SHORT REVIEWS Our eighth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us digging into the last week of February’s new releases and touching upon some extreme thrash, some black metal, and a few experimental outliers which caught my ear. 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: email@example.com
If you’ll recall the chilled mid-to-late 70’s Led Zeppelin-esque heavy psychedelic/hard rock of Visalia, California-based troupe Slow Season they’d basically fallen out of sight in terms of releases since 2016’s ‘Westing‘. Westing turns out to be the new skin of most of the same folks, they’ve added the guitarist from All Them Witches, and their style has held fast in the same realm. a bit more spaced, exploring the variety of moods available to their gig. The name change appears to have been for the sake of a new start, a different feeling and whatnot though I don’t think existing Slow Seasoners will find this album an estranged successor at all. ‘Future‘ gets a bit of a message out with opener “Back in the Twenties”, class song and all that though they’ve got bigger opener worthy kicks on this thing (“Big Trouble (in the City of Love)”, no?) but the sequence ultimately works, pushing all of their best ideas onto Side A and easing up for most of Side B. While I enjoyed this album I didn’t find myself wanting to parse the details with any too-serious depth. The ‘retro’ heavy rock feeling sound design is exceptional, the songcraft is generally memorable with a strong variety of moodiness explored, though as I’d repeatedly hit Side B it’d read a bit too sleepy for my taste. Highlights: “Nothing New”, “Lost Riders”, “Silent Shout”.
Italian quartet Adversor use the aggressive voicing of late 80’s thrash metal as their basal level of energy in exploration of black, death and traditional heavy metal influenced songwriting which is reasonably compared to Kreator‘s more mid-paced, steadier stomped side. If you’d enjoyed ‘Hate über alles‘ but felt like it could all use a bit more thought and polish in terms of the lyrics this record finds a reasonable compromise between patient traditional heavy metal movement and the venom available to extreme thrash metal, flitting between blackened and death metal influenced tirades when called for. With most of these songs landing around ~4-5 minutes in length with mid-paced classic thrash arrangements dominate the landscape there is some moderate challenge staying engaged in the similarly achieved station of each piece, it blurs together in a way which begins indistinct but eventually wins over in the details. The thrash-obsessed listener will get their gig right away but may not ease into the patient, mid-paced glow of the record right away. There are for sure plenty of riffs here but they hit at a slow, steady pace which may or may not demand enough attention from the listener to appreciate the level of detail available. ‘Portrait of a Wasteland‘ ultimately won me over with the songwriting, both its structure and effect, around the third full listen and thus far it appears to be the best sort of grower. Highlights: “Les Miserables”, “Outcast”, “Samsara”.
Satanika are a black-death/thrash metal duo from Rome, Italy who’d initially formed as a continuation, or step beyond their work in Massemord. You’d do just as well to sum their sound up as late 80’s extreme metal but there are some early 90’s moments which frame their brutal action around the edges, such as the dramatic stretch of riffs which introduce the album via “Not of This Earth”. Vocals echo backwards for a bestial effect, blunt rhythms strike an 80’s Sodom meets Hellhammer sort of heavy metal pulverization, and a fittingly live n’ raw sounding recording makes for an ‘old school’ no fucks given sort of harassment which is too damned cool upon first impression. There are a few curveballs thrown, such as the double-bass clobbered “Their Hands Upon Our Throat” which feels like decades of early Celtic Frost fandom exploding in hand but most of this record is basically bestial “Persecution Mania” on a tirade. Solid record, pure evil stuff, love the eternally thrashing stance of the band but only a few songs truly stuck and I’m not sure they’ve outdone ‘Nightmare‘ just yet here, will keep on with it.
Irish synth rock/post-metal trio No Spill Blood caught a lot of wind back in the mid-2010’s with their debut ‘Heavy Electricity‘ (2015) which soon lead to a Roadburn appearance a couple of years later. Not sure what they’d been up to otherwise in the years between but their second full-length does a fine job of reminding how unique their core concept is, both in terms of instrumentation and the mood it generates. Their weirding, atmospheric sludge-related sound and its aggressive yet atmospheric treatment of synth driven pieces is probably squarely of interest to the enduring post-metal fandom, though there is a heady waft of psychedelia inherent to their production values which should appeal to folks who enjoy modern variants of krautrock and space rock as well. Though I didn’t fully “get” the effect of the greater sequence there were enough pieces here that’d appealed to the lapsed atmosludge fan in me who enjoys a solid synthesizer buzz track. The point of immersion, the tumbling pace of it all is an easy induction though I’d found myself grasping for reasons to really dig into the guts of this record beyond appreciating its gloomy roll.
Alongside their related extensions foundered in the slightly more popular Khold and Sarke the folks in Tulus have long been a fixture of distinctly Norwegian black metal which does not play into the first wave/second wave distinction, embracing the nubs of late 70’s heavy rock which informed the droning rhythms of 80’s black metal and rendering them driven by folkish guitar progressions and rock-steadied beats. For many their sound is one of the originals to be considered “black n’ roll” but that tag tends to mean something else these days. Tulus are conscious of the groove they collectively create by fairly simple means, the cleverness of their guitar patternation and physically charged beats sell the moment in motion in a unique way. It is the sort of band delivered with an smirk, not a blood spitting tongue wagging its slime or whatever and that approachability comes with a sound which delivers a live-in-studio feeling with a nudge of room noise. On this recording in particular the musicians appear to move as a unit rather than collide, well-practiced and purposeful with their tightly arranged action. The only piece here which feels indulgent is “Sjelesmerte”, which brings little true fanfare to the full listen, otherwise most songs cut to the quick within a few moments and move on. As a longtime fan of this band I’d found this to be one of their better full-lengths and a bit more substantial in the connection between lyrics and the performances compared to ‘Old Old Death‘ (2020) which hadn’t found its footing exactly right yet but otherwise maintained a similarly high standard. A memorable, easy to recommend listen for the more laid back black metal fan.
Big|Brave are an experimental/post-metal band from Montreal, Québec who’ve long made art music out of sludge-toned atmospheric dread, leaning into emotional and emergent sounds which are selected for their surrealistic values. Most of ‘Nature Morte‘ reads as a devastated, somewhat sparse drone-adjacent experience which from my point of view reads as absurdist, as in the existentialist’s lament on the absurdity of life, in the sense that the cadence here is entirely irregular and the attempts to convey emotion are met with frequent hesitation. This leaves the listening experience deeply unpleasant in its slow unfurl, a rattling and fixated experience that intends to read as intimate yet entirely fears said closeness to the point of skittish, tentative movement (the apex of this being “The Fable of Subjugation”) as their efforts reach a psychedelic point of frustration. There are of course some bigger guitar moments here and there, even some noise rock/sludged at highs here and there but the majority of this album calls for such a specific mood that I’d found it difficult to recommend to the general public. For the already established fan, consider this a logical extension of their collaboration with The Body from a couple years back where we can see a bit of a ‘less is more’ approach to generating atmosphere while also getting some intense guitar noise throughout the full listen.
Sacramento, California-based symphonic black/death metal duo Sarcoptes offer an appreciable spectacle here on their second full-length album, a much improved feat of late second wave black metal maximalism which comes alongside a bit of Septic Flesh-level orchestration and plenty of nods to classic death and thrash metal riffcraft along the way. For the fan with a healthy memory for USBM’s past this record is representative of where the “everything bagel” approach to extreme metal collapsed under its own weight as a commercial product back in the mid-2000’s, a logical fallen empire beyond the inspiration lent to the second half of the 90’s. That’ll probably mean nothing to the nostalgic folks wanting more big keyboard black metal who also like fast and semi-technical thrashed-at riffs which these folks prove themselves entirely capable of cranking a mile a minute. The valuable pieces here are successful for the absolute attrition they offer within ~14 minute chunks which allows the duo to tour all of their interests as they pursue a threatening corridor of bombastic black/thrash metal action within each one. The effect is energizing, over the top, and makes a strong first impression but I’d found the album refused to rest upon a point of tact and ultimately served more of a theme park ride than it did a serious riff record. After a handful of listens it became taxing, though never entirely predictable and this’d been a reasonable enough balance to warrant a recommendation. Highlights: “Dead Silence”
Rotterdam-borne and now Czechia-based black metal artist Funeral Winds has been a fixture in underground black metal since 1991, having released a handful of demos early in the decade until a debut LP manifested in the late 90’s, an impressive feat for an entirely self-driven artist at the time. Despite having seven full-lengths under his belt at this point four of them have released in the last five years, signaling some intense inspiration to create and expand upon his classic vision of black metal craft today. For the sake of brevity on my part I’d found ‘Sinister Creed‘ (2018) headed in the right direction, ‘Gruzelementen‘ (2021) fully there and now this album a piece which refines the execution of the core idea which is still entirely rooted in early 90’s Satanic black metal traditions. Though the title track leans a bit mid-paced the full listen does a fine job of switching up its attack, thrashing away at riffs and generally keeping its head down and keeping the ritual going. Highlights: “Odious Emanations”, “purified by Acausal Flames”, “Stigmata Mali”.
Bræ is an atmospheric black metal collaboration between Swedish artist Swartadauþuz and Belgium-borne musician Déhà with a strong focus on dark ambiance and profoundly obscurant sound design. Here we can only hope to echo-locate the forms of these pieces, which arrive behind a dense wall of reverb where only the kick of the beats, the dissolving echo of the vocals, and the ringing noise of the guitar work provide the greater illusory aspect of their craft. Within the two ~20 minute corridors of sound, each representing one half of the experience, we can find a shared love for early 90’s black metal theatrics and the ringing, scalding tones of that more guitar noise geared age reserved to the fading drone which clouds most of ‘Av Vålnader Bortom Allt‘. This’d been a daunting album to simply preview, as it quickly proves itself impossible to appreciate in pieces or bursts as full immersion demands you sit for each piece without a faltering thought and not all of it arrives with urgency or notable interest. The best parts land a bit like early Summoning were they buried a half-mile underground.
Isolant is an industrial metal project from Max Furst (Malleus, ex-Morne), Mattia Alagna (Abstracter, Atrament) and Miguel Souto (Suspiral, Excurse) who’ve taken some serious influence from early 90’s industrial music’s ‘metal’ side for this release, owing a lot to Godflesh and literal interpretations of their general muse of course, but also pulling from the atmospheric side of doom metal in crafting this follow-up to their self-titled 2015 demo tape. At their most readable and referential (“Inner Tomb”, “Drown in Ash”) Isolant impress for this smartly minimal approach to this sound, letting the beat and the guitars lead the show and giving an appropriate flood of menace between growled vocals and electro accoutrement. It isn’t as stark as the most raw drum machine junk of the late 80’s but still collectively achieves the cold deadpan of industrial metal before EDM worked its way into popular alt-rock etc. in the mid-90’s. The longer, or steadier droning pieces (“Drain”, “Death Pulse”) end up being my favorite as they make this ~28 minute record feel closer to forty five, though I’d like a bit more variation on the beats outside of these purposefully droning pieces. Worth checking out if you like the idea of industrial metal without the angst, or any robo-tough nonsense.
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