May 2018 Review Round Up

Hoo boy, June kind of just appeared, didn’t it? Was still hammering out a review or two in the wee hours of publishing day morn. It was a pretty easy month to get distracted by though.

I started the month by travelling to see Ihsahn. As far as I’m concerned he’s one of the great icons of metal and it showed in his live performance. Credit too goes to Direct Touring for matching him up with some great support. Mar Mortuum were frosty and aggressive like black metal should be. The ludicrously good Ylva gave me vertigo through sheer heaviness. And Hybrid Nightmares were so over the top it was pretty well impossible to not enjoy them. But the man himself put them all to shame. Cracking night out.

On that topic of Ihsahn, Àmr is my album of the month. I expect high quality from him. We all should by now. But this is a step beyond. It’s probably the finest album in his catalogue. I’m sure some Emperor purists will disagree, but they should know they’re wrong.

Shout outs go to Altarage and Woundvac for some kick ass merch. Always appreciated when bands do merch in big guy sizes.

I’ll be back next month. As usual, if you have comments or critique, you can hit me up on Facebook.

Enjoy

Album of the Month
Ihsahn – Àmr
(Progressive Metal – Norway)
Candlelight – 2018/05/04

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If you only have one Ihsahn album in your collection, make sure it’s Àmr. It takes all the good things from his previous solo works and distils them down to nine tracks of perfection. It’s technically superb, emotionally vivid, and memorable in a way that defies expectation. From its opening moments I haven’t wanted to listen to anything else. It has completely dominated this month.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Amorphis – Queen of Time
(Progressive Metal – Finland)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/05/18

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This is all over the place. I can’t remember another album quite like it to be honest. It has some songs that are contenders for track of the year. It also has a couple of appalling tracks that you just can’t listen to. The production values are universally top notch, so this is all about stylistic choices. And I just can’t fathom how it all came together.

Blood Tsunami – Grave Condition
(Thrash – Norway)
Soulseller Records – 2018/04/27

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Kudos to these mad thrashers. This started life as a four track ep, which they then bulked out with some unreleased material. But for Dungeon of the Rats (originally from For Faen!), I wouldn’t have noticed. It’s real impressive that it sounds so cohesive. Better than cohesive, it’s high quality and entertaining as hell. Quality musicianship from all involved.

Depravity – Evil Upheaval
(Death Metal – Australia)
Transcending Obscurity Records – 2018/04/30

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The toughest albums to review aren’t the great nor the grating. They’re the merely good. And that’s what Evil Upheaval is. Heavy without being crushing. Fast without being blistering. Entertaining without being memorable. And that’s the key point; if you like death metal, you will definitely like this, but don’t expect it to linger in your consciousness.

Drudkh – Їм часто сниться капіж (They Often See Dreams About the Spring)
(Black Metal – Ukraine)
Season of Mist – 2018/03/09

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Following up the terrific A Furrow Cut Short was going to be a tall order, but They Often See Dreams is a resounding success. Invigorated and pissed off, Drudkh’s signature invocation of misery has never sounded so vital. A dark undercurrent of furious energy drives this, never allowing it to settle. The Drudkh renaissance continues.

Ekranoplan – Hypnopædia
(Sludge Metal with a dash of Grind – Germany)
Narshardaa Records – 2018/01/30

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I remember Ekranoplan’s demo being much more of an Entombedcore affair, so this progression was a surprise. While there is still a mighty fistful of HM2 going on, the sound has been built on and enriched by adding aggressive, pounding, High on Fire-esque sludge. It’s not straight up mean; it’s complex layers of mean.

Mesarthim – The Density Parameter
(Black Metal – Australia)
Avantgarde Music – 2018/04/03

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Mesarthim want you to know that if you stare into the void, the void will never stare back. The void does not care that you exist. There is nothing out there but a vast frozen emptiness, occasionally lit by beautiful clouds of radiation capable of flaying flesh from bone and burning bone to ash. Existence is a perilous, bleak, and futile endeavour.

夢遊病者 (Muyūbyō-sha – Sleepwalker) – 一期一会 (Ichi-go ichi-e – For this time only, never again)
(Avantgarde Black Metal – Japan)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/05/25

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I have quietly anticipated this album since it was announced. It just seemed so intriguing. It delivered on that promise. It mesmerises as it slowly unveils its many secrets. Such esoteric bleakness really shouldn’t sound this welcoming and warm. And, yet, it’s distant and almost unknowable. This is deliberate, challenging, masterful.

Petrification – Hollow of the Void
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/04/23

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I could have been harsh and just written “See review of Depraved – Evil Upheaval”, but that would have doing them an unkindness. What we have here is an album that gives the listener the most tantalising hint of what a live experience would be. It’s evocative of headbanging front rows, circle pits, and windmilling hair. Definitely would see this live.

Serum Dreg – Lustful Vengeance
(Black metal – United States of America)
Vrasubatlat – 2018/04/20

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There’s something about this merciless slab of blackened nastiness that really makes me think of Nachtmystium at their finest. Aside from that being high praise, it comes with the added benefit of being Blake free. It’s more than just aggressive; it has a pervasive, creeping dread that gives it a febrile touch of madness. Sinister at all levels.

Thou – The House Primordial
(Drone Doom – United States of America)
Robotic Empire – 2018/05/01

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Ethereal and beguiling. Bleak and distressing. Horrific and vile. The House Primordial is all these things at once. It creates a maliciously pressurised sonic landscape so catastrophically heavy that light (joy, hope…) struggle to escape it. Thou specialise in these nightmares, but everything on display here still sounds as novel as the freshest hell.

Turbonegro – RockNRoll Machine
(Deathpunk – Norway)
Mercury Records – 2018/02/02

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Something got under the skin of the band in the years between Sexual Harassment and this. Deliberate throwbacks and obvious homages to other rock greats are delivered with their characteristic shit eating grin. It’s like their saying “Didn’t like what we did last time? Want us to only do things how you like it? Fine. RockNRoll Machine beep boop.” And yet, it’s still pretty damn good.

Woundvac – Terrorizing the Swarm
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/05/04

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Listening to this, you might be tricked into thinking that Phoenix, Arizona is some sort of frozen wasteland. Why else would Woundvac need to bring this level of blistering heat? Believe me; this is an absolute scorcher and it rendered me slightly insensible for a bit. So much so that I temporarily forgot the US has other grind acts. It’s that good.

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May Review Round Up

This has been a landmark month. In the space of a few weeks, my previous contender for album of the year has been relegated to fifth place. Triptykon only just managed to outshine a fistful of other amazing releases. We also have a new contender for steaming loaf of the year too. So, yeah, it’s been a full on month of May.

Album of the Month
Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
(Doom metal – Switzerland)
Century Media Records – 2014/04/14

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Given that I consider Triptykon’s previous album, Eparistera Daimones, to be a perfect album, Melana Chasmata had mighty big shoes to fill. But I need not have worried; this is easily the equal if its predecessor. Tom G Warrior may have decided to up the pace a few notches, but the album is replete with the seething contempt and haunting introspection that make his work so engaging. Dark and alluring, this is doom at its most majestic.
Try before you buy: Altar of Deceit (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/05/13

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I dare say this is some of easiest metal to listen to I’ve come across this year. It’s not that it’s loaded with radio friendly shit singles. Far from it. The rhythms and melodies flow with a natural progression that turn lengthy songs into meaningful reflective experiences. And the songs are wonderfully evocative too; you can close your eyes and feel yourself standing alone in the autumnal wilderness at dusk. A work of stark beauty.
Try before you buy: Celestial Effigy (YouTube)

Anopheli – A Hunger Rarely Sated
(Post-crust – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/24

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Coming from the same feminist, anti-speciesist collective that gave us Carnist and Light Bearer, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that their take on crust is very different. They call themselves emo crust; I call that trolling. Genre purists may cringe, but I did not. The combination of harsh, crusty guitars and more elegant string sections create an e.p. that is beautiful in its anger, furious in its eloquence. Boundries are supposed to pushed this way.
Try before you buy: Incompetent Sires(Bandcamp)

Lord Mantis – Death Mask
(Blackened sludge – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/04/29

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Death Mask is a concentrated mass of metastasised malignancy. Slow, swampy riffs are played with ritualistic fervour. Although it’s played at a higher tempo, this album has drone’s ability to build an oppressive atmosphere. The vocals are hateful shrieks, perfectly suited to the ugly lyrical content. It comes together to create an album that effortlessly draws you in, but never lets you get comfortable. A febrile monstrosity.
Try before you buy: Death Mask (Bandcamp)

Swans – To Be Kind
(Post-punk – United States of America)
Young God Records – 2014/05/12

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There is something truly sublime about To Be Kind. Walls of dissonant sound build soundscapes that are simultaneously trance inducing and deeply unsettling. Meanwhile, the vocals range between the mystic chant of shamanic ritual and the fevered intonation of a tortured call to prayer. That an album can be so dense and seemingly impenetrable, but be utterly compelling is a mark of true genius. But I expect nothing less of Swans.
Try before you buy: Oxygen (YouTube)

Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
(Apocalyptic post-country – United States of America)
Deathwish Inc – 2014/04/29

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This is a monster of an album to classify, as Wovenhand don’t just mash genres together; they elegantly craft songs that deliberately defy labels. My surprise to find them on Deathwish is immense, by the way. Regardless of how you want to classify them, the songs are beautiful. Just as the band deftly tiptoes around classification, so too do the songs dance gracefully across the emotional spectrum. You must hear it; it’s impact is lost in text.
Try before you buy: Hiss (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Aptrgangr – Maps of Reality
(Blackened death metal – United States of America)
E.E.E. Recordings – 2014/05/13

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Unlistenably bad. I hate to be this level of critical, but this e.p. is particularly awful. The uninspiring album art is just the start. The music itself is painfully generic; it could be any black death band warming up. And the paper thin production values destroy whatever uniqueness there was. The vocals are what truly kills this release. Sounding like a combination of severe asthmatic wheezing and a dentist’s drill, nails on a chalkboard have more appeal. Woeful.
Try before you buy: Iron and Pine (Bandcamp)

Bleed the Pigs – Mortis Fatum
(Blackened grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/01/24

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Straight out of the country music heartland, comes this poisoned cut of reactionary violence. I can’t say I’m surprised that this is the product of Nashville’s metal underground. It’s fast and nasty, revelling in the destruction of conventional melody. The vocals, similarly, are growled and spat projections of hate. Hateful and ugly it may be, but it’s far from flawless. It always feels like it’s stuck in second gear. Not a good sound for grindcore.
Try before you buy: Endless Void (Bandcamp)

Catapult the Dead – All is Sorrow
(Post-doom – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/20

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Doom is the genre that carries the torch for heaviness in metal, and when I saw that this album is best treated as one colossal track, I figured it would be another crushing funeral doom act. As a result I wasn’t quite prepared for the elegance and sophistication this band puts into their music. That they have learned vital songcraft lessons from Neurosis is clear. This is still bone-crushingly heavy, but it is achieved with a dancer’s grace, not a troll’s fist.
Try before you buy: Valencia (Bandcamp)

Grst – Fire Therein
(Black metal – United States of America)
Glossolalia Records – 2014/05/01

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A two track e.p. comprising nothing but Weakling covers. I probably should have glossed over it, but I gave it a go. It’s a release that would receive a solid 50% if I were given to numerical scores. The first track highlights everything wrong with ecological black metal. It’s a monotonous tremolo barrage that outstays its welcome by seven minutes. Track two is a soaring reaffirmation of everything that’s right with the genre. Majestic and emotional.
Try before you buy: Dead as Dreams (Bandcamp)

Impetuous Ritual – Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence
(Death metal – Australia)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/04/15

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Impetuous Ritual and Portal are the Dunwich Horror of death metal. Portal is the unknowable horror, while Impetuous Ritual is the brother of madness. And Lovecraftian madness is what this album propagates. An atmosphere of creeping dread is meshed with an undeniable sense of rage to create a release that is both challenging and enthralling. It’s certainly not an easy listen, but it’s equally difficult to turn off.
Try before you buy: Venality in Worship (Bandcamp)

Mannveira – Von Er Eitur
(Black metal – Iceland)
Self-released – 2014/03/10

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A confession: any band that tries to incorporate a Deathspell Omega-esque sound into their black metal is going to attract my attention. I know I complain a lot about derivative black metal, but I’d rather listen to a rip off of the French intellectuals than yet another clone of Bergen, circa 1994. And rip off is probably too strong a term for Von Er Eitur. It incorporates an element of distressing disorientation, but doesn’t plumb the deepest darkness.
Try before you buy: Eðjan (Bandcamp)

Massacre – Back From Beyond
(Death metal – United States of America)
Century Media Records – 2014/03/24

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I remain sceptical regarding comeback albums. I am doubly sceptical about sequel albums. Needless to say, this left me very hesitant about Back From Beyond. I need not have worried though; Massacre have returned with an album of pure Florida death metal murk. It may have been a long time between innings, especially if you discount their lamentable Promise era, but it’s like they never left. They sound like Massacre should and that’s all I need.
Try before you buy: False Revelation (YouTube)

Maur – Elegy
(Blackened atmosoheric doom – Indonesia)
Self-released – 2014/05/25

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I have a lot of respect for the Indonesian metal scene. It routinely puts out bands that are crying out for more attention. Maur is no exception. This two track demo is rife with deft touches. The fearless use of repetition builds a ritualistic atmosphere. The clean vocals are deliberately quietened, drawing the listener in, only to bludgeon them with full force blackened growls once enrhralled. A deceptively complex offering.
Try before you buy: Elegy (Bandcamp)

November 13th – Stadt in Flammen
(Crust – Germany)
Alerta Antifascista Records – 2014/05/08

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After giving this a listen, all I can think of is how this makes me think of what Trap Them would sound like if they were washed out in fifteen or twenty years. The growled vocals sound out of place, as though the vocalist can’t bark out the lyrics anymore. The melodies have heft, but they’re arthritic and seem stuck in second gear. It even sounds like a Kurt Ballou production job, only apathetic. I did enjoy it, but it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself.
Try before you buy: Veränderung 0.9b (Bandcamp)

Olema – Felis Catus (Versus Homo Sapiens) (Remixed and Remastered Version)
(Avant-garde metal – Finland)
Self-released – 2014/05/05

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I ordinarily take the term avant-garde with a grain of salt; it’s more often than not just a byword for bizarreness for bizarreness’ sake. And this is a bizarre release. At its core this could be a progressive death album, but it incorporates jazz arrangements, electronica, k-pop vocals, and all manner of other weirdness. They use kazoos for God’s sake. But the truly weird thing is that it works. The songs are magnificently coherent in their madness.
Try before you buy: Tämä Laulu on Taidetta (Bandcamp)

Pryapisme – Blastbit Rococollider
(8-bit – France)
Apathia Records – 2014/02/03

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Is it Nintendocore. No, thankfully. Is it bitcore? No. This is a legitimately 8-bit sounding e.p. It sounds like Alex Kidd Shroomed Out in Castlevanialand™. The next important question to ask is how quickly does the gimmick wear out its welcome? Honestly, it remains consistently listenable throughout. Given that it’s a remix of earlier releases, it kind of makes me curious to know what the band sounds like on a regular release. An interesting diversion.
Try before you buy: Un Druide est Giboyeux Lorsqu’il se Prend Pour un Neutrino ( Platform ) (Bandcamp)

Serpents Lair – Demo MMXIV
(Black metal – Denmark)
Self-released – 2014/05/02

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A pretty good introduction to a new Danish black metal act. Only two tracks long, but it provides ample opportunity to get to the roots of their sound. They do a reasonable job of channelling the cacophony; not as well as Deathspell Omega, but that’s hardly unsurprising. The vocal style has more in common with Mortus’ vocals with Funeral Mist: raw, barking, and tortured. Swirling with borderline disorientation, this band has potential.
Try before you buy: Epistemology of Death (Bandcamp)

Thou – Heathen
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2014/02/25

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My second Thou review for the year. As much as I’m hesitant to review multiple releases from the same artist in a given year, Heathen totally justifies the time. Frankly, I’m amazed a band this prolific maintains such high quality. This is doom in the truest sense of the genre; it’s slow, bleak, and heavy as hell. But the songs are memorable and you’ll find yourself humming them later like they were some rock hit on drivetime radio. A seriously impressive achievement.
Try before you buy: In Defiance of the Sages (Bandcamp)

Vallenfyre – Splinters
(Death metal – United Kingdom)
Century Media Records – 2014/05/12

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The second album from the Britain’s gloomiest death metal act proves that they have no intention of reinventing the wheel. But, then, when their brand of hostility is so well done, they don’t really need to make too many changes. The songs definitely let the band’s doomy heritage shine through, but don’t arbitrarily slow the pace down. The end result is a collection of fiercely downtuned riffs that are grimey, putrid, fetid, all the synonyms for nastiness.
Try before you buy: Odious Bliss (YouTube)