Mournful Congregation bridge to next record with smothering killer ‘The Exuviae of Gods – Pt II’

It’s probably not true to say nothing great ever was created in a rush, but more often than not, it takes time to make something that will stand the test of time. So, we and the creator must practice patience so that the thing we want isn’t hastily assembled, resulting in disappointment for the audience and the artist since something wasn’t baked long enough.

Yes, I want a new Mournful Congregation full-length pretty desperately as the last one we got was back in 2018 with the “The Incubus of Karma,” which ended a seven-year period after 2011’s “The Book of Kings.” This mostly Aussie unit isn’t in a hurry, and why should they be as the time it takes to make their epic records certainly takes a while. But the band has treated us kindly with a pair of EPs to bridge that gap, the latest being “The Exuviae of Gods – Pt II,” which follows the first installment last year. Again, the band—vocalist/guitarist Damon Good, guitarists Justin Hartwig and Ben Petch, bassist Ben Newsome, drummer Tim Call—delivers two tracks never heard before and one reworked cut, again from their “Epic Dream of Desire” demo from 1995, and it serves to fill in that gaping hole between proper records. And because it’s Mournful Congregation, it’s still 40 minutes long.

The updated and re-recorded “Heads Bowed” enters in solemn acoustics, washing over until the growls enter, the doom crushing into a sorrowful gaze. The guitars melt and unite as whispers swirl in the air, cosmic heat increases, and the guitars cascade as voices swirl. Lava slowly wells as acoustics return, an elegant haze bubbles to the surface, and some final crushing gusts land with atomic force. “The Forbidden Asylum” delivers heated guitars and detached growls, the melodies gliding as the sadness spreads. Elegant guitars spread their wings as the drums begin to punish, growls swelling as the playing glimmers. Guttural howls bathe in echoes, trudging through each meaty layer, scraping at your psyche as the devastation explodes with fire. Closer “The Paling Crest” is the longest track, running 18:39 and starting with acoustics and pastoral calls, moving glacially as the bass recoils. Growls wrench as moody guitars set in, leads begin to burn, and the growls gut as everything turns ice cold. Gentle breezes whip through as the bass gets jazzier, cold trickling making your flesh crawl as the trudging increases. The playing swells as the moodiness eclipses, chimes and rumbles set off the senses, and the guitars catch fire once more, slowly fading toward a sunburnt horizon.

The second installment of “The Exuviae of Gods” EP series is another mammoth effort that would be a full-on full-length record for almost every other band on the planet, a mere appetizer in Mournful Congregation’s orbit. These new tracks and the reworked version of an old gem make for a powerful, effective collection that makes a blistering whole with the first part of the series. Bridging the gap to a new album is an exciting prospect, and this great offering makes that journey more rewarding.

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Frigid crushers Frozen Soul put death metal to the violent test on mashing ‘Glacial Domination’

It’s the middle of May, and the warm times are back. Don’t yell at me over that term. That’s what people are calling it. It’s not terribly hot here on the East Coast of the U.S., but it’s been warm and mostly comfortable. I cut the grass two goddamn times this week. The days of frigid temperature and ice (you know, the cold times) seem far in the rearview, but shockingly that’s not the case. Temps are dropping.

That’s because we have the second full-length record from Dallas death metal crushers Frozen Soul at hand, which makes me want to call for a warm sweater and a hot beverage. “Glacial Domination” is an 11-track, 42-minute successor to the band’s killer debut “Crypt of Ice,” and if you were worried about the band losing momentum or falling victim to their sudden success, stop worrying already. They knock it out of the park here as the band—vocalist Chad Green, guitarists Michael Munday and Chris Bonner, bassist Samantha Mobley, drummer Matt Dennard—sounds channeled and well oiled, lashing back with a record that’s heavier, meaner, and even more frigid, destroying everything in their path with death metal that’s catchy as it is brutal. This album should only serve to swell their followers in even larger numbers and help them jam ice daggers in death metal’s throne.

“Invisible Tormentor” begins with strange synth clouding before the pace begins to trudge, vicious howls from Green rampaging alongside the dust. “Cowards blood, it runs through your veins,” Green wails as the track sludges and bruises. “Arsenal of War” unloads battle sounds as barked vocals lace into muscle, jarring loose your teeth. The track then begins to clobber slowly, grinding into the earth, the guitars chugging, and Green calling to a fallen friend, “Righteous soul to which I owe, I’ll carry your light
through dark and snow.” “Death and Glory” tears open, turning salty in a hurry, smoldering as the guts begin to get mixed with a rusty spoon. A hammering breakdown peels back eyelids, the leads stagger, and some final blasts dump bone dust into a pile. “Morbid Effigy” dawns amid strange noises before the earth quakes, muddy stampeding twisting the roots. The playing takes its time leaving bruising, deep growls amplify the brutality, and the heavy blows rob you of breath. “Annihilation” is a moody interlude with icy, sci-fi keys enveloping in a fog, leaving the surface coated in frost. “Glacial Domination” enters with the guitars directing and the melodies increasing, turning thrashy in a hurry. “You will feel my hate,” Green wails as the soloing surges, blistering and turning bodies inside out.

Band anthem “Frozen Soul” opens in cold synth and grim howls, guitars drilling their way through the earth to its core. The riffs encircle as the playing gets slower and morbid, the guitars then cutting in and spiraling recklessly, hammering until the chaos ends abruptly. “Assimilator” delivers storming guitars, snarling growls, and a chorus that rampages thoroughly, it’s one-word strike surely something that will be impactful live. The soloing goes off as meaty trudging works toward the center point, smearing to a synthy conclusion. “Best Served Cold” is a massive and nasty one centered on revenge, hence the title, and the raw growls amplify and chew through rock. The playing takes its time removing guts, and everything ends in suffocation. “Abominable” enters amid monster screams and terrifying carnage, a battering chorus turning up the heat in an otherwise frigid assault. The soloing mangles before the tempo squeezes marrow from bones, blasting until the final blood drops hit the ground. Closer “Atomic Winter” begins in Armageddon, punishing as the remains of the carnage “coats the earth.” The playing is calculating and numbing, the chorus tearing flesh from bone, disappearing into a synth fog.

After the huge success of “Crypt of Ice,” there was pressure on Frozen Soul when it came to the follow-up, and they melt expectations with “Glacial Domination.” These 11 tracks are massive, devastating pieces of work that maintain the band’s trademark catchiness and continues to increase the heaviness that even goes above their debut. This band keeps moving with impressive and violent momentum, and things won’t end until the band achieves said domination over all of death metal.  

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Nattehimmel’s experience fuels a black metal ship to space on ‘Mourningstar’

Black metal in this day and age largely is unrecognizable from its roots, which is actually a good thing since there’s so much variety in this form. Not that all bands today sound completely alien to what was going on three decades ago, but times have changed, influences have blossomed, and the boundaries stretched permanently. Chaos finally has been achieved.

Relatively new black metal force Nattehimmel reach way back into the past for their inspiration, but there certainly is plenty in their formula to prove they’ve picked up a lot of colors along the way. The members of this band are not new to metal or the subgenre as brothers Christian “X.” Botteri (guitars) and Christopher “C.M.” Botteri (bass) helped form the legendary In the Woods… together, and vocalist/keyboard player James “Mr. Fog” Fogarty fronted that band from 2015-2021. Drummer Sven Rothe played with the brothers in Strange New Dawn, and all of the members bring their shared experiences to this blossoming project. Their debut album “Mourningstar” is here, and it’s nine tracks and 45 minutes of classic black metal filtered through the cosmos and adding modern touches that complete the sound. It makes for an exciting, promising first record from these tried-and-true veterans.

“Mourningstar (Intro)” begins in a strange aura, guitars gently strummed, voices echoing as we rocket into “Astrologer” that’s majestic and powerful. Clean calls and shrieks encircle (and anyone who has heard Fogarty’s work with In the Woods… knows his power), and the playing stomps and causes blood to spill. “I sail into the skies above,” Fogarty calls as immersive keys flood, and the storm heads into the stars. “Each Man a Constellation” brings bellowing singing that trades off with grim screams, infernal majesty spreading its wings and gaining momentum. The playing splatters as the keys glaze, a cloudy haze beckoning, and then the track reopens, pouring down and then exiting into the clouds. “Armies of Tiamat” drops guitars that buzz saw and swelling singing, making for an imaginative journey that eventually runs into congestion. The guitar phrasing feels inspired by Maiden, “woah-oh” calls make your adrenaline spike, and shrieks rain down and leave the ground flattened.

“Slay the Shepherd” opens in glistening keys before the atmosphere thickens, the clouds bursting open and soaking the ground. Shrieks maim as a tornadic pace takes over and leads to a speedy adventure that jolts and then fades. “Mountain of the Northern Kings” unfurls a synth blanket and sinister guitars, the driving pace taking on a folkish flavor. The playing trudges, and the keys bleeding in gives this an Amorphis feel, turning hypnotic and heavy, the track icing over your brain. “Realm of Hades” is dark and foreboding, the singing and shrieks teaming to make a united front, the coldness making your nerve endings tingle. A giant gust pushes the ground beneath you, soulful singing gets into your chest, and the melodic storm breaks your will. “Tales of the Immortals” bludgeons amid a synth streak, the singing making a push to spike your emotions. The leads take off as shrieks welt flesh, guitars flood, and the tidal wave of fury takes you under. Closer “The Night Sky Beckons” opens in high drama, which is only fitting, and darker guitars thicken shadows before the melodies break out of that. Guitars spiral through the air, a gothy gush blackens your blood, and the power explodes and zaps to a finish.

Nattehimmel’s debut “Mourningstar” surely will be right up the alley for anyone still pining for In the Woods… of old or just anyone who wants to bask in dreamy yet blasting black metal. Each step of this record is exciting, and after 45 minutes, you’re full of stardust, contemplating the journey you just took. It’s pretty enthralling stuff, the work of forces who have lived this stuff and remain brimming with creativity and electricity.

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Bizarre force Botanist returns to thrive in moonlight on lush, inventive trip ‘VIII: Selenotrope’

Here on the East Coast of the United States, we are in full bloom, spring exploding with fresh leaves on trees, flowers and plants beginning to take over again, and cross-pollination adding to nature raging with life. Yeah, my allergies are attacking me pretty aggressively as a result, but it’s a small price to pay for the damage humanity has done to our surroundings.

That’s something sure to grab the attention of the Botanist, the central figure in the Verdant Realm created by the band Botanist whose story has been told over 11 full-length releases and a slew of smaller ones. The latest is “VIII: Selenotrope,” an eight-track, 56-minute adventure that is one of the most full-bodied creations under this banner, which has grown in scope over the years. Helmed solely by Otrebor (hammered dulcimer, drums, vocals, bass) for this album—the collective group for other recordings and live are Daturus (drums), Tony Thomas (bass), Mar (vocals, keyboards), and Krieger (dulcimer)—the music swells with life and the narrative based on plants that flower in moonlight continues the struggle of the main character and the words whispered to him by the inhabitants of the Realm. They know the harm that’s been done by humanity, and they lie in wait for their revenge.  

“Against the Selenic Light” starts vibrantly, shrieks and whispers mixing as the Botanist character and the plants who speak in his ear interact. Melodies crash and rupture as the madness swirls, the dulcimer hammers into echoes, and the wonders drain away. “Risen from the Rain” is practically jubilant when it arrives, whispers rushing, the drums pulsating as the track tears open. The playing trudges as shrieks rain down, melodies swell, and the drumming rattles into the air. “Epidendrum Nocturnum” brings a huge rush, raining down with emotion, a full chorus rattling your senses and making the adventure even richer. Angelic haze hypnotizes as clean calls chill, and breezy playing makes the hairs stand on your arms. “Mirabilis” jolts as the whispers and singing intertwine, crumbling and gusting as the dulcimer rings on your ears. The drums pace as the choral sections pump, coating the senses and transforming into a laser beam that cuts into the atmosphere.

“Angel’s Trumpet” gets off to a proggy start, whispers and lush singing dancing, drums pounding as the dust rises into the clouds. The playing gets breezier as the track tears open its mid-section, glorious singing stirring the stratosphere, everything blending into mystery. The title track starts with gentle strums, a gently flowing pace, and the chiming melodies making your senses come to life. Noises scrape, pushing you into a deep dream state, cold isolation ending this instrumental in the darkness. “Sword of the Night” has the drums kicking in and driving the pace, the whispers working down your spine. The playing goes a more haunting route, the hushed words taunt, and everything ends in a sci-fi aura. Closer “The Flowering Dragon” runs a massive 14:54 and immediately haunts, the choral portions creating steam, the energy melting bones. The playing gets more immersive as the singing glazes into a New Age feel, organs smoking as the energy bursts. Dulcimer chimes as the singing soars, the shrieks spread danger, and the fog envelopes as the playing ruptures. Immersion pulls you into the center as the final notes prick prone flesh before returning to the realm where it originated.

It’s been a wonder and a pleasure hearing Botanist’s music go from its raw, primitive roots to where it is now, a flourishing creature whose kingdom grows richer by the year. “VIII: Selenotrope” continues to open the narrative and the possibilities of this band that is anything but conventional and refuses to conform to expectations. The story continues, the lush green forest blossoms, and the terror at the heart of the music swells until humanity pays its deserved price.   

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Progressive beasts Yakuza blast back with warped metallic path on long-awaited journey ‘Sutra’

There are not many bands these days that are instantly identifiable right away as the saturation of every music scene has gotten to a point where individuality has become scarce. Metal is no different, and trust me, with all of the promos I get on a daily basis, there’s so little to differentiate bands from each other that it gets kind of comical. Ones that have a true identity must be protected.

I say that because we have “Sutra,” the latest release from long-running progressive metal band Yakuza, a band that truly stands on its own. It’s not just the element of sax in their music that makes them so easy to pick out of a crowd; it’s the way they play, construct, and unfurl their creations that it cannot possibly have been made by anyone else. It’s been almost 11 years since we heard from the band—vocalist/saxophone player Bruce Lamont, guitarist/backing vocalist Matt McClelland, bassist Jerome Marshall, drummer/percussionist James Staffel—which was on “Beyul” way back in 2012, and although the metal landscape has shifted significantly, Yakuza remain a strange beast all their own that is untouched by time and trend, creating another labyrinth work that challenges and mystifies.

“2Is1” opens in a cacophony of sound, cutting in and launching as Lamont’s unmistakable singing knifes into your chest. Leads recoil as things get weird, sweltering as the force picks up and melts in corrosion.  “Alice” chugs and jars, the singing coming for you directly, the haze adding a level of mental confusion that dips into the tale. A tornadic gust explodes as the playing blisters, strange transmissions confound, and everything ends in a sludge pit. “Echoes from the Sky” brings a guitar attack that goes for the ribs, jolting and zapping, crunching the bones in your chest. The leads explore the atmosphere as Lamont’s sax finally enters the picture, adding steam to the mix, combusting and disappearing into a vortex. Exhaust thickens as the sax calls, vibrating to the end. “Embers” is dark and alluring, pulling back and going trancey, hand drumming pacing the trip. Detached singing adds purposeful confusion as the pace toughens, the power crumbles, and the thrashy fury loosens your teeth. “Capricorn Rising” is a centerpiece, the sax wafting in, the pace slowly developing as it stretches its wings. The intensity spikes as Lamont’s voice bends time, the sax breezes in, and then things get more volatile, unleashing a proggy assault. Guitars spiral and smear, the speed increases and leaves blisters on the flesh, and Lamont repeatedly howls the title as the track comes to its end.

“Burn Before Reading” digs in and blows up, going ferocious quickly, vicious yelps helping liquify flesh. Sax calls as the temperature gets cooler, dark, and infectious, ending in a pile of dust. “Walking God” is brighter and more playful, Lamont calling, “We walk alone,” as the guitar work surges. The pace smashes through the gates, the vocals blister, and the guitar work snakes through dark waters, disappearing into strange tributaries. “Into Forever” heats up in a hurry, running roughshod with speed and trampling fury, the psychedelic curls jostling. “Falling forever!” Lamont wails as the sax mixes into the clouds, ending abruptly. “Psychic Malaise” squalls and mashes, Lamont’s singing going deeper and more sinister. Shrieks rip as the sax is injected into the track’s veins, the mud factor clogging pathways. The fiery gusts take you under with it, bringing heated bursts that leave behind ash. Closer “Never the Less” drains in, the sax elevating the temperature, the leads letting waters bubble. Things get more aggressive and burlier, the power destroys, and the vocals strike. The singing soars as hypnosis combusts, the humid gusts swallowing you whole and digesting your essence.

Yakuza remain one of the most interesting and genre-warping bands in metal, and “Sutra” is another powerful building block on their foundation of ingenuity. A decade is a long time to wait for new music from a band this special, but you can’t rush experiments like these, and surely that stretch made what we hear here so intoxicating. This is a record that likely won’t dissolve in your blood on an initial listen and will require many journeys deep into its core for its power to truly be understood.

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Cronos Compulsion drop grim mix of death, doom on crushing debut EP ‘Malicious Regression’

Photo by Julius Garrido

Following a band from its roots allows the chance to be there from the ground level as the sound develops. Inevitably, things will change and grow as the band gets more experience together as players and as humans, which is part of the fun because it kind of feels like you’re along for the ride. People will drop off along the way, new people will enter, but you’ve been there from the start, haven’t you?

If you’re looking for that kind of thing, hitching your wagon to Denver death/doom trio Cronos Compulsion would be a pretty good idea. On this five-track first EP (they have two demos and contributed to a split release before this) “Malicious Regression,” they encircle you in lightning-rich storm clouds, pounding down with a ferocity and force that’s nearly impossible to defend against. The band—vocalist/guitarist Wil Wilson, bassist/vocalist Addison Herron-Wheeler, drummer/synth player Jon Linskey—already sounds like a unit more seasoned than their two years together, and this EP should generate excitement with anyone who comes within its reach of where this group could go next. The possibilities are morbid.

“Secher” strikes as an initial aural assault to stretch your mind grapes, letting pressure build and static spit, and then it’s on to “Sacred Butchery” that busts open and angles for your psyche. The growls pummel as the playing sludges, going violent and thrashy, delivering blows to an abrupt end. The title cut is a total assault with the growls crushing, leads stabbing, and an evil aura growing more intense, guitar squeals pulling back flesh. The playing gets chunkier as infernal howls let loose, bringing sinewy destruction that mauls and splatters. “Morbid Subconscious Explorations” brings scarring guitars and a calculated pace before the piledriving assault takes over, the growls marring your senses. The drums decimate as the ugliness multiplies, chaos explodes, and the pace slows but remains insanely heavy, smoking to the finish. Closer “Consumed by Malignant Spirit” is eerie and ominous, the guitars storming as raw growls boil in blood. Everything spirals as the gears turn with maniacal ease, growing hypnotic at points, the brutal growls clobbering, the final moments choking you in ash.

Cronos Compulsion may have a small footprint so far in the metal annals, but “Malicious Regression” is a massive blast, an impressive first EP that brims with promise and monstrous violence. Over five songs, this trio goes for broke, pouring as much vitriol as possible into this effort, making it certain they are deadly serious and willing to claim victims. This should be the start of a devastating run for a band that sounds on the cusp of doing something massive.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Esoctrilihum’s black metal space opera bursts on icy ‘Astraal Constellations…’

I honestly don’t know how Asthâghul does it. The sole creator of death/black metal force Esoctrilihum has released 10 full-length albums over the past six years, all of them challenging, none of them like any other entry in his canon. There have been four Esoctrilihum albums released since last June alone, all of them stellar, and that should have prepared us for Asthâghul’s most ambitious work yet.

“Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac” is that 10th record, the project’s second album this year, but this one is a gargantuan. The three-movement, 14-track, 130-minute creation obviously is a lot to handle, a trio of works grouped into one package that might not be optimal for single-setting listening. That depends on the person, and perhaps it’s more easily digestible that way, but I found it far less cumbersome to approach than Metallica’s new record, which is 53 minutes shorter! Here, Asthâghul unleashes this sprawling space opera about “a war between bizarre zodiacal deities who contend for dominion over reality through psychic control of minds” (the album is packaged with an insert that fully fleshes out the trilogy’s plot). Each section differs from each other, though they work nicely as a cohesive whole, and the focus, metallic violence, and psychedelic pressure make for a journey that’s brutal and imaginative, absolutely overflowing with madness and destruction.

The first section is “Part I – In The Mystic Trance of Tȃimonh Ѳx, the Cosmic Bull God” and it starts with “Arcane Majestrïx Noir” that unloads right away with slashing screams and monstrous musical swirling, smashing with creaky visions, maniacal bursts, and mystical hell. “Saturnyôsmachia” has keys invading, strangulating vocals, and a swirling mission that adds a strange streak amid the carnage. The pace toys with your mind, sounds swarming, detached singing making things feel strangely hypnotic, ripping through echoes. “Atlas Eeïm” has breezier moments but also ones of mammoth panic, the synth dashing and sometimes icing, the fury trudging and coming at you with force. Melodies churn and simmer before everything disappears into space. “Tȃiɱonh Ѳx” is a mix of darkness and fire, the keys again acting as a major cog in the track, the howls jerking as the black metal sequences make the scene feel even more volatile. Sludge clogs veins, spirits rise, and the fantastical finish makes blood race. “Ѳxphiliastisɱe” basks in ceremonial organs, sweltering amid a driving force, shadowy forces lurking in the shadows. The swelling base mixes into spacey keys and then isolation, strange transmissions making your brain feel like it’s working overtime. “Uran-Ѳx Death Star” drills and destroys, fierce growls flex their muscles, and the pummeling trades off with mystical passages. The drama builds, the keys take on an orchestral heat, and fiery growls and grim power bring part one to an infernal end.

“Part II – In The Presence Of AlŭBḁḁl, The 5-Eyed Star Beast” dawns with “AlŭBḁḁlisɱe” that storms and trudges, the howls going for the throat. The aggression is obvious, and it continues through these six cuts, gaining ferocity and racing, fluid speed exciting and sparking adrenaline, everything flooding the senses. “Shadow Lupus of Sæɱons-Ŧuhr” bleeds in with the drums commanding and the synth taking on a dungeon vibe, the hellish majesty hitting a high point. Animalistic howls rage as the riffs take over, synth pumps, and the shrieks curdle blood. “Skorpïus Nebŭlah Tyrant” hisses and slays, the synth generating dreams, a wondrous, strange aura making its presence heavily felt. Riffs darken as the playing ices your synapses, adding incredible pressure before combusting. “Lunåår Phalanx of Ω Draco” is immersive and thunderous, the ridiculously monstrous vocals feeling even more demented, destroying even as the keys try to work as a cooling agent. The drumming totally combusts, rampaging through the glistening nightmare, exiting in a synth glaze. “Säth-Oxd, Stellar Basilisk” starts bathing in the clouds, making you think you might have some breathing room, but it’s short lived. Everything is blown apart as tyrannical screams shred flesh, chant-like calls ripple your spine with chills, and hypnosis becomes a hurricane force that levels cities and psyches. The middle section concludes with “Omniversal Ȥodiac War” bursting through the clouds, chewing at your jugular, majestic and monstrous forces uniting for the attack. Horror folds in as spacious leads exhale new life, and then vicious bends rob you of breath, racing and stirring, ending the violence on the surface of a place devoid of oxygen.

“Part III – In The Mouth Of Zi-Dynh-Gtir, The Serpen-Time Eater” opens with “Ȥi-Dynh-Ɠtir: Eon Devourer” a 21:01-long epic that is both haunting and gnarly, punishing with immersive dreams built on orchestral wonders. The track unloads and delivers inhumane insanity, the carnage gathering as the synth swarms, and your imagination rockets. The vocals go from full-throated violence to creaky terror, phantastic energies softening the blow before bleeding out into the unknown. Album closer “Serpatɧei-Ӿythioŋ : Reptilian Time Reversed” runs 21:45 and immediately strikes a sense of urgency, the drums slaughtering, cavernous power making every muscle ache. The playing slips into the cosmos, meeting up with raw growls before bursting anew into an unexpected calm. Keys drip as breezier temperatures greet you, though you know full well a storm rages on the other side. Shrieks stab through the mystery, the track grinds you in its gears, and immersive keys splatter, everything surrounding it hulking with the last gasps of damage that leave scars that’ll never go away.

It’s an understatement to say “Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac” is a lot to digest because it honestly is. It’s a massively stuffed record from Esoctrilihum, yet it’s brimming with life and inspiration that it never truly feels as long as it is. That’s a major win for the ultra-productive Asthâghul who seems to have an endless supply of ideas that he freely turns into some of the most imaginative and sometimes completely terrifying black metal. This is his most impressive creation so far amid a catalog brimming with touchstones records.

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Ascended Dead stare end time in the face with devastating chaos on ‘Evenfall of the Apocalypse’

Photo by Scott Kinkade

We’ve been inundated with ideas of the end of civilization, what with a pandemic so many people chose to ignore, our decaying societies largely blamed on the pox that is social media, and, at least in this country, the orgy of gun violence half our politicians show zero interest in trying to manage. That doesn’t mean everything has to be swamped in misery, but today will provide no solace.

It’s can be no mistake that Ascended Dead named their second record “Evenfall of the Apocalypse” because the soot-covered death metal that’s pile into this beast only can be for the end times and no other eras. The band—vocalist/guitarist Jon Reider, guitarist Ian Lawrence, bassist Kevin Schreutelkamp, drummer Charlie Koryn—returns after six years since dropping a full-length with 11 furious tracks and 41 harrowing minutes that lock you in the gears of real-life horrors and refuse to let the sun shine through. This feels like misery on top of insult, a destructive collection that sounds like it’s been festering in the creators’ minds for some time and only now has been vomited forth as this volcanic record.

“Intro/Abhorrent Manifestation” enters like a ghoul, swirling into stabbing guitars and infernal howls that pummel physically and psychologically. A panicked fury erupts as wild yelps strike, shredding the senses and slinking into the stars and headlong into “Ungodly Death” where the guitars absolutely trample. The intensity is a lot to handle as the growls mangle and the pace stampedes, with everything engulfed in unextinguishable flames. “Nexus of the Black Flame” splatters as it enters, harsh growls throwing haymakers, the speedy carnage consuming bodies whole. The playing aims to destroy the mind, leads melts, and a frenzied attack clobbers poor souls, crushing all the way to the end. “Bestial Vengeance” unloads and drills into your chest, raw howls spit venom, and total violence arrives. The stomping accelerates as harsh storming and blistering thrashing unite, burning off into the distance and right into “Tantum Bellum” that attacks with electricity. The playing ravages as the senses are obliterated, speeding through manic howls and vicious intensity, crazed cries stinging flesh and mashing bones. “Inverted Ascension” unloads marring sounds and jabbing playing, frying brains cells in an act of total annihilation. Guitars engulf as the soloing takes off, raging into an insurmountable act of terror.

“The Curse/Enveloped in Thorns” smashes through, mangling veins and creating disorienting damage, succumbing to pummeling force. The howls devastate as leads zap, the bass chars, and the total slaughter races to the finish. “Visceral Strike” brings tornadic hell, crazed howls chewing at nerves, insane destruction carving a path to hell. The playing continues to devastate as the final moments are stamped out by scorching guitars. “Passage to Eternity” is an instrumental piece that begins with cleaner guitars wandering, taking on a classic metal vibe, acoustics dancing amid the devastation. Eventually the spirits go wild, and faster playing makes its mark, wafting out into the night. The title track unloads and splits skulls, your melted brain exposed, the leads utterly dominating. The playing devolves into maniacal fury, ripping into the vortex of hell, leaving black ash behind. Closer “Intransigent Blackness (outro)” devastates and brings a final dose of pain, giving one final shove into the combine gears that eats bodies whole and extinguishes all hope.

“Evenfall of the Apocalypse” is aptly titled as that what it feels like you’re facing the entire time, your existence way too close to the nightmare to try to flee for safety. Ascended Dead put every ounce of evil and unforgiving intent into these 11 tracks, creating death metal that acts as much as a harbinger of doom as a piece of relentless art. This is music for worldwide devastation, a soundtrack to watch the world burn as it, justifiably, consumes every one of us.

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Óreiða take instrumental black metal journey toward grasping meaning on cosmic ‘The Eternal’

We’re constantly looking for meaning in life and in our everyday activities as we strive to get through this adventure with something to show for our efforts. Along the way, we struggle, we fail, and sometimes we use those things to learn and make our future journeys more informed because of the trials we have faced. But in the end, does that matter? Are we rolling the boulder up the hill for no reason?

I don’t expect we’re going to find any answers today. Certainly not on this sprawling site. But we do have “The Eternal,” the second record from Óreiða that tries to tackle these issues and make some sense of the struggle. Sole member Þórir G. Jónsson, known as Thor in this project, was reflecting on his own spiritual journey, as well as the relationship humans, the planet, and universe share with each other. The effort also ties in concepts from Albert Camus’ take on the Myth of Sisyphus and his concentration on the juxtaposition of humans assigning meaning to their activities in life and the universe’s refusal to respond in any meaningful way. That feedback just isn’t coming. These five tracks—all instrumental cuts—lend credence to the idea that we work and strive, conquer our hurdles, and still stare into the eyes of eternity no matter what. It can be daunting, even pointless to some people, but we have no choice unless we want to live a hollow existence with no substance at the end of our journeys.

“The Path” churns in the atmosphere, sounds whirring, the playing cutting inward. Spacey playing gazes as the power surges, melodies crush, and the tempo picks up into a tornadic force. The playing buzzsaws before entering into an imaginative fog, melodies lapping and repeating, allowing heat and frost to unite and explode. “The River” is jarring with synth clouds collecting and crushing, settling into the stars and moving gently through the night skies. The mystical aura then tears open as riffs catapult and spirits collect, running at an adventurous yet ominous pace, surging as your mind explodes. Synth quivers as the seas rage, eventually with all elements soaring deep into the blackness.

“The Climb” enters in a black metal spiral, swimming through smeary hypnotics, a strange gaze taking over before the drums rupture the bubble. The playing rushes as your heart races, thunderous power rivets, and the blazing hits an apex before fading away. “The Apex” is trudging and cloudy, the strangeness gathering as the sounds enter a maw, the synth layers devouring everything. Your nerve endings tingle as an infusion of power ruptures, pushing and adding pressure until the sounds rocket into the sky. The closing title track gushes as guitars push, melodies wash, and barometric pressure plays games with your mind. A slow, entrancing vibe takes hold as the playing gazes anew, storming through intense peaks and valleys, blasting into the universe for an eternal mission.

The universal understanding at the heart of “The Eternal” and the struggles we all face are shared battles, a mission we either accept or fail to face. The music here that Óreiða creates not only is imaginative, it can be the soundtrack to your own exploration as you strive to gain a better hold of your place in the galaxy. It’s a creation that has so many twists and turns, a run of human emotions, that it likely will take several trips to fully get a grasp on where you’re headed.

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Doom haunters Iress enrapture with dark transmissions about change on arresting EP ‘Solace’

Photo by Tara Jane

Nothing lasts forever, though many of us lie to ourselves and bargain with whatever forces we can to try to maintain status quo as long as we can. But that’s not reality. The world changes, people move on to other things, and even worse, those who we love and hold dear sometimes leave for whatever plane of existence is next. Or sometimes people’s hearts change, leading to life upheaval.

For dreamy LA-based doom quartet Iress, they have faced a lot of the tumult we have, including a global pandemic you may have heard about. Undeterred, the band has returned with a new four-track EP “Solace” that starts the bridge a gap from excellent last full-length album “Flaw” to whatever comes next. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, and we shouldn’t do that because this is a mesmerizing, emotionally arresting piece that contains some of Iress’ finest work. The band—vocalist Michelle Malley, guitarist Graham Walker, bassist Michael Maldonado, drummer Glenn Chu—examine that phenomenon of change and the hurt and beauty often threaded into that. It’s not always easy to approach life taking a twist or turn we don’t anticipate, but what matters is how we react and go on with our lives.

“Blush” starts in a numbing buzz before the doom clouds begin to gather, giving off a vibe reminiscent of King Woman. Malley’s breathy vocals wash over you as the emotions collect, and the music builds off that, gushing and vibrating. “I don’t mind, take your time leaving,” Malley calls as the power fades into the distance. “Vanish” is murky and foggy, Malley asking, “Where do you run to?” The playing moves quietly as it slowly drips, the guitars eventually bursting, the drums more aggressively joining the fray, jarring before ending abruptly. “Ricochet” has heaviness pulsing and Malley again leading with her dominant singing, flexing her skills. The verses bleed while the choruses crush, delivering a massive wave with Malley jabbing, “Thought that I knew you,” as the guitars gain heat and melt away the tension. Closer “Soft” begins ominously, moving through the shadows, Malley admitting, “You and I, we’re not made to last.” Guitars create a greater fog, moving through the mist, Malley calling, “I’m not ready,” as the pieces crumble away into dust.

These four songs are some of Iress’ most haunting work, and “Solace” might be a shorter release, but it comes with no shortage of power and vulnerability. These songs work into your emotional DNA and identify with all of the darkest elements of your experiences, acting as something of a comfort when weary. It’s an exciting glimpse of perhaps where the band is headed, and we wait with bated breath for another full-length from this evocative band.

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