(Andy Synn has compiled reviews of six new releases in this mid-week post.)
Despite our best efforts to the contrary, there still remains a certain cadre of people convinced that there’s some sort of nefarious motive or hidden agenda behind the work we do here at NCS.
So, in the interests of clarity and transparency I’d like to begin this piece by restating a few things.
For one, you should be aware that we don’t host any ads here at the site, take in any money from bands/labels, and don’t receive any kicks for clicks. This place is entirely independent and self-funded, and it’s going to stay that way.
Similarly we’re not beholden to record labels for access or coverage, nor do we favour “big” releases over less well-known ones. We’ll write about them, sure, if we feel like we want to, but the general ethos of this site has always been to focus on less well-known and less widely-covered, bands.
And while we have built up a good relationship with certain labels/agents over the years, this has largely been based upon a reputation for scrupulous honesty. We won’t host a premiere, conduct an interview, or write a review, unless we actually like the band/artist in question, and while we always try to accentuate the positive, we’re not afraid to provide (constructive) criticism when it’s warranted.
As a matter of fact we’ve actually been blacklisted or downgraded by certain agents/agencies in the past simply because we weren’t nice enough about their bands…
Anyway, all of this preamble is really just a long-winded way of saying that the following collection of reviews hasn’t been paid for or solicited in any way. It’s just a bunch of albums I’ve stumbled across in the last few weeks/months that I felt like writing about and recommending to you all.
ABJECTION RITUAL – SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH
Those of you with your fingers in the proverbial underground pie will no doubt have caught wind of this one already, as it was actually released last Friday. But for those of you unfamiliar with this band and their ugly, uncompromising oeuvre… well, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Testing the boundaries of the “traditional” album format, Soul of Ruin, Body of Filth, is the third full-length release from Pennsylvanian noiseniks Abjection Ritual, and is highly recommended for fans of Gnaw Their Tongues, Lord Mantis, and The Axis of Perdition.
Understandably, given the comparisons I’ve made just above, it’s also not for the faint of heart, as every writhing, malformed riff and dissonant, squalling chord, every tortured vocalisation and inhuman utterance comes shrouded in a pall of pure malevolence and coated with spatterings of industrial effluent and glitching, discordant electronica.
Highlights (if you can call them that) include the soul-crushing Death/Doom depravity of “Blood Mother” and the pitch-black, panic-inducing extremity of “Ruin”, although the terrible truth is that Soul of Ruin… is best experienced as one collective, sequential whole, so that the suppurating ebb and flow between haunting, horrific ambience and ear-scraping distortion can work its way deep into the marrow of your bones, where it can fester and eventually metastasize like some sort of malignant musical cancer.
Taken in isolation however, it’s grotesque and gargantuan closer “Old Sins” which perhaps best sums up the album’s abominable raison d’etre, suffocating the listener beneath a choking cloud of schizophonic sounds and shrieking malice that rapes the ear like some unholy amalgam of Godflesh and Incantation (plus a few more unrecognisable elements) being forced to write a brand new soundtrack to Hellraiser while having their skin slowly flensed off.
Jesus wept indeed.
ANTLERS – BENEATH.BELOW.BEHOLD.
Oddly enough I’ve seen a few reviews/reviewers struggling to articulate a clear description of this album – whether it’s due to the band’s somewhat non-traditional artwork and appearance (with nary a dab of corpse-paint to be found) or their decision to eschew the traditional cadaverous rasp in favour of a grittier, more guttural delivery (intercut with some perfectly placed and poignant cleans) – but, in all honesty, it doesn’t take long for the cascading chords, tripwire tremolo melodies, and serpentine drum work of opener “Theôm” to identify the German quartet as being a Black Metal band through and through.
As a matter of fact, the cleanest and clearest comparison for the group’s particular brand of blackened brilliance is with Brooklyn bridgeburners Woe, or perhaps Wiegedood (albeit with a proper, and subtly impressive, bass presence), with whom Antlers share a similar predilection for dense, oppressive atmosphere and intense, aggressive riffage.
I’ll grant you that the interlude tracks are, by and large, a little hit or miss (barring the climactic “Lug’s Waters”, which really does serve as a sublime coda to the album) but there’s something so undeniably vital and visceral about numbers such as the frenzied “Heal” , the moody and compelling “Metempsychosis”, or the grim majesty of “The Tide” (to name but a few) that I keep on coming back to this album over and over again despite these minor flaws.
Overall this has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year so far for me, and I’m off to check out their previous release (2015’s A Gaze Into the Abyss) just as soon as I’ve stopped listening to this one for about the thousandth time.
DEPTHS – ENDLESS
Oof… now this is some seriously heavy shit. Hailing from the legendary land of New Zealand – home of Hobbits, Balrogs, and Taika Waititi – Depths deal in a truly bludgeoning form of Meshugga-nised Deathcore, and their new album, Endless, absolutely pulverises from start to finish.
Of course if the dreaded “-core” suffix is one which immediately causes your gorge to rise, you might want to skip on down to the next entry in this list, but for those of you who still want to give the band a fair hearing I’m happy to say that the NZ quintet focus much more on the “Death-“ side of the equation, largely (though not solely) due to vocalist Joshua Bain’s utterly monstrous growl (and savage, but sparingly deployed, shriek).
Crushing cuts like the frantic “Apophis” and the blasting, Impending Doom-esque “Ba-Pef” largely avoid the curse of generic Djentrification by simply never taking their foot off the gas, and doubling down on the heaviness whenever possible, while even the occasional “breakdowns” (such as they are) tend more towards a devastating amalgam of Meshuggah/Suffocation style angularity, so you needn’t worry about any inadvertent two-stepping or calls to “open this shit up” ruining the vibe.
Heck, there’s even a subtle (if an album like this can ever truly be referred to as “sublte”) element of taut technicality to be observed on tracks like “Setekh” and “Emutet”, while I’d possibly even go so far as to say that numbers like “Khonsu” and “Shai” display some nascent progressive ambitions, which I’d be interested in hearing the band explore even further… as long as they promised to stay just as heavy and belligerent.
So while it may not be big, and it may not be clever (actually, scratch that, it’s definitely BIG, and a lot smarter than you might expect), you’ll find that Endless is still one seriously pummelling slab of bio-metalloid mayhem if you’re willing to give it the chance it deserves.
FOEHAMMER – SECOND SIGHT
Oof… ok, this is also some seriously heavy shit… albeit in a very different way to the previous entry.
Second Sight is, aptly enough, the second release (although first full-length album) from US riffmongers Foehammer, and is easily one of the most overwhelmingly dense and oppressive albums I’ve heard so far this year, comprising four humongously heavy and gut-wrenchingly groovy tracks of hybrid Doom/Sludge that seem to just build and build in intensity until you feel like you’re about to be flattened by their sheer sonic weight.
Opener “Black Númenórean”, for example, is ten minutes (and change) of groaning, fuzz-drenched guitars, staggering drums, and bowel-rumbling vocals whose brutal, dirge-like delivery is as strangely compelling as it is utterly unforgiving, while “Recurring Grave” (the album’s shortest track, at a mere 07:54 in length) manages to be just as emotionally/physically devastating as its predecessor despite possessing a much more melancholy melodic undercurrent.
This increased use of melody is even more obvious on “Axis Mundi”, which opens with some rippling, and ever so slightly unsettling, acoustic picking reminiscent of Panopticon, before descending inexorably into the gloomy depths in an iron-clad bathysphere built out of hammering drums and rusted riffs, and which closes with a broodingly dark and bluesy solo courtesy of guitarist Joe Cox.
Clearly designed solely for doom-lovers, doom aficionados, and doom disciples, this is definitely an album with a very specific appeal and a very specific audience in mind, but I don’t doubt that even the most experienced of doom-devotees will find themselves feeling a little bit bruised and broken once the titanic strains of sixteen-minute closer “The Seer” have finally finished rattling their bones – in the best possible way.
So if you’ve ever found yourself craving a top-notch dose of slow-burning brutality, this one is for you.
MØL – JORD
Danish “Black-gaze” wunderkinds Møl have been anointed as “the next big thing” (at least until the next “next big thing” comes along) by several publications already, and it’s easy to see why, as the band’s particular blend of gleaming tremolo melodies and shimmering, ambient emotion is not only extremely accessible, but also extremely well put together, and the group’s passion for the style is both obvious and clearly unfeigned.
That being said, there’s nothing here that say, Lantlôs or An Autumn For Crippled Children haven’t already done, and while I’ve said before that originality (for its own sake, at least) is often overrated, the assertion that the band are somehow pushing boundaries or breaking the mould here is either inexplicably ignorant, or just wilfully disingenuous.
Still, you can’t (or shouldn’t) blame the band themselves for the excessive hype that’s been thrown around in the run-up to this album’s release (this is entirely out of their hands, after all) because, when judged on its own merits, Jord turns out to have a lot to offer.
At its best – such as the multifaceted “Penumbra”, the electrifying “Bruma”, or the soul-stirring savagery of “Ligament”– this album has all the potential to be held up as the archetypal “Black-gaze” release, seamlessly melding majestic melody and metallic intensity (as well as some truly captivating interplay between bristling screams and bewitching cleans) in equal measure.
And although it doesn’t always hit the same emotional and compositional heights (opener “Storm”, for example, aims for a cleansing catharsis it never quite achieves, while the middle segment of the album tends more towards simply “good” than “outstanding” on the whole), Jord definitely ends on a major high note with its evocative title-track (although the mid-song transformation into Duran Duran for a few bars is certainly a little jarring at first, even if the band then build on this to craft a truly enthralling finale).
So while I’d question anyone who says that this is “the best album of 2018” (it may be your favourite album of the year, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best, and I wish more people understood the distinction), I’d still be more than happy to recommend Møl to anyone who considers themselves a fan of Alcest, Heretoir, et al, and who might be looking for something new to help fill that aching, ebony-tinged hole in their heart.
YASHIRA – SHRINE
Perhaps the easiest way to describe the debut album by Floridian firebrands Yashira is to ask you to imagine a blend between “classic” (i.e. pre-Magma) Gojira and latter-day Burst, where the intermingling of Death, Sludge, and Post Metal elements still hasn’t quite found its final equilibrium.
Now I realise that, despite the caveat, that’s setting a very high bar, but that’s ok, because this is a very good (albeit not perfect) album, which not only provides the young band with a riveting opening statement, but which also promises even bigger and better things to come in the future.
Opener “Redact (Flood)” immediately sets out the band’s agenda in a torrent of jerky, neck-wrecking riffs, tumultuous, technical drums, and almost irritatingly infectious grooves (aided and abetted by a booming, silky-smooth bass tone), intermixed and intermingled with rich veins of proggy melody, heaving Death Metal heaviness, and powerful, reverberant vocals brimming with anguish and aggression.
This bombastic formula is then further expanded and embellished on “Writhe (Embrace)” and “Raze (Deject)”, which up the ante by pushing things in both a heavier and hookier direction, while simultaneously introducing a more introspective and progressive approach which allows them to explore different sonic textures (such as during the brooding finale of the former, or the moody, melody-tinged first half of the latter – where the Burst similarities really come to the fore) without compromising their intensity or integrity in the process.
Intricately-arranged instrumental “Shrine (Contra)” initially provides a welcome breather from the band’s roiling cauldron of molten metallic fury, but eventually introduces some suitably dense (yet also surprisingly delicate) riffage later on, which then leads the listener into the lurching, dissonant stomp of “Surmise (Descend)” (probably the album’s heaviest cut overall), after which the chunky, churning riffs and haunting atmospherics of “Ignis (Ascend)” help wrap the whole thing up in one neat (and nasty) bow.
Thus far I’ve found Shrine to be one hugely impressive first effort from a band who have all the potential to make a serious impact going forwards. So don’t sleep on this one if you ever want to be able to say “I was listening to these guys before they got big!”