SHORT REVIEWS Our twenty-first edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us picking through the final week of May’s new releases, most of them landing on the 26th. 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
South Carolina-based technical brutal blackened death metal trio Olkoth return to make good on their 2019 demo with an intense-as-it-looks firestorm of a debut full-length. At this point they are laser-honed down to a certain niche of classic late 90’s inspired United States death metal but crafting their own shred-capable, ominous yet hammering version of where the brutality of a certain era met with the magma shocked arrival of the ancient ones. The interesting thing about this band’s blitz of a first strike is that it doesn’t necessarily stick to the peak Nile-era brutality deal, pushing into some more modern vocal arrangements and of course once again featuring the ridiculous talent of Polish session drummer Krzysztof Klingbein who immediately elevates the experience with uninterrupted precision throughout. If there is a downside to the experience it is that it all arrives in such a pristine, explosive yet precise fashion that the only real stray from the corridor presented was found within the leads and these were just average shredding for my own taste, usually hitting some of the phrase or main riff in their push but rarely hitting upon a signature moment or a standout bit. If you’re up for a real hammer of a death metal record this is a fine option, I’ve walked away from it interested to see where they can push this sound beyond the punched to eleven scourge presented here.
Aridus is a solo black metal project from Santa Fe, New Mexico-based artist Galen Baudhuin who most will recognize from Infera Bruo, death metal band Street Tombs and live bassist for Wolves in the Throne Room so, it might be slightly confusing to consider this project as a well for his black metal ideas to overflow into but nonetheless ‘Serpent Moon‘ does distinguish its reap from that of his other projects. This album is “cold” and perhaps 1:00am in the desert cold, not bone-chilling and certainly not iced over but humming from a remarkably well-lit distance. The effect is atmospheric, somewhat classic in its rasped and ranting vocal patternation with the title track serving as its finest example, yet there is no direct throttle hit and no grasp of the neck as the album rides along. Most of Aridus is spent lurking, haunting the ear in this moonlit vision (“Reptilian Sleep”) with a few swings at the ear taken for effect (“Spectre of Despair”) and these are the strongest moments on the full listen. There are just as many pieces which do very little with the grand stage set such as the dryly minimal guitar arrangements of “Bearer of Silence”, a song which simply jogs in place on the plateau set, and these teeter over into a place of lower impact. Though not a hundred percent efficient in statement the full listen does leave its dread hanging in the air and I think it ultimately entertains while making its case for continued expansion and refinement.
While there is some appeal to the concept of “cosmic” atmospheric black metal and the infusion of space ambient/trance into said sphere more often than not we find this particular realm a haven for intensely cheesy inspirational alt-rock hooks buried by clumsy hobby grade recordings. We can tangentially include Australian anonymous solo act Mesarthim in this realm as their prolific work has evolved to lean into this idea rather than stray or edge around it. In the process of developing their synthesizer-forward approach the artists work begins to read a bit more sure of itself than the average bedroom metal project, not exactly hitting Master Boot Record levels of crowd-pleasing digital bump but carving a path that has similar potential as the fidelity and accessible nature of their work develops. How many degrees removed are we from a melodic metal act like Battlebeast if we swap out the harsh vocals of a song like “Arrival Pt. 5”? Well, still a comfortable enough distance for the “chiptune metal playlist” and JRPG OST enjoyers out there but perhaps not as nuanced and inventive enough to spike the atmoblack metal-adjacent ear ’til we’re elbow deep into “Arrival Pt. 6” where the album finally makes its big disco dark metal push. In no way am I talking down to the artist’s work, it is thoroughly entertaining throughout this ~50 minute adventure (“Type IV” being the best part) but I do question the need for it to resemble atmospheric black metal and post-black metal shaping any longer, the tone that harsh vocals and slinkier guitar shapes bring into the event only become more vestigial and under-developed compared to the trajectory of the rest of the music. Anyhow, I’d felt this album was different enough that it might stand out, vex and spark curiosity in others as it did with me.
‘Skeletal Grotesquery‘ is a live album from one of Finland’s finest death metal bands recorded not long after they’d released their best record to date (‘Succumb to Rot‘, 2022). If you’re kinda off the table counting yourself out for a live death metal record I’d say they’ve at least set the bar high here. This particular recording comes from the band’s performance at Braincrusher in Hell Festival in Hirschaid, Germany, circa November 25th, 2022 and arrives uninterrupted, direct from the soundboard (mixed by M.M., mastered by Loic Fontaine) without overdubs and naturally catching some crowd noise/reaction. With all of this in mind the result is remarkably clear, completely sound and practiced in terms of the performances and gives a great sense of Corpsessed‘s live presence as an oppressive, bestial growl over the hall. The appeal of this recording really boils down to whether you are a big fan of the group and want to see how they manage these intense, complex death metal pieces in real time and of course we don’t lose the impact of their songcraft here, “Spiritual Malevolence” in particular shines as a distinct wholly readable barrage where the nuance of the studio version is fully realized without being scaled down to nuts and bolts. Live recordings don’t tend to age well on my shelf personally but I am a die-hard fan of the group enough to find this one essential.
You might recall I’d loved Netherlands-based grindcore crew Suffering Quota‘s previous LP ‘Life in Disgust‘ back in 2018 and I have similarly high praise for this long-awaited follow up today. These guys still pull from influences which span the wealth of metal/punk old and new between crusted-over powerviolence and the Assück and Nasum sized attack of a certain era while bringing in their own pensive-yet-barbaric frustrated stature to these classic sounds. A relatively holistic approach blurs all superficial style lines beyond violent and percussive grindcore and all of it speaks the universal language of outrage and despair loudly. ‘Collide‘ isn’t aiming to be outright catchy so much as caught in the moment, so, don’t expect a wholly memorable ride so much as a solid, fairly quick burst of distress at just about ~20 minutes.
Note: The album will release on Lower Class Kids Records, 7Degrees Records, and Tartarus Records depending what continent you live on.
For many the solo project is a measure of what the artist can do single-handedly, a place to set ambitious bravado and exaggerations of the self piled up larger than life, but in the case of Italian musician Urlo (Ufomammut) it is medium to guide the self toward inward-sought actualization, deeper potential. The Mon is a meditative electronic and dark folk music exploration which largely reserves itself to acoustic guitars, chilled vocals, and heavy use of synthesizers to develop its sound. That shouldn’t suggest it has been achieved on his lonesome as the artist brings in the brilliant Steve Von Til for “Confession” and violins from Sara Pendleton (The Otolith) on several songs among others. I’ve become such a huge fan of Ufomammut over the years that I’d approached this record with some serious enthusiasm and have to say it has held up to a serious number of listens as I find myself drawn to return to its sparse yet rich sound design and general focus on a variety of meditative and emotional tangents. The most psychedelic, searching songs struck me first per “Burning From Afar”, “Secret”, “Where” and the more nakedly set pieces, such as “To the Ones”, kept me most engaged in their consistently spaced atmosphere. A simple thing to enjoy that comes with a bit of depth for anyone seeking it.
Dalarna, Sweden-area post-metal group V gained ground between their 2017 and 2019 released full-lengths with a sleepier, post-hardcore inflected sound but their history runs much deeper into the past than that’d suggest. Today the order of V, or, the band now going by Vorder manifests as much more than the usual dreamlike post-metal aggression, holding back less on the eerie and occasionally unleashed ‘False Haven‘ which serves as their third album overall. Though the vocals are set aback in the mix the more aggressive, hissing raw side of the vocalists work on this album feels all the more inspired beyond precedence set by ‘Led Into Exile‘ (2019) and this pairs well with the plodding, doomed restlessness of a few key pieces here starting with the droning hum of “The Few Remaining Lights” and through the apocalyptic verve of “Judgement Awaits”. The final two pieces on the album are the strongest for this atmosludge conscious yet fully post-metal/doomed saunter they so expertly push. “Come Undone” is indulgent as a closer but necessarily so, it is the peak that the rest of the album builds up to and even bleeds back into “Introspective” by design, creating a feeling of futility in cycle. The closer also leans into some vocal harmonization which they really should consider making a central feature of their songcraft since it stands out beautifully within the gloomy post-metal space and suits the mood in an exacting sense. Though it took some patience and the right state of mind ‘False Haven‘ ultimately got me there and quickly found me looking beyond the hand I’d typically waive post-metal by with.
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