(We bring you a trio of reviews by Andy Synn, with full album streams of the music. The focus is on Cranial, Fjoergyn, and Grand Old Wrath.)
I shouldn’t have to remind you that our Germanic brothers and sisters are absolutely killing it at the moment. Heck, I already have four other albums, and an EP, lined up to review in the near future, and there’s still most of the year left to go!
But, before then, how about you click on through and check out my latest three recommendations, a mix of crushing Post-Metal, blackened avant-garde extravagance, and toothsome Teutonic Tech Death.
Photo by Golden Shot Photography
CRANIAL – DARK TOWERS, BRIGHT LIGHTS
Let’s face it, a lot of putative “Post-Metal” tend to focus more on the “Post-“ than the “Metal” side of the equation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but sometimes you really just want something that’s moody and atmospheric but that also absolutely crushes.
Enter Cranial and their debut album Dark Towers, Bright Lights.
Although only a mere four songs long, every track on this album is dominated by a series of massive, monolithic riffs that pummel you with all the relentless power and unstoppable momentum of an avalanche in slow-motion.
The clattering drums and lurching, grinding guitars of opener “Dark” immediately set the scene and conjure a bleak and brooding atmosphere, with the almost machine-like intensity of the song’s piston-powered rhythms (reminiscent, in tone and timbre, of Cult of Luna’s phenomenal Vertikal) broken up here and there by sudden spasms of distorted dissonance or unexpected digressions into ominous, unsettling ambience, after which the synth-infused intro to “Towers” offers only a brief reprieve before the song’s humongously heavy, doom-laden guitars and raw, visceral vocals crash down upon you like a collapsing building.
The dreary, dreamlike introduction to “Bright” glimmers like the last dying embers of a slowly dimming fire, barely illuminating the darkness around it. And oh, what darkness it is. Filled with terror and tumult and prowling, predatory riffs, biding their time and waiting for their moment to strike with venomous, violent intent. It’s an absolute monster of a track, make no mistake, and that’s before the vocals even come into play (which they finally do, in suitably harrowing fashion, shortly after the seven-minute mark).
By the time that “Bright” has finished having its wicked way with you, there’s a good chance you’re going to be absolutely exhausted… but you’re not out of the woods just yet. The band still have one more card to play, in the form of the punishing “Lights”, which closes the album with just under eleven minutes of volatile, high-voltage riffs, rhythmic, pulse-pounding drums, and smouldering, ashen melodies.
Even if you’ve become a little burnt out on the whole “Post-Metal” scene in recent years, you should definitely check this one out. It might just restore your faith in the genre.
Don’t you love it (and kind of hate it) when you stumble across a band that seems tailor-made for you, only to realise they’re already on their fifth(!) album, and you’ve basically been missing out for the last ten years or so?
Attempting to adequately describe Fjoergyn’s sound on Lvcifer Es necessitates a lot of genre-hopping and name-dropping, as their Prog/Avant/Industrial/Goth/Black hybrid takes in elements from several different styles, touching on the booming bombast of Dimmu Borgir, the electro-industrial throb of Thorns/Samael, and the provocative theatricality of Arcturus and Dødheimsgard, to name but a few.
The solemn grandeur of “MMXVII”, with its slowly-building heaviness, subtle symphonic elements, and moody shades of Pink Floyd, eventually leads into the menacing chug and blast of the aptly-named “Leviathan”, all curved, fang-like hooks and coiled, muscular rhythms coated in a skein of twitching keys and slithering symphonics, after which the strangled tremolo riffs and languid bass lines of “Viva la Inquisition” initially serve to lull the listener into a false sense of security, before the song erupts into a prime piece of Puritania…-esque blackened belligerence.
The spine-tingling acoustic guitar work which introduces the title-track soon gives way to a vicious display of intense, infectious riffery and aggressive, anxiety-inducing twists and turns, with Ivo Raab’s grim and gritty (yet gruesomely catchy) vocals holding court over a parade of skittering blastbeats and martial metallic rhythms, while the writhing, hypnotic riff work and pounding central hook of “Blut Samen Erde” find the band doing their very best to drill their way into your skull with a blend of menacing Black Metal bite and synth-injected, pseudo-symphonic deviance.
“Dinner mit Baal” is eleven minutes of unorthodox weirdness which transforms from an undeniably ear-pleasing piece of smoothly, smoky jazz into a bombastic prog-metal behemoth of a track that’s part Mayhem, part Rammstein, part Queensrÿche. It’s either a work of genius, or insanity.
Or possibly both.
Concluding with the one-two punch of “Terra Satanica” and the grandiose “Freiheit” – the former a throat-ripping display of blackened venom and sinister satanic hooks, the latter an electrifying Black Metal anthem that somehow makes eleven-and-a-half minutes pass by in the blink of an eye – Lvcifer Es is bound to capture a few hearts and minds, and will hopefully bring the band and their exotic brand of eccentric extremity to a whole new audience in the process.
Although this one is referred to as an EP by most sources (including the group’s own Bandcamp site) there’s more than enough metallic meat on display during these six songs of twisted Tech Death deviance to more than justify its appearance here.
Comparisons to Gallic groovemeisters Gorod are certainly apt, as the ballistic blastery and fret-burning riffery of opener “The Beautiful Embrace of Fidelity” should demonstrate, with both bands displaying not only a similar knack for lacing their undeniably technical delivery with some impressively catchy hooks, but also a shared understanding of when to let things breathe, meaning that even at its most ferocious Total Devotion is never more than a minute or two away from dropping some fresh and funky Prog on you.
However the band that Grand Old Wrath most closely remind me of is Russia’s (now sadly defunct) Hieronymus Bosch… not just because of the similarity between the vocals, but because of the generally unusual, occasionally outlandish, nature of their overall sound, with the German quintet frequently displaying a near-total disregard for convention as they gallop and groove their way through thirty-six minutes of wilfully weird and off-beat metallic mayhem.
The punishing parade of cryptic drums and angular riffage that underpins “Creating a Man”, for example, is augmented by numerous passages of fleet-fingered, Prog/Tech solo work and rippling acoustic guitar which interject themselves into the proceedings when the listener least expects it, while “The Human Prey” mixes nimble, needle-sharp riffs and heavy, neck-wrecking grooves with moments of shamelessly proggy peculiarity (particularly during its fantastically catchy finale).
Simpler, yet still dripping with strangeness, “Iron Will to Intolerance” is a real barnburner of a track, showcasing not only some rather stunning drum work but also some suitably mangled riffage, as does follow-up “To See The Light” (although the latter also incorporates some swinging, swaggering, jazz-like touches too).
But it’s the climactic title-track which really takes the cake/biscuit, the song’s rampant energy, freakishly infectious melody, and primal, prog-tinged grooves practically resisting logical analysis, but demanding that you bang your head and shake your hips regardless.
This is one heck of a first statement by a young band with so much potential to grow and develop, even with such an already well-realised and riveting sound. So let’s keep a close eye on Grand Old Wrath. I predict big things from them in the future.