(Andy Synn puts the spotlight on new releases by a trio of British bands.)
As I’ve said a few times before, I’m occasionally called to task for a perceived lack of “support” for the British metal scene, either because I’ve said something to criticise whatever flavour of the month band is currently riding high on a wave of second-hand riffage and easily-digestible snack-sized song-bytes, or simply for having the sheer gall to write for an American website instead of a UK one (conveniently ignoring the fact that I also contribute regularly to London Metal Monthly and, somewhat less regularly, Terrorizer magazine).
The thing is, for purely selfish, self-promoting reasons, I probably SHOULD spend more time shucking and jiving for every bunch of jokers with even a little bit of scene-cred in the hope that those good vibes will rub off on either of my own bands… But I’m not going to. I like to pretend I have at least an iota of integrity after all.
Ultimately I just want to write about the music that I love, regardless of arbitrary issues of national pride or scene loyalty. It just so happens that despite being sent numerous links to different bands from all around the UK, a lot of what I hear simply doesn’t connect with me, or live up to what I consider my own critical standards. For better or worse, that’s just the way it is (though please don’t stop sending links my way).
But when I actually DO find a band I love from the UK, I am MORE than happy to throw my support behind them, for whatever good it may do. Hence why you’re about to read the first of two separate collections bringing together some of the very best metallic offerings that have come out of the British scene this year… with today’s entry erring strongly towards the Death Metal side of things.
So, let’s get started, shall we…?
DE PROFUNDIS – KINGDOM OF THE BLIND
The name De Profundis is definitely one you should recognise if you’ve been paying attention to the site in recent years, as we (well, “I”) gave positively glowing reviews to both their previous album The Emptiness Within in 2013, and to their stopgap EP Frequencies that they released last year. They’ve always been a band I’ve been happy to get behind even though, as much as I loved both The Emptiness Within and Frequencies (as well as the band’s prior albums), it’s always felt like they still hadn’t entirely locked down who they were… or who they wanted to be.
The potential was always there, but it just hadn’t been fully realised yet.
That’s not the case with the band’s new album though, which showcases De Profundis at their proggiest and most enigmatic, yet, paradoxically, perhaps at their most focussed and most coherent as a result.
Whereas there were times on previously releases that you could still see the sutures from where the band’s various elements and influences had been sewn together, with bits of Death, Black, Prog and, yes, still some Doom, all mingling roughly together in the same alchemical melting pot, Kingdom of the Blind feels altogether smoother and more refined, with nary a scrape or a scar to be seen to mar the surface of what the band have made.
Mixed-metaphors aside, this move towards a proggier outlook – more expressive and textured and, ultimately, more natural – has clear benefits for both the Prog and the Death aspects of the band’s sound. The heaviest moments benefit from a greater sense of focus and direction, while the band’s progressive side is given free rein to fully express itself, and, on a grander scale, the songs themselves feel simultaneously more streamlined and structured, yet also more complex and freeform, with a greater sense of fluidity and flow between moments of blast-fuelled fury and expansive, melodic creativity.
With such a plethora of inventive riffs, expressive drum work, and endlessly imaginative bass lines, it seems almost churlish to try and pick out which songs are better than others, though some of my personal favourites are the blast-fuelled “Kult of the Orthodox”, the broodingly majestic title-track, and the instrumentally-astonishing “Beyond the Threshold”… although I’m also a big fan of the penultimate “Thrown to the Wolves” which, to my mind at least, leaves a better and more lasting impression on the psyche than subsequent closer “In Solitude” (which, I suppose, is my one major criticism of the album).
It’s been readily apparent to me that Kingdom of the Blind is by far the band’s finest hour, and every subsequent re-listen has only cemented this impression. It may have taken them a while to reach this stage, but if you’re looking for music that’s both structurally progressive, viscerally powerful, and melodically imaginative, then this is the album for you.
RANNOCH – AGE OF THE LOCUST EP
Rannoch are another band you should be familiar enough with by now, as they’re definite favourites of us here at NCS Towers (particularly Badwolf). Their new release, Age of the Locust, is an EP made up of tracks that were originally earmarked for their debut but which, for whatever reason, were left on the cutting-room floor and are now being given a reworking and an updated sonic sheen.
Of course the opening title-track remains a fantastic piece of cutting-edge Prog-Death gifted with the sheer kinetic force of a bulldozer, while the first of the *new* tracks, “100,000 Scars”, is an absolutely pulverising piece of low-tuned stringsmanship and hammering drum work that more than holds its own against the rest of the group’s catalogue.
“Heaven’s Mirror” is less effective though, as despite delivering a suitably high-quality blend of tasty riffage, expressively delivered clean/harsh vocals, and a welcome helping of complex fretwork in its second half, it doesn’t quite reach the heights which the group are usually capable of.
The ambient “Vestiges of Decay” is similarly a bit of a misfire, as it’s neither offensive nor striking enough to leave a lasting impression… it’s just sort of… there.
However, the final track on the EP, “Porphyria”, is almost worth the price of admission alone, showcasing the band at their most proggy and ambitious, and coming across like the mutant spawn of My Dying Bride and Meshuggah… all solemn, sombre melodies and bone-grinding, cybernetically enhanced riffage. It SHOULDN’T work. But Rannoch MAKE it work. And boy, is it a doozy of a track.
At its best this EP is a testament to why this band remain one of the most unappreciated and unsung acts on the British metal scene… and even at its worst it’s still head and shoulders above most of the competition.
ABHORRENT DECIMATION – MIASMIC MUTATION
The name Abhorrent Decimation is one I’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while now, as I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about them over the last several years. Hence, when I knew the promo for their debut album Miasmic Mutation was doing the rounds I asked Islander to keep his beady eyes out for it. [From your editor: My eyes are not beady. I think of them as quite beautiful.]
The album in question – Death Metal of the more, advanced, technical variety (without slipping into the tropes and travails of the “Tech-Death” sub-genre) – certainly references a number of NCS favourites over the course of its nine, impressively put-together tracks, with names like Hour of Penance (“Glaciate the Servants”), Man Must Die (“Eternal Repulsion”), and Decapitated (“Echoes of the Vortex”, “Terminal Reality”), all leaping to the tip of my tongue right away during my initial listening session.
And yet, despite all that, this isn’t an album that feels derivative. It feels fresh. It feels vital. It feels… alive.
In fact, it’s one of the most shamelessly infectious and irresistibly head-bang-able Death Metal albums that I’ve heard this year.
Of course one of the reasons behind this is that, in amongst the frenzied fretwork, neck-snapping blastery, and insidious melodies, these guys demonstrate themselves to be burgeoning masters of both the 10-Megaton uber-riff (see: the title-track for a plethora of crushing examples) and the killer chorus (see: pretty much every track, though final track “Odious” really takes some beating), and aren’t afraid of a big hook — whether it’s a riff, a vocal part, or a spiralling lead refrain – when they find one.
And, ultimately, it’s the sheer strength of the songwriting that makes this album such a pleasure to listen to, as it manages the difficult feat of being both brutal and memorable within the same breath, and although you can argue that it might be a little lacking in the originality stakes, it’s still brimming with character and its own sense of identity. These boys may not be fixated on doing something new… they’re just fixated on being better.
Don’t be surprised if you see this one riding high in a few end-of-year lists.
PS – If there’s one criticism to be levelled at the album (and I’m really stretching here, because it really is one hell of an enjoyable ride), it’s that the instantly recognisable Pär Oloffson artwork that adorns the cover… feels a little phoned-in, lacking some of the care and attention to detail that I tend to associate with his usual output. It’s not awful by any means, but the way that the miasma-wyrm clearly references imagery from The Avengers, mixed with the largely empty and generic glacial landscape (as well as some questionable issues of distance/persepective) stop me from enjoying it as much as I’d like to. Ah well. The album still kicks seven shades of ass.