(In this post Andy Synn combines reviews of three recommended albums that we largely overlooked last year.)
This week is, thankfully, notably less busy in terms of new releases than the last one was.
In fact the only ones which really jump out at me are the new Ihsahn EP, Telemark (which, as a long-time fan of the man’s work, I found to be a big disappointment), the highly-anticipated full-length from Godthrymm (about which I’ll be writing more later in the week), and the debut record from Washington-based Black Metallers Izthmi (which I’ll also be writing about very soon).
So, taking advantage of this temporary lull, I’ve decided now is the perfect time for another look back at last year so as to give some belated attention to three artists/albums which I/we otherwise didn’t get around to covering at the time.
MALEVICH – OUR HOLLOW
Describing their sound as “Grinding Blackened Angst”, Atlanta quartet Malevich produced one of the nastiest – and most underrated – slabs of sonic spite of 2019 in the shape of their second album, Our Hollow, and it’s my distinct (dis)pleasure to finally bring it to your attention here at NCS.
Consisting of nine tracks, running the gamut from the sub-minute-and-a-half assault of “Held by the Throat” to the unsettling mix of angular sludge and proggy minimalism that characterises the nearly nine-minute-long “Distended Empire”, Our Hollow is an unforgiving listen, and one which clearly gives very little thought to the audience’s mental or physical well-being.
How else to explain the ear-scraping dissonance and face-ripping fury of songs like “Earthen Womb” and “The Endless Hunger of a Convenient God”, the former a disgustingly dense arrangement of caustic chaos and suffocating sludge, the latter a seizure-inducing spasm of grind-fuelled venom and vitriol?
Of course, there’s a definite method underlying Malevich’s madness, and the band aren’t afraid to take their foot off the gas – such as during the heaving “Fractured, Exultant”, or the eerie introduction to “Useless Talent, Promised Greatness” – when necessary, with the bowel-loosening, bottom-heavy bass lines of Daniel DeSimone really coming into their own at these moments.
Several tracks even display an almost Gorguts-esque sense of avant-garde ambition in their embrace of discordant anti-melody and angular structure, with both the short-but-strange “Spent” and vicious, unpredictable closer “You and I (Illuminated in Waves of Purpose)” being perfect examples of the band’s warped and contorted take on the Grind aesthetic.
That being said, the band’s proggy proclivities never overshadow their pure intensity, and the abrasive, apoplexy-inducing vocals (not to mention the grim poetry of the lyrics) help make this one truly harrowing, heart-stopping beast of an album, and one which you really do need to hear in full to really appreciate all its urgency and ugliness.
OUR EARTH IS A TOMB – MOTH
Situated pretty much on the exact other end of the scale to the album just above, the debut from this Chicago-based Post-Metal collective favours beauty over brutality, opting for a more spacious and atmospheric approach which gives both the music, and the listener, room to breathe and time to reflect.
This doesn’t mean that Our Earth Is A Tomb are averse to some weighty riffing now and again though. For example, despite its obvious preference for cinematic synthscapes and shimmering melodies “ØCEANS” also features some admirably dense and doom-laden guitar work in its second half, while songs like “øne” and “pale” provide a showcase for the sort of restrained, resonant heaviness that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Cult of Luna album.
But what’s really interesting, to me at least, is that while the band themselves describe their sound as “Slow, heavy, melodic Doom” (and I’ve tagged them as “Post-Metal” above), their blend of synthetic ambience, rock-solid rhythms, and emotive clean vocals often owes just as much to bands like Thrice (particularly circa The Alchemy Index) and latter-day Deftones as it does to anything on the doomier end of the spectrum.
In this sense their music is strongly reminiscent of similarly expansive and emotive acts like Junius, Som, or Chrome Ghost (all of whom, as you can see, I’ve covered here before), as while their sound doesn’t fit neatly into any of the more restrictive or tightly defined categories, the band still possess a knack for appealing across genre-boundaries without it sounding forced or trite.
And while the above comparisons are certainly valid, that’s not to say that Our Earth Is A Tomb are derivative or uninspired in their approach. Their heavier, sections, for example, certainly do have a doomier flavour to them than most of their immediate peers, while the melancholy but oddly uplifting vibe of these songs – especially mid-album highlight “ƗempesƗ”, which might just be the best of the bunch – finds its own unique way to tug at the heartstrings without being too melodramatic about it.
It’s not perfect by any means, as aptly named final song “closer” is a bit twee and insubstantial when compared to its predecessors, but it is most certainly a very good (and very promising) debut all the same, and one which it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in, given the chance to do so.
UMBRA CONSCIENTIA – YELLOWING OF THE LUNAR CONSCIOUSNESS
From its humble beginnings, Black Metal has gone on to become a global musical movement, giving people all around the world a way to express their vision and give voice to their inner demons.
Of course, this rapid expansion means that there’s inevitably a lot of meaningless sound and fury to sort through, and it sometimes requires a truly herculean effort to sample and discard all the pretentious pretenders and impotent, immature imitators in search of something truly worthy.
Speaking of worthy… the debut album from this multi-national metal collective (2/3 from Costa Rica, 1/3 from Germany) flew pretty low under the radar at the tail end of last year, and while certain sites – including this one – did give it some passing attention at the time, it still feels to me like Yellowing of the Lunar Consciousness never received all the attention and acclaim that it deserved.
Whatever x-factor it is that separates truly great Black Metal from the merely adequate forms, this album has it coming out of every gaping orifice.
Comparisons to both Funeral Mist and 1349 are certainly valid, as Umbra Conscientia demonstrate a similar talent for balancing calculated chaos and cruel catharsis on tracks like “Maze of Exile” and “Citrinitas”, with drummer A.N.L. in particular continually demonstrating his explosive prowess in a whirling dervish of frantic limbs and strafing, skin-shredding blastbeats.
Truth be told, however, every single member of the band puts in a pretty stunning performance here, with guitarist Aether ensuring that the music steps beyond the blackened basics by providing a plethora of gnarly riffs and grisly hooks which are far richer, far nastier, and far more fleshed-out than the simplistic tremolo and chord patterns preferred by so many of the band’s lesser peers.
Monogrammed vocalist F. too deserves praise for his manic, wild-eyed delivery, practically scraping his throat raw on every track in an attempt to match the sheer intensity of the music behind him.
And while the majority of the record is, indeed, an intense and unrelenting assault upon the senses, the subtle shifts in dynamic here and there, the eerie touches of melody, the haunting moments of calm in the eye of the storm, help to give the music shape and structure and prove that there is always a guiding purpose to the punishment inflicted.