French force Aodon put focus on nine characters, issues, and the aftermath with ‘Portraits’

Everyone has a path to travel in life, and often times we veer to other tributaries because the mission we’re on changes, or our inhibitions do. Along the way, we face struggles, and the way we react to those things depends on a lot of different factors, not all of them being things we can control. In turn, our actions and behaviors not only lean into our own lives but into that of friends, families, even strangers.

French black metal force Aodon use their new record “Portraits” (their third) to help tell some of these stories, each track named after a fictional or real character and the factors they face. The band—vocalist/guitarist/drummer M-Kha, guitarist Laurent C., bassist Alix R.—unleashes their brand of atmospheric power and chaos over these nine tracks, visiting subject matters such as misery, addiction, violence, belief systems, abuse, and many other forces that transform what these characters become. These tracks burst with life, fiery ambition, and emotional caterwaul, doing their best to help you live alongside these people and where their decisions take them along the way.  

“Swen” unloads with a melodic surge, shrieks raining down as the fog thickens dangerously. Energy gushes as the intensity continues to multiply, moving in and out of clouded obscurity before unleashing an infectious assault before melting into chaos. “Egon” is frosty and spiraling, delivering fast riffs and assaulting the senses, making blood and adrenaline spike. Vicious howls echo as guitars spill and create a mystical sensation, bowing to the fire before a blistering finish. “Mayerson” starts with the drums gutting, creating confusion and numbness as the splattering moves into a frost front. The playing sprawls as the fires spread, energy gushes with volcanic force, and final explosive jolts tie a morbid bow on everything. “Adam” crushes right off the bat as the guitars wrench, the playing dive bombing mercilessly. The pace is savage but catchy, decimating chaos spreading its wings, a frosty finish leaving all functioning warm cells frozen.

“Miquella” dawns with force as the drums blister, thunderous playing making bones quake. The playing sprawls as the guitars drip, thrashing menace making muscles ache, shrieks hammering with precision  before the track flows to a gutting end. “Andreas” feels more welcoming until guitars explode, and a stirring, tornadic pace scrambles your senses. A melodic flood generates excitement and chaos at the same time, melting into clean playing that flows over you, and then everything combusts, with the track ending in total destruction. “Liza” rips open, the vicious screams making their presence felt, the smashing sentiment raining down. Fog spreads and obscures vision as raw howls dig into flesh, the playing scorching and leaving flesh red and swollen. “Inaki” brings a guitar rush and flushing melodies, setting up an atmospheric haul that then twists the knife. Air and power are abundant as the playing builds and cascades, bleeding out into closer “Sheelagh” that starts off with a breezier approach. Gazey layering turns into menace as guttural howls devastate, battering power loosens the screws, and a blasting push makes footing unstable, landing gut punches before fading away.

While “Portraits” may be a character play involving real or imagined characters, Aodon find ways to lace their realities into each of our own. There’s not one of us who have not been impacted or influenced by these actions or emotions, and being able to identify with that gives this record even more weight. That’s not even addressing the power of the music contained here, which is some of Aodon’s finest, an album that explodes inside your chest and mind and rearranges where everything once stood.

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Altar of Oblivion warm up tasty leftover crushers with classic doom-dashed ‘Burning Memories’

Leftovers kind of get a bad rap. Unless everything was left out for as long time and bacteria has grown rampant, they’re perfectly fine. When I was a kid, my mom would make sandwiches out of roast beef from days previously, and it was so fucking good. I don’t eat beef these days, but I still have a soft spot for that meal and often dream about it.

Doom bruisers Altar of Oblivion’s new EP “Burning Memories” falls in that same line as these tracks were recorded in 2016 after completing work on their third record, which was 2019’s “The Seven Spirits.” Even though these tracks have been in the fridge for a while, they soak in their flavors and juices, sounding as fresh today as when were created. The band—vocalist Mik Mentor, guitarist/guitar-synth player Martin Meyer Sparvath, guitarist Jeppe Campradt, bassist C. Nørgaard, drummer Danny Woe, keyboardist Jannick Nielsen—has been in EP mode the last few years, this being their third one since “Spirits” arrived, and it’s a rousing collection that basks in their classic, glorious vein.

The title track begins with typically strong riffs and dark trudging, the singing spreading total darkness. “Burning memories are haunting me forever,” Mentor calls as the soloing lights up and blinds your eyes, leading to a devastating finish that chars with power. “Through the Night” runs 7:04 and delivers morbid guitar work and ominous tones, Mentor’s muscular vocals eating into your psyche. Harmonized singing rushes as the leads glimmer and chug, later coming to a tempered pace, the singing plodding. The moodiness thickens as heavy emotions flow from every pore, the madness finally washing away. “Cosmic Chaos” is a quick interlude track with synth lasering, working through thick ice, melting into rock. “Manic Masquerade” brings wild howls and a speedier pace, plowing through everything with a vicious surge. Mentor’s singing is just top notch here, which it is throughout the EP to be fair, as he commands, “Take me to the other side.” Guitars jolt as burning energy brings uncompromised visions, the guitar work bleeding generously, the atmosphere growing misty before fading into mystery. Closer “Radiation” is an instrumental with dripping guitar echo, sounds wooshing, and disorienting melodies sinking into your bloodstream and making you drop quivering.

Leftovers or not, “Burning Memories” is a satisfying collection that finally is seeing the light of day after sitting on the shelf for several years. Traditional doom like this doesn’t always come in such high quality, but this is Altar of Oblivion we’re talking about, and their track record cannot be questioned. This is more than a nice tide over until the next record; it’s a pathway into the past and a highway to the future, with this EP as bridge to connecting generations.

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Bongzilla pay homage to one of most commanding pot ingestion methods on mangling ‘Dab City’

I don’t profess to be an expert of any kind when it comes to marijuana consumption, and I’m about as late to the party as you can get. Growing up in the 1980s, you were conditioned to live in paralyzed fear of pot and any other drug, and that’s not easy to get out of your system. Legalization in Pennsylvania helped, as did my need to treat my anxiety, so I started my journey a few years ago, and here we are.

That said, I’m still just a cart and pen user, and though the fine folks at my local dispensaries have explained dabbing to me, we’re just not there yet. You know who is? Long-running weed and doom warriors Bongzilla who have returned with their deliriously awesome new record “Dab City.” If you’re already familiar with the Madison, Wisc., natives—vocalist/bassist Mike “Muleboy” Makela, guitarist Jeff “Spanky” Schultz, drummer Mike “Magma” Henry—you know you’re in for scuzzy, filthy doom that leaves you feeling gritty inside when it’s done. If you’re new to things, get ready for a trip that’s a blast to experience and will leave you bruised and dizzy when it’s over. Smoke up, kids.

The title track begins with Makela announcing, “Welcome to Dab City,” and then the riffs begin to snarl, the inhumane shrieks sounding like a beast you imagined when under the influence. Bluesy leads trample a mangling path, the playing bashing away, your ears left ringing dangerously. A long instrumental section keeps the psychosis rolling, the playing then flattening with force, looping back and burning out. “King of Weed” brings smoking riffs and a tempo snaking slowly, the growls charring in the sun. Bluesy hell is unleashed as the thorny growls strangle flesh, the guitars glimmer, and swaggering crunch leaves bones devastated. “Cannonbong (The ballad of Burnt Reynolds as lamented by Dixie Dave Collins)” runs 13:40, the Weedeater/Buzzoven frontman gruffly telling the tale as the playing slurs in the heat. The heaviness amplifies as the playing is calculated and punishing, percussive rumbling loosening rock, and a drone blanket is dragged over everything. Noise elevates and stretches, Collins’ storytelling returns, and the massive force weighs in and chokes you out.

“C.A.R.T.S.” opens with glowing guitars and marring shrieks, the playing brimming with attitude. The vocals cut through as the guitars quiver, electricity jolts the system, and everything charges back up before a plastering finish. “Hippie Stick” feels heavily Sabbath influenced, the growls mauling everything in its wake, the pressure eating into bone. The pace lurches and wrenches, molten heat wafting off, and the blistering makes the altered senses you’re experiencing worth the effort. “Diamonds and Flower” comes in on slinking riffs and acidic growls, sooty guitars caking on the filth. As the track goes on, the riffs get meatier and even burlier, everything doubling over with menace and power, the churning gnawing repeatedly before sinking into the dirt. Closer “American Pot” combines scratchy melodies and muscular guitars, bringing the heat to a boil before the humidity draws back and chills the flesh. Dusk warmth colors the horizon as speed increases, driving maddeningly before the growls finally dive at about the 9-minute mark, bringing an extra vicious jolt before everything ends in smoke.

“Dab City” not only is an homage to the finest of weed (and one of its most effective methods of ingestion) but also their rich surroundings, which Bongzilla mightily highlight on this album. Despite the subject matter, this is gnarly shit that likely goes down better with a sativa and a mission, which will make the experience all the more intense. This is a fun, smoking record from one of the finer representatives of stoner doom in the game.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Thantifaxath’s return brings disturbing, weird violence on ‘Hive Mind Narcosis’

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Total psychological devastation when listening to music isn’t everyone’s thing, and that’s totally understandable because being taken apart each brain impulse at a time can be painful. It also can be an incredibly stimulating experience if you’re open to taking a trip with something that isn’t easily digested or understood and exists in musical chaos that presents multiple challenges.

Canadian monsters Thantifaxath never seemed interested in creating art that goes down easy, and their new opus “Hive Mind Narcosis” is sure to leave people perplexed and lost. Which is fine, because not all music should strive to comfort or amass a larger audience. Bands such as Thantifaxath have a particular mission to get whatever black chaos reigns in their minds and hearts, and if that connects with a niche of listeners, great. If not, probably the same feeling. We have not heard from the band—the lineup is shrouded in mystery, and they performed fully cloaked—in nine years, and that was their eye-opening debut “Sacred White Noise,” and things have only gotten more bizarre since then. Black metal is the base, but there are psychedelic elements, noise, doom, and death, making this a fully realized piece sonically and one that thematically that plays with the conflict of being completely repulsed by something but also accepting its existence. It’s kind of how I feel about salt and vinegar chips.  

“Solar Witch” instantly fries brains, howls boiling, psychedelic madness bubbling over the surface. “The solar witch rises!” is howled as the strange aura mangles and increases body temperatures, and the weirdness increases as the warping playing gains speed, the scraping leaving dizziness behind. “Surgical Utopian Love” is the longest track at 10:58, the track smashing its way in as the raw howls torment, leaving the room spinning dangerously. The track takes on a horror soundscape essence as the bizarre transmission continues to ooze oil, powering through smashing jolts and a storm twisting back into full force. Manic energies spike as adrenaline and cortisol pump, eventually liquefying and giving way to a synth scape that swallows everything with one gulp. “The Lost Wisdom of Wolves” brings drilling guitars and beastly howls, the cosmic void opening its jaw for digestion. Some calmer air mixes into the insanity, guitars and growls penetrate, and a strange aura develops and brings on the nausea.

“Burning Kingdom of Now” burns with prog fuel, guitars melting and the unhinged screams mangling as the heat increases. The playing thrashes but also slurs drunkenly through the chaos, feeling sinister and strange, a rambling being with no idea of its own strength taking down walls. “Hungry Ghosts” ignites with steely riffs and speak-like cries, the playing intensifying the psychological punishment being dealt in spades. Fiery growls scorch with violent intent, energy cascades, and guitars collide and send bolts of electricity into the universe. “Blissful Self Disassembly” arrives in an angelic glaze, like your blurry eyes trying to make sense of the early morning. Noises pulse as the playing unloads, the drums turning bones to powder, alien visions burning through reality and soaring toward closer “Mind of the Sun” that slips into an instant flurry. Growls maim as tornadic fury arrives, melting into psychedelic hues and damage. Your mind can’t help but race as relentless pressure amplifies, bringing panic-inducing devastation that leads into a fog and brings a vicious end.

The mystery that surrounds Thantifaxath as a whole and “Hive Mind Narcosis” is what makes this so interesting and alluring right off the bat, black metal that feels like it arrives from elsewhere and is opening portals in your brain. There’s a mental push and pull going on here, and it’s deliberate, leaving the listener the responsibility of putting together the pieces and figuring out what they mean. It’s not an easy assignment, but it’s a mountain you’ll climb in the dark against your will, trying to find a glimmer of light in a smother blackness that makes you nerve endings surge at every turn.

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Unfurl launch violent strikes at continual erosion of rights, society on smashing ‘Ascension’

Does it seem like the cultural and political divide that’s wrecked this country is terminally diseased? There doesn’t seem to be a potential watershed event out there that can bring some connectivity, and if a global disease can’t cure it, the close of the next election cycle doesn’t have a prayer. But that’s what you get when fascism becomes a cancerous fad, and meaningful healing is way on the backburner.

“Ascension,” the third full-length from Pittsburgh’s Unfurl, puts focus on the deterioration of our society, namely the stripping away of rights from marginalized people, inequality, and mental health struggles, topics that have only gotten more aggravated the last few years. These volcanic eight songs wreak havoc and recreate the societal tear in which we’re trapped, pounding away mentally and physically. The band—vocalist Nicholas Nemetz, guitarist/vocalist/keyboard player/Didgeridoo master, bassist Ricky Petticord, drummer/vocalist Josh Thieler (also of Úzkost)—employs fiery metallic hardcore, noise, and doom to hammer away and churn flesh, firing back at the forces of injustice.

“Coiled Serpent” begins with noises swirling and then the dagger is jammed into the ribs, shrieks raining down as the chaos builds. Guitars smear as the playing pounds away with force, smashing and disorienting, piledriving and engorging before disappearing into madness. “Gossamer Ladder” brings melting fury as the shrieks deface, the guitars trampling as the heat intensifies. The drums massacre as vicious howls blister, and the relentless terror bows to a synth haze. “Trembling in the Threshold” unearths deep, lurching growls and a drilling pace, tearing into your brain. Total obliteration strikes as your senses melt, and the path of destruction is agitated and left to consume everything in its path. “Burning Question” enters in numbing combustion, stabbing with emotion, leading into muddy clubbing. The playing is blinding and disorienting, smashing with an unforgiving violence that only has intertest in complete obliteration.

“This Empty Planet” is bled into as corrosive hell slowly is unleashed, the shrieks mangling your veins. Things gets more calculated but remain dangerously heavy, the heat begins to rise and encircle, and feedback storms and heads into “Hyperviolet Estuary” that responds with razor-sharp riffs. Clean calls slip behind the pummeling shrieks, and then guitars sprawl, leading to a more progressive tone. Growls are encased in filth as inventive and staggering battering leaves anyone with a nervous system reeling. “Entity Reunion in the Sky” is the longest track, running 8:37 and instantly running headlong into jarring growls and a suddenly increasing blanket of smoke. Vile shrieks meet with thick growls as some calm adds a cooler breeze, but it’s only leading you back into the furnace, snarling and slipping into jagged terrain. Speedy riffs splatter, and playing trucks viciously, and then we’re into closer “Longitudes & Leylines” that eases its way in. It’s not long until the band is crushing skulls, allowing hazier playing to cause confusion, sounds increasing the disorientation, screams stripping flesh from bone. The molten flow continues as the singing melts, sounds combust, and the torment fades into oblivion.

Unfurl are stitching together mental journeys we’ve all taken as we’ve watched our world get battered, our society on the verge of being hijacked by forces who mean us harm. “Ascension” certainly helps the listener get into that mind frame, and the playing and utter intensity pays off the anger, disillusionment, and frustration so many of us have felt fighting these battles. Unfurl isn’t giving in, and this music is testament to the fire in their bellies, and they will have no hesitation taking to the streets.

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Demonaz-helmed Immortal blast back with wintry rage, loads of riffs on jagged ‘War Against All’

A few weeks ago, a friend messaged me to ask if I heard there was a new Immortal record about to be released. Yes, I knew. Wasn’t terribly interested since only Demonaz remained, and this seemed like a very bad idea that could put a sour taste in people’s mouths. I hadn’t heard a single track when I made this declaration, and it turns out I’m a fucking dipshit because Demonaz knows what he’s doing.

Yes, “War Against All” finds us with just founding member Demonaz at the helm of this ship (Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal of Enslaved provides bass while Kevin Kvåle of Gaahls Wyrd is on drums for the recording), things pick up where “Northern Chaos Gods” left off and even visits more of the rawer moments from the band’s vast discography. Over eight tracks, Demonaz spins more harrowing tales from Blashyrkh, the fictional world that drives all of Immortal’s songs and records and leaves goddamn tire marks all over the faces of those who didn’t think this was possible. I’m a fool but a happy one, because I’ve long loved Immortal, and having yet another ripping serving is perfect timing for a mental escape.

“War Against All” rips open with a blizzard of riffs, a storm that doesn’t subside very often on this record. Demonaz’s creaky shrieks plaster as the speed tramples and the soloing boils, bringing some uncharacteristic heat to Blashyrkh. The playing drives and gets more aggressive, heading into “Thunders of Darkness” that gets off to a devastating start, slashing its way through the ice. The scene is chaotic as the guitars increase the intensity, the vocals spat out at a rapid clip, the tempo raging with energy and swallowing you whole. “Wargod” brings channeled guitars and a thrashy pace, the growls corroding before the darkness fully envelopes, hammering with full-throttled punishment. Guitars freeze as the playing guts, Demonaz howls a very telling, “I am immortal!” and then everything blasts to a blunt finish. “No Sun” launches with more great guitar work that makes blood rush, the best of it coming over the bridge. The chorus jolts as melodic fire explodes, power washing over everything, the energy expanding and suddenly disappearing.

“Return to Cold” arises amid a glorious haze of guitars as the shrieks crush, and airy melodies sweep aggressively. Strong, frosty thrashing drives through, guitars trickle and then are ripped apart, and the tempo continuously surges and mashes, fading into the heart of the storm. “Nordlandihr” is an instrumental track and an interesting one, opening clean and then pushing into jarring guitars, a moody surge running into to spiraling energies. The track then hits high gear as the temps rise, the leads get more oppressive, and then we’re back into a deep freeze that ends in darkness. “Immortal,” yes, we finally have a band anthem, is striking and urgent, the drums rumbling viciously, Demonaz wailing, “My blood is frozen, I dwell in the cold.” The playing continues at a rampaging pace, the chorus tearing back in, the piece ending viciously. Closer “Blashyrkh My Throne” drips in before raspy howls jolt, riffs dominating with ease. The chorus is simple but effective, the playing continually dragging you to the most frigid terrain, leading to last metallic burst that drives an ice dagger into its chest.

Yes, Demonaz once again has defied the doubters with “War Against All,” a sinewy, devastating record that stands as one of their most sonically violent. The goings on in Blashyrkh will remain relevant and crushing as long as its creator is at the helm, and that’s a lesson that’s learned in full on this record. Immortal stand the test of time, and it’s clear more chapters may remain based on the power of this stunning, forceful collection.

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Khanate shockingly slither back to unrecognizable, unsettling world with warped ‘To Be Cruel’

Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Mental battles are some of the most difficult to fight because, despite the turmoil happening in our own minds, finding the tools to bring the pain under control is not a slam dunk. There’s a rope pull going on between facing what it is that afflicts us and trying to mentally get a modicum of comfort and safety in order to bring the boil under control. It takes work some aren’t willing or able to do.  

It’s the best way I could think to introduce “To Be Cruel,” the first record from Khanate in almost 15 years, music that arrived under a shroud of secrecy last Friday morning. Its very existence was a shock to the parts of the world that had been impacted by their doom-defacing first three records that sounded like nothing else ever made and whose psychotic treatment hasn’t been matched. Not even fucking close. The band—vocalist Alan Dubin, guitarist Stephen O’Malley, bassist/synthesis creator James Plotkin, drummer/percussionist Tim Wyskida—crawls back in a wounded world that bears no resemblance to what it looked like when 2009’s “Clean Hands Go Foul” scarred the earth. This time around, the band focuses on those on a path of self-destruction, blaming outside entities for their issues but who are unable to exact revenge. The manic, sprawling, mentally damaged music that accompanies Dubin’s mad man shrieks pays off that struggle, making the panic come to the surface, causing one’s brain and nervous system to be the worst enemy ever faced.   

“Like a Poisoned Dog” immediately feels like it’s trying to drown you, the energy starting and stopping, everything in your guts vibrating recklessly. Dubin maniacally shrieks, “I feel dead, take a swim in gasoline, throw a match, might as well cremate my vision of you,” as the playing trudges and stomps, ripping through with the guitars lacing. The unease finds a new way to drum up the stomach acid as the tension wraps like a cord around the neck, Dubin almost taunting, “The horror of a smile, a glance or a voice, throw that match, I beg you.” Guitars scald as percussive crashes unhinge psyches, guitars grind into the dirt, and the madness suddenly fades.

“It Wants to Fly” just thickens the tension, doom and noise clashing, Dubin howling, “I can see the skin crawl, look if you want to, you can look if you want, I’m going to rip.” The vocals goes from acidic to deranged minister delivering a soot-caked eulogy, the doom rumbling hard and threatening, the drone thickening and letting the smoke pour from the open, yawning orifices. The track melts into scaling guitars and percussive echoes, the playing digging under fingernails, pouring infection. “Look at the spark,” Dubin basically strangles, “It’s the very last, your soul is here but cannot fly, we’re too far down,” as the energy plummets, pushing faces into the dirt, the carnage stretching. “There never was a soul, we’re going down,” Dubin stabs as the vicious rattling suddenly comes to an end.

The title track ends this exercise, easing in and slowly forming, whispers fleeting through the air, the knife about to come down on your trembling amygdala. “Look in the closet, the things in the wall, they’d speak of revulsion, they’d tell you all, all about pain,” Dubin howls, sorrowful guitars adding blood and blackness to the torture, a sudden calm passing by that the vocals do not honor. Elegance basks amid apocalypse, the fires ease only briefly, Dubin leveling with, “I’m at an all-time low,” following later with, “The thing, it spins a web of lies until a thing twice its size decides to be cruel, dare I be cruel?” Sounds sizzle, a door opens into the furnace of hell, minds melt, and the agony finally bows, souls left scorched.

It’s been a decade and a half since Khanate bathed us in the mental acid of their warping doom, the band rampaging through the dark unannounced with “To Be Cruel.” Even after all the turmoil of the last few years, the psychological torment we all have faced, this band finds a way to amplify that grief and make it almost into human form, able to be embraced. We all have mental wounds, and this record not only points those out to us, but also reminds us there’s no force we can defeat, no monster we can overcome, and we must live with that dirt until the end of our days.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Usnea bombard senses with mind-tingling doom blast on massive ‘Bathed in Light’

Photo by Amyrose Ahlstrom

It’s not really a secret that the fabric of our society and the well-being of our world has been put to the test. That’s kind of understating when you look around and watch political gaslighting poisoning minds, wars destroying communities and harming innocent victims, and people who wish to live their lives based on who they truly are facing discriminatory legislation. Everything feels more fucked than ever.

It almost seems like a different planet the last time we heard from Usnea, the Pacific Northwest doom quartet that finally has found their way back to us on the thunderous “Bathed in Light.” The band members themselves—vocalist/guitarist/synth player Justin Cory, guitarist Johnny Lovingood, vocalist/bassist Joel Williams, drummer Zeke Rogers—faced their share of hardships since 2017’s “Portals Into Futility” including illness and injury, and that’s not to mention the stress we all felt dealing with a pandemic. Six years feels like a lifetime, but Usnea haven’t lost a bit of their fire and, if anything, their focus never has been sharper as they pour vitriol and passion into these awesome six tracks.

The title track dawns in static before the playing flows amid a staticy transmission, the growls engorging. The track becomes both grim and spacey as the pace begins to pummel, and the ground quakes, the massive shouts penetrating the senses. The combustion spreads colors, and a slow, thunderous move drags the track to its finish. “The Compleated Sage” ruptures into a crazed pace, blazing through destruction as deep growls sink into the mud. The leads swell as the pressure mounts, the guitars fully immerse, and a sweltering rampage takes a violent turn toward the skies. “To The Deathless” brings murky synth that creates a thick fog, zaps making brain impulses fire as mournful leads spread their morbid wings. The playing brings heat as things slow down but remain massively heavy, the intensity slowly building, washing through cold, misty strangeness that disappears in scratchy noise.

“From Soot and Pyre” lets the shrieks land hard as the pace drubs, then the vocals turn more toward forceful yells. Guitars wash over and soothe briefly, and then the tempo starts to rush gradually, howls encircle, and cosmic synth gives the track a galactic glaze. “Premeditatio Malorum” begins clean and drips, and then everything comes to raging life, growls and shrieks trading off and slashing. The pressure builds as the playing gets more cavernous, detached wails feel like disassociation, and the increased lurching leaves bruising. The playing slowly crumbles as the exhaust builds, then corrodes, the final bursts fading in heat. Closer “Uncanny Valley” trickles amid ghostly singing and a nighttime swim in murky waters, explosions ripping sides off buildings. Wild shrieks penetrate as daring playing takes to the skies, the gargantuan pace feeling like it carries the weight of the universe, stomping through heavy emotions. Deep growls register as the playing smothers, eventually fading into chaos.

Usnea’s return not only is a massive shot in the arm to the heavy music world, but it also stands as a testament to the four individuals’ strength and commitment to this awesome band. “Bathed in Light” packs so much weight, both musically and psychologically, and you can’t help but feel like you’re in the middle of a glorious blaze that’s generating new life and strength. This is an awesome record, and welcome renewal of Usnea’s energy, and something to reignite our heats as we battle against misery.

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Black metal duo Mesarthim digs further into sprawling cosmos for inspiration on vast ‘Arrival’

Heavy metal is increasingly getting more influenced by what’s going on beyond our planet, and why not as there’s a vast universe from which to discover ideas and inspiration. The more spacey styles of metal have clicked with me for sure, as I’m willing to give anyone taking such sonic sojourns a try because I’ve always been fascinated by the galaxy.

Australian duo Mesarthim has been at the forefront of the movement the past decade, and they return with “Arrival,” their seventh full-length album. The band—each member simply goes by . —has been averaging about a record a year since their 2015 debut “Isolate,” and they’ve kept things mysterious and heavily flowing into worlds unknown and unexplored. Here, we get a seven-track installment of the “Arrival” adventure as well as the sequel to a track from one of their earlier EPs. The playing floods with imagination and carnage, electronic impulses glowing, your nerve endings challenged along the way.

“Arrival Pt 1” is a cosmic awakening, synth glowing like golden edges around gray clouds, fizzling into the dark and into “Arrival Pt 2” that bursts open with life. They keys remain thick and mesmerizing, the shrieks opening cauldrons of lava and pouring it generously. Keys trickle as the pace leans into calmer winds, and then a sweep back into fire heats the environment and surges past the stars. “Arrival Pt 3” blisters as a synth gaze collects, and fiery shrieks send daggers flying. Glorious keys and strange beats combine, gusting into a speedy pace, notes pulsing as energy crests and crashes, bursting with strong energies that envelope your mind. “Arrival Pt 4” is a quick instrumental piece with pulsating keys and a true sci-fi vibe, blurring through the skies and coming to a spacious end. “Arrival Pt 5” launches synth gusts and crunching shrieks, the melodic rush making blood surge and hearts race, jolting into melting power. Synth strings add to the swoon and turn neon, fading into a maw of blackness.

“Arrival Pt 6” runs a healthy 10:02 and explodes on sight, morse code blipping in the night, shrieks storming behind that mysterious messaging. The playing liquifies and feels unsettlingly isolated, eventually trudging through glimmering keys as the tempo jars the gas pedal, beats hammer, and the body races for dissolution in the clouds. “Arrival Pt 7” brings in synth sprawl and soothing space clouds full of alien materials and a shift into the unknown. Closer “Type IV” is the longest track at 16:58, and it sonically stands apart some from the seven “Arrival” cuts. It’s a sequel to “Type III” that is on 2016’s EP of the same name. A regal open slides into synth storming that sends gentle precipitation, and then the fury arrives as shrieks tear open the serenity. The playing drills into the universe, a full gush slips into strange worlds, and the transmissions fire away, jarring your comfort loose. Keys dazzle as we head into downtuned guitars and boiling aggression that sinks in its teeth, serenity gets clobbered by panic, and the final lightning bolts burn holes and leave smoke behind.

The mysterious duo behind Mesarthim continue to mesmerize on “Arrival,” a further exploration into the heart of cosmic black metal and that can let you have a mental adventure of your own. Just like the rest of their catalog, you can get lost in this stuff, especially while enjoying some choice mind-altering substances, and every visit with this music unfurls something different. This is another inventive chapter for this band that has an entire universe to mine for inspiration, bringing to our human ears a sojourn we could not have imagined without Mesarthim’s music.  

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Mournful Congregation bridge to next record with smothering killer ‘The Exuviae of Gods – Pt II’

It’s probably not true to say nothing great ever was created in a rush, but more often than not, it takes time to make something that will stand the test of time. So, we and the creator must practice patience so that the thing we want isn’t hastily assembled, resulting in disappointment for the audience and the artist since something wasn’t baked long enough.

Yes, I want a new Mournful Congregation full-length pretty desperately as the last one we got was back in 2018 with the “The Incubus of Karma,” which ended a seven-year period after 2011’s “The Book of Kings.” This mostly Aussie unit isn’t in a hurry, and why should they be as the time it takes to make their epic records certainly takes a while. But the band has treated us kindly with a pair of EPs to bridge that gap, the latest being “The Exuviae of Gods – Pt II,” which follows the first installment last year. Again, the band—vocalist/guitarist Damon Good, guitarists Justin Hartwig and Ben Petch, bassist Ben Newsome, drummer Tim Call—delivers two tracks never heard before and one reworked cut, again from their “Epic Dream of Desire” demo from 1995, and it serves to fill in that gaping hole between proper records. And because it’s Mournful Congregation, it’s still 40 minutes long.

The updated and re-recorded “Heads Bowed” enters in solemn acoustics, washing over until the growls enter, the doom crushing into a sorrowful gaze. The guitars melt and unite as whispers swirl in the air, cosmic heat increases, and the guitars cascade as voices swirl. Lava slowly wells as acoustics return, an elegant haze bubbles to the surface, and some final crushing gusts land with atomic force. “The Forbidden Asylum” delivers heated guitars and detached growls, the melodies gliding as the sadness spreads. Elegant guitars spread their wings as the drums begin to punish, growls swelling as the playing glimmers. Guttural howls bathe in echoes, trudging through each meaty layer, scraping at your psyche as the devastation explodes with fire. Closer “The Paling Crest” is the longest track, running 18:39 and starting with acoustics and pastoral calls, moving glacially as the bass recoils. Growls wrench as moody guitars set in, leads begin to burn, and the growls gut as everything turns ice cold. Gentle breezes whip through as the bass gets jazzier, cold trickling making your flesh crawl as the trudging increases. The playing swells as the moodiness eclipses, chimes and rumbles set off the senses, and the guitars catch fire once more, slowly fading toward a sunburnt horizon.

The second installment of “The Exuviae of Gods” EP series is another mammoth effort that would be a full-on full-length record for almost every other band on the planet, a mere appetizer in Mournful Congregation’s orbit. These new tracks and the reworked version of an old gem make for a powerful, effective collection that makes a blistering whole with the first part of the series. Bridging the gap to a new album is an exciting prospect, and this great offering makes that journey more rewarding.

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