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Posts Tagged ‘Relapse Records’

Cough & The Wounded Kings, An Introduction To The Black Arts (2010)

 

A charming introduction

 

This excellent split pulls off one of those relatively difficult feats: bringing together artists of generally disparate styles to vie for your earspace without coming across like random combination of mere pastiche.  Of course, we’re not exactly talking about a Sonata Arctica/Darkthrone split  – these two bands clearly spring from the gnarled roots of that aged tree called doom.  Nevertheless, Cough’s nastier, caustic approach to corrosive doom doesn’t necessarily find an echo in the smoother, more traditional doom stylings of British gents The Wounded Kings.  What ties this split together, then, is not texture but structure (more on which shortly).

Cough’s side of the split kicks off with the welcome sound of gradually decaying guitars marking an ancient time like the tolling of leaden, tectonic bells.  These first sections of the track, once they are eventually coaxed into some cantankerous riffing, lock into a molten groove with a riff that barely manages to straddle half-note steps.  The fiercely raw vocals are laden with just the right amount of reverb, and though they are placed quite high in the mix, the pained howls proceed almost exclusively in short, elongated phrases, which matches the pace and intent of the riffing perfectly.  About a third of the way through, some Osborne-or-Oborn (take your pick)-esque clean vocals wobble into the eldritch haze, accompanied by a marked shift to a more driving riff – this is where the Electric Wizard influence is most starkly on display.  The second run-through of this chorus brings in a second guitar line, streaking through the miasma with some delightfully psychedelic soloing.

This is nearly twenty minutes of harsh, confrontational punishment, but it is thoughtfully constructed and paced for maximum impact.  The band seems to know how to hit all the right marks, changing things up at around the 1/3 mark as well as the halfway point, meaning that the listener is kept absolutely rapt with attention as her ears are dealt blow after doom-soaked blow.  There are plenty of other bands out there tilling this same field of sludgey, psychedelic doom, but very few that I’ve come across can construct an exercise this long with such surgical care while still sounding dangerously unhinged.  Perhaps the only complaint I can muster is that the cymbal hits are a bit more restrained than is my preference, especially in the ultra-slow dirge sections.  Nevertheless, fans of all kinds of down-tuned noise will find as much to enjoy here as in Electric Wizard, Salome, Esoteric, or even Coffinworm.  Cough’s side fades out uneasily on a bed of feedback and crushing doom chords, playing a bit like the song’s opening in reverse.  Time stops, retracts – the bell is silent in its dark tower.

The Wounded Kings, for their part, play a far less harsh, but no less intense style of prog-laced traditional doom.  In similar fashion to Cough’s side, side B opens with a slow building instrumental section.  Doomed riffs are doubled by faint organ, with some warm solo guitar bits whirling about just under the surface.  Here, too, our heroes’ vocals kick in around a third of the way into the murk, but here with the clean, slightly nasal approach one would expect from these more traditional stylists.  Think Reverend Bizarre, Warning, My Dying Bride, maybe even Witchfinder General on downers, and although The Wounded Kings throw in a bit more oddness than these aforementioned, the spirit is shared.  These reedy vocals gain momentum, until the clearest statement of intent rings out again and again: “I’m weak, but I will endure / With blackened sorcery.”  Such a simple, potent line may as well be officially adopted as this style of doom’s slogan and rallying cry.

The intense and increasingly complex layering of the last section of the song (from ten minutes or so onward) invites – even dares – the listener to dive straight into the heart of the chaos, to stare directly at the sun.  A swirling maelstrom of magic(k)al frequencies is drawn down around the listener, marrying the finest strains of traditional doom to these progressive flourishes of layered organ and keys with unblinking, perfectly restrained drums.  Keyboards, organs, guitars, and vocals are all layered atop the other, vying for prominence in the mix, surging and struggling against one another.  This type of music works tremendously well by projecting the yearning frailty of the human voice into this torrent of contrary vibration, as if demanding that the elements do their worst, against which stands, plainly, finally, a voice, some words.  A somber piano outro offers a plaintive coda, solemnly adjourning the summoned forces with mute, fruitless tears.  Briefest respite from the gathered darkness.

As I’ve said, these bands sound, on their surface, very little like one another.  The split plays, nevertheless, like an occult unity of, if not opposites, then at least tangents.  Each group brings a lengthy, multi-section piece of music, and each speaks obliquely to the other by the sharing of structure, and the almost mathematical configuration of timing and movement.  Thus, despite the obvious differences in their preferred brand of bleak musical output, these sonically dissimilar groups make sense together, at least with these two songs.  This split, which serves as a masterful introduction to both acts (as well as the titular black arts), ends up sounding like long-separated twins, having been raised in separate countries, spontaneously putting pen to paper and channeling the same story in different languages.  The tones are different, the syllables wild and unrecognized, but the message…  The message resounds.

Overall rating: 85%.  Drugged-up or trad-ed down, the doom is coming to getchoo.

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An Introduction To The Black Arts will be released by Forcefield Records on November 16th.  This split has also got me pretty pumped up for Cough’s upcoming full-length, Ritual Abuse, out later in October on Relapse Records, as well as wanting to revisit The Wounded Kings’ album from way back in January of this year, The Shadow Over Atlantis, which is out on I Hate Records.  For you vinyl fiends out there, though, don’t miss out on your chance to doom your turntable straight to hell with this tasty split.

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Unearthly Trance, V (2010)

 

Doom what thou wilt, &c., &c.

 

In which Brooklyn’s veteran filth hounds Unearthly Trance continue in their efforts to provide a soundtrack for the inevitable collapsing of worlds into shrieking pyres of dust and static.  Where the band’s two previous records, 2006’s The Trident and 2008’s Electrocution, largely shook off the drone of their early work in favor of a snarling, stomping Celtic-Frosty death groove, V is somewhat of a retrenchment, a retreat to sparser landscapes and fuzzed howls reeling their way to an unreachable horizon.

The hungry listener, therefore, will find nothing quite so immediately digestible as Electrocution’s metronome-disregarding “God Is A Beast.”  More times than not, though, the hungry listener is kind of an asshole, and needs to be put squarely in his place, which V will do with more than a little relish.  The album’s first track drops in out of nowhere, as though the song had been playing since ages before time, and someone just now thought to kick the shit out of some ‘record’ button.  It feels a bit like stumbling into the middle of a perpetually-occurring ritual.  A dreaded incantation sounds; the hooded assembly kneels, supplicant.

Throughout the album’s hour-long invocation, the band leans heavily on the trudging, drone-inflected doom featured in songs like “Submerged Metropolis,” largely forsaking the righteous hate-gallop of the previous two outings.  Speaking of “Submerged Metropolis,” Unearthly Trance’s ability to pen wonderfully evocative song titles continues apace here, with “Sleeping While They Feast” and “The Horsemen Arrive in the Night” particularly bringing to mind horrid visions dancing on the hazed periphery of consciousness, glimpsed only in ragged-breath nightmare.

“The Tesla Effect” is among the more straightforward offerings, with its drunkenly swerving swing beat, while “Solar Eye” features a bended, droning riff that gives the song a wonderfully elastic, almost buoyant feeling.  Quite an achievement for a band so relentlessly focused on grime and abjection, no?  The two-part “Adversaries Mask” is maybe the most intriguing bit of sonic uneasiness, with the first part a generally subdued affair which flirts throughout with creeping menace, Ryan Lipynsky sounding at times like Nick Cave tripping headlong into the occult.  The second part drapes some guts-deep snarling from drummer Darren Verni in all manner of hellish frequency manipulation and feedback, coming across like radio transmissions from a world torn apart by electromagnetic storms.

Rather than evoking the typical clutching panic of soot-encrusted doom through a dense, claustrophobic production and style of songwriting, the majority of V proceeds (and succeeds) by injecting the spaces between notes and phrases with the sort of clenched-jaw tension that ends up producing much the same effect.  Witness the closing sections of “Solar Eye” for an apt demonstration of this ritualistic technique.  Depending on your mood and/or eschatological inclination, the album’s closing track “The Leveling” either fizzles out disappointingly or heralds the advent of a slow-burning wave of technological destruction.

All of this is to say, essentially, that V is an out-and-out doom record, which may leave some listeners (this one included) initially slack-jawed and befuddled.  Upon reflection, it seems that Lipynsky may have exorcised some of his more up-tempo and aggressive demons with the Howling Wind’s excellent Into the Cryosphere earlier this year.  V, therefore, is a patient album, which is often music critic code for “It’s boring but I think I should like it anyway”; in this case, however, this patience is that of a gradually-unfurling apocalyptic vision, or a prehistoric predator crawling through untold eons to loose its fetid breath on your neck.  Meaning nothing so grand as “ignore at your peril,” but rather, “listen, or don’t – the time that remains, remains either way.”  Your vision clouds, solar winds carry a whispered message of absent light and inevitable crumbling.  This music waits, and watches, and breathes out a long, low sigh.  Static.

Overall rating: 80%.  Doom, or don’t, but you will be doomed.

V is out now on Relapse, and available for purchase here.

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The Dead, Ritual Executions (2010)

Claustrophobic avant-sludge doom/death with jaunts into funk? Yes, please.

Australia’s The Dead self-released their sophomore album Ritual Executions last year.  2010, however, sees them freshly signed to India’s newly-launched Diabolical Conquest Records, with Ritual Executions getting a remastering job, updated artwork, and seeing a proper label release.  A murky hybrid and death metal and doom is the order of business for this Australian trio, but we’re not talking the doom/death of early Peaceville mopesters Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost et al; instead, this is more like the dank, doomy, crypt-like death metal of early Incantation, or the quicker moments of legendary gut-wrenchers Disembowelment (though, in all fairness, if Incantation worship is your cup of righteous tea, the new Father Befouled album out on Relapse ought to be destination one).

The album starts off with a slow dirge of a song in “Burn Your Dead,” with a pleasantly thick, skull-rattling bass tone on the arpeggio riffs.  Vocalist Mike Yee demonstrates some abominably deep, guttural death tones, which are mixed in such a way as not to overpower the music, but still somewhat higher in the mix than many similarly-pitched vocalists, in a manner which verges on the comprehensible.  The closing sections of “Burn Your Dead” utilize an effective rhythmic compositional style to drone out with – a measure of 4/4 time followed by a measure of 3/4 time.  It’s a fairly simple tool, but it demonstrates that some deliberate thought has gone into the crafting of these tomes of death.

If you’ve picked up on that, though, later track “Centurian” is a bit of a let-down, since it, too, boasts that same meter (though in a somewhat more straight-forward 7/4 attack) for pretty much its entire duration.  The vocals also become somewhat monotonous as the album wears on, although not so much that they detract terribly from the masterful display of grooving, doom-tinged death metal.

The production isn’t quite gritty or fuzzed-out enough to push this album into sludge territory, but some of the songwriting veers in the direction of booze-drenched misanthropy.  There are a few frustrating quirks to the drum production, though.  The hi-hat has got a weird buzz to it, and the kick drum could stand to be mixed a little higher.  Still, it’s not overly clean, and although it rings somewhat hollow, the drum production still sounds like a real person pounding away on a real kit.

The album works effectively as a whole because of the band’s strong compositional skills, and the smart sequencing of tracks to alternate between trudging epics and more in-your-face, aggressive death metal blasts.  Some of the quicker tunes like “Cannibal Abattoir” show a very sprightly, almost jittery style of drumming (particularly in the snare drum work), which is occasionally reminiscent of a slightly less-busy Brann Dailor from Mastodon’s early work (think Remission or even Lifesblood).  I’m also not sure if it’s just because I’ve been listening to too much Kylesa lately, but I swear that some of these faster moments have a similar psychedelic feeling in the riffing.  At any rate, if the prospect of this type of doomy, well-composed death metal with non-obtrusive psychedelic touches gets your blackened heart all a-flutter, then you would do well to check this album out.

The funk drumming breaks in “Born In a Grave” are a bit jarring, but ultimately provide an interesting contrast to the more standard death metal signifiers used throughout.  The latter sections of this song, however, have some great, cavernous echoing effects to match the atmosphere of patient, plodding doom, and actually turn this track into one of the album’s highlights.  The build-up and eventual release around the five-minute mark (“BOOOOOORRRRRN…IN A GRAAAAVE”) is absolutely fantastic, and leads me into a near-apoplectic fit of wanting to smash furiously anything within reach.  Hide the china.

Other excellent moments include the groovy riff and breakdown around 1:30 into the title track, which is seriously crushing.  Think of the bulldozing momentum of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx, and you’re well on your way to grasping the effect of concrete slabs dropped repeatedly on your head.  The closing track “Death Metal Suicide” is a quite interesting change of pace, offering up another set of pretty funky grooves, especially in the drumming.  Whatever else you may think of it, it’s an extremely bold choice, playing a ten-minute long, funk-influenced instrumental jam to close out one’s album in a genre as frequently myopic and orthodox as death metal.

Some of the more avant-garde moments on this disc recall queasy death metal savants Gorguts (circa Obscura, primarily) and Portal, the latter of which may be more than a coincidence, as Ritual Executions was remastered by Aphotic, one of the guitarists from Portal.  The Dead don’t ever quite reach the same level of otherness (or what-the-fuck-ness) as either of the aforementioned bands, but it’s clear that they are drinking some of the same fetid water.

In general, the mélange of styles offered on this record ends up meshing rather well into a unique death metal whole.  Fans of the already-mentioned unsettled death metal acts Portal and Gorguts may find much to enjoy here, as will fans of the more strictly deathly side of doom/death metal.  One of the primary references which continues lurching into mind is Lasse Pyykkö (of Profound Lore’s Hooded Menace, as well as Phlegethon, Vacant Coffin, Claws, etc.), fans of whose should flock to this Australian cult with morbid glee.  Diabolical Conquest Records have found themselves a real winner of an album here, and I will be eagerly following future releases from this grimly determined band.  If Tom G. Warrior is to be believed, and only death is real, then get yourself a copy of Ritual Executions for a sledgehammer dose of heavy fucking metal reality.

Overall rating: 80%.  “BOOOOOOORRRRN…IN A GRAAAAAVE!!!”  Doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

More information on Diabolical Conquest Records is available at their website, where you can also order a copy of Ritual Executions.

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One can hardly crack open any corner of the internet lately without being subjected to the annual rite of Wistfully Realizing That Summer Is Nearly Over.  That fact, coupled with the release this week of Iron Maiden’s latest album The Final Frontier (itself a potential wistfulness-fest in its own right), which seems to have been one of the more high-profile and highly anticipated metal releases of the year, has left me with that vague twinge.

You know, that “Ah, shit, 2010, it was nice to know you, but I guess you’re off to stay at that farm upstate where you’ll have all the room to run and play that we couldn’t offer you here at home” sort of twinge.

So, as a bit of a patch on this collective maudlin tendency, I thought I’d tally up some of the albums which are still slated to be released in this humble Year Of Our Narcissism 2010 for which I’m most excited.  This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive (or even particularly informative) list; this is just the stuff that I’m keeping tabs on, all sweaty palmed and fidgeting in my seat.
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– Blind Guardian, At The Edge Of Time.  The full-page ad I keep seeing in the magazines has a quote describing this as something like “ethnic and pure.”  Sounds a bit dodgy, but I’m just hoping “ethnic” is a poorly-chosen synonym for “folk-ish.”  A Twist In The Myth was a little dull for my tastes, so here’s hoping they spice things up.

– Venetian Snares, My So-Called Life.  Not metal, sure, but Aaron Funk has consistently put out some of the most intense electronic music of the past decade or so.  Plus, Detrimentalist was the fucking shit.

– Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium.  Classic NWOBHM tunes fronted by a Björk-esque singer?  Hell yeah.  Bring it on, 20 Buck Spin.

– Infernaeon, Genesis To Nemesis. Their debut from a few years back was more than a little shaky, but I’m hopeful for this one.  Sure, this is unlikely to be the second coming of Nocturnus’ The Key, but hell, there’s a lot more room in death metal for keyboard experimentation than in black metal.

– Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty.  Cephalic Carnage have always seemed like the quintessential Relapse band to me.  I know they didn’t pioneer the stuff, but their widdly death/grind/tech/whatever whirlwind tends to satisfy like lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

– Black Anvil, Triumvirate.  Pretty psyched for this, and you should be, too, if you’re looking for an updated take on Darkthrone’s mid-period crust-covered Celtic Frost-isms.

– Unearthly Trance, V.  The upward trajectory of this band has been astonishing over their past four albums.  Electrocution was a pitch-perfect distillation of what it seems like they’d been working toward all-along, so who knows where they’re going next?

– Melechesh, The Epigenesis.  Melechesh have lately been everything Absu quit being a while back.

– Drudkh, Handful Of Stars.  Drudkh’s form has changed deceptively little over the years, leading some to interpret that as stagnation.  Listen carefully to the last few records, though, and you’ll hear the results of slight tinkering to an entirely unique sound.  The prominence of bass on Microcosmos alone should have signaled that no matter how hateful the forests these Ukrainians haunt, they’re deadly serious.

– Salome, [Title Still Unknown].  Profound Lore has been dropping some tasty hint-morsels lately about this album.  Vocalist Kat added the third prong to Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s triple vocal attack on lats year’s Agorapocalypse, but hearing her vocals attached to scathingly crippled sludge is another thing altogether.

– Torche, Songs For Singles.  Rumor is, the record’s too short, and maybe also too awesome.  Blown off as pop metal by plenty of those who don’t realize that Torche combine some of the best attributes of pop and metal, meaning maybe the epithet’s actually a back-handed compliment.

– Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini.  The title seems like a Latinized version of “The Ethical Axioms of Odin.”  Presumably that gives just as little clue to the musical contents as the Latin version, though.  This is one of my most feverishly anticipated records, though; Enslaved have been completely unstoppable to this point.

– Krieg, The Isolationist.  Okay, so I really dug The Black House, but thought Blue Miasma was uninspired and dull.  Adding Leviathan’s Wrest to the band (on bass) is more than sufficient to pique my interest, though.

– Cradle Of Filth, Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa.  Wow.  This may actually be a worse album title than the new Enslaved.  Plus, it’s Cradle Of Filth, so any credibility I may have had is likely a shredded mass of bloody pulp by now.  But you know?  I still kind of dig Cradle Of Filth, and Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder was light years better than most of their recent tripe.  So, y’know: Fuck off.

– Therion, Sitra Ahra.  Here’s to hoping that bringing things back to a single-disc release can bring slightly more focus than recent efforts.  Sure, Sirius B / Lemuria worked well in tandem, but given how good just the right amount of Therion is, too much Therion is a headache-inducing proposition.

– October Tide, A Thin Shell.  More gloominess, please.

– Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings.  Pyramids side-project with tons of unexpected participants and collaborators from throughout the metal world?  Excellent.

– Kylesa, Spiral ShadowStatic Tensions was one of my favorites from last year, so I’m pretty psyched that they’ve already got a new album coming out late October.

– Vulture Industries, The Malefactor’s Bloody Register.  Slightly off-the-wall black metal from a who’s-who of mainstream underground (it’s a fine, confusing line) Norwegian black metal.  Not for the ‘true’, likely, but true for the rest.

– Virus, The Agent That Shapes The Desert.  I did a little plug for this upcoming album a little while back.  I’m hoping the band can get enough pre-order support from all you good folks out there in Awesome Metal Appreciation Land to make this a 2010 release.  Fingers crossed, then…

– Aborym, Psychogrotesque.  Completely fucking no joke, a few days ago I was posting on Twitter about how I was hoping to see some new music from Aborym someday soon.  Lo and behold, maybe the very next day or so comes through the news item that they’ve got a new album coming out this year.  Shit!  Generator trimmed back on some of the detrimental excess of With No Human Intervention and cranked out some seriously deranged black/industrial anthems.  That title’s a bit shit, but still my soul hungers for the bleakness.

These last few are already out in Europe, to be fair, but I’d really love to see them picked up by a U.S. distributor rather than paying import prices:

– Ondskapt, Arisen From The Ashes.  Last one was a beast.  Make this one beast-ier?

– Kvelertak, Kvelertak.  Everything I’ve read about this band has made me want to drink some beers and crank the record.  And yet, if I am forced to pay import prices for it, I will have no money with which to drink some beers.  An existential conundrum if ever there was one.

– Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere.  Their debut full-length The Ghost of Heritage was quite impressive, but had a few too-ragged edges.  Here’s to hoping they’ve smoothed out in all the right places.  Still, these guys and Wodensthrone are making an awfully compelling case for an English black metal renaissance.
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So, as you can see, friends, it looks like there’s still plenty to be looking forward to this year.  And that’s just counting the ones that I’m actively looking forward to; who knows how much metallic gold remains to be mined with everything I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked?  Embarrass me with the breadth and exquisite sheen of your “Most Looked Forward To’s”

Oh, and I know I can’t include them here, but Devin Townsend has been hinting that the last two albums of the…quadrilogy (?) will both be released in March.  So, sorry, Ghost and Deconstruction, but I can’t put you on 2010’s list, even though I am milliseconds away from pissing myself with glee as I type.

Plus, I keep hearing random whispers about expecting a new Pig Destroyer one of these days, but nothing definite yet.  I mean, I keep prowling all over the damn yard, looking for something new with which to terrify my phantom limb.

My bones quake with the sickness.

The world is a frightful place, and hope the only salve.  Heavy metal for the common good.

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One of the upcoming releases into the metal-verse that has got me all a-twitter (no, not that kind of twitter) is the new Unearthly Trance record.  I remember reading that they were planning to put out a new album sometime this year way back around January or February, in Terrorizer magazine’s 2010 forecasting guide, but I hadn’t heard any more details since then.  I’d casually checked out their page on M-A a few times, but there’s still no 2010 album listed.  Anyway, thanks to the immortal efforts of one Blabbermouth.net, I finally have slightly more tangible proof that our ears will be blessed/cursed with another slab of righteously depraved metal this year.  Apart from the fact that the album’s title, V, is pretty fucking weak-sauce, I couldn’t be more pleased about the announcement of a late September release date.

Here, then, is the pleasingly bad-ass cover art for Unearthly Trance’s V:

Anyone hungry for some goat cheese hors d'oeuvres?

I mean, sure, if you tilt your head to the side and squint your eyes a bit, it may as well be the cover of the new Watain album, Lawless Darkness, done up in bluescale, but who gives a shit?  (Also, are those Nine Inch Nails I spy in three of the four corners there?  I know Reznor’s off destroying angels lately, but c’mon, not quite gone and forgotten…)  I, for one, am more than happy to offer up my earnest listening soul to Monsieur Lipynsky et al for a sound drubbing.  All of Thralldom’s records were twisted brilliance, the last two Unearthly Trance records (but especially Electrocution, their last, and its face-gnashing monster of a stompfest, “God is a Beast) kicked my ass, and Ryan Lipynsky’s other band The Howling Wind put out one of 2010’s best black metal albums thus far with Into the Cryosphere.

So, anyway, moral of the story is, two over-eager thumbs up for the new Unearthly Trance.  Be here now (with all due apologies to the Gallagher Bros.  Holy shit, Nintendo, can you get on that?  Instead of Italian plumbers, let’s have ourselves a video game franchise featuring two vaguely man-shaped English receptacles for whiskey and cusses.  NOW, PLS.)

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