It probably sounds like a back-handed compliment to say someone has a gift for delivering misery, but try to argue Mournful Congregation don’t possess exactly that. They didn’t invent funeral doom, but I can’t think of a band that’s done it better for a longer period of time than this Australian force, one you should absolutely pursue seeing in a live setting if that fortune finds you. It’s an experience.
Seeking to bridge 2018’s “The Incubus of Karma” (our No. 1 record of that year) with their next full-length effort, the band is putting out two EPs, the first just about to arrive with “The Exuviae of Gods – Part I.” It’s kind of comical referring to this three-track release as an EP as it still runs a beefy 37 minutes, full-length run time in many subgenres, and as expected it’s a thorough serving that leaves you rotting and broken inside once you’ve experienced the whole thing. The band—vocalist/guitarist Damon Good, guitarists Justin Hartwig and Ben Petch, bassist Ben Newsome, drummer Tim Call—locks in with their trademark slow excursion into misery, delivering compelling and psyche-wrenching power that no one creates quite like they do and that feels excruciating but necessary to digest in whole.
“Mountainous Shadows, Cast Through Time” is the 14:05-long opener, and it starts with organs sprawling and growls lurching, a slow storm brewing and moving across the land. Breezy leads cause your flesh to crawl as the guitars layer heavy emotion, the growls crumbling along with an elegant haze. Leads burst and sprawl, detached speaking echoes in your brain, and the playing clouds and mars. Guitars work back in as whispers grow greater, the music fading into time. The title track is a 7:11-long instrumental that begins with acoustics and warm electrics, changing the pace back and forth. Strange vibes work in and change the atmospheric pressure, the leads glow, and the heat melts the thickened ice. Closer “An Epic Dream of Desire” is the longest track at 15:47 and starts with restrained heat, the speaking coming in lurches. The playing slowly moves as the aura gets darker, the guitars slowly dissolving into acoustics before synth strings stretch their wings. The power begins to gather, the guitars churn, and the speaking sends chills down your spine, haunting and ringing. The mood thickens as the pace picks up, the strings explode, and everything disappears in a dramatic gust.
Even a smaller serving of Mournful Congregation is as meaty and nourishing as other band’s full-length efforts, and “The Exuviae of Gods – Part I” is one hell of an appetizer. This band’s grasp of funeral doom is tight and suffocating as they have turned their sound into something almost entirely theirs. It’s great to have this three-track beast and just as exciting to know there’s another volume coming before we head into their new mammoth full-length crusher.
Death metal is a ridiculously deep pool with a lot of swimmers, some of them only marginally above water, and to get into that mix takes some guts to be honest. But death metal exists, and as long as it does, bands will try to add their touch to that sub-genre, and we encourage that, even if it means we’re inundated with mundane bands. But not all of them are that way.
Polish death metal squad Clairvoyance just are getting their boots situated into the bloody soil, but if their debut EP “Threshold of Nothingness” can be trusted as a, um, clairvoyant into their future, things are bound to get gory and ugly. Over 5 tracks and about 24 minutes, the band—vocalist Maciej Cesarczyk, guitarists Lukasz Lipski and Denis Didenko, bassist Kacper Pawluk, drummer Adrian Szczepański—absolutely delivers, sounding relentless and snarling, dealing power and menace the way some bands emit glory and elegance. Everything is ugly, with wounds promising to turn into scars, and these first five tracks threaten to be the start of a long-running, physically intimidating campaign.
“Decline Into Oblivion” rips open with death metal rolling hard, the vocals crushing as the emotion bubbles over. The track then switches up as the speed collects and takes off, the band mauls, and the deadly final strains blend into “The Curse” that steamrolls right away. Death chugs unleash violence and unforgiving pressure while the guitars shriek, doing damage to your eardrums. The growls dig into the soil looking for a place to bury you, and the playing is only too happy to load you into the ground as the fires rage toward “Chronicles of Emptiness” that feels doomy and infernal as it starts. The pace increasingly picks up and delivers devastation, and then things turn on a dime, the thrashing changing its approach but not its blood lust. The drums are turn rock to powder, the guitars drive the blade, and everything ends in blood spatter. “A Cairn of Souls” is speedy and relentless, going for a murderous spree that gives you no time to take cover. It feels like the earth is rumbling beneath you, the mud thickens, and nothing is left but blood and bone. “Tarnished Vessel” is the closer, starting hazy and humid before the machine kicks into high gear. Beastly growls combine with a murderous pace, the guitars smearing mud on your face and into your mouth. The playing gets burlier, shedding blood through open wounds, and then the guitars hang dangerously in the air, leaving scorched earth behind.
“Threshold of Nothingness” is a quick glimpse of a band coming into its own, delivering death metal inspired by decades gone past but treating it with a modern bloodthirst that’s impossible to avoid. Clairvoyance already have a stranglehold on their sound, and every moment of this 24-minute EP is spilling over the edges with gore and pain, proving they have the meddle to be a major force going forward. This is a punishing first foray into metal’s shark-infested waters, and they have the tenacity and power not only to survive but to dominate.
Getting a second chance to do the thing you love is not something that should be taken for granted, and it doesn’t happen to everyone. It’s not uncommon for great things to end prematurely, often for reasons beyond the grasp of those involved, and getting a second wind to make things right or continue the path toward goals not yet achieved is a gift that should be torn open with great enthusiasm.
Many people know the story of Cave In, the long-running, impossible to truly classify band that tore into the world on the wings of fire-breathing, wildly influential debut “Until Your Heart Stops” and has changed colors and sounds throughout the past two decades. The death of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018 seemed, at the time, to be the potential end of the band, and their 2019 record “Final Transmission” appeared to verify their final days. But the fires were still burning, their love and respect for Scofield forever flowing, and they decided to carry on, create again, and they’ve returned with their amazing new record “Heavy Pendulum.” This album is a triumph on every level. The remaining members of the band—guitarists/vocalists Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath, drummer John-Robert Conners—united with longtime ally Nate Newton (Converge, Doomriders) to take bass and added vocal duties and turned on the lava flow, delivering a mammoth 14-track double album that is sure-fire album of the year material. It’s a huge, heavy, infectious, energetic record that not only pays proper homage to Scofield but pushes the band onto a new course with the future open and exciting.
“New Reality” is a killer opener, the perfect way to prepare you for what’s ahead with big riffs chugging, catchiness surrounding you and Brodsky calling, “New reality, never knew would be, dawning on me.” The soloing scorches toward the end, and the final moments leave you in the dust. “Blood Spiller” makes the perfect next step, the second half of a 1-2 punch that smokes and smashes, the chorus of, “Fresh kill or the killer, you can choose only one,” digging into you. The band mashes heavily, the guitars get spacious, and Newton gets in on the action, howling, “Watch it run!” “Floating Skulls” keeps the heat on high, Brodsky’s singing often taking on a James Hetfield feel as he barks away. The riffs swim, the chorus is a big one that’ll be a fire starter live, and everything zaps through space before the track comes to a bludgeoning end. The title track pulls back some, though it’s still intense, going moody and mid-paced, Brodsky delivering some of his best singing. Things shift later and get hazier, the chorus rounds back, and that simmers off into “Pendulambient,” a quick instrumental that meanders through the clouds and resets the mood. “Careless Offering” is another destroyer, pummeling and bleeding as Brodsky warns, “Someday we’ll be coming for the blood on your hands,” a vow that is repeated several times. The guitars take off into the stratosphere, and Newton’s wails punish again, the track chugging off into the stars. “Blinded By a Blaze” runs 7:39, the second-longest track on here, and it bleeds in feeling moody and reflective. “Sunsets explode, scorching our view, long is the road leading to you,” Brodsky calls in desperation, later moving into psyche guitars that numb your brain and pull you down with it. The guitars heat up as the pace increases, tangling with emotion and tumult.
“Amaranthine” is a track that lyrically was built from Scofield, so he’s very much a part of this record. Fittingly Newton takes the bulk of the vocals here, paying homage to the man whose shoes he’s filling, doing so with rage and passion. “We make peace with our sins, raise our shields to the sun,” Brodsky sings over the chorus, the energy flowing through the entire band, the guitars blazing, and everything ending in fittingly strange colors. “Searchers of Hell” bludgeons with grit and venom, the guitars smothering, your mind simmering in blood. Newton’s vocals split lips while heaviness reigns and ends in a pile of soot. “Nightmare Eyes” goes 7:05, and it’s a personal favorite, bristling and glowing. “Kill the head, watch it roll, into black hole, kill the head, body dies, dropping like flies,” Brodsky calls as some bluesy playing rears its head, and so much of what’s going on here tingles and activates your cells, living inside your blood. “Days of Nothing” is an instrumental interlude that feels a little like medicine head, and then it’s on to the weird and grungy “Waiting for Love,” the snarling wah pedal playing with your mind. The track trudges and bruises, the longing feels palpable, and the metallic teeth chew on muscle leave you heaving and trying to calm your heart pattern. “Reckoning” is a rare political statement by the band, and it hits hard, McGrath jabbing, “You swore on your bible with pages worn and distressed, how about a revival without getting too complex,” his voice taking on an uncharacteristic but pretty cool twang. The track takes on a dreamy feel later, burning off and landing in a bed of acoustics. Closer “Wavering Angel” is the longest song, a 12:09-long cut that feels quite uncharacteristic coming from Cave In. It’s quiet, delicate, and pained, Brodsky quivering, “Have you ever held somebody too close? Took ‘em like a drug, then you overdose,” his hurt dripping. The track remains solemn and lightly storming, Brodsky calling, “Heavy, heavy wet weather, twisting, turn to the never,” as the pace begins to pick up, and eventually the heaviness lands. The guitars do battle, the melodies increase and cascade, and the emotional high and hypnotic haze reach their apex, slowly fading into vapor.
Luckily “Final Transmission” was not Cave In’s last excursion into the world, as “Heavy Pendulum” shows a band reborn with heavy energy, a channeled and motivated band that is doing some of the best work of their storied career. This is a record that sounds great on first listen, and then with each subsequent visit, it grows on you, stretching inside your body and infecting your blood. This band has survived unspeakable tragedy only to come out even more battle tested, muscular, and exploding with an energy and hunger than should make every other band shake with fear.
Life is a hellscape, and unless you’re an ultra-rich white conservative, you’re feeling the same way. Let me clarify that: If you fall into that category, you’re actually in a worse state of self-loathing and hatred that probably makes you violently vomit at your image in the mirror every day. But OK, look, we’re in a strange and terrible time, and we have been for quite some time.
Good news/bad news is Come to Grief finally have delivered their debut full-length “When the World Dies,” building off the stellar reputation Guilt built decades ago in as scathing manner possible. The bad news? The world sucks, and you are immersed into the gut of that reality on this smoking, slaughtering record. But look, the music is what matters here, and of course they deliver the goods, and it’s nasty and scathing, and you won’t feel any better about the planet or its people when it’s over. Building off the smoldering ashes Grief left behind, this band—vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Hebert, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Terrenza Savastano (from the original Grief), bassist Jon Morse, drummer Chuck Conlon (also from Grief)—not only follows up what their original band and debut record of the same name offered the world, they push it further into psychological horrors you must face or otherwise suffer in silence.
“Our End Begins” is a slowly drubbing instrumental opener that opens the door to the punishment ahead, and that bleeds into “Life’s Curse” that delivers crushing riffs and shrieks that dig under your fingernails. Burly hammering speeds up as the heat melts flesh, the playing takes on a bigger burden toward bruising you, and the band blasts into your chest, dragging you across the cinders. “Scum Like You” untangles riffs in a calculated manner, and the vocals curdle, making your intestines crawl. The riffs feel drunken but also sharp, like it has clarification in the fog, and the vocals absolutely mangle, rushing into a quick false finish before reopening. From there, they pour lava into wounds, and the vocals gut before finally relenting. “Devastation of Souls” smothers and trashes you, bringing ominous riffs that chew away at your mind, the playing encircling dangerously. Screams dice your sanity, killer riffs stomp all over the earth, and the viciousness finally ends when one last riff enters and splatters.
The title track is scary when it dawns, the guitars fry maddeningly, and the bass plods, your skull bouncing off each step along the way. Crushing heaviness meets up with a thickening haze, and things are allowed to cool until the temperature threatens, and spacious misery sinks into the ground. “Bludgeon the Soul/Returning to the Void” has noise hanging in the air before the vocals start to boil, and the pace drubs hard, slithering through broken, bloody glass. The shrieks rip as the band thrashes wrenchingly, and the guitars then glow with a sort of apocalyptic sheen with everything laid to rest. Closer “Death Can’t Come Soon Enough” hints at its despair from the title, and then you dig into this track, which hammers away with pure misery. The vocals eat through bone, the intensity continually increases, and slow-driving madness collects, meeting with a churning pace and devastating cries that melt out with the volcanic pressure.
“When the World Dies” is a record with which to be reckoned, a seven-track pounder that is so massive and devastating that you feel markedly worse when the thing finally ends. That’s not a negative. Come to Grief have paid proper homage to their roots and created a blazing fire into the future that only can be quenched by blood and pain. This record takes you to the woodshed over and over, and you’ll have wounds you can’t explain for weeks after your initial bout ends.
Oh fuck, he’s going to talk about the pandemic again. How much mileage is he going to get out of this? If you think you’re tired of me leading with that, imagine how I feel? I’m tired. But it is what it is, and there’s really a good reason for this today, and I’d say there have been a lot of justifiable diversions we’ve taken toward plague because we are living in the arms of death.
Southwestern black metal force Predatory Light are not backing off a disease that’s spreading the earth and mutating, and they lean hard into the eyes of horrors on their long-awaited second record “Death and the Twilight Hours,” their first for 20 Buck Spin. Their celebration of death and fear amid times of pestilence are woven through these four tracks, or hymns as they call them, and the band—guitarist/vocalist L.S., guitarist/organist K.M., bassist D.J., drummer D.M., all members of the band Superstition—is fully immersed in the terror and anxiety that accompany invisible assassins that can show up at your door when you least expect it. The music is strange and ghostly, a perfect representation of the art on the Giovanni Boccaccio cover that should cause you to cower in fear of the unknown.
“The Three Living and the Three Dead” is the 13:47-long opener, starting with chilling vibes and carrying into guitar echo and then a ferocious spray of harsh cries. The playing is hypnotic and blistering, causing disorientation, and atmospheric heat precedes the band stampeding again, angling into steamy guitar work and hazy confusion. Doomy fury mixes with strange mists before the pace kicks back in, pushing everything to a gusting finish. “Wracked by Sacred Fires” teases with riffs and scathing vocals, the playing spindling and making the room spin. Growls smear as your brain is consumed by clouds, the guitars spiral and jolt, and speeds zaps in and ends in savagery.
The title track runs a healthy 11:20, and it twists the knobs and attempts to rewire your mind, the bass slithering through the murk. Leads turn through the cosmos as a strange aura welcomes cold guitars that raise your flesh, and things get gnarlier and more unhinged. A huge finger-tapped guitar assault consumes, the band thrashes wildly, and L.S. vows, “The kingdom of death has come!” amid the flurry of punishment. “To Plead Like Angels” closes the album and also plays games with your psyche, sweeping insanity swallowing you whole. The vocals feel like a knife through flesh, the guitars steam and wilt, and then things speed up to a relentless level, pushing vicious chaos into a sound haze, the cloud cover consuming all and leaving everything in darkness.
We still exist in the fist of plague, no matter what some may think foolishly, and Predatory Light feast on that terrifying, negative energy on “Death and the Twilight Hours.” Its presence is like a phantasm worming its way into your mind. We’ve all lived in the face of pestilence and fear, and our lives have been impacted forever. This record is a harsh reminder that death is ever present, it can’t be defeated, and it will continue its reign until we’re all gone for good.
There is music that just feels like it lives in the earth around where the art came to life, and as time goes on, that gains legend and magic. Norwegian black metal feels like it exists amid the forests; Cascadian black metal rages among the mountains and fog; classic death metal bubbles in the swamps and branches, ready to pull you under. That immersion in location adds that extra level of spirit.
Ever since they came to be, Nechochwen have brought to life in their music the Appalachian region, the areas that stretch over West Virginia (where they call home), Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That continues on their long-awaited fourth album “Kanawha Black,” the title inspired by a county in West Virginia, and the music delves into historical and anecdotal frontier and pre-American happenings, events that shaped the region where they live and long has bled into their music. But this record, their first in seven years, certainly has musical ties to what preceded it; but there are new energies and sounds, increased atmosphere, and something that jolts your insides a little harder than before. This duo—Nechochwen (guitars, vocals, flute), Pohonasin (drums, bass, hand percussion, jaw harp, vocals)—sounds as moved and inspired as ever, pouring every bit of themselves into the music and experience.
The title track opens the record, and it’s a killer, jolting with guitars and great energy, Pohonasin’s infectious singing over the chorus delivering the same power he supplies with Icarus Witch and Ironflame as he bellows, “The answers still remain unknown.” Excellent opener. “The Murky Deep” begins with hearty acoustics and a gentle flow before the pace picks up, and the power bursts. Sweltering clean vocals and harsh cries combine, and the leads increase the rousing spirit, rushing to a breathless end. “I Can Die But Once” is delicate and folkish when it dawns, and more great singing makes your heart race, the fires burning brightly. Harmonized vocals add new textures, and then the electrics bustle again, giving the back end of the song a blistering prog finish.
“A Cure for the Winter Plagues” is rustic and crunchy before the guitars bleed in, and the clean calls pave way for the growls dive bombing. The pace keeps picking up as the song progresses, the playing gets increasingly hypnotic, and colors fill your head as the track comes to rest. “Visions, Dreams, and Signs” trudges and battles, speeding up and sending rock and mud flying, fiery vocals tearing into the terrain. The drums maul as the playing blasts, the leads slice a path through the wilderness, and the animated approach gives the song an electrified folk feel, telling stories lost to history in as aggressive a manner possible. “Generations of War” begins with reflective guitars and flutes signaling a deep-forest feel, almost as if your boots are crunching branches and leaves alongside them. A thrashy burst gets the juices flowing as the playing mashes, and sinister guitars increase the pressure, with Nechochwen noting, “When every stand is your last,” paying off the blood and debt paid to win the battle. “Across the Divide” is the closer, entering with acoustics dancing as the playing rushes open, the vocals swelling and paying the price. Speedy jabs and soaring leads work into an acoustic field that settles the mind, but around the next bend is another attack, spilling savage new blood into the dirt. The final minutes quake and dash, combusting dangerously and burying everything in a pile of smoldering ash.
Nechochwen’s return after seven years is a most welcome one as they’ve long been a favorite at this site, and “Kanawha Black” is yet another reason why that’s the case. The roots of their earlier material remain, but they’ve expanded their vision, never compromising their heart or their heaviness, always trying to morph into something more devastating and always thought provoking. The band’s heart is buried deep in the soil where they live, and their homage to those who came before them spills from their veins and into their art that never has sounded stronger.
I have fairly strange reading patterns in that I’ll tend to spend long periods of time getting into fiction novels, mostly series, and tearing through them before I sink into a different set of interconnected books, something that seems to last until I run out of steam for a while. There’s something about a series that keeps my interest engaged and my thirst for reading at a high level.
Swiss black metal force Aara obviously isn’t cranking out books, but they’re keeping up with their recorded material that has exploded over the past few years, releasing four full-length albums ever since they arrived in 2018. Their latest is “Triade II: Hemera,” the middle part of their trilogy about 1820 novel Memloth the Wanderer by Irish Protestant clergyman and playwright Charles Robert Maturin, telling the story of a man who sold his soul to the devil for another 150 years of existence on earth. Maybe that was a better deal in the 19th Century than it is now. The band’s hyper-melodic, emotionally charged black metal reaches even higher levels on this record, and the band—vocalist/lyricist Fluss, guitarist/bassist/sample maker Berg, drummer J.—finds a way to bridge the work from the first part here and then stretches it even further into the stratosphere. They keep getting markedly better.
“Phantasmagorie” gets off to a strange start as noises waft, the sounds collect, and then the guitars churn and catch fire, bursting with strangling melodies. The leads spiral as Fluss’ vocals pierce your hearing and burrow into your brain, her shrieks slicing you apart. Angelic chorals well, something that ties it sonically to Part 1, the pace crushes, and atmospheric energy leaves everything smeared into the earth. “Adoaina’s Elegien” delivers guitars that tidal wave, rushing shrieks, and soaring playing that makes it feel like your brain is taking a journey beyond. A tornadic pace does ample damage, the energy gusts, and the track comes to an infectious conclusion. “Sonne der Nacht” explodes with life, starting with vocal sampling mesmerizing, and the punishment is off to the races. Harsh wails and clean singing merge as a riff cloud explodes, and everything races so fast, it feels like you’ll get lost in the dust. Spacious wonder and buzzing riffs combine while the vocals dig their way into your psyche.
“Das Dunkel der Welt” begins fairly inauspiciously with hand drumming and the sense we might feel some calm, but it’s a misdirection. Instead, another relentless assault mounts as riffs speed dangerously, increasing the savagery of the storm, and then acoustics wash in, combining with the heavy heat to leave you gasping and wilted. “Strepitus Mundi” gets off to a menacing start as the shrieks lace and the whirlwind pace captures you and sweeps you up with the storm. Things melt into a strange aura before the playing gets burlier, and the melodies crash the gates. Riffs cascade as brainwaves are stimulated, the end ripping out in a gasp. “Mitgift” closes the album knees deep in dark matter, the riffs sparking rage that teams up with the scathing shrieks. The tempo is tremendous, something that can envelope you whole, everything feeling like it’s spinning out of control. A brief chill freezes your cells, the shrieks crash land, and the final moments lead to a numbing that buries you in the clouds.
Aara’s musical retelling of Memloth the Wanderer certainly feels connected to part one of this trilogy, but “Triade II: Hemera” also is its own beast not only from the section of the story it revisits but from the new sonic wrinkles it delivers. This is a really exciting record, which is an understatement since Aara exist on a plane where blood rushes with explosive poise. This is a band growing before our eyes and ears, and their exhilarating blend of black metal easily can capture you and take you away to a time and place you’ve never witnessed before.
If feels like it was just last week that we were celebrating Roadburn and the endless supply of creative endeavors no one ever expected to see and yet, lo and behold, they now exist alongside us. We have that annual gathering to thank for Converge, Chelsea Wolfe, and other heavy hitters giving birth to “Bloodmoon,” and we just had that mammoth Thou/Mizmor project dropped in our willing laps.
The doomed 2020 version of Roadburn still bears fruit as we finally have the long-awaited union of Vile Creature and Bismuth, two doom powers that have a lot in common musically but contribute entirely different magical creations into the heavy music world. This project originally was commissioned for the 2020 fest, and it finally saw the main stage at this year’s version. Even better for us non-travelers, The Flenser is rewarding the rest of the world with the studio version of this creation, the amazing 40-minute, single-track “A Hymn of Loss and Hope.” Combining Vic (vocals) and KW (guitars and vocals) of Hamilton, Ontario’s Vile Creature (their pets also have a hand in this, if just from animalistic inspiration) with Tanya (bass, piano, vocals) and Joe (drums) of Nottingham, England’s Bismuth, these forces meld seamlessly as a greater whole, one that delivers might and passion that would shift the earth off its axis. The recorded version is devastating enough that I can only image those left in the aftermath of their cataclysmic live performance.
“A Hymn of Loss and Hope” bleeds into the scene and slowly builds from there, using nautical hypnosis to ease you into this 40:20-long opus, eventually penetrating your mind with shrieks and throbbing doom. The pace continues on that path the next few minutes, adding pressure, carving your flesh with harsh howls, eventually glazing shimmering guitars before noise chokes and mauls. The playing lumbers viciously, and a molten flow leads to the drums savagely erupting, making it feel like a mythical beast is crashing through the earth’s crust. Sorrowful melodies follow, making your heart swell, then sinister riffs signal an even darker turn than what we’ve faced so far, itself a harrowing reality. The moodiness turns into a thick fog, sweeping clean singing chills muscles, and a dreamy vortex opens and disorients, bleeding and crawling, the shrieks carving bone, the melodies swelling. The playing hammers, leads gather momentum, and rumbling disappears into a cataclysmic glow that laps over the horizon.
I can only imagine how incredible this collaboration must have sounded at Roadburn with both forces coming together and adding even more thunder and texture to “A Hymn of Loss and Hope.” This studio version is an excellent representation of the magic these creative forces conjured together, and these 40 minutes melt by in no time, leaving you emotionally arrested. Here’s hoping this creative union is one that has legs and that we hear more from these devastating forces together again.
Pain and disillusionment have become far too etched into our DNA as people to be able to live peacefully, accept small failures, and try to meaningfully treat mental wounds that never seem to heal. It’s almost like we’re preconditioned to this life, and when we have to deal with our own shortcoming as humans, it all becomes too much. Where is the value for us?
Hopefully no one shows up for a Cavernlight record for a pick-me-up jolt, but leaning into their soul-crushing second album “As I Cast Ruin Upon the Lens That Reveals My Every Flaw” is a confrontation with the void that might be impossible to overcome. Over eight tracks and about 40 minutes, the band—Scott Burns (guitars, vocals, lyrics, programming, violin, accordion), Caleb Cheslock (guitar, vocals), Brandon James (bass, piano), Adam Bartlett (drums, vocals, lyrics)—examines the endless tire fire that is trying to exist fruitfully and productively in the midst of so much misery, hatred, crimes, pestilence, and death. Even when one takes their own self-inventory, trying to make those improvements we all crave still exists in a place that’s always going to try to cut us off at the knees.
“Accepting the Fate I’ve Crafted” begins about as dourly as possible with the music slowly dawning and a voice warbling, “I hate feeling like shit all the time, I’m sensitive to light and sound, I’m so empty, lonely, I have nothing.” It goes on from there and gets no more positive as ominous howls join the mix, and the mood crushes wills. The wails melt, pain and hopelessness thrive, and the howl of, “Everything that feeds this life will vanish,” puts a devastating exclamation point at the end. “Gaze Into the Glow and Drift Into Time” arrives with strange noises and the drums eventually kicking through walls, then the growls scrape away flesh as the punishment builds. The playing thickens and bleeds through every pore, and electronic corrosion meets and eats away at any bone fragments remaining. “Material” sparks as howls rush, and the blackness spreads across the sky, darkening the earth. Electro pulses shift as the riffs rip out muscle, and then everything stumbles upon a dank path, the cries of, “No mystical, no spiritual, no supernatural,” eliminating any hope that faith could save you. “A Shimmering View” wallows in hell and a haze of dream as the call of, “I make sincere attempts to engage and interact with the world, but most days feel like I’m watching it all through a shimmer, a reflection,” adding to the emotional tumult. It feels like being lost in a mist before the sludge thickens and bubbles, the power slices back, and everything comes to an ominous end.
“The Ashes of Everything I’ve Failed to Be” smashes your sense as it arrives, mixing clean calls and menacing shrieks, the playing mauling completely until a cold front arrives. The guitars liquify and slither, scathing whispers crawl down your spine, and then everything bursts anew, piling on top of you, destroying with impenetrable heat. The title track does damage right off the bat, vile howls jab under the ribcage, and cold rains soak you, leaving you shaking and shivering beyond your control. “This dungeon of puss and piss, it oozes, and it drips, and it gathers around my feet, it cannot stand, these walls will crumble,” doesn’t brighten the mood, and fiery doom get thicker and meaner, blood rushes to the surface, and a disorienting soundscape devours everything whole. “Prelude” is a quick track, a scene setter as it were that’s hypnotic and spacey, the detached voice returning as she confesses, “This is all big mistake we call life, this isn’t living, it is a lazy proof of existence. Where is the sense of being?” “To Reconcile a Virulent Life” is the closer, and just when you think you can take no more, you’re given no choice as the bottom drops, and the riffs encircle and dement your mind. Heaviness mixes with more delicate sounds, not so much as a power struggle but as a way to coexist in pain. Shrieks and growls pay off the devastation, sounds are break down into dust, and distortion blends into moaning human agony, the final words, “I don’t want to live anymore,” burying positivity forever.
Cavernlight haven’t minced words or used kid gloves when conveying crippling depression and terminal hopelessness, and they layer that thick on, “As I Cast Ruin Upon the Lens That Reveals My Every Flaw.” If you only learned of the band just now, that title alone should give you an indication as to what lies ahead, but even that isn’t preparation enough. This is an emotional chasm informed by scars that only get uglier, stress that suffocates, and suffering so severe it can’t even be soothed temporarily.
We’re closing put the week with more bloody history involving this country, the United States if you’re not aware, and some of the atrocities that led to death and destruction of native and indigenous people who lived in the United States and North America. Deadly clashes took place for about 150 years, with the people who inhabited this land in the first place defeated with their country taken from them.
That’s a rudimentary explanation, and it would take a lot more space than we have to get into all of that. Canadian black metal duo Vital Spirit aren’t here to necessarily give a history lesson on debut full-length album “Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind,” but the band goes back to specific struggles during this time period and flesh them out with their devastating sound. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kyle Tavares (Seer, Wormwitch) and drummer Israel Langlais (also of Wormwitch) also smear a hefty dose of Western nostalgia and Americana strains to these songs, making it feel cinematic and atmospheric in a way that can make you dream of dusty trails and midnight gazing. The band covers events including Battle of Blanco Canyon, Taos Revolt, Long Walk of the Navajo, and Red River War in an exploratory and riveting manner, possibly sending you to learn more about the events behind these tracks that quake with fire. On the record, the band also is joined by cellist Christopher Brown (Kakophonix, Osi and the Jupiter) who provides crucial added texture.
“Blood and Smoke” kicks off with a total explosion, shrieks firing away, melodic rage becoming a greater force with every second it consumes. Acoustics bring a brief respite of calm before a steely Western vibe grows larger, horns calling out the feeling of vintage cowboy fire. “Bad Hand” ignites with savagery as the shrieks maul and scalding guitars leave burns across your flesh. The guitars pick up the intensity as the storms rage dangerously, the guitars churning and dripping out with moody strings. “Dawn of Liberty” stomps hard as it opens, the growls thundering and gutting, the playing consumed by carnage. The playing turns energetic and catchy, aligning with your bloodstream and delivering echo very much triggering Ennio Morricone haunting. Then the pace charges anew, shrieks cave skulls, and the drums decimate, ending in an ashen pile. “The Long Walk” taps in, guitars begin to light up, and the fires are stoked as a mammoth riff makes ripples in the earth. A combo of shrieks and growls batter while the rampage swells, halting ever so briefly before strings lather, chimes ring, and the sparks leans into the thick cloud cover.
“Withering Fire” smashes through the gates, the guitars rise and char, and the atmosphere suddenly grows more intense as the band thrashes heavily. The guitars explore space as notes ring out in your ears, and the final moments get your heart racing before the track disappears into the air. “Saccharine Sky” is a wondrous thing, a track that feels like it basks in dusty ethos of eras past, the moody noir feeling like carving out a cowboy’s heart. Strings stretch, horns echo in the distance, and the psychedelic elements drip like saline solution into your body. “White Eyes” is animalistic and vicious as it arrives, storming across the land and grabbing anything not nailed down into its tornadic gust. The drums rush as the shrieks spike your skull, the guitars leave you hopelessly dizzy, and melodies spit lasers and bowed strings into your mind. Closer “Lord of the Plains” starts clean and easy before the riffs aggravate wounds, and the heavy melodies mount their attack. Vile growls pull teeth as the heat briefly subsides before the temperatures rocket back to unmanageable levels. The riffs tangle your veins, vicious howls exact heavy damages, and acoustics and strings take over the pressure, lulling you into a cold front that soothes your wounds and lets you have a gasp of peace.
Vital Spirit’s enthralling debut “Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind” is a landmark effort for the smattering of bands lately that have paid honor to the West, bringing glistering dreams from the past soaked in blood and pain. This record unloads from the start, but it has so much texture and wonder, ideas that leave you dreaming about a time long past that remain a heavy part of this continent’s DNA. This record totally consumed me the first time I heard it, and each subsequent visit has allowed my mind to wander into newer terrain, the music and themes feeling richer and bolder along the way.