(Andy Synn again compiles reviews of new records from the British Isles.)
Just as I said in my previous column (which you can, and should, check out here) the fact that there’s just so much music out there means that it’s impossible for anyone, even someone as smart, debonair, and erudite as myself, to cover all of it.
What this means, at least in regards to my ongoing “Best of British” series, is that if you haven’t seen a band featured here the most likely reason is that I just haven’t heard them yet – either through sheer ignorance, or because of simple time constraints – although there’s always a chance that I honestly didn’t rate them as anything particularly special or worth writing (at) home about.
Today’s feature includes a band who’ve just released their debut album alongside two much more well-established acts (one of whom I’ve only recently taken a shine to), who all deal in weighty, megaton riffage and nuclear-level rage, making this one of the most brutal write-ups I’ve put together all year.
ASCARIS – THE RAISED HAND
Easily the least well-known artist of the three featured here, and therefore the one I hope will benefit the most from the coverage/exposure, Blackened Death Metal three-piece Ascaris may owe a large and frankly undeniable debt to a certain sect of predominantly Polish bands (though their sound is more Hate than Behemoth), but they’re smart enough to throw several other influences into the mix (most notably the razor-edged technicality of Cryptopsy and Hour of Penance), so that, even if the group’s overall sound isn’t entirely original, their mercilessly precise execution still exudes an impressively fresh sense of vigour and vitality.
It helps that, at just a shade over thirty-five minutes, The Raised Hand as a lean, mean, well-proportioned machine whose eight songs (clocking in at an average length of just under four and a half minutes) are all constructed in a way which gives their various parts ample room to breathe and flex their metallic muscles, yet never threatens to over-indulge or outstay their welcome.
This all killer, no filler, approach to the music also means that no single track stands out as a weak link in the chain, although certain cuts do stick out to my ears as being particularly punishing and worthy of special praise.
Fast and furious (yet with a distinct, and some would say welcome, lack of Vin Diesel) opener “Incantation”, for example, is an unrelenting sonic assault whose brutal, biomechanical precision often seems just one step removed from collapsing into pure chaos – as a matter of fact, a number of these tracks sound like the band are playing right at the bleeding edge of their capabilities, particularly with regards to the frenzied bpm which some of these riffs and drum parts are delivered at – while the dizzying riffs and pneumatic rhythms of “Waiting for the Whip” and the gigawatt grooves of “Sundered Creation” are both are as cruelly catchy as they are callously crushing.
Concluding with the ravenous “Eau de Nil”, which features some of the most rabid vocalisations on the entire record (courtesy of the scarred throats of bassist Dave Marcovecchio and guitarist Sam Godding), there’s not a doubt in my mind that The Raised Hand is more than deserving of a much wider audience than the band’s current, relatively diminutive stature, has afforded them so far. As a matter of fact, despite not yet having fully developed an identity that’s entirely their own, I’d mark Ascaris out as a band fully capable of punching well above their weight and going toe-to-toe with any of the scene’s bigger, more (in)famous names.
BLACK TONGUE – NADIR
While I was a big, big fan of the Black Tongue’s previous album (to the extent I declared it to be one of my highlights of 2015), the shuddering, slow-burning crawl of “The Eternal Return to Ruin” was, on first exposure, so much darker and doomier than anything I’d expected that it honestly took me a few moments to get my brain into the right gear to really appreciate just what I was hearing.
It’s not that the song is a huge departure from the band’s previous style (essentially a crossover between the slowest, heaviest Deathcore and the darkest, most pitilessly oppressive Doom), it was just a little shocking to hear how much that “The Eternal Return…” (and Nadir as a whole) had cut back on the ‘core quotient in favour of an even more desolate, and appropriately ruinous, sound.
And whilst the band still aren’t afraid of putting the pedal to the proverbial metal when the time calls for it (as blastastrophic bangers like “The Cathedral” and “Contrapasso” so clearly demonstrate), these moments of rapid-fire fury are merely the icing on a singularly dense, doom-flavoured cake, whose best moments stem not just from the band’s enviable ability to craft an almost endless array of apocalyptic breakdowns, but from their keen ear for atmosphere and well-honed sense of dynamic.
“Second Death”, for example, is an absolute monster of booming, Meshuggah-meets-Triptykon guitars and vertebrae-crushing, Death/Doom heaviness, interspersed with sudden eruptions of searing blastbeats and the occasional stunning drop into an absolutely cavernous breakdown, after which the tense, unsettling interlude of “Black Fawn Temple” provides a fittingly claustrophobic bridge into the gargantuan riffs, gut-wrenching vocals, and ominous atmospherics of “Ultima Necat”.
In fact the album’s only potential misstep comes in the form of the band’s cover of the latter-day Celtic Frost classic, “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh” which, despite striking a delicate balance between faithful rendition and clever reinterpretation, never feels quite as cohesive with the rest of the record as it should do, to the point where there’s never a moment where you’re not aware that you’re listening to a cover, a side-story if you will, rather than an original chapter in Nadir’s own narrative.
Thankfully it just so happens that “A Dying God…” is bookended by two of the album’s biggest, best, and most brutal cuts, the titanic “Parting Soliloquy” and colossal closer “Crippled Before the Dwelling Place of God”, both of which err closer than ever to the Death/Doom side of the spectrum, and which together provide ample evidence that Black Tongue still refuse to be bound or restricted by the box into which others (both critics and fans) have tried to put them, and remain one of the goddamn heaviest bands on the face of the planet.
INGESTED – THE LEVEL ABOVE HUMAN
Up until recently my opinion about Brutal Death(core) quintet Ingested was, to put it politely, not exactly favourable. While I’ve always appreciated their impressive work ethic and dedication to devastation, their first couple of records left me utterly, impassively, cold, to the point where I honestly can’t even remember if I ever checked out the band’s previous full length, The Architect of Extinction, when it was released a few years back.
A couple of months ago however I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s edition of Mammothfest in Brighton, where my own band were performing, and was able to catch Ingested “in the flesh”, as it were, and was quite honestly blown away by how much riffier, how much more technical, and how much better written, their new material sounded when compared to the brainless slam and aimless aggression which I (vaguely) remembered from their early days.
And so, with tinnitus still ringing loudly in my ears, I made the decision to give their fourth album a chance to win me over.
And, I’ve got to say… I’m impressed with what I hear.
While still possessing a certain slammy core (pun intended), the material on The Level Above Human shares much more in common with the gruesome grooves of Suffocation and the horrific hooks of Aborted (with whom the band are touring at the end of the month) than I’d have expected if I hadn’t already seen/heard some of the tracks featured here live, while the surprisingly complex guitar work flying from the fingers Sam Yates and Sean Hynes frequently has a certain Dying Fetus flavour to it, proving that there’s much more going on here than just boneheaded brutality for its own sake.
The opening triptych of “Sovereign”, “Invidious”, and “Misery Leech” makes for one of the most viscerally intense thirteen(ish) minutes I’ve heard all year, packing in a hellish host of chugs and blasts, sweeps and slams, monstrous vocals and hate-fuelled hooks, that consistently and unflinchingly hit their target, time after time.
The album also scores major points when the band elect to inject their music with a dose of morbid melody, such as during “Purveyors of Truth”, the brooding “Better Off Dead” ) and the surprisingly doomy “Last Rites”, all of which help showcase a fresh new aspect to the band’s evolving sound.
And while the album doesn’t end with quite the same amount of phenomenal force with which it began, even the relatively “weaker” songs still hit you with all the force of a collapsing building, so that the record as a whole ultimately provides a singularly savage showcase for a band whose innate talents, melded to a newly developed knack for brutally infectious song-writing, are all set to take them to a whole new level.
Again, pun very much intended.
Blackened Death Metal is the best Black or Death Metal.
That Ascaris is fvcking tight.