PICK OF THE WEEK: Ulthar’s dark tidings show a world caught in chaos on mangling ‘Providence’

Photo by Melissa Petisa

It’s a strange time to be alive, and an even more bizarre period to be writing about heavy metal considering everything that’s going on in the world right now. But we still have very crucial metallic documents to shine a light on, and if one is wrapped in horror and psychologically damaging passages, then maybe it’s for the better. At least it isn’t actually reality.

Bay Area blackened death metal dealers Ulthar have returned with “Providence,” a second helping of their particular formula of this style, and it’s a huge step forward from their killer debut “Cosmovore.” Over eight tracks and nearly 37 minutes, the band covers a nightmarish terrain where existence seems completely detached from normal and where the constant barrage of pain is something one must just accept. The band—guitarist/vocalist/sampler Shelby Lermo, bassist/vocalist/synth player Steve Peacock, drummer/electronics master Justin Ennis—piles layers of vicious, pointed destruction that digs inside your nerves and chews them up so you can feel the same horrors that punish every corner of the world in which this record inhabits.

“Churn” is a quick blast to open the record as the riffs encircle and burly growls pound at your muscles. Maniacal shouts trade in as the guitars hit a tornadic pace before driving into gruff, mucky hell. “Undying Spear” starts with eerie strangeness that makes it feel like you’re about to be abducted before a crazed fury opens up, and growls pierce your side. Tricky playing gets your brain working overtime and moving into the mouth of mauling death before the pace takes off and buries you. The track charges hard, growls and shrieks team up, and everything goes out in flames. The title cut starts with wild yells before the walls break down, and the flood takes over the shores. Menacing growls and killer shrieks stab their way along as the playing gets channeled and devastating. Things go into exploratory mode, veering toward prog, while a new eruption melts all of that. The vocals boil in a cauldron of acid as the track comes to a blurry finish. “Through Downward Dynasties” begins with spacey wooshes that are overtaken by a crashing assault. As things progress, the playing speeds up, leaving you a dizzying mess. Leads burn heavily as the pace slowly crushes, but then the final minutes unleash utter insanity.

“Cudgel” has warped voices circling, drawing you in, and then everything blows up in your face as things get colossally more aggressive. Harsh growls and a muddy build work to get things moving before guitars confound, and a blast of speed strikes. Throaty growls and a manic flash induce panic while the assault wraps around to the back end before coming to a mashing finish. “Furnace Hibernation” hurls fire right from the start, which is fitting, as shrieks corrode, and molten guitar work swaggers. The track is torn to shreds, speeding dangerously, chewing through bone, and ending in a pile of smoking rubble. “Narcissus Drowning” contorts as rough growls enter the mix, and the playing spits splinters. Growls and shrieks team up to add more bruising as your brain cables get tangled, hellish vocals smash senses, and the track ends up in a horrific void.  “Humanoid Knot” ends the record by tearing right into the flesh and bringing vicious shrieks. While parts of the song rely on quickness, there also are pockets of meaty thrashing that throw punches, adding piss to the mud puddles. Animalistic growls return while the band gets noticeably more agitated as the playing unloads before ending abruptly.

Ulthar already were an impressive unit coming off their debut, but “Providence” hits the next level in every way. This is impossibly heavy, strangely haunting, and intelligently pulverizing over all eight of its tracks. This band already should have been on your short list of this era’s most important newer forces, and this record should only push them up higher on that tally.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Ulthar-386850314846106/

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

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

Valdrin unearth ’90s diabolical spirits on black metal torture chronicle ‘Effigy of Nightmares’

So far this short week, we’ve done a lot of going back in time to the 1990s, when death and black metal both were getting their collective legs under them and were starting to see the first strains of experimentation. Naturally, a lot of modern bands travel backward to revisit those rich terrains, and when done right, it can be a jolt to the system.

Cincinnati’s Valdrin are one of those bands, and their new record “Effigy of Nightmares” slathers you with synth-rich black metal with a side of death that keeps hammering hard the entire time. But it isn’t just a bludgeoning hammer to your skull; it also is full of imaginative playing and storytelling that help fill in the deep valleys they carve. This, their third record, continues their story of Ausadjur Mythos  storyline, where they examine antagonist Nex Animus, who this time is working in a nightmarish hospital torturing and lobotomizing gods who dwell in his domain. The band—guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Carter Hicks, guitarist Colton Deem, bassist James Lewis, and drummer Ryan Maurmeier—works their magic making this record both heavy and compelling, and they do it in economical fashion with six tracks spread over a half an hour. It gets in and gets out and leaves you devastated.

“Gates of Hospice” is a quick intro cut that has pianos dripping, rain falling, and eerie whispers that hint at the horrors ahead. That leads to “Exsanguination Tunnels” where keys enter and then the fray is unleashed. Shrieks rain down as an orchestral array explodes behind everything, and guttural shrieks shake the foundation. Melodies smother and churn before the synth returns to the mix, and the playing hammers away before a huge storm closes things. “Red Burning Candles of Hatred” lights up and explodes, while the synth arrives like sheets of precipitation, leaving your face soaked and you blind. Guitars charge and deliver the fury, spilling blood and opening up a stampeding charge. Maniacal vocals twist away at your brain while the leads punch through walls, while the final moments are huge and drive you into a dangerous corner.

“Serpentine Bloodhalls” has guitars plinking and a synth gaze spreading while the guitars flow into a pocket of whispers. Acoustics move in as the track gets into proggy territory, and a cloud of cold gasses takes hold and knocks you out. “Basilisk of Light” swells and bursts at the seams as the drums crush and the growls suffocate. The leads hit gigantic highs as the vocals match the intensity, and nasty shrieks pummel. The track hits a maniacal pace before hypnosis takes over, and that eats its way into your psyche. The growls land blows again as the soloing ignites with everything ending in an exploratory melt. “Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom” is the closer and has a mystifying start before things turn gruff and mean. Keys explode as guitars rampage over top, and the leads send things charging while that force takes things into more prog territory. The track keeps flying at reckless tempo before the playing fades into warped oblivion.

Valdrin is onto something with “Effigy of Nightmares,” the absolute high point of their run so far. They’ve spent a decade perfecting their approach toward ’90s-styled black metal and have done so with an eye toward freshness and technical mastery. This is a really strong piece of work from this Cincy band, and this should grab people’s attention by force.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.bloodharvest.se/?s=valdrin&post_type=product

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bloodharvest.se/

Living Gate’s extreme devotion to classic death metal on burly display with debut EP ‘Deathlust’

Photo by Gilles Demolder

As ugly and gruesome as death metal is as an art form, it sure develops people with outpouring emotion for the genre. It’s funny that something that can be outright disgusting both musically and topically, can conjure such joy and love, but it’s also what makes this style so much fun.

The folks who make up new death metal unit Living Gate know that very well. They’re all in notable other bands themselves such as YOB, Oathbreaker, Wiegedood, and Amenra but they’ve used their debut EP “Deathlust” to express their devotion to death metal, and this is five tracks of the good, gross stuff that landed so hard in the early 1990s that still resonates today. The band—Aaron Rieseberg, Lennart Bossu, Wim Coppers, Levy Seynaeve—hammers through this thing with mucky violence and aggression, paying homage to the sounds that are part of their creative upbringing and formation and delivering their own take on things. It’s short but sweet, but they get in and get the job done, leaving you no doubt that they mean it and their intentions are pure. And nasty.

“The Delusion of Consciousness” starts things in the pit of mucky death as the growls gurgle, and the place ignites. Maniacal howls and guitar sizzle combine as the playing feels scathing and mean, and things halt for a second before the death is piled up again on the other side right to its finish. “Roped” blasts open as the playing mystifies before the track rips out its own guts. The track turns sickening and the growls feel engorged as things speed back up, and the paint is peeled from the walls. The title track has corrosive growls and intricate thrashing as the leads swim through the muck. Mashing misery slices through and the leads take off, while the back end leaves thick ash behind. “Heaven Ablaze” blasts right into intricate hell blazing while the pace twists and turns, and guttural growls add to the punishment. There’s a thick old school death metal vibe creeping while the playing smashes through boundaries and gives off shrapnel. “Living Gate” ends the collection, which I’m not sure is a band anthem in the vein of “Iron Maiden” or “Motorhead,” but it’s atmospherically aggressive as it begins landing blows, and the soloing heats up and boils over. Drums explode and wreak havoc while the playing is swallowed into a strange echo chamber before clean guitars drip away.

“Deathlust” is a tremendous dose of classic death metal that should make anyone whose roots go back that far perversely happy. Living Gate have crafted a vile, disgusting love letter to the bands and music that have helped create who they are creatively and have given back to that swamp. This is a fun, fiery mini release that hopefully will keep building toward a full-length effort.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/LivingGate666/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/b/living-gate

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Ferus Din debut ‘The Great Dying,’ a fiery story of humanity’s demise, gets new life

It’s no secret—or at least it shouldn’t be—that this world is coming apart at the seams. Socially, we’re at an utterly terrifying level, there is a plague sweeping across the planet that lots of people are pretending isn’t real, and our natural surroundings have been suffering at our hands for decades and decades now, with those who can do something about it pretending like it’s fiction.

But we’re not going to beat the Earth if we choose that fight. It’s been here before us and will exist once we’re gone, and that is woven into the DNA of “The Great Dying,” the debut full-length from black metal force Ferus Din. This record actually has been available for about two years now as it was released digitally and on CD in 2018. But Tridroid Records swept in to do what they do best as they’re releasing the album on cassette to give it another burst of life. It totally deserves it. This five-track, 43-minute effort is a blazing assault on your senses as it follows the birth of the planet, its life cycles, and the final events that extinguishes all existence. The band—vocalist/guitarist Andrew McGirr, vocalist/flutist Allana Sturm, bassist/guitarist Joe Leisling, drummer CW Dunbar—packs musical destruction and emotional turmoil into this record that depicts the events that choke us out for good and leave behind a smoking pile of existential ash.

“Neoblastic Bombardment” starts with a wild burst as guitars chug and the shrieks hammer away. Growls slip under the surface as Sturm’s flute is unleashed for the first time. A vile assault spreads over the scene while the flute playing flutters, and the tempo burns brightly and dangerously. Gnarly growls meet up with a speed attack, while the intensity builds, Sturm’s playing catches steam, and the track rips out. “Caldera” feels folkish even amid its horrifying nature while the track tears open and reveals feral tendencies. The vocals scrape as the tempo thrashes away, while the flute lines and the rapidly stampeding guitars do their damage. The pace gallops while the leads catch fire, as the wails of, “Regal! Burning! Black! Wild!” hammer home to fiery final moments.

“Dissolution in the Spirit Pool” is dizzying when it starts before all hell is unleashed, and the leads bustle. The playing gains ground like a team of horses digging into the soil while the vocals creek and speedy arrangements stab away. Flute pushes in and joins the power before a gust of calms arrives, leading to a brief bit of respite. The gears slowly turn again and the track openly mashes your bones, cutting and melting as the guitars cough ash. “Armus, Exile” is the longest cut at 13:49 as it enters with guitars warning of storms and the leads shimmering. The vocals are a rapidly delivered string of shrieked words, belting, ” Your hypocrisy, your heresy, the chasm at the center of your empty fucking heart, I am your exile!” Ferocity works its way into a hypnotic chasm with a long reach and ability to warm your mind, and then the carnage returns and burns as coarsely as ever. The track takes on a progressive, yet hellish feel while final wails and tornadic guitars blister into hell. The 7:35-long title cut ends the record, opening with a huge melodic flush, flutes, and an explosion of vocals. A deluge arrives and begins to leave things in tatters while the hammering pace feels gigantic and impossible to topple. Black metal savagery ignites, leading to the flute playing riveting, destruction promising the end, and the cries of, “Dancing upon the unfathomable ruin, O cry out in rapture to honor the halls of the dead!” driving the final nails into humanity’s coffin.

“The Great Dying” has been in our world for nearly two years now, but for those who have yet to tackle Ferus Din’s hellfire-raising debut record, this cassette reissue is a perfect way for you to make up for lost time. There is a ton of black metal out in the world, so trying to find what really works and feels genuine can be a long search, but Ferus Din’s majesty and malicious compositions hit the mark every time. This is a band that deserves to be one whose music should be burning through more minds right now, so perhaps new life for “Dying” helps get them there.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/album/the-great-dying

For more on the label, go here: hsttps://www.facebook.com/tridroidrecords

Canadian destroyers Blight put focus on vile mission statement with debut ‘Temple of Wounds’

Things that are worth the effort do not necessarily come to fruition overnight. Sure, sometimes a project can strike gold and come together quickly and be better for it, but just as often, time has to be spent, blood must be shed, and sweat must fly in order to be fully satisfied with something in which you’ve invested your life.

Canadian black metal heathens Blight have their origins dating back to 2008, yet we’re finally in the presence of their debut record “Temple of Wounds,” a nine-track, 50-minute opus that is utterly brutal and painstakingly laid out to a degree in which your total devotion to the cause is demanded. Centering on themes including inner-alchemical transmutation and antinomian philosophies (if you’re not familiar, enjoy the insane Google rabbit hole in which you’re about to leap) the band—vocalist G. McCaughry, guitarist Pascal Pelletier, bassist Cedric Deschamps, drummer Rob Lapalme—devours you into this world and puts you through their mental ringer. This is pure brutality and warped chaos that refuses to relent over this course of this brain-tangling journey.

“Dar-Akh-Qayin” trudges open as the vocals buzz in McCaughry’s throat before it melts into screams. Strangeness bleeds into the music as the guitars spiral, deep chants erupt, and things burn out in the end. “Elsewhere & Elsewhen” has guitars in a tornadic formation as vicious wails and raucous emotions swelter. Growls boil underwater as the track takes on a mystical edge, ramping into piercing shrieks as the music dissolves in echoes. “Kingship” unleashes slurry guitars as growls peel off, and the guitars play tricks with your brain. Things speed up as the band ushers in majestic black metal sheets while the vocals strike back, and things come to a furious finish. “Before the Monolith” spills crushing drums and meanders through the fires, mangling with charring riffs. Warbled speak singing haunts as the playing gets hypnotic, and droning calls mix into the night.

“A Violent Light” has a punchy tempo as the vocals are shredded shrieks, and a black metal gaze rises up. Guitars intertwine as clean vocals rush in before the playing explodes and is mangled in its gears before the track blows into space. “The Aurous Nescience” bleeds in from mystery and starts blistering while the vocals begin choking. Desperate cries ring out as the music takes on a gothy feel, turning into more of a driving rock tempo before corrosion pushes in and eats away the foundation. “Palish-I” opens with guitars awakening and then ripping open the sky while playing is vile and crushing. The vocals scrape along as a sense of evil permeates, and fluid guitars flush the track with atmosphere before blasting out. “Scrying the Iosis” brings barked vocals as the guitars cut through, and a strange pace sickens. The tempo is battering as noises rise and the shrieks pierce, stirring and pummeling. “This blessing is a curse, this curse is a blessing,”  McCaughry calls as the track hammers closed. “We Left of Our Own Volition” opens and rivets as the shrieks creak, and droning hell is unleashed. Hypnotic tones and acidic shrieks do damage as wailed instructions hailed toward “our lord Lucifer” rain down as the track grinds through your psyche.

It may have taken 12 years from their initial formation to get a debut full-length record from Blight, but as “Temple of Wounds” makes clear, that time they took getting everything the way they wanted bore disgusting fruit. This album feels like not so much a collection of songs as much as a mission statement, a dagger forward in spite and ferocity. This is a brutal blast to the chest that drives the air from your lungs and leaves you gasping on the ground.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://svartrecords.com/product/blight-temple-of-wounds-album/

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

Philly’s Witching confront dark shades of existence, chaos with charred doom on debut ‘Vernal’

It’s not been a very bright time for a lot of people right now. With so many in quarantine away from people and living in a psychological darkness, demons have surfaced, and long-running issues that have slipped under the waters have reared their heads. That darkness can be impossible to navigate, and other issues can become amplified without some sort of release.

I got to thinking more about that when taking on “Vernal,” the debut full-length offering from Philly’s Witching. Anger, abuse, and grief are themes that are woven into these eight songs, and the ability to process these emotions and diffuse some pressure are just as vital to what’s going on. The band—vocalist Jacqui Powell, guitarists Nate Zagrimanis and Lev Ziskind, bassist Tatiana Buonassisi, drummer Miles Ziskind—delivers that message in a grimy, devastating manner on this record, something that’s disarming when you first dive into the music. It hits you like a wall of lava, and their performance swallows you whole, taking you on a dangerous journey through the darkest regions of your mind, making you confront how you’re going to deal with all of this. It’s a teeth grinder.

“Witness” starts the album and rips open with Powell’s growls clashing as she absolutely owns the room. The playing races and punches while guitars wash in and out as she belts out commands. The final minutes are utterly shredded apart, ending in burnt ash. “Roses” is a slow melter at the front as Powell’s vocals boom, and the playing grinds your midsection. That’s until the song starts to destroy as the guitar work buzzes like a swarm of hornets, and the vocals power a charge that turns up the heat to uninhabitable levels. “Lividity” starts with acoustic gasps and Powell’s clean singing that feels solemn and heated. Then the track jolts as Powell switches to harsh wails, and then things come unglued. Guitars rush, the pace floods, and the vocals lay waste one final time before the song burns out. “This Is What You Deserve” opens with basslines rumbling and the playing having a punk edge while Powell digs down and delivers some deeper singing. Grime and speed become partners and assault you, and then melodies swirl and make the room spin, and the intensity cuts through to the end.

“The Pack” punches open right away, with Powell’s voice simmering and the guitars daring you to challenge them. The track is dark with violence lurking beneath the waves before outright savagery is achieved. Powell switches off from shrieks to wails as the guitars bubble up and boil away. “False Martyr” has a psychedelic edge with the sultry vocals crawling through the muck and the playing beginning to burn. Growling then helps deliver slaughter as the song begins to swagger, and the playing gives off anxious energy. Doomy punishment then follows as the track blasts away and fades into hell. The title track trickles open, and before you know it, everything has burst to life. Riffs smear, the shrieks snarl, and suddenly we’re racing at uncomfortable speeds. The guitar work heats up and drives a dagger through you, while the vocals scrape for blood, and the track comes to a violent end. Closer “Eschaton” delivers a black metal-style edge as Powell sings over the fury, and the pace is destructive. Group calls add bruising while the riffs just slay. Powell mixes shrieks and gruff yells, while the pace mauls you into final submission.

Witching’s first record “Vernal” quakes you at your core both musically and philosophically, and this album should find favor among those who like their doom on the more mentally smothering scale. Powell is an unreal force as a vocalist, and the rest of the band is a black wave that poisons the waters and lays waste to your physical well-being. This is a really promising debut from a band that’s been through the grind and turned into a stronger, more channeled beast.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://witching.bandcamp.com/album/vernal

Exhumed, Gruesome mash own brands of violence on bloody split crusher ‘Twisted Horror’

I’m a big fan of the split release, which should be obvious to anyone who reads this site with any regularity. Typically, they’re a great way to get a quick taste of two or more bands to see if you want to dive deeper into their catalogs. Or they’re nice appetizers of bands you’re already are into.

“Twisted Horror” is a five-track offering that’s a little different than most in that it’s wall to wall Matt Harvey as his long-running horror grind band Exhumed and Death-inspired juggernaut Gruesome share this thing, so it’s best of both worlds if you’re one of his many zealous followers. Exhumed—rounded out by bassist/vocalist Ross Sewage, guitarist Sebastian Phillips, and drummer Mike Hamilton—deliver three crushers here that have the taste and feel of their most recent LP “Horror” though they’re a little lengthier than what’s on that album. As for Gruesome—also includes guitarist Daniel Gonzalez, bassist Robin Mazen, and drummer Gus Rios—their channeled death metal sounds brutal and razor sharp, a nice blast of two tracks that are their first since 2018’s “Twisted Prayers.”

Exhumed photo by by Orion Landau

The Exhumed portion opens as “Rot Your Brain” has huge riffs attacking and leaving instant blood spatter as Harvey and Sewage tangle vocally, their shriek/growl combo sickening. Scathing, mashing death is afoot as the soloing blares and burns flesh before raspy vocals punch back in, and everything comes to a mashing finish. “Buried to Die” erupts as deep growls lurch, and the band issues complete demolition. The soloing rips hard, while Hamilton’s drumming destroys the earth beneath it, and another blast through the chorus takes the track to its end. “Dead, Deader, Deadest” is the final Exhumed cut, and guitars are unleashed and allowed to run rampant. Again, the shrieks and growls trade off like ghouls arguing as the band drums up a murderous pace. The chorus is a simple but deadly recitation of the title, while the track barnstorms to its final resting place.

Gruesome photo by Ryan Tamm

“A Mind Decayed” starts the Gruesome set, and right away there is a marked change in tone from the Exhumed selections. Guitars charge up while Harvey’s scathing voice powers the track as things pick up speed dangerously. The track shifts to a different pace as weird soloing zaps out of it like an alien attack before the vocals return to drill more holes. Drums mash, the band goes for broke, and the track ends in a flaming pile of ash. “Led Into the Dark” is their closer and thrashes hard, with double kick drums penetrating your skull. Guitars take over as the band achieves a classic death metal vibe, and then the playing explodes. Growls scrape as the pace sludges away, with the band landing final body shots right up to the end.

This is a pretty fun collection from two bands that are the brainchildren of Harvey, and while they might not sound too much alike, they do revel in the same levels of horror. Distractions from life’s realities are very much welcome these days, and the music from Exhumed and Gruesome are ideal for getting you lost in something else. Or for just warping your brain for 20 minutes.

For more on Exhumed, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ExhumedOfficial/

For more on Gruesome, go here: https://www.facebook.com/gruesomedeathmetal

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

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