Saturday, January 28, 2017

Nine Hideous Chapters...

SwampCult - The Festival (2016)

Built around H.P. Lovecraft's short story “The Festival”, SwampCult's new album of the same name aims to provide an aural channeling of visiting an old village and becoming embroiled in blasphemous rites.  Working in a retro/Italian doom style, with excerpts from the story worked into the vocal presence, the band brings forth a malevolent atmosphere with simmering undertones, while the aggression of the regular singing seems to be giving voice to the village's perils instead of the protagonist.
And though the structuring of the album does a good job of matching the story's pacing, with each song titled after a significant development in the narrative, the band's playing is energized and doom-blaring from the start, instead of working their way up to the dread as the story does.  Generally speaking, the level of intensity doesn't change much over the course of the album, keeping the crunch and growl of drums, bass, and guitar going steadily.  There's a few interludes focusing on the atmospheric touches, like bells and inarticulate grunting, but these tend to last less than ten seconds each (a big exception being “The Rite”, which goes in-depth with them), making the non-musical sounds feel like token embellishments instead of essential details of the story being told.
That said, the riffs are good at swaying the listener along into their momentum and grooves, the mood is effectively coherent, and the retro doom stylings give things a sheen of antiquity without having to resort to early twentieth century instrumentation.  Even so, the album sits at a weird balancing point, with music too conventional to capture the story's mood for fans of Lovecraft's writing, yet so wrapped up in the story they picked as to offer little draw for those unfamiliar with it.  But the effort and dedication put into bringing The Festival into metal life is admirable, and those who keep an ear out for doom which tries to flex its style in unusual ways would do well to check this release out and judge it by their own tastes.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Count Absurdo, Dimaension X, Possessor, Space God Ritual, Space Mirrors


Friday, January 27, 2017

Artifacts Of Woe...

Underdark - Mourning Cloak (2016)

Some solid blackened post-rock right here, one of the best releases I’ve heard in an early 2017.  Hailing from Nottingham, Underdark provide a spacey, but not slow, form of black metal that really hits the spot.  Production is extremely on-point from shimmering clean guitar up and past when these guys bring the thunder.  Great pans, from a studio point of view this thing is a 10/10.  “Bank of Roses” comes out of the gate swinging, as busting vocals against octaved guitars flow into a swirling set of tremolo, heading further still into post-rock shimmering before a fiery finish. 
“Span of Black Nihility” brings with the thunder with a full-on black attack.  The heaviest of the three songs, it shows these guys aren’t afraid of going full black with a pure False-like growl.  The finale of “With Bruised & Bloodied Feet” erupts with towering drums and speed before dropping into a melodic attack of crashing guitars and double layered vocals mixing low-end growl with Goteborg squeals.  Great stuff!
~ Dan

For Fans Of; Lord Mantis, False, Mare Cognitum, Spectral Lore


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Interpreting The Riffs...

Soothsayer - At This Great Depth (2016)

Soothsayer's sophomore EP At This Great Depth is an aptly named epic of just two tracks, occupying some twenty-four minutes. But those minutes are dense, cavernous, and varied. Despite its short running time, this album fills a vast amount of space.
Great cycles heave through massive atmospherics that give way to glorious heart-quickening blackened segments before slowing once again, soothing the unsuspecting before caving in on itself. With tracks of this length it's often difficult to have them cohere around a single melody or theme—either they're split into smaller tracks or they should have been. At worst, they bore the listener as they tread established territory again and again. Soothsayer thankfully avoid these pitfalls by crafting songs that respect pacing and proceed through sundry, seductive passages that always return to an establishing melody. Spanning sixteen minutes exactly, monolithic "Umpire" takes its time building atmosphere for nearly seven minutes before the curtain comes up and the wailing vocals finally break in, and shimmering guitars pick away above a rolling quake of sound. "Of Locust and Moths", at half the length, feels necessarily less expansive but tighter as a unit. Wordless chanting sets a dour stage that soon upswells and explodes out to fill the space that the previous track had carved out.
When a release is this strong I find it easy to nitpick. The drumming starts out uneven and oddly paced, and the album finishes with a riff that feels simplistic and uninspired compared to what preceded it. I don't feel I was given short thrift by At This Great Depth's short running time, but I was definitely left wanting more. In the end, these are minor complaints that are notable only in that they exist in the context of a work that is otherwise nearly flawless.
~ Chris

For Fans Of; Atriarch, Obscure Sphinx, Ash Borer, Omega Massif


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Of Buried Songs...

Dead Witches - Ouija (2017)

This debut album from Dead Witches brings together drummer Mark Greening (of Ramesses, Electric Wizard, and more) with vocalist Virginia Monti (Psychedelic Witchcraft) and newcomers Greg Elk (guitar) and Carl Geary (bass). With such a diverse set of backgrounds coming together, it's a pleasant surprise to find their instrumental rapport so solid from the start, as they deliver a firmly confident take on the usual stoner doom atmospherics, keeping the preoccupation with horror and occult fixings but seemingly uninterested in the chemical components.
Fuzzed strings, filtered vocals, and slow-groove riffs are the makings of the album, but steered towards the slower-paced traditional side of doom, instead of the more wild and psychedelic inclinations I personally favor in my stoner doom. Things feel a little too buckled-down and unwilling to take risks, while the vocal filtering tends to drain away the emphasis and vitality that untreated vocals could have lent the songs. At the same time, there's a respectable focus and coherence to the songs, with the band giving a clear demonstration of what listeners should expect to hear from them, and for a debut album, that's a nice thing to have.
I'd have to give my pick as peak of the album to “Mind Funeral”, which shows a bit more energy from the band than the other tracks; it's also the one they picked to receive a music video in advance of the album's release. In it, you can hear the growling bass and guitar supporting each other to nice effect, while Monti's growls and Greening's beats swarm up in almost-angry rattles to invoke negativity. On the whole, it's a slow-cooker of an album, but fans of the more somber side of doom may find enough to hook their interest and keep them tuned in until the group turns out their next release.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Crypt Trip, Nocturnal, The Scimitar, Sons of Tonatiuh, Wizard Smoke


Friday, January 20, 2017

Unearthing The Poets...

DDENT - آكتئاب

Hailing from Paris, France, DDENT bring a dark post-rock sound harkening back to some of the older harder post-rock bands on the early 2000s.  Clocking in around 57 minutes, this big, sprawling double record has a lot to get into.  First track / intro “Habouz” sets the atmosphere and sets the pace with a slow glowing track that coalesces before dropping into “Arzel”, with its thundering wall of guitar backed by some Author & Punisher style drum tracks that fit well with the atmosphere.  Really cool stuff. 
“Ghazel” opens with tremolo picking of All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone-era guitar before dropping into much darker territory with a nice sludge pace, but not punishing.  While the record is split into tracks, it should really be viewed as one big piece, with each track being a movement.  Throughout the entire thing, callbacks are made to echoed and tremoloed guitars.  Organic condenser-recorded drums mix with distorted bass while guitars swirl.  Fans who miss the days when post-rock had bite should love this!
~ Dan

For Fans Of; Red Sparrows, early Russian Circles, early Explosions In The Sky, Om


Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Long and Dreadful Road...

Abysmal Grief - Reveal Nothing (2016)

You might be forgiven for never having heard of Italian horror doom outfit Abysmal Grief, but with a catalogue as spooky and prolific as theirs, they're worthy of your attention.  As a collection of singles spanning 17 releases over 20 years, their new album Reveal Nothing works both as a best-of-the-best celebration of the band's long tenure of horror film-inspired doom and as an introduction to their prodigious body of work.
The cover art tells the story: skulls, candles, tarot cards, Bible, rosary beads, and tiny Baphoment statue.  Abysmal Grief draw on familiar iconography, but don't let that fool you into thinking this is a matter of style over substance.  Though there are elements of ritualism here—the use of gothic iconography, chanting, and spoken word interludes—these are mainly used to amp up an atmosphere of foreboding.  Unlike other works whose sole purpose is to evoke the feel of ritual (Ain Soph's Kshatriya comes to mind, another Italian endeavor), Abysmal Grief's primary commitment here is to the music, and these small touches are used sparingly.  Sometimes slow dirges build and invade your personal space; at other times, driving traditional doom dominates.  These songs are elevated by theatrics, not overshadowed by them.
The album opens with the only brand new song of the bunch, "Cursed Be The Rite", that serves as a primer to the haunting, chilly world you're about to inhabit for the next 78 minutes.  An organ reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera sets the stage.  From there the tracks generally proceed in order of release, running the gamut from the slowly unfolding, funereal "Exsequia Occulta" to 2012's "Celebrate What They Fear", which features instrumentation and vocals that wouldn't feel out of place on a death metal release.  The organ is more than an affectation—it forms the spine of Abysmal Grief.  It plays a major role on every track, and as far as striking a gothic tone goes, it is pitch-perfect.  Although all of the instruments are played competently, the organ is the real star here.  I was also struck by the consistency of the production despite the wide swath of time these songs represent.  The album closes with a cover of Death SS's "Chains Of Death", a traditional doom song remade and repurposed by that ever-present organ.
If you've never listened to Abysmal Grief before, Reveal Nothing is the perfect point of entry for fans of occult-tinged doom metal.  For those long-time admirers out there, this is the dark homecoming for which you've been waiting.
~ Chris

For Fans Of; Reverend Bizarre, Death SS, The Wounded Kings, Jex Thoth


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Waves And Particles...

Ak'chamel - Transmissions from Boshqa (2016)

We last heard from Ak'chamel back in 2015 with their quick album The Man Who Drank God.  Impressions were pretty favorable, as the band expressed themselves in interesting and uncommon ways, and to be honest, I've kind of been wondering what they'd been up to.  I'm glad to receive signs of life with their new album, Transmissions from Boshqa, which again keeps tracks on the short side, though they break the three-minute mark more than a couple of times on this go-round.
The music maintains the band's intriguingly alien nature, not just from the eastern/aboriginal modes and usage of instruments beyond the guitar/bass/drums staples, but also thanks to the semi-lo-fi production and its strange meshing of smooth edges with strange head-space. The very acoustics are put to work in the efforts to unsettle listeners and guide them into the music's captivation, and the album as a whole has something of a hypnotic effect that made it difficult to analyze it for reviewing instead of just going along for the ride.
Like Ak'chamel's last release, this one's available on cassette, this time through the Artetetra label. It's certainly not an album for everyone (thank goodness), but those who are open to some unusual flavors in their music for bad times should be able to get some stirring stimulus out of it.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Have A Nice Life, Mamaleek, Nurse With Wound, Opium Warlords, Wyatt E.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Grungy Hands Grasping...

Static Tension - Out of Reach EP (2017)

Hailing from Ohio, “progressive grunge” band Static Tension is heavy on the grunge.  Fans of Meantime-era Helmet take note, I haven’t heard a non-Pacific Northwest grunge band hit the nail on the head this hard in a long time.  First track “PSM” comes out hitting hard before rolling into an early Alice in Chains-style double-tracked vocals romp.  These guys would be right at home on an old Thrasher driving grunge comp.
Second track “Obstacle of Doubt” keeps the train running with more of an early Pearl Jam feel to it.  Third track “Faith to Fault” has a great Up On The Sun-era Meat Puppets riff that drops into a slower route, slipping one foot into Nirvana territory with the chorus.  Really top-notch stuff.
Changing it up, “Down From Three” takes a new approach with clinking palm mutes and rapid fire drums.  “Back Inside” brings us back with a zoned-out chorus pedal and those sweet, sweet double-tracked vocals and a heavy (in a good way) Pearl Jam influence.  It all ends with “Out of Reach”, a slow ballad that slowly turns up the heat, resulting in a nice slow backed guitar solo in the 12s. It’s crazy how on-point the production on this is.  It sounds like something you would find on a sharpied CD-R in your buddy's car and ask “Who is this?!”
~ Dan

For Fans Of; legitimate grunge, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, early Helmet, In Utero-era Nirvana


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dualistic Tendencies...

Thera Roya - Stone & Skin (2017)

Brooklyn-based Thera Roya have been busy.  After several EPs and splits and near-constant shows in the last couple years, this trio is ready to roar onto the scene officially with their first full-length album, Stone & Skin.  As the name suggests, this is a work of dualities.  Vocalist Ryan Smith shifts between clean crooning and distant screams; guitars delight with both glassy tremolo picking and more traditional chugs; dreamy reverb meets trundling bass.  Their offering of post-sludge pays homage to some genre greats, but this effort is, in the end, all their own.
The album opens with a slow, sinister build-up leading ever higher and higher.  The expectation is for the world to end in a high-powered collision of sound, but Thera Roya surprises with something more subdued and thoughtful.  The rising edge gives way not to a deafening climax, but instead rolling drums leading to a haunting, catchy mid-tempo riff.  The melody is inviting while the production—open and spacious—keeps the listener engaged at a distance.  This reliance on riffs is the cornerstone of Stone & Skin and something the guys never stray far from, despite their self-ascribed 'post-' leanings.  These aren't highfalutin compositions with far-ranging meanderings down dark alleyways, but rather straightforward sludge jams with occasional forays into the conceptual space.  These ambitions are never more obvious than at the LP's middle track, "Hume & Ivey", which opens with audio from a physics educational film, circa 1960, called Frames of Reference.   "You're used to seeing things from a particular point of view, that is, from a particular frame of reference," the titular Ivey intones.  "Things look different to us under different circumstances."  While I appreciate Thera Roya's commitment to a theme, I'm not sure the rest of the track—a solid if unadventurous crunch of a song—ever quite reaches those lofty aspirations.  It's a satisfying listen regardless.
The back half of the album settles into something a little more subdued and instrumental: they've brought you into the fold, now it's time to spread out and explore the depths.  This is where Stone & Skin really shines.  The instruments, which to this point had by and large occupied different spaces, finally come together to produce a driving, meditative finish that feels earned.  Those who find themselves missing post-metal giants Isis would do well to avail themselves of Thera Roya.
~ Chris

For Fans Of; Isis, Cult of Luna, Rosetta, Neurosis, Pelican


Saturday, January 07, 2017

From Cathedral Soil...

The Munsens - Abbey Rose EP (2016)

Having left fans in suspense since the release of their Weight of Night EP back in December of 2014, The Munsens are finally back again with Abbey Rose, a four-song EP running about forty minutes.  "You're Next" rolls things out into action with a smoky-toned bass riff, and as the drums rise to action, the song grows teeth, picking up swaying momentum to the rhythms and gnashing vocals.
The title track carries on from there with similar energy and instrumental style, taking a slip into tonal meditation towards its center.  Again, the band makes it flow right into the next track, "To Castile", before carving it into a new shape, this time of angry vibes simmering beneath the riffs' surfaces.  When that aggression does break free of its restraint, the band surges forward with it, driving and grinding down until the impetus is spent, and the chords slump back into restful recharging.  I love the way the melody grows back from there, finding new mood as the guitar goes psychedelic, and it only makes me want to see a live performance all the more, to hear how twisted things get in the improvisation of the moment.
Lastly, "The Hunt, pt. II" feels like a revisiting of elements from all the preceding songs, reworking their combination into something which caps off the experience in a powerful way.  The main riff is a real beast here, and the band rides it with fine style as they throw in tone garnishes and extra noodling.
It's an impressive EP (though I'm having a tough time not thinking of it as at least a mini-album), with the whole of it almost feeling more like one long-ass song split into four parts for easier consumption.  However you wanna look at it, it's some damn fine doom of a more serious bent than most modern doom bands (especially those in Denver, Colorado, where The Munsens make their home).  You can get it in digital or cassette form from the group's BandCamp page, so if heavy doom is something you dig, don't let this one slip past you.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of;    Bell Witch, Coffin Torture, Disenchanter, Heavydeath, Jupiterian


Friday, January 06, 2017

Fishing For Dreams...

Le Maschere di Clara - Lynch EP (2015)

Now this is interesting. Featuring a David Lynch quote, this EP wouldn’t be out of the place in any Lynchian project.  Though the EP was recorded in London, Le Maschere Di Clara hails from the city of Verona in northern Italy.  Part deconstructed rock 'n' roll, part jazz, part experimental electronic, the band harkens back to the days of Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum.
First track “Freak” thunders out of the gate, drums blazing back with distorted bass.  This rhythm section wouldn’t be out of place on the first Mayyors EP.  A violin enters, covering the melody/vocal section, and this three-piece is under way.
“Istanbul” starts out hard where the last left off, but then drops into surprising melodica.  Then it picks up the pace, everything spirals together, and before you know it you’re on the floor floating.  Anybody who gave up on the darker side of post-rock is going to love this.
Third track “Pow Wow” starts with a dusty grand piano riff, while drums slowly beat heavier and heavier, and violin creeps up, tying everything together.  As violin swirls around, smashing crash symbols and a distorted bass hold down the rhythm leading into the closing track, “Solar”.  Our piano returns to pick up where it left off and we’re blasted off into space.  Things get heavier on the experimental side, but never get foggy before this EP coalesces into an incredible ending to an incredible EP.
(Ed. note:) Though the EP came out back in late 2015, we're giving it a look now because it's getting a limited run (300 copies) on CD, thanks to Toten Schwan Records, Ghost Factory Records, and Riff Records, so if you like what you hear, consider getting a physical copy to show support for the artist.
~ Dan

For Fans Of; Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum, Red Sparrows, early Russian Circles, Mayyors


Sunday, January 01, 2017

Deep-Cooked Flavor...

Frozen Planet....1969 - Electric Smokehouse (2017)

It's been a while since we've heard from the Australian giants in FP69, going back to last year's Lost Traveller Chronicles, Volume Two, so it was a delight to get notice of this new album's incoming release.  Sure, it'll be just under a couple of weeks until the full thing is officially available (release date is January 11th, mark it down), but this one's good enough to deserve the advance notice.
In keeping with their previous material, there's a heavy psych rock base to the new album, and from the first track ("Ascendant"), the good times are a go, with soft-flanging guitar and swoops of gnarly feedback leading the way through rhythmic grooving and interludes of simply savoring the sweet tones.  That free spirit carries on through the rest of the songs, hitting a fine point between unpredictability and sweeping listeners up in the momentum, warping sonic valleys and chill melodic cruises taken in stride.
In some of the giddier stretches, it's easy to imagine the band's members throwing quick grins at each other in their free moments while jamming away in the studio.  There's a sense of immediacy and vibrant vitality to the tunes that seems far too uncommon in modern psych bands, let alone those of the heavier inclination.  And no matter how wild things get, feeling like they're just about to rip free of the musicians' control, they careen it back on track or off into a new spin.
It's just a damn good album, one that manages to excite both in the moment and in thinking back over its whole form; it's also going to set an incredibly high bar for the rest of 2017's albums to meet.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of;    13th Floor Elevators, Iron Butterfly (Ball-era), Salem's Pot, Terminal Cheesecake, ZQKMGDZ