Saturday, May 28, 2016

Qrixkuor - Three Devils Dance (EP) [2016]

One of the most strenuous challenges of the reviewer is, perhaps, beyond arbitrating his/her attention toward so many releases, (black and death metal albums are a dime a dozen these days) to selectively deploy his/her while rummaging from one near-indistinct album to the other. Such has been my travail when it comes to London's Qrixkuor, a quartet going by the rather practically brief pseudonyms R., M., A. and S. Now, while I always give considerable space to bands refurbishing the stylistic chaos and miasma of Blasphemy and Incantation, among a few less-known cults, I find it difficult to keep track of things when whole allure of mind-fuckery and heavy, discordant music turns its own head over itself by providing stale crumbs when the listener is looking forward to a nice, healthy helping of engaging chaos. Barring the caprice of this disappointed reviewer, the band's first EP, cleverly titled Three Devils Dance (there are three songs on it), is canned dissonance at best, but at least it doesn't try to veil the influences from which its malicious barbarity stems.

There isn't so much of a busy flow of ideas and novel sounds on Three Devils Dance as there is this tendency to emulate the sounds emanating from a slaughterhouse full of obnoxious ghouls and fat corpses: compared to renowned arbitrators of the black/death/war metal sounds (think Archgoat, Weregoat, Proclamation, Blasphemy, etc.), Qrixkuor is, to a strong degree, more pure death metal than anything else, a nostalgic manifestation of Incantation, Immolation and Morbid Angel as if there wasn't anything half so delectable to the retro death metal fan. Oozing, disgusting rhythm guitars cavort sluggishly with a tempest of tremolos and barged picking techniques as the drams waddle on in chaotic, yet formulated, disarray. What's interesting to note, perhaps, is that the Brits will employ twitchy, caterwauling leads sequences more often than many other bands in this niche, typically enclosing one riff with a wild flurry of notes and high pitched tremolo wails before cutting into the next riff, in a fashion that would have formed a malicious little grin on Trey Azathoth's face.

However, this EP is just so choked down to a mere three songs, each hovering above and below the bounds of the 10-minute mark, that it feels something is alack, but as the record trudges forward there seems to be no fresh catalyst of tension and furore that could make it more exciting. The guitar is fleshy and grimy enough, and the picking sequences are certainly intricate enough to offer some depth, but the overall trajectory of the album seems frozen in one formulaic engraving that can't seem to break the confines of its limitation. Tangibly, the artistry also freezes over; you just know you're not going to get much more out of this after two spins. Qrixkuor try to dress it up a notch with a lengthy intro full of dramatic buildup and taught violins clawing at your ears before riffs pop up, it's only a shame they can't deliver the same aural tension that's promised at the beginning. The vocals are 'good', to say the least, muffled cookie monster growls fed into a few bouts of treble and feedback that works well with the grisly tonality of the guitars for the first 4 minutes or so, but their venom quickly wanes. Three Devils Dance is not a bad piece, but as long the Brits resume their spelunking without much daring, - and there doesn't seem to be any sign of genuinely unique or ravishing craftsmanship - they have a long way to go, and their material won't entice me beyond the first 1-2 spins.

Serpent's Mirror

Rating: 55%

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Zhrine - Unortheta [2016]

To be sure, it is a bit unfair to be labelled 'French black metal' every time you try to put on a little bit of dissonance, but there's still some credibility to that statement when you think of the collective impact of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord on the black metal scene. But then by nature I've come to expect nothing less from Iceland, home not only to some of the most astounding black/post-black metal acts of the last decade (Sólstafir, Kontinuum, Misþyrming) but also to a veritable breeding ground of pyroclastic destruction and ash, a fitting environment for the country's latest upstart Zhrine to pop out, a force to be reckoned with solely on the grounds of Unortheta's cover: a cavernous concave built within an archaic isle floating with the majesty of a tributary running straight through it, whose origin remains alluringly mysterious. Or so I would have it. And so, even though these gentleman come from the Deathspell Omega school of fucked-upedness, (a poster of Si Monvmentvm Requires, Circvmspice behind the bandstand in one of their early rehearsals evinces my deduction) there must have been a deal of unease when entirely emulating the sound of the famed Frenchmen, and for that reason Zhrine come off as genuine engineers of chaos and tumult in a form that feels both fresh and somewhat familiar, a healthy combination.

The forecast of this record is depravity and lifelessness. The opener ''Utopian Warfare'' aches with terrible beauty and emptiness, but the Icelanders have a wonderful tendency to keep the tracks within a certain range, scarcely mounting the 6-minute mark, which reinforces the tension with considerable brevity. The core of Unortheta, - largely a caustic brew of Gorguts, Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, some Demilich and some Portal - should certainly appeal to audience toward which the sound is tailored, but this is a record busy with riffs and conscious about chord clarity which sets them apart in one way or another from their notorious benefactors. Songs like the virulent, fantastic ''Spewing Gloom'' are as good as their titles suggest, fleshing out discordant but enticing chord progression and distorted arpeggios, ballasted by frenetic, almost poly-rhythmic drumming that oscillate into slower Meshuggah-like grooves (as on ''Syringe Dance'', my favorite piece on the record) tempered by a slew of cymbal crashes and splashes. The idea is a veined array of cables, taut, snapped, then jangling and jumbling all over the place like a bunch of mechanic eels. The gloomy lows of vocals, to add, are not just great and evenly placed within the tracks, but also stretch into these far raspier, anguished chants that provide the perfect contrast of duality and grimness to the record.

Zhrine are great at building up moods and tensions before imploding with catharsis - hence the cable imagery. They don't take their sweet time with it though, which is good, because who wants to hear hours upon hours of dysfunctional clean guitars drowsed in reverb just to hear a bunch of cool riffs at the end? The mechanism of Unortheta is rewarding in that the build-ups are just long enough for you too feel truly ravished and incited about the upcoming spasm of dissonance, a perfect example being ''World'' with boils into a crushing wave of riffs before plateauing into slower pace once more, after which the listener is greeted with a broiling haunt of pure black metal chords. Rhythmic variations also bring atmospheric sludge mavericks like Mouth of the Architect, Neurosis and Isis to mind, so it's undeniable that Unortheta is keenly probing the boundaries of its norms; what's better is that there seems to be no shortage of good riffs or hooks throughout the record, with humdingers like ''Empire'' and ''The Earth Inhaled'' counterbalancing the rear end of the album. With the exception of a few dull moments here and there Unortheta retains its abysmal aura and dire pallor, mapping out a new gap to be explored by bands performing in accordance to the so called 'French' school of black metal, or just contagious, neanderthal caverncore, which remains surprisingly popular in 2016. All told, unless you were looking for something burlesque or cheerful on this album - and you quite literally have to be a neanderthal to be searching for that - the probability that it will disappoint is low; the probability that will erase all your hopes and yearnings off the face of the earth and turn your ears into honeycombs of tar and ash - much higher.

Spewing Gloom
The Syringe Dance

Rating: 83%