(In this post Andy Synn has packaged together six new reviews of six outstanding new albums across a range of metal sub-genres.)
I don’t know about you, but this year I’m finding it far harder than ever before to stay on top of all the new and upcoming releases proliferating throughout the Metalsphere.
Partially this can be attributed to the growing pressures of my day job, combined with the fact that I’m currently renovating my house and working hard on Beyond Grace album #2 (with an eye also turned towards future work for both Twilight’s Embrace and Apathy Noir too), but a lot of it is just down to this simple truth… there’s simply too much music, and not enough hours in the day, to cover it all.
Still, it wounds me to think of all the great (and good) albums and artists out there who our readers might otherwise be missing out on, so consider this another desperate attempt to redress the balance somewhat.
GRAVITON – PER EREBUS AD ASTRA
One of my issues with trying to cover Thrash as a genre here at NCS is that, by and large, because it’s such a staple ingredient of so many other types of Extreme Metal, covering bands who deal in the more basic, meat ‘n’ potatoes, form of the style feels a little… passé?
Still, every so often an act or an album will jump out at me whose work goes a long way towards renewing my faith in Thrash and its ability to still make an impact, even in today’s more crowded and demanding musical landscape, and the debut full-length from Massachussetts metallers Graviton is one such release.
Locked and loaded with a suitably explosive array of high-voltage riffs and high-velocity drums, the ten tracks (including one intro and one interlude) which make up Per Erebus Ad Astra strike a careful balance between both the modern and the “classic” forms of Thrash, resulting in a sound which ably recalls both the tumultuous technical assault of Revocation or early Byzantine (“The Alchemist”, “Vulcan”) and the violent, proto-Death Metal approach of pre-Roots Sepultura (“Signals from Beyond”, “Shattered Repose”) at different points, without ever sounding like a direct descendant (or rip-off) of either.
And while the quartet clearly aren’t afraid of a good groove when they find one, such as during the titanic stomp of “Tomes of the Mystic”, for the most part this album is a non-stop hyper-thrash attack of impressively intense proportions, culminating in the spellbinding exercise of righteous riffology that is “NGC 1277 Pt. II”.
So if you’re after something which stays true to the dark roots of Thrash, while also keeping one foot firmly planted in the modern age, then you should definitely check out this hidden (and remarkably heavy) gem of an album asap.
HEMELBESTORMER – A RING OF BLUE LIGHT
As I’m sure you’re all aware, there are multiple competing hypotheses about why instrumental bands/albums tend not to be as popular or as successful as those which feature the dulcet (or, as tends to be the case here at NCS, devilish) tones of the human vocal chords.
In spite of this well-documented difficulty in engaging with their audience, however, a legion of bands are still out there making music without the eloquence (or ego) afforded by a vocalist, and Belgium quartet Hemelbestormer are one of the biggest and brightest rising stars among them.
A Ring of Blue Light, the band’s second full-length album, is made up of six tracks (four lengthier numbers and two shorter, interlude-style pieces) designed to tell a singular story of other-worldly wonder and cosmic insignificance on a vast, galactic scale.
And while it doesn’t find them reinventing their particular wheel, and not every track knocks it all the way out of the park (“Towards the Nebula” being probably the weakest cut on the album), it does find the group attempting to further refine their particular brand of evocative Post-Doom into something even more special and rarefied which, when all the stars are aligned, can be truly breath-taking to experience.
Perhaps the band’s most impressive trick, and the album’s biggest strength, is the way in which it provides an open space into which listeners are able to project their own personal interpretation of what they’re hearing/experiencing. In effect, the absence of a dominating voice, of a central message, helps ensure that each individual will have a subtly different, entirely personal, reaction to the music of tracks like “Eight Billion Stars” and “The Serpent Bearer” (the album’s phenomenal opening and closing chapters).
Of course everyone always experiences and interprets things slightly differently to those around them, but this process really feels emphasised on A Ring of Blue Light, whilst also avoiding the potential pitfalls of being too abstract, and allows the album to be best enjoyed as a single flowing narrative which every listener will experience in their own individual way.
IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT – VILE LUXURY
Did you know that, in human beings, extended periods of chronic sleep deprivation can cause seizures, tremors, hallucinations, violent behaviour, mania, and – in rare circumstances – even death?
Well, it’s true. Which perhaps goes some way to explaining how Vile Luxury, the new album by eccentric New York extremists Imperial Triumphant, came into being as the real soundtrack to “the city that never sleeps”.
Built around a core of discordant, dissonant Black Metal, but embellished and expanded by a freakish array of jazzy elements and avant-garde ingredients, Vile Luxury is an album which revels in its own chaotic contradictions as a way of challenging and exploiting the expectations of its audience.
By turns unsettling and off-kilter, moody and malevolent, its warped blend of jarring juxtapositions and stark contrasts sees the group (vocalist/guitarist Zachary Ezrin, bassist/co-vocalist Steve Blanco, and drummer Kenny Grohowski) making purposeful use of both harsh shifts in tone and smooth segues between styles to keep the listener on the edge of their seat and to maintain an aura of potent unpredictability.
Whether it’s the brassy, bellerophonic clamour of opener “Swarming Opulence”, the spasming savagery of “Gotham Luxe”, or the cacophonous strains of “The Filth”, there’s no shortage of ugly, uncompromising metallic intensity to be found on this album, and the sheer venom, the visceral fury and frustration, which pours out of the speakers during these tracks is truly eye-popping in its pure extremity.
Yet that’s not all that’s on offer here, as the tormented atmospherics of “Chernobyl Blues” and the eerie soundscaping of “Mother Machine” so clearly demonstrate, and even the most purportedly straightforward tracks are, in reality, anything but, frequently deviating from their prescribed course to dip their toes into passages of ambient horror, atonal dissociation, or brooding, noir-ish introversion (see “Lower World” or “Cosmopolis” for some prime examples).
And while Vile Luxury will certainly not appeal to everyone, the fact that it’s not trying to do so shouldn’t necessarily be held against it. You may not “get it”, but that doesn’t make it bad (nor does the fact that you do “get it” make you any smarter, or any better, than anyone else, I hasten to add).
Ultimately, this is a purposefully difficult, divisive, and contentious record, one clearly designed to push against the boundaries and restrictions of common convention. It’s creativity, without compromise or concern for the wider world, and therefore only as deep, or as meaningful, or as shallow and meaningless, as you allow it to be.
It is, in a word, art.
ORATOR – BREAKING CYCLES OF VIOLENCE
Speaking of “art”… Illinois three-piece Orator (not to be confused with the Bangladeshi thrashers or Seattle-based Death Metallers of the same name) ply their trade on the sludgier, artsier side of the Post-Metal spectrum, and recently released their first full-length album as a “Name Your Price” download on their Bandcamp page, accompanied by an announcement that it would also be their last record together, as the band’s members now plan on splitting up to explore new musical and personal pastures.
As such there’s both an air of discovery and an aura of finality surrounding this review, which fits in nicely with the grim, yet resilient, sullen, yet strident, tone of the album itself, whose looming, lurching riffs, churning rhythms, and stark, desolate ambience seek to paint a picture of a world on the brink of collapse, while also communicating a message of hope amidst the chaos and confusion.
Whether it’s the sinister slow-burn of nine-minute opener “The Plot”, whose moody melodic beginnings slowly but surely develop into a squall of pulsating, dreamlike distortion, the desolate atmospherics of “Crooked Path”, or the toothsomely aggressive strains of the heaving “Intolerance Paradox”, this is an album which repays the listener’s investment and intense attention handsomely. Put simply, the more you put in, the more you get out.
Nowhere is this more apparent than during the imposing title-track, which uses the full scope of its nearly twelve-minute run-time to tell a powerful and dynamic (and almost entirely self-contained) musical story of its own, which rewards repeat visitors with an ever-deepening listening experience.
Granted, there’s an argument to be made that the majority of Breaking Cycles… doesn’t bring that much new and improved to the table in comparison to some of its more famous forebears and more obvious influences, but it’s the way it remixes and rearranges familiar elements into new and revealing forms which ensures that this album is still bound to leave its mark long after the band themselves have gone their separate ways.
ORDINUL NEGRU – FAUSTIAN NIGHTS
Romania’s Ordinul Negru (aka ‘The Black Order’) are certainly not a new act, considering the fact that they’ve been active now for well over a decade, but, as far as I’m aware, this is the first time they’ve been featured here at NCS.
And while this counts as something of a major oversight on our part, I’m hopeful that this short-but-sweet write-up of their new record, the evocatively-titled Faustian Nights, will go some way towards redeeming us, as it’s definitely one of the best Black Metal albums I’ve heard all year.
Atmospheric, blast-driven, and intricately-arranged opener “Approaching the Door of Damnation” is a great scene-setter, which immediately lets you know what you’re in for, mixing a punishing, Enthroned-esque intensity and brooding, bass-heavy low-end with a shadowy, Nachtmystium-like aura of creeping melodic menace, while the visceral “Killing Tristan” is, if anything, an even stronger track than its predecessor, whose subtle employment of some more esoteric instrumental/melodic accoutrements really helps to hammer home the fact that, despite operating well within the bounds of Black Metal orthodoxy, Ordinul Negru have a sound and a vision undeniably all their own.
The stomp and groove, sturm und drang, of “The Apocalypse Through A Hierophant’s Eye” and the bristling brilliance of “Oculta Kormos” continue this early run of unabated excellence – while also showing off some of the band’s more proggy proclivities in the process – and this stream of killer cuts winds up going practically unbroken all the way through to the album’s climactic title-track, with both the hypnotic “Elder Magik” and the prodigious “Faceless Metamorphosis” providing two more stellar stand-outs along the way, and only the oddly out of place keyboards of “Sol Omnia Regit” providing any noticeable dip in quality.
In a year that’s produced a number of solid slabs of pitch-black metallic art – but surprisingly few true stand-outs – Faustian Nights distinguishes itself as one of 2018’s best and most blasphemous offerings.
SOREPTION – MONUMENT OF THE END
One problem with writing about this album is that any objective assessment of its charms invariably hinges upon the statement that “it’s a Soreption album, which means it’s intrinsically badass, and if you liked Soreption before now, you’re going to love this one too”.
Of course that ultimately undersells Monument of the End a little, particularly if you’re one of those poor, benighted souls unfamiliar with the band’s previous work(s), as it’s one hellishly heavy, technical tumult of top-quality Death Metal in its own right, which continues to place a major emphasis on riffs — humongous, jagged, angular riffs that chug and churn, twist and turn, like a nest of mechanical vipers – over shameless shreddery.
It’s probably worth pointing out, whether you’re a long-term fan or a brand new convert, that the period between the release of 2014’s Engineering the Void and now has seen a significant shift in the band’s line-up, with the departure of long-time guitarist Anton Svedin and his replacement with Mikael Almgren (who previously, albeit temporarily, handled bass duties for the group).
And yet, despite this potentially seismic upheaval, the band’s distinctive sound has remained remarkably stable and consistent, with Almgren picking things up almost exactly where his predecessor left off (with perhaps a slight extra emphasis on groove overall).
The album certainly hits the ground running with the pneumatic, piston-powered punishment of “The Anti-Present”, which is as good a way as any of demonstrating that the band are still firing on all cylinders despite the four-year gap between releases, and only gets stronger with the deployment of the lethally efficient hooks and laser-guided riffs of “Children of the Automaton” and “King of Undisputed Nonsense” in quick succession immediately after.
The moody introduction of “Nothingness Becoming” provides a nice change of pace, and some welcome dynamic contrast, even as the song swiftly develops into another neck-wrecking riff rampage of biblical proportions, while the lacerating melodic leads which punctuate “Architects of the Apocalypse” and “The Entity” prove that the group aren’t above showing off their shreddy skills when the occasion calls for it.
If there’s one minor misstep the band make here it’s that the contributions of the guest vocalists, Matt McGachy (Cryptopsy) and Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), on “Virulent Well” and “The Entity” respectively, are perhaps a little too understated for their own good, particularly in the latter case, where his menacingly malformed cleans feel like they’d be better placed at the song’s climax, rather than simply thrown in semi-randomly in the middle of the track.
Still, you have to acknowledge that Monument of the End is just a real monster of an album when all is said and done, and the Metal world is all the better for having Soreption back in the fold once more.