the great Leila Abdul-Rauf provides glockenspiel and trumpet, helping these four artists flesh out songs that are their own mini cinematic adventures that will enthrall and shake your hungry psyche.
“Strega” is the 19:10 opener, a track that works through a lifetimes of emotions and experiences, feeling like a centuries-long excursion from the wounds sustained. Doom clouds as Ascalaphus’s gentle vocals tell the story of loss and longing, melting through sorrow as Bezaelith’s joins as well, the somber journey only getting darker. The tempo picks up as the guitars drive the dagger, growls sizzle beneath, and we’re back to quiet and calmer waters, with agony swimming beneath. “We are the damned, but we held each other sometimes, we are the damned, then our arms became like chains,” infect your blood, a scorching fury unloads and leaves flesh torched, and the delicate surge takes over and flows into the title track, the shortest track on here, running 8:57. Sounds hover as gloomy passages get thicker and more ominous, drums echoing as Bezaelith calls into the shadows. The storm hangs over head as static spits, and a long, dark, dreamy passage gets more immersive, continuing to bolster stormy skies threatening and eventually sliding its way into oblivion.
“Harrowed Earth” runs 12:29 and delivers an instant burst, furious growls gnawing as bruised flesh begs for solace. “Avert not thine eyes, thou art lost, and cowardice becomes only the suicides, the path revealed, raise up a rock and murder love,” is wailed and blackens hearts, vicious shrieks penetrate, and the fires engulf and spread. There’s a respite from the vicious waves as Bezaelith calls over the tension, paying the emotional toll and soothing wounds. Things slowly melt as wild cries slash the sky, staggering riffs numb, and everything comes to a blurry end. Closer “Saturnine” runs 18:07, and the first eight minutes or so generate cosmic coldness, hovering and speaking in murmurs, exposing you to the frighteningly spacious universe. Guitars then buzz in and send shrapnel flying, the playing buzzes, and both voices combine and generate dreams before unrealized. “Time makes beasts of all its golden children, wild eyed, the ever-churning tide, as we egress through parodies of infancy, and we await being born,” makes your mind tumble and fall, hearts gush as the playing spirals, and the final call of, “Go now and let it all come…” haunts you dimensionally and reverberates as everything fades in noise.
“Black Terrain” is an exceptional experience, a record you absolutely must visit multiple times so that every rich element here can get into your brain and stimulate your imagination. Forlesen bring plenty of darkness but also the possibility of rebirth on your own terms, and these four tracks and nearly hourlong run time provide a thrilling and harrowing adventure of surging highs and crushing lows, embodying the human experience. This is a record that’s hard to fully convey in words, hard as we tried, so visit the music, make the journey yourself, and take inventory of your own transformation once the Forlesen craft lands and drops you off in the shadows of your own doorstep.
Record and music come together in various different ways under myriad circumstances, and surely each album you experience has a story behind it. The one we have today is a tale of friendship, health struggles no one would ever want to face, and the strength it takes to make something come true that you’ve formed inside your head.
“II,” the new record from Dead Cross, is one that sounds chaotic, pummeling, and abrasive, and without knowing what went into the creation, you’d likely just think it’s a group of heavy music vets releasing their frustration and making noise. Yet, this album is a bigger deal than that. Guitarist Michael Crain was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer in 2019, and to help cope, he gathered his powerhouse bandmates—vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), bassist/vocalist Justin Pearson (The Locust), and drummer Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer)—and got to work on these killer nine tracks. This was all going on while Crain was suffering from the nausea and physical demand of recovering from treatment, with that agony driving his work and the band rallying around their friend as they made music that pays homage to each of their adventures into the art they chose. That makes this beast even more powerful.
“Love Without Love” kicks off with guitars scuffing and Patton whisper singing, one of his most threatening tools. The chorus is simple but ominous, and later on, everything goes wild including Patton, who ends this with one of my favorite lines of the year: “Like Billy Joel, I’ll be moving out.” “Animal Espionage” trudges as spacey guitars lurk, and then the pace suddenly knifes with dangerous energy. The vocals numb as the guitars stretch into space, and all cylinders fire dangerously as Patton taunts, “Wish I was one of them, so I could blend. Pig champion, champion!” “Heart Reformer” blasts with punk energy and speedy vocals, warping your psyche as it makes its move. The playing swims in weirdness, slurring and staggering, manic energy pounding your congealing wounds. “Strong and Wrong” is crazed and echoey, Patton using the megaphone gimmick to make his vocals stranger and more detached. The chaos snaps as rants slash, and thrashy fire buries you under still heated ash.
“Ants and Dragons” takes off with the vocals blistering and manic energy pouring like diesel. There’s a strange, nightmarish vibe and Patton jabs, “Who is the monster in the room? Two choices: Me or you,” a question with an answer that isn’t very calming. The playing charges and smashes, squeals pierce your brain, and everything burns off in a squall. “Nightclub Canary” launches in relentless power that slashes at your mind, convulsive energy making bile charge up your throat. Things then slink into trashy alleyways before the fires are lit again, and maniacal howls deface you over the mangling finish. “Christian Missile Crisis” has Pearson taking over on vocals as the track torments and punishes. “I’m not the creep that you know, I’ve got a mental problem that you borrow, watch me paint it black and fucking take it back,” Pearson lunges as the energy combusts, safety is an option taken off the table, and a psyche wash swallows everything whole. “Reign of Error” is a 1:46 bruiser than enters, delivers snarling riffs, chugging speed, and scarring shouts, then it leaves before you know what hit you. Closer “Imposter Syndrome” has Lombardo firmly behind the wheel, his drums pacing and driving, the rest of the mind fuck forming around him. “It takes one to never know one,” Patton wails repeatedly on this track, fucking up your mental space, exposing the lies you tell yourself. This is all amid a monstrous pace that chews on your last nerves and sizzles out, dragging you behind.
“II” is a massive, satisfying, electric chapter in Dead Cross’ story, and the strength, nausea, and torture it took to create this thing is astounding, a total genuflection in front of Crain as he battled for his life making this incredible music with his friends. As mangled and tortured and animalistic as these songs are, and you will pay a mental toll, it’d so oddly heartwarming to know just how these songs came together and the pain and camaraderie stitched into each one. Dead Cross has made and surely will continue to make incredible, stimulating art, but everything that went into this, all of the human emotion and suffering, could make “II” the most impactful thing the band ever creates.
It’s the perfect time of year for a spooky tale, one that has you immersed in the mythology, grabbing the arm of someone next to you as your anxiety rises, exhaling as the heroes make their way through danger and live to see another day. You think about the journey for days, going over every twist and turn, examining each arc, and losing yourself in something that could rob you of your soul.
On that manner of thinking comes “Two Shadows,” the gothy, slithery, sometimes delightfully sugary debut record from Hoaxed, who piqued the interest at the folks over at metal stalwart Relapse Records. It’s a diverse roster, and this band—vocalist/guitarist Kat Keo and drummer Kim Coffel—fits comfortably as they’re not quite heavy enough to be pure metal but also punchy enough to be one of the darker, more intriguing members of that collection of bands. The record is nine tracks that flow forcefully, confidently, and melodically, an album that’s fun and foreboding, easily capable of capturing your heart and imagination as you take the dark path behind them to an experience that could leave you gasping in a puddle of cold sweat.
The title track opens the record and sets the scene as a brief instrumental with chilling winds and strange vibes that prepares you for what’s to come. “The Call” is a killer track, the first cut you’d send to radio if it that format had any guts. Keys drip as the energy rises, and the melodic energy belts you, driving you deeper into the dark. “The shadow comes for you when you least expect it to,” Keo warns as the track delves back into its endless supply of power, rounding out with the chorus. “The Knowing” enters in the void, crawling and sprawling, making your nerve endings react. “Don’t you want to know what your future holds? Don’t you want to know your fate?” Keo posits as a menacing spirits moves through you, the band’s catchy fire overwhelming you. The track punches, spookiness enthralls, and the tension finally ends when the threat subsides. “For Love” starts with a ticking clock and the melodies driving, moving into infectious strangeness. The verses surge as the chorus knocks you backward, cold synth unfurls like a dragging mist, and everything is swallowed in echo. “Grand Illusions” splits open and gnaws on you, Keo calling, “Falling freely into eternity, never ending into the uncertainty, not yours, watch your words.” Blood rushes as gloomy presences lurk behind you, everything blasting away.
“High Seas” fittingly fills the scene with rushing waters and organs haunting, the verses pumping vaporous energy that settles in your bones. The track is catchy as fuck, rewarding your willingness to confront chaos with them, and Keo howls, “I have lived, I have died, I have learned, the fates will lie,” as the playing lands in its final resting place. “Guilty Ones” is ominous as it dawns, sneaking toward you and making you nervous for cover. The drumming clubs as your adrenaline is forced to peak, your brain trying to protect you from what hides behind the shadows. “The judgment is final, no one can show you the way, the verdict is swift, hold on to your faith,” Keo warns, mystical dynamism taking hold and fading into mystery. “Where Good Won’t Go” opens in murky waters, setting the ambiance and pulling you deep into the tunnel with it. You’re forced to feel your way through, following as the story unfolds and trying to position yourself where any sliver of light is available. The track pulls back just a bit to let somber visions pop, and then the playing submits to the gloom and drains away. Closer “Forsaken” is slurry before it picks up speed, and the vibe feels like something born in a dingy garage with ghostly beings outside. “There’s blood in the water, the terrors descend, we were all destined for violent ends,” Keo calls as the playing jars, the pressure mounts, and the story ends with you gasping from your sleep.
Hoaxed have an excellent, easily digested debut full-length record with “Two Shadows,” an album that feels like dark horror adventure about a town that has no home and only claims victims. The playing is energetic and infectious, and you can’t help but fall victim to these nine tracks as the terrain unfolds before you. This record will capture your imagination, make your flesh chill with their morbid storytelling, and have the hooks rolling around in your heads for weeks on end.
I have embraced a practice where after my workday is done and the hours are winding down, I dabble in some legal substances to help soothe my mind and get me an extra boost leading into the next day for dealing with my anxiety. Each night, I try to pair that with some music, and it’s been a really interesting experimentation in finding out what works in that frame of mind and what doesn’t.
One absolutely perfect collection for when my mind is stretching out and relaxing is “Bluenothing,” the new mini album from Florida doom/death/black metal lurkers Worm, whose “Foreverglade” was one of the main revelations from 2021. Speaking of that album, half of what you hear here was born in the sessions for that record, while the other half demonstrates a new beast, and all of which is completely mind melting and ultimately stimulating. Long helmed by Phantom Slaughter (vocals, guitar, bass, synth), the band was boosted by the addition of guitarist Wroth Septentrion (Atramentus, VoidCeremony, Chthe-ilist, live member of Hulder), whose work takes these songs into a foggy stratosphere not previously explored by this mind-altering band. There is extra help from Nihilistic Manifesto (guitars on “Shadowside Kingdom”); Necreon (Cauterized, Funebrarum) who plays bass on “Shadowside Kingdom”; L. Dusk (drums on “Bluenothing”) and “Centuries of Ooze II”; and Charlie Koryn (Vrenth, VoidCeremony, etc.) who plays drums on “Shadowside Kingdom.” It’s a true team effort, and it’ll liquify your mind and pour it like a syrup over the ground.
The 11:33-long title track opens things, and is it ever a steamy, fiery adventure that heats up right away and oozes gothic power. Growls swell as the murk spreads, the guitars slurring and filling your mind with cosmic wonder, muddy mashing following that and making things uglier. A somber haze reaches great distances as calmer waters wash over the scorched shores, and then the pace shifts and gets edgier. Shrieks batter as the fog gets harder to traverse, guitars laser through the weather front, and that spirit swarms until it drains into the ground. “Centuries of Ooze II” is the second installment of a series that began on “Foreverglade,” and it starts amid stirring organs as the bottom drops, and doom power clutches its victim. Solemn calls work their way through the night, guitars glow and spill, and shrieks and growls penetrate the psyche, lurching and creeping. Guitars flow like lava, soaring into chilling singing that creates a massive pall from which you can’t escape. “Invoking the Dragonmoon” simmers in chilling keys and a dream state that takes hold and impacts your mind. Guitars warm and sprawl, fires crackle, and everything flows into closer “Shadowside Kingdom” that arrives in winds and acoustic guitars haunting. Clean calls echo as the playing gets more immersive, and then fiery hell explodes, shocking your system and defacing planets, the intensity spreading. Gothy clouds gather and mar vision, and a final burst tears you apart and rips the breath from your lungs.
“Bluenothing” is anything but a stop-gap release or something that doesn’t deserve as much time and attention as a proper full-length. Worm always had a strange aura to them that make your insides feel off, and they amplify that even greater on this release, especially when you fully digest the details that separate this from “Foreverglade.” Worm finally have the attention of more people and deservedly so, and this feels like their effort to further get their hooks in you and transport you to their world.
People fear change for any numbers of reasons, probably the largest of which is piercing a comfort zone. Many of us get caught in routines, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a great way to keep your wheels spinning in the mud. Breaking out of that and growing beyond your stagnation can be a little scary, but it’s the only way to realize the potential you may have for even greater things.
Speaking of which, Ruby the Hatchet aren’t ones to rest on their achievements and continue to stoke the same fire, and that is apparent with “Fear Is a Cruel Master,” their awesome new record. This is their fourth full-length and first in five years since 2017’s “Planetary Space Child,” and what’s obvious from the first listen on is how much they’ve grown as players and expanded their vision. The band—vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, drummer/vocalist Owen Stewart, keyboardist/organist Sean Kahn Hur—still create fiery, psychedelic sounds that’ll melt your eardrums. But they are a larger, more muscular version of what they were before, adding new twists, brandishing larger weapons, and sounding as good as they ever have before. And they were pretty damn good even before “Fear Is a Cruel Master” landed in our lives.
“The Change” gets things started on a high and enthusiastic note, the band digging in deep, Taylor’s vocals completely in command. “I never wanted to change, so I just stayed the same,” Taylor calls over the chorus, a lash against stagnation as the band surrounds that with guitars galloping and the pace enveloping you. “Deceiver” is punchy with great energy, the verses driving hard, and the choruses paying off the energy. The soloing peels back your eyelids while dual guitars do a great job mounting an offensive before a lower-key and psychedelic heatwave brings things to an end. “Primitive Man” is a stomper with fiery energy, Taylor jabbing sarcastically, “Your ideas are not your own, he’s had them all somehow.” The guitars have a muscular Sabbath vibe, the organs swell and add to the humidity, and the final blows land with great precision. “1,000 Years” is a smoky ballad, opening with mournful guitars that water your eyes. The playing is moody and dark, and when Taylor howls, “And hell freezes over,” you feel it in the guts. Shadowy guitars bleed, Taylor wails, “I’m 1,000 years older,” and all elements duel, pulling your heart in a million directions.
“Soothsayer” begins with the bass plodding, warm sax giving off a nighttime vibe, and the leads searing. The chorus is simple but effective, the energy swells later, and the guitar work blazes, leaving behind a trail of ash. “Thruster” rumbles with psychedelic energy, the playing swaggering and showing off oceans of attitude. “Oh no, I hear them coming, tearing our lives to the ground, oh lord, they’ve got you running, but I don’t have time for that now,” Taylor scoffs, the guitars taking off and adding heavy bluesy energy. As the track goes on, Taylor calls, “Oooh, thruster!” which gets into your blood, the organs multiply their presence, and the guitars twist your nerves into a pretzel. “Last Saga” soaks in slower tempos and heavy emotion, Stewart taking the first verse, showing pipes that deserve more opportunity to counter Taylor’s power. They trade verses, each bringing their unique personalities as the sweltering playing amplifies, everything fires up, and the embers grow hotter and more intimidating, finally melting into the dark. Closer “Amor Gravis” jabs with electric riffs and a pulsating tempo that reeks of Deep Purple and Uriah Heap (they cover “Easy Living” in their live set). “Looking back, I never knew the truth, looking back, I never knew you,” Taylor calls as doom and blazing combine. The soloing takes off and chars, making your adrenaline rush, Taylor returns to the chorus that spirals out, and the final moment dissolve into you mind, leaving mystical vibes behind.
Ruby the Hatchet show amazing growth on “Fear Is a Cruel Master,” proving they don’t fear change and that strengthening their abilities makes them a bigger, better band. Having had a chance to see them in the flesh a couple months ago, they are turning into an incredible force, one that already showed great promise on their previous records and are paying that off big time on this awesome album. We have lived through turmoil, tumult, and terror, it has not gotten the best of us, and Ruby the Hatchet prove that testing oneself in the worst of times can help us come out stronger than we ever imagined.