(Andy Synn presents an extra-large Friday round-up of highly recommended new releases, from Apparatus, Consummation, Crypt Sermon, Eternal Storm, Foscor, Haunter, Soheil Al Fard, Toadeater, Weight of Emptiness, and Witch Vomit.)
Inundated and overwhelmed with new releases as we are here at NCS it’s no surprise that a lot of albums this year have gone unpraised and unremarked upon.
And this situation looks likely to only get worse going into the last quarter of the year, as there’s a frankly astounding number of new albums yet to come before 2019 draws to a close.
Heck, today alone sees highly-anticipated new releases from Cult of Luna and White Ward, an unexpectedly killer comeback from Exhorder, as well as some seriously good new records from less well-exposed, but no less deserving, artists like Coffins, Engulfed, Urn, and more.
But, chances are you’re likely to have already read a lot about all those bands, either here or elsewhere.
So, instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to draw your attention to a bunch of albums (some big, some small) that you may have missed over the last few days/weeks/months.
APPARATUS – YONDER YAWNS THE UNIVERSE
This is a good one, nay, a great one to be starting this round-up with, as Yonder Yawns the Universe is a good, nay a great, album, reminiscent of some unholy fusion of Morbid Angel, Krallice, and Dodecahedron.
As you might expect, it’s cryptic, chaotic, and at times so claustrophobic that it actually becomes difficult to breathe, but stick with it and there will come a moment – different for each of you – when everything clicks into place and you suddenly begin to comprehend the method behind the madness.
Maybe you’ll be lucky and it’ll happen during the squalling discordance and lurid chaos of opener “Synchraat”, or perhaps it’ll be the droning, doom-heavy chords and spasming blasts of “Cults” that finally rearrange your brain into the proper configuration.
Or maybe it will take until the eerie ambient comedown at the end of “Flux”, which builds, over the course of several sinister minutes, towards an explosion of orgasmic, apoplectic catharsis and release, for you to truly align yourself with what Apparatus are doing here.
Either way, once it finally grabs you I very much doubt it’ll be letting you go any time soon.
CONSUMMATION – THE GREAT SOLAR HUNTER
How exactly we missed this one I don’t know, as it’s easily one of the best Black Metal albums of the year. Oh, sure, we mentioned it here and there in passing, but somehow we totally spaced on giving it the full review treatment.
Still, better late than never, right, especially when it’s this good.
Landing somewhere between the crushing density of Rites of Thy Degringolade and the morbid menace of Nightbringer, these five tracks are heavy in both pure aggression and poisonous atmosphere, each intricately layered with a murky mix of dark melody and mesmerising dissonance.
And while the band don’t shy away from the blastbeats and rolling avalanches of kick drums, The Great Solar Hunter isn’t an album focussed on sheer speed. Not entirely anyway.
Rather it uses these elements, alongside a near constant deluge of deviant, distorted guitar work, to craft a sense of monstrous, unstoppable momentum, where even the few moments of relative calm hang heavy with ominous intent.
It all culminates in the titanic, twelve-minute finale of “The Eminent Fires of Sacrifice”, a song which both demands and deserves your unwavering devotion, and pays it back ten times over in return, and which practically guarantees that this album is an instant replay.
CRYPT SERMON – THE RUINS OF FADING LIGHT
Let’s just get this out of the way. Crypt Sermon’s second album is not as good as Out of the Garden. The band’s attempt to experiment with some, faster, almost thrashiy, tempos leads to some awkward transitions and vocal phrasing (opener “The Ninth Templar” being the most egregious offender), while the multiple interlude tracks do little more than rob the record of its momentum.
But while the lows of this album are lower, the highs are also much, much higher. In particular The Ruins of Fading Light is in possession of not one, but three tracks which are potential “song of the year” contenders – “Key of Solomon”, “Christ Is Dead”, and “The Snake Handler”.
Each of these songs demonstrates what makes Crypt Sermon, at their best, a truly special band, as while they wear their influences out and proud – I’m hearing a lot of vintage Maiden and Dio this time around, as well, as controversially, even a bit of Megadeth – the group’s swagger and style is such that they’re able to take all of these elements and make them their own.
“The Snake Handler” in particular is, arguably, the best song the band have ever written – doomy, melodic, energetic, and anthemic – and while the rest of the album isn’t a dud by any means (the last two tracks are also really good), the difference between the album’s high points and its low points is much more pronounced this time around, making it a much more uneven, and much more polarising, record than their debut.
ETERNAL STORM – COME THE TIDE
The world of Melodic Death Metal has been in a state of flux for… well, let’s just say a long time. With so many of the old guard moving away from their original sound (for better or, more often, for worse), and so many of the new bands trying to dress up their fifth-rate Metalcore as something more substantial, it’s been slim pickings indeed.
But if there’s one band who might just be able to kickstart a brand new Melodic Death revolution, it’s Eternal Storm.
It’s not so much that the band do anything majorly new – the obvious touchstones here are Insomnium and Black Sun Aeon, anything with that fine Finnish flavour really, although (unlike some other bands I could mention) ES manage to put their own distinct stamp on things – it’s more that the Spanish quartet have such an innate and intuitive understanding of what makes the genre great, that it’s impossible for them to produce anything that doesn’t impress.
They just get, instinctively, when a song needs to go more melodic, or more aggressive, when to be proggy and when to be heavy. They know just where the right place is for some clean vocals, or some keyboards, or a spiralling, skyscraping solo. And they’re also confident enough to let each song develop at its own pace, but smart enough to know when they’ve run their course, so nothing here feels underdeveloped or overdone.
It really is just a brilliant album, from start to finish, and one which might just restore your faith in the Melodic side of Death Metal.
FOSCOR – ELS SEPULCRES BLANCS
Les Irreals Visions was so good it earned a place on my “Critical Top Ten” of 2017, and Foscor themselves must have felt the same, as it even spawned a spin-off of quieter, more contemplative variants in 2018’s Les Irreals Versions.
And while their new album, Els Sepulcres Blancs, isn’t quite as mindblowing as the band’s previous masterpiece, it still has more than enough moody melodic magic to keep the band right at the front of the progressive pack.
Building upon the gorgeous, gothy gloom and doom of …Visions, but also taking a few tricks from the more meditative approach of …Versions, tracks like mellifluous, multifaceted opener “Laments”, the sublimely soothing “Malson”, and the tense, electrifying “Cel Rogent” are as dramatic and dynamic as they come, every song telling a unique story, yet all sharing an underlying sonic texture that ties them together as part of a greater whole.
It’s bleak and it’s beautiful and you need to listen to it asap.
HAUNTER – SACRAMENTAL DEATH QUALIA
I remember giving the first Haunter album a pretty positive review when it came out, even if I felt that the band’s obvious vision and ambition still somewhat outstripped their delivery.
That isn’t a problem on Sacramental Death Qualia though, which is sharper, smarter and more progressive… not to mention nastier… than its predecessor in practically every single way.
Seriously, just take a listen to the tangled, knotted riffage and throat-scraping vocals of opener “Dispossessed Phrenic Antiquity” (but don’t try and pronounce it without warming up first) and tell me that’s not just the right sort of nasty, the right sort of Black/Death/Doom hybrid, that gets your juices flowing?
Of course there will be some mourning over the relative dearth of blackened elements in the band’s sound these days – …Qualia is more of a Death Metal album at its heart, and owes a heavy debt to early Opethin part – but this shift towards a thicker, meatier approach is actually much more subtle than you might think, and there are still multiple passages of writing, discordant tremolo and rampant blastery for you to get your teeth into.
But it’s the clever creative, dare I even say “Progressive”, touches which really make this record stand out, with every darkly dissonant twist and ethereal, clean-picked melody adding context and contrast to balance out the record’s harshest and heaviest moments.
Don’t let this absolute monster of an album pass you by. Seriously. You’ll regret it if you do!
SOHEIL AL FARD – IN THE REFLECTION OF THE APPROACHING TIDE
As debut albums go you could do a lot worse than this seven-song scorcher from Pittsburg riffians Soheil Al Fard.
Dealing in a style of Death Metal that’s a little bit thrashy, a little bit melodic, a little bit proggy – think Revocation, Byzantine, and Iron Thrones(RIP) – In the Reflection of the Approaching Tide is an impressive opening statement from a band who’ve only been playing together for around three years (as far as I can tell).
And despite this being their first full-length album, the band already show a lot of talent and maturity in the way they put their music together, with a welcome variety in tones and textures on display across (and within) these seven tracks, which vary from lengthier, more exploratory numbers (such as the ten-minute “Soothsayer” or the two-part opening title track) and more straight forward headbangers (such as the thrashy “Dead King” and the heavyweight “Vagabond”).
Ignore the whole “Post-Blackened Death” tag on their Bandcamp page. It’s misleading at best, and downright offputting at worst. Just give it a listen and enjoy the pure, unpretentious (but not un-progressive) riffosity.
TOADEATER – CODEX
The debut album from this German trio has been labelled as both “Post Black Metal” and “Blackened Crust Punk” by various people, but one listen to abrasive opener “Leviathan” should let you know that Toadeater lean much more towards the Black Metal side of things than either of those previous descriptions suggest.
Oh, sure, the vocals may not be as creaky and cadaverous as most “traditional” Black Metal bands, and the group do occasional delve into some brooding ambience that verges on “Post Metal”, but the sheer ferocity of the material (the opening triptych of “Leviathan”, “An Ode to My Spy”, and “The Disarmed Gaze” is particularly visceral) easily separates Toadeater from their more media-friendly brethren.
And while it’s not perfect (oddly enough the climactic title-track feels weirdly disconnected from the rest of the album), when Codex hits its stride it reminds me strongly of the much missed Altars of Plagues. Which is high praise indeed.
WEIGHT OF EMPTINESS – CONQUERING THE DEEP CYCLE
Weight of Emptiness are a five-piece powerhouse of Melodic Death/Doom from Chile, and Conquering the Deep Cycle is their second album.
With a sound that sits somewhere between the fury and finesse of Novembers Doom and the bleak brilliance of Daylight Dies (although perhaps closer to the former than the latter), aided and abetted by a dash of grim symphonic grandeur, songs like the evocatively titled “Invisible Mind Workers” and the gloom-shrouded “Lapse of Insanity” are near perfect examples of how this sort of music should sound, from the guttural growls and moody clean-sung vocals (which have more than a shade of Mikael Stanne to them) to the bold, bombastic, and bleakly beautiful guitar work.
And while I’ll grant you that WoE don’t bring all that much new to the table (though there’s a sense of aggression, particularly to the drums, that’s not often seen in bands of this type) they just do it SO well that it’s practically impossible not to get swept up in the torrent of emotion and electricity unleashed on tracks such as “Lamentos” and “Eleven Ravens”.
If there’s one criticism I would make, it’s that the album is ever so slightly too long, and cutting the last two tracks (or, at the very least, the solid, but ultimately superfluous, Twilight Mist cover) would have tightened up the conclusion nicely.
Still, I think I’ll be coming back to this one quite a lot.
WITCH VOMIT – BURIED DEEP IN A BOTTOMLESS GRAVE
There’s been a crazy surge in “modern” OSDM bands this year, at least as far as I can tell. And while that may be due to a bit of confirmation bias on my part, I’m not sure it really matters when the results have been so consistently good.
Take, for example, the second album from Portland graveyard-botherers Witch Vomit, which delivers just under thirty minutes of no-frills, take-no-prisoners Death Metal with a pronounced and pissed-off thrashy edge that’s not so much “classic” as it is “timeless” in its execution.
And while the album’s length might lead you to expect Buried Deep In A Bottomless Grave to feel a little truncated, the band are careful to pack in so many neat ideas (the oddly eerie, echoing riffage at the end of “Despoilment” being a personal favourite) that every time you listen to it you’ll pick up on something new, and the relatively short length makes it easy to pick up and drop into on a whim whenever you’re feeling like getting your Death Metal on.
Because, make no mistake about it, this is some prime-cut metallic meat, ranking right up there with recent albums by Tomb Mold, Outer Heaven, Towering, Fuming Mouth, et al, as proof that what is Death may never truly die!