(Nathan Ferreira wrote the following reviews of four new EPs that are all well worth your time.)
In these pandemic-ridden times, I’ve had online discussions with internet cretins about how EP releases may be a more viable format for artists, especially those that rely on touring as an income source. There’s less time and expense required to record, produce, and promote them, and it allows the artists in question to focus more on moving other projects forward – in theory, anyways.
Plus, how often do you actually make it through all those hour-long albums you own front to back in one sitting? Is there really that much of a difference between 25- and 40-minute runtimes in terms of how complete an album feels? If the music is good enough, probably not.
For the reasons above, and because I’ve been seeing an unusual number of artists both bigger and smaller embrace the EP format recently (a sign of the times, perhaps), I thought it was appropriate to give some attention to some of the more bite-sized musical snacks that have caught my ear in the past couple of months. Mini-albums need love too, you know.
EREB ALTOR – ELDENS BONING
Oh hell to the yes. Do you listen to Ereb Altor already? If not, go find yourself a used copy of By Honour or Nattramn immediately, because hot damn these dudes rule. Ever wanted to hear the spirit of Hammerheart/Twilight of the Gods era Bathory recreated with better musicianship? Of course you do, you’re a metalhead.
If you already know what you’re getting out of these guys, this isn’t going to disappoint – because of the shorter format, they’ve broken up the peaks and valleys into separate tracks, with “Fenrisulven” being the standalone acoustic number that would typically be a long-form intro or mid-song tension-breaker on a full-length. The remainder of the songs lean more to the crunchier, riff-heavy side of Ereb Altor’s secret sauce, with no shortages of the soaring clean vocals that elevate this band from “solid Bathory worship” to “makes me want to ride a steed into battle and vanquish my foes”.
This group likes to let songs marinate and build carefully, so this is on the long side for an EP, but that’s only what is necessary to have the songs feel complete and developed. Other than perhaps leaning ever-so-slightly towards favoring the black metal influences (their early career could have been categorized more as “epic doom metal”), this is more of the same from Ereb Altor and that’s exactly what you came here for.
Eldens Boning comes out on May 7, 2021 on Hammerheart Records. The album is recommended for fans of classic Bathory, Grand Magus, Primordial, Enslaved, Wardruna, Isole, and Falkenbach.
PHLEBOTOMIZED – PAIN, RESISTANCE, SUFFERING
This is one of those “bargain bin gem” bands from the ’90s that everyone started raving about on the internet 20 years later, putting out two highly praised but also rather unknown albums and fading into obscurity afterward. Phlebotomized is eclectic, avant-garde metal fusion that was too niche and uncatchy to gain any real traction, but their early material still has many enduring and original qualities that hold up to this day.
After a revival from guitarist and sole constant Tom Palms in 2013, they’re back up and at it, and time seems to have ironed out the kinks in the songwriting twists. There’s still plenty of bizarre themes and emotions being mashed together: a bouncy, almost whimsical keyboard melody will float over thick low-end chugging, or a guitar line spirals upwards into a melody that merges anger with pleasure. The strange Cronenburgian mix of styles are thoroughly integrated, though, and nothing, no matter how bizarre it seems on the surface, ever feels gimmicky or unnecessarily shoehorned in. Phlebotomized doesn’t try to be weird, it just comes to them naturally.
It’s hard for me to call this “avant-garde”, even though that’s a common tag given to this Dutch septet, because I usually associate that with music that is uncomfortable, dissonant, or otherwise has an off-putting ingredient in the soup. In contrast Pain, Resistance, Suffering has an accessible quality to it, without losing any of the bizarro factors. The only comparable I can think of are Japanese genre-benders Sigh, as they have a similar immediate listenability to their music while still being downright bizarre the entire time, enjoyable as the ride is.
Phlebotomized takes that oddly captivating allure, but fuses it with some good ole’ Dutch death/doom instead of intricate black metal. It’s infectious and feels very novel, which is not something that happens often when you listen to extreme metal during every possible waking hour like I do.
Pain, Resistance, Suffering was released on April 9, 2021 via Petrichor Records, a new sub-label of the previously mentioned Hammerheart. The band is highly recommended for fans of eclectic music such as Septic Flesh, Edge of Sanity, Demilich, Nocturnus, My Dying Bride, The Gathering and Morbid Angel.
DISEMBODIMENT – MUTATED CHAOS
The two bands I just wrote about above had very multifaceted, dense EPs with enough going on that it would be easy to mistake them for a full-length release. That’s not going to be the case here.
This is one-and-done filthy death/doom from all the members of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada-based deathcrust band Oath Div. 666. One of my main complaints about their original incarnation, a vicious d-beating of death metal roided up with punk energy, was that the music lost some of its disgusting bounce in pursuit of a more sinister, serious approach.
Fortunately, it appears that they clued into these shortcomings, because Mutated Chaos puts all its energy into oozing, chunky stomp grooves that occasionally stumble into some momentum in the form of a Disma-esque mid-paced churn. A shrill screech occasionally appears in the midst, giving a bone-chilling atmosphere that dispels any notion of the more upbeat riffs being easy to stomach. It toes the line between having a playful groove and crushing your skull, like a Canadian take on the viscous, heavy-as-a-cubic-mile-of-lead style of Coffins.
The songs don’t spend much time mucking about. They frequently crawl at slower paces, but there’s also a lot more activity than you usually hear in a death/doom release – I suppose you have to cover as much ground as you can to make a first impression in 13 minutes. Though the riffs take a “less is more” approach (as is expected), Disembodiment can cram a surprising amount of theme changes into three minutes or less.
The transitions are often drastic and sudden as well – almost makes me wonder if this would sound like a grindcore album if it was played at 2x speed. Whatever you want to call it, this is a really promising appetizer. This is a group of musicians that fiddled with the exact knobs required to make their initial incarnation better, but the end result was different enough that it necessitated changing the band name – and now I’m excited for new Disembodiment material more than I ever was for an upcoming Oath Div. 666 release.
Mutated Chaos releases on May 6, 2021 through Everlasting Spew Records and Caligari Records. Disembodiment should be right up your alley if you enjoy bands like Coffins, Krypts, Disma, Undergang and Anatomia.
UNFATHOMABLE RUINATION – DECENNIUM RUINAE
The UK isn’t typically a place I’ve thought of as a prime spot for brutal death metal, with most bands that play in this scattershot, slam-infused style hailing from North America. For example, the band that Unfathomable Ruination has always reminded me of the most is the now-defunct Abnormality, who also hold the rare distinction of being a slam band that you mainly listen to for something other than the slams.
The real appeal of Unfathomable Ruination, and by extension their most recent EP, is the multidirectional riff assault that gives you no chance to get into a groove, constantly changing the rhythm and method by which it’s mercilessly beating you down.
The first three songs on Decennium Ruinae are straight from the band’s template: packed to the brim with jarring, serrated guitars that are only understandable because of drumming that accents each punch with surgical precision. You can barely breathe or focus, mostly captivated by the intricacy of each song – you gotta wonder how often you have to practice to get songs with this many little quirks and changes to sound so smooth.
After you’ve been completely mesmerized, the real treat is the closing track, which offers a little bit of restraint in its cleaner, melancholic approach but doesn’t sacrifice any of its ability to refocus the angle of attack the way the rest of the album does. It sounds like the British quartet’s take on the “melodic slam” style that Disentomb has been leaning into lately, which is 100% okay with me because The Decaying Light was one of the best albums of 2019 and I will gladly gobble up anything that sounds even remotely similar – and you should too!
Decennium Ruinae will be released on May 28, 2021 via the esteemed Willowtip Records. Unfathomable Ruination should be mandatory for anyone who is already familiar with technical/brutal death metal bands like Abnormality, Defeated Sanity, Inherit Disease, Suffocation, Wormed, and Dying Fetus.