January 2018 Review Round Up

A quietish start to the new year, but a strong one nonetheless. Feels good to have a month where every release feels like it will hold its own in the coming months.

I’m still tinkering with my formats now that I’m back. I’m doing away with the honourable mentions. I think just having the Album of the Month is sufficient.

Speaking of the Album of the Month, Shining’s new album is amazing. It was the first album I listened to this year and it’s already a firm contender for Album of the Year. Kvarforth is still the high priest of self-destruction as a form of worship, but Varg Utan Flock is an album apart.

Album of the Month
Shining – X: Varg Utan Flock
(Progressive Black Metal – Sweden)
Season of Mist – 2018/01/05

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I thought I knew what to expect from a Shining album. Invitingly bleak black metal is typically what’s on offer. And that might describe this, if you were willing to thoroughly undersell this album. The level of sophistication in the songwriting feels like a quantum leap from what came before. It’s still a Shining album, but it’s the absolute pinnacle of their self-destructive craft.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Afgrund – The Dystopian
(Grindcore – Sweden/Finland)
Self-Released – 2018/01/05

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As a grindcore act, a sure way to my heart is to evoke Rotten Sound. Afgrund do that in spades on The Dystopian. They absolutely nail that heaviest possible grind without being deathgrind cacophony and pair it roiling fury vocals. It wants for a truly great track to stand out; a very good album could be great that way. Grindcore gets a belter to kick off 2018.

Agrimonia – Awaken
(Post-Sludge – Sweden)
Southern Lord Recordings – 2018/01/26

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The successful juxtaposition of post-metal’s contemplative tendencies with sludge’s swampy punkishness is something Agrimonia achieve with aplomb. The outcome is something probably best described as soothing anger. I found myself relaxing totally, which is an odd thing to say about an album that fires me up like a jet lighter.

HFMFM – Trapped
(HM2 Powerviolence – Australia)
Self-Released – 2018/01/08

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Few things are as satisfying as a demo that makes serious statement of intent. HFMFM’s intent seems to be landing as many blows as they can in the shortest amount of time. Trapped is thuggish, hostile, and otherwise straight up mean. It’s bruising flurry that puts the violence front and centre in the powerviolence. Puts the heart rate up just thinking about it.

Krvshr – Night Terrors
(Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/01/05

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Bass heavy, aggressive sludge firmly in the mould of High On Fire or early Mastodon, but with a distinctly punk edge to it. And, like those other aforementioned bands, Krvshr brings a hell of a lot of good times to the table. Not necessarily happy music, but you will have a great time listening to it. It delivers catchy tunes with a snarl and clenched fist.

Sulphur Seas – Suzanne
(Black Metal – Spain)
Self-Released – 2018/01/09

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In a month with some big name black metal releases, I found myself consistently drawn back to Suzanne. Modelled exclusively in mould of French black metal, there is stylistic esotericism that adds long shadows to the fires lit by their fury. It remains a consistently engaging album; the sort of album that reveals something new with each listen.

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January 2015 Review Round Up

A new year and some changes with it. Looking over my Best Of for 2014, I realised that there weren’t many surprises because of how I structured my monthly reviews. Too many Honourable Mentions gave the game away. So from here on, one Album of the Month and one Honourable Mention.

I’ve also changed my tag cloud. Thought it would be a good idea to add some extra details. Probably still not perfect, but I like it.

On to the music, I was originally planning to give the Album of the Month to a January release, but Primordial killed that notion. Spectacular is an understatement. Had I followed through with my original intention, Marilyn Manson’s new album would have got the nod. He’s been in the wilderness quality-wise for a while, but he finally pulled himself together.

Enjoy.

Album of the Month
Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
(Blackened Celtic metal – Ireland)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/11/25

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Are Nemtheanga’s vocals some of the most powerful in metal? In terms of emotional content and raw volume, absolutely. He serves up a real tour de force on Where Greater Men Have Fallen. Fortunately, the rest of the band don’t just back him up; they shine brighter than the vast bulk of their contemporaries. Few bands can do what Primordial do; fewer still could match this effort. Frankly, I’m surprised they pulled it off do spectacularly too.
Try before you buy: Ghosts of the Charnel House (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor
(Gothic electric blues – United States of America)
Hell, etc – 2014/01/19

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I was hoping Manson had one last fantastic album in him. Born Villain gave me hope, even if it didn’t quite deliver. The Pale Emperor justifies my hope. It’s a very different album for him, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s the work of a man looking back at his legacy and taking stock of all his missed opportunities and regrets. Bitterness and isolation are recurring themes and are delivered with an achingly soulful approach. It’s a welcome return to form.
Try before you buy: Mephistopheles of Los Angeles (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum
(Grinding industrial blackness – United Kingdom)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/10/24

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I was worried that Anaal Nathrakh had hit peak misanthropy with Hell is Empty. Black Widow had its moments and Passion was lucklustre. Vanitas was an improvement, but that’s like saying Death Magnetic is better than St Anger; it’s true, but it’s a low bar. Desideratum is a welcome return to form. It’s the sound of trying to wash flaming acid off your face with frozen lye. It burns in ways unimaginable. It’s pure sonic masochism done properly.
Try before you buy: The One Needful Thing (YouTube)

Ancient VVisdom – Sacrificial
(Occult rock – United States of America)
Magic Bullet Records – 2014/10/28

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I was hoping for a return to form from these occult crooners. Their previous album sounded like a compilation of shitty b-sides. But this is a roaring comeback. I mean that literally too, as this is a much heavier release. It’s almost a metal album. Almost. It works though. It enables the band to set a suitably dark tone to compliment the anti-cosmic lyrics. It sounds fantastic and feels like you are having your own damnation broadcast directly to you.
Try before you buy: I Am Your Sacrifice (Bandcamp)

Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
(Atmospheric black metal – France)
Debemur Morti Productions – 2014/10/10

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Blut Aus Nord have that special knack for taking archetypal black metal and tweaking it into something unique. Feels weird about saying that about the third album in a series, but it’s true. And of the Memoria Vetusta series, Saturnian Poetry is the one I’m most likely to return to. It’s an album that, knowing it already speaks to the other, seeks to engage rather than alienate. This gives the album an appropriately poetic touch and an air of sophistication.
Try before you buy: Forhist (Bandcamp)

Caïna – Setter of Unseen Snares
(Black metal – United Kingdom)
Broken Limbs Recordings – 2015/01/20

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Thank you, internecine scene politics; I had forgotten about Caïna. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure if they’re worth the fuss, as regardless of where they sit on the ideological spectrum, they sound like just another black metal act. The punk-esque drumming is a nice touch, and the closer, Orphan, is monstrous, so there are some things that separate Setter of Unseen Snares from the pack. It doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t push far enough to distinguish itself.
Try before you buy: I am the Flail of the Lord (Bandcamp)

The Datsuns – Deep Sleep
(Garage rock – New Zealand)
Hellsquad Records – 2014/10/03

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The Datsuns are a rock band that keep me engaged with the genre and it’s criminal that my collection doesn’t have more of them. Deep Sleep helps redress that. Glad to get it too. It’s less frenetic than their, frankly, fantastic self-titled album, but it’s much more finely balanced; the sort of album that when it slows down, it doesn’t fall off the rails. Truth be told, the slower tracks are where it’s at. The fast tracks jab away, but the slow ones lay you out like a haymaker.
Try before you buy: Bad Taste (YouTube)

DawnRazor – Deus Ex Machina
(Death metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/01/05

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Deus Ex Machina has smatterings of promise, but it’s a pretty dull effort overall. There are some catchy melodies and some memorable vocal work, but the pickings are slim. As the album rolls on, it becomes more and more of a chore as the songs all merge into one slightly chuggy snorefest. Oddly enough, I don’t thoroughly hate it. The opening few tracks do hold my attention. I can see why some folk would like it. But it wears out its charm.
Try before you buy: Ego Echo (Bandcamp)

The Grudge – Fortress Sessions
(Sludge metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/01/05

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Okay, I get it, you guys really like Down. That infatuation creates a big problem, as Down really like Black Sabbath, so we’re way down the recycled riff rabbit hole here. Familiarity breeds contempt is an old saying for a reason. It also doesn’t help that the vocalist sounds like a Muppet Show version of Phil Anselmo. ‘Felt Anselmo’ may be appropriate for The Electric Mayhem, but it’s a distraction here. It’s a shame because there’s some potential buried in there.
Try before you buy: Rise of the Death Rates (Bandcamp)

Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/11/11

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I had to get in the right frame of mind for this. Listening to it while lying on the couch watching sport left me thinking, “It’s good, but so what?” Change of scenery and energy levels. Started doing yard work. Got the blood pumping. Then I got it. This is a visceral album. It’s not blood and guts like death metal, nor is fire and fury like black metal. It’s deeper than that. There’s a primalness to it that can’t be enjoyed passively. Turn it on and work up a sweat.
Try before you buy: Shoulder Meat (Bandcamp)

Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/11/11

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This is the superior of the Apes of God. The four long tracks hammer home with expertly delivered sludginess, but what really sets it apart is the incorporation of finely nuanced ambient noise. They’re not mere interludes; they are critical elements to each song, deftly crafting mood that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. There is a certain dark majesty at work here. Much like a mad emperor, it effortlessly commands you, but you cannot be at ease.
Try before you buy: Arrows to Our Hearts (Bandcamp)

Voices – London
(Blackened death metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2014/11/17

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I miss Akercocke. Seriously, Voices does nothing for me. In their effort to distinguish themselves from their predecessor, they seem to have stripped out all the passion and replaced it with faintly gothic melodrama. It’s a shame, as opening track, Suicide Note, demonstrated some genuine sophistication. But it quickly descends into a half-hearted display of disjointed rhythms and inconsistent vocals. It’s not for me at all.
Try before you buy: Vicarious Lover (Bandcamp)

January Review Round Up

Slim pickings in January, but there are still some gems and curiosities.

Album of the Month
Larvae – Grave Descent
(Blackened doom death – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/01/14

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An underground Venn metal masterpiece, this album seamlessly melds its three component genres to create toxic aura of black bile and venom. Pitch paced dirges are interspersed with comparatively faster blackened passages, with vocals that land somewhere between a growl and a rasp. Overall, Grave Descent portrays an atmosphere of creeping malevolence that all doom death albums should seek to emulate.
Try before you buy: Fallen, Left to Die

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
AlNamrood – Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq
(Blackened folk metal – Saudi Arabia)
Shaytan Productions – 2014/01/06

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Bonus points for producing black metal in a country that executes blasphemers, but what about the music itself? The distinctly Middle Eastern compositions lend themselves quite well to blackened folk, sounding suitably sinister, and the vocalist sounds like he was trained by Anaal Nathrakh’s V.I.T.R.I.O.L. However, it lacks the level of spite necessary to make it a spectacular blackened nightmare. It’s still a good listen though.
Try before you buy: Bat Al Tha Ar Nar Muheja

Amaranthine Lament – Spirit Geist
(Atmospheric black metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/01/06

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A demo that, more than anything, leaves me confused. Sometimes it’s synth heavy like prison Burzum and sometimes it’s blasting icy venom like Mayhem. But then it channels industrial black metal in the vein of Mysticum and follows it up with pop metal a la Ghost. It even manages to throw some folk in too. The songs are interesting and the musicianship is excellent, but does it work? I don’t know honestly. I really don’t.
Try before you buy: Ulalume

巨人大虐殺 [Kyojin Daigyakusatsu] – Muhaka
(Brutal death metal – Japan/United States of America)
Amputated Vein Records – 2014/01/14

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I’ve said before that brutal death metal often leaves me cold, but I keep on trying it because at his best, it’s amazing. Which brings us to Muhaka. Amazing might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly is entertaining. It left me a smiling, happy mosh monkey, cheerily daydreaming about windmilling. It has its flaws, such as occasionally tinny drums, but its chunky riffs and bullfrog vocals make it worthwhile.
Try before you buy: Preta Lovers

Lascaille’s Shroud – Interval 02: Parallel Infinities – The Abscinded Universe
(Progressive metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/01/28

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Lascaille’s Shroud is a one man, progressive death band and Interval 02 is an almost two hour long, cosmic odyssey based on science fiction novels, Mass Effect, and a sprinkling of BioShock. Sounds like a self-indulgent wankfest, doesn’t it? And yet, somehow, it’s not. The songs wend and weave in an engaging way, with strong guitar leads and spot on drumming. I just wish it was short enough to enjoy in one sitting.
Try before you buy: Obscured: The Great Aphotic Barriers

Waldgeflüster – Meine Fesseln
(Black metal – Germany)
Bindrune Recordings – 2014/01/10

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Waldgeflüster sits alongside Drudkh and Winterfylleth as a proponent of what I like to call ‘heritage metal’. But their take on pagan heritage is absolutely mournful. The pride in Germany’s pagan history is absolutely washed out with loss, regret, and bitterness. The music speaks of a nationalism that is thoroughly jaded. Depressive suicidal acts could take lessons in emotional songwriting from Meine Fesseln.
Try before you buy: Karhunkierros