(DGR compiled the following four reviews to help clear out his backlog.)
The first one of these smaller and shorter review roundups was pretty death metal focused and also well-travelled, taking us all over planet Earth in the quest for the finest gurgles and blastbeats upon which to gorge ourselves. It also helped alleviate some of the guilt of having such a massive collection of bands I’d wanted to write about but was quickly watching the sand dwindle on available time given that we’re slowly crawling towards another likely back half of the year flood.
However, as is always the case, there was still another collection waiting in the wings and this one much more diverse across the musical spectrum, though equally world-traveling. Mileage-wise it may be a little more concentrated, as it’s fairly European-focused but we do reach the outskirts a bit, with this roundup taking us to places like a France/Sweden combo act, all the way to Texas, to the Netherlands, to Greece, to the wild and exotic reaches of Sacramento, California.
If that seems like a wild mess, then let me assure you, this collection of music is also wild, but after this I may be as close to having a clean slate as I’m ever going to get. So, let’s start my second attempt at a ‘shorter’ review roundup and get this ball rolling.
Enshine – Transcending Fire EP
It hadn’t ocurred to me that it’s been nearly six years since the release of the space-synth and ethereal doom duo Enshine’s second album Singularity up until the moment the band said it had been so. While the group are deep in the salt mines hammering out a third release, they have emerged just long enough to unleash an EP of new music entitled Transcending Fire – which the band describe on their Bandcamp page as “an exploration of new sonic territory yet retaining the trademark atmosphere of Enshine…”
And honestly, I think I’m still at the point in Enshine’s career where just about any new stuff from the duo is likely to gather my interest whether they decide to reach further into the musical galaxy or not. Hell, there’s enough of me enamored with Jari Lindholm‘s guitar playing that he was the beneficiary of one of the few times I glanced at an instrumental release this year. Which may be a benefit to Transcending Fire in some ways given that its last two songs are instrumental – one is a newer acoustic take on the song “Constellation” and the other is a new track entitled “Ascend”.
What’s interesting with Transcending Fire is that despite its initial pitch as exploration of new musical boundaries it plays more like a fairly natural step forward in the direction Enshine had already been pursuing with some of the moodier pieces on Singularity. That’s why the title track having a healthy amount of clean singing and harsh vocal interplay isn’t too surprising, but instead plays out fairly organically. It fits gorgeously together. As the song drags itself from one swelling background synth and distant and cold guitar melody to another, you can see that even though there had been a pretty sizable gap between releases, Sebastien and Jari haven’t lost track of what made Enshine work.
“Awake In Void”, on the other hand, is worth a glance due to how closely it hews to the death and doom subgenre. There are times throughout the song’s opening moments when you could see the song standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of October Tide‘s recent efforts, especially once the double-bass work starts to kick in behind that bouncing rhythm riff.
Enshine have made a name for gorgeous, spacier-sounding work, so having them drop the hammer down again is a pleasant surprise.
Asylum – Sharpen
Sharpen, the newest release from Texas tech-death crew Asylum, asks a lot of you. There are few albums out there that aren’t firmly in the doom or prog-reaches that post numbers like thirteen songs – and reiterating here, actual songs, no interstitials separated out to puff up track count – and an hour and twenty minutes long.
Clearly, the band took every single minute of their four years between Sharpen and their 2017 release Psalms Of Paralysis – which comes highly recommended on this end – and decided they were going to spend it experimenting every which way when it came to their new music. How else, one wonders, do you shift from an album of black and white skeletal figure collage to the multicolor and purple-dominated, near Tool–Parabola/10,000 Days-era, artwork of Sharpen?
It also shows in the music when you take Sharpen as a whole. This is one of those releases – somewhat like Ominous Ruin’s Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone earlier this year – that ends in a very different place than where it starts. Of course, that’s bound to happen when you have a couple of real weighty songs within your hour-twenty run time, though one of them is mostly ambient noise, so almost eleven minutes of “Bite The Guiding Hand” can be initially deceiving.
Sharpen – like many of its classmates – is filled with interesting ideas and a wall-to-wall songwriting approach. The group have pulled a little bit away from the Cattle Decapitation influence that seemed to be peeking its head through the wall, The Shining style, on Psalms Of Paralysis and instead experiment with a whole bunch of new ideas, which makes Sharpen come across as an adventurous and ambitious album for a group only on their second full-length.
It’s wild just how much Asylum try to pack in here. If there was any album that could be described as being trapped amidst a mudslide of rhythm section parts and a big variety of guitar experimentations, Sharpen would be way the hell in the front running for that title. That can also be a double-edged sword of course, because the metric shit-ton of music present on Sharpen plants it firmly in the ‘you must prepare for this adventure’ category. Even though it’s an enjoyable experience there are times you’ll get lost without a guide and find yourself checking songs to find out where the fuck you landed on the disc.
The other mark against Sharpen comes from where its musicians are placed in its mix. I think – and have said so before – that the Asylum crew reap a tremendous benefit from having a very talented vocalist and rhythm section, but wow are the drumming and vocals brought way up front for much of Sharpen. The guitars get buried a bit in the mix, and outside of breaking the bass out on its own for a few solo segments, much of Sharpen can seem like a drum and vocal assault, with the death metal guitars brought along for the ride in the car being towed behind them. That aspect of Sharpen can be very ‘your mileage may vary’ when it comes to how much it’ll affect you, whereas on this end it seemed like they got so close this time around to just having a monster of an album only to pull back a bit at the last minute.
Still, there is a good amount of bravery and ambition to be commended here. As a whole, once you get past whether the mix will bother you or not, Sharpen does feel like an album written over four years. There’s a lot to unpack, and believe it or not, it seems to travel through a variety of styles. Though I can’t claim to know the history behind Sharpen – outside of keeping an eye on the group for new music since they’ve been a very promising band – there’s definitely parts on this album that feel like they were written closer to Psalms Of Paralysis, and other stuff that sounds more recent and finds Asylum approaching prog-death territory and also just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.
You have many a crushing moment throughout Sharpen but there’s also plenty of weird and avante-garde twists and turns to it, so that the band don’t find themselves being pigeonholed as ‘just another tech-death act’. It’s fun to listen to the album bounce around that sort of dynamic musically, in much the same way it’s fun to check out an album any time it seems like a band are going to just swing for the fences. On Sharpen, Asylum not only swung for the fences but also tried to launch the bat alongside it. Whether either made their goal is a tougher call.
Human Obliteration/Vile Species – Split
On the other side of the coin we have the split between Sacramento, CA’s grind stalwarts Human Obliteration and the fairly recently formed – as in, within two years or so – powerviolence expulsion that is Greece’s Vile Species. This is one of those releases that is likely going to have looped a handful of times by the time I make it through this small review. It clocks in at a little over seventeen minutes but it’s an interesting snapshot into the world of immensely raw and plug-and-play style songwriting that are hallmarks of the subgenre.
Case in point, the block from Human Obliteration is filled with rapid-fire song delivery and punches out seven tracks that stay under two minutes with the deft grace of a limbo champion. “Tension Mounts” basically serves as an opener that builds like riding a roller coaster to the top of a hill, but given this style’s lack of subtlety it’s an easy guess how the next six will basically become a huge wall of feedback, count-offs, and hammered instruments. While we may often jokingly refer to grind as acting like a musical hissy-fit, it’d be hard not to view the whole seventeen minutes here as two bands trapped in a room just freaking out in front of each other on their instruments. The Human Obliteration section can often feel like that.
Vile Species follow up by basically laughing at the two-minute song limit and lean further into the powerviolence aspect. Whereas you could recognize a couple of familiar grind riffs within the bulkier Human Obliteration segment, Vile Species are more than happy to turn their section into an experiment in noise and ferocity. Two songs don’t even bother clearing a minute, calling to mind the short-lived Worse project that hailed out of the Bay Area a handful of years back. They’re just aural assaults wherein you’re lucky to hang on for dear life. It’s quickly delivered and quickly recorded, giving every song a sense of being spur-of-the-moment in giving the Greek five-piece something to scream about.
The fact that this one hit in early April and since then Vile Species have participated in another split with the group Civilian Thrower that launched in June to go alongside their 2020 debut EP should show that they have no shortage of stuff to be mad about either. It’s not revolutionary musically, but as a fun diversion from the denser packages of music that we’ve been buried in so far, this split more than serves.
And I think I’m on loop three.
Distant – Aeons Of Oblivion
If you were around to check out my review of Mental Cruelty’s A Hill To Die Upon then you’ll likely remember my opening treatise on the interesting state of deathcore at the moment and how it has seemed to shoot off in three distinct directions: A downtempo-focused, doom-fueled, and breakdown-heavy contingent; a groovier and more approachable subsection in line with earlier acts; and a bombastic and symphonic blackened take on the genre as a whole. While Mental Cruelty fell within the last one, label-mates Distant and their ambitious full-length Aeons Of Oblivion plant themselves firmly in the realm of that very first categorization.
The numbers for Aeons Of Oblivion can initially be staggering, at nineteen songs for nearly an hour-plus of music and all of it crushingly heavy and very much in line with the sort of big thudding riffs one would expect from their ilk. As anyone who has attended a full Summer Slaughter tour date can tell you, that’s a fucking lot of breakdowns.
Of course, it should also be mentioned that a large reason for this is that Aeons Of Oblivion is actually a concept piece and is accompanied by some written comic works that the band have created. So if it seems like they spend a lot of time self-aggrandizing about how they’re the destruction of all mankind throughout certain songs, it’s not necessarily being done in the classic death metal sense in which the band portrays themselves as the embodiment of all evil – it is the characters they’re writing about, which is an intriguiging idea that helps the band break the mold a bit after the initial shock of a sledgehammer like “Hellmouth” hitting your system.
Where I’ve been lucky with Distant is that I actually bumped into them last year during an ‘I need big, brawny music’ mood and found their Dawn Of Corruption EP. Those six songs alongside the May-released EP Dusk Of Anguish are to be found within the overall Aeons Of Oblivion track-listing. And while the Rotterdam, Netherlands based crew certainly have a collection of music available to them, having a fair bit of previous familiarity with a large part of the material helped a ton when the pyroclastic flow of this album as a whole decided to blast over me.
It’s filled to the brim with plenty of the scene’s hallmarks, but sometimes you just need a healthy slugging to go alongside your more artistic endeavors, and divorced from its conceptual nature, Aeons Of Oblivion is a pretty beefy ass-kicking for most of its time with you. In fact the handful of interstitials and instrumentals that break up the pace a bit tend to be head-turning because you’ll just start to feel like all the chugging has become the norm only to get hit with an ambient piece before being thrown right back into the fray.
It seems strange to describe a “prefix-core” album like this as a mood-piece, but man, if nothing else, it has certainly been good as one of those ‘I must power through this bullshit night ahead of me’ workshift accompaniments. This is music purpose-built for stuff like that. The apocalyptic destruction the band seek to portray is easily achieved within a handful of songs, but sometimes you just want a big and gleefully heavy album to just force you through whatever garbage you’re buried in at the moment. Strangely enough, despite their loftier ambitions, Distant found themselves filling that role for me.
With a genre as densely packed as the deathcore scene, this group’s take is appreciated. Half of the fun may just be watching how they decide to break out from the mold across the album — which way they stitch their songs together, what sort of ambient works they use, how they try to tie all of that gigantic riff-work and tank-shell drumming into one final work. If you’re looking for a snapshot into the heftier side of the -core scene at the moment and that low-and-slow branch of the imagined tree described above, Aeons Of Oblivion is a pretty good lens through which to view it.