SHORT REVIEWS Our sixteenth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us carefully selecting our third strike at new releases from April and we’ve another week of mostly great shit ahead of us. Some of these constitute a few of the best releases of the month and a couple were cut because they were too good not to give a full review. 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
It’d be fair enough on your part if you saw a black metal band named Unhallowed and in your infinite wisdom for quick mental association figured they probably sounded a bit like Dissection and, yes, the broader strokes of this austere German black metal band are deeply melodic and extravagantly communicated in similar register. The downward shatter of the vocals, the whirling melodic ascension of their gloriously involved dual guitar rhythms and the punched at early 90’s approach to drumming are all spot on in terms of invoking an important milestone in the sophistication of chaotic-spiritual black metal. Where this band end up forging some of their own voice comes with the unique reverberation of the recording and its render alongside their method of somewhat incomplete phrasing, or, a sense that some riffs might hang in the air and find their requiem a bit changed upon return. “We Shall Reap” is a fine example of a transformative respite making for an engaging enough dynamic for these passionately delivered pieces which surely do benefit from the bluster of the noisome recording as it all invaginates towards a central black hole beneath the drum kit, leaving just enough room for the lead melodies to register within each song. Though this won’t read as a deeply original thought for the long-standing melodic black metal obsessive there is some real energy radiating off this recording which is naturally appealing per its neatly writ but violently swung melodic arcs. I’d intended a longform review of this album but I believe the appeal of this record is simple enough and very directly communicated within any one of the six ~6 minute pieces herein.
Altari is an experimental post-punk influenced Icelandic black metal project from folks you might remember from Abominor back in the mid-2010’s per their ‘Opus: Decay‘ EP. Now, when I say ‘post-punk’ I am specifically speaking to early Killing Joke and revivalists like Interpol and how those sort of oozing guitar driven pieces might translate in the world of psychedelic black metal a la Oranssi Pazuzu. Despite their focus on heady, drifting clean guitar tones and sauntering pace there is a constantly looming tension that hangs over this record, less of the full-on dread you’ll find in more recent Suffering Hour releases and more of a lingering thought that carries through the full listen. This record apparently took about nine years to realize between conception and execution and in most respects this is reflected in the particularly fine compositions which are detailed but not overwrought with complex movement. A direct avoidance of both goth/new wave cliches and the typified use of dissonance found in a lot of Icelandic black metal helps to shore up any too close comparisons from their countrymen. This all helps Altari stand out in a big way even if they’ve not managed any too obvious hooks or plainly catchy pieces, the mood of this album still resonated well enough within each listen. “Grafarþögn” in particular felt like it’d been keen to keep going beyond its endpoint. Here’s hoping they’ve only just started with this thread since it is a world I’d found myself happy to return to each time I picked it up.
When Salt Lake City, Utah-based quartet Blood Star are trucking along at a jog and writing straight forward anthemic heavy metal songs they manage to approximate the compressed yet kicking sound of 80’s heavy metal to an effective, higher standard than expected on this debut full-length. The first three pieces they’ve selected for the running order here make a grand impression upon induction and even if the delivery is a bit understated for my taste there is a personality established to start. The throwback appeal of their songcraft and the high standard combined aren’t a huge surprise seeing as how members of Visigoth, Spell and Sanctifyre are involved yet I’d found the energy entirely lukewarm across the board as I spent more time with the album. The point of no return comes with the unnecessary swap to vocals from the guitarist/songwriter for “The Observers” and a lighter touch follows on Side B until “Going Home” and “Wait to Die” kick up a bit more dust. It is certainly a strong debut worth building upon in the future but for my taste it’d felt tentative, fully in an easygoing comfort zone and just not “big” enough per my own expectations for traditional heavy metal, especially in a late 70’s/early 80’s heavy rock context. If you lean a bit more toward the mellow it might be more your kind of gig.
Margarita Witch Cult are a stoner rock/doom metal group from Birmingham, England and this self-titled debut comes quick and dirty beyond their well-received 2022 demo tape ‘Witchfinder‘ much in the style implied on that release. The band describe themselves as “stadium doom” and disciples of the riff and while that makes for an interesting pitch on a well-established set of norms approached herein their sound certainly crosses elements of heavy psychedelic rock and traditional doom metal before translating it all into higher energy stoner rock pieces complete with wah-soaked leads, two minute punkish kickers, and fuzzed doom/rock production values. The “Emerald”-esque guitar runs of “Lord of the Flies” through the Fu Manchu style drop-in of “Death Lurks at Every Turn” cover a lot of bases without necessarily nailing down exactly what these folks are all about but it is all done with such enthusiasm that ‘Margarita Witch Cult‘ kinda sells itself by sheer energy and interest alone.
Barditus is a German neofolk duo featuring poet/vocalist Uwe Nolte of Orplid and guitarist Christian S. (Stern des Bundes) who’ve flirted with the very edges of black metal for the bulk of this preparatory mLP as a full-length burns in mind. If you are familiar with the intense passion that goes into Nolte‘s performances there still may be some surprising belting out to be found on ‘Dein Schwert‘ (‘Your Sword’), particularly at the apex of the title track where we even get a bit of electric guitar and a small rustling of a blackened wind showing up. Otherwise of course this record will thrill loose the pockets of anyone interested in his work in Orplid, these pieces rattle along at a waltz for the most part but they are not only limited to acoustic guitar accompaniment which gives it all a rich, lively experience which always feels like a crowd is in the midst. I am such a fan of his Nolte‘s performances here that I’d found myself listening to this record far more than expected, there is a intense conviction behind each word which is simply not of this modern world.
Exceedingly sharp production values and a fine drummer help to boost the first impression that this otherwise standard British atmospheric black metal affair delivers. Swaying rhythms are initially engaging in their droning, slowly revealed progressions and most pieces do their bet to inject some lead guitar interest or slightly changes of pace but this cannot escape the general sameness of pace and arrangement which scrolls through ‘Spellbinder‘. For a debut quite a few years in the making there’ll be no argument made on my part in terms of having any issue with the artistic curation, production values, and performances on Gyrdleah‘s debut though I do take issue with the sleepy, somewhat redundant melodicism herein which leaves the listener at arm’s length and without much to react to beyond a few very subtle successes. “Six Hundred Threescore and Six” in particular breaks out of this shell a bit with some monastic choral voicing explored and a strong melodic line hiding beneath the ringing waves of the rhythm guitar work. It’d definitely been the sort of experience where I’d just began to warm to their sound and the direction of the songcraft ’til I realized my ears hadn’t perked until I was well beyond the half hour mark in the record. Fair is fair, though, opener “Stab the Lamb” does have a strong enough riff to pull the ear in for a closer listen but it hadn’t been enough to truly leave a lasting dent overall.
Ulvedharr is a relatively well-known melodic death/thrash metal band based out of Lombardy, Italy and this fifth full-length marks ten years beyond their debut LP ‘Swords of Midgard‘. Their style is typically fairly brutal but in the style of late 90’s groove metal and melodic death metal. They’ve been at it long enough that the balance of tuneful elements and hardcorish barking are generally entertaining in the same way labelmates Hatesphere‘s work generally is too, a full listen which catches a thread that is worth following if you’re inclined toward the groove focused style of the band. In terms of the theme of the album the title references Chapter XXXIII of Dante’s Inferno for the sake of referencing vengeance and I suppose this is fitting enough in terms of the relentlessly shouted aggression of it all. Their approach is not entirely one dimensional but it doesn’t evolve fast enough in their hands to generate any excitement on my part beyond “The Edge” being a bit closer to classic thrash in its movement and “A New God” being somewhat memorable.
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