(Andy Synn looks back at three albums from 2014 that we sadly neglected to review.)
Despite what you all clearly think, even your humble Metal overlords here at NCS aren’t completely infallible. Try as we might, sometimes even we miss out on stuff amongst the hustle and bustle of this thing we call life.
Case in point: I’m still discovering albums from last year (and the year before that… and the year before that…) which we failed to adequately cover properly, and which I’m metaphorically kicking myself for having missed.
So, in the interest of correcting such heinous oversights, I’ve decided to wax lyrical about three albums which went cruelly unappreciated here at NCS during the chaos and confusion of last year, each of which offers something very different to tease your musical tastebuds!
UNDER THE PLEDGE OF SECRECY – BLACK HOLE MASS EVOLUTION
German Tech-Grind lunatics Under the Pledge of Secrecy have actually been featured on this site once before, as we premiered the song “One / Eyed / God / Prophecy” in all its warped and mangled glory towards the tail-end of last year. Unfortunately the band still seemed to end up slipping under our radar despite this, so I feel like now it’s time to even things up a little!
On Black Hole Mass Evolution the band (currently a quintet while they search for a new drummer) deliver an onslaught of barely-controlled sonic chaos, with every dial pushed firmly into the red, playing themselves into an apoplectic frenzy that shows little to no regard for their listener’s sanity or wellbeing.
The riffs (of which there are more than you can count) clang and scrape like angle-grinders about to explode, guitar strings straining and contorting under the relentless fretboard-twisting onslaught, while the multi-limbed, spider-like drum work locks itself into a seek-and-destroy pattern of strafing insanity and targeted devastation, hitting that sweet spot between manic and deaggressive.
The songs themselves (with the title track being a particular favourite of mine) are largely delivered at warp-speed, jerking and writhing in electrifying spasms of shocking ferocity, yet still find time to drop into a nauseating groove here and there, while underneath it all the group sneak in some insidious hooks and subliminal melodic messages when and where you least expect it – all without ever seeming to deviate from their dissonant, deviant assault on the senses.
Definitely check this one out if you’re in the mood for something utterly abrasive and confrontational, or if you simply want your neurons forcibly rearranged.
MAAHLAS – NIGHTMARE YEARS
Turkish/Norwegian Progressive/Melodic Death-Black duo Cüneyt Çağlayan (all guitars, bass, synth, and compositions) and Levent Ultanur (vocals), collectively known as Maahlas, are another group whom we’ve covered very briefly here at NCS, and another group for whom that brief coverage was, in hindsight, wholly and utterly inadequate, as their album, Nightmare Years, is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular debuts I’ve heard in a long time.
In a nutshell, the band’s music is impressively ambitious in scope and sound, and impeccably executed to boot, moving smoothly from grandiose, anthemic melody to moments of visceral aggression and stark, unforgiving heaviness, via carefully constructed passages of symphonic majesty and bleak, melancholy atmosphere. Yet that doesn’t even cover the full scope of the band’s sound, as the music on Nightmare Years also incorporates clever touches of sublime acoustic guitar work, eerie electronics, and lucid proggy synthscapes to add a very different, but very complimentary, flavour to the whole thing.
Those of you in the know will realise that what I’m about to say constitutes extremely high praise: The album is highly reminiscent of Khonsu’s masterful Anomalia in a lot of ways, without being an outright doppelganger of that band’s distinctive sound and approach. I’m not sure it’s quite as good – though that could just be because I heard Anomalia first, and it stole some of this album’s (still formidable) thunder.
With a bevy of punishing, complex, thrash-tinged and prog-touched Black Metal riffs, and a veritable host of swarming, blasting, twisting-and-turning, technical-yet-nuanced drum patterns (courtesy of Polish session drummer Lucas), Nightmare Years is easily one of the most underrated and underappreciated albums of 2014, and deserves every moment of your attention.
SHELL FROM OCEANIC – AMBIVALENCE
I said in the introduction that each of these three bands differs quite drastically from the others, and that’s truest of all when it comes down to Portuguese Post-Metal instrumental quarter Shell From Oceanic.
Unlike the previous two bands, as far as I’m aware, we’ve never actually covered these guys before now… which isn’t all that surprising, as their music is about as far from “brutal” as a band can get, while still maintaining something of a Metal edge to their sound. Thankfully, we don’t listen to music here at NCS based on whether it’s “brutal enough”… we listen to music simply based on whether it’s good enough, and whether it sets our nethers a-tingling.
And Ambivalence most definitely does.
This Portuguese quartet of musical marvels deal in a lush and expansive sound, painted with vivid, widescreen colours and fluid, expressive brush-strokes, littered with free-form jazzy and progressive touches, where shimmering keys swirl and patter like digital raindrops across a complex canvas of progged-out riffage and luminous lead guitar work, aided and abetted by the luscious creativity and free-flowing, almost stream-of-consciousness performance of the group’s rhythm section, whose liquid, rippling bass-lines and infectious, expressive drum work, often threaten to steal the show from the flashier fretwork displayed by the group’s two guitarists.
Very much an unconventional piece of work, particularly by the usual NCS standards, Ambivalence is a proper little gem of an album, filled to the brim with gleaming, progressive melodies and an unabashed creativity. Let this be the soundtrack to your dreamscapes. I give you my guarantee you won’t be left… ambivalent.