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Well, we’re finally getting into the home stretch, catching up on all that mountain of backlog cluttering up our review shelves.

At this point, a few indie-based folks aside (who we’ll continue to normalize into the regular reviews), this standalone should catch everyone up on a large number of releases, mostly in the black metal spectrum, but also including some goth, death metal, speed/thrash and stoner/sludge acts along the way.

So without any further ado, let’s dive in one last time, and see what everyone’s been missing, shall we?

Genuflexión – Apoteosis Fallida (Handful of Hate) (December 22)

Argentine post-black metal, which oddly leans rather postpunk to gothic rock in its basslines and melodies (“adictios a la ilusion de ser”).

In fact, were this stripped of the pointless blur of blastbeat drumming and the croak n’ yell black metal vocals, this would BE a postpunk album, with all those 80’s gothicized to…get this…90’s psychedelic shoegaze rhythms, tones and progressions (check out “nostalgia de luz muerta”, if you don’t believe it.)

Yeah, this was really strange. I’d probably have enjoyed this one profusely stripped of the blackened nonsense that came off as slapped on without any proper rationale, after the fact.

As it is…an interesting curiosity, marred by some weird desire to make some very obviously fresh and shiny apples into some very rotten, mold-infested oranges.

 

Djevelkult / Kyy / Nihil Kaos – Kult of Kaos Serpent (Saturnal) (December 7)

A three way split from Saturnal. Unfortunately, we’re not exactly talking
a trio of defining bands off their roster…

Djevelkult kicks things off. We’d covered them for their recent Når Avgrunnen Åpnes and found them rather iffy…at best somewhat Tsjuderesque, but not even that solid or dependable.

And the three tracks they deliver here don’t exactly disabuse us of that assessment, with only the more deliberate and midtempo “life devoid”
really standing out from the batch. As with their last go-round, they have a track or two here and there worth hearing…but the aggregate seldom apprehends to the all too rare comparative superlative with these guys.

Next comes KYY, whose Beyond Flesh – Beyond Matter – Beyond Death we covered a few years back. Nuff said.

Well…I can’t exactly say “they must have improved at least a little since then…”, but given the earlier review, these three tracks just sound…generic and dull, rather than standout for either good or ill, let’s put it that way. Ultimately, inoffensive, but so what?

Turkey’s Nihil Kaos offer two tracks that…well, let’s be honest, sound
identical to one another.

Seriously…start one, stop it after a minute or less, flip to the other…exact same riff, exact same tempo, exact same key.  Umm…creative!

Yeah…our take on KYY this time about sums up this split: “because thou art lukewarn, and neither hot nor cold.”

I leave it to the discerning reader to complete the quote.

Katechon – Sanger Fra Auschwitz* (Saturnal Records) (March 1)

Ah, Trondheim, Norway! And here I’m getting all excited, expecting demo-era Thorns (or the classic Mayhem they so obviously ‘inspired’)…

We’d previously covered their Coronation, and weren’t exactly impressed by their black/death leanings.  But bands often do change and evolve over time.

In this case, they’ve divested themselves of some dead weight, namely their guitarist and drummer…and short of a frontman, a band seldom changes style more than with a swap of guitarist/s.

Which leaves me somewhat relieved to report that the band has indeed shifted their approach to a noticeable degree, and it’s an obvious improvement.

Did we mention early Thorns earlier? Yeah, well they’ve managed to incorporate some of that very sound into more deliberate, midtempo tracks like “unheimlich” and “fotspor”…and even snatch a former member (from the Trondertun demo, no less!) in the process.

Sadly, the better part of the album sticks to more of a typical speediness – not entirely outside the early Thorns soundscape, but more akin to the even earlier Stigma Diabolicum material than what anyone actually loves about the band’s all too brief demo-era heyday.

Even so…it’s close enough to give a nod of due respect…and those two tracks are fucking killer.

* I’m given to understand that these guys are not what the album title would seem to imply, and that they have some rationale about a more generic “evocation of great suffering and misery” to its usage…I’ll take their word at that and leave further investigation to the prospective listener.

 

Dim Aura – The Triumphant Age of Death (Saturnal Records) (March 22)

Nasty vocals mar this black metal outfit hailing from (of all places!) Tel Aviv, Israel.

The band’s sound seems a bit off from the usual and accepted stylistic templates of black metal’s various offshoots and subgenres, with the simplistic move a chord a whole tone up and down ad nauseaum nonsense of earlier Dark Funeral (“towards the plague”) and blastbeat phrases offset by a more wide open and airy feel throughout, and an almost blackthrash approach to tracks like “black heretic hate”.

The overall sound is too thin, yet overly noisy, with a single, mids-leaning and tremelo heavy guitar tone complemented only by these GWUAHH WAHH WUUUAAHHRRR GYAAAAAHHH screamo vox…which don’t feel very black metal at all, to be honest.

The overall effect is quite distancing, particularly if you’re expecting a more orthodox, traditional or “true” black metal out of this…but even if you’re more modernist and favor the black/death nonsense spearheaded by the Swedes and bands like Watain, this is clearly coming from somewhere else entirely.

Nah, not in the least.

To put a finer point on it? By no stretch of the imagination does this work.

Next?

GREAT FALLS – A SENSE OF REST (Throatruiner Records / Corpse Flower Records / Init Records) (December 11)

Slow, noisy, sloppy avant-sludge with screamo vocals.

All the atonal riffing, squealing feedback and noise brings early Voivod to mind, but it’s not even as interesting or listenable as that (which is already saying something).

The feel is half 90’s, but as informed by Electric Wizard as much as Flipper.

Kind of a mess, pointless musically and ultimately quite annoying due to the shit vocals.

VETALA – Retarded Necro Demential Hole (Harvest Of Death) (December 25)

Weird ass Portuguese blackened…what? No wave? Surf rock tones and ringing guitar with nasty snarling black metal vocals, go figure.

It’s like they were fans of Pere Ubu and Sonic Youth, possibly a touch of Gang of Four in there for good measure…then they put black metal snarls and howls over the top.

It’s all very unproduced, clearly recorded rehearsal tape level in somebody’s basement or garage…and while not exactly trash, it’s pretty fucking bizarre.

Nefastu – Obscura Transcendência (Purodium Rekords) (December
31)

“note: this band isn’t available for interviews.”

So go the promo materials for this oddball Portuguese black metal act, who succeed where so many others fail: in creating a deliberate, plodidngly trance inducing atmosphere in the vein of Burzum, but with more fluidity and fire.

Only three songs, but all of ’em work.

Let ’em play their games of image and artifice. They earned that right with this more than respectable demo.

Hollow Leg – Civilizations (Argonauta) (January 25)

Stoner/groove act somewhere between Red Fang and CoC, but with the odd sludge propensity to use fat bellowing guys as frontmen tagged on for bad measure.

The riffs are OK, if sorta boring and samey, but they could’ve really used a proper frontman to bring ’em up to listenable range.

Not the worst we’ve covered by a longshot…but ultimately?

Meh.

Carrion Mother – Nothing Remains (Ordo MCM) (January 18)

German doom with a decided sludge/stoner orientation.

Seriously detuned, simplistically lumbering riffs with the expected uber-fat tone and droning, trancelike track length, with silly, nigh-death metal (but not close enough to work) bellow n’ scream vox. They sorta fit, but tend to take away from rather than enhance the mood.

You have to ask, were these awkward “vokills” really necessary? Or would this have been better with a more normal, or even straight on death metal tone (look how good Peru’s Antichrist comes off, or even early Ahab?)

Again, the riffing and production were dead on for the style, and work just fine.

Ross (Pocc) – Sing, Guslar! (Ordo MCM) (February 15)

The band soon to be known as Scald (whose excellent Will of the Gods is a Great Power was praised here) is revived here courtesy of their lone demo (marked by the crackles and pops of a well worn vinyl master) and a handful of live tracks (which sound about on the level of basement rehearsal tapes, for better or worse).

They’re a long way from the bombast and drama Scald brought to the table, but there’s still a definite vibe to be found here, particularly on the title cut…and it’s this that makes them worth at least a quick listen to see if this one grabs ya half so well as their later work did.

Keep in mind, this isn’t eactly the same band – the frontman and drummer are the only members to cross over between both bands, while guitarists and other members were lost to religion (a harsh mistress to those who fall under its uberconservative and surprisingly limiting spell for however short a time).

Even so, there’s enough crossover and core familarity here to please fans of Scald looking for a few more tracks to expand their all too short recorded lifespan.

  

The Naked and the Dead – S/T (AnnapurnA) (March 1)

The entire recorded (and live) output of a first wave NYC goth band you’ve likely never heard of, even if, like yours truly, you were into the scene back as early as that.

Admittedly, ’85 was pretty late for first wave, even the UK acts that spearheaded that round had all either packed it in or shifted to radically softer, more mainstream iterations or spinoff acts by then…but who knew?

Out of the 7 live tracks here, three are well chosen, even somewhat obscure covers (Sex Gang Children, the Stooges, UK Decay), but what really impresses are the four demo tracks.

Somewhere between Siouxsie, Skeletal Family, the Cure and Garlands era Cocteau Twins…hell, you could make an argument for “D for Desire” era All About Eve here – comes this surprisingly good if rather short lived act, whose precious few originals not only display a clear understanding of the riffs, techniques and stylistic flourishes that made their obvious influences work so well, but offer a strong argument for their belated inclusion into the canon as a worthy member in full standing.

Skeletal Family is the closest analogue, to be sure…but Bauhaus style drumming and Southern Death Cult rhythms bring The Naked and the Dead to a place all their own, syncretizing all the best elements from several scene leaders and making them all their own.

Essential listening for goth aficionados, no question.

Ice War – Manifest Destiny (Dying Victims Productions) (December 23)

We’ve covered quite a few releases from this former Canadian punk rocker, first under his Iron Dogs moniker, then as the increasingly improved Ice War: Battle Zone, Dream Spirit, the self titled.

Essentially, what he has to offer is a sort of Manila Road or Brocas Helm meets Majestic Ryte “epic” bombast, but with the thin single guitar feel and open space of Heavy Load or even Rush.

It’s not heavy enough tonally for my tastes (easily solved – just get a second guitar in there and beef up the distortion a bit), but ever since he made the shift to Ice War, the material has been pretty damn solid…and this is no exception.

Chalk up another one to the win column, eh?

Hexecutor – Hangmen of Roazhon (Dying Victims Productions)
(December 23)

Driving, high speed aggressive old school blackthrash, more or less in the Teutonic mold thereof.

It’s not quite as dead on as Colombia’s Witchtrap, but it’s certainly up there with, and arguably surpasses, vintage Desaster in terms of recapturing that hyperactively aggressive, crunchy speed/thrash feel.

Very good stuff.

JOYLESS – Unlimited Hate (ATMF) (December 28)

Weird attempt to mix black metal with indie rock.

“Room of velvet splendour pt. 2” comes off very much like someone was screwing around in the rehearsal room covering the Beatles’ “love me do”, which is patently bizarre.

Other tracks along the way such as “jornfrulysets fall” come off like Mazzy Star or Chris Isaak gone all corpsepaint on your ass, while “your crystal fragments” feels like REM with touches of 60’s garage rock harmonies in the backing vocals.

Finally, “swansmile” brings it full circle, much akin to the more countrified tracks of the 70’s Rolling Stones.

Say huh?

umm…yeah, sure! Let’s see what their other release this month has to offer, shall we?

JOYLESS – Wisdom & Arrogance (ATMF) (December 27)

hmm. Is this more “normal” by DSBM standards? Perhaps a few tracks point in that general direction (“stalingrad”, “divine”)…but it’s still pretty fucking weird.

Not really a surprise Niklas Kvarforth was involved in an earlier release of this album…

While this may not be as difficult a listen as Unlimited Hate, it’s still pretty damn weird. There are quirky, nearly spat female vocals (and cheesy teenaged poetry recitations), thin, clean guitars with the distortion toned down and running through 10 watt practice amps or something and once again, a very indie/college rock sensibility at play throughout.

Weird stuff any way you slice it. I guess the more standard indie rock vibe of Wisdom leaves it more listenable than the more jagged shifts between black and indie on Unlimited…but neither’s likely to appeal to your typical black metal fan.

Seriously weird stuff, that’s all I can warn.

AERA – The Craving Within (De Tenebrarum Principio) (January 25)

Deliberate, rather second wave Norwegian style riffing, Gravelandesque vocals and keyboard sampled Viking chants. The sound is often a bit basic (shift up one whole tone, modulate down one whole tone, repeat, rinse)…but still capturing the epic, dramatic scope and feel of all the best Viking/black metal herein.

Better production and more of a bouncy, almost playful feel than you’d ever find from Darken, but the comparision is an apt one, particularly once you shift to his full on Pagan/Viking material.

I was certainly good with this one, yeah.

FALAISE – A Place I Don’t Belong To (A Sad Sadness Song) (March 29)

We’d covered these pensive Italian post-black metallers’ My Endless Immensity, but here find a much improved…or more holistically balanced iteration of the band, less pointedly emo (though that’s clearly still evident on tracks like “when the sun was warming my heart” and “a place I don’t belong to”) and more of a properly integrated blackened emo, or emo/black metal crossover, if you can picture such a thing.

This time around, they actually sound black metal in a proper sense…and yet have not given up a whit of their obvious emo compositional structure and orientation. It’s less that they changed stylistically, and more like they were grinding gears, and finally found the WD-40 to grease up the rusty fuckers and make ’em start working together properly.

Either way…I was surprised to hear just how well this one worked, conflation of two rather disparate musical styles and all.

Watch this start a new subgenre or some shit.

Good stuff.

Siculicidium – A Halál és az iránytu (Sun & Moon) (April 8)

7″ with a very split verdict.

Lead “al halal” is perfectly killer, old school Norwegian black metal with plenty of drive, melody and polished production, croaked vox that fit the sound they’re trying (quite successfully) to recreate…damn good stuff.

The B side, though…ugh.  The fact that they’re Eastern European comes to the fore, as this feels like some grubby cross between Root and Maniac Butcher, with weird, plodding bits that cross a 90’s indie/grunge feel with mouth harp folk. umm…no.

So yeah, this is one amazing side, one that’s perfectly shite.

You pays your money, you takes your chances. Just wear down the grooves on “al halal” and run the needle across side B a few times so your unsuspecting pals can’t give it a spin by mistake.

Malokarpatan – Cesta podzemnými sálami Kovovlada (Sun & Moon) (April 8)

Utterly bizarre and pointlessly experimental 7″ out of Slovakia.

Side 1 is mostly foley effects (of a rainy tunnel, sewer or dungeon, take your
pick) with weird ass Forbidden Planet style electronic noises over the top.

Side 2 appends overly detuned, muddily lo-fi distorted guitar and drums, and those stupid “underground black metal” cavernously reverbed vocals.

Not quite Abruptum, but close. Next?

CROC NOIR – Mort (Wolfspell Records) (December 21)

Plodding midtempo black metal out of France.

Parts of it almost feel post-, like the pleasant acoustic “seul”, others somewhat DSBM to Cascadian (“tapis dans l’ombre”, “transi d’effroi”), but most of this is fairly traditional in origin, despite the occasional presence of – get this – accordion. And it fits.

It’s quirky enough and yet traditionalist at core to pass muster, and I did really like a few tracks like the aforementioned “transi d’effroi” and “des feuilles mortes” where the accordion was very much a part.

More accordion next time, mes amis…

…porquoi those were the only bits that actually stood out and worked!

NAZRAK – Cantiques Funebres (Wolfspell Records) (December 21)

Odd yet often traditionalist symphonically inclined black metal out of France.

Two tracks work quite well: “le fantome et le mortel” and “St. Jean de la Porte”. The others are too workaday and nondescript, and utilize a touch too blatant and upfront a keyboard to really work for the 90’s-oriented black metal sound they seem to be reaching for on their two standout tracks.

See if you can grab those two, and forget the other four.

NYCTOPHILIA – Ad Mortem Et Tenebrae (Wolfspell Records) (December 21)

One man bedroom black metal hailing from Poland. He tries to get sorta Vardanesque (probably shooting for, and falling far short of Burzumesque) at points, but only manages to come off vaguely akin to Shining, if that.

Yeah, once again, while not the worst of the genre (not by far…), still found myself quite bored by this one.

Next?

NACHTEULE – Bergdorf (Wolfspell Records) (December 21)

Yet another one man bedroom black metal affair, this time out of Quebec.

He certainly tries to keep it moody and does make an effort to mix things up – “a grand pas” bears little in common with the title cut, for instance – but there’s still an unrelenting sameness that pervades many of these tracks, as if he took ideas and riffs from one or two of ’em (say, “l’aube” and “autour du foyer rouge”), mashed them together and made a “new” track from the combination of the two (say, “les yeux de la foret”). Repeat, rinse.

As such, the best you get here is the aforementioned “a grand pas”, which is the only track that really broke the mold of jigsaw riff and tone construction being utilized ad nauseaum otherwise.

Meh.

ODIOUS DEVOTION – S/T (Wolfspell Records) (December 21)

Typically driving yet melodic, old school oriented Finnish black metal…sorta.

See, there’s precious few tracks with actual vocals on ’em*…and at least two long ambient space rock style synth pieces.

* well, OK, they’re usually there somewhere, but utilized far more sparingly than you’d expect.

Truth be told, didn’t set me on fire in the least…though I admit to some affection for the spare Tangerine Dream meets Jean Michel Jarre synth stuff they make a distinct sideline of.

TEMPLAR – KNIGHTS OF NUCLEAR HELL DECIBELFUCKING THE CHARRED REMAINS OF THE CHRIST (demo)

FInnish blackthrash three piece.

They have an oddly unique character about them, no question – this is hardly the usual South American or Teutonic school retro worship, nor is it the more recent Aura Noir/Desaster/post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone sort of affair.

Instead, you get some strangely vocalled, upbeat, almost naive trad metal riffing with clean but overdramatic warbling that goes all Cookie Monster before going throat-rippingly raw vocalled in the course of a phrase or two of the same track (“decibel tyrant”).

It’s almost like Bethlehem suddenly discovered Darkthrone’s Goatlord and the first Bathory album, and said hey, let’s take the latter, pull in a bit more NWOBHM and early Swedish metal like Heavy Load, then go for those awesome vocals Gylve dropped on the former, complete with girlish backing shrieks at odd intervals…that’ll be awesome!

Then tag in a very obvious (if weird) sense of humor (“war lesbians”, anyone”?) and you have Templar in a nutshell.

I have to admit, I was amused by this one, and when they were just blazing away sans vocals, they were pretty damn awesome with all those driving riffs.

But while they’re probably very much in on the joke here, you have to steel yourself for comedy vox, there’s no two ways about it.

Ravenous Death – Chapters of an Evil Transition (Memento Mori) (January 21)

Well, it’s Mexican death metal, and that should already give fair
warning of a few things:

first, that it’s going to be blackened,

and second, that it’s going to be sloppy.

Yeah, you can make comparisons to similarly minded, noisier and looser acts along the lines of the early Finnish scene or what have you, but the fact remains that the Mexican scene bears hallmarks very much its own, like ’em or lump ’em.

Can’t say I hated it, but sounds like about two dozen other likeminded supposed death metal acts coming out of the region of late…and as such, offers precious little to distinguish itself from the pack.

Horrisonous – A Culinary Cacophony (Memento Mori) (January 21)

Another Aussie act, this time out of Sydney.

Still noisy and loose in feel (again, how much of this is due to bad guitar tone and/or lousy production vs. actual playing skills and stylistic choices is open to debate…), but this time with a more typical Carcass-ian grossout aesthetic to go with its aimless, fairly generic tremelo riffing (which does at least manage to sound properly sinister and death metallish – no confusing these guys with black metal, or slavish regurgitation of a single seminal band’s playing style, like so many others these days).

Again, wasn’t exactly enthused by this…but like Vile Apparition, bore enough vague relation to older, better bands to at least come off as listenable, so there’s that.

Vile Apparition – Depravity Ordained (Memento Mori) (January 21)

Well, this is telling…a band out of Melbourne whose demo (included herein) sounds about 10 times better than their actual recorded debut.

Yeah, this has happened before, but sheesh…

This is some seriously noisy, more or less “brutal” death metal (yep, nothing but Suffocation worship again…), but with some oddly progressive death moments thrown in for good measure.

Vocals are more straightforward, somewhere between Baphomet of Dead Shall Inherit-fame and Craig Pillard without all the bowel-quivering depth, and the riffing crosses stuff like later Death and Disincarnate with the expected Suffocation regurgitation.

All this combined with a healthy dose of straightforward if poorly produced and noisy trad death orientation (which comes out in slower sections, like the middle eight of “aeon of impalement”) leaves the band a lot more listenable than too many of their peers.

That said, the production does them zero favors, leaning extremely heavily on the mids and shoving everything right up in your face, where the demo comes off far more organic and full sounding…at least so long as the drummer lays off of the lengthy snare rolls and blastbeat fills, which sound perfectly atrocious here.

Vagaries of production (or lack thereof) aside…it’s an album that’s tough to either praise or condemn, being overly “brutal” and proggy for this veteran’s traditionalist tastes, but bearing just enough of the old school feel and familiarity to give ’em at least a pass, if not a nod of due respect for not entirely missing the train, here.

So many of their ostensible peers do.

Sacrilegia – The Triclavian Advent (Invictus Productions) (April 12)

Irish black metal with a more driving, almost blackthrash tempo and vibe.

Even so, don’t expect blackthrash in any proper sense, or appending to the expected Teutonic or South American (or even American) schools thereof.

No, this is more black metal with some of that old fire under the ass, rather than being informed by second wave Norwegian stillness and coldness as so much of the modern idiom (and sadly enough, other, unrelated genres of metal it’s managed to infect) actually is.

I guess you can catch quick glimpses of bands like Morbid Angel (the first few seconds of “on herding of swine”) or Slayer (“armoured angel”, which alongside successor “the unhallowed” represents their most thrashlike track here) before matters give way to a far more black metallized approach.

But taken all in sum, this is still a case of too much of this, too little of that; where there’s just enough of a given approach to sound vaguely familiar and pass muster, but far too much of another to properly adhere to or apprehend the sonic pallette of either style.

There’s way too much of this syncretization going on nowadays, and hence far too few bands actually worth hearing more than once or twice (where the old school leaders and originators of these styles are still looked up to, copied and played regularly by old and young metalheads alike).

But at least Sacrilegia gets it more right than not on occasion…”armoured angel” being case in point.

Grave Infestation – Infesticide (Invictus Productions) (March 29)

Noisy, crusty sounding “underground” death metal power trio working the filthiest, messiest end of the death metal spectrum. These guys make Autopsy sound polished, Incantation like riffmasters.

Yeah, this one’s pretty much a mess, but at least it’s trying to sound old schoolish.

May have appeal to those who like things decidedly sub-Grave and almost leaning grindcore in simplicity and rawness, not to mention lack of production.

NEKROFILTH – Worm Ritual (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (December 28)

We’d covered these Ohians cum Coloradans a few times previously, for Devil’s Breath and Filling My Blood With Poison and here they are for round 3.

This time around, they may be even rawer than previously, even roughing up a Venom cover quite a bit…and that’s by far the longest track to be found on this punkified, grindcorelike slab of quick, overly raw distortion-bedecked, heavy on the mids yet with clearly audible basslines throughout, way too much reverb on the snarl n’ shout vox blackthrash.

Not sure I’m hearing what sounded so good on Filling, but it’s certainly better than what was picked up on Devil’s Breath…and that Venom track was pretty damn solid, so familiar yet distinct enough to let ’em make it their own. And that bass being shoved right up front? Didn’t exactly hurt that estimation one bit…

  

POUNDER – Uncivilized (CD, LP, TAPE)(Hells Headbangers) (January 22)

We’d previously covered their Faster than Fire almost exactly one year prior, and seriously dug Matt (Gruesome) Harvey’s retro-USPM side project, which that album was, through and through.

Well, that’s still more or less true, but things have changed this time around.

While those elements are still discernible herein, expect a far more noticeable…hell, even quite pronounced increase in the more melodic, AOR-like vocal and guitar harmonies, which pull Uncivilized more in the direction of folks like Pete Willis-era Def Leppard (you know, when they were actually a good band?), Angel Witch and Praying Mantis.  You can even expect some moments that come off more Journeyesque than anything found in the more particularly US power metal vibe that marked the EP.

While this makes them far more solid of a Frontiers style act, in relation to what you’ll hear on Faster than Fire, it comes off as a definite shift in direction, even something of a disappointment.

The problem isn’t merely that they’ve sweetened things up, but that they’ve done so to the degree that all that likeable retro-metal drive and aggression seen last time around have been tamed to the extent that softer, more polished elements have come very much to the fore.

Sure, there’s not a lot to grouse about when the end result sounds as decent as this does on a purely objective level.  But does this mean that next time they’ll be doing Todd Rundgren swipes and ELO?  How about the Bay City Rollers and 70’s bubblegum rock?

Still enough USPM in there to make ’em worthy of a listen…but expect to hear these guys on the next Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, the way things seem to be progressing.

CHAINBREAKER – Lethal Desire (CD, LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (February 15)

Typical US style blackthrash (out of Canada, no less!), with heavy Motorhead, Venom and Bathory (and vocally at least a touch of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) influences bleeding though every Midwestern biker bar oriented note.

They up the ante slightly by tagging in a bit of classic death metal (“born loud” and “constant graving” both sound quite Entombedlike), which gives them the edge needed to relieve the seasoned listener from the inevitable ennui that arises when hearing band after band working the same handful of influences and stylistic flourishes.

Very (acceptably) average overall, but with a sprig of extra spice to sweeten the pot.

BAT – Axestasy (CD, 12′ MLP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (April 26)

We’ve covered this Ryan Waste side project several times, for Primitive Age, Cruel Discipline and Wings of Chains and liked ’em every time.

Here’s more of their patented retro minded blackthrash/speed metal, with all the rawness and solid self assuredness to their playing you could wish for.

Five quick tracks and a slasher film style filler.

Just as good as they ever were.

Perverticon – Wounds of Divinity LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (January 25)

Swedish black metal, but not that tired black/death shit. Nor is it Norsecore, or as pointedly eeeevil and “occult” as a lot of bands out of the land of Abba and Saab tend to push themselves off as.

Instead, you get something more individual and nuanced, with dark melodies and drive that at times evoke recent Dark Funeral or vintage Gorgoroth, but truly adhere to neither of these bands styles, choosing to rework influences to their own advantage rather than slavishly xerox and regurgitate like so many of their peers.

Does it get a bit tiresome? You bet – and it’s more modernistic than retro-second wave, so don’t be fooled by some elements of the aforementioned acts to be found herein.

But overall, they pull off the rare feat of actually absorbing many of the right elements, then turning those to their own craft and creation, to create something rather more idiosyncratic…not aimlessly syncretist, slamming inappropriate cross-genre elements together to create an unpalatable mess (which is sadly business as usual from young bands these days), but choosing elements from the same or closely related genre to enhance and inform their own take thereon.

Hats off for that much, and make no mistake, there are plenty of moments of value to be found herein.

Ulvdalir – …of Death Eternal LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (January 25)

Russian black metal…but bearing precious little in common with that nation’s usual pagan folk to volkischer approach to same.

Instead, Ulvdalir offer a strange, somewhat skewed take on more traditional Norwegian or Italian expressions of second wave black metal. There’s a quirkiness informing the darkly depressive scoring of tracks like “black flame of will”, and yet you can hear some fairly “mainstream” standard bearers like Immortal or Inquisition playing int oothers like “eternal angel of death”.

Regardless of how you read it or the actual intention of the musicians involved…it works.

Ringarë – Under Pale Moon LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (March 8)

Strongly keyboard-prominent symphonic black metal out of Nashville, Tennessee (!)

Well, OK, they’ve moved to Philly of late (see, knew those cheesesteaks’d get ya, pardner!)…and half of the band is actually behind this month’s Musmahu as well.

It’s certainly moody and sets an atmosphere of sorts…but it does seem strange to have a heavily synth based, almost space rock thing going on in combination with otherwise unrelated (if perfectly acceptable) black metal.

It’s like Faunts or Nightsatan suddenly decided, like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, to wake up one day and join a black metal band, just for the fuck of it. Sure, it may work in a weird way…but it’s pretty damn odd.

I was OK with this. It’s certainly moody enough for my tastes, and you can actually hear basslines as well…not something you hear everyday in metal per se, much less this genre of same.

Malakhim – II 12″ MLP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (March 8)

More ooky spooky Swedish black/death nonsense from the guys who gave us Demo I.

I have to acknowledge a definite improvement, not least in the production here…but if you give a damn about this one at all, it’s for “sworn to satan’s fire”, which is so far above the other three tracks as to sound like a completely different band.

Still not a particularly good one, mind.

But a much better one than we hear on the rest of this one, much less the one encountered on Demo I a year or so back.

Musmahhu – Reign of the Odious LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (January 18)

We’d previously covered their Formulas of Rotten Death and liked one of its two tracks.

Here they get more than three times that much space to impress, and if you’re inclined towards Deathchain with perhaps a hint of Grave (or at least earlier, rawer Finnish death metal of a similar bent), you’ll probably be happy with this one.

Personally, can’t say it did a lot for me…but objectively, if that’s your thing, you may want to give ’em a spin, see if it grabs ya by the short n’ curlies.

Graves – Liturgia da Blasfemia LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (February 1)

This month, we also cover their Ascensao do Impiedoso on a different label.

This is their full length album, which at its best presents a trancelike repetition of theme and riffing that brings classic second wave
Norwegian black metal to mind, even in spite of the lousy modernistic “underground black metal” vomit n’ bellow under tons of reverb vocals.

With more appropriate vocals and improved (or at least more appropriate sounding) production, this could have been much more than it actually sums up to.

But give ’em a due nod of respect for recapturing one very important element of what makes black metal actually work when it actually does (something that isn’t all that common these days, you must admit).

Blot & Bod – Ligæder LP (Iron Bonehead) (February 1)

Ah, Copenhagen! Known for its snuff and…well, a certain illicit substance currently on and off the cusp of being made legal in various parts of the States.

What it’s clearly NOT known for is its black metal…and this two man project proves just why that is. Ostensibly recorded in “a studio in the legendary venue Mayhem”, this sounds like a live rehearsal tape recorded from across an empty theater at an early morning soundcheck…i.e., like total crap.

There’s lots of echo and room ambient reverb, belch growl death vocals and simplistic, almost crust/doom guitars with noisy, blastbeat prone drums rattling around behind ’em.

Makes Goatlord sound like a Shrapnel act, and doesn’t have a smidgen of their atmosphere, evil, swampy vibe or appeal.

You know exactly where to toss this one.

Next?

Goatkraft – Sulphurous Northern Bestiality LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (March 22)

We’d covered these Norwegians’ Angel Slaughter and enjoyed their especially nasty take on the whole Blasphemy/Beherit/Conqueror/Revenge/Black Witchery school of “war metal”.

This one continues in that proud tradition, dropping some muddy sounding tremelo and high speed blastbeat/double bass drones with vicious sounding multi tracked wet snarl vox…but the droning, sinister sounding and relentless riff assault makes it all worthwhile, particularly if you enjoy this end of the black metal spectrum.

Dark, punishing and primitive. I dug it.

Terror Oath – S/T 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (March 22)

More war metal. It’s OK, certainly better produced, more bassy and fuller sounding than Goatkraft…but it’s hard to say if this one’s any better or worse otherwise.

A lot of this genre tends to blur, leaving it very much an all or nothing sort of proposition…you either “get” war/”bestial black” metal, or you don’t.

I tend to enjoy the stuff. It’s hypnotic at times and breaks things up nicely, cleansing the palate as it were between courses of other, more “professional” genres (which can really excel, or seriously fall flat in turn)…so I was good with this one.

Sorgelig – Devoted to Nothingness 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (May 3)

Greek black metal with a darker, more northern European vibe. It’s very much “demo quality”, with terrible vox that can’t evoke anything but Fleurety (seriously, it’s all girly shrieks throughout, like someone goosed Bitchy Bitch* in mid-freakout).

* look her up. Worth the laugh.

I guess if you’re expecting something along those lines, you’ll be OK here, there’s certainly some sad atmosphere to be found amidst the uber-shit recordings herein (what did they record this on, a Speak n’ Spell?)…but oy gevalt, those “vocals”!!

Next time, try giving Bitchy the slip and get a proper frontwoman…or hell, frontman.

Yeah, I know, it’ll be a big change for you guys, but there’s wayyyy too much estrogen on that microphone right now…

Next?

Deathwomb -Moonless Night Sacraments LP/CD (Iron Bonehead) (April 19)

Evil sounding Spanish black metal. It’s totally demo quality, but nope, it’s actually a proper full length debut somehow…

It’s pretty underground in vibe, somewhere between Abhor and Beherit in sheer degree of sinister feel but very much apprehending to a more modern, war/grind/”bestial black” approach and the stylistic tropes thereof.

As you might expect from this genre, it’s pretty samey from track to track, and hardly reaches the heights associated with a band like Beherit…but compared to something like Black Witchery, much less the sort of Zomlike act that normally works this general corner of the sonic landscape, it’s pretty damn nasty, and that’s meant in a good way.

Can’t say it doesn’t get boring over the course of 10 tracks, but it’s perfectly obvious they were attempting to recreate Drawing Down the Moon with those whispered vocals and sinister descending riffs appended by sparse Casio keyboard stings…so there’s that.

Overall, I was good with it, yeah.

Vitriol (Germany) – Chrysalis 12″ MLP/MCD (Iron Bonehead) (April 19)

German blackened death metal act.

These guys are pretty damn sloppy, overly fond of super long intros that go nowhere and aficionados of the blastbeat, and while there are vague hints of the rawer end of the vintage Finnish death metal scene to be found herein…it’s still too damn atonal and pointless to actually work in any respect.

One more incoming!

WHIZZZZ!!!!

Geez, that just melted on contact. Guess there really was nothing at all to it…

Next?

Blue Hummingbird On The Left – Atl Tlachinolli LP/CD/TAPE (Iron Bonehead / Nuclear War Now! / Crepúsculo Negro) (February 8)

Oy. If there’s one genre designation that brings instant eye rolling and sighs beyond “Icelandic black metal”, it’s to see the words “Black Twilight Circle” in a promo writeup.

I don’t know what the deal is with these guys other than some ersatz attempt to dredge up some Aztec/Mexican heritage and apprehend this to some of the most questionable of “underground” black and/or blackened death metal, but rather than bringing the unique appeal of heritage and the quirks of pagan folk music and culture to their advantage, they seem to just drop it in the middle of some seriously iffy shit.

Doesn’t save it, doesn’t even enhance the end result enough to make note of…it’s like dropping that stuff into a trashcan and expecting something good to come of it. Maybe if there were some actual decent music being made, sure?

This one at least brings a stronger production than we’re used to hearing from members of this West Coast based “scene”, but the sheer saminess of the riffs and the full on hilarity of Cookie Monster on LSD?  Seriously, that’s what this guy sounds like with all the slap echo/reverb all over his pronouncements of “oh, me like cooooookieeeee! OM NOM NOM NOM!” You can practically see the cookie crumbs flying all around the set…Yeah.

I don’t get it, I never did get it, I don’t care.

Toss this one straight into the Flaming Pyre of Dead Bards, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Just be sure to attach a copy of Carlos Castenada to the disc for a good laugh (not to mention some extra heft and distance on that throw!)

Nomenclature Diablerie – 888 12″ MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

Reissue of a 1988 two track demo from an act Down Under. Half of the band hails from Sadistik Exekution, but they’re more polished and precise than that would imply.

Side 1 “premature creation” is the more interesting of the two tracks, with its acoustic midsection and almost death/thrash influences.

Nothing particularly amazing unearthed here, but it’s interesting enough for historians of the Aussie underground metal scene.

You’ve heard so much worse than this.

Departure Chandelier – Antichrist Rise to Power LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

We’d covered their split with Blood Tyrantthe former being a decidedly sub-mediocre act so poorly paired with these Quebecois (partnered with at least one member from right in the area, interestingly) as to inadvertently make this band sound even better than they already did.

And that’s no mean feat, because this is one of those acts where the odd keyboard phrases are so appropriately welded to the Les Legions Noires meet Gorgoroth style riffing as to evoke the likes of Gloomy Grim circa Blood, Monsters, Darkness if not Gehenna.

But again, that’s not to say that Departure Chandelier sounds like either of those two bands…it’s very much like putting Roger Tiegs into a studio with “Wlad Drakkstein” and “Meyhna’ch” and letting them handle the guitar and drum tone for the recording.

Amazing stuff, particularly if you like any or all of the bands aforementioned.

Liked ’em quite a bit last time around…this time, amplify that sentiment by a factor of 10.

Cénotaphe – Empyrée 12″ MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

French black metal, and it’s pretty expansive and pensive for all that driving tremelo aggression.

Grim melodies drive the lead lines, and there’s at least one ambient synth intro that lasts more than the full band portion of the same track, but it works well enough that you won’t mind.

In fact, the only part that fucks the works is…wait for it…the vocals, which once again append to some ridiculous cross between Fleurety (see Sorgelig, reviewed elsewhere herein) and that bizarre propensity for younger acts to yodel and drop hilariously high pitched howls in place of proper black metal style vox.

And that’s a shame, because the music otherwise is pretty damn strong and worthy of a salute.

But can you give props with a straight face to a band fronted by a guy who sounds like a shrewish middle aged housewife getting goosed?

Ay, there’s the rub…

…next?

Necrogosto – S/T TAPE  (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 18)

Brazilian blackthrash with a very raw demo level production. The croaked vox are awash in wayyyyyyy too much reverb for their own good, but there is a definite sonic link between the blackened yet old school thrash based riffing on display here and bands like Chile’s Pentagram, Brazil’s Sextrash or even Mystifier, at a bit of a stretch.

Yeah, to be honest, I’d prefer to just pull out the first two Sarcofago, Vulcano, Sepultura or Mystifier releases again, possibly with Holocausto as a chaser…but there’s no question these guys are doing a hell of a job at recapturing the sound of that increasingly long ago era.

Death Worship – End Times 12″ MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 15)

Holy crap, does this sound better, or what?

I mean, Extermination Mass sounded like crap, for whatever merits the music itself may hold for fans of the Canadian “war metal” scene…and amazingly, was touted as having such excellent production at the time (if you can seriously believe that, given what the end result sounded like!)

Then a year later, an even rawer demo version of the same material was released for unknown reasons…zero changes, just made it sound even noisier and crappier than it already did.

Here Conqueror/Revenge men R. Forster and J. Read (and the frontman from Blasphemy doing backing vox, for what that’s worth) offer a far more polished take on the same sort of material (but hey, it’s all new tracks this time), and what an improvement it represents.

If they’d chosen to clean up Extermination Mass last year instead of releasing an even noisier demo version thereof, maybe it could have sounded more like this all too brief if solid EP…ah, if only!

Again, if you dig what these guys have been doing since day 1, you’ll certainly appreciate it here, with better production than they’ve ever been blessed or cursed with to date.

Doombringer (Poland) – Walpurgis Fires LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 15)

We’d covered these Polish black metallers’ Grand Sabbath a whopping 5 years back, and appreciated the quirky, organ-bedecked Mortuary Drape first wave approach to the genre they were tapping into. So has anything changed in the unusually lengthy interim?

Well…it’s quirkier, to be sure. And much spottier than remembered of their last effort, as well…the vocals are more comically gargled (particularly when he yodel-yells ’em like the backing vocals on “agenda del aquelarre”), the riffs not always especially memorable.

But speaking in a very general respect, the band is still shooting for something very much akin to the Mortuary Drape template, with more death or even thrash metal appended to organ-style keyboards and growled vocals…so in that sense the answer is “not a lot has changed”.

But did we find this one half so enjoyable as Grand Sabbath?

No, not at all. Has some interest, but doesn’t live up to the memories or coverage of their last go ’round.

Sangue – Culs LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 15)

We’d covered their earlier two track self titled EP two years back, and while a bit on the fence, more or less apreciated these Italians’ somewhat idiosyncratic approach to black metal.

Well…unfortunately, whatever promise we’d heard wasn’t really brought out by this subsequent full length, which comes off as quite…generic isn’t the word…let’s say workaday by comparison.

If anything, you can hear more of a black/ (or blackened) death metal sound becoming more obvious and apparent herein. Deliberate? Who knows. But clearly not what we were hoping for after their last release.

The most interesting things here are that Claudio Simonetti (of Goblin and Daemonia fame) drops a rather atypical and dull cinematic symphonic intro, and that their drummer is Alex Wank of Pungent Stench, of all bands…

Yeah, move along, nothing to see here.

Next?

CREMATORY STENCH (us) – Grotesque Deformities (Blood Harvest)

You know, listening to the vocals on this, you could get the distinct impression these SoCal death metal wannabes are trying to evoke early Death.

But then there’s the music itself, blackened to the core, sloppy, noisy, “underground” and filled with blastbeats, with forgettable riffs and zero point or goal to each phrase or collection thereof.

Tracks plod along aimlessly, noisily, with a lot of sturm und drang but ultimately signifying nothing whatsoever. It’s like, why bother? What was the point of all this?

(shakes head)

Yeah, I can’t.

(tosses casually over shoulder, where it gets run over by a passing car and shattered into a million pieces)

…next?

 

Graves – Ascensão do Impiedoso (War Arts Productions) (January 18)

You know, it’s interesting how much production changes a band’s sound and reception.

In some ways, this demo comes off better than the actual debut album Liturgia da Blasfemia, reviewed elsewhere this month on another label.For one thing, the vocals aren’t so strident and buried under swatches of pointless reverb.

Secondly, their musical excesses are pulled back somewhat by the more muted tone and production here – less of those annoying mids, less obvious of a blastbeat, as the songs all blur under a warm if muddier and bassier overall recording.

Slow tracks like “profanacao eterna” practically come off as doom, faster ones like “pela luz negra”, “alquimia do sofrimento” or the title track grate less…again, more bass, more of a muted feel grant black metal much of its vaunted mystery and atmosphere, while removing the glaring flaws of its rather primitive technique and artifice (or lack thereof) that a middling to poor production tends to foist upon it.*

* a crisp Norsecore-style production tends to lend just as positive an effect as the murk of demo quality, interestingly enough…it’s the middle ground between these two extremes that tends to put a bad face on the genre.

Is it better than the debut?  Arguable, and in a purely objective light, probably not.

But there are tracks here that would have been welcome on the debut (like “profanacao eterna”), and there’s simply no question that the demo’s lack of production lends a much better veneer to their sound than the debut full length’s rather bleh studio production did, or any argument with legs to pretend this is not the case.

Next time, amigos? Find yourselves a real producer…or drop back to demo quality, it serves you better.

Barshasketh – S/T (W.T.C. Productions) (January 15)

We’d reviewed these Scotchmen’s Ophidian Henosis and very much liked the sound of it, much less the fact that it evoked fond memories of early Ulver.

This time around, the production works against the band, being overly low and quiet by comparison to literally everything else reviewed this month. The nonstop bulldozer of blastbeats and some atonal open string business comes off more black/death than I’d ever care to hear as well.

Is this the same band we praised a few years back?

Yeah, sadly, I’m not seeing any rationale for the shift in sound and how it hits the listener, bar a change in drummer. OK, so that steamrolling Tasmanian Devil style drumming may have an impact, sure…but not to the riffing and compositional style! Where is that melodic line driven tremelo guitar? And why are these guys suddenly sounding like a more boring, cut rate take on Watain?

Honestly can’t say. But I can direct you to their earlier Ophidian Henosis for comparison, and maybe you can figure out what changed here for yourselves.

A few rare moments aside (the ending of “ruin II” for example), this album simply does not work, much less half so well as we recieved their last opus magna.