OVERLOOKED RELEASES are the weight in hand and a task engaged in random order! This will be an ongoing quarterly feature in the form of a list devoted to grouping together albums of interest that were missed within a three month period, this entry being specifically April 1st, 2020 through June 31st, 2020. These albums were overlooked for review for any number of reasons, the most common reason being constraint of time. The goal is to cover as much of the greatness that’d slipped through my fingers in the past three months as possible, as well as show thanks and acknowledgment for notable works. All releases are presented in random order, it is mostly metal. Each item rates above average with a few exceptions, note certain reviews are written by guests.
|TITLE:||Stare Into the Abyss|
|RELEASE DATE:||June 30th, 2020|
Although Enshadowed hail from Athens, Greece their sound has never been stylistically obsessed with nostalgia for the first generation of black metal in their region. Instead the band arrived in the late 90’s taking inspiration from Scandinavian black metal and following through with waves of their own unique flavor a la Acherontas, Burial Hordes and Akrotheism where rabid intensity and modern ideas do not elude their otherwise orthodox black metal spirit. This means ‘Stare Into the Abyss’, their fourth album, takes cues from the ringing dissonance of the last decade and works in their own spirited form of occult black metal. Though the album is presented as brash and vibrantly captured the affect of the music is cryptic, a secluded fury the comes across between inspired vocals and ringing open chords that continuously suggest a breakthrough impends around every corner.
This fourth album comes nearly a decade after the previous (‘Magic Chaos Psychedelia’, 2013) which’d been my introduction to the band when my interest in hallucinatory extreme music was perhaps most enthused and it hadn’t stuck out in my mind much at the time. The long wait in between records shows some considerable development but no loss of the arcane, cosmic endurance they’d brought in the past and this one feels like an evolution than any other gap crossed in the project’s past. Session drums from Resurgency‘s George Trakas are perhaps the best use of the kit the band have attempted to date though they don’t overstep the second wave bounds of anchor and propulsion.
What to say about it that’d suggest it stands out? I couldn’t find much to gush over beyond the fine guitar work, the strong bass guitar presence in each composition, and the overbearing sense of dark energy that the full listen brings. I greatly appreciated that such an aggressive and constantly ‘on the attack’ record cuts things short at ~36 minutes, it keeps the impact of the spin strong and never wears out its welcome. I’d really like to see the ‘melodic’ side of this band nurtured even more, the riffs are there but I’m curious to see if they could push things into the realm of snow-covered trees and castles. All points considered Enshadowed have delivered their best “entry point” record that should encourage deeper listening to their discography, especially if you’ve been a fan of Devathorn and Acherontas throughout the years.
|TITLE:||Is, Qui Mortem Audit|
|RELEASE DATE:||June 25th, 2020|
As a blackened funeral doom metal band with an eerily aggressive side on their debut full-length, ‘I.N.D.N.S.L.E.’ (2018) Sicilian band Fordomth left a strong impression. In fact it was memorable enough that I was taken aback in finding that this second album pushes into fairly standard underground black/death metal territory. They still mix things up with some death/doom breaks along the way and a generally melodic bent to each piece but it’d seem their goals have shifted dramatically between some line-up changes and stylistic choices. Does that mean ‘Is, Qui Mortem Audit’ have committed some metallic sin or aren’t as good as before? Not at all, they’re actually much more professional and well-tempered on these recordings which are condensed into four pieces and a runtime just over a half hour. The album artwork from Khaos Diktator is incredible, the production values are warm but still lucid enough to pack a punch, and each of the four songs almost overstate grand melodic statements which are complete and evolved in their gait. Yet how does one resolve the flip from black/death Samothrace to streamlined Uada in a matter of two years?
It took some time but, I can finally take ‘Is, Qui Mortem Audit’ for what it is and not for how it relates to its predecessor and in doing so I’ve had to place it as “good but not great” in my mind for the sake of it resembling four quite long same-paced rants that certainly go places but don’t present much beyond the high standards of modern black/death and doom-tinged underground extreme metal today. “Scire” is probably my favorite piece overall for just how mountainous its opening moments are and for the love of its sustained momentum despite the doom-trodden sections chiming in. A solid and unexpected listen.
|RELEASE DATE:||June 26th, 2020|
Warsaw, Poland-based death metal quartet (at the time of recording) Clairvoyance appear as a bolt from the blue here on their first demo tape, which lands mere months after officially forming. The style is ‘new old school’ with a focus on all manner of pacing, stopping just short of brutal but definitely dipping into death/doom and garage death barbarism along the way. The most compelling pieces on this three song neck-twister come with a slower, heavier pacing (see: “Broken Shackles”) which generally resemble the simple but effective style all the teenage Instagram tape twiddlers are afloat over in the United States these days. Good on ’em, I think these guys are better at hooking into a groove without making bland Cannibal Corpse references or focusing too intently on tough-guy hardcore structures. One of the best hidden Polish death metal bands, Covent, comes to mind when listening to this and not only for the guitar tone but the generally hard-hitting style. The hope is that this band does not stick with such a simple style in the long run, they’ve added the main fellow from Mental Casket so, writing for two guitars will likely help the band make a big leap into something stunning. As is, this stuff is great for fast and cheap ‘old school’ thrills.
|TITLE:||To Crown All Befoulment|
|RELEASE DATE:||June 19th, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Sentient Ruin Laboratories|
Damn, this is one of those records that I didn’t get around to quick enough and it steamrolled me to the point that I’d never made time to pick it back up and finish a proper full review. Dearth are a dissonant, hallucinatory black/death metal maze crafted by way of a trio of Oakland, California area fixtures (see: Abstracter, Swamp Witch, Psychic Hit). All that their first demo ‘Of Martyrdom and Polluted Faith’ suggested back in 2017 is vomited forth here in six fearsome and dread-inducing labors of the mind. Stylistic touches are not subtle in the least here, giving nods to abyss-scourging modern black/death metal angularity and the hypnotic swerve of death-evolved war metal machines. The result is as cacophonic as say, Dead Congregation but arranged much more like an Archgoat record, fans of bands like Ignivomous should appreciate this example of those forms but I won’t entirely suggest these guys do it as well as some of the better known masters.
Don’t let that be a detractor, though, as the key here isn’t imitation but presence and force applied to the sound at hand — In this sense Dearth are hulking and monstrous in form, engaging yellow-eyed and mayhemic as they drag their slithering bodies across the morass. What I mean is they’ve brought riffs, movements and ‘confrontational’ moments to the listener that engage at a much higher rate than war metal or dissonant black metal typically would. The shortened distance between horror and man makes for an intense and rewarding session each time. This sets Dearth above the leagues of demo tapes I receive every month wherein a new band is trying their hand at this stuff and not quite getting there beyond rudimentary forms, it feels great to see this type of music done properly and with some serious insight. That said, it just hasn’t stuck with me due to the chaotic nature of their style and only I can be at fault for that. If you are less exhausted by dissonant black/death war machinery lately, ‘To Crown All Defilement’ may be one of the best of the year. I’ll keep it around in case it ‘clicks’ in the long run.
|ARTIST:||GNAW THEIR TONGUES|
|TITLE:||I speak the truth, yet with every word uttered, thousands die.|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 3rd, 2020|
‘I Speak the Truth, Yet With Every Word, Thousands Die’ is a remarkable late-career entry by the hugely prolific underground noise-maven Maurice de Jong. After 15 years of lonesome scavenging in the darkest corners of the human psyche the artist is leaving his primary moniker on hold to focus on his more collaborative enterprises Dodenbezweerd and Mystagogue. ‘IStTYWEWUTD’ is therefore possibly the capstone on a substantial project, and an impressive example of where countless hours of solitary tinkering can get you.
Lacking almost any trace of conventional instrumentation, ‘IStTYWEWUTD’ dives into the realm of electronic noise with abandon. Abrasive and needling like an orchestra of power tools whirring away in an abandoned hangar, De Jong’s conjurations are as confrontational as ever. But camouflaged by the violent surface is a wealth of little soundbites to grasp onto: tiny, shiny metal hooks glinting in a tempestuous maelstrom of mechanical refuse. There is structure and tangible references in the songs on ‘IStTYWEWUTD, differences in approach that become clearer and clearer each successive listen. Listen for example to how “Purity Coffins” switches from the ambiance of an underground warehouse to a cosmic cavern of anti-matter at the 01:53 mark. Or to the way “White Void Black Wounds” fuses together what sounds like a black metal band swallowed by fuzz and Sophie style synthesizers malfunctioning. Then we have the high-point of the record, “To Rival Death in Beauty”. With frightening, digitalized vocal processing splayed over a minimalistic and pummeling Autechre beat, “To Rival Death in Beauty” is pure glitch hell.
‘IStTYWEWUTD’ would be a powerful statement to end on, if this really turns out to be the end of Gnaw Their Tongues. Yet it would be a shame if De Jong were to never return to his flagship moniker, considering the mastery he has achieved over the construction of his harrowing noise cathedrals. Calamitous and Immaculate, ‘IStTYWEWUTD’ marks the end of an era with unsparing intensity.
Guest review by FREDRIK SCHJERVE
|TITLE:||At Dusk of Existence|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 1st, 2020|
If anyone had ever dished the term “nineties black metal” up and you’d found yourself eating it up without question chances are your experiences with the sub-genre’s perceived “second wave” is primarily limited to the Scandinavian experience. Every continent had some manner of legendary spawn and in most cases scenes within countries, counties, regions, cities, and labels cannot ever be summed into one lump sum with any sense. They can, however, be known by key releases. So, when I see folks suggest Xaemora as 90’s black metal we’re talking late second wave Norwegian and Scandinavian stuff that’d most often come via folks using Cradle of Filth, Emperor and Dimmu Borgir for inspiration. Why would I say that? From 1996 through ~2003 these types of bands represented the most popular (with worldwide consideration) in the world and all of theme centered around imitative drum patterns, “symphonic” keyboard works, and increasingly catchy songwriting informed by in-tandem developments within melodic death metal. For the entirety of the 2000’s and the first half of the 2010’s this type of stuff was off limits, detestable, cheap and graceless pandering to a trend that was as endless as the reign of the Playstation 2 (which also developed in tandem…)
Now that we’ve been distanced from it for long enough, the question remains, which sort of symphonic black metal acts should return and which should dissolve? Well, unfortunately fantastic groups with a strong melodic sense such as Aeba and Alghazanth are extinct. Instead we have to look to ‘newer’ or still-standing acts such as Vargrav, Mysticism Black, Nightbringer (well, certain records) and countless others who’ve managed some notability for fine examples of the old ways. Where does Xaemora fit in? At face value they’re not entirely self-serious, the riffs are pretty standard, leads are accomplished and effectively melodic, and the keyboard/synth work is sweetly ethereal without ‘modernizing’ their chosen soundscapes; Think of Moonsorrow‘s keyboard heavy stuff with ye old Limbonic Art attack and some Century Media circa 1998 lead guitar work. That description more or less covers the major interest of this latest EP ‘At Dusk of Existence’, which follows Xaemora‘s full-length debut.
I enjoyed ‘Pandemonium’s Ocean’ back in 2017 for its obviate nostalgic feel but I wasn’t necessarily on board for more of it when this EP arrived. The rhythm guitars still aren’t there for my taste, a supportive presence rather than a true attack. The soloing begins to sound a bit like Amorphis due to the use of wah effects. The vocals are a missed opportunity, steadfast and lacking in expression much of the time. You’d think I hated ‘At Dusk of Existence’ yet the nostalgic texture of it all is just plainly easy to listen to, the songs are often charming enough in their lilt and the keyboards are actually at their most successful here. These are new songs and not leftovers from the previous record and it is obvious the band put in quite a bit of work, ironing out some issues of balance and tightening up the rhythmic changes throughout. The only point where I feel it is a bit dry is in creating strong enough hills and valleys of experience to match the grandeur of this ‘classic’ late second wave black metal influenced sound, stronger chord progressions or darker storming affronts would cross the line into praise on my end. As with many other records on this list, I’m forever on the fence about certain aspects but the reaction is overall positive.
|TITLE:||Snare of All Salvation|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 1st, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Amor Fati Productions|
This solo side-project of Chaos Moon‘s Alex Poole is up there with the best of 2020 thus far yet, I’d never reviewed it? Entheogen‘s latest was likewise one of my favorites in its release year and I’d hardly had a blurb to say about it. What gives? At some point I don’t actually want to talk about everything I enjoy until I am red in the face, it tends to have a drying effect upon spiritual connection or personal joy to analyze it all. Kind of a cop out, eh? Yes, and in this case one that I am comfortable with but I do feel compelled to at least describe why this is such a special record. In some sense it is Poole‘s most ‘straight forward’ release, atmospheric but contained and angular yet almost entirely consonant in all phrases. Everything I love about later Arckanum and dream-like Blut Aus Nord is kind here but bottled in elegant melodic black metal skin. The balance is a beautiful stroke of stinging pain, a tattoo that burns hot but heals in perfect artful form. I’ve nothing but gushy man-poetry to speak of it and once I’d realized that it’d begin to slack off of my ‘to do’ list. That said, I’ve never stopped listening to it and it will be higher than expected on my ‘Best of 2020’ list. Very high recommendation.
|RELEASE DATE:||April 24th, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Black Lion Records|
Originally meant as the side project of The Fateful Hour guitarist Brandon Green, Marrowfields eventually evolved into a full-fledged five member unit presenting atmospheric doom lightly infused with the pagan black metal stylings of Primordial. Their debut album ‘Metamorphoses’ hovers at the fault line between traditional and current iterations of the genre. Using modern recording equipment and techniques to capture the spirit of doom’s forbears, Green has developed a sound that is as smooth and easy on the ear as the ‘Metamorphoses’ album cover is on the eye, while retaining the requisite power needed for the riffier sections to deliver their inherent pummel.
Marrowfields have ventured far in search of folklore to properly blend with their graceful brand of doom, deciding on the mythic tales of transformation collected in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. Being suitably grand-scaled and fantastical, Ovid’s tales of creation, destruction and punishment mesh well with Marrowfields’ winding and longform compositions. Undeniably solid from the While Heaven Wept harmonies of the opening riff to the downtrodden clean guitars at the end of 11-minute closer “Dragged to the World Below”, ‘Metamorphoses’ has a few moments that hint at undeniable brilliance. Lead single “Birth of the Liberator” switches between hefty riffs heaved out of black marble and beautifully meditative panoramic vistas, strong melodies abound. “Metamorphoses” is the strongest of the bunch, matching the theme of transformation by gradually morphing a single chord progression for the first three and a half minutes of its runtime. A most cogent blend of atmospheric doom and soaring black metal on the record, it towers like a monstrous peak in the album’s latter half.
A supremely satisfying and coherent result of a seldom attempted fusion between doom and black metal, ‘Metamorphoses’ is well worth the time for listeners trapped in the ether between Primordial, Crypt Sermon, Argus and Paradise Lost. Precise, detailed and yet leaving space for further growth and experimentation.
Guest review by FREDRIK SCHJERVE
|TITLE:||Through a Warren of Shadow|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 17th, 2020|
Nameless Grave Records
Azath is a curious many-headed beast, many minds with many thoughts contribute to its fairly unique and intense conglomeration of sounds yet the body itself is undeniably that of sentient and inspired death metal. Derek Orthner of Begrime Exemious provides filthier than thou atmospheric guts-gaseous vocals for a very Morpheus Descends-esque blanket of foul. Drummer Pierce Williams (Skeletal Remains, Ænigmatum, Lord Gore) brings his brutal touch with some measured confidence, think Mangled Torsos but with the potential to blacken at any moment. The snare hits might make you think “brutal death” but it hits me more like Banished or Gutted, you think that is brutal for ’93-’94 but that was just where USDM was hitting after ‘Onward to Golgotha’ and whatever Cannibal Corpse were doing. I’m not even halfway done geeking out here and you get it, eh? Old school death metal from folks who are fairly well known in today’s underground ‘new old school’ circles, this one spearheaded by Brendan Corsair (Draghkar) and Andrew Lee (Ripped to Shreds).
The balance of the largely USDM influenced guitar work (with some exceptions) lends itself well to the harder-hitting rhythm section making for pieces that are impressive in their atmospheric reach yet uniformly square-jawed and serious attacks. A couple Finndeath solos, some righteous blasts, and plenty of Incantation-esque attacks definitely threw a lot of people off into the realm of ‘caverncore’, describing it as a faster version of that… Which is literally just Incantation, just saying. It’d be too reductive to suggest these guys have cranked out ‘Onward to Golgotha’, though, there is far more interest here and I’m inclined to see some amount of Torture Rack flowing into most of these songs. The mental exercise of both admiring the pieces and puzzling out where they’re coming from is great stuff, it definitely speaks to the death metal nerd within that has dominated my metal mind for decades. That said, nothing is so dryly referential that it feels flatly ganked from a legacy band. Thematic subjects and artwork are high fantasy focusing on the Malazan Book of the Fallen series of books from Canadian author Steven Erikson. Unfortunately I’d made the choice to read some of the books before approaching the album and both the review and the books got stuck in my ‘to do’ pile for months. At this point I’m nowhere near done with the ten novel series but I can highly recommend this album to folks who lean towards the hard center of 90’s death metal. The drumming alone was enough to focus on for several spins if you nerd out for that stuff. High recommendation.
|RELEASE DATE:||April 30th, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Purity Through Fire|
Right out the gate it becomes clear that you cannot know German instrumental ‘cosmic’ black metal artist Cosmic Burial without patience and due presence, the mind is meant to wander but never to recede. This becomes a raw challenge on my part without any vocals yet this isn’t the central issue with the record; I don’t have any issues with paying close attention to these four 17-20 minute pieces yet nothing within feels like ‘black metal’ to my ears and it becomes a sort of garage-level Unreqvited (or if I’m being kind, Rhinocervs) which is essentially dreamy post-rock with electric guitars. Mild escalator rock music with a bit of a dreary black metal guitar tone, stumbling drums and off-time guitar playing. So why include it here? Well, conviction and persistence. Even if I’m struggling to find an earnest melodic statement or a meaningful black metal moment throughout the artist is simply going for it and pushing out these enormous post-rock jam pieces with a frayed but entirely legible guitar performance. I’m not at all on board for more of this without vocals and I don’t find about half of the album to touch upon ‘cosmic’ sounds rather than triumphant rock and post-black stomps yet I see some great potential for any artist willing to push for this level of excess and see it through. If the project ever decides to add vocals and cut the wintry choral synths for something a bit more space-blaster, I think it’ll be genius.
|RELEASE DATE:||April 24th, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Gates of Hell Records|
Every two or three weeks I get an e-mail from a big fan of Traveler reminding me I should really cover ‘Termination Shock’ and I’ve been totally agreeing since the end of April. No excuses, but I like every kind of metal out there and I just didn’t make room for these guys or any other solid traditional stuff earlier in the year. I have nothing but respect for Matt Ries‘ driven focus in crafting songs that feel like pure enjoyment and celebration of heavy metal with a speed/power metal touch and to see him co-writing with perhaps my favorite trad metal/epic doom vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud (Gatekeeper, ex-Borrowed Time) this time around meant something much bigger, unhinged and regal was undoubtedly in order. How else could they top that self-titled debut? But man, they have because we’re getting both melodic texture and narrative build-and-release beyond the big heavy metal hooks. You know I’m going to compare this to Michael Jackson-era Satan (‘Suspended Sentence’) and Pariah a bit, and primarily for the phrasing as Abboud probably has a bit more of a dramatic range and less of a speed metal snarl. The level of craftsmanship between the guitar compositions and the vocal performances is on the level of prime NWOBHM and peak power-thrashers of the mid-to-late 80’s. The title track here illustrates beautifully everything I absolutely love about Traveler and what helps them stand quite tall amongst the thriving Canadian traditional metal scene.
Well, hold on then. Isn’t that pretty much what I said about the last album? Yes but, this is even better, eh. “Diary of a Maiden” is something new, a different sort of balladry that lets Abboud stretch in all directions I know I’ve been a fanboy but any other band I’d just literally skip the ballad every time beyond the first spin. I’ll lift the needle off the vinyl for a ballad, seriously. Dueling leads, mid-paced epics, power-thrashers that rocket into space, and the easy ride out of “Terra Exodus” all add up to a great heavy metal record that I just kinda ducked away from talking about more because I felt like the bases were covered on this one. This was probably a bad idea on my part, I really do love what this band does, but I end up buying most everything Gates of Hell puts out sooner or later and I’ve kept ‘Terminal Shock’ in rotation as my go to trad metal hitter for half the year.
|TITLE:||En Ergo Einai|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 3rd, 2020|
Aara astounded with an assured debut full-length effort ‘So Fallen Alle Tempel’ last year and after moving from Naturmacht Productions to Debemur Morti Productions with the release of the ‘Anthropozän’ (2019) EP, the duo has sharpened their affecting atmospheric black metal with LP number two, ‘En Ergô Einai’. With the move to a bigger label comes an uptick in production quality, fleshing out the raw and frazzled sound of the debut with a hefty low end and precise instrumental spacing. Reminding me respectively of the current Dutch black metal scene and a less theatrical A Forest of Stars, ‘En Ergô Einai’ finds Aara evolving a sound that is richer in content and more unique in character than their previous efforts.
The five tracks on ‘En Ergô Einai’ veer in a more neoclassical direction than the linear, melodic ‘So Fallen…’. After a moody intro that evokes the feeling of peering through a stained glass window onto a decrepit, Victorian slum, Berg strengthens the vision through long chord progressions alluding to the famous “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel. On top of these cyclical and interlocked movements he adds myriad leads and accoutrements, painting the scenes with precise strokes of his brush. Apart from a few proverbial clearings, the music stays dense and blasting for most of the 33 minute runtime, but this uniformity of approach is never experienced as a flaw. The amount of variety snuck into each seemingly similar part is uncovered through repeated listens, and after a while the songs feel as of-a-kind yet singular as family members.
The LP winds, arcs and crests like a good story, never exposing any perceivable flaws in its construction. There are, however, alpine peaks that jut out more prominently from the impressive mountain range that make up ‘En Ergô Einai’. The proudest peak of them all is the towering promontory at the end of the record, “Telôs”. Differentiated by its sorrowful yet triumphant air, it inspires emotional outburst like the best Deafheaven while staying completely untouched by blackgaze’s often maudlin nature. While I am split on the decision between Aara’s debut and their sophomore album when it comes to a personal favorite, there is no hiding that ‘En Ergô Einai’ is a respectable step forward for the band. Mandatory for fans of atmospheric black metal, ‘En Ergô Einai’ is an unflinching and beautiful trip into the dark alleyways of human history.
Guest review by FREDRIK SCHJERVE
|ARTIST:||ORDER OF ORIAS|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 30th, 2020|
Yet another record I adore and have rabidly consumed but also been humbled and stymied by in an appreciable way, ‘Ablaze’ is the true point of transcendence for Melbourne, Australia’s Order of Orias wherein the venom has dissolved the flesh of the ego and their craft becomes borderless, ominous and singular. I figure a lot of folks might’ve known the band from their stunning first album and its gorgeous artwork but I’d discovered them via a split with Aosoth circa 2015 where one grand 12+ minute piece left me feeling a sort of rabid madness to know exactly what this band believed and pulled from for such inspiration. In some sense you could suggest this is occult black metal and that is a safe assumption for much of W.T.C. Productions releases, each of which tend towards special events in my world, yet this is not some unoriginal glimpse of Satan or whatever ghoulie might spook you into buying an LP with some lifted alchemical text on its cover. There is some considerable substance therein.
Think along the lines of Ascension, Deus Mortem, and Akrotheism for the scent of old orthodoxy, modern chord-shaping, and a flair for dramatic stasis where certain pieces become moments of stunning fixation. I’d really wished I’d had the lyrics at the time of press for this one because it was so much to unravel and feel; The vocalist is quite clear in his diction but I’d rather not soak in anything based on an imprecise notion on my part. With the lyrics in hand and the symbolism of the album artwork in mind, ‘Ablaze’ appears doubly ambitious than I’d originally thought and the weight of giving this album due time will mean I’ll have to leave it for end of year consideration as I grasp at things that hold meaning beyond hype and nepotism.
|RELEASE DATE:||April 24th, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Gates of Hell Records|
Out of the fiery ’78-’82 Euro heavy n’ power metal cocksure stomp of ‘Power’ and into more of the thoughtful guitar work that’d made the second half of their debut such a special event Tasmania, Australia’s Road Warrior have stuck to their guns on their second album ‘Mach II’ — I mean, they’re the same guns, just twice as many of ’em. They’re still dusting up 80’s metal obscurities with a pair of spiked balls swinging but I guess looking back I’d missed the Slough Feg in their swing, the Iron Maiden encasing all, and the Blackkout in mind when it came to more obvious influences. This time around it makes sense to look more toward the ‘The Dark’-era of Metal Church and nearby Maiden for the core guts of it all but we’re dealing with far more depth than legacy bands here and some prog/power-thrash from the mid-to-late 80’s is creeping in. Can we get to their ‘Control and Resistance’ stage yet? Speed metal does starts to bleed in much deeper as Side B arrives, I’d sorta loved the second half of the first record so I was pretty stoked to find yet another consistent and confidently attitudinal record from Road Warrior developed as it played. I definitely wish I’d left this higher up on the ‘to review’ list back in late April because heavy metal releases of this quality and conviction are few and far between this year. Or, I guess nobody trad metal as fuck enough gives a shit about my dumbass site. Boss record, though.
|RELEASE DATE:||April 24th, 2020|
A good friend of mine whom writes for one of the larger metal sites kind of scuffed on me for skipping over the latest Katatonia album, ‘City Burials’, not because it was particularly good but because it was highly anticipated and had been well-hyped. I fully understand this competitive mindset but this is fundamentally why I no longer write for magazines or sites, the “sport” of the music industry doesn’t largely interest me the way it did in my late teens and early twenties. One of my earliest assignments way, way back in the day was creating coverage (and copy) for a run of new Century Black imprint releases and that meant Einherjer, Old Man’s Child, Emperor and adjacent gothic rock/metal albums from Sentenced and Katatonia. At the time the goth stuff represented actual ‘sellout’ records that I was encouraged not to pan at the time. A death metal band sounding like alt-metal The Cure wasn’t the worst thing ever in hindsight but I’ve never had much of an inclination to look for what is popular rather than simply great. For my own taste that’d mean Katatonia hasn’t been particularly good since 1996. So, to double check I hadn’t missed something I took it upon myself to listen to every record from the band ever.
The result? Well, you can almost map out the points of grand inspiration that usually last 1-2 albums and then take a dive. The band takes time off, comes back refreshed with something entirely new that impresses critics and fans. ‘City Burials’ is that comeback moment for the umpteenth time and to be sure it is beautifully crafted modern depressive rock with that Scandinavian sleekness the band have developed as they look past a somewhat clunky alt-metal revival. It isn’t fundamentally different in structure than the previous record but the instrumentals, production, variation of mood, attention to singles and themed pieces with easily explained sentiments all make for an experience much more inspired than Katatonia have been in some time. Does that mean I’ve enjoyed it? No, I mean if this is an attempt to wax nostalgia while modernizing this bout of taking stock and finding new skin ends up sounding like a progressive rock band who’d focused away from the feel of their instruments towards a singer-songwriter direction. Working in downtempo electro beats and glossy pop rock with a bit of sad-faced intellect applied doesn’t feel ‘prog’ so much as just, black thoughts with a bit of modern rock glitter thrown at ’em.
Sure, I know I sound like a dick but I don’t owe a legacy band dishonesty in perpetuity simply because they gifted me ‘Dance of December Souls’ when I was a depressed teenager. There are some hard to forget pieces here though, “The Winter of Our Passing” is quite good, “Behind the Blood” is incredibly catchy even if a bit of a cheesy nostalgic statement, and “Neon Epitaph” has an interesting feel to it even if it doesn’t fit with its surroundings. They’re still effective when it comes time to hit the guitars a bit and Renske‘s harmonies are yet effective if not well-known in form. No doubt I’ve said nothing that hasn’t been said before about Katatonia so, you’ve gotten an idea of why I’d not written a full review.
|TITLE:||Forlorn and Forsaken|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 27th, 2020|
Cleveland, Ohio-based quintet Kurnugia are for all intensive purposes a recollection of ex-Decrepit members who’d eventually fill their guitar/vocal vacancy with key members of Embalmer. If you don’t already know all three bands chances are you’ve missed out on a ton of great Ohio/Midwest death metal bands in their periphery as well and that is a damn shame at this point. The old school death hordes from the Midwest are kinda split three ways in terms of black/death thrashing everything-in-one hybrids, brutal purists, and folks who’d really been inspired by Swedish and Finnish death metal in the 90’s. These guys have a bit of that snarling brutal punch to their gig but they lean towards Incantation-esque grinds when it does go that far, otherwise I’ve kinda read this album as equally touched by the Nihilist and Abhorrence spawned side of things too. If you’re a fan of Shed the Skin, Ruinous, Mortal Decay and whatnot I’m sure you’ll dig this. Why not write a full review of it? I like everything about what they’re doing here, riffs are solid and the vocals are wild but as you’ve noticed I’ve got jack shit to really relay beyond those basic truths. I’d started to write a long piece about the Mesopotamian underworld and description of kurnugia but it never went anywhere. Solid band, I try to grab every Memento Mori release and this is a great one.
|RELEASE DATE:||May 8th, 2020|
|LABEL(S):||Godz ov War Productions|
Biesy’s latest full-length effort is the product of a peculiar experiment in synthesis. Evolving from the more familiar underground stylings of ‘Noc Lekkich Obyczajóv’ (2017), which had elements of the dark psychedelia of Blut Aus Nord, ‘Transsatanizm’ is a colorful and many-faceted slate of industrial black metal. Somehow like a blend of Norse black metal, hard-hitting electronics in the vein of Blanck Mass and the bewildering experimentation of Dødheimsgard, the mercurial mix of influences are difficult to determine precisely. The best point of reference would be their fellow labelmates in Godz ov War Productions, whose projects Gruzja and Odraza mine similar territory. ‘Transsatanizm’ is by far the most high-def output of the bunch though, showing a singularity of vision and dedication to subversion that makes Biesy a sort of underground metal analogue to the shapeshifting electronic artist Arca.
Kicking off with a merciless, pounding four-on-the-floor courtesy of a programmed drums, the prominent electronic elements are the most obvious points of transformation from Biesy’s previous output. Despite the electronics’ forward placement in the mix, the foundation is still black metal of a mid-heavy and barreling kind. The ambiguousness of Arca is channeled through the structure of the songs, managing to feel both disjointed and naturally flowing at once. This delirious middle ground is enhanced by Faustyna IHS Moreau’s rapid pivots in vocal production, shifting between disaffection, bark and manic cackle with disorienting speed. The harmonic language is suitably saturated, featuring rich chords and surprising changes spiking the already intoxicating cocktail with psychedelics.
Despite some of the stretches being less focused than others, the richness of texture in the sound design makes up for occasional lapses in momentum. When it all comes together, like in “W Krainie Grzybów”, the result is breathtaking. After a heady intro, decadent like a cloud of thick perfume, the song flows into riffing straight out of Enslaved’s RIITIIR, then an outburst of triumphant black-gaze ala Alcest, before being interrupted with a fully electronic midsection. The interlude “Nowa Transylwania”, also a high point, showcases the impressive programming abilities of Faustyna. The electronic and metallic sounds on ‘Transsatanizm’ are so well balanced that I hope the project continues to go further into the blend on their future efforts.
‘Transsatanizm’ might be a tough sell for fans of more orthodox underground strains of metal, but for fans of more avant-garde stylings, the record is mandatory listen. A convincing display of genre-mashing audacity, Biesy introduces the next phase of industrial black metal with ‘Transsatanizm’.
Review by FREDRICK SCHJERVE
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