SEEN AND HEARD: CHURCHBURN, NIHILIFER, THE HOWLING VOID, JOHN MORELAND
As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been missing in action at NCS for the better part of the last two weeks, attending one metal festival and helping present a second one. The last of these new music round-ups I was able to prepare came on May 18th. Since then, the flood of new metal has continued unabated rather than politely waiting until I could pay attention again. As a result, there’s perhaps even more than the usual degree of randomness in the following selections.
And speaking of randomness, I decided to include some country music at the end, which I learned about through a conversation on Sunday with Austin Lunn (Panopticon). And since I’ve now dropped his name, maybe you’ll be more likely to give the song a chance.
The dark handiwork of Nestor Avalos adorns the new album by Rhode Island’s Churchburn, the name of which is None Shall Live…The Hymns of Misery. It will be released on July 13 through the Armageddon label. Some new members have joined the band since their last album four years ago, and guest performers appear on the album as well. The first advance track, “The Misery Hymns“, is the song I’ve chosen to lead off today’s playlist.
This track is immense, unnerving, explosive, and devastating. It opens with reverberating strings, and brief interludes of strummed chords appear again, all of which seem almost airy in comparison to the massive, heaving, lurching, groaning riffs, the pavement-splitting drum blows, the gun-shot crack of the snare, and the song’s blaring blasts of imperious melody.
With vocals that form a cross between torturous pain and livid fury, torrents of brutality that jackhammer the neck, and doses of molten guitar madness, the song keeps the listener on the edge of the seat without ever abandoning the mortifying doom at the core of the music. It makes for a striking introduction to this new album.
I learned of this next song from Rennie of starkweather not long after I surfaced from work on last weekend’s metal fest in Seattle. Its name is “Reformación Raigámbrica“, and it comes from the debut album, Subterfacto.declive, by a death metal band called Nihilifer from Temuco, Chile.
The more I’ve listened to this song, the more impressed I’ve grown. It’s a dynamically paced, demonically conceived piece of death metal derangement, with a murky and diseased tonality. Composed of blasting and booming drum rhythms, interesting (and infectious) bass motifs, queasy high-pitched guitar burbling, and an array of vocals consisting of ghastly gurgling, shrieking hatred, and agonized yells, it’s a grim and gruesome experience to be sure — but a riveting one.
One more thing — the track is often a maelstrom of chaos, but it’s damned good headbang fuel, too.
The album was released on May 30 .
THE HOWLING VOID
“The Howling Void returns to its roots. No more clean singing. The guitars are tuned to G. The tempos are back to glacial speeds.” And that’s how The Howling Void introduces the new album, Bleak and Everlasting. By way of further introduction, this one-man symphonic funeral doom band from San Antonio, Texas, has recently provided the title track for streaming.
The titanic cragginess of the slow chord thunder, the abyssal abrasion of the growled vocals, and the shimmering ache of the keyboard melody make for an entrancing though blood-freezing combination in this song, as if capturing both the abyss below and the stars glimmering in the cold void above. To mix my metaphors, the grave beckons in this music, and phantasms sing their siren song, longing to smother you in their embrace.
No specific release date for Bleak and Everlasting has been identified yet, but we’re assured it will come at some point later this year.
In my music listening I have a severe case of tunnel vision, thanks to my obsession with NCS. Very rarely do I listen to something that isn’t metal, but this morning I did, following up on a recommendation from Austin Lunn (Panopticon), with whom I spent a great afternoon and evening of talk (and beer) following last weekend’s Northwest Terror Fest.
I have some personal history with country music, and even though I don’t make much time to listen to country any more, it still strikes some deep chords in me when it’s done as well as John Moreland does it. That’s certainly what happened when I listened to “Cherokee“, which is the song Austin recommended I start with. It’s off Moreland’s 2015 album, High On Tulsa Heat (his most recent release is the 2017 album Big Bad Luv).
Back in 2015, NPR’s Ann Powers wrote about this song and the video that accompanies it, and I’m going to crib here from her write-up as an introduction to “Cherokee” and the video.
Just watch as bass player Bingham Barnes, who’s something of a ringer for Moreland, goes about his modest life drinking a beer, feeding his chickens, getting rid of some old stuff in a backyard bonfire — and building something. What he’s building is a basic thing, a terribly intimate thing, and the care and matter-of-fact skill with which he goes about it is in itself inspirational. When the final shot reveals the fruit of his labor, it’s sobering and sublime.
The video, based on a concept by Joey Kneiser, who is in the band Glossary with Barnes and is a good friend of Moreland’s, is a perceptive response to the Oklahoma singer-songwriter’s stately but raw confession. One of 10 marrow-deep songs on the Oklahoma-based singer-songwriter’s upcoming release High on Tulsa Heat, “Cherokee” was inspired by a dream, and he prefers to leave open to interpretation, story-wise….
As its verses are carried forward by guitar lines quietly unspooling, and Moreland sings of a broken heart in his glowing, grainy baritone, the specifics of his confession blur, but also open up to encompass the profound and commonplace reality of loneliness. Where Moreland’s lost one has gone or even who she may be — a parent? A lover? — doesn’t really matter. The song’s lesson is the way the singer sits with grief, feels it sand off the hard edges of defensiveness. “You’d carve those doubts right out of me,” Moreland sings to the one who doesn’t hear him.
“Cherokee,” like its video, carves out a space where the listener can contemplate surviving such doubts, because that’s just reality for anyone born into a physical form that doesn’t last forever. No spoilers — “Cherokee” is a story of life as it’s really lived. Dark as its edges may be, it’s not horror. It’s humanity.
There’s palpable pain and wrenching soulfulness in Moreland’s voice; the lyrics are cryptic but engrossing; and the music is hard to shake off — as you listen, you can’t help be think about the people you’ve loved and lost yourself.
John Moreland is fantastic! “Big Luv” is definitely one of best country albums of the 2017 🙂
I’m obviously way behind the curve. 🙂
Churchburn riffs so hard. wasn’t expecting something that good from a band name that bad.
Hmmm Nihilifer…Murky yet not cavernous