This is a rare kind of round-up, relative to what I usually pull together. Most obviously, there are only three bands featured in this one. And the other difference, which is related to the first one, is that while I’m including only one song by each band, each of these songs is more than 20 minutes long.
Wait! Don’t leave! I promise you won’t become bored — though your emotional well-being will be assaulted and your sanity may be severely tested. Yes, 20 minutes is a long time to arrest your constantly flitting and dithering mind and apply a little focus. It will be worth the effort.
Actually, Taarna’s track, “Sanguine Ash“, is almost 30 minutes long.
Don’t be misled by the fact that Taarna are from Portland, incorporate elements of black metal into their sound, and have included a photo of a fog-shrouded forest among the few you’ll find on their Facebook page. This isn’t tree-hugging “Cascadian black metal”. Of the three long tracks I’ve collected here, all of which are deeply disturbing in different ways, this one is perhaps the most terrifying and bleak. Perhaps only fractured souls could have made “Sanguine Ash“. Perhaps only the sturdiest of souls could cross through this portal and emerge unscathed.
The disturbances begin early, with an array of unsettling vocal samples set against a backdrop of ominous, uncomfortable electronic sounds as a way of preparing the listener for what’s to come. The reverberation of soft guitar strumming and a slow, rhythmic drum patter gradually rise up, augmented by the shimmer and shine of a second guitar, the combination building a somber and meditative mood, and then subsiding into a scratching haze of static… with the music then segueing into something like the sound of funereal organ chords and anguished guitars, surrounded by the simulated wailing of wraiths.
You’re 10 minutes into the track before the vocals finally come in over a slow, sludgy, stomping, doom-stricken melody — and they are truly shattering. While the music at this point is a recipe for slow, sober head-nodding, that voice is a truly tortured expression of mind-flensing pain. It comes and goes, but never fails to produce a kind of cowering fear at the sheer horror of its agony.
The music’s intensity ebbs and flows with the animation of the drumming, laced by feedback and long chords, by swirls of abrasive noise and the reappearance of that reverberating strumming, by layered waves of melody that build an anguished intensity, but the music continuously falls back into a catastrophic, slow-motion fall into an ice-cold, lightless void.
There is a time, near the end, when the drums shift into a rocking rhythm and the riffing becomes a head-hooking mix of pulsing and warping sound… but at that same point the cacophonous vocals reach a crescendo of unrelenting affliction, as if to underline a message: Hope is for the deluded.
The inventiveness and stark emotional power of “Sanguine Ash” can’t be denied, but be forewarned: As they say in the trade, this isn’t for the faint-hearted.
In the interest of full disclosure, Taarna guitarist David Rodgers is a friend and the ringleader of Northwest Terror Fest; I worked with him on the inaugural edition of NWTF that took place earlier this year and am working with him again on NWTF 2018. Among other accomplishments, he is also the man behind Battleground Records and might be best known for the music of his band Godhunter. The balance of Taarna’s impressive line-up on this track is as follows:
Vocals – Brandon (from Naught)
Drums – Aaron (from Before The Eyewall)
Guitars – Adam (from Urchin)
Bass & Noise – Braden (from Hammered Grunts)
“Sanguine Ash” is available as a Bandcamp download. The artwork, which is fantastic, was created by Stephen Wilson.
Both this next song by Convulsing and the following one by Siberian Hell Sounds appear on the same record, an album-length split that was released yesterday (vinyl and digital) by the Australian label Art As Catharsis.
For those new to the name Convulsing, it’s the solo project of Brendan Sloan, who is also a member of Dumbsaint. I was floored, and levitated, by Convulsing’s 2016 debut album, Errata, for reasons I attempted to explain here. The new song from this split, “Engraved Upon Bleached Bone“, takes the fascinating and unorthodox blending of ingredients displayed in Errata (which Sloan himself once described as “a weird hybrid of Shining, Portal and Discordance Axis“) and improves upon it.
As you might expect from a track of this length, the music isn’t all one thing. There are reprieves… interludes of ghostly ambient sounds and haunting guitar chords… slow rhythms and soft, reverberating arpeggios, both soulful and surreal… a phase of astral shimmering and uneasy scratchiness… but in the main, the music is absolutely explosive, and electrifying in its changing strategies of destruction.
The first exposure to the war zone comes early on, after the intro of swelling, ominous ambience, when Convulsing mounts a brutalizing assault of battering drums and jarring, swarming riffs, organized in start-stop jolts, the intensity pushed even further into the red zone by deep, horrifying roars and teeth-baring howls. Episodes of staggering violence become a regular occurrence, but each of them exploits different forms of weaponry in a fully loaded arsenal — hammering rhythms and angular, dissonance-laced riffing; eye-popping percussive strafing runs and maniacally ferocious guitar attacks; heavy, pulverizing doom chords and pneumatic drum pounding; deep, buzzing, drill-bit penetrations that burst into flares of crazed ebullience.
However, interspersed among these skeletally dismantling volcanic eruptions of bludgeoning and ripping are still more ingredients that make the track so persistently riveting, including chiming tones that ring like distorted bells and have an almost magisterial yet unearthly resonance.
There’s a lot to take in here, and certainly more than can really be appreciated in a single listening session. It’s a wonder that this was all conceived, performed, recorded, mixed, and mastered by a single person, but so it was. What an enormously impressive accomplishment.
Buy on Bandcamp:
SIBERIAN HELL SOUNDS
My comrade DGR has devoted many words to the output of Siberian Hell Sounds (who are not really from Siberia but, like Convulsing, from Australia), describing one release as “heavy, oppressive, and downright suffocating”; “music that is rabid and teeth-bared, claws-out and coming right for you”; the whole experience “like an angry, violent confrontation”; and a subsequent release as “a marked departure from the grinding violence that the band were getting up to on their previous release” — “[t]he vocals are still voracious as hell, but this time they’re being drowned in a sea of melancholy”.
SHS discharged another release (2016’s Svengali) since the two that DGR reviewed, but we failed to report about it. And now we have “The Breath of the Beast“.
The label that seems to be most commonly affixed to the music of Siberian Hell Sounds is “blackened hardcore”, though there’s a significant grind component to some of their music as well. Regardless of labels, this long track is almost exhausting in its intensity. There are recognizable and very memorable melodic motifs that run through the track, but the music is persistently tension-ratcheting, changing only in the degree of force it applies to torque the mind.
As in the other two long tracks in this collection, the vocals are incinerating. The band combine intense gales of riffing with unsettling, swirling leads. It’s like being caught in a tornado of grim and violent sound. The band also apply layered chords that ring out like hammer blows on an anvil or like the tolling of death bells. There are mounting crescendos of terror and pain, rising fanfares of fearsome malevolence, and subsidences into groaning, dirge-like movements that have a feeling of terrible grandeur. The drum patterns are in almost constant flux, which is part of why the track never loosens its hold on your throat.
The overarching atmosphere of the music is one of complete desolation, but it’s nonetheless relentlessly dramatic and gripping. It may leave you gasping for breath… and grasping for some pleasant memory. Good luck in finding one.
Buy on Bandcamp: