SHORT REVIEWS Our eleventh edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us ready to break into the second and third weeks of the month for some of the stronger records on their way next. Expect (nearly) every single record on this list to convey a deep dismay for not only their won crestfallen personal state but the state of the world itself. 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
Swedish doom metal quartet Isole return with their eighth album and in most ways it seems the band seeks a path to further sophisticate the standard set by their impressive ‘Dystopia‘ (2019) with more patiently built songcraft. Daniel Bryntse‘s vocals continue to soar and harmonize to greater effect with each release and here we find what I’d perceived as a push for potency rather than wordiness, personal lyrics which are often either direct from unfiltered thoughts or directed right at the listener without pretense. This might seem jarring and the slowed pacing might feel awkward to start but in the context of While Heaven Wept, Anathema and Forsaken styled doom metal this is entirely natural. If you enjoy the grey area between the heavier edge of melodic death/doom (which sidesteps the “goth” side of things) and the delivery of epic doom metal ‘Anesidora‘ should reveal itself as a meditative yet raw-expressive record which doesn’t always go for the big riff or the obvious hook right away but instead makes a heavy procession of each song. This one was a grower overall, it took maybe two serious listens to recognize what’d stuck in my head and maybe five listens to warm to the involved nature of the full listen which is balanced by a runtime that is very reasonable at just over 45 minutes.
German post-black metal quartet Downfall of Gaia seem to have outlasted many of their peers beyond the late 2000’s/early 2010’s interest in this unique space where neocrust, atmospheric black metal, and post-metal sensibly merge into lengthier dramatic pieces. This will be their fifth LP for Metal Blade in the last ~ten years and their sixth overall but it doesn’t arrive without some notable changes, all of which I’d suggest are for the better albeit from an outsiders perspective. To start there is a eerie post-metallic calm to this record which stands apart from the abrupt and sometimes scathing guitar tones of past releases, making for a softer blackened register which emphasizes both the drum performances and their various kicks into the modern crust influenced spheres where the band began. Though the ever-present comparisons to Altar of Plagues and Fall of Efafra still tangentially apply ‘Silhouettes of Disgust‘ sounds quite a bit more evolved here a decade later, certainly more interested in the amalgamating their now very well defined sound into something more expressive, dramatist, and impactful in terms of mood overall.
A sixth album is a daunting task with expectations well-worn and a theme unflinching in its dejected tonal reach thus far, so, while this album does make a few important strides into a softer dreamiest palette which serves its atmosphere quite well between heavier chunking, punkish rips, and soaring black metal crescendo there is the sense that the machinery of these forms into greater efficacy is Downfall of Gaia‘s major focus today. This isn’t at all going to be a problem if your sweet spot with this band is in their most potent moments but with the running order now featuring 5-6 minute pieces on average it feels like these folks have more to say and have given themselves a third less time on average to orchestrate loftier strokes within. We get to the punkish breaks faster this time around, the build-up to the typical post-black bluster shortens in phrasal repetition, and overall we’re left with a far less patient but somehow even more beauteous quality as ‘Silhouettes of Disgust‘ reaches for a ghostly but determined feeling overall. Anyhow, I’d found myself hesitating to write this record off as fast as I’d passed on ‘Ethic of Radical Finitude‘ for these reasons and ended up enjoying some of the dramatic turns taken herein thanks to a warmer production values, quick turns taken towards the ‘meat’ of each song, and more thoughtful machining together of these basic parts. Highlights: “While Bloodsprings Become Rivers”, “Existence of Awe”.
Fagus is a German quartet out of Munich who’re lead by main songwriter Siȝht who presents a lofty, sentimental style of atmospheric black metal on this full-length debut. These folks had been around in a slightly different configuration about ten years ago but the only thing to come of it was an EP which is no longer available as far as I can tell. The depressive yet cinematic tone of the six pieces here ranges from contemptuous to contemplative and at some point leans a bit hopeful in its stride as the album progresses though the register of the vocalist and the main voicing of the guitars are somewhat uniformly presented throughout. This makes for an immersive and dramatic listening experience but in a too-familiar language which often felt like it was filling space during its slower transitional moments, not quite as abrupt in statement as a band like Turia but about as fluid and grandiose in experience. I’d generally lost interest in the major voice of the album by the time “Tyche” hit as a big nine minute centerpiece but I did enjoy the more dsbm/dark metal feeling of “Jenseits des Huegelzugs” as a key piece within the greater droning-on rate of the experience. Though I didn’t find this record entirely unique there is something to be said for its ability to take me for a ride, or, immerse into the sullen-yet-majestic show they’ve put on here.
Ignominy are an avant-garde/semi-dissonant death metal quartet who’d formed northeast of Montreal back in 2013 and ‘Imminent Collapse‘ is their debut full-length. Though it’d make sense to group the style of this band in with dissonant death metal groups at face value their sound has a Meshuggah-esque bluntness to its cadence which reads as differently robotic, aggressive in a post-groove metal sort of way rather than a form of niche, technique driven abstract death metal. Most of this record hums at a mid-to-slow pace and aims for a demented, cavernous atmosphere per its apocalyptic theme and this suits the experience well. They’re find enough musicians and the abrasive noise of it all has its solid moments in every piece, the Ulcerate-esque opening of “Visceral” being my favorite here. Per my own taste in album art this plain cover design doesn’t do much to make a first impression though it does bring some of the hazy, affected mood of the record into view. After four or five runs through this record it just didn’t stand out or spark up interest often enough to dig into but I enjoy this style well enough that I was worth a moderate recommendation.
Depraved Murder is a brutal death metal duo from the East Java region of Indonesia and this is their third full-length since forming back in 2011. This type of music is essentially defined by the well-worn style of guitar work it presents through iterative variation and in the aplomb of the drummer, in this case the guitar compositions swerve between earlier slamming brutal death and the Devourment side of things with some heavy influence from Suffocation kicking around in general. “False Adoration” and “Pinnacle of Vile Conceit” were the pieces to best combine these traits into something which’d been exciting to hit each time I listened to the record. I’d burnt myself out on brutal death years ago to the point that only the most righteously representative stuff sticks anymore so, I’d say these folks make a real argument with their sound, attack and an all too real theme where they point to the thoughtless risk humanity takes killing the planet while hoping it’ll all end after you’ve lived a depraved life. Keep in mind these guys are big on grooves and blasts, that is their gig and ‘Unethical Terrestrial Collapse‘ doesn’t stray too far from the major churn rhythms but the thankfully never go full-on deathcore at any point.
Drøbak, Norway-based quartet Håndgemeng have developed an entirely pleasant, soulful yet kicking “stonercore” sound on this record as a heavy/stoner rock band with a hardcore punk influenced side which fans of Kvelertak and The Obsessed will immediately appreciate. At this point they’ve made some interest linkages between these forms which present enough variation that ‘Ultraritual‘ smokes past, finding the right balance of psychedelic rock buzz and mid-paced swinging chunk n’ roll to keep things moving, but the references which spark up in mind across the full listen still feel a bit too obvious. The full idea has made good sense of each piece fitting together but it still feels referential rather than mastered into its own gig. If that doesn’t trip you up at all then these folks do admittedly have a knack for some inventive songwriting moments and rely upon pieces written for effect well beyond the riff or sub-genre concoction implied. Highlights: “Ultraritual”, “Visions of Fire”, “The Astronomer”.
Portland, Oregon-based extreme d-beat/crust duo Negative Prayer is a relatively new project between guitarist/vocalist Kyle House (Decrepisy, ex-Acephalix) and drummer Charles Koryn (Chthonic Deity, VoidCeremony et al.) who’ve put together three inspired songs for this debut 7″. From my point of view we could either see this as some manner of deathcrust nuke or d-beat which carries the heaviness of the early-to-mid 90’s Swedish and Japanese scenes in mind, you could even throw in some early ‘neocrust’ shards in there too if we look closely at the guitar work on “Hell” but the overall effect of induction is all about creating a tunnel of aggressively kicked hardcore punk with a noisome streak. I’d particularly appreciated the guitar work on “Noose” which for whatever reason recalled LP era Born Against for a minute.
Swedish death metal group Death Reich are finally ready with their debut full-length and it smokes, a fast-paced and blast heavy record which is brief and brutal in its ~half hour ride through a nigh death-grinding level assault. The balance of the sound design finds the drums and vocals especially loud in the mix while still lending some forceful precision in terms of the guitar tone. The performances here recall later Terrorizer-level assault on the drums, strong footwork at the very least, and as such I definitely appreciated the energy the band are putting off here with truly violent work. There are some breaks into groove, some thrash death metal pieces pushing some serious distortion here and none of it reads as too typical yet I’d not found a ton of riffs that really stuck in mind after several listens. The speed and brutality of “Dissimilation” and the more mid-paced tanking of “Suffocation” nonetheless leave a classics minded aftertaste despite their loud and high fidelity bullishness. If you are a fan of Vader, Aeon, and Vomitory there’ll be a lot to like here but it might take a while to sort the pieces out since they pack eleven all-out assaults into just ~33 minutes here. Highlights: “Fall of Kings”, “Dissimilation”, “World War”.
Denver, Colorado-based quartet Harboured certainly caught my ear in preview with their pensive post-metal influenced verve, the sludge-level friction of their monotone shouting, and the deeper layers of inventive progressive metal rhythms they’d presented but, eh… then they went and called ‘Harboured‘ a “progressive black metal” record and mussed expectations out of context for all but post-black metal fandom. If the black metal aspect of this music is the faster bits of drumming or the shouted vocals, well, there isn’t a facepalm deep enough to convey my reaction. I’m mostly ribbing eh, but “progressive post-black influenced metal” covers the bases well enough from my point of view, not a huge gripe. That said these folks are best known from accomplished modern metal act Allegaeon and the lesser known Oak, Ash & Thorn, each notably bringing their own talents to this introspective, frustrated record which generally shouts into a pillow while dreaming up imaginative atmospheric spectacle and some stunning prog-metal rhythms. The density of the experience comes in small pockets and there’ll be a bit of waiting around to be done if you’re not prone to take the ride but I’d appreciated when Harboured ventured deeper into true extremes and found their most detailed rhythmic runs, such as “Far Barren”. The keyboards bring a bit of interest into the periphery otherwise but this one was generally not there yet for my taste in atmospheric black metal and post-metal related stuff.
It always blows my mind when a band I’d covered five years ago returns with a stronger album, not only because my radar is constantly jammed but the best bands out there tend to take as much time to struggle-up something meaningful beyond whatever is clever at the time. That’d be the case with Berlin, Germany-based sludge metal trio Treedeon who’ve finally returned with their third full-length album, a record based in existential dread and unrest under the powers that be without losing hope for the better nature of humanity overall. ‘New World Hoarder‘ sustains that ugly, thunderous feeling of 90’s sludge metal with simple and often subtle doom-built guitar progressions which slowly find their swaggering motion beyond miserable, buzzing dread. “Omega Time Bomb” was the piece to immerse, “New World Hoarder” features bassist/co-vocalist Yvonne Ducksworth leading a late 80’s feeling Soundgarden/Melvins-esque dirge, and the noise rock influenced side of the band sparks up here and there without losing the slow-going pace of the record. From my point of view these folks once again arrive within the best traditions of sludge while doing their own thing. Every piece here is worthy of highlighting but “Omega Time Bomb” and “Viking Meditation Song” should be clear enough standouts for most.
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