Welcome to another edition of MISCELLANY. Here’s how this game works: I pick bands whose music I’ve never heard, usually focusing on under-the-radar groups who may have been overlooked by our readers. The selection process is fairly random. In this case I picked a couple bands who were recommended to me by a friend and a couple whose names came from the band themselves or their PR people.
I try to limit my listening to a song or two and then write my impressions, while streaming what I heard so you can form your own opinions. I don’t know in advance whether I’ll like the music, so there’s an element of surprise involved (good or bad) — though in this case I had some reasons for believing the music would be worthwhile. Here we go…
Vit’s 2013 EP The Dry Season came highly recommended from Ryan Schutte of Seattle’s Lb.! (he called it “a masterpiece”). The EP is available on Bandcamp, and upon visiting that page I saw that the EP includes guest appearances by Austin Lunn (Panopticon) on resonator guitar and banjo and Johan Becker on violin.
A little more poking around revealed that Vit’s drummer John Kerr is also a bandmate of Lunn’s in Seidr. And then I saw that the EP was mixed by Topon Das (Fuck the Facts) and mastered by James Plotkin (Khanate, OLD) — and after all that my expectations had grown quite high.
The Dry Season includes four songs, two long ones alternating with two short ones. For no good reason, I decided to listen to the two middle tracks — “The Dry Season” and “A Hymn of Benediction…”. Having heard those songs, I understand Ryan’s enthusiasm.
“The Dry Season” features deep, grinding riffs, a remarkable drum performance, and ravenous, abrading vocals. “A Hymn of Benediction…” is one of the long songs. It begins with blasting, cartwheeling drums and roiling, boiling guitars. It’s a furious, head-battering start — and the song maintains the intensity even as reverberating guitar leads emerge and the storming squall segues into heavy, hammering riffs before exploding again in a ravaging crescendo of sound. And goddamn, the drum performance is again completely off the charts! At the end, the song dramatically shifts gears into acoustic folk music with Lunn’s resonator solo, ending in a final clap of thunder.
I cheated on my rules and listened to the last song — “…And the Rain That Soon Followed”. It follows beautifully from the ending of “A Hymn…”, with a warm, expertly performed acoustic guitar melody (with strings and the sound of rain in the background). It grows in vibrancy as the tempo increases and the banjo joins in, creating a back-country dance, Appalachia on a Saturday night.
In their unusual joinder of metal and folk Americana, Vit are definitely kindred spirits with Panopticon, and I’m really digging the results. Very anxious to start this EP from the beginning and let it roll.
Hoth is the other band recommended by Ryan Schutte. They’re a two-man, Seattle-based group whose second album, Oathbreaker, was self-released on May 20. In the words of the band, the album “follows the story of an individual from his conception and follows him down a path that grows darker and darker. In fact, this was the influence for the album. We wanted to create something that sounded mighty and hopeful in the beginning but spiraled into dreary, black despair by the end.” In part because of the band’s name, I’m thinking this is a re-telling of the Star Wars saga. Maybe?
With only one or two songs to pick under the self-imposed rules of my game, I decided to choose the first track and the last one, given the band’s description of the album’s trajectory.
“The Unholy Conception” is a sweeping, dramatic piece that’s part melodic black metal and part folk metal. There’s a heavy, pounding undercarriage in the music but also a striking acoustic mid-section that does indeed dapple the music with rays of light. Yet the band also capture a sense of ominous threat, a foreshadowing of what’s to come.
Jumping to the closing track, “Despair”, was probably an awful thing to do, as I missed the journey through the bulk of the album. Compared to the opening track, the vocals have dropped from an acid shriek into a mammoth roar (though the shrieks return in a harsh duet) and the riffs jab and thunder with merciless precision. This track is more melodic death metal than black metal, with an aura of… despair, but also the same kind of gripping, panoramic sweep as the first track delivered. It also includes a surprising finish — but I’ll let you hear it for yourself.
Multifaceted, meticulously executed, epic in its ambitions and its achievements, this is really impressive. High anticipation to listen to this entire musical odyssey unfold as it was intended!
Oathbreaker can be downloaded or ordered on CD via Bandcamp.
I picked this UK band for the third listening experiment because their membership includes guitarist Byron Braidwood, formerly of Spearhead. I discovered Spearhead through yet another one of these MISCELLANY posts back in 2011 (here), and one of their band shirts happens to be among my favorites (discussed here).
Monumentomb’s debut album, Ritual Exhumation, appeared this past spring, and I decided to sample the last two tracks — “Perpetual Execution Torment” (which includes a guest vocal appearance by Chris Simmons of Wretched Soul) and “Citadel of the Living Dead” (the album’s longest song).
The first of those two is an assault of skin-flaying death metal, with plenty of tremolo’d razoring and big, punishing grooves. But it’s a multifaceted track, with gargantuan vocals that turn skyward in soaring clean song, a seductive melody, and attention-grabbing rhythm dynamics.
A martial snare pattern and mournful guitar melody launch “Citadel of the Living Dead”, but that epic start gives way to a blast of galvanizing thrash riffs that tag-team with more of those rapid, tremolo-picked blizzards. It’s an electrifying piece of music that includes a standout extended guitar solo and a really impressive drum performance, too.
Just based on these two songs, there’s obviously a lot of instrumental and song-writing talent in this band. They’re perfectly capable of delivering a decimating attack, but obviously not content to do just that, because this is impressively multidimensional music.
FAIL TO DECAY
I decided to explore the music of this Minnesota outfit for the final test in this MISCELLANY excursion because their bass player James Benson is also a member of Amiensus, and I like them very much. Fail To Decay’s debut EP The Black Book hit Bandcamp in March of this year, and it turns out the EP was mixed and mastered by Roman “Arsafes” Iskorostenskiy of Kartikeya and Arsafes, and that was yet another promising association.
Since I grabbed the last two songs off the Monumentomb release, I decided to pick the first two from this one — “Southern Cross” and “Conspiracy Theorist”. We don’t write much about deathcore around here, but that’s what this is. It infiltrates slithering alien melodies through a backbone of jolting, start-stop percussive riffs and explosive bass drops, with a hi-lo vocal tandem of hoarse roars and boiled-in-oil shrieks. “Conspiracy Theorist” is the better of the two and the one I’d recommend you check out in the player below.