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%

Monday, July 11, 2016

Terra Tenebrosa - The Reverses [2016]

There is something distinctly unnerving about Terra Tenebrosa even as you glance at their various cover arts. Slanting, oblique figures in masks that look like they were stolen from a hellish carnival around the whereabouts of Chernobyl, set against a grainy, black-and-white bucolic landscape as though something out of a modern indie horror movie. But even the cover of their albums - among which their third, The Reverses, I find the most visually frightening - does not begin to encompass the integument of the aural and parasitic trance which these Swedish obscures have no offer, a kind of digestible, if not lacking experimentation, configuration of grating, otherworldly senses which seems to liaise between highly industrialized, bogged down venture, and a more cohesive palette of instrumentation akin to Deathspell Omega, Samael, Neurosis at their most unhinged, Blut Aus Nord, Red Harvest, and the Dutch hopefuls Dodecahedron. While most of the time I'm accustomed to slab the label 'unusual' or 'strange' onto bands, the classification does not help much here. In fact, the only way to rectify the crawling insanity of such a band as Terra Teneborsa should require a deep dissection of the band's style and music.

How exactly to go about this? The Swedes are frightening, theatrical, capricious and dissonant. Predictability is completely out of question, with the band employing such a rich mixture of dense, broiling industrial guitars, cavernous murmurs intermingling with chants, and the production value is simply off the chain, pummeling and bombastic, it's oddly yet titillatingly loud which gives the parasitical quality of the riffs a great deal of punch and energy. Truly, production is at the helm of the sheer momentum of this music. Had the band opted for a grainier, lo-fi production the aural experience, while no less unnerving, might have come off as underwhelming and appropriately downsized, but the magnitude of sound here enhances the claustrophobia and atmosphere, much like the Swiss Samael, especially after their 1996 masterpiece, Passage, only instead of the cosmic, ethereal aura they manifest so endearingly, the Swedes meticulously fabricate the auditory equivalent of a industrial nightmare doll-house, with charred pieces of plastic and piled masses of doll's heads lying about. Ambient sounds textures and multitudes of creeping voices fill in the almost mindless discomfiture they strew in between tracks or passages, and these as freakish and harrowing as a lengthy shot from a Tarkovsky or Kubric opus, dragging in the listener for several minutes with terrible anticipation until a load of jagged, heavyweight riffs are unburdened.

This is very noticeable with the final, overarching megalith, ''Fire Dances'', some 16 minutes long, which not only has a terrific set of crushing, grooving riffs but a totally immersive center section with long, drudging currents of sound and discord enveloping the listener with minutes at an end. But besides the band's obvious stylistic merit in cultivating such shadowy, implosive chaos, I was surprised at how many of these songs which I felt like coming back to, even with actually memorable riffs and sections I could pick out across the board. ''Ghost at the End of the Rope'' is like a titular, cadaverous Leviathan track, with one guitar chugging out huge rhythms and the other plodding at a terse, repetitive melody; the band's mastery at experimental black metal is apparent from the unusual timing and signatures, the explosive drums and the few, narrow moments of pureblood Scandinavian dynamics which they employ, making for a delicious kind of escape for the bedraggled black metal outlaw. ''The End is Mine to Ride'', with its more traditional structural approach and mid-paced gait, is also very good. Intensity is never a problem for Terra Tenebrosa when they are so apt at picking paces and tempos apart, diverging and converging into varying structures and patterns, which they equally reveal on ''Exuvia'', a forlorn industrial metal piece utilizes a single riff for its entirety, building upon the soundscape around it. Granted, there is some repetition with the riffs but overall the sound sustains itself and the album never yields to musical equanimity, which means I was rarely disinterested throughout. The Swedes have not quite deracinated black metal as others, like, say, Arcturus or Sigh, have. Instead, black metal remains an element of the recipe which in itself is, beyond just 'unusual', mortifying and creepy as fuck. Tribal and nightmare-inducing, this is the kind of album you definitely don't want to give a spin at 2-3 in the morning, not in the least if you're living in a wooden cabin, with the closest scrap of civilization being a petrol station located 20 km away. You've been warned.

Where Shadows Have Teeth
Ghost at the End of the Rope
Fire Dances

Rating: 80%

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dark Forest - Beyond the Veil [2016]

What can I say? Metal and metalheads in general tend to have a soft spot for concept. That concept, whether its dragons, knights, spelunking ghouls, something out of Michael Moorcock or Tolkien, or in the case of Dudley's Dark Forest - embodying medieval myths and legend in lyrical, pastoral gloss  - is always a profound selling point. And as lyrical/conceptual deviants from the foray of the more Goth-induced imagery of Swedish traditional heavy metal bands, Dark Forest, like some of the genre's greatest underground staples - to wit, Brocas Helm, Slough Feg, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road - have a more retrogressive approach to their music, one that has helped absorb my initial exposure to them, their 2014 album The Awakening, with healthy and savory intakes as a powerful, melodic, moving barbican to the continuing presence of heavy/power in such a vein. To be sure, King Diamond and Mercyful Fate are great, no question about it, but bearing in mind the implants they've detonated across a good half of the entire traditional heavy metal revivalism, - hence the notorious 'Swede-fever' - the soundscape offered by Dark Forest, however slapstick it may seem to its condemners, is a welcome entry.

I get that Dark Forest aren't the most innovative bunch out there; that's never been the point. Beyond the Veil does not resort to be anything of that sort, instead you get tons of atmosphere, quite a perfect Anglo-Saxon feel as though you were an enchanted knight strolling through a forest in search of some covetous chalice, not even so much of a battle-hymn the way bands like Ironsword or DoomSword evoke Conan-esque violence and triumph, but more of a melodious assemblage of busy, technically affluent guitars conjuring up a rich groundwork of history and folklore. Again, the UK quintet does not possess the same jumpy, splenetic piquancy I so adored on magisterial albums like Traveller or Down Among the Dead Men, but assuredly the 'retro' feel is there, a lack of keyboards provides impetus to the lucid and poignant acrobatics of the guitars, ballasted by heavier, albeit simple rhythms underneath. The guitars are, blatantly, upfront and lead the charge. Crisp but not overdone, the guitarists employ stirring, 'epic' melodies and plenty of harmonization, not unaccustomed to in this niche, the sort of lead playing that's not as liberal and unencumbered as, say, one Protest the Hero or whatever progressive/technical act you can imagine, nor should they be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, I was surprised at the number of riffs they could pen on a song for song basis bearing the length of the songs in mind, a tasteful array of sweeps and hooking solos rounding up the arsenal, like speckles and shingles of Dragonforce seeping in occasionally.

That doesn't leave much else to be said about the record. John Winnard's vocals are fine, blending the operatic theatricality of Dickinson with the more high octane adventurism of Mike Scalzi, appropriately embellishing the vocal buoyancy needed. But Beyond the Veil is altogether feels repetitive after 2-3 spins, not that the craftsmanship is subpar but rather because there's too much of the same structural and stylistic melody/rhythm pattern to be had: while the first 4-5 songs kicks and swerve their way with atmosphere and a masterful, titular patronage of riffs,  the formula essentially feels force-fed by the time you've made it to song no. 12, ''The Lore of the Land'', a lurching epic. It's essentially a sale from a soigne antiquarian who's selling us the feel, archaic and seemingly embossed in legend, even though the songs are memorable enough as you're listening to them (''Blackthorn'' has a great, choir-esque accompaniment to its chorus and ''Where the Arrow Falls'' is downright charged with energy) but the bulk of the record feeds back into the bands backlog of three full-lengths, principally an extension of the ideas explored therein. That's not to say you should omit Dark Forest, though; their position is certainly oblique, with songs like ''The Wild Hunt'' propagating such a delicate balance of folk metal a la Ensiferum, Korpiklaani and Turisas with ballsy heavy/rock (think Saxon and Def Leppard) and the more occult, atmospheric leanings of King Diamond, that I can't help but recommend it to an aficionado of the style. Be your own judge. With four albums at their belt, Dark Forest still have it. Gaunt, chivalrous and surging, I can't think of a whole lot of other bands fit to perform in a medieval fun fare. Have... fun?

The Wild Hunt
Where the Arrow Falls

Rating: 75%

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Megascavenger - As Dystopia Beckons [2016]

Imagine if Rogga Johansson were a heavy metal DJ. He could slip in at least half a dozen of his own tracks, culled from a pool of releases spanning, over a decade, a veritable compendium in the finesse and artistry of Swedish death metal, and not a soul would notice. Regardless of what he owes his creative and productive force to, the man is to praised for the sheer size and scope of his output, so much so that even I've reviewed more than a couple of them, though it is very difficult to keep up with all his works. Of course this comes with the principal issue of having to beat around the bush excessively, since his brand of 90's, Entombed/Dismember-influenced death metal, however well and tactfully executed, falls short of enticing most of the time with so many of his riffs being xeroxed from a grisly, brutalized melting pot of the aforementioned bands, plus a few regular nasties like Autopsy, Morbid Angel, Incantation and whatnot. Nor is his umpteenth project, Magescavenger, an alien to that formulaic chasm of gruesomeness and gore, but the interesting fact about the third album under the Megascavenger guise, As Dystopia Beckons, is not only a thematic digression from the Lovecraftian concepts of the previous records, but also minute breakthrough - an animosity in this case - with its odd integument of industrial and electronic influences blending into the seamless old school death metal formula Rogga is so keen on reaping.

This comes as a shocker to me as well, considering the organic and fleshy quality of the majority of his releases, and although this daring repose offers a few breaths of comfort for the seeker of experimentation, Rogga, unfortunately, doesn't implement the stylistic shift with as much meticulousness as you would have liked. The introductory tracks, ''Rotting Domain'' and the gimmicky ''The Machine That Turns Humans into Slop'' explode with fierce, bulbous guitars accompanied by whizzing electronic feedback and tingles, moving into casual industrial breakdowns redolent of Godflesh or Samael at their more experimental, but the riffs retain their trademark simplicity throughout. There is even considerable clarity on this disc, as if somehow Rogga had rectified the gravel and grime of his traditional crusty Swedeath guitar tone with a few buckets of water to wash the mud and cake off, almost as an homage to the development of slightly cleaner melodic death sound. But be sure that the songs rage with uncompromising carnality and hefty slog of chainsaw-heavy guitar work we are so fond of. ''Dead Rotting and Exposed'' is another one of those industrially-tinged bulls that stampede with generic chugs and patronizing spells of industrialized distortion, almost at an attempt to redeem the lack of fresh, sticking riff work on the record. 

Kudos to Rogga for channeling a distinctly 'dystopian' feel, or at least trying to, through the use or reverb, robotic vocal syntheses, and mechanized d-beat rhythms that fluctuate around creepy tremolos and and chord-driven bevies. Force your imagination, and songs like ''Steel Through Flesh Extravaganza'' might just cloud your mind with the image of a gigantic, malicious, electrical saw-wielding cyborg chasing you down the streets of Detroit circa 2025, but at best these songs leave something more to be had, certainly in that they feel inchoate, and most likely because other, excellent death metal bands with industrial influences like The Monolith Deathcult have already played this weird, perfunctory sound to near-perfection. The oddballs across the record, like the Timat-esque ''The Harrowing of Hell'' (with Kam Lee on vocals) and the moody, stringently melodic ''As the Last Day Has Passed'' with its clean vocals and lumbering monotonous chords hardly contribute to the overall quality of the record; if anything, they should be hung up as addendum on a 'bonus material' disc. Fact is, Rogga has proven many times that he is a great songwriter. Peek into an album by Revolting, Humanity Delete, Paganizer, or the fantastic Putrevore and you'll see that my claims are justified. As Dystopia Beckons may be our gateway to a newer, more refined, maturer Rogga, one keeping tabs on occasional experimentation and versatility, but employing naked industrial synths into the traditional formula with guest vocal appearances on every track is almost like proselytizing the listener. It shouldn't come as a surprise that he's running out of material. At any rate, I would love to see him at the helm of another great, pummeling bastion of a brutal, sordid pummeling death metal machine, doted by the sounds of the late 80's and early 90's that we so love, not something as lackluster as this. Decidedly, Rogga needs his gusto back. Prescription: hard-boiled baby Cthulhu tentacles, blood syrup, and 5 hours of mandatory death metal listening every day.

Rotting Domain
Steel Through Flesh Extravaganza
Dead Rotting and Exposed

Rating: 63%