Bombs of Hades – photo by Susan Wicher
(DGR prepared this collection of reviews, focusing on six 2020 EPs across a range of metal genres.)
If you’ve been reading the site recently you might’ve caught fellow writer Andy Synn doing a deep dive on six EPs that had seen recent release (here). Well, that wasn’t the only one of those on the docket, and what you’re looking at is a second collection of EPs: Stuff that I’ve noticed we haven’t dived into in print, stuff that might’ve glanced by us, and one or two that are basically on the DGR radar by proximity alone.
Musically, we’re all over the map – hell, Ovaryrot’s presence alone was likely to have that effect – as we travel through crusty death metal realms, thrashier-death and black hybrids, to black metal itself and all of its post-genre cousins, even making a trip to the tech-death world to say hi to those over-complicated goofballs and their tendency to try to write everything and the kitchen sink into five-minute chunks, before finally winding up on the doorstep of some nightmare music, because who the hell needs to sleep?
So if you saw the previous six EPs and thought, “Wow, what a fantastic idea”, then settle in my oddly specific friend because do we have a treat for you, another six EPs of music that have hit over the past few months for you to check out and bang your head to.
BOMBS OF HADES – PHANTOM BELL
Phantom Bell – the newest release by the Jonas Stålhammar (God Macabre, Lurking Fear, At The Gates) led project Bombs Of Hades – hit in the middle of April. Containing four tracks, two original and two covers, Phantom Bell covers some interesting ground as it keeps them firmly rooted in their crust punk and death metal hybrid world while also layering on a healthy flavoring of fuzz from the stoner-doom and sludge metal worlds.
Largely inspired by how hard hitting and all-over-the-kit the drumming is during the EP’s title song, it also wouldn’t be too shocking to see a lot of people drawing comparisons between Bombs Of Hades and a more death-metal-leaning High On Fire. “Bridge Of Sighs”, for instance, lays the groundwork for the two cover songs that follow it, settling into a heavy stomp where each drum hit seems like a thunderclap, and Bombs Of Hades kick out some bluesier guitar leads over the top of it.
The two cover choices are interesting, as the band add both a Flower Travellin’ Band and a Townes Van Zandt cover to their repertoire, and they’re the two longest songs on the Phantom Bell EP. The Flower Travellin’ Band cover adds a healthy dose of psychedelia to the mix while the Townes cover gets a little more work done to it in order to morph it into something treading the realm of folk music and the doomier overtones of the Bombs Of Hades crew.
Phantom Bell is an intriguing look into where Bombs Of Hades may be aiming in the future, It is at times bludgeoning in its attack but for the most part has the band drenched in a musical smoke-haze. If it is meant to serve as a teaser for where the group are aiming while working on their follow-up to 2016’s Death Mask Replica, and if so, it’ll be interesting to see just how much of this sort of psychedelic groove becomes part of their overall sound.
TRIBE OF PAZUZU – KING OF ALL DEMONS
It wasn’t that long ago that we were checking in with the Canadian and United States based death metal project Tribe Of Pazuzu and their five-song EP Heretical Uprising. Still boasting the same general lineup and thrash leanings, the underground death metal collective issued another five-song EP entitled King Of All Demons in March of this year, giving the Tribe enough material now to at least have a compilation full-length.
King Of All Demons doesn’t stray too far from the blueprint already laid out by Heretical Uprising. It’s more of another helping with a slightly darker atmosphere to it, a little bit more death metal – especially in the mammoth-sized grooves of “Summoning Rituals” – but still just as fast-paced as its predecessor and still just as heavy on the heresy front, which is to be expected if you’re planning on getting by hailing the “king of all demons” in your opening song.
Bassist/Vocalist Nick Sagias is still in the forefront of King Of All Demons and still as harsh sounding behind the microphone as he was on last year’s release, the music more than fitting for him to unleash a bevy of harsh growls along to it. The new EP is also bookended with two of its faster songs as well, the previously mentioned title song and closer “Retaliation & Wrath” providing plenty of opportunities for Flo Mounier to devastate the world on the drumming front. “Retaliation & Wrath” especially leans into the blast-heavy drumming, as if the Tribe decided to send their second EP off by torching every song that appeared before it.
Combining King Of All Demons with its predecessor Heretical Uprising gives the Tribe Of Pazuzu crew a thick brick of death metal to use as a weapon It finds its niche early and stays comfortably within it. It just happens to be that niche is a relentless-on-all-musical-fronts style attack.
TOMBS – MONARCHY OF SHADOWS
What a fun world we exist in where a half-hour of music can pass as an epic-length album for some groups, and for others be considered an EP. The February 28th release of Tombs‘ latest, Monarchy Of Shadows, is one of those: six songs clocking in at over a half-hour of music. There’s arguments to be made about precedents set by previous releases – topping 2016’s All Empires Fall by about eleven minutes for instance – coming around to bite you, but that would be more for the fun of navel-gazing over definitions than anything else.
In the meantime what you have with Monarchy Of Shadows is Tombs with a mostly new lineup (save for Mike Hill) having joined in 2018, post the Grand Annihilation release. Monarchy Of Shadows begins with its dense title track – the longest on the EP as a whole, a seven-and-a-half minute opening climb – that melds all of Tombs‘ trademark sounds into one, wrapping the band’s echoing synth vortex into an oppressive black metal atmosphere while the vocals swap from ominous and sung to the breathy screaming that fills the majority of the song. It’s a combination of “welcome home” and a demonstration of what the current lineup of Tombs is capable of, easily planting the band’s flag in some solid ground.
What makes “Monarchy Of Shadows” as a song more impressive is how quickly it then shifts to the following song, “Once Falls The Guillotine”, which adds some hefty death metal hammering into the mix. The percussive beating of “Once Falls The Guillotine” alone clearly differentiates it from the opener. This pattern continues throughout Monarchy Of Shadows as well – the more black metal leaning “Necro Alchemy” and “Man Behind The Sun” combining forces for one impressively packed block of music makes the trip worth it on its own – which is how you can find yourself wondering if you’ve actually stumbled into a full album as opposed to an EP.
Tombs sound incredibly polished here already and there’s a songwriting focus present that makes each of the six songs into its own impressive showpiece. They travel all over the musical map – often led by vocal work that equally twists itself to match the music behind it – and because of that, it’s hard not to be interested in where Tombs may be looking for their full-length. The thirty-plus minutes of music present here is already exciting enough. Whatever the band have planned for their full length, it will have a huge task ahead of it.
KATHOLIK – FONS ET ORIGO demo
If you hold the world of tech-death and its near-ceaseless brutality in high regard then Fons Et Origo, the debut demo from the Sacramento-based group Katholik, may be of some interest to you. The latest shuffling of Sacramento’s tech-death scene finds Wastewalker bassist Joel Barrera handling guitar work and Wurm Flesh drum Mitch Bauder behind the kit, joined by bassist River Harris (Zephira) and vocalist Andrew Courtwright (Imbibed By The Quasar). They kick out three songs for a promising thirteen minutes or so of non-stop, hyper-frenetic, and hammering tech-death.
The sense of immediacy that Katholik move with should be apparent from second one of the opener. “The Chariot” starts with the band already in high gear, as if we missed the opening wind-up and stumbled into the song seconds after its opening notes (extra fun, since the band legitimately do stop briefly after the song’s punchy opening ten seconds) – and it doesn’t really let up, as each of the musicians use their time on this demo to really flex their muscles and make each song dash from one place to the next.
Even at just three songs, Katholik are already a little head-spinning as the music refuses to sit still for even a second, taking every opportunity to bash out another series of high-speed grooves and every chance for the vocal front to seemingly move between three voices in one go. The rhythm section and guitar work find themselves similarly tied together in their destructive dedication, as if asking the listener what the point of calming down now might be, when the musical assault can just continue, until closer “The Emergence” hits with its final battering and sudden stop. Given how suddenly Fons Et Origo starts means you’ll often find yourself looping back around again with the band. It’s a promising beginning for a group in a scene filled with immensely talented tech-death groups.
SUTRAH – ALETHEIA
We move into the fun grey area of the album-length EP again, after Tombs’ Monarchy Of Shadows, with Quebec’s Sutrah and the follow-up to their 2017 debut Dunes. Aletheia hit in early March via The Artisan Era, an EP written as one gigantic song split into four movements, each one treated as a variation of the overall theme.
Split neatly in two, stats-wise, Aletheia contains two instrumentals and two songs with vocals, with the main meat of the EP made up by the nearly-sixteen-minute closer, “Variation II.ii – GenËse”. “Variation II.ii – GenËse” is basically the massive prog-death song which the rest of the EP is written around, much in the same way Schammasch spent much of their 2017 Maldoror Chants EP building to a final closing conflagration, Aletheia follows a very similar pathway.
The big difference here is that Sutrah still have their roots in an immensely ambitious tech-death scene and they absorb much of that current scene into their sound, alongside varying shades of the post-rock’s love of echo effect and the group’s own focus on regional exploration, both culturally for lyrics and instrumentally to augment what would otherwise be an already impressive slate of fast-moving death metal.
The two instrumentals – “Umwelt” and “Dwell” – are interesting as dividers. “Umwelt” spends its three minutes as the slow build-up to the EP as a whole, so it expands to surprisingly vast reaches without becoming your standard tech-death battering, and “Dwell” is a little more of push-and-pull, partially because it builds into the gigantic closer for Aletheia but it also has to calm you slightly from the album’s second song. That song, “Lethe” (you’ll have noticed that we’ve dispensed with the “Variation” denominators for the sake of sanity), is a massive song for just five minutes of duration, like a rolling series of explosions with a multi-fronted vocal attack layered over it.
Even amongst the constantly morphing and fragmenting flesh mass that is the tech-death scene, Sutrah are showing themselves to be one of the groups to watch, going by their two releases thus far.
OVARYROT – TECHNO-TRANSFIGURAL AGONY
Ovaryrot make music that is the stuff of nightmares. I feel like every time I get the opportunity to post music from this international two-piece noise, goregrind, death metal, and general sonic torture project, I’m likely to do so, if not just to inflict the nightmare upon somebody else. It can be difficult to try and ascribe some sort of objective artistic value to a release which states that a block of the vocal work was recorded in a parked Honda Civic.
Ovaryrot’s newest EP Techno-Transifgural Agony is in line with what they’ve done before. The artwork for this late-April release is fitting for the tortured flesh-and-wires monster that is the nearly twenty minutes of music within. Many of the hallmarks from Ovaryrot’s previous full length Non-Flesh Scarring remain in play: The group love their constantly sweeping synths that fade in and out of every song as they tie the whole event together; the vocal front remains as abrasive as ever as both members of the band take a certain joy in the warped howling that fronts each song; and the extreme multi-genre experimentation results in some absolutely mean tracks once you get past the initial wall of wailed agony that is “Ventral Striatum”.
Both “Mammon” and “Fabricating Divinity” hit like freight trains in comparison. Where “Ventral Striatum” is meant to be the initial descent into insanity for this EP’s go-around, songs like “Mammon” and “Fabricating Divinity” crush – especially since “Fabricating Divinity” is basically a nightmare grind song in comparison to the ever-shifting, slow-crawl-to-slamming death metal that makes up the last two songs.
“Corrupted In Transfer” – which the band released in March ahead of the whole EP – is the biggest track on Techno-Transfigural Agony, both in terms of actual length and because of just how much Ovaryrot pack into it. It moves quickly from the sweeping synths that fade out of “Fabricating Divinity” into a ceaseless auditory apocalypse, courtesy of some tortured guitars, before finally embracing its blast-heavy side. “Transmissions” closes out the nightmare by throwing its weight around instead, aiming for the brutally heavy in comparison to its more spastic earlier sibling.
Ovaryrot continue their hellish song-writing with Techno-Transfigural Agony, as they once again use their music as a flamethrower. It’s a little more approachable than Non-Flesh Scarring was, but that’s mostly due to length. It’s still oppressive and overwhelming, abrasive and agonizing, and fun to inflict on other people.