Short Reviews | October 31st, 2022

SHORT REVIEWS Our first set of November 2022 releases finds us thriving within the details of some brilliant black, doom, death and progressive metal releases with some noise rock-adjacent records nearby. I’ve done my best to showcase the most interesting works that I come across while still presenting some decent variety but choices boil down to what sticks, what inspires or what is worth writing about. These are more easygoing than longform reviews, so relax and think for yourself — If you find something you dig in the lot of ’em, go tell the band on social media and support them with a purchase. If you’d like your music reviewed send promos to:

TITLE:Astral Fortress
LABEL(S):Peaceville Records
RELEASE DATE:October 28th, 2022

Ye “olde metal” saga continues as the grizzled, forest wandering boys in the Dark Throne are up to their umpteenth full-length record wherein the two of ’em meet up once every few weeks and share a song idea or two and spank it up to a general underground heavy metal standard. They’re still remarkably not self-conscious, doing exactly what they want to do as the moment arrives and enjoying life as men of a certain age tend to do: Hiking in the forests, jamming in the basement, making evil heavy metal. I have nothing but respect for this and cannot fault the music they create, raising and shaking a fist in solidarity for the whole 40 minutes of the full listen. Most of what they’ve been up to for the last few records has a bit of post-‘Houses of the Holy‘ era Zeppelin inspired European heavy metal in its blood to some degree, the heavy metal epic/proto-doom atmosphere in its nascent state of shaping up alongside their ever present shade of ‘Morbid Tales‘ storytelling and surrealistic horror movie scores all feed into the high fantasy/grimdark deal they come up with. When all of this reaches a point of Cirith Ungol-sized pulse (see: “Stalagmite Necklace”) I am most there for it, nodding my head and frowning deeply. “The Sea Beneath the Seas of the Sea” and “Impeccable Caverns of Satan” are the big hogs here but “Stalagmite Necklace” and “Eon 2” are the ones I’ll come back for most often.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

TITLE:Banquet of Scum
LABEL(S):Sewer Rot Records
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

Pukewraith is an ‘old school’ death metal project from Canadian musician Brendan Dean who is active in several Toronto-area bands (Gutvoid, Fumes, Soul Devourment, et al.) though I believe this is his only solo death metal gig of this sort. I’d missed his first EP and the split with the also rad and very related Intestinal Hex so this full-length served as my general introduction to the frequently vomiting push of this stuff which generally flips between faster thrashed-at riff progressions and gnarlier early Carcass-esque death-grinding globbin’, all of it constantly pushing forward beyond a few mid-paced breathers here and there. The energy is up and the riffs are definitely whipping at a solid rate throughout, the momentum of the record holds up despite the use of programmed drums, which rarely feel as corpse-stiff as they probably should. The full listen manages to be a good time for the sake of keeping their ralphing churn spicy and straight forward in arc but I’d been most impressed with the variety of moods, or, pockets of fresh riff ideas which help ‘Banquet of Scum‘ stick in mind beyond its brutal clip and strong vocal delivery. A few wild solos (“Fleshmaster”, “Cyclone of Maggots”) crop up here and there, but don’t expect anything more than a good time here, this record seems primarily interested in cutting a few clever riffs and keeping it straight forward and brutal, establishing some core style notes and ducking out before it starts to feel repetitive. The barrier for most talks going in will be programmed drums but (again) these never felt too glaringly mechanical from my point of ear.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

TITLE:Earth Base One
LABEL(S):Avantgarde Music,
Unorthodox Emanations
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

Tiwanaku is a science fiction themed progressive death metal project which comes from the mind of musician Ed Mowery who is best known as the bassist/vocalist for the brief reformation of Nocturnus between 1999-2002, though he’d performed on the infamous and well-loved 1993 self-titled 7″ from the band, too, his own work was more prominent on odd-duck reunion album ‘Ethereal Tomb‘ (1999). ‘Earth Base One‘ seems to have been a goal for Mowery and former Acheron/Burning Inside guitarist Mike Estes (R.I.P.) since 2003 when it was clear Nocturnus was basically finished and Estes (who’d soon form the short-lived trad metal project Leash Law as well) was likewise onto the next thing and Mowery signed on too. There have been many, many members in and out of the project since then and I have no idea who played on this album beyond Mowery, Estes and I believe Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) but it is safe to say that it arrives very much in the spirit of sci-fi themed and keyboard heavy progressive death metal with a moderate amount of lead guitar flair in hand to start.

It will be next to impossible to get around the burning question (“What took so long?“) and the baggage of expectations from associated groups and artists but once you’re able to set all that aside and let Tiwanaku do their thing, we’ve got a cool record to hang out with. Of course in the years since this project formed Nocturnus A.D. achieved an inarguably most righteous revival of this style, so, most anything will naturally appear somewhat less profound at this point. I wouldn’t say that ‘Earth Base One‘ exists in the shadow of ‘Paradox‘ so much as it comes from an entirely different take on a similar set of ideals, each rooted in speed/death metal and the nascent charm of theatric “symphonic” sci-fi metal but Tiwanaku seems more rooted in the realm of possibilities beyond ‘Ethereal Tomb‘, easier pacing and grooves directing very steady theatric marches while Mowery dictates an interesting enough lyrical narrative. The first seven songs here are essentially a complete thread and the final three seem like extra tracks to bulk the experience based on the rough shape of “Today in Battle”, and the completely different style featured on “Interdimensional” which I believe is closer to their earlier sound which incorporated power/heavy metal vocals alongside more gruff death metal style.

The feeling of the record is unique yet familiar, the mix is dynamic enough to provide detail at modest volumes with no one piece serving too-blunt or overly loud performance, and the style which Tiwanaku sports feasibly continues the thread beyond ‘Ethereal Tomb‘ to the point that this might fill the needs of a very unique long-term fandom who’d happily associate with the distant fringes of Nocturnus‘ spheres of influence but the result is worthy nonetheless. Count me into that crowd, of course, as I especially love the eerie and wandering spirit of these songs contrasting with the sort of thrashed at, mostly decent rhythm guitar work which drives the movement within.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

TITLE:Planetary Disruption
LABEL(S):War Anthem Records
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

German technical death metal band SubOrbital is a somewhat unexpected but not completely out of character project from members of Selfdevoured, Gloryful, and Night in Gales who’ve arrived signed and ready with a debut LP right out the gates. This record was definitely slated for full review this week but as I sat with it and stared at the album cover… the magic just kinda started to wear off. Yes, a superficial choice on my part and the only real issue with ‘Planetary Disruption‘ is aesthetic (though it is a bit long) yet with so many choices in hand for November I’d nonetheless yanked this one down a rung by instinct. The album itself is well-crafted if not somewhat standard technical/progressive death metal in style with primarily ‘old school’ influences taken from peak Pestilence, Nocturnus and such without any strict adherence to the sound design or standards of the early 90’s. This being a debut LP and perhaps coming a bit too soon they’ve filled in the gaps of the full album experience with somewhat out of place progressive metal veering (“Sicknature Of Galactic Imperium”) and what I’d consider modern and somewhat artificial sounding drum performances which lack the sort of thrash metal directed reap of early 90’s classics, landing a sound which is sometimes comparable Mithras and other times sounds a bit like an average mid-90’s death metal group influenced by the third Pestilence album. The best songs on this album create unique, somewhat machine-like textures within the rhythm guitar work (“Sands of Uranus”, “Stellar Explosion”, “Gyroscope”) as these would tend to line up with the brutal yet distant style of drumming which dominates the full listen. They get a bit lost along the way but this is an excellent debut to start with.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

TITLE:Synergy Restored
LABEL(S):Nuclear Blast Records
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

Having grown up in the suburbs, skateboarding, smoking cheap B.C. tailpipe weed and being a shithead kid throughout the 90’s a band like CKY (and the associated VHS/DVD series) was one of the only not-embarrassing bands/things we on-the-edge recent high school grads could still agree upon as we drifted apart circa 1999-2002. Most of them fell off heavy music fast, generally following the college kid white rapper thing ’til they couldn’t get Facebook laid off it anymore… whereas I fucked completely off to Portland and formed a band that sounded way too much like Negative Approach. Anyhow, ‘Infiltrate•Destroy•Rebuild‘ perfectly triggers those memories, or several moments where those old friends began to no longer factor into the possibilities beyond small town life, most of them ended up addicted to OxyContin and never changed anyhow. I’ve got anecdotes for days about ‘Volume 1‘ (1999) and being the only fool in the room who could figure out the opening riffs to “96 Bitter Beings” and the proper tuning for that matter…

But anyhow, that band was always Deron Miller (ex-CKY, Foreign Objects) between his establishing their style on the first record, his unique for the time layered melodic vocal style, and the level of rhythmic interest he’d brought to what was admittedly catchy alternative metal. His lyrics were clever, intelligent, or just fourth-wall breaking conversations as to where his head was at and at that point in my life it stood out within a realm of popular music I’d readily walked away from years before otherwise. Danceable technical alt-metal? Ha, it was a cool enough, catchy gig back then which triggers nostalgia in mind today. The guy is still basically that same sort of artist two decades later and his work in 96 Bitter Beings spot-on recaptures what CKY were doing on ‘Infiltrate•Destroy•Rebuild‘ with some different melodic sensibilities developed since. This is especially true during the first half of the album with catchy, bumpin’ singles all the way down to the knees ’til we hit “Bedtime Story”. The second half falls off for me as I’d always preferred the more shuffled-out bigger riff focused stuff from the group and there are a few more of those in the deep back-half. If you’ve got similar nostalgia for this guy’s stuff I’d say definitely check this record out — otherwise just be cool man, and pretend I never reviewed an alt-metal album.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

LABEL(S):Prophecy Productions
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

Though I would definitely understand if you’d passed on Disillusion‘s early material as German musician Andy Schmidt figured out his place in somewhat melodic progressive death metal spaces between 1994-2004, I’d have to at least vouch for the exceptional leap to be found on their 2006 opus ‘Gloria‘, an album which was admittedly too much of a change and perhaps a few years ahead of its time even for the Opeth primed prog-metal mindset of the era. He’d disappeared for a decade after that and in the interim the general consensus began to build that theirs was an underrated legacy culminating with a return single that’d financed (alongside a Patreon campaign) a comeback album in ‘The Liberation‘ (2019). That album more-or-less made good on all of the intentions of Disillusion on those first two LPs, bringing those ideas to a modern avant-garde metal standard which I’d argue was basically there on ‘Gloria‘. So, if you have the context of each of those three records in mind and have mulled over each for years you’ll understand why getting this fourth LP, ‘Ayam‘, just a few years later is an unexpected abundance, an overflowing gift likely afforded by the pandemia-frozen years since. In fact several pieces seem to deal with an internalized reaction to a world crumbling down amidst isolation, a place of melodramatic introspection where the intelligent flair of Schmidt has long thrived.

Though I am not enough of a progressive metal fan to rack up piles of hourlong, or longer epics in this style each year with any regularity outside of extreme metal there is something to be said for dabbling and appreciating the biggest, most ambitious within the realm and of course this means we’re faced with the reality that popular progressive metal lines up with the somewhat sterile, cinematic loft of modern “heavy” music, which is typically focused on simple downtuned guitar grooves. This is a threat that never fully comes to life within ‘Ayam‘, wherein many of the heavier pieces form around these sorts of guitar techniques early on, such as the chunkier riffs on opener “Am Abgrund” and the sort of peak Thordendahl-esque leads which feature early on in “Tormento”, yet the weirding kitchen sink mind of Disillusion is still lightly directing this black-and-grey orchestra of sorrowful resignation. The substance arrives for my own taste within the most obvious tumult of the action, the jagged rhythmic edges and the irrational interruptions to the distraught narrative of the full listen, wherein plenty of opportunity is given to twist into something a bit heavier. Beyond the duo of opening pieces only “Longhope” and to some degree “Driftwood” inspire in this sense and peer directly into the darkness for the sake of surprising the ear. Overall we’ve got a fine work on par with the previous album in terms of fine production values and a generally satisfying arc or two on the full listen albeit with a different emotional register in mind, this one dealing with self-doubt, anger, and again a distraught feeling as far as I’d picked up on. ‘Ayam‘ is certainly worthy of much more time and consideration though I’d generally favorable results from 4-5 full listens thus far.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

LABEL(S):Venerate Industries
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

Athens, Greece-based noise rock/post-hardcore quartet Mammock are at it again two years later with a true follow up to their debut LP ‘Itch‘ wherein they’ve no doubt improved upon pacing, cut out some of their more over-the-top extension and focused on their best side, the sort of earlier The Jesus Lizard and Child Bite-esque intensity (see: “The Last Days of the Second Elephant Man”). There is more to their sound than that but you’ve got a general guide post to hitch off in terms of the vocalist’s style and simpler yet warped dread rhythms which might veer into jangling 90’s alt-rock creeping (“Bats”) or psychedelic spaced buzzing (“Away From Them”, “Jasmine Skies”) depending where they take it. With a moderate amount of variety and some new, if not somewhat tempered headspace in mind ‘Rust‘ ends up being a strong continuation of Mammock‘s core ideal. I received the album with the songs tagged in the wrong order, so I cannot comment on the flow of the full listen but I’d generally enjoyed the full listen a handful of times before moving on.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

TITLE:The Faceless King
LABEL(S):Ripple Music
RELEASE DATE:November 4th, 2022

Los Angeles-based progressive/psychedelic rock opera generator Vitskär Süden have more than a concept album with an excellent high fantasy narrative in hand on this second full-length album they’ve also got what appears to be a well-made, fully illustrated 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons module to go along with it. The music has a bit more of a sorrowful, dreary flair to it than their self-titled record had, which it seems they attribute to some gothic folk influences. Although the album absolutely does not “rock” in the slightest until we’re about ~19 minutes, or halfway, into its duration we do eventually get a bit of swanky space rock gloom and mid-80’s prog smooth on “Shepherds on the Roadside”. It was never fully there in terms of energy for my own taste but things do eventually pick up to a moderate stew from that point on, less Burning Saviours and more Hawkwind if you will, a distant, not so bard-like presentation that leaves the ear either enraptures or lost for its duration depending on your sensibilities. It took some time to separate the TTRPG campaign, the aesthetic, and the actual music and get the vibe of the album itself and it’d eventually prove to not be my kind of thing but I can’t deny that they’ve set a high standard here by combining the module with the vinyl release of the album, it definitely stirred up interest where there’d likely have been less otherwise.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

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