(Andy Synn takes some time out of his busy schedule to celebrate some short but sweet releases by a variety of big names and new faces)
One unfortunate result of the endless scramble to stay on top of the relentless torrent of new album releases is that the humble EP often gets a little overlooked.
Which, obviously, is a real shame, because a good EP can often be just as fulfilling as an album in its own way, especially when a band uses it as an opportunity to explore a different side of themselves or to create something that works within the constraints of the format to tell a complete and fully realised story.
So while I’m working on a number of different full-length reviews (as well as the next edition of The Synn Report) I thought I might as well take a few moments to jot down a few quick reviews for some of the EPs I’ve enjoyed the most over the course of the year so far.
ASHEN – GODLESS OATH
The debut EP from Aussie death-dealers Ashen is one of the finest slabs of meaty, delicious Death Metal goodness I’ve heard all year, showing a reverence for the old-school which, smartly, never crosses over the line into shameless hero worship. With a hefty helping of heavyweight riffs, gargantuan grooves, and brutally barbed hooks, alongside a vocal performance positively dropping with grisly character, it’s one hell of an opening statement, chock-full of clever touches and killer moments, which promises great things for when the band finally drop their full length debut.
THE CIRCLE – METAMORPHOSIS
For whatever reason, I haven’t really felt the urge to dip into the “symphonic” side of Black Metal for a while. But the debut from The Circle has certainly changed that. Whether that’s because the symphonic touches are a little more “subtle” than most, augmenting rather than overwhelming the bombastic guitar work of mainman Stanley Robertson, or due to the fact that both the riffs and the clean vocals (courtesy of one Asim Searah, who also possesses a damn fine growl/scream too) bear a frighteningly good resemblance to Ihsahn’s fantastic solo work, I’m not really sure, but either way this EP marks The Circle out as a name to keep a very close eye on going forwards.
CULT BURIAL – OBLIVION
When I reviewed the self-titled debut from Cult Burial late last year I made mention of just how confident the band’s mix of Death, Black, and Doom Metal was, especially for a first effort. And, I’m happy to say, the three tracks which make up Oblivion effortlessly prove that the confidence and quality displayed last November was in no way a fluke, as “Oblivion”, “Parasite”, and “Paralysed” find the band delivering an even darker, denser, and doomier amalgam of extremity which should not only serve as a fantastic (re)introduction to their sound, but also sees them refining and defining that sound into something they can really call their own.
ENSLAVED – CARAVANS TO THE OUTER WORLDS
Following the mixed-bag of interesting ideas and disappointing delivery that was last year’s Utgard (yep, I said it, and I stand by it) I was admittedly a little bit nervous when I first came to listen to Caravans to the Outer Worlds. Thankfully the EP suggests that the band have largely rediscovered and reignited their creative spark, with every single member firing on all cylinders, and both the two new “full” songs (including an unexpectedly sombre and slow-burn sequel to “Ruun”) and the two instrumental intermezzos showcasing a renewed and reinvigorated grasp of flow and dynamic which bodes well for the future.
GIANT OF THE MOUNTAIN – MOUNTAIN’S BLOOD
Giant of the Mountain are the sort of band who only seem to go from strength to strength with every single release, so it only stands to reason that their fourth EP (their eighth release overall) is their strongest work yet, from the primarily acoustic ambience of opener “Inundation” and the progtastic tapestry of riffs and rhythms, moods and melodies that makes up “Surrender to the Currents”, to the emotional odyssey of the EP’s Cormorant-esque centrepiece “Erosion”, and the concluding pairing of primal energy and proggy artistry that is “Once Great Mountains” and “Residuum”. A fantastic piece of work from start to finish.
MALADIE – SYMPTOMS III
Over the course of four albums and two (now three) EPs, Progressive Black Metal collective Maladie (check out last year’s Synn Report on them if you’re not familiar with their work) have enjoyed confusing and confounding the listener’s expectations at every step. So it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to learn that Symptoms III takes both band and audience into some unexpected musical territory, being an (almost) entirely acoustic release whose blend of gloomy guitars, shimmering strings, poignant piano, and sombre saxophone – all topped off with a rich array of emotionally resonant vocal melodies – can stand proudly alongside the best of bands like Green Carnation and Code at their most stripped down yet spellbinding.
TEITAN – VÁKUUM
One of the most unique, unusual, and intriguing releases of the past several months, the new EP from Teitan takes the standard template of Black Metal and twists it around on itself into a paradoxical mobius strip of strangled dissonance and strange melody whose unsettling and off-kilter sound sits somewhere between Dødheimsgard and Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Black Hole Generator. That being said, as weird and as warped as things get (and they get very weird and very warped at times) there’s still something disturbingly hooky and hypnotic about this material, and once it gets under your skin it’s unlikely that anything else is going to be able to scratch the itch.
TRIBAL GAZE – GODLESS VOYAGE
If that Ashen EP which opened this column is one of the best short-form Death Metal releases of the year (it is, just to be clear) then Godless Voyage is, at most, only a few steps behind it. Furious and frantic and breathing pure fire, short, sharp shockers like “Astral Nameless” and “Valley of Suffering” prove that the band can already mix it up with the big boys, and while they’re still at that “chug-and-blast as hard as possible all the time” stage of things, there’s already signs (especially on the latter track) that they’re beginning to develop a taste for slightly more subtle (if still utterly brutal) songwriting too. Keep a close eye on these boys, they’re definitely going places.