Light of the Morning Star
(October has ended, Halloween has concluded, and so it’s time for Gonzo to spotlight four of his favorite releases from the month.)
We’re officially at that point in the year when I’m taking stock of my favorite music that’s been released, subtly preparing to create a monster best-of list by the time December rolls around.
The trouble with this is good heavy music is still being released with impunity, which complicates everything in ways that I welcome. October hasn’t made this any easier. My fellow NCS scribes have uncovered some seriously bowel-shaking heaviness in recent months, and I am more fulfilled for having paid attention.
And that brings us to right now. Because I’m about to get on a plane to Iceland in a few hours, this intro (and column) may be a little shorter than usual, but I am nothing if not verbose when it comes to describing music (and most everything else). Let’s bang this out while my liver still functions, shall we?
Light of the Morning Star, Charnel Noir
London’s one-man goth metal spook Light of the Morning Star was a new name that popped up on my radar recently and I’m not mad about that.
Right away, the title track to Channel Noir brings to mind everything I loved about late-’90s/early-2000s Tiamat and Moonspell without sounding like an impostor. This one’s got plenty of atmosphere that dials up the spooky game significantly, but it’s not the variety of half-assed Hot Topic shit that other acts in this subgenre are notorious for. “Our Night Hours” even sounds like the very underrated The Vision Bleak, which is a welcome development.
Too often, goth metal becomes a parody of itself, sounding more like an Edward and Bella rather than a Bela Lugosi. That’s decisively not the case with Light of the Morning Star, even though the band does break our golden rule on this site with regards to singing. On Channel Noir, though, the sinister atmosphere and unease that’s present throughout is more than enough to scratch your goth metal itch this year.
Wraith, Undo the Chains
Imagine the gravely snarls of Darkthrone thrown into a mosh pit blender with the riffs of Power Trip topped with a generous garnish of “fuck-you” energy of Midnight and you’ll have most of what makes up the newest album from Indiana upstarts Wraith.
There’s a certain kind of primal rawness that gets gloriously captured on Undo the Chains. The band mercilessly pummels you with one of the most infectious salvos of riffs you’re likely to hear all year, effortlessly transitioning from mid-paced circle-pit frenzies to speed-thrash destruction before you can say “holy fuck.” Tracks “Cloaked in Black,” “Gatemaster,” and “Dominator” could turn even the most passive listener into a spiked gauntlet-wearing maniac who blasts this album loud enough to make babies cry. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Sokol delivers a deliciously rapid-fire rasp that only adds to each track being instantly memorable and equally as infectious.
If there’s one album in 2021 that epitomizes metal’s no-bullshit attitude that’s been so well-preserved over the years, it very well could be Undo the Chains. This fucker bristles with the kind of earth-shaking mayhem that makes metal so goddamn much fun in the first place.
Florida’s Massacre needs no introduction here, as their inimitable career has spanned across three decades and a litany of lineup changes throughout. If you want to read a who’s-who of metal musicians, hell, just read how many bands each member of Massacre has spent time in. Fuck LinkedIn, this is the kind of resume site I’m here for.
Resurgence is probably a step up from 2014’s Back from Beyond in terms of songwriting. Thick, chunky riffs dominate such tracks as “Ruins of R’Lyeh” and “Eldritch Prophecy” alongside Kam Lee’s inhuman roar. The production is as sharp as it gets for knuckle-dragging death metal, its lumbering low end sounding just as menacing as the razor-sharp leads. The band even throws in some Slayer-esque squealing leads here and there, with the most notable example being the end of “Innsmouth Strain.”
It’s clear that Massacre aren’t looking to change the game with Resurgence, but few in the USDM world really need to concern themselves with that. It’s part of why these Florida swamp lords have reigned supreme for as long as they have alongside their brethren in Cannibal Corpse and Obituary, and Resurgence is another solid chapter in their decades of brutality.
Autumn Nostalgie, Ataraxia
From the forests of Slovakia comes Autumn Nostalgie, a one-man post-black metal project that evokes images of falling leaves and slit wrists. I of course mean this as high praise.
Autumn Nostalgie channels the best of three other bands I can think of right away – Alcest, Agalloch, and Afsky. And there I go being unintentionally alliterative again. Literary oddities aside, the descriptor still hits home. This is most definitely music that could be used to treat seasonal depression. Just as heartfelt as it is heavy, the Slovakian known only as A.G. delivers a personal and emotional journey through Ataraxia, his second album after last year’s Esse Est Percipi. Much like his comparable American counterpart in Eternal Valley, Autumn Nostalgie takes the listener through a depressing landscape of nostalgia, death, and solipsism, which all comes to a stunning head in “The Abyss of Realization.” Its shimmering leads bring to mind Neige’s work in early Alcest, and few bands seem to be able to pull that sound off anymore.
Even though the lyrics are all spoken in A.G.’s native tongue, making them all but indecipherable to most ears, his pain is relatable, and the songwriting suits the depressive quality perfectly. As we’re getting less daylight during our slow descent into winter, don’t sleep on Ataraxia.
If you dig what you hear, follow my Heavy 2021 playlist on Spotify for songs from these albums and more: