(Here we have a trio of reviews by Andy Synn, who’s still not finished with 2016.)
So it looks like, barring some sort of unforeseen intervention by an outside source, this will be my penultimate catch-up post for 2016, and very soon I’ll be able to divert my full attention to new releases – both from lesser-known acts and from bigger names – from 2017.
In the meantime, however, here are three more killer albums from last year that really deserved a lot more attention and acclaim than they received.
Although the over-use of words like “Progressive” and “Avant-Garde” has somewhat diluted their meaning in recent years, the debut album by Florida-based Black Metal duo Bhavachakra is definitely unusual and unorthodox enough to have at least one of those terms (or something similar) applied to it.
Darkly dissonant without being a simple Deathspell Omega clone, and layered with a chaotic blend of crooked, angular guitar work, frenzied drumming (courtesy of powerhouse percussionist Gabriel Gozainy) and surprisingly technical twists, the early pairing of “Sri Yantra” and “Oceans of Existence” provides an impressively nasty (yet nuanced) showcase for the band’s murky-yet-multifaceted style, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album.
But the band aren’t content to simply reveal all their tricks straight away. Not by a long shot.
As a matter of fact this is an album which takes its time to fully unveil all its secrets, with vocalist/guitarist Kenneth Reda wielding his instrument much like a sculptor’s chisel, carving off another section of blackened stone with each successive song, and utilising his full panoply of dense, discordant riffs and sawing, serrated chords to fully realise his vision and bring it into being.
Reda and Gozainy aren’t afraid to toy around with melody either, and there’s a distinct (if understated) Opeth influence seeping through the cracks at times — whether it’s in the surprisingly solemn interlude part-way through “The Burden of Attachment” or the delicate acoustic patterns which litter both “Sybaritic Apparitions” and “Rivers of Transmigration” (two of the album’s many highlights) — which only serves to accentuate the scathing heaviness of these tracks even further.
On top of this, the production throughout the album is pleasantly raw without being unnecessarily unpolished, allowing you to really appreciate the rough texture of the material in its natural state, while the song-writing walks a tenuous tightrope between twisted complexity and aggressive accessibility with aplomb.
The two instrumental tracks are, perhaps, a little superfluous to proceedings, but when an album ends with a song like “Kali Yuga” – almost eight minutes of roiling, acidic riffs and barbed, screeching tremolo runs set to a background of catastrophic drum work and harsh, howling vocals – you can forgive it one or two little flaws like that.
Fans of bands like Krallice, Imperial Triumphant, and the aforementioned Deathspell Omega, should certainly find a lot to love here either way.
Even though I mentioned above that people tend to over-use words like “Progressive” and “Avant-Garde” these days, there’s not really any other way to describe the sound of Norwegian three-piece Endolith, whose debut album comes across like the bastard spawn of Meshuggah, Arcturus, and early Devin Townsend, melding booming, bombastic guitars and prowling, low-end grooves with a variety of dramatic, extravagant vocal styles and swathes of abstract synthetic sounds.
“Galactic Pecking Order” kicks the album off with a storm of red-shift blastbeats, heaving, pneumatic riffs, and bleeping electronica – all overlain with some suitably chest-bursting vocals – before exploding apart in a madcap display of sax-fuelled craziness and pulsing, low-tuned groove (topped off with some shamelessly theatrical clean vocals), only to conclude with another jazzy, saxophonic freak-out.
And that’s just the first track.
It’s not just their unusual take on the Prog/Metal template that sets the band apart though, as their penchant for esoteric, intellectually-stimulating lyrical content is another unexpected (but welcome) oddity.
As a result Voyager features songs dedicated to everything from Heisenberg’s infamous “Uncertainty Principle”, to the question of truth as defined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (the humongous “Bertrand Russell On Truth”), while the lurching, Strapping Young Lad-esque “Criteria of Mind” even includes a sample of the eminent British anthropologist Gregory Bateson discussing the artificial division of human knowledge.
The band reach peak-nerd, however, on the pun-tastic “Velocirapture”, which conflates the necessary conditions needed to achieve escape velocity from the earth’s gravitational pull with the Christian idea of spiritual rapture, with the vocals describing a mix of mathematical formulae and religious doctrine in explicit detail atop a grandstanding array of titanic riffs and atmospheric synths.
As strange and progged-out as the band’s sound can get though, they never skimp on the heaviness, as the pulverising “Gavagai”, the juddering, eerily atmospheric “Hymn to Ares”, and the grandiose cyber-thrash attack of “The Razor” can testify.
Concluding with the mechanoid brutality of “Old As Cancer” and “Holy Curiosity” – the latter of which somehow manages to raise the bar in terms of sheer heaviness while also giving free-rein to its proggiest, most avant-garde inclinations (including a wealth of spacey synth-work, soaring melodic vocals, and self-indulgent jazz-sax strangeness alongside the usual array of gut-wrenching guitars and strafing blastbeats) – Voyager is one of those albums which you really need to hear for yourself to fully grasp.
So make sure to grab a copy as soon as you can. You will not regret it. I sure as hell don’t.
HAUNTER – THRINODIA
In contrast to the previous two entries, Haunter’s debut album, Thrinodia, plays its progressive cards much closer to its chest, and offers a much more instinctive, gut-level listening experience as a result, delivering forty-six and a half minutes of aggressive, filth-encrusted Black/Death Metal, heavy on gritty, grating nihilism and grim, sombre melody, without mercy or compromise.
That being said, the surprisingly solemn, slow-burn introduction to “Perinatal Odium Dilute” (complete with some captivating bass/guitar interplay) reminds me quite a bit of the dearly-departed Ludicra, although the savage torrent of blackend venom and vitriol which follows is several shades darker and several times more vicious.
The two bands do share a similar penchant, however, for interweaving hellishly hooky riffs and subdued, shadowy melodies into the mix, as the eerily headbangable finale to “Perinatal Odium Dilute” and the sublime second half of the savage “Untitled” so aptly demonstrate.
The vocals of Bradley Tiffin are unflinchingly bestial throughout, and are frequently employed more as simply another instrument in the collective cacophony, rather than as something separate in their own right, rising from a rumbling, blast-furnace roar to a chalkboard-scraping shriek, sometimes reaching a level of apoplectic fury (see the barnburning “Vial” for proof) which renders them nearly indecipherable.
“Thus My Undertaking, to Reject Stagnation, and to Liberate Fervency” may have a knowingly pretentious title, but it just so happens to be one of the album’s best (and most varied) songs, transitioning from its haunting, minimalist intro into a raging torrent of scorched-earth guitar work and lithe, limber bass lines, before running through a violent sequence of of straining, strangling tremolo runs, chaotic blast-work, and dreary, disconsolate melodic interludes, with barely a pause for breath.
Following the surprisingly atmospheric (yet still shockingly intense) strains of “Apnoeic (Polarized in Retrospective Contempt)” – which is, by the way, another real stand-out – the album concludes with its fourteen-minute title-track, which, despite its extravagant run-time and the sheer density of its sonic assault, still manages to work in a number of brutally effective hooks and eerie melodic touches along the way, before finally culminating in a drawn-out finale of gloomy ambience and brooding distortion.
So, while this album isn’t perfect (the raging chaos of it all doesn’t always seem fully under the band’s control, and the unrefined density of their sound doesn’t always do them any favours), it’s still perfect for all of those with a jones for something ugly and uncompromising, something which doesn’t pull its punches, and which offers no excuses.