Archgoat -- HEAVENLY VULVA (CHRIST'S LAST RITES) [Debemur Morti Productions]
Well, wonder of wonders -- a full-on necro black metal band that understands the value of being succinct. The longest track on this EP is just over three and a half minutes, evidence that they know how to get their hate on without dragging things out endlessly. The music itself is pretty standard necro fare -- fizzy barbed-wire guitars, bass that might as well be nonexistent, wet-cardboard drums, a vocalist who sounds like he was weaned on grindcore as much as early black metal -- but it's violent and vicious, and when they slow down, the guitarist gets to demonstrate that he has a pretty swell grasp of harmonically-pleasing chords (especially in the slow portion of "Goddess of the Abyss of Graves") to go with his scathing guitar tone. Between the album title and song titles like "Blessed Vulva" and "Penetrator of the Second Temple" (dig those orgasmic moans at the beginning, doom childe) it's clear that they're equally obsessed with both perversity and anti-religious sentiment. I'll bet they have all the early Arkhon Infaustus albums; they certainly share that band's affinity for rudeness and (on the early albums, at least) willful primitivism. There's nothing revolutionary happening here, but it's solid enough and filled with all the right elements to appeal to those hep to the misanthropic necro sound.
Debemur Morti Productions
Blut Aus Nord -- 777: THE DESANCTIFICATION [Debemur Morti Productions]
You can always count on French black metal to be weird, and Blut Aus Nord are no exception. This is apparently the second portion of a trilogy, and while I haven't heard the first part, I definitely need to rectify that omission, because this is great stuff. "Epitome VII," which opens the album, is a dark and malevolent industrial metal dirge that sounds like a black metal update of the best parts of Treponem Pal and Godflesh that picks up where Beherit's experiments in the same field left off. The mechanical vibe and industrial-style groove is even more aggressive on "Epitome VIII," where they use drum machines they way they were meant to be used -- in other words, as bludgeoning instruments of desolate, inhuman terror. After a brief, near-ambient respite on "Epitome IX," the grinding industrial steamroller returns on "Epitome X," with occasional squeals of dissonant guitar riding over the death-disco beats. The remaining three tracks play out in a similar vein, although it's worth noting that "Epitome XII" is possibly the album's heaviest track. Unlike a lot of today's extreme metal, these are mid-tempo songs that favor heaviness and atmosphere over speed, probably a wise move given the band's mechanical sound and electronic leanings. There's a heavy drone element present in the band's sound, too, especially in the vocals, and despite the industrial direction, plenty of dissonant, paint-peeling guitar to satisfy more traditional metalheads. Bonus points for the nifty occult-themed cover art.
Blut Aus Nord
Debemur Morti Productions
Brains -- UNLOADED [Edgetone Records]
Two dudes, two instruments, three long songs: this is what they call improvisational minimalism, doom childe. (If you're not familiar with the genre, that's probably because I just made it up.) The two dudes are Drew Ceccato and Chris Golinksi, and the two instruments are winds and drums, a peculiar combination to be sure, but it's happening as a happening thing, see, with song structures that rely as much on space and the silences between bleats 'n beats as it does with anything else. That's definitely true on "Rictus," whose eighteen-plus minutes are punctuated by intermittent stabs at sound from the wind instruments and lots of silences in between the musical phrases; the beats get doled out in a most sparing fashion, but the empty spaces start getting filled up slowly but surely as the piece progresses, building into an orgy of whirling shards of sound… and then it goes back to the minimalist feel, dominated mainly by erratic percussion that slowly winds down until the piece is over. The other two tracks, "Dirt" and "Gnash," are essentially variations on the same theme, but they're interesting variations, and do plenty to demonstrate how much racket you can make with just two instruments. Abstract sound has rarely sounded so physical. If you think the meeting of woodwinds and percussion is a bizarre concept, check this out and see how much better it works in reality than on paper.
Dead in the Dirt -- FEAR 7" [Southern Lord]
Southern Lord sure does seem to be down with bands mixing hardcore and extreme metal lately. This is one of them, and they sure are heavy, but unlike a lot of their equally heavy brethren, they favor really short songs; nothing here is over two minutes, and several hover around a half-minute or less. Brevity, d00d, I am all for it…. They sound like a black metal band (especially where the guitars are concerned), but their song structures -- especially the ones that feature slo-mo breakdowns -- are closer to hardcore, and their tendency toward escalating levels of pure chaos is divided pretty neatly between the two genres. The really short songs are essentially crazed bursts of speed and terror featuring guitars that sound like Shrike missiles arcing across the landscape, and the (moderately) longer songs aren't exactly heartwarming lullabies, either. The short song lengths do explain how they can pack ten songs into a vinyl single, and anybody who's already down with the label's recent avalanche of hardcore-influenced heaviness will find this worth grabbing. The vinyl's available in a one-time pressing of 1500 copies.
Dead in the Dirt
Encoffination -- O' HELL, SHINE IN THY WHITED SEPULCHRES [Selfmadegod Records]
They certainly live up to their name on this, their second album -- this is some seriously evil, diseased-sounding death metal. They remind me a lot of the German band Blood, who favored (and maybe still do) the same kind of relentlessly primitive kitchen-sink sound, although this band is far slower and doomed-out than they ever were. What's really interesting is how together this sounds, given that the band's two members live in totally different states (Texas and Georgia) and recorded their parts separately; they get major props for making such an unlikely arrangement work. As for the songs, they're slow, torturous monuments of slow wasting doom as played by a death metal band whose guitar tone walks the fine line between gut-wrenching ugliness and borderline white noise. Throw in lots of pained moaning, feedback-drenched guitars, and spaced-out atmospherics and what you get is something that frequently resembles the sound of early Abruptum while still retaining an actual structure that's recognizable (just barely) as metal. This is a grotesque, dark offering whose murky sound is comparable to that of Portal, minus the avant-garde theatrics, and every bit as unsettling. That heavy, restless sound also owes a lot -- and I mean a lot -- to the earliest days of death metal and the low-budget production style of those early records by Sodom, Death, and Venom; at the same time, their approach is nowhere near as retro as their sound, and they achieve a far more arcane, occult form of sonic darkness than any of those bands. This is genuinely nightmarish-sounding stuff, and totally irony-free. I greatly approve. The cover art (an appropriately morbid 17th-century painting by Juan De Valdes) is pretty swank too.
Exhumed -- ALL GUTS, NO GLORY [Relapse Records]
Some people think Pantera, in the process of transitioning from a Def Leppard / Van Halen clone band into cowboys bent on heaviness, stole a lot of their moves from this band. I have no idea if that's true or not, but it's certainly believable; this band is not only relentlessly heavy, but they favor the kind of riff-driven madness that made Pantera so popular. On this release, at least, their sound has a lot more to do with grindcore than groove metal (which probably explains why it's appearing on Relapse). The lead guitar style is certainly very much in the vein of what Darrell Abbott used to do -- plenty of whammy-bar wailing and blinding solo runs like lightning to the nations -- but these guys are far, far more relentless in their intensity (and speed) than Pantera ever were, less concerned with grooving and more with bulldozing through everything in their path. The constant barrage of high-speed madness gets to be a little much for me after a while, and there's not enough variety to the songs for my taste, but they're certainly relentless, overflowing with energy like a nitro-burning funny car, and they execute their intense songs with plenty of precision. It's certainly one of the most extreme-sounding things I've heard in a while, so if you're into that, then you'll definitely like this.
FluiD -- DUALITY [Alrealon Musique]
Now this is something I can get behind: a diabolical mix of hip-hop, noise, and metal that's heavy on beats inspired by Massive Attack circa MEZZANINE (still my vote for the best trip-hop album ever, with the best beats), ambient weirdness akin to the dubbed-out cyclone of death tearing through Scorn's first album, and liberal doses of pure noise. Industrial music and hip-hop seems like an unlikely sonic marriage, but in FluiD's hands they work together really well. Fans of Scorn's debut VAE SOLIS will find this to be in the same ballpark, albeit nowhere near as aggressive and violent; with the exception of the driving opener DH-1,", these are mostly mid-tempo tracks built on fat beats, dub-heavy bass, and melodies that are often processed sounds swaddled in noise. The Massive Attack influence is particularly prominent on "AIC" and "Disrupting the Ghost," but "Iron Communique" (featuring buried vocals courtesy of Black Saturn) is closer to white noise with occasional beats and incredibly distorted guitar riffs, and "Dread Futures" opens with what sounds like voices underwater before segueing into bass 'n drums straight out of MEZZANINE and a lilting piano melody. "Refuge," nothing more than a droning string melody accompanied by a drifting collection of ambient noises, acts as a brief respite from the beats, and "Froz N II" is more about sounds and textures, with beats held in abeyance until halfway through the song. All ten tracks are strong, deftly mixing textured sounds and noises with uncomplicated beats that are nevertheless perfect for the occasion. In short: great stuff, and hopefully more will follow.
Glorior Belli -- THE GREAT SOUTHERN DARKNESS [Metal Blade]
French black metal takes some weird forms; just look at this band, who somehow manage to combine a desert-rock guitar style with a more traditional form of war-metal aggression, giving their unholy darkness a melodic pop sheen that's really unusual for this genre. They don't do so much for me -- I prefer my black metal primitive, ugly, and necro, not to mention untainted by the kind of sunny rock guitar normally associated with pot-smoking hippies -- but they're undeniably good at what they do, and they get a tremendous guitar sound. I'm also not so impressed by their songwriting, which tends toward songs that sound too much alike, but I'll admit that they are capable of throwing the occasional curveball (the title track, for instance, which deviates substantially from the rest of the album with its bluesy acoustic feel, at least until the moments where the metallic buzzsaw guitars crash the party, and the more doom-laden "Per Nox Regna" ), and the closing track, "Horns In My Pathway," one of the few mid-tempo tracks on the album, does a pretty swell job of mixing the more jarring elements of their style into something more organic and aesthetically pleasing. By and large it's not my bag, but I can see why others would like them. If you liked their earlier albums, you'll like this one; if you didn't, then this probably won't change your opinion of the band.
Haken -- VISIONS [Sensory Records]
Progressive metal is a tricky thing to pull off, and this London band must know it, because they've obviously put a lot of work into making their mix of proggy synths, metallic guitars, pop vocal stylings, and experimental leanings work in a manner as unforced as possible. They make their intentions clear immediately with "Premonition," which opens with gentle piano and strings until the beat kicks in, bringing with it highly melodic guitar and bracing riffs backed by tasteful synth washes and unusual rhythms. The track that follows, "Nocturnal Conspiracy," is something else entirely -- for the first several minutes they sound like a bizarre but compelling cross between Cheer-Accident and Supertramp, more pop with a prog bent than anything else, but as the song progresses, metal elements creep in. although the song never gets terribly heavy. The songs that follow are all unquestionably steeped in the trappings of prog rock -- especially "Insomnia," which features plenty of jaw-dropping guitar solo action -- but unlike a lot of modern prog-metal, the band never grows too bombastic for its own good, and the songs are all memorable and distinct, filled with intricate playing and complex layers of sound. Several of the songs are long enough to incorporate many movements as well, especially the sprawling 23-minute title track, but despite elongated song lengths, the tracks are filler-free. This is an outstanding example of the potential of prog-metal, and while it's probably nowhere near heavy enough to win over fans of the more extreme sub-genres of metal, it's definitely recommended to anyone interested in hearing how well prog and metal can work together.
Heartless -- HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE [Southern Lord]
More hardcore-influenced heaviness. Like the aforementioned Dead in the Dirt, they largely favor short bursts of frantic heaviness -- with only one exception, the songs are all under three minutes, and several are less than a minute long -- and as you'd expect given the nature of the label, they are oppressively heavy, especially when they slow the tempo down (as they do at points of "Undulations" and "Deject"). While they mostly favor a blitzkrieg style of sonic ultraviolence, the times when they do slow things down, the bone-rattling riffs and intemperate drums are heavy enough to drill holes in your skull. They do occasionally sacrifice variety for pure blinding heaviness, an occupational hazard with this kind of frantic grinding noise terror, but they never fall short on the intensity, and they have the good sense to keep things concise (the entire EP clocks in at just under 22 minutes). Extreme? O mas oui.
The House of Capricorn -- IN THE DEVIL'S DAYS [Swamps of One Tree Hill]
They have some strange ideas about metal in New Zealand; while this is ostensibly a stoner / doom band, there are elements of rock, pop, and even goth to their sound; for instance, "Les Innocents" sounds like a bizarre mix of Saint Vitus and Type O Negative, a combo that sounds pretty whacked-out on paper but actually works really well in their hands. The stoner hand of doom shows up on other tracks, too, like "Veils." Other tracks like "All Hail to the Netherworld" and "Coffins and Cloven Hooves" are considerably more rocking, with a heavy 70s stoner vibe and vestigial ties to the blues amid the heavy riffing. "To Carry the Lantern," with its interesting rhythms and unusual opening, is another one of the more uptempo tracks, and the title track is not only a full-on rocker, but the album's fastest track (although that's not terribly fast by modern standards, to be sure). There's a moderate occult vibe to their approach, too -- nothing real sinister, perhaps comparable to the mysticism of some of Wino's post-Vitus bands (The Hidden Hand comes to mind, especially since the cover resembles some of that band's artwork) -- as indicated by titles like "Arcane Delve" and "Illumination in Omega," which only adds to their air of mystery. Some other reviewers have compared them to Trouble, which is fair enough given their sound and occult tendencies, but that band was a lot more straightforward than this one, and this band's approach is more varied in terms of sounds and songs. Interesting stuff, and their ability to deliver on both uptempo tracks as well as the more doom-laden ones (along with their talent for crafting solid tunes with a really dark and potent sound) bodes well for their future, however cryptic and mysterious it may be.
The House of Capricorn
The Lords of Outland -- YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU'RE DEAD [Edgetone Records]
Rent Romus is at it again, this time with a collective bent on laying waste to your ears via the cruel, cruel tones of black metal death jazz. Romus bleats away on various saxophones (and occasionally provides vocals and accordion work) as C. J. Borosque creates noise with no-input pedals while Ray Scheaffer and Philip Everett (on bass and drums, respectively) hold down the anti-rhythm section. There's a energy and violence to the more assaultive moments that recalls the frenzied efforts of Last Exit, a confrontational vibe that's only made more so by the addition of Borosque's often-scalding noise textures, but it's not all about flailing around and breaking shit; there are quiet moments in which Romus gets pensive and moody with the saxes, and those moments provide a bit of respite from the bone-rattling cacophony taking place much of the time. It's true that there's not enough of Borosque and her ass-kicking noise-fu for my taste, but given the already high level of barely-controlled chaos on display, that might have actually been a wise choice, lest the album turn into something closer to full-on noise than merely noisy free jazz. Any way you slice it, there's some happening sounds in their crash and burn action. Seriously, how can you pass up an album with both Romus and Borosque? They get massive bonus points, too, for the awesome titles, including "Do-Gooders Can Run But They Can't Hide," "Gasburger Sheep Slaughter House," "More Water Kills for the Money," "How To Be A Good CItizen In 3 Easy Steps," and "The Demonic Circus of Certified Insular Asshogs."
The Lords of Outland
Nunfuckritual -- IN BONDAGE TO THE SERPENT [Debemur Morti Productions]
Given the personnel involved -- including guitarist Teloch (Nidingr, Mayhem), Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth), and Andreas Jonsson (Tyrant) -- you'd expect this to be an amphetamine-fueled blur of sonic violence, but instead it's the complete opposite. The songs here are slow and protracted exercises in doomed-out black metal; even when they occasionally pick up the pace, as they do halfway through "Cursed Virgin, Pregnant Whore," it's still not particularly fast. The sound, dominated mainly by fizzy, ugly guitar and atmospheric keyboards, is definitely a throwback to the early days of black metal, and in fact, the band's sound owes a lot to early Mayhem ( a connection made even more obvious by the appearance of Attila Cshihar on "Komodo Dragon, Mother Queen"). What makes them interesting are the sound effects that pop up from time to time, strange-sounding bits at the beginning and end of tracks, and the genuinely spooky keyboards. It also doesn't hurt that they eschew complexity in favor of simple but effective riffs and song structures rooted in a deeply morose and primitive sound. They're not quite necro -- the production is too good for that -- but they certainly have the necro vibe down cold, and the result is a parade of malevolent sickness designed to please the tiny blackened heart of any fan of old-school black metal. Bonus points for the ridiculous but highly appropriate band name.
Debemur Morti Productions
Ordo Obsidium -- ORBIS TERTIUS [Eisenwald]
Yet another Bay Area band… what's up with the (apparent) sudden explosion of Bay Area bands with swell releases? This is the band's debut release, and it's a mix of raging black metal and intense funeral doom (a genre that appears to be making a major resurgence lately). Like many of their depressed, metallic brethren, they favor long songs -- the shortest is just under seven minutes, and two are over twelve -- filled with lots of movements, tempo changes, and a constantly evolving sonic landscape. Seeing as how they're from the Bay Area, it's not terribly surprising that at least some of their sound (especially in the more manic moments) can be traced back to their defunct neighbors Weakling, who have become the standard-bearer for intense USBM, but their sound is more complex and nuanced; like Wolves in the Throne Room, they have expanded considerably on their roots to forge a sound that at times borders on the psychedelic. Also like WITTR, they have a fondness for atmospherics and incorporating striking moments of quiet into their compositions, but it's the willingness to descend into the slo-mo world of creeping funeral doom that separates them from most of their contemporaries (although I have a feeling that within a year, this will be a standard operating procedure for most USBM, but that's not their fault). Heavy sounds + detailed textures + complex, sprawling compositions + persistent dread = swell listening for you. Bonus points for the appropriately grim album cover.
Sex Church -- GROWING OVER [Load Records]
Oooo, I like this: a rock band with a vaguely punkish bent that sounds like it was weaned primarily on no wave records and healthy doses of METAL BOX, a sound they put to good use immediately on the opener "Put Away," which opens with a grim bassline Jah Wobble would have been proud to call his own and steadily grows to a surging, pounding swirl of ugliness that segues into "Waking Up," in which screeching noise is joined by a lumbering beat and icy metallic guitars and dead-man vocals, suggesting Joy Division gone new wave. It's a sound that's pervasive through the entire album, and sounds best on tracks like the spidery "Dull Light," which is spiced up by plenty of dissonant noise action halfway through, and "Paralyze," the closest they come to a commercial offering (at least until the deranged oscillator noises kick in). Spindly baselines are countered by guitars that oscillate between a metallic clang, bursts of feedback, and howling tornado shrapnel without ever completely descending into white noise (well, there is "Colour Out of Space," a short track that's nothing but chaos and noise) -- all in service of actual songs, good songs, even. Despite the preponderance of dissonance and a tendency to occasionally devolve into abstract ugliness just for the sake of making a pleasingly atonal racket, these are songs driven by catchy beats and rhythms, and while there's no escaping their obvious influences, they at least have the good sense to steal from stellar bands and put their own iconoclastic spin on that sound. I'll bet it would be real interesting to see this band on a bill with Alaric, a metal band coming from a similar direction. Highly recommended, and not just to PIL / Joy Division junkies.
Skoal Kodiak -- KRYPTONYM BODLIAK [Load Records]
Squeaky, creaky techno (sorta) by way of hallucinogens and a deeply warped sense of humor (but probably mostly hallucinogens) -- imagine Landed with Casio synths instead of guitars and you get the idea. They apparently have some link to the Cows, so the weirdness is almost certainly unforced, and despite their base location being Minneapolis, they've got some damaged funk in their DNA, possibly from standing too close to Papa George at some long-ago Funkadelic show. Were they sucked into the Mothership and irradiated with funk? We'll never know, but it sure sounds like it. Still, Funkadelic were never quite this out-there, even on acid-drenched classics like FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW, although you can draw a parallel between this band's kitchen sink and all sound and classic Funkadelic hip-wigglers like "Wars of Armageddon" and "Super Stupid." Different instruments (in this case, Casio synths, cheap-sounding gadgets, unidentified funny noises, etc.), same agenda: messing up your mind while forcing your hips to move. This is eccentric-sounding shit, brutah, but it's catchy and you can get up and move to it, although the sheer level of bizarro-sound oozing from the speakers may occasionally cause those hips to move the wrong way, at least until you get used to their bodacious dying-robot sounds.
Untimely Demise -- CITY OF STEEL [Sonic Unyon Metal]
I've said before that I don't understand the retro-thrash movement, and it's still true -- I mean, I can sort of understand why today's metal kids would want to have their own thrash movement since the first wave of thrash was so awesome, but I was there for the first round, and now I'm old and don't see the point in rebooting a sound that's so completely and totally locked into an era that ended a long, long time ago. Having said that, if you're down with the retro-thrash movement, and into the current crop of bands doing their best to emulate every last inch of the sound of bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Exodus, and so on, then you'll love this band, who do an excellent job of capturing the sound and intensity of those bands. Seriously, "Hunting Evil" sounds like a face-melting cross between early Slayer and Metallica circa MASTER OF PUPPETS; "Virtue in Death" could easily have appeared on the second or third Megadeth album; and so on. The band is certainly competent enough to faithfully recreate the sound of 80s-era thrash, and while this is probably not going to replace MASTER OF PUPPETS or REIGN IN BLOOD in the pantheon of metal greatness, this is plenty intense in its own right. It's also remarkably filler free -- if you like this kind of sound, you'll like everything here -- and at just over thirty minutes, doesn't wear out its welcome. If you're going to embrace the retro thing, this band should be high on your list of ones to check out.
Sonic Unyon Metal
Warning Light -- WILD SILVER [Stickfigure]
The twelve minimalist tracks on this album are percussion-free instrumentals built around different combinations of repetitive, percolating sequencer lines and droning ambient keyboards, and if that sounds like mastermind Drew Haddon is working with a (deliberately) limited sonic palette, you would be right… but you would also be surprised at the level of variety in the tracks with only these tools (and some found sounds) at his disposal. While this is unquestionably minimalist and highly repetitive music, it's hardly boring, since there's a fair level of variety to the sequencer sounds and rhythms, and the tracks vary considerably from one to the next in terms of their balance between the sequencer lines and the ambient drone. Some of the tracks also include elements of found sound, such as the bird sounds and ambient noise of nature found in "Whispering Priest" (and to a lesser extent, minus the bird calls, in "Eventide Ladies"). Many of these pieces, especially the dreamier and more ambient ones, sound like soundtrack music for a series of wildly different films, and even the most minimal pieces nevertheless feature enough layers to the sound to make them worthy of repeated listening. This is a fine addition to the ambient techno wing of the minimalist canon.