June felt like a slow month, but I still ended up with twenty reviews. The new Mayhem album justly deserves its top billing. I was a big fan of Ordo ad Chao, but Esoteric Warfare is something else again. It would also seem that I’m one of the few to truly enjoy Mastodon’s new album, but I think that’s because I really like the space rock vibe they’re rocking at the moment.
We’re at the half-year mark and I’ve got to admit, 2014 has already exceeded many of my expectations. I’m a pretty generous reviewer; I can usually find some redeeming features in whatever I’m listening to, but I’ve got to admit that there has been a succession of genuinely top quality releases so far. Bring on the second half of the year.
Album of the Month
Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare
(Black metal – Norway)
Season of Mist – 2014/06/06
I read more than a few reviews of Esoteric Warfare before I penned my own. I’m pretty sure every single one of them referenced De Mysteriis dom Sathanas and they did so by way of positive comparison. I’m going to add my voice to this chorus, as this album is spectacular. It’s easily the best thing they’ve done since they defined the genre all those years ago. Credit must go to Teloch; the man’s songwriting skills would make Euronymous proud.
Try before you buy: MILAB (YouTube)
ACxDC – Antichrist Demoncore
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Melotov Records – 2014/06/24
Okay. Technically it’s a blend of grindcore and powerviolence, but I personally believe it lands further on the pv side of the line. Nomenclature quibbles aside, this is one hell of an awesome racket. Catchy and disorientating in equal measure, only after repeated listens was I able to pick exactly where songs ended. That’s not a criticism either. The sheer level of audio violence crammed into these twenty odd minutes is truly inspiring.
Try before you buy: Vegangelical (Bandcamp)
Eyehategod – Eyehategod
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Housecore Records – 2014/05/27
I don’t think any band is quite as emblematic of NOLA as Eyehategod. Seedy and swampy, yet possessed of a unique vigour, the comparisons go deeper. Both have been broken, yet they remain unbowed. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina and their own personal demons, the notorious sludge lords truly have been through hell and back. This has translated directly to their music. It’s no wonder they put their name to the album. It is truly theirs.
Try before you buy: Medicine Noose (YouTube)
Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
(Progressive sludge – United States of America)
Reprise Records – 2014/06/24
Ordinarily the phrase ‘meets expectations’ implies a faint level of disappointment, as though more could have expected. But that’s not the case with Mastodon. When they meet your expectations, you just know you will be blown away. It’s just what they do. Once More ‘Round the Sun takes what they did with The Hunter and blasts even further into space. It’s a beautiful expedition into progressive expanses, that is challenging, uplifting, and hard rocking.
Try before you buy: Aunt Lisa (YouTube)
Shores of Null – Quiescence
(Gothic death metal – Italy)
Candlelight Records – 2014/03/24
You don’t often get to associate the word ‘beautiful’ with death metal, but that’s what Quiescence is: beautiful death metal. The use of clean vocals is inspired and, fortunately, the vocalist is absolutely spot on in his delivery. Musically, the album is clearly rooted in melodeath, but is gloomy in its delivery. This combination of clean vocals, gloomy delivery, and traditional melodeath is absolutely stunning. And this is their first release. They should be huge.
Try before you buy: Night Will Come (Bandcamp)
Jesus Egg – Discography
(Ska grind – United States of America)
Self-released – ????/??/??
From deep in the grind underground comes Jesus Egg. I don’t know when this was released. I don’t know what the tracks are called. Hell, I can’t even be sure if it’s called ‘Discography’. What I do know is that this is some of the most violent, intense, and downright weird grindcore you will come across. The ska influence ranges between subtle and blunt, but is always undeniably there, turning this blastbeat barrage into something truly out there.
Try before you buy: Discography (YouTube). Available for free download here.
The Rest in Alphabetical Order
A Red Nightmare – A Red Nightmare
(Good deathcore – Brazil)
Self-released – 2014/06/02
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two distinct deathcore genres: hardcore infused with death metal elements, which is inevitably terrible and death metal infused with hardcore elements, which is often pretty good. This is in the later category. Its production is super crisp; if there were a fly outside, you would have heard it. The music itself comes in on the techdeath end of things, with a tactful use of breakdowns. Damn entertaining.
Try before you buy: Enemy (Bandcamp)
Adversary – Adversary
(Black metal – United Kingdom)
Exitium Productions – 2014/02/12
There’s a lot of dross in black metal; so many bands trying to make themselves heard, but all of them sounding largely the same. It’s very easy to lose quality bands in the wash. And based on their second demo, it would be a crime against the genre to lose track of Adversary. They deal in frostbitten misanthropy, doing their damned best to channel their inner Mayhem. It’s the sort of release that draws you in from the outset and keeps you totally engaged.
Try before you buy: Illusionary Benefactor (Bandcamp)
Agonized – Consumed
(Grindcore – Malaysia)
Self-released – 2014/02/22
I love true grindcore: the raw punk spit, the blastbeat barrages, the chainsaw guitars. At it’s best, it’s music that stokes the fires of my inner activist. But there is always the twinge knowing that many a good band will go unnoticed in the fertile underground. That’s why it’s always such a treat to come across awesome demo material, such as Consumed. I know no one grinds for the money, but I hope these guys get some label support. Bloody fantastic.
Try before you buy: Indefinite (Bandcamp)
Barghest – The Virtuous Purge
(Black metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2014/06/17
When talking about black metal, there are a few adjectives that turn up over and over again. Icy is one. Profane is another. But the term that The Virtuous Purge truly exemplifies is furious. Barghest have produced an album of the purest rage known to man. Ordinarily, this level of blind fury bores me; it becomes one dimensional very quickly. But this held my attention from start to finish. Why? Because Barghest write songs that rock their rage.
Try before you buy: Spent Brass (Bandcamp)
Beastplague – Beastplague
(Deathgrind – United States of America)
Torn Flesh Records – 2014/06/15
This is a really solid example of deathgrind. It has all the hallmarks of death metal, but is played at breakneck speed and is totally unforgiving in its use of blastbeats. It’s non-stop assault and battery from the get go. And while the ten tracks pass in the blink of an eye, you don’t feel shortchanged. It probably helps that each track has a unique feel, so that they don’t bleed into each other. It’s that sort of creative vitality that grind needs.
Try before you buy: Fortis Quadramanus (Bandcamp)
Choriachi – S.U.F.F.E.R. (Set Us Free From Evil Rewards)
(Stoner metal – Italy)
Red Sound Records – 2014/06/06
This is one of the most quintessentially stoner albums I’ve ever heard, both in its positives and its negatives. The riffs are chunky and can’t help but raise a smile. And the vocalist has a crooning voice that sounds like he’s in all your friends’ favourite bands: familiar but not instantly recognisable. He is good though. But they, like most stoners, do tend to forget what they’re doing. It’s like they lose focus mid-song, so they tend to get stuck in loops of repetitive riffs.
Try before you buy: Our Vice is a Locked Room (Bandcamp)
Deep-pression – Slave of Events
(Ambient – Italy/Poland)
Self-released – 2014/06/06
Neatly straddling ambient, drone, and doom, Slave of Events is an album that’s big on depression and small on accessibility. The songs are genuinely engaging, but they weigh on your psyche like ten tonne weights. The synths and guitars are drip melancholy, while the sparse drum work is the pulse of a dying man; desperate, but fleeting. The quality production values ensure this is an album that begs to be heard, but leaves you feeling terrible.
Try before you buy: Star Whispers (Bandcamp)
Ghost Bath – Funeral
(Depressive black metal – China)
Pest Productions – 2014/02/04
I feel like I’m missing some important cultural nuance when listening to Funeral, as the vocals are jarring to the point of cringeworthiness. They sound like the terrified shriek of a little girl who just stumbled upon a tarantula and they never seem in time with the music. Possibly, this is incorporating a blackened form of traditional Chinese singing; possibly it’s just awful wailing. It’s a shame, as the haunting music holds your attention like a vice.
Try before you buy: Procession (Bandcamp)
Husk – Hymns
(Blackened crust – United Kingdom)
Art as Catharsis – 2014/04/10
I just couldn’t get into this. It’s high energy and well produced, but it’s soulless. The rhythm section is supposed to propel the music forward, but Husk’s drum and bass gets monotonous quickly, and frustratingly monotonous shortly after that. The leads are punchy. I can’t deny them that and the vocals aren’t attrocious either. But I can’t get past the fact that this ends up sounding like a test run for riffs. Technically sound, but not enjoyable.
Try before you buy: Keelhaul (Bandcamp)
Kognitiv Tod – Dysphoric Whispers
(Atmospheric black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/03
It’s a hard album to get into. The band have attempted to incorporate a lot of different elements, but they haven’t been wholly successful. It’s too up-tempo to be ambiet, lacks the bombast to be symphonic, and is too jaunty to be trve while not being jaunty enough to be folk. They do some things quite well. I especially like the vocals. But overall it’s too much of an obvious mishmash to really hold the attention. I don’t hate it, I just don’t really want it.
Try before you buy: Behind the Veil of Eternal Fog (Bandcamp)
Meatpacker/Fetus Christ – Split
(Grindcore – United Kingdom)
Samizdat Records – 2014/02/16
Another fine 2014 grind release, these mad Brits don’t have any intention of catering to people with healthy attention spans. Meatpacker, especially, rush through their tracks at an insane pace. Intense riffs and blasts abound. Fetus Christ seem positively glacial by comparison, but then you realise that their tempos may not be as intense but their short, punky tracks are still the stuff fucked up grind is made of. A delighfully biohazardous romp.
Try before you buy: Golden Arches (Bandcamp)
Mother Brain – Rise and Grind
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Mannequin Rein Recordings – 2014/03/01
Rise and Grind is wholly proficient grindcore that I just can’t get behind. Don’t get me wrong, if grind is your thing, you will like this. And I do too, while I’m listening to it. But once it stops, it’s gone, leaving behind nothing but a faint memory of blastbeats. A specific problem I have is that there is a preponderance of slowdowns. One or two are nice for effect, but there are limits. But I can’t shake the notion that if this were memorable, I could get over that.
Try before you buy: I Didn’t Sign Up for This (Bandcamp)
Nyarlathotep – The Shadow Over Innsmouth
(Blackened doom – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/21
Your name is Nyarlathotep and your album is called The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which indicates more than a passing interest in Lovecraft. I only have one question: where’s the madness? In the lyrics possibly, but it’s not evident in the music. To be fair, I do enjoy their blend of Mysticum and Cathedral. They might need to trim a bit of the fat, but overall it’s a pleasing aggressive sound. But if you’re going full Cthulu, you have to sound fucked up.
Try before you buy: The Gilman House (Bandcamp)
Oberion – Return
(Death metal – Sweden)
Self-released – 2014/06/04
Another entry in the old school before all else brand of Swedish death metal. It’s a pretty good one too. What absolutely makes this album is, despite the fact it is very much a death metal album, there is a heart of solid rock ‘n’ roll in there. This is positively toe tapping at times. And there are guitar leads that really put Thin Lizzy or Van Halen in my mind. But, as I said, this is death metal. Dirty and unforgiving as any other Swedeath band. But with a soul.
Try before you buy: Eerie (Bandcamp)