PICK OF THE WEEK: Crypt Sermon unveil enthralling, masterful opus ‘The Ruins of Fading Light’

Every year there are incredible records that come out that you’re certain are going to stick with you well beyond the 12 months in which you’re in. They’re kind of tougher to mine now with so damn much music out there which, again, isn’t really a complaint. But they’re out there, and the ones that are meant to be a part of your mental fabric likely will find their way.

A couple months back, Crypt Sermon’s heavily anticipated second record “The Ruins of Fading Light” arrived in my inbox, and I don’t think there’s been a week that has passed since where I haven’t visited with it at least once. Hopes already were high after their great debut “Out of the Garden” landed four years ago, but the results here on this 10-track opus are beyond expectations, an album so good that it already feels like a classic. Their epic doom falls into the league of bands such as Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, and even Dio-era Black Sabbath and Fates Warning (I know they’re not a doom band…), and their Biblically influenced storytelling centered on life, loss, and limits of faith as well as their absolute command of their style are astonishing. It also should be noted that singer Brooks Wilson is an absolute revelation here. As good as he was on their debut, he’s absolute world league here, one of the best voices in metal now and one of the record’s main events. The rest of the band—guitarists Steve Jannson and James Lipczynski, bassist Frank Chin, and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga—are stellar as fuck as well as they hammer these epics over the wall, making for one of metal’s more magical releases of the year.

“The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame)” starts with eerie sounds and hoofs pounding the ground before the song opens in full, trudging away. “For every kink in our armor there is a notch in my hilt,” Wilson declares, before going into a simple chorus that’s easy to call back and is infectious. A huge solo kicks out as Wilson wails, “Burn!” with the track coming to a rousing end. “Key of Solomon” has a great riff and a pace that chews bone with Wilson in command, calling about “signs and sigils painted on the floor.” Another great chorus strikes, which is another that gets into your chest, as the guitars go off and spill into chaos, bringing the track to a burning end. “Our Reverend’s Grave” is punchy as hell with Wilson wailing, “Come down, Moses, the mountain’s on fire,” as the smoke spreads and chokes. The ground quakes as Wilson points out, “At the end of the life, there’s nothing,” as cold guitars flow, the title is called repeatedly, and the track ruptures to the surface. “Epochal Vestiges” is the first of a trio of interludes, as keys rush feeling like a film score, as bells and chimes lead to “Christ is Dead,” which is a stone-cold classic, and the fucking record isn’t even physically out yet. Everything about the song is massive, from the guitars to the singing to the drama, and the chorus absolutely puts it over the top, with Wilson wailing, “I’ll stare into the eyes of the devil until I know we’re truly free.” Just an awesome cut, one of the best of the entire year.

“The Snake Handler” runs 9:11, the longest song on the album, as guitars slither dangerously before the pace chugs and charges. The singing is a little grittier on this storyteller, as Wilson calls, “We’ll take up stakes with poison in our veins,” and amazing lead guitar work rips things apart a little more. The guitars work trades off and later joins up, with the song bursting at the seams at the end. “Oath of Exile” is an interlude cut built with rain showers and guitar smears, and that leads into another mini-track “Enslave the Heathens” that uses clips from Orson Welles’ version of “Macbeth,” quiet flutes, and hand drumming. “Beneath The Torchfire Glare” has a grimy start with the song sounding like mid-90s Metallica (I don’t mean that in a bad way), as Wilson snarls, “I bring your disaster, become your master.” The tracks keeps getting filthier, a song of domination and strength, powered by a strong chorus that’s easy to keep in your brain. The track is steamy and fluid, leaking grease as it reaches its end. Closer “The Ruins of Fading Light” is a disarming ballad that plays like a warning to life’s dangerous twists and turns. “Life is a foolish game we play, o, child,” Wilson warns, as the track delves deeper into life, loss, and failure. Things crescendo into mountainous madness, as Wilson wails, “No heaven, just hell in ruins of fate and light,” before the track explodes to a finish.

Doom metal is awash in great bands, but Crypt Sermon have to be considered at the top of that pile, even with just two records under their belts. “The Ruins of Fading Light” in an unbelievable album, one of the best of the year, and a collection that would be an all-time milestone if it was in circulation for 30 years or so. But this is a modern gem, an album that is packed front to back with glorious thunder that strikes over and over and leaves you for dead.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Cough’s nasty doom spreads hopelessness and despair on ugly ‘Still They Pray’

CoughHey, who’s ready to party? It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States, so the shitty beer will flow like, eh, water, and people will do dumb things in honor of America. On top of that, we have a joke candidate clinching a party’s official nomination, which has to mean the Masonic-envisioned Armageddon may really be upon us, and another probable candidate who may have done some criminal shit. So let’s unleash the doom.

There may not be a more fitting time for Virginia doom horde Cough to return to us, six years after their last full-length record “Ritual Abuse” scorched the Earth. Now they drop into our laps the vicious, gnarly “Still They Pray,” a 67-minute face burner that has the band seriously stepping up their game (not that they needed to do that in the first place) and firing a blinding warning shot that they’re here to dominate the genre. The record is produced by Electric Wizard’s Jus Osborn, and let’s get this out of the way, yes, it does have a serious EW vibe (especially vocally) that bashes you in the face right away, mere minutes into the fray. But the sound suits them, and they’ve actually been travelling this road for quite some time, so if anything, they sound in place.

12 Jacket (Gatefold - Two Pocket) [GD30OB2-N]Cough have been doing their thing for a little over a decade now, but they haven’t really flooded the market with music. Less is more, right? Other than aforementioned “Ritual Abuse,” they also have their 2006 EP “The Kingdom,” their 2008 debut full-length “Sigillum Luciferi,” as well as splits with Windhand and The Wounded Kings to their name. “Still They Pray” arguably is their strongest effort yet, and the band—bassist/vocalist Parker Chandler (also of Windhand), guitarist/vocalist Dave Cisco, guitaristr Brandon Marcey, and drummer Joey Arcaro—sound on fire and determined to spread their dark arts to any willing or unwilling participants who stands in their way.

“Haunter of the Dark” rips open the record with stinging feedback and burly doom riffs, with Cisco’s psyche-washed singing hanging over top like a fog. The track keeps mauling and tricking your brain, with some harsh screams entering the mix at times, and monstrous punishment flattening your chest. The track ends amid sonic torment and dark, smudgy playing. “Possession” runs 10:25 with the bass slinking in, and then the storm unloading. Harsh screams ramble along with the deliberate tempo, as the track sits in a steaming simmer. The guitars later bubble and blaze, stomp and swagger with energy, as the whole thing heads into the void. “Dead Among the Roses” is a 10:47 bruiser, with the singing more menacing, guitars spitting static, and a mucky sentiment. The track keeps sprawling, with strong soloing breaking out and unleashing molten power, and the pace suffocating. The band pours every ounce of vitriol over the finish, as the song disappears into corrosion. “Master of Torture” keeps the slow pain rolling, with a smoky pace and gurgling growls adding to the bloodshed. In fact, the track sits in the mud for a long stretch until things suddenly kick into higher gear, and the assault is on. “Live to hate, hate to live,” Chandler wails, as soloing melts over top and burns out everything.

“Let It Bleed” is the most surprising thing on this or any other Cough record. It’s a sun-scorched ballad filled with torment and confusion, something that reminds me of something Black Sabbath would have turned out in their glory years. By the way, don’t let the word “ballad” fool you. This still is hellish and rife with torment, with Cisco wailing, “Life and death, all the same,” amid passionate guitar playing and imagery of everything you know burning down. It picks up even more intensity toward the end, ending the track on a fiery note. Great song. “Shadow of the Torturer” is a disorienting instrumental, with a long jam section built into the first stretch of the song before really going off and letting the chaos fly. This feels like an emotional bloodletting, one that sets the path for the rest of the record. “The Wounding Hours” has haunting organs pouring in, gut-wrenching growls, and awesome soloing that could blind you. As the track reaches its finish, it finds a way to get even nastier, ending its run with a bristling onslaught. That all bleeds into the closing title song, another disarming one that travels a rustic folk road, one that leads to horrific discoveries. Acoustic guitars ring out, while Cisco’s raw singing pushing the pace, painting an unsettling, almost hopeless picture. That darkness crawls along right up to the final moments, where solemnity disappears into a cavern of noise that gets sucked back into space the moment it appears.

Cough’s name deserves to be mentioned among modern doom’s finest acts, and “Still They Pray” might be their act to violently take that distinction for themselves. This is a sludgy, evil-sounding, crushing nightmare of a record, and it should terrify the uninhibited. There’s no turning back now, the world is burning, and Cough is just the right band to add the fuel to the flames.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cough666

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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

Ancst unleash blackened rage into their crust-filled chaos on devastating new album ‘Moloch’

Ancst_promo_bandDo you remember that old show “When Animals Attack”? Talk about a collection of some of the dumbest humans completely devoid of any sense as to the moment where they’re fucked. Then the assault comes, the cameras catch the horrors, and it is used for entertainment for people at home. Who can blame the animals, really, as they’re just reacting the way they would naturally?

While they may not be animals, the members of German blackened crust band Ancst sound like they’re bloodthirsty beasts on their new album “Moloch,” a face-splitting assault from the word go that feels like a slew of angry creatures coming to assault you. There is no time to breathe, nor room in which to take cover, as Ancst unleash their music unto a potentially unsuspecting audience. Much like the people in those videos. It’s your fault if you get flattened. You are hereby duly warned about the ferocity of this 10-track album, and so any bruises or lacerations you incur from this point are on you.

Ancst coverAncst got their start a half decade ago, having since put out a slew of smaller releases and split efforts that built up their reputation and hellacious sound. “Moloch” is their first record that will be released on a widespread basis, with labels as varied as Halo of Flies, Vendetta, Yehonala Tapes, and D’Kolektif putting out the music in multiple forms and regions. As for the band itself, its mission is an anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-religious endeavor, and for good measure, their Facebook site also adds, “Death to NSBM.” I’m hard pressed to argue against any of that, and after having experienced their vitriolic music, I’m fine with getting out of the way and watching the carnage sure to unfold.

The title track unloads right away, with zero chance to get ready, as the band works into a fury, with melody snaking into the storm. Thunder erupts, black metal strains rain down, and various colors and shades flood to the surface. “Behold Thy Servants” is ultra-charged up, with the melodies riveting and the vocals unleashing harshness. The song rips open into a hardcore-style blast, with undeniable passion infused into the mix. “The Skies of Our Infancy” bursts immediately, with black metal underpinnings rearing their head, and the raucous piece progresses quite fluidly. Sounds cascade, with the vocals reaching an elevated state of cataclysm, and the drums destroy everything. “In Decline” roars dangerously, spilling rage into sheets of melody that make for a rush of sound. The track steamrolls everything, with the guitars swelling to sting and fade. “Strife” brings cold guitars and what sounds like a machine generating fear in the background. The track then begins thrashing madly, with riffs dizzying, jolts of speed mashing, and a metallic-rich assault that’s absolutely destructive.

“Devouring Glass” sounds the way you’d think from its title, with melodic thunder ripping out of the sky and an awesome chorus that devastates. The vocals are smeared with fire, with the band chugging hard behind them before coming to an abrupt end. “Turning Point” has charring riffs and vocals that are more from the death metal terrain. Eventually it cools off and sends breezes, but then it erupts and stampedes toward the gates. “Human Hive” opens with a quote from Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free the Slaves, who gives a sobering speech relating modern working conditions to slavery. The song hits a melodic high, mixing brutality with catchiness with a scathing message, and the track finishes up a smoking pit of anger. “No More Words” follows the trend of heavy storminess, a sonic burial complete with meaty riffs, vocals crushing, the drums being massacred, and what feels like 1,000 pounds of sound weighing down on you. The record ends with “Lys” and its abrasive guitars, chunky riffs, and vocals lacerating any sense of calm. The music lathers with blood and goes in for its final kill, smashing you with a final does of tumult to send you on your way.

Ancst’s wider introduction to the world comes at a great time, when emotions in the world are high and we need an outlet in which to unleash our energy. “Moloch” is that record, one that galvanizes the chaos within us all and pours it into an experience that’s outright volcanic but also has its heart in the right place. Any of their enemies would be served well to get out of their way, and if you’re behind this tidal force, why not blast forward with them into their titanic future?

For more on the band, go here: http://www.ancstcollective.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/releases/

Or here: https://vendettarecords.wordpress.com/shop-webstore/

Or here: http://yehonalatapes.bandcamp.com/merch#_=_

Or here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1c-uhV2G2SqE4Bmj9mpgii7GboNDYA8PWmyFtNY-BzDQ/viewform?c=0&w=1

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

And here: https://vendettarecords.wordpress.com/

And here: http://yehonalatapes.tumblr.com/

And here: http://hereisourblog.tumblr.com/

The Body’s damaged attempt at creating a pop album is warped, apocalyptic on burnt ‘No One…’

Photo by Angela Owens

Photo by Angela Owens

The idea of a pop album probably makes most people reading this site shudder with horror. And why not, as most of them are synthetic, plasticy, soulless, and not worth the material on which it’s printed. But that isn’t the case the whole way around, as there are plenty of great pop stars past and current who make legitimate impacts on our lives.

Now doom duo The Body are trying their beastly hands at making a pop album. Uh, sort of. Their latest effort “No One Deserves Happiness,” their fifth full-length recording, is their stab at a synth pop album. “Their stab” being the operative words. You’re not going to hear these songs blaring out of cars this summer, and the kids, wherever it is they go, aren’t going to be jamming these cuts. If they are, and you witness them, hug them very tightly and offer to adopt them. They might have a fighting chance. These 10 tracks might be driving toward pop terrain in the mind of the two members of The Body–guitarist/vocalist Chip King, drummer Lee Buford–and the songs certainly have a far different bend than what they’ve created in the past. This is a new way to absorb how artists attempt and articulate pop music, and though it might not fit into that container, there is a beauty and strange curve to their creations.

The Body coverThe Body haven’t been treading the same waters for a long time now. With their multiple collaborations (they have a terrifying one upcoming with Full of Hell) and their dabbling with noise and electronic elements (not to mention their partnership with Haxan Cloak), this band has been twisting and morphing for years now. They’ve also, in the past, aligned with The Assembly of Light Choir, whose Chrissy Wolpert is a major contributor to this record, making them one of the more unpredictable bands in all of heavy music. Maralie Armstrong (of Humanbeast) also is a significant contributor, singing on two tracks. This record continues that strange development, and while they label this their pop album, devotees of the band don’t have to worry that they’ve gone soft. In reality, it’s the total opposite.

“Wanderings” begins the record, with Wolpert singing over static beats, with dying horns kicking in, everything trembling, and then the power rupturing. King wails from behind, with doomy chaos lapping up and the track grinding to a close. “Shelter of Illusory” has primitive drumming clashing with beats, crazed howls that shred the skin, and an electronic storm that Armstrong joins with calls of, “Church bells ring,” making your blood chill. “For You” goes face-first into the mouth of death, as noise smothers, growls and shrieks combine for one terrible force, and the track feels like an absolute bludgeoning. “Hallow/Hollow” mauls with a calculated pace, with guitar haze enveloping, the tortured vocals erupting, and doom horns bring fire and decimation. Wolpert then joins in to add a dreaminess to utter demise. Haunting, angelic choral calls bring the song to its sooty ending. “Two Snakes” has synth pulsing, with guitars smothering, a charred melody sliding over everything, and sunburnt playing making your face feel dry. The growling and singing mix, as a shimmer of keys pulls the track to a simmering end.

“Adameh” delves right back into furious noise, with guitars boiling and Armstrong’s singing coming from deep within her soul, as if she’s belting this out in front of the darkest faith congregation imaginable. “Starving Deserter” has guitars flowing like hot wax, horns bringing doom clouds, and horrific shrieks raining down. Bells chime, as the chorus rises up, pounds in their message, and slides along tornadic fury that pours on the desperation and panic. “The Fall and the Guilt” brings quiet piano, Wolpert sounding solemn, and lovely, yet ominous, singing that reminds a bit of Tori Amos. A long section of deep ambience stretches in and pushes into the album’s longest track “Prescience” that runs 7:23. There, a chilling reading breaks the silence, with the song churning hard, the choral voices glimmering, and the track stretching itself over a long pathway. The intensity and emotion build with the song, with pained wails pelting, a deep sense of mourning weighing down, and the heaviness and hell finally landing. Savagery and mental torment are what follow, and those elements keeping poking until the finale “The Myth Arc” slips in. Noise mars the vision, with Wolpert calling, “Say my name, I will find you,” letting in a feeling of vulnerability and hope. The sounds burn around it, smoke rises as if to bring the end, and a final choral stand represents the song’s final breaths.

Whether you want to deem this apocalyptic pop, doom hell, metallic bloodletting, or a combo of all of those, there’s no denying the power and fascination behind “No One Deserves Happiness.” King and Buford always find new ways to be terrifying and strange, and they’ve been making some of the most inventive creations in all of metal. So here it is, the pop album you never saw coming, one that’ll devastate every fiber of your being.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://thrilljockey.com/products

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

Blood Ceremony’s cauldron of vintage evil and ritual wonder spills over on ‘Lord of Misrule’

Ester SegarraWhen a sound grows in popularity and everyone, it seems, catches on and tries their hand at it, the backlash is inevitable. So, too, is the saturation level. But that doesn’t mean there is no merit to a particular sound. It’s just that you might have to sort out the mediocre from the very good, a worthy endeavor if you have the time or interest.

Yes, the occult and vintage path is so heavily trudged now that the grass is dead, and every new person who happens upon the area brings mud into the house. My inbox is littered with these bands, but when I see the words Blood Ceremony in a subject line, I push everything aside to hear what concoctions they’ve dreamt up this time. See, this Toronto-based band has been at it long before the recent wave of newcomers trying to feed off a sound. Over the course of four records, Blood Ceremony have mastered the art of creating music that certainly sounds decades old but always is genuine and thought-provoking. The themes of ritual, bizarre religious history, the devil, evil, and more are wrapped into their alluring music, and on their excellent fourth record “Lord of Misrule,” they bury themselves even more in shadows of the past that have come to roost in the present. In fact, ever since this music arrived, I’ve visited over and over again, constantly infected by their playing and the lore contained within.

Blood Ceremony coverBlood Ceremony have been with us for a decade now, and their first record landed in 2008 with their stunning self-titled debut. From there, they’ve returned with regularity, always upping the ante. “Living With the Ancients” arrived in 2011 (“The Great God Pan” often plays on loop in my brain), with their great third record “The Eldritch Dark” turning up in 2013. That record was their most accessible to date, one that seemed to hint they were heading down a path where their material would grow more encompassing to a wider audience. Yet “Lord of Misrule” is a curveball, an album that might have sounded just right in sound following their debut. The band–vocalist/keyboardist/flautist Alia O’Brien, guitarist Sean Kennedy, bassist Lucas Gade, drummer Michael Carrillo–seemed to dust off the oldest texts they could find to draw their fans even deeper into the crypt and their dark, alluring magic. It’s a great sounding album, and it’s one that, with each visit, opens itself up more and draws you right into its heart.

The record starts with the longest cut “The Devil’s Widow,” a track that is ominous at its start, and then it begins punching away. O’Brien’s flute flutters away, and her singing sounds raspier than usual, which occurs often on this record. The simple chorus is one that makes callbacks easier and natural and sticks right in your brain. Really great start. “Loreley” starts with keys pumping, deeper vocals, and a chorus that delves into folk territory. Soft keys trickle in and mesmerize, while warm soloing heats up the song and keeps it bruising to its finish. “The Rogue’s Lot” is a strong one, with doom striking leading the way, and a fuzzy, middle-paced path, with O’Brien wondering, “How do the living raise the dead?” This song has one of the two best choruses on the record, with the call of, “It’s the time and it’s the weather,” hammering home the urgency. The song kicks up dust at the end, with the flute flying and the chorus delivered ever faster. The title track owns the other great chorus, with O’Brien warning, “It’s four o’clock!” and setting the stage for the oncoming darkness and the beasts contained within. The track is burly, really infectious, and bathes in a psychedelic bath in its waning moments.

“Half Moon Street” has a country rock swing to it at the start, something that adeptly sets up this dusty rocker that, once again, should have no problem grabbing your attention and keeping it. The second half of the song hits a new gear, with the guitar playing ruling and the flutes swelling up again. “The Weird of Finistere” is a moody ballad, with O’Brien weaving the tale, noticing, “It’s shadow, my own.” She simply sings the title over and over on the chorus, an easy but effective method, and one draped in emotion. “Flower Phantoms” is like no Blood Ceremony song before it, and possibly after it. It bursts with ’60s girl group power, feeling psychedelically overflowing, a little poppy, and later is totally scorched by the guitar work. This is a really cool diversion to somewhere else, and Blood Ceremony nail it. “Old Fires” lets riffs chug, fiery vocals echo, and some killer doom stomping do its damage and reassert the band’s power. There is something of a Deep Purple edge to this as well, with the soloing and keyboards absolutely burning up. Closer “Things Present, Things Past” is a closing ballad that has all the makings of a 1970s English folk song with its lush acoustics and hazy vocals. Parts of the song seem purposely woozy, which is a nice touch, and as the song progresses, it continues to warp. The final moments lead into a dark tunnel, with the sounds fading, only to come out of the other side and finally dissolve.

Blood Ceremony’s reign has been a fun, intoxicating one, and they leave us guessing with each release. “Lord of Misrule” may stymie anyone who just came on board for “Eldritch,” but for those of us with them since the start, it’s a really satisfying turn even further into black shadows. Their kingdom may be flooded with followers trying to do the same things, but Blood Ceremony remain the rulers, the darkest, most interesting band going that feeds off the vintage feast of evil.

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

To buy the album go here: http://www.riseaboverecords.com/shop/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Wolvserpent stretch their cosmic chaos on expansive EP ‘Aporia:Kala:Ananta’

WolvserpentCreativity and reimagining metal have kept the genre vital and alive. Yeah, there are those people who want everything played a certain way and generally reject anything that isn’t adhering to a formula. But if everyone played by the same rules, we wouldn’t have creative advancements, and everyone would be playing the same thing.

Credit bands that are doing ambitious, daring things on the outer edges, such as Boise, Idaho, duo Wolvserpent. While not metal in the classic sense, this band certainly has shown a heaviness and darkness that warrants their inclusion in any discussion surrounding the style’s most interesting artists. Ever since taking on this moniker in 2010 (they went under the name Pussygutt for five years before that), this band has taken parts of doom, drone, black metal, and death metal and melded them with classic strings, otherworldly ambiance, and haunting atmosphere. Their tracks come off more like true compositions rather than standard metal tracks, and as they’ve grown, they’ve become more immersive and challenging as artists. They’re a personal favorite (they’re one of the highlights of 2014’s Gilead Fest), and their new EP “Aporia:Kala:Ananta” was a highly anticipated one for me.

Wolvserpent coverThat effort has arrived, and it contains one 40-minute track that demands your undivided, uninterrupted attention, and chances are they won’t have to beg for it. From moment one all the way up to the breath-taking conclusion, guitarist/vocalist Blake Green and drummer/violinist Brittany McConnell build the picture, stitching the track piece by piece and taking you on a ride that hits emotional highs and guttural lows. If you liked what they accomplished on their excellent 2013 album “Perigaea Antahkarana,” be prepared to enter the next level with this amazing band.

The track, which shares the title with the album, has a serene, slowly building first half, with more of the woodsy orchestral tones taking over, making it feel like you’re walking through a cosmic marsh. The violin cuts through and establishes a strong center point, while other colors are filled in around it. As the trail moves on, elements are added to the mix, from the drumming, to hushed growls that roll underneath the mire, to creaky noises splattering. Waves crash and solemn melodies arrive, as noises swirl and, finally, hell truly arrives.

Slow-driving doom begins to crush you, as dark clouds crowd the airspace, monstrous roars smash at the walls, and a dizzying pace sets in. There are some black metal-style melodies that stretch over the piece, drizzling down darkness while noise and drone hovers. Deliberate pounding thrashes away, while melodies begin to swell, and sounds keep charging and sprinkling as the fog gets ever thicker. A looping guitar line spirals through the midsection, surviving a gargantuan assault of drone fire, stretching its way all the way to the end, where the song seems to dissipate into the air. When the track is over, your lungs should be full of air, and your mind buzzing and pulsating after what you’ve just experienced.

Wolvserpent remain one of metal’s finest innovators and gutsy dreamers, and their work on “Aporia:Kala:Ananta” is another step forward for this gifted duo. They continue to define what’s possible in metal and heavy music, and their magical, haunting stratosphere is one in which to get lost and never want to return. This EP is an excellent chance to let go, drift off into the unknown, and sink into a journey unlike anything else you’ll get in metal or any other style of music.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Lucifer rises from The Oath’s ashes to create spellbinding, alluring debut ‘I’

Ester SegarraEvery year is full of garbage news that goes along with all the cool stuff that also happens in metal. But sometimes those lousy moments outweigh the really great ones, and that’s how I felt about occult rockers The Oath dissolving before they really got started last year.

The band’s self-titled debut and swan song was our No. 24 album on the 2014 best-of-the-year list, and it was a collection that was enrapturing right from the start. But the union of vocalist Johanna Sadonis and guitarist Linnea Olsson apparently was doomed from the start, and the announcement of their end was shocking. And sad. But Sadonis didn’t let that disappointment define her, and soon afterward, she announced her new band Lucifer, whose first record was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015. How could it not be? Sadonis’ vocals and words are alluring, haunting, and disarmingly evil, and the way her singing carries like a spooky fog make her one of the finest voices in the occult and doom field. We finally got to hear what Lucifer had in store when their 7-inch single “Anubis/Morning” star dropped in January (it was a particularly noteworthy find on one of my vinyl journeys this year), and it certainly whet my appetite for what would come next.

Lucifer coverWe now have what’s next in our hands with Lucifer’s debut record “I,” seemingly a purposely titled album that should signal this will not be their last. Sadonis, again, is a revelation on this album, showing different sides to her voice and once again commanding your attention. But she has one hell of a helping hand with Gaz Jennings, guitarist from the legendary Cathedral, as well as recently surfaced Death Penalty, and his work on these eight tracks pack a serious punch. Drinking deeply from ’70s and ’80s doom rock (there is a ton of Sabbath influence here), these tracks wrap Sadonis powerful voice with muscular riffs and shadowy darkness that this band hammers home with expertise. Along with Sadonis and Jennings in Lucifer are bassist Dino Gollnick and drummer Andrew Prestridge (Angel Witch and a former live member of The Oath), who hold down the bottom end and give these awesome cuts a nice deal of grit.

The album starts fittingly with “Abracadabra,” which rollicks to life with boisterous drums, a killer riff, and Sadonis’ fiery voice, where over the chorus she prompts, “Say the magic word.” Later the song shifts into classic metal territory, which makes for a pretty cool change, before rounding back. Damn catchy opener. “Purple Pyramid” makes me think back to metal bands I’d find on “Headbangers Ball” in the mid-1980s, especially with the guitar work. The vocals dig a little deeper on this one, with another strong, but somewhat understated chorus. The show of muscle later in the song is a nice touch, as it gets kind of blistering, but it all goes back to the front again, which helps tie the song together. “Izrael” is one of the tracks the band released as a single, and it has nice, textured leads, another masterful vocal performance, and promises such as, “Spread my wings to carry you, I will set you free.” The song has a fantastical feel, but also a moodier one, and it was a pretty good choice as a lead song to lure people into the album. “Sabbath,” well, it won’t be too hard to figure where this song took influence. The riffs are smudgy and doomy, the bells chiming add a sense of ghostly ambition, and the cut bleeds slowly as it should, with Sadonis vowing, “I will sacrifice myself to you.”

“White Mountain” also has a distinct Sabbath feel, with a touch of Dio for good measure, and Sadonis’ vocals work as a seduction tool, pulling you into the humidity so you can become prey. The melodies can be mesmerizing here, and toward the end of the song, the guitars catch fire and fill the final moments with smoke. “Morning Star” has a reflective quality to it, with slower verses and guitars that help create a vortex effect. The chorus punches up a little more, with Sadonis hailing the “unholy daughter of the night,” and the guitar work could burn the hair off your arms with its heat. “Total Eclipse” is a fun one, with the tempo pushing hard and the melodies stomping your guts in a slow-driving fashion. Like many of the other cuts on here, this one changes its face later, bringing more intensity and magic to the proceedings, all going out in a storm of ritual. Closer “A Grave for Each One of Us” begins clean and glimmery, almost as if it’ll be a doom ballad, Sadonis notes, “You live ’til you die,” around a mystical field of sounds. But later, the intensity picks up. The guitars start mauling and tearing at you, and the emotions caterwaul from there, as the sound reaches a crescendo, the music feels like it is preparing for the end of the world, and Sadonis declares her lack of fear over death, almost bringing it on as a challenge as the album closes.

Lucifer feels like a logical next step away from The Oath, as the spirit remains in place but the music goes into some darker corners. It’s great to hear Sadonis totally in control of her fate and unleashing a voice that could contend with anyone in metal. “I” is a great first step for this band, and hopefully this project keeps morphing further into the horrors well into the future. Pretty sure anything they do from this point automatically will catapult to the top of that respective year’s most anticipated list.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.riseaboverecords.com/shop/

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

Sumokem’s smoke-filled debut EP filled with ancient tragedy, witches and, of course, pot

SumokemIt’s story time, everyone, so gather around. It’s the one about an ancient emperor who is crushed after the loss if his mother, reserved to a life of debilitating ailments, and only has hope of being cured from a witch who lives in the mountains. There is love and tragedy, traveling beyond this realm for fuller enlightenment, and, of course, magical turtles.

What we have here is one of the most elaborate, somewhat ridiculous stories ever told about pot. I know. “Dopesmoker” is pretty out there as well. But really, what stories told my metal musicians aren’t a little bit whacky, and when marijuana is involved in the tale, you can bet things are going to go haywire. But if you read the synopsis of the story told through Sumokem’s EP “The Madness of Lu Shen Ti Vol. 1,” you actually have a really involved, rather interesting tale that, yeah, still is a weird adventure with pot as one of the main heroes. But it also has enough rich characters (including the tortured title role), twists and turns, and mythology to fill a volume of books. We get started on this debut EP, where the plot begins to unfurl. By the time you get through these five songs steeped in traditional doom and psychedelic rambling, not only will you want to learn more about our characters, you’ll want to keep following this promising band wherever it goes next.

PrintThis EP is a pretty sturdy document, and people into bands such as Black Sabbath, Sleep, Hawkwind, or Pallbearer are going to have a blast listening to this thing. Oh, speaking of Pallbearer, Sumokem hail from the same Little Rock, AR, haunts that produced that band, so there’s some bragging rights for that city’s inhabitants. Two dooms bands this good from the same place? Inconceivable! Even scarier is Sumokem—vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jacob Sawrie, guitarist Josh Ingram, bassist Alan Wells, drummer Drew Skarda—only have been a creative unit since 2013, and they’re already this far along artistically.

Our saga begins with “Linger,” a short, acoustic-driven introduction that feels like the book lid crackling open. That paves the way for “The Doctor,” where the doom hammer drops, melody begins burning on high, and Sawrie’s excellent singing erupts. His voice is perfectly suited for this style of epic doom, but he’s got a classic rock bend to his singing, which is likely where the mention of Foreigner in their bio originates. And it fits. The lead guitar work is just tremendous here, as well as on the rest of the record, building the drama and keeping the excitement high, and eventually the song gets chunkier and heavier. The band heads into muddier terrain later in the track, kicking up grime, and the finish clubs you hard. “The Death” is the height of tragedy, with rustic acoustics opening, only to be leveled by swaggering guitar riffs. The playing is churning and tough in spots, paying off the event that changes the emperor forever, with Sawrie wailing about “crying in anguish” and “a life cut short.” As the song reaches its closing sequence, the singing turns to monstrous growls, which adds a proper element of grief and anger, while a psychedelic haze brings the cut to a foggy finish.

“The Emperor” also starts quietly and calmly, as acoustics squeak and tremble. Trippy guitars bubble to the surface, feeling mind altering and numbing, with the singing a deeper register and the tempo taking its time. It’s heavy though, no doubt, and the lead guitars create some real fireworks that are passionate and exciting. The vocals begin to soar and reach for the skies, as the band thrashes harder than anywhere on this record, and soloing adds a sense of power and glory. Growling returns, the pace is mashing and volatile, and the whole thing blazes to a satisfying finish. Closer “Farewell” is an odd one. Acoustics ring out, layering melodies on top of each other and establishing a spacey frame of mind. You keep floating along with this thing, and when it fades out in just three minutes, you can’t help but feel there’s more message to absorb. And there is, as sounds re-emerge a minute later, with strange transmissions, detached growls that could have been lifted from Deathspell Omega’s playbook, and an ambiance that seems to be going for that next plane of awareness, a state we will be in until Sumokem return with the second half of this story.

I’m an absolute sucker for the style of doom Sumokem create, and the fact there is a pretty extensive tale woven into it makes it even more interesting. Their first EP is a damn good one, a collection anyone who has even a cursory interest in the bands mentioned in this piece should explore. “The Madness of Lu Shen Ti Vol. 1” is an introduction to a group in its very early stages who clearly are leaps and bounds ahead of where most bands are on their first recording. The sky isn’t the limit for Sumokem. The cosmos and multiple planes of existence are.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://handshakeinc.com/shop/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Anguish’s odd storytelling, wretched doom hit a high point with ‘Mountain’

AnguishMetal has had its share of great storytellers over the years, people who not only have created powerful music but whose lyrics and delivery have made up an important part of history. We’re talking people like King Diamond, Ronnie James Dio, and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, who doesn’t offer his takes vocally but has one hell of a singer to do that for him.

This is sort of becoming a lost art in modern metal, as songs take the form of rants, philosophical dissertations, social commentary, and personal blood-shedding. All of those have their place, quite obviously, but finding a band that can help you get lost inside their music and their words is something to behold. That’s a thing Swedish doom band Anguish have done for two records now, their latest being “Mountain.” Like on their awesome debut “Through the Archdemon’s Head,” you go on a journey with the band, one that can be punishing and enthralling at the same time. On “Mountain,” tales of fallen kings, murder, destruction, battles from the past, and even arch demons come into play, and the eight tracks on this record don’t give you the choice of sampling. You’re in for the entire ride, and you won’t be able to look away for a second.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????Vocalist J. Dee takes front and center spot with the band, and his pained wailing and, if you’ll excuse me, anguished howls drive the drama and horror behind these songs. He’s one hell of an expressive singer, reminding a bit of Tom G. Warrior from time to time, and he’s full of charisma and evil intent. Listening to him is a morbid joy. Alongside him are guitarists/bassists David and Christoffer, as well as drummer Rasmus. On this record, the band strips things back just a bit, letting their fiery doom/death-inspired chops lead the way, and this is an album that with each subsequent listen, you find yourself sucked into their world more and more.

The simply named “Intro” is the first gush of sound, chilling and trickling, bringing you into the cold by luring you there. Then “Makarian Furnace” opens into a dark, doomy world, building in a calculating manner and letting Dee’s demonic yarn-weaver voice split into the action. He sounds sick and manic at times, almost like a villain watching his world wash away, and the rest of the band delivers, cleverly inserting a cowbell at the point when things are about to erupt again. Well put together. “Stir Up the Demon” is a furious one, with a stomping assault, tremendous leads, and Dee howling the blood-stopping admission, “I murdered him, there he lies smiling.” He spits out diatribes about false loyalty, doomed kings, and other treachery, while the band hits a deadly groove and even covers some thrashy territory. “Master of Peak’s Fall” has a watery, blurry open, with strong riffs blasting the door down and maniacal storytelling keeping you engaged. There is slow-driving misery that gives way to soaring soloing, and the end is dressed in dark organs, mournful singing, and melodies that twist and turn.

“Decomposer of Planets” has a really strange first few minutes, with Dee warbling like a crazy person and the music feeling absolutely ominous. Eventually, the song really starts to chug, the narration turns to growls, and track has a thunderous, disruptive conclusion hammered home by the declaration, “Your king is dead!” “The Woven Shield” has some slick, massive basslines that move into a heavy doom crunch and Dee shouting, “I am hunted across the lands,” meaning it as a threat and without an ounce of fear. More organs spill in, giving the song a gothic feel, and the punishment comes to an abrupt end. “Void” lurches and crawls menacingly, with smashing and mashing from the band, and the song switching back and forth from moodier parts to sections that will devastate you. It’s one of the most interesting songs on the record. Closer “Snowhammer” could not be a better curtain-dropper, starting with cold, fear-invoking passages before it punches its way out and begins its attack. Dee, in his most threatening voice, shouts, “Let them be crushed, see them be bled, let them crawl in excrement!” From there, the band lets everything burn, from savage damage being meted out, to dark keys rising again, and mystical, razor-sharp guitar work leading you to the end.

Getting lost inside Anguish’s dark, twisted fantasy world for 50 minutes is tremendous fun and should fill every desire a true metal fan has inside of them. “Mountain” is heavy, ugly, glorious, wretched, and evil, and every second of this is worth poring over. This band is developing quite the track record only two albums in, and it’ll be terribly exciting to hear what blood-splattered, doomed drama they dream up next.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anguish/175400599142558

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store

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

Former Trouble members spark new life, light bright doom fire on ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’

The SkullLike many other metal fans, my pathway to doom came from the mighty Black Sabbath. But they weren’t the only band that exposed me to the darker sounds, the slower tempos, and the feeling something sinister could be lurking around the bend. Chicago-based Trouble was just as influential for me growing up, even if their music also radiated light and positivity in a world often bereft of both.

I remember quite vividly riding on the bus and walking the halls of my high school listening to Trouble’s 1990 self-titled record (“End of My Daze” could have played on an endless loop and I would have been happy) and 1991’s “Psalm 9,” and their style of metal awakened something inside of me that opened up my understanding of metal as an art form. To this day, I still love those early Trouble albums and wish their early lineup remained intact. But that’s not to be, as the band has been reshuffled entirely, but a new group The Skull, featuring three former Trouble members including awesome vocalist Eric Wagner, have released their debut record “For Those Which Are Asleep” that seriously alleviates that long-term itch.

The Skull coverWagner’s inclusion in The Skull (named after Trouble’s second record) is the biggest key. His voice still has that higher range, but for the most part, he wields a huskier voice now. But he remains as poignant as a lyricist and in command of the machine as before; he just sounds like he’s weathered battles over the years and has an insight many of metal’s voices do not. Joining him are former Trouble members Ron Holzner (bass) and Jeff Olson (drums), as well as guitarists Matt Goldsborough and Lothar Keller. The band sounds formidable, provides a look back to doom’s metamorphosis through the late 1980s and early 1990s, and stomps forward with a newfound energy and focus that makes “For Those” such a pleasurable listen, especially for us old Trouble fans.

“Trapped Inside My Mind” is a tremendous and fitting opener, as it’s slow driving, doomy, and melodic, with Wagner having his first chance at showing the world just how strong those pipes still are. The riffs are really fun and punchy, and after a wicked solo, Wagner begs, “Help me to escape.” “The Touch of Reality” has some tremendous Sabbath-influenced guitar work and deeper vocals from Wagner, as he reaches lower in his register and still has full command. Once again, the lead guitar work stands out and burns brightly, with a burly rhythm lurking underneath, and the end of track chugs pretty hard. “Sick of It All” pulls back the tempo a bit, but not the heaviness. The song has a nice psychedelic edge to it, with Wagner lamenting the things wearing on his mind, and he sings a little grittier over the chorus, which adds a proper sense of wear and tear. “The Door” also is slower, with Wagner warning, “I am darker than you know,” with a mind-altering glaze drizzled over top. As the song goes on, the sounds cascade, the guitars get bluesier, and the conclusion hits hard with doom, organs, and chimes. “Send Judas Down” is one of the most aggressive on the record, with a nasty riff, a mean sounding chorus, and a pace that could leave you bruised all over. Awesome song.

“A New Generation” is another rocker, with blues-fed doom riffs, a vintage sound that reminds of these musicians’ early days, and the only drawback being a chorus that lacks punch. “Till the Sun Turns Black” is a killer track with a chunky groove and Wagner sounding on fire, howling, “All I ever wanted was to love you back.” It’s dark, punchy, and one hell of a lot of fun. The 7:03 title track begins with acoustic strains and Wagner opening his dark storytelling, with the music sounding dusty and rustic. Then the song powers up, and the guys hammer hard when the chorus arrives, but they eventually go back to a mid-tempo pace for the verses. That only makes sense. As the song reaches its second half, the guitars open up more and conjure some classic metal thunder, the riffs start piling up and wailing away, and things are beaten to dust before fading away. “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” also harkens back to Trouble’s earlier years in a really awesome way. The riffs are heavy, the tempo is just crushing, and Wagner sounds amazing, like he’s turned back the damn clock. Speaking of that, the guys end the record with a new take on Trouble’s old cut “The Last Judgement,” giving it a proper modern update and proving they have the chops to play anything from any era of these musicians’ careers with fire and passion. Really cool to hear this finish off the record.

The Skull’s music hits the doom spot far more effectively than the current incarnation of Trouble, and this is a great start for this band of veterans. Wagner is in fine voice and is as engaging as ever before, and the rest of the band totally delivers the goods on “For Those Which Are Asleep.” There aren’t a lot of bands making the type of music The Skull is, making these veteran players’ work a breath of fresh air not only for doom but the entire metal world.

For more on the band, go here: http://theskullusa.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.teepeerecords.com/

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