The Afternoon Gentlemen -- PISSEDOGRAPHY [Give Praise Records]
I know nothing about this UK grindcore band, but they've apparently been around long enough to accumulate a lengthy discography, mainly in the form of singles and splits, and that discography is presented here in full (as far as I know) -- all 38 tracks worth. It's classic grind in every sense of the word -- lots of serrated riffing and incoherent yelling, mostly short songs (some as short as 14 seconds), humorous samples gathered from a wide variety of sources, and titles like "Rusty Axe Through Aaron Turner's Head." As grind players go, this band is pretty good -- they abound with nasty riffs and drumming akin to pounding nails through your skull -- and unlike a lot of grind acts, their tunes are reasonably well-recorded. This is definitely an outing designed for grind fans only; those not attuned to grindcore's fast 'n furious, blink and you missed it aesthetic won't get this at all. Those down with the grind will find it entertaining enough, and at only five dollars for the download version (available through the site via Bandcamp), an absolute bargain.
The Afternoon Gentlemen
Give Praise Records
Bastard Priest -- GHOULS OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT [Pulverised Records]
I dunno, man… Sweden's Bastard Priest are a duo obviously weaned on old-school death metal like Autopsy and Dismember, which is fine, but they seem a tad bereft in the songwriting department and their Hammer horror shtick is not terribly original. They're not awful by any means, but they're not exactly metal's pinnacle of greatness either, if you get what I mean. What you get here is some standard-issue death metal with hardcore overtones and a bizarre mix that emphasizes the drums over the guitars, all in service of eight songs that don't have an enormous amount of variety. Which is too bad, because when they cook (like halfway through "Ghouls of the Endless Night"), they break out some swell riffs and rock with authority. They actually sound a lot better on the slower songs like "Poison," where their death crunch (aided by howling lead guitars circling like vultures overhead) approximate slow wasting doom in a death metal context, and "Enormous Thunder of the End," which actually owes more to NWOBHM's melodic catchiness than death metal (at least for the first minute or so, after which they devolve back into the relentless and monochromatic pounding that dominates the rest of the album). The seriously clunky drumming throughout the album doesn't help, either, or the strange sound effects that I would presume were intended to be interesting and unexpected but in reality are more jarring than anything else.
Black Skies -- ON THE WINGS OF TIME [self-released]
This is kind of interesting -- the band's sound is rooted in stoner rock, but their songs have more in common with the urgency of punk and the complex, movement-oriented structures of post-metal. It's a weird but highly listenable sound. The stoner rock vibe manifests itself through copious (some might claim inordinate) wah-abuse, but the riffs are far heavier than standard stoner fare, and even acoustic tracks like "The Other Side of the Mountain" and "Weightless" have a certain level of heaviness to them that makes them far darker, especially on the former, when the morose leads pave the way for a switch to much heavier playing. The combination of their post-metal aesthetic (including clear nods to bands like Neurosis and Year of No Light) and the stoner rock guitar sound results in grandiose, even bombastic songs that are still anchored by more traditional metal riffs. Which is not to say they are slaves to the past; many of the riffs in "Valley of the Kings" are more modern in approach, and work perfectly in the context of that song's extended suite of movements. Much of the time the band sounds like a progressive-rock mind-meld of Black Sabbath and Neurosis, which makes for some pretty adventurous listening. This is ambitious, well-crafted music whose reach does not exceed its grasp, and at its best delivers an emotional punch without sacrificing its visceral edge.
Book of Shadows -- CAYLEPER [Ikuisuus]
Albums by Austin's Book of Shadows tend to fall into one of two categories: conceptual albums with thematically linked pieces, or snapshot releases featuring a wide variety of recent tracks that not only have little to no relation to each other, but often sound markedly different. This album is one of the latter, featuring eleven tracks recorded live and in the studio, all definitely improvised but very different in mood and texture. Tripped-out psychedelic improv is a mainstay of these pieces, regardless of their actual tones and textures, with Sharon Crutcher's haunting, disembodied vocals a frequent highlight and strange, even exotic sounds encompassing everything from robot noises and bizarre effects ("Zizabah," "The Listening Pilgrim"), halting but beautiful piano ("Kresnayarsk"), pastoral sounds mixed with mad drone efx ("Hawkfib"), dark drone ("Coming At You Live Leper"), percussion and flute ("Earhorn to the Other Side"), and acid-folk guitar trippiness ("Tran-smitten"). Best of all is the lengthy track "I Played Crawling Chaos on My Jambox in the Graveyard," which incorporates many of these wildly disparate elements and the unorthodox use of lap steel into a sprawling epic of droning psych weirdness graced by Sharon's ethereal vocals. As always, the band's work is mysterious, unpredictable, and excellent. You need.
Book of Shadows
Book of Shadows -- POPPETS AND STRINGS 3" cdr [Kendra Steiner Editions]
This brief but stimulating 3-inch cdr contains two tracks, each approximately nine minutes, of the same mysterious, swirling, and dreamlike psych that has persistently defined the band's existence. The first, "Leander," features Sharon Crutcher vocalizing like a woman emitting sonic vapor trails over a clanking, droning river of guitar, keyboards, and electronics that's somewhere between slowed-down early Hawkwind and mid-70s Sun Ra; it's cryptic and mesmerizing, filled with enigmatic drones broken up by submerged fragments of experimental sound. The sound on "Poppets and Strings" is similar, only murkier and heavier on the drone aspect than the weird sounds, carried mainly by Sharon's vocals and the throbbing, bass-heavy drone at the center of piece. More swellness, and with only 82 copies to go around, something to hunt down quickly.
Book of Shadows
Kendra Steiner Editions
The Devil's Blood -- THE THOUSANDFOLD EPICENTRE [Metal Blade Records]
The second full-length release (originally released overseas last year by Van Records) from these Dutch occult-rockers finds them expanding on their obvious 70s-rock pedigree (including occult touchstones Coven and Black Widow). Led by guitarist / songwriter Selim and his sister Farida on vocals, the band returns with an amazing album that successfully cross-pollinates strands of classic psychedelia, 70s hard rock, and a particularly mystical brand of Satanism to create a record that sounds like a throwback to to the early 70s with modern production. How metal this is, though, is open to interpretation; to me, this sounds more like classic hard rock with occasional bursts of metal thrown in, which is not necessarily a bad thing, since the songs are far more complex and sonically ornate than most of what passes for metal these days. Then, too, Farida is an astounding singer whose voice would be wasted on songs built around heaviness for the sake of heaviness. The songs themselves are complex, well-crafted works that revolve less around riffs (although there are plenty of those present, and catchy ones at that) and melodies than an ambitious approach to layered compositions with many movements and plenty of dynamics. Those dynamic movements are definitely built around catchy riffs and melodies, though, all filtered equally through a classic-rock sensibility and heaping doses of full-blown psych guitar. This is definitely an album where the sum of the parts -- the individual players, the songwriting, and the production -- are all excellent to begin with, and together form the kind of high-quality listening experience from start to finish that's grown increasingly hard to find over the years. It's worth noting that the elements of the band's sound are all perfectly balanced as well; in other bands Farida's sensuous vocals or Selim's aggressive, inventive guitar sounds would be the highlights here, but instead they are merely part of the package -- essential elements, no doubt, but very much in service of a batch of excellent songs. It's not hard to see why so many metalheads are wetting their panties over this band. Highlights of the album include the piano-driven opener "Unending Singularity" and the epic "On the Wings of Gloria," "She" (which sounds like it could have been a huge radio hit back in the day), and the monstrous exercise in building intensity that is the closer "Feverdance," but truthfully, everything on this album is excellent. I normally have a hard time hanging with the retro movement, but I can always make an exception for a band with an album this brilliant.
The Devil's Blood
Metal Blade Records
Earth -- ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT II [Southern Lord]
Guitarist Dylan Carson and pals pick up where they left off with the last album, and not surprisingly, it's more of the same -- slo-mo spaghetti western drone, only this time a bit more improvised and, in the case of the relatively brief (for them, anyway) opener "Sigil of Brass," more simple and minimal. Things get interesting on "His Teeth Did Brightly Shine," where the guitar sound (and the playing itself) takes on more of an acid-rock feel, with a guitar motif that's considerably less sparse than most of Carson's recent playing and a tone that's got a bit more squeal to it. "Waltz (A Multiplicity of Doors)" is closer to the sound of the previous album, but its name is no joke: it is indeed a waltz, albeit the slowest one you're ever likely to hear. There's some complex interplay between the instruments on "The Corascene Dog," where the convergence of instruments rises and falls, giving the song a dynamic akin to breathing, and the closing epic "The Rakehell" not only has a considerably different drum sound than the rest of the album, but actually borders on being funky. Granted, it's the slowest funk ever, but still, it's just another indication of the variety of approaches on this release. As always, the tones are gorgeous -- partly due to the swell chord choices, partly because the band's sparse, open sound allows lots of space for that resonant sound to expand to fill any given room -- and bassist Karl Blau brings to the table some of the best basslines in the band's history. Like all things Earth, the tracks unfold at a truly glacial pace -- Carson's internal clock must be moving at a quarter the speed of anyone else's -- but that just allows you more time to absorb all the nuances of his guitar sound and to let those heavily-reverbed guitar tones reverberate and die away. Those who got behind the first installment of this release will find this equally rewarding.
Envelope and Jacoti Sommes -- THIS COULD GO EITHER WAY 12" [Palais du Pomeroi Recordings]
There's an interesting connection to Columbus Discount Records here, but I'm not going to tell you about it -- instead, I'm going to direct you to the hilarious and highly entertaining Envelope website (see below) to find out for yourself. This eccentric rap album (yes, it's a rap album, deal with it) is the product of Tony Envelope (who provides the MC action and overall aesthetic) and Jacoti Sommes (of Hugs 'n Kisses), who provides the beats and musical direction. Tony's third album has a distinctly DIY / bootleg look, with the graphics and titles screen-printed directly onto a plain white jacket, and the laid-back jams that populate the album are rap's answer to the lo-fi punk sensibility pervasive through the Columbus Discount Records catalog -- simple but catchy, anchored by fat beats and occasional minimalist keyboard action, and dominated by raps that range from the amusing ("I Wanna New Satan," "Drink My Drugs") to the apocalyptic ("We're All Gonna Die Together"). This is street-level hip-hop, not the blasé and overproduced stuff being vomited out by TV and radio, with a raw and straightforward attack that's as refreshing as it is stripped-down. Bizarre? Sure. Compelling? That too. Available through iTunes, for you poor bastards without turntables.
Gnaw Their Tongues -- PER FLAGELLUM SANGUEMQUE, TENEBRAS VENERAMUS [Crucial Blast]
I have to say, right up front, that I really like the packaging for this release, which -- like all of the band's albums -- manages to combine blasphemy, perversion, pornography, and other taboo subjects into a gestalt that's far more unsettling than similar attempts by other metal bands. The artwork for this album features a robed Baphomet and several masked priestesses in various states of undress. Given that the album's title roughly translates to "with blood and whip, we worship the dark," the artwork's themes are certainly appropriate. The band's earlier work established a propensity for combined bleak elements of black metal and noise with classical instruments and an operatic grandiosity that would be almost funny if the sound and general aesthetic weren't so explicitly terrifying. That hasn't changed with this release, although the drums and percussion are far more upfront this time around, with plenty of tympani action (which produces a doomed-out sound more bands should investigate, really) and the integration of the band's wildly disparate elements have grown increasingly more sophisticated. The eight tracks flow into each other, depicting a sordid underworld of perverse black rituals and violent death, with a black and tortured sound that could best be described as chaos by design. A large part of the band's power derives from their ability to juxtapose sounds rooted in noise, black metal, and industrial with passages of music obviously derived more from the worlds of opera and classical music, which gives them far more depth and variety than most bands working in the same pained, murky sonic territory. With titles like "Human Skin for the Messengers Robe," Urine-Soaked Neophytes," and "Bonedust on Dead Genitals," you might expect the album to sound dark and bleak, and you would be right, but there are also moments of surprisingly melodic and harmonic beauty, especially in the use of massed choral vocals from time to time. Of course, these moments are offset by the depraved and often unsettling sounds of tormented people wailing in the background when the sheer volume of the sound dies away periodically, leaving the disturbing impression of the album as a soundtrack to the violence and suffering in hell. The result is yet another bleak and harrowing masterpiece of sonic true, ambitious in scope and unrelenting in execution -- essential listening for those who like to travel through the tainted landscapes that lie in the worlds between black metal and noise.
Gnaw Their Tongues
Haemoth -- IN NOMINE ODIUM [Debemur Morti Productions]
Ugly, ugly, ugly… just the way vile black metal should be. The French duo of Haemoth (guitar, bass, vox) and Syth (drums) returns after a seven-year absence with seven caustic tracks of hate and fear designed to upset people (and judging from the reaction to "Slaying the Blind," they have been successful in their mission). The core sound is pure black metal primitivism -- scything, treble-heavy tremelo guitar and muddy drums buried in the mix, with atmospheric touches here and there in the form of samples, bleak drone action, and vague clanking noises from the dungeons of despair. There's nothing wholesome here, just an ominous opener ("Odium") that presages the violent attack of tracks like "Slaying the Blind" and the even more furious "Demonik Omniscience." Even when they slow down for "Spiritual Pestilence," the paint-peeling guitar sound is so ugly that the melodies appear more as fragments of bone being patiently shaved from some tortured soul's skull. They get downright creepy in the introduction to "Son of the Black Light," with slow, dissonant intervals that are abruptly replaced by more devil-thrashing madness, and their entire viewpoint is neatly summed up in the closing track "… And Then Came the Decease," a lengthy and pounding exercise in hypnotic repetition and sensory overload. This is the real spirit of black metal, with an occult theology married to a bleak and misanthropic outlook invoked through compound layers of sheer, hellish sonic nihilism. Your soul will need a long, hot bath after listening to this.
Hypsiphrone -- AND THE VOID SHALL PIERCE THEIR EYES [Black Plague / Malignant Records]
This offering of chaotic malevolence, the debut release by a one-man band from Greece, follows in the footsteps of bands like Abruptum and Gnaw Their Tongues, but it does so by way of the cold industrial vibe of the early Cold Meat Industries bands. There's a lot happening here -- ghastly shrieking, walls of noise, stretches of cold dark ambient sound, electronic buzzing, massed choral vocals, and pretty much everything including the kitchen sink -- but it's generally employed in a manner more closely related to the aforementioned industrial-noise sound pioneered by the likes of Brighter Death Now and MZ.412 than to black metal. True, there are elements of black metal in tracks like "Bleak Old Shadows," but more often the feel of the album (especially in the dark ambient passages) is closer to that of the first Aghast album on CMI, one of the creepiest-sounding albums ever made -- in fact, creepiness is the major weapon in the band's sonic arsenal, given the high levels of dissonance and alienated ugliness pervading the sound on these tracks. Unlike a lot of other bands working in similar circumstances, Hypsiphrone doesn't need volume or enormous layers of sound to evoke an atmosphere of sheer dread; even when the music is at its most minimal, it's still incredibly nightmarish, like the work of someone who has never seen sunlight or other human beings. The otherworldly feel is only enhanced by the contributions of female singer Vitriol, who appears (to great effect) on "An Epiphany Written In Blood" and also contributed the grim, unsettling artwork. The percussion that shows up from time to time, especially in "Resurgence Of Mors Sexualis," is very much of the intense, plodding tribal variety, and is just more evidence of the band's industrial roots. When the music isn't fearsome and pounding, it's closer to a dark-ambient album recorded in a subterranean grotto; when the layers of sound grow heavier and more intense, it's more like the sound of demons multiplying inside a collapsing cathedral. Dark and heavy, far closer to a classic CMI release than anything happening in the current state of anti-music, and supremely spooky, this has all the earmarks of a classic debut that will only gain in stature over the coming years. Essential. Comes in a swank digipak and is limited to 500 copies, so glom yours now.
Locrian -- THE CLEARING 12" [Fan Death Records]
The fourth full-length album from Chicago noise / drone / metal deconstructionists Locrian, itself the follow-up to 2010's Utech release THE CRYSTAL WORLD, has been receiving a lot of good press over the past few months, and with good reason. As their sound -- originally rooted mainly in noise and drone -- has mutated and evolved over subsequent releases into something far more complex and difficult to define, their musical standards have risen in concert with their musical development. Never a band content to merely churn out the same material over and over, their experiments in noise, drone, black metal, and dark ambient crystalized in a powerful and exotic sound on THE CRYSTAL WORLD, and continues to evolve forward on this one as well. The album opens with "Chalk Point," an unsettling collage of seething dark ambient sounds, intermittent bursts of percussion, and otherworldly spaciness that eventually resolves into an actual song driven by the atmospheric drizzle of a faraway black metal guitar, slow and deliberate percussion, and droning vocals just one step removed from the sound and cadence of a Gregorian chant. Their proggy leanings emerge on "Augury in an Evaporating Tower," which is introduced by twisted synth bleating and other perverse sonic effluvia over more dark drone action; as these sounds work to establish a certain mood, blackened metal drums fade in along with more layers of dark ambient sounds, all of which eventually devolves into something resembling a dissolving free jazz jam session. "Coprolite" opens with a sick, sick squall of trashy-sounding black metal noise guitar that crawls along like a dead body wrapped in barbed wire being dragged through a dark field in the middle of the night, but when a stately piano figure and strings emerge, the starkly contrasting sounds provide not only a unusual texture, but an unsettling cognitive dissonance. And that's just the first side of the album; the flip side of the album is taken up entirely by the seventeen-plus minutes of the title track, which ties together all of their aesthetic and thematic concerns into one long, flowing composition built on the backbone of a hypnotic, pinging bassline over which other elements are gradually added and subtracted. The resulting sound is that of black metal infused with serious prog-rock and avant moves, a sound that owes as much to Yes, LaMonte Young, and Throbbing Gristle as it does to Burzum or Whitehouse. As usual, the overall album is excellent; the band's increasingly advanced compositional skill and ability to integrate a wide variety of tones, textures, and instruments means that their sound continues to only get better and more complex as it evolves. Bonus points for the excellent album cover art, which not looks impressively creepy without resorting to the usual metal / noise cliches but also accurately captures the band's entire aesthetic. The LP comes with a download card for those of you who like to be entranced on the go.
Fan Death Records
Monarch -- OMENS [At A Loss]
The latest offering of exquisitely slo-mo blood and death from France's answer to Khanate raises, one more time, the eternal question: how the hell does such a scary, psychotic-sounding voice emerge from such a tiny li'l waif? The band opens in fine, menacing fashion with "Blood Seeress," just under thirteen minutes of growling, subterranean amp drone, ominous drums (courtesy of newcomer Rob Shaffer of Dark Castle and Yob), and lots of blood-curdling shrieking from vocalist Emilie Bresson, who consistently sounds like she's being flayed alive with a rusty potato peeler. While retaining the draining simplicity and minimalism of their earlier work, this track manages to work in a psychedelic element thanks to a guitar sound that appears to be fed through a rotating Leslie cabinet and plenty of ethereal drones wafting cloudlike over all the groaning death rattle before ending in a ghostly wail of droning harmonic feedback. "Transylvanian Incantations," possibly their shortest song ever at 3:45, dials back the doom in favor of dark ambient drone to haunting effect. That short track acts as a bridge between the first one and the final one, "Black Becomes the Sun," in which Emilie initially abandons the hellish screaming for a wispy, high-pitched vocalizing that could have been lifted from a Cocteau Twins album as the rhythm section plods along over another barrage of subsonic bass drone. Around the eight-minute mark, though, the song fades away into a passage of drumming like free jazz in slow motion and lurches into a darker and noisier sound that eventually sees Emilie resume her pained shrieking.
This is not only one of the best-sounding things they've done, but it's a step forward for the band, with a different feel than earlier albums and an obvious determination to move beyond just being slow for the sake of slowness. Without descending into prog-rock overdub hell, the band manages to add some much-appreciated detail and color to their aggressively stark sound. The cohesiveness of the album's sound is interesting given that the album was recorded in four different countries (Japan, Australia, Canada, and the US), although that was probably to accommodate the contributions of the various guest musicians (Atsuchi Sano of Birushanah, Yailen Munoz of Ensorcelor, Eric Quach of Thisquietarmy, Jeanne Peluard of The Sparteens, and former Grey Daturas / Monarch guitarist Robert MacManus). If you're not already familiar with the band's grotesque and mystical charm, now is the time to make their acquaintance. Limited to a thousand copies in a six-panel digipak.
At A Loss
Nails / Skin Like Iron -- split EP [self-released]
This split EP is really closer to a single, with four tracks clocking in at just under ten minutes, but it's certainly a potent blast of fury that doesn't waste any time cleaving your skull in two. Opening with two heavy but melodic bursts of thrashing hardcore from San Francisco's Skin Like Iron, "Disappear" and "The Parade," the first side demonstrates that band's capacity for mixing noisy chaos with moments of surprisingly accessible melodicism, while on the flip side, Nails substitutes the melody with excruciating heaviness on "Annihilation" and the exquisitely brief (as in 25 seconds) "Cry Wolf," an extremely fast and pummeling roar of dissonant rage that's already over by the time it starts to hang fire. Heavy and energetic; fans of chaotic hardcore bordering on extreme metal will enjoy. The release comes in a one-time pressing of a thousand copies, with a hundred of them on blue vinyl.
Skin Like Iron
Nervous Curtains -- FAKE INFINITY [Latest Flame Records]
I'm not sure if this qualifies as retro or not -- there's no question they're taking most of their moves from 80s goth / new wave heavyweights like Gary Numan, The Cure, Joy Division, and Human League, and they take their synth-worship seriously enough to eschew the notion of guitarists, but for all the reaching back across the years, they sound surprisingly modern. (How much that says about how much modern rock music owes to the music of previous decades is an interesting question in its own right.) The second album by the trio led by former Paper Chase player Sean Kirkpatrick (here in charge of vox, piano, and synths) finds them offering up catchy pop tunes driven by buzzing synths and droning organ that combine the aforementioned 80s goth / synth pop aesthetic with a more modern postpunk aura of edgy, droning creepiness. The songs themselves strike a nice balance between the immediately-accessible, insanely catchy tunes like "Moody Photos," "Wired to Make Waves," and "Cats in the Dark" and the darker, slower, and more introspective tracks like "Come Around Viral," "Something Sinister," and the gorgeous yet bleak closing statement "Letter of Resignation." Their sound is enhanced by the smart decision not to get carried away with the limitless possibilities inherent to lugging around piles of synth gear; rather than piling on layers of synthetic sound and descending into a parody of Yes or something similar, they aim more for the Buzzcocks / Kraftwerk model of using as little as possible but using it well. The result is sparse, to-the-point songs differentiated by the careful tweaking of tones and pop structures that give the band just enough time and room to say what they have to say and then get the hell out. It's nice to see a band with such thoughtful songs and engaging sounds that also knows how to avoid overstaying its welcome.
Latest Flame Records
Poison Idea -- DARBY CRASH RIDES AGAIN: THE EARLY YEARS [Southern Lord]
My knowledge of Poison Idea is mostly limited to the fact that a couple of its members played on the eternally brilliant S.W.A.T.: DEEP INSIDE A COP'S MIND album, they released an album with a rude cover that made Ian MacKaye sad, and they were such hefty dudes that they apparently had a four-man lineup at one point that clocked in around 1,200 pounds. Oh, and their main guitarist Pig Champion croaked a while ago. This is what I know; not much, is it? But now, thanks to Southern Lord, I also know that they are reissuing the band's back catalog (technically, they are releasing cd versions of vinyl reissues coming out on TKO Records), all of which is being remastered by World Burns To Death vocalist Jack Control. The reissues will also contain new liner notes and photos, plus previously unreleased bonus material. This is the first of those reissues, with 29 tracks that include the material from the original album plus the previously unreleased BONER'S KITCHEN demo from 1981, a live recording from the 1983 KBOO radio benefit, and outtakes from the sessions for RECORD COLLECTORS ARE PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLES.
First up are the six tracks from the 1981 demo, a crude-sounding an straightforward affair that's as succinct as it is ugly. The next ten tracks, which are pretty much equal in sound quality (and were probably recorded at the same time), are fro the original DCRA 7" EP; as you might expect from having ten tracks on such a tiny piece of vinyl, the songs are short and speedy, and while the sound quality is not exactly hi-fi, you can tell what's going on and they are stuffed like spoiled sausages with vitriolic attitude. The next eleven tracks are from the KBOO radio benefit, and while the recording quality is much better, the band's live sound is so loud and blown-out that you'll be hard-pressed to notice the difference. (You also get the benefit of singer Jerry A's rude, often profane asides, which may or may not be a plus, depending on your allegiance to snottiness.) The final two tracks, "Town Hall" and the cover tune "Motorhead," are recording session outtakes and sound better than everything else here. Playing-wise, it's all pretty consistent -- fast, thunderous drumming and rhythm guitar joined with tornado lead playing and lots of pissed-off shouting -- and while I'm no huge fan of hardcore, it's not hard to see how the band earned its reputation as one of hardcore's best bands. Hardcore historians and Poison Idea fans will find this useful mainly for the remastering and expanded liner notes; for those not already familiar with Poison Idea who want to get a sense of the band's early sound, this will make an excellent introduction.
Rex Mundi -- IHVH [Debemur Morti Productions]
Not to be confused with the Greek thrash band, this French band makes its debut with an album that's heavy on occult mysticism and an identity rooted in lo-fi, moderately progressive melodic black metal. The band's sound is rounded out by segues into dark ambient territory, the sound of monks chanting in Latin, and startling shifts in sound. While their sound is potent, they are nowhere near as diabolically abrasive as many of their country's counterparts, and while their riffs are not terribly complicated, their song structures are -- each of the seven tracks is composed of movements that differ significantly in tone and texture, and their tendency to shift gears without warning at unpredictable intervals gives them a sound rooted in tension and uncertainty. They even incorporate elements of death metal into the stop-start motion of "The Flesh Begat" and "Raising My Temples," as well as an almost industrial feel to their shuddering dark ambient into to "Bloodline Imagery," so they are obviously not slaves to tradition; nevertheless, their dark, murky sound is unquestionably black metal in nature, albeit one devoted to occult ritualism. Their imaginative reinterpretation of traditional black metal, combined with their mystical occult leanings, should hold enormous appeal for those into the more fringe elements of black metal.
Rue -- THORNS [Shifty]
Akron, Ohio's sludge demons Rue don't get much love (or attention, for that matter), although that may be largely due to the paucity of their output; since forming in 2003, they've managed to put out exactly one (that's one less than two, for those not so mathematically inclined) full-length album, a split with Aldebaran, and a track on an Eyehategod tribute. Given that this is their first release at all in over three years, even diligent metal devotees could be excused for thinking they had split up. But they haven't, and here they are with their first full-length release in many, many moons, and it's a good one; they obviously spent those lost years putting their time to good use. What you get for patiently waiting this long are twelve tracks of prime, red-meat sludge in the vein of Sloth, Hey Colossus, Eyehategod, and Sourvien, with the prime difference being that the dudes from Rue are not afraid to mix some melodic content into their groaning angst, especially on tracks like the opener "Brown" (which features acoustic guitar) and "For Thousands of Years," which includes melodic guitar passages and some actual tuneful singing along with the obligatory harsh barking. They have more of a psychedelic bent, too -- as evidenced on the tripped-out wah guitar lurching through "Sadaver" -- and considerably more variety to their songs than most sludge bands, with varying tempos and methods of sonic attack throughout the album. Especially impressive is their ability to make their sludgy doom sound accessible on tracks like "High Iron Blues" without abandoning their commitment to hopeless despair. Sludge fans tired of the constant beatdown, or those desiring a bit more accesibilityt to their suicidal angst, should definitely check this out.
Sektor 304 -- SUBLIMINAL ACTIONS [Malignant Records]
The simplistic buzz on this seething industrial band is that they're Portugal's answer to Godflesh, but there's way more to them than that -- their infernal machine noise incorporates elements reminiscent of early Einstuerzende Neubauten, Treponem Pal, MZ.412, Dissecting Table, SPK, and maybe even Whitehouse. Working with traditional electric instruments as well as junk metal, power tools, and amplified objects, they open with a pounding, corrosive blast of noise on "A Carving On Metal Skin" and turn up the angst factor with booming, pounding tribal percussion and a kitchen-sink sound on "A Vessel of Guilt," which reminds me a lot of the first album by the tragically underrated Treponem Pal (whose early sound was essentially Swans with a more restless rhythm section and an angrier singer). Even on slower tracks like "Full Circle," their command of ugly noises (in this case, whining feedback) and slave-galley machine rhythms creates a genuinely oppressive vibe. Even better, the tracks frequently start off heavy and sinister and somehow grow even darker and more soul-crushing over time, no mean feat. The best part of their rhythmic assault is the extensive use of polyrhythms, which adds yet another layer of complexity to their dank, ominous sound. Then there are tracks like "Friction," which is closer to dark ambient, far more muted yet propelled by wavelike rhythms and irregular clanking noises -- the sound of bodies floating down a dark river in some underground dungeon, perhaps. The lengthy "Terminal Stage" is even closer to true dark ambient, a throwback to the isolationist movement even, and "Concrete Islands" deals out the same kind of heavy evil that makes MZ.412 albums sound so terrifying. The album ends with "The Prismatic Sun," a long and methodical descent into hell that only reinforces how focused their primitive atavism has become since their last album. Scary, scary stuff, and highly recommended.
Stone Breath -- THE AETHERIC LAMP [Hand/Eye]
This is a great album by a fantastic yet mysterious band that's been around off and on since 1995 in various lineups, but trying to describe it is causing me to pull out my hair. They get lumped in with the neofolk movement, which might actually be relevant in the case of some of their earlier recordings, but this one is a straight-up folk album employing only acoustic instruments and voice. Not sixties protest folk music, mind you, but the folk music of the Appalachian mountains and wild country, music that's both ancient and timeless, far removed from what passes for modern music and yet eternally accessible. The band at this point is founder and mainstay timeMOTHeye (playing such rustic instruments as banjo, wood flute, melodica, and stick dulcimer, among many others), vocalists Brooke Elizabeth (who also contributes percussion) and Carin Wagner Sloan, and guitarist / dronemeister Don Belch. Together they play music of another time that appears simple on first listen, but gradually reveals itself to be composed of many layers of sound and melody, especially on the droning "Terrible and Beautiful," which is anchored by slow, simple beats and an endless drone over which folk rhythms and snippets of melody burst forth from a wide variety of instruments. It's also interesting to note that while the songs are definitely unified in sound and theme, there's plenty of variety to them as well, especially in the vocals; sometimes there's one singer, sometimes two, and while most feature the lovely, haunting vocals of Elizabeth or Sloan, others (especially the more apocalyptic tracks like "The Sky's Red Tongue") feature timeMOTHeye's mournful vocals. Great songs + great sounds from another time + visions of the apocalypse = an album well worth hearing. The fearless leader's eerie illustrations and the triple-panel digipak design only add to the overall package. The fact that I've been playing this on repeat endlessly despite needing to do about a million other reviews should tell you something….
Sunn O))) -- 00 VOID (reissue) [Southern Lord]
I reviewed this when it first came out about a million years ago -- check the archives if you don't believe me -- and as I recall, I was pretty impressed at the time with the band's lurching, bass-heavy, dark ambient deathcrush, not to mention their obvious Earth worship. This, their second album, was originally released in 2000, with a lineup consisting of Greg Anderson (Goatsnake), Stephen O'Malley (Khanate, KTL, way too many other bands), and Stuart Dahlquist (Burning Witch, Goatsnake), along with the odd contribution from Pete Stahl and Petra Haden on vocals. The reissue includes new artwork by Stephen Kasner (with layout by O'Malley). Despite the leadership of guitarists Anderson and O'Malley, the main attraction here is still Dahlquist's ass-quaking bass hell, a huge and fuzzy sound with the impact of tectonic plates shifting; everything else -- squiggly vapor lines from the guitars, the occasional screechy violin from Haden, disembodied vocals that float up every now and then -- is merely nuance and garnish, all of it sucked into the cyclopean black hole of sound that is the droning, downtuned bass throb. Turn it up loud enough and that bass sound is sufficient to make cement blocks levitate. For those who haven't heard it, the four songs are long (14-15 minutes each), largely percussion-free (there's something clanking away in the background toward the end of "Richard," sure, but it's probably not drums), and heavily indebted to the pioneering drone-guitar fuzziness of Earth circa that band's second album. Despite the band's metal pedigree, this is really closer to a heavy dark-ambient album than anything else, and while it might sound dated to some now and ponderously simple in comparison to many of the drone-doom bands that have sprouted in its way, it's still pretty effective in generating heavy doses of droning, bass-heavy angst. This is the one that contains a Melvins cover ("Rabbits' Revenge") so slow and devolved that even Melvins fans will probably find it unrecognizable, along with a general sound that might make some wonder if the master tapes were recorded at the wrong speed. If you're going to own a Sunn O))) album (and it seems to be a requirement these days), this should probably be the one, especially now that you can find a copy of it again.
Wold -- BADB [Crucial Blast]
I was amused recently to see this album mentioned on the Metal Sucks site, where one of the Chief Suckheads was waxing apoplectic about how he didn't understand the album at all and thought it was basically unlistenable. Which, if you're strictly into metal and don't care for noise, I guess it is, but that's the entire point (a point he obviously missed). For the uninitiated, Wold is the disturbed Canadian duo of Fortress Crookedjaw (electronics, guitars, programming, box) and Obey (guitars), who are generally categorized as a fringe black metal act but who are actually closer to noise in practice, thus resulting in much confusion from metalheads who glom their albums from labels like Profound Lore and find them filled not with burly riffs but screechy noise and devolved earhate. They get the black metal tag from their pained, horrific vocals, a sound not unlike Gollum being anally probed with a taser, and their thin, treble-heavy guitar sound… but then they bury all that in steaming piles of noise offal and static dung. It's an aesthetic that works for me, but probably not so much for people who are more accustomed to listening to Steel Panther and Lamb of God.
The most interesting thing about this release is that while the concept of mixing black metal with noise is starting to hang fire nowadays, this album is actually the reissue of their second demo from way back in 2004, originally released in a cassette run of 100 copies, which proves they were way ahead of the curve. It also demonstrates that they really understood what they were doing from the word go, because this is an excellent work that combines the best elements of primitive, lo-fi black metal and harsh, ugly white noise in a manner that's almost psychedelic (although I wouldn't recommend dropping acid to this). The album is a conceptual work that is essentially a series of grotesque hymns to the war goddess, and its sound is appropriately blackened and apocalyptic. The vocals are in the same realm as the tortured, psychopathic wailing of the bent dude from Silencer, while the fizzed-out black metal guitar screech owes much to early Mayhem (only with gnarlier fuzz boxes) and the noise quotient is heavily patterned after the seminal sounds of Whitehouse and Merzbow. So yeah, it's probably an endurance test for your average metal dude. But if you're prepared to approach it with an open mind (or, better yet, already appreciate the joys of piling on different forms of ugliness to create a new and even more form of audio perversion), there's plenty of interesting things happening here -- surprisingly melodic guitar riffs buried in the monolithic wreckage, varied approaches to the brick-wall noise attack, peculiar electronic elements, all encapsulated in a sheer will to obliterate your hearing (and probably most of your face). It's not long -- nine tracks in just under thirty minutes -- but that's more than enough time to suck you into their diabolical (and intensely painful) worldview. Wold are genuinely one of the best bands ever to weld these two foams of extreme audio sickness together, and this is one of their best releases.