(Our Nottingham-based writer Andy Synn ventured down to London to catch the Venereal Dawn Tour MMXIV and files this report, with video of the performances.)
From the moment it was announced, there really was no way I was going to miss this show. Two of my absolute favourite bands, Dark Fortress and Secrets of the Moon, along with one of this year’s best discoveries, the ineffable Schammasch, all on the same bill?
The fact that it was down in London, at The Underworld (a venue I’ve always loved) was both a blessing a curse, as it pretty much guaranteed a great sound and atmosphere for the night, but also necessitated leaving work early and making a three-hour (give or take) drive through the irritating London traffic.
Still, totally worth it.
In this post, we’re premiering the title track to Random Cosmic Violence, the new album on Relapse Records by Usnea from Portland, Oregon. If you’re smart and/or impatient, you’ll scroll down and just listen to it. But I have some things to say about the album as a whole, and I will have my say.
Almost everything about the album is huge. The human skeletal structure is sturdy, but it wasn’t made for the utterly crushing force of this music. It’s enough to collapse bone like an accordion. And the parts that aren’t cataclysmic are mostly disturbing, except when they’re entrancing.
The music is kindling for metaphors, if you’re given to that sort of thing, which I am. The album was named for a line by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon Haunted World, a line that explains our existence and that of the cosmos itself. We and everything around us, out to the limits of the universe, are the products of violence on a titanic scale. The music imagines all that cold, careless, destructive vastness.
I’m pathetically late in reviewing this split. My shame is magnified by the fact that I first heard the album months ago and knew from the first listen that it was one of the best I’d heard all year. It still is.
Each of these bands — Mexico’s Majestic Downfall and Australia’s The Slow Death — contribute three long songs, collectively totaling more than 67 minutes of doom.
The first of Majestic Downfall’s songs, “The Dark Lullaby”, is full of contrasts and is impressively dynamic, both in its pacing and in its changing moods. It joins together massive guitar tone and huge, brutish bass hammers with light, ringing acoustic guitar harmonies. It incorporates melodies that are both entrancing and drenched in sorrow. It pairs gargantuan roars that come up from some bottomless abyss with harrowing howls that convey sensations of intense anguish. Slow, skull-splitting riffs and gut-punching drums cohabit the song with ripping tremolo- and blastbeat-driven storm fronts. And in the song’s second half, you’re treated to a squalling guitar solo that will seize your attention, followed by a heavy guitar motif that wouldn’t be out of place in a Scandinavian-styled melodic death metal anthem.
(In this 7th and final installment of a multi-part piece, Austin Weber continues rolling out recommended releases from his latest exploratory forays through the underground. Previous installments are linked at the end of this post.)
Exhausted Prayer are one of my favorite Los Angeles metal bands, and their streamlined yet progressive merger of black and death metal is a thing of wonder to take in. They’ve been at this since 1997, and Ruined marks their fourth full-length as a group, completely self-released by the band. Somebody needs to sign these guys, for real.
Ruined is an organic, often heavily atmospheric and deeply breathing record — one whose airy yet not hollow production perfectly marries their impressive approach to fusing black and death metal together. Ruined sports a natural production, one which will likely require you to turn your speakers up since it isn’t a loud, brickwalled lump of pain. Sometimes it’s nice to listen to a record that isn’t an over-compressed offering that hurts to listen to with headphones.
According to The Font of All Human Knowledge:
Bedřich Smetana was a Czech composer who pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country’s aspirations to independent statehood. He is thus widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride; for the symphonic cycle Má vlast (“My Homeland”), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer’s native land; and for his First String Quartet, From My Life.
“My Fatherland” is described as a cycle of six symphonic poems. Interestingly, according to the article quoted above, it was composed after illness had rendered Smetana completely deaf in both ears. The second part of the cycle is entitled “Vltava” and it was finished in late 1874. As the article explains, it was named for, and inspired by, “the river that runs through Prague towards its junction with the Elbe [and] is Smetana’s best-known and most internationally popular orchestral composition”.
And why, you may ask, am I writing about Smetana and “Vltava“? Because the Czech black metal band Cult of Fire have recorded a two-song EP dedicated to the composer and will be releasing it on 7″ vinyl through Iron Bonehead Productions on the 140th anniversary of Smetana’s completion of “Vltava“: December 8, 2014. This is the band’s fourth studio release overall, and thus it’s entitled Čtvrtá Symfonie Ohně (The Fourth Symphony of Fire), with cover art created by David Glomba.
I’ve included in this post reviews of two new short releases that I strongly recommend to lovers of infernal music.
This five-person German black metal band whose members don’t publicize their identities released a 2009 demo (With Burning Tongues), an EP (Fire and Faith) in 2010, and then a full-length album (Consolamentum) later the same year. After the passage of nearly four years, they have now returned with a two-song release named Deathless Light that the World Terror Committee will release on Samhain (October 31).
Of the two songs on this release, both of which are long, the title track will appear on a forthcoming full-length album, while the second — “Garden of Stone” — was recorded exclusively to this release. Both songs are tremendously effective in creating atmospheres that are staggeringly heavy, grim, and often sorrowful — yet they are both charged with energy and passion, and the mainly clear production only magnifies their black power.
(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Sweden’s At the Gates.)
Seriously… how am I supposed to even begin to review this album?
After all, the war between the forces of Hype and Anti-Hype began in earnest pretty much the moment At War With Reality was announced, and the back and forth antagonism has since churned the waters into an almost impenetrable mass of muck-raking and mud-slinging, making any attempt at clarity and objectivity a difficult prospect at best.
Think about it. How many people have you seen/heard claiming, with full confidence, that this is going to be “the best album of the year”, with little more than hope or blind faith as their main source of evidence? Probably quite a few. In fact, probably about as many people as you’ve seen stating, with arrogant superiority, that At The Gates “are shit”, and that this album “…is going to suck”, without even hearing a single note of music.
I mean, let’s face it, a lot of people will have made up their minds about At War With Reality long before they heard anything from it. The fanatics are preconditioned to love it even if it’s awful, and the elitists are predisposed to hate it even if it’s phenomenal. So really there’s not much I can say to either of those groups.
But maybe, just maybe, I can reassure some of you out there who don’t fall into either camp, and who might have their own (fully understandable) doubts about the return of At The Gates after all this time.
(DGR reviews the new album by Anaal Nathrakh.)
It’s probably telling that, lately, Anaal Nathrakh’s discography has become the soundtrack to just about everything that I’ve done. It’s the drive to work soundtrack, and the drive home after the shitshow routine is completed eight hours later. When people portray heavy metal as music consisting of catharsis, Anaal Nathrakh immediately springs to mind as a band whose very reason for existence is to let anger out — both from the musicians in the band and from the fans around them — in one expulsion of energy. A gamma burst from a dying star of utter negativity.
Anaal Nathrakh have built their career out of being as abrasive as humanly possible. As a latecomer to the band, it has been fun to go back through their career and experience the inordinate amount of inhuman noise and utter abstract madness that this duo have unleashed since their formation.
About 10 days ago we had the pleasure of premiering (here) a lyric video for “The Final Outcome”, the title track to a new EP by a Roman band named Black Therapy. Today we’re bringing you the official stream of the entire EP in advance of its official release tomorrow — preceded by this review.
There are four tracks on the EP, three of them original songs and one of them a cover. I already wrote about the title song that it was one of the most satisfying injections of Gothenburg-style melodic death metal I’d heard all year, and that turns out to be true of the second track as well, “Black Crow”.
Both songs are high-voltage gallops, with jolting verse riffs, sweeping choruses, and the kind of rapidly swirling lead guitar melodies that may cause you to form your hands into claws and lift them toward the heavens — while you bang your head like a crazy person.
I’m still more than 2,500 miles from home as a result of the old fucking day job, with precious little time to call my own, but I did take some breaks last night and early this morning, just long enough too explore three short releases that I’ve been meaning to check out. All of them are good, all of them are on Bandcamp, and all of them are either wholly or partly in the realms of black metal.
I can’t remember which of my Facebook friends linked to this two-song EP, but whoever you are, thank you.
Jøtnarr are a three-man group from Colchester, England, and the title of that two-song EP, which is their most recent release (from December 2013), is Divide the Growth and Stone. Last month they were featured as “Band of the Day” at Terrorizer (here), along with an interview by Kez Whelan, and that may have been how my FB friend stumbled upon them.