SHORT REVIEWS Our sixth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us digging into the first two weeks of February’s new releases and touching upon some dark folk, black metal, death metal, and some extreme hardcore. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Narrative are a German black metal band who’d put out a fairly orthodox but energized demo back in 2014 before quickly losing interest in their surroundings. Between a 2021 released EP and now their debut LP ‘Servants of Prophets, Martyrs of Men‘ they’ve found the light behind their eyes again and delivered a surprisingly fine bout of work which bears semblance to the spiritus of mid-90’s black metal without any real struggle in their flitting between riff-heavy brutality and atmospheric nuance. “Monotheistic Submission” was the piece to convince up front, a nine minute song which showcases the ability of the artist to craft atmosphere from composition without relying on sound design to do the work. Of course the fact that the song busies itself with thrashing riffs throughout is a big help and I think that’d been the major sell overall, it is still an ‘old school’ guitar record which finds parity between the attack of the vocal expression and the riffcraft with sustains the moment in irreverent phrase. Additional influences from death metal, plenty of subtle and not-so subtle keyboards, and a bit of doom here and there help to keep the album expressive yet focused, the production values help to keep everything on track with a clear, realistic render which is never so “clean” that any of it reads as sterile. Likely a bit of a sleeper hit for black metal interest this month.
New Yorkers All Out War come from a different age of metalcore, a more aggressive style of metallic hardcore that’d kept up with the aggressive uptick in early 90’s hardcore punk folks couldn’t call “crossover” much longer. As a kid raised on 80’s hardcore punk and popular early 90’s metal I was beyond ready for a band like these folks circa 1997-1998 as the ideal hit of Slayer and that new metalcore sound (again, not metalcore as we knew it post-2003 or so) which was as extreme as those nearby Earth Crisis and Madball records labels like Century Media and Roadrunner started pushing. I was big on this band for their first three albums, ‘For Those Who Were Crucified‘ was always that one record folks hadn’t yet discovered beyond the obvious names like Ringworm, Integrity et al. when folks who understood was hardcore fundamentally was as a lineage just as well as heavy and/or extreme metal. That’ll be the basis for why I’d been hyped up for a new record from these folks, their stuff represents a crossover event that adapted, built their own taste for the new without chucking the old over the years.
No doubt the average nowadays extreme metal fan will hear Mike Score screaming his head off and have difficulty concentrating for a long minute, his presence is a lot and appropriately so for this style of extreme metallic hardcore which was built on direct and confrontational messaging in fast bursts. The major personality of All Out War is more than intact here, though this album leans into its teeth-flashing meanness and aims for the attack. Once you’re in it the full listen reads somewhere between dark hardcore and grindcore, thrashing stuff which doesn’t rip a ton of leads but keeps it fast and kicks into some death metal style (“Celestial Rot”) here and there. If you were stuck on ‘Crawl Among the Filth‘ back in 2019 this record follows up on shorter, to the point songwriting while tweaking the production toward death metal heaviness. At ~26 minutes I’d found this record played well on repeat, was easy to return to for multiple listens but it’ll be a record that requires a certain mood to knock back into over time.
Örebro, Sweden-based death metal quintet Carnosus had been around for about a decade before they were ready with their first full-length back in 2020 and taking that step meant deciding exactly who they were beyond a melodic death metal influenced death-thrash metal group. For my own taste they were just about there with ‘Dogma of the Deceased‘ and now fully arrive upon a strong personae with this follow-up ‘Visions of Infinihility‘. Their style is slightly more difficult to sum into few words, consider it a technical form of melodic death metal with modern thrash metal influences, somewhere between Revocation and Bloodshot Dawn with a solid sense of groove and a slight uptick in kinda brutal, kinda progressive rhythmic tangents. There is no economy of notes in their world but it all rests short of “shred” for the sake of it and this goes a long way towards making a good first impression for modern melodic death fans who’re also down with The Black Dahlia Murder side of moshable melodeath influenced music. On one hand I think these folks are trying to do so much that it eats up a lot of the tuneful value of certain pieces but on the other hand the aggressive and technical all-in perpetual attack of it all is just as valuable as catchiness or memorability in the moment. Wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one based on some of their other work but I’d found it did ultimately redeem.
Sermon are an excellent gothic death/doom metal quintet from Turkey who’ve honed in on a sound which I’d describe as an extreme, noisome version of ‘Draconian Times‘-era Paradise Lost which seeks to extend the most sentimental and heaviest moments of said style to the very brink of their captivation. They’ve got the wah pedal surged leads down, the pacing is gloriously taxing and the experience reads well from any distance yet the production values are absolutely ear-bleedingly blown out, wherein every instrument is cranked so loud that it all lacks any certain dynamic beyond the otherwise tempered vocal presence. It is a shame that the album is a headache to start since most of these songs are pretty good for this style, falling into a piece like “Silver Splinter” or “Destined to Decline” should prove pretty easy for the gothic doom metal fan, but the negatives do eventually begin to add up. Between the bad alt-rock riffs of “Gnostic Dissensus”, the hourlong runtime, and the earwax stripping production values I’d had to bounce off this one despite enjoying their whole gig.
Holy Water is a somewhat difficult to define darkwave/post-metal project, a bit of a soul-searcher, from musician Jasper den Hartigh who is best known for his work in post-punk band Heat Dust. ‘Holy Water‘ pulls a bit of Årabrot-esque choral deadpan into a sludgy, shoegazing sound which threatens to reach a point of extremity but never makes more than a suggestion of heavier metallic textures. “Persistent Dream” is a fine example where the moment of doom arrives ~2:20 minutes in but it ends up being a very sullen ‘gaze moment. That isn’t to say that ends up being a disappointment, most of the record thrives within this miserable, introverted vibe and it feels much longer, more taxing than the ~35 minute reality of it is. Where he loses me is within the muddy purpose of the second half where “Latter End More Than the Beginning” has a devotional tip to it then “Sit Down, Restless” feels like a drunken night at post-metal band practice. The full listen wasn’t entirely cohesive but the first six or so tracks glued well enough together to hold my attention for a handful of listens. Without a point of pivot that made good sense the rest of the record didn’t seem all that sure of where it should go.
Skipping past any drawn-out introductions beyond a few wintry singles Stockholm-area sextet Fredlös (eng: Outlaw) haven’t minced words in presenting a sombre folk metal epic in this self-titled debut album. They’ve smartly lead with three pieces which inherently feature the dramatic yarn of lead vocalist Liv Hope who brings some considerable charisma to their mid-paced and narrative driven style, which touts some sentiment/historic ode to the Norrtälje area. The first third of the experience smartly centers around its storytelling before they begin to cut into a few heavier guitar driven pieces and include the other vocalists in bigger feature (see: “Fredlös”). This type of dark folk/folk metal isn’t entirely my thing, the full listen is a bit sleepy in its dramatic pacing and the arrangements don’t intend to punch at the guitars in a way that catches my interest. Nonetheless, it is fine work which fans of Sólstafir‘s vocal cadence, the more ‘epic’ side of Fejd, and the oft-overlooked Lumsk should appreciate.
This fourth full-length album from progressive psychedelic folk rock/neofolk project Iterum Nata will likely manage to be the one to win me over. That isn’t to say that the stark yet robustly delivered ‘The Course of Empire‘ (2019) was lacking but that this latest release fills the room with color again, huddles up a bit closer, and has bit more of the Hexvessel-esque feeling to said intimacy once might expect after he’d (Jesse Heikkinen) contributed to their previous three releases. ‘Trench of Loneliness‘ lands as personal, deeply introspective record which still intends to connect with the stranger in the crowd. The tone of the record begins to jump around towards the end of the sequence and I’d eventually start to drop off beyond “Losing Connection” after several listens but a strong impression was ultimately made.
In most practical terms Olympia, Washington-based duo Returning mange a deeply felt current of atmospheric black metal and dark ambiance performed with a uniquely ritualistic approach which conveys a connection with nature above all else. Clicking through their work and sitting with it doesn’t necessarily convey the performative aspect of the band, which from what I gather includes some element of theatric storytelling, but the music itself offers a fittingly dramatic offshoot of a raw, “Cascadian” black metal adjacent sound which meets up with the organic sprawl of peak atmospheric sludge in terms of presentation. Approached as a black metal album I’d found it immersive enough, well represented in terms of run-on guitar interest and often beautiful landscapes conveyed through simple riffing and a somewhat live feeling drum capture. This’ll have to be the sort of record I will have to revisit multiple times to continue to grasp and appreciate, so, consider this a favorable impression after a handful of focused listens. “Bright Power, Dark Peace” is the dynamic standout of the lot, or, the best representative piece to start with.
Polish black metal duo Terrestrial Hospice return with a sleeker, slower yet no less hateful second full-length in ‘Caviary to the General‘. Here these current/former members of Thunderbolt and Behemoth focus on their mid-to-fast paced semi-melodic side which naturally drowns the senses of the listener rather than flatly harass ’em. Some will miss their more raw and confrontational side but this is exactly where I’d hoped they’d take their sound, an immersive tunnel forth which provides little hope of looking back. I particularly love the combination of “Extinction Delight” as it passes into the horrified screams that kick off “Vermin”, as it feels like an old, ancient scourge returns in the moment and adds to the droning dread which these folks conjure so well here. Beyond that I’d love the stuttering blasts of “Memoir”, another hit of cruel ‘old school’ black metal energy that adds to the menace and moodiness of the full listen, which only seems to intensify in detail and maniac vocal inflection as it progresses. Plenty of depth here for die-hard black metal fans alongside some unexpected curveball rhythmic moments.
Osiah are a technical deathcore band out of Sunderland, England and this latest mLP is a prime example of their huge, entirely modern and naturally over the top take on the sub-genre. The high fidelity nuclear sock of it all is impressive when taken in as pure spectacle and I suppose because they’ve managed a sound which is often readable as tech-death adjacent. The no-chill chunking wrack of deathcore isn’t necessarily my thing due to a lack of rhythmic signature existing between so many crews but I’d no complaints when hanging out with songs like “The Golden Throne” and “Memento Mori”, which were less likely to pause for a nuclear chug session that interrupted the overall flow. Again I’m not knee-deep enough into deathcore that I’ve any taste in it but this was a fine overall package between the visual design and the professional performances/render.
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