Bacchus bring altered states to spiraling cosmic black metal on universally potent adventure ‘II’

People on this earth often wonder if there is intelligent life beyond this planet, a question that reeks of self-importance like in the entire vast universe that this planet would be the only one. Pure silliness. This suddenly has become a pro-alien, metal, and sometimes wrestling site. Of course there are beings elsewhere. We may even have some in our midst.

Black metal dreamers Bacchus claim to be from France, but you know who else did? The Coneheads. If we were to find out the three beings that comprise this band—guitarist/bassist/vocalist Sébastien B, composer/sampler/synth player Moïse Mestriaux, drummer Camille Olivier F.B.—were not from this planet, no one really could be surprised. On their debut full-length effort “II,” the trio uses mind-altering substances and the subsequent mental state to take the listener on a journey into the vastness of space, shaking you to your core. In fact, it’s a great record to listen while also of altered mind, helping stretch your imagination and the possibilities within you to ridiculous lengths. Or you could just indulge in music that may or may not have been made by beings who live elsewhere.  

“II.I” starts with synth unfurling like a strange flag, and then the melodies begin to cut spirals into the cosmos, rushing and spilling into a flood. Melodic pockets push as wordless calls ring in your ears, the pace fires up, and everything fluids pours into a vortex. “II.II” dawns with strange keys and growls engorging, tearing a hole in time. The guitars surge as clean calls beckon, jolting with energy and creating waves of electricity. Wild howls reverberate, the guitars get tornadic, and hearty playing splits your psyche in two. “II.III” feels like it freezes your cells, bringing bizarre twists and detached calls, drilling its way into your midsection. Storming and disorienting, the universe feels like it drags itself over you, cooling your energies and slipping into the night.

“II.IV” washes over you, the stirring melodies combining with devastating cries, the harsh and blistering winds making your face chap. The playing slips into hypnosis, clean singing has its way, and the stimulating pace ends in a calming breeze. “II.V” is the longest track, running 8:12 and delivering an atmospheric charge. The playing turns toward madness as wordless calls penetrate, then growls lace, being joined by dreamy keys that let your guard down. The aura gets more immersive, the playing pounds as growls become a sinister factor, and spacey fire melts into the sky, ending in mesmerizing gaze. Closer “II.VI” brings lush keys and an atmosphere that fills your heart and lungs. Growls lurch as the playing turns fantastical, melodic waves crashing and eating away at the shore, clean calls giving one final lather as everything dissolves into mystery.

Bacchus’ music is less for releasing aggression and more for stargazing, preferably in an altered state of mind as you watch the sky. “II” is impressive and alluring, a record that might take a few visits to truly set in, but once it does, it leaves you tingling and trying to find your bearings. This is a massive adventure that’s sized right and challenges your mind to imagine bigger things from heavy music.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Aara conclude Melmoth trilogy with colorful, thunderous opus ‘Triade III: Nyx’

Trilogies are a tricky thing, and for every one of them done correctly, there are way more that are disasters or just not worth the time one puts into getting through them. The “Star Wars” franchise has one classic trilogy, one total disaster, and one that was … fine. The “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy was breathtaking and immersive, whereas the unnecessary “Hobbit” series was a bloated mess.

Just two years ago, Swiss black metal force Aara started their own by focusing on the 1820 novel Melmoth the Wandererby Charles Maturin, and the final installment now arrives with “Triade III: Nyx,” their fifth full-length album. On this ending collection, Melmoth’s lover is locked in the dungeons during the Inquisition, and she dies of her grief after losing the child the couple conceived. At the same time Melmoth loses his bid for immortality, and his chapter on Earth closes. The band—vocalist Fluss, guitarist/bassist/samplist Berg, drummer J.—pay this off with yet another breathtaking record, one flush with tidal waving melodies, gargantuan shrieks, and infectious power that matches, and in ways surpasses, the two records that precede this one. The band has been on a torrid pace since 2019, and they push that momentum into this record that ends a devastating trilogy worthy of adulation.

“Heimgesucht” opens with horses trampling the ground as the guitars slowly emerge, enrapturing before the shrieks jam a screwdriver into your temple. The playing is spiraling and dramatic, the guitars flood, and then everything goes cold, almost freezing. The leads burst again, the power destroys, and the final moments leave nerve endings on fire. “Emphase der Seelenpein” rampages with huge riffs and gothy colors making the edges darker, a delirious feel making everything manic and jolting. Guitars cut as the cymbals crash, shrieks destroy, and the playing swelters and slashes, dashing orange across the sky. “Moribunda” gently starts, letting you get your bearings before the bomb drops, the playing tearing open the imagination and climbing inside. Wrenching shrieks work with a storming and sometimes dreamy attack, the drumming pummels, and the penetrating force gets into your chest. Shrieks deface as the bleeding intensifies, keys drip like syrup, and the final moments crash to the earth.

“Unstern” is melodic and blasting, angelic singing blazing through the clouds and into your dreams. The tempo jolts and glazes, the sounds welling, and colder air making you shiver deeply. Guitars speed and zap, morbid pounding creates heavy darkness, and gutting blasts disconnect joints. “Des Wanderers Traum” arrives amid a thunderous riff as the shrieks crush bones, and the guitar work wrenches your mind. The playing floods and bombards, making your body quiver, and the pace intensifies, feeling like thunder cracking across the horizon. The playing turns haunting as the shrieks liquify teeth, guitars chill, and the playing slithers into the night. Closer “Edo et Edam” brings pulsating sounds and a strange calm, and then guitars begin to lather. Glorious and cascading, the rumbling, emotional waves pull apart your heart, the energy intensifies, and the shrieks tear their final holes as the forces chimes away for good.

Aara bring to a close this thunderous trilogy that began just two years ago and now concludes with “Triade III: Nyx,” the most immersive of the Melmoth trio. The tale ends in tragedy and tears, which is something most of us have been through and to which we can relate. That they deliver this final chapter with fervor and black metal force that swallows you whole makes the impact undeniable and something to which you will have no choice but to submit.

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Acid King add psychedelic color to fuzzy, dream-inducing doom on introspective ‘Beyond Vision’

There are a few nights a week that I go outside at night and stare into the sky, usually comfortably high, remembering the people and creatures in my life who no longer are here with me. It’s not necessarily a sad thing; it’s perspective and a remembrance of the beings and things that have helped me get to where I am and develop my personality and empathy.

Long-running doom warriors Acid King, 30 years into their run, and on a similar journey with their great new record “Beyond Vision,” their first full-length in eight years. Yes, it’s been a while, and Acid King never have been the most prolific band over their time together, but it still feels familiar visiting these expansive seven songs. What’s very noticeable is that the band—vocalist/guitarist and band force Lori Joseph, guitarist/keyboardist Jason Landrian, bassist/synth player Bryce Shelton, drummer Jason Willer—delves heavier than ever into psychedelic planes and lets you mind go along with it. Joseph says as much in the bio materials for the record, and it’s an exciting turn for Acid King who never lack for adventurous bursts. It’s also Joseph who has pioneered this band and has been its steady force from day one. All hail. The record also focuses on our life journeys, the troubles we face, and our growth over the years as we become the people we are today.

“One Light Second Away” begins in a sound swarm that slowly makes its way into space, the riffs emerging and rumbling, atmosphere swirling wildly. The leads begin to lather and sweep, swimming into echo and right toward “Mind’s Eye” that has guitars firing right from the start. Joseph’s singing lures as the track catches fire, the riffs lapping lava and spitting it back toward you. The playing lathers and delivers psychedelic heat, Joseph howling, “You’re on your way,” as the guitars flood and burn off all the energy. “90 Seconds,” which is named as such for the amount of time a human can survive exposed in space, envelopes, the playing sweeping and pushing you into the stars. Riffs slowly unfurl as dreamier singing emerges, sweltering and churning bones, bringing things to a calculated end.

“Electro Magnetic” opens as a sounds clash, leaking in and bringing psyche heat along with it, melting and buzzing along the way. The playing barrels and trudges, the guitars soaring through a dimly lit tunnel, and then the force bludgeons before liquifying and trickling into the horizon. “Destination Psych” is a quick instrumental piece with thick lights beaming, moody guitars striking, and the playing flowing into “Beyond Vision” that opens into a burly assault and washed-out singing stinging your nerves. The chorus washes over you, the playing folds back and changes your perspective, and a molten haze escapes and mars your vision as everything disappears into a sound fog. Closer “Color Trails” drains in from the cosmos, spacey synth enveloping before the drums rupture. Dreamy riffs combine with sludge, and the echo ramps up and develops a heavy film, the drums scrambling brains. The playing works on your spinal column, the guitars mystify, and the shockwaves ripple past distant planets.

Acid King’s foray into more psychedelic sounds is a logical and exciting new level for the band, one that takes “Beyond Vision” into the stratosphere and more exciting terrain than this band has visited before. That doesn’t alter or compromise anything the band has created along their trail; in fact, it enhances it and gives it a whole new sheen. Add into that the perspective of examining one’s journey on this planet, and it makes it one of the richest Acid King records to date.   

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L.A. bruisers Kommand lather in metallic filth, bloody horrors on vicious destroyer ‘Death Age’

Photo by Kris Kirk

An art form called death metal can’t possibly be expected to warm hearts and minds and give the listener the energy needed to conquer the day. It’s easy to walk away disillusioned with life, overcome with gore and horror, and bludgeoned by the harshest elements of existence that we cannot do a single thing to avoid. It’s OK. I think we all knew this when cracking open the subgenre’s gates.

That brings us to Los Angeles death crushers Kommand whose second record “Death Age” jumps into the cesspool and makes things even more poisonous, which I didn’t realize was possible. Over six tracks and an economical 26 minutes, the band—vocalist Jesse Sanes, guitarists Ian Logan and Sam Shriver, bassist Tim Shriver, drummer Sam Bosson—taps into the most devious elements of our world and exposes it for the diseased terrain that it is. This is unadulterated misery, a collection that wallows in the filth and makes no apologies, hoping only to amplify the guttural, miserable horrors.

“Final Virus” tears open as the death assault immediately gets under way, chugging through infernal destruction, the menace heavy and oppressive. The playing scorches as the pummeling increases, the guitars boiling before blazing out. “Chimera Soldiers” heats up with the leads churning, the fury amplified as the trail continues into hell. Sooty playing coats your lungs, furious punishment barrels its way toward you, and a thunderous attack is mounted, bringing things to a burly finish. “Global Death” is ominous and humid, the growls scraping and the pace disrupting. The playing blisters as the tempo suddenly switches, jerking your head violently, the growls destroying, and the final moments of the madness disintegrating.

“Polar Holdout” strikes from the gates and lets the temperature get hotter, the tempo going dangerously fast, the growls leaving bruising on your face. The playing mashes bones, and then the guitars go into an atypical hypnotic spell before breaking out and burying everything deep in the soil. “Fleeing Western Territories” arrives amid storming guitars and raw speed, the storm encircling and increasing the pressure. Thrashy flattening becomes a bigger factor, the guitars splatter, and the final moments crush wills beyond identification. Closer “Collapse Metropolis” is delirious, making the ground quake and teeth grind, total demolition having its way. Growls deface as the guitars sound like they’re being slaughtered in a blender, tornadic horrors bleeding, the assault coming to a neck-breaking, abrupt end.

Kommand dig into your most animalistic inhibitions on “Death Age,” a record that’s over in a flash but leaves you properly battered in its rearview mirror. There’s no concern for safety or physical well-being when these tracks strike, as this is death metal as its most savage. If relentless and unforgiving is what you’re seeking, Kommand find a way to jam it down your throat and make you savor the horrifying aftertaste.

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Afsky flip black metal script by focusing on positive forces on soaring opus ‘Om hundrede år’

Photo by Kathrine Allerslev

The black metal world is awash in negativity, which might be the most obvious sentence I’ve ever written, here or anywhere. It’s a cold, callous place, and there are segments that are even more poisonous politically that aren’t even worth getting into right now. Basically, it’s not a place where one should go for solace, as it simply doesn’t exist.

That said, Ole Luk isn’t a typical black metal musician, and his Afsky project isn’t one that does things based on any rules, written or unwritten. For Afsky’s third record “Om hundrede år” (translated means in 100 years), he decided to eschew negativity and cynicism and instead tried to celebrate life and the more positive aspects of existence. That’s a bold move in this day and age when so much of our lives feel heavy and oppressive, but hearing these six tracks and 43 minutes does make you think differently. It explodes with an exuberance not often heard in black metal, and if you walk from “Om hundrede år” still obscured in darkness, you might want to consider the path you’re on.

“Stormfulde hav” is the 7:51-long opener, and the lush acoustics that greet you soon are bombarded by heavy melodies and a wealth of riffs, cascading and swimming, the harsh cries carving into your mind. The playing gushes hard, spilling emotion and energy generously, the guitars rising into a gazey fire, shrieks raining down before everything ends in calm. “Frosne vind” sparks with storming riffs and vocals that make your brain go into overdrive, overwhelming all of your senses. Drums crunch as wild wails spill over, doubling the force, infectious playing making everything seem that much more exciting. Raucous fire begins to rush, howls pierce the sky,  and a clobbering tempo becomes more prominent, fading off into the distance. “Tak for alt” opens in clean guitars flowing before anguished wails strike, and the pace bleeds back and forth from forceful to calm and back again. The riffs engorge as massive hazy power swells, crushing boundaries and gushing openly, flooding hearts and minds with energy.

“Det der var” delivers stinging guitars and pummeling force, howls striking with precision, later turning to sharpened shrieks. The piercing vocals remain and work with guitars that continue to bloom anew, gut-wrenching quaking that tears you apart, and finally spacious coldness that freezes your cells. “Tid” dawns with a chambery feel before the riffs kick in, and it’s not long before everything erupts. Shrieks storm around bends as a gloomier pace arrives, and the guitars explode with splintering strength, hammering and disappearing over the horizon. Closer “Fred være med støvet” quivers as it enters, and then riffs unload, the vocals crushing with equal force. A brief calm comes in and sets your mind at ease, but it’s temporary as lightning is boiling in the sky. The guitars explode as the vocals gush, the toll is emotionally draining, and things finally relent, washing away and leaving a beaten path behind.

You likely can count on one hand the amount of black metal records that feel positive and don’t dwell in the worst possible elements of society, but most bands aren’t Afsky. “Om hundrede år” is another powerful statement from Luk and this project, and there’s nary of moment on this record that doesn’t lift you up and help you feel something good for a change. This is music we could use a little but more of, and in such a dark and foreboding terrain as black metal, Afsky stand out as a force showing a different way to do things.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Dawn Ray’d add darker touches to fiery politics on storming ‘To Know the Light’

Photo by Jake Owens

There long has been an argument—a silly one at that—about what constitutes black metal and which bands are allowed to accept that tag. I wasn’t aware a constitution had been produced, though you’d think these rules, something that really shouldn’t belong in a chaotic art form, are passed down on ancient scrolls. It’s never not ridiculous to have this conversation.

Somewhere along the way, it was decided progressive politics, anarchism, and left-wing ideologies flew in the face of black metal, though that message never made it to Dawn Ray’d, one of the most ferocious and thought-provoking bands in that subgenre over the last decade. On their excellent third record “To Know the Light” the trio finds ways to be even more thunderous than their past (2017’s “The Unlawful Assembly” and 2019’s “Behold Sedition Plainsong”), and while their belief remains bleeding on their sleeves, they also add more personal touches to these 10 songs. The band—vocalist/violinist/synth player Simon Barr, guitarist/vocalist Fabian Devlin, drummer/percussionist Matthew Broadley (he also adds harmonium and piano)—sounds channeled and alive as ever, burning down power structures, intertwining passionate folk passages into the mix, and delivering blistering black metal delirium.

“The Battle of Sudden Flame” opens by directly addressing police violence, something just as prevalent on our shores, the eruption of black metal force stunning. The playing rampages and wrenches guts, and Barr howls, “Fuck every copper that ever took a wage, every blue bastard with his baton raised, a beast that even his master hates, only a coward fights for the state.” “Ancient Light” brings a melodic rush, the violin lines slicing through muscle, the fiery assault taking on the form of an endless torch. “We the ones of burning light, we are strength unquantifiable,” Barr wails as the playing utterly destroys, sending shrapnel flying as the final call of, “But fear all us now who fight for ourselves,” landing blows. “Inferno” is moody as it starts, eventually setting fires, jolting with stinging fury, barging through barricades. The track depicts hell actually existing on Earth, a theory that’s hard to deny, and the stirring strings and delirious energy flood to the surface. “Requital” has the band singing a capella throughout the track, getting into your mind and persuading through the emotion. “And if am going to burn, then you are going to burn, for the wasting of all the world is a punishment you have earned,” makes your blood surge amid their protest anthem. “Sepulchre (Don’t Vote)” ignites out of the gates, savagery coming with them with a vengeance. The strings scrape and cause the room to spin, the shrieks leave enemies quivering, and everything ends in a solemn pall.

“Cruel Optimism” is rustic with acoustics and the violin streaking, defiant speaking jabbing in the message. “Joy through destruction, we can spite them and live free in the spite, defiance as purpose, lack of purpose as defiance,” Barr says before the final moments attack with a black grind assault. “In the Shadow of the Past” is somber at the start, strings bending, the playing slowly trudging, dripping blood in the mud. Things sweep up as the shrieks tear down walls, the guitars storm, and the pressure gets more intense, the carnage ending in strings and calm. “Freedom in Retrograde” is another folkish track, one with uniting force and undeniable energy, Barr flexing his clean singing that is incredibly strong. “At our darkest moments, with our detractors circling, I just believe in freedom for every living thing,” Barr calls, rallying forces behind him, slamming that point home with his final call: “If you still sing, then I’ll still sing.” “Wild Fire” brings horns blowing, the speed tearing through the center, and crushing, vibrant playing lights up everything. A brief speaking part fires up, and then the playing rips forcefully, the drumming ruptures, and a group singing howl of, “There is nothing in these songs of which to be ashamed, everything we sing about I would just as plainly say,” makes your nerves react. Closer “Go As Free Companions” sweeps in like as storm, the playing bubbling over, the shrieks crushing wills. “You the still unafraid to love, a demand for the end of demands,” Barr calls as the playing gets hazier yet direct, eventually calming before the emotions run high again. Group singing paves the way for the final moments, the band declaring, “The sun still shines, and it would be a waste to not only lose tomorrow, but also lose today.”

Dawn Ray’d’s belief system and politics remains as strong as ever, though “To Know the Light” shows a bit of a different side in as violent a manner possible. The themes of solidarity and strength rush as hard as the lashing back at power and the drive to gut capitalism, and combining those two worlds make this an even more powerful experience than their previous records. This is conviction, actions placed behind their words, and they’ll burn everything down before they let the common people, their friends and families, succumb to the blades of the enemies. That’s black fucking metal.

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Canadian power Gatekeeper jolt with epic metallic energy, glory on daring ‘From Western Shores’

There are plenty of elements in heavy metal that can get your excitement levels going, the forces that cause one to grasp the invisible oranges at a live show and let yourself get lost in the spirit. That can be something different for everyone, as it really depends on how the energy strikes you and where it takes you mentally. For me, epic power metal, when done right, nails me every time.

Canadian power Gatekeeper is a band that always finds a way to get the adrenaline flowing, and their new, second record “From Western Shores” is a huge, surging album that will make you want to take to the streets to defend the glory of metal. Or something like that. The band—vocalist Tyler “Tex” Anderson, guitarists Adam Bergen (leads) and Jeff Black (rhythm), bassist David Messier, drummer Tommy Tro—delivers tons of massive moments on here over eight tracks and 49 minutes, and it’s just like a classic metal record from decades ago when Maiden, Priest, and Helloween were blazing trails. Gatekeeper is here to continue that mission, which they do with blazing colors.

The title track opens and immediately fires up, Anderson calling, “Into the unknown we sail for glory, to the old gods we hail for honor,” the blood absolutely surging. The chorus is a barnstormer with power soaring and blazing fires as it rambles away. “Death on Black Wings” brings charging guitars and piercing screams, layering with a heavy ’80s power metal feel. The vocals wail as the leads spill lava, unloading and taking great command, ending with raucous chaos. “Shadow and Stone” feels more even tempered as it starts, the vocals are massive, and the pace trudges before bursting with colors. The track takes on more of an epic feel, a storyteller that gets nudges with group chants, wild wails, and the playing spiraling away. “Exiled King” is about Harald Hardrada, the last Viking king of Norway, and it opens with rustic guitars before the drums rupture, and the thunder cracks in the sky. “They shall weep at my arrival, splitting skulls of every rival,” Anderson calls as things go cold and ominous, making your flesh crawl. The tempo picks up, the chorus melts through you, and everything disappears into the fog.

“Nomads” is punchy, Anderson commanding, “Ride til the end to unchartered lands,” as the energy beams off of that. Drums splatter as some gothy undertones leak, warmer guitars thaw the land, and everything rains down and brings a flood of emotions. “Twisted Towers” is the most different of all the songs on here, the drums rousing and the riffs cutting through the senses. The chorus is infectious and gets into your brain, the leads light up, and a massive finish leaves you heaving behind. “Desert Winds” starts with acoustics before thing electrify quickly, grittier singing adding a film of dirt. Guitars turn moodier, Anderson calls, “On desert winds, we ride tonight,” as the playing spirals, the chorus tearing through to the heart. Closer “Keepers of the Gate” feels like a band anthem, running 8:28 and going wild, the declaration of, “We, the keepers of the gate, guardians of steel,” jostling emotions. The pace jolts as the bass playing quivers, guitars layering with glory, mists bleeding in and obscuring. Group singing rouses, giving the track a massive feel that explodes into a smoking finish.

Gatekeeper have a stranglehold on epic power metal with “From Western Shores,” their excellent second album. They have a way of helping you get lost in their music, the adventure driving your heart rate and imagination at the same time. This is top-shelf heavy metal packed with history and explosive energy, and it can align fans who have been here for decades with ones just getting their education now.

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Lamp of Murmuur unleash bold black metal assault that pumps on frigid ‘Saturnian Bloodstorm’

Photo by Void Revelations

The treacherous, unforgiving winter months finally are coming to an end here in the States, and who the fuck am I kidding? In Pittsburgh, where winter used to be brutal, it snowed like twice. We barely get that season here any longer. The climate is just fine, though. All a liberal communist socialist hoax! I think it only snows in California now. Though Minnesota was grandfathered into winter permanently.

Anyway, at hand is the arrival of “Saturnian Bloodstorm,” the new record from black metal power Lamp of Murmuur and one of the most frigid records you’re bound to hear this year. Even as the temperatures stay in a holding pattern of kind of cold and not quite warm, this six-track destroyer maintains its power and can freeze you over like you’re in the middle of a Nordic forest. Sole creator M. digs into a similar vein as classic Immortal by sending gigantic gusts of metallic winds that chap your face and make your lips bleed, but you won’t mind the pain because you’ll be overwhelmed by the grandiosity of this thing. It’s also a great sounding album, which is not to trash his previous more lo-fi recordings at all. They remain awesome records. But this one of playing on a different level altogether. It’s massive and fun.

“Conqueror Beyond the Frenzied Fog” opens with a melodic surge, feeling grim and frostbitten, the growls crushing everything. The energy melts the thick ice, spacious synth clouds freeze nerves, and the howls crumble, the playing soaring. The soloing goes off, the pace rages heavily, and everything burns to a finish. “Hymns of Death, Rays of Might” is huge when it opens, sweeping you along with its might, the guitars and synth blending and jolting nervous systems. The power ignites as creaky growls chew on bone, murky mist clouding your vision. The guitars jar and freezing strangeness runs down your back, ghostly keys illuminate the trail, and the final bursts smash into oblivion. “Seal of the Dominator” invades with riffs, ramping up the pace and increasing the electricity. Hazy leads combine with unforgiving electricity, later getting slurry and disorienting as gothic-style drama increases. The pace drills, commanding riffs do their thing, and the final notes are mashed deep in the snow.

“Descending From the Aurora” is a quick interlude with noises surrounding and synth sending a beam of light through the night sky. Warmth glows as the heat helps tear through ice blocks and into “In Communion With the Wintermoon” where guitars jostle, and howls crackle into the night. The playing congeals and thrashes, splashing various colors into the mix, the leads blistering as the elements strike. The keys glisten as a heavy fog envelopes, and then guitars explode into the atmosphere, bringing with it wintry glory exhaling. The intensity begins to pull back as the winds gets colder, dissolving into angelic synth. The closing title track delivers rupturing drums, guitars dripping, and the metallic fury whipping through and sending everything flying. Melodic waves and thunderous growls deal quaking power, and the playing is striking and urgent, picking up the speed. Devastation reigns as the guitars hit the gas pedal and plaster, slowly giving its way over to an infectious synth vortex.

“Saturnian Bloodstorm” is the most energetic and slashing of the Lamp of Murmuur catalog, a record that M. seemed to be hinting at musically and finally delivering now. The hugeness of the record fills hearts and minds of those who have dined at black metal’s lofty halls for centuries and wanted more of that goodness that dawned three decades ago. It’s an album that gets your blood rushing even if you’re in the midst of frigid terrain.

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Spectral Lore use grim ’11 Days’ to raise awareness for refugee crisis on Mediterranean waters

The internet is vast and littered with people with bad opinions, so the next comment I get on a story from a right-wing chud won’t be the first. But I’ve heard before from these people about how heavy metal does not have progressive politics and flies in the face of it, almost like they’ve never heard a single song from Sabbath, Black. You can’t teach everyone.

Metal has been a strong base for protest music since the start (again, reference Sabbath, Black), and Spectral Lore and its sole creator Ayloss never have been shy about their mission to support social justice and progressive goals. The project’s latest is an EP called “11 Days,” named that for the length it time it takes people to travel the refugee sea route to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. That trek has resulted in the deaths of about 26,000 people between 2014 and 2022 (according to the Missing Migrants Project), an incomprehensible toll for people just trying to find a better life. Not take yours. They’re trying to survive, and politics have helped cause this body count. Ayloss composed four tracks that run about 44 minutes, two of which are in the traditional black metal style while the other two play more with electronics and ambiance. Joining Ayloss here are Nate Collins (synths, electronics, vocals), Odile Aurora Strik (synth and field recordings), a member of the Yovel collective (vocals), V. and K. from VOAK (vocals, a guitar solo on Adro Onzi”), and Aris “Sadistik” Thanasoulas (vocals). All proceeds from the digital edition and an important part of later physical editions will be donated to organizations and collectives that offer direct aid and rescue refugees in distress in the Mediterranean.

“Moloch” starts things, an 11:05-long adventure that head into spiraling guitars and an immersive storm, growls scraping at vulnerable flesh. Things speed up as the drums maul, beastly wails driving the hammer, and a gothy underbelly with synth and dripping darkness immerse you in darkness. Things get thundering again as the riffs mangle, guttural stomping bruises, and the guitars loop into a shadowy darkness that zaps out and into “Fortitude/Sunrise.” This spacey, mostly instrumental piece centers on psychedelic wonders as sounds rush, and the keys make the room spin, beaming through clouds and feeling a little Pink Floyd-esque. Everything whirs as the chills increase, beats churn, and everything pulsates, spilling into 13:45-long “Adro Onzi” that tears itself apart immediately. Savagery crushes as the warped tones play with your mind, howls crush, and speedy black metal tramples. Things get uglier as the tempo increases, the storming gets more oppressive, and sounds cascading into a foggy darkness. Growls slither as the playing gets disorienting, and then monstrous howls strike, the blistering pace making balance tough to conquer, speeding and devastating into a soundscape. Closer “Tremor/Kalunga Line” starts with sounds knocking through a haze, sheets of synth raining down, and a detached voice asking, “What did you dream about?” Noise swims into calming winds, stimulating your mind and sending chills down your spine, the intensity once again rupturing and fading into the waves.

“11 Days” isn’t just an extra-large Spectral Lore EP; it’s a collection of music trying to raise awareness of something larger than heavy metal. It shows compassion for people who are trying to find a better life and lashing back against the myriad forces trying to stop safe passage. Musically, it’s one of the most daring and spacious music Ayloss has created yet, and it’s an incredible piece that hopefully can help do some good in the world.   

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Emotional toll levied by Downfall of Gaia with mauling ‘Silhouettes of Disgust’

Photo by David Stoecklin

Every day is a battle it seems. There are so many things circulating in our lives that have an impact on who we are and our path and the way we interact, that trying to make sense of it all and make progress toward our difficulties can crush us. That story is the same with everyone, whether we’re good, bad, or something in between, there comes a time for all of us when the pressure seems too much.

“Silhouettes of Disgust,” the sixth album from German crushers Downfall of Gaia, tackles these very issues in a concept piece comprised of eight songs about eight different characters. The issues are universal and common such as pain, loss, loneliness, addiction, societal and work pressure, and many others weaving the tales of the people who live in a fictional metropolis. The band—vocalist/guitarist Dominik Goncalves dos Reis, guitarist/vocalist Peter Wolff, bassist/vocalist Anton Lisovoj, drummer Michael Kadnar—weaves atmospheric black metal, sludge, and plenty of other volatile elements into this record that’s one of their most imaginable and easy to mentally invest.

“Existence of Awe” ruptures and cascades, howls wrenching and leading toward anguish, driving the drama before things become even tempered. Wild cries rain down with somber waves and abject heaviness, guest vocalist Lulu Black’s singing adding to the thick shadows and disappearing into the mists. “The Whir of Flies” starts off feeling properly mechanical as the gears tighten, wrenching chaos following as vicious howls devastate and lead you into a brief bout of serenity. The playing gets moody and spacey as the fog thickens, and the chaos blasts out of that, raspy yells leave welts on flesh, and the finish feels like your psyche being locked into a vice. “While Bloodsprings Become Rivers” begins with the drums erupting, lurching growls meeting with the spiraling playing, guitars enveloping everything. The attack rumbles the earth as the pace rushes harder, feeling active and throttling. Somber gazing takes over, pushing the melodies into the sky, pulsating with alien blood. “Bodies as Driftwood” has a post-metal ambiance as it starts, liquified playing melting, and then the track is shredded, bringing violent storms. The tempo is pulled from cool serenity to volcanic misery, the playing ramps up, and the crushing madness becomes a major factor, flowing away toward the horizon.

“Eyes to Burning Skies” is eerie and haunting, Black’s singing adding to the coldness that makes your flesh ice over. The ominous darkness unloads, feeling both thrashing and gazey, jabbing at your ribs. Trudging playing goes into spacious skies before the track ruptures anew, raging and letting fires crush until they fade away. “Final Vows” will make you think whatever device on which you’re listening is shorting out the first time you hear it. I definitely was fooled by the start/stop that stutters over the beginning, and then the punches are thrown as shrieks and growls wrestle for control, melodic fury increasing the barometric pressure. Shrieks instill fear until a strange aura arrives, melting your mental capacities as strange noises slip into space.  “Unredeemable” drills in, letting the energy wash over everything, and then things kick into high gear. The track goes from punishing to soothing over the course of the track, the guitars liquifying into a silver river. The punishment returns as the shadows thicken, causing your anxiety to spike as everything burns off. Closer “Optograms of Disgust” lets the steam rise as guitars hang in the air, and disorientation turns up the volume. Crazed shrieks belt and leave welts behind, and the pace drops the hammer, whirring synth making you question your security. The track returns to being a crushing force, melodies flood and smash, and everything suddenly fades, soaring off into the clouds.

Downfall of Gaia always have been an inventive and thought-provoking band, yet “Silhouettes of Disgust” takes that even further than before. These eight tracks, and the characters and plights woven into them, are not alien concepts to most of us as we face our own struggles and battles, looking for ways to just stay above water. This is volcanic, emotional, and dreamy, an experience that aligns with our chaotic world and tries to find sense within the carnage.

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