It took an almighty amount of time for my album of the month to turn up. The hazards of international ordering and shipping. Shelter is totally worth it though. It had some serious competition to contend with, in the form of Akab, III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb, and Sweven. Any one of those releases could have made the cut in any other month.
There’s also been a lot of crap this month. I’ve needed the awesome releases to clean my mind after such disappointment.
Album of the Month
Alcest – Shelter
(Shoegaze – France)
Prophecy Productions – 2014/01/17
Alcest has dropped any pretence of metal on their fourth full length and have fully embraced the gentler nature of shoegaze. In doing so, Neige and his collaborators have created an album of light and space, which gives this sonic dreamscape room to soar. Neige’s vocals have a joyous melancholy, which is a wondrous oxymoron. The guitars and synths add a concentrated etherealness. The end result is a sun-drenched journey through the ether.
Try before you buy: Voix Sereines (YouTube)
Black Khox – Akab
(Stoner sludge – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/04/20
Instantly likeable, high intensity, super fuzzed, stoner sludge. The riffs have that High on Fire-approved heft, but aren’t loaded with the inherent negativity. The other band I feel compelled to name drop is Church of Misery, as Black Khox share that party rock vibe I get from the Japanese rifflords. But with substantially less serial killer obsession. Once the sample fanfare ended and the rock started, I was left with an ear to ear grin.
Try before you buy: Kong (Bandcamp)
Morbus Chron – Sweven
(Death metal – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2014/02/24
I have to admit, I’m impressed by Sweven. Morbus Chron’s first album was part of spate of ‘old school above all else’ releases out of Sweden and, while they were promising, they were just another zombie obsessed death metal act. Sweven breaks them from this mould. Their music has an otherworldly quality to it now, which allows them to expand their songwriting into progressive territory, while still indulging in the supernatural.
Try before you buy: The Perennial Link (YouTube)
Twilight – III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2014/03/17
The black metal supergroup is back with slightly less Nachtmystium and slightly more Sonic Youth. Not entirely sure what prompted Thurston Moore to join up with this assortment of USBM’s finest, but his contribution works. I want to call it psychedelic, but it’s no greyscale rainbow. It’s more like the iridescent sheen on an oil slick; grimey and obviously unpleasant. Twilight is black metal that embodies the death of light of their namesake phenomena.
Try before you buy: Lungs (YouTube)
The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Aronious – Truth in Perception
(Technical death metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/04
I like over the top fret masturbation as much as the next techdeath aficionado, but I have to admit that, sometimes, awe inspiring technicality comes at the expense of listenability. Which is probably why I enjoyed Truth in Perception as much as I did, as they incorporate progressive elements in order to mitigate technical excess. This in turn allows space for the technical elements to truly shine. Aronious have crafted quite the sophisticated album.
Try before you buy: Truth in Perception (Bandcamp)
Ego Depths – Oligoria Blodd
(Funeral doom metal – Ukraine)
Self-released – 2014/04/16
The second piece of Ukrainian funeral doom I’ve listened to this month, and in terms of album construction, they’re similar. First track sets the tone, second track defines the theme, and tracks three through five flesh it out. The similarities end there though. Ego Depths’ brand of mournful dirge is heavy on the futility of existence, from the depths of space to the tiniest spaces between cells, and light on hope, even false hope. Bleak stuff.
Try before you buy: Endosphere (Bandcamp)
Ephemeral Ocean – Honour in the Mask
(Progressive death doom – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/04/05
Ephemeral Ocean sounds very much like a lower, slower Opeth. They may not have the full range of technical flourishes that Åkerfeldt and co put into their music, but they compensate by bringing the doom. What really puts them in the same ballpark is the feeling of space in their melodies and the organic flow of their song structures. Of course, this is just a three song e.p., so such flattering comparisons may be premature, but they are certainly worth a listen.
Try before you buy: Wrong Dismemberment (Bandcamp)
Execució – Demo
(Thrash – Spain)
Trabuc Records – 2014/02/23
A big band of the future, right here. Assuming the metal gods will shine down kindly. This is five tracks of old school, no frills thrash. And I mean this in the best possible way. As someone who got into metal via thrash, this is a reminder of everything that’s good. The vocals are on the death metal growl spectrum, but the rest of the music is 100% eighties goodness. And, as much as its old school, it sounds unique. And it’s free. Go get it. Now.
Try before you buy: SSS (Bandcamp)
Firecult – The Essence of the Fallen
(Melodic black metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/04/04
I’m sure when Firecult formed with the intent of playing melodic black metal, they hoped it would come across as a cross between Watain and In Flames. Regrettably, it ended up sounding like Dimmu or Cradle, but without all the pretty keyboard bits. And not their reasonably solid early work either. It’s a shame, as Firecult aren’t bad musicians; what they play, they play well. The problem lies in their compositional skills. Dull music played well.
Try before you buy: Revelations of the New Aeon (Bandcamp)
Forest of Tygers – Bruises
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Acteon – 2014/04/29
Ever so slightly singed sludge metal performed by a Nashville couple. It’s technically proficient, but also insubstantial. It’s the sort of release that you can listen to and have completely forgotten about the second it ends. It’s as ephemeral as a puff of smoke. This makes it a problematic release, because it’s enjoyable enough, but without the staying power, what’s the point? It’s a shame, as there is potential for greatness, but it’s wasted.
Try before you buy: Tigerstripe (Bandcamp)
Giza – I Am the Ocean, I Am the Sea
(Instrumental sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/29
For an album that calls itself ‘I Am the Ocean, I Am the Sea’, it sure does lack the raw, surging power of its elemental namesakes. Its heaviness is technical or scientific in nature; much less of the power of the tidal surge and much more of water being pressurised under lab conditions. This ensures that the e.p. comes across as an oddity. Neither truly good or bad, Giza has crafted a soundscape in homage to a great natural force in a way alien to it.
Try before you buy: Molecular Tsunami (Bandcamp)
Human Collapse – Darkness to Fall
(Death doom – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/04/05
Another interesting take on death doom. It’s kind of like what Licrest were trying to do last month, but done with more tact. There is still a distinction between the death doom and the true doom, but where this distinction can seem hamfisted in other hands, Human Collapse gets it right. It allows the band to juxtapose anger and grief, highlighting their differences, while acknowledging their commonalities. An earthy and genuine approach to negativity.
Try before you buy: Novembersmile (Bandcamp)
Mashet – The Unconsciousness Acts
(Death metal – Chile)
Self-released – 2014/04/13
What a waste of potential. When the album kicks off, it sounds like a discount store knock off of Obituary. Standard issue chuggy riffs and public domain death growls seemed to be where the album was headed. Then the first solo started, and I realised that the guitarists are much better than their band. This is a trend that continues throughout the album: completely interchangeable death metal interspersed with top notch solos.
Try before you buy: Kymatic Darkness (Bandcamp)
Neptune’s Inferno – Abyss
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Death Valley Records – 2014/04/25
I’m often critical of black and death metal for being too by the numbers or, to be rude, lazy. But at least there’s an element of skill in tremolo picking or windmilling death slams. Lazy doom metal? Bah! It’s the fucking worst. When you’re playing at 60bpm or less, you had better make your output menorable. As it stands, Abyss doesn’t pass the test. Prime example: I couldn’t even tell the first two tracks apart. Completely lacking stylistic nuance.
Try before you buy: Night Fever (Bandcamp)
Reivers – State Effects//Trait Effects
(D-beat – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/02/25
I forgot how much I enjoy D-beat until these Oakland face-smashers reminded me. It’s a four track e.p. that starts off short and sharp, but builds intensity quickly, culminating in a brooding finale that simply crushes. Special mention goes out to the female vocalist, Kate. Her vox reminds me of H.R., of Bad Brains fame, and it just makes the e.p. sound complete. The rest of the band are no slouches either. An excellent example of modern punk.
Try before you buy: Save Face (Bandcamp)
Ringworm – Hammer of the Witch
(Thrashcore – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/03/18
Thrashcore. Not a term I like, and I’m probably not using it correctly. But when it’s too close to metalcore to be crossover and too close to crossover to be metalcore, I’m left in an awkward position. Nomenclature aside, these thugs throw down ugly, bruising music. And that is precisely what makes this album work. Ringworm have been around a long time; they’re not about to reinvent the wheel. But their genuine bile-fuelled anger is timeless.
Try before you buy: Psychic Vampires (Bandcamp)
Sagas – Traumwanderer
(Black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/04/18
The first time I’ve come across an Alcest clone. Probably being a bit harsh there, but the combination of black metal and shoegaze is very closely associated with Alcest in my mind. I do like this combination of sounds and I like some of the rhythms Sagas have put to wax. But it’s far from perfect. What’s really lacking is nuance. The insistence on using growls and snarls, where clean vocals would be appropriate is an unfortunate example. Not bad overall though.
Try before you buy: Einsamkeit (Bandcamp)
Sights of War – Annihilate to Survive
(Blackened punk – Canada)
HSP Productions – 2014/04/25
The tempo and rhythm of dirty gutter punk are matched with the tuning and production values of first wave black metal. It’s a perfect match for those whose disaffection has given way to outright contempt. There’s nothing complicated or pretty about this album; it’s raw, visceral, and blunt. It operates within rigorous self-defined parameters, but does manage to avoid the pitfall of monotony though. It’s an album that lets its anger run riot.
Try before you buy: Terror Unfold (Bandcamp)
Slayer – Implode
(Thrash – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/24
I ummed and ahed over including this review. It is, after all, a self-released tester single. But (BUT) it is the first piece of recorded material to hit the air in the post-Hanneman era, so it’s a bit of a landmark. Gary Holt more than capably fills the role of axeman, but doesn’t merely imitate the dear departed. His contributions are vibrant. It’s no masterpiece though. It could’ve come from World Painted Blood. Most importantly, it still sounds like Slayer.
Try before you buy: Implode (duh…) (YouTube)
Slough Feg – Digital Resistance
(Heavy metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/02/18
The Lord Weird returns and, by God, I hate reviewing them. Don’t get me wrong; I love America’s answer to Iron Maiden, but much like their NWOBHM inspiration, they produce metal of such consistent quality that it’s barely worth reviewing. Does it sound like Slough Feg? Yes. Have they deviated from their traditional sound? Not at all. For the unitiated, Slough Feg play traditional heavy metal, in a slightly less expansive way than Iron Maiden. Always worth a listen.
Try before you buy: Digital Resistance (YouTube)
Slow – Unsleep
(Funeral doom metal – United States of America)
Black Plague Records – 2014/04/13
Apologies if I completely missed the point, but this is how I interpreted Unsleep. It’s an album based on someone committing suicide by drowning, only to have their soul remain trapped within their corpse. It opens with trepidation and a sort of numb euphoria, but quickly turns horrific. Sickly, there are occasional lapses into false acceptance, but by the end there is only bleak resignation. Warning: the bass will ruin speakers.
Try before you buy: Drowned II: Unsleep (Bandcamp)
Стены Льда [Steny Lda] – Белое Безмолвие [White Silence]
(Sludgey Post-hardcore – Russia)
Slow Burn Records – 2014/04/07
An interesting combination of progressive sludge and post-hardcore. For the most part, it’s quite contemplative. In many ways it sounds like a collaboration between Baroness and Sunny Day Real Estate. The songs are largely instrumental, with the sparse vocals being used just as much to affect a thematic change, as convey a message. It’s an album that is intelligently constructed, well played, and, above all else, a joy to listen to.
Try before you buy: Дрейфующие В Тумане Айсберги, Несущие Гибель И Разрушение [The Icebergs Drifting In A Fog And Bringing Loss And Destruction] (Bandcamp)
Stoic Violence – Chained
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Deranged Records – 2014/04/27
I would slap the shit out of these guys while screaming, “It’s not the bloody eighties!”, but their output is just too good to get mad at. The songs are short bursts of manic anger, in keeping the truest spirit of early days of the genre. And they’re catchy too, but not because of cheap theatrics that ‘modern’ hardcore acts are prone to. These songs may lack a pro-arena sound, but they don’t lack for bombast. Turn it up, get drunk, and smash shit.
Try before you buy: No Escape (Bandcamp)
Teitanblood – Death
(Blackened death metal – Spain)
Norma Evangelium Diaboli – 2014/03/13
Teitanblood are purveyors of the filthiest, nastiest, most putrescent death metal there is. Death is an album that strips away whatever few friperies they previously allowed themselves. What remains is a hellraising racket, ripe with mildew of the crypt and the sulphurous tang of damnation. Ferocious blackened riffs relentlessly batter the speakers, while drums blast an infernal, manic beat. These Spaniards are deeply invested in their evil.
Try before you buy: Cadaver Synod (YouTube)
Tetragrammaton – Descendere
(Black metal – United States of America)
Dying God Records – 2014/04/18
I don’t know what these guys think they’re doing, but they’re doing it wrong. Black metal should not be this soporific. Seriously, this e.p. could easily double as a soothing white noise device. I’m not sure whether it’s the swampy tempos, the deadpan shrieks, or cliché guitar tone that knocks me out. It could just be that they’re taking what was done by second wave black metal and playing it back slower. A disappointing effort that wouldn’t engage die hard genre buffs.
Try before you buy: Filth Goddess (Bandcamp)
This Cold Night – We of Like Minds
(Post-punk – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/06
I found this album infuriating. A less subjective voice may say it’s not terrible, just dull. But I want to be subjective. The vocalist sounds as though he discovered that he can pass off being flat as singing in a minor key. His range isn’t great either. And the guitar work is sub-pop punk in ability. Judicious use of reverb can’t hide that for more than one song. But worst of all is the lack of variation. If I wanted monotonous riffs, I’d listen to drone.
Try before you buy: Eighties Goth Suicide Note (Bandcamp)
Throat Slitter – Demo 2014
(Fastcore – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/01/05
Odd release date; I got my copy in late April and not because I’m an influential blogger. Meh. Anyhow, I’m a fan of how Throat Slitter approach grindcore. It takes a certain level of skill to release something with no tracks over a minute while ensuring that every track sounds fully developed. These songs sound so well fleshed out that they feel much longer. And not in the ‘oh God, why won’t they stop?’ way. Get this, enjoy it, hope they put out more soon.
Try before you buy: Misanthropic Lunatic (Bandcamp)
WTCHDR – Triumph and Despair
(Metalcore – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/04/02
Always good to find a band that gives me hope for a genre I consider in decline. It does this by embracing metalcore’s hardcore roots. Rather than trying to wad in as many breakdowns as possible, WTCHDR keep their songs short and to the point, with the majority coming in under ninety seconds. Its fury is lean and precise. Revitalised hardcore with metal tuning, this reminds us what the portmanteau ‘metalcore’ actually means.
Try before you buy: The Sheep (Bandcamp)
Zombie X Incest – Live Demo
(Powerviolence – Nepal)
Self-released – 2014/03/11
I was going to pass this over. The term ‘live demo’ doesn’t fill me with hope. But how often does Nepalese powerviolence crop up? Obscure much? To be 100% honest, I’m glad I gave in to the hipster urge, as this is an excellent introduction to a really talented band. The audio is admittedly terrible; the vocals and guitars tend to meld. But the genuine raw edge that the band has shines through. I hope a clean release happens. They deserve it.
Try before you buy: Why So Serious? (Bandcamp)