Dool contemplate one’s place, what lies beyond this realm on wildly emotional ‘Summerland’

Photo by Nona Limmen

Probably kind of not the best time from a psychological standpoint for some people to begin contemplating the afterlife, since we’re sort of surrounded by death right now, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative. If a plane beyond this life is something you believe is possible, what would that look like for you, and how would you want to achieve something that manifests itself somewhere we can’t even imagine?

That doesn’t mean we’re going all religious on you, but it’s something that’s raised in Dool’s fascinating second record “Summerland,” the title a pagan reference to the afterlife, whatever realm that may be. Vocalist/lyricist Ryanne von Dorst was contemplating the idea of what her place is in this world, what the idea of ultimate pleasure entails, what form an afterlife might take, and the concept of reincarnation. Also inspired by the Richard Matheson novel “What Dreams May Come,” that tackles the Biblical visions of hell, she and her bandmates—guitarists Reinier Vermeulen and Nick Polak, bassist JB Van Der Wal, drummer Micha Haring—weave immersive tales that are heavy and melodic, often infectiously catchy, and spill in psychedelics and other heavy forms of haze that will keep your blood pumping but also your mind wondering what might be possible in this world or the next.

“Sulphur & Starlight” opens the record with guitars chiming as van Dorst’s velvety voice booms, especially over the chorus when she calls, “When will you stop pouring starlight over me?” before later noting, “I’ve never seen fortune in your flames.” The song gets calm later on, with jazzier singing, before moody guitars end this great opener. “Wolf Moon” has a tempered start, pushing through with another great chorus that follows mesmerizing verses. Keys drip in later while the singing remains top notch before bowing out on the chorus. “God Particle” has trippy acoustics before a flurry of guitars kicks in as the track flows generously. “Can you relate to me?” van Dorst wails over the chorus, repeated several times to hammer home the point. A dreamy drive arrives later before the leads heat up, melting the back end with a fiery blast. The title track follows, running over 8:25, slipping into gothy waters, as van Dorst delivers higher-register singing that usual. “Maybe I should start a war and take you to the Summerland,” van Dorst calls over the chorus before the pace ramps up noticeably. Powerful soloing kicks in and lights up the room before the playing trickles into a sea of watery keys.

“A Glass Forest” flows in before picking up the pace and landing punches. The track also delves into psychedelics as the guitars stoke the flames while van Dorst insists, “I won’t live by your ways,” before the track fades into ash. “The Well’s Run Dry” bursts in as van Dorst delivers deeper singing before the playing heads off to the sun. A wave of eerie speaking flows into mind-altering soloing as the playing spreads out, intoxicating before fading into chills. “Ode to the Future” sounds like folk-driven heavy rock as it gets started as van Dorst continues to push her voice, and the tempo rouses. “Into truth forevermore,” van Dorst belts, while the track takes on a ’70s occult rock vibe, before she delivers a monologue that ends with, “I’ll see you in the Summerland.” “Be Your Sins” delivers smothering riffs and hypnotic bends before van Dorst levels, “As we read between the lines, the words cry out.” The chorus is infectious as hell with some frosty coverage, and then the guitars open up, organs swell, and van Dorst notes, “We’re at a point of no return.” That’s certainly a scary thought right now. “Dust & Shadow” ends the record, pulling from “What Dreams May Come,” shimmering and floating off into the cosmos. “I stand before infinity, it calls to me,” van Dorst wails as the playing continues to gain momentum, the volume floods, and the track disappears into a black hole.

Dool’s resume might be only five years long, but they’re already delivered two excellent records, with “Summerland” a huge high point early in their run. The record is packed with drama, gothic power, and bleeding emotion, and each song works well together but also can stand out as a whole if required. This band remains one of our favorite newer acts of the last part of the 2010, and if they continue on this path, we’re only scratching the surface of what they can achieve.

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High Priestess conjure smoking, psychedelic blaze, plaster doom with dreamy ‘Casting the Circle’

We’ve been doing some talking this week about ways to get your head out of the chaos that is life for every single human right now and into something in which you can branch out. I mostly suck at trying to meditate and calm down my constantly racing brain, but now and again music can get me and let me sink into something else and explore my dreams.

LA psyche doom trio High Priestess have been making music that can melt your brain away for four years now, and the arrival of their stunning second record “Casting the Circle” provides a much-needed outlet to step outside yourself and let reality fade to black for a bit. Over five tracks and 42 minutes, the band—guitarist/organist/vocalist Katie Gilchrest, bassist/vocalist Mariana Fiel, and drummer Megan Mullins—conjures strange atmospheres, often lulling you into a state of disarming calm before they deliver thunder and heavy punches you don’t see coming but definitely don’t mind when they arrive. They pick up where they left off on their great 2018 self-titled debut and add even more smokiness and disorientation, showing they’ve moved the center just a bit, spread their wings a little more, and found another stage in what they do so well.

The title track gets things started in utterly mesmerizing fashion, slowly moving through Middle Eastern-style vibes while clean calls hover in the air. Psychedelic guitars bubble and flow like a metallic river, simmering in place before trudging closes amid haunting sitars. “Erebus” has waters trickling before Sabbath-style playing unloads as things get bluesy and smokey. The calculated pace is steamy and alluring as strong guitar work turns rock into lava, as the calls of, “The sun spills blood on the sea,” get into your head. Keys blend into the scene as the track slowly winds down, and the things come to a quaking finish. “The Hourglass” has a sinewy start as the band uncoils, and the lead vocals are paired perfectly with rich group singing after each line. “Who do you think you are, how do you feel inside,” is called out as powerful soloing unhinges, as the track hovers. “Sand in the hourglass is falling,” Fiel levels as the playing churns, and the song fades with feedback.

“Invocation” is the longest cut here by far, spreading over a generous and well-used 17:22, taking its time to establish an atmosphere. Sci-fi keys travel as the Middle Eastern feel returns, and trickling keys make their way in before the guitars pick up the pace. The band explores its space with the urge of, “Awaken yourself,” calling deep within you, with the playing ramping up again. The track reaches its center point as speaking echoes, time begins to fade, and the playing gradually speeds up. “Light the candles, cast the circle,” Fiel demands as the track reaches its final push and is absorbed by keys. “Ave Satanas” is the minimalist closing track built with echoed a capella singing, noise reverberating, and angelic tones that surrender to the night.

I’m not sure “Casting the Circle” is going to be the cure all for my horrible meditation track record, but I’ve already been able to zone out and let it sink into my bones more often than my nervous brain typically allows. Aside from that, this band is made up of three incredibly talented players who seem to be gaining even more of a symmetry with one another and should continue to grow from here. This is a hell of a record that’s more sweltering than devastating, and each visit has revealed doors to dimensions I never knew existed.

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Lady Beast deliver exactly what we need right now on glorious, energetic ‘The Vulture’s Amulet’

Photo by Christopher Tritschler

Has there even been a more fitting time to be able to plug in and forget about everything going on outside our doors and get lost in the power of heavy metal? It’s why I get irritated when people take this music so seriously because people forget to leave an opening for feeling good, for getting lost, for transcending above your worldly problems.

With that, there could not have been a better time for Pittsburgh classic metal warriors Lady Beast to return with their fourth record “The Vulture’s Amulet,” another powerful collection of songs that delve into fantasy, the spirit of heavy metal, and drawing power from within, which is a perfect elixir for a world that’s drowning in woes. This nine-track, 41-minute record also is one of the steadiest albums of their run, a collection that visits various terrains, tempos, and emotions, showing a band that’s still growing before our eyes and ears and continues to surprise every time out. The band—vocalist Deborah Levine, guitarists Andy Ramage and Chris Tritschler, bassist Greg Colaizzi (Amy Bianco has since taken over these duties), and drummer Adam Ramage—unloads burst after blast, charging you up with metal thunder that should fill you with fiery energy.

“Metal Machine” fires up the record and keeps a channeled pace, boiling over when the chorus strikes with Levine wailing, “Build for speed, I’m a metal machine.” The soloing rips things apart, rounding back to the chorus before hammering closed. “Runes of Rust” unloads more riffs as the verses land punches, and the chorus strikes with Levine revealing, “Now the magic is mine.” A great, classic-style solo is unleashed, kicking back and bringing the track to a fiery end. The bass drives into “The Gift,” leading the way as the guitars get going, and the vocals are really strong and infuse the track with catchiness. “My arms open wide, my mind and heart are ready to receive,” Levine calls, as the track hits a huge NWOBHM gallop. Fluid soloing ignites fuel while the track reaches its climax with Levine revealing, “Love is the gift.” “Sacrifice to the Unseen” has an ominous start before it gets grittier and meaner, as Levine wails out, “The gates of hell are open for me.” Darker guitars bring heavy shadows while the soloing blinds eyes, and the track blasts to a close.

“Betrayer” has clubbing verses and a simple but effective chorus that should go over well in a live setting. Whenever we can have those again. Cool leads ramp up, the soloing boils over, and the final blows loosen ribs. You might think a song called “The Champion” would be awash in power and glory, and you’d be right. The leads rush as the band chews up terrain, with a Maiden-style assault mounted to make your head swell. “The world will forever know your name,” Levine declares as soloing ignites, and the song comes to a rousing finish. “Transcend the Blade” is a strong instrumental cut that has a flurry of riffs and stomps as the leads glimmer and race toward the sun. The tempo continues to sprawl as the guitars speed up, and the track turns to ash. The title cut has a pace that spews shrapnel while the playing is even keeled but also properly heavy. Classic soloing mounts while the track has a blazing, adventurous end. “Vow of the Valkyrie” is your closer and it tears open and brings speed and precision as the vocals land blows. “In the eyes of war, we are the saviors,” Levine belts over the chorus as the band backs her up with a delirious pace. Soloing blasts, the playing rumbles, and everything comes to a cataclysmic end.

Lady Beast’s heroic metallic performances always have conjured the spirits of the genre’s creators, carrying the torch lit and carried by Maiden, Priest, Doro, Cirith Ungol, and Manilla Road, and “The Vulture’s Amulet” continues their line of triumphant albums that surge through your body. We needed this now more than ever, and each visit I’ve had with the record took me out of reality and made me feel good for once. Let’s not forget metal’s ability to heal, and this record and band are the ideal salve for your wounds.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Death of friend overcomes Midwife’s Johnston who creates ‘Forever’ as tribute

Any time we get a chance to escape the often rigid confines of metal and heavy music, we try to do that, even if it means it’s an emotional caterwaul that’s hard to shake. That can take us into pieces of work that don’t just act as a collection of songs recorded in the same sessions and instead is a bookmark in one’s life or a way to let swollen emotions flood to the surface.

Midwife’s second full-length “Forever” is one of those albums that is so much more than just a record that landed three years after debut “Like Author Like Daughter,” it’s a letter to a fallen friend and artistic partner who meant the world to sole creator Madeline Johnston and a way for her to express her titanic grief. Johnston and Colin Ward bonded in Denver-based DIY artistic space Rhinoceropolis and became friends and roommates as well as artistic associates. Johnston also saw Ward as a teacher, someone who helped guide her and who embodied the spirit of the space in which they met, and his sudden passing in 2018 left her devastated. Therefore, Johnston turned her sorrow and pain toward this new Midwife album, a six-track effort that’s mournful, lives in thick shadows, and pays homage to someone whose presence is so sorely missed. The music is haunting and infectious, but even when its essence gets in your blood, you’re drawn back to the irreparable wounds that brought about these songs.

“2018” opens the record, a nod to the year Ward died, and Johnston repeats, “This is really happening,” until finally ending with, “To me,” as she levels with reality. Her next line, “Get the fuck away from me 2018,” hammers home the darkness and despair of a horrible timeframe. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” opens with beats and guitars that glimmer more, working through the verses before Johnston levels, “You can’t run for your whole life with two truths and a lie,” as it loops over the chorus. Guitars buzz in a haze, feeling like a swarm of noise swelling above your head. “Vow” has keys plinking as it leads in slowly, gently swimming through consciousness. The playing is reflective and lets the emotion drain in calculated manner, ending the instrumental cut in lucid dreams.

“Language” has guitars easing over peaks, sprawling as beats join up and the keys break into the waters. “How do I say it in every language?” Johnston repeatedly asks over the song, searching for answers. As the song winds down, she finishes the full question, adding, “I will never forget you,” which definitely will get caught as a heave in your chest. “C.R.F.W.” begins with Ward reading lines from a poem, imagining leaves falling to the ground and living life apart from the tree, words that slowly emerge into Johnston’s psychedelic guitars and trippy melodies that feel like they usher off into the cosmos, taking with it souls into the deep universe. “S.W.I.M.” ends the record with guitars scruffing while vocals work through scarred lenses as Johnston calls, “I don’t want to live forever, paranoid for my whole life.” The track turns grungy yet sort of bubbly, letting the emotion bleed out on a high note.

Someone could walk into “Forever” with no knowledge of the sadness and pain that went into the music and still be affected. Yet knowing what Johnston experienced and the loss she endured, it’s hard to listen to so much of this without being moved and mournful along with her. No matter what Johnston does under the Midwife banner, it’s hard to imagine she will make anything quite this personal and vulnerable again, and we wish her the best and eternal inspiration from her lost friend.

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Wretched Empire’s arrival into black metal’s kingdom works to carve their place with EP ‘Bloom’

Photo by Tom Ballard

Black metal is a strange world in which there are not supposed to be rules and chaos is expected to reign, yet there so many damn regulations used to judge artists that one must wonder just how loose those chains really are. It doesn’t make acceptance very easy to achieve in some ends, but perhaps it shouldn’t matter.

There have been forces in black metal that have pushed back against antifascist messages, deeming black metal too dangerous for such ideals, which is the most ridiculous fucking thing ever. Working their way into the terrain is new project Wretched Empires that combines Tom B. of Allfather on vocals and former members of Redbait Will J. (guitars) and Cody A. (drums) in a force that is as heavy and menacing as any band plying their trade in this world. Mixing in elements of hardcore, punk, and folk, they present four tracks on their debut EP “Bloom” that has them examining their own place in black metal and what their own heritage means in that world. The music is punishing and satisfying as they work to bludgeon with their sound, and B.’s voice even takes on additional levels of menace, which is saying something based on his fiery past performances.

“Ghosts” opens the record by pounding away with melodic guitar lines and gruff vocals from B., punching through with a punk-flavored edge. Strong leads utterly soar before everything calms into acoustics that add serenity amid barked wails that leave welts. The track erupts again as B ends wailing, “We are the ghosts, the ghosts of broken earth.” The title track delivers fierce stomps and hard charging as the ferocious growls lay waste as B. hammers, “We thought these lands fertile and free, such entitlement, hateful tendrils should’ve been clear.” The pace is both volcanic but also super catchy as it levies its attack, while a warm solo that reminds of classic metal liquifies the center. The track then starts its assault again as the growls corrode, and everything comes to a fiery end. “Home?” is a quick instrumental track built by acoustics and moody slide guitar, feeling sunburnt and setting the stage for closer “Shadows” that floods the grounds and delivers tremendous guitar work. The playing stampedes as the vocals settle in and add to the storming, while soloing bubbles over, again feeling like traditional metal. Acoustics and slide guitar return and add an Americana vibe while gigantic melodies surge, and wild cries add to a gigantic end.

Wretched Empires are carving their own way through black metal’s often disease-infested lands, and this debut EP proves they back down from no one, and they’re not afraid to place their own flag in the ground. “Bloom” is a powerful, earth-quaking first statement from a band that shows heaviness and true black metal spirit do not have to be rooted in hatred and can instead have an open mind and heart.

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Cemetery Filth put death, thrash into smoldering cauldron with massive debut record ‘Dominion’

I try to live by the saying “never make plans” because when you do, that’s always when the shit hits the fan and sprays you in the mouth. Nothing good can come from planning ahead as, and don’t look this up or anything, it’s never worked out for anyone ever. So, when things go wrong and everything you hoped for goes awry, just understand it was the universe reminding you to stop.

This all leads into “Dominion,” the savage debut record from Cemetery Filth that took a little while to get to us, but now that’s it’s imminent, it’s about to tear our heads off. The thrashy death squad from Atlanta hasn’t exactly been idle since their formation in 2014, as they’ve delivered an EP and contributed to three split releases, but as their bio material makes clear, things just kept getting in the way, as they are wont to do, to prevent their first full-length into the world. But it’s here now, it’s backed by both Unspeakable Axe and Boris Records, and it’s about to make good for all of the time that took them to get to this point. But look, good things sometimes take time, and this ripper of a nine-track, almost 38-minute album is proof of that as the band—vocalist/guitarist Matt Kilpatrick, lead guitarist Ryan Guinn, bassist and backing vocalist Devin Kelley, drummer Chris McDonald—crushes you with wave after wave of power with no regards to your health and well-being.

“Subduction” opens the record with the aforementioned thrashy hell before the punishment increases, and the vocals scrape hard. The guitars light up and burn as the soloing soars, the drums decimate, and the final seconds burn out. “Exhumed Visions” is crunchy as hell with the drums rattling and fierce howls blowing down trees. Meaty riffs pick up as the band pounds away, leading into sizzling guitar work that rips shit apart, while the track ends maniacally. “Paralytic Scourge” blisters and chugs out of the gates before slowing down and getting menacing, smearing salt in your wounds. Then things get maddeningly explosive while the soloing begins to scar, the band crushes on all cylinders, and then it’s right into “Aeons in Dis” that lands heavy blows the moment it arrives. Nasty vocals and additional helpings of thrashiness land hard as the intensity amplifies with the growls leaving infection and the band mashing your face at the end.

“Festering Vacuity” has guitars teasing out front before they trudge with heavy boots, and the guitars flare up and cause burns. The soloing barrels its way in and quickly goes off the rails while the violence spurts before an abrupt finish. “Churning of the Shallows” unleashes guitars all over the place as the band pummels and charges forward. The vocals are gruff and mean while fluid leads flow like a river, the assault speeds up dangerously, and the deadly final salvo leaves a thick gathering of soot. “Devoured By Dread” punches in as the drums lose control, and utter savagery spreads like wildfire. The leads jerk you by your chain while an animalistic rage punishes, as the final moments come completely unglued. “From Euphonic Crypts” is a quick instrumental piece with guitars plinking and the atmosphere thickening, heading into the 8:45-long closing title track. The playing surges as filthy death melts flesh, and heaviness kicks into high gear. The playing feels like it’s dropping tons of hammers on you while the leads take off and rob you of breath. The track keeps gaining steam as the growls bruise muscles, the bottom end trucks hard, and the track blazes out of time, leaving destruction behind.

Cemetery Filth’s official entrance into the metal world may have taken place several years ago, but they’ve now truly arrived with “Dominion,” a crusher of a debut album that aim to take your head off. Their grasp of classic death metal definitely feels swampy and violent, and the added bursts of thrash give the music the right amount of bite to satisfy bloody appetites. This is a band set for hellacious things, and this record is just the start of what should be a devastating run.

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Multi-national beast Calligram inject humanity, love into chaos with ‘The Eye Is the First Circle’

Love isn’t a subject that gets a whole lot of time around here, mainly because the bands we tend to write about don’t really delve, if you know what I mean. For a lot of people, showing compassion or vulnerability in metal is a negative, which is utter cowardly bullshit, so we don’t get a lot of bands writing about love, but that’s about to change a little bit today.

Multi-national quintet Calligram dive headfirst into what love and compassion means to the world, and they do it on a savage new record “The Eye Is the First Circle” in an effort to put the idea of love being taboo subject matter in metal to the test. The record’s title is inspired by the Ralph Waldo Emerson essay “Circles,” and the band uses their music to act as a counter to all of the negativity that exists in the world by remembering that love for oneself and others can will us through even the worst of times. Holy shit, could this record ever be arriving at a more opportune time. Made up of members from Brazil, France, Italy, and the UK, the band—vocalist Matteo Rizzardo, guitarists Bruno Polotto and Tim Desbos, bassist Smittens, drummer Ardo Cotones—ply black metal with punk and D-beat hammering with the words sung in Italian on a record that’s decimating from how it’s played.

“Carne” gets the record off to a pummeling start as growls scar and the dizzying playing gets your head spinning. The track overwhelms as black curtains fall, and a storming nightmare spreads into a total mindfuck, bleeding out into the void. “Serpe” has the drums going off as the riffs clobber and manic growls unleash insanity. The playing is hard and vicious as darker waves lap up before smashing chaos destroys as the beastly attack finally lets go. “Vivido Perire” has a devastating pace, splattering all over as the drumming powders bones. The playing comes unglued as the low end blasts, the blood is smeared, and the final moments blast into “La Cura” where the drumming and guitar work explode. Riffs swirl as the shrieks penetrate while gruffer vocals strike, and the guitars hang in the air. A final explosion strikes, sending the track off to an ashy grave.

“Kenosis” absolutely pounds away, laying waste to your senses before getting slow and sludgy, with the tires spinning in mud. The filth then collects as the riffs entangle you, and everything comes to a smothering finish. “Anedonia” starts calmly enough with speaking streaming over the first moments, letting the song establish an ambiance and a thick atmosphere. About three minutes in, grim growls unload while the playing waylays and loosens screws. The band then begins to crush wills, blackening eyes along the way as everything ends abruptly. “Pensiero Debole” is a quick instrumental made from cold trickling and numbing agents, preparing the way for finale “Un dramma vuoto e insanabile” that starts with a tempered pace. Things eventually punch open as fluid guitars and maniacal vocals team up to create a wild tempo. Sanity is shredded as the song trudges over chewed-up terrain with the growls peeling flesh and the last moments crushing worlds.

We’re more than happy to welcome Calligram into our awareness, and their debut “The Eyes Is the First Circle” is a record we need right now both from a philosophical and decibolic standpoint. For a bunch of people spread out over many lands, there is a strength and cohesiveness to the music that’s super tight, and they’re only bound to get better from here. Plus, they remind of a great lesson that when times are shit, which they are now, we can get through that by being good humans to each other, a lesson metal needs to take more seriously.

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