Thursday, 24 May 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: At The Gates, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 18/05/2018
Label: Century Media Records

 The omnipresent malevolence that coats the majority of the album gives it a different feel from the rest of the band’s catalog. At The Gates do their best to get the best of both worlds: acting as an agent of fan service and staying in their own lane, while also using broad strokes to give the old sound a new context. 

‘To Drink From the Night Itself’ CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Der Widerstand
2. To Drink from the Night Itself
3. A Stare Bound in Stone
4. Palace of Lepers
5. Daggers of Black Haze
6. The Chasm
7. In Nameless Sleep
8. The Colours of the Beast
9. A Labyrinth of Tombs
10. Seas of Starvation
11. In Death They Shall Burn
12. The Mirror Black

The Review:

At The Gates, being in the At The Gates nostalgia business, have returned to be really good at being a version of At The Gates that you’d like to hear, as a fan of At The Gates. I know how that read just now, and I don’t care: it’s fucking accurate. They’re a band intent on crafting the best nostalgia album they can, and they’ve done a exceptional job of meeting those goals here. They’ve taken the moody atmosphere of ‘With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness’, gussied it up with a modern studio production, a touch of added darkness, and plugged it into the “Slaughter of The Soul 5000”, their patented nostalgia refinement machine.

The end result is ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’: the album morose death metal folks of a certain age are sure to enjoy enough to spend money on. And bless them for it too! The last thing we need is Jonas Björler getting some wild “got to keep up with the times” hair up his ass, like his other band The Haunted did, and you might remember how long it took them to right that ship once they set sail upon that sea.

The formula for this album is pretty straightforward: you’ve got your slower, melodic parts that range from mournful twin harmonies to murky atmospheric darkness. And then you’ve got your uptempo Slayer beat stuff, which I affectionately referred to as the “Slaughter of the Soul 5000” machine earlier. That’s the stuff meant to get your “Blinded By Fear” glands salivating, like Pavlov’s dog whenever Pavlov entered the room. It’s all very comfortable, like a warm sweater and a cup of hot cocoa at the start of winter.

Here’s the fucked up thing: At The Gates nostalgia baiting us for forty-five minutes still makes for one of the finer death metal albums of the year, and they sound like they’re barely trying. The band are an inexorable monolith of “remember the good old days” emotions here, and all we can do is continue to be fascinated and entranced by it. We’re powerless to resist the charm of familiarity, and really why would we want to? There’s no harm in it.

While that “warm sweater of fond melodeath remembrance” I mentioned earlier is certainly a huge part of why ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ works so well, it would be unfair to say that the album doesn’t have its own character. They’re especially fond of using those deep, resonant chords for building atmosphere on this album, which gives the album a more menacing feeling altogether. In fact, you could call this At The Gates’ darkest album to date, and have a solid case for that belief. ‘With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness’ was more gloomy than outright ominous, and this album is firmly planted on that second word’s side of things.

For all of my needling the album for playing it safe, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ is a big improvement over ‘At War With Reality’. The parts of the album meant to give you a cozy trip down memory lane do so remarkably. The omnipresent malevolence that coats the majority of the album gives it a different feel from the rest of the band’s catalog. At The Gates do their best to get the best of both worlds: acting as an agent of fan service and staying in their own lane, while also using broad strokes to give the old sound a new context. This album is the musical equivalent of reuniting with old friends at your favorite old hangout spot and having a great time, even if the place doesn’t look quite like it did before. An occasion like that is virtually guaranteed to be a joy for you because it was the safest choice to bring you that joy in the first place. Does that really diminish the experience any for you? It didn’t for me.

‘To Drink From the Night Itself’ is available digitally here and on CD/LP here.

Band info: Facebook

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Wychhound, "Earth Orbiter"

By: David Jupp

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 01/05/2018
Label: Independent

The many audio-faces that tell the story of ‘Earth Orbiter’ are proof, that if instrumental music is judged right, executed well, and arranged with craft, riffs beat words. Every damn time.

“Earth Orbiter” DD track listing:

1). Flux
2). Supercluster
3). Comet Shoemaker – Levy 9 (SL-9)
4). Aurora
5). Matter – Antimatter Annihilation

The Review:

When a band parts company with their singer, the ensuing discussion generally goes something like this. ‘Fuck! It won’t be the same man, someone else singing those songs. They might as well pack it in.’ Well in 2017 and only two years on from their debut EP, Wychhound did just this by saying farewell to singer Jimmy Holifield. Rather than start the depressing trudge through London’s abundance of awful singers, the band decided to strike out on a new path as an instrumental four-piece. Shedding the crutches a vocalist provides in both immediacy and structure is a brave decision, and especially risky when you already have an established following who expect ‘songs.’ So, as Wychhound set forth on a new journey the question is, can they fill the yawning void left by words?

Earth Orbiter’ sets flight to a wall of feedback. As the pressure builds and ‘Flux’ ignites, Wychhound let fly with a barrage of strings, cymbals and skins. It soon becomes clear how the wordless quartet intend on bringing their old fans with them, and to be honest it’s the oldest trick in the book. Big riffs. Lots of them. Really fast. Before you even reach the minute mark Wychhound have twisted their audio-rubix-cube three times. Twist one, swaggering math-groove. Twist two, euphoric chord progression. Twist again, Tool inflected grunge-swerve. As minute two lands guitarist Miles Mcdonald swaggers in with a howling solo and boots the whole metaphor out the window. Singers? Pfft.

The success of instrumental heavy music revolves around a bands ability to judge phrasing. Without lyrics to convey a message you are left with the subtle art of assembling meaning from a jigsaw of riffs. It’s like the best kind of sign language, hold a riff out for too long and the listener grows bored, take it away too quickly and the message is lost. Track two ‘Supercluster’ serves as an advanced elocution lesson in riff-annunciation. Guitarist Roberto Pini kicks things off with a superb off-kilter riff before Mcdonald laces another emotive lead into the fray. Just as the narrative begins to wane bass player Neil Neighbour and drummer Sid Nagdhi grab the track by the low-end and spread a stuttering bang all over it.

Having seen Wychhound cultivate the seeds of these songs across a variety of London’s venues in the last year I must admit that when I first saw the artwork for the record I didn’t really get it. Don’t get me wrong the art looks great but I didn’t quite see what a planet of faces had to do with the songs I had heard.

Named after a comet that broke apart in 1992 and collided with Jupiter, ‘Comet Shoemaker – Levy 9 (SL-9)’s seven-minutes of aching slow-dawn soon provide me with the artworks meaning. Wychhound are a band with many faces. Just as the opening act of the record’s focus sharpens into a prog-metal guise the second movement softens into soaring arpeggiated post-rock.

Great records are made in small increments. The stunning arpeggio that permeates ‘Comet...’s skyline progression is beautiful enough, but exceptional bands always reach for that extra percent. So, as Mcdonald’s triads arc into the records second half, Roberto Pini’s haunting e-bow adds that last extra lift and I challenge anyone not to crane their neck and sigh.

Next up is ‘Aurora.’ Until now Wychhound’s sophomore effort has worn its influences on its sleeve and that doesn’t stop here. Tool, Russian Circles, early Barrows and “Zidane”-era Mogwai have all stirred in places, but now Elder’s totemic influence on the contemporary heavy landscape looms into view. Luckily Wychhound have no intention of merely paying homage and as the Boston trio’s Spires Burn/Release’ EP flickers in the distance the band re-apply their riff-sculpture and successfully carve another fresh face into the records strata.

Matter – Antimatter Annihilation’ brings the album to a close and makes a welcome return to the cinematic melodies of ‘Comet Shoemaker.’ As the spiralling guitar-runs that litter ‘Earth Orbiter’ arch back and dive into another surging chord sequence all fears of a loss of narrative are expelled and the record re-enters the atmosphere on a surge of hefty tone. 

In the last year Wychhound have become a staple of London’s burgeoning heavy-scene. So, by making the decision to record ‘Earth Orbiter’ live, I’m glad to say they have successfully captured the ebb, flow, movement and act that make their live show so popular. What’s more impressive however, is the successful progression from traditional stoner band into a new instrumental landscape. In music, just because a choice is brave doesn’t necessarily mean it is right, so in shedding their singer Wychhound could have easily gotten lost in a sea of riffs that lacked narrative. Luckily the many audio-faces that tell the story of ‘Earth Orbiter’ are proof, that if instrumental music is judged right, executed well, and arranged with craft, riffs beat words. Every damn time.

“Earth Orbiter” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Iron Void, "Excalibur"

By: Ernesto Aguilar

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 25/05/2018 (Digital)
Label: Shadow Kingdom Records

"Excalibur" is going to win over a lot of classic doom fanatics. Iron Void should be on the radar of the scene for a revivalism that it owns wholly and proudly.

“Excalibur” CS//CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). Dragon’s Breath
2). The Coming of a King
3). Lancelot of the Lake
4). Forbidden Love
5). Enemy Within
6). The Grail Quest
7). A Dream to Some, A Nightmare to Others
8). The Death of Arthur
9). Avalon

The Review:

Veteran doom peddlers Iron Void have had plenty of fits and starts over their career. After forming in 1998, the band disbanded for a decade before roaring back with a vengeance, dropping 2010's "Spell of Ruin," 2014's "Iron Void" and "Doomsday" in 2015. Now at their creative peak, Shadow Kingdom Records will issue the European vinyl of "Excalibur," Iron Void's Arthurian themed nine-song release tracking at just over 45 minutes.

Vinyl has been the financial shot in the arm to the music industry that few ever expected to make the comeback it has. Partially such success can be credited to bands like Iron Void. "Excalibur" offers rich, earthy sonics that seem made for wax. As the LP kicks off with "Dragon's Breath," Iron Void is inescapably catchy as it is dense. The band is also deceptively elegant in how its songs are constructed; the Sabbathesque "The Coming of A King" boasts a holistic duty to the story it's telling, while not breaking the power of the song itself, its guitar or rhythm section. Thus, lyrics inject themselves into just the right points, while not interfering with the structure of the cut. You hear similar instances on "Forbidden Love" as well.

Those who love fantasy in metal are going to appreciate the story immensely. Without spoiling anything, just know that Iron Void set out and succeed at telling an effecting tale. The vocals throughout are quintessential doom and even transcendent at turns. As the album builds, it is impossible not to be swept up in how massive the sound comes across.

In addition, what doom and sludge devotees may most appreciate with "Excalibur" is its fidelity to providing a new varnish to classic doom in the vein of Saint Vitus, Pentagram and the like. As you know, there's been a major renaissance in the old-school sound of black metal and death metal, hastened surely by the number of derivative bands in more modern takes on these subgenres. Doom, stoner and sludge undoubtedly have these bands as well – The Sword may have been the most popular and prescient of the revamp – and Iron Void stakes its flag admirably. Even songs like "Enemy Within," with clear influences from "Electric Funeral," feel rejuvenated and original. Iron Void deserve a lot of credit for having the courage to make an album that is inevitably going to draw tons of comparisons, yet doing so in a way that feels like a modern makeover of doom metal. Steve Wilson's riffs are heavy, Iron Void's lyrical themes are solidly mystical and medieval, and its ultra-thick drums by Richard Maw and bass by Jonathan "Sealey" Seale compose a ridiculously good foundation for it all.

"Excalibur" is going to win over a lot of classic doom fanatics. Iron Void should be on the radar of the scene for a revivalism that it owns wholly and proudly.

“Excalibur” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Monday, 21 May 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Shrine of the Serpent, "Entropic Disillusion"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/04/2018
Label: Memento Mori Records

Whether cranking out a moldering dirge like the introductory, instrumental “Descend into Dusk” or the chugging progressions of “Hope’s Aspersion”, Shrine of the Serpent deliver the perfect mix of nauseating terror so often characterized by the best death doom bands

“Entropic Disillusion” CD//DD track listing

1. Descend into Dusk
2. Hailing the Enshrined
3. Hope’s Aspersion
4. Desecrated Tomb
5. Returning
6. Epoch of Annihilation
7. Rending the Psychic Void

The Review:

I love the menacing crackle of lo-fi death metal in all its permutations: classic, grind, blackened, death doom.  There’s a muddy, horrific vein running through those crusty recordings that instantly invoke twilight drives through swamps and decrepit woods, all-night gore flick marathons, and seedy exploitation VHS rentals that just sets my monster kid heart all aflutter.  Combined with the gruesome, sometimes nauseating artwork that typifies the genre (even the borderline incompetent shit), even the rawest demo tape can turn me into an easy mark for bands who can thrash out a competent slab of death.  It helps when they manage to back up their swagger with some real bona fides, and the trio behind Shrine of the Serpent have some real chops on display, bolstered by haunting cover artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski & Vladimir Chebakov. 

Whether cranking out a moldering dirge like the introductory, instrumental “Descend into Dusk”, or the chugging progressions of “Hope’s Aspersion”, Shrine of the Serpent has one unifying characteristic: VOLUME.  The vibrating bass tones and the shrieking crackle of guitar leads are fuzzy, dirty, and punishing.  Often, this hits that perfect mix of nauseating terror that characterizes the best death doom bands.  Todd Janeczek’s inhuman growls are multitracked and layered in several different registers, imbuing tracks like “Desecrated Tomb” with the sense that there’s a whole host of ghoulish, unholy narrators.  Chuck Watkins’ drum performance is that subtle balance of technical skill and instinctual barbarism that the best death drummers can pull off effortlessly.  And Adam De Prez’s multi-duty efforts are formidable, especially his unholy bass tone.

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of balance in the mix that quashes some stellar intricacy.  The left channel in particular is just too damn jacked into the red zone, so you get clipping on many of the guitar tracks.  And frankly the punishing volume can be unpleasant and diminish moments like the volume shift in “Epoch of Annihilation” that should be chilling but instead sounds strange.  This volume escalation is an issue that plagued even the best death metal bands, as well as modern superstars (Metallica and Rush have both fallen victim to “volume wars” in recent years).  For a band so solid in every sense of the term – rhythmically, technically, and vocally – a steadier touch at the mixing board next time may produce a genuine masterpiece.  For now, withEntropic Disillusion”, Shrine of the Serpent embraces both the pinnacles, and pitfalls, that decades of death metal have traversed, while showing promise for exciting work ahead.

“Entropic Disillusion” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Whipstriker, "Merciless Artillery"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 09/03/2018
Label: Hells Headbangers Records

Gritty and uncompromising, Whipstriker truly are “Soldiers of Sodom” and will cast their “Warspell” on you if you get a hold of this feral beast of an album.

Merciless ArtilleryCD//DD track listing:

1). Merciless Artillery
2). Rape of Freedom
3). Calm after Destruction
4). Mantas ’Black Mass
5). Solider of Sodom
6). Warspell
7). Enemies Leather
8). Bestial Hurricane

The Review:

Brazil's Whipstriker are back- again- in their prolific career since 2008 they have amassed no less than four albums and countless split singles and so on. If you haven't heard the band, I can sum things up for you: Venom. This band are the hellish spawn of Mantas, Abaddon and Cronos- ably assisted by Bathory, Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost.

That tells you exactly what you are getting. This is a dark and rough listen- echoing Venom's legendary debut and Motorhead's attitude perfectly. The title track kicks things off in gritty style- have a listen and you will know instantly if this is for you or not. Over the course of eight tracks, you get Venom, Sodom, Motorhead, Frost, Hellhammer, Bathory and so on all wrapped into an appealingly raw production. The band has gone for vibe and attitude, not sound replacements and perfection. This really is a warts and all recording- there are some imperfections here and there for sure! That is of absolutely of no issue to me, though. There is also a fair amount of very smooth playing and surprisingly melodic riffing. This music is supposed to be rough and ready and Whipstriker have delivered their own vision.

If you are after anything in the style of the bands mentioned above, this album is a must. Gritty and uncompromising, Whipstriker truly are “Soldiers of Sodom and will cast their “Warspell” on you if you get a hold of this feral beast of an album.

“Merciless Artillery” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Thursday, 17 May 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Barst, "The Endeavour"

By: Victor Van Ommen

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 18/05/2018
Label: Consouling Sounds

‘The Endeavour” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. The Endeavour

The Review:

Boy! Barst has done it again. On their 2016 outing, “Western Lands,” Barst yielded stunning results when they combined post metal aggression with claustrophobic psychedelia. This Friday, Barst is going to hit the scene with a new offering, “The Endeavour.” In doing so, this Belgian band is taking their sound to unexplored territories.

The Endeavour” is presented as one, 42 minute song. Whether “The Endeavour” actually is one, single song is up for debate. I’d go so far as to say the album is three of four movements, all tied together by way of smooth transitions. But presentation counts for a lot, and if Barst wants us to take this album in as one song, then that’s what we’ll do. Either way, the band implores the listener to give the music full and undivided attention.

As far as genre is concerned, “The Endeavour” is hard to pin down. There’s definitely a dark element to the music, and it’s heavy in its own way. Is it metal? Yeah. Industrial? Check. Psychedelic? No doubt. Heavy doom? Uh-huh. And those are just a few of the genres that Barst brings to the table.

Throughout, the guitars are laden with a variety of distortion effects. None of the guitars are ever overpowering, but they sure do set the mood. So there’s still a subtlety in the music that holds the band back from diving head first into mindless riffing. “The Endeavour” continues its foray into the unknown by introducing programmed percussion and other electronics, giving way to a rather palpable industrial influence. Sometimes an Ufomammut tint springs to mind and at other times the music gets psychedelic enough to wonder if it’s still Barst that we’re listening to.

Then there’s the emotional palette that Barst paints from. It’s probably even more varied than the musical palette. Barst spends these 42 minutes intently dipping their proverbial paintbrush in the darkest of blacks as well as the brightest of colors. The resulting painting is one that grabs attention of both its somber tone as well as its shades of hope and elation.

Despite the sprawling nature of the music on “The Endeavour,” the album is still a very concise listen. Barst’s plan of attack is based on a clear vision, so much so that every note and chord and melody played is as intentional as the last. Barst’s vision is so sound that they don’t get caught up in themselves, but instead are able to translate what was in their mind to a recorded format without coming across as self-indulgent.

“The Endeavour” is available digitally, on CD and LP here

Band info: facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Skinless, ‘Savagery’

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 11/05/2018
Label: Relapse Records

On “Savagery” Skinless are very clearly still Skinless, they’re just a better and more imaginative version of what they’ve always been  and in the process they’ve come up with an album that stands up to their legacy albums and then some.

‘Savagery’ CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Savagery
2. Siege Engine
3. Skull Session
4. Reversal of Fortune
5. Exacting Revenge
6. Medieval
7. Line of Dissent
8. Cruel Blade of the Guillotine
9. The Hordes

Bonus Track:

10. High Rate Extinction (Crowbar Cover)

The Review:

You generally know what you’re getting into when a new Skinless album finds its way to the masses. It’s going to be brutal, ugly death metal, just as they’ve done for more than 20 years now. But it’s also true that even the most diehard death metal devotees are likely to feel a need to toy with their own formula eventually. To a reserved degree; that’s the case on Skinless’ new album ‘Savagery’. The changes the band have undergone with this album are not the sort of abrupt sharp turns in direction of bands like Katatonia or Ulver or even Carcass. Instead, Skinless have gone with a more subtle tact to freshening things up.

One such change, which is obvious from the get-go is that the band has opted for a much warmer, dirtier production this time around. In the past, Skinless has tended to go with a more “brutal death metal standard” production approach, where everything sounds sharp, crisp, to the point of feeling clinical. On ‘Savagery’, a lot of that sharpness is replaced by a grimier guitar tone, and by going with a much more natural, roomy sound over all. The production works exceedingly well at setting this album apart from the rest of the band’s discography without even looking at their compositional choices.

The songs themselves feel different than anything the band have done too. There’s less of a focus on speed. You’ll still find plenty of intricate, hacking riffs, if that’s your thing, but you’ll also find a greater variety to what you’re hearing than Skinless have ever offered. “Siege Engine” tries its hand at bigger, catchier riffs to great success, which should make the track a live staple. Balancing those larger riffs with some blast n’ trem keeps the song from feeling too self-awarely anthemic, but the song’s a self-contained riff machine in either case.

Meanwhile songs like “Exacting Revenge” and “Medieval” have something of a moodier disposition, where the riffs have an almost sludgy texture to them, the pace sometimes slowed to a near crawl. With that in mind, “Medieval” might be the best song on the album. It’s absolutely rotten with ugly harmonizing and apocalyptic chord work. It harkens back to some of the slower moments on Suffocation’s ‘Pierced From Within’, but tackles that sound in a very different way, and the slower breakdowns in the songs second half are absolutely crushing.

It’s not that Skinless have reinvented their own wheel on ‘Savagery’, so much as that they’ve just found new ways to work within their established sound. They’re very clearly still Skinless, they’re just a better and more imaginative version of what they’ve always been. It’s a hard thing, trying to compete with nostalgia and legacy, but Skinless has come up with an album that stands up to their legacy albums and then some. No mean feat for a band twenty years on from their full length debut.

“Savagery” is available digitally, on CD and LP here

Band info: Facebook || bandcamp