Short Reviews | February 23rd, 2023

SHORT REVIEWS Our ninth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us sifting through the first week of March’s new releases and touching upon progressive metal, stoner doom, death/doom, death metal, throwback black metal, and an experimental release or two. 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:

Norwegian progressive metal quintet Enslaved return for their sixteenth full-length album with ‘Heimdal‘ now in their third decade and finding some comfortably surreal medium within their third reset era. Though in many ways the 2003 shake-up of the band’s line-up and style was a monumental and influential happening the 2017/2018 restaffing of the band’s clean vocalists, keyboard player and drummer has only just shown glimpses of greatness within their three latest releases. Ambitious as post-‘In Times‘ (2015) releases have been my major criticism of each is that they explore interesting textures, incorporate electronic and cinematic music influences in unusual ways, yet arriving upon that point of unforgettable “hit the damn repeat button” bliss continues to escape their songcraft. All is curious, surreal in a dramatic Floydian sense yet none of it sticks.

That said, if we can escape sweeping generalization and look directly into the guts of ‘Heimdal‘ this record is a far more eventful landscape to hike across thanks to increasingly bold choices made per the electronic/keyboard elements and better placement of Kjellson‘s vocals in general. This allows for more of their jet-set black metal influenced signature to break through on a few standouts, the valuable accumulation being the closer/title track “Heimdal”. The singles that’ve pooled into a reveal of the first half suggest some logical movement beyond ‘Utgard‘ (2020) with “Forest Dweller” being the most redeemable outlier, “Kingdom” being fairly representative of the middling yet dramatic station of the record and “Congelia” representing the strange dissonance of forms the band are known for. I’d particularly felt “Congelia” soured the tone of the full listen, a tuneless and skittering piece which is far too ‘up front’ on the running order. The second half of the record finds somewhere to go, and there you’ll find the real value of the experience from my point of view. It’ll be worth waiting for if the first half isn’t grabbing you, or, that’d been my experience anyhow.

Who is this carrot dangling for? — ‘Heimdal‘ is enough of a journey to hold my interest each time I approach it yet I am once again left wondering what stands out here, what obvious “thing” I am missing from Enslaved beyond their scattershot combination of prog metal uplift with black metal framing/aesthetics. If we can treat this type of progressive music as conversational, this experience is prone to break eye contact, goes on run-on tangents in bursts, appears intoxicated when exploring poetic imagery, and avoids catching my ear with any definite point of focus. Not necessarily a bad thing, eh, but the overall effect communciates “in passing”, in irregular waves.

The edgier, raw beginnings of both Denver, Colorado-based sludge metal group Primitive Man and Maryland-based noise/deathgrinders Full of Hell were notable for their unhinged, confrontational and often not so calculated approach early on. I’d been a fan enough to follow what each group were doing for years until it began to feel like they’d “branded” and aimed for consistency rather than something more emergent since ~2016. Now, I get why that’d be a strange comment considering the experimentation with “noise” that’d always been embraced on each side but this sort of thing has been well explored, just as much of an institution as deathgrind or sludge at this point. Collaborations can definitely keep things interesting when they make sense as important interstitial releases for groups who maintain serious touring presence and this is where I’d justify sitting with ‘Suffocating Hallucination‘ a handful of times, curiosity for how things’ll line up and entertaining the idea that these two bands have similar vibes.

Primitive Man do their thing, <repeat> “bonk” *scree* roar </repeat> ’til draining machine noises kick in and it is still effective here for the sake of structuring the first two piece on the record. Full of Hell are a less obvious, or, less readable format if you’ve not spent any serious time with their stuff, leaving us with ~26 seconds of “Bludgeon” as a sort of quick “Hey, we’re here.” before over nine minutes of dark ambiance finds us somewhere nearby the irascible, choppy muss of “Tunnels to God” and its ruptured bass guitar tone. I suppose as a longtime fan of Neurosis this piece kinda works for its droning lead guitar, crumbling slow-going heft and the atmospheric clashing of all available layers but I don’t think this record has any serious legs beyond its first three pieces/first half. It isn’t that this is a particularly bad record or that I’ve any serious qualms with it but that I don’t see this collaboration as enhancing either band with more than a passing moment or two where things gel together. Liked the album art, though.

Pennsylvania-based death metal quintet Verminoth bring a fairly approachable blend of straightforward, menacing death metal grooves and slamming brutal death production values on this EP, which follows their 2021 released debut full-length. These guys have definitely pushed out material quick having just formed in 2020 and while most of it is solid in terms of a distinct enough sound the riffs, or, the guitar interest isn’t quite there for my taste just yet. The drum production feels artificial yet appropriately so since their style lines up with the modern slow-motion slam feeling of the record, in fact the brutal thud of it all ends up being the major draw for my own taste as they begin to toss in guttural vocals and change it up over the course of these four songs. This is probably the best introduction to Verminoth‘s sound yet if you’re a newcomer but if you show up looking for the more pinging snare of their full-length this’ll be something a bit different to sit with.

The fourth full-length from Toulouse, France-based psychedelic stoner doom metal quartet Witchthroat Serpent does not stray from their course with its dreary, Satanic imagery and morbid, slow-going style of fuzzed doom. In this sense they still owe a lot to the tradition of bands like Electric Wizard, there’ll be no escaping it, but from my point of view that ends up being a virtue when done right. ‘Trove of Oddities at the Devil’s Driveway‘ rarely stumbles, holding a steady pace and inserting some manner of variety in the guitar tone to keep things interesting (see: “Yellow Nacre”) though I don’t think the songcraft is outrageous or innovative in any sense this is more a matter of doing one thing, generating a mood and drawing up a narrative, and doing it well. My interest in this album is generally weighted towards the first two pieces but closer “Mountain Temple in Bleakness” did well to tie things off with a dizzying groan. Class act if you’re into this kind of thing.

When I’d first put Seattle’s own stoner metal/alt-rock quartet Witch Ripper on I’d gone in expecting a Mastodon-esque progressive sludge rock kind of deal, and we do get there eventually in terms of the vocals, but opener “Enter the Loop” feels like a particularly aggressive deep cut on an earlier Muse record to start, marking a considerable shift in register beyond their earlier work. ‘The Flight After the Fall‘ should appeal to fans of groups like Howling Giant in the sense that their stoney comeuppance still gives ’em a bit of edge but the theatric rock directive of this record sets it apart from the usual stumblin’ stoner/sludge ideas. The peak of this is arguably “Icarus Equation”, their stargazing late 70’s Bowie-esque quasi ballad. You’ll still find the prog-sludge/rock deal in there but it is largely reserved for effect on the two part ~17 minute closer “Everlasting in Retrograde” and “Madness and Ritual Solitude”. An eventful listen overall, I’d found the rhythm guitars were where the band hid their most clever ideas beyond simple anthemic rock structures, each song takes its time warming up into the more frothy, electric moments and most of the time there is some tangible payoff for staying engaged.

Best known for their influential early 80’s contributions to hardcore punk as one of, if not -the- first band in this style to hit Finland Terveet Kädet are at least one of many important names any Scandinavian punk fan worth their salt should know. Seek their discography yourself, they’ve had a lot of interesting variations to arise since the 90’s, but the one which concerns us most today is the 2015 full-length ‘Lapin helvetti‘ and the thrashcore band Lapin Helvetti who put out a record back in 2017 after this formation of the band split, those releases give a sense of what to expect here: Simple yet effective chainsawing away similar to the band’s 80’s material, something close to d-beat but more broadly sourcing itself from early-to-mid 80’s hardcore punk and even a bit of their thrashing side on songs like “Virta”. Pretty straightforward ask here with 16 songs and just ~23 minutes, a fast burning shout fest which cracks off through its faster/harder burners and eventually seeks greater variation on Side B. They’ve got the right spirit but kind of a fenced-in production sound here with an otherwise good emphasis on the bass guitar tone (see: “Ihmisruoska”) and plenty of speed applied to their gig. Favorite song here is probably the swingin’ Poison Idea-esque “Haaskalintu” with its atmospheric break.

The singular late 2000’s Oregonian export found in stoner/doom metal group Sorceress‘ debut full-length may very well set ’em up to be a name resigned to the early, less extreme beginnings of the folks behind extreme doom metal artists Mizmor and Hell but only ’til you’ve sat with the wild, eerie gloom of this possessed and raw-spirited record. There’d been some proper reminder that it existed a couple of years ago when the CD was reissued independently circa 2020 but now we’re getting a first vinyl pressing here in 2023. There is a particularly fine ratio of witching late 70’s theatre to the blues-tinted timbre of this album, one that is cognizant of the occult rock and throwback doom available to the PNW underground at the time but not cheesily indulgent in past-sightedness. ‘Beneath the Mountain‘ was surprisingly adventurous, or, inspired to create its own morbid atmosphere around the edges without interrupting the greater creep of each song and the real impetus of this is the way “Nine Muses” is conjoined with “…Of the Trees” by a valley of mic-scraping dread and a screech from beyond. Likewise the measured vocal performance from A.L.N. will be surprising if you’re looking back in time, a certain knack for phrasing which eclipses a lot of the Electric Wizard-esque stuff around at the time, gets weird with it and by virtue of going over the top lends a tone of personality to the full listen. Most folks will be itching to grab a record like this after the first few songs, I think it sells itself well enough up front, but make sure you’re up for it getting a lot weirder, pushing into fully psychedelic underwater epics as we step slow and steady toward the title track. Underrated record and an easy recommendation.

Ründgard is one of many black metal-related projects from Chilean musician Lord Valtgryftåke who has approached this second full-length somewhat differently than its more rawly atmospheric, slower-paced debut ‘Stronghold of Majestic Ruins‘. Though the rafter-hanging keyboards still loom in the distance we hear more of the guitar work when the still buried alive drumming kicks up some extra speed, clearly aiming for a dramatic but obscured early 90’s demo tape sound on ‘Ulvmonddom​ā​nen‘. If you already keep up with Mahamvantara Arts Records‘ output you can expect intentionally obscure, subversive stuff and in this sense this record delivers a second wind from this project judging it at face value though there is an interesting depth explored here which also considers the history of southern Chile from an esoteric perspective. Pyreficativm is still probably my favorite project from the artist but this is a close second. Highlights: “Constellations of the Ancient Mirrors”, “Dominions of Unveiled Grim Obedience”.

Traditional heavy metal skewed towards the grittier spectrum of NWOBHM is exactly my gig and Murcia, Spain-based quartet Iron Curtain were almost hitting the right stuff for my own taste when they’d released their fourth album ‘Danger Zone‘ back in 2019. With this latest mLP they’ve collected a set of songs that cut right to it, scratching out speed metallic riffs and hitting a solid vocal melody within each song. To top this off they’ve got guest solo spots from members of Abigail, Metalucifer, Ram and Midnight Rider who all add to the variety of these seven songs, most of which seem to be pulled from two separate studio sessions. This’ll be obvious once you hit the Quartz-esque “Rough Riders” and note the entirely different approach to vocals. “Rattlesnake” is basically a preview of what direction Iron Curtain‘s next full-length is headed in and “Crossing the Acheron”, “Burn in Hell” and “Metal Gladiator” are new songs exclusive to this release. I’d planned on writing about this record in a longform review but the release is straight forward enough that it’ll just have to be a high recommendation for fans of traditional heavy metal. I’d particularly enjoyed the aesthetic of this release, the album art and the more stripped down production sound. Looking forward to what they do next.

The doomed yet eclectic desert-bound psychedelic rock of Dallas, Texas-based trio Temptress comes slow yet easy, droning within its seeming eternal ~20 minute pair of opening pieces (“Death Comes Around” b/w “Into My Soul”) yet it eventually makes sense they’ve started with a simmering dread up front. ‘See‘ benefits from setting a mysterious yet inebriated tone, a distant and at times disturbed range of expression which distracts from the occasional rhythmic folly (“Waiting”) and sets the right headspace when it comes time to let a lead rip for a while or just jam on a rhythm here and there. “Hopeless” gets us there and back again, strained vocals aside we get the introspective, frustrated, and spaced sides of their situation in non-linear order. Much as I’d enjoyed this record on the first few runs through the vocals end up reading too ambitious for the material and became grating when it came time for more of a punkish snarl. Nothing outlandish for psychedelic rock but in this case it didn’t always serve the piece well and the more consistent, longer/slower pieces ended up leaving the major impression.

<strong>Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:</strong>

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.