(Andy Synn wrote the following compilation of reviews.)
It seems to me that, over the years, the constant cascade of new albums has swollen into a never-ending, unrelenting, flood, to the point where it often feels like we’re almost drowning in new releases.
The only way to cope, I’ve found, is to simply accept that you’re not going to be able to cover everything. There’s just not enough hours in the day to properly preview, review, analyse, and criticise, all of it, especially if you also want to try and maintain some general standards of quality and insight (which, let’s be honest, isn’t necessarily a concern for everyone…).
That being said, a bit of catch-up coverage never goes amiss, which is why I’m dedicating today’s article to four artists who each dropped their newest record – in one case with little prior warning – last Friday.
DEATH BY STEREO – WE’RE ALL DYING JUST IN TIME
Punk Rock riffians Death By Stereo may seem like an odd choice for this site, but I know for a fact there are a bunch of Punk and Hardcore fans among our readers who will probably get a kick out of seeing the band (now on their seventh album) featured here.
Plus I’m a big fan, and this is my article, so I’m going to write about them if I want to.
DBS have always occupied a slightly odd place in the musical landscape. Arguably a little too aggro to achieve proper “mainstream” recognition, but far too melodic to be confined to the underground, the group’s sound and stature have waxed and waned across the years (coming within a hair’s breadth of “breaking out” on Into the Valley of Death, before richocheting in a much more metallic, much less mainstream-friendly, direction on Death for Life), but their commitment to creating high-energy, hook-driven anthems for the downtrodden and dispossessed has never faltered.
We’re All Dying Just In Time may not be the “heaviest” album you’re ever going to hear (although it’s still got a lot of punch to it), but the band themselves are as confrontational and as cathartic as ever, and the topics they target – from the borderline fetishistic nature of US gun culture (“Free Gun With Your Purchase”) and the damaging fallacy of American exceptionalism (“Choose a Side or Open Wide”) to the widening divide between the rich and poor (“We Sing, They Die”) – are weighty ones indeed, no matter how many catchy choruses and ruggedly infectious riffs they’re decorated with.
Truth be told, even the most die-hard metalhead should appreciate the thrashy energy and crossover potential of songs like opener “California Addiction” and “The Gift of Attack”, or the stomping solidity of something like “Mass Self-Destruct”, while the biting bark and instantly recognisable crooning of vocalist Efrem Schultz arguably demonstrates more venom and versatility than a whole host of one-dimensional death-growlers and banshee screamers.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that We’re All Dying… is a life-altering, game-changing album. It’s not. But it’s a damn, damn good one, from a band who continue to prove that they don’t just talk the talk, but they’re more than willing (and able) to walk the walk, stick to their guns, and put in 110% every single time. And that, to me at least, is always something to be celebrated.
FACELESS BURIAL – SPECIATION
While they may still be underdogs in the Death Metal scene, Aussie three-piece Faceless Burial aren’t exactly an unknown quantity these days. Both of their previous releases (2017’s Grotesque Miscreation and 2018’s Multiversal Abattoir) were extremely well-received and, if some of the more recent coverage of the band I’ve seen is any indicator, Speciation might just be about to catapult them to a whole new level of exposure and wider awareness on a more global scale.
On the one hand, the reason for this is pretty obvious, as not only are the trio a lean, mean, riffing ‘n’ blasting machine, but their overall sound fits in nice and neatly with the retro-revivalist zeitgeist embodied by bands like Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, and Bæst, demonstrating a similar “everything old is new again” approach, as filtered through several decades of progression, evolution, and cross-pollination.
But don’t go thinking that FB are simple trend-chasers or bandwagon-jumpers. They’ve been off in their own corner of the scene (and the globe) for a long time already, and have been pursuing this particular (left hand) path the entire time they’ve been a band, irrespective of what anyone else has been doing.
So really it’s more a case of “right place, right time” for the band’s contemporary take on classic, old-school (though not outdated) Death Metal, one that’s equal parts grimy, Autopsy-esque grooves, devious, Death-inspired technical wizardry, and furious, Finnish-meets-Floridian foulness.
Of course the individual performances also have a lot to do with the album’s success and growing critical acclaim. As obvious as many of the band’s influences are, nothing here feels forced or derivative, and every member of the trio is clearly giving their all, especially drummer Max Kohane, whose frantic, fill-bustering performance might just make him the album’s MVP.
And while some of the songs do shine a little brighter, and raise the bar a little higher, than others (“Worship”, for example, is a fantastic opener, while the mid-album pairing of “Irreparably Corpsed” and “Speciation” showcases the band at their most brutally refined and progressively inclined, respectively), the album’s overall energy and momentum never truly dips (not even in its doomier, dirgier moments), and the abrasive, angular, atmospherically-oppressive finale of “Ravished to the Unknown” strongly suggests that the best is yet to come from Faceless Burial.
IMHA TARIKAT – STERNENBERSTER
Adding further support to my theory that all my favourite Black Metal comes from Germany, the sophomore release from Imha Tarikat comes bursting out of the speakers with “Ekstase Ohne Ende” – seven minutes of bristling riffs and brooding atmosphere, visceral blastbeats and virtuoso soloing, all topped off with a set of primal, almost punk-ish, vocals – and then doesn’t let up for the next forty-odd minutes.
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ruhsuz (joined here, for the first time, by enviably talented drummer Phillippe Wende) delivers a performance of such fiery passion and potency on this record that I knew, within a few songs, it was set to be one of my favourite records of the year.
Whether it’s the bombastic guitars and blood-pumping grooves of “Sturm der Erlösung” or the whirling dervish of “Brand am Firmament”, the duo’s signature blend of grim intensity and imposing melodic grandeur should appeal equally as much to fans of riotous riffmongers like Kampfar and Misþyrming as it does to those who prefer the more introspective intensity of bands such as Infestus or Der Weg Einer Freiheit, without ever sounding exactly like any of them.
Indeed, such is the level of care and attention to detail that has clearly been lavished on each one of these eight tracks that it seems somehow wrong to try and compare them too closely with the work of other artists. Suffice it to say that if you’re any sort of fan of Black Metal, in (m)any of its myriad forms, then you should be able to appreciate every single ounce of blood, sweat, and rage which has been fed into this album’s creation.
What this means in practice is that while every track shares a core sense of identity, they each possess a distinctive character of their own too.
The lithe, limber bass-lines and punchy rhythms of “Klimax Downpour”, for example have a touch of Rotting Christ to them, although the song as a whole is simultaneously leaner, meaner, and a fair bit flashier (especially in its final few minutes) than anything we’ve heard from the Greek quartet in quite some time, while the title track is equal parts raw aggression and refined execution, all stripped-down and streamlined to a lethal, unforgiving edge.
Practically every song on this album is a testament to what can be achieved with enough passion and dedication to your craft, with the only exception being instrumental outro “Cosmos Dissolving”, which sounds more like the intro to the album’s true closer than an actual closer in and of itself.
Still, that’s one minor stumble in what is otherwise a pretty damn stunning album, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Sternenberster stealing its way onto a few End of Year lists come December.
KRALLICE – MASS CATHEXIS
The surprise release of a new Krallice album is always a welcome thing.
Even when the final product isn’t perhaps quite what you/I/we may have wanted or expected (while I loved Go Be Forgotten, I felt that its companion release, Loüm, was a little underwhelming) it’s always fascinating to see just what the band have cooked up, what strange pathways their creative process has carried them down, and just how many people are going to dismiss it as pretentious noise without giving it a proper chance…
Mass Cathexis is no less interesting, no less intriguing, no less diverse, and no less divisive, than we’ve come to expect from the New York natives, featuring what is arguably some of the band’s most instantly accessible material yet… as well as some of their most unsettling and unnerving compositions to date.
Ultimately though, it has to be said that this is both a blessing and a curse for the record overall.
On the one hand the chaotic energy and hideous intensity driving songs like “Feed on the Blood of Rats”, “The Wheel”, and “Mass Cathexis” continues to blur the lines between Black and Death Metal, tortured technicality and experimental insanity, until such distinctions are rendered all but meaningless, while also delivering what I would say are some of the most captivating and weirdly compelling moments of the band’s career.
However, there’s a clear divide between the mentality behind these tracks and the more abstract approach found on tracks such as “Aspherance” and “All and Nothing”, and as of right now I’m having a little difficulty reconciling the way these two different styles sit next to one another on the same album (it almost feels like the record is composed of material culled from two drastically different writing sessions).
This dichotomy is clearly intentional though, and it may simply be that it’s going to take a little longer than usual for me to properly appreciate what the band were going for this time around.
Indeed, the purposeful penultimate pairing of “The Form” and “The Formed” suggests that the two sides of the record are perhaps not as diametrically opposed as they might first appear, and that, like most Krallice records, Mass Cathexis isn’t going to reveal all its secrets right away.
Time will tell of course. It always does. But for right now I can say that this is another intriguing, unpredictable, and uncompromising release from a band who still seem to be making up all the rules as they go. And hopefully they’re not going to stop any time soon.