Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Amenra - Live (2012)

Live, ConSouling Sounds
October 2nd, 2012

Genre: Atmospheric Sludge
Region: Belgium

It's coming up on the release date for Mass V, which is up for preorder right now from Soul Slayer and Neurot Recordings. Until then we have a live record of theirs.

Eight tracks in total from four different rituals from 2007 to 2010, each show recorded and mixed by different people. The first three (De Dodenakker—Nemelendelle, Your Shapeless Pain, Aorte—Ritual) are from the visceral live show on 23.10.09 in Belgium which were captured and released on their infamous dvd, as well as their four part 7" split series. 

"Your Shapeless Pain" is easily one of my favorite Amenra songs, and hearing it altered and slowed down slightly live makes it even more powerful. "Ritual" includes guest musicians from Oathbreaker (Caro on vocals, Gilles on guitar, Kristoffer on bass, Thomas on percussion) who they've toured with often and are fantastic musicians; Caro's vocals are great especially in the context of this song. A little different from her style in Oathbreaker.

The extension of this track is wonderful — as Colin is hoisted up on the chains and members of Oathbreaker are slowly added to the stage, creating a thick layer of spellbinding chugging and pounding drums, to the final moment when Caro screams Colin's lines: "Chains encircle my broken wrists — but we can get out of them now!" Deeply cathartic.

I've already given my appraisal of the dvd and the songs on it in a previous Amenra related post (on the re-press of Mass III-II and the various splits), so I shouldn't need to say much. They're much more impacting with the footage mind you, but the weight is still clearly represented regardless.

The switch in the first track, just when the final throes of De Dodenakker begin to ramp up to those crushing riffs, to the final hypnotic riff in Nemelendelle is a great touch. The two tracks melt together seamlessly, replacing one set of excellent riffs for another.

The next three tracks (Thurifer, Silver Needle Golden Nail, Razoreater) are from a 2010 show in the Netherlands. Track s7 (Nemelendelle) is from a 2007 show in Belgium, and track 8 (Am Kreuz) is from a 2009 show yet again in Belgium. The performances here do not disappoint, and are a great selection of tracks from their best albums. Especially Thurifer, Razoreater and Am Kreuz. Hearing Nemelendelle in full as opposed to the spliced version in the first track is great as well.

I'm a fan of anything Amenra as you probably know already, so what should I say about this? The bass feels a little underrepresented in the mix on the first three tracks but I don't have many other complaints. The track list is excellent and the additions to songs here and there make things more interesting too. Colin's vocal style is probably my favorite at this point in time, and he loses none of his tortured and agonized tone live; if anything these qualities are heightened.

I've still yet to see Amenra live but this coupled with the dvd is all I have to experience until the day comes I can witness one of their rituals.

Definitely a good representation of their art in live form. I suggest you guys grab this one if you're a fan of their work. You can get a copy from Soul Slayer's store and at ConSouling Sounds, its packaging is as lovely as the sounds within. It looks like stock is running out so grab it quick if you want one.

DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Flourishing - Intersubjectivity (2012)

EP, The Path Less Traveled Records
November 13, 2012

Genre: Technical Death Metal
Region: USA

I enjoyed The Sum of All Fossils a ton, but it didn't make my top 20 last year for a few reasons. While Flourishing play a style of haunting, complex death metal I enjoy to no end, the full length felt a little disjointed and unfocused, and it didn't pull me in. There were a few tracks I really liked (By Which We're Cemented, A Thimble's Worth, In Vivid Monochrome), and others that felt a little arduous. Their Gorguts-y tone was tasty, just barely skirting worship, but it never stuck with me.

Make no mistake. It was definitely one of the best releases in death metal last year, and it was far from being a record I didn't like, but there were a lot of others in both death metal and various other genres that held me longer and crushed me flatter. I honestly haven't given it too many repeat listens despite the quality and potential being self-evident.

With the release of Intersubjectivity, I'm compelled to make a more serious effort however.

What this new EP from New York's Flourishing shows is perfect progression, improved writing, structure, and a clear vision. Flourishing have created something truly impressive here and have dived into their true potential. They've been complex and beautifully chaotic from the start but on Intersubjectivity these qualities have been refined, honed to a viciously sharp edge while moving in a slightly different direction on several fronts.

In one aspect Flourishing seemed to have distanced themselves from some of heavy influence of Gorguts and mix what's left of it with Ulcerate (TDOA in particular) and possibly some of the sounds that drive Deathspell Omega or Mitochondrion; yet again miraculously sidesteping simple worship and carve a very distinct, disturbing sound from these influences.

This shift in style is immediately obvious from the first of the three tracks, "A Living Sundial", where (after the orchestral static in the opening seconds) I instantly recognize another change from their previous work which supersedes the one I just mentioned: the bass. The low end presence on Intersubjectivity is now a key ingredient to their sound, ringing and droning like a bell in a steeple and bringing a whole new flavor to this new dissonant path they're skulking down.

While admittedly the bass wasn't exactly nonexistent in The Sum of All Fossils (as evidenced in "By Which We're Cemented" for instance), the pace and intensity of that record relegated the instrument to a more traditional position found in technical death metal. Sure you could make it out more so than in other records, but it didn't stand out or color the sound in any big way.

That has changed entirely here. I don't know if it's due to the production or a new impetus on the bassists part, or a group decision, but the change is powerful.

Instead of trying to keep up with the other instruments in speed like other tech death acts, or being relegated to a muffled patter on more "occult" records, the bass work stands as a foundational and eerie pillar in the music. The first track is magnetic in this respect. The bass lines here were what stuck out the most, not because they were technically impressive but because of their rich addition to the dissonant atmosphere created alongside the sharp discord of the guitars, pummeling percussion, and terrifying hoarse barks from the vocalist.

They thunder and moan with deep resonance even when keeping a higher pace with the drums, and when things begin to creep they ache in a way that can only be described as harrowing. Thick and strong, building up the track after it's fallen quiet. All the while, on the guitar end the chords are struck violently when the slow down comes, and when things are fast paced they bend and writhe between howling single-note solos; invoking cold fear. On occasion things will be tremolo picked but this is never solely relied upon to force whirling intensity.

This bass-heavy emphasis instantly differentiates Floruishing from a more atmospheric death metal act like Ulcerate, where the bass is fairly lost among the chaos, essentially adding nothing to the music. On Intersubjectivity the potential for the instrument to create a frigid atmosphere is realized in ways not often heard outside sludge or doom; certainly a rarity in death metal. And it achieves this without burying the other instruments. This contrast isn't even taking into account the other aspects that set them apart from bands in the same orbit.

Another difference here is song length and pacing. With only three tracks, two of them are over seven minutes in length, providing space to concoct a layered, dynamic journey that has time to unravel fully to great effect. And even with the shortest track the refined approach they've taken here makes an impact, paced slower and brooding in darkness.

A Living Sundial is probably the best track here (or at least my favorite) with some truly ear-shearing dissonance and spellbinding rhythms imbibed with restrained technical prowess. "The Petrifaction Lottery" and "Intersubjectivity" are nothing to sneer at though. Both retain the undulating presence of the bass, with slithering, reverberating discordant riffs that grab you and don't release until the record ends. 

On the former, the flavor feels more occult to me just in the tone of the opening riffs and shuddering bass notes, as the vocalist shreds his throat over top the slowly swirling chaos. Again, the solo that appears is not flashy which is perfect — it's shrill, obscene and smothering followed by creepy high pitched harmonic notes, and a short tumultuous series of wavering, intense tremolo lines. The bass continues to hold the one riff from the beginning throughout most of the track, uttering total doom and providing a rigid backbone for the whole track.

The self-titled track follows a similar path as the first, with some more creative and haunting bass work opening the track, and then weaving within the twangs of strings, which scrape and bellow like enormous ships colliding amongst stormy ocean waters. The swells of feedback and reverb between the halts and builds adds greatly to the lumbering weight this track, and in several moments I hear something akin sped-up "Clouded" by Gorguts tones before the middle point of this track.

The tail end brings echoing notes that hang and drip into the oceanic atmosphere, forming rings that waft outward as a steady bass riff circles beneath. Except for a few brief breaks of silence, the drums thrust quickly through the majority of the track, becoming more martial near the end with some quick kick blasts in between.

I could not recommend this more. The evidence clearly shows that Flourishing are approaching new and unexplored ferocious depths of what technical, atmospheric, dissonant death metal can achieve outside of the "occult" sphere of influence while containing some of it's oppressive majesty. Intersubjectivity is impressive, hypnotic and worthy of your attention.

Please be so kind as to toss them the measly $2.50 they are asking for on The Path Less Traveled Records' bandcamp page to download this record. And if you didn't know yet, The Sum of All Fossils is being pressed to vinyl and up for preorder at Australopithecus Records as I write this — so grab a copy of that if you so wish.

DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Laid To Rest — The Living Doorway

As you may have heard, one of the great and unique music blogs on the internet was taken down this past week in the middle of a hiatus: The Living Doorway.

This is one in a long, continuing line of great blogs being killed by DMCA complaints, but in this particular instance it is quite depressing. Not just because JGD and Co. promoted and shared some excellent records, but his blog had a unique style in terms of writing, honesty and humor from updates on adventures with his dog to his fitness battles (which I failed at miserably) and health tips, show reviews, to rants on skateboarding and reminiscing about his youth.

The Living Doorway turned me on to some excellent music (not least of which were Mitochondrion, Dephosphorus, Timbre Timber, Plague Widow, and Kiss It Goodbye, all of which I'm obsessed with now and heard there first) as well as music blogs such as Coffinpsalms, Forever Cursed, Pervert The Church, Slays For Days, Perpetual Strife, and many more. It was one of the first music blogs I began following that intrigued and amused me since I began participating here on Equivoke.

Plus JGD is just a real nice guy, and his dog Billie is a cutie.

So lets have a moment of silence and remembrance for one of the greats who have fallen, and hope for a reincarnation soon.

They may be gone, but JGD has mentioned that he shall return in the future. For now though you should follow The Living Doorway's facebook page for any updates on the future status of the blog and JGD's music and dog related antics.

At the same time, one of the aforementioned blogs that was taken down last year (Pervert The Church headed by TheIndomitableSpirit) will soon be seeing a rebirth in the form of a new blog: Nothing Less Than Lost. It is not up currently but will be soon, so keep your eye on this one for some excellent tunes, reviews and commentary. I will be linking it on our "Brethren" sidebar once it arrives.

To end, I would like to express my thanks to JDG and The Living Doorway for sharing their thoughts, helping us and other tiny blogs get our voices out there, and spreading the word about some fantastic records and bands. I hope you guys make a triumphant return and spit in the face of copyright complaints.

One final aside: I have been considering making a facebook page for Equivoke so in the event of something like this happening to this blog (which is entirely possible at this point) all of you will know what's planned; if you even care that much. I may just go ahead with it, but I'd like your thoughts on this if you have any.

Velnias - RuneEater (2012)

Full Length, Pesanta Urfolk
September 8th, 2012

Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal/Doom Metal
Region: USA

"From the mountains 
Where storms are born 
The wind blows Cold and ruthless 
Before that 
All tremble"

The above passage was written in Lithuanian, in a silver-wax sealed letter on a cardboard slip accompanied with a handmade key. It was a precursor to something slowly approaching.

 Over a year ago I chipped in to a kickstarter project for an ambitious album from a secluded and frostbitten musical entity. The promising album and the handmade wooden boxset packed with merchandise (Beyond Victory edition) was something I was highly anticipating. A lot of dedication and thought was put into this project, both the music and the packaging.

And finally a few weeks ago (nearly a month after the above mentioned letter arrived) the ancient box, secured with a heavy lock, arrived with something equally primeval laid down on vinyl residing within, emanating sounds hidden deep within forested, snow-capped mountains echoing times when the surrounding landscape was untouched by modernity.

This project was undertaken by Velnias, a five piece black metal group from Colorado who have slowly been building their catalog since 2007 — showcasing a fairly unique doomy atmospheric black metal with folk influences.

This is their second full length record entitled RuneEater and is definitely their most cohesive, thoughtful and tightly written material they've released thus far. Previous to this they've released two tour cds, a demo and a full length called Sovereign Nocturnal, which was heavier on the doom elements compared to this new piece of work. While I enjoyed it, the first record did not feel as impressive as I was hoping it would be, but you could feel Velnias working through their sound and forming a style that was different from the rest of the 'cascadian' circle of metal bands in existence.

And on RuneEater they have achieved this with great precision, a palpable undercurrent of disgust for the modern civilization in which we reside paralleled with an equal passion and reverence for nature, and unwavering archaic atmosphere found in the deepest, darkest undergrowth of the most untouched thickets.

All of this comes through in every aspects here: the darkly mystic earthen lyrics, the bemoaning tortured vocals, the meticulous analog production, the intermittent flurries of acoustic beauty between the blackened mass of scorched riffing — this guitar work which acts like a forest fire clearing deadwood to birth new life in each following track, leaving billowing smoke that will smother the listener in an acrid atmosphere. In the shuddering bass lines which rise high enough to be clear through the thunderous drum beats that crash down upon you like a magnificent rock slide.

The cd and vinyl version of the album have different masters; the vinyl version is meticulously dedicated to a pure analog vision, recorded on a two-inch tape with the lacquers being cut directly from the tape by a different team from the cd. The packaging is also different, but both sound and look brilliant regardless of which you choose to absorb.

"Proclaim your best intentions with all your heart from atop the highest hills, you are naught but the substance of the life you choose to lead."

The lyrics express a deep commitment to the earth, abhorrence for the ills man in their pursuing modern development against nature, the slow decline of our civilization, and the glorification of times passed. Throughout the record this is made clear but one passage in "Desolation Of Grandeur" these sentiments are laid bare:

"How long will you writhe amidst the ruin of another's folly? Where are we to sow our seeds amidst the endless decay? Mine will be the hand to cast the torch to this empire ripe in its falling!"

The words are put elegantly in each sentence and with passion through the hoarse howls rolling over the woeful guitar melodies.

And when it comes to the material on RuneEater it is incredibly strong throughout all five tracks. I would argue that it is their strongest, most resolute and well written to accompany the distinct theme it permeates. The first track includes a brief intro "Velnio Maldavimas", booming tribal drums, spoken words in Lithuanian and slow "auns" to break the album open, while the third track "Velnio Ugnis" is a short acoustic piece to announce the second half.

Both songs break up the impassioned assault that makes up the core of RuneEater: "Desolation Of Grandeur", "Reverend Flames Of Antiquity", "Reclamation Of Valour", and the closer "Iconoclast". Two extend past eleven minutes and two fall just short of ten, but all of them have been carefully written to make each minute important and meaningful. The tracks flow by in no time despite their length, a testament to the enveloping atmosphere, robust song craft,  and talented musicianship.

You can hear the growth of their style throughout each track since their first record. "Desolation Of Grandeur" displays some fantastic riffs and rhythms, and they lead off with one immediately here: powerful tremolo galloping ascending and dropping back down to repeat before the vocals tear through the atmosphere. This opening riff coupled with the concussive bass is a perfect way to open such a record.

We experience the gritty distorted guitar tone for the first time, jagged and raw as it churns in and out of harmonies and feedback. The journey they pave is memorable, leading to a slow breakdown three quarters of the way through where we feel the doom peak in briefly. The scratchy howls linger as the pained strings bleed into a calm and sad acoustic melody at the end.

In the track that follows titled "Reverend Flames Of Antiquity", Velnias find a satisfying balance between atmospheric black metal and elements of doom that circles around Lycus, Pallbearer, and some of the earlier incarnations of the style. If you were worried that with their move towards a more 'modern' black metal style in the first track they were boiling down their sound to a more essential level, Velnias show here they have not left old elements to rest with this song.

This is easily my favorite track on this record. The blend of genres, the peaks and valleys it snakes through, the changes in pace all without losing the sense of isolation and cold beauty, it's all so excellently crafted and powerful. It starts quietly and cleanly, meshing subtle additions of the acoustic alongside the electric guitar; the tone is dark and tragic as the cymbals begin to shimmer in and out before the doom bursts into full bloom. This slow build and the feedback makes the oncoming crushing melodies all the more cathartic.

Heavy notes hang and dip low, wandering about like a lone traveler in the forest. It's a track that slowly melts into black metal before you're aware of it, once the pace is quickened it becomes all the more intense. But then they return to the drudgery, punctuating the pained notes and shaking bass lines with pinched harmonics and scraping.

It gets all the more sorrowful with a beautiful clean/acoustic build at the halfway point, leading to a climax with a return to raw riffing. We're met with some excellent reverb drenched passages that break away from the rhythms before the song ends — soaring from the mountain tops, drawing ever closer to the ground which they left; landing in feedback and darkness.

"Reclamation Of Valour" is interesting in that I feel it has a slightly nautical rhythm to it. You don't get it as much in the clean/acoustic intro but once the distortion, drums, bass and vocals kick in I get the distinct feeling of swirling stormy seas battering a lone vessel as it approaches feral coasts. The lyrical themes do not indicate such intentions however — speaking of the valor of vengeful battle with steel against steel, and the readiness for conflict to right wrongs of the opposing forces which built a system degrading men and the land they walk:

"Upon what skull is crown beset to afford such travesty as writ, that in darkness we are left to stumble with our hands devoid of sword's hilt? 
Truly tis the folly of fools to tread any path unarmed for unbeknownst is one when time shall come for need to spear or sword.
Hark, brothers - let radiant infinity open sleeping eyes! 
Again let hands blades hold fast and thrust them to the face of man's facade. 
Beneath open sky again shall burn the flames of our revelry. 
Beneath our feet shall run the blood of those who had stood in our way. 
With the grimace of kings, as from gallows they swing, again shall true strength reign.
Through the Vacant stares of your beheaded sons this world shall see its rebirth.
Burn by our hands!
Burn by our hands!
Never shall you see remorse; for every wrong you have ever wrought yours shall suffer a thousand fold!"

Regardless the track is quick paced and sharp, swaying with excellent rhythm through tremolo chords, and actually picking the pace up a notch through an acoustic intermission and the following passage. The slow down again is soaked in a wicked sorrow, single notes ringing strongly before another acoustic intermission to change the attack; and with this the deep choral moaning underneath. This track again ends in a somber acoustic ballad with some backing from the drums at times.

We end with "Iconoclast", the shortest song and a tale of what it means to be legend, to revere the old ways of men and nature once intertwined. Opening strong on a loud note, this gives way to another acoustic flourish that slowly builds pace and we rush into the whirlwind fury of distortion again. This happens again shortly after, but the riffs and drumming preceeding and following these sections do not lose steam and are quite creative, those at the half way mark break through with a wonderful gallop.

It's strange but these a few rhythms here that I swear feel familiar but I can't place where I may have heard them; specifically the acoustic section at 6:12 in which is followed by a reworking in multiple forms after. Regardless this final section is addictive, leading to the final acoustic push to close the record down.

Overall this is a great record with some great writing that sets it apart from the rest of the bands in the genre, with great integration of folk and doom elements sprinkled throughout. Admittedly the doom elements are lessened here but when they appear its blended so well. The drums could be a little higher in the mix, I feel they're a little buried under all the other elements. Outside of that I don't have any complaints, it's very tightly written and arranged.

I highly recommend getting this album. While it's not necessarily breaking new ground it is full of raw expression and their best work to date, a huge step up from their past efforts. It is well worth your money and Velnias are a band that deserve your support.

If you would like to procure a copy of this excellent record you can it in digital form from bandcamp, or if you want it on cd or vinyl in various forms you can go to Pesanta Urfolk's webstore. The boxset is not available, it was only possible to get it through the kickstarter preorder project and limited to like 25.

DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lento - Anxiety Despair Languish

Full Length, Denovali
October 26, 2012

Genre: Atmospheric Sludge / Post - Metal / Black Metal / Gothic
Region: Italy

Icon was one of my favourite albums of 2011. It's a beautifully warm album unlike any other, a huge improvement over their previous release Earthen. I was surprised to hear Lento would be able to release another album in 2012 and what a release it is. 

Anxiety Despair Languish is a tough album to dissect. Lento seemingly got together and asked themselves "how do we get heavier than Icon?" They somehow managed to not only get heavier, but more complex, dynamic, and more interesting than ever before.  Anxiety Despair Languish is without a doubt Lento's masterpiece. 

Recorded live off the floor, Anxiety Despair Languish is an absolute sonic assault of pure evil. While Icon was a warm blanket of chugs and low-end, Anxiety Despair Languish has a harsher sound overall, and is filled to the brim with gorgeous, ghostly synth and spaced-out atmospherics. 

Anxiety Despair Languish is an overwhelming listen. I sometimes wished it would just slow down and allow me to take everything in, but before you know it, Lento have moved on to their next surprise. I'm still as baffled when I listen to it now as I was the first time I heard it. The synths alone on this album are enough to put a huge smile on anyone's face. I just can't get enough of those fucking synths. 

A few of the jams wouldn't be out of place on a Russian Circles album. There were times I swore I could hear Brian Cook's style of bass playing, The Roof and A Necessary Leap being a good examples. The way they play with time signatures on A Necessary Leap is ridiculously awesome. 

I highly recommend giving this album a listen. If you dig instrumental metal at all, there's a good chance you'll be blown away by the variety and complexity that Anxiety Despair Languish has to offer. I can't imagine what Lento will do next.

DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Circle of Ouroborus - Abrahadabra (2012)

Full Length, Kuunpalvelus
August 23rd, 2012

Genre: Black Metal/Experimental/Post-Punk
Region: Finland

Two big, highly anticipated albums hit the ground today and what am I doing? Why I'm posting another obscure record authored by the enigmatic group Circle of Ouroborus ,who I'm beginning to fall in love with. And I still haven't gotten through the majority of their discography.

It's increasingly difficult to keep up with the amount of material these guys put out there, and even more difficult to procure physical copies of it due to the high demand and limited releases. Since Eleven Fingers last year there have been 9 new records from this Finish duo (most cassette or vinyl only releases), and I only managed to get a hold of 3 of them including this one.

Abrahadabra was recorded around the same time as Eleven Fingers and The Lost Entrance of the Just so you can expect a similar murky production, clean mournful howling vocals, astral/existential/contemplative and somewhat depressing lyrics in their simple rhyme scheme, and dream-like guitar tones through listless riffs and structures. You have six tracks to get lost in here, the last one is nearly 10 minutes.

Overall this is a much slower record (especially on side two) with no hoarse black metal growls to balance out the clean style. The first side is generally more mid-paced, the cloudy blackened post-punk is still quirky yet catchy and ghostly, and a few rhythms with slightly awkward percussion.

You can hear a little of this on the opener "Conspiracy" during the hook where it speeds up, the escalating notes here giving of that ethereal vibe. "These Days And Years To Kill" has a couple moments resembling traditional black metal in the backing riffs but still not near their effort on "Armon Keitaalla".

The second side begins with a slow track "Six Hands" which reminds me of "Sigil of Suns": melancholic riffs whining like a synth with a slower rhythm behind it, the drumming picking up only briefly at points. And it continues like this with "Like Silent Meadows", swaying in a very fantasy-ish manner.

The closer as mentioned is a long one, slow with short episodes of martial drumming (much like in "Breathing Slowly") alongside the pinging cymbals. It has a a great section like 3 minutes in once the vocals drop out where both the lead and rhythms are quite beautiful (and repeats quite often). It might be my favorite track and is the most reminiscent of material on "Eleven Fingers".

While it's not as wonderful straight across the board as Eleven Fingers it is more engaging and memorable (for me at least) than The Lost Entrance of the Just. Though I've seen some people bagging the drumming on recent Circle of Ouroborus records I like it a lot. Sure it's simple and doesn't vary a whole lot (maybe a little more varied here) but it stands out making the songs more hypnotic.

I certainly recommend checking this one out if you've enjoyed their recent style. If you're interested in a copy you'll have to do some in-depth searching, but you can also head over to Fallen Empire Records and shoot them an email asking for a copy. I grabbed mine from them just before they ran out but they're trying to get more in stock for now.

DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)
DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

VYST - Try Again. Fail Again. Keep On Trying. Keep On Living. Gain While Giving. (2012)

Full Length, Vendetta Records
January 1st, 2012

Genre: Hardcore
Region: Germany

Here's a surprisingly awesome shard of hardcore I only just came across. What made me take interest was that VYST contains members of Throwers, Glasses, and Perth Expressand by extension of those last two bands, at least one member of Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon, one of my favorite bands ever. So naturally I had to check them out as I'm always interested in hearing what the members of such a phenomenal sludge act are up to after its demise..

The drummer of Glasses and Perth Express was also in MISOTPW if I'm not mistaken, and while he's not on this record he has joined the band and will appear on their soon to be released new EP "Bad News Travels Slowly". Regardless of this bit if information once I gave this record a spin I was immediately impressed. VYST will surely join the ranks of other great new German hardcore acts if they haven't already.

Try Again. Fail Again. is a half-hour of darkly tinged hardcore with some great ferocity displayed in each of the nine tracks featured here. They dip into moments of melody on some of the longer tracks like "Towards the Cliff", "They Run", and "Count Me Down" and their briefness makes them all the more powerful.

The production is quite good also, everything rings clear and sharp bringing out the heaviness of some of the slower, crunchy passages. Vocals are wonderfully raspy and hoarse, rending his throat as he runs through issues both bleak and uplifting, contemptuous and angry. Nothing that hasn't been said before but it all suits the tone of the tunes here. Speaking of tone, the guitars sound great as they roll and slice through some very catchy rhythms.

VYST don't rely on dissonance. Merely powerful riffs that move from high speed punk to a moment or two in sludgecore territory (almost) to a short melodic or melancholic (sometimes clean) section — briefly there will be in a few songs a rough tremolo passage just touching on something blackened. Not enough to take over at any point but you can here some of this in "This Is All Exhausted" which is the only track with a simple breakdown to end the song as well, but a tremendous riff before that.

I think the last four tracks stand out the most for me. Especially "Towards The Cliff" where things slow down a bit in the beginning and gain some mass as the riffs pound, and that same riff from the start returns with a vengeance in the latter half; augmented a little and for the better, with a great slow fade. "They Run" has some similar captivating strengths, a real nice clean section and melody peppered throughout.

Not injected with the blazing sludge found in Perth Express and yet not being as strictly hardcore as Glasses, VYST have found a comfortable middle ground with a very minor blackened-crusty influence without completely falling into the ever-popular splinter genre of dark hardcore; and it works very well.

Actually they probably have more in common with their brothers in Throwers than the other two groups which is more on the dark dissonant side of the sound (and which I will eventually post up here as well). There's some excellent arrangements to be heard on Try Again..., very catchy and abrasive, fast with some hammer-blow heaviness sprinkled at just the right moments. Quite an enjoyable listening experience all the way through but nothing that could be said to be "off the beaten path". Just solid, head-bang-inducing hardcore.

I definitely recommend listening to what VYST offer up here. And they present it as a "name your price" download on their bandcamp so either snatch it up for nothing or be generous and throw them a few bucks for their hard work. And as I said, the new EP that's going to be released features the drummer from Glasses/Perth Express/MISOTPW so be sure to check it out. It feels a little more complex and angry from the one track up at the moment

DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tesa - IV (2012)

Full Length, OSK Records
October, 2012

Genre: Atmospheric Sludge/Post-Metal
Region: Latvia

Tesa is a unique entity in the post-metal and sludge arena. The Latvian group (specifically on HeartBeatsFromTheSky) managed to create a magnificent blend of sludge and post-rock that flowed smoothly between and intertwined genres, touching beautiful, shimmering and melancholic cleans drenched in a multitude of effects before flattening the listener with jagged swaths of heaviness with a very subtle hardcore undercurrent.

They did this within the span of a half-hour. The loud peaks were intoxicating while the quiet valleys were haunting and serene — making use of effect pedals with great expertise so as to not make it an exercise in tedium, complimenting the tremendous writing. HeartBeatsFromTheSky exists in the space between multiple genres and remains one of my favorite records in the last decade, soaring celestial beauty every minute of its length. Complex and yet so simple, exploding vividly and looping back on itself in the final moments to the opening tremolo riff creating a journey you're compelled to revisit over and over. I plan on giving it a proper review pretty soon in fact.

That record came out in 2008 and I've both longed for and feared the emergence of their next effort. Tesa are a quiet band. They tour a lot but they don't let much slip until the final weeks of any sort of news. My fears lay in the fact that while they're obviously beyond musically competent, and have grown by leaps since their first EP, I couldn't see much rising above HBFTS in their catalog; let alone comparing with it. Despite that nagging doubt I've been eagerly waiting for something new and here it is presented as the simply titled record IV.

IV is practically the same length as HBFTS but containing only three songs. However, much like HBFTS, each song blends into the next so as to create the illusion of one 35 minute track. The big question is does it top or even stand strong with that record? And on the first couple of listens I have to say it falls just short of HBFTS, taking a more minimalistic approach at times (but not by much) with more emphasis on long atmospheric builds; builds which do not reach the same quaking, unearthly conclusions of their previous work but remain pretty, atmospheric and heavy both all at once and then separately.

IV is not a disappointment despite having said this. While there's nothing as inebriating as the final moments of their last record even with terrific climbs here it still touches on sounds that not many other bands do. The record undeniably has some crushing riffs and rhythms with excellent drumming and deep bass. Refined and backed by once again strong writing it shows that they bring a truly unique heaviness in their approach, if slightly augmented from their last entry.

The first and second tracks are more reminiscent of their previous creations. "I" opens with distorted heavy riffs before quickly jumping into mid-paced rhythms — switching off between this and a slow-down to crush you. Much simpler or straight-forward without the emphasis on effects to twinkle up the quiet moments which soon approach.

The drop out comes suddenly and slides back up following the rising tom hits, and we return to an aberration of the opening rhythm for a time, slightly faster. This is the halfway marker where things start to resemble the quiet beauty of HBFTS, as the towering cleans on several guitars gently guide us toward the end: one wailing in the right channel behind cycling noise, soft crashing cymbals and the fragile chords of the second guitar. The final minute things get louder while the sustain whining driven by effects remains, and the song ends as static grows until all is quiet — announcing the second track.

"II" picks up so softly, with ghost chords and notes reverberating as a far off buzz of an organ or synth fade up and down behind them. It reminds me not only of some of the final tracks in HBFTS but also of Braveyoung's We Are Lonely Animals in its minimalistic, spectral ebbs and emphasis on clean, reverberating strokes. It is captivating in its calm atmosphere like a placid lake early in the morning, and eventually as ripples form from the surface being breached things become more powerfully heavy.

As we approach the mid-point the song changes direction, back to the crunch of sludge while the one channel holds a beautiful tremolo melody alongside the crushing blows. This is what Tesa does extremely well and it's sustained the remainder of this song, growing more distorted, loud and saturated in static as the melody and heaviness play out. This is a point where we see Tesa can still bring about a monumental climax but just through a different formula. It hits a peak and holds as the cymbals explode, winding down in the final seconds to break the barrier of the last track.

The final 18 minute song is a (at first) very quiet experience and then transforms into a noisy, slow, and heavy expedition. With the length of this track I was concerned because I know Tesa to have kept their writing tight in the past with shorter songs filled with excellent turns and complexity cloaked in a deceptive simplicity. They know how to progress while keeping things from getting out of control, with a perfect segue ending to open the next track.

My worries are quickly dissuaded though as they keep their strong style of writing intact here, and nothing becomes masturbatory or too drawn out for me. Very well controlled and flows smoothly without tiring. Opening with sustained buzzing synth which carriers over from the last song, this one is largely clean and takes a similar approach as the last song: tranquil, creeping elegance but with a constant electric drone behind the slow and quiet bends and plucks.

As the toms begin, ramping up alongside the feedback and droning bass we're expecting a burst to come but it is delayed for a quiet moment of contemplation — and then the sludgey riffs break through as the droning second guitar continues. The rhythm drops out but returns shortly, a little more quiet than before, stopping occasionally for a quick dive into a slow, trembling section.

All the while the second channel gains volume in its wailing drone as we hit the mid-point, the drums slow and finally the drone begins to lessen to a shining howl. Here rhythmic waves of riffs and undulating bass begin crashing hypnotically, holding steady as that background drone begins to climb again — until the noise in the last few minutes creeps back from the outskirts to overwhelm the riffs; leaving us with the howling wind, lapping waves, chimes and creaking wood as the instruments fade. In this final track Tesa show that no matter the length they can control themselves and create something memorable, leaving only the best on display.

With IV Tesa have once again shown they are not following the pack in the post-metal genre, even though in my opinion this is as close as they've come to sounding like their peers. And yet they still are an unmeasurable distance from those peers. In fact they still sound better and far more different with their perfect mixture of genres and sounds, masking a complexity within a straightforward formula. They hold their sound, remaining peculiar and apart despite the minor departure from the brilliance of HeartBeatsFromTheSky. Admittedly that's holding them up to a ridiculously high standard that they've set for themselves. Even for Tesa it would be hard to capture that brilliance twice but they come close here.

Support Tesa. This band treads the gulf between sludge, post-rock/post-metal, and hardcore like no other with exceptional writing and dense atmosphere. While IV is not as jaw-dropping as HeartBeatsFromTheSky it is certainly worth your cash and I recommend listening to it than purchasing the CD. They will lead you on a trek through the sparkling darkness like no other band.

Go over to OSK Records and pick up a copy, or email them to do the same. You can also pick it up and stream it at Impure Muzik. The site is in Russian so if you have issues contact them since it's all through paypal in the end.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chelsea Wolfe - Live at Roadburn (2012)

Full Length, Burning World Records
September, 2012

Genre: Gothic/Psychedelic Folk/Folk/Ethereal Wave
Region: USA

I recently saw Chelsea Wolfe with Marriages and Russian Circles, and her along with her band mates soaked the venue in soft doom and penetrating gloom. I would love to see her again and suggest you all do the same if she passes through your area.

In the absence of getting another chance to see anytime soon, here we have a new live record to sustain us — coming close to a month before the release of her acoustic record Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs.

This is Chelsea Wolfe's performance from April 12th of this year at Roadburn. Her set contains six tracks from Apokalypsis and two from The Grime and the Glow, including the phenomenal acoustic track Halfsleeper (the opener) which is performed on the electric guitar with subtle contributions from the rest of the band; making it all the more haunting and beautiful. Though it still does not quite match her performance for Terroreyes for me:

Regardless it's the perfect way to open her set and it's still one of her most mesmerizing songs to date. I shouldn't need to talk this record up. Quality is great, the set is a great selection and her performance is flawless.

A wicked live record from a spectral music anomaly. Grab this from Burning World Records ASAP, the gold version is gone but the black is still around.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Planks - Funeral Mouth (2012)

Full Length, Golden Antenna Records
October 12th, 2012

Genre: Sludge/Hardcore/Blackened Sludge
Region: Germany

It wasn't until a little while ago that I became aware Planks were working on a new record, it crept up on me.

Funeral Mouth is this German act's third full length and it manages to build quite well from their sludgy hardcore foundations by adding a little more atmospheric, blackened influences and blending them all quite seamlessly. It ends up with a slight post-metal tinge without the padded song length, reliance on effects and abundance of shimmering instrumentals. Planks (alongside Black Freighter and Perth Express) are not too far removed from Canada's Titan but with this they've managed to step out a little and separate from the pack ever so slightly.

It isn't a huge departure but the differences are noticable structurally and in terms of emphasis on atmosphere, rather than pure steam-rolling heaviness. The vocals stand out quite a bit, passionate and mournful with a wicked deathly and deep rasp while alternating to semi-clean yells with a subtle melodic touch — nothing cheesy and they fit quite well. They're more muted and haunting than in their last release a lot of the time and with that the effect it has on you is different. In "Agnosia Archetype" the chorus stands out a lot as it flows with the melodic riffs and compels the listener to repeat it along with the vocalist, and in past records the style was more loud, gruff.

Guitars still have a wonderful thick tone with a tasteful use of effects and the percussion is clear, strong and very much in the hardcore vein. The bass is right up front playing off the guitars nicely, smooth with a great punch — occasionally left for a short interlude before blasting into the fervor.

When it comes down to the rest music their writing ability has not faltered one bit. Songs on Funeral Mouth still retain the sharp twangy elements and high energy, trampling passages, but this time situated among droning reverb soaked chords or tremolo sections when not dragging you through the hazed sludge. Planks manage to make this interesting by not stretching songs or sections within and harmonizing all elements very well. They effortlessly traverse slower paced and atmospheric soundscapes before injecting the hardcore venom into it to ratchet up the intensity.

Admittedly compared to The Darkest of Grays which was more straight-forward, crunchy, aggressive sludgy hardcore the feeling has changed just a bit and hardcore influences mentioned are not as prominent. Of course this aspect still rears its head at least once in each track (especially in the later songs) but augmented, not as chunky or prominent. It stays dark and heavy regardless. The blackened, hectic energy is still lingering but it feels more controlled and this doesn't hurt the record at all. We also get quite a few lingering quiet sections between the stormy attack every other song, breaking up and building up things well.

The two opening tracks spread things out a little more than the core of the record, the first being slow and dark bleeding into the second with feedback which is where we can hear the black influence more clearly in the drums and riffs; slowing down as you progress to breath out the sludge and reining that back in with a few clean sections before returning to crushing.

Funeral Mouth also has a lot of satisfying grooves throughout as one would expect. Some excellent examples would be in the previously mentioned "Agnosia Archetype" but also in "An Exorcism of Sorts": staring with a clean bassy build, shifting into heavier areas quickly once the vocals come in while the slow drum beats cut a nice notch to get comfortable in. By the middle we have a series of heavy slams and descents drenched in a murky blackened mist. The track which follows it up ("Kingdom") brings back more of their older style as well, muted gallops and flurries of twang sneaking in and feeling quite satisfying.

This is the case for the core of the album but with the mutation in style (however slight) the groovy moments are less about pounding you and are more gradual, tame and spaced.

A few instrumentals appear as they did on previous releases: one as an opener, one as a very short, clean outro;, and right before that the longest track "The Spectre" takes this form as well. Like a lot of their tracks this one hits various territory, never becoming overbearing in terms of effect usage and in fact hits the crust early in the song, but retains a heavy atmosphere. The middle has some great riffs, tumbling at a nice pace and morphing from that groovy sludge into a addictive harmonized and repeating riff with the grumbling bass follows below.

I definitely like this one. Maybe not quite as much as The Darkest of Grays but it is a pleasant surprise from Planks. Like a lot of genres the sludgecore can be fairly limited in terms of direction (especially when in high demand as it is more so these days) and while Funeral Mouth isn't taking any huge leaps it's a pleasurable listen and builds well on what they've previously created.

If you like Titan but wanted something a touch more atmospheric and blackened then you'll enjoy this. Head over to Golden Antenna Records to preorder a copy right now, or check out either their bandcamp or Cvlt Nation to listen to it in full.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vilipend - Inamorata (2012)

Full Length, No List Records / A389 Recordings
August 16th, 2012

Genre: Hardcore/Metalcore
Region: Canada

This is another review originally written for Cvlt Nation. I held off on posting it here but I see some links have surfaced on the net elsewhere, so I'm getting this up here now.

Inamorata, the first full length from Toronto's rising hardcore act Vilipend, is quite the wrecking ball of blazing discordance.

I've reviewed a few of Vilipend's EPs not too long ago at the band's request, and I've seen them a few times since then; including a few nights ago at Titan's Burn release show. I filmed their set in which they played quite a few tracks from this very record. Some I heard for the first time and others I've definitely heard prior, but now that I have the new record in my hands and have given it a good dose of spins I can definitely recommend grabbing this sharp shard of hardcore for yourself. It's a sign that the old styles of metalcore and hardcore from the '90's like Rorschach still survives and is driven by just as much passion, without an injection of black metal (not that it would be a negative, it's just nice to see).

The title of this record should give you a hint as to at least one main theme of the record — whether it's a reference to a past lover or being used ironically/metaphorically, in thinly veiled spite or all of the above. Chris' despondent snarls spewing the subjects of betrayal, hatred cowardice once again translate very well feelings of destitution and frustration; rolling between vicious rasps and warped semi-clean slurs.

These topics are not unfamiliar but they are universally relatable, strongly written and performed, and he's supported in his vocal duties by Derek and Mike at various points in many tracks as well. Coupled with Adam's catchy splattering of percussion, and the coarse rumble of Mike's bass supporting Derek's dissonant, furious guitar attack this all makes for a twisted and bitter voyage into chaotic hardcore the band can stand proud by.

Out of the gate Inamorata presents the angst and anger nicely with "To Impede The Healing Process", noisy with tumbling drums and loads of distortion as Chris unfurls the vitriol within. Scraping rhythms and acrid presence fills this song and the next, "Cutting Heartstrings [Erosion]" which has some mean percussion in the opening seconds and a clean finish. Some tracks sound straight forward and punkish at first like "The Last Stand of the Hopeless Romantic", beginning with a bouncy assault (almost upbeat) before descending into dark slams and bent dissonance — emerging with a chorus of shouts, wicked and loud as well as a short final riff that closes the track nicely.

"The Thin Red Line Between Salvation and Damnation" is an example of the band slowing things down beautifully as it opens with a hypnotizing drum beat, the satisfying clang of cymbals, gradual feedback and Mike's steady plucking providing ample quakes. While maintaining the pace, Derek kicks in with a sluggish slam and slow sustained bends which will have you swaying. Chris brings intoxicated moaning and snarls over top and a moment for Mike opens up to conjure a great slithering solo bass line. What I love about the way this track ends is how it so easily, after some angular processions, drags you into the next track "Farewell, Cruel Girl [Apnea]" which immediately turns the speed up a few notches, and has one of the best opening riffs ever. It's so simple but such a seriously addicting moment and I only wish it repeated once more at some point in the song.

These two may be my favorites. They're almost symbiotic, containing some of those mesmerizing bends, choppy chugging and a repeated clean section that tangles with a distorted set of chops while Chris rails onward. The [Apnea] tag on the tail of this track brings some quiet reflection before they tear onward: a solemn and melodic acoustic instrumental that might throw you at first after the devastating assault that proceeded it.

That's the only break you'll get here though, as the guys plow ahead with "Self Low Thing" and "Great White Nothing", two more sonic batterings before the final entry. I heard the second track here for the first time live last week and it was heavy and spellbinding on stage, so hearing it laid down here you can believe that it retains just as much weight. Jumpy and jarring with a truly massive uncoiling riff near the end as Chris's vocals become heavily distorted it's no wonder they got this up and streaming first to showcase the record.

There's only one area of this album which contains a little more technical flair outside of the writhing, and this is found on the final moments of "Meant To Be"; performed by another local musician Luke Roberts. It works well with core elements of the track which is the longest one on Inamorata. It crawls at first, enclosed in a sorrow filled atmosphere but eventually opens up the tempo with that satisfying twangy rhythm and booming bass lines, hitting some very catchy moments midway through. The hook lyric "It was meant to be nothing at all!" begins to cycle endlessly towards the finale and it grabs your attention like a vice grip. It stops for a moment, then the slams, bends and kicks rotate around this lyric when suddenly that aforementioned solo punches through the caustic haze. It's a great solo, harmonized at the end without needless wank. The hook comes back for a moment before a slow fade with bass up front.

Inamorata can definitely be counted as a triumph for the band while leaving room to progress and expand, keeping the old school and tasty cacophony alive and vibrant. All of their outputs have been powerful but this one tops them undoubtedly.

Yes, this is some excellent hardcore you should definitely check out and support. If you're looking for a copy it's up for preorder on baby blue vinyl on A389 Recordings, and I believe the cd copies are distributed by No List Records; the band currently has copies so if you see them you can get a one from them. I assume they'll eventually be available at the band's merch site too so keep an eye out!

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Thenn - Threshing the Golden Fields (2012)

EP, Self-released / Independent
August 1st, 2012

Genre: Blackened Crust/Black Metal
Region: USA

Here's a submission by an Indiana band called Thenn. I'm trying to get through the pile, and I think this is an excellent place to start.

What I think would best describe Thenn's style is the reverse of Young and In The Way. Where YAITW take a sprinkle of black metal and delicately lace their crusty hardcore with it, Thenn stand on a thick foundation of old school black metal ala Darkthrone and inject some crust into thrashy dark nest they've made.

With a sickly rasp the vocalist sprays cryptic cult messages, it's a very ugly and gnarled howl that perfectly fits the tangled instrumentals underneath. The guitar and drumming is very reminiscent of older iterations of black metal with fast, crunchy tremolo riffs and abrasive, foul percussion. The bass has a fair presence as well which is always nice to hear.

This group kind of takes Barghest's approach as they breath new life into the style. When the crust emerges it's subtle and more akin to YAITW's V. Eternal Depression style: occasional cold passages between the writhing, but they are few and leave the black metal unscathed the majority of the EP.

There's five short tracks to ingest here, and they're all quite chaotic and hazy. "Abscesses of Light" starts things off with straight up stormy black metal riffs, with very little indication of their crusty influences except for a more hardcore tempo chunk near the end. Following up is "Bathing in Cold Autumn" which continues with the same fervor but with a slight tainting of hardcore when a slower powerchord emerges amongst the tremolos.

"Vigils" has more indications of it's crust leanings with both the intro riff which has that familiar tempo, laced with a muddy film, as well as the final push of the song being more galloping, winding upward. It's a sorrowful build. With the next track "They Are Given to the Inviting Earth" we dive deep into the blackened abyss once again with only one tail section that brings the crust to the fore, slowly crushing the permafrost beneath their trampling hooves.

Threshing the Golden Fields, the closer, is the closest thing to YAITW's style on the record but still manages to carve it's own path. Feedback is briefly introduced before a full on onslaught of ripping black metal, only to end abruptly as a frostbitten passage rises, simple and slow. The croaking of the vocals chimes in as the drumming becomes more and more amorous. The right channel guitar is introduced, but not long after we return to black metal territory, slithering in the muck for the final riff.

I like what they've done here. It surprised me: instead of blindly following the newer crop of blackened hardcore groups Thenn have taken a more purified path, carefully adding elements of crust or hardcore to bolster the grim black metal they've conjured. It's tempting to do no doubt considering it's the next most attractive wave after the new old school death metal and atmospheric black metal waves.

I suggest you guys check it out, especially if you want something that doesn't "bastardize" the "sacred genre" by skirting most black metal ingredients and resting on hardcore foundations.  I myself don't care for one over the other, as long as it's done well. And Thenn have made a great effort to do so here. I'm pretty sure if you're a fan of YAITW, Black Monolith, Hexis, Torch Runner or Void Forger you'll enjoy this a lot.

Thenn have graciously put this up for free download on their bandcamp page below, so head over there and have a taste.

DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Dephosphorus - Night Sky Transform (2012)

Full Length, 7 Degrees Records
August 20th, 2012

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal/Hardcore/Black Metal/Astrogrind
Region: Greece

Dephosphorus have returned with their first full record. I've been listening to Night Sky Transform for a little while now, but even when I had only heard the first two tracks at the beginning of this year I knew it was going to be something ferocious and formidable.

Now that I physically have it and have spun it an ungodly number of times even before it was in my grasp I can confidently say that this is my #2 record of the year at this point, and until I hear the new Tesa it'll have to be something of considerable heft to move it from that spot. If you're wondering what #1 is then you haven't been paying attention.

I do admit that the first few times I listened through Night Sky Transform it did not hit me as hard as Axiom. I didn't think it was bad, it's just that I was a little concerned that they couldn't follow themselves. But I had faith and returned to it repeatedly, and at some point it hit me just as hard as their first release. That alone is impressive enough. Being able to top such a devastating opener to their library is something I was concerned would not happen even though I trust in their creativity, skill and dedication.

Night Sky Transform is 10 tracks (exactly 31 minutes) of swirling blackened grindcore that is easily the best in it's still ambiguous genre this year and a worthy follow up to their EP. What's notable about the length here is it never ceases to impress and never wears on you; most grind and hardcore records that reach or pass the half hour mark can become tedious and repetitious but this is far from what you experience here. Of course this is much more than pure grind or hardcore to say the least — Dephosphorus perpetually elude categorization.

Almost every track hovers around 3 minutes in length but they're so packed full of exciting, gripping elements that you're often surprised at how quickly they seem to progress. You'll feel compelled to return to them in order to catch something you missed before. And yet it's nothing overly complex at all. It's not flashy or self-indulgent. That's not to say the skill level isn't impressive — surely it is on all fronts. And it's all extremely tight and hasn't dropped one bit from their debut. The important thing here is a completely smooth transition between all the various styles they've mixed, channeled through rich and very pleasing riffs Thanos conjures, wonderfully harsh vocal work from Panos, and Nikos' percussion that is searingly fast and tastefully busy.

At first the production seems coarse compared to Axiom which felt very cold and clean, but by the second track you settle into it comfortably as it brings the rough, muddied texture of the guitar and the force of the drums into a new level of dynamism. It does not smother anything — Panos' voice is not drowned, Nikos' blasts do not burry Thanos' mighty guitar work. Lyrically we see that the cosmological-spiritual themes glimpsed in Axiom are preserved and expanded upon, sometimes ceremonial in form, with (what I think are) subtle dystopian undertones taken to a celestial level in some songs.

Dephosphorus pour untold quantities of passion and intensity into this record. Fierce cosmic radiation seeps into each song as they retain their signature style, a unique atmosphere draping all songs, while on a few occasions they slow down and experiment ever so slightly with the strong formula they've established.

Examples of this can be heard in "The Fermi Paradox" which at the start could almost be confused with something Neurosis might have created: slow martial or ceremonial drumming, eerie twinkling atmospherics and minimalistic, bendy swelling grooves; as well as a switch for the first time to clean droned vocals to heighten the ritualistic feeling of astral projection through the dominating blackened chaos. Panos' vocals are fairly varied on this record and just as terrifying. Desperate and agonized on the higher register and when he dips low they are an unearthly growl

"Unconscious Excursion" is another instance where things are slowed down for a time with thick sustained chords and once again clean moans. It's a very hypnotic sway that is created, which is carried into a slightly faster paced second half where we return to some of that wonderful and tasty hardcore groove found throughout the record (accompanied by a short and howling solo). You can see this kind of formula work it's way into the middle of the following track "Aurora" as well, continuing to the end. It gives variance between the rusted cacophony that tears through the coldest reaches of space, without dropping the power.

What I love about everything they've released so far is that they manage to capture the heaving weight of sludge at various points but never actually settle on it, so you don't actually encounter or experience it in it's pure form but taste the influence in a new, dark manifestation. This is kind of captured in it's more distilled forms in the aforementioned tracks, but in almost every song you catch glimpses of it, alongside the death metal and black metal which stains the grinding hardcore.

I have to say that while I could easily say everything recorded hear impresses me (as it all does) which makes it hard to choose favorite tracks, I will say the first four songs are my favorites. "Uncharted" and "Cold Omen were wise choices to show off before Night Sky Transform was released, as well as being great openers to have back-to-back. Both have a very similar vibe and formula, sounding like a brief transition from where Axiom left off to the full earth shattering impact of this record.

Each riff in these openers is so addicting and well crafted, smoothly slipping into one another and leading to a dissonant and heavy dirge at the end; injecting the black metal with some sludge ooze to great effect. These ending caps have some lovely drumming to compliment the just as impressive guitar and vocal work. "Cold Omen" especially has some hurricane-force percussion. Both are captivating seemingly aided by the unceasing pressure of surrounding celestial bodies

"Starless" follows them with a more bouncy and mid-paced section on guitar while the drumming continues to awe, and when you hit that section at the 50 second mark it becomes truly spellbinding; shortly afterwards assaulting you with that blinding haste they channel so well. And then we hit the title track, decidedly more on the genuine hardcore side than blackened grind (on the outset at least) with flurries of discord added to the powerchords. You can still feel the astral atmosphere lurking within each moment however. By the time you're halfway in a slow gratifying oscillation lulls you, signalling they haven't dropped their approach at all, before a return to the previous thread.

From this point on we see Dephosphorus shape their formula continuously into deeply satisfying and intense new configurations without straying too far from their transcendental, darkened, angular atmospherics. It's remarkable how they can transfigure their style and keep it fresh without losing the force behind it.

We see it in tracks like "The Astral Putch I" which starts off jarring before jumping effortlessly between grindcore with a definite black metal structure shortly after the intro, and then again near the end where a riff appears that reeks of evil; tremolo angularity feeds into chords of the same style. "The Astral Putch II" is split from the first by "Identifying The Encapsulator" — which is jumpy vortex of riffs — and is far different from part one. Slower at first, breathing deep and shining with a brooding cold patina, before jumping into more technical territory. It then shifts into a sharp blackened cascade shortly after, urgent and ominous; suddenly we're back in the hardcore gear as Panos shrieks his last words.

And then as if to prove my earlier point we sink into "Stargazing & Violence". A distinct death metal overtone is cloaking the opening minute, close to the old school on both the drums and guitars. Just as you're settling into it we're greeted with a delicious groove and before you're finished enjoying it an escalating scheme of chords appears as Panos calmly and clearly speaks with it. The black metal enters and Nikos blasts us while Panos screeches — and one final return to a more hardcore flavor. *

The final three tracks that close this record also appeared on their split with Wake released a few months back, and if you read my review of that record then you already know what my impression of them was at that point. The shortest tracks on the record and still being fairly different from each other in spite of your expectations of them being a burst of speed to close the record. "Unit" is certainly a scorching meteor, but both "The Final Computronium" and "The Cosmologist" have some nice slower sections crush you with. Sure they're executed with a disturbing urgency but amongst the oppressive speed is breathing room, making the blistering pace all the more satisfying. *

Why would you even hesitate to listen to this? This is an album of undeniable strength and creativity, something that blends genres so effortlessly and smoothly it can please practically anyone with working ears who can appreciate great underground music. A pleasure to listen to, Night Sky Transform is a huge accomplishment for these Greek grinders and that's saying a lot when you consider their debut Axiom was one of the best pieces of grind-esque metal in the last decade this side of GridLink and A Scanner Darkly.

Listen to it loud and conjure an astral storm.

No download link this time even though it's out there. Dephosphorus deserve your money, so go to bandcamp and download it for a measly $5 as it's easily worth more than that. Stream it and hear for yourself I do not lie. Or you can go to 7 Degrees Records and send them an email to pick this up in vinyl form with some beautiful artwork. I just got my copy and it's well worth the cash.

DOWNLOAD / BUY (Bandcamp)

EDIT: A mistake on my part everyone. Apparently the advanced copy I had included the tracks from the Wake split and the Great Falls split, and now that I've spun the vinyl and been contacted/informed I'm aware of this. So I've struck the last two paragraphs of the review dealing with those aspects and amended the length. Just be aware of this when reading this and checking out the album, those four tracks are found on separate releases. *

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mare - Mare (2004)

EP, Hydra Head Records
October 5th, 2004

Genre: Atmospheric Sludge/Doom Metal
Region: Canada

I'm perpetually behind on this years great releases at this point, but I promise I'll get to them soon. The new Ash Borer, Dephosphorus, Bereft, The Howling Wind, Protestant, Morigon, Swans, Evoken, Torch Runner, Panopticon, A Forest of Stars, Old Man Gloom, etc. Not that it matters really with the thousands of other great blogs out there tackling them in a responsible and timely manner — the top of the list obviously being Forever Cursed and The Living Doorway. So get your ass over there and show some love.

However I'm gonna use up a few posts to repost and properly review some of my favorite records (most likely 3) in between catching up on all that so bare with me. I started writing for Cvlt Nation last month (joining my friend Haxan from Forever Cursed) and I recently had the pleasure of writing an article about Mare's reunion shows here in Toronto. I also slipped in a review of their only release which is one of my favorite records of all time, and I wanted to post it here with a link to the record.

I posted this record when I first joined Equivoke but said very little about it — the link is down now and instead of just updating that I wanted to start fresh. So if you want you can head over and check out the full article about the live shows in their entirety, but below is just the review of the record and their performance last week (edited so it will make sense in the context of this blog). I would hope more people know about this than I'm inclined to a assume, but it never hurts to spread the magic and get others into such a great record.

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(Originally published at Cvlt Nation)

This past Thursday and Friday I and many others were blessed enough to be witness to several Toronto reunion shows of the legendary sludge three-piece Mare. I attended two of them, there was nothing that was going to keep me from seeing such a rare and visceral performance, and the supporting local bands Titan, Gates, White Ribs and Godstopper helped make the night even more special.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Blue Sabbath Black Cheer / Griefer - We Hate You / Dancho Danchev Suck My Dick (2010)

Split, Deterrent Records

Genre: Noise/Industrial/Death Industrial/Power Electronics
Region: USA

Hope you're not tired of noise yet — I'll get to some more recent and palatable releases soon. I meant to get this split posted here like a year ago and I don't know if any other blogs have it up out there. Two excellent noise inducers of very different styles.

As always Blue Sabbath Black Cheer unleash a shuddering heap of droning noise in one 14 minute track titled We Hate You. This was actually my introduction to this duo and it is genuinely impressive. It starts off as a coarse cannonade of bassy, rumbling ambiance and slowly snowballs into a grotesque tower of howling static complete with those absolutely ferocious vocals I love so much, basking in malice, pain and animosity (as the title suggests).

When they appear it's by far the best part of the track. They're accompanied by some kind of reverberating and obviously massive bell tone at points which add so much to their force An intense squall is stimulated by the final half with successive muffled explosions and knocks.

It molds a destitute landscape in the best way, becoming oppressively loud near the end. A huge atmosphere, a perfect build up to unfettered cruelty, and a disturbing decline as the harsh howls subside is what awaits all listeners.

Griefer's side is composed of 4 tracks of varying sonic malfeasance through power electronics. There are some exceptional and blunt lyrics buried under fierce processing, perfectly translating computer and network deviancy and themes of digital tyranny and brutality.

"Criminal Aggregators" starts us of well expressing the dismal character of financial an stock industries in the most blunt and aggressive manner possible, with a percussive force like that of a wrecking ball fading in and out. The sharp cycling rusted squeal and the warbled buzz serving as a base for the deeply distorted and digitized vocals. "SMS Ransomware" reads like computer prompts and code in lyrical form decoding the reality of SMS services and the implications for network security. A sharp buzzing with intermittent dips into crumpled metallic scrapes and knocks, spiraling upwards with pained frequencies; they are climbing relentlessly.

"Dancho Danchev", the subject of this split and the third track, uses this cyber threat analyst as a target with one of the more chilling lines on this record:
"you take care of yourself 
because it would be terrible 
if something were to happen to you."

A muffled rumbling and then growing bit-distorted signals rise more and more as the words are distant, masked and shaky. Rough booms enter eventually and from here it grows. This one is ominous and disturbing and by far the most entrancing, and the lyrics definitely feel the most direct and personal. "SS8 Interceptor" is the final track, once again reading like an windows error message for the first half, but far more clear, focusing on a specific cyber intelligence and security company. Spiking warbled sirens and a hypnotic buzz to blanket them are the core elements with only slight aberrations.

A great noisy and ugly split. Both artists lay down impressive material here. Head over to Deterrent Industries or Absurd Exposition to get a copy of this split in limited marble brown vinyl format.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blue Sabbath Black Cheer - Untitled (2012)

Full Length, Equation Records / Dead Accent Records
August 3rd, 2012

Genre: Noise/Industrial/Death Industrial/Power Electronics
Region: USA

This is the last piece of material from the releases enclosed on "The Boundary Between The Living And The Deceased Dissolved"; a set of rare and unreleased tracks in the Blue Sabbath Black Cheer catalogue. Not being as familiar with his various releases as I would like I cannot tell you when these were recorded, however it is quite a compilation of vile sounds to ingest.

There's a great deal of variance in terms of arrangement and intensity to be found on this album. Despite this the atmosphere never strays far from a violent hellstorm. It is truly a string of monstrous sonic eruptions, the essence of destruction laid down in harsh and unforgiving terms, never lacking in structure but always creative and surprising. Track lengths run from 4 minutes at their shortest to one 11 minute conjuration of spellbinding horror and everything in between; even on the more lengthy track it never loses you which is a testament to this acts ability and talent in such a niche genre.

Out of the gate I was immediately impressed by "The Sense of Violence", one wonders just how much you can do with harsh noise but Blue Sabbath Black Cheer prove continuously that it can be as engaging and creative as any other style. The sharp shrieks of metal on metal and roars of ferocity merge with metallic clangs, high pitch noise and muffled booms to create a jarring and haunted grind in this opener. Feedback and a rotating static grows before the iron clangs come back for a brief section of gritty silence, split open by feral roars. An industrial landscape being ruined by some unearthly evil.

"Man Is The Bastard" follows, and the last moments of the first track bleed into it with a crash; overwhelming radio static beneath. This track is only slightly shorter and certainly no less oppressive. The groan of machinery rumbles forth with purpose, as hollowed howls clash with urgent wailing sirens — it creates what one may hear in a hurricane ignited by the flames of an exploding volcano as it passes over you, fading into the distance horizon.

It's certainly a rarity when a quiet moment appears, really there's only varying levels of controlled chaos and bleak loudness. "Demise" displays this well with a fading silence overtaken by shifting distorted frequencies, a stinging high-pitched digital cry fades and returns as those demonic vocals go from low to a frightening high — all the more distorted as they rise. You almost think silence will return but it never does as that whine comes back, pulsing and shaking as it gets louder amongst the background noise.

Then it ends abruptly as a segue into the hypnotic muffled booms of the first "Untitled" song. This album just continues to impress.

Quiet at first but the noise soaks it up as those dulled impacts continue to rotate. This is an industrial goliath that builds over the 11 minutes you're immersed in it. Again the distinct wail of metal scraped on metal returns, circling a cosmic drain as more elements are sucked into it to grow the chaos. It feels ancient, rhythmic, powerful. Nightmarish sounds from some tortured extra-dimensional entity pulse in and out of the fray. This repeats for the entire track as some elements fade and grow in volume until about the 7 minute mark when the booms disappear, replaced by electric crackles, hums and scratching all shifting in pitch and intensity. It becomes a deafening whirlwind before releasing, transforming into a static-laced quiet, and it is captivating the entire time.

Again the last track bleeds into the next. "Disgusting Body" carries a similar mesmerizing rhythm in it as well, replacing crushing industrial blows for a repeating alarm carried by more unholy bellows. It's less chaotic, more simple then the previous track and yet still jarring while showing a slight change in direction, staying fresh but no less intimidating. It only changes the formula right at the end as the alarm is slowed way down.

With a startling quake we are welcomed to "No Escape... You'll Still Die" — a buzz and successive, concussive slams under a suffocated growl. Grotesque static bursts in between the crushing blows and a frightening demonic howl wavers between the right and left channel.

The title is absolutely appropriate as this track conjures an image of a very violent, unfathomably powerful, rudely awakened cosmic force ravaging planets creating a piercing, harsh frequency as it inhales. You have no chance to escape it. When you're swallowed the rumbles of the outside environment become drowned and the hums of the inner-workings deaden your senses, ever increasing in volume — then it passes, leaving only a faint whirring chime in its wake.

A track like "Song For The Dead" literally sounds like an absurdly twisted emergency siren on some enormous marine vessel being overtaken by biblical sea creature. The constant cycling noise and whine grows at an agonizing pace with tortured shrieks bubbling to the surface more and more, only to slowly fade as that vessel sinks into the abyss.

The second "Untitled" track (closing the album) is an example of the BSBC formula at it's most quiet, breaching that silence with spectral croaks and moans as echoing stomps and a low reverberating hum grows steadily. These far off impacts in the background, and the intermittent knocking sound like the earth being pummeled by howitzers in the distance as you're huddled in a haunted bunker. It's on the edge of being ambient.

This is a compilation of forgotten sounds that is worth listening to. It plays as one whole song of mechanical, cruel, unstoppable collapse of empyrean might brought on by unknowable forces.

Truly a wicked journey that must be heard. I can definitely recommend this one. While this cd comes with the aforementioned package available for a limited time on Equation Records (also available over at Aquarius Records), you can also find a copy of this compilation on its own over at Dead Accents if you're only interested in this unreleased material.

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