Short Reviews | January 5th, 2023

SHORT REVIEWS Our second edition of Short Reviews for 2023 releases finds us jumping ahead a couple of weeks to a handful of things coming out on January 20th, all of them above average. I’ve done my best to showcase the most interesting works that I come across while still presenting some decent variety here 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 go tell the band on social media and support them with a purchase! If you’d like your music reviewed, read the FAQ and send promos to:

LABEL(S):Avantgarde Music
RELEASE DATE:January 13th, 2023

Supernatural horror, wartime terrors, arena sized heavy metal pieces and thrashing aggression feature on this fourth full-length from Stockholm, Sweden-borne black metal trio Grá. ‘Lycaon‘ is suggested as a peeling back of the more layered, classics inspired sound of the previous album ‘Väsen‘ (2018) which you might recall I’d reviewed upon release. I’d found this record equally centered around steady grooves, brooding mid-paced pieces and Heljarmadr‘s narrative approach to the unique themes available to the band. They’ve stripped back to a black n’ kinda rocking style which should yet recall acts like Vried at face value but of course from a distinctly Swedish perspective when it comes to melody and use of certain guitar techniques. Opener “White City Devil” displays the dance of these elements in inspired stride to start though it’d been “Flame of Hephaestus Master” that’d introduced the sort of heavy/speed metallic meets second wave verve of this record’s rhythms which are later compounded by a cover of Bathory‘s “Chariots of Fire”. The steady yet rotten ride of ‘Lycaon‘ registers as warmed-over and fist-shaking to start as it quickly becomes clear these songs are built for a big stage. Head-bobbers and thrashers meant to incite a larger crowd dominate the mood of the full listen, rarely playing to the intimacy of the introverted but still able to incite the outsider songs like “Ett Avskedsbrev” only enhance the legacy of the group thus far. Even if they are playing to the room a bit the Grá I know and appreciate is on full display here with some of their catchiest, fastest material to date as they step another league beyond their more typical Swedish black metal informed point of entry over a decade ago.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

TITLE:The Decline
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

Texas based but Alaska borne progressive extreme metal trio Turbid North are a band of additive values, a zoomed-out maximal approach to accessible heavy music which includes influences from alternative rock, sludge metal, deathgrind, and at one point dabbled in metalcore influenced technical death metal. All of this had accumulated and refined to a more solvent peak on their third album ‘Eyes Alive‘ circa 2015 which was radio ready stuff Gojira fans would appreciate in hindsight, it was a reasonable place to land and ‘The Decline‘ more or less looks to a grey future eight years beyond that point. My impression of this record changed drastically in the space of the first two full listens where I’d considered it one of the heavier post-metal records I’d heard to date to start but certainly more than that as they insert Napalm Death influenced deathgrind (“Patients”) and stoner/sludge metal rides (“The Road”) as their sound generally prods at interest in spaced, psychedelic textures and changing tastes in extreme metal. Though not all of the full listen ends up working in terms of the flow of the running order and consistent impact they have generally dropped all of thier more accessible alternative metal moments for a decidedly more pensive yet violent release which takes advantage of a hi-fi modern production sound for extra spectacle and plenty of stereo worthy low end bursts. It is a record for the more mainstream metal fandom who have myriad interest in various niches and underground scenes but expect a certain standard of fidelity and memorable touches. As such it doesn’t really land entirely on my radar but there was no point where I felt the need to step away from the tragedian verve of the band.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

TITLE:The Lord Knows
LABEL(S):Ripple Music
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

Sundsvall, Sweden-based heavy/stoner rock quartet Tidal Wave were just kinda fuckin’ around on their 2019 debut full-length, eh, ‘Blueberry Muffin‘ but this second record sounds pretty damned serious about making a go of their now even catchier, anthemic late 90’s stoner music. A heavy dose of nearby ‘Badmotorfinger‘-styled vocals from vocalist Alex Sundqvist carries this thing into full feature as he soars through the first three or so pieces, the exuberance available to the band firing off eventually takes us from euphoria to a sort of bluesy, doom-rocking headspace by the time “Pentagram” hits and this is basically the key impact of the full listen in a nutshell. Just when you’d think they’d take it a bit more Dio they end up squaring off the album with some slower jammed, murkier grunge influenced songs which are well in the tradition of a certain era of Swedish stoner rock/metal. “Purple Bird” is reprise for the startup energy of the record and “Thorsakir” leans into that 70’s heavy/doom jam territory just well enough that I’d found the full listen charming and pretty even keeled in terms of consistent songwriting. Though I’d stop short of suggesting ‘The Lord Knows‘ is mind-blowing or any all that unexpected overall but it did prove to be such a damned good sitting each time I’d picked it up. A feel good, feel kinda bad, still kinda stoned sort of record.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

TITLE:Tomb Absolute
LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

Though he’d explored atmospheric sludge metal in the new millennium to some degree we haven’t gotten a death metal full-length from Brazilian musician M. Rodrigues since he’d fronted the ‘Symphonies of Sickness‘ influenced band The Endoparasites in the early 90’s, leaving behind an appreciable product of its time in the Cogumelo-vaulted gem ‘Iconoclasty of Flesh‘. His latest project, in partnership with engineer/musician Libra, is this death/doom metal band Negative Vortex who end up calling upon a host of well-known acquaintances for guests spots on this excitable debut full-length, with a violent yet atmospheric form of death/doom metal emerging in hand. ‘Tomb Absolute‘ occupies a curious void between classic death metal forms, droning yet ‘epic’ charges, and a particularly inspired bout of early Cathedral-esque doom on certain pieces (see: “Cicuta”). This is an important note since we don’t necessarily find the mid-80’s style of doom metal riff explored by the duo so much as they drive into slow-to-mid paced sections with a modestly 90’s approach behind certain leads, the doom aspect experienced is more a coloration of mood rather than a sub-genre reference in that respect. “Weeping Moon” is an excellent example of this side of the band fully revealing alongside some black metal influenced elements and this is probably where Negative Vortex manage to be most ear-catching per the spectacle of the piece. The first half of the album reads as a strong enough barrel-chested thump otherwise, leaving the Swedish and British death metal influences to shine on the second half a bit more. Most of the experience reads as a full update on a nostalgic conglomerate, a dissection and resuscitation of certain 90’s influences which generally all work when properly mashed into gear, “Cease to Exist” being the grand finale of the glom now tightly packed into form. Production values are excellent, atmospheric and appropriately dire for the mood stricken by the music, and the cover art is very memorable, overall this’d be a very complete package for my own taste if they’d dialed up the riff count and cut at least one of these songs for the sake of brevity and impact.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

TITLE:Dimensions Unfurled [mLP]
LABEL(S):Time to Kill Records
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

Celestial Scourge is a brutal technical death metal quintet from Norway with members of Deception and Blood of Throne now in their ranks. This record caught my ear for its extra-sentient approach to riffcraft, a set of techniques which reflect a particular ratio of technicality in service to detailed but not incoherent guitar voicing. At the very least you’ll feel a bit of ‘Crown of Souls‘-era Deeds of Flesh and that same era of Kronos in some of their rhythms throughout, though this is not a throwback group. There are a few brief flirts with slam here and there but ‘Dimensions Unfurled‘ otherwise avoids the banalities of trivial shit like deathcore. If you appreciate death metal’s prime athleticism in the late 2000’s this’ll be a natural point of resonance for exactly how aggressively these guys cut at it. Can’t fault a single second of this release as I’d found it easy to slap on repeat and let its intensity burn through for ~20 minutes at a time, I’d even enjoyed the slower bop in the middle of “Moon Dweller”. Definitely looking forward to hearing what these guys will manage on a full-length if they’re already hitting this level of quality.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

TITLE:Contempt for a Failed Dimension
LABEL(S):Redefining Darkness Records
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

The latest record from Cincinnati-based death metal duo Faithxtractor does a fine job of representing their more brooding semi-melodic side with a few slower, more atmospherically developed pieces which occasionally incorporate keyboards. Otherwise you’ll find the band continuing to hammer away at thrashing classic death metal of their own design, a style which is nearby ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ one moment and Intestine Baalism the next and developed for nearly as long as each of those groups, taking cues from classic Midwest death metal scenery and some Scandinavian death metal ideas sparingly. Every song here cuts hard into its main riffs, provides plenty of variation in terms of both riffcraft and pacing while maintaining an indomitable presence. To top it off they’ve included a cover of “Empire of the Damned” from Sepultura’s debut LP as a bonus and it actually fits really well into the machinery of the album. Not sure if I should consider this an mLP or a full record at this point but either way I’d been impressed at how straight forward and crammed with solid riffs this record was.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

LABEL(S):Edged Circle Productions
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

Recorded over the course of five years this self-titled debut from Norwegian synthesizer driven post-metal quartet arrives as a three song ~45 minute (wait for it) instrumental album. Now that ninety percent of readers have already clicked away, deeply insulted by the lack of riffs and vocals, ‘Natt‘ is a uniquely surreal journey gilded by an ethereal and glittering atmosphere which plunges forth by way of run-on progressive rock grooves and kosmiche analog synth sounds. It is an interesting experiment by way of members of long dormant troupes Kraków, Malignant Eternal and session work from the current drummer from Enslaved. The first half, or, first two pieces here “Skillevei” b/w “Appell” are the major point of interest on the full listen, dramatic jam sessions which feel emergent but are clearly orchestrated with plenty of consideration. The final half of the experience “Etterslått” spends about ten minutes building toward its ether-soaked mid-point, a brilliantly immersive experience the first time through and a bit of a slog afterwards. The second half of the ~21 minute piece finds its riff, modulates and expands from tender flutes floating about ’til a resounding cosmic orchestra begins to dirge in, the effect of the piece fully expanding and hitting that point of peak kaleidoscopic resplendence is well worth the price of admission. I didn’t find myself chasing the dragon in terms of coming back to the record for its best points with a fervor but I did greatly appreciate where the journey of the record ultimately went.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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