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And as we all hunker down amidst our homemade snow fortresses of bog roll paper (as if the directive was to keep a clean ass rather than hands…says a lot about today’s America right there!), told to stay away from even the few things left to us like parks (what, schools, libraries, parades, concerts, baseball games, theatre and movies weren’t enough?  Damn, those commies really did a good job with their germ warfare experiment gone awry…), there ain’t a hell of a lot to do besides watch the idiot box (hopefully self directed exploration of movies and shows outside the mainstream and from a more worthy past…) and blast some tunes…and catch up on nigh on 100 back episodes of the podcast.

Not good enough for ya?  How about 77 (sometime soon it’ll be 78) Weird Scenes podcasts?  How about a literal decade’s worth of print reviews of music, DVD and Blu, cult BBC audio dramas, Decadent literature and more?

Yeah, there’s lots to dig into right there.  Bon appetit!

And for those of you who are all caught up and chomping at the bit for new material, well, I’ve arranged it with the wife that we can still get out plenty of reviews of new and recent material for your delectation.  So consider this the Coronavirus Special Edition, with more to follow.

Someone say grace.  Hey, Grace!  She was a cute Korean girl I used to flirt with…oh, yeah, sorry.  Fuck that.  Let’s roll!

Curse Upon a Prayer – Infidel (Saturnal) (April 10)

We’d covered these Finns’ debut Rotten Tongues a few years back, and found ourselves thoroughly unimpressed by its sheer slavishness to a sub-Gaahl-era Gorgoroth sound and feel.

That said, followup The Three Woes hit like a brick, a surprise home run from the former farm leaguers that came out of nowhere and for the most part, batted one right out of the park.

This one proves they were no one hit wonder, retaining the strengths displayed on The Three Woes and one upping things to the point where…okay. This was left unmentioned previously, because all that blasphemy stuff is for uptight teenagers, still under their parents’ thumbs and forced to go to whatever tradition or services they were raised in. “Yeah, man! Fuck this stuff! I’m evil, y’know?” It’s all very juvenile and hilariously poseur in the end.

But you know all these discussions you see around the black metal scene, where folks knock these guys for continually blaspheming against Christianity, because it’s comparatively safe, and its proponents won’t really hit back? They always end with a “why don’t you take on Islam, for a change, if you’re so tough” or some sentiments to that effect…as if every crappy little no name black metal band were suddenly Salman Rushdie. Keep dreaming, kids.

However…this is the first time the usual schmutters becomes more blatant and central to the experience. Apparently, “iblis” is a sort of genii that equates to a fallen angel. “Haram” is sin, or anything specifically forbidden by Islam. “Fitna” brings elements of seduction and temptation to lure one to the darkside, as in entire communities giving in to follow Shaitan. “Al masih ad dajjal” is effectively the antichrist.

(nudges you with elbow): Hmm? Hmm?

So the music is more dramatic than usual, the subject matter is obvious and pretty cohesive (and does take up that oft-cast gauntlet aforementioned with aplomb, if anyone actually cares), and this does in fact come off quite of a certain era of Gorgoroth with a side of Watain. Better, it doesn’t feel cheesy, but can be taken relatively seriously, or at least that’s how it comes off in the end, right down to the strikingly blunt and minimalist Sisters of Mercyesque album cover.

They’ve made one hell of an improvement since Rotten Tongues, that’s all I’ve got to say. Strong stuff.

Necrostrigis – From Bleak Cavernous Chambers (Nebular Carcoma / Postmortem Apocalypse) (March 9)

Well, you certainly can’t say this one man bedroom black metal band (now appended by a former Manilla Road bass player) hasn’t been prolific over the last decade.

While it’s unlikely anyone outside of Poland has heard of this guy (you know damn well we have our ears tuned to the underground “extreme” metal scene, and we sure haven’t), he’s dropped something like 20 or 25 demos, split appearances and EPs over the last 10 years…the sort of achivement rarely seen outside of workaholics like Horna, Vardan, Satanic Warmaster or Graveland…and some of these in their heyday, having slowed their pace considerably in recent years.

Promo materials reference some personal favorites like classic Graveland, Mutiilation and Infernum, which would imply a far greater quality than what actually comes across herein. Even so, you can certainly see why, given not only his nation of origin but the rather Vlad Tepeslike lo-fi yet grim feel and nearly (early) Darkenesque DIY tone on display thorughout.

Were this judged solely on the recordings, both in their pointedly “necro” no budget/less production approach, the tinny yet often melodic and winning guitars and just this side of sloppy drumming, this would get high marks from us just for evoking the ethos and vibe of both Les Legions Noires and the Polish black metal scene when it meant something. So what’s the issue?

Yeah, you guessed it. The vox.

It’s all that stupid ass modern thing where they try to cross Fleurety style girly shrieks with the winner of an alpine yodeling contest, thinking that this somehow makes ’em the next Burzum.

No. Sorry. Fail.

Instead of recruiting a session bass player, he should have recruited a proper black metal frontman…

…and then we’d throw this guy the hails his retro underground material otherwise deserves.

Black Vice – The Alchemist’s Vision (Crown and Throne Ltd.) (March 27)

Midtempo tremelo riffed black metal, no real blastbeat nonsense and a perfectly acceptable vocalist for the style. What could go wrong?

Well…while there are some moments that seem to hint at melodicism, the guitar and (strangely quite audible, which is a nice touch) basslines just wander all around, never really landing on a central tonality or harmonic progression. Let’s just stagger around the woods like a drunk, shall we?

Some girls wander by mistake…others make it their entire raison d’etre.

Case in point.

(cue bass and guitars rambling all over the damn place)

Close in some ways, but utterly pointless in the end.

Big hint? Hire an outside songwriter.

Next?

Häxanu – Snare of All Salvation (Amor Fati) (April 1)

Guitarist Alex Poole of Krieg, who famously did a split with Satanic Warmaster and then dug up that same track for their much later split with Integrity covered here and Chaos Moon, whose Amsissum also saw some print here, works a side project with one of those stupidly initial-monikered frontmen that seem to be this year’s black metal pseudo du jour. 

It’s sort of like a far less impressive Where Shadows Forever Reign, all mids and overly harsh vocals with simplistic yet melodic riffs and a bombastic feel, particularly on the album’s standout track, “sulfur, salt, mercury”.

Not bad, not bad at all, particularly for this more “mainstream” variant of black metal.

Korgonthurus – Kuolleestasyntynyt (Woodcut Records)

We’d covered our hands down favorite Horna frontman Corvus’ new band for their Vuohen Siunaus a few years back, and pretty much loved it, despite a few minor quibbles.

Here they return for another round, and at times nearly approach the glories of said former act with gloomily majestic tracks like “syytajaenkeli”, “yon lapsi” and the amazing “nox”.

Not only do they match what they brought to the table last time around, they easily upend it with a more assured and powerful set of recordings herein…at times (like the three tracks aforementioned) even challenging the mighty Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne and Sanojesi äärelle…themselves the nigh-inarguable pinnacle of the great Horna’s own career.

Raise those horns high. Raise them straight to the heavens.

When this one’s good…it’s fucking amazing.

NOROTH – It Dwells Amongst Us (Caligari Records) (April 10)

hmm, doomy death metal with a dash of old school vibe. Wasn’t expecting that in a batch of black metal like this…

Well, they hail from Seattle…they don’t sound much like Autopsy or Incantation, much less Winter, Sorrow, Goatlord or what have you, but there are elements that show they’d been listening to at least the first two quite a bit (particularly on a quirky track like “ironclad, primitive intent”, which includes a bluesy lick and suddenly stops short ala Autopsy circa Mental Funeral).

Even so, the feel here is more modern, somehow, despite the heavy mids tone employed throughout and a pointed attempt to pay homage to much older acts. It’s hard to explain, but play this one alongside its apparent heroes (who’d just come out for an airing a few days ago, actually) and you’ll see the difference immediately.

I guess it’s akin to Disma in the wake of Incantation, though not even that close of a linkage.

Give ’em credit for giving it the ol’ college try.

Grieve – S/T (12″ MLP) (Werewolf) (April 3)

Quickie two track single from Finland. Heavy on the melodic lead lines, raw but listenable for the type vox and production…damn good stuff.

Flip side “lohduton” proves far stronger than opening salvo “spiteful scourge”, but both are top notch and imply a far more solid and long running band than these guys actually are.

Surprisingly top tier for a new kid. Can’t wait to see what a full length brings.

Pyre (Russia) – Chained to Ossuaries (Memento Mori / Dawnbreed) (April 27)

In more deliberate moments, this Russian act comes dangerously close to joining the likes of Gruesome and early Morgoth (and arguably early Autopsy) as a Scream Bloody Gore/Autopsy era Death cover act.

I mean, seriously. “Death’s dawn call”? Can you hear that without picturing Chuck and company bashing away? How about “impaler the redeemer”? “Wreath of crucifix”? “Disgraced and dethroned”? Yeah.

Now, to these ears, that’s a good thing. We have thousands of HM-2 sporting Swedeath wannabe acts floating around out there nowadays…but still precious few Death clones, at least when that band still mattered (all you “tech and prog death” types, go grumble amongst yourselves, the adults are speaking here).

But it doesn’t exactly give these guys an identity of their own.

All depends on what you’re striving for, I guess.

Funeralopolis – …of Deceit and Utter Madness (Memento Mori) (April 27)

Swiss death metal. Reminiscent of a lot of third tier death metal bands of the early to mid 90’s…I’m thinking stuff like Repugnant, Necrovore, Funebrarum…all the sort of bands Roy used to put out on the Necroharmonic label until fairly recently.

I enjoy and have enjoyed a lot of these sort of bands, especially when in the right mood, so zero complaints about this…

…but don’t walk in expecting, say, Morrisound under Scott Burns, R/C Records, Earache and Colin Richardson or Sunlight with Tomas Skogsberg level quality. For all its merits, this is the lower end, raw and dirty sounding stuff.

Taken in that light and among bands of its ilk, yeah, I was fine with ’em. Interesting album cover, too.

Kurnugia (U.S.) – Forlorn and Forsaken (Memento Mori) (April 27)

Speaking of nice album covers…it’s the sort of vintage Dan Seagrave/Michael Whelan/Kristian Wahlin/Ed Repka cover art that adorns an entire genre worth of shirts I sport on a regular basis. I was thinking specifically of Benediction’s Dark is the Season here…

There’s some of that same Death feel here, but mixed with a bit of Grave’s moody, sluggish feel and yes, Benediction’s crisp production and polished feel combined with a midtempo yet angry approach.

I guess in the end, the Benediction comparison holds up better than the rest, and that’s a good thing given just how often I reach for them (and the George Fischer-era Monstrosity) when it’s time to crank some death metal.

Damn straight I liked this. Like classic Benediction, it’s a bit of a sleeper, but it’ll definitely grow on ya, and faster than you’d think.

DomJord – Sporer (Vidfare Productions (a division of NoEvDia) & The AJNA Offensive) (March 13)

Weird trancey ambient electronic music from the guy behind Funeral Mist.

That’s pretty much all there is to say here – it’s BGM for the Mass Effect crowd, though not even half as good as that would suggest.

Go check out some dungeon synth or lazerpunk instead, this one’s pretty pointless and unappealing, as individual tracks or as a complete unit.

Trance out to this? Please. More like get a bit of a headache and run to shut this the fuck off.

…next?

Head of the Demon – Deadly Black Doom (Invictus Productions / The Ajna Offensive) (April 30)

We’d covered these Swedes for their Sathanas Transmigestos and found ourselves far from taken with their rather sorry attempt at pulling off an “occult rock” blackened (stoner) doom sort of thing…but also found the album oddly quite listenable in its own rather bizarre and idiosyncratic right.

These days, doom and “occult rock” have become something of a personal go-to, with even previously mocked acts like Reverend Bizarre suddenly making perfect sense and finding themselves welcomed wholeheartedly into the fold for all their quirks. And yet, still there’s no corner of the doom subgenre in all its variants that says “yes, here’s the one! This is where Head of the Demon lives up to its self-monikered “deadly black doom”!

It just ain’t doom, stoner, “occult rock” or otherwise.

But again…last time we found ’em both listenable and dark enough not to run for the fast forward.

So, guys…what happened?

Like Mel Brooks’ slapstick heavy Silent Movie, there’s literally only one line of dialogue to be found herein. “St. Cyprian” is partially barked/growled.

Five and a half tracks of instrumentals that really go nowhere – no groove, no vibe, not especially sinister or moody…just kind of boring and aimless.

Even what we found of limited value in Sathanas Transmigestos simply isn’t here this time around. Easy pass.

Ensnared (Sweden) – Inimicus Generis Humani (Invictus Productions / Dark Descent) (February 14)

Swedish black/death act. We’d covered their distinctly unimpressive Dysangelium three years back, and now they’re back with another handful of tracks.

Much of the album’s running time and expanded tracklist is due to the presence of a number of pointless ambient “interludes” of the band just screwing around drunk in the studio.

Perfect drunk logic: “What the hell, lets put those outtakes on the record, too!”

Yeah, nothing to see here, just move along.