(Before the year wraps up, Andy Synn is continuing to help spread the word about 2019 albums to which we haven’t devoted sufficient attention — with three more given the spotlight in this post.)
Depending on what time, or what day, you’re reading this, there’s a chance I’ll either be onstage, setting up, or in transit, as this week we’re playing a short run of shows supporting Hour of Penance and Dāmim.
That’s not an attempt to brag, by the way, even though it is very cool, just an explanation as to why this will probably be the last thing you read from me this week, and why I’ll probably be even slower than usual at responding to any comments or questions.
What I’m going to leave you with is another triptych of meaty metallic morsels for you to sink your teeth into, including the psychedelic Cosmic Doom of DÖ, the gloomy glamour of Hela, and the blackened brilliance of Pénitence Onirique.
DÖ – ASTRAL DEATH CULT
Reading through the comments last week it seems like a few of you have already discovered this album’s hallucinogenic magic, but chances are a lot of our readers will never have heard of this Finnish three-piece before now, something which I’m excited to have the opportunity to change.
Dealing in a ridiculously heavy brand of narcotic, fuzz-drenched Stoner/Doom, DÖ really don’t sound quite like anyone else currently on the market, and Astral Death Cult, for all its suffocating slowness, isn’t afraid to throw a number of unexpected curveballs your way over the course of its thrilling thirty-six minute run-time.
Scene-setting opener “Intergalacticlude”, for example, is all gargantuan, gut-rumbling riffs and pounding percussion, topped off with some pretentiously portentous spoken-word vocals and progged-out, acid-trip synths, and acts as the perfect precursor to the monolithic, hypnotic Death/Doom heaviness of “Atmosfear” which follows.
The first half of the nine-minute “Drifting (In A Methane Ocean”) is a trippy procession of brooding bass lines, eerie, psychedelic guitar leads, and strange, strung out vocals, while the second metamorphoses into a monstrously heavy beast of gritty, gravel-throated growls and hulking riffs, drunk on their own distortion, after which the mesmerising melodies and juiced-up drums of “Cosmic Communion” keep the party going in irresistibly infectious fashion.
Unsurprisingly, “Planet Eater” is another heaving morass of glass-chewing snarls and stupefying heaviness, trading in some of the album’s more melodic inclinations for an extra dose of dissonance and distorted delirium, before the utterly gargantuan grooves of “Beyond the Cosmic Horizon” bring the album to a close in a veritable orgy of burly bass lines, lush leads, and fully-loaded, fuzz-soaked fury, leaving the listener simultaneously stoned and spaced-out, wired and wide awake.
If I have one issue with this album… it’s that it’s not quite long enough. Seriously, I’d have happily listened to at least another ten, maybe even fifteen, minutes of this, without the buzz wearing off.
But, you know what they say, you should always leave them wanting more. And right now I definitely want more. And so, I think, will you.
HELA – VEGVÍSIR
2019, as a year, was certainly rich in doomy delights. While I highlighted both Fvneral Fvkk and Isole in my “Critical Top Ten”, there were also similarly great releases from Epitaphe, Esoteric, and Slow (to name but a few), as well as some really good material from Swallow the Sun, Red Moon Architect, and Illimitable Dolor.
However, one album which was conspicuously overlooked (including by yours truly) was Vegvísir by Italian quartet Hela, which found the band debuting a new vocalist (the sublime Ayla-Mae Coghlan) and a moodier, more melancholy sound which largely eschews the Stoner/Doom of previous records in favour of an approach which has more in common with Katatonia and Anathema at their darkest.
This is immediately apparent in the spacious guitar work and hypnotic percussive patterns of songs like seductive opener “Holy Hell” and the haunting, atmosphere-heavy “Golden Snake”, whose mix of mesmerising melodies and lushly textured instrumentation provide a perfect backdrop for Coghlan’s crisp, crystal-clear croon.
Other songs, such as the shadowy “Drowned By Myself” and the shimmering, constantly shifting, “Decaying Sky” (which really highlights the impressively intricate drum work of Miguel Fernández), even hint at the gloomy glory of Triptykon or the eloquent ebb and flow of Post-Metal maestros Sinistro, moving fluidly from minimalist melody to shining metallic power, and back again, with graceful solemnity.
None of this is to say that Hela have totally abandoned their heavier roots, and there are multiple moments throughout this album where they beef up the distortion and lock down the rhythm section into a more muscular groove to stunning effect.
This is particularly notable during ethereal closer “Sleepless Nights”, which really shows off the band’s subtle power and keen grasp of dynamics, especially right at the end, where Coghlan’s chiming cleans are accompanied by some unexpectedly gritty, yet still somehow fitting, growls.
There’s a lot to discover here, as Vegvísir is a real slow-burner of an album, one which unfolds itself a little more with every single spin. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself!
PÉNITENCE ONIRIQUE – VESTIGE
The French Black Metal scene has been particularly fecund (that’s your word of the day folks) over the last few years. So much so that it’s easy to overlook bands amongst the deluge.
Pénitence Onirique were, until recently, one such band for me, as I missed out on their first album V.I.T.R.I.O.L. in 2016. Their new one, however, is both a great introduction to the group (now expanded to a complete, five-person line-up) and a great expansion of the sound from their debut.
Equal parts introspection and extroversion, Vestige is a strikingly intense album, and frequently reminiscent of Abigail Williams in the ways in which it combines pulse-raising power (particularly in the driving deluge of blastbeats and kick-rolls which propels most of the songs) with layers of gleaming melody and gloaming atmosphere.
At its most furious, such as during riveting opener “Le Corps Gelé De Lyse”, it even touches upon the blistering intensity of early Dark Funeral, whereas at its most atmospheric and immersive it occasionally even errs towards early Alcest (“Extase Exquise” being a perfect example) without falling into staid “Post-” Black Metal cliché in the process.
The expanded line-up also seems to have fleshed out the band’s sound in more general terms too, with the guitars having significantly more presence and power this time around.
The layering of shining melody, gritty distortion, and seething atmosphere also feels richer, and deeper, on this album than its predecessor too, with tracks like the malevolently melodic “La Cité Des Larmes” and cathartic closer “Vestige” delivering an impressive array of nimble riffs, scything trem parts, melancholy leads and arpeggiated melodies which require keen attention and dedication to fully unpick.
Perhaps the biggest area of improvement, however, is in the vocals, as while the primary mode of delivery is still an ear-scalding shriek, all the songs on Vestige feature a visceral variety of vocal styles – from guttural growls to hypnotic chants to chilling, clean-sung melody – which help expand the band’s creative palette, and emotional content, tenfold.
While it might not be a true world-beater (or world-eater), Vestige is a more than worthy addition to the ever-expanding canon of French Black Metal, and one which suggests that Pénitence Onirique will definitely be true contenders not far down the line.