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Posts Tagged ‘The Wounded Kings’

There are few things more satisfying than a truly excellent split album.  The options are fairly wide open, of course: One can find two bands that play very similar styles, and hope that a friendly spirit of competition will urge each of them to produce exceptionally good songs; one can find two bands whose styles don’t necessarily seem perfectly matched, yet when presented as a complement to the other featured act, make some curious sense together; or, of course, one can find two completely unrelated and bizarre bands to pair, and just revel in the strangeness.  All of these strategies can be used quite effectively.

Here are some of the successful splits I’ve got around the house that first came to mind:

Fen & De Arma


Cough & The Wounded Kings


Horna & Musta Surma


Horna & Behexen (the Finns must be quite good as this, because this is another phenomenal black metal split)

Most of these splits fall into that first category, I suppose, although the Cough & Wounded Kings split seems more like the second category.  Nevertheless, all of these are incredibly delicious splits.  Still, the entire reason I got to thinking about these split albums in the first place was because of a truly world-devouring split that didn’t happen.

Blut Aus Nord – Thematic Emanations Of Archetypal Multiplicity


The Axis Of Perdition – Physical Illucinations From The Sewer Of Xuchilbara (The Red God)


You see, these two EPs were originally intended to be released as a split album, and the more I listen to both of them, the more I am completely devastated that they were not released as such.  Now, I own both of these mini-albums on CD, so of course I can (and do) just play them back-to-back.  But that’s not really the point.  If these two monstrous recordings had been issued on the same disc (or as a split vinyl!!!!), I have little hesitation in saying that they would qualify for the title of BEST SPLIT ALBUM EVER.  Blut Aus Nord dipped into a completely new style of groaning industrial beauty on Thematic Emanations, closer in spirit to Ulver’s Perdition City than anything else in the French mystiques’ catalog (well, perhaps until this year’s mind-blowing 777 – Sect(s), but that’s another story…), while the Axis Of Perdition took the overblown insanity of their debut to new atmospheric and compositional heights.  The bands sound nothing alike, but it’s entirely natural to hear them plying these disturbed sounds in the other’s presence.

So, here’s my question to all of you brave readers out there: What are the most amazing split releases that weren’t?  I’m not actually thinking just of splits that were supposed to happen but didn’t.  I mean, use your imagination.  Think of some of your favorite EPs, and then think whether they could be even better in the context of a split.  Here are a few of my just thought-up dream splits:

Ulver – Vargnatt (demo) & Agalloch – Of Stone, Wind & Pillor (EP):



Gorgeous folk/black metal stirrings from both originators and inspired progeny.  Bonus points if we could convince Ulver circa Shadows Of The Sun to record their own version of Agalloch’s cover of Sol Invictus’s “Kneel to the Cross.”

Destruction – Sentence Of Death (EP) & Sodom – Obsessed By Cruelty (EP)



Two of the rawest, thrashiest, proto-black-iest sets of 20-ish minute madness from Germany in 1984.  Imagine these two slabs of influential metal history as one 38 minute album.  Then, imagine your brain slowly dribbling out your ears, and stupidly gleeful drool rolling down your chin.

Neurosis – Sovereign (EP) & Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada (EP)



This one’s a bit more of a stretch, but the corresponding influence of Neurosis on metal and Godspeed on indie and post-rock are similar enough, and the cinematic scope of both bands’ approach to texture and composition dramatic enough that I think fans of either band would find much to enjoy in the other’s output were these two excellent EPs to be smashed into one dreamy eruption of time-stretching bliss.

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Feel free to test out some of these split ideas on your own and let me know how they hold up.  In the meantime, what are your perfect splits that the cruel ravages of history and commerce have forever denied the world?

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My review of the magisterial split release between these two jovially-depressed entities – first done right here at ol’ ST – is now also up here at Metal Review, in case you missed it the first time, or would like to read it at a more aesthetically pleasing website.

Sooooooo slow; sooooooo good.

So, go on and get yourself introduced to them black arts.

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With the orgy of freshly-purged best-of thoughts and back-slapping still ringing in my e-ears (i.e., the ears I use to ‘listen’ to the Internet – try to keep up), I thought I’d take a little time to highlight some of those albums that passed me by, like two ships passing in the night, except one of those ships is just some dude with opinions, and the rest of the ships are (mostly) noisy heavy metal albums.  Me, I like to take my metaphors and reeeeeeally stretch ’em out further than is probably wise.

My failure in regard to most of these albums is that I didn’t hear them until much too late in the year for them to figure into my various end-of-year endeavors (in case you missed ’em, that’s here for my end-of-year wrap-up for Metal Review, and here, here, here, and here for my four pieces for this blog you are currently drinking in with your e-ears).  With a couple of them, though, I acquired them in a reasonable enough time, but just never gave them a frequent-enough listen to allow their charms to be revealed.  With these ones, I was like the father in some maudlin biopic, always too busy to go outside and throw the ball around with my son.

So here’s a belated apology to 2010’s music: You were pretty fucking great, but I let some of you down.  Hopefully you won’t find yourself coping with bizarre father issues in your adult sex life, ’cause therapy’s expensive.
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Blut Aus Nord, What Once Was… Liber I


Yet another profoundly disorienting trip from the masters of fucked-up French blackness, this one both comes as a surprise and makes perfect sense following the cosmic beauty of their last proper full-length, 2009’s Memoria Vetusta II.  This first volume in what I’ve heard is intended to be an ongoing series of (relatively) more straight-ahead metal from Blut Aus Nord plays like the grafting of the hideous black prismatics of MoRT onto the more driving frame of Odinist or even The Work Which Transforms God.  The whole thing sounds deceptively straightforward, until you actually sit and try to follow those careening shards of guitar leads off into the hidden corners of music-space, only to find them re-entering the field of perception from a completely new angle.  Really great stuff, and a shame I came to it too late.

The Wounded Kings, The Shadow Over Atlantis


This one was released way back at the beginning of 2010, but I didn’t get my hands on a copy until late fall after having reviewed their wonderful split with Virginia doomheads Cough (full review here).  None of the individual songs here speak to me quite as clearly as their half of that excellent split, but taken as a whole, the album is a wonderfully hazy trip down an idiosyncratically British style of esoteric doom.  Never too heavy, but always textured and unobtrusively psychedelic, this one worms its way a little deeper into my heart every time I hear it.

Jumalhämärä, Resignaatio

Damn, what a mesmerizing black trip this album is.  This Finnish band has been kicking around with various demos and underground rumblings for the better part of a few decades, and while I think I had heard one of their demos several years back, I totally missed out on the news of the finally-realized debut full-length.  It’s still pretty tough to categorize, as it drinks deeply from the wells of all sorts of black metal styles, but proceeds with a calculated sense of pacing, drama, and emotional impact.  Sometimes buzzing, sometime blurring, sometimes just plain beautiful – the underground is alive and well, if this is any indication.

Ghost, Opus Eponymous

Neither as brilliant as its slavish promoters would have it, nor as derivative and lightweight as its myriad detractors claim, this Ghost record ought to just be taken for what it is: a really fun, insanely catchy ride of well-crafted doom/rock pop songs.  “Ritual” and “Elisabeth” are probably the immediate stand-outs, but the whole album is a devilishly smooth experience, with buoyant instrumentalism, obviously-King-Diamond-derived falsetto vocals, and bewitching organ snarls.  I think I heard Metal Blade picked it up for a U.S.-distribution, so although I already got my copy at a somewhat reasonable non-import price, hopefully this quaint, somewhat subdued gem will be available for all hungry ears soon enough.

Ellen Allien, Dust

Ellen Allien’s smooth, generally melodic take on German electronica is right up my alley, and after the vocally-overloaded Thrills and the minimalistic, nocturnal Sool, Dust is a great return to the shimmering melodicism and forward drive of Berlinette, long since my favorite of Allien’s albums.  Her stealthy, breathy robot vocals are still a titillating highlight, but there are some wonderful songs throughout the album, particularly “Sun the Rain” and “Should We Go Home.”  Allien can whisper these ass-shaking paeans to gleaming futurism directly into my ear any damn time she wants.

Royal Thunder, Royal Thunder


Okay, so in all honesty, I don’t necessarily think that I let this record down – I’ve been trying to pimp the shit out of it ever since I reviewed it for Metal Review (read the full piece here).  I’m tempted to say that Relapse let me down with this one, not putting it out until just a couple days before Christmas.  I know, I know, this is just a reissue of the band’s self-recorded and self-released debut EP (though at 34 minutes, it could easily qualify as a full-length – don’t even get me started on trying to pass off Nails’ Unsilent Death as an LP…), and maybe Relapse is just testing the waters with a new act, but this band is already writing and performing at an astonishing level of quality and depth for such a young act.  If you’ve found yourself digging the sultry sounds of Jex Thoth, The Devil’s Blood, Black Math Horseman, or any other blues/rock/doom conglomeration lately, you owe it to yourself to get this NOW.  It really is that good.

Kill The Client, Set For Extinction

I didn’t listen to too much grindcore in 2010, and that’s my bad.  There was plenty in the way of grind/death/hardcore hybrids, with great albums from Early Graves, The Secret, Nails, Black Breath, and so, but Kill The Client’s third album was one of the best platters of straight-up, pissed-off, throw-a-dining-room-chair-at-your-cousin’s-nose grindcore.  My bad, then, dudes.  A handy one to have in the pocket for the next time you’re just flaming angry and need to spend some twenty-odd minutes of your day fuming and yelling and breaking shit.

Lantlôs, .neon

I missed out on Lantlôs’s debut album, and nearly missed this one, too, only coming around to it in the last week or two of the year just gone.  Still haven’t given it enough time to know whether it would have displaced any of my other top 30 picks, but it is a strikingly confident post-black metal album, which I choose not to imbue with any of the typical whining and baggage that accompanies a tag like ‘post-black metal’.  Sure, there are strains of the French romanticism of Alcest and Amesoeurs, the stern, patrician melodic rigor of Drudkh or Hate Forest, and the barely-contained menace of the German black metal vanguard of bands like Secrets of the Moon, Dark Fortress, and so forth.  More important than that, though, as with most albums that resonate almost immediately with me, is that the sounds within present a singularity of musical vision that succeeds because of, rather than in spite of, its stylistic hodge-podge.

Solefald, Norrøn Livskunst


I’ll be blunt about it: Solefald’s last two records (the companion pieces Red for Fire and Black for Death) bored me to tears.  They seemed to rein in the free-flowing experimentalism of early Solefald (like, first two albums early) without also delivering the great melodies and stately grandeur of Pills… and In Harmonia Universali.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, I hadn’t even realized that Solefald had a new album out until I read a few positive write-ups of it and decided to swallow my recent disappointment with the band.  And hell, am I ever glad I did.  Solefald sounds absolutely reinvigorated on this album, regaining their sense of playfulness while simultaneously kicking more heavy metal ass than they’ve probably done since all the way back at their debut, The Linear Scaffold.  Cornelius even dispenses somewhat with the ‘bored old man’ croak of his vocals, and if you haven’t heard it yet, “Tittentattenteksti” is the most absurdly grin-inducing song I’ve heard in heavy metal outside of Devin Townsend’s extensive catalog.  Welcome back, friends.
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So, which albums did YOU come to a bit too late in the game for proper 2010 consideration?  What foul, dank creatures are still lurking on the margins of availability, clamoring desperately for our collective attention?  It’s a great wide world out there, folks; let’s explore it together.

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In praise of some of this year’s releases that have featured prominently around Spinal Tapdance HQ lately, and in avoidance of some of the actual work I ought to be doing, I present a quick rundown of, as the title says, some of the new(ish) shit I’ve been spinning.

Beware the mad monk

Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits – Officially out today [ed.: Tuesday], I believe (along with enough other new metal releases to choke a horse, or at least force it into an equestrian approximation of headbanging), this is a nonstop grin-fest of everything wonderful and energetic about classic heavy metal.  Mike Scalzi’s vocals are as potent as ever, and the songs are both carefully honed and gloriously meandering.  Put it in yr ears and smile, smile, smile.

Color-by-numbers skeleton

Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke – For whatever reason, I’ve missed all the previous releases from this band.  This new album, though, really shook me by the shoulders and slapped me around a bit.  Excellent songwriting, beautiful textures, great clear bass lines and tasteful jazz-inflected drumming have kept this spinning over and over around here.  The instrumental title track may be the best thing here, though that’s not to downplay the judicious use of both harsh and clean harmonized vocals throughout.  Definitely recommended.

Climb it

Horseback, The Invisible Mountain – Tough to describe, but equally tough to ignore once it has sunk its claws in your flesh, this hypnotic album is something like an Americana act discovering krautrock and throwing in the menacing undertones of black metal.  Oh, plus the entire second side is a lilting ambient piece, the trip down the other side of the mountain after the first side’s arduous ascent.  A curious piece of work, but kudos to Relapse for picking this up for wider distribution.

It's good to remember how much you missed them

Autopsy, The Tomb Within – Brilliantly atavistic, mud-sodden death metal for murdering zombies.  It’s only five tunes, but all the death and doom you could hope for is alive and (un)well.  Welcome back, you perverts.

Brilliant artwork

Cough, Ritual Abuse – I haven’t got my grubby hands on the new Electric Wizard yet, but this new Stateside entry in the grand tradition of nihilistic sludge metal goes down just fine, all ragged edges and shaking hands.  Also playing of late has been Cough’s tremendous split with The Wounded Kings (reviewed at this very site by yours truly last week), out in November.  I’m pretty sure both sides of the split are streaming somewhere out there in computer-land, so get yourself to Google and soak in the doom.

Like 'Walden', but heavy metal

Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal – One of the most atmospheric albums I’ve heard this year.  Exceedingly nature-touched, overdriven-to-the-point-of-ambient ‘funeral doom’, though that genre description is hopelessly inadequate to describe the equally soothing and crushing sounds at work within.  Reminds one of neo-folk, without actually forcing one to listen to neo-folk.

It's a dead polar bear. Weep for this world.

Antony & The Johnsons, Swanlights – Antony Hegarty simply will not rest until he has made each and every one of us weep bittersweet tears.  This is fragile, strong, desperate, haunting music.  His duet with Björk is especially stunning, but the variety of songwriting styles on display throughout the album is most impressive.

Move your body

Gilles Peterson, Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura: Remixed – Last year’s original issue of the Havana Cultura recordings were already excellent enough, but here Gilles has enlisted the help of some top-notch remixers and reinterpreters to put a more club-friendly (without the horrific connotations that phrase can entail) spin on this broad pool of Cuban musics past and present.  Funky, soulful, and always a lot of fun.  It can’t all be heavy metal all the time, friends.  Gilles is there for you in your time of need.

Exhaustive, though not exhausting

Bob Dylan, The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 – A massive two-disc set of early demos of future Dylan classics, plus something like fifteen previously unheard songs.  This is a treasure chest to be explored, and in which to lose yourself.  The man is clearly not a ‘record once and move on’ kind of studio musician, as the strikingly alternate versions of some of these tunes illustrates.  Perhaps the most jarring alternate on here is the demo version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which is slowed way down, and led by piano only.

Hallucinatory shoegaze metal

Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings – Debut album from this side project of R. Loren from Texan weirdos Pyramids.  Features a shit-ton of guest vocalists and musicians, but succeeds largely because it doesn’t seem bogged down by that fact.  The album still presents itself as a coherent aesthetic whole, featuring a gorgeous variety of textures and moods.  Best heard as a piece, straight through, with mind set a-wandering.

Mind-bogglingly fantastic, dastardly metal art

Akercocke, Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone – Okay, so this is clearly not a new album.  In fact, it’s from way back in the Stone Ages of 2005.  But SONOFABITCH this album is so good.  You should play it all the time.  Each and every day.  Also, if the gentlemen of Akercocke would see fit to give us another album one of these days, why, that would be just swell.

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Random bit of old news that I’m still bumming hard about:

Soooooo good

Beatrik went and broke themselves up a while back.  Dude also broke up his more straight-ahead black metal act Tenebrae In Perpetuum, which is also too bad, but man, Beatrik was where it was at.  If you haven’t listened to Beatrik’s second album Requiem Of December yet, well my goodness, you just really ought to do so.  All the best bits of depressive black metal, proper black/doom (like Nortt, see), and the great organ textures of Skepticism, topped off with fabulously excruciating vocals…  A really tasty treat, is what I’m trying to say to you.

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So, what’s been keeping you lot auditorially-occupied of late?  Don’t be shy.

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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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