(Andy Synn prepared the following reviews of three recent and very impressive EPs.)
It’s pretty common knowledge that, for the most part at least, I’m more of an “album guy” than an “EP guy”. There’s just something about the extra effort, the extra level of commitment, involved in creating an album that makes it feel more real and more substantial in my mind (although I’m sure that’s not always true).
That being said, I can’t deny that there are certain times when an EP is exactly what I’m looking for from a band, something explicitly designed to deliver a short, sharp shock of (ideally) all their best ideas and elements in one concise, captivating package.
Which is exactly what I have here for you today, three EPs – from three tonally and stylistically very different artists – all of which are pretty much brand new (one of them, in fact, is so new that it isn’t actually released until Friday) that find each band putting out some of their best material yet while also dropping a few hints as to where they might take things next.
ALUSTRIUM – INSURMOUNTABLE
Everyone loves a comeback, right? But some comebacks are definitely more surprising than others.
Case in point, when I first heard whispers that we were about to get something new from Philadelphia’s proggiest Tech Death troubadours, Alustrium, my first though was, to quote the late, great, Alec Guinness, “…now that’s a name I haven’t heard in quite some time”.
And while I wouldn’t say that I’d forgotten about the band (A Tunnel to Eden remains just as good now as it was back then), I will admit that I’d pretty much given up on expecting anything more from them quite a while ago, so the announcement of this EP really was an extremely pleasant surprise.
That being said, five years is a long time, especially in the fast-paced, ever-mutating world of Tech-Death, so as excited as I was to learn we’d finally be getting something new from the group, a big part of me wondered whether they’d still be able to keep up, or whether they’d forever be doomed to be a band out of time…
Thankfully Alustrium were always that little bit ahead of the curve (and, sadly, under the radar), so the four songs which make up Insurmountable are still more than capable of pulling their weight and holding their own, even against today’s modern masters, without feeling dated or contrived.
In fact I’d go so far as to say that the nimble fretwork, agile rhythms, and electrifying energy underpinning tracks like “Fated to Despair” and “Dark Waters” reaffirms that Alustrium can still go toe-to-toe with some of today’s best and brightest – meaning fans of Gorod’s sublime melodic style, the addictive, hook-filled riffage of Arsis, and the heavyweight Prog-Death of Black Crown Initiate (see “United In Enmity”), should find a lot to love here.
Of course, that five year gap does mean that Alustrium can’t really say that they’re still ahead of the curve – Tech Death, as a genre, never stops evolving after all, and those five years have seen a lot of great bands pushing the envelope even further – but they’re clearly still at the top of their own game, especially during the extravagant (not to mention excellent), title-track, which not only finds the band pushing their technical talents and progressive proclivities even further, but also suggests that their upcoming third album might just see them making a few evolutionary leaps of their own.
DÖ – BLACK HOLE MASS
Of the three EPs featured here today, this one is probably my favourite.
Astral Death Cult, the band’s second album, was a great (albeit late) discovery of mine last year, and I know for a fact that several of our readers also felt the same way about this Finnish trio and their monolithically heavy, sludge-soaked and fuzz-drenched brand of Death-tinged blackened Stoner Doom.
However, the three songs which make up Black Hole Mass are, somehow, even heavier and even more addictive than anything from the previous record, with the band leaning even harder into the Blackened Doom side of their sound, while still incorporating all the hypnotic hooks and splashes of psychedelic strangeness which make them so unique.
Opener “Gravity Sacrifice”, for example, is as massive and monstrously heavy as its title suggests – the guitar tone alone feels like it’s being channelled from an entirely different, significantly denser, planet – and is underpinned by some seriously creepy and claustrophobia-inducing melodic touches that don’t so much lighten the mood as they do fill you with a growing sense of anxiety every time they appear.
“Plasma Psalm” is even more aggressive, both in terms of its choppy, churning riffage and its snarling, venomous vocals (balanced out by some eerie clean-sung embellishments), and the song’s punchy, pugilistic tone and recklessly proggy predilections pay tribute to everyone from High On Fire to Celtic Frost, Darkthrone to Crowbar, while also standing firmly on their own filth-encrusted feet.
And then there’s titanic closer “Radiation Blessing”, where the band essentially transform themselves into “Black Metal Black Sabbath”, all sinister, sludgy swagger and grim, narcotic grooves blended together into ten-and-a-half minutes of bombastic, bad-trip dynamics and psychedelic, drugged-out Doom.
It may only be three tracks, but Black Hole Mass is one of those EPs so densely packed with riffs and hooks and atmosphere (the simmering conclusion to “Radiation Blessing” gets me every time) that it just feels so much greater than the mere sum of its parts, while also being short (and sweet) enough that it’s easy to listen to one, twice, three times… or more… in a row, without it losing its impact.
I really do hope these guys are already hard at work on album number three, because if they can re-capture this sort of lightning in a bottle on their next full-length record then we could well be looking at a future Album of the Year contender from these guys not too far down the line.
FUMING MOUTH – BEYOND THE TOMB
It’s well-document just how much I loved – and I mean loved – last year’s The Grand Descent, the debut album from up-and-coming Death-Crust crushers Fuming Mouth.
In a year which saw a bevy of bands gaining traction and exposure by combining the beating heart of Hardcore with the meaty muscle of Death Metal (or vice versa), there was just something about these guys – something that little bit more vital, that little bit more vibrant, that little bit more goddamn vicious – that made them stick out, head and shoulders, above the rest.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought so either, as the band have already made the leap to the “big” leagues, signing to Nuclear Blast after the release of just one full-length record, and it seems as though Beyond the Tomb is their way of saying “damn right, we can play with the big boys.”
It might be a cliché (in fact I’m 100% sure that it is), but the three tracks which make up Beyond the Tomb are both more melodic (in some parts) and heavier (in others) in a way that never seems forced or artificial, but simply feels like a natural, organic evolution of the sound which first brought them to our attention.
The opening title-track, for example, is more melodious and multi-layered, that’s for sure, but also just as brutal and blisteringly ferocious as anything they’ve done before, all gritty, gut-wrenching riffs and shamelessly shreddy leads, underpinned by one seriously ripped and rugged rhythm section and topped off with a clever mix of throat-rending growls and subtle clean-sung hooks.
By contrast “Master of Extremity” doesn’t so much expand the band’s sound as it does condense it down to its densest, heaviest elements – equal parts Earth Crisis and Entombed, Death Threat and Dismember, Obituary and Only Living Witness– in the process achieving a level of crushing intensity closer to the chug-happy Death/’core crossover of bands like Xibalba and Terminal Nation than the gnarlier, thrashier approach of groups like Gatecreeper and Creeping Death.
Speaking of “chug-happy”… the EP’s thunderous finale, “Road to Odessa”, is a veritable smorgasbord of bowel-churning chuggery and bone-grinding riffery which serves both as a killer climax and a summation of the band themselves – simultaneously unpretentious but not unambitious, uncompromising yet not undynamic, painfully raw yet punishingly tight.
I always said that we should expect bigger and better things from these guys going forwards. And, on the evidence presented by Beyond the Tomb, I think it’s safe to say I was right on the money.