PICK OF THE WEEK: Prog & thrash unite as Hammers of Misfortune unleash new fire on ‘Overtaker’

Every band has a style and a sound on which you pretty much can rely, strange wrinkles aside. You know you’re getting top-flight metal from Iron Maiden. You can guarantee Panopticon will deliver woodsy black metal with a side of bluegrass. You can be assured Metallica will serve thrash metal with some strange diversions into the “Load” era. Amon Amarth? Melody and Vikings.

When it comes to Hammers of Misfortune, the anticipation isn’t so easy. Sure, you’re in for riffs, top-notch vocals, be it clear or harsh, and a hefty serving of dramatics. But you never can fully anticipate how it’s going to hit you. Well, on their seventh album “Overtaker,” the guessing game gets deliciously out of control as they present their most aggressive record to date, but one that still pulls in their cavalcade of progressive tricks. The album, not initially intended as a Hammers record but that became one when some of its family of players returned to the fold, is part heyday thrash and part ’70s prog, and it is fucking glorious. The main band contains Jamie Myers on vocals; John Cobbett on guitars, bass, mellotron, and solina; Blake Anderson on drums, piano, and timpani; and Sigrid Sheie on Hammond B3 and backing vocals. Other than Anderson, the other three all date back to “The Locust Years,” with Cobbett its longtime mastermind. Joining them are former member Mike Scalzi (The Lord Weird Slough Feg) on vocals; Frank Chin (Crypt Sermon, Daeva) on bass; Tom Draper (Spirit Adrift, Pounder) as guest guitar soloist; Steve Blanco (Imperial Triumphant) on synth solos; and Brooks Wilson (Crypt Sermon) on backing vocals. That a massive team to pull off a killer record that’ll take off your head but also dazzle you with power. Try to listen to this and not feel instant happiness.  

The title track opens and immediately rips as Myers’ singing powers, and sinister guitar work eats away, adding a heaping dose of darkness. Murky synth blends in as the melodies blind, and Myers’ voice utterly snarls as the playing pummels and echoes away. “Dark Brennius” simmers in vintage keys as Scalzi’s familiar and unmistakable voice howls, the band thrashing heartily. The playing is intense and sometimes gleefully zany, dramatic twists and turns adding electricity and character, the guitars going off and catching fire as everything comes to a haunting end. “Vipers Cross” begins with keys rushing and the guitars getting the blood flowing, Myers howling and jarring your heart. Organs sprawl and increase the progginess, and then things go cosmic, the playing zipping through time and space, bleeding infectious strangeness. “Don’t Follow the Lights” is a brawler, bleeding out of icy keys into full-on thrash, Myers warning, “They’re not what they seem!” over the chorus, discouraging your trust in the light. The energy glistens and feels wonderfully ambitious, Myers’ voice calls into the distance, and the playing rushes hard before burning off its energy. “Ghost Hearts” has keys heating up and the leads boiling and blistering, Myers flexing her power and increasing your heart rate. Vicious, scathing bursts go for your throat, guitars lap and lather, the bass chugs, and bruising is left behind.

“Outside Our Minds” thrashes heavily as the keys add an adventurous texture, Myers’ singing driving the emotion. A psychedelic wash adds numbing energy, the guitars scorch, and the keys sprawl, the splintering power dealing heavy blows. “The Raven’s Bell” slashes away as the guitars swirl, and the tempo jabs through your mid-section. The playing shuffles as organs lather with psychedelic sheen, shrieks rip, and the pace picks up and destroys, dealing monstrous, thrashy punishment. “Orbweaver” is rousing and exciting, Myers’ vocals increasing your adrenaline levels before calm arrives. That settles the waters a bit and adds dreamy gazing. But it’s temporary as the shrieks send chills down your spine, the playing dashes and excites, and fluid energy ravages you completely. “Overthrower” serves aggressive riffs and Scalzi returning on vocals, the playing threatening and forcing wounds to fester. The pace is delirious in spots, and at times the keys enter to change the temperature and add haziness, but the energy underneath is undeniable, carrying you into the middle of the battle. Closer “Aggressive Perfection” unloads with mauling thrash and the keys coating like a syrup, the howls hissing as the pace picks up and murders the gas pedal. Maniacal howls echo in the night, the leads explode and give off thick smoke, while the frosty bass freezes your cells. Darkness sprawls as the fury multiplies, the thrashing encircling and drilling into the earth’s molten core.

There isn’t a twist or turn that scares Hammers of Misfortune, and while “Overtaker” is their most unexpected release in their vast catalog, it’s also not really a surprise to anyone who has been following along. This vile mix of aggressive thrash and dramatic prog rock energy suits this band perfectly and is an ideal statement for the chaotic times in which we are entrenched. This record is a joy to behold, a destructive reunion of forces that belong together, and a statement that heavy metal has no rulebook, and anyone who adhere to regulations will be consumed by the Hammers’ relentless fire.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://hammersofmisfortune.bandcamp.com/album/overtaker

Celestial Season strike back for a second time in 2022 with doomy, melancholic effort ‘Mysterium II’

This is the time of the year that the dreaded seasonal disorder starts to rear its ugly head with winter nearly on our doorsteps. It gets dark earlier, and the sunshine so many of us vitally need for our mental health is in short supply. It’s very real, and I’ve seen it in my own life manifest itself and drive misery and hopelessness deep into one’s psyche.

If you seek a musical accompaniment to that phenomenon or just need a dark friend with which to share the experience, “Mysterium II” is as good as anything else you might find. The second release this year from long-running Dutch death-doom vets Celestial Season packs that morbid and dismal punch you might be seeking. Over six tracks that serve generous portions of heavy shadows, the band—vocalist Stefan Ruiters, guitarists Olly Smit and Pim van Zanen, bassist Lucas van Slegtenhorst, violinist Jiska Ter Bals, cellist Elianne Anemaat, drummer Jason Köhnen—dig deeply into themselves to lather this record with thunderous highs and gut-wrenching lows, an ideal piece of music for this time of the year. It also speaks to the band’s ambition that this second in a trilogy of albums arrives a mere seven months after “Mysterium I” dropped in April, and this also is their third record since returning to action two years ago after a two-decade layoff. If they’re making up for lost time, they are doing it as prolifically and powerfully as humanly possible.

“The Divine Duty of Servants” begins under doomy, cloudy skies as the growls slither, and the atmosphere grows more ominous as it develops. The tempo lurches as the mystery builds, the playing launches cement blocks, and the growls crush as the horizon darkens as the fog swallows everything whole. “Tomorrow Mourning” enters amid quivering strings and menacing growls as the playing keeps pounding harder, and heavy sorrow encompasses everything, slipping into bleary guitars and the feeling that the edge of the night is permanent. The leads take on a David Gilmour weepiness, the pace wrenches and squeezes the breath from your lungs, and voices warble as the strings scar and leave blood streaks behind. “Our Nocturnal Love” is an instrumental piece built on teary piano, strings lathering, and heavy emotion pushing the moon over the sky, knifing open an entrance for a storm.

“In April Darkness” dawns with beaming guitars and whirring strings as the growls begin to gut. The guitars then get even more foreboding as morbidity spreads its wings, layers are built on top of each other as the emotions get more intense, and the melodies lap onto the glass-covered shore. “The Sun the Moon and the Truth” opens with guitars drizzling and a slow, somber ambiance becoming an early factor. An angelic haze mixes with fiery playing, rupturing as the heavy growls knife ribcages, and the strings sweep in order to amplify the sadness. The playing crushes slowly, the darkness flourishes, and the final moments drive the dagger deeper. Closer “Pictures of Endless Beauty – Copper Sunset” practically melts in streams from ice, the vocals slithering with the emerging strings. Clouds get thicker and grayer, and tormented melodies add pressure to your heart, the guitars flowing painfully and sorrowfully. A somber glaze bleeds over top, the playing continues to flow with force, and the final embers leave the intimidating horizon devoid of light.

Celestial Season haven’t let a moment slip by them, adding “Mysterium II” to the first volume released earlier this year and giving us another gloomy chapter to end this dying year. The melancholic and thorny approach to this record makes for fitting late-autumn listening when the light expires early, and seasonal disorders begin tapping on our tired shoulders. This is dark, beautiful, and sinister, a record that lives alongside your pain and fears and makes them less intimidating to address.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.burningworldrecords.com/collections/burning-world-records

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

Ocean of Ghosts unleash rage, sorrow over trans hatred on ‘I Am Awake and My Body Is on Fire’

As the alleged “greatest country on the earth,” the United States and the people in power sure do a shit job making its people feel safe and secure. Well, unless you’re white and straight and Christian. You’re fine, and I know you’ve been pining for some persecution status, but that’s ridiculous. Gay and trans people have been victimized for real, and the hatred that’s brewing feels like it’s not decreasing.

It’s an ideal time for a record such as “I Am Awake and My Body Is on Fire,” the new record from Ocean of Ghosts, a project long helmed by sole member FC (also of Bury Them and Keep Quiet). On this five-track firestorm of emotion, FC addresses and delves deeply into the anger and frustration of presenting and living life as a transgender person in America, a hellscape that has a major political party trying to write legislation to silence and end these people. FC sees her existence in a country that doesn’t want her to exist and feels the pain and frustration, but she’s taking this moment to live who she truly is and fully embrace her identity. The title of this piece hammers that point home, and the music is an absolute force, something that hopefully can be cathartic and a battle axe for other people living with same experience. Also, a portion of all sales will be donated to TransHealth, an independent and comprehensive healthcare center that supports and empowers trans and gender-diverse individuals and families. You can find their site here: https://transhealth.org/

“Dysphoria/Revenge” is the 12:39-long opener, and it’s an adventure, beginning with murky, foggy transmissions, feeling through the darkness and burning with somber energy. The mystery builds and beckons, then FC’s shrieks rage across worlds, crushing as the playing slowly pulls you into the void, adding soot and anger that you practically can taste. The clouds and torment collect as gut-wrenching darkness implodes, taking you with it, the guitars drone and add layers of cement-thick doom, and the final strains spiral into the enshrouded beyond. “Glorious Wrath” opens with desperate calls and a doomy pall, the guitars cutting through along with FC’s monstrous howls. The pace swells as melodic cries lurk in the background behind the gristle, off-kilter leads make the room spin, and heavy hypnosis has its way with your psyche pushing toward a burly finish.

“Trauma” brings mauling riffs and crushing shrieks, the power flattening the ground it treads, clean calls swishing behind it all. Throaty howls send jolts through the system as the riffs get hotter and encircle, spacious playing offers an infusion or air, and muddy trudging trails out into the cosmos. “Nothing” starts with warbling, disorienting voices, then vicious howls land blows, the riffs warping as a sinister groove is achieved. A gust of strangeness makes any sense of comfort short lived, the guitars rip into flesh, and strange singing haunts and leaves your body cold. Closer “Disgust” heaves static and moves deliberately, the playing getting increasingly heavier, the doomy power gutting. Growls scrape as the playing lurches along, making you pay the price, and then things slip into mysterious terrain that tears into your brain. The guitars engulf, the fires are further agitated, and noises hover overhead, ending everything on an uncomfortable note.

I cannot imagine the torment and hatred that face people like FC who are just trying to live as their genuine selves and still find anger and lack of compassion from so many people in modern society. “I Am Awake and My Body Is on Fire” is a title that tells you a lot from first glance, and then delving deeper into this latest Ocean of Ghosts release reveals the true fury and longing built into these songs. It’s fucking ridiculous people such as FC have to live based on other people’s hate, but until that time comes when this isn’t the case, these types of records and projects will be here to live in defiance and lash back against oppressors.

For more on the band, go here: https://oceanofghosts.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://fiadh.bandcamp.com/album/i-am-awake-and-my-body-is-on-fire

Or here: https://vitadetestabilisrecords.bandcamp.com/album/i-am-awake-and-my-body-is-on-fire

Or here: https://realmandritual.bandcamp.com/album/i-am-awake-and-my-body-is-on-fire

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

And here: https://vitadetestabilis.com/

And here: https://www.facebook.com/realmandritual/

PICK OF THE WEEK: High Command weave tales from Secartha into thrash on vicious ‘…Dual Moons’

Two things that solidified my love all of things metallic were heaviness and storytelling, both of which hooked me into the style of music I write about multiple times per week. Thrash metal was the first thing that drove me into more aggressive sounds, yet the adventures spun by Iron Maiden, Dio, Queensrÿche and bands of that ilk locked in the fantastical elements. Unbreakable bond solidified.

From the time I came to know of them, thrashers High Command checked off all the boxes, delivering a sound that feels transported from the ’80s heyday but with their own edge and a world they created that is the center point for their music. Their second record “Eclipse of the Dual Moons” is a massive late-year treasure, an eight-track, 48-minute excursion into the world of Secartha (the concept is similar to Immortal’s Blashyrkh) and the events and chaos abound in that place. The band—vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald, guitarists Ryan McArdle and Mike Bonetti, bassist Chris Berg, drummer Ryan Pitz—deliver mashing goodness, staying true to the roots of the subgenre but adding their own mark to their formula. I’ve loved everything this band has put out to date, and this record is another massive high point.

The title track gets things starting, rampaging in and opening a wild pace. This is thrash. The real shit. You can just feel it in your bones. “The sky will collapse into madness, the rift will emerge beneath the eclipse of the dual frost moons,” Fitzgerald howls as gut punches land, the guitars catch fire, and everything ends as viciously as possible. “Immortal Savagery” chugs in as menacing vocals slice, and a calculated drive amplifies the menace. The playing speeds up and warps your brain, the chorus punishes, and wild howls belt as things naturally bleed into “Imposing Hammers of Cold Sorcery” that smashes right away. Guitars dice as the throaty howls bring you to your knees, the leads spiraling before the guitars detonate. Speed takes off as the devastation increases, the howls getting meatier, the playing more aggressive, and the spoken calls to the warriors of Secartha chilling you to the bone as the battle plans are set. “Omniscient Flail of Infamy” fades in, feeling like an homage to Metallica’s old tricks, and then a letter from Veeanithzar is read as the world crumbles. The storm lands and makes its presence felt, vicious power leads, and everything ignites, fighters crushing enemies in front of them and making the violence worth the effort.

“Fortified By Bloodshed” has organs blazing and the band pumping your blood with vintage thrashing, dark forces uniting and carrying the energy into war. “Strengthened by violence, fortified by the souls of those that died, summoned from death to kill again,” Fitzgerald wails as the intensity somehow increases, twin guitar lines glimmer, and the final howls send you for a loop. “Chamber of Agony” begins with acoustic strains as the darkness spreads, wallowing in misery before explosions leave you gutted. Dark, cloudy synth creates strange visions, the playing snakes and spirals, and muscular howls bruise as everything comes to a vicious end. “Siege Warfare” speeds and stomps with horror, shrieks killing, and a simple chorus of, “Siege warfare!” make for something shouted back energetically live. Soloing explores and lights up the sky, the playing goes for broke, and muscles are put to the test before finally relenting. Closer “Spires of Secartha” is the longest track, running 11:59 and slowly dawning. Another frosty dialog sets the scene as the playing gets aggressive and punishing, storming and ripping through the mounting assault. Defiance is thick as Fitzgerald vows the spires will not fall and will remain standing long past their enemies draw breath, calling, “Time to die, you will crumble beneath my wrath.” The pace is hammering and relentless, and then victory bells begin to chime, acoustic passages rise, and somber strings add an element of finality, bringing on an elegant finish that glimmers in the atmosphere.

High Command’s second full serving of tales from Secartha is a rousing, excellent serving of thrash and storytelling, something the masters always do so well. “Eclipse of the Dual Moons” is an apocalyptic, violent, and righteous tale that’ll challenge you physically and mentally, stretching you to your limit. It’s not easy to find great thrash records that understand the spirit of the style and also leave the artist’s fingerprints, but High Command do that here with great precision and power, weaving a fantasy world of their making into which you’re easily pulled in for the fight.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://southernlord.com/store/high-command-eclipse-of-the-dual-moons/

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

Progressive stormers Elder let mind wade in infectious warmth on exploratory ‘Innate Passage’

Photo by Maren Michaelis

There has been so much going on the past few years from a pandemic to contentious elections to cultural wars that put those defending the rights of the oppressed vs forces that aim to keep them buried. One of those alone would be enough to fuel a volatile adventure, and while we’re all tied into this shared chaos, we’re all on our own trajectory on whatever path we have chosen.

That’s a similar thought pattern Elder was on when creating their dynamic sixth record “Innate Passage,” another fiery, contemplative slab of progressive power that should unite listeners of myriad extreme sounds be it rock or metal. This band— vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Nicholas DiSalvo, guitarist/keyboardist Michael Risberg, bassist Jack Donovan, drummer Georg Edert—always has created music that provokes thought and impacts philosophically and psychologically, but their position in history enabled them to expand even further on this record. This album that stretches over five tracks and 54 minutes leans less on heaviness (though it’s still served generously) and aims for more atmosphere and immersion, drawing you deep within its core and stimulating your senses.

“Catastasis” enters like waking from a foggy dream as you work to reorient your senses, then the sounds begin to flood, and the synth gaze explodes. DiSalvo’s smooth but powerful singing is a familiar strain, and the band keeps building the intensity, taking time to set an ambiance but always promising the next burst. The leads fire up as harmonized singing stings, the energy surges, and the massive atmosphere ruptures and ends in a display of cosmic keys. “Endless Return” dawns with keys shimmering and DiSalvo powering over top with his voice, the leads bubbling and rousing around him. Blood rushes as the melodies thicken, the playing pulsating before going cold for a moment, returning with infectious, adventurous playing, the mellotron filling your head with vintage richness. Lush playing calls, the energy becomes a factor again, and proggy thunder strikes and leaves bruising behind.

“Coalescence” trickles in and maintains a fluid pace, exciting and continually awakening new ideas. Keys blanket as the singing joins about four minutes in once we’re fully engulfed, and everything keeps digging harder. The ground rumbles as the warmth from the guitars thaw your limbs, and sun-splashed vibes gives off a burnt, summery edge. The keys pick up as the singing thickens and soars, and the playing dazzles before slowly fading. “Merged In Dreams – Ne Plus Ultra” is the longest track at 14:44, and it comes to life, blending with swirling keys, the intensity galloping and sending up dust. A powerful and progressive breakdown follows, melting ice and breezing through as the guitars pick up and charge, making your heart pump before heading into space lab synth. That eases your mind before the playing jars again, the playing picks up the intensity, and the spirits heads into the cosmos. Closer “The Purpose” remains among the stars before the guitars blaze, and a deliberate pace keeps you engaged and drubbed. DiSalvo’s voice lands hard and powers and emotional chorus, and from there, the pressure gets thicker, and then the playing liquifies. Keys melt and chill the night, your mind wanders along with them into worlds unexplored, and delicate waters flow, taking you gently into the unknown.

Elder’s power is undeniable, and while “Innate Passage” isn’t their heaviest record to date, it’s one of their dreamiest and most immersive. And make no mistake, there is plenty of power behind these tracks, and no one here has gone soft by any means. This is a stream-of-consciousness-style display that fills your head with dreams, takes you on an enthralling journey, and returns you to reality, you wondering how nearly an hour has gone by so quickly.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://beholdtheelder.bandcamp.com/album/innate-passage

Or here: https://www.stickman-records.com/shop/elder-innate-passage/

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

And here: https://www.stickman-records.com/

Legendary In the Woods… thrive as upheaval leads to revamped sound on captivating ‘Diversum’

Photo by Runar Haugeland

Permanence is not a gift that the heavy metal world has enjoyed very often. It’s a volatile art form, performing it can be a mental and physical challenge, and losing the forces that helped create the music in the first place is as natural and expected as anything. Even the greatest powers in metal have gone through changes, and where they take their work is anyone’s guess once new people are in control.

Long-running Nordic force In the Woods… have had their fair share of revolving door chaos, which is going to happen to any band that managed to stick around for three decades. Their latest full-length “Diversum” is a product of further disruption in their ranks with only one member still here from their “Heart of the Ages” days, though that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to create thought-provoking, stimulating material. On this album, their sixth, the band—new vocalist Bernt Fjellestad, guitarist Bernt Sørensen, guitarist/keyboard player Kåre André Sletteberg, bassist/keyboard player Nils Olav Drivdal, drummer Anders Kobro (he’s the one who was on “Heart”), session keyboard player Alf Erik Sørensen—breathes amazing new life. Fjellestad is a godsend as their new frontman, a voice that takes them into new territories that the band explores with creative lust. It took me a few listens to fully adjust to this new version of In the Woods…, and now that I have, I am fully immersed, have completely bought in, and I hope this is just the beginning of an exciting new era.

“The Coward’s Way” starts dreamy before taking on an Enslaved-style edge, Fjellestad immediately flexing his pipes, which are formidable. “Redemption, exemption, it’s just a blade away,” Fjellestad wails over the very effective chorus as the playing soars, and the seeds embed themselves into your bloodstream. “Moments” brings heat with scorching leads and a mix of elegant singing and guttural howls. The vibe is catchy as hell as things gets muddier and heavier, strange speaking sends chills, and the chorus is another tidal wave that mows you down. “We Sinful Converge” is driven hard, angling toward gothic melody, the singing sowing the darkness. The chorus once again is massive, something the band knocks out of the park on this record. Thorny growls strike, the playing gets into strange fog, and the power jolts, the chorus coming back for one more ride. “The Malevolent God” is heavy and murky, though Fjellestad goes lush at first, balancing the terror. Guitars burn as the growls wrench, the playing goes off, and everything ends in a pocket of mystery.

“A Wonderful Crisis” spills in, Fjellestad’s voice taking off, reminding of Geoff Tate’s deeper singing back when he was at his apex. It’s hardly a surprise that the chorus crushes, the power flow is contagious and fills your guts with energy, and the emotion is thick and real, floating in darker waters as it washes away. “Humanity” bubbles to life with clean calls and the playing burning in place. Growls enter the mix as the band tilts toward elegance, allowing the sheen to envelope you before they reveal the thorns, navigating endless obscurity and trudging through your mind. “Master of None” is dark and cold, Fjellestad flexing his voice but also knowing when to remain subdued. The sweeping chorus pulls you under, howls rip at you and peel back flesh, and the guitars take over, elevating the temperature before slipping away. Closer “Your Dark” brings cool water and deep singing, diving into mid-tempo doom and absolutely selling the torment. Calm waters rush, though the power is there, growls carving into rib cages. The pace gets fiery and more aggressive, the chorus reaches back one final time, and the whole thing finds a gap in the clouds and sinks in forever.

In the Woods… are not strangers to upheaval within their ranks, and it would have been easy for “Diversum” to instantly wash out if the chemistry wasn’t right. But it is. It really, really is, and some tweaks to their sound and the emergence of Fjellestad on vocals were expert moves, making this one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year. I’ve been with the band through every one of their eras, and the one “Diversum” kicks off has me very excited for the future of this long-standing power.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://soulsellerrecords.aisamerch.com/

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

Mysterious force Arkæon warp darkness, black metal power to their will with ravaging ‘Parasit’

When I was a kid, I had a strange habit of going outside at night and scaring the shit out of myself. We lived near thick woods and did not live on a heavily traveled street, so I always imagined the strange beings that could lurk and pull me away to some horrible fate. I am in therapy, by the way, in case you’re wondering. But there was a rush in that fear that I can’t quite place.

Weirdly, that aura returned for me when taking on “Parasit,” the debut offering from Arkæon, a strange Danish black metal force that claims a spiritual connection with other bands including Tongues, Muspellzheimr, Ærkenbrand, NVLVS, and Gespenst. This is distressing, relentless, and bizarre black metal that brings back that sense of unease I had as a kid as I waited in vain for whatever alien being was going to abduct me in pitch blackness. The band—bassist/vocalist Antonius, guitarist Zarnak, drummer/vocalist Nohr—plays games with your psyche and takes aim at humankind, itself a parasite that eats away at the world in which it lives, doing damage that very few feel an ounce of regret for causing. The worst thing that ever happened to the earth was us, and it’ll find a way to choke out our lights in the end.

“Skagerrak” starts with chilling power before the playing starts to leave blisters early, storming and scrambling brain signals. Disorientation spreads as things get stranger, then the growls crush, and the bass slithers through dirt, flaming the savagery and flowing into “Smertens Vilje” that immediately grabs a chokehold and confounds with its stirring guitar work. It feels like a star destroyer soaring overhead, feeling cold and destructive, frantic bursts stabbing out of corners into the dark. The playing is jerking and ferocious, melodies dart into your face, and the growls lurch, bowing to a torrid of noises.

The title track brings tangling guitars and rubbery melodies that make this slice of death complicated and nasty. Prog-fueled energy bombards as vile howls enter the fray and multiply the panic, zany power charges strike, and a storming flow smears to the finish. “Forbrænde” dabbles in weird noises and humid terror, twisting chunks of flesh and increasing the intensity as psychedelic torment hovers. A monstrous path is cut as the guitars swelter, and terrifying growls penetrate minds. The playing fries circuits, ripping out nerves with a crazed tempo that burns off in the universe. Closer “Evig Trods” runs 10:26 and fires up into a rampage, shrieks scarring, and psychic torture twisting the knobs. The playing is dizzying and gargantuan, splitting your skull down the center, the vocals snarling as piano drips and echoes. Throttling, beastly energy takes its toll as hell opens up and swallows you whole.

It’s pretty hard to argue against humanity being an utter scourge to this planet, and Arkæon hammer home this point on “Parasit.” This is a record that spans the globes of black metal and also works as a psychological dagger to your senses, leaving a massive wound that eats at you. This debut is a harsh, violent message to those of us poisoning this place that our time isn’t long, and at any point, we can be wiped away, the earth left to heal from our crimes.

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

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://metalodyssey.8merch.us/

Or here (Europe): https://metalodyssey.8merch.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: SkyThala twist death metal to their strangling will on warping ‘Boreal Despair’

I miss being surprised. We have an insane amount of music available to us, what with the internet and all, and that can take away from the novelty of finding incredible bands that hit buttons we didn’t know we had. As an old, I remember when there wasn’t a flood of bands and music at our disposal, and finding something that’s truly a challenge doesn’t happen all the time. But it still happens.

Digging into “Boreal Despair,” the debut record from mysterious entity SkyThala, led to one of those discoveries that keeps you believing in ingenuity and finding something different. I don’t have a reliable lineup, but I found one that credits vocalist/guitarist Ryan Clackner (Arcane Morrow, Vile Haint, Primeval Well), keyboardist Edward Longo (Primeval Well), and drummer Sean Meyers (Beneath the Red Dawn), most of those bands existing on the Moonlight Cypress Archetype label, one that’s taken me over and made me a major fan. Just like the bands that exist there and on I, Voidhanger, this project’s label home, expect the unexpected. There is death metal at the core, but it branches well beyond that (Stravinsky is dropped as an influence) and proves the deadliest of the dark arts still can be bent to your will.

“Eternal Nuclear Dawn” is the 10-minute opener and is musically immersive as it starts before insane shrieks rattle the cages, ripping open and consuming everything in front of it. The playing gets proggy and daring, halting momentarily for keys to twist in the atmosphere, the pace engulfing and completely disorienting. Synth haunts as the violence increases, the howls lurch, and doom bursts through the gates, crushing to its merciful end. “Variegated Stances of Self Mockery” is the second-longest track, running 9:49 and spilling into eerie coldness that freezes before the playing spits lava. Savagery throttles as gothy winds blow, shrieks mar, and synth trumpets triumphantly, extending a blanket of fog. Sorrowful playing melts out of that, wiry pulsing works through your bones, and an atmospheric black metal push crushes and fades. “Boreal Phrenological Despair” teases before it fully explodes and confounds, the storming feeling oppressive and unmanageable. The shrieks strangle as delirious guitars tangle your brains, running into a strange and mangling force. Organs blare as the haunting truly gets under way, growls snarl, and a frantic pace jabs and blasts into dust.

“Rotted Wooden Castles” emerges from the murk, the riffs jerking and slithering, clouds enveloping and bringing on a massive chill. Shrieks ripple as the synth strikes, the leads glimmer, and everything goes on a strong run, rushing and wrenching. Howls slash the senses, a spastic burst bruises, and the menace finally bleeds away. “At Dawn They Walk” starts with synth pumps and mind-warping playing, the vocals crushing your will to live. The tempo gets delirious as organs rustle and send chills down your spine, and the guitar work even hints at jazzy elegance mixed with blood. The pressure mounts and chews at your synapses, storming and delivering vicious final blows. Closer “Yielding Quivers of Revolution” gets off to an unhinged start, surging through hell, chaotic winds whipping and eating into bones. The pace is relentless and dangerous, running into synth clouds and hanging in the air, blistering your swelling flesh. Acoustics arrive and add gentle haze, spirits waft through, and the final notes bend into time.

SkyThala push death metal into surprising, even sophisticated areas even while your brain is being utterly shredded. “Boreal Despair” is a record that needs time to sink in and multiple visits to fully grasp, and even then, the human brain can only stretch so far. This is a surprising, refreshing band and album from artists that have been making strange sounds deep in the underground for some time and are now ready to pierce the surface and infect everyone else.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100086637551901

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://metalodyssey.8merch.us/

Or here (Europe): https://metalodyssey.8merch.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

Doom force Foehammer stretch sound, weave fantastical color into face-mashing ‘Monumentum’

Some of the more interesting bands operating in the heavy music space are the ones that keep pushing forward and refuse to adhere to templates that have grown stale. The ability to push other buttons and take chances keeps things fresh and exciting, and while some listeners might get irritated they aren’t being served the same thing over and over, the ones with open minds eventually will understand.

Doom duo Foehammer—guitarist/vocalist Jay Cardinell, drummer Ben Price—created punishingly slow music ever since they arrived nearly a decade ago. And before you freak out, they’re not exactly running Iron Maiden-style gallops nor blast beats past you, so calm down. On “Monumentum,” their mammoth second record, a five-track double album, the band changes things up a bit. While they still heavily worship at the altar of lurching doom, there’s more aggression, some speedier sequences, and expanded imagination. Speaking of which, there also are homages to authors such as Ursula K LeGuin and Jorge Luis Borges as well as their own mythology they weave into this song, which makes this even more exciting and immersive.

Opener “Orm Embar” runs a healthy 14 minutes, the ground rumbling and Cardinell’s growls ripping through the earth’s crust. The playing is dark and deathly, plodding along as the band’s brutally deliberate pace enables the bruising to really set into the muscles. The tempo drives as the drums blister the flesh, a sinister vibe getting bigger and more troubling to battle.  “Oblivion of Sand” lands blows right away, pushing and scathing, slowly beating you into the ground. Guttural growls unleash their claws as the guitars heat up and spread, the drums blister, and the heat increases to a boiling level of danger, spitting strange energy. The growls crush as somber waters soak the ground, cosmic fog grows threateningly thick, and everything washes into the horizon.

“The Disk” brings massive aggression and destructive growls, pummeling and slashing away. The vocals bubble as the playing gets smothering and heavy, pounding brutally as guitars jolt and invade your nervous system. The tempo chews muscle, the playing scorches, and everything is left flattened. “The Great Cortege I – Accession of the Elder” is hazy and slow when it starts, opening into mysterious darkness, increasing the cloud cover. Guitars fry as the drums mash, the growls curdle, and the pace keeps pummeling, the menacing growls adding to the morbidity and draining the final drops of life. Closer “The Great Cortege II – Anointment of the Gift-Child” runs 14:20, the longest track here that starts by drilling into your guts. The ambiance is hypnotic but also devastating, noise wells and drones, and the menace becomes an even more formidable force with which to reckon. Heavy fire blasts, guitars create seismic waves, and the playing spirals into cosmic heat and eventually fades away.

Foehammer make a massive step forward with “Monumentum” as the duo adds more spice and savagery into their music and pepper you with doom that plods and always leaves you hanging on each note. The fantastical elements built into the music are completely at home and add an exciting element that helps this music rise above of the expected trappings of music this style. This is a meaty, hammering record that should earn this band more followers and leave bodies buried in their wake.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://silentpendulumrecords.com/collections/all-products

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

Epic doom legends Candlemass return with classic-era glory on fire-stoking ‘Sweet Evil Sun’

We are very lucky in that we live in a time when metal’s legends still are among us, creating great art and proving the style has true staying power even after its creators have spent so much time in the trenches. Judas Priest and Iron Maiden continue to make strong new records and tour, and having seen Metallica on their short stadium run this summer, it’s clear they still absolutely bring it.

That also applies to longtime doom standard bearers Candlemass, who continue to make strong music nearly 40 years into their run as a band. Just as the air is getting colder (actually, it was like 80 here today, but that won’t last…), this legendary act returns with “Sweet Evil Sun,” their 13th album and follow-up to 2019’s “The Door to Doom.” On this record, the band—vocalist Johan Lanquist, guitarists Lars Johansson and Mappe Björkman, bassist Leif Edling, drummer Janne Lind—digs back to their roots, delivering epic doom metal but also grounding that in where this stuff came from in the first place. Lanquist (who returned in 2018), Björkman, and Edling all date back to their “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” debut, and they still have the fire and ominous energy to be as relevant and fiery as they are on this album.

“Wizard of the Vortex” kicks off the record with crushing riffs and strong singing, two hallmarks of any good Candlemass song. The chorus is gothy and hearty, the soloing rips out and delivers electricity, and Lanquist calls, “Spreading her wings down, down, down, down,” as the track ends on a folkish note. The title track erupts with guitars blaring and melodies twisting, a classic 1980s feel driving through your blood. The soloing melts as the fiery pace kicks harder, and Lanquist howls, “Oh mother of the world, you are one.” “Angel Battle” is sinister with grittier singing and the guitars bringing aggression, Lanquist calling, “The war to end all wars.” Guitars melt as the playing turns into slow and doomy storming, rolling under thickening cloud cover and fading into steady rain and chiming bells. “Black Butterfly” powers with its blackening riffs, the murk hanging overhead and making the shadows feel more threatening. The band finds a way to get more haunting, the chorus smokes, and the guitar playing spirals into a pile of ash. “When Death Sighs” features Jennie-Ann Smith of Avatarium who adds her dramatic vocals to this stunner. The chorus is steamy and alluring as great darkness falls, the classic doom strains flex, and the calls of, “Now tell me who you love,” reverberate in your cells.

“Scandinavian Gods” is ominous with thornier singing and slow-driving, sooty playing that coats your face with black. “Sing for me brother, sister, and son, sing for the brave and old,” Lanquist bellows over the chorus, adding a catchy, dark edge to the playing, the soloing taking off into the sun. “Devil Voodoo” starts acoustically with the singing deliberately moving, the pace eventually bursting open. The chorus punishes as the guitar playing brings some bluesy heat, and then we settle back into slower, more delicate terrain as Lanquist calls, “Can I really do what you want me to?” as everything soaks into gothy soil. “Crucified” lets guitars utterly melt, kicking in and leaving dents in your skull, bringing a spirit that darkens the skies. The pace stews and steams, sludgy guitars emerge, and everything slowly evaporates into thin air. “Goddess” takes its time sinking in its hooks, while the vocals scrape prone flesh, Lanquist howling, “Do you really feel betrayed?” The guitars take off as the singing toughens, the power slithers, and the ominous call of, “The beginning of the end,” makes the aura feel apocalyptic. Closer “A Cup of Coffin” is a brief instrumental outro with the bass lurching, guitars heating up, and detached applause raining down and dropping the final curtain.

Candlemass obviously are legends of the doom genre, carrying the banner for four decades, and creating so much diverse music, even within their own catalog, that the world owes them a debt of gratitude. “Sweet Evil Sun” is a chance for this reworked version of the band, once that stretches all the way back to their formation, to flex their muscles and continue to prove the fire they have left for the world. This is a strong, immersive, powerful set from a band with nothing left to prove that continues to create great art regardless.

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

To buy the album (U.S./Canada), go here: https://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/

Or here (rest of the world): https://napalmrecords.com/

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