It’s a fairly eventful week, thanks in large part to Season of Mist and Prosthetic using this week as a dumping ground for several new releases. Considering next week is a bit on the slower side, wouldn’t it have been a better idea to spread things around more? Give an album a chance to stand out more as opposed to simply being lost in the shuffle this week, perhaps? But if that’s how they want it, fine, let those albums be overshadowed by superb new records by a French doom band, veteran American thrashers, and a German dark folk act. Either way, the variety in this week’s stack of a dozen or so albums is fun. Bastard Feast, Osculum Infame (Season Of Mist): The Portland band formerly known as Elitist throws a little bit of everything at the listener on its tremendous second album – death, black, doom, hardcore – and it leaves an immediate, lasting impression too, as every aspect of that sound is given a chance to stand out. It’s eclectic, but not sloppy in the least, a very well constructed hybrid style that feels credible, somehow unique, and most importantly, makes you feel like running through a brick wall. Preview and purchase via Bandcamp.
Corrupt Moral Altar, Mechanical Tides (Season Of Mist): Specializing in the more coherent side of grindcore that Brutal Truth used to do so well, this Liverpool foursome tosses in aspects of sludge and straightforward hardcore into the mix as well, resulting in a sound that swings as mightily as it pulverizes. It’s a raucous debut by a band worth keeping your eye on.
Empyrium, The Turn of the Tides (Prophecy): The ‘90s-early-2000s output of the German dark folk duo was such a huge influence on the likes of Neige (Alcest) and Fursy Teyssier (Les Discrets) that not only did singer/multi-instrumentalist Markus Stock work with both musicians in the studio, but he included them as part of the supporting band at Empyrium’s first public performance in 2012. In turn, you can feel the influence of Neige and Teyssier on Empyrium’s first album in more than a decade, as waves of black metal offer a spellbinding contrast to the hushed, ornate sounds created by Stock and pianist Thomas Helm. In addition, this album was recorded completely on the fly, tracks laid down as soon as they were composed, so an unmistakable air of spontaneity breathes life into this music, which otherwise might have felt too rigid had the band put too much analysis into it. Featuring such beautifully melancholy tracks as “Dead Winter Ways” and “In the Gutter of the Spring” but ending on a refreshingly optimistic note on the title track, this album is a wonderful, pleasant surprise.
Fallujah, The Flesh Prevails (Unique Leader): Now that Origin has boldly backed away from the unbearably loud extreme metal production they helped popularized by working with Colin Marston, one of the best metal producers in the business, it now has me wishing that everyone else would take that tasteful approach to recording. Including Fallujah, who in more capable hands would have put out one of the year’s finest progressive metal albums, but instead have created a record with a sound so overbearingly brickwalled that all dynamics in the songwriting, of which there are plenty, are ruined. There’s no room for the music to breathe, thanks to a constant barrage of rattling kick beats and drum fills that overwhelm the music, which is often striking and creative. I’m usually pretty forgiving when it comes to album production, but this is one instance where a potentially excellent album is yet another victim to the loudness wars.
Fozzy, Do You Wanna Start A War (Century Media): When the best song on the album is a by-the-book cover of ABBA’s “SOS”, you’re in deep, deep trouble. WTF, Y2J?
King of Asgard, Karg (Metal Blade): Look, guys, Amon Amarth is the gold standard of Viking-themed death metal. If you’re going to do what Amon Amarth does, you had better be able to match the masters step for step instead of putting out a pale imitation like this.
Monarch, Sabbracadaver (Profound Lore): Ever since the Dead Men tell No Tales compilation showed up in my mailbox back in 2007, I’ve been oddly intrigued by this French band, whose take on the dronier side of doom has always been a little left of center. Led by vocalist Emilie Bresson and guitarist Shiran Kaïdine, Monarch has slowly evolved into a completely original entity on its last few albums, starting with 2010’s Sabbat Noir, through 2012’s remarkable Omens, and now with Sabbracadaver, which is arguably their strongest work to date. As usual, the pace is deliberately slow, allowing atmospheric ambient parts to work their hypnotic magic, but once the three songs do kick in, they display a knack for melody underneath the distortion and ferocity. At the forefront, as always, is Bresson, who turns in an astonishing, bipolar vocal performance, veering from whispered introspection, to tortured singing, to moments of blinding rage. This music envelops rather than assaults, and in the end its effect is far more lasting as a result. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.
Mutilation Rites, Harbinger (Prosthetic): The Brooklyn band gets a fair amount of press, being based in the epicenter of music hype and all, but while it’s easy for anyone who lives elsewhere to roll their eyes at yet another black metal band from Brooklyn attracting attention from the music media, you have to admit these guys deliver. It’s all fairly rote black metal, but what sets the band apart is the clear chemistry among the four members, as they lock themselves into some awfully wicked grooves, often stopping on a dime and shifting from black metal to rampaging, High on Fire-style fury. Dan Lake premiered the album here last week, and you should totally give it a listen.
Overkill, White Devil Armory (eOne): It’s not as if Overkill ever did anything but sound like Overkill, churning out their distinct brand of thrash metal for 30-odd years, but something’s happened to the Jersey veterans recently, as their last three albums have been among the fieriest of their long career. Album number 17 is especially strong, built around rampaging riffs, featuring D.D. Verni’s distinct bass sound, and of course highlighted by Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, whose trademark snarl sounds even more maniacal than usual. On an album loaded with tunes guaranteed to please longtime fans, “King of the Rat Bastards” ranks as the best, instantly hooky and full of piss and vinegar. It’s always great to have old standbys like Overkill around making consistently good music, but metal is a lot better off when they’re making great music, and this record is loaded with it.
Rage Nucleaire, Black Storm of Violence (Season Of Mist): The great Lord Worm is rivaled only by Atilla Csihar when it comes to making extreme metal vocals into a bizarre art form, and he is the driving force once again on Rage Nucleaire’s second album. Like 2012’s Unrelenting Fucking Hatred, Black Storm of Violence once again offers a throttling hybrid of black metal and industrial, the controlled chaos of which is an appropriate backdrop against which for Lord Worm to spew his mangled, twisted screams. Of course, the man is a master wordsmith, and his lyrics are as poetically depraved as ever: “Your screaming is music: sing to me; Sing your pain with funeral shrieks.” Beautiful.
Schammasch, Contradiction (Prosthetic): All this time I thought this band’s name was some silly way of making the word “smash” even more metal. SCHAMMASCH!!! But no, apparently there was a fella named Šamaš, who was a Babylonian sun god or something to that effect. Similarly, the music is less silly, and more serious and adventurous, a stirring combination of the massive-sounding, blasphemous gravity of Behemoth and the experimental tendencies of Deathspell Omega. Which is all well and good, but by the time you get into the second half of this double album, the sprawling ten-minute tracks start to lose their appeal. Though there are several strong moments – the title track, for one – a “less is more” approach would have made a much stronger impact.
Trudger, Dormiveglia (Church of Fuck): Straightforward yet excellently done sludge metal, this British band’s debut album has a way of sneaking up on you, sly melodies creeping into the music like a splash of color on a monochrome landscape. There are times where the guys are a little too derivative of Remission-era Mastodon, but a track like “Barren Grey” adds a welcome touch of doom and gloom reminiscent more of sooty Northern England than muggy Georgia. Preview and purchase via Bandcamp.
Not metal, but worth hearing:
The Raveonettes, Pe’ahi (The Beat Dies): The Danish duo doesn't exactly have the kind of indie cachet they might have had more than a decade ago, which is unfortunate as they’ve been putting out some sterling albums as of late. Bolstered by the presence of Justin Meldal-Johnsen, one of the best producers working today, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo sound even dreamier than ever, their hazy indie pop awash in luxurious waves of distortion. The Jesus & Mary Chain element is always present in the Raveonettes’ music, but there’s a strong modern touch similar to the swooning shoegazey modern rock of M83 – another of Meldal-Johnsen’s collaborators – and songs like “Z-boys”, “Killer in the Streets”, and “Summer’s End” gracefully explode, shimmering like the sun bouncing off the ocean.