PICK OF THE WEEK: Haunting vibes swim as Blood Ceremony return on sultry ‘The Old Ways Remain’

Photo by Matthew Manna

All types of music pay homage to the past and the vibes that come from that era. Metal and heavy music are no different as plenty of bands hitch their style to those who came before them, sometimes downright aping the form instead of carving out their own identities. Part of the issue is it sounds like hero worship based in the modern era. Very few bands transcend and feel legitimately their own spirit.

For five records now, Canadian doom power Blood Ceremony has created art that sounds like it was bled out five decades ago, locked in a safe, and released in calculating manner. Yet, that’s not the case, and it goes to show how much heart and mind Blood Ceremony have invested in not only playing magickal, witchy music that would be firmly at home in the deep past, but they do it with their own personality and charisma, which has made them their own entity. The band—vocalist/flautist/organist Alia O’Brien, guitarist Sean Kennedy, bassist Lucas Gadke, and drummer Michael Carrillo—return with their infectious new record “The Old Ways Remain,” a title based on a lyric from “Witchwood” from their 2013 album “The Eldritch Dark,” and the concept of past spirits haunting the present is encased masterfully in their music that will live in your flesh and bones for years to come. The long seven-year layoff after their last record is satisfied with this 10-track album that proves how special this band is and what an amazing grip they have on their mission and style that continues to haunt us gleefully.

“The Hellfire Club” gets the record off to a fitting start, that being haunting organs settling in, strong psyche riffs riding high, and O’Brien’s vocals leading, albeit more softly than usual. That’s fitting for the track as her flute opens up and joins the keys, and the track gets fiery as hell, punching back and surging before draining into the background. “Ipsissimus” is a powerhouse, jolting and letting the flute flutter, the one-word chorus acting as a goddamn ear worm that refuses to vacate. The guitars layer in some ’70s heat, and all the elements come together to haunt your mind. “Eugenie” is about the 1970 sexploitation/horror film (full name is “Eugenie … The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion”), and it’s a riveting, sultry affair where O’Brien’s vocals truly come to life. “Now comes the hour, now comes to mystery,” she calls as the organs swell (um, no pun intended), guitars charge, and sax adds a seductive edge that devastates. “Lolly Willows” could be a sure-fire hit, the flutes causing your brain to swirl, O’Brien insisting, “She will love you.” Guitars charge up as the story continues, the admission of, “But we hope she’s coming down,” adding a wry sense to the whole thing. “Powers of Darkness” has a flowery, vintage feel, something expected and welcome from Blood Ceremony. The chorus is catchy as hell, and the psychedelic marching makes your heart race, basking in infernal energy.

“The Bonfires at Belloc Coombe” unleashes start-stop power, guitars churning, and violins crying (played by Laura Bates of Völur) as the track heads into a dark shuffle. The tease to dance in the bonfires is infectious, the shadows deepen as the guitar work and flute are in lock step, soulful calls ringing in your ears and into the night. “Widdershins” opens with fiery riffs and alluring verses, the flute playing daring you to tread the left-hand path. Jarring, ominous swirling makes the room spin as the rushing chorus returns for one more, mercifully bleeding away. “Hecate” again recalls spirits from many decades ago, its haunting aura strengthening its grip, melting in smooth, dreamy madness. The track feels like a pop song marred with psychedelic insanity, made into something that still gets into your bloodstream but blackens your eyes and heart. “Mossy Wood” has a rustling, folkish vibe, definitely in line with Blood Ceremony creations from their past. The bass plods as violins scrape new trails, and then everything goes even darker than usual. Mesmerizing playing thickens, synth zaps, and the final steps are encased in an amber sheath. Closer “Song of the Morrow” cools your mind, moving slower and heading into a cosmic stretch, letting hypnosis take total control. The singing is washed out as the flute makes ghosts dance, dark tidings washing over amid guitars electrifying, melodies lapping, and strange noises fully engulfing.

Time stands still for Blood Ceremony, even after such a lengthy layoff, as their world remains unchanged, which is an eternal gift delivered by “The Old Ways Remain.” It is, then, a fitting title for this collection, one that adds to the band’s power of occult dreams and bleeding madness, leaving you wondering how far down the rabbit hole you’re willing to follow. Our guess is pretty fucking far, just like we have, with Blood Ceremony waiting at the end with open arms, ready to greet you at your door.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://riseaboverecords.com/product/the-old-ways-remain/

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

Mysterious Lunar Chamber take journey toward enlightenment on wiry ‘Shambhallic Vibrations’

Photo by Marissa Godinez

Death metal hasn’t been universally known as an art form to expand your mind and find enlightenment. In fact, it’s typically known for the opposite, that being tearing apart your psyche, unloading artistic violence, and dwelling in the most negative aspects of humanity. There are exceptions to that rule (Blood Incantation, for example), and finding artists that can stretch these possibilities can be more interesting.

The arrival of mysterious newcomers Lunar Chamber ushers in more death metal that isn’t here to just splatter brutality and has loftier goals in mind. The band—guitarist/vocalist/programmer Timeworn Nexus; guitarist/vocalist They, Who May Not Be Perceived; fretless bassist Æther Lotus; drummer K. Paradis—employs a progressive style to their fury, but lyrically, they delve into typically unexplored territories by most death metal bands. “Shambhallic Vibrations,” their five-track offering is an open-ended concept piece about a person travelling to the East to find enlightenment and higher knowledge, touching upon Buddhism, Hinduism, and esoteric knowledge. That makes the music something that’s more intellectually adventurous and mentally stimulating as you go on this journey with them, feeling like your brain is transforming along the way.   

“Intro (Shambhallic Vibrations)” opens bathing in spacey synth, guitars reverberating and rupturing your nervous system, the bass bending backward into inhuman shapes, heading into “Spirit Body and the Seeing Self” that continues to agitate the strange aura. The track bursts as vicious growls spreading, and the bass triggers a sort of mental rewiring, pushing through carnage and hypnotic wonders, clean calls drizzling into the background. Guitars smear as the pace hits high gear, the soloing explodes, and immersive prog electricity races and blasts to a final mental implosion. “Interlude (Ancient Sage)” is dreamy with chiming guitars and shimmery wonders, making your mind soak in oddly warm waters.

“The Bodhi Tree” continues to unravel the tale, focusing on Gautama Buddha’s own time stretching human possibilities, the track blazing and snarling, anything but unleashing calming ground for meditation. The pace stomps hard as the bass becomes a coiled snake, wrapping itself and squeezing out life, leaving its trail behind as the playing gets more violent. The drums splatters as the leads grow, growls and shrieks challenge the mind, and the final blasts leave chest cavities heaving. Closer “III. Crystalline Blessed Light Flows… From Violet Mountains Into Lunar Chambers” ends the tale as knowledge is achieved, and the very reality we know splits into infinite realities. The band lurches and hovers, delivering mystical insanity, chant-like singing driving, intermittent breezes temporarily cooling the atmosphere. Strangeness abounds as the playing rampages but also causes your dream cycle to hit a high cylinder. Growls menace as the bass playing comes alive again, trancey soloing taking over, fiery playing leaving clouds of smoke, and more mesmerizing singing chills before disappearing into the fog.

Lunar Chamber combine their penchant for Eastern mysticism with brain-wrenching death metal expertly on their debut record “Shambhallic Vibrations,” one of the weirder records to grace us this year. I feel like my brain was leaking through my ears through the bulk of this adventure, which I mean in a good way as a challenge is something I embrace. This record won’t be a universal favorite, and it’s likely not intended to be, but for those who wish to stimulate their minds as well as their musical palate, this album and band will be revelatory experiences that will push your own artistic boundaries.

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

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

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

Nightmarer’s fluid death metal warps brains, challenges wills on rampaging ‘Deformity Adrift’

Photo by Peter Voigtmann

There’s something to be said for understanding a proper serving size and being OK with letting that out into the world. Leave them wanting more, you know? Bloat is not a good look for anyone (hi, Metallica!) and it can just make you full, with little of what you heard actually sticking. So, when a band understands that and gets that right, it only serves to magnify the power of their creation.

To put it bluntly, Nightmarer make death metal that’s not likely to be everyone’s taste. They revel in dissonance, they bend minds with progressive prowess and technical strength, and they realize unloading too much of that can oversaturate. Their second record “Deformity Adrift” is a testament to that as they deliver nine tracks in 32 minutes, expertly cooking up just enough to satisfy but not having you beg for a merciful end. Lots of bands of their ilk don’t seem to get this, but Nightmarer—vocalist John Collett, guitarists Simon Hawemann and Keith Merrow, bassist Brendan Sloan, drummer Paul Seidel—have the confidence and ability to put their best stuff forward, ravage you, and get out. It makes the challenge easier to face and their stomach-wrenching style more digestible, though you’re still going to find yourself hammered to your core when it’s over.

“Brutalist Imperator” emerges and immediately electrocutes, the growls mauling as the bass bubbles dangerously under the surface. A progressive feel emerges and pops up frequently throughout the record, the punishment jostles ribcages, and the final moments melt into time. “Baptismal Tomb” explodes into sinewy hell, mauling with tech-minded thrashing, the howls tricking your mind. The playing continues to engorge as the band keeps adding pressure, leaving you breathless. “Throe of Illicit Withdrawal” brings melty chaos, snarling and unveiling bizarre auras, slowing down to add more menace to their assault. The drubbing returns as the band decimates your senses, the guitars collecting steam before disintegrating in the clouds. “Tooms” is an eerie interlude that feels like a disorienting dream sequence that leaves you wondering where the connection is between awake and asleep.

“Suffering Beyond Death” blasts and unloads, growls crushing while the playing exposes muscle that can strangle. Sounds swelter as the playing picks up, slowly cutting deep into bone, jarring thoroughly before blasting off. “Taufbefehl” emerges from a storm as howled vocals register, and a weird, spacey vibe takes over, which makes sense considering the alien-like death that slithers. Noise squalls jar eardrums as the playing gets more deliberate, making the assault a little nastier. “Hammer of Desolation” stings and trudges, the growls scraping at open wounds, the slower immersion making the punishment that much more effective. The playing has a rubbery strength, showing dexterity and cruelty, basking in a vicious metallic haze. “Endstadium” is a short interlude with noise wafting and cloud cover thickening, heading into closer “Obliterated Shrine” that takes its time tightening up its vice grip. Guttural power blurs vision as growls mar, and the blackness gets more impenetrable, slipping into a haze and putting you to sleep.

Nightmarer’s technically sharp death metal sounds as vicious and bloody as ever on “Deformity Adrift,” a record that puts a gruesome edge on a more progressive mind frame. There’s a lot to like here, and the band never gets lost up their own asses with their playing, always remembering to inject excitement and personality into the mix. This is a menacing beast, one that makes the most of its time and leaves everything a tangled mess of flesh and bone when it’s over.

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

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://nightmarer.bandcamp.com/album/deformity-adrift

Or here (Europe): https://vendettarecords.bigcartel.com/

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

And here: https://vendetta-records.com/

Enforced’s punchy thrash metal continues to deal menacing pain on mind-devouring ‘War Remains’

Photo by Jacky Flav

Gather around, everyone, and listen to the old man go on again about thrash metal and how it’s just not what it used to be in the glory days. Someone fetch my blanket. Look, thrash took a beating in the grunge years, and even its progenitors abandoned it while it was consumed by its new host. Death and black metal survived and thrived almost as opposition while thrash faded away.

So, you’ll understand why I grimace every time I get a record to review from a young thrash band trying to fan the flames again. Many have tried and failed, but it’s not a hopeless venture. Take, for example, Virginia crushers Enforced who have done the thrash/crossover thing with stunning power and precision, and that carries over to their massive new record “War Remains,” their third. If you were psyched by the direction taken by the band—vocalist Knox Kolby, guitarists Will Wagstaff and Zach Monahan, bassist Ethan Gensurowsky, drummer Alex Bishop—on 2021’s “Kill Grid,” you’re going to be right at home. This has menace, tenacity, and most of all, heart, something so many of the other bands who tried and burned out didn’t have. You can feel it through every second, and these 10 tracks and nearly 34 minutes of chaos wash over you in no time, indelibly leaving their mark.

“Aggressive Menace” kicks things off with a blast, the thrashing intensity making an early statement, howls ripping through the night. The jarring power hits its apex, barreling toward your prone body as Kolby’s raspy growls bark orders. “The Quickening” has great energy and pummeling vocals, the leads burning brightly and taking bodies apart. Stomping fury matches the direct shouts, the guitars rampage and destroy, and clouds of smoke cause choking inhalation. “Hanged By My Hand” charges with drubbing speed, mangling with thrashy violence, the guitar work adding to the pressure. Everything hits a high point as all elements unite to overpower, Kolby’s throaty yells making this thing feel even meaner. “Avarice” destroys with Slayer-like leads, assaulting the gas pedal and showing no concern for safety. The vocals go for the throat as the guitars add more fuel, shredding and destroying with no mercy. The title track chugs along as relentless shouts and clubbing intensity unite, Kolby wailing, “War is what makes us human!” Guitars fire up from there, the tempo obliterates, and things fade into exhaust.

“Mercy Killing Fields” dawns ominously before taking on speed and eventually steamrolling. The howls massacre as the playing destroys the senses, clubbing with ferocity that adds insult to injury. “Nation of Fear” brings marring guitars and screamier shouts, the simple, yet effective chorus bruising, the drums adding to the carnage. Guitars swell dangerously as the pressure is added, and the final moments stab away. “Ultra-Violence” blasts through the gates and mercilessly strangles, speedy vocals spitting out madness, the guitars boiling dangerously. The thrashing drubs and powders bones, the guitars hit a new level of ferocity, and the whole thing races hard and destroys all barriers. “Starve” is more tempered as it starts, letting the heat rise before the stampeding gets under way in full. “Let me starve!” Kolby wails as double-kick drums rumble the earth, the guitars barrel over, and it feels like you’re trapped underneath a runaway train. Closer “Empire” is dark and strange, the vocals chewing for the jugular, decimation taking over. Just when it seems like the temperature has peaked, the bad hits another level, bringing unforgiving destruction that levels until it ends abruptly.

I’m always skeptical of bands trying to revive true thrash metal, but Enforced have proved time and again to be up for the challenge and have the chops to make this style feel that much more volatile. “War Remains” is a nasty, formidable record that brims with life while it deals the worst punishment the earth has to offer. As long as bands such as Enforced are active and trucking, thrash metal will remain alive, feeding on the flesh of its victims.

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

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://centurymedia.store/store

Or here (Europe): https://www.cmdistro.de/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Spotlights use dark energy to examine mystery on murky ‘Alchemy for the Dead’

Death touches us all. Sure, we have our own ending to consider, the inevitable final step in all of our lives that looms large over everything. We also deal with the loss of others, the memories and longing for connection with those who have entered the beyond, and even the demise of parts of our culture. We cannot avoid this, and the only way to deal is to go through it.

These were the types of themes in the minds of Pittsburgh’s Spotlights when creating their fantastic new record “Alchemy for the Dead,” their fourth album and one that delves even further into their psyches. While the band operates on the perimeter of metal, there’s enough heaviness in the music and the lyrical content to find a home among those who indulge in brutality. In fact, last summer the band—vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Mario Quintero, bassist/vocalist Sarah Quintero, drummer/vocalist Chris Enriquez—played a support slot for Cave In and found kinship with the audience with their blend of heaviness and dreamy murkiness. These nine songs are some of the most realized and emotionally impactful of Spotlights’ run, and this is an album that hopefully opens more eyes and ears to their mesmerizing, sometimes stormy pathway through all the ways death touches our lives.

“Beyond the Broken Sky” slowly emerges, the song bubbling and floating, jostling your insides. The mood then gusts as punches land, Mario calling, “But I can’t see the stars, now I can see the stars,” as the track fades in exhaust. “The Alchemist” enters amid beats and impulses, doomy waves crashing as the singing induces shadows. Toy piano notes confound as guitars stretch, sounds crashing through transmissions that are both eerie and jolting, crashing into the ground. “Sunset Burial” liquifies as the bass drives hard, guitars and synth mixing into a ghostly force, crashing and whirring like a hallucination. “Just go spitting out the words no one needs to know, right up to the end, you’ll hide under the ground,” Mario sings, sinister and striking visions lightning up the night sky. “Algorithmic” is sinewy, basking in thick bass buzz, the singing punchier and also a little higher register. The chorus is lush but elements of this are dirtier, leaving ash and chaos, fading in an electric fog.

“False Gods” has claps and gnarly guitars chewing their way in, heavy damage being sustained even as moodier elements attempt to soothe. Tenor sax from Ben Opie (himself a musician at renowned Carnegie Mellon University) makes your mind spin, as Mario wails, “There’s no use in looking up, weak little creature made for disaster, maybe there’s something you can believe in now?” as the track blisters in gaze. “Repeat the Silence” has riffs sneaking in as hushed singing lulls, eventually opening and smearing, the aggression being amped up to dangerous levels. Keys glisten as the guitars hypnotize, yells bristling and shaking loose your nerves. “Ballad in the Mirror” is both dreamy and alarming, letting you bask in cooler waters before lightning ripples. Spacious playing feels liberating, then it mixes with thorny edges, drawing blood and leading you into the cosmos. “Crawling Toward the Light” is grungy and immersive, Mario calling, “Call the shot straight to your heart, cut the shock straight from your heart.” The chorus is rousing and crushing, sweeping with energy and emotion, bringing sludgy hammers that leave bruising before zapping into the stars. The closing title track starts with acoustics and softer singing, the strangeness swelling before your eyes. “You’re not gonna heal me,” Mario insists, “It’s too late to help me now, and you’ll never believe me, but no one hear me now.” Mellotron quivers as electric squalls send pulses, heaviness looms large, and acoustic strains return, leaving only stardust behind.

Our eventual demise can be incredibly uncomfortable, even terrifying, but its inevitability is something we cannot avoid. Spotlights steer headlong into that thinking as they examine it from every end, every twist of psychosis on “Alchemy for the Dead,” their most immersive record they’ve ever done. It’s not easy to think about or confront, but with songs like these nine, it can open our brains and hearts and try to make the darkness a little more inviting.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.blixtmerchandise.com/collections/ipecac-recordings

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

Runemagick again prove meddle as doom/death royalty on grim, mashing ‘Beyond the Cenotaph…’

There’s something to be said about doing something really well for a long time and rarely making a misstep along the way. Not many people can say that about their work and lives. It’s another thing to pull this off and fly slightly under the radar, compiling an incredible resume and doing it while others get accolades for content that isn’t as powerful.

For more than three decades now, Swedish doom/death crushers Runemagick have created darkness and metallic punishment that measures up with anyone, but their name is not nearly as quick off the tongue when most folks discuss this subgenre. From their 1998 debut “The Supreme Force of Eternity” to their new, 13th record “Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind,” the band has compiled crusher after crusher, remaining true to their art and leaving a trail of ash behind. With “Cenotaph,” the band—vocalist/guitarist Nicklas Rudolfsson, guitarist Jonas Blom, bassist Emma Rudolfsson, drummer Daniel Moilanen—opens a tunnel into exploring personal darkness and turmoil over six tracks and 48 minutes that force you to pay the price, which you’ll only be too happy to do. It also should strengthen their case that they’re one of the best bands at this style, and it’s time to shine a brighter light on that.

“Archaic Magick (After the Red Sun)” opens the record with sounds swarming and doom swirling, growls lurching over the bloody path. The pace charges up as the gore builds, chugging heat as the guitars drill, and the playing exposes ugly mangling. The track thrashes with energy, and the pace surges and mauls, cosmic whirring making it feel like you’re leaving the earth, slowly draining into the stars. “Endless Night and Eternal End” opens in eerie chants and tornadic playing causing the room to spin, powerful riffs teaming with savage growls, thick and bubbling playing working up your spine. Gothy clubbing darkens the aura, the guitar work stokes the fires, and splattering doom coats the walls in blood. “Revocation of Spectral Paths” is haunting when it opens, flexing its muscles, driving slowly through thick tunnels and monstrous stomping causing tolls to be collected. The fury builds as the growls dig into your guts, unloading massive waves of devastation before everything disappears into the fog.

“The Storm Rode Beyond the Firmament” delivers clobbering vocals and a mysterious atmosphere that thickens and swallows you inside. Smashing and guttural, the playing warms the senses as the storming increases, causing mud to collect, the warm guitar work and trudging crumbling away. “Nocturnal Deities of Winter” drips in as strange doomy power collects, morbid growls lashing as the track slowly comes into form. The playing then unloads, weighing down and delivering bolting speed, the sweltering heat destroying your mentality. Leads glisten as your nerve endings begin to tingle, bleeding strangeness as it fades into the distance. The title track ends the record and begins cosmically, taking you on a bizarre journey before the growls set in and twists muscle. The cloud cover increases as the guitars send flares into the stratosphere, Rudolfsson wailing, “Not of this world,” as the track buries itself into the earth.

13 albums into their run and three decades plus of scathing death/doom hasn’t slowed down Runemagick, who prove their tank is pretty fucking full on “Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind.” The power and occult visions are strong as ever, and their ability to make you feel physically and mentally raked over the coals is unwavering. This band operates in legendary territory, and their presence in the metallic world is both vital and enthralling as they hammer us yet again.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://hammerheartstore.com/collections/vendors?q=Runemagick

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

Austere’s sullen black metal gets heavy-handed blanket of misery on ‘Corrosion of Hearts’

Photo by Stefan Raduta

The winter months bring on the phenomenon known as seasonal depression, a mental health struggle that occurs when daylight is at its least generous, and the dark emotions have an easier time taking over our psyche. But it’s not like spring is some kind of cure-all that extinguishes the dread and sadness. Those forces remain, and it can be disheartening to realize a season change wasn’t an antidote.

That comes to mind as we settle into “Corrosion of Hearts,” the long-awaited third record from Australian depressive black metal force Austere that ends 14 years of full-length silence. While it’s a triumphant return to the metal world, it’s not like the shadows aren’t as thick and foreboding as they were before. The band—guitarist/bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Mitchell “Desolate” Keepin and drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Tim “Sorrow” Yatras—fleshed out their sound and added even more atmosphere and psychotic stress. But buried in that majesty is a dagger that opens up parts of the heart and mind that have kept you buried beneath insurmountable waves.

“Sullen” is the 11:55-long opener that takes its time to develop an aura, but it sure as hell does. Shrieks mar as the colors change before your eyes, their wrenching doom working into your psyche. Clean calls reverberate in the darkness as the atmosphere thickens, continually working into razor-sharp tumult, creaky howls mixing with great power. The singing swells as the shadows cascade, crashing down with electricity before burning off. “A Ravenous Oblivion” navigates through an oppressive fog, growls and clean singing uniting and delivering different versions of the same message. The weight continues to grow as gargantuan wails quake your insides, the pace chugging steadily, the storm continuing to threaten. The vocals wrench harder as the playing continues to soak the ground, washing you away with an attack that relentlessly saturates with gloomy tidings.  

“The Poisoned Core” has keys dripping as the darkness unfolds, the plodding pace putting the screws to you and fastening you to the ground. Synth thickens as the vicious howls dig into you, eventually working into calmer waters for a stretch before a mauling force returns. The vocals pummel, a frosty force sweeps over, and then the playing soars into the highest levels, the playing dissolving into strange energy. Closer “Pale” is the longest track here, running 13:39 and beginning in deep space, solemnity spreading into other galaxies. Wild howls whip through damp terrain, emotional caterwauling increasing, swimming through crashing waves and into jarring madness. The playing penetrates as melodic guitar work gets stickier, hypnotic melodies make your brain spin, and the dissolution happens slowly but steadily, leaving a bizarre mist behind.

“Corrosion of Hearts” is an experience as much as it is a record, and it’s something you should let wash over you and take you to wherever the music guides your brain. Austere always find a way to channel immersion and make you feel the psychological pressure and at the same time let you deal with your own psychosis. This album isn’t an easy lift, but if you allow yourself to take the trip and submit to this music, you’ll be left transformed and seeing your challenges in a different light.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://lnk.spkr.media/austere-corrosion

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

Chrome Waves charge back into darker waters, bruise flesh on jagged ‘Earth Will Shed Its Skin’

Watching a vision come into focus can be an incredibly exciting thing, that is when the direction makes sense and isn’t going to destroy the whole thing. It happens that away a lot with bands that going through metamorphosis with each album cycle as you can see the parts coming into place, and you just wonder where their ambitions eventually lead them.

As for Chrome Waves, this is a band that’s in constant motion. From the early strains of their 2012 self-titled EP to their thrilling last full-length “The Rain Will Cleanse,” their biggest sonic departure yet, the band seemed to be finding their true identity, ensuring all avenues for exploration were open to them. Now we land on record three “Earth Will Shed Its Skin,” and it’s an example of all of the elements coming together, constructing all of the parts into a greater machine that we see on these six tracks. The band—vocalist/guitarist/synth player James Benson, guitarist/synth player Jeff Wilson, bassist Zion Meagher, (Garry Naples handles drums on the recording)—finds a solid path and reveals it on this album, one that still could reshape in the future but sure seems on solid footing.

“Forward” opens like a morning into the fog, punching in as the shrieks tear into flesh, the leads soaring into a lush chorus that stands against the verses. The playing rips apart, howls crushing, the guitars rushing through the air, wooshing and disappearing into immersive colors. “Under the Weight of a Billion Souls” is spacey and glazing as it opens, pushing into darker waters where Benson’s howls eat away at you, howling, “We close our eyes and pray.” The chorus brings the album’s title into the mix, Benson calling, “The earth will shed its skin,” as the playing gets immersive, churning as the pressure builds. The playing whips into a frenzy as siren-like noises swirl, the final moments fading into a vortex. “The Long Rope” pummels with vicious howls and a crashing tempo, an increasing haze eventually marring your vision, slashing away at sanity. Howls echo as things speed up, the synth wooshes, and cosmic forces make their way deep into your psyche.

“What Desperate Looks Like” brings ominous tones and guitars dripping ice water, clean singing helping create a haunting aura. The track continues to develop and lets freezing winds into the room, dark melodies swell, and synth creates a thickening storm that soaks the ground. “The Nail” slips into a synth haze, the track churning under a western feel, the detached singing having Benson calling, “Seeking mercy in the end.” The mist grows more oppressive, synth squeals, and horns echo, the pace then gaining speed. Shrieks rain down, the playing blisters, and the final rush makes your head feel ample pressure. Closer “Broken” simmers in darkness, strings crying, harsh howls leaving bruising. Emotions build as the intensity carves away at you, the playing finding a way to take you apart limb from limb but also enchant your mind. The darkness doubles as the journey continues into mystery, the playing spindles in the shadows, and the final bursts drain into horizon.

“Earth Will Shed Its Skin” is and isn’t a departure from “The Rain Will Cleanse” as it maintains a lot of the foggy and mysterious chemistry of that record but also digs back into the band’s black metal past. There’s so much interesting ground mined here, and it feels like Chrome Waves are finding themselves even more in their music, becoming something sharper and more dangerous. Wherever this journey is taking the band, going along with them is going to be tumultuous and cloaked in darkness.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.m-theoryaudio.com/store

For more on the label, go here: https://www.m-theoryaudio.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Smoulder push abusers against the gory blade on ‘Violent Creed of Vengeance’

Photo by Emma Grönqvist

Taking vengeance upon someone typically means that person wronged you, hurt you mentally or physically, stole from you, or committed some other deed that did damage. Responding in kind to that person is to ensure they never do that again. It also can be done to punish someone who stood by and let it happen, making them guilty by association.

That bloody act is the centerpiece of “Violent Creed of Vengeance,” the second record from metallic force Smoulder, making this their deadliest hour. Over these seven tracks, the band—vocalist Sarah Ann, guitarists S. Vincent and Collin Wolf, bassist Adam Blake, drummer Kevin Hester—used their razor-sharp speed and power metal to drive their means of payback. Ann directed her rage toward rapists and abusers, as well as the support system that enables this behavior, and she imagines violence unspeakable and the desire to entirely extinguish these evil forces. This is done by entrenching these warnings within fantastical storytelling and an era where the blade is a primary weapon, promising those who try to force their power on others will meet their final day in agony.  

The title track kicks in with riffs charging and Ann’s soaring singing, as she goes a register higher than she did on much of Smoulder’s debut “Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring.” The band is in total command, telling dark and fantastical tales, the fluid assault taking you to task and injecting energy into every ounce of this track. “The Talisman and the Blade” is speedy and jarring, the vocals pounding away, the energy palpable. “To fathom the witches riddle, power is nothing if given to you, let the forces of furies unite for justice, for light, and life,” Ann wails over the chorus as the guitars charge up and ignite the power, the drums pounding, and the bass slicing a thick path. “Midnight in the Mirror World” enters amid spiraling riffs and churning playing, the singing soaring, ominous “oh oh” calls darkening the skies. The song then takes on an even more epic feel, mashing boundaries, the fires blazing and disappearing into mystic steam.

“Path of Witchery” explodes with jarring riffs and a stomping pace, the chorus once again shining brightly as one of the most alluring parts of the track. Punches land as the leads take on more fury, the soloing giving off blinding flashes, the singing feeling immersive and sinewy, everything sweeping through to a dramatic end. “Victims of Fate” runs 7:41, driving a knife through your chest, taking off with plodding strength. “Chosen for the greatest task, where the future will meet the past, I’ll soon forget all that I saw amongst swirling visions beyond chaos and law,” Ann howls, getting inside your blood and changing your chemical makeup. Glorious and humid, the track keeps building, the story evolves, and Ann calls out (in reference to the center city in Michael Moorcock’s multiverse), “Tanelorn, I wish for release, Tanelorn, will I find you in?” as the power drives into the sky and fades away. “Spellforger” hits the gas pedal right away showing great fire, the vocals blistering as Ann gets an even higher level. The playing is relentless as the storming rages, ending in a vicious surge. Closer “Dragonslayer’s Doom” runs 9:51 and lights up before hitting a tempered pace, getting more molten as things progress. The pace chugs as the guitars go off on a journey, Ann standing with blade in hand as she adds more muscle. The second half continues to expand the journey, the singing bellows, and guitars scar as everything ramps up for a titanic finish that ends in the jaws of fantasy.

Smoulder’s legend continues to build on “Violent Creed of Vengeance,” a record that both complements and stands alone from their powerful debut album. The fact that these songs both tell new legends and also put the knife to the throat of oppressors and abusers is both exciting and righteous, making for an album that accomplishes so many things. This is a band that cannot be denied, and their second album is one that drives home the fact that they’re ascending to a throne no one can prevent them from taking.

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

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

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

Dawn of Ouroboros seek home, comfort amid tumult on raging, inventive ‘Velvet Incandescence’

Photo by Wyman Choy

The bulk of music we cover here tends to bask in negativity and chaos, the feeling the world is a hellscape and danger is around every corner prevailing. But it doesn’t all have to be that way, and it’s refreshing when bands come along with a different viewpoint. Just because the music is heavy doesn’t mean the pressure has to be, so being able to feel something brighter can be a serious boost.

Progressive metal power Dawn of Ouroboros spent their half decade together pushing their art into regions not always heavily explored, and that continues on their alluring second record “Velvet Incandescence.” Seeking a place to find solace in the darkness and a place to call home (be it a physical location or a mental one), the album thematically exposes these ideas and acts as a brighter star illuminating their musical universe dressed in black and death metal leanings. The band—vocalist Chelsea Murphy (also of Cailleach Calling), guitarist/synth player Tony Thomas (also of Cailleach Calling and Botanist), guitarist/pianist Ian Baker (Red Rot), bassist David Scanlon (Deliria), drummer Ron Bertrand (Botanist, Red Rot)—brings together ample experience from other forward-thinking groups, but they go above and beyond with this imaginative and devastating project. Each of these 46 minutes is gripping, thought-provoking, and pummeling, giving your mind and body a workout.

“Healing Grounds” begins delicately, dreamy singing flowing over you, the playing slowly developing. Then things open up, the shrieks pierce eardrums, and the emotion spirals into chaos. The playing goes from wild and ripping to oddly calm, sludgy attacking jabs, and leads sweep as things disappear into the cosmos. “Testudines” is an energetic burst, Murphy shrieking, “Plague the mind like fungus sporing and spreading, through guarded gates of a protected mind.” The hammering makes your flesh bruise as savagery connects, and even the breezier moments feel volatile and about to burst. The prog energy swells as the playing thunders through, and the unhinged howls have seismic impact. “Iron Whispers” is chilled and devastating as it starts, building a strong atmosphere as the vocals unhinge their jaws and swallow you whole. The song gets more soulful, hitting guttural lows and atmospheric highs, Murphy singing, “Free your spirit to explore these grounds, absorbing wisdom of ancestor past Interlocked hands, with strength we take our stance.” “Levitating Pacifics” starts clean and hazy, synth creating a wall, the metallic burst going through your guts. A melodic gush liquifies as Murphy calls out, speaking and then singing, punchy jolts crunching bones and pulling teeth.

“Rise from Disillusion” rips open with ferocious madness, vicious playing beginning to twist your muscles into unnatural angles. The shrieks mash as a black metal-style assault unloads, the singing rising and increasing the passion, fiery hell unleashed that melts your pain away. “Castigation” is murky, Murphy speaking, calling out, “Warmth radiates, energizing, filling heart to limbs, a crescent upon face, stretching upwards and expelling tears like memories, rain from lush colored eyes.” Then the floor drops as raw howls and gnarly power unite and shred, every element mangling and suffocating. Manic shrieks rain down, the melody swells, and the final moments find some solace also marked with tribulation. “Cephalopodic Void” opens with strange chants, the track taking on a New Age feel in which your brain swims. Spacious leads swallow whole as the growls pick at wounds, the playing angles into space, and immersive echoes write the final lines. Closer “Velvet Moon” dawns in shimmering keys and then charred chaos, emotions rushing along with the simmering guitar lines. “A gift from the velvet one, simmer down into a puddle of one-sided consciousness, ice covered numbers of time pleading to stay, to wake the past again, to be home with you,” Murphy gushes as you find your heart pumping a little more forcefully. The playing turns lush and effusive, group singing makes your spirit rise, and a cloud cover adds a level of comfort as you find your way home again.

Whether we admit it or not, we all seek a place where the dark forces of the world can’t get to us and we have a safe place where our hearts and minds can heal from trauma. “Velvet Incandescence” is a way for Dawn of Ouroboros to both provide that to listeners and achieve it for themselves, making it a little easier to manage our own struggles. The fact the music is a progressive dream, jolts bolts loose from iron, and creates an adventure not easily achieved is just as heavy, and it makes for an album that could hit you differently each time you hear it depending on where your mind fixates.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/products/dawn-of-ouroboros-velvet-incandescence

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