SEEN AND HEARD: SKEPTICISM, MERGER REMNANT, SONUM, NISHAIAR
Today’s roundup of new music and videos is a real hodgepodge (or perhaps you would prefer mishmash) of metallic creativity. At least one of the entries is a massive hodgepodge unto itself. A full trip through all of them may leave you shaking your head — hopefully in wonder.
2021 marks the 30th anniversary of this pioneering funeral doom band, remarkably with its original line-up still intact. To celebrate their long survival, they have a new album named Companion that’s ready for release on September 24th by Svart Records. The first single, “Calla“, emerged last week with a beautiful and haunting video made by Tuomas A. Laitinen that perfectly suits the music and the equally haunting words, which incorporate references to pale calla lilies in a story of longing and closure.
The music is tragic and glorious. The monumental union of Eero Pöyry‘s symphonic and organ compositions and Jani Kekarainen‘s guitars makes the heart swell and break at the same time, while Matti Tilaeus‘s jagged growls channel raw passion and Lasse Pelkonen‘s cavernous drumming resonates deeply. A gorgeous and moving song.
(Thanks to Grant Skelton for pointing me to this video even before the press release arrived.)
MERGER REMNANT (Sweden)
In December I premiered a song from this band’s debut EP, Dregs, and that EP was finally released in full last Friday.
Merger Remnant is a collaboration between Björn Larsson (who performs vocals, guitars, bass, and drums) and his friend Jonas Ström (keys, samples, ambience, guitars). Larsson is best-known to me and to many others as a member of the death metal bands Mordbrand and God Macabre — but it might be best for you to forget that, because this EP is off the paths trod by those groups.
Trying to pigeon-hole the EP in genre terms would be a challenge because it incorporates so many varying ingredients. The opener, “All-out Violence Upon Life“, opens with ominous, clanging chords, massive percussive detonations, and distant roars that transform into scalding screams. The music is towering and cold, a monument of dread, and as it pounds with titanic force and imperious mien, chilling keyboards emerge above, like the exhalations of spectres lost in a lightless realm between life and the void.
The intensity takes another step up through hammering drums, dense, ravaging shrouds of tremolo’d chords, and the blaze of feverish astral melody, which collectively add a sensation of torment and desperation to the pitch-black moods of the song. The wailing melodies are themselves joined by the intense, echoing tones of soaring vocals. The drumming is both rocking and riotous, and the conjoining of those screams and roars create a terrifying harmony in a finale that somehow seems both majestic and oppressive, both ruthless and frightening.
The EP includes two more original songs. “Cosmos Posthumously Ending Itself” is also massively heavy and unearthly, but the drumming rocks and the riffing pulsates in contagious fashion. Titanic stomps, quivering keys, dismal flowing leads, and the extended wail of a solo draw the song along sidelong paths. It’s the kind of thing that connects with your reptile brain, and somehow manages to be viciously ecstatic as well as chilling and hallucinatory.
What comes next is a cover of “The Cold Earth Slept Below” by Judas Iscariot, off the 1996 album of the same name. A lonesome guitar paves the way into a spine-shaking and majestic processional march accented by anguished but seductive melody — and then a sequence of glitchy and booming electronics and sky-high singing. The experience is chilling, but the ensuing guitar solo, which propels the music to heights of perilous grandeur, is also exhilarating.
There’s an almost New Wave beat at the opening of the title track, and the raking riff gets stuck in the head damned fast. After that, the music becomes a jolting and searing cataclysm of sound, with another vocal tandem of unhinged screams and gruesome roars amplifying the unnerving intensity. Yet the song also sets sail on astral seas above big musing bass tones, and soars like a sunrise above some giant alien planet. Very easy to get carried away by the closing minutes too, in a trilling guitars bring a desolate fever to vast waves of melancholy.
In a word (and in all senses of the word), this EP is tremendous.
The Dregs EP is now available digitally on most of the usual platforms. It will eventually be available on 12″ vinyl via by the Israeli label Dybbuk Productions and the Swedish label De:Nihil Records.
And now we come to an EP that I referred to in the introduction above. It’s a wild amalgam of musical adventures. At first it might even seem that this Italian group are willfully abusing genre boundaries rather than smoothly crossing them. But give it time — there is in fact a method to the sometimes jarring madness of their experimental death metal, and the results are completely captivating.
I have a habit of trying to chart the course of the songs I write about. In the case of “Divide et Impera“, the EP’s title track, that’s extremely difficult, but I can’t resist. It sounds nothing like a death metal song at first, more like prog rock, and then begins to morph and mutate in unexpected ways — united by recurring wisps of weird and wailing narcotic melody and vicious, howling vocals. The bass is enormous, and along with the vibrant drumming, it keeps the rhythms and tempos in constant flux. There’s also a softer sequence that seems influenced by jazz fusion, in which the vocals change., and other sequences in which psychedelics come into play, as well as a racing barrage of hammering drums and seething riffage.
The second song, “Down to Forget“, is also multi-faceted, but perhaps less adventurous and more mesmerizing. It draws together similar ingredients of prog, psychedelia, and death metal, but reveals doomy gothic influences and includes much more wistful and grieving moods. Once again, the song is held together by recurring melodic motifs, and they turn out to be quite memorable.
If I’ve not been clear, I love this EP.
Divide et Impera was released on June 2nd. At various times, the EP brought to mind Ved Buens Ende and Virus, Gojira and Demilich, Gorguts and Cynic, and maybe even hints of Katatonia and Porcupine Tree. Sonum report that they will enter the studio this month to record their debut full-length. Eager to hear what comes of that.
Allow me to quote at length from my review of this prolific Ethiopian band’s 2018 album Irix Zerius, because I think it’s still relevant to what they’ve done since then:
“The music combines immersive ambient melody that creates vast, wondrous panoramas of sound; deep, heavy, penetrating guitar riffing; ‘tribal’ drum rhythms you can feel in your marrow (along with thundering metal drumming); mystical shimmering tones and enthralling acoustic picking (with an exotic resonance in the melodies) — and crashing waves of abrading intensity.
“The vocals range from choral voices, both female and male, to unsettling wails and impassioned chants, haunting gasps and even a bit of throat-singing as well. The music ranges from fragile, moody experiences to enormous storms that fill the senses. Some are more clearly ‘modern’ (‘Bewater’, for example), some more seemingly rooted in old traditions (‘Azief’), and some thoroughly and frighteningly mystical (‘Llademna’) but all are flavored with the atmosphere of a land and a culture different from those of the West, and the ebb and flow among them makes the album as a whole a truly immersive experience.”
Nishiair’s latest album (two others came in between Irix Zerius and the new one) is Nahaxar. It will be released on June 21st. You can listen to two songs from it below, the title track and “Ext“. The former reveals immense moving walls of immersive and sometimes ominous cosmic splendor, which can become blinding in their intensity as well as hypnotic. It also includes powerfully head-moving rhythms and scalding vocals, as well as deep, solemn singing.
“Ext” incorporates similar ingredients but the ringing keys and ethereal female vocals make it lighter and brighter, and even more bewitching. It sparkles and glides… but it reveals other currents as its intensity mounts.
Both songs are quite transfixing, though I can’t say there’s anything about them that makes an obvious connection with Nishaiar‘s part of the world. Still, these are only two songs out of 10. The other 8 should be well worth exploring.