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Archive for November, 2010

A few random bits about the Meads Of Asphodel, that utterly bizarre (and unmistakably British) metal beast (and blessed, it ought to be stressed, with one of the most pleasant names in years).

Random bit the first (1st):

Mel Gibson, eat your heart out

Their new album, The Murder of Jesus the Jew, is really quite good.  I say this not out of surprise, because I’ve been a fairly staunch supporter of the Meads since their debut album.  The only truly unforgivable offense thus far has been the abominably ill-conceived cover of Louis Armstrong’s classic tune “What a Wonderful World,” back on 2006’s (? – too lazy to look up at the moment) Damascus Steel.  Complete rubbish, friends – avoid at all costs.  To the extent that you, fair reader, are able to take any of this music seriously, this new album (building off of the previous major-bummer-fest LP) is a far more serious affair.

More serious, at least, when compared with the band’s first two albums, the acoustic jam session The Mill Hill Sessions, the Christmas song they did for Terrorizer magazine, the punk covers (+ Kinks cover!?) on their side of this year’s split with Old Corpse Road, etc., etc.  Anyway, while I do find this new album a delectable platter of strangeness – some sideways-fucked brew of Hawkwind psych rock, Floydian prog, clatterly British crust-punk, and Sigh-meets-Cradle-Of-Filth black metal sheen (Hawkwind and Sigh, at least, are clearly no mistake, if you’ve followed the band’s parade of guest musicians) – I can’t help but feel like a bit of the fun has been drained.

Make no mistake, a Meads Of Asphodel album still packs more grin-inducing moments than most anything else out there.  Nevertheless, I kind of miss the carnival/Casio-esque keys of the early demos, the completely unwarranted and random jaunts into strangely trance-y drum ‘n bass.  Despite remaining firmly planted in the off-kilter and avant-garde, the Dudes of Asphodel are playing things a little too straight for my taste.

And as a final addendum to this random bit (the first), a message to the band: Metatron, please, for the love of all that is holy and chain mail, quit it with the ridiculous spoken word bits.  I know it’s kind of like “your thing,” but the passages you choose to gargle out cleanly on this album are the most cringe-inducing faux-Dante’s-Inferno-punishments and they just bum me out.  For real.
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Random bit the second (2nd):

The band has posted a 35-minute documentary film at their website, the beguilingly simple www.themeadsofasphodel.com.  It comes in three parts, the first of which I will post here:

I post this, however, having only watched the first seven minutes of it, after which I felt compelled to do almost anything else.  It’s not that this is bad, necessarily, but that I have an exceedingly low tolerance for this kind of nostalgic “Ah, let’s cast a long gaze over the history of the band and have a bunch of ugly metal blokes wax fondly about things that happened, I don’t know, eight years ago.”  The primary argument in favor of this “in-depth” (honest, I’m not trying to be an asshole here, but the whole thing seems a bit stilted, innit?) documentary is that, for years, the Meads were intentionally shrouded in mystery, what with the stage names and the chain mail and the lack of widespread performances.  So, I don’t really need to see this.  And maybe it’s not for me.  Maybe I’m just some jaded asshole on the internet, and maybe this film was made for Me when I was eight years younger.  Whatever.  Watch it, or don’t.  See if I care.
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Random bit the third (3rd, and final):

In a horrendously obnoxious heavy metal songwriting trick that is not the exclusive province of the Meads, but which I have noticed most recently on the new album and which never fails to drive me totally fucking bonkers up the wall, is the doubling of a line of lyrics in a sort of call-and-response fashion.  Or, rather, what specifically drives me batshit crazy is not a call-and-RESPONSE (indicating a variation), but rather a call-and-REPEAT.  It’s.  So.  Fucking.  Stupid.

Anyway, the Meads do it on the new album’s third track, “Apocalypse of Lazarus,” with Metatron calling out poetic gems like “The dragon and beast cast into Hell” or “Death into the valley of Jeheshophat,” which are then echoed by, I dunno, some other dude caterwauling in the background.  Drives me fucking nuts.  If you’re thinking, “Yeah, that bugs me too, but where I have I heard – and hated – this technique before?” then I submit for your perusal and (presumably) displeasure, the one (and only) true misstep on Megadeth’s nevertheless untouchable masterpiece (fuck you) Rust In Peace:

“Five Magics” is otherwise a fantastic song, but starting around the 4:00 minute mark is where they bust into that dumb-ass call-and-repeat business (“He who lives by the sword…,” etc.).  So, the moral is: If you’re out there, writing in a band, and you’re thinking, “Wow, what a boss way to fill out a song,” I just…  I just pray for the future of humanity.  Don’t do this.  Don’t be That Guy.
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The Murder Of Jesus The Jew is out now on Candlelight Records, and, I swear, despite my cantankerous ranting, I like it quite a bit.

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Right, it's that weird grey/white business that's glorious and sparkly close up

So, I just got my copy of the new Furze album in the mail the other day.  It’s called Reaper Subconscious Guide (out now on Agonia Records), which makes just about as much sense as everything else about this band (including, for the record, my undiminished fondness for them).  Things being what they are, I haven’t yet gotten around to listening to it, but I did peruse the artwork and liner notes a bit, which yields the following two observations:

1.  Embossed black printing is pretty much old hat for high-end heavy metal packaging these days.  Sure, it looks great (e.g., Agalloch’s delightful Marrow of the Spirit), and very intense and moody and all that business.  Right.  Got it.  But here’s a new trick, then: The cover of the CD booklet for Reaper Subconscious Guide has got some of that sparkly silverish half-hologram-type effect that one might have seen on ‘Special Issue’ editions of Marvel comics back in the early 90s.  On a fucking black metal record, folks!  It’s awesome.  Dude calls himself Woe J. Reaper, and puts fucking sparkly holograms on his album cover.  Bonus points galore, in my book.

2.  More seriously, the album contains the following message, printed both on the back cover and, in wobbly Master of Reality font, on the disc itself:

“To all listeners: Artist (and publisher) invest a wholelot [sic] of time and energy in this work (years).  Do not put this album on the net for free listening / download in any way – it kills possibility to receive back even some of what we put into this…”

Mine's numbered 101, because I know you were ravenously curious

This reminded me of a statement in the liner notes to Michael Gira’s solo record put out earlier this year to finance the new Swans record.  It’s called I Am Not Insane, and it features solo acoustic versions of pretty much all the tracks that wound up on the superlative My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (in fact, the only song which did NOT appear in acoustic version first is the intensely creepy duet between Gira’s three-year old daughter and freak/folkie Devendra Banhart, “You Fucking People Make Me Sick.).

Big universe, little mouth

Anyway, toward the end of the home-printed liner notes, reads the following message:

“Please do not upload any of the material contained in this package onto the web or ‘share’ it all over the god damn place.”

Now, both because I’m too lazy, and don’t really care that much, I’m not going to bother looking around the regular places of the internet to see if either (or both) of these releases have  been uploaded to various ‘file-sharing’ venues.  Also, I’m pretty much 100% positive that they will have been.  I’m also not really interested in getting into some huge malignant debate about the ethics of illegal downloading (though you think its advocates could come up with a less normatively-loaded term, don’t you think?) here (or probably anywhere, ever) versus the ostensible depravities of the record industry et cetera et cetera.  I just think this kind of (relatively) direct appeal from the artist to the listener is an interesting approach.

I mean, I’m pretty sure that if someone’s planning to upload an album for file-sharing, some quaint shaming tactic like this won’t make much of a difference.  Or, rather: Do you suppose it makes people spread it ’round faster?

The moral of the story is: Buy records to support the artform.  Also, artists: use more fucking sparkly hologram shit, yeah?

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Since I had such a lark spinning through some of my favorite accounts bleakness from down Italy way, why not have another go of it?  This time: Germany.  Deutschland.  Sounds ominous, no?  Well, although we could draw further parallels between Italy and Germany (weren’t they both involved in some, shall we say, unpleasantness, this past century?), it is not the shared love of goosestepping but rather a similarly dark and twisted vein of black metal richness that draws me to both nations.  So, allow me to present to you a choice smattering of tasty metal morsels from the only nation in Europe that could have produced the ‘no smiling allowed’ machine music of Kraftwerk and, um, Nena.

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Klabautamann, Merkur (2009)


I’ve also got one of their previous albums, called something appropriately nature-y like Our Journey In The Woods (sorry, too lazy to look it up), which is also pretty good, but holy SSSSSSHIT this album nearly came out of nowhere.  It’s progressive and angular without the obnoxious and pretentious connotations that those terms usually evoke.  It’s aggressive and mental but still explores a pleasantly wide palette of sounds and colors.  Some of the dudes are also in the band called Island, who have a newer self-titled record that I haven’t tracked down yet, but their previous EPs or demos or whatever shit came out a while ago called Orakel, which is well worth checking out.
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Secrets Of The Moon, Carved In Stigmata Wounds (2004)

Don’t know what it is in the water, but there’s a powerful strain of German orthodoxy which seems to have little to do with the Swedish/French style (Ondskapt, Malign, Deathspell Omega, and on and on).  This German orthodox black metal is a bit more measured in its approach, almost stately.  I’m thinking here of Secrets of the Moon, obviously, but also Dark Fortress and, to a slightly lesser extent, some of mid- to late period Lunar Aurora.  This is perhaps the pinnacle of serious, ‘no fun’ black metal, but this album absolutely KILLS it.
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Drautran, Throne Of The Depths (2007)


There’s nothing terribly new going on here, but this album has got an awesome title, really cool cover art, and a masterful take on vaguely pagan-ish black metal.  I know, I know, but before you run screaming in horror to throw on Killers or Defenders of the Faith, this ain’t no tin whistle face-painted bullshit.  It’s essentially a slick take on that ineffable German orthodoxy, without the orthodoxy, while tossing in a whole bunch of classic Emperor-isms.  This album is just all kinds of smooth, and I mean that in the best way possible.
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Vinterriket, Der Letze Winter – Der Ewigkeit Entgegen (2005)


Much like Hellveto or Striborg or (until recently) Xasthur, the one dude behind Vinterriket suffers from a serious lack of self-restraint.  If you try to keep up with the relentless onslaught of new albums, EPs, splits, and ‘Best Ofs’, you’ll run yourself straight into the ground.  Plus, most of this dude’s stuff is, frankly, boring as shit dark ambient.  This album, however, mixes that dark ambient with a furious blizzard of the coldest black metal.  Kinda like Darkspace or Paysage d’Hiver, I guess, but less long-winded than the former, and FAR less eardrum-piercingly harsh than the latter.  This album is fantastically paced and sequenced, and it’s just all kinds of excellent.
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Desaster, 666 – Satan’s Soldiers Syndicate (2007)


Ah, finally.  Some metal during which it is Okay To Smile.  Seriously, you’ve got my permission.  Enough of the dour ‘my lit teacher didn’t like my poetic homage to Edgar Allan Poe’ grumbling.  This is ferocious, accurately sloppy black/thrash.  Play it, then play it again only louder, and hell, why not drink some beers, too?  Then toss on some Aura Noir, who are not German, but share this same sloppy fun metal approach.  Go on.  You deserve it.
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The Ruins Of Beverast, Unlock the Shrine (2004)


Alright, now that you’ve thrashed and smiled to Desaster, Fun Time Is Over.  Well, at least, if you’re going to have ‘fun’ with this album, it is a very SERIOUS kind of fun.  Anyway, this is one dude who was the dude in the band Nagelfar which everyone who ever told you about was very careful to emphasize “No, really, it’s not the same as the Swedish Naglfar, y’know, the guys who are kind of like the kids in the grade just above Dimmu Borgir, who kinda tried to bully them and look tougher but were really just jealous that the young punks were more popular.”  Whatever.  This album kicks ass.  It’s mostly black metal, I guess, but with a cinematic scope.  Replete with non-stupid sampling and non-trite industrial aspects, this is a genuinely spooky affair.  Th’Ruins’ other two records are also good, but this first one is the most finely honed AND experimental.  Tasteful, tasty.  Taste it.
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Geist, Galeere (2009)


Honestly, the cover art kind of tells you everything you need to know about this album.  The band logo tells you it’s at least vaguely black metal, and the creepy almost-capsizing ghost ship reveals a spooky nautical vibe.  And yep, that’s pretty much how the music delivers.  Excellent grim black metal in that Teutonic mold (see also Funeral Procession, I suppose, but definitely Inarborat, for more of this German not-quite-a-scene, not-quite-orthodoxy), but nicely evocative of a doomed seafaring voyage.  Creaking timbers, washes of guitar like huge black waves in the night.  Dive in and seal your watery fate.
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Katharsis, VVorldVVithoutEnd (2006)


This one is also of a sort of orthodoxy, I guess, but more of the Ajna Offensive type than your Dark Fortresses and Secrets(es?) of the Moon.  Anyway, a seriously ghoulish aesthetic, scorched earth sound, and insanely stretched out compositions reveal a demented group of individuals behind this caustic work of bleak black art.  Yeah, the albums before this one were pretty good, and Fourth Reich wasn’t half-bad, either, but this is definitely where it’s AT for the Katharsis (anti-?)ethos.
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I sort of forgot about the whole Prophecy Productions folk-ish scene (with, oh, what do you call ’em, Empyrium and ah, shit… Dornenreich, that’s who I’m thinking of), but maybe if you include them and the whole Lupus Lounge label/scene, I don’t know, does that count as a German scene or sound?  Who cares.  These are some excellent records.  You can trust me; after all, I write a blog on the internet.  Still, all of this goes to show that there’s plenty of blackness that ain’t anywhere near your Norways and Swedens.

It is literally taking ALL of my self-restraint not to exeunt this post with some sort of “something or other über alles” statement.  Let’s call it quits there, before I embarrass us all.  (Un)Happy listening.

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For no particular reason other than a few serendipitous songs popping up when I was playing my music on random the other day, I thought I might do a little bit of a country profile here.  Well, scratch that.  I’m not particularly interested in surveying all of Italy, scouring its lacquered boot from thigh to heel for all the heavy metal fit to print.  Instead, I present for your edification and/or casual annoyance a few of my favorite metal albums from the center of history’s most whined-about empire.

The land of Berlusconi is, if the records I’ve chosen to highlight here are any indication, far more than the libidinous Mediterranean caricature and reckless administrative policy would suggest.  By no purposeful design, just about all of these albums tend toward the black-ish side of heavy metal’s family tree.  Perhaps most notably, then, given the genre similarities, is that for the most part, these acts don’t seem to all be coming from one centralized black metal scene* (the way we imagine things do in France, Finland, Mozambique, or wherever).  Chalk it up to the proximity of Vatican City, perhaps, or a lingering fondness for the somewhat corpulent severity of Il Duce.  Who knows.  Something is rotten in the state of Italy, a confused Hamlet might emote (well, not Hamlet himself, of course, but, just fuck along and let me have my wordplay, you ass).
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Spite Extreme Wing, Vltra (2008)

This black metal band first intrigued me with their previous full-length, Non Dvcor, Dvco, but it’s on this, their most recent and, sadly, last album,  that they really shine.  A great dry production lends excellent clarity to the generally straight-ahead black metal within, which is given just enough touches of the avant-garde to keep the listener on her toes.  The tracks are all untitled, though the band slips in both a Misfits and a Beatles cover, which blend in rather better than one might suppose.  Special credit should also be given to that gorgeously evocative cover art.  No need to be tethered to the ol’ black and gray tones forever, black metal chums.
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Stormlord, Mare Nostrum (2008)

This album kicks so many tremendous servings of ass that it really ought to be illegal.  I suppose the best way to describe Stormlord is ‘blackened power metal’, but lest that dreadful word-mash make one think of Children of Bodom or whatever fucking black metal Dragonforce churned out before they were Dragonforce, have no fear.  This is purely epic, regal metal that deserves a far greater audience.
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Void Of Silence, Human Antithesis (2004)

Void of Silence is a somewhat clean-sounding doom/death act from Italy, through which has rotated a number of excellent vocalists.  2004’s Human Antithesis has the distinction of featuring the unparalleled vocal talents of Alan Averill of Primordial fame.  Just earlier this year, the band released a brand new album which is also quite tasty, featuring the vocals of Brooke from The Axis Of Perdition.  His vocals on that new album are something of a revelation, given the bile-flecked delivery of pure caustic rage typical of TAOP; with Void Of Silence he sounds like someone who has just realized he can belt out true epic doom vocals, and wants to wring every last possible speck of emotion from each phrase.  Human Antithesis is probably still the better record, with sounder songwriting and the more stridently confident vocals of Nemtheanga.  Honestly, it’s worth the price of entry just for the title track along, a gargantuan 20 minute journey to the deep, dark recesses of doom, like the crumbling edifices of history so oft-represented in the band’s artwork.
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Absentia Lunae, In Vmbrarvm Imperii Gloria (2006)

Absentia Lunae is probably my favorite band of the ATMF stable, which also includes Melencolia Estatica, Locus Mortis, Urna, Arcana Coelestia, and others.  To be honest, most of those bands share a similar aesthetic and sound, so if you like one of them, chances are you’ll enjoy most (if not all) of the rest; still, Absentia Lunae’s first album ekes out a triumph in my book, for its rather stately take on this much-abused genre.  It has that rather depressive air, without ever veering anywhere near to the abominable pit of mawkishness and repetition known as ‘depressive’ or ‘suicidal black metal’.  Blech.  Go listen to Dio, you fucking mopes.
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Hiems, Worship Or Die (2009)

Side project of dude from Forgotten Tomb, which project, frankly, I couldn’t give two shits about.  I really dug Hiems’ first record Cold Void Journey, but it was really just a perfection of a particular crisp, blasting version of black metal, whereas its follow-up adds a bit of black and roll spite and a touch more experimentalism, to quite headbangingly catchy effect.
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Beatrik, Requiem Of December (2005)


I know, I know.  I’ve just been yelling at you about this album recently.  Thing is, Beatrik’s swansong of an album is so utterly gripping that I feel like it needs to be shared.  Seriously, why aren’t you listening to this album RIGHT NOW?
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HomSelvareg, HomSelvareg (2005)


This band is also broken up now, which is a shame, really.  Their self-titled album (which, in its re-release – pictured above – also features bonus tracks from an earlier demo) is absolutely nothing new in the realm of black metal blasting, but it just feels so right.  The 1990s had the paradigmatic Grieghallen production, with its lofty reverb and wispy clarity; HomSelvareg’s album – rather like Hiems’ Cold Void Journey – has an entirely different way of doing things, and it just touches me in all the right places.  Gross.
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Thee Maldoror Kollective, A Clockwork Highway (2004)


This lot are a bunch of fucking weirdos, that’s for sure.  While the previous album from the Kollective, New Era Viral Order, will probably speak a bit more clearly to one’s blackened inclinations, I prefer A Clockwork Highway, on which the ambient, industrial, soundtrack elements become the actual building blocks of the songs, rather than superficial drapings atop fuzzily elastic-sounding ‘industrial metal’ riffing, as was too much the case on the previous album.  Alongside the strangeness of latter Manes and (maybe) Ulver, this TMK album is a great mood piece, albeit one that will never quite let you fully relegate it to mere background.
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Aborym, Fire Walk With Us! (2001)

Aborym have also just put out a new album – Psychogrotesque, out now on Season Of Mist – but for my money, this remains their best moment.  Fire Walk With Us! is genuinely unsettling music that ripples with a current of untamed electricity.  Yeah, it’s black/industrial, so if that’s not really your thing, I understand the hesitation to fully engage with this.  But, c’mon, it’s got Attila Csihar (of Tormentor, Mayhem, etc., etc.) on vocals, and the album closes out with the great tandem shot of a woozy cover of Burzum’s “Det Som Engang Var” and a seriously disorienting ambient/noise track in “Theta Paranoia.”  This record won’t just raise the hair on your arms; it will turn your arms into robot appendages, which will corrode and rust before your eyes while your gaze is transfixed by album cover’s red moon rising over a technological apocalypse.  Give it a chance – let this album get under your skin.
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This is, of course, ignoring your Bulldozers and your Ephel Duaths and your Abgotts and your, erm, Rhapsodies of Fire.  Exhaustiveness is not the point.  However, finding something new (note that every one of these releases comes from the past decade) from one of Europe’s less prominent extreme metal breeding grounds, well, it’s like picking out a choice figure out of the pandemonium (should that be panangelium?) of the Sistine Chapel.  (This preceding sentence brought to you by the familiar trope in music criticism that Michelangelo’s paintings are an easy analogue to a few dozen angsty young musicians bashing out hymns to the devil.)  Salute!
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*Though such congregations do crop up here and there – see the grouping of artists around the ATMF label/ethos for a prime example of that in action, or, more loosely, the always-intriguing Code666 label.  Always curious to know if a few bands develop, followed by a sympathetic label, or if it goes the other way around.  Case studies abound, assuredly.

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StarGazer, A Great Work Of Ages / A Work Of Great Ages (2010)

Burrows its way into your mind like it was always already there

First things first: A band so bold as to share their name with one of the greatest songs in heavy metal’s vast pantheon to feature the unimpeachable lungs of steel of Ronnie James Dio had better have some fucking chops to back up such chutzpah.  On this count, however, Australia’s purveyors of twisted progressive death metal StarGazer come out smelling of roses.  A Great Work Of Ages / A Work Of Great Ages is a seething, lurching, yet surprisingly sprightly beast of a musical journey that assaults the unsuspecting passer-by with dauntingly technical instrumentation that nevertheless resolves into a measured, artfully-meted out accounting of chaos.

The cover art displays crustacean shells, out of which emerge Doré-esque dragons.  The focal point of the image is another of these shells, which may also be a staircase spiraling into the slow decay of madness, or a doorway found only at the bottom of the ocean.  They ask if you will follow, these mortals, but in their beckoning you swear you hear a fractured echo – it’s your own voice, too.  You are Odysseus, journeying to the underworld, borne on these waves not just out but also down.  Down, from whence no Ithacan return is assured.

The most artful of aesthetics, however, don’t mean shit unless the music puts one in the same mind.  Thankfully, the endeavor is a success, in that the cover art mirrors the looping, sinusoidal death metal shamanism to such great effect that recurrent image to this listener was that of the titular house in Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves.  This is the novel which features, arguably, as its main character a house in which the interior dimensions are found to exceed the exterior dimensions, leading the home’s owners on a nightmarish exploration of the unfathomable and constantly mutating depths of a physically impossible space; this house, a brilliant narrative device (despite Danielewski’s myriad of other distracting typeset games) that reads like the polyglot ecstasy and narrative disregard of Finnegan’s Wake made demented architectural flesh.

The overall flavor of the album is musty and dense, a performance at a museum by candlelight.  Your ears can already hear its soundings by imagining the dementedly labyrinthine occult death metal of Portal (unsurprising, given the previous overlap in membership with StarGazer) being stricken with the same progressive inspiration that produced so many of our bona fide early tech/death masterpieces, from Pestilence and Cynic to Human and Individual Thought Patterns-era Death to early Gorguts and, particularly, Atheist circa Unquestionable Presence.

The album doesn’t sound particularly heavy, although the songwriting itself is obviously quite full and weighty.  The smoothness of the sound is primarily due the production, which is exceedingly rounded-off, revealing no jagged edges of sound or texture.  Though the sounds are quite distinct, you might yet think about how nimble and airy Obscura’s Cosmogenesis sounded by way of comparison with the sonic impact of this record.  Music this technical generally needs to be given the production space to flex its manifold tentacles, and although the sound here is somewhat muddy – especially in the guitar tone – each instrument nevertheless carves out an auditory niche, even during the most chaotic of sections.

Occasionally the interaction of the dense picking style and the generally busy drumming creates an awkward shuffling effect, which veers here to the side of intentionally off-putting and avant-garde, and there to the side of muddying the occult-thrashed waters.  The guitars churn and snort their way through unsettling passages of elaborate and serpentine riff-figures, stitched together then ripped apart and reassembled with consummate ease.  Special mention, of course, must necessarily go to the tremendous bass playing throughout this album, which is fittingly given a gloriously prominent spot in the mix.  The gorgeousness is particularly evident on “Pypes of Psychosomatis,” which eventually leads the rest of the band into a fist-clenched galloping section.

Vocals are, so far as one will notice them, a low, hoarse, wind-tunnel affair.  The moody introductory section of “Hue-Mn-King” is a nice change of pace, and the later sections of the song feature some of the highest-impact vocalizing of the entire album, with a nice echo effect on the grizzled snarling.  (It’s still nothing to Vomitor’s recent paean to all that is OTT, “Neutron HAMMER-AMMER-ammer-ammer…”, but that’s rather beside the point.)  The last track features a bit of chanting in the vocal department.

The unorthodox-sounding movements of these dense compositions do demonstrate some regularity and reason over repeated listens.  “Refractice Convex Continuum,” for example, succeeds by having one of the more recognizable song structures, with an excellent repeated melodic theme that recurs in slightly different rhythmic forms – now truncated, now stretched and contorted.  The opening of “Chase for the Serpentsong” carries the listener into a subtle trance, like a slow-motion samba played on tabla drums.  The last track of the album just kind of fizzles out, with its clean guitar strumming that is likely meant to seem profound and valedictory, but seems more like an afterthought.  Still, this is one of the only real missteps to these ears.

Throughout A Great Work Of Ages, the lyrics aim at portentous, Lovecraftian menace, but end up coming off as more or less ludicrously daft, which, frankly, is fine by me.  A masterclass in avant-garde extreme metal rarely gets the textual support for which one might nevertheless yearn.  This is from ex-members of Portal, which is not exactly a band notable for its cogent philosophical missives (viz., “Seepia accord thee / Stygian obsequious antipodes / Drear they larder, paradoor thy quay,” from “Black Houses”).  Fuck it.  When I hear something as jawdropping as the chiming, ringing arpeggios about midway through “The Morbid Slither…” which are then doubled and echoed by the bass, I’m willing to ignore lyrics that translate Max Weber into Sanskrit.

All things told, this would be a fantastic album to throw on while you lose yourself inside the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentine writer of short stories that were equally enthralled by gauchos as they were by labyrinths physical and figural.  There are standout moments, of course, as I’ve tried to highlight, but this isn’t really an album that one listens to for those standout moments.  This is an album for simply following along in wonder – gazing out at the stars, if you will – as the band moves you from one moment to the next, until the next moment is the last moment and your brain still keens for the next next moment.

Imagine navigating the maze of a library in Umberto Eco’s famed novel The Name of the Rose as it burns down around your shoulders.  This profound disorientation is a thread that runs all the way through StarGazer’s excellent sophomore album, and yet, just as the labyrinthine library, one never shakes the feeling that there is a secret order to the superficial madness, and that if one could only grasp it, no matter how partially, there might be found yet a way home.  To Enlightenment.  To Ithaca.  To wherever it is you first began.

Overall rating: 85%.  We built a tower of stone / With our flesh and bone.

A Great Work Of Ages / A Work Of Great Ages is out now on Profound Lore Records, and available here.

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It’s official: Spinal Tapdance is bringing down the Decision Hammer (patent pending) on an entire (and entirely overstuffed) genre to declare The Best Song In All Of Black Metal.

Play it loud and bang your goddamn head:

Darkthrone, “In The Shadow Of The Horns” (from A Blaze in the Northern Sky, 1992)

Perhaps you’ve got a different notion in your cobweb-addled brain as to what the Best Song In All Of Black Metal might be, but I submit to you the following: You are incorrect.  Mssrs Culto and Fenriz politely request that you sit on a crocodile.

I am willing to entertain the suggestion that there are objectively “better” songs out there, meaning more elegantly composed, aesthetically pure, rifftacularly creative, grimly atmospheric, and so forth.  Fine.  But frankly, none of your favored bullshit can hold a Transilvanian Hunger-candelabra to the maniacal dedication of this steamroller of a song.

The lineage is easily traceable, from Venom’s first two albums to Celtic Frost’s early work to Bathory’s genre-instantiating Under the Sign of the Black Mark to this, Darkthrone’s first black metal record.  But that’s just the thing: this one song, this seven minutes of cackling, unhinged black glory, is essentially the intensification – if not perfection – of all that made Venom, Celtic Frost, and Bathory great.

This tune spreads its hungering maw wide, blood-flecked spittle pooling around the wreckage of lesser ghosts; it leers and lurches and lunges and whispers, “Come in and welcome your doom.”

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Sure, there are other contenders from the vast Norse pantheon:

(Or, from the Swedish master himself…)

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Fantastic songs, all.  But gimme Fenriz’s relentless death-stomp of a tempo on “In The Shadow Of The Horns” any fucking day of the week.  Seriously.  And have Nocturno Culto’s vocals honestly ever been as full-throttle and ear-wreckingly hideous as towards the end of this song?

Black metal has ventured down myriad shoots and branches of this first rotted tree in subsequent years, but I’ve yet to hear a tune as corrosively brilliant as this, the Best Song In All Of Black Metal.

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Hmm.  This kind of piano ballad is already dodgy enough – like intentionally draping a battleship’s anchor around your band’s neck – without that chord change ringing out all too familiarly from every awkward middle school dance and (hopefully less awkward but still, let’s face it, pretty awkward) wedding reception you’ve ever been to.  This just… shouldn’t be.

Spiritual Beggars, “The Road Less Traveled” (from Return To Zero, 2010):


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Eric Clapton, “Wonderful Tonight” (from Some Fucking Album, some fucking year):

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I expected more from you, Sweden.  I really did.  (Thankfully, the rest of Return To Zero is pretty decent spaced-out hard rock.  But, c’mon, it’s pretty hard to come back from that, fellas.)

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