(DGR delivered a tome of reviews so massive that we decided to serialize it throughout the week so as to avoid fracturing your spine beneath its weight. This is the 4th and final part of the series.)
On occasion we find ourselves backlogged with albums that we want to write about but seem never able to find the time to do so. Sometimes this results in multiple review ideas getting tossed and never revisited, and at other times you get posts like this one as we deseperately try to hammer out a whole bunch of reviews about EVERYTHING that we’ve been listening to.
In this case that means 13 different releases, unsorted by genre and from all varying walks of all things heavy. So, with the floodgates now fully open, let us wade further forth into the rushing waters of heavy metal to recommend some stuff that perhaps might have flown by you.
Jack Ketch – Ashes Of Vesuvius
You may have caught it in the opening of my Light This City review, but a lot of bands who’ve been silent for the better part of a decade have decided that 2018 would be a good time to come back. Maybe it’s just the general sense that the world is on fire right now, but a bunch of groups are now putting stuff out as if they’ll never get another chance to do so. Among the increasing number that are returning to us are two local Sacramento acts, one of which released a new album I reviewed yesterday (Journal) and the other of which is Jack Ketch, whose new EP The Ashes Of Vesuvius is a stunning turn of events from the band’s previous material.
The last recorded effort from the Jack Ketch crew prior to Ashes was 2010’s Sci-fi death metal opus Bringers Of The Dawn, which had a lot of fun crushing listeners beneath the weight of hefty grooves for the better part of half an hour. Ashes Of Vesuvius is a markedly different release; it’s still death metal as all hell, but the band have decided in the intervening eight years to take the kitchen-sink death metal approach, and thus the song structures across the Ashes are ridiculously multi-layered, moving Jack Ketch to the hurricane of death metal sound that you don’t hear too much of at the moment.
The three songs comprised by The Ashes Of Vesuvius, combined with the minute-long intro, ask about twenty minutes of your time and utilize those minutes to fling you back and forth through a multitude of angular guitar riffs and drum segments that rotate between heavy groove and “I don’t know how the fuck anyone is hanging on to this”.
Averaging out at about five minutes per song makes The Ashes Of Vesuvius feel like it has three distinct chunks; two hammering and maelstrom-esque whirlpools of death metal and one more progressive and groove-focused meditation in “Pool Of Machines”. The EP bookends its runtime with those heavy and hurricane-like songs.
The titular “Ashes Of Vesuvius” track, on top of its constantly ever-shifting sands of music, also employs a variety of vocal approaches, including a jarring clean-sung segment just to complete the “everything and kitchen sink “approach. “Reconstructing The Paradigm”, at six-and-a-half minutes, is the epic of the EP and also pound-for-pound probably the heaviest groover on the disc. “Reconstructing The Paradigm” is the sort of song that goes zero-to-sixty from the word go; you’ll note the almost black metal melody riff that’s layered on top of the band’s hyperfast grooving intro before things shift into a more machine-like and relentless hammering rhythm to make up its verse. The constant wall of noise is near-overwhelming, but if there’s one thing in common amongst the Jack Ketch releases it’s the aforementioned suffocation of the listener under the weight of their groove; that much — as demonstrated by “Reconstructing The Paradigm”‘s constant changes — has not changed. Its just that the band have a new-found relentless and near-nonstop approach.
The Ashes Of Vesuvius is an interesting release because it seems like Jack Ketch took the amount of time between releases to just jam as many different segments into their songs as they could, resulting in a massive beast of surprising technicality and almost no calm whatsoever. The more melodic “Pool Of Machines” only seems that way next to its heavier siblings. Outside of that, it is just as forthright with how heavy it wants to be. By sheer weight alone, The Ashes Of Vesuvius proves to be an impressive comeback for the band.
Altars Of Grief – Iris
We’ve filled this post to the brim with a whole variety of different death metal and grind metal acts, so why not shift gears just a bit and go for the full-blown and melodramatic doom of Regina, Saskatchewan’s very own Altars Of Grief?
Iris was hotly anticipated around these here parts and to put it bluntly, holy shit is it unfair just how good Iris is. Although there was some line-up shifting (and still kind of is, as the band solidify a full live line-up), you absolutely could not tell by the abject misery put forth on Altars Of Grief’s sophomore album. Iris is eight songs and nearly an hour’s worth of slow-moving, keyboard-heavy doom material that wallows in its sorrow and could cast a pall on just about any room — especially when considering the concept of the album.
The band’s formula hasn’t changed too much since we last heard from them. Instead, they iterate on what already works for them, and thus Iris feels like the most mature effort the band have put forth yet. With melodramatic and full-throated clean singing still in tow, Iris weaponizes its moments of misery so much that sometimes the standout songs feel like they shine so brightly simply because they aren’t the heavy trudge through the snow that Altars Of Grief are so goddamned good at. One of those we were actually able to premiere here at this site, and to be honest, it’s the one I was most excited about at the time.
“Desolation” is such a goddamned heavy song with a deep death metal undertone driving the song forward for the whole of its six minutes. As one of the shorter songs, it almost never lets up and just constantly wears the listener down with heavy moments and hammering riffs. Following the much slower and more familiar-feeling intro in the nine minutes of icy wandering that is “Isolation” is a tough act, but “Desolation” pretty much spells out that Iris is going to be a hell of a lot heavier this go-around, and that is something that weaves its way through the entire album — which is why the segment of “I’ll never forgive you for this!” that happens during the album’s titular song hits so goddamned hard. It’s difficult not to feel at least a little something when the final lyrics of “Iris” close out on “I’ll never let you take from me again!”.
Altars Of Grief‘s clean singing and ear for melody is almost second to none and fully on display here, each song manifesting a fierce adherence to finding the perfect segment of notes to evoke the cold and desolate fields that the band portray whenever they refer to themselves as ‘prairie doom metal’. Once you hit “Child Of Light”, Iris settles into familiar ground — new-found heaviness along for the journey. The song lengths become longer, the songwriting colder, and Altars Of Grief really stretch their doom muscles in the keyboard-laden back half, though the first double-bass drum hammering that appears in “Child Of Light” is for a fleeting moment absolutely glorious.
The real crusher of Iris arrives in its closing few songs, especially the sparse and miserable closing epic of “Becoming Intangible”. With its first half mostly clean-sung and the vocals isolated from the rest of the band, “Becoming Intangible” slowly builds and builds until its final breaking point when a full-blown blastbeat segment full of passionate howls explodes into play to help end the epic. The least reliant on lyrics — although the ‘waiting for the end again’ line’s constant refrain is likely to claw into people’s brains — “Becoming Intangible” walks a million miles on just songwriting alone, and is so atmospheric that when things finally close out in the calmness of Iris‘ “Epilogue” you feel slightly shaken up.
Iris is an absolutely fantastic release and one highly recommended.
Alucinari – Alucinari EP
Released in April of this year via Night Animal Records and currently available as a Name Your Own price download on Bandcamp, the self-titled Alucinari EP has proven to be a surprisingly good slab of deathgrind, with a focus on bludgeoning groove whenever the mood strikes the two-piece. That two-piece recipe for Alucinari consists of one-half Sacramento grindmonsters Human Obliteration and one-half Ivertebrate (whom you may recognize from the recent split they did with Organ Dealer and Nerve Grind), then beaten with a mallet and served up in whatever’s left.
The ten minutes of the Alucinari EP blurs by frighteningly fast, driven forth through sheer blastbeat and powerviolence alone — no huge circle pit riffs, just a couple of fat grooves and a bunch of maddeningly fast songwriting backed by some choice samples. The Alucinari EP is the very definition of short and sweet; even with nine songs that aforementioned blur happens so fast. The rumbling of the bass, the driving guitar, the non-stop drumming, and the multitude of roars that erupt from this EP make Alucinari a crushing experience.
Not only that, but Alucinari also put a surprising amount of bass guitar into their work, and with it at the forefront, it feels like the bass is worming its way through every song, taking on a Dying Fetus level of technicality at times to go alongside each brick-stupid and meatheaded groove. After constant repeats and no song overstaying its welcome, Alucinari comes as a pleasant surprise and a huge recommendation.
Apophys – Devoratis
Finally, we check in with tech-death masterminds Apophys and their album Devoratis.
We premiered a song from that album (released in January) all the way back in November of last year, but after including it in an overflowing streams post we never really took the time to talk about the jarring and intensely precise brand of tech-death that Apophys kick out on the nine tracks of Devoratis.
Devoratis is a monstrous album whose subject matter goes galactic quickly, with a healthy dose of apocalyptic songwriting to match. Opener “Children Of The Stars” has vocalist Kevin Quilligan going almost beat-for-beat with the band for most of the song, making it an impressively rhythmic and machinelike track — it moves quickly but each verse feels like an assault of punches as each word is barked out in time with the drums (more so than the guitars, as they crawl around the outskirts of the track. It’s only in the ending minute that “Children Of The Stars” goes almost full apocalyptic death metal, which then carries over into the monster that is “The Verdict”. That latter track is for the most part just non-stop grinding guitar save for one massive and hammering groove that shows up from time-to-time, perfect for headbanging whiplash.
The first two tracks of Devoratis pair up excellently with each other, and the album shifts moods a bit in more alien directions when you reach the opening crawl of “Xiux – The Parasite” and its five minutes of insect-like guitar work. A slow and melodic opening have “Xiux” take on an oppresive atmosphere before it launches into its gigantic and leviathan-bestriding-the-earth style main riff. It eventually speeds up and goes full tech-death, but the first few minutes really help break up the album’s sheer technical displays and rhythmic grinding segments.
Apophys make good use of each rhythmic groove throughout Devoratis and launch into a ton of them with mathematical precision, making Devoratis one of the most headbangable tech-death albums out in some time without going full beatdown-core breakdown. The band perform a fine balancing act of shifting from each moment of instrumental-whiplash into hefty groove, and each drum-hammering segment makes it difficult not to subconsciously nod; Devoratis performs that act effortlessly. If the disc isn’t sucking you into a whirlpool of notes, songs like “What We Will Be” are more than happy to construct themselves entirely out of awesome groove riffs. When the song eventually shifts into the more recognizable Apophys-assault of death metal, it’s only after three minutes of chugging guitar work and thudding drumbeats.
With an impressive arsenal of technical death metal on display throughout much of Devoratis, Apophys have a weapon of undeniable power on their hands. It seems to have flown under the radar of quite a few people after its initial release — which, granted, we were no help with — but now’s the chance to rectify that mistake and catch up on one of 2018’s better galactic apocalypse fueled death metal releases out there.