PICK OF THE WEEK: Emotional toll levied by Downfall of Gaia with mauling ‘Silhouettes of Disgust’

Photo by David Stoecklin

Every day is a battle it seems. There are so many things circulating in our lives that have an impact on who we are and our path and the way we interact, that trying to make sense of it all and make progress toward our difficulties can crush us. That story is the same with everyone, whether we’re good, bad, or something in between, there comes a time for all of us when the pressure seems too much.

“Silhouettes of Disgust,” the sixth album from German crushers Downfall of Gaia, tackles these very issues in a concept piece comprised of eight songs about eight different characters. The issues are universal and common such as pain, loss, loneliness, addiction, societal and work pressure, and many others weaving the tales of the people who live in a fictional metropolis. The band—vocalist/guitarist Dominik Goncalves dos Reis, guitarist/vocalist Peter Wolff, bassist/vocalist Anton Lisovoj, drummer Michael Kadnar—weaves atmospheric black metal, sludge, and plenty of other volatile elements into this record that’s one of their most imaginable and easy to mentally invest.

“Existence of Awe” ruptures and cascades, howls wrenching and leading toward anguish, driving the drama before things become even tempered. Wild cries rain down with somber waves and abject heaviness, guest vocalist Lulu Black’s singing adding to the thick shadows and disappearing into the mists. “The Whir of Flies” starts off feeling properly mechanical as the gears tighten, wrenching chaos following as vicious howls devastate and lead you into a brief bout of serenity. The playing gets moody and spacey as the fog thickens, and the chaos blasts out of that, raspy yells leave welts on flesh, and the finish feels like your psyche being locked into a vice. “While Bloodsprings Become Rivers” begins with the drums erupting, lurching growls meeting with the spiraling playing, guitars enveloping everything. The attack rumbles the earth as the pace rushes harder, feeling active and throttling. Somber gazing takes over, pushing the melodies into the sky, pulsating with alien blood. “Bodies as Driftwood” has a post-metal ambiance as it starts, liquified playing melting, and then the track is shredded, bringing violent storms. The tempo is pulled from cool serenity to volcanic misery, the playing ramps up, and the crushing madness becomes a major factor, flowing away toward the horizon.

“Eyes to Burning Skies” is eerie and haunting, Black’s singing adding to the coldness that makes your flesh ice over. The ominous darkness unloads, feeling both thrashing and gazey, jabbing at your ribs. Trudging playing goes into spacious skies before the track ruptures anew, raging and letting fires crush until they fade away. “Final Vows” will make you think whatever device on which you’re listening is shorting out the first time you hear it. I definitely was fooled by the start/stop that stutters over the beginning, and then the punches are thrown as shrieks and growls wrestle for control, melodic fury increasing the barometric pressure. Shrieks instill fear until a strange aura arrives, melting your mental capacities as strange noises slip into space.  “Unredeemable” drills in, letting the energy wash over everything, and then things kick into high gear. The track goes from punishing to soothing over the course of the track, the guitars liquifying into a silver river. The punishment returns as the shadows thicken, causing your anxiety to spike as everything burns off. Closer “Optograms of Disgust” lets the steam rise as guitars hang in the air, and disorientation turns up the volume. Crazed shrieks belt and leave welts behind, and the pace drops the hammer, whirring synth making you question your security. The track returns to being a crushing force, melodies flood and smash, and everything suddenly fades, soaring off into the clouds.

Downfall of Gaia always have been an inventive and thought-provoking band, yet “Silhouettes of Disgust” takes that even further than before. These eight tracks, and the characters and plights woven into them, are not alien concepts to most of us as we face our own struggles and battles, looking for ways to just stay above water. This is volcanic, emotional, and dreamy, an experience that aligns with our chaotic world and tries to find sense within the carnage.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

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

Two decades in the making, fire rushes as Ardent Nova unleash melodic death/thrash on debut

Heavy metal has become so many different things, and the emotions it conjures is so varied that the experiences one can have with the music runs the gamut. Many of the artists who created the foundations did so with music that drive energy through your body and temporarily made you feel invincible. Or at least it increased that sense of adventure in which you could get lost.

Ardent Nova might be a newer name to many listeners, but their journey to their self-titled debut record is two decades in the making. Originally formed as Pagan Thunder, the band—vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Mike Pardi, drummer Ryan Gallagher—later morphed into this current version/name Ardent Nova that could unite Amon Amarth and Bathory fans in a beer hall with swords raised. The nine tracks on this record are fiery and rousing, feeling like anthems here to light the fires of metallic glory in your heart just like Maiden, Priest, and Dio did decades earlier.

“Intro” feels like the first strains toward storming a castle, synth glazing, the suspicion an army of orcs might be around the corner, and then it’s into “Rise From the Ashes” that just unloads. Vicious howls  and melodic fire gasp, the choruses rush by with dramatic power and wrenching madness. The energy never quits as the guitars fire away , the playing sprawls, and you’re left gasping for air. “Pagan Thunder” charges and pumps blood, raucous energy exploding and racing toward the battle. The chorus is simple but effective, and later when the band gang shouts, “Hey!” it feels like you want to grab your sword and do some damage. “Stronger Than Time” trudges through devastation, bleeding power and bringing the fire with it. “Warriors, we ride! Rise! Rise!” Pardi howls as the playing gets more electric, and the smoke from the carnage coats your lungs. “Sound the Horns” has synth rising, and then the lid rips open, the track catching incredible spirit that carries it along. The chorus easily can raise your blood pressure, and from there the blistering playing and infectious melodies drive this thing home.

“Chieftain” starts off like an Iron Maiden song, the playing galloping hard on the plains with reckless abandon. The growls are gnarly as the guitars speed along, the chorus making things more reflective but still heavy as hell. The riffs continue the race, and the final moments add to the adrenaline surge. “In Darkest Ages” punches open as the playing hits hard, storming and creating a mass of chaos. The band hits on all cylinders here, the soloing blazing with multiple colors, the chugging insanity digging deep into your chest, surging blood as everything comes to a fiery end. “Ardent Nova,” the band’s instrumental anthem, jumps in with rushing guitars, a thrashing feel, and the leads knifing through the center point. The power continues to amplify its strength, and the final moments explode with the proper amount of savagery and glory. “Eternal Liberty” is listed as a bonus track, and you should get whatever version this song is on because it’s awesome. Strong riffs and glistening synth unite, Pardi wailing, “Raise the pillars of tomorrow!” Vicious and catchy, the soloing burns through worlds, the playing crushes, and the record ends on a devastating note.

Two decades in the making, Ardent Nova’s debut full-length offering finally seeing the light of day is another boost to those who want high-energy death and thrash metal. These songs sound huge, and live they could whip up a fervor in their audience that could be really fun and infectious. This is awesome stuff, and hopefully Ardent Nova get another serving up to us sooner than later.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100087978697755

To buy the album, go here: https://wisebloodrecords.8merch.us/

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

At the Altar of the Horned God ascend with strange, stunning adventure on ‘Heart of Silence’

Photo by Jules Idunn

A lot of times I talk about records being experiences, and if you’re sick of that angle, I guess I apologize. Not every album has to be this way, mind you, but when it happens, it elevates the music to a different level, as well as my mentality. When this happens, though, it make the experience that much more intense, that much psychologically heavier.

Heolstor, the sole creator of At the Altar of the Horned God who handles vocals, guitars, bass, synths, drums, djembe, and tambourine, sinks deep into your psyche on the project’s second record “Heart of Silence.” Also the sole member of Mystagos, Heolstor covers a ton of ground here, and it’s not just metal. A lot of it is, but if you try on the gothy sides and the alluringly dark melodies, you’ll find a record that’s plenty heavy enough but also explores corners a lot of metal artists don’t visit.

“Guardian of the Threshold” thunders with noise as the keys layer in, the djembe playing feeling like spirits are on the rise. The atmosphere lures you into a vortex, synth waves feel like light beams off of clouds, and drawling singing and vicious growls leave your brains scrambled. “Anointed with Fire” bludgeons and lurches, and guitars layer in drama and wildness, shrieks maiming psyches. Animalistic carnage overflows, pounding with menace, twisting with agony and madness that burrows into your brain. “God Is in the Rain” is a cover of the Suicide Commando song, and it’s done with acidic sharpness, strangling with keys and mutilating with a strange electronic vibe that feels dark as its core. Closer “Severing Light” is noisy at the outset, unloading and using glazing melodies to keep your brain iced over. “A powerful shadow rests upon me, and I hear the sound of light,” Heolstor howls as thorny playing draws blood, the pace jostles, and raucous energy trudges and slowly fades away.

“Listen” opens the record and turns into one of the most rhythmically infectious songs of the entire year so far, a piece that slowly builds in intensity and power, Heolstor continually chanting, “Stone, leaf, bone, shadow, listen to the trees, listen to the hollow.” The playing churns, swirling around your head, making you grip for balance, echoing and leaving you gripping the walls. “Closing Circle” is murky as the drumming pierces, clean calls mixing with guttural growls. Things turn gothy and engorge, the singing is a repetitive (in a good way) cadence, and the atmosphere buzzes as guitars churn. “Heart of Silence” rushes in with black metal-style melodies and warping shrieks, clean bellowing balancing the carnage. Ugliness flattens as the tempo hypnotizes and bolts, bring alluring darkness that gets into your bloodstream and rips out your guts. “Chthonic Summoning” has a driving pace with numbing singing teaming with lurching growls, a spiritual feeling glimmering and creating brightness. The pace splatters as spoken passages haunt, melting as the hammers drop.

Psychedelically striking and ritualistic at its core, “Heart of Silence” is one of those records you won’t forget for some time after it’s over, and that’s a massive compliment to Heolstor and his At the Altar of the Horned God project. It took me a while with this to really open my mind and understand what’s going on here, and my journey with the album will continue and likely evolve. That’s an exciting path to be on, and every trip with this record has been rewarding and riveting.    

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

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: https://i-voidhangerrecords.bandcamp.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Isole dump dark emotion, frustrations, pain into doom seas on gloomy ‘Anesidora’

Pain and anguish are two things no one wants to experience, and when you’re in the midst of it, it feels like that state will last forever. When you couple those elements with stormy conditions in personal relationships or the frustrations of everyday life, everything can be amplified, and being able to release all of that tension can become paramount.

Digging into an Isole record usually means delving in the shadows and wallowing in agony, and their excellent seventh record “Anesidora” definitely doesn’t hold back and lets out that suffering. Yet as the album and its seven song navigate choppy waters and push through bruising emotions that can scar for life, their music finds a way to soar amid so much gloom. It’s one of the melodic doom metal band’s most adventurous albums, one that’ll hook you from moment one, and the band—vocalist/guitarist Daniel Brynste, guitarist/backing vocalist Crister Olsson, bassist/vocalist (harsh) Jimmy Mattsson, drummer Victor Parri—goes all in, pouring their hearts and psyches into this collection that is powerful and impactful.

“The Songs of the Whales” opens with agitated guitars and soaring singing driving the energy. The guitars are layered with melodic darkness, rushing and making your blood surge as Brynste calls, “Listen to the songs of the whales,” later noting, “They will tell you a story from the sea.” “Forgive Me” is murky and sorrowful, feeling dank and hopeless, the playing enveloping your senses. “I tried to heal these wounds, wounds that cannot be healed,” Brynste calls as guitars rush, the emotion jars, and the begs of forgiveness are surrounded by fires melting hearts. “Monotonic Scream” swims in self-loathing, the singing bellowing, the playing slowly infecting your bloodstream. “I feed on guilt, I hate myself,” Brynste admits as organs sprawl, the goth shadows becoming more intimidating. Harsh growls mix in, burning with acidic terror and jetting off into the night.

“Twisted Games” dawns with riffs trickling and the pain multiplying, Brynste wailing, “I had a dream where we coexist.” That hope is fleeting as Brynste later admits, “You hid your dark side well,” following with, “I have to flee from you,” as Mattsson howls, “And your twisted games!” It’s wrenching and a little too raw for any comfort. “In Abundance” chugs as foggy riffs spread their wings, keys swell, and burly growls add to the ugliness. The chorus sweeps, the guitars fire up, and the playing scorches flesh, getting to a cleaner path where Mattsson growls, “There is no turning back,” as the track blasts away. “Open Your Mind” starts with clean acoustics, layered singing, and the common theme of guilt and grief layered into the story. Guitars spiral as the pace picks up, and Brynste wails, “It’s time to stop wallowing in the mire and raise yourself up and make a stand,” a boisterous declaration that ripples your chest with power. Closer “Vanity” drips with dark waters as the singing hypnotizes, organs gush, and the solemnity keeps getting heavier. The seas darken with melancholic storming, and the playing slowly dissolves, its essence sinking to the bottom of the world.

Isole’s majesty remains as strong as ever on “Anesidora,” a gem of a doom metal record that thrives with its honest human emotions, emotional failures, and guilt associated with those feelings. The album itself, even when you remove the wrenching themes, absolutely fills your chest with sadness and glory at the same time, reminding that they have still have a heavy hand for making sounds that grip your heart. This is powerful and impossible to shake, a record that storms liberally and impactfully and leaves you devastated inside.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://hammerheartstore.com/collections/vendors?q=Isole

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

Zulu use devastation, smoother sounds to salute Black culture on captivating ‘A New Tomorrow’

Photo by Alice Baxley

Heavy music largely is known for dwelling in the morose, the thorniest of elements, the sea of negativity. That’s not every artist/band, mind you, but it’s the bulk of it, and it makes for a great companion when we are feeling the same darkness. But today we have something that approaches things a little differently. It’s in many ways a love letter delivered with a sledgehammer.

Hardcore/powerviolence unit Zulu can be as heavy and devastating as they come, but their debut full-length “A New Tomorrow” is something that stands apart from so many other heavy records in a good way. On their past work, the band has focused on the poor treatment of Black individuals around the world, but on this album, they’re in celebration mode. The band—vocalist Anaiah Lei (also of DARE), guitarists Dez Yusuf and Braxton Marcellous (guitar), bassist Satchel Brown, drummer Christine Cadette—directs its art to highlight the love and creativity in Black culture, the things that do not get the proper recognition by society at large. It’s an incredible record—15 tracks that crash down in under a half hour—that mixes driving heaviness, sultry melodies, and ruminations on their experiences in a world where they still are marginalized.

“Africa” is an imaginative, wondrous starting piece by Aisha Burns and Precious Tucker that opens the storybook and sets the stage, moving into “For Sista Humphrey,” where the fires being to rage. Guitars get a dose of adrenaline, jarring and trudging, growls menacing before melting into a dream. “Our Day Is Now” rampages as growls blast and shrieks up the ante, making your blood boil. The menace actually opens the possibilities of love and light as Lei calls, “It takes one, everyone.” “Music To Driveby” bludgeons with thick, mucky playing, the thrashing increasing dangerously, turning everything to a boil before a sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” washes over the bring a sense of unity. “Where I’m From” features Pierce Jordan from Soul Glo and Obioma Ugonna from Playytime, and it brings thick crushing, growls and shrieks coming together to add layers of power, and the howl of, “We’ve been here, and we ain’t going nowhere,” registering as a battle cry, charging as sounds zap and eventually disappear into space. “Fakin’ Tha Funk” (You Get Did)” wrecks and slays, the vocals streamlining energy, the guitars scratching at festering wounds and drawing blood. “Shine Eternally” is one of the longer tracks, running 3:02 and taking the form of a jazzy, smooth instrumental that makes it feel like numbing sensations are climbing through your body, glowing with velvety tones.

“Must I Only Share My Pain” is a quick interlude where myriad voices ask, “Must I only share my pain?” as the tornadic effect heads into “Lyfe Az A Shorty Shun B So Ruff” where raucous guitars take over, chunky tempos rupture the ground, and the growls gut. The playing then comes unglued as Lei wails, “This won’t be forever!” pushing the negativity to the back, grasping at a positive future. “From Tha Gods To Earth” is doomy and thick when it starts, guitars splattering, melodies corroding, and the energetic core creating a deep impact that crumbles chest cavities. “Créme De Cassis” is a spoken piece by Aleisia Miller and Tucker that reminds me a bit of “Blackcurrant” from “My People … Hold On,” as over piano music the words about living as a Black person in America and constantly having to struggle to reshape the narrative. “I grow weary of repeating our plight while never highlighting the beauty of us,” Miller says. “So often forgotten in conversation is our perseverance and triumph.” It’s a beautiful piece that’s poignant and yearning to be truly heard. “We’re More Than This” explodes with power, the lines rapped, spat even, Yusuf landing with, “I hide my ghetto from whites not because I’m embarrassed of, they just don’t deserve my essence to use for they character, then turn around treat me like I’m the caricature.” “52 Fatal Strikes” features Paris Roberts from Truth Cult, and it delivers a molten fury, guitars heating up, lashing with proper attitude. “Put to death, just like that, justified, that’s what you’re thinking,” Lei jars as the guitars heat up with menace, the final moments boiling in noise. “Divine Intervention” is spoken interlude track with sounds snarling, and the disgust over Black culture being co-opted by people who are willing to steal the spirit as long as they don’t have to look Black striking a very sobering note. Closer “Who Jah Bless No One Curse” is the longest track, running 4:14 and entering to drum blasts and thrashy goodness, Lei howling, “They will always try, it’s violence in their eyes, Babylon surprised, ghetto youth pon di rise.” Lighter melodies arrive, heartfelt guitars and hand drumming fading out and returning to group calls of Bob Marley’s “Small Axe.”

Records such as “A New Tomorrow” are crucial in the heavy music world not only because it’s incredibly powerful musically but for the message and shakeup our world so badly needs. America is growing increasingly more hostile, and seeing this band stand up and celebrate who they are, their culture, and their struggles makes for mandatory listening and education. I’m sure I don’t listen as well as I should, and I’m trying to change that. Every track and word on here crushes and also is a reminder that I’ve always had it pretty good, and absorbing other voices and experiences is vital to growth.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.instagram.com/blackpowerviolence/

To buy the album, go here: https://flatspotrecords.com/collections/zulu

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

Costa Rican killers Astriferous launch swirling death metal on ‘Pulsations From the Black Orb’

Have you ever bought a record based on the title? I honestly can’t remember if I ever did that. When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I know I bought albums based on the cover art, something I don’t recommend in the current era. But the title? Don’t think I ever did that one. But maybe today’s entry would change my mind.

Costa Rican death metal maulers Astriferous are coming at you with their debut full-length offering “Pulsations From the Black Orb,” and how can you not be intrigued by that title? The music is death metal that pushes the boundaries of time and space, and at 34 minutes, it gets in, makes its point, gets out with you fully devastated. The band—guitarist/vocalist Federico Gutiérrez, guitarist/vocalist Felipe Tencio, bassist/vocalist José Pablo Phillips, drummer José María Arrea—pays off on the promise of their smaller releases with this record that is imaginative and punishing all at the same time.

“Intro (The Black Orb)” starts with strange whirring and zaps, rubbery weirdness, and the tone of this intro cut diving into “Blinding the Seven Eyes of God” that arrives with a riff attack. Infernal howls dig into the guts as the playing gets speedier and rowdier, and then the soloing engulfs in flames. Things slow down and get more flexible, growls lurch, and everything burns away. “Teleport Haze” mangles as the growls wrench, and the tempo hits the gas dangerously, blinding and squeezing your neck. Guitars then hulk as the intensity piles on thick, and the playing chugs and leaves bruising. “Metasymbiosis” delivers aggressive riffs and a plodding bass that begins to accumulate a body count. Total decimation arrives amid sinewy playing and a storming assault, and the power continues to unload as the guitars soar. The playing then slows and sludges, growls mash, and the savagery melts away.

“Forlorn and Immemorial” is a quick interlude with chilling winds, acoustics swirling, and a classic metal feel woven into the passage, moving toward “Ominous and Malevolent” with trudging mauling and guitars scaling. The playing erupts as the growls chew holes in flesh, and the ground crumbles beneath you, opening a pit in the earth. The playing drills, the soloing sears, and hellish chaos encompasses everything. “Lunomancy” lets vicious growls spill over, the playing tangling and blistering, the intensity smashing through boundaries. The playing unloads as the growls menace, the guitars loop, and heavy devastation leaves everything in cinders. “Symmetries That Should Not Be” closes the album by drubbing and flattening with a slow-driving attack, the thunder pulsing through muscle. The growls destroy as the pace levels buildings, warped heat mars senses, and a guttural, abrupt end dices guts.

“Pulsations From the Black Orb” not only is an incredible name for a record, but it’s a promising debut full-length from this band of death metal crushers who have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. Astriferous create something interesting and mind-warping with these eight tracks, and the compact running time means that the impact is direct and economical. This is a devastating first shot from a band that’s just getting  started and already is this deadly.

For more on the band, go here: https://astriferous.bandcamp.com/track/dweller-on-the-threshold

To buy the album, go here: https://www.mesacounojo.com/shop/astriferous-pulsations-from-the-black-orb-vinyl/

Or here: https://store.pulverised.net/

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

And here: https://www.pulverised.net/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Majesties set fire to melodic death metal on debut ‘Vast Reaches Unclaimed’

Dynamic forces coming together to create something massive that benefits the entire world is something out of the 10 million superhero movies that come out every quarter (or so it seems). Bringing together great powers to accomplish something as a unit makes for exciting storylines, but in reality, it’s not often we see something like this that lights our imaginations on fire.

Luckily for those of us whose cinematic world is heavy metal, we have that very thing with Majesties, whose debut record “Vast Reaches Unclaimed” revives and sets ablaze the spirits of classic Gothenburg-style death metal. We mentioned forces forming on the same team, and here we have Tanner Anderson (vocals, guitars, drums) from Obsequiae as well as guitarist Carl Skildum and bassist Matthew Kirkwold of Inexorum to create this incredible triumph that could travel back three decades and knock the sound’s creators on their asses. Anderson’s vocal approach is razor sharp and full of lava, while Skildum probably forgot at least a song’s worth of riffs in the time it took me to write this. It’s infuriating, really. These three pull together what they do best and both pay homage to a sound that sparked the desire in them and have added to that vocabulary with these thunderous 10 tracks.

“In Yearning, Alive” tears in with delirious riffs, a major factor on this record, and devastating shrieks raining down with force. Smearing and driving hard, the playing is as thick melodic storm that blows in, flood, and rampages away. “The World Unseen” has blinding guitars and shrieks tearing muscles apart, the wealth of melodies collecting on the river’s edge. The drums gut as the tempo grows even more urgent, blistering and slashing right up to the end. “Our Gracious Captors” stomps and delivers punches, and then the shrieks strangle, everything else tramping you underfoot. The leads sweep and deliver classic death metal flourishes that hit the sweet spot, and then acoustics flood and wash everything away. “Verdant Paths to Radiance” just storms with great guitar work and playing that feels like thick sunbeams through clouds. Shrieks mar as the pace slashes and burns, the guitar work making everything reverberate in your chest and steal your breath. “Across the Neverwhen” is exhilarating from the start, aggression bleeding and teaming with vicious shrieks to add to the bruising. The playing blisters, going fast and furiously through your psyche and into your guts.

“Seekers of the Ineffable” lands with stabbing guitars, the fiery terror coming at you with force, the shrieks utterly bludgeoning. Leads glow as the storming increases, the vocals tear at flesh, and colorful playing laps until an abrupt end. “Sidereal Spire” brings thick basslines and another riff flood, shrieks savaging with hurricane force. Things go cold as they head underwater before breaking the surface again, taking you on a mangling adventure, tearing into a waves of echoes. “Temporal Anchor” blazes open, the guitar work twisting you into knots and giving you no time to gain your thoughts. The drums plaster as the synth glows mysteriously, the shrieks become a jarring force, and everything zips into the clouds. “City of Nine Gates” opens with the drumming clobbering, great riffs rushing the gates, and your senses flooded by everything that’s going on here. The playing bubbles over as it manages a new level of intensity, the shrieks pierce flesh, and the final moments leave your heart hemorrhaging. Closer “Journey’s End” lets waters bubble and humidity add steam as the pace keeps amplifying. Guitars jolt the system as the rapid-fire playing increases the intensity, the vocals massacre any sense of calm, and acoustics rise out of that, giving a rustic end to a thrilling ride.

It’s almost criminal how many insane riffs are packed into “Vast Reaches Unclaimed,” the breathtaking debut record from death metal force Majesties. Hopes already were high when this project was announced simply because of who is involved, and every moment on this 10-track destroyer feels like a high-speed adventure over land and through the air. This is infectious, riveting, and a total rush, an album that every time you hear it, you have a different favorite song and find new ways to crush your central nervous system.   

For more on the band, go here: https://www.instagram.com/majesties_melodicdeath/

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

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

Nordic legends Enslaved engulf with fresh approach to rousing style on blood-pulsing ‘Heimdal’

Each morning is a chance for a new beginning, a fresh start that while informed by the past does not necessarily have to travel in that same direction. We’re always held up by our history and what led us to where we are when our eyes first open each day when we wake up. But from that point, the destination is our own, and we don’t have to trap ourselves in the old ways.

With the arrival of “Heimdal,” the 16th full-length album from Norse black metal gods Enslaved, we are greeted with something that feels like where this band has sailed before, but it very much impacts like a sojourn breathing fresh air, pumping newly generated blood. The album’s title refers to the old Norse god whose lineage comes directly from Odin, though the band jumped into more open-ended mythologies and possibilities they felt bold enough to explore. The band—vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal, keyboardist/clean vocalist Håkon Vinje, drummer Iver Sandøy—plays with some different sounds, and while the music instantly is recognizable as Enslaved, the chances they take here and new passages opened are enthralling. A run-of-the-mill record from this legendary band would have disappointed no one, but they clearly didn’t care to rest on what was expected. There’s a daring nature, an excitement to these songs that keeps Enslaved vibrant, mandatory, and endlessly creative. It’s a really fun listen.

“Behind the Mirror” slips in ominously and quietly, waters lapping, horns sounding in the distance and moving closer (Heimdal’s call?), and then burly riffs open, not a very typical sound on most Enslaved songs. It’s fucking ripping. Clean singing joins with Kjellson’s unmistakable howl along with burning prog fires, breezy warmth, and everything crumbling off into the sea. “Congelia” lets drums rush in, the riffs darken skies, and Kjellson wails, “I’m leaving this body behind.” Synth zaps like lasers across the sky—and by the way, Vinje pulls out different wrinkles on the keys on this record, which is really refreshing—and then the elements all begin to bubble. Clean singing wafts as the guitars melt rock into rivers of lava, the pace rustles, and everything fades into mystery. “Forest Dweller” is glorious as deep singing and beaming synth are major presences, the power ramping up underneath it. Shrieks mar as the singing gets grittier, the power jolts, and then a sudden calms takes over, Vinje’s soulful vocals settling nerves.

“Kingdom” delivers active guitars that slowly dawn, the howls and zapping synth becoming an emerging power. Daring and fiery, the tempo warbles and drives, trudging playing spiraling as the growls nip at your flesh, and echoed howls swallow everything whole. “The Eternal Sea” opens with synth dancing, the fog collecting, and hearty singing making your heart respond with force. Guitars jab and jolt as the atmosphere increases, and then the shrieks maul bones, the power forges, and the keys send a wave of electronic pulses. “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” brings whipping winds, the bass trampling, and a fiery flow getting your juices rushing. Speedy playing erupts as Vinje’s singing leads the way, vicious clobbering wrapping around the energy. Gazey winds gasp as the singing gets breezier, landing ashore with a palpitating end. The closing title track starts with alluring sci-fi keys, and then the pounding tempo digs in its claws, buzzing overhead as the growls corrode. The guitars explore as dreamy sequences unfurl, eventually rousing you into full consciousness, aggressively treading waters. Group vocals surge, synth takes over, and the ship unexpectedly lands on alien shores.

Enslaved’s legend continues to grow with “Heimdal,” a record that will feel familiar to longtime fans but also has some exciting new waves woven into the mix. These seven tracks are exciting, active, and audacious, creating a collection that expands the band’s standing and proves they’re as hungry as they’ve ever been. Any new Enslaved record is a treat, but one like this that reveals new pathways ramps up that enthusiasm a little more than usual.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://enslaved.bfan.link/heimdal.ema

For more on the label, go here: https://label.nuclearblast.com/en/label/index.html

Yaaroth add an elegant tone to classic doom metal, rustic folk on rousing ‘The Man in the Wood’

Over history as music has developed, a lot of ground has been covered to the point where it’s hard to come up with a fresh take on things people have heard for years. Not that it has to be any musician’s goal necessarily as playing with passion and honestly also fits the bill, but keeping things exciting and continually attention grabbing is a challenge to which not everyone is up to tackling.

Musician/artist Dan Bell (he’s done album artwork for bands such as Crucifist and Orodruin) delves into the heavy doom picture with his Yaaroth project and debut full-length “The Man in the Wood.” Bell initially had a band Yarrow that released an EP in 2015, and three of these tracks also exist in a different form on that recording. Here, Bell takes classic elements of doom and ’70s-style folk to shape this five-track album, and his singing voice is different than most come to expect from extreme music. It’s a smooth croon that could be effective in many different genres, but his work here adds a richness to his doomier moments and delicacy when things get quieter. It’s a different tweak on these territories, and while Bell isn’t recreating the wheel, he’s breathing life into a something that could really use it. By the way, Bell is joined by drummer Samuel Nells, though Will Hoback also handled drums on one track.

“Ancient Sea Town” is a quick opener to establish an ambiance as waters rush and nature comes to life, and then it’s into “The Subterranean Stench” that opens the gates to dramatic and classic doom. Bell’s yarl is not unlike Morrissey (you know, if Morrissey wasn’t a gigantic baby), and that tone adds a lot to this music, because it stands out so much in the genre. The playing is properly Sabbathy, the spirits rip hard, and the singing remains a strong point, adding a tasteful shade to a swaggering pace that isn’t afraid to lash back. “God of Panic” runs a healthy 9:56 and opens in acoustics and folk-style singing, feeling rustic and foggy. There’s a definite Jethro Tull feel here, and not solely because of the windy flutes, and as things go on, the doom waters get deeper and more aggressive. The vocals push higher as the riffs mash, psychedelic bluesy licks swelter, and grimy howls darken the skies, warped and stinging, dissolving into a synth whir.

“They Seek Baryba” brings burning guitars and mournful tones, the singing mixing with muddy streams, warmth heating up your chest. Keys drizzle softly as the dreamy clouds thicken, the power reopening and burning, strange atmospheres strangling and cutting off the air. Moody singing arrives as the music laps, melodies buzz, and birds chirp, pushing you off into space. “Cassap” is the closer, running 13:23 and being led in with flutes and calming folk, even feeling jazzy in stretches. Psychedelic guitars confound, the tempo builds, and sophisticated melodies wash down mountain sides, slowly turning the screws in your mind. The playing speeds up as the guitars jolt, the singing coats like a syrup, and sounds swirl, taking softer acoustics and cosmic vibes into the deep beyond.

There aren’t many bands in the heavy music scope that sound quite like Yaaroth, and for a scene that’s flooded to dangerous levels of saturation, a unique voice is something sorely needed. “The Man in the Wood” sounds equally like something born several decades ago but also timeless, a strange spirit in the metal world that makes the form more interesting. It took me a few visits for this to really sink in, but now that it has, it makes the possibilities of my own listening interests wonderfully expanded.

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/

Greek power Ocean of Grief hit somber note with sullen doom and death on icy ‘Pale Existence’

Very soon, the sunshine will return on a more regular basis, and the daylight will last longer each day as the warmer weather rules the land again. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to squeeze a few final dark drops of despair and agony out of the months that most heavily impact those with mental health conditions. We can wallow a little more before the sun warms our faces.

Therefore, it remains the ideal time to welcome “Pale Existence,” the second full-length effort from Greek melodic doom/death power Ocean of Grief. Seven songs stretch over 47 minutes, and it’s perfect fodder for grasping the waning days of darkness before more hopeful times are on the horizon. The band—vocalist Charalabos Oikonomopoulos, guitarists Filippos Koliopanos and Dimitra Zarkadoula, bassist Giannis Koskinas, keyboardist Aris Nikoleris, drummer Thomas Motsios—floods the senses with glacially played, gothically driven heaviness that weighs on you both physically and mentally and provides a chance to bask in the despair with some like-minded forces.

“Poetry for the Dead” begins with orchestral synth before the guitars flood and the growls punish, elegant destruction riding along the path. The playing surges as the drums rouse spirits, the guitars scorch, sounds glaze, and darkness unfurls and blocks the sun. “Dale of Haunted Shades” is murky when it opens as growls stretch their sinewy arms, steam rising and darkening the mood. Guitars soar and then liquify, proggy keys make the hairs on your arms stand, and the pressure increases before the melodies melt into a mist. “Unspoken Actions” glimmers and the growls engorge, bludgeoning but also swimming into dreamier terrain. The bassline engulfs the mind, the haze thickens, and then energy bursts out of that, erupting and gushing. Colors explode, vitality pulses, and everything disappears.

“Imprisoned Between Worlds” trickles in, almost from the ash of the previous track, and the growls mash as the misery rises like a fog. Momentum builds as guitars emerge, and the emotions get heavier, becoming dangerously somber. Growls lash as the playing mars, bleeding into the dark. “Cryptic Constellations” is even heavier and more foreboding, mystical waters cooling down the temperature. Thrashing emerges as the keys give off a strange vibe, guitars swelter and melt, and things spiral as the growls sink teeth into muscle. “Pale Wisdom” begins reflectively before the power explodes, and the vocals ravage the senses, settling into the mists. Leads go off as the bass takes control, guitars slice open veins, and the playing unites with glowing strings before fading out. Closer “Undeserving” brings burning guitars, an even slower pace, and heavy sorrow as the synth gathers into clouds. The coldness expands as the guitars impact your mind, the playing strikes, and the momentum pounds and sinks into dirt.

The despair is thick and alluring on “Pale Existence,” another entry into the gloomier sections of doom metal’s rich terrain. Ocean of Grief have a stranglehold on this style, and every drop of this record you can feel deep in your gut, eating away at you. This is a record that’s not here to mask your pain or hide your sadness; it’s here to enhance those things and make the trials more manageable.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.personal-records.com/product/pre-order-ocean-of-grief-pale-existence-cd/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.personal-records.com/