Saturday, January 4, 2020

Arthalos' Best Albums of the Year [2019]

In the final product, I'm happy to say most of the major genres receive some form of exposure and representation on this list. A reflection, as with most years, of the diversity and excellence that different artists can channel across different metal-isms. Death metal gets minimal representation on this list (though the Coffin Rot debut very nearly made the cut) but that doesn't mean there was a shortage of gruesome, choppy material hailing from both Europe and the States. My preferences naturally tilt towards the old school, so the Inferi record feels a bit disjointed within the mix, not least when it was considered among the 'poppiest' death metal albums of the year. Frankly, it was a great exercise in memorable melodic/technical death metal, and somehow made the double snarl/growl vocal formula work. Dreadlord, on the other hand, was easily the Dutchmen's best effort to date, a brutal, scathing panoply of riffs and morose Dissection-esque throngs of melody that cemented it as one of the best the genre had to offer this year, period.

But the broader story here is doom metal and prog. All of Crypt Sermon, Capilla Ardiente, Spirit Adrift and Green Lung delivered bouts of crushing, hazy, epic excellence that should hold a candle to some of the genre's forebears of the 80s and 90s. There were also a handful of solid releases that didn't make the cut to the top but which nonetheless fueled several hours' worth of headbanging back at the pad. Some of my favorite artists on earth like Arch/Matheos and Opeth made career apexes, and the Scandinavian express a la Borknagar and Soilwork was not too shabby either, displaying forth a committed continuation into their renewed artistic paths.

Besides these, there was a swarm of black metal records that proved Guillermo del Toro's aphorism that evil always gestates; but never disappears. While albums like Ilmestysket remained as unfazed monuments to the winter solitude bands like Darkthrone have been conjuring up since time immemorial, Par le sang versé, for instance, uprooted the traditional aesthetics of the genre and embedded it into a seemingly archaic palette, woven together through an impeccable assemblage of melodious tremolos. It was pretty gratifying to be reassured that black metal in 2019 is still the genre stylistically the most mercurial while quality-wise the most consistent.

My last 5 or so picks are somewhat interchangeable, since they were all absorbing, if not wholly bordering on perfection. More generally, however, although there were quite a few enjoyable (and sometimes surprising) releases, the lion's share of extreme metal that reached my ears tended to be rather dull and generic. This is not a novel trend, and it's perhaps a product of the metric shit ton of records that found their way to my iPod. For a more comprehensive list with individual commentaries on each album, please refer to the RYM list I curate annually. I've downsized my list to 50 choices this year to lock on the quality. Compulsive listening remains the key criteria.

YouTube links to the albums embedded below.

**Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 **

20) Förgjord [Finland] - Ilmestysket
19) Misþyrming [Iceland] - Algleymi
18) Inferi [US] - End of an Era | Rebirth
17) Vulture [Germany] - Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves
16) Latitudes [UK] - Part Island
15) Gardsghastr [US] - Slit Throat Requiem
14) Véhémence [France] - Par le sang versé 
13) Magnabolt [US] - Magnabolt
12) Capilla Ardiente [Chile] - The Siege
11) Abbath [Norway] - Outstrider
10) Tanith [US] - In Another Time
09) Green Lung [UK] - Woodland Rites
08) Bodyfarm [Netherlands] - Dreadlord 
07) Idle Hands [US] - Mana
06) Soilwork [Sweden] - Verkligheten 
05) Borknagar [Norway] - True North
04) Spirit Adrift [US] - Divided by Darkness
03) Arch/Matheos [US] - Winter Ethereal
02) Crypt Sermon [US] - Ruins of Fading Light
01) Opeth [Sweden] - In Caudia Venenum

Non-metal albums

I had a pretty limited exposure to non-metal releases from 2019, since most of time was spent spelunking in metallic excess. So if I were to write up a list of non-metal stuff I enjoyed, in no particular order, it would be fairly concise...

Blanck Mass [UK] - Animated Violence Mild (Electronic)
Boy Harsher [US] - Careful (Synthpop)
Brutus [Belgium] - Nest (Post-Hardcore)
Chelsea Wolfe [US] - Birth of Violence (Neofolk)
Demon Head  [Denmark] - Hellfire Ocean Void (Goth Rock)
Diplodocus [Finland] - Slow & Heavy (Dungeon Synth)
Mega Drive [US]- 199XAD (Synthwave)
Moth Tower [Denmark] - Clavitasian Threshold (Dungeon Synth)
Power Glove [Australia] - Playback (Synthwave)
Ringo Sheena [Japan] - Sandukoshi (J-Pop/Art Pop)
The Black Wizards [Portugal] - Reflections (Stoner/Blues Rock)
TR/ST [Canada] - The Destroyer I (Synthpop)

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Cream of the Crop: Arthalos Picks His Best of 2018

Top 25 Albums of 2018****

25) Evoken (US) - Hypnagogia
24) Golgothan Remains (US) - Perverse Offerings to the Void
23) Horrendous (US) - Idol
22) Behemoth (Pl) - I Loved You At Your Darkest
21) Ghost (Swe) - Prequelle 
20) Sulphur Aeon (Ger) - The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos
19) Stam1na (Fin)- Taival
18) Lucifer (Ger) - Lucifer II
17) Haken (UK) - Vector
16) Khemmis (US) - Desolation
15) Graveyard (Swe) - Peace
14) Judas Priest (UK) - Firepower
13) Kontinuum (Is) - No Need to Reason
12) King Witch (UK) - Under the Mountain
11) Satan (UK) - Cruel Magic 
10) Uriah Heep (UK) - Living the Dream 
 9) Sigh (Jp) - Heir to Despair
 8) Ihsahn (Nr) - Àmr
 7) Saxon (UK) - Thunderbolt
 6) Voivod (Can) - The Wake
 5) Rising (Dn) - Sword and Scythe
 4) The Night Flight Orchestra (Swe) - Sometimes the World Ain't Enough
 3) Madder Mortem (Nr) - Marrow
 2) UDO (Ger) - Steelfactory 
 1) Amorphis (Fin) - Queen of Time

YouTube links to sample songs have been embedded above.

Honorable mentions

Wytch Hazel - II: Soujourn
Angra - OMNI
Bane - Esoteric Formulae
Gorod - Aethra 
Summoning - With Doom We Come
Usurpress - Interregnum
Necrophobic - Mark of the Necrogram 
Striker - Play to Win
Witherfall - A Prelude to Sorrow

This was an insanely prolific year for aged veterans, especially those coming from the British Isles, whether it's triumphant continuations of their already amazing compendium of 21st century releases from bands like Saxon and Satan, or just straight up shockers from Uriah Heep and Judas Priest... it's almost as if the entire cadre of geriatric rockers decided to make a few last statements before calling it quits (even relative unknowns like Heir Apparent and Fifth Angel made notable, if not particularly great, comebacks). At any rate, these records are all fantastic additions to some of the most legendary discographies in all of heavy metal, and serve as a surefire kick on the face for all the countless agglomerations of oafish retro stuff that's being churned out ad nauseaum by newer generations. But the veteran aesthetic is prominent across plenty of genres here, with melodic death, black metal and progressive metal variants generating all sorts of lofty impressions thanks to Ihsahn, Voivod, Madder Mortem, Sigh, Behemoth, and Amorphis. The Behemoth record might be questionable choice for two reasons: firstly because the band fails to explore any uncharted territory as they did with their groundbreaking 2014 opus The Satanist, and secondly because it feels like a B-side to its predecessor at times. Yet despite the controversy surrounding it, it was a well-balanced and fabulously produced record with a good few tunes that will definitely stand the test of time.

At the same time, there is disconcerting side to this list in the relative absence of any 'new' bands; in fact there are probably around 5-6 bands here which I would or have not included in any of my yearly lists at any point in time. This isn't all bad, though, and I was greatly elated by further solid outings by some of my favorite 'newsprint' acts, like Ghost, Sulphur Aeon, Khemmis, Haken and, most notably, Horrendous, who at this point have cracked the formula of penning compelling, melody-driven old school, splatter-thrash-induced death metal that channels anything from Finland's Sentenced to early Death. Beyond these, I was pleased that a list largely bearing the odor of classic heavy, power and progressive stuff could incorporate some genuinely resolute, unbridled evil and despair towards the tail end, and indeed there was also had a metric ton of archaic and mesmerizing death metal to boot, even if these weren't the crème de la crème as far as the entire glut is concerned.

I'm currently working on a top 100 (non-hierarchical) list for RYM, though it's uncertain when it will reach completion. I will include a link here once it's finished. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Cream of the Crop: Arthalos Picks His Best of 2017

Albums I haven't heard yet:

The Ominous Circle (Pt) - Appalling Ascension
The Faceless (US) – In Becoming A Ghost
Wolves in the Throne Room (US) – Thrice Woven
Converge (US) – The Dusk in Us
Sarcasm (Se) – Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds
Exhumed (US) – Death Revenge
Redemptor (Pl) - Arthaneum
Evil Invaders (Be) – Feed Me Violence
Time Lurker (Fr) - Time Lurker
Diablo Swing Orchestra (Se) - Pacifisticuffs
Black Sites (US) - In Monochrome 

I've also written up on rateyourmusic a list for my favorite 100 metal records for the year, in no particular order, with descriptions attached to each entry. You can access that list here:

Arthalos' 2017 RYM listallurgy.

Top 25 Metal Albums of 2017****

25) Akercocke (UK) - Renaissance in Extremis
24) Slægt (Dk) - Domus Mysterium
23) Selcouth (Fi) - Heart is the Star of Chaos
22) Affliktor (US) - Affliktor
21) Atrox (No) - Monocle
20) Craven Idol (UK) - The Shackles of Mammon
19) Oz (Fin) - Transition State
18) Lör (US) - In Forgotten Sleep
17) Hällas (Se) - Excerpts from a Future Past
16) Cradle of Filth (UK) - Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay
15) The Doomsday Kingdom (Se) - The Doomsday Kingdom
14) Concerto Moon (Jp) - Tears of Messiah
13) Deep Purple (UK) - Infinite
12) Kreator (De) - Gods of Violence
11) Emptiness (Be) - Not for Music
10) Dool (Nl) - Here Now, There Then
09) Air Raid (Se) - Across the Line
08) Sólstafir (Isl) - Berdreyminn
07) Mastodon (US) - Emperor of Sand
06) Firespawn (Se) - The Reprobate
05) Argus (US) - From Fields of Fire
04) Dvne (UK) - Asheran
03) Nocturnal Rites (Se) - Phoenix
02) Enslaved (No) - E
01) Nokturnal Mortum (Ukr) - Істина

Another very strong here overall, with Britain compensating for the political shenanigans in the previous year with a superb lot - both seasoned veterans and a couple of relative newcomers. A few deviants like Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands, but otherwise the list looks like a surefire dominion of American, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish panache, reaching across several distinct genres (my top 100 pickings were much more diverse globally, however). A radiant comeback synergy is prevalent, whether it's Akercocke or Mastodon or Deep Purple, although many of the more experienced bands on this list had already been producing impregnable outings for a while. The Dool and Hällas albums may seem like a cheat, but ultimately both bands come from a hesher tradition and had a huge number of very 'metal' riffs on parade, so I had to do them justice. The top three entries were perhaps the most difficult to order: while I was mesmerized both by the ways in which Enslaved turned the genre around its progressive head yet another time, and by the stellar 'pure' power metal gusto of Phoenix, the Ukrainians were too close to perfection to be pushed to the back row. A sliver away from the majesty of The Voice of SteelІстина is an near-immaculate haunt of folk, electronics and black metal, and the mere name of Nokturnal Mortum is titular enough to gladden my heart.

I won't promise that everything on the bottom 10 is there to stay, though I can promise that all of this is getting repeated listens on my iPod. Fhtagn fhtagn to everyone who's still reading, and hopefully 2018 will be more propitious for the blog. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Below - Upon a Pale Horse [2017]

Doom takes some skill to do right. So much of what goes around my ears traverses fledgling attempts at sucking the listener's emotional valves through sustained, meandering, heavy music for the sake of being heavy and morose, that I'm not surprised that the genre is so often berated for being 'slow'. Especially past a certain classic era which ended somewhere in the 90's, I find it difficult to counteract these enduring doom myths, but thankfully bands like Atlantean Kodex, Grand Magus and Crypt Sermon have proven to be persuasive arbiters of the best which their genre has to offer, combining the groove-laden moods of Candlemass, Count Raven or Pentagram which juicy, unbarred traditional heavy metal riffcraft, creating a riveting fusion of pace, melody and earthly sensation. Both the artwork and thematic plateau of Below's Upon a Pale Horse suggests something more in line with a King Diamond disc, but the assured quality and content is rather on a par with the aforementioned masters, something which only serves to further boost Sweden's retinue for streaming such excellent old-school metal from its bloodline.

To be frank, Below's effort here does not stack up an exceeding height to a body of already impressive recent heavy/doom offerings from bands I've already laid out, chiefly memorable among which I would cite the dazzling Crypt Sermon debut. The band gets the 'epic doom' tag from Metallum, a curious intimation with the original specters of the sub-genre, such as Candlemass, and one that I can't entirely agree with. The opener ''Disappearing into Nothing'' showcases a strong tact for tasteful riffing and harmonious, atmospheric choruses that explode with moving momentum; similarly, much of the rest of the songs follow such a course, whereby the sheer and dark Candlemass-esque pulsations are curtailed with a more pronounced proclivity for melancholy, injected through occasional arpeggios and low-ebb verses. All this, however, is not at all to detract from the band's capacity to churn out strong crafts of melody and musical narrative. There is also a fair bit variety in the pacing. ''Suffer in Silence'', my favorite from the album, begins with a harried diminished chord attack, and come chorus unveils with another killer, moving chorus the band seems to have such a knack for. ''The Coven'' could certainly have been a cover for Mercyful Fate, with its somber leads and Gothic vibe. Despite the evident comparisons, Below doesn't have the same saturnine weight as the Swedish legends Candlemass, because the compositions sail more elegant, albeit still convincingly poignant, waters, and the augmented fleshes of melody and harmony certainly serve as ear-catchers on the mast of the ship.

Vocalist Zeb is no virtuoso, but he does a fine job in reconstructing the Bruce Dickinson timber, sometimes sporting this grainy haughteur that's more reminiscent of some of Bruce's creepier moments, with the early Maiden records or as on some of his solo records, and the choruses and chants are nothing if not vibrant and memorable. Production is close to perfect: the drums cling on loosely but patiently in the background like sleepwalking candle-bearers in an abandoned attic, witnessing a sacrificial ceremony, the guitars, both while clean and distorted, hover with organic, if slightly sinister precision above the dim lights, - here's where the Candlemass comparisons really get their due - and the vocals, all told, are sufficiently resplendent to carry out the emotional wave of the record forward. The riffs never offer a copious endless variety of funereal meatiness, but as far as I'm concerned they're groovy and crushing enough to elude the caveat of 'bored metal' for the good +45 minute duration of the album. Tip to toe, I'm happy to say this is an accessible record, a fairly delectable 21st century yarn for Candlemass fans like myself, perhaps not the most forward thinking piece of music you're likely to hear in 2017, and certainly not an impregnable morass of lugubrious horror a la Esoteric or Skepticism, but a highly listenable, inspiring gauze of melodic doom nonetheless. Retro and maudlin, a luminous contender in a sea of colorless mourning.

Suffer in Silence
Disappearing into Nothing
The Coven

Rating: 77%

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Cream of the Crop: Arthalos Picks His Best of 2016

This year I managed to expand my cream of the crop to 25 pickings, as a lot of great but not absolutely riveting works tend to get dismissed when lists are severely downsized. If anything, I thought 2016 offered an even more motley platter of goods when you look at the overall span of the records I enjoyed, but their year-on-year qualities are roughly on a par, which is a definitely a positive when I look back to 2013 and 2014. The latter two were not 'bad' by any means - not by a mile - but I think the surge of quality has been upped by a healthy pinch with the last two years. Moving on.

As always, my top crop is a shapeless mesh of different genres and tastes. Since some of my favorite avantgarde artists had released records last year (Arcturus, Sigh, Solefald, DHG) this year was somewhat devoid of their clownish, gonzo black metal expressionism, but to cover up there was a fairly large plate of progressive-tagged servings. I am not the biggest progressive metal devotee (Dream Theater and Opeth do get unabashed ticks in my book but that's a good given for many metalheads) so it seems strange that six out of my top ten have overt 'progressive' tendencies, be it Ihsahn's idiosyncratic mold of Emperor-isms and amplified 70's prog rock, Stam1na's unique brand of proggy groove/thrash, or Votum's 'chugressive' (see here for reference). It's simply loaded. Nevertheless, every album here occupies a distinct sector of sound within metal. No two are even relatively similar.

Two great experimental Greek black metal albums (Hail Spirit Noir and Aenaon) and a much-waited Virus record round up a small but addictive bastion of insanity and boiled freakishness that compensate for the larger lack of avantgarde; Lovecraftian old school death metal tribulations a la Chthe'ilist and Howls of Ebb carry the banner of appendage-laden antiquity for a genre that was starting to pale out in the last couple of years; retro heavy metal searching back into anything from Thin Lizzy to Iron Maiden and Manilla Road gets its due (Spell, Eternal Champion, Attacker); black metal shows in a myriad forms why it isn't even close to running out of season (Nordjevel, Winterhorde, Eldjudnir, Anaal Nathrakh, Khonsu, Oranssi Pazuzu); and even the sludge/doom niche, something I usually don't look forward to listening to, let alone push so high up among my preferences, gets some representation with the new Khemmis. The only travesty among this potpourri seems to be the Avenged Sevenfold record: an admittedly difficult choice for me, but trust me when I say I fervently listened to the shit out of The Stage, a fantastic transformation from an otherwise negligible outfit. And so high up, too? My conviction remains unchanged.

My pickings come full circle as the greatest diadem went to Terminal Redux. No other record felt so complete, so epic, from its magnificent lyrical narrative to its compendium of titillating technical thrash riffs, although the top 4-5 records did come close. It was sad hearing three of their four members departing after the tour.

I've also decided, for a change, to make a brief pool of records I haven't got around to listening yet, particularly those which received a lot of internet media buzz. Because I'm a terrible person and often prefer discovering obscure lumps of black metal via Mortuus instead of checking the freshest Metal Blade releases. So this is pretty much a list of albums I want to hear in the near future. Don't be surprised if you see some of the below names cropping up randomly on my top 100 list in the ensuing weeks.

The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation
Wormed - Krishgu
Krypts - Remnants of Expansion
Lesbian - Hallucinogenesis
Zaum - Eidolon
Fates Warning - Theories of Flight
Schammasch - Triangle
Wildhunt - Descending
Insomnium - Winter's Gate
Messa - Belfry
Trap Them - Feral Crown
Ravencult - Force of Profanation

Bear in my mind also that my top 25 does NOT include EP's and demos, as I've reserved those for my larger, non-hierarchical grain storage of 100 metal on RYM, which you can access here. The list has brief commentaries on each entry in case you were curious why I thought those were among the best albums of the year.

YouTube links have been embedded in the list below.

Top 25 Metal Albums of 2016****

25) Eldjudnir - Eldjudnir (Independent)
24) Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule (Profound Lore)
23) Attacker - Sins of the World (Metal on Metal)
22) Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law (Metal Blade)
21) Khonsu - The Xun Protectorate (Jhator Recordings)
20) Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä (Svart)
19) Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire (No Remorse)
18)  Virus - Memento Collider (Karisma)
17) Witherscape - The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)
16) Winterhorde - Maestro (ViciSolum Productions)
15) Aenaon - Hypnosophy (Code666)
14) Khemmis - Hunted (20 Buck Spin)
13) Opeth - Sorceress (Moderbolaget)
12) Hammers of Misfortune - Dead Revolution (Metal Blade)
11) Dark Tranquility - Atoma (Century Media)
10) Mouth of the Architect - Path of Eight (Translation Loss)
09) Nordjevel - Nordjevel (Osmose Productions)
08) Howls of Ebb - Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows (I, Voidhanger)
07) Haken - Affinity (InsideOut Music)
06) Avenged Sevenfold - The Stage (Capitol)
05) Votum - :Ktonik: (Inner Wound Recordings)
04) Hail Spirit Noir - Mayhem in Blue (Dark Essence)
03) Stam1na - Elokuutio (Sakara)
02) Ihsahn - Arktis. (Candlelight)
01) Vektor - Terminal Redux (Earache)

Unlike last year, there won't be any feature length non-metal list, as I was able to find less time research other music when preoccupied with metal in general. From what little I did hear, however, new albums by White Lung, John Carpenter, Phantogram and David Bowie are all extremely worthwhile. I might add an extra splash of names to that list later on in 2017, but no promises.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Eldjudnir - Eldjudnir [2016]

Black metal's ability to constantly reinvent itself and transcend the sepsis of bland musical conformism has been, for me, one of its key assets. That is not to say every black metal band or album per se capably defies genre conventions to achieve and cultivate sounds or soundscapes that are highly divergent from the next one, but in general I don't think it's a great coincidence that the genre has been able churn out so many harrowing, innovative and effective practitioners on a level that would surpass, if not always dwarf, those produced by other genres' think-tanks. The variety and imaginative stretch, as often grim and nightmarish as it may be, (not necessarily a deficit according to my tastes) is undeniable. Yet this also invites the whole post-metal sub-genre into scrutiny, since the label is so often thrown under the black metal banner, yet features a myriad taxonomies of its own that often constitute great difficulty for the analyst's part to categorize. Boring semi-academic platitudes aside, Danish hopefuls have been one such band to offer such a caveat. While I find myself meddling over the authenticity of the atmospheric black metal tag as bequeathed by the M-A, their unique, desert-like brand of black metal has sold me consistently, spin after spin, giving credibility to my initial statement, to the extent that I no longer give a fuck whether I should term them 'black metal' or 'blackened gonzo avant-garde desert rock'.

Comparisons to the Norwegians avant-garde weirdos are justified. Granted, Eldjudnir does not swerve with the same wacky post-metal antics as The Virus That Shaped the Desert or their latest, Memento Collider, but swerve it does. Rather than the skedaddling waltzes of the Norwegians, Eldjudnir employ slow, intimate, distorted arpeggios and droning chord sequences that all fit into a mid-paced tempo. The bass lines here are fantastic: they gyrate effortlessly underneath the dissonant wave of chords, flowing out with jazzy, serpentine succor. What's unique about the Danes is that they seem to channel a sonic discordance that strikes a balance between the slower, somber undertakings of  French bands like Deathspell Omega, Merrimack and Blut Aus Nord and the crepuscular, desert leanings of Virus or DHM with their later, more progressive offerings. The album, coupled with the haunting visual of the cover art, presents this image of some antiquated train running across a lone rail track in the midst of a nocturnal, desert landscape, with derelict buildings or scraps of human development peeping about the ghost train. The Danes are certainly not industrial, but the mournful jangles of the guitars evoke such an atmosphere, leaving a trail of abandoned sickness as the tracks groove along.

Another obvious selling point for me are the vocals: they come in a scree of varieties. The more traditional, raspy black metal rasps, which are delivered with great accord to the harrowing aura of the record, are prominent, but more than those I loved the absolutely haunting cleans, these ritualistic timbers stretching across the illimitable atmosphere the Danes have constructed. The title track employs a healthy portion of both, with titillating melodies accompanying the rasps and the choruses ballasted by a choir of harrowing cleans. This goes on to show how much and how successfully Eldjudnir enjoy experimenting vocally, even when their bizarre but consistent riff fodder retains a stylistic cohesion throughout. The cleans, as on ''Mimer'', are not unlike Opeth at their best, and pull at the listener's heart's strings as though with a pair of mechanized phantom hands. On top of that, the band is brazen enough to boast a series of female vocals, like on the excellent ''Skade'', and yet their delivery does not loosen at the seams, actually proving to amplify the crippling, strange dolor of the record.

Clocking at a mere 36 minutes, Eldjudnir is an album I've found hard to break my jones for. Consistent, funereal and never really a drag; there are some sequences in some tracks where I wasn't wholly enamored, but certainly given the the brevity of each track (of which there are 7) there isn't ground aplenty to commit a lot of faults here. My biggest gripe, therefore, may simply be that I could not sink my teeth sufficiently into the plateau of ideas and musical desertification which they rather wonderfully shaped, however well it was construed, both in terms of atmosphere and production. The Danes' style is such that it can merely puncture a highly marginal niche even inside the black metal market, a small place alongside the likes of Virus, Hail Spirit Noir, DHM, Voivod, and maybe the more sophisticated dissonance of the French black metal school, but that quaint eccentricity which they espouse is precisely why I've grown to enjoy this record so much. Being so close to penning their own scripture, one that exists outside of the generic borders of black metal, I can merely wear out the humdingers on this on repeat until a third album pops into existence, out from the jarring and solemn womb of the Danes' imagination, and stamp this record as one of the finer yields of a crop that has already proved 2016 to be a blessed harvest.


Rating: 85%

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pyrrhon - Running Out of Skin (EP) [2016]

In an alternative universe, I could have actually enjoyed records like The Mother of Virtues or Vermiis, records by two bands which pop up on occasion in my reviews since I entertain the prospect of teasing their most avid followers and acolytes by readdressing how artificially elevated they seem to be, especially when compared the bee knee's of the technical/avantgarde death metal spectrum, Canada's masterful Gorguts. That said, Pyrrhon's Growth Without End EP which came out last year was a refreshing coat of paint that fractured their immensely busybody stream of waxed, alienating notes and chord fusions into something more in tune with my ears, even though it still retained its caustic freakishness. Come 2016, I was excited to get my hands on their latest opus, Running Out of Skin, which turned out to be something less of an opus and rather a flimsy filler that obeyed the law of its titular maxim more than anything. Crafty and deracinating as these gentleman are in their approach, there is a level of versatility on this EP that I simply found unnerving, spin after spin.

And unnerving not in the most positive sense. Firstly, Pyrrhon are beyond doubt inaccessible, a feat they've already proven wit 2014's Mother of Virtues, but while complexity is certainly a characteristic, the real asset of their craft the cauterizing, unfazed attack of the guitars, the insomniac lying wait behind the thickset of instruments. Nevertheless, one reason for me abjuring this 16-minute EP is not it's dense focus on intricacy and avowed inaccessibility; it's the band's inability to employ little else that cultivates captivating musical experience. Let's take a look. ''Statistic Singular'', the opener and longest track here, broils with tense, discordant chords that weave into each other in a seeming mess, a characteristic choppy, bass-driven rhythm guitar driving a grotesque sort of groove beat while the lead guitars mingles with the fringes of utter ear-razing frippery: the intended effect IS alienation, but I'm too busy either scratching my head over what the hell is happening or waiting for a hook to give a damn about their skill. I profess: I do enjoy the simpler, plainer things in life, but the track absolutely lacks any momentum to engross anyone to a satisfying degree. As the same rule sadly applies to the rest of the disc, the quartet has apparently invested more time in attempting to emulate the philosophy of their half-sober practice sessions that actually filing any sensible flourish into the music.

But hell, if you're still pleading 'that's the whole point of the music, to sound dissonant'', be my guest. The guitar tone is unruly and boring, not a major deviation from the industrial grind of their previous records but nonetheless a degree more downtrodden, sharp high-end notes cutting at your eardrums like tiny bacteria with rusted, nail-sized cleavers hacking away in unkempt bliss.I actually enjoyed the vocals on here, though, perhaps the only single attribute that preserved some of that vile, cantankerous timbre I so loved on their previous outings - thankfully some things never change. There's something to be understood here if the best song on the whole disc is a cover of Death's ''Crystal Mountain'', surprisingly well applied into the individual, splenetic science which Pyrrhon has constructed on its own, - complete with both thicker and raspier variations on Schuldiner's voice plus tingling, cyborgian lead sections - and that's Running Out of Skin feels more like a piece of audio commitment fit for donation to poverty-stricken heshers in need, and even then I imagine a good many people wouldn't waste much tine before dumping it into the CD heap. Certainly not a 'terrible' effort by any means, but I felt that in between the dense interplay of meaningless notes and riffs some more substance would have been added, something which I hope the band will seek out to improve on their next full-length. That ''Crystal Mountain'' though.

Statistic Singular

Rating: 52%

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Phobocosm - Bringer of Drought [2016]

Although the relentless 'cavern-core' trend of the past few years has quelled in the absence of convincing riffs and atmospheric dynamics that we associate with this murky, spelunking sub-genre, there is still plenty of chaos to be had around, Canada's Phobocosm being one of them, with influences of anything from Blasphemy to Ulcerate running amok through their thick, mired veins. Their debut, 2014's Deprived, was one of the reasons (alongside the creme de la creme output of pioneering mavericks like Antediluvian, Mitochondrion  and Portal) that, despite its blooding excess of unruly brutality and sluggish Incantation-worship, I still keep my faith in this niche of music, and it was inevitable that through the conduit of one Dark Descent Records the group would continue to expand its retinue as a budding entity of this formula. Granted, whatever genre it is we're talking about, it's a perpetual labor to patronize and renew your sound; not only that, but to execute the newfound divisiveness in a coherent manner... none of which Phobocosm have quite attempted on their sophomore, Bringer of Drought, leaving, perhaps, something more to be desired.

Yet when I say the Canadians have not upped or refined their cavernous repository at all, I am not instinctively correct, but rather reflecting on the paucity of fresh elements that would render the music as immersive and punishing as the debut. The Canadians, unsurprisingly, have brought their huge, lumbering, even slightly granular guitars to the fore, such that songs like bombastic, crushing ''Ordeal'' reveal they haven't at all kept their cutlery dusty, delivering astonishingly heavy and smoldering waves of low-end chugs and sludge-like ruptures. Still, the song is probably my favorite among the bunch, (we're talking 4 tracks stretching between 8-12 minutes) so the rest of the songs hardly exhibit the same level of tactile destructiveness and pulverizing force, or, if anything, allure. Throughout the other three songs, we're exposed to a lot of contemplative post-metal, limping, desolate arpeggios that burst into cloudy swathes of distortion and titular chords in an almost Neurosis-esque fashion, sans the experimental tribalism of the California giants, sinewy impulses of fairly 'straightforward' old school death metal tremolos joined up by loose aural sections that make up for plenty of emotional resonance, occasional drum fills daunting and intimidating on the way.

The picture you get isn't a whole lot different from what Deprived had to offer, although a sludge/post-metal leaning is apparent, almost as though the Canadians are morphing into something in the mode of Mouth of the Architect or Holland's Sistere. However, there is a aridity to the riffs that just makes them too dry, lacking in intricacy, to be paired with Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, or their fellow countrymen Gorguts, who possess an immovable vocation for balancing the cataracts of brutality and unearthly technical deceptiveness in a storm of highly refined wizardry. Not that any band has to be enormously technical to evoke satisfying, even stunning music: that much is abundantly clear. Indeed, Bringer of Drought nevertheless destroys within the furrows of its neanderthal regime: penalizing walls of sound and magnitude. The vocals are trenchant and great, highly claustrophobic and monstrous, just as you'd want them to be, looming over the instrumentation like an overfed cyclops out of hell, sending the listener's tranquility into a grating spiral of falling dominoes. My gripe is that by and large this isn't the most innovative thing I've heard, and even though its kills in its own standards, there's a point where it ceases to offer the listener anything more. I, too, am content that new bands are still channeling this atavistic and visceral sound that the new generation of old school death metal fanboys seem so enamored by, but without refurbishing their style, bands like Phobocosm don't have plenty of space to grow into. Solid stuff, gets a passing verdict, though I'd still vie for their debut.


Rating: 70%