This week I decided to devote the column to four complete new releases, three of them albums and one of them an EP. I found all of them to be tremendously gripping in different ways.
HORNWOOD FELL (Italy)
It would go too far to call Hornwood Fell chameleons. They do change their musical colors, but not to match and blend in with some background setting (such as what other bands might be doing). They change to capture colors in their own heads, which seem to move like pools of mercury on a subtly shifting sheet of steel, catching different lights. And it’s not just the sounds that shift and re-form. The themes and inspirations change too.
When I last wrote about them here, more than a year ago, it was in the context of an 80-minute, two-part concept album named Cursed Thoughts. The first part explored Les Fleurs Du Mal (“The Flowers of Evil”) by Charles Baudelaire, and the second part took the poems of Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration.
They followed Cursed Thoughts with Degli alberi e l’acque è notturno, which explored the world as seen through the eyes of the Italian poet Dino Campana (1885 – 1932), and more specifically the poems in the Canti Orfici (Orphic Songs). The poems were so important in the band’s musical conception that they provided a 22-page booklet available for download on the album’s Bandcamp page so that listeners could read along — and indeed they insisted it was “essential” to do that.
And now we have Keres, an album released on July 29th that was inspired “by the great goddesses of violent death”. Who knows where these varying inspirations come from, or why they seize the duo’s attention? They are all dark thoughts, but dark in very different ways, and their varying shades do seem to play a role in changing the colors of the music.
And so we have Keres, named for the feminine death spirits from ancient Greek mythology, the daughters of Nyx, sharp of tooth and claw and with a taste for human blood, waiting to feed themselves on human dead — but not the corpses of those who died peacefully. Thanatos, their brother, was the god of peaceful death. The Keres were drawn to bloody mayhem on the fields of battle.
With this as inspiration, Hornwood Fell have made a violent album. Through frenzied riffing, assaulting drums, and harrowing vocals, the songs provide war music, the sounds of combatants ruining each other hand-to-hand, and the ravenous revels of the goddesses feasting upon the torn bodies. And with such deathly preoccupations, death metal plays a prominent role.
The sounds are themselves mutilated, gruesomely distorted and weirdly dissonant as well as earth-quaking in their heavy turbulence, all the better to channel sensations of human madness, pain, and fear, as well as the nightmarish otherworldliness of the Keres’ fiendish attentions. The guitars are elaborately interwoven, which is evident even in the most sonically dense and devastating maulings, but these are twisted tapestries, calculated to unnerve as well as fascinate the listener — and the album most certainly achieves both effects.
All the bizarre guitar maneuvers turn out to chain one’s attention to what’s happening, despite how uncomfortable and often hallucinatory the experience is. And perhaps unexpectedly, the mutant anti-melodies include refrains that will get their diabolical hooks in your head. The tempos also change without warning — the music methodically bludgeons as well as races, roils, and writhes.
And of course, since this is Hornwood Fell, they insinuate other accents — mysterious glinting arpeggios that are seductive as well as strange; towering imperious marches and soaring symphonics; and dreadful groaning sensations of hopeless downfall.
By the time you have made your way through the five tracks, which spell out the goddesses’ name one letter at a time, you may be left (as I was) both enthralled and chilled, both innervated and enervated, both shaken and stirred — and also left wondering what Hornwood Fell will do next, but eager to find out.
Matteo Valentini made the eye-catching cover art.
CODEX NERO (Poland)
As the album title signals, The Great Harvest Of Death is also inspired by desolating subject matter, but turns out to be electrifying rather than morbidly oppressive. The vocals are as vicious, as vehement, and as vitriolic as a lover of hateful things could want, and the band prove themselves quite capable of ripping and tearing like famished wolves. Yet these songs incorporate far more than sensations of hellish savagery.
They have a visceral rhythmic strength, and they swagger and swirl as often as they blaze. When they do blaze, they’re capable of soaring in frightening glory or rendering scenes of the apocalypse in sound. The band deploy dissonance to create moods of tension, inner turmoil, and diabolical peril, but also lend us moments of enthralling, though anguished, harmony, and spine-tingling eeriness. The guitars ring as well as ravish, glimmer as well as glower. The constantly changing drum patterns boom and rock as well as discharging blistering fusillades and militaristic snare tattoos. There are progressive and post-metal stylings in this black/death mix as well. And the vocals also change in gripping fashion (listen to what happens in “The Unborn Spirit Awakens”, for example).
All of which is to say that Codex Nero‘s songwriting is impressively dynamic and relentlessly gripping, and the production of the album provides a sharp and powerful sound that’s a great match for the body-shaking, mind-altering force of the music. Hateful and harrowing the album may be, but man, it lights up a listener’s nerves and keeps them firing straight through to the closing track “Mavrisma”, a blood-freezing epilogue created by the dark ritual ambient project Corona Barathri that definitely should not be missed (the vocals there, in their own way, are as scary and demonic as anything else on the album).
The Great Harvest of Death was released on July 15th by Liber Khaos Productions, with cover art by Rotted Artist.
PROFANE DESECRATION (U.S.)
The cover art for this Massachusetts trio’s debut album, created by EvM Art, seized me before I heard a single note, and it turns out to be entirely fitting for the music.
Abysmal Stillness, which was released on July 26th, is not still, or at least no more still than a tornado. The band mount an explosive and mind-boggling attack, deploying gut-rumbling bass, guitars that are recklessly roiling, savagely slashing, and brazenly blaring, grotesquely deranged proclamations from a monstrously ravenous throat, and absolutely insane, highly weaponized drumming that threatens to steal the whole show (and all the air from your lungs), with an immediacy of tone that sounds like you’re being hammered from inside your skull.
Truly hyperventilating levels of ferocity drive most of the tracks, which are laced with quivering and squirming tendrils of dissonance that amplify the maniacal nature of these hostile spectacles. There’s one brief opportunity to try to calm down in the haunting first 40 seconds of the third track, but for the most part we really are caught up in a sonic tornado — whose path of ruination is unpredictable.
In “At Midnight”, for example, which opens with a gravel-chewing bass solo, the band demonstrate that they’re capable of administering brutal, neck-wrecking beatings as well as high-speed, technically impressive, brain-scrambling audio paroxysms, whereas in “Forest Graves”, the music cavorts and careens with a feeling of ebullient mayhem.
Come to think of it, there’s a feeling of ebullience that ranges across the entire album, even if it’s the ebullience of the criminally insane freed of all restraints and armed to the teeth — riding a tornado.
(Huge thanks to Rennie (from starkweather) for turning me on to this brilliant mayhem.)
CHAOS LUCIFERI (Italy)
And last, I turn to Oscurità dalla Laguna Vol.I, an EP released on July 25th by the one-man Venetian band Chaos Luciferi. It is indeed a turn in the path from the destructive lunacy of Profane Desecration. All you have to do is gaze upon the cover painting by Mosè Bianchi (1840-1904) to get a hint of what’s to come.
The opening of the first song, “Dimore oscura”, is so bereaved and haunting, and even when the drumming switches into a more measured cadence and the riffing begins to boil, the mood is still downcast, yet a feeling of fear seeps through — a feeling that blooms into terror when the drums begin blasting at hyper-speed and caustic screams savage the ear-drums with their ugly rage. Frantically flickering leads and chilling synths drive the terrors home, and a steady march leads us into their own netherworld home.
Without warning, the typhoon that ends “Dimora oscura” vanishes, replaced by the intro to “Il covo delle streghe”, a thoroughly eerie ambient concoction. And because Chaos Luciferi obviously takes pleasure in jarring its listeners, the song abruptly becomes a jolting and stomping experience, brutally making its way through a shroud of dismal chords and ghostly synths. When the drums hammer like pistons, the vibrato riffing sounds soul-stricken (though the vocals are as terrorizing as ever).
It’s clear by now that the EP is not a place where light shines or hopes thrive, but if there are any doubts, “Il naufrago” will erase them. In between spasms of crazed drumming, searing riffage, and horror-synths, an atmosphere of majesty rises — but it’s a grim eminence that looms. The shrill feverish tones in the song sound like poltergeists that have lost their minds, and any direction to a final resting place.
This is an underground album, obviously, but it’s really an underworld album too. It ferries us across the Styx into a cold, desolate realm in which anguish never ends and sleep never comes.