(Andy Synn returns to NCS from the injured list and brings us reviews of three excellent EPs released in September or October of this year.)
Some of you may have noticed (or maybe you didn’t, I don’t know how much attention you’re all paying) that I haven’t published anything here at NCS for a little while.
The reason for this is that last weekend (not the one just gone, the one before that) I managed to do myself an injury – not the worst I’ve ever had, but significant enough to affect my life – that has basically kept me in pretty much constant pain, and prevented me from sleeping more than an hour or two at a time, ever since.
As a result I really haven’t been in any mental or physical shape to focus on my writing here, hence my absence over the last week or so.
Thankfully I’m slowly beginning to heal up (and have gained access to some better drugs) meaning I’m now finally capable of diving back into the massive backlog of bands/releases which has developed over the last few days/weeks/months, so expect to be hearing a lot more from me – about a lot of new releases – over the next several days.
And to start things off, here are three pretty damn killer EPs from three pretty damn killer bands.
DAUGHTER CHAOS – DAUGHTER CHAOS
Daughter Chaos might be a relatively new name on “the scene” (this is their first EP after all) but they’re clearly seasoned professionals, one and all, as their self-titled debut is one of the finest, fiercest, slabs of riff-happy, shred-heavy Melodic Death Metal that I’ve heard in quite some time.
Those of you “in the know” may recognise some of the group as ex-members of Chris Amott’s Armageddon, but it would do the band a disservice to consider them just an extension of that project, as while there’s definitely an (early) Arch Enemy feel to some of the down-picking, string-skipping riffs and ecstatic, neo-classical soloing going on in tracks like “The Burning One” and “Old World”, the trio deliver these familiar elements with such verve and vitality that they seem to take on a fresh new life of their own.
And while, on a purely individual level, each of the three members brings their A-game to the table – bassist/vocalist Sara Claudius providing the EP with a solid low end as well as some seriously visceral vocal venom, drummer Yanni Sofianos keeping things locked down tight with a mix of precision groove and bombastic intensity, and guitarist Andrew Pevny peeling out riff after riff, solo after solo, of sublimely melodic yet punishingly aggressive Metal – it’s their collective songwriting which really elevates this EP to the next level.
Whether it’s the way in which they seem to know just when to switch things up within a song to keep your interest levels high (the transition into the catchy as hell, stop-start bridge in “The Burning One”, for example), or their ability to differentiate their songs (“The Space Born”, for example, is by far the EP’s heaviest, darkest, and most intense track, while the eponymous “Daughter Chaos” is the sharpest, hookiest, and most energetic number) while still remaining internally consistent and instantly recognisable, it’s clear that Daughter Chaos already have a carefully-honed and fine-tuned formula for success which should see them go very far indeed (and that’s without even mentioning killer closer “Void of Sacrifice”).
A must-listen for anyone who enjoys both a bit of melody in their Death Metal and a lot of Death Metal in their “Melodic Death Metal” too.
ULTHA – FLOORS OF HEAVEN
Some people have said, in the past, that I’ve been a little too hard on German Black Metal quintet Ultha at times, especially with regards to their third album, The Inextricable Wandering (which I still think is a relatively mixed bag, truth be told).
But the reason for this is simply because I believe that the band are capable of better. I see their true potential and am hungry, anxious even, for them to finally achieve it.
This belief was partially validated last year, when the band’s 38-minute “EP”, Belong, turned out to be one of their strongest releases yet, and I’m happy to say that, despite being significantly shorter, Floors of Heaven is even stronger still.
Whereas the two tracks which made up Belong were lengthy, drawn-out numbers, making great use of distorted ambience and negative space, both “Forever Always Comes To An End” and “To The Other Shore of the Night” clock in at less than five minutes each, meaning that both songs get right to the point, and go right for the throat, right from the very start.
But while they’re both more focussed and more direct, each track also comes complete with a heavy aura of ominous atmosphere as well… it’s just that this time it’s all been compressed into a tighter, more explosive, package.
“Forever Always Comes To An End”, for example, hits the ground running with a blend of raging riffs and pulse-pounding percussion reminiscent of both Abigail Williams and The Great Old Ones at their best (and most belligerent), showcasing in the process an even more aggressive and visceral version of the band than we’re used to.
By contrast “To The Other Shore of the Night” threatens to be a slow-burner – and it is – but doesn’t stretch this out, instead pursuing a doomy path reminiscent, in part, of Dark Fortress at their most introverted and introspective, which slowly builds towards a massive, malevolent conclusion.
Both tracks benefit massively from an imposingly dense, impressively dark mix which forefronts the intense-yet-intricate interplay between the guitars while simultaneously elevating the band’s oppressive, brooding bass work, resulting in a tactile, synaesthetic sound which possesses an almost physical weight and presence.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already excited for whatever the band’s next release might bring, because if they can sustain this sort of quality over the course of a full album…
VONLAUS – RÖÐ SLÆMRA ÁKVARÐANA
If I were to say the words “Icelandic Black Metal” to you, then chances are you’d already have a reasonably well-formed picture in your mind of what sort of band(s) I might be talking about.
After all, few scenes have exploded, both critically and commercially, in the way that the Icelandic Black Metal scene has over the last decade, and fewer still have had the same outsized impact on Metal culture (both within the wider Black Metal scene and beyond).
But wait… there’s more to Vonlaus than just another entry in the long line of dissonant existentialists hailing from the land of ice and snow. In fact, their Icelandic-ness is only a very small part of their identity.
With a groovier, more swaggering sound, and a greater love for bigger, more headbangable hooks, than the majority of their brethren, Vonlaus produce a sound that’s closer to Nachtmystium than Misþyrming (although there’s certainly elements of both in their DNA), demonstrating a similar penchant for cruelly catchy riffs combined with icy, semi-psychedelic melodies across these four tracks.
The Nachtmystium comparisons are most obvious during opener “Gjaldþrot” and closer “Týndur í Reykjavík”, where the band’s blend of reckless riffing and spontaneous energy, melded with some deliriously danceable grooves and just the right dose of Icelandic dissonance, combine into something that’s as utterly irresistible as it is instantly addictive.
And while both “Gegn mér” and “Af ólyfjan og drykkju” err a little more towards the more “traditional” motifs of the band’s national scene at times, both the electrifying melodies and ridiculously hooky riffs of the former, and the swinging, priapic rhythms of the latter, give the music more of a “blood, sweat, and bile”, vibe that continues to set them apart from their more discordant and/or atmospherically-inclined scene-mates.
Ultimately, however, it’s an oh-so-simple mix of riveting riffs and live-wire lead melodies which makes this EP stand out from the crowd – something which seems like it should be easy to imitate and achieve at first glance, but which clearly takes a lot of care and craftsmanship (and, let’s face it, a fair bit of innate talent) to pull off at this level.