(In this post Andy Synn begins a series of short reviews of selected 2013 albums that we failed to review before the year ended.)
2013 was a fantastic year for metal, if I do say so myself. The sheer wealth of stellar material produced – from old favourites to new discoveries – was absolutely astounding. As a result there was always going to be a lot of stuff that simply fell below the radar, or which was missed out due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Obviously we try to cover as wide a spread of stuff as possible here at NCS, but even the combination of the five of us, plus our many guest contributors, can’t give our full attention to absolutely everything that comes out during the year.
It’s an unavaoidable consequence of a year in which there was simpy too much to deal with all at once. An enviable position in many ways, but an unfortunate one in others.
As such, there’s a host of albums that I listened to – and loved – last year that I never got the chance to write about. So I’m going to dedicate the next week or two to briefly covering some of those records that I/we didn’t manage to write about last year, and try and give them their due.
RUDRA – RTA
Though the band themselves describe their sound as “Epic Vedic Metal” I think the best description of Rudra’s sound I’ve seen so far is “Exotic Death Metal”, with their penchant for twisting conventional death metal shapes into strange, progressive forms, incorporating Eastern rhythms and odd moments of esoteric instrumentation and fluid, philosophical calm.
Though the use of Eastern melody and instrumentation isn’t a completely alien concept in metal (Nile, Melechesh, and Weapon are the obvious examples of bands who flirt with non-Western themes), the manner in which Rudra bring the two worlds together truly is unique.
RTA, the band’s latest album, sees them expanding their approach in an even more epic and esoteric manner, with the six tracks on offer averaging out at around 10 minutes in length, and varying in style from the swiring, hypnotic riffs of contemplative opener “Death” to the blitzkrieg blackened devastation of closer “Assault”.
As always, the distinctive melding of ferocious metal force and exotic Eastern nuance remains the most important, and impressive, aspect of the band’s sound. Take “Heartbreak”, for example, which melds meditative chanting mantras and strange, mystical melodies with a barbed array of jagged riffs and choppy drums, or the hauntingly dark “Resolution”, which interweaves distorted riffage and pounding drum work with complex lead guitar work and elements of traditional instrumentation in a rich tapestry of arcane melody and power.
Utterly enthralling, and still totally unique. Another perfect example of metal from beyond the limits of the Western sphere.
Sample song: “Manipulation”
NERO DI MARTE – S/T
Difficult to classify, yet impossible to ignore, the debut album by Italy’s Nero Di Marte delivers an unusual form of technically twisted death metal with a taste for sudden, erratic explosions of extremity, and a progressive streak a mile wide.
The band’s dense, often dissonant, sound situates itself at an unexpected nexus point between the aural apocalypse of Ulcerate and the atmospheric artistry of Tool, but with a more fragmented, contorted approach, marrying wrenching grooves to furious eruptions of angular aggression.
The unpredictable structure of each song is held together by the phenomenal drumming of Marco Bolognini – a name to keep your eye on in the future – who augments his complex, chaotic kick patterns and ferocious, spasming blast beats with a seemingly ceaseless barrage of scattershot fills and cataclysmic, crashing cymbal work.
The layers of progressive indulgence and complexity that underpin each song – the neck-snapping staccato twists and turns of “Convergence”, the ambient antagonism of “Resilient”, the driving, dominant grooves of “Drawn Back” – provide the perfect counterpoint to the gritty yet unconventionally melodic vocals of Sean Worrell. His unusual, gravelly tones (likened to a harsher, more aggressive version of Klone’s Yann Ligner) act as an anchor point amidst the swirling murk and metallic pandemonium that prevails.
The self-titled track “Nero Di Marte” really does serve as the perfect example of the band’s sound, twelve minutes of crystalline dynamics, frenzied drums, and mesmerising progressive guitar work, which switches seamlessly between chilling ambience, piercing fury, and groaning, devastating groove.
A phenomenal debut, showcasing the band’s singular style of progressive death metal, one with drive and ambition beyond most of its peers.
Sample song: “Convergence”
NETHERBIRD – THE FEROCIOUS TIDES OF FATE
Mixing primal intensity, gloomy melancholy, and spiteful savagery, The Ferocious Tides of Fate finds the Swedish quintet reining in the symphonic aspects of their sound, without losing their grasp for haunting harmony and cold, majestic melody.
With more focus (naturally) on the guitar work, it’s no surprise to find that each song lives and dies on the strength of its riffs. The haunting harmonies and bleak tremolo assault of “Elegance and Sin” kick things off in impressive fashion, its scalding, acid-drenched melodies riding an avalanche of blasting drums and venomous vocals, while blossoming unexpectedly into moments of elegaic calm and grace.
The vocals on the albums vary between sibilant rasps and ravenous growls, prominent and powerful throughout. The guttural tones preferred on “Ashen Roots” – a song which matches the relentless gallop of Amon Amarth to an array of rusted, blackened hooks and bone-rattling fills – are balanced by the throat-scraping howls found on “Shadow Walkers”, whose decadent decay recalls a more refined take on early Satyricon in its winding, folk-flavoured melodies and restrained majesty.
“Along The Colonnades” is the most ambitious track on the album, spreading its black wings wide to enfold elements of ominous, death metal grandeur, pitch-black misanthropy, and patient, progressive nuance, under a shroud of doom and gloom, lacerated by slashes of searing solo work.
The whole thing climaxes with the epic, storm-tossed melodies and writhing, tumultuous rhythms of “Of The Setting Sun”, whose blistering tremolo runs drive the album towards its punishing conclusion.
An elemental expression of passion and pain, captured in thrilling microcosm.
Sample song: “Elegance and Sin”
Damn it, I thought for sure I was going to be an unsung hero. No one ever acknowledges the very, very little I contribute to the metal scene.
Since I first heard Nero Di Marte, I often thought of them as the Italian Gojira, although a bit more avant garde. It’s a bit reductive, but Sean Worrell’s gravely vocals and the standout drumming put me in mind of Mssrs Duplantier at times. Of course, I’m not sure that makes Nero Di Marte any easier to classify, since Gojira can be as elusive on that score, too.
There’s something of a similarity to Gojira about them (there’s some killer pick-scraping on the album after all), but the riffs are far more technical and “spiny” (if that makes sense), and the grooves much, much darker. Hence why I went with the Ulcerate comparison. If I’d had more space I’m sure I would have made a few more references to the big G.
Ultimately though I think it’s really more how similarly unconventional their sound is that leads to the comparison. They’re not that similar, but they are SIMILARLY different.
You know I was surprised you hadn’t mentioned Mastodon as a comparison, reminds me a lot of their Leviathan/Blood Mountain era sound. Maybe that’s just me?
Yep. Just you.
No, seriously, I see what you mean now. Again, similar mainly in the sense of being similarly unconventional. Good call.
I still think Tool meets Ulcerate is a good reference point though.
Nero Di Marte makes me think of Hacride rather than Gojira. Still a band from France.
There’s a lot of Psycroptic in there too.
Nero Di Marte is pretty cool, i’m interested to see where they go from here
I kept on meaning to review that Rudra album ever since I learned that it existed. They hold a special place in my heart, as I found them while trying to look for representations of modern music on the Indian subcontinent for a history project (and wanting to avoid Bollywood). I may still review it yet. What I’ve heard so far sounds good though, a much more meditative, drawn-out, Om-like band as compared to the relatively more blackened Rudra of old.
I did buy their last album and they are indeed one of the unsung heroes. Got to try this.And are you from the sub continent? and i am curious to know to about that history project.
I’m San Diegan, literally on the other side of the world from the Indian subcontinent. The project arose from an elective class I took at my high school called Non-Western World History, which tries to fill the gaps left by the disproportionately Western-focused bent of most college-prep and AP world history classes by taking focus on the regions of Africa, Southwest Asia, Asia, and Mesoamerica, particularly their history of the last 50 years (with some more distant history for context). One of the recurring projects in the class was the THRS project (standing for Taste, Hear, Read, and See), in which a group of 3-4 people would present a small project each week on the contemporary food, music, literature, or art of a given region. I personally would try to sneak in some metal for my group’s music presentations (I sadly failed to convince the group to profile Sepultura when we were “in” Brazil).
On a somewhat related note, I timed this class perfectly, as we began to study North Africa at exactly the same time as the Jasmine Revolution spread to Egypt. For a good 2-4 weeks, we’d walk in every day to an Al Jazeera feed of Tahrir Square, which we’d watch for maybe fifteen minutes, then discuss a bit, and then move on to the day’s topic.
Whew. That was more long-winded than I thought it was going to be.
Damn that does seem a lot, while extremely interesting topics at the same time. So you had to travel to different countries for the project? I myself will have to relearn all that was learned at school as i am trying for a government job that again warrants its learning. Just goes to show the seemingly wide gap of educational lack there of in our country. As no similar approaches to education is take up. The school/college education systems in place here simply fails to evoke interest in students. Rote learning is the order of the day. But things are getting better albeit at a snail’s pace.
Haha I wish we traveled to those places. We just used the magic of the internet to get as close as we could 🙂
And speaking of Om, can I be the first to lose my sanity over the news of a new Sleep album on the horizon?
Nero Di Marte despite all the technical brilliance fails to strike a chord. But Netherbird(especially) seems to be right up my alley. Thanks for that. Also a point i think i need to clarify, although Nile and Melechesh draw inspiration from Middle Eastern melodies Rudra takes it from Indian Classical. But yeah i guess they do sound a tad similar when they come out.
With you on Nero Di Marte. Considering where these guys draw from I should love them, but for whatever reason they just don’t click for me.
They seem to miss out on something, which similar and more established bands seem to have – Gojira et al. I am thinking its the almost overtly technical approach that fails to do it for me.
Yeah, if your reference point is Gojira, you’re not only clueless but you need to seriously broaden your horizons. They have much in common with bands like Ulcerate and Dirge. To say they sound like Gojira is to say Chevelle sound like King Crimson.
This Netherbird album exactly hits the spot for me. This is a great find that seems to get very little recognition. It has been three months since the original blog post and today I’m loving this album even more. So thanks, Andy, for spreading the word.