PICK OF THE WEEK: Abtracter’s vile doom, death creates morbid view on our futures with ‘Abominion’

We’re about as close to being locked into a horrible cycle of hopelessness as we ever have as humans, and yeah, if you believe certain pundits lying to you on TV while storms that used to be normal have turned into beasts, then you’ve already fucked off, haven’t you? Denial of disease, lack of understanding of climate issues and other purposeful buffoonery have us right at the edge, and so many don’t care.

Oakland-based death squadron Abstracter are living in the same plane as us, and their music always seems to take a new grim, downward turn every time they respond with new music. Their latest is “Abominion,” and as expected, it’s their most suffocating, violent effort yet, an album that might even make you consider just how safe you are at the very moment you absorb these beasts. On this fourth record, they unfurl a hellish wasteland where survivors must cling to whatever they can to stay alive, if it’s even worth it, and warn about where we may be headed if a large portion of living humans don’t get informed in a hurry. The band—vocalist Mattia Alagna, guitarists Robin Khan and James Meyers, bassist G., drummer Justin Ennis—creates one of their bleakest, most oppressive displays of doom-smothered death and crust that feels like a total burial of humanity. And we could use one.

“Eclipse Born” dawns in dark, pummeling waters that seek to pull you under, tearing at your flesh as savage growls lay waste, and the destructive playing drubbing. The sounds feel like they’re rubbing your face in soot, delivering doom-sopping death that makes it heavy and impossible to move, as you might as well just submit to its will. “Warhead Twilight” burrows into the mud with the growls scraping at your flesh, the playing laying a heavy bruising, and sooty meanness corroding your insides, leaving them aching. The track turns dizzying as the misery multiplies, the darkness folds your body in half, and the vicious growls take their toll, leaving your chest heaving and heavy.

“Tenebrae” slowly awakens as the growls batter, the playing lurches, and you are put to the test. The drumming mashes as the stormy weather thickens and increases, the song digs into your psyche, and the pace lights up, twisting you into a paste. “Abyss Above” runs a healthy 10:19, situated into a noise cloud that opens into beastly growls, the playing slithering, and everything else dutifully pounding away. Mind-skewing murk lowers and envelopes, a thick fog robs you of your senses, and a calculated beating ensues as sludgy chaos increases, and the bubble bursts, bleeding out dangerously. “Lighteater” is the final boss, a 9:16-long destroyer that starts in a murky haze, slowly crawling through the damp soot, lashing as the darkness increases. The shrieks smear as the skies are devoid of any hint of light, the abrasion become almost too much to handle, and the misery multiplies out of control, disappearing into a chasm of madness that could break anyone’s will to continue.

Abstracter have been merchants of torment and angst, but on “Abominion,” things seem to have taken a severe turn toward utter hopelessness. It’s easy to say there is no reason to be optimistic about our future, as the last 18 months or so have cemented that idea, and these guys are here to remind of us of that fact and let us wallow in the pain. This document will not leave you feeling good, will not fill you with optimism, and will not lie to you about reality, because there is very little on which to cling.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://sentientruin.com/releases/abstracter-abominion

For more on the label, go here: http://sentientruin.com/

Full of Hell unleash thursts of corrosive noise, death chaos on ‘Garden of Burning Apparitions’

Over the weekend, I saw a billboard on a well-traveled local roadway that related “the jab,” or the COVID-19 vaccine, with the mark of the beast that is presented in the Book of Revelations in the Bible. Having had members of my family ravaged by that disease, the only thing I could think to was figure out a way to destroy the thing, deface this message that bastardizes faith.

“Garden of Burning Apparitions,” the new LP from extreme destroyers Full of Hell, seemed to fall at the right moment. Instead of risking arrest and hefty fine, I lost myself in these 12 tracks, some of which also take to task the militarization of religion and its messages to act as scare tactics and abusive idiocy like what’s listed above. Certainly, that’s not all they cover on this explosive album, their fifth not including collaborative efforts, and as one might expect, it’s all over the map from grindcore to death to punk to black metal to noise to fucking everything else that applied to their formula. The band—Dylan Walker (vocals, electronics), Spencer Hazard (guitars), Sam DiGristine (bass, vocals), Dave Bland (drums)—is both in full command and completely unhinged as they rip through these tracks with violence and malice intended for their carefully selected victims.

“Guided Blight” immediately wreaks havoc with panic and chaos flowing generously, mixing shrieks and growls as it runs into the “Asphyxiant Blessing” that is absolutely monstrous. The dual vocals strike again with doomy drubbing, the words spreading hell, and the music burning off and leaving soot. “Murmuring Foul Spring” is strange and dark, burning with intensity and terrifying intent, pummeling and defacing before opening its jaws for “Derelict Satellite” that settles into complete racket, bubbling over a strange, deranged soundscape that doesn’t feel human in the least, delivering stabbing, animalistic power. “Burning Apparition” is a complete rampage, punching and opening veins, thrashing heavily into noise slaughter and pain. “Eroding Shell” has the riffs exploding, death growls splattering, and your guts repeatedly struck as if trying to resurface the contents of your intestines.

“All Bells Ringing” uses a strange riff as a base as the dual vocals punish, and weird tones hang overhead, clobbering as bizarre strings sting you. “Urchin Thrones” combusts and leads a mauling expedition that takes apart machines with the shrieks defacing and everything spiraling into doomy power as your eyes melt from the sockets. “Industrial Messiah Complex” has thick riffs and odd effects over the vocals, stomping as the playing haunts. The title is wailed repeatedly, driving home their point about poisonous messages hidden in religious efforts. “Reeking Tunnels” delivers jerking guitars that have a punk edge and an alluring, almost catchy tone that feels inviting, though you’re fairly certain it’s a trap, which the final moments confirm. “Non-Atomism” is a noise field with beats rumbling, making you question your sanity, paving the perverse path to closer “Celestial Heirarch” that ignites into combustible madness. Guitars spindle and spiral, the playing thrashes, and it feels like the world is coming apart beneath your feet, leaving you clinging to anything as a swarm of noise pushes you to your brink.

There’s no such thing as conventional when it comes to Full of Hell, and even if you know that going into their records, there still is nothing you really can do to prepare for records such as “Garden of Burning Apparitions.” Yet with the insanity going on here musically, do not write this off as just a bludgeoning with nothing else behind it. The tracks examine some heady, exploitative shit, topics that have haunted society for years that are raked over the coals, and no one gets out alive that the band has in its aim.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/b/full-of-hell

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

Wraith add blackened ferocity, punk abrasion to thrash metal on lip-splitting ‘Undo the Chains’

I tend to be a little judgmental when it comes to thrash metal, especially when newer bands try their hands at it, because so often it just goes wrong. This is one of metal’s few subgenres that actually requires a sense of acquiring the sound’s spirit, and just putting on a pair of white high tops isn’t going to do it for you. I enjoy so few of these bands, not that I haven’t tried.

But that isn’t a blanket statement on all bands, as sometimes one comes in and just nails it from the start, sort of like Indiana’s Wraith, who are in full command on their third record “Undo the Chains.” Part of what makes this band work so well is they’re not trying to put on a costume or revive an era in which they didn’t live. Instead, they get to work on these 12 tracks that blast over 32 minutes and deliver mashing, blackened, punk-fueled power that gets in your bones and does ample damage. The band—vocalist/guitarist Matt Sokol, lead guitarist Jason Schultz, bassist Chris Petkus, drummer Mike Szymendera—is locked in, hammering you with tracks that don’t overstay their welcome, splitting your lips with pulverizing intensity that also happens to be a blast of fucking fun at the same time.

The title cut opens, a quick intro piece that chugs and burns, setting the stage for what follows, with the first up being “Dominator” that amplifies the dangerous fun. “Created to kill, that’s just what he’ll do,” Sokol warns as the band delivers nasty thrashing that leaves ample facial bruising. “Gate Master” lands heavy punches as the guitars unload fire, and the raspy howls power the machine. The simple single-word chorus blisters and should do the same live, while hefty punishment keeps raining down. “Mistress of the Void” gets off to a smoking start with great guitar work getting things flowing, with Sokol wailing, “Don’t be afraid, it’s you she’s here to claim.” The band rips hard as the chorus makes its mark, ending thing with a jarring charge. “Cloaked in Black” is just mashing with a dangerous chorus that gets inside of you and the guitars spilling dump trucks of lava. Things then take a nice classic thrash bend, sending sparks as the track blasts out. “Born to Die” is in a similar vein as it unleashes some vintage metal fire, a chorus that cracks your ribcage, and dual guitars aligning and blinding.  The track keeps the energy flowing, ripping into you and leaving you a quivering pile.

“Time Wins” is a fast blast with nasty vocals, music that corrode, and a jolting, alluring attack that grinds away at your mental faculties. “Gift of Death” is speedy as hell as the bass rollicks and the vocals are spat out like they have a bitter taste. The gang shouts of the song’s title get you in the guts as the pace blinds, and the band shows some excellent fire. “Disgusting” has guitars blazing as the track goes for broke, with the simple chorus making its filthy point and rendering you too sore to move any great distance. “Bite Back” amps up quickly with Sokol howling, “Sharpen your teeth, embrace the pain,” almost like he’s giving you a violent pep talk. Catchy riffs and a slaughtering mentality combine and make all the pain you felt worth your while. “Victims for the Sword” has guitars stirring as things get out of control in a hurry, blasting by with punk fury and molten intensity, setting the stage for closer “Terminate” that wastes no time delivering the crunch. The band wails, “Terminate!” over the chorus, which live crowds are sure to mimic, and the track stomps and hammers, giving you one final taste of their storming volatility.

There have been enough bands that have tried to find thrash metal’s true spirit and have totally succumbed to the pressure, but Wraith are not one of those. What surely helps is that “Undo the Chains” is not a band trying to wear something that doesn’t fit them as they instead take a sound they love and batter it to their will. This is bruising, unforgiving, triumphant shit that is sure to get you bloodied in the pit but stronger for having endured the challenge.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.redefiningdarkness.com/products/705934-wraith-undo-the-chains

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

Pesch revisits Warlock’s classic, shows infectious intensity with punchy ‘Triumph and Agony Live’

Photo by Marko Syrjala

We don’t do a lot of live albums around here—I’m sure we’ve done them in our 10 years, but I don’t specifically remember one—and the reason is we see no real need to review them. We’re not really covering any new ground, and there’s no sense giving a blow by blow of an album that mostly contains material people have heard before. Not that we don’t love them!

But there are exceptions, and one of them is Doro Pesch’s “Triumph and Agony Live,” an excellent set that covers the 1987 Warlock classic of the same name that is one of the most important metal albums of all time. And one of the best. Pesch and her band, including Tommy Bolan who played on the original album, performed the entire album at Sweden Rock Festival in 2017, though not in the sequential order it’s presented on the LP. This collection that now celebrates the 35th anniversary of the album is an absolute must have for any Warlock or Pesch fan, or for anyone who just wants to get lost in the power of classic heavy metal. Pesch made her name at a time when there were not many women playing metal, and she’s an unquestioned pioneer, a true legend who still sounds amazing, is busting with energy, and unquestionably rules her version of the ruins, which she will defend to the death.  

“Legacy (Intro)” is a quick bit for when the band takes the stage, so you hear people getting riled up and the sense the band is getting ready to go, which they do on “Touch of Evil” that demonstrates just how powerful Pesch remains. The band sounds great, too, though one complaint that runs over the course of this entire record is the guitars and other instruments are kind of washed out so the vocals can be prominently out front. I get it. It’s Doro. But sometime that robs the songs of their power. “I Rule The Ruins” follows with Pesch leading her “hey hey hey!” chants that pop up throughout the record. The track is high energy, and the band’s gang calls over the chorus rush on the track’s last stand. “East Meets West” is one of the more aggressive tracks on “Triumph and Agony” and is punchy as hell here with Pesch in total command, the band on fire, and this thing just melting down the crowd. “Three Minute Warning” has the drums pacing, Pesch sounding strong and ideally raspy, and the solo just burning shit to the ground. “Kiss of Death” is a steamier, murkier song, a nice come down that’s still heavy but isn’t requiring your blood to pump with full force. It’s nicely positioned here.

“Für Immer” was a controversial track at the time as the label did not want the German-sung ballad on the album, only to have Pesch rightfully fight for it. That call was so obvious as three decades later it remains one that gets you in the guts, and the chorus of, “Deep inside my heart,” is so impactful. Oh, if you haven’t read Adam Tepedelen’s “Triumph and Agony” Decibel Hall of Fame piece, go check it right now. “Cold, Cold World” launches into heavy terrain with a killer echo on Pesch’s voice on the chorus, her voice like a razor blade against your neck. “Make Time for Love” is a soaring power ballad with dark synth and the singing rumbling in your chest as she bellows with emotion. “Metal Tango” is a fun one, a simple, catchy track that also was the B side to “Für Immer,” so it got a decent time in the spotlight, and the crowd eats it up here. All this builds to all-time classic “All We Are,” which is the album’s opener, but of course you’re sending the crowd home happy with this one. This is extended some as Pesch gives the crowd ample chance to sing back the iconic chorus, as well she should, and when she’s out front, she’s just unstoppable. The crowd sounds in a frenzy here, shouting back every word as Pesch praises them, giving a final adrenaline jolt to end the show on the right fiery note.

Pesch was one of the first women to prove that this is not a men’s game, and she can stand in there and rule along with the greats of the business, of which she is now one. “Triumph and Agony Live” not only is a celebration of an absolute classic metal album, but it’s also a treat for those of us who were there in the beginning to hear these songs sound just as powerful now. This is a live platter that is so much fun to behold, a jolt of energy that brings heavy metal to life in your heart and bloodstream.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://doro.lnk.to/Warlock-TriumphandAgonyLive

PICK OF THE WEEK: Succumb grind brains, unleash vicious breed of death metal with pummeling ‘XXI’

When discussing death metal, people like me often describe the mangling torment it can do to your body and the imagined trauma one would go through when listening to this style of music. It makes total sense as it’s awash in brutality, but let’s not discount the idea that death metal can challenge your brain as well and whatever’s going on in your mind.

San Francisco-based death crawlers Succumb very much can leave you exhausted and bruised with their music, but they add so much more than that, which they prove again on their excellent second record “XXI.” The title of the album comes from the final Major Arcana card in the tarot deck, and it symbolizes the end of a life cycle or pause before the start of the new life cycle. The album takes on themes such as the elements and their natural deities (and they’re likely plotting their revenge on us for how we’re treating this place), Lilith, the Boxer Rebellion, Arthurian literature, and many other fertile, thought-provoking ideas, with vocalist/lyricist Cheri Musrasrik drawing on poets/writers such as William Butler Yeats, Jean Genet, and Émile Zola to fully flourish her gripping words. Her performance is like that of a demon trying to inform the world of the ills that ravage it while the rest of the band—guitarist Derek Webster, bassist/vocalist Kirk Spaseff, drummer Harry Cantwell—launches into terrain that is mind-ripping, destructive, and slaughtering, which will do a number on your sanity.

“Lilim” opens the record with chaotic tension, unloading and snarling with the howls stampeding, the guitars slicing into your muscles, and the track running headlong into “Maenad” that slowly boils in the juices of the nasty growls. “They danced around a phallic stone, giving over to revels and rages,” Musrasrik snarls as pure soot smudges, the guitars soar before touching back down, and abrasive disorientation leaves you gripping for the walls. “Okeanos” stirs the turmoil, clobbering as the vocals aggravated oil fires. “Foam in a revolving whorl touches an unknown and sublime abyss,” Musrasrik sneers with your psyche stomped into the ground, corroding and delivering a mauling finish. “Smoke” punches as the guitars go off, and an unsettling pace gets into your chest and rewires your electric impulses. The vocals ensnare you in a steel trap, poking at you, while the violence increases, mauling as you lie there prone, unable to defend yourself as the track disappears into a noise void.

“Graal” scrambles impulses as it starts as guitars hang in the air and sting the senses, with vicious growls swiping at you. “A divine substance held in the bloody relic, illusory phantoms, and secret words spoken to a knave,” Musrasrik digs as parts of the song get muddy and dangerously slow before things fire up again and thrash mightily, stomping out its foe. “Aither” is another quick burst that comes in absolutely on fire, stabbing and splattering, driving its fist through you as you crumble to the ground. “Soma” smashes its way in, bringing furnace heat and a tempo that continually intensifies. Madness takes hold as noise rings, the vocals trample, and the swirling storm goes right for your throat. “8 Trigrams” closes the record, starting with militaristic drums and ominous tones, setting a strange ambiance that soon aims to remove your head. Things get dizzying and odd, with Musrasrik wailing, “Headless fighters and spirit guards are at war with mortals, shadowboxers moving in unison and covered by protective charms.” Total slaughter is achieved, bringing maniacal and dangerous sentiments, peeling away at your psyche and scalding your flesh as you writhe and beg for psychological mercy.

Trying to capture Succumb in words is nearly impossible, though we gave it a shot, and it’s up to you if we captured the insanity that surrounds “XXI.” But this is a band that, while they are shedding blood in terrain others have trampled, they’re doing it in ways that are terrifying and smothering in a way no one has done before and likely ever will again. This is an altogether different breed of death metal and a band that is seeing fit to deface it in any way they see fit based on their mission.   

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

To buy the album, go here: https://nowflensing.com/collections/flenser-releases

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

Waldgeflüster keep black metal powers closer to home, bask in Bavarian landscape on ‘Dahoam’

Having a connection to one’s home means a lot of different things, be that the fabric of community, the sounds and smells of the surrounding area, and the natural elements that connect with our hearts and brains. For me, Pittsburgh contains all those things, which is why I have chosen to stay here, and even if I were to relocate one day, my roots cannot be unearthed from this place.

For the bulk of their run, German atmospheric black metal band Waldgeflüster have played to the praises of nature, basking in the majesty of the outdoors. But their new record “Dahoam” goes in a bit of a different direction thematically—namely on paying homage to their Northern Bavarian home which band leader Winterherz (vocals guitars, keys, samples) further celebrates by singing in that area’s native tongue. The record also is sort of the mirror side of their “Femundsmarka” album, that pushed away from home and ruminated on ideas and concepts learned while traveling aboard, Winterherz (he is joined by guitarists Dominik Frank and Markus Frey, bassist Avagr, and drummer Thomas Birkmaier), used this music and record searching for one’s soul in the confines of the homeland.

“A Taglachinger Morgen” is a calming opener that is built with acoustic guitars moving, birds chirping, and nature opening fully, pushing into “Im Ebersberger Forst” that runs 10:15, the first of three epics cuts surrounded by quieter, more reflective pieces. Vicious hell is unleashed after the initial serenity as Winterherz’s vocals jam your ribs, and then another wave of calm washes over, with fog spreading and intoxicating. New melodies sneak in as the vocals get cleaner but even bolder, the power rages, and wild cries pound into the night, ending with solemn acoustics. “Am Stoa” bubbles from the earth, the synth spreads, and the woody instrumental soothes your aching muscles, basking in softness and whispers.

“Am Tatzlwurm” rumbles for a healthy 10:47, beginning with acoustic passages and waves lapping, eventually firing up and creating forceful blazing. That increase helps the emotions ride harder, angling through lush strings and bubbling waters, slashing through with Winterherz’s forceful howls. Later, the singing turns to hearty bellows, brief sections of calm are engulfed with chaos, and the band pelts you with force as the song bows out to the rains. “In da Fuizn” rumbles the earth, bringing natural forces and spacious leads as the shrieks hammer away. Hearty singing arrives, guitars keep cutting, and the track disappears into atmosphere. “Mim Blick aufn Kaiser” is the final of the trio of beasts, and it’s the longest one at 11:10. The track is steely and spacey as it launches, bringing a fiery pace that is cooled by the clean singing reaching out, with the shrieks later adding abrasions. Acoustics arrive as chirps and croaks make it feel like you’re navigating a swamp, letting that ambiance spread before the track bustles back, flattening you. The journey rages toward its conclusion, the riffs swirl, and the final moments leave you robbed of breath. “Am Wendelstoa” closes the album with acoustics and folk-styled singing with the guitars adding a gentle haze. Drums are tapped, the vocals reverberate, and things are ushered out quietly, with you resting comfortably in the forest.

Waldgeflüster’s nature-inspired, atmospheric black metal always sounds huge and daring, which continues on “Dahoam,” a record that takes you on a familiar, hearty adventure through the band’s home territory. Sort of like the German version of Panopticon, it’s impossible to walk away from this band’s records without taking on an emotional toll, one you won’t mind facing. This is another rich, cascading record from a band that doesn’t just churn out tracks, they stuff them with genuine heart and emotion you practically can reach out and feel with your hands.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.aoprecords.de/gb/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.aoprecords.de/

Finnish funeral doom legends Skepticism weave grim, elegant sorrow on dramatic ‘Companion’

The idea of funeral doom seems to, just from its name, note a style of music that is crushingly slow, leaving you in abject misery as you stare the end straight in the eyes and try to buy yourself more time. For the most part, that’s exactly what it is, and it’s difficult to shake the dread and morbid pressure that feels like it’s weighing down on your chest like an anchor.

Finnish spirits Skepticism have helped craft this sound, spreading their slow-moving drama over the past 30 years, creating sub-genre landmark “Stormcrowfleet.” But they’ve done so much more than that, and they’re still adding to their greatness with their new album “Companion,” a record that should find an instant home in their fans’ blackened hearts. Despite helping craft the very idea of funeral doom, this band offers up something different, an elegant, graceful, yet crushing display that makes them one of the most significant and special acts in all heavy music. The band—vocalist Matti Tilaeus, guitarist Jani Kekarainen, organist/keyboardist Eero Pöyry, drummer Lasse Pelkonen—smears their misery over six tracks and 48 minutes on their sixth long player, one that’ll carve out your soul.

“Calla” immediately immerses itself in the drama as the organs unload, the guitars tangle, and the growls slither through, making for a chilling presence. Things feel dark and stately as the track pumps colors with shadows swelling, the melodies growing thicker, and the mid-section stretching. “The Intertwined” greets with throaty growls and guitars daring as the organs muddy the waters, pushing hard into danger. A foreboding sense rises as the growls gurgle, watching the clouds thicken overheard as a gothy haze expanding its wings. Waves lap, the growls crush, and the track slowly wretches into the fog. “The March of the Four” runs a healthy 10:04, the longest track on the collection, and it delivers cascading organs and growls lumbering with the guitar work flexing its muscles. The guitars churn as the sadness collects, carving into your mind with thunderous, thick power, drizzling into the atmosphere and trailing off into the unknown.

“Passage” goes in a different direction as the guitars are sinister, the growls hammer, and the added weight crunches. The playing lurches and blends into fantastical elements that quickly turn dark and horrific. As the vocals snarl, the song swims deeper into the murk, the playing buzzes, and the whole thing burns down and finally bows out. “The Inevitable” opens in acoustics as ghostly apparitions arrive, adding to the pressure. The lather keeps getting heavier and richer, the growls emit pain, with the guitars drizzling blackness. A glimmering surge causes you to shield your eyes as your heart is gutted, and acoustics return to drown everything out. “The Swan and the Raven” closes out the album with organs pumping, the growls carving a path, and a dark adventure beginning to take hold. Things then take off toward the night sky as the guitars slither and the smoke builds, letting the rumbling take over and assume control. Waters thicken and drain, the melodies round back, and everything is swallowed under a black sea, washed out to oblivion.

Skepticism’s doom majesty remains as strong as ever three decades into their run, and “Companion” is a record that further pushes their campaign into new areas but also keeps their path steady as ever. The band remains an enigma, one of those entities that has stayed true to their mission and cultivated many followers but few who can equal what they do. This is a fantastic, smothering record that feels gigantic while burying your face in the soot.     

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

To buy the album, go here: https://svartrecords.com/product/skepticism-companion-album/

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

Japanese dreamers MONO create surprising, soaring new sojourn on great ‘Pilgrimage of the Soul’

Folks like me like to use the word “cinematic” to describe music with a huge scope and feel, and that’s not a major issue because if the portrayal fits closely enough, it’s a pretty good descriptor. But the idea is that the music you’re hearing makes you escape to another place, taking a journey into a new world in your own head because you’re so caught up, you can’t help yourself.

Japanese instrumental power MONO has been creating that very experience for the past couple decades, and now they’re delivering their 11th record “Pilgrimage of the Soul,” one of the most daring of their entire catalog. This is the point where I tell you I once saw MONO play a goddamn classroom at Carnegie Mellon University, and they absolutely destroyed the place. Despite the band carving out a following and style, they are not glued to that, and this record is a perfect example. Yes, there are sweeping highs and lows, of course there is plenty of soft-loud on this album, but the eight songs on this collection show a different side to the band—Takaakira “Taka” Goto (guitar), Yoda (guitar), Dahm (drums), and Tamaki (bass, piano). The music rollicks you more than usual, some of the emotion is even more tender than you might expect, and from start to finish, this takes you on that aforementioned cinematic ride that leaves you exhilarated and full of life.

“Riptide” gets things started, first basking in reflective waters before ripping open and soaring in a more propulsive manner than we’ve come to expect from this band. That makes your heart surge in the best way as gorgeous, gazey guitar drizzle, the melodies catapult, and the band drubs before retreating into the clouds. “Imperfect Things” basks in noise pockets and dripping guitars as the dreamy haze takes hold of you and changes your psyche. The bass trudges as the drums come to life, fully awakening as the guitars take off, abrasive sounds erupt, and everything keeps spiraling before fading away. “Heaven in a Wild Flower” slowly blossoms, setting up its world as we wait with anticipation. Moody yet calm, the music gets eerie, horns rise, and the horizon stretches, lathering with thick strings and heavy lather that helps you soak in this new, imagination-driven world. “To See a World” has guitar hitting the gas and the strings rising behind that, aching as the emotion thickens. The playing jolts and causes you to sit straight up as rich, gushing playing collects, and chimes ring brightly. The playing keeps upping the ante, delivering wave upon crashing wave until you’re buried beneath.

“Innocence” has sweeping melodies that practically lift you off the ground, guitars creating new paths, and a wondrous aura that aims to capture you and bring calm. You can feel the intensity build, even when the band is holding back, and then beams rip through the clouds, snaking through the winds before the tempo calms, and the music dissolves into the air. “The Auguries” plods ominously as the strings increase, and you can feel your blood rhythmically coursing through your veins. The power and volume gradually lift, the bass flexes its muscles, and the track swells up and explodes into a mist. “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand” is the longest cut, running 12:22 and starting the keys pumping, chimes sounding, and noise reverberating. The playing feels gentle for stretches before the storm gusts, and the emotion caterwauls, bringing the rush to a new level. A gigantic high is hit, your body is cajoled, and the cut ends with your senses being smashed. “And Eternity in an Hour” is the closer, starting the keys drizzling and strings gathering, delicate and impassioned as the playing rises. Keys splash as the ambiance increases, darkening skies as your blood settles, and you wake from your dream.

MONO continue to enthrall and surprise on “Pilgrimage of the Soul,” their enchanting 11th record, a collection that contains much of the band’s usual DNA but also delivers unforeseen colors and tastes. Feeling your insides activate and your mind blast off with the visions created with this album makes for a MONO adventure that’s a little different from the ones that preceded it, proving they still have surprises up their sleeves. This music is perfect for lifting your spirits, taking a trip, or just losing yourself in a story, preferably the one playing out in your head.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.temporaryresidence.com/collections/albums/products/trr364

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Mastiff unload death, hardcore, sludge on wiry, nasty beast ‘…Ashes of the Earth’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but life on this rock has not resembled anything approaching pleasurable in quite some time, and despite numerous chances to change our fortunes, half of us have decided to roll in the pig shit that is uninformed opinions. It’s one of those times when living underground finally seems like the most logical option for my sanity.

UK crushers Mastiff sound like they’ve heard about enough themselves, though not necessarily about the same subject matter, and they splash that misery and misanthropy all over their third record “Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth.” Combining sludge, doom, hardcore, death metal, and whatever other clobbering sounds they deemed fit to smash into their formidable sound, they deliver nine tracks in about a half hour that are weighty and unforgiving. The band—vocalist Jim Hodge, guitarists James Andrew Lee and Phil Johnson, bassist Dan Dolby, drummer Michael Shepherd—recorded this bastard in only five days, jamming every vitriolic fiber into this pummeling album that can leave you either feeling worse about this shit or determined to rise above it and smash the assholes keeping us down.

“The Hiss” slowly dawns, reveling in filth, lumbering as shrieks rain down, and things bend into gloomy hypnosis. That feeling spreads and bubbles as the storms get heavier, and the playing drubs with sorrow, suddenly disintegrating into “Fail” that bursts from the gates. Converge-style guitar feedback powers as beastly howls rain down, and a hardcore-style assault splatters your guts all over the walls. “Repulse” hammers away immediately with crazed vocals and an assault that’s meaty as fuck. “Feel like a god, no one to answer to,” Hodge pummels as the band massively thrashes you before things slow down and suffocate, folding the earth in half and squeezing out its guts. “Midnight Creeper” is a panicked assault that clobbers with vicious double-kick drums and screams that tears muscles apart. Absolute demolition rolls out, teeth are ground to dust, and the track burns off for good.

“Beige Sabbath” is a fast one that has riffs mashing, heaviness throwing its weight around, and Hodge accusing, “Same old shit, nothing’s changed,” as the track smashes your senses. “Futile” opens with noise ringing and the bass snarling as muffled growls land blows, and the intensity explodes around you. Things come unglued as elements turn even more vicious with the cry of, “Live with the misery!” burying you in the ash. “Endless” brings doomy riffs and a pace that seethes, clobbering with death metal thickness. The whole thing feels like it aims for your neck, sending sinister intent as Hodge laments, “Endless suffering, endless pain!” “Scalped and Salted” simmers in abrasive sludge as mangling hell and hardcore punishment combine and bruise your emotions. The playing utterly steamrolls as the band bludgeons, and everything rests in static. “Lung Rust” is the nearly seven-minute closer that lands heavy shots as it slowly corrodes, shrieks killing and the music bathing in the horrific lather. The track is ugly and thick, peeling back flesh and exposing only the morbid sections of your mentality. Static creates a tidal wave that grows to monstrous proportions, and it drags you under, never to be seen again.

We’ve all come to see the darkest, vilest, most disgusting elements of humanity as of late, not that it wasn’t always lingering right under the surface. Mastiff bathe in that horrific blood and guts on “Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth,” one of the most devastating pieces in their already volcanic catalog. This is the perfect music for getting out your own frustrations, dealing with your anxieties, and putting up your own boundaries to keep the scum of the earth out of your business.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://eoneheavy.com/collections/mastiff

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

Death legends Carcass rip out guts again, surgically bludgeon into psyches with ‘Torn Arteries’

It’s been a downright cosmic and strange era for metal’s classic bands as so many of them have offered up really strong material lately including Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, At the Gates, and Helloween. Not sure what the reasoning is for that (maybe they’re just all really great bands?), but it’s been a huge benefit for the fans and for the artists’ respective legacies.

One of the bands that first reminded us that the pioneers could still fucking go was Carcass, who did that with bloody precision eight years ago with “Surgical Steel,” their first in 17 years at that point. Plus, they delivered that smoke on the road (when I saw them, Bill Steer was violently ill, and I had no idea), so anyone who had counted them out had to feel like a jackass. They’ve delivered yet again on “Torn Arteries,” their seventh overall full-length and a tremendous piece of work that has 10 tracks blasted over 49 minutes. The band—the aforementioned guitarist Steer is joined by vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker, guitarist Tom Draper, and drummer Daniel Wilding—sounds spry, channeled, and like they’re having a fuck of a good time knocking these songs out, and every ounce of this thing is juicy and exciting.  

The title track gets things going with the drums crushing and the riffs churning, verses hammering away and getting your blood pumping. Portions are thrashy as hell as the leads burn, and the speedy fun comes to a mashing end. “Dance of Ixtab (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No. 1)” again proves their knack for great song titles as the drums stomp and the riffs tangle, rising gloriously over the chorus. The vocals chew tendons while the soloing injects a sense of fun, the vocals spit over the chorus, and the guts are stomped out. “Eleanor Rigor Mortis” begins with guitars soaring and Walker’s vocals sounding particularly abrasive. The chorus chars and rumbles as the playing chunks and simmers, the leads glide, and everything catches fire before the blistering takes hold. “Under the Scalpel Blade” also was on their “Despicable” EP and the Decibel Flexi series before that, and it’s bludgeoning and memorable, a classic cut that’s going to endure as a modern favorite. “The Devil Rides Out” unloads heat and strong guitars, adding muscle and a stamping out the idea of Satanism, which is not typical for metal. But this is Carcass, and Walker wailing, “Get behind me, Satan,” bristles as speed jostles, and the end rips out the guts and tosses them on the scrap pile.

“Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited” is the longest track, running 9:53, an uncharacteristic move for this band. It lands heavy shots, with Walker wailing, “Repulsive!” as sinewy guitar work manages to glisten. The band digs in its claws as the guitars race, and a quick cooldown slips in before things melt hard. The chorus rounds back, the band rubs your face in cinders, and the end erupts in pain. “Kelly’s Meat Emporium,” which is named after a real place, has zany guitars and drums that destroy skeletal structures, as the pace slaughters, and the bass pummels. The band blinds with speed in spots, and then it’s all dumped onto the killing floor. “In God We Trust” has guitars blasting into the atmosphere, the vocals strangling, and the leads going off. There’s a, and I swear I’m not making this up, hand clap section that’s weird but fitting? The band keeps adding punches before the tracks spins off into the night.  “Wake Up and Smell the Carcass / Caveat Emptor” has drums rolling into a death groove, more raspy howls, and the guitars hitting the gas for the song’s second part where the punches tenderize the ribs, and things end abruptly. “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing” ends the record by coming out of the gates swinging, even feeling moody in spots. The warning of death is in the air aa the band speeds and mauls, with Walker’s howls of, “Rewind the death clock,” reminding that doom is near. The leads crush as the playing opens your belly with Walker wailing, “Tick! Tick! Tick!” as the record times out.

More than three decades in the game hardly have had an impact on Carcass as they keep unleashing the rowdy and infectious death metal they do so well. “Torn Arteries” is a nice step up from “Surgical Steel,” a record it’s somewhat in line with but also stands apart from with its increased freshness. This record is fun, violent, and massive, and it’s another fresh slab from the unstoppable Carcass machine.  

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

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